Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Running against my 'Chief' rival

Last week, I received an e-mail from Steve White about a 5k race, (Dead Harriers 5k) on Wednesday. Steve White is the chief of police in Doylestown, so, as it may come as no surprise, is also known as 'Chief'. The race was at Central Park in Doylestown and was not the usual 5k course that they run in the spring and fall. The course layout was a bit of cross-country.

I had just run two races in about a week's time, so, I was very doubtful that I would be running this race as well. But, the week I had at work, I had to do something about my stress. I had to run as fast as I could. Or punch a wall. I opted to run instead. I could have run by myself but I was afraid I was going to burn out too early and not have a good workout. So, I decided to run the race.

When I got there, I said hello to Steve. Steve is the kind of guy that I have never heard anyone say a bad word about him. (Of course, I've never been pulled over for speeding in Doylestown, either). Everyone knows Chief. Everyone comes over to say hello to Chief. And, Steve always has a smile on his face at these races.

For the past few years, I've always 'used' Steve as my measuring stick in 5ks. I will keep my eye on him when he lines up at the start and try to keep pace with him throughout the race. What generally happens is I will go out too fast and Steve will eventually pass me with his steady pace. It doesn't happen that often, but, the times when I do beat him (even if he is running injured), there is a sense of accomplihsment for me.

At 7p, the race starts. I'm lined up next to the Chief as we head out. I sense that I am going out too fast (again) so I slow myself down a bit and try to run a steadier pace race. I pull ahead of Chief but expect him to catch me any minute.

At 3/4 mile, we have to climb a good hill (for these parts anyway). Chief pulls up beside me and says, 'Let's run this hill together.' I started the climb and noticed I was pulling ahead again. 'I thought you said we were going to run this hill together?', I, jokingly, said to Chief, as he falls behind.

We started our descent and headed for the mile 1 marker. A woman and I started to run together for a few strides. We were about an arm's length apart from each other when Chief cuts in between us and starts to move ahead. But, he is only a few strides ahead of me, so I make a move to get ahead of him again and I stay there.

Now, this is the part where being well-liked can be used against you. For the next mile and a half of the race, I was ahead of Steve. But, I had a way to gauge just how far ahead without ever having to look back. The spectators on the side of the course would be yelling, 'Go Chief!' or 'Hang in there, Chief'! I would look at the spectators and see where their eyes were and try to calculate the imaginary triangle from me to spectator to Chief. If I felt they were looking at me, I knew he was close behind me. If I had already passed them and they were looking behind me, then I knew he was further back.

The last half mile, the spectators thinned out. I lost track of where he was. With a quarter mile to go, Chief pulls up beside me and then passes me. 'This is it!'. I thought. But, he only pulls pass me by about three strides. If he had gone faster for the next five strides, I would have given in. But, he stays there. I pull beside him, look at him and say, 'Oh no!' as I begin to pass. Now, two strides ahead of him, I hear, 'I'm cooked. You win!' but I think he is toying with me. If I start to relax, he will come up behind me and steal the race. So, I sprint with whatever I have left to the finish. Crossing the finish, I turn around and see Chief right behind me. We congratulated each other on our efforts and for help pushing us through to the end.

I stick around for the award ceremony after the race. There was less than 100 people in the race so I thought, maybe, just maybe, I might get a third place finish or something. The first awards was for the Hawaiian shirts award for the best finishing times for runners wearing Hawaiian shirts. Didn't know about this. (Note to self to send Frayed Laces an e-mail asking if she'll send me a cheap XL Hawaiian shirt for next year's race.)

The awards are handed out from oldest group to youngest. As it turns out, Chief wins his age group! He thanks me for being his rabbit! I ask for custody of the award for every other weekend visitations. My age group is announced. Bumpkis. Nothing. Nada. Zero. Zilch for me. (Sigh).

Still, I'm glad I ran the race. It helped the stress. I had a lot of fun running it. I had a lot of fun competing against Chief in it. Plus, I helped a friend in winning his age category. Just remember, Chief--it's my turn to have the award over the Labor Day weekend!

Monday, August 18, 2008

Have you been watching the Olympics?

(To the right: Frank Shorter's Olympic silver and gold medals. The silver medal is from the men's marathon in the 1976 Montreal Games. The gold medal is from the men's marathon in the 1972 Munich games)

So, have you been watching the Olympics this year? I love watching the games. I can't get enough of it. I'll watch field hockey, handball, archery, equestrian, anything. NBC is producing 3600 hours of Olympic programming. It's on 24 hours a day on different channels. Driving my wife crazy. But, this type of competition only comes every 4 years.

