Monday, December 31, 2012

Happy New Year!

Most of us collect some kind of mementos over the year, and for many runners it is a handful of medals picked up at finish lines of various races. Few of us collect winners’ medals, but everyone who finishes gets one of these at many of the bigger races. They’re really not worth much to anyone except for what they may represent to you the runner. If you’ve done a longer race like a half- or full marathon or ultra, you remember a lot – the weather, the crowds (if any), what other runners wore, and how you felt at the finish line (or the next day). You also may remember a lot of the training, with its good and bad days, and the good times with your running pals. Perusing one’s race medals can call all this to mind. Whatever your mementos may be for 2012, may they guide you to a bigger, better, and happier 2013!

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Surfing to Disney

"Ocian in view! O! the joy." - William Clark, Nov. 7, 1805

For those who know the story, Lewis and Clark hadn’t yet really seen the ocean when Clark wrote that line, and they were experiencing a lot of more cold and rain, and misery in general, than any joy. My Labor Day Marathon along Huntington Beach (Surf City), Calif., was mostly the opposite. It was warm, comfortable, with great views of the actual Pacific Ocean and its thriving beaches the entire course. It was my first race in the Charlie Alewine Racing (CAR) program, a series of low-key, limited enrollment races (i.e., up to about 25 runners each) from the 5K level up to 100 milers staged mainly in the southern California area, a natural attraction to Marathon Maniacs and other runners alike.

I planned this trip initially around a bucket list idea to run the Disneyland Half Marathon, an interest which grew out of the fun I’ve had running at Disney World in Florida, including its marathons and the Goofy Challenge, which begins with a half marathon on one day, followed by the full marathon the next. I have come to see the Goofy as the “only way to go” at Disney World, since it gives the maximum chance to explore the full length of the resort, with the maximum exposure to the “magic” that the 10-year-old in me still enjoys (forgetting for the moment that I just turned 60). So when the flights and frequent flier mile options came into alignment, I set up my own Goofy challenge with the Disney Half, Anaheim version, coupled with the 26.2 miles up and down (and up and down) Huntington Beach’s paved bike path the next day. (This race is not to be confused with the Surf City USA Marathon in February, a more traditional marathon fare in the same beach area. And I could still come away with multiple items of schwag, including two shirts and three medals (with Disney’s nice Coast-to-Coast bonus medal for running both Disney resorts in one calendar year).
The Disneyland Half and the CAR race are about as different from each other as they can be – truly separate Bizarro worlds from each other. Disney is, of course, a big race with a big expo and a lot of glitter and costumes. It features dressed-up characters during your run through Disneyland itself, right after running through the adjacent California Adventure Park, recently dressed up with a billion-dollar improvement to include the new Cars Land section and a remaking of the old Buena Vista Street that Disney himself saw when he arrived in California in the 20’s. The parks are started up good and early for your 6 a.m. race start, with theme music playing through the different sections, a water-and-light show running in Paradise Pier (it looks much better at night), and the 50’s do-wop music and neon lights greeting you in Cars Land. Then it’s on to the streets of Anaheim, with high school bands, mariachi dancers, Hawaiian singers, and a unique touch with dozens of re-configured antique cars and not-so-antique Mustangs and Corvettes parked along the course courtesy of the local car clubs. A run through the Anaheim Angels stadium was another high point, a couple miles before heading back to the finish in the Disneyland Hotel parking lots. The cold towel with the temperature activated by adding water was a nice touch, and I particularly liked getting the two medals at the end – which I really couldn’t wear again because they are so clunky – kind of like the Goofy medals in Florida. And, unlike in Florida, I was able to walk the few short blocks between the start and finish lines and my neighborhood hotel, and when ready, I could walk back to dine at Downtown Disney, or head to the parks. No shuttle buses or monorails needed.

