Digging Deep in Victor (The Long Run 2010 Jul)

victor2It could’ve been the perfect tune-up for the Ascent . . . except that I wasn’t training for the Ascent. As it was, it was my introduction to a true mountain race. What I’m talking about was the inaugural Gold Rush, Gold Rush, staged in Victor (Cripple Creek‘s less famous neighbor) in July of 2009. The race traced an eerie parallel to Victor’s storied history. What could be more emblematic of Victor than a ruined mine atop a mountain? Ascending to that ruin (the race’s turn-around point), the nine-mile, roughly-out-and-back course then plummeted precipitously to the town that is a shadow of its former opulent self. Nearly 30 runners ascended the 1200 plus feet through an operating mine–sporting the biggest (moving!) vehicles you‘ve ever seen–to the American Eagle overlook. This event was so “rustic” that it included a pre-race safety briefing from a mine boss–how often does that happen?

Gravity and thin air conspired to do their worst, but each runner prevailed to the best of his or her ability, summiting to the encouraging words and bottled offerings (sorry, just H2o) of volunteers who had reached the 10,800 foot height by way of truck. That nasty ascent had really tested our mettle! A hundred years ago assayers had tested their metal in the mine-strewn region through which this course wended. If I could’ve ignored the sound of my own labored breathing, I might’ve imagined hearing those miners’ and assayers’ ghosts amid the skeletons of burnt-out mine shafts and outbuildings. It was the belief among Scottish boys–John Muir‘s boyhood memoirs tell us–, that if they ran very, very fast, they could outrun ghosts. Reaching the ruined mine at the overlook, we all turned tail and ran . . . into the suddenly congenial arms of gravity. This “boy” did his best, beating all apparitions, but trailing seven mortals (including local veterans John Victoria, Brian Ropp and Nels Hendrickson), either more frightened of ghosts or possessing superior training to mine. To say that we finished to a throng of supporters would be an exaggeration; if every man, woman and child in Victor had turned out to support the race, they would’ve hardly formed a throng. Still, what they lacked in numbers they made up for in small-town awe and hospitality. (I nearly failed to mention the 7:00 AM $3.00 breakfast at the fire station.) And kudos to the volunteers who marked the course, making for a minimum of “uh oh” moments in a spread-out field of runners.

The history books say that Victor had its run (traces of which can still be seen if one squints hard). . . before fading into near oblivion. Call the Gold Rush, Gold Rush a second run, after a fashion. Like most sequels, you’d be unwise to compare it with the original, but with luck and a little word-of-mouth promotion, Victor’s second run could grow into a standing event, providing the town’s small businesses with a little shot of adrenaline while enriching the runner in turn with a history lesson, small-town hospitality and mountain vistas . . . to say nothing of that all-important Ascent tune up. Oh and did I mention that the Gold Rush, Gold Rush’s first-place prize (given to Andres Jaurez) was one that a miner might appreciate? See you in Victor!

An Extra Large Problem (The Long Run 2009 Apr)

xlLet me start by saying that I wouldn’t have written this piece at all if I’d just followed my accountant’s—ok, my wife’s—advice, and registered in advance for most—try, any—of the races I’ve entered in the past seven years of running. You might recognize me. I’m the guy who’s always in the race-day registration line five minutes before the race kicks off; the guy who’s sweating as if he’d already raced the first mile. But my eleventh-hour race-day registration strategy is the subject of another piece; I only mention it to introduce what I really want to chat about: The extra large race t-shirt.

You know what I mean, all of you diminutive—and itinerant—runners who’d love nothing more than to boast of your participation in the weekend’s big running event, but can’t for fear of tripping over the hem of your own t-shirt, or of catching something—a stick-shift or a passing child, say—up in its voluminous sleeves.

Ever puzzle over whether or not to wear your race t-shirt during the race itself? If your t-shirt is several sizes too large, I don’t recommend it, unless you’re dying to experience the view from the back. But go ahead if you must. Just don’t complain that you look like a wind sock in race photo profiles. When the finish line volunteer asks if you got lost, you can wittily answer—only in my t-shirt. And when that volunteer informs you that you are the race’s final finisher, you may answer with justifiable indignation, “What, I don’t get a ribbon for having just swam 5,000 meters—in my t-shirt?” If nothing else, you can boast of having a winning sense of humor—ok, maybe not.

I could go on, but you get the point. This is a cry for help, a call to arms—arms that don’t fall past our elbows! Are you listening race directors? Runners are small people—at least we’re trying to be. Ok, granted, not all of us are small. But there are enough of us small people to call dibs on your stock of small and medium t-shirts long before the average race-day registrant has breakfasted and, in a bold stroke of prompt and decisive action, set his sights on that race scheduled to begin in one hour.

This is a big problem–an extra large problem, if you like. If you early registrants don’t believe me, just try registering on race day. When you get to the front of the t-shirt line, you’ll probably find that it’s slim—ah, better make that not-so-slim–pickings.

Of course I could start registering on time, bite my tongue, and hope it all comes out in the wash. But—and here’s the action item–what would be wrong with ordering a dozen fewer extra larges for the next race and a dozen more smalls and mediums? If the strategy goes wrong, just give out the extra larges left over from last year.