Running Through This Place

March 17, 2020

A friend once told me, “The best way to explore a new place is to go for a run and experience things up close.” You can cover a lot of ground and see what’s inside all those buildings you pass as you drive by. You can see what the view is like across the lake if you just stop for a minute and look. What smells do you smell? What are the people like? How do they dress? What are they talking about? What kind of music do you hear from that apartment building or bar? Do you smell wood fires burning? Or is that the smell of garbage? Sometimes it’s side by side right on the same block.

About a year ago I also stopped running with headphones or music and quickly learned how much I preferred running to nature’s sound. I paid closer attention to my heart rate and breathing and had a much sharper sense of what was around me. “How can you go so long without listening to music? I would go crazy!” I though so too but realized after just one music-less run that the world, our cities and nature, are filled with sound, sights, smells and even tastes that you miss on a typical drive through. Tossing aside the headphones and taking a run through a new place is the best way to learn about where you are.

Not just the big cities but the small towns too. The country. By the water. In the hills.

So here’s my story of the places I ran through, and the things that I found.

Running Through This Place

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I first though of capturing runs through new places when I was in Havana, Cuba in 2014. Here’s the Malecón, that famous seawall roadway that surrounds Havana. You’ve seen pictures. That’s Morro Castle behind me, guarding the entrance to Havana Bay since the old times. Historic as fuck. I started there and ran along El Malecón for a few miles and then ran back to the hotel. Best part: the salt water crashing into the wall as I ran along the shore as 50s Buicks zipped by. Biggest surprise: the smell of diesel. It was morning on a weekday I believe, and traffic was busy. On the way back to my hotel I found a small store selling cola, water, snacks and rum. I bought an orange soda and drank it as I walked back to the hotel, the ambient scenes and sounds of Havana bustling all around me. Commuters on their way to work catching crowded buses. A random dog jogging by. Two men arguing in rapid Spanish as they passed. Everyone leaving me alone and go about their business. It felt like tropical Big Manhattan Energy but without the height of those damn skyscrapers.

Same bandana, Mark? Get a life. This is Glasgow, Scotland. It was a 40ish foggy morning. There was a light drizzle but this was a great run for exploring. Our flat was in a residential area south of the city, so I ran north toward the city center and then turned right at the River Clyde and ran along the north/east bank you see to the left of the picture. I happened along a perfect running path that took you through all the riverfront property, which wasn’t much more than a few parks, the outside of some apartments and a restaurant or two. I don’t remember which day of the week this was but it was early in the morning and things weren’t really moving yet. Even the River Clyde was totally still. It was super peaceful and there was a light rain. And graffiti. Tons of graffiti. The type of graffiti you’d expect to see in a movie like Trainspotting. It was everywhere. And the sidewalks had little metal railings at the intersections, kind of like the rope lines at Disney World, that guided you safely across the street. They were great, and people respected them. This made me feel extra safe as I had just two months ago been hit while running by this dumbfuck drunk driver. That’s a whole other story I won’t get into. But for city running, Glasgow was totally a runner-friendly experience. I even happened upon the distillery where they make Chivas Regal. Totally by accident!

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Same fucking bandana again? No wait, that’s a different one. Anyway here’s New York. Fuck New York, fuck the Yankees and fuck Derek Jeter. Actually New York is fucking awesome, I just had to get my digs in as a Twins fan. I’m so sick of the Yankees. But New York is a hell of a town! I’m in New Jersey though, running along the park where Ellis Island is. Great view of the bay. The Statue of Liberty is right there greeting all these ships and helicopters out there. And the New York City Marathon was happening as I took this photo, waaaay across the way there. Probably tearing through Brooklyn by this time but I was just out for my own thing and wasn’t running any marathon. It was early November and windy as hell, which I HATE. I hate running in the damn wind. I hate it! But I wanted to run to a certain spot on this seawall to get the perfect photo. There it is.  Pretty cool, huh?

The run took me through this boatyard through, with millions of sailboats and yachts. It was awesome because they were suddenly just everywhere. One second I was running through this Jersey neighborhood of brick buildings and churches and next thing I knew I was running along a wooden dock surrounded by the Jersey Shore fucking Armada. Who owned all these boats? When did they ever take them out? HOW did they get them out of this crowded boatyard? And where did they go? Across the river to Manhattan? Along the Hudson like Sully? In circles around Lady Liberty? What the fuck?

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Okay so Canada puts me into a much better mood. Who doesn’t love Canada? Red and white maple flags, hockey teams, tons of beer, super nice people, Tim Horton’s everywhere! And you can buy Cuban rum and bring it home. I had been to Canada like five times before I visited Winnipeg but this was my first run though the True North. Damn, it’s so damn peaceful up there compared to here. Anyway. I ran through this residential neighborhood and along this lake and there were runners everywhere. It was great. I just kind of zoned out and followed them. Figured they knew where to go so I focused on the houses and yard. Nice! Reminded me of St. Paul around Summit Avenue but not as fancy. Wide streets, big traditional houses with gates and fancy architecture here and there. A government building, a cemetery, a few busy streets with stoplights. Some dudes cutting grass at the huge lawn of this big generic place that was either a church or a country club. Perfect running weather. Air so fresh, until I got back near the hotel which was in the city. So running in Winnipeg: A+

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How could I not throw this one out there? Hometown baby, home town!! Downtown Minneapolis is behind me and if you look closely…LOOK!…other runners. Yep, it may be 10 degrees with a foot of snow on the ground and probably another foot falling before you make it back but damn it, we’re out here. I remember this being the QUIETEST run I had ever taken. I had my headphones in but once I noticed how quiet it was I took them out, stopped and just looked around. Right at this spot, with the Mississippi River below me and a few runners trudging towards me, blurred by the thick falling snow, which muffled all sound and made you feel somehow totally alone. Which for an introvert like me is complete fucking bliss. But my eyelashes were covered with ice and I’m sure my toes ached and my fingers were numb so I kept going until I got my 10 miles in so time for donuts.