And, I like it better when it's in a different country than the United States. I like to travel to begin with so I find it fascinating to a get a glimpse of what life in another country is all about. An example was watching the women's marathon. The coverage showed aerial views of the Forbidden City where part of the course passed. I had no idea of how enormous it was.

So far, Michael Phelps has been the big story of these Games. Usain Bolt winning the 100 meters in 9.69 seconds (and easing up at the end!) is another great story. Walsh and May in beach volleyball is another story I've been following. So, what things will you remember from these Olympics? And, what great memories do you have from Olympics past? Post your comments and let me know.

Below are some memories I have from each of the Olympics I can remember. (Yes, I CAN remember the 1968 Mexico City Games, wiseguy!) These are good memories from the Olympics. Believe me, I remember the terrorist attacks on the Israeli athletes in 1972 and the explosion at the 1996 Atlanta Games. And, it's interesting to note, that I remember more from Olympics in 1968 and 1972 than I do from more recent Olympics. But here's the list:

1968 (Mexico City): Bob Beamon jumping over 29 feet in the long jump, thus, shattering the world record by almost 2 feet (I remember getting a tape measure out when I was kid and shocked what 29 feet looks like); Kip Keino, from Kenya, defeating Jim Ryun in 1500 meters. It was Kenya's coming out party on the long distance stage; The 'Fosbury Flop' in high jumping; George Foreman winning the superheavyweight gold medal; Tommie Smith and John Carlos raising their gloved fist to protest American civil rights. (Interestingly, there is a statue on the San Jose State University campus in California honoring that moment in time)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ric1DJJ5WAg (Mexico City 1500 meter final)

1972 (Munich): I was 13 at the time. It's probably the Games I remember most. Mark Spitz 7 gold medals; Frank Shorter coming into the Olympic stadium and there was a ringer in front of him. I remember Eric Segal, author of 'Love Story' and college classmate of Shorter's at Yale, was doing the commentary of the men's marathon. He was yelling on television (I'm paraphrasing here) , 'Frank, he's a fake. You won! Don't worry about him!'; Dave Wottle (and his hat) winning the 800 meters; the US-USSR men's basketball gold medal game. The US team thinking they had won only to have the referees put 3 seconds back on the clock. Eventually, the Soviets scored on a layup and won the game. The US team refused the silver medals and they still sit in a vault in Switzerland; The 400 meter gold and silver medalists Vincent Matthews and Wayne Collett of the United States chatted while the Star-Spangled Banner played. There was a huge uproar over this as they were deemed disrespectful and were banned from ever competing in the Olympics again; Olga Korbut and her amazing routine on the uneven bars. (Also what was true was the across the board scoring in the Games from judges in the Eastern Bloc countries versus those from the West. Blantantly political. Usually, a country like Hungary or Czechoslovakia were the swing votes)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yOOmFgBAdIA (Olga Korbut's routine at Munich)

1976 (Montreal): African nations boycotting because New Zealand played rugby against South Africa. They wanted New Zealand excluded from the games. Nadia Comaneci and her perfect 10 in gymnastics; East German women swimmers; Michael and Leon Spinks, Sugar Ray Leonard boxing for gold; Alberto Juantorena of Cuba winning the 400 and 800 meter; Lasse Viren of Finland winning the 5 and 10k; John Naber swimming for gold; Bruce Jenner captured gold for the decathlon.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1Tl0kE7Oels (Nadia Comaneci 1976 Olympics)

1980 (Moscow): Jimmy Carter announcing the US boycott of these Games in response to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. I was 21 at the time and remember thinking this would have been 'my' Games if I was ever good enough. I feel sorry for the athletes that lost their moment in history. American television didn't show any of the Olympics except for some highlights on the news.

1984 (Los Angeles): The Eastern Bloc (including the Soviets) boycotted these games in response to the Moscow games. (Only meant more medals for the US!); China participating for the first time in decades; Mary Lou Retton in gymnastics; Carl Lewis winning the 100, 200, 4x100, and the long jump; Daley Thompson of Britian winning back-to-back Olympic decathlon titles; Evelyn Ashford (100 and 4x100 relay) and Valerie Brisco-Hooks (200, 400 and 4x400) dominated the track for the U.S.; Joan Benoit winning the first women's Olympic marathon; The British domination of the middle distance events with the likes of Sebastian Coe, Steve Ovett, and Steve Cram; Edwin Moses winning the 400 m hurdles, a feat he first did in the 1976 Montreal games and his long (over 100+) unbeaten streak; Mary Decker-Slaney being tripped by Zola Budd of South Africa in the 3000 m and all the controversy that followed.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RRL-xO7FW64 (Mary Decker's fall in the 1984 Olympics)

