Marathon one for the 2017 season was one I had on my radar screen for many years. I remember hearing stories of the Bataan Death March Marathon from a fellow running club member of the Shoreline Striders.
That member happened to be the Sheboygan County Veterans Affairs Officer, Jim Riesenberg. At our April meetings he always told of his adventures at White Sands Missile Range, near Las Cruces, New Mexico. Even though it was mostly active military that participated, they also had two divisions for civilians.
Civilian light and civilian heavy meant you were not on active duty and could choose either running the marathon with or without a 35 pound ruck sack. I chose civilian light.
I was fortunate to have friend, Mark Dorion, in El Paso offer me a place to stay prior to the race. He left me a key as he and his family were on Spring Break in Florida. I had another friend who offered to put me up after the race and she found a friend of hers to host me the night before and who could get me to and from the army base, for the race.
The morning of the race I drove to the start with Juan Escobar and a car caravan of his running group from El Paso. We met at a Starbucks and he introduced me to his running friends and arrived early enough to miss a back up at the military gate.
Prior to the start there was a ceremony celebrating the “Battling Bastards of Bataan”, some, now in their 90s, were on hand. Not many are still alive. The unit that lost many during the Death March, 75 years ago, was from New Mexico.
After a lengthy ceremony the race finally began with a slight downhill road mile. There were over 7,000 starters, mostly Heavy Military division, carrying 35 pound rucks and wearing full military gear, on a day where temperatures would reach 90.
The dessert is actually quite beautiful in a rugged sort of way, but small flowers and plants were evident. The mountains created a great backdrop, but running from 4100 to 5300 feet took a little of that beauty away. Well, once we headed back down it was actually a blast! I could see the water towers at the base and they became the magnet drawing me in.
I was in the top 10 during the first mile and when we hit the dessert trails and sandy footing I faded back, but stayed in the top 25. There was some jockeying for position, but I ran strong over the final 10 kilometers (6.2 miles), including the deep sand portion between 20 and 22 miles and I finished in 20th overall and first in the Civilian Light 65-69 division. When I checked at the results kiosk, shortly after finishing I was listed in 47th and 6th in my age group and said I did not believe that was correct. It wasn’t until I was at the airport on Monday afternoon that I saw official results.
My time was 4 hours and 19 minutes and good enough to beat two of the guys I met that morning at Starbucks by over 40 minutes. I finally found Juan and learned he had lost his car key. We needed to wait for his girlfriend to bring a spare. Meanwhile we found shade, food and I found a tall cool brew too.
Several hours went by, the key was brought to him and we then drove back to El Paso. After cleaning up we joined my friend and her husband for dinner she prepared especially for us. Mutual friends with a common interest made for a great weekend. I stayed the night at Carilyn and Tim Johnson’s, not far from Juan’s and flew out following lunch with them the next day.
The month of April was already booked up, but I got an invitation to speak at a 24-hour event, to be held April 1 & 2, in Lebanon, TN. The race director and I had met at the Badgerland Striders 12- & 24-hour event in Germantown, WI several years earlier. I was doing the 12-hour and he was going after my 24-hour course record, unbeknownst to me, that I had set in 1985, with 137.99 miles.
Woken by my roommate, Victor Vella of Italy/Malta, who did the night version of the 12–hour, I was there to see it happen! Records are meant to be broken and that one had been around a longtime, so it was nice to see someone with good credentials and great character break it–and not by much, ha ha.
Greg Armstrong, was wearing TEVA sandals when he surpassed my mark and I was connected with TEVA through my shoe testing with Deckers Outdoor Corporation (and still am), who owned the brand. I connected Greg with them and they have supplied some sandals to him and for his project Run4Water, over the years.
I arrived in Nashville Thursday afternoon and Greg picked me up in a very unique and old pickup truck with a bicycle mounted on the hood. I’d never seen anything like it and was totally amused. We drove to Lebanon and he showed me the site where the race would take place from Saturday to Sunday. It was a middle school where his wife was a teacher and assistant principal. I liked the circuit and that it was nearly traffic free except for about 100 yards on one side of the half-mile loop.