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Yeah, yeah, yeah shirtless beach shot but look: the beach is a completely different environment than the snow, yet it’s strangely very similar. At both the terrain is soft and you’re forced to push your feet into the ground a bit harder, use a few more muscles than you would on firm pavement. And you have to manage the temperature. Plus when the sun is out, you don’t think it gets bright in the snow? All that white with the sun blazing down and reflecting directly into your eyes? It’s blinding! But when you’re running on the beach chances are the sun might be out there too so…I don’t even know what point I’m trying to make. But on this particular run, I ran by rows and rows and ROWS of condo buildings. Just one after another. All of them empty. I never knew why. It was October and the beach was plenty packed with people so it’s not like it wasn’t the right season. It looked like something was wrong, but I never got the whole story. I was busy listening to the waves and avoiding the bursts of saltwater that would wash towards me and attack my shoes. Lots of friendly beach walkers nodded and said hello. A couple guys were fishing. Some kids out in the water were shouting and causing a ruckus. It was a great day to run. And back at the home base, my parents had camped out with some chairs and an umbrella, and plenty of snacks and beer. A great way to finish a run.

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Here’s Belgium. Different bandana! This was a flat run along this river. Lots of other runners and people on bicycles. A perfect little after work jog one afternoon that took me through these narrow city street, very European in that I had no idea if I was headed the right direction or if some car would squeeze around some tight corner and run into me. Never happened. But I saw all these cool little houses along the river and hoards of people doing their thing. It got dark fast though the lighting wasn’t very good on the way back so when you do your Mechelen, Belgium run do it during the day.

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One of the all time greats right here. Canada again, but you know where I am. Niagara Falls baby, last leg of Ragnar Niagara with the finish line just ahead! Can you image a run that makes you feel completely small? The size of the falls not only made me realize how little I am in comparison, but how little the FALLS are when compared to the earth. And then how little the damn EARTH is when you stick it next to Sun or Jupiter or pretty much anything else out there. Yeah, that’s the kind of shit going though my mind during this moment. “Those falls are fucking huge and what do I have to do with any of it?”

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Stillwater!! That’s Wisconsin on the other side of the river. Pricks. That’s a famous bridge that’s only famous to people who live around here. No one else cares. It’s a cool bridge though, and Stillwater is a fun place to run if you love running hills. This is more of a country run because you don’t see Stillwater until the end of the run but lots of Minnesota landscapes and of course a highway, but it’s still pretty scenic and peaceful. I go back every year!

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Dudes, look how patriotic I am! I ran all up in this area, saw all the main buildings and slalomed through all the tourists. It’s a sightseeing extravaganza running all up and down the Mall. Funny thing about this run is I have no idea how I got there or where I went when I was finished. But apparently I was there at some point because I have this picture as proof.

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Okay, Wisconsin’s not so bad because here I am running through it with my friend Drew. This was during the Ragnar Great River when the great river flooded and then flooded everything around it. They had to shutdown part of the race course, so runners had to double up to get their legs in. Drew and I dominated this 6-miler and ran out of water with about a mile to go. I remember that being tough because it was getting to be around noon and the heat and humidity were getting up there. This was somewhere near Pepin and we went along some water which may have been the Mississippi (that’s the great river they’re talking about, you knob). This was one of those small towns where the people get all excited for the race and sit outside to watch and cheer. Some have cookouts, some have little lemonade stands. Some have little bake sales where you can buy pies and cookies. That type of town. Little farms. Horses here and there. That quaint Americana type stuff. With some random dude glaring your way every once in awhile because he don’t like you in his town. Fuck him. He’s from Wisconsin.

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Staunton, Virginia! Where the hell is that? In Virgina somewhere, wherever Woodrow Wilson was born. I know this because I came across his boyhood home while I was…wait for it bitch…running through the damn town. See? This just proves my point. How else would I have ever known Woodrow Wilson was born in Staunton, Virginia had I not come across his birthplace or whatever it was while out for a run. Do it. Go for a run through some random place. You never know what you’ll find. Like these railroad tracks. According to legend some drunk Civil War soldier got hit by a train here and still haunts the station to this day. I didn’t see any sign of him. And oh yeah Staunton is in the Shanandoah Valley and it’s really freakin humid.

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I bet you can’t guess where I am in this one, because it’s a place I had never heard of and never thought I’d see. Oh no, it’s that bandana again. And that same shirt too? Ugh. Where was I? Oh yeah, San Luis Potosi, Mexico. Big big industrial city smack dab in the middle of the country. Pretty good food and I know for sure we didn’t go to any of the best places. Pretty high density for not only population but traffic. Not terrible but more than you’d expect. And not really any signs of any runner-friendly…anything. No paths, no runners, DEFINITELY no running stores. But all I needed was some pavement and a place where I could stay out of the way. So true to my mission I burst out the hotel front entrance and just started running. Left, then left again. Oh no I found a narrow little tropical street with fancy plants and painted concrete walls. The was a nice part of town by this town’s standards. Two-story houses. Small, but painted and clean, with trimmed shubery outside and designated places for garbage. I felt good. I felt safe. A couple kids in school uniforms boarded a mini-van and were whisked away. An old dude out walked nodded and said “Buenos dias.” I gave him a quick salute with a “Beunos…”

Had to watch out for dog shit but hell, I have to do that here too.

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The desert! Aw man, I’ve always wanted to do it! Talk about your extreme environments: snowy tundra, sunny hot beach, dry as fuck desert. The cacti were twenty, thirty feet tall with stems or whatever as hard as tree trunks. I always though they’d be these soft, tall aloe plants but no these were tough as hell. I actually never made it into the desert proper, where people get murdered and things like that, but most of the terrain in Phoenix was very desert-like so if you run there as your first ever desert run, it damn right counts.

