28 May 2011

Questum Completum

Let’s cover the important stuff first. Chris, my counterpart in the lunacy of Run Marlborough 2011, has signed on as a follower of my blog. Not that it really means anything, but it’s symbolic, because that makes ten. DOUBLE DIGITS BABY! I can smell that book deal in the works… If I could figure out how to do same to hers, I would, but I don’t think she counts kills the same way – at least those that are not squirrels.

Now, about that Run Marlborough 2011 quest? Finite. Completum. El Dunno (La Dunna?). With family, a few friends, and Mayor Stevens on hand to greet and congratulate us, plus the
lion’s share of Marlborough’s press corps, we sauntered into downtown, cameras whizzing, much to the confusion of motorists blatantly obstructed. OK, no police escort. No worries. After two hundred and eight – point six – unique miles amidst over nine hundred miles logged to date this year, I can handle a little traffic.

And it was a perfect day to wrap it up. The rains, the cold, the misery of recent days magically parted, replaced by a glorious spring day. After trotting carefully on mildly wounded ankle to our designated meeting spot (to which Chris drove! ..the horror…OK, she’d already done her workout), we found ourselves ahead of our designated schedule and thus wandered a bit, checking off a few roads still left on Chris’s shrinking list. From there, it was all downhill to the last half unrun block, that block I’d worked so hard to avoid the last five months, to our ceremonial finish in front of City Hall.

Goofy? You bet. Media mongers? Maybe we were. But was it fun? Absolutely. It was something we’ll look back on and blubber about to our grand-offspring, if they’ll stop texting long enough to listen. Now, I think this is where I say I’d like to thank my wife, my family, all the members of the academy, and so on…

Mayor Stevens lamented that had she known of the beforehand, we would have been deputized as a road survey crew. Truth is, I told her, the city does a pretty good job on the roads. Truth is, I’m of the view that she’s done a pretty good job on the city, and I’m sad to see her leave at the end of her term. But time moves on, and so must we, so the natural question was of course, where to run the next day?

For the record, I ran to the bank to deposit the only money I’ve ever made running, the small stipend paid for being part of that cool Boston Marathon study. I guess this means that after our moment of triumph, I turned pro. Sold out. Went commercial. Yeah, I can only wish, I don’t hear the phone ringing with sponsorship deals.

The media? Front page on the Metro West Daily News (yawn, again?) in another masterfully crafted piece by fellow runner reporter Paul. And a feature on local cable TV channel WMCT, watch the video here. When you know these things are coming, there’s a big cringe factor, hoping they won’t latch onto something stupid you said. Both pieces, I’m pleased and relieved to say, made me smile cringelessly. And let’s not forget Chris’ blog post, also worth a read.

Next up, the gun fires in a mere fifteen hours on the Buffalo Marathon, as I write from uncle’s back porch on what would be a lovely day for almost everything but running a marathon. What a difference a few hours make! Traveling westward yesterday, the trusty Prius temperature thingy recorded NINETY ONE DEGREES passing Albany, and FIFTY TWO DEGREES passing Rochester a few hours later. This morning dawned cool and foggy, ideal for an endurance event, but said event wasn’t this morning. Already today it’s turned summer. And tomorrow? Too warm, too humid, and probably rainy enough to wet and chaff the toes and pointy bits. Probably not a day for hammering it out the gate, but once we’re off, so are all bets.

24 May 2011

It’s Called A RUNway, DOH!

The quest nears its conclusion. In fact, late tomorrow the mayor of our fine city will be waiting on the steps of City Hall as Chris and I roll down Main Street. For me, covering the final half-block leading up to City Hall which I intentionally left untrodden will complete Run Marlborough 2011. For Chris, it’s a ceremonial finish, as she’s got a few roads left, but she is kind enough to put up with my wish to put an exclamation point on this endeavor now.

But first, some silliness is in order.

We determined to run every road in Marlborough. We struggled with the definition of what constitutes a road. We each answered that question in our own way that made each of us happy. We both made goo-goo eyes at the Forbidden Interstates, and Chris is determined to find a way to make them happen, and when she does, I will be there. And then we eyed the last big road-like expanse of pavement in the city that clearly wasn’t a parking lot.

