Monday, November 19, 2012

Hole to the Sky, Door to Forty Years



          The climb up here was  spooky. No rock climber would call it technical, but it was steep and high and you had to hold on. When I'd first looked up and seen the arch I'd thought, a hole to the sky.
          Why would two old endurance guys seventy-plus-years-old be climbing on rocks? The short answer of course is we'd climbed up to get a closer look at the arch, one of no particular distinction, at that, one lacking even a picturesque name - not Rainbow Arch, Landscape Arch, or Delicate Arch, just plain Natural Arch. A longer and better answer, however, stretches back some forty years.
          Joel Bennett and I had been good friends while we were studying for our graduate degrees at Virginia Tech some forty years earlier. In that long-ago time we'd shared a lot of adventures, roaming the Allegheny and Blue Ridge Mountains around Blacksburg, Virginia. Some were humorous, some funny, some hard, some even dangerous. In the intervening years we'd gone down separate roads - Los Alamos for him, Tennessee Tech for me. The years spayed out, the strings frayed and broke: we lost contact.
          Then his e-mail arrived. The subject line read "SOB," which stands for "Say, Ol' Buddy," following the expression of a common friend who used it was when he wanted something. Like, "Say Ol' Buddy, do you have a cigarette," or maybe, "Hey, Ol; Buddy, have you done that continuum homework?" The saying became our ironic greeting. The letter's salutation read simply "DG," as it was our habit to use each other's given initials. His signature read "best wishes, your old buddy, Joel Bennett." I call him JG.
          Retired from Los Alamos now, he and his wife Jackie wanted me to come visit them at their new home in the mountains of Colorado. He said they'd pick me up at the Alamosa Airport at any time. The tone of the message seemed like it came from the guy I used to know. I first had some travel scheduled to Spain and Morocco. Once that was over, I was on the ground at home just five days before heading to Colorado.


          And so here we are, standing in Natural Arch, looking down on Joel's truck looking small as a green pea at the base of the cliff far below, two guys just like before, at home with each other, at home with the wilderness. We'd climbed this cliff like we'd done a lot of things - no big plans, just started walking, then climbing, without even knowing who exactly had made the decision - if anybody had.
          In our VT days, we shared many misadventures. We went bow hunting once, camping in the woods beside a clear river, sleeping in Joel's old Ford station wagon. We meant to get up early, but the night before we sat in his car drinking George Dickel and listening to the radio until we nearly ran the car battery down. Peggy Lee was singing Is That All There Is? The song grabbed us. It expressed the tragic pointlessness of life in a way that seemed perfect. "Let's break out the booze and have a ball," she sang. We worked hard in those days, trying to pass courses, qualifying exams, language requirements, leaving our cubicles only late at night. I don't think we knew why. We slogged on, thinking, "that's all there is."
          On the hunt next morning we didn't get up until long after daylight. We where standing drinking coffee when a bow hunter actually walked through our camp. We though it was funny. Here's a guy actively hunting. It seemed futile and pointless. Is that all there is?
          We tried to walk through a mountain at Eggleston, Virginia on an abandoned railroad tunnel. We wanted to get to a fishing hole just below the slow bend in New River where the state-record smallmouth bass had been caught. It got dark in the tunnel, then still darker. Finally it was black as a cave. We stopped to let our eyes adjust. Gradually we realized we were surrounded by skinny, shiny things.
          "What is that?" Joel said.
          "Looks like snakes," I said.
          The next interval of ours lives held no sound at all - save one: the sound of sneakers pounding the ground. Joel's feet raced for the light. I was left standing alone; he posted a respectable time for the 100-yard dash. The shiny things turned out to be strips of aluminum-colored metal. Their purpose and presence there was not learned. We never reached that fishing hole.  
          Now, forty years later we climbed back down from Natural Arch, which is scarier than climbing up. I started a run at the base of the cliff. Joel's plan was to drive his truck down the single-track some six miles, park on Old Woman Road and ride back to meet me on his mountain bike. It was a cool day and getting lost in the wilderness wearing running shorts was a bad idea. Since I'd never been to this place before, prior to leaving he decided to give me some advice. 
          "Remember, when you come to the tee, go left."
          "Right! When you come to a fork in the road take it."
          "Right," he said.
          Left, it was. We still understood each other perfectly. 
          It was as perfect a place to run as you will find. The single-track offered a smooth surface, unlike the boulder-filled wash-out of a trail, and yet, like a trail, it kept me immersed in the immediate environment, running right by the piñon pines, boulders and bluffs that could offer cover to a stalking lion or hungry bear. On one of his bike rides, Joel told me about being stalked by a lion, which was finally run off by his dog. On another occasion he had to fight a bear, using his mountain bike as a two-handed club to hold it off, until, again, his exploring dog returned, together with another dog this time, and the three of them finally beat the bear off.
          Jackie and Joel live at an elevation of some 9,300 feet in the mountains bordering the San Luis Valley, near a town named Del Norte. The Rio Grande, clear and ripply and loaded with browns and rainbows, runs through town. Locals pronounce the town's name like it rhythms with "Del Snort," denying its Spanish heritage. It's their town; they can call it whatever they want to.  Joel reminds me, the Spanish were in this part of the country a long time before the settlements back east that mark the onset of our country's history for most people. It's a good point.
          The high elevation seemed hardly noticeable in my running. In a race, I'm sure, that would change, and I'd get out of breath. Running down Old Woman Road, I didn't notice it. Maybe you'd describe this location as high plains. The mountains and cliffs sit scattered all around me, big ranges like Sangre de Cristo loom in the distance. But Old Woman Road threads through it all, rising and falling in gentle rollers. I ran past a cliff Joel said was called Eagle Rock, which rises like a broad monolith a mile off the road. It's the habit of eagles to perch there. A couple of ranch houses snuggled against the cliff's base, a protected location.
          After a few miles, I saw Joel approaching on his bike in the distance. Bikes figure large in the part of Joel's history that I missed. It connects us in a surprising way, and colors the parallel paths of our similar stories.
          Before this visit, I'd had some concern. Although we'd been good friend, we'd had no contact at all in nearly forty years. I had changed and figured he had, too. Suppose he's totally different now, suppose, for example, he's become a political right wing nut, believer of wild conspiracy theories, a survivalist holed up in the mountains, fearful and anti-social - or any number of similar world views. Politics loomed, given that the presidential election followed my arrival by only four days. I didn't know what turn conversation might take.
          Turns out, Joel and Jackie had been concerned about the same thing. Better avoid talk of current events that could inevitably lead to presidential politics, seemed to be our tacit agreement. My first morning there, though, Joel brushed away all the pussyfooting with characteristic directness:
          "I don't know what you think about politics," he said. "I've heard that a Democrat says 'I've got mine and I'll share;' a Republican says, 'I've got mine and I'll get yours, too.'"
          Perfect - a political view based on generosity and charity, not hate and fear.We'd changed alright, both in the same direction. From then on we knew we'd be in agreement, able to talk about any damned thing we wanted to. Joel's politics isolates him in his family and neighborhood the same way mine does.


