A report from Ale 81 Inn field correspondent Ford Wenty
Against my better judgement I have allowed myself to be persuaded to take on a feature concerning the marathon circuit. It’s not of particular interest to me; it’s a story to finance my vices same as another. There still exists the very real prospect that the entire project will end in utter disaster. With enough intoxicants these displays can be endured with a modicum of sedation to make the time pass unto their merciful conclusion. At least that is the theory. I’m still testing it.
People who will dedicate so much of their lives to running for no good reason are puzzling to me. They are harmless, I do not harbor any malice towards them, but I simply am unable to discern or appreciate their motivation. There are the usual tales of inspiration, of pushing one’s physical abilities to always rise to the next level. There is the inevitable talk of the runner’s high. I think it comes from oxygen deprivation, but if it works for you, well alright then. I suspect that there is something more to it that they are holding secret from us within their own circle.
People who line the streets of these events are….what’s the word I want here? Disturbed or disturbing? Perhaps a bit of each. Watching horses race can be fun. There is generally better seating, there is usually decent food and/or booze on offer, and with a good eye there may be a chance to make some money too. As best I can tell these marathons end up costing everyone involved. The participants, the audience and the host venue, yet ironically the food trucks seem to make money. Absent the betting the only other avenue for monetizing this lies in charging admission (nearly impossible logistically from most I have seen) or, sponsorship.
Enter one Harry “Hack” Halloran, the Marlboro Man. That’s right, it’s not a typo. I did not mean to say Marathon Man, it is indeed Marlboro Man. Harry, more than any other gaunt and emaciated veteran of the field, I found to be a true inspiration. You see for Harry Halloran the marathon is not a challenge, not a physical feat, not the next hill to climb. No, the marathon is a statement. Hack Halloran is a man selflessly dedicated to a cause.
I met Hack at the Columbus Marathon for the first time. Oh, let me be correct about this. The “official” title of the event is The Nationwide Children’s Hospital Columbus Marathon. I must include this lest I should run afoul of the very long arm of Nationwide Insurance’s legal department. To be fair, they ponied up a lot of money for those naming rights. It’s their way of giving back. Thanks Peyton! Nationwide is on your side!
It was a frigid pre-dawn in late October at the North Bank Park. There were roughly 15,000 runners and along the circuitous route, cleverly devised to pass through only those most exclusive zip codes of the Columbus metropolitan area, there were possibly as many as 100,000 onlookers, volunteers and support staff. As the mob queued at the starting tape, casting frosty breaths into the upper thirties air, there was Hack in the very rear of the field. At 5’8″, 162 pounds this 47 year old man was hardly an imposing figure. What was notable was that he was clad from head to toe in some good quality gear, all of it emblazoned with the red, white and black Marlboro logo. I was standing on the periphery, cataloging various images and sounds that I would incorporate into the feature I had been contracted to write. Hack made his own introduction.
“Hey man, you got a light?”
“Really? Are you serious? You’re in the midst of smoke nazi central dude!”
“Yeah, I know. That’s why I’m here. Harry Halloran, but you can call me Hack.”
I stared for a moment at his outstretched hand. Truth be told, he had me at you got a light. I shook his hand and replied.
” Ford Wenty. Pleased to meet you Hack. So what’s your story?”
“My story! I’m in the fucking race man!”
It was at this moment I determined that the magazine was going to get the drivel they were looking for. This was my story. Hack was indeed a registered participant. He produced his little tag as proof. I wondered if he had the Marlboro gear on when arriving and picking up his card.
“Ok, Hack. Gotta ask, man, what’s up with the Marlboro gear?”
“Phillip-Morris is my sponsor.”
Did not see that coming. Phillip-Morris as corporate sponsor for a marathon? Maybe in Richmond, VA, but this? It’s a bit like BW3 serving as a sponsor of an IBS telethon.
“Really? How’d ya pull that off, Hack?”
“Well after they threw me out of the New York Marathon a couple years ago I got pissed so I wrote to the company. Took about a year, but I got them to agree to sponsor me.”
“Wait. They threw you out of the New York Marathon? Why? How’d that happen?”
“They told me I couldn’t smoke in the marathon and I said oh yeah? Show me where it is in the rules. They couldn’t, so then they made up some shit and had the boys in blue escort me away.”
