I like to run. I've learned that it really isn't about where you're going, it's about the getting there - the how, the why, the who with. This blog is just a little repository for my thoughts along the way; the setbacks, the lessons learned, and the occasional triumph.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

The Mouse That Roared

Just a quick story:
I was out for an 8-miler tonight. I’d waited all afternoon for a rainy storm front to pass through. It was after dark and there was a steady wind blowing in from the West. So, when I saw a little brown object fluttering across the sidewalk in front of me, I thought it was just a wad of trash or a small plastic bag being blown by the breeze.

Then I got closer and saw it had legs. It was a mouse! He (she?) was cutting across the sidewalk in front of me after retrieving some prize near the curb. I got pretty close to him before he realized I was coming. He instinctively tried to reverse course and escape, but he was already on the inside of the walk and I was practically on top of him.

In his panic he gave up on getting to whatever hole in the wall he was accustomed to, and now he was just running. But the brick wall he was next to must not have had any other portals in it, so he just kept running.

There we were, trotting along, more or less, right along side each other, me wondering how far he’s actually going to stay with me, and him wondering (surely) when the hell the horrible nightmare was going to just-please-god be over.

And then, I don’t know, either the terror overwhelmed him, or – and I really prefer to think of it this way – maybe the sheer exhilaration of the adrenaline rush charged him beyond expectation, because he let out this little, prolonged, mousy-roar-like, squeeeeeeek!

I really do like the idea that it was the mouse equivalent to a YeeehHaaaa! Think of a two inch tall, four-legged, tailed and furry Usain Bolt crossing the finish line after 100 meters in Beijing, but with a cross-species twist. It’s like this mouse invented his own Rodent X-Games. Just think: one day, I’ll be able to say “I was there,” and “I knew him when…”

Now, of course, he and I will be looking for each other out there on Foster Ave. They say running with a partner can really go a long way toward improving your own performance. Ah, the camaraderie.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Shamrock Skipped!

Here's a little Pre-Post-Script:
Follow this link to an article about the race earlier today, which includes a short video segment with race coverage at the bottom of the article. You'll see what I'm talking about below.

That's right, I skipped the darn thing! And I'm actually proud that I did! Why? I'll tell you why: 2 to 3 inches of fresh snow fall, more coming down race morning, freezing temperatures, 25mph Northerly winds and city streets covered in salty, slushy, dirty, snowy, YUCK.

I don't even care that it was only a 5 mile race. The event has grown beyond convenient proportions in recent years. 32,500 people signed up for this year's race, and even if the weather had been better, it still would have been a pain to get downtown, walk over to Grant Park, wait in line at the gear check, stand around in a corral for 30 minutes, run a little race, wait in line at gear check again and then work my way back to the CTA for the 30 minute ride home again.

Maybe I could handle it if the weather had been sunny and in the 50s, like it was just two days ago, but no way was I going to try to endure the inclement weather AND try to surf the unpleasant logistics of a race that has grown beyond its bounds in the first place.

Just. Not. Worth it.

I've already had more than my fair share of races in the past few years whose forecast turned unexpectedly extreme on race day. More than half a dozen events where the heat soared 30 degrees hotter than normal, or there was fresh/unseasonal snow on a race course. I don't need to go through it again.

Deena Kastor was in town to run the Shuffle again this year. She was here in 2005 and won the race. It was part of her preparation for the Chicago Marathon that October which she came back for and also won. Today was going to be her first race since the marathon at the Beijing Olympics last August when she broke her foot 3 miles in. What a pleasure for her to wake this morning and see a city course filled with snowy, icy, slushy streets! For her first race after breaking her foot? Joy! Rapture! As of noon, no results are up on the event website. Maybe she was smart and bailed like I did. I laid in bed this morning at 7am, while I was still debating, thinking that very thing: I wonder if Deena's even going to run?

I'm doubtful I'll sign up for this race next year. I've done it four times before, and I really love the downtown course It's a tour of the loop and the one nice thing about the race. But it's awfully expensive for an 8K. The official t-shirt is El Cheapo because they're trying to trick runners into spending more money on the over-priced stuff at the official merchandise booth. The logistics at the race start are overwhelming, and there's not even any glamorous little medal for the finishers - because it's only an 8K. I think I'd rather go for a run around the neighborhood, or find a little 5K in the 'burbs.

