The Day After Ten Years After

“The past is never where you think you left it.” – Catherine Ann PorterSketch - Running Man

Perspective is a beautiful thing. Ten years ago I ran the Steamtown Marathon with my eye on the clock, calculating splits, rationing gels, taking every conceivable measure to qualify for Boston. I cramped up the final miles, and ran to the finish stressed I wouldn’t make the cut.

There was a time I wouldn’t register for a marathon if I didn’t think I’d finish in less than four hours. Some years I’d over-train and line up injured before the starting gun even sounded. I’m not saying that the competitive gene has vanished from my system completely, but it bites me less often and running has become a lot more fun.

My goal for Steamtown this year was to not finish last. Along with more than twenty-five hundred of my running brethren, I savored every step in the sparkling sunshine, trees turning to Autumn that made the forest look ablaze. My strategy was to not look at a clock until I got to the finish line. I didn’t consider all of the banks and city hall towers I’d pass in small towns along the route. I inadvertently caught the time on a few occasions, but refrained from doing the calculations in my head to estimate my finishing time.

As I ran down the final stretch on Washington Avenue there was one runner in front of me the entire way. The last hundred feet or so he appeared to be fighting leg cramps and I held back so I wouldn’t pass him. He must have caught me out of the corner of his eye because he gestured for me to pass him. I lightly placed my hand on his back and said, “You go, I’m in no hurry.” He reached out, we grasped hands and crossed the finish line together at 4:25, my happiest four-plus hour marathon ever.Runners - Sketch

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Best-laid Plans…

“The best laid plans of mice and me, often go awry.” – Robert BurnsRace - Kids

On a typical year I enter races longer in distance as training runs for my annual marathon. I eat healthier as race day approaches to drop weight, and generally try to behave myself race week. Best laid plans are, well, you know.

I began the year optimistic and registered for my earliest race ever–January 4th. It would be my first ultra-marathon. Instead I spent the first four-months rehabbing my hip after a fall on the ice, so frustrated at times I wondered if I’d ever run long distance again. I finally began running in late April, and the distances grew longer over the summer. I ran my first race in September, a 30K trail run. It was a slog, but gave me the confidence (fool-hearted?) to register for the Steamtown Marathon.

Race Week: I squeezed hard labor between two writing classes, and then yesterday my fourth grandchild was born, Lucy Claire. So much for rest. Carb load? I’ve grown fond of 1/4 pound WaWa hot dogs and Coke.

So I’ll drive to Scranton sometime today, maybe tonight, and settle into my sleeping bag on the hotel room floor of Shawn and Chris. I roomed with Shawn, my son’s buddy, ten years ago when I ran Steamtown and qualified for the Boston Marathon. I’ll wake in the darkness, hop on a bus full of runners, and disembark in Forrest City, PA more than a half hour later. When a cannon blasts at 8:30 I’ll begin my trek to the finish line 26.2 miles away in Scranton.

Something tells me it’s going to be a good day, and who knows, maybe when I get home tomorrow night, after a Guinness or two at Andy Gavin’s Pub of course, I may register for my first ultra-marathon before the end of the year.Run in the Sun

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Maddeningly Simple Marathon Strategy and Goal

“You don’t stop laughing when you grow old, you grow old when you stop laughing.” – George Bernard Shaw

Starting Line

Starting Line

Ten years ago my strategy for the Steamtown Marathon was to run 8:13 per mile. I maintained a regimented training program–intervals, speed work, hills, cut weight, stopped smoking my occasional cigar, and replaced Guinness with Yuengling Lite (drastic measure.) I succeeded that year and qualified for the Boston Marathon.

I return to Steamtown this Sunday with a new strategy and goal. My strategy is to refrain from looking at a clock until I get to the finish line. Even by accident that will be difficult. My goal is much more modest–not to finish last. That one is in the bag.

