The 37th Annual Skunk Cabbage Classic Half Marathon

The 37th Annual Skunk Cabbage Classic Half Marathon

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.

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The finisher’s medal and shirt. The cost of the shirt was not included in the registration fee, but I’m down to my last 50 race shirts, so I had to have it.

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.

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The race logo. I didn’t see any skunks or any cabbage today. It was too cold!

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!

The Race

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.

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As I approached the finish line, my eye brows were frozen and the lenses of my sunglasses were iced over.

The Finish

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.

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To quote the great philosopher, John Mellencamp, “You make it hurts so good!”

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!

 

 

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A 14.49 Mile Jaunt Around Irondequoit Bay

A 14.49 Mile Jaunt Around Irondequoit Bay

The Backstory

My leg muscles were sore, my hands were numb, and I pondered a few drops of transmission fluid staining the black top under my ’91 Dodge truck, but I was all smiles at the end of this strenuous jaunt around Irondequoit Bay, near Rochester, NY. I’ve done this club run before, and I knew it had a little bit of everything that makes running in this part of New York fun: icy patches, snow, challenging hills, pot holes, a strong wind off of Lake Ontario, and a diehard pack of fun-loving runners, adorned in colorful running gear.

Ah, the running gear! You know, as I stood amidst the middle of this pack at the 8 AM start time, I couldn’t help but notice that I seemed to be the only one not wearing proper winter running gear. You know: black Midzoi MidZero tights, violet New Balance long sleeve hoodies, Brooks Essential Green running jackets. In the midst of this array of fashion, color, and sensibility, I was wearing standard issue gray sweats over compression pants that I had taken from my high school son’s drawer some months earlier, paired with a plain, faded red hoodie, probably from Target. I had simple knitted gloves on my hands and an olive green knitted cap on my head. My gear selection landed me somewhere between Rocky Balboa and Homer Simpson. No matter. This gang doesn’t care about my attire and neither do I. I’m just glad to still be in the game!

It was Saturday, March 10 and a breezy 29 degrees with some sun, some patchy, two-toned gray clouds, and occasional bands of snowflakes swirling from the sky like celebratory confetti. I had my friend, Joe, with me, whom I met during this season’s Freezeroo series; he’s a lean, competitive runner who trains hard and maintains a quick, disciplined tempo deep into the miles. I’ve had a pretty good winter training season, though the treadmill, necessary before and after sunrise, was beginning to wear on my psyche.

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Here’s a scene from one of my winter time training runs – the Erie Canal Trail in Pittsford, NY. See the snow wash underneath the train trestle? That’s fun to run through!

My return to the Sehgahunda Trail Marathon is just a few weeks away, and I need to get serious. Well, with 950 feet of elevation, this run should at least get me started!

Before our group run begins, a few impromptu words of greeting are spoken from the front of this loose pack, including a call for a round of applause for Tim Dwyer,  the newest inductee into the Greater Rochester Track Club Hall of Fame. This group of about 80 local runners offer up a sincere but jovial round of applause paired with a couple good natured teases and jokes. Tim gives a quick wave and says, “Thanks, everyone!” He looks grateful and, well, literally in his element. This sport of running squeezes the gratitude and connectedness out of people like laundry through a hand-cranked wringer. Those of us who would otherwise be strangers are, this morning, a band of fellow runners, traversing a route by foot that most people only do by motor vehicle, in weather many avoid, and at a time of day that makes our endeavor all the stranger. Sounds great! Let’s roll!

The Run

Running with Joe means that I am going to be stepping my game up today, at least for as long as I can stick with him. We cruise up Culver Road and past a silent, still Sea Breeze amusement park, with roller coasters and water slides awaiting the summer sun. Not too long ago, I assured my oldest son, then in first or second grade, that he’d be fine on those coasters. “Heck! I’ll ride with you!” Now, he’s in graduate school at the University of Texas and doesn’t seem to need those kinds of assurances anymore.

There’s already some traffic through the towns of Irondequoit and Charlotte (rhymes with “car lot”) this morning, but not that much. A few people are getting their eggs at the Parkside Diner as we trot past, but Shamrock Jack’s, an Irish pub, looks buttoned up and slumbering before tonight’s guests arrive for the Guinness and shepherd’s pie. Joe and I catch up about upcoming races. We’re both entered in the lottery for the New York City Marathon this November and are relishing the prospect of stepping off that line together. As I write this now, I have the knowledge that he is one of the lucky 10%, and I am not. Run that one for the both of us, Joe! Once I got over that disappointment, I registered for a return to the Marine Corps Marathon in October, so I think I landed on my feet!

