The Original Thirteen Colonies Marathon
July 30, 2011
As we lined up for the photo at the start of our journey, the good omen was as clear to us as our objective.
|The Adventure Begins!|
Standing beside the State Line Veterinary sign in Nashua, NH, three TrailDawgs, members of an informal trail running group from the White Clay Creek Preserve area that straddles the Pennsylvania-Delaware border outside Newark, DE, were about to embark on a most adventurous running journey. Following the trend of other Fat-Ass TrailDawg events such as Stumpy’s Marathon (where finishers receive a stump of wood shellacked with the caricature of the TrailDawgs mascot), the Mason-Dixon Longest Day Run (60+ miles from sunrise to sunset on the longest day of the year), the Triple Crown Challenge (consecutive trail half marathon, trail 10K, and trail 5K races), the HUMP (Hunt’s Ultra Marathon Perimeter) Run, the PUTZ (Phil’s Undulating Trail Zoom) Run, the SPUD (Senseless, Pointless Ups and Downs) Run, and, combining the talents of Hunt and Phil, the PHUNT run, which is a traditional 50K trail experience to start each New Year, our challenge was dubbed the Original Thirteen Colonies Marathon, and would encompass two miles of running in each of the original thirteen colonies ---New Hampshire to Georgia --- in a 24 hour period.
So, at midnight on a humid, soupy night, Dave, Eric, and I stood at the New Hampshire – Massachusetts border on the Daniel Webster Highway outside Nashua, and, with baseball hat headlights turned on and the Eric’s GPS “Dorkalator” set to record the distance traveled, we began our initial plod north into New Hampshire.
|The 13 Original Colonies|
The day’s journey had begun at 3:00 pm earlier that afternoon when we departed Dave’s house in Newark, DE, and made the eight (8) hour drive to Nashua. Joining us in the official role of driver was Nick, Dave’s 21 year old son who volunteered to escort the three of us on this crazy journey. We’re not sure if he gets some sort of charity or community service work credit from his school, Emerson College in Boston, for driving and hanging out with three fifty-something’s on a mid-life quest, but we would gladly sign any card or documentation that would acknowledge his assistance, support, and patience. At various times, we regularly smelled, told bad jokes or boring stories, whined, pouted (me), and bitched about sore calves/thighs or other running-related maladies. He was a trooper, and we could not have attempted, much less completed, the journey without him.
We had plenty of time to scout out our initial 2 mile runs in NH and MA, although there was a little confusion on the part of a cute, petite girl in early 20s who we met while refueling the Yukon at Cumberland Farms. When asked about the location of the Old Dunstable Cemetery that was supposed to be a mile into NH from the state line, she seemed genuinely confused as to whether we were talking a mile from the NH or the MA line. When we told her that either state line would work, she relaxed noticeably and pointed triumphantly down the road toward the state line, saying that she knew where the NH state line was. We were happy to tell her that she got both of them correct…
The NH leg was along the above mentioned Daniel Webster Highway, which is a roadway dotted with many commercial establishments and the Pheasant Lane Mall. Blessed with both wide shoulders and sidewalks on both sides, the one mile out and back was well-lit, fairly flat, and a very pleasant opening entrée to the marathon. Once we passed into Tyngsboro, MA, the running conditions changed dramatically as the shoulder either narrowed considerably or became non-existent, the commercial establishments (and their resultant signage/lighting) were fewer in number and further apart, the mile into the state included a bit of an incline, and significantly more cars made for increased attention on our part and more dodging into the grassy shoulder if we felt the drivers weren’t comprehending exactly what they were seeing plodding toward them at such an odd hour. Near the end of the MA section, we ran past the Forrest RV Center, which if you insert “Gump” in the title, would serve as the second good omen for our journey.
We completed the 4.12 mile NH/MA loop in 38:10, and Dave immediately marked the trail in typical TrailDawg fashion. Unbeknownst to Eric or me, Dave had stomach distress almost from the beginning of the NH run and, as the time-honored running mantra of “If you think you have to sh*t, you have to sh*t” rumbled through his head, Dave fought off stomach cramps, a tight sphincter, and goose-pimpled chicken skin to finish the loop before succumbing to his body and leaving a TrailDawg mark in a wooded spot near the Yukon. With our presence officially noted, we were off onto Route 3 South, with Nick at the wheel, barreling toward our CT/RI starting point.
We arrived at the Stateline Campground on the Hartford Pike outside East Killingly, CT around 2:15 am and could easily confirm an earlier scouting report from my sister, Beth, who lives in Mystic, CT, that we were in for a dark, desolate run. Nick backed the Yukon into a small, paved spot on the shoulder, just west of the CT/RI line, and, after again marking our trail with pre-run peeing, we proceeded to run into Rhode Island. It was so dark and forlorn with only the faintest of moonlight making it through the tree canopy that going straight down the middle of the road was the safest and most practical option, despite a nicely paved surface and wide shoulders. Within a minute of the run, the third omen, albeit a tad unnerving, occurred as a dog began barking threateningly from the woods. With a nervous giggle, we continued on, but that was when we realized that Nick was in the most immediate danger as the psycho in the slasher movies traditionally gets the person left behind first (Nick admitted later that he was a little nervous to jump out of the safety of the driver’s seat to retrieve a book from the back while we were running).
