Monday, November 19, 2012

The carnival that is Monkey

Here I sit with my crotch(et) monkey, a Chaser Pale from Blackstone Brewing Company and watching the Bears in the background. I just spent the last 8 hours driving back from a great weekend and I wanted to share it. Since it is my story, I can and will embellish (lie). Many of the cast of characters will be members of an online community and I'll be using their screen names, but we all know who we are.

What is Monkey?

Let's start with what the weekend revolved around. Harpeth Hills Flying Monkey marathon is a mythical if not legendary exercise of pain and abuse on runners. While it's open to any runner, there is a group of virtual friends who reside in the swamp at The denizens of the swamp make it their joy in life to sometimes support others in the group, but more often shame them into self-loathing. Starting in August the entry opens up and about 15 minutes later the field is set. This is a very small marathon with ~300-350 runners. It is run in a very beautiful park in Nashville, TN; more on that later.
This marathon is a bit tilty, and Tammy Faye Bakker used to wear a bit of eyeshadow. I looked at the attached map and felt, meh. It doesn't look much worse than the Morton Arboretum where my running club, Glen Ellyn Runners, often do their Saturday run. I was very wrong about this. This course has literally no flat spots; it goes both up and down and it's overly winding. We'll talk more on that soon.
I made it into the race, and the first announcement of the event was how we'd lost the lottery by gaining entry. Trent Rosenbloom is the Race Director and he has a sense of humor that he's in love with and a demented desire to fully break the will of every entry in the race. We grew to know how unfortunate we were to gain entry into this exercise in futility.

The beginning of the end

I drove down on Friday, and shortly after getting in the car, I received a text from WrigleyGirl asking when I'd arrive. I said 5:00p and she said get there by 4:30, because Trent is taking us out for drinks. This was the first of many demands from this duo. The ride down was uneventful and I arrived in Nashville at about 4:45 and made my way to Yazoo brewery, try their Dos Perros. Their I was met by Jessica, Sr. Lopez, WrigleyGirl, Trent and Dallas. Dallas was a local and the rest of us were visiting competitors. Next to show up were DrewEOB and his wife. We stayed here for a couple rounds and then Trent had to tend so some RD duties and Dallas was gonna take us on a tour of Broadway, Nashville's nightlife strip. Part of the tradition of Monkey is to bring Trent his tribute, that tribute is in the form of beers that he has not had or has difficulty obtaining. My tribute was two growlers from Two Brothers brewery. Having handed of the quarry, I headed downtown. Dallas first took us to "The Stage". The band here was more interested in picking up chicks than entertaining so we then moved onto Honkey Tonk Central. This is a three story bar with bands on each floor an balconies with great views of the strip. We had a drink here and moved on. Next stop, so terrible dive with a diner where I tried Jackelope's brown something-or-crap. I was not impressed. So we moved on. The final stop was a neat lil bar just past Honkey Tonk Central where we had the last couple rounds. Dallas lived at the end of Nashville's light rail system and it was getting near the last departure of the night so we sent Dallas home and headed to the hotel.

Saturday morning, Sr. Lopez, WrigleyGirl, Jessica set off to meet a group at the park were the marathon would take place and met up with about 20 runners for a little pre-race shake-out run. This was our first exposure to the course and for many of us, one another. I met Extra Cat, Tea Olive, and a few others. The course is rather steep and very tilty. We ran about 4.5 miles. I knew that tomorrows marathon was going to be a test. This park is beautiful. On the back side of the park is a horse Steeplechase course with looks majestic. After the warm-up we went to Waffle House for breakfast, took a ride over to Opryland for lunch and then were off to packet-pickup. This was a fun experience, because my number was -i; it was supposed to be the root of -1 which is an irrational number and this was an irrational race. Trent hands out swap up the whazoo. We got a magnet two shirts, one super personalized with our name and the number of times we'd run the event. The women had an additional surprise:

After picking up the packets, we got some beer and headed back to the hotel. About this time the MassHoles had shown up. The MassHoles hail from the Bay area and there leader seems to be BadDawg. Their ranks include MikeyMike, EricM, Doug, Bash, and Sully. BadDawg is even older than I, but far less infirmed. We spent the next couple hours corrupting the MassHoles with beer. I think the only thing that exceeded the number of miles run this weekend was the number of liquid carbs that were consumed.

In comes the Big Horse

About this time DoppleBock and his wife, Mrs. DoppleBock show up. DobbleBock runs a billion miles a year, and he's worn the USA uniform and scored for them at world's in ultra running events. He's kinda a big deal. BadDawg was smitten enough that he was compelled to give DB a warm embrace. DB was a tad surprised. So we continue drinking and then we head for the pasta party. When we get to the pasta party we are joined by schneidr and wife. schneidr was won this race 5 years in a row, more on that later. And his wife Candy S. has a victory under her belt as well. Dinner was rather uneventful, except that I won a raffle prize: a banana slicer. Like I'd slice bananas ever. Anyhow we finish dinner and head back. On the way back we need to stop at Target, because someone *ahem* WG & SRL have a secret project they are working on and have to get more supplies.

