Archive for the ‘Running’ category

Plaza 10K 2017 – my running lament

September 12, 2017

I suppose I should write something about this. I ran the Plaza 10K for the fifth year in a row over the weekend. And by “ran” I mean I ran and walked it. I’m pretty sure I ran more than I walked, but I haven’t bothered to analyze the stats my running watch recorded, so that might be wishful thinking.

This was the slowest I’ve ever completed this 10K and possibly every 10K I’ve run in my half dozen years of throwing my feet in front of each other. (But I haven’t bothered to check my statistics to confirm that either.) I accepted the medal they gave me once I crossed the finish line, and I drank five cartons of chocolate milk afterward, but it wasn’t a good race for me, and I was glad it was over. Oddly, of the nearly 3,000 runners, I was in the top two-thirds, which surprised me given my performance. There were more than a thousand runners who finished after I did. Nor was I last in my age group, which was a position I had regularly defended in my early days of running.

I haven’t written much about my running lately mostly because I haven’t been running much lately. And that’s actually on doctor’s orders. (The Plaza 10K was, obviously, done in defiance of my doctor.)

My running has grown miserable in the last several months. I just don’t seem to have the lungs for it. I can run at a decent, seemingly sustainable pace — and feel fine — and then have to stop and gasp much sooner than I would have on the very same route only a year before. (Two years ago I ran the Plaza 10K with a friend, and because she needed to walk some of the hills, I would run circles around her and even run backward just to stay with her, but I never had to stop running.) On Saturday mornings each week I would run the same route, and week to week I was finding my performance diminishing. I was stopping more frequently to catch my breath until I was down to quarter mile intervals.

I blamed it on training too much on a treadmill through the winter. I never selected a program on the mill but just trotted along at a constant pace for an hour, able to sustain this (with a good amount of sweat). So when the weather got decent enuf for me to hit the trails outside, and I didn’t have a constantly turning belt to establish and maintain my pace, I found myself going too fast, faster than my heart and lungs could support. So I told myself that I was having trouble reining in my pace, and that was why I was getting winded.

But that didn’t explain the week-to-week constant decline in performance, especially in the last few months. When an intended three-mile run was cut short at one mile, I called my doctor’s office on my misery-soaked walk home and made an appointment for the very next day.

The doctor took my complaint seriously and immediately had me give blood for some tests (all results within normal ranges) and submit to an EKG (also perfectly normal). I was then scheduled for a stress test — more treadmill running with sonograms of my heart action before and after — which turned up nothing. I’m sure the doctor initially thought that for a man my age, my problem was with my heart, but that hasn’t seemed to be the case.

Nor have I had any chest pains when I run. I’m pretty sure my heart isn’t the problem. (Though maybe my soul is.) Maybe it’s to do with my lungs, though I don’t know what could have changed recently and so significantly that I was having a decline in performance as I have. I’m supposed to do some lung tests soon too. The doctor had suggested other possible causes, including an endocrine problem, but I guess he’s ruling out the more likely culprits first. And in the meantime, he’s forbidden me from any vigorous exercise. I am allowed to walk my dog, but that’s about it.

Since I don’t believe I have a heart issue, I intend to go ahead with a 5K I have scheduled for next month at my old university, and I actually have a half marathon in late October I’m signed up for. And unless the doctor turns up something tangible, I intend to do the half. But if I do find a continuing decline in my running performance in the weeks before, I may decide for myself not to run it.

It’s disheartening. I’ve given up my goal of running a thousand miles this year (though I was on target for it as recently as July). I’m not eyeing the race calendar as I used to, looking for things I want to do. I’m going to give the medical possibilities a chance, but if nothing turns up, and if I can’t seem to turn the tide on will power alone, I’m not sure what I’m going to do.

There’s probably a story in this.


bits and pieces

August 31, 2017

I had intended to start off this week with a nice, chatty, informative post for you, gentle reader. But somehow that didn’t happen. And here it is, nearing the end of the week, and I’m scraping together some stray thoughts just to have something on this humble blog.


I can report that I’m making good progress on that new One-Match Fire story I’ve spoken of a few times. The original title was “A Civil Tongue” but I never much liked that, and it didn’t seem to really fit with what I want to do with the story. (Still, it was better than two even earlier title ideas: “Up and Down” and “Forgive and Forget.”) It helped knowing the two characters so well, so I knew how they would behave in the scenario I was putting them in, including a flashback scene with some parallels. But what really helped was reversing the story resolution. Instead of a character doing what I had originally thought, I realized that he would probably do the exact opposite. And when I knew that, I could see my way to the end. Also, reading Sonnet 52 gave me the new title I especially like: “Special-blest.” I have another story in the cycle called “Twice Blest” that is from The Merchant of Venice, and the first story in the cycle is “where late the sweet birds sang,” which, of course you know, is from Sonnet 73. (I also have two stories in the cycle titled “Men at Work and Play,” and “Men at Rest.”)


