Running Stories

Rolled Over In Delaware – Stumpy’s Marathon

N.R.E.C.A. stands for National Rural Electric Cooperative Association. This national trade association has a board of directors from each of the 47 states that have an electric cooperative within their boundaries. I represent Michigan on this board. Prior to purchasing my airline tickets for NRECA’s fall regional meeting in Baltimore, Maryland, I searched the internet for a Labor Day marathon. A Saturday overnight would save the association some money while allowing me to check off one more state without a cross country drive.

At Marathon Guide.com, I didn’t have any luck with a Labor Day marathon close to Baltimore but I did find a small trail marathon called Stumpy’s that was put on by a running club called the Trail Dawgs. It was scheduled for September 11th. This was just 3 days after the finish of my meetings. It would be the 10th anniversary of 911 and also the 10th anniversary of Stumpy’s Marathon located near Newark, Delaware.

The website was outdated, containing only 2010 information. So, for the first time, I called the race director/founder/namesake “Stumpy”. He reassured me that the website was only out of date due to him being a school teacher and not yet taking the time to get it updated. I was relieved to learn that the marathon would be held and also surprised to learn there would be no registration fee. A goodwill donation would be held at the pasta dinner and prior to the race start. I guess there would be at least one advantage to a small marathon!

I officially registered online on August 4th. Then, on August 18th, I received my first email from Stumpy:

Hey folks,

Stumpy’s is beginning to shape as the extravaganza that we expected for the 10th running for alpha Dawg supremacy.  There are 55 runners registered with a whopping 46 people foolishly planning to run the entire distance, whatever that actual distance may be.  29 of those preregistered are willing to eat almost anything if it is free, with the remaining 26 confessing to an antisocial personality.  A few have contacted me to complain that there should have been a third option, “Gee, I would like to, but I might not be able to make it…”  Right.  Make a decision.

New for this year:

1.  A 400 meter road section that deposits you at Stumpy’s house where awaits a sprinkler, toilet, and an unparalleled aid station that could include seafood, beer, and various fine wines….or not.

2.  An original color poster commemorating 10 years of Stumpy’s Marathon.  This is sure to become a coveted collector’s item that will make you the envy of all (or both) of your friends, who will drip with jealousy as they query, “What’s a Stumpy?”  (Of course, all “athletes” & volunteers will still receive the traditional TrailDawgs finisher’s rock to complete your collection of tacky marathon medals that threaten to rip the doorknob off of your bedroom door.  You can use the rock to hold open your soon-to-be knobless door.)

3.  Rain.  It has NEVER rained on Stumpy’s.  One year, they even cancelled all after-school and weekend events throughout Delaware due to a hurricane, yet the rain stopped, the skies cleared, and the sun shone on Stumpy’s because the TraiDawg’s hearts are pure and God is on our side.  This year we are asking for rain to end both the monotony of perfect running weather and to end the anxiety of waiting for the hammer to fall.

 

A few weeks later on September 4th, the second email arrived just two days before Mary and I were scheduled to fly out. I simply smiled then immediately forwarded it to my running buddies. I enjoy a good sense of humor and small marathons. Stumpy’s was shaping up to be a combination of both!

7 more sleeps until Stumpy’s Marathon!  Those of you who have not yet started training may want to get a couple long runs in this week to be fully prepared for the marathon distance.

Although no one probably noticed, I had to increase the registration limit from 100 to 150 participants.  This is a Stumpy’s record.  This also means a new record for the Saturday pasta dinner, and therein lies a small problem.  Parking and seating at my house is insufficient according to the only opinion that matters:  Mrs. Stumpy’s opinion.  So, we are looking for an alternative venue like a local park pavilion or vacant house-for-sale in a nearby neighborhood.  Please do not concern yourself with these details.  I just wanted you to know how hard I was working on your behalf.  Rest assured that you will receive an e-mail in the next few days with address and time for Stumpy’s Pasta Feed.

