Tuesday, March 30, 2004

Down The Shore - The Ocean Drive Marathon

This was the smallest marathon that I have participated in (370 finishers; there were also 342 in a ten mile race). I began checking the weather about ten days ago (and yes I know it's useless and yes it drives my poor wife crazy) and right up until Saturday
the weather looked good - 50's with mild southwest winds. Instead Sunday was overcast and in the 40's -not necessarily bad running weather but it also came with stiff winds out of the north and east. Cool temps good - north winds bad.
I was a little concerned about a bruise on the top of my left foot. Not sure what did it - it's only painful with some shoes - unfortunately my Brooks dyads were one of them. I chanced wearing my ds trainers (light but no cushioning) and they worked quite well. The bruise never bothered me. In fact I was quite pleased with my condition after the run – I felt quite relaxed and have suffered very little doms (delayed onset muscle soreness) or other problems. Perhaps I am not going hard enough.

This race goes from Cape May, NJ to Sea Isle City. The ten milers stop in Wildwood. Very friendly crowd made the cold wait for the start bearable. The first couple of miles I was with a chatterbox, but then I tend to be talky during a marathon - it's one of the
contrasts between marathons and the all out of a 5k. Two runners carried on a hysterical account of the deficiencies of the host hotel complete with peeling wallpaper and tepid water.

After a couple of miles thru mostly residential streets Lower Township you go thru salt marshes. Despite the name Ocean Drive for long parts of the run you don't actually see the ocean. The salt marshes, teeming with life I suppose, provide boring vistas and are also very windy.

In Wildwoods you’re on a bike path and then the boardwalk. Wildwood has a huge expanse of beach compared to Cape May. But its boardwalk seemed dreary and tired even for the off season.

Terrific volunteers throughout the race (and this was important because there were no spectators - it has to be the least people I have ever seen over a 26 mile run. Even my marathon in Maine had more spectators.)

I only had one really slow mile when I lost my succeed tablets - it was kind of comical. I had shoved the tablets into the back pocket - at least I thought I did but I had shoved them into the shorts - it must have been a sight as I danced around trying to retrieve them.

I had worn gloves which came to be soaking wet but despite that my hands seemed warmer with them then without them, however, retrieving gels and tablets with
gloves was cumbersome. Took gels twice (probably later in the race then I should have but the first 10 miles had flew by and I just didn’t think of them.)

There's quite a long stretch (about 7 miles) thru Stone Harbor and Avalon. Wow! What homes. The amazing thing is this that these million dollar homes sit largely empty. In those seven miles I saw only a couple of people but more amazing is that there were no cars parked anywhere. This is a strictly summer community and these mansions are second homes. And though we were only a block from the ocean you don't see it at all. Partly this is because the grand homes block the view and partly because they have built up sand dunes to protect the Island. Ironically some homeowners are miffed because their view is obstructed. I think if I lived on a fragile barrier island I would learn to love sand dunes.

Out of Avalon there is one last bridge to challenge you, then briefly thru tiny Townsend Inlet before Sea Isle and a fast last mile on Sea Isle’s Promenade.

Seven bridges break up an otherwise very flat course. One bridge is under reconstruction but volunteers were placed so keep us safe. Not that I had any inclination to tempt fate by running anywhere near the railing less left side of the bridge. The bridge is not open to traffic and the sea gulls seemed to have learned to use it to open shells. Between droppings, sea shell casings, and left over calms you definitely wanted to step carefully.

Only few bends on the course, so no tangents to calculate. Because this is an early in the season race it is relatively under appreciated but it is definitely a Boston qualifier course. With relatively few long runs before hand, and steady hard effort but not pushing I finished in 3:56:56 right on goal. (I could qualify for Boston with a 3:45.)

After the race a young runner approached me and said how impressed he was with my good spirits at the 25 mile mark and that he appreciated my enthusiasm. And I must confess that I enjoyed trading quips along the route especially with the volunteers. It’s probably the lactic acid that wears away my usual reserve. I probably should stay more focused and not waste energy shouting but it wouldn’t be as much fun.

I did all my runs strictly by time and never did a run longer then 3 hours. And still ran
comfortably. I must give some credit to Succeed tablets; they have been a great tool. I can race these distances without cramps and that is a big bonus. And as long as I'm doing product placement I might as well mention blistershield - picked this up at an expo (NY?) and have been very pleased with it. A powder you put in your socks it definitely helps prevent blisters.

