Monday, August 29, 2011

29 AUG 11: Sweating By Candlelight

"Did you go running this morning?" my next-door neighbor asked from his chair in the shade as I approached the door.

"No. Just walking," I said - which is what I do in the neighborhood many Saturday mornings. "I'll run later." He didn't know how much later -- the latest I'd ever run. And it wasn't because a criminal was pursuing me, either.

I hadn't planned to do it until about a week ago, but I entered the Midnight Express Run for the first time. Blame a mix of a strong Saturday night jog a week before, along with a minister I know who went hiking in the Rockies at around age 80. If a man that old can be over the hill, so can I.

You may have seen the column by Ledger-Enquirer editor Dimon Kendrick-Holmes that he started training for the Midnight Express Run one week in advance. Not so with me. I've done a lot of weekday morning and Saturday night running since mid-May. I've even hit the three-mile mark five times this year - so this event could give me a "six-pack," only not in my abs.

This was my first real road race since the 1993 Peachtree Road Race - a ten-kilometer race, twice as long as the Midnight Express. Extra-long distances have become less frequent for me, as I've grown older. And these days, high gas prices even have me questioning ten-kilometer drives.

So I knew the five-kilometer run in MidTown would be a challenge, but I registered online Thursday anyway. About 2,450 other registered runners joined me Saturday night. The featured band did NOT change a song to say: "I'm gonna wait till the midnight hour - when there's a crowd of folks around."

I ate a "carbo-loading" lasagna dinner about 6:30 p.m., focused on fluids after that, then drove to Macon Road around 10:15. The MidTown Shopping Center parking lot probably had its second-largest number of cars this year -- but Farmers Home Furniture was NOT open. Don't expect that mistake in late December.

The registration area was outside Country's Barbecue on Auburn Avenue. I was surprised to find my race number was a lowly 143. Huh?! Shouldn't the Falcons game on TV have ended around 10:30 p.m.?

At the Peachtree Road Race, you have to "earn" the T-shirt -- finishing the course in less than 55 minutes after the last runner crosses the starting line. But at the Midnight Express Run, you could pick up the T-shirt before the race. I don't know whose car hood I used for this picture -- but rest assured, I did NOT wear the shirt during the race at all.

If the calendar didn't say late August, you might confuse the Midnight Express Run for a New Year's Eve party. A big crowd showed up early. Several sponsors had tents set up near the starting line. But there was one big difference -- as I didn't see anybody walking around drinking alcohol before midnight.

The local band Classic Addict performed covers of old rock tunes before the race. I'm not sure where the Country's Barbecue bluegrass band was. Maybe they went to bed early, to perform at a Sunday morning church gospel jamboree.

I collected the T-shirt and assorted other souvenirs, went back to my car across Macon Road and placed them in the trunk. One concern I had was that criminals might show up for a big late-night event like this. But then again, most of the people wearing numbers were likely to outrun them and get away.

After stretching at my car around 11:30 p.m., I joined the lineup on Auburn Avenue -- and the big crowd filled the street, with not many spectators sitting along the roadside. I told one man there probably was less crowded racing during the NASCAR race at Bristol, Tennessee.

A big explosion of some sort at the stroke of midnight began the Midnight Express Run. Country's Barbecue does the runners a favor, by putting the starting line nearly at the top of Cross-Country Plaza Hill. Put it at the bottom of the hill, and the first block might wind up looking like Thanksgiving Friday at a Wal-Mart store.

For some odd reason, the website of the Midnight Express Run had no map of the race course. Nor did newspaper stories promoting the race. How is a runner like I supposed to prepare and plan my strategy? I know the proceeds benefit programs involving the blind, but this seemed a bit ridiculous....

But a veteran runner gave me a couple of clues as we waited for the race to start. He was correct in noting there's a quick left turn past the starting line, from Auburn Avenue onto Sue Mack Drive. Since that street is relatively flat, it's not like poison sumac at all.

Yet getting to that turn posed a challenge -- as the crowd of contestants all wanted to go at different speeds. Some women started walking from the start, right in the middle of the road. And with only street lights and small candles on each side of the street, I occasionally had to put my arms in front of me to check for other runners. I'm thankful I didn't errantly grope anyone.

The Midnight Express course turns right and heads north far about one mile on Sue Mack Drive. A wanna-be band played rock music to encourage the runners at about the half-mile mark -- no doubt keeping their neighbors from getting to bed early.

