Sunday, September 28, 2008

Full Circle

Big Head Todd and the Monsters, one of the greatest rock bands of all time, has a song called "Circle" with a refrain that goes, "Rise and fall, turn the wheel, 'cause all life is really just circle."

It may be obvious, but it causes me to reflect nonetheless.

As the saying goes, "The more things change, the more they stay the same." For me, that "sameness" includes running. To some that may sound boring, but I take a certain comfort in it. It provides the consistency that I need in a world of turmoil. It's also the dynamic changes around this "sameness" that provides some excitement.

This week, I started to throw down some miles again. I logged a couple 6 mile tempo runs on Monday and Tuesday and then met the Goat for a Wednesday night run at the reservoir. The Goat is training for his first 50 mile ultra (The Stonecat Ale 50 miler). He was disappointed in his long run last weekend, so I wanted to run with him to assess his progress. Well, we ran at a fairly quick pace for awhile and the Goat was stride for stride with me the whole way. Usually, he will start to slow after the first few miles, but he was really hanging strong. Wow! We ran about 10 miles and he pushed me for the first 9 or so. Awesome! I'm psyched for him and can't wait to see how he does at StoneCat.

Dawn is training for the Hartford Marathon and has been getting in great shape as well. She put in about 17-18 miles on Saturday in the rain, and then was 3rd woman in a 5K today. Nice! Congrats to Dawn for getting her first piece of hardware! Imagine how fast she would have run if she didn't have tired legs!

It's so nice to see others excelling and enjoying the benefits of this great lifestyle. Goat and I were doing a 5 hour run in the rain on Saturday, and I asked after 4 hours, "Goat, is there anyplace else you would rather be right now?" Goat muttered something about traveling to a foreign country or something, ...but he understood my point. I said that there was nowhere else that I wanted to be... He asked if this was where I NEEDED to be... I thought about it for a moment and said, "Yes, this is where I NEED to be right now!"

Jobs change, people in our lives change, we get older, people are born and die. We think about our own mortality when we hear that Paul Newman died, etc. The economy is struggling, the country needs a leader, etc., etc., etc.

"It's all good" as the saying goes. WE RUN! We run with our friends. We talk, we share, we celebrate, and "it's all good" until we do it all over again.

I hope you are all enjoying this great Fall weather with every footstep.

Weekly Mileage:

Monday - 6 tempo
Tuesday - 6 tempo
Wed - 10 moderate
Th - rest
Fr - rest
Sat - 24.5, 4:45, 3 Heublein tower trips and one res. hill loop
Total: 46.5

It's nice to have some mileage to log again!

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Reach the Beach

The Red Eye Runners successfully completed our 4th Reach the Beach Relay covering over 200 miles in the beautiful state of New Hampshire. This was the 10th Anniversary of Reach the Beach, and the race staff deserve a lot of credit. I am always amazed at the logistics involved with safely moving 350 teams from the start in New Hampshire's White Mountains to the coast at Hampton Beach. The conventional RTB team has 12 members to cover 36 relay legs with each leg covering 2.5 to 9.5 miles in length. Most teams have 2 large 12 passenger vans to transport team members with Van 1 covering legs 1-6, 13-18, and 25-30. Van 2 covers the other 18 legs. The teams are responsible for meeting all safety requirements - headlamps, safety vests, etc. as well as crew support (food, fluids, etc.). It truly is a team effort.

Our team is led by Captain Bill Gaghan who puts countless hours into preparing the team for the race. He's thought of everything from excel spreadsheets with our predicted times to inspirational soundtracks for our vans. The van assignments are critical for our team as each van has developed it's own personality: The F'em van is as you might imagine is comprised of a bunch of professional, married guys that have the weekend away to play. They can be a bit crude and badger the heck out of eachother along the way, but they are really great friends just blowing off some steam. The Serenity Van is made up of the other folks - generally folks that are not associated with the core group of runners. Since they don't know eachother as well, they are generally very polite and enjoy eachothers company for the weekend. I, somehow, have ended up in the Serenity Van. It's fine with me because I get to chat with folks that I don't know or don't see very often.

