28 February 2011


I want my nickel back. I feel like I’ve been redeemed. It started happening over the last week, and it really happened yesterday in Hyannis on our lovely Cape Cod. Well, usually it’s lovely, though not really yesterday, but I’ll get back to that.

I’ve felt a bit like a refugee of late. Injuries, work schedules, life events, and this brutal weather have kept me at arm’s length from my club. And though those were the primary reasons, I can’t deny that a couple of bent feelings here and there between various and sundry parties didn’t help matters. It’s hard to get enthusiastic to break out of a pattern which involves the comfort of running mid-day when it’s much warmer and return to those early club runs on a brutal winter mornings when there are sore spots in the camaraderie department. But whatever the cause, I simply hadn’t seen much of them of late, and I didn’t feel anywhere close to speed anyway until just recently, bringing on that refugee feeling on both the social and physical scales.

How many times have I goaded my readers to just get out there? It was time to eat my own dog food. A few deep conversations patched nearly all the social issues, a few club runs including one of those late-night reflecto-vest-and-blinky-light-under-the-moonlight varieties that are just so wacky that you can’t help but enjoy them (thanks, Danno!), and life returned to pretty close to normal. Half redemption.

Just in time for Hyannis, one of our club’s favorite events. Where, as Jake and Elwood would say, we got the band back together. Same bat channel, same bat race, same bat master’s team, but a result that tickled me pink (or perhaps that was just the effects of the wind). By day’s end, redemption complete.

The Hyannis Marathon, Half-Marathon, 10K, and Marathon Relay extravaganza drags four to five thousand people to an otherwise deserted Cape Cod in the dead of winter (how dead? …even the Burger King in Hyannis is shuttered in February) to punish themselves in really bad weather. With a formula like that, how can it not be great? I suppose there have been times when the sun has shone on this event, but I haven’t seen that happen. Granted, my sample size is only two, but so far I’m batting one thousand. Last year the weather was pretty ugly. This year it was wicked ugly. It’s an omen when your trip starts off by dodging the snowplows on the interstate. No worries, the forecast called for an end to all things falling an hour before post time.

Cape Cod was still lovely, but only when you managed to find a vista visible through the gray. Through the snow. Through the rain, the drizzle, the wind. They lied, of course, those accursed weathermen. But when don’t they? Weren’t they an underground group many years back? Perhaps to there they should return?

Can’t change it. Ignore it. Just run it. Off we go, same team, same order. Rocket John on lead-off, Danno anchoring to bracket the ends. Dave the G-man and myself in the middle. To me, leg three is the best. Hyannis is a double loop, so leg three starts right outside the hotel. So how great is that? You can stand there and watch the fun and mayhem of the start without worrying about standing in line at the port-o-johns, then hang out in the warm hotel for another hour and not even have to be transported anywhere to start your leg. It’s the best of both worlds.

Last year I’d done forty-six and a half and thought my pace was about six-twenty. This year, coming off refugee status, I’d long decided I’d be happy, no, thrilled, with six-forties. Now, the long story of the day is how the starting line was moved, how the finish chute was re-arranged, how the exchange zone might have moved a bit so the leg might have been a hair shorter – no more than ten or twenty seconds – but shorter maybe, how I re-measured later that night and couldn’t for the life of me figure how I figured last year’s pace, how…you get the idea, typical OCD runner syndrome stuff. The short story is how this time the splits clicked off in the six-twenties every time save the mile with the biggest rise, which was more than compensated for by putting down the hammer in the last mile, and how I handed off to Danno at a hair over forty-five flat. I’d gotten it backwards. Last year I should have been happy having broken through six-forties. This year I hit the low six-twenties. Surprise.

In what I thought was my present condition – not that I’ve even now figured out what that present condition is – I never expected that. I know my present condition isn’t even close to being ready for Boston, less than two months out. That condition hasn’t hit an eighteen miler yet, and even coming close a week back hurt way too much. But at least that condition has a little more zip than I thought.


After a fifteen minute breather at the Craigsville Beach exchange zone, Rocket John and I headed out in the biting wind – worse on him for having hung out cold and wet since leg one – and circled the remainder of the course, piling on dearly needed pre-Boston training miles, smiling nicely at the spectators unknowingly cheering on a couple of guys out on a training run. At a Rocket John pace, of course, which, on a fifteen minute breather, was more than a bit arduous. But these are the things that make us stronger.

When the results came in and the coveted clamshells were announced, truth be told, I was in the shower. Missed my thirty seconds of fame that day. Matters not. One happy team, repeat master’s champs, and one redeemed (and mind you, clean) runner.

10 February 2011

Eight Weeks

Some say there is no free lunch in life. I disagree; occasionally there is, but I bugged out of the meeting yesterday as they were hauling it in so I could fit in a run instead. On my return I found a few pieces of cold, hard, very tired pizza, but they tasted like heaven after that run. We’ll get back to that.

