Running with Friends


By Gordon Cherr


 “Going for a run with friends is one of life’s greatest joys”

I am sorry, but this has been one overly productive summer at work which means it has been an entirely underproductive summer of running. And missing friends…and missing family…and not smelling the flowers. Oh, I have been logging some miles alright, not fast enough, not far enough, basically slogging through the summer here just like you and everyone else. Trying to survive the blast furnace and 100%+ humidity. To make matters worse, old Buster has decided to come down with a rip snorting case of diabetes, and now he is a twice a day insulin dependent hound dog. On the plus side however, now that his blood sugar levels are back in the normal range, he has been dragging me around the Killearn golf course on our predawn runs at about a 6:30 pace, and the fact that he has skillfully negotiated his way through the midlife crises which almost killed him has actually improving my running. And my attitude, especially my attitude. I am glad to have my four legged friend back with me on our predawn sojourns, as going for a run with friends, even four legged ones, is one of life’s greatest joys.

This somehow leads me to Dr. Albert Barker, friend and runner, long moved away from Tallahassee, and now living in Georgia. I spent many good years running countless miles with “AB”, as I still call him. They were fun times, AB is a person as good as gold, a fair runner in his own right, and running with a friend like AB was always one of life’s greatest joys. He is easy to laugh, slow to anger, good for a new story or a bad joke. He has maintained his contacts with Tallahassee; you can always find him at the Springtime Tallahassee 10K and even a Tallahassee Marathon here and there. More recently, though, AB has took on a new task for his great friend and training partner Scott Ludwig, top 4 finisher of the 2003 Badwater 135, doubtlessly the most difficult ultra ever conceived in this country. If you doubt that, read Gary Griffin’s recent exceptional column on the GWTC website on his adventures and misadventures in the Badwater 135, crewing for Ludwig.

AB, along with Gary, also crewed for Ludwig, and has written a contrasting account of his own observations regarding his friend and the Badwater 135. And with AB’s permission (which I have), I am going to share his thoughts with you. Hell, AB, we all miss you down here, let’s get together soon and log a few more miles.

Living to the Point of Tears

By Al Barker

I wanted to live deep
and suck out all the marrow in life,
and not when I come to die,
discover that I had not lived.

– Henry David Thoreau

Badwater 2003 has come and gone. The event that had been on our minds so often for the past year was over in a “quick” 36 hours. And now, as I have time to reflect on all of it, one thing that stands out is the reaction of others to “how I spent my summer vacation” “You’re going where?” “”You’re going to do what?” “You must be crazy”. But the truth is, I never saw it that way. When asked to help, my answer was an immediate “yes”. To have a small part in helping a friend to complete the most difficult ultramarathon on the face of the earth was what I considered an honor. That’s the way I like to live.

I’ve always admired people who do things that are above and beyond the ordinary; things that add dimension to life. Some are actors. Some are artists or scientists and some are athletes. They all have one thing in common – a common bond that gives their lives meaning. That one thing is passion. Their lives are so much richer for it. They are lucky indeed.

In planning for the trip we tried to consider all the possibilities. Death Valley is one of the hottest and driest places on earth and we would be there in the hottest time of year. That, added to the length of the course with the long ascents and descents, amounted to something that is hard to imagine.

I had read all the books and seen all the documentary films on the race as well as the area in general, but all this pales in comparison to the reality of being there and seeing it. To stand at Badwater, 292 ft. below sea level, and watch those people begin a run that will end 134.4 miles later at Whitney Portal (8,350 ft.) is enough to humble anyone.

We seemed to do almost everything right. Paula, our crew chief, planned everything meticulously over the preceding several months. We sweated. We paced. We laughed. We measured our input and output to perfection. We even made side trips to get needed stuff while Scott just kept running. And running. Of course, all that paid off at the end as we gathered around him for the much deserved finish line photo.

At the post race dinner, I had a chance to talk to Pam Reed, the overall winner of both this year’s and last year’s race. She looked the part: small compact, very fit, and also very gracious. Being curious as to how she trains, I asked her the burning question about her typical running week. After casually describing what seemed like an impossible task, she followed with, “I just like to run,” almost apologetically, as though she felt the need to justify such a lifestyle to me. I’m sure she has been in this situation countless times before, getting that “you gotta be kidding look” from those who can’t relate to her. I did, however, understand her, and I was truly impressed. I also saw Andy Velazco at the post race dinner. His beaming grin was hard to miss. He had that look, as did all the other finishers, of peace that comes with such with accomplishment. He didn’t need to say anything. It’s understood. I envy him.

There was never any question in my mind as to whether or not Scott would finish. After ten years and about a zillion miles, I know him pretty well. I knew he would push himself almost to the point of tears and never complain. Passion! Scott’s strength comes from somewhere deep inside. He just simply knows that he can do it. No excuses! After all, anyone who can run for 25 years without missing a single day has something that few of us posses. And so I was not surprised to see him push himself to the max to
complete what he had set out to do. Great job Scott!

Being a part of that, even in such a small way, is one of those times in life that I will never forget. Someone once said that “going for a run with good friends is one of life’s greatest joys.” And what a run it was! And now in the aftermath of an event that will never seem quite real, as we savor the memories, the big question looms before us. How do you top this? Where do we go from here? What happens tomorrow? I have no idea. But isn’t that the beauty of it?