Official Disclaimer – Dear Reader, this post may not be a thrill-a-minute for you. Hey, what can I say? It’s been a long winter, and I’m not Usain Bolt in the running department or Ernest Hemingway in the writing department. But, who knows? If nothing else, you might feel better about your own training after reading about mine! On a legal note, if perchance, you inadvertently slip into a catatonic state induced by sheer boredom while reading this, please do not hold me libel. Hey, I’m trying!
Training Update – Those of you who follow my blog may recall that my friend, Bill C, invited me down for this year’s Nashville St. Jude Rock-and-Roll Marathon slated for April 29, and, well, it’s now about 5 weeks away! My “A” goal for this 26.2 mile jaunt is to get under 4 hours. My current marathon PR is the 4:13:11 that I ran at the 2016 Wineglass Marathon, so I’ve got some work to do here. Since moving to upstate New York 15 years ago, I have never quite adjusted to the demanding winters that are the norm here. It’s not simply the occurrence of bitter cold, snow, or ice that standout. Rather, it’s the sheer duration of the winter season that requires fortitude. With some exception, it gets cold here by the end of October, and it’s April before we see consistently warmer weather; hey, it’s 22° Farenheit as I write this on March 22! How do I maintain my base fitness through this long, dark winter and ramp up for St. Jude’s on April 29? Well, two key items come to mind: (1) the dreadmill; and (2) piles of winter running gear.
The Dreadmill – Outdoors, I regularly run 6 – 9 miles on a typical training day, but, on the mill, I limit myself to 5.20 miles. How did I land on 5.20? Well, I run a tempo ranging between 6.8 and 7.5 for 5 miles but end with a .20 kick at around 9.0 – 9.5 MPH. Is the treadmill boring. YES! And, that’s why I limit usage to 5.20 mile units. If it weren’t for Dick Vitale and the rest of the gang at ESPN, I’d probably do 1.20 miles! But, one advantage of the treadmill is that, since it is located at the local gym, I can then hit the free weights and machines, and, after this long winter, I am a bulked up a bit. What’s it like for a middle age guy to spend time at a gym, surrounded by young, athletic people? Great! Everyone is polite and kind. Am I self-conscious about being an old dude there? Not a bit. What’s the difference? Hey, if Dick Vitale can keep calling games, I can keep going to the gym, baby!
Running Outside in the Winter – Thankfully, I can get out doors for some longer runs on the weekend, despite the cold, ice, and snow. Most of these are solo runs on the Erie Canal Trail or at Mendon Ponds Park. We’ve had a mild winter here, so this has been very workable nearly all season long. Also, I’ve participated in the Greater Rochester Track Club (GRTC) Freezeroo Series, run with my LIFE Runners group, and running with a great local club, the Oven Door Runners (ODR). The ODR meet every Saturday morning at 6:30 AM, and each meet-up includes a range of distance options (e.g., 9 or 13 miles). There are some fast runners in this group, and this has been a nice challenge for me as I ramp up for Nashville.
Other Considerations – So what else do I need to do to prepare for Nashville? Here’s a bulleted list:
Settle on transportation to and from Nashville. Roundtrip airline tickets from Rochester to Nashville appear to be running about $800, so I need to find something cheaper or plan on driving!
Buy new running shoes. I have worn the tread off of my Asics this Winter, and I’m going to need a good grip in Nashville. My plan is to switch back to my first love, New Balance, which seems to provide a little more stability than the Asics.
Get one long run in soon, preferably about 18 – 20 miles.
I have this dream of writing an awesome race report following St. Jude’s next month; the word “epic” comes to mind. Hey, anything’s possible! Please, watch for it! In the meantime, I hope your training goes well. Feel free to share your Spring goals; I’d be happy to hear from you 🙂
As I study my weather app at 6:30 AM, I see that it is forecast to be 34 degrees at the 10 AM start time for this 8-mile jaunt around the northern portion of Greece, NY. This tropical temperature just doesn’t sound possible to me….This race hasto be freezing!….5 or 8 degrees…or 12 at the very most. It’s the Freezeroo in February, after all! In fact, last year’s race was cancelled due to severe winter weather. And, two years ago, it was frigid with breathtaking wind gusts and driving snow! (See picture below.) This race, hosted by the Greater Rochester Track Club (GRTC) and the Bagel Bunch Runners, is right on Lake Ontario, and we all know about the cold, steady, icy wind that blows off that bone gray body of water separating us from our friends in Canada. Hence, I reject the datum on my app and bundle up for a cold run. Not only did I wear my black compression pants and thick gray “Compass Care” sweatpants over them, I wear three running shirts (two long-sleeved and one short-sleeved), a toboggan, two pairs of gloves, and a soft, insulating, blue GRTC muffler around my neck (Freezeroo race bling). In retrospect, with this assemblage of gear, even in a snowstorm, I would be adequately dressed to walk across the approximately 50 miles of Lake Ontario (if it were frozen) to Presqu’ile Point, Ontario, have a nice lunch, and walk back. Well, I planned poorly….Should’ve heeded the forecast.
Well over 100 runners formed a jovial, compact huddle at the start line, the road leading in and out of Braddock Bay Park. I had a fun conversation with a veteran runner named Mark, who, as it turns out, uses my Erie Canal Trail route between Fairport and Pittsford, NY for his daily practice runs. He runs in the morning, and I usually run after lunch or early evening, so we don’t recognize each other. Runners love to talk running, and it is a pleasure for dozens of us to cover those topics that animate us: upcoming races, gear, distances, terrains, injuries, goals, strategy and technique. I’m happy to be in this club, this assemblage of men and women, who are setting aside all sorts of other demands and preoccupations in order to focus squarely on traversing this eight mile route with one foot in front of the other. This is a retreat, a meditation, a temporary reprieve from bus driving, studying, engineering, teaching, retailing, caregiving, driving, cooking, information processing, accounting, drywalling, cleaning, assembling, chauffering, and all sorts of other callings. Running is a simple sport – ambulate in a straight line and occasionally turn. Simple, I guess, unless you count every fun element that accompanies it! What a joy to mine it for all it’s worth!
