Good shoes and good friends are key for marathon runners
For five Delmarva runners preparing for the Marine Corps Marathon, age is just a number, especially compared to the 26.2 miles they’ll run with 30,000 other people on Sunday, Oct. 28.
“It’s all progressive. Anybody could do it,” said Bob Dickerson of Selbyville. “No matter what age, you just start off slow.”
Their core group includes friends who have exercised together for decades: Dickerson, who is the Selbyville town administrator; Jeff Hilovsky, a Sussex Eye Center optometrist; Joel Schiller, a bank senior vice president in Wilmington, Del.; his wife, Stacey Schiller, a marketing consultant originally from Laurel, Del.; and Milt Warren, a Motorola dealer in Ocean City, Md.
Warren and Dickerson are in their mid-60s, while Hilovsky and Joel Schiller are in their mid-50s and Stacey Schiller is in her mid-30s.
“We just talk and cut up the whole time,” said Hilovsky. “We tease each other a little bit, but it’s all a lot of fun. It’s good friends getting together and having fun.”
All of them are active athletes, regularly biking and running shorter races. Several participated in first Make-A-Wish Triathlons in Sea Colony, 28 years ago.
Today, the Marine Corps Marathon is one of the biggest in the world, considered a huge test of endurance, and in January, these five runners made a serious effort to collectively check the marathon off their bucket lists.
Sunday mornings for 10 months, at 6 a.m., the group always met at a new location. In the dawn light, when most people are just waking, the runners became their own tour guides.
They ran from Indian River Inlet to Rehoboth Beach, from Sea Colony to Fenwick Island, and from the Route 54 Maryland-Delaware border to the Ocean City Inlet. They were among the first people to cross the new Indian River Inlet Bridge, before it officially opened to traffic.
“When you’re running for four hours, you’re getting a lot of mileage in,” said Joel Schiller. “It’s a scenic tour of Sussex County.”
Likening the preparation to that for climbing a mountain, the group took small steps to train. In January, a long run was just one hour. Each month, they added 15 minutes to their goal. Today, 20 miles in four hours isn’t as scary anymore. It just took a while to get there.
“All we did this summer was prepare to run, run and recover from running,” said Stacey Schiller of the group.
Joel Schiller guided the group through training, which included exercise, swimming and cycling throughout the week. He is the only member with full marathon experience, including the Boston Marathon.
From bicycle crashes and uncomfortable shoes to hot weather and sore legs (“I had shin splints so bad at first, I could barely walk!” said Dickerson), the runners have overcome many challenges. Having survived months of intense training, the last challenge is perhaps the most obvious: crossing the finish line.
“A marathon is two races, the first 20 miles and last the last 10K — 6.2 miles,” said Joel Schiller. “The effort that you put in for the last 6 is greater than the effort that you put in for the first.”
“For me it’s the mental thing,” said Stacey Schiller, who regularly runs half-marathons. “I’m used to running 13 miles. There’s a big difference between 13 and 26. And as your body gets tired, your mind gets tired. Just sort of being able to keep going and know that you can make it — that’s been the toughest part for me… the mental drudgery of it.”
Warren compared the intense journey to his experience on the Appalachian Trail: “Just one more step,” he reminded himself. He has some extra stimulation though. Warren learned to download music for a running soundtrack.
“It’s a social thing,” said Dickerson. “I can’t imagine doing this by myself. Waking up at 4 and being out there at 5, I can’t imagine. How boring would that be? You’re less likely to walk if someone is running next to you.”
The five have nicknamed themselves the “Waves of Fury.” While swimming laps once, they laughed at the waves they created in the pool, like a bunch of orcas. Thus, the Waves of Fury continue to sweep Delmarva sports.
Running is such good exercise — especially for older people — because, “It’s rhythmic,” Dickerson said. “We move at our own pace. … You don’t tend to hurt yourself unless you fall and hurt yourself, like I did.”
“It’s really different for me because, in high school, I did high jump, sprints, 100-yard dash, played halfback and running back in football — everything was fast-twitch muscles,” said Warren. “This was a lot different for me. It’s the most stupid thing we’ve ever done in our entire lives,” he joked, to much laughter from his compatriots.
“You’re always sore from something,” Dickerson said. “You might as well be sore from lifting weights or bicycling or stuff like that, instead of just getting old.”
With 33,000 runners, the Marine Corps Marathon sold out in March, in less than three hours. For the local runners, though, there’s a genuine connection to the event. Hilovsky is a retired Air Force colonel, and Warren is a former Marine who will run in memory of several other Marines.
Stacey Schiller said she registered by accident. Because the Web site registration is so intense, she feared one of the guys wouldn’t get in, so she reserved an extra spot, just in case.
“Wouldn’t you know — each one of us gets in, and I’m stuck!” she said with a laugh.
“‘It’s the most stupid thing,’” Hilovsky recalled his wife saying many months ago, “and now she says, ‘You know what? I’m proud of you for doing this,’ and I’m saying, ‘This is the most stupid thing!’”
Hilovsky’s 26-year-old daughter, Katie, of Savannah, Ga., has also trained on her own, once even joining the group in Delaware. She’ll take a break from her medical job to join the Waves of Fury at the D.C. starting line.
The Waves ran their final long distance practice, a full 20 miles, several weeks ago. They planned to rest and recover for the last week before the marathon, before getting energized at the starting line in Washington, when they’ll challenge their own physical limits, together as friends.