Archive for the ‘Ramblings Off Topic’ category

in other news

August 8, 2014

I’ve mentioned this in a couple of places, but in case you haven’t heard, I’m going to become a grandfather in January. My daughter and her husband have a baby boy in the works. If they’ve chosen a name, they’re not sharing it yet. She’s told us to expect the name to be “non-traditional.”

They live in Brooklyn, currently in a tiny, fifth-floor walk up apartment, but apparently their bid on a hundred-year-old brownstone was accepted and now they’re waiting on the usual inspection and what not to take the next step.

I see a lot of New York trips in my future. Better save my pennies.

or I could bore you . . .

July 23, 2014

with yet another account of yet another race I ran over the weekend. I’ll keep this one short.

I ran the Great Balls of Fire 5K on Sunday morning (just before the last of the polar vortex left and typical Midwestern summer heat resumed). I managed to squeeze nine miles out of this little three-point-one mile run.

The race was held just three miles from my home, so I ran to the race, ran the race, then ran home. Thus nine miles. The warm up to the race helped because I set a new personal record in the 5K by 44 seconds, which is always nice (especially at my advanced age). But with the heat of the day increasing, the run home was not so nice. I darted from shady spot to shady spot.

The race benefits research into testicular cancer. Hence the clever name. At the end, before the awards ceremony, a mother and her 17-year-old son got on the stage to thank us all for coming out. Her son had recently beaten this cancer, and while he smiled through her talk, he must have been squirming miserably inside as his mom told a bunch of strangers in intimate detail all about his testicles and how to do a self examination and things like that.

love, love, love

June 5, 2014

I am happy,” she said, “because only now do I know for certain where he is when he is not at home.”

Spoken by the Widow Nazaret about her deceased husband, reflecting that “he had never belonged to her as much as he did now that he was in the coffin nailed shut with a dozen three-inch nails and two meters under the ground.”

This is my second reading of Love in the Time of Cholera, and this time the book is going to stay on my shelf because I see myself returning to it again in the future.

the Liebster Award

May 26, 2014

So, I hate these kinds of things. I’m really pretty much a private person, and receiving the Liebster Award (from Donna Everhart — thank you so very much, sweetie pie!) means I now have to spill my guts and put them on display for everyone (or at least the five or six people who read this humble blog) to dissect and chuckle over. Sheesh!

The way this torment works is that I am supposed to provide eleven random facts about myself and then answer the eleven questions that Donna Everhart (thank you so very much, sweetie pie!) has posed. I’m also supposed to nominate other bloggers for this prestigious award, but I’m not going to do that to them. Sorry if I’ve destroyed the chain mail magic.

So, the stuff about me:

  1. I was born in Kansas City and raised in St. Louis. My four children were born in St. Louis and raised in Kansas City.
  2. I’ve been to Vancouver, Canada and the Bahamas. Oh yeah, and Kenya. (My son was serving in the Peace Corps there and held me to a flip promise I’d made that I would visit him.) But that’s as far as I’ve ever been from the United States. I’d like to change that, but someday never comes.
  3. I will have been married 34 years next month. We managed to have our four children (a girl and three boys) within the first four years (and one month) of our wedding day. The “third” child was a set of twins.
  4. As a child, I was religious and even considered making it my life’s work, but I am now about as far from that as a person can be. Amen!
  5. I used to weigh a lot more than I do now. A lot more! In fact, I’ve lost so much weight that I’m nearly half the man I used to be. (My story “Travel Light” is based on unfortunate fact.) Old acquaintances have quite literally not recognized me. Now I run half marathons (one coming up this weekend) and have the same waist as I did in high school. No one is more surprised by this than I am.
  6. I don’t seem to have any allergies aside from shellfish (but we won’t go into the unpleasant — and nearly instantaneous — consequences of eating that). I don’t get poison ivy or pollen sneezing fits or that kind of thing.
  7. I have a bachelor’s degree in business administration and a master’s degree in professional writing. The former seems pointless in retrospect and the latter was only for me. I certainly don’t want to write for “the man.” I did write more than sixty feature articles for newspapers and magazines as a freelancer, some of which you can still find online, but I don’t anymore. I also parlayed that master’s degree into a part-time teaching job at the local community college. It was remedial English composition. The pay was lousy, the workload was tremendous, and the warm fuzzies were too infrequent.
  8. My favorite movie, at least based on number of viewings, is Field of Dreams. The fact that I’m writing a cycle of Fathers and Sons stories makes perfect sense in light of this. (If you’ve seen that movie, you know what I mean.)
  9. I have another blog, one that I’ve kept for more than nine years, but I’m not going to tell you what it is.
  10. “Paul Lamb” is a pen name. Most of you know my given name.
  11. I’ve been told that I’m made of schmooze, that I’m pleasingly flirtatious, and that I make people feel good about themselves. Secretly, though, I am shy and extremely lacking in confidence. Also, I can hold a grudge at Olympic levels.

