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Packet pickup packs 'em in

Apart from the fact I was standing on two legs and had a pulse, there was virtually no reason for anyone to mistake me for a runner. I'm built like, and am slightly less mobile than, the fire hydrants participants in today's Pear Blossom Run will cruise by.

But I get it. It was all about my surroundings.

If I'm in the pilots' lounge at the airport, some might think I can fly a jet plane. If I'm on pit row at a stock car race, some might think I can change a tire. Neither of these is true.

I've been covering the Pear for a number of years but had never been to packet-pickup day. So I thought I'd check out the most happenin' place in Medford on Friday, the gym at Rogue Valley YMCA, where thousands would make their way from morning until night.

No sooner had I walked in than I was asked for my race number, or phone number, or IQ number, or something. Hellooo, I'm not a runner. The gentleman didn't know. I blathered something about I do this, I'm here for this and may I please gain entry. He acquiesced.

It was still well before noon, but there were a lot of people buzzing around. Tables lined all the walls, some in an official capacity, others sponsors pitching their wares.

I sought out co-race director Steve Buxton. He was putting out a fire somewhere, I was told. When done, said Simone, another race volunteer, there was another issue in the far corner. She pointed to a table manned by the chip timing folks.

While waiting, I saw a table marked "Free Stuff," or something similar.

There were stickers and bag tags and such for the taking. Big-ticket items were already gone. No more Frisbees or ponchos. Regarding the ponchos, it was suggested it won't rain during the race.

The sweet lady working the table grinned, cupped her hands to her mouth and, in a forceful whisper said, "Who cares!"

Hey, free is free.

Then Buxton came my way. We had talked by phone the past couple years but hadn't met.

"You look just like your picture," he said.

"Twenty years ago, yes," I replied.

Then we chatted about running things.

He called this operation "the heartbeat," "the eye," "the center," "the pulse" of the event.

It sure had a lot of names, but how could you argue? Though there are about 300 fewer entrants for today's main event, the 10-mile run, overall numbers for the 10-mile, the 5-kilometer and the two Mayor's Cup runs (1 and 2 miles) are strikingly close to last year's total of about 5,100.

And most of them come through this gym on packet day. Yeah, heartbeat sounds about right.

"I've been to a million packet pickups," said Buxton, who will run the Pear for the 30th time today. "There's nothing like this. It's an event of its own."

I learned Doug Naversen, a local running icon, was in the 5K, and his goal was to do it in 20 minutes. That'd be about a six-minute-mile pace. No small accomplishment for a man of 64. He'll go head-to-head with a friend from California, Michael Holland.

Naversen beat Holland in last year's Stage Coach Run.

"It's a bit of a grudge match," said Buxton.

John Norberg, who last year was the oldest 10-mile runner and set the 85-89 age group record of 2:47.36, is dropping down to the 5K. His goal is to get that record, too. But unlike a year ago, Norberg, whom I wrote about in 2012 and is only three weeks shy of 87, will have another in his age class today.

It won't be Russell Edwards of Central Point. He's in the race for the first time but has taken a few practice tours of the course. He's hopeful of finishing in about 1:20:00, or eight minutes per mile — "If I don't get caught up in the adrenaline," he said — and wondered how far back he should start.

He didn't want to be in the way of the fastest runners.

"I'm almost 42, and I'm not a flyweight," he said. "Those guys are all really light."

He was preaching to the choir.

To his point, race organizers have upgraded their sound system and will plead with slower runners to line up farther back to avoid, as much as possible, logjams up front.

I got the chance to meet Rick Klimek, the father of Marci Klimek Gage, who is going for her third straight women's title. Gage and I tried to connect for an interview Thursday, but she was so busy with work, a couple workouts and coaching a high school team in Bend, it didn't work out.

I did learn she had a strong showing in the California International Marathon in December, placing fifth and setting a personal best by eight minutes of 2:39:19.

Yes, this was the place to get plugged in.

Assuming the fire was put out, I moved over to the chip timing people. I'd worked with Jon Atherton of AA Sports since the Beaverton company introduced their chip to Pear in 2008. He's the one who gets us the results.

Same drill, he asked. Yep, I said.

"I'll get them to you by next month," he joked.

Off I wandered.

At the Norris Shoes table, a woman asked if I needed new running shoes. By now I had collected a packet (I needed the program) and a champagne flute (which I'm told is equally adept at holding beer) on which a Pear emblem was stenciled, so I looked more and more like a runner. OK, an entrant.

She was making sales, and brightly colored shoelaces were popular.

I stopped by a Rogue Valley Mall table. The woman asked if I was a member. I stammered that I get emails that suggest so. Then I blamed my wife. It was reflex.

A woman handing out actual race packets to actual runners said the crowds come and go. She'd be on only until 1, which meant she'd could not escape the noon rush.

Another couple of women were pitching Paleo Diet books and information. One said it cured what ailed her — I didn't make out what the ailment was — and that her husband lost 30 pounds on it. I questioned whether it would work for me. I patted my belly for effect.

"It works for everyone," said her cohort.

Good answer.

Not far away, Kelly Minty Morris was drumming up interest in the Klamath County Run for Kids. She had given away most of the cloth promotional bags and was fishing through a box of chocolate-covered cherries from Harry & David.

"Now I'm peddling candy," she laughed.

This was a product-placement fail, for she was between the Paleo people and a display exhorting "complete nutrition."

On the wall behind the table were, on one side, maps of the various running routes, and on the other, children's entries for the Mayor's Cup design contest.

One had a trophy with a picture of two big pears — Mama Pear and Papa Pear? — and two little ones. It read: "Family is Forever."

My tour of the Pear Run's epicenter was complete, so I made my way out. There were boxes and boxes of pears by the door, 5,000 I was told. A woman handed me a pair of pears.

"Good luck in your race," she smiled.

I gave up.

"Thanks," I said.

I will be out there today, but if you see me running, it will be for only one reason. I overslept.

Reach sports editor Tim Trower at 541-776-4479, or email ttrower@mailtribune.com

Dawn and Devin Cameron, of Medford, pick up their Pear Blossom Run T-shirts and run packets Friday at the Medford YMCA. - Jamie Lusch