It’s not that I think there is anything inherently wrong with double spacing after a period. All of the “rules” are merely convention, merely what happens to be mostly agreed upon at the present. What bugs me about double spacing after a period is that so many people do it without any thought at all. They do it because they were taught that way and never again reflected on the “why” of it (that being a relic from the typewriter and typesetting days of yore). The same thing bugs me about people who put underlines betwixt words or characters in a file name. Men_at_work_and_play.docx, for example. I’m pretty sure the underline, that is, not allowing a blank space in a file name, is a relic from the old DOS days. People do it because that is what they learned and they assume, likely without question, that it must be done that way. I never put in an underline for any files I name, and those I’ve “cleaned up” by removing the underline don’t seem to have exploded or anything like that.


I mentioned some months back that there had been a string of murders along the Indian Creek Trail that I run. Well, it seems that the killer has been caught. He has been positively linked to several of the murders (using DNA evidence among other things) and is suspected in the remainder. Apparently it was pure, random malice with no other motive. I hope that’s the end of it.


I also mentioned some time back that I wondered if any of my children read this blog. That linked post was intended as a taunt. Well, none has come forward yet.

another tale from the trail

August 9, 2017

It seems that August is my time to have oddball encounters in a certain park along the Indian Creek Trail that I commonly run on early Saturday mornings. I’ve written about past odd encounters there here and here, both in early August.

My latest wasn’t as menacing as those other two, but I add it to my collection of unexpected experiences in the wee small hours of the morning there, miles from home and generally exhausted.

I was at about mile four of what would eventually become a six mile run when I ran into the shelter at this park to take a break and get a drink from the fountain. The shelter is very large, big enuf to hold a dozen picnic tables, a fire pit, two restrooms, and two water fountains. It’s roof is probably twenty feet in the air, and a series of I-beams and metal joists intersect to hold the roof over my head.

When I ran into the shelter in the pre-dawn murk, I think I registered that something was different, but I didn’t notice it consciously. Yet after my quick drink, as I was talking myself into heading out again, something made look up into the joists above my head. And this is what I saw:

What you see is a sample of the dozens of unopened water bottles that someone went to a lot of trouble to place up there. That I-beam is at least fifteen feet off the ground, and there is no easy way to climb to it. I suppose someone pushed one of the picnic tables under it and then an agile, foolhardy youth shimmied up there somehow and crept along the I-beam placing bottles that some other youth was likely tossing up. Also up there were a number of cups, possibly filled with something, so woe betides the custodian who might try to knock all of those things down with a long pole.


a calf and a half ~ Airbnb Brooklyn Half Marathon recap ~ 2017

May 22, 2017

Everything leading up to this race — with one exception — suggested it was going to be a good run for me, beginning with actually getting in at all. Unlike the lottery for the New York City Marathon, this race just opens a window, and when all of the slots are taken, the window closes. This year the window closed about twenty minutes after it opened. Fortunately, I had coaching from my clever son-in-law about how to be among the winners in that twenty-minute opportunity. Basically, this meant just to submit my request online the moment the window opened, and to continue trying until I got a confirmation. I happened to be on a conference call at work when the submission window opened, but no one ever asks for my thoughts on these calls, so I just remained on mute and got online with my New York Road Runners account to make my submission. And somehow, I got through and accepted before the site crashed.

Once I knew I was entered, I knew I had to begin my training. As usual, I could probably have done more (and more rigorous) training for this than I eventually did, but I did add more weight and floor work to my regimen, so perhaps I made up for some of my lack in actual road work. But one factor seriously interfered with my good intentions.

Two weeks before the race, when I was out on my usual Saturday morning run, my right calf cramped up as bad as it ever has. I had to cut short my run that morning and get a ride home (after stopping for bagels, of course).  I hoped it was temporary, and I took the next day off when I might have gone for a longer run. But as soon as I ran again, the cramp, which never really went away, returned as much as before. My next two runs were on the treadmill, and though I had no trouble with them, the cramping didn’t ever fully cease. I was doing a lot of stretching and massaging, as well as drinking a lot of Gatorade, taking vitamins, and even drinking pickle juice (supposedly an “instant” cure for muscle cramps, but my calf must not have gotten that message). On my Saturday run one week before the half, the cramping attacked again, and though I got more miles than the week before, I still had to cut it shorter than my goal.

And so I decided that I was done with running until the half. Runners generally do allow themselves a taper before big runs, but they aren’t normally a week long, nor are they normally completely free of at least a few miles. But I knew I had to get my cramped calf under control, and nothing else seemed to be working. (I did continue with stretching and electrolyte gorging and vitamin taking, but I skipped the pickle juice.) As each day passed in the week before the race, my calf felt better, and by the time I got on the plane on Thursday to fly to New York (via Minneapolis), I felt no tightness at all unless I flexed the muscle very hard. So maybe I was not going to be plagued with a bad calf on race day.

The two flights were a breeze compared to the cab ride from the airport to my daughter’s new townhouse in Brooklyn. The traffic was terrible and the driver got off the highway (which was basically stopped) and we took surface streets through neighborhoods with lots of stoplights. It took most of an hour to cover a dozen miles, and I hoped that didn’t presage how my run of just over that distance would go in two days.

I arrived on Thursday afternoon, and my daughter and grandson and I headed to the expo for the run on Friday. This involved, of course, visits to playgrounds before and after the expo because priorities.