Speaking of going the extra mile for a good time, you should know that neither New Castle County (the start/finish/parking:  Middle Run Natural Area) nor the State of Delaware (about 17 miles of the trails:  White Clay Creek State Park) nor the State of Pennsylvania (about 6 miles of trails:  White Clay Preserve) have any idea of the running hordes about to descend upon them.  I am not going to tell them, depending on the old adage that it is easier to apologize after the fact than to get permission in advance.  However, in consideration of their hard work and responsibilities for the safety of all park users, regardless of any advance notice of their presence, I am going to ask all of you to help out in the following ways to the extent that you can.
1.  Car pool to the start.
2.  Park at alternative locations and carpool the remaining distance.  Best locations:
a.  Walgreen’s at intersection of Papermill and Possum Hill Rd (If we fill their lot,
they may start towing);
b.  Soccer fields at intersection of Papermill and Ebenezer Church Rd (best option);
c.  Curtis Mill parking area 282 Papermill Rd, Newark, 19711;
d.  Timothy’s Parking lot (not the lower lot!) across creek AND across the road
from Curtis Mill lot (I think 2nd best option).
3.  Tell any rangers you meet that you have no idea who Stumpy is, that you were just
out for a pleasant run in the park, and that you are also surprised at the number of
runners in the park.
4.  DO NOT LITTER.  YOU MUST BRING AND CARRY A WATER BOTTLE
OR YOU WILL NOT RECEIVE WATER AT THE AID STATIONS.
5.  If you want to die during the run, drag yourself out of the park and collapse by the
side of the road.  Let another runner know, so that we don’t come looking for you.
6.  Don’t get lost.  We will not come looking for you, despite the implication of the
previous statement (5).
7.  If you are attacked by the White Clay Cougar, give yourself up.  They are a
protected species and we cannot afford the bad publicity.  Losing one runner out of
120 is not so bad compared to hurting 100% of Delaware’s cougar population.

Sleep well everyone.  You will be hearing from again this week.

We arrived in Baltimore without incident. We checked into the Hilton in downtown Baltimore on September 6th. I opened the window on our room to look out onto the rainy city and was pleasantly surprised to learn we had a great view of Camden Yards, home of the Baltimore Orioles. There were no games scheduled but later we learned that they would be playing a previously rain delayed game with the Yankees on Thursday IF the present rains subsided on time. The next day, I received another email from Stumpy:

When I casually mentioned that we would be hosting the annual pasta dinner for Stumpy’s this year, Mrs. Stumpy promptly asked, “How many this year?” I responded, “Oh, only about 50 or 70” and then got a step ladder to peel her from the ceiling.

After a “frank and productive” bargaining session, we agreed to check out alternative venues for Saturday’s event. Since Ellen was the motivated participant, she also took charge of locating said alternative, and after a few other “frank and productive” sessions with various government functionaries, was able to secure an appropriate location for Stumpy’s Pasta Palooza. Here are the details:

Dinner will be held in Pavilion 2 at Papermill Park (aka – the Soccer Fields) located at the intersection of Papermill Road (aka Rt 72, Curtis Mill Road) and Ebenezer Church Road (aka Poly Drummond Hill Road). We have the pavilion reserved all day Saturday, but are supposed to be out by either 6:00 or 8:00 pm depending on which website you believe. I’m reading this as, we need to be able to say, “Yes, officer, we are cleaning up now” when asked to get out at 8:30 pm. There is electricity, running water and bathrooms in the pavilion.

If you get totally lost, call me at (302) 547-2933 and perhaps think again about entering a 26+ mile race in the wilderness of northern New Castle County, Delaware.

Finally, AND VERY IMPORTANT! You will be parking in the location that I previously cited as the best alternative to parking at the start/finish (the start/finish has VERY limited parking!). While you are enjoying the authentic Dawg food dinner, why not make arrangements with a “friend” (someone you just met) to meet at the same location at 6:00 a.m. Sunday morning and car pool to the start (about 2.0 mile away) or even hike/jog to the start (about 1 mile via a trail that is, incidentally, the final 1.5 mile of Stumpy’s Marathon.)

The plan is coming together! Just remember: It’s not a trail race if nobody gets lost.