          We've led parallel lives. Joel had advised and taught graduate and undergraduate students at Los Alamos and carried out research projects. I'd done the same, except at Tennessee Tech and at the Army Missile Command. Maybe that's not too surprising. By earning PhD. degrees, we'd both prepared, intentionally or not, for a life in academe and research.
          But it went much further. Joel had taken up endurance sports (which we scarcely knew existed in our VT days), running and biking, specializing in biking. He'd won the New Mexico state championship on his road bike. After taking up running and triathlon, I'd achieved similar results in running.
          Small similarities were eerie. Once before a meal Joel pulled out a bottle of glucosamine and chondroitin. I started laughing. I've taken the same over-the-counter pill for a dozen years, same brand. A day later, when I absently held a gum brush in my had, a tiny brush that can go between teeth, it was his and Jackie's turn to laugh. Joel showed me his. These events kept happening. 
          Joel showed me his cowboy hat, hauled out its box and removed it from the plastic wrapper. It was a 3X beaver Stetson, seventies vintage, dark brown with a corrugated leather band and a JBS hat pin shaped like a branding iron on the buckle. Of all the models styles and colors of Stetson hats, the only one I'd ever seen like it is the one on my closet shelf back in Cookeville! 
          "Twin brothers of different mothers," Jackie said.
          We met up on Old Woman Road, JG and I this day. Joel turned, and we ran and rode on toward the truck. Once there, I decided to run on a bit further to round out my run. Joel loaded up and stopped for me on down the road. We drove back across Rio Grande, through Del Norte past the cemetery and fifteen miles up the dirt county road to where Joel  and Jackie Bennett have build their mountain home. It backs up to Horse Shoe Mountain, foothill of the 13,203-feet-peak named appropriately Bennett's Peak. 
          It took forty years. But it was what anyone would have to call a good day. 




          




Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Casablanca Marathon: A Journal

            The four-lane stretches northward toward Hassan II Mosque. I glance at the white surf crashing on the black rocks of the road's curving flank. At that moment electricity flashes through my legs and they turn to spastic stone. As I pitch forward Albino grabs me in a bear hug. He stands like a gate post holding me upright. The length of a marathon is 42K; we are at 31K...

Wednesday, October 17, Rabé de las Calzadas

Windows at Rabé 
      
          Again, I find myself running on el Camino de Santiago, running through Rabé de las Calzadas and onto the chalky dirt single-track that starts at the edge of town, at the little church with the walled cemetery with stone crosses, climbs two miles up a beautifully severe valley of steep cropland and sheep pasture, grand vistas marred by not a single man-made structure - no fences! -  finally to an abrupt crest offering an expansive view north where a tiny town sits in all that vastness like a stamp on a giant post card.
          I stand looking, thinking no one is around. Then, turning, I see a woman sitting at a pile of rocks on the bank above me. Our eyes meet. I spread my arms over the scene before us, and say,
          "Hermosa, hermosa."
          "What?"
          Oh. English.
          "Beautiful," I say.
          "Yes, it is."
          I ask permission to join her and climb the bank. I stand talking while she finishes a slice of pizza she'd saved. She wears straight blond hair and a gray jump suit, and she is from Holland, she says. As we talk, I notice a design on the ground a few feet in front of us and step over to see. The young woman from Holland follows. It is the outline of a heart made from field stones, maybe six feet across. The heart encloses a cross of stones. The cross frames the single letter "J"  on one side and on the other the letter "K." We stand looking down. 
          "Two sweethearts, I guess. Left a monument to their love," I say. And that may be right, two pilgrims inspired by the view.
          As we talk, I suddenly remember something, and it must surprise the Dutch woman to hear it from an American. It is a story about her own queen, Queen Beatrix. I read the story in Outside Magazine a decade or more ago. Queen Beatrix was scheduled to give a speech to the nation at the end of the year. It was routine political theater, nothing expected to be important.
          But Queen Beatrix didn't give a routine speech. She delivered a polemic, an environmental speech that changed Holland's direction and set the tone for a new era in that country. She said something like, "We are going to learn to live in a way that poses the least risk to all other livings things." Over the next few years, Holland did that, and became a world leader in green technology such as wind turbines. By stepping out front, the country captured an emerging new technology. They are yet a leader, due in large part to the wisdom and courage of Queen Beatrix.
          "She became my hero in that moment," I say to the woman. I don't tell her I even copied the article and saved it. We talk a few more minutes, and light rain starts. I wish her good luck and shove off.
          Altogether, I spend an hour on that road without seeing any kind of vehicle, only pilgrims on foot. A top-ten run of all time, a yard-stick to hold up to all others. And I put seven miles in the bag.

Thursday, October 18, Rabé de las Calzadas
       
El Camino stretches west of Rabé

          It is a windy day at Rabé de las Calzadas. From Albino's kitchen patio door I watch an eagle hovering in the updraft of the hill above the house, tapered neck, fanned tail.
          El Camino west of Rabé de las Calzadas is my newest favorite run. I met an old gent taking a walk there. We exchanged greetings. Caught up with him again on the way back, at the little church with the walled cemetery next to the sheep barn at Rabé. Stopped to chat. Told him in halting Spanish I was from USA. He listened kindly and intently, figuring correctly that one who spoke it so poorly could barely hear it at all. I spoke well of his puppy, a German shepherd mix. At his amazement, I told him I run for practice, that my friend Albino lives near Rabé and that Albino and I will run Marathon Casablanca in Morocco this Sunday. By way of sympathetic amazement, he made a gesture of exhausted runner breathing hard. I wished him a good day and shoved off.
          Albino has a DVD of The Way laying here on the coffee table. Why can't I find time to watch it?
          The alberque in Rabé has been hosting pilgrims for 800 years, according to a celebration banner I photographed there. Let's see, the USA has been around for 236 years...umm, something to thing about. Meanwhile, put me down for four easy miles.

