My friend Jojo (the cute blonde in the photos) is a runner, and I don’t mean that she is one of those dainty girls who goes to the gym twice a month to run a mile and then advertises it on FaceBook and Twitter as if they’ve just won the Boston Marathon-no, this girl LIVES to run.
One of the perks of being friends with an athletic person (other than the fact that she always has yummy granola bars in her car) is that she graciously allows me to accompany her on all of her running adventures-despite the fact that in the world of athletes, I am an uncoordinated alien. So far, we have experienced two 5k’s, a half marathon, and as of this past weekend, The Haunted Hustle, together. (By together, I mean that we wake up at an UNGODLY hour, slam back a few cups of coffee while singing along to shameless pop songs on route to our location, and then she runs while I retreat to the nearest coffee shop to read or write or do other “non-active” things…true bonding).
Now admittedly, I can’t claim to understand the practice…I mean, in my day, running several miles was a punishment. It was the thing that your volleyball coach made you do when you missed a serve (not that I know from experience or anything) BUT, despite my lack of understanding, I have an immense amount of respect for those who are committed to the lifestyle. (Mostly, because the running world is weird, and therefore interesting).
The more running events I attend, the more I learn about the culture-and how beautifully strange it is. For example, as a bunch of “health-conscious” people, you would think that there would be no junk food within 100 miles (that they probably ran just for fun) of the place right? WRONG. Almost every major running event I have been to has not only been close to junk food-but they’ve HANDED IT OUT to participants (and in my case the people that walk around with participants long enough to look like them). At the Haunted Hustle, they had a breakfast buffet, that’s right, buffet as in pancakes (with syrup), bacon, eggs, the whole nine yards. Granted, this is the part where some nutritionist would lecture me about the importance of carbo-loading (a cryptic athlete term which means stuffing your face with pasta the night before you run because carbohydrates are good for you-but only if you run a zillion miles the next day) before a run, and they would point out that bacon and eggs are packed (maybe) with protein..yadda yadda yadda. BUT, the buffet was not the only culprit. They also handed out BEER to the RUNNERS- which is awesome if you ask me but totally caught me off guard the first time I saw them do it. Aside from the main entrees, if you walk away from the race without a bag full of granola bars, at least seven bottles of flavored water, a banana, an apple, and a box of donuts (i’m not kidding, it has happened) then you did it wrong. Oh and if you need an entire box of pain killers, they’ve got you covered in that department too, so no worries.
In addition to the Smörgåsbord of tantalizing treats, I’ve found that another crucial attraction at these major public races is the ability to buy literally everything you will ever need to run-ever-right on the spot. Shirts, shoes, socks, hats, pants, back packs, water bottles, running logs, gloves, fancy-schmancy watches and ipod/mp3 features….you name it, they have it-right there at the race. So essentially, you could show up stark naked (please don’t though-there are usually kids at these events and nobody want to see that…) and you would be able to buy your entire wardrobe and countless accessories right on the spot. Brilliant marketing strategy marathon planners, points to you.
I’ll admit, even I was tempted to start running solely because of all the cool STUFF I would then be entitled to purchase and wear. Of course, after a few moments, I snapped out of it and remembered that if I started running, I would then, consequently, be obligated to run, and that was a MAJOR deal-breaker. So no funny hats or cool rainbow shoes for this girl…(yet).
The Haunted Hustle took the fun to a new level by milking it’s Halloween theme for all it’s worth. At least half of the participants ran the duration of the race in a costume. Several Supermans, (supermen?), a couple of Lady Gagas, famous brothers Mario and Luigi, a handful of kitties, skeletons, werewolves and mummies, not to mention a big bird or two, all made a guest appearance. Naturally, by the end of a 13+ race, all of the face makeup is distorted by sweat and other elements- so the only characters you could recognize were the ones who were committed enough to leave their gorilla suits and tutus on over their running clothes (which wasn’t very many, for obvious reasons). I have been informed by my official inside sources (Jojo and Monique), most of the costumes were ditched somewhere around mile 7 and 1/2, understandably so.
This particular running adventure was made especially fun by the presence of yet another one of my athlete friends, Monique. (she is another ACTUAL runner like Jojo). So not only did I get to observe the running world incognito with ONE real live athlete- I got to walk around with TWO. (Which made me feel twice as BA-I must admit). I have to brag about this girl for a minute, because not only did she and Jojo run 13.1 miles, (which should probably be illegal but whatever) BUT she also PR-ed- which in athlete lingo means she beat her personal record time by several minutes (which is a pretty huge deal when you are running that far).
