Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Youngstown Marathon - June 3, 2018

A good night's sleep before a marathon - how often does that happen?  That is good omen, as far as I am concerned.

I got up at 5 a.m. feeling rested and ready.  I got some coffee for Gloria, stretched a bit and we left the motel at around 6. I still had plenty of time to get to the race site, park the car (the lot was across the street from the start line), stretch some more, and even run a warmup mile before the 7 a.m. start time.  Only at small races can that be possible.

Though this race was indeed small, it was extremely well organized.  Every mile was marked, every turn had signs and volunteers, and even several intersections that did not have turns had people there to keep runners on track. If you know my history, you know my biggest fear is a poorly marked course, because one wrong or missed turn can ruin months of training, so this was the greatest gift the organizers could give.

With my course notes in hand, I shot out with the frontrunners on Boardman-Canfield Road, but that was brief because it was clearly too fast. We turned onto the hiking/biking path near the golf course, and I hit the first mile marker at 6:41. It was imperative that I slow down immediately or risk the consequences of a fast burnout.  So on this nice flat stretch of paved path, I brought it down to a 7:06 for the second mile.  But I was feeling too good, I guess, because mile three was a 6:55.

I did not intend to go that fast, and I honestly thought I was slowing down.  We crossed Shields Road to enter the beautiful park alongside Lake Newport and the gently rolling hills kept various muscles active while I startled myself with a 7:00 for the next mile, and if you probably can guess what I was thinking next:

I'm in PR territory here.

A 7:01 pace would net me an all-time best of 3:03(:xx), and I already had a 22-second cushion, which meant I could do 7:02s for the rest of the race and nail it.

I told all of this to the half-marathoner who was running next to me during the fifth (7:01) and sixth (7:10) miles and he wished me well.  I kept pushing past him on the uphills and he kept catching up to me on the downhills.  He was impressed with the way I tackled the hills and I told him it is all about hill training.  I hate it, but it is effective.  "This is where you leave me," he said, as we ascended a relatively big uphill in the seventh, and he had to turn around at his halfway mark soon anyway.

Brimming with confidence, I hit a 7:03, a 6:54 and a 6:57 in the next three miles as we ran over a little bridge and into another section of lovely park (this time alongside Lake Glacier), then out of the park and onto the streets of the Mahoning Commons section.

Mindful of how quickly things could go bad, I took it down to a 7:04, 7:11 and 7:16 for miles 10, 11 and 12.  I still had a decent cushion and I figured it was probably a good time to start using it. With almost half the race behind me, and the largest hill of the race in the 12th mile, slowing down was no longer difficult, it was inevitable, as we made a loop through Downtown Youngstown and then another loop around Youngstown State University and its impressive Stambaugh Stadium.

The 13th mile took us back down the big hill as we headed to the bridge again to retrace our steps through Mahoning Commons and into the park around Lake Glacier.  The downhill gave me one last sub-7 mile with a 6:59, but I could feel that my leg turnover required a little more effort into the 14th (7:12) and 15th (7:14) miles.  These were still amazing splits that I would take any day, but that damn PR idea kept nagging at me.

I felt my pace dragging in the 16th mile (7:32), so it was time to make a big decision - do I supplement my fuel with the Gu packet I had been carrying, or do I stick to the Gatorade and water?  Not taking it meant risking a continued fade in my energy and my split times; but taking it meant the possibility of the stomach problems that tend to plague me if I eat anything before or during a race.

I took half the Gu, hoping it would give me a needed energy spike but not be enough to cause any gastronomic issues.

Giving it a little more effort into miles 17 and 18, I was able to bring my splits down a bit with a 7:20 and 7:24, but I was about a minute and a half behind my PR time.  The Gu must have kicked in, though, because the next three miles were 7:19, 7:22, and a surprising 7:14 as I danced through the aid station playing Taylor Swift in the 21st mile.

Things were clearly copacetic with my tummy, and even though a PR was out of reach now, I took the rest of the Gu, figuring I would cruise my way into a fourth-best ever marathon, with a time between 3:07 and 3:10.  At this point, I only had a little over a half-hour left of running, so there should be no time for the Gu to have any adverse effect.  This was going to turn out awesome.

But then, the Gu hit bottom and my belly started feeling weird.