Friday, October 19, Madrid
          As we drive into Madrid, radio RNE 3-FM, 95.8, is playing  a cut from John Coltrane and Johnny Hartman. Amazing! How did they know? It's only one of the best jazz recordings ever made.
          Terminal 4 of Barajas, Madrid throws you into confusion. Its architecture is so futuristic you feel like you've fallen into a science-fiction movie like The Matrix. Albino breezes through with practiced abandon. I can only draft his wake.
          In Casablanca, we've gained two hours - after I'd barely acclimated to losing seven hours flying to Madrid a week ago. Have to reset again. Sleepy and tired. But here's the answer:  Go to bed. The marathon is not until Sunday.

Saturday, October 20, Casablanca
          All chaos, all chaos, a stirring throng of people! Beggars sit on broken sidewalks that drop off abruptly, turn to dirt and abruptly start again, waiting to trip the unwary, sidewalks made of tile laid directly on dirt rather than a concrete base. Here and there metal studs stick up two inches high where a street lamp ought to be. Instead studs with tops polished shiny by thousands of footsteps stand as monuments to good intentions and failed plans. Waiting to kill you.
          We walked two hours in a maelstrom of traffic without finding either the starting line or the packet pickup - in the rain. I'd stupidly left my hat at hotel Barceló, and worn only a tee shirt against the weather. But it was a Flying Monkey Marathon tee, which fact did prompt me to sent a Tweet to Trent Rosenbloom, @hhflyingmonkey, the director of that race, the following: "BREAKING: flying monkey tee spotted on the street. Police arrest usual suspects. #casablancamarathon"
          Unless you are comfortable with Third-World chaos, better pass on this race.

Camel meat is for sale in Casablanca's Medina       

          Back at the hotel, we searched our smart phones for two hours looking for race location, and then gave up. Because we had an ace in the hole - Albino's friend Iñigo lives in this town. Albino called him up, and he eventually came to the hotel and guided us around the rest of the day, including the open-air markets of the Medina.

Marathoners tour Medina, Albino and me

          I was more comfortable afoot in the Arctic wilderness six years ago, where I knew a grizzly could easily kill and eat an unarmed hiker like me, than I was in Casablanca this day, a world more foreign to me than wilderness. Police seemed in hiding, afraid for their lives; most intersections had no official control that I could see. I saw just one cop all day long, standing in an intersection, traffic swirling around him, as irrelevant as a broom in a monsoon.

Life, raw and urgent, is a-swirl in the Medina 

          Oh, Mother! The places I go. Just making these pictures was risky. After following Iñigo all day - we could not have done without his help! - we are tired. We have been on our feet all day, tense all day, done without water all day. Can't drink water if you can't find a restroom. "It's complicated," Iñigo says when I ask. And we are supposed to run a marathon tomorrow? Worse, we both need to run a competent time to have a chance to catch our flight out of here. It is that close. That's how Albino rolls, courting exotic disaster. 
   
Sunday, October 21, Casablanca
          After my run collapsed and left me walking, Albino proceeded on, to get to hotel Barceló and bring a taxi back to the finish line for me - if I made it that far, and he didn't know if I would. Once we connected we were forty-five minutes behind schedule for our Madrid flight, where Isabel would be waiting to drive us the some 150 miles to Burgos, where Albino had two meetings scheduled the next morning. It was all coming undone. There was no time for me to take a shower. I pulled trousers on over my running shorts in the taxi, having already donned the finisher's tee, and prepared to ride the plane just so - if we actually managed to catch it. It was a tense ride to the Casablanca airport.

     Hassan II Mosque is massive, intricate, majestic

          Intense leg cramps had undone me at 31K, making even just standing impossible. Abino held me in a bear hug to keep me upright. I finally recovered enough to walk gingerly, Albino walking with me, grabbing me when he needed to avert my falling. Seven bottles of water failed to solve problem. I was severely dehydrated and I'd eaten all my salt and GU. After walking a 9K distance, I recovered enough to run the last 3K, and finished in 4:26 (unofficial), my worse finish ever.
          Now I need to sort out my thoughts. Until then it's not a story, only banal information: Old man runs disappointing marathon in strange town, nothing else.

Monday, October 22, Tardajos
          So now I walk around Tardajos and wonder and do what I mentioned - try to sort out my thoughts. I wander the ancient streets of the town and beyond, ostensibly to make two photographs, of Rio Arlanzón and the bridge across it. But mainly to think. What do I think?
          I said it was my worse finish ever. That excludes two marathons, the Rocket City Marathon, where I was pacing Amy Dodson in a training run for twenty-one miles, and the first Blister in the Sun Marathon, which I trotted through to help my buddy Josh Hite who'd organized the race. Didn't try to run it fast, having run an 8K state record in a night race just hours before that first Blister Marathon. So, making full disclosure.
          Albino and I ran together at Casablanca. We ran quite fast under the circumstances, a pace that would certainly have won second place in my age division at the Boston Marathon, maybe even first. That was crazy as hell. The day before we'd spent on our feet without drinking water. We stayed in the street so late, we didn't ever eat an official supper. I had an energy bar and drank a glass of powdered milk before going to bed. Some will claim no one should drink powdered milk ever, even for a marathon.
          And then there was this girl -  a young woman actually, a black woman. I saw her before the marathon started, standing in a pink top and spandex pants. She seemed alone, and a bit lost. I wanted to speak to her, but I was too shy. I went to the only toilet I knew about - although it was clogged and would not flush. A knock came on the door. When I finally opened the door to leave, it was this very woman, waiting her turn after me.
          I saw her during the race too. Albino and I passed her. After I blew up and was walking and Albino had left me, she passed me. In this strange city she seemed the only familiar thing in the whole world. She ran off, on out of sight. But I recovered enough to run again. With about 2K remaining, I passed her. After I'd finished and was wandering the fence wondering how I was going to find Albino, I came upon her again. We talked this time. It turned out she was from the USA, as not many here were, from Maryland. She was brave. We talked only a little, but I loved her very much. I remember.

Tuesday, October 23, Rabé de las Calzadas
          Beauty yet reigns. It does. From the hill above Albino's house I can see several towns. Rabé de las Calzadas is the closest. Further out lie Tardajos, Villabilla, Burgos... Also ample countryside stretches out before me, room to walk, run, and ride. Count the busted marathoner in for all that. Failure fails to negate future.


