Brief Race Recap: Return to the Monroe (MI) Half Marathon

Brief Race Recap: Return to the Monroe (MI) Half Marathon

The Backstory

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.

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Here’s the presidential portrait that greets visitors at the US Customs and Border office in the Motor City. Surely, we’re going to get busted for something!

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!

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Race gear ready to roll! I wore my Dad’s Detroit Edison shirt again this year as part of my “warm up” suit. He read meters in Monroe for 39 years. Also, I brought along a towel that I saved from the 2016 Nashville St. Jude Rock-and-Roll Marathon in anticipation of rain. All proceeds of the Monroe Half support Special Olympics….Terrific! BTW, I really like the race shirt this year!

The Race

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.

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Made it! Official time: 1:47:03, 67 out of 309, 3rd of 13 in my age group.

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!

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Humility, man, humility.

Epilogue

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!

 

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Race Report: The 2017 Nashville St. Jude Rock-n-Roll Marathon

Race Report: The 2017 Nashville St. Jude Rock-n-Roll Marathon

Prologue

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!

Race Prep

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!

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Bill (left) and I ready to roll about 15 minutes before the start! I am humbled by Bill’s kind hospitality during my visit to Nashville. I’m looking forward to repaying him in the future!

The Race

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.

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The Shelby Bottoms portion of the race. I’m glad I didn’t know quite how brutal this portion of the race is before doing it. I may have fallen apart!

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).

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The finish line is in site!

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.

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Kirkland Hall on the campus of Vanderbilt. Built around 1873, this was the “main building” when this great school was originally founded.

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!

Race Prep Report: 2017 Nashville St. Jude Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon

Race Prep Report: 2017 Nashville St. Jude Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon

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!

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I went out running recently. This picture has nothing to do with that.

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!

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My Daily Mile log illustrates my Winter routine.

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.
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Running the last Freezeroo of the season on February 25th, the 4.4 miles Whitehouse Challenge in Webster, NY. The weather for this race was absolutely wild! It was calm and 54° at the start of the race and at least 20° degrees colder with a driving rain at it’s conclusion. I ran this in 45:15 (8’13” pace).

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 🙂

 

 

 

Race Report: 2017 GRTC Valentines Run in Memory of Tom Brannon

Race Report: 2017 GRTC Valentines Run in Memory of Tom Brannon

The Backstory

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 has to 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.

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GRTC Valentines Run 2015 – pure leisure! This is what was in my head as I planned for today’s race. I finished that 8-mile jaunt in about 1 hour and 12 minutes. Yes, my eyebrows were frozen in “Spock” position. Thanks to expert photographer Alex Tong for this shot. 

The Start

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.

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The map from my Nike Run app. Our route was counterclockwise on this map. Note Edgemere Drive, on the thin band of land along Lake Ontario. BTW, remember I mentioned that the forecast was 34 degrees at start-time? Gotta admit: nailed it!

The Race

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.

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Lake Ontario at Golden Hill State Park in August 2015. Picture taken during a family camping trip.

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.

Epilogue

Our last Freezeroo race of the season is the Whitehouse Challenge on February 25th. I’m sure I’ll do a better job predicting the weather that day and will have no struggles at all LOL! My thanks to friends at GRTC and the Bagel Bunch Runners for a fun race. It was great, and you all did terrific! Looming in the distance is the Nashville St. Jude Rock and Roll Marathon in April…. I can’t wait!

The 2016 Freezeroo Series Race Report One: The Don Curran 5K…and How I Ended the Day with Rocker Lou Gramm of Foreigner

The 2016 Freezeroo Series Race Report One: The Don Curran 5K…and How I Ended the Day with Rocker Lou Gramm of Foreigner

The Freezeroo is an annual series of six races sponsored by the Greater Rochester Track Club (GRTC)  between the months of December and February. This is my fourth year of running this often snowy and sometimes icy series. The individual races freezeroologonoyearrange in distance from the Don Curran 5K to the Valentine Run in Memory of Tom Brannon 8 Mile. Awards are given at the conclusion of the series for the top three overall and age group runners. Here’s my write-up of my participation in the first race of the season, the Don Curran 5K. BTW, the picture above was taken by an unidentified photographer at GRTC and found at the Freezeroo website.

The Backstory – I own a comfortable, late-model Subaru Legacy with heated seats and great sound system, but, I arrive at Northstar Christian Academy in my 1991 Dodge Dakota pick-up. There’s just something about cruising to this race series in this 25 year-old war horse with 193,000 miles on it that just seems right. Maybe it’s the throaty sound of the V8 engine, the crack of the speakers under the strain of Van Halen, or the  spacious bench seat upholstered in “Austin Powers” burnt red  velour, but, for me, this sweet ride is part of race-day fun.