As luck would have it, my meetings got over on the afternoon of Thursday, September 8th in time to catch the Yankees versus Orioles at Camden Yards. We sat by some Michigan friends, Dawn Coon, Craig Coon and Jerry Akers, for several innings. We also tried to “squat” on some seats behind home plate to get a look at the players up close but were chased out after a short time. Regardless, Camden Yards is a great ball park and worth the walk around.
At the 7th inning stretch, anxious to get on our way, we departed for the airport to pick up our rental car. Mary had heard the ladies on the television show, The View, talking about a resort town in Delaware named Rehoboth Beach. We decided to spend the night there and check out the sites in the morning.

Driving across the Bay Bridge into Delaware was not unlike crossing the Mackinac Bridge in Michigan albeit much smaller. The Delaware countryside was like so much of America, simply very rural. When I think of the east coast, I think of wall to wall people. Here we were in one of the smallest states in the country and yet we had miles of wide open spaces, hay fields, little traffic, rows of corn stalks waiting for harvest and small towns reminiscent of all the other states we had visited. We could see some signs of flooding and crop damage from Hurricane Irene. As darkness approached, the countryside lit up a little bit at a time. It felt very familiar.

The next morning, we parked amongst the shops that make up the main street of Rehoboth Beach. In the shadow of ocean view hotels, we walked the long wooden boardwalk while watching the waves from the Atlantic Ocean hit the sandy beaches. Periodically, we found water stations for washing your feet after a walk on the beach. So, we did just that. It was windy and the ocean water was cold but the sand felt good on your feet. Early on a Friday morning after Labor Day, we virtually had the beach to ourselves as we gazed at the expanse of the ocean that could only be stopped by the horizon. It was a special moment looking out over such a vast ocean while holding the hand of my best friend and thinking about life’s journey that led us to this point. Back on the boardwalk, we quickly learned which button to push on the cleaning station to avoid a fully clothed full body shower!

My Mary is a shopper so we “had” to do the touristy thing and do some shopping. Our home town of Traverse City is very much a tourist town. The shops at Rehoboth Beach were virtually identical but for the names on the shirts and sweaters. We found some bargains (no sales tax in Delaware) for the kids, Mary had a good time looking and when I tired of pretending to be interested, I enjoyed sitting out on a sidewalk bench on a nice day with the other husbands.

I did find one thing that I had not ever seen back home, bacon ice cream. I immediately took a picture with my phone and emailed it to a good friend and running partner, Kevin “Special K” Krause. Kevin is addicted to bacon. He celebrates his birthday every year by eating nearly a pound of the meat. In his honor, I tried a scoop. It was simply vanilla ice cream with little bits of bacon mixed in. While unique, it didn’t leave me wanting more as the ice cream tended to mask the bacon flavor.

Back on the road only briefly, we stopped in Lewes, Delaware for more shopping and a great crab sandwich at a local restaurant. We also passed the ferry station to New Jersey. A couple years earlier, I had been on the other side of this bay when running a marathon from Cape May, New Jersey. My state by state quest was slowly stitching the country together.

We continued up the narrow countryside that is Delaware, skirted the capitol city of Dover and arrived at our hotel in Newark before dark. The quaint little Oceanside towns were gone. Newark, Delaware is a sprawling city with an identity we really couldn’t put a finger on. Our hotel was 5 miles from the race start and sidewalks from our hotel didn’t go far.

The last email from Stumpy arrived on September 9th:

Pasta Time

Oops! What time is the pasta dinner? Let’s make it 5:00 til you puke, or til they throw us out, or 8:00. Starting at 5:00 is the critical time. Don’t be afraid to come late, like 6:00 or 6:30. Seating is a bit limited. Officially the pavilion holds 36 and we have 60 folks saying they are coming. Several won’t show, we can squeeze together, and several will eat and run. (Heh, heh, heh…did you see what I did there? Eat and run? Get it? Get it?)

After unpacking in our hotel room, we made a drive over to the park that would host the pasta dinner on Saturday and also make up a part of the race course on Sunday. With the help of good directions and our GPS, we found it easy enough. I got a view of the rural side of Newark and began to feel much better about being in the city. Having been involved with youth and high school wrestling for many years, we enjoyed watching the movie “Win Win” back in our hotel room before calling it a day.

