Saturday, December 31, 2011

That's a wrap, 2011 stylee

I just got back from my final run of 2011 and it's time to stick a fork in this puppy.  It was a 2.5-mile shuffle with my 14-year-old daughter, Allie, who complained the whole way.  I didn't force her to go in any way, mind you, she's just a 14-year-old girl and that's pretty much what they do.  She was tired and whatnot since earlier I took her along for an hour plus long walk in the woods with Joe Joe the Idiot Circus Dog but hey.

Just before said 2.5-mile shuffle, I did 7 mile warm-up on one of my familiar loops while wearing my brand new, just out of the box, wicked obnoxiously orange Asics Sky Speeds.  Holy crap they're orange.

All in all I'll call it a good year of running.  It was low in overall mileage, low in racing, but high in fun and I finished the year healthy and mentally in a good way with running.  According to I ran 2,498.5 miles for the year.  Yeah...if I had known that before I sat down to write this you can bet I would have found a way to squeeze another mile and a half out of today to make the utterly meaningless milestone of 2,500 miles (Despite all pretenses of nonchalanceI am an obsessive-compulsive whackjob after all.)  Still, that's a lot more than I would have guessed.  A lot of that must have been loaded into the first half of the year though since I haven't had a 200 mile month since September.

I only ran 4 races:  3 5k's and a half marathon. (Wow, really?)  But there was that whole Tour de Vermont thing, which was pretty awesome.  Somehow I squeaked out a 17:23 5k back in the early summer when apparently I was actually training a bit, then a 1:22 half marathon in October after the slide toward not giving a crap was well underway.  I'll take it, all things considered.

I will make an honest effort to race more in 2012 and I'll try to write more as well.  Originally this blog basically just served as a place for me to put race reports which makes 2011 a complete fail as I don't believe I even wrote about any of the races I ran this year (all 4 of them).  The plan is to get back to capturing my races here (this is mostly for myself but if others like to read them that is always nice as well) but I also want to throw out a lot of other thoughts I have about running and the rest of life and how it all fits together.  I can't make any promises but that is the plan.

Happy New Year and happy trails.  Keep on rolling.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Promise me you'll always be a runner

I know that the two or three of you who follow this space will be very relieved to see my first post in several months.  Sorry, I have been busy.

Personally, professionally and in almost every other way, 2011 has been a very good year for me and I feel extremely blessed.  One of the side effects of this is that I logged, by a fairly good margin, my lowest mileage total in over four years and ran way fewer races than I had expected--less than a handful really.  That fact, which at one time would have caused immeasurable angst, does not faze me one bit.

I am pretty sure I wrote once that back before I really became a runner I always "stubbornly, and for no obvious reason, considered myself a runner, always owned a pair of running shoes and knew where they were in the back of my closet, just in case."  That was at least twenty-five thousand miles ago.  I guess you could say I am over having to ever reassure myself or anybody of the basic truth: I run because I am a runner.

My slide deeper toward hobbyjoggerhood and away from taking any competitive running goals very seriously also coincided with our little running crew, the RTC (Reading Track Club, so creative!) becoming firmly established.  The core group (Mark, Chris, Dan and I) and our part time shower-uppers, (Mike, Marc, Patrick, Joe, et al.) have made Thirsty Thursday workouts followed by beers at Grumpy's into a genuine institution.  We couldn't stop Thirsty Thursday now if we tried.  The Sunday long runs with the group have become more regular as well.  During the year plus of Showing Up nearly every Thursday evening and a lot of Sunday mornings, our little crew has experienced the full gamut that life has to offer: deaths, births, injury, illness, work stress, family drama, natural disasters and more.  We took all of these things on shoulder-to-shoulder, sometimes at a conversational pace and sometimes, well, not so much.  We ran in the pitch dark and cold with sleet and snow pelting our faces, and in the life sucking humidity of mid summer.  We climbed mountains (literally) and descended valleys.  We raced some, ran lots and had a lot of laughs.  We had a few blue bird days--like last night running in shorts under a starry sky the week of Christmas--but we also had a lot of days and nights where we just had to put our heads down, lean into the icy wind or sweltering heat and grind it out for no better reason that to feel alive and earn our beers.

I ran some number of miles with two of my daughters and my dog (not all at the same time, that's crazy talk) as well.  I haven't had so many regular running buddies since high school track.

When I think back to some of my favorite accomplishments in the sport of running--running a 2:49 marathon for the first time probably being the highlight in terms of goals achieved and all that went into it--I am happy and proud, no matter how meaningless they are in the grand scheme.  I still think often about the feeling I had at Mile 23 of the 2008 Baystate Marathon--feeling the over-arching pain start to cover me heavier and heavier like a shroud.  The fear and dread hanging just above me but not yet touching me, knowing knowing that I would make it because I had earned it and drawing enough strength from that truth to actually carry it off.  And then the feeling of actually doing it--running out the rest of what was in me, executing the perfect effort.  Seeing those red numbers on the clock as I hurtled toward the finish.  Hearing my family out of my left ear.  The sights, the sounds of the stadium that day.  The color of the sky.  The smell of the chicken soup.  I think about these things all the time--I let them wash over me and carry me through the hard days of life.  Those things are mine forever.

I also cannot ignore how hard it was to get there, how many things had to go right, and how much sacrifice it took.  And I honestly cannot say whether I will ever want to do it again.  If not I will be totally okay with it.  The single-minded determination it takes to really accomplish an aggressive goal in the sport of running is awesome and I will always admire the kindred spirits out there piling on the miles and workouts, often at the expense of a lot else that they hold dear.  They know what I know and then some.

But I have also come to appreciate more fully everything else that running does to enrich my life and I have decided to enjoy those other things more.  I plan to race more in 2012 than I did in 2011 and to care less.  I plan to run as much (or as little) as I feel like, which most likely will still be "a lot."

Amby Burfoot once wrote: "A starting line is the best, most exciting place I can imagine.  When I stand on one, I feel fully alive--scared, yes, but also energized, focused, and prepared for the big challenge ahead."

I like starting lines.


Friday, September 16, 2011

Tour de Vermont, Part 6

This is the last of a 6 part series.  Click here to read Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4 or Part 5.

On Monday morning we woke up to a glorious day in Burlington, Vermont.  We walked down the hill from our hotel and got crepes at a place called Skinny Pancake (I know, right?) right on the lake front.  It was easily the least masculine thing we did the entire 4 days but none of us cared.  The crepes were awesome.  We read that Amy Winehouse had died.

After packing up and checking out of the hotel we headed up to Colchester to run the Colchester Causeway, a 4.5-mile former railroad causeway that runs out into the middle of the lake, almost all the way to South Hero.  We parked the cars at a really nice park with lots of athletic fields and headed out.  Evan decided to run with us part of the way.  The weather was cool and cloudy with some light mist coming down--a welcome reward after all of the heat we had endured.

We followed the causeway through some neighborhoods and then swampy areas before reaching the shore of the lake.  Once out on the lake, the path became rutted and washed out in places, but still very runnable.  After a mile and a half or so, around the time we figured Evan would turn around, we reached a bridge with a warning sign saying the path was closed from there.  This was where Dan had run to the day before and Evan and Kyle had ridden their bikes.

(Taken the day before, when it was sunny out.)