Naturally, the forecast tomorrow calls for bright sun and temps in the very high 40s.

Saturday, March 21, 2009


Two weekends ago I finally got in a 16-miler that I’d failed to do the previous two weeks. (Missed the first week because of illness and didn’t finish on my second try because the weather was just so completely bad.) I was rusty, I took a handful of catch-my-breath breaks, but I got through it.

There was one prolonged break, but it wasn’t for any of the usual reasons. 12.5 miles in, I came across a guy who was threatening to jump off of the North Avenue foot bridge into the Lake Shore Drive traffic below.

The wind had picked up quite a bit as the sun dipped. The gusts were harsh as I started the climb up the east end of the foot bridge. I had to tuck my chin into my collar and pull my cap far down on my head to keep from losing it. My field of vision was limited to the patch of concrete at my feet. I didn’t see the jumper, or the woman who was trying to coax him back to the safe side of the railing, until I was passing them.

The guy was dressed in blue jeans and basketball shoes. He wore a silvery athletic jacket of some kind, like a windbreaker, with a team or product name on the back. He had on a ball cap and a bookbag type backpack. He was African-American, but light skinned, and his face was covered with the kind of freckles that you sometimes see on light-skinned black men.

He also had one leg on the foot bridge and the other on the opposite side of the rail, hanging out over Lake Shore Drive.

The woman who was talking to him was a runner. She was dressed in her black running clothes, a jacket and ¾ pants. Her long, dark hair was pulled up in a pony tail, and she was on the petite side – much smaller than the guy, who was 6’+ and maybe 210 lbs or more.

The truth of the situation didn’t sink in at first, because both of them were so calm. He wasn’t ranting. They weren’t arguing. There was no air of immediacy. They could have been any pair of tourists taking in the lake and the Chicago winter for the first time. My very first thought was that the guy was just posing for a crazy photo over Lake Shore Drive.

Ten paces past the pair of them, as the facts sunk in, I slowed to a crawl, reached up to turn off my iPod and tried to take a copious look around behind me – but without looking like I was trying to look.

I was relieved to see that the woman had already talked him all the way back onto the bridge and they were starting to move toward me down to the west side of the overpass. I kept walking that way myself while struggling to listen backwards at them to keep tabs on how things were going. What state of mind was the guy in? Was he drunk? Was he high? He didn’t seem violent, but what if that changed suddenly? He was so much bigger than she was; at least twice her body mass. If it came to any kind of physical altercation, she would really be at a disadvantage. Left on her own, verbal persuasion would be her only real defense.

All these thoughts and variables were running through my brain in the time it took me to stroll the 50 feet down to the hairpin turn near the end of the foot bridge. From there it was easy for me to look back up the ramp at them. He was behind her, but they were both still walking toward me, and by the time I got to the ground they were in the hairpin. I invented some business with my shoes and tried to hide under the ramp where I might hear what was going on.

After another 30 seconds, hearing nothing and seeing neither of them descend to the ground behind me, I peered back around the corner. He had apparently changed his mind. She was alone in the hairpin and he was walking with purpose back up to the middle of the bridge.

Damn. I’d thought she had him.

He had climbed completely over the rail and was standing on the outside of the little fence, his back to the drop, his heels dangling out over traffic.

In a moment, she resigned herself to it, and followed him back again. I did the same, but stopped when I got back to the hairpin. I was concerned about how much I should interfere. This woman had clearly established some connection, some influence over him. It’s possible that he wouldn’t react as well to me, a guy, trying to get in his business. What if it turned into a small crowd of lakefront joggers trying to cajole him into abandoning his little perch? Would he disapprove of our attentions?

At the same time, I didn’t feel like I could just leave. One of the two of them, the man or the woman, might still need some help in this little drama, and even if I was not the most ideal person to give that help, I was there, so me was what they got.

At this point, I saw another bystander 30 yards from the base of the footbridge. He was wearing a bright orange jacket, he was looking up at our would-be jumper, and he was on his cell phone. So, 911 was being alerted. And sure enough, when I looked back over to the east side of the bridge, a squad car had just parked along the lakefront bike path and a beat cop was walking up the bridge from the other side.

