24 September 2016


Once you start, it’s an ear worm you can’t get out of your head. It’s summittime, summittime, sum- sum-summittime… except that it’s already over. Summertime passed rapidly, so long as that ‘rapidly’ adjective isn’t applied to my pace on the roads. Summittime too has passed, with a satisfying goal achieved.

For one accustomed to racking up over two hundred miles a month, logging four, yes four (well, technically four and a half) in July and barely ninety in August has been downright agonizing, and this month is likewise lacking in linear legwork. The pizza-to-miles ratio is out of kilter and the body knows it, but worse than the few extra accumulated pounds is the passage of the six week mark when my body typically responds to changes in training levels and the bottom falls out of any attempts at rapidity. It’s all uphill from here to get back, though hope springs eternal; and based on yesterday’s better-than-usual-of-late outing, there may be another life ahead. I’m not dead yet.

Ah, but that uphill, now there’s an idea! While the mileage was down on behalf of the crackling (both) and painful (left) knees, along came the opportunity to clock in an alternate form of workout. In the last post, we left a little cliffhanger (pun intended) on Dearest Daughter’s Determined Deathwish to finish off her New Hampshire (White Mountains) Four-Thousand-Footers before heading off to places collegiate. As the last minute inserted note in that last posting said, yes, we made it in time, with less than forty-eight hours to spare before her departure, completing an ambitious odyssey. Such is the way that summertime this year became redefined as summittime.

Now, stomping over mountains on rough trails isn’t necessarily the kindest thing one could do to injured knees. But the climbing was, I figured, good for strengthening that atrophied quad, and the descending was, let’s just say, done as gingerly as possible. My current Physical Terrorist didn’t entirely agree, but she settled for the lesser of two evils while doing her best to calm the inflammation that she’s convinced is the source of much of my woe.

Thus began the adventure that led DD and me over thirty-three summits in a dozen outings over a span of only forty-four days, culminating at one of the most spectacular spots in the Whites. For her, it was a major life goal realized. For me, it was a trip down (or, more accurately, up) memory lane, relived and relished. Though by cutting back on my running I felt as though I lost track of many big doin’s around town, I traded my knowledge of the latest local road construction for the delightful familiarity with the northern landscape that only comes with the exertion of many miles. It’s a comforting, satisfying mastery that grows exponentially as the trails and summits add up, culminating in the ability to stand atop a mountain, look around, and not need the map to get your bearings. There’s no substitute for accumulating the experience.

So while I typically avoid chronological journaling, I break my rule here and provide a brief tour of those forty-four days that took DD from twenty-six to forty-eight qualifying summits. Come along on an adventure…because next time, it’ll just be about the run once again.

Excursion One, Whiteface & Passaconaway: It’s July but it’s cold, damp, drizzly, and foggy, on these forested, viewless summits, nothing to see here, move along, just whiteness from the overlooks. The steep climbs up Whiteface make me wonder how I got a troop of boy scouts up this one in back in eighty-nine. (Answer: There were steps bolted into the rock then; they’re gone now – note the holes in the rock behind my pack.) Summits twenty-seven and twenty eight.

Excursion Two, Willey & Field: Mt. Tom is usually included when the Willey Range is taken down, but DD bagged that one years ago on a day when the family tired after just one of the three planned peaks. This time we assaulted from the south so as to traverse the stairs DD had built last summer on her month of trail work, then it was up ten impressive trail ladders and a long (long!) loop back through Zealand Notch, because, well, why not turn a few miles into sixteen? Summits twenty-nine and thirty.

Excursion Three, Moriah: Because we just didn’t want to come home… An impromptu overnight, complete with a Wal-Mart run for basics like toothbrushes, so we could knock off a simple one the next day. Met a number of Appalachian Trail thru-hikers who we’d see again and again in coming days. Summit thirty-one.

