Have you read Born to Run? I’m joking. Actually, I’m not… If you haven’t read it, you really should. Its become my new bible.
Running has always been a struggle for me. In the past year however, my attitude toward running has profoundly changed. Running, hiking and adventuring are a significant part of who I am and how Ellie and I have built our marriage. I’m writing this introduction after I have written the post itself. In thinking about this post, I ‘ve been struck by just how important and crucial athletic endeavors are to Ellie and I. Well, just read and see why.
When Ellie and I started dating our senior year in high school I started running. Ellie was (and still is) an athletic all-star. A three season athlete who ran cross-country, skied cross-country, and ran track, Ellie went to state competitions several times, won all conference, and earned so many letters on her letter jacket they wrapped around her sleeve. She was also voted captain of all three sports. When we started dating I was intimidated. I had played JV football and lacrosse. By senior year I’d quit both teams, fed up with the boneheads with whom I played. Instead, I went searching for the meaning of life in Plato. But now, here was this gorgeous girl, this athletic phenom who wanted to date me. When Ellie’s mom Eunice found out about me she asked Ellie, “oh, what sports team did you meet him on?” All of Ellie’s prior love affairs were also athletes. I, however, was a lost, some what EMO kid who liked to talk about philosophy. “Shit,” I thought everyday for the first couple of weeks of our relationship, there’s no way she’s going to stay interested in me if I don’t start doing some exercise.
To make matters worse, Ellie happened to be training for her first marathon. One day after school she asked me to go for a run with her. “Fuck, this is it,” I thought. “I’m toast.” It was still February. Cold in Minnesota. The only winter athletics I’d performed up until that point was downhill sledding. Bundled up in full body long underwear, rain-pants, and a down winter jacket, I puffed up and over to the Kuhne household. Ellie took one look and started laughing. She made some snide remark about going on an Arctic voyage. Embarrassed, I said I’d be fine. No sweat… Yes, lots and lots of sweat. After five miles, I was drenched. Determined to prove my worth, the following weekend I woke up and ran 10 miles. I’d never run so far. It was inconceivable. I was a superstar. Now Ellie could love me. Beaming, I called her. She was truly impressed. While she’s never admitted it, I’m pretty sure that’s the moment she knew she could marry me.
Since then, I’ve had a love hate relationship with running. I love the way I feel after I run, but for years I hated motivating myself to run. Running hurt. By the end of our senior year, I had stopped running after I inflamed my IT band. In college, I didn’t really run either. Ellie kept at it though. Occasionally, she would plead and beg, and I would relent and join her for a few miles. The time we spent running together was great. We could drop our worries about classes, grades, and friends. We’d jog through Tacoma in our own world. By our senior year, Ellie had convinced me to make running a regular habit. Every morning we’d wake up at 6:00 AM and take Oscar for a run. These runs helped us to grow closer than we’d ever been. They helped me to realize that more than being successful in school and making a career, I wanted to spend my life adventuring with Ellie. It was the two of us. Nothing else matter. However, while I enjoyed the time alone with Ellie, I still wasn’t so keen on the running itself. I’d never think of running by myself. Running, wasn’t all that fun. It still hurt.
In May of 2008, we moved to New Orleans to teach. Living in the 7th ward off of St. Claude, our neighborhood wasn’t the greatest place to run. Instead, we joined a gym. Everyday we’d stop there for an hour or so. However, after dealing with alternative students and working in a shit-tastic school all day, I was fried. Excercise was the last thing I wanted to do. I wanted to curl into a ball, watch TV and eat lots of food. So, for an hour I would sit on the stationary bike pretending to pedal while I watched reruns of Seinfeld waiting for Ellie to say we could go home. Ellie coped with the difficulties of our school a little differently. She’d power through the elliptical machine trying to exorcise her demons by burning one hundred million calories in 30 minutes. She was frightening to watch.
During this first year in New Orleans, our relationship suffered. We didn’t have our runs together. We worked in a highly traumatic school. Things were tough. I’d rather eat and drink than exercise. We were learning to endure hardship. Ellie used exercise. I used food.
Toward the end of the year we decided we wanted to vacation in Greece that summer. We wanted to travel cheaply and alternatively too. We decided we’d bike around and camp on the Greek islands. A few months before we left we bought bikes. Every Saturday, we’d hop on the levee and bike for a couple of hours. Again, it was wonderful. We could drop our worries. The stress of school would fade with each mile. I enjoyed our time to together, and I enjoyed the strain of the rides. I felt like I was working hard and doing something. A feeling I rarely had while teaching.
