Editor’s Note: ‘Shut Up and Run, Midwest Miles’ is part of an exclusive Undo-Ordinary series based off UNDO co-founder Robin Arzon’s book, “Shut Up and Run.” Through this 8-part weekly series, 27- year-old midwesterner, runner, writer, father and husband, Dallas Peterman, takes us through his transformational journey inspired by Robin’s book, and reveals how his life was reshaped through running. Start at the beginning here.
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“When we take responsibility for our thoughts and perceptions, the running game becomes ours. When it comes to training, your mind is the most powerful tool. Period.” -Robin Arzon, Shut Up and Run
I didn’t always like it here. In my early twenties, I had watched my life spiral out of control due to poor life choices. Like a lot of kids, I graduated high school and felt lost. There was no structure, no guidance on how to find my next calling. Not knowing who I wanted to be or how to get there, I turned to partying. I spent most evenings locked inside my apartment consuming drugs and alcohol to suppress my pain. I skipped class, ditched friends, and watched the town that I once loved become a wasteland of unfulfilled dreams. My mind was tired, my heart was broken, and my spirit was crushed. So, when I was 21 years old, I found the best opportunity to get out and I took it.
A friend of mine had recently moved to the Houston area and was in need of a roommate, so I sold all of my belongings, bought a one way plane ticket and left. What I desired had nothing to do with Houston as a city; I really knew nothing about the place. What I was chasing was a fresh start. I wanted to get away from the familiar and test myself in a new environment where I had the chance to create a new me. As time went by, that’s exactly what happened.
I made friends, spent most of my days surfing and met a beautiful girl that I would eventually call my wife. The months turned to years and before I knew it, I had identified with a new culture. I got married, became a father and realized that without leaving home, none of these things would have been possible. Although a positive experience that changed my life, over time my wife and I desired something different.
We had grown tired of the hustle and bustle. The casual way news reporters would always slip in another homicide to their daily report, the way the city lights could hide the stars, or the way we could never truly escape the sound of cars driving or planes flying overhead. We knew we were ready to go. Although I would be leaving behind great friends and the ability to surf at will, something I would truly miss, I knew I could never be fulfilled without the ability to get lost in uncivilized wilderness. After five years in the city, we decided it was time to move north. We packed our bags, said a prayer and pointed our car towards the forest.
Upon moving back I could immediately tell that I had a new outlook on the area. The trees and lakes were a perfect contrast to the cars and people that I had become so accustomed to. The darkness of the sky at night, the smell of the air, the ability to let our son play outside, we knew this is what we had been looking for. We found a quiet little cabin on the edge of a state park and decided to call it home.
One of the many beautiful things about this area is the terrain. It’s full of bluffs, bodies of water, elevation changes and most importantly, trails. These characteristics became very important for reaching the next level in my running. All of a sudden, instead of making laps around a track or running down the sidewalk of a busy neighborhood, I was able to get lost on miles of trails with twists and turns, hills and scenery. It became very clear to me that I had been presented with an excellent opportunity to better myself as a runner and after breaking my record in the mile, I was hungrier than ever.
I spent every morning in the park pushing myself to adapt in this new atmosphere and doing my best to tame the land. As resilient as I might have been, I soon realized the hills had a mind of their own. They made it their duty to break me and show me that I wasn’t as strong as I thought. Coming from Houston, a very flat city at sea level, to this new territory almost 1,000 feet higher, it was apparent that they were right. Although presented with an onslaught of new challenges, I remained ambitious.
One evening, while doing a tempo run through the park, I saw a big white sign up ahead. I couldn’t make out the lettering from afar but something about it caught my attention. As I approached the top of the hill the message became decipherable. Rocky Ledges 5k Trail Run. I stopped my watch, slowed my pace and stared eagerly ahead. Suddenly my next test was clear. As enthralled as I had been after breaking my mile record, I realized it meant nothing if I couldn’t test my grit against others. I smiled, clinched my fists, and started the run back to my house.
