This summer, Kyle Lang ’19 ran 3,016 miles, drank nearly 12 gallons of slushies, and raised about $23,000.
The slushies were for energy — running an average of 40 miles per day, from the Pacific to the Atlantic Ocean, burns a lot of calories. The money was for charity.
Each of the three nonprofit organizations benefitting from Lang’s cross-country fundraiser was part of a community that has had an impact on Lang: Great Rivers United Way, which serves in areas of education, income, health, and community basics in his home of La Crosse County, Wis.; Every Hand Joined, a cradle-to-career initiative in Red Wing, Minn. at which Lang interned last summer; and Special Olympics New Jersey, which provides sports training and athletic competition for children and adults with intellectual disabilities in the state he calls home during the school year. Donors sponsored a mile or state by contributing through Lang’s website.
In addition to dedicating the entirety of his long dreamt-of trip to these nonprofits, Lang also dedicated each mile to a cause.
On his website, supporters could submit intentions about which Lang, a devout Catholic, thought and prayed while he ran — anything from the help of a friend’s parent to violence going on in the world.
“The run was then about something beyond myself,” Lang said.
It also involved many people besides himself. Lang’s parents accompanied him, driving their car with a pull-behind camper to provide food and rest along the road and, on some nights, a place to sleep. They would drive a few miles ahead of where Lang began his run and wait for him to catch up to the camper, where a snack or meal would be waiting.
According to Lang, an ideal day went something like this.
“I’d wake up between 5:15 and 5:30 — my parents would wake up between 4 and 5 — we’d get on the road around 6,” he said. “I’d run 20 miles until about 11 o’clock, and then take an hour break. And then noon to 4, I’d cover 13 to 15 miles, take an hour break, and then in the evening cover between 7 and 10 miles, depending on the day. I ended at 7 p.m. and then we drove to wherever we spent the night.”
Over the 76-day trip, the family stayed in 30 different hotels, spent several nights in churches or Walmart parking lots, and spent 10 nights at friends’ houses along the way. On two occasions, in desolate stretches of Montana, they slept in the trailer on the side of the road.
While that may not sound like everyone’s idea of a family vacation, Lang is grateful they were able to do it together.
“They know me outside of running, so they can say, ‘Kyle’s not doing well today, mentally,’ and they’re able to help me,” Lang explained. “I would say we definitely got closer.”
The most difficult part for his parents, Lang guessed, was watching him go through the physical trials of the trip.
“After I would take a break I would get up and start running again — and running is a pretty generous term — but [my mom] having to watch me just limp away. And knowing that this is what I signed myself up for. There were times that I was just walking horribly and in a lot of pain, and would still go out and try to cover the miles for the day.”
Despite the toll that the exertion took on his physical health, Lang listened to his body, made necessary mileage adjustments, and kept going.
There were two messages Lang gave himself when the going got tough. The first, he said, was, “You don’t have to cover 40 miles today. You just have to cover one.” If he didn’t think he could cover one mile — “That’s okay, just make it 10 more steps.”
“Those steps,” Lang said, “would add up and become miles and those miles would become 40 miles.”
The second thing he thought of when he didn’t feel like running was, “If today were the last day I had to run, if after today, I were able to reach Coney Island, would I be able to finish these 40-45 miles? And the answer was always yes. So, make today like it was the last day I had to be out there running, and then try to forget about it at night, and wake up and start it all over.”
Those mental hurdles taught Lang an important lesson this summer.
“There is no secret to such formidable feats, and the only way to accomplish it is through recognizing that it’s going to take work,” Lang acknowledged. “Hard, strenuous, non-glamorous work. And when you understand that, your definition of impossible is changed.”
What’s next for Lang? This semester, he is taking some time off to let his body recover. He is doing strength training for a few months and will begin running again in December, this time with a new goal in mind. He hopes to walk onto the track team in his senior year and to compete in the 800-meter race.