John at another road run -- the Venice Marathon
St. Paul Frozen Half-Marathon:
I hate to start off by complaining, but the problem with a trail running club is that everybody always talks about running trails. Sometimes, I just get tired of it. This is one of those times. For example, everybody's talking about how well the VHTRC people did at Rocky Raccoon and Uhwarrie. So what? It seems like everybody I know is running ultras. But let me ask you this: "How many of you are running road half-marathons?" I thought so. As it turns out, on the same day of Rocky Raccoon, I found myself running a road race in St. Paul, MN. I would like to not only tell you about that but also tell you how screwed up ultrarunners are thought to be by, shall we say, more normal people.
St. Paul Frozen Half-Marathon
Arriving in St. Paul, MN for several weeks, I located a local YMCA and negotiated a reasonable rate to use the gym. I learned that there would be a road half-marathon the following weekend called the St. Paul Frozen Half-Marathon. This was part of St. Paul's weeklong Winter Carnival. The application invited everyone to "Join the proud, the few, the frozen" and set forth the following disclaimer: "This is a cold weather race! Temperatures have been at or below zero for this race in the past." And: "This is your chance to participate in one of the most exciting events to take place in February since sticking your tongue to a metal pole." Since I don't like cold weather, I went to sign up as soon as I could. Unfortunately, the race hadn't closed.
Actually, the weather here, according to the residents, is quite warm this year. On one of my runs, I went to see the ice sculptures in a square downtown. Or what was left of them - they were all melted so you had to use your imagination somewhat to figure out what they were. On race day, I was pleasantly surprised that the temperature was a balmy 16 degrees at the start. And it was about 25 degrees at the finish.
The course was very good: 100% divided highway, slightly crowned, quite hard, and probably conformed to all construction specifications set out by the Minnesota Department of Highways. It was an out-and-back with only one turn each way, so even Russ Evans wouldn't get lost on this course [inside joke]. There was no snow on the road, and it was a very sunny day. I found the lines in the road to be of uniform length and quite reassuring. The scenery was not distracting: there was not much along the road except for a power plant, a factory, and some houses later on. I think there were about 3 traffic lights. The course started at river level (Mississippi River) and had some short rises and then a long gradual climb. It seemed that it was all downhill after the turn around. Which may have accounted for my first ever negative split. For you ultrarunners, this is where you run the second half of the race faster than the first half.
Let me tell you what this course didn't have: No roots. No rocks. No low branches. No felled trees. No stupid wildflowers. No fox quietly crossing the trail. No ice crystals in the trees. No sound of water gurgling over rocks. No deer (and for you, Gary, no bears). During the Burr-Schultze 35-Mile Greenway Run in December, Danny McDonnell was extolling the scenery of the Promise Land 50K in these words: "It's some of the most beautiful Blue Ridge crap you'll ever see." Danny is never at a loss for words on how to express himself. Well, I've never done Promise Land, but I've done MMTR and my share of trail races, so I have a rough idea of what he's talking about. Fortunately, we had none of that crap in St. Paul.
So, after running for 1 hour, 38 minutes, and 45 seconds, I asked myself: "Is this all there is?" But there was more--a small bowl of chili and a banana. It made the post-race fare at the HAT Run look like a medieval feast.
As you've probably guessed by now, I didn't really write this to extol the virtues of road running. I'm writing this to get you to oppose the draft and the Vietnam War. No, wait, I'm getting a little confused with Arlo Guthrie's "Alice's Restaurant." Actually, I'm writing to tell you about something that happened to me just before coming to St. Paul.
So, you're an ultrarunner, huh?
I would like to thank my former good buddy Keith Dunn for getting me into the following mess, which I'm now going to relate to you. Keith sent me an email one Friday afternoon with an excerpt from a running club newsletter. Here's the excerpt:
Marketing 101 For Athletes. You're at a party, and you see a beautiful woman. You go up to her and say, "I'm a great athlete." That's called Direct Marketing. You're at a party with some friends and see a beautiful woman. One of your friends goes up to her, points to you and says, "He's a great athlete." That's called Advertising. You see a beautiful woman at a party. You go up to her and get her telephone number. The next day you call and say, "Hi, I'm a great athlete." That's Telemarketing. You're at a party and see a beautiful woman. You get up, straighten your tie, walk up to her and pour her a drink. You open the door for her, pick up her coat after she drops it, offer her a ride, and then say, "By the way, I'm a great athlete." That's Public Relations. You're at a party and see a beautiful woman. She walks up to you, smiles and says, "I hear you're a great athlete." That's Brand Recognition.
Keith sent this to a number of people, most of whom I assumed were runners, but not necessarily ultrarunners. Being somewhat in good humor that day, I wrote back to everybody:
You're at a party and a great looking man/woman comes up to you and asks what you do for exercise. You say "I am an ultrarunner and run 50 and 100 mile races." The person's eyes widen 3 times their normal size, they scrunch their nose up at you, say "You're crazy," and then turn and walk away. What's that called?
You'll note that I changed my wording so it is not sexist like the original.
Well, I'm sure you just can't wait to read the responses, so here goes. First, I received this directly from a woman I know in the VHTRC: "Don't know, but I would never admit that to an attractive man at a party ... unless I wanted to tell him to take a hike without actually saying it. :-)" The others were sent to everybody on the list. Here's one reply from a woman: "That's called "funny". : -)" I detected a slight change in tone from the next woman: "That's called Reality 101." And then Keith, my former good buddy, came to my defense with this: "Of course, John, some of us are smart enough not to run 100 miles." Thanks, Keith, my FGB.
And then? And then I got this one from another woman: "Actually, it's called: Being Obsessive Does Not Make You a Babe Magnet." I had several thoughts before responding to this one. My first thought: you obviously don't know me because there are several reasons (if not more) why I'm not a babe magnet other than the fact I'm an ultrarunner." My second thought: "What's your point?" My third thought: "F___ you, bitch." But only a woman can actually call another woman a bitch; a man can only think it.
But I didn't use any of those when I wrote back (and, of course, I just had to write back). Here's what I sent:
I'll tell my friend Deb that. She ran the Vermont 100 and was my mentor as I trained for my first 100--also Vermont the next summer. When I asked her how she had done in that run, she said she got diarrhea at mile 83 and lost most of her vision at mile 90. She was one of the few finishers that year in 95 degree weather. "Obsessive" if that's what you call it is not just a guy thing.
You're probably wondering why it was necessary to drag Deb down with me in this situation. My intent wasn't to drag just her down; my intent was to drag down the entire female gender of ultrarunners. Why should they be left out? Take a look at the photo on the VHTRC web page from Rocky Raccoon? How many guys do you see? Of course, if the men could run as fast as the women, maybe the men would get their picture on there, too.
Not surprisingly, my email put an end to any more emails that day. Two days later I was in St. Paul. And, as you now know, running a road half-marathon. I wonder if that means I'm a date magnet now. Probably not, since I've signed up for the HAT Run and the BRR50.
I'm staying in a St. Paul hospital where my son has had back surgery. I will leave after 3 weeks; he will leave after 6 weeks. He rides around the hospital in what's called a prone cart (lies on his stomach) or in a wheelchair for limited times during the day. Today, he told me that people look at him like he's a monkey in an exhibit at the zoo. Being an ultrarunner, I said to myself, "I think I know what you mean."
John finishes a 100 mile trail race -- MMT