TransConquered! The Final Week

Photo by  Max Haimowitz

Photo by Max Haimowitz

States: Pennsylvania, New Jersey, NEW YORK

Days: 69 – 75

Start: ~5 miles west of Gettysburg, PA

End: CENTRAL PARK, NEW YORK CITY

Cumulative miles: 3,176.6 miles

Day 69 (Thursday)

Today was really special for me because I got to share the road and my whole day with Jackie Howard.

I don’t even know where to start when it comes to talking about this wonderful lady. I guess I’ll start by saying CONGRATS on your personal distance record yesterday!!! Jackie (@veganathleteatx) ran the whole day with me, all 45 miles. It made the day fly by. Considering how the last week has been, it was quite a relief to have such a good day. It was actually enjoyable!

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In planning for this project I knew without a doubt the best person to be my crew chief was Jackie. She is quite possibly the most capable human I have ever met and her dedication to fitness and a vegan life are unparalleled. When she said yes to taking on this role, I knew without a doubt that I would make it to New York City.

Jackie works tirelessly to make sure that everything falls in line while we are out here on the Transcon. She is the brains behind my nutrition plan. Her knowledge of what it takes to be successful on the cleanest vegan diet possible is by far the biggest contributing factor to my success thus far. During the first two weeks of my run, as my body and mind were breaking down and rebuilding for the journey ahead, Jackie was my rock. I relied on her council and support more than I could have ever imagined. Whenever I had a question about what I should do she was there and her answers were not only always the right ones, they left me feeling confident that everything would be ok.

Jackie prepped all of my other crew members that have joined me over the months so that they knew what to expect. She is also constantly working to coordinate with people along the route who want to meet up and run some of my daily miles with me, to communicate with my sponsors and contributing brands, to assist me with staying on top of social media, and so so much more.

She rejoined the crew over two weeks ago and jumped right back into the mix. Now, due to her hard work and organizational skills things are running like a well-oiled machine, leaving her time to run with me almost everyday.

Jackie is also my fiancée Shelley’s sister and my soon to be sister-in-law. I grew up an only child, never knowing what it would be like to have sibling. I now do, and I truly cherish our friendship.

Jackie is a certified plant-based nutritionist who has not only advised me on the best nutrition plan possible for my run across the U.S. but also thru-hiked the Appalachian Trail just last year with her husband, Jamie, all on a vegan diet. She knows her stuff and will soon be setting out to bring her knowledge and expertise to others who want to achieve monumental plant-based goals. Whether that means making the switch to a vegan diet or taking on a 3,200 mile run across the U.S. – and everything in between! So give her a follow (and check out her website at: www.jackiejamie.com) and keep a lookout for things to come from her!

Thank you so much Jackie. Your friendship and support means the absolute world to me.

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Day 70 (Friday)

Today is my last full day of running 45 miles. After today, I slowly start to reduce my daily mileage for two big reasons: A. Because I can and have the extra days to do this, and B. So that I don’t enter an extreme shock to the system when I stop running. My hope is to let my have some time to both physically and mentally come down from the journey so as to better process in my transition.

I also hit a huge milestone: 3,000 miles run. I don’t even think I’ve run 3,000 miles in a while calendar year before. This one feels big.

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There were a couple of surprises today that really stood out to me. The first one was a visit by Cindy Stone who brought her WGAL 8 TV news crew to the Transcon to interview me! Thank you Lancaster, PA for caring about my run, my diet, and my overall mission. And thanks, Cindy, for coming out! It was great to see you.

My last 14 miles of the day were spent with an old childhood friend, Jeff, who drive from Philly to run with me! I’m quite proud of him for putting in those miles with him and really enjoyed his company. We had recently connected back home in Denver not too long ago, so it was nice to pick up where we left off.

One of Jackie’s and Jamie’s friends, Becky, surprised the crew with massive amounts of fresh organic fruit and delicious vegan food. I actually ate bread today on a fantastic sandwich. Some of you might remember that I haven’t been able to stomach bread since I gave up on the tofu sandwiches a few weeks into my run. But this bread was perfect and so was the sandwich. Maybe I’m already transitioning back into a post-Transcon person!

Day 71 (Saturday)

41 miles.

THE TAPER HAS BEGUN!

For the first time since I can remember I ran LESS than 45 miles. Oh what a difference 4 miles can make.

I make sense of my days in five-mile increments. The first 15 miles are when I wake up and get the body and mind going.

At the 15-mile mark, I know I am 1/3 of the way done. The next stop 5 miles ahead puts me at 20 miles, which always feels like a good chunk done. 20 miles is also just one 5-mile segment shy of being at mile 25, which is over halfway done with the day. Mile 30 hits and it’s all downhill from there.

