Gettysburg to Arlington

July 1 - 3, 2018

The Final Route

Here it is. After a year of planning: 125 miles from Gettysburg, Pennsylvania - steps away from Pickett's Charge, to Arlington, Virginia - the former home of disgraced Confederate General Robert E. Lee.

I will begin the journey at 6:30am on Sunday July 1st. My sincere hope is to complete it by noon on Monday July 2nd. I will take however long it takes. This trip is not about speed, it is about something else, and I will not forfeit it in the pursuit of ego.

This will be my toughest physical test to date and I hope it is rewarding. I cannot imagine it will not be.


Why?

Posted June 25, 2018

I write this less than two weeks away from my 135 mile journey from Gettysburg to Arlington, exploring the ever-persistent question of ‘why?’ 

My last attempt at the century mark was the Eastern States 100 last August and leading up to that effort, I found myself struggling to answer for myself why I was doing something as absurd as running one hundred miles in rattlesnake infested Pennsylvania wilderness. Really it was because it was a Western States qualifier within reasonable driving distance to my home outside of Washington, DC and that was the beginning, middle and end of my “why” and I found that wasn’t enough. I DNFed due to injury but in retrospect I think my troubles started way before I toed the line because my why wasn’t strong enough.

With the Gettysburg to Arlington adventure, I find it’s impossible to identify a single “why” and I’m encouraged by that. This time, my why is a complicated patchwork of reasons and that excites me greatly. 

Part of it, for sure, is to complete the hundred mile distance. I’ve been running for five years now and ever since I first read about the Leadville 100, I’ve wanted to know whether or not I can complete that distance on my own two legs in a single effort. I’ve worked hard to achieve it and I was discouraged that it didn’t happen for me last year but in retrospect I realize now that I wasn’t ready. I thought it was a done deal, that I had already earned the victory in crossing finish line. I know now that it wasn't and that I hadn't. I traveled 65 miles in 18 humbling hours. The distance I was able to complete that day was only 15 miles further than my previous best but almost 12 hours longer than any previous long effort. Walking for five hours in the dark, pissed off and beaten and broken, I saw how bad it could get and I understood it could get even worse. I am determined now and my eyes are open to the realities of the challenge.

I also want to know something of the suffering of the souls who fought this storied battle. I think a large reason why ultra running is more popular than ever is that my generation, largely privileged and comfortable in our own self-absorption, yearn on some level for the kind of trial and sacrifice that the great conflicts of our past demanded of young people. Do not mistake me -  my journey is entirely voluntary and as bad as it will get, I know it will never approach the horrors of war and I don’t seek to romanticize something like war but I do want to - need to - know a piece of it for my own heart. The Battle of Gettysburg, a fight that every schoolchild in the United States learns about at a young age, is an irresistible frame for this personal exploration.

Another part of it is that this has been extraordinarily fun to conceptualize and design and now, in the words of T.E. Lawrence, “it’s only a matter of going.” I’ve given this expedition so much consideration and energy already, and I’ve run it in my head countless times at this point. I want to now experience the reality, not beholden to my expectations, rather freed of them. 

And finally, there's something in my own history calling me to run (or walk) in the shadow of this history. As the descendent of southern slave owners and confederate fighters, I have a stain on my soul that I’ve never fully reconciled and I feel a need to go deeper into the history of the conflict, to exorcise some demons. I feel like the crucible of an ultramarathon will force the issue. My mind and body will have no place to hide. 

And from the perspective of my own curiosities, I’ve always been intrigued by the life and legacy of Robert E. Lee. Not in a celebratory way - far from it - rather, I considered him a tragic figure of sorts and a cautionary tale for the generations that came after. From my readings, I sense he's not the figure of pure evil or pure good that our current political reality demands he be. He was, as we all are, complicated. This was a man devoted to a toxic nationalism. (I don’t mean ‘nationalism’ in the strictly literal sense, but in a broader sense - he loved Virginia more than he loved America and allowed that love to blind him to the deeper nature of the conflict and indeed his very morality.) 

His story has relevance and resonance in our current state of America and I hope this run can contribute in some way to a dialogue that will help our nation reconcile its hideous past. I think it will be impossible not to cross paths with his Ghost during a trip that begins on the battlefield of his greatest defeat and ends at the doorstep of the home he forfeited. I want to hear him explain himself, and in that explanation, I want to find absolution for the sins of my forefathers. 

(That sounds heady and preposterous but it's kinda where I'm at.)

Finally, I want to find joy in this. My last attempt at this distance was devoid of joy. I was wound too tight. I wanted to win my 100 mile debut. I wanted to run it for the wrong reasons. On July 1st, I want to run for something more meaningful, more personal and more real. This isn’t about crossing a finish line and getting a piece of jewelry and getting into a lottery. This is about me, and a million complicated “whys” that I’ve only just begun to interrogate. 

I cannot wait.


Planning 1

Posted April 15, 2018

Today marks 11 weeks until I attempt my grandest running adventure yet - running a self-designed route from Gettysburg, PA to Arlington, VA on the 155th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg.

 First crack at mapping the route in Strava. My previous longest single distance is 65 miles so, though I fancy myself an ultrarunner, this distance is daunting.

First crack at mapping the route in Strava. My previous longest single distance is 65 miles so, though I fancy myself an ultrarunner, this distance is daunting.

The current route will take me roughly along the route of the retreat of Lee's army, until I catch the Appalachian trail south, run a reverse of the start of the JFK50 through Boonsboro and onto Antietam until hopping over to the C&O canal towpath for much of the remainder of my journey.

I am drawn to the route because of its history and because of the type and variability of terrain it offers. Road, highly technical trail and the mentally taxing monotony of towpath (at night).

I look forward to fleshing out my thoughts on the history, planning and eventual execution of this project. It is one of my top goals this year.

Adrian Spencer