Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Your Soul For A Beer

Of all the sports related beer commercials how is it you never see someone downing a cold frosty one after a marathon?

Though I may be partial to runners & running I'd love to see two guys, or gals, who have just fought to the finish in the Boston or New York Marathon and accept cheers from the congratulatory crowd from the podium with at least a PBR or pint of Guinness in their mits. Why? I believe Akron's Roadrunner Marathon is a trendsetter following my experience in last fall's event.

Akron Roadrunner Marathon:

I have long since stopped running competitively and every once in a great while I enter a race for fun with friends. Last September I was recruited by coworkers to be a member of our five member marathon relay team. With no serious intentions it would be a fun & physical exercise for all involved. As long as I wasn't going to be the only one in agony I was fine with it. After accepting the invitation I took a look to see how much time I had before the marathon and discovered I had over a month before the starter's pistol was fired. Plenty of time to prepare. My portion of the the marathon, as the third leg, was 6.2 miles. "Piece of cake," I thought. Been there, done that - and thus my procrastination crawled out of hibernation.

Just like that the weeks leading up to the race dwindled. What did I do? Nothing...absolutely nothing. I kept putting it off and putting it off like it was April 15th approaching and I was going to owe Uncle Sam rather than get a refund. Instead of the tax man knocking on my door it was the ghost of the future showing images of my impending funeral as I collapse in agony along the streets of Akron. I had every intention of running, jogging slightly or walking REALLY fast...I just never got around to it.

Suddenly it was Friday - the day before and I figured I could, at the very least, muster enough energy to fulfill my obligation even without the athletic prowess to back me up. Nope, that didn't happen either. Working the 3 to 11 shift and as much as I tried to leave early - work kept falling in my lap. I didn't get out of the office till 1:30 Saturday morning. I could only pack in about 3 1/2 hours of sleep. A quick shower and some running gear later I was out the door.

Once at my relay station I mingle with other running wannabees & some with the deer-in-headlights look I'm all too familiar with. I admit I had a few butterflies, but I think it had more to do with the fact I had nothing for breakfast, very little sleep and had not run a lick (not even to the mailbox or to fridge for the last beer) in about a year. The weather was, at least, a little help - sunny, no clouds & 68 degrees.

Waiting for our team number to be called I watch runners go by as I stretch & warm up as much I as I can. Finally our digits come over the loudspeaker and I make my way over to the chute. Minutes later I see Tina, my teammate & coworker, and we make eye contact. She smiles, I believe, in relief that her portion of the journey is about to come to an end. She's not exactly an avid runner and had the shortest leg. I had to chuckle as she came up the hill shuffling her feet across the ground like they were somehow attached to it and carrying a cup of water taken from the last water station like it was a hot cup of coffee & afraid to spill it. And she's totally oblivious to the people who are running past her like she's standing still.

We exchange the baton and I begin. The butterflies have become adrenaline. Just to break the eerie silence I yell, "Last one there buys all the beer!!" A rumble of laughter come from the sidelines and I smile. My leg of the race winds through the University of Akron campus, past the historic downtown and along the Ohio & Erie Canal Towpath Trail. I'm doing pretty good and my body seems to be recollecting the running form. My day is decent until I see mile marker thirteen. That's when my brain reminds me I'm out of shape, malnourished and have no business acting out my running glory of yesteryear.

Ohio & Erie Canal Towpath Trail:

I may have looked okay to the casual observer, but inside my body was at war with itself. My legs and arms are now rubber, my lungs have shrunk to the size of peanuts and I have to two plus miles of this nightmare remaining. That voice of self doubt repeatedly begs me to stop and walk, but my stubbornness is the lone engine still running in my mind. Water stations offered little fuel, but it was enough to realize I wouldn't forgive myself if I took the easy way out.

