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Part I Q&A With The Dead Jocks from Hood To Coast

Posted Feb 08 2011 10:19am

A few weeks back I went to the Hood To Coast documentary in the city, you can read my review here .  If you missed it the first time around  you’ll be happy know that you will have the chance to see it again this Thursday evening; and I highly recommend you make the effort to go.  In celebration of Hood To Coast and their second screening I am happy to present a two part Q&A with three members of The Dead Jocks- Jim Ekberg, Larry Dutko and Bob Applegate- stars of The Dead Jocks in the Hood To Coast documentary.

The Dead Jocks are passionate athletes and long-time Hood To Coast participants. With great gusto, they participate in the race they have loved for decades, even as the minutes on their mile stretch with age. Their expert knowledge of the race contrasts comically with the desire to have as much fun as possible on the course, which translates to acting like they did when they were much younger runners. As a result, they alternate between the voice of authority and of the fun instigator.

I have had an amazing time exchanging emails with these three unique personalities; I’d love to hammer a bunch of miles with them.  They are the most passionate runners I have encountered; each loves running more than the next and they are true ambassadors of the Hood To Coast relay race.  They are funny, insightful and truly amazing runners. Before we get started with Part I of the  Q&A, here is a brief bio of each member:

Jim Ekberg was a non-runner, actually he was a high school swimmer, so he wasn’t turning 4:30 miles like Larry back in the day, OR EVER!  This is also why Larry thinks that he exaggerates the difficulty of Hood to Coast. He doesn’t, it is that difficult and more so for him as his 6’1″ Clydesdale frame takes a pounding during the race.  Jim has been captain of the Dead Jocks for 20+ years and is trusted with the important job of keeping the team together.  It is a thankless and expensive job but well worth the effort as during his tenure The Dead Jock’s are reigning longevity champs. Jim has run Hood To Coast 23 straight years.

Larry Dutko’s running history involves  over 50 years which started from desk job in his thirties to marathons in the 2:35 to 2:40 range and 10k’s in 33 min within five years. Larry found his way to The Dead Jocks  in year 5 and has been running with these individuals every since.  The 2011 Hood To Coast will be his 30th consecutive race and only himself and another runner have the honor of being the only two persons out of the 12,000 runners each year that have run in every single Hood To Coast.

Bob Applegate is one of the fastest runners on the team, consistently running well under 7 minute miles even though he’s 51. Although he seems more mature than some of his teammates, like a true Dead Jock, he appreciates the fun more than his formal demeanor would at first lead you to believe.  Bob is also a co-captain of the team.

Part I of my Q&A with the Dead Jocks:

Q1- Scott: So The Dead Jocks (DJ) are now the famous Dead Jocks, how do you think the movie Hood To Coast (HTC) will affect your team, if at all?

Jim: It’s apparent to me now that the DJ’s have subconsciously been pointing towards this moment for years.  So, we’re fairly well equipped to deal with the known side effects of fame – namely fiercer competition for (and cuter chicks upon) the top rungs of the Dead Jock FASHION REPORT.  Apologies to your female readers, that is of course, until they’ve come to Oregon, run the race, been pursued for their wanton good looks, been power arched by the DJ’s, been photographed in the beauty of the moment, then feted for the BEST FASHION STATEMENT of the year -at which point they’ll willingly (and foolishly) forgive us for our sins. At least that is our hope.

Larry: The team was quite honored to be picked as one of 4 to be focused on.  The guys on the team come from many different backgrounds but we all seem to have a common thread that we enjoy the company of other runners, we appreciate that the team members run hard on each leg.  More importantly, however, is the laughter and chatter in the vans and with the other teams is what best identifies this team.  The movie was a nice tribute for team recognition, but I don’t think it will change the chemistry of the team one bit from what you saw in the movie.

Bob: I don’t think it will change the chemistry of the team, but we are kind of expecting to draw a little more attention on the race course next year. That will make a fun  race  even more fun. As captain, I can tell you there is already one benefit: I have a full roster and about half a dozen fast 50+ guys in reserve. That’s a great luxury.

Q2- Scott: In a few words  tell us what you thought about the HTC movie.

Jim: This movie is not about running.  It is about the thousand reasons people choose to sacrifice themselves to a difficult challenge, and the thousand other ways they find to motivate themselves to finish- that Marcie and Christophe [the directors] got so many of them on film is genius.  Each small victory, piled one atop the other combine to produce a galactic dose of inspiration for the viewer.  Inspiration to go out and tackle our race, or something equally bold and beautiful in their own neck of the woods.

