"Where's My T-shirt" by Dan Davis (Easley, SC July 13, 1996)
We arrived at Kidd Brewer Stadium on the campus of Appalachian State University in Boone, N.C. on Friday afternoon. Packet pickup was the usual process except I noticed there just were not many other runners showing up. Surely, thousands would be pouring in for this "beautiful scenic run". All else was going well until one of the race officials was overheard saying, "go look outside at the track around the football field now, it’s the only flat part of the course"! He must be kidding I thought.
Where was my T-shirt I asked? Oh, you can’t get that until after you finish, was the reply. If you show up at the finish after 5 hours – sorry, no T-shirt. I had never heard of such a thing. No problem though – it’s just 26.2 miles uphill – piece of cake! Confidently, I leave for the nights lodging.
Early, early, early, the next morning I crawl out of bed to awaken my son Mark, daughter Kellie, and her friend Gretchen. What a support group, the "A Team". I had it made. Let’s go get my darn T-shirt.
Arriving back at App State I noticed about 250 runners were gathering around the track and they all had that same look on their faces – what the h--- am I doing here, this early in the morning, about to run 26.2 miles to the top of Grandfather Mountain? There must be some strange reason so few people run this thing in the middle of the summer.
We’re off! Around the track we go and out through town – just getting loosened up and feeling great. All of a sudden we take a right turn on this road going strength uphill and there’s no darn pavement! A dirt road in a Marathon? What the heck is this? Oh well, if the others can do it, so can I (tough guy you know).
Up the road a ways I spot Karen, one of the nicest ladies in the Greenville Track Club. I’ll just chat for a minute and be on my way. We exchange greetings and talk about what fun we’re having. Being the gentleman that I am, I decided to let her go ahead of me – ladies first, you know. I’d have someone to "set the pace" (that’s the last time I saw Karen).
Only a few more minutes ‘til the first water stop at 5 miles – the "A Team" would be waiting with cold Gatorade and I was ready for it. Just around the turn I saw what came to be the first of many "friendly gatherings" that would occur about every 4 miles up the mountain. Other runners had brought along their support groups as well. Little kids screaming "Gatorade or water", music blasting from cars, high-fives were frequent from total strangers – what a scene it was! There the "A Team" refueled me and I was on my way again.
Mile 8 – the "Coat Man". This you will not believe! At first I thought a local drunk had staggered onto the course, or worse yet, mental fatigue was really setting in early. Here was a guy running, dressed in a long sleeve denim jacket with little ribbon streamers attached to each shoulder, long pants, hard sole leather shoes, and check this, carrying a pizza box! The "A Team" actually interviewed this guy on video for proof of his existence. Said he was a famous Marathon runner. I spoke as I passed and suddenly found a burst of energy to quickly send me faster up the hill! Could this be what happens to people that run too many of these things I thought.
By 14 miles I was really tiring and was in no mood for jokes. "Take a right and go up this dirt road", said the race official. Not again! Surely this couldn’t be happening at this point in a Marathon! Here I was, running (loose term) up this mountain on another dirt road. I’ll just take advantage of being in the woods I thought. By this time I had followed my training advise of drink, drink, drink. My eye's hurt I had drank so much Gatorade. A quick dart to the bushes proved to be the scare of my life! A rustling in the brush revealed a "furry headed animal" of some sort. All I could think about was the TV commercial with the guy who has a sack of hamburgers trying desperately to make friends with a bear and I had no hamburgers! Fortunately, the animal turned out to be some farmer’s stray cow. After he had scared out of me what I had stopped for in the first place, I was on my way for the final leg of the race.
The wall is real! Mile 22 and I hurt! It is all I can do to put on little foot in front of the other. At this point the hills get worse! The only thing that saves me is the thought of that dang T-shirt and this strange music I begin to hear. Bagpipes? Naw, can’t be. Yep – sure is. The most beautiful sound I’ll ever hear. The closer I got to the top, the louder the music got. Thousands of people are gathered around the track on top of Grandfather Mountain for the Scottish Highland Games and the finish of the Marathon. A surge of adrenaline came from somewhere. I enter the stadium a changed man! Proudly, I circle the track headed for the finish line. Suddenly I hear over the loud speakers, "if you’re not a participant in the events, please leave the infield now"! Who in the world are they talking to? It couldn’t be …..sure enough, there they were. The "A Team" was on the side of the track, high-fiving me as I came around the curve. The ringleader (Mark) was poised at the finish line with video camera in hand ready to capture the big moment!
Finish! What a feeling! The "A Team" and I rejoice a few minutes and then I politely explain to the event official that I, Danny O’Davis, am deeply sorry for my over zealous support group. We are aloud to quickly exit the track and head towards the Marathon tent to finally get that precious T-shirt!
Next stop – St. George Marathon – St. George, Utah. It’s just 26.2 miles and all the way down hill baby! Piece of cake, right?