Dear Donna Everhart has supplied the following questions for me to answer (thank you so very much, sweetie pie!):

1. What are your five favorite books?

This is problematic because I think such a list can change over time. If I had to pick today — and it seems I do since I must answer this question — they would be,

  • The Ghost Writer, by Philip Roth – I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve read this, but I suspect it’s near thirty, and every time I find something new in it.
  • Moby Dick – Natch! I’ve read this only three times, which is like saying I’ve barely read it at all. The latest of those readings was with my monthly discussion group, and we took two years to work our way through it.
  • Walden – Again, obvious. I think I’ve read this one thrice as well. It’s a quote factory, to be sure, but there is still a lot of insight and just plain quirkiness to it.
  • The Adventures and Misadventures of Maqroll, by Alvaro Mutis – I’ve always had an interest in Latin American magical realism, and though this doesn’t quite fit in that category, the character Maqroll doesn’t quite fit in any category either, which is why I like him.
  • The Sea, The Sea, by Iris Murdoch – It’s her retelling of The Tempest and while it is interesting on its own, this was the first of her novels I had ever read. I was introduced to her philosophical style and characters as well as peoples’ lives very unlike my own. I’ve since read all of her novels and some of her nonfiction (though most of that is way over my head).

2. What are you most afraid of?

Regret. Not monsters. Not Republicans. Not getting hit by a car when I’m out running. Not disease. Regret. The road not taken. The lack of courage to act when I should have. The missed opportunity. The unspoken word. And the ensuing, searing, lifelong regret. (Also, the Liebster Award.)

3. If you could pick one, which would it be? A week on an beautiful tropical island by yourself with just the essentials – or – a week in Vegas with ten of your closest friends and anything you want.

Since I can’t have what I want (don’t ask!), and since Las Vegas has no appeal to me (though at least one frighteningly talented writer has come from there), and since I don’t think I even have ten friends, I would certainly pick the tropical island and the essentials. I sit and muse a lot. I like quiet and solitude. I could be happy for a week, alone on a beautiful tropical island. That was an easy question.

4. Your favorite food?

Well, this has probably changed in light of point 5 above. But it has consistently been a big plate of spaghetti with marinara sauce. In fact, my wife’s marinara sauce was one of the things that made me fall in love with her. I don’t eat this way much anymore unless I’m carb loading for a big run. And since I happen to have a big run coming this weekend, it’s spaghetti time!

5. When did you know you wanted to be . . . <fill in the blank>

An office drone in a cube farm? I never wanted to be that, but it pays the bills and I can very easily walk away from it at the end of the day. A writer? As far back as I can remember. I was writing stories as a lad. Dreaming stories as a teen. Practicing my craft as a young married man. And realizing it in my modest way now. I had a brief flirtation with becoming a medical doctor, but fortunately for my potential patients, that never happened. (My son is a doctor, however.)

6. If you could have one “do over” what would it be?

This relates to my whole musing on regret above. I think I’ve made pretty good life choices based on my modest abilities and drive. But there have been a few jobs that I never would have taken if I’d known what they would do to the rest of my life. I am still haunted by the memory of a certain person I worked for thirty years ago who had absolutely everything wrong about life and absolute assurance that she was right. And at the time she was getting a degree in counseling so she could “help” people! I have tried and tried to work her into a story — as a way to exorcise her from my memory — but it’s never worked. I would never have taken that job if I could have such a do over. One or two other jobs were stinkers but probably built character or some other edifying thing. Otherwise, I might have chosen to begin running sooner in my life, but I’m sure I’m getting boring about that.

7. There’s a tornado warning and you only have five minutes to get your sh– together.  What do you grab?

My laptop. My glasses. Some clean underwear.

