Buckle up, sport fans! This is going to be an awesome saga! Well, at least it should be a nice report of a great half marathon race.
The Oak Tree Half Marathon is sponsored by the Genesee Valley Conservancy, a not-for-profit land trust that helps to protect 16,400 beautiful acres across four rural counties in upstate New York (i.e., Livingston, Wyoming, Allegany, and Ontario). I’m ramping up for my return to the Marine Corps Marathon on October 28, 2018, so I thought this early September half would be good preparation.
The race had an 8 AM start at the Geneseo Central School District campus. Geneseo is a pretty little college town located in Livingston County, New York. After an oatmeal and peanut butter on toast breakfast, the Better Half and I cruised the 35 miles from our home in Fairport to Geneseo on a blue sky Sunday morning for the 8 AM start. Even at that early hour, it was obvious that it was going to be hot and humid. We made it with a few minutes to spare, and I ended up trading running stories with a couple of guys, including Bob Lonsberry, a popular daily radio talk show host in the Rochester, NY market. It was Bob who told me about the big hill that was waiting for us at around mile 10. Up until that time, I had not given the course profile much consideration, because, for me, this was suppose to be pure leisure. However, like, I suppose, a lot of runners, once I am at that start line, leisure ends and competition begins. Well, what can I say? Let’s roll! With little fanfare we were off!
The race course took the 251 runners down the main street of the village of Geneseo and around the iconic water fountain located in its center. Even at 8 AM, the humidity made it feel more like a swim meet than a road race, but it was great to pour on the coal. I had decided to “run naked” for this race (i.e., uhhh, no, this simply means I had no watch or similar electronic device), but I bet I was running about 7’30” or 7’45” miles for the first five miles of the course.
I felt great! Of course, as can be seen in the graphic above, we were trucking down hill for the first few miles, so it was easy to feel full of energy and rapidly churn the legs. The vibe of this race was a positive, easy going, family-oriented one, though there were some very competitive runners out front.
Did I mention it was hot? It was absolutely the hottest, or, perhaps more accurately, the most humid, race that I have ever run, and that includes the 2017 Nashville St. Jude Rock-N-Roll Marathon, where it got into the 90’s and the race was eventually called early. For today’s race, I hydrated at every opportunity.
Race fans, if you have an interest in running a race on a naturally scenic route, the Oak Tree Half is for you. It’s bucolic and beautiful. A good portion of the route is on well-packed but gravelly roads with rich, green, rolling fields and shimmering stands of old growth trees. The picture at the top of this post (i.e., the “featured image”), taken by a great race photographer using a drone, provides a glimpse of this scenic route.
Like other races, one goal I established was zero walking, and this became a struggle at about Mile 10, when it was time to make about a one-mile ascent up a gorgeous gravel country lane. This was the uphill portion of the race that Bob had told me about at the start line. I put my head down and started chugging it out. Fellow runners each had their own method for dealing with this long hill; some walked, some alternated between running and walking, some were fit enough to keep a nice running pace. I never walked, but I bet my pace dropped to about an 11 minute mile. I was quite pleased when I crested the top of that hill and made my way onto a very flat, two mile dash to the finish line.
On this final stretch, I ran as hard as I could, and I could really feel the pain! The final stretch of this race is around the running track on the Geneseo High School campus. As I dashed around this track to the finish line, I approached a male runner and prepared to pass him. At that moment, he invited his kids to run out onto the track to “finish” with him, and I found myself in a quick game of dodge-and-weave. I was so spent that I actually had trouble engaging in any kind of fine-tuned evasive action, so I just careened to the most exterior lane of the track and passed the fellow runner and his family from out there.
I crossed the line at 1:54:20 (an 8:44 per mile pace; 56 out of 248). I was fifth in my age group, so this was not a podium finish, but I did earn a “door prize” – a loaf of awesome raisin cinnamon Monk’s Bread, made by Trappist monks at a local abbey.
My thanks to the Genesee Valley Conservancy and everyone who put on this terrific race; I really enjoyed it! Sport fans, watch for the write-up of my return to the Marine Corps Marathon. I am planning on a new course PR, and the write-up may finally be my Pulitzer Prize winner!
