31 July 2011

Unfinished Business

Sitting on my desk now for nearly a year is a note from a friendly and generous gent at Sport Science (www.sportsciencewear.com). That note came in a package with a pair of samples (read, free, always good, thanks!) of their product, that being clothing, in this case shirts, made from their super-double-secret fabric that feels like cotton but is said to perform like tech wicking material. All of this came about because I replied to their “targeted promotional email” (a.k.a. spam that is close enough to what you’re interested in so that you don’t get annoyed and don’t discard it immediately). Their email made a comment about having an ice cold Guinness after a race, and I reprimanded them on suggesting such an insult as putting a Guinness on ice. Apparently they were amused and got the point, one thing led to another, blog was mentioned which excited dreams of potential social media promotional opportunities (I cannot tell a lie, I fully disclosed the extent of my admirably non-massive readership), and said samples showed up for self and wife. I’d promised to give them fair shake and a potential mention here to my scads (scientific term that sounds large but barely breaks two digits) of readers.

Life got in the way, injuries interrupted training, next thing you know it was fall and long sleeve weather, and, well, said shirts didn’t get a fair testing until spring, at which point Sport Science pretty much forgot I existed (I don’t blame them) and my blog posting became so time challenged that spare column inches never appeared. My guilt has not exactly been overwhelming, but, well, it’s time to right that omission, or at least get that note off my desk. After all, they did send me free shirts.

So, are those shirts up to the task? Short answer: It depends. Longer answer: Sort of.

These togs are billed as the most comfortable shirt you’ll own while still being the best performing. On the comfort, utterly no argument. The fabric is so pleasantly soft you’d never mistake it for a tech shirt, and frankly, it beats most cotton shirts. On performance, a mixed bag. I’m a heavy sweater. I can’t help it, I’m half Italian, we sweat at the sight of a light bulb. On a hot, humid day, complete soak-through is the norm. Tech shirts can’t wick enough when the Army Corps of Engineers is needed to manage the flow. Nor, can I say, does the Sport Science shirt. My impression? It got sweaty wet like a cotton shirt. I will say that because of its soft consistency, when wet it wasn’t nearly as annoying as a cotton shirt. But it didn’t, to my judgment, wick like a wicking shirt, or dry out as quickly.

Nevertheless, any shirt is going to get wet, and if that’s going to happen, no big complaints if that shirt is still comfortable when wet, which this is. But there’s one bigger complaint I’ve got that has nothing to do with this garment’s performance: it looks like a cotton shirt. And any serious runner who sees someone running in a cotton shirt almost immediately makes an assessment, and that assessment typically isn’t good. That fool’s out in cotton. Amateur! I know there’s nothing scientific about this, and I’m the last person to worry about impressions or peer pressure, but it’s true, this just doesn’t look like a running shirt. Shame on me, but it has to be said.

All in all, for what it is, and for me it’s a good active-day shirt (read: big hikes and so on, but not really running), it’s not bad. And though it’s still a bit pricey, at $22 on their web site (pricey at least when compared with a drawer full of race tech tees, obtained for the price of admission), that price is, to my recollection, down from what I recall was the going rate last fall when they sent me the samples. So I say thanks to the Sport Science folks for the samples, and wish them well in their quest to make the world more comfortable.

28 July 2011

How Hot Was It?

Yeah, it was hot last week. It’s summer, get used to it.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m completely in the global warming camp. Al Gore has it right, even if I couldn’t see his appeal back in the year 2000. The right-wing Fox-News-brainwashed set isn’t just all wet, they’re leading us all to being all wet by ignoring our impact while stronger storms rage and Greenland gets ready to cause the greatest tsunami of all time when that ice cap slides.

But as for last week, it was just hot, as happens a few times each summer, and the media had their field day. Newscasts singled out the number dead, without mentioning that many of them probably would have been dead within a month anyway, and the Weather Channel delighted in the opportunity to show pictures of sweaty people. That’s the twenty-four-seven news world. To be fair, in other parts of the country it is downright miserable. I just spoke to a colleague in Dallas who noted it’s their eighteenth day of one-hundred-degree-plus temperatures. But that’s Dallas. It happens. And no, I can’t fathom why anyone lives there.

