Tuesday, June 30, 2009

06/28: Pictured Rocks Road Race

I thought I was registering for a trail 15K and somehow wound up in a mostly road half marathon - the Pictured Rocks Road Race, in and around Munising, Michigan. I suppose my attention to detail could use a little attention itself but sometimes these little glitches are fate's way of getting us in the right place at the right time. Though mostly, like in this instance, they're just random screw-ups.

The organizers oversell the toughness of this course, which features two major hills and a bunch of reasonable ones, but not by much. Bad Idea Hill, so called because the longer you spend running up it the more time you have to consider other, more profitable, ways you could be spending your time, starts maybe a half-mile into the race and finally crests maybe a quarter-mile past the first mile marker, although it teases you with intermittent plateaus along the way. It reminded me of the little brother of the killer 29th Street hill in Wheeling's Ogden Newspapers 20K, only with more shade. The second hill, on a trail late in the race, is like running up a sand dune. A twisty-turny sand dune, with foliage.

The organizers also seem very intent on ferreting out potential cheaters, perhaps because of issues in the past. Two or three times I passed curmudgeonly people checking bib numbers as runners went by. We wore chips - really uncomfortable ankle-bracelet chips like we were all under arrest or in the Witless Protection Program, perhaps because the race started next to the Alger County Jail - so I'd think they could just put down additional timing mats at those locations. The chips were also unavailable the night before the race so everybody had to pick them up in the morning, which caused the start to be delayed ten or fifteen minutes. I wasn't a big fan of the chip in this race partially because it wasn't large enough to make it a necessity and partially because with no starting mat, from a runner's perspective I don't see the point. For me the chip's main advantage is to accurately track me from start to finish, not from where I happen to be standing when the race starts to the finish.

I least I think I'm probably in the clear of any accusations of cheating in this race, which I 'ran' in 2:14:10. I was okay through seven miles - about 8:45 pace - but I was also toast, with one major sand dune left to climb. It was a long, slow crawl to the finish.

I ran with an mp3 player, which is probably the first time I've done that in a race this year. While it definitely helped distract me from how horridly I was running, it also may have slowed me down on the trails where strolling along while tuning out was kind of nice. The tunage got off to a weird start; a priest said a prayer and then they started the race and I started my player. Which started up where it ended off the last time I used it, at the end of a Belle and Sebastian song: "But if you are feeling sinister / Go off and see a minister / Chances are you'll probably feel better / If you stayed and played with yourself."

Saturday, June 13, 2009

06/13: Dadfest 5K

WARNING: This report contains descriptions of intrusive medical indignities, a by-product of the aging process, of a moderately intimate and mildly disturbing nature. In other words, perhaps too much information. But if you can’t blog about your first prostate exam, then why the hell did Al Gore even invent the internet?

Having finished all my usual prerace ablutions - stretching, jogging, retching - and still having almost a half hour before showtime, I decided to check out the free prostate screenings since I am approaching the age (or past it, depending on whose literature you read) where these things need to be monitored on a regular basis. I thought there wouldn’t be much of a crowd before the race and I also thought they would only be doing the minimally invasive PSA test.

I was half right. It wasn’t the half I would have preferred to have gotten correct. The volunteers were unsure how long the process would take but the heat index outdoors was already in the quadruple digits. I wouldn’t be crushed if I missed the race.

So, about fifteen minutes before the start of a 5K I was in a hotel meeting room, stuck behind a flimsy privacy curtain with my shorts somewhere between my knees and my ankles, bent at the waist and clutching a metal folding chair for physical and moral support while some dude’s finger was poking around up my butt. If there is a too-much-information section to this account, I’d like to think we’ve safely navigated past it now. The attending medical attendant did try to put me at ease - bought me dinner, a couple of drinks. The seductive vocal stylings of the Rotund Romeo played over the muzak system. While not one I’m anxious to repeat, it wasn’t that horrific an experience - on a par with, although in no way similar to, eating beets.

After he was done with the exam and his ensuing purification rituals, he checked normal on the form and said, “There’s nothing we need to be worried about right now.” What comforting phraseology! I hope when it is time to start being concerned he remembers to let me know because I’d hate to miss out on some good worry time.

The race hadn’t started yet. Properly traumatized, I made my way to the staging area and got in a few more stretches before they sent us off. I know it’s partially a hangover from last week, but I really didn’t like this course which mostly meandered through a major mixed-use development and some adjacent not-yet-developed streets. We didn’t run on the Central Expressway access road but we came close - twice. I’m pretty sure the running surface was 100% concrete although at times it seemed more like 200%. They can’t all be winners, I guess. I ran the first half of the race at a mediocre pace and that turned out to be the highlight; there were frequent short walking breaks over the second half. After thirteen miles last week I ran the last tenth in under 43 seconds; after three miles this week I ran the last tenth in 48 flat. We’re about a week away from the start of summer and I’m already counting the days until October.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

06/07: Deadwood Mickelson Trail Half Mararthon

People let me tell you about my (new) best friend - George S. Mickelson, former governor of South Dakota who helped turn an old railroad right-of-way into an awesome trail that runs for over one hundred miles between Edgemont and Deadwood. The stretch between Rochford and Deadwood is home to the aptly-named Deadwood Mickelson Trail Marathon which has been around since 2002 even if it did take me until 2009 to run it. And even then, I just did the half.