Eight weeks seems to be a magic threshold for my body. I can’t generalize for anyone else, but repeated experiments in the lab of life strongly hint that it takes my body about eight weeks to change its metabolism. Eight weeks off, and things pretty much go to hell. Eight weeks back, and I start to emerge out of struggle mode back into the fun zone.

After the New Hampshire marathon at the start of last October, I knocked off to let the pesky leg heal. As you regulars know, it sorta’ kinda’ maybe didn’t, but that’s not the point. I sat out October, which wasn’t so bad, at least physically. Then, save for a few test runs mid-month, I sat out November, too, which got pretty bad, at least physically. (Mentally it totally stunk, but that’s to be expected.) And just to put a dot at the end of the sentence, along came Thanksgiving to contribute a few thousand calories just aching for some miles to make them feel wanted, but alas, instead wallowing in useless stupor, forced to find homes in undesirable places. By December the damage was done. My metabolism slowed down, my weight crept up, my resting pulse moved a few notches closer to a standard human. And most of that happened in the last week or two. It takes eight weeks.

God has a wry sense of humor. It takes eight weeks to heal an awful lot of things like the stress fracture I thought I had (not that I ever really figured it out, even now). Funny how the standard healing time lines up so nicely with the standard go-to-pot time.

By December I’d had enough, or more precisely, hadn’t had nearly enough, no really, hadn’t had any…I mean running of course, and I had to have it, leg be whatever it will be, so early in the month I hit the road again. In eight week off mode. And it was a struggle. Take a week off, you’re rested. Take two, you’re stiff. A month, you’re not fast, but… Eight weeks? Feels like you just got started again. And it doesn’t come back quickly. The entire first week back I repeatedly circled my smallest “regular” loop, a mere three and three quarters miles. There were days I thought I should have brought the fuel belt to have a Gu handy around mile two.

As a charter member of the obsessive compulsive runners’ club, I track my training pace, yes, in a spreadsheet. It’s revealing in that I don’t target any particular pace – for the most part I just go out and run how I feel – but by seeing how the month’s average pace falls out it tells me a lot – quite accurately, I’ve found – of where my fitness level is. Having already watched this metric rise unhappily over my injury-ridden summer, the tape told the tale pretty accurately through December and into January. It’s not that the numbers went all that high, and true, most folks would quite pleased with my “down” months, but when I run those slower paces I expect to feel like I’m out for a casual cruise, maybe a club run, certainly effortless. Instead, after eight weeks off, I’d repeatedly come in from what felt like a massive effort to find I’d barely broken seven and a half minute pace.

Until last week. Then something started to click. Not an undeniably distinctive click, but a soft, moderately perceptible click. Muted by three feet of snow on the ground, but a click. Barely breaking seven and a half pace suddenly turned into pretty consistent seven and a quarter pace. Still working hard, still not a cruise in the park, but a noticeable change in result.

Eight weeks since that reboot in early December. Never fails.

Which leads back to that free lunch. Trapped in a conference room for a few full days of training (read, no time to run before or afterword due to daylight constraints) we did a working lunch the first day, offering no break time to sneak out for a run. Free lunch, yes, but just cold sandwiches that would have been perfectly happy an hour later on return. But no dice, no time, no run.

The second day I was determined. It looked like we’d take a real lunch break, so I jumped the gun fifteen minutes early, burst out the door headed for the locker room, and, oh crap, along comes Mr. Caterer with a hot lunch today, nothing fancy, just pizzas, but an hour and a quarter leaves a pizza in sad shape. Eat hot fresh pizza? Or run, oh how I hate to give up free food, and that stuff won’t be pretty when I get back…?

Just go, you fool.

And am I glad I did. I don’t know quite what happened. I pushed about as hard as I usually do, I worked the hills on the new loop I was trying out which served up a couple of hearty rises late in the eight plus miles, did the lightning shower dress sneak back in thing, and found said tired, gluey, coagulated, off-tasting, entirely unappetizing leftover slices of pie. And sat down and ate them while measuring out the course and calculating my pace to find I’d turned in my first sub-seven-minute pace run since September. Woo hoo. Best pizza I’ve had in quite a while.

Eight weeks. The fun is returning. Hyannis Marathon masters team relay in just over two weeks. Let’s rock ‘n roll.

05 February 2011

So Busted

What’s in a name? Or, what’s in a road? Or more precisely, what is a road? In pursuing my Run Marlborough 2011 quest, that’s the key question. It might seem obvious, but believe me, it not.

From a distance, the world is a smooth, pleasant, easy to define place. Just look at those clean lines of the roads of Marlborough. It should be easy to trace out the roads to be covered, right?

Silly you. Come closer. Everything starts to get fuzzy.