At about Mile 11, there was a long incline up a paved road that led back into the heart of the Cornell University campus, where our race had begun some hour and 30 minutes earlier. It was while powering up this stretch that a wild, dense snow squaw enveloped us, and a strong wind braced us from our 11 o’clock, limiting visibility and slowing the churn of our fatiguing legs. This is painful! That’s my immediate recollection of this early springtime run through rolling country roads just outside of the college town of Ithaca, NY.
This was my first time enrolled in this half marathon, sponsored by the Finger Lakes Runners Club. I was attracted to the modest registration fee (early bird registration was $20.00) and the adventure of running a new neighborhood. The Better Half and I drove over from Fairport, NY on Saturday to enjoy a day of exploring Ithaca before this Sunday morning race. It was the first time that we had booked a stay with Airbnb, and this turned out nicely.
Our host, Marcus, provided a comfortable, private apartment attached to the back of his suburban home, and, though we planned on dinner at a restaurant, the Better Half ended up making a gourmet dinner featuring linguini with shrimp in a cream sauce. For desert, we had fig newtons and glasses of Saranac Legacy IPA. Following dinner, we enjoyed a DVD of the movie Billy Elliot that Marcus had included in a collection for his guests, the first DVD she and I had watched together in months.
We fell promptly asleep at 10 PM that night, so we were rested and ready at 7 AM the next morning. In addition to strong, hot coffee, my pre-race breakfast consisted of oat meal with fruit, buttered toast with peanut butter, and a banana. A weather check on my iPhone app suggested that it would be about 30 degrees at start time. After a long, hot shower and some deliberation, I landed on the following race gear: my blue New Balance 860 v7 running shoes, New York City Marathon running socks (a Christmas gift from my “unofficial running coach”, Bobby Newman), long compression pants with blue shorts, a black, long sleeve thermal shirt, and my blue LIFE Runner racing jersey on top. I also wore an old, gray, polyester short sleeve shirt as a third layer, but, as it turned out, that was one layer too many, and it ended up shoved into my compression pants for safe keeping before mile 2. Finally, on my head, I wore a “Knights of Columbus” knit cap and simple knit gloves on my hands.
The Start Line
The race started right outside of Barton Hall on the campus of Cornell University, with registration and general preparations inside. I had never been on the Cornell campus before, and I had anticipated that “Barton Hall” would be a cramped academic building with snaking lines of runners at each bathroom entrance congesting the hallways. I was wrong! Barton Hall is an indoor field house with a 1/8 mile track circling a nearly two acre open space. During World War II it served as an aircraft hangar and armory and, later, served as a venue for graduation ceremonies. It continues to house the Cornell ROTC programs. So, as you might imagine, this storied building gave the 973 runners (348 10K participants and 625 half marathoners) ample room to spread out, stretch, and prepare for their date with destiny. I can’t think of a more ideal location for pre-race staging, especially on this cold morning. Each of my pictures of Barton Hall turned out poorly, but kylereynolds at krsnaturalphoto’sblog captured some impressive shots of it in his write-up of the Skunk Cabbage. Nice job, Kyle!
As 10:00 AM neared, the half marathon runners walked en masse out the front doors of Barton Hall and to the adjacent start line. There was a nice crowd of supporters along both sides of the campus street. After saying good-bye to the Better Half, I slipped amidst the mid-packers. I confirmed with a young man behind me that this was, indeed, the half marathon (not the 10K), and we compared notes for a minute or so. I mentioned that I would be running the Sehgahunda Trail Marathon in May, and he said that his Dad was there two years ago, when it was “boiling hot.” I know! I was out there that day too, and, yes, it was a cauldron! The race director said a few indecipherable words up front, and, with little fanfare, we were off! Time to rock and roll! I love this sport!
