Running tough – staying mentally strong

HARRISBURG, Pa., May 18, 2013 — I try not to look at my GPS watch much while training, but even less so during a race. Sometimes, I simply do not want to know how fast (or slow) I’m going.Bridge

So on Saturday at the Armed Forces 5K run on City Island in Harrisburg, I saw that a guy who’d said he’d keep to a six-minute pace over the 3.1-mile race blast out in front. Within a quarter mile, I could barely see him around the bend. Shortly thereafter, I decided to glance down at my watch. 5:57 pace, 0.5 miles into the race. Uh oh.

But I felt not only good – but great. My legs, despite having run 11 miles the day before, felt fresh and ready to go. So thought, well, back off a bit but let’s see how long I can do this.

Of course, I’m not in 5:57 shape, not even for a mile. I glanced at my watch one more time in the race — at the 1-mile mark. I passed that point on the Walnut Street bridge on my way to Governor’s Row in historic Harrisburg. The view of the Susquehanna River was quite nice, but I quickly decided to focus on that another time. Armed_Forces_5K_Harrisburg

Mile 1 – 6:08.2.

I didn’t look at my watch again, and had no idea of my time until about the 3-mile mark as I crossed the Walnut Street bridge again to the finish line and saw the display clock reading 19:50, 51, 52 …

I didn’t believe I was in 6:08 shape either, so I backed off a bit, deliberately. The course was amazingly flat, but there was a noticeable decline on South Front Street paralleling the river. I tried to take advantage of it; little did I know I didn’t speed up like I’d thought.

Mile 2 – 6:29.5.

Felt okay. Hit the turnaround and sprinted down (alright, it felt like a sprint, anyway) to the paved path just above the river, heading back to the bridge. I knew this section of the course – I’d run it during my two-mile warm-up. Although, all of a sudden with barely a mile to go, I didn’t seem as concerned now as I had then about avoiding the goose droppings.Screen Shot 2013-05-18 at 2.24.24 PM

I pushed onward. I was passed by one runner, but passed another (# 55). Mentally I thought to myself, I’m back even now. Coast to the finish. Well, I paid for that in more ways than one. First, # 55 came back and beat me.

Mile 3 – 6:35.2.

And as I passed the 3-mile mark and looked ahead, I could see the finish line display clock. 19:53, 54, 55, 56 … 59, 20:00 … Unofficial time of 20:05, though I won’t be surprised if my official time is 20:04 or even 20:03. I usually try to stop my watch after crossing the finish line, not as I do so. And that approach often takes an extra second or so.

Final 0.1 – 51.7.

It should have, and could have, been faster. Bib 55 looked over his shoulder and saw me. I don’t know what he saw. Maybe it was someone who had nothing left to offer at the end of the race. That wasn’t true. The fact that it took less than eight minutes for me to catch my breath and feel recovered seems to support that. But on the Walnut Street bridge, as the finish line came closer, I offered nothing, whether I had it to give or not.

That won’t happen again. Part of my training is to include the mental aspect of racing strong. It’s a topic I’ve written about before; how I feel that I become complacent during a run and “go with the flow”instead of pushing the pace. If my list of personal records are to be rewritten, my approach needs to be recalculated.

At this point, it’s more than simply about me. I owe it to Team RWB, and Team RWB Western Pennsylvania (and our budding subchapter, Team RWB Allegheny Highlands) to finish as strong as I start. In order to do that, I need to employ strategies to keep me mentally focused throughout the race. There’s plenty of time to make these improvements. Come Sept. 21 at the Air Force Marathon, there won’t be any excuses.

Posted in On Running | Leave a comment

PR attempt #1: Run the course, stupid!

Extra 0.14 miles foils PR bid
Ran faster pace than PR, but still missed goal

PITTSBURGH, Pa., May 5, 2013 — I’m going to begin with some good, transition into the bad and end with some good. Team_RWB_logo_web

First, it was great to be representing Team RWB – Western PA with so many other veterans. We had a pre-race dinner at the Spaghetti Warehouse in Pittsburgh Saturday night, and it was a great way to meet fellow RWBers. Chapter leader/No. 1 fan Kate Bielak introduced several key folks, including a couple who had helped raise funds for RWB. All told, the group did pretty well in fundraising for this event — and it’s still not too late to donate!

