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. 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 Better Half and I were all smiles as we began our trip from Fairport, NY to the start line of the Loch Ness Marathon in Inverness, Scotland. We’d really been looking forward to this trip! We took the Subaru to the Toronto airport, flew Air Canada to London’s Heathrow, and, after a short layover, took British Airways to the Inverness Airport. From there, we took a city bus into the heart of Inverness (population 50,000) and pulled our wheeled carry-on luggage over the cobblestone paths to the smallish three-story Heathmount Hotel, a place that I had found through a “random” Google search from my office in New York a full six months earlier. We had booked one of their eight rooms, ours being a small but pleasant one on the third floor with a private bathroom located a short distance down the hall.
We arrived two days early, in order that we could take in the sites prior to the race, and that we did!
On the Saturday before the Sunday race, the Better Half and I walked the two miles to the race expo, stopping at anything that caught our eye, including a bookshop, an art studio, a charity resale store, a medieval cemetery, and towering, ancient churches. It was a sublime, blue-sky day, and we soaked in the architecture and character of this Scottish city, as well as the rich beauty of its surrounding landscape.
The race expo was located on a glowing green field adjacent to the River Loch at the edge of Inverness. We arrived at the event mid-morning, and there wasn’t so much a crowd as a nice smattering of good-natured runners and their families meandering around, smiling and chatting it up, mostly with Scottish brogues.
My race packet was a purely functional affair housed in a plain white envelope, and it contained seven items: (1) my numbered bib, (2) a sheet with general race day instructions, (3) a single admission pass for the post race party, and (4,5,6, and 7) safety pins. No worries about how I was going to stuff race bling into my carry-on for the trip back to Fairport!
Through instant messaging, I had been in contact with my “Unofficial Running Coach”, Bobby Newman, who was running Loch Ness with me. (Faithful readers might remember Bobby from my write-up of the 2017 Nashville St. Jude Rock-n-Roll Marathon.) The Better Half and I had hoped that we could catch up with Bobby prior to the race, a feat made difficult by tight work schedules and uncoordinated travel plans. Given that this is a town with dozens of lodging options, imagine our surprise when we discovered that he had booked his room at the Heathmount as well!
Like Rocky Balboa, I’m in need of a blessing prior to a big contest, and this I got by attending the 4 PM Saturday vigil mass at St. Mary Catholic Church. Then, we spent a memorable evening with Bobby in the restaurant of the Heathmount, discussing our plans for the 26.2-mile run through the Scottish Highlands, as well as spinning a few tales with a smattering of good-natured exaggeration. I had a baked macaroni and cheese dish, and Bobby had a hamburger with garlic mayonnaise. We all had pints of smooth, dark Guinness prior to turning in at about 9:30 PM for what should be a quiet, regenerating night. Unfortunately, unbeknownst to us, microbial invaders were about to alter our race day plans!
At 5:15 AM, I checked the messages on my iPhone, and I couldn’t believe my eyes! Bobby’s texts read like this (in order of receipt):
“I have been up all night. I think I have food poisoning. Headache and chills and sweats and nausea. I am going to see if I can transfer to the lower distances. No chance I can do the full today.”
“Just threw up for the first time in years. I’m out.”
“Take the cab in my name. Should be about 10 pounds. I will give it back to you.”
Staying on Course
This last message was Bobby being Bobby. He had already booked a taxi for us to the rendezvous point where buses would ferry us to the start line, and, even in the midst of his apparent food poisoning, he wanted to be sure that I knew he would pick up the tab for our cab. As I sat down for breakfast in the hotel restaurant with my race gear on, I realized that I was now on my own. I had that unmoored, self-conscious feeling when one is alone in a strange and somewhat intimidating circumstance, like a freshman on the first day of high school, hoping to successfully open his locker and make it to class.
Well, enough of that! Let’s eat a good race day breakfast and get rolling! I had porridge and scrambled eggs with whole-wheat toast, a banana, and strong black coffee. As I ate my breakfast, another lone runner entered the dining room and, as is often the case in the running community, I suddenly wasn’t alone anymore. He needed a lift to the bus rendezvous as well, and was happy when I invited him to join me. As we climbed into the black Ford Transit taxi, the driver asked, “Bobby?”, and, in order to keep things simple, I replied, “Yep, that’s me!” I found it ironic that, as we cut through that quiet, predawn Inverness morning, the real Bobby was not to be found on this trek to the race that we had both anticipated with such relish just a few hours earlier.
