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Book offers races with quirky twists

by Celia Storey | April 7, 2014 at 2:39 a.m.

The Runner’s Bucket List: 200 Races to Run Before You Die by Denise Malan (Triumph Books paperback, April), 328 pages, $16.95

Denise Malan hasn’t run all of the footraces she profiles in her new guidebook for tourism-minded runners. For instance, she never has dragged a burro over a mountain in Colorado, and she has yet to crawl onto the sag wagon that trails bar-hoppers trying to finish the Lundi Gras Bar-a-Thon in Lafayette, La.

(“They have more beers on there and coolers, and it plays music,” she says, marveling.)

But she has done an underground 10K - 6.2 miles in a cave - and also a marathon with giant redwood trees lining an out-and-back course that somehow manages to go downhill in both directions. One time she ran a half-marathon on an ice-skating rink’s indoor track, lap after lap after chilly lap.

Trained as a reporter, she has applied basic journalistic skills to research many more - and more unusual - events, which makes The Runner’s Bucket List: 200 Races to Run Before You Die fun to read even if your budget doesn’t include travel.

Heavily illustrated with color photos, Malan’s reports are based on her interviews with race organizers or else provide first-person narratives written by runners who have done these things.

And there are 200 events,sorted into 25 chapters by theme rather than length or location, allowing readers with a particular bent to make a quick survey of options.

Wanna suffer? Look up her chapter “Brave the Elements” to learn about uncomfortable opportunities such as snowshoe racing in California, skidding over frozen Lake Superior, plodding through drifts in Montana or wringing out your sweat glands in the Hotter ’N Hell 100’s Wee-Chi-Tah Trail Race in Wichita Falls, Texas, or the Hotter Than Hell Marathon in New Orleans.

Other chapters beckon those who care to “Run Naked (Or Close to It),” “Stuff Your Face,” “Tour the Wine Country” …

Readers whose goal is good swag will notice that Malan highlights the Little Rock Marathon. She ran Little Rock’s half-marathon in 2009, and the 2011 Little Rock Marathon was her first 26.2-mile race. She enjoyed it enough to return, and would have several times had her job not required her to travel elsewhere on marathon weekend.

Malan graduated from the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville in 2003 with a double major in journalism and physics. She’s worked for newspapers in Arkansas and Texas. Now a resident of Kansas City, Mo., she’s director of data services for Investigative Reporters and Editors (IRE), a nonprofit that promotes journalistic standards and last year created a “Golden Padlock” award to scold inappropriately secretive government agencies.

But running is her hobby. So while her book bears evidence of a reporter doing her get-the-facts thing, it wasn’t about work.

“It started with one race that my grandparents told me about, actually in Kansas City, before I lived up here - the Groundhog Run, which is a 5K and 10K completely underground in a limestone cave,” she says.

The former limestone mine has become an underground business complex. “It’s like a little city down there,” she says. “They have roads and lights and stop signs. And I wanted to run that race, and I thought, ‘There has to be a lot more really super interesting new places out there.’ I started building my own list of the them.”

Her list hit 50 items so quickly that she realized it would be much too easy to go broke as a racing tourist. But what if she had to travel, to do research for a book?

“I found a publisher for it,” she says, “and then once I started reporting and talking to people around the country for the book, they just started telling me about races they knew, and I started scouting the Internet for different races, and it grew from there until it was 200 races.”

She still can’t afford to globe trot; she sympathizes with readers who might buy her book in a fit of wishful thinking.

It’s fun to imagine traveling to South Carolina just to do the Mullet Haul Trail Run, which is named for a family named Mullet and based at Mullet Hall equestrian center: “Everyone has to wear mullets,” she says.

“And then maybe the craziest one that I really do want to do is burro racing in Colorado. You literally do a race with a donkey - not riding the donkey. That’s kind of the only rule, you can’t ride the donkey, you have to lead it on a rope.”

Racers re-enact a possibly fabulous event: “The legend is that two miners had hit on the same deposit, and they had to race back to town to claim it, with their donkeys.The donkeys have to carry mining equipment. There’s a certain poundage they have to carry, and you basically have to learn to work with the donkeys.”

Some arrive early to rent a donkey and train with it, and those who don’t are “probably not going to win any races because the best possible team, they train together, they work together and you kind of become one with your donkey.

“I would just have to come into town and find a donkey who hopefully, hopefully likes me.”

She is “definitely” continuing her research. “It combines a lot of my favorite things, traveling and running, and with the book I got to do writing, too.”BOOK SIGNINGS

Malan will sign copies of her book in Fayetteville from 3 to 7 p.m. Thursday at Fleet Feet Sports; the shop’s weekly fun run will be held as usual.

She’ll also sign books from 1 to 3 p.m. Friday in Kimpel Hall, Room 113, at the University of Arkansas.

During a trip to central Arkansas to speak to the Arkansas Press Women at Hendrix College in Conway, Malan will stop at Rock City Running in Little Rock’s Colony West shopping center, 10300 Rodney Parham Road.

She’ll greet the public and sign books from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. April 25. More information is at (501) 313-4689.

ActiveStyle, Pages 27 on 04/07/2014

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