Thursday, November 25, 2004

Happy Thanksgiving

In today’s paper there’s an article by someone from the Ayn Rand institute who says we all got it all wrong the Thanksgiving is all about gratitude for productivity. Well maybe. But on my morning run (the first after the marathon. Don’t you love those first runs. Never sure if every thing will work, but restless after three days off – running is addictive.) I found myself grateful just for all the things around me.

So just on this run and not even beginning to count all my other blessings I am grateful for clouds – black, gray and white all roiling across the sky. I am grateful for the patches of brilliant blue and a sun the makes the edges of clouds fiery white. The ornamental pears planted by the town a few years ago hung on to their green leaves after the maples had changed and dropped. But this week they had a committee meeting and decided all together to switch on the red and yellows. I am grateful for green fields and leaves, red, orange and yellow. I am grateful for other runners and shouts of good morning and Happy Thanksgiving. I am grateful for barking dogs, for leaf litter and muddy paths, for honking geese and squirrel houses high in the trees.

And that't just this morning. This year I have enjoyed many great runs through fields and woods, on the beach with ocean waves, in Canadian towns and Mt. Desert Island. For all I am grateful.

Throughout today I will reflect on friends and family and all that means and all the blessings I have been given and how very much I have to be grateful for.

Tuesday, November 23, 2004


Goal sub 4 hours. Results 4:05:04

Let me get the disappointment part over first. If I hadn’t run the first 20 so well I wouldn’t be so disappointed by the 4:05:04. But there it is. Almost a classic case of the clich├ęs of running: hitting the wall – the race has two halves the first 20 and the last 6.2 – you have to run the whole race not part, etc., etc.

I didn’t feel bad during the last six. My left arm cramped briefly but mercifully my legs didn’t. I just didn’t have energy and turnover. I’m annoyed at myself because I finished with a caffinated clif shot in my pocket. Kind of a waste to carry it 26 miles and not use it. More on that later. Let’s start at the beginning and the good things.

A couple of days before the race a young fellow I had run with a few times emailed and said he was doing Philadelphia as his first marathon. He had read my blog and knew my time from last year and wanted to do about that pace. I warned him I was a terrible pace setter but that I would enjoy running with him so we made arrangements to meet up. (As it turned out Mukand using the pod on his shoe kept us on pace). I did debate whether you are better off running within yourself or making it a social experience. Undoubtedly if I was going, for example a Boston Qualifier, I would probably want to run undistracted but on this day I’m a mid pack runner just interested in a good time and if I get a good race time that’s icing on the cake. As I told Mukand if you run by yourself you just obsess over all your aches and pains.

Philly’s expo this year was on Eakins Oval just in front of the Art Museum. I was skeptical but the large tents they set up worked well. I found the number/chip/shirt pick up easy and the expo easy to navigate. They used the same tents for the post race refreshments so it was an efficient use of resources. I went over to the kids’ races to find Mukand since he had mentioned his kids would be running. Always fun to see the little guys run. Hope they always run.

Didn’t hang around long; I wasn’t sure I parked legally and didn’t want to come back to find a ticket or worse towed. And I had a pasta dinner to get ready for.

Sunday morning I did the easy ride to Mantua (love hometown running) and parked easily, walked over the Schuylkill Expressway and River to Eakins Oval. I had unwisely chosen to wear old socks thinking of “nothing new” and comfort but they were too stretchy - a mistake I won’t repeat. I fussed with them but knew it was to no avail.

Used the stick, vasolined all over, made sure I had my gels and Succeed. Baggage check was easy. A courteous young volunteer asked are you doing the marathon, do you have everything you need. Have a great race. Very nice.

I met Mukand at the 8 minute mile mark (my stated goal was 8:45 but I knew it helps to be seeded a little ahead of goal). Introduced two other friends who had shared a wonderful pasta dinner with me the night before. They were planning on running a little faster (they would finish 3:50).

