Posts Tagged ‘Don Kern’

h1

#51 – Behind the Lens at the Irish Jig 5K

17 March 2008
Sunrise

Sunrise over Reeds Lake – I can’t believe folks are ice fishing after several days of 40+ degree weather!

One year ago I ran the 2007 Irish Jig 5K and surprised myself by notching a post-high-school PR. This year’s event would just be a training run for me, however, since my right hamstring is still not ready for any kind of speed.

Taking advantage of the relaxed pace I decided to carry a camera, inspired by the exploits of trail runner Scott Dunlap who takes photos during his races. One major difference between us is that when Scott ran a 5K just for fun, stopping to take photos along the way, he finished in 20:22! I can only match that time when being towed by a dog, and the 2008 Irish Jig saw me clock a pedestrian 28:53. But it was fun!

Gaslight Village

Downtown East Grand Rapids at sunrise.

I arrived before sunrise and had some time to wander around downtown East Grand Rapids to catch a couple photos of the beautiful morning. Sunny, yes, warm, no. Before the sun came up it was below freezing but once our part of the world got some solar radiation the air warmed to the lower 30’s.

Registration

Runners staying warm at the Irish Jig 5K registration.

After a while the chilliness motivated me to go indoors and join hundreds of other runners in the high school gym seeking out some warmth, or more importantly picking up our registration packets. Celtic Kilroy was already jamming away, keeping us entertained and setting a festive mood for the event.

Celtic Kilroy

Celtic Kilroy entertains the runners.

This year the Irish Jig was split into two races: a men’s race at 9:00 and a women’s race at 9:30. The guy next to me at the registration table was in a good mood despite being given a bib for the women’s race! Even though he checked the “M” box, he joked that from now on he’ll use his full name of “Patrick” instead of just writing “Pat” on the forms. Don’t worry, the volunteers got his gender changed in no time. 🙂

Starting Line

Green light indeed – runners waiting for the start of the race.

Around 8:45 I walked the quarter mile to the start line and did my best to keep my legs loose in the cold air. While doing a warm-up jog on a side street the race pack began moving forward! At first I thought I’d missed the starting horn but in fact they were just moving across the intersection to the official start line. I settled into position at the back of the pack just in time to hear the horn. We’re off!

After a quarter mile or so we turned to face directly into the rising sun. It did wonders for the ambiance of the race but it also made photography very difficult, especially with an inexpensive five year old camera. While making an attempt I heard someone shout behind me “Hey, Andrew’s taking pictures!” Who recognized me?

Dave Horne

Dave Horne smiling for the camera… while running backwards!

It was Dave Horne, one of my co-workers. He accelerated in front of me then turned around, running backwards and begging for a photo. Even though I couldn’t see the camera’s LCD screen due to the glare, I think Dave’s portrait turned out pretty well. Like me, he was nursing an injury (an achilles tendon that he partially detached from the heel bone while skiing – ouch!) and taking it easy. Unlike me, he’s very fast when healthy and still fast when injured; soon he was out of sight.

Around the one mile mark I noticed Don Kern running next to me. I first met Don at a book signing for Dean Karnazes two years ago – Don organized the small group of us that ran with Dean that night. Don is the race director of the Grand Rapids Marathon and an avid marathoner himself. I asked him what he was doing at a 5K and he assured me that he had a 17-mile run planned for the next day. He also told me that his “marathon a month” streak is up to 60 – five straight years of running at least one organized marathon every month! There’s a good reason they call him “Marathon Don”.

Shortly after chatting with Don I noticed a runner fly past in the opposite direction – the race leader! He was about 1/4 mile from the finish line. My watch read 11:00 and I was confounded; no way was someone going to set a world record in this event?! Then I remembered that almost 3,000 folks had signed up for the Irish Jig and I had started at the back, requiring a couple minutes before I reached the start line. Later I learned that the winner was Boaz Cheboiywo, who blazed an absolutely amazing 14:14, nine seconds faster than his winning time from 2007.

While trying to photograph the race leaders (unfortunately I was shooting into the sun and the photos didn’t come out well) another familiar voice called out – it was Lori Lenar, another co-worker who often spends her lunch break out running where we’ve often crossed paths on the sidewalks. We talked about the high number of women in the “men’s race” – it seemed like 20% of the runners were women. Laurie was a perfect example of why it can be a problem to split up a race by gender since she wanted to run with her husband and other friends.

Mile 2

The 2 mile marker… Just 1.1 to go!

Finally I reached the marker for mile 3 and once again I took a photo that didn’t turn out well… How does Scott Dunlap do it? I guess I have some learning to do about how to photograph while on the run. Somehow I resisted the urge to sprint to the finish but that was not easy – one of my favorite parts of a 5K is kicking the last 0.1 as fast as I can but my wisdom overcame my competitiveness, even when Lori dashed by vowing “I can’t let an injured runner beat me!”

