22 October 2009

MDI Race Report: Ashes Over Rust

Note: As usual, this being a marathon report, it’s a marathon, longer than my usual posting. Train well and you can get through it without hitting the wall.

I’m leaning on Neil Young for a theme for this race. Hey, hey, my, my. It’s better to burn out than it is to rust. I came, I went out hard, I burned out, but that’s pretty much what I intended (say what? read on…), and I’m happy with the results. And with that, the Marathon #10, the Mount Desert Island Marathon, is in the books.

First, the Executive Summary

The tally: 3:13:18, midway - 5th quickest – of my 10 marathons.
The rank: 25th place out of 602 finishers, 5th in the men’s 45-49 age group out of about 60.
The assessment: This was as far from negative splits as you can get. So what? I’m happy.
The damage report: Unscathed, save that blister on my thumb from the fuel belt bottles.

Next, Why Did You Do That?

What’s that, you say? I intended to burn out? Well, not entirely, but I intended to push my envelope and see what was in the tank, provided that that troublesome calf was ready to roll. And thankfully, it was, so I did. I was fully prepared to accept the consequences.

For some insight into this, I turn to the kids I coach for a moment. On the team there’s a young gent who typically runs strong, but clearly leaves time on the course. He flies across the line with strong sprint finishes and a smile on his face. I love his enthusiasm, but I’ve been coaching him to learn from these experiences about testing his body’s limits. Clearly he’s got some in the tank at the end.

And that’s what experience is all about. Racing is an iterative process. When you start, you don’t know what you can do. You don’t know how fast to push the early miles. You don’t know when the tank will run dry, when the wheels will fall off. You only learn by doing trying it.

The scholastic cross country season, when the kids are racing once or twice a week, is a perfect laboratory for learning limits. Each time you toe the line, the memory of the last race is mere days old. You can build that experience base quickly. Beyond school years, local 5Ks (a.k.a. barbeque excuses) offer a similar opportunity. You race perhaps once a month and you can get that feel for what you can do and how hard to push.

The marathon is a very different story. Unless you’re crazier than the typical marathoner, you run the it twice, maybe three times a year at most. There’s a long time between events during which your condition will, by definition, change, and in my case that change has been dramatic over the last year. With so few races, there’s not a lot of chances to incrementally tune your effort. You might work to knock off 10 to 20 seconds on each successive 5K, but if you work to knock off just a minute or two on each marathon, it’s going to be a while before you find your limit, or, in my case, work your way back down to where you think your limit is. You’ve got to go a little on the bold side, at least until you think you’re running near peak. Otherwise, face it, years pass, you age, your peak rises to meet you before you drop down to reach it.

And on that philosophy, I went out intentionally aggressive on a course that the race organizers warn calls for conservatism, a course they say runs more like an ultra. After all, last year I ran three sub-three-hour races, and this year I started with my stroll at Boston. Sure, my only hard goal was to leave MDI with a Boston qualifier for 2011, but for me, that’s 3:30, and that wouldn’t really be much of a step to get back to the low 3’s and prepare to see if a drop into the 2-zone might again happen someday. No, I needed to see what condition my condition was in.

Dawn Brings Joy – No Rain!

The weather was forecast had been downright frightful, with a Nor’easter coming in. But it took a page from my book and was late in arrival, and was replaced by the most gorgeous sunrise I’ve seen in a long while. Arriving in downtown Bar Harbor, we gathering runners found it downright comfortable. I stripped off the tights, and as it turned out, I guessed right. With a slight NNE breeze, the low-40’s air was chilly only during the brief stretches when we headed north.

I don’t think I’ve ever seen quite so casual a start. It was refreshing. MDI isn’t a big marathon to begin with, and with a chunk of the field taking up the early start option, it was even less crowded, the most stress-free marathon start I’ve experienced. We up front types didn’t even see the need to crowd the line, as nobody was crowding us from behind. Mellow. A blast of the cannon, reminiscent of my first marathon at Cape Cod back in 2005, and we were off.

