It Was Hot: BRR 50, April 13, 2002
By John Dodds
I first met Gene Gatens at this year's HAT Run. We had "talked" by email before then a couple times as he had read some of my articles. We ran for a little while together at BRR 50. As we were running from Fountainhead toward the Do Loop, he asked, "Do you have the lead yet?" He assumed I was going to write a report on this year's race. I wasn't sure I was going to write anything, but I told him I didn't have any lead and asked if he had any suggestions. He replied, "It was hot." It certainly was a warm day. At the time, I didn't think much about his comment, but as events would turn out, it was perfect. I'm sure you all will agree as I'm sure Gene will, too.
One of the reasons ultrarunning is a great sport is because you get to meet some really neat people. A little strange, perhaps, but neat nonetheless. Of course, normal people won't agree with this assessment. Anyway, let me tell you about some of the people at the BRR50. [Note: if you're looking for a report on how to successfully run this race, you need read no further.]
A leak in the woods. "Taking a leak" is pretty much a male term and that is what one of the male entrants did just outside the cafeteria before the race. I was coming from one direction, and Danny and Patti McDonnell were coming from the other direction. Said unnamed entrant gave us a merry wave from behind the tree. When he was finished, he walked over to Patti and stuck out his hand to give her a handshake, to which she replied: "I saw what you were doing with that hand, so I'll just give you a hug instead." OK, guys, let this be a lesson on how to get a hug from a woman. It was Danny's turn, so he put out his left hand and shook our entrant's left hand, saying, "I'm assuming you're right handed." I didn't want to make any assumptions nor did I want a hug, so I just made a note of all this in my notebook for future reference (and which you are now reading). I'd tell you who the person was, but I'm not a tattletale. You'll have to ask Danny or Patti.
Michele. Last year I pretty much had a miserable time, mainly because I decided I'd try to keep up with Michele Burr. That lasted about 14 miles. At which point, she said, "John, do you mind if I get by you here?" Which really is ultrarunnerspeak for: "Get your sorry, raggedy ass out of the way." I was beat by the time I got back to Hemlock and had a mere 35 miles to go. I can tell you it was a pretty miserable 35 miles. Sure, go ahead and laugh, but I should point out that I had finished ahead of her the year before that. How was I supposed to know she had morphed and would take well over an hour off her time? I know this may sound like speculation, but I think she acquired some of the leftover drugs used by the 1972 women's swimming team from East Germany. That's the drug that made the women look and talk like Arnold Schwarzenegger. I had to rule this theory out, however, because Michele still looked and talked like she did the year before. Then I thought it might be her training regimen, acquiring a knack for running trails, getting smarter, etc. And then I thought: "Nah, it's gotta be drugs." It certainly can't be her diet. I'd tell you what her main staple is, but this isn't the National Enquirer. Anyway, my strategy for this race was never to be even close to Michele. And it worked perfectly as I took over 50 minutes off my time from last year.
Gary Knipling. In last year's race, Gary caught up to me on the way back at Bull Run Marina. He was running pretty well and went on ahead of me. Which he reminds me every chance he can get. I can call him up to ask about the price of gasoline in Wyoming, and he'll say, "Remember when I caught up to you at Bull Run Marina last year?" This year's race was different because I came up behind him early in the race on the way out of Hemlock. I told him he was doing it all wrong—he was supposed to let me go out first and fade, then catch me and pass me, and then gloat for another year. We ran for a while and then I went ahead, but first I asked, "Gary, do you mind if I get by you here?" I got about 10 yards in front of him, when I heard: "John, did you see the wild pink phlox?" I stopped, turned and pointed my water bottle at him and said, "Don't start. I'm not falling for that." As I turned and ran away (literally), I heard him yell at me, "They have four petals, shaped like propellers." Ignoring him, I pressed on and fortunately was able to maintain my lead this year. And I won't stoop to gloating for the next year how I finished ahead of him. If you're wondering why Gary says phlox has four petals and the picture shows five petals, then you'll just have to ask Gary.
The Pennsylvanians. As far as I can tell, there are two basic types of Pennsylvanians: Buzzards and Rats. [Lesser known are the Quakers, steelworkers, Pennsylvania Dutch, etc.] There's Harry Smith, a Buzzard. Some people may not know that Harry had a hamstring pull at the HAT Run several weeks ago and exercising good judgment uncharacteristic of ultrarunners, decided to pull out. I was a little surprised to see him at Bull Run, but he ran an excellent race and became one of the 10-time finishers. We can all admire a person who will risk permanent injury for the sake of a nice plaque. There is Karen Shiley, also a Buzzard, whom I ran with the latter portion of the race. Someone has yet to tell her that you're supposed to walk up the hills. I sort of kept up with her until the last climb into Hemlock at which time I asked myself this incisive question: "What's the point?" Had I been able to answer this question, I might have finished with her.
Earlier in the race, I switched positions a couple times with Courtney Fenstermacher, a Rat. In last year's race, I had passed her on a hill coming back to Hemlock in the morning. When I did my major fade, she passed me and then went on to finish not quite an hour ahead of me. I think I passed her on the same hill in this year's race and was worrying that I would be in for the same fate. However, I seemed to be able to stay with her for a while and was wondering when she would go ahead of me. There are certain telltale signs that will indicate whether a runner is getting an energy burst. I realized this with Courtney as we were on the white trail almost to Fountainhead when she and another guy started singing Jimmy Buffet's Margaritaville. I knew then that it would only be a matter of time. I believe the singing duo is in the photo on the left. She, Gene Gatens (he's in the photo on the right), and I left Fountainhead together, and I later lost sight of her as she was making one of the big climbs on the way back out of the Do Loop. She again had a very good race, bettering her time from last year. One more thing—she can't sing very well, at least not while running.
Gene I last saw Gene Gatens on the course on the way to the Do Loop. I next saw him sitting in a chair at the finish line when I came in. I went over and told him he had a good race. A while later, I saw a body that looked an awful lot like Gene sprawled on the ground. He was writhing in apparent agony. [One of the main reasons I decided to write this report was because I've never used the word "writhing" before and now here is my opportunity.] Joe Clapper was bending over him with a big container of salt, saying, "This is a job for Dr. Morton." As the body-that-looked-like-Gene held out his hand, Joe poured salt into it, and the body-that-looked-like-Gene put the salt in his mouth. Being drawn to train wrecks and car crashes, I went over to verify that this indeed was Gene. And it was. As I looked down at him, I said, "It was hot, huh?" Not only did Gene give me the lead, he gave me the story. And I'll be sure to mention this to Gene every chance I get, and I hope you do, too. Gary would expect us to do no less.
For whatever reason you might want to run the BRR50 next year, you can be assured that you'll meet some interesting people.