The expo was held at Brooklyn Bridge Park on the hottest day of the year (my phone told me it was only 86 degrees, but it felt hotter out in the sun). We arrived just as it opened at noon, and we collected our bibs and tech shirts with dispatch and ease (I got mine, my daughter got her husband’s). Then we shopped the merchandise, but it was a smallish display, and I certainly didn’t need anything anyway, so then we left. We had taken the bus to the expo, which took most of an hour, but we hired a car to get home, which took most of twenty minutes. Then it was an evening at home, noshing on pasta and anxiety. The next morning meant race day.

And the next morning came soon for me. We needed to get out the door by 5:00, so I was, naturally, awake at 3:00 (before my alarm had a chance to wake me), and I slowly went through getting dressed for the race. This is my practice, in part to ensure I don’t forget anything, but also to reduce my stress. I was downstairs and ready to go before I heard my son-in-law moving about upstairs in his routine. We once again hired a car, which got us to the start by the Brooklyn Museum about two hours before my start time. (My son-in-law was in an earlier wave and would start sooner than I.) There were two waves: one for the swifties and one for the rest of us. My slower wave then had twelve corrals based on either expected time to finish or performance at a past NYRR event. Since I had run the NYC Marathon last fall, they knew all about my ability. I was slotted into corral L (if you do the math, you’ll see that this was the last corral of the slower wave).

One of the things I’d read about this race that runners consistently praised was the presence of the portable toilets within the corrals. Here is a picture of maybe one-third of them (in front of the Brooklyn Museum):

You can also see that I arrived pretty much before everyone else. That street would eventually be filled with runners waiting to start.

As you might imagine, I was not pleased with my corral placement. Each corral was delineated by a length of orange tape (which you can just make out on the left of the photo — click to embiggen). But there was an open walkway to the left running the length of wave 2. So I just walked myself down to about corral D and then motioned to the attendants (guarding the entrance to the corral?) that I wanted to cross to the toilets. They had no problem with this. And being a prudent runner, I used the toilets three times that morning, each time getting waved through by the guards. My intent was to get so familiar to them that they wouldn’t bother to check my bib (with a big, fat L on it) when I finally entered the corral to stay later. (I had a throwaway shirt on that covered my bib at the time.) I imagined I was being clever, but it turned out I didn’t need to be.

About an hour before my wave was to start, something unexpected happened. I felt a few drops of rain on my face. There was no rain in the forecast, but the clouds overhead suggested they had other plans. I had been standing on top of a subway grating, enjoying the warmth the rose from it (until the incessant wind blew it away), but those few drops brought some friends, and soon it was actually raining. Not hard, but enuf rain would wet down my skimpy plastic clothing sufficiently to make me cold for the duration. So I and several dozen other people stationed ourselves under a nearby tree that offered some protection but none of the warmth of the subway grating. Soon I was shivering, hugging myself, and making small talk with fellow runners. (Many people, it turned out, resorted to the hundreds of portable toilets to stay dry, and I saw one with at least two people in it. Pleasant.) To the west I saw blue sky, and I knew the little squall would pass soon, but I was wet enuf to be miserable, and the clouds trekking to the east were hiding the sun. After the rain stopped I returned to the subway grating with plenty of other people and waited for the minutes to pass. About a half hour before our scheduled start time, I decided to get in line for the toilets one last time just to be prudent. Then I would get myself in my corral and huddle among the humanity there to stay out of the wind.

That business taken care of, I moved into corral D. As I was told would happen, the tape dividing the corrals was lowered and people were moving about freely. I looked around at the bibs nearby and saw many letters of the alphabet, so my clever ploy earlier was unnecessary. My goal in moving up in the corrals was not so much for ego as for . . . well, I guess ego. I knew that thousands of people would pass me during the 13.1 miles, and I feared that if I were starting among the last few thousand, I could literally be among the last finishers of the race. Thus if I had more people behind me at the start, even though most would pass me, I might still have a good number behind me as I crossed the finish line (assuming I did cross it).

The color announcers were on the PA, making happy talk and reading the official rules of the race. The anthem was sung. And then another patriotic song was sung. The sun had risen above the clouds and shone down on me. The warmth was appreciated. And soon the horn blew to let wave one fly.

I did not have a clear idea where the actual starting line was, being somewhere near the back of the 27,000 runners as I was. My worry was that I would not have my watch started soon enuf to engage it as I crossed the mats. Judging on the speed of the people jostling before me, though, I made my guess and told my watch to find some satellites. Being mindful of the delay I experienced at the Trolley Run a few weeks before (under overcast skies), I started it sooner than I thought necessary and hoped it wouldn’t time out and reset before I jostled my way to the starting line.

The running gods hate me, it seems. The watch took forever to find enuf signal. (Normally at home, on my driveway, I get a signal seconds after starting the watch.) And once again, I was across the mats and underway while my watch was still trying to get in the game. So once again, my watch would not give an accurate portrayal of my run this day.

But it did finally engage about two-tenths of a mile down the road, which wasn’t too bad, and so I could concentrate on just running with the pack. We were elbow to elbow at this point, and it was only a few blocks before we took our first turn and started up our first hill. I trudged, knowing that I had a lot of miles, and a few hills, ahead of me. I didn’t mind all of the people passing me, but I was starting to mind my throwaway shirt, which was (finally) making me hot. The rain had stopped and I felt safe getting rid of it, which I did. I tossed it onto the grass beside the road, near several other doffed shirts. And then I was on my way to mile marker one and the water station there. Because the pack was still thick at this point, getting Gatorade and water was a challenge, but I managed to grab a couple of cups (always asking for Bud Light) and keep moving.