My entire life I’ve admired those seasoned runners (a gentle term for ‘old’,) who’d show up for a race of any distance. They inspired me and I swore that one day I would run marathons when I reached their stage of life. This year I’m excited to run in a new age group–60-64. I didn’t sacrifice the cigar and Guinness this time around, but when I cross the finish line I will be the happiest man in Scranton, Pennsylvania.

Finish Line

Finish Line

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Ten Years After

“Wheresoever you go, go with all of your heart. ” – Confucius

Chute leading to the finish line of the Steamtown Marathon before the race.

Chute leading to the finish line of the Steamtown Marathon before the race.

My son’s buddy reminded me that this year marks the tenth anniversary we ran the Steamtown Marathon in Scranton, Pennsylvania together. It was Shawn’s first. I should have remembered because I qualified for the Boston Marathon. You’d think I’d be embarrassed that I forgot. Dah!

I shared a hotel room with Shawn and his buddy Paul the night before the race. The two of them bantered and traded insults all night long, and then continued when we woke four hours later. I laughed the entire time. It was bliss. Made me feel twenty years younger, perhaps a factor in my finishing time.

Forever Young by Italian photographer Francesco Romoli

Forever Young by Italian photographer Francesco Romoli

My daughter, Colleen, was attending the University of Scranton that year. Col and her friends cheered me on down the final stretch to the finish line on Washington Avenue. After the race, we were all standing around and Shawn blurt out, “Who put that *#$!ing hill in the last mile,” referring to the steepest upward incline of the race at mile twenty-five. Instinctively, I hauled off and punched him in the chest and screamed, “Shawn!” Colleen and her friends were mortified, and she asked, “Dad! Why did you do that?” Apparently the old man was living in the past.

I’ll return to Steamtown this week and line up with Shawn and his brother-in-law Chris. They will finish well ahead of me ten years after I qualified for Boston, but I will savor every step through the mountains of Northeastern Pennsylvania, the small towns with their high school bands, passing the smiling kids from the Saint Joseph’s Center, my alma mater Marywood University, and listening to he deafening music and cheering crowd on Washington Ave. I’ll be the happiest man on earth to run 26.2 miles in my sixtieth year, and celebrate with a pint of Guinness at Andy Gavin’s Pub after the race.

You can read the entire account of my experience training and qualifying for the Boston Marathon in the Steamtown chapter of Twenty-four Years to Boston.Finish Line_0001

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Sixties Stride

“It does not matter how slowly you go so long as you don’t stop.” – ConfuciusPacific Crest Trail to Kendall Katwalk

In forty-some years of running, I still haven’t figured out the formula for a good run. I’ve had lousy runs after a restful night and a ten-hour sleep, and kick-ass runs after I’d been out until the wee hours misbehaving with my buddies. There are days I have to force myself out the door after working my butt off, only to have a strong, vibrant run; other times I can’t wait to hit the trail only to slug along like I had cinder blocks in my pockets. I’ve concluded there is no full-proof formula for a good run.

My best running years were at a time of my life when my buddies thought a round of golf riding in a cart with a case of beer in the back was a workout. My fiftieth year I qualified for Boston and won my first two running awards, ever. As I proceeded into my fifties I increased my cycling mileage and did my first triathlon. But when I hit fifty-nine I sustained the worst running injury of my life in a knuckle-headed move running on the ice that led to a four-month rehab for an inflamed hip.

These days I run for the sheer joy of running. Lofty goals like qualifying for Boston have been replaced by thankfulness to finish an 18-mile trail run through the mountains–I mean, how freakin’ fortunate am I?! So this year I am taking on a new challenge–finding my stride at sixty.

C&O - Canal PathRecently, I had a revelation, and now am reconsidering that formula I said didn’t exist. Last October my buddy Ed and I cycled 300+ miles from Pittsburgh to Washington DC on the Greater Alleghany Passage and the C&O Canal towing nearly 100 pounds in camping gear, food, water, etc., and then in November I shaved 40 minutes off my previous-year marathon. This past weekend Ed and I took a two-day hike on the Appalachian Trail lugging 35-pound backpacks over arguably the trail’s rockiest stretch, and the day after we returned I ran the strongest 10K I’d run all year.

