Thursday, December 31, 2009

That's a wrap


My last run of 2009 in in the books. It was a slow jog in the snow around the 6.5-mile "Norden Summer" loop that I've run a million times. I'd hoped to lay a good one down to close the year but you take what the weather gives you sometimes.

The final tally:
  • 3,224.6 miles
  • 14 races
  • Zero PRs
My best race was probably the Lone Gull 10k in September where I snuck under 36 minutes and under 29 minutes for the 5 mile split in the midst of marathon training. Neither of my marathons were stellar--a 2:54 at Boston and a 2:53 in brutal weather at Baystate--but they weren't disasters either. All in all I came close enough to some PRs to know I still have some in me and I came out the other end happy, healthy and still on the road.

2010 will be interesting. I've got a solid base of 2 years of 3000+ miles under me and, most importantly, I'm healthy. But work is starting to go better and be a lot busier than it's been in a while. I expect to be challenged to find as much time to train as consistently as I have been, but I think I've got the base to be able to do some really good stuff if I can find time. The constant balancing act between work, family and training is part of what excites me about the whole thing so I'm looking forward to the challenge. Right now, I have one specific racing goal for the year: finally break 17 for 5k.

Keep on truckin' friends. Onward.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Mill Cities Relay


Relays are fun. On Sunday I met a bunch of Shamrocks, including my teammates Randy and Val, at the Woburn library and drove up to Nashua, New Hampshire for the 26th annual Mill Cities Relay. Our lead off runner, Mike, and our 2nd leg, Crystal, would meet us in Nashua.

We broke it down like this:
Leg 1, 5.6 miles -- Mike
Leg 2, 4.75 miles -- Crystal
Leg 3, 2.5 miles -- Val
Leg 4, 9.5 miles -- Me
Leg 5, 4.75 miles -- Randy

All of it ends, appropriately, at the Claddagh Pub, in Lawrence. All in all things went pretty well. the logistics of a 2-state, 5-person, point-to-point relay always offer a few challenges and this was no different. Crystal decided to jog a lap around the building as Mike was finishing his leg--leaving him nobody to hand off to and costing us somewhere around a minute and a half (not a big deal in the grand scheme, but pretty disconcerting to a guy who'd just run his ass off.) Later, after the leg 3 exchange, there was a small disagreement between me and the guy directing traffic at the exit of the Greater Lowell Technical School. Since Val was ahead of me and I was supposed to take the baton next, I didn't have time to stop and compare and contrast my credentials as a runner versus his credentials as a traffic director, but some colorful language was exchanged. However, I made it to the exchange before Val, with just enough time to throw off my sweatshirt and pants and get lined up.
I told Randy my goal was to pass 10 more people than passed me. That turned out to be a conservative goal as I lost count how many people I'd passed in the mid-to-high teens and nobody passed me. I just tried to aim for half marathon effort for the first 8 miles or so and then figured I'd bury the needle. The first 4 or 5 miles were mostly on an icy, snowy bike path along the river through Lowell before we returned to he road for the end. Despite (or maybe because of) my slacker training schedule lately, I felt great. I fed off the energy of having lots of targets up ahead and just rolled along. I wound up covering the 9.5 mile course in 57:53 or 6:06 pace and I'm pretty sure the last 1.5 miles were sub 6 pace. I came really close to catching Noel on our Men's Open team--I think the gap was about 30 seconds when we handed off. The great thing is nothing really hurt. My cranky hip made a few complaints in the late miles, but nothing serious.
Randy ran a great last leg and we wound up 26th out of 201 teams overall and 4th of 14 teams in our division, covering the 28.6 mile course in 2:54:38. We were the highest point-scoring team among the Shamrock entries. (Yay us!) If not for the little mishap at the first exchange, we would have been fastest Shamrock team overall. Oh well. Good times, nonetheless.
The best part, of course, is that this race ends at a pub. And even though we were done by 11 and they didn't serve beer until noon, we found a way. It was good as always to see a lot of the regulars of the New England running scene and overall a great way to usher out my 30's. That's right, my next race will be as a masters runner. Yikes.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Because we can

Uncle Jimmy's black Lincoln Continental was parked on the wrong side of Powder House Boulevard in Somerville but since I was sitting in the back seat on the drivers side, it gave me a great view of the triangle-shaped field at the end of the Tufts University property where the woman in gray sweats and a rain jacket was throwing a tennis ball for her Doberman using one of those "Chuck It" ball launcher thingies. She could throw the ball a great distance with that thing and the dog never seemed to tire of chasing it--sometimes he would snag the ball out of the air on the bounce and other times he would totally miss and go sliding on his face before recovering to pick the ball up from wherever it had stopped rolling. He didn't seem to mind either way. And most of the time he didn't run straight back and drop the ball at the woman's feet but instead took the long route, circling the field and running along the fence at what looked like full speed, just because he could.

By the wrong side I mean that the car was parked on the left, facing the oncoming traffic that was turning off of the rotary at Powder House Square. It was okay though--the Doherty Funeral Home guys had parked us that way to make it easier to fall into line when Auntie Marge's funeral procession got rolling on its way through Somerville and Arlington. I rode with Uncle Jimmy, Aunt Fran and my mom, listening to the Graceland Channel on Sirius Satellite Radio.

It was a long day--a long, sad, beautiful, hopeful, memorable, reassuring, nostalgic, emotional day. Later, just before dark, I went for a run. I thought about that dog on Tufts field. I thought about Auntie Marge. I didn't think about my creaky hip or my balky IT Band. The run was good enough. Sometimes because we can is good enough.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Old ramblings


Yes, an appreciation for the aesthetic value of a run is very important to me. At first, I guess I needed an ostensibly beautiful and unpopulated place like Rancho San Antonio County Park in Santa Clara County, California to help motivate me to run. Now, several years and thousands of miles later, my motivation comes much more from within--but the aesthetic is still a huge part of why running is therapeutic. Even some of my more mundane suburban/urban routes have for me their own beauty. There are sights, sounds, smells that I miss if I go more than a few days without running a certain route. When I was in California for a buddy's wedding, I mapped out a run for the sole purpose of experiencing the place where I would be, both the country side and the town. Running is now a big part of how I interpret and learn my environment.

One of my favorite runs ever was on Tuesday afternoon when I ran in a driving rain storm out around the Castle Island causeway in South Boston--there was nobody out due to the weather and I was running on a narrow jetty with water on both sides of me and water hitting me in the face and the harbor islands just faint shadows in the fog. I felt sorry for the poor slugs crouching in doorways downtown or running from cover to cover with umbrellas like the guys from the 5th floor of my building who rode the elevator down with me when I was heading out and couldn't believe I was going out running in that. "It's only water," I told them. They didn't get to know what I knew and they didn't get to experience the city from my perspective or feel physically connected to the natural world, and it was their loss.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Blah


I ran the Run for All Ages 5k in Wakefield today in a time that was slower than I ran the second half of the Lone Gull 10k seven weeks ago. Boo. I guess running a marathon and then not doing a whole lot of running for three weeks after that doesn't do much for my racing fitness. Maybe it's time to--oh, I don't know--do a workout or something. Or maybe just take up running again. That might work too.
The race benefits prostate cancer and offers prize money for men over 40 on an age graded basis, so lots of fast masters showed up. Craig Fram (51) won it in 16:21. I wound up 10th in 17:58, I think my 4th slowest 5k ever.
Anyway, it was a nice day and it felt good to run hard for a change. But I've got some work to do.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Does this mean I've moved on?

Life is a marathon, not a sprint. When I was 20 years old and an undergrad, I basically ran not at all. I ran a little for rugby and occasionally just to stay in some semblance of shape but that was about it. This pattern continued until I was 30 years old, out of shape, working tons of hours, traveling for business and my wife and I were expecting our 2nd child. Basically until I was so busy I couldn't imagine fitting one more priority into the pattern. That's when I finally decided to make the personal decision to be a runner. Now, almost a decade later, I run 3,000 miles a year while being the sole breadwinner for a family of 6, shuttling my kids all over, wiping noses and asses, taking care of a 100 year old house, helping with homework, organizing community activities and working probably 50 hours a week on a slow week.

Somehow having no free time makes me treasure my running time all the more and makes me crave something that's just for me that I'm in control of. Running is my decompression chamber.

I sometimes wish I'd gotten semi-serious about running when I was 20 years old and tried to find my true potential. I wasn't totally without talent. I wonder what I could have done, if I could have been a real animal.