By the time I returned the timing chip it was 9:31 and I was over a quarter mile from the start line, so I didn’t get a chance to watch the women take off. Luckily the half mile point was nearby so I booked over to that section of the course in time to get a photo of the race leaders. It’s amazing how much easier it is to take a photo when the sun is at my back and I’m not running!

Fast Women

The lead pack of the women’s race quickly approaching.

I wandered back over to the “feed zone” to grab some breakfast SWAG, then watched the finish of the women’s race. You can see how fast they were running – by the time they whipped around the corner into view I was barely able to get a shot of race winner Denisa Costescu as she flew by. She won in 17:33 to defend her title (she won the 2007 Irish Jig in 17:03!) with Laurel Park just nine seconds back. The two of them were well ahead of the rest of the field as third place didn’t finish until almost a full minute later.

Denisa Costescu

Denisa Costescu has the finish line – and victory – in sight.

Unfortunately I didn’t have time to hang around since I was slated to staff the booth for 2 Feet 4 Paws and Vicky’s Pet Connection at the local community expo. Before leaving I made sure to grab a piece of cake – yes, the Irish Jig serves cake to its runners! I wore my new race shirt at the expo and about a dozen people recognized it and asked if I ran that morning. It was great to see that so many folks were out running!

Advertisements
h1

#37 – Volunteering at the Grand Rapids Marathon

2 November 2007

Finishing the Grand Rapids Marathon – Photo by Rudy Malmquist

In 2005 I ran my first ever 26.2 at the Grand Rapids Marathon; in 2006 I ran it again to set a personal best. At 2007’s 4th edition of this fast-growing race, instead of running I decided to volunteer along with Amanda. Believe it or not this was my first time volunteering at a running event, although last year I did volunteer for a GRAAR adventure race.

Despite the Grand Rapids Marathon being a very well organized race, the confusion for Amanda and I began early when I offered to volunteer via their website’s volunteer form. The reply told us to arrive around 7am at the start/finish area and look for a certain woman who I’d never met.

Without daylight savings in effect yet this year it was still pitch dark when we arrived at 7am Sunday morning but the start/finish area was already a bustle of activity. The large parking lot was completely full and Amanda and I had to double-park within the lot (along with dozens of other cars) since we were out of options. The start/finish area is actually a pretty big place – there’s the finish line, yes, but also the post-race food tent, the medical tent, the lock boxes, and of course the infamous porta-johns.

Amanda followed me as we sought out some volunteers, finding them between the finish line and the food tent at some folding tables set up with the finisher medals on them – a team of young women were busy unwrapping each of the almost 3000 medals that would be needed that day. I asked for the name of the woman we were to meet there but nobody knew who she was! I finally found a guy who knew the coordinator and he whipped out his iPhone to give her a call. We were told to go meet her inside the YMCA building at the other end of the parking lot.

Once inside we pushed through the throng of runners waiting to use the heated indoor restrooms (what a luxury compared to port-a-potties!) and I can’t blame them – it was barely above freezing outside! We made our way back to a folding table with a “volunteer registration” sign hanging from it. Why weren’t we directed to show up here? We signed in and were given our neon-green volunteer t-shirts and instructed to head back to the area we’d just come from.

Back at the table with the medals there were about ten folks unpacking medals so Amanda and I were assigned to help two other guys who were preparing the space blankets. The marathon had purchased a dozen industrial-sized rolls of blankets – 200 blankets per roll like a giant roll of paper towel with perforations between the sheets. One at a time I had to pull out a length of blanket, tear at at the perforations, then fold it in half twice before stacking it onto a nearby table.

It took me almost TWO HOURS to get through my first roll! Even worse was that I was the fastest one at the job thanks to my height – each blanket is 6 feet long and I was able to drag the entire length out of the roll’s dispenser slot in just one pull. My wife and others needed two pulls since their arms weren’t long enough. The race had just started and I knew that the first half-marathoners were going to finish in 1:15 or so… we had a long way to go!

I looked around and noticed that all the girls were done unpacking the medals and just standing around. The volunteer coordinator was nowhere in sight. I suppose she couldn’t be everywhere, but nobody was in charge of the dozen or so folks in our area and no one had been given any instructions what to do next. Without really thinking about it, I started giving orders to set up a production line with the space blankets – two people per roll, one pulls and the other folds. Within five minutes everyone was hard at work and the stacks of folded space blankets began to grow quickly.

Sure enough the winner of the half-marathon arrived just before 1:15 on the race clock and we had just polished off our final roll of space blankets. Whew! But now it was time for our next task: hand out those recently unpacked finishers’ medals and recently folded space blankets to each and every runner who crossed the line.

This was the fun part of the day and it would last for hours. Race director Don Kern (who I’d met along with Dean Karnazes over a year ago) seems to have just one job at his marathon on race day – shake hands. He stood at the finish line and personally greeted every single runner as they crossed the finish. It’s a very nice gesture and I’d love to see other race directors do the same. As a volunteer I stood behind him with an armload of medals waiting to be handed out. Amanda was next to me with a pile of space blankets at her feet.

