by: Matt Reller, Team Fleet Feet Sports
My name is Matt Reller, and when I first followed my wife into Fleet Feet Sports’ No Boundaries program, I had no idea just how far running would take me. Because of her insistence, and later my own will and desire, I now have a rewarding career, a hobby that I’m constantly refining, and have met people from all over the world.
This summer, running took me over to Ireland for an incredible three-day event: Saucony’s Race to Kinvara. It is a relay race over the course of two days and on different parts of the island. We arrived in Dublin, and took a tour of the Guinness brewing factory including a stop up at the Gravity bar which features a 360-degree panoramic view of the city. We woke up the following morning and got on our “buses” or luxury Mercedes vans, whichever you prefer to call them. Our team had 8 members and the first day featured 14 legs. I was one of the runners that would only run one leg that day. Our team was full of other workers from Fleet Feet stores across the USA. We had a ton of fun cheering each other on, as well as the 56 other participants on the other three USA teams, the two Canada teams, and one team each for UK/Ireland, France, and Germany.
My first leg of running started off in these picturesque woods on a single track dirt trail. I had a little over 4 miles, followed closely by a motorcycle support person. He would give me water when I needed it, and let me know the mileage covered when I asked. I was happy to have someone there, as for the first 3 miles, I did not see another participant. With about a mile to go, I felt 3 other folks whiz past me. I was struggling. It was one of those runs where you just never feel comfortable for whatever reason. My shirt was too tight, my shorts felt like they were riding up, my feet hurt, now my back was twinging, my stomach felt full, now it felt empty; it was just always something. No matter how hard I pressed, or how gently I took it, I could just not get comfortable.
When I got back on the bus I was glad to be done with that leg. I was happy to root others on, but something was eating at my mind. I couldn’t quite shake the feeling that I had come so far to feel so poorly. The bus ride to Kilkenny, to our hotel, was fraught with anxiety. Over the beautiful dinner, with each team recapping their days to others, sharing stories and laughing over wrong turns and people doing half marathons in the wrong directions, I vowed to not feel this way again the next night.
The following morning, we rode on our buses from Kilkenny over to Galway and the Cliffs of Moher. We had some time to snap pictures and take in the beauty of the park, but were quickly herded back onto the bus for the day’s start line. With 8 legs, each of us would take our turns running our leg. I would run seventh, and have a little more than a 5K to run. I watched as team member after team member crushed their runs, and left what they had out on the course. I listened to those thoughts from the prior night, and let the anger in. I thought of my stillborn son, Frank, and how I would not let him bring me all the way here just to let him watch me struggle. I would have the 5K of my short running life, and leave whatever I had right here in Ireland, if that’s what it would take. As I stepped off the bus to wait for the transition of our bracelet/baton, I was in a whole different world. The rocks and fields had taken over. It looked like a different planet than I had ever been on before. One team left about a minute before my team-member appeared on the horizon. As I started out, I could see the other participant ahead of me, and having a similar run as I had the day before. I didn’t launch out to pass him just yet. I settled into my own groove. The anger fueling my steps carried me in a much different way today. I felt comfortable, settled, and ready to leave all of my energy right here on this road in this far off place.
As I caught and passed the other runner, I offered encouragement. He thanked me and wished me well. I felt a little boost and pushed harder. The motorcyclist was right with me and let me know I was halfway there. I pushed harder. I could feel more energy in my take and I pushed to a new groove. I felt good. My strides were even and buoyed by my thoughts of my son, my daughter, my wife, my co-workers back in Madison and Sun Prairie, and all the people I had run with. When the motorcyclist called out 1K to go, I turned my energy all the way up. The road was straight and lined with trees. Sunlight sprinkled the road, and I raced with everything I had. I saw someone whiz past me, and I yelled encouragement to him. He offered some back. As we rounded one of the lone corners I could see the flags of the next transition, and I pushed even harder. A little hill was about to start, and I broke out into a sprint. The other teams lining the way were screaming encouragement, which only egged me on to run faster. I finished and felt amazing. The sweat and tears were welcome additions to the hot day. Pats on the back from my teammates and encouragement from others means a lot to me. To take your time out to give a word to someone else is a nice way to boost someone’s ego, and let them know you care.
The bus ride to the finish line was one of the happiest times in my running life. We were all proud of each other and running high on our achievement in a completely different continent. Not too many other events will come close to this one, not just for the scenery, but for the people and the level of planning involved. Coming home, I definitely had a renewed passion for the hobby that has led me to worlds I wouldn’t have thought I would ever have access to. I look forward to crossing paths with you on future runs, or in one of the stores.