At about 9:15 a.m., after an hour of running, Jim Ellis realized his water, the only clean, bottled water he would see for miles, had frozen.
Hitching a ride with a trucker traveling the same road and calling his friend to ask for fresh water, Ellis found a few minutes of relief in the warm vehicle. Jim explained what he was doing running with a stroller packed to the tipping point, and it was a comfortable break from the 20 mph headwinds he faced as he made the 34.1 mile trek from Kingsley to Orange City this past Monday.
“It was fun,” Ellis said with a laugh. Since completing his first marathon in high school in a futile attempt to impress a girl, a 2006 Northwestern graduate Jim Ellis knew he had a passion for running long distances.
“So far, the longest I’ve run has been 61.05 miles,” Ellis said, “but I’ll be running 68 miles from Grinnell to Iowa City later this year.”
Ellis is devoting his year to running 1,500 miles across Iowa, stopping each week in different towns to speak at churches, schools and colleges such as NW in a journey called ‘Awake My Sole.’
“I want to inspire and challenge people of all ages to use their God-given abilities,” Ellis said. “It would be a bummer if people in their 70’s look back and realize they hated the life they lived, that they did their job just to pay for a house. I’m hoping to encourage people to use what they are passionate about.”
‘Awake My Sole’ is the perfect combination of Ellis’ own passions: running, speaking and encouraging others.
“Running this journey has taught me about the connection of spiritual life to the race of life,” Ellis said. “We begin, we run the race, we finish. Not only do I want to run well physically, I want to run well in everything I do—in my relationships, in my career, in my spiritual life—everything.”
Ellis was quick to point out that ‘Awake My Sole’ is less about his run and more about the stops along the way.
“I don’t think it matters that I ran across Iowa if I did it just for the sake of running across Iowa,” Ellis said. “I’m not trying to get people to quit college or leave their jobs and go run around Iowa, but I’m hoping that I will make them start thinking about whether or not how they are living is meaningful and has a purpose. It’s not about ‘skipping town,’ running away—it’s like running in the winter—you have to keep going, even when the wind is blowing in your face and it’s zero degrees out and you’d rather be at home. It’s all about finishing the race.”
Of course, Ellis’ trip would have been impossible without some help. Even though he is running alone on all but a few miles, Ellis is supported the whole way.
“I’m using other people’s talents and passions during this trip—for instance, Mark [Alsum] loves to make these graphic t-shirts, so he’s making shirts for ‘Awake My Sole,’” Ellis said. “Another guy is great with social-networking, so he’s doing all that for me.” And in places like Sanborn, where Ellis is heading next, he’s got a host-family to stay with and places to speak despite not yet knowing a single person from the town.
There are struggles along the way—water bottles freezing, muscles tiring out and overcoming the mental obstacles necessary to convince the body to run 30 miles at a time, but for Ellis, the pain is worth it.
“I got a couple mantras that keep me going, such as ‘I run because I love to run, not because I have to,’ and ‘One step at a time,’” Ellis said. “One of the reasons I love running is just seeing how far I can push myself, and when I can do something good with running, it’s even better.”
Follow Ellis’ journey at http://awakemysole.blogspot.com.