Saturday, August 14, 2010

Blister in the Sun - Cookeville's first marathon draws 14 "elite fools"

Photo Captions
1. For those about to rock...runners wait for the start while race director Josh Hite, right, checks his watch. Photo by Martha Hite.

2. From left, Chris Estes finished second, Josh Hite first and Joshua Holmes was sixth. Photo by Joshua Holmes.

3. Anoine Moore finished first among women, fifth overall. Photo by Trent Rosenbloom.

4. Cookeville's Thomas Holt braved the heat to finish his second ever marathon. Photo by Trent Rosenbloom.


Name Age Gender City Time

1 Josh Hite 32 M Cookeville 3:32:07
2 Chris Estes 38 M Murfreesboro 3:43:44
3 Gary Krugger 25 M Edinboro, PA 3:54:36
4 Jeff Matlock 45 M Ashland City 3:57:21
5 Anoine Moore 43 F Pleasant View 4:04:38
6 Joshua Holmes 32 M Jackson 4:09:24
7 Dallas Smith 70 M Cookeville 4:32:11
8 Thomas Holt 33 M Cookeville 4:43:55
9 Naresh Kumar 27 M Chennai, India 5:33:46
10 Mikki Trujillo 34 F Cookeville 6:31:23
11 Angela Ivory 42 F Nashville 7:42:03
12 Diane Taylor 53 F Nashville 8:33:58
13 Bill Baker 59 M Nashville DNF
14 Trent Rosenbloom 40 M Nashville DNF

A Sucky Run

Looking up from the celly, Josh Hite interrupted the caller to confirm what he had just told him:

“Wouldn’t you say that the sucky part of the course was Cane Creek School parking lot?”

“Yeah, that’s about right,” I agreed.

Several runners were sitting around Josh’s dining room table eating, drinking and recovering from having just finished the first-ever marathon in Cookeville, Tenn. And Josh was talking to his friend about the course, specifically the sun-blasted part that meandered around the perimeter of Cane Creek Elementary School.

Here’s what do: Start at the Recreation Center in Cane Creek Park. Run down CC Camp Road to the Park entrance; circle Cane Creek Lake, returning to the center. Continue on the park path past the softball fields to the Tommy Thomas Bike Path on Jackson Street. Follow that path past the school a short ways and make a turnaround. On your way back to the center, just for good measure, detour around the perimeter of the school parking lot.

You will find that you’ve just run 5.24 miles. If you repeat that five times you will run precisely 26.2 miles, the length of a marathon.

At 7:00 a.m. last Sunday that is what 14 “elite fools” attempted to do: Run a marathon. In the South. In August. On a course largely exposed to the Sun.

Your doctor won’t recommend it.

How did such a thing happen? Credit elite Cookeville runner Josh Hite. A couple of months back he decided to host a marathon in Cookeville. He listed the “Event” on Facebook, sending messages to various running friends, inviting them to run it. At the time, he was calling it something like “Not Yet Named Marathon.” He advertised it as “NO FRILLS marathon... No certification. No shirt. No fee.” Along with the narrative, he also posted two inviting photos of Cane Creek Lake.

Enter Trent Rosenbloom, friend of Josh and the director of Nashville’s Flying Monkey Marathon, a joke of a marathon that has become the Rocky Horror Picture Show of all marathons, so popular that this year after online registration started, the race filled up in only 32 minutes. Trent knows how to promote a sadistic joke.

Trent hung the handle “Blister in the Sun Marathon” on Josh’s race and listed it on the website of the Marathon Maniacs. The name “Marathon Maniacs” explains itself.

Thus, the race was born, or at least a virtual storm of electrons about it was.

Replies rolled in: Maniac Jeff Matlock allowed “I’m in for the…No Name Run In The Sun Running is Stupid Hot Hilly Humid Marathon.” Later he tried to back out, calling it “crazy…insane.” But Josh shamed him into coming.

Photographer Elly Foster demurred, claiming, “As much as I would like to be in the company of such elite fools, I regretfully decline.” Susan Ford declined with the dubious endorsement, “This is crazy. I just love it.”