A passing cyclist (who was probably a volunteer checking in on racers) slowed alongside me to chat, which was exactly what I did not want to do at that point.  I told him I was doing OK, that I was gunning for a 3:07 and that I was enjoying the race.  He asked where I was from, and upon getting the answer, he replied, almost startled, "You came from New Jersey, just for this race?" which is something I have heard several times in my travels to marathons across the country. So, of course, I had to tell him about my 50-state objective, despite wanting desperately for the conversation to be over.

Eventually, he went ahead to check on the other runners on the Lake Newport loop.  I hit a 7:19 for Mile 22 and, incredibly, another 7:19 for Mile 23 as I began to pass runners that were on the first half of the loop (in Mile 19).

But this would be no cakewalk into a fourth-best anymore because my tum-tum was tightening up.  Seriously, it felt like there was an imaginary fist inside my gut, gripping my stomach and squeezing it with all its might.  The last three miles would be a struggle to outlast the pain and get into the finish before it got worse.

The 24th mile felt like forever as I tried to adjust to the discomfort, but somehow I managed a 7:22.  As I rounded out the Newport loop through a short path that put me back on Newport Drive and across Shields Road to the hike/bike path on which we ran those early miles, things got dire.  I was grunting and groaning in increasing agony as I passed a lot of folks that were walking the half-marathon.

Mile 25 - another eternity, yet still a surprising 7:48 (yes, an hour and a half after my last sub-7, I was amazed by a sub-8).  But I would be lucky to hit at 3:10 at this point.

A short cut-through out of the park and led to the suburban streets for the last mile.  Hunched over in my agony, right leg flailing (as it tends to do when I do not or can not concentrate on my gait) I looked at the lawns, garbage cans, mailboxes, squirrels...anything to give my mind something to do other than focus on the fact that now my stomach felt like it was being wrung like a wet towel.

Look at the signs...A left on Ronjoy Place...around the curve onto Ronlee Lane...a right onto Ronpark Place...hahaha...what's with all the Rons?  Oh god, this hurts...

Mile 26 was 8:12.  Dismal by the standards of the race I was running, but not as bad as races in which I hit the wall from muscle fatigue.  Clearly, if this had gone on longer (or if I had taken the Gu even earlier), each subsequent mile would be 20 to 30 seconds slower than the last.  But the finish line was now in sight on this final straightaway and I could see Gloria, my beautiful wife, waving and calling my name, with some total strangers that she had prepped to all cheer me on as I passed.  That is Gloria - if I do not have a cheering section, she will make one.

With the clock in view, I saw 3:09 and thought I might get in under 3:10 but, alas, the remaining stretch was just a bit too long for that, and I came in with a respectable 3:10:34, my fifth best marathon, only slightly behind Myrtle Beach's 3:09:44 and very slightly ahead of Lower Potomac River's 3:10:45.

The Youngstown Marathon, only in its second year, is a fantastic race and a great addition to the big-time famous events elsewhere in the state.  I recommend it to any traveler from east of Ohio that wants to take part in a small, but high quality and well-organized race where the people are friendly, the course is lovely and fairly easy to moderate, the vibe is excellent, and the drive is manageable.  Just don't stay at that Rodeway Inn.

I beat my average marathon time, nailed my eighth Boston qualifying time (3:15:00 for men ages 40 to 44) and came away with a result of which I am truly proud, stomach problems and all.  As I told my co-worker and fellow runner, "A 3:10 is a 3:10, no matter how you get there."

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

Youngstown Marathon prelude - June 2, 2018

On Saturday, I was extremely grateful that my wife, Gloria, was willing to do the entire drive from Parsippany, N.J., to Youngstown, Ohio.  That gave me a chance to try to relax as best as I could.  It took us a little under six hours, what with bathroom breaks and a quick stop to play the Pennsylvania lottery, just for the hell of it.

As soon as we got to town, we went straight to the Covelli Centre to pick up our race packets.  From there, we headed to the Second Sole store - the site of the start and finish lines - and proceeded to drive the race course.  I had been studying the official race map for days, making notes and doing my best to familiarize myself with the street names, but I wanted to see as many of the turns and intersections as possible, to be absolutely sure there would be no problems on race day.

At first, we were a little disappointed - Youngstown seemed like the kind of city that has seen better days, but once we were on the course through the gorgeous parks, snaking around beautiful lakes and a golf course, we ended up being quite impressed.  Gloria even stated that she was regretting only doing the 5K and had wished she had trained for the half-marathon.