Here, we had a couple days strung together of ninety-five plus, capped off by a hundred and two last Friday. Only today, a week later, do I feel like I’ve recovered from the abuse I heaped on my body through that stretch. It so happens that I accidentally got myself on a consecutive-days-running streak some time ago – back in mid-May to be exact – and while acutely aware of the risks of overtraining and injury from such an endeavor, and proceeding carefully as my body has withstood the assault (after all, an easy three or four is as good as a day off), I’m just a day from matching my Second Lap record of seventy-two days straight set a few years back. I mention this because something as entirely irrational and obsessive as a two-month-plus streak comes in real handy when it’s miserably hot and it’s wicked easy to just say the heck with it and sit out a few days. A streak keeps you moving. So yes, I ran through the heat.

Even more obsessed, I raced through the heat. On one of those ninety-seven degree days a co-worker and runner friend of mine had his day in the sun as race director for his local 5K, an event I’d missed last year while he’d run my 10K, so in the spirit of reciprocal support I’d signed up. From my afternoon meeting on the forty-eighth floor in Boston, the air was simply solid, non-penetrable, turning normally gorgeous view of the world into a quasi-melted grayish mush. Woo hoo, baby, race day! But by evening race time it was merely in the low nineties, and I’d discovered the secret to dealing with that kind of heat: spend a few minutes in the port-o-john, and when you come out it feels downright cool.

Racing in the nineties means your warm-up feels dreadful, you’re glad there’s a stiff wind even though you know it will blow in your face when you least want it, and you expect nothing on the performance meter. It means that in a mere 5K, you run out of gas at two-and-a-half, which I did, though by that point I’d fought back from as far back as seventh to my final fourth-place finish in the hundred-thirtyish field. It means that when they give out nicely imprinted pint glasses for the awards, you’re really bummed that there’s nothing to put in them. But they made up for it with many gallons of slushies, a perfect touch. And despite the late fade, I notched my best 5K time since the Famed Foot Follies of ’08. Certainly not no sweat. There was plenty of that. But no complaints.

Probably the most descriptive portrait of the week’s heat, though, came the following morning, the day we topped one hundred, though I got out early enough that it was merely in the high eighties with two hundred percent humidity. Setting off for an eight miler, the combination of heat, humidity, and having raced twelve hours earlier simply wiped me off the map. I have to go back a long time to find a training run when I needed to stop for not just one, but several walk breaks. And by six, my shoes literally squished from the sweat, audible to Dearest Wife sitting on the front steps as I ran past down the street. Cry me a river. No, don’t bother; I created my own, running down the front steps. Yum.

For days after these experiences, even when the temperatures had dropped to pleasant, my pace ballooned and the fatigue couldn’t be ignored. Only tonight, nearly a week on, did a good speed workout shake out the cobwebs. Heat will do that do you. Get used to it.

22 July 2011

Milestones

I love my Prius. Who can’t love fifty miles to the gallon? But it, like most newer cars, is lacking one of the true joys of life: a real odometer. What kid – at least what kid who grew up before the age of digital odometers – didn’t love watching those numbers all line up and roll at once on every big milestone. It was like one nine grabbed the rest of them and pulled as hard as possible. You could almost hear the creaking (and often could hear a satisfying click). A thousand was cool. Ten thousand was awesome. A hundred thousand – the complete
rollover – was an epic event, worthy of documen- tation. When newer, more reliable cars added that sixth digit, well, even better. Well into my adult years I still loved these events enough to pull to the side of the road and record them. When my trusty Corolla rolled over for the second time, well, geek nirvana. Rollovers are cool events.

Or they were. The world is digital now, like it or not. No more pops and cracks on your LPs, even after you’ve lovingly cleaned them with your Discwasher (c’mon, admit it, you remember it, you owned one, and you even used the special cleaning fluid they provided). No more faded sounds on those long distance phone calls. And no more rolling over those odometers; a digital blip and it’s over. I tend to miss it, since the single multi-purpose display is usually on the trip meter. What a loss.

But milestones are still cool, and they are the reward of being geeky enough to keep track to know when they occur. A big one came around last week: ten thousand miles.

Like every number, it needs to be qualified. Ten thousand miles (of running, of course) since I started up again in March of 2005. First lap youthful miles excluded, records just aren’t that good from those days, and given the twenty-plus year gap between then and my second running career, they just don’t matter all that much. Ten thousand miles as close as I can count, recognizing that the measurement of every run has its vagaries, though as measurers
go, I’m pretty obsessive about getting it right. If I’m off a little, hey, who’ll care, heck, who’ll even know? I’m satisfied that it’s close enough for my count, and that’s all that really matters. But ten thousand miles, each of which has been logged in the Mother of all Spreadsheets, cross hatched, re-analyzed, tallied in multiple columns and categories, and otherwise overused in a probably unhealthy manner.

