Thursday, November 29, 2007

My Black Friday

The morning after Thanksgiving, while everybody else was out shopping, I met M at 9 o’clock at the bicycle bridge on the W&OD Trail for a medium to long run. It was forty degrees colder than the day before and windy. M has actually won a race, in 1:29 at a Half-Marathon somewhere. She modestly said that all the good runners were off doing Boston that weekend.

She came running down the trail with her husband R, who thereupon ran the mile and a half back to her parents’ home to complete his workout. He is new to running and does ten-minute miles so they run together only infrequently. (Left: M & R on the W&OD Trail.)

We set off for the turnaround in Shirlington seven miles away. Here were our splits: 8:06 (our warmup mile); 7:53; 7:55; 7:55; 7:57; 7:57; 7:57; turnaround time at 7 miles, 55:44 (7:58).

Let me here state the obvious, that seven miles is an oddball distance for a race. There is a 7-mile race in June I like that runs around the Inner Harbor of Baltimore which I have run three times. This seven miles would have been my second-best 7-mile race, and we still had seven miles to go! (Left: In the 2006 Survivor Seven Inner Harbor 7-Mile Race in Baltimore, this runner came charging by me at the end and we put on quite a show sprinting fullbore towards the finish line after seven miles. I'm the old guy getting scorched.)

M was being encouraging, saying how easily I was running (looks can be deceiving). She's great to talk with. She has a masters degree in physical therapy from an Ivy League school and we chatted about Ryan Shay's untimely death from an enlarged heart at the National Olympic Team trials (M had presented a paper on that condition previously, and received some recent calls from information seekers), OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, know any runners displaying some of its symptons?) and its cousin, ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder, I have at least one child so afflicted). She would elucidate interesting observations as we ran along and I would respond in ragged three-word bursts. My tongue was hanging out.

I discovered as soon as we started back why the outbound trip had been so smooth–there had been a strong wind at out back. Now it was in our faces, whistling through our gritted teeth.

Our splits weren’t so pretty going back: 8:15; 9:26 (a blessed Gu break); 8:28; 8:37; 8:42; 9:11; 9:01. The numbers confirm that I was getting tired. No negative splits there!

We finished the fourteen miles in 1:57:26 (8:23), counting the Gu stop. I waved goodbye to M as she ran on to her parents’ home, probably at her interval pace once she rounded the bend. I was wiped and I walked home on unsteady legs. But as I prepared to go to work, I knew it had been a good run for me, my best since the last time I ran with M way back in July.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007


My brother came down from NYC to visit for Thanksgiving, and we celebrated the day by cooking roast beef and watching football on TV. As a friend later remarked, "Two bachelors alone all day in a house with no adult supervision, priceless." This led me to quip, "And for the beer, there was Mastercard." (Left: Yeah, I cooked this meal. Photo credit J.)

I had run before dawn that morning in 60 degree temperature. As I poked along in the dark, footsteps came rapidly up behind me. It was an older gentleman, passing me purposefully.

"Way to work off your feast beforehand," I said to him as he went by. He glanced at me once and proceeded on without a word, rapidly leaving me astern.

Not even a casual retort in return, I thought as I watched his figure recede up the block. This annoyed me for some reason. It’s a male thing, I guess.

Once comfortably beyond me, the other runner slowed imperceptibly. He didn’t put me away, in other words.

I knew I could run that fast. So I did. I sped up and closed the gap that had developed between us. I settled in behind him, practically on his left hip. We silently ran on that way for several blocks.

When my turn-off loomed ahead I pulled even, and then went half a body length in front. Then I turned off. No words or further glances were exchanged.

Later that morning I called my ex-wife’s house two miles away hoping to express a happy Thanksgiving wish to my children. I last spoke with my youngest child in the spring, sometime before he graduated. I haven’t spoken with my middle child in about two years, nor with my oldest child since Super Bowl Sunday.

