Monday, August 19, 2019

Dover Renaissance 5K

At some point, it had to get done, and the longer I waited, the harder it would be.

I had not run a short race all year, so on the morning of Aug. 10 when I showed up in downtown Dover, I was nervous.  My friend, Gavin, later that afternoon, asked why I would be so nervous.  I was no stranger to 5Ks, plus I had been doing marathons, so three miles should be nothing.

Oh, if it were only that simple.  

I explained to him that the goal of short races is not to run it and finish, but to run fast.  And even though I had done dozens of them before, every race is different and each one comes with its own set of expectations.

For this race, the expectations were low, no question, but it was important to find out if I still had even a little shred of the speed and endurance I exhibited three years ago when I nailed my huge 17:38 PR.  At the go signal, I burst onto West Blackwell Street for a flat straightaway that lasted almost the entire first mile.  The cool morning air was already being burned off by the sun, which had come out and started blazing just before the start of the race.

The turn onto Salem Street sent us onto a bridge over railroad tracks, the course's only hill.  It was steep enough to cause some folks to slow down and it put me right back into the mindset of the old days (when I actually did hill training) - make the move and pass people on the hill.  I did so and, on the other side of the bridge, I hit the first mile mark with a 5:49 - my fastest mile since December!

But despite the flat terrain of Orem and Watson drives, Harrison and Wilson streets and Harding Avenue in the second mile, there was no keeping it up.  A 6:12 second mile was all I could muster.  

I was, however, in fifth place and closing in on the two guys ahead of me who were running side by side.  A big push in the final mile could get me third!

After powering up the hill again, I managed to get next to them on the straightaway back along West Blackwell Street even pulling ahead for a brief moment before falling back again.  

As I did so, the guy to my right - Matthew Rorigue - turned his head and let out a bunch of spit.  Come on, man.  Moments later, he did it again, showering my lower legs with his saliva.  What a jerk.  Barely able to breathe, let alone speak, I blurted, "Stop spitting on me!"

"Sorry," he said, but that is nonsense.  He saw me right next to him.  He had to know I was there.  What an inconsiderate jerk.

I was not next to him for much longer anyway because I was fading fast.  My third mile was a 6:13.  Matthew and the other guy, Patrick Neighbour (who squeaked past Matthew with a fraction of a second difference) went ahead and I rounding the corner into the finish line with a 19:03. (See the full results)

OK, so here are the cold, hard facts: The only other times in the past decade that I ran a 5K that took longer than 19 minutes were the windy 19-degree day in January 2018 and my first race after being sidelined for six months from back pain in June of 2015.  Despite being almost 45 years old and having run four marathons within seven months, that data hung over me pretty heavily.

But, thankfully, I had my wonderful wife, Gloria, right there on the sideline, pep talking me at the beginning, cheering me in to the end and reminding me afterward of all the things for which I should be proud (not the least of which being fifth place overall and tops in my age group!).  

She was right, of course - I should be proud.  I shook off the rust, ran the best race I could and, most importantly, got my feet back in the game for more short racing.  I am going to train hard for the next eight weeks and see what I can muster up for an October 5K.  Whatever happens, I know I continue to have my heart in my soles and to run like an antelope.

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Post-marathon to 5K

Four marathons in seven months.

I have been running races for 13 years and this is the first time I have done that.  With the exception of the first of the four, they were not my best (or my worst, though), but it is still an achievement
of which I am incredibly proud.

There is, however, one huge downside to spending seven months simply logging miles - speed gets lost.  

So after one recovery week following the Mad Marathon, I made it my business to start getting back to the grind of speed training.  That meant returning to Hal Higdon's four-week Advanced Post-Marathon program, which re-introduces speed work into training with weekend tempo runs and mid-week mile intervals. 

I couched the mid-week mile intervals within seven-mile runs, taking the first, third, fifth and seventh miles slowly; and doing the second, fourth and sixth at as fast a pace I could muster.  The goal was to increase the speed of those fast miles each week.  The first week was encouraging as I was off to a good start with fast miles averaging 6:17.  But the second week saw no improvement.  Thankfully, in the third week I ran my first sub-6 mile of the year, but even then, the second two took such a sharp downward turn that my average ended up at 6:09.

During the previous few years, I was doing so much speed work that I could regularly pump out sub-6s.  Now, a little older, a bit more banged up, and a lot more out of practice, I could barely squeak out a 5:59.  In my defense, this was all happening in the blazing heat of the summer.  Trying to do tempo runs and long runs in 90-degree heat can wipe you out.  Yes, I ran 13 miles, up and over huge hills in Boonton, N.J., on the day it was 95 degrees and sunny.