Obviously we ignored the sign, ducked under the chain and kept running.  I was in the lead at this point and for whatever reason, I was feeling in the zone.  Maybe it was the cool weather or the fact that the mileage was starting to soak in, but I was in a groove and just really enjoying picking my way along the rough footing with the lake on both sides and the mist hitting me in the face.  Every now and then I'd look over my shoulder to see the other guys rolling along single file behind me, keeping enough space to find their own path through the rutted, rocky trail.

There were several really bad washouts and holes but we made it all the way to the end, to the site of a former railroad bridge and the end of land.  We stood out there on a concrete platform looking at the lake for a while, watching a couple of sailboats navigate the small channel between us and the continuation of the causeway on the other side.  We could just make out Mt. Mansfield to the east through the mist and fog and it was hard not to think about all we had done over the past 3+ days.

Eventually we turned around and headed back.  This time I was in the back following the guys back in toward land.  Chris was leading us over most of the causeway, rolling along at a really good clip.  We were easily running low 7's over the rough terrain--I took off my shirt take advantage of the free shower that was falling.  Somewhere toward the end of the causeway we all bunched up and then I found myself out in front with Mark.  For some reason we just started gradually dialing up the pace--my legs inexplicably felt awesome.  At one point, with under a mile to go, I noticed we were hammering.  The last mile was in about 6 minutes and I had no idea why but didn't question it.

We hung around the parking lot for a bit, eating cookies and laughing about stupid shit.  Evan had run 9 miles with us.  It was starting to set in that the trip was almost over.  Chris declared himself done, explaining that it was really a 3-day trip (noon Friday to noon Monday) and he'd run 75 miles in 3 days.  He had a point, a pretty impressive one.  But I had it in my head that I wanted to get in 20 per day, and by that I was thinking calendar day.  Dan still had it in his head he could hit a hundred miles for the trip.  So we pressed on.

The plan was to head toward Middlebury but jump out of the cars with 7 or so miles to go and run to the Otter Creek Brewery and our final stop (Dan would jump out with 9 miles to go.)  We headed down Route 7 south past working farms with amazing views of the lake and the Adirondacks.  As we approached the drop-off point, of course we had lost Mark.  Chris, looking in the rearview mirror declared, "He is the worst follower!"

I jumped out of the truck and started tying my shoes.  A minute later, Mark pulled up and jumped out and at that point he told us the reason we'd lost him was he had stopped to let Dan out 2 miles back.  Made sense.  Mark and I crossed the highway and started running south.  At that point it was all we knew--run more.

Route 7 kind of sucked just because of the constant passing traffic and the relentless rolling hills.  And the 75 miles we'd already run.  I do a lot of running with Mark and Dan and although both of them are much faster than me, I wouldn't call either of them half steppers--the annoying people who always need to run a half step in front of you.  Mark and I have run thousands of miles together and he never has a problem chilling out and running at a pace that's comfortable for me.

But he wanted to be done.  And I didn't blame him.  And the fucker half-stepped me for 7 goddam miles of US Route 7 that day.

At about halfway down to Middlebury Mark openly declared his done-ness.  He said, "You know what I'm done with the hills and I'm done with the scenery and I'm done with the whole thing."  He spoke for both of us.  At one point we had to turn off of Route 7 onto Exchange Street for the last 3/4 mile.  I was expecting Exchange Street to be a bustling city like street with shops and restaurants but it was just this industrial wasteland of warehouses and factories.  I was so bummed.

At about the point when I was about to give up hope, pull off the road and lay down in a ditch, we saw a red, white and blue "Open" flag up ahead.  The Otter Creek Brewery, at last.  We rolled into the parking lot and found Chris, Evan and Kyle tailgating at the back of the lot.  A quick change of clothes, a shower under a bottle of spring water,, a dry t-shirt and some crackers and I was good as new.

10 minutes or so later Dan showed up, bonking hard, and declared, "I'm done.  As in done, done."

Fruits of our labor.

There was some debate at Otter Creek about going to Long Trail on the way home but Chris and I were both thinking the same thing: we were on borrowed time.  It really was the end of the road.

We took a bunch of pictures like the tourists we were and did our handshakes and high fives and then hit the road--time to get back to reality.

Look, big tanks of beer!
Dan and the Brothers Hudson jumped in Mark's car and Chris and I hopped in his truck.  We figured we'd see each other at the Wendy's in West Lebanon, NH, but we all knew the trip was basically over.  It had been awesome in ways none of us could really describe.

I can honestly say that when Mark and I shuffled into the parking lot at Otter Creek on fumes, I knew for sure that I would never do something like that again.  And yet, as Chris and I drove through Middlebury and up and over the mountain, it dawned on me that of course I a heartbeat.  And the best part was I could tell Chris would too.

Over the ride home we sort of transitioned back to our normal selves.  We talked about our kids and wives and all of our first world problems.  We got ready to re-enter society.  Eventually we hit the Boston area at rush hour and the everyday traffic and scenery looked totally familiar, yet utterly foreign.

We pulled into my driveway and I unloaded my gear.  It was all over.


It's been almost 2 months since the end of the trip and I'm just now getting around to writing the final chapter of this story. I have struggled trying to think of a way to sum it up that would make sense to someone who wasn't there.  The fact is it won't, so it's not worth trying.

What was the point?  The point was there was no point.  There was no cause we were benefiting, no hidden meaning, no greater good.  This was about paying homage to The Run, and nothing else.  It was about guys being guys, about friends you can count on, about experiencing the world by being in it, not looking at it through the window of a car going 75 mph.  This run was worthwhile for the same reason a hot shower feels so much better after a long run in sideways snow, why a cold shower feels so much better after a 15-mile Breakheart run in August, why the beers always taste better after a Thirsty Thursday workout.  We didn't have a death wish, we had a life wish.  It was about experiencing through doing, not watching.

It was about runners running.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Tour de Vermont, Part 5

Click here to read Part 1Part 2Part 3 and Part 4.

After the Mount Mansfield and Underhill State Park adventure, we needed lunch and then the plan was to head into Burlington and do some more running from there.  Having given up on the idea of literally running point to point across Vermont due to the logistics, we decided to make our 3rd night in Burlington so that we could enjoy the town and sample the local brews without having to worry about getting in a car and drive home from there.  On our way into Burlington we stopped in Essex Junction an the On Tap Bar.

We pulled into find a bizarre fundraiser car wash type deal going on in the parking lot but the place had a big deck with outdoor seating and lots of beer on tap.  We got a big table out on the deck with a decent, if a bit overly talkative waiter.  I think we ordered one of everything on the menu.  The food and beers went down easy.  About the only downside was the kiddie band that was playing inside (with speakers pumping the music outside.)  It's hard to describe so I'll just say you had to be there.  It was hard to listen to.

Kyle and his trusty steed, Sputnik
With some food and beer in us we headed into Burlington.  On the way we called ahead and Chris got us a couple of rooms at a full service Hilton a couple blocks from the water with amazing views of Lake Champlain and the Adirondacks.  We checked in, took our first real showers in a couple of days and relaxed for a few hours before heading out for our 2nd run of the day.  After the Mansfield debacle, we only needed about 6 miles for a 20 mile day and Chris was determined to not run one step farther than that.  We ran along a really nice bike path, the Island Line Trail, right along Lake Champlain, past beaches and nice neighborhoods.  The sun was starting to go down and the views across the lake were amazing.  Meanwhile the sherpas headed out for a bike ride on the same path.  After a few days of screwing around with the bike that he'd bought from "the Russian" in Portsmouth, Kyle finally took it to a good bike shop in Stowe and got the beast road ready.  "Sputnik" was ready to roll.