Rabé de las Calzada and countryside stretch out below me         

          This day I hiked to Tardajos with my backpack for groceries. Everyone thought I was a pilgrim on el Camino de Santiago, the trail that flows across northern Spain like a pipeline leaking money. Pilgrim spending boosts the local economy. Which must mean locals both love and hate it, love and contempt being two sides of the same coin.
          Found the vitals I needed. I want to fix Senorita Luz bonita a good lunch when she comes for her housekeeping chores tomorrow.
          Rio Urbel, which I crossed, is becoming my new favorite river. I could see four trout at the same time taking flies in the pool below the bridge. My fly rod is oh so far away.

After a long day's work, Albino stands smiling

          Mi amigo Albino esta un patron big shot, global risk controller for a top-fifty automotive manufacturer. But he held me in a bear hug like a soldier until I could stand alone after Sunday's blowup at Marathon Casablanca. And that falls in a separate category, oh my captain.

Earned: one Casablanca tee and medal

          Notwithstanding all the things I may someday find to say about the Casablanca Marathon, the finisher's shirt and medal do nonetheless reside with me. I own them. I earned them. Out on the course I'd had full-blown medical reasons for leaving them unclaimed in that far-away town. And that fact leaves precious little room for pride. Maybe we can allow a tiny bit of satisfaction: Notch Africa. 

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Ironma'am



Susan Ford at Ironman Florida, November 4, 2006


A recent training ride along Blackburn Fork in Jackson County, Tennessee

            Susan Ford is a monster. Stay out of her way and you won't get hurt. That's a hyperbolic way to paint the tender-hearted veterinarian from Cookeville, Tennessee, but, too, a way of saying she is the hardest charging training and racing fanatic I've seen.
            At this moment she is in Kona, Haiwaii awaiting Saturday's World Championship Ironman. As is Amy Dodson, another friend, with whom Susan is sharing a hotel room. Yesterday's post was about Amy. This one is about Susan.
            I knew Susan when running a 10K put her at risk of overuse injuries. No more. Fourteen Ironman races have changed that, transformed her to a hard body that could cut glass. Her Twitter handle is @Ironmaam. That's a good title for the story too. 

