30 July 2010


There was a moment that defined it for me. Not the kind of moment you’d expect, but for me, it was the moment. Months of planning, many hours of sleep forever foregone, the entire club pulling together to pull off our biggest event of the year, and then there was this moment that made it all, well, unbelievably cool.

It wasn’t in the hour leading up to the race as I watched in disbelief as they kept coming and coming and coming until we’d more than doubled our field from last year. It wasn’t the thirty seconds of fame, or maybe shame, we’ll have to see, when they air that interview of Yours Truly, Race Director, on local cable access TV. It wasn’t even when I had the honor of shouting, “GO!” It was about 30 seconds later. After high-fiving the bogglingly large departing field. As they headed off down Jefferson Street. Right as they hit the rise at the south end of Jefferson Street.

An image flashed in my mind, the image of that spot about three-quarters of a mile into the Boston Marathon that I’ve written about most every year, that spot where you can see a good quarter-plus mile ahead as the road rises in front of you and you get a glimpse of the magnitude of the pack. A pack so large that even if you start up front, which I’ve had the honor to do, it still looks huge in front of you and you ponder momentarily how many tens of thousands are still behind you. Now, there’s no comparison between 27,000 at Boston and 214 at the Running With the Wolves, but just for an instant, as that pack, our pack, my pack, rose up that rise on Jefferson Street, just for an instant that image of Boston flashed, and in my mind I couldn’t help but say, “Wow!” (the actual word was a little coarser than that), “We’ve created a real race!”

And so launched the second annual Highland City Striders Running With the Wolves. Not that we didn’t create a race last year – indeed, technically, that one being the first annual, that is when we created the race. And not to say that last year’s event wasn’t simply thrilling to all of us in the club, being present at the creation. But this year if anything validated last year. Apparently someone said something to someone because the next thing you know, we were handing out bib number 227 (compared to a mere hundred last year) and coming perilously close to having to break into the spare set of numbers (fear not, behind the spare numbers we had yet another backup plan, a loaned roll of Tyvek lurking in the car ready to be made into instant numbers). Yes, the word got out, and they came. And came. And came.

And thrilled us all to the bone.

[A few of them might even be reading this, since they were all treated to a slip of paper with my blog address. Two or three new readers would again thrill me to the bone. Thanks for stopping by, visit often, comment please!]

All of the things that could go right, did. The weather worked - It didn’t rain, and it was hot, but not nearly as hot as forecast. Our fine City of Marlborough exceeded our expectations in every way. Their man didn’t just unlock the gates to our stadium for the finish, he dove in to his task like he was a club volunteer, seeking out ways to help. Cops showed up not just to help, but on bikes to ride, clear, and patrol our rail trail course for us, and save our back-sides when the one down-side incident of the day happened and we lost a runner to the heat. Thanks to them he was transported within minutes and is out there now, fully committed to never letting that happen to him again.

Every member of the club pulled their weight and then some, every member brought something extra to the party, both gear and additional hands. It was a night when if you were related to one of us, you probably chipped in, and not because anyone told you to, just because you did it. Friends of the club and total strangers jumped in to make it work. The list to thank is endless. The feeling was elation. We had a ball. Not that it shows on my face at all.

And the best part is, it showed to our runners. Talking with them after the fact, while we slugged back beers and burgers at our favorite local point of human coagulation, the common theme was how great our people came through.

Now, I’m a big skeptic. One of my favorite quips of recent years came from an industry consultant in my business who, being reviewers of technology for a living, have had to live through hundreds if not thousands of mind-numbingly dull presentations by various firms trying to gain their favor. In a somewhat pithy response, they put out their own presentation a few years ago, providing tips to wannabe-looked-on-favorably companies. Don’t ever, they cautioned, put up that slide that says, “Our people make the difference!” Their point? Everyone says that, so unless you have some uber-genetic secret that truly makes your great people different than the last guy’s great people, well, we’ve heard it before. Yawn.