Now I need to plan my fall marathon.

Friday, March 19, 2004

Last Snowfall Run

A late winter snowfall can be very beautiful. When I went to bed last night it was raining but morning showed a street scene already covered with a wet slushy snow. I was anxious to get out on the trail for this last snow run. Because it is a wet snow all the branches are covered and sharp edges have disappeared. This is a soft snow not the hard granular snow of January but big soft flakes drifting down. The path is very wet – in one spot hardly different from a shallow stream. The heavy snow bends branches down into the path blocking the way but I learned that with a soft shake the snow drops and the branches unburdened rise like a toll barrier. I found myself shaking branches even when I could get around just to see them rise. The woods remind me of what it must have looked like to Lucy when she went thru the wardrobe into the frozen world of the White Witch. I quite liked it this morning but could imagine how it would be if spring never came. The quiet is only broken by distance traffic sounds. Running is not too bad except on the uphills where the slushy snow gives little purchase to my churning legs, but a shorten stride soon takes me to the ridge and a really gorgeous view of the snow covered valley where the stream stands out as a black ribbon thru the stark white. I wish I could linger in my snowglobe but it is already late. I wouldn’t be surprised if next week as the temperature climbs toward 60 these woods are already greening with spring.

Monday, March 15, 2004

Caesar Rodney Half Marathon

Sunday morning was gray, cold and windy: this despite forecast that a high pressure system would move in with calm winds, clear skies and warmer temps. The blur at the top of lin-mark’s result page says it all: “Start time 9:00 a.m., weather was "brisk" with winds reported at 17 miles an hour which made the start temperatures feel like 35 degrees instead of closer to 40 degrees. Weather could have been a bit better, but hey in the past few weeks we have had much worse! So thank goodness no rain or snow. This was not a day for a personal record.” (Although I know one runner who pr’d his half-marathon best – go figure!)

There was also a race director’s nightmare – potta johns ordered but a no show. 1200 runners and no facilities. Everyone running the three blocks back to the Y.

All that aside, a good day for racing. Cool overcast is really good race weather and the wind didn’t seem a factor. I did wear gloves – green gloves for St. Patrick’s Day – these were in the Philly Marathon race packet, an advertising gimmick from Citizen’s Bank. Good gimmick as I noticed dozens of runners similarly donned green gloves for the day.

I went with my Baltimore Marathon long sleeve shirt which is made by Under Armour and I must say it is a very good product. I was quite comfortable thru the race but I saw runners in cotton soaking wet. In very hot weather when you are going to be soaking wet no matter what it may not matter but in conditions like yesterday I think coolmax like products show their superiority. I am sure I will never race in cotton.

The race begins in downtown Wilmington’s Rodney Square. The race was chipped but the start mats couldn’t be used because underground wires at the intersection created interference (next year the plan is to move the start).

The first half mile is a good downhill so naturally I went out too fast. But generally I felt my pacing was good and given the hilly nature of this race pretty even. That downhill is deceiving as this elevation graphic shows. The opening four miles are urban with a tour of the underside of I95, but also passing the minor league ballpark, the outlet shopping center, and the refurbished waterfront. But the heart of the race is the steep climb thru Brandywine Park and Rockford Park along the Brandywine.

The race course goes along Kentmere Parkway past the Delaware Art Museum which is undergoing a major overhaul. Several years ago I was at the Museum in March when I saw this strange spectacle – hundreds of people running by being handed cups of water. I was as fascinated with that as anything in the Museum. I asked about it and was told I was some kind of race they did every year. The runners streamed by for a long time and I was quite taken with it – perhaps the roots of my running were sub-consciously planted right there.

This year some poor volunteer was being harangued by a woman quite put out by the road closures. I wonder what she thought he could do about it. It seemed ironic in a week where the news has so ferociously reported the “obesity crisis”. I almost wanted to stop and encourage her to walk part of the route and enjoy the closure rather then see it as a problem.

This is a race with lots of bends and twists and I worked hard to use the tangents.
Using the tangents means that rather then running with the curve you seek to run the straight line that creates the shortest possible distance.

When I was successful it did seem to enable me to past those not doing the tangent. The problem I encountered was you have to be very careful or you will cut other people off since you are going against the grain. But, it did seem to work and I will continue to practice tangents.