Yes, the airport.

Now, we’re not talking Logan (more accurately, General Edward Lawrence Logan Boston International Airport, if you’re into naming trivia, but you’re probably not). We’re talking Marlborough Airport (sadly, spelled without the ‘ugh’ on its sign, but again, I wander into naming trivia).

Marlborough Airport is the oldest continually operating commercial airport in Massachusetts (take that, Logan!). It’s tucked in between the local favorite garden, ice cream, and mini-golf center (yes, all rolled into one) and the U-Haul rental agent. It has one runway, pegged by Wikipedia at 1659 feet, with a fence right at the end, and a STOP sign on the fence, for good measure (and one at the other end, too). As if, when you come in too hot, and you have no fuel, so you can’t make another pass, and you’re desperately trying to get ‘er down, but you’re running out of pavement, and you see that sign and say, “Gee, I’d better stop before I take out that passing Verizon truck!”. But hey, I appreciate the humor, and it does make it easier to see the fence I suppose.

So it’s not big, but it’s ours, and we're proud of it. And it was just too sweet to resist.

One phone call to owner Bob Stetson and we were invited as honored guests. Apparently a few people do read the local paper, and he had seen our article and knew of our depravity. We thanked him then, and we thank him now again for his hospitality in allowing us to have this bit of fun.

Bob met us on arrival a couple of mornings back, arrival via a circuitous route of course so Chris could pick up a few missing roads on her list (and departure later via another tortured twisted path, where we actually found a road neither of us knew had a name). Chris’ mom also popped in to act as Designated Photographer, along with Bob and his friend, the Other Bob, who also snapped a few pics. So first we snapped off a few mug shots…

Chris, Bob the Airport Owner, and Designate Photog Chris’ Mom

Chris and Gary Preparing to Fly

…And it was time to taxi to the runway! Yes, that’s a house in the background, but look carefully and you will see runway markings.

Lined up, we really didn’t need tower clearance. With a ceiling of low hazy clouds, the chances of getting buzzed like an Alfred Hitchcock movie were effectively zero…

And we’re off! I carried my mini-camera and took plenty of bad shots, mercifully filtered out. Here’s a decent one of Chris revving up the engines as we sprint the runway…

Our Designated Photog captured the takeoff roll…

But mysteriously we didn’t gain enough lift to get airborne, so it was time to spin it around and head back on heading 320…

Perhaps some new techniques were in order to get aloft?

Lest you think it’s only me who’s entirely daft, no, we both flew. OK, I goaded her into it…

First flight successful, time for a last posed mug shot!

As I then commented to Bob, he may have owned the airport for many years, but only now does he finally have a RUNway!

19 May 2011

A Second Lap - For Real

The results arrived about two weeks ago, and I just haven’t managed to squeeze them into the story line until now. They were, in a word, wicked cool (in New England, that’s one word). And in a way, they relate well to a Second Lap blog namesake story for the week.

The results of which I speak are my results from the medical study I participated in for the Boston Marathon. I’ve yet to see the aggregated results of all us guinea pigs, but that will take some time. Meanwhile, I’m happy with mine.

Said study sought to explore whether cholesterol meds, known in the med biz as statins, might have any impact on certain blood enzymes synthesized during heavy exertion. These enzymes happen to be markers of injury to both general muscles and cardiac muscles, so an impact on the enzymes could imply an impact on cardiac response to the heavy exertion of a marathon. Or in other words, what better way to gain some ammunition to respond to those naysayers who love to point out that someone collapsed and died in last week’s Lower Slobovia Marathon, so why would you do that do yourself?

Oh, and as a bonus, I needed to get my cholesterol checked anyway, and this way I got it done for free. What’s not to love?

So first the easy part: my cholesterol hasn’t looked so good in several years. The total was down, but better, the HDL, or good cholesterol – the one that you can boost through exercise – read, running – hit an all time record high. And not only are both of these good news, but the ratio between them, which is really the important bit, was just plain beautiful. One word: Booyah!