8. What’s the most difficult decision you’ve ever made?

So far? Letting go of my children. Letting them make adult choices (ones that I would not have made) and not objecting or resisting or counseling otherwise (unless asked). This really is the hardest part of parenting, which has been the hardest job of my life. But that’s only so far. Perhaps some tough choices lie ahead.

9. You’ve just received “The Call,” from your agent.  What would you do immediately after that call?

Sit quietly and savor the immensity of it, the validation of my effort and dreaming. As I said above, I can sit and muse with the best of them, and I’m sure that’s what I would do. Soon after, I would buy myself an expensive Mont Blanc fountain pen — with blue ink, of course — that I would use for signing the contracts that would come my way. It’s an indulgence I’ve promised myself when that day comes. No, I wouldn’t party, and I wouldn’t even announce my good news for a while here on the blog or among my friends. (Few of my day-to-day friends even know I’m a writer, and I want to keep it that way.) No, I would savor it selfishly.

10. Tell us your strangest habit.  (hopefully, nothing gross)

This is a tough one. I suppose if something is a habit, you’re not always aware that you’re subject to it. I can’t think of anything mortifying or embarrassing or even humbling. I honestly can’t. I’m an early-to-bed, early-to-rise kind of guy. I try to eat a handful of pecan halves before I run. I tap a set of chimes each time I go down the stairs in my house. But those seem more like behavior patterns than habits. I really don’t know the answer to this one.

11. What is your most embarrassing moment ever?

Another tough one. I tend to lead such a conventional outward life, and I’m secretive to the point of obsession about most personal things, that I don’t think I have much opportunity for epic embarrassing moments. My adult son walked into my bedroom just has I had emerged naked from the shower the other day, but that’s hardly embarrassing (and it’s the kind of thing the characters in my Fathers and Sons stories are completely comfortable with). I can remember thinking I was so clever by driving on the shoulder of the road rather that wait in traffic and then slamming into the side of someone’s car I didn’t see coming. I’ve gotten some facts wrong and not known it when I’ve pontificated on certain subjects before. I actually said out loud once that I was thinking of a career change and becoming a doctor to much (as it turns out valid) skepticism. But if there have been any pie-in-the-face, wet-my-pants embarrassing moments in my life, I seem to have repressed them quite effectively.

And so that is it. The Liebster Award seems more like a penance or punishment than an award. Thank you so very much Donna Everhart. As I said, I’m not going to inflict this on anyone else. And I suspect I’ve revealed nothing earth shaking about myself, mostly because I’m secretly just a very conventional guy. Sigh!

 

Rock the Parkway 2014 ~ recap

April 13, 2014

Rock the Parkway

CAUTION: Long post full of self aggrandizement.

I don’t think I was being too coy about the struggle I had completing my first half marathon last fall. I recounted it in two posts: here and here. It was tough. More than tough. And so it was with considerable anxiety that I signed up for Rock the Parkway, another half marathon here in Kansas City. But I knew I had to do it.

Of course I was full of fret and anxiety in all of the months leading up to RTP. I had “bonked” on the earlier half; I had run out of fuel and had to run on little more than determination and the muscles my body apparently had to consume to keep me going. It was the hardest, most grueling thing I had ever done (and that includes the calculus course I took in college). Yet I was going to attempt to do it again.

So I spoke to as many of my running friends as I could — those who would listen anyway — and asked what went wrong before and what I could do right this time. The bottom line was that I had likely fueled inadequately for that last run. I hadn’t eaten properly in the days before, hadn’t kept my body sufficiently hydrated in advance, and hadn’t consumed enuf energy during the actual run to sustain my effort.

And so I set about correcting all of that for this run. In the week before I had been slamming bottles of Gatorade (lemon-lime G2) each day. I had two pasta dinners on days when I generally never ate dinner at all. And I organized plenty of GU (chocolate outrage and salted caramel) and energy bites (Honey Stingers and ShotBloks) to carry with me on the run. I was determined to get my glycogen and electrolyte levels as elevated as I could in preparation. (I barely know what I’m talking about.)

And I watched the weather report. Early in the week, the forecast called for a chance of rain and possibly thunderstorms on Saturday. But unlike when I’m planning a trip to my little cabin in the Ozarks, as the week progressed, the threat of rain diminished. By Thursday, all chance of rain was removed from the forecast and the temps were expected to rise into the upper 70s. Maybe a little hot for a long run, but pretty close to ideal, at least to me. I decided to do without the long sleeve shirt and risk being a little cold at the start. That would correct itself once I got moving. And I would wear a cap because the sun was expected to be out and likely in my face both directions of the run.