Like the rest of humanity, I experience worries and annoyances across the week: a mysterious bit of trouble with the gear shifting in my truck, a productivity quota at work, a harsh comment on a social media platform. In the cosmic picture, these are mostly trivial and, perhaps, even insipid concerns, and, as I begin to knock out the miles, it’s this “cosmic” perspective that envelopes me with the intensity of warm sunshine, leaving those noxious elements of the week to fall to the curb or drop into a jagged-edged pothole. Productivity quota? You want productive? Focus on this run!

Our route dodges and weaves counterclockwise around Irondequoit Bay. This bay is about a half mile wide, 4 miles long, covers 1,660 acres, and has a maximum depth of 73 feet. It’s fed by Irondequoit creek from the south and empties into Lake Ontario at the northern end.

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There’s the route, as recorded by my Nike app. The route linked above is not the exact route, but it’s very similar and offers greater detail.

We cruised down some quiet side roads, as well as much busier multiple lane thoroughfares. This wasn’t a race, so there was an abundance of friendly conversation. I heard a woman running behind me for a few miles say that she’s got two marathons coming up: Boston, then Big Sur in California. Nice! I stuck with Joe nicely for about the first 8 miles, but as we reached the base of an intense two mile incline on Empire Boulevard, near McGregor’s Tap Room, I knew I was going to have to slow my pace and chug it out. By the time I hit Bay Road, a straight, flat shot of about 4 miles that leads back to the lake, I was fatigued, but I felt good. I think I’ll be OK for the first race of the warm season, the Skunk Cabbage Half Marathon  in Ithaca on April 8. Hey, that might not be Big Sur, but I’m really looking forward to it!

 

The Wrap-Up

As we arrive back to the truck, Joe is there with a smile and a high-five. That’s when I see those drops of transmission fluid visible underneath my truck. Yep. Going to have to do something about that; but, first things first. Time to get some coffee and plan our next run!

I hope all of you have a great start to your Spring running season! I’d be glad to hear from you, so feel free to leave a comment! Watch for my write-up of the Skunk Cabbage. Who knows? Maybe I’ll finally write an epic post that rivals the great works of Tolstoy! LOL! Hey, if nothing else, we’ll find out about how this transmission fluid saga gets resolved. Now, that’ll be great literature for sure!

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Here’s Joe after our 14.49 mile jaunt around Irondequoit Bay. The picture quality is not great because my iPhone was steamed up from plodding up those big hills in the background. BTW, I fought the urge to run a lap around my truck to get an even 14.50 miles! How’s that for incredible will power?

 

A STRAIGHT LINE! Exclusive: My Running Goals for 2018 and Deep Psychological Insights into the Aging Male Mind

A STRAIGHT LINE! Exclusive: My Running Goals for 2018 and Deep Psychological Insights into the Aging Male Mind

“Every man regards his own life as the New Year’s Eve of time.”
~ Jean Paul Richter

And, indeed! It is that time of year again! The gap between Christmas and New Year’s is filled with heartfelt introspection on goals obtained, as well as those denied. For me, this is a time to reflect on how I can improve myself and achieve an ever greater level of running perfection. Perhaps some of you will benefit from my deep thoughts!

My goals for 2018….

I will refrain from telling poor, unassuming people that I run … When someone in line at the grocery store casually mentions that he just had bypass surgery, there really is no need for me to say, “That reminds me. I ran the Marine Corps Marathon last year.” When hugging a close friend at her mother’s funeral, I will stop short when saying, “She died so young. I’m training for Sehgahunda.”

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My BP and HR will not be a topic for public disclosure. I’m above that.

I will run past port-a-johns without using them… Prostate gland or no prostate gland, the porta-johns will not control my running life! I resolve to run past at least one row of port-a-johns this year and say to myself, “Not needed. I just stopped 15 minutes ago.” Based on my calculations, if I properly limited  port-a-john usage, I could shave two-and-a-half hours off my PR.

I will not disrupt the Better Half’s carefully arranged vacation day schedule with my running plans…When, over morning coffee, she expresses her excitement about her exclusive, once-in-a-lifetime “backstage” tickets for the “Anne of Green Gables” exhibition, I will try to hold back from saying, “Well, that’s going to be a problem, today’s my long run day.” Likewise, when she says, “I am so looking forward to this family reunion and seeing my sister!”, I will have the fortitude to not say, “Oh, I guess I forgot to tell you that I signed up for the Beer Run 5K.” Admittedly, this will be tough because this race always offers awesome beer coasters as bling, but, hey, marriage is a give-and-take (though those coasters are collectible).

