During the 19th century, a quarter million people caught a bug. This bug was one that could only be satisfied by adventure and opportunity. These people traveled the 2,000+ mile route of the Oregon Trail from Independence, Missouri all the way to the Willamette Valley of Oregon. Throughout this exodus, true dangers were encountered that challenged the resolve of those who dared dream of a new life in the West. There are three main periods of this journey that I think should be acknowledged.
A few years ago, I decided that I wanted to be a runner. There was absolutely nothing that could quench this thirst other than the act itself. Now that I’ve been doing this for a little while, I’ve noticed that there are three phases that I have gone through.
When the pioneers of the Oregon Trail first caught scent of the new territory in the Northwest, it sounded like the most beautiful place in the world. The waters were bluer, the dirt blacker, and the grass was most certainly greener than any others that could be imagined. Who wouldn’t seize the opportunity to leave behind the treacherous coal mines and suffocating factories on the East to breathe the clear air of Oregon? All one had to do was reach out and take it.
In 2008, I began to feel the college pounds collect around my waist. Hours of World of Warcraft per day had added up and I looked in the mirror to discover something I couldn’t reconcile. I had heard of some distant friends who were running. One of these friends posted on Facebook about running a marathon and I was immediately captivated by the mystique. I wanted that. I needed to feel the freedom of running. I needed to look and feel sexy. The glamour was there. All I had to do was reach out and take it.
There was a good bit of pomp and circumstance that accompanied the early folks as they prepared to set off on their adventure. It’s absolutely romantic to pick up one’s life and move it across the continent, especially when the promise of reward is so sweet. Purchasing the wagon, oxen, firearms, and other supplies was part of the process that drew great excitement. When they finally headed into the wilderness, it was easy going for a while. The land was flat and gentle. The sky seemed to be the only limit. Unfortunately, the journey would shift just as it was too late to turn back. Dangerous river crossings, cholera-causing bacteria, rugged mountain passes, and dwindling supplies all combined to make the pioneers question the very reason why they would ever pursue such a far-fetched dream. In these dark moments, the grass in Oregon didn’t seem so green.
When I began to run, the world was mine. It didn’t take very long for my goals to shift from the modest aim of getting into shape to becoming something absolutely special. I geared up with new shoes, shorts, and GPS watch. I knew that if I wanted to be a serious athlete, I had to look the part. It wasn’t until I was too far into this new lifestyle to turn back that I realized how difficult it really is. Improvements don’t happen overnight. The key to getting fast isn’t running faster on your easy days – it’s consistency. And consistency is hard. There are no shortcuts to bypass the recipe calling for consistency. Shortcuts lead to injury. Injury leads to depression from not running, and slower running when it’s finally subsided. For six years, I endured the cycle of setting a big goal, inconsistently training myself into an injury-plagued depression, and questioning every reason that drew me to running in the first place. Suddenly, the mystique of running wasn’t quite so glamorous.
What kind of people did it take to endure the struggles encountered on the Oregon Trail? It would be near impossible today to find anyone with as much hardiness and grit as those who put their heads down and trudged forth like those pioneers. They left behind friends, possessions, and the comfort of knowing what tomorrow holds. They lost family members, risked disease, and faced true wilderness with only their instincts to keep them safe. All of this was endured because they believed in the promise of real freedom. Real freedom to change their destiny and that of their descendants. Can you imagine how blue the water was when they arrived? Can you imagine how black the dirt was? How green the grass? When the Oregon Trail pioneers crossed into the Willamette Valley, it all became worth it.
I don’t know how many times I have convinced myself that running is petty. After all, I’m literally just running for an extended period of time. There’s no financial gain. I’m not feeding the hungry or clothing the poor. There have been many times in my life that I’ve stepped back to examine myself and ruled that some aspects were not healthy or worth pursuing. “Maybe running is just too heartbreaking and I need to focus on more practical things.” But I’ve never been able to shake the feeling that, somehow, I was born to do this. No one likes to talk about the middle ground between the start and finish.
The middle section is the boring part that doesn’t inspire anyone, but it’s the part which requires the most inspiration to endure.
My message to anyone who pursues this journey is to survive the wastelands and you will arrive at your destination. After six years and a treacherous cycle of ups and downs, I finally crossed the finish line of a marathon. At the end of the 26.2 miles, I wasn’t fully aware of what had happened. I had spent 2 hours, 55 minutes, and 59 seconds reliving the previous six years and the journey that had gotten me to that point. I was living a surreal dream. Once I regained my strength and composure, I realized what I had done. Suddenly, it all became worth it.