Race Report by John Pendergrass

Mississippi Trails Run – The True Story

By John Pendergrass 

I was quite fortunate to participate in the recent Mississippi Trails 50K Run.  I was especially lucky to have the guidance and support of two of the area’s top ultra runners:  Elmer “Walking Bear” Beardshall and Howard “Mr. Ultra” Thompson.  These two ultraists have run up mountains, crossed raging rivers, fought the elements, and distinguished themselves in ultra races all over the country.  They generously agreed to give me advice and counsel on all aspects of ultra running.   Under their direction, I knew I would do well. 

Another novice runner, Tony “Judge” Mozingo was scheduled to join us but had to cancel at the last moment.  Mozingo was out promoting his new book, How I completed in the Hawaiian Ironman Triathlon and Talked About Nothing Else for Six Months Straight

The evening before the run, most of the competitors gathered in Laurel for a delicious pasta supper.  Many of the ultraists wore jackets or shirts attesting to 50 miles here or 100 miles there.  They were a very nice crowd although many of them were a little on the thin side.  One of the ultraists told me he’d rather run than eat.  “It’s a purer form of pleasure”, he revealed.  Another ultraist confided to me that he never records any run in his logbook unless it’s 20 miles or more.  “It’s just not worth it,” he said.

  I was a little intimidated by the whole experience, but Walking Bear helped lift my spirits.  He spoke glowingly of the ultra experience.  Several times he referred to it as an “odyssey of personal fulfillment.”  He made the whole thing sound just like a Mel Gibson movie.  I overheard Walking Bear telling one of the female ultraists that he had once met Smokey the Bear and that this inspired him to adopt his current nickname. 

Steve “Boss” DeReamer, the race director, recognized Walking Bear for his outstanding race web site.  Most of the audience knew that his wife Ann “Mrs. Walking Bear,” was the brainpower behind the project. 

The course consisted of two loops of 12.5 miles each followed by a 6-mile loop.  Before the race I got some solid advice from Walking Bear and Mr. Ultra on how to tackle the 50-kilometer distance.  “You go out at your 5kilometer pace and the slow down 10 seconds each mile,” said Walking Bear.  “Don’t drink or eat anything the first two laps,” added Mr. Ultra, “it’ll hurt you going up the hills.” 

As I was walking around just before the race start, I noticed that Walking Bear appeared to have strapped his wife’s purse to his waist.  “Hey Elmer,” I asked, “What that’s around your waist?”  “That’s my Danny Pack,” he replied.  “All of us ultra big shots wear them.”  Hmm, I glanced around and sure enough most of the ultraists had a Danny Pack.  Walking Bear and Mr. Ultra let me rummage through their Danny Packs and both were carrying the same identical items:  a couple of bottles of Gatorade, some Powerbars, Vaseline, a pint of Geritol, deodorant, a hairbrush, and an AARP membership card.  I made a mental note to be sure and get a Danny Pack.

 “As the sun rose over the Kona coastline, I knew that thousands of my fans would be following my every action.  After months of appearing on television, being featured by the newspapers, sending out numerous emails, speaking to church groups, and visiting civic club, everyone in South Mississippi knows that I will be competing in the Ironman triathlon.  That Hawaiian sun is shining on me, the Judge.  Finally, I am going to be somebody important. [Editor’s Note:  Sorry this excerpt from Mozingo’s book was inadvertently included in this report.]

The starting gun fired and we were off.  At mile one I was near the front of the pack.  The trees were whizzing by and I was thinking.  Walking Bear is right – this ultra running is a lot of fun.  I came to the first aid station where a worker was handing out cups of water and Gatorade.  “None for me,” I yelled as I cruised by, “You’re not slowing me down:  Maybe I should sell my bike and concentrate on ultra running.  I obviously have the talent for this great odyssey. 

As I ran along the forest paths experiencing the splendors of nature, I thought of my friend Sonny “Bo” Jarrell.  Bo was Al Gore’s state campaign manager in 2000 and the two men have remained in close contact over the years.  Both share a real knowledge and love of the environment.  “Every one of these trees is a living organism that we are responsible for:" Bo often told me.  “Every blade of grass, every piece of dirt is a sacred part of our planet with its own soul.  We have a profound and genuine obligation to reach out and nurture the environment.:  That’s some heavy-weight advice.  Before I met Bo Jarrell, I thought environmentalism only meant recycling your beer cans.  I stopped, reached down and picked up a clod of dirt, but I could see the clod staring back at me so I quickly replaced it. 

By this time I was nearing the six-mile mark and beginning to get tired.  My throat was dry and my legs were hurting.  The wisdom of Gore and Jarrell, two of the most intelligent men who have ever lived, help keep my mind off my growing discomfort.  I remembered Mr. Ultra’s advice and never stopped at an aid station.  Finally, I was through the first loop.  Over 18 miles to go, I was beginning to have second thoughts about this ultra running. 

