Running the Country

George Washington Bridge

The George Washington Bridge, connecting New Jersey and New York, where I spent some of the final miles of my transcon in the fall of 2008.

Where were you two years ago today, on November 4, 2008? Watching the election returns? Paying attention to something else entirely?

Heather and I were doing both, because we crossed into New York from New Jersey that Tuesday, on the final day of my run across the United States. Although I hadn’t planned to finish on such a historic date, there it was. As we came into Times Square, early election results were blaring on the big screens, truly larger than life.

We hadn’t followed the presidential race closely (shoot, I never even heard of Joe the plumber until after we returned home later that month), as my 60-mile days had become all-consuming. Besides, I’d met all kinds of people along the way, from San Francisco to New York, and trusted that they would make a good decision about who would lead our country.

As I ran on the streets of Manhattan, I grinned as wide as if I were a career baby-kisser and glad-hander myself. Maybe the people cheering and partying in the streets thought I was part of the big celebration. In a way, I was: I enjoyed imagining that all the hoopla was for me.

Yet there wasn’t much real fanfare for me, and that was as it should have been. In the end, it was just close family and a few of my friends watching the finish. When the going got tough, these people had been there for me. I thought to myself, then, that this was a micro model of how things should work within societies. We all face tough challenges, and if we can retain that baseline of grounded values, set our sights high, and persevere, how can we not succeed? If we can work together—in small and large groups, in families, communities, and as a nation—we’re bound to bootstrap ourselves out of hard times. Even if we fail to achieve our goal, we will have gained ground by trying.

And if we do achieve the goal, what then? It’s like the Zen koan: before enlightenment, chop wood and carry water; after enlightenment, chop wood and carry water. For me, the wood and water of my life are work and family. You could define the wood and water for anyone, or any endeavor, for that matter. Running has its wood and water, as do mountain climbing, or adventure racing. It’s valuable to figure out what those things are, I believe.

So on this anniversary of my finish of the transcontinental run, I’m reflecting again on wood and water, on goals met and unmet, and on the people who make my life bigger and more meaningful by being in it. Thanks for letting me share my thoughts with you.

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5 Responses to Running the Country

  1. “Even if we fail to achieve our goal, we will have gained ground by trying.”

    Marshall, this says everything. We must always try, for that indeed is where inner growth comes from.
    Todd Jennings´s last blog post ..Sapphire Trail Day 23

  2. hey Marshall & Heather…terrfic article…you run as well as you write…old dave

  3. Tim Walsh says:

    Chop wood, carry water and inspire…you both achieve all three.

  4. Jerry Cagle says:

    Heather and Marshall,
    Based on the outcome of the recent mid-term elections I have concluded that the body politic of this country is certifiably bi-polar. Thanks for modeling some constancy of vision and purpose…!

  5. Denise Jones says:

    Your reflections two years later are the glowing example of why we love you so dearly. Thank you for the beautiful sentiments and your recollection of a greand achievement. In the end, you are so right, wood and water, both before and after, and hard work, family and friends. The close relationship we have shared for many years of how blessed we feel to know both you and your lovely wife.
    We just celebrated our 20th anniversary! WE are so blessed also. We remember knowing you BEFORE we got married!!!! YIKES!
    Love you both..
    Denise and Ben

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