injury, inspiration, marathon, running, running as religion, ultra, Uncategorized, White Rock, White Rock Marathon

A year ago he was near dead from a freak accident, now he’s ready to run the Dallas Marathon

An almost-recovered Brandon Cumby ponders his upcoming 26.2-mile race: Photo by Danny Fulgencio, Advocate Magazine

This story originally is published in the December 2013 Lake Highlands Advocate and East Dallas Advocate magazines.

A freak accident left him burned, broken and dependent, but this White Rock-area runner intends to finish what he started training for two years ago — the Dallas Marathon

On a cool November morning, Brandon Cumby rounds the last turn of the Dallas Running Club Half Marathon at White Rock Lake. Feeling better and stronger than he’s ever felt in a race, he smiles at the breaking sun and crosses the finish line in 1 hour, 51 minutes and 14 seconds.

His time places him at a nondescript 416 among male finishers. But considering where the 33-year-old runner was little more than a year ago — facedown in mud, spewing blood from multiple orifices, nose and ribs broken, flesh smoldering, no discernable pulse — the finish ranks him decidedly outside the realm of ordinary.

The accident
In summer 2012 Cumby began training for the Dallas Marathon, but his plans screeched to a halt in August. Cumby cannot cohesively recall anything between July 28 and Aug. 24, he says. But family members and friends help him piece together the events that nearly snuffed out his future.

On Aug. 13, a Monday, the air conditioner in Cumby’s car died. After leaving the North Dallas office where he worked as an accountant, Cumby stopped at his friend Scott Boyle’s house. He figured he could park in Boyle’s driveway, hopefully fix the blower and avoid a sweltering drive home.

While Cumby toiled under the hood, Boyle and mutual friend Michael Baker played with their new toy — a high-tech remote-control helicopter.

By the time Cumby joined them, the sun was sinking, and visibility was low.

“They were ready to take it in — they didn’t want to crash it. It was expensive. They’d pooled their money to buy it. But I asked them to do a couple more runs. I egged them on, telling them to fly higher, do crazier stunts.”

Promptly, the copter crashed into a nearby tree, embedding itself in the uppermost branches.

Boyle went for a ladder.

Cumby, confident in the strength gained from his marathon training, and feeling responsible, was determined to climb and retrieve the object himself.

In fractured flashbacks, Cumby recalls ants biting his hands as he climbed the tree, looking way down at his friends and feeling the first pang of anxiety, seeing the power lines in the distance (avoid, he noted to himself).

He couldn’t get to the helicopter, he assessed. But he could climb close enough to loosen it from the branches, if only he had something long with which to prod it.

A neighbor who had joined the guys below handed him an aluminum pool-skimmer pole. Perfect.

He was clutching the pole with his right hand when his foot slipped. Falling in the direction of the wires, he lost control of his arm, which launched the pole over his head and into a power line.

A deafening “hmmmmmm!” shot through the air.

The hum was so powerful it made your teeth chatter, the witnesses say.

Then there were flames — orange and blue, that looked like they were shooting from Cumby’s belt buckle and from behind his knees, Baker recounted.

Then he fell, maybe 20 feet, “like a rag doll doing a gainer,” one witness later told him.

Motionless, Cumby lay prostrate. Boyle rolled him over; Mud clogged Cumby’s mouth, blood gushed from his nose and face, he was black and blue, smoke was rising from his groin and he smelled like burning flesh.

Boyle, a onetime lifeguard, searched for a heartbeat, a pulse. Nothing. He began chest compressions and kept working until paramedics arrived.

EMTs intubated, defibrillated, pounded Cumby’s chest until, finally, mercifully, his heart sprung to life.

But Cumby still was in grave danger. He was bleeding internally.

His friends say that even in his bed at Parkland Hospital, blood was seeping from his nose and mouth, from everywhere, it seemed.

The doctors could operate, they told Cumby’s loved ones, but his chances were not good. As his family waited with the hospital chaplain, a team of surgeons administered 22 units of blood and, against the odds, repaired Cumby’s lacerated liver and abdominal wall well enough to keep him alive. Later, burn and trauma surgeon Dr. Francis Ali-Osman later told Cumby that 100 out of 100 other people in his situation would have died before surgery.

Alive, but not well
The days and weeks following the first operation were the most mentally and physically agonizing of Cumby’s life, he says.

He was released from the hospital temporarily at the end of August. In his condition, he could not live alone, so he moved in with his grandparents. Clothing felt like sandpaper on his sensitive skin. Movement was nauseating. Stillness was unbearable.

“The pain and swelling from my burn excisions was unbelievable — I couldn’t tolerate walking or sitting down without one of those donut-shaped pillows.”

He couldn’t sleep, experienced hot and cold flashes, and lacked an appetite. A walk to and from the bathroom exhausted him.