Now the complicated part: the enzyme du jour is called creatine kinase, or CK for short. Your muscles spit it out when they are, well, in a word, pissed at you. You beat them up, they spit it out. You beat them up a lot, they spit out a lot. The lab finds it in your blood, they know you’ve done something mean, nasty, and ugly.

But there’s more. There are several flavors of CK. Without getting into the actual names, which I can’t, because I don’t know them, there’s MM (M&M? Plain or peanut?) and MB (Melon Balls?). Most of your muscles spit out MM – in fact, almost all of their CK spit is MM save about 1% MB. Your heart, on the other hand, spits out 30% MB when it’s mad at you. That’s how they tell you that you had a heart attack when you thought it was just bad fish – your elevated CK-MB percentage is a dead giveaway. Do you see where this is going?

Run a marathon, and your muscles are going to spit out CK. If it’s CK-MM, you beat up your body. If it’s CK-MB, you beat up your heart. The latter option, of course, being bad, scary, a mean thing you’d rather not see. And that’s what the study is looking at. Did we guinea pigs beat up our hearts? And if we did, was there a difference between those of us drugged up on statins versus those healthy dudes who score 125 on their cholesterol tests without even studying? It would be sweet justice, now, wouldn’t it, if we druggies were to win that battle. But I don’t know the answer to that. All I know at this point is my own numbers, which gave me the second big smile of the day, after reading the cholesterol report.

Before the beating, my CK rang in at a leisurely 143, in the normal range of 44 to 196, all MM. That alone is cool enough considering that we runners’ constant level of workouts would probably make the average Joe’s CK take flight. But whatever. Immediately after the beating, when tested right at the finish line in the med tent, it doubled to 303, still all MM. Muscles still trying to figure out what just hit them. Starting to spit.

The next morning’s draw, cha-CHING, 980. More than six times the starting level, and over triple the post-race traumatic reading. (And I’ll bet it rose higher the following day, the day of ‘max burn’ muscle pain, but I know not…). So the machine works, it spits as prescribed. Cool enough. But the wicked awesome (like wicked cool, that’s one word) part is this: 99% M&Ms, 1% Melon Balls.

Verdict: I beat the crap out of my body, but my heart just plain didn’t care. Or, in practical terms, the next time someone reminds me of the guy who collapsed at mile twenty five or something like that, I will blind them with science. And run away smiling.

I can’t wait to see the results of the whole study!

Now, what about that namesake story?

Last week found me in Cambridge, over the river from Boston, for a seminar slated to run till just past noon. Having no further meetings booked, you know that of course I planned a mid-day run in place of lunch (which was consummated as a PowerBar wolfed down on the drive home). Said run, besides taking advantage of a perfect spring day, was engineered to remedy a gap of horrid dimension in my running life. Despite living a mere marathon from Boston, despite running into Boston five times now in the high miles of a certain rather well-known race, I’d never run Boston’s most famous and beautiful run-o-drome, the paths around the Charles River basin.

I headed out from Kendall Square toward the river, not entirely certain how to find the best paths, and was thus thankful to link up with a Native Guide as I hit the road, Todd from Belmont, who worked in Kendall. His pace was a bit slower than mine, so I gladly slowed to a social ramble while trying not to drift back to the quicker zone; it’s simply not polite to kill your guide. I probably talked his ears off, which is hard to avoid when your partner is breathing a lot harder than you, but other than the guilt of burdening him with my ramblings, it was a truly lovely circuit, pretty much all that I’d expected it would be. On the Boston side, he led me the quickest way off the streets and onto the paths along the Esplanade. On the Cambridge side, we skirted mere feet from the water along worn unpaved paths. We made the turn at the BU Bridge, one bridge earlier than I’d planned, but probably a better choice based on traffic. With about six miles under our belts, we approached the spot where a hard turn to port would take us back to Kendall, at which point he announced he’d stop there and walk it in as a warm-down.