My newest race partner was Steve, a friendly, thirtyish Londoner who picked up running about four years ago to stay in shape and keep his head clear. He was without his wife and young daughter for the day in order to knock out this race, and he appeared to enjoy my company as much as I did his. Steve had grown up in Northern Ireland before moving to London and was well versed in UK history, culture, and geology. We arrived at the rendezvous point to find two massive columns of buses (“carriages”) waiting for us. Race staff efficiently directed all 2,619 runners onto the buses for the drive out to the start line. During the approximately one hour, fifteen minute bus ride, I learned a lot, as Steve and I traded stories and observations.
Like the Sehgahunda Trail Marathon, runners are bussed multiple miles from the finish area out to the starting point prior to the race. Indeed, for this race, it seems we ride the entire 26.2 miles out and are simply dropped off with the obvious expectation that we run back. I found it intimidating lumbering up and down all of those green, lush miles of rolling Highland countryside! “Holy cow! I’ve got to run all this!” It didn’t help that it was a cool, wet morning, with precipitation ranging from mist to a solid, cold rain. In one sense it seemed a good morning to stay inside and watch an old movie, perhaps Braveheart!
As I disembarked from the bus, I knew right away that the starting point was different than any geography I had yet experienced in Scotland, and, really, anywhere else. We were amidst an expansive, rainy, windy, cold Scottish moor, reminiscent of the “Hound of the Baskervilles.” There were few trees nearby to provide shelter, and I think I speak for virtually every runner out there that morning, when I report that, though it was a beautiful location, it was uncomfortably cold, breezy, and wet!
We stood here for more than an hour, until the 10 AM start. Runners made do by remaining in their thicker clothing, which could be sent back via drop bags at start time. I was very glad that I had brought my GRTC gloves, “Compass Care” sweatpants, my thick “Knights of Columbus” toboggan and heavy, black “Sehgahunda” hoodie. There was a dearth of port-a-johns, and dozens of men and women alike walked a short distance across the moor to stands of pine trees to relieve themselves. This occurred despite the admonition of the booming, amplified race announcer, who reminded us that urinating on trees was not an environmentally friendly practice, and that, in the cold, men would not be at “their best.”
Now, it’s one thing for a man to take a short walk away from a crowd, slip behind a tree, and, with back turned from others, quickly relieve himself, then slip back into the group. It’s quite another for a woman to do the same thing, especially in a wet, open moor; however, many of them made the best of a difficult situation.
When traversing back from the trees to the trail, care had to be taken to avoid having one’s running shoes sucked off their feet by deep, dark crevasses of muddy bogs, camouflaged by a cover of brilliantly green peat. Indeed, Steve lost his shoe in just that way and had to retrieve it by hand.
In the closing moments before the race start, runners peeled off their auxiliary clothing, jumped up and down in shorts and light running gear to keep warm, and waited for the official start. I was down to my orange Air Force Marathon cap, lime green Empire State Marathon long-sleeve running shirt under my blue short-sleeved LIFE Runner shirt, black compression shorts under black and blue “camo” shorts, and my gray and green New Balance 860 v7 shoes. With little fanfare save the inspiring sound of a local bagpipe corps, we were off!
The approximately first three miles of this race is by-and-large downhill, and we ran right down into warmer, calmer weather. Indeed, now that we were off that moor, it was a great day for a run, overcast but cool with only a little rain that fell during the first half hour. Unfortunately, my Nike app did not maintain data on my splits, but my average pace was 10’23”, which I think I maintained pretty nicely across the 26.2 miles. The course had 1,156 feet of elevation change with a lot of small, undulating hills, with the exception of a short series of substantial climbs beginning at around Mile 18. A good portion of the course, particularly in the initial handful of miles, was on paved but narrow farm roads, making it awkward to pass slower athletes, particularly if they were running two or three abreast.
