I spent Sunday watching the White Rock Marathon from Dolly Parton's cleavage, and it wasn't as warm there as I thought it would be. But the spot between the 19th and 20th mile markers is the best possible vantage point to observe all the dedication, determination and drama that accompanies the annual race -- not to mention the dopiness, typified this year by the Borat lookalike running in a suit and waving an American flag.
Thanks to my friends Carla and Bill Rea, whose house overlooks the lake at the turn from Williamson Drive onto Tokalon Drive, I've watched the marathon from the same spot for several years. They invite friends for coffee, doughnuts and breakfast tacos from La Parrillada. (Roasted jalapenos are a great way to kick-start your morning.) We munch and watch from their picture window until the helicopters start circling overhead. That's when we know the leaders have hit the 19th mile marker on Winsted, dodged the radio station volunteers handing out beer and buckled down to start the climb up Dolly's big boob.
That's the first of two hills dubbed "the Dolly Partons" years ago by one of the race's first organizers. The runners dip down with relief into a small valley between the two mounds, then start climbing the next. That's when a lot of inexperienced marathoners seem to hit the wall.
The weather this year started out cool but dry. At the first buzz of the copters shooting for television, we raced outside and took up spots on the lawn. The first runner we saw was Svetlana Ponomarenko, a whippet-thin 37-year-old Russian woman who looked as cool as if she'd been shopping at Neiman Marcus. A few minutes later, Moses Kororia, a lean Kenyan with a look of fierce concentration on his face, loped past. Both would go on to not only win but set course records, at 2:29:55 and 2:12:04, respectively. We stared in awe at wheelchair marathoner Justin Meaders. I doubt that the three champs even heard the doughnut-and-coffee crowd on their lawns screaming encouragement.
Then there was a long wait. When the packs of runners started coming past, that's when the Dolly Partons really kicked in their groove.
The only way to describe the trio of men who have taken it upon themselves to hand out water at an unofficial station between the 19th and 20th miles is this: imagine Hell's Angels in drag. Wearing long blond wigs draped atop faces replete with stubble and sideburns, each man sports a really tragic outfit, tops stuffed with two enormous balloons. Forget double-Ds. We're talking triple-Ms. And let's face it: Some people, especially those with hairy stomachs, should never wear midriff-baring tops.
For the last five years, Troy Smith of Lewisville (orange T-shirt), Brock Bailey of Frisco (cowboy boots) and Erik Kennemer of The Colony (cowboy hat) dressed up, set up a sound system blasting such Parton hits as "9 to 5" and "Jolene" and stood along the road handing out thousands of paper cups filled with water. The runners grab a cup, gulp it down and throw the cup on the road.
You think it takes a lot to run a marathon, but these guys also have some stamina. Instead of warming up on Sunday, it got colder, so as the race progressed, the Dollys were splashed with water by runners grabbing the cups. They would have been forgiven for taking a hand-warming break. But for three hours, the guys stood there, grinning and calling out runners' names (which were on their shirts) and hooting "Way to go, Henry!" or "Keep it up, Lisa!"
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Most of the elite runners didn't seem to see the Dollys. But as the weekend warriors started coming over the first hill, they'd get a glimpse of the "ladies," and their looks of oh-my-God-why-did-I-want-to-do-this-again turned to big smiles and laughs. About one in every 100 guys or so would reach out and cop a feel. There were several "hat tricks," defined as successful gropings of all three Dollys. And declarations of affection: "Dolly, I love you!" A few adventurous souls even buried their faces in the enormous boobs under Troy Smith's orange T-shirt. One amazing woman jogged past, smiled and clutched at her flat chest. "I lost mine!" she said, and kept on running. Running a marathon after surviving breast cancer. You go, girl.
The Dolly dress-up idea was proposed by Chock Bailey, Brock's father, who was the chairman of the race for years. Brock told me that the runners in the second half of the crowd of more than 10,000 seemed to appreciate them the most. That was true this year as it turned colder and started drizzling. Many of the runners coming along after three hours (when the winners are probably getting a massage) had glazed looks in their eyes that brightened, for a moment at least.
There was discussion this year of the Dollys abandoning their mission of bringing hydration and hooters to the race, since they are not an "official" water station. But popular demand brought them back. Sometimes a girl's gotta do what a girl's gotta do. --Glenna Whitley