Friday, July 24, 2009

Running the Green Mountains

Not every State’s nickname will immediately lead you to a correct picture of what you might expect to see there.

I mean, really – what might you expect to see in the “Natural” State of Arkansas? Or what “Old Line” are you supposed to see in Maryland? And how many of us have really seen that many Beehives in Utah? But there are some VERY aptly named exceptions – one of those being the site of our last run – the Green Mountain State of Vermont. Indeed, the State was covered with mountains – even REAL Mountains (from an eastern perspective) and all of them were green. It was a beautiful State, a very nice trip, a good race – and a place we know we need to get back to in the fall.

If you think of the postcard that is Vermont – you are not far off. We saw quaint villages with their white churches on the town common/green (to wit, St. Johnsbury). We saw the mountains, lakes and forests which, by the way, seem to cover the entire state.
We saw covered bridges, beautiful streams and waterfalls. We saw Vanderbilt estates (Shelburne Farms) above Lake Champlain and New York across the lake from a morning cruise. We even saw the alpine lodge established by the Von Trapps (after Sound of Music, of course), the corporate home and ice cream plant of Ben & Jerry’s, an Ivy League campus (Dartmouth) and Joseph Smith’s birthplace near Sharon. Yes – it’s a small state – but it packs a pretty good punch per square mile.

As for the race (Covered Bridges Half-Marathon, June 7th), it was the most highly-hyped run we have done. The 2000+ field of runners was full just over 30 minutes after registration opened six months ago. Needless to say, expectations were high. Almost too high. Don’t get me wrong; it was a pretty course in a very pretty area. It started at a small ski area near Pomfret and ran along the valley’s river through a covered bridge to the very picturesque town of Woodstock and then to the Quechee Gorge. There were a couple of hills along the route, but nothing overly serious. Both Karen and I had good times, with mine being about 20 seconds slower than my “Karen-era” PR, which I tied in May in Michigan.
So why “almost too high” you may be asking? Perhaps because of the scenery experienced in the days leading up to the race and because we didn’t get to run through half a dozen covered bridges. Not to mention the fact that there wasn’t a finisher’s medal presented (which certainly wasn’t because the registration fee was low), nor were the post-race victuals very good. Okay – perhaps I’m getting a bit greedy – but expectations are what they are. It certainly was a good trip – one which we thoroughly enjoyed with Karen’s Mom as our traveling companion and dedicated Rachel nanny.

As for the deep, philosophical thoughts (should that be your expectation) – would you settle for a couple of minor ones – worth thinking about the next time you shave? If so, I would just say that expectations are powerful. They color our experience and can influence our perspective – both positively and negatively. Be careful as they form in order to enjoy, appreciate and learn from every experience to the maximum extent possible.

Also – and tied to expectations – be careful how fast you start. You’ll seldom, if ever, see the winner fading at the end. Know thyself. Pace thyself. Don’t run out of gas before the course is finished.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Running Between Great Lakes

For someone who prides himself on having been a lot of places and seen a lot of things – with all 50 States checked off – it’s nice to take a trip and break considerable new ground! Such was the case over the Memorial Day weekend with our trip to Northern Michigan and the Upper Peninsula (UP). The race (Bayshore Marathon and Half-Marathon on May 23rd) was actually in Traverse City, which lies at the base of the Grand Traverse Bay off Lake Michigan and about 75% of the way north in the “lower” part of the state. Although it was apparent the whole area has been very hard hit by the recession (read: Michigan and the US car industry), it was a very pretty area.

The race itself was along the coastline of a very narrow peninsula separating the East and West Arms of the bay and ranks as one of the more scenic courses we have run. It was also relatively flat and offered great running weather, with mild temperatures, good humidity and generally overcast skies. The result: it was an excellent race for me. I broke the 8-minute mile barrier again (
7:57) and tied my second best time (Springfield, MO, in November 2007) since restarting races with Karen.

As for the new ground, I don’t recall ever being in northern Michigan, on the UP (the surprisingly large part of the state between Lakes Michigan and Superior), or in northern Wisconsin. I also don’t think I’ve ever seen Lakes Superior or Huron, or the Mackinac Bridge connecting the UP to the rest of the state. All were well worth seeing.

We flew into Chicago and had Karen’s brother, Tom (who ran the marathon), and her Mother with us for the trip, which took us up the east coast of Lake Michigan to Traverse City – with the most scenic part being the northern part, to include Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore and some pretty hamlets on the lake. The bridge is a spectacular suspension bridge – with one of the largest spans in the world. As for the UP, it was wildly scenic, but reminded me of
Alaska – very few people, spread out over a raw and unforgiving place – that sort of gives the impression these people are on their own (or getting away from something!)

Lake Superior was also impressive, esp. the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore. From there, we drove down the western shore of Lake Michigan through Wisconsin with, unfortunately, less time than we would have liked to really enjoy it.

Now to those morsels of truth and wisdom. Hmmmm……have you noticed how time takes its toll on the clear recollection of events and facts? And have you perhaps noticed how age compounds this phenomenon?? Although this race was only six weeks ago, I would (likely) be inaccurate to now recite special remembrances, insights or wisdom learned.

That would tend to imply there weren’t any that were particularly profound – or that the impacts of age and time may be worse than I am willing to accept. We’ll go with the former. HOWEVER, that might be profound, in and of itself: don’t neglect to journal and record the events of your life! And don’t procrastinate doing it!! You will only live those events – with their associated thoughts and emotions once. There is no better time to record them. Someone will be grateful that you did.