“Race at the End of the World”
by Chad Rice
-Photo Credit Chris Gavin
Everyone’s favorite race director shouted enthusiastically through his megaphone for everyone to get together for his usual, unrehearsed pre-race meeting. He asked for a brief show of hands, whether he should speak through the megaphone or not. The crowd was about one hundred trail runners deep, so he continued using it. Cesar Torres welcomed everyone to the race. He called our attention to the fact that one of the runners had built a handsome bench for the mission, commemorating the collaboration between Q50 and the New Orleans Mission. He pointed out a container for donations. An anonymous donor was going to match all donations made over the weekend. Awesome!
Then it was down to business.
“The first race is 6.5 miles, not 6.2. There are no cups on the course, this is a green race. So you have to bring cups, bottles or backpacks or whatever. There are two water stops. But we going to do something different this time. We all going to do 22 push ups. Is to remember the 22 soldiers per day who commit suicide. You can do the situps or whatdoyoucallthem?
We all scrambled down the boardwalk to the beach path. I quickly rounded up my daughter who was gleefully running ahead of us trying to get someone to chase her. When we got there everyone was standing in a circle anticipating the newly added push-up ritual. César Torres laid his megaphone on the ground. At the count of three a bunch of us dropped down for 22 pushups while the rest did their 22 jumping jacks. César banged all 22 out counting the whole time for everyone. Then there was only a minute to go. Suddenly, César started counting down from ten and before you could say vámonos we were running along the beach.
The sun was still rather high in the sky for 5 o’clock, so we started to warm up a bit. The crowd support was scattered and thin, as you might expect for a trail race at the end of the world. Nevertheless we were greeted by several spring break parties along the course playing Bob Marley and Dave Matthews Band, and the occasional fishermen, whose lines unapologetically interrupted our path, forcing us to run around them.
All along the beach was a line where the surf had swept aside all of the driftwood and debris, leaving a clear path of packed sand where we only had to sidestep the incoming waves. In the distance, steel drums played Dixie and the music drifted in and out like someone with poor reception was trying to tune in a radio station. Every so often the wind would shift direction and I would smell fish.
The runners spread out very quickly. The two frontrunners put some distance between the rest of us, surging side by side like two horses drawing a chariot. Another three runners chased them and I followed close behind. I managed to pass one guy with a hydration pack, who like me had probably gone out too fast.
We hit the 3 mile mark somewhere around 20:49, way too fast for a beach run with 10 miles left to go. Since the runners ahead of me were wearing their race bibs in front, I couldn’t see who had a pink bib (for the half) or a green bib for the 6.5 miler. Luckily, three of the runners quickly turned and doubled back around the 3.25 mi flag, putting me in second plae for the half. All of a sudden the tallest, craziest, bearded-est Mexican you’ve ever seen came running out of nowhere shouting at the top of his lungs:
“ALRIGHT, MAN! COME ON, CHAD! LOOKIN’ GOOD, BABY!”
I can’t help but smile. This never gets old.
I pass the first water stop, run for a bit and strain to listen for César cheering the runner behind me. The runner in first place still had quite a lead like last year. I could barely make him out on the horizon if I squinted he looked like a blue peg. Behind me there was considerable distance between the next runner and me. So I worked on stretching out my lead, alternating between a 7:18 and a 7:40 pace.
Now that I had a chance to breathe, I took in the scenery a little bit. The first couple I passed was observing the race from their golf cart parked neatly at the top of a dune. I waved but received no response. Later came a group of dudes with curly brown wigs who came out and in a very organized fashion lined up to high-five me as I passed by. Their cheers of “You got this!” gave me a burst of energy.
That was a nice contrast to several large, motionless redfish lying belly-up on the course who didn´t seem to notice my effort.
I ran through a beach party of spring breakers that was having too much fun to notice there was a race going on. One of them accidentally booted a football in my direction and I managed to kick it back toward him as I ran off. For some reason I awkwardly thanked him.
Next, came the photographer, who gave me a chuckle as I gave him the thumbs up and flexed.
“Looks like you got a couple of spring breakers out here,¨ he joked, snapping a couple of shots.
“Yeah, really!” The funny thing was I had just seen this guy three miles back. Did he teleport there?
A few minutes later I hit the turnaround, where I realized I had run to the far end of the island. I managed to get back up to a 7:28 pace. Then came the frantic run home. I looked over my shoulder every five minutes or so and I thought I could see some runners chasing after me, coming over the dune fast like the zombies in World War Z. I kept pushing while clapping for the smiling runners that I encountered on the leg back to the finish. At this point the sun had hid behind a few clouds and I thought I was racing against the twilight. At some point the sun reappeared and I had another half hour of daylight.
I managed to push until I could see the raised boardwalk and shelter of the park site. Brandon Ferrari, who had just won the 6.5 miler, ran alongside me for a few yards and took what I assume were several unflattering pictures. I plodded across the finish line in my Vibrams, dead tired. Several people cheered. My calf muscles had seized up and so I limped to the after-party area. There I was greeted with a medal and a towel by my daughter, who had been placed in charge of handing them out to the finishers.
The food, as always, was on point. The chefs from the New Orleans Mission had showed up in a big way with a hearty bowtie pasta, red beans and rice and fruit cup. Dominique Meekers had bought a box full of the freshest strawberries on the way down and donated them to the cause. I grabbed a NOLA blonde from the blue cooler at the end of the buffet and sat down to relax. Runners started trickling in while I ate. The crowd was clearly pleased with the exceptional weather this year (Last year, it we were greeted with thunder, lightning and horizontal rain—one of the infamous ¨Lightning Runs¨).
The ceremony awarded the top men and women from each race exotic ceramic fish-shaped plates and wall hangings, as well as some of Q50’s trademark plants. I won a Mexican clay sun mask that’s going to look really spiffy on my office wall. Everybody else went home happy with a new Q50 surf-themed towel, custom beach-themed medal, and memories of an epic race
See more of our favorite photos from the race below, or check out the rest by visiting Facebook here.
Race results available on Q50 Races.com (coming soon).