Wednesday, April 16, 2014

The Bull Run Run 50 Mile: My Day as a Battlefield Casualty

“Thanks, man, I really appreciate it, but I’m sorry to be messing up your time.” “No, not at all. Not a problem.” I had come across this distressed comrade sitting on a log when I had about five miles to go in the Bull Run Run 50 Mile race on April 12, and went over to see how I could help. He said he had stopped to retie his shoes and then got such bad leg cramps he couldn’t bend over to reach one of his shoes, or even to get up. So I tied his shoe and then offered him a hand to pull him up. He looked much relieved, so off I went. It kind of made my day to be able to help somebody out, and I chuckled silently over the fact that I had no finishing time to mess up. You see, I had screwed up the turns at the Do Loop aid station several miles back, causing me to cut three miles off the course and, when I realized what had happened I turned in my number at the next station as a DQ – not eligible for a finishing time. I proceeded on with a very long and grueling “fun run” that wouldn’t count for anything but for training value and proof to myself that maybe I could do this some time.
Photo by the author, race shirt backside
This race has been on my to-do list for years. I have always liked the historical overlay and Civil War theming (pitting North runners against those from the South, logos with buglers and cannons, etc.), and this seems to be one of the big ones in the area that the most avid trail runners seek out. With my main goal this year being to succeed in the Bighorn Mountains 50 miler out in Wyoming in June, this really was one in a line of training races I had planned, with two in the 30-mile range in March (Seneca Creek Greenway, and the HAT), along with this shot at Bull Run in April. For good measure, six days before Bull Run I threw in the Cherry Blossom 10 Mile run on the streets around the Tidal Basin and D.C. monuments. If I didn’t make the Bull Run cutoffs and had to DNF, so be it. It would still count as a training run.
Bob Fabia photo, Pope's Head Creek
On Bull Run day, with friend Ken at the wheel and with friends Mark and Gayatri, we hit the road before 5 a.m. for the 40-minute drive to the race start at Hemlock Overlook Park near Clifton, Va. We arrived in plenty of time for packet pickup, lubing up, and tightening the laces, and the race started promptly at 6:30. The course field of 321 did a loop around the Hemlock area to spread out, then ran down to the trail by Bull Run for an upstream loop for the first 16+ miles. It was a pretty morning, and although recent warm weather wasn’t quite enough to bring out the iconic bluebells in full force this year, they were still a welcome sight. I found that my legs were lacking a little oomph/spring in the step, but I started at a pace I knew I would need to beat the cutoffs later on. A few miles in I could hear someone talking about where he had “puked my guts out” in an earlier race, and I then knew it must be Ken. But why was he behind me? Was I pushing the envelope or was he just holding back during a long warmup? Well, a little of both, and he soon zoomed past me. I eventually returned to Hemlock for a big rest stop, at about the same time as Mark and friends Stephanie and Marshall, which gave me more qualms about going too fast and destined to slow down to a crawl.
Mike Bur photo, Little Rocky Run
And that’s more or less what happened, for pretty much the rest of the race. But I wasn’t the only one slowing down. The day was heating up to 80 degrees and affecting everybody, and I even noticed a few front-runners walking more than I would have expected (but on their way approaching the finish while I was still outbound). Well, I stayed ahead of cutoff-pace on through the White Loop, Fountainhead, and on to the Do Loop. But I think I spent too much time alone and got myself sufficiently confused (or just plain old brain dead with glycogen depletion syndrome) that I didn’t know I hadn’t yet done the Do Loop, but was only on the threshold. Thus, my downfall, as I turned around from the Loop aid station and missed the three-mile loop entirely. In a half mile or so I asked a runner about why was the Do Loop more like an out-and-back than a real “loop,” and as she patiently explained what the sights were on the Loop itself, I overcame my denial and realized that I had missed it entirely. “Oh, crap. Crap. Well, now I guess I’ll be getting in a nice fun run.” “It’s all good,” she replied. (Runners are great folks, aren’t they?) So all these people I was running with in this section, or behind – like Stephanie and Marshall – had actually run three more miles than I had. What an idiot, I told myself. So I ‘fessed up at the return to the Fountainhead aid station, a course marshall dutifully removed the pull tag from my bib, and I officially became unofficial. He offered to get me a ride, but I said I’d rather run it on in, and so I did. Things got warmer and warmer, and I went through numerous refills of my two-liter hydration pack. I eventually came across the poor guy who needed help tying his shoe, and then the delightful oasis of the Marina aid station – only about five miles to go.
James Williams photo, near Hemlock
Less than a mile before reaching Hemlock for the finish I heard Mark’s friendly voice behind me. We proceeded on together for a while along the banks of Bull Run, but he was still moving with a purpose and I was glad that he raced up the long climb back up the bluff to the finish. During my climb I removed my bib and folded it up so no one would be tempted to record me as an official finisher, and I ran my own finish off to the side of the finish chute, a half hour before the 13-hour cutoff (in my abbreviated course). I learned from Mark that Gayatri had stopped at one of the cutoffs and then gotten a ride home, and that Ken had developed his now-regular Bull Run GI distress and had to lie down at the Marina station and would need us to pick him up. Stephanie and Marshall had finished a half hour or so earlier. Neither Mark nor I could reach Ken by cell phone, and just as we were discussing what to do we saw him running in fine form on to the finish line. Wow. And as he drove us home he was in great spirits and showed no signs of someone who had left the action of the battlefield whoofing up all his Gatorade and pbj’s.
It was a long, hot day, and though things were cooling rather pleasantly toward the end of the afternoon, the battlefield casualty rate was significant. 49 runners out of 321 starters, or about 16 percent, had missed the cutoffs, pulled out voluntarily, or DQ’d somehow like me. Many still finished, and that was an impressive feat. That included two 70-year-olds, and two who had finished all 22 races. This was one awesome group of runners. I won’t know exactly what would have happened had I done the Do Loop, although finishing within the official cutoff time would have been very doubtful. That would have required some big-time second- or third-winds, and this wasn’t a day for that. Apart from sore feet and blisters, I had stumbled several times throughout, and fallen twice the first 16 1/2 miles, none of which was a sign of a strong run. Indeed, I was plain old beat, no two ways about it. So will I come back and try again? I don’t know, but I can’t let myself think about that now. I have to recover and get my butt into some serious training before I head to the beautiful Bighorns in June. One challenge at a time.