So I won’t tell you that our people were the best, the greatest, or from some super race. I will tell you they were really, really good, and they delivered with heart and passion like this was their biggest event of the year. Because it was. Because they’re all runners, and they’ve all been to races, and they know what works and what doesn’t. Which raises another topic, the rise of for-profit racing, which I have been meaning to opine on for some time. Save that for another day, and suffice to say that club racing is, in my view, the only way to fly. Running events by runners for runners and nobody else.

As race director, to those who made this event happen, I say thank you. Again as race director, to those who came to our race, I say thank you again. And as a hobbyist writer, to those who actually took a moment to check out the web site on that slip of paper (and in really small letters on the back of your new race shirt, so you can’t say you lost the paper), I say welcome, thank you for popping in, please feel free to comment, even sign on as a follower, and by all means come back soon. I post about once a week, sometimes more often, sometimes less, but always try to keep it entertaining and insightful enough to provide you some running reading pleasure.

More stories and photos from the Wolves race will follow…

28 July 2010

Tomorrow We Howl

Months of preparation, planning, hair pulling, spitting, clawing (OK, perhaps that’s a bit overdramatic) gathering stuff, soliciting, publicizing, you name it – it’s done. Tomorrow we howl at the Second Annual Running With the Wolves 10K. As race director, I want nothing more than for tomorrow night to arrive with everyone in good health.

One of the key people on our race committee griped a bit at me today. I don’t blame that person one bit. We’re all fried. That person expressed frustration about not having the resources needed to get the job done the way it needed to be done. It was a very corporate comment; it’s something anyone who’s ever worked in a big company (and probably plenty who’ve worked in small companies) have heard themselves saying over and over. But it cuts to the heart of what it means to be a race director, or at least a volunteer race director at the club level with volunteer labor.

At the corporate level, we voice that complaint repeatedly, and if we’re lucky some level of management deems to apply money and solve the problem. Granted, I’ve rarely had such good fortune at the firms I’ve worked for, which could be related to the fact that most of them have gone belly up one way or another. I like to think it’s not me.

At the volunteer level, that fix simply can’t be done. You can’t fire a volunteer, let alone one who doesn’t volunteer. All you can do is ask for help. If you get it, you’re happy. If you don’t, you’re frustrated and have to work that much harder. Motivating people to do things for nothing is an art. I’m not certain I’m so good at that art. When our club launched this race last year, it was new, novel, unique, exciting, and the early planning days we loaded with energy. This time, probably more due to my lack of clear organization (always being a few days behind where I needed to be), it wasn’t so clear-cut. We struggled a bit. A few people carried big loads. My griper today, being one of those, earned the right to gripe, as that person’s help on this task was truly herculean.

But that’s all past. Last night nearly the full complement of race staff assembled for the pre-race meeting and bag stuffing party. The team materialized, the excitement arose rapidly. Tomorrow they and many more will pull the trigger and pull off a great race. They all have been to enough of them, they all know what to do. The frustrations are passed, the band is ready to play.

Pre-registrations already exceed our entire field for last year, and last year less than half pre-registered. Chatter from our web site has been running high. So many people being so excited in these final days makes it all worthwhile.

When we launched this race last year, a mid-week evening hot-summer-night fest, it happened to fall on the full moon, and the theme of howling at the moon like a bunch of wolves was born. We couldn’t quite nail the full moon exactly and still keep our Wednesday date, but we’re close enough to be true to our theme.

And so tomorrow we howl.

And if our runners actually read the stuff we put in their goodie bags, a few of them might even read this. For you, welcome, check back about every week for tales and ponderings. And if you haven’t already done so, get out there, join a club (maybe even my club), and pay one forward by helping make the next race like this happen. Trust me, all that frustration melts away really fast when you build it and they do come.

18 July 2010

The Busted, the Skipped, and the Planned

It’s a bevy of scattered topics this week, a plethora, a myriad even. Nothing big, so plenty of small. Well, that’s a lie of sorts, one is quite big, but hard to relate.

