Sunday, August 21, 2011

Let the Games Begin! Pre-race Observations

If you are, know, or (god forbid) live with a runner, then you are aware of the off- kilter nature of the runner personality. And nowhere is it more evident than at the start of a stupid-long race, where the self-selecting, cream-of-the-crop of Crazy convenes.

The race kicked off last night with a huge plate of food (okay, two plates) in an elementary school gymnasium, alongside close to 400 other highly-metabolic nut balls. Basically, the moment you show your racer wristband and enter the hall, you have close to 400 new friends. Elite athletes are throwing back grilled chicken alongside mid-packers, and the nervous energy has people laughing, toasting with lemonade, and gregariously hand-shaking ('hey didn't I see you here last year?').
The RUN 3 event participants run solo, but the 6-day participants run in teams of two. And those teams have names. Sponsored racers typically carry their sponsor's name, but unsponsored racers are free to choose, and the whacked nature of the runner mind is on display here (e.g. Team Lard Going Hard, Team Humpme and Dumpme, Team Trail Trash).

Some of the partners are married, others best friends, some are club buddies, and some partners, no kidding, met for the first time at the pre-race dinner. The people who wanted to do TransRockies, but didn't have anyone else in their social circle mentally ill enough to join them, used the Partner Finder feature on the TransRockies website. Paul and I sat next to a South African woman named Janine and a Belgian man named Christoph, who had paired up this way, and were exchanging details of their life over a second plate of beans. "We just met and already we're sharing food", she said. A very good sign.

This morning was equally lively, with another massive serving of food, and a coffee to 'kick start the engine'. I scanned the room and saw Kelly, who i had met the previous night, with her hand in a cast, still planning to toe the line. Kelly had had a dirt bike vs. tree accident last week (tree won), and had hand surgery just last Wednesday to put in plates and screws. I asked how she was feeling and she said she had been forced to dip into her Percocet stash around 2am but was generally feeling okay this morning (fairly certain i'd be laying on my couch at home if that were me). Studs and studettes trickled out from the long breakfast, baring sunscreen-lathered (and damn good-looking) legs, and a virtual symphony of Garmins chimed as timers and paces were being programmed in. The pre-start routine of gear checking, picture taking, race number pinning, timing chip registering, pseudo-stretching, and good-luck-high-fiving was well underway.

All I could do was look around at the remarkable field of people, from Dean Karnazes, who just completed a run across the US (fifty miles a day for 75 days straight), to the father of 12 kids (9 of which were adopted and have special needs), to Tim, a race favorite, whose brother died suddenly just weeks earlier. All of these profound personal stories lining up against the vast and inspiring backdrop of the Colorado Rockies. I had heard that TransRockies is a unique and special event. That's why i'm here. Running is generally considered to be an individual sport, but I tend to disagree. It's moments like this, when the genuine support for your fellow man in a shared experience is felt, that this notion of Running Community is underscored. We might be the lunatic fringe, but we respect and take care of our own.

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