A bit of a downhill helped me at Richards Middle School, around 0.7 miles in. Then as the runners continued down Sue Mack Drive, we saw the only running clock on the course -- except it did NOT say how far along we were. No one told me to bring my own GPS pedometer.

The most surprising part of the course came at 1.2 miles -- a right turn down College Drive, with a fairly steep hill leading to Interstate 185. Hardaway High School was on our left, and a few marching band members were alongside to play for us. With so many police officers around, shouldn't there have been arrests for a curfew violation?

The course turned right again at East Lindsey Drive -- and with two narrow lanes and more free running room I asked loudly, "Does anyone know how far we've gone?"

One man to my left offered an answer: "Three miles. It feels like it."

No - our measurement Sunday found we were only halfway through. A couple of winding S's on East Lindsey Drive led to a right turn onto Edgewood Drive at 1.9 miles. The Shrine Club was in the distance to the left, but thankfully no one was along the road selling circus tickets.

Edgewood Drive intersects Sue Mack Drive at 2.1 miles - and a left turn put me back on the road where we were before. I presumed all the runners were doing well, because no one collided with me face-to-face heading the other direction.

Sue Mack Drive then becomes the "hospital hill" of the Midnight Express Run. A gradual incline past Richards Middle School tests how much strength you still have. I barely had enough - motivated by three people with health problems for whom I dedicated the run. The third mile was for my older brother, in pain from ingrown toenails. The wrong runner stepping on my feet could have put me with him.

But once I made it beyond Richards Middle School, the course was mostly level heading for home. A few people helped the runners by spraying garden hoses from their front lawns. No, I did NOT check their homes to see if they violated Columbus Water Works rules.

A left and a right on Sue Mack led back to Auburn Avenue at 2.7 miles, where traffic lights in the distance showed the end was near. I still had enough strength to half-sing a hymn, "I see the lights of the finish so bright...."

After a slight uphill bump, it was downhill all the way to the finish line near Country's Barbecue. A few runners sprinted down the hill, showing they still had a kick left. I did not - because after a half-hour of running, I didn't want to stumble over my own feet now.

(I should note these photos were taken well before the race. If I had carried a camera for three miles, I probably would have dropped it at some point when I bumped against another runner.)

The official race clock said 33:18 when I crossed the finish line. A wristwatch timer I kept in my pocket indicated from the moment I crossed the starting line, I made it 3.1 miles in 32:10 -- running all the way, never walking a single step. I was thankful. I was satisfied. But I knew I had to keep moving forward, because the people I passed still were coming -- maybe hoping to take revenge.

The finish line team from Country's Barbecue provided souvenir wet hand sponges for the runners, with an Aflac duck on them. They also handed out barbecue sandwiches - which sadly were only pork. So the elected official who reportedly took one for himself amidst the crowd should thank me, because I gave mine up.

But I did pick up a water bottle and fruit at the finish line -- as well as a large cup of Country's sweet tea. That lasted me well into Sunday afternoon. I wanted to get to sleep after the run, after all.

The Midnight Express Run is the biggest road race of the year in Columbus, but you never hear about the winners. There's one big difference from the Peachtree Road Race -- because the top runners are NOT from Africa and Europe.

David Marley outran the field, winning the Midnight Express Run in 15:40 by a five-second margin. Brittney Skiles won the women's division in 18:45, with only 24 men faster than her. Clearly a lot of male high school cross-country runners have work to do this week.

I'm thrilled to report I finished in the top half of the field -- number 1,082 out of 2,445 officially timed runners. Not bad for a guy who turned 53 earlier this month. My first Peachtree Road Race in 1985 was about 28 minutes above my age -- and now I'm 19 minutes under it.

Not only that, I outran several celebrities embedded in the field. Christina Chambers of WLTZ ran track in college, so she led her age group. But I beat Sarah Panko of WRBL, Alan Riquelmy and Sonya Sorich of the Ledger-Enquirer -- but for some reason, Dimon Kendrick-Holmes's name didn't make the list. Was he too busy chasing Judge Douglas Pullen for an interview?

The Midnight Express Run was an experience I'll remember for a long time to come. But as a veteran of five Peachtree Road Races, I noticed some ways it could be improved....

+ Water tables along the course. The race-time temperature was about 81 degrees F. - but the only thing neighborhood residents provided besides a hose-down was two guys in the middle of the street offering high fives.

