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.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Race Report: Turkey Trot 8K

Cold, wet, windy, puddly, muddly.

It’s a big race. The website proudly brags that over 5,000 runners are expected to sign up. It is the 32nd year for the race in Lincoln Park. All those years, all those paid entry fees, and they still have the most mundane race name ever. “Turkey Trot 8K.” (4.97 Miles) The christener of the race clearly never anticipated the perils of search engines and the world wide web. Or the need for a little character.

I’m pushed out of the car at the bottom of the exit ramp off Lake Shore Drive. No point in Laura trying to fight the traffic to get me closer. The staging area is in sight around the corner and I can walk faster than the car can sit in traffic. It’s 20 minutes to race time. I jog laps on Cannon Drive to keep warm and to warm up. And to kill time.

A books-on-tape version of the National Anthem. Embellished. Drawn out. Long, deep, silent breaths before the big notes. Extravagant. Wasteful. I once had a band conductor who firmly believed the star spangled banner should be played briskly and with verve. I missed him this Thanksgiving morning.

Younger runner guys move past me in the corral, grinning to each other and playing I Spy towards the pretty young runner girls stretching in their spandex running suits. They nearly break their own necks whipping their heads around with glee.

A few people are in costumes. Turkey costumes, mostly. And mostly women I see in those turkeys. I don’t notice any pilgrims. Perhaps, in some year to come, I will run dressed as Squanto. Full head dress. Brown leather pants with the fringe on the seams. Maybe a tomahawk. Etc.

Crowded start, but thankfulness that the slower folks really did hang toward the back before the non-existant, metaphorical gun went off.

Lots of broad U-turns on the course. North for a while, south for a while, north for a while, south again. The directional indecision keeps our faces from the wind for too long. A blessing. And Stockton drive in Lincoln Park may be the only road in all the city with an infestation of rolling hills. A rare Chi-Town pleasure.

I think mostly about how I’m breathing. I don’t want easy, but I don’t want my heart throbbing too hard either. I want to breathe comfortably, but feel the satisfaction of effort. This gifts me a 7:26 after mile one, then a 7:05 after mile two. Now the legs, they are awake.

Laura waits on a curb past the 2 mile point, grinning and camera pointing. I side out of the pack to the right side of the road to say “Hi” as I pass. I am pleased that the words emerge easily and unhampered by my body’s need to take air in.

At the southern-most point on the course, we uncouple our feet from pavement and our shoes become colorful pontoon boats on the muddy marsh of a crushed gravel foot path. Little tan, wet droplets begin to fly from the feet around me, and I know the backs of my black tights are growing a Pollock pattern, abstract and damp.

Soft mud sucks at my toe tops. I focus quick feet, quick feet, short steps, short steps.

Some puddles I jump, some I trod. Hard pavement under ¼” of water seems faster to me than 1” of thick mud. My compadres often seem to feel differently. One man nearly pushes me over my left side as he swerves around a larger puddle on our right. Puddle fear creates an unhindered lane thru the middle of the puddle path. I begin to peddle directly towards the puddles to take advantage when I can.

Mile four begins to suck the wind from me. I feel myself lagging, losing power, but I bide my time. The final u-turn will come just after the 4-mile marker. Then I will employ the power I have reserved for the final leg to the finish. My strategy costs me a 7:38 split for mile four, but I immediately shift up a gear and focus the feet once again. There may be discomfort until the end, but I know I can ignore it for one final mile. I focus quick feet, quick feet, short steps, short steps, straight back, straight back, quick feet.

Laura is at mile 4, too. Unexpected but nice. She was able to move the car quickly and find a parking spot at the north end of the course. I make sure to grin for a picture this time, but I do not allow it to interrupt the motions of my legs.

With half a mile to go, I feel my weary lungs. A stray thought tinkers through my head. (Slow down, ease up.) I ignore it and push harder instead.

Now for a final half mile, a new hobby: stopwatch glancing. What shall I push for? An answer comes from my math-dizzy brain that 36 and a half is in reach. Well then, off we go.

We leave the crushed gravel a final time and return to Cannon Drive. I see erected aluminum constructs and know the finish line is in reach. I do not care that several ego-runners around me have chosen to wait until this final 100-yard dash to use their kicks to sprint past me to the line. I notched up to a mile-long finish kick long ago and doled it out wisely. My final split is 6:59, a tick under 7 minutes for a tick under a mile. My total time stops at 36:33, a PR, though I rarely run the 8K distance. I’ve tested it only twice now in three years since I became a marathoner.

I have not asked my legs to churn so fast in months. The muscles quiver with relief. The quads shake with confusion. But the race is run, the line is crossed and the rest is earned. It is not a major landmark for me, but I am always thankful to know I am still capable.

After the race, I talk to my sister in Pittsburgh. She tells me the race director of her small, hometown race – an RD whose name I don’t even know – asked after me the day before to know if I’d be running their little town turkey trot again. I ran there and placed in my age group 2 of the last 3 years. He asked about me, specifically. He knows my sister’s in-laws well. When he finds I’m not coming this year, he gives my sister one of this year’s race t-shirts anyway. He gives it for free. “Please send it to your brother,” he tells her.

I realize I missed the small town trots I’ve run the last few years. I missed the small field of runners. I missed all the residents who walk the distance with family, just because. I missed sitting in the school gymnasium for an hour afterwards to hear the results and find out if I placed. I missed the baked goods feast food raffles. I missed the small-town-sized entry fees. I missed the charm. I missed the character.

I think next year I’ll be sure I don’t miss it all again.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Hot To Trot

It’s lookin’ like I’ll be spending my Thanksgiving Day in Chi-Town Proper for the first time since 2005. But I’m not worried about where I’m going to get my turkey from – I’m worried about where I’m going to go to run my Turkey Trot.

