Death of a Trail Runner



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By Anthony Corriveau

(Editor’s note: This beautifully written blog post first ran on March 4, 2016 in Anthony Corriveau’s blog Running Down, Anthony and his wife, Shannon Johnstone graciously allowed me to publish it here)

We had to put down our dog Dudley Dooright today. He was 11 years old. Dudley was my running partner.

You may have assumed that my running partner was my wife Shannon, the exceptional runner that she is. But Shannon and I are never in sync. I love mornings but she hates them. She has her best runs at night around the time I cannot keep my eyes open, let alone run. She might lag behind on a technical trail, but when she does 20 mile runs in Umstead I’m struggling to finish two miles on aching knees.

In fact, I have never been a social runner. The reason I started running originally was to get away from people. I discovered that running on trails alone was my happy place, the only thing that helped with frequent bouts of depression. But it wasn’t simply the endorphins produced from running.

Running on roads is just rote exercise. A procedure defined by simple equations of stride length and cadence, of VO2 Max and glycogen consumption. But running a single track trail as fast as you can is something else entirely: Intense focus on every root and rock, trying to maintain momentum around the next switchback, through the stretch of ankle deep mud, down and up a gully and then lifting your shoulder just in time to barely miss that tree. There are no thoughts of mortgages or dentist appointments or what the hell you are going to do with your life. Only thoughts of how many steps to take before you jump that log.

I got Dudley as a puppy in 2005. He was obviously a Golden Retriever, though I often refused to acknowledge this. This is because he was a reject from a breeder who dumped him in a parking lot, leaving him to die with a congenital defect. Dog breeders and the demand for “purebred” dogs is one of the main reasons the shelters are overflowing with animals who will never find a home. But I digress.

Shannon and I eventually had a pack of 4 dogs, and we would often take three of them running on the single track trail around the lake near our house (The 4th dog Lula was more into sunbathing than running). We are those obnoxious people who let their dogs run off leash, but we almost never ran into anyone else out there, and the unlikely event someone might be bothered seemed a small price to pay for the sheer happiness of three dogs.

Jorge and Jefferey seemed to mostly enjoy finding disgusting things out in the woods to eat, or roll in, or both. We would often have to call those two away from whatever distraction they found to keep them moving. But Dudley was different. He loved the trail like I did, and just wanted to run. It was a roller coaster ride that he didn’t want to stop. He would run up and down hills or around in circles through the trees while the rest of the pack dilly-dallied. He didn’t really care where we were going, as long is he was moving.

Around 2008, I started to invest more of my time and attention to running. When I figured out how to run more than 15 miles a week without hurting my knees, I ran as much as I could, with my favorite route an 8 miler around the lake. Since the other dogs lacked the stamina and interest, I would only take Dooright with me.
We had a special connection that I cannot explain. Almost always he was there ten feet in front of me, setting the pace. When I couldn’t keep up, sometimes he would stop and look back at me, “What are you waiting for? Come on!”. Or he would run a wide arc through the trees to allow me to catch up.

Dudley knew the trails better than I did, and had a perfect map in his head. Often he would jump off the trail into a swamp or make a hard left and disappear over a hill. Stupidly, I would stop and call for him. But it never failed that he would reappear on the trail in front of me and give the that look, “What? Let’s go!”. On hot days, he would get tired on the way back, and struggle to keep up. So he would cheat and take short cuts to stay in front of me.
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His desire to always be in front made him great at racing 5Ks. His laser like focus gave him an edge over other dogs. Of the 12 dog friendly races we entered, Dooright came out top dog in 9 of them.

Around 2012 both Dudley and I slowed down. My knees started to bother me again, and his hips got weak. When we woke in the morning, we would both hesitate before going down the stairs, knowing it was going to hurt. We still tried to hit the trail together, but he couldn’t go as far, and would be stiff and sore afterward. But it was always worth it.

A few weeks ago, Dudley momentarily collapsed while chasing a ball. After many trips to the vet, he was diagnosed with an aggressive cancer. The tumors in his organs would grow and burst, causing him to bleed internally. They robbed him of all his energy and he could no longer run. Even walking was a struggle.