            Ironma’am: she displays the word on her license plate holder, a variation on “Ironman” she adopted as her nom de plume. It fits. Ironman is her life. She will talk your leg off about it, evincing a spirit of enthusiasm and intensity and a twinkle in her eye, talking fast as if her speech has to rush to catch up with her thoughts. Because she is also smart.
            Indefatigable, indomitable, that’s Susan Ford. When the last ding-dong of doom finally claps and fades, the sound Faulkner’s ghost will hear won’t be man’s puny voice still talking. It will be Susan Ford’s.
            But she is also my generous and kind friend. She would give you her heart, but if you’re between her and the finish line she might stomp yours. You must forgive her: a race represents a temporary transformation of ordinary life into a new realm. After the finish line, life returns to normal.
            So, yes, Ironma’am is the name that fits. She earned the right, the first woman to do so from among every last hill, holler, ridge, knob, cliff, creek bottom and plateau of the entire Upper Cumberland region of this here state—the whole raw spreading put-together. I was her witness.
            She trained for months for Ironman Florida, her first Ironman attempt. Time approached for that 2006 race; she didn’t know I was playing a trick on her. I’d made plans to be a spectator there—she knew that much. What she did not know was that I was hoping to write a story about her experiences―if there was a story. So to avoid raising any expectations and putting even more pressure on her, I didn’t tell her my plans. She knew I had other friends in the race that I wanted to see, and so my little secret was easy to keep. I traveled to Panama City Beach separate from her and staked out a fan’s position on the sandy beach that morning.
            As I stood waiting with my camera, a brisk north wind was sweeping across the beach, plunging the chill factor into the thirties. Even wearing a coat I was cold. There stood Susan at the Gulf’s edge with some 2,200 others waiting for the 7:00 a.m. start. She stood and shivered among the throng. But I knew the hope was in her. If she could succeed in traveling the combined 140.6-mile distance she’d become the first woman Ironman from our whole region of Tennessee.
            In the end, after all the shivering and fury and misery, she was able to do just that, realizing her dream, posting a finishing time of 15:09:55. The first woman Ironman—from our corner of the world, anyway—was forty-one years old. 
            In normal life, Susan practices veterinary medicine, and loves dogs. She loves her husband Ivan, too, a medical physicist. He was along on the Florida trip to provide moral support for his athletic wife, to help out with the logistics and to baby-sit their ten-week old whippet pup, Archimedes.
            The race started with the 2.4-mile swim. Overnight passage of a cold front had churned the sea and breakers were forming 100 yards offshore. Their sight made me shudder. The rough water was likely to hinder visibility and control, favoring a swim more chaotic than normal. I dreaded it for her.
            I watched the anxious faces of swimmers as gun time approached and marveled at their courage, and I had the brief stupid thought, completely in sympathy, “Will they actually go in there?” But, of course, they would. I’ve done it myself, and I know there’s no turning back, even if you suspect catastrophe waits.
            Susan later told me how it was.
            “…scary and exciting all at the same time. I also got a lump in my throat, but I had to choke that back because I can’t swim with a lump in my throat. The sand was cold…. Our feet were numb; we were huddling to keep warm.”
            The gun fired, and I watched the stirring mass march into the froth like a doomed migration. Swimmers jostled for position; collisions became ordinary.
            Susan: “I was hit in the nose—an elbow!—twice in the lip, kicked in the face. I had people go over the top of me.”
            She saw stingrays and jellyfish—one stung her on the foot. She saw lights in the water, bioluminescence, she said it’s called.
            Her swim took on an element of survival. “I remember thinking, all the months I spent working on my swim form have nothing to do with the way I’m swimming now.” (Divers recovered an unconscious swimmer. He had a pulse but died three days later. I never learned if an autopsy determined the cause of death.)
            Susan finished the swim in a time of 1:18:52, a respectable performance despite conditions. But then the second crunch hit. She raced in wet clothes up the beach to her bike, running into the teeth of a north wind forecast at ten to twenty miles per hour.
            I was waiting to get a picture of her exit from the water, but all the swimmers in their wet suits looked so much alike, I missed her.
             She describes it. “…it was sooo cold. When I pulled off the wetsuit—everybody was cold! —when it came off, it was just unbelievably cold. I was in shock.” Shock or not, she had to jump on the bike.
            The north wind was unlucky. The first part of the 112-mile bike course went generally north into the wind, which further chilled her and killed her speed. And it crushed her spirit. Susan expected to average 16.5 mph, but as the grueling headwind wore on her, she realized she was only achieving 14.5 mph. Finally the course turned away from the wind, giving relief for a while—until she reached a turnaround.
            Then the wind again: “They headed us back into the wind and I thought, Oh no, the damned wind again. And there were cracks in the pavement that went thunk, thunk, thunk, and each time it did that my neck…oh my God, my neck hurt!”
            I know that feeling. For aerodynamic efficiency,  a triathlete leans sharply over the handle bars, a position that puts severe strain on neck muscles as you lift your head to see forward.
            Waiting in the crowd back in town, Ivan and I could only guess and wonder. We wandered around and stayed in touch with each other by cell phone. I was trying to find a good spot for a photograph. After missing the swim picture, I hoped to catch her on the bike as she returned to town. In the end, I failed that mission too, she blew by so quickly.
            Waiting for her, Ivan and I couldn’t know it, but Susan’s right calf was cramping as she pedaled. “The anterior tibialis,” the veterinarian later called it. She believed she would not be able to run if the muscle cramped hard. So she favored the right leg, adding more pedal load to the left. Of course, that produced the unhappy results of a cramp in the left leg.
            So when she finished the bike ride and started the 26.2-mile run, she had no control over her left foot.
             “Basically it just flopped, and I ran six miles like that—step, flop, step, flop.” Then it got better.
            But the worst was yet to come.
            Late the morning after the race I called her up and then went up to her hotel. Her room was a shambles, triathlon gear scatter on every horizontal surface. Ivan and Archimedes shuffled around in the narrow clearings. Susan and I decided to leave Ivan in charge of the dog and retire to an outside table at the pool. There she told me about her run.
Night had fallen while she ran. With night the mercury plunged. Darkness drew in around her. She was cold. The long distance stretched ahead. Each mile yielded grudgingly, bit by bit, to her aching struggle.
She’d trained years for just this moment, the last eighteen months working under Nashville coach Robert Eslick. She followed his biweekly instructions for biking and running. Swimming, perhaps her best sport, she worked on separately, grinding out the laps and miles at the Cookeville YMCA.
The problem Robert had was preventing her from training too much, from inducing an overuse injury. Susan will tell you she obsesses about Ironman. Ultra endurance requires ultra obsession. Her tendency is to over do it. “I’m always training,” she says.
She’s not kidding. I recall a conversation with Robert. I told him I thought Susan was the most intense, dedicated, enthusiastic… He cut me off.
“She’s crazy!” That response was loaded with grudging admiration.
For Ironman Florida, specifically, Susan trained twenty-four weeks—twelve weeks of base training and twelve weeks of building speed and peak distance. During that training cycle, she incorporated several shorter triathlons as training exercises. During her peak training, on one weekend alone, she rode 105 miles, ran twenty, and swam two.
Now out on the marathon run, descending into night and deeper into misery, she needed all the toughness her training could bring. She was determined to stay positive, “…but the ongoing power of the wind, and cold, and fatigue…” She trails off, trying to tell me that. Her silence expresses the mental anguish she’d faced.
Because a problem loomed—a huge unknown for her: she’d never actually run a marathon before, let alone one preceded by a swim and bike ride. Overuse injuries had prevented it. Now her outraged body was forced to go beyond all the limits it had ever known.
I’d know Susan since just running a 10K was an adventure for her. In those early days running injuries nagged her and hindered her progress. She’d climbed a high mountain in training, but she couldn’t be sure it would be enough.  
Someone has described a marathon as twenty miles of hope and 6.2 miles of seeing God. Reaching that last six miles, Susan confronted a crisis. Overcome by fatigue and no longer able to run, her only chance was to walk. If she could. Walking violated her principles and drove her further into despair.
Most of all, she feared failure.
Help came in the form of a gentleman from Virginia who was making his third try at becoming an Ironman. They walked together, leaning on each other, urging each other on. “Just go with me to that next light pole,” he said.
She painfully needed to go to the restroom. Though portable toilets were stationed along the course, she dared not sit. She knew she’d be unable to get up. She couldn’t simply wet her pants as some do; it was too cold to be wet again. She strode on.
“If there were a thousand dollar bill on the ground I don’t think I could bend over to pick it up,” the man said.
“I know I wouldn’t pick it up. It might kill my chance to get the finisher’s medal, and that’s more important to me than a thousand dollars,” Susan answered.
I myself was standing out in the cold and dark during those moments, waiting for her about a mile from the finish line. When she and the man strode out of the dark, she was confident by then she would make it. Finally, I got a picture. Despite all, she was still wearing a smile, as my picture shows.
Finally, slightly past 10:00 p.m., the two approached the finish line. The crowd’s roar, the thumping music, the announcer’s voice filled their ears. Joy filled their hearts.
“Let’s run across the finish line. I’m at least going to cross the finish line running,” the gentleman said.
“Not me. I’m going to walk across, and proud of it!”
Barely able to walk or even stand, she knew now she’d finish. Despair and fear gave way to overwhelming joy. She used her last ounce of energy coming down the stretch, slapping hands with fans, and marched across the finish line in celebration.
Then she collapsed.
Race officials held her upright. Ivan rushed to her side. “You gotta get me to the bathroom,” she pleaded.
Next morning she was too sore and stiff to get out of bed. She called a masseur to her room. It took two hours of massaging before she could stand.
“I’ve always heard that it was going to hurt, but I was unprepared for how much it was going to hurt. There was not a spot on my body that didn’t hurt. It was excruciating.”
“Ironman is the supreme challenge. And it’s part of what I am from now on.”
            Sitting there at the patio table that day after the race, while she was still barely able to walk, I had one more question I wanted to ask her, although I knew the answer.
            “Was it worth it, all the training, all the pain?” Her answer was pure Susan, more convincing than anything else she could’ve said.
“I signed up this morning for next year’s race,” she said. She leaned forward, eyes flashing. “And you know what? If I don’t finish, I’ll still be an Ironman!”
            Yes, she will. I agree. Having once earned the medal, the title lasts forever. So do the memories. For Susan, the Iron Life lasts, too. Since that morning in Florida, she’s finished fourteen Ironman races, and cut three hours off the time of her first one.
            My subsequent story about Susan’s first Ironman was written for the local paper, but it eventually appeared in two papers and in two running magazines. Susan framed the paper’s story and hung it on her wall. 