AT - Top of the RockSo I’m thinking maybe, just maybe, the most effective way for me to find my stride at sixty is to exert myself in leisure activities like hiking and tour cycling rather than a traditional marathon training program. I’ll test the theory at the Steamtown Marathon on October 12th in Scranton, Pennsylvania. After the hip injury and rehab, I didn’t expect to run a marathon this year, but now I’m excited. My goal is to finish, but who knows what will unfold during those 26.2 miles?

And with that, I’ll end with another Confucius saying, “Wheresoever you go, go with all your heart.”

 

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Crusader Classic 5K – Run Baby Run

“It is wonderful how much time good people spend fighting the devil. If they would only expend the same amount of energy loving their fellow men, the devil would die in his own tracks of ennui.” – Helen KellerCrusaders - FJHS

When my buddy Monk asked that I help spread the word about the Crusader Classic 5K I didn’t hesitate to volunteer. I mean, how could I decline to lend a hand to support the place that provided me with fond memories of cutting classes, getting jug (detention,) and miraculously, graduating, an achievement my parents attributed to divine intervention. Yes, Father Judge High School is my alma mater, and the Crusader Classic 5K is an annual race to raise funds for the Lt. Robert Neary Scholarship Fund.

CrusadersOne discovery I made at Father Judge that has stayed with me all of these years was that I could run really far, and I wasn’t even on the track team. I was a knucklehead football player, but to get a spot on the roster the players had to run a six-minute mile. During two-a-day summer practice sessions the coaches would send us on long runs through Pennypack Park. Everyone hated it, except me. I wasn’t the fastest guy on the team, but I could run, like forever, without getting tired.

Crusaders - FJSo if you’d like to run the same course I made my discovery on more than four decades ago, and you are within driving distance of Philly, or if you have frequent flyer miles you want to redeem, join me on Sunday, October 5, 2014 for the 12th Annual Crusader Classic 5K Run/Fun Walk. You can register for the race online at http://crusaderclassic.ezregister.com/   If you prefer to fill out a form and mail it in, click here. Crusader Classic – Registration

Following are more details:

ALL PROCEEDS BENEFIT Lt. ROBERT NEARY SCHOLARSHIP FUND

ENTRY FEE AND REGISTRATION:  $25.00 pre-registration if postmarked by September 25, 2014; $30.00 thereafter, $15 for all children 18 and under.  $5 of each adult registration will be sent to the Semper Fi Fund. Make checks payable to Friends of Father Judge Inc. And if you can’t make it, feel free to make a donation.

All race day registrations will take place in the Father Judge school yard beginning at 7:30amEvent tee shirts will be provided to all who pre-register (and to race-day registrants while supplies last.)  Race numbers, shirts and information packet pick up will be on race day only in the Father Judge school yard.

STARTING TIME AND LOCATION: The band shell is in Pennypack Park near Welsh Road and Rowland Avenue at 9:00 AM.  Parking is available in the Father Judge schoolyard.

COURSE INFORMATION:  Race will begin at the band shell, continue along the banks of the Pennypack Creek and finish with a lap around the Father Judge track (behind the school)

AWARDS:  Medals will be presented to first through third place, male and female finishers in the following age groups:  14 and under, 15-19, 20-29, 30-39, 40-49, 50-59, 60 and over; special awards to the first Judge student, first Alumni and first female.

For additional information call 215-333-7648 and leave a message or contact Crusaderclassic@outlook.com or mklose@fatherjudge.com

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Anatomy of an Endurance Race

“Dream your pursuits; pursue your dreams” – jb

Ten long dreadful months after the 2013 Bucks County Marathon it’s finally over. I’ve endured injury, rehab, and chaos to return to the trail for a 30K in the mountains of Eastern Pennsylvania. Joined by hundreds of disturbed fellow-runners, those who consider rollicking through the woods, navigating rocks, boulders, fallen trees and rushing streams a pleasant Sunday morning, I had the peace and tranquility to dissect the anatomy of an endurance run.