The Parkway of Rock the Parkway is Ward Parkway, a pretty, divided boulevard that runs through some very nice neighborhoods and terminates at the Plaza, Kansas City’s upscale shopping and dining district. The course would take us north on the Parkway (more or less uphill until mile four despite what they say), then around a beautiful urban park, taking us back to the other side of Ward Parkway for the return (which is correspondingly — and blessedly — more or less downhill).

I slept well on the night before, though I remember having a dream about being unable to find the timing chip I needed to add to my shoe. I woke before the alarm and decided not to fight for any more sleep. I let the dogs out, drank another bottle of Gatorade, got online to surf a bit and reduce my anxiety, and slowly dressed myself in the kit you see in the photo above. (After a winter of layers and long clothes and hats and gloves, it’s nice to travel light once again!) About two hours before the run was to start, I swallowed three Advil and ate the entire packet of ShotBloks. I also ate two slices of bread with peanut butter on them and a banana. All that was left to do was to drive the few miles to the start where I could wait and fret.

The temperature was already 60 degrees when I arrived. I knew I would not be cold as I waited. Just shivering with fear. I met with some of my running friends, but with more than 6,000 runners at the event, I didn’t hang around and instead wandered over to my starting corral. I had reported my expected finish time based on my performance at that earlier half, and that put me at the back of the pack, which was fine. That meant there would be fewer people to pass me since most were already in front of me. (See how I think these things through?)

Being at the back of the pack (of 6,000) meant that even though the race started at 7:30, I would not be starting until at least twenty minutes later. The start of the course headed south for a short distance and then turned and ran up the other side of the Parkway. So as I stood there, waiting to start, I could see hundreds and hundreds of runners already underway, across the boulevard just to my left. Well, that was fine. I knew I had only one runner I needed to pay attention to.

The shuffling eventually got my wave to the start. I started my watch and hoped it could grab some satellites before we were ushered across the starting mats. And though I always worry that this won’t happen, it always does happen. I crossed the mats at a trot and settled in, knowing I had a great deal of time and distance I had to manage.

I was determined not to look at my watch as I ran, and by that I actually mean not to look at the pace reported on my watch. Generally one of two things happens when I do this. Either I am disappointed that I’m not running fast enuf, or I’m instantly exhausted because I see I am running too fast. Rather, I intended just to run at the pace my legs and lungs (and determination) set and do that for as long as I could (preferably 13.1 miles). I did occasionally look at the distance my watch reported, and by the first third of a mile, I was already hot. There was nothing I could do about that, no clothes I could shed or water I could spray on my face, so I just pressed on.

I was laden with GU. I had four packs of this energy gel pinned to the waistband of my running shorts. I also had a packet of Honey Stingers in the tiny back pocket of my skimpy running shorts. And I vowed to grab a cup of Gatorade and a second cup of water at each of the aid stations along the course. I intended to stay hydrated and nourished this time. My plan to was suck down a GU at miles 2, 4, 8, and 10. I would snarf down the Honey Stingers at mile 6. I hoped that regular infusions like this would satisfy my long-term energy needs. (On that half I ran last fall, I had only eaten some ShotBloks at mile 9, much too late to restore the lost energy in time.)

And so I ran my plan. The first four miles of this run are pretty much one long uphill adventure. There are some level spots, and two or three places where you go downhill briefly (only to recapture that elevation soon after), but for the most part, it is uphill. At the top of that hill is a very nice fountain in the middle of the parkway. (You can sort of see it on my bib and medal in the photo below.) This is, of course, where the photographers sit and wait for the runners to pass. It’s very photogenic: your smiling face with the fountain in the background. Except that you’ve just run four miles uphill. Now I’ll grant that for many (and perhaps most) of the runners on this course, four gradual uphill miles at the start are not much at all. They arrive at the fountain looking fresh and frisky, and they probably look fine in their photos. Me, on the other hand, not so much. I think I saw most of the paparazzi, and I did my best not to look too frumpled and frazzled. I tried not to gasp as I passed. I don’t know if I succeeded. In fact, I don’t know if they took any shots of me at all. The pack was still a little dense at this point, and I may have been lost in the crowd.