Monday, October 8, 2012

Amy Dodson: Tempo Allegro


 Amy Dodson on the cover of Runner's World, July 2011


Amy talking with @smithbend on town square of Bell Buckle, June 2001

            It has been my good luck to stand in a place where I met some pretty amazing people. Two of them—Amy Dodson and Susan Ford—will be running The Ironman World Championship at Kona, Hawaii this coming Saturday. Both are my good friends, although they never met each other. And both began their endurance journey in Cookeville, Tennessee. Because of that commonality they planned to share a hotel room at Kona.
            This story is about Amy. It’s an old story, first published in Running Journal. Although already written, it was on my mind in April, 2000 as I was running the Boston Marathon for the first time, because that’s when the story appeared.
            The story is about how Amy started running. In one sense, it’s a disservice to her, because she has since accomplished so much. Just part of it makes a long list: Boston Marathon first woman leg amputee, marathon world record, 100-mile ultramarathon, two-time ITU World Paratriathlon Champion… It goes on. But this story is about how she began.

            Say you lose your left leg to cancer, and two years later your left lung, too…What do you do now?
            Well, if you’re Amy Dodson you run a marathon. That’s what the Cookeville, Tennessee runner has done, finishing the Disney World Marathon in a time of 5:28:04, ahead of some 3,500 other runners. It was her first marathon. She is planning others.
            The road to Disney World was a long one, beginning some seventeen years ago. The Tucson native was a junior at the University of Arizona when cancer claimed her left leg from below the knee. Two years later it claimed part of her left lung too.
            Running was not part of her plans then. Just learning to walk was a challenge. “It was hard,” she says.” “And it hurt! Walking is complicated. You wouldn’t think so, but it is.”
            Running would wait—wait until college and teaching in New York, wait until she found herself working as a librarian in Cookeville, Tennessee. It was there, walking around the track one day that she suddenly started to run. No plans, no preliminaries, she just started. “You know, I’ll just give it a try,” she remembers thinking.
            It was a struggle at first. Her prosthetic leg was adequate for walking but too stiff for running. “It beat me up pretty bad,” she recalls. She didn’t quit. She bought another leg, one designed especially for running.
            Barely two weeks after starting to run, she entered her first 5K. From that beginning she soon became a regular runner at local road races. Her appearances attract attention and interest, her finishes inspire and amaze. The RC Cola Moon Pie 10-miler at Bell Buckle last summer was especially memorable, considering the withering heat and a punishing hill on that course. A big crowd was on hand as Amy ran through that heat down Main Street and turned the corner to the finish line. The effort and spirit showed in her face. Even the loquacious announcer was stunned into silence as he turned to watch her pass. Finally, recovering, he managed: “The runner who just finished, finished in under two hours.”
            Indeed. And ahead of a passel of runners.
            Gaining experience, Amy attended the Disabled Sports/USA National Summer Games in August at Fairfax, Virginia. There she took the gold medal in the 5000 meters, finishing in 28:46. Speaking of her time, “It wasn’t very good,” she says, always striving to improve. Her current 5K PR is 26:52
            When asked, she doesn’t recall any single event that caused her to suddenly start running. “I’ve always admired runners. If I saw someone running—young or old—I just admired them. It seemed like something I’d like to do. I don’t know…”
            Her love of running connects unexpectedly with another love: music. A gifted musician, she was classically trained on the flute. As a member of the Tucson Symphony Orchestra in 1984, she gave the first public performance of the Kino Saga Symphony by Camille Van Hulse.
            Just as loss of a leg presents a running challenge, loss of lung power presents a flute playing challenge. “It’s a wind instrument; it takes wind. The longer passages are hard. You have to be more careful with your breathing,” she says.
            Led by her dual love of music and running, she organized the first Allegro 5K last October. The run benefits the Bryan Symphony Orchestra. Three brass ensembles entertained along the way.
            She has more marathons planned—one in June and then Tucson in December. She hopes to better the world record of 4:17:55 for her class. Based on her projections from her 5K and 10K times she has a realistic chance. Further down the road, she has contacted the Boston Athletic Association about qualifying in a special division for the Boston Marathon, and she wants to run New York. “Especially New York, since I lived there,” she says.
            Note: In April, 2002 Amy became the first woman leg amputee to run the Boston Marathon. And in October, 2002 she set the world record, a time of 3:52.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Running Blackburn Fork Two Years After The Flood


Blackburn Fork Road Two Years Ago

Zion Road Bridge, August, 2010
Zion Road Bridge Now, Two Years Later

When Josh Hite and I innocently turned down Blackburn Ford Road on our morning run of Friday, August 27, 2010, we didn’t know we were headed for the scene of water’s most forceful devastation we’d ever seen. That day we waded the river and scrambled through house-sized piles of tangled trees. Three of the four bridges crossing the river, along with their abutments and piers, had been scattered by the flood’s immense force. Judy Richardson, who lives in a house on ground barely high enough to survive the flood and overlooking one of the bridges swept away, said it looked like the Colorado River had coursed through that narrow valley.

Few people knew what had happened on lower Blackburn Fork nine days before. East Blackburn Fork and West Blackburn Fork converge in southern Jackson County to make the named river. A mile and a half downstream the river jumps over Cummins Falls, which this year was named as a State Park. The section of the river below the falls snakes through a gorge in sparsely-populated Jackson County. The stream’s remote location and the flood’s devastation made it difficult for anyone to venture in. Little news had come out.

I had grown up on the Cumberland River before the prevalence of flood-control dams, and on the free-flowing Salt Lick Creek in Jackson County. I was accustomed to dealing with floods that covered roads and cropland and disrupted life. This was different. This flood had roared with speed and force enough to uproot and break two-foot thick trees and sweep them away, whole groves sometimes.

What Josh and I saw that day astonished us. We rambled the length of the gorge in amazement. Several hours and twenty-two miles later we found ourselves in Gainesboro, hungry, dehydrated and exhausted from exploring and running through the August heat. His wife Martha drove from Cookeville to Gainesboro to pick us up. A year later my account of that run became Chapter 40 in the book Going Down Slow (2011).

Once back home, I sent an e-mail to Charles Denning, who a few years earlier had retired as Executive Editor of the 100-plus-year-old Herald-Citizen. “You must see what I have just seen,” I wrote, and then described the destruction. He though that I’d “been nibbling on wild mushrooms,” that it was a “hallucinatory picture” I’d painted. I don’t blame him; I laid it on. I knew if he saw the scene he’d be unable to resist writing about it. 

Three days later, on Monday, we drove to some of the worst destruction. We spent the afternoon touring, collecting information and making pictures. He interviewed Judy Richardson, who’d witnessed the flood. On the following Sunday his story appeared on the front page above the fold. It included a photograph of me running through a gouged-out wasteland where the road had once been. Finally, sixteen days after the flood, Charles’ story gave the world a glimpse of the devastation on Blackburn Fork—a stream designated by the state legislature as a State Scenic River.