1988 (Seoul): Jackie Joyner-Kersee, and FloJo (Florence Griffith-Joyner) in track and field; Carl Lewis still winning the long jump; Ben Johnson of Canada 'winning' the 100 only to have his title stripped because of steroids (the shape of things to come); Greg Louganis hitting his head on the diving board but still managing to win a gold medal; Roy Jones Jr losing to a South Korean boxer for the gold medal in a very questionable decision.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7kPNjkGf4vM (Greg Louganis hits his head in the '88 Olympics)

1992 (Barcelona): The first time there is no USSR team; the lighting of the Olympic flame with an archer from the field shooting a flaming arrow above the torch; the US basketball 'Dream Team' that destroyed the competition (everyone thinking it will be 50 years before another basketball, besides USA would win gold); Gail Devers (with her long fingernails) overcoming Grave's Disease to win the 100m; Britian's Derek Redmond injuring himself in the 400 meter and his father running on the track to make sure his son finished the race.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0vyLmkOesOE (Lighting the Olympic torch in Barcelona)

1996 (Atlanta): I always wondered why Atlanta got these Games. Nothing against Atlanta, I've never really been there before. (They beat out Athens, Toronto, Melbourne and Manchester for the games); Muhammed Ali lighting the torch; Donovan Bailey from Canada winning the 100; Michael Johnson and his 'golden shoes' winning the 200 and 400; Carl Lewis winning, yet again, the long jump; Gail Devers (again!) winning the 100m; Kerri Strug vaulting on an injured ankle and landing on one foot winning the gold for the US women's gymnastic team.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fFn47a_Ny0Y (Kerri Strug's vault for gold in '96 Olympics)

2000 (Sydney): Cathy Freeman, an Australian Aboriginal, winning the 400 m in front of the home crowd; Marion Jones winning the 100 and 200. Sadly, she was stripped of the medals because of admitted steroid use later; swimming sensation Ian Thorpe from Australia; Ethiopian Haile Gebrselassie winning the 10k; Rulon Gardner winning gold in Greco-Roman wrestling against a Russian who hadn't lost a match since 1987.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3PLD-Odp130 (Cathy Freeman's 400 m final in 2000 Olympics)

2004 (Athens): Justin Gatlin (100), Shawn Crawford (200) and Jeremy Wariner (400) winning gold; the US men's basketball team that won bronze. This really wasn't a team but a bunch of top NBA players thrown together. Lessons learned that you need a 'team' to win and not necessarily the best players in the league. Michael Phelps just starting out and Ian Thorpe again; Liu Xiang winning the 110m hurdles becoming the first from China to win a track and field event in the Olympics; Deena Kastor winning bronze and Meb Keflezighi winning silver for the US in marathon; how hot it was for the women's marathon event; Paula Radcliffe dropping out of the marathon; Vanderlei Cordeiro de Lima , from Brazil, who was winning the men's marathon with less than six miles to go, being pushed by a defrocked Irish priest into a crowd. He wound up with the bronze medal instead.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Cx1TDFV5Vhk (Vanderlei Cordeiro de Lima being pushed off the marathon course)

Share your memories of the Olympics. I hope you are enjoying watching them as much as I do. See you in London in 2012.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Additional Pictures from the 36th Annual Falmouth Road Race

For my full report of this year's Falmouth Road Race, please see my previous blog entry. Below are some pictures I took the day before and the day after the race.

(Above: Pictures from the Falmouth Mile held the day before the race (start time for the women's race is at 6:15p; men's at 6:30p) at Falmouth High School. This year 3 of the men finished under 4 minutes.)

(Above: The town of Woods Hole the day after the race. )

(Above: Coming out of Woods Hole, you make a right down this street (I'm not sure of the name). My favorite view of the race.)

(Above: Left over sign from a spectator.)

(Above: Mile one of the race by the lighthouse.)

(Above: Surf Drive. This is mile 3-5 of the race. Gets me every year as there is no shade on this part of the course. In the background, almost dead center of the picture, you can see Falmouth Heights where the finish line is. )

(Above: The hill towards the end of the course. It's where Steve passed me two years ago when I thought I won the race. It's about 1/2 mile from the finish. When Joan Benoit spoke to the crowd at the award ceremony she said, 'After I climbed THAT hill, I thought 'I will never do this race again.' Then, I cross the finish and say to myself, 'That wasn't so bad!')

