Monday, September 24, 2007

Giving Something Back

I started doing races on a regular basis back in 2001. And, for the following 5 years or so, everytime I signed up for a race, there was always a group of people helping me to register, give me a bib number, a T-Shirt, a goody bag, handing me water on the course, and keeping the clock to let me know how I did. And, as I think most people do, I took these volunteers for granted. Not that I don't appreciate them. But people are just always THERE at the race helping us runners. Aren't they?

Last year, I was asked to help out at the 'Friends of the Dove 10k' race held at Lake Galena each September. By nature, I'm on the shy side and couldn't imagine how I could be helpful. But, it was such an experience to be on the 'other side' that I have committed to making sure I volunteer for a race at least once a year. So, this past Sunday, I honored my committment to myself and volunteered again for the 'Dove' race.

I don't write this to tell you what a great person I am for volunteering. On the contrary, I write this to tell you of the truly 'great' people the race organizers are (for any race) and what a humbling experience it is to be a volunteer. I had two jobs--give out Bib numbers for those not pre-registered and to make sure people, as they cross the finish line, stay organized and in the chutes so the correct results could be tabulated.

And, why was volunteering humbling? If you are a runner in a race, you think about yourself and how you are doing. After the race, you look for water and try to get yourself back together. You probably aren't thinking about other runners and the stories they could tell of themselves and how they got there that day. I know when I run a race it really is all about me.

But, just once, be on the end where you watch runners finish. Not just the ones you know, but all the runners. Study their faces. Especially the ones you know have never run this kind of race before. (And you do KNOW!) Look at the faces that show you both agony and sheer joy at the same time while crossing that finish line. The pained expression of running as hard as they could with the hint of a smile knowing of what they just did! And tell them 'Great job' and see the smiles on their face again!

I didn't know the majority of the people running on Sunday but I was so proud of everyone's efforts and was so happy for their accomplishments. I really was humbled that day of what they did and I remember the feelings of my first races.

So, I encourage people that, if you enjoy running as a sport, take the time to be a volunteer at one of your local races. If you can't volunteer, make sure you thank the people who are there at the race giving up their time (and getting there before you!).

It took me longer to be a volunteer than it did to run my first marathon. Take my advise. Being a volunteer is easier. And it will give you the same sense of accomplishment!

Note: I took it easy this past week coming off the PDR race. I ran 5 miles on Wednesday with heavy legs and then it was a bit easier on Saturday doing 6 miles around Lake Galena.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Philadelphia Distance Run Report (Sept 16, 2007)

I was nervous on Saturday. I don't know why but I was. It can't be the distance because I've done half-marathons before. It can't be the weather because it was suppose to be beautiful conditions. Wait. Could it be the weather? Maybe the conditions were too perfect? Maybe I didn't want to blow this opportunity?

All day Saturday I was thinking, 'am I drinking enough water? does juice count as water? maybe I shouldn't drink the juice? what should I eat for dinner? Should I stay off my feet all day? I know, I know, if I walk down those steps I'll misstep and twist an ankle. '

After dinner (oven-roasted chicken from Texas Roadhouse), I packed my running bag and laid out what I was wearing the next day. I sat down for five minutes and thought about what possible things am I missing. I threw extra gels in, sports beans, an extra shirt in case the one I intended on wearing suddenly went up in flames and I need something else to pin my number on. Having satisfied my thought process that there wasn't anything else possible to pack in my running bag, I went to bed at 9:30p checking and re-checking and re-checking my re-checking to make sure the alarm was set to a 24 hour station for 4:50a Sunday.

The alarm went off and I jumped in the shower. My wife woke up and asked me, 'why are taking a shower before a 13 mile run?' I don't know but I felt like I should. I guess I just wanted to keep awake and this was a good way of doing it. After the shower, I fed the cat and went down stairs for coffee and breakfast. Usually, I eat (2) Clif bars before a race but discovered (by accident, I think) that I've run well eating pancakes instead. So, blueberry pancakes and coffee it was.

I've learned through early morning races that the digestive system has a mind of its own. It doesn't always kick in when you want it to. My intention was to leave the house by 6:45a but was sidetracked by my digestive systems own wake up call. Still, I was only 10 minutes late and realized that was one less trip to the ever-lovely port-a-potty line. Driving down, in 46 degree weather, all I kept asking myself was, 'why am I giving up a perfectly good day off from work to do this?'

