Saturday, October 16, 2021

Marathon XXVI

Despite the Pequannock 5K giving me an icky feeling about being in crowded places, it seemed like things were getting better.  I was vaccinated, I started spending time with friends and family who were also vaccinated and it felt like some sort of semblance of the old normal was going to return.  

That was July.  So I signed up for the Hartford Marathon.  I needed to run that race again - this time at the official in-person event - and try to right the wrongs of last year. 

And then the delta variant of COVID suddenly became a threat.  People were dying again, vaccinated friends were getting breakthrough cases and I stopped feeling safe around others.  So I retreated back to my own personal lockdown.

But I kept training for the race, partially because I kept looking for a glimmer of hope and partially because I was already way too committed.  I was going to run this thing no matter what.  Connecticut was one of two states on the Eastern seaboard (the other being Georgia) in which I still had not run a sub-four-hour marathon.  

On Oct. 9, having completed the 18-week Hal Higdon Advanced Training program, I woke up at 4 a.m. and, feeling no excitement at all, got in the car and started driving to Hartford...

Wednesday, October 13, 2021

Phish at Atlantic City beach - Aug. 15, 2021

While walking along the uncomfortably crowded boardwalk, we heard the opening strains of "The Landlady".  Nice.  As we made our way to the entrance to the beach venue, Phish started playing the intro to "Scents and Subtle Sounds", which they had skipped the previous night when launching into the meat of the song.  Wow, that was weird and interesting.  Never miss a Sunday show, they say.

And though the rest of the show did not follow through on that promise for the crazy and unexpected, it was a solid show that continued the trajectory of the tour, with the band getting tighter at every stop.  The first couple of shows had be cringing.  What a difference a few weeks makes. 

The first set's selections touched on four decades of Phish - with a classic Mike's Groove ("Mike's Song" > "I Am Hydrogen" > "Weekapaug Groove"), "The Sloth" and a set-closing "You Enjoy Myself" covering the 1980s; that "Landlady" plus "Roggae" and "Back on the Train" (both of which are better than ever) and a "The Moma Dance" that was so good that Phish deemed it the only track from the entire A.C. weekend worth posting on its You Tube page, covering the '90s; the "Scents" intro touching on the brief '00s period (ah, 2.0, weird times); and the face-plant-into-rock of the Kasvot Vaxt tune, "The Final Hurrah" repping the '10s.  When I see Phish, I want variety and boy, did I get it!

You know what else I want?  Flow.  And the second set had it.  A "Carini" set opener always sets the stage for some hot jamming, and this one was no different.  Speaking of hot jamming, the set also contained a mid-set "Piper" and a "First Tube" closer.  That is what you call placement.  Somehow, "Waves" and "Simple" - two songs that have been known to launch giant improvisational explorations - managed to be the shortest songs of the set, which may have been disappointing in some ways, but this set was about the flow.  And while complaints could be made about Phish's versions of "Set Your Soul Free" and "Beneath the Sea of Stars Part 1" compared to the versions by the Trey Anastasio Band and Ghosts of the Forest (respectively), the performances on this night were just right for the mood.  The former was big and uplifting, while the latter was soothingly perfect for a beautiful night on the beach.

Another GOTF tune, "About to Run," has become common in Phish's sets, as well as TAB's, so I guess Trey really likes it, but I am not totally sold.  Even from the original GOTF shows, I thought it was one of the weaker songs.  At this show, it was the only thing that broke the awesome flow.  

Trey, if you are going to play some more GOTF, give me some more of that "Ruby Waves" action.  How about "The Green Truth"?  Better yet, really surprise me with the rock-out of "Beneath the Sea of Stars Part 3 (Blue)".

Speaking of surprises, I certainly did not expect "Fluffhead" in the encore.  Heck, with "Tweezer Reprise" played the previous night and "YEM" out of the way in the first set, I wondered what would happen at all.  And if the triumphant ending of "Fluffhead" wrapped things up nicely for the weekend, "Backwards Down the Number Line" was the bow on top.  