But onward. After this point, the course was mostly level. I was mostly tired, and I was already negotiating with myself about where I would allow myself to stop or walk or somehow rest. I knew that the highest point on the course was around mile 7, and I thought that if I achieved that, I had really earned a break. But then I remembered that I had made it to mile 8 on that earlier half marathon before stopping, so I thought maybe that would be a more respectable point. Whatever, it seemed like it had to be done.

I had been running on the far right of the roadway most of the time. This left plenty of space for the swifter runners to pass me without breaking a sweat. I noticed around mile three, however, that my right hip was beginning to send me messages of complaint. The camber in the road meant that my right foot was striking just a tiny bit lower on the ground than my left, and I think my hip was trying to make that clear to me. So I changed my route a bit. I moved to the left side of the road to give my hip a break. I realize that might seem like high-level thinking for someone in the grueling early miles of a road race, but the fact is I had experienced this before and worked out the solution then. I hadn’t anticipated this happening, but I also realized that the benefit of those three Advil I had taken early in the morning was probably gone by then. Regardless, the plan worked.

Until it didn’t. At mile 6, my left knee began to register its complaint. Apparently the lower footfalls on the left were now wreaking their havoc on my body. Worse, mile 6 was exactly where my left knee had begun to bother me on that earlier half marathon, and that was a sign that my IT band had had enuf. But I was on the run, and more importantly, I was still running at mile 6, not having taken one of the breaks I allowed myself, so it was back to the right side of the road. This seemed to work, more or less. The ache in the left knee diminished, and the ache in the right hip did not return. I figured that if it did, I would just run down the middle of the road where there was no slope either direction. And some of the time I did that.

In the meantime, I was devouring my GU on schedule and drinking the Gatorade and water offered at the aid stations. I had those aches, but what I didn’t have was fatigue. I was apparently keeping myself fueled properly. Mile 7 was a chore. The biggest hill on the run hit there. Many people were walking this hill, but I was determined not to. Yes, I was tired. Yes, my brain was telling me what an idiot I was. But I was determined to reach mile 8. The trouble was that despite my corrective efforts, my left knee was still hurting. At that point I was just over half way; I had a lot of distance yet to cover with a knee that didn’t seem like it was going to cooperate. So I made a regrettable but unavoidable decision. I walked two hundred feet to give my knee a break.

I had realized after I topped the hill in mile 7 that I had the energy and the mental fortitude to run the entire 13.1 miles. What I didn’t have was a left knee that was on board for this. So although running the entire distance would have been a great personal achievement, I knew that I had to leave that for the next time. In the end, I only walked about two hundred feet. It was such a short distance that the slower pace barely registered on the pace chart for the run (after I plugged in my watch and downloaded the adventure). And then I was running again.

At mile 9, I was back on Ward Parkway again (having looped around that urban park), and the route from this point was mostly flat and generally downhill, with a few climbs thrown in that mirrored those on the earlier part of the Parkway because, well, we were running along it again. And that seemed to be enuf. I ran. I kept running. I passed the mile markers. I ate the last of my GU at mile 10. I hit all of the Gatorade and water stations. (And, yes, I always did ask if they had Bud Light. “Next station,” they’d say.) And I kept running.

We passed through some very nice neighborhoods, but they were lost on me. I was deep inside myself. Concentrating. Pushing. Ignoring. Running. I was far behind all of my running friends, many of whom were already likely finished. I was alone on the course, surrounded by hundreds of other runners, but no less alone. I could only call on myself for help. Except at mile 11. It was there that I spotted one of my friends from the running club. She was sidelined with an injury but was working as a course monitor (which meant blocking one of the side streets so we delirious runners didn’t accidentally turn down it, and that actually happens more than you might imagine). Seeing her at that point in the long run was exactly what I needed. I felt a kind of emotional recharge that buoyed me for the rest of the run.

The last mile is literally downhill. Not a steep downhill, but a consistent downhill. Because I was fueled (apparently) I was able to coax a little more speed out of my legs. At least that’s how it felt. It felt as though I was running faster and harder, and that I was able to sustain it for a last mile. (And when I downloaded the run later, my watch confirmed that I had.)

I came pelting down that last little bit before the finish arch, running like I knew what I was doing. I thought that some of my friends might be on the sideline to cheer me on, but if they were, I never saw or heard them. It didn’t matter. It was all about me at that moment. I pushed and pressed and ran and ran, and then I crossed the finish mats and it was all done. 13.1 miles, and nearly every inch of it run by my legs and lungs.