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It’s about compromise, gentlemen. If she doesn’t want you to run a marathon on a particular date, consider opting for the half.

 

I will not suck in my gut when I run past bystanders…This is medically important because I sucked in my gut so strenuously at the Monroe Half Marathon, I cracked a rib. Time to let it go! Humility, man! Of course, I’ll make an exception to this resolution when I spot someone I know.

 

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This is the exact moment that I cracked my rib from sucking in my gut. Despite the smile, I was actually nearly buckled over in pain. The young lady behind me thought she heard a gunshot. Lesson learned, older and wiser.

 

If I find money on the curb while running, I will not wave it at every passerby yelling “Ha, ha, I found it, and you didn’t!”…It’s just ten dollars, not the Hope Diamond. I’ve spent 10 dollars on nutrition gels a hundred times, so should I really be gloating?

 

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At least when I found this I did not stop on the Macomb Street bridge and instantly text my three brothers with the message, “Gahahaha!” That would have been petty and small-minded.

I will not post every running related item on social media. Unless I have experienced something truly noteworthy, like running on a Saturday, finishing another 5K, getting new running shoes, going to the gym, or really enjoying my socks, I will not Facebook the event. Depending on my mood that day, I may Tweet it.

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Note to self: Purchase of a new ten dollar dew-rag is only newsworthy in my own mind.

Friends, we’ve all got room for improvement in 2018, and I hope my reflection stimulates some deep thoughts for you as well. Best wishes to you and your families, and I’ll see you on the trail!

“Men, like bullets, go farthest when they are smoothest.”

~ Jean Paul Richter

 

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; we got a clean bill of health. 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!

 

Race Report: The 2017 Loch Ness Marathon

Race Report: The 2017 Loch Ness Marathon

The Better Half and I were all smiles as we began our trip from Fairport, NY to the start line of the Loch Ness Marathon in Inverness, Scotland. We’d really been looking forward to this trip! We took the Subaru to the Toronto airport, flew Air Canada to London’s Heathrow, and, after a short layover, took British Airways to the Inverness Airport. From there, we took a city bus into the heart of Inverness (population 50,000) and pulled our wheeled carry-on luggage over the cobblestone paths to the smallish three-story Heathmount Hotel, a place that I had found through a “random” Google search from my office in New York a full six months earlier. We had booked one of their eight rooms, ours being a small but pleasant one on the third floor with a private bathroom located a short distance down the hall.

We arrived two days early, in order that we could take in the sites prior to the race, and that we did!

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Here’s the ruins of the 11th Century Urquhart Castle on Loch Ness. The Better Half and I investigated this incredible site from top to bottom.

On the Saturday before the Sunday race, the Better Half and I walked the two miles to the race expo, stopping at anything that caught our eye, including a bookshop, an art studio, a charity resale store, a medieval cemetery, and towering, ancient churches. It was a sublime, blue-sky day, and we soaked in the architecture and character of this Scottish city, as well as the rich beauty of its surrounding landscape.

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“There’s where I gotta be Sunday afternoon!”

The race expo was located on a glowing green field adjacent to the River Loch at the edge of Inverness. We arrived at the event mid-morning, and there wasn’t so much a crowd as a nice smattering of good-natured runners and their families meandering around, smiling and chatting it up, mostly with Scottish brogues.

My race packet was a purely functional affair housed in a plain white envelope, and it contained seven items: (1) my numbered bib, (2) a sheet with general race day instructions, (3) a single admission pass for the post race party, and (4,5,6, and 7) safety pins. No worries about how I was going to stuff race bling into my carry-on for the trip back to Fairport!

Through instant messaging, I had been in contact with my “Unofficial Running Coach”, Bobby Newman, who was running Loch Ness with me. (Faithful readers might remember Bobby from my write-up of the 2017 Nashville St. Jude Rock-n-Roll Marathon.) The Better Half and I had hoped that we could catch up with Bobby prior to the race, a feat made difficult by tight work schedules and uncoordinated travel plans. Given that this is a town with dozens of lodging options, imagine our surprise when we discovered that he had booked his room at the Heathmount as well!

