Running Stories

Runs In The Family

On June 5, 2010, I got a Facebook invitation from niece Theresa Crance Stangle. She asked if I would like to join her and her sister Rebecca (Becky) Crance at Moline, Illinois for the Quad Cities Marathon. Well, it was less than 10 days after my self destruction in my second running of the Bayshore Marathon in my home town of Traverse City, Michigan but it took me only 5 minutes to get to a computer to sign up. An opportunity to run with family AND knock off another state couldn’t be missed.

My wife, Mary, comes from a family of 10 kids. So, we lost count of the number of nieces and nephews (also a now growing bunch of great nieces and nephews) somewhere near 40. Theresa and Becky’s mother, Ann, is Mary’s sister. Roy, their father, is my first cousin and just 4 years older than I am. Because of this extra family tie and relative closeness in age, Mary and I have always spent a little more time at Roy and Ann’s as we traveled back to our hometown of Timber Lake, South Dakota over the years. As a result, we have watched all 5 of their kids grow up a little more closely.

Becky is special because Mary spent a lot of time babysitting her when Becky was small and Mary was in high school and college. Ann drove the school bus in the morning and Roy worked at the local grain elevator. Mary would sit with Becky almost every morning during the school year. Mary and I also spent many a weekend night at Roy and Ann’s babysitting while they were out for the evening. While I enjoyed playing an assortment of toys and games, as a teenager, I also enjoyed the “alone time” with Mary after Becky and later her sister, Sarah, went to bed. It was usually short lived as Roy and Ann would show up as if they had some sort of radar!

One special time occurred when Becky was 3 years old. Mary and I were in college in Aberdeen, South Dakota which is located about 150 miles east of Timber Lake. Roy, Ann and Becky wanted to surprise Mary on her birthday. Enlisting my help, Becky accompanied her dad who was hauling a load of grain to Aberdeen early on the morning of Mary’s October 27th birthday. I met them at the truck stop. I took Becky and the cake Ann had prepared to Mary’s dorm room. Mary was certainly surprised. The smile and light in Becky’s eyes that morning were the perfect gift for her Aunt Mary. We enjoyed a great couple hours entertaining Becky while her dad completed his work in town.

Theresa is Becky’s younger sister by about 8 years. At age 24, she is the same age as our oldest child, Zachary. Roles were reversed when Mary was teaching kindergarten and I was working at Moreau-Grand Electric Cooperative in Timber Lake. Ann was running a day care at the time and young Zachary was in her care daily. Roy would often be there for lunch to help with all the little ones.

I can remember one day when I stopped in and Roy was working with Zachary on using a fork to eat some cheesy green beans. There were several other kids including Theresa, sitting next to Zachary, all being served in various stages. Roy was patiently getting to them all. I thought to myself, “NO WAY could I have that much patience or do that for a living.” It was these times all before he turned 4 years old that drew Zachary close to Theresa and her parents. Even though we moved to Montana in May of 1988, Zachary and Theresa have been best friends ever since those days of diapers, green beans and toys on the floor. It has been a source of silent pleasure and pride for me to watch this continue over the years.

So, while we have enjoyed watching all of our nephews and nieces grow up over 3 plus decades and spending time with many of them at a wide assortment of family gatherings, these are a few reasons why I didn’t hesitate to accept the Quad City invitation. I felt like I had a treasured opportunity because they had asked me and not the other way around. How could I know if I would ever have such a unique request in the future?

July found us visiting in Timber Lake and spending time with family during the town’s 100th birthday and my 30th class reunion. It was during this time that I suggested to Zachary that he join us and run the half marathon in Moline. A week or two later, he was registered and following a running schedule on his Ipod. We officially had a family “quad” to run at the Quad Cities Marathon on September 26th.

While I had a good July running (PR at Cherry Festival 15K on July 10th and strong run at Timber Lake’s half marathon on July 24th), I didn’t “officially” start my marathon schedule until the first week of August. I got in 133 miles of running in August and worked out in the weight room twice a week. August 22nd was one of the best days ever because Zachary, who was home visiting, joined me for an 18 mile run on a near perfect Michigan day.