On the “What’s Busted And How Long Till It’s Fixed” front, my hat is off this week to the fine folks at New Balance, who may, just may, be becoming my savior. I’m a week into shifting to the NB 1225s, and that lump on the back of my Achilles is fading. Not gone, but fading, not hurting, and, I think, better. As a control experiment, I strapped on the Asics this morning for eight miles on some dirt roads and indeed, rebuilt the lump a little. Maybe that was too easy to call science. The jury’s out, but they’re leaning. Meanwhile, mileage is hovering around a weak-pulsed thirty per week.

On the “Coulda’ Woulda’ Shoulda’ – But Didn’t, No, Scratch That, Couldn’t”, front, as previously reported, I skipped out on the Boilermaker this year. Not only would I have risked renewing those lingering injuries, but my reduced training would have made a credible race pretty unlikely. Add to that the fact that sis and her clan couldn’t do the event this year, and it was a foregone conclusion.

Now, the Boilermaker is a world-class race, drawing the finest of Kenyans and their brethren. You do it for the spectacle, the pure mojo, the fun, and of course the after-race party. You don’t expect to win, place, or show, other than to show your face. So imagine my surprise when reviewing the results of last week’s event to see that it just so happened to be a sparse day among the 45-49 year-old male farts. You realize of course that that only happens when I’m not there. As soon as I show up, so do all the fast guys. But since I wasn’t there, while the winner took my age group at a typically Boilermakeresque non-human 46 minutes, a truly Ethiopian 4:56 pace, second was a distant one, nearly 53 minutes, and, say what? Excuse me? Third place was a mere ten seconds ahead of my Tri-Valley time, fourth equal to my time, and fifth another half minute back.

I know, I know, you can’t really compare any one race any other. Course and weather vary, fitness fluctuates (don’t I know it!), and the phase of the moon is probably different. You name it, there’s no assurance that you can run what you ran last week sometime next week. But just the thought that I could have been in the neighborhood, could have, with a good day and some good luck, maybe, just maybe, hit the medal stand at a race like the Boilermaker. Dude, ponder the concept… Of course the alarm clock went off and it was time to wake up, because, ehem, I didn’t go, I didn’t run, it doesn’t matter. But it was cool to think about it. There’s always next year.

And finally, to build a weak segway on what we’ll call it the “Alarm Clock Doth Ringeth Too Early” front, there have been way too many late nights lately. Half is due to real work, but the other half is running work, as my race director duties are building to a zenith since our club’s Running With the Wolves 10K is a mere ten days away. As I noted in the intro tonight, it’s really not small. It’s big, it’s huge, it’s a ton of work, but if you asked me to describe exactly what it is, the best I could tell you is coordination of, and death by, a million emails. And phone calls. And stuff like building scoring software. Yeah, we’re like that, a do-it-yourself kind of organization. Last night I built a team scoring algorithm that broke even my bizarre records for spreadsheet excess. Quick! Trivia! What’s the last column in an Excel spreadsheet? The answer? “IV”. I know, because for the first time in my life, I actually used it last night. Yes, all two hundred and thirty columns. And now I think I need an IV. Those people who tell me that running will kill me have no idea just how it will do so. It won’t be on the roads, it will be at my desk, and it will be ruled race-direticide.

But the race is ready to launch. The sponsorship drive went over the top. Pre-registrations already exceed our runner count for last year. We just got our course USATF certified. Shirts are in shipment, awards are engraved, staffing plan is in place. We’ve built more cool PVC devices for directing and amusing our runners. Food and water are in the works. Hot diggity, our crack team is pulling this off. So if you run and you’re within fifty miles of Marlborough, Massachusetts, I expect to see you on Wednesday evening, the 28th of this hot month. Print out an application now and show your bones! And start praying to the Weather Gods.

When all this is over two weeks from now, I will return to normal life: sleeping (at least a little more, never enough) and running, interrupted by the rest of life.

10 July 2010

There’s Hope

What I’m not doing tonight is bunking down early in preparation for the starting gun of tomorrow morning’s Boilermaker. Thirty six bucks of registration funds down the tubes. Ah well, I’ve sustained worse, and think of the money I didn’t spend on the trip. More important is what I am doing, which is feeling a glimmer of hope.

