In 8th grade, my all-time favorite teacher, Mr. Lovelace, introduced my class to the 1984 movie 'Dune'. I haven't seen it in 25 years, but if you have never seen it, you may be lured to do so by the fact that it features a young Sting in an antagonist role. One concept that movie drove home is still foundational for me: "Bend Like a Reed in the Wind". What this means, in the context of the movie and throughout my life, is that one must be flexible when factors we can't control threaten us. A marsh reed would be no match for a heavy wind and would be broken if it were to remain rigid, but since it bends more as the wind blows harder, it survives and even thrives through any storm. Well, my storm came in the form of a big ice event on the eve of the Mississippi Blues Marathon last night and I had to get flexible.
Yesterday morning I got up at 4:50am, did a devotional, packed my clothes, ate some toast, said goodbye to my wife and kids, then drove 7 hours to Jackson, Mississippi in varying severity of wintery weather. There were lanes closed by snow and cones in Kentucky and Missouri, cars and trucks strewn across the median and shoulder at particularly icy places in Arkansas and Tennessee, and then a little more wintry unpleasantness at the Mississippi border, but I finally hit clear roads and skies an hour out and was feeling pretty buoyed. I really didn't give much thought to the little bit of freezing rain/sleet that started to fall as I pulled into the convention center parking lot in Jackson, but did take note that the slushy stuff in the lot was starting to stiffen up a little bit as I went in to pick up my race packet. As soon as I got my personalized bib, sweet full-zip medium weight race jacket, and the rest, I started coming across people I knew and had raced with before. This race is what's called a 50 State Marathon Club (or "50 Stater") reunion race so it brings out many of the heaviest hitters in multi-state marathoning who all come together for a fun race and a quarterly meeting/award presentation.
Community is a big part of why many of these amazing endurance veterans keep running marathons week in and week out. If you don't hang out in these circles, its hard to fathom the stories you hear when someone passes a microphone around the gathering of 100 or so people like that group. I started my own intro by acknowledging that I'm still a marathoning infant compared to most of the people gathered there. Since I still find these feats nearly unbelievable and the people who have accomplished them to be somewhat superhuman, despite looking like everyday people, I'll share a few from yesterday with you.
So, you may remember Henry (above) who was also at the Four Corners Quad- he doesn't like to talk about himself but since the meeting involved standing up and telling the group your name, marathon/ultra stats, and a favorite little story from a race, he dutifully told of his 1100+ marathons and 100+ ultra marathons, but I can't remember how many times he said he'd completed all 50 States (I think it is double digits) There's Frank who is also well over 1000 marathons (and I believe I'm short changing him by hundreds!) There are Jim and Bettie who always run together as far as I know and have finished over 3,000 marathons between them, including over 100 in a year together more than once. Jim has also done funny things like sleep in a Wal-Mart parking lot the night before a marathon in all 50 States! Ed is a war vet who experienced PTSD, now raises money for Wounded Warriors, ran over 50 marathons per year in 3 consecutive years, and a guy who I first met in a restaurant in Vermont the night before the Mad Marathon in 2013. I was also so pleased to see both George and Diane in the same place for the first time since they paced, taught, and encouraged me through my very first marathon. Diane has about 300 marathons and 100 ultras under her belt and George (below) was awarded for yet another trip around the States... in his 70s. This list goes on and on, but we'll save some more of the 50 Stater stories for another day.
After that meeting, bite-sized groups of us made some dinner plans then went outside. At that point, the reality sunk in that the weather had been undoing our best laid race plans while we'd been inside. About 1/2" of sleet/freezing rain had hardened solid in the 20 degree cold and aggressive wind that befell the city as night enveloped us. As each small group found our ways to our cars and dinner locations, anyone with reason could see that the Emergency Service personnel that were to be assigned to our race today would be otherwise engaged and unavailable to chaperone us at intersections and aid stations. There was obviously no way that all the volunteers could get to the race venue in the morning, let alone stand there, coated in water and Gatorade, helping the runners. And, as fiercely as all of us in that meeting will push to finish every race- not near enough of us brought the correct equipment to run in this stuff, equipment like spiked mountaineering boots, cross country skis, or ice skates.
