Monday, August 30, 2004

Stone Harbor 10K

This was an interesting race for me. Last September I ran the Ocean Drive Marathon and part of the course was thru Stone Harbor. The road markings (16 miles and 17 miles) were still on the road. So late in the race I could console myself that the finish was so close instead of so far. This race nicely book ended the season since I ran the Ventnor 10K to start summer.

Being a Jersey Shore race it was very flat although the weather was hot and humid. (I had driven thru thick fog to get to the race.) Nice wide streets completely closed to traffic with an out and back that lets you see all the runners. Although beautiful to watch it is also disconcerting to realize the three Kenyans in the lead are going twice as fast as you are.

I used this race to gauge my fitness and felt strong thru the race (I was quite surprised to learn I was only a few seconds faster that the Ventnor race where I had felt I was struggling). I had a great first three miles but lost some ground in the final three but not bad: 50:35 for an 8:09 pace. Would have liked a sub 8 pace but I let my mind wander a bit too much over the final miles. Despite the heat and humidity but I did manage to pass runners which I found heartening. (There were Kenyan runners in the race and one of the women was being treated by the paramedics when I came in.)

I don’t know if it was an official water stop on just a kindly neighbor but the last water stop on the race gave out tiny bathroom cups with ice. Very strange.

Toward the end of the race (with about a mile to go) I was passed by a runner who appeared to be about my age (turned out he was exactly my age 57). Now I knew I wasn’t in the running for any medals but inspired by the Olympics I decided I would contest my finish with him. Initially I ran beside him but then strategize - the talking heads on the Olympic coverage had discussed the advantage of following a runner. so I tucked in behind him. When we were two blocks from the finished I poured it on; I didn’t know if he would challenge since he seemed to be running comfortably but I easily passed him and beat him by four seconds. I was only hampered by three runners just in front of me who slowed down and blocked the finish. I know sometimes I slow down before the finish but really run thru and keep moving thru the chute. There were very nice finisher medals so I got to have my own Olympic fantasy despite my mid-pack finish.

The race ends on First Street just off the beach so before heading home I went down the beach and into the ocean for a quick swim – wonderful way to end a race.

As I heard people discussing how very hot it was I couldn’t help thinking that in a couple of hours half way around the world the marathon would start under very similar conditions (although as it turned out much better conditions then the women had to contend with). I was very impressed with the times run on that difficult course. I shudder to think what my time would be with hills and humidity. I knew exactly what Baldini was going thru as he laid on the track his quads in perfect definition. And Dan Brown – that stiff leg walk as he tried to stretch and massage just before entering the stadium (I am sure he wanted to run the last lap even if slowly). As for De Lima, my heart broke for him. I think fellow marathoners know how at mile 23 every physical and mental resource is stretched to its limit – how devastating that shove must have been. Not just the time lost but simply the mental concentration and rhythm lost. He may indeed have slowed down and been passed w/o the incident but how hard to live with the “what if”. What courage and grace he showed in defeat.

One commentator has talked about the how difficult the marathon is on participants – these athletes can really only be competitive in one or two races a year. The Olympics falling as it does in late summer is especially challenging for runners not just because of summer heat but because timing conditioning and race readiness is so difficult. It may explain why Olympic marathon winners are rarely the pre race favorites.

Friday, August 27, 2004

Friday Trail Run

Late summer now. In a few weeks there will be dramatic changes but now is deep green lush wood of summer. The air is humid and the ground wet. But it is pleasant to be on the trail. Struck out on a portion of the white trail I had never done. The trail seemed to disapper at one point and I had to make a great loop around to pick it up again but for most of the run it was well marked and easy to follow. I was pleased to find that when the trail rejoined the portion of trail I regularly run I recognized it. Imagine a city boy like me and I knew one wooded path from another. Amazing. Lots of deer sightings with one close encounter. One of my longer runs, very satisfied with pace and the deep peace of the woods.

Monday, August 16, 2004

Half Wit Half Marathon

Don’t know why I have such a problem with this run.

First, the weather (yes I know it is August but there are nice days in August). The first year I ran it was very hot. Last year was only a little better. This year – well we could have had anything: first forecast was for a nice day. Then Charley came along. For awhile it looked like the race might occur during a driving rain and high winds, but Charley’s track took it off shore and what rain fell was gone by race time. But while relatively cool it was extremely humid.

I felt organized and ready, but somehow I had a series of mishaps. First I forgot to pick up the trail shoes (left right by the front door) I planned to run in. Fortunately, I had another pair in my Jeep. These were heavier than I would have liked for a race, but I had little choice since I was an hour from home. Then a rather serious misstep: I forgot to put my Succeed tablets in my race ready pocket. I had them ready to go and can’t understand the oversight.