In closing, let me just say: Go, Boston runners, go!

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Groundhog Day Came Early this Year

The parallel to Groundhog Day was obvious: waking up to an early alarm for four straight mornings to face the same routine over and over again. At the Dopey Challenge in Walt Disney World, I was much like Bill Murray’s character in the movie, with reality and dreaming intermingling as the days went by, sometimes wondering which was which. (But alas, no Andie McDowell.)

Well, okay, it wasn’t exactly like that, but there were a few similarities. From January 9 to 12, I arose hours before sunrise each day to run, in turn, a 5K race, a 10K, a half marathon, and then a full marathon, all on Disney property, in the quest to surpass the traditional Goofy Challenge (completing the half and full marathons on consecutive days) and gain the new Dopey Challenge status with a finish in all four races. Each day this involved early fueling and hydration, putting on the running clothes laid out the night before, with the appropriate bib on the shirt, catching the bus from the resort to the race check-in area, followed by the walk to and the wait in my corral until called to the start line. But I liked it a lot. Running is easier and more fun with the variety of first-rate on-course entertainment, including the Disney characters, bands, DJ music (I still can’t get that Katy Perry song out of my head, or that song from Frozen), and wisecracking race announcers. And each day was unique, just as no two runs are alike in any circumstances.

The 5K (the Pluto) and the 10K (the Minnie) were staged in parking lots much closer to the check-in area. The fields were smaller (with the 6,000 Dopey runners constituting the majority of each), and each was run in the dark and finishing before sunrise. EPCOT is awesome at night when World Showcase is illuminated with bright lights and torches, and we ran through most of that area, as well as, in the 10K, around the Boardwalk in the adjacent resort area. Several characters were available along the way for picture-taking, including the most popular, Dopey, who attracted an insanely long line for pictures. I took plenty of pictures and some videos with my iPod, but avoided standing in the lines. I felt a little chilled at the start of these two races (fighting off a mild bug that was wanting to give me a cold), but with the humidity en route it took no time to heat up and require throwing off layers, even as the sky was spitting out bits of rain. After each race the Dopey runners then headed to a designated queue to get a wrist band as proof of finishing each race, ultimately leading up to the Dopey medal (and the Goofy) on the fourth day, after the marathon.

