Saturday, November 29, 2008

11/27/08: Turkey Trot

They’ve been running the Turkey Trot in Dallas for 41 years now; I’ve run it for two. The first eleven years it was held at White Rock Lake, from the Bath House “to the big oak tree and back”; apparently the big oak tree was about four miles away and so the eight-mile distance was established, although supposedly it was actually 8.2 miles. How they figured that out in those pre-Garmin days, I have no idea. At any rate it’s now the largest running event in Dallas, which I scoffed when I heard that because I thought the Race for the Cure was bigger but apparently they only had 25,000 participants this year while the Turkey Trot had about 34,000 between the two races.

In 1979 they moved the race to downtown Dallas; in 1984 they added a three-mile fun run. New this year was the Chrono Track D disposable timing tag which came attached to the bib number, from which it was easily detached and then attached to the laces of the running shoe of your choice, preferably one of your own that you would actually be wearing for the race. The advantage of this over the usual Champion Chip was that every race that uses the Champion Chip requires that the chip be picked up the morning of the race. The Turkey Trot (eight mile) started at 9:00; I could have had someone drop me off at Wood and Ervay at 8:55, squeezed my way into the starting hordes and been ready to go. The disadvantage is that it’s a one-time use item but, as the Turkey Trot website points out, “You may keep the chip as a souvenir.” Perhaps someday they’ll become family heirlooms.

I saw what I thought was a gaggle of young Amish women before the race; eventually I realized that they were running the race constumed as Pilgrims and the Dallas Morning News reported that they were members of the Plano West High School cross country team, which happens to be the alma mater of the race winner, Scott MacPherson, who currently runs for the University of Arkansas. Costumes are not unusual at the Turkey Trot although turkeys and native Americans are more commonly seen than Pilgrims.

As for me, the race had one embarrassing feature: about a half-mile into it, my bladder was urgently requesting relief. As we entered Deep Ellum, I ducked down a side street, up an alley and behind a dumpster to attend to some personal business. Almost immediately, a truck came into the same alley and stopped on the other side of the dumpster; luckily they were too busy doing whatever the hell they were doing to bother ragging on me for public urination. What with the crowded start and the unscheduled pit stop my first mile was 10:59 but after that the race went pretty well, considering I was sick Tuesday and Wednesday with a cold. I finished in 1:08:57, 2064th out of 7174 overall, 1593rd out of 4086 men, and 175th out of 481 in my age group. In other words, just one small part of the huddled masses yearning to be done.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

11/23/08: Ole Man River Half Marathon

I woke up at some ungodly hour Sunday morning and drove from the Vieux Carre Holiday Inn to Tad Gormley Stadium in City Park, which for a city as lyrical as New Orleans you’d think they’d come up with a better name for a park than that. I registered for the Ole Man River Half Marathon, a race, put on by the New Orleans Track Club, whose name made more sense in previous years when they ran it on Ole Man River’s levee but this year they moved it to this new location, took a few pictures, stretched, drank some Gatorade, visited the restroom, and made my way to the starting line. The race started, I ran for a while, walked some, ran some more and walked some more in various proportions, and eventually finished in 2:10:40 or so. I ate a couple of pancakes, drank some water, walked around for a few minutes, and then took off. Since then I’ve been trying to think of something to say about this race but the truth is, I got nothing. It happens.

This is in no way a knock on the race; I probably could have been running Bay to Breakers this particular morning and noticed nothing out of the ordinary. I did think the course was bland when we were running on Marconi Drive along the west side of the park and on Wismer Drive on the east side of the park, but I also think the first few miles when we were running through the interior of the park north of the stadium might have been interesting had I actually been awake. I think it’s a good deal that this was mostly just a training run for the, and I’m also glad that my previous experience racing in New Orleans (Jackson Day 9K, 1996 - I flew in the morning of the race which is one way to keep this city from wearing you out) was more interesting because I spent too much time Saturday touristing it up in the French Quarter - me and about a jillion Packer fans - to do this race any kind of justice. Although I did manage to get to sleep before Oklahoma was done crushing Texas Tech’s BCS dreams (or maybe not!).

I managed about an 8:30 pace for six miles, fading to an 8:50 for the seventh mile and then walking some; my 2:10:42 (according to the official results; I'm sure my Garmin has me faster than that. My Garmin is my friend.) placed me 354th out of 505 overall, 245th out of 300 men, and 37th out of the 46 dudes in my age group. My proudest moment came when I walked the entire eleventh mile in 14:55; my happiest moment was either immediately after crossing the finish line or when starting to chow down on the postrace pancakes. Although they weren’t quite as good as the half slab of dry-rub ribs I got at Corky’s in Metairie later in the afternoon, just in time to watch the end of the Jets-Titans game.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

11/01/08: Conference USA Cross-Country Championships

You wouldn't know it by Sunday's Dallas Morning News, but SMU won a Conference USA championship on November 1st, in women's cross-country. Watching the finish, I thought they won in a rout; their red uniforms stood out in a sea of blues and whites as they placed five women in the top twelve. It turned out that a lot of the whites - particularly the runners in third, fourth, and fifth - were worn by athletes from Rice, who made things closer than I thought, scoring 50 points to SMU's 40. Silje Fjortoft of SMU was the overall winner in a course-record time of 16:46 for 5K, which maybe I could have done in college (with training) but then again, probably not.

