Saturday, March 12, 2011

Grit and Greatness

Shaun Pope was gone before I got there, but then again so was everyone else.

Getting to the start of the Green Jewel 50 km run had been challenging. And missing the start, even by a few seconds, added to the nightmarish quality of my morning, which included wind, cold rain, a malfunctioning Garmin, a missed bus, and a reported zombie sighting.

There really shouldn’t have been any reason for me to have been late for anything. I knew every inch of this course. I had literally grown up here. My earliest steps as a runner were along this very path 34 years ago and I had returned to this place so many times since then that I know the route as well as I have known any place. The starting line is located in a location now known as “Scenic Park” but old-timers still call this place by its former name…”Eddie’s Boat Dock”. This is hallowed ground for me. This is the place where Mac Tar and his buddies met for Saturday morning time trials. It was also the site of the CWRRC 30 km run; a viciously competitive race in the days before Ohio had a fall marathon. Everyone seemed to race so hard back then. I recall once seeing my father standing in a restroom located yards from the starting line of today’s race pissing blood following the 30K. The lost blood was later replaced with beer in celebration of his new personal record.

I couldn’t quite pull it together on this race morning. One moment I was leaning against the race director’s truck, removing my sweatpants and listening to him give final pre-race instructions and the next instant I was bobbling around, frantically trying to get my shoe un-jammed from my sweats, and watching the field head off for Brecksville without me. In hindsight the missed start really wasn’t any big deal. It only cost me a few seconds and honestly, in a 50 kilometer race spanning 1/2 of the Cleveland Metroparks, what would they matter? I dislodged my shoe, tried not to get bothered by the fact that my GPS wouldn’t start, tossed the torn sweatpants into the back of the truck (because it was closer than a trashcan) and threw an unimpressive surge to pass the thickest part of the pack prior to entering the narrow bike path.

As I passed the group I took a quick look around for Art Moore. I didn’t see him. If Art was really running today, as was rumored, he was surely the most legendary runner in the field. Running with a living legend is a boon to karma. Still though, as I headed into the 43 degree rain and gusty headwind I hoped that this time…just this one time…the great man had awakened, looked out the window and rolled over to return to sleep. Perhaps he would rise in a couple of hours and take his lovely wife of fifty years, Edina, to breakfast. Maybe for once he would read the Saturday Plain Dealer by the fireplace and leave the battle to others. This would be a tough day to run quickly but a dangerous day to run slowly.

I shouldn’t have wondered, or worried.

Art awoke on race morning and did what he has done on nearly all mornings for most of his 73 years; he put on his running shoes. Today he planned to run from one end of his domain to the other with the community that he started so long ago. The newest runners in the race couldn’t have known that the man unassumingly walking away from the start, holding a bottle of chocolate milk in one hand and an umbrella in the other, was indeed planning to be in Brecksville by the day’s end. They also might not have known that there was no runner in the field who was a surer bet to make it; this would be his 590th race of marathon distance or longer. But what they really couldn’t have realized were the ways in which Art changed the way we run and how we approach our sport. As incongruous as it may sound Art is probably one of the reasons why 22 year old Ultra-star Shaun Pope decided to throw a smile and a wave to the wet and chilly souls at the 4.9 mile aid station as he cruised in…and out again…leading the race at 6 minute per mile pace.

The early miles of the race flew by so quickly and with so few non-labored breaths that they really don’t need a description. Someone told me once that I occasionally write something that makes them feel like they are running along with me. They said that they can experience the run through the writing. In this case, gentle reader (you know who you are) please go stand in a freezing shower and hold your breath until it becomes painful. You will get the idea! During the early miles I listened to Kevin Landis tell a great pizza delivery story, stared at Brad Polman’s back, and tried to use my blunt/blind faith/denial strategy to keep moving forward. I also daydreamed. It was easy. After all, this course passed the sledding hill where my brother Steve learned that the cold-feet–relief that comes from pouring hot chocolate into your boots is a temporary and fickle thing with a price to pay when it, like everything exposed to 10 degree air, freezes. It passed the spot where Steve and I raced across a semi–frozen lake, fragile ice popping with each step, to escape an angry motorist whose car we hit with snowballs. It passes the old haunts of Walking Willy, a local character who put in more foot-miles than I ever have, and toboggan chutes where my 14 year old friends and I set the all-time record for descents. It passed so many memorable places; so many of the things that make me who I am. This might be a reader’s last chance to escape before I go into full-on reminiscence mode…