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My ’91 Dodge Dakota makes race day extra special! I paid $1700 for it and have put 11,000 miles on it so far.

We have overcast sky and a temperature of 36 degrees at the 10 AM start – great running weather! There’s no snow or ice to negotiate, just an intermittent, cold drizzle that holds off at start time. Rest assured though, dear reader, we’ll have challenging weather before the end of this series. It’s not called “Freezeroo” because the registration is free!

The Prep – Because of the winter weather, choosing race attire is especially important for this series. Too much: hot. Too little: cold. I’ve got my gray shorts over black compression shorts, green, long-sleeved Empire State Marathon shirt, and short-sleeved blue LIFE Runner shirt on over that. On my feet are Mission Vaporactive crew socks that I won from the Montezuma Half Marathon earlier in the year (third in age group) and black Asics running shoes. Because of the possible drizzle, I wear a ball cap to help keep the moisture off the lenses of my glasses, though I end up pulling this off at mid-race, due to a need to stay cool. On my hands, I’ve got stubby green gloves that probably belonged to one of my sons when they were younger – just enough to keep the fingers and palms warm!

It’s ironic that I looked forward to this first race of the Freezeroo series with such gusto, because 5K’s are my least favorite run. It seems that the only way that I can run one competitively is to open up full throttle from beginning to end. It’s all strain and pain. But, here I am! I pick up my bib, greet some fellow runners, and complete some brief warm-up laps. I’m ready to race!

The Race – I was tucked in the back half of the 146 runners and chatting at start time. I was making some goofy comment to my neighbor when everyone surged forward. I cut myself off mid-sentence and lunged forward in excitement. The race is afoot!  I cruise out and establish a pace just under 7 minutes per mile.  I begin traversing the course, taking care to avoid puddles and other runners.

The Don Curran 5K is an out-and-back that cuts through parking lots, streets, a park, and alongside a fairly major thoroughfare (Long Pond Road). The turnaround point is found midway down a residential street and marked with an orange pylon. Supportive volunteers point the way at the several twists and turns, so following the route is no problem. There are no aid stations.

Despite the easy going, “club” feel of this series, there are some very fast, competitive runners, and they have darted out ahead of the pack, creating, in one sense, a smaller race ahead of the race. I admire their speed! Because I started near the back, I truck past quite a few fellow runners in the opening minutes. I complete my first mile in 6:53.

The second mile begins on Long Pond Road and continues down the residential street. The race leaders begin passing us in reverse on their return route, and, for a moment, there is that twinge of envy: “I wish I could blast off like that!” The envy fades quickly, as I’m happy to just be in the game.

It is between 2.0 and 2.5 miles of a 5K that I find most difficult. I’m feeling it now, and there’s still quite a distance to go! I keep my head down and chug it out, though I’m slowing just a bit (i.e., about 7:08). I have some moments of doubt: “Is this the race that I crash and burn?” I  reject these thoughts and press on toward the finish, willing my legs to maintain tempo and pacing deep, quick breaths. I can sense one fellow runner, whom I passed earlier, gradually moving up on me. I increase my tempo. We might say this is a leisurely series, but most of us know that a big part of the leisure is leaning into the competition. It’s that neighbor off your shoulder who brings out your best running efforts! As I bang out the course, I have a brief image of a battered sea vessel chugging beyond its comfortable limit, like when Humphrey Bogart’s character plows toward the German ship in the closing act of “The African Queen.”

The Big Finish – As I approach the final half mile, I am relieved with the growing awareness that, yes, I will make it. As I see the “3 Mile” marker, I pour it on and approach the finish line with my jets at full burn. I made it in 21:58 (28th overall, 5 out of 11 in my age group). I’m pleased that I got under 22 minutes! At the finish line, I bend over, tilt my head down, put my hands on my hips, and breathe strenuously – pant, I guess one would say – for about 45 seconds, in order to recover. Then the pain is gone, and I am ready to celebrate. Tim Dwyer, an athlete in the 55 – 59 age group, came in first with a time of 18:36. Now, that’s impressive!

Post-Race Festivities – Inside the cafeteria of Northstar Christian Academy, a beautiful post-race buffet is arranged by kind volunteers. I love the camaraderie and the celebration. If one hangs out with runners, they will be hanging out with a crowd that is, by and large, very happy to be alive. I settle on hot black coffee, banana halves, and a wonderful toasted raisin bread and peanut butter sandwich. I think peanut butter is the world’s most perfect food, and I would take that sandwich over most items on the menu of a pricey restaurant any day of the week. My thanks to the GRTC leadership, volunteers, and fellow runners for a great first race of the season.

