Sunday, September 23, 2007

Ken Burns' The War is coming

A couple of posts ago I published a B&W picture of my Uncle Harry in Colorado as he looked during WWII. My life has been a search for heroes, and he is a hero.

Star on his high school football team, shipboard Marine during WWII in charge of AA fire onboard his light cruiser protecting the flattops, bronze star recipient, Princeton grad, farmer and geologist, father of three lovely daughters and a son, devoted husband, I was very grateful to be afforded the chance to see him again earlier this month in Durango, Colorado. He fought at the first and second Battle of the Philippine Sea (the first one being the Great Marianas Turkey Shoot, the second one being the Battle of Leyte Gulf, where the Japanese very nearly pulled off a stunning surprise), the China Sea raids, the Iwo Jima landing, and the First Carrier Air Strikes at Tokyo.

His ship was off Peleliu when my father, who was also a WWII Marine, was fighting in that bloody island battle. Many shipboard Marines were sent ashore as replacements for the heavy casualties incurred onshore, and I have read my uncle's journal entry where he expresses relief upon learning from lightly wounded Marines transferred to his ship from the raging battle that they knew my father and he was unhurt so far.

Jim is alive! is the notation my uncle made about his brother. Those were the days when boys barely out of their teens had such concerns, eh? (My father was nineteen when he served his time in the hell called Peleliu.)

Here is a picture of my father during WWII. You could see these pictures in the Navy Log at the Navy Memorial in DC on Pennsylvania Avenue across from the Archives at Seventh Street. He also fought on Okinawa, and was posted to China immediately after the war to confront the Communists in an attempt to bolster our fatally corrupt ally Chiang Kai-shek.

Ken Burns has produced a film on World War II which singles out the Battle of Peleliu as prime examples of a sanguinary battle that was strategically worthless, the brutality of the war, and how little Americans actually know about World War II. (Peleliu bled the First Marine Division white. It also was the Marines' introduction to the new Japanese strategy of eschewing wasteful banzai charges and making the Americans root them out from their fortified entrenchments one by one, which proved hideously costly at Peleliu, Iwo Jima and Okinawa.)

If you want to know the ordeal that young Americans went through at Peleliu, read The Devil's Anvil by James Hallas. Your next twenty-miler won't seem so bad.

And yes, I thought my father, who died in 1986 at age 61, was a hero too. Did a family member of yours serve during WWII? Look his or her service record up.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Anatomy of a 5K race.

Run For the Schools 5K: Sunday, standing at the start line of a 5K race on a cold September morn, I started wishing I'd worn gloves. It was a welcome relief after the long hot summer.

This was a local 5K race supporting the schools in the town where I live. A check of the course map had revealed the route to be winding and hilly. Besides a series of torturous turns down little side blocks, the second mile of the route ran up and down the big hill a half mile from my house that I use for my hill workouts.

The gun sounded and we were off. The first hundred yards was uphill and at least forty runners surged past me, many of them school age children. With kid runners who jack-rabbit at the start, you can’t assume they’ll come back to you. They either flame and quickly burn out, or else they are relentless in their high energy level and you won’t be seeing them again. I don't worry about kids in a race.

This race had announced 5 year age group awards. This was my home town and I wanted to win the 55-59 age group.

I looked around me for other men with lined faces. There were some already ahead of me. Plus at least two women, one of whom was way ahead with the race leaders. I knew I wouldn’t be seeing her again.

After a quarter mile we were running downhill and no one else was passing me. No other runners would pass me for the rest of the race.

I passed some youngsters who were already flaming out, plus a few inexperienced adult runners who had gone out too fast. The lead group was settling into a long extended train of runners starting to get distance between each other.

I came upon a man about my age on the next long upgrade. We exchanged pleasantries as I passed him, talking about the hills on the course. There’s the big one yet to come, I assured him as I went by. I didn't want to see him again.

I tried to pick up the pace as I passed the first mile. I got into a duel with a runner about my age that I had spent a few blocks reeling in. He matched me stride for stride for a block, then fell in behind me right on my heels for another block. He was hard to put away but I finally got separation.