As we jogged along the bike path my legs were feeling like cement and I was happy that Chris seemed just as sluggish as I was and in no rush.  We let Mark and Dan pull away, figuring they were going to end up going longer anyway.  At about 3 miles out, Chris and I turned around and headed back toward downtown Burlington.  Running was not fun at that point and the days and miles (and the mountain) were definitely setting in.

Chris and I got back downtown, got a soft serve ice cream and walked up the hill to the hotel.  While Chris went to the truck in the parking garage to grab some beers from the cooler, I took my 2nd shower in just a few hours then put on some clean clothes and took a cat nap on one of the beds.  Wow that felt good.  Chris and I were just chilling in the room watching some tv when Mark knocked on the door, all showered and ready to go get some dinner.  Dan was still out running and the sherpas were still on their bike ride so the three of us headed out for a little walk through downtown Burlington to find some grub.  I had been to Burlington a few times before but for some reason never in the summer.  It's really a beautiful city and has a great energy.  The weather was just about perfect and as we shuffled through town on cement legs with our flip flops dragging there was plenty of good people watching to be had.

We were all looking for some waterfront dining so at the recommendation of the concierge, we headed to Breakwater Cafe, right next to the ferry terminal.  We let Kyle and Evan know where we were--nobody had heard from Dan yet.  All of us it seems were in the mood for our first non-beer drinks of the trip: I got a couple of margaritas and we ate below average pub food waterfront as the sun set behind the mountains on the other side of the lake.  There was definitely a sense of accomplishment at having gotten over the mountain, and just generally having run 60-something miles in 3 days.  We were all really tired, but feeling good.  Eventually Dan showed up to Breakwater just before the kitchen closed and ordered some food.  The bastard had run18 miles or something (for a 30+ mile day), halfway out the Colchester bike way into the lake and back.  After dark, Breakwater cleared out pretty fast and they started to shut down.  It was just as well as we needed to sample some of the local breweries, of which there are plenty in Burlington.

Unfortunately, it was a Sunday night and several of the breweries we wanted to visit were closed.  Fortunately it was Burlington and there were plenty more to chose from.  We headed a few blocks to American Flatbread, brewers of Zero Gravity beers.  Somewhere on the way, we lost Chris and Mark--they were worn out and needed to crash.  So Dan, Evan, Kyle and I walked into Flatbread and ordered a few beers.  I started with a Black Cat Porter.  The beer was good, the restaurant was pretty cool inside, but it was a weird vibe--almost like we had crashed a private party.  Being Sunday night it seemed like the only people in the place were the staff and friends of the staff.  It was fine, just odd and after a couple beers we moved on.

Our next stop was Vermont Pub and Brewery, Vermont's oldest craft brewery.  This place had a bit of a gritty, no-frills feel to it and we sat outside on wrought iron furniture.  Other than Evan, who decided to experiment with some kind of beer/fruit smoothie hybrid, all of us liked our beers and the place was quiet with only a few other tables occupied.  It was a perfect night.  I was really, really tired but happy with how things had gone so far.  We kind of figured that the next day would basically be a victory lap with no mountains to climb and no huge distances to cover so there wasn't a lot to be stressed over.

After a couple of beers, we headed down the hill back to our hotel and crashed.  For reasons we still can't explain, Dan decided to sleep on the floor but I have to tell you the bed at the Hilton was top notch after two nights on the ground and 64 miles in three days.


Saturday, August 20, 2011

Tour de Vermont, Part 4

Click here to read Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3.

When we woke up on Sunday and made our coffee and breakfast, we had a vague idea that day 3 was going to be the toughest day.  When you endeavor to run across the state of Vermont, you have to at some point get over "the spine."  So why not do it at it's highest point, we figured, and run over the summit of Mount Mansfield.

We said goodbye to our home for two nights, the Lake Elmore campground, and headed back down the road to Stowe and Pickwicks, where we had finished the day before.  Chris was extra quiet as he drove down Route 100--every now and then I think I caught him taking peeks at the mountain up ahead and to our right.  Chris had, by far, done the least running of the four of us.  Mark and Dan are the young bucks of our group--they are both in their early 30's, they ran cross country together at D3 Allegheny College, and have marathon PRs of 2:28 and 2:31. I have a not-too-shabby-for-an-old-guy 2:49 to my name and have run 3000 miles a year for the past 3 years.  Chris had only really started getting back into running with any seriousness  this time last summer and has jogged a few half marathons with his wife, so he had reason to be concerned.  Not too many people can run the Stowe Toll Road to the summit of Mount Mansfield.  Let alone doing it after running 43 miles in the 2 days before then doing a 7 mile "warmup" just getting to the mountain.  Mark, Dan and I tried to play it cool because we didn't want to make Chris overly nervous about it--the fact is we all had total confidence he'd make it after seeing what a workhorse he'd been the first two days--but I know I was a little nervous and I'm sure Mark and Dan were too in their own way.

The starting point was Pickwicks on the Stow Mountain Road, about 7 miles from the start of the Toll Road.  It was actually a really good idea to start here and get some nice, gentle miles in before the sufferfest of the Toll Road.

We ran along the Stow Quiet Path, a rambling multi-use path along the river that winds its way up the valley toward Stow ski resort.  The weather had finally broken and it was crisp, beautiful morning as we jogged along the shaded path with views of horse farms, the river and the mountains.  There were lots of people out running, walking and biking along the path and nearly all of them were perfectly happy and friendly.  Every  now and then The Mountain would peek out at us from between the trees.  It looked gentle enough from a distance.

Only at the very end did our run up to the Toll Road get hilly--the last mile was steeply uphill, just to get us in the mood.  Eventually we made it to the start of the Toll Road, Mark and Dan went on ahead and I waited for Chris who had fallen back just a bit on the last hill.  Damn the thing was steep.  The start of it looked like it went up a wall.

The Toll Road is 4.5 miles long and has an average grade of over 10%.  The only thing I've ever run that beats that is Mt. Washington.  Chris and I talked a bit at the bottom by the toll booth and agreed that we were each gong to have to take this thing at our own pace and we'd just meet at the top.  I headed out up the first face and just got into it.  After only a few hundred yards the road went into the woods and was mostly shaded, thankfully, for most of the way up.  It was still cool but going up such a steep grade at any pace at all just generates a ton of heat and almost immediately sweat was just dripping off my forehead, off my nose and chin and just soaking my shirt.  I had a water bottle in my hand but that was it.  Every once in a while, I'd hear a car coming from behind or from up ahead and a carload of tourists would rumble slowly by and look at me like I had nine heads, but mostly I was alone with my thoughts.  My only goal was to run the whole thing, no matter how slowly.  I stopped once to look at the view on a particularly awesome overlook, but otherwise I just kept my head down and ground my way up that mountain.  When the trees started getting really small and the switchbacks closer together, I knew I was almost there.  I passed a couple of lower parking areas where I thought I was done but finally reached the summit.  The view was worth it.

