A memory down trip lane


The Dash for the Rash 5K, held to benefit Poison Ivy sufferers across the land, was one of New England’s finest road races for over a decade. Sadly, as has happened with increasing regularity, a corporate takeover of the sponsoring institution (with subsequent loss of funding) spelled the demise of this high-profile and storied affair.

Back in ‘84 I was in the shape of my young life. Fresh out of divinity school in the Orient, I’d just given up my three-pack-a-day smoking habit and had jacked up my mileage to a cool 500 a month, all of it quality. For tax purposes I was technically unemployed, but (and I should keep my trap shut here on account the government looky-loos who monitor this site) I was running a prostitution ring out of my garage, a venture that kept me in shoes and gear while giving me ample time to train. After one set of 10 x 400’s in the 57-58 second range, I figured I was ready to shatter my existing PR of 13:58 and improve on my third-place Rash Dash finish of the previous year.

The race was held in August on back roads and was known hands-down as the toughest course in the world. After rising 400 vertical meters in the first four-tenths of a mile, the course then negotiated a series of nasty switchbacks before gaining another 600 meters and then virtually falling off a cliff in the last half mile. All of the local studs penciled this one in – Rodgers, Gregorek, I’m pretty sure Hodge showed up a few times. First prize was a gigantic bottle of calamine lotion. Second prize, a five-ounce ball of hash. Third prize, a three-cylinder Harley-Davidson, the only one ever made. No frills – just a bunch of folks in it for the competition and camaraderie.

The morning of that ‘84 race I woke up soaked in sweat. The mercury on the thermometer would tell a grim tale that day: 124 degrees by the start at high noon. I almost missed the gun because I’d been up all night applying toilet paper and shaving cream to various edifices and stealing street signs and had slept in ‘till 11:42 as a result. One of the hookers in my employ had somehow managed to lose my racing flats and all of my trainers while turning a bizarre trick the night before, so I had to wear shitkicker boots – it was either that or a pair of the whore’s bright red pumps. That was crazy, scrambling and clumping along to get the start on time. I didn’t even bother with the laces. The boys were all assembled on the line and they got a chuckle out of that one, not to mention my bloodstained Conway Twitty hat, terrycloth shorts and butterfly sunglasses. Then it was down to business.

My plan was to go like hell at the gun because I was never not much for downhills, so I couldn’t wait around to have guys like Rodgers and Pfitzinger to bury me at the finish. So at the crack of the pistol I lit it up huge. I blasted five or six seconds ahead in the first 100 yards and just put my head down. I guess a pretty tight pack was forming behind me and everyone in it all figured I was just some poser who would, two decades later, go online and tell lies about this very race.

Well, with my strategy or lack thereof already established, I was committed to hanging on for dear life. A couple guys had me at 2:08 for the first half-mile and I was close to 100 yards ahead. I wasn’t feeling super, but I wasn’t really breathing hard yet either. Of course, I was ready; I’d done the Mt. Washington course by myself in like 56 minutes in the dead of night, fending off an attack by several sexually frustrated moose and 400-mile-an-hour winds. I was a machine, tuned up and ready to fight.

When we hit the switchback part of the course, I was already feeling the heat. I could feel blood pooling in my shitkickers because I hadn’t broken them in yet, but other than that and the swarm of bees that were stinging me the whole first mile, I was able to focus on the task at hand. I went through the mile in 4:11 (the course levels out some just before the mile mark) but I could hear a couple of guys making up ground. Some of them – Bickford was one of them, and maybe one of the Kimballs too – were chanting the power chords from “Eye of the Tiger” for inspiration. I heard one of them fart, sending the others into titters. Weird stuff like that used to go on all the time back then.