The front yards in this town! Grass? What’s grass, something you can only smoke here if you have a prescription I know this because I looked it up. So many people had a front yard that was their own personal desert environment. Little wagon wheels arranged like there had just been a battle,with fancy flowers and rock gardens and beds of sand with all kinds of strange spikey plants growing. But once I got farther and farther from my hotel, things started looking a bit sketch. I mean shantytowns with people living in tents and cooking on little grills as their actual kitchen. Realizing that my curiosity had wandered me into their community and that I had better get the fuck out now. Really glad to be a runner at that moment because I turned on high speed and got away.

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Words can’t describe a place like Sedona except the word unfuckingbelievableman! Just look at that view! It’s like a road runner cartoon background or the surface of Mars or some Lord of the Rings Indiana Jones final scene type place of wonder and majesty. Can you imagine running through here? The rock formations! The dry creek beds! The winding paths and high altitude draining your lungs. Pausing every ten minutes to take in the view and snap some pics. And you people think I’m crazy to run without music.

That’s all I have for now! Yeah, I know I’m super cool because I went on a few runs and took a few pictures. But hey, this is what I do! Thanks for reading and maybe I’ll uh…run into you somewhere…har har har…


Watch Uber and Peloton

December 7, 2019
Both of these companies had a bad few days. Uber for a startling report on sexual assaults and Peloton for running some dumbfuck ad that a bunch of people hated. These public relations disasters will hurt business for sure, but not as much as it will their stocks. Peloton’s stock (PTON) dropped from $37 to down near 31 in just a few days. That’s about 18% percent or so.
By Friday it was back up to $32.60, climbing from than 4% that day. The outrage of the ad has died but not Peloton has all this publicity. A viral ad. News reports about the viral ad. The actual actors from the commercial commenting on the viral ad. I never heard of Peloton before this week.
Now I’m looking at buying the Jan 17 $35 calls.
Uber is a different story. A well known company that a lot of travelers, commuters and bar-hoppers rely on. Uber’s stock is nothing special – it’s been around $29 all week and by Friday it closed below $28. Just before the outrage started. Watch Congress get involved and see the stock fall further.
I’m waiting on this one but watching closely. Could be some short opportunities here, but will have to wait until it bottoms out.
When it does I’m looking at buying the Jan 17 $30 calls.
#Options #CallOptions #Uber #Peloton #DumbfuckAd

Untitled – Chapter One

March 15, 2019

***I don’t know what this is or where it’s going but the words seemed to roll right off the fingers*** ~Mark

Start. Finish. Start again. Finish. Start, stop, restart, pause, maybe finish. Or maybe the whole thing gets cancelled. Or maybe you keep running in circles all day, back and forth, starting and stopping, finishing a job only to restart the next job one minute later. The same job over and over, the same task, the same people. Just a few different details, a different time of day, a different season. Different sunlight outside. Different grass, different temperature. But the same thing. Over and over. Start. Finish. Start again. Finish. Start, stop, restart, pause. And you do this so often that you lose track of what you originally set out to do in the first place.

What is this all about?

Why are you doing this?

What the fuck is the motherfucking point?

To support yourself. To survive. To pay some bills and advance yourself. To move up. Higher and higher and higher and higher only to descend suddenly and rapidly, without a golden parachute. Without a gold watch. Without  a severance package or a bridge to early retirement. Without ever knowing or caring what difference you actually made. Without ever finishing the job you were put on earth to do in the first place. Without ever knowing why you are here at all.

Finally finishing….whatever it was you were doing…

And then having to start something else again right away, immediately after.

Start. Finish.

Start. Finish.

Start….stop…resume…rebalance…reassess…reengage….get ready to….ah, fuck it…

What’s the point?

Some of this shit never gets finished. Some of it you will never get around to starting.

And in the long run, the cosmic sense of it all, in terms of stars and planets and comets and things, we’re talking about the BIG picture here, none of it will ever matter.

So really, who the fuck cares?

Yeah, this is Chapter One. Don’t like it? Too dark? Too direct? Well, fuck you. Just keep reading because I promise you, this shit gets better. A lot better. In fact, you’re not going to believe what you’re about to read…  


Trail Running is the Shit

September 15, 2018

Today was my first ever trail run and I loved it. If you know me at all, you’re aware of my running background, so no need to go into the history except to say I’ve been a road runner all my life. Pavement or sidewalks. Asphalt running paths. Smooth terrain for the most part, at least during the non-winter months. Running in the snow and ice is a different story for another time!

Anyway, today I went to Theo Wirth Park and realized very quickly that I had no idea who Theo Wirth was. So I looked him up just now and learned he was a park-designing big-shot in Minneapolis, and across the U.S. Good for Theo, and hey, thanks for designing so many parks!

So on a very hot and humid morning I set off and got lost within the first 10 minutes. I was running at a comfortable pace among a winding series of shaded trails that would often run side by side with each other, or split into two or sometimes three trails, only to converge at some point later on and feed back into a single trail that was in fact sending you in the opposite direction you thought you were going, just before circling 180 degrees and winding you back in your original direction only to split into two paths once again. Yeah, confusing. But so much fun.

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There were lots of rocky inclines like this….

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…and this.

I used no timer or headphones and praised myself for this decision almost immediately. Instead of loud rock and roll, I focused on the sounds of insects and wildlife and the peaceful singing of my suddenly noiseless mind. It also helped to be a able to hear approaching cyclists because we share these narrow paths and they come at you fast and seemingly out of nowhere. I heard one coming behind me and quickly jumped off the path. Instead of him shouting “ON YOUR LEFT!” or speeding by me close enough to brush my clothing, he calmly said, “Thanks man, enjoy the rest of your run.”

Huh. Not at all like city running. I think I like this.

The running part wasn’t about speed or pace or heart rate or any of that stuff but more about watching where you plant your feet, maintaining your balance and slowing down when you need to slow down – very much like running in snow, ice or wintry slush. I stumbled a few times. I crossed a tiny bridge a little too fast and nearly lost my footing. I tripped on a few rocks but I didn’t crash – yet. I got used to all of it very quickly and fell in love with the scenery. Thick, green foliage spotted with September leaves beginning to turn. A quiet lake over here, insects buzzing around a tiny pond over there. Sunlight cutting through the leaves and a cool breeze soothing me when I’d hit the shade. At one point I rounded a corner and found myself running through what was probably the set of the Lord of the Rings.