“Before I had the accident I was fit. I rode a Harley, played the guitar, ran, cycled, worked on building lean muscle … I had lived on my own since I was 22, had relationships, had a house, was financially independent. Now I couldn’t live by myself or cook my own meals, drive or wash my clothes. I took medication out of a daily pill sorter so I wouldn’t get mixed up.”

And there was this hole in his gut, he says, whose source was anxiety over the idea that he might never run another mile.

But there is no space left in your head for marathon dreams when, say, the open wound located near your genitals inflames and oozes blood.

During a trip to the Parkland emergency room, Dr. Ali-Osman told him the wound wasn’t closing — it is called dehiscence. Cumby would just have to give it time.

“The anxiety of having an open bleeding wound in a sensitive area is worse than the wound itself,” Cumby says.

Before his groin-area wound healed, he was readmitted to the hospital because, once it became clear he would live, surgeons needed to mend several sinus and facial bones broken during the fall (fractured rib and cervical bones also were dealt with separately).

This time, doctors cut a line from one ear, over his shaved head, to the other. They folded down the skin, repaired the bones — adding synthetic bone filler and wire mesh where needed, Cumby explains — and sewed him back together.

Seemingly endless sleepless nights and sickening withdrawal from opioid medicines — tremors, insomnia, nausea and increased sensitivity to pain — followed.

For weeks, his face remained swollen beyond recognition. He weighed 143 pounds, down 30 from his training days.

Several mornings on end, he had his stomach pumped — exploratory measures to determine the effectiveness of his digestive system. Unbearable abdominal pain sent him to the emergency room on multiple occasions. Digestive distress and stomach pain are results of postsurgical ileus and abdominal adhesions, respectively, Cumby explains.

Through it all, doctors prodded Cumby for information.

“They seemed to wonder how I had survived,” he says. “Their best guess is that my fitness, the running, saved me.”

Two weeks after his release from the hospital following cranial surgery, Cumby snuck out of his grandparents’ house. He needed to run.

“I made it about a half mile before I had to lie down in the grass. I was wearing a heart-rate monitor, and it was going crazy. I walked home.”

A couple of days later he tried it again, with similar results. His mom, though she didn’t understand why he needed this so much, began walking with him, and they eventually began adding small jogging intervals.

Running therapy
Even as he was recovering from electrocution and life-altering trauma, Cumby felt this undeniable urge to run. Why? “I don’t expect anyone who is not a runner to understand this,” he says.

“When I first got out (of the hospital), I was entirely focused on the physical components. I wanted things to quickly return to normal. I needed to go back to work, get in shape, get my own place, make things look and feel normal. Turns out, there’s no quick way.”

Going out too fast can be detrimental in a long-distance race. Same goes for recovery, Cumby says.

He realized he had to go back and build a stronger foundation before he could rebuild his life, he says.

“So I asked myself, ‘What brings you joy?’ That is a good place to start.”

And his answer was: running.

“Running empowers me, centers me, focuses me,” he says.

The exercise strengthens his atrophied muscles and weary heart, but he says it is about much more.

“People think running is physical. It’s not. Most of it is between the ears.”

When he first started running years ago, he learned that.

“At that time, I was overweight, ending a marriage, unhappy, so I started running. Back then, I did my best thinking while I was running,” he says. “It is no different now. It is my Zen.”

Brandon: Photo by Danny Fulgencio, Advocate magazine
Brandon: Photo by Danny Fulgencio, Advocate Magazine

The marathon
Rebecca Baker is Cumby’s running partner. In 2012 the duo decided to train for the Dallas Marathon.

After Cumby’s summer 2012 electrocution, which was witnessed by Rebecca’s husband Michael, the Bakers only wanted their friend to survive.

“Everything was so touch and go for the first few days that we were more worried whether he would live,” Rebecca recalls. “It took a couple of days for them to figure out that he didn’t have any significant spinal injuries, which meant that he would walk again. At one point, he was so disoriented that he thought he had overslept and missed the marathon start. He kept telling his mom he needed his water bottle. Clearly, running was never far from his mind.”

Rebecca says she wasn’t all that surprised when he resumed training. “I was worried that he would try to do too much too soon, but he has done pretty well this season.”

The running community rallied around Cumby after the accident. The Dallas Running Club and White Rock Running Co-op held a fundraiser to help with medical expenses.

In January 2013, the Bakers and Cumby’s lifelong best friend Aaron Stevens (a Lake Highlands resident whose birthday, Cumby points out, fell on the same day of the accident), joined Cumby for a 5k race.

“It took 33 minutes to finish, and I thought I would die,” Cumby says. “But that got me over a mental hurdle.”

He didn’t like being slow, though.

“I am my own worst critic. I look at the other guys in my age group and their race times and feel inferior,” Cumby notes.