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

36th Annual Falmouth Road Race Report

(Above: The harbor in Woods Hole. A great way to try to relax before the start of the race.)

I always underestimate how important the mind is when it comes to running. You might be able to do something physically, but the mind needs to be just as sharp and focused. Case in point--almost everyone hits the wall when it comes to marathoning. Some have been able to train themselves to not listen to their mind and just endure pain. I remember at last year's Philadelphia marathon, hitting the 20 mile mark in the Manayunk section of the city and saying to myself, 'I don't want to do that last six miles!' I was so familar with that stretch of the road. And, I didn't want to do that to myself. I had a similar experience at this year's Falmouth Road Race.

(Above: The 'green' corral and the start in Woods Hole of the 2008 Falmouth Road Race.)

I had a tough week leading up to the race. I traveled to western Pennsylvania for my uncle's funeral. While there, I found out that another member of family was also ill. I came back from western PA on Thursday. I drove up to Falmouth on Saturday morning. What is normally a six hour drive turned into a 8 1/2 hour drive. I missed the expo at that point. I had enough time to just pick up my number and catch the Falmouth mile. By this time, I had driven over 1200 miles in 5 days.

(Note: The Falmouth mile is run on the track at the local high school. There are separate events for men and women. In the men's event, three of runners finished sub-4:00 miles. I will post pictures from the Falmouth mile (and better pictures of the FRR course) later this week.)

I didn't sleep well that night thinking about things not related to the race. I woke up early and headed down to park my car to take the bus to the start line. As it turned out, the day was a bit muggier and warmer than I like. I don't do hot. I should say I don't do well in hot. But, it wasn't that hot. Actually, it was cool in the shade. It's more accurate to say I don't do sun. Sorry, I don't do well in the sun. And, it was sunny with little cloud cover. Miles 3 through 5 are on Surf Drive with little shade to hide under.

When I got to Wood's Hole, I was thinking about my hydration. Yes, I did the port-a-potty shuffle when I got to the start area. But, it occurred to me that only a few weeks ago, I did a 5 mile race and didn't worry about my hydration hours before the race. Why should this be different? Don't get me wrong. I was drinking enough water the day before. So, I made a decision not to drink while waiting around. This to avoid the last minute bathroom run before the start of the race.

But, I was bored. And, the Gatorade was in front of me. So, I took a cup. Plenty of time. Still and hour and half before the race. So, I drank. And, got in line. And, still I was antsy. So, I took another cup. And, got in line. There. That should do it.

The race started for me at 10:04. This year we were wearing a D chip. It's a disposable tag that, when folded correctly, is shaped like a D. (Mine was more like an O.) The D chip would record your official time. The race was not going to separate your gun time with your chip time. (Which lead me to think, was it possible to start at 10:04, 4 minutes behind the elite runners and still win the race?)

(Above: The two pictures above are at the mile 1 marker. Hard to see, but the top picture shows the lighthouse that is the feature of the race.)
I felt good for the first three miles. My first mile was an 8:30. Perfect. I didn't go out too fast like I normally do. Miles 2-3 are in rolling hills in the shade. I was doing fine. I was relaxed. Taking in the sights and sounds of the race.
After mile 3, starts the sunny part of the course. Around the same time, I was getting urges. From drinking at the start. So, my boredom at the start is going to cost me some time on the clock. But, there is nowhere to go except in the few port-a-potties on the course. Because, at this point, the course is crowded with spectators.
I spot a potty that was empty. But, I wasn't fast enough as someone jumped ahead of me. Do I wait? If I was running against Steve would I wait? I took two steps. Yep. I need to wait.
20 seconds went by, 30, 40, 50, what is he doing? Combing his hair? Finally! All in all, I estimated I lost about 1.5 minutes.
I started up again. And, then, nothing. My legs hurt, my body hurt, my mind hurt. I tried to will myself to continue but kept on stopping. It wasn't until a woman, who was a perfect stranger, tapped me on the back and told me, 'Don't give up! I know you can do it!' did I find a reason to continue.
At the 10k mark, I wanted to quit. I never want to quit. But, I was physically and, more importantly, mentally drained. I was going to walk off the course. Because I was hot and not feeling well. And, I see stretchers around. With people on them. No mas.

(Above: Just after the 10 mark, rounding the curve just before the final hill of the course.)

I took some water and sipped a little. I threw some on me. I saw the scene above. I knew it was less than a mile to go. I walked the hill. The race photographers were there. I didn't care. The race numbers had our names on them this year. I heard strangers cheering 'Joe' on.

(Above: The three pictures above are at the finish line.)