When there was no answer at their Mother's house, I left my youngest child a message. At noon I called again and left my middle child a message when there was no answer. Neither one returned my call.

I didn’t leave my oldest child a message since he has ignored all of my communications ever since he turned 21. I don't count him cashing the check I sent for his 21st birthday as a form of communication.

Meanwhile, I received an email from a sort-of running buddy who had come to town to visit her folks, fresh from her 3:23 NYCM. She wanted to run medium to long on the W&OD Trail the next morning. I arranged to meet her at nine o’clock to run 14 miles.

I met M at a club SLR last summer, and we ran once after that when we went 14 miles on the W&OD Trail in 2:04, a nine-minute-per-mile pace. That was in July, when I was just starting to gear up for Chicago, and I was in far better shape than I am in now.

That was my last good run, really, because shortly after that I injured my foot and I wasn’t the same when I came back from that injury. Although I had a decent time at the Charm City Twenty-Miler in September on the dirt surface of the Northern Central Railroad Trail, at Chicago in October it was ungodly hot, I was on antibiotics and by the eighth mile I was already walking and considering DNFing. Although I finished that fun run, the race officials were only too happy to help with that last thought as they cancelled the marathon midway through it after they ran out of water. (Left: Did you ever see the movie, Night of the Living Dead? That's me lurching along with 35,000 other fun runners in Chicago on October 7, 2007.)

I didn’t want to embarrass myself in front of this adept runner, who is also a very accomplished and interesting person, so I retired early. Still, I was as anxious as if a race was coming up on the morrow. I didn’t know if I could string together 14 nine-minute miles anymore and I didn't want to hold M up.

Friday, November 23, 2007

My World

My running world is simple. I divide people into two groups.

Faster than me. Not.

There are some hazy persons, to be sure. Tweeners. You know the persons. Sometimes you beat them in a race or at the end of a run, and sometimes you don’t.

But you also know which camp they really belong in. Do you secretly gloat when you beat them? They’re faster. Do you worry about them all race? You’re faster, but not by much and maybe not for long.

People can move from one group to the other over time, as you get better or they get better. You see them at the track and you grumble, It's not fair! How do they have the time? So that's how they been beating me! It's time to reassign that runner.

But no one is ever not in one camp or the other for the long term. Occasional successes or failures are merely moments for euphoria or somberness. It's simple.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

For Ryan

I ran 5.5 miles this morning in memory of Ryan Shay. It's a running community thing.

I wanted the run to be memorable, so I set out at 3:30 am for old times sake. I haven't done a run in the wee hours of the morning in a while. I did quite a few during those interminable years not so long ago when implacable, crushing, financially ruinous and emotionally devastating divorce litigation was obliterating my life. (There, does that adequately sum up divorce for you?)

But this morning I remembered again the joy of running free in the absolute stillness and quiet of the early morning, after all the late-night people have gone home and before the early birds have arisen. There is a lack of other moving human things around that is profound between 3:30 and 4:30 in the morning. Otherwise us city-folk runners always have the bustle of human company out there in some form, a car driving by, a radio broadcasting, a person walking a dog.

You have to stick to streets with lights on them, traffic arteries of some sort, so you can see where your feet are landing. You have to be on the road and not the sidewalk because sidewalks are uneven.

This is not a time for headphones because you have to feel, hear and see cars coming up behind you. Cars make noises and approaching lights change the shadows around you. Also, you need to wear a baseball cap so you can tip your head down and use the brim to shield your eyes from the blinding headlights of cars coming at you.

Thoughts flowed through my mind. One of my children was an ADHD child. Until you have one of your own, you tend to think such children are either myths or the new-classification creations of psychologists. I thought about that son and how I doubt that he could feel, hear or see cars coming up behind him if he were running, like I can. I think there is a rush of other things going on in his mind constantly that keeps out new approaching stimuli. I tried to imagine what that would be like and I had no idea. I am so sorry for him. I have often wondered if a daily glass of wine during pregnancy could cause that.

