07 January 2018
On a good day, I can run into someone I’ve met many times and be utterly clueless as to their identity. That’s why, as Dearest Spouse likes to remind me, I went into a sales-related job (engineering, mind you, but still sales engineering). My local clubmates will confirm this failing; it takes at least four or five meetings of a new arrival for me to recall them, and God knows I try. My more distant clubmates who I see only infrequently will laugh even more heartily. Every time I show up for a Squannacook event, it’s like meeting a whole new crowd. They tolerate me anyway.
That’s on a good day. But it’s been absurdly cold of late. So add multiple layers of clothing including face-obscuring and ear-muffling headgear, blinding sun mixed with eye-slitting wind, and perhaps a good dose of fogged-up shades, not to mention enough fabric to disguise the most basic body shape clues, and all bets are off. I could run – and chat – with you for a couple of miles and still not have a clue who you are. Don’t believe me? Ask my CMS clubmate Scott, with whom I did just that while warming up for yet another go at the Freezer Five on New Year’s Day. I swear it didn’t even sound like him, let alone was it possible to see who was hiding under all that breathable fabric (note, that’s me, mid-race, under the blue fabric and the red hat, but you’d never know). Only two miles later did I figure it out, much to my chagrin. Let’s just say I’ve grown accustomed to the embarrassment of my typical delayed revelations.
As it turned out, it mattered quite a bit, and even more after a surprise sweetener was piled on a bit later. But at the time, all I knew was that I was dragging a pair of legs that had just run a marathon the day before through a five miler that started at five degrees into a biting and sapping headwind. By the end, at least I had that wind to my back, but on the final small hill – usually my strong point – the masked man I was chasing put ten yards on me and I momentarily figured I was frozen toast. But we’ll get back to that.
Yes, I’d run a marathon the day before, and yes, I counsel all my running friends not to race for a while after a marathon. But let’s be clear; that marathon, the rapidly-increasing-in-fame Groton Marathon, was by no means a race, so none of the requisite micro-tears lacerating various muscles, none of the quad burn, none of the typical damage that the body-consuming effort of a raced marathon brings on. Still, it was twenty-six miles on the legs.
And I should note that running the Freezer – my seventh outing on that icy venue – was a fallback of sorts. For the last month or two I’d entertained the somewhat whacked idea of following up Sunday’s marathon with another on Monday – another casual event to be sure, but still fifty-two miles on the legs. Groton is held on the Sunday after Christmas, and the New Year’s Boston Marathon run is held, as you might guess, on New Year’s morning. This year’s calendar put them back-to-back, offering up a special challenge for the feeble of mind. But when Monday morning’s forecast was for four below zero and significantly devoid of the warming power of sunlight at six in the morning, I opted to defer this year’s Boston run and await the tropical five-degree sun-drenched (and windswept) relative warmth of the Freezer’s eleven o’clock start.
It really wasn’t the thought of launching on another one only seventeen hours later that stopped me. Nor was it the thought of having to rise at five in the morning to do so (full disclosure, Dearest Spouse and I did not make it till midnight on New Year’s Eve, so I would have had plenty of sleep). It was the thought of doing that at four below zero in the dark that pushed me over the edge. Five extra hours and nine extra degrees was a Faustian bargain – because by running the Freezer, I’d actually have to try to run fast – but I bought in.
Whatever, I bought in; it was too late to change my mind.
Outbound was uneventful. After The Sorting (the inevitable settling after the mayhem of the start), I crept past one Gore-Tex puffball and then just held my turf into the headwind, picking around patches of black ice stubbornly hanging on since our last storm. After the lollipop turnaround, the wind became a bit of an ally, but not a cooperative one. At one point, trying to emulate those mysterious one-car crashes that make you scratch your head and say, “How did they do that?” I nearly fell off the road thanks to a combination of steep crown, black ice, and a surprise gust. Nobody around me. Nothing in my way. Would’ve been good and embarrassing.
But all in all, this was just a race for the day after a marathon. The split markers were uncertain, but even if marginally accurate, my split times weren’t spectacular, which was fine, because, as I said, this was just a race for the day after a marathon. Start the new year, get one in the books, go home empty-handed but feel satisfied and smugly superior to all those hung-over blokes.
Still, coming up on mile four, there were three guys (guys? people, gender undeterminable) in a line not too far in front of me. That racing gene kicked in. Oh damn, I just can’t not do this, can I?
First one, seemed to be fading a bit, clicked him off fairly easily (yes, they’d all turn out to be hims).
