Running long and strong
It all began in a boot camp in Plainfield. Under the enthusiastic guidance of April Farnham, a loyal group of athletes (moms, dads and ordinary people) meet regularly at 5 a.m. to push the boundaries of their own personal fitness. From this petri dish of energy, the “VT Road Runners” formed and grew. Kristin Fletcher is but one of them.
Fletcher, an independent contractor working in marketing and journalism, loves to run. In fact, without her regular Tuesday/Thursday ventures with Farnham and the Road Runners, Fletcher feels “off.” Without the continuity of regular, demanding exercise she, like others, feels a disruption to the rhythm of her days, a diminished sense of calm and purpose when meeting life’s demands.
Fletcher is neither a sprinter nor an Olympic contender. She simply runs for the fun of it. Of her 5 a.m. group who runs year round she said, “You dress for it and you can do it.”
Fletcher returned to running when her first child (now 14) was 18 months old. “I wanted to lose baby weight,” Fletcher said. She also wanted to maintain her identity an athlete.
She began sensibly, running a flat stretch of Cabot Road until she could build up gradually to a 7-mile distance at which she plateaued for some time. “Because I’m not blessed with speed, I prefer the satisfaction of going long distances,” Fletcher said. “Once you figure out the nutrition, that makes it possible.”
Nutrition (before, during and after training and competing) is an integral part of running, but not the entire story. Someone once said that running long distances is 90 percent mental and the other half is physical. We snicker at that one, but, as always, there’s an element of truth in the absurd.
To a certain degree, humans were designed to be able to run. All one needs to do is trace the history of early existence to find our ancestors out there chasing down food or fleeing the enemy whether animal or human. Physically, humans should be able to run, to put one foot safely in front of the other, with good form and varying efficiency.
Running, as we know, is a debatable topic. Some evidence proves unequivocally that running damages the body while other evidence does exactly the opposite. Myths are dispelled daily just as records are broken.
Running fast may be another story. Not everyone can run fast. To be fast, a runner must possess the physical attributes to support speed, the time and singular dedication to train for speed, the mental discipline to motivate training and the raw talent to be developed.
Most, however, can run long. Studies suggest that combining a walk/run approach to training is both effective and kinder to the body. The analogy of the tortoise and the hare has been diminished by the current marathon times that are anything but tortoise times, but the gist of the analogy holds. The hares have both the genetic predisposition and lifestyle habits for speed while the tortoises embark on a sustainable journey that allows them two victories: to finish and to become a runner, a verifiable athlete.
“Only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go.” - T.S. Eliot. Fletcher risked going too far. She challenged herself to run longer until she was able to compete and finish half and whole marathons. “You have to decide for yourself that it’s something you want to do,” Fletcher said. You must go beyond that first mile or second or third.” Then you are out there. You are on your way. Perhaps it is 90 percent mental.
Along the way, a friend in Marshfield organized a team of 12 runners to participate in the Green Mountain Relay, a monumental, 200-mile course from Jeffersonville to Bennington along postcard-perfect Route 100.
“The challenge of these relays is you don’t sleep,” Fletcher said. “You don’t eat properly and much of what you have is adrenalin going for you. The biggest challenge is managing yourself.”
Two vans carried six runners each who lived, breathed, ate, shared and ran. “Every year is just incredible,” Fletcher said. Running took second place to the time spent in the vans where the teams bonded. “It was like summer camp,” she said. “I really loved that I was always inspired by seeing what others can do. Running can be such a solitary thing that to have that support was incredible.”
Sadly, this year’s Green Mountain Relay, which would have been Fletcher’s fifth, has been cancelled due to shortage of early registration. Timberline Events LLC, out of Englewood, Col., was the company behind the Relay. Paul Vanderheiden, Race Director, in an email to early registrants, confirmed his love for the state and his desire to promote an event here, but pointed to rising costs and lowering participation as his reasons to cancel. It is unclear if he will try again next year.
“It’s a small community and there are only so many runners to whom this race would appeal,” Fletcher said. “It was my perception that a lot of casual runners didn’t come back.” The cost was substantial and so was the degree of challenge and commitment.
“I feel like he (race director) put too much responsibility on the runners to bring in other teams,” Fletcher said. The solution might lie in bringing the event home, keeping it local, perhaps adding a self-sustaining, non-profit element. “I would love to see the Relay come back,” Fletcher said.
Dividing long distance running into manageable shorter bits mimics life. One embarks on huge tasks, breaks them up into little pieces and ultimately accomplishes the whole. Doing so is transformative and practiced in small but meaningful ways.
Fletcher lived with her dream before each event. She would look at roads and imagine what it would be like to run them. “Each year was different,” she said. “I was a different runner with different legs.” Running the same event repeatedly is a vital confirmation of progress and accomplishment.
Even if this year’s Relay is not be a reality for Fletcher, running is a constant. “It’s what I do for fun,” she said. “It’s my social life. I’m lucky I met up with this amazing group of people. April [Farnham] makes the crazy seem sane.”
“The miracle isn’t that I finished. The miracle is that I had the courage to start,” John Bingham, running speaker and writer, said. “Believe that you can run farther or faster. Believe that you’re young enough, old enough, strong enough, and so on to accomplish everything you want to do. Don’t let worn-out beliefs stop you from moving beyond yourself.”
Crazy may well be sane.