I found a new foot trail between two lit roadways I run on a lot at night. I traversed this discovery in the dark, walking it, and discovered it went through.

I went into Arlington and ran by the house we moved into when we first came to the area. I stopped in the dark and listened for a moment of reverie to the faint sounds of three toddlers running around, two adults still acting to responsibly raise a family, and a grandmother coming to visit. The spectral images died away as the toddlers grew up and became judgmental, the adults grew to hate each other, and the grandmother passed on. I continued my run.

I went over to the Custis Trail and was surprised to see that it has lights, albeit low-powered ones. I loped along it for half a mile but I know it feeds into the W&OD Trail which doesn't have lights, so I ran back onto the streets of Arlington again.

A sea of flashing blue lights at 4:30 am attracted me. I diverted my course to run by the scene, a major intersection where signal lights control traffic exiting off the Interstate highway and traffic passing by on the six lanes of Lee Highway. Somebody had run a red light and two smashed cars were in the intersection. Firemen were still extricating one driver, with an ambulance standing by.

I am a former state trooper. I did traffic for years. I couldn't see the tell-tale skidmarks in the roadway in the dark, and I didn't think the four cops on the scene would appreciate me walking into their evidence scene to take a closer look. So I had a mental challenge, to figure out which way each wrecked car had been traveling, making the determination solely from their final resting positions and the damage each car showed. The cars were widely separated in the roadway, with one halfway onto the sidewalk below the exit ramp, pointing the wrong way for the exit ramp, and the other resting pointing SB in the NB lanes of Lee Highway.

I was reaching back twenty years with this stuff, to a time when I could do this easily with just a glance. It took a couple of minutes to process.

It had been a left front quarter panel (driver's side) to right front quarter panel high speed impact, that much was plain to see from the damage on the wrecks. All cars when they collide dispel their energy around a centerpoint and spin off or rotate from there. When they separate they travel off in the direction their spin has sent them, rotating to a greater or lesser degree. The more glancing the blow, the less rotation or spin.

The cops must have thought I was a weirder-than-usual lookey-lew as I started rotating my body with raised left arm (representing the point of impact). Perhaps they shrugged me off as a crazy early morning runner. I was getting my car spin down by circling in place, figuring out which of the two cars had been coming off the highway. It slowly came back to me.

I worked it out. The car on the sidewalk had been leaving the highway and struck the other car, pretty much quarter panel to quarter panel. The other car reached the point of impact a nano second earlier and had been knocked a glancing blow into the opposing lanes. The car on the sidewalk had done much more rotation, a full 180.

As to who ran the red light, well, I'd have to hear the drivers' stories to form an opinion versus merely being suspicious. The car exiting the highway was going a lot faster and had taken almost no evasive action, that much was clear to me. His visibility was more limited by the terrain. I imagined he might be unfamiliar with the signal light as he came off the Interstate if he was from elsewhere. The other guy was on a local road so maybe he was from around there and familiar with the intersection. I'd pencil in the guy on the sidewalk as at fault initially, easily subject to change.

Blame preliminarily assigned, I ran on. I was now back in my home town. A mile out, I kicked my lazy run into a much higher gear and ran home hard, for Ryan. I did a 7:39 for that mile, and elevens or twelves for the rest.

It was an interesting 3:30 am run, as many of them are.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

On Finishing

Has anyone ever died in your life? I hope not, but probably so.

Her final summer was it
And yet we guessed it not
If tender industriousness
Pervaded her, we thought

A further force of life
Developed from within,--
When Death lit all the shortness up,
And made the hurry plain.

We wondered at our blindness,--
When nothing was to see
But her Carrara [marble quarry in Italy] guide post,--
At our stupidity,

When, duller than our dulness,
The busy darling lay,
So busy was she finishing,
So leisurely were we!