At around mile four, I witnessed an unseemly event. Like at the starting area, there was a dearth of port-a-johns available on the course, so a lot of athletes resorted to using out-of-the-way stands of trees and bushes. I ran past a vehicle attempting to pull out of the driveway of a farm onto the road. At the time, I wondered why a driver would even attempt to pull out into a road filled with marathon runners. Where did she think she was going to go? A few moments later, I figured this out. The driver, a middle-aged woman who’s expression revealed a livid disposition, drove her vehicle alongside a female athlete who was crouched down and urinating behind a tree located a short distance off of the road. Her chosen spot was reasonably secluded, afar from any person or building. “This is my ?!”%$# land!” the driver said, among other spiteful, crude things. She was nearly in an all-out rage! I heard other runners claim that the woman had gone so far as to hit or kick the athlete, though I did not see this myself. Fellow runners began to shout this woman down as they went past, reminding her that there was really no measurable damage being done to her property. This event cast a temporary shadow over the event, as the ire and ill will of this woman stood in stark contrast to the camaraderie of the day.
I had made a decision to maintain a slow, deliberate pace in the first half of the race, in order to ensure that I could pour it on in the second half; therefore, I ran about 9:30 miles. Besides, the views of the Scottish countryside and the Loch were beautiful. Why rush? I wanted to take it all in across every step of that course! Water, gels and nutrition chews were plentiful, and I took advantage whenever they were offered. Volunteers were kind, upbeat, and well organized.
Some runners opted for throwing their trash in isolated portions of the route (i.e., far away from aid stations or trash collection sites), and I wondered if all of this got picked up, though I decided that race officials would certainly come through and conduct a thorough cleaning.
Multiple mile portions of this race had few or no spectators, save persons affiliated with the race, but the spectators in the small towns that we passed through were spirited and positive. “Well done!” was the phrase of choice expressed by many kind people along the route. I enjoyed my brief conversations with fellow runners. I’m sure it was obvious to most everyone whom I interacted with that I was from the US, and I got a friendly reception, without exception. Those of us who live in Upstate New York know that when others hear “New York”, they may assume we live in Gotham City; but, in actuality, my home in the Finger Lakes region of NY, 350 miles northwest of NYC, is a bit like the area around Loch Ness (but not that moor!)
My “A” goal was running a sub-4 hour race, and my “B” goal was simply running all of the race (i.e., no walking). My “C” goal was, as always, to be alive at the end. At the half way point, my time was about 2:18, so I set my sites on the “B” goal and continued running steady-on. I slowed during a series of long, steady hills that began around Mile 18 but never walked. I made a mental error at about Mile 21. I saw a sign that said, “5K”, and I thought this meant I had about 3 miles to go and stepped up my pace. A couple miles later, I realized this was signage from the 5K race held earlier that morning. This may sound like a trivial matter, but in those final miles, I was feeling serious pain and fatigue, and I needed to recalibrate my thinking to match the actual remaining distance. The final miles were comprised of an exciting run through Inverness, and I burned every ounce of energy in my gas tank crossing that finish line. I made it in 4:30:55. This is slower than most of my previous races but my first negative split, with my second half run taking about 2:14.
The Post-Race Party
The Better Half and I enjoyed warm Baxter soup (readers from the US might think of Campbell’s), tasty bread and other great foods that were plentiful at the post-race party. Race bling, collected at the end of the race, consisted of a sharp looking “Loch Ness Marathon” race shirt in red with black trim and featuring a stylized image of the serpent, as well as a can of Baxter soup, a Cliff bar, and a package of short bread. Something I had never seen at a race: race officials had made available to runners the showers at a the local recreation center. This proved to be very helpful, as I had already moved out of the Heathmount.
Along with Bobby, the Better Half and I caught a ScottRail train to Edinburgh that evening in order to carry on with our Scottish adventure, and, thankfully, Bobby, though still feeling weak, was on the mend. He and I split an incredible tasting Cadbury chocolate bar, his first food of the day. He explained to me that the chocolate used for the Cadbury candies is better in the UK than is generally available in the US, and, well, it sure tasted like it that night! As I ate those rectangular segments of rich, dark milk chocolate and looked out at the beautiful Scottish countryside, now barely alit with the slightest trace of remaining day, I could tell Bobby and I had the same question on our minds. What’s our next challenge?
Loch Ness proved to be an awesome race, and Scotland proved to be a beautiful, inviting country to visit. My thanks to everyone affiliated with the race for a job well done! I have not decided on a next marathon, and I am open to suggestions! Please let me know what you think! In the meantime, I’ll be running the Monroe Half Marathon again at the beginning of November, so watch for that! Best wishes to all of my readers during this Fall 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
Since I have running blog, I have a moral obligation to publish a snappy list of clever tips guaranteed to catapult all three of my faithful readers toward their running goals. You know what I mean: a rapid fire compilation of strategies to bring out the very best in performance and enjoyment while on the running trail. Given that I have no expertise, or relevant credentials related to running, I am, according to popular convention, fully qualified to present just such a list! This time, I’ll focus on my own cohort, veteran male runners – those guys who have reached that certain age and are still giving it there all. Here goes!