There were no alarms set for any time on Saturday morning. We slept until we woke up which was a rare treat. I refuse to do too much walking around on the day prior to a marathon but the sun was up and Mary needed her daily shopping fix. So, we went to a local mall and Mary shopped while I sat at a table and read a paper. Compromise is a great thing.

The day before a marathon is a great day for eating or at least eating without a guilty conscience. Still a little full from a fruit and bagel breakfast, I managed to squeeze in a couple of my favorite Auntie Anne’s pretzels at the mall (some things are worth walking for). I had a good stack of pancakes at Denny’s near our hotel for lunch. Dinner found us at the pasta feed among Stumpy, his friends and fellow marathoners.

We visited with a couple from New York, a man from New Mexico and several locals from the Trail Dawgs running club. One local asked if I had run Stumpy’s marathon before. After hearing I had not, she quickly quipped, “Oh! A Stumpy’s virgin!” This lady commented that she was a 4 hour marathoner but her previous Stumpy’s had taken 5 hours. I did the math silently in my head and settled for something around 5 ½ hours. Others commented about how the course was never 26.2 miles, always longer. At the time, I didn’t think much of it because we had plenty of time to make our 4 p.m. flight out of Baltimore. However, I did jump at the chance for a 6 a.m. start when one of the older Trail Dawgs mentioned he was heading out an hour early in the morning. Apparently, the timing system at Stumpy’s was on the honor system. Whenever you cross the line, you simply tell them your finishing time. I smiled while dropping a $20 in the donation bucket.

I also introduced myself to the one and only Stumpy. He wasn’t hard to find. A balding man in his mid to late 50s, he was wearing a bright yellow shirt with an arrow pointing up that said, “I’m with Stumpy”. The New York couple presented him with a 10th anniversary cake from Wageman’s, a popular bakery in Scranton, Pennsylvania. Guilt free cake, you bet I had a big piece. Afterwards, I got directions to the starting line from Stumpy and made the drive over there before heading back to our hotel.

The alarm went off at 4:15 a.m. Mary fixed me some pancakes in the hotel lobby and we made plans to come back to the hotel to shower before the plane ride home. Mary waited with me at the start until my “guide” the Trail Dawg arrived. A gentleman from New Mexico was also heading out with us. It was still dark at 6 a.m. so we waited until 6:15 before heading out in the semi darkness.

Worried about getting lost, I stayed with the Trail Dawg and New Mexico for the first 2 miles which took 26 minutes. I then bid them farewell and headed out at a slightly faster pace. The course was all off road in the woods and trails with plenty of rocks and tree roots to maneuver. So, while I was running “faster”, miles 3 and 4 took 23 minutes. It didn’t matter. The weather was fine, traffic was non-existent and I was enjoying the change of pace.

Then, it happened. I rolled my right ankle. I didn’t fall but it made me sick to my stomach for a brief moment. I stopped to walk it off like so many other times over the last 30 some years. I knew it was worse than ever before but I also knew I needed to keep running. I hobbled and limped along. The downhill portions caused a stinging sensation that I didn’t like at all. Mile 5 and 6 were 13:12 and 11:55.

The Trail Dawg and New Mexico caught up to me at mile 7 which was the end of a loop that had us back at the starting line. Lucky for me they did. The course markings were either missing or trampled by the starting crowd and I couldn’t figure out where to go. Old Trail Dawg had a small problem too but eventually figured it out. I filled my bottle at the stocked but deserted aid station and we went off together again.

Somewhere in the mile 8 neighborhood, we came upon a marker to the Mason Dixon line. I decided I needed to brush up on my history as I never would have guessed that Delaware was the home of the Mason Dixon line in any fashion. I had always envisioned it much farther south.

I parted company with my companions at the end of mile 9 and another 43 minutes of limping along. I was starting to do the math in my head. To get to the airport 2 hours before our flight, we needed to be in the car around 1 p.m. At my present pace, this was possible but I had no shot of showering at the hotel.

Luckily, I had taken my cell phone along. Even if healthy, I knew the pace might be slow and I had a good chance of getting lost. Mary was sleeping at the hotel and I could not reach her on her phone. I called my oldest son Zachary and told him to keep trying his mother. She needed to check us out of the hotel and be ready for a fast getaway when I finished. (hurting but not yet thinking about quitting) Walking, talking and taking a bathroom break made for a 20:46 mile 10.