Feeling that I’d already overloaded his chat receptors, I decided I’d leave him in peace for his warm down, and I’d continue just a bit further, making the turn where the basin angles northward, then head back into Kendall from the east. But plans change…

Around the turn, the broad sidewalk narrowed to squeeze under the Longfellow Bridge, and it was at just that point I needed to squeak past a lady I’d been catching up with for the past quarter mile. “Excuse me, coming by on your left,” brought the unexpected response of, “I’ll have to try to keep up with you,”, and somehow in the half block between there and the spot I intended to peel off, we were chatting. OK, I figured I’d take the next turn instead, and, well, next thing you know, yes, I ran the second lap. Just like the name of the blog. Another pass through Science Park back to the Boston side, another meander through the Esplanade. Another lovely conversation companion, Mary from Charlestown, with compatible views on kids, education, faith, heck, bring your husband over, my wife would love this, we’ll sit on the deck and chat for hours, the world’s a mess but we’re sane, that kind of meeting of the minds. Serendipitous. On top of a perfect day, a wonderful venue, why not go around again just to enjoy the moment?

She peeled off on the Boston side where she’d parked, and I took the Harvard Bridge this time instead, adding another four for a leisurely ten mile ramble on a perfect day. And in the last solo mile back to Kendall, I reminded myself how lucky I was that I’ve been blessed with the health and fitness (now you see the connection with the first half of this posting, right?) that grants me the freedom to just say, what the heck, let’s not waste a wonderful opportunity, let’s just go for a second lap, because I can. Count your blessings.

14 May 2011

Watery Adventures

This week’s blather, which was supposed to arrive in your hot little hands early this week rather than at the tail end, was supposed to be of the back-to-back races bookending the previous week: a local 5K on Sunday to kick off the week, and a local 5 miler Saturday to close it. Sadly my prepaid registration to the latter went down the drain, somewhat literally, when circumstances removed me from Saturday’s expected Wicked Hills of Clinton and instead deposited me three hundred miles asunder in mom’s Wicked Flood of Basement for what can only be described as a sucky weekend. As in suck, suck, suck up that water… Hey, at least I got in some upper body work hauling furniture up the stairs…

And I did get in that week-opening 5K and laid down a start-of-the-season benchmark time to suck, suck, suck me to the track this summer to chisel it down. The Westborough Spring Fair 5K was the kind of event so casual that oddly, the starting line was perpendicular to the direction of the race. Not as in, start, run fifty feet and bang a left, but as in, here, line up right at the edge of this driveway, and trample the guy on your left when the gun goes off. Really. Yeah, I thought it weird, too, but whatever. Out the gate a local ringer ran away, never to be seen up close and personal again, so I focused on holding a reasonably strong but more importantly steady clip on the simply-themed course: halfway all uphill, halfway all downhill. Unlike the Tri-Valley a few weeks back, a persistent set of trailing footsteps kept my motivation turned on, and while I couldn’t hold back the youngster lady in the final stretch, I’ve no complaints over taking third at just a hair under 6-minute pace.

But as Arlo Guthrie famously noted, that’s not what I came here to talk about. I came with a tale of a watery adventure, or at least water-related, and a water-logged basement seemed a good lead-in.

You regulars of course know of my Run Marlborough 2011 quest – technically our quest since linking up with Chris (new visitors are encouraged to review chapters 5 through 8, there will be a quiz later, or just read this). You know that I’m getting very close to finishing up. And you know that along the way there have been those places that have been hard to judge between being a road or not, whether they are accessible or off limits.

Which brings us to the fine facilities of the Massachusetts Water Resources Authority, or MWRA in local lingo. These are the folks that supply a good chunk of the Bay State with tap water that, at least here in Marlborough where we tap them for about a third of our supply, is simply superb stuff. And why is it so good? One part of the puzzle lies at the southwest corner of Our Fair City, straddling the borders of two adjoining towns. To the casual observer, it’s the Taj Mahal, a uniquely attractive industrial facility. To the discerning eye, it’s the John J. Carroll Water Treatment Plant. To me, it’s a location within Marlborough that has roads. A mile and a quarter of roads. But roads that I determined were off limits to the quest, based on the fact that there is a manned gatehouse at the main entrance. And water is pretty tense stuff in the post-9/11 age. So these roads which defined the southernmost limits of the city remained visible only on Internet satellite photos, and had acquired that sad brown color on my progress map indicating, “Not gonna’ happen.”

