Monday, April 24, 2006

You Have to Grab These Moments, #2

"You know you're a runner when ..."
You're on vacation and notice that the fitness room in the hotel opens at 6AM, or just about the same time you run at home, so you set the alarm to get one of the two treadmills.

Running five miles on the treadmill early in the morning the day after driving for six hours from Jersey to Virginia was good. I took it to the next level the following day.

I had noticed that our hotel in Williamsburg was not REALLY all that far from William and Mary. Yeah, THAT William and Mary - the second oldest college in the United States; Alma Mater of some seven US Presidents??? I love running through colleges, especially old ones. I used to run through Penn when I lived in Philly. That's where the Gargoyle Ranch was.

How could I NOT go through this one??? When would I get this chance again???

I got up early, as I had the day before to run the 'mill. I stretched a little bit in the room, quietly, not to wake the girls, then went outside to finish. The bright Virginia sunrise belied how chilly the morning was. I had on a t-shirt and shorts. This would be my first morning run of the year without sweats. It was still cool enough that I could see my breath as I loosened up on the tennis court. I double double-checked that I had my room "key" - the magnetic card - in my pocket. Usually, I have the keys to my Sally in my hand as I run, but they were in the luggage somewhere and I wasn't about to go looking for them.

I had made a slight error in choosing my starting point. The door to our side of the two wings opened conveniently to the tennis courts and swimming pool. Being the cooler part of April, neither was open. In fact, I seriously considered getting a $20 skateboard at Target down the street and taking a couple of runs. The tennis courts were at the bottom of the hill leading out to the main road to W&M. My run began with 20 yards on incline of 20 feet. 'Well, that will help me start slow' I thought, still trying to train myself to the 9:00 mile Annabelle had prescribed for us.

The first half mile was a pot-hole jumping extravaganza as I navigated the construction zone of the widening project begun Richmond Road. The roadway neon orange "Businesses Open During Construction" begged locals, and tourists to come to the strip mall and drop some cash. I just wanted to avoid turning an ankle.

Once past the roadwork area, the neighborhood turned far more genteel. Every third house was a bed & breakfast or had won some sort of VA Beautification Award. The lawns looked better in mid-April than mine does in June. Three quarters of a mile or so out, I crossed paths with my first local. He was a fifty-something lifetime runner in his 70's throwback outfit - white long-sleeved shirts, way too short shorts, bicycle cap on his bearded head. With a nod of his head and enthusiastic wave, he seemed glad to have company on this bright Thursday morning.

A couple minutes later, another runner approached me. He too smiled and waved. "Southern Hospitality" I thought. I guess I don't look like I'm a Yankee, or worse, that I'm from Jersey.

I ran past the stadium, where the brick wall began alongside the sidewalk. 'I'm in the college, now' I thought. However it had only taken me 8 minutes to get there. I had planned on being out for at least 45. 'I might as well just jog around then.' Half a block down across the street, was the only Wawa I've ever seen with Colonial architecture, complete with twin chimneys - artificial, I hoped, but considerably the most beautiful convenience store I’d ever seen.

It wasn't long before I reached the free-for-all intersection of Richmond Road, Boundary Street and Jamestown Road. There is no light here, no stop sign, no indication at all who has the right of way. The night before, Donna had driven the car right through the middle and watched the other two vehicles "Figure out their problem." Since there was no other traffic, I charged through as well, with no risk.

This was the last place I had already been. I was now in explorer mode.

Donna had taken the left here, but I continued straight. Maybe it was my years of running through the historic district in Philly, but some thing in my head said “just go towards the water" In Philly, the distance from the cobblestones, brick, ivy and tourists to the Delaware River is about ½ mile … From William and Mary to the James river is about six. I instinctively turned south on Boundary Street; a nice residential Colonial street much like those in my childhood town of Wethersfield, CT. Except these were either college buildings or professor residences. Being 7 AM I had no clue; neither option would be a bustle of activity on a Thursday morning, with just a few weeks (days??) of classes left to got.

This street did not hold much promise for a long trek through Williamsburg, as it T-ed off just a few hundred yards later. Not wanting to turn back prematurely, I took the left and proceeded further away from the college. One block along and I came to a “more main” road. Across the street was the bounding edge of a cemetery. Under “normal” circumstances, I would have found the gate and rolled right it … But this was Virginia … Cemeteries follow different rules down here; rules I am familiar but not comfortable with. As much as it pained the ghost-buster in me, I turned away and back to the town, looking to take the next right away and further out … checking my watch, I’d only been out about 15 minutes …. I wanted to find another ten minutes or so before heading back.

