by Bill (The Trailgeeze) Rumbaugh
Clark Gardens, near Mineral Wells
September 22, ’07
The first annual “Run from the Ducks 8-Hour Run” was held on September 22nd, 2007 near Mineral Wells, Texas. The event was hosted by Race Director Tony Mathison, whose idea it was to put on a running event with the proceeds benefiting the National Viet Nam War Museum Fund. Being a Viet Nam vet myself (Da Nang ’69 – ’70) I had maybe an extra incentive to come out and support the cause, plus get in some training miles in an excellent environment.
The venue was at one end of the Clark Gardens Botanical Park. The park, located about a mile East of Mineral Wells, is not well-known outside of the local area. It is home to a wide variety of plants, flowers and young trees and had the appearance of a place that was constantly being worked on and upgraded. There was not a lot of time to explore the grounds before the race. And afterward, it was late in the day we were all tired and there were miles to go before we slept. So the majority of the gardens were not seen by the runners; we were exposed to a small fraction of what was available. Someone interested in trees and plant life, or Nature in general, could easily spend the day there.
The first rule of the race, re-emphasized during the pre-race briefing was that ducks have the right of way. The purpose was to prevent the recurrence of an unfortunate incident that evidently happened in the early history of Clark Gardens. This must have figured in the derivation of the event’s name. And given the fact that it was located on Maddux (Mad Ducks?) Road, well… Anyway, there were some ducks, but most of what I saw were geese hanging out and keeping pretty much to themselves in a large pond inside the course. There were also several peacocks near the headquarters area including an albino, probably pretty rare. We also saw a couple dozen of what appeared to be guinea hens (I’m no bird authority by any means) roaming freely everywhere. They looked to be what a former neighbor of mine would refer to as “good eatin’,” and they kept their distance.
The course was roughly rectangular in shape, 0.44 miles long. The starting line and aid station was on the South end of the rectangle. Over half of the course was on grass, a very runner-friendly surface. I feared for the grass’ fate, under the heavy foot traffic of the event, but I’m pleased to report that by the end of the day, though worn a bit, looks like it should recover before the winter season sets in. The course was laid out by Cayla, Tony’s high-school age daughter, who also did quite a number of the other behind the scenes tasks associated with putting on the race. Cayla has also participated in the annual “Across the Years” event at Nardini Manor near Flagstaff, AZ. It would seem that ultrarunning is definitely in her future. Chip off the old block, though, as Dad has several 100 milers in his own running resume. Running through a botanical garden is a first for me. We were met by occasionally fragrant breezes and the well-groomed grounds were a pleasure to look at. Most of the trees and plants had labels telling what they were. I appreciated knowing that a certain tree was an Eastern Red Cedar. Some of the other names were less descriptive. There were plant names that consisted of people’s names, such as John Scott, Elizabeth Marie or Jackie Boy. Then there were some that suggested that the plant namers were running low on ideas, such as Dot Com or Webmaster. Other names evoke interesting images which did not seem to have a lot to do with plant life, such as Alien Mist, Live Coals and Angelus Chimes.
Eleven runners showed up to toe the line at 8:00 AM. Pleasant temperatures at the start faded early under the sun as the mercury climbed into the 90’s by mid-day. After about 2½ hours I noticed that most of the runners were working some walking into their routines. For myself, I ran nearly all of the first 2½ hours, then walked the long side of the rectangle every other loop for an additional hour. The sun and temperatures continued their relentless assault and I began to walk about half of each loop. At the halfway point, the running direction was reversed. I continued to intermittently run awhile after that, but walking became my game plan early in the second half. I power-walked the remainder of the 8 hours, for the most part. I felt that I was on the ragged edge, and if I were to run much more, it could easily bring down my house of cards. For one thing, my heart rate monitor was acting up and not reporting a heart rate anywhere close to what it should have been. Without a reasonable guide to how the old ticker was doing, I was reluctant to do something stupid and push more than I felt was prudent at the time.
