I’ve made some ridiculous requests since starting this project.

A few months ago, I begged and pleaded with tower running legend Thomas Dold to critique my stair climbing technique. Before the National Egg Toss Championship, I even sought advice from national champion coaches Mike Krzyzewski, Roy Williams, and Nick Saban.

Those requests, however, were boring compared to the e-mail I recently sent to a Colorado man named Red Tail. I believe the subject line said it all:

Seeking an ass for the Idaho Springs race

It’s not often one gets to write an e-mail like that with a serious face. That was one reason why I couldn’t resist adding pack burro racing to my list of future events.

The only problem, of course, was securing a partner. After a quick Google search, buying a donkey seemed like far too much of a hassle. A decent burro might run me as much as $500, and that’s just the purchase price. It doesn’t include maintenance, food, or emotional support. Plus, what good would it do me to buy a donkey in North Carolina when I’d have to transport it to Colorado on July 18th for the pack burro race in Idaho Springs? Sure, I could just buy one in Colorado, but then I’d have to worry about buying and selling a donkey in the span of a weekend when I’m supposed to be on vacation. Renting a donkey, I decided, made much more sense.

Surprisingly, there aren’t many folks offering pleasure-trotting ass rentals for the weekend. At least, if they are, they’re not doing a great job of advertising. We finally stumbled upon a Facebook page in which Red Tail offered to loan first-time racers a burro. Apparently, he’s one of the few Colorado mountain men to harness the power of social media.

Red Tail (whose real name is Bill Lee, owner of the Laughing Valley Ranch) was quick to respond to my e-mail. A burro rental would cost me just $30. It might be a good idea for me to show up early, he said, so I could undergo Burro Racing 101. But I was ready to start training on the spot, and Carie thought she had the perfect idea. My mother-in-law runs Noah’s Landing, a children’s zoo between Raleigh and Fayetteville, and she happens to have a herd of miniature Sicilian donkeys.

“Why don’t you try running with my mom’s donkeys,” Carie said.

“Uh, I really doubt that Red Tail would approve running with a miniature donkey,” I said. “They don’t run with miniature donkeys on the trail, OK.”

I had read two stories about pack burro racing online and watched one video on YouTube. I was an expert. Practicing for a serious sport like pack burro racing with a toy donkey was a horrible idea. In my mind, I pictured a giant horse running alongside me.

“Well, maybe you should at least ask Red Tail,” she said.

I had been planning on calling Red Tail the next day, so I finally agreed to ask him about the mini donkeys. But I was certain that Red Tail would laugh at me. And when you’re getting ready to call a guy named Red Tail for the first time, the last think you want is him laughing at you. I decided to phrase the question carefully.

“So, my mother-in-law has some miniature donkeys. My wife thinks it would be a good idea for me to train with them, but I’m convinced that it would be counter productive.”

Little to my surprise, he laughed. But not for long.

“Maybe not totally counter productive,” he said. “They’re probably getting fed pretty well and are a little overweight, but we have people who run minis in the shorter races and have done quite well.”

For the next 15 minutes, Red Tail schooled me on the basics of pack burro racing. He told me what to watch for in my donkey. He informed me that pulling a burro won’t get you or the burro anywhere. And he even explained that running directly behind the burro is actually smart, even if it makes you a prime target for kicking and defecating.

I was excited.

Unfortunately, I had no business starting my training. A few weeks before, I sustained a rather uncomfortable strain in my left calf muscle. Instead of giving it the proper time to heal, I started running again after a week. Naturally, that only made it worse. After repeating this cycle three times, I finally vowed to rest for at least three weeks before hitting the pavement again. Then I restrained the muscle one evening while lunging for an errant throw during egg toss practice. Yes, that’s right. Even egg tossing isn’t immune to injury.

I’m happy to report that I have successfully resumed my training. Today, I went for a 2-mile run. There’s no way for me to simulate running in a higher altitude, but I’d like to think that our 100-degree heat counts for something. And, of course, I have the added benefit of training with donkeys. Last Friday, I took one for a test run at Noah’s Landing and the results were somewhat encouraging.

I’d like to say that Red Tail would be proud, but I’m afraid that I have much more to learn.

Check back later this week for more details of my first practice run with the donkeys.

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