Our team is not fast in terms of being able to win, but it doesn't really matter. We do it for fun and to see how we can do both individually and as a group. Even if we don't win, it's always fun to see how we place in our group and to try to break our personal records. This year, we were 131 out of about 350 teams overall and we were 5th out of 6 teams on the Male Masters. It's not really fair as we have 4 lovely ladies on our team (you need 6 women for a mixed team), but we don't really run it for competitive reasons. At least I don't anyway...

I think we run for the memories and friendship. The true commraderie that I see is unmatched. It was great fun to have Dawn and The Goat on the team this year. The team welcomed them with open arms. I enjoy running this race because it allows me to stay connected with some good friends...people that I don't get to see on a regular basis. If it wasn't for this race, I fear that I would lose contact with most of them.

The routine has become "old hat" at this point. We meet near work to load the vans, drive halfway to Paul and Flo's place on the lake, and stop for dinner. We arrive near midnight and scramble for a place to sleep. I usually sleep on the porch to enjoy the cool September air. Bill gives his pre-race speech and introduces all the team members, and we talk about the game plan for the next 48 hours.

The next morning we pack up and head for the start. This year, I heard Stan and Pete swimming when I awoke at 6:30AM. I was impressed. Pete said the water was great, so I had to jump in. Yee haa!

The start of the race is always a big party. You see teams clad in all kinds of costumes - the Cavemen/women, the Tutu girls, the Dyno-mite team, the A-team (fashioned after the old TV show with Mr. T), etc. After check-in, we decorate our van with markers, lights, etc. Some teams get very creative. It's so much fun!

Dawn started us off this year. Teams start in groups of 15 every 30 minutes. The start time is based on your expected finish time. Our start was 11AM which put us in the middle of the pack. We were happy to be in the thick of things as last year we were bringing up the rear.

Dawn ran a great leg finishing within 30 seconds of her predicted time and the Goat ran a spectacular leg 2 putting us ahead of our predicted finish time by about 20 minutes. I ran a slower than predicted leg 3 as I had a terrible headwind the whole way. Besides, it was 3.8 miles and I'm no sprinter. Anyway, I won't go through all 36 legs...but suffice it to say we ran according to plan and never missed a hand-off. We had a great time, and I was pleased with my 3 legs. I was able to run a faster pace on my last 2 legs even though they were double the mileage and more hilly - go figure! I guess it takes me awhile to warm up.

At the end, Paul ran us across the finish line and Bill gave us our finisher medals and shirts on the beach as we do every year. Mission accomplished one more time.

Were we uncomfortable at times? yes, did we get on eachother's nerves at times? sure, was there a lot of waiting? of course... Would I trade it for anything else? No Way!

I slept in the van, I slept on the ground...I ate, I swam, I ran, I talked and laughed with new and old friends. Friends...we are all very different and some didn't know eachother at all prior to the race, but one thing brought us all together: running. Running was our common denominator. In fact, it was THE common denominator for everyone in the race. It enabled us to make instantaneous friendships with anyone we cared to chat with during the race. Running is a means to connect despite being a very individual sport. Even the folks that do not run rally around those of us that do. Why is that? I think the effort of running evokes a respect and admiration from others...a respect based on wanting to enjoy life, adventure, and maintain a level of fitness. I always try to encourage the other runners that I pass or that pass me. I think it bonds us momentarily and may give us a needed lift. I made sure to do it with everyone I encountered this year.

Reach the Beach 2008 was a great success. We interview each team member on video after they finish their leg, and Flo and Paul make a DVD for later viewing. After my last leg this year, I was so happy. I looked in the camera and said something to the effect of "Red Eye Runners forever...RTB every year until we die..."

Wouldn't that be something?!!

Happy trails!

