Friday, September 18, 2009

What's the Big Idea


Like the White Queen trying to believe a few impossible things before breakfast, most of us can't fathom entering a race that covers a full zipcode or two. But for people like Cheryl Lager, the word "ultramarathon" sets off a waggle dance of pure running glee. Cheryl was an average, young, middle-aged woman, experiencing average,young, middle-age spread. She joined an average joe's gym so she could fitinto her average-size clothing. (Sorry!). Soon, treadmill running gave wayto road races, and short distances grew to full marathons. But for Cheryl,marathons simply ended too soon. She had reached the inflection point inlong distance running where lunacy and genius come together to form a neworder: Marathon Maniacs, an elite group of insatiable marathoners who run 50and 100 mile events as well. Happiness comes from being irretrievably drawn into a quest that will notend. "The secret of life," said Henry Moore, British sculptor, "is to have a task, something you devote your entire life to, something you bringeverything to, every minute of the day for the rest of your life. And, themost important thing is, it must be something you cannot possibly do."

Sally is also an artist. Her art work can be found at Parlett's Cards, Stationery & Gifts in Williamsburg, Gallery at York Hall on Main St. in Yorktown, Gallery on the York on Rte 17 in Yorktown, Peedles Gallery and Gifts at 404 Wythe Creek Rd in Poquoson, and Rooms, Blooms, and More in Hilton Village on Warwick Blvd. in Newport News.For comments, questions and resource referrals, she can be reached at © by Sally Young

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Race Day

These are some basic guidelines for everyone involved in a road race. If you are running, there are the usual things like laying out your gear the night before to avoid the last second rush and forgetting some of your stuff, or arriving early for registration, etc. For volunteers there are similar things like remember to charge the battery for the clock, etc. There are a few other things to remember.

First, if you are running, the number goes on the front. And pin that bib to something you will be still wearing at the finish and in a place where, if a volunteer has to tear off the pull tag for you, they won't be also risking grabbing onto something you don't want them grabbing on to. The volunteers at the finish line need to see your number so they can record the order of finish. Bandit catchers need to see your number so they know you can go through the chute. Photo companies need to see that number when they take your picture in the big races so they can send you the offers to buy your picture. Do not take your dog or your baby stroller through the chute with you. Liability insurance ban those for one thing, and they jam up the chute and slow things down for another. If you have to pick one, pick the dog. Trying to veer a bigass stroller the size of a small SUV through the chute is like having your baby do the announcement on your voice mail. You think it's adorable, the rest of the world finds it annoying. By the way, USATF also bans headphones (iPods, etc.), but most race directors ignore that one. Music is a wonderful and inspiring thing. Your brain can produce it without the electronics. When you run with the music in your head, it leaves your ears free to hear things like birds singing and the engine of the car bearing down on you.

When you pin the number on, do not put a pin through that big hole in the pull tag. You will just slow things down again as a volunteer tries to undo the thing from your sweaty self (by the way, taking a shower before the race, too, is not a bad idea) while the line behind you gets longer. The hole is for the string and again is for getting the results in order. And don't pull that tag off before the chute. "Where is your pull tag?" "It's in my car." Arghhhhh.....

If you feel the need to throw up at the finish, aim as far away from folks as possible. Don't feel bad, lots of people heave, just try not to spread that competitive love around. There are better ways to share bodily fluids. Which leads to the next point. If you have to vomit or otherwise relieve your self during the race, again, move away from the people and try to find some quiet time and private space - preferably not somebody's yard. When you are out on the course, look before you blow your snot rockets and spit loogies. People don't appreciate getting hit with those. And if you are running into a stiff wind, like happens in VA Beach sometime, you could put your eye out. (And you will swear that despite running at top speed, the wind is pushing you backwards.)

George Sheehan wrote in "Running and Being" about some runners being annoyed by his groaning as he ran during races. If you find yourself running alongside someone who is wheezing what sounds like death on a cracker, don't get annoyed and mad. That just causes you to lose your focus. Use it as a motivator to go faster to get as far from the screeching as possible. And there is recent research that cursing and groaning can actually relieve pain and make you feel better. Just be aware of who is around you. You may feel better but they may be offended. Go figure.

