By Matt McGregor, Arts & Features Asst. Editor
September 2, 2015
Gary Ettari once ran the Charlotte marathon on a diet of water and bagels.
This diet turned on him at mile 21. He walked and almost crawled for three miles in a state of what long distance runners call “bonking” until completing the marathon. Bonking takes place when the body loses its remaining resources to continue.
Though Ettari says he regrets his choice of energy supplement, there are few runners who could testify to running a marathon on water and bagels.
“Running teaches me that I can overcome almost anything other than my own mortality,” Ettari says. “I love the paradoxical feeling of overcoming things, getting faster, meeting goals, yet realizing that all of this is only temporary.”
For Ettari, associate professor of language and literature at UNC Asheville, running teaches him on a level that transcends the scholarly interpretation of words into the more interior, wordless realm of existence and what this means for him.
“I think that is the great lesson running teaches us: pain is temporary. It teaches us how to embrace the pain and be with it and not be defeated by it,” Ettari theorizes. “It teaches us to push through because life isn’t a bed of roses a lot of the time. It might be a different kind of pain. It might be emotional pain. But just that realization is an important thing to learn.”
When Jane Roane faced a diagnosis with breast cancer, she says she experienced severe stress and relied on running to process the different kinds of pain associated with the disease.
“Running helped me so much because I was able to focus on something else and it cleared my mind,” Roane says. “It kept my body going.”
To the joy of her co-worker Adam Hill at the running specialty store Jus’ Running, she sets coffee and donuts she brought from Geraldine’s Bakery on a glass top counter encasing various types of timers and GPS running watches. Adam says this is another great thing about running — you can eat donuts.
“If it can help me deal with breast cancer, it can help with anything,” she says. “I can be stressed about something and go for a run and have a different perspective afterward.”
Nodding in agreement, Hill sips at his coffee and looks into the white paper bag containing donuts.
“Some folks can run and they are able to shut their brain off and not think,” Hill says, “and other people can run and think clearly while hashing out a relationship or work problem in their head. By the time the run is over, they are ready to tackle it.”
While sightings of Hill running occur anywhere on the UNCA campus and along Merrimon Avenue, he prefers trail running. It gets him away from the traffic and up into the cool breeze of the mountains with the wildflowers. The challenge of the climb and skipping over rocks and roots combines running with his love of hiking.
“I see a mountain and I want to climb it. I want to see how fast I can go up and down it,” he says. “But the whole spectrum of running is awesome. It’s simple. We have all these sports that require a lot of preparation, and runners just go out the door.”
Though not inspired by water and bagels, Hill encounters several bonking walls on the Pitchell Challenge, a 66-mile trail run from Mount Pisgah to Mount Mitchell on the Mountain-to-Sea Trail. The race begins at midnight, and the temptation to get in his car and leave when he passes the Folk Art Center becomes an insistent voice in his head.
“There are multiple winds, a second and a third, then the sad walk scenario in which you don’t have the pop in your legs,” Hill says. “You’re just stumbling along, and then eventually, whether you get calories in you or you see the finish, realizing you only have single digits left, you get that sense of accomplishment that picks you back up.”
Lindsey Perry, UNCA sophomore, praises the benefits of how running reduces stress and overcoming the infamous bonking wall.
“Running makes me feel pumped. It increases mental clarity and it’s great for endorphins,” Perry says.“There is a wall in running in which you are exhausted and you don’t want to keep going. If you break past that, it feels awesome. You feel like you could just keeping going forever.”
Miranda Satterfield, a Jus’ Running employee and biology major at UNCA, runs to relax.
“I run because it gives me a break from everything else,” Satterfield says. “I do have goals in running so there is a little bit of stress involved in that but I try not to make it too much pressure because it is where I relieve pressure.”
Hill says he loves to hear everyone’s story for running. He follows several races, from the World Championships in Beijing to the Leadville 100-miler made famous by Christopher McDougall’s book, Born to Run.
“The whole spectrum of running is awesome,” Hill says. ”It is people getting out there and chasing dreams.”
On the wall above Ettari’s desk hangs a framed poster of long distance runner Steve Prefontaine who died in a car accident in 1975.
“Yeah, that’s at Hayward Field. He’s looking at the clock to see what his time is as he’s crossing the finish line getting ready to break the tape,” Ettari says.
For the Tarahumara Indians of Mexico, running opens doors to a spiritual realm. Ettari says he finds this perfectly understandable when he runs, preferring to run alone.
“Running is spiritually enlivening to me. I get out there, away from everything, and become uncluttered and focused on the goals,” he says. “There is a purity there that I don’t have in most other phases in my life.”
Ettari explains the teaching of running as an illumination of the impermanence of our pain, joy and very lives.
“If you’ve ever had a really good run you feel immortal, yet simultaneously exhausted, so the body is always failing until we are not alive anymore,” he says. “This is not in any way depressing to me. It is a healthy fact to learn.”