But most of the time I'm just glad I'm running now and that's good enough.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Baystate '09

I need to post something just to close the book on Baystate and move on. This was a strange race for me.

On the one hand there was a lot working against me. I spent the week leading up to the race at my company's worldwide sales conference in Nashville from Saturday through Thursday--in meetings all day, drinking at night, not sleeping, not eating right and running almost not at all. My flight home on Thursday night was weather delayed, I missed my connection in Philadelphia and wound up I renting a car then driving through the night to get home early Friday. I went into the weekend on fumes and then sometime Saturday realized--oh yeah--I have a marathon to run so I'd better go pickup my race packet in Lowell. The whole week was a lesson in how not to prepare for a marathon, really.

Still despite all of that the ominous weather forecast, when I picked up Mark Hudson on Sunday morning I felt like I had a good race in me.

It all went okay at first. It was cold and windy but not really raining yet at the start. I wasn't exactly feeling lots of pop in my legs but I felt okay--I was rolling off low 6:20's with ease. I had run 2:49 on this course last year and felt like I had better overall fitness and that sub 2:48 was not out of the question. The early pace was right about on that target. Really through halfway I was running 2:47 pace. Then around 14 miles I started to really notice the cold a lot--the rain had picked up quite a bit, I'd been wet for a while by that point and the whole thing just started sucking.

Around the 2 hour mark I could tell I was slowing--my legs were just so cold and achy, as if I was standing in the ocean in Maine. My feet were cramping and it was frustrating because I just couldn't turn my legs over. I went through 30k in under 2 hours but I knew it was going to be a total grind from there. My condition just got worse and worse from there and by the last couple of miles I was just grinding out painful 7:30's on legs that felt like blocks of ice.

Finally, mercifully, I finished in 2:53:25, way back in 49th place. I started shivering uncontrollably within a minute of finishing with my legs and feet cramping badly. I got my cloths, changed in one of the bathrooms of the ballpark then shuffled over to Beerworks to meet Hudson and his wife and friends. Several people in the street offered me help so I must have looked like death. When I got to Beerworks it took a while before I stopped shivering but the beer and pizza went down really nicely. By the time I left Beerworks, the cold, wind-driven rain was mixing with big, wet snowflakes.

I am disappointed and I know I'm a bit of a prick for being so. It's my second fastest marathon ever and two or three years ago I would have killed to be at the point where I could run 2:53 on a bad day. But we put so much into these stupid marathons that it's tough when you don't do what you know you're capable of. I don't know why the brutal weather seemed to affect me more than some people (although less than some others.) Maybe the cumulative fatigue of the week caught up to me.

Anyway, it's in the books and I move on. Runners run. It was great to see a lot of the usual suspects of a New England Grand-Prix race and there were some inspired performances out there--Hudson ran 2:31:40 in that shit for 4th place and yet another marathon PR (the kid is an animal), Brendan Newbold tore the race apart and looks like he's just scratching the surface, and the CMS guys had a great race to take the team title.

Results.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Lone Gull 10k


photos by Ted Tyler of Coolrunning

Mark Hudson picked me up bright and early on Sunday and we carpooled up to Good Harbor Beach for the Lone Gull 10k, the USATF NE Grand Prix 10k. It was downright chilly when we left Reading, but by the time we got up there and started our warmup it was turning into perfect racing weather.

We did a little jog on the first and last couple miles of the out-and-back course with Dan Princic, Dave Dechellis and a few of the other Whirlaway guys. As usual before a grand prix race the atmosphere was festive, with most of the New England running scene on hand. Just before the start I got to chat a little with Dan Vassallo, the Colby grad now running for Adidas New England, whom I've known since he was in high school. Dan has been on fire lately and would go on to finish 2nd in 30:39.

After the usual pre-race chit chat I wisely buried myself a few rows deep on the starting line to keep from getting sucked out way too fast. The race got underway just a few minutes late and the pack of 800 runners thundered along Atlantic Road. I took it easy for the first half mile and let the crowd settle down before I started moving up through the pack to find my spot. My legs were by no means fresh, being in the heart of marathon training, but I figured if I could get through the first couple of miles without doing something stupid I would have the strength to close well. I wound up hitting the 1 mile mark in 5:45 and the race had settled down around me by that point.

I was 18:04 at 5k and starting to pick off a few more people. I passed 6 to 8 people between the 5k and 5 mile markers--it was good to have so many targets around as the pace was really starting to feel intense. Around 5 miles (photo below) I passed Robert Cipriano of Somerville RR and the 2nd place woman, Tammie Robbie of Whirlaway. My 5 mile split was 28:59.

The last mile featured no more passing, just hanging on with white knuckles. A short, steep little rise just before the 6 mile mark completely finished me off for the little run in to the finish. As I charged (wobbled) for the line I could see the clock winding toward that 36 minute mark but when I hit the finish mat the clock still read 35:56 so I felt confident I'd squeaked under. The official results had it a little closer, however.

The final tally: 79th place overall in 35:59 / 5:48 pace. Not bad for a USATF NE championships race.

It was my 2nd fastest 10k ever (granted I haven't run many of them) and my fastest 5 miler in 5 years en route. 5k splits of 18:04 / 17:55 indicate I have some good strength right now. The race itself was well done and features a beautiful seaside course. I would run this one again in a heartbeat.

Results.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

If a tree falls in the woods


Today I did huge run by my standards. I rarely do anything over 20 miles--even in marathon training--and I don't think I've ever done a training run over 3 hours, until this morning. At least I think I did a big run.
I didn't mean for it to be that far or take that long, really. I just set out with my Garmin aiming for "about 20" and planning to take my time about it. I headed over Bear Hill in Stoneham, past the golf course and into Stoneham center. Wound my way down toward the Spot Pond reservoir, and the Fellsway. I decided to pop into the Fells and run the orange trail which I hadn't really been on since I used to do a lot of mountain biking over there years ago. Running on the rocky, rooted single track of the orange trail is almost a different sport that road running. At times I got impatient picking my way along at 9-10 minute mile pace and a few times I popped off onto the fire roads around the reservoirs...but mostly I made my way around the entire orange trail and back to the entrance by the sheepfold parking lot and out onto the Fellsway.
There I kept going south and ran the loop around Spot Pond, back to Pond Street in Stoneham and headed the way I came. But near Bear Hill I turned onto Broadway and headed over to Wakefield Center and Lake Quannapowitt. At the Gazebo by the lake I was at 19 miles already and finally found my first water. I sucked down as much water as I could and the Gu that I'd been carrying for all 19 miles so far. I don't remember ever being so thirsty on a run.
From there I made my way down the lake shore via Main St and across the Wakefield rotary, past REI and up Salem Street in Reading to the square. I ran down Haven Street where the vendors were setting up for the street fair later today (which my daughter will participating in with her gymnastics academy), through the train station, up Prescott and home.
Garmie says it was about 22.7 miles and over 3 hours but here's the thing: my online training log at RunningAhead is DOWN right now and so I can't upload it. And I have to say I'm a little alarmed at just how much anxiety this fact is causing me. It was down before I went out--I know because I was planning to search for a route I'd created but couldn't thus the ad lib. And now it's still down. And so dependent have I become on my online tools that I can't even feel like the run is complete (i.e. be sure it actually happened) until I enter in my log and see it update my daily, weekly and monthly totals and make that tall orange bar on my summary graph representing today's run.
I need to feed my kids and shower now. I really stink. But I hope RunningAhead is up soon or I will start to freak out a little. And, yes, I hate myself a little for that fact.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Cape Ann 25k


I went up to Gloucester on Monday morning for the 76th Annual Around Cape Ann 25k Road Race. It's amazing to me that I had never run this race before, but it seems like we've always got something going on on Labor Day weekend. I'm glad I finally did--this was a fun race on a great day for a 15.5 mile run.

At the start it was pretty clear the Greater Boston Track Club would be taking home the men's team title. I found myself in a pack that included at least 6 or 7 of their bright red singlets. Within the first mile I decided I'd better cut the balloon string and let them go or it would be a pretty awful second half of the race. I did, and after a 6:24 opening mile, settled into a good groove in the low 6:30's for a while. I found myself running with Diona Fulton of the Somerville Road Runners for a few of those early miles. She was looking strong and neither of us seemed to be working all that hard.

