Saturday, December 31, 2011
Friday, December 23, 2011
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
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!|
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 would...in 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
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|
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
|Our savior, me and Chris on top of Vermont.|
Friday, August 19, 2011
|Come inside or we'll call the cops.|
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
|Mark, Captain Dan, Chris and Me...before Mt. Mansfield|
|Dan and The Map|
|We'll have a sixer of this one.|
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.|
|Lambs for the slaughter.|
Wednesday, June 29, 2011
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
Wednesday, April 6, 2011
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
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.
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.