The 5K I selected (with much help from Gloria) for the culmination of the training program was the 21st annual Dover Renaissance Run in Dover, N.J., on Aug. 10.  Luckily, it was the first relatively cool weekend in a while.  I was not going into it expecting much, but with a temperature in the mid-60s and low humidity, I was ready to give it all I had.  

Because that is what you do at the short races - you do not just run three miles.  You lay it all out there.

Saturday, July 27, 2019

Mad Marathon, Waitsfield, Vt. - July 7, 2019 (part two)

“This is the first time I’ve gone into a marathon feeling good since Mississippi,” I told Gloria as I stood at the starting line of the Mad Marathon.

Indeed, my hamstring was in pain in Louisiana and my calf was roughed up in Kentucky.  But on this beautiful, cool morning in the mountains of Vermont, I felt great, if a little bit nervous about the giant hills ahead of me.  But there was no pressure here.  I was standing on Main Street that morning for two reasons – to run a Vermont marathon in under four hours and to see the beautiful views that the website promised.

It was obvious that most of the other runners had a similar attitude.  Along the course, people were chatting and taking photos of the scenic vistas, delivered as advertised.  Runners encouraged each other up the seemingly endless hills and - with the exception of the winner, Dylan Thayer, and runner up, Christopher Free, who completed the course in the mind-boggling, super-human times of 2:48:52 and 2:55:29 – they did not seem to be there to race competitively.  Certainly, no one was there to get a personal record.

The first two miles was through town and over a quaint covered bridge crossing the Mad River and north along Joslin Hill Road, already doing some uphill work with a climb of a few hundred feet in altitude.  We turned onto North Road and proceeded on relatively flatter terrain and across another covered bridge to a quick out-and-back on Meadow Road and then back onto North Road to the northernmost point in the race for a turnaround.  These provided us the opportunity to give well-wishes to those in front of us and behind us in the pack; and at this super-friendly marathon, several runners did exactly that.  Since I was taking it more slowly than usual, I made sure to greet and encourage every runner that I passed (or passed me).  These little turnarounds also provided the opportunity to count runners and see where I was placed (not that it mattered…but it did…a little).  Counting the blue bibs coming back at me (half-marathoners wore yellow), I determined that I was in 27th place in these early miles, and my pace was at around 8:00 per mile, right on target.

The next several miles took us south on North Road, past where we turned from Joslin Hill Road, and south on Common Road and East Warren Road toward something the race officials referred to as “the dip”, which was a sharp downhill followed by a sharp uphill (each about 200 feet in elevation), before continuing the long 900-foot ascent that started around mile seven and finally peaked at around mile 16.  I managed to tackle the dip at a reasonable pace of around 9:00 per mile, and as the long ascent wore on, the difficulty was eased by the gorgeous views of the mountains and ski slopes as well as a happy fellow named Cary who recognized me from the Hatfield & McCoy Marathon last month. While I tried to maintain a somewhat even (though slow) pace of running, his tactic was to run the short downhills and walk the steep uphills. This had the effect of us constantly leap-frogging each other during several miles, giving us a chance to chat a bit about the craziness of what we were doing (and remark on how wonderfully tolerant our wives were throughout it all).

The elevation finally leveled off a bit as we turned off of East Warren Road and made a rectangle along Roxbury Mountain, Senor, Fuller Hill and Plunkton roads before heading back north on East Warren into the last few miles of the race.  After all that uphill climbing, that four-mile section should have felt good; but instead, I felt fatigued on its gently rolling terrain. I was logging miles in the low-8s at that point, and I accepted this to be completely fine.  I think had even gotten myself as far as 25th place at one point, so everyone else must have slowed down, too.

What goes up must come down, so when I was finally on East Warren, with a net downhill for the final seven miles of the race, I decided it would be OK to pick up the pace again, since the hard work was over.  This worked out well for miles 20 through 22, hitting my first sub-8-minute miles since the first half of the race and what might have been my fastest mile all day.  But I had forgotten one thing – the return of the dip.

Somehow, it had slipped my mind that on the return trip toward town, I would have to tackle the dip again.  The steep uphill even looked more daunting this time.  No matter how slowly I took the ascent (upper 9s) it felt like too much work.  By the time I crested the hill, I was officially ready for the race to be over.  Adding anxiety to my fatigue, a few runners were coming back toward me, saying we were all going the wrong way.  I have learned from my past experiences to keep a copy of the map and turn-by-turn directions in my pocket, so I stopped for a moment, checked my notes, determined that we were on the right track, and pressed on.