This is cynical of me, but there’s no reason for me to believe that a rank and file police officer assigned to patrol for mischief on the lakefront is any more equipped to talk a man off a ledge than I am (or, for that matter, this woman, who had, it seemed, been having a little luck with it already), but the blue boy did carry a gun, so I just waited in the hairpin where I was.

The woman, however, was completely undeterred, and now was talking as much to the cop as to the man on the ledge. The wind was blowing too strongly for me to hear their voices, but the sound of sirens was unmistakable. They were emerging from the innards of the city off to the southwest.

First a second squad car arrived, then a fire truck, then an ambulance, then another fire truck, then a third, now two more squad cars and another. A couple were over on the bike path near the foot of the bridge. Others had come up Lakeshore Drive from North Avenue and points below.

Less than five minutes after I noted the orange jacketed man on his cell phone, a half dozen city vehicles had shut down Lake Shore Drive – but only on the northbound lanes. Meanwhile, traffic was still whizzing by underneath in the southbound lanes, and that’s what the guy was actually standing over.

A handful of cops had made their way up onto the bridge. The woman was still with them, in the middle of things, and talking much more at the cops than at the man on the ledge. I don’t really think he wanted to jump, at least, not at this point, but there was still the very real possibility that he could simply fall. The drop itself wasn’t far enough to kill him (badly break his legs maybe), but dropping down into busy highway traffic would turn him to pulp for sure. The drivers below would also be at risk. Who knows what kind of car pile up might be caused?

Minutes passed and all those emergency vehicles just sat there passively in the northbound lanes, until, finally, one of the fire chiefs got his brain around it and sent a single police car up Lakeshore to Fullerton so it could come back down in the southern lanes and block the traffic there, too.

I did hear one thing from the middle of the scene. One cop in particular seems to have taken the lead and is talking at the guy, and the guy states forcefully back at him, “I’m NOT drunk!” A couple other runners trying to cross the bridge had stopped to watch the show, but after this outburst, the cops waved at them to move further off.

Finally, the situation seemed to crack a little, and the guy swings one leg back over the rail, and then, after a few more moments, comes the other. I half expected to see a rush of uniformed bodies swarm around him to be sure he didn’t go back over again, but instead just 2 of the cops pace over to him and restrain his arms. It has, more, the air of a brokered deal. I imagine he takes a charge of disturbing the peace or something similar and spends a night or two in jail, but I have no way to know for sure. It was, luckily, a bit anticlimactic.

A few days later, the next time I turned on my iPod, I realized what I was listening to as I first ran back up the bridge and into this scene, was a radio interview with Philippe Petit, the French tightrope walker, who in 1974 (illegally) strung a wire between the tops of the World Trade Center and spent an hour rope walking between the buildings, 110 stories in the air.

Once the cops had subdued our jumper, the woman who’d been there and remained from the start gave herself leave. She was heading toward the hairpin where I was still standing. “I thought you had him that first time,” I said to her.

“Yeah. He got scared when he saw the police coming, so he went back up.”

Kind of ironic. Not really the cops’ fault. And maybe he wasn’t really scared. Maybe he just wasn’t ready to throw it in and pass up the chance for more attention and a bigger hubbub on his behalf. Or maybe, in his delusion, he just felt like his strongest negotiating position was on the wrong side of the railing in the middle of the bridge. Who knows?

“Good for you for staying with him,” I told her, and she shrugged a little. Then she rounded the corner on the hairpin where she could finally get a good look at all the trucks, the flashing lights, and backed-up traffic on the Drive.

“Quite a ruckus, huh?” she said matter-of-factly as she passed by me. At the bottom of the ramp, she settled back into her jog, and headed home in the deepening night.

There was nothing else to do but follow her lead.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Peachtree's Not Postal Anymore

The Peachtree Road Race is held on the morning of July 4th every year in Atlanta, Georgia. It’s not only the world’s largest 10K, at 55,000 runners it is one of the largest footraces of any kind in the world.

For 39 years, the only way to gain entry was to fill out an application, printed every year in the Atlanta Sunday paper (the AJC) in March, and mail it in with a check for the entry fee. Slots were given on a first come, first serve basis. If your letter was one of the first 55,000 to arrive, you were in.

This year, for the 40th anniversary, things are different. For the first time ever, the race is conducting an online application process. They have finally embraced the 21st century. But honestly, I was skeptical of whether this would be a good thing.

