Question: Who had the greatest misconceptions about what to expect at the first-ever MeOw! Marathons?
- The runners
- The volunteers
- The race director
- All of the above.
In a stunning development, Magellan Turner took first place in the “People not named Abbs” division at MeOw. Since Alan and Bev don’t have any children, this was good for 3rd place overall.
MeOw is a west coast tribute to the Barkley Marathons, after which it is named. Barkley is put on by a guy named Laz who, in reality, is the imaginary friend of a dog named Big.
Aaron Sorensen is a former Barkley participant (and recent winner of the 4MPH Challenge) who got the most lost in the worst place for the longest time yet escaped death, thus winning the first annual “Big” award, a 12 week old puppy whom he named (proving that MeOw can turn the hardest man into an old softie), “Lacey” (lab/heeler mix), donated by the World’s Greatest EMT, Noel Sweet.
Beverley Anderson-Abbs had thought that surely the pup would be awarded to the first place finisher so she chicked the entire field, finishing the Siamese (double marathon) in a blistering 14 hours and 22 minutes. MeOw! is advertised as being “way easier” than Barkley and Bev proved it today as no woman has ever won Barkley. No pup for Bev but to make up for it she received an exact duplicate of the prize awarded to the first place finisher at Barkley.
Alan Abbs had thought that maybe this would be the day he finally beat Bev and indeed, he was the leader up the 5000’ climb that begins the race, but shortly afterwards he discovered that he had lost his favorite 3D “Hello Kitty” good-luck hologram and had to go back and find it. He finished second in 14:45.
There were two types of runners at MeOw!, those who understood, either via participation or via extensive research, the nature of the Barkley experience and those who signed up by mistake, thinking they were entering a Tough Mudder. The latter provided an endless source of amusement to the others as they kept complaining that certain expected amenities (aid, course markings, precise distances, understandable directions, etc) were, in their eyes, a bit deficient.
RD Mark Swanson learned the hard way why Laz doesn’t allow GPS at Barkley. I thought it was because he thought it conferred an unfair advantage, or perhaps because he’s a Luddite, so I allowed GPS. Laz insists that each lap at Barkley is exactly 20.0 miles and I told runners that each lap was 26.2 miles long. At one point I went out to where MeOw! crosses the dam and found Jeff Hall and Matt Moseley, co-leaders of the Puddy-Tat (single marathon). I asked Jeff how it was going and he looked at his GPS, which apparently read 22.2 miles, and replied, “only 4 miles to go, I can do this!”. This is when I understood why Laz doesn’t allow GPS. Matt and Jeff were the only official finishers of the single marathon, several hours later. They ran together but Jeff pushed Matt ahead of him into the lake at the finish in hopes that this would keep his own name from ever being associated in any way with this event.
GPS reports were approximately 33-34 miles for the first loop and 31 for the second but no one was exactly sure because no one avoided bonus miles. I could feel bad about this (I tried to but it didn’t work) or I could rename it “The MeOw 50K’s” or “The MeOw UltraMarathons” or “The UltraMeOwAthons” but they all sound clunky compared to the mellifluous musical magic of “The MeOw! Marathons”. Or I could ban GPS.
Or I could just shorten the course.
Ha Ha! Just kidding! (LOL as Laz would text it if Laz knew what texting was).
Instead I came up with a solution so brilliant that it makes me purr with delight.
From now on MeOw will duly note in all advertising that “all distances are rounded to the closest marathon”.
It was a close call for the double, which, with a couple more miles would have rounded to a triple. But we made the cut-off. (The definition is being applied retro-actively to forestall certain rumored legal actions by some of this year’s participants).
Doug Seaver, training for Hardrock, reported that his altimeter measured the first loop’s altitude gain at over 10,000’ but he’s a pilot (USMC) so he routinely does that for breakfast (though he was bummed when we told him he had to leave his plane at the starting line). Doug, who is really a great guy, somehow didn’t make it out for the second loop this time so we don’t know if it really is, as the RD claims, “about the same” as the first loop, or not.
Someone said it was harder than Miwok. Well, duh! The only reason it isn’t harder than Hardrock is because we have air but that’s not our fault. Maybe we should call it SoftRock. (And anyway, does it ever get up to 90º at Hardrock?). Temps were 15º above average this year.
Sean Ranney of Sacramento was so psyched for this race that he came up here a couple of weeks ago to climb Shasta Ballsy (the 5000’ climb at the beginning of the race) “so I could prove to myself I could do it and get over my fear of it”. I don’t recommend that, as it usually has the opposite effect, but Sean is amazing. He finished at the moonlit beach at 11:07 PM, beating the 18 hour cut-off by less than an hour. And he had a big smile on his face and had nothing bad to say about the race or RD. Obviously I need to find a way to make this course much harder. (Sean, by the way, finished the first loop in 9:04 and the second in 8:04, which I found amazing. The second loop of the double is the same as the single marathon, sans the first 3 miles and the winning time for the single was 8:47).
Eric Robinson (who, I learned, was a pacer at the Western States 100 in 1983 when he was 13 years old) was another runner who found places the RD didn’t know exist and barely lived to tell the tale. The first loop ended up taking him almost 11 hours and he was not allowed to continue from there until he completes a mandatory orienteering course. This ain’t no WS 100, Eric!