Second one, took a little more work, had some time to chat. I think telling him that I’d run Groton the day before made him just say, oh, hell, this dude is off the scale, just let him go.
Third one, this guy wasn’t going down easy. Three quarters of a mile to go. Slight downgrade, into a vale of sorts, I crept up on his shoulder. Third of a mile to go, last bit on the course that resembles a hill, and I’m a hill guy, this was my time to move. And he put ten yards on me. That’s what twenty-six the day before does to you, even if you didn’t race it.
Topping the rise, staring at his back, this is where you have that, “Do I really want this?” moment. Do I care? Or, as I’d been thinking only a few minutes earlier, do I just go home knowing I’ve kicked off the new year in the right direction and be happy?
And then you have that, “Whatever…” moment and the racing gene kicks back in.
In other words, we had ourselves a real-live race. He’d put up a helluva’ fight. And then I went back into clueless zone, more or less the theme of this story.
The usual post-finish mutual pats-on-the back commenced, each of us congratulating each other, the vanquished uttering kudus, the vanquisher exclaiming how we couldn’t have finished that hard without each other’s push (entirely true), thankful that the situation turned this from just a nice way to check off New Year’s Day into a real racing story.
And I have no idea who I just raced to the death and who I’m talking to.
In fact I have no idea who that wrapped up athlete was until I’m back inside, raiding the goodie table, he walks in, and I realize not only that it’s my CMS teammate Phil, the very guy who’d greeted me when I first arrived at the race (and I hadn’t really connected who he was at that point either), but I’m also chatting with his wife who’s tending the post-race comestibles.
And I still haven’t figured out why any of this is significant.
So I can’t tell you that if Phil had been in shorts and a singlet with fully visible features that I’d have known I had to take him down for that cotton garment. Thus I’ll stick to that racing gene. If it’s in front of you, I’d advise that you go for it. You never know.
15 December 2017
Five forty-three in the morning isn’t a happy time for many people, and certainly not for a distinctively non-morning person like myself. Or perhaps I should clarify; I’m not so much anti-morning as I am anti-stop-sleeping. Once I am up and functioning, mornings can be the most glorious time; it’s just getting to the glory that’s highly objectionable. So it was that my five forty-three departure from the budget motel next to the interstate was in no way glorious, yet there I was, chugging out in thirty-degree darkness, heading away from that interstate as fast as my stiff and sluggish legs would take me, which at that hour wasn’t very fast.
The hard tempo, actually the middle outing of this trio, was a Home Course Advantage pounding of my local club’s Tough Ten Miler course, Thanksgiving Edition (or technically the Sunday after). I’ve long ago given up caring that it’s really only nine-point-eight-five, not that I’m counting or anything, because the hills make it run like eleven. And being certified OCD, I convert my results before spitting them through the age-grading tables anyway.
But while I hadn’t expected a best, I did expect a solid run, as I’d raced with Kris just four days prior on the real turkey day. Or at least unofficially; as when he’d shown up at Stow Gobbler they’d sold out, so he ran sans-bib. Legal or not, he dragged me to my best outing in a year and a half – so when he suggested coming down for the ten miler afterwards, it was roll-out-the-red-carpet time.
Last year I hobbled into Stow hoping merely to stumble in within a minute per mile off the previous year. Not a minute overall, mind you, a minute per mile; it was that bad. I made it, but that wasn’t saying much. This time, Baby Steps, keep it reasonable, I targeted my recent decent outing at John Tanner’s race, aiming for just a hair better. Meeting Kris on the line, his stated goal pace was clearly a bit hot for my tastes, and I wished him well. But a mile in, I found myself hanging a mere ten yards off his flank. Heck, either he’s dogging it, or I’m clicking; either way, milk it.
In cases like that, there’s really only one thing to do. Hurt yourself.
Never mind the age graded scale (which spit out a satisfying number, for the record). I’m mildly proud and very amused that the photos from the end of this one went off the charts on the Death Warmed Over scale. It's kind of a meter that says, yes, you gave it all you've got. And that even minute boundary? Not just nailed, but let’s just say it wasn’t close; I didn’t need to hurt myself quite so much to gain that, but I’m glad I did. And as a bonus, Kris, ten yards ahead to the finish, had no bib and so honorably veered off at the last moment. Having already been a fantastic pacer, he turned my tiny little Stow masters’ medal from artificial bronze to artificial silver.
Question: How do you top two solid outings like that? Answer: With style.
A week later it was Mill Cities time, when I shed my Highland City and Central Mass jerseys and turn into a Squannacook River Runner for a day. Not being tightly ingrained in this group (entirely my fault says Mr. I-Can’t-Remember-Names-For-Nuthin’, since they are always of famous hospitality), I make no demands on their team organization. Put me where you need me, I’ll run.