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I started calling these “Frodo bridges” because they were narrow and built for tiny hobbit feet.

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Get off the path, you fools!

Half expecting a Black Rider of Sean Astin to emerge slowly from the trees, I picked up speed and found myself on a nice sprint that made me feel like Princess Leia hunting stormtroopers on a speeder bikes from Return of the Jedi.

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That was me.

At another point I found a set of steep steps that climbed up and up to who knows where, so I figured why not, let’s see where they go! I was half expecting to find a 60-year old Luke Skywalker waiting at the top but instead I found more trails. More options. Do I go this way, or that?

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The Jedi Steps are steeper than they look!

I quickly lost track of where I was and relied on the sun to guide me. It was about 9:00am so I knew as long as the sun was to my right I was heading north-ish and away from where I parked my car. Figured the best way to get back was to just turn around and run with the sun on my left. Didn’t really work because the path was so twisting and overlapping and shaded and crossing other paths or opening into 3 different paths that I just enjoyed being lost and figured I’d find my way back eventually. Which I did.

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Here’s the first time I was lost.

After about 45 minutes I KNEW I was heading back toward the car and had about two miles to go. I just knew it. I ran through a field and then found a path and turned south, with the sun on my left. Easy. No problem. Until I arrived at an intersection I had been at roughly 20 minutes ago. Yeah, I just made a huge circle. The kind of stuff you see in wilderness movies when people are lost in the wild. One big circle. No idea how it happened but there I was, right back where I was before. But in this case, there is no danger of freezing to death or starving or being eaten by a giant bear or Ethan Hawke. Just follow a path, any path, and you’ll eventually reach a road. So I simply turned around and headed back the other way!

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Lost again! Full circle and heading the wrong direction.

Eventually I made it back to my car and checked my watch. I had been running for a little over an hour and my legs told me I had gone about 6 miles so I figured hey, I’m feeling good so I ate a banana, drank a Gatorade, squeezed the sweat out of my shirt (hey, it was about 95 degrees in the sun!) refilled my water bottle and went back out for another 45 minutes or so. Figured I did about 10 miles total. I hit the same trails I did before and STILL managed to take a few wrong turns. Just when you think it’s time to jump off one trail and switch to another, your new trail winds back around and connects with the original trail you were on meaning, yeah, you just made yet another circle.

It was great though. Never once thought about my pace. Never once heard the usual urban sound of traffic, or had to deal with stoplights or drivers who aren’t watching for runners, or avoid speedy cyclists who think they’re the shit. Because they’re not the shit. Trail running is the shit.

I quickly and enthusiastically exchanged messaged with a few of my “trail running friends” (who are also unknowingly my trail running mentors and coaches) and told them that I finally see why they run trails. I understand. I get it now! I’m sold. And I’m in it for the long haul, so move aside Frodo, and thanks for doing so, enjoy the rest of your walk.

Mark McGinty‘s work has appeared in Maybourne Magazine, Montage Magazine, Minneapolis Running and Yahoo! Entertainment. His novel The Cigar Maker won a Bronze Medal at the 2011 Independent Publisher Book Awards. Mark lives in Minneapolis with his wife and daughter.


Ragnar Great River 2018: An Ultra Running Experience

August 19, 2018

An Ultra Ragnar can be defined with two words: completely unnecessary. A regular Ragnar is hard enough. 15-18 miles of running over a weekend, broken into three legs with little to no sleep, packed into a pair of vans with 11 other runners. Dealing with heat and humidity and nighttime running in the wee hours. Why would anyone want to make that twice as bad?

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But because we were all Ragnar veterans, we figured we could run twice the miles with half the team. Easily! (it wasn’t east at all) One van instead of two. Six runners instead of twelve. 30-35 miles of running apiece, with no chance to stop and sleep. No chance to stop for a meal. Running and driving all the way through for 203 miles. No time to park and gather sleeping bags to bed down for a few hours. Try to sleep in the van if you can. Eat whatever you manage to gather, and the team never eats together, except the final dinner the night before the race and some pizza and cheesecake at the end! Make the most of what you have.

It was the toughest thing I’ve ever accomplished, both physically and mentally.

My distances were 13.2 miles, 14.3 miles and 10.1 miles. 37.6 miles in total, in a period of  36 hours. Two runs took place in mid-day 85 degree heat, the 14.3 was a 1:00am run in a cool, thick fog. I slogged through all these distances, at a much slower pace than I normally run, dealing with some pretty steep hills and winding roads and some pretty bad heat. But despite the challenge of the heat and hills, the toughest part of the race were the miles. So many miles. Just miles and miles and miles of running that never seemed to end. And then more miles and even more miles. It just went on and on and on.

39278299_10100425250482004_8868768387161915392_nThere were times I wanted to quit and just walk my way to the finish. There were many times I DID walk, to catch my breath and lower my heart rate, or to help myself climb a steep hill. I had every pocket packed with nutrition and salt tablets and gels (even a small zip-lock bag filled with pickles) but I could not have completed this mileage without a fantastic team, The Ultra Butter squad, stopping every few miles to refill my fluids, dump a cold bottle of water over my head, or just cheer me on.

Double the Training

Training for an ultra Ragnar was a bit different than training for a regular Ragnar. When training for a normal Ragnar, where my total distance might be 15 or 17 miles, I would run an average of 20 miles a week. Sometimes as little as 15 a week, and usually no more than 25. And my longest distance was maybe 10 or 12 miles. If you can run 10 miles at once you can handle a Ragnar.

But an ultra is a different story. Double the mileage meant double the training. I peaked at 45 miles a week and once I started building my distances, never did less than 25 a week and would do back to back weekend long runs to mimic my actual distances. 13 miles on Saturday morning followed by 14 miles the following Sunday morning.