I came upon a block of four runners, two males about my age plus a younger one who were following what I thought was the second woman. (She turned out to be the fourth woman.) I wanted to take them all, to put these two contemporaries plus what I perceived to be the runner-up woman behind me. I had resigned myself to not catching the lead woman who was far out of sight.

The youngest male immediately ahead had an untied shoelace flopping around. I helpfully pointed this out to him as I drew even and he stopped to tie it. That one was easy, I thought.

We started up the big hill which topped out at milepost two. Its awful vista stretched out before us, 0.4 miles long and flaring steeply at the top where it bent out of sight around a sweeping turn. Fortunately I had run it dozens of times and knew it leveled off just past the curve.

I passed one of the older runners ahead who was slowing down at the sight of the visually intimidating hill. This was the only out and back portion of the route and I watched the race leader come flying by going downhill, followed closely a younger runner. A few runners later, the woman leader came by.

I stopped watching the front runners go by as I focused on passing the other man and the woman ahead of me. Hills are your friends in races if you use them to put runners behind you. I passed both runners. Then the man summoned a burst of energy and charged past me. I followed him around the curve into the cul-de-sac beyond, where he died. I passed him again and thanked him as I went by for letting me draft off him.

I circled around at the top and ran down the big hill. Many runners coming up were walking.

Gaining level ground at the bottom, I passed one last runner who had started walking. I didn’t think there were any men my age in front of me. I was about three quarters of a mile out and I didn’t want to lose any places now, especially to someone who looked to be in his fifties.

The runner ahead of me was stretching out his lead. I didn't foresee picking off any more runners.

Glancing back, I could see that the man and woman I had passed on the hill were gaining on me. Darned negative-splitters, I thought.

I ran on, seeking the finish line. I heard the man come up on me fast. He ran by me in a rush and I kicked it into overdrive to keep pace. I studied his face and he looked like he could be in my age group. Otherwise I would have let him go because he was really working.

We were half a mile out, which was too far out for me to run it in fast. We were both sprinting now. But hey, this was my home town and I thought I might garner an age group award if I could hold this runner off.

I didn’t know if I could keep it up. For two blocks we ran hard, side by side. Then he started talking to himself. "Do it, do it," he said. I knew I had him.

After a quarter mile of this hellish effort, he fell back, affording me the opportunity to slow down a little. Rounding the final turn, I could see the finish banner three blocks away. I looked back and saw that I could hold my place if I didn't falter. I brought it home in 24:16 (7:49), followed five seconds later by the man I had held off who finished second in the 40-45 age group. The woman behind me, a triathlete, finished fourth, one runner further back.

The race’s winner, age 50, finished in 19:24. The female winner, age 40, finished in 22:18 in 7th place.

I was 18th out of 131 finishers, the 15th male out of 64. I earned bragging rights in town for a year as I won my age group by 5:27.

I had run a good race on a challenging course. I felt great all day.

Thanks Rich, for your generous contribution to my commitment to run Chicago for a charity!

Sunday, September 16, 2007

I Been Runnin'

Yeah I been running. I haven't been posting, but I've been commenting on posts. I dispense all sorts of advice to posters, who should always remember what the advice cost them before they follow it.
I've been busy at work. You know, work, the curse of the running class.

Last weekend I went to Colorado on business. After running six miles with my Ten-Mile Training Group last Saturday, which capped off a forty-mile week including a track W.O. and a 6K run home from that, I flew out to Denver and drove about 600 miles around the state that evening and on Sunday, visiting my 88 y.o. uncle (my dad's brother), my 90 y.o. aunt (my mom's sister) and three cousins. I went over Wolf Creek Pass twice and remembered how beautiful the Rockies are. (I used to live in Colorado.) I was glad it wasn't snowing, which sometimes happens in September out there. Monday and Tuesday I was doing work stuff in Denver. Way too busy to run. (Below: My Uncle Harry. He earned the Bronze Star in the war against Japan.)

On Thursday I ran during the noon hour at work. I jogged to the Tidal Basin where I ran a virtual 3K race around it in 13:58 (7:30). You see, from the Tidal Basin you can see the Pentagon, which the terrorists struck with a commercial plane at great loss of life on September 11, 2001. Every year since then I have run a memorial 3K race around the Tidal Basin on September 11th. This year I was two days late because of my travel, but I ran it when I could.

