Sunday, June 29, 2008

Slower Runnings!

Okay - so we didn't exactly look or perform like the Jamaican Bobsled team - but we did finish and managed to consume a reasonable quantity of food at the post-race "party" - what else matters?? We think we have stumbled onto our racing/running motto: "We run; therefore we eat." Or - phrased another way - "We run so we can eat!" Either way - you get the message. And we continue to be puzzled by Rachel's general lack of interest in eating; she certainly did NOT inherit that from her parents.

Anyway, probably not the norm to have two posts so close together, but that is what happens when we schedule races on consecutive weekends - our last run taking us to the Connecticut coastline (Long Island Sound) at Jennings Beach in Fairfield - probably about 45 minutes to an hour from New York City. The Fairfield Road Race had been billed as a flat and fast course - the site of several US half-marathon championships - and got very good reviews, to include an endorsement from the Race Director we met in New Hampshire in May, who had previously lived there, participated in the race, and ultimately provided us the contact for a friend of hers whose family watched Rachel during the race. I guess the course billing wasn't entirely inaccurate - just not quite the WHOLE truth. It was indeed flat - for the first two miles and the last two - and perhaps even fast - for the first two (because by the end, fast really wasn't an option); however, the rest of the course was quite challenging with several significant hills and a few others. That was coupled with East Coast heat and humidity - a combination which I have not learned to run in very well. Notwithstanding it wasn't a fast course, it was a very scenic course. Several miles of it were along the beach or coast/harbor area, and at least half of it was through some beautiful residential areas - large estates, colonial mansions - and all of it was through Connecticut greenery. We certainly don't regret the race selection - but came home with additional appreciation for our hill training and perhaps a commitment to do a bit more running in the heat.

All in all, the trip to Connecticut was a fun one. We managed to get two tickets to Fenway Park, so spent one day going to Boston and back - with the highlight being the Red Sox game on Friday night - what a storied history and a place we had both wanted to go. One other very impressive sight in Boston was the worldwide Christian Science HQ and "cathedral"; we were too late to go in, but it reminded me of Italy! Also visited the grounds of the Coast Guard Academy in New London; spent some time in the historic and picturesque seaport town of Mystic (early Julia Roberts debut in Mystic Pizza); spent a morning in Hartford exploring downtown and the Capitol; and then after the race did a little "spying" on the rich and famous. Western Connecticut on the edges of NYC is quite renowned as a money haven. We got some tips on drives to take through some particularly well-heeled country areas, and we were not disappointed. (And you can probably imagine where this idea originated - although I didn't put up too much resistance.) Certainly some beautiful estates, chateaus, mansions, etc. Also visited the campus of Yale University that evening in New Haven - quite impressive - esp. considering I had even applied to attend Law School there!
And what thoughts might I share from this race? I think what struck me most is flexibility and the fact that adhering to a relatively rigid training regimen doesn't necessarily prepare you for every eventuality. Based on what I had read - and my training - I actually thought this might be a race candidate for a PR. It turned out to be far from that - and not because I hadn't trained, but because the conditions under which I had trained weren't optimal for this environment. I guess the message there is to know who your "adversary" is - or your challenge - and prepare accordingly. Be flexible - condition yourself appropriately. I think there is a lesson in that the extends far beyond running.

Seventeen down - 33 to go!

Friday, June 27, 2008

Running in Paradise?

At this point, I suppose we can only surmise what heaven may look like, but if it looks something like the area in which we ran our mid-June half-marathon, I wouldn't be at all surprised. (Actually, I might be surprised to even be able to find out at some point in the future, but in the meantime, I'll continue to imagine.)

I suspect many of you who might read this have been to Estes Park, Colorado, but having been there probably at least a half dozen times, I would be ready to go back again next week. What a beautiful setting! The Colorado Rockies nearly surround the city, with Long's Peak majestically standing watch to the South, forested hillsides, lakes, endless blue skies, and, of course, enough streets and roads to let people run (in our case) 13.1 miles. (And the marathoners - those lucky devils - got to enjoy the scenery twice as far!) This race (which we ran on the 15th of June), is billed as the highest paved marathon in the world - so many people find the elevation (between 7500 and 8000') a bit daunting for a long run, but hey - it gets you closer to heaven....especially when people feel like they can't breathe anymore!

This was not a race for any personal best times; in fact, Karen and I ran this race together the entire way - which is something we have never done before, as Karen has never been willing to slow down enough to run with me! It was, literally, a nice change of pace - and a great race.
As for the deep thoughts - which must, of necessity, be part of any such endeavor - I can only remind everyone to soak it all in. More often than we realize, we are encompassed by indescribable and unimaginable beauty - because we pass through it too quickly, too distracted, too focused on other things, or just plain too indifferent or without paying attention. In this case, I had over two hours - and just tried to soak it all in - and I believe, at least to some extent, that I succeeded. Sometimes, there is good counsel in just a few words: Slow down, smell the roses, look for the good and the beautiful; no doubt, it will be there.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Running One for the Gipper

Nearing exhaustion he conquered the final hill - struggling to breathe at the top as he entered the final straightaways....and then around the stadium calling on every last ounce of strength as the sun beat down to sap the last reserves of energy. And yet - with extreme courage - he rounded the final bend, overcoming fatigue to accelerate into the tunnel of no return - suddenly to be met by the Fight Song of the Fighting Irish - as he burst into the light of Notre Dame stadium - where thousands of fans rose to their feet to see and acclaim the triumphant finish at the 50-Yard line!
Okay - perhaps a SLIGHT exaggeration - maybe there were only a couple of dozen fans in the stadium - but we did finish there to the strains of the Notre Dame fight song. And maybe it wasn't quite THAT dramatic - but it was pretty warm and I was getting tired! And we'll say it was for the Gipper - his ghosts certainly still roam the sidelines. In any event, half marathon #15 is in the books - the Sunburst Hall of Fame (College Football) to Notre Dame in South Bend, Indiana. Unfortunately, the finish was definitely the highlight. South Bend was really not very impressive - a tired, old mid-western city in need of some lipo or a face lift - and even the campus of Notre Dame wasn't what I would have expected (instead of old buildings shrouded in ivy, almost all of the buildings looked new and although distinctive in their architecture, not particularly impressive). The race logistics and course markings were similarly a bit short of expectations - but hey - we enjoyed it anyway. Certainly no best times in the warmth and humidity, but there were some very scenic sections of the course along the river and through one or two impressive neighborhoods. It was also nice to have Karen's Mom along to help us with Rachel - and we enjoyed the road trip over from Chicago and back.
And what might have been the lessons learned or running thoughts from South Bend? I think they centered around unfulfilled expectations again - but coupled with how we can begin making excuses for our performance very early on. First there was the warmth and humidity; how can anyone really run well in that? Second, there was a shortage of volunteers at one of the first fluid stations, meaning I wasn't able to grab a drink early in the race; who can run a best time without the proper hydration? Thirdly, there weren't mile markers or elapsed time signs along the half-marathon course; how can we know how we are doing and properly pace ourselves in their absence? There is probably a positive and right answer to each of those questions and circumstances, but it is far easier to let them accumulate towards a solid excuse for not quite measuring up to what might have been and perhaps even should have been.
Winners don't need excuses! Perhaps that one came from the Gipper.