Excursion Four, the Wildcats: To start a planned five-day stretch, it was up the steep and rocky ridge of Wildcat in a foggy drizzle. Five summits, two count as Four-Thousand-Footers, but unlike my last trip over them twenty-three years ago, they’re no longer labelled. With multitudes of ups and downs, we’re never quite sure if we’ve hit the high points till reaching the final A summit overlooking Carter Notch as the clouds gave way to glorious mountain sunshine. Summits thirty-two and thirty-three.

Excursion Five, Jefferson, Monroe, and, oh yeah, that one: DD is missing two Presidential summits, one north, the other south of Washington (which she’s already tagged), so the plan is to knock them both off, skirting the ‘Rockpile’ on the way. After a phenomenal cliff climb up Caps Ridge, the delightful morning turns Presidential Fierce, and a happenstance link-up with another hiker leads us to summit Washington anyway, since he’s never done it. Sixty-mile gusts reclassify the adventure into the Epic Zone and we’re feeling cold in our cores as we reach Lakes of the Clouds to recover. Toss in Clay and Franklin for a five-summit day and we’re glad to have snagged a lift back to our trailhead parking. Summits thirty-four and thirty-five.

Excursion Six, The Twins and Galehead: It’s been twenty-four years since I last stayed in an AMC hut and it happened to be Galehead. Since then the hut was entirely rebuilt so it’s sort of inaccurate to say I finally returned, but the logs are still there and I managed to find my entry from May of ninety-two. We return to visit neighbor Greg who’s working croo, and take an easy day of three summits on a brilliantly perfect summer day. Summits thirty-six, thirty-seven, and thirty-eight.

Excursion Seven, Garfield: My fourth time on this one and our intent is to continue up the ridge, top Lafayette, and sidle down past Greenleaf to our car parked at Canon. But threats of severe weather and a surprisingly and suddenly strong wind coupled with an evil looking sky turn us around at Garfield’s summit. We bail, hot-foot it down the Death-By-Boredom Garfield trail, and find a serious dearth of ride opportunities. The sketchy guy who kindly shuttles us back in his decades-old pickup truck has to move something off the seat that seemed to have been alive quite recently, but a ride’s a ride. Summit thirty-nine.

Excursion Eight, Cabot: One of Mother Nature’s bad jokes, Cabot, so far from anything that we ended up crossing a covered bridge into Vermont to get there, offers little excitement on a clear day, and even less on a cloudy one. A challenging climb to The Horn makes it interesting, though the out-and-back traversals of The Bulge add nothing but meaningless work. We’re only fifteen minutes from the car when the skies open with such ferocity that we’d have been drenched had we been only a minute away, but it makes for good chit-chat when we meet up later at a store in Berlin with hikers we’d chatted with who’d gone out the opposite direction and just beat the rain – and who turn out to be USATF Grand-Prix racing types. Summit forty.

Excursion Nine, Isolation: After five days at sea, we’re pretty tired, but after yesterday’s deluge, today’s forecast of perfection can’t be missed, so we book another night and hit the trail from Pinkham at the crack of dawn to tackle Isolation, as far from anything as its name suggests. Eschewing the usual Rocky Branch route that I’d slogged through back in eighty-eight (and which we’d learn was an intolerable mud pit after yesterday’s rain), we opt for Glen Boulder over Slide Peak, returning over Boott Spur. It adds thousands of feet of climb on both ends, but it’s spectacularly beautiful on a spectacularly amazing day and we’re spectacularly whipped by the end, but the sight of clouds pouring over the Presidential ridge was astounding. Summit forty-one.

Excursion Ten, Carrigain: It seems everyone leaves this for last, because although it’s five miles up Signal Ridge, it’s an easy five miles, so they can bring their friends, and besides, the last mile is magnificent. The four leading up to that spot, though, are rather interminable. We instead take the long way in, circling around the mountain through Carrigain Notch and ascend via the steep, challenging, and much more fun Desolation Trail. The summit is busy and beautiful, with views to what we’ve decided will be our finish line on the Bonds. Summit forty-two.