At first I thought of training as if I were running a marathon, but I quickly decided it made no sense to run distances of 18 or 20 miles on a Saturday and then rest on Sunday. Ragnar would be nothing like that in terms of distance or rest periods. Better to train for how you’d run the race and I found back to back long runs to be a great way to train.

8 months of training. Over 800 miles ran in every type of condition, including rain, heat and snow. By the time I got to Rangar, my mind and body were ready!

 

 

The Race to Top All Races

The race got underway at 5:30am Friday morning with Peder running both legs 1 and 2 for an opening stint of over 15 miles. This would be the longest run of Peder’s life and he was able to glide on through that first exchange point and hand off to Corinne at the start of the third leg. It was kind of cool at the first exchange to see the other teams look around in confusion as Peder flew through the chute without handing off to another runner and just keep going. Everyone else was handing off to their next runner so who were these turkeys who just kept running? “Oh, they must be an ultra team,” people would say. A few times random runners would come up to me to tell me how insane we were to be running an ultra. And outside of running, people often tell me that running Ragnar is crazy, but when other Ragnar runners are telling me that I’m crazy I know I’m in uncharted territory. It makes you feel like a bit of a badass but you also realize you’re doing something potentially dangerous (and definitely unnecessary).

39441989_10216867606140124_9128341186736553984_nCorinne took the bracelet from Peder and ran her first leg of about 11 miles as the sun started to come out and bring the heat. While standing at the exchange after leg 4, next to those railroad tracks and that huge smokestack, I began to think about the heat. I hate running in the heat, but had been training in it for months.

Not really understanding what I was getting into, I started to get nervous for not really my first run, which would be a half marathon, but the following two runs which would amount to nearly an additional full marathon. Sure, it felt cool to impress other teams with our ambition, but deep down I was worried that my legs and body simply would not allow me to get through the miles. Would the heat get to me and knock me out? Would my legs just shutdown? Would I get injured and be forced out of the race?

None of those things happened to me, but unfortunately our third runner Denise, one of the strongest runners I know, finished her 15 mile leg, handed off to Troy at the first major exchange, and then started limping. “I felt something pop,” she said as we handed her water and Gatorade.

“What do you mean?”

“In my foot,” she explained as she limped towards the van. “I’ll need to go to the First Aid tent.” Right away I told myself to think positive and hope it was only a minor sprain that would fix itself by the next time Denise would have to run again, in roughly 9 or 10 hours. But my realistic brain knew we needed to start thinking about running the rest of the distance with just 5 runners.39344118_10216871722523031_4897832712670281728_n

How would this be possible? “We’ll figure it out,” Peder said. “Let’s just get through these next few miles and see what they say at the First Aid tent.” But in the meantime, our driver Ali, plus Corinne and Amanda tended to Denise, iced her foot and got her ankle taped up while I prepared for my first run.

As I got ready to head to the chute and take the bracelet from Troy, Amanda emerged from the van and told me, “It’s bad. I don’t think she’s going to be able to run.” And I thought crap. Denise is one of the toughest and most determined people I know and if anyone tells her she is not going to be able to run it would probably just strengthen her resolve. Yet if an injury forced Denise out of the race, I knew that injury would have to be serious. I figured best case is Denise skips her next leg and rests for about 18 hours or so and is able to run her last leg.

Couldn’t think about it now because here comes Troy so into the chute and out I go for a 13.2 mile run in 2:00pm 85 degree heat – 5 miles up one of the tallest, steepest hills of the course (on loose gravel) plus an 8 mile journey along un-shaded blacktop. It was as terrible as it sounds and by the time I finished and handed off to Amanda, I was completely dehydrated. Mouth dry, body unable to produce any sweat, legs and body just shot, flaked bits of salt speckling my face and legs. Nothing to do now but re-hydrate, clean up and rest for the next leg.

“How is Denise?” I remember asking someone after my first leg only to hear the worst news. “She’s done.”

Well then how are we going to finish an ultra Ragnar with only 5 runners?

It turned out to be a stress fracture. 6 weeks in a boot at least. I knew Denise was devastated. I certainly would have been if I had trained as much as she did only to get injured on my first leg. I also knew Denise would not want us to quit the race because she was hurt. We were already a third of the way through and if we could figure out how to cover the last of Denise’s legs, we’d be able to finish.

When I finally had the chance to talk to Denise we hugged, because there were just no words. This was the fourth Ragnar we’ve done together. I know how hard she trains and knew, even before I talked to her, how disappointed she was. I told her I didn’t know what to say, and that nothing I could say would make it better. Just no words. The 15 miles she ran on her first leg was as much as any of the other runners would do throughout all of Ragnar! But she wasn’t training for that, she was going for a full 35. I knew no one felt worse about her injury than she did. She felt like she had let us down but I told her Ragnar was a team event and that the team would pull together and figure this out.

 

 

So that’s exactly what we did. Our driver Ali, who had brought running shoes and clothes just in case, suited up for a 4 miler* while Peder, Corinne, Amanda and Troy took on additional miles. That meant four of us would be running at least 35 mile in total with Amanda taking on an amazing 42 miles – the most she had ever run. The most ANY of us had ever run.

“Are we going to be able to do this thing?” Denise asked me a little while later. I honestly didn’t know because we were one small injury away from a DNF. And we needed to hold it together for another 125 miles!! This was no joke. The sun was starting to set but it was still hot and the weather called for more hot sun the following day.

The goal became to just finish the race no matter how slow we had to go. Walk/run, drink tons of water, stop and sit down if you have to. But just finish.