I do not think I will be attending any more Phish shows in person - not with COVID still being a problem (and everyone there acting like it is not a problem).  I have attended 156 shows in 14 states over 28 years.  It was an amazing experience.  Fifteen years after the Coventry debacle that we all thought ended our Phish travels on a sour note, I am happy to now end my journey on a high note.  This is a band that is still worth listening to, and I intend to keep doing so as "couch tour" phan.  

In case you are wondering, I did my stats on Zzyzx's website ( and my most seen song is "Chalk Dust Torture".

Monday, October 11, 2021

Phish at Atlantic City beach, Aug. 14, 2021

First order of business - get up before the crack of dawn and start running. 

I planned out a 19-mile run from Galloway, east through Absecon, then south through Pleasantville and Northfield, then back again. I love these long runs on Phish tour because I get to really see the neighborhoods, not just the areas surrounding the venues and hotels.

It was early, I was tired and groggy, but it was imperative I got out there before the heat really kicked in.  It was already in the 70s and the sun was coming up.  The goal was to keep it slow and steady and get it done so I could join my wife and friend for some lunch and head over to the second night of Phish on the beach in Atlantic City.  As the run went on I slowed from low 8s to low 9s, and then took a wrong turn to end up doing more than 20 miles.  My overall pace was 8:46, and that was fine, especially after a night of dancing and five hours of sleep on a crappy bed.

The first set of the second show had some neat surprises, like my first "Slow Llama" and "Soul Shakedown Party" in years, and the always welcome back-from-the-dust-bin "Destiny Unbound" (a song I have been hearing a lot as I have been listening to all of the 1991 shows).  But for the most part the first set was very first-set-y.  "Tube" had us dancing, "46 Days" had us rocking, "Reba" was pretty standard and, well, "Melt" is going to "Melt" these days (the light show is fun to watch on the latter, but that is all I can really say).  For a brief moment, I think I had an idea of what those Mexico Phish shows must be like, as Phish played the breezy island sounds of "Ya Mar" while I splashed around in the ocean.  But before I knew it, the set was closing with "The Squirming Coil".

Trey Anastasio's solo album from last year yielded a few songs that have worked their way into Phish's set lists, so it was not much of a surprise to hear "I Never Needed You Like This Before" to open the set, but the doors blew wide open for a big "Drowned" jam, which eventually gave way to "Ghost" - always reliable for a groovy jam - and then, to my delight, the criminally underplayed "Scents and Subtle Sounds".  Unfortunately, they skipped the intro to the latter, as they tended to do back in 2004, and then cut the jam jarringly short.  Of course, it is hard to complain when the ripcord is pulled only to fire up "Chalk Dust Torture".  

When "Chalk Dust" fizzled out and led into "No Quarter", I could not help but think they were playing the wrong Led Zeppelin song.  I mean, they played "The Ocean" in Mexico, why not do one for the folks on the beach in the U.S.?  

A beautiful "Slave to the Traffic Light" and a rollicking "Suzy Greenberg" ended the set and my poor legs were tired from all the dancing after all that running, so when the ballad "A Life Beyond the Dream" was played for the encore, I was happy to hear it, even if it ended up not being a great performance of it. 

I figured they would save "Tweezer Reprise" for the end of Sunday's show, it was, and I had no choice but to dance and leap as I have been doing since my 20s when that song is played, sore legs be damned.  Another satisfying end to another good show, though I think I enjoyed Friday's show better (or at least Friday's second set).

Gloria, Ali and I wanted to find somewhere to hang out post-show within A.C. but the boardwalk, the casinos and the restaurants were overflowing with people.  The crowds were too big, and it was all too much for me to handle.  There was nowhere I felt comfortable at all, let alone somewhere I would have felt comfortable enough to remove my mask.  So after a lot of walking around (and with a grand total of 56,405 steps for the day), we retired back to the hotel room.