Everything was going fine and I was okay with the low 6:30's pace over the roller-coaster of a seaside course when around mile 5 or so a guy from the Cambridge Running Club caught up to us and broke up the party. He was working awfully hard for 5 miles into a 25k and between his feet slapping the ground and his breathing like a freight train I just for some reason decided I needed to leave. And so I did--out the front door. I dropped a 6:26, then a 6:18 and a 6:17 and suddenly I was all alone, having dropped Diona and the Cambridge guy and having caught and dropped the GBTC guy who had been about a hundred yards up the road from us. I caught a few more guys going through Rockport. I had gone from about 20th to about 14th in just about 3 miles.

It's funny but at that point I was still feeling fine and so I just went with it. I saw my sister somewhere in here and she snapped the photo below. I sure don't look like I'm working all that hard.

Around miles 10 to 11 I caught a BAA guy and a Somerville guy who were running together. I hung with them for a couple minutes and then moved on up the road. I could see two more targets up the road--a Wicked Running Club guy and the women's winner, Tara Wommack of GBTC. I would eventually catch the Wicked guy around mile 13 or so, but despite closing hard in the last mile I never did catch Tara.

I wound up 10th overall, in 1:38:56. I really didn't know what to expect going in and figured 1:40 would be a good effort on such a hilly, winding course--so I am more than satisfied. And I'm even more pleased with the fact I was clicking off low 6's at the end with relative ease. Any time you can negative split a long hilly race like that it's a big confidence boost.

It was a solid effort for me and should be excellent marathon training. I saw lots of Shamrocks, my sister and brother-in-law and their baby and a bunch of the usual suspects. Overall it was a great way to spend Labor Day morning.

Results.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Here come the Days of the Big Hammers

I've had weeks of 74, 77 and 72 miles the last 3 with a few big strength workouts. Yesterday I did 18.5 miles with 3 x 2 miles at MP (although they came out a bit faster) around the fields at Ipswich River Park. The last 2 mile interval was in 12:19.5 but I split it 6:14, 6:06 and was getting stronger as the workout went along. I'm getting that indestructible feeling I get when marathon training starts to really roll.

I feel the last 3 weeks I've made huge strides in strength and endurance. After working more on the speed end of the spectrum for the first half of the summer and running a decent 5k (17:22) and 4 mi (22:53), not to mention my big 5 mile showdown with Thunder, I took 2 weeks down not really on purpose before getting serious about marathon training with these last 3 weeks. In hindsight it was a perfect combination. I think it takes 3 weeks of something to make a difference and I'm feeling the difference now. And I think the 2 down weeks in late-July and early-August, one of which was a vacation week, were perfectly timed to let some little niggles heal and let my legs recharge. I love it when the training starts to come together. I feel like I could run through a brick wall right now, the fall-like weather probably helps.

Right now I think I'll actually get this sub 17 thing this year. I have a couple target races picked out for early November, after a quick recovery from Baystate on Oct 18th. But it would not shock me if it happened before then...I'm going to leave myself open to the possibility of a breakthrough between now and then. The funny thing is even though I'm allegedly training for Baystate I spend a lot more time thinking about the 5k than the marathon.

The 5k and then some rinky-dink podunk marathon in Tennessee in November that I'm not even signed up for. We'll see.

Keep running my friends.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Always running from time

Did workout tonight with people. I met Mark H., Mike C., and Marc C. (no relation) at the RMHS track for 4 x 1600. Damn good times. I need to do that more. We did the first one hellaciously too fast but settled in after that. Onward we go.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

No sleep 'til...Baystate


Yesterday afternoon we returned from a lovely if somewhat exhausting family vacation to Cape Neddick, Maine with Gina's whole family. We rented a big old house right on the ocean in the York Cliffs section of Cape Neddick--ocean front property with a short walk to a small private beach. I did a lot of swimming, boogie boarding, kayaking (including one possibly ill-advised 3+ mile open ocean trip in moderate offshore winds to Nubble Light and back with my brother-in-law), building sand castles, carrying small people, walking miles and miles in flip-flops, pushing strollers, going up and down stairs, loading and unloading, cleaning up and, oh yeah, eating and drinking. And very little running.

I counted yesterday and realized there are exactly 10 weeks until Baystate, for which I registered right before we left. Given that I have more than 2000 miles in the bank for the first 7 months of this year and have run my fastest 5k since 2004 this summer, it was probably not a bad time to take a recovery week before I put on my monastic training robes and disappear from polite society for the next 8-10 weeks.

But now it's really time to get crackin', starting with a 15 miler this morning that felt a lot longer than that. Here we go.

Monday, July 27, 2009

FORR 5k


Last Thursday night I ran a 5k road race, while at the same time I ran a 5k road race. But I didn't race a 5k road race. Confused?

It seems that for some reason, someone (namely Pete Coumounduros, chairman of Friends of Reading Recreation) thought it would be a good idea to make me the the race director of the FORR 5k road race. So three years ago at a highly organized meeting at Chili's bar, a group of us began planning our first annual event and somehow here we are 3 years later with what looks like a fairly legitimate 5k road race on our hands. In fairness, I am really co-race director with Pete, Chris Ritondo and Mark Hudson. The four of us have shared the planning and promotion of the race almost equally since it started, and Pete is great at hooking in lots of other folks to help out. It really is a group effort from start to finish.

This time we decided to add a 14 and under age group to encourage more families to run, and I thought I'd throw out the challenge to my 12 and 10 year old girls, Allie and Emma. Knowing that we have great volunteers, I figured I should be able to let go my RD responsibilities for 30 minutes or so, and actually run the race with the girls.

Over the last couple of months I did some training with them, when they wanted to. I wanted it to keep it as low-key as possible while making sure they weren't scared of the distance. I was fully confident they could both run the whole thing, but they weren't as sure. We did a few training runs of up to 2 miles, but never really went longer than that. On the day of the race, they were both a bit nervous though neither would let on. After I spent the afternoon setting up the race with the guys, Gina brought the girls down to get ready. They got checked in and even did a little warm-up jog around the park to shake out the nerves.

Nervous? Who me?

We lined up way in the back of the pack--I didn't want them to feel any pressure to go out too fast--and I held them back quite a bit in the first couple of miles. We chatted as we rolled along with the long train of runners up ahead. After a mile, we were into our rhythm and the girls felt confident. The first mile was 10:12 or so which was slower than we'd run in training lots of times. At 2 miles they were working a little more, but still in control. As we passed the old Pearl Street School at about 2.5 miles, a couple of their friends were playing in a soccer game on the field and their parents cheered for the girls by name as they went by. This gave them a boost and soon after we could hear the hoopla at the finish.

Once on the field I told Emma to take off if she wanted and I'd stay with Allie. There was about a third of a mile to go, just a lap around the park. She went ahead a little bit but then Allie started to turn it on too and she kept her sister in her sights. In the end they both had plenty left in the tank for a big charge to the finish.

Emma bringing it in strong


Allie charging across the line leaving her old man in the dust

Emma took home hardware for finishing 3rd in the 14 and under age group, just 10 seconds ahead of her big sister. Both girls wore huge grins of accomplishment and are looking forward to their next race.

Much later, after the kids and wives had gone home, a bunch of other stuff happened. I know we broke down from the race in the rain, it got dark, there may have been a few beers consumed under a tent in the middle of the field. Pizza World may have had to come back with more pizza for the race crew. I believe the quote as the pizza was being ordered might have been something like, "Yeah, we'll be the ones under a green and white tent in the middle of the field."

The Hudson brothers may have raced a beer half mile that may or may not be the catalyst that leads to an official beer mile event in future years. If this were to happen it would likely NOT appear in our permit application with the town. A few of us may have brought the last remaining tent and chairs to a guy named Sean's garage near the park at around midnight. Details are hazy.

Results.