For about the first half mile, I had trouble setting my stride, as I was dodging and weaving around duos and trios of runners. This race seemed to have a lot more young adult runners (i.e., college age) than some others that I have participated in over the last couple years, and they made for a lively, talkative, fun-loving crowd. Reviewing my splits on my Nike app, I see I ran the first mile in about 9 minutes, but once I got out in the open and established my race pace, I ran at about an 8 to 8’30” minute mile pace, with only mild variability. The young man I was speaking to at the start line assured me that this was a flat race, and, I suppose, compared to a race to the top of Pike’s Peak, it is. It is not that there were massive, intimidating climbs, but, rather, there was a near constant gradual rise or descent, with a couple big hills thrown in for variety.
Mile 6 was my fastest mile at 7’45”. Most of this mile was a fun, downhill trot, and I simply let gravity pull my legs forward. For awhile, I experienced the runner’s state of disassociation wherein one feels as though they are being transported by legs not one’s own. It was a nice break! You can guess what follows these long downhill sections. Yep! Long uphill runs that swapped out the state of disassociation for it’s opposite, what I might call “radical association”, in which I was acutely aware of the strain on my muscles, tendons, and skeleton as I pounded up those hills. I don’t need “mindfulness training” to appreciate the literal “here and now”; all I’ve got to do is run up each of these hills. Believe me, while running up the 588 feet of elevation gain across this course , I’m in the definite present!
This brings us back to that Mile 11, when the driving snow of a late spring squaw pelted my face. My sunglasses had been fogging up earlier in the race, so I had pushed them up onto the top of my head, but now I wanted them back in proper position to save my eyes from the sting of those snowflakes. Alas, in the midst of the temperature plunge that accompanied this squaw, the condensation on the lenses had turned to sheets of ice. I wouldn’t be able to see a thing with those on! I felt like I was in slow motion climbing that hill in those conditions, but, looking at my splits, I see I maintained an 8’30” pace, about the same as most of my other miles this day.
As I rolled up on that finish line, I turned on my version of the jets and ran through the chute at full capacity. I felt great! I came in at 1:48:04 (8’15” pace; 6 out of 27 in my age division and 118 out of 273 males). Back inside Barton, I stretched out, and the Better Half, who is a physical therapist (how perfect is that?), stretched me back into functionality.
Time for a hot cup of black coffee! My thanks to everyone at the Finger Lakes Running Club for a great race! Next up? My return to the Sehgahunda Trail Marathon in May. In the meantime, I’ll be training hard in anticipation of that challenge. Best wishes to all of you as you prepare for your running endeavors coming up this Spring!
My leg muscles were sore, my hands were numb, and I pondered a few drops of transmission fluid staining the black top under my ’91 Dodge truck, but I was all smiles at the end of this strenuous jaunt around Irondequoit Bay, near Rochester, NY. I’ve done this club run before, and I knew it had a little bit of everything that makes running in this part of New York fun: icy patches, snow, challenging hills, pot holes, a strong wind off of Lake Ontario, and a diehard pack of fun-loving runners, adorned in colorful running gear.
Ah, the running gear! You know, as I stood amidst the middle of this pack at the 8 AM start time, I couldn’t help but notice that I seemed to be the only one not wearing proper winter running gear. You know: black Midzoi MidZero tights, violet New Balance long sleeve hoodies, Brooks Essential Green running jackets. In the midst of this array of fashion, color, and sensibility, I was wearing standard issue gray sweats over compression pants that I had taken from my high school son’s drawer some months earlier, paired with a plain, faded red hoodie, probably from Target. I had simple knitted gloves on my hands and an olive green knitted cap on my head. My gear selection landed me somewhere between Rocky Balboa and Homer Simpson. No matter. This gang doesn’t care about my attire and neither do I. I’m just glad to still be in the game!
It was Saturday, March 10 and a breezy 29 degrees with some sun, some patchy, two-toned gray clouds, and occasional bands of snowflakes swirling from the sky like celebratory confetti. I had my friend, Joe, with me, whom I met during this season’s Freezeroo series; he’s a lean, competitive runner who trains hard and maintains a quick, disciplined tempo deep into the miles. I’ve had a pretty good winter training season, though the treadmill, necessary before and after sunrise, was beginning to wear on my psyche.
My return to the Sehgahunda Trail Marathon is just a few weeks away, and I need to get serious. Well, with 950 feet of elevation, this run should at least get me started!
