Saturday, November 18, 2006

Today was a great day. A great day. I woke up around 6:30 a.m., and after a quick cup of coffee and a Clif bar, Nell and I left the house as the sun was rising for a run. Nell stayed with me for the first couple of miles before turning back to make her Saturday morning yoga class. I cruised down Hidden Road onto the Trinity trails and took a new route through the Stockyards. By the time I made it home, I had logged 16 miles.

After showering, I met up with my dad, and we drove to the New Balance store to officially sign up for White Rock. Having now paid the $80 registration fee, I’m committed. Dad signed up for the relay, which he’ll be running along with Nell, Shana, and three others whose shall remain nameless.

And, of course, I came home and fixed the aforementioned toilet.

But things got really exciting later in the day.

Around 4:00 p.m., I was watching the OSU-Michigan game (which really doesn’t matter much to me anymore now that Texas is out of the national title hunt), when Nell reminded about going to see Dean run the Ultracentric. Her friend and marathon partner also wanted to join us.

To be honest, at that point I had considered blowing it off. I figured it would be crowded at the race, and, despite all I’d read, I wondered how accessible and accepting Dean would be, especially if he were competing in a national championship event.

But Nell is wonderful and she always seems to lead me in the right direction, so around 6:15 p.m. we pulled out of the driveway en route to Heritage Park in Grapevine.

Of course, we got lost.

Instead of a left, we made a right. Or instead of a right, we made a left. Whatever the case, at Nell’s insistence (did I mention she’s wonderful?), we pulled into a gas station and learned that we’d taken the wrong exit. Ten minutes later, we were zigzagging through the dark, narrow road leading (we hoped) toward the Ultracentric. I was beginning to doubt myself until the headlights made out several orange cones, and I realized we were in the right place. We slowly cruised into a parking spot and walked toward the Start/Finish/Food area.

The first thing I noticed was how quiet it was. There seemed to be few competitors, although every now and then a group would come through together. The course itself was an endless, out-and-back 2.4 mile loop. Runners crossed two chip sensors—one on each far end of the loop—and continued back and forth until the end of their respective race time, be it 6, 12, 24, or 48 hours. Some competitors looked great, others were clearly struggling. Realizing that several of them had been going for 12+ hours already (and some of the 48 hour entrants were on hour 36), my 16 mile jaunt started to seem a bit wimpy.

Waiting for Dean to come through, we cheered on the other runners. This was tricky because, unlike most other races, you couldn’t try to pump up the competitors by telling them they were almost finished. Nope. This was a race that was going to continue until the clock ran out. So we just clapped and told them they were looking good (even when they weren’t).

After about 20 minutes, I made out the now familiar Endurance 50 tanktop through the darkness. “Get ready,” I told Nell. She whipped out her camera and, as Karno approached, we began cheering for him. With a huge smile on his face, Dean began waiving his arms wildly and hollered right back at us.

He looked strong, relaxed, and happy. After he passed by, I checked the leaderboard and discovered he was in 4th place and, at that point, had already run 65+ miles. Holy crap. He looked better after 65+ miles than I had early today at 16.

I turned to Nell and asked for permission (yes, that’s right, I ask my wife for permission and I’m not ashamed of it) to run a lap with Dean. She enthusiastically told me to go for it. Too bad I was wearing jeans and a sweatshirt and my stylish, but not so practical Pumas. Should’ve gone with my trusty Asics. Ah well.

So we kept cheering other runners as I awaited the return of Team Dean. Twenty or so minutes later, he rounded the corner. Excitedly, I hurried over towards him, only to watch him turn away from me to grab some food from the aid station. Like a little kid waiting to meet his hero, I stood anxiously in the wings until he turned around. Grabbing some grub, he started back onto the course, and I cautiously asked if I could join him for a lap.

“Right on,” he said, smiling and extending his hand. “I’m Dean. What’s your name?”