The Rhode Island portion took us up Jerimoth Hill, which is the highest point in RI, and offered a nice downhill entrance back into CT. The road condition deteriorated quickly as the road appears to be prepared for repaving. The surface was choppier, the shoulders became narrower and difficult to transverse, and construction barrels added to the challenge. We also noticed an increase in car traffic coming from RI into CT (Perhaps last call is later in RI?), highlighted by the carful of ladies who shouted out to us “Hey, Joggers…who are looking sexy!” One can only hope that they had a designated driver as whoever shouted was obviously somewhat out of sorts to think that the three of us resembled anything close to sexy at that point.
The RI/CT portion totaled 4.14 miles, and we completed it in 38:54, which had us safely back in the Yukon and on our way around 3:00 am.
It was the next driving leg where Nick shined. Dave, Eric, and I tried unsuccessfully to fight off sleep and we all succumbed to dozing off during the drive to Sparkill, NY. Nick not only made the drive pretty much solo, but, with the assistance of Alt Nation cranked on XM Radio, he delivered us to our starting point at Rockland Road and Hillside Avenue (9W) by 5:30 am, 20 minutes ahead of schedule. Based on the terrain that we were about to cover, such an early start was both needed and appreciated.
The NY/NJ leg was a straight four mile leg, beginning 2 miles into NY from the NY/NJ border and concluding 2 miles south of the border at Ruckman Road outside Alpine, NJ. The road surface was fine, the shoulders mostly adequate, and car traffic almost non-existent, so the logistics of the run were not a problem. The course, however, included significant uphill sections, so the 4.06 mile distance took approximately 41 ½ minutes to complete, which had us on the road southbound by 6:20 am. We also noted that the NY and NJ state line signs do not line up, creating a No-Man’s land between them in which we really weren’t sure which state we were in…
At this point, we were 10 minutes ahead of schedule and, with Nick again making serious progress behind the wheel, we pulled into my driveway for the PA/MD/DE leg at 8:45 am, which increased our “ahead of schedule” margin to 50 minutes. Living very close to the PA/MD/DE border, my house was the perfect spot to knock out three states as we could leave my driveway, head down Elbow Lane, turn around before the entrance into the Fair Hill Preserve, return back Elbow Lane to Rt. 896 (2 miles in PA completed), head down into Maryland on 896, take Little Egypt Road to Union School Road and back to 896 and the DE state line (2 miles in MD completed), and follow 896 down in DE to just north of the Super Fresh grocery store to complete the 2 miles in Delaware requirement. The route was mostly tree-lined for the PA and MD sections and, other than some dicey maneuvering on 896 into Maryland and at the Little Egypt Road curve, traffic was either light or non-existent. (We did come up behind a woman riding a horse, who commented how quiet we were. It was decided that “stealthy” is really just a synonym for “slow.”) The run into Delaware was on wide, smooth shoulders, but offered no shade and the 90+ degree temperature began to make its presence felt.
We completed the 6.3 mile section in about an hour, which had us well ahead of schedule. Unfortunately, there was a miscommunication as to the pick-up spot, and Nick and the Yukon were not there to greet us. After some stretching and waiting (and I am embarrassed to admit, much stewing from me), we began to get concerned as to whether the Yukon ran out of gas (we had decided that it would be best to have Nick fill up during the one hour run, so we did not pull over in NJ to fuel up when we noticed the tank was getting low) or that perhaps there was some other mechanical trouble. Since we did not have cell phones, Dave asked to borrow one from a store owner, called his wife, Susie, to ask her to call Nick (we didn’t have his number!), and he rolled in a couple of minutes later. We had only lost about twenty minutes, but still had to get gas in the Yukon, so we made a stop at Wawa to refuel, clean the windshield, order sandwiches, and hit the bathroom before heading south around 10:45 am. Again , I am embarrassed to admit that I stewed for about an hour after we got on our way, worried that the 40 minutes or so that we “lost” would come back to haunt us later that evening as we tried to make the midnight completion deadline. I thank Dave, Eric, and Nick for ignoring my pouting and putting up with me as I realized that Nick, once again, was putting some serious mileage under our wheels and getting us toward the VA leg at an admirable pace.
Recognizing that we did not want to get caught up in the typical Saturday summer rental traffic at the Mid-Atlantic beaches, we headed westward from south of Baltimore toward the Shenandoah Valley in Virginia. Traffic moved at a good clip during this part of the journey, with a slight delay at Harper’s Ferry, WVA that was almost long enough to encourage us to try an extra credit mile in West Virginia. Fortunately, the single lane logjam broke on the Virginia side of Harper’s Ferry, and we were quickly on our way to our next destination, the campus of James Madison University in Harrisonburg, VA.