However, both he and Rebecca acknowledge that the way he is running now, all things considered, is nothing short of a miracle.

In March, Cumby ran the Rock n’ Roll half marathon in a little over two hours.

Then he registered for the Dallas Running Club’s training program for the December 2013 Dallas marathon.

As the miles increased and Dallas marathon hopefuls ratcheted up the calorie, carb and protein intake, Cumby ran into trouble.

In August he landed in the ER with severe pain and vomiting blood.

His doctor wanted to operate to remove scar tissue growing around Cumby’s intestine.

Cumby begged for an alternative.

“The doctor looked at me like, ‘Let me get this straight. You are refusing surgery because you do not want to interrupt your marathon training?’ and I say, ‘Yes’.”

The doctor made a deal. They would try one more thing, and if his symptoms improved, he could resume training. Cumby said he would try anything.

The treatment was dietary — Cumby would go on a strict low-carb, low-protein, high-fat diet.

To avoid mid-workout distress, he also started fasting for several hours before any long-distance run. The diet essentially goes against everything marathon coaches preach, Cumby says.

But it has worked.

Before racing the DRC Half Marathon in November, Cumby completed a 21-mile training run with the running club’s 4:10-marathon pace group.

When he runs the 26.2-mile Dallas Marathon course on Dec. 8, he won’t be wearing a watch, he says.

“I don’t want to put any undue pressure on myself by worrying about how fast or slow I am running,” he says. “I am just going to concentrate on finishing the race.”

As he expected, while he focused on running over the last few months, Cumby’s life shaped up. He recently got his own place near the lake — the epicenter of Dallas fitness, he calls White Rock — and a new job at a small firm.

He’s learned some lessons: No tree-climbing with aluminum poles. His friends and family are too good to be true. Follow joy. Forget the odds. Do not make specific plans, because you risk short-changing yourself.

After the marathon, he might try ultrarunning or a triathlon, he says.

“I want to see how far I can go.

Boston, Dallas, inspiration, marathon, people with true grit, running, training, White Rock, White Rock Marathon

For Dallas runners, circling White Rock Lake is a rite of passage

This is part of a full-feature story in the March Advocate magazine about the many wonders of East Dallas’ White Rock Lake:

Full circle

Completing the full circumference of White Rock Lake trail, on foot, is a rite of passage


 What a wonderful White Rock Lake world

Dave Dozier Photo by Can Türkyilmaz

Drive to the end of Winstead, a winding road west of White Rock Lake, any Saturday morning at about 5:30 and Dave Dozier will flag you down. He assumes you are there to join him for a run. On a dewy winter morning he dons a black tracksuit with reflective stripes and he invites early morning guests, runners and walkers, jovial folks he calls friends, into his home of 50 years — cozy quarters whose décor includes display cases full of medals from White Rock, St. George and Boston marathons, to name a few, hundreds, dating back as far as the 1970s, and collages containing magazine clippings and racing bibs.

An inconspicuous manila folder contains what we came for: certificates for completing, on foot, a full 9.2-mile loop of White Rock Lake.

In his early running days, Dozier says, running all the way around White Rock Lake was something only the most serious runners did.

“Once you ran the loop,” he says, “you were somebody.”

In the 1970s a gang of diehard runners including White Rock Marathon founder Tal Morrison challenged Dave to run all the way around, rather than the couple-mile out-and-back jaunts they had seen him performing at the lake. When he eventually took them up on it, the guys gave him a certificate of completion. It is a tradition Dozier continued, mostly under the radar, long after Morrison and the other old timers stopped running. Recently a local fitness magazine publicized the practice and Dozier got an unprecedented amount of takers. But he doesn’t give these certificates away to just anyone. “You really have to do it. I have to see you. I will run with you,” he says. “And you can’t have done it before.” The certificates are reserved for those running the loop and the distance for the first time ever.

And while the certificate is a neat token of achievement, it really isn’t about the paper. It’s about the camaraderie as runners gather at the starting point. Those who meet at Dozier’s place vary in pace — taking anywhere from 70 minutes to three hours to circle the pond. The wee moments before the jog are for catching up and laughing while Dozier tells everyone to “shut up. My wife is asleep.”

Voices fill the erstwhile silent neighborhood with stories of marathons past. Dozier’s friend Julie Stauble recalls a time Dozier stumbled at the finish line, knocking out his front teeth. Dozier teases the group’s fastest runner, a psychiatrist named Joe Gaspari who is preoccupied with qualifying for the Boston Marathon. “He’s always looking at that watch. Doesn’t he know we are here to have fun?”

It’s about the other lake goers. When Dozier ran the first of his 9,000-some lake loops, he says, there were about eight guys regularly running the lake. On a Saturday morning these days, there are hundreds, maybe a thousand. “I stop and talk a lot. I know everyone out there,” Dozier says.