I switched off my watch as I crossed the mats, and I fell into a staggering walk, suddenly limping because my left knee asserted itself again. Maybe I exaggerated the limp. Maybe I didn’t. I don’t know. I think I was more pooped by that last quarter-mile push than by any failure of my running mechanism. I stopped at the man who would clip the chip from my shoe and nearly fell over when I tried to lift my foot. He graciously told me to leave my foot on the ground and he would remove the tag that way. Then I greedily accepted the bottle of water someone offered me. And then I stepped up to the man who hung a medal around my neck.

RTP

It was a good run. I had been fearing a repeat of my first half marathon, but I ran my plan and seemed to have conquered myself. (I beat my last half marathon time by 8 minutes!) Clearly I need to do some exercises to strengthen that knee. (A day later, my left IT band is tight and still pretty angry with me.) And somehow I need to wrap my poor brain around the fact that I must do twice this distance in October when I run a full marathon in Portland.

But all of that was for later. At the moment there was chocolate milk to be drunk. And a foam roller to be pressed to my flesh. And a hot epsom salts bath to take.

And I need to start preparing for my next half marathon, just over two months away. The boy is insane.

 

Happy New Year

March 20, 2014

Happy New Year to all of my Persian family and friends.

The custom is to get yourself some kind of treat so you can stride into the new year with hope and vigor. This year I got myself two new shirts!

Groundhog Run 10K ~ 2014

January 26, 2014

GHR 2014

I had done the Groundhog Run 10K last January, and I vowed I would never do it again.

I did it again.

When I ran it before, I found the air stale and the scenery monotonous in the old limestone mines. Mile after mile of limestone pillars with the lanes between disappearing into the possibly endless darkness. The exhaust of big trucks and even trains that pass through the caves still in the air. Reports of orcs and goblins. The gloom of the underground could overwhelm a sensitive soul, but I had been preoccupied with the anguish of running 6.2 miles. I was glad I had done it, but I was also glad it was done, and I had no interest in doing it a second time. Once again, though, I had the chance to be on the company team, which meant not only did my fees get paid, but I got VIP parking (other runners had to be bussed in), and I got access to the VIP lounge (which has coffee, bagels, donuts, and real bathrooms).

Because I was not caring for anyone’s nursing baby this year (as his mother ran the 5K), and because no one had called for a team photo too early in the morning, I did not have to get there nearly four hours ahead of my start time (as I had to last year). There was one other difference this year. My wife came along as my support team. This is not really a good run for spectators. They do not have access to the bowels of the cavern miles back in the hill; they can only really be present at the finish line to watch us come stumbling in. And with my comparatively pokey pace, that meant my wife would have a lot of time to kill after I started.

We got to the mine only an hour before my start time, which seemed to me to be cutting it close, but we did have enuf time to find out where the chocolate milk was being given out — critical information for after the run. We also met up with some old friends of ours whom we hadn’t seen for seven years. I was going to run with one of them, but her pace is much better than mine, so “running with” her was more expression than reality. We milled about, caught up a little bit, and wandered over to the start area. (The place was too packed for us to get to the actual start for a while.)

Soon we runners parted from our spouses and pushed into the crowd of starters. We were in the third wave, so two groups took off ahead of us, giving us more space for collecting ourselves nearer the actual starting mats. Because we were underground, my running watch could not get a satellite signal and had to rely on the sensor on my shoe to judge how far and how fast I would be going. In order for it to do that, I had to walk a short distance as the watch searched for that sensor, and then after it was found, I would have to start the actual running within a certain amount of time or else the watch would have to find the sensor again. Fortunately, I was able to pull off this massive synchronization feat just about perfectly, and I pressed the GO button just moments before my feet carried me over the starting mats (which would provide the official — and likely more accurate — time). So we were off.

My running companion was soon out ahead of me, and by the first quarter mile, I had lost her. Also at the first quarter mile, oddly, was the first water station. No one needs water in the first quarter mile, but I realized soon after that that was not the point. Since the full 6.2 miles would require two circuits of the route, this water station was actually for when runners were at mile 3.35. (It would be a while before I would reach that point.) I started out slowly, by intent, and hundreds of runners were surging past me. I did a good job of holding back at this point when the energy of the crowd tends to get me going out too fast and wearing out too soon.

The first mile of any run is the worst for me. I question whether I can go even that far, why I am doing this to myself, why I have made all of the choices I have in my life, whether my life insurance premiums are paid up and my will is in order. Even knowing that I will eventually get through the anguish of the first mile doesn’t seem to help me get through the anguish of that first mile. But through it I always get.

