By Fred Johnson
I’m sure a bunch of the marathoners and half-marathoners yesterday were wondering as they passed the toilet at three miles, “what the heck?” In fact Felton Wright asked Gary how I got the no T-shirt option, receiving a commode instead. Well, there is a story behind it and though I risk great peril (from my wife particularly for the embarrassment it may cause) I feel I must tell it.
The series of stories that follow are true-life adventures told during the thousands of miles Gary, Dana, and I spent together on the trails and roads over the passed two years. You know you have a friend, when there’s nothing else to talk about during a long run, and they listen intently to your most memorable “pit stops.”
And … here’s the rest of the story.
I’ve been a soldier for 18 years and I have been afforded the opportunity to run in some pretty cool places. And because I’m more than a little “regular,” I’ve been forced to “pit stop” during most all of these runs. A sample of some of my more prominent “number twos” follow.
Tuzla, Bosnia-Herzagovina. Needless to say, Bosnia is full of mines. During a run with a Croatian buddy of mine I had to go. Well, if you’re like me, when the feeling comes you can’t think about anything else. I’m sorry, but you may be talking to me and I’ll nod my head as if I’m listening, but I’m looking for a place to go and won’t hear a word you say. That’s exactly what happened. I told my Croatian friend, Pjec, I had to stop. I then made a bee-line straight into this field. With Pjec yelling “no,” I bypassed a sign I couldn’t read, and I went to squat. Pjec then came to the edge of the road and said, “Fred, you’re in world of sh*t.” I answered, “No kidding,” digging toilet paper out of the key pocket in my running shorts. He said, “No, I’m serious. That sign says minefield.” Talk about instant constipation. Fortunately, my footprints where I entered the minefield were visible and I re-traced my steps out. If I weren’t so near retirement, I wouldn’t be telling this story because if one of my bosses read it, they’d kick me out for sheer stupidity.
Quito, Ecuador. Of all the places I’ve “number two’d,” Quito is where I felt most comfortable. The reason is that I could stop, drop trouser, and no one would think different. I stayed in downtown Quito and the only place I could run without risking my life was the park across from hotel. Suffice to say, folks in Quito are mean. However, in their meanness, they are very open in doing their “daily duty” and I appreciated that. While running around the park, I got lured into running with a group of students from the university. This was after a night of eating fish head soup and drinking beer with a name I couldn’t pronounce, so I was primed for more than one “pit stop.” As the urge came upon me and I debated to “go or not to go,” the runner in front of me promptly stopped, dropped his skin tight running shorts, and did his business ten strides in front of me. Dodging the turd, I directed myself to the nearest tree and did the same. It was at this point I realized my runner’s plague was international.
Paris, France. It was really an uneventful “pitstop” along the Seine, but it makes the list only because the French are crapping all over us now after we bailed them out of two wars.
Vicinity Tapline Road, Saudi Arabia. Tapline Road is near the Iraq border and it is where I spent a month or so before the Gulf War. Running in Saudi Arabia was tough for a lot of reasons, but I was committed to run everyday to stay fit. The most difficult part of running there was that I had to do it in my uniform and with my equipment. I could ditch my weapon with a guard, but the rest of my uniform had to remain in tact. In addition to my Desert Camouflage Uniform or DCUs, I had to wear a flak vest, helmet, boots, and a belt with suspenders that carried canteens of water. I didn’t run far or very fast, but I ran everyday. My runs in Saudi Arabia rank as my best in spite of these constraints. I started the runs right before daybreak and I would run toward a series of rocky hills in the distance. I timed the runs so I could watch the sun come up over the hills. Of all my morning runs, in over 20 years of running, the sun has never been more magnificent. I would run out for about 10 or 15 minutes and then turn around and run back to camp. The other good thing about running in Saudi is that you could pretty much “pitstop” anywhere. In this particular instance, that became my problem. After several cups of good Army coffee, I started on my trek. Right at the time the sun finished cresting the hills, I had to go. Good timing, but the “moment” came over me fast. I quickly took off my suspenders and vest and in doing so my helmet came off. Since I was in the middle of the desert, all I had to do was squat. However, unbeknownst to me, my helmet had settled right underneath me. When I finished, I discovered I had went inside of my helmet. It never really fit or felt the same after that.
Garmisch, Germany. Honestly, I felt guilty “going” in Garmisch. This city, near the Austrian border, ranks as the second most beautiful place I’ve ever run. Because I was so enthralled with Garmisch’s beauty, I actually “held it,” when my better judgment told me to go. Now, all of us have been there ? tightened glute muscles, short, quick steps, upper torso bent forward, eyes darting, looking in every direction for a rest room. I ran like that for two hours, which, in itself, has to be a record. But because of my discomfort I wasn’t enjoying the splendor of the Bavarian landscape as much as I could, so I decided it was time. However, there was a problem: I was running along a “fussweg” (German for foot path to demonstrate that I do have culture), in an open field, with absolutely no cover. Not to mention there were a bunch of folks on the path walking or running in both directions. Fortunately, in the distance, I spotted a barn that appeared abandoned, except for a couple grazing cows. I did my best version of a sprint, jumped the fence behind the barn, landing in what I thought was mud. I did what I had to do and went to kick off the mud from my shoes when I noticed it wasn’t mud at all – – I had landed in cow dung. To make matters worse, a farmer and his wife were watching me, laughing themselves to tears.
Peachtree City, Ga. My “dump(s)” in PC rank in the top ten because it was the venue of my first ultra marathon and the development of my own unique racing strategy. I came to the PC 50K with no expectations other than finishing the race, hopefully in a reasonable time. That goal changed when I linked up with Scott Ludwig (6th in this year’s Badwater 135) and got caught up in the moment. Unfortunately, I was plagued with a more than active bowel for most of the race. As a result, I had to pit stop every lap and then sprint to catch up with them so I could maintain their pace. I believe this fartlek effect contributed to my running a pretty good time and ousting Scott in the last two miles. I didn’t deserve it because Scott is a much better runner than me, but I attribute the victory to the five cups of coffee before the race and the Krystal burgers I ate the day before.
As a side note, I’ve come to call the above racing strategy the “craplek” and I’ve used it several times since with varying success.
And now you know the rest of the story …