Sunday, October 10, 2021

Phish at Atlantic City beach, Aug. 13, 2021

When tickets went on sale for Phish's autumn and New Year's Eve shows in 2019, I made a decision - skip the tours, save some money, then really do it up for summer tour 2020. 

Of course, had I known the world would go kablooey, I would have gone to as many shows as possible in the second half of 2019.  

Before the pandemic hit, the idea of doing it up A.C.-style was exciting.  By the time the shows, came around in 2021, I had no desire to go anywhere in public, let alone a crowded Phish show.  But I was vaccinated, it was outside on the beach, and the possibility of being away from the crowd made the prospect a little better.  Even still, I kept my mask on any time I got remotely close to another person.  

The venue was a blocks-long stretch of beach, and we stayed in the back, away from the crowd, even hanging out in the water for a while because it was such a pleasant night.  The sound was good enough that we could hear everything pretty clearly, if not loudly or crisply. 

It was nice to hear "Cars Trucks Buses", especially as an opener, and "AC/DC Bag" and "Funky Bitch" were standard first-set fare, but "Blaze On" and "Wolfman's Brother" kicked things up with jams that stretched out a bit and had us, as Trey Anastasio sang in altered lyrics to the former, "dancing on the beach."

I have been listening to a lot of 1991 shows lately and there is no doubt that, in comparison, vacuum solos by Jon Fishman are a lot harder to come by these days, so to get one in the first set of my first show in two years (in "I Didn't Know") was a treat.  Having also listened to the whole 2021 tour up to that point, I shuddered a bit when "Rift" started up because, well, Trey had not yet had a precise performance of it.  He almost got through it with no flubs, but at least it was better than the previous two, and the "Sand" set-closer, with its trademark perfect mix of rock and funk, made up for anything that was previously lacking.

The second set came out swinging hard with back-to-back fun-time jams in "Tweezer" and "Bathtub Gin" and the party kept rolling with "Everything's Right".  I hate to say it, but I do not have much interest in "Possum" anymore.  However, I actually get a kick out of watching how everyone else still loves it - especially because several people in the audience were not even alive when Phish first played that song with its songwriter and founding band member Jeff Holdsworth. 

Things got interesting for me again in the back half of the second set with classics like "2001" and "Harry Hood" and two of my newer favorites, "Rise/Come Together" and "More".  Even with "Possum" in the mix, that second set was as solid and fun as a Phish show can get.  Add a "Loving Cup" encore to that, and it is hard not to be happy coming away from that.

Egress from the venue was pretty easy, and we managed to get back to the Red Roof Inn in Galloway at a reasonable hour.  Unfortunately, the hotel was terrible and the beds were ridiculously uncomfortable, which was bad news because I was planning on a 19-mile run the next day.

Wednesday, September 29, 2021

Pequannock Valley Rotary Foundation 5K - June 6, 2021

I was promised things that were not delivered.

After receiving my Covid vaccinations in April and May, it seemed like it was right to dip my toes back into the waters of in-person racing.  I had been running my own races in every distance for more than a year at this point.  

For a year, I literally had not touched another human being besides my wife, so the idea of standing in a crowd at a start line did not appeal to me, but this race made promises.  These included the requirement of face masks pre-race and post-race, as well as a staggered start with participants spaced six-feet apart.  There was even a stipulation that participants could be disqualified for not adhering to these guidelines.  

You do not believe me?  The guidelines are still online:

Unfortunately, these were all lies.  Not one person (besides me) wore a mask and there was no staggered start.  I wore my mask at the start line and right through the first quarter mile or so until I was clear of the crowd of people. 

Ugh.  Crowds of people.  I did not miss that for the past year.

Getting a quick start to get away from the multitude, I bolted up West Parkway, making a right onto Birch Road and another onto Boulevard.  The course was somewhat familiar - I had run some of these road in previous races, as well as on long runs.  One thing I knew for sure was that the whole thing was flat, so the strategy was to keep the throttle at full speed for as long as possible, since there were no hills. 

