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Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Born for Fun: A hidden egg, mediocre athletes, and the greatest race report the world should never see

Mind the Ducks 2010 Race Report

"Hmmm... what would it be like to see someone get Tased?" I pondered as Mark vaulted from the car.  The squad of Customs officers seemed to spring from nowhere amid the frantic orders of "SCOTT, GET BACK IN THE CAR!"  It was at this point I anointed this the sweetest road trip ever.  The next 48 hours would repeatedly reinforce that title.  Let's start at the beginning.

Chapter One: The Seeds Are Planted

I knew Shelly Viggiano (aka Shellerz) from the Barefoot Runners Forum on the Runners World Website (not to be confused with my wife Shelly.)  She had a dream about directing a race.  She convinced her ultramarathon club to host the race at a local park.  It was a 12 hour race run around a tiny lake on a half-mile asphalt loop.  She called it "Mind the Ducks" on account of the waterfowl in and around the lake.  The thought of running such a race sounded ridiculous, but she sold it well.  She's a proponent of barefoot running and tried recruiting some of us forumites to run due to her club members' skepticism.  I'm always up for proving people wrong, so I expressed mild interest.

A few months went by.  I was training for my second attempt at finishing a 100 mile race, so I half-heartedly followed Shelley's progress.  During the actual race, one of my crew members and pacer-extraordinaire Michael Helton informed me that Shelley would comp my entry fee if I finished.  Admittedly it didn't help motivate me at 3:00am after 70+ miles of running.  I did finish the race, though.  As soon as I got back on the forum, Shelley reminded me that I have a free invite to the race.

As I limped around in recovery mode, I started pondering the logistics of making a 500 mile trip.  I still wasn't sold on the idea... mostly because the Western States 100 lottery was coming up.  This is one of my dream races.  If I were picked, I would not be able to make both trips.  Mind the Ducks seemed like a remote possibility at best.

When the Western States lottery came in early December, I was giddy with anticipation!  The lottery is broadcast live on the 'web.  I spent several anxiety-laden hours staring a hole in my computer monitor waiting for my name to flash on the screen.  Every time a "Jason" came up, I could feel my heart burst out of my chest!  As the open spots dwindled, so did my optimism.  At the end of the lottery, my name had not been called.  Once I overcame the crushing disappointment, Shelley reminded me of the offer to run Mind the Ducks.  Hmmmm... the race was in Mid-May, maybe it would be good to run an ultra early in my running season.  This could be interesting.

I spent the next few weeks pondering this 12 hour ultra.  How could I convince Shelly (my wife) that it could be fun to drive all day, run for 12 hours, then drive another day.  Shelly is a tough runner and loves to be challenged.  As it turns out, it didn't take too much convincing.  The appeal of the 12 hour is simple- you can stop at any time.  After pondering it for a short time, she committed.  We mailed her registration to make it official!

Now that we were committed to the race, I could begin training.  I thought this race would motivate me to train over the winter months.  I was wrong.  My training consisted of a lone weekly run, usually on trails.  Why so little training?  I'm lazy.  I also hate the cold.  I also got sucked into planning a Guinness World Record run for barefoot runners.  I did manage a 21 mile and 24 mile back-to-back weekend about five weeks prior to Mind the Ducks.

At some point, I decided it would be fun to recruit a few others to suffer with Shelly and I.  Enter our friends Mark and Jesse.  I asked several other people, but these two were the only individuals foolish enough to agree.  Suckas!  [editorial note- that's an inside joke that will make sense later.]

Mark and I share a last name.  We met after we both suffered through a tough trail marathon in 2005.  He heard my name called as I finished and waited around to introduce himself.  We ran a few common races over the next year or two.  Eventually we started doing some training runs together, became Facebook friends, and became unofficial brothers.  Shelly and I even went to his family gathering last summer.

Mark is a very good trail runner and has been running marathons for a number of years.  I've been trying to plant the ultra bug as I knew he would love the atmosphere.  I finally convinced him using the logic I used on Shelly... you don't HAVE to run for the whole 12 hours... you can stop whenever you want.  It worked.  I knew Mark would do well despite the fact that he was the lone runner wearing foot coffins on his feet.

Jesse was a bit more of a chance meeting, but it did involve Mark.  Shelly and I were running the Muskegon Seaway run.  Shelly saw Jesse running barefoot and briefly talked to him.  She told me after the race, but I couldn't find him.  A few days later, Mark told me he knew of Jesse.  Apparently Mark's friend's daughter was friends with Jesse's girlfriend.  Once I learned his name, I sent him a message via Facebook.  We exchanged a few messages, then I finally met him in person when he helped me with a barefoot running clinic in December.

Jesse's presence originally was for a singular reason: he's fast.  He would be running the race in Vibrams.  As such, he would be a better barefoot/minimalist representative than I would.  He didn't disappoint.  I think Jesse has an excellent chance to reach the elite level in ultras.  I was hoping this race would help him realize his potential beyond the 50k distance.

The unexpected benefit of bringing both Jesse and Mark... both share mine and Shelly's weird, somewhat twisted sense of self-depreciating juvenile humor.  The four of us all have a hint of social awkwardness that adds a bit of spice to any social situation... this would prove to be the gasoline that fueled 60 hours of goofiness.  The trip and race would have been fun without them, but it was a non-stop riot WITH them.

The Week Before The Race

I ran a 25k road race the weekend before Mind the Ducks.  Originally, this was supposed to be an easy run that would cap my taper for MTD.  The weather did not cooperate.  A large number of barefoot running friends were in town for our World Record event.  As the organizer of this merry band of misfits, I felt pressure to actually run the race barefoot despite temps dipping below 40°, cold, wet asphalt, and gale-force winds.  The conditions were brutal, but I survived without blisters.  I do, however, experience pretty severe "top of the foot" pain.  This bane of barefoot runners has never been a serious problem for me.  I was a bit panicky, though.  If I could barely make it through 15.5 miles, how would I be able to run for 12 hours the next weekend?

The one saving grace about Mind the Ducks- I wasn't considering this an "A" race.  I had signed up for the Burning River 100 miler a few weeks earlier.  This was to be my "A" race for the year.  I knew if I experienced trouble, I would be able to simply stop Mind the Ducks without feeling too defeated.  Of course, I also knew I would likely have a very difficult time jumping ship if it came to that.  This conundrum caused significant distress throughout the entire week.  Luckily, the last-minute flurry of procrastinator-induced packing made for a great distraction.

Before we knew it, Friday morning was upon us.  We loaded the car, dropped the kids off at the babysitter, and headed back to our house to meet up wth Jesse.  And the journey begins...

Continue to Part Two


  1. aaaaw, the suspense!!

    Truly inspiring story! I really like your book btw, and I'm on my own journey transitioning to completely barefoot running! Got a 5k coming up next week and I'm psyched! :) (..My soles are really tender så the VFF's is gonna save me ;) )