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Philadelphia Freedom

Categories: Midd Blogosphere

While running on the trails of Addison County still makes up the bulk of my posts, readers will notice that I also enjoy sharing my discoveries when I get the opportunity to run in other locales, sometimes on the trails, sometimes not.  Trailrunning is indeed among my favorite ways to set myself up for adventure, but experiencing new places or new running events, and sharing them here, is also something I find quite rewarding.  With this in mind, I am going to share a personal first – a short trip, including a commercial airline flight, for the sole purpose of going running.  I guess this is the conclusion to the saying “You know when you are getting hardcore when….”

So, last Sunday, very early in the morning , I was milling around with 30,000 of my newest closest friends, awaiting the start of the Philadelphia Marathon.  As this was my second marathon this fall, I was in new territory regarding distance events – never before had I done two such road races in such a short period of time.  This particular race was of interest to me due to the easy access and inexpensive nature of flights to Philadelphia, combined with a sister who lived in the area, who for some unexplained reason was eager for my company and eager to transport me where I needed to be!  Also, there was this little idea I had, about a year ago, when I first learned of the “50 States Marathon Club“, a club which requires that members do at least one marathon in each of the 50 states in order to gain admission.  The fine print, however, says that you can get the T-shirt for it after only 10 states, and after all, that is the important part, right? I was further intrigued to hear that there is a local runner (who to the best of my memory I have never met) named John Lent who has actually completed all 50! So – off to Philly I went, working on state number……4.  Yeah….a long way to go still for this trailrunner.

In any case, the race information made it quite clear that, in the aftermath of last year’s Boston Marathon incident, there would be an extensive series of security checkpoints before the start of the race, and runners needed to be at the start area by 5 am in order to ensure that they had enough time to clear the inevitable long security lines.  Well – there I was in front of the famous Philadelphia Art Museum on the banks of the Schuykill (pronounced “Skookill”, derided as “Sure-kill” on the adjacent expressway) River, with about 20 other runners, who walked into the start area without so much as a check over from the bleary-eyed security forces standing around.  Comforting.  Having two hours to blow before the race start was actually kind of fun however, as it gave ample time to walk around, and strike up short impromptu conversations with other racers.  I could offer my sage advice to those running their first ever marathon, as well as comment and learn from those runners who were clearly far more experienced than I.

The race went off without any real hitches, however!  The last time I ran in such a large race was the NY Marathon, in 1992, and during that race it seemed as if there was no room to run until the race was more than halfway done due to the crowds.  At that time, when the gun went off – the race started for everyone – if you were a few hundred yards behind the start line, it was more or less tough luck.  As a result, all the runners crowded the startline as much as they could, and were more than happy to trample each other to get underway, with resulting crowding that took many miles to disperse.  The advent of chip technology, where a microchip embedded in your race number ensured  that your own clock didn’t start ticking until you crossed the start line led to a much more genteel start to the race, and people were far more willing to let things spread out.  So, while the first few miles were pretty dense with runners, I never felt like my pace was dictated by the pace of nearby runners.

The first half of the race went through a series of neighborhoods in downtown Philly.  We passed by the art museums, into the downtown business district, through Philly’s Chinatown, alongside the Delaware and Schuykill River, and through numerous residential districts.  Other than brief slowdowns to grab water or Gatorade, the only stops I made were to take a picture of Independence Hall as all the other runners sped by, and find relief in a porta-potty.  I had grown accustomed to long races in far more rural settings, and there weren’t exactly a lot of discretely wooded sections along the way in the course of this race!  Frustratingly, this particular pit stop was complicated by the fact that the occupancy of each individual porta-potty was indicated by a small red or green sign by the door handle, and my red-green colorblindness forced me to try doors until I found an empty one, as other runners zoomed in on the correct choices much more readily.

Independence hall

Independence hall

The second half of the race was a long “out and back” along a city parkway road adjacent to the river. Just as I was leaving town, I saw the fastest athlete – a wheelchair para-athlete wheeling his way back into the finish area, and not long after that, I saw the first of several fleet-footed men of African, presumably Kenyan descent sprinting towards the finish line at a pace I could not match for one mile, let alone 26.2. The race course turned around in the formerly gritty factory town of Manyunk, which now is apparently quite gentrified. Curiously, despite the fact that I was wearing a Middlebury track singlet for the race, it gathered no recognition from the crowds of onlookers who lined the course until I hit Manyunk, where it garnered me many “shout-outs”. Must be a lot of former Midd-kids who are now yuppies living there!

I usually  don’t care to talk explicitly about my running pace when authoring this blog, as it is primarily about sharing the joys of running and the out of doors, rather than as an online training log. And besides, my times are not that impressive, as befitting my age and modest training relative to most people who run longer distances. That said, I was very pleased with my performance in this race, in that I started off appropriately slowly, and accelerated throughout the race, finishing my final 10 Km at a pace which was pretty close to the pace at which I usually run a normal 10 Km race! Finishing a long race like this strongly is also one of the most empowering feelings in running. I might even call this my best marathon ever, with the aster-isk that it was the best I had ever performed relative to my age group, and frankly only a few minutes slower than a few marathons I did as a much younger man in my early 30′s.  Yup- it felt good!

