On a March afternoon in Minnesota, the greatest event in running history took place on a modern-day Field of Dreams. Iconic races like Western States, the Boston Marathon and Badwater pale in comparison to this new quintessential race: The Sandlot Marathon.
A baseball field is the ideal location for a race. I know what you’re thinking, but where else can you run for hours on end while never being more than 360 feet from an aid station? The day before the race, the baseball field was covered in snow and mud and The Sandlot race direction team (a group of experienced ultrarunners with horrible ideas) spent the entire day clearing the infield, shoveling, raking and using leaf blowers to dry off the base lines.
At the start line (also known as Home Base), 35 intrepid runners lined up to start. Once the National Anthem was sung, the race began. The aid station had the typical ballpark cuisine options: Big League Chew, sunflower seeds, pretzels and soda. But that’s not all – there was also Heed-flavored hot dogs and hot dog-flavored Heed. I would explain the process for making this processed meat concoction, but it would take the rest of the article to explain. And, it would make you vomit.
After four hours, runners took a short break for the seventh inning stretch. Covered in mud, runners enjoyed hot dogs and beer, and sang a rousing rendition of “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” before resuming the race.
Luke Thoreson, the brilliant and witty author who co-wrote my book, Into The Furnace, was part of the race directing team. Luke’s brain does not work like most. He wanted to figure out a way to track each runner’s distance during the race without a New York City Marathon-sized budget. So, Luke did what any genius would do and bought radio-frequency identification (RFID) chips and a low-powered antenna from Amazon, wrote some complex computer code and created a bunch of spreadsheets.
To test his makeshift tracking system, Luke taped some tracking chips to three-foot-long dowel rods, and then taped the rods to his ceiling fan. He built a tower of cardboard boxes where he could set his computer and chip reader close enough to read the chips hanging from the ceiling fan. The end result was that Luke discovered his tracking system worked! (But not before blowing over the cardboard tower after turning the fan on too high, and breaking the laptop’s screen when it hit the floor.)
In Major League Baseball, some players have a “walk-up song” which is a song of each player’s choice that is played when they walk up to the plate. One of the race registration questions runners had to answer was what their walk-up song would be. These were compiled into a playlist that played during the race. Highlights included Sweet Caroline and Running Down a Dream, along with songs that should absolutely never be found on a running playlist such as Baby Shark and Somewhere Over The Rainbow.
Luke figured out that it would take 384 loops around the bases to run a marathon. Then, after doing more mindless research, he learned that Harold Baines is the only player in Major League history to hit 384 home runs in his career. Luke dug through a box of old baseball cards and found a coveted Harold Baines card. This baseball card became the award for the winner. (Luke also generously donated a gift card for $10.13 to Denny’s – the cost of a Grand Slam breakfast.)
In 2018 I crewed Andy Lohn at Badwater, and he immediately became one of the Top Five Funniest People I know. Andy was another member of the Sandlot RD team and created a unique baseball card to present to every runner. He chose a specific photo from each runner’s Facebook page, and when an unknown runner named Peggy registered but didn’t have one, the only picture he could find was a photo of her hugging a pet llama at the Iowa State Fair Llama Limbo. That picture of Peggy with her llama became her baseball card. Who needs a belt buckle from a race when you can get your own baseball card?
Marathons make great training runs for ultramarathons. And quirky races like the Sandlot Marathon help to keep running fun and prevent burnout. In addition to helping train the legs, the Sandlot Marathon could also help train your stomach. There is no amount of ultramarathon nausea that could compare to ingesting some hot dog-flavored Heed.