Tina Ure is famous for her “adventures” which never seem to go as advertised and thus was the perfect candidate for MeOw. Yet another of our many Hardrockers, Tina managed to get thoroughly lost on BOTH loops. The only other runner to do that, Bull Dozier, was going for a Miwok-Meow Double. After spending over an hour at the aid station/ drop bag/ transition zone between loop 1 and loop 2, Tina and Bull headed out for loop 2 and got involved in such a fascinating conversation that they ran right past the “large downed pine tree blocking the right side of the trail” without noticing it. At this point they were pretty much doomed as they belatedly began looking at everything that might possibly be a downed pine tree until they decided it was all my fault and walked it in. For the record, they DID complete a double marathon of 52+ miles a couple of hours before the midnight deadline, even though the missed out on the second half of the second loop. Next year, anyone traveling with Tina will be allowed an extra two days to complete the course.
And then there was Starchy. Starchy Grant never says quit. Though he came into the transition zone a bit past the official cut-off, the RD let him head out onto the second loop because I’ve never been able to say “no” to anyone named Starchy. When Starchy found out he wasn’t going to be able to finish by the midnight cut-off he refused offers of a ride home from the nearest road and walked it in, finishing after midnight with something on the order of 60 worthless miles, a truly epic DNF. Starchy finished traditionally, by jumping in the lake and never stopped smiling.
Final tally for the Siamese: 4 finishers out of 10 starters, right on the 40% number as prophesied on the X-Files, episode ninety-eleven.
About half of the Puddy-Tat entrants came to their senses in the days just before the race and became DNS because “S” is a much nicer letter than “F”.
Of the six who started only one didn’t finish, but Ginny, our oldest entrant at 62, probably had the most epic day of all the P-T’s. Her various wounds and injuries surpassed even those of Aaron, if such a thing can be imagined. Like Starchy, she was one of the happiest losers I’ve ever seen in my life.
Speaking of smiley-happy people, Angela and Randee did the whole course together, except for the very end where Angela dropped Randee like a bad date and finished three minutes ahead of her. They both finished in just under 12 hours, a bit over the nine-hour cut-off but they were both so happy and cheerful (though one of them, Randee, I think, did go so far as to say that there were a few points where “we almost thought bad things about you”). I was so impressed by their demeanors that I immediately (the next day) instituted the Ran-gela 12-hour rule, which states that from now on and retro-actively, all runners will be allowed 12 hours to finish the Puddy-Tat.
I long for the day when everyone finishes the Puddy-Tat and no one finishes the Quad (coming in 2015?).
Still speaking of smiley-happy people, Chuck Walen said more mean things to me after his 13:16 finish of the P-T than all the other runners put together (though only because Bull was exercising self-restraint) but he said them all with a smile on his face and never once punched my lights out. Chuck was our oldest official finisher, he can thank Angela and Randee (the anti-Chucks) for that (see Ran-gela Rule above).
Next year there will be some minor course improvements. I already know what the changes will be on the single course, I have to get out there a lot and get in touch with my inner-Aaron and see what kind of improved routings can be injected into the first loop of the double. There is a long stretch from Whiskeytown Falls to Boulder Creek Falls that I’m not totally happy with and there are miles of unexplored “jeep trails”, “mining trails” and “logging roads”, long-since abandoned that I have not yet explored. Most of them are dead ends (unless your name is Sorensen) and others have become impassable (unless your name is Ginny or Eric), but I know there are gems waiting to be discovered. There must be SOMETHING out there that can wipe the smile off of Sean’s face. There MUST be!
Shasta Bally will be in play only in years like this one where the snow pack is light enough (this year it was nil) that the NPS will allow it. In other years we will be able to explore options that the poor residents of states like Tennessee can only dream about.
Runner’s suggestions have already lead to a page of notes of other possible improvements and additional suggestions are more than welcome. While I may not be favorable toward most suggestions that would make MeOw even less like Barkley and more like Every Other Ultra, I retain the right to be as non-Barkleyan as I want to. I don’t even own a dog.
Directions will remain cryptic*. If they are so technically perfect that no one ever gets lost, I will feel like a failure. If more than one person (or two if one of them is Tina) ever takes the same wrong turn I will feel personally responsible (as I do this year over the mistake about the gate and right turn at the top of the hill in the first loop). I always want to be able to blame the runner when they get lost!
*(This year’s directions included cameo appearances by Moose Dzr, Willie Nelson, Pooh Bear, Beverley Anderson’s abs, Oprah RunFree, Gary CantRun, John Madden, Yogi Bear, Ginger and MaryAnn, Moses Mattley and his brother Aaron Mytire-sen).
In a stunning display of karma or something, after making fun of Aaron’s name thusly, I was out looking for him (and just missed finding him) (and missed seeing the first place finishers of the single come in!), and, in the process of driving madly over bad roads to get to Boulder Creek Falls, punctured our tire which was completely flat by the time we left the beach at about 1AM Sunday morning. Aaron Mytire indeed!)
Discovering, laying out checkpoints, and writing cryptic yet follow-able directions for 60 miles of course is a big undertaking and a labor of love that keeps me from staying home all day watching The View and reading romance novels. I’m glad that next year I won’t be starting from scratch!
Next year our goal is to have over 40 entrants (and it shouldn’t be hard to achieve). Take that, Barkley!
Our volunteers this year were absolutely amazing. Special (but inadequate) kudos to: Ted and Darcie at Sheep Camp, EMT Extraordinaire Noel, Sweep and “What Else Can I Do?” guy Josh Ritter, and my amazing wife and cheerleader Jeanie, all of whom put in WAY WAY more hours than they signed up for!
All of us also thank the under-staffed and under-funded employees of Whiskeytown, and the faithful volunteers at Friends of Whiskeytown. Gratitude to Alan and Bev for a donation that enabled us to stop and buy lunch on the way home Sunday, my first real meal since Friday. Special thanks to Gary Cantrell for showing us all that there are other ways of doing things. Extra special thanks to Aaron and Eric for not dying out there. Thank you to those who gave me with some great beers, I think I’ll just sit back and drink them all right now.