View from the Back: Center of the Nation

When is the view from the back not a view from the back?  Try one of the marathons/halfs organized by Clint Burleson of  These remarkable events score five stars for BOP-friendliness, and one unique characteristic is that the slower runners and walkers never feel the rest of the field pulling away and leaving them behind. The back is hard to find. Read on to find out how that can be!

Darlene McLuskie and I (RWM members) recently joined my friend Jane Darnell from Nebraska to celebrate Jane’s birthday with Burleson’s Center of the Nation Series.  Five marathons/halfs were held in five states in five days.  Jane and I ran three; Darlene did all five (woot woot!)
What made them different from other events from the BOP perspective?

The organization’s website advertises:

* Marathons for excessive distance runners
* Where quantity is more important than speed and
* Finishing is more important than finishing first

It goes on to state:  No time limit.  Walkers welcome.  Prize for last place.

In what other ways did Center of the Nation deliver on its promises and merit our tribute on behalf of BOP participants?

* The course was a short 2-mile out-and-back.  Marathoners and half marathoners were all mixed in together.  There was never a sense of back or front because the fastest and slowest runners were on the same route and the distance they had traveled was not evident except by a growing number of rubber bands lap-markers on their wrists.
* Camaraderie and mutual support were emphasized in preparations for the event and throughout the week.  Our first names were printed large on our bibs and before long, everyone was shouting out greetings and encouragement by name as we passed one another multiple times.  Faces became familiar and it was easy to follow up with people later. Faces are better for starting conversations than the usual running race butt-views.
* Caboose awards (one each day for each distance) were actual model train cabooses resulting from Clint’s ongoing e-Bay search.  Very cool awards worth slowing down for!
* Race results were organized alphabetically, not by time.
* Since there was just one aid station at the start/finish, volunteers could take shifts and breaks and were cheerful all day.  
* Since we kept cycling back past the start-finish, it was easy to remove or add clothing, change shoes or socks, treat hot spots, or otherwise attend to personal needs in a way not possible when you are 26 miles away from the gear bag retrieval site.
* SECOND-MOST IMPORTANT of all, the food held out all day!  Snack tables were large and laden with watermelon, smoothies, PB&J sandwiches, meat & cheese sandwiches, cookies, brownies, food bars, M&Ms, nuts, olives, gummi bears, cheese-its, bananas, oranges, and more that I just can’t remember.
* Finally, and MOST IMPORTANT were the people drawn to this unique series of events.  Yes, there were some faster runners, including one who had qualified for Boston and had to figure out how to register online from rural South Dakota.  But for the most part, the series attracts people for whom speed is not the first priority. Average age was well over 50.  Average BMI was not skewed by skinny elites. Marathon Maniacs, 50-staters, Half Fanatics, and other groups that emphasize frequency over finishing times were heavily represented.  There was a substantial contingent of marathon-distance walkers, including a gentleman who had more than 1000 times 26.2 miles to his name. We had hand cyclists and an amputee running on a prosthetic leg.  A fellow from England had done 10 marathons in 10 days in 10 states/countries/provinces ten times over.  Another was planning 9 marathons in 9 days followed by a 100-mile ultra the following week. The chit-chat over beer was not about times but about distances.

I loved the View from the Back at Center of the Nation, and hope to do another of Clint Burleson’s half dozen different series sometime in the future.

Pam Gardiner

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