The CAR race the next day, of course, was quiet, run mostly alone, and serene for the most part. You meet in the lot behind the Jack-in-the-Box and embark on a 6.55 mile route along a paved bike path, with an aid station at about mile 4, followed by a dedicated dog beach, all of which I covered four times during the marathon distance. No crowds cheering, no one dressed as Princess Jasmine (she was fast) or Tarzan (not so much) as in the previous day, although one denizen of the beach noticed my singlet and shouted out “Go Maniac.”

I will say that the beach started getting crowded the last two legs, as Labor Day picnicers replaced the earlier morning’s laid-back surfers and the bike path became more and more a challenge of navigating the foot traffic, just as the sun bore down without mercy on my partially sunblocked shoulders. And I would add that the beach parking lots were full of RV’s and tailgaters, and the smoke of barbecues became pretty much an unavoidable presence. The race had several Maniacs, including Yolanda and Larry, out to break their Guinness record of numbers of marathons, and Mad Hatter Fancy Pants Ed, who graciously offered to run me in the last mile, while he was putting in his 50-mile day (on top of the 100-miler Run-de-Vous a couple weeks previously, and however many of the quadzilla of CAR races that weekend).

It was a fun, interesting, and very busy Labor Day weekend. My race times (about 2:23 and 5:14) were a slight improvement over my Goofy totals at Disney World. More importantly, getting back to Disneyland was a great dose of some real nostalgia for me, having visited there once as a little kid with my family and a couple times in college with my brother.
I was glad to be able to share the trip with my son. And I’m happy to report that Disneyland takes no back seat to the mammoth resort the Disney company built in Florida, and the race was about as perfectly done as you could hope. Yes, the trip was very tiring, and the lessons learned about the logistics of the trip would be put to good use next time. I really wouldn’t hesitate to go back and do either race again, time and money allowing -- perhaps a different CAR race, and perhaps the 10th Disneyland anniversary race coming up in three years. I also hear that the big Surf City Marathon in February is a real blast, with miniature surfboards as finisher’s medals to boot.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

My Top Ten Reasons for Running to Ruthenium

(or, how I learned to stop worrying and love the balm)

If you know of the Marathon Maniacs club and the various levels of ranking in the club, from one to ten stars, you may know of my interest in reaching the five-star, or “ruthenium,” level, which can be met by running marathons in three different states within a period of ten days. If you don’t know all this, chances are you don’t really give a crap anyway, but thanks for reading this far. I hope you will somehow enjoy this odd tale of how I set out to reach the level symbolized by this little-known and “rare transition metal belonging to the platinum group of the periodic table.” (See Wikipedia entry.)
The ideal opportunity presented itself this month, with the availability of three marathons within driving distance of my home: the Lower Potomac River Marathon in Piney Point, MD (March 11), the Rock ‘n Roll USA Marathon in DC (March 17), and the Yuengling Shamrock Marathon in Virginia Beach, VA (March 18). And why would one want to do this?

Reason No. 10: Because it’s there. There’s no requirement to have to fly all over the country to do these things, and when the stars properly align and simplify the logistics, you might as well go for it.

Reason No. 9: It’s my anniversary. Yes, I ran my first marathon 10 years ago this month (in one of the rare marathons run within the boundaries of DC), and it was time for a new challenge. Ok, that really had nothing to do with this whole thing, but it did turn out to be nice timing.

Reason No. 8: A chance to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day all weekend. If you were from Butte, Montana, or New York I suppose, you’d understand this perfectly. What it meant for running purposes, is that on March 17, the real St. Patrick’s Day, nearly everybody at the race was wearing green running shirts of some sort, adorned with the appropriate hats, tutus, socks, makeup, leprechaun beards, etc. And on March 18, in the official “Shamrock” race at Virginia Beach, everybody did it all over again, creating for me an International Date Line for St. Patrick’s Day. I must say people in both races looked pretty good. My contribution was to wear my Bighorn Mountain shirt, a sort-of lime green festive color.

Reason No. 7: No apologies needed for being slow. People will forgive you if you just complete the damn thing. In fact, my running friends were very supportive and e-mailed and tweeted me along the way with advice and encouragement. One of them, An, even showed up on his bike and rode with me along the Anacostia River and made sure I stayed relatively coherent. Of course, the pressure of being in the e-spotlight also added an element of performance anxiety, but probably all for the good.

