Continuing our series on the Wingman run across New Jersey, we caught up with Ray Pinney, the 62-year-old runner who made it from Sussex to Cape May, or about 194 miles, in just over 60 hours!
Ray is from Boonton Township, and is the Director of Member Training & Engagement for the New Jersey School Boards Association.
He had quite the journey in early April, when he and Special Education teacher Anthony Certa set off on an epic run that has only been completed by a few runners before them.
[Ed. note: Check out the documentary Running The 184 for more info on that!]
“I wasn’t worried that it took us a bit longer to finish the run, but I admit, it did take us a lot longer than we thought,” Ray says.
“It all worked out in the end. It was actually fun,” Ray says with a smile. “I went the last 28 hours without sleeping.”
If you’re keeping track of what the timing looked like for this run, that’s nearly all of the bottom half of his journey!
“At one point, I guess we were like 13 miles out, I couldn’t really get my partner Anthony moving. I was like woah, I think he needs to sleep. So we took a 30-minute rest,” Ray says. “It was cold; I don’t know if I dozed off for a minute, but I might have.”
In the hours after the official end to their run, they drove back to the Cape May Lighthouse during the day, and Ray was thrilled to see what it looked like in the daytime!
“It was a great experience. The people along the way in New Jersey, from the top to the bottom, were just amazing,” Ray says. “We had people come out of the woodworks. It was so nice to be part of such a positive thing.”
In these weeks since the run, Ray has been writing all about his experience, and we were thankful that he took some time out to chat with us and share more of his story!
Ray’s been a fan of Cape May beer, although he was surprised to see the size of our Tasting Room when he came down to visit after the run!
When setting up this run, Ray felt like CMBC would be one of the perfect stopping points for their journey, since the finish line took them so close to our brewery.
This certainly wasn’t your average, run-of-the-mill runs or events, either. To kick off this momentous feat, Ray says his first step was convincing Robb and Ian.
“You need a team to do this,” he explains. “You can’t do it by yourself. After that, people just jumped in.”
“It really was inspirational and touching the way people were reacting to us throughout the journey,” Ray tells us. “In a time when everything seems bad, it was nice to be part of something that was positive.”
We couldn’t agree more! Which is why we’re thrilled that we could have been even just a small part of this accomplishment.
“I’m 62, so it’s not like I can sit there and train another ten years and get any faster,” Ray says. “I can’t get faster; I can only go longer, and probably a little slower.”
When Ray started the run on Friday, April 8th, it was about two years to the day that he had COVID, which took him out from running for about a month and a half.
“My motivation when I recovered that year was to do an ultra marathon to get myself back in shape,” he says. “I ran one that August, then signed up for a 100-mile race.”
[Ed. note: Casual! The man’s a beast, and it’s not like he’s trained his whole life either—Ray got started in more hardcore running once he turned 50!]
“As you get older, people tend to get more sedate, and you should probably do the opposite. So I wanted to prove to people that just because you’re in your 60’s doesn’t mean you can’t do things,” Ray says.
“We tend to put things off and we tend to regret the things that we don’t do,” he notes. “Sure, I’ve done things I didn’t want to do, but more often than not, it’s about something I didn’t follow through on that might have made a difference. Maybe you didn’t travel somewhere. Maybe you didn’t apply for a certain job, or go back to school—whatever it is.”
Ray is proof that, when you set your mind to something, you can accomplish incredible things.
Thankfully, he didn’t have to do the journey alone, either. Anthony Certa, former Marine turned Special Education teacher, was eager to run alongside him, and a number of others joined them for brief or long running stints along the way, including David and Kevin.
When David appeared, it was about 3:30AM, and Ray and Anthony were steadily running.
“I see this car pull off on the opposite side of the road, because it was going south and I was going south on the northbound side against traffic,” Ray says.
“This guy comes out and says, hey Ray!” Ray chuckles before continuing. “I think, who do I know in Burlington County at 3AM who would come join us?”
“Turns out, it was Dave. We had done a race together last October and that’s the only time I ever met him, besides staying in contact on Facebook,” Ray says.
“He lives by me, so he had to have driven two hours in the middle of the night to come find me,” Ray shares. “He said he’d run with us in the morning, because he figured that would be the hard part, and then he decided to stay.”
“David went to the very end. He took a break for about 13 miles, but outside of that, he stayed,” Ray says.
[Ed. note: That’s one hell of a way to finish your weekend!]
“Later on, we’re in Upper Township, and we’re at some takeout place that people can drive into. They said, oh your friend Kevin is joining us at the next stop.” Ray pauses and smiles. “I go, who’s Kevin?”
Ray goes through his Facebook to jog his memory, before realizing that Kevin is someone he added as a friend only the week before.
“It all worked out really well. Those stories of people showing up for us happened over and over again. Every time a person showed up, whether they were for me or for Anthony, it lifted our spirits. I couldn’t believe it was happening,” he says.
Of course, the team also ran into a few challenges as well.
