Saturday, November 10, 2018

Marathon XIX

After the Youngstown Marathon in June, I felt like I could do a quick turnaround to a July marathon.  I started eyeing the Mad Marathon in the Mad River Valley of Central Vermont.  Coming off of my hard effort in Youngstown, I could take in scenic rural Vermont and climb the tough hills at an easy pace, simply for the enjoyment of it all.

Unfortunately, that plan got destroyed when, in mid-June, during a routine eight-mile run, something pulled in my right leg.  I think it was my hamstring.  It hurt, so I took the next day off.  I tried to run again, but was in agony and took two more days off.  Tried again.  Pain.  Three days off...then four days...then five....six...

In all, with the exception of the trial runs, it took about seven weeks before I could run with any consistency (as in, two or more days in a row), so the rest of the summer was about building my strength back up.  It was also about having the opportunity to cheer for my wife, Gloria, as she ran the Run 4 North Caldwell 5K in early September, the Grace-in-Motion 10K in Fort Lee in late September, and Morristown's Superhero Halloween Half-Marathon in October.  I loved watching her kick butt this race season.

At some point, though, I need to train for something.  I am simply not good at maintenance running.  If I do not have a Hal Higdon workout chart on my fridge, with a race date at the end, I tend to feel lost.  So by the end of September, I gave myself a projected upcoming goal marathon, starting increasing the mileage, and followed Hal's Advanced I Marathon plan.  I knew what race I was aiming for, but did not register.  I just worked toward it.

At the end of October, despite various minor aches and pains (hey, I am 44 now - I accept that this is going to be the norm), I finally pulled the trigger and registered for what will be my 19th marathon, bringing my state total to 18 (I ran in New York twice) over the past 11 years.

My marathons have been (chronologically) in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Kansas, Massachusetts, Montana, Rhode Island, Delaware, New York, Utah, Florida, Maryland, New Hampshire, South Carolina, Maine, Nevada, Texas and Ohio.  What will be my 18th state?  Stay tuned...


Sunday, October 21, 2018

Phish in Albany - Oct. 17, 2018

I think I liked my seat in section 107 on Wednesday better than the floor ticket I had the previous night.

It also didn't hurt that this show did pretty much everything I love, with not one moment where I wished the band would have played something different or differently.

I'm not sure what the significance is, but it cannot be a coincidence that at the past three runs at the nearby Saratoga Performing Arts Center and now here in Albany, the great "Crowd Control" keeps showing up,  usually as an opener. I may not know what the connection is to that area of New York State, but boy do I love it.

After that the band was off and running with an incredible "Chalkdust Torture". Thanks to Zzyzyx's stats page, I know that is my most seen Phish song, but I am sure that this was the only one of the dozens I have seen that, after the second chorus, went like this: jam -> end-of-jam riff -> chorus -> jam -> chorus -> coda. It is a testament to Phish that they can continue to transform a 27-year-old song and keep things fresh and interesting.

As probably the biggest fan of the 'Round Room' ballads - "Anything But Me", "Friday" and "All of These Dreams" - I was thrilled to not only hear them perform the latter, but do it so beautifully that it almost brought me to tears. 

"Wolfman's Brother", "NICU", "Gumbo" and "Bathtub Gin" were all well-executed and featured some big, happy, major-key jams.  "I Didn't Know" included a vacuum-cleaner solo by Fishman (introduced as "Jezmund, the family berserker") and "Steam" was super-slinky and sexy.  

"Set Your Soul Free" started with a long, fun jam that got me thinking that it will be the centerpiece of this year's New Year's Eve show. "Birds of a Feather", "The Wedge" and "Wilson" were all fun, if not exceptional, but there were plenty of exceptional jams in "Mercury" (which, along with "Steam", makes a great case for the 3.0 era), a kick-ass "Light" and a set-ending "Slave to the Traffic Light". 

As an encore, the often disappointing "Julius" was at least swinging, if slow and decidedly not rocking; but when Trey calls an audible and whips out an impromptu "Rocky Top", you know that it is a sign that he had a great time and gave us a fantastic show.  It was a you-had-to-be-there encore at a show that otherwise will please the ears of those who only listen.


Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Phish in Albany - Oct. 16, 2018

The cancellation of this summer's Curveball festival was an incredible disappointment. It meant my summer tour was whittled down from five shows to two. It meant that my wife, Gloria, wouldn't get to experience her first Phish festival. It also meant that, with a grand total of six shows for the entire year, my attendance was at its lowest in eight years. Summer ended with a thud.

As a consolation, in addition to a full refund, all Curveball ticket holders received free webcasts of the three Labor Day weekend shows from Colorado. That gesture, along with some mighty fine playing, did a lot to alleviate the disappointment.

It also helped to know that fall tour was around the corner and that I'd be attending the first two shows, both at the Times Union Center in Albany (the Pepsi Arena the last time I was there, on Sept. 9, 2000, during the last month of the 1.0 era.

Tour openers can suffer from having to shake off the rust after not playing for a while (like this past summer) or be bursting with vibrant energy, well-rehearsed out of the gate (like summer 2014).  This one split it down the middle with a show that was fully dance-able, had some impressive jams and was well played, except for a couple of big flubs. Nothing outrageous in either direction, though.

Things got off to a funky start with "The Moma Dance" and "Tube", the latter including a standout jam. If I never hear "Theme From the Bottom" again, I will be fine, but this version's segue into "Free" made it worth my while.

Speaking of segues, the one from "Everything's Right" into "Cities" was marvelous. The former was especially notable for its dreamy jam with Page taking the lead on the Rhodes, followed by Mike dropping a bass bomb that led to Trey briefly doing his peaking thing before Page took over again, this time on the Hammond. 

"Halley's Comet" was fun, but the real left-field surprise was the 2.0-era rarity, the gorgeous "Army of One".

Though Page and Trey managed to badly bungle the beginning of "Walls of the Cave", the stellar jam more than made up for it. The song is still one of my favorite set closers.

The second set started like the first - with another double-dose funk throwdown, this time with a thick, meaty "Ghost" and a fun "No Man in No Man's Land". A segue into "Piper" kept things moving until, after 40 minutes of big dance-able grooves, things slowed down with "Twenty Years Later" which - surprise - ended up being the MVP jam of the night. It was noisy (in a good way) and completely trippy and psychedelic. The fact that I was in the GA floor section did not hurt, as the lighting rigs literally moved up and down and side to side, and enveloping me in all their glory. It was the kind of jam they usually do in "Split Open and Melt" these days (much to my chagrin), but working much better in this context.

On the flip side, I love "Show of Life" but stretching out the I-IV ending might have been better suited for "Mexican Cousin" or one of the other myriad I-IV songs in Trey's arsenal.

"2001" was a nice choice and I figured it would end the set as it began - with some funky grooves. But Trey wanted to rock, so he started "Character Zero", still using the chunky guitar tone from the "2001" jam that, in any other venue than an arena, would have been wildly inappropriate and noisy (in a bad way).

That, of course, did end the set and the icing on the cake was the "Harry Hood" encore that summed up the night in a nutshell - a few mistakes in the intro that were easily laughed off, a solid performance of the composed parts otherwise, and a jam was delightful, if not earth-shattering.

Saturday, August 11, 2018

Phish in Camden - Aug. 8, 2018



At the end of this hot show, I texted to my friend, Marshall, “Damn! What a show.  I guess they had to bring it hard tonight so we forgive them for playing in Camden.”

Sorry, Camden, for making you the butt of the joke again. But hey, at least no one was shot in town on Wednesday (that I know of), and no one died at the show (that I know of) as someone had the previous night. There were some other strange health emergencies near me during the evening, but I will get to that.

The show was, indeed, a hot one, including some fine jamming in the first set, especially by Page who tore it up on "Undermind" and on the best, tightest "My Sweet One" I have heard in years. The opening combo of "The Moma Dance" and "Free" set the mood perfectly for a set that had no problems being equally funky and rocking. After "Undermind", the guy behind me said, "They're going to slow it down, now," and sure enough, they started "Theme From the Bottom", but despite its tempo, it was huge and powerful. "Steam" was great to hear, especially as it was a big improvement over the limp previous version (7/31/18, which was not as slinky in its groove). Oddly, the sexiest Phish song ever included a long tease of the decidedly unsexy "Apostrophe" by Frank Zappa. Contrast!

The set was perfect until Trey started “Train Song” at too fast a tempo and then had trouble keeping up with the pace he set. Then, during “Halley’s Comet”, the weirdness started happening around me.