It’s about the commitment and motivation one feels after hitting that 9.2-mile milestone, says Stauble, who ran a marathon after meeting Dozier and joining his informal running group. She says it changed her life.

“A lot of lives have changed out here,” Dozier says. “And we’ve had people that didn’t fit in in the world, fit in with us.”

It’s about the sense of completion. The circle represents wholeness, unity and infinite possibility, right? But Dozier scoffs at all that philosophical stuff. “It’s just fun. I love this. Running is my way of life.”

If you are interested in meeting Dozier for a run around the lake and, if you make it, a certificate,

Dallas, marathon, racing, running, Uncategorized, White Rock

Season recap: Dallas Marathon, etc.

Driving to the start line, my gage rose from 68 to 71 degrees, as did my anxiety levels.
Driving to the start line, my gage rose from 68 to 71 degrees, as did my anxiety levels.

Today, it’s in the 30s and there is snow on the ground. Unfortunately, marathon Sunday a couple weeks ago was not so nice. (I started writing this last week, ya’ll).

As I was driving to the convention center Marathon Sunday morning at 6 a.m., the thermometer on my dash rose from 68 to 72 degrees. The humidity was around 89 percent and the winds were a lovely 15-25 mph out of the south. All season long I had professed, If it’s hot and windy again, I am not running this marathon. But who was I kidding? I had hired a coach and worked for months. The show would go on, despite Mother Nature’s impending slaughter of my ambitions.

**On her blog Leave Tracks Angela has a ton of great Dallas Marathon photos.**

The cruelest component of the atmospheric prank was that ideal marathon temps were slated to roll in, oh, at about 1 p.m., not long after most of us had finished.

My friend Heather and I considered starting the race at 11 and running by chip time — a genius idea had organizers not closed the start at 8:45 a.m.

OK — so here we go. My goal time in my head (which I never really shared out loud), based on data collected during the season, my high mileage training, and my half-marathon time, a month earlier, of 1:29 was something under 3:10 in perfect conditions. Because I know all too well how heat impacts my running, I started with the 3:15 group.

The humidity was so dense that the ground was wet, as if it had rained, but it hadn’t.

A few miles in, the leader of that 3:15 group was drenched in sweat and I had little confidence he would run a 3:15 (I know some of the group did, but not many, and he decidedly did not).

Miles 5-10 ish were all mildly uphill. During this stretch, I figured my best bet was to let the 3:15-ers go and simply try to pace myself for a personal best, which meant anything under a 3:30. I stayed within close range of the 3:15 group through the uphill and through the subsequent 4-ish miles on downhill.

My friend Danny Hardeman, easily in 3:10 shape (he was supposed to run New “hurricane Sandy” York), was in front of me at the halfway, but I could tell by his body language that this weather was killing him already.

Photo taken by Jason Rowenhorst
Photo of me near the end, taken by Jason Rowenhorst

Then we hit White Rock Lake, where the winds were gusting and the runners, by the dozens, were stopping to walk. Looking around at all these people (thinking of myself too) who I knew had worked for months for this day, and seeing how the weather was sapping us of the enthusiasm you should feel halfway through a goal race, made me melancholy.

This is where I slowed significantly. I felt horrible here. Atop the downward mental spiral, heat does bad things to me. As you may recall from my El Scorcho attempt, it makes me puke.

Thus, around mile 14 I stopped taking any gels or Gatorade. I sipped, very lightly, water occasionally. That was the most I could stomach.

Without any carbs or electrolytes, I soon met the wall. Mile 20, which is where we encounter the biggest hill of the race, took more than 9 minutes. I was DEAD. I was demoralized. I was depressed. I considered stopping. I saw several people stop. It was generally a bad day for running a marathon.

At this point I saw a bunch of my friends out cheering. At the front of my mind, I wanted to tell them to shut the ^&* up. I was jealous that for some reason or another they had run a different marathon this season. One in better weather. Of course, a couple of them were injured and couldn’t  run at all. Was  I mad at them? No. Was I glad somewhere in my misery to not be them? Yes. And deep down, I knew I’d have to face all of them after the race. They made me want to keep trying. You jerks!

After 20, I let myself look at my watch. I figured out that if I could run the last 10k at an 8-minute mile I could still run a personal best. If I can beat my personal best in this shit weather, I thought, I can still call this a success, even if it is a far cry from the goal. Now, in most cases an 8-minute mile for a girl who’s trained six months or so at a 7:00-7:15 marathon pace would be extremely doable, but after 20 miles in heat and wind and no ability to fuel due to nausea, it was iffy.  Extreme iff.

A few things saved me.

One: downhill. Most of the last six miles were slightly downhill or at least flat. This made me feel much better. Not great, but I felt like I could run again.