Excursion Eleven, The Kinsmans: Being easy to get to, right off the highway on the close side of the hills, we knock these off in a few hours, not hitting the trail till near mid-day. The South peak amuses with a unique summit cairn throne of stones. On our second trip over the North peak, returning from the out & back, I convince DD that a particular boulder looks like the true summit. She’s tired and reluctant but I goad her to scramble to the top. Back in the car, she sheepishly reads me the trail guide which we hadn’t carried which, sure enough, advises the peak bagger to be sure to climb that particular boulder to touch the true summit. Summits forty-three and forty-four.

Excursion Twelve, Zealand and The Bonds: Dearest Spouse, ever sporting, rises in the middle of the night so she can drop us at the Zealand trailhead before seven as this will be a one-way traverse. We’re enjoying the expansive views on the ridge above Zealand Notch before nine and the viewless summit is check-marked soon after. From there it’s off to one of the most amazing stretches of trail in the Whites, over the open alpine ridge of Guyot, West Bond, Bond, and onto the truly sublime flat-topped but vertical sided summit of Bondcliff. It’d been over twenty-nine years since I last stood here, a place with a cliff so iconic that it graced the cover of the AMC guide many years back. I looked about as terrified standing on that cliff this time as I did last time, but DD strode confidently onto the ledge for her victory shot, having completed her quest from the first to the last summit in a little under ten years. Summits forty-five, forty-six, forty-seven, and yes, forty-eight. Huzzah, I think they say. And then the long walk out the other end, to find that Dearest Spouse, not wanting to join us for our twenty-mile traverse, had herself covered fifteen miles that day on her own. Huzzah, I think they say, indeed.

21 August 2016

The Silence of the Hams

Several lives ago I worked a summer in a big data center at Big Blue that was, for all practical purposes, underground – in the basement with no windows. This being the time before cell phones and online weather maps (we were high tech because we had email in the early 80’s), I had no inkling of the storm bearing down, so when the power went, it was both utter shock and the awe of hearing something I’d never imagined. One of my co-workers later remarked excitedly, “Did you HEAR it?” Yes, the sound of hundreds of washer-sized disk packs (we called them packs in those days, not drives), spinning down. ZZZzzz…until…Nothing! “It was beautiful!” he exclaimed!

So on that theme, I ask you, “Did you HEAR it?” And when you shake your head in puzzlement, I’ll quickly exclaim, “Nothing!” That’s right, nothing, nada, nyet, nischt, zippo from me for over two months. But it’s not beautiful. Why write about running when, for the most part, you’re not running? The legs have largely been still. The calves, quads, and yes, to close the loop on the title pun, the hamstrings, have been silent.

Thus the big question: Why would you want to read about not running? (I will ignore the obvious opposite question, assuming by nature of your being here that you’ve found some excuse for that scenario.) How can I make this at least somewhat compelling for you? It’s not an easy charge, so I’ll try to spice this up with some coping mechanisms interspersed with the physical processes.

Where last we left off, the crushing downhill of the Sugarloaf Marathon had been a rather crushing experience. I went in uncertain of my racing readiness, and though I came out victorious (for the old farts, at least), I also came out rather crushed. After a month of trying to beat the bruises the old-fashioned way – by running – reasonably, of course – through the grief, I had to face the music and take a break. Six weeks off wasn’t quite enough to heal, but it was plenty to knock me out of racing shape for months to come. Now as I begin yet another come-back (or so I hope), it’s a good time to meander through the maladies and madness of recent months.

It’s ironic that about two days after Sugarloaf, a giant fireball lit up the New England sky. I wasn’t fortunate to see it, but some who did managed to track the incoming rock and determine that its fragments landed in a swath in the forest a mere ten miles west of the Sugarloaf start (the start is circled in red, the rock-strewn landing in green). People often say they cratered in a race, but had the timing and aim been just a little different, we could have said it literally this time. What a fine metaphor for the damage left over when the dust settled!

For years I’ve endured non-runners exhorting me about how this sport will ruin my knees. For years I’ve pointed out that while we’re not immune to injury, research shows that running, in general, strengthens knees. But wear and tear are a reality with age, and a course like Sugarloaf, with that horrible stretch around mile ten which extracted curses on each jarring stride, can bring out the worst in anyone’s skeletal systems. And it did.