Friday evening I left my office near the Capitol at 6 pm to run the bridges, something I had never done before. I ran into Georgetown via the C&O Canal and went over the Key Bridge into Virginia. Running south on the Mt. Vernon Trail, I ran over the footbridge onto Roosevelt Island and circled it. Hurrying down the trail again in the gathering gloom, I ran back into the District over the Roosevelt Bridge, then re-entered Virginia by the Memorial Bridge. Finally gaining the District one last time by running over the 14th Street Bridge, I ran up Capitol Hill in the dark and got back to my office at a few minutes past 8 pm.

I achieved a 10 minute per mile pace for the thirteen miles that I ran, pretty slow, but my friend Bex tells me that that should be my training goal pace on long runs, because it is 90 seconds slower than my hoped-for marathon race pace of about 8:30 minutes per mile. But my feeling is, if I can't do it now at half the distance, how can I do it later at the full distance? Time will tell. (Left: Bex packing her car like a glove minutes before she drove away from the east coast for good enroute to the left coast.)

Yesterday morning I ran eleven miles in the District with my training group, covering the second through ninth miles of the Army Ten-Mile race course. We were doing 9:30 miles. The members of my group are three weeks out from their goal race and all of them are looking terrific as they get ready for Army. (I will be running Chicago on that day.)

This morning a cool crisp note was in the air, a certain indication that fall is at hand. At 8 am I found myself lining up in my village for the start of a 5K race. Talk about a hilly course! The brand new race course runs up the hill that I use for my hill workout. But the official race clock was off by more than four minutes so I had a killer time. (What, that doesn't count?) More on that in the next post.

Even as I write this, NBTR is running in the Philly Half-Marathon. Good luck, Jeanne! [Added later.] NBTR ran a strong race that placed her in the 48th percentile according to her age-adjusted grade. Congrats! (Right: Not Born To Run finishing eight miles in a recent Ten Mile Training Group run on the W&OD Trail.)

Friday, September 7, 2007

Charmed Twenty

Charm City 20-Miler. On Sunday I finally got my twenty-mile training run in at this race, a point-to-point run down a four-foot wide dirt Rails to Trails path through a forest which provided a canopy of foliage overhead to keep the runners in perpetual shade. Sound nice? Early in the morning a bus dropped us off near Maryland Line, MD and our cars were 20 miles away. There was no way to get back except to hoof it. No turning back on my obligatory twenty-miler before my marathon now.
Here are my splits with total time and average pace as the race progressed in five-mile increments in parentheses.

Mile One 11:19 (uh, 3-minute equipment stop) Two 8:11 Three 8:23 Four 8:28 Five 8:52 (45:14-9:03 pace)

Mile Six 7:54 Seven 8:49 Eight 8:38 Nine 8:58 Ten 8:54 (1:28:30-8:51 pace)

Mile Eleven 8:49 Twelve 9:31 (walking water break) Thirteen 8:41 Fourteen 8:46 Fifteen 8:57 (2:13:16-8:53 pace)

Mile Sixteen 9:00 Seventeen 8:56 Eighteen 9:32 (walking water break) Nineteen 9:20 Twenty 9:03 (2:59:10-8:57.5 final pace).

Result. I got my twenty in. I PRed. I broke 3 hours. I took second in my age group. It was a good run.

Race notes. The last mile is uphill on a country highway. I knew it was coming and I started thinking about it as early as MP 15. I was able to handle it by running steadily up it. My worst mile was nineteen when I was getting really tired. But I revived the last mile by being motivated to break three hours. The local running club has quite a resource in this trail and they stage wonderful races on it.

Thanks! I want to thank my friend Ashley for her generous contribution to the charitable cause I am running Chicago for. She also is getting ready to run a fall marathon for charity. Go help her out, she's a terrific person and a good runner.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

A Failed Experiment

I needed to go long. Since all of my running buddies seem to be out of commission (Bex and A moved away, D broke his knee trail running), I was finding it hard to motivate myself to do a 20-miler as I get ready for Chicago in a month. So I signed up for a race, the Charm City 20-Miler on September 2d, intending to use it as a supported training run.