It was, I believe, much of that fellowship that inspired me to toe the start line early Sunday morning despite little sleep and a fair amount of travel and running between April 26 and May 4. So there I was, all ready to take aim at my half marathon personal best of 1 hour, 31 minutes and 54.6 seconds. That was set at the Run to Read Half Marathon in Fairmont, W.Va., in January 2008. Going into today, my 3 top half marathons — 2008, 1997 and 2001 — all have been between 1:31:54.6 (7:00.6 per mile) and 1:32:56.

Moments before the 7 a.m. start, I had no idea I’d again be in that range — and how painfully close I could have/should have been to a personal record at the 13.1-mile distance.

Me approaching the finish line in January 2008 at the Run to Read Half Marathon.

Me approaching the finish line in January 2008 at the Run to Read Half Marathon.

A half marathon is 13.1094 miles. Many people simply say 13.1 (as do I), but it’s much closer to 13.11 miles. Those tenths and thousandths make a difference. Let me show you what I mean. A course like the one in Pittsburgh is USATF-certified, and measured in such a manner as to take a runner’s shortest possible destination from start to finish. In Pittsburgh, though, the course can be several lanes wide and with water/Gatorade tables on both sides, it’s easy enough to add on a few feet here and there by not going in a straight line. Plus, in a large race such as this, with thousands of participations, it’s common that many (most?) runners get stuck behind people in the beginning they feel shouldn’t be there. It happens. The art of these larger events is to learn to deal with it but, as I told friend and fellow half marathoner Mark Shipley Saturday night, I’m not an artist.

So on Sunday, it never occurred to me to run the tangents as the course permitted. My GPS watch indicated I ran 13.24 miles in all in a time of 1 hour, 32 minutes and 33 seconds. Throughout the course, I added approximately 689 feet to the distance. I hit the 13-mile mark in 1:30:57, which would normally have been plenty of time to run the last 0.1 mile (528 feet) and finish in under my current PR of 1:31:54.6 (7:00.6 per mile). But the 689 extra feet made all the difference, and my official time is 1:32:28. It’s my second-best time at the half marathon distance. My official time accommodated only the standard half marathon distance, not the additional 0.14 miles. The difference? My pace jumped to 7:03.2 (for 13.1094 miles) from 6:59.2 (for 13.24 miles). So I ran faster per mile than my PR, but I still failed to break the PR. Just my luck.

I went too fast on Mile 2, tired at Mile 9 but was aided by Mark (who finished in 1:32:00) as he caught me (and passed me, rather easily). He helped encourage me to keep going, reminded me about the big hill in Mile 11 (which I deliberately eased off on, knowing it’d probably kick my butt). That approach allowed me to return to competitive form for Mile 13 (6:45, and 6:36 pace the last 0.24 miles). Still, it left me a heartrending 33.5 seconds shy of a PR. My splits — 7:01, 6:30, 6:42, 6:34, 6:48, 6:54, 6:57, 6:58, 7:11 (started to really tire here), 7:22, 7:23, 7:54 (hill), 6:45, 1:36 last 0.24.

Mark Shipley and me after crossing the finish line. He's smiling. I'm not (yet).

Mark Shipley and me after crossing the finish line. He’s smiling. I’m not (yet).

There were TONS of positives out on the course today. First, I haven’t started training. I jumped in this race almost last minute, thanks to Team RWB. So to keep this pace is encouraging. Second, this is after being a part of two relays on back-to-back Friday/Saturday combinations, plus the April 28 Red Bud 10-miler (for which I averaged 7:03 pace for a time of 70:34). Today at 10 miles, I was at 68:55 (my 10-mile PR is 66:25.51, set in Fort Lewis, Washington, in July 2005).