There was no treatment available that provided any hope. So we just tried to give him as many good days as we could. On Thursday we drove Dudley and the other 2 dogs out to a local trail for a walk. Dudley jumped out of the van and trotted to the trailhead, as fast as we had seen him move in several days.

It was mid-afternoon and we had the woods to ourselves. He managed to walk a half mile, trudging slowly forward with all of his effort. But that was all he had in him, and he just stopped on the trail. We let him rest a while, and then leisurely headed back. He would walk for a hundred feet and then stop and rest. The cancer was tearing his insides up. His stomach was bloated, and is spine and hips protruded from withering muscle.

Seeing him struggle like this was terrible, and Shannon and I decided that it was finally time to let him go. As we neared the car, Dudley stopped and dug a shallow hole and laid down in the middle of the trail, in the shade of large tree.

His nose twitched left and right, detecting distant scents in the breeze blowing in his face. Occasionally his ears perked up when he saw a bird or squirrel or runner going by in the distance.

“Come on Dudley, let’s go home.” I tried encouraging him to follow us to the car. But maybe for the first time ever, he didn’t seem inclined to follow me. He just looked back peacefully. I imagined him saying “I think I’ll stay here on the trail. This time, go on without me.”

I sat on a log next to him. A barrier broke inside me and the sadness of losing him poured into and mixed with the happiness of all those long afternoons of running the trails with him. I started crying, deeply. Haven’t really stopped yet as of this writing. It took us a couple days to summon the courage, but we let him go this morning.

I suppose a eulogy for a dog could be considered banal, or you might call this one maudlin. I would accept that.

After all, it’s just a dog. It’s just trails in the woods. It’s just a guy and his dog running as fast as they can to nowhere in particular. It’s just exactly that and nothing else. Pure joy.

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Tom Green’s Challenge

 

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Tom Green proves why he is considered a legend in ultrarunning as he crosses the 2016 Umstead 100 Mile Endurance Run finish line after completing 50-miles, marking the longest distance he has run or walked since he suffered a traumatic brain injury in a tree trimming accident on April 20, 2015.

 

BY TERI SAYLOR

Tom Green did not cross the finish line at the Umstead 100-Mile Endurance Run to great fanfare and loud cheers, but while he deserved it, he neither needed nor wanted it.

The 50-mile ultramarathon distance he covered in 14 hours and 45 minutes on April 2 was a triumph in itself, and it was the longest distance Green’s two feet have taken him since a tree-trimming accident nearly ended his running career and his life less than a year ago.

For average fans of distance running, Green’s return to the ultramarathon circuit may seem no less than miraculous, but his friends and fellow runners would rather attribute his comeback to the ingredients that make up Tom Green– a strong spirit, a stubborn streak a mile long and willpower made out of cast iron.

The last thing Green remembers about April 20, 2015 is watching the Boston Marathon with his friend Alan Doss.

He vaguely recalls pulling some branches down from a tree in his yard, but the rest of that day and the three weeks that followed are dark.

“I woke up and my sister was there,” he said on the phone recently. “She told me I hit my head and I was in the hospital. I was incredulous.”

Mention the name “Tom Green” to almost any ultramarathon runner or fan and you’ll get a story about how he inspires beginners and encourages fellow veterans when they struggle.

Tammy Massie is one of them.

A prolific endurance runner who tackles marathons and ultramarathons almost every weekend, Massie had just completed her ninth Umstead 100-mile race and was gearing up to volunteer at the Bull Run Run 50-miler on April 9, another race Green was planning to tackle.

“I met Tom about 10 years ago when I first started volunteering at the Bull Run Run,” she said. “He is such a gentleman and an inspiring runner. From all of the energy he has given us over the years – we are giving it back to him.”

