Sunday, February 3, 2008

A Day in the Woods

Spent Saturday helping with the 8-20-40 mile Uwharrie Mountain Run by manning the 8/32 mile checkpoint. 500-600 runners depleted the atmosphere of oxygen and increased the carbon dioxide levels by pounding the rocks, mud, roots, and branches of a rugged trail into submission while running, jogging, walking, gimping, and crawling through the forest scaring the bejeebers out of coyotes, bear, deer, opossums, raccoons, and partridge in a nearby Bradford Pear tree. Nearly every runner fell once during the race. A 78-year-old participant refused to quit at the 32 mile checkpoint despite the setting sun at his back and a nasty looking cut on his forearm from a counter attack from an oak tree root. We had 80 gallons of water, gatorade, Coke, and Mountain Dew at our aid station, and those greedy, sweaty, smelly runners drank every last drop of it. One runner commented that he gently subcumbed to gravity at some point and lay on his back watching the bare tree limbs extend skyward as part of some runner's hallucinagenic trance after nine hours of massauging his knees with earth-shattering jolts. He smiled gleefully as he told his story. I kept backing up. But the course was fast, the day sunny, the weather perfect for the volunteers if just a tad warm for the runners (30 at the seven a.m. start; mid-50s at four p.m.).

I picked up a gleam of a story last year from this race which is now captured in ten pages of notes that I might get to someday. Not so much this year, except the rehash of memories when I used to pound mile after mile in long distance races. If not for the day in the woods, all those memories would probably wither and die. I have the stinky, funny, happy, disappointed, ecstatic, elated, weary, frustrated, disconsolent, excited, and courageous runners of this race to thanks for keeping those memories alive as potential book fodder in the future.

I played (over and over) the "Fortuna Imperatrix Mundi" piece from Orff by Carmina Burana for the 40-milers when they came through our aid station. Okay, obscurely titled, but you do know it. It's that piece with the lush, medeival-sounding orchestra, with heavy drums, and a chorus of hundreds that commercials and sports pieces love to tap into to show the agony and ecstasy of an athlete in action. It garnered more than a few grins, some requests to switch to Carolina Beach music, but there was one couple who came through who actually knew the piece by name. The husband breathlessly said, "That's Orff. That's her favorite piece for inspiration." She turned and gave us a thousand watt smile.

I cranked that sucker up to full volume as the climatic drum pounding ending and choral crescendo echoed in the air while they headed up the path into the woods to do battle against the limits of human endurance.

Eight more miles of the runner's high for them. One more memory for me to cherish in the twilight years.

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