Chris Bieri and long distance running.
Two things you usually don't associate with each other.
Chris Bieri and Dairy Queen Blizzards maybe, but definitely not long distance running.
But that is just what I found myself doing Saturday as a member of a relay team at the 9th Annual ING Trestle Valley Marathon.
Actually, I started doing some running this past winter and decided that competing in the relay would be a good goal to set to test my improvement.
I grabbed a Trestle Valley informational flyer a few months ago to check out the specifics of the relay race.
Immediately I knew I wouldn't be the typical competitor in the race. Along with the general personal information you needed to fill out to enter, they asked you what size race shirt you wanted.
The options were as follows: S, M, L and XL.
Even at a semi-svelte 265 pounds, you couldn't squeeze me into an XL t-shirt with the jaws of life and a tub of petroleum jelly. Only after the race finished did I find out there's a Clydesdale Division for men over 190 pounds. That would still make me almost a Clydesdale and a half (think about that for a second ladies).
Regardless, I spent most of my winter running 3-4 times a week, and got into decent shape.
I got to the point where I could comfortably run four miles at a pretty good pace.
I was planning on forming my own team with some old high school buddies, but my co-worker Ryan had run in the past few marathon relays and had an opening on his team.
So I joined Ryan, along with Andrea, Laura and Stephanie on the Minot Daily News team in the co-ed relay race.
We all decided what legs we would run. I picked the fourth leg.
Mostly because it was the shortest, but it was also up the dreaded Roadkill Hill. After the course had to be changed due to excessive moisture in some areas, my leg was moved to the second leg. It was also no longer the shortest leg (arrrgghh).
A few of the members of the team met Friday night to carb-load. Apparently, this is what long-distance runners do to build up energy for the next day's race. I'm a veteran carb-loader, but until now I had just called it eating way too much pizza.
Andrea started out, running the first leg. She is a former sprinter, but had transitioned to long distance running nicely. After completing her six miles, she handed off to me and off I went on my four-mile run. The first mile went great. I felt I could have gone faster, but wanted to conserve energy. The second mile went swimmingly.
But that's when I hit roadkill hill. I had enlisted the help of a number of runners and coaches to determine how best to tackle roadkill hill. Minot High girls cross country coach Glee Mayer said to concentrate on my breathing. Others told me to keep my strides short. Former UND hockey standout and marathon runner Tom Philion gave me some simple advice - walk it.
I made it about two-thirds of the way up the hill. My legs were sizzling like bacon on a flat top and I was panting like a dog. Sadly, I had to take a brief break and walked for a minute or two. Once I was nearly to the top of the hill I started back running. As tough as the hill was, the final stretch after the hill was just almost as tough. At one point, I thought about leaping in front of one of the cars that rolled slowly alongside the race course in the hope it would just flatten me and end my run. Instead, I cranked up the music that my friend Eli was kind enough to upload on my iPod and carried on.
I finally reached the next hand-off stage and Stephanie took over. She is a steady runner and cruised six miles to hand off to Ryan. Ryan ran his seven mile leg in 50-some minutes, which is absolutely flying.
Laura, like me a former Minot High tennis player, took us home on the final leg and when the smoke cleared we had finished in fourth place out of 12 co-ed teams.
One thing I've learned is that the joy of running usually isn't in the actual running, but in finishing. But I don't think I'm finished with my marathon experience. The Trestle Valley Marathon may be retired, but I'm not. If there's a marathon in Minot next year, I'll be running.
(Chris Bieri is a sportswriter for the Minot Daily News. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)