21 August 2010

A Series of Little (Wolves) Tastes

A couple of decades ago, just before I embarked on a business excursions to Los Angeles to teach a roomful of people a solid week’s worth of mind-numbing information, my mother was thoughtful enough to send me a restaurant review she’d seen in a magazine. When you get to L.A. check this place out, she told me, it looks good, and was, according to the article, “reasonable”.

After I dragged ten of my corporate classmates to this fine establishment, I realized that “reasonable” in a magazine about an eats-house in L.A. is only reasonable in comparison to a year’s tuition at Cal Poly; our expense budgets were shot for the week and we literally did pick up a meal or two at McDeath’s to make up for the folly. But memories of that evening linger, notably when the waiter, in perfect harmony with the prediction in the magazine article, strode to our table and announced, “The chef has prepared for you tonight a series of little tastes…

Let the gastronomical delights and the financial wreckage begin!

Why do I think of these things? That, I cannot say. But in that spirit, at last, nearly a month past the event, I fulfill my promise of bringing you stories of the Wolves race. The author has prepared for you tonight a series of little tastes…


Who’s That Winner? Our race was won by 18-year-old Ben Perron of Southborough, the next town south of here. Shortly after the race I received an email from Jeff, the coach of the Southborough Recreation track & cross country programs, a gentleman I’ve had the honor and pleasure of working with on numerous middle school meets with my Immaculate Conception teams. Jeff was tickled by the news since Ben was a veteran of his program. Clearly a high for any coach!

In Record Time? Ben’s time was a minute and change off of last year’s winning time, but we extended the course this year to gain USATF certification. Granted, we added only 84 feet, about 5 seconds at Ben’s pace, but a change is a change, it’s a “new” course, and I’d give him at least a record with an asterisk.

Stretched It? Why add 84 feet? Certification is a mysterious thing. For certification, we elected to measure assuming runners might cut onto a sidewalk we’d presumed they’d skip last year. It’s lumpy and ugly and such, but they could, so we did. Doing so still put us only a few feet off our wheel measurement from last year – within the error limit for certification. But on the second measurement it all came out different. Why? I’d call up Alan Jones, inventor of the famed Jones Wheel, and ask, but I’ve kind of lost track of him since I knew him in my early First Lap days running for the Triple Cities Running Club back in Binghamton NY. Alan was a real pioneer, using computerized results reporting for our weekly club meets in the days when “PC” was a foreign word to most. His son, Clain, who took over the Wheel business for a time, was a schoolmate and track & XC teammate of mine, though a bit younger than I. Someday I’ll have to look them both up… And maybe they can explain it. Though we were within the acceptable limit of error, we elected to be conservative and added the distance. Whatever.

The Course, Completed: Measured or not, we had a scare when the City tore up a piece of the rail trail which our course crossed twice (being an out and back) mere days before the race. Race director’s coronary department! But the work was completed rapidly, and truth be told, that spot – at the town border with embedded town seals and an embedded piece of rail – was a bit hazardous and needed attention. Kudus to the City for fixing it. Just for us, we figure.

And Maybe It Was – Because the City was Fabulous: Early in the planning stages, our fair city, the fine City of Marlborough, tossed a new permitting process at us that created some heartburn. The new framework was clearly designed to handle the woes that entail from visiting carnivals, charlatans, and murderers’ conventions. We, being local folk trying to do good, were, to be fair, a little irked. But there was method behind the madness, and being more aware of our plans than ever before, the City delivered in spades. They gave us the stadium again for our finish and post-race gathering, but their man on location, Rick, didn’t just unlock the gates and open the doors, he pretty much joined our race staff and worked his behind off to make it a fantastic night. Gratis. And the City sent us cops, not one, not two, but three, James, Tony, and Borden. Gratis. And they didn’t just stand there like rent-a-cops, they too dove in like race staff, covering road crossings, traffic snarls, you name it. Two of them, mounted on their fine titanium steeds, became roving course marshals (“The runners are coming! The runners are coming! One if by foot and two if, umm, by foot!”), and one happened to be on the spot when our casualty of the day occurred and one went down to heat stroke. Thanks to these guys, our runner was treated in minutes, his worst lasting wound being a bad memory. Hats off to the City of Marlborough, a thousand thank-yous.

Missed My Fame: My hub-bub as pre-race field commander was interrupted for a five minute interview by the local access cable news program. The bummer is I forgot to watch it. My fifteen minutes of fame, and I missed it.

Did they howl? You Bet They Howled! We billed it as the Wolves run, and they howled. Yes, at first, because I told them to howl at the start, and howl they did. But howl they continued to do. They even became famous for doing so, as reported by John over at the Worcester Telegram & Gazette (take a look down toward the middle of his column). Hey, you have to be a little loony sometimes, right?

Real Wolf? The morning of the race, my wife spotted a coyote while out on her morning walk. Yes, they’re known around here, but not all that common. And for you nay-sayers, the Eastern Coyote is a hybrid with plenty of wolf involved. I say it was an omen. And one real wolf, or at least a distant cousin of one, did cross the finish line.

But As They Howled… What About The Important Stuff? So our team has been working for months and it’s all come down to this. Field commander mode, everything must get done. Finally, it’s starting time. I’m making the pre-race announcements. We’ve verified that our split timers are on the course and ready for the start. Amy, our Head Queen Diva, belts out a stirring national anthem. We howl. And in the excitement, the fun, the not-wanting-to-hold-these-people-up-any-longer, I say GO! Oh what fun! And then I have that, OH CRAP moment, when I realize that while yes, I did have my stopwatch in my hands, DID I START IT? A moment of panic. Yes, I did start it, even at the right time, but I realize that of all those checklist items, I’d forgotten to verify who were our backup timers and if they were ready. Thank God for teammates, they were all over it. Not that we needed it, but if we had, and they hadn’t, oh, I shudder to think. “Well, we THINK you ran about, umm, uhh…”

And Last But Not Least: This race was a tremendous team effort, especially on the part of the few inner-circle folks who worked ridiculous hours to make it happen. But I did stamp a few personal bits on top, just because, well, after all, being race director does let you make a decision now and then. And I wanted to recognize some people who never get recognized, so we gave awards to not just the fast folks but also to those with the most perseverance: the very last man and woman to cross the line. Unfortunately we missed catching the last lady before she left. When I contacted her to send her award, she was tickled by the recognition, but said she’d departed “exhausted and embarrassed”. Embarrassed? Always remember, I reminded her and I remind you, when you toe the line for that 5K, 10K, or any race, the last place finisher has just accomplished far, far more than the 99.5% of the population who haven’t left the couch. Fast or slow, stand proud, you came, you ran, you howled, and you triumphed.

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