From cross country races to ultrarunning

Green, 65, who started running cross country as a kid, is what sportswriters and pundits might describe as a durable runner. Speed has never been his strong suit, but he always has possessed enough endurance to take him to the finish line of almost any race. His 100-mile PR is 17 hours and 28 minutes at the Vermont-100 in 1992. At age 47, he ran 132 miles in the 24-Hour National Championship.

“I never knew an ultramarathon existed until I read about a 100-mile trail run in a magazine,” he said. “And when I read it, I was suckered in. There were photos of middle-aged men, some on the heavy side, and smiling like they were having the time of their lives.”

So at 32 years old, he entered his first ultra – the Old Dominion 100 – and completed 60 miles.

“I thought I was going to die,” he said.

Green considered that first attempt a failure, but he refused to quit. The second time he tried, he completed all 100 miles. The following year he fell short again. Going one for three wasn’t good enough for him, so he set his mind on completing every single ultramarathon that existed.

It was 1986, and there were just four ultras: Vermont, Wasatch, Leadville and Western States. To run all four in the same year became like the holy grail of running and it was anointed the Grand Slam of Ultramarathons.

Other runners tried and failed, but Green persevered, finishing all four races in a cumulative time of 96 hours, 26 minutes, and 28 seconds, claiming his spot in the history books as ultrarunning’s first Grand Slam Champion, and sealing his status as a bona fide running legend.

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Tom Green uses hiking poles to navigate a flight of stairs leading up to the Umstead 100 main aid station and the starting point for each loop.

 

If you ask Green, this ultimate achievement is not worth fussing over.

“It seemed like it would make a good adventure and a challenge at the time,” he said. “Back then, people looked at me like I was Superman, but that was the farthest thing from the truth. I was always just an average runner.”

As Massie sees it, Green is a rock star among mere mortals.

“He is super duper famous,” she said. “To me, seeing him at races is like seeing Jon Bon Jovi at a Target.”

The accident

Green may not remember much about the accident that nearly killed him, but Alan Doss remembers every frightening moment.

The two men, who have been friends for more than 30 years, are carpenters and although they live 400 miles apart-Green in Maryland and Doss in West Virginia – they often collaborate on projects.

Doss and Green had taken a break after building a split rail fence around Green’s property to watch the Boston Marathon. When the race ended, they went back outside to cut down a couple of limbs hanging over Green’s garage.

“The limbs jutted out from the tree trunk, parallel to the ground,” Doss explained. “We had decided on a plan for safety, and executed it perfectly.”

The men cut the smallest limb first. When they tackled the second limb, it fell right where it was supposed to but as if it had a mind of its own, it hit the ground, kicked back up and struck Green behind his left ear, nicking his carotid artery, and causing a fracture of the temporal bone.

“Tom fell like a sack of potatoes almost on top of me,” Doss said. “Blood was squirting out of his head wound, and I put my hand over it to make it stop squirting.”

Green was airlifted to the University of Maryland Trauma center in Baltimore where he lay in a coma for two weeks.

Green’s wife, Kay, who is a radiology technician, credits Doss for his quick actions that may have saved her husband’s life.

“I felt bad for Alan, who witnessed the accident, but he did the right thing by holding Tom’s head still, staunching the blood flow and yelling for someone to call 911,” she said while standing around the Umstead course waiting for Tom to pass by on his journey.

In the hospital’s intensive care unit, Green’s condition was touch and go for days, and no one knew if he would ever be the same. He suffered a cerebral venous sinus thrombosis, and blood clots which caused a stroke, all symptoms of traumatic brain injury that would keep him in a comatose state. When he finally opened his eyes, he still wasn’t really there, Kay Green said.

Then he started responding to stimulation and following commands.

“That’s when we knew he would come back,” Kay said. “When he was able to lift his right leg, we cheered because we knew he would someday be able to run again.”

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At 6 a.m. on April 2, Tom Green started the Umstead 100 Endurance Run using a baby jogger to help him balance. He went on to finish the run’s 50-mile option, his distance PR since a freak tree trimming accident left him critically injured a year ago

 

But Green had to learn how to walk before he could run, and when he returned home after a month of physical therapy, he set out to do just that.