I was, for a while, a scout. I never made it to any level of scouting higher than the rank of “cub”, partially because I didn’t have the right stuff and partially because I could not, and still cannot, spell Webalow. The Trailside Interpretive Center marks the 10 mile point on the Green Jewel course and was the site of one of my greatest scouting memories. I was a member of Den 5. We were a troubled Den, never holding our own in the athletic competitions that were a part of our monthly pack meetings. Den 2 always won those. The reason we never won was because we were somewhat un-athletic and also terribly unruly. There wasn’t any such diagnosis as attention deficit disorder back then but I can tell you with perfect certainty that every single one of us would have been diagnosed with it today. Den 5 meetings always began with everyone chasing a boy named Dillon around and helping the den mother(s) to give him his “nerve medicine”. The meetings usually kinda went downhill from there. Sure there was the occasional success story: we made some ashtrays from clay and Christmas ornaments from coffee can lids and glitter. But mostly meetings were a time for yelling and learning new swear words from our den mother(s). We went through five den mothers in two years and there was talk of disbanding den five and spreading us, like refugees, among the more successful dens. That’s when my Dad stepped in…and became our den mother. Our actual mothers were either too busy, too afraid, or had already failed the assignment. Even though I earned a few ass-kickings on our school playground because of his new role, my father was the greatest den mother ever. No more crafts. Instead we played baseball, went on a tour of the nut and bolt factory where he worked, and went for hikes in the woods. He didn’t give a shit about earning badges and he taught us that we shouldn’t either. We had a blast! And I recall the greatest moment of all came on one beautiful fall day when we took advantage of Dad’s inattention during a smoke break and took off to the top of the cliffs at the Interpretive center…inches away from plummeting to our death. I still smile when I think of Dad looking up at us clambering toward heaven. I can still hear him yelling “Get down owathere!” I tried to forget the fact that we were running wayyyy too fast and had wayyy too long yet to run and escaped into the memories in the order in which they presented themselves.

Next on the memory parade was the Berea Lagoons. The Lagoons were the backdrop of our high school home cross country course and also the site of my unsuccessful attempts to kiss several girls. I remember very clearly a race in 1981 in which Rick Bechtel and I spent 2.4 miles of a 2.5 mile race trying to kill each other, until he simply destroyed my with his kick in the last 0.1 mile. I can still see him, in his Fairview Park/red-and-white-pinstripe jersey (It was the 80’s) running away from me, all foggy looking due to the cerebral anoxia he laid on me. Rick and I still race and the result is usually about the same. In fact he was running the Green Jewel this year and, despite my overly fast pace, was so far ahead of me that I could not even see him. Some things never seem to change.

By the time Art made it to the Trailside Interpretive Center Aid Station at 10 miles the temperature was still in the 40’s and was now accompanied by a steadily increasing headwind that would rake the entire length of this point-to point course. Ten miles ahead, one of the frontrunners, chilled to the bone, called it a day and climbed into a friend’s car. Today’s race, Art conceded, was going to be all about forward motion and avoiding hypothermia. He purposefully slowed his pace, zipped his windbreaker to his chin, and added increasingly frequent walking breaks ...Art earned his Ph.D. in Chemical Engineering from Imperial College at the University of London prior to moving to Cleveland in 1966 where he worked in research for Union Carbide and raised three children with Edina. His jogging hobby grew into a passion that eventually brought him to the finish line of 38 races of 100 or more miles in length.