Before our group run begins, a few impromptu words of greeting are spoken from the front of this loose pack, including a call for a round of applause for Tim Dwyer, the newest inductee into the Greater Rochester Track Club Hall of Fame. This group of about 80 local runners offer up a sincere but jovial round of applause paired with a couple good natured teases and jokes. Tim gives a quick wave and says, “Thanks, everyone!” He looks grateful and, well, literally in his element. This sport of running squeezes the gratitude and connectedness out of people like laundry through a hand-cranked wringer. Those of us who would otherwise be strangers are, this morning, a band of fellow runners, traversing a route by foot that most people only do by motor vehicle, in weather many avoid, and at a time of day that makes our endeavor all the stranger. Sounds great! Let’s roll!
Running with Joe means that I am going to be stepping my game up today, at least for as long as I can stick with him. We cruise up Culver Road and past a silent, still Sea Breeze amusement park, with roller coasters and water slides awaiting the summer sun. Not too long ago, I assured my oldest son, then in first or second grade, that he’d be fine on those coasters. “Heck! I’ll ride with you!” Now, he’s in graduate school at the University of Texas and doesn’t seem to need those kinds of assurances anymore.
There’s already some traffic through the towns of Irondequoit and Charlotte (rhymes with “car lot”) this morning, but not that much. A few people are getting their eggs at the Parkside Diner as we trot past, but Shamrock Jack’s, an Irish pub, looks buttoned up and slumbering before tonight’s guests arrive for the Guinness and shepherd’s pie. Joe and I catch up about upcoming races. We’re both entered in the lottery for the New York City Marathon this November and are relishing the prospect of stepping off that line together. As I write this now, I have the knowledge that he is one of the lucky 10%, and I am not. Run that one for the both of us, Joe! Once I got over that disappointment, I registered for a return to the Marine Corps Marathon in October, so I think I landed on my feet!
Like the rest of humanity, I experience worries and annoyances across the week: a mysterious bit of trouble with the gear shifting in my truck, a productivity quota at work, a harsh comment on a social media platform. In the cosmic picture, these are mostly trivial and, perhaps, even insipid concerns, and, as I begin to knock out the miles, it’s this “cosmic” perspective that envelopes me with the intensity of warm sunshine, leaving those noxious elements of the week to fall to the curb or drop into a jagged-edged pothole. Productivity quota? You want productive? Focus on this run!
Our route dodges and weaves counterclockwise around Irondequoit Bay. This bay is about a half mile wide, 4 miles long, covers 1,660 acres, and has a maximum depth of 73 feet. It’s fed by Irondequoit creek from the south and empties into Lake Ontario at the northern end.
We cruised down some quiet side roads, as well as much busier multiple lane thoroughfares. This wasn’t a race, so there was an abundance of friendly conversation. I heard a woman running behind me for a few miles say that she’s got two marathons coming up: Boston, then Big Sur in California. Nice! I stuck with Joe nicely for about the first 8 miles, but as we reached the base of an intense two mile incline on Empire Boulevard, near McGregor’s Tap Room, I knew I was going to have to slow my pace and chug it out. By the time I hit Bay Road, a straight, flat shot of about 4 miles that leads back to the lake, I was fatigued, but I felt good. I think I’ll be OK for the first race of the warm season, the Skunk Cabbage Half Marathon in Ithaca on April 8. Hey, that might not be Big Sur, but I’m really looking forward to it!
As we arrive back to the truck, Joe is there with a smile and a high-five. That’s when I see those drops of transmission fluid visible underneath my truck. Yep. Going to have to do something about that; but, first things first. Time to get some coffee and plan our next run!
I hope all of you have a great start to your Spring running season! I’d be glad to hear from you, so feel free to leave a comment! Watch for my write-up of the Skunk Cabbage. Who knows? Maybe I’ll finally write an epic post that rivals the great works of Tolstoy! LOL! Hey, if nothing else, we’ll find out about how this transmission fluid saga gets resolved. Now, that’ll be great literature for sure!
