Monday, May 22, 2006

Searching for America, and being a real runner

Searching For America

The race was over, so I showered up and checked out of my hotel. How could I keep my most excellent adventure going? How about going home the scenic route?

On my way out here, there was some construction on I-94 in western Wisconsin promising up to 1 hour delays heading to the cities on Sunday afternoons as the weekenders returned home. This seemed like a good enough of an excuse to go another way. I decided to take nothing but 2 lane roads all the way to Minnesota. I hopped on Wisconsin State Hwy 54, which took me to US Hwy 10, which takes you all the way to the border. This would give me the chance, as Simon and Garfunkel might have said, to “look for America.”

And boy, did I find it!

The route was stunningly beautiful. You pass through countless little towns that have maintained, preserved, and celebrate their past. The countryside is amazing, and was obviously touched by the glaciers during the ice age, as there are numerous rolling hills, peaks, and valleys. The area around Neillsville, WI was particularly scenic with some impressive views. But really, the whole way from Stevens Point to the Minnesota border was like this. Winding, lightly traveled roads, taking your through a mix of forests and farmland. How come nobody ever talks about this area?

I stopped for 2 different trains, and I had to get around 3 different tractors pulling farm equipment. I bought gas at a station that had old pumps that you couldn't use a credit card on. And, when you stop for gas in a small town, all of the customers are chatting because they all know each other. Every little town has what appears to have been at one time a residential home that has been converted into a cute little bar, and they all have very direct, to-the-point names, such as “Walter’s Beer.” And I even got to see the world’s largest talking cow (Chatty Belle in Neillsville!). These are things you miss out on when you travel the freeways.

Going this route took me 6 hours. The trip to Green Bay took 5, but had there been an hour delay on the interstate going home, the difference was negligible, but defintely more scenic. I found America today, and what a wonderful country she is.

After a 600+ mile round trip and 154 songs on the iPod later, I arrived home a tired, but happy, guy! What a great weekend. I think I am going to put this event on the schedule for 2007. And this time, for the half marathon.

Being a "real runner"

Now that this weekend has passed, I recalled my initial thoughts when I picked up my packet for the race. Thoughts that perhaps I was not among the "real runners" because I was only participating in the 5k. I concluded that it is all a matter of perspective.

Two years ago when I started running, a 5k seemed like an impossible distance. Since then, I have completed numerous races from 5k's to a half marathon, on roads, trails, and cross country. In the beginning, I never dreamed I could run a couple miles without stopping, and the thought of placing in my division at a race was laughable to me.

There is a writer for Runner's World magazine named John Bingham. He is not an elite runner. He represents the everyman, and writes very poetically about it. Known over the years as "The Penguin" because of his running style, Bingham has a quote that has, over the years, become the battle cry for other "penguins" everywhere:

"The miracle isn't that I finished. The miracle is that I had the courage to start."

That statement really puts things in the proper perspective. There were somwhere around 6000 runners in Green Bay this past weekend, and every one of them had the courage to start, regardless of how far they were going. And that makes for a lot of "real runners" in my book!

Thanks for reading my lengthy weekend travel and race posts! I hope you enjoyed.

Until next time,

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