Kay Evans, 58, of Chocowinity, North Carolina, placed first among women at the 15th annual Zoom! Yah! Yah! Indoor Marathon. The event is the longest continuously held indoor marathon in the United States and takes place at St. Olaf College in Northfield, Minnesota. Zoom! Yah! Yah! courtesy photo

There are reasons for the paucity of indoor marathon opportunities in North America. Good reasons. And they were revealed in high definition last week.

A cursory check of Al Gore’s internet reveals about four or five events.

There are a couple in New England listed under the moniker, Arena Attack Indoor Series. Sounds excruciating. There’s one in Amherst, Massachusetts, another in Hartford, Connecticut.

There’s an indoor marathon at Ohio Northern University and one at the Pettit National Ice Center in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. The Milwaukee event is back for its “third appearance” in February. Which indicates that it is not an annual gathering. There’s also an opportunity north of the border in Thunder Bay, Ontario.

About a year ago, I stumbled into an article about occasional World Indoor Marathon meets held at The Armory in New York City. The New York City event is for the elites of the world and draws only scant spectator interest.

One paragraph about these “fringe universe” events jumped off the screen. The author casually mentioned something called Zoom! Yah! Yah! Indoor Marathon – and the site for my 12th marathon attempt was sealed.

Numerous boxes were checked: It is hosted by my alma mater, St. Olaf College; in my hometown, Northfield, Minnesota; and the fraternity of those who have completed an indoor marathon is exclusive. Really exclusive. Not to mention that I’d be able to take in basketball games at old haunts Northfield High School, Carleton College and the University of Minnesota in a 30-hour span.

So there you go, and I’ll throw in the “Uff-da” for free.

Zoom! Yah! Yah! Indoor Marathon bills itself as the longest, continuous indoor marathon in the U.S. of A. – at the ripe old age of 15. Hundreds, no, thousands, of road races only get their footing (pun intended) at 15.

Participants receive final instructions from race creator Dick Daymont at the start of the Zoom! Yah! Yah! Indoor Marathon on Jan. 5. Zoom! Yah! Yah! courtesy photo

After a couple days in the Twin Cities with family, I made the trip down Interstate 35W to Northfield for basketball games, breakfast with friends and a peek at the Tostrud Center field house.

The pre-race gathering was on Saturday night at St. Olaf’s Buntrock Commons, where we selected meals alongside the student body, aka, Oles.

Yes, Oles. Pronounced, “Oh-LEEs.”

I did not feel like a college student again. More like “59-year-old dude in the kitchen.”

It was oddly comforting and disconcerting, wandering aimlessly looking for the Parmesan cheese and a dinner roll. The student working the pasta station was polite when, after giving up the Parmesan search, I broke down and asked for directions. She smiled and pointed to the heaping pile about two steps to the left.

Fully-loaded tray in hand, it was back to the Valhalla Room where the indoor-marathon gladiators were in full carb-loading mode. The Zoom! Yah! Yah! veterans in the bunch happily offered indoor endurance tips.

Yes, there is a conference room called Valhalla. How cool is that? And, no, Odin did not dine with us.

I sat at a table with Dan Kasper and his wife, Sheryl. Dan, I soon found out, is the only Zoom! Yah! Yah! legacy runner; meaning he’s the sole person to complete them all. In fact, in the event’s first 14 years, there were a grand total of 476 finishing times … posted by only 254 different runners. Let that sink in.

About three bites into the delicious spaghetti and Parmesan, I asked Dan if it was true, that Zoom! Yah! Yah! is the longest continuously held indoor marathon in America? Before he could answer, a fairly peppy fellow from a nearby table intercepted the question and answered in the affirmative. With quite a bit of Midwestern enthusiasm, it should be noted.

Everybody’s in such a good mood BEFORE and AFTER a marathon. Treble it for the indoor variety.

After polishing off the main course, I confidently strode back to the buffet for dessert – and more time with the students. As the late great Al McGuire liked to say, “College students never age.” Truth is, I probably wanted to bank a little more of that youthful energy.

Dinner completed, it was back into the cold and the little blue Hyundai. Approaching the parking lot, I looked up and was face-to-face with my freshman dorm, Mohn Hall, 10 stories of hallway lights illuminating the night. A student, travel bag in his left hand, walked toward the dorm. He cast a long shadow on the snow lined, concrete walkway. Not a sound.

A ghostly presence floated through.

