Cary man tests his limits running across North Carolina

New Years Day 2015 005

Story and Photos by Teri Saylor

Fueled by biscuits, waffles, hotdogs, ice cream, and a single cold Budweiser, Dave Cockman plowed through North Carolina on a pair of legs that carried him over 20 counties and more than 660 miles over two weeks on his quest to run from the Tennessee border at Murphy to the Atlantic Ocean at Nags Head.

Cockman, 57, who lives in Cary, started his journey in Murphy at 7:00 a.m. on April 4 and on April 18, he took his victory lap on Jennette’s Pier at 7:28 p.m.

When he finished his journey at the end of the pier overlooking the sea, Cockman checked the GPS strapped on his wrist and announced he had covered 664.44 miles in 14 days, 11 hours, and 28 minutes.

He hopes that was good enough to set a speed record for running from Murphy to Manteo.

This was the greatest 14-day adventure I have ever had,” he announced to a dozen friends, family and well-wishers who were in Nags Head to run the Flying Pirate Half Marathon and had gathered at the pier to greet him at the finish.

I cannot be more excited to be standing here on Jennette’s Pier,” he said. “I have run as far east as I can go, after starting out in the far western part of the state.”

Thanks to social media, newspapers and broadcast coverage, Cockman became a familiar figure along U.S. Highway 64, his chosen route across the state. He ran on busy highways and scenic rural roads, following the original highway, which often took him off the beaten path.

He ran roughly 50 miles a day and managed a steady pace, averaging four miles an hour. For the final portion of the run on Saturday, he covered 45.75 miles, running from Columbia to Nags Head. It took 11 hours.

Dave Cockman takes a water break at a convenience store along U.S. Highway 64 near Pittsboro (800x533)

In Pittsboro on April 13, Cockman took a refreshment break at a convenience store and explained he had slept no more than two hours the night before. He was anxious about his schedule. Pain in his left leg had slowed him down and forced him to make an unexpected stop in Lexington. When he found a place to lay his head for the night, he was eight miles off course.

Trying to make up for lost time, he ran 62-miles the next day, from Lexington to Siler City, arriving at a hotel at 3:30 a.m.

He rubbed his left calf, and described the pain.

It’s a shooting pain,” he said. “It starts in the back of my knee and radiates to my calf. But it feels okay as long as I keep running.”

Cockman, at 5’10”, is a durable athlete who has completed more than 40 ultra marathons. Last year, he wrapped up the Grand Slam of Ultra Running, consisting of the Western States 100-Mile Endurance Run, the Vermont 100-Mile Endurance Run, the the Leadville Trail 100-Mile Run and the Wasatch Front 100-Mile Endurance Run.

In 2013, Cockman ran the Tuna Relay which consists of teams of runners taking turns running to cover 200 miles from Garner to Atlantic Beach.

Cockman ran all 200 miles by himself.

Two years ago, Dave cooked up his most audacious goal yet – to run across North Carolina in a single, continuous ultra marathon.

033 (533x800)

For Cockman, this journey was a pilgrimage to find his physical, mental and emotional limits – if he has any.

He is also raising money to benefit the Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund, a 15-year old nonprofit organization benefiting wounded war veterans and their families. In 2010 the organization completed a 72,000 square foot medical facility on the Navy campus at Bethesda, Md. to treat veterans with traumatic brain injuries. Two years ago, the Fund launched a campaign to build nine satellite centers at military bases across the country. Two of these facilities, called Intrepid Spirit Centers, are in North Carolina – one at Camp LeJeune and the other at Ft. Bragg.

Cockman, who has a fundraising page on his website, had raised over $5,000 by the end of the run and expects the total to crest $7,000.

The money Cockman is raising will help pay for the Intrepid Spirit Center at Ft. Carson, Co., according to David Winters, president of the Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund.

I am amazed at what he is doing,” Winters said in a phone conversation. “A few people have raised money for us through physical activities, but to do what Dave is doing, roughly two marathons a day for two weeks, boggles the mind.”

Cockman, who ran his race mostly alone, carried what he needed in a small backpack – a few clothing items and supplies such as sunscreen and toiletries as well as cash and credit cards for his daily expenses. Two small, fluttering American flags attached to his backpack symbolized his devotion to wounded war veterans.