It had been more than a year since my last sub-six mile, so my expectations are a lot lower these days.  That being the case, the 6:03 first mile was nice to see.  Not only that, but I was in a solid fifth place.  Boulevard seemed to take forever, but as I turned onto Slingerland Avenue, my second mile clocked in at 6:10.  Not bad.  Plus, I managed to pull into fourth, and the third place runner was in sight.

After some quick turns back onto West Parkway, then Stephen Avenue, Reynolds Road and Greenview Drive, I was closing in on the third place runner, but I could feel myself rapidly conking out.  I even briefly passed him, but he overtook me again.  Still, I managed to do mile three in 6:11.

I mustered up as big of a rallying kick as I could when I turned back onto West Parkway for the home stretch into Greenview Park, but that last tenth of a mile was still too slow for the pace I had been doing, taking 48 seconds when, really, it should have been more like 42 or so.

With a finish time of 19:14, and placing fourth overall and winning first prize for my age group (the overall winner was in his 40s, but they did not duplicate prizes, thankfully), I would say that this was a resounding success considering the dropoff in my speed due to my age.

Then again, the second overall finisher was 61.  Sixty-one!  Damn, way to make me feel bad about my ass-draggin' 46-year-old self.  Oh well, nothing to do but start marathon training again.

Sunday, April 18, 2021

Rockaway 5K - April 11, 2021

For my usual post-marathon short race, I picked the Rockaway 5K course - not too far from home, but an area that, while I am somewhat familiar with it, I rarely do any running.  Actually, I'm more familiar with Rockaway Township (I have friends that live there and there is a mall there) but this course is in Rockaway Borough, which is right next to it.  That is so Jersey.

The figure-eight course started westbound on East Main Street (at Keller Avenue) with a short downhill before turning left onto Franklin Avenue, which was mostly flat.  My 6:19 first mile did not delight me, but it did not surprise me either.  I had thought for sure that with the re-introduction of speed training I could get closer to the 6:00 mark, at least in the first mile.  

I knew that was the best it was going to get because what goes down must come up and, sure enough there was a bit of an uphill after the turn onto Rockaway Avenue, back toward East Main.  Then it was back down that same hill from the start, past Franklin and a right turn on Jackson Avenue and another push up a small but significant enough hill that my pace was already falling apart with a 6:29 second mile and I continued onto Union Street.  

Already running out of gas but determined to push as hard as I could for the third mile (the last mile is no time to give up, after all), I was faced with another uphill battle after turning onto Stickle Avenue, which turned into Beach Street.  The approach from Beach back to Main was maybe a 50-foot ascent in about a third of a mile.  A few years ago, that would have been a small challenge, but I would have bounded up that hill, probably passing a few runners along the way.  On this day, it felt like a mountain.  

But I chugged up that mountain with all my might and, sure, when I hit the three-mile mark on East Main with a 6:27, it was nothing about which to write home, but I was proud that it was faster than the second mile.  

So with my last gasps, I hit the finish line in the Rockaway Assembly of God church parking lot 43 seconds later, finishing with a 19:58.  OK, well, 26 seconds faster than my previous 5K, but still slower than every other 5K I have run in the past 15 years.  

Now, I can accept that as the way it is and the way it is going to be...

...but I am going to start focusing on short-race training for the next couple of months, just to be sure.

Sunday, April 11, 2021

Marathon XXV - New Jersey Marathon - March 7, 2021

Thirteen years ago, I ran the New Jersey Marathon in Long Branch, my second marathon.  At the time, it was a double half-marathon loop.  In the years since, they restructured the course to make it more marathon-friendly.  Now, it's a point-to-point-ish kind of race, starting near Monmouth Park race track and winding through residential neighborhoods, before landing on Ocean Avenue and generally heading south to Asbury Park and back, to end on the boardwalk in Long Branch.  I had been doing long slow training through the winter, so it felt like a good time to give the new course a try for my 25th marathon on March 7.

