People Make Publishing: A Reader on Running (and Walking!)

The following is a post from Joeth Zucco, Senior Project Editor at UNP. 

Was Forrest Gump the first ultra-marathoner? In the movie, he crisscrossed the United States numerous times during his three-year, two-month, fourteen-day, sixteen-hour run. In fiction, anything goes. But in reality, running across the United States takes a bit more planning than just going out for a run down the driveway to the road, through town, and across the great state of Alabama.

Pete Kostelnick, of Lincoln, Nebraska, is attempting to set a new Guinness World Record for running across the United States in less than forty-six days, eight hours, and thirty-six minutes, the current record that was set by Frank Giannino Jr. in 1980. Pete (who won the 2015 Badwater Ultramarathon in record time and ran the RAGBRAI across Iowa in 2013) started his 3,100-mile run on September 12, his twenty-ninth birthday. He’s following the same route that Frank Giannino ran—starting in San Francisco and running through Nevada, Utah, Colorado, Nebraska, Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, to his finish line in Manhattan, New York. On Monday, October 10, Pete ran 72 miles in 12 hours and 51 minutes. He has run twenty-nine days and a total of 2,035.8 miles.

Pete has a support team that consists of a doctor, a massage therapist and chef, an advisor and run support crew, not to mention local runners who clock a few or a lot of miles with Pete when he reaches their community. It takes a village, right? I’ve been following Pete’s run, and you can too at his Facebook page or his website. He ran into Lincoln on Thursday, October 6, and spoke at the Lincoln Running Company. As this posts, he’s close to the Iowa-Illinois border.

Reisler-WalkofAges.inddAs I’ve read about Pete’s daily miles and accomplishments, I’m reminded of Edward Payson Weston, the subject of Jim Reisler’s Walk of Ages. Weston was a professional athlete of his day, a pedestrian, who walked hundreds of miles and had an amazing fan base that would crowd the streets to watch him walk into town.

Reisler’s book focuses on Weston’s 1909 walk across America, which Weston began on March 15, his seventieth birthday, when he began his walk by crossing Park Avenue in New York City accompanied by a band and the New York City police. Weston’s goal was to arrive in San Francisco—3,895 miles away—in 100 days.

Weston walked mostly alone and faced challenges that modern athletes and travelers hardly have to worry about. Considering the road system a hundred years ago, Weston opted to follow the train tracks when he could in order to avoid the relentless mud that was at times knee deep and so thick it was a fight to lift his foot—and once he did the mud held on and added weight to his already challenging trek. But mud wasn’t the only obstacle, he also faced heavy spring snows, blizzards, rain, tornados, triple-digit temperatures, sandstorms, mosquitoes, and dogs.

Weston arrived in San Francisco on July 14 after walking for 105 days. He had averaged just under 38 miles a day and walked six days a week—he rested on Sundays, “a result of a promise he had made to his deeply religious mother” (p. 4). Bothered by the fact that he didn’t accomplish his 100-day goal, Weston set out again in 1910 on a more direct route from Los Angeles to New York, about 400 miles shorter than the 1909 route, with a goal of finishing in 90 days. He surpassed that goal and finished his trek in 75 days.

Reisler writes that Weston didn’t think much of marathons or running, so I wonder what Weston would think of Pete and his run today:

The old pedestrian had turned his loathing of marathons into a central part of his lectures. “I am against these heart-rending marathon races,” Weston bluntly told his readers in the New York Times, “and would certainly say something against them had I gone to Pittsburgh.” (p. 61)

But being of the same mind as many runners, walkers, bikers, and anyone who exercises these days, Weston did have some good advice to end this on:

“Walk out your troubles, or walk your troubles out of you,” Edward Payson Weston counseled late in life. “There is no malady of mind or body that you can’t walk away. Not one person in ten has exercised enough. Inaction gives you the blues and a poor stomach. The two together make bad nerves, bad tempers, and bad characters. Walking will cure all of these [maladies]. You don’t get consumption or influenza or pneumonia or any of these epidemics that are flying around if you do ten miles a day.” (p. 143)

Of course, you don’t have to run a marathon or walk across the United States, all you have to do is go for a walk!