Monday, July 27, 2009


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.


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, 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.

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:


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.


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.