To be told a year ago that in the following 12 months I’d relocate to (a) North Carolina, (b) return to the newspaper business and (c) all but stop running for the past three months of the year would have seemed somewhat laughable.
Incredible. Unrealistic. Impossible. With that set up, of course, you have to believe that’s exactly what happened for me in 2013.
Running is a passion near and dear to my heart. Honestly, on most days I’m not sure why that’s so. Still, I logged 1,619 miles this year, the second highest total for me in my life. I was healthy, and while I struggled early and late in 2013 to run consistently, I can say that it was my choice, and not injury, that had me on the sidelines. In between — especially from March through September — I seemed to to fly, drive and run across the country.
I competed with some pretty amazing people along the way — new acquaintances and old friends alike, on city streets through the hearts of downtown Pittsburgh, Pa., with thousands of others (but especially with Mary, Kate and Mark) or the often unused trails inside the Capitol State Forest near Olympia, Wash. (along with solitude, John and Jennifer).
I had the pleasure of representing Team Red, White and Blue, a veteran service nonprofit organization that aims to assist veterans in their mental, physical and social well being through exercise. I had the honor of representing Team RWB at the Pittsburgh Half Marathon in May and again in September at the Air Force Marathon. Running is often a giving sport, but my own racing had been mostly about me in recent years until I heard about Team RWB. It was kind of nice to run knowing I was a small part of a bigger picture.
In April, I won a race. I don’t get to say that too often (it’s been close to 20 years since I won a race). After a couple of miles into a 10-mile road race, it was down to me and Mike Meadows, of Martinsburg, W.Va. He and I are longtime running friends and I knew he could crush me at the 5K (3.1-mile) and 10K distances. I also knew the 10-mile distance was new to him in a race. He and I went back and forth for the first 7 miles. I went ahead for the last time on an uphill. I could have sworn I heard him breathing down my deck most of the last 3 miles. The official results, though, indicate he slowed considerably to hang on for second place.
April was a very busy month for me. I also participated in the Cape Cod Ragnar Relay, a 200-mile team-oriented footrace south of Boston, Mass., as well as the American Odyssey Relay, a 12-person team race from Gettysburg, Pa., to Washington D.C.
Most of this occurred in a span of only 10 days. On April 26 and April 27, I ran my three sections of the American Odyssey Relay (6, 4.75 and 8.5 miles, with an average pace per mile of 7:03, 6:58 and 8:00, respectively). I then drove 60 minutes south to compete the next day in the Red Bud Distance Run, where Mike and I went toe to toe for 10 miles. It was amazing to make the right turn up the gravel road to the finish line where my son, Noah, served as the official timer. Pretty cool.
On May 3 I drove to Pittsburgh and then flew to Boston for the Cape Cod Ragnar Relay. In less than 24 hours, I ran three sections of 8.1, 5 and 5.1 miles (averaging 7:12, 7:08 and 7:43) then beat feet and flew back to Pittsburgh. The very next morning was the Pittsburgh Half Marathon and it was there I officially ran for Team RWB for the first time.
Later that month, in Harrisburg, Pa., I set my 5K personal best for the year (20:03) and then waited until June for my trip to Shelton, Wash. There, on June 1, I placed third overall in the Goldsborough Creek 7-mile road race — I didn’t see the top two guys after the 2-mile mark — but I felt my training for the upcoming Air Force Marathon in September was right on schedule.
I didn’t realize, though, that life would get in the way. While my 20- and 22-mile training runs came and went, with varying degrees of success, I began to be under a bit of pressure on the home front. Being a full-time student while using my Army GI Bill benefits had its pros and cons, and a key drawback was that timely payments from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs were never a sure thing.
When the fall semester started in September, I had enrolled at Frostburg State University —with an intended major in Parks and Recreation Management — I felt my time as a full-time student was coming to an end. Then I learned about the job in Rockingham, and put my best foot forward.
I applied, interviewed on Sept. 5 and Sept. 6 in Lumberton (where I also managed to get in a short run) and returned home.
By the following Tuesday, I was offered the job. As it turned out, my start date was to be a mere two days after my goal race — an event for which I’d trained through the hot, hazy summer months since May. So the plan was to drive to Dayton, Ohio on Friday, race on Saturday, drive back to Maryland Saturday afternoon and drive to Rockingham on Sunday. Except for dropping out at mile 19.2 in the race, that’s what happened. I was dehydrated and my running logs show I have a poor record of running well through life-changing times. Planning to move 400 miles away from my children was one of those times.
I didn’t leave western Maryland without one of the more inspirational things to happen in my life. I paired up with Mary Kreis and Craig Dietz in the SavageMan Triathlon a week before the Air Force Marathon. All I had to do was run an easy 5K. But Mary, a cancer survivor, is a beast on the bike. And Craig — born with no arms and no legs — was the best swimmer a teammate could ask for — and we all represented Team RWB at the event.
Outside of running, people often think the sport is an individual one. That is absolutely not the case. In the weeks and months leading up to my marathon attempt, I relied on nearly three dozen people to help me get out the door and log the miles on trails, country roads and the oval track for intervals in oppressive heat, humidity and, on occasion, near-perfect conditions. Though I didn’t reach my goals this year, I wouldn’t trade the experience and relationships for anything.
Since the move, the job takes up most of the hours each day. When I’m home, the last thing I feel like doing is running. I remain hopeful this is just a glitch in the training log — like an unscheduled break for aid during a race. I haven’t run in Richmond County since Nov. 15, when I completed the 15-mile shirt run required to join the Mangum Track Club.
But 2014 is the start of a New Year. On Wednesday, registration opens for the Hinson Lake 24-Hour Ultra Classic in Rockingham. Race day is in September, the same week I’ll mark my one-year anniversary in Richmond County. And I expect I’ll be at the starting line in whatever shape I can manage.