After the story appeared, Tennessee Tech geology professor Evan Hart called me. He asked if I;d lead him and a team on a tour of the erosion. They were interested in the geology of the flood. I agreed.  A few days later he, another professor, two graduate students and I toured the damage. One student was planning to prepare a report on the flood, including drainage area, surveys of flood cross-sections and flow rates. I made all my pictures available. A few months later I saw Professor Hart. They’d estimated the flood size. Best they could determine, it had been between a 500-year and 1,000-year flood. By either number, Blackburn Fork experienced a flood never before seen by civilization.

Today, Josh and I made our second anniversary run down the river. The run has become an annual habit. Things have changed remarkably for the better there since last year, and certainly since two years ago. The road has been raised and rebuilt, the section at Judy Richardson’s house paved even. In places where the road comes close to the river, rip-rap has been placed on tall embankments which should resist future undercutting. The piles of trees have been mostly removed. The bridge at Zion Road has been replaced by a longer and higher bridge, remnants of the old collapsed bridge hauled away.

Josh and I met Judy Richardson’s husband, Jim, driving a black SUV. He stopped to talk and introduced himself. He told us how it had been the morning of the flood, how it came much too close to his house and how they’d been trapped there. The wild river was in front of them, and a flooded branch running beside and behind the house had cut them off. He watched as the flood snapped off two-foot-diameter walnut trees and carried them away. The wood in each was worth a few thousand.

He told us how many rocks had been deposited on the soybean field by the flood, said that after 200 tandem-axle-truck loads had been hauled away from a three-acre site, it barely made a dent. These rocks served as fill material to rebuild the road. Officials of a construction company told him that the flood’s force was so strong it moved all boulders less than 6,000 pounds in size.

Jim said that when State Senator Charlotte Burks had toured the flood area, she asked in astonishment, “How come people don’t know about this?” He’d told her it was because “people can’t get in here.”

People can get in now; they can drive the family car. To the unaware eye, little sign of the violence remains. They’ll likely find a peaceful scene, a picturesque stream meandering through a rustic valley. But it will yet take a long time before the stands of mature trees fully return to the banks of this Scenic River. I’ll go there, too, but I’ll never see it again the way I remember it once being.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Shocking Scenes from a Red-Dress Run


The Westside Runners are different from any group that ever attracted my attention, let alone my participation. There are no officers, no bylaws, no membership list, no dues. And no one is taking names. We simply meet at six p.m. every Wednesday in the parking lot of Foothills Running Co. and go running. Running alone, together with the fellowship it provides, holds the group together. That's it. Jennifer Hackbarth usually brings drinks. No committee makes recommendations; no one appoints a committee. Runners range from the very accomplished to the beginner, from 13-time Ironman finisher Susan Ford to her husband Ivan, who started as a walker and worked up to his first race recently, an 8K. Everyone is welcome. No charge.

"I've found out that when a man in a red dress runs into the street, the traffic yields."

Occasionally someone throws out a suggestion, as Josh Hite did late in May. His idea: have a red-dress run, sometimes called a hasher run. We make decisions easily. And so on the sixth of June, National Running Day, we found ourselves in red dresses following Josh's chalk marks, some which were correct and some which were meant to mislead. We ran across town, wherever the marks led. They led to bars, three altogether. In the process we scandalized the motorists of Cookeville.

The following is a story in pictures of three miles, three bars, and a million laughs, Cookeville's first red-dress run. Photos collected here were made by a number of runners - some by me, some by Jennifer Scarlett, some by Mike Lepley. Photographers of some pictures are uncertain.


With me is the sweetheart of Westside. Jennifer Hackbarth is our sweetheart and leader, too, and an arm full to hug. A natural leader, she leads without appearing to even try. She does it by such things as being generous, considerate, energetic, enthusiastic, mindful of birthdays, etc.


Hasher Garvey reporting, ma'am.


Four guys: Rick, Dallas, Josh, and Mike get ready to rock.


My sweet buddy Chaz preparing to run.


Accessories and color coordination are important to Lady in Red.


Lovers welcome. Jennifer S. and Shane catch a pre-run smooch.


Jill Smith doing a good job concealing her embarrassment at her old dad's antics. She said she was never wearing that dress again, that she looked like a barrel with legs!



The pack of hashers heading east on First Street, following chalk marks. They would eventually reach Char's, but they didn't know that then.


Whole group having a party on patio at Char's, Putnam County Criminal Justice Center appropriately looming in the background.


Our two Jens: Jennifer S. and Jennifer H. Or JEN2, as Jennifer H. remarked.


Second bar was Spankies, where we lifted still another glass or two.


She's our leader! Jennifer can pick you up like a sack of feed, slam-dunk you through a ten-foot hoop, and then punt you into the tenth row. Granted, I knew she was strong. Granted, too, even at my off-season heaviest, I still go as a welter-weight. Still...try jerking up 140 pounds, which she easily did, all to the surprise of myself and to the delight of other hashers. At Spankies.


Love endures all. Rick and Susan leave Spankies and head toward what turned out to be Crawdaddy's, the third bar on our run, which was also near our starting point. At Crawdaddy's the run broke down altogether and and turned into a full-scale party.

Friday, June 1, 2012

The Way Angela Runs




Angela Ivory stands relaxed, Broad Street, Cookeville, TN, August 11, 2006

            
Angela Ivory runs the railroad tracks at Cookeville, TN, August 11, 2006

Note: As the title's present tense suggests, his story about Angela Ivory was written when she was running and feeling well, back in 2006 after she'd fought breast cancer to a standstill and after she'd run a marathon in each of the fifty states plus D.C. She would repeat that running feat and set a new and harder goal. It seemed a happy time for her. She had been free of cancer for two years. We know now, of course, cancer eventually came back. This story was written as a feature for the Herald-Citizen newspaper. It was reprinted in three running magazines and has since been adapted as a chapter in my recent book Going Down Slow. On the sad occasion of her death Thursday, May 31, I dug the story out. As we mourn her death maybe it can serve as a vivid reminder of the full, vibrant life Angela managed to live during her forty-four years.
           