I’m only 5’6″, so I’ve spent my life wondering what’s going on “up front”, but I hear somebody up there yell “Go!”, and we are off! I have a bit of a smile on my face, and, you know, I think many of my fellow runners do as well.
I was hot by Mile 1.5. It’s the kind of heat that causes sweat to pool around my temples and roll down my face, follow the contours to my chin, and careen down my neck. This heat is going to act as a governor, restricting my energy, and, hence, my pace. I pull off the blue muffler and shove it into my compression pants off my right hip. I was cruising at about a 7:25 per mile pace – perhaps too fast for me to sustain for 8 miles, but, hey, let’s roll! We can worry about that later! The road is clean and reasonably dry, save a few patches of snow and slush….No problem! I settle in to my pace adjacent to a runner with a thick, fuzzy pull-over sweatshirt in front of me. No, not a sweater, but a fuzzy sweatshirt – like a Land’s End shirt with a zipper collar. I wonder if he thinks he’s overdressed as well? This guy’s got a great stride and pace so precise, one could use it to set the atomic clock. I end up settled in off his right shoulder and about 6 feet back. Our route includes two intimidating traverses on overpasses that span the Lake Ontario State Parkway, a route my family uses for summer camping trips at the state parks between here and Niagara Falls. I take long looks at the parkway in both directions as I cross these overpasses. Now, whenever we cruise through here on our camping trips, I’ll have the memory of this run to ponder. And, yes, the Better Half will hear about it, probably on multiple occasions, and at varying intensities of exaggeration, and she’ll be one step closer to canonization as a result.
The race planners have done a great job securing police and firefighter support at each corner, and these local heroes do an expert job controlling traffic on what would otherwise be busy, fast two-lane roads on the edge of Rochester. Some drivers, as they slowly snake past or wait at intersections, study us with a perplexed expression, like we are exotic animals at a drive-through safari. I half expect one of them to try and feed me. “Why are they doing that? Where are they going?” We can’t explain it to you now. For one thing, we don’t have a surplus of breath for conversation! Most drivers smile, nod, wave, even if they’re a bit anxious about getting to their Saturday morning appointments. A few have heads down, as they are glued to their handheld devices. Put those things away and focus on the road!
At about Mile 3, I pull off my first pair of gloves – my blue GRTC gloves that were given as race bling a year or two ago. These get shoved in my shorts off my right hip, right next to the muffler I had already stowed away there. I’m still hot. My sunglasses (bifocals), held snugly to my face with a green tension cord, fog up, creating a prismatic dreamscape. I pull off my hat…and one of my three shirts. Finally, I pull off my final pair of gloves. I’ve got so much clothing shoved below that it is comical. But, I feel cooler now…I think I can hit that homeostatic sweet spot. I gradually ease past the athlete with the fuzzy sweatshirt.
A reader might be led to believe that I’m feeling good, but I’m not. Through Miles 4 and 5, I’m actually contemplating what it would be like to crash and burn. Is today the day? What would it be like if I just stopped now? My pace drops to about an 8 minute mile. I began running only 4 years ago, so the notion that “this running phase” could be ending is like a dark fog that infiltrates my thoughts and creates a dread that can, at least for moments, be nearly all-consuming. “No, Dear Lord, please, don’t make me go back to golf!”Most who know me would never describe me as anxious. Far from it! But, the thought of not making it can literally be felt in the pit of my stomach. It’s a bit like driving down the NY thru-way at night in the winter, with the fuel warning light on, and realizing that the next available gas station is 17 miles. What’s that noise? Did I just hear the engine sputter? Grip that steering wheel and drive, man!
I’m on Edgemere Drive now, running northwesterly. This is a narrow road that splits a thin finger of land, with two small ponds off of my left shoulder and Lake Ontario off my right. To improve my morale, I focus my attention on the clusters of people ice fishing on the ponds and even wave at a few. Behave happy, be happy! I see the GRTC photographer and ask him to capture my Braveheart qualities; he says he’ll do his best, but I know that’d require Photoshop. And, despite all my grousing about being too hot, I feel a strong, steady cool breeze coming from the west now. This is strange: my right hand is like an ice cube, but my left is still pretty warm. Is this difference because the right hand is farther away from my heart? My gloves are shoved somewhere down below, and that’s that. I use this frozen hand as motivation to run harder to the finish line.
The Big Finish
We roll into a tightly-packed neighborhood that’s surrounded by Lake Ontario on three sides. This is a neat little peninsula that must have great block parties in the summer. These neighborhood streets are not plowed as well as the main roads, giving us a chance to practice our balancing and slip-recovery skills. We return to East Manitou Road, a main artery, at about Mile 6.5, and I begin to sense that, once again, today’s not the day for the crash-and-burn. Indeed, I feel tired but strong. At Mile 7, I am running with two other guys, and we pour it on and return to about a 7:25 per mile pace. Hey, what are we saving it for? We exchange a few comments, and, admittedly, I talk the most- just gibberish – sorry, guys! We’re expending whatever’s left in the gas tank to propel us through this final drive to the finish line.