Fewer people were passing me by then, and I had begun passing the walkers, all of whom had run past me earlier. I was beyond my initial agony but I was pushing myself to keep running. I had half promised myself that I could walk through the water stations, get a refreshing drink and a moment of rest, but when I came to the first (well, second) water station, I didn’t walk. I did grab a cup of offered water, spilled most of it, queried if they had Bud Light, but kept on running.

At several points along the run, the route goes down an avenue, makes a turn, then comes back along that same avenue. Thus I could see all of the runners who were ahead of me, and I studied them to find my friend. I never did see her. However, when I had made the turn and the oncoming runners were those behind me, I saw a co-worker and we waved. (This surprised me since she is a much better runner than I.)

And so the miles passed. I took water from all of the stations, but I never walked. I deliberately did not look at my watch to know my time since it can be a) not reliable, and b) often discouraging, so when I came back to the start and began my second time around, I really didn’t know if I was doing well or doing poorly. I did walk several hundred feet at this point. In the tiny back pocket of my shorts I had stashed some Honey Stingers, a kind of energy candy that supposedly would give me a boost to finish the race. I gobbled those as quickly as I could and then attacked the remaining 3.1 miles at a run.

By this point, the crowds had thinned. I rarely had to squeeze between or dodge around people to pass them, and this surprised me because I was actually passing other runners. I assumed they were even more exhausted than I was. What other possible explanation could there be for this?

When the opportunity allowed, I looked for my friend among the runners ahead of me, but I couldn’t find her. I kept throwing one foot in front of the other. I looked up now and then to take in the scenery (why was there a boat parked in that cave? is there a lake down there?). I took special meaning from the NO IDLING signs. I ignored the STOP signs. I took water when it was offered. And I just kept going.

Two things happened at mile 5. I found a surge of energy. I was exhausted. I wanted to stop. But I could feel my legs pumping faster, and I thought I could keep it up. Was it the Honey Stingers kicking in? The good night’s sleep I managed to get? The weeks of training? The glazed donut I had snagged from the VIP lounge? The three Advil I had slammed earlier? My positive mental attitude? I don’t know what it was, but I was eating up the pavement, feeling excited that there was some unexpected energy in me so late in the run.

The second thing that happened around mile 5 was that I caught up with my friend and passed her. I couldn’t believe that, but I couldn’t believe I was running so well at all. I expected her to trot up beside me, but she never did, and I ran the rest of the race nearly alone, seemingly going faster the farther I went.

At mile 6 I came upon one of my friends from the running club I am in. I didn’t even know she was at this run, but she recognized me and asked if my watch was working. Hers wouldn’t link to her shoe sensor and she wondered where we were in the total distance. As I said, I had not been looking at my watch much during this race, so when I obliged her and checked our mileage, I saw that we were at 6.1 miles. We had only a tenth of a mile to go, and I was still feeling strong. I hit the afterburners then and pushed hard to the finish, crossing the mats and then gasping for oxygen in that foul underground as I slowed then stopped. I had the sensor cut from my shoe (not the one that talks to my watch), and then someone gave me this:

GHR 2014 bling

My first bit of running bling for the year. The Groundhog Run is a benefit for the Children’s Therapeutic Learning Center, and those children are the ones who can fly because we run for them.

Soon after I finished, my friend crossed the mats. She and I walked a bit as she cooled down, then her husband and my wife found us among the crowd and we all hugged. I soon made my way over to the chocolate milk station and gulped two cartons (on top of the one that my wife had secured for me earlier). We took some photos. I met up with some other running club friends. And then the four of us returned to the surface of the planet and drove off to a breakfast joint for some well earned indulgence.

When I plugged in my watch later that afternoon and saw the time it reported, I compared it to the time I had run the race last year. I had shaved off nearly four minutes from last year’s time. And when I looked up the official time online, I confirmed that I had beaten my earlier time by more than four minutes. On closer examination of my run, I found I had negative splits. I ran each mile faster than the one before it, covering the last mile at a pace better than my best all of last year. That was surprising since I had taken off the whole month of December to recover from some injuries, so I considered myself in recovery mode.

So, I had vowed not to do the Groundhog Run a second time, yet I did. Now I’m thinking that I must run it every year and keep trying to get better.


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