Walking around the starting area before the race, I noticed a few familiar faces. I saw MCM Mama and Razz and Jess and Adam and Josh were all ready to have a special day today.
Since this was a virtual race, I decided it was the perfect opportunity to try something new by wearing my hippie shoes for the 13.1-mile trek. I was already facing a bastard behind the eyes after a late night at the pub. So what was the harm of adding another wrinkle?
According to the race literature, the race would follow an emerald line painted on the ground, otherwise the course was a mystery.
The race started at the top of Akron's legendary Derby Downs, the site of the All-American Soap Box Derby and where Corbin Bernsen is currently filming the movie 25 Hill. As racers were lining up, our benevolent race director asked for quiet as he introduced the performers of the national anthem.
Wearing their traditional red "flower pot" hats and jump suits, Mark Mothersbaugh, Gerry Casale and the two Bobs strolled up to the dais and launched into a perverted rendition of the "Star Spangled Banner" as only Devo could do it.
When they reached the line, "land of the free," the band transitioned into their song "Freedom of Choice," for an awkwardly long pre-race musical interlude before returning to the anthem's concluding line, "and the home of the brave." I could already tell this was going to be a long day.
The runners were all starting to get antsy in the corral, thinking that we were just about to start the race. However, after the anthem, up comes Chrissie Hynde to give a motivational speech before the gun.
Hynde's speech quickly turned into a diatribe against the meat eaters in the audience (guilty). "Eating meat is barbaric," she shouted, as she spoke about saving Akron and Northeast Ohio from a life without vegan restaurants by opening Vegiterranean (an overblown pasta eatery). She railed against all the pollution we runners were creating by wearing shoes that need replaced every three months. She damned us for all the damage we were causing by running in the natural habitats of all wild creatures.
Jamoosh suddenly realized his grave mistake for inviting the Pretender front-woman to speak. Thankfully, his Hanwei Folded Tiger Wakizashi Sword is never far from hand. In a blink, Jamoosh unsheathed the weapon, swiped it through Hynde's neck and returned the sword to his belt. Hynde's voice choked to silence as her head rolled off its haughty perch once upon her shoulders.
"Um, go?" Jamoosh announced, and we were off!
Being the only runner familiar with the terrain, I glided down the steep hill of Derby Downs with ease toward the gaping black hole that is the Goodyear Airdock. The rest of the field started tumbling over each other. Bodies rolled into a giant seething mass of arms akimbo and outstretched shins, forming a human boulder that was hot on my trail.
Ahead, the hangar doors of the airdock began to close, even though the emerald line appeared to show the race course going into the building. The Goodyear Blimp had just exited the dock, and its low, caterwauling engines could be heard straining to push the dirigible skyward. This was going to be close.
I strained to keep my feet churning in tiny girlie steps to reach the airdock and outrun the barreling pile of runners behind me. A hundred meters away, just a sliver of an opening remained. I knew it was a bad idea to give it my all this early in a race, but I had no choice. I launched in a dead sprint, then dove to slip through the crack a hair before the 600-ton door slammed shut.
I heard the clatter of human anatomy against the outside of the hangar. Inside was only blackness. There was no way to tell where the emerald line went or how to get out of the gigantic structure. I tried to relax and catch my breath from sprinting. As my breathing calmed, I could hear a light pitter-patter of thuds. Was it the sound of my hangover or was something there in the darkness?
"Hello?" I called out. My voice echoed an endless refrain. I heard the noise again, tackatubba-tackatubba. What was that? I started to
As my eyes adjusted to the lack of light, I could see the faintest bit of white bobbing along a few hundred feet ahead of me. Soon, I could hear something else. It sounded like heavy breathing, huf-huh-huf-huh. Whatever was there was making a lot of noise.
Within seconds I was upon the beast. The white I had seen was only a small patch of long fur belonging to none other than Dobson.
"Hey, boy, am I glad to see you!" I cried. The dog looked at me blankly.
"Uh, sit?" I said. Dobson still looked at me blankly.
After several more attempts and then just pushing his butt down, I finally got the dog to sit.
"Shake?" I said, reaching my hand out. "Shake. Shake! Shake?" Nothing.
"Dobson, shake," I said. Finally, he complied, lifting his giant paw into my hand. However, his paw was wet with something thick. I squinted in the darkness to see what the liquid could be, as Dobson sniffed at my hand looking for a treat for being such a good dog.
"Sorry, pal, all I have are Jolly Ranchers." I continued to inspect Dobson's paw without much luck. Then, I realized my Timex has a light on it that I could possibly use to better see the viscous fluid. The dim light of my watch gave everything a green hue, but I was pretty sure it was some kind of green paint. I looked down at the trail Dobson had created in his wake.
Was it? Could it be? It was. Dobson's painted paws were creating the emerald line of the race course. But Dobson is so slow, why would Jamoosh pick such a slow method of marking the course? Maybe he's not such a great race director after all. What if he screws up the beer too?