A smattering accepted. Josh switched to e-mail for those doomed runners, twice sending out race updates and bad news about hills and heat—six days before and 48 hours before. Those messages were addressed to “Masochists,” and ended with the signature “Sadist.” The last one announced, “You have only 48 hours until the soul in your shoes start to melt.” It’s not clear that the word “soul” in the place of “sole” was really a spelling error.

In any event, Sunday came, as it always does. Trees stretched their early morning shadows across the 14 runners standing on the pavement before the Recreation Center, where Queen City Timing had set up an electronic start/finish line.

We shoved off.

Josh was hoping to win his own marathon, but he was afraid of Gary Krugger, a compact, angular runner from Edinboro, Pennsylvania, who wears a plaited ponytail hanging to his waist and who had won the 2010 University of Okoboji Marathon. They took off together. The rest of us strung along behind, trotting along at various speeds.

The race dragged on. For me, it would be a special challenge to just finish. The night before I’d run the Race After Dark 8K (5 miles), which had started at 8:58 p.m. By the time I’d finished, taken a shower and had a snack, I got in bed around midnight. And I had to get up at 5 a.m. for the Marathon. I got precious little sleep. But there was a bigger factor than sleep deprivation—rest.

In lieu of competing in that 8K—a race he could have won, along with its prize money—Josh elected to pace me through the distance. His high-tech runner’s watch reads out instantaneous pace, distance, and elapsed time.

The state record for a 70-year old male is 37:00, and I was hoping to break it. Josh’s pacing helped me do that. I finished in 33:58, running an average pace of 6:48 per mile. I ran a pending state record, I was the first finisher over 55, and I won $100 prize money.

I had gone all out and saved nothing for the next morning’s marathon. In the last half-mile stretch my speed had steadily increased to 6:15. But at a terrible cost.

Now knee-deep in the marathon, I had to pay. I could only go slowly, a reality the heat would help assure.

On my first outbound pass toward the school I met extreme runner Angela Ivory. She is fighting cancer and cannot run as fast as she once could. After a bout some seven years ago, the cancer recently metastasized to her spine and has since spread to her liver, lung, and skull. Josh gave her an early start so that she would not finish so late in the day. She has completed some 170 marathons and 100-plus ultramarathons. A wounded warrior, she soldiers on.

Despite the heat and threat of cramps, my race ironically passed pleasantly. Ha! Thanks to going slow. It’s the racing that makes it hard, not the distance.

Drama started on my fourth lap. As I approached the boat ramp someone was calling. I turned to see Josh 100 yards behind. He was in his fifth and final lap, a lap ahead of me. He was alone and in the lead, but he had blown up.

“Dallas, wait!”

I stood waiting. He was reduced to walking. He wanted company to help him keep going.

“Go with me,” he said.

He had done as much for me the night before. We went into the woods together.

“Dallas, this sucks.”


He was irrational, afraid Gary Krugger was going to catch him. Although Krugger was nowhere to be seen, Josh kept mumbling pace numbers:

“…if I can just run 10-minute miles…” Then a few seconds later: “…if I can run 12-minute miles…” Then he’d go over it again.

But it made no sense figuring pace without even knowing where Krugger was. Josh had dropped him on the second lap and then gone hard on his third lap to put him out of sight. In his fourth lap then he had gone deep into his energy reserves. Finally, now, he had hit bottom. He could only run brief distances, and then he had to walk again. He was obsessed with Krugger suddenly catching him.

We reached the high trail on the north shore. It offers a commanding view of the trail behind us, including the long levee. Krugger was nowhere to be seen. I looked at the woods across the lake.

“If he’s out there, he must be in the trees,” I said.

“He’d be over there,” Josh said, pointing farther back, along CC Camp Road.

I didn’t know why he was worried. To finish, Josh had only a half-mile to reach the center. After that all that was left was the two-and-half miles out-and-back to the school.

“He couldn’t catch you if he had a motorcycle,” I said.

Then I remembered where I’d last seen Krugger. Martha, Josh’s wife, had set up a table loaded with food and drinks in the shade at the center. When I left there on my fourth lap —which was slightly before Josh left on his fifth lap—Krugger wasn’t going to catch anybody.

