Sunday, January 23, 2011

The Final Chapter of Running across America

Running through Pennsylvania and the Appalachian forest following old Lincoln Highway 30 takes you through the beautiful majestic golden Autumn forest. One of the highlights of my run was meeting 'Joe' the hiker who was completing a section of the Appalachian trail. Joe had good stories to share! Being low on food, we made sure he was well stocked before he left us back onto the trail which crossed highway 30. It did snow some on this section but did not stick to the ground.

Michael Hayward was willing to crew me into Atlantic City, NJ. Michael lives in Findley, Ohio where I stayed at his home and his wonderful kind wife Leni cooked delicious meals and helped to arrange some media and radio contacts locally. I was entertained by their very friendly cat Josi. Each day I covered more distance through Ohio and we'd mark our stopping point, returning back to Michael and Leni's home via our support vehicle until nearing West Virgina-where we either camped or found local lodging. 'Ben' my always reliable baby jogger which carried my supplies finally got to rest-but always on stand-by, should Michael have to unexpectedly leave back to Ohio (which he did, for 3 days.) So then I was back to running with 'Ben' the jogger and addressing the steep mountain climbs ahead. You certainly use different muscles pushing a 50 pound jogger for 40 miles, your arms and shoulders and knees 'sing' to you as using different body mechanics, you try to adapt the best you can. Downhill running with a jogger can really stress your knees if you do not control your speed as I quickly learned.

I ran by where United Flight 93 crashed into a Pennsylvania farm field during 9/11 in which terrorist overtook the plane. Heroic efforts of 73 passengers who over took the insane terrorists preventing a catastrophe at our Nations Capital, now a national monument.

Lancaster, Pennsylvania -home to the Amish- was a very enjoyable section to run through. Here time seems to stop with the Amish in their black horse driven buggies, cultivating their lands as their ancestors did. I was told the Amish do not like to be photographed and so I respected their wishes, (though many tourists do otherwise). Lancaster is now a big tourist attraction, always bustling with big tour buses powering on the Lincoln Highway, with their wind blasting me as they pass by.

I was receiving more friendly 'honks and waves' that day, realizing we just received some good press in the local Lancaster papers. While on a break in a small cafe, a family insists on buying my breakfast after reading about our Trans USA Run. The goodness of people is the part of my run I have enjoyed the most. Michael now catches up with me three days later and is eager to navigate me into Philadelphia. Michael, a sharp navigator, is always looking for the safest road to run along. His help has been just absolutely great. Your crew you trust with your life as any ultra runner or endurance athlete would most likely agree. Michael is no exception - a really unique special man who is giving up his time away from home to help me reach the Atlantic Ocean.

Philadelphia Marathon:

Knowing I would be running into Philadelphia soon, I heard about the upcoming Philadelphia marathon. Though already full with no entries, I met with one of the race directors at the Philadelphia Marathon Expo who had some last minute cancellations and granted me an entry! He was quite curious to know why after running over 3,000 miles that I would be willing and crazy enough to do a 'measly' 26 mile marathon..!? “To run in the City of Brotherly Love”, I tell him “and the great American history-besides it's a great ‘side trip’ for me.” The race was a 26 mile dog leg loop around Philadelphia, passing by many historic landmarks and statues and bridges. Not my best marathon time nor am I ashamed to say; my legs were in slow motion-having run alone for so long and now there were runners on all sides of me. It was 'culture shock,' but one marathon I will always enjoy and with fond memories. Very well managed marathon and course, great volunteers and aid stations, of course very friendly runners. You receive a great finisher's T- shirt and medal with bragging rights. A ritual many runners do is to run up the Art Center's many steps, following the path of 'Rocky Balboa'. I'll admit that I did this, slow and easy and humbled.

Leaving Philadelphia left a good spot in my heart. I met some old friends who I knew from California whom had moved back to Philly. 'Charlie' and I go way back and I know his family back in California. Charlie puts Michael and I up for a night in their loft apartment, Philadelphia 'style'. We have a famous Philadelphia 'Cheese Steak' that night.

The following day, with Philadelphia-marathon-worn legs, I begin my run out of Philadelphia, running over the famous Ben Franklin Bridge and Delaware River into Camden, NJ.

As I run across the Ben Franklin bridge, runners 'zip' by me on their training run. I seriously doubted they ran the Philadelphia marathon at that pace or just maybe I was moving too slowly with my ego talking to me-I felt like a 'turtle' coming into side 'cheetahs'.