After treating me to dinner at a great local Italian restaurant, in downtown Lebanon, I was dropped off at my hotel. I waited for my roommate Tracey Outlaw to show, but at midnight it was lights out.
Friday morning I went for a little run and then walk and checked out some of the landscape around the hotel. Greg picked me up for lunch and then we picked up Jon Olson (former 24 hour World Champion, trying to make the team again) from his hotel. We had a number of others join us at Cracker Barrel, including Greg’s wife, Shelley.
We learned that this restaurant chain started in Lebanon, TN, but we were not at the original location. The food was good and the waitress very nice. The best part was when the tab came and the waitress informed us that another customer had picked up the entire cost of our meal.
We then gathered at the middle school with others from the Run4Water volunteer staff to go over the packet pick up plan. I went and checked out the auditorium where I would address the runners and did a mic check. All was well.
After packet pick up closed, volunteers, runners and crews gathered in the school auditorium. Greg asked that I talk about the history of the 24-hour in the U.S. A., as well as the 24-hour national team.
As the inaugural winner of the 24-hour national championship in Atlanta, GA, in 1988, I had lots to speak about. I also spoke of my involvement with the national team, as the manager for the first 9 years and as a participant 8 of those years, participating in 9 different countries. I also spoke of the struggle with our national federation to get funding and full team kits. The original 24 hour was staged in England and was called a World Challenge by IAU. I had placed third at it and broke my own American Record of 145+ miles, running 154+ miles on an indoor shopping mall circuit, contested on a marble floor. I opened it up to questions and the interaction brought out some additional information.
This event was put on specifically for runners to have their final chance at qualifying for the 24-hour national team. As a former member of the national team, Greg wanted others to have every opportunity to qualify. It was his way of giving back and also gave participants the option to raise funds for the Run4Water project.
Run4Water, created by Greg Armstrong, goes takes funds raised and uses them to repair and install wells in areas of the world who do not have availability of clean drinking water. He also uses it as a teaching tool for the children in his classes.
Weather was a bit cooler than most expected at this time of year in Tennessee, but it wasn’t long before some of the guys shed their shirts. It turned out to be a great day for a few as they met the qualifying standard and positioned themselves with enough miles to make the team.
I grabbed some shut eye on a mat in the auditorium and was up by 5 to make a coffee run to Starbucks with Tracey, who works for the Seattle company, showed up Friday evening, in time for a meal with Karen and Howard Nippert (24hr Team Manager), Greg, “Jester” and others. Before leaving the restaurant Tracey announced he lost his keys. The staff scoured the entire floor. He found it in the door of the rental car!
Following the race I caught a ride with Adrian Stanciu to the Nashville Airport. He did not have the race he was hoping for, but we all can relate to that. Two men ran over 154 miles (Jon Olson & Steve Slaby) and moved onto the men’s 24-hour national team. On the women’s side Gina Slaby, Steve’s wife, also made the team. Two Wisconsinites, Kris and Kevin Setnes were on our 100k national team, years ago.
Next on an already crowded calendar, a bus trip with my club, the Badgerland Striders, to St. Louis.
An early morning start from a parking lot at State Fair Park, a few brief stops along the way for stretching the legs and grabbing a bite to eat and we arrived in St. Louis in good spirits, picked up our race packets at the expo and were out of there in an hour. The hotel check in process took nearly as long, as 40 of us all arrived at the same time. It was my first experience at a Drury property and I was impressed. It also was just a few hundred yards from the finish line.
Everyone split for dinner plans and I hooked up with other Team RWB members and I enjoyed my first experience with Uber. The driver was very large and the car very small, so it was like cramming us in a smart car. We drove about 20 minutes and joined local chapter members of TRWB at an Olive Garden, then upgraded on Uber to a BMW for the return trip.
It was nearly a mile walk to the start along the Mississippi River and once it started we ran across the river into Illinois. Running into and then back to Missouri was my least favorite part of the race as it was mostly cement and not scenic at all.
One of the attractions was a short jaunt through the nationally acclaimed brewery and spotting the Clydesdales of Budweiser fame. We’d see more of the horses up close, later that day.
