Finding the line
By Molly Englund
“I’ve been running off and on as long as I can remember,” says Lucien Darjeun Meadows ’11, a Cherokee writer. Meadows grew up on the side of a mountain in West Virginia, with trails that wove through the woods. Over the years, work and health issues occasionally kept him from running, but in 2015, his M.F.A. thesis advisor at Southern Illinois University suggested they run a 5k together. It re-sparked an urge in Meadows.
Meadows then moved to Colorado to work on a Ph.D. in English and literary arts at the University of Denver. He got back into the trail running of his youth, which has a culture of long races and adventures. In two years, he worked his way up from a 5k to a half-marathon to a marathon. He’d rather go far than fast. “I’m so much better at just being out there for a while—speed, not so much,” says Meadows.
He next tried an ultramarathon. Also called ultrarunning, it’s any race longer than a traditional marathon, which is 26.2 miles (about 42 kilometers). Meadows’ first ultramarathon was a 50k in 2018. “When I passed the little sign that said ‘27 miles,’ I thought, ‘This is the first time I have ever gone beyond this,’” he says. Meadows had the same feeling when he reached mile 38 during a 50-miler the following year: “I get goosebumps just thinking about it. I have never done this before. What will happen?”
In 2019, Meadows completed the Gnar Slam, a series of four races in Northern Colorado: a half-marathon, a marathon, a 50-mile run, and a 100k run. He planned to do it again in 2020, but because of the pandemic instead completed a solo 50k and then a 50-mile trail run. “It’s a 25-mile loop you do in one direction and then reverse,” Meadows says. “I’m fascinated by loops and out-and-backs. I’ve done a run where I do the same three-mile stretch six times. There’s something more to notice and take in every time you go by.”
That meditative element draws him in as much as the endurance does. “There’s something about doing the same repetitive movement of the feet and the arms and the body for so long,” says Meadows. “Knowing I’m out here, I’ve been running for 12 hours, and I have eight hours to go—there’s something about having to settle in to that endurance space and be in that moment with whatever is flowing or not flowing. There’s an opening up when you’re in that sustained duration of the longer race or adventure.”
Meadows is the prose editor for The Denver Quarterly and the poetry editor for The Hopper, as well as a translator of Dutch and Cherokee works into English. His first poetry collection will be published in 2022 by Hub City Press. “What we do is often solitary, contemplative, and linear,” he says. “You’re putting one foot in front of the other or one word in front of the other. But it’s also recursive. If I’m practicing for a race, I’ll go out to the course and run certain sections over and over. If I’m working on a poem, I’ll spend all day going back to one line.” It reminds Meadows of having to find a way through rocks when running. “You’re finding the line. Sometimes there are breakthroughs, but sometimes you go out and you get the time on your feet or the time at your desk and you only get there through repetition and dedication.”