Jason McElwain (“Jmac”), a terrific athlete and 2006 ESPY Award winner, is calling out the finishers as we cross the line, all to the beat of Tom Petty and other classic rockers piped through a solid sound system. I made it in 1 hour and 57 seconds (6 out of 14 in my age group; 7:37 per mile pace) and, after cheering on a few others, head inside the heated park pavilion for the food, water, and wonderfully strong, black coffee. I stick around long enough to enjoy the company of a few friends, but I’ve gotta roll; I have to chauffeur one of the boys to his Boy Scout meeting by 12:45.
Our last Freezeroo race of the season is the Whitehouse Challenge on February 25th. I’m sure I’ll do a better job predicting the weather that day and will have no struggles at all LOL! My thanks to friends at GRTC and the Bagel Bunch Runners for a fun race. It was great, and you all did terrific! Looming in the distance is the Nashville St. Jude Rock and Roll Marathon in April…. I can’t wait!
The Backstory – Cruising Down the Erie Canal Trail
I think I went out too far this time. I lost track of time and distance tonight, and with a sunset nearly complete, I wonder why I’m still out here. This was suppose to be a quick 6 mile weeknight run with return before dark. Should I call The Better Half for pick-up? I could, and she’d be right here. But, you know, I’m a guy; hence, calling for the extraction team is not something I would do, unless I was bit by a rattlesnake or suffering from a serious heart attack. And, even then, it would have to be by helicopter, not Toyota minivan. No, I simply lost track of time and bit off more than I can chew on this solo training run on the Erie Canal Trail, and I think I can remedy this situation by making a U-turn and banging out the five mile return run through the dark. Wasn’t it Henry Ford who said most problems are solved by hard work?
The Erie Canal Trail runs through Upstate New York like a sinewy vein running through a thick, flexed arm, stretching from Albany in the East to Buffalo in the West. This 363 mile channel was built, in good part, by European immigrants, most notably Scots and Irishman. When completed in 1825, it served as a critical route for commerce between the Atlantic seaboard and the growing economy of all points westward. Later, the expansion of rail and the combustible engine contributed to the demise of the canal as a cost-effective means of shipping products, but today it is enjoyed by thousands of recreational boaters and anglers annually.
Running immediately parallel to this body of water is a well-maintained trail that was once an easement for mules pulling barges up and down the canal and, later, a trolley path between city centers like Rochester and canal villages, like the one that I now call home, Fairport. Now, it is a recreational trail for walkers, bikers, and, well, fatiguing runners like me.
As I catch my breath and check the Daily Mile app on my iPhone, I realize that it is on this run that I just completed my 4,000th mile in about 3.5 years. If I were to trot out the front door of my house and magically run 4,000 continuous miles east, I would end up in the suburbs of Milan, Italy. Running the same distance west would take me through the state of Oregon, into the Pacific Ocean, and on my way to Japan. What makes this especially compelling is that just 4 short years ago, the only running that I did was the path to the refrigerator! And yet, after all of my training, here I am, standing on the Erie Canal Trail near Pittsford, New York, feeling each one of tonight’s miles in the muscles, bones, and tendons of my 51 year-old frame.
No matter. All of these sensations tell me that I’m alive, and all systems are “Go!” In short, I’m loving it. As I complete that U-turn and establish about an 8:45 pace back to my home in Fairport, an inventory of running memories fill my bandwidth. Just what is it about running that adds so much spice to this old soul?
My first marathon was the 2014 Empire State Marathon in nearby Syracuse. For this 26.2 mile jaunt around Onondaga Lake, I nervously stepped off the earliest hotel shuttle bus trip of the day, almost 2 hours before start time on that cold, breezy late fall morning. Race organizers and volunteers were still setting up the starting area, and there was hardly another runner in sight! There were snowflakes vertically slicing the still dark air, and my fingers quickly grew numb. With no other shelter in site, I hid inside a porta-john to stay warm. At least it blocked the wind gusts! As I sat there on that cold plastic seat in the dark, I questioned my intelligence for getting involved in an enterprise as silly as marathon running. Why am I doing this? This is one of the dumbest things that I have ever done! I should be home working on my stamp collection! But, later that day, as I knocked out the miles, crossed the finish line in 4 hours and 19 minutes and high-fiving my friend, Bobby N., my outlook on things changed. My only question then was, “When’s our next race?” BTW, it got into the low 90’s during the 2016 Sehgahunda Trail Marathon at Letchworth State Park, so I’ve had a chance to experience some extremes.
The Training Runs
But, you know, if the races provide my life with crescendos of celebration, my day-to-day training runs comprise the sweet rhythms in-between, like a favorite 80’s song or the rumble of a V8 while cruising through town. Plenty of these training runs have been local runs on the Erie Canal Trail or at nearby Mendon Ponds Park, but I’ve also done some great running far from home as well. I’ve run within the city limits of big towns like Austin, Baltimore, Atlanta, and Orlando. These have been great little adventures, and, since I started running, planning for a trip has taken on a fun new dimension.
While training for the Marine Corps Marathon, I had the chance to run the mall in Washington, DC one beautiful July evening, after a day of conferencing for work. As I knocked out those 8 miles, I cruised past families with kids in tow and groups of chattering tourists traveling en masse. I also saw seniors, moving more slowly, with a sense of solemnity, as they studied the etchings in slabs of granite. One old warrior appeared to be searching for something he’d lost. An old friend? A brother? Perhaps he was thinking about a time when his responsibilities were in clear relief, like the chiseled words now under his extended fingers. And, there I am, cruising through, limited only by the capacity of my muscles and lungs, bathed in the freedom and sunny optimism that comes from running in this great Land of Opportunity. Thank you, veterans!