I don’t think I’ve ever had quite so casual a race, either. No jostling in the first mile. No frustrating fruitless hunting to link up with a pace buddy. We’d already chatted around at the start, so I went off with Ed, and we stuck together for eleven miles. It was truly enjoyable. The miles clicked away, up and down the hills, past MDI’s stunning mountains and seascapes, while we jabbered it up with each other and those who drifted in and out of our coffee klatch. Truly the joy of the run. We hit ten miles at 6:53 pace, 3 hour pace, which I knew wasn’t in the cards, but hey, it was time in the bank, and I’d see how far it lasted. Besides, the calf was holding out, and it would survive the day.

Pulling into Northeast Harbor around mile twelve, I backed it off, dropping the pace to the low 7’s. Ed hammered on, running negative splits for the second half, finishing an impressive 5th. I already knew I would find my tank capacity soon, and have some seriously hard work to do ahead.

Mount Desert Island is nearly bisected north-south by Somes Sound, the only true fjord on the east coast, deep and gorgeous. And ironic. Northeast Harbor – where we were – and Southwest Harbor – where we needed to be – are a mere mile or so apart, except for the minor detail of the Sound. Yes, you have to go around. So we headed north out of Northeast Harbor along the utterly gorgeous Sargent Drive, which hugs the west edge of Norumbega Mountain as it skirts the Sound (that’s Sargent Drive along the east side of the Sound, seen from St. Sauveur Mountain on the west side). The views of the western summits across the water are sublime. There are few places in any marathon that can compare to the beauty of this spot. It’s running nirvana, even before I add in how much I love this place, having hiked almost everything on the island many times over. Nirvana for the eyes, nirvana for the mind, but cold nirvana. Heading north, that slight breeze felt more then slight. At one point I swear I could feel the shrinkage.

Sargent Drive climbed away from the Sound, back to the main highway, which continued to climb gently but steadily. By seventeen, it was hard work, but all systems were functional. Nineteen loomed with what in my view is the worst hill on the course, a moderately long but rather steep pitch as the highway curves around the top of the Sound. It arrived, I chugged, and it was done, still holding my pace in the bottom half of the 7’s.

But in Somesville, the rollers started to win the battle. Passing my cheering section of one, I told my brother-in-law’s wife that I wasn’t in great shape for where I was in the race. I’ll forgive her for the “You look great!” and “You’re almost there” comments. Good intentions, even if she lied on both counts. Within a mile I walled out. Hey, hey, my, my. Burnt. Ashes, not rust.

Finishing the Battle

If Wineglass taught me anything last year, it is that yes, you can hurt yourself. Your mind is stronger than your body, and given free reign, it can and will drive your body too far.

By mile twenty-one, the tank was drained. My injured calf never failed, but the hills had taken their toll and really both calves were flat out empty. Though I was on pace for a nice 3-oh-something, I let prudence and reason trump raw desire. Through miles twenty two through twenty-four I took four or five one-minute walk breaks. Splits for those miles were ugly of course, but not all that bad, as I kept the breaks to exactly a minute to maintain the discipline to keep moving. I knew the time lost would blow me out of 3-oh and into 3-teen-something, but I also knew that not taking the breaks could have simply blown me out, period. I probably lost ten to fifteen places through this stretch, but lived to tell the tale.

Approaching Southwest Harbor was like coming home. It’s our annual vacation hangout, and I just love the town. One of my favorite runs in the area is Lurvey Springs Road, a gorgeous gravel forest road, which brings me out onto the highway at Echo Lake, so reaching that point put me on home running turf, a huge mental lift. From there, it’s not far to the final summit at mile twenty four and a half, and it’s a screaming downhill into Southwest. The last third of a mile or so into downtown is a slight upgrade, an ugly slap, but so what. Hammer it home, done.

With the walk breaks, I crossed the line in pretty good shape, but was wobbly enough to get the red carpet treatment of a large sturdy volunteer to hold onto and a fabulous wool blanket in the med tent. I learned long ago that the med tent is your friend and is well worth a visit. The volunteers are saints. My thanks go out to Cort and Ann for their fine repair services.

So, no 3-oh-anything, no age group prize, no great glorious results, but I’m happy: 25th place with a 3:13. Realistically I know that course probably adds five minutes, which adds a little more satisfaction. After the surgery, the break, the leisurely stroll at Boston, the summer’s battle to regain my condition, whether I ever return to the sub-three-hour zone or not, I’m back in the neighborhood.

