Monday, July 19, 2010

Ultra-Runners Go the Distance at Vermont 100

This weekend, I changed my running status: I became an ultra. An ultra is a runner who has run a distance greater than 26.2 miles.

Enough about me, however. My 30-mile run was simply to keep Todd Archambault on the race course late at night (we finished just shy of 2am)... after he had already run 70 miles of the Vermont 100 Endurance Run. Todd was one of 130 athletes who completed the entire 100-mile race on an "ultra-hot" Vermont summer day. Todd had a busy week at work, and I don't think he was adequately rested for an event like this. Add to this, he was nursing a seriously injured heel. But he battled these factors, plus dehydration and overheating, to come in under the 24-hour threshold and earn the coveted Vermont 100 belt buckle. There were other runners who have run in our Sunday Run With Jan group at the event: Serena Wilcox and Steve Meunier. Both finished. Also from our area were Kelly Wilson (ultra ski instructor from Stowe!), Jen Sorel, and John LaCroix. All finished. Obviously, northern Vermont runners are doing something right!

Although this weekend's Vermont 100 was my first glimpse of the ultra-running world, I found that previous experiences from my life helped me to feel right at home. A veteran of 3 camp-out Phish festivals, I noticed more than one similarity between an Ultra event and a Phish festival.

First, both groups arrive a day in advance in hole-in-the-wall places full of excitement and anticipation. They set up their tents, talking about past and future experiences and sharing stories. The day of the event arrives and, in both cases, participants approach their days with strategies, plans, and methods for maximizing their experiences. The events themselves are long and grueling -- survivable by only the fittest and most prepared. Late in the evening, certain members of both groups hallucinate, hearing voices and seeing shapes. The morning following the event, exhausted and battle-worn, people share stories over camp stoves and bagels about their past 24 hours as they pack up and get ready -- wistfully, in most cases -- to re-enter the real world. They say their goodbyes, knowing that they will all be together in some field someday in the future at another venue, another event.

Here's to all the runners who put themselves out there in the attempt -- successful or not -- to run 100 whole miles this weekend. And to the friends and supporters who helped and supported them in their quests to finish. And to the people who put the event together. It was an unbelievable weekend.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Great Book

Have you ever finished a book that was so good you didn’t want to pick up another for awhile? As if to bask in the glow of the one you just put down...

That’s how I feel about Leif Enger’s Peace Like a River (Grove/Atlantic), which I finished at around 1:30am after about a 5-hour marathon read of the final chapters. I’ve never been much of a fan of the reviews that publishers quote on bookcovers, but a critic from the San Francisco Chronicle does sort of hit it on the head on my edition’s cover: “Peace Like a River serves as a reminder of why we read fiction to begin with.”

Exactly right; published in 2001 and set between Minnesota and the Badlands, Enger creates characters that are real – even though men can’t levitate (as one of Enger's does) and 6 year-olds can’t write epics with perfect rhyme and iambic meter (again, one of his does) – and plotlines that are fantastical, heroic, tragic, and romantic. All at once!

Read Peace Like a River. Read it if you like historical fiction and modern fiction, heroic characters and characters who are flawed. If you like characters who reach out and grab you and villains you can’t stand.

Read Peace Like a River if you want a book you can’t put down.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Summer Rules

I do not have many rules, so listen up.

First rule: in summertime, when you pass kids selling lemonade by the side of the road, stop and buy some.

Even if you don't have time.

Even if you were going the wrong way and have to turn around.

Even if you don't like lemonade.

Here's the deal: these kids are sitting diligently out in the heat -- taking breaks only periodically to run through the sprinkler. It's not, come to think of it, so different from actually starting up a new business. Lots of excitement initially accompanies the fanfare surrounding getting set up -- the carrying of table and chairs out the the roadside (their "investment"), the designing, drawing, and coloring of a big sign to attract customers (a.k.a. their "marketing strategy"), and the mixing of -- or helping a parent to mix, and the level of parental involvement is of course directly proportional to said parent's tolerance for spillage -- lemonade (their actual product).

Once the setup is complete, however, reality sets in. Particularly for young entrepreneurs who have the misfortune of living on less-than-thoroughfares. The discovery that one's business idea is less glamorous and glorified than one originally imagined can be a difficult pill to swallow.

You can see, then, how you stopping can turn their day around. You are what every entrepreneur wants and needs: a customer! So. You have already made the kid's day just by stopping. But maybe you want to do more. Maybe you want to truly make a difference. Maybe you're the type who likes spreading goodwill and cheer everywhere you go. If you are, then read on to Rule #2:

Rule #2
Whatever the going rate is for a cup of lemonade (here in 2010, it's around 25 cents), pay ten times that. Never will the words "keep the change" mean more to a small business owner -- or to you. As you return to your vehicle or continue your walk (whatever you were doing before stopping), you'll hear small feet pounding up to the front door ("Mom, look!"). Your sense of satisfaction will be surprising -- even to those of you who are experienced cheer-spreaders. There is something about sipping lemonade you bought from a kid on the side of the road after overpaying. Take my word for it -- it's worth it.