In part one, I introduced you to Jan Walker, whose dream was to run across America. We learned about her journey to fitness after 50. In this post, I’ll report on how at age 57, Jan made her dream come true.
Project Planning for a LONG Run
Jan’s planning mission was simple – develop a plan to run cross country safely and unsupported. A simple mission with complicated execution!
To embark on the journey, Jan had to answer a lot of questions:
- What route would she take?
- When was the best time to go?
- What was her budget and how would she stay within her budget?
- What would she take with her?
- How would she carry her necessities?
- Where would she stay at night?
- What and where would she eat?
- What charity would be the beneficiary of her walk?
Every Journey Starts with a Plan
Jan meticulously researched every element of her plan. Balancing the energy costs of carrying extra gear more than 3100 miles with convenience, Jan decided to bring only the bare necessities. Tent, sleeping bag, mattress pad, sandals (she runs in Luna sandals, not running shoes), socks, a couple of changes of clothes, hat, safety vest, etc. Jan decided to pull her load with a cart she named Morpheus, rather than wear a pack or push a stroller. She developed her route and she had a plan.
Run for Good
Making a difference was an essential element of the journey for Jan. She decided to dedicate her journey to the September 11th National Memorial Trail.
The September 11th National Memorial Trail is a 1,300 mile system of trails and roadways that links the World Trade Center in New York, the Pentagon in Washington D.C and the Flight 93 Memorial in Shanksville, Pennsylvania. It serves as a tribute to the fallen men and women who perished on September 11, 2001.
The multipurpose trail system provides cyclists, hikers and walkers a valued public resource and an opportunity to experience breathtaking landscapes, meet new towns and engage in this unique historic trail.
The Challenges of a Run Across America
Jan started her journey in Oceanside, CA on March 1, 2016. Along the way, she encountered many challenges:
No matter how hard you train for an undertaking like Jan’s, you can’t actually know how your body will respond until you are on the road. It may surprise you that downhills can be harder on your body than uphills! As Jan faced long climbs and equally long downhills, she developed painful shin splints early on in her journey. She struggled through, felt the pain and ultimately had to take some time off to allow her body to heal. But she didn’t let that stop her!
Rain, Snow, Sleet, Lightning Storms, Wind (60 mph!). Heat (110 degrees!). Humidity. Unrelenting sun. Jan faced the cold and wind at high elevations in the west, then days on end, when the heat index was over 120! She faced it all.
Many times there were stretches with no services of any kind. No towns, no campgrounds, no hotels, no gas stations, no cell service. Nothing. Being unable to get to the town you planned to get to. Just some of the dozens of logistical challenges she faced along the way. I was amazed at Jan ‘s ability to adapt to rapidly changing conditions on the fly.
Imagine long stretch of road with not another human in sight. No one to talk to. Days on end without companionship.
Winding or narrow roads, little or no shoulder and fast moving traffic. Harrowing near misses. Imagine the toll to your spirit of constant road noise and hyper-vigilance to traffic!
Jan walked up and down hills and mountains. Through the desert. Through high altitudes and low. Through miles and miles of Tennessee (more than 570 miles!). Farmland. Alongside animal processing plants and trucks loaded with animals. (Phew!!!) She overcame it all.
Sometimes, all of these challenges take a toll and the body just shuts down until you give it a chance to recuperate. Jan’s body did just that. In New Mexico, she was forced to take 25 days off due to a severe upper respiratory infection, which spread to her sinuses and burst her right eardrum. Thankfully, a friend in New Mexico took her in so she could heal. Ironically, she met this friend at the Grand to Grand Race discussed in Part 1.
Once she got back out on the road after the 25 day layoff, it was like completely starting over. The very first day she had to complete 18 miles after having done nothing physically the whole time she was ill. Breathing was difficult because the infection had taken its toll. For the first time in her life, she had to have an inhaler just to get through the day!
It was sheer agony that lasted for nearly a month!
My Takeaways From Jan’s Journey
Adaptability is Critical to a Successful Run
Jan planned her heart out before beginning her cross country odyssey. She had plans for how far to go daily, where to stay, how long to stop for lunch. But almost daily, Jan encountered the unexpected. Injury, weather, closed businesses, unanticipated interviews. For example, Jan arranged to have a friend drop water along an isolated stretch of road. But, once she got there, the water wasn’t there, or wasn’t accessible.
To make this journey work, Jan had to roll with the punches. Countless daily adjustments, large and small. She rested extra when she needed. She changed route if she needed. She asked for help if she needed. Perhaps the biggest change in plan was when Jan’s husband joined to support her journey. Delays put Jan traveling through remote areas in the worst possible heat and humidity. She recognized that to successfully complete her journey in good health, she needed to ask Chuck to help get her to and from her starting and ending points each day. They both adapted to a totally new plan.
One Day at a Time.
When times were tough, if Jan spent all her time thinking about how many days, weeks, months or miles were left and what difficulties lay ahead, she could have been overwhelmed. But she took one day at a time, one minute at a time. And step by step, she covered the US Coast to Coast.
People are Good.
I found Jan’s journey to be in stark contrast to the rhetoric we hear daily in politics and media. Every day, she experienced the goodness of strangers. People who brought her a cold drink, a snack or paid for her meal. People who opened their home for her to spend a night. Business owners that gave her a free room or a deep discount, or stayed open late to fix her car. Fire stations who gave Jan a meal, a bed, a camp site, an escort. The kindness came from people of all races and walks of life, rich or poor. And she returned their love and kindness, always giving a shout out to her road angels.
I loved reading Jan’s daily report – everyday I found something to reaffirm my belief that people are good, kind and open-hearted.
On October 8, 2016, Jan completed her journey from the Pacific coast in Oceanside, California to the Atlantic coast in Ocean City, Maryland – over 3100 miles!!!!
I feel very lucky to have met Jan and to be able to follow her journey. She is one adaptable, tough, tenacious, and outgoing lady. My hat is off to you, Jan!
After she has had a chance to decompress, I’ll ask Jan for her lessons learned and what may be next for her.
September 11th National Memorial Trail
Jan crossed America to benefit the September 11th National Memorial Trail Alliance. The trail is a 1,300 mile system of trails and roadways that links the World Trade Center in New York, the Pentagon in Washington D.C and the Flight 93 Memorial in Shanksville, Pennsylvania. It serves as a tribute to the fallen men and women who perished on September 11, 2001.
You can donate in honor of Jan’s journey. The September 11th Trail Alliance is a not-for-profit, 501(c)(3) Organization and all donations and contributions are tax deductible.
Be sure to Designate “Jan Walker’s Run Across America” as the Designated Fund!