Official Disclaimer – Dear Reader, this post may not be a thrill-a-minute for you. Hey, what can I say? It’s been a long winter, and I’m not Usain Bolt in the running department or Ernest Hemingway in the writing department. But, who knows? If nothing else, you might feel better about your own training after reading about mine! On a legal note, if perchance, you inadvertently slip into a catatonic state induced by sheer boredom while reading this, please do not hold me libel. Hey, I’m trying!
Training Update – Those of you who follow my blog may recall that my friend, Bill C, invited me down for this year’s Nashville St. Jude Rock-and-Roll Marathon slated for April 29, and, well, it’s now about 5 weeks away! My “A” goal for this 26.2 mile jaunt is to get under 4 hours. My current marathon PR is the 4:13:11 that I ran at the 2016 Wineglass Marathon, so I’ve got some work to do here. Since moving to upstate New York 15 years ago, I have never quite adjusted to the demanding winters that are the norm here. It’s not simply the occurrence of bitter cold, snow, or ice that standout. Rather, it’s the sheer duration of the winter season that requires fortitude. With some exception, it gets cold here by the end of October, and it’s April before we see consistently warmer weather; hey, it’s 22° Farenheit as I write this on March 22! How do I maintain my base fitness through this long, dark winter and ramp up for St. Jude’s on April 29? Well, two key items come to mind: (1) the dreadmill; and (2) piles of winter running gear.
The Dreadmill – Outdoors, I regularly run 6 – 9 miles on a typical training day, but, on the mill, I limit myself to 5.20 miles. How did I land on 5.20? Well, I run a tempo ranging between 6.8 and 7.5 for 5 miles but end with a .20 kick at around 9.0 – 9.5 MPH. Is the treadmill boring. YES! And, that’s why I limit usage to 5.20 mile units. If it weren’t for Dick Vitale and the rest of the gang at ESPN, I’d probably do 1.20 miles! But, one advantage of the treadmill is that, since it is located at the local gym, I can then hit the free weights and machines, and, after this long winter, I am a bulked up a bit. What’s it like for a middle age guy to spend time at a gym, surrounded by young, athletic people? Great! Everyone is polite and kind. Am I self-conscious about being an old dude there? Not a bit. What’s the difference? Hey, if Dick Vitale can keep calling games, I can keep going to the gym, baby!
Running Outside in the Winter – Thankfully, I can get out doors for some longer runs on the weekend, despite the cold, ice, and snow. Most of these are solo runs on the Erie Canal Trail or at Mendon Ponds Park. We’ve had a mild winter here, so this has been very workable nearly all season long. Also, I’ve participated in the Greater Rochester Track Club (GRTC) Freezeroo Series, run with my LIFE Runners group, and running with a great local club, the Oven Door Runners (ODR). The ODR meet every Saturday morning at 6:30 AM, and each meet-up includes a range of distance options (e.g., 9 or 13 miles). There are some fast runners in this group, and this has been a nice challenge for me as I ramp up for Nashville.
Other Considerations – So what else do I need to do to prepare for Nashville? Here’s a bulleted list:
Settle on transportation to and from Nashville. Roundtrip airline tickets from Rochester to Nashville appear to be running about $800, so I need to find something cheaper or plan on driving!
Buy new running shoes. I have worn the tread off of my Asics this Winter, and I’m going to need a good grip in Nashville. My plan is to switch back to my first love, New Balance, which seems to provide a little more stability than the Asics.
Get one long run in soon, preferably about 18 – 20 miles.
I have this dream of writing an awesome race report following St. Jude’s next month; the word “epic” comes to mind. Hey, anything’s possible! Please, watch for it! In the meantime, I hope your training goes well. Feel free to share your Spring goals; I’d be happy to hear from you 🙂
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.
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!
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“).
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).
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!
Pre-Race Preparations – I shouldn’t have had the Pabst Blue Ribbon tallboy the night before the Wineglass Marathon; but, hey, I never was a wine drinker, and the PBR looked inviting through the clear glass door of the beer cooler. The Better Half and I had stumbled upon a little bar during our walking tour of the great old town of Bath, NY. We were spending the night at the 100+ year-old Old National Hotel prior to the Wineglass, so that I could rest up before the 26.2 mile jaunt through the NY Finger Lakes region. That PBR, along with a cheese and mushroom pizza from a little shop next to the hotel, sounded like a great idea during our evening adventure. What could go wrong? Well, by 3 AM, it felt like Jason and his chainsaw had been set loose inside my stomach. How was I suppose to rise to the challenge of a marathon under these abdominal conditions?
At 6 AM race day, I took a long, boiling shower, and I carefully shaved. My rationale: If I’m extra clean, I’ll feel better. I suited up for the race, opting for my long-sleeved Empire State Marathon race shirt, charcoal colored Nike shorts, black Sehgahunda bandana, the Mission Vaporactive crew socks that I won from the Montezuma Half Marathon earlier in the year (third in age group), and my new black ASICS running shoes. I ate a peanut butter sandwich and a banana. After final planning with The Better Half I was ready to roll.
