Trains and Volcanoes

I know a lot of people who have done a Tough Mudder race and rave about how much fun they are.  An obstacle race that involves water, mud, and live electrical wires is not high on my to-do list.  In fact, I don’t think it even makes my list.  I am happy running in marathon races that are more like taking a sightseeing run through a city.  I have visited some very interesting places and running through them gives me a sense for what they are really like.  I don’t need to crawl on my stomach through muddy water, dodging barbed wire or climb over walls as part of a race (though I have climbed over snow fencing to get to the port-a-potties one last time before a race start but I don’t think that counts).

I can’t imagine the reaction of the runners in September’s Mill Race Marathon in Columbus, Indiana when a train approached a railroad crossing about a mile into the marathon course.  No kidding; this really happened.  Speedier runners heard the train whistle, picked up their pace, and bolted across the tracks, narrowly being missed by the train.  The train stopped, blocking the crossing for the majority of the runners.

Runners are pretty determined people, especially those that are going for Boston Marathon qualifying times.  The police and railroad personnel tried to keep the runners away from the train but to no avail.  Some runners ran across a field and cut through woods to cross the tracks ahead of where the train stopped.  Others climbed between the railroad cars.  Some very brave souls crawled underneath some of the cars.  Finally, the train’s engineer blew the whistle and started moving again.  The police were fortunately able to keep people from being flattened by the train.  It was an obstacle that no one, especially the race organizers, had expected.  I can’t say that I would have been one of the foolhardy runners that slid underneath or climbed over a railroad car, especially with an impatient train engineer with a schedule to keep.

Check out the news reports here. If you go to YouTube, you can see these two videos of the runners that are jaw dropping:  video 1 and  video 2.

Trains on the course are nothing compared to what I saw in the latest documentary that I watched “Volcanic Sprint” about the Mt. Cameroon Race of Hope.  This has to be the most physically challenging race I have ever heard of.  Mt. Cameroon is the highest peak in Western Africa at 13,435 feet.  It also happens to be an active volcano; it last erupted in February, 2012.  The race is held in Buea, which is about 2,800 feet in elevation.  The course has the runners start at the stadium in Buea, heading towards Mt. Cameroon for the climb to the top and then heading back down the mountain to the stadium.  The out and back course is about 24 miles.

The top runners can earn more in the 4+ hours it takes to complete the race than Cameroons earn in 4 years.  The incentive to win makes this race very competitive.  The locals cheer the most for runners from Buea.  Sarah Etonge, a local favorite, has won the woman’s race 5 times and has been named “Queen of the Mountain” complete with a statue in her honor.

The race is difficult for a number of reasons.  First, there is a 10,000 foot elevation change and runners can get altitude sickness.  Second, the temperatures fluctuate 50 degrees between the stadium and the top of the mountain where it can be windy, rainy, sleeting or even snowing.  Visibility also becomes a problem.  Finally, being a volcano, the terrain is very rocky and rough.  There is no nice path.  The best runners scramble on all fours to get up to the top.  Others use a walking stick to help get up the mountain. One woman runner’s shoes were shredded by the terrain.  Someone gave her shoes to wear but when she got back to the paved roads, she took them off and finished the race barefoot.

At the top, each runner’s bib is marked as proof that they made it and then they head back down.  Here is where things get tricky.  Speed going down the mountain is the key to winning but it is also very dangerous.  In the film, many runners took horrible falls as they ran down.  I can’t imagine how it would feel to wipe out on volcanic rock.  Though they did not say, I was convinced one had a broken leg and another had broken some ribs.  Over 46% of the 300 or so runners in the race quit.  There is no sag wagon; they had to walk back to the stadium in Buea.

One of the most interesting things about the race is how the spectators get involved.  When Sarah – who was going for her 6th win – got back to the paved roads, it seemed like the entire town was running behind her and cheering.  I don’t think that you would see unentered people on a course like that anywhere else.  Crowd control is a big deal at most races.

I continue to recuperate but I have to admit I am getting more antsy.  I am not so sure how many more documentaries I can watch.  There are loads of surfing, motorcycle racing, and skiing films but I am not so interested in those.  I will keep up with the recumbent bike and maybe get out for some brisk walks.  The only thing the doctor told me not to do is fall.  Now that is a doctor’s order I plan to follow!