02 January 2010

New Year’s Merriment, Parts One and Two

Your Blogster has been on Christmas break the last three weeks and has some catching up to do! So pardon the length here, the words are just spilling out all over! And hopefully I’ll get a few more stories out in the next week or two.

We’ve started 2010 with a bang. Actually, it was more of a swoosh, followed by a crunch, but we’ll get to that in a few paragraphs. We’ve got New Year’s Merriment Part One to cover, first!

But first, let’s get something straight. I don’t really care that technically the decade doesn’t start until 2011 (think about it, we started with the Year 1, so the first ten years ran through the end of the year 10, well, you get it). I’m just glad I no longer have to struggle every time I try to refer to the current decade as the, well, the Ohs? Good riddance. Instead, I’ll struggle with what to call this decade until it becomes the teens in ’13. The Tens?

No matter. After last year’s surgical hiatus, I was cheered to return to one of my favorite races, the Central Mass Striders’ New Year’s Day Freezer Five in metropolitan (not) Sterling, Massachusetts. Why is it a favorite? Let me count the ways: First, hanging with the running crowd is reason enough to like any race, but hanging with the crowd that’s not hung over on New Year’s Day says these are my kind of folks. Second, CMS puts on a good event, plain and simple. I like these guys. Third, it’s an accurate course. Frequent readers will know how much I appreciate that. Fourth, it’s in my old stomping grounds, just a mile from my old home in West Boylston. And finally, one key word: donuts! Homer Simpson would be proud.

This race is legendary for bad weather. Two years ago we started the race in the clear, the snow started falling right after the gun, and by the finish a mere half hour later we were in full blizzard mode. Look close in this photo from that famous day and you’ll note I had to remove my shades as they were icing up faster than any hot breath could clear them. Last year, though I wasn’t able to race, the wind howled and the race lived up to its name. But this year? Perfectly gorgeous winter day. About 30°, calm, and just a bit of slush from an overnight light snow.

I invited Rocket John to join me on the trip, pretty much assuring I wouldn’t win a coveted age group sweatshirt award, but in my current shape I didn’t expect one anyway. He and two others from my club, along with a co-worker on whom I’ve rubbed off a little of this insanity, and about 220 other non-hung-over souls converged for some winter fun.

Sure enough, John rocketed off the line and rapidly opened a large lead on me. I quickly let go of the lead pack and settled into 10th, with a footsteps omnipresent off my flank. Motivation, I suppose, but I felt like lard on a cold day and was working too hard for my perceived pace. So the sub-6-minute split at the mile was a bit of a shock, and jolted me out of my mini-depression. Later checking hinted this spilt was marked a bit early, but no matter, it did the mental trick. At that point I figured I had a bit in the bank, and holding low 6’s for from then on could make it a decent day.

It’s a lollypop world, and this is a lollypop course, out-and-back save for a half mile loop at the far end. Coming out of the loop, Mr. Ominous Footsteps made his move, and I didn’t argue, especially when it was apparent he wasn’t a master. I held on, retook him at 4 miles, and he returned the favor at the top of the last rise at 4.6. But in the process, we almost reeled in Rocket John. Almost, but not to be. John took 9th, Mr. Ominous 10th, and I, 11th, 5th master. A minute-plus later, along came my co-worker in a strong 13th, followed by another club-mate just 6 seconds behind him. Had there been team scoring, we would have indeed made a statement.

I was, frankly, very pleased. My 5K times this year have consistently been a minute or more off my best. I did manage to hold low 6’s for the remainder, and clocked the five miler at 31:19, just 39 seconds off my best. I may never return to my pre-surgery times, but it’s fun to try, and here was some positive progress.
And the donuts afterward, oh, the big, glorious cinnamon roll bear claw, with absolutely zero guilt since I’d just burned a few zillion calories. It is what we live for. dOh!

And thanks for CMS for snapping the pictures – both the 2008 blizzard and the 2010 versions.

And Then, New Year’s Merriment Part Two…

The pastor of my church likes to ask the kids making First Communion, which is on a Saturday, when their second communion will be. Easy question, of course, it should be the very next day. Good habits start early, right? So After a great January 1, with warm-up and warm-down clocking in a 9-mile day, it would be a shame not to get out on January 2, right?

Well, yes, but nothing lasts forever, and January 1’s perfection faded overnight. In fact, it’s been a pretty sloppy, cold, and windy winter so far, so it was no surprise that following yesterday’s perfect weather came more snow. More than I expected, in fact. But I hauled my butt out of bed on a morning that would have been very restful had I remained horizontal, strapped on the shoes, and got out the door at 7:30, into – surprise – about five inches, largely unplowed.

My club meets at 8:00 AM, about 3.5 miles away. It became pretty clear pretty quickly that covering 3.5 miles in a half hour would be quite a challenge. Indeed, covering any distance was turning out to be quite a challenge. My plans changed about five times in the first five minutes, finally settling on heading toward the meeting point, seeing how far I got before saying the hell with it, and more than likely turning back, satisfied at getting out and getting at least a few miles in.

But a mile or two out, along came a couple club-mates in their pickup truck, and my usual, “no thanks, I’ll run there!” attitude instantly changed to, “Of course I’ll take the ride.” Which meant I was committed. Which led to a morning of great fun. Once again, the club motivates, the club makes it fun, the club is so very, very worth being associated with. Seven, count us, seven wackos showed up and headed out for 10K in the winter wonderland. Yeah, it’s like running on the loose part of the beach, only worse. No, there’s not even any hint of consideration as to how fast or slow we slogged, but who cares. It was foolish, it was liberating, it was probably pretty chilly for our one member in shorts rather than tights, and it was a lot of fun.

For us, but not for the lady in the SUV who came at us a little too quick, panicked, threw her buggy into a spin, and slide past us sideways down the road. Swoosh! Had that tree been three inches further off the road, she would have gotten away with a wake-up call. As it was, she clipped her front bumper. No major damage, but not unscathed. Crunch. We were, of course, apologetic, as was she, both parties knowing we were somewhat foolish to be out there. Chalk up a new one; in all my years of running, both First and Second Lap, I don’t think my party has been a contributing factor to an accident. Well, it was, to misuse a pun, waiting to happen.

And so 2010 is off and running, to misuse another pun. At the moment I’ve got at least a half-dozen races on the radar screen, more than usual, promising a busy and motivated stretch as we enter the Dark Period, the 60 Day Challenge between now and March 1, my official start of spring.

Winter weather? Bring it.

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