The Old National Hotel is such an interesting place it could easily be the topic of a separate blog entry. It cost us about $50.00 cash for the night, was perfectly quiet, and reasonably clean. Oh, and about as quirky as one might expect from the picture. During my morning prep, I bought a black coffee in a plain styrofoam cup at the hotel restaurant. It was so strong, Jason and his chainsaw went silent from caffeine overdose. I enjoyed that high-octane brew so much I asked for a refill on my way out the door to the bus. For this refill, I was charged an additional $1.50. I didn’t have a penny on me, as I had left it all with The Better Half when I changed into my running gear. But, no worries. The hostess at the hotel carefully filled out an IOU, complete with “$1.50” circled in black ink. The Better Half paid up when she checked out later in the morning. Now I owe her, but what else is new?
One advantage of the Old National is that it is located about 150 feet from where the buses pulled up to take us runners to the start line (about where I took the picture of the hotel above). So, it was just a matter of walking out the door, strolling across the street, and jumping aboard a yellow school bus with a crowd of excited, fellow runners. Off to the start line! Despite last night’s PBR and pizza transgression, I felt great!
At the Start Line – The start line was on a country lane a short distance outside of Bath. In the minutes prior to the race, it was about 50 degrees with a mild breeze, cool enough to be slightly uncomfortable standing around waiting. There was speculation of rain, though it held off until it came down in torrents hours later, during the drive back to Fairport. One of the race organizers gave a wonderful, brief speech about the history of the area, including a reminder that our race would cover portions of the Underground Railroad and that the surrounding acres were home to men and women who joined the ranks of the military at crucial times in our nation’s history. To this organizer: Thank you! These reminders are valuable and put something like a race into necessary perspective. Following a beautiful rendition of the National Anthem, we were off!
The Race – The first mile of a marathon is exciting! After planning and anticipation, one gets to feel how the impact of the road is going to affect the joints and muscles, and how the respiratory system is going to react to the call to action. I established my race form, inventoried my surroundings – space, geography, fellows runners – and felt very, very alive – all systems are “Go!” I established a 10 minute per mile pace, taking care not to push too hard in the early going. Hey, I’m not training for the Olympics – that’s someone else’s blog!
First, we cruised back into Bath and past the Old National. A spirited, positive crowd was gathered up and down the street – terrific fun! Unless I’m fatigued, I am not a silent runner; rather, I enjoy greeting people, waving, high-fiving kids and thanking police for their service. Running is a very psychological and spiritual exercise, and a very communal one. What a blessing to do this!
We left Bath and rolled out into the beautiful, rolling country. Autumn filled my senses – the sound of trees breezing in the wind, smell of wet leaves, and, of course, the colors. It was overcast with breaks of sun – perfect, really, for running. All I can do is write this goofy blog; imagine what John Denver could do with this experience! Brief, positive conversations with fellow runners were followed by periods of silent admiration for the beauty of the region. I maintained about a 9 minute pace for about the first 9 miles. I wanted to pour it on because I felt great, but I know my limits, and I’ll need something in the gas tank at the end.
When entering Savona, there was a nice crowd of upbeat well-wishers. Many were holding funny signs and cheering. It’s easy to feel like a “conquering hero” at those moments, though, of course, I’m just a simple, middle-aged guy doing my thing. Brief, positive exchanges with the crowd are fun, energizing and, well, uplifting. What a great country!
As a psychologist who does a little regional travel for my job, I have been to Savona to meet with clients. It’s fun to run down a street where, on another morning, I drove down for work. I’m writing a new personal history in relation to a location. This new history includes an extra dose of endorphins, and, for some odd reason, feels a bit like cheating on my previous life – “I’m back, but this time I’m running it!”
Between miles 10 and 14, I maintain my 9 minute pace. The course is by-and-large flat. My Nike app claims that I gained 992 feet of elevation, but this must have been very evenly distributed across the route. The stretch of grade between miles 18 and 22 (“Victory Highway” on the race map) is as flat as a pancake but long, causing one to reflect on the word “endurance” in the phrase “endurance sports.” But, no problem. The aid stations were superb and plentiful, and the volunteers were outstanding – Thank you!
The Big Finish – As I ran through Painted Post, my speed gradually diminished, and by mile 22 I was running 10 minute miles, now due to raw fatigue, not discretion. By the time I exited Painted Post and set my sites on Corning, I was really feeling it. My goal was to establish a new PR (personal record) and run the entire route (no walking), and I knew this was going to require some focus. But, as has happened in my other races, I felt a surge of power during that final mile, and poured it on like a teenager. I extended my arms Rocky style, and I celebrated through the final quarter mile without a trace of pain or fatigue. It felt great to cross the finish line!
