05 October 2011

Innocence Lost?

News emerged recently of an experiment in Europe that appears to show neutrinos traveling faster than the speed of light. While I count myself among the naysayers who fully expect an erroneous edge to appear in the methodology, which will re-vindicate Einstein, the possibility that this did happen has relevance to this weekend’s event in my running adventures.

How, you ask? Well, it’s twisted, but let’s have some fun. After years of racing, I cashed in. It was only fifty bucks, and it came with a shirt and a nice bottle of wine, but it was cash (OK, a check, but you get it). And I didn’t have to sell my blood to science to get it. I won it fair and square. For a person of my age, this carries the obvious implication that I’ve lost my amateur status. Innocence lost! Nobody today would care about this, but when I was a kid, that would disqualify a person from the Olympics. Ah yes, the days when the Olympics were oh-so-pure and amateur-only, except of course for the Russians and East Germans. Now, about those neutrinos?
While on my run yesterday I pondered, what if we could harness them to bend time to bring back my youth, when I could then train for real when I still had the speed, rather than take twenty years off, but keep the competitive experience which maturity has brought, and yet get around this troublesome fifty bucks that would knock me out of the ’84 Games?

Yeah, that’s a little over-dramatic, and I know the logic is twisted and the physics are questionable, but it was a fun mental meander and it was cool winning the bucks. OK, back to reality.

Reality was forty-one degrees with a cold breeze and a ton of rain in Campbell, New York (that’s Camp-Bell, mind you, not like the soup). Reality was briefly kind when said rain miraculously took a half hour off for the start of the first-ever Wineglass Half Marathon, the new alter-ego of the venerable Wineglass Marathon. Reality turned the spigots back on before we’d covered even the quarter mile from the start back to staging headquarters at the Campbell School. And those spigots slowly increased their flow throughout the race till we crossed the finish line several pounds heavier than we started. It’s not uncommon for me to return home with a sopping bag of evidence proving the folly of wicking fabric. It’s rare that said evidence holds only sweet rain rather than toxic sweat. In short, it was more or less miserable. But also fast, both from being devoid of heat issues and from the sheer desire to get it done and get out of the weather.

The funny thing is that in six plus years of running, I’ve clocked fourteen marathons but had never done a half. So no matter the outcome, Sunday promised a Second Lap PR. But when the dust settled, I had to pull out my scrapbooks and look up the one and only half I had done back in the first lap days. Took a while, but there it was: the Delhi-to-Andes (NY) Half Marathon, December 16th, 1979, age sixteen and a half. A net downhill course, and I remember it was my longest and one of my better races. And I beat it on Sunday, thirty-two years older.

Truth be told, I beat a lot more than I expected on Sunday. Niece Kristin picked this, for her a home-town race, as her second half marathon, and I, feeling somewhat responsible for her adopted propensity to self-inflict pain, agreed to travel down to make it an event.
And try out a half. And pop in a tune-up for Bay State (full marathon) in two weeks. And maybe knock off Rocket John’s club half-marathon master’s record. A buck-twenty-five was the target, a hair under six-thirty pace. Maybe if the stars aligned, an age group spot in the generous five-year tranches, a reasonable hope, yet certainly not assured with eleven hundred registered.

But the way this fell out, I was never in a position where I couldn’t count my exact place. That ranking was never lower than seventh, then after picking off a pair, one of whom looked distinctively masters-aged and thus a worthy target, and who appeared vulnerable early on yet took maddeningly long to rope in, up to fifth, then surrendering one spot at mile seven to settle into and remain in what to me was a somewhat shocking sixth place finish.

I admit I broke one of my cardinal rules in the last five miles. I tell my cross-country kids, don’t look back, it’s a sign of weakness to your opponents. Listen to the crowd for when they cheer for the next guy. But I was hearing nothing. And the course sported a few tight turns, one nearly a one-eighty, late in the game. I had to look. Nobody. And a huge gap ahead as well. In fact, more than a minute on either side at the finish. Which made the newly laid out finish – a change that I like to think I was perhaps somewhat responsible for after Faceplant ’08 – almost eerie.

Like turning onto Boylston Street at Boston, the Wineglass finish now turns onto Market, the main drag of Corning, for a three block straight shot home that seems interminable, but is in fact only a third of a mile. Like Boston, the finish arch looms what seems an eternity away. But unlike Boston, where even at the three-hour mark, you’re among huge crowds of runners amidst thousands of cheering fans, here there was nearly complete solitude and silence. The neutron bomb meets the race finish. A wide open boulevard, parked cars eliminated. Nobody in front of me, nobody behind. And where there should have been blocks of fans, owing to the weather, nearly a vacuum till the last block. Cold rain almost numbing the senses by this point. Hammering down the double yellow line. Feeling like I was watching myself from the external cameras. Ethereal.

Yeah, sixth of over nine-hundred finishers. Surprised me, too. And the third overall master. I knew I gave up a master’s spot when Costas took me down at seven, but didn’t realize till the results were posted that the next man up was also well aged. Mattered not, the top three masters cashed. Amateur status gone. Innocence lost. No complaints.

While the place took a bit to sink in, the time was equally satisfying. Rather than the targeted six-and-a-halves, the first eight clicked off around six-twelve, feeling downright springy. When some leg fatigue set in, the fade was only back to close to my planned pace. A buck twenty two and a half at the end. I can’t say this will translate into a strong full at Bay State, but it can’t hurt.

Rocket John told me I’d love the distance of the half, and he was right. You can run your heart out, but you’re not destroyed like after the full. It’s a game of maintaining pace, not of tapping all capacity. I did love it. Thirty-two years later. Faster than last time. And I’ll have to do it again.

While my capacity wasn’t tapped out, my body heat was far more depleted by the conditions than I thought. After a quick chat at the med tent with Dr. Phykitt, the very same who patched my face back together three years ago, I headed back onto the course to reel in niece Kristin as promised. The cold was simply stunning. Into the breeze with a dual-shirt-load full of utter drench, shorts drench, shoes, socks, headband, gloves, hair, everything drench. Forty-four-degree drench. Dangerous drench. After a mile plus, finally warming a bit, I reached the last water stop and in a fit of amusement had the unique fun of working a water stop in a race I ran for ten minutes or so until Kris appeared and we brought it home, for her a race that also exceeded her expectations. Fun, but not so smart. Stunningly cold again. Uncontrollable shaking while stripping in the parking garage. Probably the closest I’ve been to hypothermia ever.

Thank God they served soup.

Bearded Postscript: I’m going to have to write more articles comparing my adventures to those of well-known people. Two weeks ago I wrote of my race at the Forrest, and mirthfully compared it to Dick Beardsley’s 1982 Boston Duel in the Sun. I swear I did not know at that time that he was to be the honored guest at Wineglass. Yet there he was at the entrance to the expo, signing books (which, sadly, he ran out of by the time I came out with my number). I couldn’t resist pulling up that recent blog post on the smart phone for him.
Fame doesn’t mean you can’t get a kick out of fun coincidences. He was truly tickled, he was a truly nice guy, and we had a truly fun chat. Dick, I was sad to see a DNF next to your name, and wish you the best in your in battle to recover from those injuries. Come on up to New England for a recovery run!

Hmmm… Now, if I can make this work again, imagine the interesting people I could meet!

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