Aftermath – What a Bullet We Dodged

The storm didn’t hit the island until nearly 3 PM, when I’d cleaned up, packed up, and was hitting the road. Heading home via the inland route, I managed to avoid it for another two hours. Good thing, as this storm brought the earliest recorded snowfall to many parts of New England, wildly flinging snowball-sized flakes. Once it and I converged at Augusta, the rest of the drive home was misery. All in all, I’d rather relive those ugly late miles than do that drive again. I spent plenty of time on the ride home contemplating what a different race it would have been had it arrived on time.

The morning after, I was feeling pretty good, good enough to get out for a few mile shakedown. The knees are a little tender, there’s a little muscle burn, and that pesky blister on my thumb from the bottles, but otherwise the old body withstood the punishment.

Six months to Boston!

18 October 2009

MDI Flash!

A quick report from the front, after the battle. The full report will follow.

This is number 10 for me, so what’s the big deal? Yet my heart was racing last night, pulsing away at 52 as I lay down to sleep, rather than my usual 41 (which is, I note, still not in the league of the famed Chris Russell, who camps in at 36 and carries a ‘do not revive’ order should any misinformed EMT think that’s abnormal). Why be tense?

Because this one was sort of a meter to the future, that’s why. My first post-surgery for-real, serious (or at least as serious as someone at my level can get, which isn’t very) marathon. This wasn’t running Boston on 42 days and 140 miles of training post-surgery just because I was already signed up and I live there. This was training for (well, more or less) and running a race of my choosing. This was rebuilding my confidence at the marathon distance.

I woke at 3:30 AM, not part of the plan, it just happened, and I was overjoyed to see stars outside the window rather than blowing trees and an impending gale (and yes, I went back to sleep). Driving into Bar Harbor, I was treated to the finest sunrise I’ve seen in a long time. Never mind that I’m not usually awake to see sunrise. This one was truly spectacular. All of this was about a strange thing that happened. The feared storm fizzled. Hanging out in Bar Harbor before the race (where, I note, parking was easier than any other marathon or even most local races I’ve attended), everyone’s talk was about the fortunate turn in the weather. After all that planning and indecision, I ditched the tights at the last minute. I guessed right. Other than a cold stretch heading north into the wind from about 13 to 18, it was a comfortable and excellent day for running.

The race? Well, the full report will follow, but I ran 3:13:18 the hard way. Not even close to a well executed race strategy. The last five were pretty much awful, punctuated by five one minute walk recovery breaks, which blew out the stretch goal of three-oh-anything, but I’m happy. Besides my ever standing primary goal for any marathon which is always to finish, my chief goal for today was a Boston qualifier for 2011 (2010’s already all set). That bar, at 3:30:59, was met easily, so the pressure is off for next year. Goal two was sub-3:20, to get back in the game, so to speak, of racing marathons. The stretch goal was three-oh-anything. I’ll happily take goal two.

Damage? I’m sure I’ll hurt a bit from this one, I can feel it, but really nothing to speak of. I scored a nice blister. Last night, on my thumb. From cranking down my fuel belt bottle tops too tightly. Of course, I’ve yet to take off my shoes. I may not have any toes, we’ll have to look and see.

More extensive report to follow…

17 October 2009

MDI Race Eve and Still Flummoxed!

Today was a picture perfect day on Mount Desert Island, Maine. Trouble is, the race wasn’t today, it’s tomorrow. And picture perfect tomorrow will most certainly not be. Whatever will I wear to the ball?

To say that Maine weather is unpredictable is downright trite, but of course, it is, and trite or not, it must be dealt with. New England weather in general is unpredictable, and Maine is the king of New England on that scale. Plus, we’re on the coast here, on an island, and our next weather visitor is a Nor’easter, the kind of storm that roars up the coast (not surprisingly, heading northeast), putting all weather forecasts made in Bangor or parts further distant high on the distinctly useless scale. The present best guess is that the rain will hold off until afternoon, all the more incentive to run faster to finish in the morning, and that we’ll have strong and gusty winds which, as luck will have it, shouldn’t be in our faces. But you know how wind is; even when it’s not in your face, somehow, it’s in your face.