It’s distressing to think that the Achilles has been bothering me since March and the hamstring since May. It’s mid-July, fer’ cry-yi-yay, as a former co-worker from Wisconsin used to say. It’s not hard to get mildly depressed about the longevity of these woes. It’s not hard for you, dear reader, to get tired of hearing about them. After all, things could be a lot worse. There are far tougher battles to fight, as some in my family have unfortunately found (and admirably challenged) in recent months. But in my own little corner of the running world, that’s my reality, so I’m stickin’ to it.

It’s easy to speak the idealistic adage that you should plan your training to assure you’re running in ten years rather than worrying about running in ten days or ten weeks, but it’s harder to actually stick to that approach. For starters, there’s no definition of what it means to plan for ten years out. I’ve struggled with the question of how long to knock off to heal these injuries for some time. At some point, though, knocking off starts to really mean not running, and how long does that have to last until you are, well, not running. Restarting from scratch is not a recipe for long-term motivation and attachment to the sport, either. After all, I could assure that things aren’t injured or worn out for running ten years out by not running for nine and a half. But I might also be forty pounds heavier and closer to dead that way.

I took a couple of breaks over the last few months, and each time on return found they weren’t long enough. Still hurting. So, how long? Who’s to say that a month off would fix anything? Two? Six? Who’s to say I wouldn’t re-injure via non-running activities? The bottom line seems to be that without a certain diagnosis with a known time-to-heal, I settled on the recipe of sticking to it, but at a low level of intensity, rebuilding strength in the injured bits while avoiding re-injury.

It might be paying off. From my dark cloud there have emerged a few rays of hope.

Tuesday night we didn’t race. That is to say, we – fourteen members of my club – turned out at a local fiftyish person 5K race tossed by a neighboring club. But we’d all agreed via email that we weren’t racing, since the thermometer had surpassed one hundred degrees that afternoon, and still hovered in the low nineties by the 7 PM race time. For me, nursing the hammy, not racing was the only option, but something my head doesn’t naturally adhere to. To convince myself, I refused to step up to the front line. I refused to really pay attention to my surroundings, and I wasn’t really ready when they said go.

I’m not a fan of 5Ks. Simply too fast, they’re a sprint, they hurt. So I just ran a decent clip, didn’t push into the 5K pain zone, didn’t push the hammy, didn’t push anything. Funny thing was, neither did anyone else for the most part; it appeared our agreement not to race pretty much held. I ran one of my slower 5Ks on record, which was just fine with me, and what made me happiest was perfectly even splits to and from the turnaround. There was no fade, no build, no kick, no race, just a solid run at a pace that, while slow for a 5K race for me, was the fastest mileage I’ve run since the Groton Road Race in April. The heat didn’t really bother me, and I felt comfortable at six and a half minute pace, an immense relief after a month of high sevens and the feeling that I’d forgotten how to hold a decent clip. And most importantly, it didn’t hurt the injured bits.

Emboldened, I stretched out the distance Thursday, then picked up the pace on a normal training run Friday, and the hammy appears to be holding. Even the Achilles, while still irritated, seems less so. Then today I tried out a pair of New Balance 1225s, a radical shift for this Asics loyalist, and like magic, even the Achilles felt no irritation. Coincidence? Maybe. But whatever it was, I felt good enough to crank the return trip on our Saturday morning club run out & back 10K at a put-a-smile-on-your-face, I’m not worried about the hammy pace, despite the drenching high humidity.

There are still trees in this forest between me and the open skies of joy and happiness. There’s still a lump on the Achilles. There’s still work to be done. But this week reminds me that it’s simply not worth getting down over this kind of stuff. It too will pass. Joy and happiness will return.

05 July 2010

Growing Older? Or Not?

I could be forgiven for thinking that old age advanced a few steps toward my doorstep in the past few weeks. But a pleasant surprise hit me the other day which reminded me how my running habit is smacking at Father Time with a fly swatter. Father Time will win in the end, but I’ve given him a few bruises to make him drop back ten and punt for the moment.

