It was a crisp 18 degrees Fahrenheit with a gusty breeze at the start line of this 9 AM Thanksgiving Day race in the Upstate New York town of Hilton. Though the Race With Grace has been a Thanksgiving Day tradition for thousands of runners since 1991, I’m late for the party, as this is my first one. I was swayed to run this race, to a great extent, because of my friendship with one of its founders, Bob Dyjak. I met Bob through our local LIFE Runner chapter. He’s a man who kindly witnesses his Christian faith through everyday living, and his hard work to build this race into a well-established community charity event is just one example. Proceeds from this race benefit the CURE Childhood Cancer Association, a Rochester, NY-based nonprofit organization dedicated to helping families affected by childhood cancer and chronic blood disorders.
The race itself is a fast country loop on paved two-lane roads, beginning and ending on the pretty campus of the First Bible Baptist Church. Prior to the start, a wonderful young family affected by childhood cancer provided heartfelt words of encouragement, and Pastor Grace gave a Prayer of Thanksgiving, with a special remembrance for family members serving in the military who would be having Thanksgiving far from home. At the start, I slipped into the middle of the 603 runners and set about a 7 minute, 30 second pace.
One is never quite sure how their body is going to react to the reality of inhaling and exhaling brisk winter air while churning their arms and legs under race conditions. In my case on this Thanksgiving morning, it stung my lungs and strained my muscles, but I could tell right away that I was in business. After the first mile, and intermittently thereafter, I pulled unnecessary items off…an extra shirt…my gloves…the hat, and shoved them into my shorts pockets or underneath the elastic band of my compression pants. Despite the frigid conditions, I was enveloped in the heat of my pounding metabolism; I was a furnace on two legs!
Funny how the mind works. Despite my confident “read” of body systems, I was convinced at about the halfway point that I was really having trouble or, more accurately, that I was about to begin having trouble. If allowed to fester unchecked, this kind of “anticipatory anxiety” breeds more anxiety, and, eventually, to faltering efforts; therefore, I consciously rejected it and focused on maintaining my pace.
When I hit the final mile, a flat, seamless stretch of Manitou road, I knew I had it in the gas tank to take it home. The term “manitou” is a Native American (Algonquian) reference to “life force” or spirit. Running with throttle wide open on the final mile of a 10K on Thanksgiving morning certainly puts one in touch with a definite sense of being fully alive! In the final run back up to the First Bible Baptist Church, I accelerated to a 6 minute, 10 second pace before entering the chute and crossing the finish line. Made it! My time was 45:46 (a 7:23 overall pace). This was a podium finish for me, as I came in second in my age group for males, though I was not nearly as fast as James Anderson, who came in with an overall first place with a 33:27 time (5:24 pace). Now, that’s fast!
After the race, runners and their families enjoyed an awesome spread of post-race/pre-turkey foods (e.g., bagels, bananas, yogurt, hot coffee) in the welcoming, spacious interior of the church building. The hospitality, openness, and genuine spirit of charity of this faith community and its running guests was evident in this good-hearted celebration, from the food pantry to the sanctuary. On that cold Upstate New York morning, I think everyone there felt that rich gratitude that manifests from great freedoms – practicing one’s religious beliefs without government reprisal, challenging one’s physical boundaries in heated competition, and connecting with neighbors by way of handshakes and fist bumps, kind words, and good humor. We have much to be grateful for in this great country on Thanksgiving Day. Despite the cold brace of division and anxious anticipation of events yet to be realized, we thrive as One Nation Under God and the opportunity to Race With Grace.
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!
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!
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!
*Editorial Note: An observant reader pointed out that, going from New York (EST) to Nashville (CST), I actually gained an hour of sleep! It’s funny how the mind works!
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!