Posted by: trevormeers | February 5, 2010

Never Draft Off Loincloth Guy

Back when world-class runners had hair longer than the Beatles, Steve Prefontaine used to give his opponents a pre-race mind freak by telling them, “I’m going to take you places you really don’t want to go.”

Every runner has made that journey. Among the sport’s certain destinations, for example, is the place where you make the acquaintance of body parts you didn’t even know you had. Hello, IT band! Nice to meet you, plantar fascia! On his epic runs, ultrarunner Dean Karnazes (signature achievement: 50 marathons in 50 states in 50 days) sometimes hallucinates like he’s hitting peyote in a bordertown motel.

But even short of physical and psychadelic revelations, a few good runs will simply carry you to new places. Some are places you actually want to go. Runner’s World opens every issue with a Rave Run, sprawling photos of trails so inspiring they could make Rose O’Donnell lace up and lay down a few miles.

My runs aren’t as rave as the Golden Gate Bridge in the fog, but a few still stand out. Here are four favorites, chosen purely for their sticking power in my memory:

Enter the Hamster – Des Moines doesn’t claim a lot of architectural cred, but it has this: 3 miles of downtown skywalks. When one January Saturday brought 12-degree temps, I got creative for my weekly long run. Why couldn’t a guy go hamster-style and run through the miles of climate-controlled tubes on a quiet Saturday morning? I found a skywalk “walking map” online, but turned up nothing with Google searches for “Des Moines skywalk running.” I decided it was worth a shot, and told Teri that if I got kicked out by security, I’d be home early. She said, “Don’t get arrested; we have a race tomorrow” and went back to the laundry.

I parked by a skywalk entrance door, stripped down to shorts and a shirt and ducked inside. I started winding through the long glass halls, pausing for automatic doors to shush open, noting which buildings don’t heat their portion of the skywalk on weekends. I encountered two other runners, a few old guys walking and a lot of suspicious characters doing their best to look like they were studiously reading a paper. Whenever I spotted a rent-a-cop ahead, I turned off for a different loop, just in case. Eventually, I came face-to-face with one of the boys in blue. I nodded in a friendly way and kept running like I do this every Saturday. He smirked and took a tug on his 64-ounce Coke.

Homeless Hair Band – There’s no denying it: I annoy homeless guys. It probably has to do with the fact that when a 6’4” blonde dude with enough free time to run for sport comes barreling toward a homeless guy, that guy probably thinks the very incarnation of The Man is about to land in his lap. And if he’s ever going to say what needs saying to the system keeping him down, then, brother, here’s the chance.

My heckling stretches across multiple states. In Seattle, a guy interrupted his mumbling as I passed to say, “Isn’t that RIGHT, Mr. John J. Wisenheimer?!” Only he had a more creative word than “wisen” in there. In Des Moines, I used to run the dikes of the Raccoon River, which forms the back wall of a massive cardboard city of homeless guys who literally live down…by…the….river. “Yeah! Nice legs!” was a popular choice on that route.

But the most style points go to the man I know as “Warrant.” I encountered him on the sidewalk between my office and QuikTrip, a magnet for homeless guys and kids driving tiny cars with tailpipes the sizes of battleship guns. As I approached Warrant, he pointed at me and started singing a song from the ‘80s hair band Warrant: “She’s my cherry pie! Cool drink o’ water such a sweet surprise!” I thought he might toss me a guitar pick, but he just asked to bum a smoke as I passed him.

Loincloth Guy – My history with Loincloth Guy is one shared by most central Iowa runners. By day, he’s a burned-out public school janitor who looks like Chuck Norris. But when a big race comes around, he dons a loincloth—and nothing else, including shoes—and gets his run on. Somehow, he manages to attach a bib number and computer chip to the string of his loincloth. For shorter distances, like the annual Living History Farms cross-country freak show, he carries a longbow. Temperature is no deterrent. I’ve been in the starting chute at 30 degrees and seen Loincloth Guy posing ninja-style for the cameras, covered in goosebumps like a plucked chicken.

And to answer your question: No, there’s nothing under the loincloth. I have this on good authority from runners who have followed Loincloth Guy up rather steep creek banks.

Poops The Dog – Poops lives on a farm about 1.5 miles from my house, where he earns his living nipping the heels of cattle all day. I met him when I passed his farm with my Ipod on, oblivious to much but the smell of feedlot cattle. Then I heard something like the breath of a werewolf suddenly arise over my shoulder, and I skittered right. It was Poops, pumping his tiny legs as he came abreast of me. He never offered to nip at me. He just ran along, sometimes swerving off into the deep ditches and running up the sides like a NASCAR driver riding through the banks at Talladega.

This has been Poops’ pattern every time I pass his house, along with the habit that gave him his name. My arrival, it seems, sparks the call of duty in the dog’s bowels. We usually make it about a half-mile together before he heads to the ditch and takes care of business. It’s gotten predictable enough that Poops’ constitutional helps mark my running pace. If I’m making good time, I should be at about the 38-minute mark when Poops takes his refreshing pause. If I don’t run that route for a few weeks, I worry over the intestinal distress I’m putting Poops through.

So I try to stay regular, so Poops can, too. If my calling as a runner is destined to be helping Poops and the homeless population vent as needed, then I’ll make my rounds. Steve said running would take me there.



  1. How did you know that your readers would be curious about whether or not there was additional “clothing” on Loincloth Guy to prevent any wardrobe malfunctions? I feel sorry for those who are eyewitnesses to the fact that there is not.

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