FORR 5k website.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Duel in the swamp


On Saturday, July 18th, in Concord, New Hampshire I competed in my first actual race since high school. I'm talking here about a real and true race, as in the only thing that matters is who crosses the finish line first. A race very much unlike the dozens of glorified time trials I've run over the last decade. No clock was needed.
My rival for the great showdown at the Bill Luti 5-miler was my friend Andrew, a.k.a. "Thunder," whom I had met in real life only once before during the weekend of the Harpeth Hills Flying Monkey Marathon in Nashville last November. Although Andrew and I had only met that one weekend, we've been friends and rivals for a while now thanks to the virtual world of the swamp message board on RunningAhead.com, home of the worlds best online running log. Yeah, runners are weird.
After months of cyber smack talk, the big day had finally arrived. Andrew and his wife, Liz, a New Hampshire native, were in town for vacation with her family and it just so happened that the Bill Luti 5-miler fell on the first weekend of their trip.
I got on the road around 7am on Saturday to make the hour-long drive to Concord. Shortly after I arrived, I met Andrew and Liz and a few other "Swampers" who had also made the trip up from Massachusetts to bear witness to the great battle. And to complete the picture, all of us would be racing in our ridiculous green singlets (complete with skull and crossbones!) of the imaginary swamp racing team. Yes, it was magnificent.
Liz and Andrew with me in the background pinning my number
Apparently Andrew's warmup routine is a closely held trade secret and cannot commence until some exact number of minutes before the start. So I did a couple of miles by myself before meeting back up with the swampers on the walk down to the starting line. After a few pictures and a some last-minute taunting we got lined up as the announcer gave the final instructions and introductions. This was the 42nd annual Bill Luti 5-miler and was also part of the Concord Area Race Series so there was a decent pack of really fast locals, not that it mattered to us. Andrew and I were each only concerned with one other competitor. We took our positions on the starting line in our ridiculous uniforms--we even wore the same shorts which was NOT planned--and got ready for business.
Bill Luti himself fired the starting gun, and we were off. The rollercoaster nature of the course, with decent climbs in miles 2 and 4, demand a conservative start and right away there was a lead pack of over 20 runners just ahead going a lot slower than your typical lead pack.
The first couple of miles were very conservative. I led to just past the mile marker at what felt like a jogging pace, apparently around 5;46. As the road bottomed out, Andrew went by me on the uphill in the 2nd mile and gradually put about 30 meters on me by the top of the 6/10 mile long hill. My plan was to relax the uphills and work the downhills and flats. I felt like I was probably slightly fitter and more experienced so if I could stay relaxed and keep it close, I'd be able to take it in the last couple of miles. I tried to gradually reel him in on the downhills and flats over the 2nd and 3rd miles, eventually pulling even somewhere in the 3rd mile and running shoulder-to-shoulder for a bit near the Saint Paul School. On the next uphill though he put another little gap on me and around here it occurred to me that Andrew looked stronger than I had expected. He was rolling along pretty good and not looking like he was going to crack any time soon.
The 4th mile was uphill again and I was not gaining and in fact seemed to be losing ground which caused me to genuinely start to worry that he might not come back. The gap was about 40 meters approaching the 4 mile marker and I thought to myself that perhaps my plan wasn't going to work out--I began working on my concession speech. But then I gradually made up a little of the gap on the downhill at the start of the 5th mile as the course ran through the grounds of a nursing home then down a private way onto the street that runs out to the main drag. Though the gap was coming down slightly, I still didn't think I was going to catch him. Strangely I also wasn't really upset about it. I was running as hard as I could and it was clear Andrew was running a great race to be holding me off like this. I was very aware through here just how awesome this whole experience was and how much fun I was having.
On a little rise before one of the last turns, with less than half a mile to go, I finally noticed Andrew's legs get wobbly for a second and realized I was still in it. There was blood in the water. The gap was down to about 20 meters and once we turned onto the main drag I opened it up and reeled him in on the last bit of road before the turn into the athletic fields and ran a stride off his shoulder as we tore ass through the parking lot and onto the grass surrounding the track and football field. The course made three quarters of a loop on the grass outside of the track to the finish straight on the walkway between the bleachers and the track--grass which was completely soaked from overnight rainstorms. I caught him on the back stretch just after the visitors bleachers as we splashed through puddles and I think I said something like, "lets finish this off!
I think I actually heard Andrew groan something as his fear became realized--the runner stalking him was me. I was kicking with almost everything I had now and was able to put a couple of strides on him as we took the long turn around the outside, going ankle deep in puddles at times and just trying to stay upright while running wide open on wet grass. We were holding nothing back. Pure racing.
During the entire race, and especially this final sprint, we were absolutely competing with and not against each other. But we sure as hell each wanted to win.
I knew he was gathering himself for one last attack coming off the the last turn and I had just enough left so that when I saw the finish line ahead and felt Andrew moving out into the outside lane--The Lane of High Hopes--I let loose everything I had in one last hellacious sprint to the line. And it was over.

Officially:
Me, 29:27
Andrew, 29:29
Andrew had run a PR by over 20 seconds. And he had very nearly pulled it off. We congratulated each other and rehashed the race as we cheered in the rest of the people we knew. Both of us were on a complete high.
We went for a cooldown and rehashed the race some more. Later we rehashed some more while we drank a beer together--a couple of Harpoon Summers I had packed for just that purpose. Andrew gave me a bottle of his homebrew to take home. We milled around talking with other runners for a bit and then Andrew and Liz had to take off to begin their vacation for real. Andrew would later report that it was the most fun he had ever had running a race. And I know exactly what he means.

To racing!

Sunday, July 12, 2009

We took the lake


Photos courtesy of Jim Rhodes

I love this race.

The Take the Lake 5k in Wakefield is in it's 10th year and has grown up quite a bit from the first time I ran it back in 2001 or so. It's still about the fastest USATF certified 5k course you can find in these parts and more importantly has a start and finish less than 2 miles from my front door. So it made sense at the start of the year when I put down a sub 17-minute 5k as my number one goal for 2009 to circle July 12th on the calendar as a possible date to take it down. As the date got closer I knew that it was probably not going to happen just yet, but I also knew I was close enough to sub-17 fitness that I had to give it a good go. I was pretty sure no matter what I was ready to run my fastest 5k in almost exactly 5 years--since I ran 17:06 at this race on July 11th 2004.

Mark Hudson and I did a warmup loop of the course (because we don't run around this lake often enough as it is) and then got ready to go. There was the normal pre-race chit chat around the start. As we lined up Bobby Bligh was next to me on the line and gave me a, "Good luck, brother!" Then race director Tom Mignosa made the last minute announcements and we were off.

It had rained a lot overnight and all that water was sitting on the roads and evaporating quickly as the sun tried its best to burn off the cloud layer--making it feel a little like running in a greenhouse. I did my best to settle into a comfortable rhythm but it was really hard to relax. I felt like my heart rate and breathing were elevated right from the go and just kept trying to settle in. I was 5:34 at the mile and pretty much knew at that point it was a very long shot for 17...I figured I needed to be 5:27 or maybe 5:28 max to have a real shot, and that 5:34 first mile sure felt like 5:27. Not a good sign. I just tried to focus on staying near the red line, not backing off.

At about a mile and a half, the course turns right at the gazebo onto Church Street before you leave the road and take the gravel path by the old cemetery and behind the softball field. At this point the headwind was gone but that just meant I instantly started to overheat. Still, I like the little bit on the gravel path under the trees.

Once on North Ave I saw the 2 mile marker and just tried to focus on maintaining turnover up the little rise there. I hit 2 miles in 11:14, knowing then that 17 was out the window but I really tried not to let that rattle me--I still wanted to put down a good time, whatever it was. There was a kid who was running nearly shoulder to shoulder with me now and we would trade the lead about a half dozen times the rest of the way. I just tried to keep my foot on the gas, stay right at the red line.

Through the last turns things got pretty hazy as they do at the end of a 5k, but I remember hearing 16:50 at the 3 mile mark. It was all blood and guts to the finish line, where I became the subject of absolutely the most brutal running photo I've ever seen of myself:

Yeah just...wow.

Anyway, the guy I had been racing for the last mile and a half wound up out kicking me to the line by 1 second, but I never gave in and fought for every yard. It turns out he was 21-year-old Tim Wood of West Roxbury. I wound up 10th overall in 17:22. It was in fact my fastest 5k in 5 years.

I jogged another lap of the lake for a cool down with Hudson (7th) and Dave Dechellis (4th) and then took off as quickly as possible for family commitments. I can't be the least bit upset about this result. I know I'll get sub 17, I'm getting closer. And, damn, I just love to race.