Ever the geek and thus knowing this was coming, I planned the day-before run by strategically adding a few blocks so as to end on a nice even number. At day’s end I sat at nine thousand nine hundred ninety six, knowing that the club planned a speed workout the following day and that it’s exactly a mile to the track, at least via the route I knew I’d use. Which I did, and from there, twelve laps of no-stop intervals (and yes, I ran in lane two since it’s a four-hundred meter rather than a quarter-mile track), and there it was. I’d let the club know it was coming and told them that bells would not peal nor would the Earth shake, but of the few club-mates showed for the event, one did bring the ceremonial bell for the finish of lap twelve, and ding-a-ling, it was done. As the bell ringer put it, without scheduled maintenance, no oil changes, no nuthin’.
Ten thousand miles. The odometer rolled over. I hitched a car ride home for the pleasure of ending the day with all those zeros on the dial.

Ironically, the following day brought another rollover: a trip back to the old home town where a subset of my classmates were gathered for our thirtieth high school reunion. After a few of these, the subset has stabilized on the usual suspect attendees, many of which I had little contact with during those school years but still find it fun to see and chat up in rollover year increments. The subset is as a rule looking visibly older, and in many cases, visibly larger, with a few exceptions. There was Eric, hobbling on crutches but obviously fit as it was a mountain-biking wreck that busted his foot. Kim, fit and slim and, what a surprise, running. And Dave, making his living doing what I call real work, building decks (my only-half-joking threat of what I will do when I’m sick of technology), but showing that active work, active life pays off. It’s milestones like this that make reflection on milestones like ten thousand miles even more compelling. We can’t stop getting older, but there’s nothing saying we can’t push off the decline for a few years.

Go roll over a few training meter dials and set a few milestones of your own.

13 July 2011

This is Not Retirement, This is An Opportunity

Pro sports players hangs up their cleats or skates or racquet and move upstairs to become announcers. It’s so common that it’s a non-event. It’s the graceful – and profitable – way to retire. This Sunday I had my chance to pick up the microphone. But I’m not a pro, there was no upstairs, and I’m not retiring. Still, I had a wonderful time.

Cut back to Maine, noting last week’s posting, specifically, the month’s first incursion into Maine, to the conference in Portland. It’s day’s end and, speaking engagement long over, we’re packing up the trade show booth as it’s time to go home, or at least down to the ship-turned-restaurant docked at the waterfront for a little apr├Ęs-conference chit-chat (which, as I noted, turned decidedly toward running, much to my amusement). But first, in the mayhem of moving those boxes, the cell rings.

While it rings…make a sudden badly edited cut to a few weeks after the Maine trip. I’m walking through downtown Marlborough with Dearest Daughter the Younger, having just overstuffed myself on tasty samplings at our fine city’s restaurant festival. I’m stopped by a somewhat older gentleman who introduces himself by telling me, “You don’t know me…,” but in short, he’s noticed my recent publicity surrounding Run Marlborough 2011, he was a member of the original version of our club many years back, he’s run over fifty marathons, and oh, did you hear that person shouting out, “Go Marlborough!” at mile fifteen of the Boston Marathon? I had, and was puzzled as to who it was. Yes, that was him, he saw my club jersey, and unbeknownst to me I had an additional rooter.

I spent the next few minutes after this most pleasant conversation explaining to DD the Younger how these things really only start to happen when you’ve planted yourself and resisted the American Urge to never stay in one place for too long. In two days it’ll be twenty-six years since I moved to Massachusetts, and nineteen here in Marlborough. Connectedness brings joy and serendipitous meetings, and sometimes interesting opportunities.

Back to that phone call in Maine. This was one of those moments; connectedness paid off. It was Chris, or Run Marlborough fame. Yes, I know I’ve only known her for six months or so, but the chances of these connections increase exponentially with time. Her offer is one of these things you’d never see coming. How would I like to be an announcer for the upcoming Marlborough Triathlon? She knows the guy who does it, his partner is unavailable, and he needs help. She told him I’d be perfect for the job. And get this: they’ll pay me.