The Better Half was there. She was concerned that I was going to faint, as the lights did get a little dim for a few moments immediately after I stopped running. But, 10 minutes later I was already in recovery mode, and, I walked around, I suppose, like a very sore peacock. I am a vegetarian, but I cheat…and Wegmans supplied a terrific chicken noodle soup. I love the medal from this event, made of some type of glass composite (we are in Corning, NY, after all!) Strangely, in the picture below, it looks like the street behind me is deserted. Actually, there was a great party atmosphere, and tons of celebrating folks. My time was 04:13:11.65, and I came in 56 out of 111 in my age group (about the 50th percentile). This is a new PR, and I did run the whole thing! Thank you, Wineglass Marathon planners and volunteers for a terrific race. I raise an ice cold PBR in your honor 🙂
The motto of the Sehgahunda Trail Marathon is “Respect the Lady”, as in “respect the intensity of the Sehganunda trail” – 26.2 miles of winding path through beautiful Letchworth State Park, the 2015 Reader’s Choice #1 state park in America. The path traverses hill after hill separated by dozens of gullies and creeks, requiring careful negotiation of feet and, occasionally, hands. There are rocks and tree roots throughout the course, ready to ruin a runner’s day. And, though it was dry yesterday, there was mud. With 90+ degree heat starting at about mid-race, this race required serious discretion. It was hot like a Ben Franklin stove.
The day started out beautiful – calm, and, well, cool. My team mate, Ron, picked me up at 5:40 AM for the 60 mile drive to Letchworth from my home in Fairport. Ron is a Sehgahunda veteran – and his advice throughout my training cycle has been key. His advice bordered on admonition: “always respect the trail”, as in “this is different than your other running efforts, so think carefully about how your going to do this”. Timely, as, up to that point, I had not given the challenge much thought at all. This is just leisure, right?
We arrived at the staging area at the Parade Grounds at the extreme southern end of the approximately 17-mile long park. A plaque announces that, during the Civil War, these grounds were a training camp for Union soldiers. We boarded one of three yellow school busses, and, as we lumbered North, we watched beautiful hot air balloons just launching for the day over the canyon. We were feeling great! Little did I know that, once I was off that bus, I was going to get schooled by Lady Sehgahunda.
We made our way to the northern end of the park – to the Mt. Morris Dam Entrance, and, minutes later we were off! First the women….15 minutes later, us men. Spirits were high! Light-hearted conversation, good-natured jokes, comments about the gorgeous views of the canyon off our right shoulders filled the air. It wasn’t hot yet, and our legs were fresh, so this stage of the race was leisure. “I can do this all day!” This lasted for about 10 miles.
The aid stations along the race course are off the main trail and require traversing side trails – first UP, UP, UP to the stations and, after hydration and nutrition, DOWN, DOWN, DOWN back to the main trail. These friendly oases became so welcome, a runner might feel the urge to cry from sheer emotion upon arrival…..water, Gatorade, watermelon, orange slices, ice, PBJ sandwich quarters, chips, and packaged nutrition items were available. The people running each station were kind, hardworking and helpful, without exception.
I began to feel the pain at mile 14. It was a kind of jolting burn around my right knee, especially when running downhill. This is a new challenge for me. I rarely experience pain of any type when I run – even during the Marine Corps Marathon. I had to decide what to do with this, especially as the heat came on in all it’s glory. Thank God most of the trail is covered with a canopy of leafy branches! At first, I adjusted my run pace – not a “death shuffle” – that’ll come later – but a deliberately slow pace – like I’m a tank or, perhaps, more fittingly, a lawn tractor – “slow and steady, slow and steady, come on, keep going….”
I got dizzy twice. Once at an aid station, while drinking water, I realized I was woozy….Things were spinning a bit…Funny how the male mind works: my first thought was, “I hope nobody sees me dizzy – don’t want them to think I’m a (lightweight)!” – I rested, ate, hydrated and ran back out….A second time, at about mile 22, I came to the base of a big hill. I tipped my head up to survey the path to the summit, and, as I looked up everything began to spin – a slow spin, like turning a canoe in a calm, quiet pond. I drank about 10 ounces of Gatorade, centered myself – and up the hill I went.
The death shuffle began at about mile 18. Lady Sehgahunda gave me an opportunity to see the outside range of my endurance; this is, after all, an endurance sport, right? I alternated between running and fast-paced walking for a few miles – walking all of the downhill segments in particular because of the pain, until I got to the final 3 miles or so. Here began a beautiful, relatively flat road, perhaps an old logging trail. Here, I managed to fire up a slow, slow run toward the finish line at about an 11’30” mile pace. Still some walking, now because I needed to catch my breath here and there; but, I was inspired by the sound of the crowd in the distance. At about 1 mile out I ran pretty hard all the way to a kind, celebratory crowd and the finish line. I made it! It took me 6 hours, 38 minutes and 34 seconds, and I placed 15th out of 31 in my age group.
As I crossed the finish line, my college son, Joseph, was there with a high-five, ready to lend his Old Man a hand. He’s spending the summer doing an Environmental Science internship at Rensselaer, and I’m glad he made the drive across the NY thru-way. I immediately became about as tight as a sheet of plywood from the waist down.
As I sat stretched out on the Letchworth grass, Joseph told me that his car needs new springs to pass state inspection, an extra $250. I don’t care; in fact that’s fine! I’m even happy about that! Hey, after all, I just finished Sehgahunda! A veggie burger and ice-cold Fat Tire beer tasted divine. And, today, about 19 hours later? The pain is gone – just tight, and, well, now I’m wondering: can I talk Ron into doing an ultra with me?