I remember going with a friend, not so long ago, to see her friend die. As he lay in cancerous agony in a hospital bed, with some remote relatives in the room, we came in. He knew who my friend was, and was glad to see her. She had come a long way to see him.

I stayed in the background. My Dad, and then my Mom, had died of wasting, lingering illnesses and I think I knew that people who are departing are working at leaving, but they want to leave at the exact right moment. They want to leave on their own terms. I think this is hard to do.

Somehow a political squabble developed in that hospital room. Those remote relatives weren't liberal enough or something, and ever more fervent messages, couched in subtleties, started getting passed back and forth by strangers. I looked at the agonized man. His eyes were closed tightly as the retorts gained quiet stridency.

Suddenly he sat up! Get out! Get out! he commanded. Then he sank back into his hospital bed. We all left in hushed reverie. He died a day later, with no one there. This has always bothered me. Some succor!

So busy was she finishing,
So leisurely were we!

The poet is Emily Dickinson.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Ebay magic

"Send more Japs."
Through the magic of Ebay, I shed 44 years recently. With the flick of a finger on my keyboard, I became an eleven year-old again, earnestly fighting for world order.

I successfully bid on a 1963 Marx 6-inch Russian WW2 toy plastic soldier, lime green and wearing a very cool Cossack fur lined hat with the ear flaps up. He also has on killer leather boots.

He's got his rifle raised over his head, and he's about to use the butt-end of it to knock some Nazi bastard into next week. (Shouldn't he be using the business end to do this? But maybe he's out of ammo. Still, he's carrying 4 pouches (8 clips) on his belt. Maybe it's late in the day after an intense firefight on the steppes. Oh, never mind!)

This purchase transported me back to my bedroom in 1963. The Louis Marx Toy Company sold these giant toy plastic soldiers in the dimestores back then, probably at about 49 cents each. The Germans were grey, the Americans were olive drab, the Japanese (can I say Japs? That's what we called them back then) were tan and the Russians were green. There were six figures in each group, a platoon for each nationality.

I guess the Russian platoon fought the German platoon, and the American platoon (Marines) fought the Japanese platoon. I don't know where the hell the U.S. Army was. Maybe they hadn't landed in Normandy yet.

There were other 6-inch groups of six. Monsters. (They were blue; the mummy, wolfman, Dracula, Phantom of the Opera, the creature from the Black Lagoon and ... I forget the sixth. Maybe the Hunchback. Can I say that?) Cavemen. (They were orange, wielding sticks and hurling rocks. Can that be depicted now?) Frontier men. (They were tan and charging with knives drawn.) Cowboys. (They were tan and in various poses of TV westerns.) Native Americans. (Could I have said Indians? That's what we called them back then.)

I had one of each. That amounted to a lot of figures. I also had about a half dozen spring-loaded toy replica .45 automatic pistols. (Back in those days, they didn't put bright orange nubs on the end of the barrels of toy pistols.) These cost about 1.99 each at the dimestore, and each one came with six rubber-tipped suction darts. They were pretty accurate up to about 14 feet.

I'd set up my 6-inch figures around my bedroom, spread out across the room and advancing upon me. I'd have my position by the bed, and they'd be on the window ledge under the curtain, over by the bookcase shielded by the Landmark books, atop my dresser hiding behind the cuff link box, across the floor in a wide swath, all of them coming for me. The march of the 6-inch Marx army. Germans, Russians, Marines, cavemen, cowboys.

"On ne passe pas."
I was Horatio at the bridge. The veneer of civilisation is very thin.

To heighten the effect, I'd close the curtains and turn out the lights. In the darkness all I had were my six pistols, 36 darts, and a flashlight.

The monsters were easy to hit and knock over because they tended to be bigger and unstable. The soldiers were harder to fell since I placed them under cover better. After one round, I'd turn on the lights, reposition the remaining figures closer and go at it again. Think of the Decider a few years ago telling the world, "Bring 'em on!" when questioned about lingering resistance in Iraq after his phony "Mission Accomplished!" photo op. But my subsequent round went a lot better than his.