But one of those serendipitous moments arose a few weeks back at the Tri-Valley 15K. Chatting with a total stranger runner, somehow the topic came up, (how? I cannot say…) and said total stranger runner noted he’d previously worked in Marlborough and had hiked the area around the plant, including on the roads, and that nobody cared. Hmm… A little cross checking confirmed an old memory that the Sudbury Valley Trustees maintains the Crane Swamp property abutting the MWRA, and indeed one of their trails coincides with the MWRA access road, so apparently they really don’t care. And a little more cross-checking using methods that shall remain classified seemed to confirm this. Bingo. We’re in.

Since the front gate was indeed, as noted, manned, the back gate would be the target. I knew from running past it previously that it was a simple vehicle gate, clearly not built to prevent footed creatures’ passage; indeed, nicely landscaped and wide open to stroll around. OK, so they man the front gate to only allow in trucks that have been blessed, and beyond that, no worries. Made sense.

Still, best to be low key. The place operates twenty-four-seven, but you can guess that the weekend would carry only a skeleton staff. And not just any weekend. I chose Easter Sunday. After our church activities were completed, we had no plans, so what better day to penetrate the lair? There’d be nobody around. Heck, there was nobody even on the roads.

Having not hit the gym since before Boston, I had Darling Wife drop me there, only to find that they are bold enough to recognize a religious holiday and had closed early. Bad for my upper body, but good for them. So no lifting, but I set off on my mission to penetrate the lair of Fort MWRA.

Now it’s worth noting here that it was only six days after Boston. While I was over the immediate muscle burn, I most certainly was not recovered. After last year’s Parade of Injuries, I had no intention of overdoing it and restarting that cycle. And this route would require roughly a ten miler, pretty much the outer limits of what I’d subject my body to at that point. I hit the road with a fair dose of guilt about even planning ten, but the lure of the lair was too much to ignore.

It’s times like this when a fun story looms that I find myself unable to avoid slipping into the present tense…

I head for the south edge of town. I locate the back (west) driveway into the MWRA Lair, not as simple as you might think, since there are no identifying signs. There’s a simple vehicle gate that one can simply walk around on landscaped ground. Clearly not an intended impediment to pedestrian traffic. No worries. I swing around the gate and penetrate the outer limits. Level 1.

A short way in is a sign, “WARNING, DANGER, CONSTRUCTION ZONE, NO THIS, NO THAT, and… NO JOGGERS”. OK, so, first they didn’t say NO because it’s the MWRA, they said NO because of construction, and a quick glance confirms there is clearly no construction going on. Second, I’m a runner, not a jogger. They clearly weren’t talking about me. I penetrate deeper.

Scanning for Evil Eye Video Surveillance cameras and seeing none, I press on. I’m across the railroad tracks and past the first little building. To me, it’s like attaining Penetration Level 2. I won’t say the hairs on the back of my neck prickled, but it was mildly anxiety producing. Still, no klaxons, no copters, no SWAT team screaming, “Take OFF your running shoes and walk out slowly!”

But then, when Level 3, the Inner Sanctum, the Prime Directive – the loop around the filtration plant itself – is in reach, I am foiled! What I never noticed on the satellite photos was an item that looks like a shadow (see inside the red circle). Guess what? It’s a fence. A good old American eight-foot-high locked chain link fence. And a mighty fine one at that. None of the cheap zinc-coated steel, no sir, this is the MWRA, and this is the finest black enamel finish chain link that money can buy. A beautiful fence. But locked just the same.

So now I have a quandary. I really don’t want to backtrack all the way out the way I came. It’s a full half-mile in, so a backtrack will add a mile, and this run is as noted already planned as too long for only six days after Boston. So I decide I’ll skirt the outside of the fence, heading eastward along the north side of the plant, and make a hasty retreat out the main east entrance. Yes, the manned, gated one. I’d planned to brazenly run out there anyway. Hey, I’d be leaving, not going in, right? Just smile and wave…

And so I skirt, but it’s a struggle, as immediately outside the fence, the ground slopes steeply down to a canal. The footing is tough, and my feet are slipping nastily sideways in my shoes. I’m grabbing trees, clinging to the fence, wondering if this is setting off alarms someplace. But I make my way all the way along the north side of the plant…

…to the bridge over the canal to the east exit. Where I discover a bigger problem. You see, the fence is connected to the bridge. You can’t get on the bridge unless you climb the fence, which is clearly something I won’t do as that would pretty clearly constitute a level of active penetration (nice word for trespassing) that I won’t cross. Nor can you scurry up the bridge abutment and over the concrete rail, as (a) this is almost physically impossible, and (b) it would constitute hopping the fence….