I've run so few of the shorter distance races in the last couple of years. When race entry fees are $25 or $30 dollars, and the events are crowded and/or disorganized, it takes a lot of the fun out. Between the expense and the hassle, I lost a lot of my enthusiasm for the frequent 5 and 10Ks around the city. Small town Trots on Thanksgiving have been a different story, though. They're always raising money for something, and the atomosphere is friendly and charming even if they aren't slick and polished events.

I had a lot of fun in ’06 and ’08 running the Burgettestown Turkey Trot 5k at my sister’s place just west of Pittsburgh – not least because I finished 2nd and then 3rd in my age group and got myself a medal for it both times. I’ve only ever “placed” at one other event. I also ran really strong races both times and set a PR at the ’08 event (which I’ve since bettered).

In ’07 I was in Quincy, IL (west side of the state, not far from St. Louis) visiting a friend of Laura’s for the holiday. I did a 10K that year. My time wasn’t quite as stellar, but I did finish 3rd in my division. (Though I was disappointed to learn, at the awards ceremony, that they only gave medals for 1st and 2nd places.)

Well, I’ve never run a Turkey Trot in Chicago, so I gotta find one! I’ve done a little research and found that there are 14 – 14! – Trots being hosts on Thanksgiving Day around Chicagoland. There are three that are within the city limits proper, and two on the north side of town – that being my general area of residence. Either one might be relatively convenient. The first is an 8K that starts in Lincoln Park. It’s a big race, with 6,000+ runners expected, so it’ll be a little crowded. They’ll even have chip timing.

The other one seems to be a bit more informal. It’s up in the Edison Park neighborhood. Not sure how big the race will be; I can’t find any past results online. There’s no chip timing, no gear check, nothing overly formal – but that could be a good thing. It might be cool if I could find a hint of small-town charm inside Chicago.

I’ll also have to decide if I want to go after the 5K or the 8K distance. The only 8Ks I’ve ever done were multiple Shamrock Shuffles in April the last 6 years, but all those finish times are slower than what I should be able to do right now. Or I could try to blast out a 5K and see if I can drop my time any closer to 21 minutes.

I still might be crazy and drive out to one of the nearby ‘burbs to run one of their trots, also. I’ll look into a couple of those before I decide for sure – especially if one of them is raising funds for an interesting charity. Either way, I’m determined that the Trot Tradition must continue!

Sunday, November 8, 2009

A Change of Routine

Being a creature of habit – as so many of us are – I don’t take change quickly. I must, instead, subject my patterns to a gradual erosion, shaving a corner here and an angle there, until finally my landscape emerges from the long wash unrecognizable from its previous incarnation.

After the last four months, I knew the time for change had come. I had a couple of triumphs in the spring, but over the summer I just started to feel a little broken down. I wasn’t seeing the results I was used to, training became more a chore than a pleasure, my mileage started dropping off, and I was even putting on some weight. It was time to make some adjustments to the routine, but because of the way I am, I can’t just junk the whole thing and start over, I’ve got to rearrange the pieces one at a time.

Well, I’m happy to report: the first piece is placed. I’ve become a swimmer again. I say “again” because when I was a kid, “swimmer” was one of the first things I ever called myself. Every summer for three or four years, I was a Shenandoah Stingray. Though I was never especially gifted, I did make it to the state tournament every year in my age group in at least one event. Even after my Stingray summers, I still swam a lot, and even earned a badge four years in a row at Boy Scout camp for completing the Mile Swim. (My original foray into Endurance Athletics!)

But all that was twenty years ago. (!) My body has forgotten an awful lot about swimming in the interim. Two weeks ago when I went down to the “Y” to do some laps for the first time in an age, I was a little nervous. I had modest goals. I didn’t care how fast I swam, or how many laps. I was just going to start the timer on my watch and try to get 20 minutes of easy swimming in (the minimum time for a basic aerobic workout). I was able to do TEN – and I had to stop and stand in the shallow end three or four times to gasp for breath. Then, my triceps screamed at me for days afterward. All I did was swim for ten minutes!

Two days later, though, I went back and again aimed for 20 minutes of laps. I made it to 15 minutes, and only had to take one long break in the shallow end at the half-way point. After two more days, I finally made it all the way to 20 with just one quick break to adjust my cap and goggles. Plus, I picked out a pattern I liked: 2 laps of Breaststroke, then 1 lap of the Crawl (commonly known to the world as “freestyle”). More than that, my triceps had stopped screaming and I was starting to have a little fun.

This past week, I even started to figure out how far I’ve been swimming. Turns out, I can cover a ½ mile (880 yards) in about 20 minutes (with that 2 laps/1 lap pattern).

Soon, I may have to start putting a little more thought into my new swimming habit, but for now I’m completely content to do between 20 and 30 minutes of laps 3 or 4 times a week, and to use most of those swim days as “rest” days from running. I think throwing some full-body, no impact cardio at my weary self is an awfully useful trick.

Who knows? Maybe I can learn myself to extend that ½ mile to, oh, say 1.2 miles, or even, yep, precisely 2.4…

Sunday, November 1, 2009


I don't normally write here just to post links, but If you like running and you know anything at all about the plight of American distance running (and the 2007 U.S. Men's Olympic Marathon Trials), do yourself a favor and check out this recount of Meb's morning in New York today as written by David Epstein for Sports Illustrated.

My eyes got wet this morning watching the spectacle on TV, and once again reading Epstein's column. I think Ryan Hall was disappointed (only for himself, though), but otherwise it was an excellent day in the Big Apple.