I know I won several of these battles. I don't remember if I lost any. I think it was like in dreams, if you're about to get killed, you just wake up.

I can't wait for my 6-inch Russian soldier to arrive. I like shedding four decades. I'm going to put him on the shelf in son number two's bedroom. He's been absent and unheard from since 2003, but that's another story.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

The Eleventh Hour of the Eleventh Day of the Eleventh Month.

Veterans Day. Really it's Armistice Day. At the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month in 1918, they ended the incredible slaughter of World War One.

How orderly. The Germans had already consented to the terms of their defeat, having suffered their "Black Day" after their nerve cracked on August 8, 1918, when the Allies (bolstered by the newly arriving American doughboys--Over There--) launched their counterattacks that would end The War To End All Wars.

Unbeknownst to anyone, in the mix was a Bavarian corporal on the front lines who was almost orgasmic in his love of the destruction of war. (This would be Adolph Hitler. If you didn't know this, you really need to get off the Internet and go spend some time in the library.)

People died on the front lines while waiting for the eleventh whatever to arrive. I think that's the point of the famous Erich Remarque book, "All Quiet on the Western Front." Here's the ending page. (The protagonist was the last schoolboy left out of a number of students who had marched proudly off to war in 1914.)

"He died in October 1918, on a day that was so quiet and still on the whole front, that the army report confined itself to the single sentence: All quiet on the Western Front.

He had fallen forward and lay on the earth as though sleeping. Turning him over one saw that he could not have suffered long: his face had an expression of calm, as though almost glad the end had come."

The Academy Award winning movie had the protagonist being shot down by a sniper when he tried to cup a butterfly that had alighted atop the German trench line.

I have three sons. These young adults so love their Mother, who immediately conscripted them while they were minors to be front line soldiers in our divorce, that they haven't communicated with me for years. (They have, however, taken every single dollar I have ever sent to them without a single word of acknowledgement.)

I sent the above quote to each of them when he turned 18. I worry about them. They could be drafted for the ill-defined and apparently interminable war on terror if the draft was ever resurrected, and maimed or killed. For what?

But let me pay tribute to some real men on this special day. Thank you Uncle Harry, for your service during WW2 aboard the Cruiser Vincennes, and for your heroic actions in earning a Bronze Star as you protected your men, and us. And thank you, Dad, for doing your duty at Peleliu and Okinawa, horrifying ordeals you underwent while protecting our way of life that 99% of the persons reading this blog will never have the remotest clue about. (I miss you.)

(Below: Here's a real warrior from The Great War, my Grandfather, "Jack," from Winona, Minnesota. He served in the U.S. Navy from 5/1917 to 2/1919, patrolling aboard a Destroyer in the North Atlantic and around the British Isles.)

Saturday, November 10, 2007

My Neighborhood Mile

I love my neighborhood mile. It's been very good to me.

I'm intimate with it. I know it like a lover. I know its moods.

It starts right outside my door. It's always there. I can glance out my window and know what kind of a day I'm in for.

Is it rain glistened? That's no trouble and it won't bother me unless it's pelting.

Is it hoary with frost? Then I'm in for a hard time and I have to approach it just right, both in dress and in footing.

Is it covered in snow? I'll appreciate it the more for its silent beauty but I'll have to be careful around it, unless its frigid and icy, in which case I'll stay away from it altogether for awhile.

It's always waiting for me. But sometimes I neglect it. Sometimes I don't visit with it for weeks. I wonder if it misses me, or resents my absence.

It always helps me. When I was suffering, and trying to hold on in the last mile of the WDWM and break 4 hours for the first time, it gave me succor. It reached out from 1,000 miles away and was with me that last mile at Disney. Suddenly I wasn't running towards Epcot with aching lungs and leaden feet at 3:45:45 anymore. No. I was standing at the head of my driveway at 0:00:00.