A nice portion of my 4,000 miles have been spectacular trail runs in the heart of nature, like Letchworth State Park and around Cranberry Lake in the Adirondacks. When I harken back to these locations that I have visited in my running shoes, I can retrace the routes in my mind, including the twists and turns, landmarks, and, perhaps not surprisingly, with a special appreciation of the terrain. I generally have zero difficulty falling asleep at night, but, when I do, I just retrace a favorite trail, focusing on detail, including not only the sites, but the sounds and smells as well. This is, I think, the special kind of bedtime prayer available to the runner.
Running in Upstate New York in the winter means soft padding for the feet and a muffling of noise. Oh, and light that is sometimes so bright one has to squint even with sunglasses. Sure, it’s cold, and clothing and gear selection is serious business. But, once a rhythm is established and one finds that sweet spot, it is as though there’s a soft, warm bubble surrounding the body. It’s like something supernatural – a runner’s spell that cheats the elements!
Of course, with running there can be pain and discomfort – it’s not all a pleasure cruise! But, hey, I’ll save all of that business for a future blog – I’ve got plenty of that material! The truth is that one doesn’t usually remember the pain all that well once a good, solid run is complete; those memories get filed in the back of the cerebellum and serve mostly as a backdrop for sweet satisfaction.
I have thumped out a lot of solo miles during these 4,000 miles, and I’ve enjoyed much of this time by myself. But, many of my miles have been spent in the company of friends, and this has been a special blessing. For purposes here, I won’t attempt to make a “list” of people whom I’ve met through running. Suffice to say that, for a sport that is enjoyed alone and often as “parallel play” in groups, it is a very social, even communal endeavor. I am grateful for the people whom I’ve met through this sport and the friendships we’ve made. To my running friends: thanks for all you have done for me while we’ve been on the trail – I appreciate it!
And, speaking of trail, I’ve made it back to my house just as the envelope of a moonless night fully descends upon me. I knew I didn’t need my extraction team! What will the next 4,000 miles bring? I know I’ve got two marathons on my calendar: St. Jude’s in Nashville in April and Loch Ness in Scotland in September….What else will fill the running docket? An ultra? The Boston Marathon? Some new PR’s? Who knows? But, one things for sure: I’m ready to roll! And, I hope to see you out there!
The Freezeroo is an annual series of six races sponsored by the Greater Rochester Track Club (GRTC) between the months of December and February. This is my fourth year of running this often snowy and sometimes icy series. The individual races range in distance from the Don Curran 5K to the Valentine Run in Memory of Tom Brannon 8 Mile. Awards are given at the conclusion of the series for the top three overall and age group runners. Here’s my write-up of my participation in the first race of the season, the Don Curran 5K. BTW, the picture above was taken by an unidentified photographer at GRTC and found at the Freezeroo website.
The Backstory – I own a comfortable, late-model Subaru Legacy with heated seats and great sound system, but, I arrive at Northstar Christian Academy in my 1991 Dodge Dakota pick-up. There’s just something about cruising to this race series in this 25 year-old war horse with 193,000 miles on it that just seems right. Maybe it’s the throaty sound of the V8 engine, the crack of the speakers under the strain of Van Halen, or the spacious bench seat upholstered in “Austin Powers” burnt red velour, but, for me, this sweet ride is part of race-day fun.
We have overcast sky and a temperature of 36 degrees at the 10 AM start – great running weather! There’s no snow or ice to negotiate, just an intermittent, cold drizzle that holds off at start time. Rest assured though, dear reader, we’ll have challenging weather before the end of this series. It’s not called “Freezeroo” because the registration is free!
The Prep – Because of the winter weather, choosing race attire is especially important for this series. Too much: hot. Too little: cold. I’ve got my gray shorts over black compression shorts, green, long-sleeved Empire State Marathon shirt, and short-sleeved blue LIFE Runner shirt on over that. On my feet are Mission Vaporactive crew socks that I won from the Montezuma Half Marathon earlier in the year (third in age group) and black Asics running shoes. Because of the possible drizzle, I wear a ball cap to help keep the moisture off the lenses of my glasses, though I end up pulling this off at mid-race, due to a need to stay cool. On my hands, I’ve got stubby green gloves that probably belonged to one of my sons when they were younger – just enough to keep the fingers and palms warm!
It’s ironic that I looked forward to this first race of the Freezeroo series with such gusto, because 5K’s are my least favorite run. It seems that the only way that I can run one competitively is to open up full throttle from beginning to end. It’s all strain and pain. But, here I am! I pick up my bib, greet some fellow runners, and complete some brief warm-up laps. I’m ready to race!
The Race – I was tucked in the back half of the 146 runners and chatting at start time. I was making some goofy comment to my neighbor when everyone surged forward. I cut myself off mid-sentence and lunged forward in excitement. The race is afoot! I cruise out and establish a pace just under 7 minutes per mile. I begin traversing the course, taking care to avoid puddles and other runners.
The Don Curran 5K is an out-and-back that cuts through parking lots, streets, a park, and alongside a fairly major thoroughfare (Long Pond Road). The turnaround point is found midway down a residential street and marked with an orange pylon. Supportive volunteers point the way at the several twists and turns, so following the route is no problem. There are no aid stations.
Despite the easy going, “club” feel of this series, there are some very fast, competitive runners, and they have darted out ahead of the pack, creating, in one sense, a smaller race ahead of the race. I admire their speed! Because I started near the back, I truck past quite a few fellow runners in the opening minutes. I complete my first mile in 6:53.