Results.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

4 on the 4th


On Friday afternoon Gina and I piled the kiddos into the family truckster and headed north to York, Maine where we crashed with my sister, Trish, her husband, Brian, and their month-old baby girl. They were psyched to have us, obviously. I mean who wouldn't want 6 (six!) extra people taking up space in their cozy three-bedroom house when they're still adjusting to life with a newborn baby?
Saturday morning Brian and I got up bright and early and headed over to the high school. I got registered and did a 3-mile warmup jog and when I got back to the school things were a little chaotic--this race had grown quite a bit since last year. I met a few friends pre-race and despite the early start time the energy was festive for the holiday weekend.
The race stayed on schedule though so at around 8 AM we were off. At this race last year, I had run a great race (for me) finishing in 22:44, but since I'm fitter now I figured I could beat that on a half decent day. It was definitely warmer though and right from the gun I never felt quite right. At the mile mark there was nobody reading splits so I went to look at my watch only to see all zeros--I thought I'd started it but apparently not, so I was running blind as far as splits. I was in about 20th place at the mile, moved up to about 15th by the time we came down onto Long Sands Beach just past 2 miles, and pretty much held there until the last mile where I picked up a couple more places.
The section along the beach is a double-edged sword. It's flat, there's good scenery and there's lots of crowd support, but you can also see the sign for the Sunrise Hotel that marks the final turn for pretty much the entire mile and a half or so along the beach. That damned hotel seemed to be moving farther and farther away down the beach leaving plenty of time for me to wonder why the hell I was doing this to myself and other such in-race dialogues that we runners are so accustomed to.
In that fourth and final mile I also kept hearing cheers for the first woman so I had that to help keep me focused--it turns out Lesley Hocking, a really solid BAA runner and the eventual women's winner, was moving up behind me. I don't mind being beaten by a woman a.k.a. "gettin' girled" but when it happens at the very end of a race in front of everyone with the PA announcer giving the play by play and the local media recording it in photos and video, well, it can be tough on a guy's confidence, I'll admit it. Which may have helped me find another gear for the last quarter mile. She would finish about 10 seconds behind me.

I wound up 13th out of 812 runners in 22:58. It was a little slower than I wanted but not a bad race. It leaves me a bit nervous about my chances at a sub 17 5k attempt next Sunday, but maybe that's a good thing at this stage, we'll see.
My kiddos tore it up in the fun run and then Brian and I jogged a scenic 7.5 miles back to their house (during which I stepped on a snake) where we met back up with the wives and kids and headed out for a day at the beach.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

The nearly perfect snot rocket

I'm not one to brag, really. And in truth I'm not even one to launch snot rockets in polite company, or really in any company. But running down the road with not another living soul in sight and with a partially obstructed right nostril? Oh hells yeah.

So there I was, running, in a rainstorm. And though there was a lot of rain (like always lately) there was no thunder, which was nice. And by thunder, here I mean the weather phenomenon that usually goes with lightning and not the runner named Andrew, a.k.a. The Thunder, whom I intend beat like a red headed stepchild at the Bill Luti 5-miler on the 19th.

And so about a mile from home and annoyed by the congestion in my nose, in one smooth motion I reached up with my left hand and covered my left nostril with my thumb, tilted my head back slightly and to the right and let fly the most perfect projectile to ever take flight from my nose. This was not the messy, spraying kind of snot rocket either, but a single solid blob that held together beautifully in flight--almost in the shape of a dumbbell really--as it tumbled end over end in a perfect arc and into grass on the side of the road.

Energized by my accomplishment and my new ability to breathe freely, I enjoyed slightly more spring in my step for the final mile of an otherwise ho-hum ten miler. Ah the little things.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

5 x 1000 in the rain

Since it's still June of 2009 and since it's rained every damn day this month, I guess I can stop mentioning "in the rain" when referring to workouts. But that's what it was. And the RMHS track lived up to it's all-weather billing nicely, I might add.

This was a good workout. I often wonder how much if any 5k pace work you really need to run a decent 5k, especially as an almost masters runner. I tend to think very little, if any. But since I hadn't done any work right at 5k pace in a long time, I felt like I'd rather not leave that stone unturned just in case. So the plan was 5 x 1000m at 5k pace (5:28 ish or 3:24 per 1000) with 3/4 time recoveries, which works out to 2:33 per recovery or one lap at a really slow jog.

I'm a little surprised how easy this was, especially in the rain. I mean it wasn't easy, but it wasn't as gut wrenching as I was expecting. I ran the first one a little fast, which probably made the whole workout harder than it needed to be but still it was really only the last 200 of the 2nd through 4th rep that got uncomfortable, and maybe the last 400 of the last one.

The workout went:
  • 3 mile warmup including jogging to the track and doing 3 x 100m strides,
  • 5 x 1000m / jog 400 (3:21.7, 3:23.2, 3:24.6, 3:23.8, 3:22.0),
  • 4 mile jog home.

11 miles total.

The 1000s were about 3:23 for an average, or 5:27 pace. And they add up to a 16:56 5k. Now if I can just do it without the recovery jogs...

Saturday, June 20, 2009

The original random hammerfest (redux)

Hobbyjogger's note: The following entry was originally posted on the swamp messageboard this past April, a few days before the Boston Marathon. I was on my way to bed one night after watching a Celtics playoff game against Chicago when for some reason I sat down at the computer and this poured out of me. Call it taper madness combined with the adrenaline of a Celtics playoff win combined with the nostalgia brought on by it being my oldest daughter's 12th birthday the next day. But for some reason I felt the need to write all of this down and then hastily post it somewhere for someone to read. Because this piece is one of the things that inspired me to start this silly blog in the first place and for other reasons that should become obvious, I thought it fitting to make it the first ever Father's Day edition of the Hobbyjogger Chronicles. So here, with only minor edits, is 'the original random hammerfest.' I hope you enjoy it.




In the summer of 1988 it was hot as balls, and my dad died. I graduated from high school in June of that year and in late July, he died. I did a decent amount of running that hot summer, sometimes at odd hours like 11 o'clock at night when I couldn’t fall asleep and the stress of my household would press on me like a great weight and I would sneak out of the house and just go. Anywhere. I would sneak back in during the middle of the night and lie in bed soaked in my own sweat but so exhausted I would just drift off. Then I would get up the next morning and go to work painting houses for TJ Bane & Co.

He died on a Saturday night. I remember sitting on our front porch shortly afterward and calling over to a friend’s house where I knew there was a party going on that most of my friends were attending. I asked for my buddy, Sean, and when he came on the phone I just said, “Hey, Sean, my dad died.”

“Ah shit, Mike, I’m sorry,” he said.

“Yeah, I know…just tell the boys, will ya?”

Soon after that they all started rolling up in front of my house and a bunch of us were sitting on the front porch when the funeral home people wheeled him out the front door and took him away.

A couple of weeks later--after a day spent standing on ladders in the hot sun--I came home, rinsed off under the hose, changed shorts, threw on a pair of trainers and drove down to the high school to meet Sean. We had planned to meet that night to run The Lynnfield, our 10-mile loop from track. I parked my dad’s Civic by the edge of the baseball field and waited for Sean for a few minutes until he rolled up on a little motor scooter that he had borrowed from another one of our friends. We chatted for a few minutes and then when we heard the big bell in the Old South Church toll for 5 o’clock, I tossed my t-shirt and watch through the open window of the car onto the front seat, Sean tossed his t-shirt on the seat of the scooter, and we headed off.

Getting underway we chatted about the usual stuff like girls and work. We joked and made fun of each other like normal. I had spent the day sanding the side of a condo complex in the sun and Sean had spent it stocking beer in the basement of a bar. We were the negative image of each other—I was dark and made darker by the sun, he was pale as a ghost with blond hair and blue eyes.

We rolled on up Pearl Street, went right on Franklin and then turned left on Haverhill and headed into North Reading. It was flat here and we were jogging along carefree in the moment. When we crossed into North Reading and turned onto Chestnut Street around the 3 mile mark, the intensity started to build. It was nothing serious at first--just a little faster.

The conversation began to die down as the pace increased approaching the Lynnfield line and by the time we hit the stretch of rolling hills there, things had gotten pretty quiet. There was still the occasional word here or there, something added to a previous argument or a funny expression said randomly to get a laugh. But mostly it was quiet.

When you run The Lynnfield, at the end of Chestnut Street you approach Route 128 but just before you get there, you make a hard right onto Bay State Road at the Lynnfield Animal Hospital. Here the road is pancake flat as it runs parallel to the highway for a mile or so. The rush hour traffic on 128, about 150 yards to our left, was heavy enough that we were going as fast or faster than the cars. And so the sound we could hear over low traffic noise was the rhythmic, “pfft, pfft, pfft, pfft,” of our feet striking the ground in unison as we hammered along that flat, black asphalt with those summer heat ripples rising up into the late-afternoon haze. We crossed into Wakefield and passed the Elks lodge then the road veered slightly away from the highway and we were left with just the “pfft, pfft, pfft, pfft” and our breathing and the fact that neither of us had said a word in quite a while now and, lets face it, we were flying.