Even apparitions need sleep before a marathon, however, so, back to the hotel to put the Zzzz in Zoom! Yah! Yah!

Mainely Media editor/page designer Dan King completed the Zoom! Yah! Yah! Indoor Marathon on Jan. 5. It was his first, and mostly likely, last, indoor marathon. Zoom! Yah! Yah! courtesy photo

At about zero dark 40 on Sunday, Jan. 5, the pre-marathon ritual began with a train and breakfast.

Room 218 at the Fairfield Inn featured a glorious view of cold, hard Route 3 and a well-lit Holiday gas station across the way. Just before the alarm, a freight train rumbled past, just beyond the Holiday station. The whistle blew, of course it did, piercing the silence and offering a personal salutation.

Another ghost moment.

About then, it dawned (sorry, another pun) on me that the hotel is nearly on top of the long-ago demolished Godfather’s Pizza, where I delivered thousands of pies to hungry St. Olaf and Carleton students. Carleton College, back in the early-1980s, was the preferred destination. With a healthy East Coast student population, Carleton was home to the better tippers. But I digress.

Finished breakfast  (oatmeal, bagel, OJ and water) and still pitch black out. By now, it was close to 5:30 a.m. Runners were asked to be at the field house no later than 6 a.m. The marathon would start at 6:30. Preparation was impeccable. There would be no mad rushing about.

Loosened up a tight lower back – tweaked while lifting a carry-on bag the week before in Chicago – with a shower. Applied some Icy Hot with lidocaine. Dressed. Double checked the bags packed with fluids and energy bars.

All standard procedure. Until that is, the five-minute drive up St. Olaf Avenue where I got out of the car and went inside for the marathon. Emphasis on, inside.

‘This is great,’ I thought.

This is also where it got really fringe-worthy. Around and around we went in the dry, indoor air; 150 laps on a 282-meter track.

Each runner was assigned a designated lap counter and we met minutes prior to the start. Most are student-athletes from the host women’s cross-country and track teams. My assistant, Ellen, a sophomore from Coon Rapids, suggested communicating every 10 laps or so. A good plan. Not too much. Not too little.

The Tostrud Center at St. Olaf College, Northfield, Minnesota, is site of the Zoom! Yah! Yah! Indoor Marathon. Daniel King photo

The marathon is held on the upstairs, three-lane recreational track of the Tostrud Center. A music shuffle, set at a modest volume, played on the sound system. Mostly soft rock and a little country. I asked the students to please jolt us with some AC/DC once in a while. To no avail. Katy Perry and Big & Rich was as wild as it was going to get.

Every 30 minutes we changed directions. The constant tight turns made this imperative. By the time we were 90 minutes into the run, my legs knew when the 30-minute alarm was about to chime.

The faster runners continually lapped mortals. The only competition is internal, but this still amounts to psychological warfare. The mental baggage keeps piling up and I kept reminding myself to enjoy the moment – as disorienting as it was.

The students laughed at the occasional quips while passing the start/finish area where they were stationed. I stopped briefly for a photo op and chat with race creator Dick Daymont, an acquaintance from those long-ago days in Northfield. The restroom was located about 4 minutes away in the lobby of the old Skoglund section of the facility. I walked (twice) to use it. No hurry.

The first 75 to 100 laps went pretty fast. After that, it became a grind. To paraphrase Yogi Berra, “(Indoor marathons) are 90 percent mental and the other half is physical.”

When Eastern Shore Training’s Rob Gomez was informed of my plans for the first Sunday of 2020, he sent an email with an ominous conclusion, “Good luck with the pain cave.”

Feeling confident near the halfway mark, I declared quite loudly that I would be first and only Maine resident to complete the Zoom! Yah! Yah! Indoor Marathon. Daymont didn’t miss a beat and, to much laughter and applause, yelled back, “You are the Zoom! Yah! Yah! Indoor Marathon Maine State Champion.”

That’s one great reason to try it.

2020 Zoom! Yah! Yah! by the numbers

0: Elevation gain
1: Number of runners to complete every ZYY (Dan Kasper, Northfield, Minn.)
11: States represented (including first Maine resident)
15: Consecutive years of event
27: Outside temperature
38: Total finishers
48: Total registered
64: Field house temperature
150: Total laps

Dan King is editor/page designer for the Kennebunk Post and South Portland-Cape Elizabeth Sentry. He is a Kennebunk resident and graduate of Northfield High School (’79) and St. Olaf College (’83).

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