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
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
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
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