Punch the watch and go up the street a quarter mile. Hill at the top. Turn right at the stop sign.

Go down the level straightaway two blocks. Watch out for the divot in the middle of the road midway down.

Turn right just before the W&OD Trail and run downhill on Railroad Avenue. Circle the telephone pole at the end of that dead-end road and return. Not quite halfway yet. (Right: Looking up RR Avenue from the dead end. The W&OD Trail is off to the right.)

Come back up RR Avenue, always thinking about pace here. Faster turnover, work it, work it! Watch for the other divot in the roadway to the left near the turn back onto the two-block straightaway.

Pound down the straightaway towards the stop sign with lungs bursting. I'm always gasping audibly here from oxygen depletion. Make the last turn onto the street where I live.

Try to use the hill I labored up three minutes ago. Cut the slight curves in the road to fashion the straightest line down the roadway, going from curb to curb. Traffic behind me? That's not a problem because it's infrequent and slow. Besides, they all know this grey-haired old fool goes sprinting by here often enough.

There's my house. Dash past it towards the "mile marker" at the end, the dumpster in the strip mall parking lot a block beyond.

I allow myself a glance at my watch. It's already past 6:30. Come on, come on! My standard for a good one-mile run is anything under seven minutes. Push it, push it! Yesterday was 7:29! (Left: The final stretch. Heading past my house on the left towards the dumpster a block further on.)

The dumpster, the dumpster! Slap it and I'm done. I push the watch stop button. 6:51. Alright!

These are the solitary mile runs I do that helped me at the end of Disney last year, when desperate weariness forced me out of my head into some ethereal place. I transported myself back home to the top of my driveway, and in my mind I ran my neighborhood mile for the last mile. The comfort of being with an old friend that last mile helped me bring Disney home in under four hours. (Below: My number at the WDWM in 2006 was 4790. Only I wasn't in Orlando crossing the finish mats at the moment captured in the photo, I was at home finishing a comfortable old run.)

[Only someone cynical would say that by substituting the "speed work" of my neighborhood mile this morning for the LSD I told myself I'd do when I went to bed last night, I was merely being lazy.]

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Five things you need to know, five people you need to meet

I’m going to do a meme, whatever that is. I think it’s just a blogging version of - Tag You’re It.

I tried this once before without much success. Jeanne (Not Born To Run) cooperated, so I might as well tag her again. She has to post once a day for a month anyway because of Nablopomo, whatever that is. So she’ll undoubtedly thank me. Go read her blog. She’s brilliantly funny. (Aww, anyone who reads this knows that already.)

I got the idea from reading Irene in San Diego (Magazine Smiles). She likes Led Zeppelin and I’m going through a Man With Sticks phase right now (again). It looked like it would be fun. Besides, my parents got married in San Diego, in 1944. My Dad was a young Marine about to ship out for Peleliu and Okinawa, and my Mom was a defense plant plant worker. They met at a USO dance. She was hiding in the coat room when he was getting his jacket to leave. She was lonely and shy, having grown up in Yuma, Colorado, a small farming community on the plains. My Dad, OTOH, was cosmopolitan having grown up in Winona, Minnesota, a large town on the Mississippi River. She was 20, he was barely 19. They were together til death did them part 42 years later when he died of lung cancer. I was there when his life departed. He became addicted to nicotine from smoking the three cigarettes supplied in each K-Ration during the war. He came back from the war and taught her to smoke. She died of emphysema. Those were different days. Nobody stays married now and the kids suffer. (There. You just got a lot of free information. At work, I always tell new attorneys, never give out information for free.)

Here are the Rules:
• Link to your tagger, and post these rules on your blog.
• Share 5 facts about yourself on your blog, some random, some weird.
• Tag 5 people at the end of your post by their names and links to their blogs.
• Let them know they are TAGGED by leaving a comment on their blog.