Anyway, someone finally crept up and perched himself on my shoulder just before the two-mile mark. Now, oddly enough, the lead cop car had started swerving back and forth a few minutes before. I finally saw why: The two cops inside were taking turns steering and mooning young children covered with the cruel tattoos of poison ivy and watching the race from roadside. The car was swerving in ever-increasing arcs and I could hear those crazy bastards inside just laughing away. Finally – we were back in a residential section of town now – the car took out a mailbox. Not a small one, but one of those big blue USPS jobs that’s anchored into the concrete to discourage theft and won’t give even when you bash the piss out of it with a sledgehammer. So as I turned the corner at two miles (8:26) I and this other guy – Leo something turned out to be his name – went shuffling madly through a bunch of mortgage payments, Geico insurance offers, and K-Mart flyers. I almost slipped on one of the glossy ones, a threat made worse by the fact that both shitkickers were now freely gushing blood through the eyelets and soles.

What happened next defied all logic and explanation. This guy Leo pulled alongside – sizing me up, I think. I’d never heard of the guy but it turned out he’d once run a 3:49 mile on a dirt track in a Midwestern prison. Anyway, he looked at me, grinned, does a complete cartwheel right in front of me and as his left leg scissored into the air – BAM! – his foot just about took my jaw off. Turns out he had steel-toed racing flats. All this without breaking stride! I blacked out for a couple of seconds, but I could hear the guy chuckling up ahead even as he gained a few yards. I shook it off as best I could, whirled the Conway Twitty hat around 180 degrees in a “Rally-Cap” maneuver, and started reeling the guy in. Meanwhile, the cops were still doing their slalom act up ahead and all these cute little kids with terrible cases of poison ivy could only stare in shock as this macabre little parade passed them by.

Now, going into the last kilometer, the pace had slowed a bit, to what felt like 4:20 or so. Like I said, I was no maven when it came to downhills, so I figured it was then or never – one long, sustained drive to the finish was always my signature move. So, gathering all the resources at my command, I reeled the guy in with a brief sprint and immediately put 30 yards on him. (Observers claimed I covered a 100-meter stretch of hot, dusty road in under 11 seconds.)

So then we hit the downhill and I’d gained a slight edge. Hodge and the others were out of it; for some reason they were way the hell back there that day. The crowd down at the bottom of the hill was just going nuts because they can see that I and this Leo guy were going to demolish the world record. Going into the last 300 meters, I could hear Leo inexorably closing the gap again. He was singing some sort of military cadence I couldn’t identify, whereas I could only grunt the theme song from “Laverne and Shirley.” It was a like a slow-building, desperate crescenso of a competitive orgasm in the making. The cops wisely careened into a ditch – they rolled the cruiser and were forced to masturbate feverishly while strapped upside-down in their seats to relieve the tension of the moment, but at least they were out of our damned way.

I watched the clock as I pounded down that ridiculous slope. Both of us were probably taking thirty-, maybe forty-foot strides. Most of the spectators were lashed with ropes and harnesses to roadside objects such as trees and fire hydrants to keep them from tumbling away down the street – it was that steep. Anyway, I could see the clock flicking and ticking: 12:51…12:52…I was gonna break 13 for sure, I knew, but would it be enough? Leo had almost edged into my peripheral vision, but maybe I could hold him off somehow — maybe –

That’s when the simplest of solutions occurred to me – the answer that saved my hide. I dove for the finish with about fifty yards left. Now, keep in mind that we were running down a 65% grade at this point, so my dive was exquisitely well-timed. Leo dove too, but a fraction of a second later, and that, ladies and gentlemen, was the difference. Both of us soared through the air like freakishly misguided peregrine falcons and crashed into the chute with enough momentum to take out the entire thing (ropes, clock, ladders, Chronomix) along with a half-dozen volunteers; the ski-jump incident they show on “Wide World of Sports” paled in comparison. I broke sixteen bones, including my right patella, a collection of dire wounds that in fact ended my running career. Leo, I heard, was never the same after that either. \n\nI was officially timed in 12:56.3, Leo in 12:56.6. People around those parts still speak in awe of us. Unfortunately, the world record was never ratified because of some yahoo official’s bungle or something. But someday that’s all gonna change.