Like Rocky Balboa, I’m in need of a blessing prior to a big contest, and this I got by attending the 4 PM Saturday vigil mass at St. Mary Catholic Church. Then, we spent a memorable evening with Bobby in the restaurant of the Heathmount, discussing our plans for the 26.2-mile run through the Scottish Highlands, as well as spinning a few tales with a smattering of good-natured exaggeration. I had a baked macaroni and cheese dish, and Bobby had a hamburger with garlic mayonnaise. We all had pints of smooth, dark Guinness prior to turning in at about 9:30 PM for what should be a quiet, regenerating night. Unfortunately, unbeknownst to us, microbial invaders were about to alter our race day plans!

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A pre-race celebration with Bobby (left), me (center), and the Better Half at the Heathmount

Disaster Strikes!

At 5:15 AM, I checked the messages on my iPhone, and I couldn’t believe my eyes! Bobby’s texts read like this (in order of receipt):

“I have been up all night. I think I have food poisoning. Headache and chills and sweats and nausea. I am going to see if I can transfer to the lower distances. No chance I can do the full today.”

Followed by:

“Just threw up for the first time in years. I’m out.”

And, finally:

“Take the cab in my name. Should be about 10 pounds. I will give it back to you.”

Staying on Course

This last message was Bobby being Bobby. He had already booked a taxi for us to the rendezvous point where buses would ferry us to the start line, and, even in the midst of his apparent food poisoning, he wanted to be sure that I knew he would pick up the tab for our cab. As I sat down for breakfast in the hotel restaurant with my race gear on, I realized that I was now on my own. I had that unmoored, self-conscious feeling when one is alone in a strange and somewhat intimidating circumstance, like a freshman on the first day of high school, hoping to successfully open his locker and make it to class.

Well, enough of that! Let’s eat a good race day breakfast and get rolling! I had porridge and scrambled eggs with whole-wheat toast, a banana, and strong black coffee. As I ate my breakfast, another lone runner entered the dining room and, as is often the case in the running community, I suddenly wasn’t alone anymore. He needed a lift to the bus rendezvous as well, and was happy when I invited him to join me. As we climbed into the black Ford Transit taxi, the driver asked, “Bobby?”, and, in order to keep things simple, I replied, “Yep, that’s me!” I found it ironic that, as we cut through that quiet, predawn Inverness morning, the real Bobby was not to be found on this trek to the race that we had both anticipated with such relish just a few hours earlier.

My newest race partner was Steve, a friendly, thirtyish Londoner who picked up running about four years ago to stay in shape and keep his head clear. He was without his wife and young daughter for the day in order to knock out this race, and he appeared to enjoy my company as much as I did his. Steve had grown up in Northern Ireland before moving to London and was well versed in UK history, culture, and geology. We arrived at the rendezvous point to find two massive columns of buses (“carriages”) waiting for us. Race staff efficiently directed all 2,619 runners onto the buses for the drive out to the start line. During the approximately one hour, fifteen minute bus ride, I learned a lot, as Steve and I traded stories and observations.

Like the Sehgahunda Trail Marathon, runners are bussed multiple miles from the finish area out to the starting point prior to the race. Indeed, for this race, it seems we ride the entire 26.2 miles out and are simply dropped off with the obvious expectation that we run back.  I found it intimidating lumbering up and down all of those green, lush miles of rolling Highland countryside! “Holy cow! I’ve got to run all this!” It didn’t help that it was a cool, wet morning, with precipitation ranging from mist to a solid, cold rain. In one sense it seemed a good morning to stay inside and watch an old movie, perhaps Braveheart!

As I disembarked from the bus, I knew right away that the starting point was different than any geography I had yet experienced in Scotland, and, really, anywhere else. We were amidst an expansive, rainy, windy, cold Scottish moor, reminiscent of the “Hound of the Baskervilles.” There were few trees nearby to provide shelter, and I think I speak for virtually every runner out there that morning, when I report that, though it was a beautiful location, it was uncomfortably cold, breezy, and wet!

We stood here for more than an hour, until the 10 AM start. Runners made do by remaining in their thicker clothing, which could be sent back via drop bags at start time. I was very glad that I had brought my GRTC gloves, “Compass Care” sweatpants, my thick “Knights of Columbus” toboggan and heavy, black “Sehgahunda” hoodie. There was a dearth of port-a-johns, and dozens of men and women alike walked a short distance across the moor to stands of pine trees to relieve themselves. This occurred despite the admonition of the booming, amplified race announcer, who reminded us that urinating on trees was not an environmentally friendly practice, and that, in the cold, men would not be at “their best.”

Now, it’s one thing for a man to take a short walk away from a crowd, slip behind a tree, and, with back turned from others, quickly relieve himself, then slip back into the group. It’s quite another for a woman to do the same thing, especially in a wet, open moor; however, many of them made the best of a difficult situation.