So now I’ve got a bigger problem. Whereas I didn’t want to backtrack before when I was still on the west entrance road, now to backtrack would be even worse, as I’d have to navigate the steep slope scramble again, back along the fence, and add the road mileage. But I can’t escape, either, since I can’t get onto the bridge. So I scramble down the rock scree to the canal, duck under the bridge, and start running east along the canal. I’m feeling pretty tense about the whole fence-clinging thing, and I’d really like to get away from the property before I start hearing the baying of the hounds. But the canal is MWRA property as well, and I am, as you might guess, on the wrong side of it. It isn’t big, but it isn’t crossable either without getting very wet, and seeing as this is the MWRA and it’s their holy water, they’d probably frown upon anyone wading across. So I’m now running away from the plant as quick as reasonable on a trail along the south side of the canal, wondering how to get to the north side, back into Marlborough.

Around a bend, in about a third to a half mile, I come upon a sort of dam-like structure with a tiny zig-zag plank bridge on top and a rickety pipe rail to hold onto. It’s my only hope, so I tiptoe across it. Nervously.

But I’m still not out of the woods, as even though there are lovely jeep roads to run, there’s a rail grade and impassible brush between me and the road to the north. No way out, except to continue east, under the interstate, which turns out to be a real construction zone which I must navigate through, then find my way on a construction path to Northborough Road near the structure in the upper right of the photo below. At which point, it turns out, after all this, I am now completely fenced IN, and therefore despite my rule of never hopping a fence in this quest, I have to do so to escape. Fortunately, it’s a low fence. I am free!

To say this is not how I had planned the afternoon is an understatement. But I didn’t get chased, I didn’t get arrested, I saw no reports in the local paper of a suspected terrorist trying to penetrate Massachusetts’ water supply, and you can bet that I re-colored the half mile west access road from brown to blue on the Run Marlborough 2011 Official Quest Tracking Map.

And after all, what’s the quest all about other than to avoid the boredom of the same old runs?

06 May 2011

Boston Tales, Part 2

[ Ed Note: At last, the fourth entry in the Boston Trilogy. The marathon commences! ]

When last we left off, well, we left off kind of mid-stream, since even long-winded me couldn’t bring myself to foisting three solid pages on you at once. On with the rest of the Boston tidbits…

Well, La-Ti-Dah To You: New to this year’s overpriced Addidas clothing expo feeding frenzy was not just this year’s Boston jacket (yes, I have one, a gift from a highly benevolent manager), but a second jacket emblazoned, “Boston Qualifier”. Yes, the fact that eighty percent of all Boston runners are qualified isn’t enough, apparently we now must separate ourselves from the rabble of those charity and club-number runners. The horror! Sorry, I don’t buy it (and didn’t buy it). Don’t tell me not to respect people who (a) are willing to scrounge up thousands for a good cause, and (b) are willing to be out there on the course for twice as long as I can handle. Later in the week during our family R&R on Cape Cod, we spotted someone sporting said Nose-In-The-Air garment. Despite my usual Runners’ Turret’s which prompts me to strike up a running conversation whenever the opportunity arises, I just had no interest.

Best Sign Awards: First, the person who really wanted to send a deep message but couldn’t quite put their finger on it, and therefore made a sign that just said, “Inspirational Running Quote!” And second, the person who didn’t want to discriminate in who they supported and held up the sign reading, “Go Random Person!”

