Somewhere, the guy who almost beat Scott Jurek today at Badwater, arguably the most difficult road race in the United States, has a lousy snapshot of him and Dean Karnazes taken in a Mira Mesa bookstore. I know because I took the photo.
I'd cut in line (with permission, mind you) during a book signing at a Barnes & Noble and my running partner and I chatted it up with the couple behind us while waiting our turn. They were young and friendly and very fit. And I admit I was smitten. They were so modest that I had no idea of their talent. I mean, there wasn't a boastful bone in either's body. He was particularly encouraging as I got all pie-eyed about running my first ultra. He gave specific suggestions and offered some resources. Kristin, his girlfriend, and I immediately began exchanging long e-mails. Remember that 24-hour race in Wakefield, Mass., that was on my race calendar for the first half of the year? It was Kristin's suggestion. She thought I could do it. And maybe I would have, had I not fractured my hip beforehand (okay, and stalled in my training and changed jobs before then). In any event, I offered to crew for them at the San Diego One-Day, then I promptly forgot to follow-up. She e-mailed me later to tell me how well Akos had done. I never thought to ask how well.
What I remember most from that evening last April was how everyone else was trying to impress Dean K. with their 10ks and marathons (including yours truly), while these two very quietly noted they were ultramarathoners and Kristin somewhat shyly noted that her boyfriend's pretty good.
They asked me to take their picture with the author, and it took two tries because I suck. Neither shot turned out well, though at least the second included smiling humans. We talked together as we left the store, with me promising to keep in touch (and, to my credit, I did.)
Well, today Akos Konya finished 17 minutes behind the frontrunner at Badwater in a blistering pace that gives new meaning to scorching the course. There was Akos, holding the lead for all but the last hour of the 135-mile battle in Death Valley, and holding his own till the very end. I sure hope someone got a good picture of it.