So I was tired – more than that, exhausted. Not in shape. Still wearing my “winter fat” on Sunday morning. And yet I was fortunate enough to finish 36th out of 919 in the men’s 30-34 age division and 260th overall out of a few thousand. My goal for a Boston Qualifier is within reach, I believe. I’ll look forward to – and count on – new ways to be inspired by my fellow veterans within Team RWB between now and Sept. 21 when I race the Air Force Marathon in Dayton, Ohio. Today’s lesson is learned: Know the course, and run it as smartly as possible. I’ll be ready for Dayton.

Posted in On Running | Leave a comment

How far can inspiration take you?

No doubt about it – Team RWB-filled weekend helped push me

Mike Meadows led from the sound of the horn. Also pictured are: me (13), Pete Hobbie (red, left) Joshua Liller, Eric Yarbrough (and in front of him, but not visible, Eric Vaubel).

Mike Meadows led from the sound of the horn. Also pictured are: me (13), Pete Hobbie (red, left) Joshua Liller, Eric Yarbrough (and in front of him, but not visible, Eric Vaubel).

YELLOW SPRING, W.Va., April 28, 2013 — I wasn’t supposed to win. And I certainly wasn’t the prohibitive favorite.

Mike Meadows leads as we approach the half-mile mark.

Mike Meadows leads as we approach the half-mile mark.

Of registered runners who showed up to ride the bus to the start of the Red Bud 10-miler on Sunday, I figured I had a top 5 finish in me. Veteran Mike Meadows, the 55-year-old from Martinsburg, was (in my mind) the clear favorite. I feel I know enough of the local racing scene to have mine serve as a credible opinion on that issue. Other contenders included Joshua Liller, Eric Vaubel and Kevin Burkett. And there were a couple of folks in the field of the race designated as the Road Runners Club of America’s West Virginia 10-Mile Championship about whom I knew nothing.

But the volunteers were in place, trained and ready to do what was necessary to ensure a smooth, successful event. Once the horn sounded, I turned from race director to competitor. And off we went.

As I expected, Mike went out in front. I seemed to be beside Eric, Joshua and Kevin – and a couple others I couldn’t identify from the corners of my eye. We started on the service road by the Capon Bridge Public Library, used the sidewalk to cross the bridge over the Cacapon River and less than a quarter-mile into the race made the second-to-last turn the race course requires.

At a half-mile in, I realized I was in second. There was no one beside me. And Mike wasn’t 200 meters in front of me. In fact, the separation was only a few feet. I thought, “well, let’s try to keep him in sight.” He’d told me on the bus ride to the start his goal was a sub-70:00. My public goal was a 71:30 or better, but I felt that if things went well I might run a sub-70:00, too. So Mike became my goal for as long as my legs — which had the burden of 19 miles over Friday and Saturday at about 7:30 pace — would propel me forward.

At a mile, Mike wasn’t ahead by 200 meters. In fact, the separation was only a few feet. I came to his left side, and we were shoulder to shoulder. I noticed he glanced to his left a couple of times, quickly, as if wondering who was the nerve to be up there with him (a justifiable contention, as Mike clearly had the fastest 5K and 10K times of anyone in the field).

Me (13) and Mike Meadows as we descend into the S-curve and approach Aid Station 1 at Mile 2.5.

Me (13) and Mike Meadows as we descend into the S-curve and approach Aid Station 1 at Mile 2.5.

It was me. Here I am, I said silently. I’m going to hang out for as long as possible. Hours after the race, I learned that it was here when Mike realized it was me, and he mentioned that I appeared to look strong and quite ready for a race. Shortly after the 1.5-mile mark, I took the lead. And at 3 miles, I thought, “I’m almost a 5K in and I’m ahead of Mike Meadows!” Had I tweaked an ankle then, or otherwise been forced to drop out, I would have been satisfied at a respectable 5K effort. A slight uphill. Then a sweet downhill into the S-curve as we approached the 2-mile mark. I was still ahead.

I hit the first aid station — a self-serve water table with pre-poured cups — first, about two seconds (probably less) ahead of Mike. I grabbed a cup and made a decision that I thought might hurt me. I walked to ensure I actually drank some water instead of spilling it on me. Low and behold, Mike stopped for water, too. This was his first 10-mile race. He had only one competitor at this point and knew, as experienced as he is, that the next 7 miles wouldn’t pass easily if he were dehydrated.