The land-bridge separating Wallace Lake and Baldwin Lake in Berea is currently famous for being the half-way point of the Green Jewel 50K. Before it was the halfway point of this race it was the site of the Strongsville Invitational, a massively important high school cross country meet back in my school days. My senior year I placed 63rd. If Rick Bechtel had overslept that morning I would have finished 62nd. Alas…

Anyhow, before it was the site of the Strongsville Invitational it was the place where Dad taught my brother Steve and I to swim. And before that it was the site of the Berea Sandstone Quarries. At one time Berea produced more sandstone than any other place on earth. Many buildings and bridges in New York City and Chicago, as well as most of the old buildings in Cleveland were built from Berea Sandstone. Next time you run the fender of your car into one of those CCC era parking barriers at Kendall Lake in the Cuyahoga Valley National Park you can know that your car has been the victim of a brush with…you guessed it…Berea sandstone! I was told by a high school history teacher that the base of the Eiffel tower was made of Berea sandstone but I dunno. What I do know is that James Wallace became very rich and famous as a result of these quarries. He later partnered with a previously failed academic, John Baldwin, and founded Baldwin-Wallace College. Major cities received building materials from this place, Berea was left with two beautiful lakes, Wallace made a fortune, Baldwin finally got his college, and I got some swim lessons. But the workers that mined the stone from these quarries were woefully underpaid. Conditions were abhorrent and the stone pits operated all year-round regardless of weather. Some of the cutters died in rock slides or explosions, others from pneumonia, and many of them succumbed to grit consumption. The workers would, over the years, consume particulate matter from the stone into their lungs where it would form into cysts and collect fluid, effectively drowning them. These men received absolutely no health care or compensation for this. There was an island in Coe Lake (Berea’s third quarry) where a base of a building used in the quarries still stood. My brother and I used to swim out to the Island on occasion. Our town’s official history was entitled “Men of Grit and Greatness” to commemorate the stone cutters.

We aren’t the toughest breed who have trodden this path. Not by a long shot.

After Art waded through shin-deep water at the Eastland Fjord and then passed Pearl Road at mile 17, the winds were whipping; runners unprotected for the moment as the valley floor began to rise. A couple walking their dog exchanged greetings with the older gentleman wearing a number. He appeared to be in some sort of race. But if that was the case, where were the other runners?...I was always amazed at Art’s ability to cover great distances with remarkable efficiency. In fact I used to kid with myself that Art reminded me of a zombie. It is a universal fact in Zombie lore, and demonstrated in all zombie movies, that if you are running from a zombie, you will always fail to get away. It mattered little that the person in the movie can fly along in a full sprint while to zombie moved at a slow lurching walk. Upon turning around the victim always found that the zombie was immediately on their tail. Art had the same effect. I would zip past Art and run and run and run for 30 or 45 minutes, only to turn around and find the legend 20 yards behind me…and WALKING! Art always said that the secret to ultra running was relentless forward progress.

Between Berea and Strongsville the course passes the former site of Roehm Junior High School’s home cross country course. It also passes the exact spot where coach Joe Ferlin made us stop on our first ever run so that he could tell us jokes. Coach Ferlin believed in us and taught us to believe in ourselves. I can recall no unpleasant experiences from Jr. High cross country. There was never a tense moment. Mr. Ferlin taught us that running should be fun. And it has been for 34 years. Thanks coach! His teams went six straight years without a single loss. Surely there is a lesson in there somewhere for the pressure mongers who seem to run youth sports today.

As Shaun Pope crested the big hill going into the final aid station at 24.5 miles he, rather unexpectedly, had a challenge on his hands. Another runner was trailing him by just 45 seconds with 6.5 miles of challenging roads remaining before the finish. Despite this stressor Shaun did what we do in our sport in this region; he smiled and tossed a lighthearted comment and a word of thanks to the frozen aid station workers.

Then he dropped it two gears and, literally and figuratively, headed for the hills.

