Race Shirts Handled by Elite Pros

Last week I wrote about the surplus government cheese giveaway that led to the creation of the nation’s second biggest run, Bloomsday, in Spokane, Washington. Today, another little-known fact; Bloomsday relies on an army of shirt distributors that travel to big runs around the country the same way migrant farm workers travel to wherever crops need to be picked.Finish Shirts

With 50,000 shirts to handle, Bloomsday needs the manpower and expertise of experienced shirt giver-outers. A couple days before the race, a caravan of vehicles arrives in town, and dozens of shirters (how they refer to themselves), settle in and scout the finish area.

It’s a lucrative, high-paying gig, but the job’s demands exact a price on the shirters. Handing out shirts at a frenzied pace, accommodating size requests, carrying heavy cases to re-supply the tables, and the burden of offering consolation and on-the-spot counseling to distraught runners who had a bad race takes a toll. And when it’s over, it’s straight to the hotel to pack up and move on to the next run, hundreds of miles away.

I asked Megan, the woman leaning on the shirt pile and smiling at the camera, how shirters hold up under the pressure.

“To get this job, you have to go through an intensive, two-year program at the Academy of Shirt Distribution Arts in Ventura, California. There’s so much stress and pressure, but we’re able to get our minds off our jobs by doing something fun between races, which is absolutely necessary. Most shirters also spend the off-season, which runs November through February, at resorts in Thailand or Fiji to recuperate and recharge.”

Like any high-demand occupation, burnout is an issue. But Megan says there’s one thing in their favor – the high compensation allows shirters to become financially secure, and most retire by age 40.

Jim, you are so hot…

NewtonsI was walking past a booth at the Bloomsday Trade Show recently when a salesperson said, “Jim, you need to try some Newtons.”

It was Nicole Lund, the same person who got me wearing capes. I pretended not to hear and continued on. I didn’t want her to see the large trash bag I’d filled with free donut holes and frosted animal cookies from the Franz Bakery booth.

“Come on, Jim,” she said again. “You’ll love the Newtons. Set your animal cookies and donut holes in the corner.”

As she laced up the shoes, I asked if Newtons are named after that Las Vegas singer, Wayne Newton. Nicole said they’re named after him, Sir Isaac Newton, and those delicious treats, Fig Newtons.

“How can they be named after three completely different things? Is that really true?”

“Yes, google it. Now give those a try.”

I ran down the corridor. Three people took pictures of me. When I ran back, three more camera flashes went off. I liked the bright color of the Newtons, and I thought they looked really good on me, but I had no idea that six people would be so struck that they’d snap photos of me doing a test run. When I told Nicole, she smiled and patted me on the shoulder. “Jim, you are so hot in those shoes, but you set off the security cameras.”

Nicole introduced me to Jack McPheron, the Newton sales rep. I asked if Newton would sponsor me at Bloomsday. Jack commented that I looked like a fast runner, but said that shoe companies tend to sponsor elite runners. When I pointed out that I could generate huge sales because my charisma more than makes up for not being an elite runner, Nicole supported me. She mentioned the time I told a joke that made some people laugh.

Nicole Lund and Jack McPheron at the Newton booth

Nicole Lund and Jack McPheron at the Newton booth

Jack thanked me for trying out the Newtons, and as I left the convention center, my trash bag of donut holes and cookies slung over my shoulder, I saw a billboard across the street. If Newton decided to send me a contract, I figured I’d soon be on it.

Runner Accidentally Channels Prefontaine

When Brendan Dowling immersed himself in Steve Prefontaineism by dressing, thinking, and acting like him, he had no idea he’d start running like him.

Steve Prefontaine, considered by many the most talented American runner ever, ran in only one Olympic Games. He died in a 1975 car crash at age 24.

Steve Prefontaine

Steve Prefontaine

Brendan Dowling at Bloomsday

Brendan Dowling

Dowling, a recreational runner who considers Prefontaine his idol, styled his hair like Pre, bought an Oregon track outfit, and lived his life as if he were Pre in honor of the running legend.

It didn’t take long for Dowling’s running to improve remarkably. He was able to run much faster in workouts. His race times began approaching Olympic standards. He was invited to major meets, and like Pre, won over the crowd, as well as the race. His best times became amazingly similar to Pre’s. Below is a comparison.

Dowling before becoming Pre              Prefontaine         Dowling after becoming Pre

10,000m          Too far to run                   27:46.6              27:45.8

5,000m               21:43                            13:21.8              13:21.2

Mile                     6:18                                3:54.6                3:54.9

Olympics     Watched on TV             5000m-4th place    5000m-4th place

Dowling, sad and glum

A sad and glum Dowling.

But alas, after his 4th place Olympic finish in the 2012 games, Dowling let slip how his superb running performance was caused by adopting Steve Prefontaine’s identity. Other runners immediately jumped on the bandwagon.

Dowling’s performance immediately nosedived. Still much better runners than before, Dowling and all the copycats could not approach Pre’s times because too many people were channeling his immense talent and diluting it.

Saddened by his status of former running star, Dowling hopes that the next running superstar to emerge will just happen to look almost exactly like himself.

I threaten Petra for Speeding

Usually I don’t include tree-climbing in my workouts. However, yesterday, I was wearing my lightest, nylon cape and running along at a pretty good clip when a big gust of wind hit. My cape blew into a tree. It was just out of reach, so I had to climb the tree.

As I was wondering if the branch I needed to walk on was strong enough to hold me, I saw Petra running. As she passed by, I said in my best computer-generated voice, “Speed limit 25. Slow down immediately.”

She stopped and looked around. It took her a couple seconds to spot me in the tree. “What are you doing?” she laughed, coming over.