In September, the training continued to progress quite well. With running partners absent or injured, I asked Mary to follow along on her bike to carry some extra water on an 18 mile run around our rural neighborhood. It had rained the night before so we ran into some mud on a gravel section of road. I navigated quite easily on foot but Mary had a bit more difficult time. After a couple miles, we gratefully escaped to higher ground. Despite this little water hazard, we ended up having a great time enjoying the nice day and each other’s company. My wife and best friend was now also a running companion and a welcome addition to a growing running family.

I did modify my training a bit as I was fearful of my body “protesting” 4 marathons in 6 months. I decided to not do any runs longer than 18 miles. I also opted to substitute a favorite trail run with some running buddies for more traditional speed work. While I did have some nagging stiffness in my left Achilles, it was never painful nor was it sore to the touch (both signs of a potential serious injury). All in all, I felt my body responded well to the reduced mileage and shortened marathon schedule.

In no time, all the long runs were done and all the weight room sessions were written in my log book. It was time to head to the Quad Cities. Becky arrived at our house late on the evening of September 23rd. After a restful night’s sleep, we hit the road together for Moline, Illinois. We skirted Chicago just fine and enjoyed a good day on the road.

The only glitch was when an interstate rest stop was closed. We took the next exit and expected to find a gas station but instead found a large antique shop. On the door of the shop was a note saying that they were not running a public restroom and recommended travelers not interested in antiques travel almost 5 miles down a rural highway to a nearby town. Well, I had to go! So, into the antique store we went. After browsing a bit, I decided to purchase a Breyer statue of the great horse, Secretariat. Feeling less guilty after spending $35, I used their bathroom and we finished the 450 mile trip before 5 p.m.

The Quad Cities region is comprised of the Mississippi riverfront cities of Moline and Rock Island in Illinois and Davenport and Bettendorf in Iowa. Other communities in the area include East Moline, Silvis and Port Byron in Illinois and LeClaire, Iowa. Headquartered in Moline, Deere & Company founded by John Deere himself has been the backbone of the agricultural industry in the Quad Cities area and the world for that matter for more than 170 years.

After checking into our hotel, The Stoney Creek Inn, Becky and I decided to see if we could locate a place to eat within walking distance of the hotel. We found John Deere Plaza but it was closed. We found what looked to be a major city bus terminal sparsely populated with a few people. Somewhat perplexed after walking a few city blocks from our hotel, we jumped into the car for a drive. We found a large John Deere plant but surprisingly little traffic and fewer people. Still confused, we drove back to the hotel.

Back at the hotel, I asked the desk clerk, “Where is downtown Moline?” He responded, “You are in it.” While I was thinking, “Wow, I’m sorry”, I smiled and thanked him. Back outside, we just had to laugh a bit. It was Friday night in downtown Moline and it was like a ghost town. We settled for a TGI Friday’s at the Ramada Hotel next door and decided to continue our search for more local cuisine in the morning.

The next day found us anxiously awaiting the arrival of the rest of our group. Becky and Theresa’s mom, Ann, had picked Zachary up in Aberdeen, South Dakota. They spent the night with Theresa and her husband Rich on Friday at their home in Rochester, Minnesota. The 4 of them got up around 4 a.m. on Saturday, picked up Rich’s mom, Pat Stangle, along the way in Iowa and arrived at the Stoney Creek Inn before 10 a.m. on Saturday. We were waiting in the lobby when they pulled up. The weekend family group of 7 was finally together, 2 from South Dakota, 2 from Minnesota, 1 each from Iowa, Michigan and New York.

After putting the 3 boys in one room and the 4 girls in the other room like summer camp, we took the short walk from our hotel to the Quad Cities Marathon expo. We registered, scanned our race day timing chips, collected a great marathon shirt and browsed the booth offerings for about an hour or so. The 2 moms and husband Rich got a taste of the running excitement by picking up a few of the freebies from participating booths. Rookies, Zachary and Theresa, took direction on registration procedures from the veterans, Becky and I. I could feel the anticipation for the next day’s race building in our little group.