I was determined to do everything right on the day before race day (unlike the dumb moves I made in San Antonio in December).  Gloria even helped by not only driving, but letting me pick all the music in the car, knowing that would keep me in a good head space.  She really is the best.

Once we finished driving the course, which included loops through downtown and Youngstown State University, but also a few stretches of trail through which we could not take the car, we went to Nicollini's - a wonderful Italian restaurant that offered a vegetable aglio e olio pasta dish that was absolutely perfect for a pre-race meal.  The waiter recommended a Lost Coast Tangerine Wheat beer that complemented it nicely.

Things were going exactly according to plan when we got to the Rodeway Inn room, which was about 10 miles away.  Unfortunately, the room (and the entire motel, really) was quite filthy.  And sketchy.  I am not a picky guy when it comes to lodging - give me a bed and a shower and I am a happy guy - but this room was truly unacceptable (you should have seen the mold in the air conditioner).  But what did it matter?  We needed to get to sleep and be ready for the big day.  So I just turned off my brain and sacked out at around 10 p.m. hoping for a solid night of rest.

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

Training for Youngstown

After all these years, I still love using Hal Higdon's training programs. So once we decided on the Youngstown Marathon for my 18th go-round in the big 26.2-mile event, the next big decision was whether to use Hal's Intermediate program (which I used for my last two marathons) or one of his Advanced programs (which I last used for the Myrtle Beach Marathon in 2016).

While I remembered that the track training, hill sprints and tempo runs did get me into the best shape of my life in 2016, I also clearly recalled how utterly spent I felt from it. On the hard workouts, I tend to go extra hard (my own fault, I know) and with one speed training day per week, one pace run per week, and long runs every Sunday, there is little room for recovery.

Still, I felt like using the Intermediate program and merely putting in the miles would be a waste of my potential.  I am lucky enough to be 43 years old and posting relatively awesome results at all of my races.  If I still have it, I feel obligated to use it because, someday, it will go away.  

Thus, the hard training began.  I modified the program to include more extra-long runs (doing a 20-, 21- and 22-miler instead of three 20s), and a few 11-milers (instead of topping out at 10 for the middle distance runs). For the 800-meter repeats, I kept them all at around 2:50, rather than a more reasonable Yasso-style 3:03; and for my tempo runs, I endeavored to make the middle-third of each run (ranging from 30 to 45 minutes) at 10K pace or better.  I may have taken it a little easier on the hill sprints, using a one-third mile stretch on Horseneck Road in Montville that was not as steep as others, though, because I can torture myself only so much.

Speaking of hills, I have written often about how I tend to do pretty well on hills, but here is something new I have learned about myself - the lack of hills on long runs seems to be a detriment.

Case in point - I did my 21-mile run on the beautiful Delaware and Raritan Canal trail and my legs felt extremely fatigued by mile 18.  Two weeks later, I did a 22-miler along the roads through Morris, Passaic and Essex counties - with hills that stretched for miles, some with a 300-foot incline - at a faster pace than the flat canal trail; and I felt great the entire time.

Taking that into account, it seemed from the elevation chart that Youngstown was relatively flat, so I knew I would have to be careful.

By the time we hit the road on Saturday morning, I felt completely ready to tackle this marathon and add another state to my list.

Saturday, May 19, 2018

Marathon XVIII

Money is a little tight and Gloria has no vacation time with her new job, so for my next marathon, we needed something in early June that was drive-able in a weekend and inexpensive, but also in a new state so I can continue my quest to run all my marathons in different states.

Using that criteria, we found the Youngstown Marathon in Ohio on June 3.

Sure, most people would probably say that if you are going to do one marathon in Ohio, it would have to be the famous Flying Pig Marathon in Cincinnati or maybe the big Cleveland Marathon. But even though I thoroughly enjoyed the giant spectacles of Boston and New York City, and the big fun of Rock and Roll San Antonio, the smaller races seem to be more my style.

OK, so this one is really small.  Last year's race had 200 people.  That makes it slightly bigger than the 2009 Eisenhower Marathon (175) that produced my personal record and slightly smaller than the 2013 Fort Myers Beach Marathon (230).  With small races, my worst fear is getting lost - 26 miles is a long way to go and if there is not a lot of runners, there is also likely not a lot of volunteers, not to mention a dearth of spectators and large gaps between participants. Not only can it get lonely, but worrisome - I have had more than my share of occasions at small races when I wondered if I was still on the course (and some unfortunate experiences when, in fact, I was not).