Using a walker at first, he measured his distance, not in miles, but in mailboxes.

“Tom walked to the first mailbox on our street,” Kay said. “Then he was able to make it to the second mailbox.”

Within four weeks, and using his walker, Green could shuffle a mile, which took 40 minutes.

“At this point, we just didn’t know how much Tom could recover,” Doss said.

But while Green kept improving, balance continued to be a problem. He knew if he ever wanted to have a chance to run ultras again, he’d have to find something to hang onto for balance, yet navigate easily.

Jogging strollers are the rage for mom-and-dad runners with new babies. Green reckoned he could run with one too.

The comeback

Green set his sights on the Crooked Road 24-hour run in Rocky Mountain, Virginia, a November run that would come only seven months after he almost died.

His goal was to finish 50K, but after going 30 miles in 10 hours, he was exhausted.

“So I took a nap,” he said. “And when I woke up, I felt guilty for stopping, so I got up and walked nine more miles.”

Then on March 19, Green decided to try a free run without using the jogger at the Hat Run in Maryland. Along the way, he lost his balance, fell and hit his head again.

With the Umstead 100 just two weeks away, on April 2, Green was determined to follow through despite his set-back. He was determined to get 50 miles.

Set in the rolling hills of the 100-year old William B. Umstead State Park, the endurance run takes place on a picturesque, looping bridle trail, rocky and unforgiving on the feet, but easy for anything with wheels, like mountain bikes and baby joggers.

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Tom Green navigates the rocky bridle trails at the Umstead 100 Endurance Run

 

For Green, the Umstead 100-mile endurance race was as much a lesson in strategy and willpower as it was in strength and endurance. To finish in the 30-hour time limit runners must maintain at least an 18 minute pace, and even though Green was planning on going 50 miles, it was important to him to maintain that minimum pace. Strong and steady, he never wavered and never even rested at the aid stations.

After starting just before daybreak at 6 a.m., Green finished an hour after the sun went down at 8:45 p.m.

A few friends and volunteers who were hanging around the finish line congratulated him with handshakes and hugs, but he did not linger. After a few minutes, with his wife at his side, he grasped two hiking poles and quietly hiked away into the darkness.

While 2016 marks exactly 30 years since Tom Green made running history by becoming the first Ultra Running Grand Slam Champion, coming back strong after his traumatic brain injury may be his biggest feat of endurance yet.

When most people think of a champion runner, they envision a chiseled athlete, out in front, breaking a finish line ribbon with arms raised in glory.

But champions are made in many forms.

At any given trail run, you may see a figure, not running, but striding quickly through the forest pushing an empty baby jogger or heaving a pair of hiking poles. He’s focused, determined, and steady as he pushes toward a finish line in the distance.

That is what a champion looks like.

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Tom and Kay Green head out on the Umstead 100 Endurance Run course.

Editor’s note: This story was written for the May 2016 issue of Running Journal. Contact Teri Saylor at terisaylor@hotmail.com or on Twitter @terisaylor

 

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.

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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 www.murphytomanteo.org, 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.

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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.

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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@hotmail.com @terisaylor

 

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

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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.

Meg’s Miracle

Amy's Pink Vibrams_Boston_Meg_3 with dogs paws small for web

 By Teri Saylor

When Scott Menzies laced up his running shoes on a beautiful winter morning last January, he had no way of knowing he was about to set out on his last run with Meg. Meg Menzies, a beloved runner in Richmond, Va., was struck and killed by an accused drunk driver on January 13, 2014. Then, out of an ocean of sorrow and grief, something amazing happened.

Meg’s Miracle

It is the middle of March, and I am sitting in a line of cars and trucks waiting on a long CSX train to cross Patrick Henry Road in Hanover County, Va., a suburban district that snuggles up next to Richmond. It looks and feels like a rural hamlet, its scenic landscape decorated with sprawling horse farms and sites commemorating the area’s rich Revolutionary War history.