I threw the cup on the ground and moved on. I heard Mike breathing. I knew he was close. This was the first time something about victory went through my mind. I thought to myself, “I’m no match for his speed. I need to be well ahead of him by the end if I’m to win.” Mike can run a sub-5:30 mile in his sleep (practically). I can’t. But how on earth could I get far enough ahead – especially since he was hanging on my shoulder with every step?

We passed Mile 3. Mile 4. Then began Mile 5, arguably the most difficult of the course and with, inarguably, the most challenging ascent. A slight uphill prefaced the hill to come. On the “mini-hill,” I heard Mike louder than ever. He wasn’t hurting. He was gaining. Then came the bottom of the big hill, and I made (after walking at the first water table) what I felt might be my next big mistake: I figured he would push hard on this uphill as he had just done on the smaller incline. So I deliberately backed off, hoping to save some energy for later.

Sure enough, Mike charged. The crest of the hill came at the 4.7-mile mark, and that’s where Mike and I were, once again, shoulder to shoulder. And I thought, “that’s it, that’s the race. No way I’m gonna catch him in the second half. He’s just gonna take off.”

Indeed, Mike forged ahead on the flat. But the road quickly turned into the start of a sweet descent to mark the end of Mile 5 and aid station 2 (mile 5.2). Bananas, apples, gummy bars, water. Nope. Just Gatorade this time. I wanted some sugar. I’d actually hit this table about a half-second ahead of Mike (I like to take advantage of downhills). Of course, I didn’t know whether or not he’d stop, too. Lucky for me, he did.

The next couple miles are a bit of a blur to me. Mike came up to take the lead again. All I know is that somewhere around Mile 7.1, I came up beside him and figured, “why not?” I surged, and figured the worst that would happen is that my legs would stop wanting to work as I desired, I’d slow to a walk and slowly enjoy the rest of the course. The path for Mike’s victory would be clear (there was no one else really close at this point).

Aid Station 3 – again, only water – came quickly at Mile 7.5. I was in front, but Mike’s breathing could be easily interpreted as “you haven’t won anything yet!” I’m not afraid to admit it – at this point, I was running scared. It was go hard or go home. I didn’t know it at the time, but my effort felt stronger even though I was only maintaining – that is, my miles weren’t getting faster. I didn’t know it at the time, but neither were Mike’s.

Me (13) and Mike Meadows as we approach Aid Station 3 (at the 7.5-mile mark).

Me (13) and Mike Meadows as we approach Aid Station 3 (at the 7.5-mile mark).

I grabbed a cup from Lindsay at the 7.5 – but I dropped it, cursed and turned around to get another. She replenished me, but she also was there to hand Mike a cup, too (I didn’t want any favoritism or perceived advantage – more on that later). And with 2.5 miles to go and eyeing my first possible road race victory since I was in high school, I walked. And drank. And walked. It felt like an eternity, but was probably 3-5 seconds, tops. I threw the cup down and continued. And then looked for motivation, any edge I could find, real or perceived. “Okay, Mike’s in new territory. He doesn’t usually race more than a 10K (6.2 miles). Go for it.” This is when I first realized I might actually be able to win. I envisioned myself crossing the finish line in first place, arms in the air, a smile on my face. My 13-year-old son watching with awe and respect.

So I went for it. I figured I would need as much separation as possible between me and him to hold him off that last mile. So I went hard – or, rather, I thought I did. Though the effort was more difficult, I simply maintained a 7:07 pace for the last few miles. I didn’t know it — I could have sworn I heard him long after it was physically possible — but Mike had not maintained. He had slowed.

Mile 9. Then the start of the 10th and final mile. It was this last mile that, almost every step of the way, I wanted to vomit. Hack. Throw up. Toss cookies. Unfortunately, I found several more words that meant the same thing and every one of them went through my mind. I couldn’t shake the urge to hurl.