My slight dismay over being swapped off one team, where I was to have run the long nine-point-five mile leg four – my favorite – onto a different team, where I was tagged to run the opener, five and two-thirds miles of rolling terrain in the early morning coldness, was immediately dispelled when I arrived at the pre-dawn team rally and spotted our ride for the day.
And oh, what a ride.
There, idling in the parking lot (since, it would turn out, we needed to keep it running all the time) was a beautifully restored 1965 Chevy Greenbrier van (the first photo, up top...why, you ask?...because Facebook grabs the first picture in the post as a preview, so yes, I'm kowtowing a bit). Before we’d left the parking lot, before we’d seen another team, heck, before we knew if there were any other teams, we knew we had the coolest ride on the block, bar none. Indeed, at one point that day we’d find ourselves stuck in traffic next to a friend in his bright red early-eighties Pontiac convertible – with the top down – and, well, it was no contest. He was cool. We were awesome.
But it was oh, so cool. (And later research, by the way, explained that the 1965 model had a redesigned chassis that was not susceptible to the rolls that made both the Corvair and Nader famous. An interesting read worth three minutes.)
A few months ago, I wouldn’t even step on a race course. Now, three in eleven days. None record-breaking. All smile-inducing.
Meanwhile, back to that morning a week ago outside of New Haven, Connecticut... By the end of that slog I’d snuck up on a few early dog walkers, spotted two fellow early runners, run alongside a commuter jet taxing for takeoff (yes, an airport was involved), had a stint on a path alongside the sea, and yes, started to see the earlies tinges of dawn. All before six thirty. When you’ve done that much by that time, the rest of the day is gravy. It was glorious.
Disappointment can bring you spiraling down, but motivation can build on itself. It takes a lot of effort to get out in less than ideal circumstances, but doing so brings rewards, both immediate and long-term, and those rewards feed back to get you out for more, or, in simple speak, the more you run, the better you run, and the more you’re likely to get out to run some more. Even before six in the morning. But don’t let that news travel too far. People might think I’m up to something, or – gasp! – willing to get up early..
22 November 2017
There are a couple of basic rules in the running world. First, when life takes you places, take your running shoes. Second, the myth of the lonely distance runner is in fact just that, a myth. We’re generally highly social creatures, and you’re a fool if you don’t take advantage of that fundamental truth. Link up with someone and not only will the miles melt away in amusing discourse, but you’re a lot more likely to cook up adventures and expand your horizons.
This week, those adages won me an utterly gorgeous morning running the iconic bridges of New York accompanied by a new friend who made for an effective, willing, and most enjoyable Native Guide. Lonely distance runners my behind…
This is not to say I haven’t embarked on plenty of adventures solo; my running tour of London a couple years ago comes instantly to mind. But you can only do that when you have reasonable leeway and margins for error; when the downsides of something going askew rise, I often take the conservative option and stick with the known, expanding my horizons only slowly.
Thus when Corporate Employer, who has me crisscrossing the northeast and parts random on a regular basis, drops me in Manhattan, I tend to stick to the familiar. From my usual camping spot in Midtown, I pick my way uptown to Central Park, loop the reservoir, then head back south, dodging commuters pouring out of the Port Authority and Penn Station, to get back in the nick of time. Since I don’t go to Gotham just to hang in the office – it’s always for meetings, usually with clients – screwing up the plan would result in a rather embarrassing and dramatic late entrance.
But last week opened a window of opportunity, and that window unfolded in a surprising – or perhaps not so surprising, given the basic truths I held evident earlier – way. The day’s meetings were slated to start a bit later than usual. Ah, an opening to try something different.
Still, getting there and back – and hopefully having a few minutes to locate a childhood friend’s name and have a few minutes of reflection, wasn’t a given, even though I plan these things within an inch of their lives. Call it OCD.
Decoding Google Maps along Manhattan’s west side, where docks and piers and parks and highways intertwine like loosely wound DNA, isn’t a certain science. Most uncertain, I couldn’t quite tell if the sinuous strand, clearly labelled at some points, but not so clearly labelled at others, did in fact extend all the way south. So it was that on attaining the trail at 26th Street, I took the stereotypically un-male action of asking the first guy who passed by if indeed this was the Greenway (to which I expected his reaction to be, “Duh, there’s a river if you go thirty feet further west,”) and if indeed the path continued all the way to the end of the island. I’m not sure I communicated that last bit, the important bit, all that well, but I took his lack of warnings of death, doom, and destruction to imply that I wasn’t really off base in my quest. And, feeling a bit like a moron, but mostly wanting to respect his privacy, I took off.