The race starts and finishes in Eakins Oval around the Art Museum. I got there around 7:15a with the race starting in a half hour. I noticed the corrals were lined up on a different side than last year. Hmmm. Wonder why? I was in Corral 7 but was able to move up to Corral 4 because I was on a corporate team. It was a perfect day. The weather was gorgeous. I stood in the corral thinking about how I should run this race.

When the gun went off and I began walking to the start line, I convinced myself if ever I was going to do a sub 2-hour half, it would have to be on a day like today. I couldn't waste the weather by going out too slow. I was going to roll the dice and see how I felt along the way.

The race goes down the Franklin Parkway, around City Hall and east on Market Street. It use to go past Independence Hall but instead, this year, we went to the right of the building. They've changed the course! Nobody was quite sure where we were going but hoped the thousands of people in front of you knew where they were going. We zig-zagged through Society Hill finally turning west on Walnut Street.

I had to do a 9:10 pace to reach my 2 hour goal. I hit the 5k mat at 26:46, less than a 9 minute pace. By this point in the race, you can tell whether you are having an off day or whether you are on target. I felt fine. I felt strong. I just have to maintain this pace.

After you going up Walnut Street, you head north on 16th Street for a bit before going up the Franklin Parkway towards the Art Museum again. Once you hit the Art Museum, you go around the left side of Eakins Oval and head towards Martin Luther King Drive and along the Schuylkill River.

This is about 5 miles into the race and though I was feeling good from a running perspective, I began to develop a sharp pain in my right shoulder. My shoulder? Geez, am I having a heart attack? Don't you get pains in your left shoulder if you are having a heart attack? Should I slow down? If I slow down, can I get my pace back up again? Even if it was a heart attack, would it matter if I slowed down or not? Within 5 minutes, the pain went away. At least in the shoulder.

I hit the 10k mat at 53:50 and the 7 mile marker at 1:00:46. All I had to do was a little bit better than 10:00/mile pace and I was in free. I was still feeling good. I wasn't going to ease up. I was going to do it today.

The course continues up MLK Drive to the Falls Bridge. You go up a slight hill and across the bridge, bearing right after the bridge onto Kelly Drive and back to the Art Museum. This point is mile 9. This point is where my leg cramps began.

This year, the water stations had Accelerade on the course as the sports drink. I can't drink water in a race as my stomach gets upset so rely on the sport drinks. But, I read the sport drinks stop after the mile 7 water station. I knew I would have to go the last half of the race without hydrating. And, I'm starting to cramp up with 4 more miles to go.

I hit the mile 10 mark in 1:28:09. I had a 5k race to go and I had to be smart about this. So, I backed off. There was no reason to push. All I wanted to avoid was having to stop and get the cramping out of my legs. They weren't bad. I had to be careful. So, I backed off 30 seconds from my pace and relunctantly drank some water to hydrate.

The last mile of the race is around Boathouse Row. There is a slight uphill for the last half mile of the race. It's also directly in the sun. I put my head down and just followed the back of the feet in front of me. By this time, my hips were hurting, my legs were hurting, my feet were hurting. I made it to the top and started sprinting to the finish. But, the finish line wasn't there! What the...? Where's the finish line? They moved it from where it was last year! I had to go down the end of Eakins Oval (again!) and make a sharp right turn towards the famous Rocky steps at the Art Museum. After making the sharp right, I finally saw the finish line! I sprinted with arms thrust in the air with a time of 1:56:50, almost 8 minutes off my PR!

So, despite my down summer, I begin the fall season with an accomplishment that I've been aiming to do since I started this long distance stuff. I know I measure myself on how well I can do a half-marathon not a full one. And it answered my questions of why I take a perfectly good day off from work and do this. This feels great!

Pictures of the race can be viewed on

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Philadelphia Distance Run Update

I got my confirmation card and my race number is 8683. I will be wearing an orange and white singlet. If anyone wants to look for me and say hello, I will be hanging out by the fountain on the right hand side across the street from the Art Museum but facing the steps. (Fountain closest to the Rocky statute). High temperatures for the day are predicted to be in the low 70s, so temps at race time (7:45a) should be quite comfortable. I will be in Corral number 8. I predicted my time to be 2:00:00. Good luck to anyone running the race and hope to see you there.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Not quite a Summer of Love

This year marks the 40th anniversary of the Summer of Love. That was the year when the world embraced and cherished a life where peace, love and harmony would prevail. Scott MacKenzie sang about the center of this movement, San Francisco, where 'if you go, make sure you wear some flowers in your hair'. People under 30 converged to the Haight-Asbury part of the city where life was a huge lovefest, everything (and I mean EVERYTHING) was free and the world was a groovy place to live.