Two: creepy guy. A fellow marathoner in the early miles ran alongside me, struck up a conversation and casually mentioned that he thought I had a nice rack. “Not just your boobs,” he says. “You are all-around attractive, but especially your boobs,” he rambled. It was sort of amusing and I asked him was it just running a marathon that caused this or did he never have a filter. I was glad when he ran ahead, but at mile 22 or so, here he was again. This time I was in no mood. So when he started talking, I started sprinting (OK, sprinting is probably overstating, but I maintained until I was comfortably solo again). So, thanks, guy.

Ellie, my racing muse
Ellie, my racing muse

Three: another great friend. At about mile 23 I saw my dear friend and her beautiful toddler sitting on a curb outside Deep Ellum holding a sign that read, “Christina you are our hero!” OK. That was god*mn awesome. I can do this.

The final stretch through Downtown Dallas was a m-f-ing wind tunnel. But the wind at least was a bit cooler than it had been at the lake. I couldn’t see the clock until the last turn just feet from the finish line.  As I turned I knew I would have a personal best, which was nice. Nicer still was that I was done with one more miserable marathon. (My first two marathons, White Rock/Dallas in 2008 and Oklahoma City in 2009 were both run in hot, humid windy conditions.)

The race director, Marcus Grunewald, approached me at the finish and it was everything I could do not to barf on him. He and his lovely wife who also was working the finish line wanted to know what I thought of the course. The course was a fantastic showcasing of our fair burg. But the weather took a dump on it.

I will always, despite this city’s sociopathic weather, participate in the Dallas Marathon because I so believe that the organizers genuinely care about the runners, the community of non-runners affected by the event, and the beneficiary of the race, The Texas Scottish Rite Hospital. The years I didn’t run it because I ran out-of-town fall marathons, I always felt so empty on Dallas’ Marathon Sunday.

One of the most important things I learned this season was to NOT make the “goal race” or end-of-season race the end-all and be-all of your season, because so many things can go wrong when you put all of your proverbial eggs in one basket. I stayed enthusiastic and had fun all training season because I trained for a 5k and for a 10k and for a half, and I learned a lot about the science-y stuff of running, thanks to Eric, my coach.

And here's one of my WRRC  friends who appeared to be enjoying herself. Photo by Mike Arceri
And here’s one of my WRRC friends who appeared to be enjoying herself despite the weather. Photo by Mike Arceri

Prior to the marathon I ran a 10k best of 41:49. Then I ran a five-minute-plus personal best of 1:29 in the half marathon. My marathon time was 3:26 which was still a personal best. Looking at stats made me feel a little better about that. I was the 23 overall female out of close to 2,000 of us. I was also the fastest of 14 Christinas!  I passed 56 people in the last 10k (5 passed me). These graphic results are very cool. I was even ahead of 94 percent of male runners! OK – my arm is starting to ache from patting myself on the back so much.

Oh, before I stop, I almost forgot: There was another failure this season to break 20 minutes in a 5k. That was a big thing I’ve always wanted to do, but things just have never clicked for me in a 5k. I tried two between summer and the marathon and always fell short by 15-20 seconds.

Less than a week after the marathon, a bunch of my running club buds were doing the Jog’r Egg Nogg’r at — where else — White Rock Lake. At the last minute I registered, guessing I’d just stretch my legs a bit, wear my retro jogging outfit, and take it easy. I placed third overall female (chip time) with a 19:32:20. It was a fast course — lots of downhill. I don’t think my legs could have handled an ounce of hill that close to the marathon.

But it felt great to finally break through that barrier.

One last thing. Anyone who ran the marathon in the heat and humidity and wind of Dallas or anywhere else, keep in mind that the weather plays a tremendous role in distance running. These tough races only make us stronger (and fuel our rage for a later day).

Dallas, inspiration, marathon, people with true grit, running, Uncategorized, White Rock, White Rock Marathon

Our buddy, Bob

When I started running with the Dallas Running Club in 2009, it broadened my world. Long distance running made my mind, body and spirit feel better. It has taken me to places I might never have seen — the streets of Oklahoma City, San Diego, New York, Philly, Boston and the hidden pockets of my own city.

But far more impressively, it has brought a whole new world of people, friends, into my life.

I met Bob Philpot during my second season. We trained together for the Oklahoma City Marathon. Bob was a steady source of entertainment and companionship.

While many of us bitched about the weather or our injuries and pains, I never heard Bob say a negative word. He had what seemed like an eternal smile on his face. The marathon at the end of that season was bad — hot temperatures, gale-force wind.

Everyone in our group was trained for a three hour forty minute marathon, but it took most of us more than four hours to finish. We rode a bus home together; I was totally devastated. I felt like my athletic dreams, my chance for qualifying to run Boston, had been squashed. Bob, having years of experience on his side, knew better. As we rode the bus home and I pouted, Bob joked and laughed and those of us around him couldn’t help but lighten up too.