At some point I was in no man’s land, running alone, but with about 4 miles to go a pace group leader caught up to me. She was running alone and I said we should run together, that way she would not look bad reaching the finish line without anyone. She agreed and crossed the line together.
We spoke afterwards and I learned she formerly lived in Milwaukee and had been a member of the Badgerland Striders. She now lived in Chicago and had recently got into being a pace team leader. We hung out and then walked back to our hotels that were near each other.
I joined fellow TRWB members for a few innings of baseball with the St. Louis Cardinals and their opponent Cincinnati Reds. By that time in was in the mid 80s, sunny, but there was a pleasant breeze. Eating nearly an entire bag of salted peanuts in the shell, was my lunch.
We got a nice surprise. We had purchased $10 tickets the night before, in the nosebleed section, second last row, but upon entering we were given a complimentary player’s jersey!
In the 4th inning, without any score on the board, we headed back to meet up with our fellow Striders and the short bus trip to take the brewery tour. We enjoyed a few brews and then returned to the hotel for Happy Hour and appetizers, before going to a brew pub for dinner and some more brew.
Boston was next up and what was supposed to be an extended stay turned out to be a rather quick weekend. Again, I made the trip with Ondrej Tomek, leaving early Sunday morning, having lunch with Ondrej and his parents, picking up race packets at the expo, meeting with Bruce Monroe and Al St. Jean of CW-X, who supply me with their wonderful gear and then I headed for Westborough via train. I was met by my longtime friend and former international trail team member, Ben Nephew.
Ben gave me a shot tour of his work facility at Tufts University and explained what he does there, as a veterinarian. Really interesting and glad I had the chance to see it. We then arrive at his place and he and his wife cooked up some great pasta.
In the morning Ben drove me to the family home of Betsy and Dave Krueger, who were unable to host me this year because both their daughters would be home and running the Boston Marathon for charity. I was their guest for 9 consecutive years and hope to return again another time. I joined in the traditional breakfast, the after breakfast walk with Paul Joyce and the other runners staying there.
Dave has always found a site for us to join up prior to the respective waves going off and again he came through for us. For the second consecutive year we were allowed to use the yogurt shop and stay out of the elements and have our own private restroom.
My race went reasonably well, although it was a bit warm and upon finishing I picked up my gear checked bag that Ondrej had placed for me in the morning prior to his bus trip to the start. Things have changed since that horrendous day of the bombing and logistically it is now rather challenging.
I then made for the nearby train station and took it to Logan International and waited for Ondrej. He arrived just as we were boarding, having taken the time to see his 75+ father finish his second consecutive Boston Marathon. Travel back to Chicago and beyond went smoothly and I was home by midnight.
Ten days later I was headed back to Tennessee for the Nashville Rock N Roll Marathon on April 29. Last September was the first time I had been in TN, for a race called A Race for the Ages, in Manchester and now I was there for the 3rd time in 7 months.
I tried AirBNB for the first time and stayed with a couple in their home, about 20 minutes from the race start on the Broadway strip, following packet pickup at Music City.
It was a steamy start and local organizers were encouraging marathon runners to take the half-marathon option. I did not consider it an option–until later.
With water stations being jammed as I arrived at them, runners standing there pouring water over themselves, I knew this would only get worse and would deny others access. I heard plenty of sirens and when I reached the split of the two distance, I chose the half-marathon course–wisely.
The finish line at Nissan Stadium was well organized and the organizers and medical team were well prepared to handle runners under heat related stress. Many took the option that I had and were glad they did.
I then drove directly to another AirBNB in Louisville to rest up and prepare for talks I was asked to do at Fort Knox, KY, about 35 miles from where I was staying. I had a few meals and got in an 8-mile run on Sunday morning. I spent the afternoon preparing my presentations. I had 4 one-hour talks on Tuesday morning.
Monday I was up early and drove to the military base along the Dixie Highway, arriving in time to make P.T. I was met at the visitor’s center by First Sergeant Phillip Goddard and escorted to his unit the 76th Engineering Battalion. He gave be a brief tour along the way and explained what his function was for the U.S. Army.