Taking almost one whole segment out today made allowed me to relax a little bit psychologically.

It was nice to spend some miles with Sarah and Morgan, and I had some good chats with Noë and Chris at two of my stops (Chris is a buddy who I met down in Big Bend during our annual West Texas desert trail race!).

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The Memorial Day traffic is intense. Combined with running in a generally more populated area, the stimulus is constant and always pretty high. This does drain me quite a bit, and it’s yet another reason I was glad to be able to quit my day a little sooner.

Day 72 (Sunday)

37 miles.

Today, I crossed from Pennsylvania into New Jersey (my second-to-last state!) AND crossed my “100 miles to go” milestone! I had such a welcoming party!

People were coming and going all day long to share miles with me, or ask what we are up to.

With so many people out on the road and at stops, the day passed with such ease. It also helped that again there were so many fewer miles to cover than my usual 45.

New Jersey is absolutely beautiful and the people who have come out to support have been spectacular. Some really great personalities here! In general, I’ve feel really supported by the people I’ve met in New Jersey.

A huge thank you to all the runners who joined me! There were at least 7 folks who figured out how to meet up. It’s not easy to find your way to the Transcon, so thank you guys for putting in the effort (and to Jackie for personally coordinating with almost everyone who is interested in meeting up). Also, a huge thanks for the vegan doughnuts!!! You all made the day so wonderful.

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In light of finishing early, my crew and I were able to venture out for dinner, something I haven’t done since Flagstaff, AZ. Normally that kind of alteration in my routine really screws with me (this is why I also don’t enjoy staying in hotel rooms, even occasionally). But knowing that I have EVEN FEWER miles to run tomorrow made it seem like something I could actually enjoy doing. And I did! It was wild to sit down at a restaurant and order food. The feeling was just odd and I’m having trouble describing it exactly. Reintroducing myself into society is going to be a process for sure, at least I can tell you that with certainty. Even with all of the oddities it was really great to spend a moment with those who have given so much to me and this journey. Chris, Clara, Jackie, and Elliott, I’ll never forget nor be able to tell you enough just how much I appreciate the time and care you have given to me.

Day 73 (Monday)

30 miles.

Thanks to NJ Veg Fest for coming out to interview me today, and organizing a meeting with the mayor of Morristown, NJ and his wife! He has been able to fully transition off his diabetes medication after moving towards a plant-based diet, and he is inspired to get fully get back on the bandwagon again. Very cool to meet him and hear his story. It was actually through Bobby, a guy who ran with me yesterday, that this connection was made. Thanks, Bobby!

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Tonight we kind of celebrated the “End of the Transcon.” In many ways, the Transcon aspect of this run is already over. We are just coasting now. No more 45 mile days. No more 12-14 hours on the road. No more late bedtimes where I’m too tired to even chew my dinner or take a shower. No more straight, empty roads. No more battling with the realization that I have to do this day after day after day for the foreseeable future.

With our extra time, we aren’t exactly sure what to do with ourselves. In theory, I should be wanting to sleep sleep sleep, but there’s a part of my mind that won’t quiet down. Part of me wants to just keep running so that I can finish, and another part of me is very curious about how overstimulated I’ll be when I am done. I’m still so incredibly sensitive these days and it’s going to be a really interesting transition back into real life for sure.

I’ve also had a lot more opportunities to talk about my plant powered mission with people we meet at gas stations or at my aid stops. There is so much mutual respect in these conversations and I couldn’t feel more inspired to keep having them.

Jackie, Chris, and Clara got a hotel room tonight, and Elliott and I continued to sleep in the rig. I took a shower in a REAL BATHROOM tonight. I haven’t done that since Flagstaff, AZ as well! (Most of my showers are done with baby wipes, some are just a quick rinse in the camper’s shower that I can’t even stand up inside, and then every so often I take a shower at a campground - but not all of them have had hot water!).

We had our “last supper” together in the camper. It definitely feels like the end is near. Tomorrow night, Shelley and my mom will be here. And then the next day, it really does end!

Day 74 (Tuesday)

27 miles.

I can’t even describe how fast 27 miles went by today. Even though much of it was in the rain, it was pretty much over before I knew it. I had people join me to run again, even in the less than ideal weather.

I was done with my run before Shelley even left our house in Denver to catch her flight to rejoin the Transcon for my final day. My mom Paige also flew out this morning and will meet up with us tonight as well.

The most hospitable family in New Jersey has taken us into their home. Macabee and Alexis, you and your children were so full of life and it was an honor to get to know you. Thank you for providing beds for half of our crew, allowing us to park the rig on your street, and for all of the positive energy you instilled in all of us.

