The Path: Miles Beneath My Feet

Writer Lanny Nelson
Photography Courtesy Lanny Nelson

Anthem resident Lanny Nelson, known affectionately as “Lan the Running Man,” has logged about 75,000 miles in his running shoes. Recently, he embarked on a new, more challenging journey: surviving prostate cancer. Lanny has chosen to share his battle, and his hope, with our Images Arizona family.

When I was 17 years old, I often parked my car across the street from the Henry Cowell Forest at the 7-Eleven in Santa Cruz, California. With no water, no cell phone (not invented yet!), and my keys tucked into a plastic lunch bag pinned to my running shorts, I disappeared into the forest for an hour or more.

I ran the trails, and those trails were glorious.

My favorite trail took me up through dry fields and then plunged me all the way down to the river, through thick redwood forest and deep shade. I leapt over streams and hurdled fallen logs before going back up again, climbing and climbing, scrambling over the roots of massive trees, where it finally dumped me out onto the pipeline road. That narrow strip of pitted and worn blacktop plunged down again, only to rise back up in one last, lung-bursting climb that led me back to my car.

Seven miles (more or less).

It was my weekly ritual. My place to go and let my thoughts and fears roam. On the trail I was free. Alive. I could run as fast or as slow as I wanted, and think about life and the path and what lay ahead in the years to come.

Forty years have passed.

Now I park my car at a different place, 700 miles east of Henry Cowell. Instead of deep forest and shade, there are open desert, mountains, rocks, cactus and plenty of sun. Now I carry water and a cell phone, and I wear eyeglasses and a hat to cover my bald head. Now I have a running pack that holds my phone and my keys.

I run the trails, and these trails are, in their own way, glorious.

They take me out along quiet ridges, down through washes, and up the backs of hills (little mountains, I call them). There are no streams to leap over and no fallen logs to hurdle, which is fine because my leaping and hurdling days are over. Instead I follow a narrow dusty path, twisting through the rocks and the cactus, up and around, until it finally leads me back to the car.

Seven miles (more or less).

This is my weekly ritual. My place to go and let my thoughts and fears roam. On the trail I am free. I am still young. Alive. I no longer run fast, but I do run, and I think about life and what is ahead in the years to come.

Forty years ago, I could not imagine myself as a grandfather. I had not even met my wife-to-be. But here I am. Husband, father, grandfather of four … and still running the path. Oh sure, I am 20 pounds heavier, and those six-minute miles have changed into 12-minute miles, but the joints and the bones and the muscles all seem to work just fine.

These days I run with different thoughts. As I work my way up the ridge to a little peak, I think about the cancer that is in my body. It almost seems impossible that it is in there, because I feel good and I have no other cancer-like symptoms. But soon I will have surgery to remove it from my body. I hope that it will be gone forever.

And I will press on because I have a goal.

In the spring of 2028, 10 years from now, I will be 67 years old. I want to drive my car over to the 7-Eleven (last time I checked, it was still there but it was no longer a 7-Eleven), park across the street from Henry Cowell, and run the trails. But my goal is to run with a grandchild, and to celebrate 50 years of being able to run those glorious trails.

Sometimes people ask me why I keep running.

Because I don’t know how to stop.

And because I have a future running date to keep.

All my life I have followed the path. The rhythm of running shoes landing on the ground is my rhythm of life. It has been like a dance, and this dance has followed me all over the place, through every twist and turn of life, the good and the bad—even cancer.

One step at a time, I press on.

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