No Pain, No Gain…..Hey, take it from this 51 year-old guy, unless it seriously causes other people pain to see you running, you’re probably not trying hard enough. Whether it’s a 5K or a marathon, when out there, man, you’ve got groan a lot and maintain an anguished expression. Carry yourself with the comportment of Charleton Heston when he was captured and beaten by the apes. Highlight those parts of your body that make others cringe. If you’ve got knees that look like fossilized mastodon bones, work them back and forth at the start line while moaning. You might even consider crying a little, as the site of a grown man crying at running events helps everyone have a good time.
Build Community…..Before and after races, freely share personal information with the people around you, especially with young adults who would otherwise be having fun with their friends. Often, the best ice breaker is recounting why you began running in the first place: your growing awareness of burgeoning chronic illness and an eventual slow, agonizing death. Other fun ice breakers include current events, especially political news viewed on Fox and MSNBC. If you’re really at a loss for words, simply pivot to the tried-and-true topic of the increasing difficulty your experiencing trying to establish a solid urine stream before a big run. Gentlemen, our sparkling conversation skills are our gift to fellow runners; they deserve to hear our wit and wisdom! Not only do our contributions help build community, it reminds younger folks of what they can look forward to during their own sunset years.
Dress Properly…..Men, we know what running gear makes us most comfortable, and, frankly, that’s what we should be wearing when we’re out there. First, your super short shorts from the ’70’s are not only liberating, they are of historical significance. Like a Civil War reenactor, you are providing an important public service by modeling this apparel for the younger generation. You can be sure that this is why people stare at you in open-mouthed wonderment when you lope past. Likewise, those knee-high tube socks and terry cloth sweat bands not only look cool, they provide opportunity to introduce the history of all-timegreats, like Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, to the younger set. Finally, because we get frugal with age and just generally care less, we are not washing the running gear as often as most folks and, hey, that’s saves natural resources. So, if your vintage running shirt is a bit stained and, well, aromatic, no problem! When you’re in close quarters with others at the start line on race day, they will thank you for your good stewardship of Mother Earth.
Be the Change You Want to See…..Finally, gentlemen, like Gandhi, we have a golden opportunity to set a tone of positivity and peace in our local running communities. Hey, when blocking access to the hydration station during a 5K by standing in place to look at your flip phone, smile and wish others well. When stuffing your duffle bag with extra post-race food so that you have snacks later, leave the last item for the next person. When you barricade yourself in the porta-john for an hour, only to emerge immediately prior to the National Anthem, stand at attention, straight and tall. If you see a runner fall violently down during a difficult trail marathon, step around her carefully as you go on your way, so as not to cause additional injury. Let’s be great examples for our running communities!
Remember, if nothing else, people enjoy seeing others fail miserably; it makes them feel better about themselves. And, as we get older, gentlemen, this is a key way that we can give back to the running community. I hope these tips add enjoyment to your running, as well as to those around you, and I’ll see you on the trail!
According to Google Maps, the drive from Fairport, NY to Nashville, TN is 787 miles or 11 hours and 53 minutes. This is a long haul by car, but the cost of flying gave me heart palpitations, and, considering layovers and connections, flying the friendly skies would take nearly as long as driving. Plus, after a long winter, I needed a chance to clear my head, and what could be better for that than a solo cruise to a 26.2 mile date with destiny? So, after saying good-by to the Better Half and following a half day at work, I pushed the accelerator down on my Subaru Legacy and rolled west across the NY thruway, took a left onto I-71 South at Cleveland and carried on until I arrived at a budget hotel in Hillsboro, OH at sunset on Thursday night. There, I had a nice meal at a Bob Evans Restaurant and slept well. On Friday, I ate oatmeal and a banana at the hotel’s free breakfast buffet and cruised through KY, stopping at a nacho stand run by a very kind mother-son team just outside of the National Corvette Museum in Bowling Green, KY. They assured me that I was going to have wonderful time in Nashville and run “super fast.” Sounds good!