As Route 81 bisects the JMU campus, it was an ideal spot for an easy-off, easy-on 2 mile plod through campus. Arriving at 2:15 pm in 103 degree heat, we also were guilty of some “blind squirrel” planning that had us only completing a 2 mile leg at this stop. While unintentional, it was quite fortunate not to be running a 4 mile section at this point in the day. Our route had us starting at the entrance to the campus at Port Republic Road and Bluestone Drive, and running down Bluestone Drive past the renovated Bridgeforth Stadium and the campus bookstore, right onto Duke Drive, and to just beyond Paul Street, before returning to the start. While it was the hottest run of the day, with no shade to speak of, the route was extremely flat and we covered the 2.03 miles in just over 17 minutes. After a slight delay for Eric to find an appropriate spot to leave his Dawg mark, we were back on Route 81 South, headed to NC, by 2:40 pm.
|North Carolina Motorcycle Escort|
The site of the North Carolina run was in the neighborhood of Dave’s brother, Mike, which was located within minutes of Route 77 in Huntersville, NC. In typical fashion of Dave’s fun-loving, partying family, Mike did not disappoint us. He had festooned his motorcycle with Original 13 Colonies flags and led us, parade-style, through his neighborhood on the one mile and back course that he laid out, complete with an official mile marker turnaround. Due to our less than 5K pace at that point (temperature at around 98 degrees at 7:00 pm!), I was most appreciative that he drove at a slow, steady pace alongside us and did not ride either an impatient serpentine path or go ahead and have to resort to the dreaded and embarrassing backward “P” in order to return to us.
With a few neighbors and kids looking at us with curiosity and/or confusion (Who are these three shirtless men running alongside a motorcycle on our streets?!), we finished the 2.02 mile course in less than 18 minutes, and after accepting a gift of fireworks for a finish line celebration, we were off to the final run destination by 7:35 pm.
At this point, we were finally allowing the belief to set in that we were going to make our midnight deadline. The Garmin had us arriving at the final 4 mile leg by 10:45 pm, and our bodies, although a little sore from intermittent runs separated by some serious down time spent in a moving vehicle, seemed ready to handle the final 4 mile section.
One of the unique challenges of the SC/GA portion was finding a decent location. It was only after the Original Thirteen Colonies Marathon idea was hatched and plans were being made that it occurred to any of us that the SC/GA border is primarily water, so actual state line crossings were not easily found. Fortunately, Dave’s daughter, Kelli, just completed her Masters at Clemson and his parents live in a beautiful home on Lake Keowee, so the Clemson, SC area was a natural for the SC/GA crossing. Through the advance scouting of Dave months earlier, the Rt. 123 bridge between Old Madison, SC and Toccoa, GA was selected.
We arrived in the area around 10:30 pm, and after meeting up with Kelli and her friends, Bridgette and Jason, we caravanned over the Rt 123 bridge and parked on the GA side. Dave, Eric, and I then walked onto the bridge and discovered that, like the NY/NJ border we crossed 17 ½ hours earlier, there was a distinct separation between the marked GA and SC state lines. Since the GA sign was closer to the middle of the bridge, we decided that that was the “official” border and we set off into SC at 10:56 pm.
The run in SC and GA was somewhat precarious. The road was narrow, there was not much of a shoulder, especially on the bridge, and what little shoulder existed was mostly sandy spots with high grass and uneven footing. Again, we donned the headlights, but, in true Original Colonists fashion, we might have been better off holding candles as the headlights offered very little penetration against the dark of the night. The road was quite busy, with more than one carload of folks honking or screaming at us. In some ways, these distractions were actually good as it forced us to pay attention and it made the distance seem to go by quickly. As we returned from SC to the border, Kelli, Nick, Bridgette, and Jason provided us with American Flag bandanas and serenaded us with song, which offered a welcome lift as we began the final 2 mile stretch. We ran up a long hill from the Toccoa River and turned around at an obscure cable box that Dave had noted from his earlier scouting mission (his Trail Dawg road marking was still visible on the macadam as well). With renewed enthusiasm and a WTF (“Want to Finish”) attitude, we enjoyed the downhill return and buoyed by our “fans” at the finish, we completed our journey at 11:37 pm.
Exhausted, but extremely excited and pleased to be finished, we accepted handmade finisher’s medals, cold Budweiser in patriotic red, white, and blue cans, mini-cheesecakes decorated and arranged to form an American flag from Kelli, and we then enjoyed Mike’s gift of fireworks exploding in the GA sky.
NH, MA, RI, CT, NY, NJ, PA, MD, DE, VA, NC, SC, and GA all completed and checked off as we went…
We had run 26.9 miles in approximately 4 hours and 16 minutes, and drove/rode an additional 1,080 miles…all within 23 hours and 37 minutes…
After a late night snack at McDonald’s (You can’t beat a McChurger after a run like that…A double cheeseburger and a McChicken combined into a single sandwich…All for only $2!) and an awesome bathwater-like soak in Lake Keowee, we retired for the evening around 2:30 am with thoughts of a similar adventure for next year…
Hmmm…There are thirteen counties in CT/RI, which are continuous states…or maybe a "Schools of the SEC" marathon….or “The Last One’s Vertical” Marathon…Run 25.2 miles, and then skydive the final 5280 feet…
Oh, the possibilities…
|A Course Record for these Dawgs!|