Sunday, September 14, 2008

Running with the Bikers!

We suspected there may be a problem a month or two before the race. We had booked airline reservations and made plans to run the Lake Country Half Marathon in Oconomowoc, Wisconsin; however, when we attempted to make lodging reservations there was a problem – a BIG problem. There was nothing available – or, in those rare instances something WAS available, it was to the tune of $250-$350/night, with a minimum stay of three nights – paid in full, in advance! As it turned out, our race weekend (29-31 August), just happened to be the same weekend as the huge Harley Davidson 105th birthday party (biker, babe and booze fest) in the Milwaukee area (home and corporate HQ for Harley). Oconomowoc is about 30 miles west of Milwaukee – and well within the “nothing available” radius. We finally got reservations about 50-60 miles from the race location – and about 80-90 miles from Milwaukee. Luckily, when we arrived in the area on Friday, we called around and found one motel that had just had a cancellation – and it was only 15 minutes from the race. Despite it hardly being a Marriott (or a Comfort Inn…or a Super 8….or even a Motel 6) it worked for a night.

As for the race, it was a beautiful day for a run and a very nice course next to and around a couple of picturesque lakes that surround Oconomowoc (between Madison and Milwaukee). There were no PRs, but both Karen and I had very good times (in relative and historical terms) and enjoyed the race. Karen’s niece, Sarah, accompanied us from Chicago and was our “Rachel-care” for the day – which worked great. The day before the race we visited the World Circus Museum in Baraboo (home of the Ringling Bros). Pretty interesting place with a couple of good shows – and particularly interesting since we both read “Water for Elephants” a few months ago. After the race, we decided to check out Milwaukee to see what the bikers were up to and because I had never been there. It would be hard to describe the number of bikes and bikers we saw in the next 6-8 hours! They were everywhere! On the highways, on the city streets, parked along curbs and across parks and lawns by the thousands. The estimate we heard was about 80,000 bikes in the area for the weekend – and I have no trouble believing it. It was interesting to see – but I also thought noteworthy that the biggest sponsors of the events were Miller Brewing and a huge Gentleman’s Club in Milwaukee….hmmmmm. After our lunch in a pretty famous German restaurant in Milwaukee (Maders) we’re pretty certain we saw one of the entertainers from the latter sponsor gearing up to take center stage on the street festivities going on in front of the restaurant! (Can you say enhancements?!)

No real revelations on the run – but the Circus Museum was interesting for the light it shed on the American Way of life for decades from before the turn of the century until probably well after WWII. It is truly, for the most part, a bygone era – but I don’t think it is one we should forget. How we lived, how we played, how we got around, the communities and cities, and how they celebrated events such as the circus calling - all gave us a legacy – and one that shaped our culture for probably a century. We certainly don’t need to relive the past – but studying and remembering it can only serve us well in the present and into the future. Take a minute and read something historical – you might be surprised how interesting it is!

Oh….and one other little historical note – Wisconsin was State #21!

Monday, September 1, 2008

Running Country Roads

Before I get too far behind, it is time for another update on the "Quest". (Although I gladly stepped aside the last week or two for far more important news of Little Grace's progress and Buggy's feat!) However - since 40% seems at least somewhat significant - here is a report on how we fit into the grand scheme of things when it comes to John Denver and Country Roads.

Race #20 was on the 16th of August in Parkersburg, West Virginia - the News & Sentinel Marathon and Half-Marathon - also site of the 2008 National Half-Marathon Championship of the Road Runners' Clubs of America. (Lest I keep any of you in suspense too long, neither Karen nor I won the championship - as unbelievable as that may be to you!) Parkersburg lies along the Ohio River on the Northwest side of the State and the border with Ohio. If you haven't been to West Virginia, but somehow imagine what it looks like, this would likely fit the image. Rolling hills, very green, mostly rural with the town center looking a bit its age, and yet with some charm and a neighborhood or two reflecting the industrialist wealth that was not uncommon a half century or so ago. The race started and ended downtown, but after a quick trip through one of the historic neighborhoods, headed for the country. Needless to say, there WERE a number of hills (to include a couple that were long enough to make you anxious to get them behind you), but the description that fits is "Country Roads". And the John Denver music and lyrics were certainly a part of the run - if not with bands along the route, certainly with mind music. Indeed, despite the hills and the weather (albeit we were fortunate that the weather was NOT as brutal as it CAN be in the middle of August - it was warm, but not so hot and humid as to drain you in the first 20 minutes) I ran one of my best times in the past two years, besting the 1:45 threshold marking, in my mind, a really good run - and in this case, a surprising one.

Our Rachel "help" for the race came through a church connection; we ended up in contact with the Stake President, who happened to live in Parkersburg. He and his oldest daughter were actually running the half-marathon, but his wife (Darlene) and next oldest daughter (Danielle), were race volunteers who were going to be keeping a water stop going throughout the race. They took Rachel as the Stop's Mascot and took good care of her - and we even got waves and encouragement from her at the 12-mile mark of the race!

Our only regret for this race is that we didn't have longer to spend in WV. We may have to make amends for that down the road. However, we did spend most of a day in southeastern Ohio enroute to Parkersburg and were again surprised at the natural beauty of an area that we would never have given much thought to. Hocking Hills State Park - with it's 4-5 different units - was quite impressive, featuring caves, grottoes, forests, river bottoms, cliffs and even a waterfall or two. We visited several of the units and would not mind getting to at least one more if the opportunity presents itself.

All in all, another really nice trip and weekend - which was combined with some business in Columbus, where we celebrated Karen's birthday in the German Village of Columbus (Schmidt's Restaurant). It was a very nice evening - even if the food still makes a visit to Germany necessary! (By the way, this birthday put Karen in a new age group for running - so she is now only ONE behind least for another couple of months.) Incidentally, the first two pictures are in Columbus - first our Hotel was in an old bank building and the breakfast serving area was the vault! We also visited the Capitol (Picture 2), an odd looking building from the outside, but impressive and historic inside.

The thoughts that kept running through my mind for this race (in addition to "Country Roads", of course) were about volunteers. I suspect it may have been due to several factors - and has subsequently been strengthened by all I see surrounding Grace's condition and response - but I kept noticing the dozens, if not hundreds of volunteers that make such a race possible. They put on the pasta dinner before the race, they manned the water and aid stations, they handled much of the race logistics and traffic control, and they were out in significant numbers just cheering the runners along. I wondered what motivated them to do what they were doing. Some might be runners - but certainly not all of them. They were certainly not being compensated. They were giving up a Friday evening or Saturday morning - or both (if not much more than that) - all for what? I suspect every individual has their own motivation, but I suspect most of them did it because it was an opportunity to help others and help the community - and I thought they did a great job and am much more aware the last few months of the need to just tell them thank you. It makes much of what we do and almost come to expect - possible. Thanks to those who so selflessly do it - and may it rub off a bit more.

West Virginia and Country Roads - checked off! Twenty down - thirty to go!