2002 Buzzards Marathon

By John Dodds

Unfortunately, the 2002 Buzzards Marathon was not held on March 10th as planned. Therefore, if you work for the Pennsylvania Game Commission, then you don't have to read any further. But if the marathon had been held, I can imagine what it would have been like, so let's get started.

The cars wound their way through the back roads to the meeting place. Suddenly—state troopers appeared, and the Mafia members got out of their cars and ran off through the woods. Actually, this is what happened as the Mafia crime families got together at the famous "Appalachian Conference" in NY in 1957. Got a little confused there, so let's start over. The cars wound their way through the back roads to the meeting place. Like the past four years, they were undetected by the Pennsylvania Game Commission. Which was a big surprise to me considering how big the convoy was coming out of the Holiday Inn in Grantville.

Photo of VHTRC runners before the startThe Virginians. I entered the Holiday Inn parking lot as the convoy was heading out. I got in behind the last car—Joey Clapperini, il capo of the largest trail running family in Virginia (VHTRC), was the driver. Again, a big surprise to me as I didn't think anybody else from Virginia was coming. There were several of us there—see the accompanying photo. Luckily, I was not in the photo and thus can't be placed at the scene of the crime. Actually, they are not all from Virginia. Two of them are from foreign countries: Krista came all the way from South Africa, and Bill came from Maryland.

A few words about Krista. She did come all the way from South Africa but not to run this event. She is here studying. Her previous long run was 16 miles at the Eagle Run. What she was doing out there on a very difficult course is anybody's guess. Just to give you an indication of how well she did though, Joey finished in 4:38, and she finished in 4:49. I talked to her only briefly after the run and can tell that she has all the attributes of an ultrarunner: she is an otherwise normal looking person, is lacking in good judgment, and actually believes she had fun running the event.

Derrick had a disappointing time (for him) because he turned his ankle pretty badly. He said he had to "gimp" the downhills. And there were several very long downhills. I would tell you his time, but then you would want to know my time, and then you would further want to know why I was so far behind him even though he was "gimping" the downhills. I don't want to have to go into all that.

The course. Basically, it was 5 climbs. Climb #1 started about 10 minutes into the race. This is a straight shot up the mountain where trees had been cleared; apparently, we were running over a buried pipeline (or so I assumed). The best part was getting to the top and then running a straight shot down the back side to a creek. Climb #2 was the worst, in my opinion. It was like being at Massanutten on some of the big climbs. Climb #3 was not too bad, sort of a half-climb in comparison. Then we entered the Appalachian Trail itself for a very long and tough downhill run because it was so rocky. That brought us to the one and only aid station (water, cookies, and chips) at mile 15. Then it was on to Climb #4, another biggie. Then it was fairly smooth running on a grassy trail and then a gravel road a long way down back to the creek. By this time, you're pretty tired and you know you have one climb left. Let's call it Climb #5. It's the straight shot up the mountain that we came down earlier in the race (it's the backside of Climb #1). Mentally, it is intimidating because you can see the whole trail all the way to the top. No switchbacks, just straight. There are two methods of getting up this mountain: walking or trudging. I trudged. After that, you run down what was Climb #1 back to the parking lot. As I said, a very difficult course.

Cable bridge. I mentioned this bridge earlier, but I want to say a few words more about it. Now, I don't want to quibble, but Harry (he's the RD) said there was a cable bridge. Here's what the turn directions he gave out before the race said: "Reach the cable bridge at Stony Creek…For safety reasons and to prevent damage to the bridge ONLY ONE AT A TIME ON THE CABLES." Now, what does that mean? For some odd reason, I thought we were going to cross an actual bridge held up by cables. I know what a cable car is—it is a car pulled by a cable. I know what cable tv is—tv with a cable. So isn't a cable bridge a bridge with cables? No. This cable bridge is just 3 cables bolted from a tree on one side of the creek to a tree on the other side. You stand on the bottom cable, hold onto the middle cable that is about chest height with one hand, and hold onto the top cable which is over your head with the other hand. Then you sidestep your way across. Or you can wade through the creek as I saw one person do.

Beer. The first 38 finishers got a bottle of beer (Buzzards Marathon Wheat) that was brewed at the Slacker Boy Brewery. Not sure who that is, but Karen Shiley handed out the beer. While the Buzzards might have better beer, there are certain members of the VHTRC that have a better beer opener. I'm talking about the Talking Beer opener.

Post-race. About 30 people got together at a place called the Thorobred Inn in Grantville. The others from the VHTRC left to go home, leaving me to be the designated eater. This was not my first time running with the Buzzards. I had run with them in December--we ate out afterwards then, too. I don't want to give the impression that it was all Buzzards. There was a fair-sized contingent from Reading; they're known as Rats. Although we all sat at a bunch of tables pulled together, the Buzzards and the Rats pretty much sat separately. I was at the dividing line. Sort of reminded me of a modern day West Side Story, except without the music. Actually, they do get along quite well.

It was nice to meet other ultrarunners on these occasions. For example, take the guy (who shall be nameless) who wore bright yellow Nike shoes, loud pants with planets all over them, and matching yellow sunglasses. He took a fair amount of kidding. One guy told him his pants were out of this world. Which I thought was corny but funny; the reply was even better: "Wait 'til you see my black hole." No one ever said ultrarunners were mature.

Then there's Marcia "No Water" Peters. I had met Marcia back in December where she had forgotten to bring any water for a training run on the AT that lasted about 3.5 hours. I let her have my Fast Draw since I would be wearing a Camelbak as well. For Buzzards Marathon, I was wondering if I should bring my Fast Draw again in case she forgot her water bottle again. I decided not to. In fact, she did have a water bottle. She also managed to have a bottle of Gatorade stashed at the aid station. But guess what? One or some of the runners who got there before her during the race actually drank it all. So, if you are one of those runners and are reading this and would like to apologize to her, please do so. Be forewarned as she will gladly shoot you.

Tom is another person I met back in December; I sat across from him at the Thorobred and ate some of his onion rings. I don't think I've eaten greasier onion rings—they were great. Tom works for a company called Wilbur that sells chocolate. One of their products is Wilbur buds; they are like Hershey kisses except they're not wrapped in that annoying tinfoil. This is a favorite chocolate in my family, and we would sure appreciate it if Tom would bring some free samples to the runs (say, in five-pound bags).

Kudos. To Harry for organizing this non-event. And to the others who went out the day before to put ribbons on the course. And others I don't know about.

This is turning into a well-attended non-event. Someone said there were 57 people who weren't there, representing 6 states (if we have to count Delaware) and 2 foreign countries (South Africa and Maryland). Maybe next year the number of no-shows will be even bigger.

Happy Trails!

John finishes a 100 mile trail race -- MMT

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