I think “Halley’s” was good, but I was distracted by the guy next to me who passed out on his feet and crashed to the ground. A few of us helped him up, only for him to hit the dirt mere seconds later. Without any ability to brace himself, his head hit so hard that his glasses flew off his head.  This time we were much more concerned, so we flagged down someone from security to get some medical help.  Thankfully, we were in the very front of the lawn section so all we had to do was look over the rail and call for help.

Security got there quickly. They seemed to determine that he was at least half-lucid. He could answer their questions but his body did not seem to be cooperating. They had a tough time getting the guy up because he kept stiffening his body and clutching the rail.  After they finally got him vertical, with two security guys and me keeping him propped up, he kept insisting that he did not need medical attention.  An extremely patient medical professional came over and the caring way she reasoned with him finally got him to plop into a wheelchair and get carted away.

No sooner were they on their way that the girl next to me on the other side went flopping to the ground!  On the plus side, security was still in the area, so they immediately tended to her as she started convulsing a bit.  They got another medic to the scene and, soon enough, wheeled her away too.

Ironically, during all this nonsense, the band was playing “Everything’s Right”.  At least I had a lot more dancing room as I was finally able to focus on the Phish show again; and just in time, too, because it was another one of those amazing jams that peaks, drops down, and then peaks again.  It was gorgeous, until Trey decided to awkwardly crash back into the chorus of the song to end it.

The second set started with “Julius”. Since the song has no chance of reaching its fiery peaks from the days of yore, its placement in the front of the set - rather than its typical set-ending, near-set-ending or encore slot – works much better these days. It set a great mood as a set opener at the Forum earlier this tour, and nailed it again in Camden.  Prior to these, it had been two years since “Julius” started a set (thanks to phish.net for the stats).  I think it is time that this becomes the norm.

A one-two punch of big jams followed with “Carini” and “Set Your Soul Free”, with Fish steering the former by subtly shifting the rhythm around, keeping Trey on his toes to follow. The latter featured a happy, upbeat jam to match the tone of this new entry in Trey’s string of positivity songs. Sadly, “Wingsuit” failed to sustain the intensity as it went on too long while Trey tried to force a second climax into its eighth minute, when an ending at its natural climax in the fifth minute would have been perfect.

The problem was definitely not the slow tempo because “Waste” worked perfectly well a little later in the set.  And that was after a massive “Scents and Subtle Sounds” that included the intro section for the first time since 2015, in the very same geographical area (the Mann in Philadelphia), even though they played the song six times since then.  What is it about the Philly area that brings the intro? (Thanks again to phish.net for the stats). Even more odd, though, was the jam, which usually follows a I-IV jam in the style of “Simple” but went to much weirder and darker places this time.  I cannot say it was better than usual, but it was certainly interesting.

Speaking of dark jams that are more interesting than good, that brings us to “Split Open and Melt”, which has been consistently as such in the entirety of the 3.0 era.  Freaky, spacey jams are great in “Carini” and “Waves” and even “Sand”, but “Melt” is different.  Sure, it is probably because I have been a fan long enough to remember the rip-roaring “Melt” jams of the ‘90s.  Try as I may, I have always had a tough time enjoying the new versions for what they are.

This one, however, could be subtitled the “How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the ‘Melt’” because something about the mixture of dark textures, hypnotic rhythms and insanely trippy lights caused me to finally let go and get fully immersed in its wonders.  This was easily the best “Melt” since the 1999 funk “Melt” in Holmdel.

With nothing left to do but bring the house down, Phish launched into “Character Zero”, taking the ending down for a little while for pauses to let the audience to its “woo” thing before kicking it back up to peak intensity for the big finish.  The encore of “Suzy Greenberg”, with Page yet again killing it in his piano solo, put the exclamation point on the night.

During set break, I saw a guy with a shirt that read, “I’D RATHER BE AT THE MANN”.  So would I, but I have to admit, despite the weird and sad things that happened in and around the venue, it ended up being a damn good couple of nights in Camden.

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Phish in Camden, NJ - Aug. 7, 2018

Travelling to this venue in Camden has never been a great time. The traffic getting into and out of the area, which is right on the Jersey side of the Ben Franklin bridge to Philadelphia, is always a mess, and the fact that the city is not only in most "Worst Places in New Jersey" (due to high violent crime, poverty and unemployment rates), but Rolling Stone magazine once did an article about it called "Apocalypse, USA".