The secret project was creating a set of signs with plenty of inside jokes and to then head out to the course overnight and post them. Some of the signs:
  • Trent Sucks x3-4 (duh!)
  • Last Hill x3-4 and placed well too soon
  • Almost There

All that's left is the running

On race day, we get up and head off to the park. It's gonna be a great day for racing. it's mid-30s at 7:30a and sunny. As race time approaches, we take a number of group pictures for the larger clubs represented and the streakers (those who have run and finished all prior monkeys). And 5 minutes late we take off.
I'm in yellow rabbit tee. Can you see the fear in Ben's (blue) eyes

We're off and we start the first 1/4 mile on the course that hosted the SEC regionals just weeks earlier. We then leave the grass and start only the paved road.

It's gonna be all about me for a bit, because I only recall my personal hell. This course reminds me of the anecdotal stories about the Tour de France organizer added the high mountains, "murderers". The course starts up what would become a mild hill. At the time, I was breathing a tad heavy. I started onto the trails in 4th place. I was pretty sure there would be a pack to run with as a number of guys hinted that they were targeting a 3 hour marathon as was I. I'm hoping my watch is wrong, because it's claiming a 7:30 mile and I feel that I am at 6:40 effort. This is not good. After about 5 miles we finally hit a switch back and I get to see who is chasing me. There's nobody. Oh, crap!!! All that is going through my mind is that the other knew how tough this course was and that I was gonna fall back quickly. I did not feel stressed yet so I kept on running be feel. I would try to conserve up hill an let the legs out on the downhills. When I say downhill, it's so steep you can't help but try and stop yourself, because gravity will pull you too fast. It is always fun to happen upon one of the signs right about now, stating "Last Hill". Every time I saw one I giggled and said, "still funny". The balancing act is that braking is really tough on the quads. You're damned if you do and all. My only real advice before the race was. Try to start getting on a roll between 14 and 18. then there's a 2 mile hill from 18-20, go conservatively up and it's a net downhill to the finish. Yes, I said 2 mile hill. So at this point I start a mild panic because I am running fairly easy, but the times seem way too fast. There were a couple 6 flat miles and that is too fast. This course only has two terrains: uphill and downhill, so you just can find a place to relax with a flat stride. Those terrains are subdivided into two classes: steep, and so fucking steep you wanna cry. Well I keep rolling on and still no sign of anyone coming back on me. As I go through the half my watch is off by over a half mile and Trent warned us that the marking were approximate, so I was now worried that I had more to go that the course was telling me. Some of the hills had me very worried and I knew I had to slow down, but slowing down brought back the fear that those behind me would gain on me. I just kept telling myself that everyone behind me still has to go up this too, so just keep going.

I finally get to the 18 mile mark and settle in for the 2 mile slog. I kept trying to slow down and relax so that I can top the hill and race to the finish, but I also fear slowing to much. Near the top of the ascent we do a little lollipop route and on my way back from this, I see my first competitors that are still behind me. It's A1 and Leah, the first female. I was warned before the race that I was gonna get chicked, because Leah is an olympic trials qualifier. At this point I don't know the guy is A1, but I do know he looks very unphased.

Ok, we only have 6 miles to go, so all I need to do is to get back into my 6:30-6:40 pace and hold off the others through the finish. There is only one problem, I'm Done! I did not preserve my quads as I thought I had and every step down hill had a bit of a sting. At this point I had thought a 2:55 was possible and that would have been a killer result to me. However, I am just bleeding time with 7:00-7:40s. As we approach the Steeplechase I realize that one of the runners from the lollipop is gaining on me. I have already summited the last real hill and he still has it ahead of him, so I try to surge a bit. I failed. within 400 meters A1 passes. I try to grab his shoulder and 3 steps later realize, that's is not happening. A1 would put another 90 seconds into me in the remaining 2 miles. Now I am worried about 2 things, can I still stay sub-3 and how do I stem getting chicked. I keep fading in and out of surge and submit to suffering then surge then suffer. I have no real idea what is left and that's killing me too, since my watch seem very out of sync with the course markings. I finally see cars and think we're done. Trent SUCKS!!! the trail is gonna run past and switch back again, but I am finally directed into the grassy start/finish area and start to feel like I can make it. I run up the gentle grass slope cursing the gentle grass slope and make the corner for home. This is a gentle downhill and I can see the finish shoot and a clock that says 4:30 something, and I'm like WTF!!! It turns out there were some early starters, they start early to make sure that can finish while the rest of us are still sober and have not yet drank all the beer. I now see there is a second clock and the time is 2:58 something. I now know the sub-3 is safe and cruise through the shoot. I know collect my wooden medal and a silicup. and try not to pass out. I am fully cooked. This was a miserably tough run. I was simultaneously relieved that I did break three on this tough course and I was not fully dead.

And my bounty:

Wooden Medal
Crotch(et) Monkey

2:59:01 - 5th overall - Top Master - NOT chicked
My story so I get to brag:
Only the second master to break three
Oldest person to break three

You must run this once in your life, the race will suck, but the experience is awesome


  1. Love the writeup, congrats on a great effort and result! Hope you're recovering quickly and well.

  2. Sub 3, impressive, especially for an old guy. And BadDawg's, grand masters time was equally impressive.

  3. Great Job! I guess I am not taking advantage of all RunninAhead has to offer. -koder

    1. Kotter, I cheat, I train too hard and only peripherally listen to my coaching. Then in races I always have a plan that I muck up by the time I am 400 yds in.

  4. Great work and excellent write-up!

  5. Just went back and read it again, after a couple week to let it all sink in. Even better the 2nd time.