As we cruised the Subaru across the flat, 214 mile expanse of Ontario, Canada that stretches between Buffalo, NY and Detroit, MI, we bumped into some rain and high winds; therefore, we were a bit strung out by the time we reached the Ambassador Bridge spanning the US/Canadian border. There, after a long wait in a cue of vehicles, we were informed by the US Customs and Border agent that we were selected for a random inspection of our vehicle. We plopped down in white, plastic, 60’s-era “scoop” chairs in the waiting area and surveyed our surroundings. The Better Half and I had that distinct “let’s get this over with” feeling, like before a mid-life medical test. We knew we hadn’t broken any laws or stowed any contraband, but, still, one can’t help but think, “What are they going to find?” Fifteen minutes later, we had our answer: nothing; we got a clean bill of health. The agents cheerily invited us to be on our way.
From there, we rolled past a maze of orange barrels in the Detroit metro area and directly into a weather pattern that offered up a wide range of meteorological phenomena, including unnerving doses of lightning and driving rain. Once in my hometown of Monroe (population 20,000), I double-parked in front of Run Hip in order to buzz in and pick up my bib and race bling. The store looked awesome, but I had folks waiting, so I darted back to the car with plans to return at Christmas. As we pulled in to my childhood home for the night, we were ready to relax, eat a pizza, and enjoy time with family.
I had run the Monroe Half Marathon for the first time on a beautiful, warm, blue-sky Sunday morning in 2016 and thoroughly enjoyed it (see that write-up here). Now, I’m back! The race day weather prediction was unsettling to ponder: probably heavy rain, likely windy, and possible lightning. Looks like the Monroe Half could be extra sporty this year! Indeed, it stormed, sometimes violently, throughout the night, giving me reason to consider the intelligence of running 13.1 miles around town on a Sunday morning, when I could stay back, sleep in, and have a leisurely breakfast with the family. Of course, I had no desire to actually skip this race; if it’s on, I’m there!
At 5:13 AM race day, the Half Marathon Facebook page posted the following message:
Weather update: The weather at this point looks like it will be ok for us to go forward with the race… if we have to delay we could for up to 30 minutes due to agreements with local authorities. If the weather takes a turn we will cancel…we will NOT put anyone at risk.
Looks like we’re on! After my usual race day breakfast of oatmeal with peanut butter, hot black coffee and a banana, I was ready to rock-and-roll! Sure enough, by the time we reach the start line at the Tenneco Corporation, the weather looked fine: gray but no precipitation and, more importantly, no lightning. All systems are GO! It remained dry and cool throughout the race (though the course remained wet from the storms of the previous night); overall, great race conditions!
At the start line, I surveyed the fellow runners, and, for some reason, the crowd looked faster this year than last. Could that be? I squeezed in near the front third of the 309 runners and, after the National Anthem, we were off! I established about a 7:55 minute per mile pace for about the first 3 miles. Here’s some observations in bulleted form:
I’m always impressed by duos and trios of runners who carry on animated conversations, like they’re sitting at the local Starbucks, and still run faster than me.
There’s always that interval in a race when I question whether or not I can make it. In this race, this occurred around miles 8 – 9. Just put the head down and push through it!
Having just run the Loch Ness Marathon in Scotland, which includes a finish through the city of Inverness, I had a chance to compare crowd support. In both cities, the spectators were gracious and positive, no criticisms there. In Inverness, spectators were generally more reserved, typically offering up a round of applause and a warmhearted, albeit brief, “Well done!” as we ran past. In Monroe, they yelled and screamed just about anything supportive you might imagine (e.g., “You look like Usain Bolt!”, haha), had a lot of funny signs (“Run Faster. I Just Farted!”), and supplemented their efforts with a lot of of horns and bells.
During the final 3-mile straightaway stretch to the finish line, I found myself in a grudge match with another male athlete who appeared to be about my age. If I was going to place in my age group, I thought, I had better take this guy out. I began churning my now very tired legs at a faster tempo and gradually put him about 25 feet behind me. Imagine my surprise when he cruised back up on me and began to run past. He’s got the same thing in mind! We traded positions about three times in the final stretch. Thankfully, I got across that finish line about 10 seconds before him.