Advance weather forecasts were not promising and the closer race day drew, the worse they got. The night before the race, it looked like we might be running not only in rain, but in temperatures in the mid-to-upper thirties. Which would be unpleasant. The forecast on race day had improved, though, and we actually had no rain and temperatures in the lower forties. Which sucks for spectators and volunteers, and I commiserate with them greatly, but which is fine for running as far as I'm concerned. The unexpectedly not-bad weather put a positive spin on the adventure.

The marathon and half-marathon are both point-to-point which was great in that it went from an uphill point to a downhill point but less than great in that it meant being bussed to the start. Which meant all the race logistics were pushed earlier in the morning - there was no showing up at 7:45, jump out of the car and start running. More like, get to the rodeo grounds at around 6:00, get to the trailhead a little before 7:00, and stand around anxiously waiting to run. That's just the way it is; you go with it and hope the run's worth the hassle.

It was. It was awesome. Sometimes when I'm slogging through a mediocre, uninspiring run on a brutal Texas summer day and I start to wonder what the hell I'm putting myself through this crap for, well, by mile five of this race I knew. When the opportunity for running to be fun presents itself, I want to be able to grab it. When everything clicks, when I'm running seemingly effortlessly hard and not fighting the elements, and I'm surrounded by some of nature's greatest hits, there's not a better feeling in the world. I feel like a piece of a jigsaw puzzle falling into its proper place. I feel like I'm where I'm supposed to be, doing what I'm supposed to be doing. Then I have to go uphill for a bit and the feeling fades, but not too much.

The trail is lovely (dark and deep) but I couldn't tell you much about it. The entire way I drank it in but it's not like I was taking mental photographs; I was too busy being happy. And running. And, eventually, feeling tired. We started crossing the occasional street as we got closer to Deadwood and as I crossed the finish line, I felt like I was overdosing on euphoria; I felt less like I had accomplished something and more like I had experienced a gift, sublime and rare. I was crying sans tears because I probably didn't have any spare moisture left in my body and searching for my breath which seemed to have finished a minute or two ahead of me. I walked around for a few moments as the ecstasy stabilized, and a chill set in, along with an insatiable greed to have those feelings back again.

Which is a good greed to have. I hope it's a greed that motivates me to train hard through the summer. I want to run.

Monday, June 1, 2009

05/30: Race For Awareness 5K

I Raced for Awareness in Denton except I didn’t, really; I raced for five kilometers along a cross-country course through North Lake Park because it was the most appealing race in north Texas this weekend, at least so far as I was concerned. So far this year I’ve run for scholarships, kids, the Albuquerque Zoo, access-to-justice programs, the Katy Trail and God knows what else but the only race I decided to run based on the beneficiary was the Katy Trail 5K. When choosing a race, location, distance, starting times, and friends are more immediate considerations than the charity or cause that the race benefits. Usually the cause is just a tie-breaker when I can’t decide between a couple of races.

I figure someday I’m going to look at the calendar and see that the only race scheduled for a particular day is the White Power 5K or something like that. I won’t run it, of course. 5Ks are too common; if they want to lure me into their race, they’re at least going to have to make it a less-common distance, like four or five miles. Or a 9K – 9Ks are cool. Even then, I’m going to really pig out on the postrace food to try and make sure that they lose money on me.

The Race for Awareness supports Alley’s House which, according to their website, offers a number of programs to assist teen mothers as well as a number of facts about teen pregnancies. Some of the statistics I saw on the website didn’t seem consistent (55,000 teen births each year in Texas but 80,000 new teen mothers – I guess some of these new teen mothers could be moving in from out of state although 25,000 seems like a lot) but these could be stats from different year, maybe. Anyway, Alley’s House seems like a worthwhile cause and I’m happy to throw a few bucks their way. Unless, of course, they’re really just a front for white supremacists. Then I wish the race had been a 9K. And in March or November or sometime when it’s not, like, 70 degrees at 8:30 in the morning.

I almost like cross-country. I would like cross-country except that the courses wander all over the place as the designers struggle to fit a two-mile or 5K loop into a small park, kind of like how DNA compacts itself down to fit two yards of genetic information into a cell the size of a pinhead. I like the non-paved terrain, though; the North Lake course was probably about 80% on grass and the rest on a dirt trail. They marked it well and had two water stops although I can’t remember the last time I drank in a 5K. Oh wait – it was in this race.

Before the race one of the organizers made a little speech about how glad she was to see so many people there and what a great day we had for running. As alluded to earlier, it was about 70 degrees and 80% humidity; personally I thought the weather was more conducive to spectating than to running. When I got back to my car, my parking tag for work had melted which I’m pretty sure means that there’s eighteen more weeks of summer.