Along the way, strangers stopped to greet him and donate to his fund. He ended his run with more than $1,000 in cash.

The high point of my trip so far is the people I have met,” he said in Pittsboro. “They are treating me like a rock star. People are even asking me for my autograph.”

In Murphy, the local fire department escorted him for 20 miles, and in Hayesville and Lake Lure, he had a police escort.

The low points came during the darkness of night when he ran along the highway alone, heading for his next rest stop.

Some nights he ran into the wee hours.

I don’t like to run at night. It’s very dangerous,” he said.

Even though he wore a reflective vest, flashers and a head lamp, he couldn’t be too careful. He always ran facing traffic and often saw vehicles coming right at him.

I could tell people were looking at me and they sometimes drifted toward me,” he said. “I got very scared. There are lots of big semis out there, and late at night when I was very tired, I had to fight to keep my wits about me.”

Dave Cockman approaches Nags Head (800x501)

Ron Wahula, City of Oaks Marathon race director and director of the Raleigh Galloway marathon program, complimented Cockman from his booth at the recent Rock ‘n Roll Marathon Expo.

What Dave is doing is amazingly difficult. To be out on the roads unsupported and alone,” Wahula said. “This is the farthest he’s ever run before, and he’s pushing himself into unknown territory.”

Two years ago, Wahula completed the Umstead 100-Endurance Run, a 100-mile ultra marathon and imagines how Cockman feels running long miles day in and day out.

He trained, he’s prepared, and he’s organized,” Wahula said. “It will also take a little luck to push him through, but Dave’s a special guy. He has tremendous durability and a tremendous heart.”

Dave Cockman runs through Manteo (800x533)


Cockman is a senior systems engineer with Itron, a company that makes utility meters. He uses vacation time for his running endeavors. His company also offers 32 hours a year for employees to use toward charitable causes, and he’s tapping into those hours for his cross-state run too.

According to his boss, Randy Owen, Cockman’s intensity in the workplace matches his zeal for running. His entire team has been tracking his progress across the state, and fellow employees have donated approximately $600 towards Cockman’s fundraising effort, which the company will match, according to Owen.

It has been a lot of fun for our department to live vicariously through Dave’s exploits,” Owen said.“We have been impressed and motivated by his dedication to reach his goals while at the same time being an exemplary employee in the office.”

Without having a scale, Cockman doesn’t know exactly how much weight has melted off his normal 167-pound frame, but he estimates he’s at least 25 pounds lighter than he was when he started his run.

Dave Cockman tries to consume as many calories as possible to maintain his weight and energy (533x800)

His favorite road food is biscuits, gravy and waffles. Along the way, he took advantage of local barbecue joints and scarfed down entire large pizzas, but it did little good. The running burned more calories than he could consume.

Near Apex on April 13, several of Cockman’s running buddies joined him for a few miles. They dropped into the Local Bar, a tiny watering hole alongside the highway, where Cockman caught up with friends and a co-worker who stopped by hoping to see him. Another friend showed up with a cooler full of hotdogs. Cockman sat for a spell, resting his legs as he washed down a couple of hotdogs with a cold beer before getting up and continuing on his way toward Raleigh, his overnight stop.

Along the way, friends joined him, first one then two, and like the Pied Piper, he collected runners as he cruised up Chatham Street through Cary, and onto Hillsborough Street in Raleigh, where he and his team, now up to nine, stopped at Snoopy’s. He ate three more hot dogs, drank a cup of sweet tea and signed his autograph for the servers. It was almost midnight when the group headed to the Holiday Inn, where Cockman would rest for the night.

The next morning, two dozen runners mingled with the early morning business crowd at Big Ed’s in City Market to have breakfast with Cockman before sending him off to complete his final 200 miles.

Dave Cockman heads east on U.S. Highway 64 near Pittsboro 2 (800x528)

Cockman downed a large helping of biscuits and gravy, a serving of plain biscuits, four eggs, bacon, a cup of coffee and a glass of milk. Then with a team of companions to keep him company for a few blocks, he set off on New Bern Avenue toward Rocky Mount, pressing onward toward the sea. @terisaylor


Dream trip to Mount Everest turns into a nightmare for Raleigh trekker

Ron Wahula of Raleigh enjoyed  a dream trip to Mount Everest Base Camp

Ron Wahula of Raleigh enjoyed a dream trip to Mount Everest Base Camp

By Teri Saylor (photos courtesy of Ron Wahula)

On April 28, Ron Wahula of Raleigh, N.C. is exhausted and ready to be back at home after a dream trip to Mount Everest he had been planning for a year, turned into a nightmare when an earthquake, registering 7.8 on the Richter Scale demolished parts of Nepal and launched an avalanche of rocks, snow, and debris down the mountain, burying parts of the Base Camp and sending trekkers scurrying for cover.

