A popular quote from Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu states, “The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.”
Matt Fitzgerald’s most recent journey totaled over 9,000 driving miles and as for the steps, well, that’s a story unto itself.
Fitzgerald recently returned to Oakdale from 50 days of road travel as part of a task he put himself to … completing eight marathons in eight weeks. The idea served as research for his next book. The multi-published fitness author/endurance athlete chose to take on the popular metaphor “Life is a Marathon” and explore the mystique of the human relationship with running and more specifically the challenge of the 26.2 marathon distance.
This, however, was a journey which was more than book research. This was a personal exploration, as well as a road trip, with his wife and muse Nataki.
“Running, writing, all these things are secondary to Nataki,” Fitzgerald said of his co-pilot and diehard traveling companion. “We’ve been through so much.”
In 2004 Fitzgerald’s wife was diagnosed with bi-polar disorder.
Prior to taking to the open road and beginning the eight-week, eight-marathon journey Fitzgerald candidly shared how running helped him cope with a very dark time in the couple’s relationship. A journey which not just took the couple to task, but empowered the author to share openly with his fan base prior to starting their out and back road trip across country, as well as partner with Treatment Advocacy Center to try and raise awareness regarding mental illness.
During their cross country road trip Fitzgerald stayed committed to daily blogs, book signing appearances and meet-ups to hear the stories of others. All this coupled with his marathon race itinerary left little in the way of downtime.
“Every single day was packed to the gills with activity,” he stated. “I couldn’t look back and say I wish I’d done this. I’d wish I’d done that, so I just tried to do it all.”
While the focus of the run community and his followers may have been on the eight marathons and the stories Fitzgerald shared during his travel, the trip in and of itself seemed to serve as a ninth somewhat longer out and back endurance race.
“We threw ourselves from one lifestyle to another,” the runner said of he and his wife along with their dog Queenie as they drove from Oakdale to the east coast and back to finish with his final race in Oregon.
“She wanted some experiences of her own,” he said, making note of a simulated sky dive experience the couple shared at one of their stops. “She’s not a doormat, she’s go with the flow.”
During their travel, Fitzgerald continued to find inspiration and material for his research of the book, stories which will no doubt make for a good read of inspiration through adversity and triumph. A book guaranteed to be very different from his ever popular “How to” fitness books.
The behind-the-scenes story however, the ninth marathon story, is the one which came as a bit of surprise to Fitzgerald; that of his own growth and the strength of his marriage.
“What I didn’t expect to experience and did was the sense of completion,” Fitzgerald stated, referring to gaining a better sense of self during the journey.
“I was aware before this trip, that I had made a lot of progress with that journey,” he said. “I did not live to my own standard.
“Everyone has the person they want to be inside them,” he continued. “If you listen, you have no regrets.”
He was able to do a lot of listening along the way.
“I kind of like myself now,” he said, “and I didn’t expect that. I hoped to be surprised and that’s the biggest thing.”
As if his personal growth, quality material via strangers turned friends and a handful of great races weren’t enough – there was also a relationship benefit.
As the couple headed back west they had a batch of long travel days, one which included a snowstorm which seemed to not have an end in sight. Just as Fitzgerald began to think of his fondness for California and wonder how long the storm would stretch, they hit blue sky. The storm was immediately behind them.
As they did, Nataki shared, “I hope it stays like this.”
Fitzgerald naturally thought his wife was referring to the blue sky and lack of bad weather; she was not.
“Our relationship,” she said.
“That was a great moment,” the author said, noting that as poetic as the moment was for a writer, it served as a great gift. In the darkest days of her illness it was all he had hoped for and here they were.
“When you know where the Finish Line is you pace yourself,” the runner said of that return trip home. “I knew how far I had to get to. I was just geared for that. It all played out like a perfect race.”