And, I bet, when most people think back or hear about those times, that's what they think. But, I recently saw a documentary which suggested, that simply wasn't true. It started that way. Young people had high (pardon the pun) ideals in which they could create a separate society where money didn't rule their lives. They listened and followed Timothy Leary when he told them to 'Turn on, tune in, drop out.' But, by the time The Beatles first sang, 'All You Need is Love' in June of that year, too many people ventured to and lived in Haight-Asbury thinking the world would give them this utopian society without giving anything of themselves. San Francisco had turned into an area with a major problem of homeless, drug addicts, and runaways. A summer, which started out with such hope turned into something quite different. This may be quite a stretch but this summer turned out the same for me.

Coming off of the Broad Street Run, I had great hope for this summer. And, it started great too, with me winning my division (Master Clydesdale, 190-210 lb) in the 4 mile ALS Out and Back on Kelly Drive in Philadelphia. My stated goal was to run my normal 5k summer schedule so I would be in a position to try to break my PR this fall. But, being sick for a month killed any hope of that. I didn't do the Tex-Mex in North Wales, Revolutionary Run in Washington's Crossing, Moyer & Sons in Souderton, and, because of a wedding, couldn't even compete in the Ivyland 5k (which was my first 5k I ever did years ago). I have gotten so use to running these races over the years, that it literally did not feel like I lived through this particular summer!

So, now, the fall season begins. It starts with the Philadelphia Distance Run (half-marathon) next week. I am aiming for the Philadelphia marathon the Sunday before Thanksgiving. And, in between, I hope to do a number of 5ks where I can fit into my training schedule. But, I don't think I will be in a position to PR.

I haven't been thrilled with my training runs. I can tell I was more fit in the spring than I am now. Now, I need to show some patience and build up my confidence again. Patience I'm good at, confidence I'm not. Throughout my life, I've fought having confidence. With school, with girls, with work, with almost everything. But, I've been able to muster enough of it when I need it the most. This time, with the help of having enough patience, I will get it back again.

So, as the summer of 2007 comes to a close, I harken back to 1967, once again, for my fall theme song. Let's see: 'Something Stupid'?, 'Kind of a Drag'?, 'Snoopy vs. The Red Baron'? No, 'I'm a Believer!'

Note: Three runs last week-a 4 mile tempo, my normal 6 miler on Wednesday and 13.5 on the Delaware River yesterday. The temps have been in the 80s (F). Can't wait for a little cooler weather.
Also. congratulations to Kevin Madden, a former classmate of mine (see the St. John's Class of 1973 website). Kevin participated in the Wisconsin Ironman Triathlon this past weekend and finished in a time of 12:36:37, finishing 906 out ot 2209. To put it in perspective, Kevin ran a 4:51:04 marathon which is 16 minutes faster than my PR. His marathon was after swimming 2.4 miles and biking 112 miles. He puts me to shame. :-)

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Catherine the Great!

This will be a short entry into the blog as lots of things to catch up on with work this week.

First, I hope everyone in the States had a pleasant Labor Day yesterday. The weather in the Philadelphia area over the weekend was incredible. High temperatures in the low 80's (F) and in the 60's (F) overnight. They are calling for nice weather all this week as well. I hate to see summer go but temps like this make it feel so comfortable.

I've come to the conclusion that I won't have enough miles in this summer to do the Mohawk marathon in October. I ran 12 miles Sunday and, though I felt pretty good, I didn't feel comfortable enough that I felt I could 'wing' in Albany, NY. So, my focus is back to Philadelphia Distance Run in two weeks and the Philadelphia marathon in November. I also ran 6 miles on Wednesday and 6 on Friday so I am starting to pick up the mileage in my schedule.

I also want to congratulate Catherine Ndereba (pictured with Meb Keflezghi) on winning the 2007 women's marathon at the IAAF Track & Field World Championships in Osaka, Japan this past week. The reason I mention this is I have had the pleasure of meeting Catherine on a number of occasions at the Falmouth Road Race in the past few years. She is the nicest, sweetest, most gracious person you would ever want to meet. She always has a big smile on her face. Last year, she gave a speech during the award presentation that everyone stood up and applauded. In the track world, she is a huge star but you would never know it by her demeanor. So, Catherine, you truly earn your nickname of 'The Great'. Congratulations on your victory at Osaka and Falmouth and thank you for being the nice person that you are.