How I Ended the Day with Rocker Lou Gramm – The legendary rocker and former  Foreigner frontman performed at the House of Guitars  that Saturday evening following the race. My family cruised over to the H.O.G. (this time in the family vehicle, not the Dakota truck, let’s be reasonable), found easy parking, strolled through the front doors, and listened to a great set of classic Foreigner tunes. I had heard that it was going to be an

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Lou Gramm at House of Guitars, December 3, 2016. A terrific show by a master of the craft!

acoustic set, but he had his band and amps. You probably know how impressive it is to hear musicians at the top of their craft up close and personal, and Gramm still has the chops! He and his band played some great tunes from my youth, including Double Vision, Urgent, Juke Box Hero, and, of course, Cold as Ice. Speaking of “cold” and “ice”, the next Freezeroo race is the 7.5 mile New Year’s Resolution Run at Mendon Ponds Park on January 1. And, I’ll be there, ready to go. Hey, if Lou can keep rocking, I can keep running.

Race Report: The 2016 Monroe Half Marathon

Race Report: The 2016 Monroe Half Marathon

The Backstory – Monroe has a storied history. Nestled in the southeastern corner of Michigan along Lake Erie, it is the former site of an ancient sea bed, home for Native Americans, a new frontier for French colonists in the 17th century, birthplace of General George Armstrong Custer, and part of the “Arsenal of Democracy” during World War Two. It is also where I spent my formative years – the 1970’s and 80’s,when my primary concerns centered upon Rocky, Queen, Farrah Fawcett, Smoky and the Bandit, and the great Michigan rocker, Bob Seger. I  have been living out-of-state for well over three decades now, but I still have rich memories to be found on nearly every corner of this great old town. What’s it going to be like to run a half marathon in a locale with such rich  history? I’m about to find out.

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Wake up! It’s Race Day! Early morning view from my window. As a youngster, I found arrowheads and ancient seashells in that field.

 

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My Dad, Joseph “Tom” Mruzek, circa 1980

Race Day Preparation – From the moment I peaked out the window at 6:15 AM, I new the day was going to be beautiful. I opted for my standard half marathon gear, including my black Asics running shoes, green “Empire State Marathon” long sleeve shirt and charcoal Nike running shorts. I am bringing along a special shirt to wear as well: one of my Dad’s Detroit Edison uniform shirts – one that he had worn during his 39 years of reading electric meters in Monroe. I had a great Dad, and I’ve really missed him since he passed away in 2007. He’d be with me in a special way today, as I run a portion of his old meter reading routes.

For breakfast, I have a big bowl of Quaker oats with peanut butter, a banana, and strong, black coffee. The Better Half was suiting up as well; she’s going to run the Monroe 5K, which begins 15 minutes after the half marathon start. By the way, we take pride in the fact that all proceeds from the event are earmarked for support of local Special Olympics – terrific!

The Start – We pulled into the pleasant grounds of the Tenneco Corporation off of Albain Road, on the southern edge of Monroe. I think of this business as “Monroe Shocks”, but it appears that a corporate acquisition has resulted in a change of identity since I moved away. As I shut off the engine and gather my things, my oldest son, Joseph, surveys the expansive parking lot and reports that we appear to have the only vehicle in the lot made by a foreign car company (Subaru). Yep! We are back in Michigan!

The sky is a spotless blue, and it is a cool 44 degrees at start time – great weather for running! Several hundred athletes, family, and friends are enjoying the excitement near the well organized start area. Not only do I have Better Half and  son with me, but I am running with an old friend from my days at St. Michael grade school and Monroe Catholic Central High School, Bill C. Bill lives in Nashville now and has made the trek back for this half marathon as well. Bill’s a lean, disciplined runner. I admire his skill, but, even more than that, I admire his love of the sport and his good-natured, zestful approach to this race in particular. This is pure leisure; a real joy and blessing to be out here on this crisp Fall morning, and I can tell Bill knows it! I knock off a Salted Caramel GU for a boost of energy. After a great rendition of the National Anthem by a local musician, as well as group recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance led by a Special Olympiad, we are off!

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Trying to Keep Up with Bill (on right)…Not Going to Happen!

The Race – We tear off east for about a quarter mile on Albain Road and hang a left on Hull Road. Hull Road is an approximately 3 mile straightaway that is as flat as a pancake. We run past Hull Road Auto Parts, the family business of an old high school buddy whom I have not seen in over thirty years. Bill and I are running together at about a 7’30” pace for the first 5 miles. We enjoy each other’s conversation and the excitement of the task before us. I feel giddy. It is that feeling of elation when one senses that, for at least the moment, he’s winning.