I knew everything was OK, but I felt uneasy, so hitting the mile 23 marker was a bit of relief.  Still, some damage had been done – the energy drain of the climb out of the dip and the nervous feeling of possibly being off course sent my stomach into a tailspin.  I tend to carry stress and anxiety in my tummy, and it was being pushed to the brink as I made the turn onto Joslin Hill Road for the final 5K of the course.  As it has in so many previous races (but not since Youngstown last year), my stomach knotted up tightly, signing the death warrant for this race.  All I could do for the last three miles was survive.

Mile 24 took more than 10 minutes.  “So what,” I thought.  “People run entire marathons at a slower pace.  I just need to run two more miles in the next half hour.” 

The pain grew so great, it felt like there were evil hands inside my belly wringing out my stomach like a wet washcloth – gripping and twisting, tighter and tighter.  I could not take it anymore, so I walked for about a minute, and the pain subsided.  But as soon as I tried to run again, it came right back.  I suppose I could have walked to the finish and still come in under four hours (barely), but that is just not me. 

So I pushed on.  It did not matter how slowly, as long as I was running, because running a marathon means running a marathon.  OK, I was probably shuffling more than running at that point, but it was still slightly faster than walking.  I was also grunting and groaning from the intense pain; so much so, that a volunteer near the covered bridge at Mile 25 asked if I needed help.  I told him it was stomach problem and that I would make it.

Finally on Main Street, with several runners passing me, I was relieved that it was almost over - 23 amazing, beautiful, challenging but fun miles, followed by three awful, painful, gut-wrenching ones.

The last mile probably took about 12 minutes (and seemed like an eternity), but every step brought me closer to the end, and when I made the last turn and saw the finish line (and Gloria, who immediately recognized that I was suffering), I stretched my arms out, tried to straighten up my posture, and entered the chute in the grassy area, surrounded by various flags on each side, and an archway that resembled a barn.

Once I crossed (at 3:43:14, second out of 17 in the males 40-44 group) I immediately hit the ground, doubled over and kneeling, trying to catch my breath, thinking I may lose composure and start outright weeping.  Gloria helped me up and we made our way to a picnic table where I rested for a few minutes.  Once my stomach and breath normalized, the fatigue in my legs kicked in as we slowly walked to Gloria’s car.  Within a half hour, we were back at the hotel and I was showering, and at noon, we checked out and hit the road.  I would have loved to stick around the beautiful towns of Waitsfield and Warren, but we had a seven-hour drive ahead of us. 

Once we got home, we met with our friends and went out to an all-you-can-eat Indian buffet.  Still wearing my huge medal and baby-stepping to the buffet, I was asked by a 20-something kid if the medal was from a marathon and where.  I told him I had just run a marathon in northern Vermont.

“You ran a marathon in Vermont this morning?” he asked.

“Yeah.  I know, crazy, right?”

Not just crazy.  Mad.

Thursday, July 18, 2019

Mad Marathon, Waitsfield, VT (part one)

48 hours after Gloria and I drove home from the Phish shows in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., we headed north again, and this time it was a six-hour drive to Waitsfield, Vt., for the Mad Marathon.

Northern Vermont, of course, is the birthplace of that band that I love so much, and the area is steeped in Phishtory.  The last time I was up there, I went to Burlington and saw Nectar’s, which is now legendary for being the venue where Phish essentially formed its sound by playing dozens of shows there in its early years.

A lesser known venue, however, is Gallagher’s, where the band played several gigs in those same formative years (often between Nectar’s gigs).  Though Gallagher’s is no more, the building still stands and is occupied by Sage restaurant. It just so happens that the place is at the end of Main Street in downtown Waitsfield, down the block from the start line of the Mad Marathon.  It was quite interesting see the little building where the same band that had sold out Fenway Park that very weekend played to tiny audiences 30 years ago.

As with our previous three marathons, it was pouring rain on the day before, and packet pickup was under a tent outside the Waitsfield Inn on Main Street.  Despite it being warmer than 70 degrees (F), the rain gave me chills.  At that point, I just wanted to eat an early dinner (delicious Italian food down the block at Peasant), have a local craft beer (at the Local Folk Smokehouse), check into our hotel (the lovely Sugarbush Inn in nearby Warren) and wind down.