This Ironman triathlon is a lot tougher than I imagined.  It’ll be worth it when I finish.  Maybe the triathlon big boys – Barnes, Beckett, Phillips, Villalonga – will invite me to go with them to some of the out-of-town races.  The only person who includes me now is Pendergrass and I just hate going with him.  Whenever we go to a restaurant, the waitresses are so interested in him and they just ignore me.  I think Pendergrass must leave a big tip.  [Editor’s Note:  another excerpt from Judge Mozingo’s book]

On the second 12.5 mile loop things began to really slow down.  Mr. Ultra hadn’t told me what to do at this stage of the race so I plugged along.  I would get passed by an old runner and a little later on an even older runner would shuffle by.  All of the ultraists were very encouraging, to me to “keep it up, you’re looking good.”  They all seemed to be having a good time. 

Somewhere in the second loop Mr. Ultra came by.  I was drenched in sweat but he looked fresh, dry, and crisp with perfect form.  “You’re getting the hang of it, John: he chuckled and kept going.  Not long after that Walking Bear passed me.  “I told you these ultras are fun, he cried out, “maybe you’ll do better next year.” 

Needless to say I was very discouraged by the time I stumbled to the end of the second loop.  I was near collapse and didn’t know if I’d be able to get in my car, much less cover the final six miles.  I was about to quit when I happened to glance at a large oak tree at the edge of the trail.  At the base of that ancient tree were two Danny Packs, one gold in color, the other silver.  I picked up the golden one and felt its energy.  “Whose is this, “ I asked Boss DeReamer.  “That belongs to Mr. Ultra,” he replied “He took it off at the end of the second loop to sign autographs for some of his fans.  He must have forgotten it.”  I picked up the golden pack and strapped it around my hips.  “Take the silver one too,” Boss told me.  “It belongs to Walking Bear.  He took it off when he was adjusting his support hose.  The doctor makes him wear those thick stockings because he has bad veins in his legs.”  I quickly affixed the silver one, just above the gold one. 

As I staggered off for a painful attempt at the final six miles, I took a swig of Geritol from the golden Danny Pack and then an even bigger gulp from the silver one.  In a few minutes my legs felt lighter, the fatigue was leaving.  My heart rate dropped and my breathing slowed.  I started to pick up the pace  - 26, 27, 28 – the miles passed quickly.  Around mile 29, I came upon Walking Bear lying at the side of the trail, nearly in tears.  “Come on Elmer, it’s just a couple of miles” I said encouragingly, “You can walk that far.”  :I’m totally broken down,” he replied.  “I can’t even walk.  Ann has been talking about putting me in the nursing home.  This will probably be the final straw.”  Walking Bear was clearly a man whose time had come and gone.  I reached down and picked him up and slung him over my right shoulder.  I took off along the trail, my pace only slightly reduced. 

Near mile 30 an even bigger shock awaited me.  There with his back against a pine tree, head down in dejection was Mr. Ultra.  “Mr. Ultra, you’re the man.”  I yelled, “let’s go”  “John, I’m a race horse who has seen his better days, He replied.  “I just can’t move.” 

By this time I was getting annoyed with these ultraists.  One moment they’re having fun, the next moment they’re moaning and groaning.  I grabbed Mr. Ultra and slung him over my left shoulder and started to cover the final mile.  What a contrast in carrying the two ultraists.  Mr. Ultra was like a piece of steel.  Weight lifting since 2 ½ had enabled him to turn his torso into chiseled stone.  Walking Bear, on the other hand, was flabby and stringy, sort of like the carcass of an old buzzard.  With this uneven load I was only able to go another half mile or so.  In disgust, I dumped the pair of ultraists at the side of the trail and trotted to the finish line.   

I was enjoying post race refreshments when Mr. Ultra wandered in.  He pulled me aside told me the secret password.  Walking Bear arrived a little later and showed me the secret handshake.  These are know only to runner who have completed an ultramarathon and I regret that I am unable to reveal them to you, the reader. 

This Mississippi Trails Run is history.  A lot of water has passed under the bridge since that fateful day in the remote wilderness of South Mississippi.  Walking Bear continues to battle the vicissitudes of old age and remains barely a half-step in front of the Grim Reaper.  Mr. Ultra has doubled the amount of weight he lifts and will soon be leaving for California to serve as personal assistant to Arnold Schwarzneggar. Judge Mozingo still talks incessantly about the Ironman triathlon.  He has reportedly found a beautiful young woman who is enraptured with the tales of his Hawaiian adventure.  Bo Jarrell, Al Gore, and Mother Nature maintain an ongoing, torrid ménage a trois. 

And me, I learned a lot about life that bitter March day.  I learned about Honor, Courage, Perseverance, Determination – all virtues I have been fortunate to possess.  All these things are important.  Yet the biggest lesson is this – Don’t Leave Home Without Your Danny Pack.