As runners learn, what you wear at a race tends to make a statement, whether you plan it that way or not. The Disney-themed costumes were everywhere, more than I’ve noticed in other races. Maybe the Dopey theme attracted the biggest fanatics. I also chose my race shirts with some purpose, I suppose. On the 10K, for instance, I wore my shirt from the 2011 Bighorn Mountains race. Wouldn’t you know it, but a guy comes up to me in the pre-race corral wearing the same shirt. (He allowed as how Wyoming is getting a lot of snow this year and that the trails in June might still be pretty wet. Just as they were in 2011.) Then a woman who noticed the shirt came up to me and told me about growing up in Wyoming and having run the Bighorn race, and we chatted a bit more before our corral was called. Maybe the Bighorn races and Dopey races have something in common on some subtle level.

The half-marathon (the Donald) and the full (the Mickey) require a longer walk from the check-in area out to the corrals on EPCOT Center Drive. The wait for the start was substantial, but this year the corrals were smaller and moved more quickly. Each of these races heads north up to Magic Kingdom on another road, World Drive, and then up through Main Street USA, where spectators are allowed in the park without tickets to cheer everyone on. My goal each year is to get a good corral placement and arrive at MK while it’s still a little dark, since it’s very pretty under the lights. (I need a better corral next time.) After MK, the half heads back south, paralleling the route up to MK, giving everyone two chances to see and/or pose with Jack Sparrow and other pirates alongside a mocked up ship, once in the dark and once well after sunrise. The half then heads back for a short run through a corner of EPCOT, past the singing and dancing gospel choir, and on to the finish and back where you had checked in before dawn. The full, of course, is more varied and covers more ground. Going south from MK, it takes a detour inside the Tom Petty NASCAR Speedway, then down for a loop through Animal Kingdom, and, in the last two years, a few miles through the ESPN Wide World of Sports complex (where you had been to the Expo and packet pickup four days earlier). The WWS part includes a stint on the track, and a run inside the ballpark where the Braves have their spring training. Then it’s a couple more miles of highways, with various entertainment, including the Toy Story Army guy (who is glad to count off as you drop down and do pushups), until you get to Hollywood Studios. You hit mile 23 in Hollywood Studios, and even if you’re pretty well cooked by then your mood is likely to improve with the “smell” of the nearby finish line.

That was the case with me. We had our best weather on marathon day and, feeling good and more energetic that day anyway, I was really savoring the last few miles. We proceeded on along the Boardwalk, World Showcase, and again past the gospel choir (how do they keep doing that all weekend?), all along with me pulling out my iPod taking pictures and videos of characters and even the cheering crowd (finding out, however, that shooting videos while in motion requires practice). I further savored the party atmosphere of the finish area, and especially the pint of local brew that aid in post-race hydration. (For the beer tent purchase, I was thankful that I wore the new “Magic Band,” which serves as your room key and credit card, and other things Disney World, all in one.) Speaking of savoring, I topped off the day with our traditional dinner buffet with friends Santa Steve, Joyce, and Kc, at the Boma restaurant at Animal Kingdom Lodge. I will say that is worth waiting and saving your appetite for.

So how did I like the experience, and would I do it again? Affirmative. I might do some things differently next time. I really should get more sleep, and maybe spend a little less time roaming the theme parks after the races. But I am fully open to another go at it, should that work out. This four-day venture included my fifth Disney marathon and fourth Goofy, and I think I still have more in me. I’m running marathons and ultras anyway, so getting in the training to make it relatively comfortable is not a big factor. Doing these races, particularly in the laid-back atmosphere of WDW, proved to be more doable than expected – just as Jeff Galloway was telling us in pre-race pep talks -- and I was able to run slight course bests in both the marathon and Goofy components (to the extent a personal best at WDW really matters).

There’s a huge diversity of running talent in these races. The overall Dopey champion, Mike Wardian (from nearby Arlington, VA), who surely ran all four races with a clear purpose and a focus, mentioned in a recent podcast interview how much fun he has racing at Disney, with all its bells-and-whistles entertainment. This is an elite runner, who trains very hard and races very fast, race after race. But you could hear in his voice how much fun he has with the sport. There’s room for everybody in these Disney races, the fast and the not-so-fast. So long as you’re willing to have fun.