Don't get too uptight about your number. If you happen to get the number 1 and you look at least semi-fit, people will most likely assume you are one of the top runners even if you have trouble beating your own shadow to the finish line. Take it in good humor. And next time send your registration in a little later. Don't have a hissy about the numbers 69 and 666. They are just numbers you will be wearing for a short time and not declarations of your lifestyle choice. And dammit, why don't I ever got those numbers.

When you get to the finish line, slow down. Do not run over the person in front of you or pass them. Remember those pull tags? This is where the tags get pulled and put on the stringer. You want to know where you finished in the order, don't you?

Runners who have finished and spectators need to be aware that they are still on planet earth with things like cars and trucks and later finishing runners. Get out of the road and get off of the course. It is hard enough trying to finish fast, sometimes with buses and cars in the way, but when there are oblivious people tooling around between you and the finish, it can make you want to go into linebacker or hockey mode. It will take a few seconds off your time, but from then on, people will get the hell out of your way. You may even be permanently assigned 666 as your race number.

Course marshals need to pay attention. Sometimes runners wind up in places far off the course, totally lost because a course marshal was chatting up somebody or was not where they were supposed to be and didn't guide a runner to make a turn. You find yourself looking around a campground wondering where in the world you are. And sometimes the lead bike or car doesn't know the route and takes a wrong turn and the leaders go off in the wrong direction. The upside to this is that runners who don't usually place have a better shot at placing. It is sort of like handicapping horses except the fast runners don't carry more weight, they have to run extra distance.

Race walkers need to walk. The USATF rule is this: "Race walking differs from running in that it requires the competitor to maintain contact with the ground and straighten their front knee when the foot makes contact with the ground, keeping it straightened until the knee passes under the body. Judges evaluate the technique of race walkers and report fouls which may lead to disqualification. All judging is done by the eye of the judge and no outside technology is used in making judging decisions." This is what it looks like:

Runners can walk and run, just like Jeff Galloway teaches it, but walkers only walk.

One thing nice about running races is that people are competitive but also cooperative as a rule. They want to do their best, but also encourage and cheer each other on. There is rarely the elbow throwing, heel clipping, leg entangling, roller derby aspect to it. Having said that, cutting in front of someone or riding on their heels is not good. Remember, the goal is fun and doing your best. There are times people blow their stacks and act like idiots for reasons that sometimes only they know. They may have been aggravated by trying to weave through a pack of folks running together taking up the whole width of the course. This is especially true when the course includes trails. Be mindful when some one is behind you and trying to pass. Yet another reason to fore go the headphones.

Don't stop at the water tables. Grab a cup and move along out of the way so other people don't run into you. And double knot your shoes while you're at it. Abrupt stops on the course to tie your shoe can result in untended acrobatics and road rash. And that's a best case result.

At the start line, slower runners and walkers start at the back of the pack. There always seem to be some slow runners and some walkers who have to start on the front line. It can make the faster runners behind them feel like they are stuck in the opening scene of "Office Space."

Be polite to your fellow runners. Running cranks up the sinuses. If you notice that your bud has something hanging from his chin or a booger like a stalactite hanging from a nostril, give him a discrete heads up. And a tissue if you have one.

Pack some Purell. You've hit the Port-a-Potties, you've run the race and wiped the mucous and spit you secreted with your hands and smeared that onto your sweaty outfit, and now you are digging into the goodies at the finish line. Clean your hands first, please. This is not a Hep A support rally. And leave some goodies for the folks who haven't finished yet. Good lord! I got to do some speed work to get to those bagels quicker.

Lastly, thanking volunteers is a good thing, congratulating other runners and walkers is a good thing. And remember, you are doing a good thing taking care of yourself. Running is good for your physical, mental and emotional health when you keep it in perspective. If more people took care of themselves like you, health care costs would be a lot lower and folks wouldn't be as likely to turn into screaming meemies when talking about health care reform.

You can get the official USATF rules for road racing etiquette at