The men’s race was dominated by Tulsa and UTEP; they combined to fill all the spots in the top ten, led by Tulsa’s John Beattie who won the 8K race in 23:30, one second ahead of Japheth Ngo’joy from UTEP. UTEP took third and fourth also but Tulsa filled fifth through eighth, which gave them 27 points to UTEP’s 30. UTEP only entered five runners; all five finished in the top twelve.

Cross-country is a weird stew of competition and camaraderie. Two East Carolina girls were standing along the straightaway before the final turn to the finish and one of their runners passed by, hard on the heels of a Tulane dude. "Catch him!" "Pass him - every point counts!" The next runner to pass was another Tulane guy. "Go Tulane!" "Run hard!" There is empathy in cross-country but no mercy.

The races were hosted by the University of Memphis and run at the Mike Rose Soccer Complex in southeast Memphis; they consisted of multiple loops around the various fields before finishing in the main stadium. The fields are on different levels so the hills consisted of running up and down between fields and there's not much shade - it was a cloudless morning and a little on the warm side for running three or five miles. In general, if the spectators are comfortable, the runners probably aren't. I was spectating and I had no complaints. I was happy to be spectating – had I been in the women’s race I probably would have finished 87th out of 92 and had I been in the men’s race I probably would have finished dead last by about six minutes. Tim Cullen of Tulane probably wishes I was in the men’s race.

Running is like golf - you don't win so much as you just lose least. It's got to suck to be running at the heels of an opponent, feeling like you're going to puke and hearing your coach and teammates yelling at you to catch him, pass him, beat him. And then you finally enter the stadium, maybe a quarter-mile to go and you know you're finishing way out of the scoring and you feel like you're holding up the show, you and the stragglers around you; for the race you're in your time sucks but you could enter any local 5k or 8k and beat 90% of the field. But where's the challenge in that?

The Morning News did show the Conference USA Championships some love on Monday. On page 14C, in agate type, they did publish the team results from the meet. Women's race only.

10/31/08: Running Scared 5K

I was not happy.

I was not clinically depressed or volcanically pissed-off, either; mostly I was just dissatisfied, dissatisfied with a 22:44 in the Running Scared 5K on Halloween. Which being dissatisfied is potentially a good thing if it pushes me to train harder and expect more from myself. Right now, though, I feel like for as hard as I ran - and I'd put this effort up there as one of my top three efforts this fall - I should have done better. Although I'm also entertaining fantasies of the course being short despite a lack of corroborating evidence.

The Running Scared 5K is put on by Memphis Heritage which means it's staged from an elegant house on the corner of Madison and Edgewood in Midtown Memphis. It's on Halloween every year (well, both years seeing as this was only the second annual. But they plan on having more and they plan on keeping it on Halloween.) so it's directed by the Tooth Fairy and other runners included a guy riding an ostrich, Dorothy from Kansas by way of Oz (and her little dog Toto, too) complete with ruby-red running shoes ("There's no place like the finish line!"), Wall Street Greed (complete with tutu made out of fake money which made me think she was an exotic dancer at first - which may have been the point), a ninja turtle, a hot witch, a harlot or a French maid or at least somebody sleazy in a short skirt and fishnet stockings, a clown, a NASCAR chick, and assorted ghouls and zombies. I was dressed as a Serious Runner but I was wearing a UT-Arlington UnderArmor shirt featuring the school's nickname (Mavericks) so if anybody asked I suppose I could say I was a Republican. I wonder how that joke will play in, say, two weeks.

The course is fair, moderately hilly but the toughest hill, early in the second mile, earns its degree of difficulty more for length than steepness. The first two miles seemed accurate enough but the third was way off unless I really did run it in 6:20, which I didn't. That's fine - I'd hate to think I ran the last tenth in 2:15 because I'm pretty sure I could walk faster than that. I finished seventh overall and I thought I may have been top master, but some old guy ran 22:13 so I guess I wasn't, but I was first in my age group. Which is rare enough that it's still noteworthy, at least to me. I did beat the top woman, the aforementioned ninja turtle who ran 23:04 and probably would have kicked my butt if she wasn't carrying her house on her back. I passed her at about 1.5 miles; I though about pacing off her some but I didn't want to freak her in out in such a small race along dark streets.

The postrace party was back at the elegant house and featured lots of food - bananas, cookies, doughnuts, Halloween candy, and beer of the Bud and Bud Light variety, in cans. I had a can of Bud Light; it was reminiscent of drinking in high school. The awards ceremony featured each medal recipient getting their picture taken with the Tooth Fairy, then another Memphis Heritage dignitary judged the costume contest, in which I appropriately did not place. Dorothy won, followed by the guy riding an ostrich, with Wall Street Greed third.