Miles thirteen through fifteen took forever and I swear I aged ten years in that time. Once the course took us off the towpath trail and into Sand Run Metro Park I could see the end and slowly begin rejoicing with the knowledge that I was about to hand this albatross (race baton) onto another teammate. Out of nowhere, like a figure of Jesus miraculously appearing on the side of a silo at a rural midwestern farm, Carissa (my teammate) is waiting for me. As she grabs the baton I have "The Wicked Witch Is Dead" from The Wizard of Oz playing in my head.

When I come to a stop my leg muscles cramp ever so slightly, just enough to feel like someone is giving them a squeeze with every little step. After downing a gallon or two of water and various sports drinks I drag myself onto the bus that will take us to the finish line at Canal Park, the home of the Cleveland Indians Class AA affiliate the Akron Aeros. Though just a ten to fifteen minute bus ride I struggled to stay awake and didn't have enough strength to move my head which was plastered against the window. I could at least keep my mouth closed to avoid drooling on myself.

The Akron Aeros:

In the stadium we're directed to the runners area which is complete with snacks, drinks and promotions of all kinds. I don't know about the other poor suckers, but I was starving. Sure...fruit, snacks, energy & protein bars are great but what I needed was a cheeseburger, a bratwurst slathered with mustard or a rib-eye steak. And I definitely had no interest in signing up for a subscription to Runner's World or purchasing a bulk supply of Power Bars.

Along with the free access to the hamster food & water we were given a bag of "gifts". These were more/less advertisements with free samples of hand cream & lip balm and coupons for sports related items I wouldn't consider even if I was an Olympic hopeful. Strangely - it also came with three small tickets. The kind used for 50/50 tickets at high school athletic events. Curious, I put on my best fake smile and ask a race volunteer what these represented. "They're for the beer," she says. Beer?! "Yes, these are your tickets for access to the beer tent." As she points to my left the tent seemed to glisten like the dew on a late summer's morn. I stare in awe.

Immediately I drop my bag of assorted squirrel treats & Avon freebies and zero in on the beer garden. Amazingly each ticket is worth a free Michelob Ultra. I can't say I'd ever purposely order one, but with no real food around this was the next best thing. Good, old fashioned "beer"....sort of. Within minutes I went from a near death experience to sitting in the stands along the third base line of Canal Park nursing three cold, frosty beers on a warm sunny September afternoon. My feet propped up on the seat in front of me & watching the remaining runners finished their 26.2 mile gauntlet. I sat their with a nice buzz (it comes quick on an empty stomach and no energy whatsoever) munching on fruit, pretzels, popcorn, granola & protein bars. I don't think I have ever had a better time at a ballpark.

About two hours later (the time it took for the buzz to wear off) I made my way to my car to head south to Canton (where I was living at the time), but not before swinging by Swensons for a pair of Galley Boys, onion rings, fries and the largest soda my car hop could find. Once at home I crawl into bed, still in race clothes, and sleep for four hours before heading further south to Salt Fork State Park to attend a birthday gathering with my then girlfriend and acquaintances.


Will I take part in a another Akron Roadrunner Marathon? Well, if I'm asked, you bet your ass I would. After last Fall's race I thought Akron should do a better job of promoting their "free beer" segment of the race. "Imagine how many would sign up then!?", I thought. And waddaya know!! The June 2008 issue of Running Times, on page 71, is the Roadrunner Marathon ad which proudly boasts "Free Michelob Ultra at the finish line". Marketing at its best I tell you.

Running Times:

Hey, I may have found a new career!

An email sent to the team after the race:

Great job Team Radio Waves!! We finished the 26.2 miles in under 4 hours. Our official time was 3:58:18. We placed 242nd in the 5-person relay competition. Overall marathon, we placed 346th.

Individual Breakdown:Bib # 5371, Team Name: RADIO WAVES

Toni Cicone - 1:01:08 (10K - 6.2 miles)
Tina Kaufmann - 32:12 (5K - 3.1 miles)
Craig Simpson - 54:14 (10K - 6.2 miles)
Carissa Bowlin - 28:13 (5K - 3.1 miles)
George McFly - 1:02:33 (12.2K - 7.6 miles)

Looking forward to 2008!

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