Saturday, July 28, 2012

When A Run Gives You A Life Moment

I love to travel, I love to write, I love to run.  If I get a chance to mix the three together it usually ends up being something very special for me.  In the 16 months that I have been running I have learned that sometimes the moments that make up the event are more important than the event itself.  What does that mean?  Just look at these ‘stories’ I tell of running experiences.  They could easily be as simple as: I ran a race, here’s my time, yay, on to the next one.  The straight facts are all well and good but it’s how I feel emotionally, what I see, what I experience, those things that make running more than just exercise.  It is an excuse to live more.
A perfect example of this ‘excuse’ is my recent trip up to Lincoln, NH.  I wanted to go back for the first time in over 20 years and hike Flume Gorge again, and visit the Old Man of the Mountain site again.  However there was something that superseded all of that: The Kancamagus Highway.  ‘The Kanc’ is a 34-mile stretch of nearly untouched wilderness winding through the White Mountains between Lincoln and North Conway.  There is no food, gas, and basically no cell reception for that distance.  For me it was a no brainer to go and run some of it.
I have learned that running gives you more of a feel for your surroundings than driving does.  I could have driven through The Kanc and seen and appreciated it, but I wanted to feel it.  I wanted there to be nothing between me and the landscape, running gave me that excuse to live more.
Not only was I going to run part of The Kanc, but I was going to start at the highest elevation, 2855 feet, at Kancamagus Pass.  If I was going to do this I was going all out.     
I arrived at Kancamagus Pass close to 6pm, it was a bit windy and cooler than expected.  The views of the nearby White Mountains immediately caught my attention and I stretched under a gazebo which gave me an unobstructed panoramic observation.  I had to remind myself that there was running to do.  See, I hadn’t run in 10 days due to a really annoying left hip injury.  I had been tinkering with my stride and ended up costing myself some prime training time in the middle of my first marathon training.  Running a super steep course was the last thing I should have been doing but I have always been very stubborn.  I kept my injury pretty hush, at least how bad it was, cause someone would have tried to stop me.
Within the first ¼ mile I started wishing someone had stopped me.  The grade was 7% or more for the majority of the run and my hip immediately was in pain.  I thought to myself that this was probably my last run for a good long while, no Falmouth Road Race in August, no Cape Cod Marathon in October, which would mean no Boston Marathon 2013.  I decided that if I was going to be out for a while at least my final run would be a great scenic one.  As I was running I remembered something that my Uncle Steve had told me, that you can never run slow enough when training for endurance.  Sure, this was in reference to my marathon training, but I thought that slowing down would not only let me appreciate my surroundings more but it might also save my hip.  It did.
Before I had gone a full mile my hip felt better, my legs loosened up, and my run went from being a death knell to being the most amazing run I had ever done.  I didn’t care about time, this was not a race, hell, it wasn’t even any sort of training run.  This was, as my good friend Deanna would love to hear, running for fun.  I stopped and took photos of the mountains and took the time to wave to just about every passing car.  The reason for that was so lots of people saw me in case I got jumped by a bear or something.  Hey, no cell reception meant no calling for help, right?
My original turnaround point was Lily Pond, a spot just over 2 ½ miles from Kancamagus Pass.  I got there, took some pictures, and breathed in the air before deciding it wasn’t enough.  I wanted to go further.  Something was happening along that highway.  My hip was not healed, oh by no means, but the dire prophecy of it being ‘the end’ was disappearing.  I could now concentrate on running and the experience of running The Kanc, and not about whether my hip was going to give and I was going to need an ambulance.
After close to 4 miles of running steeply downhill I knew that it was time to head back, clouds were rolling in and I knew that if it rained there was no way I could sprint back to my car uphill.  Besides, I had gone further than I expected and was in relatively little pain, especially when it hurt to lie on my left side even a few days earlier. 
I began my ascent back to Kancamagus Pass, going very slowly, close to 10 min. pace, my hips were getting a workout for sure.  The 7% grade ended up being classified as a Grade 2 climb on  The scale was 1-5, with 5 being lowest, so I felt even better about what I had done afterward when I saw that statistic.
As much as I enjoyed the scenery, and the runner’s high that came with 7 ½ miles of steep hill running, I was still looking forward to stretching and then relaxing.  I made sure to take a photo of the sign designating the elevation I had just run at, just in case anyone wanted proof.  Despite it being cloudy I stuck around Kancamagus Pass for a while longer just thinking about what I had done, and how I had felt before I ran compared to after.
Running The Kanc was a once in a lifetime run, my excuse to live more might have saved my running soul.  Sure I am still achy in my hip, but if The Kanc didn’t break me than nothing short of running Mt. Everest will.  In my time as a runner I have wanted to continually push myself past my limits, this was no different.  Most people for their first ‘rehab’ run might do 2 miles on a treadmill.  Me?  I did 7 ½ through the White Mountains.  I am not saying I’m some sort of machine, that’s Emily’s department not mine, I am probably pretty stupid for risking my health.  Since I never thought I would be ‘able’ to run I now want to see just how far these legs can take me.  I’d rather have been hurt running The Kanc than jogging on a treadmill, at least I’d have a damn good story.
Isn’t that what life is all about?  Seeing just how far you can go?  It’s all about risks, if you don’t try you don’t get anywhere, you don’t fail, but you don’t succeed either.  I am happy with myself today knowing that I set out to run The Kanc and have done it.  
Running gets your body in better shape, and I feel it has gotten my mind into better shape.  If there is a ‘runner’s high’ is there also ‘runner’s depression’ if you can’t run?  What are your ultimate ‘dream runs?’  Mine is the Honolulu Marathon, 2014 might be when that happens.  Until then, every mile is a story of its own.     

