Okay, I ran some miles this week, but that can definitely wait, because right now, this race report is way, way more interesting and important.
Before I start, though, I'd like to make a few things clear. Although what I write here may (no, probably will) be construed as insulting to the city of Cleveland and its residents, I am in no way blaming the city for my disappointing performance. Rather, dry/irritated sinuses (as it eventually turned out; fortunately, not a cold or infection) made it difficult for me to run without generating tons of mucous, which found its way into my lungs and sent me into uncontrollable coughing fits of increasing frequency as the race progressed. If anything, this was a result of pacing on the dry, dusty Wasatch course last week (as I type this, my lips are still sort of chapped from that). Fortunately, by this time tomorrow, I'll be in humid, 85-degree weather in Israel, and that should go a long way towards clearing this up. Ultimately, it's my responsibility to take care of myself, and I did a poor job with this (although I did a remarkably good job with everything else, which perhaps made this worse by comparison), and I suffered as a result. (But make no mistake - I laughed harder and longer at this race than I did at any other race that I've ever run, which is why I will be first in line when registration for this opens next year.)
With the bottom line out of the way, begin humorous rant:
If you're one of the three people who hasn't seen these videos, or if you'd like a refresher, here:
So you know what they say about a lot of truth being said in jest . . .
Well, Mark Rodriguez, Jackie Ong, and I saddled up this past Friday for another road trip, all having seen the videos, but of course thinking that this was no doubt exaggeration. The trip was totally uneventful until about here:
Don't worry if you miss this one - there's one about every 50 feet along I-71, which proves that Cleveland has no idea exactly where their corporate limits are.
After a totally safe, homogenized lunch experience at the Olive Garden, we headed to our rooms at the Days Inn on Lake, just outside of Edgewater, the "host hotel" of this "national championship" event. We should have been a little bit more prepared when everything along 130th and 117th looked exactly like the stuff in the parody "tourism" videos, but apparently, we're slow learners. For the moment, I'll let this picture speak for itself:
Why aren't there bars on this window? (Maybe the front desk has them on request.)
The "non-smoking" room smelled like a seedy bar (i.e. cigarette smoke and cheap perfume, more the former than the latter), there were bits of pizza and fried chicken all over the chairs and carpet, the sheets were stained . . .
Zero points to the first person who can guess what caused this stain, because if you know, you are no doubt familiar and/or complicit with horrible, horrible things . . .
But fortunately, we're good sports, so we couldn't stop laughing. One of the hotel employees overheard us, and when we told him that the room smelled like somebody had been smoking in there as recently as ten minutes ago, he responded "yeah, everybody does that." Okay, Cleveland, stop and think about that for a second - is that not your property, that you charge people money to stay in? Don't you have any concept of pride, or ownership, or pride in ownership? You can't just ENFORCE YOUR NON-SMOKING RULES? Okay, maybe to their credit, somebody did come in with a spray to try to clean things up . . .
Other hotel employee: "Isn't that the spray that they use when they evacuate buildings?"
Spraying employee: "Yeah, and it works great!"
Not long after (now that the window was open), we heard yelling outside the window, and saw a bunch of cop cars. Most of the shouting was unintelligible, but the clearly audible "this is bullshit!" would become our rallying cry for the weekend. We made the best of the situation by blasting gangster rap and gunshot sound effects from YouTube out the window, in an attempt to appear "hard."
The "official" pre-race dinner of the "national championships" was at a place called "Players on Madison," which I won't dignify with a link here. Go ahead and Google it if you like, but all I will say is that any place that calls itself "Players" and doesn't have gambling or strippers involved is clearly mis-named. We opted for the Pizza Hut instead, which was right next to this lovely establishment:
Racism, alive and well in Clevelandtown.
Then it was back to our hotel room, which still smelled terrible, and was now really cold on account of having the window open, to sleep on our dirty sheets and pray that we didn't wind up with bedbugs.
Oh, right, a race happened eventually. We went to the breakfast lounge, where there were no spoons for the cereal, and where somebody comically asked "is that real orange juice," as if he could expect to drink anything in this city that wasn't tainted with antifreeze. Then off to the race, where, in an attempt to play upon patriotism to band everybody together in spite of the poor conditions, we listened to somebody sing the National Anthem, then had about two minutes of pre-race meeting before the blasted event began.
There was a veritable "who's who" of ultrarunning at this event: Zach Gingerich, Jamie Donaldson, Phil McCarthy, Byron Lane, Connie Gardner, Anna Piskorska, Serge Arbona, Nick Coury, just to name a few. Suckers, all of them; all of us, really. At this point, there's not much to write about running around in a circle about a million times, except that the leaders went out way, way, WAY too fast (50 miles in the first six hours is ridiculous, sorry, guys), and there was a brief period where there were some overweight nuns flying kites in the park (god, how I wish I had my camera for that, but they were gone by the next lap).
EDIT: PICTURE OF KITE FLYING NUNS:
For my part, I went out pretty conservatively, and everybody commented on how good I looked, and I kept saying (the best I could, considering that I could barely talk through these sinus problems) that as long as this stayed out of my lungs, I would be fine.
And it did, somewhat, for about 8 hours and a little over 50 miles, and then things just became unbearable. I tried to sit down and change shoes and eat food and all that, but the fact was, mucous was draining into my lungs, and I was coughing hard, and my chest hurt, and without knowing for sure that it wasn't something more serious, I was hesitant to push through this, even though I felt pretty much okay otherwise. Besides, they had gotten about ten Hammer Gels for this first-class "national championship" event, and by three hours in, the only gels left were the ones loaded with caffiene, so I had no steady nutrition source at this point, making forward progress even more risky.
So I slept for about six hours, got back up, and decided to run a few more laps at 1 in the morning (what better time to run?) and passed a number of people who had been out there the whole time (who, with their fast start, were now predictably trudging along), but the mucous was heading back into my lungs, and that was it for me. I hit just over 60 miles, went back to the tent that Laurie Colon had so generously set up for us, and hung out with Mark Rodriguez (stopped due to blistering at about the same mileage) for a little while before we went back to his heated car to sleep some more.
We got up around 7, and I took the most brutally cold shower ever in the restrooms (I had to, because I was not getting on a plane that dirty), cursing all the way, accusing Cleveland of being a giant concentration camp as I shivered uncontrollably under the cold mist, which did almost nothing to rinse the soap off. We went to the timing table to officially check out, to take our medals, and to have one last photo op:
Race official: "Just ignore the part on the sign that says '2010'"
Then off to the airport, to eat a burrito at "Currito" (which was actually pretty good, or maybe I was just hungry), and to write this report.
Okay, in all seriousness, a few parting comments:
The biggest problem with Cleveland is not that it is this bad, but that people in Cleveland seem to think that it's OKAY for things to be this bad. From the smoking in the non-smoking hotel room, to the randomly-stocked aid station at the race, everybody had the attitude as if this was fine, and it was okay to inconvenience people this way. Look, guys, seriously - if you want people to take this seriously as a NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP event, you have to raise the bar a little. It's not a big deal if this is just some random stupid race, but you've made lofty claims and failed to deliver.
The exchange between Mark and I on the course: "we are all witnesses" (reference the Lebron James poster), to which the reply is "this is bullshit" is an epic classic, and was totally worth the price of admission.
I have never laughed so long or so hard at a race in my life. I'm going to be first in line to sign up for this ordeal next year. :)