At the top, Mark and Dan were nowhere in sight.  I stood on a rock pile over the parking lot for a while looking down into the valley, waiting for Chris.  After 10 minutes or so, I asked the girl who was sitting there by the warming hut if she had seen 2 runners go by.  She said that Mark and Dan had headed down the long trail about a mile to the gondola top station where there was a snack bar.  After a few more minutes I started walking back down around the bend to wait for Chris.  After just a couple of minutes, he came around the bend looking pretty rough but happy to have made it.

I let Chris catch his breath and take in the view for a minute before I suggested we head down the trail toward Mark and Dan.  It seemed like a good idea but pretty quickly both of us started bonking--we had all been so focused on running the mountain that we'd totally forgotten to do the math as in a 7 mile warmup plus a 4.5 mile run straight up a big mountain is probably about the outer limits of our glycogen supplies.  Oops.  So as Chris and I were scrambling along the top of the spine on the Long Trail, a rocky rooted hiking path that runs the length of Vermont, we were both in the midst of a fairly hard sugar crash and our water bottles were empty.  And of course we were in nothing but running shorts, t-shirts and lightweight trainers--not exactly mountaineering gear.

Eventually we found Mark and Dan on their way back.  Dan proclaimed, "We bought out the store!" and started emptying his pack of M&M's, crackers, cokes, water and lots of other goodness.  I like to say that Dan saved our lives up there with Peanut M&Ms and Coca-Cola.  Well, temporarily at least.  We still had to get down the other side.

Our savior, me and Chris on top of Vermont.
The way down was interesting.  There was no turning back as Kyle and Evan were supposed to meet us at Underhill State Park at the eastern foot of the mountain, having driven around via Smugglers Notch.  The only way for us to get there was to take a steep, rocky hiking trail called "Halfway House Trail."  It was roughtly 3.5 miles from the summit to the parking area at Underhill where we were supposed to meet the sherpas and just about all of it was super steep downhill, the first part ridiculously so.  The only people we saw on the trail were wearing some pretty serious hiking gear and had big packs and all kids of equipment.  We had running shoes.

I had a really hard time with the downhill trail--I probably rolled my ankle 7 times.  All the guys left me in the dust as I picked my way down the mountain until we finally reached what was basically a fire road that careened down the rest of the way to the parking area.

Once the trail turned into basically a dirt road, I just let my legs go and flew down the road out of control.  Again Mark and Dan were up ahead and Chris and I were together.  As we rolled into the parking area I still didn't see Evan or Kyle until I was almost past them.  I stopped short and blurted out, "Hey what's up, I just ran here from Stowe."  We immediately started laughing at how absurd that sounded.  But it was true.


Friday, August 19, 2011

Tour de Vermont, Part 3

This is the 3rd part of a series.  Click to read Part 1 and Part 2.

On Saturday morning we headed out the the Green River Reservoir which was roughly back in the direction of where we had left off the day before.  The plan was just to run from there back through Morrisville to Lake Elmore campground.  This was a really pleasant run after the suffering and hills of the previous day.  The last 4 miles were basically up hill and it was already getting hot again at 10am when we were finishing, but it was manageable.  Mark and Dan ran ahead and Chris and I ran together for those last 4 uphill miles.  There was a big farm on the left side of the road and a guy on a ladder painting his barn.  He looked at us and said, "Nice day for a run, boys."  It was, at that point.  We had 12 miles in the books and it wasn't brutally hot out yet.

We got back to the campground, took a swim in the lake and then moved campsites before heading into Morrisville for some lunch and beers.  We hit up the Rock Art brewery but they didn't have pub, just a tasting room, so we went to a restaurant called The Bees Knees which served Rock Art brews.  We ate everything on the menu and had about three beers each.  Life was good.  After lunch we went and hung out in a river while Mark went flyfishing and Evan went spearfishing.  Our plan was to hang out until later in the day when it would be cooler.   Hah.

It all worked out great until we headed back into town and got ready to set off for our second run of the day around 4pm.  Yeah it was like a hundred degrees out.  Whoops.  We "only" had 11 miles to go down into Stowe but unfortunately it was almost entirely in the sun.  We left from Rock Art brewery and headed south toward Stowe via Randolf Road.  It was an absolutely beautiful route with farms and views of the mountains including Mansfield in the distance.  But it was so hot we were all suffering almost immediately.  At one point Evan, he and Kyle having driven the cars down to Pickwicks in Stowe, rode back to meet us and give us some much needed water before continuing on his bike ride back toward Morrisville.  We thought we would see him again soon but not so much.  We wound up running the last 7 miles or so sans water.  I'll admit I got the most cranky of anyone on that particular leg, even swearing at some horses at one point and arguing adamantly that a horse was actually a donkey.  Long story.

We made it to Stowe in one piece, barely.  We met at Pickwicks then went and cooled off in the river before heading to the Shed brewery for some decent food and good beer to finish off a long hot day on the road.  We had 23 miles in the books (44 in 2 days) and the The Mountain awaited.

Tour de Vermont, Part 2

Continued from part 1.

We had run 17 miles in the blazing sun and we were in the middle of effing nowhere.  We had done a lot of talking, laughing, praying and suffering already and we were only partway through day 1.  With some actual running under our belts we were able to tackle the fact that logistically, we really hadn't thought this thing through all that well.  It was, in fact, going to be impossible to literally run across Vermont.  On the plus side, my hangover was gone.

But most importantly we needed some lunch.  After sucking down some water we made a plan: we needed to find a place to eat lunch, visit Hill Farmstead Brewery, and find a place to camp for the night.  The we could worry about our "afternoon" run.

We headed down into the town of Greensborough with Chris and me in Chris' truck and the Hudson brothers and Dan in Marks car.  Apparently the only thing in Greensborough is a gas station/grocery store where they pump gas in a crosswalk at a busy intersection and they have a deli counter but they don't make sandwiches to order.  We bought the place out of pre-packaged sandwiches and ate on the town green at a picnic table.  Actually there were only 5 pre-made sandwiches and 6 of us but Kyle (good sherpa) improvised and bought some groceries, including a cucumber, and making his own gourmet creation.

Come inside or we'll call the cops.
After getting some food in our bellies and checking out the local beach and/or freakshow, we made our way to Hill Farmstead Brewery.  This place was quite literally in some guy's barn on the family farm on a hilltop in Northeast Vermont.  The brewer is clearly an artist, if not the best salesman.  Later that night, Kyle did a dead on impression droning, "It's named after my grandfather.  It's an American Pale Ale.  Just drink it."  The beer was well worth it, though, and if you ever somehow find yourself in Vermont's Northeast Kingdom, definitely stop in.  All 6 of us did a tasting of the 7 beers they had available and also bought some beer to take home.  I bought two 750's of a Grissette named "Clara" since, well, that's my baby's name.  It was excellent, as were just about all of the beers we tried there.  The ambiance was non-existent as we were literally sampling beer in a garage and they didn't even open the doors so we could get some air until it started to get downright uncomfortable in there but the beer was legit.

With food and some beer in our stomachs it was time to figure out where we were going to stay that night.  It was a lot harder to figure that out then we had figured.  We had a campsite reserved in at Lake Elmore for the 2nd night, but there was NOTHING between where we were and there.  After some debate, we decided to head over toe Lake Elmore and see if we could get in there for Friday night as well since we had already given up on connecting the dots across the state.  Mark took a wrong turn and then blew a tire on a dirt road a mile from the campground so while the Hudson pit crew changed the rubber, Chris and I went to try and talk our way into the sold out campground.  The girl at the ranger's shack was originally from Georgetown, MA.  Jackpot.

