On Friday morning I sat in a bus shelter near a Speedway gas station in Fairfield, N.J., and as the traffic whizzed past on Route 46, whatever romantic notions I had about running across the United States trickled away like the raindrops running through the nearby gravel. Somewhere to the west, Kyle Lang ’19 was midway through the first 12 miles of his morning run, jogging toward the headlights of office-bound sedans and SUVs.
Lang started running 74 days earlier in Washington state, averaging more than 40 miles per day as he’s trekked across the Western and Midwestern states, through his home state of Wisconsin, and on toward the East Coast, where he aims to set his feet in the Atlantic at Coney Island on Saturday. He has taken on this personal challenge with altruistic goals in mind, raising money to benefit three favorite nonprofits — Every Hand Joined, in Minnesota, Great Rivers United Way, in Wisconsin, and Special Olympics New Jersey. (PAW contributor Mary Hui ’17 filmed his training in the spring.)I met up with Lang’s parents, Mike and Cheryl, the immensely supportive support team for this ambitious journey of nearly 3,000 miles. They’re traveling in a tan minivan with the web address KyleLangRuns.com written on the side windows and a U-Haul trailer of provisions in tow. They plot out Kyle’s route, wait by the side of the road to direct him at tricky turns, serve food and drinks to fuel his runs, and track him down in the rare instances that he veers off course.
On this day, things aren’t quite going according to plan. Lang made an early turn and ended up on Fairfield Avenue instead of Fairfield Road, the spot where we planned to meet up. But we connect eventually and set off together, running toward the neighboring town of Little Falls — about five and a half miles.
Lang, a psychology major at Princeton, is tall and lean, getting leaner by the day — he has trouble eating enough calories to replace the ones he’s burned. He’s an engaging running partner with a wealth of experiences to share, from seeing moose near the roadside in Idaho to finishing yesterday’s 60-mile trip — his longest — on a darkened road in Dover, N.J. He’s read up on the community of people who’ve traversed the United States on foot, which is estimated to be around 500, including both walkers and runners. The number who’ve crossed the continent at Lang’s pace is much smaller — fewer than two dozen, he says. This is not a brag; he seems incapable of that. Instead, he cites the amazing achievement of Pete Kostelnick, an ultrarunning superstar who ran from San Francisco to New York City in a mere 42 days last fall, averaging 72 miles per day.
On the road, Lang has been joined by high school cross country teams, friends from his hometown, runners who were randomly passing by, a long-distance hiker, a Special Olympics New Jersey athlete, and a handful of others. Still, that covers just a fraction of the trip. Most of his running is on his own, and he seems content with that. He also seems to be coping with the aches and pains caused by all that time on the road. Standing up after a break is often the hardest part, he says. When he gets moving again, he feels better.
As we neared my turnaround point, 20 miles shy of Lang’s end-of-day destination near the George Washington Bridge, I asked him what he plans to do with the rest of his summer, after Coney Island. He told me he’ll spend a day at a water park back home, with his older brother and their friends — it’s an annual tradition — and use the rest of the time to relax and let his legs recuperate.
When he gets back to Princeton, he has another training goal in mind: He’d like to return to track workouts and his favorite event in high school, the 800. That’s meters, not miles.