Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Wharf to Wharf Race

Those of you who have hiked in Colorado may know the sensation of standing in a grove of Aspen trees. The Aspen is a white-barked tree of such astounding skinniness that even a fully mature specimen can be ringed by holding your thumbs and index fingers together. Aspens like to be in large groups and they have an consummately efficient vascular system that allows them to flourish at extreme altitudes. (The tree in the phrase 'treeline' is most often the Aspen.) Their leaves are small and numerous and they catch the light wonderfully. In a breeze they make a lovely, musical sound, not unlike a Cottonwood.

Standing in an Aspen grove is a sublime pleasure, but if you can't get to the Rockies easily, try standing in the crowd of runners before the Wharf to Wharf race. Its largely the same effect: You're surrounded by thousands of light skinned individuals of astounding skinniness with excellent cardiovascular systems about to function under extreme conditions. Instead of leaves catching the light it is the runners outfit. 

And there is only one. And unlike Wimbeldon, where the color of the athlete's outfits is regimented, this is a spontaneous convergence. 14,000 different people each said: "Hey, I'll wear the white shoes, the dark shorts and the white t-shirt to the race." Somebody should have called somebody else here, because just about everybody showed up in the same outfit.
Subtext: Its really early in the day.

The crisp, melodious song of the Aspen is here represented by thousands upon thousands of electronic beeps as the runners program their Super Smart watches. In years gone by the pre-race ritual consisted of slowly stretching and contemplating the race ahead, but now runners warm-up by testing their global positioning system, sending faxes, reading their email, and checking up on their stocks.

The stretching tradition continues on, in a vestigal sort of way, with a small troupe from a local gym leading us all in a 'stretching routine' set to loud, mechanical music. Now I have nothing against aerobics, as long as they are conducted in a sealed environment, and not administered as a punishment. But I come from the yoga end of the workout continuum, where stretching is so slow and contemplative as to be enlightened. Having somebody yell at me through an over-driven microphone while we bounce and dance and kick-box is fine at a rave, but its not stretching. Holding a pose for 8 beats does not qualify, and is not the optimum way to prepare for a 6+ mile run. And hearing AC/DCs immortal "You Shook Me All Night Long" reduced to a dance remix is just, plain, wrong.

Otherwise musically the pre-run milling about was quite pleasant. No surprise that the background music for this event, as it is for just about everything in the West, was the Beach Boys. If its a speaker on top of a pole with a crowd underneath, you can bet that "California Girls" and "Fun Fun Fun" will be wafting out soon enough.
No - not that way. You have to go around.

Also predictable were the porta-potties. But when was the last time you saw 85 of them all lined up together? With a line 15 people deep at each one? At 7am - 90 minutes before show time? 85 porta-potties means you could have one every 100 yards for more than 5 miles. These runner-types must be well acquainted with "hydration".

Out at the front there were two starting lines. One for the runners, and out ahead a bit, one for the Runners: The people you never see on the course, but you do see on TV and in the paper tomorrow. When you pass the half-hour mark at the harbor bridge these folks are taking off their numbers at the Capitola Wharf. Or you can look at it as all the thousands of people in the big pen put up their entrance fee so that one of these people in the little pen will win most of it.

The starting gun sounded more like a cannon, perhaps because it was in a crane directly above me. And the first group, the Runners, simply disappeared. Bang! and they were already at the first turn and gone. For everybody else the thrill of the starting cannon was a little more muted. Its like being in a long line of traffic at a red light and the light turns green waaaaay up there. Plenty of time for last-minute watch fiddling. Or, as the fellow with the bullhorn (also directly above me) said: "Congratulations! You've been running for 7 minutes and you made it to the starting line!"

Out on the course is a whole different perspective of course. For a few years I was a member of the Hands On! percussion troupe that usually has the slot at that first left by the Giant Dipper. And while 
Your 'umble author, 3rd from left, trying to smile
at OMGo'clock.
being in the crowd at the start is like being in a bowl of hyperactive vanilla pudding that is slowly being poured out, 300 yards away at the first turn it is just a heavily breathing blur going by.

It's a good news/bad news gig for the 60 bands on the course. The good news is that you get to play for 14,000 people. The bad news is that your audience is running away from you. Plus there is a special class of scowl only obtainable by a musician setting up their gear at 8 o’mygodo’clock in the morning. 

A good friend of mine debuted this year in another drum troupe, this one near the finish in Capitola. She reported that on either side of their official site were 'outlaw' punk bands. She also relayed, with a large grin, that six women playing djembes easily drowned out the amplified hardcore thrashers flanking them.

So we know where the real competition is at the Wharf to Wharf.


Angus McMahan
angusmcmahan@gmail.com

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