- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 16, 2005

I am dedicating this column to all the writers who cover marathons and other road racing events.

For nearly every running story you read, there is a story in itself about the coverage of such an event. We don’t have the comforts of a press box. Most times we don’t even have a chair to sit in when we work.

I could write a book — what else do writers do when they have spare time and no money? — about the 23 years of wacky times I have experienced covering road racing. And my last three outings have all been totally out of control, which actually makes the sport a hoot to cover.

Many times, I get lazy like most other people and decide to sit on the back of the creaky rusted flatbed vehicle also known as a press truck. But basically, what you see during the course of a 20,000-person race is usually the faces of a small handful of elite men runners.

I like to have the flexibility to sift around the course, checking out the top men and drifting back and catching the top women, whom you never see from a press truck unless, of course, it is an all-women’s race.

I like to feel the headwind the runners are battling, as well as the joy of the tailwind. I like to experience the terrain as my subjects are experiencing it. I like to hear the pounding of the running shoes on the pavement and the heavy breathing that accompanies it.

My past three races, I was in the saddle — the bicycle saddle.

It all began with the Gulf Coast Relief 5K on the streets of Old Town Alexandria. Race organizers, expecting a maximum 800 runners, found more than 3,200. The course, however, attracted mayhem when the lead runners were returning from an out-and-back.

On the trip back, I looked ahead and there was a wall of runners packed like sardines from one sidewalk across the street. The lead policeman, just ahead of me, ended up stopping in the middle of the pack because runners could not get out of his way fast enough.

Then I had to stop quickly, leaving race leader Michael Wardian to fend for himself into a mob for a couple of city blocks.

The mob continued for me two weeks later at the Army Ten-Miler, but this time, they were not so friendly. With the course re-routed when the 14th Street Bridge was closed because of a suspicious package, I was cruising next to Ryan Kirkpatrick of the Army’s elite racing team toward Memorial Bridge.

Runners were across four lanes on Independence Avenue — still early in their race and not expecting the course to be coming back toward them. I rode toward them, in the middle of the road, waving them over and shouting that runners were coming. I believe I heard just about every profanity in the English language, as well as some in other languages.

And then yesterday at the Baltimore Marathon, those covering the race from the press truck almost had their day end just 1 miles into the race. A very aggressive police motorman pulled over the vehicle when it got too close to a wheelchair athlete and the front-running elites. I believe he threatened to arrest the journalists on the truck.

Luckily for them, I was on a bicycle, so I rode the next six miles solo at the front of the race, reporting the play-by-play back to my colleagues on the truck and to the finish line people. The motorman finally released them after sorting it out, and my journalist friends took the back way to get back to the front of the race.

For anybody who ran in these races, did you have as much fun as I did?



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