At last, after a good two months of torment, my errant right hamstring is starting to behave again. It’s been a few weeks since I admitted to myself that this was more than a typical muscle pull and must have indeed been a decent-sized tear, based on the longevity of the injury and its steadfast refusal to heal. I thanked the time I spent penning a running log, since with it I was able to at least sort of unravel the this wound’s mysterious origins. Best I can figure it was that rippin’ 400m on the track with my middle school track team star (so much for being a player coach!), piled on shortly after unwisely racing Groton and hammering my body a mere six days after the Boston Marathon. All in all, not the most prudent combination of efforts, though I certainly had fun at the time. The hammy’s not completely healed yet, but it’s finally starting to feel better every day, and I’m finally able to cover five miles without irritation.

At about the same time, that nagging left Achilles is also showing signs of hope. Six weeks of yummy anti-inflammatories, courtesy of Dr. Foot Doctor, may or may not have helped – there are no control experiments in life – but a week with a handy Cho-Pat Achilles strap (recommended by a friendly Physical Terrorist) combined with some self-administered deep tissue massage has conspired to bring this bugger under control. It still hurts, but not so bad.

All this hopeful (certainly not confirmed) progress aside, these little warnings haven’t gone unnoticed. These injuries undoubtedly got in the way of my running life. I deferred my entry for the Buffalo Marathon (and missed the amazing train incident!), blew off several June races and – amidst great weeping – am bagging out of next week’s Boilermaker. Not to mention I’ll probably only jog Tuesday evening’s local 5K. My training is off, my speed non-existent at the moment. Aging can’t be denied. It’s happening. Or is it?

Just as with global climate change, you can’t judge the big picture by this week’s cold snap. (Cold snap? It’s 97 degrees out there as I write. But you get the idea…) Look at the big picture. Or sometimes, a couple of pictures that reveal the big picture, like this:

My clan and I just spent returned from a heavenly week in Acadia National Park in Maine. Heavenly because, to start with, unlike last year, it didn’t rain all week. Heavenly because the wild blueberries were out early this year, which cut our average trail speed considerably but vastly boosted our antioxidant intake. Heavenly for seeing old friends, hanging out on the rocky beach, and finally getting out for a run on the famed Acadia National Park carriage road system; a true delight on any day, and a complete joy on a brilliantly sunny cool morning in June.

But this year we went with a mission. We’ve been hiking Acadia as a family for fifteen years – and yes, that with our oldest daughter not yet fifteen; both girls’ first trips were on dad’s back. Ten years ago our family Christmas card featured us lined up with our miniature hikers at a spot off Acadia Mountain where a large rock provided a convenient camera mount for that family picture. Several times we’ve tried to re-create that shot, only to return home and realize that we’d forgotten which order to stand in and somehow always got it wrong. This year, for the 10th anniversary, we wrote it down (duh) and made our way to that same spot. Conveniently, we didn’t need to fiddle with the rock, as another hiker took a great series of shots, expertly leaving varying amounts of green space on various edges so that we could edit in the original as a comparison (those of you placing bets on the 2010 Cattarin Christmas card photo, here’s your tip…).

We knew we finally had ourselves lined up in the right order, but when we got home and uploaded the pictures, we still got a bit of a surprise. Ten years changed the girls in obvious ways – toddlers to teens. Ten years had no apparent effect on my lovely wife (am I lucky or what?). But ten years, five of which have been spent running, made me, if I may say so myself (please activate the humility fogger here, I know, I know, but really, it has to be said), look at least a bit healthier than before. To badly misquote B. B. King, the fill is gone. No more jowly look. No more filling out the bottom of the T-shirt. Either better fitting shorts, or a lot less in them (come on now, mind out of the gutter) – in reality, both. And oh yeah, and I got a new hat, but it’s pretty much the same as the old one, some habits die hard.

Seeing the comparison of those two pictures revealed the big picture like Al Gore and his famous PowerPoint slides. Our climate is changing, and running does make tangible positive changes. Sure, I’m nursing some wounds these last couple of months, and sure, time will win in the end, but five years of running has been kind. Take that, Father Time, and get out of my way, for a while at least.