Ron, whose trekking group was below the main area of destruction, escaped the full force of the avalanche but was shaken up. His wife, Carol Wahula, reported his trekking group was too close for comfort, and no one was hurt.

“They felt the earthquake, heard the avalanche, and saw the cloud of snow coming and felt the wind it generated,” she reported in a Facebook message. “They took cover and luckily they were covered only by a couple of inches of snow.”


Mount Everest's scenic beauty was transformed into a scene of destruction after an earthquake sent an avalanche barreling down the mountain.

Mount Everest’s scenic beauty was transformed into a scene of destruction after an earthquake sent an avalanche barreling down the mountain.

Ron is the race director for the Raleigh City of Oaks Marathon and director of the Raleigh Galloway Marathon Training Program. He has set his sights on adventure and endurance sports in recent years. In 2013, he completed the Umstead 100 Endurance Run, and set his sights on achieving his dream to climb to Base Camp on Mount Everest.

He signed on for a 21-day REI-sponsored trek and left Raleigh on April 13, bound for Nepal.

He had trained for an entire year, spending hours biking, hiking with a heavy backpack, and last summer he attempted the Pike’s Peak marathon, but was denied a finish when he missed a cut-off by minutes.

After arriving in Kathmandu, Wahula started posting photos on his Facebook page, along with enthusiastic commentary about the area’s beauty.  His travelogue included photos of himself standing before Mount Everest’s majestic summit.

On Saturday, April 25, those pictures turned tragic.  Gray, foggy pictures of snow and destruction replaced his earlier photos of clear, blue skies. The once festive, colorful tent city was covered over with snow, ice and gravel.

The scenery looks bleak at Mount Everest after an earthquake caused an avalanche on April 25

The scenery looks bleak at Mount Everest after an earthquake caused an avalanche on April 25


Ron posted his experience on Facebook:

“Saturday, April 25th, we departed Gorek Shep. elevation 17,000 + , headed for our goal of Everest Base Camp at 11:30 a.m.,” he wrote. “Approx. 15 minutes into our 2-1/2 hour trek, a massive earthquake occurred. It lasted about 1 minute and as soon as it ended, a huge white and grey cloud that looked like a tidal wave was headed right for us though the valley. Our Sherpas told us to hit the ground. The avalanche lasted 4 or 5 minutes. When it stopped we were covered with only 3 or 4 inches of snow. We were very lucky. Our entire group is well and safe.”

In a text message on April 28, Ron said his group had just finished their third day of a five-day hike back to Lukla, the starting and ending point for Mount Everest trekkers. He described a surreal scene of destruction.

“Lots of damaged buildings and the trail is damaged with rock falls, and helicopters are constantly in the air rendering aid to victims,” he wrote. “From Lukla, we fly to Kathmandu.”

According to Carol Wahula, Ron has lost about 15 pounds during his adventure and is most looking forward to getting a hot shower and eating a hot fudge sundae.

Runners to take on the Umstead ultra marathon this weekend in Raleigh



Nearly 300 runners will brave cold temperatures and the threat of frozen precipitation when the gun sounds at dawn on Saturday, March 28 signaling the start of the 31st Umstead 100 Endurance Run at Umstead State Park in Raleigh.

This year’s 100-mile ultra-marathon features a field of 101 women and 190 men from 31 states, the District of Columbia and New South Wales, Australia.

The race starts at 6:00 a.m. on Saturday, March 28 at the Camp Lapahio headquarters in the heart of Umstead Park and ends at the same location at noon on Sunday, March 29. Runners will attempt to run the 100-mile looped course in 30 hours or less. Last year, the male winner was John Dennis, 33 of Maryland, who completed the race in 13:41:07. The female winner was Liza Howard, 42, of Texas, who completed the race in 15:07:39.