We pass some great Monroe landmarks that evoke memories: the Silver Cue pool hall (popping quarters in Asteroids and Space Invaders games), Dorsch Memorial Library (is it really skipping school if one hangs out at the library?), Saint Joseph church (my childhood parish) and Monroe Junior High, where I boarded the bus to go home at the end of the St. Mike’s school day. Nothing like being a grade schooler dressed in a blue Catholic school uniform on a bus packed with wild students from the local junior high. In my head, I hear Billy Squire (“Lonely is the Night“) and Steve Miller (“Fly Like an Eagle“) through tinny bus speakers, and a gruff bus driver voice: “If you want to go home, you have to sit in your seats!”  The flashback brings a smile to my face. At 51, I’d have to do a lot more than that to go home now, though, for a moment, I’m half way there.

It dawns on me that I am going to have a hard time keeping pace with Bill for the entire 13.1 miles, and as I momentarily slow down at the Mile 6 aid station to grab an orange slice, I see Bill run on with seemingly boundless energy. I’m now on my own. Thankfully, the course is well marked and the aid stations plentiful. Every single person throughout the race is kind and supportive.

A beautiful aspect of running is the opportunity for clear-minded contemplation – the chance to really sort some important things out. Here’s a sample of topics I ponder: (1) I wish I knew how to work on cars better. (2) Are big dogs better pets than small dogs or vice-versa? (3) I’d like to belong to a country club, but I would never pay the dues. (4) What food do I like more: Chinese or Mexican? (5) How can it be that not one person who has “spotted” Bigfoot has had a decent camera handy? Hey, I never claimed to be a genius!

We cross the River Raisin over the Macomb Street Bridge and enter neighborhoods lined with houses. Some streets have modest homes and others have expensive ones, but all are well-maintained and reflect pride of ownership. I think about my Dad reading these meters and greeting folks with his ready smile and a positive word. Over 39 years with Edison, he got to know “everyone” in Monroe and established friendships with many, including Elizabeth Upham McWebb (“Little Brown Bear” book series) and Vern J. Sneider (“Teahouse of the August Moon“).

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River Raisin near Veterans Park in Monroe, MI. French settlers  called it “La Rivière aux Raisins” because of the abundance of wild grapes along its shores. Picture taken during a training run.

 

I see my son, Joseph, on my return across the Macomb Street Bridge, so, in order to look macho,  I straighten up and quicken my pace. I don’t want him to think the Old Man is losing his edge. I give him a high-five. At about mile 10 I start really feeling it, and my pace drops to about 8’10” per mile. The return up Hull Road becomes a grudge match between myself and increasing fatigue. I put my head down and slug it out. A fellow runner about my age passes me, and we express brief words of support. I can tell he’s feeling it too. Time to suck it up, cupcakes!

The Big Finish – I felt a surge of energy as I turned off Hull Road and back on to Albain Road for the final half mile. Time to let it rip!…After all, what am I saving it for? My pace quickens. I pass up the fellow runner who had passed me a few moments ago, and he gives me a kind acknowledgment. His tank is empty.  As I enter the Tenneco property, I see a smiling face running towards me – it’s Bill, who returned a few minutes before me, and he has come out to run with me through the shoot. He yells words of encouragement, and I respond by driving it up to full throttle. Now, I’m thrusting my arms and legs out in front of me like a true athlete, and the pain and fatigue are gone. I hear the crowd yell, and I cross the finish line at 1:43:00 (a 7’52” pace; 48 out of 312 runners).

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At the finish line with son, Joseph, and The Better Half (Maria). Note the Detroit Edison uniform shirt.

Bill got first place in our age group with a time of 01:36:57 (7’25” pace; 28th overall). I came in third in our age group and was awarded a great Monroe Half Marathon “PLACER” mug that can hold enough beer to put me down for the night. The Better Half is there as well, and she reports that her 5K went great, and she has a new PR. Son Joseph is there in his ever helpful support role, including foreign car chauffeur. The post-race party is great fun. The organizers of this event have done a terrific job from beginning to end….Thank you!

Bill asks if I ever considered running the Nashville St. Jude Rock and Roll Marathon in April 2017. If I did, I’d have a place to crash. Well, you know, I just might! Who knows? Since it is a rock and roll marathon, I just might hear some Billy Squire or Steve Miller and, well, maybe, just maybe, for a brief moment, I’ll be home again.

Epilogue: I’m all signed up for the Nashville St. Jude Rock and Roll Marathon. Get ready to rock, Bill….it’s going to be fun!