The second mile begins on Long Pond Road and continues down the residential street. The race leaders begin passing us in reverse on their return route, and, for a moment, there is that twinge of envy: “I wish I could blast off like that!” The envy fades quickly, as I’m happy to just be in the game.
It is between 2.0 and 2.5 miles of a 5K that I find most difficult. I’m feeling it now, and there’s still quite a distance to go! I keep my head down and chug it out, though I’m slowing just a bit (i.e., about 7:08). I have some moments of doubt: “Is this the race that I crash and burn?” I reject these thoughts and press on toward the finish, willing my legs to maintain tempo and pacing deep, quick breaths. I can sense one fellow runner, whom I passed earlier, gradually moving up on me. I increase my tempo. We might say this is a leisurely series, but most of us know that a big part of the leisure is leaning into the competition. It’s that neighbor off your shoulder who brings out your best running efforts! As I bang out the course, I have a brief image of a battered sea vessel chugging beyond its comfortable limit, like when Humphrey Bogart’s character plows toward the German ship in the closing act of “The African Queen.”
The Big Finish – As I approach the final half mile, I am relieved with the growing awareness that, yes, I will make it. As I see the “3 Mile” marker, I pour it on and approach the finish line with my jets at full burn. I made it in 21:58 (28th overall, 5 out of 11 in my age group). I’m pleased that I got under 22 minutes! At the finish line, I bend over, tilt my head down, put my hands on my hips, and breathe strenuously – pant, I guess one would say – for about 45 seconds, in order to recover. Then the pain is gone, and I am ready to celebrate. Tim Dwyer, an athlete in the 55 – 59 age group, came in first with a time of 18:36. Now, that’s impressive!
Post-Race Festivities – Inside the cafeteria of Northstar Christian Academy, a beautiful post-race buffet is arranged by kind volunteers. I love the camaraderie and the celebration. If one hangs out with runners, they will be hanging out with a crowd that is, by and large, very happy to be alive. I settle on hot black coffee, banana halves, and a wonderful toasted raisin bread and peanut butter sandwich. I think peanut butter is the world’s most perfect food, and I would take that sandwich over most items on the menu of a pricey restaurant any day of the week. My thanks to the GRTC leadership, volunteers, and fellow runners for a great first race of the season.
How I Ended the Day with Rocker Lou Gramm – The legendary rocker and former Foreigner frontman performed at the House of Guitars that Saturday evening following the race. My family cruised over to the H.O.G. (this time in the family vehicle, not the Dakota truck, let’s be reasonable), found easy parking, strolled through the front doors, and listened to a great set of classic Foreigner tunes. I had heard that it was going to be an
acoustic set, but he had his band and amps. You probably know how impressive it is to hear musicians at the top of their craft up close and personal, and Gramm still has the chops! He and his band played some great tunes from my youth, including Double Vision, Urgent, Juke Box Hero, and, of course, Cold as Ice. Speaking of “cold” and “ice”, the next Freezeroo race is the 7.5 mile New Year’s Resolution Run at Mendon Ponds Park on January 1. And, I’ll be there, ready to go. Hey, if Lou can keep rocking, I can keep running.
The Backstory – Monroe has a storied history. Nestled in the southeastern corner of Michigan along Lake Erie, it is the former site of an ancient sea bed, home for Native Americans, a new frontier for French colonists in the 17th century, birthplace of General George Armstrong Custer, and part of the “Arsenal of Democracy” during World War Two. It is also where I spent my formative years – the 1970’s and 80’s,when my primary concerns centered upon Rocky, Queen, Farrah Fawcett, Smoky and the Bandit, and the great Michigan rocker, Bob Seger. I have been living out-of-state for well over three decades now, but I still have rich memories to be found on nearly every corner of this great old town. What’s it going to be like to run a half marathon in a locale with such rich history? I’m about to find out.
Race Day Preparation – From the moment I peaked out the window at 6:15 AM, I new the day was going to be beautiful. I opted for my standard half marathon gear, including my black Asics running shoes, green “Empire State Marathon” long sleeve shirt and charcoal Nike running shorts. I am bringing along a special shirt to wear as well: one of my Dad’s Detroit Edison uniform shirts – one that he had worn during his 39 years of reading electric meters in Monroe. I had a great Dad, and I’ve really missed him since he passed away in 2007. He’d be with me in a special way today, as I run a portion of his old meter reading routes.
For breakfast, I have a big bowl of Quaker oats with peanut butter, a banana, and strong, black coffee. The Better Half was suiting up as well; she’s going to run the Monroe 5K, which begins 15 minutes after the half marathon start. By the way, we take pride in the fact that all proceeds from the event are earmarked for support of local Special Olympics – terrific!
The Start – We pulled into the pleasant grounds of the Tenneco Corporation off of Albain Road, on the southern edge of Monroe. I think of this business as “Monroe Shocks”, but it appears that a corporate acquisition has resulted in a change of identity since I moved away. As I shut off the engine and gather my things, my oldest son, Joseph, surveys the expansive parking lot and reports that we appear to have the only vehicle in the lot made by a foreign car company (Subaru). Yep! We are back in Michigan!
The sky is a spotless blue, and it is a cool 44 degrees at start time – great weather for running! Several hundred athletes, family, and friends are enjoying the excitement near the well organized start area. Not only do I have Better Half and son with me, but I am running with an old friend from my days at St. Michael grade school and Monroe Catholic Central High School, Bill C. Bill lives in Nashville now and has made the trek back for this half marathon as well. Bill’s a lean, disciplined runner. I admire his skill, but, even more than that, I admire his love of the sport and his good-natured, zestful approach to this race in particular. This is pure leisure; a real joy and blessing to be out here on this crisp Fall morning, and I can tell Bill knows it! I knock off a Salted Caramel GU for a boost of energy. After a great rendition of the National Anthem by a local musician, as well as group recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance led by a Special Olympiad, we are off!
