TransCon Recap: Week 6

Screen Shot 2019-04-26 at 11.48.37 AM.png

States: Oklahoma, Kansas, Missouri

Days: 34 – 41

Start: Laverne, OK

End: Joplin, MO

Cumulative miles: 1,712.2 mi

Day 34:

The storm last night didn’t end up being that bad after all. Weatherman was wrong, go figure. I had some rolling hills today and I’m noticing that the Oklahoma landscape is starting to change. I definitely could tell that I had that extra rest last night; running uphill doesn’t feel like work at all. The winds were ferocious, but luckily they were mostly at my back. I won’t ever complain about that!

Jacob Garcia arrived last night and put in 20 miles with me today. Elliott put in another 10 with me, which means I had great company for a major part of my day.

Screen Shot 2019-04-26 at 5.24.54 PM.png

Chris and Clara, my future in-laws, left this afternoon. It kind of feels like the end of an era. They have literally been with me since the beginning of the run. I can’t thank them enough for everything they’ve done to support me.

Last year, Chris invited me to go down to the Copper Canyons to run the Caballo Blanco ultra race. It was literally the trip of a lifetime. Whatever happened to me down there was big, because shortly after coming home, I decided I was going to run across the country exactly one year later. Chris and Clara were some of the first people I called when I made up my mind to do this, and I made my way down to Austin to start the planning process. They were the architects of the framework that we are still using today to get me from LA to NYC one step at a time.

Thank you, C&C for all that you have done for the Transcon. You have been the backbone of the crew. And the crew works REALLY hard, everyone! I love them so much and am really thankful to have them in my life.  

Day 35:

Joe Whinery joined the crew while I was sleeping last night! He’s a friend from Austin, and I’m so excited to reconnect with him and grateful that he is participating in my project in such a big way. I spent almost all of my breaks catching up rather than staying strictly to business.

Usually my breaks consist of refilling my water bottles with Skratch, replenishing any bars, gels, or snacks that I ate during the last segment, and either 1) drinking a fruit + veggie smoothie with Soylent added, or 2) eating solid food like pringles, rice + beans, tofu, tortillas, peanut butter, etc. I try to keep my breaks short unless I need to make some serious adjustments to my layers (like take off my running tights), or elevate/ice my legs (which thankfully I haven’t had to do in a while).

The No Meat Athlete ATX group sent up some pineapple bread and protein birthday cake balls. They were delicious, thank you!

Sometimes I think about how differently this whole run might have turned out if just one thing had played out differently. I remember my first phone call with Daniel Nicholson, CEO of NadaMoo! and how I instantly felt like I had found the perfect partner for this Transcontinental run. The Plant Powered Mission was born and the mission statement couldn’t align better with my values. It has essentially become my personal mantra. I’m so grateful that NadaMoo! jumped on board with this project right away and am eternally grateful for the support they have provided me along the way.

Screen Shot 2019-04-26 at 5.35.56 PM.png

Many of us dream. Many of us are are big dreamers and some of us will pursue those dreams until they come to fruition. But success never happens in a vacuum, all alone. NadaMoo!’s support was the big catalyst that threw into motion all of this. It’s not often that someone else takes a leap in order to believe in your dreams. I don’t take that lightly. Thank you, Daniel, and the rest of the NadaMoo! team for believe in me and in this Plant Powered Mission.  

Day 36:

Ran through the salt plains today. The wetlands are really beautiful out here. It’s amazing what I get to appreciate when I see this country at a runner’s pace. Had some horses run beside me today, that was cool.

Today I got to run and catch up with an old friend, Gabe. He and his partner Lauren drove up from San Antonio to support my run. That’s quite a drive, y’all. I first met Gabe from way back in my early days in the service industry in Austin. We have a ton of mutual friends, and hung out in all the same places.

Gabe ran 38 miles with me today, his personal distance record. After I finished my miles, we were about to hop in the car to drive the 3 miles to our sleeping spot for the night and Gabe decided to just go for it. It is incredible to watch somebody push themselves like that. Overall, it’s pretty badass.

I want to tell a little bit of his story because it inspired me so much, and I think it would inspire anyone. Gabe transitioned to a plant-based lifestyle right around the time his son was born a couple of years ago. He was a traditionally-trained chef, so doing that is kind of a big deal in his world. He also started running. Along with the running, he found sobriety. I have several friends actually who have found that sobriety and running go well together and I admire their determination to make these major life changes. In two days, Gabe will have reached 6-months of being sober. I’m just really proud of him for that and think he deserves praise for making himself accountable. I think he’s a great example of how we have choices in this life, and we can make choices that feel good and are good for those around us that we love. If something is NOT working for you, you can adjust to make your life work for you instead of against you. The only thing that’s standing between you and a life change is your ability to be honest with yourself. (Side note: the day after he left us on the Transcon, he proposed to his long-time partner Lauren, and she said yes!).