Damage Report: More blisters than usual. Blame it on the different socks. But the biggest wound from the event? A nasty internal bleeding bruise from a blood draw gone bad the day after the race. I’d signed up for a medical study examining the impact of statins (cholesterol meds) on certain muscle enzymes under heavy exercise scenarios. Interesting topic, though I’ve yet to see the results. Post-race, in the med tent, being dehydrated, I had no veins and they had to use the back of my hand. For the day-after draw, no such problem, but man, the ugly results of that still linger, more than two weeks hence.

Shout-Outs: Speaking of that medical study, a big shout-out to Amanda A, key driver of said medical experiment (save that bruise, no runners will harmed in the making of this event), who completed her first marathon two weeks after Boston. I guess you can’t hang around all us crazies and not have it rub off. Another shout-out to niece Kristin K, who completed her first half marathon on the same day. Sadly for her, she does share my gene pool, so it’s not just proximity that’s driven her to this vice. I smell a full in her future someday.

Trumped in the Nearly Three Club: I’ve had plenty of reaction to missing three hours by a mere seven seconds. Most see it as a disappointment, but for me, with four sub-threes under my belt, it’s a victory of rationality, the seven seconds a curious irony. Irony runs deep and wide, though. While on the Cape, my wife pointed out an apparent runner at poolside, who turned out to be Coloradoan Eric Cameron (#1619) of DogGoneRunning blog fame. Fame, you say? I’ll give him the title on the assumption that we all deserve it. Fact is, I’d actually heard of him, and he of me, he knew of my bionic foot! I’d read his blog on rare occasion, and we’ve shared the same stage contributing material to Chris Russell’s podcasts. Another ‘go figger’ moment. Not to mention he’s a man with my style of insanity, singing, “It’s a beautiful day in the neighborhood” as the gun went off – a tune I’m frequently prone to expelling – from the other side of my starting corral. Had I only heard it… Anyway, point is, he landed at? You guessed it, three hours and seconds, thirty-six in his case. And not to be outdone, while on a recovery jog a little later on the blissfully flat Cape Cod Rail Trail, a chat erupted with Ashley G, training to hit the Olympic B standard at Vermont City, who’d run New York last fall in – yes, she trumped me – three hours and one second. She’s since nailed two-fifty. Go Ashley, go!

King & Queen of the City: My partner in the insanity of Run Marlborough 2011, Chris Johansen, not only finished her first marathon, but had a grand time doing it, and her four-oh-nine landed her the top time of three women from Our Fair City. Our local paper lists everyone who ran, but the vaunted Boston Globe lists only the top male & female runners from each city and town. Not only was this a big thrill for her, but to have the two city-covering quest crazies filling those two spots in the Globe was, well, I won’t say touching (you can get arrested for that now) but pretty cool.

Relive The Experience! And finally, we closed the day with the Boston Experience. Since my clan meets me in Newton Lower Falls and has never seen the start, after the bus ride back to Hopkinton I took them down to the high school for a walk around of what had been, hours earlier, a sea of thirty-thousand, and tried to relate to them the environment, as evidenced by the sheer number of remaining port-a-johns. After that, a quick trip to the starting line, dodging traffic for Darling Daughter the Younger to get a matched set, a starting line shot to go with her finish line shot of a few days earlier. I can see this being transformed into a theme park experience! Live the dream!

03 May 2011

Boston Tales, Part 1

[ Ed Note: The third bit on Boston, Stories Part 1. Part 2 follows in a couple days! ]

Two weeks hence, I haven’t even wrapped up the Boston stories, and more topics stack up in the “to write about” pile. A local 5K on Sunday. A couple of big races for some friends and relatives. The end of my Run Marlborough quest in sight, including a comical adventure trying to turn a few brown (off-limits) roads into blue (covered) ones. But for now, focus! There’s Boston fun to relate! So now, in no particular order, the chef will prepare for you a series of little tastes…

Boston By The Numbers? There were 26,907 registered 24,338 starters, and 23.879 finishers. All big numbers, which makes finishing in 1,538th place satisfying. 1,436th male, 127th semi-old fart (45-49) male. On a global stage, I’ll take it. But better, this year they used the three-digit numbers, so my bib #1798 really meant (roughly) a 1700th to 1800th seed, which means I finished a bit ahead of my seeding, which pleases me. With the second corral start this year, I did feel as though I was with the right crowd, staying with them, not passing nor getting passed en masse. What do you know, the system works!

