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Runner treads length of canal

October 28, 2003|by MARLO BARNHART

marlob@herald-mail.com

It didn't have anything to do with it being the 175th anniversary of the C&O Canal or with the fact he turned 50 this year - running the 185-mile length of the canal was something Pat O'Brien wanted to do for a long time.

"I thought someday I'd like to run the whole thing," said O'Brien, owner of Ben's Flower Shop at 49 S. Potomac St. in Hagerstown.

A six-year veteran of the JFK 50-mile run, O'Brien regularly trains on the towpath in his Washington County "neighborhood."

Setting out at Mile 1 of the towpath in Cumberland, Md., on Oct. 1, O'Brien said he averaged about 30 miles a day running alone. He made it to Mile 185 in Georgetown on Oct. 7 - tired, with two very sore little toes but otherwise a happy man.

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The weather was great except on Oct. 4, when it rained all day. The damage from recent storms also was a handicap as O'Brien ran along the flood-ravaged section of the towpath from Williamsport to McMahon's Mill.

"After awhile, you are so tired it doesn't matter if you are running through puddles or mud anymore," he said. Four miles of the towpath were closed because of damage from Tropical Storm Isabel.

"I may have been running alone, but I had help all along the way," he said. He came home each night after completing that day's leg, had some home cooking and slept in his own bed.

"My wife, Cindy, took care of feeding me," O'Brien said. And his mom, Lucille O'Brien, made his favorite potpie to give him an extra boost.

Each morning, O'Brien was ferried back to where he stopped the day before - often by his sons, Mike, 19, and Ben, 17.

Along the way, O'Brien was supplied with food, water and encouragement from his friend and running buddy, Tom Shantz.

It was Shantz who got O'Brien into running about 10 years ago.

"He was really into it, and so we got together and extended the lengths of our runs," O'Brien said.

They got into organized running, starting with the JFK, which annually runs through Washington County.

"We just recently completed another run in Virginia, which was 54 miles," O'Brien said.

"I just love to run, especially the endurance part of it," he said. But he added that he doesn't just run to be running.

Since he was very young, O'Brien said he has had a love of nature. Running is a natural means to that end and running on the towpath seemed to be a no-brainer - running, exercise and nature all rolled into one.

"Running keeps me fit, both mentally and physically," O'Brien said.

In the florist business for 30 years, O'Brien said he had been traveling around the country when he came back to Hagerstown in the early 1970s and got a job driving a flower truck while he went to college.

He later opened a flower shop on South Potomac Street with his partner, Ben Bostion, and together they grew the business into a successful enterprise that employs nine people.

"I bought Ben out about 10 years ago," O'Brien said, noting that his former partner has since died.

Now that he has the entire C&O Canal under his belt, O'Brien is back to his regular routine of running about 15 miles twice a week. He still runs on the towpath and sometimes at Antietam National Battlefield.

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