Funny thing about running in New York City. Unlike back home, where it’s an event to see another runner, a rarity to see one heading your way, and a lottery-ticket day to find one heading your way at your pace, in New York there are thousands out on any given morning. There’s always someone going your way. It’s not even that hard to find someone reasonably close to your pace. But faced with this plenty, most of these masses don’t strike up conversations with folks they don’t know. I suspect it’s a matter of practicality. We’re social, but we do like some me time, and with these multitudes, if you chatted up every passing compatible pacer, you’d never have a moment to daydream – or think up blog topics. Folks need some space. Which is why I took off.
A half mile later, he caught up. A few miles later we were buds. It happens. Serendipity.
Introducing myself as being from Boston piqued interest since he was looking forward to his first Boston in the spring. From there, stories spewed forth (one quite notable: he’s got an amazing hundred mile week – which he did in five days! – under his belt – check that out here). He soaked up my chatter without complaint while regaling me with his. Runner chat. Miles melting. Faster pace than I’d do on my own. I needed that. But by the time we reached his office in Lower Manhattan (he’d run-commuted that day), pretty much all I knew was that he was an attorney from Brooklyn, and we’d had a good run. That alone was enough and had made for a great morning.
Ah, the consequence of decisions. Nearly a decade ago I picked the name for this literary serial, with one criteria being that it would be simple to pass on verbally, key since few can spell my name right on the first try. When we parted outside his office I shouted the name of the blog. His email showed up shortly thereafter; connection made, simplicity worked. Good decision.
Oh, and yes, after a wrong turn (how can you miss a hundred-story office tower? I did it…) I got my ten minutes of reflection at the memorial, and found my old friend’s name. Powerful.
But he was all in on this, which found me rising earlier than I prefer to meet him in the dawning light along the Hudson. The early awakening was well worth it; now teamed with a Native Guide, here was a chance to expand my horizons without the risk of getting hopelessly lost in the spaghetti of Lower Manhattan (I can handle the Midtown grid, but Downtown is worse than Boston!). Remember, I had to have my butt in a seat for a meeting.
The Brooklyn Barrister picked up on my eye for the iconic, and planned a classic New York river-spanning route. I’ve walked the Brooklyn Bridge a couple times, and it’s long been one of my favorite urban walks, period. Running it added another notch of delight. Running back across the Manhattan Bridge, a structure with all the charm of unplanned steam punk inbred with organic graffiti, with trains roaring by ten feet to our right, but with a stunning view of Roebling’s masterpiece and the morning sun setting the Financial District afire, was simply sublime. And it’s worth noting, that sucker is a pretty serious hill, too. You don’t really get that till you’re coming down the other side and see that you’re above the roofs of the fifteen-story buildings on shore. Nice workout, indeed.
As for those photos, hey, you might as well milk it, right? Hours later, when the conference room of colleagues was zoned from a full day of endless blather and slideware, I ended my brief speaking bit by announcing, “And now, your moment of Zen,” flipping that bridge shot onto the screen. Few in the room got the Daily Show reference, but it had the desired effect – both a satisfying break to the day and a reconfirmation of my status as the slightly crazy one in the room – since they knew how I’d harvested the image.
Horizons suitably expanded, I returned to my usual park loop the next morning, finally remembering – as I’ve meant to do for a long time – to pack the phone for some snaps of the sun rising against Central Park West. More bliss. But now I’m dangerous. Now I know that Brooklyn is in range. I might never make another New York meeting on time.
13 November 2017
A few weeks ago, you’ll recall, I won a local race. My local buds laughed when I sloughed it off to light competition. But really… You want proof? How about this? A week back, I dove into the deep end and ran a race labelled ‘Championships’. You can bet that the word ‘win’ doesn’t appear in this story. Do a ‘Replace All’ on ‘win’ and insert ‘thrashing’. It’s good to have perspective.
A week prior, the back, out of nowhere, caught me from behind (go ahead, groan). I don’t often get the spacious luxury of a king-sized bed, so while out in Syracuse to visit Dearest Daughter, that Montana-sized motel mattress was a treat that left me refreshed and ready to meet a local friend for a Saturday morning ten-miler. Ten minutes out of bed, without warning, I couldn’t bend over. Go figger. I’m not one prone to back problems, so this made no sense then, and with tinges lingering a full two weeks later, it makes no sense now. On the bright side, my companion had seriously over-indulged the night before to celebrate his advancing years (he’s finally more than half my age), so he didn’t mind our brutally slow start, and as me achin’ back loosened up I found that for the next week, my only relief would be when I was running, so naturally I ran a whole lot.