On the trail at the Double Trouble, French Creek State Park, PA

On the trail at the Double Trouble, French Creek State Park, PA

My analysis is based on the 30K, but applies to distances of a half-marathon and more.

Pre-race: Preparation for an endurance race is mysterious, ranging from those who meditate to others who behave like a linebacker smashing his head against a locker before the Super Bowl. I’ve observed runners who stretch, do Ti-chi, pray, converse with themselves or other runners, do Yoga, cross their legs and perform deep breathing exercises, yell, sprint, and many who generally space out. Myself? I’m typically a loner before a long race, burrowing into my psyche and imagining mile sixteen, sweating profusely, a few lacerations, laughing at how silly I am.

Illustration - SufferEarly Miles (EM): The phase where I struggle most. Thirty years ago I would have described the early miles as mile one and two; today they are the first 10K or so. The EM are characterized by making excuses to turn around and beg for a refund because I’d mistaken the trail run for a bird watching expedition and forgot my plaid shorts, vintage BanLon socks, and binoculars (apologies to birdwatchers who read this; I am actually a bird lover.) As I get deeper into the early miles, the excuses for a refund become more imaginative, creative, and usually by mile six I realize I’m in a rhythm and a smile emerges.

Early Mid-miles (EMM): I break into the EMM (roughly mile 6-9) enthused, like I’d found a $10 bill in a Taco Bell parking lot. I imagine my mane breezing in the wind as I stride and leap obstacles with the grace of a thoroughbred, feet barely touching the trail, passing runners by the dozen. In my mind, I am a stallion; in fact, I am lucky to be in the middle of the pack.

Bloody KneeAdvanced Mid-miles (AMM): A more accurate title for this stage (somewhere around mile 10-13) is Reality. It is a time in the race when illusion is replaced by unanticipated events such as a foot slamming into a rock, watching a fellow-runner smash his face into boulder, twisting an ankle, or assisting someone over a tree trunk four feet in diameter. The mind no long has the luxury of grandiose visions, rather it is focused on the reality of the situation—I’ve run roughly a half-marathon up and down mountain trails, feet soaked from slipping off a rock into a stream, and proud I haven’t yet fallen, though that means the odds are against me—and I still have roughly a 10K to go.

Illustration - RunEarly Late Miles (ELM): After decades of endurance running, I’ve come to rely on hitting the ELM (miles 14-16) for no other reason than the peace and solitude they provide. Years of experience have taught me that when I exhaust myself completely, a refuge emerges from deep within and I am at peace with life and myself. It is a state of mind where I am Buddha, Thoreau, Martin, Gandhi, and the homeless man in a heap of tattered blankets laying on a grate in downtown Philly, in other words I am in tune with the universe. My ideas are colorful 3-D, full of humungous luscious fruit and vegetables, majestic animals, smiling faces, a spotted horse. I am in a place where if I had a pen and paper, I could sit on the ground and write a poem so profound it would bring humanity to tears. I am no longer human, I simply Am. (If you are wondering, there wasn’t a marijuana patch at mile 15.)

Winding Down (WD): The last few miles of an endurance race are a challenge to place one foot in front of the other until crossing the finish line. At this point every muscle in my body is drained, I have no nourishment left in my system, my mind is mush. If it hadn’t been for the decades I had been successful at doing this, I wouldn’t believe it was possible.

Two Steps Past the Finish Line (TSPFL): I am planning my next endurance run.

I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve run the Double Trouble where I conjured up the Anatomy of an Endurance Race. The Double Trouble is a double-loop trail run on a 15K course where you can choose to run either a 15K or 30K. After the first lap, runners who choose the 15K are directed to the finish line and 30K fools like me continue for another punishing loop. When I was running the final steps of the 30K, a number of volunteers screamed at me and pointed in the direction of the finish line. I yelled back, “I’m doing the 45K, which way to do I go?”

Running shoes off, cold beer in hand, planning next endurance race.

Running shoes off, cold beer in hand, planning next endurance race.

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