Finding a Wineglass in a Haystack: How do you find someone in a crowd of 24,338 official starters, plus bandits, volunteers, spectators, and various other living creatures? With a code word, of course. For several years I’ve been trying to meet – in the flesh – a Carolinian runner named Mike who’d made my acquaintance via the online running community (bib #1396 for those of you stalking along at home, and no, that’s not his wife, just an event model whom he sent along with the mirth of inducing jealousy!).
Each year, it’s never worked out, but this year he devised a plan. As we were starting in the same corral, he offered that he’d stand in a particular corner and yell, “Wineglass!,” proving that yes, he’s actually read my blog. Well, when you wear your sunglasses, the clouds arrive, when you bring your umbrella, the sun shines, and when you have a plan, you don’t need it. Walking toward my corral, yet while still a distance away, I had a funny feeling, looked to my right, and there was Mike, walking right beside me. Just like that. We had our moment, he went off in pursuit of a 2:45, and though he didn’t make it – heck, he only ran a 2:50, he fought the epic battle to get there and wrote a truly entertaining account on his blog.

Another “What’s the Chances of That?” But that was the second, “No Way!” moment of the morning. Walking from downtown Hopkinton to the Athlete’s Village, I struck up a chat with a runner who identified from Columbus, Ohio. I mentioned that my 76-year-old cousin (sadly, only by marriage, I do not share his gene pool) is still running marathons and was one of the few remaining survivors who’d run every one of the thirty one Columbus Marathons. To which this gentleman responded that he was in fact the reporter in Columbus who’d run the story on that rarified collection of veterans. Out of 24,338, I meet the guy who interviewed my cousin in Ohio. If my cross-checking is correct, he was #8083, Jeff Hogan. As I often say, I can’t make this stuff up!

Where’s Waldo? And Who’s Jason? For miles late in the race I heard the crowd screaming “GO JASON!” just behind me. And I mean for miles. And I mean screaming. Now, I know that people shout names when they see them on shirts, but the intensity for this guy was amazing. Mayhem, I tell you. The Beatles arrive in America. The Who in Cincinnati. Bieber Fever. Hey, wait a minute, his name was Jason, or no, duh, he was a Justin, umm… On that line, I was beginning to think there was some highly recognizable celebrity close behind me, but being late in the race, I had no desire to expend the energy to turn around and look. The professional photographers solved the mystery; in one of their shots (copyrighted, so I’ve snipped only the tiniest bit for this forum, bad me, bad!) appears none other than Jason himself, indeed with a huge “GO JASON” emblazoned on his bright yellow shirt. Only two digits of his bib showed, but it wasn’t hard to search the BAA site and identify #3362, Jason Baer of Burlington VT. The crowd lift worked, he ran a 2:58 from the 4th corral. Nice race, Jason.

Springsteen Anyone? The tune Darkness on the Edge of Town came to mind as we passed through the final insult of the Boston course, the drop through the tunnel under Massachusetts Avenue. I’d always thought that the final climb out of that pit would be the insult, but it’s not. It’s the dark. The tunnel crosses under a wide street. It’s fairly narrow, low clearance, and after three hours of high effort in the bright sun, when nothing in your body responds quickly to any stimulus, your eyes don’t adjust to the dark. It’s like going blind for ten seconds. It’s oddly disorienting.

What a Difference a Break Makes: Prior to that pitch into the black, I took my second walk break just before mile twenty-five, at what I truly do believe to be the biggest insult of the Boston course, the measly thirty-foot (if that) climb up the Mass Turnpike overpass. It was here that as I previously noted, I consciously put my sub-three at risk in exchange for finishing in one piece. After the race, a friend – who’d started in the same corral and therefore was on the same relative timing as I – noted he’d seen me walking and was a mere ten seconds from catching me when I started running again. He laughed at my suggestion that he should have shouted and we could have finished together. Having not taken a break, he lost a full three and a half minutes from that point to the finish compared to my final mile. I’d have to say my investment in that break was worth it.