The Race – We tear off east for about a quarter mile on Albain Road and hang a left on Hull Road. Hull Road is an approximately 3 mile straightaway that is as flat as a pancake. We run past Hull Road Auto Parts, the family business of an old high school buddy whom I have not seen in over thirty years. Bill and I are running together at about a 7’30” pace for the first 5 miles. We enjoy each other’s conversation and the excitement of the task before us. I feel giddy. It is that feeling of elation when one senses that, for at least the moment, he’s winning.
We pass some great Monroe landmarks that evoke memories: the Silver Cue pool hall (popping quarters in Asteroids and Space Invaders games), Dorsch Memorial Library (is it really skipping school if one hangs out at the library?), Saint Joseph church (my childhood parish) and Monroe Junior High, where I boarded the bus to go home at the end of the St. Mike’s school day. Nothing like being a grade schooler dressed in a blue Catholic school uniform on a bus packed with wild students from the local junior high. In my head, I hear Billy Squire (“Lonely is the Night“) and Steve Miller (“Fly Like an Eagle“) through tinny bus speakers, and a gruff bus driver voice: “If you want to go home, you have to sit in your seats!” The flashback brings a smile to my face. At 51, I’d have to do a lot more than that to go home now, though, for a moment, I’m half way there.
It dawns on me that I am going to have a hard time keeping pace with Bill for the entire 13.1 miles, and as I momentarily slow down at the Mile 6 aid station to grab an orange slice, I see Bill run on with seemingly boundless energy. I’m now on my own. Thankfully, the course is well marked and the aid stations plentiful. Every single person throughout the race is kind and supportive.
A beautiful aspect of running is the opportunity for clear-minded contemplation – the chance to really sort some important things out. Here’s a sample of topics I ponder: (1) I wish I knew how to work on cars better. (2) Are big dogs better pets than small dogs or vice-versa? (3) I’d like to belong to a country club, but I would never pay the dues. (4) What food do I like more: Chinese or Mexican? (5) How can it be that not one person who has “spotted” Bigfoot has had a decent camera handy? Hey, I never claimed to be a genius!
We cross the River Raisin over the Macomb Street Bridge and enter neighborhoods lined with houses. Some streets have modest homes and others have expensive ones, but all are well-maintained and reflect pride of ownership. I think about my Dad reading these meters and greeting folks with his ready smile and a positive word. Over 39 years with Edison, he got to know “everyone” in Monroe and established friendships with many, including Elizabeth Upham McWebb (“Little Brown Bear” book series) and Vern J. Sneider (“Teahouse of the August Moon“).
I see my son, Joseph, on my return across the Macomb Street Bridge, so, in order to look macho, I straighten up and quicken my pace. I don’t want him to think the Old Man is losing his edge. I give him a high-five. At about mile 10 I start really feeling it, and my pace drops to about 8’10” per mile. The return up Hull Road becomes a grudge match between myself and increasing fatigue. I put my head down and slug it out. A fellow runner about my age passes me, and we express brief words of support. I can tell he’s feeling it too. Time to suck it up, cupcakes!
The Big Finish – I felt a surge of energy as I turned off Hull Road and back on to Albain Road for the final half mile. Time to let it rip!…After all, what am I saving it for? My pace quickens. I pass up the fellow runner who had passed me a few moments ago, and he gives me a kind acknowledgment. His tank is empty. As I enter the Tenneco property, I see a smiling face running towards me – it’s Bill, who returned a few minutes before me, and he has come out to run with me through the shoot. He yells words of encouragement, and I respond by driving it up to full throttle. Now, I’m thrusting my arms and legs out in front of me like a true athlete, and the pain and fatigue are gone. I hear the crowd yell, and I cross the finish line at 1:43:00 (a 7’52” pace; 48 out of 312 runners).
Bill got first place in our age group with a time of 01:36:57 (7’25” pace; 28th overall). I came in third in our age group and was awarded a great Monroe Half Marathon “PLACER” mug that can hold enough beer to put me down for the night. The Better Half is there as well, and she reports that her 5K went great, and she has a new PR. Son Joseph is there in his ever helpful support role, including foreign car chauffeur. The post-race party is great fun. The organizers of this event have done a terrific job from beginning to end….Thank you!
Bill asks if I ever considered running the Nashville St. Jude Rock and Roll Marathon in April 2017. If I did, I’d have a place to crash. Well, you know, I just might! Who knows? Since it is a rock and roll marathon, I just might hear some Billy Squire or Steve Miller and, well, maybe, just maybe, for a brief moment, I’ll be home again.
Epilogue: I’m all signed up for the Nashville St. Jude Rock and Roll Marathon. Get ready to rock, Bill….it’s going to be fun!
Pre-Race Preparations – I shouldn’t have had the Pabst Blue Ribbon tallboy the night before the Wineglass Marathon; but, hey, I never was a wine drinker, and the PBR looked inviting through the clear glass door of the beer cooler. The Better Half and I had stumbled upon a little bar during our walking tour of the great old town of Bath, NY. We were spending the night at the 100+ year-old Old National Hotel prior to the Wineglass, so that I could rest up before the 26.2 mile jaunt through the NY Finger Lakes region. That PBR, along with a cheese and mushroom pizza from a little shop next to the hotel, sounded like a great idea during our evening adventure. What could go wrong? Well, by 3 AM, it felt like Jason and his chainsaw had been set loose inside my stomach. How was I suppose to rise to the challenge of a marathon under these abdominal conditions?
