Fueled by biscuits, waffles and hot dogs, Cary’s Dave Cockman plowed through North Carolina this month on a pair of legs that carried him more than 600 miles in two weeks on a quest to run from the Tennessee border at Murphy to the Atlantic Ocean at Nags Head.
Cockman, 57, started his journey in Murphy at 7 a.m. on April 4, and on Saturday he took his victory lap on Jennette’s Pier at 7:28 p.m.
When he finished at the end of the pier overlooking the sea, Cockman checked the GPS strapped on his wrist and announced he had covered 664.44 miles in 14 days, 11 hours and 28 minutes.
“This was the greatest 14-day adventure I have ever had,” he said to a dozen friends, family and well-wishers who were in Nags Head to run the Flying Pirate Half Marathon and had gathered at the pier to greet him at the finish.
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“I cannot be more excited to be standing here on Jennette’s Pier,” he said. “I have run as far east as I can go, after starting out in the far western part of the state.”
By the time he was through, he hoped to have raised $7,000 for wounded war veterans and to know just how far he is capable of pushing himself.
Cockman, who has completed more than 40 ultra marathons, became a familiar figure along U.S. 64 during his journey. He ran on busy highways and scenic rural roads day and night, averaging about 50 miles a day at 4 miles per hour. For the final portion of the run on Saturday, he covered 45.75 miles, running from Columbia to Nags Head in 11 hours.
At 5-foot-10 and 167 pounds, Cockman is a durable athlete. Last year, he wrapped up the Grand Slam of Ultra Running, consisting of the Western States 100-Mile Endurance Run, the Vermont 100-Mile Endurance Run, the Leadville Trail 100-Mile Run and the Wasatch Front 100-Mile Endurance run all in the same year.
In 2013, Cockman ran the Tuna Relay, which consists of teams taking turns running to cover 200 miles from Garner to Atlantic Beach. He ran all 200 miles by himself.
Two years ago, he cooked up his most audacious goal yet – to run across North Carolina in a single, continuous ultra marathon.
He is raising money to benefit the Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund, a 15-year-old nonprofit organization benefiting wounded war veterans and their families. In 2010, the organization completed a 72,000-square-foot medical facility on the Navy campus in Bethesda, Md., to treat veterans with traumatic brain injuries and has since launched a campaign to build nine satellite centers at military bases across the country. Two of these facilities, called Intrepid Spirit Centers, are in North Carolina – one at Camp Lejeune and the other at Fort Bragg.
The money Cockman is raising will help pay for the Intrepid Spirit Center at Fort Carson, Colo., said David Winters, president of the Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund.
“I am amazed at what he is doing,” Winters said in a telephone interview. A few people have raised money for us through physical activities, but to do what Dave is doing, roughly two marathons a day for two weeks, boggles the mind.”
Cockman, ran his race mostly alone, carrying what he needed in a small backpack – a few clothing items and supplies such as sunscreen and toiletries and a small amount of cash and credit cards for his daily expenses. Two small American flags attached to his pack fluttered in the breeze as he ran.
Along the way, strangers have stopped to greet him and give him money. By the time he approached Raleigh, he had collected nearly $1,000 in cash and turned it over to friends for safe keeping.
“The high point of my trip so far is the people I have met,” he said. “They are treating me like a rock star. People are even asking me for my autograph.”
In Murphy, the fire department escorted him for 20 miles, and in Hayesville and Lake Lure, he had a police escort.
The low points come during the darkness of night when he runs along the highway alone, heading for his next rest stop.
“I don’t like to run at night. It’s very dangerous,” he said.
Even though he wears a reflective vest, flashers and a head lamp, he can’t be too careful. He runs facing traffic and often sees vehicles coming right at him.
“I can tell people are looking at me and they sometimes drift toward me,” he said. “I get very scared. There are lots of big semis out there, and late at night when I am very tired, I have to fight to keep my wits about me.”
Ron Wahula, City of Oaks Marathon race director and director of the Raleigh Galloway marathon program, complimented Cockman from his booth at the Rock n Roll Marathon Expo last weekend.
“What Dave is doing is amazingly difficult. To be out on the roads unsupported and alone,” Wahula said. “This is the farthest he’s ever run before, and he’s pushing himself into unknown territory.”
Tracking his progress
Cockman is a senior systems engineer with Itron, a company that makes utility meters. He uses vacation time for his running. His company also offers 32 hours a year for employees to use toward charitable causes, and he’s tapped into those hours for his cross-state run.
Cockman’s intensity in the workplace matches his zeal for running, said his boss, Randy Owen.
“It has been a lot of fun for our department to live vicariously through Dave’s exploits,” Owen said. “We have been impressed and motivated by his dedication to reach his goals while at the same time being an exemplary employee in the office.”
Cockman doesn’t know exactly how much weight has melted off his 167-pound frame, but he estimates he’s at least 15 pounds lighter than he was when he started his run.
Hot dog stop
Near Apex last week, several of Cockman’s running buddies joined him for a few miles. They dropped into Local Bar, a tiny watering hole alongside the highway, where Cockman caught up with friends and a co-worker who stopped by hoping to see him. Another friend showed up with a cooler full of hotdogs. Cockman sat for a spell, resting his legs as he washed down a couple of hot dogs with a cold beer before getting up and continuing on his way toward Raleigh, his overnight stop.
Along the way, friends joined him, first one then two, and he collected runners as he cruised up Chatham Street through Cary, and onto Hillsborough Street in Raleigh, where he and his team, now up to nine, stopped at Snoopy’s. He ate three more hot dogs, drank a cup of sweet tea and signed his autograph for the servers.
It was almost midnight when the group headed to the Holiday Inn, where Cockman would rest for the night.
On Tuesday morning, two dozen runners mingled with the early-morning business crowd at Big Ed’s in City Market to have breakfast with Cockman before sending him off to complete his final 200 miles.
Then with a new team of companions to keep him company for a few blocks, he set off on New Bern Avenue toward Rocky Mount, pressing onward toward the sea.