We hauled past the National Guard base and across the Wakefield rotary and headed up Salem Street toward Reading Square. The road goes from flat to slightly uphill around Memorial Park here but we barely noticed as we slid along faster than the cars that were backed up for the light at the square. Just before Main Street there is a short, very steep uphill that was the bane of every teenager learning to drive stick, but to our legs of steel that night it was just a bump. I don’t really remember looking to see if any cars were coming as we tore ass across Main Street through the square and right in front of the Old South church. I’ve often wondered what we must have looked like—two shirtless, skinny-ass teenagers ripping through town at five something pace in the midst of the afternoon rush. I wish I could have seen us.

Passing the Laurel Hill cemetery and turning onto Highland Street, we crested the highest hill on this route and it was all downhill now back to the high school campus. We were racing unabashedly and neither of us was going to blink. Our feet slapped the ground as we hurled ourselves down the steep but mercifully short hill just before the end of Bancroft and made the sharp right turn onto the path of the high school campus.

Upon turning onto the path we slowed to a jog and then a walk and then stopped at the water fountain by the little creek and just like that it was over. We took turns intermittently guzzling water from the fountain and letting the water flow over the backs of our necks and heads and at some point during this soaking we heard the big old church bell slowly sound out six times.

As we walked across the basketball court and the little field to my car, we still didn’t really speak. We just looked at each other and grinned and even giggled a few times sort of shaking our heads as if to say, “What the hell was that?” We made our plans to meet up with a few buddies later that night and then went our separate ways. Ten hot miles in the books.

A few weeks later I went off to Providence where I found out Ray Treacy had no use for a 2:03 800 meter runner who had never run more than 50 miles in a week. And so I drank beer, played some rugby, lived like a regular college idiot and that was that. Sean had one last year of high school to light up the track and then he ran a year at Cushing before winding up at Umass Lowell where a chronic knee injury finally got to be too much and he hung it up too.

Over the years I got pretty out of shape and went many long stretches without running a step. But I always, stubbornly perhaps, considered myself a runner and had a pair of trainers in the closet and knew where they were just in case. Eventually running did call me back and I began, tentatively and painfully at first, to undo the damage of years and sloth and idleness. And now, years later and a runner for sure, I know that it was not the memory of any schoolboy triumph, or individual win, or relay, or team championship, or race of any kind that kept me from ever getting so far gone that I couldn’t come all the way back.

It was just a random hammerfest.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Fifteen in the rain


I had planned to race this week but part of the challenge of being the hobbyjogger is that, well, this is a hobby and sometimes other things take priority. The month of June is just crazy for my kids as every possible sports and extra-curricular activity is wrapping up and I wound up having to let several good races go by the boards including Joan's Jaunt 5-miler in Woburn on Thursday and the Market Square Day 10k in Portsmouth on Saturday. I briefly debated trying to squeeze a race in on Sunday morning but with the rain pelting the sides of my house all night on Saturday I finally decided it just wasn't to be.
So instead I lounged around with the family and read the paper for a while and then went out at around 10 for a hilly 15+ miler in the Breakheart Reservation, in a steady rain. And, just wow, am I glad I did. I hit a detour about half way there--Broadway in Wakefield was closed so I had to wind my way through Wakefield Center and take Water to Farm St to get to the Breakheart, making the run over closer to 6 miles than 5, but when I got there I had the place mostly to myself. The rain kept most of the normal Sunday walkers, bikers and beachgoers away and for long stretches it was just me, the woods, the hills, the raindrops and my thoughts. Goodness.
There were a few people in there and at one point on my 2nd loop, as I was passing the beach for the 2nd time, a group of older ladies was walking their dogs and one them said in what sounded like Portuguese accent, "Hi there, handsome." I just chuckled and her friends all giggled.
On the way home I went back through Wakefield center, through the common and by Lake Quannapowitt. There were some little kids walking with their parents and dogs and splashing in puddles on the gravel path between the softball field and the boat ramp and I smiled at their joy of running and splashing in a warmish early summer rain. It was the right way to end the week, which all in all turned out pretty well. I got in 67ish miles with 3 somewhat quality runs and kept pushing forward and kept making progress. There will be other weeks and plenty of other races.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Occasional chinks in the quixotic armor


Motivation has always waxed and waned--this is nothing new. The veneer of relentless consistency is the product of a never-ending cycle of overcoming malaise through sheer acts of will and reigning in the urges to blaze a trail straight to hell, or at least the injury bench. But sometimes my own sanity starts to creep in and question the whole quest, and then it's really time to worry.
Running makes me happy. It makes me feel alive, strong and fit. Running heals wounds. It is a friend in good times and bad. We runners are so fortunate to know the feeling of running like a deer, of experiencing the natural world around us daily, of truly experiencing the spectrum of sights, sounds, smells and feelings of our environments by being in them, not just near them. I need to remind myself of these things especially when real life starts to spin out of control, like when my job and so-called career start to seem incredibly pointless and arbitrary and I'm torn between the itch to make irrational changes and the pragmatic guilt of being the sole breadwinner for a family of six and at having the gall to wallow when so many around me no longer have a job with which to feel dissatisfied.
So when this happens there's really only one option. As my friend, Jeff, once said,
"For us runners, the question of “why” is pretty moot. Not because it may not be interesting, or important, from a certain point of view, but because we’ve left the question of the meaning of running behind. After all the questions have been asked, and all the answers given, in spite of the disagreement on essences, physiology, rationales, training strategies, trail running, road racing, i-pod wearing, mid-foot striking, turnover cadences, arm carriages, Jack Daniels, Arthur Lydiard, 20 miles a week or 100, 5k or the 50k, whether it's really the Miles of Trials or the Trial of Miles, after all the words have been spoken and keyboards have been pounded, meanings given and ideologies subverted... After all this, we runners bend down and tighten the laces, open the door, brace for the cold and are renewed: another godawful, glorious, and meaningless 8 miler."

My wife said pretty much the same thing just now before she left for the grocery store: "Just go put your running stuff on and go running." And so I guess I will, before it dawns on me that Don Quixote eventually regained his senses...and then died, sane and broken. I didn't come this far to wind up sane, let alone broken.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Runners Alley/Redhook 5k


At the start, that's me in green behind Hudson (1517) and Jim Johnson (11)

On Sunday I hitched a ride up to Portsmouth with Mark Hudson for the Runners Alley/Redhook 5k. This is my 3rd time running this race since my sister Trish started working for Runners Alley. It's gotten pretty big (2000 runners) but it's a good course, well organized and it finishes at a brewery. Tough to beat.

My goal for the day was to get under 17:30 in order to feel like sub-17 will be possible later in the season. It was a pretty good day to race, warm but not uncomfortable. The start at this race is always very fast as it's slightly downhill and with a good crowd, and despite trying to hold back a bit I hit the mile in 5:25. There's a small rise in mile 2 and with the fast start, my pace fell off a bit and I hit 2 miles in 11:15. There was a pretty good group of guys around me to race with, so I never really slacked off. The third mile starts with a slight downhill, then is flat until the little rise right at the end.

In the final mile, that slight uphill is placed for maximum hurtiness

It was good to see my cheering section here, as I was hurting about as bad as I look above.


My four with their newest cousin

I'm pretty happy with the fact that I was able to run 5:36 pace for the last 1.1 but that sure wasn't holding anything back. I finished in 17:27 for 10th overall and I'm happy with how I competed but it's a little daunting to think about taking 30 seconds off that.

Digging for the finish. Ouch.

After jogging a cooldown lap of the course with Hudson (5th) and his Whirlaway teammates, Chris Mahoney (3rd) and Seth Williams (14th) it was time to find the beer tent. I bumped into my brother in law, Brian, on the way and we found our families and then some beverages. Post-race festivities continued on at Brian and Trish's house into the afternoon. A good day.

Brian in blue, me in green...on a post-race beer hunt
17:27, 10th overall.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Yet another 10-miler, saw a gray fox

About 2 miles into a ho-hum 10-miler, I saw a gray fox perched on a rock next to a creek at the edge of some woods. This was right about where John Carver Road turns into Birch Meadow Drive, on the left. A bunch of crows were going berserk, but I'm not sure if it was because of the fox or just because crows tend to go apeshit right around sun up--always fun when you're sleeping with the windows open. It was pretty calm for a fox, I thought. I'm pretty sure all the foxes I've ever seen on my travels have been red foxes but they always seem a lot more skittish than this guy was. He (or she I suppose) was focused on something in the brush near the creek, looking ready to pounce. It had a black tip on its tail and a white chin and belly and seemed a little more stocky than a red fox which is what caused me to look it up to see if there even was a separate species of fox in this area called gray fox (there is!) But I also found out that gray foxes don't have "black stockings" which I kind of think this guy might have had. So maybe it was a red fox that was gray in color. Anyway. It was a fox of some sort.