Bottom line: I’m certain I won’t know what to wear until I’m well beyond the starting line. And since my usual Ace Support Team didn’t make the trip (I do miss them…), outside of disposable items I’ve got no place to ditch excess clothing until mile twenty. I’d better guess right.

Had the race been run today, well, it was a grand day. One of the clearest, crispest days I’ve seen up here, calm, and perfectly pegged in the low 50s. My family has vacationed here annually for 14 years, and I’ve heard the legend that you can see Mt. Kahtadin from the summits of Acadia. Today I finally experienced it. Yes, the day before a marathon I hiked a mountain. No, it wasn’t a big mountain, and it wasn’t really my intent, and maybe it was not so smart, but I did. My intent was to hike a trail along a cove that’s always closed when we come here in the spring due to peregrine falcon fledging season. I set off with my host for the weekend to hike the cove, and at the far end we made the snap decision to return over the summit for a loop. Up top we got our reward: Kahtadin, clearly visible. What a day!

If hiking a mountain wasn’t enough the day before, a little later in the day I linked up with my friend Steve (remember Steve, from the White Mountains hike?), and we added a few more miles on foot. Being a seasoned local guide, how could I not give him the tour of Bar Harbor, including walking the famed bar to Bar Island since the tide was out? Steve’s here to power walk the MDI Marathon, so a few miles of walking today were nothing to him. I, meanwhile, was mentally adding the total miles for the day and wondering if this qualified as a bit much before tomorrow’s big effort. Time will tell. And my time will indeed tell.

Also on tap was a quick stop at the expo, small, but who can complain when there’s a bottle of Bar Harbor Brewing Company Ale tossed in your goodie bag? The race staff was overly helpful and accommodating – at least I thought so, and later I learned that others agree. That evening at the pasta dinner, the race director, like me a Gary (and like me, decidedly not short-winded, I think that name does it to you) talked up the crowd to announce the Runner’s World will announce in their January 2010 issue that MDI was voted not just the most scenic marathon in the USA, but also the one with the most enthusiastic volunteers. Touché! And burp. Good stuff.

And despite the fact that I’ve driven these roads hundreds of times in the last 15 years, I still toured the course. I’ve seen these roads over and over, but I haven’t looked at them from the eyes of a runner, and you have to do that. The stretch from Seal Harbor to Northeast Harbor, for instance, rises and falls and rises and falls and… Driving, who cares? Running, I wanted to know how many times. Mentally, that’s key. Know your enemy, make it your friend. Three rises and falls, by the way. Other roads I know like the back of my hand change their character considerably when viewed through the marathon lens. Mile 19 is going to be a bear.

And my readiness? Heck, I just don’t know. After not running since Sunday’s jog, I put in three or four on Thursday and Friday, and again this morning along a beautiful wooded road sticking out into Long Pond. These felt pretty good, but the calf still feels a bit weak. Will that muscle, no longer tender to the touch, hold up to the rigors of 26 miles of hills? How hard should I hit it? What can it withstand? Will tights keep it warmer and happier or just make me too warm and unhappy? The temperature is forecast right on that tights vs. no tights edge, starting in the 30s, rising to the 40s. I’d opt for no tights, but this is the Maine coast with a storm coming in, there’s that wind… It’s 8 PM the night before, and I don’t know what I’m wearing to the ball.

So, my prediction for tomorrow? It’s simple. I have no idea. Let’s go for a run and see what happens.

14 October 2009

Really Bad Timing

This is not good. It’s Wednesday, a mere four days to the Mount Desert Island Marathon, and I’m sitting here at my home office desk with a heating pad on my right calf. I know it’s the week to taper down my training, but this is not what I had in mind.

Training for any race is always a delicate art of peaking readiness and performance while staying healthy. Short of last summer’s foot problems and the subsequent dramatic episode last fall, I’ve been pretty lucky on that count. Yeah, I felt like crap in April, but September roared in with the readiness signals, and as MDI approached, all systems looked “Go!”

Last Thursday morning’s run was a hugely satisfying confidence builder, a nine-miler at sub-6:50 pace that even marked a course best time. In short, I was psyched, I felt great, and I hammered it. In the last miles the now infamous right calf complained a little, so I tread carefully, but it was nothing I was really worried about.