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Steve waiting for the start of the 2017 Loch Ness Marathon. Look at that background! I’m a long way from Fairport, NY!

When traversing back from the trees to the trail, care had to be taken to avoid having one’s running shoes sucked off their feet by deep, dark crevasses of muddy bogs, camouflaged by a cover of brilliantly green peat. Indeed, Steve lost his shoe in just that way and had to retrieve it by hand.

In the closing moments before the race start, runners peeled off their auxiliary clothing, jumped up and down in shorts and light running gear to keep warm, and waited for the official start. I was down to my orange Air Force Marathon cap, lime green Empire State Marathon long-sleeve running shirt under my blue short-sleeved LIFE Runner shirt, black compression shorts under black and blue “camo” shorts, and my gray and green New Balance 860 v7 shoes. With little fanfare save the inspiring sound of a local bagpipe corps, we were off!

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The start of the 2017 Loch Ness Marathon: Time to Rock-n-Roll!

The Race

The approximately first three miles of this race is by-and-large downhill, and we ran right down into warmer, calmer weather. Indeed, now that we were off that moor, it was a great day for a run, overcast but cool with only a little rain that fell during the first half hour. Unfortunately, my Nike app did not maintain data on my splits, but my average pace was 10’23”, which I think I maintained pretty nicely across the 26.2 miles. The course had 1,156 feet of elevation change with a lot of small, undulating hills, with the exception of a short series of substantial climbs beginning at around Mile 18. A good portion of the course, particularly in the initial handful of miles, was on paved but narrow farm roads, making it awkward to pass slower athletes, particularly if they were running two or three abreast.

At around mile four, I witnessed an unseemly event. Like at the starting area, there was a dearth of port-a-johns available on the course, so a lot of athletes resorted to using out-of-the-way stands of trees and bushes. I ran past a vehicle attempting to pull out of the driveway of a farm onto the road. At the time, I wondered why a driver would even attempt to pull out into a road filled with marathon runners. Where did she think she was going to go? A few moments later, I figured this out. The driver, a middle-aged woman who’s expression revealed a livid disposition, drove her vehicle alongside a female athlete who was crouched down and urinating behind a tree located a short distance off of the road. Her chosen spot was reasonably secluded, afar from any person or building. “This is my ?!”%$# land!” the driver said, among other spiteful, crude things. She was nearly in an all-out rage! I heard other runners claim that the woman had gone so far as to hit or kick the athlete, though I did not see this myself. Fellow runners began to shout this woman down as they went past, reminding her that there was really no measurable damage being done to her property. This event cast a temporary shadow over the event, as the ire and ill will of this woman stood in stark contrast to the camaraderie of the day.

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The 2017 Loch Ness Marathon, as recorded on my Nike app.

I had made a decision to maintain a slow, deliberate pace in the first half of the race, in order to ensure that I could pour it on in the second half; therefore, I ran about 9:30 miles. Besides, the views of the Scottish countryside and the Loch were beautiful. Why rush? I wanted to take it all in across every step of that course! Water, gels and nutrition chews were plentiful, and I took advantage whenever they were offered. Volunteers were kind, upbeat, and well organized.

Some runners opted for throwing their trash in isolated portions of the route (i.e., far away from aid stations or trash collection sites), and I wondered if all of this got picked up, though I decided that race officials would certainly come through and conduct a thorough cleaning.

Multiple mile portions of this race had few or no spectators, save persons affiliated with the race, but the spectators in the small towns that we passed through were spirited and positive. “Well done!” was the phrase of choice expressed by many kind people along the route. I enjoyed my brief conversations with fellow runners. I’m sure it was obvious to most everyone whom I interacted with that I was from the US, and I got a friendly reception, without exception. Those of us who live in Upstate New York know that when others hear “New York”, they may assume we live in Gotham City; but, in actuality, my home in the Finger Lakes region of NY, 350 miles northwest of NYC, is a bit like the area around Loch Ness (but not that moor!)

My “A” goal was running a sub-4 hour race, and my “B” goal was simply running all of the race (i.e., no walking). My “C” goal was, as always, to be alive at the end. At the half way point, my time was about 2:18, so I set my sites on the “B” goal and continued running steady-on. I slowed during a series of long, steady hills that began around Mile 18 but never walked. I made a mental error at about Mile 21. I saw a sign that said, “5K”, and I thought this meant I had about 3 miles to go and stepped up my pace. A couple miles later, I realized this was signage from the 5K race held earlier that morning. This may sound like a trivial matter, but in those final miles, I was feeling serious pain and fatigue, and I needed to recalibrate my thinking to match the actual remaining distance. The final miles were comprised of an exciting run through Inverness, and I burned every ounce of energy in my gas tank crossing that finish line. I made it in 4:30:55. This is slower than most of my previous races but my first negative split, with my second half run taking about 2:14.