Believe it or not, my mini-cam spurred me on. I wanted to take pictures of the finish line from a runner's point of view. I crossed the line. In 1:07:30. I walked through to the field where refreshments were. Physically, I was fine. Mentally, I was drained.

At the beginning of the week, I wasn't sure if I should go. But I wanted to think about life. I wanted to think about death. I wanted to take stock and make sure I have my priorities straight. I needed to do this on my own. By the end of the day, I had my answers. And, I'm glad I ran Falmouth afterall.
(Notes: If you want to 'run' Falmouth, click on this link http://www.capecodonline.com/apps/pbcs.dll/section?category=SPORTS15
and it will give you an opportunity to view the course from start to finish.
Additional pictures of the race can be found on this link: http://www.capecodonline.com/apps/pbcs.dll/section?category=MEDIA
As it turned out, I left Cape Cod early because it was raining on Monday morning when I got up. So, I stopped at the New Bedford Whaling Museum on the way home. (http://www.whalingmuseum.org/). Great museum. Really enjoyed it. But, it was pouring rain the whole time I was there. When I left the museum, I got caught in a flash flood. The underpasses on the way back to the highway were flooded. Cars were submerged on the side of the road. I went through water that was up to my door (yes, I know, stupidly) only to get stuck on the road because there was another underpass that was flooded. I thought for sure I was stuck in New Bedford for the day but some semi-trucks went through the water and started to push the water to the side. After about 1 hour delay, I went through with fingers crossed. Perfect end to my week.)

Monday, August 4, 2008

My Uncle Bill

He was my father's oldest brother. He served in the Navy in World War II as a Quartermaster Second Class. You would ask him about the war and he would change the subject. He didn't want to talk about it. Nobody in that generation did. They didn't do anything extraordinary. They were just doing their jobs. Oh, once in awhile, he would tell us about times on the ship in the Pacific. He told us about the waves being so rough that you could stand at the back of the ship, look straightdown and see the front of the ship.
We used to call him 'Uncle Teeth'. He wore false teeth since I remember. When we were kids, he would do this thing for us where he would hit the top of his head and his teeth would fall down. Had us laughing. Because that's what he wanted to hear from us. Laughing.
My grandfather was a coal miner in western Pennsylvania. My father and his brothers and sisters were poor growing up. We would spend time around Easter to see my grandparents. I remember taking a bath in a tub. Not a bathtub. A tub. My grandmother would heat water on the stove and pour in a tub to take a bath. The next person would use the same water with a little more from the stove so as not to waste water. A different life that the one I was used to growing up in suburban Philadelphia. My uncle knew this so he would invite us to take a shower at his house. It is hard to believe to think about it now but this was a big deal for us. A shower!
He would also take us to the local VFW for a fish sandwich on Good Friday. We would look forward to that every year.
He worked at the same factory for 43 years. He was a big Pittsburgh Pirates fan and wouldn't miss a game on TV. In fact, he and my father took me (and my sisters and some cousins) to my first baseball game. Down at Forbes Field. The Pirates were playing the Mets that night.
There wasn't much to do in Connellsville. So, he would give me a job to do. I would have to roll cigarettes for him, my uncles and my grandfather. You would take cigarette paper and put some tobacco in between the sheets of paper. It would be in this little machine with a handle. Once the tobacco was in, you would push the handle forward and make the cigarette.
I hadn't been back to Connellsville in over 20 some odd years. I went to a family reunion and a flood of memories came back. The following year, I decided to the Yough River Half-marathon. After the race, I went to visit my uncle. Afterall, I knew he had a shower for me. He wasn't doing well then but he was happy to see me. We watched the Pirates on TV. He showed me his garden, something he was proud of. He loved that garden. Nearly killed him a couple of times as he would wander back there, fall and no one would know until they came around to see him and there he would be lying on the ground.
My uncle died yesterday. He died when I was out running. He had cancer. Fighting it for a few years. Last year, there was another family reunion because we knew we needed to see all of us together one last time. He was the patriarch of the family. We wanted to say our good-byes and remember him while he was still somewhat healthy.
When I found out yesterday, it was the day I dreaded the most. It was the beginning of an era. When that generation won't be with us for too much longer. There is nothing you can do about it. Except enjoy the moments you have with each other.
I will miss my uncle. I will miss his laughter. I will miss talking baseball with him. I will miss his house. I will especially miss his kindness. I know why people believe in heaven. Because you hope someday you will meet up with loved ones again. I'll be talking to you everday, Uncle Bill, to let you know if the Pirates won or not.