It’s a point-to-point race over the hard-packed dirt of the Northern Central Trail, an old railroad bed that runs through heavy woodlands in Hunt Valley, Maryland, 75 miles away from DC, north of Baltimore. It costs $28 (no t-shirt), including $8 for the 35-minute bus ride to the start from the staging area/finish line. You have to be there by 7 am when the last bus leaves for the start line up by the Pennsylvania border. They really mean it, too. The race itself kicks off at 8 am.

I have run on this trail before. I ran the Northern Central Trail Marathon, my seventh marathon, in 4:44:13 on a bitterly cold November day the Saturday after Thanksgiving in 2003. It’s my worst marathon if you don’t count my first four, which I didn’t train for. Back then I was merely punching my ticket to get to ten marathons. It was a numbers thing. Most runners are compulsive about numbers. (Above: Nothing like a marathon two days after Thanksgiving. The Northern Central Trail Marathon.)

I ran it 41 days after I ran Columbus, which at 4:16 was my best marathon until last year. I remember cramping up terribly in the last half of the trail marathon and walking a lot. (Below: Still smiling after all those miles. MP 20 in Columbus.)

I also ran the Charm City 20-Miler in 2005. Twenty-milers are odd races. They’re so long. It’s like, you almost did a marathon but you don’t get the outpouring of kudos the same as you do when you run a marathon. Ho-hum. But 20-milers really beat you up. They’re hard.

Weird science. The 2005 race was the scene of my most spectacular failed experiment in racing.

I’m a bachelor. I am so lazy around the house that I can hardly bestir myself to cook spaghetti, even the night before a race. How hard is it? You boil water and then throw in spaghetti for 20 minutes. It’s done when you toss a strand on the wall and it sticks. Meanwhile you set up a double-boiler system of two saucepans, pour in a can of spaghetti sauce and crank the heat up. That’s it! The Parmesan cheese that expired four years ago? It’s still good, throw it over the top. And red wine is a valuable training table staple. Something about anti-oxidants.

But that all is effort, so two years ago I was conducting my Taco Bell experiment. As in, isn’t rice loaded with carbohydrates? Don’t I eat chicken pretty exclusively? Aren’t the Grilled Stuft Burritos, upgraded to marinated and grilled all-white-meat chicken, at Taco Bell filled with those two ingredients, plus tomatoes, which is in spaghetti sauce, and lettuce? I thought I had stumbled onto the perfect lazy man’s carb-load pre-race dinner. Three of those hummers. (Below: Think outside the bun. A Chicken Stuft Burrito.)

So two years ago I was eight miles along on the Northern Central Trail in this twenty mile race, keeping hydrated and making pretty good time, thinking that I might break three hours (a 9 minute pace) when my stomach started sloshing. I could hear it as well as feel it. It sounded like I was running right behind a runner with a half empty camelback. I started thinking that eating a pound of rice and chicken in soft tortilla shells the night before a race hadn’t been such a great idea after all.

By the ninth mile I had determined that I was stopping at the next porta-potty I passed. The Northern Central Trail being a well used bicycle trail, there are porta-potties along the way. By the tenth mile I couldn't wait, and for the first time ever, I thought about going off into the forest and finding a broad tree to hunker down behind. No TP though. Leaves. But what did poison ivy look like?

In my life I have suffered greatly sometimes. After all, I did get married once. But always, in the end, I have gotten what I absolutely needed. After all, I did receive a divorce during the five years of domestic-law litigation hell I was put through.

I was suffering greatly but just before I decided to veer off into the woods, salvation came. At milepost eleven I ran by a ranger station with a comfort station.

I visited for a quarter hour. The stall was free. It had TP. And running water. And no poison ivy.

But I will never forget how I felt just before I ran by the ranger station. I haven’t been back to a Taco Bell since.

I finished the 2005 Charm City 20-Miler in 3:15:46 (9:47). I was 159th out of 209 finishers (76%). It was a PR. Since it was my first 20-miler, that was a lock.