The Post-Race Party

The Better Half and I enjoyed warm Baxter soup (readers from the US might think of Campbell’s), tasty bread and other great foods that were plentiful at the post-race party. Race bling, collected at the end of the race, consisted of a sharp looking “Loch Ness Marathon” race shirt in red with black trim and featuring a stylized image of the serpent, as well as a can of Baxter soup, a Cliff bar, and a package of short bread. Something I had never seen at a race: race officials had made available to runners the showers at a the local recreation center. This proved to be very helpful, as I had already moved out of the Heathmount.

Along with Bobby, the Better Half and I caught a ScottRail train to Edinburgh that evening in order to carry on with our Scottish adventure, and, thankfully, Bobby, though still feeling weak, was on the mend. He and I split an incredible tasting Cadbury chocolate bar, his first food of the day. He explained to me that the chocolate used for the Cadbury candies is better in the UK than is generally available in the US, and, well, it sure tasted like it that night! As I ate those rectangular segments of rich, dark milk chocolate and looked out at the beautiful Scottish countryside, now barely alit with the slightest trace of remaining day, I could tell Bobby and I had the same question on our minds. What’s our next challenge?

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Did it!

Epilogue

Loch Ness proved to be an awesome race, and Scotland proved to be a beautiful, inviting country to visit. My thanks to everyone affiliated with the race for a job well done! I have not decided on a next marathon, and I am open to suggestions! Please let me know what you think! In the meantime, I’ll be running the Monroe Half Marathon again at the beginning of November, so watch for that! Best wishes to all of my readers during this Fall running season.

 

 

 

 

 

A One-Mile Race, Rex the Dog, and Getting Ready for Loch Ness: Running in Summer 2017

A One-Mile Race, Rex the Dog, and Getting Ready for Loch Ness: Running in Summer 2017

The only constant is change.” -Heraclitus, circa 500 BC

I don’t know if Heraclitus was a runner, but I bet most runners would agree that the sport sets the occasion for a certain amount of introspection, especially on warm summer days. For me, like riding on H.G. Wells’s time machine, the world appears to be spinning at a faster and faster rate. In the midst of all this change, rhythmically throwing one leg in front of the other continues to provide a welcomed sense of continuity. Here’s some highlights of Summer 2017!

The Charlie McMullen Memorial Mile, St. John Fisher College, Pittsford, NY           

 

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Cruising into my finish at the McMullen Mile on June 9, 2017

The McMullen Mile is a one mile race sponsored by the Greater Rochester Track Club (GRTC) and dedicated to the memory of Charlie McMullen, a local Rochester, NY runner who, in the mid-70’s, clocked a 3:56 mile and 2:15 marathon. The multiple heats, organized by age and projected finish time, were held on a beautiful quarter mile track looping the interior of Growney Stadium, home of the Division III St. John Fisher Cardinals football team in Pittsford, NY. This stadium is also the temporary home of the NFL’s Buffalo Bills during their annual summer camp.

I had never run a one mile race (at least not in this century), but I figured I would need a different strategy than a marathon! Luckily, I met a veteran coach while waiting for my heat, and he gave me this advice: (1) hold back on the first lap (of four), (2) don’t pass when rounding corners, only on straightaways, (3) hold position in the back of a pack so that I’m the “hunter”, and (4) pour it on at the onset of lap 4. So, that became my strategy. I came in at 6’23” (6 out of 8 in my age group of men and 42 out of 61 among men overall). At least I held my position in the back of the pack! BTW, I was about three dollars short when attempting to buy the McMullen Mile t-shirt, but a fellow runner saw me setting the shirt down, walked over, insisted on paying the difference, and told me to just “pay it forward.” Great night! 

Camping Trail Runs

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Lake Eaton, as viewed from the shore of Lake Eaton State Park, near the village of Long Lake, NY

Our family camping adventures are when I am most conscious of the rapid pace of change. On these trips, the distractions of day-to-day living are stashed away (e.g., phones and laptops), and our family of six has a chance to catch up with each other. I am proud that my family can spend 4 day weekends together on a “primitive” campsite without hardly a negative word or tension, except for the one trip when I found that I had been playing solitaire with only 51 cards for three days!