There was no time for sightseeing on this trip.  We would be in town for less than 24 hours.  But I knew that if the hype was to be believed, there would be plenty of scenery to view during the marathon.  After all, that was why we made the trip to Vermont, only four weeks after the Hatfield & McCoy Marathon.  This race would be all about taking it slow and taking it all in.

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Phish at Saratoga Performing Arts Center, Saratoga Springs, N.Y. - July 3, 2019

On March 6, 2009, when Phish returned to the stage for the first time since 2004, they opened with “Fluffhead”, a song they had not played in almost nine years.  Opening with “Fluffhead” is their musical equivalent of throwing down the gauntlet; a promise, nay, a prideful boast, that says the band is ready to attack its composed material and take you on a special journey.

It is too bad, then, that when they opened with “Fluffhead” on July 3 at SPAC, it fell a bit short of the lofty expectations that it presented.  The “Who Do? We Do!” and “The Chase” sections had some flubby playing by Trey Anastasio, taking me out of the moment. The triumphant “Arrival” ending temporarily lifted my spirits and had me literally leaping, but a thoroughly botched middle section of “Guyute” had me cringing as Jon Fishman somehow ended up being a half-measure ahead of Trey in the fast-jig part.  It was brutal.

Thankfully, they knew to come back with a gimme in the form of “Martian Monster”, an easy riff for heavy jamming.  Course corrected, fast numbers like “Llama” and “Poor Heart” kept spirits high, “Crazy Sometimes” reminded me why it is one of my preferred newer Mike Gordon tunes, and “Steam” brought the slinky groove I love so much. “Silent in the Morning” (preceded by a barely-played “The Horse”) was perfectly placed at the back end of the set, giving way to what was, at first, a surprise in the rare performance of “Sleep”, but made perfect sense as it led into my favorite new multi-part epic, “Drift While You’re Sleeping” to end the set.  It was the first song to be repeated from the Camden run and, boy oh boy, I was still as glad to hear it as I was just days before.

That grouping got me thinking about how the titles of some of the other new tunes by Ghosts of the Forest share similarities with older Phish songs.  Maybe in the future we can see “Ghosts of the Forest > Ghost”, “Friend > Friends”, “About to Run > Run Like an Antelope”, “Halfway Home > Home”, “The Line > In Long Lines”, “Waves > Ruby Waves”, “Brief Time > Liquid Time > Party Time” or “Waiting in the Velvet Sea >  Beneath a Sea of Stars”.

Picking up on the much improved second half of the first set, the band got everyone dancing right away in set two with “No Men in No Man’s Land”, and even though on paper, it might seem like a disappointment to have the ballad “Dirt” in the second slot, it worked nicely and it gave way to the best sequence of the night, as “Plasma” wove its slow-funk groove into “We Are Come to Outlive Our Brains”, only to eventually have “Plasma” briefly teased before a full-on segue into “Tweezer Reprise” that caused the crowd to erupt, with glowsticks flying everywhere.

Somehow, they managed to shift the energy after the enormous “Reprise” into a well-played “The Wedge” that I was really hoping would slip back into “Plasma”, but it was not to be.  No arguments here, though, on the choice “Sneaking Sally Through the Alley” to keep the groove party going.  And while “Run Like an Antelope” is almost always welcome, it was absolutely the weakest “Antelope” jam, I had ever heard.  Thankfully, they knew not to end the set there, giving us and excellent “More” that could (and probably should) have ended the set.  Instead, much like the opening of the show, expectations were set high to end it on a glorious note with “Slave to the Traffic Light”.  The jam was big, but I have seen bigger and better.

The show ended with the second shortest encore of the tour – a seven-minute “Rock and Roll” that packed a big punch in the jam and its super-big ending, despite the thoroughly bungled lick from Trey in the middle break of the song.

With the exception of the first half of the second set, this was a show that may be worth a casual listen, but without any expectations that minds will be blown.  Not the best way to end my five-show run, though I still would not trade it for anything.  Summer 2019 was shaping up to be one heck of a tour.  I am excited to hear what is to come at Mohegan Sun, Fenway Park and Alpine Valley.

Monday, July 15, 2019

Phish at Saratoga Performing Arts Center, Saratoga Springs, N.Y. - July 2, 2019

SPAC has a long and fruitful history with Phish as a venue where excellent shows have taken place during each era of the band. The 3.0-era, especially, has seen some multi-night runs that have produced fantastic jams and the venue continues to be a fan favorite. 