But that article was five years ago, and though the city does not look like it is about to win any awards any time soon, there does seem to be some improvement. As I walked the streets, my thought was, "They're Jersey City-ing the place," - trying to build up the waterfront area to make it attractive for Philly commuters, but probably leaving the rest to rot as usual.

Adding further ire to music fans, when it's time to park, they charge $40 to park in the nearby lots and $30 to $40 to park in lots that are up to a mile away from the venue in spots that looked no safer than if we parked on the street

Never one to let the bastards get one over on me, I drove around for a while and found a few blocks with street parking. One of them was next to a Rutgers campus building and literally around the block from a spot where they were charging 30 bucks. I put $4.25 in the meter and was on my way. Take that, bloodsuckers!

Another frustrating, though relatively minor, issue is with the name of the place. I've seen Phish at this venue on six tours and the name has been the E Centre (1999 and 2000), the Tweeter Center (2003), the Susquehanna Bank Center (2011) and now the BB&T Pavilion. This naming rights nonsense is out of control. That is why, at this point, I just refer to it as Camden.

Once in the venue, all was right with the world again. I bought a $15 beer, but at least I was still ahead from the parking situation. Then, because I was early, I staked out a spot in the front of the lawn section, Page side.

"Crowd Control" is only played about once a year and, thankfully, usually at a show I'm attending (often at SPAC), and this was a great way to start my first Phish show of 2018.
The spotlight jam of the first set was "Blaze On", which followed a funky buy standard "No Men in No Man's Land". The new song by Mike Gordon is so-so, but the dark jam that came out of it was interesting.

The rest of the set was entertaining and fun, but with little variation from the norm, with "Lawn Boy" and "Wilson" staying short and to the point. Even the set-ending "David Bowie" clocked in at a mere 11 minutes. "46 Days" lifted off a bit, but it wasn't as big as previous versions (and, hey, they do not all have to be). "Rift" was good until Trey lost his mojo in the solo.

Placement is important with "Roggae" and "Sparkle", and while the former sat perfectly in the middle of the set, the latter was odd and unnecessary right before "Bowie.

It started raining lightly during "46 Days" and it turned into a full shower by set break. Lightning in the distance had us worried that the remainder of the show might get delayed or canceled. But "Down With Disease" started the second set, as it tends to do, while the rain still came down. Clearly, they should have saved "Petrichor" for this show. But the 20+ minute jam that came out of "DWD" was amazing. There was so much movement, so much melody, such a fun ride.

The move to "Backwards Down the Number Line" showed that it works much better early in the set, rather than the later placement it often receives. And its segue into "I Always Wanted It This Way" got me incredibly excited. It's a fantastic song with a groove to which one can not help but dance.
After a well placed and well-played "Miss You", unlike at the Baker's Dozen on both counts, another huge, amazing jam came with "Light" as the rain finally subsided. I wasn't sure if it was going to amount to much while it stayed rhythmic and mellow for a while, but Mike forced a key change and caused Trey to kick it up a notch. Fantastic interplay with Fish pounding out a great beat on the toms kept me dancing for the entire 16 minutes.

At that point every song except "DWD" was from the 3.0 era, so it was time to kick it old school with a classic, if not remarkable "Mike's Song > I Am Hydrogen > Weekapaug Groove" to close the set. The latter two were lackluster, but at that point it didn't matter. This set was already stamped with awesomeness.

I was surprised that it was already 11:35 as the set ended and figured the encore would be relatively short. To my delight, it was that 2010 ballad that most people disliked, but I loved then and still love noe, "Show of Life". As the crowd meandered to the exits, I enjoyed the first performance of the song in two years. It was a wonderful ending to a great show.

Leaving the venue was easy and the mile walk to my car was stress free. I never felt like I was in danger. A person who parked on the street near me remarked about how surprised he was that both he and his car were OK. Though there was a lot of traffic getting out of the city, it mostly went well.

So it seemed this area of Camden might not be so bad after all, until my wife called the next afternoon and told me about how two cops were ambushed and shot multiple times at 8:30 p.m., only about a mile from the venue.

<sigh> Camden. We had such high hopes for you.

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.