I had felt rested before this run but the long uphill to mile one was wearing me down early. After we passed the water station we made a circle around the Grand Army Plaza monument at the entrance to Prospect Park. It was here, I was told, that photographers would be stationed to get our pictures in front of the monument. I never saw them, but I did see plenty of loose change on the ground. How does this even happen? How does change fall out of a pocket or a purse? I think I passed over a dollar’s worth of change in just that stretch, and I saw plenty of loose coins all along the course the rest of the morning (just as I had during the marathon — wouldn’t the homeless people find this money?).

The first two miles were an out-and-back, so that tiring hill I had to climb to mile one because a nice downhill feature of mile two, and I was feeling better, but I could tell this was not going to be one of my better half marathons. (This was number ten.) And by now you must be asking, What of the cramped calf, Paul?

I began to feel a slight tenseness in my right calf at about mile two, which I recognized as the cramp beginning to assert itself. That, too, told me this wasn’t going to be one of my better runs. But on I trudged. People were passing me, of course, but because this was an out-and back stretch, I could see all of the people on the other side of the street trudging up the hill in their first mile. And there were thousands, which meant I still had some chance of not being the very last person to cross the finish line. (Alternatively, I could look at them as all of the people who would sooner or later pass me. My mental state kept switching.)

We ran along Prospect Park and I stuck as much as possible to my goal of running on the flattest part of the pavement. I tried a number of times to pace along with someone who I thought I could keep up with (as a way to rein in my pace and make it last), but I found myself running up on their heels (nearly), and soon I was passing them. But I was also pushing myself too much and there I was, within the first few miles of the run, taking short walking breaks. This helped with the cramping. Whether it prevented the serious cramping or merely gave me some respite from the painful tightness, I don’t know. I just did what I could and tried not to be too harsh with the self talk.

Soon we entered Prospect Park itself where I was told it would be shady, which would have been nice normally but the clouds had returned and blocked the sun once again. I was also told there were some hills, including one long one, that I had to get over. There were plenty of people along the road, cheering individual runners as well as us random, anonymous runners, and that’s always fun, but it doesn’t give me energy or courage. (My daughter, nearly seven months pregnant with twins, was hoping to cheer me near the end.) I knew I didn’t have the ability to run up the hills in Prospect Park, but I did try to run at least half way up each, and I think I managed to do so. The nice thing was that for every uphill there was a corresponding downhill.

I had been noticing something curious as I passed each mile marker. My watch was reporting a distance that was growing closer to the posted mileage. It was as though my watch was catching up, which I know it wasn’t, but I was beginning to think that I might get a 13.1 distance reported from it after all.

Prospect Park rolled on and on, and I did what I could with it, walking when I had to but running as much as my lungs and calf would allow. I had my Gu pinned to my waistband, and I ate one every three miles as well as drank Gatorade and water at each of the stations. The calf was tight but manageable, and I was doing everything as well as I could. (Except math, I can still not do simple math when I am running. Apparently it’s a thing.)

We left Prospect Park at around mile six-ish and wound our way to Ocean Parkway, which would be a straight, mostly flat, net downhill run to Coney Island where the finish arch was waiting on the Boardwalk. Just before mile seven I heard my watch chirp another mile passed. It had “caught up” with the mile markers. It didn’t really matter, though, what my watch had to say. I still had to run whatever the course laid out before me required. And so I did.

I tend to see the same signs held by spectators at the long runs I do, but there were some new ones as well. At mile eight a man was holding a sign that said “ONE MILE TO GO.” Beneath that in small letters were the words “alternative fact.” Another sign bore the quotation “I thought this would be easier,” and included a picture of the President. Some people wearing Boston Marathon jackets were handing out donuts and waving a sign that said “Donut Stop. Keep Moving!”

The cross streets on Ocean Parkway more or less are given the letters of the alphabet (or names with the corresponding letter). The first I noticed as I trudged along was one named Beverly. I had to get at least as far as “X”, and then about another half mile after that to the finish. Of course I had my watch, and the mile markers were waving in the wind, and the water stations at each mile were constant, and my calf was giving me pain, but the measured passing of the alphabetic cross streets really drained my tank mentally. Knowing how far I still had to go exhausted me. (“Half of this game is ninety percent mental,” Yogi Berra said of baseball, but it’s true of running as well.) I also noticed that the Gatorade at the water stations tasted more watered down. I guess the 25,000 or so people ahead of me all grabbed a cup.

At around mile eight a new torment visited me. I got a sharp pain in my right foot with each strike. It ran from my toes and up to my ankle. I could keep moving, especially if I landed more on the inside of my foot instead of rolling out (which is my problem). Like other pains while running, I hoped it would go away, but it didn’t, and I worried that I had somehow acquired a stress fracture. It stayed with me the rest of the run, but I attribute it more to the unnatural gait I had from the tight calf than from any permanent damage to my foot. Still, one more thing to manage. And endure.