Following a good dinner with great people, I headed across town to check-in to my hotel. The ride was treacherous, but I found a bunch of marathoners and race service staff having a party in the lobby like a group of teenagers who knew tomorrow would be a snow day and the parents aren't home. I found Clyde there (another new friend from the 4 Corners Marathon), and he'd obviously had a few beverages waiting on the Race Director to make the call. Finally, at about 9pm, the email hit our smartphone inboxes simultaneously- the race was officially cancelled. So, without further ado, I skated across the parking lot to the convenience store in order to do the right thing: purchase my contribution to the refreshments at ad hoc lobby party. Now that the race was cancelled and I wasn't going to be running this weekend, I stopped focusing on the race and hopped headlong into the socialization phase of the evening... and kept going until after 3am.
This morning, I drug myself out of bed late and trudged through icy puddles across the street to the mecca of all athletes everywhere... Waffle House. Nothing like coming to grips with the loss of a new State for my list with some sausage, cheesy eggs, covered hashbrowns, and a big healthy waffle. But, while there, these 3 things happened in the opposite order: 1) The food and coffee brought my mind back to competent problem solving mode. 2) 2 Maniacs in the next booth asked if I was going to Alabama. 3) A perfect stranger stood up from his booth and came over to talk. This guy asked me if I had come there to do the marathon and I told him that I had. He apologized for the misfortune and told me that he had planned to volunteer at the mile 5 aid station before heading across to a big go-kart and racecar show down the street. We chatted a bit, I told him it was ok, that I had really wanted to do the race, but it's something that I can't control and so I was just deciding when to head home. I also gave him my card and told him I'd be honored if he would read my blog about this experience and my upcoming adventure- he said he would. 15 minutes later, he and his son were leaving and he gave me a sticker for Kamicausey (car) Racing and a $50 bill to "get my breakfast and some gas to get me home". What?!! I immediately told him I wouldn't take his money, tried to give it back to him and then his teenage son, both of whom smiled with their hands in their heavy jacket pockets, and just wished me well on their way out the door as I protested more loudly. What was that?? I was shocked and said so, out loud, as the guy got in his truck and pulled away. This spectacle drew the attention of the 2 Maniacs sitting in the next booth. They both engaged me in conversation about that random act of kindness, then asked if I was going to the First Light Marathon in Mobile Alabama in the morning. I flatly said no. Not only do I already have an Alabama marathon, but Mobile is over 3 hours away in good weather, my hotel room was advance purchase rate (no refunds), the Highway to Mobile was a parking lot, I'd be getting further away from home, and... well... ya know... hmmm? So I left my answer as no, talked with the ladies a bit more and tried to buy their breakfast- which they'd already paid for, then they left me to my breakfast and quiet contemplation over a syrup drenched awful waffle.
By the time I'd finished breakfast and headed back across the icy street, looking up at the parking lot on the closed Interstate Highway above me, I started the process of overcoming objections. Overcoming objections is how any good salesman sells, any good therapist counsels, and this salesman/therapist/endurance junkie eliminates the negativity, bends like a reed in the wind, and puts together a plan for the next round of ultra-endurance training that I have become convinced is not only prudent but necessary for 777 Quest. Just like that... a waffle, some Maniacs, and a kind stranger have conspired to hatch a plan where I go back to the room, write a blog post, take a hot shower, order some Domino's, and get ready to leave at 2am for Mobile, Alabama to hopefully register for and run a marathon at 7:30am tomorrow morning. The plan is to take advantage of this setback to get my gear check race done while also training my ability to sit all day, get very little sleep, sit some more, run a marathon, then hop my stinky, sweaty self back into the car for some portion of an 8-hour trip home to Kentucky. I couldn't have scripted a better opportunity to get out of my comfort zone and push limits that will be mightily tested in just a couple weeks at 777Quest.
Alright, It's getting late. Guess I'd better see if I can force myself to sleep a couple hours before a pretty long day of ultra-endurance training starts. If the random stranger who helped me get my act together this morning is reading this, it's all your fault... thanks! And oh yeah, I think the waitresses at Waffle House were very pleased with their $50 tip this morning ;)