39441986_10216880926593127_6591340550866075648_nAli had been driving for hours and needed a break so I took over for awhile, then Peder. We made it through our night miles. We stopped often to refill water and check in on the runners. We slept when we could. Denise took over navigation duties while Ali got back in the driver’s seat. I ran my 14.3 miles at night. It was cool and foggy and I was in the middle of nowhere. The physical run was tough but this one put a lot of stress on my mind. At one point I started seeing things: shadows moving in the night, van lights shining into the fog, the reflection of headlamps and blinking tail lights in my glasses. A badger would run towards me and I’d jump out of the way only to realize it was just a passing shadow.  A bird would swoop by and I’d duck only to realize it was just my headlamp reflecting into the fog. I had to convince myself that I was just seeing shadows and reflection. I had to recognize I needed to take control of my mind. I basically had to talk myself out of going crazy.

But I finished that leg, finally, and then took my shoes off and stepped into the St. Croix River. The warm water felt great around my sore feet. I got back in the van and tried to sleep. I think I did.

39752066_10216887428875680_2772321825298841600_nWe cycled through the rest of our legs, mile after mile, hill after grueling hill. With the hot sun rising and beating down on us throughout Saturday afternoon, I summoned every ounce of guts I had left for my third run, and pushed through a 10.1 mile journey into downtown St. Paul. That was a tough one. Heat, sun, hills and fatigue all put together into one last run. I got a little emotional near the end realizing that we were close to finishing. Thinking about all the training I had done, all the wishes of encouragement from my friends and family, the positive thoughts I carried, that feeling that I can do more than I think I can.

I felt tremendous pride making it through my 37.6 miles. I reached the end of my last leg, handed the slap bracelet off to Amanda for the final leg of our journey and collapsed into the grass. I really felt it at that point. The pain, the triumph, the relief at being done. As I caught my breath and my team gathered around to pour cold water over me I looked up at them and realized they were the reason I had made it through.

“Have you lost weight since the last time we saw you?” Denise asked. Which was roughly two hours earlier. The answer was probably yes, around 3 or 4 pounds of pure fluids.

39395237_10216871945968617_6574505636275421184_n

Roughly two hours later, we gathered at the end as Amanda completed her last leg (a half marathon in sweltering afternoon heat!) and trotted through the finish line.

 

 

Now That It’s All Over

Ragnar taught me I can run when I’m sore, I can run when I’m tired, I can run when I don’t feel like running, in extreme heat or in the middle of the night, but when I run in these conditions, I can still have a great run. Apply this to any aspect of life. You can work when you don’t feel well, or be a parent when you’re tired, or take care of something you don’t feel like taking care of. And you can still do it well.

But Ultra Ragnar taught me I can do much more than I ever thought I was capable of, and that the people around me can also do more than they think. Can push themselves in directions they never expected to achieve. And that the people around you, your teammates and friends are the ones you need to make it possible.

People often ask me, “Why do you do these crazy races, Mark? WHY?!!?” This is not about setting goals, or achieving the things you set out to do, though those are a big factors. It’s not about teamwork, even though teamwork is the key to Ragnar.

It’s about being that person you never thought you could be. But more importantly, it’s  about the people that running brings into your life. I still have friends who I met 5 Ragnars ago. And even though I don’t see them as much as I’d like to, it’s these crazy races that have brought all these crazy people into my life. And because of that, I am better off.

But this Ultra Ragnar business….?? There is no way I’m ever doing it again. That shit was completely unnecessary.

*At the finish line we informed race officials that we used a 7th runner Ali to cover one of Denise’s legs and they awarded Ali a medal and a T-shirt.

Mark McGinty‘s work has appeared in Maybourne Magazine, Montage Magazine, Minneapolis Running and Yahoo! Entertainment. His novel The Cigar Maker won a Bronze Medal at the 2011 Independent Publisher Book Awards. Mark lives in Minneapolis with his wife and daughter


The Tragedy of Hungry Howie’s – Part II

June 12, 2018

Hungry-Howies_company_fullIt was a simple plan really. It required three things: 1) a dozen water balloons, 2) a big garbage can full of water, and 3) another pizza delivery from Hungry Howie’s. There may have been a few eggs involved but I don’t remember if any of us had any eggs. Maybe we just talked about eggs. And looking back, what college kid has a dozen eggs? They certainly would have come in useful!  

Other than Tyler and I, I remember at least two and possibly as many as four other guys being involved in these hijinks. My good friend Matt, who I am still friends with to this day, this guy Aaron, maybe this other guy Steve, and a different Tyler who lived down the hall. I can’t remember everyone exactly but there were enough “other guys” to form a small crew. Like something from a George Clooney movie only not as polished and also broke as fuck. Idiots 5 or something like that. And we all went along with this dumb plan because what else did we have to do? It was Sunday and none of us had homework or jobs to go to. We needed something to kill the time.

We devised our revenge, we idiots from that wing of Smith Hall who happened to be around that day. Just a crew of jerkwads who were going to take out their frustrations (really, did we have any legitimate frustrations?) on some poor pizza delivery guy who had nothing to do with screwing up our order. And always remember, we ate every last bite.

The important part of this operation was where we positioned that garbage can full of water. And I’m not talking about the small waste paper basket in your dorm room, but the larger streetcorner trash barrel, the 55 gallon sucker where you dumped all your empty beer cases and liquor bottles. We emptied that thing our and filled it almost all the way to the top with water. Don’t think we rinsed it out or anything. It was about 50 gallons of gross, ice-cold garbage water.

It was Florida, so everything was outside. The stairs that led from the parking lot to the first floor of the dorms, the walkway that turned left and headed to the stairs that went up to the second floor, and a concrete landing at the top of the stairs that led into the building. Even the callbox, a small rectangular box with a dial pad you’d use to call certain dorm rooms using a 4-digit code (we all had actual plug-in telephones in those days!) All of this was outside and all of this was accessible by pizza-delivery guys. They’d usually park in front of the building, walk up the stairs, take a left and GO UNDER THE SECOND FLOOR LANDING and head to the callbox to phone the correct room.