That said, the course for Youngstown is displayed with an excellent interactive map that will prove to be helpful. The day before the Park City Marathon, I wrote down directions for every turn on every road and brought it with me at the race.  And I am glad I did because I would have been sunk by some of its confusing sections had I not done so.

The other benefit of small marathons is the easy in-and-out.  We will stay in a cheap hotel a few miles away, park our car near the race's start and finish and not have to worry about early wake times, shuttle buses, giant corrals and other stuff that can make big marathons frustrating.

There are two weeks left and my training has been going incredibly well.  I will be prepared.  I will be properly trained.  I will eat the correct pre-race meals.  I have not yet decided whether I will make it a PR attempt, but I am confident this will be a quality race and I am determined to make my 18th marathon another enjoyable experience.

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

The Island Tour, 20 years later - April 5, 1998

The funk is strong with this one.

Night four of the quickie Island Tour saw Phish messing with everyone's expectations right from the start. "The Oh Kee Pa Ceremony" opened the show for the first time in three years and then, when everyone was likely expecting the usual "Suzy Greenberg" or even "AC/DC Bag" to follow, a hard left was taken and the band launched into "You Enjoy Myself" (first and only "Oh Kee > YEM" ever). Naturally, this "YEM" was funkier than usual, keeping the groove nice and slippery for the audience's dancing pleasure. Even the vocal jam was funky.

Phish knows how to play with contrast, so the strongly executed but decidedly un-funky "Theme From the Bottom" between "YEM" and "Bathtub Gin" was an impressive move in set-list construction, leading the way for a fantastic "Gin" and its entertaining (though a bit rocky) segue into a funkified "Cities". I suppose "Sparkle" was thrown in for the sake of more contrast, to break things up a bit one more time before the set-closing "Split Open and Melt", which was good enough but neither rip-roaring like the early-'90s versions nor Island-Tour-funky.

In fact, it may have seemed that the funk was done for the week with excellent, but definitely non-funky, performances of "Down With Disease" (totally rocking), "Ya Mar" (fun and breezy) and "Prince Caspian" (big and bombastic).  However, the second half of the set brought it back as songs continued to segue, with a jarring crash from "Maze" to "Shafty" and with an effortless slide from "Shafty" to "Possum" to "Cavern". Save for the latter, every song in the set (save for the "Cavern" closer) was left unfinished.

As if the point had not been completely made by the music, Trey Anastasio even mentioned during the intro of the funkiest "Cavern" ever, that they were going to jam on the funk groove for the rest of the night because, "That's sort of been the thing."

It is almost surprising then, especially since Trey also instructed the audience that they can take off if they want to, implying that the funk groove would be all that was left of the show, that they came back for an encore with a blazing "Bold as Love" (or even at all - they probably could have continued the "Cavern" funk jam until their curfew with no encore and no one would have been upset about it).

But there is still no doubt that the funk certainly had been "the thing" in that small but glorious moment in time known as the Island Tour. 

Saturday, April 21, 2018

The Island Tour, 20 years later - April 4, 1998

In an awesome reversal move, Phish opened up the second half of the Island Tour (the first of two shows at the Providence Civic Center in Rhode Island) with "Tweezer", after capping the first half with the "Reprise" version of the tune.

Funk played a big part in Phish's jamming in the latter half of 1997 and that spilled over into these shows, too.  It was clearly evident in the "Tweezer" jam that sounded like what the version at the Great Went festival the previous August had the potential to be. 

By this point of the four-show run, the rust was shaken off and the composed songs were executed as wonderfully as the jams - from the simple stuff like "Ginseng Sullivan," "Bouncing Around the Room," "Funky Bitch" and "Lawn Boy", to the more complex tunes like "Limb by Limb" and "Taste".  The latter had a jam that even blew away the excellent version from 3/1/97 that had been officially released on Slip, Stitch and Pass, five months before this show.  And as a set closer, "Character Zero" just kept getting more and more rockin' in '98.

"Birds of a Feather" was obviously a new song they really wanted to push and explore.  The Island Tour featured the song twice, first at its debut on Long Island and then with a long jam in its second go-round in Rhode Island.  In addition, the officially released Island Tour package includes a version played in between at the Providence soundcheck during which the band members seem genuinely excited about its prospects (and with another excellent jam, too!)