Take, for example, the snippet below. Circled in the upper right is Royal Crest Drive. It’s an apartment complex. But it’s got a street name. Is it a road? Is it a parking lot? Some parts look like roads. Some look like parking lots. It’s private, yes, but many roads in New England are private, never deeded to the city. For that matter, in other parts of the country, entire neighborhoods are private. But they’re still roads.

Or look at the circle in the upper left. Maplewood cemetery. Dead folk. Lined up. Accessed by roads. Small ones, to be sure, but roads. Or driveways? Who can tell?

Now, kids, draw even closer, and look at the grainier underbelly of our world in the snapshot below. Within a half mile radius we can pick out a gaggle of Google geo giggles. The circle on the left? No road on the map. But guess what? There’s a road there. If your browser resolution allows it, check out the property lines on the Google map. You can see it if you look closely. And you can really see it – and run it – if you go there. But unless you live there, you won’t see it until you get there. Surprise!

The next circle to the right? Our beloved rail trail. Is it a road? Well, no. But is it one of the best running routes in the city? You bet.

And the next one to the right. Unnamed spur. Another famed cul-de-sac? A driveway? No, none of the above. It doesn’t exist. Who knew? And this isn’t even an obscure spot. The road it spurs off of (or doesn’t, as the case may be) is well travelled. I pass that way often, in car and on foot. Did I ever think to look for said spur? Not until recently, because I never looked closely at the map there before. You don’t tend to look for something that you didn’t know was supposed to be there because it’s not. (Disclaimer: Come spring, I might find things that don’t exist…).

And finally, the circle on the right, Hollis Street. Pretty obviously a street from looking at the map. Wrong again, friends, it’s absolutely a parking lot. Though I’ll probably run it anyway, if for no other reason than in honor of Dr. Foot Doctor, who’s offices it serves.

And we won’t even get into the industrial section that covers most of the western part of the city. The vagaries there defy classification.

Every part of the country has its geographical oddities, so it’s not like these questions are unique to New England. Bottom line is, I just have to make a call. I err on the side of running it if I can, but I reserve the right to eyeball it and choose to ignore it. I won’t claim every call is right. I’m still getting my tour, and I’m not seeking entry into the Guinness Book of World Records or even a column of Runners’ World, so who cares?

With that backdrop comes the story of So Busted.

Like the unnamed spur shown above, I’d identified a curious spur on the western end of town. Satellite photos showed two houses situated about a tenth of a mile down something that might be a road, or might simply be their driveway. A visual was in order, so I made a pass one day only to find the result inconclusive. Wooded, snowy, vague. No street sign, but no mailboxes at the end either. In short, impossible to determine.

When in doubt, if there’s no armed guard or gatehouse, go for it. It’s easy to apologize later. “Oops, wrong turn!” goes a long way. A quick shout of “Every street in Marlborough in 2011” wins instant smiles. Just run it, nobody will notice or care anyway. Right?

And so last Saturday on a winding trip to the gym, I turned down said snowy lane. Not a soul in sight, just the crunching of my shoes in the snow and my huffing steam breath to keep me company through the tree-lined way. And at the end…

Of course. One of the residents of one of the two houses was sitting in his idling car right where the lane split into two obvious driveways. I’d planned to turn around at that spot anyway, but hoped to do it anonymously. Busted. Wave, turn, and run. So much for anonymity. Well, nobody shouted at me. Or shot at me. I’m home free.


Thirty yards from the main road, oh come on, you’ve got to be kidding me. Someone turns into the lane. With the snow banks, it’s only a car wide, I can’t exactly hide. They slow to let me pass, I scurry by. I do the preemptive friendly wave, the woman waves back. I can’t make out the other person in the car, but something rings a bell, but then again, the cold air in the contact lenses makes things fuzzy sometimes, who can tell, and I’m not stopping to check. I’m so double busted, I’m outa’ there.

Finish the run at the gym, put in my upper body work (yeah, like after a month, I’m huge, right? Another big NOT). Dearest wife picks me up as planned. On the drive home I tell her my story of double busted and she laughs at my ignorance of the world. I know geography, she knows people.

Of course the woman in the car was familiar. Those weren’t just people we know. Those were people we know very well. That ring-a-bell woman was the mother of my greatest coaching success (mostly his talent and drive, not so much my coaching) and of course the other person in the car was, well, how dim could I be to have not caught on to that? And yes, that was their house. And no, I had no idea. Hey, it was out of context. Never saw that one coming.

On the flip side, she later related to me that it’s not unusual for people to wander down their driveway – yes, it is a driveway – precisely because it’s hard to tell it’s a driveway. As it was, she didn’t really give it a second thought that someone was running down it. As it was, she couldn’t tell who was under the winter togs, but somehow figured out that if that someone was crazy enough to be out running through the winter snow, it must have been Coach. That, to me, was a real tickler.

Busted indeed. But a little wiser to the fabric of my community, and armed with one more fun tale.