The adjoining property was home to a herd of goats, watched over by a couple of large, furry dogs. Early in the event, the dogs barked at the runners as we passed with each lap. They eventually grew tired of the activity as the temperatures climbed. Along toward noonish, a token “Wrooof” was about all we would get, and then it was siesta time for the remainder of the afternoon. After all, only so much herding is needed within a fenced enclosure.
At one time or another I believe I chatted with everyone in the event. Some more than others. It was good getting to know new people and finding out new things about those you have known awhile. Timed events can be as social as you care to make them. Matt Crownover made the sage observation that late in a timed race when you are tired and ready for it to be over, you don’t have the option of kicking the pace up a notch and getting done earlier. If you have 2 hours left, it’s still 2 hours no matter how fast you are running. Matt, by the way, was sporting the official Lazarus Lake running attire, a wide-brimmed straw hat and a long-sleeved white cotton dress shirt. (Laz requires returning veterans of the infamous Barkley Marathons to remit a cotton dress shirt as the entry fee.) As the day wore on, it was clear that Mark Henderson was in the lead for the most miles. Mark is a champion ultrarunner, having won the Heartland 100 several times and is a familiar sight in Texas Ultras. He was running when most everyone was walking. Such effort comes at a price, especially in warm weather and I was told that he ‘ralphed’ two or three times during the day. I was witness to one incident in the first half. This is something that many of us struggle with in the longer distance events and it was somewhat surprising to note that even talented runners like Mark has issues with it, the same as those of us with more modest abilities.
The aid station was stocked with a good array of foods appropriate for the distance. Despite its obviousness staged for loading on the dining room table, I managed to forget my drop bag which contained an assortment of gels, Clif blocks and other ultra foods. So I was totally dependent upon the aid station for fuel during the event, and they delivered an attractive selection that still looked good late in the event (gotta love those peeled orange sections). It was also nice not to have to carry anything on the course. I left my insulated bottle on the corner of the table and drank from it as needed when I passed by. It was periodically refilled not only with water but ice. I was spoiled the whole day, as we all were.
The timers were a hoot. They were originally set up for 2-hour shifts. But after the first shift, my timer stayed the remainder of the day, and I think that was the general situation for all. There was a “critical mass” of active participants that once they got going, it was a self-sustaining party atmosphere the entire day. They were encouraging and kept things light while still maintaining an accurate count of laps. My timer would start encouraging me by name when I came into view with each lap, calling me Bill, Billy, Billy Bob, Billy Bob Buttons (where that came from, I have no idea) and held up a handmade “spirit sign” late in the day with “Go Billy Bob Buttons” inscribed with Magic Marker. She even sang some of the words to the old Fifth Dimension song, of “Wedding Bell Blues” (Oh, come on Bill, oh, come on Bill, come on and marry me Bill!). You can imagine how sweaty and nasty we all were after 8 hours running/walking in the sun, she came up and gave all of her runners a big ol’ hug when it was done. You really can’t beat that for devotion to the task at hand. I do admire and very much appreciate the dedication shown to us by all the volunteers.
When the 8 hours was over, the runners gathered in the shade of a large gazebo in the middle of the course. There was a short delay during which time Tony tabulated the results and completed the certificates. Mark Henderson filled in the delay with a memorized recitation of an ultrarunning poem he wrote, delivered complete with longneck-accented gestures. Now I have been known to recite a line or two of cowboy verse myself, and I can vouch for the fact that Mark’s poem had to have been at least two or three pages long. Good entertainment, and there could be no quibbling about the price. Tony then took the floor, recognized the contributions of the many folks who made the event happen and then presented the certificates recognizing the top 3 male and female finishers in the event.
We all went home satisfied. A good run in a nice place. Thanks to Tony and Cayla for putting it on.
Proceeds from the race plus various contributions brought the funds to over $1,000 which was donated to the Friends of the National Viet Nam War Museum.
There is now a race website (www.runfromtheducks.com), built by NTTR member Jim Sproul. Some of it is under construction, but if you are interested in seeing pictures, there are a few which are used as backgrounds, and more are to be added later.