21 September 2009

Something Clicked

The human body is amazing. It takes a while to happen, but when your metabolic level decides it’s ready to shift, it shifts. Just like that. Click. For me, something clicked in the last two weeks.

When I took my break for surgery, it took six to eight weeks before my body really shifted to a slower metabolism mode, then, Click! Then the pounds started to accumulate. When I started running again, it again took six to eight weeks before my body figured out what was happening. There was another good click back around May, and the pounds started to melt. Then reality caught up and the summer slump kicked in. But it looks like that’s clicked away in grand style.

I wrote a couple weeks back that I was forcing myself to mentally turn a corner on September 1 and break out of my August slump. I wrote about the Labor Day rocket ride run with my friend John that shook me out of my zone of comfort – or misery, depending on your perspective – and convinced me that it’s time to stop thinking about being in recovery mode, and start thinking more like training as usual. Sure, my times are off from last year, and sure, my foot will never be the same. Suck it up, move on.

And the last two weeks have been, well, cool. Sweet. Satisfying. Fun. Something clicked into place, and the machine is working again.

A few days after the Labor Day rocket ride, I actually burned a PR on one of my training courses. Not a “post surgery best I’ve done so far on recovery”, but a real live PR.


A few days later I popped in the next episode of my patented Extremely Compressed Fall Marathon Training Program for the Terminally Procrastination-Oriented. Unlike my first fall 20-miler which wasn’t awful, but smelled a bit like misery on toast, this one was at a decent clip, and more importantly, a consistent clip, all the way up the hills back to home sweet home. It actually ranked as one of my faster 20-milers. Yeah, we obsessive types keep those lists, we know.


My average daily, ‘whatever’ runs have been faster. I’ve been feeling better. Even had a few episodes of cruise mode – that great feeling when you suddenly notice that you’re not even noticing that you’re running, you’re just out there enjoying the scenery or whatever.


And this morning, out early for a 16-miler with none other than the John the Rocket. I wouldn’t even have considered suggesting a 16-miler with him a few weeks ago. Today, well of course it was hard work, of course it hurt at times, and I made it nastier by back-ending the route with all the big hills. But we smoked 16 at 6:52 pace, and better, we held that pace evenly, even up the hills.


Four weeks to the Mount Desert Island marathon. I’m not expecting great things. But I feel like I’m back in the game. I’m no longer questioning why I’m spending the bucks to go up and run it. I’m excited about it, instead. My enthusiasm has also clicked back into place.

Side Note – Taking things Head-On: In the, “You’ve got to stop using your head!” department, it didn’t sound like a click, it was a solid thunk. As if my face-plant into the bricks at Wineglass last fall wasn’t enough, I managed another blunt head trauma at that most dangerous of all venues – the company softball game, a week or so back. My own stupid fault, of course. I tried to duck in behind the second baseman. He caught the throw, swung around to tag, and my face met his shoulder. Hard. Stars. Lying in the dust. Crack in the tooth enamel. Nasty sore neck. He was, of course, bigger than me. Most people are. Duh.

That’s Type A for you. Should’ve just accepted the fact that I stink at softball, and that I was out at second. But no…Joe Runner here needs to compensate for his lacking skills by at least running the bases fast and beating out those dribbler hits. There is a deep meaning here. This is, of course, why I started running as a kid in the first place. Because I stink at softball, baseball, football, basketball, foosball, and every other sport that includes a ball or requires coordination or physical skill. Accept it, remember it, don’t make these stupid mistakes. I run, that’s my gig. After all, even Michael Jordan couldn’t make it on the diamond.

12 September 2009

That Pesky Butterfly

Somewhere a butterfly flaps its wings, next thing you know, Hoover Dam comes crashing down, or something like that. Or so goes the famed butterfly effect theory. That butterfly flapped, and once again prevented me from winning a race today.

To be fair, I won once, two summers ago. But pub runs with 20 people and no timing don’t really count, even if the wonderful hosts of those events do post the results on Coolrunning (and continue to do so, often with great and amusing elaboration). I really just can’t count that. And I’m certainly not so fast that I really should win a real live road race. But others slower than I have had the lucky day when the right combination of people didn’t show up for their own special reasons, and the resulting fickle finger of fate put them on top. Just once, that would be cool.

