Saturday, March 23, 2013

The Start: Flyovers, Conch Shells, and Big Guns

"We have great outside shooters. Unfortunately all our games are indoors" - Weldon Drew, Basketball Coach

Here it is, just Saturday afternoon, and I'm sitting here watching basketball for pure entertainment purposes only. My bracket, which two days ago seemed to be perfect, now resembles something from a new movie called "The Anti-Bracket". It looks like some hillbilly took a shotgun to it and blasted holes in it. If an independent observer viewed my picks, he'd ask himself if I really understood that the object was to pick the WINNERS of the games, and not the losers! Ok, granted NOBODY in the wide world picked Harvard to win (even Obama didn't pick them - AND HE WENT THERE!) and who even heard of Florida Gulf Coast University? I'll bet Georgetown doesn't forget them any time soon!. My locks lost, my bracket-busters lost, and I'm sitting at about #282 in a pool of almost 400 players. Not real bad, but like I said, I thought this year, I had the perfect bracket! Sorry all you Indiana fans, but I picked the Hoosiers to win it all, so they're doomed!

Ok, on to some running thoughts. Just like everyone else, I get worn down by our so-called leaders in Washington. I'm not picking sides (at least not revealing it here), but these jokers leader-pretenders couldn't put together a two-piece puzzle. I haven't seen this much dysfunction ever, and I'm from an Italian family! But, this is not a political blog by any stretch of anybody's imagination, so how does this fit in with running? Here's how:

The other day I heard that due to this ridiculousness called sequestration, the Blue Angels would have to drastically reduce their show appearances and big-event flyovers - hence the running connection. I saw them once. It was at the Blue Angel Marathon in Pensacola, Florida back in the late 90's (No, they didn't use Bi-planes back then). There were a few hundred of us anxiously waiting for the start. The Race Director stood on a high wooden pedestal shouting out last minute instructions that nobody was listening to. Finally, he said "One minute to the start" and I heard someone in the crowd yell "There they are". Looking across Pensacola Bay, you could barely make out a small group of Fighter Jets flying in the opposite direction of the way we were standing. The RD says "45 seconds". The fighters continue to fly south with us facing north. "30 seconds"...the fighters make a hard left turn in unison. "20 seconds"...another hard left. Now, they're coming right at us, but still a "fer distance away". Then, the RD starts counting down, "10...9...8...the jets are bearing down...7...6...5...the jets are in a PERFECT diamond formation what seemed like feet above the ground...4...3...2...and then the most amazing beginning to any race I have ever exactly "0", the jets flew directly (and I mean DIRECTLY) over our heads and we were off ready to take on the world. I swear, they couldn't have been more than 100 feet over us. The roar of the engines was deafening. You could feel the sudden gust of wind they created. The site, the sound, the pride, all wrapped up in a roll of mass patriotism. What an incredible moment. The Blue Angels buzzed the runners for about the first 7 miles of the race and then they were gone back to their base and back to the recesses of my memories. Man, that was cool!

So, while I was running the other morning, this got me thinking along another (though related) track. What were some of the other memorable starts to races I've done? I started rattling around in my head most of the 100+ marathons and ultras I had run and it seems like every other run is begun with some RD raising his arm, saying "Runner's set...go!" and either firing a phoney gun, or sounding an extra-loud air horn, or someother non-discript way of beginning the race. There's just little originality in this relative mundane part of racing. 

Gary Cantrell, a decades long RD of Ultras in Tennessee had a couple of unique starts...for The Strolling Jim 40 Miler, one race began when he lit his cigarette! Not totally acceptable in the world of running, but it was unique. Another race, he began by blowing through a conch shell...runners from Tahiti would have felt right at home. And at a third Strolling Jim, he merely took off his tattered Cowboy hat and dropped it to the ground sending us on our way. Better than a starter's pistol.

For a flashy start, I guess Disney would have to claim #1 with their fireworks display. The race begins before the sun rises, making it pretty spectacular, especially since it goes on literally while all 15,000 runners file under the starting "bridge" where all the Disney characters are jumping up and down. 

Finally, completing this circle of memorable starts, we have to go back to a Patriotism theme. The first time I ran the Marine Corps marathon in Washington DC, I was so impressed by all the air of nationalism that you feel the whole time. Like I said, we all get tired of the pettiness that goes on between those guys that WE elected, but take a trip to Washington and tell me your chest doesn't expand with a little extra pride. Like Winston Churchill said "It has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all the others that have been tried". Anyway, here we are, standing at the starting line of the Marine Corps Marathon. The National Anthem is sung by the Marine Corps Band and Choir will get you charged up by itself, but then the RD counts down to ZERO and this huge 105mm Howitzer Cannon fires in the general direction of the Washington Monument (a blank shell I hope, for two reasons...if not, there's a planning problem AND the marines are a terrible shot). Anyway, the BOOM from that cannon will shake your timbers to the core. You literally feel the sound concussion on your chest. Then you run a marathon! Wow!

I would love to hear some of your starting memories. Just write them in the comment section below. No matter how you start them, I'll continue to attempt to line up and I'll see you on the roads - AL

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

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