At 6 AM race day, I took a long, boiling shower, and I carefully shaved. My rationale: If I’m extra clean, I’ll feel better. I suited up for the race, opting for my long-sleeved Empire State Marathon race shirt, charcoal colored Nike shorts, black Sehgahunda bandana, the Mission Vaporactive crew socks that I won from the Montezuma Half Marathon earlier in the year (third in age group), and my new black ASICS running shoes. I ate a peanut butter sandwich and a banana. After final planning with The Better Half I was ready to roll.
The Old National Hotel is such an interesting place it could easily be the topic of a separate blog entry. It cost us about $50.00 cash for the night, was perfectly quiet, and reasonably clean. Oh, and about as quirky as one might expect from the picture. During my morning prep, I bought a black coffee in a plain styrofoam cup at the hotel restaurant. It was so strong, Jason and his chainsaw went silent from caffeine overdose. I enjoyed that high-octane brew so much I asked for a refill on my way out the door to the bus. For this refill, I was charged an additional $1.50. I didn’t have a penny on me, as I had left it all with The Better Half when I changed into my running gear. But, no worries. The hostess at the hotel carefully filled out an IOU, complete with “$1.50” circled in black ink. The Better Half paid up when she checked out later in the morning. Now I owe her, but what else is new?
One advantage of the Old National is that it is located about 150 feet from where the buses pulled up to take us runners to the start line (about where I took the picture of the hotel above). So, it was just a matter of walking out the door, strolling across the street, and jumping aboard a yellow school bus with a crowd of excited, fellow runners. Off to the start line! Despite last night’s PBR and pizza transgression, I felt great!
At the Start Line – The start line was on a country lane a short distance outside of Bath. In the minutes prior to the race, it was about 50 degrees with a mild breeze, cool enough to be slightly uncomfortable standing around waiting. There was speculation of rain, though it held off until it came down in torrents hours later, during the drive back to Fairport. One of the race organizers gave a wonderful, brief speech about the history of the area, including a reminder that our race would cover portions of the Underground Railroad and that the surrounding acres were home to men and women who joined the ranks of the military at crucial times in our nation’s history. To this organizer: Thank you! These reminders are valuable and put something like a race into necessary perspective. Following a beautiful rendition of the National Anthem, we were off!
The Race – The first mile of a marathon is exciting! After planning and anticipation, one gets to feel how the impact of the road is going to affect the joints and muscles, and how the respiratory system is going to react to the call to action. I established my race form, inventoried my surroundings – space, geography, fellows runners – and felt very, very alive – all systems are “Go!” I established a 10 minute per mile pace, taking care not to push too hard in the early going. Hey, I’m not training for the Olympics – that’s someone else’s blog!
First, we cruised back into Bath and past the Old National. A spirited, positive crowd was gathered up and down the street – terrific fun! Unless I’m fatigued, I am not a silent runner; rather, I enjoy greeting people, waving, high-fiving kids and thanking police for their service. Running is a very psychological and spiritual exercise, and a very communal one. What a blessing to do this!
We left Bath and rolled out into the beautiful, rolling country. Autumn filled my senses – the sound of trees breezing in the wind, smell of wet leaves, and, of course, the colors. It was overcast with breaks of sun – perfect, really, for running. All I can do is write this goofy blog; imagine what John Denver could do with this experience! Brief, positive conversations with fellow runners were followed by periods of silent admiration for the beauty of the region. I maintained about a 9 minute pace for about the first 9 miles. I wanted to pour it on because I felt great, but I know my limits, and I’ll need something in the gas tank at the end.
When entering Savona, there was a nice crowd of upbeat well-wishers. Many were holding funny signs and cheering. It’s easy to feel like a “conquering hero” at those moments, though, of course, I’m just a simple, middle-aged guy doing my thing. Brief, positive exchanges with the crowd are fun, energizing and, well, uplifting. What a great country!
As a psychologist who does a little regional travel for my job, I have been to Savona to meet with clients. It’s fun to run down a street where, on another morning, I drove down for work. I’m writing a new personal history in relation to a location. This new history includes an extra dose of endorphins, and, for some odd reason, feels a bit like cheating on my previous life – “I’m back, but this time I’m running it!”
Between miles 10 and 14, I maintain my 9 minute pace. The course is by-and-large flat. My Nike app claims that I gained 992 feet of elevation, but this must have been very evenly distributed across the route. The stretch of grade between miles 18 and 22 (“Victory Highway” on the race map) is as flat as a pancake but long, causing one to reflect on the word “endurance” in the phrase “endurance sports.” But, no problem. The aid stations were superb and plentiful, and the volunteers were outstanding – Thank you!
The Big Finish – As I ran through Painted Post, my speed gradually diminished, and by mile 22 I was running 10 minute miles, now due to raw fatigue, not discretion. By the time I exited Painted Post and set my sites on Corning, I was really feeling it. My goal was to establish a new PR (personal record) and run the entire route (no walking), and I knew this was going to require some focus. But, as has happened in my other races, I felt a surge of power during that final mile, and poured it on like a teenager. I extended my arms Rocky style, and I celebrated through the final quarter mile without a trace of pain or fatigue. It felt great to cross the finish line!