Today, it could have been, but for that pesky butterfly.

The event was the local Marlborough Police Chase, a perennial benefit event held in honor of a patrolman lost to the ravages of pancreatic cancer. It usually draws well over a hundred souls, and last year on its new fast 5K course (which I had some input into) I set my Second Lap 5K personal best of a few seconds south of eighteen minutes.

This year, RAIN. Cool, chilly, scare off the non-die-hards RAIN. Which dropped the field down to about sixty five. But on these days, the die-hards still come, so a smaller field doesn’t really mean it’s any easier to climb the ranks. And this year, of course, I’m just not as fast as last year. But hey, any given day, you never know.

And it would have been, but for butterfly.

Years ago two people I’ve never met, coming from different places in life, made identical college decisions. Through random chance, they met, dated, engaged, and planned the wedding, through chance on this weekend, in Worcester, not far from here. One had a friend from back home in New York, now living in DC, who happened to be a runner. That runner had nothing to do with this area, but was avid enough to have looked online for a race to keep him busy the morning before the wedding. And there happened to be a dearth of races in the area that weekend, a rarity. And that guy happened to be capable of a sub-fifteen-minute 5k.

Curses, you butterfly.

I spotted him easily. He fit the profile. Wandering around the pre-race crowd, I overheard him. He looked the part of the fast young guy, but more importantly, he was asking others about the course in a manner that I recognized, a manner that said in tone, but not words, because you can’t come out and say this even though you need to, “No, you can’t just tell me to follow the crowd because there’s a good chance there won’t be a crowd in front of me.” As I said, I’ve never won, but I’ve had plenty of 2nd and 3rd place finishes, often distanced from the winner, and I understand that instructions of “follow the crowd” just don’t cut it. Most don’t worry about it. I do. He did. I caught on to him. Busted.

I started to explain the course including the one tricky bit, and then just gave up doing it verbally and instead invited him to run a warm-up with me to show him the route. We hit the course at a good clip, and it was, for me, pretty quick for a warm-up, but my legs were sluggish from a day off and needed it, so while I huffed and puffed a bit, I didn’t mind the pace at all. We ran the whole course, had a great time chatting, and I discovered his visiting ringer status. OK, so any chance of a win was gone again, but I really didn’t expect it to begin with, and the pleasure of running with a guy of this caliber alone made for a fine day. We also got thoroughly drenched, which didn’t bother me until the gun went off, we sprinted out of the gate, and I realized that my waterlogged socks and shoes added about 5 pounds to each leg.

The race? Like all 5Ks, over before you’ve thought much about it. Out the door, Visiting Ringer took off like a bat out of the hot place. Another guy I recognized but who’s name I couldn’t recall slipped into second, and I settled into third, about 40 yards back of him, with obvious footsteps close behind. The course is a steady climb for the first half, mostly on our local rail trail, front-loading the hard work. Before we departed the trail about a mile and a half in, I reeled in #2, putting an exclamation point on my pass by taking advantage of his tactical error of positioning himself on the wrong side of the trail for the upcoming turn, and took over second place. By this time, of course, Visiting Ringer was in the next county. The return trip, mostly all downhill, was just an exercise in striding and praying, since I’m not a strong downhiller (indeed, I had a tune from my church band in my head the whole way), but nobody challenged and I came home in second place overall, taking the masters division.

Now, the humor here is that Visiting Ringer was out for a stroll, running a over minute and half off his best. I too was almost a minute off my best, but had I burned a new PR, it wouldn’t matter since he put nearly two and a half minutes between us! Kind of puts things into perspective. I may be a moderately sized fish in my local small ponds, but I’m a barely a herring in the real world. Hats off to this guy!

Within about two minutes of finishing, barely before I’d stopped breathing hard, there he was again, heading out for a warm down, and of course, I just couldn’t resist. So we ran the course yet again. The course marshals who saw us for the third time were, needless to say, amused.