I crested the last small hill on the course and saw the Capon Valley Ruritan Club grounds on the near horizon. I was close. I entered the right turn into the gravel driveway — 0.2 miles to go — and I looked right, over my shoulder. No Mike. I felt like that was the point I started to walk. I was finished, I had nothing more to offer this day. I all but limped to the finish line. There was no fist pump, no arms in the air (too heavy), no smile (more a grimace). But I won. 1:10:34. 7:03 pace. Not a PR, but a heckuva time for me considering where my training has been the last few months.

And I’d run hard during the previous 48 hours —  3 legs, about 19.5 miles and each leg better than 8:00 pace (2 of 3 legs were 7:03 pace or faster. To be honest, I had no idea I was capable of such a pace, over a prolonged period. Then I got to thinking. I’m not. Not really. I got a little help. Right beside me, there was Mike. He and I gave each other a great run, and I had as much fun on a run as I’ve had in quite some time. During the race, though, something went through my mind. It was after I passed Mike for the last time. As race director, I thought, should I win? Was it right? Would my winning have an adverse impact on the integrity of the race? No money was at stake, but a championship plaque was, as well as the title of RRCA WV 10-Mile Champion. But if I dropped out for no good reason, wouldn’t that also adversely impact the integrity of the race?

Hours later, after I was home and showered, Mike and I talked by phone. He was not upset that I had doubled as RD and competitor. Said he was glad I had run to push him in what was his first-ever 10-mile race (and, as he won the RRCA’s 40-and-over division, his 10th state title as a masters runner). No one should be upset, he said, because “no one had more to lose than me.”

He enjoyed the race, he said, and acknowledged how wonderful it is to log the miles and appreciate each one of them.

“Every time I race, it could be my last.”

So when a good race comes along, sometimes it doesn’t matter who wins.

In the finisher's chute.

In the finisher’s chute.

Still, there was something else. Something even bigger. During the American Odyssey Relay that Friday and Saturday, I’d met fellow veterans from Team Red, White and Blue from across the country. More than 20 Team RWB teams (I met RWB athletes from MD, PA, NY, CT, MA and TX) converged at the start of the 200-mile journey from Gettysburg, Pa., to Washington D.C. And they rOcKeD wearing The Eagle. Pride. Dedication. Determination. I was full of emotion, from impressed to in awe. And I have to admit, I think that’s what helped me to the finish line on Sunday.

It was my first road race victory – first victory of any kind – since I was in high school, when I ran a 10K at Fort Detrick, Md. Great memories, but Mike reminded me there could be a lot more ahead. Not wins, mind you. But great races.

“I think I could run better than (I did) today,” he said. And I think I might have something left, too. Time — and training — will tell.

My well-earned winner's plaque.

My well-earned winner’s plaque.

Posted in On Running | 1 Comment

A new quest: the Air Force Marathon 9.21.13

Air Force Marathon to be site of BQ attempt
* Representing Team RWB Western Pennsylvania

LAVALE, Md., April 24, 2013 — It’s not because of the bombings. That is, I had the idea — the inspiration — to try and train to qualify for the 2014 Boston Marathon more than two hours before the first of two bombs exploded on Boylston Street. I’d watched the live online coverage of the elite women’s race for much of the first 2.5 hours, watched as Shalane Flanagan tried to rally to capture third (she finished fourth) and as Kara Goucher hung on (6th).

The race was compelling, and drew me towards making the commitment. I made the commitment official only nine days later (yes, after two bombs, four murders and another 170-plus people suffered injury). The BQ attempt took on a whole new meaning over that week. Touched by runners’ responses in the aftermath of the explosions and the tributes afterward, I used the event as the subject in a college class.


But it was while I was providing updates on the Facebook page of the Potomac Highlands Distance Club during the race when I began wondering (publicly) whether I could qualify. I’m 34 now, but will be 35 for next year’s Boston Marathon. For the 35-39 age group, I’ll need to cover 26.2 miles on a certified course in 3 hours and 10 minutes or less. That’s 7:15 per mile. My fitness level right now? I ran 7:19 pace for 10 a few days ago. Without pushing (much). Five months to take off 5 seconds per mile – and add 16.2 more miles? Challenge accepted.