I did get faster, and as did many of us in that training group, moved on.

Bob, who was pushing 60, became a pace leader for the Dallas Running Club training program and continued trying to qualify for Boston.

There was hardly anyone in the Dallas running community who had come up through the DRC who didn’t know Bob.

Last year, he finally reached his goal. He booked a room. He was headed to the Boston Marathon in the spring. But then he got sick.

When I heard Bob had cancer, I wanted badly to ignore it. I wanted to believe that it wasn’t a big deal. That he would get some treatment and come back and we would celebrate with a BBQ or a night at the bar. I honestly, purposely, selfishly, didn’t think much more about it.

I was running a few months ago with Chris Stratton, White Rock Running Co-op founder and also the leader of that 2010 DRC Oklahoma Marathon pace group. He had mentioned weeks before that Bob was not well. I asked Chris that day how his friend Bob was. He gave me a strange look. My friend? He’s your friend too, Chris said. That’s weird. Chris never has hesitated to let me know I have said something stupid. Looking back, I think I subconsciously distanced myself out of fear of emotional pain. Fear can make us act like jerks and I am obviously not immune. Tough realization.

Yep, Bob was my friend. And I listened as Chris told me how hard it was seeing him this way.  It takes a brave person to keep close to his heart someone who is dying.

Fortunately, Chris wouldn’t let me or any of us forget Bob. Through the Dallas Running Club and White Rock Running Co-op, respectively, Chris Stratton and Vishal Patel, among others, kept us posted on Bob’s condition. They hosted a fundraiser to collect money to help his family with medical expenses. Bob’s running buddies contributed thousands of dollars.

The last time I saw Bob, he was volunteering at a race. I walked right by him, looked at him, grinned impersonally and started to turn away when his familiar voice yelled, Christina!

Bob! I didn’t recognize him. He was skinny and his cheeks were sunken and he had no hair. But as soon as he spoke, and smiled, he was familiar Bob again. We laughed about old times and joked about the use of medical marijuana and soon other members from that old group such as Danny Hardeman, Chris and Vishal had gathered around. It was a sunny and warm and a beautiful day for running at our lake. Bob seemed happy just to be there.

Bob died on Thanksgiving. At his funeral today, his daughter spoke of how much her dad loved running, how young runners admitted to her that it ate ’em up that this old timer could keep up with them, and how they said there was no word to describe Bob,  but that if you had to pick one, it would be Honorable.

His brother-in-law told us how, in his younger years, Bob was stressed with life and work and took up golf.  How Bob was so terrible at golf that his companions suggested he take up jogging.

So Bob started running marathons.

“A week ago,” said Bob’s brother-in-law, “I asked Bob, if he could have one more good day, how would he spend it?”

Bob told him he would put on his running shoes, grab his wife Elaine, and go for a run around White Rock Lake.

When I picked my daughter up from school today, I told her about the service and about how Bob wished for one more chance to run. She remained silent for a minute, which is eerie for this teenager, and then she said that I should dedicate my marathon to him.

I said I would and smiled. In fact, I don’t think anyone who has run with Bob who runs the Dallas Marathon next week, especially as they take that stretch along our glassy, shimmering, breezy White Rock Lake, will be able to resist remembering  Bob, and running for him.

Bob is second from the left on the top row. This is the 2010 OKC training group, taken at our tune-up race, the Rock To Victory Half Marathon.
Dallas, marathon, White Rock, White Rock Marathon

Final Dallas Marathon course changes announced

Originally published on

An update to the East Dallas Advocate‘s July story about changes to the White Rock Marathon (most notedly, it’s not the White Rock Marathon, but the Dallas Marathon now):

Last May, the Dallas Marathon organizers and board released a tentative course map, included in our story, but today they announced a few more changes.

Said changes address concerns of marathon runners as well as concerns from city departments and the community regarding traffic and safety, according to today’s news release.

Landmarks such as the Margaret Hunt Hill Bridge, Klyde Warren Park and Texas Scottish Rite Hospital remain on the course. The originally proposed long stretch of running up Mockingbird Lane, which brought about many complaints from runners, will now be edited, and the course will instead cross over 75 via McCommas and Ellsworth on the way to White Rock Lake, “providing runners with scenic neighborhood views,” according to the news release.

There are also changes to the proposed half marathon course.

A greater section will traverse Cedar Springs along Turtle Creek, leading to Armstrong, and the half marathon will return south via Cedar Springs and pass by Klyde Warren Park near the finish.