Prior to that, it was the foot that injected a bit of drama. What appeared as an odd bruise in an odd spot initiated by an odd pair of shoes that only hurt at odd times left me worried that I’d done far worse and cracked one of those multitudinous mini-bones. Just to be safe, I commissioned a portrait, and Dr. Foot Doctor assured me today I’m merely the proud owner of an osteophyte, or for you normal folks, just a bit of an irritated bone spur. Carry on.
There, buried in the back of the closet… The good news? They were far more comfortable than expected. The bad news? The trails I’d chosen were a bit technical in places, and I repeatedly hit rocks which tossed one leg wildly into the other. Not spike-side-first, which would be ugly, but with enough blunt force trauma to do some damage. Ooh, that’s gonna’ leave a mark!
So into the lion’s den I went, riddled with a variety of maladies, but not about to let them stop me from indulging in a complete denial of age. There’s an odd joy in running a cross country race when you’re halfway through your fifties. Go ahead, act like you’re a teen-ager, slog through trails and woods like your high school days. Age and bodily damage be damned. I’d missed it, and it was good to get back out there. Never mind the odd logic that getting back out there meant jumping into the championships; odd indeed when I hadn’t run a cross country in years. Start big.
I held no delusion that I’d be anywhere close to competitive in a field of ringers, but you can’t get faster in races without racing, so might as well start somewhere. Besides, in this game, even the seventh man contributes, so why not jump in when you just might boost your team, even if you are slow guy? Further, it was good to show my Central Mass Striders team that I really did exist in the flesh, not just in emails, since right when I signed on was when I fell off the cliff and stopped racing.
It’s worth repeating, there’s nothing quite like a cross-country start. In a road race, unless it’s small (read, the competition probably isn’t deep), you’re corralled well behind the fast guys. But a cross country start is egalitarianism brought to racing. For about half a minute as we thundered across the field at Boston’s Franklin Park I was actually in the race, a race labelled championship.
Reality of course took over quickly, and I found myself well back in Central Oblivion, separated from all ahead or behind, in the rear position of a mini-pack of three. Time is more or less irrelevant in cross country – a small comfort of which I’d remind myself when I pulled in two and a half minutes slower than my last time around this circuit, six years prior – rather, it’s all about place and team scoring. Since one of the parties in my mini-pack was an old Greater Boston teammate who I knew was a spry young forty-something who therefore didn’t matter in my fifties-plus race scoring world, my focus became the third guy of our private party, a runner from Greater Lowell who, through some pre-race humor, had revealed himself as worthy of fossilization.
All of this sorting took place quickly, and then? Nothing happened. It’s an eight kilometer race, mind you. Other than a bit of grunting, we just soldiered on in peace, knowing that the game is one of positioning for late race moves, hoping to pick up a place or two and boost your team.
Again, perspective: I’d walk away from the field of combat having finished two thirds back in the field, yet somehow, I was still thinking strategy. This was our little skirmish in the bigger war. I wanted that Lowell guy. I vowed that if I didn’t take him and we landed behind his team by a single point, I’d have to devise some unspeakable self-punishment. You don’t get that in a road race.
With about two kilometers to go, I’d put a few yards on my former Boston teammate, and made a move on Lowell. Though it wasn’t a windy day, as soon as I passed, it sure felt that way, so I backed off; might as well let him do the work. Besides, the last loop over Bear Cage Hill awaited, and I’m nothing if not moderately confident on a hill.
While biding my time, quite by surprise – since I’d thought we’d been all alone in our Gang of Three – a pair of interlopers loped past. Remember that tune, Hot Rod Lincoln? I said boys, that’s a mark on me…
The second interloper got away with his caper, but he’d turn out to be a spry forty-seven, so he just didn’t matter. The other three I chalked up as slayed. So yes, the truth is that I ran sixty-ninth, or I can just say that I took three out of four whom I was actually racing. It’s perspective. It was still a thrashing, but with a small victory extracted from the wreckage.
Oh, and for the record, that point I added to Greater Lowell’s score with the late race take-down didn’t make a hill of beans of difference, but it felt good just the same.
17 October 2017
It’s usually a process. Run a race, let it sink in a few days to allow the salient points to clarify, ponder a few days more on angles to make the story interesting, spend the inevitable additional period waiting for people to post pictures so I can spice up the tale for my quasi-readers who only look at the pictures (you know who you are), find time to start writing, and a week later if I’m lucky, two weeks later if I’m busy, you get the latest ponderings on my little slice of the universe.