This is the kind of question that makes you say, “Huh?” The Marlborough Tri, though only three years old, is a pretty big event in town. And while I know swim, bike, and run, and have done a miniscule amount of the first, a decent amount of the second, and of course you know about the third, I’m not what you’d call a triathlon expert. Heck, until this came along I hadn’t really figured out that there’s no vowel between triath and lon. But would I do it? You bet, sounds like fun. And get paid? Heck, if you stretch the definition of running to this event, this would only be the second time I’ve earned a dime from my vice, the first being when I sold my blood for science a few months back. And to be fair, when the day was over and the speakers and amps and cables were lugged and packed, said pay was no doubt justifiable. Do what you love, the money will follow so they say. Well, I could never live on it, so this surely can’t be retirement, but it’s a happy bonus.

Sunday morning dawned perfect at Marlborough’s boathouse on the Fort Meadow Reservoir. This wasn’t moving upstairs, it was moving down the hill, since water has a tendency to gather in low spots. Four hundred athletes filtered down from the high school at the top of the hill to rack their bikes and prepare to take a dip. And I honed my announcer voice, not too smooth per Steve’s advice, calm down, take it slow, clear, enjoy it. In truth there was quite a number of things that had to be broadcast to the wet suit crowd while spinning the tunes to set the mood (can you still call it spinning on an iPod when there’s no longer even a CD, let alone an LP, in use?), so the corny cracks I’d thought up about being allowed to cross the border into neighboring Hudson on the bike route without clearing customs had to be shelved. No worries. All fun.

The fact is, I love to be in the middle of things. I look back thirty years to high school (yes, it’s been that long) and recall how I had much more fun at the church bazaar when I was working than I did when simply attending. And that’s never changed. And, like connectedness, involvement gives rise to unique experiences. Like the chance to help a hero.

There’s little more than can be said about the Hoyts. Dick and his disabled son Rick are known globally and an inspiration to millions. Dick, working on his eighth decade, pushes Rick in the run, carries Rick on a special two-man cycle, and tows Rick in the swim. And for that swim, Dick’s inflatable boat was leaking, apparently damaged in its previous outing. The floor wouldn’t hold air, which wouldn’t prevent it from floating, but Rick would be a bit less comfortable sagging into the drink. A few of us pounced on the situation, and I can’t minimize how good it felt when I found the leak and donated my ever-present duct tape (which makes the world go round…) as a temporary fix. Minor event? Absolutely. Symbolic impact? Priceless.

And the main event? Utterly cool to watch. After the first wave start (there were five waves), Steve headed up the hill to the bike-to-run transition and finish line at the high school while I called the action at the lake. My ever present Ace Support Team worked the iPod and helped pack the gear once the swimmers were beached, at which point I joined Steve up the hill to call the run transition and the finish. Steve’s audio setup was impressive, with wireless mikes and speakers everywhere, to the point where my wife commented that my voice was everywhere but she had no idea where I actually was! Steve’s engineer-mentality precise methodology in everything down to packing his trailer might drive a Type B personality mad, but to my Type A engineering mind, it was comprehensive, effective, and a thing of beauty. And calling out the finishers, especially the home-town athletes, including Chris who (Woo Hoo!) won her age group, was pure schmaltzy fun.

Would I do it again? Time availing, you bet. Am I, as Chris insisted I would be, itching to do a triathlon? Ah, the complexity, the equipment, finding the venues to train, the this, the that, the jury’s still out.

Photos from the event can be seen here.

09 July 2011

The Merry Month of Mostly Maine

I think I’ve forgotten how to blog. No, seriously, three weeks have passed, I’ve lost the list of topics and ideas that’s always haunting my desk, reminding me of the articles I’ve yet to write, and each day ends without my having found time to write. Well, whatever. Get on with it. It’s ketchup time, so let’s catch up.

It’s early June and I find myself in Portland, Maine for a conference speaking engagement, so that means a jaunt around Back Cove, rapidly elected Best Spot to Run while in Portland. Ever the social running animal, I am tickled when someone pulls a u-turn to catch up and join me as a potential compatible training partner. Cullen and I burn a fast lap around the cove before he peels off and I head for the conference. The day starts with one great social running connection, and hours later finishes with another as kindred running spirits find each other at the post-conference reception and make the normal types around us roll their eyes. One of these days I’ll get a chance to read Paul’s wife’s running blog and will then provide a link here.

