by Wayne Wright
Welcome to the Wickham Park Marathon. There's the race director, Matt Mahoney. OK, line up the sights and s-q-u-e-e-z-e the trigger. No, wait! Shooting is too quick and painless a death for the maniac who dreamed up this debacle. He should be dragged through the sand and palmettos until every muscle in his body screams for mercy, just like we were! To say the race was a little difficult is like saying the ocean is a bit damp. But gee, Wickham Park is such a popular place to walk and jog. How could a marathon be very difficult? I'll try to explain.
First, this is not a race for just us wimps who "only" do marathons. It's also a 50 miles per day, 200 mile ultra-marathon. Think about what you're doing today, then come back and do it all again 3 more times. Yeah, right! Only one person has ever been physically strong enough (and mentally weak enough) to do it. Second, let's keep in mind that temperatures on Memorial Day weekend tend to be in the 80's and 90's. Sure, the race begins during the cooler morning hours, but it continues through the heat of the day (and/or thunderstorms) until 7:30 PM. Third, the course is 93% off road. In Wickham Park, that means a trail as twisted and convoluted as Matt's brain. It goes over, under and through sugar sand, scrub brush, palmettos and blown-down trees. Matt affectionately calls this stuff "shiggy" and pretends to enjoy it. Fourth, if you've forgotten the muscles (seldom used in running) that help you turn sharply, you will remember them well by the end of the day (and the next several days) as they cramp and complain. And fifth, there is only one ridge in Wickham Park, a 17 footer. It can easily be avoided, so naturally the course crosses it 3 times per lap. Incidentally, each lap is 3.75 miles, so the marathon is 7 laps and 50 miles is 13.3 laps. Are we having fun yet?
Other details: There is no entry fee or finisher medal. You have a choice of "NO t-shirt" or "NO t-shirt". There are no age or place awards. The winners may receive a rock decorated with duct tape, maybe not. There is no support except what is in your car at the start point. However, you pass your own cooler every lap, so who needs more? The atmosphere is quite laid back without any elite runners or camera crews. Except for a few family members at the start and some gopher tortoises on the trail, there are no spectators. It's just you, an occasional other runner and the shiggy. Have a nice day!
In fairness to Matt, I admit that all of the good, bad and ugly details/warnings were available on his web site. Some of us were smart enough to read it and dumb enough to ignore it. In the weeks before the race, he gave us guided tours of the course and hence, another incentive to cancel. One day, Mich Michael and I actually ran some practice laps, so we have no excuse. In spite of Matt's best efforts to keep us away, 41 fools, including my wife, Fiona, showed up on race morning to challenge the course. Fiona was there just to support me and do a 15-20 mile (depending on how she felt) training run in preparation for our next marathon.
I won't horrify you with lap-by-lap details of the carnage. Let's just say that the crowds at the Roman Coloseum would have loved it. Over 1/3 of the starters had enough wounds, injuries and/or common sense to drop out of the marathon. Only 5 zombies endured 50 miles. Scott Adams led the marathon in 4:15. Scott Maxwell took the 50 miles in 10:13. Pam "Energizer Bunny" Byrne, was first female in the marathon at 4:50, then just kept going to set the women's 50 mile record at 10:23. Suffering from "forgotten muscle" cramps, I barely finished the marathon in 5:11. Mich completed 11 laps (41.25 miles) including a marathon time of 6:10. Fiona ended her "training run" after 26.2 miles in 6:36 (3rd female). Only 3 runners, including Matt, attempted the second day's 50 and no one finished. The obituaries are available on Matt's website, www.mattmahoney.net.
Needless to say, no sane person would want to run this race even once, much less repeat it. So, I keep asking Fiona, "Next year, should we try for the 50?"