The White Mountain landscape along 'The Kanc.'

When I finally was able to enjoy what I was doing.

Lily Pond

I wasn't kidding about the elevation.

This is actually less of a slope than I ran most of the time, still looks steep.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Good Weather and Good Health Does Not Always Make For A Good Race

The 2012 St. Peter’s Fiesta Road Race was the first event that I had done for a second year.  For those of you not familiar with my 2011 race in Gloucester, Massachusetts I can sum it up pretty quickly.  I went into it with a painful right Achilles and Runner’s Knee in my left knee.  It was also cloudy, rainy, and raw in late-June.  I ran the 5K in 22:48 and was happy with the time all things considered.
This year was to be totally different.  Another full year of running under my belt, no injuries, and a sunny evening to run the race.  It all set up for a great time, or so I thought.
I arrived in Gloucester a few hours early as I did last year.  I love the historic fishing village and enjoy taking in my favorite sites as a way to keep my mind clear before running.  I visited The Man at the Wheel statue, Stage Fort Park, and Hammond Castle.  There was a farmer’s market at Stage Fort Park and I was tempted to buy some veggies and wine but then realized that there would be several hours where my purchases sat in my hot car so I decided against it.  After sight-seeing I hit the YMCA.  There I got my number and t-shirt and changed in the locker room.  I was all by myself after the last man left the pool and vacated the locker room.  It gave me time to think about where I came from and where I was going as a runner.  I tend to get philosophical before and after races.
I got down to the starting line nearly an hour early as I like to do.  I enjoy easing my way through my stretches while getting amped up with my music.  The St. Peter’s Fiesta, celebrating Italian Heritage, was in full swing.  Last year with the rain the carnival was pretty much closed so I wandered around empty food stands and rides.  This year people were everywhere and the smell of sausages and fried dough made it difficult at times to focus. 
I stretched up on the bleachers and then down by the water.  As I tend to do before races I needed to thank my best friend Emily, since it was she who finally convinced me to start running in March 2011.  She was actually running outside at the same time back on Cape Cod, it was sort of fitting.
I got set at the starting line, I chose the 8 minute mile marker to plant myself.  With hundreds of people lined up on the road you’d think that drivers would avoid the road, well you’d be mistaken.  One car full of complete idiots decided to drive straight through all of us, beeping their horn to get people to move.  They ended up being lucky that all of us didn’t decide to just tip their car over. 
Back to the actual race and the minute markers.  You’d think other people would pay attention to those and choose their starting point accordingly but no.  The horn sounds and there’s a gaggle of slow pokes clogging up the road in front of me.  I was walking, bouncing, trotting, and finally busting out in an angry sprint up onto the sidewalk and past those folks.
I was using my Uncle Steve’s Garmin GPS watch which I kept checking my pace on.  Through 2 miles I was consistently 6:45-6:50.  Then I began to notice that the sun made this race hotter and more humid than last year.  I was gassing out and having difficulty catching my breath which naturally made me slow down.  In the sun, heat, and humidity I noticed the hills that the course held.  It was a beautiful run in my favorite town but as far as the overall result it was not there.
Despite being tired I managed to finish in 22:57.  Not quite where I wanted to be, I had hoped the weather and my good health would result in a sub-22 minute run.  I was pouring sweat and chugged a pair of Gatorades and a few bananas.  My only saving grace was that despite my less than stellar time I did not come out of the race with any injuries.  As with the year before I didn’t stick around too long after the race.  I didn’t win any awards and had a 2-hour drive home with work early the next morning so I got a jump on any other people leaving.
As I gazed upon the incredible sunset driving home along Rt. 128 I barely had time to think of what I could have done better in this race.  I had scheduled a second race 5 days later and had to prepare for that one.  I may not have set a personal best at the 2012 St. Peter’s Fiesta Road Race but there’s always 2013, I will be back for my 3rd try then.
Have any of you runners ever had a race with perfect weather where you felt great but the results just didn't happen?
The t-shirt logo

The Man at the Wheel Statue

One of the views at Hammond Castle

Not too happy with the sea of slow people who planted themselves ahead of me.