But that’s what we found ourselves doing in early June, buzzing in the Subaru from the San Juan Mountains up through the tangled highways of Colorado’s Front Range, past vast and stinking feedlots to the eastern fringe of the state. In the car were the dog, the fiancé and myself, along with several pairs of running shoes, men’s size 11.
Kingston would need them for the endeavor he was about to attempt: running 166 miles from Wray, Colorado to Holdrege, Nebraska in six days. For those of you who glossed over that, that’s the equivalent of running a marathon, plus extra miles for good measure, for six days in a row.
Kingston sprung the run on me last summer. He is an athlete who has hiked the Pacific Crest Trail and gone on epic 40-day river trips. But still. Who would dream up such a sadistic scheme? And why on earth would Kingston want to punish himself like this?
He wanted to do it, he explained, to feel part of a solution. The run, a relay-across-America organized by the charity MS Run the US, raises money for multiple sclerosis research. Rather than just watching me suffer through the mysterious and fickle symptoms of the chronic disease, he wanted to do something to help.
Fair enough. And wow.
Training began in January. Six days a week he was out there running in his leggings and balloon shoes (the latest in running technology). Four miles, then six, 10 and beyond. His training schedule, which ramped up as time passed, eclipsed skiing, weekend excursions, volunteering. Life revolved around running.
His calves grew, his waist shrunk. He ate massive quantities of Blue Grouse bread, entire bags of licorice. I learned to live without him on Saturdays, his big days, when he’d be gone for six hours. It was only when I started driving to meet him mid-run with resupplies that I began to comprehend just how big his goal was. Running ten miles seemed infinite; he was going do 16.6 times that.
He raised money, another daunting task. But once word got out about what he was going the attempt, it was like a dam of generosity broke; friends, family, even strangers emptied their pockets. He surpassed his goal of $10,000.
And then it was upon us. This huge nebulous challenge that had been lingering in the future for nearly a year was knocking on the door. We made it to Wray. Now could Kingston make it 166 miles?
On day one, we woke before dawn, chugged coffee and drove to a park in Wray. The support crew, an affable pair of 20-somethings who would be waiting on Kingston hand and foot during his leg, held up two poles, across which stretched a banner reading “Start” on one side and “Finish” on the other. They faced “Start” toward us, and off we went (I tagged along for the first five).
We ran through quiet predawn Wray and eastward toward Nebraska. Lush fields rolled out before us, mist hung heavy over the land, and a phalanx of birdsong provided our soundtrack. At one point, a huge flock of swallows, drawing wild figure eights in the sky, stopped us in our tracks.
He finished his first leg that afternoon under oppressive heat, ate and slept. And for the next five days, his reality consisted of black pavement and yellow lines, the blast of trucks roaring by, the slow approach of mile markers, the weight of humidity, grain silos in the distance, road kill below. Protein powder and recovery drinks, aching knees, tedium, the pain more acute as the miles ticked down, the heat bearing down.
By day six, we were deep in the heart of Nebraska and he was deep in the pain cave, both sore and sleep-deprived, having taken to running under moonlight for cooler temperatures. I joined him at mile 162 as the sun prepared to slosh over the horizon. We plodded the final miles into Holdrege, running to a park where the crew had again erected the banner, only this time with “Finish” facing us.
Instead of a crowd cheering for the massive accomplishment, it was just me, my mom, the dog and the two-person crew in an empty park. Kingston hobbled across the finish line, utterly depleted. He could barely walk for weeks.
But he answered the question. Yes, he can run 166 miles in six days. He can do something to feel useful in the chaos of this world, where bad things happen for inexplicable reasons. He can set his mind on a goal, work incredibly hard and accomplish it. And he can be part of something bigger. MS Run the US completed its relay across America on Aug. 14, raising $231,022.
He can also show us all a thing or two about selflessness, sacrifice and love.