In Greece, we were able to completely escape. We biked, we swam, we walked. We fell even more in love. Something finally for me clicked on this trip. There was no specific moment. No exact memory, but I realized that I enjoyed what I was doing. The biking was hard. Some days we’d go close to 50 miles through hilly terrain in 100 degree heat. Despite the difficulty I was having fun. After feeling like a complete failure in my first year of teaching, I felt satisfied each day after we made camp. I felt weary and proud. I finally slept well too.
Our last island on our trip was Patmos. Sitting on a beach here, Ellie and I wrote our wedding vows to each other. After several weeks of biking and exercising, I thought back on our senior year of college. I thought back on the running through Tacoma and the lack of running in New Orleans. Sitting on that beach, I began to realize how important running and adventuring was to not only our relationship, but my self worth (which affects our relationship too). A week later, at our wedding not really sure what I was promising, I vowed to spend my life running with Ellie.
Back in New Orleans for our second year, I was at a new school. I now taught at New Orleans College Prep, a high-performing, college focused charter school. I no longer had to deal with fights, murders, and physically abusive administrators. Instead, my administration demanded results. I had to write a curriculum from scratch and teach it with perfection. I was observed and critiqued on a weekly basis. Again, it was really hard. It was different, but still really hard. I would regularly put in 80+ hour weeks. At home, Ellie was not doing well. She continued to teach in the alternative school. Like the previous year, it was impossible to not bring the trauma and emotions home. In some ways, this year was more difficult than the first for our relationship. We struggled to communicate about our experiences. They were so different and so hard, we couldn’t understand where each other were coming from.
Ellie again poured herself into exercise as means of escape. She became a terror at the New Orleans Athletic Club. By mid fall, she and my sister Sarah made a pact to complete the New Orleans half triathlon. This gave Ellie even more motivation. She would now pull two-a-days exercising before and after school, swimming, biking and now running too in her spare time. Her athletic endeavors reminded her that she was alive and that she was a competent and special person even if she felt the opposite while at school.
I started the year like the previous one. I ate a lot of food and watched a lot of TV. Not wanting to continue to waste money, I canceled my gym membership. Every Saturday, Ellie would get me out for a small jog or bike ride. Beyond that I didn’t exercise. I slept like shit, and my stress kept getting worse. Finally, toward the end of October I couldn’t take it anymore. Daily, I would think about how I felt while we were in Greece. I was happy and fit. Ellie and I communicated well. There had to be a correlation. I had to exercise again. Not just daily, mundane exercise. I had to work up to something big. I had to have something to inspire me to get me through the lows. After a week or two of thinking about it, I proposed it to Ellie one night. “Want to run the Mardi Gras Marathon together?” I asked. Ellie dropped her fork. “Really? Yeah, let’s do it.”
We then spent the next four months running together again. It was great. We stopped caring about the dangers of our neighborhood (it was any worse than the alternative school anyways) and would run around the city. Again, we escaped the worries of our lives and were in our own world. We talk about the future. Where we’d go next. How many kids we’d have. What they would be like. Where we’d live. It was great.
As I started running again, work got easier. Well, not easier, but I was learning to cope with it. Running a marathon is an endurance sport. You have to be able to set aside pain and focus on the good things. Focus on being outside. Focus on who you are with. Think about how you’ll feel when you finish your run. Each Saturday our mileage would increase, and I would feel my world expand. Holy crap I just ran 15 miles! 17 miles! 20 miles! 22 miles! The satisfaction and pride were beyond words. I would push through and feel good. Running was teaching me how to endure pain. It’s a mindset I began bringing to school. Its hard, but not so bad. I would even try reflecting on the previous year. I did my best didn’t I? It’s hard to explain, but in that last year in New Orleans, running and enduring hardship became linked for me. As I pushed myself I felt good. It still hurt, but now there was a purpose to the hurt. I embraced the hurt. The hurt started to make life easier.
Sadly, Ellie was injured on one of our long training runs and could not run in the marathon. This broke both of our hearts. We started reconnecting and working through our difficulties. Now with a month left, our running together stopped. I continued training by myself though. Ellie found a new outlet for her exercise fervor through a class called Abs, Butts, & Thighs. For an hour each day, Ellie would subject herself the corporal punishment of a very large man who would make her and sorority girls from Tulane “drop it like its hot” until she could no longer walk. Seriously, after the first couple of classes I had to carry her upstairs to bed. One time, she even fell down the stairs when she attempted them by herself.