He wasn’t running. He was standing in the shade having a hushed talk with his girl friend, a pretty blond woman named Morgan Cummings. She was on crutches from a stress fracture in her hip. She is a marathoner, too, and she sometimes even runs on her crutches.

We returned to Martha’s table, Josh yelling, “Ice water! Ice water!”

Krugger wasn’t there. We headed toward the school, Josh’s last segment, and suddenly met Chris Estes, a man with the physique of a body builder. He was maybe three miles behind Josh.

“Did you get Krugger?” Josh asked.


“Did you pass Krugger?”


“Way to go, dude.”

Josh had it. Krugger wasn’t even second; Chris was. And either one was farther behind Josh than Josh was from the finish line. Josh had only to go to the school, pass through the parking lot inferno, and return to the Center. He could walk all the way.

Which he mostly did, winning with 3:32:07, a time far off his capability. Chris held onto second, and Gary Krugger ended up third.

Meanwhile, Angela Ivory had joined with a friend, Diane Taylor. When Angela completed her last lap, Diane still had a whole lap to go. Angela decided to stay with Diane for another lap, thus covering a distance of 31.4 miles, 50K. Hence Angela finished Cookeville’s first marathon, and created, and finished ad hoc Cookeville’s first 50K ultramarathon.

Most runners talk about their PR, by which they mean “personal record,” or their best finish time. After this hot, hilly race, I heard a new term—PW, “personal worse.” I set one myself.

Twelve of the 14 starters finished. Once runners returned home, Facebook crackled.

Chris Estes thanked Josh for, “putting that insane race together.”

From Jeff Matlock: “The weather was too hot!...I’ll be back next year!!”

Trent Rosenbloom: “That was silly.”

Naresh Kumar, who calls himself the Indian Monkey, says he “…was stupid enough to continue with the race and foolish enough to finish it.”

Cookeville marathon virgin Mikki Trujillo summed it up: “That was the hardest thing I have EVER done…”

Monday, August 2, 2010

Tip Your Hat to These Two Women

Two ladies raced. I happened to be there. And I was glad. It led to one of my favorite stories. From the Running Journal, July 2010.


You should have seen Margie Stoll and Marie Threadgill.

They had not met each other before that Saturday morning of September in 2004. They were acquainted only by reputation.

Ms. Stoll, then 63, was the fastest senior runner in Tennessee, dominant at all distances from one mile to the half-marathon, having recently run a 5K in a time of 21:54. She sets an age-group state record every time she runs. She will go on to set over four dozen new marks. A few years later she will gain a national ranking of third in Running Times Magazine, and go on to earn two gold medals and two silver medals at the National Senior Games.

She doesn’t just win. She destroys. She destroys records, and leaves her competition far behind her, out of sight over the hill somewhere. I see her frequently around Nashville, where she runs most of her races.

Ms. Threadgill, also then 63, was more of an occasional racer. She hails from West Tennessee, ran races in that area, and runs a few of the Tennessee State Park Tour races. She is fast too; when she runs, she wins. I had gotten to know her a bit at the Tour races.

So Ms. Stoll and Ms. Threadgill usually run different races. Their paths had never crossed—not until that Saturday morning.

A story about two women old enough to be your mom, you say? Bite your tongue, sonny. Yes, if you insist. They would not deny it. They are age-group athletes, after all. Old enough to be your mom, maybe. But, on the racecourse, fast enough to run your legs off! Walk a little slower when you walk by them. And tip your hat, or, by grab, there might be trouble.

There is a mark painted on the road in front of the River View picnic shelter in Nashville’s Shelby Park. The Nashville Striders running club put it there. It marks the beginning of 15,000 meters, or 9.32 miles. At 7:30 on that Saturday morning, Ms. Stoll and Ms. Threadgill stood with several hundred other runners behind that mark when a man fired a starter pistol.

Then they met. Somewhere along nine miles of exquisite agony they became acquainted; they both suddenly knew.