What about the hills? There were plenty of them but nothing more difficult than what I had at home in Michigan. The ankle actually felt better going uphill. Leaning into the inclines must have kept everything tight and together. I have always talked about how I “let it roll” when running downhill. I found myself hoping for more inclines as I dreaded the stinging of picking my way down on the decline. Time ticked by 16:46, 15:17 then another identical 15:17 and I was half way to the finish.

On the rare flat stretches, I could look down at my GPS and reach a respectable 10-11 minute pace. I had to watch the edges of the single track because any slight twist would remind me that the ankle was not getting better. There certainly weren’t enough smooth wide flat sections to make up much time. It was simply rocks, roots, rocks and even more tree roots or so it seemed. In mile 14, a 20 something runner passed me and in what I am sure was a supportive tone stated, “Rub some dirt on it”. Well, little did he know, this is a favorite saying around the Anderson house. I simply muttered, “Little bastard” and kept limping along. In a little over 47 minutes, mile 14, 15 and 16 were behind me. “Only” 10 more to go!

Early in the race, there were a couple water crossings barely over my shoes. Now, I faced a stream about 25 yards wide and shin deep. “You have to be kidding me”, I thought. Shin deep water, slippery rocks and me with a bad wheel. I grabbed my phone in one hand. If I fell, I was keeping that hand in the air and above the water at all costs. Looking into the clear water at all the rocks, I knew if I fell that it was going to hurt. Half way across, I wanted to simply sit down. The water felt so good on my sore ankle. But, I had a plane to catch and Mary was waiting. I made it across without falling, a small victory on a difficult day. The water crossing cost me some time but I made up a little on a wide path next to the stream. Mile 17 was 16:06 and mile 18 was a surprising 14:04.

Mile 19 found me back to reality with a 16:15. Then, I came out of the woods into a subdivision and made up some time on the firm surface with a 13:14. But, among the houses, I couldn’t find a trail marker. Disgusted, I decided I would run to the road and if I didn’t see anything it would be my sign to quit, sit and call it a day. Shortly after that distasteful thought, I heard a shout. Two runners behind me were waving me back. I had missed the marker by a block but was back on the trail after running by a fenced in Labrador who was not too happy we were disturbing his day. I happily took a Motrin from my rescuers before watching them leave me in the dust. Mile 20 was a “fast” 13:14.

There was an aid station at Stumpy’s house around this time. Getting there was a treat to say the least. Stumpy had flagged nothing more than a deer trail off of the regular trail that led to his house. I stopped briefly to fill my bottle and eat some watermelon. Mrs. Stumpy and another runner got a bit excited when they noticed my ankle. She wanted to give me a ride. I shrugged it off and got the heck out of there. Mile 21 and 22 were 14:12 and 14:18.

Was there any mud? Hurricane Irene and its remnants had gone through the area the week before but there was very little mud. I had to skirt a couple sections which pushed me into the brush. The brush was thorns that scratched me up a bit. I guess there were just too many rocks, roots and hills to hold much water.

The last aid station was at mile 22. I chugged some Mountain Dew Code Red and poured some in my water bottle. I also took 2 Advil. I was thinking about quitting and also thinking about how bad I didn’t want to run 28 miles. An older runner was telling me about a tough section of the course ahead so I asked him about a cut across. I was too tired to really understand his directions but I decided to deviate from the course anyway and headed up a two track road.

Then, my GPS quit. It was like losing my security blanket. With no mile markers on a course notorious for being extra long, I really, really wanted to know when I hit the 26.2 mile mark. Luckily, I remembered my cell phone or more importantly my Iphone. I had recently installed the “MapMyRun” application. I quickly got it locked in and calculating. While not readily visible on my wrist, I could pull it off periodically.

I found some mountain bikers on the two track who after commenting about me cheating did give me directions to the road. I had no time to argue with them nor did I point to my ankle. I simply thanked them and headed for the road. Once amongst some Sunday traffic on what was Paper Mill road, I had a decision to make. Turn right? Turn left? Left was downhill so I took it and found the pasta party park about a half mile later. There, I found runners on the park path and cutting off into the woods. Many had passed me previously so I professed my guilt as they ran by again. I only wanted to get in my 26.2 miles. They understood.