A few yards up this street I saw a sign proclaiming “Colonial Historic Parkway”

Being from New Jersey, I know a couple of things about parkways
1) Once you get on; it takes a while to get off
2) When you do get off; you’re still not sure where you are

I was already unsure about where I was so …

I turned left, back up Nassau Street – very Colonial name, by-the-way.

I proceeded past a couple of parking lots and a pretty big building set off from the campus, then another which looked a lot like Pennsylvania Hospital in Philadelphia – spectacularly manicured lawn with crisscrossing sidewalks in front. The houses were more sparse in this part of campus … basically because I was longer ON campus … I was actually running through Colonial Williamsburg … and I had no ticket!!!

I didn’t realize this until I crossed Duke of Gloucester street and looked to my right to see the Capitol at the end of the road. I was quite tempted to trot down there, but I wasn’t sure what the mood of Park Security would be at this time of day. I consigned myself to continue down Nassau Street to it’s end then head back to the town.

I got to Scotland Street and turned left. Returning to Boundary Street, I turned left again and ran past the W&M “Merchant’s Square” shopping area. In the vacant early morning is was hard to visualize the hive of polo-shirted activity this would be a in a couple of hours.

I continued further, until I reached the point I had turned left about a mile ago. This time I turned right and headed back into the campus. I came up behind some administrative and buildings back onto Jamestown Road. I crossed the street, towards a row of very “hall” like buildings. A sweet blonde co-ed jogged down the sidewalk; I smiled and waved. She wanted no part of me. I followed the sidewalk between the brick halls on my right and a construction zone to my left. After I passed the chain linked hard hat area I came to a deviation in the so far very flat course I had been running. A very nice downhill left, into a wooded area of the school.

“This is more like it.” I said quietly to myself and dropped the hammer (slightly) on the descent. I entered the woods and crossed a quaint bridge over a small creek and duck pond. Hanging over the stream 50 yards or so a way was a sheet with “5 Days Left” spray-painted on it. The “5” had been X’ed out in red and a “4” painted over that.

“Wow. They get out early. I guess they have internships to start.”

As I climbed the other side of the hill, and cut through a cluster of very dormitory buildings, I realized that because of the twisting nature of the paths back here, I wasn’t 100% sure how to get back to the front of the school.

“Oh well, just roll with it and enjoy the self-guided tour.”

I passed what appeared to be a cafeteria, and another more condominium dorm. I curled around to my right and spied the stadium.

“That’s my way out.” I had noticed the light stands on the way in.

I reached the stadium and re-gathered my bearings. I knew that if I just continued straight through the middle of the school I would most likely end up back at the “point” at Merchants Square. Well almost. James Blair Drive jogged to the left just before reaching Richmond Road, kicking me back out about a block up. Just as the blonde turned back in. She still didn't say "Hi."

I headed back to the hotel with about 5 miles of Ivy League jogging behind me.

I passed the now familiar landmarks: the Wawa, the College Delly (hey, that's how THEY spell it), Readings by Maria, Dunkin Donuts, IHoP.

I finished the six-mile tour in about 50 minutes. Not blazing, but not walking either.

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Easter Sunday

So they ran both together: and the other disciple did outrun Peter, and came first to the sepulcher - John 20:4

I believe God made me for a purpose, but he also made me fast. And when I run I feel His pleasure. - Eric Liddell

I never have understood Eric Liddell’s objection to running on Sunday, made so dramatic in “Chariots of Fire.” In my interpretation, that was one of the first things that happened on that first Easter … a footrace between St. Peter and St. John. Yeah, Peter was a loudmouth, but he was “The Rock.” John always felt a little closer to Jesus than may have been the truth. They really had no other way of determining who was the better Apostle. It wouldn’t have made sense for them to fight or wrestle over it. An impromptu footrace seemed a pretty definitive solution.

Although John won the race he never exploited it though.

I loved racing on Sunday. I had a whole pre-race routine. I went to church Saturday afternoon. I ate a good dinner, not necessarily pasta. I made sure the gear I would wear for race day was clean, dry and laid out for me to jump into in the morning. I went to bed (relatively) early, because the race usually meant an early crew call.

On race morning I got up early – but not as early as I had set my alarm. I got dressed. I made my coffee, but didn’t drink all of it. I slipped out of the house quietly. More often than not, it was a beautiful morning, just after sunrise, with the fog rising and clouds breaking to greet the day.

It was going to be a good one.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Jump Little Bunny

There is a point where you make that leap from just getting along, just doing enough to get by, to actually trying to succeed. To try to do better, through a little bit more work, effort, sweat. I made that leap last night.