Finally – one of my goals for this race was to have someone get a picture of me running up the famous “Rocky Steps” of the Philly Art Museum, to post in this blog.  Before the race, well it was just too dark!  When I passed by these steps at the half way point, I realized that I was putting in a good time, and didn’t want to stop and mess around with a picture.  By the finish, well the best I could muster was to stand in the foreground of the steps, raise my arms in victory, and let them frame this famous building, maybe with a little hop in my tired, sore legs.  Of course, with the finish, my day was not yet complete – after a few hours of recovery, including a shower, nap, and a good meal at my sister’s house in the suburbs, I had to complete the short flight back from Philly and seemingly endless ride home from the Burlington airport before fluffing my pillows and collapsing to get a little sleep in before classes the next day.

At the Rocky Steps

At the Rocky Steps

Philadelphia marathon route on Google Earth

Philadelphia marathon route on Google Earth

Just a Very Long Training Run

Categories: Midd Blogosphere

Last October, as a long season of trail running came to a close, I pondered the semi-unthinkable:  Would it be possible to compete in and complete a marathon without the single-minded training regimen that is inevitably recommended by “the experts”?  Training for marathons by traditional methods (60-90 training miles per week, for many many weeks) had only accomplished one result for me- injuries before I ever reach the start line.   Well, I found the answer for this, when I raced in a marathon, and completed it, feeling great most of the way – the description of that race has already been described in my post entitled “Questioning Conventional Wisdom – A Marathon Story”.

So far this season, I have done a fair number of longer runs (up to 13 miles), but let’s face it – one’s conditioning can’t be as advanced in July as it is in October.  Add the loss of training time due to a nasty cold, and worse than usual allergies, and well, my legs have definitely felt better.  Nonetheless, I have always wondered if I would be able to enter, and complete a marathon, treating it as “just” a very long training run.  Why did I think this was even possible?  For one, there are a fair number of older athletes (*ahem* like me) who run in large numbers of marathons each year, and while they don’t compete for prizes, they appear to have fun chugging along at a more leisurely pace than the younger thoroughbreds.  These people have to have day  jobs right?  An early summer marathon also might be a springboard to more, and maybe longer races later in the season.  So, I set out to find a mid-summer marathon to test some new questions about physical limits.

It didn’t take me long to learn of a race in Waitsfield VT called “The Mad Marathon“, and I thought that with a name like that, it would be a perfect venue at which to attempt this latest experiment.  There was one slight problem with this plan – a marathon with truly minimal training should probably be undertaken on a flat course, and this race has 1000 vertical ft of climbing and descent.  Yikes!  Nonetheless, there I was at 7 am Sunday morning…lined up with about 1200 runners (most of whom seemed to be running in either the half marathon, or as members of marathon relay teams) for the starting gun.

I knew I had to do things differently if I was going to survive this race.  I tend to start of long runs slowly, and accelerate as the run or race proceeds.  In this run, however, I knew that I was cutting it awfully close in terms of my abilities, so I picked a pace which I knew I could maintain for long distances, and stuck to that pace, no matter how good I felt at various times in the race.  I also knew that for a sunny summer run, even in comfortable weather (and nature obliged with high temperatures in the low 70′s by the end of the morning race)  hydration would be even more critical that usual.  With this in mind, I forced myself to take water at EVERY water station, and walk through the station so that I could drink the full cup.  As a curious aside, at the first water station, only about a mile into the race, the volunteer offering me my hydration seemed shocked when I drank the gatorade, and poured the water on my head!  This is another old runner’s trick for staying cool on long runs, but apparently this particular volunteer had never before witnessed the practice.  And speaking of the volunteers – they were great!  Water stations were abundant, amply staffed, and I don’t think that I have ever seen a more enthusiastic bunch.

I am not going to go into the particulars of the race course, as it is well described on the race website linked to above.  In general, it started in the village of Waitsfield, climbed up to the roads high on the east side of the Mad River Valley (where a few past runs, including one a few weeks ago have been posted), did a loop to the north towards Moretown, and reversed its course into East Warren, before plunging back into the valley for the finish line.  I am going to share a few fun quirks of this well run race.  At about the 9 mile mark, I approached a woman who seemed to be struggling on the second of many climbs in the race.  She also had a sign on her back saying “Today is my birthday”.  So, as I pulled alongside her, I inquired if anyone had sung the Happy Birthday Song to her yet that day.  Hearing  that nobody had, I asked her name, and sang her the song before passing her by. I hope you finished the race Barbara!  Another fun little semi-surprise was……free beer!  The catch, was that in order to get the beer for free…..you had to drink it at mile 24 of the race – beer at the finish line cost 3 bucks a cup!  I loved the novelty of this, and despite the fact that I knew it would cost me a few minutes, I was running this as a “Timeless” race, so I couldn’t resist the temptation for at least a few sips of delicious cold beer, even with a few painful miles to go.  I also thought it was funny, that due to Vermont liquor laws, I had to go stand inside the roped in area to enjoy this treat.  Many thanks to my new friends from the Sam Adams distributor!   Finally, the finish line had a little barn structure to run under as one crossed the finish line, and the race announcers went out of their way to welcome each and every finisher by name over the PA system, and say something about where they were from.  The race participants also seemed to come from a lot of different places, for such a small race (only 271 finishers in the full marathon!)  It seemed that a disproportionate number of the entrants were striving to complete a marathon in each of the 50 states, and they found this marathon appealing, since it was a mid summer marathon, a rarity, in a cool climate.