Not this time. It’s fast track. Pen the piece promptly. Get it out the door, before it’s too late, before I change my mind, before I inevitably convince myself that no, sorry, this weekend’s wonders were not, in fact, a turning of the proverbial corner. Yessiree, tell the tale while the glow still emanates, while the aura lingers, while I still think things might be looking up.
The race win was a foregone conclusion after about a quarter of a mile. Of the hundred and twenty participants, a good half were walkers, and a good half of the rest were casual joggers. Of this I can be relatively certain, because we, we being myself and the second- and third-place finishers, opted to jog the course for a warm-down, and it being an out-and-back, we had a first-hand view of a good portion of the field (and endured an endearing amount of runner-style catcalls: yes, we were indeed doing it again, ten whole kilometers; no, we didn’t have to pay twice; yes, we’re somewhat crazy – frankly, we loved every minute of it).
So winning this wasn’t really an issue – indeed, it was almost more of an embarrassment (but hey, they had prizes, so somebody had to win it, right?). What was an issue was that for a reasonable effort level (reasonable being defined as, yes, the Death Warmed Over look that I so wished for just a week ago returned, but no, no medical attention was required), I finally turned in a time that didn’t make me grimace. On an absolute level, I have to get used to bigger numbers on the time clock than in the old young days, but still, it wasn’t bad, and when run through the age grading calculator (my savior of growing old), this one chalked up quite nicely, darn close to the magic boundary that’s always defined a good race for me.
We’ll politely neglect to mention that it’s a forgiving course, with only a few mild rolls (and pretty darn accurate, only a hairbreadth long) and that the weather was nearly ideal. Just go with it. Quick. Before I change my mind.
So it was that off I trundled with some nice swag after enjoying what is essentially an extended family reunion, celebrating the life of my lost training partner John Tanner, and the Noyes family’s foundation to advance research to cure Batten disease which claimed their son Nicholas, whom John passionately supported. As I’ve often stated, I’m not big on charity fundraiser runs, since most are just a way to focus on the funds with no connection to the run. This one, on the other hand, honoring a dedicated runner like John, is an apt memorial, and is put on with tremendous dedication and a lot of love. For one day a year, I am honored to be treated like extended family. So yeah, I knocked off Nicholas’ cousin by the mile mark, but the title, well, sort of stayed in the extended family.
All that aside, I’m trying to convince myself that the physical therapy work – or as it’s billed to insurance, therapeutic exercises - is starting to pay off. The pain isn’t gone, not that I really expect it to go away entirely. The weakness isn’t gone, but it is maybe, sort of, perhaps, kind of, mildly abated, and yes, that I do hope to see go entirely. Plenty more obscure balancing exercises on one bent knee are in my future. Soldier on.
So quick, before the next string of two or three utterly horrible training runs where everything hurts, fatigue lames the leg, pace drops off the cliff, and my mood goes back into the sewer, quick, publish this one, and let’s hope this is a hint of better times ahead that maybe sticks.
07 October 2017
Until quite recently, the Meh dial has been turned to eleven. (I hate to digress right after my opening statement, but if you don’t get that reference, go here, it’s worth it, it’s a classic.) My trusty Ironman POS (Plain Old Stopwatch) gave up the ghost a while back. It decided I’d run a seriously long workout and simply stopped cold. Not died, as in, dead battery, no display, kaput, no, it just stopped (it was, I suppose, a stop watch, right?). No combination of rhythmic button tapping would budge it from its assurance that eighty five hours earlier I’d started to do something.
It occurred to me that if time really stopped, as my ex-watch insisted, that would make me immortal. But as those three weeks of timelessness drifted by, I had to admit that immortality is overrated. Going down that path means there’s no need to work hard to stick around, but the topic of staying on this planet a lot longer inevitably turns political, so I’ll skip it for now. Suffice to say I can’t just give it up like that. I’ll opt out of immortality and keep up the fight. Meh be damned.
The fight has been notched up to full swing of late. There’s a line in Lin-Manuel Miranda’s (utterly brilliant) musical Hamilton where Hercules Mulligan raps, “When you knock me down, I get the [f-bomb] back up again.” Getting back up again is never easy, but I’m trying (some of my co-workers would concur with that statement, though perhaps with a different meaning). So while it’s been a Summer of Silence in the blogosphere, all has not been silent in the background. Doctor Number Three has me working hard with a new Physical Terrorist, and last week it was time to go public, so to speak, and hit the race course again.
