Running Stories

Back and Forth

Western Maryland Rail Trail Marathon
Hancock, Maryland
April 12, 2015

Back in Hartford in October, I had hobbled to the finish with a sore groin muscle that had began to be a problem in July of 2014. So, my goal for the spring marathon in western Maryland was to simply be less injured than the previous race.

An April marathon meant winter training and the winter of 2015 was a brutal one. We had snow and lots of it. I got in 160 miles of running in February but 80 miles were on the treadmill. Then, it was tough running on the roads outside. It was simply a winter of focus and determination as I continued to work on the nagging left groin.
I substituted a few runs for swimming sessions at the new YMCA in Traverse City, Michigan. They also had put in an awesome 30 person hot tub that was really hot. It felt so good to slide in and soak away my aches and pains.

My per mile times were slowly dropping as my peak condition of the past few years slowly ebbed away due to my inability to train like I had been. Working around the injury with rest and cross training seemed to help at times but I clearly wasn’t the runner I had been prior to July of 2014.

At the start of each run, I was having a stinging sensation in my left groin. My niece and a physical therapist in Pipestone, Minnesota, Theresa Stangle, gave me a few stretching tips via email that did help considerably.

On February 21, 2015 while at a NRECA meeting in Orlando, I got in a solid 16 mile run with an average pace of 10:21 per mile. It was great to have a break from the winter back home and I was encouraged by the results of the new stretching regimen.

Back at home about 2 weeks later, I clocked a 10:11 average on a 16 mile tour of the rural countryside. It was 27 degrees with sun, wind and some slick roads but again I was buoyed by the time.

I was working the 6 day a week Hanson plan as I had in the past as much as the left groin would let me. I was getting my speed work done in the 8 minute range and my marathon pace runs were near 8:50 per mile. I was falling off my previous marks but I was still respectable. “Not bad for dealing with this nagging injury.”, I thought to myself.

I hit the last 16 mile run of the 16 week cycle at an average pace of 10:02 per mile. I wasn’t going to do a 4 hour marathon but I did think I could get to a 4:30 finish if all went well.

On April 8th, Mary and I hopped in the rental car and began our journey. We had decided to drive out to Maryland, get the marathon done and then go on to a NRECA committee meeting in Arlington before driving back home. A vacation, marathon and work trip were all wrapped into one out and back drive.
On the first day, we stopped in Ann Arbor to visit our daughter, Collette. We took her out for dinner and walked the University of Michigan campus on a nice evening. It was a relaxing start to the long trip.

We hit the road early the next day. Taking a break from the drive, we made a stop at the NFL Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio. It was a bucket list stop of sorts. I watched my first Packer game on our family’s first color TV during the fall of my 5th grade year. To be standing in the hall of bronze busts while looking at all the great players of my time and before almost 40 years later was a special moment.

However, we didn’t linger more than a couple hours. Back on the road, we made it to Somerset, Pennsylvania by early evening. I got in a 3 mile run on a very poor hotel treadmill but at least I got a little sweat out.

We continued winding our way on two lane highways and enjoying the scenery of rural America. On Friday, April 10, we arrived at the Gettysburg Battlefield National Park. As we drove and walked various parts of the hallowed grounds, we looked out at the expanse of the battlefields. I shuddered as I imagined what the soldiers were thinking on those 3 days in July so very long ago. The battle left 51,000 soldiers dead, wounded or missing. Thinking about the sacrifice made by so many as you look at the actual ground that soaked in all that blood makes one feel very small.

It was a short drive across the border to Hancock, Maryland, the home of the Western Maryland Rail Trail Marathon. We have stayed at all kinds of hotels for all types of prices over the many years of marathons. The Super 8 Motel in Hancock, MD at $55 per night won the prize for lowest price. Plus, it actually was a decent place to stay.
Hancock is a small town in rural northwestern Maryland. We stretched our legs on a Main Street that could have been located in any state in rural America. Our steps led us to Weavers Restaurant, the quintessential small town family diner. We enjoyed an almost home cooked meal.

On Saturday, April 11, I took Mary over to the mall at Hagerstown, Maryland. She could get some shopping done while I relaxed at a movie. I chose Vin Diesel and gang in the newly released “Furious 7”. If you like action, fast cars and a few decent brawls, you will not be disappointed with this film.

On the same day back in Traverse City, the first ever Big Little Hero Race was taking place. It was the brainchild of Northwestern Michigan College instructor Kristy McDonald who wanted to create a service learning project for her business communication students.

I had spoken to the class at the beginning of the semester about the big brothers big sisters organization, my personal story and my goal of running a marathon in every state. Inspired by the cause, the students had spent the past 3 months soliciting sponsors, signing up runners and handling every little detail of a race.

They ended up with over 200 runners on a beautiful day. I sat in the mall after my movie and looked at the race day pictures from back home on Facebook. I started to get emotional as I wondered if I should have been there. I had so many supporting my cause and here I was 800 miles away. It was harder than I had imagined prior to leaving on the trip.