My flickr pix from Dopey weekend:

Monday, December 31, 2012

Happy New Year!

Most of us collect some kind of mementos over the year, and for many runners it is a handful of medals picked up at finish lines of various races. Few of us collect winners’ medals, but everyone who finishes gets one of these at many of the bigger races. They’re really not worth much to anyone except for what they may represent to you the runner. If you’ve done a longer race like a half- or full marathon or ultra, you remember a lot – the weather, the crowds (if any), what other runners wore, and how you felt at the finish line (or the next day). You also may remember a lot of the training, with its good and bad days, and the good times with your running pals. Perusing one’s race medals can call all this to mind. Whatever your mementos may be for 2012, may they guide you to a bigger, better, and happier 2013!

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Surfing to Disney

"Ocian in view! O! the joy." - William Clark, Nov. 7, 1805

For those who know the story, Lewis and Clark hadn’t yet really seen the ocean when Clark wrote that line, and they were experiencing a lot of more cold and rain, and misery in general, than any joy. My Labor Day Marathon along Huntington Beach (Surf City), Calif., was mostly the opposite. It was warm, comfortable, with great views of the actual Pacific Ocean and its thriving beaches the entire course. It was my first race in the Charlie Alewine Racing (CAR) program, a series of low-key, limited enrollment races (i.e., up to about 25 runners each) from the 5K level up to 100 milers staged mainly in the southern California area, a natural attraction to Marathon Maniacs and other runners alike.

I planned this trip initially around a bucket list idea to run the Disneyland Half Marathon, an interest which grew out of the fun I’ve had running at Disney World in Florida, including its marathons and the Goofy Challenge, which begins with a half marathon on one day, followed by the full marathon the next. I have come to see the Goofy as the “only way to go” at Disney World, since it gives the maximum chance to explore the full length of the resort, with the maximum exposure to the “magic” that the 10-year-old in me still enjoys (forgetting for the moment that I just turned 60). So when the flights and frequent flier mile options came into alignment, I set up my own Goofy challenge with the Disney Half, Anaheim version, coupled with the 26.2 miles up and down (and up and down) Huntington Beach’s paved bike path the next day. (This race is not to be confused with the Surf City USA Marathon in February, a more traditional marathon fare in the same beach area. And I could still come away with multiple items of schwag, including two shirts and three medals (with Disney’s nice Coast-to-Coast bonus medal for running both Disney resorts in one calendar year).
The Disneyland Half and the CAR race are about as different from each other as they can be – truly separate Bizarro worlds from each other. Disney is, of course, a big race with a big expo and a lot of glitter and costumes. It features dressed-up characters during your run through Disneyland itself, right after running through the adjacent California Adventure Park, recently dressed up with a billion-dollar improvement to include the new Cars Land section and a remaking of the old Buena Vista Street that Disney himself saw when he arrived in California in the 20’s. The parks are started up good and early for your 6 a.m. race start, with theme music playing through the different sections, a water-and-light show running in Paradise Pier (it looks much better at night), and the 50’s do-wop music and neon lights greeting you in Cars Land. Then it’s on to the streets of Anaheim, with high school bands, mariachi dancers, Hawaiian singers, and a unique touch with dozens of re-configured antique cars and not-so-antique Mustangs and Corvettes parked along the course courtesy of the local car clubs. A run through the Anaheim Angels stadium was another high point, a couple miles before heading back to the finish in the Disneyland Hotel parking lots. The cold towel with the temperature activated by adding water was a nice touch, and I particularly liked getting the two medals at the end – which I really couldn’t wear again because they are so clunky – kind of like the Goofy medals in Florida. And, unlike in Florida, I was able to walk the few short blocks between the start and finish lines and my neighborhood hotel, and when ready, I could walk back to dine at Downtown Disney, or head to the parks. No shuttle buses or monorails needed.

The CAR race the next day, of course, was quiet, run mostly alone, and serene for the most part. You meet in the lot behind the Jack-in-the-Box and embark on a 6.55 mile route along a paved bike path, with an aid station at about mile 4, followed by a dedicated dog beach, all of which I covered four times during the marathon distance. No crowds cheering, no one dressed as Princess Jasmine (she was fast) or Tarzan (not so much) as in the previous day, although one denizen of the beach noticed my singlet and shouted out “Go Maniac.”