Race? For real? Calm down, these are merely baby steps. Start small, start local, start with the Forrest, our local three-point-two mile five-K, a race with almost more medals than people, as well as plenty of burgers and beers afterward. And, as it happened, complete with eighty-five degree heat under intense sun, in late September. Fall, global warming style.
The result? A Personal Worst. Worst ever on the Forrest course, even adjusting for the long course and for that new pesky traffic island they mistakenly sent us around. Second worst five click race ever. Though, if you slap on the age-grading tables, it only hit the bottom quartile, and after all, it was hot, he said, knowing that the heat really didn’t have much to do with it. So I guess you can pull out some redeeming qualities for the first race outing in many, many months.
This was not a race-to-the-death. This was a race to remember what a race was; after all, it’s been since May, and Gate City wasn’t exactly a speed festival. Baby steps. Solid, not crazy, since there wasn’t any crazy in the tank, and no reason to spend it if there was. I wasn’t going to win it, and there weren’t any old farts around to threaten the masters category, so just drive it in, keep it steady, be happy with solid, don’t do anything stupid. Heck, I didn’t even look all that bad at the finish. I’ve really got to work to re-polish that Death Warmed Over look back to perfection.
Not that Death Warmed Over is a goal, but if I can regain that look because I have managed to fill the tank with some crazy, I guess that will be progress. Meanwhile, just to start warding off the Meh, I’ve gone back to the medical world to let them practice some more, since they hadn’t nailed it on the first two tries. Both Doctor Number One (who I very much like) and Doctor Number Two (who I was rather wishy-washy on) insisted there was nothing wrong with that left leg other than inflammation! inflammation! inflammation! Doctor Number Three, looking at the very same image as One and Two, not only saw the sub-kneecap cartilage flaw (which he insisted was not caused by running, thank you very much, it just happened, stop telling me how running trashes knees), he also saw the notes that the radiologist had apparently appended to the image that neither One nor Two had pointed out. Howzat? Three’s theory is that the discomfort that flaw creates may have been making me subconsciously disfavor that leg for a long time, bringing about the atrophy all have detected. His approach is all about strength. Inflammation is an afterthought.
Is it working? I’d like to think I’m sensing a bit more strength, my mileage is up the last couple weeks, my pace is improving, and I’ve even had a couple of hard training runs that felt pretty darn good. Yet fatigue still hits early, I’m nowhere near ready for hard core Grand Prix racing, and just finishing Boston this spring seems like the daunting goal that most normal people view it as. But as Masochism Mike rightly points out, it took me a long time to get here, and it’s going to take a long time to get out. Living in one dimension, he calls it, and it’s true, we runners are very good at going forward, but really could use a lot more strength in other directions to keep things strong, in line, and happy.
Immortality would make these struggles entirely unnecessary. But immortality would be a cop-out. If we don’t have to keep fighting for it, what’s the fun?
04 June 2017
The funny thing about Nashua, New Hampshire, is that for over thirty years I’ve lived less than an hour away and I’ve driven through it hundreds if not thousands of times on the freeway, but save for some just-off-the-highway shopping stops in those annual desperate pre-Christmas weeks, I’ve really never been there. Sure, the Nashua River Rail Trail, which I’ve run, starts in the city’s rural southwest corner, but that’s like saying you know New York City because you’ve been to Staten Island. No offence to the Island, but it ain’t Manhattan.
It’s not that I haven’t laid eyes on the place. I recall detouring through downtown one day, having gotten a bit lost trying to sidestep highway traffic and there was one business meeting at the country club. A few times I’ve zipped through town with my Squannacook Mill Cities Relay teams (since Nashua is, after all, known as a mill town), once even starting the first leg in the city, but not being the driver, I hardly knew where I was or where I was going save to pilot a quick skip – whether in the van or on foot – over the river to neighboring Hudson. Manchester I’ve wandered. Concord I’ve roamed. Portsmouth I’ve, um, portaged? But Nashua has always been an odd-duck hole in the map.
No more. And despite the fact that for years I’ve often referred to it as “Nausea, New Hampshire”, based solely on the phonetic similarity, I have to say that after this adventure, I rather like the place.
So why did I run the Gate City Marathon in Nashua a couple weeks back? One word: Insurance. Oh, and one other word: Motivation. The insurance part was for me. The motivation was for a clubmate gearing herself up for her first twenty-six miler in a town she called home for five years..
