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.

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