Larry: All of the team members both past legends and the current team loved the movie.  Several of the team members from the 1980′s (who can no longer run) watched the movie with us as and they all had great memories and stories to share form the years gone by.  The chemistry between the old and new members was a magical thing to see and experience the night of the showing.

Bob: It did a great job of capturing the zany nature of the race, along with the emotional and physical challenge. Even after 25 + years of running the race, the dead jocks always feel a sense of accomplishment when finishing and that exhilaration from staying up all night and doing the physically extreme.

Q3- Scott: How do you decide who runs each of the 36 legs during HTC?

Jim: I think mostly we self select, contrary somewhat to Bob and Larry’s take.  We have a core group of fellas that are known quantities. They compare notes come race time and generally swap legs until our chances are optimized.  One year we toed the start with nine runners [teams typically consist of 12].  Our number 1 blew up on the downhill from Timberline Lodge to Government Camp.  We ran the rest of the way with just eight.  By race end some of us could go no more than a mile or two without relief.  We’ve gone off course, missed exchanges, pulled hamstrings, fallen over guard rails, sprained ankles and gotten sick to our stomachs in such a way that no man has been spared.  The apparent weakness in us all permits us to willingly submerge our interest for the good of the team.  Usually.

Larry: Some guys ask to run certain legs they may have not run before so we give them their choices and we even have several runners who demanded leg 1 because they love the challenge of the downhill.  The other legs are usually decided by assessing the fitness and natural strength of the remaining runners.  Who runs the hill best, who runs the long distance legs, etc.  Then when this is done additional horse trading is done based on who feels great the night before the race and who feels like crap.  It is usually an open and interesting process.

Bob: This is the captain’s job, largely. It takes a little knowledge of the course and knowledge about your runners’ strengths and weaknesses. I’ve run the race about 12 times and I know each leg-set pretty well. I know the hardest and the easiest legs, which are best for hill runners, which are best for endurance guys who may not be as fast, and which will benefit from having a 5-8k specialist run. One rule we stick pretty consistently with: you have to have a short runner on leg 1. It has a vicious downhill which is somewhat ameliorated by those with a shorter stride. In the end, you figure out strengths, weakness, van chemistry and you try not to put people on the same legs they had previously.

Q4- Scott: What is your most hated part of HTC, was is your most loved?

Jim: Hated- A team captain’s perspective is a little different from a runner’s.  I hate dealing with the inevitable flood of excuses from “committeds” which emerge each spring as predictably as daffodils.  Lame, lame, lame.  Worse, I hate the endless badgering and cajoling of friends and acquaintances, from that moment ’til the gun goes off, to fill the holes in the DJ line-up with new recruits. (BTW, my wife hates being called to volunteer at the last minute, to compensate for the notorious inability of the DJ’s to get their wives/girlfriends to have anything to do with HTC). Loved- About half the team stays over at the beach, knocking back a few beers, dancing with the girls to “Johnny Limbo and the Lug-nuts”, then heading to the Pig-N-Pancake the morning after to put on all the weight we lost.  This extended opportunity to stretch the ”hilarious afterglow” of a race well run is what its all about for me.  As I got older, training partners fell by the wayside, long time DJ’s called it quits and the body started to fail, the ”afterglow” took on a sweetness not experienced before or since.  HTC is unlike anything you’ve ever done on the track or road and is the polar opposite (if there can be such a thing) to the “loneliness of the long distance runner”.   It is not to be missed.

Larry: The traffic jams which occur during the last 8-10 legs of the race can be very annoying.  However, after many years of experiencing these log jams, it is best to sit back and relax because there is nothing else one can do….the water cannons we bring to each HTC keep us entertained during these unfavorable waiting conditions. The most loved part of the race is the exchange zones where you get to meet so many new people and banter with the teams you are running against to see who has the fastest or slower runner for the next leg….this dimension is constantly changing during the race as you catch other teams that started ahead of you.  The DJ’s have often caught up to teams we know who started 8 hours before us and many times “the catch” does not occur until leg 35 or leg 36.  This is always an exciting time for both the fast and the slow teams.

Bob: Most hated is the crazy traffic that can occur around certain exchanges. Nothing to do about it, but it can be a drag. The best part is just how friendly, happy and crazy everybody on the course is. It is literally an “anything can happen and usually does” kind of atmosphere.

Stay tuned for Part II of my Q&A with Dead Jocks Jim, Larry and Bob.  Don’t forget to check the Hood To Coast website for locations  and movie times in your area.

What did you think of the movie? Will you run a relay race? What did you think about the Dead Jocks team?

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