The Origin Story: How I Lost My Car Key in Ohio

Every hero has an origin story. OK, I’m not a hero (although one time a kid told me I looked like Peter Parker), but I do have a story about why I take a picture with my car key after every race.

In 2011, I was training for the Thunder Road Half Marathon. The race was in November, and for some crazy reason, I decided to go from couch to 13.1 miles. I started training in early July. I joined a small running group and worked through a 19 week training program.

I have a friend named Dann who was getting married on October 8, and before I started training, he had asked me to be in his wedding. I said yes. His fiancee (now wife) Maggie was from Boardman, Ohio, just outside of Youngstown, and most of her family still lived nearby. Dann’s family, on the other hand, was spread out all over the country, and since most of them were going to have to travel anyway, they decided to at least make it easy on Maggie’s family, and have the wedding in Boardman. It was about a 9 hour drive for me including all the stops along the way.

Now, according to my training plan, I was supposed to run 10 miles the weekend of the wedding. Since I had started from nothing, and had little to no margin for error, I didn’t think it would be a good idea to skip any of my long runs. I also thought it would be a bad idea to try to run 10 miles the morning of the wedding. However, I did plan on driving up on Thursday, so that I’d have time to pick up my tux, relax, and go to the rehearsal and the rehearsal dinner. I decided to go running Friday morning.

I briefly considered doing my 10 miles on a treadmill in the hotel, but I couldn’t imagine being on a treadmill for that long. (The longest I’ve ever run on a treadmill is 8 miles. I only did that once, and if I had gone any longer, I would have lost it and turned into the Hulk, flipping over stationary bikes and elliptical machines.) I did see that there was a park, the appropriately if non-creatively named Boardman Park, just a short drive from the hotel. It was just far enough away (and along a fairly busy street) that I didn’t feel comfortable running from the hotel to the park, so I drove over there. I parked my car, grabbed my phone (I was using an app named Runkeeper to keep track of my distance, pace, and time), my wallet (I know, most people don’t carry their wallet while running, but I try to), and my car key. I left my house key in the glove compartment.

I quickly discovered that Boardman Park is pretty small for a 10 mile run. I did several loops. It was definitely more exciting than a treadmill, but still, even if things hadn’t gone south, I’m not sure I’d recommend going there for a long run. Things were not going well. My pace was slower than usual, I was still pretty tired from the long drive the day before, and I hadn’t really slept all that well in a strange bed. So I already thought it was a pretty crappy run as I finished up the last mile. (And it was. 10.2 miles in 2:27:18, a pace of 14:26/mile. Egads.)

I started walking towards my car. Wallet? Check. Phone? Check. Car key…oh, crap. (A few other four letter words popped into my head, but I’d like to keep this clean.)

I did a quick check near the restroom where I had stopped early in the run, and found nothing. I had made so many loops around the park, mostly running on trails that were already partially covered in fallen leaves, that I realized I had no chance of finding my car key.

500 miles from home, and I’m locked out of my car.

My wallet had a card with the phone number for roadside assistance, so I called for a tow truck (This is where my phone came in handy). I got my car towed to the nearest Volkswagen dealer, which thankfully was really close to the park. The service department looked at it, and apparently, the way my car was set up, they couldn’t make a new key without an old key. Luckily for me, I had a friend with a key to my house, and I knew exactly where I kept my spare car key. Another frantic phone call, and my friend found the key and sent it FedEx overnight to the dealership. The service department was open Saturday, but only until noon. If they couldn’t get the new key made Saturday morning, I’d be stuck in Boardman until Monday.

I rented a car (I’ve never been so nervous about losing the keys to a rental car) and drove back to the hotel to clean up. (I’m sure they enjoyed my post-10 mile run scent at the dealership and the rental car office.) I drove over to pick up my tuxedo. I got to the store around 3. Dann had asked us to try to get there before 2, just in case there were any problems they would have time to fix them. So I was late, but I had a good excuse. Luckily, there were no problems with my tux. I’d also like to point out that I was not the last member of the bridal party to pick up his tux.

The rehearsal and rehearsal dinner were fairly uneventful, outside of the fact that I had to tell my story (up to that point) several times. I was once in a wedding where the groom gave his groomsmen an engraved key chain. I’m very thankful that Dann chose other gifts.

The next day, I got up and, since I had my laptop, went to the FedEx website to track my package. I waited for what seemed like forever, refreshing the page as many times as possible, but somehow managed to not crash the website. Around 9:30, I saw that the package arrived at the dealer. I immediately called the dealer to verify, and they said yes, they got it, and they could get the new key made before noon. I returned my rental car, and walked over to the dealer to wait. I knew that I needed to be in the hotel lobby by 12:15 ready to go to the church. I was still wearing normal clothes, just to add some extra pressure on myself. More waiting. It was after 11. I tried not to pester the guy at the desk too much, but I did check in periodically. Everything seemed to be going OK, but I was still nervous. Finally, around 11:45, it was done, they handed me my brand new (and rather expensive) key, and I drove my car back to the hotel. I got there around 11:55, ran upstairs, got changed into my tux, and got back downstairs at around 12:10. I’d like to point out that I was not the last member of the bridal party to show up in the lobby.

After that, everything went off without a hitch. The ceremony was very nice, and the reception was a blast. It was pretty much what you’d expect from a wedding involving not one, but two Irish Catholic families. (I can say that, I come from an Irish Catholic family too.) Whenever I told my story to someone, I joked that I took all of the bad luck for the weekend so that everything else would go smoothly.

Since then, I’ve been very careful with my car key during my runs. I usually just keep it inside my wallet, which would be much more noticeable if it fell out of my pocket.

After the 2011 Thunder Road Half Marathon, my first race after the incident, I decided to take a picture of me holding my car key.


And a new tradition was born. Ever since then, I’ve taken a picture with my car key every time I finish a race. When I was trying to come up with a name for this site, well, The Key Runner seemed like the obvious choice.

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