The next 2.4 miles were very cool. I’m sure it was the same conversation he’s had hundreds of times over the past few months, but Dean was genuine, friendly, and—amazingly—talkative throughout our short run together. I asked how he felt about the Endurance 50 (it was great, but it became a much bigger media event than he expected), how his family was doing (he missed them a lot and was looking forward to their arrival in a few days for Thanksgiving on the road), how the run was treating him (lonely, but good to get back to the solitude of running after spending the past two months constantly surrounded by people). He asked about my background. I told him I had been pretty unhealthy until about 8 years ago when I woke up one day and decided to change my life. I told him I had stopped smoking and started exercising and had dropped 60+ pounds and 6 inches off my waist. I told him that since 2001, I had run 7 marathons, including last month’s Marine Corps Marathon (which, despite my PR, Dean had smoked me on by about 30 minutes), and had done a century ride and a duathlon. I got several more “right ons” as I recounted my brief endurance history (which paled in comparison to his endeavors). He asked what was next, and I told him I was running White Rock in three weeks.

The entire experience of running with Dean was relaxed, casual, and surreal. Here was a guy I had discovered a year and a half ago when I had come across a book review in a Southwest Airlines flight magazine. Since them, my tattered hardcopy of “Ultramarathon Man” has been passed around to family and friends, most of whom went out and bought their own copies after reading it. (It’s a good book to have around whenever you need some motivation.) I had checked Dean’s blog religiously during the Endurance 50 and have kept up with his run home on a daily basis. And now, here I was, running with this strange, driven man on a starless night in Grapevine, Texas.

I told Dean that he was the rockstar of endurance athletes, and he sloughed off the compliment. But it’s more than that. The guy is a hero to so many (including me) because he’s more than an incredible athlete. He inspires. Not just athletically, but emotionally. He is a testament to the power and resilience of the human spirit. He makes us believe that we are capable of great things. And he invites us into his life to share in his physical and spiritual journey.

As we neared the finish, I could make out Nell in the distance. Dean asked if that was my wife. “Yes,” I said. Immediately, he began to cheer. (Yes, Dean—having been running for nearly 13 hours—began to cheer.) I reached over to shake his hand and bid him farewell as he continued the race, but he stopped and smiled and put his arm around my shoulder. Nell began to snap pictures. “Thanks for letting me borrow this guy for a lap!” He said. Then, just before heading out into the night, he grabbed my arm and gave me hug and said, “thanks for running with me, man.”

Very cool.

After the run, I recalled Dean mentioning that he wouldn’t mind a mocha. So, after grabbing a late dinner at Kincaid’s in Southlake, we dropped by Starbucks and picked Karno up his chocolate java. Snagging the coffee, we drove back to the race and arrived just as Dean was nearing the aid station. “Hey, Dean, thought you could use this.” Another huge smile escaped his lips. Apparently, just a few minutes earlier, two guys who had also come to run with Dean (driving up from San Antonio) had brought him some Taco Bell. With his Taco Bell and CafĂ© Mocha in hand, Dean was all smiles. He thanked all of us several times before disappearing into the night.

We stuck around for a little while longer to talk with Dean’s dad, Nick, and the two fellas from San Antonio (sorry, guys, I can’t remember your names). Nick was in great spirits, and, although he’s surely gotten used to Dean’s fans, seemed just as enthused and appreciative about our presence as Dean had been. I learned that the San Antonio guys had run 6 laps with Dean before Dean’s pace got the better of them. But they kept going, and one of the guys ran his first marathon out there on the Ultracentric course. That’s pretty cool.

All in all, it was a great day. I.I.T.S.


Just12Finish said...

That's GREAT! Sounds like an experience of a lifetime. I'm surpised he was still wearing the same outfit as in the morning ... I would have thought it was starting to get cool by then.

Lauren said...

Hey! Thanks for the Team Dean update!! I just saw him when he came through MD on his run across the US...

QSLR said...

Thanks GandaMan!!!

I was wondering how Dean was doing. Glad you experienced running with Dean--it is a singular treat isn't it?

Good luck with your running!


Bex said...

Very cool that you ran with Dean, and that he truly seems like a nice guy. I met him about a year and a half ago, at the beginning of his book tour.


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