The Agony and the Irony (Or a Brief Case of the Blues)

by Steven Morse

As any runner with marathon experience can attest, organization is key to a successful finish: pre-race meal, proper running kit, directions to the start, sufficient training and proper taper, etc. etc. etc. Locking your keys in the car just before the start of the race? Not so much, but more on that later.

I entered the Naked Bavarian 26.2 trail marathon with solid road racing experience, but scant trail running under my belt. I'm quickly becoming sold on the idea of simple, small events and trail running, at least for the time being can still offer this. This race is dubbed the Naked Bavarian, not because of the presence of scantily clad Alemannians, but because the event is stripped down to the basics. No chip timing, no t-shirt, no rock bands, no color spray. Instead, for $40 ($1 per km for the marathon and $1 per mile for the ultra), the 475 lucky participants got extraordinarily well-stocked aide stations approximately every 3.5 miles; a varied, picturesque, and fair trail course in the Blue Marsh Lake area in Leesport, PA; and a delicious German-themed post-race meal including wursts, sauerkraut, potato pancakes, and fresh grilled cheese. I for one did not partake in the Bier that was offered along the course at one of the aide stations, but I appeared to be in the minority. God bless the course director, the de-fizzed Coke was plentiful at each and every aide station and I gulped that like it was nectar from the running Gods. As an aside, the head of Uberendurance, who organizes this event, is a German now living in the States who puts a native twist on all of his races.

I realized that I'd locked my keys in the car as I was rushing up to the start. After letting loose a brief string of profanities, double checking that I had in fact locked my keys in the car (along with my change of warm clothes, phone, and AAA card) I ran to the first volunteer I could find, a woman preparing the grilled cheese and potato pancake grill. After listening to my predicament, she asked, "Why are you telling me?" As though making grilled cheese was her only skill, I said that I hoped she might be able to assist me after the race by helping me call AAA for an emergency unlock. "Talk to the race director" was her response. When I explained my predicament to him, his quizzical look suggested he was about as sympathetic as the grilled cheese chef. I was starting to fear that the Germans, stereotypically known for organization and precision, were prepared to leave me high and dry, or in this case cold and wet, and provide no assistance as I deserved to suffer for my imprecision and disorganization.

There was potential for my pre-race blunder to put a damper on the whole day. But the weather was ideal (low 40's), the course generally dry, my fellow runners friendly and relaxed, and the aforementioned aide stations chock full of all kinds of treats. I was able to shake off my brief case of the blues by the first aide station and from that point forward was able to focus on the race, enjoy the scenery, and the last 22.7 miles of trail running. Given that the race took me 5 hours and 22 minutes (unofficial non-chipped time), that was a lot of enjoyment.

In my brief trail running experience, I am finding that there is a higher degree of entertainment value with my trail running compatriots than with your typical road racing crew. Trail runners seem more likely to be covered in tattoos, have ZZ-Top style beards (men only), share crazy stories of bizzaro-distance exploits, and adorn themselves with fantastically complex, special ops-style, mobile aide stations. Why carry much more than a water bottle when you know there are M&Ms, salted potatoes, gel shots, cookies, gummy bears, beer, Coke, and Gatorade just around the corner? Well, because they were all running much faster than me so there must be a good reason. This race also featured a fellow who finished the full marathon dressed as the Pope, complete with full length white gown, blazing red cape, and mitre.

Over the last mile or two of the race I did have to consider the reality of my situation. Not only was I locked out of my car, I had no change of clothes and although I'd dressed right for the day after 5+ hours, there was ample sweat drenched into my layers of wick-tech fabric that I was at-risk for a hypothermic inducing wait. Upon completing the race and receiving my official finisher's beer bottle opener (swag!) I reminded the race director of my plight. He remembered me and immediately told me to speak to the grilled cheese chef as he was busy. Just kidding! He was eager to assist. It was the EMS crew who ultimately rescued me as they allowed me to sit in the ambulance, with a warm fan blowing on me, swaddled in a blanket, waiting the 90 minutes for AAA to find such a remote location and unlock my car.

The agony ... the worst part was finishing the race. Obviously not because I had time to enjoy fistfuls of grilled cheese and wursts, warm up by the grill, and cozy up to the chef, but due to the excruciating wait to put on dry clothes.

The irony... the blunder, the missteps, and the wait proved inconsequential. If the worst thing that happened that day was that I had to wait a bit to get back in my car after completing an awesome trail marathon, well, then I guess it was still a pretty good day. I completed the Naked Bavarian and I have a good story (and a bottle opener) to prove it.

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