The early miles of a marathon always seem so easy. We ran comfortably enjoying the city and the other runners. A runner saw my dead singlet and introduced himself as a dead runner. Unfortunately, I don’t remember his name (he was from Ohio and I looked at Ohio runners hoping it would jog my memory but it didn’t work – I hope he jumps into the list with his impressions).

We progressed thru the city down Race, Columbus Blvd, South Street, Chestnut, up 34th, pass the Zoo, which hadn’t take my suggestion and put some animals on display, and into Fairmount Park. In the city, at various points on Chestnut, there had actually been some spectators. Just after crossing Girard Avenue you drop down and then face the longest, steepest hill of the race. A homemade sign at the top declares, “Last Hill”. Liars!

I like the loop thru the Civil War Memorial, past Memorial Hall (for any Jack Finney fans out there – Philly has many Time and Again places but Memorial Hall is at the top of that list) and into the horticultural center which takes to a steep drop down to West River Drive. I warn Mukand not to overstride and then proceeded to fly down – do as I say not as I do.

Still we are on West River Drive and running well. I notice a lot of people are very wet (once again – why does anyone wear cotton). And I predict there will be a lot of cramping later.

Not long after we past the half marathon point, a young fellow says you seem to know the course. (As is my wont I have been talking non-stop). It turns out Damon is running his first marathon on his 26th birthday. Cool. His goal sub four (he finished 3:55 chip). He lives in NJ but this is his first visit to Philly. Where’s the Rocky statue? South Philadelphia at the Spectrum. Will we past the steps Rocky ran up? Mukand tells him yes and that in fact he had run up them that morning. I explain that shortly, just after the next water stop, we will past those steps. (Steps my grandfather help lay btw). We run past the museum – it’s crowded here as they squeeze you into a shute to separate you from the finish. The crowd is large and noisy (seemed to be more spectators this year then any I remember). We are around the museum and on West River Drive approaching Boat House Row. Damon is on my shoulder and asked “Where are those steps?” He had missed them – don’t worry we assure him you’ll see them at the finish line. On down West River Drive. I try to remember something about the sculptures we are facing. I can never remember the Viking at the end of Boat House Road. He’s not, as people think, Eric or Lief but
Thorfinn Karlsefni. (How's that for a household name!!!)

There is a water stop about 15.5 – General Grant . I lost contact with Mukand at this point. Later he would email and say his arch hurt and that he slowed. I was still running well – in fact I covered this section 16 to 18 miles as well as I ever had. Damon was still with me and introduced me to his sister who was also running (and would finish at 4:00 hrs chip) as his new best friend.

Now I don’t know why but I hate miles 18 thru 20. They seem interminable. You pass from Kelly Drive onto Ridge Avenue then Main Street in Manayunk. I think I made some tactical errors here. I should have walked thru the water stop just past the Falls Bridge and made sure I took my Clif Shot and got both water and gator aid. As it was I only got water. The next water stop is just before the turnaround (20 miles) in Manayunk. It was not a long stop and I was on the wrong side and missed it. You get another chance after making the turnaround but this side only seemed to have water. I am still trying to figure out why I didn’t use my gel (even if I had to stop). Mental fatigue I suppose. I had gotten it into my head I was not going to walk at all during this race. And I never did but I wonder if my stubbornness didn’t cost me a sub 4. I saw my friend Joe Gallagher walking and he finished in 3:57. Walking thru the water stops may have been a better strategy.

Well it got ugly here: the mile times dropped and dropped. At mile 23 I tried to psyche myself that if I picked it up to 9 minutes miles I could still make 4, but I knew it was 1) impossible and 2) I was lying. Still even though I was being passed left and right I felt pretty good. The race was no disaster. I was enjoying the stragglers still coming toward Manayunk (thinking how do they do it – they will be two more hours on the course). There were lots of cramping runners now. It had started in Manayunk but now it’s common. They are over to the side trying to stretch or doing that funny stiff leg waddle you do when cramped. I was churning along slow but steady – no cramps but I was afraid to test my legs by changing stride too much. When you’re a long time runner on the drives you say to yourself – hey I done this – it’s that easy jog back to Lloyd Hall- I’ve done it a thousand times.