The Better Half was there. She was concerned that I was going to faint, as the lights did get a little dim for a few moments immediately after I stopped running. But, 10 minutes later I was already in recovery mode, and, I walked around, I suppose, like a very sore peacock. I am a vegetarian, but I cheat…and Wegmans supplied a terrific chicken noodle soup. I love the medal from this event, made of some type of glass composite (we are in Corning, NY, after all!) Strangely, in the picture below, it looks like the street behind me is deserted. Actually, there was a great party atmosphere, and tons of celebrating folks. My time was 04:13:11.65, and I came in 56 out of 111 in my age group (about the 50th percentile). This is a new PR, and I did run the whole thing! Thank you, Wineglass Marathon planners and volunteers for a terrific race. I raise an ice cold PBR in your honor 🙂
I was late leaving my house and worried that I would not make it to the 8:15 AM start at the Montezuma Audobon Center in Savannah, NY. This isn’t the first time I’ve almost missed the start of a race, and it has to stop!
The Montezuma Half Marathon is an early Summer 13.1 mile dash through the Montezuma Wetlands Complex in upstate New York. Anyone who has cruised the NY thru-way between Rochester and Syracuse has seen this beautiful expanse of nature out both sides of their car windows. This was my second year of running this race. For whatever reason, last year I ran it fast, despite the heat and bugs. If I can make it there on time, I’d like to run it even faster today.
I pulled into the parking lot with 6 minutes to start time. Efficient parking attendants flagged me around meandering rows of parked cars stretching out across gravel and grass to virtually the very last spot available. I made it! I pop out of my car and jog toward the start line about 200 yards away….I’m all set!
But wait! I need to urinate! Two cups of coffee and a bottle of sports drink will do that to a 50 year-old guy! As I round the corner from the parking lot toward the crowd, I spy a beautiful row of eight green port-a-johns lining one side of the paved entrance. As I veer toward the first one, the door swings open and a young lady steps out. She takes a long, indignant look at me and says, “Hey, the line starts THERE.” As I crane my neck down the imaginary arc extending from her pointing finger, I see a loosely organized mass of about 15 anxious runners on the other side of the road, all waiting their turn politely. From the tone of her voice, I can tell I have been deemed a wanton port-a-john line crasher. I want to plead my case – in my haste I didn’t see the line! But, no time. Instead, I jog to the end of the line, quickly apologizing to my fellow runners, several of whom laugh and nod as if to say, “It’s cool. You’re just a confused old dude.” Pretty soon, I get to use senior discounts too.
Immediately prior to the start, there was a beautiful rendition of the National Anthem. Thank you, race planners for including this in your plans, and thank you, God, for this beautiful country.
We are off! Runners will tell you: a race is a physical challenge, but it is a very real mental and spiritual challenge as well. As I knocked out the first mile, I had these thoughts: “Perhaps my port-a-john controversy is an omen of the bad race that I am about to have today. Perhaps everyone here is rude and negative and see me as the port-a-john crasher. Perhaps I can’t do this anymore. Perhaps it is time to go back to golf.” Of course, those moments of doubt are, by and large, irrational. For one thing, my golf is absolutely horrid.
I reject this negativity and focus on my race. I establish about an 8 minute/mile pace in the early going. Because of my late arrival, I am buried in the back of the 338 runners, so I do a lot of dodging and weaving before I hit a broad open expanse of road. The Montezuma Half route is beautiful. The sky is a gorgeous blue. Before the end of the race it is a warm 88 degrees but there’s plenty of water along the route, and most of us revel in this heat after our long, long Upstate NY winters.
At about Mile 3, we enter the Howland Island Wildlife Management Area. I don’t think anyone would describe this race route as especially hilly but there are some elevations to consider and some stretches of ping-pong ball sized gravel that requires some careful footwork. An advantage of being a runner is that one can see up close a lot of things that others only see from a distance. At the Montezuma Half, the runner actually immerses into the open vista of the wetlands, the stands of trees, the farmed acreage and bodies of open water that many people only see from the thru-way. It is not just the sites that are enjoyable. The air is filled with the smell of childhood summer: soil, trees, vegetation. It is easy to feel like a kid again on this trail, at least temporarily. I’d love to run this with Bob Ross.
A word of caution: a lot of this race is in the open sunlight and there are bugs. Wear lotion and head protection and remain hydrated. The sweat bees seem to keep up pretty nicely with about a 9 minute/mile running pace in this wetland, so one needs to run faster or they may find themselves doing an impromptu run/swat cardio workout.
On my way back in I see one older runner who suffered an injury being brought back on a Gator. As he passes, we exchange words of encouragement: “Sorry about your injury, brother, but I’ll see you out here next year” followed by, “Yep, I’ll make it. Have a great rest of the race.” Such is the camaraderie one experiences on the running trail. As we try to beat each other, we are in it together.
For the last few miles, my pace dips to between 8:30 and 9 minutes per mile. I spent too much on the way out. I feel it too. At about mile 11 I am tired and hot and the questioning returns, but, again, I reject the negativity. I become the 34th runner to cross the line (1:50:18; 8:26 pace). I place third in my age group and get a great pair of thick Mission Vaporactive crew socks as an award. I’ll wear these during next season’s Greater Rochester Track Club Freezeroo series.
The Montezuma Half post-race festivities are terrific. Outstanding pizza, fresh-squeezed lemonade, Monster drink and, for whatever reason, about 10 tons of individually sized packages of pork rinds. I’m a vegetarian, but I make an occasional exception. A DJ plays terrific music and, thankfully, not so loud that one cannot talk to others. And, good thing, because the post-race crowd was filled with friendly, partying people – a great vibe. After two cans of Monster, etc., I need to once again use the port-a-john. This time I check for a line, but I’m all clear. My thanks to the Montezuma Half race planners. You did great.