         
            What had happened to Angela Ivory came as a rude surprise to me. I didn’t know her very well at first. We’d talked a few times at local races. Then I didn’t see her for a few months. After I heard her news, I invited her up to my Cookeville home so we could make pictures and talk about a story.
By then she had run over a hundred combined marathons and ultramarathons. That list included a marathon in each of the fifty states plus D.C., a saga that required what seemed to me a staggering amount of travel.
She lived alone in Nashville, but grew up in Memphis. Prior to her marathon saga she had been west of the Mississippi River only twice, to visit an Aunt in West Memphis Arkansas, she told me.
She spent an afternoon in Cookeville, answering my questions and posing for pictures. Then she and Jo Ann and I went out for dinner. An astonishing saga emerged. As impressive as her list of races was, it barely began to tell her story.
She’d started out by dabbling—two marathons in 2001, two in 2002, one in 2003. Then things went crazy. In 2004 she began running either a marathon or an ultramarathon every weekend, traveling wherever she had to, to wherever there was a race, crisscrossing the country time and again. When I asked her about the travel, she only said,
“Yeah, it’s hard on you. I really believe in jet lag.”
She was on a mission then to record a marathon in each of the fifty states. She was doing it the hard way, by not counting some of the ultramarathons she ran along the way. The typical ultramarathons she runs are 31.2 (50k) and 50 miles in length, usually on a trail. Since all ultramarathons, by definition, are longer than a marathon, she could have counted an ultra as a marathon in a given state. There’s a reason she didn’t count the ultras, and that’s part of her story.
 With the Orange County Marathon, in Newport Beach, California, on January 8, 2006, she completed the mission, her fifty-first state (counting D.C.). It was her thirty-eighth birthday.
“I went out there scared,” she said.
To understand her apprehension, you’d have to know what happened in the December preceding that January race. As she closed on her target, two bogies reared up: her hardest marathon, and her first DNF.
The Kiawah Island Marathon, in South Carolina, was her hardest, despite its flat course. It turned into a seven-hour trudge. She had tendonitis of the IT band and had to walk most of the way. That race was her forty-seventh marathon of the year.
Forty-seven?
“Yeah, I missed a couple of weekends, but there were four weekends I ran doubles.”
Doubles?
“That’s where I ran a marathon on Saturday and then ran another one on Sunday.”
But her body was wearing down. The crunch came the next weekend at a 50k ultra in Indiana. It was a cold 19 degrees and the trail was under a foot of snow. Her body screamed its warning. She faltered after the first 10-mile loop. It was her first failure. She went to the car and cried.
“It hurt. You get through most of these races with your mind, and I guess my mind wasn’t in it. I guess everything has a breaking point.”
So her hardest marathon—the forty-seventh that year—was followed a week later by a failure. And that set the stage for her thirty-eighth birthday, and for that capstone race in Orange County that ended a saga.
That saga is just part of her story. To understand how that part came about one needs to go back to the year 2003. That year changed Angela Ivory’s life—and who knows in how many ways.
They cut off her left breast.
They had to. The big C. It was June. They took out 22 lymph nodes, too.
The doctors laid out a menu of long-term outrage. Chemotherapy started three months before the surgery, and continued for three months after it. For that, they planted a “port” in her right shoulder, a sort of plastic valve under the skin that connects to a blood vessel via a tube, a handy place to stick the chemo needle. After the chemo ended, five weeks of radiation followed.
Chemo is supposed to be tough, right? Tougher than the Tour de France, Lance said. But Angela didn’t whine about it. Only the port drew her scorn—for the reason that it hurt when she reached for the bicycle bars—yeah, she was biking, too. The doctors installed the port in February 2003; they decided she was clean and took it out early in 2004.
Then everything changed for Angela Ivory.
Oddly, I remember talking with her about that time. It was January 24, 2004, at Natchez Trace State Park, just after the 5-mile “Race on the Trace.” We sat on the steps of the lodge talking about running, as racers will.
I didn’t know her secret, and she didn’t mention it. I couldn’t have guessed the perfect storm of marathons to follow; I doubt she could. That day she seemed a bit wistful and dreamed about running an ultramarathon, something she’d read that I’d done.
Later that year, in June, she indeed ran an ultra, the Star Mountain 50k, in Etowah, Tennessee. Maybe by then she’d learned what she wanted to do, although she doesn’t recall a particular moment when she formed her 51-states plan; it happened gradually.
You can imagine that a black girl growing up in Memphis during the 70s and 80s faced all the usual pitfalls of big city life. But Angela’s parents taught her well. She studied hard and earned an academic scholarship to Vanderbilt University. Once there, she knew she wanted to major in mechanical engineering—this despite the scarce number of women in that program, not to mention black women.
Despite earning the degree in mechanical engineering, she took a job doing a vital kind of civil engineering work—another irony—as an environmental protection specialist with the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation. She was working and living in Nashville…between races.
Races, always the races. Somewhere every weekend. And those races had become ultramarathons.
The ultras started another saga, another story, because Angela Ivory raised the ante: She planned to run an ultramarathon in each of the fifty states. Already she’d checked off 16 by the time of our Cookeville talk. And that number was wrong by the time I had written it, for the reason that it was growing week by week.
But why? Why that goal? I wanted to know.
The self-effacing woman was much too modest to give a pretentious answer. In fact, she seemed embarrassed by the attention and preferred to not mention the quest, or her accomplishments. She just laughed at the question and answered with humor.
“Well, I’m not sure. The more I run the less brain cells I have.
Her dad died in 1993. What does your mother think about all that running?
“I don’t think she completely understands it, but she’s supportive.”
By its nature, Angela’s quest didn’t permit great speed. Her best marathon finish came in 2005—the year she ran 47—in, remarkably, the Country Music Marathon, in her hometown, a time of 4:26:49.
Angela is a shy person who dislikes talking about herself, a trait that evinces what you might call character. As a consequence, she completed a marathon in each of the 51 states—47 in one year—quietly, without fanfare, almost secretly. And she started the ultra quest the same way.
I wrote a feature story about Angela’s running and her battle with cancer for the Sunday edition of the local paper. It was reprinted in three running magazines. The story surprised many of her running friends. Until then, they had not known about her cancer, and had barely known the extent of her running. She’d done the running quietly and endured cancer the same way.
So modest was Angela, she’d initially declined the article. She didn’t care about being the center of attention. I didn’t want to pressure her; I wanted her to make the decision, yes or no. But I did point out that such a story might inspire someone else, help someone else. That idea—the thought of helping someone else—was what changed her mind.
The story blew her cover. It was time. This brave woman deserved recognition. The inspiration her courage brings to running and to life deserved broadcasting to the most remote corners of human endeavor.
“I’m just a chicken, and a slow chicken at that,” she said.
Chicken? Ha!
There, in admirable humility, she belittled her remarkable courage. In Angela Ivory, humility and courage are complement qualities. Her humility veils the heart of a lion.