To be sure, this adventure will be about something larger than myself. I’ve always considered myself one to look at the big picture, to see if I can help make things better. Well, maybe I can. This time, I’ll be trying to do so by representing Team Red, White and Blue – Western Pennsylvania. Team RWB is a veterans service organization dedicated through helping and healing veterans through physical activity. (consider donating today!)

I’ll know some people at the race in Dayton, Ohio, on Sept. 21. New friend Pete Hobbie, plus Two Rivers Treads shoe shop owner (and AF Lt. Col.) Mark Cucuzella will be there. Plus friends-to-be, fellow Team RWBers, Brendan McCarty and Sean O’Neill. Should be a great day. I look forward to the journey.

Posted in On Running | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Battle of Little Big Hill

Half Marathon resultsMain event page

SHEPHERDSTOWN, W.Va., Oct. 13, 2012 — More than one person had warned me about the hills in the Freedom’s Run Half Marathon, an adventure that begins in historic Shepherdstown and travels through Antietam National Battlefield — and its rolling hills — in the middle of 13.1 miles.

It wasn’t the hills of Antietam that bothered me. It wasn’t even the biggest hill — that on Millers Sawmill Road, which runners took to access the battlefield from the C&O Canal Towpath. The hill that provided my biggest challenge of the day was the one leading up to Sharpsburg Elementary School on Maryland Route 34 — Main Street Sharpsburg.

And on any other day, I wouldn’t even consider it a hill. But it sure got me today, leading up to Mile 10 and, near its crest, signaling I had only a 5K left to the 50-yard-line of Rams Stadium at Shepherd University, a.k.a. the finish line.

My original plan for this Saturday race was to treat it not as a race but as a long run. I wanted to take it easy the first 4-5 miles and then run harder the final 8-9 miles. Late Saturday night, though, I modified that plan and instead told myself to take it relatively easy for the first 8 – and see just how hard I could go for the last 5. The number 5 — in miles — is significant to me right now, as that is the distance I race for the Garrett College cross country team.

Slept in the darkened, quiet parking lot of E. Russell Hicks Middle School the night before the race (after seeing Argo at Valley Mall). Hit up Waffle House for half a waffle and two eggs, scrambled, before continuing south on 65, through Sharpsburg and 34 to Shepherdstown. I parked, rather conveniently – I was one of the first ones there – at 6:30 a.m. I went to sleep for another 45 minutes.

A 1-mile warm-up told me three things. First, even at about 32 degrees, the sun was out and it would be too warm for a hat. I stowed it, along with my sweats, in my drop bag. Just shorts, cotton gloves and my Team Red, White & Blue race jersey over a thin, long-sleeve under layer. Second, my timing was perfect – for the bathroom. No line – loved that – and did what I needed to do. Third, the mile told me I felt good. Every inch of my body, when asked for a status update, responded favorably.

Sure, I’d run 51 miles the week before. Sure, I’d run 12 miles at 7:48 pace on Tuesday of this week. I knew I was in my personal “high mileage” — laughable to some, serious to me — cycle, with the goal race being the regional meet in Hagerstown on Oct. 27. I was still increasing my mileage. My legs were tired – but ready.

Mile 1 – 7:42. OK, a little fast, but there were two downhills in the first mile, I was breathing quite well and, besides, I have a long history of going out too fast. If 7:42 was too fast – it was about 30 seconds faster than I’d intended – well, no matter. I felt fine. Better than fine.

I didn’t do the math of my Mile 2 split, but hit 2 miles in a cumulative 15:00. Had I taken a moment to think about it, I would have realized how much I’d sped up in Mile 2. Another mile went by – later, I’d learn, all too quickly. I made a note to back off – at least a little – until after the top of Millers Sawmill Road.

And I stopped looking at the watch. I just ran, enjoying the hills, monuments and, shortly after entering the battlefield part of the course, a deer with a yellow tag that seemed quite surprised at being joined by a crazy group of runners. What the wildlife must think of us stupid humans – running when we are not chasing prey, or being chased by a predator.

Heading near the halfway point, I took off my gloves. Having the cool wind hit my hands felt great – and helped to wake me up a bit. Miles 5-8 were all between 7:25 and 7:36 apiece. While I hadn’t been looking at the individual mile splits, my watch told me the overall pace was about 7:32. I was fine with that – and felt fine, too.

