With the launch of the UK edition of Why We Run safely navigated, this week saw the US edition hit the stands under the title The Lure of Long Distances. There are no plans yet to celebrate with a Double Marathon, which is probably no bad thing as since last Sunday I’ve picked up a chest infection from the boy and have been feeling more lethargic than I have done for a long long time.
However, in two weeks time I will be on a plane to the US for a book tour that takes in Seattle, San Francisco, New York and Dayton, Ohio, by which time the fire should be full stoked again, and I’ve never said never before, so anything might happen.
The only time I have been to the US was with a trip to NY when I was 16, and so I have been preparing myself with some homework on the great outdoors, as well as swatting up on The Great American Novel, in the hope of understanding what the country is all about. One book that I’ve had in my back pocket for a week now is Jon Krakauer’s superb, and frankly rather alarming book, Into the Wild. It’s a well-known story since Sean Penn directed a film of the (anti?)-hero Chris McCandess and his decision to break with his family and set off on what he hoped would be a journey for a life time. He spent two years on foot trekking up and down the country, stopping only long enough to make enough money to keep travelling, before heading to Alaska in a grand gesture to his hero Jack London. That’s where everything went wrong.
Were it not for the journal that was found on his body we would know nothing of where he went or, more importantly, what became of his state of mind. Reading the story I thought of my teenage self and wished that I had had the courage to take on something like this. And I am sure that there is a part of everyone that yearns for the freedom of adolescence, before mortgages and jobs get in the way, to set off and do something like this, just once. (But come out alive).
By the time I land in Seattle, Dean Karnazes will have run nearly the entire way across America. As I write, he is day 61 of 75 into the run, clocking up 50 miles a day – over 2,500 so far. Ostensibly the run is to raise awareness for children to live healthy life-styles, but not far beneath the surface is the very clear message of the freedom of the open road, and that the kind of liberation that running can offer is there for all of us to enjoy.
I know now that I will never set off McCandess-style on a kind of pilgrimage for the self because freedom is now balanced with responsibility (and it is not a question of bad faith, as Sartre had me believe). It is though a beautiful thing to dream of late at night. Karnazes shows us though that we can have our cake and eat it, if we are happy to compromise. This is what distance running can do for us, since all we need to do is close the door behind us and head off down the road.