#18 – The Path is the Story

6 June 2007

Trail running blogger Scott Dunlap wrote a touching article about his recent 50K race. Due to witnessing a horrific event days before he was mentally and emotionally drained to the point that he barely finished. Usually this speedy guy is among the fastest finishers! During my 6-mile run today I was thinking about Scott’s story and how it reminded me of a run I struggled through in high school…

Early morning April 5, 1994 one of my best friends killed himself – it was the day after my 18th birthday. What caused Jamey’s death and how it affected my friends and I is a novel unto itself that I won’t get into here. Where this story relates to running is that Jamey is the reason I joined the track team. Monday, April 4 in the school hallway after track practice was the last time I saw and talked to my friend.

When we learned of his death on Tuesday morning, my mind felt numb yet on high alert at the same time. The track team had a meet that evening and I remember being surprised that it was canceled; I hadn’t planned on racing but I figured the rest of the team would still go. Funny how the mind works under stress.

Same goes for the body. Wednesday after school I went to track practice – my first one without Jamey running next to me. The coach was kind to us and asked only that we run 4 miles and go home. I decided to run this practice loop in Jamey’s honor – I was going to will myself to run the fastest 4 miles of my life; I believed that my memory of Jamey would transcend any physical limitations and send me flying across the sidewalks in storybook fashion.

It was the worst run of my life. I started out fast and soon was gasping for air, watching my teammates run ahead and out of sight. I tried to speed up but my legs wouldn’t respond. Then it began to snow. In April! Trudging up a slight hill I gave up and slowed to a walk, shivering and alone on a long strip of concrete. It was supposed to be the greatest run but there I was, staggering among the spring snowflakes. I can’t remember the rest of the run but somehow I made it back to school.

One of my favorite aspects of running is that it is a microcosm of real life. Life is unfathomably complex yet running is simple; lessons learned from various running experiences can be extrapolated into lessons to guide us in life. No matter how much we care, no matter how hard we try, we’re only human.

That awful run in high school did teach me a lesson – we can’t force a storybook ending. Some chapters end in tragedy; some end in glory. As long as we’re reading the book, we’re going to experience both. Trying to skip the terrible pages is delusional at best. All we can do is run, just run and follow the path. The path is the story and if we can stay on it, we’ll experience all of the great moments, good and bad.

I was impressed how Scott Dunlap sought and found some solace in running his ultramarathon. He simply ran and let the trail take him where he knew he needed to go. When Jamey died so many years ago, I thought that I could save my friend by going running. What I should’ve done was go running simply to save myself. Live and learn. And run.

Run I did – today was a beautiful, sunny 62 degrees and my feet floated across the sidewalks for six miles. For whatever reason, today was one of the chapters that ended happily ever after. It’s depressing to know that Jamey ran his last run years ago, yet it’s uplifting to remind myself that hey, I’m still alive, healthy, and enjoying a good run.


  1. And let’s not forget the key element in Scott’s story-he found solace and support in the front runners who although in a race, had time and compassion to see that Scott was suffering, and offered to help. Some even took time to cheer him up and console him, including the winner of the Western States 100 Mile Endurance Run, Graham Cooper.

    Perhaps this is why we run with a band of brothers and sisters. It reminds us we are not alone. Runners understand this.

  2. That’s true. In my first ultra I received some critical help from a few fellow runners that was crucial to me finishing the race.

  3. Wow, great post HavyBeaks. Beautifully written and very inspirational. You’re absolutely right – all we can do is move on, live life to the fullest, experience all that we can while we can. Running, biking, swimming – whatever it takes to take us away from all the sadness, sorrow, complexities that is life; running is the purest form of “living in the moment” that I can think of.

  4. Great point Paul, that running is the purest form of living in the moment. It has a way of making life feel simple for a while.

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