The Running Years

There was a period in my life in which I took a 10-year hiatus from fishing and my primary focus was on competitive distance running. Don’t get me wrong, I still fished during this time, but I spent the majority of my time running and training for distance races. I also played senior league baseball after moving to the Atlanta area which ate into my free time to fish for a few years but after the running and baseball was over, I was back at the lake fishing. This is the running years.

Running was a requirement in the Navy and early on in my Navy career I found out that I was way above average in running. The requirement in the Navy was to run one and a half miles in a minimum time depending on your age and sex. You were tested twice a year and I always did very well, finishing with a very good time every time I was tested. I’m not sure what they put in the water in Kansas, but it always seemed to me that the best runners were either from Oregon or Kansas.

It was around the mid-nineties, and I was stationed in southern Louisiana at Naval Air Station Belle Chase in another F/A-18 squadron at the time. I held the position of the squadrons Assistant Fitness Coordinator, and I was in great physical condition. Running was something I did just about every day to stay in shape and I felt like I was in very good shape for being in my mid-thirties while most of my counterparts were at least 5 years younger. I would usually run a few miles at a time when I had time, and I would usually just run along a one and a half mile stretch of roadway that led to the back entrance to the base. With the distance to our hanger and back, I was logging about 3 miles on a run just about every day.

A few of the pilots in the squadron invited me to a 6-mile run including 4 of those miles on an old unused runway obstructed from view from the main road close to the back entrance to the base. They told me that there was an old runway that was no longer used and that’s where we would be doing our run. These pilots were tall lanky distance runners and had logged quite a few marathons as well as triathlons over the years, but they agreed to run at my pace which really wasn’t that far off their pace, just double the milage. I agreed and we set out on a hot and humid afternoon run on an old runway surrounded by swamp. We made a lot of small talk and chit chat about the jets as they got to get a little inside look at life on the enlisted side of a squadron. Pilots were usually doing their own thing and there wasn’t a lot of fraternization with the pilots and enlisted folks but when I ran with most officers it was like the rank wasn’t a big deal. I showed them respect and they did the same for me. Our ranks were rarely a topic of conversation during long runs but topics like where we grew up or some of the past experiences we had while in the Navy usually dominated our conversations. Believe me, when your running distance, unless you’re running a very fast pace, there’s always plenty of time for conversation.

In distance running it was always a constant battle with my body for the first few miles of a longer run. My body needed to get into a rhythm before I felt comfortable. I always said that it wasn’t uncommon for me to look for a good place to rest in the first few miles of a longer run. The cool part about the first few miles of the run is that if I could fight the urge to stop and walk for a minute, the runners high would kick in shortly afterwards, usually around the 3-mile mark. From then on it was like putting my body on cruise control, it was just a matter of holding my pace and filling my time with something to keep me from getting bored.

After running a few times with the pilots, they asked me if I’d consider running for a military team competition in Pensacola, Fla., called “The Blue Angel Marathon”. The Blue Angel marathon was held every year in Feb., and it was approaching September at the time they asked me. They told me that we would need to train together for about 4 months prior to the marathon competition and we would be competing against other teams from all branches of the military. Pensacola in Feb. was usually pretty warm, and the course was relatively flat which seemed to attract quite a few top-notch running teams. They told me that the marathon course started on the Navy base but after a few miles on the base the course went through the city of Pensacola and out along the beach for a few miles before circling back through the city and then back to the base. The race was very popular with the locals, and it drew a lot of local support all along the route. It sounded like a fun race and I told them I would join the team.

We ran together and trained pretty hard over the course of the next few months but unfortunately, a few weeks before the race, when I was tapering in late January, I developed walking pneumonia in my right lung and had to drop out of the race. I was really bummed about missing my first marathon but as soon as my lung healed, I was back to running in late spring of 97. I started running smaller races in the New Orleans area before transferring to Dobbin Air Base in the Atlanta area in July of 97.