“You like swimming upstream, don’t you?”
“Ha! Yeah I guess you could say that.”
“So you smoke and you run in marathons?”
“Ain’t no fucking law against it, is there?”
“Well, no….didn’t mean to imply that, it’s just that your performance might improve if you didn’t….”
“Yeah, I know I could smoke a lot more if I didn’t compete in these stupid things, but that’s not what this is about.”
Indeed. Next question. “OK, Hack, I’ll bite. What is this all about?”
“I’ll tell ya what it’s all about! I got rights too, ya know! They make excuses for all of these fat bastards stuffing their faces full of crap. Oh, you can be large and still fit…….right? You’ve heard it. Well, I can smoke and still run a fucking marathon. I’m not trying to set any records and I don’t expect to win. I just prove it can be done.”
I was instantly struck by the Quixotic nature of this man’s vision. Americans by and large have an indefatigable affinity for the underdog. By my reckoning Hack Halloran was by far the biggest underdog in this race. The runners were summoned to the start and Hack was off, still wanting for a lighter as far as I knew. I remained to the rear of the chaos and again studied the route.
The length of a proper marathon is 26.2 miles. When one studies an aerial map of Columbus, Ohio the first distinct route to be detected is the city’s I-270 outerbelt. The total mileage of this roughly circular route is just a shade under 55 miles. One might easily have determined the course by performing a bisection of the city with High Street from north to south (aka US 23) and following the western half of the outerbelt. I’ve not performed the exact measurements, but in the worst case scenario it might have entailed only excluding one exit to arrive at the requisite distance.
Now far be it for me to presume any knowledge about organizing a marathon. I imagine it to be a rather daunting task and my hat is off to those who would expend that amount of energy for the purpose. I simply wouldn’t do it. You wanna run? Go run then! This particular event, however, does raise a substantial amount of money for a worthy cause: a hospital for children. It’s a brilliant move on the part of Nationwide when you think about it. Any time that you are doing something for “the children” your cause is almost instantaneously unassailable. Add on hospital and there is the added implication of “sick children”. Pure teflon!
More than anything else the marathon is about two things. First, it is gild edged PR for Nationwide Insurance. Second, like Derby Week in Louisville, it’s not about the race or the runners. It’s a place to see and, more importantly, be seen. With this clearly in mind the opening of the course made a bee-line four miles straight east on Broad Street. Past the Statehouse, the Museum of Art and the old Governor’s Mansion until passing the Franklin Park Conservatory and through the gates of Bexley. Bexley is rather exclusive real estate and is an historically Jewish community. Male ejaculation within the city limits of Bexley is against the law as it exceeds the posted city-wide speed limit of 25 mph.
The route observed a disciplined square about Bexley, at the halfway point of this loop passing Capital University, and shortly after turning north up Nelson Road to return to Broad Street for safe passage back to the west. It was vital that the route pass by the hospital itself, but a direct course west from Bexley on either Main or Livingston would have entailed venturing into territory where no preening poser would be caught dead. There was still that dread mile down South 18th Street until reaching Livingston and the shadow of the hospital. It was only this one stretch of the race which passed through anything alien to the snowflake’s world. Otherwise it all remained within the boundaries of the new age urban mythos.
From the hospital the course proceeded further west on Livingston into the prototype urban gentrification of Columbus’ older communities, German Village. The Germans are long departed, first displaced by Appalachian economic refugees and later, after their urban renewal, gays and lawyers. On a clear day one sees as many rainbow flags in German Village as might be found in San Francisco, boasting more DINK households per capita than any other in the state. The exit onto High Street at Deshler had the runners pointed north to pass and salute the Nationwide mother ship two miles distant.
This particular length of High Street is known well to me from some of the years of my misspent youth. I was able to negotiate the mindless throng to obtain a watch from a second story balcony of the venerable South Wind Hotel. I am uncertain of the current status of this establishment, but it was reputed at one time to be the preferred working place for your higher end call girls servicing clients from the nearby Statehouse and County Court. Most of that is only rumor, I’m sure.