I planned one last mid-distance run the following day, and I wanted it to be a strong effort, so I called up Rocket John (of previous posting fame), and we set out early Friday at slightly slower than John’s usual patented Banshee pace, since, after all, this was the last serious run, the start of my real taper, at T-minus 9 days and counting. And while I was aware of the calf and was treating it carefully, all systems were, in NASA terms, nominal.

Three miles in it turned ugly. Maybe it’s because nobody outside of NASA has ever used the word “nominal”.

Understand that being the slightly obsessed type, I rarely stop during a training run, save for events like railroad crossings actually containing a train, intersections actually containing a tractor trailer, or something that really hurts. I stopped. And there were no trains, trucks, or tracks. It hurt. Not like screaming, Oh My God, it’s alive and it’s got my leg in its jaws hurt, but enough. Stretching and massaging didn’t do much, so we cut short and jogged back at a more human pace. And then began the worst part, the waiting and wondering.

If I take a couple days off, will it heal? If I run again, will I re-injure it? If I take a week off before the marathon, will I be a stiff, klutzy, non-functioning runner? I know my conditioning won’t go away in a week, but I won’t feel too smooth after a week’s break, either.

I gave it a couple days and jogged a few dog slow miles on a dirt track Sunday evening while coaching my middle-school cross country team. Since my Coach identity was egging them to run for a half hour straight – something most of them had never done – we’ll call it setting an example. But it was circumstantially reasonable; I was going slow enough that even my non-runner wife jogged along for a couple of miles (she admitted she hurt, but only a little, a couple days later, but was quite satisfied – way to go girl!). And the leg didn’t feel bad. But not fixed, either.

And in daily life, it’s not bad. I know it’s there, but nobody would suspect I’m injured. However at present, I don’t really care about daily life, I care about a marathon in a few days. A marathon where I’m not really worried about my time, but I’d like something respectable, and most importantly I’d like to have an enjoyable day with all parts functioning at the end. After last fall, I know what the alternative is, and it’s no fun. At present there’s most certainly a very tender spot halfway up the calf. My mind vacillates between “nasty strain” and that ugly “tear” word. But who can tell?

So now it’s Wednesday night, and save for that three mile jog, I haven’t run a step since Friday morning. I can’t imagine toeing the line for a marathon not having run in the week prior. I’m just crossing my fingers that a couple more days will do the trick. Cross yours, please.

Interesting Tidbit: I’ve been meaning to sneak this one into a posting somewhere and keep not getting to it. So I’ll get to it. In the, “Shirley, you’re joking, stop calling me Shirley,” department, I had a rather interesting run a couple of weeks back. A few hundred yards out from home I started sounding like a one-shoed horse, clop, step, clop, step, clop, step… Naturally I suspected I’d picked up a rock in my shoe, it happens all the time. When the opportunity of rough spots in the pavement appeared, I scuffed a few times to dislodge it. No dice. Hmm, perhaps it’s not a rock, it won’t come out… I started thinking back to a few years ago when I picked up a surveyor’s nail – point up, into the midsole, but fortunately angled so that it stuck out the side rather than into my foot. I tried to feel for any discomfort in my shoe, but all was well. With no discomfort, I saw no need to stop, but that pesky clop, step, clop, step, clop, step just wouldn’t go away. I finished the eight miler and finally lifted the hood for a look around. I expected to find a well seated pebble in the tread.

My shoes of choice are Asics 2100 series (and I usually buy last year’s model on cheap closeout online, why not? They were good enough last year, right?), but I often will try something different just for variety. That day I happened to be wearing a pair of Mizuno Waves, which happen to have an unusually large yawning pit directly under the heel. Nestled so tightly, with such a perfect fit that I didn’t even see it at first, wasn’t a pebble, but a rather large granite boulder, a full inch by five-eighths – after being worn nicely smooth on one side.

Consider that. Eight miles with a very large rock directly under my heel, and I couldn’t feel a thing. If it weren’t for the Victorian carriage ride sound, I wouldn’t have suspected a thing. Shoe technology is really pretty amazing when it comes right down to it.