Once I checked into the base and started my new job, I quickly became the Assistant Physical Fitness Coordinator for the Naval Air Station and put together a daily fitness plan for the personnel assigned to the Navy base. I also managed a group of sailors who were out of Navy standards and my job was to get them back into shape before the next physical exam cycle. I spent a lot of time at the gym, and I also liked to incorporated weight training for core strength in my training plan. My weight training wasn’t to bulk up, but it was to tone and work a lot of important muscle groups for distance running. The base had a running trail, and I would begin my runs at the base gym and often times it would be with a small group of runners. We would run 1-2 miles a day on the little base trail, but my real distance runs were always off the base.

The first place I ran distance after moving to Marietta, Ga., a northern small suburb of Atlanta, was the “Cheatam Hill Battleground” and the “Kolb Farm” area in Cobb County. My new home was just a few miles down the road from Cheatam Hill, so it was very easy to go for a quick 5-mile run. If I could recommend one place above all other places to run in this area, or train for a distance race, it would be Cheatam Hill and Kolb Farm. It was a big oval scenic trail run with hills and the trail was a distance of about 5 miles unless you wanted to go all the way to Kennesaw Mountain visitors center and back which made the run about 18 miles. If I’m not mistaken, you could add 2 more miles to the run by running up to the lookout center at the top of Kennesaw Mountain which made it an even 20 miles and my longest run when training for a marathon. That was my litmus test before tapering, and when you throw in all the steep hills of a 20-mile run, it was very challenging. I ran the 5-mile trail almost daily for the first few months after moving to the area. Not long after getting to Atlanta I learned of a big 10k race in Cobb County on Labor Day. The race was called “The US 10K Classic” and it was dubbed “the toughest 10k in the nation”. That sounded like my kind of race, so I trained hard through the months of July and August that first summer I was lived in Marietta. The 10K classic was tough because it was all up hill, and 6.2 miles of constant uphill will wear a body down very quickly. Down in Louisiana all of my runs were relatively flat but after moving to Ga. running took on a whole different meaning. It’s hard to get away from hilly ground around the Atlanta area so most of my runs, either training or a race, involved hills.

I ran the 10K Classic that first year in 97 and it was everything it was advertised to be, it was tough. My body did very well at the 10k classic, so I found other local races to run, and I continued to train as my ultimate goal was to compete in the Blue Angel Marathon in early 98. Most of my training runs were on trails out at Kennesaw Battleground but I occasional ran over in East Cobb along the river. There was a 3-mile loop along the river and there were a lot of runners as well as bikers that used the trail on the weekends. The river trail was actually busy with people walking biking and running so I could always people watch while I was running. Another place I liked to run was the Silver Comet Trail down in South Cobb. It was an area that was flat, very scenic and it ran for a very long stretch of miles. Once again, the trail was well used so I could always people watch during my runs. One other place I like to run was the Big Creek trail. I was a member of the Alpharetta YMCA and there was access to the Big Creek trail, which was paved, right there next to the parking lot of the Y. The Big Creek trail runs for miles and actually starts up here in Cumming and runs down to and through Alpharetta now. The trail runs along Big Creek and there are miles of scenery along the way.

Although running was always something I could do to clear my mind and sort out my issues, running was also boring to me unless I made it interesting. I would carry a Walkman with an arm strap on most of my runs and I could listen to music. I also wore an iPod in later years, and I could load my favorite tunes for a distance run. As I got more seasoned with my longer runs, I planned out my runs and I would load enough music on my iPod to not only listen to, but to also help me keep on my desired pace.

Training properly was a big thing for me when preparing for an upcoming race. If it was a shorter race like a 10k I trained for speed. Not only would I train on hilly trails, but I would also incorporate a day every week devoted to interval and gate training. If you want to get faster at distance running, interval training is the only way to better your times. It was very painful but a necessary evil when training for a race and figuring out my target pace. If it was a long race like a half or full marathon, I would focus on distance rather than speed. A full marathon takes about 4 months to properly train for the race and the milage increases every week until the last few weeks when you taper. By late 97 I was forming my first marathon team by soliciting runners in my weekly article in our base newspaper. I wrote an article in a weekly sports column on health and fitness, and I put together a team for my first Blue Angel marathon. I also put together a support group that was comprised of a medical staff and a few select folks to stage along the marathon route for support and drinks if we needed them. We did well and finished 3rd in 98 and the glass trophy you see me holding below was placed in the captain’s trophy case at Naval Air Station Atlanta. This was our first NAS Atlanta marathon team.

