The Continental Divide
Day 25 – I can easily say this was the hardest running day of my life, nothing from the first run even comes close. The hills of Scotland and the valleys of Wales fall a long way short of how I felt by the end of Day 25. They say to every Ying there is a Yang’, and Day 25 was certainly someone balancing out my days. The euphoria of the day before was replaced by searing pain in my legs and my lungs silently screaming as the air continued to get thinner and thinner. I knew we had been climbing a lot, but now the facts actually backed this up. By the end of the day, we had climbed to a total altitude of 7,245 feet above sea level.
There were, however, a few things that helped to settle my mind – one was knowing that if I had come all this way up then I must be heading down at some point, another was that if I could make it through this day then there would be little I couldn’t conquer for the rest of the journey and the final thing that gave me some solace in my agony was knowing that going down the hills on my bike was going to be a lot more fun than running up them.
The heat was still unbelievably intense as we moved out of Albuquerque that morning, heading towards a place called Laguna. It wasn’t the energy sapping heat of the mid-day sun, but for 5.30am it was ridiculously warm.
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Setting out that morning I scanned the horizon, I did this every day, whether on the bike or running to see if I could picture what the day might bring. As I looked out, all I could see were mountains. We were in what looked like a basin, all around us in one huge circle were mountains. For even the most optimistic of people this would have been tough to take – my heart sank a little.
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I don’t know whether it’s because when you look back at your day you don’t remember the easy parts or just because that day there were just no easy sections, but the first 25 miles seemed like a constant uphill battle. Yes, that’s right – just a mile short of a marathon without one downhill section. Each step of the ascent, the air got thinner, each minute that the day progressed the temperature increased. It was brutal and unforgiving attack on my senses. I was running as well as could be expected, my lungs were straining at the extra workload my body was asking of them, I felt like a 90 year old asthmatic. Every single member of the team ran with me on Day 25, but each of them could only manage a couple of miles at a time. They jumped on and off the RV like a conveyer belt; a production line of runners. Conversation was down to grunts and head nods with the odd hand gesture thrown in for good measure. I was glad that the team experienced this as well, they understood what was happening to me and why I was finding the day so hard, that empathy was important to me.
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The climbing finally came to end, a punishing, gruelling day which I never want to experience again. Kerry ran the last half a mile with me, the signs had ticked down from 10 miles all the way down to when we reached the Continental Divide. The Continental Divide is the point at which water flows in different directions, at one side the water flows to the Pacific Ocean, at the other side the water flows to the Atlantic. As I approached the top of the climb my eyes filled with tears, I had done it, we were at the highest point we would climb to on the journey. Pain flooded through my body but it didn’t matter, I collapsed onto Kerry, broken and exhausted. I hobbled and limped to the sign of The Continental Divide. We sat and posed for the obligatory tourist photos, I sat and stared off into the distance, a slight smile cracking at the corner of my mouth, “You did it Sam,” I said quietly to myself, “you can be proud of that.”
While I rested at the top, I was greeted by a number of different people, all of whom were congratulating me on my achievements so far and wishing me luck for the rest of the trip. One well-wisher was an Australian bloke, an ex-serviceman who was now a police officer and who, along with his buddies, was making his way across Route 66 by motorcycle. In a vice like grip, he shook my hand, “Thank you for what you are doing.” he said with passion and emotion in his voice. It was times like that when I realised that what I was doing did make a difference to other people’s lives.
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I have no idea what got me through that Day. Even now, looking back, I still don’t know why or how I kept moving. The number one question I am asked about my running is, how do I keep going day afer day? The answer? The answer is – I have no idea. If I did, I think I would be a very rich man. I have often wondered, is it competitiveness? Pride? Drive? Or maybe a mixture of all of these things? When I finished running after the first Epic Run’ I was asked by all most every child aged between 5 and 11, “Why don’t I run in the Olympics?” Apparently, I would destroy Mo Farrah.
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As much as this would be a brilliant achievement, I have to let you down kids. I won’t be beating Mo Farrah any time soon or running in the Olympics. The main reason for this is that I don’t run fast, I just know that whatever comes my way I can keep running. Running for me is a chance to discover, to explore to unleash that inner child in me that just wanted to climb trees and dig holes. Somewhere along the way we lose that person, we move away from those dreams and real life takes over. So what if I told you to listen to the 8 year old you? We are going on an adventure where we run and bike across America, what do think the 8 year old you would say?
Kerry and I at The Continental Divide.