I will say that the beach started getting crowded the last two legs, as Labor Day picnicers replaced the earlier morning’s laid-back surfers and the bike path became more and more a challenge of navigating the foot traffic, just as the sun bore down without mercy on my partially sunblocked shoulders. And I would add that the beach parking lots were full of RV’s and tailgaters, and the smoke of barbecues became pretty much an unavoidable presence. The race had several Maniacs, including Yolanda and Larry, out to break their Guinness record of numbers of marathons, and Mad Hatter Fancy Pants Ed, who graciously offered to run me in the last mile, while he was putting in his 50-mile day (on top of the 100-miler Run-de-Vous a couple weeks previously, and however many of the quadzilla of CAR races that weekend).

It was a fun, interesting, and very busy Labor Day weekend. My race times (about 2:23 and 5:14) were a slight improvement over my Goofy totals at Disney World. More importantly, getting back to Disneyland was a great dose of some real nostalgia for me, having visited there once as a little kid with my family and a couple times in college with my brother.
I was glad to be able to share the trip with my son. And I’m happy to report that Disneyland takes no back seat to the mammoth resort the Disney company built in Florida, and the race was about as perfectly done as you could hope. Yes, the trip was very tiring, and the lessons learned about the logistics of the trip would be put to good use next time. I really wouldn’t hesitate to go back and do either race again, time and money allowing -- perhaps a different CAR race, and perhaps the 10th Disneyland anniversary race coming up in three years. I also hear that the big Surf City Marathon in February is a real blast, with miniature surfboards as finisher’s medals to boot.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

My Top Ten Reasons for Running to Ruthenium

(or, how I learned to stop worrying and love the balm)

If you know of the Marathon Maniacs club and the various levels of ranking in the club, from one to ten stars, you may know of my interest in reaching the five-star, or “ruthenium,” level, which can be met by running marathons in three different states within a period of ten days. If you don’t know all this, chances are you don’t really give a crap anyway, but thanks for reading this far. I hope you will somehow enjoy this odd tale of how I set out to reach the level symbolized by this little-known and “rare transition metal belonging to the platinum group of the periodic table.” (See Wikipedia entry.)
The ideal opportunity presented itself this month, with the availability of three marathons within driving distance of my home: the Lower Potomac River Marathon in Piney Point, MD (March 11), the Rock ‘n Roll USA Marathon in DC (March 17), and the Yuengling Shamrock Marathon in Virginia Beach, VA (March 18). And why would one want to do this?

Reason No. 10: Because it’s there. There’s no requirement to have to fly all over the country to do these things, and when the stars properly align and simplify the logistics, you might as well go for it.

Reason No. 9: It’s my anniversary. Yes, I ran my first marathon 10 years ago this month (in one of the rare marathons run within the boundaries of DC), and it was time for a new challenge. Ok, that really had nothing to do with this whole thing, but it did turn out to be nice timing.

Reason No. 8: A chance to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day all weekend. If you were from Butte, Montana, or New York I suppose, you’d understand this perfectly. What it meant for running purposes, is that on March 17, the real St. Patrick’s Day, nearly everybody at the race was wearing green running shirts of some sort, adorned with the appropriate hats, tutus, socks, makeup, leprechaun beards, etc. And on March 18, in the official “Shamrock” race at Virginia Beach, everybody did it all over again, creating for me an International Date Line for St. Patrick’s Day. I must say people in both races looked pretty good. My contribution was to wear my Bighorn Mountain shirt, a sort-of lime green festive color.

Reason No. 7: No apologies needed for being slow. People will forgive you if you just complete the damn thing. In fact, my running friends were very supportive and e-mailed and tweeted me along the way with advice and encouragement. One of them, An, even showed up on his bike and rode with me along the Anacostia River and made sure I stayed relatively coherent. Of course, the pressure of being in the e-spotlight also added an element of performance anxiety, but probably all for the good.

Reason No. 6: See more of your neighborhood in a short time. I’ve seen more of the trails and back roads of metropolitan DC/MD/VA than I ever would have without having taken up this hobby. Kind of like that, these three marathons provided a pavement-level tour of lots of new ground: the beauties of the Piney Point and St. George Island, MD, area, the cultures of the diverse neighborhoods of DC (if you’ve only seen the Mall you haven’t seen it at all), and some rural outskirts and military bases outside Virginia Beach you’ll never see just hanging out on the ocean front.