Imagine my surprise when my wife, Gloria, and my friend, Marshall, both attending SPAC for the first time, expressed their displeasure with the place. Sure, it has its problems - the stage is not visible from the lawn, the venue can get quite crowded and the entrance and exit usually elicits a feeling of being herded like cattle - but still! This is SPAC, a magical place where great music consistently gets conjured up (their Twitter handle is even @MagicOfSPAC)!

Thank goodness the music made up for the venue's alleged shortcomings. We staked out a spot in the rear of the main lawn near some trees as the party got started with a debut opener from out of nowhere, the old Everly Brothers song, "Cathy's Clown" followed by the "Tweezer Reprise" we thought we would get in Camden - the rare first-set appearance of the latter hearkening back to that wacky time they opened and closed a show with it at SPAC in 2010 (after playing it twice at the previous show).

Things stayed pretty rocking for most of the set, with "Carini", "AC/DC Bag", "Home" (during which they nailed the harmonies) and a total rager of a "Bathtub Gin". "Theme From the Bottom" slowed things down and the usually reliable set-closer "Walls of the Cave" fell flat. But there was levity and laughter, too - when Jon Fishman came in before the modulation for his vocal on "The Moma Dance" and then almost aborted it (making me think for a brief moment that it would end up as its instrumental counterpart, "Black Eyed Katy"), and when Fish and Trey Anastasio continued cracking each other up with a strange "heee-hawww" lick that the former sang and the latter played on guitar (something they had been doing in Camden, too) during an extended "Meat".

The second set really packed a punch right out of the gate with the Kasvot Vaxt song "Cool Amber and Mercury" to open and back to back amazeballs jams in "Down With Disease" and "Scents and Subtle Sounds" (the latter including the rarely played intro section). The set then turned from straight-up rocking, with "Twist" and "Wilson", to romping fun with "Scent of a Mule", "Halley's Comet" and the rare oddball "Fuck Your Face" (not a dirty song, as one might suspect, but rather about a guitar that sounds so awesome it will do what the title suggests). A good (but not great) "Harry Hood" closed the set.  Had that been the show closer, it might have been a little disappointing, but we had an encore to come.

The band came back onstage and played "Fee", which I predicted right away would involve Trey Anastasio messing up the lyrics.  Not only was I correct, but the megaphone through which he sings the verses started conking out on him, too, leaving the whole thing a bit of a mess.  But, hey, this is summer 2019, when encores have usually been at least two, sometimes three or four, songs, so there was room for redemption.  And redemption we got with the absolutely gorgeous Ghosts of the Forest song "A Life Beyond the Dream" followed by a banging "First Tube" that got some numbnut in the audience so excited, he jumped onstage, ran past Trey and then around by Jon Fishman's drums before being escorted away.

It was a slamming end to a show that was not perfect, but had some excellent bits that are definitely worth a few repeated listens ("Cathy's Clown", "Bathtub Gin", "Disease" and "Scents", for sure).  Not only that, but it was the fourth show in a row with no repeated songs, which is one of the big reasons I have kept coming back, especially to the magic of SPAC.

Tuesday, July 9, 2019

Marathon XXII

Two quick turnarounds in the span of seven months?  Why not?

After the Mississippi Gulf Coast Marathon in December, I did the Louisiana Marathon six weeks later, but I was hurting after effectively tying my personal record.

But after the Hatfield & McCoy Marathon last month, I was feeling good (for a change).  I already set my sights on another one – the Mad Marathon on July 7 in Vermont, the 21st state in my increasingly difficult quest to run a marathon in all 50, each in under four hours, and on a very limited budget.  But I could make this work…

…as long as I did a long run while on Phish tour and got Gloria’s help to drive up to Waitsfield, Vt., backtracking up north two days after driving home from Saratoga Springs (which is essentially halfway to Waitsfield).

It also required truly committing to the “under four hours” rule, accepting that 3:59:59 would be a favorable result.  The Mad Marathon involves an awful lot of hills, ascending from around 600 to 1,600 feet above sea level.  In my previous marathon that involved a thousand-foot incline – the Red Rock Canyon Marathon in Las Vegas, Nev. – I learned my lesson from the one before that (the Park City Marathon in Utah) and took the advice of the fellow runner that suggested, “Start slow, and then back off.” I would have to abide by that philosophy again and not get carried away with myself.

After all, a 9-minute pace would still bring me in under four hours.

Running a sub-four marathon on an extremely challenging course, only four weeks after my last one, the week after a Phish tour, six hours away from home, leaving on Saturday and coming home on race day, then going to work on Monday?

That sounds like a ridiculous plan.  One would have to be mad.

Ah, the Mad Marathon it is.