1. I was born in Connecticut. (I lived there all of six weeks.)

2. There were six kids in my family.

3. We weren’t Catholic.

4. I have three sons, all over 18.

5. I had never run a distance of more than seven miles at any one time when I did my first marathon, the Inaugural Baltimore Marathon in 5:05:20. (I told myself the whole last hour while I was walking it in that if I only could beat five hours, I’d never do another marathon. I missed my goal so I had to do fourteen more (and counting)).

Here are four more persons besides NBTR who are going to be mad at me.
cewtwo - why, how, what, where I run...
Dorine - she do run run
nylisa - Lisa's Running Journal
sunshine - best day of the year

Sunday, November 4, 2007

How I "Won" The NYCM

How me 'n Dave won the NYC Marathon last year.

You probably thought that Marilson Gomes dos Santos, the slight Brazilian who gave us cut-away opera gloves covering the arms as a fashion statement, broke the Africans' modern stranglehold on the New York City Marathon last year and won it. And he did win the race, tactically. But Dave and I won it strategically. (Above: Dave and I smiling before the marathon after it took us ten minutes, total, to get there. Photo credit S.)

The Problem. Everyone knows what the problem with the NYCM is. It's the 10:10 start from way down in the far corner of NYC on Staten Island. Everyone has to get there from somewhere else and it usually takes quite awhile. Official recommendation is to catch the 8 am Staten Island ferry and corresponding bus, because there are no later buses. To get to the southern tip of Manhattan to catch that ferry, many runners will be arising at 5:30 or earlier for the race.

There are buses that transport you to the race's start on Fort Wadsworth on Staten Island that leave from various parts of the city. But they leave very early, starting at 4:30 am. Don't try to catch one after 6:30 am (7 am from NJ) because they will be non-existent by then. (Left: Old Fort Wadsworth is dwarfed by the bridge.)

Stories abound about how uncomfortable the wait at Fort Wadsworth for the race to start is. Those hours are horrendous, especially for the obsessive-compulsive types (know any runners like that?) who catch the first bus in their can't-miss-the-start paranoia. It's cold in the early morning, sometimes bitterly so, and keeping warm for all that time is a problem. People bring blankets, snuggle in sleeping bags, make beds out of newspapers, beg clothes from strangers, go into a trance; all sorts of strategies are used. (Below: Fort Wadsworth.)

The race itself is fantastic, a twenty-six mile traipse through the five boroughs and over five bridges that range from the fabulous (the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge and the Queensboro Bridge) to the interesting (the Pulaski Bridge) to the merely fun (the Willis Avenue Bridge and the Madison Avenue Bridge). Screaming spectators line much of the passage and immerse you in the diversity that is the genesis of the melting pot of America.

A funky bed and breakfast without the breakfast. When I got into the NYCM last year, I googled "bed and breakfast" and "Staten Island." Up popped a funky place on Daniel Low Terrace. It seemed roomy enough and it was only $100 a night. A call to the "hotel" gave me the owner who said he had several "units," and he'd give me the best one available when I got there. As he described each one, they were all suitable for my needs. I'd get one of them, he assured me. He told me to send a hundred dollars deposit now. Contract? Paperwork? Naw. Just the hundred, and show up.

It was a perfect location. Just off Victory Boulevard near the ferry, it was within three miles of Fort Wadsworth. Back roads would lead me right to the race's start. I received conflicting information concerning the availability on race morning of city buses running down Bay Street in Stapleton on their regular routes to Fort Wadsworth. If there were problems, I could jog the distance in thirty minutes. (Above: I watched this bridge being built out of my bedroom window when I was a boy.)

When I arrived six months later on the Friday before the race, it was funky alright. The owner was an iconoclast who had built, in stages, a series of units off the backside of his old house there in St. George. He was quite talkative and had plenty of stories about his battles with the zoning commission as his house grew. He also knew Hilary Rodham from school and ventured forth his opinion about her. It would hearten the soul of any Republican and many a misogynistic Democratic. My unit was a long narrow unit on the ground floor in the back with an outside entrance.