Importantly, behind us were some volunteers wearing neon orange: the medical staff. They kept an eye out for finishers who were in bad shape, and with my running experience I was able to help them identify such folks. If you’ve run a few marathons and/or ultras, you know the difference between “exhausted beyond belief” and “borderline physical shutdown” – the former is OK (you’ll feel better in a few minutes) but the latter can be a risky situation if not handled properly.

The look on a runner’s face can give them away; on some occasions I’d put a medal around somebody’s neck and then walk them straight over to a medical volunteer – if nothing else the medic would prevent them from falling over. One lady finished and I remarked to her that she looked very pale, and she replied “Oh my blood sugar is out of whack; I’m diabetic” like it was no big deal. The eyes of the medical volunteer nearby opened pretty wide when she said that! Needless to say that woman was taken care off without incident.

One of my co-workers, Dave Horne, finished the half marathon in very good time and told me that he hadn’t slept in a couple days – all fun-related. 🙂 I also recognized and said hello to Lynn Happel, a veterinarian and the organizer of the Healthy Paws Healthy Cause fun run that I ran this summer with my dogs. She’s quite a runner!

Before long the first marathoners were crossing the line and now us volunteers had to pay attention to bib colors since runners got different medals depending if they’d finished the marathon, half-marathon, or team relay. Both of my arms were now draped in medals and runners were crossing the line in bunches. I recognized a couple marathoners, too: Brian Cunningham is another co-worker and he proudly told me that he ran every step. Last year he cramped up and had to walk the last few miles, but it wasn’t easy for him – when we shook hands I noticed that his hand was as cold as ice! I also saw another veterinarian, Bruce Langlois, who appeared to have paced a friend of his through the race.

Finally the last of the half-marathoners trickled in and now we were waiting for the folks running the full 26.2 miles. After about five hours elapsed race time the crush of finishers really thinned out; in fact some of the volunteers decided to leave as those of us remaining could easily handle the flow.

Many of those clocking times of 3:30-4:30 were either disappointed with their time or had pushed themselves too hard – about 90% of those needing medical attention finished within that time span in my guesstimate. While the vast majority of runners of all speeds were generally cheerful (as chipper as one can be after a marathon, that is), the slower runners proved to be the happiest. These were the runners who had friends and family run alongside them down the final stretch and take their photos; many of these runners were streaming tears upon crossing the line (mostly women, but several men, too) and lots of them bypassed Don’s handshake in favor of a grateful bear hug.

One of these finishers was Princess Runner, a blogger I’d never met until I recognized her outfit (she posted photos on her blog). By this time I had handed my medals off to someone else and was now doling out the space blankets so I offered one to Princess Runner. She was clearly very tired, but seemed quite happy to have earned her space blanket – this her first marathon after being forced to abandon at the Chicago Marathon disaster. We shook hands and like my friend Brian, her hand was ice cold! By this point it was sunny with temperatures in the mid 50s. I figured that this cold hands thing is the body’s response to the stress of a marathon, essentially saying “I know we’re not done yet but it’s time to start shutting down” to start the recovery.

One of the last finishers managed to set a world record.  How?  He walked 26.2 miles on stiltsNeil Sauter was raising money to support those with cerebral palsy and sure enough he finished in under 7.5 hours.  He was giving high fives at the finish and he had to bend over to reach most people; in fact little kids had to jump!  The poor guy, however, had to remain up and walking around on his stilts for another half an hour as everyone wanted him to pose for photos.  His legs must’ve been awfully worn out!

One of the more memorable finishers for me was someone I have no clue about who she is, but she was bawling her eyes out and wailing “I can’t believe I finished my first marathon!” Her husband jogged the final stretch with her and at the finish they hugged for several minutes while she continued sobbing. A volunteer gave her the finisher’s medal and she burst into tears again. Then I put a space blanket around her shoulders and she says to me “Yay, I get to be wrapped in tin foil!” Apparently this is part of the marathon experience. As she staggered over to the food tent I noticed that her husband was chatting to an older couple behind the spectator barrier on the opposite side of the food tent. Deducing that those were her parents, I nudged her shoulder and turned her around – she started crying again and hobbled over to hug them!

That is why marathons can be so inspiring – they mean different things to different people but each one of them had a very good reason.  You can’t just run a marathon on a whim – you have to set the goal and train for it, and whether you’re fast or slow it still comes down to whether or not you can do it.  In fact a TV crew interviewed Don Kern during the race and I overheard him state his belief that one reason to run a marathon is because if you can do that, you can do anything.  Well Don, at least one runner believes you:  one of the finishers yelled out “I ran a marathon, now I can do anything!” as a volunteer placed a medal around her neck.

Running a marathon and volunteering at a marathon are night-and-day different but I have to admit that they’re about equal when it comes to pure enjoyment.  Not only is running addicting, it’s also contagious!