I crossed into TN and arrived at the race expo at the Nashville Convention Center at about 2 PM on Friday. Parking at the convention center cost me about $28.00, and that was a little painful. Inside, I caught up with my “Unofficial Coach”, Bobby N., a tireless “St. Jude Hero” fundraiser, who had just flown in from downstate NY and is a veteran of this course. I mentioned to Bobby that I harbored an aspiration of a new PR on this course, and, in his direct but well-intentioned manner, he told me to forget it – too hot and too hilly. This turned out to be good advice. On my way out, I gave my metered receipt to another runner just pulling up in a battered SUV with NJ plates, so that he could use the two hours of remaining time on it. “Wow, thank you! That’s sooooo cool!”, he said with a big smile. At least two of us got to park for that price!
My training cycle had been reasonably solid through the long Upstate NY winter; however, I was concerned that sitting in the car for that long drive down may result in a stiffening of the muscles and cramping on race day. Furthermore, due to concern about severe heat and humidity, the start time for the marathon was moved back one hour to 6:45 AM CST. Of course, for me as a New Yorker, this means I’ll be starting this 26.2 miles jaunt at 5:45 AM (EST)! Can I do it? Well, only one way to find out!
I caught up with my friend, Bill C., whom faithful readers might remember from my Monroe Half Marathon write-up from last Fall. Unfortunately, Bill was suffering from a stress fracture in his left foot and was tentative about completing the full marathon. Despite the pain, his plan, as always, was to give this race everything he’s got. He’s done this marathon before and reminded me of a few things: (1) hills; (2) heat; and (3) humidity. And, of course, that this race is a blast! Bill took me for a pre-race tour of a portion of the course in his sweet, silver, two seat convertible Nissan roadster – what a treat! I saw the sites, including the inviting bars and honky-tonks with trademark neon signs, not to mention throngs of partying tourists and pedal-powered carts of giggling bachelorettes. Later, we had a great dinner and conversation before turning in early. I set the alarm for about 5:30 AM CST and was out like a light, despite the anticipation of my date with destiny in the morning.
Get Up! It’s Race Day!
Bill doesn’t drink coffee, but, at 6 AM, he had a beautiful pot of strong Starbuck’s coffee brewed and ready for me. I drank two black cups and loved it! I had a big bowl of Quaker oats with peanut butter and a banana, and I was all tanked up. I suited up in my black compression shorts, new dark blue Nike shorts, red Sehgahunda shirt, and my orange Air Force Marathon hat. On my feet, I had my new New Balance 860v7s. Bill’s friend, Jan, motored us to as close to the start line as possible, we jumped out, posed for a quick snap, and jogged to the start line. Let’s rock-n-roll!
After a beautiful rendition of the National Anthem, we were all set to go! Thanks to Bill’s sage advice, I got my corral assignment switched from somewhere in the teens to Corral 4, near the very front. As a result, we started much earlier, perhaps 30 – 60 minutes or more. Bill’s rationale: starting earlier increased our opportunity to cross the finish line before the temperature gets perilously high. Sure enough! After the big start we were out of the chute and trucking while most everyone else was still waiting behind the start line.
My marathon strategy was simple and, I think, tried-and-true: go slow and steady in the early miles and have something left in the tank during the final stretch, when the sun would get hot. I made a decision to drink water at every available station and down nutrition whenever offered. This wasn’t as much based on any science; intuitively, it just seemed like this plan offered the best chance of being upright at the finish line. My first mile clocked in at a 10’02” pace; this might be a little too slow. I finished my second mile in 8’44”; this might be a little too fast. I ran my third mile at 9’01”, and this seemed just about right. With considerable variability, I remained at around this pace for about the first 13 miles. Bill ran at a faster pace – perhaps around 8’35” or so, and I watched him slip away during those first couple of miles, not to be seen again for about 11 miles.
By “variability”, I am referring to hills. And, man, were there hills! Not steep, sharp angles, but, rather, long, multiple-block inclines; the kind of hills where one does not see the crest when beginning the ascent. Marathons are as much mental as physical, and, as I submerged into the demands of these long hills, I simply told myself that “this hill will never end” and “this is my sole purpose in life now – to go up this hill.” I am sure these self-statements sound counterintuitive to some, like “negative speak”. After all, wouldn’t it be better to tell myself, “Oh, it’s not that bad” or “I’m almost to the top”? But, for whatever reason, there seemed less chance that I would quit from sheer exhaustion or lack of mental fortitude if I resigned myself to the notion that I was in this for literally the foreseeable future. This is a kind of self-hypnosis, I think, that a marathon runner must foster in order to cope with the demands of the course; a riff on Mr. Miyagi’s “wax on, wax off” as a way to endure the sheer enormity of the task.