“After diligently working with DART, the Dallas Police Department, the Dallas Park and Recreation Department, the Dallas Convention and Visitors Bureau, Dallas City Hall and the mayor, we feel we can guarantee that our race will provide a safe and enhanced experience for all marathon runners and spectators,” says Dallas Marathon Executive Director Marcus Grunewald. “The 2012 course will still offer a flat, fast race with ample entertainment.”

The Dallas Marathon will be held Sunday, Dec. 9. Registration fees for the marathon, half marathon and relay events increase Oct. 16. Register at

marathon, racing, running, White Rock, White Rock Marathon

All about the White Rock Marathon Changes

Runners at the 2011 White Rock Marathon. Photo by Benjamin Hager

Originally published in the July East Dallas Advocate magazine. 

How name and route changes affect the former White Rock Marathon, and the marathon’s effect on the city

More than 40 years ago, fewer than 100 people ran the first White Rock Marathon, a 26.2-mile race that circled the lake a couple of times.

Over the years, the marathon has increased in popularity, blossoming into an event that accommodates 22,000 participants, transverses multiple neighborhoods, boosts the Dallas economy nearly $9 million per year and brings in charity funds also in the millions.

Growth doesn’t come without complications, however. From traffic issues to runners’ complaints to resistance to change, those associated with the marathon have seen their share of conflict.

For example, the race’s board of directors in May announced that the event was rebranding and would henceforth be the Dallas Marathon. The name change came on the heels of a location change from Fair Park to Downtown.

Organizers say the evolution is necessary in order to take the race to the next level. A top-tier marathon would be a financial boon to the city, organizers say, but big events bring logistical burdens. And not everyone thinks this historic race needs to evolve.

Reasons for the name change

There is some confusion about marathons in Dallas. commenters frequently mention the many marathons at White Rock and in East Dallas neighborhoods. However, there are only two sanctioned marathons in Dallas each year: the Big D Marathon in the spring and the White Rock Marathon (now Dallas Marathon) in the fall.

There are many other races, such as the Dallas Rock ‘n’ Roll half-marathon (March) and the Dallas Running Club half-marathon (November) and the Hot Chocolate 10k (December), but only two marathons.

Besides mileage, what is the difference? Typically, people will not travel to run a 10k or even a half marathon. In contrast, vacations often are planned around running a destination marathon.

One of the reasons for the name change is to avoid more future “lumping together,” says executive director of the Dallas Marathon Marcus Grunewald.

“From a strategic point, if we don’t use Dallas Marathon, inevitably someone will come along and start the Dallas Marathon. We want to be the destination marathon in Dallas. We own the rights to both Dallas Marathon and White Rock Marathon now, so we will avoid potential confusion there.”

In order to pull off the marathon, Grunewald and his team need the support of many city departments, as well as DART and local churches and businesses. The idea for changing the name came as the group discussed potential course changes with city staffers, says Grunewald, who ran his first marathon at White Rock in 1984, and ran another nine times before an injury kept him from running again. Then he became the race’s director.

“We met with the city manager, and we talked about running the course by city milestones — the Arts District, the Margaret Hunt Hill Bridge — and we got to thinking that this is bigger than White Rock Lake now. In fact, the half marathon doesn’t even see the lake. That’s where the process of changing it to Dallas Marathon started,” he says.

Some are disturbed by the decision to change the name.

“Dallas has no soul,” one Advocate reader writes on about the name change. “It always is trying to be something else, some other city. Always on to the next shiny new thing.”

The name change signals a lack of pride in the marathon, says neighborhood runner David Renfro.

“In order for the marathon to be on the same level as New York, Chicago or Boston, the people of Dallas need to be proud of the marathon and show support for the race. Do you think the day after Boston people are complaining about traffic and not being able to get out of their driveways? No way.

“Here most people don’t even know about the marathon and are surprised when roads close, then they write into the newspaper and try and see what they can do to have the race canceled for next year. People here just don’t get it.”

Renfro, who has run three White Rock Marathons, says he believes the organizers took a step backward with the name change.

“I’m proud of the lake, and ‘Dallas Marathon’ doesn’t have the same feel. It’s not as personal to the city. One less thing to be proud of when it comes to this race.”

Others figure splitting hairs over a name is pointless while we could be arguing over more important things, such as the course. “I don’t think the name change will hurt anything; however, the course I detest,” White Rock Running Co-op member Michael Farrell says. “The long stretch of Mockingbird looks to be horrible. I will run since it is local, but I would not travel to this kind of course.”

The course

Change to the name, logo and course of our city’s oldest and largest running event could impact neighborhood residents as well as runners.

Always 26.2 miles, the marathon course has changed several times since its first run around and around White Rock Lake. It has seen starts at City Hall, Victory Park and Fair Park, and Dec. 9, it will return to a Downtown start. Every time the board makes a change, Grunewald says, it’s to make the race better. The changes have been based on both feedback from runners and requirements of the city, he says.