My online beer-buddy and coach Annabelle de la Tortuga through her vixenly ways, has coaxed me back to distance running; back to Broad Street. My training program has been one of trying to merely survive the ten miles. I figured that if I could train enough to get halfway, five miles to City Hall, I could make it to the finish on guts alone. After hearing her training regimen ...

"My plan between now and the race is - every other day running (at least), two long runs - an 8 mile and a 10 mile and three speedwork sessions. I guess that I am thinking 9:20s (?) with a handful of jellybeans every three miles and a fantastic running partner"

... I realized that doing an easy 4-mile morning run in about half an hour, three days a week and maybe a once more on the weekend, wasn't going to do it.

I needed to push myself beyond the five-mile / 40-minute limit. I needed to go and go long.

My morning routine doesn't accomodate a long run during the week, and my weekends have been filled with birthday parties, visits from the social worker for our adoption agency, and just run-of-the-mill housework backlogs. If a long run was in order - which it was, with less than a month of runway left - it had to be on the Bally's track.

I got there at the usual time: 6:30. By my calcuation, after changing and Punk Yoga, I would be on the track at 7PM. Six miles at 9:00 per would bring me in at 7:54. A brief cool down - no bike tonight - back to the locker room, out and home by 8:30 or so.

I had on a Magic Hat Brewery T-shirt. Annabelle's favorite. She was with me in spirit, watching my progress, keeping me safe and looking good.

Bally's track is 12 laps per mile. If you do the math, you will figure out that to measure your pace, you can divide your lap time in seconds by five and get your pace in minutes per mile. Thirty-five seconds around and you're flying at a 7-minute pace. Conversely, if you wanted to hit an 8-minute mile; a 40-second lap time is your goal. I was looking to achieve Annie's 9:20 or there abouts so I was going to hold my usual :40 down into the 45-47 second range.

The first couple laps were a little hot. I tried to figure where on my watch the laps should end. It came to me that, if I were performing to spec, the elapsed time would count backwards in :15 second increments - :45, 1:30, 2:15, 3:00, etc. But three times through the alphabet seemed like such a long way.

I didn't mind that the people I usually fly by, were now jogging alongside me. Yes, I said jogging. I had backed myself down into the "old man shuffle." Not really, but that's how it felt. Once I got into the groove, I decided that come race day, I would be able to hold this pace pretty much all day if need be.

I got through the first three miles in EXACTLY 27 minutes. Annie would be happy. I stopped for some water, adjusted my glasses (the were starting to slide down) and stepped back onto the track.


Within two laps I found myself behind someone I used to run with a couple of years ago. He too was carrying about a nine-minute pace. I tucked in behind him and cruised along. He must have sensed my presence, and felt threatened. He began to turn it up a little. It was only another lap or two before we were in a racing situation. Not a very FAST race by any means, but there was the air of competition about. The part of me that wanted to just shuffle through six miles with my imaginary girlfriend had been left behind by the part of me that wanted to "just win, baby"

I finished mile 4 in 8:06. I was now nearly a minute ahead of schedule.

As much as I tried to bring my final time down by back-pacing slower traffic (running just fast enough that the person behind doesn't catch you; but not getting away from them too fast, either) and tucking in behind a very nice pair of green cotton sweatpants with a cropped T-shirt, I still managed to finish in 53:24.

In spite of my early finish, chatting with some friends, put me in "getting home late" trouble.

"A beer would be so good right now," I thought to myself, "but I think all I have is green bottles and I don't have time to stop."

As I got in the car, I reached for my phone to let my coach know how I did. The red light was lit.


"Randy, stop and get me some Koonunga Cabernet on the way home."

Sure, I will. And while I'm there ....

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Spring Training

While doing my 10-mile bike ride, after my 4-mile run, I was just zoning out watching the traffic on Bally's track go by. A group of three teenagers came up the steps. They had on pretty much the same outfit - with slight variations in color - contractor-style (carpenter / plumber) overalls, v-neck t-shirt, trucker hat, Timberland work boots. They each carried a 10- or maybe 20-pound dumbell in each hand.

They walked a couple laps around the track, being very carefull not to bump anyone with the iron. Then they started jogging, still with the weights.

I figured that they were just warming up, before lifting, but the kept going. One lap, two laps, three. Then they started doing what runners would describe as intervals, fast laps, then slow.

I couldn't figure out what I was watching.

Then it occurred to me.

These kids were actually TRAINING for the spring and summer burglary season!!! Running fast while carrying heavy weight!!!

I wish I'd thought of that 30 years ago.