It must have been the Mountain Dew or the fact that I had only a couple miles left but I got a rare burst of energy near the park. I averaged 14:36 for the first 22 miles but the last 4.2 miles were done at an average of 13:03 per mile. I did have more than a mile on the two track road, pavement and park path that allowed for more normal navigation.

Getting close to where I started the day, in the middle of the woods, I got the traditional “YOU ARE ALMOST THERE” shout from a family of mountain bikers about 1 mile from the finish. When my phone told me I had hit 26.2, I stopped, stepped through some brush into a meadow and got my bearings. There, up the hill, was the finish. I started limping up the hill and a short time later Mary appeared at the top. It was a great ending to what really was a beautiful day to be outside. With an arm around Mary, I announced my 6 hour 15 minute finishing time to the lady writing down times and checking off names (a necessary task to account for everyone that started!). I shook

Stumpy’s hand and thanked him for a great course and an interesting day.
The finisher’s medal was actually a rock that Stumpy had taken from one of the streams on the course. He plugged up his dishwasher cleaning them I guess. They were large and flat with a Trail Dawgs sticker attached. I had completed 26.2 miles. I had my rock and a 10th anniversary poster as well. It was 12:30 p.m. and time to head for the airport.

Mary planning ahead and not wanting to smell me for the rest of the long trip home had purchased a couple gallons of water and a couple towels. I stripped down to my running briefs, found a grassy spot under a tree and proceeded to “shower”. I also got my first real look at my ankle which was swollen and red. On the way back to the car, I got a few disgusting looks from people who saw the ankle and asked if I finished. They didn’t say much when I told them I had. With no time to talk, I slumped into the passenger seat and put on some dry clothes on the way to the airport.

On the drive, I texted my kids a picture of the ankle with the statement, “This is how your Dad rubs some dirt on it” My daughter didn’t reply. I suspect she rolled her eyes and moved on. One son shot back, “You’re an idiot” The other replied, “Awesome” Can you guess which one has run a marathon himself?

TSA had to open my bag and check out my rock. Traveling on the anniversary of 911, I was worried that they wouldn’t let me keep it. I was prepared to beg and show them the ankle which had grown in size during the car ride. Luckily, I didn’t have to do either. The man looked it over and let me keep it.

I woke up at home the next morning to an ankle that had turned all versions of black and blue. It was also swollen to the point that I could thump the stretched skin like a watermelon. I looked at Mary and wondered, “What have I done?” Then, more importantly, I asked myself, “When can I run again?” While obviously not the sharpest knife in the drawer, I knew this was a question I couldn’t answer.

I took the day off work and headed to my local doctor. He twisted and prodded. The major pain was on the outside of the ankle. The x-ray revealed an avulsion fracture which means I stretched the tendons so hard and fast that they pulled off a piece of bone where the tendon attaches itself. There would be no crutches or cast, just a lace up brace with supporting Velcro straps. The doctor suggested no running until “maybe” October 1st. We simply had to see how it healed in the days to come. I hadn’t taken 19 days off from running since 2003. What had I done? So, I simply asked the physician if I caused any major damage by running on it for some 21 miles. He gave me a dumb look as you can imagine and only stated, “You didn’t help it.”

Repeatedly, friends and family asked me why I didn’t quit. I guess there are many reasons. First, I am cheap. I didn’t want to return to Delaware again. I needed to check the box and move on to the next state. Second, people are watching. Raising money for charity has led to the promotion of my 50 state quest. Quitting simply doesn’t make a good story nor lend itself to growing the audience and future donations.

Most importantly and seriously, I have always said that quitting is the easiest thing we can do no matter what it is we may be quitting. When faced with the decision to quit or move forward, the path forward is always, always much harder. The path forward is also far, far more rewarding. On September 11, 2011, how could I quit while thinking of all the lives that were lost 10 years earlier. Did the firemen going up the towers quit? Did the ordinary citizens on Flight 93 quit? My decision to move forward was pretty insignificant when you think about the bigger picture.