Reason No. 5: That’s what I’m talking about. No two marathons are identical, and that’s all the more true for three. There’s simply more of the basic beauty of the race to experience by cramming the hassle and discomfort of multiple events into a short time. You’ll adjust to it. Here, I had Piney Point, a small-town marathon put on by marathoners, for marathoners. Person for person, head to head, it had one of the best running fields I’ve seen in a race (and the most Maniacs), with enough of a grace period to fit in runners like me. With great scenery to boot. Rock ‘n Roll DC brought to town the Competitor group’s well-oiled, big-time operation, and I freely give those folks a thumbs-up. There’s something to be said about being able to roll in the trucks, set up like Barnum and Bailey sets up the circus, recruit the local music talent, and get it on. Well done. And Shamrock, a more mid-sized race, has the tradition and local support and awesome venue to pull it off nicely in its own way. Find your own trifecta, and vive la difference.

Reason No. 4: Pain can really be temporary. There are such things as getting a second or third wind, or working out cramps by running through them, or starting an endurance event with long slow warm-ups. What else could explain having hip and foot pains going into the first marathon, or having a strong case of “marathon legs” after the second one, but feeling smoother and more comfortable during the third one? Or finding the “zone” at the end of the last marathon and enjoying the last mile more than I had run in the month previously? Maybe I’m kidding myself and just blocking things out, but it was truly surprising how well that third marathon went. That’s the way running is, right? Sometimes things come together when you’re least expecting it and you get to have your little moment of Zen. You’d never have the experience if you don’t give it a chance.
Reason No. 3: Certain things get prettier at closing time. That last finish line was great. Like at that first marathon, or ultra, but different.

Reason No. 2: Say goodbye to the post-marathon blues. You got no time to weep when there’s appointments to keep.

Reason No.1: It’s great preparation for a Quadzilla!

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Running in the New Year

“Caution, runners: speed bumps ahead. Caution, runners: speed bumps ahead. . . .” And so went one of several recordings over the PA system, at both the half marathon and full marathon. I first thought this was a joke, but it became obvious they were serious. This was just another example of the detail put into the planning for the Disney World Marathon weekend. (Yes, the crowds at times got so compact you really could use a warning that the terrain underfoot was going to change.)

Running the “Goofy,” the combo of a Saturday half and a Sunday full at WDW, is becoming a New Year’s rite of passage for thousands of runners like me. It’s a natural time for runners to assess their plans and goals for the coming seasons – how did my races last year go; am I over those injuries; should I go for shorter races in the spring and focus on a fall marathon; work in an ultra; or do more marathons and add a “Marathon Maniac” star or two – so why not start the year with something a little challenging but that’s also a lot of fun? Part of the reason you’re a runner is you really don’t want to grow up anyway (right?), so you might as well go run at the ultimate place for acting like a kid. Then you can see how the races go and narrow down your plans for the coming year.

This was to be my second WDW Goofy weekend, and third overall WDW marathon. My son Toby and I flew to Orland Friday morning, Jan. 6, and checked in at the Wilderness Lodge, a great resort environment that emulates a big lodge built in a western national park. He got out his laptop and went to work on some school assignments while I caught a bus down to the opposite end of the WDW complex to the expo to pick up my bib, shirts, and goody bag. I noted that one advantage of the Goofy seems to be shorter lines to pick up your packet, which is pre-assembled with the shirt for the half (Donald), for the full (Mickey), and for the Goofy. And yes, I like the way the shirt quality has been upgraded from two years ago, the first time I “went Goofy.” I’m walking around the expo wearing the t-shirt of the WDW Radio Running Team -- to which I pledged a little money for its campaign in support of the Make-a-Wish Foundation which grants seriously ill children their wishes to travel to some place fun, like WDW -- and the host of WDW Radio, Lou Mongello, spots me in the shirt and graciously comes over to chat. Eventually back at the hotel, I decided it was too late to take in a park (thanks Delta, for altering our reservations and getting us in an hour later than planned), but the priority was to get in a good dinner anyway. I order the bottomless skillet meal at the hotel’s Whispering Canyon restaurant, full of barbeque and cornbread and the like, something that should guarantee a slow time at the next day’s half-marathon. (And it does.) Well, come on. There’s just no way I’m going to eat sensibly at Disney World. The good food opportunities are way too abundant and an integral part of my pre-travel planning.