After the quick tire change and then setting up camp, Mark went to the grocery store from some food to grill then we headed out for a run to get ourselves over 20 for the day while the sherpas headed out for a bike ride to try and earn their beers.  Chris and I went about 4 miles for a 21 mile day, Mark and Dan went a little longer. We all took a swim in the lake then settled in for some food and some beers.  It's amazing what you can accomplish when there are no women involved.  Other than the fact that we'd run 21+ miles in 95 degree heat, it was just like a guy's camping trip at that point.

Time to kick back and relax with some beers and some laughs.  Tomorrow would be another day with more miles, more heat and more hills.


Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Tour de Vermont, Part 1

Mark, Captain Dan, Chris and Me...before Mt. Mansfield
This adventure is not the sort of thing I can explain and have it make any sense, to be honest, so I'll just go ahead and tell the story.

For the past year or so, a group of us have been meeting at the RMHS track every Thursday night for a workout, and then heading to Grumpy Doyle's for a few beers.  We call this the "Thirsty Thursday" workout.  The core group of 4, who showed up just about every Thursday even during the darkest, coldest nights of winter, were: Mark, Dan, Chris and me.

None of us are really sure how it happened but at the bar over a few beers after one of those cold, dark workouts in the snow, we came up with the idea to do a pub run of sorts across the state of Vermont.  I think we were probably drinking Long Trail when  this discussion happened or maybe one of us brought up that Vermont has the highest concentration of brew pubs per capita in the US.  Either way, over the course of a couple of Thirsty Thursdays, the plan was born and it quickly gained enough steam that none of us could stop it.  It took a few tries to find a weekend that worked for all of our families, but we eventually settled on July 22nd-25th and each of us put it on our respective Family Calendars meaning that the wives had signed off and it was law.

I'm fairly certain that several of our wives only agreed because they never actually thought we would go through with it and, to be fair, it sounded so half-baked and pointless that I can't say I blamed them.  But for reasons I can't really articulate, none of us ever wavered even for a minute.  It was as if--similar to the weekly emails that fly around on Wednesday evenings and Thursday mornings looking for a roll call for Thirsty Thursday--once you said you were in, you were in.  As the day got closer one of us would sometimes say to the others, "So this is gonna happen, huh?" and the rest of us would just sort of nod.  I can remember during one momentary crisis of faith trying to reassure Chris, who has done the least amount of running of all of us and was beginning to worry about the mileage.

I said, "Think of it like this: we're gonna wake up in the morning, get some coffee eat some breakfast and then go for a 90 minute to 2 hour jog.  Then we're gonna jump in a river, get some lunch and a couple beers and hang out for a while.  Then we're gonna go for another 90 minute or 2 hour jog.  Then we'll get some dinner and some more beers.  And that's it!  That's all you have to do for the whole day is run twenty miles or so.  No wiping asses, no screaming kids, no chores, no email, no customers to deal with, no wives.  Nothing."

"I can do that," he said.

There was a fair amount of planning that went into this thing but when the day finally arrived we still basically only had the roughest outline of a plan.  Chris pulled into my driveway at 6:20am, I grabbed my backpack (which I'd packed at 3am after getting home from the FORR road race that three of us help organize), sleeping bag and camping pad by the kitchen door and jumped in his truck.  We headed to the Starbucks on Walkers Brook to meet up with Mark, Dan and Mark's brother Evan, who would serve as one of our two "sherpas."  Our other sherpa would be Mark's other brother, Kyle, whom we would pick up in Hooksett, NH on the way up.  When Chris and I met Evan is when we found out that the Sherpas were bringing bikes...details.

Dan and The Map
On the ride up I drank two 32 oz. bottles of Gatorade and a medium Dunkin Donuts coffee.  And I was still a bit dehydrated from all the beers I drank after running around in 97 degree weather organizing a road race.  I got a little nauseous at one point but I kept that to myself so as not to ruin the vibe.  We were all pretty psyched that it was finally here, this thing was really going to happen.  Our next stop was at a Target in Hooksett to pick up Kyle and already Dan was breaking out the map.  After months of planning we still hadn't exactly figured out a route, or places to stay for 2 of the 3 nights....details.

We'll have a sixer of this one.
We made a couple of other random stops in search of a bike pump and a sleeping bag (details) but eventually we made our way to the Trout River Brewery in Lyndonville, VT, otherwise known as Point A.  It was 11am and roughly as hot as the surface of the sun but none of us even cared, we were just excited to get going.  After some more consulting of The Map and planning a meeting place with Evan and Kyle we bought a six pack of Trout River Red, drank a ceremonial first beer in the parking lot and got the show underway.  It was actually happening.

It didn't take us long to reach the edge of Lyndonville and then we were out on an open road running past farms with absolutely no shade at all.  If we hadn't been so excited to be underway we would have been a little worried about how hot it was.  I had never been to this part of Vermont.  It was beautiful.  The first leg was fairly easy, just rolling along toward Wheelock in farm country.  After 7 miles we came upon Evan and Kyle who had found a good place to set up a water stop for us.  It was right by a river so we decided to take a swim to cool off and let Mark try to catch the Brook Trout that we had all just spooked by jumping in the water.

They call it fishing, not catching.
We probably rested for a half our by the river, enjoying the water before putting our shoes back on and heading back out.  During the rest, Evan had gone around the bend on his bike and came back to report that the road we were heading to was ridiculously uphill.  He seemed overly excited about this, actually.

Stupidly, I was looking forward to some uphill--after all we'd come to the Green Mountain State.

Lambs for the slaughter.
We started running, turned a corner and crossed a bridge and there we saw Vertical Mile Road.  It's actually a misnomer--it's at least three miles long.  Some locals came by in a car just as we were posing for a picture in front of the road sign like a bunch of flatlander tourists.  "You guys gonna run Vertical Mile?  Good luck with that! Hahaha!"

The first mile of Vertical Mile Road wasn't all that bad, really.  It was steep, over 10% I'd guess, but it was over relatively quickly.  The problem was that was just the beginning.  Vertical Mile road when on for another couple of miles with a couple of long uphill sections and then went dowhill only briefly before connecting with Stannard Mountain Road.  And that is where we started to make deals with God.

The laughing and chatter had mostly died out once we were a good hour into that 2nd leg after the stop by the river.  And this was starting to get genuinely hard now. We covered 10 miles of mountain dirt roads with names like Minister Hill Road, Wheelock Mountain Road and Stannard Mountain Road.  When all the road names have either Hill or Mountain, you know somethings up. And we got a lot of strange looks from the locals who must have been wondering what in God's name the four shirtless Massholes were doing running in the middle of absolutely nowhere in the heat of the day.  I'm pretty sure we wondered ourselves a few times.  There was a lot of dehydration, staggering, swearing, getting chased by dogs, nearly getting run off the road by dump trucks, dunking our heads in creeks by the side of the road, eating dust, deer flies, cresting hills only to see that the hill kept on going and a lot of other stuff I can't even remember.  But eventually we caught up to Evan and Kyle parked at what sure as hell seemed like a good spot to stop for a bit and go find a brewery.  It was 2 o'clock in the afternoon of day 1. 