It was 9:40 AM by that time. The bulk of the herd had already passed this point of the course by then and I was certain that Hack would be arriving in this neck of the race at any moment. Shortly thereafter there came a chorus of jeers and moans from the assembly of onlookers surrounding the nearby fluid station. This, no doubt, announced his presence. From my vantage point above I could look down High Street and sure enough there he was. The touque was shed now, along with the track suit. Now a clearer image of the man, the ginger mop atop his head, the wiry frame; a figure more resembling William H. Macy’s character in Shameless than a competitive athlete. Beneath the track suit the Marlboro theme had continued with red, white and black coordinates prominently displaying the flagship of the Phillip-Morris line. And then there was also Hack’s very public and unabashed consumption of the very same. No lightweight gold label or Ultra-lights, no sir. Marlboro red, the original cowboy killer.
Hack had evidently endured his share of abuse while approaching an earlier fluid station with one of those offending sticks hanging out of his mouth. A shouting match was averted and no more harm resulted than him blowing a large cloud of smoke into their faces. It was more of a symbolic gesture in that no one could really be certain how much was actually tobacco smoke and how much steam due to the cold air. In the open with a fair breeze any smoke was almost instantly dissipated, yet the attendees had cowered as though they were being assaulted with Sarin gas. Not wishing to repeat this Hack had left course for a few minutes to visit the BP station at High and Greenlawn to purchase Red Bull and two (gasp) plastic water bottles. Arriving at the S. High fluid station Hack puffed away, standing in the street some 25 or 30 feet distant. He guzzled a can of Red Bull and rolled the empty to the curb.
“Hey! Why don’t one of you fucking snowflakes pick that up and put it in the garbage for me, huh? I wouldn’t want to pollute your safe space with my 100% legal tobacco smoke!” He then drank half of one of the water bottles and lobbed the remainder at the scolding frowns behind the tables of their station. “Stick that in yer recycle bin you assholes!”
Horrified suburban soccer moms rushed to clasp their hands about the ears of their children. There is certain code of uniformity in these gatherings; rather, as Jello Biafra once put it, a Chickenshit Conformity. Their conformity has evolved from the mere pretentious flaunting of gratuitous consumerism, arriving in fleets of Lexus, BMW and Range Rover. Now, too, they flaunt their public virtue by wearing all the right ribbons and wristbands, mouthing all of the right slogans, appearing at all the right events. This was but one.
For all of their self-righteous blather about soft, squishy things like tolerance and diversity, they have a decided blind spot for these virtues when it suits them. These are the smoke nazis. The smoker is the most reviled creature they know. There is to be zero tolerance for smoking anywhere! Why, don’t take my word for it. Go ask one of these shrews yourself. They’ll be only too happy to hand you the lecture, which of course is richly garnished with the “it’s for the children” angle.
I did not attempt to follow Hack on his trek north through the downtown, the trendy, hipster Short North district, or the wide ring about the OSU Campus area. OSU, like most state universities, is where the group think of the masses and the group think of the state converge. I avoid these places at almost any cost. Instead I worked my way about the streets through town out to the enclave of Upper Arlington. The city markers as one enters are practically dripping with white liberal guilt. The whole place reeks of it.
It was lunch time when Hack appeared at the fluid station near North Star and Guilford, smacking away outstretched cones of water as he lit up yet another Marlboro. There was still derision, but the fervor of the event had largely passed by this hour. The bulk of the pack was well ahead and many who had made their appearance solely for the purpose of doing so were already home. This was where they lived.
Hack indeed persevered for the remaining seven miles and concluded his run in the mid afternoon, posting a time of 8 hours 12 minutes and 33 seconds. Hardly a record setting pace, but then that’s not what this was about. Not for Harry Halloran. In spite of his abounding love for tobacco products there is something deeper at work here. You see Hack had an epiphany at some point. He came to understand that when it becomes accepted to ignore the individual rights of the otherwise law abiding citizen for one thing, it is then only a matter of time before it will be accepted for any thing. The state sanctioned popularity contest, whether it is held for good looks or for public virtue, is an insidious evil.
Running marathons is a dreadful habit. I really can’t recommend it to anyone. If you do not currently run marathons, then please, don’t start! If you already do, then enjoy responsibly, it’s your choice. Oddly I seem to feel pretty much the same about smoking. These two groups would appear to be diametrically opposed to one another, yet they do share one key thing. The failure of either to respect and preserve the rights of the other places their own rights in peril.