So, here I am, a day later, and I really don’t feel too bad!  The legs are a bit tight, but I suspect I will be able to resume at least short runs in a day or two. I think I will call this experiment a success! Thanks to the organizers for putting together a challenging (hence slow) fun race.  I don’t have any pictures of the race, but the race web page has a lot of nice shots up from the 2011 race, which will give one a great feel for the great scenery accompanying this race.

Google Earth of the race course


A very scary altitude profile

Questioning Conventional Wisdom – A Marathon Story

Categories: Midd Blogosphere

Long ago, in a very different phase of life (ie, pre-kids), I fancied myself a semi-competitive endurance athlete.  And of course, every semi-competitive endurance athlete has to try running the most famous of all footraces, the marathon.  And yes, I ran a few of those (OK – well two).  With the advent of a more fulfilling domestic life, and diminished training time, the training presumably prerequisite for running marathons became hard to come by.  As I aged, I also found that my body no longer responded well to the demands of high mileage weeks. All the standard training routines for marathon training prescribe many months and many miles, typically crescendo-ing to a few weeks of 70, 80 or even 90 miles per week.  Inevitably, long term marathon plans (and of course, you do have to really plan for a marathon for many months, right?) culminated with some form of injury a few weeks before the actual race, many months of recovery, and forfeiture of often steep entry fees.  As a result, I had pretty much resigned myself to the fact that my most recent marathon (1992!) would probably be my last.

Fast forward to the last few years, and my new found love of trailrunning…..Trail running and long distance running are really NOT the same thing – I can have a great time on a relatively short run through the woods, and many trail running afficionados regularly enjoy running distances which are quite amenable to the average athlete.  That said, once I started getting a taste of the great trails in the area on a regular basis, I really wanted to get out there and discover increasingly lengthy trails and their inherently less accessible sights.  Long term readers will note the increasingly long runs covered in this blog.  I had not abandoned old favorites of course, but I didn’t see the point of doing a blog writeup on my 5th run up Snake Mountain, Silver Lake, or some other old favorite of more reasonable distance.   I have also found that I am much less prone to injury when I spend most of my time on the trails.  The combination of the slower pace that the trails demand, and the varied footing, diminishing repetitive use injuries, have allowed me to do the occasional long run, without sustaining anything but minor annoyance aches and pains.  I also discovered, that if I go slow enough, I can pretty much run forever – or at least 2 or 3 hours – and feel pretty good the next day.

I also recently read the best selling book by Christopher McDougal entitled “Born to Run” in which the author, an aging athlete, wondered why he was hurt all the time by running. This question led to a variety of heretical conclusions on the way distance runners typically train.  Reading this, I began to ponder my own heresy – If a runner can run comfortably for 3 hours, on challenging mountainous terrain like we have here in Addison County,  why couldn’t they finish an marathon without the stress of a daily training regimen?  In my own case, despite my best intentions, life usually limits me to 20-30 miles/week – in other words about 1/3 of the mileage recommended.  Nonetheless, after running the entire TAM 3 weeks ago, covering 16 miles in 3 hours and feeling pretty good, I realized that the marathon distance might not be out of the question.

While most large, famous marathons require registration as much as a year in advance, we have a little-known low key small (a few hundred runners) marathon here in the Green Mountain State every fall.  The Green Mountain Athletic Association has sponsored an October marathon for over 40 years just a little bit north of us on South Hero Island.  There was still time to register three weeks ago, and the registration was a mere 30 bucks!  So, I threw my hat in the ring, and decided to give it a try.  I figured that there would be no dishonor in not finishing, but those who know me knew that I would finish, even if it was after dark and I was crawling.  So, on a cool Sunday morning, I lined up with a modest flock of other runners to give it a try.  I am not going to go heavily into the details of the race – let it suffice to say that a race course which which follows the shoreline of Lake Champlain during foliage season is going to be scenic, windy, and pretty flat.  I really had no idea what sort of time my middle aged body might give me, so I started off pretty slowly, and gradually picked up the pace as my legs allowed, and felt pretty good about shuffling across the finish line in a little under 4 hours.  What is the only way to train?  Whatever works for you!

Unfortunately, I wasn’t willing to lug my camera along the entire out-and-back course, but lets face it – people like to go there on vacation for a good reason.  So, the GPS data will have to suffice.  And yes, my body is very sore.

Google Earth of the course

Yup - Its Flat!