Monday, February 25, 2008

Spirit of the Marathon (a review)

I went to see the movie 'Spirit of the Marathon' last Thursday with Melissa and Mark from the Blue Dawg running group. To me, it's interesting how they are marketing this film as it was shown once in January on the same date and time around the country and once again, in February on the same date and time. The filmmakers are trying to promote a communal experience with other runners? Not sure.

Rather than going into too much detail about the movie, here is a link to their website:

But, here is a brief synopsis. The movie follows six people as they prepare for the Chicago marathon. But, it's not just middle of the packers but also two of the best runners in the world, Deena Kastor and Daniel Njenga. Interwoven in this story is the complicated history of marathoning. From the very beginning when Phedippides ran from the city of Marathon to Athens to announce victory, to the first Olympic marathon, to the start of the Boston marathon, mentioning how 25 miles came to be 26.2 (Queen Victoria wanted to see the start from Windsor Castle so they added 1.2 miles to the race) and discussing Katherine Switzer, the 'first' female in the Boston marathon to Joan Benoit and her triumph of being the first female Olympic marathon champion.

If you are runner, even if you are not a marathoner, you can relate to this story. Everyone has a different reason to run. Leah Caille is a first time marathoner who is trying to get her life back together after divorce. Jerry Meyers is 70 years old and runs with his daughter in his fourth marathon. Ryan Bradley missed qualifying for Boston in his last marathon by ~30 seconds. Lori O'Connor is a high-achiever who takes on yet another major challenge in life and, that is, to run a marathon.

And, me watching this movie, I was feeling everything they were feeling. My own emotions of what I went through to reach my first marathon, all came back to me. The decision to do it, the training involved, the disappointment of being injured two weeks before but the ultimate triumph of finishing the race I had no business starting. Subsequently, I related to all the other emotions of the training for other marathons beyond my first one.

The camera work was terrific. There were beautiful scenes of training in Chicago on Lake Michigan, the mountains where Deena Kastor trains, the African plains where Daniel Njenga started. (My favorite line in the movie is when Deena Kastor talks about running 145 miles a week but is too lazy to do her own stretches so her husband helps! I wish I was that lazy!)Perhaps the most awe-inspiring shot is at the start of the Chicago marathon where the camera pans back to reveal what 40,000 people at a race looks like. And, like all of us that run, these 40,000 all have different reasons for this race.

This was a terrific movie. Runners will certainly appreciate it more than non-runners. And, you don't have to be a marathoner to relate. Any runner can identify with the cast. Because we all have our reasons to run.

(Note: Finally, winter arrived on Friday as the Bucks County area had 4-5 inches of snow. Not only that, but the temps were hovering around freezing on Friday and Saturday. Got up on Sunday not feeling like I want to do 16 miles as it was around 25 degrees F at 8a. Plus, I knew the paths around Lake Galena were not going to be cleared. Well, I did go and did do the 16 miles. And, I was right--the paths were not cleared so portions of the run (about 3 miles) were over icy, frozen snow with lots of ruts. Tough on the legs and feet. I did 2:55 for 16 miles, not bad for the conditions.

Below are some pictures I took of the run. First picture is looking at the dam on Lake Galena. You can see the path in the foreground and how messy it is. The second picture is of a farm along the Outer Loop of the lake. You might not be able to make it out but it's a picture of an emu in the foreground and a llama in the background. I love running past this farm as the emus and the llamas usually come over to watch you run by. It's the closest you get to a cheering section on this run.

I also started to wear my Road ID around my ankle. Since I don't carry a cell phone during the run, I thought it important to have contact info on me in case something happens. I hesitated to wear this as I thought it would have been uncomfortable. But, for the most part, didn't really notice it.)

Monday, February 18, 2008

Frostbite 5 miler Race Report (February 16, 2008)

A little late in getting this out this week due to work obligations but....

The extent I go to get content for this blog. PRESENTING......

The Frostbite 5 miler Race Report! (picture on the left is the start line and the two pictures after is at the finish)