What surprised me about the alphabetized cross streets was that not all of them actually crossed Ocean Parkway. I would look up at the street sign at an intersection and find that several letters of the alphabet were skipped. Realizing I was farther along than I expected gave me a little encouragement, but the pains in my right calf and foot, and the exhaustion in my body quickly squashed that. Still, I managed to keep going, walking when I had to and running when I could. I was in a pack of people of similar pace and I vowed to beat each of them to the finish: the couple with the Tough Mudder shirts on, the shuffling man who never seemed to raise his feet with each stride (but he was apace with me), the man who proudly announced that he was 72 years old (he looked much younger) and encouraged everyone to run a half at that age. The trouble was that when I walked, they all passed me, and when I ran, I caught up with them again but never really passed them. Such a dilemma.

Around mile 11 the rain returned. It was slight, just occasional drops on my bare arms, but I still had some distance to cover at my pokey pace, and I worried that I would be in a downpour before I was finished.

And yet, Ocean Parkway was nearly finished. I crossed X Avenue and saw a lack of buildings on the horizon. This suggested to me that there might be ocean there, which further suggested that there might be a finish line there.

The crowds were thinned by this point, but if my daughter made it onto the course, it was going to be just before I got onto the boardwalk for my glorious finish. I wanted to be running when she spotted me, to give at least the appearance of being an actual runner, so I scanned the people lining the course in the last mile, taking my eyes off the ground before me where they might better help my concentration. And up ahead, in a densest part of the sparseness, I saw my very tall son-in-law waving. This meant I needed to direct my feet over to the side of the course where they were, which took me off my plan to cover the remaining distance in the shortest way possible, but it also meant an extreme indulgence: the opportunity to stop moving for a moment. My daughter and son-in-law were there as well as my grandson Kenneth. He gave me a high five and we all chatted for a moment, but then it was time to move on to the finish line.

And so the last thousand feet remained before me. There was a short bit of pavement before the Coney Island Boardwalk where the finish arch awaited. I had worried that the boards would be slick, especially with the late-arriving rain, but that didn’t prove to be the case. And I was cautioned to watch for exposed nails. My son-in-law told me he saw a man trip on a nail and do a face plant on camera. I didn’t see any nails, but apparently off to my left there was an ocean. I remember glancing at it for a moment (sandy beach, waves) but then searching for the finish arch (ahead, perhaps). And I saw it, impossibly far ahead. But on I ran, increasing my pace and holding a human-looking gait despite the pain. (I did manage to see some of the photographers, but, oddly, their cameras were often pointed toward the ground, as though they were tired of the morning-long job. I almost never get a good race photo anyway.)

And I crossed the finish line, completing the 13.1 miles. I turned off my watch, which called it 13.2 miles in the end. And then I staggered through the sweating mass of other runners, in search of a few things. Primarily I wanted my medal. I saw people wearing them and I feared that I had walked past them. But I hadn’t. I was handed my medal and I hung it over my neck.

You can see from the photo that the rain had arrived again. It wasn’t the downpour I feared but my body was in crisis mode and I was feeling the cold (and the pain and the exhaustion).

We were promised a “recovery bag” and I guessed that the mass of people in front of a table might be where I could get it. And it was. The bag contained a bottle of water, a bottle of Gatorade, some salted pretzels, an energy bar, and maybe something else, but I was delirious. I could have taken a selfie in front of the half marathon banner or in front of the clowns on stilts or in front of the ocean or in front of the carnival rides that are synonymous with Coney Island. (I not see any coneys there though.) But I didn’t.

My next task was to make my way to center field in the Cyclones’ Stadium where I was to meet my family as well as the many members of their running club who had run the half that day. This involved going down some stairs, which is hard enuf after a long run but absolutely painful with a seized calf and pained foot. But, dear reader, I did it! Following the general flow of humanity I eventually found my way into the stadium and out onto center field. There were so few people out there that I thought at first that I wasn’t allowed out there, but no one stopped me, and I realized that it was the rain that kept most of the people in the stands rather than out of the field. I stood around for a short while before I saw my son-in-law pushing Kenneth in the stroller toward me. My daughter was right behind. It had been a long morning for poor Kenneth, and he wasn’t in much of a mood to celebrate in the drizzle. Someone put a Nathan’s Hot Dog in my hand (an essential experience of Coney Island), but the general mood was one of getting out of the wet cold and finding our way home to hot showers and dry clothes.

And so I ran the Brooklyn Half Marathon. Not well. And not without pain. But while 25,000 people finished ahead of me, 2,000 were behind me. And I was happy to find that my hips did not scream at me. Nor were my quads or IT bands stabbing me with little knives as they usually would for such a distance. I think the floor and weight exercises have been paying off. Not even my left knee, which had been worrying me for a few weeks, made the slightest complaint.

Now #10 is in the books and it’s time for me to think about what challenge I should take on next.

Trolley Run 2017 recap

May 1, 2017

After taking a year off, I took on the CCVI Trolley Run this year, making my fourth time running this really nice Kansas City race. (I skipped last year because I was “recovering” from the St. Louis Marathon, though in retrospect, I should have done the Trolley Run then regardless.) This year was different because I would be running with my new daughter-in-law, Celestine. I wanted to do well, or at least not embarrass myself in front of her, which was especially difficult since she is Kenyan, and Kenyans have a well-deserved reputation as runners.

