Super Bowls and McDonalds
Some people who could have provided some enthusiasm last night.
Last night in the Fleet Feet store, after their Tuesday night tempo run, I hung out with a few pretty good ultra runners and listened to some fun stories about the “Super Bowl of Ultramarathons,” the Western States 100, which went down last weekend. I’ve never run a 100 miler, not positive I ever will, but listening to guys like Adam Lint, Phil Kochik, Greg Crowther, and Brian Morrison talk about running Western (and running 100′s in general) was like crack to the runner part of me. And unbelievably, there were only three of us non-speakers in attendance. Three. Four if you count the one-year old daughter one of the guys brought. Five if you count Brian Morrison’s extremely well-behaved dog.
On one hand it was sort of sad. As the actual Western States race got underway Saturday morning, I spent a few hours pacing at what Patrick Niemeyer referred to glowingly as “the McDonalds of Marathoning,” the Seattle Rock & Roll (Half) Marathon. Surrounded by 20,000+ aspiring runners content to run/jog/walk 13.1 cattle herd miles (a few exceptions taking on 26.4) in exchange for the chance to hear a local band play covers for 45 seconds every couple miles and get a medal afterward and then stand in a 45 minute line for a free plastic cup of MGD 64. Surely worth the absurd $100-$150 price tag. Again, there were 20,000+ running. There were thousands more non-runners, milling around the post-race party area in Qwest Field’s parking lot, inspired by those who had the courage to put on the bib. Large parts of Seattle had to practically shut down to allow this to occur.
Three days later, I spent a Tuesday evening in a small circle of just 8.5 people, inside Fleet Feet, listening to five guys talk openly and humorously about running the one of the most renowned trail races in the world. And this symposium was free. Once each guy had finished his stories, it simply morphed into a free-for-all, everyone asking each other questions and reliving personal moments of triumph or heartbreak on the trails (as I sat on the side, listening passively, hiding behind a pile of women’s shorts). This included one of the greatest running stories I’ve ever heard, Brian Morrison’s tragic tale from the 2006 Western States. I’d heard the story before from the man himself while on a trail run (an early hint that SRC was the place for me), but last night provided a slew of new & fascinating nuggets of specificity, and to top it off he popped in a DVD and we watched the both inspiring and heartbreaking footage of him completing the last 100 meters of the race. I’d love to share some of those nuggets, but…well, fuck you. You should have been there.
On the other hand, being one of only three non-speakers gave it a much more intimate feel and you had access you wouldn’t have had at a Dean Karnazes book signing. At some point I asked Greg if the road ultra scene (to which he’s partial and I’m clueless) was seeing the sort of competitive ascension that trail ultra running is seeing. He replied in the negative, stating that “trail ultrarunning is hip right now.” One glance around the nearly empty store may have suggested otherwise, but everything’s relative, I suppose.
I get it, but it’s still disappointing. People can understand walk/jogging 13 miles, and purple shirts. It’s not beyond the realm of comprehension. Running 100 miles is still a carnival trick to many people, including myself in a way, but it’s a very interesting and impressive carnival trick that deserves a bit better than a free get together where the speakers outnumber the listeners. I sort of wish though that those inspired enough to take part in Rock & Roll, and give $100+ dollars to a race whose main sponsor was Dodge and Miller Genuine Draft, could have found a couple hours in their Tuesday evening to see & hear something new. Nothing but reruns on TV right now anyway, right?