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Our base Captain really liked the idea of the base having a running team and to him it promoted fitness and a healthy lifestyle for our base personnel. Shortly after the first marathon in 98 I started running more local races and I usually wore a Navy shirt to promote the Navy in our local area during the race. I would chat with a lot of other runners about the Navy and often times I would give my Navy t-shirt away to a younger person along the route towards the finish line. I’m not sure how they liked receiving a sweat soaked Navy t-shirt from a runner but maybe they kept it. I never like running with a shirt on, but I like to promote the Navy in our area and a lot of times I would get positive comments from spectators along the route.

In the early fall of 98 I started soliciting for another marathon running team in the base newspaper and we actually put 2 running teams together for 99. We finished 2nd and 4th in Feb. 99

I ran a lot of local races in our area as well as traveling to races around the south but a few most memorable races I ran was the Hog Pen Hill Climb in Helen Ga. in the dead of winter. They don’t have that race anymore, but it was the toughest race I’ve ever run. It was 18 degrees when the race started in downtown Helen, Ga. and ended 10 miles later at the top of Hog Pen Pass. It was the only race where I experienced frozen chest hair and two frozen streams of snot beneath my nose. This was me during the last hundred yards of the race.

Another was the Atlanta Track Club Ekiden relay marathon race. I ran the anchor leg for the Georgia Power team that year and we took 1st place. I’ve always said that it was the best race I’ve ever run. It was a marathon relay, and I was asked to run the final leg of the race. I was representing Georgia Power which was entered into the large corporation division and a very competitive division for the race. I was actually dating one of my teammates and she was one of the engineers that worked for Georgia Power at the time and I was looking to get an engineering job there after retirement. Team Home Depot had some pretty good runners and seemed to always win in the large corporation division, but we foiled their plans in 2000. My other 5 teammates kept us close for most of the race and when I took over the final leg, only the Home Depot team was in front of us. I knew exactly how many minutes they were leading me, and I did the math to figure what kind of pace I needed to run to pass them before the finish line in a little over 7 miles. To me it was just another 10k race and I was able to pass the Home Depot runner with a couple hundred yards to spare. As soon as I passed him, I knew he was spent and couldn’t hold my pace so he drifted back. I won the race; Georgia Power had their winners’ cup from the Atlanta Track Club, and I kept the blue ribbon and a winner’s cup from the race. Here’s a few pictures from the race and our team.

Another race that really sticks out in my mind was the 2002 Blue Angel Marathon. It was the year that our team from NAS Atlanta won the race. We trained hard that year and we finally broke that winners curse that haunted us since 98. My good friend Rob Tomey did a lot of training with me over the years and only fitting that he and I were teammates when we won. Another teammate and good friend of mine over the running years was my old Maintenance Officer in my last squadron, Rudy Chavez. He was just a bit older than me but could usually outrun me in shorter races but not the marathon. We logged a few thousand miles together and competed in a lot of races with and against each other. In 2002 Myself, Rob, Rudy and one of our squadron pilots won the Military Branch division of the Blue Angel Marathon and our teams was put on the Naval Station Pensacola’s Captain Cup. I had reached the pinnacle of my running years. We presented the Naval Air Station Atlanta Commanding Officer the first-place plaque to place in his base trophy case. Here’s few pictures from the race including the Commanding Officer from Dobbins and the Commanding Officer from Pensacola.

Once we won the race in 2001 I went on to run races, including the Blue Angel Marathon up until my last marathon in 2004. By that time, I was fighting a bulging disc in my lower back which was very painful when I ran distance. Ultimately the disc ruptured, and I quit running after surgery and my doctor advised me to find another sport. I still played softball for the Naval Air Station for a few years and also played senior league baseball for a team in Duluth. Playing baseball in my 40’s was a dream come true for me but after all the running, softball and baseball I just enjoy fishing now but I’ll never forget my running years.

Here’s a few more pictures.

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