I’m no stranger to pain and injury, as anyone who’s burned bits of their life reading this column is aware. Along came another instance. One of these will in fact become the ‘career limiting blow’, but who’s to say which one, who’s to say said ‘end of career’ (or worse) wouldn’t have come much earlier without the strengthening effects of training, and who’s to say that ending that ‘career’ might not just mean slowing down and enjoying the ride with a notch less competitiveness?

Sugarloaf hurt. It hurt going in, it hurt during, it hurt like hell on that brutal downhill at ten, and it hurt afterward. The left knee – remember, the side where the quad felt weak going in – afterward seemed to be both swinging loosely in the wind and unwilling to straighten out after sitting a spell. Both of these being a bit on the frightening side, going easy was the only choice on the menu. For a month, the distances were moderate and the pace was leisurely. By the time we hit Mount Desert Island on our annual sojourn a month later, it finally seemed reasonable to turn the dial up a bit. Redemption in Maine seemed an appropriate recovery from the damage done in Maine. And the famed carriage roads beckoned irresistibly…

Maine Note One: Photo of the Year award for to my attempt to snap a shot of Dearest Daughter the Younger running the eleven-point-five mile Around the Mountain carriage road while I ran the opposite direction on a sixteen-point-five mile inside-out horseshoe extension of the same route. Though I nailed a few in-stride scenery shots, my ability to target her wasn’t quite so successful…

Maine Note Two: This sounds hokey, but it’s the little pleasures that make this endeavor so much fun. Skiers speak lovingly of that rare day they get to shush the virgin powder. I had that chance on an Acadian carriage road when I happened to be the first footsteps following behind a grooming tractor which had roughed up the road into a soft bed of freshly turned sandy what-not. And it even happened to be on a downhill. Shush, shush, baby.

Maine Note Three: Way back then in June I promised Ward and Marla, a couple we met on Sargent Mountain, that I’d pop the picture we shot of them on the blog for their retrieval, then promptly didn’t publish for nearly three months. On the rare chance you happen to check in, here it is, drop an email for the full res version…

A week of Acadian hiking seemed to glue things back together, but on return home, they quickly fell apart, worse than before. It was time to break the glass in case of emergency and turn off the spigot; the unthinkable, stop running for a while. As is always the case with these breaks, the question is, for how long? In an extended break, every day off is at least two days work to get back, and usually more. But if the break isn’t long enough, it’s rather useless. Start over again.

Keeping a base level of fitness is key. But in this case, one of the go-to interim routines proved problematic. As much as I despise the stationary bikes at the gym, they have their purpose. But this time, even that no-impact platform elicited an ominous click-click on each spin. When after the proverbial while things weren’t really getting any better, it was time to break the glass again, pull the medical lever, and blow a few bucks from the health savings account to get a good look inside. Doc confirmed my suspicions: the left quadriceps really had atrophied; my concerns going into Sugarloaf had been real. But why?

One MRI later, which under normal circumstances I’d share with you here, but in this case I really just can’t figure out what I’m looking at, I was at least assured that nothing was broken, torn, or seriously ugly. But inflamed and worn, well, I am older than I choose to act, so I guess it was a foregone conclusion. And apparently said inflammation had been going on long enough that I’d subconsciously been shutting down the left in favor of the right. I can buy that; it makes sense. So we’re now on a witch hunt to whack the inflammation with some physical therapy, stretching, strength work, and some generous doses of the usual meds.