The race itself (as usual) began about 20 minutes late. The race director has a good time making fun of the course, Reading, and the runners. If you have seen his race application you will get a flavor of his sense of humor.

I knew I wanted to run slow and steady and lined up toward the back. The disadvantage of this is that in the first mile there a number of choke points - so you find yourself running and then stopping. Early on there was a stream crossing and despite some care I got wet – yuck first mile and my foot is wet. Every year this first part is slightly different.

The first part of the race loops back to the pavilion where the registration takes place. You actually run thru the pavilion. Then into the woods. This race has a number of steep inclines. I suppose the faster runners run up them all (something I would like to see someday). But I walked the steepest inclines. The problem with this course is that many of the down hills are so precipitous that we can’t speed down but must cautiously careen down grabbing tress sweat stained from previous runners (again I would like to see how the fast runners handle these hills).

Miles three thru six are wooded over rolling landscape and so far I was running well. About mile six you come down a steep incline onto a ball field. There is a water station there. You circle the infield and are confronted with the 128 steps from hell. I have no idea why or where this comes from but it is a very steep incline up a series of granite blocks. Who or why they were placed is an unsolved mystery. This stretch includes negotiating a large tree that most choose to crawl under. Notable on the course this year was the number of downed trees. After the steps there is a return three mile trip thru the woods until you get back to road. I was struggling a bit walking more than I wanted and bitterly regretted not having my Succeed tablets since I could feel my legs cramping up. I made sure I got two cups of water and ran fairly well on a short stretch of asphalt but just after reentering the woods my legs (quadriceps) really seized up. The pain was intense I couldn’t even stretch I managed to sit down and tried to massage my legs. By drawing them up it felt better. Several runners went by asking how I was. (My experience in this race is that runners really watch out for each other and always check on lagging runners). The irony was that I felt fine unlike two years ago when I felt faint and completely unfocused. I just couldn’t get uncramped. After a few minutes I began to walk and felt better – I had decided to drop out at 9.1 miles. But after another minute of so I felt like running and did. Another four miles was going to be tough but I decided to go for it. I went into the final loop. Here you get to see faster runners who have finished the loop and are headed to the finish. The first part of the loop contains the longest downhill where you can actually run and I did pretty well but it also has the steepest uphill and just when you think you are finished with up there is one last climb. The first time I did this portion I actually sat down completely exhausted and very nearly passed out. This time I felt fine and even the cramping held off – I was just very, very slow. Finally we were back to a straight away (but very rocky and slippery) unfortunately the cramps came back in spades. Not only couldn’t I run but I could barely walk. I chose not to stop but just walk slowly. Finally I came out to the last road and path and found I could run a little and I did run – in fact I felt great in the last quarter mile (probably because I knew it was over).

All in all it was a frustrating and yet strangely satisfying experience. My performance was miserable but I willed thru the pain and setbacks. I think it will make me a better runner. I can’t imagine any race daunting me after Sunday. (Of course I have no intention of testing this theory or myself in a 50K trail run.)

Thursday, August 12, 2004


Have other early morning runners noticed? It's dark out there - a sure sign summer is slipping away. Monday I tried to kid myself that it was just cloudy but, no, there was a crescent moon and Venus to show it was darkness not clouds. This morning it was cloudy which made it even gloomier. Sigh. Still it's running that puts me in touch with the seasons.

I have a run that I do most Thursdays. It is on the quiet back roads near home. I can expand or contract it easily and these days run it without a watch. There is a regular cast of early morning people I see, although forthe most part it is solitary. But if this routine run had no surprises there was a surprise at the end. Birds. Mourning Doves. Dozens lined up along the roof of my house, and more lined up along the fence bordering my property and on the utility line that runs through the back of the property. And just my property. A few years ago I had to stop feeding birds because I began to attract hundreds of pigeons. Since then I hadn't seen such a congregation of birds. (There is a large flock of starlings that fly over in the evening on their way tonight time roost, but they fly on to a large tree in the cemetery.) Though I knew mourning doves flocked, I had mostly seen them in pairs and never in such a concentration. I suppose they were on their way somewhere and just stopped for a morning chat because when I came down from my shower they were all gone. Still I wondered why my house? Will they be there tomorrow?

If I hadn't been up in the grey dawn I would have missed them. Running really does open other worlds. Life in all its variety is wonderful and wonderous.

Wednesday, August 11, 2004

A quick update

I asked at the end of my last post about a sky phenomenon I saw on Sunday 8 August 2004 on the beach at Ventnor.

A reader has contacted me to tell me that what I saw was a "sun dog". I googled sun dog and found a number of sites but none contained a photograph that was as striking or beautiful as what I saw Sunday.