Early morning wildlife sightings are always a treat.

Training is going well--73 miles last week, I'm feeling fully recovered from Boston and in need of a race. Good thing I'm going to Portsmouth on Sunday for the Runners Alley/Redhook 5k--a flat, fast 5k with beer at the finish! Until then...

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Fitter and happier for sure, but more productive? Hmm...

Irishman Keith Kelly ran for Providence College and was the 2000 NCAA Cross Country champion. He still trains and races at a very high level and his blog (ain't no hobbyjogger's blog) is called Fitter, Happier, More Productive. Keith actually sold me a couple of pairs of trainers when he was just out of college, training in Boston and working for Marathon Sports in Cambridge. And that's about as close as I'll ever get to running a sub-30 minute 10k.

I only stumbled upon Keith's blog because it's one of the many runners' blogs that Jim Johnson links to. I really like Jim's blog because he runs about a hundred races a year in New England and always gives excellent reviews.

So that's all a really round about way of saying that the phrase Fitter, Happier, More Productive has been bouncing around in my head for the last couple of weeks. I have no doubts about the fitter and happier parts. Fitter is easy. And I think my wife--despite the hassle of having me take off on a Sunday morning saying, "Going for a run!" and coming back 2 hours later--would agree I'm happier. But the more productive bit is more complicated. Over the long haul? Yes, I think so. But certainly there are pockets of time when I'm a whole lot less productive, at least when it comes to the basic necessities of life--little things like work, paying bills, renewing the car registration, yard work. Not a whole lot got done around here in the few weeks just before or the few days just after the Boston Marathon. Eh, what can you do? I'm not worried about that.

What troubles me is when it seems I need to run just to function as a normal human being. It's taken a decade or so but I have become 100% a morning runner and not because I prefer to run at the crack of dawn (or earlier.) It's just that is the only time I can make sure it gets done. And so over many years and tens of thousands of miles, its become part of who I am, to the point that that I can't do much else until I've got some miles in. The rare days when I decide to sleep in (until 6:30, woohoo!) and run later in the day or--good heavens--take a day off, I'm just not much good. I'm a mess, actually, tending to stare slackjawed at my computer screen unable to comprehend the email in my inbox, or stare at my phone hoping it calls somebody, anybody, because lord knows I can't make such decisions as whom to call next without having run that morning.

This would probably bother me more if I weren't so good at rationalizing my addiction. And besides the simple solution is to just go running every morning. Why, just look at me now--I ran nearly 13 miles with 6 x 1000 and 4 x 200 this morning and a few hours later I'm simultaneously blogging my ass off, listening/watching a web conference and doing email. Multitasking I say!!

And anyways how productive do I really need to be? I'm fitter and happier--that's pretty good.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Being "that runner guy"

I work virtual office, which has its benefits and drawbacks. I work in sales and when I'm travelling a lot and out in front of customers most days, it's fantastic to not also have a commute to deal with. But recently I have taken on a new role that, at least in the early stages of getting ramped up, has resulted in me being in the office a lot more than I'm used to. And I'm going a bit stir crazy. And my kids are driving me nuts.

Today the cleaning people were coming and so rather than try to talk on the phone or do web conferences with the vacuum roaring or a mop slamming against my office door I decided to flee to the "Starbucks Office."

So I'm standing at that little counter where they keep all the goodies--sugar, milk, those little wooden stir sticks, etc.--and a woman in sweats and a Red Sox hat says, "Do you run a lot?"

"Uh, yeah, kinda," I answer, taking a quick look down just to make sure I'm not wearing any running clothes or a race t-shirt. Hmm, nope--jeans, button-down shirt, normalish shoes. Crap was it the watch? Stupid timex ironman is a dead giveaway.

"I thought so because I see you out running all the time," she says.

Ah, yes. Normally when I get this it's from someone I kind of know, or used to know and they see me running every day from their car as they whiz by in a blur--one hand on the wheel, one hand texting, one hand shoving a muffin down their gullet, one hand holding an extra large coffee from Dunks up to eye level--and they get to reconstruct how and why they know me over many daily sightings. And so when they finally corner me at the grocery store or at my kid's softball practice to them it's as if we've seen each other every morning for a year. Except I haven't seen them in 20 years because--and this may come as some surprise--I can't see let alone recognize anyone through the early morning glare off the windshield of an SUV going 45 mph the other direction while I'm hugging the shoulder just looking to keep a safe distance from their front quarter panel. It has resulted in countless awkward moments...but at least I wasn't expected to recognize this woman.

"Oh, yeah, are you a runner or do you normally see me from your car?" I ask knowing the answer.

"Uh, no, I'm usually driving," she says.

And then begins the obligatory 15 minutes of her telling me about her fits and starts with running, her knee troubles, how she ran a marathon in 2000 but has had 3 kids since then, and then of course, "Have you run a...you must run marathons, right?"

Ugh. Despite my initial instinct to scream that there's more to life than marathons, that marathons are stupid, that any overweight jogger can run a marathon, that I hate marathons, I simply say, "Yeah, I've run a few."

And on and on it goes. And she might run the Falmouth Road Race this year, and have I ever done that? And her knees, and her three kids, and she'll be 40 soon, and oh I'll be 40 this year? Wow. But how many kids do I have? FOUR? Wow, and shoes, and treadmills, and the gym, and okay nice to meet you, and thank God can I now just find a seat in the corner and drink my coffee and do some email? Please?

I'll never understand the phenomenon of non-runners feeling the need to tell runners every detail of their running/fitness/weight loss/health/diet history complete with a laundry list of excuses as to why they don't "work out" more. For starters, why assume I care? Don't get me wrong, I appreciate and enjoy running for its full spectrum of benefits including health, weight control, stress relief and everything else. But to be clear; even at my hobbyjogger level I long ago crossed over the threshold of the amount of running one would sanely do if it were really about that. I train to race. I race for sport. It's an athletic competition. You wouldn't start talking up some golf nut about your walking regimen would you? So start talking about calorie counting and weight loss and spinning class (what's that now?) and my eyes glaze over. But more importantly, would you offer all that info up to a non-running complete stranger? I dunno. Weird. But it happens all the time when you're "that runner guy."

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Feet wet

I'm not really sure why I feel the need to have a blog just now. I mean obviously what the world needs most is another navel-gazing running blog by some guy who's not even regionally competitive in the soon-to-be masters ranks. But anyway. I want some place to put a lot of the crazy shite I come up with and write down on message boards only to lose it forever. You know, for the great American novel or whatever. I doubt this will turn into a daily training blog since the 5 or 6 people who are interested in my training know where to find my training log already, and even if they didn't RunningAhead displays my latest workouts automagically in the right-hand margin. I'm not sure what it will be just yet but, hey. I need somthing to kick it off with and today's crappy workout seems as good a place as any to start. Yes, there are other posts that appear to be older than this one but those are imported so they don't count. So here we go...

Distance: 11.6 miles
Duration: 1:25:52

In a cold, hard rain.

3 mi warm up with 3 x strides,
4 x 1000m / jog 200 (3:39, 3:39, 3:40, 3:43--yuck stopped here and switched to 600s),
2 x 600 / jog 200 (2:08, 2:10),
2 x 400 / jog 200 (83, 80),
4 mi jog home with stiff, cold legs and cramping feet.

Yes, those splits are right. And the plan was 6 x 1000 in 3:35. As in, yikes.

It's tempting as hell to call this a fail but if I'm being honest I have to give myself at least a "C" on the workout. For starters it was probably a bad idea to do this in a cold, hard rain. And even without that it's probably still too soon after Boston to be doing a workout with hard targets anyway--should have just done 6 x 3 minutes on the road during a 90-minute road run or something. And then there's the fact that even with out all that bad workouts just happen sometimes. Suck it up and deal. And shortly thereafter of course the rain stopped and the sun came out.

Moving on.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Boston Marathon


This was easily the most relaxed I have ever been going into a Boston Marathon, my 4th one. After finally deciding to do it in January, I went into it with one goal: to enjoy it. I wanted to, for once, appreciate the whole marathon experience. I didn't feel like there was any way I'd be ready to duplicate the kind of race I had at Bay State in October so soon and I didn't have the energy to try. And I really wanted to enjoy it. For once. That seemed like a good goal. Enjoy the Boston Marathon.

