Old Race Reports: Summer 2008 Pickle in the ‘Villa

This is an old race report, from my first Pickle Run, in August of 2008.  It’s reposted for the archives here for the sheer awesomeness of this debacle of a race attempt.

The Pickle Run. Increasingly notorious, yet still a mystery to many. For those just tuning in, one of the projects of Drexel Cycling founder Frank Durso is the Pickle Run, actually a series of runs he’s been promoting. They work like this: He sets up a course at some location not many people know. Everybody comes and runs, making a prediction beforehand about their time. Afterward, prizes are awarded for fastest runs by age and for closest prediction. It turns out they also give prizes for really bad predictions. Even better, they also hide giant pickles around the course which will also get you a prize if you find one and run it back to the finish. But, really, the key point is that Frank runs around in a giant pickle costume being a goof. Today was the inaugural Pickle in the Villa, a trail run race.

None of this did I know. All I knew was that I was somehow talked into signing up for this “Pickle Run” and that I had to make a prediction about my time when I pre-registered. Caitlin and I debated long and hard about this. Here are the two basic problem we faced: One, I haven’t run systematically in a couple years at this point. I don’t even watch the clock anymore when I do make it out for one in a steady trickle of oddly scheduled runs. All I knew was that I wasn’t as fast as I used to be, and that my times are wildly inconsistent based on sleep, food, etc. Second, I had no idea what the course was going to be like. It said “trail run” but sounded more like a basic bike path around a park or something. I had no idea, only that it was supposed to be 4 miles long. Notably (this is important later), at one point I settled on 35 minutes, figuring that when I was in shape I could do four miles in about 24 minutes, so that would cover being out of shape and any possibly challenging terrain. Caitlin scoffed. “Thirty five minutes?! Slow! Why am I dating you???” but abruptly terminated any discussion of how fast she could do it. Generally shamed, I hesitantly revised downward to 28.5 minutes.

Speed forward twelve hours, and we get to the questionable decision making that is the hallmark of any Drexel Cycling story. Cycling widow that I am, I was all alone Friday evening while Caitlin was off racing for the weekend. Around 10:30 I looked at the clock, thought to myself “Sure, I’ll get to bed at 11, get up and leave by 7:15, get there at 8, race at 8:30. Great!” and started playing around with fixing some problems with my computer instead of going to bed right then. This is a critical yet common error that many Joes are known to make. Seven hours later I look at the clock and say “Holy god, it’s 5:30! I need to leave in two hours!” and dive into bed.

Later, in the middle of a vaguely pleasant but forgotten dream I wake up. All sorts of things are flashing and beeping. It’s 7:49! Shazbot—I have successfully slept through the collective wailing of four alarm clocks! Gathering my cool, I grab my sleeveless Drexel jersey, slip on the shortest short shorts I have, and run out the door with my shoes half on. Bursting into the Kia, I slam the gas before the door’s even shut and peel out of the parking space like Elwood Blues on speed. Seconds later I’m doing 85 and making my way around the Lombard curve and onto the highway, at which point my trusty Korean sidekick and I really punch it, rollover warnings be damned.

Adroitly aided by our other buddy TomTom after some sketchy sections trying to type in the address while racing trucks down the narrow parts of 76, we cruise without incident to the race and come skidding to a flying stop in a great parking space for which the “Handicapped” sign had fortunately, arguably, fallen over. Car door slam still ringing in my ears, I grab my bib number out of the registration lady’s hand as she’s packing up and quick foot it to the start line with a whopping forty seconds to spare. Former Drexel Cycling superstar Dan Heinaman is there laughing, noting that “Yeah, they said only one person hadn’t shown up yet and I just figured it had to be you!” Catching my breath, I went to make a snarky rebuttal but the starting gun went off and I immediately lost my breath again.

Here we begin the long dark tea time of the soul that is the heart of a good race. Warming up on the move, I begin a debate about optimal strategy here. I’ve had two hours sleep, no breakfast, and had pretty much skipped dinner. The smart move is to go into survival mode and trudge along. The genius move is to book it, go wide to flank the 150 people between you and the front of the herd, and pray to all the trail gods that you don’t fall apart completely in your highly distinctive and recognizable Drexel jersey such that you’ll be choking on their knowing smirks as the entire crowd re-passes you. Clearly, that was the only viable choice, so that’s what I did.

Just a few seconds later, coming down a nice grassy field I was thinking to myself “Hmmm, this is kind of like a cyclocross race of running—not really off road, not really on road. Easy!” when I saw the Lord of the Pickle himself, Frank Durso, course marshaling and cackling maniacally. Seeing that he was not, indeed, in Pickle costume, I briefly dreamed of many forms of vengeance upon him for getting me all the way out here way early on a Saturday morning—when he wasn’t even wearing the Pickle costume, the point of the whole thing! Those thoughts were quickly obliterated though as I realized the source of his maniacal glee, a sharp left turn and descent into the woods as the race turned into a legitimate trail run! “Shazbot!” I thought to myself as the course plunged into the woods, across several creeks, and up a number of hills.

Later, having developed a style I’m labeling Drunken Running, the key tenet being that it doesn’t matter if you can’t run straight if the course doesn’t go straight, I was sitting pretty in the top seven or so as we rounded the top of what I thought to be the main loop on a lollipop course. “Halfway! Man, easy!” I exclaimed, and pushed on.

Coming down toward the stem of the lollipop, a little voice somewhere deep in my subconscious noted “Hey Joe-Man! Those arrows ahead aren’t going straight back… Aw, shazbot…” and watched in quiet horror as my feet followed the course sharply away from our direction home. At that point I think I blacked out.

Waking up much later, subconscious noting that we were now on what my head was convinced was mile nine of a four mile course, people starting trickling past. Belatedly coming around to reason, feet and head finally switched to our patented survival strategy: Find some cute girl and follow her around for some motivation to keep moving. What with the stream of runners now going by, that proved not hard and much thanks goes out to the sweet girl from Ursinus College for unknowingly ensuring I got back with some semblance of dignity intact. I apologize for sprinting by you in the last hundred meters, but after all, you have to finish strong to look good for the crowd…

Hanging out at the awards ceremony, Frank now in costume, I was shocked to learn all sorts of Pickle Run proceedings that I had not been aware of before. For example, that you got prizes for either winning, predicting, or finding a pickle. Not shockingly, the straight winners were largely high school runners who mostly looked too young to shave, but had times in the mid 27s and 28s. Amusingly though, all of them got schooled on the predictions, having seriously underestimated what would definitely be a legitimate mountain bike race course. The winner came in with a decidedly more average time, but was only off by seven seconds. Dan Heinaman also built on earlier foundations and took home a pickle for solid predicting, having won an earlier race in the series by being off by only a second, and being reasonably close today on a generally unpredictable course.

To be honest, I was a little disconsolate at not winning a pickle and wasn’t really paying attention when all of a sudden I heard my name being announced! Shocked, I quickly enquired what was going on and discovered that they were giving out pickles for worst predictions and I’d come in a strong second with a 34:30 time, off by 6 minutes! Sweet, sweet inconsistency paying off once more! Drexel Cycling, rockin’ it in (some sort of) style yet again! Most importantly though, that was only thirty seconds off my original prediction. Third place was a minute and a half off their prediction. If only I had stuck to pattern and not listened to Caitlin, I would have an admittedly same-sized yet vastly less questionably prestigious pickle!

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is how you Pickle Race. Further, let me tell you, this is one of the most awesome trophies I’ve ever won, and I’ve got some kickass Sarah Uhl handmade specials that set the bar pretty high:

The bandito Pickle Villa strikes again!