Turned left onto a road parallel to Route 65, getting ready to leave the battlefield. Some guy passed me and I felt it was my best chance to hang with someone – I’d been by myself for much of the race since Mile 3. Finished Mile 9 in 6:51, I’d learn after going home and reviewing the splits on my Garmin. Yowser. I knew I’d pushed it, and I knew it was downhill – nice to see the effort yield results.

I couldn’t keep up with the guy. Turned right onto 34 in Sharpsburg, and headed “up hill” toward the elementary school. I knew I slowed down. Got some water at Mile 10 and though to myself, “okay, you wanted to see what you could do the last 5. Well, you’re 40 percent done. Go for it.”

Didn’t set any speed records for the last 3 miles, but I knew the course was mostly downhill or flat the rest of the way. Mile 11 – 7:15. 7:24. Saw Rumsey Bridge, and knew the 10Kers were coming up the ramp. I could pass some of them, and used them as motivation to keep pace. Mile 13 – only 7:11, but at this point I was happy I didn’t fall apart as I’d done in the Riley’s Rumble HM in Germantown over the summer.

My half marathon PR is 1:31:56. I was about 6 minutes off that today, and I’m alright with that. Wasn’t going for a PR. Wanted a nice run and a decent last 5 miles. I think I accomplished that (last 5 full miles were in 37:20, not bad after a hilly-ish 8 miles before that).

Ninth out of 85 in men’s 30-39 age division. Fastest of 3 half marathons this year, although the three courses are quite different. Riley’s is probably the most difficult (Freedom  has more downhills you can rely on). While Clear Lake near Yakima, Washington, is altogether a different beast (a loop course, 2 miles, then 4.5 miles up, 4.5 miles down, 2 miles).

Overall, a solid event. I like this loop – will look forward to running it on my own later this winter and maybe again in the spring, just to compare. Originally paid $80 for the marathon, then dropped down.

Course support and volunteers: A+
Finish line: A- (didn’t like being “corralled” behind slow-moving/stopped people in stadium)
Medal: C- (for $80, I’d expect something more substantial
Logistics: A+ (Great parking, despite construction – no issues at all getting where I needed to be for packet pick-up or the race)
Shirt: B+ (The long-sleeved ones the marathoners got were pretty cool). I liked that the tech shirts were partly made from recycled plastic bottles, but I know the event paid a premium for that.
Post-race food: No comment. I didn’t stay for it.

Posted in On Running | 2 Comments

‘Favorite part of the day was meeting Matthew’

Brain cancer survivor puts things into perspective

NEWVILLE, Pa., Sept. 29, 2012 — I’d heard it from a former 10,000-meter Olympic Trials qualifier that the 8K course at Big Spring High School, where the Dickinson Long Course/Short Course Invitational was staged on Saturday, was fast.

Of course, fast is relative. But knowing the terrain had a favorable potential outcome boosted my confidence a little bit. Yes, I set a personal best for this season. By nearly a minute. I watched as several teammates for the Garrett College men’s and women’s teams also set PRs.

My favorite part of the day, though, was meeting someone I had beaten to the finish line in the 8K. I’d read about McDaniel College senior Matthew Christopher in an article written by Jake Ulick, a high school intern with the college’s sports information office.

At the age of 8, Matthew was diagnosed with brain cancer. Doctors performed surgery to remove the tumor. It’s evident that Matthew has suffered, and overcome, far more challenging obstacles than a 4.97-mile cross country course.

Matthew didn’t win on Saturday. In fact, he finished second to last and averaged 8 minutes and 27 seconds per mile over the 8,000-meter course.

As he has not allowed his medical condition from years past, nor his rather average time, get him down. It’s proof that while his time might be ordinary, his effort is not. Makes my concern about that hill at the foot of the water tower seem rather trivial, doesn’t it?

Posted in On Running | Leave a comment

XC at Maplehurst: Cruel and unusual punishment

Men’s resultsWomen’s results 

FROSTBURG, Md., Sept. 22, 2012 — Frostburg State University hosted its home cross country meet today, the first day of Autumn, at nearby Maplehurst Country Club.