Also, I just want to give a general shoutout to my awesome crew right now: Joe Whinery, Nick Ackermann, Jacob Garcia, and of course Elliott Preater. I’m so grateful that these guys have taken so much time out of their lives to come and support me. Means a lot.

Day 37:

Today is Day 37, which means if everything goes according to plan I’m HALFWAY done with my running days. This is a big one for me and it feels weird just typing it out. I mean, halfway done is halfway done… but It’s also ONLY halfway done. Kind of a conflicting feeling, but I’m going to celebrate it! It’s also EARTH DAY and I got to spend the entire day outside. But I’ve done a lot of that lately.

 
Screen Shot 2019-04-26 at 5.39.44 PM.png
 

I spent the last year strategizing, dreaming, and vigorously chasing this dream. Yes, there were many times that I felt doubtful. I experienced some let downs and rejections that added some significant challenges. My plan morphed and changed so much over the course of the year, and at times I imagined that it would just be easier to do it Rickey Gates style, 100% alone, pushing along a baby stroller with my supplies. But here I am. Halfway done. Can you believe it? This is crazy.

The person who took that first step 37 days ago is quite the different person that finished up his daily miles today – in some ways, it’s hard to believe that I haven’t been doing this for my whole life. It’s hard to remember what life was like before this started, except that it included a lot less time on my feet. I ran across Interstate 35 today, which is the interstate that runs through Austin, TX, the city I called home for many years.

I haven’t put my finger on what in me has shifted or why, but I can say with certainty that I have never been this confident in my entire life.

I feel more connected to community and am so humbled every time I open my inbox to see how many people feel compelled to write to me and urge me onward. Of course, one of my biggest goals in this project was to reach a wide audience, and I’m constantly in awe of how successful that aspect has been.

Relying on others has never been my forté, and lately, I’ve had to do a lot of that. Now I’m used to it, and I almost look forward to the connection when I allow someone else to take care of me. Despite many societal assumptions, the people I’ve met along the way have all been inherently good. People are taking care of me in so many ways, both right here on the ground (i.e. doing my laundry, making my every meal, explaining my route for the day, tending to my physical ailments, running miles and miles and miles by my side, etc.), and from far away (i.e. text messages, phone calls, logistical organization and planning, coordinating surprise meet-ups, helping me manage my communications, etc.). So thank you, all for being a part of this project and getting me to where I am today. A new man.

Day 38:

Jacob Garcia (“J-Gar”) left today. We didn’t know each other that well before he came out to the Transcon, but having him around was such a treat. I knew his father, Bobby Garcia, through a local running club in Austin. Several members of Shelley’s family used to run with Bobby’s group and with Jacob, and they are a solid family for sure. Jacob was the first person to take over crewing since Chris and Clara left the Transcon and I was definitely a little nervous about how that transition would go. I’m happy to report that it went so smoothly. Joe, Nick, Jacob, and Elliott made an awesome team. It’s one thing to feel supported by family, it’s another thing to feel supported by friends.

About 15 miles into my run, I found myself running through a beautiful wind farm. I have to say this was certainly a highlight for me as there haven’t been many interesting views lately. I’ve always loved and been fascinated with these modern turbines. Driving through them on road trips they are always a point of interest for me. To me, they are an amazing example of progress and innovation.

These turbines were so sleek and I just loved running through those green fields. It’s times like that when I feel in awe and so lucky to be out here doing what I’m doing.

These turbines made me think about my mission and why I’m doing what I’m doing. The environmental reasons for being a plant-based human was a big part of my process. I personally feel so much better about my impact on the environment knowing that I am not supporting Big Agriculture. The meat and dairy industries both individually put SUCH a strain on our resources. So much of the land in this country – the land I’m running through – is used in unsustainable way to support the meat and dairy industries. The connection between Big Ag and climate change is undeniable. Animal agriculture is responsible for creating more greenhouse gases than all the world’s transportation systems combined! More than 90% of the Amazon Rainforest that has been cleared since 1970 is used for meat production. Think about that!

I’m hoping that by bringing these reflections up, we can have more conversations about how our personal and individual lifestyle choices actually do have consequences. I want to feel good about my choices. Being plant-based and waste-conscious is a great start.

