Saturday, December 27, 2008

A Running Stop

“It ain’t over until the fat lady sings.” It may not be the classiest or most refined of expressions, but most people have heard it and know exactly what it means. Three weeks ago In Baton Rouge, Louisiana, I was reminded just how much truth there is in that little nugget. Heading for my best time since I started running half-marathons again just over two years ago – and finally, completely breaking through that psychological 8-minute mile barrier I’ve been working on for a year – I was in the stretch run, picking up the pace for the last half mile. It was as sure as it gets – with a pace of near 7:50 on the horizon – and a new “post-50” PR. When it popped. I’m still not exactly sure what it was – most likely because of the fear of knowing – but the “pop” was a sharp pain in the back of my upper left thigh that stopped me dead in my tracks. Thinking it might be a cramp, I tried stretching it out, then walking it off, but nothing helped. I was unable to run on it – period. I was finally able to walk/hobble my way to the finish line – and even finish with a respectable time due to the previous 12.5+ miles – but the PR was gone – replaced by considerable anxiety about what had happened and the longer-term consequences. And of course the reminder – it isn’t over until it is over.

Initially, my disappointment (and frustration) at not achieving the goal was pretty high….in fact REAL high. However, as I got past the moment, there were even things to be grateful for. At least the injury occurred near the very end of the race. Had it happened much sooner, I most likely would not have finished the race – and there wouldn’t be two Louisiana medals hanging on that peg. It also appears the injury might not be as serious as I had initially feared. I finally decided to check some sports medicine literature and it is, more than likely, a Grade 2 hamstring strain or pull. Although there is still considerable recovery time, only the more serious Grade 3 likely requires surgical repair. If I can manage to do the right things – and keep from doing the wrong (or premature) things – hopefully I’ll be able to participate in our next scheduled race in late January.
As for other race comments – the course was a pretty nice one. It started next to the Louisiana State University (LSU) campus on a pretty lake, wound through several neighborhoods, some campus areas, sorority row( quite impressive along the lake), along the lakeshore for several miles, through some VERY impressive areas with estate-like homes/plantations, and ended back where we began. It was a flat, fast course – with weather pretty well-suited for running. It was chilly, but not TOO cold, generally sunny (but often shaded), little or no wind, and no precipitation. Perfect PR conditions……..sigh.

As for the rest of the trip, it was interesting and enjoyable. We spent a day and a half in New Orleans, including the French Quarter, hurricane-damaged areas and some good food – to include some wonderful Po Boy sandwiches and a Cajun meal at Mulates. We spent part of a morning driving through the Lower Ninth Ward – one of the hardest hit areas by Katrina. It was still VERY depressing. I would estimate that, at most, maybe 20% of the houses are inhabited; most are boarded up, visibly vacant or just plain gone. We only saw one school that was open (most obviously closed); most businesses were closed and there was just very little sign of recovery or reconstruction efforts. Although Baton Rouge wasn’t the liveliest spot we have visited recently, it was certainly better off and offered a number of things well worth seeing…and eating. These included both the Old Statehouse and the current Capitol – both very unique in architectural design and features. The former looked like a castle or fortress from the outside with a multi-colored, glass dome that was very impressive. The new Statehouse looked more like an office skyscraper, but the interior was equally impressive with a Great Hall, beautifully appointed legislative chambers, and an exhibit marking the spot where former State Governor and Senator Huey Long was shot – a most interesting note in a most interesting state history, replete with corruption and intrigue. There was also an observation deck on the Capitol – about 20 stories up – that provided a good view of the city, the Mississippi River and about as far as you could see across the State – since there were virtually NO hills, mounds or even undulations in sight! Between New Orleans and Baton Rouge we also stopped at a couple of very impressive southern plantations….and, of course, enjoyed another great meal.
We look back on the past year and are a bit amazed at our running results! We checked off 17 States – and each one was also a unique and worthwhile trip. We took full advantage of Carl’s Southwest Airlines Companion Pass. As we look forward to 2009, we suspect there will be a more reasonable number of races. We also recognize how richly we have been blessed to make our quest possible. We thank all those who have helped us on our way – watching and taking care of Rachel, traveling with us or meeting us, or just providing motivation. At the risk of forgetting someone, special thanks to Karen’s Mom and sister (Kathy), Jen, Emily, Sarah and several Race Directors and LDS church members who were just super in supporting us along the way. Thanks for helping us have a great running year. Twenty-six down; 24 to go!

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Running the First!

Do you have a collection of State Quarters? Do you remember the first one that came out in the series? Do you recall it being Massachusetts? I hope not, because it was actually Delaware – and with our race on the 22nd of November we not only achieved the milestone of 50% of the States, we ran in our first State, Delaware, which was first to ratify the Constitution. As part of our trip, we visited the original building and locations (in Dover) where the signers met to start our Union. Interestingly enough it was a tavern – not the least atypical for the era. It was an impressive, but small complex of buildings from the 1700s (some now restored), to include plaques, monuments and the village green – looking much like it did well over 200 years ago.

As for our race, it was at Rehoboth Beach, located where the Atlantic Ocean and the Delaware Bay intersect. It started along the town boardwalk (obviously quite a tourist mecca in the summer), then proceeded through the town, along a running trail through a forest preserve, past fields and wetlands, past Delaware’s first settlement (Lewes – where there were also some interesting old buildings) to a State Park at Cape Henlopen. Since the race was actually a two-person marathon relay, Cape Henlopen is where Karen handed me the “baton” (our timing chip). I then ran much of the same route in reverse – ending where we began on the boardwalk.

Although our 25th race together it was our first with a bonafide taste of winter! As we ate dinner the night before, we looked out the window onto quite a snow squall. It had also snowed much of the way down from Philadelphia earlier that evening. Luckily, race morning broke with crystal clear skies, but quite windy, cold (probably around 30) and some slick/snowy spots – esp. at the race start along the boardwalk. The wind kept our times a bit slower, but all in all it was a really nice race, a fairly scenic course and – of major importance to us – had a GREAT post race food spread (drinks, mini-burgers, veggie burgers, salads, pancakes, syrups, baked beans, pulled pork, and mac & cheese)! Luckily, the food was in a big tent where it was at least warmer. It was really good and we had some great visits with other runners. The race organizers were a couple that ran the local running store. They were also great – and we patronized them with a new pair of shoes for Karen. On the way back to the airport we stopped in Wilmington to visit the original home and black powder manufacturing site of E.I. DuPont. Interesting complex and, of course, quite a history as one of the titans of U.S. manufacturing.

My thoughts during this trip weren’t so much tied to running’s life lessons, but rather the origin of our nation and ideals. Running (and walking) where our founding fathers lived, talked about democracy, and met to set in motion the most significant experiment in the history of man was humbling and impressive. Indeed, we owe them a huge debt of gratitude – along with an equally huge obligation to ensure the continuing success of those ideals and that great experiment. It was great to Run the First! (Picture key, where not obvious: 2 - Old Statehouse in foreground, new Statehouse in background; 3 - oldest home in Lewes, information plaque is #5; 10 - DuPont mansion/home; 11 - Rehoboth Beach after a successful run!)