09 October 2009

Industrial Arts

Two Saturdays ago I held my own Industrial Arts class, playing with nasty chemicals and common building materials. And what fun we’ve had with the results! A mere thirty nine dollars and seven cents procured a few lengths of PVC pipe, a pile of various connector bits, a can of nasty glue, and some orange safety tape, and with that, we’ve already classed up four races within ten days.

This is all about a simple finish chute. Something you don’t think about as you approach, cross the line, and move through it. But when you don’t have one, somehow it just doesn’t feel like a race. And for middle school cross country runners, often not quite attuned to how races work, not having one in times past has left some of these kids downright confused as to where the finish was and what to do. Last year’s head coach (of my daughters’ school’s team) set down a couple tiny little cone-lets, and we had kids wandering off in all directions rather than taking their high-tech popsicle sticks and getting scored. They just didn’t get it. So, you need to herd cats? You build a cat corral.

This year the team is my project, so as coach I was determined not to let this happen again. No sir, we’re going to make these events look official! I figured it wouldn’t cost much, but I was shocked when a visit to the local Home Depot revealed just how cheap this project would be. $39.07 built six stands, enough for a short chute, and procured enough tape to last for probably 20 races.

All that remained was my shop class day, where I learned two key things. First, cutting a lot of small segments of seemingly harmless PVC pipe generates an unbelievable amount of statically charged plastic sawdust that sticks to everything and won’t biodegrade. So I found myself vacuuming my driveway. And my lawn. And myself. And second, when they say that nasty PVC cement is flammable, well, yee-hah, no kidding. I spilled a bunch of it and didn’t want to just leave it, so what’s a closet pyromaniac to do but make it go WHUMP!? (Fear not, or at least fear only a little, I was outside!) Kids, don’t try this at home. Way cool.

A couple days later, we beta tested the setup at a 4-way meet at a neighboring school. Not my meet, but the meet director was tickled to have a real live finish chute. It was at times comical, but by and large, it worked (though we did decide a few spare bricks would work wonders for stability). We quickly confirmed that basic knowledge of racing is not evenly spread. One kid crossed the line, took a hard right turn, and missed the chute entirely. Hard to do, but he did it. A bunch of kids kept right on running – full blast –all the way through and out the other side, right past the popsicle stick dispensing coach, simply not understanding that they could stop after the finish line. Well, that’s why we have middle school cross country. You have to learn somewhere!

This week, it’s simply been, “Have Chute, Will Travel”. Sunday The Chute debuted at a real live race, Marlborough’s Main Street Mile, a one mile all-down-hill haul-butt screamer we hold every year here. It was now officially veteran equipment of a real road race. Tuesday, another away cross country meet; I brought my team, I brought my chute, and we livened up the party! And today, finally, for what it was made, we hosted our first home meet and had the finest finish line in town. Ten days, four races. Under forty bucks.

So the next time you finish a race, take a look at that equipment around you. You might be at a fancy race with fancy expensive equipment. Or you might be at a down home event, and I’ll bet the gear was built in someone’s garage. Take the lesson home. You can do this for your club or your team. It’s cheap, it’s easy, it’s only slightly chemically hazardous, and you’ll elevate your event to a cooler status.

Other Tidbits for the Week: It’s nine days till the Mount Desert Island (MDI) Marathon, and the ten-day forecast is calling for good weather. That’s too bad, since it’s usually wrong. I was feeling great and ready until yesterday when I hammered out a hard fast 9-miler and my right calf started feeling strained. Today that strain turned into a plain old muscle pull, or whatever you want to call it, but it’s quite tender and painful. I’ll have to slack off a few days to get it healed quickly, and hopefully still have a few days back running to stay loose before the marathon.

The race organizers at MDI tell you to think of it as an ultra due to the hilly course. I know the island well from many, many visits, and it is indeed hilly, but I live and train on the hills, so bring ‘em on! Goals for the race? As usual, I keep them rather tight to myself, but the basics are simple: Goal 1: Finish and have a great adventure. Goal 2: Get a Boston qualifying time for 2011 (I’m already set for 2010). And Stretch Goal? Well, there are a couple of levels to that, and I’ll tell you what they were after the race.