On Sunday afternoon we packed up the kids and went out to my mom and stepdad's house in Shrewsbury, about 20 minutes from Hopkinton. We had dinner and I ran around outside with the girls. They're getting fast now and I can't catch them without trying anymore, so I probably did a little more running than would normally be prudent the night before a marathon. But it was okay. It was a beautiful night. After it got dark, we put the younger ones in their pajamas and I helped load them into the car. I got lots of hugs and kisses and good luck wishes and then they left. I'd sleep at my mom's and she'd drive me to the start in the morning.

On the short ride to the Hopkinton State Park I was relaxed but excited. I knew no matter what happened I was going to run a Boston PR and I wasn't all that concerned with the exact number. My training had gone well and I was ready. It was very foggy as we pulled into the state park and the lake where the runner drop-off was looked sort of eerie as you could only see about 15 yards off shore. I could hear the PA announcer and the hoopla from downtown Hopkinton echoing across the invisible lake. It was game time.

My mom and stepdad wished me luck and I hopped on one of the school busses for the 5 minute ride into town. From this point forward every person I met in a yellow BAA volunteer jacket absolutely welcomed me and took care of me with open arms. Our bus driver was a jolly fellow who kept asking all kinds of dumb questions to break the tension for the nervous runners, "So how far is this marathon anyway?" and such.

After the quick ride we unloaded in Hopkinton square. As I stepped off the bus another smiling, yellow-clad volunteer greeted me, "Good morning and welcome to Hopkinton, runners!!" It would have been almost annoying in a Disneyland sort of way except everyone was feeling the exact same euphoria. It was Boston Marathon day, and where else would you rather be than right here, right now?

I chatted with a friendly Canadian fellow as we walked toward the athletes village at the high school. "That's a pretty low number you got there," he said, gesturing to the yellow gear bag with my number on it slung over my back. We chatted all the way down the road. The place was ajitter with very fit people. I didn't spend a lot of time in the athletes village. I didn't leave myself that much time, for one, and then I spent most of in in a port-o-potty line. After that I was ready to check my gear and get out of there. I checked my bag in, which meant stripping down to racing gear in some cold temps, and then began a relaxed walk down to the corrals, occasionally meeting a runner I knew or chatting with a random fellow runner--there are no strangers in this crowd. We've all earned our way here the same way.

The walk to the 1st corral is the longest, but it's a great walk. As you get closer to the front, walking along the side of the street past the descending numbered corrals the crowds get thicker and the starting line hoopla comes into focus. I have to admit, walking into that corral is a pretty cool thing. There are literally people lined up at the gate to the corral congratulating you as you go by and the volunteers there to keep out the rif raf give you some encouragement as you show your number and walk on in...and then the whole atmosphere changes. With 20 minutes to the gun still, everyone is just chilling. A lot of guys are sitting down. Some are walking or stretching. Most are just shootin' the shit. With 15 to the gun, I sat down and leaned my back against one of the fences for a minute as I sucked a gu and drank a cup of water. A big, burly old timer volunteer in a BAA jacket was walking around introducing himself to every runner, "What's your name? Where you from? Have you run Boston before? Well good luck, sonny." The answers were more interesting than the questions...Ireland, Minnesota, Manitoba, Japan...when he got to me he could tell as soon as I said my name, "You're a local guy? What town you from, Mike? Well good luck to you, have a great race." And like that.

I bumped into Hudson and some of the Whirlaway boys and a few other local guys. We made idle chit chat for a few minutes, talked race plans. Everyone was still pretty relaxed.

The first corral is like the coolest club on earth....until the elites come out. When they walked along the side of our corral to take their place in front of us, the cheers started coming out: "Go HALL!, Go HALL!, HALL, Go Ryan, bring it home! HALL!!" It was pretty cool. A little pomp, national anthem, Air Force flyover and, shit, the gun.

Here we go. I cross the start about 10 seconds after the gun and started my watch. We roll down that first steep hill as the press truck marking the elites drifts off in front. The first thing I always notice is how the embankment on the right side of the narrow, 2-lane road almost acts like bleachers and how thick and LOUD the crowds are as you get underway. It's like starting in a stadium.

The first few miles are always blur. The biker bar on the left side of the road a couple miles in, at the Ashland line is a hoot--very loud and festive. Crazy crowds. The wind now isn't bad yet. It's cool but not uncomfortable. There's lots of chit, chat. I guy in an orange adidas top asks my what I'm aiming for. We're around the same pace so we run together for the next bunch of miles. 5k is around 20 minutes, that would become a pattern for a while.

Framingham is loud, and fun. Natick is louder and funner. Everyone knows Wellesley is coming. We're rolling along pretty good and it's feeling easy as we hear the roar in the distance getting closer and closer. The wind is noticeably picking up and most of us are squished over to the right side of the street trying to draft off people in front. This makes the whole Wellesley thing that much more nuts because we're all on the right side of the street where the girls are. Wall of sound, as thousands of future leaders of America and the world practically hurl themselves over a fence at the runners and scream incessantly. It seems to go on for a mile, a mile that probably goes by in under 6 minutes. Calm down now, chief.

Halfway in 1:25:05, on the fast end of what I was aiming for but okay. Slower than Bay State so well within what I can handle.

At Wellesley center the crowds are a little more well-heeled than those in Natick and Framingham but they still bring it. The narrow street and stores on both sides also captures the sound. Wellesley is nice, lots of nice homes and stores and good looking people. The Newton hills are looming but before that, my girls!

On the steep downhill into Lower Falls, I start to move left out of the pack and into the direct path of the wind. As the road bottoms out I start scanning the crowd until I see them! I drift straight at the girls waving and smiling. After some high fives and pats on the head I'm off again, "Go daddy, go!" following me down the road. I move back into the pack on the right to begin the first climb over route 128 and it's time to get to work now. Playtime is over.

The first climb is really gradual and is really just there to soften you up for what's ahead. Around Newton-Wellesley hospital the road flattens out a bit and the crowds get even thicker. For the rest of the way the crowds will be thick, boisterous and excellent and will build all the way to Boylston Street. At the fire station I take a deep breath, turn the corner and join the fray of hill number 2. Turnover is becoming a grind now; the wind is stronger, the cold is having an effect, and fatigue is setting in.

Around heartbreak I start to allow myself to do the backward math...I could run 8's from here and still break 3, not that I'm going to but I could. I have to say the Boston College crowds brought their A game this year. They're not in Wellesley's class but they are definitely more festive (drunk) and they try hard. The downhill into Cleveland Circle is strange. Lots of people who were running along fine all of a sudden stop in their tracks and walk or stretch--they're cramping up. I can feel my hammys talking to me and at one point when I let my stride open on the downhill just a bit, I feel the right one grab and I slow it down, "Whoa, tiger, keep it under wraps, lets not get cocky now. It's a long way to the Back Bay still."

At Cleveland Circle I know I'll be battling daemons the rest of the way. This is the part I've never been able to appreciate in years past and I'm determined to this time. But it's starting to get really really hard. Turnover is forced and everything hurts. But it's not as bad as other years, I say. I can handle this.

The Newton Hills have pretty much deflated my legs and the idea of returning to the 6:30 pace range is sort of a joke now. I'm just running, pushing. Just keep moving. My quads and hammys are taking turns cramping and screaming at me. It's okay. I'm fine.

Sometimes I hear my name (though I have no idea if it's for me) or someone yells "Shamrock!" and I give a wave. Anything to distract from the effort. I'm looking for the Citgo sign. The crowds are deafening. There are a lot of really solid runners falling apart around me now. Occasionally a runner who's been reduced to a walk will force himself to pick up a choppy run again and the crowds will go insane--willing him on toward Copley. I feed off those cheers as if they're for just me. But I'm okay still.

40k. Good lord. The bridge over the Mass Pike is where the wheels really come off. The last 2k will easily be my slowest but I'm still running and it doesn't matter. Fenway Park. Kenmore Square. 1 to go. Loud. Crazy. Cold.

The road has to go under Mass Ave, where is it? There it is, the line of runners bends to the left. Go there. Down we go, fade to black...oh look at that I'm seeing stars in the dark spots...up a hill now? For real? Where's the right on Hereford? Oh there it is. Here, turn here. Is this up hill? It kind of seems up hill. I don't know. Loud.

Boylston. We're in the arena. Chaos. Damn it's loud. Smells good. Barbecue? Mmm. Beer. Finish line is moving..? Away from me...? How??? Just. Keep. Pushing. Push, push, push, push, push, push, PUSH, PUSH, GRIND, GRIND, GRIT...DONE."

Congratulations, you ran the Boston Marathon!" she says, handing me a bottle of water."

Thank you!" I exhale.

2:54:53, 774th overall.