The Better Half and my 13 year-old son, Dominic, were there to greet me. We enjoyed the post-race party, but I was a bit let-down when the “instant results” available via on-site computers indicated that I came in fourth in my age group. When we got back to New York, we discovered that I actually came in third! There must have been a change in the overall stats (a DQ?)! I’ll pick up my finisher’s mug when I visit the Run Hip store in December.
Given our weather delays traveling on Saturday, we had not made it to the vigil mass Saturday night, as was our original plan. So, from the race, we headed over to St. John the Baptist Catholic Church and caught the nooner. I had teased the Better Half that I was going to wear my Finisher’s medal to mass. I’m glad I didn’t, as the gospel reading was the one about the pharisees wearing adornments to stand out in the crowd (i.e., Matthew 23: 1-12; “Everything they do is done to attract attention, like wearing broader headbands and longer tassels”), and the homily was about the importance of humility, LOL! During mass, a violent storm rolled into Monroe once again, and we heard driving rain hit the roof and saw prismatic lightning flashes through the stained glass windows. We got off that race course just in time! After sitting (and standing and kneeling) through mass immediately after racing a half marathon, I felt like I needed a miracle to propel my aching, stiff leg muscles through the driving rain back to my car. But, I made it!
My thanks to the organizers of the Monroe Half Marathon. This race is exceptionally well organized, the communication is awesome (e.g., weather updates), and the people are gracious and hardworking. What’s next? In May, I’ve got a return to the Sehgahunda Trail Marathon through Letchworth State Park on the calendar and another season of Freezeroo races with the Greater Rochester Track Club starting next month. Best wishes to all my readers! Have a great winter running season!
“The only constant is change.” -Heraclitus, circa 500 BC
I don’t know if Heraclitus was a runner, but I bet most runners would agree that the sport sets the occasion for a certain amount of introspection, especially on warm summer days. For me, like riding on H.G. Wells’s time machine, the world appears to be spinning at a faster and faster rate. In the midst of all this change, rhythmically throwing one leg in front of the other continues to provide a welcomed sense of continuity. Here’s some highlights of Summer 2017!
The Charlie McMullen Memorial Mile, St. John Fisher College, Pittsford, NY
The McMullen Mile is a one mile race sponsored by the Greater Rochester Track Club (GRTC) and dedicated to the memory of Charlie McMullen, a local Rochester, NY runner who, in the mid-70’s, clocked a 3:56 mile and 2:15 marathon. The multiple heats, organized by age and projected finish time, were held on a beautiful quarter mile track looping the interior of Growney Stadium, home of the Division III St. John Fisher Cardinals football team in Pittsford, NY. This stadium is also the temporary home of the NFL’s Buffalo Bills during their annual summer camp.
I had never run a one mile race (at least not in this century), but I figured I would need a different strategy than a marathon! Luckily, I met a veteran coach while waiting for my heat, and he gave me this advice: (1) hold back on the first lap (of four), (2) don’t pass when rounding corners, only on straightaways, (3) hold position in the back of a pack so that I’m the “hunter”, and (4) pour it on at the onset of lap 4. So, that became my strategy. I came in at 6’23” (6 out of 8 in my age group of men and 42 out of 61 among men overall). At least I held my position in the back of the pack! BTW, I was about three dollars short when attempting to buy the McMullen Mile t-shirt, but a fellow runner saw me setting the shirt down, walked over, insisted on paying the difference, and told me to just “pay it forward.” Great night!
Camping Trail Runs
Our family camping adventures are when I am most conscious of the rapid pace of change. On these trips, the distractions of day-to-day living are stashed away (e.g., phones and laptops), and our family of six has a chance to catch up with each other. I am proud that my family can spend 4 day weekends together on a “primitive” campsite without hardly a negative word or tension, except for the one trip when I found that I had been playing solitaire with only 51 cards for three days!