01 October 2009

Heck of a Week, Heck of a Month

Thirty days ago the world looked dreary. Today, well, face it, it still does. Earthquakes! Tsunamis! Roman Polanski! But, the heck with the world. So what if we’re still not sure the recession is waning! So what if my bankrupt company is being sold and I’m crossing my fingers for continued employment! At least so far as my running and fitness level, thirty days has made a surprising difference. It’s been a heck of a month. Suddenly, life is good.

Being the obsessed type, I do of course keep a log, and in it I force myself to write a quick summary at the end of the month. Sum up the month in 40 words or so. Not quite as hard as summing up the year, or summing up your life (side thought, how’s this for a gravestone epitaph: “He went sub 3, now he’s sub 6” But I digress…), but still, this task makes you think a little bigger than just writing down each day’s run. At the end of August, I wrote:

A struggle. Body never really felt good all month. Average pace slowed. Fell short of mileage target, but still matched last month, and missed a few days due to NH hikes/knee wrench. Can’t commit to MDI yet.

Then, as I wrote last week, something clicked. And today I closed out the month with an 8-miler at 7-minute-flat pace that just felt grand, tallying up 214 miles in a month where I’d targeted 165, and that at a quick average pace. After that horrible August. 30 days, complete turnaround. Go figger.

To make it better, the month closed with a fun week. Friday we kicked off cross country season for my daughters’ middle school with our first practice. I can’t officially be the head coach, since I can’t be sure my work will allow me the time, so our other coaches hold that title and provide greatly appreciated help. But effectively, I’m the coach this year, and I’m having a ball. I’ve had my fun setting up a meet schedule and pulling the team together, and the kids have already repaid me with their positive attitudes. Positively infectious, I tell you, though not at all like that H1N1 thing.

Saturday was Runner’s Arts & Crafts Day with industrial materials and nasty chemicals. Seeing as how I’ve now got a cross country team, I figured we’d raise our stature with some real live equipment, so for forty bucks I built a set of stands for a finish line chute out of ubiquitous PVC pipe. For a thrill, we held a controlled burn of the spilt glue. Can you say, “Whump!”?

Sunday brought soggy fun at the 25th annual Forrest Memorial 5K, which as everyone around here knows, isn’t 5K, it’s more like 3.2 miles. Details, I know, but it makes you feel better about your time. That aside, the event is a local tradition to benefit the Special Olympics, and the organizers put on a fine party afterward. It’s all about the food, of course. Being a Sunday event, it’s a bit of a rush to make it over after Mass, but I had enough time to jog the course for a warm-up, only getting mildly soggy as the day’s rain subsided somewhat for the race.

Once again, it was pretty easy to pick out the fast guys ahead of time. There were two this time, accurately pegged in advance. Out the gate, they, I, and about four or five rabbit imposters kicked up some rooster tails in the rain, then, by a quarter mile out, the race was pretty much over. The imposters dropped rapidly, the fast guys took off, and I went for a run, not realistically thinking I could hold the pace of the fast guys, and never to see a challenger. I can’t recall a race that settled to finality faster. By a half mile in, I told myself that it was me versus me, and tried to hold a hard pace. With nobody in sight, I crossed the line in 3rd place, taking the masters, but in a fairly leisurely time a solid minute behind the fast guys and a minute plus ahead of #4, a good friend from my club. In a strange twist, I finished a 5K not entirely wiped out, thinking I had something left, wondering if I should have challenged myself to go with the fast guys. Matters not. Fun day. And my club took home a plethora of hardware. And I capped it off with a double workout with the kids on the cross country team a few hours later. In the rain. Because we love punishment.

Monday, hit the magical (at least for me) 200 mile mark for the first time in a year. To celebrate, I stopped in to visit Lady Healer, my PT, to revel in recovery. It was a year ago this coming weekend that the foot went snap. And a year later, I am feeling like I’m back.

And today, the kids ran their first cross country meet. The score? They got slaughtered, who cares? They had a ball, and frankly, so did their coach. We even tried out that fancy new low-tech PVC finish chute. Worked pretty good, save for the kids who thought they were supposed to run full speed through it. Ah, naïve youth!

All this fun in one most excellent week to close out one most excellent month. It’s almost too much to take. What more could you ask for?