This race couldn't have had a better name because it was COLD! 28 degrees at the start of the race with a slight wind blowing throughout.
All last week, I was wondering if I should enter this race. I'm still training as if I'm running a marathon in April so did it make sense to run a 5 miler instead? Kelly, from the Blue Dawg group, convinced me I should not run LONG runs every week while training for a marathon for a physical and mental break. But Saturday morning, I woke up, got out of bed, dragged a comb across my head and went out to do this run.
The first 400 entrants got a T-shirt. When I got there to sign up, they said they hit that number by Friday morning. Wow! I guess I wasn't the only one itching for a race! But, despite the cold, it was a beautiful, sunny day.
I went to the start line about 8:50, about 10 minutes before the gun was to go off. I get there and the start line wasn't even set up yet!!!! What gives???? So, it gave me some time to play with my mini-camera to possibly take some pictures along the way. It was so cold... (this is not an old Johnny Carson routine) but it was so cold, the camera would not turn on. As a matter of fact, I thought it was dead. But, after warming it up in my hand a bit, it did start to function. But, after I used it and put it back in my pocket, it would be 'dead' when I tried to use it again. So, this was not a race to take shots during the event (hence, the pictures of the start and finish line only).
I try not to be annoyed with races because mostly are run by volunteers. But, with the freezing cold temps, the 20 minute delay was not appreciated and I believe it was due to the setting up of the timekeeper. I really had no game plan for this race. I have been running well and had a lot of energy so I wanted to see what I would feel like in race conditions.
The course goes through the town of Ambler, starting on Butler Pike, which is the main street of town. The start of the race is at 217 feet elevation, the finish at 226 feet, with the highest elevation at 318 feet and the lowest at 195 feet. I never ran this course before so didn't know what to expect.
I usually start towards the back of any race but notice that I shouldn't do this anymore. Not that I should be upfront but I find myself getting caught in too much traffic lately. (ok, that's it for the complaints) I crossed the start about 20 seconds different than the gun time. The first half mile was flat and I was feeling good.
I will admit, I get intimidated by hills. So, when the first hill approached, I was apprehensive. But, much like my Wednesdsay runs, I was running up the hill at a good pace. I was even passing people! And, as I am finding, I had a quick recovery from the hill.
Most of the course is through residential area. There is a half mile in the middle on a trail through a park. Truthfully, it was a pretty scene and I thought about pulling out the camera. No time. I was feeling good.
By the time I hit the mile 4 sign, I was in a nice rhythm. Somebody before the race, mentioned about the 'evil' hill that you need to go up before finishing on a downhill. When I got there, I felt I was spent. One of the volunteers yelled out 'it's only a small hill then downhill towards the finish'. OK, it didn't feel like a small hill but that's my mantra going up.
I got to the top, turned right, caught my breath and started heading to the finish. I had targets on people's backs as I started to catch and pass them. I crossed the finish line in 42:23 (my watch time) or a 8:28/mile pace. I finished 350 with 783 finishers so I was in the top 50% overall.
It was a PR but I don't run that many 5 milers. I am usually so exhausted at the end of the race that I feel slightly nauseous. But, I didn't feel that in this race. And, I am pushing myself harder and harder this year.
To wrap it up, this was a good February race. It was different than my usual routine of starting in March with a 5k. I continue to push myself hard and I'm seeing dividends for my hard work. I'll keep this race in my mind for next year as well.
(Note: I am seeing the movie 'Spirit of the Marathon' tonight. I intend to write a review of it on my next blog. Weather-permitting, I plan on running 16 miles this weekend though not sure Saturday or Sunday. Weather in this area looks nasty tomorrow and Sunday looks to be a bit warmer but Saturday would be the better day if I can get out. )

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Chilly Scenes of Winter

Last week, I went to an Agility class. No, I didn't learn how to walk on a teeter-totter or jump over small hurdles. It was a class about having the agility to face changes.

There is one constant in life and, that is, life is always changing. Right now, my work is going through a lot of changes as well as our society in general (talk of recession, our presidental elections, etc). How do we handle this without being overwhelmed by it all?

The idea behind the class was to focus on the things I do have a handle on. I can't control decisions made by others but there ARE things, in my life, I can control. For instance, I can control my work ethic and attitude towards what I do. So, if I focus on those things, then I can possibly influence the decisions that are not in my control.

When you have classes like this, they typically don't teach you anything you don't know. It becomes a coaching tool to remind you that you already know the answers to these questions you just forgot the questions. So, Joe, you might ask, what does any of this have to do with running? Good question.

Last weekend, I decided to do my long run on Saturday instead of Sunday. The forecast for Sunday was windy and bitter cold for this area (and they were right). I was intent on doing 13 miles around Lake Galena. I could have run with Melissa for company but she had to start early and my old, aching bones couldn't hack it so started an hour later than her.

While going to the lake, it started to snow. Not flurries. But, snow. I ran into Melissa in the parking lot and she asked how far was I going that day? Thinking about it, I said, 'if this weather keeps up than I'm only doing 8 because I am wet and cold and not wanting to do 13.'

We said our good-byes and I ventured off. But, then I started thinking about my agility class. In this situation, what do I have control of? I don't have control of the weather. There wasn't a forecast for snow that day but, here I am, and I'm outside running in the snow. But, I do have control of my attitude towards this run.

After about 3 miles, my attitude changed. Instead of dreading the snow, I started looking at the beauty of it as it covered the cornfields and areas around the lake. My reluctance of having to run 8 miles suddenly became a obsession to make sure I ran 13 miles.

With only a stop at my car to re-hydrate along the way, I wound up doing the 13 miles in 2:07. Believe me when I say, most of my half-marathon races have been slower than this. Sometimes you can learn about yourself in a classroom afterall.