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Summer time, and the livin's easy

Or so it goes.  Competitive desires always wax and wane but I have to say it's been awfully hard to focus or care about any real running goals lately.  For the first time a couple of years work is going GREAT and I'm busier than hell.  My kids are at ages where they seem to be going in all directions all the time, and it's getting harder to stay motivated to train specifically for some arbitrary goal like a sub-17 minute 5k which, even if I were to accomplish it, would leave me 4 minutes away from being remotely relevant in the world of competitive distance running.  Doing so would not make my kids love me any more or make me any more money or give me any extra vacation time, or magically make my lawn look any better.  And mostly I just don't care that much, despite the fact that I managed a 17:23 5k in a local yokel race a couple of weeks ago off of maybe a month of decent training and a couple of okay workouts, indicating it's still well within striking distance.

I still enjoy running for all of its many benefits--Thirsty Thursday workouts with my running buddies, Chris, Mark and Dan, where we do a workout then go for beers, are still the highlight of most of my weeks.  And I still enjoy periodically throwing on a pair of racing flats, pinning a number on, and diving headlong into the pain tunnel for a whirl.  Just lately it's seemed a bit ridiculous to worry about any kind of "training schedule" in the midst of all I have going on in life.

This summer will be busy.  We're taking a family camping trip to Acadia next week, there's the FORR 5k that still has a pretty big to-do list for July 21st, and then the Thirsty Thursday crew and I are planning a 4-day beer run across Vermont starting the next day.  Later in August we take a family vacation to the cape.  (Come to think of it, do I have enough vacation time to cover all of that?  Huh...I should maybe look into that.)

Anyway, as we've seen before the trick with this sport is to never get so far gone that you can't come all the way back.  I think I'm doing that.  We shall see.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Random thoughts and a call to action

The fastest marathon in the history of the world happened in my backyard on Monday and I was at Disney World on a family vacation.  It was a fun vacation in a really expensive, exhausting and sometimes frustrating sort of way, but not at all relaxing.  And the only time I broke into running dork mode was on Monday as I walked around Animal Kingdom hitting refresh on my phone every 30 seconds watching the updates on the marathon.  When Desiree Davila took the lead with 400m to go and then I didn't get another update for two full minutes I almost went into cardiac arrest.  And for a good half hour I thought the mens finish times were a typo.

I didn't run a step on vacation...well not a step in training anyway.  There was the time I ran back to the car from the monorail station to get the stroller, and the time I had to run to the bathroom, and...well, you get the idea.  I took my running gear and had all the good intentions but walking around and standing in lines all day in the hot sun just crushed my energy and after about the third day of no running I decided to stop even planning to run and just take the week "off."

Last night I showed up for Thirsty Thursday and still decided to attempt the 5000m time trial Mark and Dan were doing--I made it to about 2 miles before I realized I was having trouble even turning 90 second quarters, my legs were junk, and just stopped.  It was a good wakeup call. Running is such a sport of routine and repetition, at least for me.  I can't step onto a track after a week of no running (not to mention lots of standing, eating, drinking and general badness) and expect to do anything.

So here we are.  Disney is over and the Trans Vermont Beer Run is July 22nd.  Which means if I can't run sub 17 for 5k before about mid-July, it's probably not going to happen until the fall.  That gives me about three months.  I'm not sure it's possible in that timeframe but I should have a pretty good idea in a week or two once I shake off the rust from Disney and get some miles under my legs.  It should be fun.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011


It's April 6th and I have yet to race in 2011.  In fact if you don't count that silly jingle bell jog or whatever the hell it was when I ran an 18 minute 5k wearing a Santa hat, bells pinned to my shirt and my daughters knee-high red field hockey socks, I haven't raced since October 17.

This has to change.

But not this weekend since it's dance recital week here in my household.  And not next weekend since I'll be at Disney (SHIT!)  I just had a little panic attack but I'm okay now.

Edited later to add:  I just signed up for the Red Hook 5k on May 29th.  I feel better already.  Hopefully I'll be able to squeeze in a race or two before then but at least, worst case scenario, I have a line in the sand.

Monday, March 7, 2011

The dumb stuff runners stress over

Make no mistake; the benefits of being a runner far outweigh the drawbacks a majority of the time. But there are times I wish I could turn off my neurotic runner’s brain and function like a normal human being, if just for a little while, in order take care of some normal person business. Like, say, during business trips.

I am in Denver (well, Westminster, Colorado to be exact) for a couple of days for a fairly important full-day briefing with one of my largest accounts. I have my contact center specialist with me from Boston, the Account Manager from our channel partner with several of her executives and engineers, key executives from my customer who’ve traveled from Boston and Dallas, and a whole lineup of really smart (not to mention expensive) subject matter experts from my company’s Denver labs lined up to deliver a kick-ass briefing that could position us to do great things with this customer over the next 6 to 18 months. And I’m stressing over what this week will do to my mileage now that I’ve actually managed to string together a few weeks of something resembling training for the first time since before Baystate, last October.

The last time I was in Westminster I stayed at the same hotel—the Westin. It’s a nice place with good facilities and a really nice running trail outside. But that was for a company event and the hotel was overrun by Type “A” nut-jobs like me, and so when I got up bright and early to run on the treadmill the fitness center was packed. I remember running back up to my room, putting on what scant outdoor running gear I had with me and heading out on the trail in single digit temps. This time, betting that without the same concentration of Type “A” nutjobs I’ll be able to get on a treadmill, and knowing the forecast is for snow and it will be pitch dark and probably snowy out on that trail at the hour I would have to run in order to get to the office early enough, I didn’t even bring outdoor running gear—just shorts and t-shirts. I was trying to outsmart myself, see, so I wouldn’t be tempted to do anything really dumb since I am here to do a job and whatever running I get in is just a bonus. And now I’m freaking out over it.

What if I can’t get on a treadmill tomorrow morning? Will there be time between the briefing and dinner? Maybe I should try and bang out some miles tonight just in case…I wonder what time the fitness center opens and closes? What if it’s under construction or flooded or out of order or there’s a power outage or something weird? OMG! I want to punch myself in the face, seriously.

But then that’s the thing about being a work-a-day hobbyjogger--you have to force yourself to keep your priorities in order. Because at the end of the day my boss, my customers, my mortgage company, my kids’ dance school, my oil heat dealer, the United States Department of the Treasury, and a whole host of other people couldn’t give a rat’s ass if I ever break 17 minutes for a 5k road race.

That will be just for me.

Patches of Tartan

The moment I woke up, I knew that yesterday’s little jaunt through Lynnfield and North Reading with Mark and Dan had been a little bit of an effort. There was that good, solid, whole body fatigue—the kind you know is doing the good work. I had to drag myself out of bed and get ready to run but there was never a doubt I’d get up and go. Since I would be traveling all day, it was either then or never.

It was still raining but not hard enough to shake the house, as it had been in the night when I woke up soaked in my own sweat with memory of whatever work-related dream that had caused my panic attack sitting just beyond the consciousness barrier where I couldn’t quite get to it. I would be leaving on flight to Denver for a big customer briefing in a few hours so I’m sure it had something to do with that customer, whatever it was.

Down in the kitchen I checked my phone to see the outside temp—55 and raining with winds from the southwest at 12, gusting to 30mph. Shorts weather. I put on my heaviest, clunkiest trainers for a slow jog in the rain.