Meanwhile, in that uncomfortable state of non-running, DDY conveniently provided a fitness and sanity outlet in the form of her Death Wish to complete her New Hampshire Four-Thousand Footers before she left for college. Yes, hiking isn’t terribly easy on the knees either, but the climbing did seem to strengthen things, as Acadia had proven. The scope of DDY’s quest, given her time remaining, meant this offered a fairly high-intensity keep-fit agenda. There are forty eight summits, and at the start of July, she had only twenty six nailed, with only seven weeks left. Damn the torpedoes, full speed uphill! Between sneaking in a day here and there and a six-day extravaganza with some epic adventures, as of this writing she now stands at forty-four (as do I on my “Second Tour”, having completed the circuit in ninety-five), having racked up eighteen summits that count and a dozen or so more that don’t. We’ve whittled her list down to one long day to knock off the final four, coming soon if the weather holds. Just in time for college. [Ed Note: By the time of publishing, yes, we knocked those off. More later on that…]

Having logged trail mileage that approached a significant percentage of my usual running mileage for the month of July, you might think that the running restart, which finally commenced a couple weeks ago, might be a little smoother and easier than had I started at ground zero. Of course you’d be wrong; it’s a slog, a struggle, a chore, and it’s all coming down in the hottest weeks of the year, and on top of that, stuff still hurts. So again I’m running that fine line between trying to heal by running lightly, taking the PT, and so on, and fall racing plans are in limbo. But at least I’m out there again. Let the hams sing.

Amusing Outburst Department: My training partners are well-acquainted with my standard warning bark, a sharp “YO” designed to pierce the soundproofed automotive cocoon of inattentive drivers. Generally, it works pretty well. Back at the Clinton Tribute, I had to activate the outburst when an equally inattentive cop proceeded to direct a motorist into my path. I could suggest that his decision might have been different had he actually turned around to see there was a runner coming, I mean, after all, he was there to marshal a race, so it shouldn’t have been a surprise. But I won’t harp, because in general I like the cops and I like them to like me. But a YO was in order, a YO was emitted, and a few strides later I had to do it again to ward off another automotive threat pulling out of a parking lot.

Just another day at the office. Except amusingly, this time it was caught on tape. The locals had set up cameras on the course and spliced the footage into a full race montage. It turns out they had a camera pointing at said cop and said parking lot, and though it’s a distant shot (and my already diminutive form appears even more so from that range) those barks are clearly audible. You might just think I’m crazy, but I found it kind of funny to hear. Hey, it’s a topic, right? Check out the video here; the fun is a mere forty-four seconds in, with the second outburst just a few seconds later (this was “Part 2”, near the finish; Part 1 can be seen here if you’re really into punishment).

20 May 2016

Change of Fortune

The punchline of this story for some reason demands to be said with a quaint (and obviously faked) British, perhaps slightly East-End, accent: I won a pottery! That sounds so much more appropriate and interesting than to say that I won a hand-made dish. Really, it’s a lovely pottery, useful, too. Face it; you can’t eat your breakfast out of a trophy. So I’m good with this, and that’s a good thing, because the effort of getting this bit of clay, awarded for winning my age group (and above, for that matter, but I dither) at the Sugarloaf Marathon, left some damage in its wake.

But if there’s a lesson of the day, it’s simply that it ain’t over till it’s over. This one was a milestone in that it was my twenty-fifth marathon, and also in that it was probably the one of the most dramatic wins I’ve ever notched in any race of any distance.

Let’s back up a bit. Though I hinted at this coming adventure in my last article, I hadn’t truly fessed up to it. And so I hear you say, “Wait, another marathon? Didn’t you just run Boston?” To which I say, yes, of course, a mere three weeks and six days earlier (or, if you want to go OCD and compare starting times, even less than that, but once again, I dither. I’ll stop. I promise).

So next I hear you say, “Why?” (Actually, I hear you say things that are far more impugning of my mental stability, but I promised not to dither anymore, so I won’t discuss those things.) And to this I say, because this one is quite well known to be a fast course, I’ve always been a bit curious just how fast, and I was egged into it by a certain colorful running personality from Maine who hinted that Boston training can be translated to a five-to-ten minute time gain when doubled down with the “Boston Sugarloaf Double”. Provided, of course, that you can stay healthy. And since you have to plan these things months in advance, when the time comes, that’s a crap shoot.

The plan was straightforward: two weeks of Boston recovery, pop in a moderately paced long run to refresh the legs to the idea of another marathon, then two weeks of bringing the mileage back down in something loosely resembling a taper. That taper would be interrupted by the Clinton race, well, because it’s Clinton and it must be done, but it would also be handy to remind the legs what quality, speed, and hard effort feels like. Just don’t break anything. And it almost worked.