Next, we followed a suggestion from the desk clerk and drove a few blocks over to The Twenty Bar and Grill. It was a sports bar with college football playing on several flat screens. Their specialty was called “The Big Twenty”, a 20 ounce hamburger accompanied by 20 ounces of French fries. If you ate it all, you received a free t-shirt which proclaimed, “I conquered the Big Twenty”.

We quickly learned that Rich’s unofficial hobby was entering eating contests, especially if a free shirt was involved. He thought about it a while but not too long. When the waitress came back to take our order, he accepted the challenge. The burger actually didn’t look overly large but the plate of fries made one wonder if it could be done. Slow and steady, the former college football player worked his way through the food. We had a good time joking about how different people had different marathons. In just around an hour, Rich hoisted the last fry to his mouth and walked out wearing his new shirt.

Since everyone in the group was a fan of the American Pickers television show on the History Channel, we decided to find the headquarters location which was in LeClaire, Iowa. We crossed over the Mississippi, past a huge Alcoa aluminum plant and watched a couple barges traveling down the river before arriving in LeClaire under a light rain. Thinking we were lost when the GPS got us close put not within sight of anything that looked like the home of Antique Archeology, we asked a gas station attendant for directions. She quickly quipped, “Yup, it’s right there in the back alley. Watch for the rusty car.” Sure enough, it was cleverly hidden half way up the alley behind the gas station.

I expected to find a giant warehouse of all the things they had “picked” across the country. What is actually there is a small, old garage with just a limited selection of antiques. I couldn’t find anything other than the t-shirts the show secretary was autographing for less than $100. Consequently, we browsed for a bit, took some pictures and nobody purchased a thing. Once again, television had made something far more impressive than it actually was in real life but we could at least say we had been there.

The Quad Cities area has a water taxi service that makes regular stops on both sides of the mighty Mississippi. With little to do in the rain and not wanting to walk too much prior to the marathon, we all paid the $6 fee and rode the circuit. The two attendants on the boat informed us that they would make one more round but since it was the last of the day, we would not be able to get off anywhere. We took the ride anyway and enjoyed the shoreline sites of Iowa and Illinois.

A friend of mine in Traverse City, Michigan who had lived in Moline previously recommended that we try the ice cream at Lagomarcino’s on 5th Street in downtown Moline. It had been a few hours since Rich had completed his culinary marathon so we made a late afternoon stop for some ice cream. Rich’s mother, Pat, opted to stay in the car and wait. It turned out to be a good thing as we barely could squeeze 6 people into their largest booth. The old building had a small “mother’s cooking” kind of feel. Despite a waitress with a modern hair-in-the-eyes haircut, the ice cream lived up to the ambiance of the old décor. It was truly some of the best ice cream ever.

Later in the evening, after dinner, we gathered in one room for a wine toast to Theresa’s first marathon. We spent the rest of the pre-race night visiting and watching college football. Most of us did anyway, Rich spent his evening memorizing the race route and picking spots to catch us on the run. He felt like it was his “job” to get the mother and mother in-law the greatest number of opportunities to catch the girls.

During some of this visiting, Zachary asked me how fast I had run my best half marathon. I replied, “1:42″. He told me that he was hoping to get under 1:54 but I knew better. We didn’t discuss it but I suspected he was going to try and beat my best time. Having run with him in July and August, I knew he was in shape to do better than 1:54. I just smiled on the inside and thought to myself, “Go for it young man, we will see!”

I actually slept well that night. I got up in time to shower, snack on a banana and a cliff bar before strategically putting tape and body glide on all the appropriate areas of my body that past races had painfully taught me to over the last 15 marathons. Zachary and I wore our blue M4K race shirts while Becky and Theresa wore what were the first ever ladies pink M4K race shirts. Our entourage of 7 walked to the starting line in 50 degree temperatures on what was starting out to be a beautiful day.