Walking down my hill, the snow banks were noticeably smaller than yesterday and I even saw some bare patches of earth here and there. Spring is not far off and we will be able to finally close the books on this ridiculous winter. But damn it’s ugly out—the retreating gray snow banks reveal a whole winter’s worth of trash and sand and branches and muck.

After about two and a half miles, as I was loping past Birch Meadow Park and the YMCA noticing an awful lot of melting had happened on the open spaces of the fields, it appeared—a vague image the kind you’re not sure is real at first but you get closer it becomes real. Buds on the trees, flowers blooming and robins pulling worms out of the ground will all be nice signs of spring and I look forward to seeing them in due time. But for now, that beautiful red surface of the RMHS track was a sight for sore eyes.

One end of the track and infield is still snow covered but it won’t be for long. Sometime soon—possibly even this coming Thursday evening—the track will be open for business. And lane one will once again be for runners.

Later, as I was sitting in Terminal E at Logan Airport doing some work while waiting for my flight, my friend Marc—one of the founding members of the Reading Track Club and a Thirsty Thursday protagonist—sent out an email with the subject “Could it be spring?” including a picture of the track that he’d grabbed from his phone on his way to work. I’m not the only one.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Circles in the dark

The Thirsty Thursday crew (such as it was) took a field trip this week to Ipswich River Park in North Reading. We had heard rumors that the paths around the athletic fields were plowed all winter and I think all of us are getting a bit weary of dodging traffic.

It was a small crew this week, just Mark, Chris and me. I got up there about 6:15 to get in a couple of warmup miles before 6:30. When I pulled in there was only one care in the entire parking lot, a truck belonging to a guy who was throwing a plastic football around the parking lot for his German Shepard. Low and behold the paths were totally clear of snow and ice.

I jogged down the quarter mile path through the woods to the athletic fields. There was one light near the tennis courts where the half mile loop meets the little path to the parking lot but otherwise the entire park was dark. I could see some street lights on the road behind the houses that abutted the other side of the park, but they were basically just landmarks in the distance.

It took a few warmup laps all the way around to feel confident that there really was no ice or holes or anything because for the most part you could not see the surface of the path at all, just the outline of it framed by the snowbanks. After a bout 3 laps, I saw a shape jogging toward me and could tell it was Mark from his gait. We looped the fields a couple of more times before Chris jogged up.

For simplicity's sake we kept it easy and just tried to do something with some turnover. Four times half mile with a half mile easy seemed like the right level of commitment for a workout in the pitch dark in early March when it was 17 degrees out. It was kind of surreal to be running fast in the dark like that without being able to see what you were running on.

When we jogged back to the parking lot later our three cars were the only ones. We caravaned over to Grumpy's for some good beers, good food and some planning of the Trans Vermont Beer Run in July, when it will be just a tad warmer.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Tuesday workout

I have been trying to establish a rhythm of doing hard-ish workouts on Tuesday and Thursday, then do a weekend longish run. Thursday is Thirsty Thursday workout with the boys and is intended to be on the track but high school track has been snowed in for three months and we've either been doing hills or just an easy run with some pickups at the end, although a few of those were done in the snow so we just jogged around trying not to get killed. For the past few weeks I've been trying to get into the pattern of going 10 miles or so with some kind of long intervals or a tempo run on Tuesdays.

I'm dragging myself kicking and screaming back to some semblance of running fitness, basically. March 1st is actually a pretty big wakeup call as the rough plan in my head calls for about 280+ miles in March so that in April I can start actually putting down some good workouts aimed at racing the 5k in May and June.

That being the plan, last night I hit the rack early in order to get out early enough to do 10 miles and be back in time to drive Allie to school for Wind Ensemble at 7am. I got up at 5:11 and turned off the alarm before it could go off, got dressed, put in the contacts (the worst thing about being a morning runner) and sneaked down the creaky wooden stairs. A check of the weather showed it was a little warmer than anticipated, about 30 degrees, but windy enough to rattle the windows throughout the old house.

I was out the door just after 5:30 and got my first big blast of icy wind in the face as I made my way down the walk and out the driveway. It was dark but the sky was already showing a little light on the horizon as we are over the hump of winter now. I tried to warm up easy but it's tough when it's that cold--I always end up running a little faster than I want during warm up.

In my head I had one of my staple workouts--I probably do this one every 3 weeks or so when I'm into my base building. It's a really simple formula: 3 miles or so of easy warm up, then 3 times 8 minutes on and 3 minutes off, where "on" is threshold pace or so and "off" is an easy jog. I never really know how fast I'm going on this one. You can really make it as hard or as easy as you want but invariably I wind up making it a tough workout. 8 minutes doesn't seem like much but it can be pretty long when you've started out a bit on the fast side, especially in the early morning when it's cold out side and your nose is running and all that.

The route I was running is about a 10 mile "lollipop" loop that goes out 3 miles, does a 4 mile loop on the north side of town, then retraces the same 3 miles back to home. I started the 8 on / 3 off business right about the 3 mile marker and it took me all the way around the 4 mile loop and a bit more to finish, so by the time I was done with the workout part of the run, I was just over 2 miles from home. I jogged pretty leisurely for a while, my recovery slowed a little bit by having to go up the longest hill on the whole route, until I was about a mile from home and hit a flat stretch. There I threw in 4 x 20 second strides nearly all out, with about a minute or so of easy jogging in between. That took me almost all the way home and I just had a few hundred yards to jog to the bottom of my hill. The nice thing about those on/off runs out on the roads is time flies--a seventy minute run was over before I knew it and I even had time to start the car and let it warm up for a few minutes before driving Allie over to the middle school.


Monday, February 28, 2011

Simple, really

The whole point, then, is to fit this relentless forward motion that always winds up in the same place it started into a life worth having. This is very difficult to pull off in reality. It can be a fine line between heaven and too much of a good thing when it's the same time upstairs AND it's cold outside. A lot of it is just piling on.

However when we do pull it off there comes that time when we are able, if only for a few fleeting moments, to understand all of the riddles of the universe and communicate, collectively and individually, with all of God's creatures. Yeah it's pretty sweet.

Most of the time, though, we just cling to the memory of those moments--we know (or at least strongly suspect) that we once knew everything there was to know even though we cannot for the life of us remember any of it right now. We remember what it felt like to know, or at least we think we do. Probably we make these things up after the fact for the sole purpose of giving ourselves something to feel nostalgic over so that we will keep on going out there looking for that moment of total clarity that may never have existed in the first place.

And then one day the sun shines warm on our faces and the air feels fresh in our lungs and we are strong, awake and alive, and we don't need any reason or memory of better times because this right now is its own motivation and even if we could we wouldn't want to remember any other time or place or thing. It's a simple world. At least we think so.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Slopping along

The weather hasn't totally sucked for a few weeks, the days are getting slightly longer and brighter and the snowbanks have retreated to just normal sized so that you can actually see to get out of your driveway. So it was a bit of a buzz kill when I awoke to see a fresh blanket of plowable snow on the ground. Mark had texted me last night, "snow in the am, run in the pm?" and even though I didn't really think the snow would be sticking (wrong) I agreed so the plan was to meet at noon at the high school.

I had to pick up the girls from indoor lacrosse before heading out an so with little time to spare, I took the shortest route over to the high school, which put me there at about 1.75 miles. It was still snowing. For the first time in months I took my Garmin because I knew with the snow we'd be wandering all over the place looking to stay off busy roads and the thing started chirping at me with the low battery signal almost immediately. Sweet.