“The goal is to make this a better, not even necessarily bigger, experience for the runners.”

The city also receives feedback from residents and businesses, and sometimes changes are based on those comments, Grunewald says.

Planning the marathon course is an ordeal. First the board must submit an application to the office of special events. That department works as an umbrella over the other departments.

“Because of our size, police, DART, parks and recreation, traffic … we need approval from practically every city department,” Grunewald says.

The events office alerts each department, and then the marathon staff meets face-to-face with all of the involved departments to answer questions. (That session, for the 2012 race, had not happened at time of publication.)

Usually the official permit doesn’t arrive until weeks or days before the race, he says.

“Inevitably one department will always come up with objection at the last minute,” he says.

Marathon representatives meet with every church affected by the race. Last year, there were 20 along the route, and this year there are more. They also visit every business that is open Sunday mornings and every neighborhood association that might be impacted, Grunewald says.

Wouldn’t it be easier to just leave the course as is?

It would be simpler, he says, but there is still room for improvement.

“We have been aiming to get back to a Downtown start,” he says, adding that the city requested it. “It didn’t work the last two years, but now, with much of the construction wrapped up, it does.”

Will the starting point stay put this time? Hopefully, he says.

“But we don’t know yet what kind of feedback we will get after this race.”

It has been four years since the city manager, Mary Suhm, has met with marathon board members to discuss the event. Grunewald says the group has tried to set up such a meeting, but it wasn’t until this year it happened, perhaps because city officials now appreciate the race as an event that could boost tourism.

“A few years ago, we didn’t have 22,000 runners. We were not where we are now.”

Even if the city has not always fully embraced the marathon over the last four decades, it’s good to have the support now, Grunewald says. In addition to having city resources to put on the event, the city helps promote the marathon by placing Dallas Marathon information in Convention Visitors Bureau tourism materials. This will help promote the marathon nationally and internationally, Grunewald says.

I’m not a runner, so why should I care?

The New York City Marathon last November brought in some $350 million for the city, Mayor Michael Bloomberg told the press. Bloomberg gushes as he talks about the “magic of marathon day — the miles and miles of cheering spectators, the thrill of the race and the inspiring stories of the participants, the incredible hard work of thousands of volunteers who help make everything tick.”

If that’s the reach, Dallas has a long way to go, but New York is a good example of the marathon’s potential as both a moneymaker and a bonding experience for an entire city.

The Dallas Marathon last year boosted overall economic activity in the city by $8.7 million, according to a economic and fiscal study of the 2011 White Rock Marathon by two professors at SMU Cox School of Business. Spending by non-local race entrants and their guests is the most significant factor, according to the report. “When runners come to town for the race, they stay in the city for an average of 1.62 days and often bring companions with them. While in town, they spend money for lodging, meals, transportation, retail and entertainment.”

Additionally, the marathon employed 101 workers, and the city reaped an additional $264,000 in tax receipts. Countywide, the White Rock Marathon surpassed $11 million and supported 120 jobs, both full-time and seasonal.

Important to runners and non-runners alike is the marathon’s annual donation to the Texas Scottish Rite Hospital for children. Earlier this year, the White Rock Marathon presented a check for $1 million to the organization that treats sick children free of charge. Since adopting the hospital as a beneficiary, the marathon has donated $2.8 million. Some say the course and name change are irrelevant when compared to the partnership with the hospital.

“The purpose of the now Dallas Marathon is to raise money for the benefit of the families and sick children of the Scottish Rite,” says Paul Agruso, a White Rock Running Co-op and Dallas Running Club member who plans to run the 2012 Dallas Marathon.

“The marathon is a nonprofit organization that wrote a $1 million check … I think that is something people lose sight of in this whole discussion or disgust generated from the name change. If they think they can raise more money for the Scottish Rite by changing the name, then I am willing to give them the benefit of the doubt to try it.”

In addition, a better race can boost the city’s image, according to the SMU report.

“The race receives wide local and national media coverage. Though impossible to quantify, the value of this publicity is substantial, and it generates a sizeable amount of positive PR for the city and the region.”

Boston, ET Full Moon 1/2 Marathon, inspiration, marathon, Peter Snell, Philly, racing, running, training, White Rock, yoga

2011 running highlights

I had some great experiences in the past year. I meant to post my 2011 gratitude list closer to the new year. I got sidetracked. Better late than never.

January 2011—Went to the 3M Half Marathon with my buddies from the White Rock Running Co-op. It was hot. Someone had told us 3M was all downhill. Now, we should have known that was too good to be true. Oh, and did I mention it was hot (and humid)? Nonetheless, we had a fine time and most of us had a decent performance, despite the day’s unwelcome sauna-ness.

3M Half in Austin, January 2011

February 2011—I’m injured, but I discovered Bikram Yoga, which I wrote about here. Continue reading