Sunday, September 7, 2008

The Wake Up Call (a.k.a. - A serving of Humble Pie)

"The Legend", a.k.a. Rich Fargo, had asked me a few weeks ago if I was interested in doing a weekend run with him as he is training for the Hartford Marathon and wanted to get a few 20 milers in on the roads. I said, yes, as I always enjoy running with people, and he's a really strong runner. In fact, he's more than strong - he's "The Legend". I affectionately call him the Legend because he is truly a legend in the community of trail running. He's won the famed Escarpment Trail race 8 times (recently equalled by Ben Nephew), and has more wins on the trail running circuit than most people have run races. Rich has also been running to and from work everyday for the past 20 years. He carries his clothes, shoes, and 2 cans of Coke in his L.L. Bean backpack, and flies like the wind. I've tried this a few times (minus the cans of Coke), and it's not as crazy as it sounds. In fact, it feels great to walk into work having just put in 5 miles or so. The run home is a challenge sometimes, but always feels good nontheless.

Anyway, Rich and I both ran the Northern Nipmuck trail race in April and I ran with him for a good portion of the race. I managed to finish a couple minutes ahead of him and really felt good about my fitness level. I think I woke a sleeping tiger though as Rich has been on a tear ever since...

Anyway, I was a bit apprehensive about today's run since I haven't done much since the Vermont 100. The handful of runs I have done have been at a slow pace. In fact, I haven't done a fast training run since early July. "It's OK", I thought, "He's going to do 20 miles and I'm along for 13 or so. No problem. We'll probably be doing 7:45-8:00 pace, and I can do that for 13 on the roads." Famous last words...

I arrived at Rich's house with my bottle of Heed and was ready to roll. Rich was not running with any fluids. Gulp! I took a few swallows and left my bottle. I was running on his terms. How could I carry a bottle for 13 if he was running 20 without anything? Damn, this guy is hardcore.

I asked about pace and he said 7:30-8:00. Then, he took off like a bat out of hell. Yikes!
I hung on for the first 3 miles thinking this pace is insane. My Garmin said we were running around 7:25 miles. We chatted and I started feeling more comfortable. The route was hilly, but the uphills were quite runnable compared to the trails I had run all year. We pushed eachother and I noted that we were doing about 7:15 pace at one point. Damn!

At appr0x. 6 miles we started looping back and Rich said we would split a little before the 9 mile mark. We ran a long gradual uphill which are usually my favorites. I ran it well, but the lack of training and water started catching up to me. I knew I didn't have much left in the tank. Rich, on the other hand, started to put the hammer down. I hung on for dear life, and began to understood how some others may feel running with me at times. I told him to go on ahead if he wanted. It was my way of saying, "Uncle". He eased up slightly, so we could stay together. He was talking about the apple pie his father-in-law was planning to make, and I thought, "I just got served some humble pie".

On the last downhill together Rich asked our pace. The Garmin said 7:17...not bad, but we were flying. I kept re-checking every 100 feet or so and it didn't change. I finally realized that I was looking at "Average pace". Holy shniikees, Batman! We ran 9 hilly miles at 7:17 pace! No wonder I feel like death. I haven't run more than 10 times in the past 7 weeks, and now this! OK, I don't feel so bad now.

We parted ways at the next turn and I slowed the pace quite a bit. I chugged up the hills slowly, but still manged to finish the 13.6 miles at 7:25 pace. Not great, but not bad for not having done much in the past 7 weeks.

As for the Legend, he's primed and ready for Hartford. I think he has a chance to break 3 hours if the weather cooperates. At age 50, he's an inspiration.

It was another great adventure today...running provides so many. I guess it's high time that I get my butt back in gear, and maybe start running to work again.

This Friday the Red Eye Runners will participate in our 4th Reach the Beach Relay in NH. Dawn and the Goat will join the team this year, so I'm excited to see how they enjoy it. It's a great time...stay tuned next week for the race report.

Happy trails!