At that second-floor landing is where we placed that garbage bin. It was the perfect trap. Just as he turned left to head to the callbox he’d be smashed with a freezing waterfall and then the water balloons would come out as he retreated soaking wet to his car. “How funny will it be?” Tyler snickered. “Good old delivery man will return to Hungry Howie’s soaking wet to tell his manager that the boys at Smith Hall got him back for not fixing that crummy pizza order!”

It was just way too funny to him but we all went along with it because we were stupid dumb idiots who thought ‘why the fuck not?’

More about this guy Tyler who I knew for just a few months.  

Tyler and I did not get along as roommates. We eventually got into a huge fight a few weeks after the pizza incident because he decided to move two rooms down the hall yet REFUSED to relinquish the key to what was now my room. So for two or three days, Tyler was back and forth between two dorm rooms. I couldn’t tell if he was still moving out or exactly where he’d be. Coming into my room to get his laundry, or hanging out two rooms away in his new room, or coming in to grab shaving cream. I couldn’t figure out exactly what the fuck was going on except that Tyler basically had two dorm rooms: his regular room and a storage closet where I happened to live. I was having it no more! I remember Matt (my good friend Matt who I bonded with almost instantly) sitting in my room during my final confrontation with Tyler. Matt’s presence was an act of support meant to show Tyler that the people of Smith Hall were on my side. It was a gesture I never really thanked Matt for but have appreciated ever since.

“Tyler, you moved out,” I said. “It’s time to turn over the key.”

Matt say on the recliner across the room, listening quietly. Of course Tyler got pretty pissy about my demand for the keys. “I’m still moving my stuff out! Why you getting so pissy?”

“Because you have two fucking rooms. So pick one and stay there. If you don’t live here, you can’t have a key.” He threw a fit about it or acted like I was unreasonable, I don’t exactly remember. But I do remember earlier that day taking what remained of his stuff, which I believe amounted to one laundry basket with a pile of unwashed clothes, and placing it in the hall where it sat for several hours.

Well, you see I wasn’t Tyler’s only enemy. Someone else who lived in that dorm saw Tyler’s stuff in the hallway and spat and big glob of chew onto those dirty clothes. And tried to make it as obvious as possible that it was no accident. Tyler was livid!

“Someone spat tobacco juice all over my fucking clothes that YOU put in the hallway!” he yelled at me.

“Then maybe you should have put them in YOUR room!”

Tyler was obviously blaming me for the unnamed citizen who heroically spat chew on his clothes. But hey, it happened in the hallway so it was out of my jurisdiction and Tyler knew it. In a bout of frustrated defeat, Tyler yanked the dorm room key off his keychain and threw it at me before storming out of the room. I now had a room to myself for the rest of the year and an extra key. Matt rolled his eyes, shook his head. But Tyler was gone. He would drop out of college a few weeks later.    

I tell you this not because I need to show that Tyler was eventually bested, though I guess that’s part of it. Nor to show that he was a bad person, because he wasn’t. This only illustrates that Tyler, while a central person in this story, was not a hero doing a heroic deed. But that he was just a young kid trying to find his place and fit in. It was just weeks into our freshman year. None of us even really knew each other. We were just four or five kids who, through coincidence and proximity, found ourselves engaging in an act that would (while stupid) somehow make us closer and provide a sense of belonging and inclusion that any young kid away from home would want.  

I wasn’t doing this to get back at Hungry Howie’s. None of us were. We were doing this because we thought we would make friends. I think that, deep down, the other boys in the group probably felt the same.

Back to Operation Pizza Guy.

We fucked it up. Not even close to what we planned.

Tyler called Hungry Howie’s and ordered another pizza, but that was about the only thing we got right. Then we all got into position. I was on lookout, right at the top of the stairs that pizza guy would climb after he parked. I would be able to see him coming and then signal up to Tyler and Matt, who were ready to tip the garbage bin from the second floor landing. Around the far corner of the building, beyond the callbox, Aaron and the rest of the gang were armed with a bucket of water balloons. I also had a small armory of water balloons that I could fire from my spot once the guy made it back to his car.

We were all set for an onslaught of water and adolescent revenge. So we waited.

And waited. And eventually a tiny red Ford Escort rolled into the lot and parked in place just before the stairs. Just as planned. I don’t know why the rest went so wrong. Maybe we weren’t watching for the pizza guy and just weren’t ready. Maybe he moved too fast. But when he arrived, he didn’t even go to the callbox. He was unfamiliar with the setup of our dorm rooms and wasn’t sure where to bring the pizza. I remember him wandering this way and that. Didn’t he know he was supposed to just walk under the landing and go to the callbox? Then everything would work out as planned!

But no, he didn’t. I think he may have knocked on a completely different door. And he did eventually walk under the landing, the big water bin was heavier than expected and it took the guys too long to turn it on its side. Water came crashing down, but pizza guy had long since cleared the landing and was already on the other side. In fact, the water dumpage was such a colossal miss that when the water crashed down and splashed onto the pavement, I don’t think he even noticed.

He eventually found the callbox and rang our room, but there was nobody there to pick up. Sensing something was amiss, the pizza guy turned around and walked away, probably hearing our frustrated whispering to each other as we tried to salvage the operation.

Our water balloon men were grossly out of position. I personally didn’t fire a single shot. The guy eventually made his way back to his car, set the pizza in the front seat, got in and started to drive away. Aaron ran out to the parking lot and launched a single water balloon as he drove away, only to see the balloon splatter uselessly onto the pavement behind the escaping car.

I was appalled. One water balloon? That splashed uselessly in the parking lot, probably unnoticed. It was like waiting for a hurricane only to get 10 minutes of cloudy skies. Frustrated and disappointed, we regrouped back in the dorm room and debriefed our miserable failure.

“We weren’t ready, we just have to time it better next time.” One person said.

“We need a backup plan in case he takes a different route to the door,” said someone else.

We had different ideas for our specific tactics but we all agreed we were going to try it again and get it right this time.  Tyler picked up the phone and called Hungry Howie’s.