This year was also different because the day was cold and windy and rainy. I’ve run in the rain before; there’s a Zen quality to it that’s a nice change of pace. And I’ve run in the cold before; you know that the world around you is cold, but for the most part you are deep inside yourself and don’t care. But rainy and cold is a different beast altogether. I had watched the weather forecasts for the full week before, and for a time the likelihood of rain on this Sunday morning actually diminished, but that was soon corrected and the chances for rain at race time increased as they day grew closer.

As much as I could, I hoped to deal with the wet cold by dressing for it. You see most of my kit above, which includes a long-sleeved shirt with a second shirt layered over it. I did wear shorts, but not shown are the calf sleeves and compression shorts I always wear, so my legs were mostly covered, and my legs don’t tend to feel cold when I run. (I do have a pair of long running pants, but they slip down my waist when I run, and I’m constantly tugging them up as I go. I haven’t gotten myself to buying men’s running tights yet.) Those are my newest socks. I paid $18.00 for them, and they are the second pair I have that are dedicated to right and left feet! The shoes you see above are a pair I pulled out of retirement specifically for this race. If I was going to be running in the rain, and likely puddles, I didn’t want to trash my newish running shoes since I’m going to need them for that little half marathon I’ll be running in New York in a few weeks. Also not shown is the throw-away jacket I had purchased at the thrift shop the day before. It is more of a light-weight rain jacket than something for warmth, but I figured that adding a third layer might do some good.

I woke (freakishly) early on race day and checked the weather map. There was actually a break in the storms over Kansas City, but the start was still four hours away, and there was a front to the southwest that was roaring our direction. My hope was that it wouldn’t get here until after I had crossed the finish line.

My hope was denied. We drove through mist from our house in the suburbs to the Waldo neighborhood of Kansas City where the race starts. Because I am obsessive about these things, we arrived about an hour before gun time, so we found a quiet place to park and wait. As we did, occasional drops of rain began to pelt the car. These drops grew emboldened and became a more steady rain that in turn came close to a downpour, all as the start time grew closer. Libby checked the weather map on her phone to see if the worst of it might pass through before we had to hoist our still-dry and warm selves out of the car and out in the open. It looked iffy.

The start was different this year (and perhaps last year) because they didn’t have color-coded waves for us runners to get into before the start. Instead we were to stand behind whichever pacer (holding a sign showing the time he/she would complete the race) matched our intended pace. This amounted to the same thing, but I was reluctant to get out of the dry car and find my proper place behind the starting line. But then something unexpected happened. The rain let up. It never really stopped, but we could dodge most of the drops and cope with the remainder in our wet-weather gear. So we decamped the car and hurried over to the start area a block away. Then we retreated a bit because the empty start area out in the street was windy, which explained why most people were on the side street, huddling near a tall brick building. Everything about this run was going to be a challenge.

Not long after this, the voluble announcer came over the loudspeakers, asking us to begin lining up in our pace areas. The moment had come. We had to step into the wind (that we would likely be running into for the next four miles). But, since there were thousands of us out there, it was easy to stay out of the wind. And since the rain had more or less stopped, we could keep dry-ish. (Unfortunately, we were standing under a streetlight arm, and the mist that collected on it would gather and then drip right onto us. Once I figured this out, I moved us a short distance away. I’m clever like that.)

When we were huddling beside the building earlier, I had noticed some runners with different colored bibs. These were the elites. They would complete the race running five-minute miles and better. They were asked to line up at the starting line itself. The rest of us would mass behind them, getting let loose in packs every few minutes (to reduce congestion on the course). There was the usual speechifying, the anthem was sung, more talking, and then the elites were sent on their way. Curiously, in the time it would take my pace group to shuffle toward the start, these elites would likely already be finished running.

Waves were let fly every few minutes after that, and we approached the starting line. My son Seth, Celestine’s husband, was with us and would run for a while, but he was going to fall back with the walkers eventually. When the wave before ours was released, they also let our group go. I hadn’t expected this and hadn’t started my watch to find satellites. And had I remembered my experience with it, I would have known that it takes much longer to find satellites when the sky is overcast. And so for the first time in my running life, I was not able to start my watch as I crossed the mats. But what could I do? Celestine was moving and I didn’t want to be left behind, so I trotted along and kept glancing at my watch. As soon as it reported a good signal, I would start the recording. And on we ran. It was nearly two-tenths of a mile before this happened, which meant my record of the run wouldn’t be an accurate representation of my performance. This frustrated me, and I didn’t need something even as trivial as this to hurt my concentration, but once I had it going and could pay attention to something aside from my watch, I found that we were nearly into the first turn of the morning. We were truly underway.

We had driven the route the day before, in part to give Celestine a sense of what we would be facing. The conventional belief is that the Trolley Run is “downhill the whole way,” but that’s not quite true. There are some small hills to climb in the first mile and a half, and I was deep in the self talk bit to keep myself from deciding to take a walking break (in the first mile and a half!!!). We were running down neighborhood streets, and there were some people in their yards, cheering us, but the rain and cold kept away the crowds I had seen on my three prior runs of this course. The bacon station at about mile 1.75 was bigger than ever this year. Children from one of the neighboring homes stood at the side of the course with plates of bacon for runners to grab on the fly. I love the gesture, but even the smell of it at that point was turning my stomach. I darted past the plate holders, as did Celestine. I’m not sure she believed me the day before when I told her about the possibility. (By this time, Seth was walking and so was farther behind us. I don’t know if he partook or not.)

