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Junque Miles:

By Mark Roberts

Taking the Bull by the Horns in Boston

Yeah, I've met Bill Rodgers lots of times.

And Grette Waite, Joan Benoit-Samuelson, Frank Shorter and Steve Jones. Boston Marathon winners, Olympic gold medalists, world record holders. Big deal. This year at Boston I was personally introduced to a guy who runs marathons wearing a fur-covered helmet with cow horns. (Yes, I realize this sentence is slightly ambiguous so before anyone makes any wise cracks: He was the one wearing the helmet with the horns.)

One of the great things about the Boston Marathon (TM - and don't you even think about using those two words together without getting written permission in triplicate from the Boston Athletic Association and paying a hefty fee to boot), is the broad spectrum of humanity you meet there. You'd think that, even in a group as large as 10,000 people, just limiting those present to "marathon runners" would result in a certain level of homogeniety. Not much. You meet people of all types, all personalities and all colors and nationalities. At one point I found myself standing near a runner from Sweden. I tried to look as casual as possible before suavely commenting: "Det luktar flingor har". Which clearly surprised him. He paused a moment and then nodded approvingly, obviously impressed. It's not just any average runner who knows how to say "it smells of corn flakes here" in Swedish. Then he started to kind of move away from me. (Perhaps my pronounciation missed out some of those funny "O"s with the slash through them.)

In previous Boston MarathonsTM I've met people dressed as clowns (one of whom had a notice on his back reading "CAUTION: SERIOUS RUNNER"), a guy with a mohawk hairdo and the B.A.A.TM logo drawn on the sides of his head (hope the lawyers didn't get him) and a guy running with a five-foot high replica of a church tower strapped on his shoulders (while he was running the marathon). I didn't get to talk to the guy with the church tower but the Boston Globe did get a picture of him. Their reporter, however, never asked him the question which you or I, or indeed any rational person would have asked. Namely, "Just what exactly is the #%$@ point of this???"

Compared to these characters, most of my marathon running friends are fairly normal people...but just try telling that to a non-runner.

Despite the crowds, consisting of relatively normal folks by and large, we always manage to get a good group of Rochester people together for the traditional group photograph behind the high school in Hopkinton. The weather was nice for photography this year--sunny and 60 degrees by 11:00 a.m.--but not very promising for running. The BostonTM tradition of starting the race at noon usually works out pretty well in mid-April, but not this year.

After the photo we split up and got ready to find our own starting areas (Boston seeds all the runners and groups them in "corrals" of approximately 1000). I found myself walking down towards the starting area on Main street with Greg Brooks and Sue Zoltner. Up ahead I noticed a rather large set of cow horns moving along with a very large, slightly shaggy individual underneath. Funny how I tend to notice things like that.

The horns were attached to the fur-covered helmet this guy was wearing, achieving a sort of Viking-esque effect, except that the horns were about twice the size of what you see in the "Hagar the Horrible" cartoons. "Cowman! Hey, Cowman!" yelled Sue. "What?" I thought, "Does Sue actually know this guy?" I was astonished. Greg Brooks, being the father of teenagers, couldn't be fazed by anything as trivial a friend of his being on first name terms with a guy called "Cowman".

Apparently, Cowman lives on Maui and Sue knew him from the time she spent living there last year (her experience running in tropical heat might also explain why she was the only human who had a good day in BostonTM this year, but that's another story). She reports that he lives in a one-room apartment with no running water, above a restaurant. He earns a living by doing occasional construction work. Just enough to pay for food and rent and support his marathon running habit.

So Sue introduced Greg and me to Cowman AMooHa. Yes, that's how he spells his name. It's even how they listed him in the Boston MarathonTM results. In addition to the helmet, which Sue reports he only wears for the full marathon distance when he's not trying for a fast time, he was wearing a t-shirt with long strips of cloth hanging from the sleeves and waist, apparently as adornments, and the words "Cowman", "Peace", "Kosovo", "AMooHa" on the front. Just the sort of thing likely to make a NATO Commissioner or an Eastern European dictator think twice about...well, just think twice in general, I'd guess.

After saying hello and shaking hands (call me unsentimental but I did wash mine later) we parted company as we reached Main Street and I had to turn right to reach my starting area while Greg, Sue and Cowman had to go left.

So my encounter with Cowman was brief, but it left an impression, as I'm sure you can tell. Sue says she tried to chat with him a bit as they continued towards their respective starting areas, but he was experiencing some kind of reverie which someone like Cowman can really achieve. He seemed not even to hear her. He just took a bite out of a large cookie, held the remaining crescent-shaped piece up to the sky and murmured philosophically "Doesn't this look like the moon?", which, needless to say, left Sue pretty much speechless. I mean, how do reply to something like that?

I'd have said: "Det luktar flingor har". Cowman would understand.

Copyright © 1999 Mark Roberts

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