Reason No. 6: See more of your neighborhood in a short time. I’ve seen more of the trails and back roads of metropolitan DC/MD/VA than I ever would have without having taken up this hobby. Kind of like that, these three marathons provided a pavement-level tour of lots of new ground: the beauties of the Piney Point and St. George Island, MD, area, the cultures of the diverse neighborhoods of DC (if you’ve only seen the Mall you haven’t seen it at all), and some rural outskirts and military bases outside Virginia Beach you’ll never see just hanging out on the ocean front.

Reason No. 5: That’s what I’m talking about. No two marathons are identical, and that’s all the more true for three. There’s simply more of the basic beauty of the race to experience by cramming the hassle and discomfort of multiple events into a short time. You’ll adjust to it. Here, I had Piney Point, a small-town marathon put on by marathoners, for marathoners. Person for person, head to head, it had one of the best running fields I’ve seen in a race (and the most Maniacs), with enough of a grace period to fit in runners like me. With great scenery to boot. Rock ‘n Roll DC brought to town the Competitor group’s well-oiled, big-time operation, and I freely give those folks a thumbs-up. There’s something to be said about being able to roll in the trucks, set up like Barnum and Bailey sets up the circus, recruit the local music talent, and get it on. Well done. And Shamrock, a more mid-sized race, has the tradition and local support and awesome venue to pull it off nicely in its own way. Find your own trifecta, and vive la difference.

Reason No. 4: Pain can really be temporary. There are such things as getting a second or third wind, or working out cramps by running through them, or starting an endurance event with long slow warm-ups. What else could explain having hip and foot pains going into the first marathon, or having a strong case of “marathon legs” after the second one, but feeling smoother and more comfortable during the third one? Or finding the “zone” at the end of the last marathon and enjoying the last mile more than I had run in the month previously? Maybe I’m kidding myself and just blocking things out, but it was truly surprising how well that third marathon went. That’s the way running is, right? Sometimes things come together when you’re least expecting it and you get to have your little moment of Zen. You’d never have the experience if you don’t give it a chance.
Reason No. 3: Certain things get prettier at closing time. That last finish line was great. Like at that first marathon, or ultra, but different.

Reason No. 2: Say goodbye to the post-marathon blues. You got no time to weep when there’s appointments to keep.

Reason No.1: It’s great preparation for a Quadzilla!

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Running in the New Year

“Caution, runners: speed bumps ahead. Caution, runners: speed bumps ahead. . . .” And so went one of several recordings over the PA system, at both the half marathon and full marathon. I first thought this was a joke, but it became obvious they were serious. This was just another example of the detail put into the planning for the Disney World Marathon weekend. (Yes, the crowds at times got so compact you really could use a warning that the terrain underfoot was going to change.)

Running the “Goofy,” the combo of a Saturday half and a Sunday full at WDW, is becoming a New Year’s rite of passage for thousands of runners like me. It’s a natural time for runners to assess their plans and goals for the coming seasons – how did my races last year go; am I over those injuries; should I go for shorter races in the spring and focus on a fall marathon; work in an ultra; or do more marathons and add a “Marathon Maniac” star or two – so why not start the year with something a little challenging but that’s also a lot of fun? Part of the reason you’re a runner is you really don’t want to grow up anyway (right?), so you might as well go run at the ultimate place for acting like a kid. Then you can see how the races go and narrow down your plans for the coming year.

