Saturday, January 21, 2012

Walter Mitty Dips His Running Toes in Reality

"There are times in our lives when we are drawn uncontrollably to some dangerous source of misery."- Suzi Thibeault, in a letter to David Horton during his conquest of the Appalachian Trail: 2144 miles in 52 days, 9 hours, 41 minutes

Last week, I closed RWA with saying that I had listened to The Marathon Show podcast about Disney and how entertaining it was. Well, this morning, I went out running before the thunderstorms descended on Birmingham, and once again was listening to this week's Marathon Show and in it, Joe Tariconi interviewed Leah Thorvalson. Leah is a 2nd or 3rd tier marathoner who ran in last week's USA Olympic Marathon Trials in Houston and gives a delightful insight into what goes on at one of these events. She talks about how they tape over the sponsors on your running gear, how the elite aid tables are organized, and how she watched the 1st tier runners pulling away. There's a lot more she talks about concerning the race, and for someone like me that gets wrapped up in this stuff, I loved it. Maybe one day, we can get Birmingham's Scott Strand to write about his experience running the Trials. If my fading memory serves me correct (Ha, fat chance of that!), I think he did the Trials twice - once in the Steeplechase and once in the marathon (here in Birmingham 2008).

Most of us will never get close to the upper levels. That's a whole 'nother world. The closest I ever came was back in 1988 when I ran in the TAC/USA 24 Hour Championships held in Atlanta. Ok, not exactly the Olympics, but for a perennial middle-of-the-pack runner who has become a now very back-of-the-pack long distance runner, this was HUGE for me. After listening to that podcast this morning, I dug out my 1988 diary and re-reading my entry from that race was like I was listening to a total stranger's story.

For a lack of anything exciting happening around here, I thought I'd relive one of those thrilling days of yesteryear. Even before the race, all kinds of signs were trying to point to disaster - drove to Atlanta in a driving rain, compliments of Hurricane Gilbert in the Gulf. When I got to the Hotel late the night before the race, the car literally died with a dead battery! Had to get a jump and then searched for an open garage to check it out. The mechanic could have told me I needed a new engine and I would have just handed him my credit card and said "Just fix it", but he was honest and $69 later, I had a new battery. So much for a relaxing night before the race.

The morning of the race, I had a couple of cups of coffee and waffles before heading to the Atlanta Water Works with plenty of time to spare - so I thought! I went to the start line to fill a Thermos, and I noticed a lot of runners by the start line for it being an hour before the race. I asked a friend of mine, Doyle Carpenter, what time the race started, and he said "Oh, in about 3 minutes!!". PANIC MODE!! I ran back to the car, ripping my sweats off, telling my wife and son that they would have to set up the tent without me (like THAT would be a handicap to them). I grabbed the Vaseline, the gun went off, and there I was trying my best to grease up myself during the first one mile loop. I had one more obstacle - seems I had volunteered to take part in this medical study that had me taking a breathing test every 3 hours. The first test was to have been before the race started, but at that time, I was in some coffee shop enjoying a waffle! So, a mile into the race, they're pulling me off the course to breathe into some contraption. FINALLY, I had to collect my emotions, and relax, telling myself I still had 23 hours and 50 minutes to smooth all this calamity out. Not exactly the relaxed atmosphere you picture yourself in before a race.

I don't want to go into the details of the race, but one thing that amazed me when looking back was that I ate very little - my diary said all I had was a yogurt, some bananas, half a turkey sandwich and some grapes! That was it!! I drank something called Body Fuel the first 12 hours and then some OJ, coke (which gave me the hiccups), one V-8, a yogurt shake, and mostly water. I find that amazing considering all our present emphasis on "staying fueled up". I had no cramps and my toe pains were relieved when I cut the toe box off the top of my shoes!! Shoes were cheaper then, not that it matters when your toes are crying. The night gets pretty long and I'm sure I put in extra mileage with my weaving along the course, but once the sun comes up, you get that new kick in the butt. I hit 100 miles at 21:53 and wound up doing over 9 miles the last 2 hours. My last mile was even 8:06 (a time I would KILL for now!!).

My goals going in were 105 miles and finish in the top 20 (remember, this was the USA Championships). I wound up with 109.4 miles and 13th place. There were 30 runners that broke 100 miles, which at the time was the most ever in a 24 hour race. Probably, this one event is in the top three of my biggest running thrills in my 33+ years of running, and although it's not the Olympics, or even the Trials, it was my one day to sweat with some pretty elite runners at (to me) a pretty elite event. My wife often accuses me of being Walter Mitty, but on this very special day, Walter stepped over the line from wishing/hoping/imagining into reality.

Have a good week guys, and I'll see you on the roads - AL

"One child lost is too child saved can change the world"


Jake said...

Great story. Trying my hand at my first 24 hour race this June/July. Hoping to run 50 miles and finish in the top 5! Run might not be the right word, the whole thing is on the beach. Ran as part of 2 relays last year and covered 30 miles, which is really more like 40. I ate a ton of fun, probably a lot easier when you're only running 1/3 of the time.

KarenBerg said...

Al, I know Doyle Carpenter...what is your last name?