I explained the situation, and asked if she knew of a reputable cape retrieval company. She said she didn’t, but knew of an ambulance service that responds quickly to tree-climbing accidents.

I got my cape and climbed down.

“You know what’s weird,” Petra said. “You’re the third person I’ve seen in a tree during my run today.”

“The first two must have been kids,” I said.

“No, they were adults. But they weren’t trying to get something like you.”

“That is odd,” I replied.

“Well, have fun on the rest of your run, Jim. Hope that cape stays on,” Petra said.

“Thanks, me too.” I put my hand out and we shook. Our grasp lasted longer than a normal handshake. Then my hand slid slowly past hers until we did a fingertip grasp until finally parting. Her Wonderfulness began running and I just stood there watching. Halfway down the block, she glanced back. I didn’t even care that she caught me staring hypnotically. I gave her a wave.

I am so moved by her. To be at her side would be the greatest thing to happen to me.

No Cheese for 50,000 Bloomsday Runners

Bloomsday Start

2013 Bloomsday Start – Downtown Spokane, WA

This morning I ran in the Bloomsday Run in Spokane, the nation’s second largest run by number of timed finishers. I watched Olympic marathon gold medalist Frank Shorter win the very first run in 1977. In third place was Don Kardong, the Bloomsday race founder, who finished fourth in the 1976 Olympic marathon behind Shorter. He’s currently the Bloomsday race director.

Don Kardong leading Steve Prefontaine in a 1970 race. (Courtesy of Creative Commons)

Don Kardong leading Steve Prefontaine in a 1970 race. (Photo credit: Creative Commons)

The idea for Bloomsday was hatched by Don Kardong the same day as a long line of people were waiting at the Spokane YMCA for handouts of surplus cheese on a cold November morning in 1976, which the United States Department of Agriculture arranged frequently back then.

As the time neared for the cheese to be distributed, a YMCA official appeared and announced that there’d been an error in the newspaper. The cheese was not at the YMCA, but at the YWCA, located just a few blocks away. The crowd broke into a run.

Mr. Kardong, enjoying a quiet, contemplative stroll, was surprised to find a sprinting mob coming at him. To avoid being trampled, he ran a short distance and turned into the first parking lot, which happened to be the YWCA. USDA cheeseMerely wanting to escape, he somehow ended up first in line, and was given two large bricks of cheese. A reporter covering the event wrote a front page story the next day vilifying Kardong for taking advantage of a program for the needy and as well, using his running ability to get to the front of the line. Kardong says, “I got a bum rap for that, but man, was that cheese good! I ate an entire brick as I walked home. I saved the other, and today it’s on display at the Bloomsday Hall of Fame.”

Inspired by the sprinting mob, Kardong started the Race for Surplus Cheese. Over time, a more dignified name was sought. Thus, Bloomsday.

Oh no, I’m Becoming a Woman

white legsThe transformation was gradual and slow, so that I wouldn’t notice. But as I genuflected last night, (That’s a word we used in education when I was a teacher.) I realized I have become 50, maybe 55% female.

Those really white legs shielded from sun since last year, which are now causing eye damage, were out in profusion last night at my running club’s 4.4-miler. A couple guys let me snap a photo of their legs, but their case is pretty mild compared to others. But it was white legs that got me realizing I’ve become part female.

bathroom closetBesides sucking the color out of skin, winter sucks the moisture too. I used to never hydrate my skin, but now after showering, I do my legs, face and elbows without fail, in winter and summer. When I was married, I gently chided my wife about all the bottles of creams and lotions she had. Now I’m the one with a cupboard full of stuff.

My hair used to be so oily, I could wring it over a pan and use the oil for frying. It actually imparted a delicious, baby’s-hair scent to my food. Now my hair’s so dry, I have to use conditioner. Then I use other grease stuff afterwards to make it look better. I spend so much time in the bathroom that by definition, I’ve become a woman.

At least I long ago gave up one thing that even the vast majority of guys used back in the day – the blow-dryer.

Running Expert Pays Home Visit

SONY DSCMy friend, I.P. Aard, who works at the National Institute of Running Sciences, was at a conference in Seattle last weekend. She rearranged her return flight to spend a night in Spokane. It always makes me feel good when women go out of their way to spend time with me.

I never met I.P. in person, but we’ve talked on the phone a lot, and I’ve watched videos of her presenting at seminars. She’s considered a top expert in her field even though she’s only 33. At the same time, she is very familiar with my work. She told me she was in the audience at a two-hour seminar I gave a year ago to a packed house in Denver demonstrating techniques to avoid getting hit by bird poop while running.

We went for a run in the morning with a few friends of mine, and I snapped a picture of her, at right, after our run. I spent the rest of the day showing her around Spokane. In the evening, we hung out at my place, watching the new romantic video, “I’ll Meet You at the Beach for an Interval Workout.”

“So, I.P., why do you go by your initials instead of first name?” I asked as we shared a Popsicle when the video was over.

“I just don’t like Isabella that much. It’s too long. Plus, when I discovered I.P. Aard is so similar to “I PR’ed”, I thought, perfect, I’m going with that.”

“I’ve always wondered what’s going on with people’s names at the Institute,” I said. “Last week I was talking to Ayer, and he swears that’s his real name.”

“Ayer O’Beck? It is. Why would you doubt it?”

“Come on, I.P. Ayer O’Beck? Aerobic?”

“You’re right,” I.P. said, glancing thoughtfully at the ceiling. “I never thought of that.”

I.P. took the Popsicle from me and ate the last bit. “So, where am I sleeping tonight?”

“I have a spare bedroom across the hall from mine.”

I.P. raised her eyebrow. “Spare bedroom?”