Long Overdue Race Director's Report
The Saturday morning before El Scorcho started off like most others. I got up and went for a run. Only 6.5 miles this time (I had done 21 the week before) because I was trying to conserve my energy for two main reasons. First, I had the San Francisco marathon in two weeks. Second, I had El Scorcho, the all-night 50K run notion, taking place in Trinity Park.
So... Jballs and I took off from his new apartment and cruised around downtown trail for about an hour.
Then we grabbed breakfast and headed to the music store to pick up the PA system for the run.
That was an experience. And that's all I can say about it.
After dropping off the PA system at FWRunCo, I made my way home and attempted to take a nap. Surpisingly, I got about an hour of sleep before the evil cats began to howl for food and attention. Evil, evil cats.
I hung around the house some more, did some work, tried to lay low to conserve my energy for the race. While not running, I was one of four organizers in charge of El Scorcho. And I was the guy who had initially come up with the idea of putting together an ultramarathon starting at midnight. (My fellow organizers referred to me affectionately as "The Instigator.") Needless to say, I knew that however the run turned out, I would be on the receiving end of praise or ridicule.
Around 5:30 p.m., Nell and I grabbed an early dinner, with the hope that it would inspire another nap.
It didn't. Oh well.
At 9 p.m., I packed up my bag, loaded my bike, and drove the 2 miles to race HQ inside Trinity Park. Coach Jim (co-owner of FWRunCo) had already marked the course with cones and signs. I chatted with some volunteers who had arrived early, and we began stuffing goodie bags for the runners.
A few minutes later, James (the other co-owner of FWRunCo) showed up with his trailer full of aid station supplies, music equipment, and just about everything else for the race. We spent the next hour or so unloading and setting up our two aid stations along the 3.1 mile loop course, the PA system, and the rest of the gear.
It was coming up on 10:30 p.m., and some runners had already arrived in the park. Wow, there were already a lot of them. This might be a bigger deal than we thought.
The hour and a half before the start of the run was a blur. Finalizing the aid stations, coordinating with volunteers, setting up packet pickup, etc. I was running from place to place, introducing myself to runners, talking to spectators, and generally acting like a chicken with my head cut off.
The first semi-major problem surfaced just after 11:00 p.m., when we were informed that the City of Fort Worth had not turned on all of the lights along the trail. A big reason we had chosen Trinity Park for the race was the proliferation of streetlights throughout the park. We had told entrants on our website that the course was lit. So discovering large pockets of darkness was not good. And it was extremely frustrating, since we had made multiple calls to the City about lighting for El Scorcho and had paid extra money to ensure that the park would be well-lit. We had even insisted and were given the cell phone number of the City electrician responsible for Trinity Park. Naturally, he didn't answer when we called.
After a brief moment of panic and a quick brainstorm, James at FWRunCo sent Mary, one of FWRunCo's wonderful employees, to the store to raid their supply of headlamps and clip-on lighting. I think Mary must've been flying down Camp Bowie Boulevard, as she made it to the store and back in record time. We made an announcement over the PA system about the darker than anticipated conditions and offered to give out portable lighting to anyone who felt they needed it. Our supply was diminished in about 2 minutes. $300 worth of inventory was given away. That kind of sucked, but runner safety was the main concern.
About 11:55 p.m., I made an announcement over the PA system asking the runners to make their way to the starting line. Once the herd of anxious athletes was ready, Coach Jim gave some advice (start slow, stay hydrated, watch your electrolyte intake) while I awaited my chance to get the run underway. Jballs got set up on the bike to lead the runner out.
With the megaphone in hand, I decided to give the group a friendly greeting:
"You're all officially nuts!" Some laughter and applause. "Thank you all for coming out to run circles around the park while the sensible world is sleeping comfortably in their beds! Thanks to our foreign visitors for making this the first annual international El Scorcho!"
"Are you ready?!" Some cheers. "ARE YOU READY?!?!?!" More, louder, more enthusiastic cheering.
"On your mark... get set... GO!!!!! GO!!!!! GO!!!!"
The gun fired and the runners were off. Lap one was underway. El Scorcho had begun.
After the runners had taken off on lap one, we had about 15 minutes or so to get our bearings before they made their way back around. I spent about 5-10 minutes being interviewed by a reporter with the Fort Worth Star-Telegram about El Scorcho.
And then I received a panicked call on my walkie-talkie."We're just about out of water at aid station two!"A mad scramble ensued where we tried to get in touch with David, our official water volunteer, to ensure that he was on top of it. (The park did not have a good water source, so we had assigned a volunteer to pick up water jugs from the aid stations and take them to my house--a few miles away--to fill them up throughout the night as needed.) Naturally, David was one of the few volunteers without a walkie-talkie. So Jballs got on the cell phone and found David--who was already on top of things.
I spent the next hour and a half running taking care of anything and everything I could. More water... toilet paper for the porta-potties... 350 pounds of ice... post-race bbq and pasta.... As things happened, we dealt with them.
Greg Maschal, the 25K winner, crossed the finish line in 1:41:20. Absolutely smoking the course amid humid, sticky conditions. Ten minutes later, Megan Newsom became the first 25K female finisher with a time of 1:51:52. I recall announcing over the PA system that both runners were way too fast.
Around 3 a.m., Jballs and I decided to borrow David's truck and go for a water run. It was strange leaving the park--where so much activity was taking place--and entering the "real" world where most folks had long since retired for the evening. We filled up 7 water jugs at my place and made our way back to the park just in time to catch the 50K winner, Steven Richard, claim his victory in 3:51:07. Laura Nelson, the female leader, crossed the tape in 4:28:43.
As more and more runners finished, the course began to quiet down. I decided to hop on my bike and ride the route backwards to check on runners and visit some of the volunteers. It was a great decision. Over the next two and half hours, I circled the 3.1 mile loop. I got a completely different sense of the run and what the runners and volunteers were going through. The runners still on the course had been going for more than 5 hours since the midnight start. Fatigue was setting in, but they were gutting it out. It was inspiring. They trudged along throughout the night, gritty and determined.At the same time, the volunteers were incredible.
We had chosen to donate all profits from El Scorcho to the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, so Team in Training had gotten on board to provide us race volunteers. (Team In Training is the world's largest endurance sports training program. The program provides training to run or walk a whole or half marathon or participate in a triathlon or century bike ride in honor of blood cancer patients and survivors.) The TNT folks were cheering, excited. I even had one runner ask if we had "liquored up" the volunteers to increase their enthusiasm! Throughout the night, their devotion to the runners never wavered. As the sun was coming up, we decided to let several of the volunteers go home, especially those who were out to help guide runners along the dark course. They all chose to stay until the end."We've bonded with these runners," one volunteer told me. "We know each of them as they come by and we're not leaving until they finish."
Fantastic, unbelievable, and inspirational.
The last official runner crossed the line in 7 hours, 43 minutes. The sun was shining. The city was stirring. Runners and bikers, oblivious to our midnight run, were making their way to the park for a morning workout.As we folded up the aid station tables and loaded up the last of the trash, I took in a deep breath. We'd done it. We'd pulled it off. It felt great.
Just as I was getting into my car to head home, one of the last runners hollered at me from the parking lot, "Hey! When's next year's El Scorcho?"