Out of the park and up Rt 52 and around the MBNA building and the glorious feeling that soon you will have that glorious drop back through the park. As we ran toward the park a large flock of geese flew low over head honking noisily almost as if they were cheering us on. You get the benefit of downhills well thru mile twelve. Then in that last quarter mile up that wall of a hill.

Good finish - didn't give in to the hill but ran it strong. Pushed a little hard to make sure I got in under 1:50 and did just.

Finished right in the middle of the age group and the pack:
– 1:49:58 (8:24 mile spilts) 20/44 ( M55-59) 470/831 Males.

Felt good with my finished, even tempered with the fact that the first five 60yr olds finished faster (much faster) and ever the first three 65yr olds. Well, it just means there’s no reason I can’t continue to run well for years more.

Afterwards I wanted a couple more miles so I ran backwards on the course and then down to the path along the river. They have done a very nice job here and the path is quite inviting. The river so dry a couple of years ago is in full throat and roars over the shallows. Interesting thing I saw. There was an explanation of why so many trees were cut down. It seems that Norwegian Maples are considered an alien species and an intruder that crowds out native trees. By thinning over two hundred of the maples the park hopes to encourage native species. Another urban jewel – congratulations Wilmington.

Sunday, March 14, 2004

Beautiful morning for a run.
I chose to do the paved loop in Ridley Creek Park rather then the trails. This is because the course replicates the Caesar Rodney course which I will run Sunday by half.

The park loop is about five miles if you run from the entrance. Like CR (actually CR's first half mile drops but then flattens)you start flat and then climb steadily for about a mile and a half – plateau – then go downhill for about a mile. If you look at the graphic of CR's elevation the park loop does the same thing (that graphic is very scary btw and always makes me thing what the heck are you doing!!!!).

The sun was at the perfect elevation to light the woods which glowed silver. The wind (out of the NW with gusts up to 45 mph) was terrific – the roar through the trees as loud and rumbling but at ground level I was relatively protected by the woods on either side and wasn’t bothered. For the first time in a long time I saw no deer in the park – too
many walkers and joggers I guess.

I got my newly confirgured RW yesterday. (Haven't made up my mind about the new graphics but certainly
wasn't blown away.) Read an article about downhill running. Unfortunately only learned that it's murder on your quads which I knew. I'll let you know how my great downhill goes Sunday. One thing Friday morning didn't replicate is the huge uphill at the end of CR. I've been imaging all week hoping that I will really challenge that hill.

I want to run smart on Sunday. Steady pacing with a great finish is my goal.

Sunday, March 07, 2004

First Race of the Season

I did run a race in January but the Icicle 10 Miler lived up to its name and between the rain, sleet and slushy roads it was hardly a typical race more like a survial exercise.

Today however was just about perfect. Bright blue skies, about 47F, windy during my warm up run but I noticed it less during the race itself.

I realized my winter runs have been very solitary. Oh you would see the other occasional runner but mostly, especially on the early morning runs ,you have the road to yourself. On Friday's trail run I did over ten miles and never saw another human being. (BTW I did several stream crossings without getting wet!)

Even as recently as two weeks ago when I did my long run, much to my surprise at the time, the river drives were mostly empty.

Today the path is full of life and the parking lots full. The rowers appear to here in force and bikers are gathering for group rides. The skaters, joggers and walkers all are here in numbers. It’s pleasant to see all the variety and activity.

Today’s race is the first of my three March runs of increasing distance. Northeast Road Runners Winter 10K is a low key affair on the Kelly Drive bike path. We racers will share the path with all the other users.

I see lots of friends and acquaintances who have come out for the start of the race season. I am sure the good weather also helps the turnout. My plan is to go out hard in control and try for a negative split race. I line up with Julia who is in her first race since taking time off to have a baby. Cameron is there with his Dad to cheer Mom on (well ok as it turns out he slept thru the race but hey I got rewarded with a big smile). It turns out Julia is quite prepared for her comeback and goes out very fast. My plan is busted. Still I feel good – later in the race I am passed by two contemporaries . They had raced wisely. Still I did well and had a good sprint to the finish.

After the race and after some kibitzing I followed up with another six miles – really a beautiful morning for running and great to see so many folks out to enjoy this urban treasure. My only negative – the amount of graffiti vandalism. A tremendous amount in just the past couple of weeks. So sad. And we know how to fight it – have known for many years. The secret is to clean it up immediately not in a couple days, or couple of weeks or never. I just don’t understand why government doesn’t get it.