I leave the hotel at 3:30 a.m. for the next day’s race, which is to account for a bus ride to Epcot, loosening up at the runner’s village/family reunion area, and walking nearly a mile to the corrals for a 5:30-something start. I find that I’m placed about two corrals back from where I should have been, so I spent the first few miles (still dark, but with sufficient lights on the road) running on the grassy island to move ahead of the rather slow crowd. I convince myself to take it in stride, since there’s nothing I can do about it other than keep moving, at my still-slow pace. The roads open up as we get closer to Magic Kingdom, and I enjoy the sights of the castle and other attractions still in the pre-dawn light. I see Lou and the WDW Radio support team on Main Street cheering us on with some welcome high fives.

It is light by the time we leave Magic Kingdom at about the half-way point and turn back to Epcot. The race goes rather quickly. It has the usual variety of on-course entertainment, including numerous photo-ops with costumed characters, and to celebrate the 15th anniversary it includes roadside videos of old Donald Duck cartoons. I think I enjoy the audio stuff more than anything, including a nice variety of music over the PA systems, high school marching bands (mostly playing in the first hour just off the dark roads), and a lively Gospel choir just before the finish.

The full marathon is similar, but has less Donald Duck and the added routes through Animal Kingdom and Hollywood Studios with the related sights and sounds those provide, including some birds and animals brought out by their handlers, and additional in-theme characters (like Safari Mickey and Minnie). I find that I don’t mind the rather desolate road stretch from mile 18 to 22, because the course always offers something different, and you know that this is only a temporary segment since Hollywood Studios, shortly followed by a return to Epcot, will not be far away. In the “desolate” section I encounter Joe Taricani, the host of the Marathon Show podcast, and he comes over to interview me “on air” when he sees my Maniacs singlet. We chat a couple minutes into his microphone, and I move on. (Later I listen to his show about the marathon, and apparently my interview ended up on the cutting room floor. A good thing for the show, I’m sure.) Even at my slow pace I was passing people almost the entire full, but I found it less of a bother than in the previous day’s half. I found that I was telling myself to settle back and enjoy the last few miles for a change, because you seldom get to have an experience like this. I again pass the Gospel choir and run past the finish line, then suddenly find myself clapping, just for everything. I’m happy with about a 10-minute improvement over the last Goofy, and with the fact that I feel fine and perfectly able to walk around the parks without much post-marathon dragging.

I later enjoy a great post-marathon dinner with Toby and some new and old friends at Boma, Flavors of Africa (again, all you can eat), my third time for such a dinner so it’s now a solid post-marathon tradition. (Thanks, Rebecca!) Toby and I enjoy more of the parks (I think he likes Epcot the best, which I probably do, too), and then we head home Tuesday. I find that I have plenty of ideas going through my head for 2012 and 2013 races, mostly non-Disney, but there’s certainly more Disney in my crystal ball. This year I turn 60, but so far have no plans to grow up.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Horning in on the Bighorns

"We too had lively times.”
Mattie Ross, True Grit

“What was your favorite part of the trip?”, I’ve been asked. I have tried to answer by referring to some of the most magnificent views from the beautiful Bighorn 50K trail run. But that doesn’t quite do it. If there’s one thing better than having a great experience in a marathon or ultra, it’s sharing the good times with a gang of your friends. So I think back about the jokes along the trail, the falls into the mud, the laughs at dinner. It was all part of one memorable experience.

I didn’t know it would turn out that way when I first started thinking about running the “Bighorn Mountain Wild and Scenic Trail Run,” about a year ago. I just knew it would be another fine race coupled with a visit to some of my many favorite spots in Montana. But when I mentioned the race at a party last fall in Bethesda, things started to happen. The next thing I knew there was a group of seven of us making our plans for Sheridan, WY, for the June 18 race. For the next several months we studied maps, trained on hills, and scheduled races as training runs. In my case, there was some step-back time as I nursed various sore extremities, particularly an aggravated tendon in my foot. But in sum, we did all the things runners usually do, albeit with a goal of preparing to handle 50K in decent fashion in altitudes up to 8,000 feet. It seemed a daunting task when you’re accustomed to the low altitudes of suburban D.C., but everybody was up for it.