In reality, Hanover County is home to over 100,000 residents, and Patrick Henry Road is a bustling thoroughfare connecting these folks to their jobs, shopping centers, and businesses. The road links Highway 301 to Interstate-95 so tightly you can almost hear the sounds of traffic speeding north and south.

On this day, the sky is perfectly blue, and the temperature is so warm I am tempted to put the top down on my car. It is nearly 5:00 p.m. and the late afternoon sun casts long shadows across the fields that line the roadway.

Even though the posted speed limit is 45 mph, and I am driving at least five miles-an-hour over that, vehicles hover close to my back bumper and zoom around me whenever they get a break in oncoming traffic.

The death of a local runner that has become an international phenomenon has brought me here.

Tragic Encounter

Meg and Scott Menzies likely were not thinking about traffic or trains on a crisp winter morning, January 13, as they set out to run along this beautiful section of Patrick Henry Road.  Meg was training for the Boston Marathon.  Scott, wearing a safety vest, was running just ahead of her. It was about 8:15 a.m.

The sun was up and filtering through the trees that line the rural two-lane road. It must have been a perfect morning for a mid-winter run.

As they ran along the narrow shoulder of the road facing traffic, a 2008 Toyota Sequoia came out of nowhere. Scott jumped out of the way and shouted for Meg. She tried to get out of the way too, but the vehicle ran off the road right into her path.

She didn’t stand a chance.

In a flash, Meg Cross Menzies was gone, leaving a husband and three small children.

She was 34 years old.

Patrick Henry Road snakes and curves across Hanover County.  The shoulders on each side of the road extend a foot or two before they drop into twin ditches about 24 inches deep.

Little country lanes sprout off the main road, resembling small branches. They have quaint country names like Autumn Sun Lane and Walnut Shade Lane.

After keeping the line-up waiting for nearly 10 minutes, the last box car finally disappears around a curve; the safety gates go back up, and we start moving again.

A couple of miles past the railroad track and around a bend, I can see a signpost for Hickory Hill Road, rising up in the distance, like a beacon.

It doesn’t look like a normal streetsign though.

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As I get closer, I see dozens of colorful running shoes hanging on it like Christmas tree ornaments. Here and there people have inserted heartfelt notes and whimsical trinkets.  About 50 yards away, someone has constructed a slender white cross with a pair of running shoes tied to it.  A few small hyacinths are starting to poke their purple heads out of the earth, the first flowers to emerge in a small memorial garden planted at the foot of the cross.

Sabrina Civils was on her way to her job as a financial administrator at a Richmond High School when she heard the news that a “Hanover jogger” had been struck and killed that morning.

“I remember thinking how terrible that was,” she said over dinner in a popular Richmond restaurant.

Sabrina had known Meg since the 8th grade and credits her friend for introducing her to the track team in high school.  But it never entered her mind that Meg was the jogger who had died that day.

“My sister called me and said she had bad news,” Sabrina recalls. “I just lost it.”

Over 1,200 people packed Meg’s funeral service.

Beloved in the Community

“Meg was always a runner. She was beautiful inside and out, and in every way that matters,” Sabrina said. “She was a Christian and did not have a mean bone in her body. She was small and petite, and a fun person, a true person. You could trust that girl with anything.”

Meg Photo from Facebook

Michael J. Carlson, a local doctor has been charged with driving while impaired and involuntary manslaughter. According to news reports, his blood alcohol level was recorded at .11. Prescription drugs and an unopened bottle of beer were found in his car. He reported he was on his way to work.  Police are also investigating to find out if he was texting behind the wheel of his car too.

Other stories of tragic deaths involving drunk drivers end here, but Meg’s death has given birth to a miraculous phenomenon.

Meg’s Miles

After Meg was killed, friends set up a Meg’s Miles Supporters tribute page on Facebook and planned a memorial run for January 18, asking runners everywhere to log miles in Meg’s memory.

The movement went viral, with runners from all over the world posting their miles. Nearly 100,000 people ran for Meg that weekend.

Today, just three months after Meg’s death, nearly 16,000 people from virtually every state in the nation and all around the world are still running miles for Meg.