Insurance is a terrible product. Either you pay for it and you don’t need it, or you need it, which means something ugly has happened, and nine times out of ten the process of using it isn’t pleasant. This race was Boston insurance, my premium paid up well before April’s race, to ensure I had a slot for Shot Number Two since I was going into Boston in the unusual and uncomfortable situation of not already having a qualifier for the following year. If I needed this, something ugly had indeed happened on my way from Hopkinton to Boston.
As you serial readers already know, what happened that day wasn’t terribly attractive, but it wasn’t seriously ugly, either. I did requalify, so Gate City wasn’t really needed. But on the other hand, my seeding time wasn’t first-wave worthy, so Gate City was a chance to better it. On the third hand, it wasn’t my last chance to better that time, since under Boston’s rules, while you have to qualify before the fall marathon season, once you’re in, you’re in, and you can better your seed time well into the winter. And that presented a unique opportunity, because, in short, it meant that this one just didn’t matter. So what the heck? Go for broke, roll the dice, see what happens. Really, what’s the worst that can happen? (Don’t answer that.)
At packet pickup I was lucky to meet up with a gent from Nova Scotia targeting a time that last year would have been leisurely, but this year represented the solid challenge of knocking about fifteen minutes off my Boston time. And with the joys of a small race, he was easy to find at the start.
There was the motivation angle. My clubmate did seem to appreciate having someone to spew pearls of experience in her direction as she went through the first-marathon jitters. Frankly, the “give motivation” aspect gave me a crutch to explain my otherwise irrational act of doubling up on spring marathons, again, after last year’s injurious adventure at Sugarloaf (dose of rationality, this race had no such murderous downhills). I did tell my peeps that I’d bail if it was ninety degrees, but I probably should have chosen a better out: the weather was nearly perfect on race morning, so I had no excuse. Game on.
Gate City’s course is comprised of four loops through the city, though you run the first loop again after the second, making it also the third, before the other two become race loops four and five. Did you get that? Back up, read it again slowly. It sounds confusing, but it really isn’t except for the fact that each loop returns you downtown where you have to be sure to peel off in the right direction for the next one. The upside of this is that adoring fans can watch the start, four passes of their heroes, and the finish, without moving a muscle. The downside is that when you roll in off of loop four in tough shape with the fifth and hilly loop remaining and you run right past your Ace Support Team, you really have to summon the mind of a marathoner to not just say, “Enough!” And that’s pretty much where I was when that time came.
Before we recount the agony of that final loop, let’s take a moment here to recall that I really enjoyed my tour of Nashua, not to mention the race staff and volunteers who put on a fine event. I’d popped in a couple weeks earlier to preview the course, on foot, the only way you can really feel out a course, so I’d had a chance to absorb the many lovely neighborhoods as well as the downright delightful stretch along the canal towpath. This was the Nashua I’d missed these last thirty years. Yes, it’s got its tired mills, it being, after all, a mill city, and every town has a few less-than-pristine streets, but in the whole, it was a pleasant surprise indeed. Probably most important from my preview, I was fully aware that Gate City’s version of Heartbreak Hill came around twenty-three and a half, and frankly, having run it, it didn’t worry me.
Ha. That was on the preview when we ran the loops out of order and covered that last loop second, not fifth, and at a casual pace, not after burning the fastest sixteen mile tempo I’ve run in a year. On race day, it put the final nails in the shipping crate.
Remember that comment about needing the mentality of a marathoner to convince yourself to soldier on when things were ugly and the final hilly loop remained. It’s times like those when experience kicks in, or perhaps just stupidity, and you deny every fiber in your body telling you that it’s a really dumb idea to leave the safety and comfort of downtown and instead head out to run a loop of hills. At least I laughed at myself for being right about expecting that it would come to this.
This being a small race, it had grown mighty lonely after the half-marathoners peeled off, so despite the final loop wreckage, I lost only six spots. Post finish I learned that the last guy to smoke me, which he’d done in the last quarter mile, turned out to be over fifty. With age group awards only one deep, for a moment I thought that this might have been fair payback for my stealing the fifties division in the last quarter mile last year at Sugarloaf. Frankly, with my performance, I didn’t deserve it anyway, but the point was moot as we ended up three-four in the division.
So what about those golden nuggets? How about sixteen miles of solid tempo like I haven’t hit for a year? How about the hope that improved training can stretch that sixteen to twenty-something by the fall to maybe indeed slice off those ten minutes? And how about, despite a crash-and-burn day, still getting to ring Gate City’s Boston qualifier bell (even if I was already qualified, why not?) with plenty of time to spare? Plus, there was the fun of watching my clubmate roll in, smile on her face, first marathon medal on her neck. Well done!