I spent the day prior studying the course, tracing the route on my good old Hagstrom map, writing turn-by-turn details on note paper to bring with me, and using Google Earth to find landmarks as well as signs of anything that might trip me up.

Because it was within an hour's drive, Gloria and I got on the road relatively early (but not the insane type of early that organized marathons usually require) and I was able to hit the ground running at 9:30 a.m.

The first two miles consisted of a mini-loop in Oceanport and I was determined to keep a measured pace (7:48, 8:02).  After the debacle in Hartford in October, keeping it conservative was of utmost importance. There was no shame in playing it safe.  My two marathons in one weekend last year showed me that running as slow as nine-minute miles and still coming in under four hours is incredibly rewarding.

Winding my way through some more Oceanport neighborhoods, the next three miles were mostly in the range for which I was shooting - 7:48, 7:42, 8:09.  Keeping it to those high sevens and low eights would give me plenty of wiggle room at the end, but still (hopefully) ensure that I did not burn out.  Sure, I felt that way in Hartford, but I was much more comfortable today.  The weather was better (30s and sunny, if a little breezy) and I felt a lot more relaxed.  The latter may be because I was listening to a Trey Anastasio Band show from March 1, 2011, which started with an acoustic set and gradually built to a full-band raucous frenzy.  The more informal acoustic section provided a great backdrop for this portion of the run.

Over two small bridges - first into North Long Branch and then into Monmouth Beach - the course still had me running through pleasant residential areas in miles six and seven (8:03, 8:06), and then into Long Branch proper for miles eight through 11 (7:57, 8:00, 8:11, 8:06).  

The course was incredibly flat, which helped me keep the pace consistent, though mile 12 was my slowest yet (8:23). The little detours off of Ocean, like Lake Drive around Takanassee Lake and a brief round-the-block in Deal provided a little bit of variety in miles 13 through 16 (8:12, 8:10, 8:16, 8:27), and the electric portion of the TAB show in my ears gave me a little boost.  Plus, seeing Gloria on her way back north was a pick-me-up, too.

After the tiny towns of Allenhurst and Loch Arbour, there were a few somewhat confusing turns in mile 17 (8:20) but then I was finally in some familiar territory - Asbury Park - and that provided me with another jolt of confidence and energy.

That energy was sapped quickly, though, as I got onto the boardwalk to continue through Asbury and into Ocean Grove.  It was a chilly winter day, but from the crowd on the boardwalk, you would have thought it was mid-spring.  So, I put on my mask and powered through what I was hoping would be the fun part, but turned out to be the stressful part.  Still, for miles 18 and 19 (8:22, 8:25) into the turnaround at the border of Bradley Beach, I felt pretty good.  

By this point in Hartford, I was already dead in the water.  Not so on this day - and knowing that it was now a mostly straight shot back north on the boardwalk and Ocean Avenue, the final 10K felt throughly do-able, even if I could feel the fatigue starting to set in.  Rather than fight it, I let myself slow down, knowing I could do those last six miles at an 11-minute pace and still come in well under four hours.  

For the most part, each mile got slower from 20 through 25 (8:39, 8:55, 8:56, 8:45, 8:56, 9:03), but I still never felt like I was going to fall apart.  The TAB show ended and I put on Prince's 'Lovesexy' album for the home stretch.  Life is pretty good when you are grooving to "Alphabet St." in the last few miles of a marathon.

Though there would be no big sprint to the finish, I did feel excited about the ending - Gloria found me and ran with me for the last tenth of a mile or so, I still had Prince playing in my ears, the day was turning out to be gorgeous, and most importantly, I had shaken off the stink of the mess from Hartford.  With a finish time of 3:39:00, I felt downright good.

How about that?  I felt good.  Not exuberant or euphoric, but also not wrecked or beaten.  I felt good.  At this point, I will take that as a win.