In previous years, leaving songs unfinished was an occasional occurrence, but not quite commonplace.  The fall of 1997 demonstrated that jams could get so far out that they could not come back, and the second set of 4/4/98 continued in that direction, with "Birds" giving way to "2001" (which built upon both the extended-jam potential from the Great Went and that fabulous Phishy funk), which segued beautifully (and surprisingly!) into "Brother", which itself abandoned its usual chartered course before the final chorus to sail away on the tide of its own funky momentum. And though the latter did actually come around, it was so forced as to seem unnecessary.  After a pause, the band must have sensed the weirdness, too, because they jokingly started to play the song again from the beginning.

The "Ghost" that followed was another open-ended funk jam, but "Ghost" has always been an open-ended funk jam; at this point, though, that was becoming the norm, not the exception.  Maybe that is why this "Ghost" never really got its due, being overshadowed by the standout versions that preceded it. Fans will always recall 11/17/97, but no one mentions 4/4/98 as a "Ghost" highlight. 

With the exception of the oddly placed "The Lizards", the fact that an excellent set-closing "David Bowie" and a gorgeous "Harry Hood" encore are the least interesting things about the second half of this show should be all you need to know about how far the band had come and where it was headed by the time it hit Providence for this tour. 

Friday, April 20, 2018

The Island Tour, 20 years later - April 3, 1998

If it happened now, I would probably prefer to stay overnight in the Uniondale, N.Y., area, for a two-night stand of Phish at Nassau Coliseum, but two decades ago, we crazy kids decided to drive the 60 miles from New Jersey, drive back after the show, and then do it again the next day.  I was still attending university at the time, so maybe I had to get back for a Friday class; but I honestly can not remember.

My ticket stub from the second night of the Island Tour. Section 103 - good seats!

Things got off to a much better start on the second night, with outrageous jams in "Mike's Song" and "Weekapaug Groove", and a strange placement of "Old Home Place" sandwiched in between. Listen closely to the "Weekapaug" jam and you can briefly spot the now-familiar chords to "Mozambique", which would make its debut with Trey's one-off band called 8-Foot Flourescent Tubes a couple of weeks later, though the (assumed?) title at the time was "Free Thoughts".

Slowing things down afterward was the only thing that made sense and "Train Song" did the job nicely; but "Billy Breathes" was mangled so badly that it is a minor miracle that Trey managed to make his solo soar, literally at the last minute. The other highlight of the set was a well-executed (though not earth-shattering) "Reba".

While the '80s songs dominated in the first set, the entire second set makes a good case for why the four-show Island Tour made it into the Phishtory books and was given the full official-release treatment.

After two go-rounds with Ween's "Roses Are Free" in December of 1997 - that rocked harder than, but did not stray far from the original - the third time was the charm as it was given the full Phish treatment for a whopping 28 minutes; and it was not only lengthy, it was fascinating, with excellent interplay between the band members. Keeping pace with the magic that was made in the celebrated fall of 1997, the consistent grooves were fun for the dancing legs, but there were enough change-ups to keep it interesting for the ol' ear holes. It seemed to herald the beginning of "Roses" as a new jam vehicle but, sadly, the song reverted right back to a five-minute rocker after this, with the exception of the epic 35-minute version at dawn, near the end of the all-night 12/31/99 show. That show still remains in the vaults, though, so this Island Tour performance the only officially released version with an extended jam.

Also particularly notable was the relatively new "Piper" that followed "Roses". More of an excuse to jam than a song, it was obvious that the repetition and acceleration would build up to a climactic frenzy. The surprise came on the back end. The outro that has now been long abandoned, but was usually less than a minute even at the time, turned into its own extended jam that lasted even longer than the front end. And as the music finally wound down into a lovely piano solo, Page segued into a "Loving Cup" that ended with a fan jumping up onstage only to get taken down by Pete Carini (crew member, and he of the famed "lumpy head").

Because Phish shows are always of-the-moment affairs, the band used that to power a musical theme, singing, "Carini's gonna get you..." throughout the intro section of a "Run Like an Antelope" that soared into its climax, ending one of Phishtory's historic four-song sets.

But the fun did not stop there. For an encore, the band played "Carini" (natch) and called its titular subject onstage; and then proceeded to play "Halley's Comet" (surprising for an encore choice) which led into "Tweezer Reprise".

As it is, "Tweeprise" is a surefire rocking way to end a show, but playing it in a rare three-song encore and without actually having played "Tweezer"? Well, that is an acknowledgement some awesome stuff just happened.  We left feeling thoroughly satisfied.