+ Mile markers, to chart our progress. No one's stolen those things from the Riverwalk for a souvenir yet.

+ If people want to walk the course, fine -- but ask them to follow Atlanta Airport transportation mall rules. Maybe you've heard that recorded voice: "Please stand to the right, to allow others to pass."

+ If you're going to hand out black T-shirts before the race, do NOT encourage people to wear them as they run. Some spots are so lacking in lighting that those runners will feel like hockey players from being bumped so often.

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E-MAIL UPDATE: I decided to go to bed happy after the Midnight Express Run, and wait to open a message in the InBox until Sunday. Good decision....

Mr. Burkard,

For some reason I knew you would find a way to compare Michael Weaver to me are some other civil rights activist in the city, as if you could intelligently compare civil rights advocate with a white nationalist. Mr. Weaver has never mentioned my name or compared what he does to what I do as a community activist. I really do not know why you would. Well, maybe I do know why.

If you think we are in the same business because we both talk about what is commonly known as race, it just goes to show how terribly ill-informed you are about what I do in the community.

Let me help you out in the understanding department as you must be very confused about who does what. I promote unity, community, fairness, compassion, equality, understanding and truth-telling. I do not espouse racial hatred nor uphold racial prejudice no matter who the practitioner happens to be. I am neither a separatist nor a nationalist. I speak out and stand up against injustice, inequality, and discrimination as I believe all red-blooded decent Americans should. White nationalism and civil rights are antithetical. What Mr. Weaver does claiming to love all white people is a perversion of what I do, which is not really hard at all to figure out.

I guess names of public officials like Skip, and Red, and Pops are all assumed names if "Brother Love" is an assumed name as you claim? Do not have one standard for characterizing me and an entirely different one that paints those men in a more respectable light. If you are going to call it, call it straight.

Mr. Weaver's real name is Carothers, which by your own admission you did not know prior to the indictment. I served on the very first Columbus Public Safety Advisory Commission. You have called me "C.A. Hardmon" on many occasions right here on your blog. I sign published letters to the editor of the Ledger as C.A. "Brother Love" Hardmon so that people will know exactly who said what. Articles in the Courier have appeared under C.A. "Brother Love" Hardmon. I am one of the easiest people in Columbus to find and identify in public. My point is for you to suggest anything less to those that might not know any better at the time is disingenuous and misleading your readers, even if you are just having fun as a humor blogger.

Finally, I am not one that writes this humor blog because no one else is giving me any attention. I simply offer my opinion in response to what you say about me or the issues I deal with in this community. I appreciate the opportunity you give all to have their say whether they agree or disagree with you. Consider this just me having mine for what is certainly not the first time, and we both know it will probably not be the last time.

Take care,

Brother Love, Director

Grassroots Unity Movement for Change

Me - "very confused?" Yes, that happens sometimes. You should have seen me a few weeks ago, when I hunted for a box of toothpicks at a Kmart. They're with the foil, not the cake mix?!

Of course, Michael "Weaver" Carothers probably would argue he also is for "unity, community, fairness.... and truth-telling." He simply wants all that his way - and that's the problem throughout society. Plenty of people think their way is the right way, and even the only way. In fact, I fear I elbowed a couple of them Saturday night while passing them in the race.

C.A. "Brother Love" Hardmon makes a good point when it comes to names of Columbus Councilors. I've tended to call "Pops" Barnes Jerry here, but I've failed to call "Skip" Henderson Barry or "Red" McDaniel C.E. Now will someone please investigate whether Council Clerk Tiny Washington was born under another name?

And after checking an online dictionary, I should apologize for using the phrase "assumed name" in the first place. None of these people have assumed their names "temporarily." I'm not one to demand their drivers' licenses to prove that, either.

It occurs to me the Columbus Public Library was a big loser with that indictment and arrest last week. Imagine a public forum with Michael "Weaver" Carothers on one side, and C.A. "Brother Love" Hardmon on the other. Who would get upset and walk out first? Who would have more supporters in the audience? And would Geraldo Rivera want to be the moderator, for old times' sake?

By the way, let the record show C.A. "Brother Love" Hardmon did NOT enter the Midnight Express Run. Nor did any other director of a local civil rights organization. Nor did Mayor Teresa Pike Tomlinson -- which may end the rumors she's already running for something beyond her current office.

SCHEDULED TUESDAY: A LaughLine flashback about the famous name visiting Columbus today....

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