At about this time, Shelley’s husband Jimmy entered. We had met online. Shelley and Jim had offered to pace me at Burning River this year, but I really just needed crew members. Somehow, I managed to convince Jim to run the race, too. He’s even newer to ultrarunning than me, but I felt a definite mentally tough vibe in our conversations. He even offered to wager on tomorrow’s race, but I declined. Outwardly, I do not like to make ultras competitive. I love the sense of camaraderie and mutual adventure. I love helping others reach their potential. As such, I don’t like the idea of introducing extrinsic motivators in my running.
Inwardly, Jim’s offer for a wager was a good motivator. Why? I knew he was likely going to try to run farther than I did. I like knowing I can push people to surpass previous limits. I hoped he succeeded… it would be excellent training for Burning River.
As we stood around talking about running, I asked about strategy for tomorrow’s race. Bill McGovern, one of the expected front-runners, shared some great tips. He was taking an even-paced approach. He would begin slowly and take appropriate walk breaks. The idea was simple- remain strong as long as possible.
I then shared my strategy- run as long as I can, then adopt a run/walk strategy as needed. Jesse and I had conversations about this. We both determined this strategy worked best for us. My fellow runners dubbed it a “crash and burn” strategy, though that’s not exactly how it works. When I began running ultras, I used a very regimented run/walk schedule. I continually varied the times in an attempt to find something that worked. In 2008, I tried a 10 minute run, three minute walk strategy for Burning River. It worked okay until I reached a major low point and was unable to maintain a fast enough pace to avoid the cutoff. Since that time, I have used the “run as long as you can” strategy I adopted from Jeremiah Cataldo, a fellow ultrarunner. Based on the conversations I would have the next day during the race, my strategy was pretty controversial.
The conversation jumped from one running topic to another. At some point, someone brought up real estate. I generally dislike the topic. It’s like talking about stocks, bonds, inflation, or other such money-oriented subjects. It’s a bit too boring for me. I had to play the ace in my hand… I brought up the fact that Shelly and I rent. Based on previous experience, it is an immediate topic killer. Everybody wants to talk about how renting is simply flushing money down the toilet, but nobody ever does for fear of insulting me. It works great!
After a few moments of awkward silence, someone brought up the Mind the Ducks course. This led to a discussion of porta-potties, which led to a discussion about certain parks around Rochester being used as pickup locations for males seeking the company of other males, presumably on the down low. Socially, I’m very liberal. I have no problems with a person’s sexual orientation. The rest of my traveling companions also shared this level of comfort as we frequently and sometimes publicly joked about Jesse and Mark’s sleeping arrangements. The topic was obviously a bit taboo for the rest of the room as nobody actually mentioned the conversation was about males. Someone told a story about being repeated solicited at one of the parks. At the mention of prostitution, Mark enthusiastically blurted out “We’re going to one of those parks? SIGN ME UP!”
The room fell silent. Everybody was staring at Mark with a mortified, confused look. Inwardly, I could barely contain my laughter! Based on the reaction from our New York friends, they didn’t realize Mark didn’t pick up on the subtle hints that we were talking about male prostitutes. By the look on Mark’s face, Shelly, Jesse, and I could tell he was obviously confused. Yet none of us spoke. After about ten seconds of tension-filled silence, Shelley V. quietly said “We’re talking about dudes.”
The look on Mark’s face was priceless! He stammered as he tried to explain. Shelly, Jesse, and I immediately started teasing while everyone else laughed nervously. Afterward, Shelly and I lamented about the impression we mush have made. Not only were we a band of shoeless gypsies from Michigan, but now we had the burden of social awkwardness to carry. We did nothing to make barefoot runners seem like stable, normal individuals.
The rest of the evening was spent talking about running, which was absolutely fabulous! At some point, Bill started asking Jesse and I questions. I got the impression he was trying to determine if we would be serious competitors. If he were concerned about me, I’m sure the three beers I drank alleviated some concern. Jesse on the other hand was a wild card. He was young. He didn’t appear cocky, rather a bit self-depreciating. In my experiences, these are the runners that tend to do extremely well. I wondered if Bill thought the same. He did give us advice to start slow. He told a story of a young runner that went out way too fast. He lapped Bill six times my mid-race, then crashed. Bill ended up beating him by many miles. This story was enough to convince both Jesse and I to exercise restraint the next morning. More on that later…
I’m grateful Shelley V. opened her home to all of us; it was one of the high points of the weekend. At around 9:00, we decided it was time to head back and get some rest. I planned on testing a new energy source for this race- wine-based iskiate. It was a combination of wine, water, and chia seeds. My friends Kate Kift and Andy Grosvenor suggested the technique, and Mind the Ducks provided the perfect testing ground. I asked Shelley and Jim where I could buy some wine. As it turns out, liquor stores in New York close at 9:00. Jim offered to drive ahead of us. Since it was late, I felt bad about having him lead us so I asked for a map instead. We hurriedly said our goodbyes and were off!
Jim’s map led us directly to the nearest liquor store. We pulled into the parking lot with three minutes to spare. Damn, we’re good! Then they shut the lights off. I jumped out of the car and quickly walked to the door. As I approached, the liquor store clerk waved me away while shaking her head. NOOOOOOOO!!!!!
Okay, now we’re without alcohol. A momentary panic set in until Shelly (or Jesse… maybe Mark) remembered seeing a beer sign in the window of a gas station around the corner. We drove a few hundred yards to the gas station. All they had was beer… no wine. Damn. I settled on the only non-beer-like thing they had: Mike’s Hard Lemonade. This will have to suffice. We picked up a 12 pack of Bud for the rest of the evening. Is it a wise pre-race strategy? No. Is it a fun pre-race strategy. Of course!
We arrived at the hotel, briefly went to our rooms, then re-convened in Mark and Jesse’s room. We enjoyed a few more beers, talked about Bill’s race advice, made fun of Mark’s faux pas, and eventually decided to head off to bed. I thought I would be more nervous, but I quickly fell asleep. I’m sure the six beers helped with that.
Next: The Race (finally)