At the midpoint of the Marathon Interregnum, the twenty-two miler came off as planned with low effort, not that my legs didn’t recall having done a marathon thirteen days prior, but it was eased that day by a slow finish owing to my companion’s fade. That fade served me well, protecting the legs from overload, and served him well as well, as he’d accompany me to Maine and, having gained both conditioning and experience from the outing, pop in his first marathon in a highly respectable time.

Clinton came a week later with no apparent ill effects. But a couple days later, with time short before our Maine departure, something went south in the left knee. It was nothing I could put my finger on; there was no “Oh Crap” moment, but somewhere things started hurting and power faded rapidly – and rather strangely – in the left leg. Of course I knew this when I wrote of Clinton, but discussing readiness for an adventure not yet disclosed didn’t fit that narrative, so I left that bit of kvetching off the paper and quietly nursed my wounds, hoping for a late-week miracle healing.

But right up to the day before, as we scoped the course and soaked in the Maine scenery on a sunny, gorgeous, but downright hot day (knowing race
day would be cold, wet, and unpleasant, probably the lesser of the two evils), no miracle arrived, and I had no idea how this bit of flesh would react when called upon to perform. Thus I arrived at the starting line in what they claim is Eustis, Maine but is really just a mark on the road next to a campground (after a bus ride through a raging downpour that screamed just plain Ugh! – can’t think of anything more poetic) not knowing if I would be racing a marathon or simply going for a jog. The first few miles would tell.

Hoping to avoid pre-drenching, we cowed in the buses till twenty minutes before lift-off. Mercifully the rain stopped, but with little time to tune clothing, loosen up, and assess the damaged goods, it was still anyone’s guess what would work or not. No time to worry, no warning was given to rouse us from our starting line chit chat, just a sudden shotgun blast. Yeah, guess we’d better go.

And the knee? It hurt a bit, but not bad. It worked, but not well. We sliced through the first four on target pace for a good day, but I could just tell that it wasn’t right. I could feel I was compensating for the lack of power. I sensed I was running the engines way too high for the splits that were clicking in.

Worse, somewhere in the first mile or two, a small, wiry, and decidedly male-pattern-bald guy went scooting past, showing little expenditure of effort. His hairline said, “Fifties!” though his overall package was a little more vague. With my alert system already alarming over the fuel burn situation, I had to concede – barely ten minutes in – that if this guy was over fifty, my shot at taking the age group crown was probably torpedoed before the ship had been launched.

So bad had already gone to worse, but tragedy was just around the bend. We cruised the village of Stratton, where at least I began to see the surprising amount of course support on what I expected to be a lonely run. Still on pace but wearying early, we commenced into the hills. Sugarloaf is pretty much the opposite of Boston. Whereas Boston front-loads with downhills and hits you with the climbs late, Sugarloaf knocks off the climbing early, then gives you the ride of your life, with big downs (sometimes too big) for miles before flattening out, though still trending gently down, save for a few late insulting bumps in the twenties, all the way into the village of Kingfield.

From our recon the day before, I knew the work started around mile six, hit a big climb in mile nine, and topped out around ten. Six came, then seven and eight, and the ascents were mild, but the rain went into overdrive, and by the time I was expecting to see the big one I knew was ahead, stuff was numb. That already powerless leg was feeling almost anesthetized – I reached down to feel my laboring thigh and felt…nothing. The body said Uncle! and this was at what, mile eight?

And then… around a bend, there, there it was, the big one, right around eight-point-five. On a good day, a mere hump to work through. But on this day?

That was pretty much it. Game over. Not even an hour into the race, I was done, toast (well, cold toast), killed, defeated, mentally as well as physically. Never before could I recall a marathon where the curtain dropped so early. What I’d previously defined as a bad day – say, struggling by sixteen or so – had just been blown out of the cold rain. A new standard had been set. I was to be a tourist for nearly eighteen more miles. Mile nine clocked in a minute off pace. A slowdown I’d expected, but decimation? That added minute felt like four, and there was more climbing ahead.

