One of my favorite questions that people ask me a lot now that I’ve finished is what I’ve learned from this trip. What have I learned about myself, about the American people, about running. I love it when people ask this because it’s one of those questions that, every time I think about it, and go back through my memories of the past four months, the answer still surprises me. Every time I think about it, I realize something else that I’ve learned, that I had overlooked the last ten times I had answered the question. The answer itself is always evolving, and it helps me capture the essence of this journey. Because, I think, at the end, this run was not about running. It was a deeply personal and even spiritual adventure, about meeting new people, and learning more about myself, the world, and my place in it.
When I look back at the Zoe that started her run from the Pier on January 8th, and the Zoe that jumped into the Atlantic Ocean last week, I am astounded at how different the two versions of me seem. It’s like when I look back on the things I did in high school and I am embarrassed to own them as my own actions. Just like how the college graduate seems wildly more mature than the awkward 16 year-old, the Zoe that finished this run seems leaps and bounds ahead of the one that started it. In four short months, I feel as if I have aged ten years.
So, what have I learned from all this?
10. Maps lie. They are not always right, up-to-date, and on occasion will route 18 miles of railroad and call it a street, or send you ten miles down a dead-end road only for you to find out that the street noted on the map no longer exists.
9. Where there is a will, there is a way. There is always a way. When you are ten miles off-course on a dead-end road, do not let your confidence crumble…there is a way out of it. When you are headed to a new town and have no idea where you’ll sleep, a place will turn up. Where there’s a road with no shoulder cutting through the canyons and the police tell you you cannot run there with your stroller, there is a way around it.
8. There is NOTHING like reaching the summit of a mountain after running straight up for 19 miles in cheek-chafing winds and hail. Nothing.
7. Looking back on all the ground you’ve covered may be more important than looking at what’s in front of you. My favorite part of the desert was the fact that every afternoon around 4:30, I could turn around, look behind me, and for miles and miles I could see all the ground that I had covered in that day alone. No matter how hard or punishing or wonderful or easy or tedious that day’s run was, literally looking out at all the miles that I had crossed never failed to amaze me. I actually ran all that?!?!
6. There is OK pain and there is STOP NOW and don’t be an IDIOT pain. If you pay attention to your body you get to know the difference. Normal everyday pains, or occasional flare-ups are usually okay to run through. If a sudden injury or spike knocks the wind out of you with its pain, stop for a minute. If it’s a question of taking an extra rest day and getting behind “schedule”, and not finishing because you tried to push through it, take the rest day!
5. Wear sunscreen.
4. Always be nice. Be kind, smile, open your mind to new ideas and lifestyles. People will reflect your attitude; their smiles will reflect your smile, and their frowns, your frown.
3. Be happy every day that you are able to run. When you can’t run, walk. If you can’t walk, shuffle along. Be happy with whatever you are capable of doing that day.
2. America is a far-kinder land than we give it credit for. People have this idea that America is full of hostile, self-righteous people, horrific tragedies, bigoted opinions, and corrupt power systems. In some quantity I am sure all those things exist, but certainly not in the volume that our TV tells us. In 119 days, 80+ hosts, 20+ donated hotel rooms, 25 Club visits, I did not have ONE negative experience. Every single one of them was positive. And I promise I am not sugar-coating it. Lots of hosts would ask me – “So, was there ever a time when you were staying with someone and you just thought, ‘Oh my God, get me outta here?!!'” The answer is no. Honestly. I will never forget the people I met nor the quality of visits I had with each and every one of them. What it comes down to, I believe, is fear. I think in many instances, our fear is encouraged, and our open trust and love are discouraged. Somehow, somewhere along the way we are taught that a stranger and his strange ways deserve our fear rather than our love. But it’s not like that. I am fortunate enough to have had this opportunity, to have been received with compassion and kindness town after town, and to come away understanding how good people are and how valuable a smile and a few kind words can be.
1. I can do anything I want. I’ve always believed this and now I’m sure of it. After so much focus, commitment, and perseverance, I truly feel like I can chase down any dream I have, I just have to take the first steps. And I honestly believe this is true for EACH and EVERY PERSON – there’s nothing special about me, I was not born with extra lung capacity, more hours in my day, or an extra motivation gene. I’m just an ordinary person, who managed to do something extraordinary. And I hope that if there is any one thing that the kids at the Boys & Girls Clubs, or my friends and family, or anyone who has come across this blog takes away from all of this, it’s exactly that: YOU CAN DO ANYTHING. Just get out there and make it happen.
I come back to a quote that I first posted here last summer, way back when I first started this blog. If this quote were true for me before I even began this journey; then now, at the end of it all, it’s more than just true, it’s become a philosophy:
“Running gave me discipline and self-expression…It has all the disappointments, frustrations, lack of success and unexpected success, which all reproduce themselves in the bigger play of life. It teaches you the ability to present under pressure. It teaches you the importance of being enthusiastic, dedicated, focused. All of these are trite statements, but if you actually have to go through these things as a young man, it’s very, very important.”