Only a few short years ago, I was responsible for showing my four sons (now aged 13, 17, 19, 22), each in turn, the basics of camping (e.g., tent assembly, putting a worm on a hook, avoiding poison ivy). Now, when we camp, not only do they put their own tents up, but they take charge of raising our pop-up trailer, relegating me to an assistant role. Hey, I’m just pleased that they still take time out of their “Glory Days” to camp with their Old Man! On a recent camping trip to Keuka Lake, we went out for a pizza, and, when all had grabbed a first slice, each boy waited, without prompting, for our prayer before our meal. An “attitude of gratitude” is one of the keys to happiness, I think, and it’s those moments when, imperfect as we may be, I know the Better Half and I are on the right track.
A big part of our family enjoyment at camp is the unstructured flow of our days, with each member pursuing their interests at a leisurely pace. And, of course, for me, this includes good, solid trail runs! A very memorable “camping trail run” of this summer was at John Dillon Park in Long Lake, NY, the heart of the Adirondacks. John Dillon Park is a private park maintained in partnership between International Paper and Paul Smith’s College. Their mission is to make nature available to all persons, including individuals with disabilities. This beautiful park maintains awesome, wide, graveled hiking trails, braille signs, primitive (though beautifully maintained) camping spots, and a range of accessible activities, including fishing and boating.
Another great “camping trail run” was the Finger Lakes Trail at Bowman Lake State Park, near Oxford, NY. The Finger Lakes Trail is a nearly 600 miles trail extending from the Allegany State Park (south of Buffalo) to the Catskill Forest Preserve in eastern New York, not too far from Albany. The seven-mile segment that I ran was a well-blazed pathway through lush, richly green forest. It is good to have a distance goal firmly in mind from the start of a run on beautiful trail like this, because, well, it goes on for dozens of miles without interruption, and one could easily bite off more than they can chew before they realize it!
The KarKnocker 5K, East Rochester, NY
The KarKnocker 5K, a benefit for the Finger Lakes Regional Burn Association, follows a route through the village of East Rochester, NY (population 6,600). My 17 year-old son, Phil, and I ran this race on a beautiful summer evening. This was a good-natured, community event and a lot of fun! Races are usually morning events, so the 7 PM start required some extra consideration, in terms of planning meals and resting up after a full day of work. I did it in 22:34 (7:17/M), and Phil did it in 23:46 (7:40/M). I should point out that I ran my usual “all-out”, and Phil did more of a “scenic cruise.” In another year, Phil will be away at college, and like the two older boys, I’ll spend most of my days supporting him from afar, so opportunities to share experiences like this race are golden to me. After the race, we enjoyed the East Rochester Firemen’s Carnival, including entertainment by a great sounding rock band, Download, that played awesome covers from the 80s.
Running my Hometown of Monroe, Michigan
I think it’s fair to say that a corollary of Heraclitus’s dictum is “You can’t go home again” and, though I can literally make it back to my childhood house near Monroe, MI in about 8 hours of interstate travel, “home” does remain nearly 35 years away. Faithful readers may remember my exploits during last year’s Monroe Half Marathon, and that write-up gives one a sense of this town and my nostalgic relation to it. I’ve heard that the derivative meaning of the term “nostalgia” is “to know pain”, and, while “pain” is not the word I’d use to describe my experience running through this great old town, there is a certain pang that comes with reliving moments long past as I trot past familiar sites; the kind of emotion one might feel if they are heartened by spotting a dear old friend in a dense, expansive crowd but unable to summon their attention. The picture at the top of this post is the beautiful back property of the Mother House of the Sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary in Monroe. The IHM sisters are responsible for a good portion of my education, and my travel back to their home and running around my adjacent high school is a good example of this notion of “nostalgia.”
What’s next? Well, I’m registered for the Monroe Half Marathon again in November, but the big news is my scheduled participation in the Loch Ness Marathon, in Inverness, Scotland. The Better Half and I will be flying out of Toronto and staying in Inverness for the Marathon before making our way to Edinburgh. Stay tuned for that, sports fans, as that race report should prove to be epic! In the meantime, I wish you the best of times with your family and friends during this transition from summer to fall. You know it’s going to pass in the blink of an eye!
“Man is most nearly himself when he achieves the seriousness of a child at play.” -Heraclitus
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!