Camden, NJ unfortunately is the second most dangerous city in America, East St Louis, MO being first. No city or town wants that recognition. Sadly a section I ran through had crime ridden neighborhoods, run-down homes, crime with drug dealers and gangs prevalent on every corner infiltrating the area. Sure I felt nervous running through this section and was warned several times to be cautious, including by the local police. Never had a bad incident-no 'bullet holes' as I passed out copies of The Way to Happiness and DVD's along the worst section. I found the people friendly and surprised at seeing me running and meeting with the home boys and locals, many friendly and asking why am I “running like Forest Gump?"

Michael and I made a special stop at the local Camden police station, where we met with the assistant Captain who took a big interest with our purpose and how The Way to Happiness programs could be implemented into their crime ridden areas. We were quite pleased we made a positive impact running through Camden, NJ. Even in the worst areas, good people exist wanting to survive and be decent citizens, raise their families which are constantly threatened by a handful of anti-social criminals. This was our reason for running across America; for The Way to Happiness and Youth, helping to make a safer environment for them and our future, establishing trust and brotherhood once again.

Running through the 'Garden State' was surprisingly more scenic than I had envisioned, along highway 30 I ran by several farm communities in a rural countryside with small towns popping up more frequently as I neared Atlantic City. Many wooded forests are spread along the way, hosting many animals, including bears, the locals say. Again I found quality tools along the road, giving them to Michael, likely left while repairing a flat tire on a dark night or somehow jostled out of tool box along a bumpy stretch of highway 30. Michael drives six miles ahead and waits for me. I like the 10km distance to run to for each crew stop. At times in bad weather we would shorten it or through tricky navigating sections of towns or cities. Mike has bagels, juice, water and fruit always waiting for me. Mike made the best sandwiches which were quite good and filling and is quite a healthy eater himself.

Day time temperatures were in the mid 50's and 30's at night; cool ideal running conditions but with strong headwinds as we got closer to the Atlantic Sea Board. Route 30 on this section fortunately had a fairly wide shoulder to run along. The cold winds of the trucks still power blast you, I never got used to that. Yet we are blessed with good weather and no storms for the next few days. Though it was Thanksgiving week-traffic was still busy. Little towns such as Elwood, Devonshire and Egg Harbor City stand out and pass quickly. I will never forget seeing the road mileage sign for Atlantic City stating 30 miles. You begin to feel the emotion build up- slowly but it was building up knowing this journey was nearing an end. Mike tells me a friend called and invited us for Thanksgiving in Pennsuaken, NJ. Pat Devlin and her husband Dennis who has cycled (biked) many thousands of miles across the country were kind enough to let Michael and I stay at their cozy home. Pat, a very friendly, upbeat person insisted she come out the last 10 miles of the run and finish with Michael and me; we welcome her company.

Giant airline jets are passing over on their final decent as we near Newark and Atlantic City. Now I see the tall Atlantic City wind mills and hotel casinos in the distance-deceiving it is-you think your a few miles from the Atlantic. Not the case. Its more like ten miles-a real mind teaser. Now in Atlantic City suburbs, you are surrounded by motels from low budget to the higher end 4 and 5 star hotels as you near the casinos. Oddly but probably fitting the location, I encounter a 'hooker' off the road soliciting her trade. At first thinking she was hurt or in trouble-not so as she attempts to "proposition me", here I am a sweaty worn out tired runner, old enough to be her father at least-- guess she needs the business badly I thought! Politely, I decline her offer and run on. Atlantic City has been called the 'Las Vegas' of the East Coast with towering hotels lining the sea board. Some still under construction and some abandoned before the economy tanked.

Michael calls me on my cell letting me know he and Pat are waiting at the Wagon Wheel Casino a half mile from the Atlantic. Soon I catch them and we run towards the New Jersey Boardwalk shore finding it closed off due to construction. Mike and Pat both time it where they need the rest room so we run into the Wagon Wheel Casino, waiting for their return from the rest rooms. As we are in the Casino, slot machines going full swing, people were coming and going as I tell Mike and Pat I would run through Casino towards the eastern entrance facing the Atlantic Ocean. People looking oddly as I run by them- here's a middle aged man in running shorts running through a casino! A couple stops and finds out from Mike and Pat that I am completing a 3,500 mile run across America, they insist on a group photo, another couple also wants a photo. How can I ever say no-running through a major casino at the last leg of a Trans USA Run?

Someone swings the doors open and there is the big Atlantic Ocean staring me in the face! 'Oh my god!' I tell myself with enthusiasm and joy 'there she is, Mrs. Atlantic Ocean!' Mike and Pat quickly catch up with me as we run along the board walk, now about 4:15 pm and soon to catch a setting sun in the east Seas are very calm as we reach the beach and I remove my shoes and dip my toes ceremoniously into the frigid Atlantic Ocean. I receive a warm hug from Pat and Michael, while some distant tourists cheer.

