I had always
wanted to go someplace a long distance away. I remember when I was younger how
I used to sit watching the Olympics on television and wish I could do things
the marathoners could. Twenty-six miles was a long distance for a human being
to travel in the short period of 2� hours. Back then I didn't fully realize how
far it was, or I would have had even more admiration for the runners.
In the ninth
grade my PE teacher persuaded me to go out for the cross-country team. I was
not sure what cross-country was. All I knew was that it involved running a
greater distance than just around the baseball field. The pain was terrible
after my first race, but I stuck to the sport, and finally lost my fear of it.
I decided that I was going to make something out of running for myself. Not
that day or the next, but someday.
As the months
passed I realized I had better get going on my idea or I might lose interest.
What could I do to prove that I could run? I had always admired men who could
push their bodies past the point others would call excessive. So why not join
them? But where to go and how to do it?
The last days of
my sophomore year flew by. It was May 1973, and summer vacation loomed ahead
like a giant vacuum. Standing 6 feet tall, 135 pounds, I went to Mom and told
her what was on my mind. I wanted to run from Mexico to Canada. "Why
not?" she replied without hesitation or practicality.
She was the only
member of the family available that summer to help me realize my goal. She
agreed to drive the supply wagon. How could I run to Canada in just a pair of
shorts and a T shirt?
We set July 1 as
the deadline for departure. If we did not leave by then, according to my
calculations of the mileage and my capabilities, we could never complete the
trip before school started in September. I planned to cover a route of 1,750
miles. A mini-camper had to be outfitted for the journey. I built a bunk for
Mom in it and shelves and storage compartments. We bought camping equipment,
food and emergency items. We packed a minimum of clothes. I was very
optimistic, taking only one pair of running shoes. She was less optimistic,
stocking up on tincture of benzoin, moleskin, cotton, high-protein powder and
I woke at 6:30
a.m. on July 1 and dressed quickly. Getting the rest of the family going was
not as easy. It was not until 8 a.m. that my father, brother, sister and I set
off in the car for the Mexican border, some 30 miles to the south of my home in
Del Mar. I tried to realize that this would be the last time I would be able to
travel anywhere without running to get there. I imagined what it would be like
in lands different from those I was used to. What would the weather be like?
Also the people—would they treat me kindly or try to kill me? Would I make it
far enough to find the answers to these questions?
walking between the two nations with no emotion at all. They passed through the
check gates as though they were buying tickets for a flower show. I realized
that they had no reason to be excited. After all, they weren't running border
to border. They were just going to work or visiting or shopping.
My sister Clare
and I walked up and over the arch leading to Mexico. The border officer
couldn't understand that people would want to step across the line and then
turn back. But finally he let us. Returning to the car, I took off my sweat
pants, handed them to my father and did a little stretching. I had planned for
the minute, and now it was here. I took off, running.