The finish is anticlimactic – but a very nice volunteer helps with chip removal. I think these kids should be commended for getting out there. I posed for a finish photo – it’s highly unlikely I will buy it but I am curious of how I looked after 26. Longish wait for food but enjoyed chatting with the people around me. One woman missed a Boston qualifier by five minutes. Now that must hurt – yet she was in good spirits. Chicken broth felt good. Baggage pickup and another great, polite, courteous kid. There is hope for the world. (And by the way no problem dropping off – no problem picking up – got my bag in 30 seconds – the Army should take lessons from this bag check.)

But here’s my treasure --- Mukand wrote me:

“What a fabulous experience that was!

Thanks for teaming up and for the "running tour of Philadelphia".
If the Philly marathon is 26 miles and 385 yards of history,
then you are the best tour guide for it.”

Now that was nice to hear.

Can an experience be at once disappointing yet very positive and entertaining – I think so. Thanks Philadelphia.

Monday, November 01, 2004

Long Run - Valley Forge and the Perkiomen Trail

Don’t you love fall. After many dreary days, Sunday was just beautiful. Temps in the 70’s may have been a little warm but it was breezy enough to compensate. I needed a long run so I headed out to Valley Forge. I had planned on starting at Conshohocken and running to Valley Forge but the first few miles out of Conshohocken are pretty much industrial wasteland and I didn’t want that today. There is a section of the Schuylkill River Trail where the trees form a canopy that is quite lovely so I began my run running from VF toward Philadelphia. The recent rains had knocked a lot of leaves off but there was still plenty of cover. The old Betzwood Studios have been rehab as the Lubin Office Complex which is nice, but what wasn’t so nice is the huge apartment complex they have built adjoining the trail. It’s obvious trees have been cut down even along the trail. I hope the architect and engineers have a good flood water management system because this area is flood prone and when Floyd went thru the area was under a couple of feet of water. This was a brownfield and I suppose the developer O'Neill Properties deserves some credit but I can't help thinking all that impervious surface is going cause trouble downstream.

After three miles I turn back reentering the park and picking up the Perkiomen Trail. This is a rail to trail project which runs twelve miles north out of Valley Forge National Park. A couple of miles parrell Rt. 422; not my favorite section but, I suppose because this part is treeless and the path warms, there were scores of grasshoppers and wooly caterpillars. The grasshoppers seemed lethargic and you could almost step on them before they would jump; the caterpillars just bustled along on some mysterious mission. I hope not too many were bicycle road kill. You then cross the Perkiomen Creek, take a sharp S curve down and run along this large stream. This section is really quite beautiful. At one point the trail hugs a rocky cliff with great vistas of the Perkiomen and the surrounding countryside. The colors are all the rich reds, oranges and yellows of fall. The wet summer has given this bonanza of color. This is definitely a trail I will revisit. About five miles into the run the trail skirts some private property. Someone had place two bikes along the trail with a sign that said “Free Bikes”. I must say I was quite tempted to take one and see if it was in working order. I ran a little more than an hour and reluctantly turned back for the return trip to VF. I thought the return trip would drag but the miles seemed to fly by. When I got to the edge of Valley Forge Park I took a trail that led to the Schuylkill River and completed my run on this lovely path.

I wasn’t conscious of sweating or water loss but I was salt crusted and was glad I had taken my camel pack despite the weight.

Even the ride home was nice. The Schuylkill Expressway itself glowed and the exit for Gulph Mills was stunning in the parade of color presented as you wound down to what will become Montgomery Avenue.

Did I tell you – I love fall.