As mentioned, I made the decision to take advantage of every aid station on the route. In addition to water, I had the following: orange slices, a “glucose shot”, Gatorade (regular and extra salt), individual salt packets (to replace the salt lost through profuse sweating in the climbing temperature), Gummy Bears, cold sponges, ice for under my hat, and cold towels for around my neck . At about mile 4, I had a chocolate Gu that I had brought myself. Despite all of this, I was worried about depleting energy, especially as I reached the half way point. At one point, a Good Samaritan – a man of about 30 – gave me a word of encouragement as I passed by, and I impulsively yelled out to him, “Do you have any nutrition?” He reached into his bag, pulled out a banana, and tossed it to me. Perfect! “Thank you!” I yelled, and he gave me a smile and a “thumbs up”. I ate that while continuing my run. When I finished the banana and was running with the peel in hand, a kind woman motioned for me to toss it to her, indicating that she would be sure it got thrown out properly. I gently lobbed it by her feet and thanked her; she gave me a sweet smile and wave. Where would I be without kind people? That’s as true in a marathon as in the rest of my life!
Around half way, I met up with Bill, who was watching from the sidelines. He bowed out at the half way point, due to severe pain in his fractured foot. I know this decision bothered him, but this was a very smart thing to do; now, he can fully heal and not risk a season-ending deterioration of his condition. Despite his pain, he ran with me for about a half mile, in order to assess my status and provide encouragement. Buoyed by this support, I took off on the second half of the race. The great music provided by live bands along the course (e.g., covers of Guns and Roses, Tom Petty, and Johnny Cash), cheers from the crowd, and intermittent showers of water from sprinklers arranged by people along the route kept me feeling strong. I had a blast for quite a few miles; here is a brief video summary of the race that gives a good feel of the fun to be found along the route.
Identifying the toughest part of the race is easy: the four mile round trip to Shelby Bottoms between miles 21 and 25. I’m glad Bill didn’t show this to me during our preview drive during the previous day. If I had known what a brutal stretch that was, I may have been too discouraged to finish it. It was a long, hot road near the end of the race, with minimal spectators to provide diversion or trees to provide shade from the sun, which was now good and hot! All I could do was buckle down and chug it out. I finally rounded the community baseball/softball diamonds that composed the “lollipop” portion of this leg of the race course at mile 23 and headed for the finish line. My pace dropped considerably on this section, with mile 24 being my slowest (12’26”). Plenty of fellow runners were dropping out and/or walking by then, so I knew I wasn’t alone in my pain. At a makeshift station near the exit of that loop, a young man was offering ice cold beer; tempting, but, no, this doesn’t sound like a good idea for this old man.
As I closed in on the finish line, Bill greeted me again with welcomed words of encouragement. I was almost there! In that final mile, the crowd and excitement grew and, as I entered the chute, I resumed disciplined race form and picked up my pace. I made it! My official chip time was 4:27:55, (overall standing: 581/2445; division standing: 21/103; gender: 357/1310).
I met up with Bill and Jan, picked up my finisher’s jacket, and cruised back to Bill’s house to take a long, hot shower. I felt like a million bucks after that shower; no injuries and only mild to moderate soreness. My hosts took me to an incredible sushi restaurant for dinner at Nama Sushi Bar and ice cream at Jeni’s Ice Creams. Both were terrific! To close out the day, we took a fun tour of Vanderbilt University. I spend my week in the university world, and I have associates at Vanderbilt, so this was a great orientation to a beautiful school. We ended the day visiting with Bill’s gracious neighbors, who gave me an ice cold, craft-brewed IPA, and this tasted great.
It is a profound blessing to live in this great country, have the freedom to travel, engage in the leisure of road racing, enjoy good health, consume all the clean water and nutrition one wants, and run 26.2 miles injury-free. It a special blessing to do these things in the company of good friends, and that was how I spent the 2017 St. Jude Nashville Rock-n-Roll Marathon weekend. It’s not lost on me that St. Jude is the Patron of Hopeless Cases, and, while I am far from “hopeless”, I am inspired by the goodness that I see in events like this marathon and in time spent with friends. Thanks for reading this race report and see you out there!
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!