Just before mile two the true downhill part of the race begins and it really is downhill the rest of the way. It’s a gradual downhill, barely noticeable from a car but certainly welcomed by tired legs. I was keeping pace with Celestine. (Did I mention she’s KENYAN?) But I was having an issue. I should have used the Porta Potty at the start when I first felt the need. But I dismissed it, saying I would quickly cover the four miles and take care of things then. Except that due to our drive through the day before, I knew there were more Porta Potties at the water station and I decided if I took the chance to reduce my stress a little bit, I would run better. I told Celestine to go on without me as I pulled off the course and waited the few seconds for one of the fragrant booths to be free.

Business done, I got back on the course. I doubted that I would be able to catch Celestine, and I didn’t want Seth to catch me, so I just poked along as well as I could, knowing I was now half finished. I came upon and passed a runner friend and her fiance. We did the shake and howdy thing since this was my first time meeting him, and then I kept on. By this time I began seeing some runners coming the other direction, running on the sidewalk. These were the swifter ones who had already finished and were going back on the course for some reason. One man I know finishes quickly and then goes back in search of his wife and children in the walker group. Others were perhaps looking for friends and family to join. Whatever their intent, they were still running, and for them this part of the course would be “uphill the whole way.”

Celestine had bought a pink jacket at the thrift store the day before, and I kept half an eye open to spot that somewhere ahead of me. Unfortunately, there were many women wearing pink on the run. So I looked as well for the bright orange stocking cap Seth had given her to wear. (She did not grow up with the kind of cold we have in the Midwest, and even though the day was in the 40s, it was uncomfortable for her. Hence the hat.)

And what should I see not fifty feet before me but a pink jacket topped by an orange stocking cap. I had caught up with Celestine. (She later told me that after slowing to grab a cup of water at the station, she wasn’t really able to get back to her race pace. And that may be true. Or it may have been that she slowed deliberately to let me catch up.) So we were soon running together again. Ahead we saw a cloud of smoke, and long before we got to it, I could smell it. This was unfortunate since my lungs are the least cooperative part of my running team. It turns out that the police, who were blocking the intersections with their cars, were also using flares to alert drivers to stay away. This was the first time I have ever seen flares used on a race course. I suspect that the police have a protocol that dictates when to use them. The day was overcast and rainy, and perhaps the orange traffic cones were not considered sufficient. In any case, they were doing their excellent job of protecting us runners, so I can’t complain. There was one other intersection where flares were fouling the air, but in both cases I managed to run through the area without losing a step.

Keeping pace with Celestine took a lot of my concentration, so I barely registered when we passed the three-mile flag. It was only when a certain stoplight hove into view that I understood how close we were to the finish. Less than a thousand feet, and the legs were still working. During our drive through, I had told Celestine that when we made the final turn, into the Country Club Plaza where the finish arch was waiting for us, that would be the best place to step up the pace for a fast finish, if she wanted to. And when we did make that turn we both agreed that we each had nothing left in the tank for such a kick. So it was just a matter of running it in. (When I downloaded the run from my watch later, I found that I had increased my pace here, so I must have had a kick somewhere in me. And Celestine was ahead of me.) I watched as she threw her arms in the air while crossing the mats. I was a second behind her, and she turned to me and gave me a big hug. It was a good race and a good finish for both of us.

There are no medals for this race, and our timing chips were in our bibs so we didn’t need to have them removed, so there was no need to linger in the chute. We had agreed to meet Libby in front of the toy store and Celestine hurried over there. I went to the table that had bottles of water and grabbed two then found the ladies and gave Celestine the water. She was close to ecstatic to have completed the run, and she and Libby chattered about it. Later she found the banana table and helped herself to one, and the three of us waited for Seth to come in. I was able to track his phone and knew where he was on the course I had just run. He was perhaps ten minutes out, but I suggested we take ourselves to the finish line where we could cheer him in. And so we did.

Celestine saw him before I did (charged as I was with the responsibility of getting some photos of him finishing), and she ran onto the course to grab his hand and run in with him. (He had run/walked the four miles.) I managed to get some blurry photos, but they were soon past me and crossing the finish line. (This would be the second time that day that Celestine’s timing chip was crossing the mats. I don’t know what the computer is going to do with that anomaly.)

Libby and I found them in the exit chute and we made our way toward the vendor tents to see what food/drink/goodies they still had for us back-of-the-pack runners. The rain and cold had deterred some of them enuf that they had shut down and left. (Reminding me of the finish I met at the St. Louis Marathon.) But there were still bananas and rolls and water and what looked like lemonade, and far ahead I saw what I sought most: chocolate milk. I drank entirely too many bottles of this nectar and didn’t mind one bit.

The wind was picking up, though, and we were all wearing wet clothes (partly from the drizzle and partly from our sweat). Hot showers and dry clothes awaited us at home, so we decided to steer ourselves in that direction.

The rain had more or less held off during my run of the course. My glasses were misted over, and I had to wipe them clean several times, but there was no actual rain. I ran through the puddles I couldn’t run around (in my retired shoes), and I found about halfway through the four miles that the extra jacket I was wearing was making me uncomfortably warm. I was glad later to have it to keep the wind off me as we wandered among the vendor tents. I did not set a record for this run. My pause at the water station explained part of that, but despite hustling to keep pace with Celestine, I still didn’t run this as fast as I have in the past. My watch time is not reliable, and the official times haven’t been posted online yet, so I don’t know how much faster I needed to go.