I grew up in Atlanta, but ironically, I never ran the race while I lived there. I didn’t become a runner until after I moved to Chicago. But I’ve flown home every July 4th since 2004 to run the Peachtree. It’s a fun race to be a part of and a good excuse to visit Mom and Dad for a couple of days.

As archaic as the mail-in application might seem, I never had any trouble getting a slot. I would e-mail the needed documents to my parents in Atlanta, who would pick up a copy of the AJC when the early Sunday version came out on Saturday. Then they would drive up to the city, to the one Post Office in Atlanta that is open on Sunday, and put my application in the mail for me. (I could have done all that from Chicago, but I would have had to wait for the Atlanta Track Club (ATC) to send me the application in the mail and then send it back to them from Illinois, and I thought the extra time involved would put my entry at a disadvantage.)

The new online registration process opened this morning at 6 a.m. CST. I got up at 5:50 and fired up the computer. It was still a few minutes before 6 when I got to the AJC website, but the page told me that registration had already begun. I clicked “Register Now” and it linked me to the ATC site where I had to click a “Register Now” button yet again. Then I got the message:

"Thank you for your interest in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution Peachtree Road Race 2009. We are currently experiencing higher than normal registration volume. Registration spots are still available. Please check back at [our website] soon."

Well, duh! Of COURSE there was higher than usual volume. Every runner and their brother in the city of Atlanta and beyond was trying to get into the world’s largest road race! Of course I was getting the web equivalent of a busy signal. The link sent me back to the AJC website where I had to go through that all over again.

I'd worried about this. The mail-in system was antiquated, maybe, but it was also more genteel. How long would I have to sit at the computer, cycling through the websites before I broke through and got to the actual application page?

As it turned out, 9 minutes. It took me a couple of minutes to fill out the form, then I clicked “submit”… and promptly received and error message. I forgot to click on “Yes” or “No” to the question of whether or not I wanted to willingly receive spam-mail about the race. I corrected my form and hit “submit” again… and this time I got a big fat error message – several, in fact, at the top of the page – not from my computer, but from the registration website. My application did not go through. There was a link to click to try it again… which sent me back to the “Register Now” page on the AJC website. NOT good. I had to start all over from scratch. It took me 10 more minutes of cycling through the “busy” signal to reach the application page again.

The second time went more smoothly and I was rewarded with one of the nice things about the new online system: instant confirmation that my entry had been accepted and I was in the race. Under the old system, the only notification of acceptance you got was the cancelled check from your entry fee some weeks after the process was over.

So that was it. A little bumpy. Slightly annoying to hit the “refresh” over and over again. But I didn’t have to enlist my parents and we didn’t have to wait weeks to discover it all worked out.

A quick check of the registration page at 7 a.m. CST, showed that entry slots were still available, and no more “Busy” signal from the website. There was a direct connection to the application. At a little before 8 a.m., It said that slots were still open, but the "busy" message was back.

The ATC promised that only the first 45,000 entrants would be accepted online. They will still take the final 10,000 by mail only, starting next week. It’ll be interesting to find out later how long it took for the 45,000 slots to fill. If it winds up taking a few hours to fill, then maybe next year I can risk sleeping in a little longer.

A Little Follow Up:
The AJC reported that all 45,000 slots were filled online by 1 p.m. CST. It took 7 hours for registration to close. They also reported that there were a number of problems similar to mine in the first 2 hours, which slowed things down. So the field might have filled even faster were it not for that. Anyone who didn't get in today still has a chance next week with the 10,000 mail-in slots.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Friends in Print

My April issue of Runner’s World was waiting for me when I checked the mailbox last night. That’s not normally blog worthy news, but as I took that customary first thumb through the articles, I found a familiar face staring back at me from the inner pages.

Abigail, the woman who I ran with for the last 12 miles of the Lookout Mountain 100K back in December, is featured in a big article that is the center-piece of the magazine’s “Weight-Loss Special”. Well, she isn’t the center-piece, but the article is, and her photo spreads across 2 pages. She’d mentioned while we ran (yeah, we walked a lot, too – that is, I walked and she was kind and stayed with me), that she had some friends who were trying to hook her up with the RW folks. I guess it happened. I hope they choose to do a whole article just on her sometime. She’s got a fascinating story. Nothing that’s out-of-bounds extraordinary (like, for example, the 9/11 firefighter they profiled last month who got hit by a bus and came back to run the NYC Marathon), but really interesting, nonetheless.

