Ten Million Steps…and counting

By Sal Citarella

No, not me. Paul Reese. Ten Million Steps is the title of the book he wrote back in 1993, shortly after he had run across the country. He was 73 at the time.

What can one say about running nonstop for 124 consecutive days? “It was hot; It was cold; It rained; Missed a turn; My foot hurt!”  It’s not so much what the author has to say as how he says it.

I’ve had the book on my shelf for years and whenever I’m out of something to read, or just need to fill a few minutes lying in bed, I grab it. I can open it to any page and it will make me feel good. His observations about the country, the towns, the historical markers, the roads, the vehicles, the drivers, the occasional cross-country biker, litter, campgrounds, state police, etc. are always interesting and meaningful.

Paul Reese had been a fixture in the northern California running community long before I was ever aware. Founder of the Sacramento area Buffalo Chips RC and organizer of several road races and ultras, I ran his Pepsi 20 miler years ago. What I remember most vividly from it was being passed by nine-year- old phenom Mary Etta Boitano, her pigtails flying! Mary Etta had never run a marathon until she was five.

According to Wikipedia: Reese was born 1917, died 2004, career Marine officer during WWII and Korea, then an administrator in the Sacramento school system. Apparently, his second career gave him time to run and his ultimate retirement gave him time to run for weeks and months on end.

Mary Etta is in Wikipedia, too. You may not have heard of her back East; why she never went for national status, baffles me. She was always news here at Dipsea time.

The thing about Paul’s books is simply his low-key approach to running and to life. Of course, he had the advantage of having seen it all before and done it all before, as becomes clear as the reader learns more about him. He can take a mundane day on the road and make it sound like it was all worthwhile. In his first book he ran from Jenner, a small town on the Pacific coast, non stop, averaging a marathon a day, to Hilton Head, SC where he was sure of a warm welcome at the Marine Corps base. He kept a journal of his days and with the help of Joe Henderson turned it into a book. He summarizes the high points and low points of what he saw passing through small town America. His preference was always to avoid major roads and cities whenever possible. He set his starting point so as to allow his participation in an annual 100K race, held on two successive days, incorporating it into his route.

Right now, suspended in the virus–induced time warp, I’m somewhere in Montana, reading his second book, Go East Old Man. This one was published in 1997 and chronicles his runs through the 22 states west of the Mississippi. These he did, one at a time, spread out over a few years.

In all these travels he was accompanied only by his wife, who drove the camper, cooked his meals, crewed, wiped his nose, etc. Her picture appears in the first book and she was not only very attractive but must have been saintly, as well. She did demand a dog when the first ten million steps were concluded and two dogs helped to crew subsequent trips.

In the second book, seems to me, Paul gets a little more personal and reflective on his life. In a few incidents, where something, a name on a mailbox, jolts him back to his days leading troops assaulting the Pacific islands, you realize briefly that he really was a Marine and in the thick of things. He mentions that one of the reasons he resigned after 23 years in the Corps was his failure to make Colonel. He alludes to a “mistake” for which he took the blame to cover up for some others. He claims not to rue his doing so, but he never elaborates.

Another insight to his personality is his references to his Catholic upbringing. This I can relate to. He consistently ran seven days a week and never attended Sunday mass while doing so, and yet, he maintains his belief in the church. In his words, he felt closer to God on a back road through mountains and prairies than he did while listening to a sermon in church. I can appreciate that but not sure a priest would.

There is a third book published in 2000, The Old Man and the Road: Reflections While Completing a Crossing of All 50 States on Foot at Age 80 with which I’m not at all familiar.

Can’t imagine what it’s about, can you?

The books are available on Amazon and well worth the few bucks.

Editor’s Note: You may need to do some online searching to find these books. Amazon has some listings and eBay is another possible source. We suspect Reese’s books would be a welcome addition to our runners’ book groups.

Categories: Features

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