Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Message from Brother Russell B. Cheney


Re the 2007 Team Slug RBC 50K: The following might be used in communications with participants / potential participants, but please feel free to use, use part of, or not use any of the following in any way you deem appropriate:

People have asked me of the 230+ marathons / ultras that I’ve done, which is my favorite, or the best, or the toughest, etc. I have never been asked which is the most intimidating. Is that because it is assumed that marathoners have NO FEAR? Speaking for myself, that is certainly not the case.

The Leadville Marathon, with its advertised start at 10,000 feet, 13,000+ foot maximum altitude (at Mosquito Pass, including possible snow scrambling), 12,000’ of elevation gain and 12,000’ of elevation loss, got my attention. There were rumors of running surfaces like rocky riverbeds and like 8” ball-bearings on a 30-degree down-slope: neither rumor individually was true; both taken together were.

Or how about my first marathon? I knew no marathoners at the time. In reading the official runner instructions for the 1990 Los Angeles Marathon it stated in no equivocating terms a number of infractions the runner could commit that would summarily result in the runner’s immediate and public expulsion from the marathon by event officials (this was a televised extravaganza so one’s family could be presumed to be watching), including (but not limited to) lining up outside the runner’s designated starting corral, use of a long list of steroids and other drugs that I had never heard of (testing to be supported by a potentially wide variety of means of extracting bodily fluids for chemical analyses), running other than on the designated specified marathon route, and disregard of any official’s instructions during the event. Almost needles to say, I lined up and stayed in my “designated corral” until I was entirely certain the starting gun had been fired. As it turned out, not only was I the only participant in my “designated corral”, but none of the other 20,000+ participants were even visible – because of a curve five blocks ahead in the road – and no “enforcing” event official was visible. I waited in totally weirdly empty streets.

How about Boston? The country’s oldest marathon, and perhaps the most prestigious. Seemingly all the world’s greatest and fastest runners for the last 100 years had participated. Internationally televised. Noon start. Bussing to the start. Corrals again. Only certified qualifiers permitted entry. Would I be trampled? Would I understand anything said by all the Bostonians speaking like President Kennedy? Rumors of the aggressive pressing crowds screaming and taking over the porta potties.

The race directors of some ultras seem to think the more maniacally intense the race description the more appealing the event for potential participants. The Big Bend National Park 50K in Texas seems to delight in its location which boasts of more species of cacti than any other in the Union (the Horse Crippler, for example, purportedly is capable of putting a 6” needle-sharp spike clean through a horse’s foot or a running shoe), plus scorpions, Gila Monsters, vultures, virtually all desert plants in the area covered with remarkably effective thorns (example: the Cat Claw Bush), unbelievably low humidity, and guaranteed jagged four-wheel-drive roads. Add to that, rumors of banditos, smugglers, illegals, and desperadoes crossing the border for your water, Gatorade and wallet.

One of my favorites: Crown King Scramble 50K: Arizona boasts the most species of rattlesnakes of any state in the US. “No humidity problem” = no humidity. 6,000’ rise start to finish on the topo rumored to be 12,000’ cumulative, accounting for all the intervening assents and descents. Snow, ghastly “sticky” mud, clear skies same-day temperature from start at 35 to finish at 90 degrees: take your pick. Share the four-wheel-drive trail with a rumored fabulous showcase of dust-producing raucous off-road vehicles: Jeeps, SUV’s, ATVs, dirt bikes, motorcycles, and indescribably creative modifieds.

Don’t forget DC’s Heritage Trail 50K: Guaranteed scuttling through drainage pipes, clambering over barrier fencing, dodging frenzied Washington traffic, creative course marking (or not), trail mazes, scrambling in river beds, tracking through playground sand (complete with children), and exploring potential alternative routes. Rumors of prior-year native-DC participants being lost no more than 40 minutes, secret routes to stay on course known by few, course-map in Chinese, course briefing in Greek.

But one of my all-time favorites: the Race Director personally contacts each potential participant and conscientiously attempts to DIScourage their participation, including graphic descriptions of the deep wood’s voracious ankle-wrapping roots and the moving trail-rocks, terrible grades, horrendous bridge crossings, trail co-use dangers, hazardous lack of close aid-stations, possible perilous overcrowding, slippery leaves and pine needles. Rumors persist of strange creatures inhabiting both the pond itself and the surrounding forest (the trail never being more than a few yards from the water and virtually always within the woods, leaving the desperately-fatigued and confused runner appallingly vulnerable), of participants disappearing and later reappearing in ethereal form, of strange vapors rising from the pond at all hours, and deep snow banks.

So I conclude that by far one of the most intimidating endurance runs that I have yet so far attempted has been the last described: the awesome Delaware Team Slug 50K, the magnificent creation of John Harper himself.

I was audacious enough to participate at the last two presentations, and I am so sorry to be unable to participate this year!

Russell B. Cheney

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