Only a few short years ago, I was responsible for showing my four sons (now aged 13, 17, 19, 22), each in turn, the basics of camping (e.g., tent assembly, putting a worm on a hook, avoiding poison ivy). Now, when we camp, not only do they put their own tents up, but they take charge of raising our pop-up trailer, relegating me to an assistant role. Hey, I’m just pleased that they still take time out of their “Glory Days” to camp with their Old Man! On a recent camping trip to Keuka Lake, we went out for a pizza, and, when all had grabbed a first slice, each boy waited, without prompting, for our prayer before our meal. An “attitude of gratitude” is one of the keys to happiness, I think, and it’s those moments when, imperfect as we may be, I know the Better Half and I are on the right track.

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Two of our boys, Carl and Phil, putting their “nine-person” tent up….We’ve decided it’s just big enough for two teenagers, LOL! Their years in Boy Scouts have really helped develop their skills and independence.

A big part of our family enjoyment at camp is the unstructured flow of our days, with each member pursuing their interests at a leisurely pace. And, of course, for me, this includes good, solid trail runs! A very memorable “camping trail run” of this summer was at John Dillon Park in Long Lake, NY, the heart of the Adirondacks. John Dillon Park is a private park maintained in partnership between International Paper and Paul Smith’s College. Their mission is to make nature available to all persons, including individuals with disabilities. This beautiful park maintains awesome, wide, graveled hiking trails, braille signs, primitive (though beautifully maintained) camping spots, and a range of accessible activities, including fishing and boating.

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A fishing dock designed for use by all, including persons with disabilities, at John Dillon Park. I borrowed this picture from their website.

Another great “camping trail run” was the Finger Lakes Trail at Bowman Lake State Park, near Oxford, NY. The Finger Lakes Trail is a nearly 600 miles trail extending from the Allegany State Park (south of Buffalo) to the Catskill Forest Preserve in eastern New York, not too far from Albany. The seven-mile segment that I ran was a well-blazed pathway through lush, richly green forest. It is good to have a distance goal firmly in mind from the start of a run on beautiful trail like this, because, well, it goes on for dozens of miles without interruption, and one could easily bite off more than they can chew before they realize it!

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The Finger Lakes Trail, near Bowman Lake State Park. You might recognize this picture from my post “Tips for Aging Males That I Just Made Up“.

The KarKnocker 5K, East Rochester, NY

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My son, Phil, and I at the finish line of the KarKnocker 5K on July 28, 2017.

The KarKnocker 5K, a benefit for the Finger Lakes Regional Burn Association, follows a route through the village of East Rochester, NY (population 6,600). My 17 year-old son, Phil, and I ran this race on a beautiful summer evening. This was a good-natured, community event and a lot of fun! Races are usually morning events, so the 7 PM start required some extra consideration, in terms of planning meals and resting up after a full day of work. I did it in 22:34 (7:17/M), and Phil did it in 23:46 (7:40/M). I should point out that I ran my usual “all-out”, and Phil did more of a “scenic cruise.” In another year, Phil will be away at college, and like the two older boys, I’ll spend most of my days supporting him from afar, so opportunities to share experiences like this race are golden to me. After the race, we enjoyed the East Rochester Firemen’s Carnival, including entertainment by a great sounding rock band, Download, that played awesome covers from the 80s.

Running my Hometown of Monroe, Michigan

I think it’s fair to say that a corollary of Heraclitus’s dictum is “You can’t go home again” and, though I can literally make it back to my childhood house near Monroe, MI in about 8 hours of interstate travel, “home” does remain nearly 35 years away. Faithful readers may remember my exploits during last year’s Monroe Half Marathon, and that write-up gives one a sense of this town and my nostalgic relation to it. I’ve heard that the derivative meaning of the term “nostalgia” is “to know pain”, and, while “pain” is not the word I’d use to describe my experience running through this great old town, there is a certain pang that comes with reliving moments long past as I trot past familiar sites; the kind of emotion one might feel if they are heartened by spotting a dear old friend in a dense, expansive crowd but unable to summon their attention. The picture at the top of this post is the beautiful back property of the Mother House of the Sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary in Monroe. The IHM sisters are responsible for a good portion of my education, and my travel back to their home and running around my adjacent high school is a good example of this notion of “nostalgia.”

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I use to see this bronze dog (“Rex”) in front of a steel mill adjacent to my grade school when my Dad dropped me off at the start of the school day. Now, I see Rex in front of a fire station during my runs around Monroe, MI.

