Sunday, October 3, 2010

RANH 2006: Kurt Stuke

In the Fall of 2006, a man by the name of Kurt Stuke set out on an adventure that would change his life forever. He set up a route from one end of New Hampshire to the other, all in an effort to raise money for a local school. Kurt dared to Run Across NH and it's important as we move forward we continue to recognize those who dared to move before us. I took a chance in hunting this man down and he graciously accepted an invite to conduct an interview for this blog. Here is his story:

Kurt Stuke
Age: 47
Location: Manchester, NH
Years Running: 8
Athletic Achievements: Endurance Fitness Trainer Certification (ISSA) 2008,  Personal Trainer Certification (AFPA) 2006, 
Run Across New Hampshire 2006: Organized a point-to-point run across New Hampshire (from Hinsdale to Hampton) as a benefit for Holy Family Academy High School, Manchester, NH
Team In Training 2005 - 2007
Triathlon Mentor New Hampshire Triathlon Team Runner
Recently completed 5th marathon as a charity runner for the Norris Cotton Cancer Center; will be running MDI in October 2010 (and hopefully Manchester in November for the 4th year straight!)

SJ: Kurt, thanks so much for taking the time to talk to us about your previous Run Across New Hampshire.
KS: You are welcome! I had meant to contact you two years ago after reading an NPR piece on you and your Ultra running. Thanks for reaching out.

SJ: So when was it that you ran across New Hampshire and what was the format for your run (non-stop, legs?)
KS: I ran back in the Fall of 2006 – I cannot believe that was 4 years ago! At the time, I had not run any marathons and was intimidated by anything longer than 20 miles. As a result I decided upon a point-to-point approach. I designed a 9 leg course to be run on consecutive Saturday mornings. The longest leg was approximately 15 miles and the shortest was approximately 10. I believe the average was 12 (or so).

SJ: So what was it that got you to get out there to take on the run? Was it a fundraiser?
KS: I was motivated by several things. We live in a beautiful state and I wanted to see as much of it as I could. I had lost a great deal of weight and enjoyed “pushing” myself and seeing just what I could do. I had been involved with Team In Training and saw that I could help worthy causes by raising money; I decided to use this event to raise money for a local high school in Manchester.

SJ: Besides raising funds for the church, how did you come about the idea of running across the state?
KS: I guess what motivated me, at the core, was a desire to continue the transformation that had begun when I decided to take that first step. It’s strange how running changes things, changes perspectives. It was that changed perspective that really gave birth to the challenge…

SJ: Tell us a little more about the route you took.
KS: Well, I started in Hinsdale and finished near Hampton. I believe the total was approximately 124 miles but I would have to check and verify as it has been a while. I ran through Fitzwilliam, Rindge, and into Peterborough. Once in Peterborough I ‘called an audible’ and got off the beaten path. My route took me over a mountain and into New Boston. Once I reached Manchester I got on the Lake Massabesic trail and took the trail to its trailhead near Stratham. The last 15 miles or so I got on some back roads and enjoyed the flatness of the seacoast.

SJ: Was there a particular section of the state where the legs seemed harder than the others?
KS: For me, the western part of the state was, as runner’s say, “moderately challenging.” Translated, that means “mind numbingly hard!” 
SJ: How long did the run take you to complete?
KS: I did it over 9 days.

SJ: Despite the run being conducted as a series of runs, do you know what your actual run time was of all the stages combined?
KS: I do not know. I would run for 50 minutes and stop for 5 and then “lather, rinse, and repeat.”

SJ: Looking back on the experience, what would you say was the hardest part for you?
KS: Hmmm – I think the hardest part was trekking out to begin a leg and the time commitment required on every leg. Luckily, I did this prior to my wife and I having a little girl – I no longer have that amount of free time!

SJ: So what was the best part about it?
KS: As you have said to me, it’s all about the journey. Emerson once said that “everything good is found on the highway.” There is something freeing about challenging yourself and putting all previously held notions about yourself, your abilities, and your reality aside. To me, that is the journey. Running, like coffee in the morning, helps bring about a state of wide-awakeness. Wow – maybe I should be in marketing?

SJ: Now you're working on your masters and as part of your course work, you've tied running into that a bit. Can you tell us a little about that?
KS: Sure. Actually I am working on a Doctorate in Transformational Leadership. My Masters are in Philosophy and Theology – I have always been interested in “meaning” and how we “get” meaning. Where are we going and how ought we to get there have always been questions that have captured my imagination. In a previous PhD program, I studied the thinking of Aquinas and Anselm but left and joined the working world. 17 years later, I saw this program and jumped at the chance to study transformation and the philosophical grounds upon which it is cultivated. In my middle age, I have turned to the American thinkers, e.g. Emerson, Thoreau, James, Dewey, etc., in order to search for answers and to continue what running has started for me. Much of my coursework involves an exploration of running as a non-cognitive approach to the establishing of meaning. Running (and experience in general) frees us from intellectual abstractions and needless loyalties to antecedent concepts. To put it less technically, when you are running, you are probably not contemplating if the self is objective or subjective. You are simply a runner running. What if we could harness that unboundedness in all aspects of our lives?

SJ: Why is this subject so important to you that you've decided to make it a part of your thesis work?
KS: At one point I weighed over three hundred pounds and needed two liters of diet coke just to make it through the day. Transformation is not some distant “brainiac” topic for me. Running help me lose over 100 pounds. It altered my chemistry (and other stuff!) such that my wife and I were able to have a child. Every time I hold my little girl I am reminded in the most moving of ways of what transformation is. Now, instead of letting myself be defined by what cannot be done (what is impossible) I define myself by what can be done (what is possible). It was that small seemingly insignificant little change that led me to ask “Can I run across NH?” Now, of course, the question has morphed into “Can I do it as an Ultra?” or “I wonder if I could do the second half - from Manchester to Portsmouth – in one day?” And so it goes…
SJ: In your research, what have you concluded thus far about running/adventure that makes it so life changing?
KS: I think running (and experience in general) can be used to free us from the very reasonable Post-Enlightenment common sense approach of being cognitive or intellectual about life. Running (and experience) demonstrates that reality is not clear and distinct – what we observe are “things in the making.” Running helps us to appreciate the unpredictable nature of being in the world, the need to reinstate the vague, and our need of one another on this journey. Running is not the only activity that offers this insight but, for me, it brings these issues forward in such a way that a response is demanded of me.

SJ: Lastly Kurt.. you have a blog?
KS: I do. As part of my dissertation work, I am keeping a blog and am chronicling my preparation for an upcoming marathon. Here is the URL:

SJ: Kurt, thanks so much for taking the time to speak with us about your 2006 Run Across New Hampshire. Your adventure is truly inspirational. It is my only hope that many of the folks who read this blog can understand that.. sometimes it's the journey more than the destination and sometimes we don't get there all in one shot but, we can get there regardless.
KS: Thank you for your time!