About the time that Shaun was rolling into the finish in a course record time of 3:32 Art was making his way from Berea into Strongsville, far behind the other runners and bit behind the cutoff times for the aid stations… Arthur Moore was born in Newfoundland in 1938. He helped to organize, and competed in, the first Mohican 100 Mile Trail run in 1990 and was the second man to earn the 1000 mile buckle. He finished the race ten times in ten attempts and missed only once, to attend his daughter’s wedding. Art would warm up for each of these finishes by completing the mountainous Laurel Highlands 70 mile run the WEEKEND BEFORE Mohican. One year he completed the Laurel Highlands course and then turned around and ran back to the starting line again; a distance of 140 miles.

Heading toward Brecksville I took a downward glance at my poor old pink legs. Honestly, there are times when I wonder how they could still be turning over after all of these years. God, I love this sport and I am thankful for what the sport has made me. I’m also thankful for the hard times that it has seen me through. I took a look at my watch and realized that, against all odds, today would be a good one. And at 46 years of age I take the time to appreciate the good ones. I realize that a day will come when I won’t set any more personal records but today it looked like I would get one. And when a PR is on the line I can push very very hard, and so I did.

Heidi Finniff appeared from the gloom at mile 18 and handed Art a bottle of Coke and went on to the Stuhr Woods aid station to inform them that he was still in the race and ask them to keep the aid station open a while longer. They were happy to do so…Go to any ultra marathon anywhere in the United States and mention Art’s name, you will almost certainly find that he has friends in the field. Go to the finisher’s history of nearly any major 100 mile trail race, and you will find his name. Art claims that he has found joy in the act of running and friends in the people he has grown close to on the roads and trails. He also claims that after he achieves his 600th race he will slow down (then again he said that about the 500th). He recently joined a walking club with Edina and states that he has no wish to overstay his time in the sport like (to use Art’s words) “A fighter who has stayed in the ring too long”.

Brecksville! It was good to be arriving!! Unfortunately my only running memory from Brecksville is a shameful one. I was a sophomore in high school and we had a cross country meet against their local high school. In the race I found myself behind Ann Henderson. Ann was State champion in both cross country and track and she was much faster than me. As she was pulling away I imagined the ribbing I would get from my 15 year old friends about getting beat by a girl…then she took a wrong turn…and I let her go without correcting her. I told you it was a disgraceful story! Hey, I never claimed to be St. Francis.

A friend handed Art a 16-ounce bottle of Muscle Milk at the base of the big hill after he crossed Bennett Road. Roy Heger was still working the final aid station and provided a peanut butter and jelly sandwich for his old friend… Roy has finished nearly 50 one-hundred mile races himself and describes Art as one of the greatest influences on his running career. The great Regis Shivers always described Art as his Mentor. Look into Art’s performance history and you will find world class times and slow finishes. Art competed on roads, trails, tracks, deserts, swamps, and snowfields. He also ran races comprised of laps around stadium parking lots or construction zones.

Art was still running at the end even though the electronic course clock was not. It, being a less reliable machine than Art, had fritzed out in the rain. He came across the finish line in a time of 7:49. At the finish he was carrying another bottle of chocolate milk, a Snickers bar, and a bottle of V8. He would call Edina shortly and give her the good news.

At some point in life, if we are blessed, we will become who we are supposed to become. The experiences that make us who we are and the places that leaven us are sometimes not appreciated at the time and some of them are likely cast aside or forgotten. Sometimes we forget the grit and the greatness of those who built the places we now reside.But not always.

Art has run 24 hour runs and six day races. He ran a marathon in every state in the union and when he was finished with that task he completed a marathon in every Province in Canada, leaving one runner to ponder “I mean, how do you even find races up in the Yukon or the Northwest Territories?”