It’s a mere few days later in June and again I find myself in Maine, Augusta this time, and it’s a cool sixty eight degrees at three in the afternoon. Post customer meeting I find a remote parking lot, change from Network Man costume to Racing Man costume, and head south to join my club-mates for the Mr. Bean race back home in Worcester, a small event among the best crowd in town. Sadly, between Augusta and Worcester, sixty eight becomes eighty eight, and the prospect of a cool evening race becomes a steamer. A fortunate delay to the start due to some crossed signals gets us down to the mid-eighties and we race, popping in a third place finish and top master in a race with no master’s division. Or awards, for that matter, because it’s that kind of race. Run, have a beer, have a great evening. It’s all good.

Poetically, I should start this next paragraph by saying that once again, I find myself in Maine, because I did, however not just yet.

First, I find myself across town for our club’s Third Annual Running With the Wolves 10K. Perhaps we can tie this to the theme by calling it a Main(e) Event? Gloriously, I am not the race director this year. My sole worry is scoring. Back office stuff. Spreadsheet weenie stuff. My kind of stuff, made even better working in partnership with Oh-So-Capable Wife. What a team! Heading out the door to the race, I spy a string of Christmas lights oddly sitting out in the basement in June. They make for a festive night,
which becomes more festive when our Bruins take game seven during our after-race party. Nothing like a big win while amongst friends. A night that can’t be beat.

And now I return to that theme, so incongruously interrupted.

Not two weeks since my last foray, I again find myself in Maine. Each incursion is deeper than the past, first Portland, then Augusta, and now my clan’s home-away-from-home, Mt. Desert Island. For Father’s Day, I give the kids an extra two hours to find a rock on the beach for me (forecast celebration mode based on past experience, actual results did vary) and head to the other side of the island to meet the local club, Crow Athletics (Why the name? Because crows are tough, found everywhere, and refuse to get out of the road, so sayeth their web site. Well done.) …for their Sunday morning run on Acadia’s carriage roads. One guy shows up. But that’s all I needed, he’s my age, runs my pace, and has a twenty-miler in mind, more than enough to accompany me on the eleven-mile circuit of the Around the Mountain carriage road I’ve got targeted. Steve and I fight a stiff north wind climbing along the west side of Parkman and Bald Mountains to reach the open vistas afforded from the north side of Sargent Mountain. Spectacular is a lame word to describe the scene. A few hours later, Father’s Day givings received, I return to the same mountain with the clan and accomplish a first: around the mountain and then over the (same) mountain on the same day. The wind is even stiffer, the views are even spectacular-er, and the day is capped by Darling Daughter the Youngest getting me out for a second run of the day, a practice we continue throughout the week and beyond. She’s been bitten by the bug. What a Dad’s day!

A few days later in Maine, having run around a mountain, I get the bug to run up a mountain. Beech Mountain is a mere eight hundred and forty feet, pretty much starting at sea level at Long Pond, so it's no Everest but it's a pretty good climb. Better, it is only a few miles from the cottage, though getting there involves a pretty significant climb and drop all its own. Running the trail turns out to be more or less impossible, and I quickly drop to a power walk until the trail levels out near the top, but in sixteen minutes I’m on top of this family favorite. Daughters ask me later what I did next, and are amused when I tell them I spent twenty six seconds on top, then ran back down via the south ridge, tripping only once on the way down in a spot where God conveniently provided a very large tree exactly where my arm flew out to catch myself.

Four days of glorious weather in Acadia in June is really cause to buy a lottery ticket, and indeed our luck runs out. For the latter half of our week’s vacation the wind blows hard onshore and turns the air to the temperature of the North Atlantic. Wicked cold, but really quite nice for running, other than the wicked wind. Maine turns into a sixty mile week. And the skies open on the last day, so we bag our hoped-for hike and high-tail it south. Needing to stretch our legs, we find ourselves in Portland, and being in Portland, we come full circle from whence this article started and take a family walking lap around Back Cove.

Thus endeth the Month of Maine, which would have been even more poetic had it happened in May, but it didn’t. Life’s puns are not perfect.

And now, caught up more or less, I make the final note that I had the pleasure of joining my partner in insanity Chris today as she completed her version of the Run Marlborough quest. For me, I’ve somehow accidentally been running for fifty-two days straight, an unintentional streak that started a few days before I finished that quest back in May. The circle closes again, and so will I.