As days went by I found myself becoming very anxious. After all, I hadn’t competed in almost ten years. With the race almost three weeks ahead, no amount of training could stifle my excitement. I lay awake at night, eager to test my progress against the area’s best. I knew that it was still early in my training, and that I would be facing people who had spent years and years honing their craft, but I didn’t let that discourage me. I knew the work that I had put in, and I knew the fire that was in my heart could not be put out. It didn’t matter who I was facing, I was going to bring my A-game.
The closer the race got, the more I realized I didn’t want to wait. I was ready. I signed on to the internet and did a Google search of all the local races. The next race was being held the following Saturday, and before I could talk myself out of it, I entered my credit card information to become the 73rd participant in the Neighborhood Co-op Nutrition 5k. As nervous as this made me, I knew I was prepared.
When Saturday rolled around, I made sure to show up early enough to get loose. Anxiously, I approached the check-in desk to pick up my bib and asked one of the ladies in charge how many participants had signed up this year. She smiled, checked her list and said, “Somewhere around 150.” I smiled back, pretended to have unshakable confidence, grabbed my bib and headed towards the warm up area.
As I stretched, I looked around to see the other competitors. I noticed a girl from my high school that had previously won state in cross country and gone on to run for a Division-1 school as well as gain the sponsorship of globally known running companies. In addition to her, I saw a younger male with Syracuse University Cross Country gear and another who would go on to acquire a full scholarship at the University level later on. As prepared as I felt, it was apparent that I wasn’t the only one who came to win. With my heart beating a mile a minute, I approached the starting line.
This was it. This was where all the work that I had done was going to show itself. This was where I would prove that I was extraordinary. I buckled down, got in my stance and waited for the horn. “On your mark. Get set. Go!” As I took my first stride I noticed the nerves had disappeared. Immediately, I jumped ahead with the leading pack and before we could finish the first quarter mile, it was clear who came to race.
This particular run was through the local university and for the most part, very flat. This fact was a huge advantage for me as I had been training with elevation change for the past month and a half. It also gave me a great sense of confidence as I pushed forward through the first mile. As my Garmin sounded off, I looked down to see 5:49. This was way faster than I intended on going out, but with the level of competition, was the pace I needed to sustain in order to be a contender. I did a quick evaluation of my condition, realized I was in second place and kept driving forward.
Approaching the two mile marker, the pain in my lungs had started to become severe. Although my position in the race was maintained, I noticed that I was starting to struggle. The third place runner greeted me on my right side and I tried to dig deep as they slowly pulled away. I looked down to my watch as we finished two miles to read 6:11.
There is a quote from Prefontaine that says, “The real race begins at mile two.” I tried to remember this as my desire to continue began to fade. With each stride I watched the top two runners pull away. No matter how deep I dug, it seemed like they were distancing themselves with ease. Discouraged, wanting to slow my pace, I looked behind me to see if anyone was on my heels. For as far back as I could see, almost a quarter mile, there was nobody in sight. Despite the anticipation and all the anxiety, once again, I was running alone.
Passing the police assisted road blocks, moving through the third mile, I looked down to my watch to see 6:52. Through all my effort and determination to push forward, my pace had diminished. As I looked ahead I saw the top two runners fighting neck and neck for the win, I once again looked behind. The distance to fourth place had lengthened and I realized it was up to me and only me to finish strong. Just like every other time before, the desire to win was going to come from within.
First and second place were out of discussion, but for the first time I realized that a strong race isn’t about where you finish, but how you keep moving forward despite the little voice in your head telling you to quit. I set my eyes on the finish line and finished the race with everything that I had.
I had come to the race ready to take home a gold medal, but left with something much more valuable. Through losing, I learned that winning doesn’t mean coming in first place. It means coming out and giving your best every single step of the way. Regardless of what place we finished, there were many winners there that day. People that refused to quit. People that when faced with doubt, had the power to keep moving forward. That, is what winning is all about.