Sunday, November 16, 2008

Running the Oaks

How important is the title? Do you ever debate how you should title a post? Do you wonder if it is "catchy" or appropriate? Does it fit? And have you ever wondered just how many ways you can use the word "Run" or "Running" in a title?? Since that would appear to be one of my criteria...let's end the the debate and use this one.

Actually, it is probably appropriate, although you will see (assuming you read this entire post) it could have been any number of other titles, as well. Our last race was the "City of Oaks" marathon and half-marathon in Raleigh NC. Guess what? The area is known for huge, stately oak trees - and on the 1st and 2nd of November, a good number of them were showing off their autumn attire. Hopefully, a picture or two will give you a flavor for them, but a number of the roads we ran were lined with them. (Picture captions are at the bottom, numbered from top left down.)

Neither Karen nor I remember ever being in the Raleigh area, so it was nice to get acquainted with new terrain....and as we are wont to do, checked out nearby campuses, the downtown area, the Capitol and some historic areas. We were also frequently reminded that this is tobacco country - the bastion of this agricultural commodity and an area that generated almost unbelievable wealth for a number of icons of the industry.

As for the campuses, we visited UNC-Chapel Hill (which is the main campus), Wake Forest (in how is THAT for a tobacco name), and Duke (in Durham). There was also a smaller, liberal arts college in Winston-Salem (Salem College, coincidentally) that was about two hundred years old and quite picturesque. All of the campuses had something unique to offer. UNC claims to be the oldest public university in the country. Most of the campus now looks much newer, but there were interesting reminders of the past and it was a pretty campus. I was especially impressed with the Dean Smith Arena - which is, essentially, the state's shrine to their college basketball program - one of the most successful and storied in the history of the sport. Interesting hall in the arena recognizing great moments and personalities from their sports lore. Wake Forest was much smaller, but architecturally consistent with a very pretty church. The private school was founded by a tobacco baron. For Karen it was particularly interesting since this is where Brian Piccolo went to college. He played pro football for the Chicago Bears in the Gayle Sayers era (60s), but died of cancer at age 26. His story became the basis for a book and movie - and the one song Karen can still sit at the piano and play with aplomb - Brian's Song. His family still headlines a number of fundraising, community sports activities in Chicago and Karen has participated in a number of them. Completely unrelated, of course, to Karen's celebrity stalking tendencies, she enjoyed visiting his old college dorm (now named in his honor) and talking to students who all knew about the annual Wake Forest fundraiser ("Hit the Bricks") to raise money for his cause. That notwithstanding, the most impressive campus, by far - if not the most impressive I have ever seen - was Duke. A fairly new school (~1930), also founded by tobacco grants and endowments (Mr. Duke, of course) - it looks like a rival for any European school 3 or 4 times that old. The architectural theme is Gothic and very consistent across campus. The centerpiece is a cathedral (one of the caretakers talked to us for awhile an wanted us to be VERY certain it was NOT really a cathedral, but the largest non-denominational "church" anywhere). It is amazing! Having seen MANY European cathedrals, this would rival any of them. There was also a beautiful set of gardens, named for Mr. Duke's wife, that perfectly complimented the campus. Well worth our visit - and we wish we would have had longer.

The State Capitol was old, small and impressive - with monuments to all of the US wars surrounding the building. The architects commissioned an Italian sculptor to put a statue of a well-known person in the building. The sculptor had never been in America and had never met his subject. Guess who it is? (Your choices are a. Julius Ceaser, b. Napolean, c. George Washington, and d. LaFontaine. The answer is at the bottom.) Interestingly, the state legislature no longer meets in the Capitol, but across the street about a block in a legislative building that looks more like a convention center and is quite new. We also visited an old historic district in Winston-Salem (Old Salem) - one of the oldest settlements in the state and thoroughly enjoyed dinner there in a tavern that has been around for over 200 years. It was settled by Moravians in the late 1700s and includes an old Moravian cemetery - no one's headstone could be taller than anyone else.

As for the race, it would be difficult to get better conditions. It was sunny, quite cool, very little wind and an interesting course most of the way, but with a few hills. I had really hoped this might be my "breakthrough" - where I could bust the psychological barrier of running sub-8 minute miles again. For the exception of the 3 or 4 miles that were "hill" miles, I was able to do so....but unfortunately had to include those, as well, leaving me just over the 8-minute mark again.

As for my runner's thoughts - I usually do my pre-race homework quite well. In fact, many might think I am a bit anal. I like to drive the course in advance, check out the start area, confirm parking and the exact route we'll get to the race start from our hotel - usually on a "less traveled" route to avoid the worst traffic. This was completed prior to the Raleigh race - and we were very confident of our pre-race logistics. However, we didn't adequately account for the time required for the pre-race dump! If you have ever seen a race start site just before a race, there are dozens of portapotties in multiple banks in the area. However, there are usually about fifty times as many people in line as there are portapotties....and Raleigh was no exception. The lines were VERY long, the "relief" times excessive, and by the time we completed these very essential race preparations and then were depositing our gear check bag, the gun sounded and the race began! And we weren't even in the starting throngs yet - numbering between three and four thousand runners (and we usually try to be near the front of that throng). Okay - so we jumped the snow fence to get on the road, still had to wait a few minutes before we actually got to the start line, and then had to try and make up lost time. (This last circumstance only applied to me, by the way.) For the first two miles I had to try and pick my way through very crowded roads to get into a position I could really run. It took its toll - physically and otherwise. I guess the message here is that its very hard to make up lost time - whether in a race or in life. I won't say it can't be done - but there is a cost..... and our ability and willingness to pay will end up making a difference.

Another great trip; another great race. We thank Princess Jen for helping us with Rachel for the weekend. We are nearing the 50% mark for the States!
Picture key:
1 and 2: Raleigh skyline, with Convention Center "shimmering wall" and a great oak.
3. Bell Tower at UNC
4 and 5: Dean Smith Arena, UNC
6. Wake Forest Chapel
7 and 8: Brian Piccolo Residence Hall
9-11: Duke "Church" (Cathedral!)
12. Sarah Duke Gardens
13 and 14. State Capitol and Staue of, yes, George Washington!
15 and 16: State Legislative Building....go figure!
19 and 20: Old Salem, Winston-Salem, with Moravian Cemetery
21. City of Oaks Finishers!