However, this link comes closest and gives some idea and a definition.

I feel very lucky to have seen such a beautiful phenomenon.

Monday, August 09, 2004

Weekend Musings

I had the good fortune this summer to spend a couple of weekends “downtheshore” (a local regionalism used as one word meaning to go to the beach). So Friday after helping at Bryn Mawr’s Zoom Mile (strong wind slowed the mile – winning time was a “slow” 4:05) we headed out to Ventnor. Early Saturday I jogged down to the beach, put my shoes and socks under the boardwalk and ran south to the end of Absecon Island. (Absecon Island contains Atlantic City, Ventnor, Margate, and Longport – every July there is a swim around the Island, 22.5 miles, now that’s a marathon.) I am always surprised by how few people are on the beach early. It’s my favorite time of day. Running barefoot is fun although crushed shells can be painful. It’s neat to arrive at the end of the Island and realize you have run out of land. Back north I see my own footprints and have graphic demo of why the long toe on my right foot causes problems. The print in the sand shows clearly that that toe digs deeper then any of the others on either foot. Interesting. Going south you clearly see the high rises (mainly casinos) that line the Atlantic City boardwalk; a few dog walkers (strictly against the rules), but mostly I and the sea birds have the beach to ourselves. The next morning, Sunday, I tried something different. I drove over the Longport bridge and parked about a mile from the toll bridge that goes to Ocean City. I ran south and cross the bridge, my vertigo flickers but remains under control; then through the streets to the boardwalk – I run the length of the boardwalk (about three miles) and back again. The boardwalk is crowded with walkers and bikers. On my way back I break stride a couple of times to take in the art exhibited along the boardwalk. (On admiring one set of prints the artist amiably says “come back with money”). I must say I equally enjoyed both runs – the solitude of the beach and the crowded boardwalk - both have things to offer. At the end of the Sunday’s run I finished at a small beach where dog owners had congregated to allow their dogs to run in the surf. I spent some time cooling down and watching the dogs, joyously released from their leases, splashing through the water. My favorite – a young Great Dane bounding at remarkable speed and agility making great leaps for its toy. (BTW I saw something on the beach Sunday afternoon – a cloud was lit with the colors of the rainbow. It was quite striking and lasted several minutes. Is this a common phenomenon on the shore? What causes it?)

Friday, August 06, 2004

What a beautiful morning. Clear and 60. I had always thought of Delaware County has a good place to avoid the extremes of climate. A four season place with hot humid summers and cold winters but nothing extreme. But in the last couple of years I think the whole county has up and moved to somewhere in the mid-west. It started with Floyd a tired old hurricane that was mostly tropical storm when it got here but then decided to hang around and around. Worst flooding we ever saw. The next summer was a drought. The next summer the most days over 90 ever. Then a winter when we had more and deeper snow then Maine. Then last fall the wind storm (don’t know if they ever decided it was a tornado) that knock down trees, took off roofs. Then this Sunday it was water again. Six inches of rain in less than two hours. Some of the areas flooded were in a flood plain and were use to high water but other places had never seen water like this. Streams that were normally a trickle raged carrying off cars, bridges, and roads. (Sometime this morning we will officially become a federal disaster area.)

What does that have to do with running – nothing other than it was a great morning to be out in woods this time to benefit from one of those extremes (calling for record lows tonight!). While some of my humid weather runs have been all effort, today was the opposite. The miles flew by and even more than usual I found myself reluctant to leave the woods and so did another loop. For the past couple of weeks I have been going further into the woods taking paths I never used before. Sometimes I easily rejoin a known trail and sometimes I get lost and must retrace my steps but it has been great fun. Today on my detour I encountered a stag with a large rack. He came crashing out of the underbrush just in front of me and raced down the path with me just behind him. Shortly he turned off the path and just feet off the path turned and watched to see if I would follow. We stood facing each other only a couple of feet apart until he bolted deeper into the brush. Earlier a rabbit had played a similar game. He would race ahead, wait for me to catch up, then race ahead. He did this five or six times before tiring of the game and disappearing into the undergrowth. (Now I know it is silly to anthropomorphize this natural behavior but I can’t help thinking there is some sport for them in this – silly human we are the real athletes.)

Next week I will do the Half-Wit Marathon (If you want to read a fun race application click on the link). After reading about 50Ks and longer and 6 hour runs I hate to admit I am somewhat intimidated by that course. It is the toughest run I have ever done, far more than any of my twelve marathons. I can only wish that the weather is like today and not the 90s it has been the last two years.

Tonight I will volunteer at Bryn Mawr Running Company’s Shut Up and Run 5K. New this year is the Zoom Mile. The elite category should be a great race to watch especially with the cool weather and slight downhill, no turns there should be some very fast times.