The Umstead Ultra Marathon traces its humble beginnings back to 1974 as a training run before ultra marathons had grown in popularity. Two Raleigh runners – Blake Norwood and Tom Newnam had registered for the Hardrock 100 Endurance Run in Silverton, Co. and needed a long training run. Intending to run 150 miles, the duo obtained permission from the Umstead Park rangers to stay in the park and run for two nights, with their friend, Jerry Dudek serving as their crew. But after they completed 100 miles in less than 24 hours, they called it a day.

Later that summer, Norwood, Newnam and Dudek hatched a plan to develop a 100-mile ultra-marathon at Umstead and made good on that plan in spring 1975.

And every year since, with Norwood serving as race director, they have made good on their promise to conduct a quality, runner-oriented event, to encourage ultra-running in North Carolina, especially the Triangle area, and to produce a race that offers first-time hundred milers a reasonable chance of success.

Norwood died last October, leaving the Umstead Ultra-Marathon’s reins with Rhonda Hampton, who assumed the race director duties after the 2014 race.

Fast facts about the 2015 Umstead 100 Endurance Run:

Total number of runners: 291

Number of runners in their 70s: 9 – including the race’s oldest runner: Walt Esser, 76 of Cary, N.C.

Number of runners in their 20s: 9 – including the race’s youngest runner: Josh Belin, 23 of Potomac Falls, Va.

Number of women: 101

Number of men: 190

Number of North Carolinians: 116

Married couples:

Fernando Puente 61 and Carol Puente, 59 of Raleigh

Bill Squier 72 and Sally Squier, 72 of Raleigh

Darris Blackford, 51, and Starshine Blackford, 39, of Columbus, Ohio

Shannon Johnstone, 41 and Anthony Corriveau, 44 of Cary, N.C.

Other notable runners:

  • Fred Dummar, 46, will be running in Afghanistan while his wife Susan Dummar, 50, of Fayetteville, runs in Umstead. Fred is a commander in the Afghan National Army Special Operations Command – Special Operations Advisory Group.
  • Dave Cockman, 57 of Cary will be running in preparation for a 620-mile across North Carolina starting on April 4 in Murhpy, N.C.
  • Grant Maughan, 50, New South Wales, Australia, an elite runner who finished in second place in the grueling 135-mile Badwater Ultra Marathon in Death Valley, Calif. last July in 24:43:08, despite temperatures that soared into the 90s.
  • Hal Koerner, 39 of Ashland, Ore. Who won the 2012 Hardrock 100-Mile Endurance Run in Silverton, Co. in 24:50
  • Mark Manz, 29, of Durham, N.C. who finished in third place at Umstead in 2012.

Freedom Found on the Saddle of a Bike

Bike riding chihuahua

Gasping for breath after pedaling up and down rolling hills for six hours on a beautiful sunny afternoon, my friend Ann Guevara and I mustered enough energy to cheer as we made it to the end of a grueling metric century Cycle-to-Farm bike ride, sponsored by Velo Girls of Black Mountain, N.C.

The ride was billed as “flat and fast,” so we thought we could conquer the 62-mile distance, even though we had hardly been in the saddle since last fall and had minimal training.

But considering the tour was around places with the “h-word” like Chapel “Hill” and “Hills”borough, we had our doubts about “flat and fast.” Plus, the elevation chart showed an ascent approaching 2,700 feet, including a short steep hill with an 11 percent grade. In short, the whole thing looked mighty hilly on paper.

We sighed, and reckoned that since the ride organizers were based in the North Carolina mountains, these rolling hills were indeed “flat” by comparison.

And as the lily-livered, wimpy flatlanders we are, we knew we would just have to suck it up and ride it out.

Ann and I had set out the night before the ride to see just how hilly the route was. We scouted shortcuts, and we got lost along those country roads and gravel pathways.

We found compass apps and downloaded them into our phones, just in case.

Turns out, we didn’t need a shortcut or even a compass after all, but at the end of the day, I don’t know if I could have forced my pedals into one more rotation, and the only point to point map I cared about anymore was from the finish line to the finish line party.

I have often wondered how slow you can go up a hill without falling over. Struggling for balance on that ride, my abs were fully engaged, and it felt like I was pedaling through mud as I wobbled over the crest of the steepest grade at a stunning speed of 3.7 mph. Of course, what goes up must come down, and I was rewarded for that pitiful uphill effort with a glorious downhill screamfest like a roller coaster running at 30 miles an hour.