One of my training races was the well-staged Salt Lake City Marathon in April, running at around 3,000-4,000 feet. This trip doubled as an excuse to visit my old childhood friend Dan, and his wife Marcia and his mother Marge, to experience their great hospitality and the best four days of home cooking you could hope for in any bed-and-breakfast. Maybe it was all due to that good eatin’ and pampering, but that race convinced me that I had nothing physically holding me back for Bighorn, so upon my return I resumed training as much as I sensibly could. And so it went.

We flew into Billings, MT, June 16, two days before the race -- Ken, Emaad, and I arriving on a noon flight, and Jennifer, Clay, Rebecca, and An arriving at midnight after stopping in Denver for storm delays. By then, we Three Amigos had already sampled some of Billings’ finest brews, and then had had supper with my high school classmate, Janet, enjoying the golf course view from her patio as golfers kept pounding the side of the house with wayward shots. (“Did I hit your house?” one golfer queried. “No,” Ken replied. “But this isn’t my house.”) On June 17 it was on to Sheridan, with a stop at Custer’s Last Stand at the Little Bighorn National Battlefield. This mysterious ground has had me spell-bound since I first visited it about 15 years ago, and I was delighted to see the Maryland gang take it in with interest. Ken had not only read up on this battle, but on Crazy Horse and several other battles of the Indian Wars in this area, and we had developed a list of about 10 potential sites to visit.

Post-race, some of us visited the site of the Fetterman Massacre and part of the old Bozeman Trail, but Ken’s energy level was down after spending two or three days with rather severe intestinal problems. He still managed to complete the 30K course, even in his electrolyte-depleted state. His excellent write-up in his blog describing the course and many of the other events is a must read. You can bet that he’s thinking he’s got to go back soon and do the 50 miler as originally planned.

I can never do justice to the scenery of this course through mere words, or mere digital photos. I would have to include somehow the sounds of the countless trickling and raging streams, fed by record-amounts of snow melt. But I could hardly describe the buttes, the forested hills, the view from the climb up The Haul, the fields of wildflowers, the trek through the field of birch trees, and craggy cliffs that looked like Easter Island figures and castles. Truly, I could scarcely blink for fear I would miss something. I was reminded of Meriwether Lewis’ journal entries about passing the White Cliffs of the Missouri Breaks of Montana: “As we passed on it seemed as if those seens of visionary enchantment would never have and end . . . .” Well, there was an end, and after 4,000 feet of descent the last five miles of flat road was a welcome relief for my tired legs and feet.

Dinner that night at a steakhouse was a major treat. With spent legs and reeling from exhaustion, we giddily exchanged stories from the race, as Jennifer and An ate their giant steaks that looked like they had come from the flanks of a Brontosaurus. Emaad and I talked about the many interesting characters running the 100-mile course, including "Yosemite Sam" and others who looked like they had just emerged from the Old Dutchman mine, and the two elven spirits, a pair of six-foot-tall women who we were convinced had just arrived from Middle Earth as they glided along the ground in their effortless trek to the end. Jennifer told us about the woman who unleashed a barrage of profanities when asked “Aren’t you glad we’re almost done.” Or the woman who was picking out her “next boyfriend” among the guys passing her on the trail.

Post-race, the Three Amigos spent time in Billings at Janet’s house, while the two couples went on to Yellowstone. Ken and I explored the sights of Billings, including the Pictograph Caves State Park. Janet arranged a nice happy hour gathering with several of our classmates from the great class of ‘70, and Ken was surprised that some women were still willing to admit having dated me back in the day. We had to put an end to that talk when we left to go to the Mustangs’ minor league baseball game, putting a fit end to a great trip. What’s next? I’m certainly wondering when I’ll be able to do this race again. I have a few more marathons in the next few months close by, the Disney World in January, and maybe work on another Maniac star next spring (requiring 3 states in 9 days). Next summer my priority will probably be to go back to the Missoula Marathon, and along the way catch a group 60th birthday celebration with my classmates now living in Billings. To be sure, I won’t be forgetting Bighorn for a long time, and I probably won’t be satisfied until I get back there. For now, many thanks to the gang for sharing this great trip with me.