The Road, Not a Novel by Cormac McCarthy

One month from today at this time I’ll be in New York City. I’ll probably be getting off my bicycle or sitting in a church in North Brunswick, New Jersey wondering what the heck I got myself into. “What the heck have I gotten myself into” has essentially been my mantra as of late and tonight I’m dwelling on it a little more than usual. Mostly because I’m running my first marathon at 7am. In less than twelve hours. I should really go to bed.

But I’m not in bed. I’m sitting here thinking about what I got myself into. I got myself into a 26.2 mile road race. Since I’ve been training for Illini 4000 in conjunction with marathon training I also think I got myself into a pretty serious relationship with the road. To be perfectly honest, I’ve probably spent nearly as many hours out on a road as in the library over the course of this semester. Roads are pretty complex things. They can act as a symbol of a journey whose road you travel down, they can be the turn you take to get to the grocery store, or they can simply be a slab of concrete stretched infinitely out in front of you. Illini 4000 and marathoning both encompass all three of these definitions which is pretty cool, but its also a little overwhelming to think about how heavily tomorrow, the next four months, and probably the rest of my life depend on some bits of concrete. Especially when you take into consideration the fun fact that I changed majors almost solely to avoid taking a class called “Concrete I” (This might be a slight exaggeration. Might.).

I’ve spent a lot of time preparing for roads. I’ll be living on the them this summer, both literally and figuratively as I travel with my I4K family. I’ll push myself as far as my body has ever gone tomorrow on them. I can’t wait for the winding roads this summer, but at the moment I’m quite preoccupied with the flat tarmacs of Champaign-Urbana. I keep thinking about all the things I’m going to leave on the road. The usual sweat, spit, snot (running is gross), and probably some blood. Most likely a few tears. Definitely some sanity. Probably some self respect. Giving all these things to something that on the most basic level is some ground up rocks mixed with water and set out to dry. And on this same level, all I’m going to get back is some joint and muscle pain. But, like I mentioned before, roads are complex and unpredictable. Between the intense pain and euphoric sense of accomplishment that comes with long distance anything is the most insane spectrum of immortal fearlessness and true terror. These things come from the road. The ability to handle uncertainty, fright, and excitement with the ignorant grace of having absolutely zero idea of what’s coming next. This comes from the road. The ability to literally struggle harder and farther than you ever have before. Again, from the road. The knowledge that your relationship with the road is just that: a relationship. Two things working together. After a point it isn’t about speed, or time, or other people. You’re a thing and its just you and the road. You’re going your distance and I’m going mine and we might be here together but we’re on different roads.

To make a long story short, roads are important to me. I want to get one tattooed on my leg (sorry to drop that bomb here, mom and dad). And even if you don’t enjoy cycling or running, I hope you can understand why running marathons or biking across the country is so important. There’s a reason we choose to raise money for cancer and cycle, and to me, it has a lot to do with the road.

And now here’s some food for thought that relates to my own personal relationship with the road. I guarantee I’ll be thinking about it a lot tomorrow somewhere around mile 22.

“Nobody wants to be here and nobody wants to leave.” -Cormac McCarthy, The Road

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