But it was a good run. This is the first organized race I’ve run since the New York Marathon and I had deliberately held off from running any others since then just to rebuild. Seems like I’m on the right path.


February 24, 2017

Okay, so I sent out a query to an agent this morning for One-Match Fire. My inertia is broken. You have to be sanguine about these things, even though you know the odds are astronomically not in your favor. But you have to begin somewhere.

Now that it’s done, I suppose it will be easier for me to begin sending out more queries for the novel. Sometimes this part of the effort seems harder than the actual creative writing.


I’m still reading White-Jacket. It’s a long voyage and the ship is now at anchor in Rio de Janeiro where the sailors are chafing at getting too little and too much shore leave. Melville is writing a humorous tale, but it is clear that just below the surface he is railing about the injustices and inhumanity of the Navy in those days. In fact, when the novel was published, a copy was given to each member of Congress and, I’ve read, it was instrumental in getting flogging banned as a punishment aboard U.S. ships. I’m enjoying every word, but I’ll be glad when I’ve finished the novel and I can move from the 19th Century and into something more contemporary.


I crossed the 200-mile mark in my running two days ago. With the cold weather, I’ve done most of those miles on treadmills. But in the unseasonably warm days of late, I’ve been going outside for my miles. The transition from treadmill to pavement has been rough on my poor legs and lungs. The treadmill presents a continuous pace on a forgiving surface. The pavement, not so much. I constantly find myself going too “fast” to sustain, and my legs — especially my quadriceps — ache afterward. I don’t remember this much trouble in past years. Not sure why that is.


I’m making some progress with the story I’m now calling “Stargazing and Eavesdropping.” A couple more scenes and I should have the first draft finished. Still no news on the status of the various stories I have out in submission.

post-marathon thoughts

November 14, 2016

Despite my early fears, race day turned out to have ideal running weather. Partly sunny with highs in the 50s. There were some wind gusts in unexpected places, but overall, for a race this distance, I don’t think the conditions could have been much better.

*   *   *

Somewhere around mile 17, the volunteers were handing out wet green sponges, which were great for wiping the crusted salt from my face. I confess that some small part of me wanted to keep the sponge as a memento (mori) of the run. I could have squeezed it dry and stuffed into my pants I suppose. But it would have been an oddball souvenir, and I couldn’t picture it sitting on a shelf somewhere, inviting conversation. So I tossed it to the ground. The fact that I saw green sponges on the ground for the next five miles suggests to me that others may have had similar thoughts. They hung onto the sponge until they, too, realized what a silly souvenir it would be.

*   *   *

Yes, I asked at every water station if they had Bud Light, and, no, they never did. A few volunteers chuckled at my comment, but I suspect that English was not the first language for many of these kind souls — and many were just kids — so I guess my Midwestern humor fell as flat as day-old beer.

*   *   *

There was no chocolate milk at the after party, but there wasn’t an after party either. We had a mile-long walk out of Central Park, and they gave us a recovery bag with some drinks in it. My son-in-law did have two bottles of chocolate milk waiting for me though when he met us. What a great man he is!

*   *   *

There were two (maybe three — I was delirious) turns on the course where the outer edge was lined with hundreds of bales of straw. What was that all about? Surely no runner, not even an elite, would be hurtling around the turn (and they were wide, broad turns on major streets) at such a speed that a cushion would be needed in case of a wipe out. Perhaps they were there to keep the spectators from spilling onto the course. If so, why there and not at the places where they actually were spilling onto the course?

*   *   *

I felt like a criminal to my own values as I tossed my empty GU packets to the ground. Normally, I suck down the GU and then fold the sticky little foil packet into a manageable shape to carry with me until the next water station where I throw it in the trash can waiting there. My belief is that if you can carry it in, you can carry it out. Not so on this run. I ate the GU (which I do think helps me) and then tossed the packet to the ground to join the thousands of others already there. It happened that our hotel was a block across the course (about mile 7) from my daughter’s apartment, so I crossed it several times in the days after the run. I was impressed with how cleaned up the course was. There are many unsung heroes in these endeavors.

*   *   *

The pains in my legs are mostly gone now. I’ll get some random bursts or twinges, generally when I’m taking a turn or stepping off a curb, but I can navigate stairs almost painlessly now, and I’m even thinking of trying out a run. Unfortunately, the cold I had been fighting since before the marathon finally arrived full blown in my head a few days later (making the flight home a torment), so I think I should rest my body a bit longer.

*   *   *

And I’m a little resentful about the cold. I can’t tell how much of my fog is due to marathon fatigue and how much is due to the cold (and medicine). I’d like to feel the marathon fatigue in its purity just to have the full experience.

*   *   *

Just about everything that went wrong on the run — the IT bands, the hips, the quads, the fatigue — is correctable. A fellow could train smarter, train harder, train longer, and then run a better marathon next time. If a fellow were thinking of ever doing such a thing again, that is.

*   *   *

I am going to enter the lottery for the NYC 2017 Marathon as soon as it opens!