Spending six hours on a bike gives you plenty of time to think, and as we worked our way across the countryside, I thought about growing up, and I thought about bikes.

When you are a kid, you don’t cycle. You go bike-riding.

I grew up in neighborhoods full of kids.

My hometown is Winston-Salem, a hilly, medium-sized city in North Carolina’s Piedmont area. During the summertime, we kids lived on our bikes. They were our wheels, our transportation, and our freedom.

We rode without gears, without helmets and without shoes.

Back in those days, we didn’t select our bikes based on sleek styles or weight; expensive titanium or carbon frames; aero bars or seat structure. We didn’t worry about a drive train or components. We didn’t wear bike shorts or gaudy aerodynamic bike clothing. Or even special shoes with cleats for hooking into clipless pedals.

The most important thing we considered before we selected our favorite two-wheeled wonder was how the pedals would feel under our bare feet.

Beach bikes

As kids in the south, we couldn’t wait for summer and for shedding our shoes. My brother and I would have contests to see who could acquire the toughest feet, and we would go out and walk on rocks and hot gravel like fire-walking believers to toughen them up. When we could step on a bee and hardly feel it, we knew our feet were ready for summer.

In Raleigh, as in other cities, I imagine, there is a class of young urban cyclists. They drag out their street cycles and converge on downtown in swarms, wearing street clothes with not a helmet on a single head.

A couple of years ago I wrote about an alley cat bike race sponsored by North Carolina State University. Kids, young and old, turned out on bikes of all shapes and sizes, from beach cruisers, to retro 3-speeds, to mountain bikes, to banana seat bikes with high-rise handlebars.

They had dragged their bikes out of crawlspaces under their parents’ houses, found them covered in cobwebs after years of storage in barns and sheds and under porches. They bought them off Craig’s list or at yard sales.

Some were rusty. Some were shiny. Some had bells, and others still had colorful streamers hanging from the ends of their handlebars, a nod to the glory days of youth and what kids think is cool.

There was not a single racing bike in sight.

As a kid, my brother had a banana-seat bike and loved to compete in heated contests with the neighborhood boys to see who could pop a wheelie and hold it the longest. Some of those boys could ride a wheelie the entire length of our neighborhood street.

We loved riding our bikes hands free.

On the 4th of July we’d go speeding down the street, arms out and holding sparklers in each hand. We used clothespins to attach playing cards to our wheel spokes, making a silly flapping noise, which we thought was cool. We rang the bells on our handlebars at random, and stayed outside until the lightning bugs came out and signaled it was time to go home for supper.

Back in those days, you could ride forever, and never get tired.

Feeling the wind in our hair and the asphalt under our wheels, we were free and wild, and we believed we could go anywhere we wanted – at least as far as our two wheels could take us.

It’s different now.

We worry more about cars and distracted drivers.

We have too much stuff to carry.

We have to observe traffic laws and ride in bike lanes.

We have to protect ourselves against road rage, as it is now legal for drivers to carry guns and even conceal them in their cars or in their pick-up trucks.

On the Farm to Cycle ride, we passed by a lovely farm with horses grazing in a pasture. On the pasture fence hung a sign that read “Warning: Due to price increase on ammo, do not expect a warning shot.”

When I ride on my own, I stick to the parks and greenways on my mountain bike, only venturing out onto the roadways in a group setting.

But despite the dangers, we still manage to have fun.

Today, I can look out my window and watch the neighborhood kids ride their bikes on the street in front of my house, jumping over speed bumps like they are in the motocross. And on the Farm-to-Cycle tour, I watched the adults ride their bikes, and I realized the kids and adults are really not that far apart in our attitudes and thirst for freedom.

Ann and Teri at the end of the metric century sm<

As adults, we may have fancier equipment. We wear aerodynamic clothes with padded britches. We clip our feet into pedals and don’t even think about riding barefoot. We are old enough to know when we are tired, and our only feeling of wild childlike abandon is when we blaze downhill as fast as our wheels will turn. It’s the up hills that get to us now.

And I think deep down inside, even the most sophisticated cyclist is always going to be a little barefoot kid at heart.

Outside bike-riding.