She was also on the contents page of the mag with a big, fishy friend. I know she told me her e-mail address before we all drove off the night of the race. I’m going to have to see if I remember it. I was pretty exhausted at the time. (It’s great, Abi! Totally cool!)

But Abi’s not the only acquaintance I’ve found in print lately. I ran a big chunk of the first half of Lookout Mountain with Lori. She told me on the run that she’d heard her picture had turned up in the new issue of TrailRunner. My copy came in a week or two after the race and there she was on page 49, in an article on the Dick Collins Firetrails 50-Miler. She was fretting that she didn’t look very good in the photo, but Lori, if you didn’t look good, they wouldn’t want you in print in their magazine! (By the way, you look good.)

Finally – though he is officially unidentified in the magazine – I caught this action photo of my Blog/Ultra buddy, Chris at the McNaughton Park 100 in Marathon & Beyond’s Nov./Dec. 2008 issue. It was good of Chris to feign being in such a state of need so that those volunteers would look so helpful.

I guess it’s possible there have been more people who I’ve run and talked with on the trails who have been immortalized in print the same way, but I don’t get to memorize every face. After all, most of those conversations take place with your eyes on the trail in front of you. I’m glad to have recognized these, though. It’s fun to see the people you’ve known get a little moment in the sun. And well deserved on all counts!

Friday, March 6, 2009

Vote! It's, like, Patriotic!

We're up to 21 votes on the Poll! Have you seen it? It's a little further down the sidebar on ye old blog here. 21! Woohoo! I know more votes are coming, too, because there's a few more of you out there that check in from time to time who've never run a race as long as a 5K. I happen to know that the solitary "Less Than 5K" vote came from my girlfriend (just trust me, I know), so there should, at least, be more of those votes coming, right?

So far, the 50K voters are totally in the lead. I'm pleased that there are also a couple of votes for over 100 miles. Back in December I had to bump my own vote up from 50 Miles to 100K, after I finished my first at the Lookout Mountain 100K, in Chattanooga, Tennessee.

Which reminds me: I'm curious to know what event you were at when you ran your longest race (or the first event where you ran the distance). So if you're inclined, post a comment below and tell me the race and where it was (even if it was just the 100 meter dash in your 9th grade P.E. class).

Do tell, do tell!

Sunday, March 1, 2009

The Ironman Returneth

Back in December, I wrote about the death of my Timex Ironman running watch. The timepiece itself was still in superb condition, but, after no extraordinary abuse, the resin-formed band had torn in half. Because the band is molded into the structure of the timepiece, it is not replaceable, and the watch becomes useless. It’s a problem I’ve now had with 2 different Timex watches, and it was no less frustrating the second time around.

However, Timex does offer a mail-in “repair” service. It couldn’t be replaced outright because I’d owned it for more than two years. (I forget if their warrantee is 6 or 12 months.) But for only $10, you can mail in your watch – this goes for any watch that Timex makes – and they will give you a new watchband and put it on the timepiece for you. A watch like my old Ironman falls into the “unrepairable” category, but in those cases they send you back a replacement model, or at least a model with similar capabilities.

In effect, you get a new watch for $10.

So, back on January 20th, I sent in my old watch along with a check for $10. Yesterday, five and a half weeks later, I got my new watch in the mail. The old watch model, apparently, is no longer in production. (It seems no Timex stays on the market more than a year.) What I got back isn’t quite as sleek as my old one, but it is identical in every functional way.

The only disappointment is the new watch also has a resin band. I called customer service beforehand and they told me that I could request a Velcro band. But I paid a lot of money for the old watch because of all the functions and features it had, so I was clear that getting something back that matched all those expensive features was more important. I guess they didn’t have anything available with a Velcro band. (Better for that to be true than my request ignored.)

All told – as disgruntled as I still am about the unreliable resin band – it is a nifty little service that Timex offers. I did get a new watch for just $10. I shouldn’t have had to buy a new watch at all, but since I did, better that it cost just $10 instead $100 to replace it.