Amy Garza lives in Tempe, Arizona.  She had never met Meg Menzies, but she is planning to run the Boston Marathon for her on April 21.  Amy has been running for Meg ever since she learned of the runner’s death on Facebook.

As of April 2, she had passed the 310-mile mark.

“People join the page every day,” Brooke Roney, the site administrator said in a phone interview. “It has become a sort of running support group.”

Indeed, people who have never even run to their mailboxes have started training for races, and logging miles for Meg. They post messages about their hopes and dreams. They post about their own sorrows and heartbreaks, and they post about running to honor Meg.

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“Meg has inspired a lot of people to get moving, to exercise and get healthy,” Brooke said. “She turned many people on to running in her community.”

Now her influence is worldwide.

Kindred Spirit

 “The fact that Meg is a mother of three and that she died on an early morning run really hit me hard,” Amy Garza wrote in an email to me. “It could have been me in her place, or any one of the wonderful running mothers I know who get up early in the morning while their children are still sleeping to get their workout in order to still be home in time to get them up and ready and off to school.”

Amy has donated her favorite pair of Vibrams to “Soles of Love,” a special Boston Marathon memorial sculpture constructed out of donated running shoes as a tribute to Meg. It will greet runners at the marathon’s 1-mile mark.

Amy wrote a note to the Soles of Love organizer, and tucked it into the package with her Vibrams:

 “Last night, I took a Sharpie to my favorite pink Vibrams Fivefingers, the pair that I (wore in) my first marathon in January 2012. This morning, I put these shoes on for the last time before shipping them off to you. I am starting to taper for Boston, so my 7-mile run could’ve been a little slower today, but it wasn’t. I felt like I had wings. It was all Meg.”

Amy's Vibrams on the memorial

 

Well-known runner and journalist Bart Yasso has signed on as a Meg’s Miles supporter.  So has Olympian Deena Kastor.  Natalie Morales, an anchor with NBC’s Today Show has tweeted about Meg’s Miles and donated a pair of autographed shoes to Meg’s Boston Marathon memorial.

I called Bart and asked him why this movement has grown so big.

He attributes it partly to the power of social media.  He also said giving people a forum to respond to a tragedy is part of the healing process, and he predicted something good will come from the tragedy.

“The Richmond running community is really strong,” he said. “I run several times a year in Richmond, and I can see the power of the Richmond Running Club.”

Sabrina, and Brooke, along with Tiffany Eisentrout, Amanda Parrish, Whitney McIntosh, Erin Schools, Terri LeGars, and Dr. Jessica Lynn Pereplyotchik, plan to set up a foundation to advocate for healthy lifestyles and safety, with a focus on Meg’s Christian values. They also plan to use the foundation to help kids who have lost parents in accidents involving drunk driving and texting.

The Meg’s Miles organizers already have raised over $33,000 through tee shirt sales and donations.

In Meg, Amy Garza has found a kindred spirit.

“We have quite a few parallels in our lives, even though we live across the United States from each other. I am drawn to the page and love reading the posts by people who have also been touched by Meg’s story,” she wrote. “I love that there are so many people in the world who seem to turn tragedy into something positive. I’m not sure I would have the strength to do it, but I hope I would. It makes the world seem a little smaller somehow and brings us all together for a common purpose.”

Sabrina is not surprised that Meg’s spirit is so powerful.  She was a strong force for running and healthy living in the Richmond area. Now she’s impacting thousands of people around the globe.

“This has become a chain reaction all over the world,” she said. “Meg is smiling down on us. She has made such an impact on so many lives.”

She is working her magic from Heaven now.

Teri Saylor lives, runs and writes in Raleigh, N.C. Contact her at terisaylor@hotmail.com

Join the Meg’s Miles Supporters group on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/#!/groups/megsmiles/

Note:  Photos by Teri Saylor, Amy Garza and Kel Kelly, creator of the Boston Marathon Meg’s Miles Soles of Love Structure. The  photo of Meg comes from the Meg’s Miles Supporters Facebook page.

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