What’s next? Well, I’m registered for the Monroe Half Marathon again in November, but the big news is my scheduled participation in the Loch Ness Marathon, in Inverness, Scotland. The Better Half and I will be flying out of Toronto and staying in Inverness for the Marathon before making our way to Edinburgh. Stay tuned for that, sports fans, as that race report should prove to be epic! In the meantime, I wish you the best of times with your family and friends during this transition from summer to fall. You know it’s going to pass in the blink of an eye!

“Man is most nearly himself when he achieves the seriousness of a child at play.” -Heraclitus

 

Tips for Aging Male Runners That I Just Made Up

Tips for Aging Male Runners That I Just Made Up

Since I have running blog, I have a moral obligation to publish a snappy list of clever tips guaranteed to catapult all three of my faithful readers toward their running goals. You know what I mean: a rapid fire compilation of strategies to bring out the very best in performance and enjoyment while on the running trail. Given that I have no expertise or relevant credentials, I am, according to popular convention, fully qualified to present just such a list! This time, I’ll focus on my own cohort, veteran male runners – those guys who have reached that certain age and are still giving it there all. Here goes!

  1. No Pain, No Gain…..Hey, take it from this 51 year-old guy, unless it seriously causes other people pain to see you running, you’re probably not trying hard enough. Whether it’s a 5K or a marathon, when out there, man, you’ve got groan a lot and maintain an anguished expression. Carry yourself with the comportment of Charleton Heston when he was captured and beaten by the apes. Highlight those parts of your body that make others cringe. If you’ve got knees that look like fossilized mastodon bones, work them back and forth at the start line while moaning. You might even consider crying a little, as the site of a grown man crying at running events helps everyone have a good time.
  2. Heston
    Heston provides both an example of good race day attitude and solid start line fashion sense. Little known fact: The Rock-n Roll Marathon Finisher’s Jacket is modeled after Heston’s space suit.

    Build Community…..Before and after races, freely share personal information with the people around you, especially with young adults who would otherwise be having fun with their friends. Often, the best ice breaker is recounting why you began running in the first place: your growing awareness of burgeoning chronic illness and an eventual slow, agonizing death. Other fun ice breakers include current events, especially political news viewed on Fox and MSNBC. If you’re really at a loss for words, simply pivot to the tried-and-true topic of the increasing difficulty your experiencing trying to establish a solid urine stream before a big run. Gentlemen, our sparkling conversation skills are our gift to fellow runners; they deserve to hear our wit and wisdom! Not only do our contributions help build community, it reminds younger folks of what they can look forward to during their own sunset years.

     

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    When relating to members of the local running community, just say to yourself over and over, “I am Johnny, I am Johnny”. It will work, and you’ll be as cool as a cucumber.
  3. Dress Properly…..Men, we know what running gear makes us most comfortable, and, frankly, that’s what we should be wearing when we’re out there. First, your super short shorts from the ’70’s are not only liberating, they are of historical significance. Like a Civil War reenactor, you are providing an important public service by modeling this apparel for the younger generation. You can be sure that this is why people stare at you in open-mouthed wonderment when you lope past. Likewise, those knee-high tube socks and terry cloth sweat bands not only look cool, they provide opportunity to introduce the history of all-timegreats, like Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, to the younger set. Finally, because we get frugal with age and just generally care less, we are not washing the running gear as often as most folks and, hey, that’s saves natural resources. So, if your vintage running shirt is a bit stained and, well, aromatic, no problem! When you’re in close quarters with others at the start line on race day, they will thank you for your good stewardship of Mother Earth.

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    A fan took this snap of Tom Selleck at a recent 5K in Hoboken, NJ. You, too, can be Tom Selleck cool.
  4. Be the Change You Want to See…..Finally, gentlemen, like Gandhi, we have a  golden opportunity to set a tone of positivity and peace in our local running communities. Hey, when blocking access to the hydration station during a 5K by standing in place to look at your flip phone, smile and wish others well. When stuffing your duffle bag with extra post-race food so that you have snacks later, leave the last item for the next person. When you barricade yourself in the porta-john for an hour, only to emerge immediately prior to the National Anthem, stand at attention, straight and tall. If you see a runner fall violently down during a difficult trail marathon, step around her carefully as you go on your way, so as not to cause additional injury. Let’s be great examples for our running communities!
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Experts tell us that Gandhi could have been a great marathoner, if he had applied himself.

Remember, if nothing else, people enjoy seeing others fail miserably; it makes them feel better about themselves. And, as we get older, gentlemen, this is a key way that we can give back to the running community. I hope these tips add enjoyment to your running, as well as to those around you, and I’ll see you on the trail!