Did I miss my chance to finally win a race? Well, not really. That butterfly is always flapping, and had Visiting Ringer not shown up, the winds would have shifted and something – or someone – else would have come along. And I had the chance to run a few laps with a thoroughly nice guy who also happens to be a heck of a runner, which is a win on any given day.

07 September 2009

Nix the Zone

The comfort zone is a wonderful place, if it’s the place you want to be. If not, nix the zone. Getting out of it, and getting to another place, works wonders on the head, even if the body protests in the short term.

It’s Labor Day and that means my club ran our annual Laborious Labor Day Ten Miler, a rather hilly and challenging benefit race where the entry fee is measured in cans of food for the local food pantries rather than dollars. We have a great time putting it on, the runners love the concept even if they’re not enamored with the considerable climb at mile eight, and a good time is had by all.

In a typical year, this race isn’t a question. Sure, I help out in putting it on, but I take an hour and a few minutes and run it, too. But this, of course, isn’t a typical year.

I know, I know, moan, whine, whine, moan. Yeah, but that’s all over. I banished my mental slump on September 1st. No, I still don’t feel as strong as last year, but tough nuggies (how exactly is that spelled, anyway?). Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead. Nevertheless, it’s still not that easy.

I needed a decision on go / no-go for the fall marathon, so Saturday morning I hit the roads early for a 20-miler to see what condition my condition was in. It was going, well, not bad, not great, until the need for one of those stops, yeah, one of those stops, hit around thirteen. Afterward, all momentum was toast. The next mile was like restarting a seized engine. And once the engine was running again, the last four miles were uphill. It’s not a good day when I have to verbally yell, “Finish it!” to get past each turn which gives me an opportunity to cut the run short (fortunately that day, only to myself, I don’t think anyone heard these utterances and I wasn’t hauled off and committed). I really wasn’t a happy camper, though my average pace wasn’t really that bad. But stuff hurt, multiple stuff, and hurt pretty good, so our light & easy club run looping around a local pond on Sunday was welcome respite.

Against this, a hard ten this morning? I vacillated till the last minute – not even my wife knew, because I didn’t either – whether I’d race this morning. Indeed, she and the kids walked down the street to see if I’d pass by. But against my usual hell-or-high-water attitude, I elected not to risk breaking something, and didn’t race. I’m still not sure if this was prudence or timidity or laziness. But I didn’t race.

Yeah, but I still wanted to run. Something light, something casual, something easy.

After last year’s race was in the books, a bunch of club-mates went out to run the course, and I expected I’d have that opportunity this year to get my run in today. But alas, they were all in blue jeans or the like, no plans for sweating amongst them.

Except John.

John, who lives a mere mile from me, yet rarely can our schedules line up to run together, and with whom I haven’t run since before the whole Wineglass and foot-slicing adventure. John, who pretty much as two speeds: stop and banshee, and doesn’t really have any warm-up period between them. John, with whom I’ve turned in some of my more memorable training runs and to whom, via these runs, I credit a large part of my breakthrough to the sub-3-hour marathon world last year.
John had just raced the Ten Miler just under sixty four minutes for 5th place, so I figured it was a safe bet to pop in a few miles with him. I’m not where I was last year, and I warned him of that, but knowing he’d just spent a few thousand Runner Energy Units, the pace would have to be reasonable, good for him, survivable for me.


Zero to Banshee in about 150 yards. Before I knew it, we were climbing out of the park at a mighty clip. Sure, we kept saying we’d slow down. I should have known better. John is the kind of running partner who’s either magic or poison, depending on your perspective. There’s some sort of weird chemistry that prevents us from being reasonable.

OK, after all, most of the outbound was downhill. We said we’d back it off for the climb back up to the park. Yeah, right. Later scientific analysis showed that our return pace didn’t vary much.

John actually did tire. Considering he ended up with an almost twenty mile day, the first ten of which were at race pace, no surprise there. Funny thing though, despite my not having put in a training run like this, well, ever this year, not having run this pace for this distance outside of the Boilermaker race, I had more in me at the end. Who knew?