With a Garmin on my wrist, I pushed myself harder and harder in training. On Sunday, February 28, 2010 I finished my first marathon in 4:33:54. I finished 1841st overall and 65th in my division. I didn’t really care about the time though. I just ran a fucking marathon. Ellie and my sister cheered me across the finish line where I promptly threw up. (Apparently you should eat while running a marathon… No one had told me.)
I felt great afterwards. I wanted more. I kept running and cycling. I competed in a Duathlon with my friends Jeffrey Weiss and Luis Zayas. It was a blast. The school year finally ended, and I felt okay. I wasn’t great, but I wasn’t as devastated as I was after the first year.
Needing to escape New Orleans, teaching, and life in general. Ellie and I planned a six month around the world adventure. We’d bike across Great Britain and walk across Nepal and Northern India. We would reconnect. We would find ourselves again and figure out what we wanted to do with our lives next. Ellie blogged in great detail about our travels so I won’t rehash them here. (You can find all 150 of those posts in our Archive.) I will however say that through our adventures we pushed ourselves hard. We felt accomplished and we felt free. Our athletic endeavors and travels helped us to make sense of our time in New Orleans and figure out how we wanted to live our lives. We wanted to focus on having a great marriage and surrounding ourselves with people we love. Exercise would also play a central role.
Upon our return to the States, things did not go as we had hoped. We struggled to find meaningful and well-paying jobs. We failed to start the farm we had thought of while traveling. As I worked for a gas station and Ellie served as a para-educator, we saw our lives quickly sinking into a permanent rut. Feeling depressed and anxious about the future, I struggled to continue exercising. I took up cross-country skiing, snowshoeing and running. We even competed in the Boulder snowshoe stomp in Duluth with Kyle and Stacy. However, as we worried about what the future would hold, I was losing heart. As I started working more and driving an hour each way to work, my exercising waned.
On a run one Saturday, Ellie and I broke down and cried. What were we doing? We were trying to start a life near and with family, but everything was going wrong. We were broke. We hated our jobs. I was struggling to exercise. This isn’t what we wanted. It wasn’t working. After several more runs, we decided that what needed out of life was freedom. Freedom to adventure, to travel, to run and hike wherever. We couldn’t work jobs that only gave you two weeks vacation. We needed more money too if we were to start a family and build a home. We needed access to mountains in which we could run, hike, snowshoe and camp. Despite our desire to live with and near family, we couldn’t stay. On our next run we decided teaching was our only option. Due to stupid laws, we couldn’t teach in Minnesota or Wisconsin. Instead, we looked for jobs where we could teach without a license (no states would accept our Louisiana licenses) and where we would also find mountains. A month later, we’d relocated to Denver.
If Boulder is Mecca, Denver is a close second. Before beginning our new teaching jobs in July, we spent the spring and summer adventuring. We’d run everyday. We’d hike and we’d backpack. We’d go out to the mountains with our friends Brian and Brittaney. Athletics was our life once again. In June our friends Stacy and Kyle moved to Denver. Kyle is a runner. On our first run, he was wearing his homemade leather huaraches. Ellie and I thought it was a little silly, but we were intrigued. Kyle extolled on the virtues of barefoot running and how humans were evolved to run barefoot. He had previously suffered many injuries while running in high school and college. However, now that he was barefoot running, and running in vibram five-fingers, he was not only injury free, but was also running faster and further.
A week or so later, Ellie’s dad Michael, sent us a copy of Born to Run. Included in the package was a letter describing how he too had begun running some miles barefoot and was feeling great. Ellie took the book with us on our 10 day backpacking trip to the Weminuche Wilderness. She couldn’t put it down. Every page or two she would read me excerpts. As we hiked during the day, she would summarize what she’d read the night before. Finally, we got home I read it myself. It blew my mind. People run 100 miles?! We were designed through evolution to run barefoot?! The Tarahumara in Mexico run ultramarathons in sandals?!
Intrigued and fascinated I found two new goals. Run an ultramarathon. Run a marathon barefoot. Excited I jumped in whole hog. I ditched my shoes and started going straight up barefoot. Kyle and I went for several 10 mile plus runs barefoot. It was awesome. My stride changed. I felt more alive and free than I’d ever felt running. Ellie started barefooting as well. However, we made the number one rookie barefoot running mistake. Too much too soon. Ellie went down first with a foot injury. I followed soon after. What the fuck? I thought barefoot running was supposed to prevent injury. Well, our feet had grown weak and pathetic through years of wearing shoes. “Arch support” had weakened our feet. As McDougall says in Born to Run, “every mason worth his trowel knows that supporting an arch makes it weaker.” While we may be designed to run barefoot, it takes some time to strengthen your feet and legs after years of crappy shoes.