One of my favorite parts of being one of the non-athletes is that I get to cheer obnoxiously at the start of the race and then cheer even more obnoxiously when my friends cross the finish line, which all joking aside, is really awesome. In the meantime, I am allotted between one and two hours of pure introvert time. No one goes to a half marathon to make meaningless small talk, so it is completely acceptable for me to spend that time walking through the crowds with my giant green headphones on or hiding out in some local diner or pet store ( for the record, I’ve only done the pet store thing once …boredom has a peculiar affect on my ability to make responsible decisions, and bunnies are cute) . Typically, the entire town and it’s local businesses are fully aware that it is race day, so there are no questions asked when I walk into Starbucks or some neighborhood bookstore carrying my back pack, my friend’s backpack, several blankets and 17 granola bars, the cashier simply nods in a way that says “Ah yes, race day,” and nothing more is said about it. No one even accuses me of robbing a GoodWill or anything (which is surely what it looks like). When the time finally comes for me to head back to the finish line however, things get a bit less friendly.
Non-participants may not be competitive in an athletic way, but when it comes to claiming a decent territory: an area where you are a reasonable distance away from the finish line but close enough that you can see your friends/family members during their last
mile (which is necessary for people like me, who have a compulsion to photograph EVERY SECOND of their friend’s victories)- the once vacated area turns into an all-out war zone. If you have never had the pleasure of arguing with an old woman about three inches of foot-space, let me tell ya, it’s a riot. We never seem to give the elderly enough credit in the passive-aggression department, which is silly because some of them (like the little spit-fire I dealt with during the race) easily have a good 50+ years of experience over me. Her favorite tactic was sneaking up a few inches ahead of me ever-so-slowly, and then “accidentally” shifting backwards and stepping on my toe so that I would instinctively move backwards, surrendering my sacred three inches of photo space. I made a terrific comeback however, when I decided to fake sneeze (loudly) a couple of times just a little too close to the back of her head- score one for the youngins! Old people aren’t the only challenge of course. Along with the assembly of other random family members, friends, and the insane amount of screaming children that always seem to appear out of nowhere, there are possibly the most difficult breed of people to ever walk God’s good earth: race officials. I could start an entire blog about all of my issues with people who adopt a God-complex the second you give them a clip board and a stop watch, but for time’s sake I will only describe the worst offender (and my new arch-nemesis): HAT GUY.
This dude took annoying to a whole new level. Despite his ridiculous hat (I’m not sure why it bothered me so much, but it made me think very violent things…). I don’t even know what his actual job was, but regardless, this guy was determined to make it nearly IMPOSSIBLE for any of the supporters (the few, the proud, the lazy bystanders) to catch even a glimpse of their runners. He was attempting to keep observers at a reasonable distance from the runners, which is understandable, but he was one of those people that has zero respect for personal boundaries (and I don’t handle those people very well). He would come up and shove (I am not exaggerating here, he shoved) several other on-lookers as well as myself every fifteen seconds or so all the while repeating “STEP IT BACK FOLKS STEP IT BACK” in the most ear-piercingly nasal voice I have ever heard. I have to add that even though we weren’t technically inside, an inside voice would have been more than sufficient-and he did not know how to use his. He also spat when he yelled, which meant automatic disqualification for any chances of us ever becoming friends. In retrospect, I am sure in a few decades or so, I will reminisce about HAT GUY and see him in a mature, and understanding light, and perhaps my encounter with him will even prompt a lighthearted chuckle or two…but today is NOT that day.
Despite my struggles, I did end up overcoming the obstacles that the old lady and HAT GUY manifested, and I got a front row seat of my friend’s victory. Runners are funny when they finally finish a race in the sense that almost none of them look very happy about it- probably because they are close to death. You can tell from their pained expressions that although they feel loved when their children run up to them and jump into their nearly-broken arms, or their spouses go in for that “Great Job!” kiss, that they are all fighting off a deep and intense urge to stab anyone who crosses them before they get their bottle of water and a chance to pee. I’m not sure what it is about running, but it seems like every one who ran that race had to pee IMMEDIATELY after finishing-I’m sure holding it for 13 miles isn’t exactly enjoyable.
The race coordinator’s treat their athletes very well post-race- which is only fair. Haunted Hustle did this especially well. Every runner received a complimentary beer, snacks and a space suit looking foil wrap thing that supposedly keeps you warm by attracting the sunlight directly to your adrenaline-wrecked bodies. The runners love them and I appreciate their ability to make people look like baked potatoes.
In the end, it is always an enjoyable day with good friends. The waking up un-godly early, the feisty old ladies, the HAT GUYS- they are all worth it to see the look on my friends’ faces when they realize just how much they have achieved before noon. I am thankful that these little adventures have become a semi-regular part of my life, and I look forward to the many to come (I hope!) in the future. To all of you psychos…I mean, athletes out there, thanks for doing something just crazy enough to be awesome, and for your willingness to welcome the unfortunately uncoordinated (I speak for us all) into your world once in a while. You make terrific blogging material 😉
Until next time,