John swatted me right out of the comfort zone I’d fallen into, the zone that said I didn’t have that pace in me for training, the zone that persisted even after the mental right hand turn I made September 1 to break out of the August Blues. I most certainly can still train like that. I just need to line up more often with guys like John, and get out of that zone.

01 September 2009

Fall Race Quandary?

It’s mere weeks till marathon season, and I’m just not there yet. August has been a somewhat cruel month. The body isn’t happy. I probably shouldn’t. But somehow I just can’t resist the fun.

Just a few months back I wrote about how pleased I was that my training was progressing well following my return from the dead after foot surgery. Now, a short time later, I’m in a lull. I’ve bumped up my mileage a bit to about a buck fifty per month, but my average pace has slowed, and more importantly, I’m just feeling like a slug. Not strong. It doesn’t just flow. It’s a struggle. It doesn’t feel right, and it’s a bit worrisome. I’d chalk it up to summer heat, but it hasn’t been that hot.

Reality check: Perspective time here. Um, I still put in a hundred fifty per month the last two months, and ‘slow’ is a relative term. I recently recorded a second running podcast with my friend Chris Russell and we talked about how being knocked out of action for 5 months changes your view and heightens your appreciation for just being able to get out there. To steal the fishermen’s phrase, a bad run beats a good day at work, right? 99% of the planet didn’t pop in a buck fifty at 7:32 pace last month. As I tell my kids, suck it up. Besides, I probably hurt because I’ve spent days and days on my hands and knees installing the new kitchen floor. Or if that excuse doesn’t work, I’ll think of another, just hold on a bit.

Against this background, it’s decision time. Fall marathon season is so close, I can count the number of long runs I should have already done but haven’t. The easy choice is to skip it, take the fall off, after all, last year’s Wineglass time already gets me a plum spot for Boston 2010. My body really isn’t ready. But I’ve got Mount Desert Island in my sights, and I just want to do it.

Mount Desert Island, Maine (a.k.a. Acadia), is a second home for me. We’ve vacationed there for years, and I’ve hiked almost every trail on the island, save the obscenely steep ones (no thanks!) Running MDI would be, well, just plain cool and fun. The fact that it finishes in Southwest Harbor, the very town that is our home away from home, is even better. And it fits this year: it’s a tough, hilly course, not likely to produce a good time on a good day, but with my Wineglass time lined up for Boston, I just don’t care about time. Which is, like it was for Boston this past spring, freeing. I can be a tourist and love it.

Like most marathons, MDI’s price goes up the longer you wait. I’d hoped to decide in August and save five bucks. But I didn’t get that satisfying long run in that said, “Go ahead, you’re not stupid to do this.” So it’s September, and I’m still on the fence.

What I did get in August was a very pleasant surprise and a big kick toward doing MDI. I spent a few days in the White Mountains of New Hampshire bagging peaks with my family. I finished my 4000-footers back in 1995, but now that my kids are old enough, I’ve begun a second tour with them. Tuesday, climbing the Amonoosic Ravine Trail, heading for Mt. Washington – upon which I hadn’t set foot since it became my first New Hampshire summit way back in 1982 (!) – I ran into my old Appalachian Mountain Club friend Steve, whom I hadn’t seen in 15 years. We were heading in the same direction and as such had a few hours to catch up. If that wasn’t fate enough, we’d apparently both been sent the same fashion advice email and looked like a pair of twins (that’s him in the yellow tech shirt and faded green shorts on the right, me in the yellow tech shirt and faded green shorts in the center). And wouldn’t you know it, he’s entered the MDI marathon (he plans to power walk it). It was like God sending me a signal. Just do it, you fool.

What’s the chances…?

Six summits, including the most perfect day on Lafayette you could imagine, and a sore knee later, I left New Hampshire knowing I want to do MDI more than ever. And immediately again faced the reality that my next run felt pretty downright lousy.

But hey, I’ve got almost 7 full weeks to turn that around.

Just do it, you fool.

Side Note: It’s been a year of blogging! To the six of you that have actually read all 73 postings, I thank you for your interest. Leave a comment now and then. And if there are only three of you, or even one, that’s OK, because I’ve enjoyed writing these stories, and will continue to do so, just because. Cheers.