Soon there after school started and it got crazy hot. I hate running in the heat, and my injury gave me a good excuse not to. My plan of running the Denver marathon failed. I started biking to work though. We kept hiking and camping on the weekends too. In July, we climbed Mt. Yale (14,196 ft) with our friends Brian and Brittaney. Brittaney was eleven weeks pregnant. Ellie was about 2 or 3 days pregnant. In early August we climbed Grays Peak (14,270 ft) and Torreys Peak (14,267 ft) with Kyle and our friend Sara. We also climbed a couple of 13ers. In early September, I climbed the backside of Mt. Lincoln (14,286ft) in a blizzard with Kyle and my friend Jesse White. By then Ellie was two months pregnant with Hen, so she elected to stay home.
Through the fall, Ellie and I continued to run and hike together. While Ellie grew ever more preggers, her tenacity and desire to obliterate herself through exercise remained. She’d be damned if a baby in her belly would stop her from sweating. She was one hot pregnant lady too. Up until labor she continued to push herself. (The day before her due date we hiked eight miles at 9000 ft). Our new schools had their challenges and difficulties, and we worked a lot, but we never grew depressed and devastated like in New Orleans. In fact we were growing to like our jobs and feel satisfied with our work! Getting out and exercising in the Mountains has made all the difference. We live 20 minutes from the foothills and can escape at any point. Our relationship grows stronger with each step we take. Never again will we fall back into those dark places.
While Ellie and I still walk and hike together, our running has diverged once more. With pregnancy Ellie’s miles decreased while mine increased. I am still inspired by Born to Run. I do want to run an ultra. I am also consistently barefoot running. I have my own pair of huaraches for city runs. When running on trails, which I try to do as often as I can, I wear the minimalist Merrell Sonics. Throughout the winter and spring I’ve been amping up my miles. I had planned to try a 50 miler this summer. However, with Lily coming, I realized I don’t want to spend so much time out running and away from her and Ellie. Instead, I have set my sights on marathons and 50k’s this year.
In February, I DNFed (did not finish) my first at attempt at an ultra. Kyle, Stacy, Ellie and I went to Santa Fe for a long weekend. Kyle and I ran the Albuquerque Salinas Fat Ass. However after 15 miles, my IT band inflamed and I hobbled 6 more miles to the car where I called it quits.
Since then, I’ve completed two 20 mile plus trail runs. One at White Ranch. The other at Red Rocks. Two weeks ago, I ran 27 miles to Golden and back on the Clear Creek trail. This Saturday, May 12, I run in the Quad Rock 25 miler with Kyle. While, he plans to finish in the front pack in 3:30 or so, my goal is to finish under six hours. The following weekend, I run in the Colfax marathon as part of the West Denver Prep team. Yes, I am essentially doing back to back marathons in two weekends. Originally, it was planned to be part of my 50 mile race training. Now, its become my premier athletic endeavor of 2012. If that’s not enough, two weeks after Colfax, on June 3, I will be cycling in Elephant Rock 100 mile bike race as part of Team Transplant. If you would like to sponsor me in to 100 miler please go to (http://teamtransplant2012.kintera.org/faf/donorReg/donorPledge.asp?ievent=1009980&lis=1&kntae1009980=6D352DD71A994D729208C46E2D52F9B4&supId=358060284).
With the addition to of Lily to our family, its a guarantee that our athletic endeavors will change. Change, not end that is. So much of Ellie and I’s relationship is built upon our runs and adventures. It’s inevitable that our family with Hen will share the same foundations. Through our endeavors we have learned to not only endure hardship but to thrive as a healthy family. Being active is who we are.
Lately, I miss running with Ellie. I’m finally at a point in my life where I look forward to my runs. I no longer struggle to motivate myself. And now, I really want to share it with Ellie again. Unfortunately, she has lost her steam from labor and breastfeeding. Running 200 yards for her is like running a swift 5k in full plate armor. Once Ellie is all healed up though, we’ll whip her back into shape as we run barefoot through Edgewater pushing Hen in the chariot. My goal for our next athletic endeavor: run our first successful 50k together this fall.
As a Thursday’s child, Lily has far to go. We interpret this to mean she is going to be a barefoot ultrarunner. 🙂 I know I can’t make her be a runner, but she will be an adventurer. As unconventional parents we will raise Lily to be part of our adventures. We may have to scale back on some of the miles once she is mobile, but I look forward to the time we spend being active with Lily.