Saturday, October 26, 2013

GRRR: Anatomy of a Dysfunctional Race Relationship

(I wrote this in 2004, and posted it to the Dead Runners Society list. Why resurrect a zombie post? Because for some insane reason, I'm pondering it again.)

I first met GRRR in 1994, I believe.

I was in St. Louis spending Thanksgiving with the STiLlDeads. I was told that I really needed to go run the Great River Road Run. "Everyone" ran it. I shouldn't miss out.

The GRRR is a 10 mile race. It's 5 miles out, and 5 miles back, on the Great River Road. It's considered very flat. (Not totally, but not, like, Pikes Peak.) It starts in Alton, IL, and the course hugs the Mississippi River on one side, and towering bluffs on the other. The race is run on the Saturday of Thanksgiving weekend. This (2004) is it's 45th year.

Back in '94, the STiLlDeads and I had a delightful (for most of us) trail run on Friday, in specatular autumn weather - sunny, mild, light breeze. The next day, however, we had what I can only call devil-spawn of spectatular autumn weather: cold and windy. The combination of frigid temperatures with a "healthy" wind ("healthy" equating to the average age of a heathy adult... say, 30-40 mph) had me looking around for elves and Santa's workshop. Or glaciers calving into the river.

The combination of those picturesque bluffs and the wide Mississippi made the GRRR course a huge wind tunnel. I'm sure the military tests aircraft aerodynamics in that area. Any given year, that wind is either in your face going out, or in your face coming back... and sometimes BOTH.

That first year I ran, I didn't finish due to catastrophic anatomical failures. My extremities froze. I could have sworn that my arms and legs had fallen off, and I was just a torso being tossed about in that wind. It was dismal. Having already finished several marathons, 50Ks and 50mi races that year, DNFing a 10-mile run was unthinkable. But I did it. I'm not proud.

After moving to St. Louis (despite the GRRR fiasco) in '97, I've run the GRRR several more times. I've run a 1:25; I've run in the 1:50s. I've run in sunshine and wind; I've run in a 40-degree rain and wind. I've never had fun. I hate that race. And yet, I keep going back. Every year, I swear I won't go back.

So what did I just do? I signed up for GRRR '04.

(Note to jim p.: THIS is stupid. Running the Pikes Peak Ascent once and swearing to never do it again isn't stupid. That's called "learning from your mistakes." What I just did can only be defined as stupid. I know better. And yet I do it anyway. Stupid. Stupide. Estúpido. Dumm.)

There is one redeeming factor: Lunch at Fast Eddie's Bon Air post-race. Everyone goes. It's a biker bar by
day (and night), but yet Fast Eddie's is overrun with, uh, runners each Saturday of Thanksgiving weekend. I spend my time during GRRR calculating how many 29-cent peel n' eat shrimp I can get for the $5, $10 or $20 bill in my pocket. If it's a good race, I order 18. If it's a bad race (usually), I order several dozen. I eat shrimp until the inside of my nose feels like it's been scraped out with an Exacto knife, from all the horseradish in the cocktail sauce.

Sure, I could just run from home that morning and then meet everyone at Fast Eddie's for shrimp. But that just seems like cheating. I have to earn those shrimp, one freakin' mile at a time.

So come the Saturday after Thanksgiving, think of us all out there fighting the wind next to the wild Mississippi River, searching for the meaning of life and relationships out on the Great River Road.