I remember being really tired at the end, despite my 15 minute break. I walked through all the water stops after 15 miles. At 19 miles I walked about a quarter mile. The twentieth mile left the net-downhill trail and ran us up a country highway to the shopping center on the main highway where the finish line was and our cars were parked. It was a pretty steep climb and I walked much of it. By then I had shot my bolt.

I also contracted a bronchial infection from the race, due to heavily breathing in such an exotic profusion of flora and fauna in such close proximity for three hours. I was really dragged down for three weeks afterwards. I remember having respiratory problems after the marathon on the trail, too.

Next: My twenty miler. When I ran this race in 2005 I placed 13/15 in my age group. This year I placed 2/4 in my age group. I still only beat two persons my age.

Sunday, September 2, 2007

Two Days Off

It's baaack. Due to the pain returning in my injured foot after I did an intermediate run, a track workout and a recovery run (running home from the track) in one day, I took the next two days, Thursday and Friday, off. But on Saturday I had to lead the intermediate group in the TMG program I direct because both intermediate coaches were away. That band of runners was scheduled to do 9 miles.

Because of my sore foot, I was tempted to wave the group on down the trail and wait for them to come back in an hour and a half. I'm glad I didn't because the route I chose for them to run was on the Custis Trail, a hilly and not particularly well-marked trail. It's within a few miles of my house so I have run it dozens of times but most of the eleven athletes in my group didn't know the trail. The three runners in the lead managed to go to the turnaround point and return without incident (thus earning them an A+ in sign reading) but I took the rest of the group on a wrong turn and we got into city streets and went a mile before I sheepishly admitted we were lost.

Lost? Not me. Not lost really, because I knew exactly where we were by then since I live around there, but we were no longer anywhere near the trail. Like a guy finally having to ask for directions, I collected the eight runners following me, 'fessed up and had them backtrack to the trail. We got our nine miles done by turning around early to compensate for the distance we ran while lost.

That's what makes running exciting, seeing new places as you run along trying to figure out where the hell you are. I joked with my group that our adventure demonstrated why runners should always carry a fare card, so they can jump aboard a Metro to get back when they're miles off course.

I wore an ace bandage on my injured foot and it felt okay. After the workout, I went with Not Born To Run to wish Bex goodbye. (Left. The group Jeanne runs with at the TMG actually stretches before their runs. Jeanne is the flexible one in the visor.)

You're leaving? Bex was leaving town that very day for good. We went to lunch with her and E after they finished packing their car like a suitcase with the rest of their possessions left over after the movers left. It was packed, too. To squeeze that last box of Kleenex into the car, Bex had to pull the tissues out and throw the box away.

Jeanne was kind enough to treat us all to lunch as a goodbye to Bex after years of working with her and a thanks to me for hauling E's loveseat over to her house when Bex gave it away. Thanks Jeanne!

At the restaurant Jeanne and I and Bex were talking about marathons and times and saying off the top of our heads how you needed a 9:09 pace to break four hours, how a 3:50 was about an 8:48, and how you needed to run at about an 8:33 pace if you're going for a 3:45. It all was very stimulating for the three of us. (Right. Bex at rest during her seventh leg at Lake Tahoe.)

What are you talking about? I looked at E, the non-runner in the group. He's a terrific tennis player instead. He was politely smiling and looking like he was listening. I asked him what he was really doing while we were talking thus. He said, "Balancing my checkbook in my head."

I persisted, "What do you hear when we talk running like this?"

"I imagine it's like what our dog Nelson hears when humans talk," he explained. "It goes like this. Blah blah blah blah Nelson blah blah blah bad dog blah blah blah blah blah come blah blah blah no blah blah...."

E is a riot.

After lunch Bex and E left for the great state of Californi-yay. Permanently. Sigh.

You did what? A called from the new town she just moved to and said she had just completed her first 20-miler as she gets ready for Chicago. I was instantly insanely jealous. All I had done so far to get ready for Chicago was an ugly sixteen. (Left. A during her moving sale on Capitol Hill. She's the one on the stairs.)

But the very next morning, Sunday, I had my own 20-miler scheduled.