Runners from Frostburg State University, York, College, Gettysburg College, Marymount, St. Mary’s, Salisbury, Mary Washington University and Garrett College — that’s my team — competed, an 8K (4.97-mile) race for men and a 6K (3.72-mile) race for women.

I’d had a good, but challenging, week of training. After using Friday as an off day, I entered Saturday morning not knowing what to expect. Would my legs be refreshed after not having run since Thursday afternoon? Or would my legs feel tired from a higher-than-usual weekly mileage combined with an unorthodox series of workouts — all of which I ran to the best of my ability.

I had good reason for concern, as my training week looked like this:
Monday — 1 mile w/u, 3 miles tempo, 1 mile c/d
Tuesday — 5 hill repeats, then 3 miles at 8:30 pace
Wednesday — Fartleks around a 400m grassy loop for 30 min
Thursday — 60-min run (7.8 miles at 7:57 pace)
Friday — off
Saturday — race.

After the usual 2-mile warm-up, I could tell I didn’t have a bounce in my step. But I liked the flow of the part of the golf/race course I’d run during the warm-up and, not having any particular bad feelings, decided to take a do-what-you-can approach to the starting line.

From the outset, teammate Rashee Davis – whom I’d beaten to the finish line by about 3 minutes at last week’s meet – showed that he was going to try and keep with me. Turns out he’d have to chance his strategy mid-race, as it was clear – to me, at least – that I wasn’t up to keeping up with him.

Rashee and I — with fellow Laker D.J. Williams — flip-flopped over the first mile. D.J. started to fall back a few meters behind, but Rashee has a spring in his step. We hit Mile 1 in 6:43 — and despite a downhill in the start, it was definitely faster than I had anticipated. But I have a long history of running when my legs are tired, and not being able to accurately gauge my pace is a well-documented consequence.

Rashee and I were still together at Mile 2. We took that one in 7:42. To our credit, that included the first of two times up a rather unfriendly hill. I looked at my watch and knew my overall pace (7:13 through 2 miles) was where I wanted it to be but, on this day, not something I could maintain.

I don’t know how many runners I’ve shared the mantra, “in running, you can’t fake it. You’re either ready or your not.” Despite knowing this as a fundamental element of the sport, through 3 miles (7:16, 21:42 overall) I thought, shoot, maybe I can recover. My legs knew better. I was done. It took another mile, though, for me to realize it.

Rashee and I went through Mile 3 together. He asked how far left and I told him, “less than two to go.” He started to pick it up and very smartly used a downhill on the back part of the course — the kind of isolated area it’s easier to slow down on because no one’s watching — to jump about 50 meters ahead of me. I figured that’d be the last time I saw him.

It wasn’t. He must have slowed – gosh knows I didn’t get faster. Mile 4 was 8:18 for me, but Rashee was at my side at that point. I think, though, he let me reel him in to find out how far he had left (I’m assuming he didn’t see the 4-mile mark in red on the ground). I less “less than 1” — because that last “mile” is, after all, only 0.97 miles — and he took off.

Final time today for me was 37:42.2 — about 36 seconds and two spots behind Rashee. D.J., meanwhile, was only two spots behind me.

This week’s course was easier than at Slippery Rock last week, I thought, but obviously that wasn’t the only issue factoring into my performance (or lack thereof). I was about 77 seconds slower.

In the short term, that could be considered a disappointment. However, I refuse to look at it as that. I hadn’t had such a draining week as I had this time. And though I bonked today, I know the full week of training will only help me be faster laster this season.


I had the pleasure of meeting the Frostburg coach, Dale Luy, while cheering on the Garrett women. Nice guy. Told me a little about the course. I told him the two times the men had to go up a decent-sized hill during the race wasn’t an issue with me. But the 250-meter incline to the finish line … could have been redrawn, as having that finish-hill could be considered “cruel and unusual punishment.” I was kidding, of course. Great course. Thanks to FSU and Maplehurst Country Club for putting it on.

Posted in On Running | Leave a comment