After a brief warm up we ran about 4 miles together. They guys went out fast, to me, like it was a race, but like a race, the ones who darted out came back to me and all but 4 came in ahead of me.
Then Phil showed me around a bit, we went to the motor pool, one of the largest on any U.S. Army base, where the troops were to assemble. I was introduced to the Commanding Officer and she in turn introduced me to the troops, where I delivered an impromptu talk on why I was there.
Then I checked into my hotel and Phil took me to meet with the Company Commanders for a luncheon. I listened to what they were looking for in my presentations, so that I could deliver the message they were looking for on Tuesday.
I returned to the hotel and unpacked and Phil picked me up, along with his wife, Angela and son Collin and we drove to Elizabethtown for dinner at the recently opened Olive Garden. We took a brief tour of the downtown area too. One site we observed was a storefront that still had a cannon ball embedded it its wall..
Tuesday morning I was up early to run on my own, have a nice breakfast at the hotel and then drive over to the Olive Theater, that had recently been renovated and that I would be the first to use. We had gone there the afternoon before to check out the sound system, something I always do. On the way over he received a call that the theater did not pass its inspection because 2 doors leading to the theater swung in instead of out. The simply removed them and passed the inspection.
The sound system did not work. An army vehicle had hit a utility pole and knocked out the power. They brought in an electrician who remedied the situation, but I asked to have a back up system and Phil called Communications and they said they would have a back up speaker system set up prior to my first talk–and they were true to their word.
Each talk consisted of 2 companies with a 30 minute break in between. I delivered 2 in the morning, Phil took me to lunch and then I finished with 2 more in the afternoon. Somewhere along the way word got out in the civilian community and civilians showed up to listen also.
When I had completed my “job” Phil asked if I would consider speaking at the local running store, Running Soles. I told him I had a difficult time saying no, so I would gladly do so.
The store that we had seen on the tour of Elizabethtown the evening before was owned by an army vet who retired from Ft. Knox and opened up the store with his wife. Will Rivera also happened to be accepted to run Spartathlon in Greece and he wanted to meet me. There was a fun run scheduled that night and that gave me an audience of about 40 runners.
Will gave me an introduction and I spoke for about 20 minutes, seeing the anxious look in the eyes of the runners. They had come to run and wanted to get going. We posed for photos outside the store and they ran while we headed back to the base and a great dinner at the Goddard residence.
It was nearly midnight by the time I got to bed, but I made it to P.T. and ran with the troops the next morning. I then delivered a talk to those that were taking their annual P.T. test and encouraged them to train more, get better shoes, learn the importance of form and do more than they thought they could.
The experience was unforgettable and as an army veteran I was happy that I was asked to be their speaker. Phil later emailed me and told me a few guys had signed up for races and several were talking about running half or full marathons this year. That made my day and my travel home held great memories of a busy weekend and touching the lives of the troops.
A few weeks later I returned to the site where I ran my first ultra, in 1985, the Ice Age Trail 50-mile in the southern unit of the Kettle Moraine State Forest. I was going after my 24th finish of the 50-mile. I also ran the 50k three times, a week after having done a 48-hour race in France. The first year I did the 48-hour I had signed up for the 50-mile and after completing it thought that it was not a good idea to run that far after putting in 200 miles or more the weekend before.
It was to be another warm day and one that I would thoroughly enjoy. I felt no pressure as I believed I was the only one in the 65-69 age group this year. Last year there was 3 of us and one had a graduation party to go to and the other said he was “retiring” after 30 times running this course and the distinction of the runner who had done the most. He did return, but as a volunteer and it was great seeing him at “Confusion Corner” directing runners to the appropriate trail for their distance. Andy Arena, in 30 years of running the event took home a 3rd place award last year, the only time he accomplished that feat. He politely handed me his bib number and signed it for me last year!
Last year was a struggle as I was just coming off an auto immune response to a viral infection and broken arm. I finished in 11 hours 18 minutes for second place. I wanted to do better this year and I did manage 10 hours 40 minutes. I learned later that not only was I the only 65-69 entered, I was the oldest finisher. I did run faster than all but one of the runners in the 60-64 which included 16 guys. I know that there is another IAT 50 in the future. You cannot stop at 24!