The Big Little Hero race made the front page of the paper. A gentlemen who I had never met named Paul Farquahar wore a shirt at the race that had a list of all his heroes on the back. I shed a few tears when I read my name on the list. How could I be a hero to someone I did not even know? It still amazes me to this day.

The Maryland dawn broke with temps in the 30s on marathon day, April 12. The forecast had the thermometer climbing to a high in the low 60s by noon. It was going to be a perfect day to run as there was little wind and no rain in sight.

It was the second running of the Western Maryland Rail Trail Marathon and Half Marathon. The size of the trail and the fact that it was not closed to the public required the organizer, Altis Endurance Sports, to cap the field at 200 runners.

At the race start and finish located just north of the C&O bicycle shop in Hancock, the runners began to gather. There were 130 in the half marathon and 70 in the full marathon.

The course would be mentally challenging as it was a double out and back. Out and back courses can be boring but doing the same course 2 times would be a marathon first. I decided to just concentrate on running 6.56 miles at a time. “Divide and conquer.”, I thought in my head.

The quiet, tree lined Western Maryland Rail Trail is paved and mostly flat. It was carved out of a ridge that had an occasional panoramic view of the Potomac River down below. Runners would head out to the southwest of town then back in a northeasterly direction on the former C&O railroad route.

In small town fashion, the aid stations were manned by a local high school baseball team. The double out and back course made it very easy for them to set up 4 different watering spots. The small number of runners also meant that we all got some personal service at each stop as well.

The short sections of course made it easy to see Mary multiple times. I basically saw her at both ends of each of the 4 sections. Driving parallel to an old railroad line is far easier than navigating big city traffic. Small towns and straight line courses do have an advantage for a runners’ support team!

Once the race got underway, I fell into a bit of a groove on the first “out” section. I did all 6.5+ miles with a less than 9 minute per mile average. I was happy with that. I didn’t ever think I could hold that for the entire marathon but I was going to give it all I had anyway. (Maybe not the smartest strategy due to my injury but…)
The first “back” section was slightly slower but still right at a 9 minute pace. The groin was sore but it was holding on. I could feel something new however. My left foot was clipping the inside ball of my right foot more and more as the race wore on. I began muttering questions to myself, “How is this related to the groin problem? Am I really compensating for the injury that much?”

On the second “out” section, my mile times began to slip. I went over 9 minutes for the first time when my watched chimed in with a 9:29 on mile 14. At mile 16, I hit 10:08. Then mile 18 came in at 10:56. The marathon wall and my sore left groin had joined forces between 16 and 18 miles. The battle for the finish was clearly on.
When I made the last turn for the finish, the times were all over 11 minutes per mile. My right ankle was now visibly bleeding from the ever constant scrap of my left shoe. I began wishing I had worn taller socks.

I dislike 11 minute miles but I can’t stand 12 minute miles. The last 3 miles were all in the 12 minute range and I was not happy. My gait and conditioning was clearly still affected by the groin problem.

I consoled myself with the fact that I was going to finish with a far better time than I had back in October. I hobbled across the finish line with a time of 4:23:41 and an average pace of 10:03 per mile.

Licking my wounds back at the hotel, I checked out the online results. I had finished 29th out of the 59 finishers overall. I was 4th in my age group of 50-55 year old men. There were 32 male finishers of all ages and I was 17th in that group. So, I was somewhat buoyed by the finishing statistics because I felt like I had made a respectable showing despite my physical problems.

The next day, we finished the drive to Arlington and settled into the Westin on Glebe Road for a couple days. We had a nice room and a decent hot tub to soak in prior to the start of my NRECA committee meeting. Having been on this national board since 2008, the Westin also felt like a home away from home.

With work obligations quickly over by noon on Tuesday, Mary took the wheel and I charted a course through Pennsylvania that a fellow committee member assured me would get us to the Cleveland area in 6 hours. His plan worked like a charm and we made great time.

Mary’s oldest sister, Patsy Fletcher, lived in the Cleveland area as do two of her adult girls, Holly and Melissa. Patsy was busy when we went through Canton on the way out but we had made arrangements to see them on the return trip and the shortcuts through Pennsylvania gave us even more time.

We met Patsy, Holly and Melissa at the Happy Moose Restaurant in Streetsboro, Ohio. We were surprised to learn that Patsy’s husband Tom was in the hospital with complications from his ongoing cancer treatment. So, the timing for a good family visit could not have been better.

We ended up staying the night at Patsy and Tom’s condo. The girls came over and we enjoyed more visiting and reconnecting. Patsy is much older than Mary. She had married her college sweetheart and lived in the eastern United States for most of her married life. We had only been around her kids a handful of times as they grew up. Thus, it was a rare opportunity to spend some time with them and we were so glad we did.

With work, family and a marathon in the rear view mirror, Mary and I finished the drive back home the next day. I limped up the steps to the house wondering when I was ever going to get over this groin problem but also thankful that I had one less state to conquer. Maybe, just maybe, I could take time over the summer to heal up completely.