Well, it would be pretty hard to lose this race if nobody knows where the course goes and I'm directly behind the Dobson as he marks the course (in more ways than one).
"OK, boy, go!" I urged him. Nothing. I ran ahead of him a bit to get him going. "Come on!"
Finally, the Dobber began to trot, but he stayed just a little behind me. When I veered left, he followed. When I edged back right, he followed. Rumbling from deep behind us, cloaked in the shadows of the airdock, a herd of runners had found its way in and was closing the gap.
"Race route be damned! Let's go, boy," I shouted and bolted into the black abyss, hoping to find an end to this behemoth of a building. I already felt like I had been
The rest of the race field was catching up. I could hear their chortling grunts and screeching breath. It was a hideous sound. I ran on.
As I approached still more blackness, I could sense a presence before me. A very large presence. Like, maybe a wall. I prayed to no one that I had reached the other side of the airdock at last. Almost as if on cue, a thunder of metal erupted and a blinding slice of light opened before me.
I reached up my arm to block the vicious sight and stumbled backward to the ground. Dobson yelped in pain behind me. A chorus of screaming runners emanated from farther back.
When my eyes adjusted to the light, we had stumbled upon the Ohio-Erie Canal Towpath Trail. I felt a whoosh of air as the Enthusiast rode past on her bike, rooting me onward, and Dobson bolted after her faster than I had ever seen him run. The emerald paint from his paw prints congealed into a perfect line, marking the path for me to follow.
Finally, I felt like I could settle into a consistent pace. I knew this terrain. No problem.
I logged some pretty fast miles, making up for the early part of the race. The Towpath is pretty flat, with just slight rolling hills. However, I could see the emerald line making a sharp turn into the woods up ahead.
My feet became bouncing springs as I cruised over tree roots and underbrush. I climbed a short, but steep hill and soon found myself on a mound of stones that poked painfully into the soles of my huaraches. It was the foundation of a railroad and the emerald line went on down the tracks.
I came upon a long rickety trestle that crossed Deep Gorge, a long gash in the earth created by the glaciers during the last Ice Age. The emerald line continued on over the treacherous bridge.
I settled into the cadence of the railroad ties and found some speed. I wondered how far back the rest of the pack was. It couldn't be far. But that was the least of my worries.
In the distance ahead, I saw a puff of black smoke rise from the trees and a low rumble filled the air. These tracks must be for the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad. Soon, the front of the red and yellow diesel engine appeared, as the train reached the opposite side of the bridge. There was no place to run. It was either get hit by a train or jump.
Thankfully, far below the bridge is Sandy Bottom Run, a tributary of the Cuyahoga River known for its soft water. I tucked into a cannonball and splashed into the deep stream. As I swam toward the bank, I spotted the emerald line. Dobson must have also had to jump to avoid a nasty collision. I was still on course!
After scraping a leech off my foot, I climbed out of the water and followed the emerald line into the tall grass, my feet slipping in my homemade shoes. I heard a terrible crash of water. The chase pack was close behind.
The tall grass gave way to a mowed lawn, and I could see Firestone High School in the distance. I crossed the football practice field and and turned onto Castle Boulevard. The emerald line intermingled with the blue line of the Akron Marathon. I had a pretty good idea what was coming next.
Just as I suspected, the emerald line turned left onto Garman Road, following the marathon course. Those of you who have been reading Team BHI for a while know about my battles with the Bastard Garman Hill. The hill is relatively short, but very steep. A rude end to the 21st mile of a marathon, and rude end to this bizarre race.
The rest of the racers were within sight now and I would need to pick up the pace if I was going to win this thing. I started to gather my strength for the finish. I spun my feet like a maniac toward the doomsday hill.
The steep incline halted my momentum, but I pressed on. Halfway up now, the chase pack was closing in and their faces looked ravenous. These racers were hungry.
Cresting the hill, I felt a sharp prick at my heels. I turned to see the gnashing teeth of a fellow runner. These racers were hungry, all right, hungry for me!
At the top of the hill, I saw the Enthusiast cheering me on with a decidedly terrified look about her as she saw the starving runners chasing me. Meanwhile, the course officials -- also decidedly terrified -- waved me leftward through the gates of Stan Hywet toward the finish. As I made the turn, my feet were sliding in my hippie shoes, and I realized they had never dried after my train dodge. (Dig it!)
In my arrogance, I had chosen to wear these huaraches for the first time during a race. The lacing chafed so badly that it had cut into my flesh and left a trail of blood, which had turned these once fierce competitors into blood thirsty cannibals. Very fast blood thirsty cannibals. And still fierce.
Ignoring the pain that finally registered in my brain, I found a new gear and dashed toward the finish in front of the House that Rubber Built.
Despite my best efforts though, the chase pack caught me and I was swallowed into a now-familiar darkness just as I crossed the finish line. Runners are full of electrolytes.
Sorry, I never got my official time. But I do know that the beer that washed me down was tasty.
Now, that I think about it, maybe Chrissie Hynde was right after all. Nah ...