Urban Running Legends

Everybody loves urban legends. You know – those famous stories that are seemingly unfathomable, but gradually spread by word of mouth for so many years that almost nobody is certain whether or not the events actually happened.

Local runners also know their share of urban legends. And while our stories might not be as captivating as aliens landing at Roswell, or the guy who flew over LAX in a patio chair with weather balloons, we still find them rather interesting.

So today we’re passing them along to you – with a catch.

Some of the following stories are true. Some are urban legends. And we’re not saying which are which. If you want confirmation, you’ll just have to ask the people involved.

See if you can separate the myths from the facts.

Legend #1: Many years ago, local marathoner and triathlete Andrew McCllelland of Salinas competed in Ironman Canada. He had been married less than a year at the time, and the triathlon put his wedding vows to the ultimate test.

As Andrew exited the water after the swim, he felt his new custom designed wedding ring slide off his finger. It was decision time.

He could have stood around looking for the ring amidst hundreds of stampeding racers, but decided there was little chance of finding it in the murky lake. Plus, it would have slowed his transition time down (he’s a racer, after all – we completely sympathize). So he continued the race, and spent the entire bike portion contemplating what he was going to tell his wife afterwards.

Fortunately, the story has a happy ending. The day after the Ironman, Andrew hired a man with a metal detector to search the area where he exited the water - and after only an hour, his wedding ring was found.

Legend #2: Steve Marshall of Seaside will try absolutely every training method he reads about in running journals. Unfortunately for Steve’s wife Mona, Steve once read an article about Emil Zatopek, the legendary Czech runner who won multiple Olympic gold medals in various distance events.

Zatopek used the very unusual training method of running while carrying his wife on his shoulders. Steve read this, and told Mona their first workout was going to be in two days.

The next day when Steve returned home from work he found bags from the Treadmill and Fleet Feet, where Mona had gone shopping for running outfits.

When Steve inquired about the large Visa bill, Mona calmly replied, “If I am going to start this running program, I may as well look good!”

Legend #3: Patty Selbicky of Pacific Grove was the women’s winner of the third Big Sur Marathon. She used to do speed work at the Monterey Peninsula College track with Richard Leutzinger and Glynn Wood. For a point of reference, Richard looks a great deal like Woody Allen, only scrawnier - if that’s possible.

On most afternoons, the runners on the track, and the MPC football team on the field, did their workouts in peaceful coexistence. However, one fateful day, the football team’s wide receivers thought it would be funny to interfere with the runners by executing their pass patterns out on the track.

Each time this happened, Richard got upset and yelled at the MPC players. After an especially close call, one particularly enormous football player confronted Richard face to face.

Glynn and Patty immediately came to Richard’s aid, and Patty stepped directly between the two would-be combatants. The player then made an “ungentlemanly” comment, and Patty decked him with one punch. The football players never bothered the runners again.

Legend #4: One of your Running Life columnists - we won’t say which one - was running along the path near Lover’s Point (notice that we didn’t call it a “bike path”). The columnist was running on the paved portion toward Pacific Grove and made eye contact with a very fast biker heading straight at him from the opposite direction.

As they got closer, the columnist assumed that the biker would go around, but a vicious grin on the biker’s face indicated otherwise. A last minute jump to the left by the very coordinated runner helped avoid serious injury, but the result was a collision leaving both runner and biker on the ground.

Before the biker even stood up, he started yelling, “THIS IS A BIKE PATH!” The columnist’s retort was calm: “Even if it was - does that give you the right to run me down?”

The biker remained enraged, and his loud arguments quickly drew a crowd of onlookers. The encounter finally ended with the runner lifting the expensive bike and body slamming it over the seawall as the crowd applauded wildly.

Legend #5: There’s an active subculture of Monterey Peninsula athletes who enjoy running naked. In fact, the nude running movement once became so popular that Jim Allen of Monterey started organizing nighttime Naked Runs at the Monterey Peninsula Country Club golf course.

For several years, by the light of the harvest moon in October, dozens of local men and women ran in the buff through the fairways of the MPCC Shore Course.

Unfortunately, the run became too successful for its own survival. Too many people started showing up to run, and bystanders began lurking in the shadows to take snapshots with cameras as the runners came jiggling by. Jim also realized that it really wasn’t very comfortable to run naked, anyway. So the Naked Runs are now a thing of the past.

(But if any of our readers want to buy some great photos … you know where to find us!)

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Strawberry Fields

This week, Donald writes about running through the agricultural heartland of California.

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Occasionally, when my work schedule allows it, I can take some time in the middle of the day and go for a run through the fertile fields of the Salinas Valley.

The campos are generally laid out in a large grid pattern, with major thoroughfares paved, and the others simple dirt roads. It’s a convenient place to run, because there are many opportunities to shorten or lengthen the distance as necessary, depending on how much time I have available.

The aromas of the fields vary with the seasons, and I’ve learned to avoid particular grids simply because of the smells I anticipate there. Certain crops have a powerfully unpleasant odor when baking in the sun all day. And needless to say, when it’s time for fertilizing any of the fields, I make a beeline upwind.

Summer is the best time of year for running in the fields, as the overwhelming smell is the sweet fragrance of strawberries. One of my favorite sensory experiences is to go running through the campos and smell the berries with every breath I inhale.

The visual effect is also pretty cool. The tops of the bushes are covered with leaves, and as I cruise between adjacent fields, I feel like I’m sailing through a lush green ocean, with a strawberry-scented sea breeze in my face.

In the campos, I also witness the labor that harvests the strawberries I’m so fond of.

I see the teams of migrants who walk through the bushes bent over at the waist, gathering countless boxes that are placed in cartons alongside each row. I watch a separate group carry the cartons across the field and into a nearby truck, where another team awaits to sort and stack the berries for delivery to the produce company.

Sometimes there are as many as 100 people working the same grid, but I frequently drift past them almost unnoticed, as the entire crew remains focused on the task at hand.

Since I’m usually in the fields at midday, I run past some workers on their lunch breaks. They sit in the roads on the fringes of the fields, leaning against their cars to utilize whatever shade they can find in the summer heat. Their clothes and bodies are filthy, and they sit quietly to save their energy to get through the remainder of the day.

I know their bodies probably ache from the strain of hard labor. By comparison, the fatigue of a strenuous run is trivial.

I know that most of them will go home and share a house with many other workers, living in conditions we normally associate with third-world poverty. I know that many of them left wives and children behind to work in these conditions. I know that they sleep restlessly, worried about their health or their security or their ability to provide for their families. I know that the next morning, they’ll wake up and do the same routine all over again.

In those moments, there’s definitely a guilty feeling when I glide past them in expensive running shoes, dressed in colorfully clean workout clothes, peering at them from behind darkened glasses, taking a midday break from a job that pays me more than in a month than they may see in a year. I sometimes wonder what they think when they see me. I’m sure it’s some mixture of resentment and envy and disregard, but you would never tell by their expressions. When I pass in front of them and our eyes meet, I’ll lift my hand and say a quick hello, and occasionally I’ll get a head nod or a short greeting in reply. Then we go on with our respective tasks.

But when I finish my run and see the layers of dirt stuck to my legs from the windblown soil, I realize how much dust must be in their lungs. When I notice the tan lines from my running shorts, I remember how harmful spending day after day in the sun can be. When I feel the soreness in my legs, I consider the damage their bodies endure just to make it to the next day.

And sometimes when I smell the beautiful fragrance of strawberry fields, I think that for many people, perhaps that smell is not particularly sweet.

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