“One of the things that I was surprised about was that the weather kept getting worse as we moved further south. We were hoping that it would get warmer,” Ray notes.
Unfortunately, Ray and the team did get caught in some of that bad weather during their trek.
“It did rain on us a few times,” Ray says. “It was a little cold. You’d stop and all of a sudden you’d get cold and it would take about a mile to warm up again.”
The biggest challenge of their run, however, was a strip of marshy area around Mays Landing.
“We’ve been on dirt roads before, because we were taking a walking route, but in one section, we got towards the end and there’s a junkyard,” Ray says.
“This big guy comes out, and all the signs say do not enter. He has an eyepatch on and I thought, oh, he’s going to be mad at us,” Ray says.
They explained their dilemma, and the man, Isaiah Hicks, surprised them both.
“He’s like, GPS doesn’t work around here. We asked if there was a path to the other side, and he said, well, you have to cross this marsh. We were looking at it, and Dave gets a call from Ian to let us know that there’s not even a road on the other side that we could get to,” Ray says.
Thankfully, Isaiah graciously took the men in his truck and gave them a ride back to their original path.
“He was so nice. We were both desperate at that point,” Ray shares.
The timing couldn’t have been better, either.
Two of the board members Ray works with from Atlantic County had been following their route, and noticed that the area they planned to run through wasn’t a passable road. They reached out to Ian right away to let the team know.
“Otherwise, we would have been bushwacking for who knows how long,” Ray says with a smile.
“This experience renewed my faith in mankind,” Ray says.
Because of his role with the school board, Ray is pretty well-versed in Jersey. Of the route that he ran, he estimates that he has driven at least 75% of it.
“It was a totally different feeling doing it on foot,” he shares. “You could take in so much more of not just the sights, but all of your senses. The route took us away from highways to trails or through developments that were safer to run through.”
New Jersey is a relatively small state (maybe not when you’re running it, as Ray knows all too well!), but what struck him on this trek was the diversity of the state.
“Sussex County was so different from Cape May,” he says. “Both were beautiful but in different ways. Anthony and I both felt that we experienced a different New Jersey.”
Ray would love to go back and run some of the routes he took in the dark during the daytime as well, just to see what they looked like.
Once Ray crossed the finish line by making it to the lighthouse, he took a few days off and was back at it running again the Saturday after his journey.
“I usually run around 8 miles. When I was training, I would run twice a day. I would run eight to ten miles, and then do some quick runs on the treadmill, sometimes before a meeting because I was working from home,” he shares.
Running multiple times a day helped get his body prepared for running as much as he did over the 60-hour period that weekend, which was about six or eight miles at a time with brief breaks in between.
We don’t know about you, but hearing Ray and the team’s story has made us eager to get out and run ourselves! Maybe not across New Jersey, (we’ll leave that to the pros), but around the neighborhood or to the beach doesn’t seem too bad!
We asked Ray to share some tips with us, in case anyone else is also inspired! Check out what he had to say:
1. What was the most helpful part of preparing for the run?
There were three things.
1. Running a lot. I would often run twice a day—a long run in the morning before work and a short one after work or on the treadmill in the evening. I also ran long distances on weekends.
2. Run in all types of weather. I ran in snow, rain and single digits. This does two things: it gets you used to being uncomfortable, because I knew that there would be a good chance of rain and bad weather (which there was), and it also gives you the opportunity to see what gear and clothing works best.
3. Scout out the route first. I drove most of the route and took notes of difficult intersections. I did not do the entire route, which led to the one spot that almost derailed our journey. This is difficult because driving and walking directions do not always match up. You are always instructed to run against traffic, so if you’re heading south, you’ll be in the northbound lane.
2. For those looking to pick up running, do you have any advice or suggestions to share?
It is never too late to start. I did not take up running until I was 50 years old. I started slow with just a few miles in the beginning, even walking at times, especially on the hills. I did invest in a good pair of running shoes. After a while, I was able to add on mileage a little bit at a time until I was very comfortable doing seven miles at a clip. I also always carry water to stay hydrated.
I do think that the biggest obstacle is finding the time to run. Some days, because of work or family obligations, you may not have the time for a regular run, but a short run is better than no run. I now schedule my day around my run. Which means getting up early. I believe sometimes the two hardest steps are getting out of bed and going out the front door. Focus on taking that first step.
Lastly, sign up for a race—any race. A 5k, 10k or half marathon. It will give you a reason to train and run. In fact, my first few years, I kept signing up for races so I had to keep running. Be forewarned—many of us become addicted to race bling such as t-shirts and finisher medals.
There you have it! There are runs in nearly every area, regardless of where you call home! Some of them even wind up at breweries too, just saying…
If you’d like to help support The Wingman Movement or Dylan’s Wings of Change, click here to visit their website, or click here to donate and support crucial programs for our region’s schools! If you find yourself motivated by this story, go for a run or sign up for a run and share a photo of your post-run victory beer with us on social media @capemaybrewco on Instagram or @CapeMayBrewCo on Facebook!