(Note: I'm beginning to slightly fall off the bandwagon on my exercise regime. Last week, I didn't do strength training and kicking myself for not do so (must have been an attitude thing). I'm still trying to eat healthier but, I seem to be starving all the time. Working at home is both a curse and a blessing as it always seems easier to go downstairs and munch then it is in the office.
Still haven't made up my mind about the Frostbite Five miler. A game time decision.
I have been having slight heel problems but nothing that has stopped me so far. I can't say there was any one thing that caused it but keeping an eye on it to see if it worsens under certain conditions.
Phillies' pitchers and catchers arrive in Florida tomorrow! Spring is not far behind!
Congratulations to Uno, the beagle for winning Westminster.)

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Remembering the Blizzard of '78

I'm going off track a bit to reminisce about an event that happened to me and a lot of people in New England thirty years ago this week. It will always be known as the Blizzard of '78.

On February 6, 1978, I was in the Boston Garden attending my first Beanpot tournament with a few of my friends from college. The Beanpot is an annual ritual in the Boston area pitting Northeastern, Harvard, Boston College and Boston University hockey teams in a two-day tournament held on the first two Mondays in February. Being from the Philadelphia area, college hockey was something new and exciting to me.

A few weeks before, it had snowed about 16 inches. I loved it. I went to college in New England primarily for the snow. I was a skier at the time and just couldn't wait to get to the slopes in the area. There was forecast for snow that day when we ventured out to the Garden but only a few inches.

In the first game, Harvard defeated Northeastern in overtime by the score of 4-3. The forecast had turned a bit and the snow was getting heavier outside. Near the end of the first period of the second game, the Garden made the announcement: "Boston is under a state of emergency and anyone taking mass transit should make plans to leave early."

What? State of emergency? For a little snow? But BU was putting a thrashing on BC? Nah, we'll wait it out.

The final score was BU 12, BC 5. By that time, we were so giddy by our classmates victory. It was well after 11p when we got out and decided, who needs the T (Boston's public transportation) anyway? We'll just walk home. It was only around three miles to the dorm. It had to have been the longest walk in my life.

When we started out, the snow was knee deep. Not just on the sidewalk. Everywhere. We looked at each other and tried to figure the best way home. People who lived in the suburbs attending the game were stuck in the Garden (and would be for three days). We talked about walking through the subway tunnels to get home. Afterall, it was closed. But, I didn't want to because who knows if they were moving trolley cars around. So, we walked.

I honestly can't tell you how long it took us to get back to the dorm that night. But, I do remember literally walking those 3 miles in knee deep snow or higher for most of the way.

The snow lasted well into the night. When it finally stopped, the storm dumped 29 inches in Boston. With the previous storm the month before, there was close to 40 inches of snow on the ground. Boston was literally closed for a week. You would be fined $500 for driving a car in town. They tried to clear the streets but there was no place to put the snow. So, they wound up dumping it in either the Charles River or the ocean.

We lost heat, hot water and electricity for three days. It was partying the first night and suffering after that. The dorm we lived in didn't have a cafeteria. We had to walk about a half mile to another dorm to their cafeteria. But, we couldn't get there. Luckily, there was a convenience store up the block. But, the lines were out the door just to get even a jar of peanut butter. Once there was a path cleared to go to the cafeteria, we were fed by the National Guard for the week.

The ironic part about that whole experience was, since I was a freshman, I thought this was just a typical New England winter. If you read articles about it, you will understand the devastation of that storm. People were stranded for days on the highway. The tides were so high from the winds of that storm that towns along the ocean were annihilated. And, as I recall, the snow that winter didn't fully melt until sometime in May.

There are a lot of great articles on commemorating the Blizzard of '78. Here is a link to one of them talking about being stuck in the Boston Garden that day.

I wished I had some pictures to show you. I did take pictures that week but they were lost to a flood I had in my house years ago. But, I will always have the stories and the memories of that storm now 30 years ago.

(Note: Finally, I remembered to take my mini-cam to the Delaware River this weekend. The pictures below are on the towpath on the New Jersey side around the Lambertville area. They are not great but gives you an idea of what the area is like. I'll take more.
I did 11 miles comfortably on Saturday though I wound up with a backache, of all things, for the next two days. I think it was because the towpath was very soft from the heavy rain from the previous day. It was a lot like running in firm sand (which, for some reason, winds up hurting my back).
Thank you all for participating in the recent poll. I won't be putting up a new one this week. (Don't want to put one up for the sake of putting one up) The final tally was 45% of people read my blog because they think its thought-provoking and insightful (and I thank you for that), 27% was surprised it wasn't Phedippations, 18% said that despite knowing me, they still read the blog (hmmm??? I guess that's good) and 9% said they were a friend of mine and I made them read it. Now, I can take this information two ways--most people I know read it because they want to or I don't have many friends. You decide! :-) )

Congratulations to the New York Giants on a great Super Bowl!