March 16th was the kick off for the Promises to Keep 135. The event was called Courage Festival and it was hosted by Secura Insurance of Appleton, Wisconsin. The brainchild of Brian Gruender, would start with him as the first speaker, followed by me and then Clarence Hartley, of GA. Clarence, at 82 finished 1st in his age group at the 2011 Boston Marathon, is a two-time cancer survivor and between his exploits in the military in Korea and Viet Nam, flew 104 combat missions. Brian spoke of how this idea began and what it meant to him. I told of my struggles following the loss of my wife and the promise that I made to her, including to keep running and racing, speaking, writing and finding another woman to share my life. I was married again on February 24th to Christine (Chris) Neuman. Clarence spoke of his military days and how he began running later in life.
Following our talks we grabbed a bite to eat and headed for Kenosha. We arrived there at midnight, managed to lie down for a couple hours of rest, without sleep and at 2 a.m. were up for breakfast and a ride to the start line at a hospital in Kenosha, that happened to be the one where Brian was born. After some faulty camera equipment was fixed and our interviews by Fox 11 were completed, we left for our destination at 3:30 a.m., 30 minutes behind schedule.
Police escorts through both Kenosha and Racine counties set the stage for a great day ahead. We ran through downtown Milwaukee at the height of the St. Patrick’s Day celebration, or perhaps it was just getting started, as it was about 8 a.m. Following Dr. Martin Luther King Drive through the city and to Green Bay Road the sweltering sun with unseasonable temperatures in the 80s, beat down on our backs.
Gradually we left the city and then entered Mequon, Thiensville and Cedarburg before losing sight of any commercial buildings for a long time. We skirted Fredonia and ran past the Stoney Hill School where the birth of Flag Day started. Into the night we reached the outskirts of Plymouth and took a 10-minute break, sitting in the warm car and closing our weary eyes.
When we opened them we saw red and blue flashing lights. A Sheboygan (my hometown) County sheriff’s officer was investigating suspicious characters moving through the area. When he saw the huge ceremonial flag he changed his attitude about the report. He bid us goodwill and radioed ahead for other enforcement officers to assist us.
After reaching 100 miles, shortly after 24 1/2 hours of moving forward we again attempted a short 10-minute nap. It was fruitless. We kept running and upon reaching Chilton, one of the many veterans carrying the flag, including Brian’s dad, we were offered a hotel room by one of the vets who had run with us earlier and would carry the flag on the last leg. Each leg was 3 miles in length and soldiers who made the ultimate sacrifice for us and our country, received special recognition during each leg.
There were 158 war dead from Wisconsin, killed in Afghanistan and Iraq, when we had the bib numbers printed. Each bore the number 158 and the words, “Promises To Keep”. Unfortunately, 2 more were added shortly after printing.
We managed to each sleep for 15 minutes in the warm, quiet and dark room and then hit the road. Brian was losing his mental edge after that and I became the “drill sergeant” and took over by commanding a 5 minute run and 5 minute walk routine that would eventually make up our lost time.
Pulling into the 7 Angels Restaurant, we had one more leg to go, through downtown Appleton, on College Avenue. We all pinned on the 158 bib numbers and were joined by many of the vets who had run legs and also by family members.
The final 3 miles were a joy, lots of car horns and people hollering their support. We could have used a police escort though. Stopping for many of the red traffic lights brought us to the finish of our run, just over 137 miles, in 35 hours and 5 minutes. A fairly good prediction by Brian and me.
A community 10 km run was then held, pushing CPT Josh Guernsey in one of the race chairs myTEAMTRIIUMPH had purchased and like the one’s we would purchase with the proceeds of our fundraising efforts. Over 50 people stayed with the chair and CPT Josh and returned to the Fleet Feet Fox Valley for a wrap-up party.
I made it through the dinner salad, but on the 4th fork full, fell asleep before the fork made it from the plate to the palate. Chris and I then doggie bagged it and headed home. I slept ALL the way back, showered and went right to sleep after. Brian reported he fell asleep reading a story to his little girl for bedtime.
How good that sleep felt, but thoughts stirred during the night of the miles we ran before we would sleep and why we ran them. We had become like brothers, working as a team to complete the mission and slept with satisfaction and gratitude in our hearts. God Bless Our Troops!
See you in a few miles….roy