We jammed into the starting coral while our family group of spectators followed along on the outside of the barriers. Since our hotel was close to the start, we timed our arrival so the wait was very short. We chatted it up with the runners around us, enjoyed the traditional anthem and did the even more traditional crowded shuffle to the starting line. Zachary quickly took off, leaving us alone. I proudly watched him disappear. Amidst that pride however, I still thought, “You little bastard. You are going to beat my time!”

Mentally, my plan was to enjoy the day and stay with the two girls as long as I could. Even if I felt like running faster, I was not going to do it. If I could not keep up, I would force them to leave me behind. This race was not about anything but enjoying the time with Theresa and Becky as long as possible. I was lucky enough to be there at many different points in their lives and had also missed many other important times. Marathons are rare events. I knew that sharing a marathon with any family member might not ever happen again. I wore my GPS watch but I truly didn’t care about the actual time. If the three of us were lucky enough to stick together, it would be a three person family record.

The first mile took us over a long and tall Mississippi River bridge. We stayed in the middle trying not to talk about Theresa’s fear of driving off a bridge. Strangely, this bridge had a bounce to it due to all the runners. I have never been on a bridge in an earthquake but I found myself getting a little queasy in the stomach. We were all glad when the bouncing stopped. Watching the bridge traffic, I guessed that Rich would not make it over the bridge. This was confirmed by a call from my cell phone. We were on our own until mile 10.

Miles 2, 3 and 4 looped around neighborhoods in Bettendorf, Iowa. These were working class neighborhoods likely filled with employees of the large John Deere and Alcoa plants we had seen the previous day. A few small hills and moderate crowd support made for a quaint welcome to Iowa.

After the neighborhood loop, we ended up on the Iowa shore of the Mississippi River for miles 5 through 9. We also left Bettendorf and entered Davenport, Iowa. We enjoyed not only the river view on our left but the old homes with porches overlooking the river on our right. Near the end of this stretch, we passed Woodman Park, home to the area’s minor league baseball team. I placed another call to Rich to let him know where we were.

Shortly after the call, we crossed over another Mississippi bridge back into Illinois. Rich, Ann and Pat were there smiling and waving. We had 10 miles behind us and caught some new energy from our cheer section. Mile 11 and 12 were a large square around the community of Rock Island, Illinois. This square made it possible to see our little group on two separate occasions.

Somewhere in the mile 12 area, my watch showed 1:56. I felt like it was time to give Zachary a call. I caught him back in the hotel. He proudly announced his finishing time of 1:40! (He ended up 10th out of 50 in the age 20-24 group.) I told him I was proud of him and hung up. I fondly remembered the time Mary and I had to force him to run track in junior high. We wanted him active and doing something outside but he didn’t want to do it at all. He ran the mile event at one track meet and got lapped by some rather large junior high girls. We didn’t tell him at the time but privately, Mary and I joked about using a sun dial to measure his time instead of a stop watch. Now, our former “sun dial boy” had posted an awesome time in his first ever half marathon. Life certainly has many twists, turns and surprises.

Mile 13 took us over a small bridge to a 946 acre island in the Mississippi river. This island is home to the federal government’s Rock Island Arsenal, the largest producer of munitions for the military. An Act of Congress established the arsenal in 1862. The Rock Island prison barracks existed from December 1863 to July 1865. It was one of 21 prison camps operated by the Union. Confederate prisoners, totaling 12,192, were held at the prison camp. The Confederate Cemetery is the only tangible remains of the Rock Island Prison Barracks. Of the 12,192 prisoners held at the prison barracks, 1964 prisoners died.

We were not allowed to take pictures due to the modern day military activities on the island. As we ran by the factories, barracks, golf course and military housing, the only spectators were those dressed in military attire making sure we didn’t go off course. We spent over 6 miles of the marathon on the island. Finally, we crossed back over the small bridge to find our cheer section still full of energy at mile 20!