But fate, she is fickle, and not always in a mean way. My day was not over. Not by a long shot.

A hundred miles to our south, friends and neighbors labored through the Maine Coast Marathon under sunny skies but battling obscene winds. We were cold and drenched, but at least enjoyed calm air. I’d feel wind only once all day, and it came precisely at the right moment.

In my head, I expected one more big climb before topping out around mile ten. With each broad bend in the highway I anticipated the groan I’d exude when it came into view. But contrary to my recollection of the profile, the climbs were mild, and to my somewhat confused surprise, I spied the highway downhill warning sign ahead announcing the summit.

I can’t make this up, really. At that moment there came not so much a divine wind, but at least an inspired puff. It lasted no more than half a minute, but that brief tailwind combined with my realization that I’d topped out, there was no more major climbing, I was still alive, and, as a bonus, at the ten mile mark, I was still twenty seconds ahead of three hour pace. Having missed that golden mark at Boston by fewer seconds than that, just the idea that it might still be out there.... well, kids, maybe, just maybe, we can bank enough on the downhill roller coaster ahead, and…

It was off to the races. Linking up with a couple other racers, we dropped the pace and cranked up the intensity. The halfway mark passed with a minute in the bank. Then, through the big drop from fourteen through seventeen, it was a good thing there was a small airport next to the course because flight was a good description. I knew the free ride would end well before the end of the road, but now, not an hour since falling into the toaster, I’d done a mental one-eighty. It ain’t over till it’s over. But that ain’t the half of it. Hang on for the rest of the ride.

By nineteen, we’d burned out most of the big drops, and I’d also burned out my companions. Plenty of miles to go, still some downgrade but mostly flat, and nobody matching pace to help hold the intensity. This is where it helps to be running number twenty-five. This is where you know it’s going to be ridiculously uncomfortable, miserable, unbearable, but you know what you need to do if you want redemption from missing your last one by eighteen seconds. This is the meat grinder.

Seven miles is a long way to go when you were declared dead over an hour ago. Seven miles is a long way to go when you know that your knee, indeed, your entire left leg, wasn’t working right at the starting line. Seven miles gives you time to think about how at this point, you, or for that matter, most people save the front-runners, no longer care about position in the race and just care about holding it together for forty more minutes, thirty, twenty, up those last mini-insulting rises at twenty-two and twenty-five, into Kingfield… At this point, position is irrelevant, right?

Sugarloaf is a course on which you cannot get lost. You travel twenty-six-point-one miles on highway twenty-seven (there’s some irony there), and then make exactly one turn onto a side street, through an extended chute, and over the finish line which on a good day would be in a pleasant fairgrounds-style field though on our day was effectively a mud-pit. One turn.

I made that turn. And there he was. Male pattern baldness.

You’d think I would have seen him before the turn. You’d think I would have noticed I was closing on him. You’d think it wouldn’t have been a surprise. But I didn’t see him. It was a surprise. Entirely.

But there he was. And while I was hammering it home, he was doing the Death Shuffle. It’s easy to spot. I’ve been there. When you’re there, there’s really no escape.

I blew by him so fast that I put twenty seconds on him by the finish, which was only about four hundred feet away.

I then spent a half-hour sitting in what passed for a med tent, not only over-chilled but far more woozy than usual, trying to come back to reality. I’d slipped in two minutes under three hours, but the effort felt like I’d just challenged the Kenyans on Boylston Street. So it wasn’t till a good forty minutes later that I wandered over to the results postings to learn that he was, in fact, fifty one. He was, in fact, second in our age group. I was, in fact, first. Damn.

Now, days later, the quads are recovered but the knee is a bit of a mess. I am wondering if there is, in fact, much cartilage left in there. Time will tell.

But my, my, what a fine pottery. It ain’t over till it’s over.

Congratulations Dept: To training and travelling companion Thor and to club-mate Judy, both of whom notched their first marathons! I warned them not to make any judgments about their second for at least a week!