This was to be my second WDW Goofy weekend, and third overall WDW marathon. My son Toby and I flew to Orland Friday morning, Jan. 6, and checked in at the Wilderness Lodge, a great resort environment that emulates a big lodge built in a western national park. He got out his laptop and went to work on some school assignments while I caught a bus down to the opposite end of the WDW complex to the expo to pick up my bib, shirts, and goody bag. I noted that one advantage of the Goofy seems to be shorter lines to pick up your packet, which is pre-assembled with the shirt for the half (Donald), for the full (Mickey), and for the Goofy. And yes, I like the way the shirt quality has been upgraded from two years ago, the first time I “went Goofy.” I’m walking around the expo wearing the t-shirt of the WDW Radio Running Team -- to which I pledged a little money for its campaign in support of the Make-a-Wish Foundation which grants seriously ill children their wishes to travel to some place fun, like WDW -- and the host of WDW Radio, Lou Mongello, spots me in the shirt and graciously comes over to chat. Eventually back at the hotel, I decided it was too late to take in a park (thanks Delta, for altering our reservations and getting us in an hour later than planned), but the priority was to get in a good dinner anyway. I order the bottomless skillet meal at the hotel’s Whispering Canyon restaurant, full of barbeque and cornbread and the like, something that should guarantee a slow time at the next day’s half-marathon. (And it does.) Well, come on. There’s just no way I’m going to eat sensibly at Disney World. The good food opportunities are way too abundant and an integral part of my pre-travel planning.

I leave the hotel at 3:30 a.m. for the next day’s race, which is to account for a bus ride to Epcot, loosening up at the runner’s village/family reunion area, and walking nearly a mile to the corrals for a 5:30-something start. I find that I’m placed about two corrals back from where I should have been, so I spent the first few miles (still dark, but with sufficient lights on the road) running on the grassy island to move ahead of the rather slow crowd. I convince myself to take it in stride, since there’s nothing I can do about it other than keep moving, at my still-slow pace. The roads open up as we get closer to Magic Kingdom, and I enjoy the sights of the castle and other attractions still in the pre-dawn light. I see Lou and the WDW Radio support team on Main Street cheering us on with some welcome high fives.

It is light by the time we leave Magic Kingdom at about the half-way point and turn back to Epcot. The race goes rather quickly. It has the usual variety of on-course entertainment, including numerous photo-ops with costumed characters, and to celebrate the 15th anniversary it includes roadside videos of old Donald Duck cartoons. I think I enjoy the audio stuff more than anything, including a nice variety of music over the PA systems, high school marching bands (mostly playing in the first hour just off the dark roads), and a lively Gospel choir just before the finish.

The full marathon is similar, but has less Donald Duck and the added routes through Animal Kingdom and Hollywood Studios with the related sights and sounds those provide, including some birds and animals brought out by their handlers, and additional in-theme characters (like Safari Mickey and Minnie). I find that I don’t mind the rather desolate road stretch from mile 18 to 22, because the course always offers something different, and you know that this is only a temporary segment since Hollywood Studios, shortly followed by a return to Epcot, will not be far away. In the “desolate” section I encounter Joe Taricani, the host of the Marathon Show podcast, and he comes over to interview me “on air” when he sees my Maniacs singlet. We chat a couple minutes into his microphone, and I move on. (Later I listen to his show about the marathon, and apparently my interview ended up on the cutting room floor. A good thing for the show, I’m sure.) Even at my slow pace I was passing people almost the entire full, but I found it less of a bother than in the previous day’s half. I found that I was telling myself to settle back and enjoy the last few miles for a change, because you seldom get to have an experience like this. I again pass the Gospel choir and run past the finish line, then suddenly find myself clapping, just for everything. I’m happy with about a 10-minute improvement over the last Goofy, and with the fact that I feel fine and perfectly able to walk around the parks without much post-marathon dragging.

I later enjoy a great post-marathon dinner with Toby and some new and old friends at Boma, Flavors of Africa (again, all you can eat), my third time for such a dinner so it’s now a solid post-marathon tradition. (Thanks, Rebecca!) Toby and I enjoy more of the parks (I think he likes Epcot the best, which I probably do, too), and then we head home Tuesday. I find that I have plenty of ideas going through my head for 2012 and 2013 races, mostly non-Disney, but there’s certainly more Disney in my crystal ball. This year I turn 60, but so far have no plans to grow up.