Back on the Illinois side of the river, we were in the home stretch. At mile 22, a group of young cheerleaders had erected a castle looking structure to symbolize the “wall” that runners reach at some point in a marathon. We shared a good laugh when Becky noticed the message painted on the wall. It said, “Only 3 miles to Go!” Some cheerleader’s mother was obviously not a runner! Yes, we also joked about how they taught math to young blonde girls in Illinois. (I didn’t press the blonde jokes as I was running with two, one being a lawyer and the other a physical therapist.) It was a good chuckle as the aches and pains of more than 4 hours of running were settling in.

We passed our hotel at mile 23. Zachary was standing out alone having showered and soaked in the hotel hot tub. I gave him a big sweaty hug on his clean clothes as I ran past. Then, we took a left turn on what would be the cruelest part of the day. To our right, we could see the finish line crowd and celebration. Putting that to our back and facing a seemingly endless row of traffic cones for almost 2 miles out ahead was hard when our bodies wanted to do nothing but stop! But, left with no choice, our little trio forged ahead on the flat road next to the Mississippi.

After what seemed to be a stiff legged marathon eternity, we made the turn back and shortly thereafter arrived at mile marker 24. We had previously had the discussion about when can a supporter tell a runner, “You are almost there”. Too many well intentioned running supporters holler this out several miles before the finish. We agreed that no marathoner wants to hear “You are almost there!” at mile 20. So, all day when we passed our family, Rich would yell, “You are NOT almost there!” During the day, the three of us agreed that we could say the “magic” words AFTER mile 24. It felt very good.

Mercifully, miles 25 and 26 disappeared behind us as did the all important final two tenths of a mile. Rich, Zachary, Pat and Ann were there at the finish line. I let the girls go ahead and took out my flip cam to video the finish. I crossed the line and let out a good triumphant yell. We had completed the course together and it felt good. A minute or two later, I remembered to stop my watch. It showed a respectable 4:56:58.

Huddled with family, the effects of the day began to set in as we found a gathering spot among the 694 finishers (254 female and 440 male). Becky’s legs were quivering. I simply sat down on the pavement in the shade. The coolness of the asphalt felt good on the back of my legs. A sucker for fountain pop, I found myself right next to the free dispenser. Three cups of cold, carbonated diet Pepsi were just a little bit of heaven to my system. Theresa remained standing. The youngest and newest of our trio had finished her first marathon in good shape.

Then, just like that, our 28 hours together was over. Showered and cleaned up, we made the slow walk to our cars. We exchanged hugs, handshakes and tears. The ride back to Michigan was uneventful. We were home by 10 pm that Sunday. We toured Traverse City briefly the next day before Becky departed after lunch.

Three runners had traversed 4 cities, 3 bridges, 2 states and 1 island on the Mississippi. What will I remember most? I will remember sharing stories about their parents, an uncle, husbands, past marathons and their plans for the future. The excitement in Rich’s voice as we passed briefly was special. He truly enjoyed his role as a spectator. As an uncle separated by hundreds of miles, I often wonder about the choices made by all our nieces and nephews. I will not worry or wonder about Theresa’s choice in a husband. Theresa, the rookie and former college athlete, clearly could have run faster. She put her competitive nature aside and stuck with her sister and me, the tag along old guy. I will remember the loyalty and love for her sister this sacrifice showed. The pride in Zachary’s voice talking about his accomplishment will forever make me choke up a bit. My “sun dial boy” had run well and while not a bit cocky, he knew it. Then, there is Becky who started it all. Battling hip and foot issues most of the day, she persevered to finish. The biggest trait of a marathoner is mental toughness. I will never question hers. Quitting is easy. Becky proved she is no quitter. I also will treasure the time in the car I had with Becky. It is amazing how time has taken this 3 year old girl and created a lawyer, wife, runner and all around good person. I have always said that you can make yourself better by hanging out with people who are better than you. I was lucky to get 16 hours in the car with someone far better than me. We ran together at the Quad Cities Marathon but I was really left with a reminder of all the other good things than run in our family.