Doug Clark: Retiring marathoner, 72, never ran from anything
November 20, 2012 - Updated: 1:52 p.m.
Time now, adventure lovers, for another episode of Misner Madness.
But first, let’s pause a moment to absorb the following shocker.
Bill Misner, the Spokane ultrarunner who has logged more mileage than Madonna’s bedsprings, has decided to hang it up.
“I’m retiring,” announced Misner during a morning phone call. “That’s it.
“Oh, I’ll still run for fitness,” he added after a moment. “But to get into that national level of competition …
“It’s a full-time job.”
Flashback to Moab, Utah, earlier this month.
The 72-year-old captured the gold medal for his age group in what is dubbed the “mother of all marathons.”
Which means that Misner’s going out on top, something few champs have the common sense to do.
That said, after hearing him tell of the perils he encountered at the USA National Trail Marathon Championships, Misner can count himself lucky he didn’t literally go out on top.
As in, on top of a craggy cliff.
Or, on top of a sheer mountain trail.
“I thought I’d be coming home in a coffin,” said the runner of the dark thoughts that invaded his mind during this devilish test of will.
When it comes to drama, Misner has always outdistanced the ordinary distance runners.
I began chronicling his exploits 25 years ago, when Misner was preparing for his first 50-mile run against a rather ill-tempered horse named Zeke.
The event was nationally televised and witnessed by millions.
Zeke won by six minutes, prompting Misner to call for a rematch the following year.
Zeke won again, alas, but by less than four minutes this time.
The double loss didn’t dampen Misner’s spirits any.
He just went looking for new challenges, like becoming the first runner to log 10,000 miles in an organized race.
At 5-foot-6 and just 130 pounds, Misner is made for resisting gravity’s wear and tear.
He also enjoys the support of Celia, his bride of 50 years come February.
Misner is a deeply spiritual man, too, with an amazing aptitude for enduring the pain and privations that come with placing one foot in front of the other ad infinitum.
Fact: Misner quit keeping meticulous mileage records in the mid-1990s – after logging 30,000 miles.
Shoe companies still give him free footwear, which is a blessing.
You could start a Nordstrom Rack with this man’s castoff kicks.
I so enjoy following Misner’s calloused career.
Given my devotion to the sedentary arts, I get an aerobic workout just hearing him speak.
Take what Misner experienced in Moab. By the time he finished I had to change my shirt.
To prepare for the event, for example, Misner took to running four miles up Mount Spokane and four miles back down.
Three times in a row.
But would it be enough?
After driving the 974 miles to Moab, Misner said he met one of the local athletes, a chiseled lug in his 40s who bore a muscular resemblance to the Incredible Hulk.
The guy told Misner that he had attempted the Moab half-marathon, but failed to make the time limit.
In a state of freakout, Misner took a practice run over part of the course. “I went back to my motel room and I felt like I was going to die.”
Any thoughts of blowing town were short-lived. Quitting is not in the vocabulary of a guy who’ll twice try to outrun a horse.
On race day 401 runners took off.
Only 305 would finish the 26.2-mile course.
Why? The terrain is an ever-changing frightscape, explained Misner.
One moment you’re plodding through heavy sand in a canyon.
Then you’re in a line of people who are pushing single file up a steep incline for two miles.
Ladders must be climbed.
A dark cave must be gone through.
On three occasions, he said, runners are forced to hang on to a rope with one hand while ascending or descending a cliff.
Follow the ribbons and dotted lines. Ignore them and you can wind up lost in a world of …
“Rocks. More rocks. Rocks on rocks.”
“You have to look down all the time,” he said.
“You can’t look up and enjoy the scenery.”
There are sections that “if you went over you wouldn’t bounce. You’d just fall.”
I dunno, Bill. This Moab Marathon sounds as appetizing as the Donner Party’s last potluck.
But even misery has its limits.
The finish line came for Misner in a little over 6 hours, 17 minutes, more than an hour ahead of the second-place finisher in his age group.
“I’m just glad I survived,” said marathon man. “That’s even bigger than getting the gold.”
On the Web: Find an archive of columns by Doug Clark at www.spokesman.com
Doug Clark is a columnist for The Spokesman-Review. He can be reached at (509) 459-5432 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.