Day 75 (Wednesday)

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17 miles.

This morning was very weird for me. Due to the logistics of the day with respect to cars and everybody “moving” into the city, I still had my same early wake up time… but the plan was not to start running until 10am. That’s a lot of morning down time that I’m not used to and as a result, anxiety levels rose pretty high.

Alexis and Macabee made us coffee, and we all kind of hung out while their kids went through their morning routines to get ready for school. Chris left with Alexis around 8am to drop off the younger kids and to leave the rig in the elementary school parking lot. This is where the rig will stay for the next week or so while the rest of us are in the city. I’ll head back out to NJ to pick it up when I’m making my way back to Denver.

We packed all of our luggage into the Prius, which Clara and my mom would also be crewing with for the final day of running. Finally 10am came and we were greeted by a handful of folks outside of Que Pasta who were planning on running either the whole day with me or just a portion of my miles. I wish I could remember everyone’s names right now, but in some ways it just felt like a really big blur.

The film crew (Hidden Woods Media) followed us all the way to Central Park. Seeing David again made things feel like they were coming full circle. It seems like years ago that we did that first film shoot in a blizzard before my run started.

The route was urban the whole time and we were thankful to have some locals including Alexis and Hela who were able to advise us on the best places to cross the streets. We were probably a group of about 10 for the first 8 miles.

Around mile 7, Trippe Davis showed up to run! So good to see him again. Also, Macabee, Alexis’ husband, played hooky from work as school principal to surprise us on our route several times. So awesome.

The weather was definitely humid and muggy, but none of that mattered because as soon as we crossed the George Washington Bridge and got that killer view of the Manhattan skyline, everything started to make sense and I was overwhelmingly happy. Just after crossing over into New York, everyone made me dip down to the bay to touch the water. After all, what’s a coast-to-coast run if I don’t touch the water on both sides?

I have to give a quick shoutout to my mom and Clara for crewing us. Navigating through New Jersey and then New York City and finding places to park that were close enough to our route was no easy task and they crushed it.

With 5 miles left to go, another huge group of people joined us including Switch4Good athletes Mikey and Meredith. There was a handful of really nice folks from Vegans of New York that joined as well. All-in-all, we were a group of about 20 making the final push to Central Park. Holy shit.

Dodging cars and people on the busy sidewalks of Manhattan was thrilling. I could literally taste the finish line; it was so damn close. All of a sudden, we took a left into the park and there was my welcoming party. I grabbed that finish line ribbon and that was it. It was all over. I can’t begin to describe how grateful I am for everyone that joined me for miles on my final day and for everyone that showed up at the finish line to support me and this plant powered mission.

Photo by  Steven Seighman

The NadaMoo crew was giving out ice cream. My dear friend Kevin, the opening chef for Bufalina Pizza, showed up (I hadn’t seen him in so long!). It was so good to see him. Several other people from my years in Austin were there. New faces. Old faces. Noe drove up from Central Pennsylvania AGAIN, after having driven out multiple times during my days in Pennsylvania.

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I had some interviews lined up as soon as I finished with Donny Moss as well as with the Hidden Woods Media crew. Here’s a link to the video that Donny Moss threw together in about a day: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fo_QlJ5wNFk!

Once all the interviews and socializing was over, we started our journey to Brooklyn, and the crew slowly split up. Chris and Clara grabbed their backpacks and started walking from Central Park to the Manhattan YMCA, where they will stay. My mom, Jackie, Elliott, Shelley, and I piled into the Prius and conquered Manhattan rush hour traffic just as a rainstorm started. We dropped off Jackie and my Mom in Chelsea, and then we were three, making our way into Brooklyn. It took 1.5 hours to finally get to our little apartment (thank you Fran and Gabrielle for offering up your apartment to me and Shelley – it was perfect!). After taking showers, it was already time to grab something to eat and go meet up with friends for drinks… and so the socializing life begins again.

I don’t know exactly what else to say about this day except: Thank You. Thank you to all of you who followed along and supported me in whatever way you were able. To everyone who believed in me, you helped me get this done.

I know I’m a different person now, but I’m not exactly sure how to describe it yet. Mostly, I’m just happy to be surrounded by friends, family, and loved ones as I start this post-Transcon life. Who knows what the future holds for me now, but I know whatever it is, it will be great, and it will be focused on connecting with fellow human beings and on advocacy.

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Stay tuned. I’ll try to post some more reflective thoughts once I finish up my stay in NYC and get home to Denver!

Again, thank you all.

Photo by  Max Haimowitz

Photo by Max Haimowitz





















Robbie Balenger