Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Mangum Track Club-- a run with kindred folks.


Mangum Track Club held their shirt run on saturday and I am now a proud member, a lifelong member, of the Mangum Track Club. What is the MTC and what is the shirt run?  
The MTC is a self-described rural running group that has no dues or fees, no endless emails and  nothing to prove to anyone.  A history can be found at http://www.etinternet.net/~runrbike/.  Many of the members are ultrarunners, several are canines who completed the necessary challenge, and some are casual walkers who enjoy the roads.  Some members win 50k or 100m or 12hr races, while others sweep up the loose back-pack of runners, but everyone is open and kind and passionate about soles kicking the horizon.  

Completing the shirt run is the process by which one joins the Mangum Track Club.  Its a point-to-point run that puts one deep in the rural NC piedmont for fifteen miles.  Saturday April 23rd found 67 runners clogging down a road known merely as a state abbreviation and a number. I was one of the 30ish newbies and this is how it went down.

Work finished at midnight Friday and I drove home, set the coffee pot for 4am, brushed the teeth and readied the gear.  At 4h05am I downed a hotdark cup of sugared java and grabbed my running bag to cruise carbonblack Hwy 74 for 2.5 hrs to find an obscure intersection on the outskirts of Ellerbe NC. Did I mention obscure-- the sudden surreal village of runners roaming the road to the left was not unlike a rainbow gathering or a gypsy caravan.  Rows of cars were parked on each side of the road.  Runners entered and exited the woods and sat in lawn chairs in the middle of the state highway.  I saw Mark, whom I'd met at the gator trail 50k and who orchestrates the group, and he introduced me to some folks.  I joined other runners in the back of a pickup truck to tear through the wet chilly grayness towards the start fifteen miles away.  Six of us huddled and curled against the cold wind and tight turns, an occasional wave/nod to a runner doing a “double shirt run” (out-and-back 2x = 30m), and the truck came to a stop.  Here was another obscure intersection with vehicles parked on the shoulder, runners milling and stretching, and several structures around including a house, a greenhouse structure, and a church.   A NC DOT green sign ahead read "Mangum" to note the location.
The first half of the shirt run is a pure exercise of faith.  

The fifteen mile run traversed the bending highway by various churches named after old testament stories, paced across cement bridges above deep rivers of muddy slowness, geared up long inclines that folded back from hardwood thickets into vast flat fields of perfect green reeves that sweep like fine bristles against the wind.  One could hear civil war armies marching across the fields into the pine-and-oak perimeters. One could hear birds and endless birds and maybe a turtle scratching against red clay and then the footsteps of runners spread through the countryside like synesthesia echo.  A white truck lapped the collective body of the mass offering water and we encountered few other cars.
A lively group in a steady groove ran the ribbon of asphalt and stories were exchanged.   There were stories of the mangum track club ranging from a naked runner to the origin of the group, brainstorms of reasons why we run, explanations of various routes we passed over that MTC coordinates into other runs (ellerbe marathon, boogie marathon or the boogie 50m, derby 50). A dozen miles passed like a glass of sweet iced tea. 

I had to keep a smooth, working pace to finish within my schedule.  Eventually I turned into a hill that glimpsed the parked cars as the double yellow line jostled beneath me to a stop-sign end.  Runners had resumed sitting in the middle of the road.  Mark handed me a fine trophy, the navy blue shirt with strong white letters spelling Mangum Track Club.  The shirt is traditionally paid for by the existing members of the MTC, and the generosity is a trait common to these people.  He gave me a few stickers, offered black olive pizza, and I shook some hands and changed shirts before returning home for work at 3h30pm.  

All in all it was a brilliant run in a beautiful part of the country with good folks.  Several will I meet again to kick up dirt and slap asphalt, and I look forward to it.  I am still reeling on my belonging to a track club and I am grateful to Mark and MTC for including me. The energies of those kindred folks and the fields and hills and rivers and the porcelain-white churches stay with me now as I write this, and I think thats a big part of being a Mangum Track Club member.