A race sorts things out. Soon the crowd around you thins out; the pack gets strung out along the course. You look around and find out who’s with you, find out who your competition is. There comes a moment—as I think it did with Ms. Threadgill—when you suddenly realize, there she is!

And the next phase of your life changes. You pour every desperate last atom of energy into getting to the finish line first. In that moment, nothing else in the world matters at all.

Of course Ms. Threadgill’s chances were poor against Ms. Stoll, a runner who had probably never been beaten in her age group. If you saw her you would understand why. She is tall and slender, and her long legs make each stride count, lapping up the miles. Ms. Threadgill is smaller, maybe standing five feet three, but with the quickness of a point guard. Quickness aside, nobody beats Ms. Stoll.

That day Ms. Threadgill did.

Afterwards, she was as giddy as a schoolgirl. Her bright eyes flashed.

“I won!” she said.

“What? You beat Margie?” I barely believed it. I’d missed their finish, myself, recovering.

Ms. Stoll, in defeat, was gracious. Her eyes twinkled; she seemed as happy as Ms. Threadgill was.

“Did you know Margie before today?” I asked Ms. Threadgill.

“No, but someone pointed her out to me before the race.” Ms. Threadgill had known whom she faced. I asked Ms. Stoll if she had ever seen Margie before.

“No, we met on the course,” she said.

So they did.

Ms. Threadgill covered the 9.32 miles in one hour, twelve minutes and two seconds, Ms. Stoll just seven seconds slower. These two smart, funny, friendly, generous, gracious ladies competed as fiercely as fighting bantams.

You should have seen them.

How good was their run? Well, in endurance sports, men hit their peak around the age of thirty. So I looked at the performance of the men in the 30-34 year-old age group, 30 runners that day. Ms. Stoll and Ms. Threadgill would’ve placed in the top half of that group. In other words, these senior women beat the majority of the men who were in their prime. Overall, they easily placed in the top third of the whole pack of 375 racers.

Do I have to say it again? Tip your hat.

Look what these women have done! Can’t somebody learn from that? Isn’t the lesson plain? Get moving. Do something—anything!—the opposite of nothing. In motion is life, in stasis, death. Soon enough it’s over and done. Don’t mess around.

We stood around that Saturday waiting for the awards ceremony like a few hundred sweaty people at a cocktail party of Gatorade, bagels and bananas. Ms. Stoll and Ms. Threadgill had become inseparable, although they’d never met until that morning. Every time I looked around they were huddled, talking and laughing, sometimes with others, sometimes alone.

They reminded me of sorority sisters reunited after a long time. Perhaps they had played intramural football. Given her height advantage, Ms. Stoll played quarterback and Ms. Threadgill, with her quick feet, played wide receiver. They formed a spiritual bond in that game long ago, a bond flicking from Ms. Stoll’s throwing arm along the ball’s delicate arc to Ms. Threadgill’s outstretched hands, a bond undiminished by time. And now they were together again, a team again, like time hadn’t passed.

Of course that never happened; they’d just met. Had it happened, I doubt they would have been better friends than they seemed to be. Their meeting two hours earlier had been a galvanizing one.

Ms. Stoll and Ms. Threadgill went to school long before Title IX, before women had many opportunities in sports, before people knew what women could do.

Driving home that day, I wished I’d told Ms. Threadgill more about how impressive her performance was. Before daylight that morning when her alarm rang, she must have had second thoughts about throwing off the covers only to drive to Nashville and face a runner everyone knew was invincible. That takes courage. She has plenty of grit in her craw.

And Ms. Stoll—I wished I’d told her something, too. Her loss didn’t diminish her one sliver. Instead, it made her stronger. It may have been the luckiest run she ever made. It will certainly be one of the most memorable. I’ve been on the losing end of a duel or two, and the memories of those are the most vivid of all. Ms. Stoll will always remember the race fondly.

As the awards ceremony started that Saturday, Ms. Stoll and Ms. Threadgill stood there side by side, sweaty like we all were, their hair hanging limp in wet strings, soppy as rags. They were a mess.

They were beautiful.

They were magnificent.

You should have seen them.