Day 39:

Today, I woke up to thunderstorms. I can’t believe it took me 39 days to finally hit this kind of weather. I was well-equipped with my Black Diamond gear, thankfully. At some point when you basically live in the outdoors, you just have to accept that you’re probably going to get a little wet at some point. There were a couple of times the crew considered pulling me off the road due to lightning, but ultimately, I was safe to continue.

The scenery is changing, which is always something I’m acutely aware of. I can feel that we are heading east. The topography includes more rolling hills, lots of green pastures and fields, and even some hardwood trees! This is so different from the desolate, vast, flat plains of Western Oklahoma.

The big milestone for today is that I ran my 1600th mile, which marks the halfway point for the Transcon. There’s still a lot more miles to go, but I’ve made it halfway, and everybody is really cheering me on for that, so thanks!

I had to drain quite a bit of fluid off my left pinky toe. It has grown to about twice its usual size. I’m not exactly sure how to manage it going forward – it’s a nice combination of blister underneath callous next to other blister, etc. Otherwise, my body is holding up quite nicely. Mental fatigue is definitely what seems to be eating at me slowly at this point. Everything kind of seems dull these days.

Day 40:

MY LAST FULL DAY IN OKLAHOMA! I glad to be finished with this state – no offense, but I’ve just spent so many days in this state. I’ve spent the most number of running days in this state, and I found myself in some major funks over the last couple of weeks.

 
Screen Shot 2019-04-26 at 5.43.41 PM.png
 

I feel the fatigue is accumulating and I’m not sure exactly what to do about it. I know that being tired of my food is kind of a problem, so I am straight up adding extra coconut milk to almost everything I eat hoping to meet my daily caloric goals. Another easy way to get in a calorie boost is eating more ice cream! Luckily Nick restocked our freezer with NadaMoo after a Whole Foods run in Tulsa.

I find myself just so sick of being out there sometimes. Yes, I have a great crew, yes I have great running company, but at the end of the day, I’m just out there for so long. Day after day. As soon as I start running for the day, I start looking forward to getting back into my van and going to sleep for the night. It’s hard to leave the camper and crew at breaks. I could just stay there and not get back to the road…

I feel human when I’m hanging out with the crew in the camper, joking around and laughing. Maybe that’s what I’m missing: just feeling more like a human. Right now, I’m just a machine that does the same thing day after day.

At least I’m sleeping at least 8 hours a night.

Day 41:

Today marks 20 days of running over 40 miles per day!

I’d say my body has definitely gotten over those physical humps I was experiencing at the end of Arizona and through New Mexico. But the mental challenges are getting real.

I slept in today in hopes that I would wake up feeling excited to hit the pavement. I didn’t. I am just tired. All the time. I called Shelley early this morning feeling desperate to make this exhaustion go away. She suggested that I read some of the messages and comments people have been sending my way on social media to remind me of how many people are cheering me on. It made such a difference to read those comments. Lifted my spirits pretty high, actually. Dotsie Bausch and Tanya Flink of Switch 4 Good sent me personalized video messages – thank you so much! Made me feel good that they are keeping an eye on me. About halfway through the day, things started to look up for me a little bit. I got my miles done. I got back to the van. I made it through this day.

I spent about an hour chatting with my crew chief Jackie while I ran about ways that I can increase my calorie intake to 10,000 cals/day. We decided that I should be paying special attention to specifically increasing my carb intake. With the coconut milk I’m adding to everything, I’m definitely getting the fats I need, but upping my carbohydrate intake will certainly help with my short-term energy needs. I think my metabolism has definitely entered a new speed. I also upped my B-12 intake and started taking some iron supplements. Jackie also started to talk to me about what I want life to look like after the Transcon is over. She’ll be joining back up on the Transcon pretty soon to bring me all the way to NYC!

 
Screen Shot 2019-04-26 at 5.43.20 PM.png
 

I ran through three states today: finished up Oklahoma (BYE!), ran through the corner of Kansas, and finished the day in Joplin, Missouri. The only other time this happened was when I left New Mexico, stepped into Texas for shits and giggles, and then entered into Oklahoma.

I’ll end with a shoutout to crew member, Nick Ackermann! Thanks so much for coming out to support me. You brought a big energy and personality to the crew, and I thank you for taking time out of your life to come out and support me.  

I’m feeling pretty optimistic about tomorrow, hoping that the tweaks we made today were the right ones to make. But that’s all I’ve got for now. I’ll check back in with ya later!

Robbie Balenger