“I’d like to order a small cheese pizza please,” he said while we all watched. “Smith Hall,” he said. Holding the phone at his ear, Tyler squinted at what he heard. “What do you mean you’re not doing anymore deliveries to Smith Hall?” He listened for a moment then said, “Well then fuck you!” and hung up.

“What did he say?” we all wondered.

Tyler sighed. “He said they’re not delivering pizzas to Smith Hall anymore today because that last driver mentioned some complaints about…water?”

We were crushed. No more pizza deliveries today? What were we going to do? We had our second strike all planned out. The failure of the first would only make the second more precise. We knew what to expect now. We had this shit DOWN, and now Hungry Howie’s was pulling out of the operation and messing up all our plans. We had so many water balloons left over. And an weapon unused is a useless weapon.

We all sat there dumbfounded and disappointed.

“What do we do now?”

“Easy,” Tyler said as he reached for the phone book. “We order from Domino’s.”

We looked at each other. We nodded. It was on.

To be continued…


The Tragedy of Hungry Howie’s – Part I

June 9, 2018

Hungry-Howies_company_full.jpgThis is probably the worst thing you could ever do to a pizza guy. In fact, it might be the worst thing I’ve ever done to a person. And looking back, in the grand scheme of all the horrible things that have happened in the world, it’s not like I started a dumb, pointless war, or went on a 5-state killing spree. Not yet. But I still feel pretty bad about this one, I really do. No, it’s not a war or a murder or even a crime. I mean, I guess one could argue that there were a few petty violations of the law, even a case for assault, and most definitely an example of civil disobedience but at the time, I placed it in the category called Typical Crap That College Kids Find Themselves Doing on a Boring Sunday Afternoon When They Should Be Doing Homework But Are Slackers Instead.

You may know the category I speak of, or one like it. There is a similar category for working-world adults called Typical Crap Adults Find Themselves Doing on a Boring Tuesday When They Should Be Working But Are Bored. These things might be playing games on your phone, going for a walk, surfing the web, or staring blankly out the window.

Sure, there is always better shit to do, but on that particular Sunday a certain situation presented itself and we took full advantage, amusing ourselves to no end.

And here I am in my early 40’s still thinking about what our boredom meant for that poor pizza guy with the bushy brown hair and pizza-delivery-man jacket. I honestly can’t remember much else about him other than his hair and jacket, but what I do remember is that there were two pizza places that delivered to our dorm Smith Hall at Stetson University in Florida. National chain Domino’s Pizza and small local player Hungry Howie’s. Having multiple pizza options will be important later in the story.

Allow me to set the stage. I was a freshman at that small university in Central Florida and it was early in the first semester, September or October I believe. I can pinpoint the time because my roommate Tyler was a key player in this story, and he lasted all of two months before dropping out and doing whatever life called him to do at that moment. So I know it happened within those first couple of months. Anyway, it was Sunday, we were bored and hungry, so we ordered a pizza from Hungry Howie’s. Hungry Howie’s because they were close to the college and gave poor college kids a deal. It was like $8 for two pizzas or something. Plus $2 for tip. A couple college kids could usually scrounge up $10 for two pizzas so it was a good deal.

I don’t remember if the pizzas were just for Tyler and me, or if our neighbors in the next dorm room were in on the deal, but there are two important things here: 1) several college guys were involved and 2) Hungry Howie’s screwed up our order. But what did we do? We ate the pizza anyway and once we were finished with all of it, only then did Tyler call to complain. Who is so bored to call and complain about a pizza after eating the pizza? Couldn’t we have just played video games or put on some TV? Well, no because none of us had a video game system and what kind of TV was worth watching on Sunday afternoon before Netflix?

I distinctly remember not being behind this complaint call to Hungry Howie’s. It was completely Tyler’s idea but did I try and stop him? Well, no because I thought it was pointless and wouldn’t lead to anything. Boy was I wrong! As expected, the manager told us to bring back the pizzas and he would give us a refund, and as expected Tyler, the smart man that he was that day, told the manager we had already eaten the pizzas. So of course the manager said “Too bad, hope you enjoyed the pizza, go away.” Of course there would be no refund! It was obvious. Time to move on.

But what happened next took my Sunday on a twist that I never expected, and on a course that quickly got out of hand. Tyler declared war on Hungry Howie’s. You have to know a few things about Tyler. You see, Tyler felt easily slighted and personally offended over the smallest things. His father was a doctor who lived in a big mansion near the campus and many of us wondered why Tyler would ever move away from there to live in the dorms just two blocks away. Tyler answered, “Dorm life’s cool!”

And he declared this during the first week of school, which made me wonder how a college freshman of one-week with no older sibling could know anything about dorm life? Tyler was just that kind of a character. I remember he called me over the summer before school started, at my home in Minnesota before we ever met, after our roommate assignments had been handed out. He saw I would be his roommate so he decided to call and get to know me first. A friendly and thoughtful gesture. I remember on that phone call he told me, “We need to have a fridge in our dorm room. We need to keep the beer cold, right?”

So I bought a fridge and brought it to the room, proudly showing it to Tyler on Day One to declare, “To keep the beer cold!” But Tyler surprised me by dismissing the gesture with a casual, “Oh, I don’t drink.”

“Huh?” I remember thinking. Why hype up a beer-fridge if you don’t even drink? Are you just trying to fit in? I knew from Day One that Tyler was a bullshit artist. But what could I do but enjoy my fridge (I still own that fridge and almost 25 years years later, it’s still in perfect operation). So Tyler would just say shit and do shit, because he had nothing better to say or do. In just a few short months, Tyler would disappear from my life forever but my memory of him is based almost entirely around that war he started against Hungry Howie’s discount pizza joint in DeLand, Florida…

To be continued….

Mark McGinty‘s work has appeared in Maybourne Magazine, Montage Magazine, Minneapolis Running and Yahoo! Entertainment. His novel The Cigar Maker won a Bronze Medal at the 2011 Independent Publisher Book Awards. Mark lives in Minneapolis with his wife and daughter.