The greatest thing that Art did for us though, was to show us the way that our sport could be. He showed us that trail running could be a metaphor for life and a base around which a community could be built. He shared his fame and never used it to personal advantage. Cleveland really is the best Ultra running community in the United States. And it is the greatest ultra running community in the United States because Art modeled decency and humanity and kindness. The first time I arrived at the starting line of an ultra marathon, Art walked up and welcomed me. Then he led me around the parking lot and introduced me to his friends, who became my friends. Art and the others later met me at the finish line with encouragement, stories, and information about the next race.

This is how we do things in these parts.

This type of behavior is not universal in our sport, even though we would like to believe that it is. Travel to other parts of the country, race, and notice the difference if you don’t believe me. And the reason we do things in this way; the reason that the winner of one of our races looks out for the slowest runner, is because Art and Regis taught us to behave in this way. Others followed this example. The Godale brothers behave in the very same way. So does Roy Heger, and Fred Davis, and Terry Hawk, and Ron Ross. In fact all of the legends have an ethic of care about them. And the lesser known runners do as well. Most of us do; its who we are. And we teach it to the newer and younger runners by way of example. And it really did start with Art and a few others like him. Art raced hard and, on occasion, he raced to win, but the poor chilled souls at the aid stations always received a smile and a wave as he blew through.

I have not yet found out if Shaun and Art were able to meet this day, to shake hands on a race well fought; the first, the last, an original, a newcomer, history and history yet to be written. I hope they did.

God, they would love each other.


  1. Thank you! Reading this made my day and reassured me that I should be proud of my hometown and its history. I can't wait to meet Art.

  2. Thank you, for this great post for Art and tributes to Regis and Roy. I hope the younger (and maybe faster) ultra runners will be able to meet up with the legends. The more time I'm in the ultra community, the more I learn..from everybody.

  3. Always, ALWAYS after reading your blog entries I am literally absent of words to describe how it affected me. I want to grab a crowd off the street, I want to gather my kids and their friends, I want to pull my mother over to the couch and say "You absolutely have to sit down and listen to this amazing story...." The general public might think portions of it are fictionalized, like the many miles you actually covered in a race (!!!) or say the actual number of races Art Moore has completed in his lifetime (590 for real).... But we who are fortunate enough to be in the "know" (ultrarunners) know this is truth... this is how it really happens in our hometown. And you tell the story beautifully. Thank you, Mark!

  4. Mark,

    Congratulations on the PR, it is quite an accomplishment given the conditions.

    I think this essay also represents one of your best, simply amazing writing.


  5. Nice run Mark! Unfortunately I had to go to work as soon as possible after the race, but I "honked" when I saw you streaming down the path... downhill with a tail wind of course. I heard about Art, he is truly amazing for his accomplishments, and I would love to meet him some day!

  6. Just found your blog today and I'm always excited to read a fellow Northeast Ohio runner's blog. This post is absolutely beautiful. Congrats on the race! Amazing job! My group of friends/runners all thought about the runners running this race in the rain as we collected our bibs from an expo for a marathon the following day. We all followed the updates about Green Jewel from our phones while out of state. I give it to anyone who can run in those conditions! Congrats to all that raced that day!

  7. Mike, thanks and GREAT race!

    Well said Kim. We really do know some amazing people.

    Ted, thanks! You ran a great race. Wish we coild have visited but it wasn't a great day to stand around and socialize : )

    Suzanne, you are so sweet! Thanks for writing the last paragraph for me!!!!

    Shaun, I literally never saw you all day long! You went to work after that?? Amazing! I was just too tired to do anything!

    Thanks Kirstie. Its actually a very pretty course. Hope to see you next year!

  8. Mark,
    Of all the blogs I follow, I look forward to reading your posts more than any other. Great story. Thanks for sharing.

  9. Mark,

    I just read this after you posted it on the Green Jewel facebook page last night. Wow! Such a great post. I've been running again for the last 12 years and am just starting to dip my toe into the neo trail community, but am really hooked. It's stories like these that excite and inspire me towards new challenges!

    Thank you for sharing!