On I went, out of the wood, passing the man leading without knowing I was going to do so. Flip-flap, flip-flap, jog-trot, jog-trot, curnchslap-crunchslap, across the middle of a broad field again, rhythmically running in my greyhound effortless fashion, knowing I had won the race though it wasn't half over, won it if I wanted it, could go on for ten or fifteen or twenty miles if I had to and drop dead at the finish of it, which would be the same, in the end, as living an honest life like the governor wanted me to. -Alan Sillitoe, "Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner"

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Why I'm running Mt. Washington

What would cause an average runner - actually, a subpar runner going by the numbers - to attempt such a hard race?  Why am I doing this to myself?

I'm not drawn to mountains, by any means.  I'm drawn instead to the state of New Hampshire.  Or, more specifically, to Young Hickory of the Granite Hills: Franklin Pierce.

Since this blog is about running, I'm not going to go too deeply into my bizarre fascination with America's 14th President.  Or his amazing hair.  Or his alcoholism.  Or his military service (brigadier general in the Spanish-American War! until he fell off that horse).  Or the Gadsden Purchase, which enabled America to build a transcontinental railroad (if they'd taken the southern route...).  Or opening trade relations with Japan (so that was maybe more Commodore Perry's doing than his).  Or the Kansas-Nebraska Act (which was kind of a bad thing, but I'm hoping you don't remember American history very clearly).  Or the fact that he maybe, maybe killed a woman in a drunk-carriage-driving accident.  Or his sad and troubled marriage and his dead children.  No.  None of that.

My fascination with Franklin Pierce led me to pursue an internship with the Hillsborough Historical Society during the summer between my junior and senior years of college.  For 6 wonderful, wonderful weeks, I lived with members of the society and spent my days doing archival research in Concord, NH.  It was while I was there that I took up running.  There was literally nothing else to do.  I had no internet access, I had no cell phone, and I was living with strangers - mostly senior citizens.

Each day during the week, I woke up when the sun came up and I went out running.  First it was one mile, then two, then three, and eventually it was about 4 each day.  I ran past wild turkeys - who knew?  One day, I even surprised a small black bear.  He was coming out of the woods and we had a brief staring contest before we both sprinted away at top speed.  (But if you ever hear me tell the story in person, he was totally a brown bear, totally huge, and he totally stood up on his back legs to snarl at me before chasing me.)  Every day was sunny and lovely.  The setting was straight out of a Robert Frost poem (more this one than this one).

In other words, it was perfect: serene, lovely, relaxing, and amazing.

You can't stay in New Hampshire for more than a few days without hearing about the Old Man of the Mountain (RIP).  Stay a few days longer, and you'll hear more about the White Mountains and specifically Mount Washington, the highest point in the northeast United States.

So, why not combine two things I associate so closely with New Hampshire: running, and Mount Washington?

NOW, why I'm doing this with inadequate preparation is sheer stupidity.

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