This was special, anyone who has run a Trans USA Run will certainly tell you. Each having their own special moment and personal reflections. For me it was a personal accomplishment and dream I carried with me since I was 16 telling my coach in high school in Southern California that I wanted to run across America. Now 40 years later I fulfill that dream. There would be a lot to take in and process, some who have run across America say for years and even possibly a lifetime, certainly a life time of great memories with numerous life changing experiences and your whole perspective of America and the American people make a big imprint on you.

Fun and facts:
Weight lost: 20 pounds
Shoes Worn: 8 pairs
Hottest State: 122 degrees Needles, CA
Coldest: 19 degrees Hookstown, PA
Favorite States: Arizona, New Mexico, Ohio and Pennsylvania.
Steepest and Flattest: Flagstaff, AZ and Indiana flattest.
Scariest moments: Tornado warning in Warsaw, Indiana and thunder storms in Oklahoma with no shoulder to run on with 20,000 pound trucks hurling by you and being' power washed' each time while bailing out on to the side gully. Running on the interstates, very loud, narrow and dangerous, too many flat tires with my baby jogger. Almost getting bit by a rattle snake in Arizona during a night run.

Funny moments: Being stopped 15 times by the Highway Patrol receiving calls 'man running with baby jogger with' baby on board' along Route 66 and Byways.
Outside Chicago a lady thought I was a homeless veteran and insisted I let her buy my lunch. Finds out via Facebook I was not and makes a sizable contribution to my foundation.

Best 'Side Trips' :Running 12 miles round trip up 11,000 foot Mt Taylor in Grants, New Mexico and running the Philadelphia Marathon.

Oddest sleeping spots: Wooden 'Teepee' in Arizona, farm field in Missouri, tool shed in Illinois.

Best lodging: Holiday Express!!

Most Scenic run: Running through Route 66 along the majestic Navajo Indian Reservation with no cars for hours. Fantastic night running with a full moon. New Mexico was incredible, with wide open spaces.

My Advice and Input: Running across America is a challenge of a life time. Few will ever do it but some fellow ultra runners think and dream about running across America-not all will follow through understandably - what with work, family, life and economics. I suggest you research the routes out and gain as much information from past Trans USA Runs and each runner's hands-on experiences, good info over the Internet. March/April are the best months to start a Trans Con Run-I started in July, some start even later- but keep in mind weather conditions, as the longer you wait, back east can get nasty! Have a crew, solo is fun and challenging for the few only. Run for a worthy cause. Don't be a only for" thee and me" runner. Help your fellow man. Make your run and hard earned efforts count. There are many good causes out there-give your best for them and you will win too. Always get a full medical exam from a professional licensed medical doctor before you undertake running across America or any endurance activity. It is very strenuous and very dangerous running across America, the traffic can be treacherous and the efforts involved, planning and preparation great. You are admired and respected for being willing to take on a great adventure.

Feel free to contact me any time for any advice or questions via Facebook.

Thank you for taking time to read my blog. Stay healthy and live your dreams.

Striding on,
John Radich

In Appreciation: My run was a success due to the many wonderful support I had along the way and with sincere gratitude and respect I thank the following for supporting The Way to Happiness Foundation making a safer environment for our Youth and helping making my dream running across America a reality and for a worthwhile cause:

California: Dr Steven L. Smith, Edgar Zarzaiejo, Todor Trenkov, Ron Douglas, Richard Ross, Judy Maguire, Trisha Jackson, Richie Ettricks, Paul Godfrey, Friends of A Runner's Circle, Norm Lopez and the San Bernardino Pacers, Gabrielle Crittenden, Stan Nakashima, Bill Dickey, Deb Clem. Sgt Charlie Tucker US Army Retired Viet Nam Veteran. John Maguire, Steve Shepard, Brian Miehl, Ellen Formery, John Spencer, Mike Tlyer, Lynn Ward. Leni Mulller, Michael A. Hayward who was my wonderfully loyal crew from Ohio to the Atlantic Ocean, Gail and Janice Lance, Scott and Liz Futuch, Walt Bianchi, Cindy Oleck, Charlie and Fred Kress, Dennis and Pat Delvlin.

And to the other runners, crew and friends who assisted me a long the way whose names misplace me but very much appreciated and thanked.

With special gratitude my major sponsor Natural Vitality and Staff, Ned Parker Construction.

My family, who were always supportive and there with me in spirit along with fellow ultra runners and my Facebook friends.

A very special "Ultra Thank You" to Patricia Almieri and Christopher O'Brien our marketing and PR design person for their tireless work keeping the Trans USA Run operating in full force! You were both just incredible and truly professional and key to our success.