As I was running across the field house parking lot I saw a runner in a yellow top come out from behind a snowbank and start jogging up the road away from me. I yelled, "Hudson!" and Mark turned around. About a minute later, Dan jogged up. We headed up toward the northern end of town, winding through neighborhoods and back roads, trying not to get killed by snowplows. The roads were a mix of wet pavement, slush and snowpack and my legs were soaked within the first 2 miles of the run.

I had jogged over to the high school at 8 pace but as soon as Dan and Mark were involved the pace immediately dropped to low 7's and while that's still in the easy range for me, it's definitely the high end of easy and with wet shoes and cold legs any kind of hills put me into a little difficulty. To boot, I was wearing my heaviest trainers, which were even heavier now, and Mark and Dan were both in racing flats. So while I was originally thinking 15, as I got into the run and got colder, wetter and more weary, just getting to 13 to make 60 for the week was starting to look pretty good.

After looping around on the northeast part of town for a while we made our way back toward the high school and I was getting close to 10 miles in at that point. Mark and Dan were going to do some up tempo loops around the high school campus but I was ready to head home so I left those guys and wound my way over toward the west side and home, taking a few turns to make sure I got in at least 13. As I was going up Hillcrest, just around the corner from my house, I heard the watch beep for 13 miles and so when I reached the top of the hill I stopped and walked down the little slope to my house. Even though it was squawking low battery a mile into the run, the little old Garmin held out the whole way and so now I have this nice, pretty map of the run.

I got in and went straight to a warm shower--do not pass go, do not log your miles, do not eat or drink anything, just get under some hot water.

That's three 60 mile weeks in a row and it's starting to come around. Hopefully I'll get the urge to race soon but as of now I'm not feeling like it would be worthwhile. I'm leaning toward not running New Bedford at this point as I don't think it would do much for my self confidence but there's still a few weeks to decide so we'll see.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

A different kind of winter racing

When I was a kid--maybe 10 or so, I don't really remember--my Dad went away to Alaska for a month and a half for work. He and a group of his colleagues from the Air Force geophysics lab at Hanscom traveled up to some place north of Fairbanks to launch rockets in the winter time. I remember he got all kinds of awesome winter gear like a huge down parka and pants, a big furry hat, some Sorrel boots, big mittens and all kinds of other stuff because they were going to be working outside at night.

While he was up there he and his buddies entered and won an outhouse race. They built a working outhouse from scratch, put skis on it and rigged it up so a couple guys could pull using ropes and harnesses, a couple guys could push from behind and one guy could sit in the outhouse (I think that was a requirement) and then they raced the thing some distance over snow-covered trails and roads, FTW.

I never forgot the name of it because in addition to a trophy with a guy panning for gold on top they got t-shirts. That yellow Chatanika Days Outhouse Race t-shirt later became mine. When I got older I wore it as a running shirt, eventually cutting the sleeves of to show off the guns. It stayed in my rotation for a long time until it was so full of holes that it just faded away and went to t-shirt heaven the way a good t-shirt does.

The Chatanika outhouse race totally exists to this day. For some reason while out on a run just now I thought of that outhouse race and so when I got home I Googled it (how awesome is the internet?) and what do you know, I found this video from the 2007 race. I love the cheesy soundtrack that gives it a sort of early Warren Miller ski movie quality. Enjoy.

If I can dig up a photo of me in that t-shirt, I'll post it here later.

Friday, February 25, 2011

This is when you know

I was talking to Mark, Dan and Chris (the RTC crew) last night as we were getting ready to go for a run about how on Tuesday I put up a random goose egg. I had been feeling run down for a couple of days so when the alarm went off at 5:30 I turned it off and went back to bed thinking I'd try to squeeze in a few miles at lunch or that night. Then of course I had a crazy day with work and by the time I got home and got the little ones to bed bed it was 8:30pm and, well, you know.

So there I was with a zero on a day that was supposed to be a big mileage day trying to do the math to get to 60 miles for the week because I was just starting to feel like a runner again.

There's a time and a place for arbitrary mileage goals and right now is the time and this is the place. So I'll get it done.

Today I had a pretty busy day at work, ran 7.5 miles and never left the house. Miracles of modern science. It's supposed to be a nice weekend and I might try to get in a good long run on Sunday...I'll probably need the miles for 60 anyway.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Four hundred words a day

It's not like I'm going to count words but I've decided I'm going to try actually updating this space every day for a while. Why 400? I have no idea. When I was in 9th grade my English teacher had us write 500 word "themes" every night for a week or so and I found that a challenging exercise. 400 is less than 500 so it should be easier.

Today I ran twice and later went to two different bars to spend time with two different groups of friends.

The first run was a short little shakeout this morning: four and a half miles of easy jogging as the sun came up. It was cold. I went a little later than normal because I was only going for such a short run and as I was coming back up Woburn St. almost home I was passing the commuters walking to the train. They looked cold but hopeful--we're on the other side of winter now--it's all down hill from here.

The second run was Thirsty Thursday with the boys. Tonight we had Mark, Dan, Chris and me. We ran a 6-ish mile loop out to the Wood End School and then did some pickups back and forth on Birch Meadow Drive with a half or three quarter mile cool down. We all ran together on the wood end loop then sort of did our own thing on the pickups. 9 miles or so in total.

It being Thirsty Thursday we headed to Grumpy's afterward, but it being Mark's birthday the wives joined us...well all the wives but mine since Gina and the girls are up in York visiting my sister. Still, a good time was had by all, even me, the 7th wheel.

After Grumpy's I headed up the road to the Moon to hang out with some old friends. Jon and Kim were in town from Philly and were hanging out in the Cougar Den with a bunch of friends. It was fun to see old friends and realize we're all dealing with the same things, really. It's kind of odd to go bar hopping in Reading by walking from one place to the next. It was snowing when I came out and walked down the block back to my car.

I'd be no good at bachelorhood, really--I miss the girls already. It's too quiet around here.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

At least January is over, right?

This morning, as I am fortunate to do often when I don't have to leave early for meetings, I walked my 8-year-old daughter to school. We slogged through the mush up our hill to Prospect Street and down Oak instead of our normal route, down the hill and over Summer Ave. That's because Summer Ave is basically impassable to pedestrians right now.

It occurred to me as I watched this cute little bespectacled girl in her pink hat and snow boots weave between the stationary parade of SUVs and minivans stopped on Oak Street and scramble over snowbanks bigger than her with her giant backpack slung over both shoulders that we've talked enough about the weather this winter. At a certain point, you just have to get on with it.

In January I saved a lot of money on dry cleaning because it seems every meeting was cancelled. I spent more time on my crappy old treadmill in the basement than I'd want to in a whole year, but I had a crappy old treadmill in the basement. I've spent hour upon back breaking hour shoveling snow that will eventually melt anyway, but hey it's cross training (or something.)

I'm fortunate to have a job that I can do from anywhere, a 10MB Internet connection right to my home, a laptop and an IP VPN phone. Best yet I somehow managed to run 241 miles in January (which might not sound like much but is my biggest month since last September) and only took 1 day off from running in the last 45. Tonight's Thirsty Thursday workout might feature crampons and an ice ax but it will go on, and the post-workout beers with the boys will taste good. Spring will come, and there will be races--and I plan to be ready.

I think I even see the sun peeking through the icy gray sky. See? Things are looking up.