Dave? Dave's Not Here! I met Dave, another runner from Chicago, sitting on a settee on the house's porch enjoying the view of the lower Manhattan skyline across the harbor. Dave was in the initial throes of his discovery of running in middle age. (Left: Funky? Well yeah!)

He had run six marathons, all within the last year. His pace of running marathons was increasing. He had run two in the last five weeks. He had arrived on Wednesday to steep himself in the course. He expected to better his PR of a little over four hours because he had discerned that the course was pretty flat except for the bridges and several rolling hills on First Avenue in Manhattan.

His wife was with him, trying to share in his new found zest for life. They walked to the ferry to go into Manhattan every day and he would go scout sections of the course while she went shopping. He was leaving on Tuesday, his wife having said "no" to him staying until Wednesday to recover. "Remember the kids at Aunt Maybelle's, dear?" was how she put the reasoning behind them leaving sooner rather than later when he was explaining all of his running plans and aspirations to me. Dave was scheduled to run another marathon, necessitating another trip, two weeks after New York. She was going with him there, too. (Left: My unit stretched all the way across the back of the house.)

I got the feeling from looking at his wife as Dave spoke that this exhilarating new phase of his life, with its frequent one-on-one challenges that put new meaning into a life where awareness of mortality had intruded lately, was about to end. His wife had a tightness in her facial expressions, a quietness as he spoke animatedly, that demonstrated to me a noticeable tiredness with his ongoing personal quest into self-worth. Real life was about to descend upon this running warrior in the form of his family's real or perceived needs as mandated by the non-running member of the union. Hence, to us all when we take up running.

Dave is an electrician. I got the impression that he had mostly finished his life's work and the family was comfortable. He told me that his unit at the house was great, very comfortable and well-appointed. He told me, though, that he wouldn't stay there long-term. You really don't want to look too closely at all the new wiring in this old house, he said in mock horror. Dave and I arranged to go to the race's start together. A friend would drive us both there.

Excuse me, I've got a race to run in 55 minutes. Race day dawned cool, clear, crisp. I woke up at 8 and lay in bed thinking of the horror stories friends had told me about catching a 4:30 am bus and then spending four hours shivering in the open on Staten Island. That was a prominent memory of the race for all of them, whiling away the long hours in Fort Wadsworth. Starting the race itself was like swinging open the jailhouse doors wherein they burst onto the race course, trying to put the fresh memory of those enervating and anxious (and freezing) hours out of their thoughts.

By 9:15 I was dressed and ready to go. I met Dave and we climbed into the car. I directed the person driving onto back roads I knew from childhood, having grown up in this section of Staten Island. The trip to the race, as a matter of fact, was a trip down memory lane for me. Down St. Pauls Avenue, past my old church. Back-track on Broad Street, past the Projects which I used to walk by on my way to the den mother's house during my one year of being a Cub Scout. Then a straight shot out Tompkins Avenue past the YMCA where I used to attend summer camp to School Street, the race's entry point. Distances that had seemed to stretch out so impossibly far for a ten year old boy seemed incredibly compressed forty-four years later to a full-grown man. (Yes, on Staten Island forty-four years ago, little boys could and did walk around and play miles from their homes.) (Above: St. Paul's Episcopal Church on Staten Island.)

Encountering no traffic, we arrived at the traffic barricades half a mile from the race's actual starting line in ten minutes. Plenty of time for two visits to the port-a-potties and to find our respective starting corrals. (Below: Celebrating the finish of the 2006 NYCM with J (who is running today, good luck!), H (who ran the MCM a week ago), me and A (my charity partner who helped me finish at sultry Chicago last month)).

Last year I finished the NYCM more than a hundred minutes behind dos Santos. Dave discovered the course was hilly after all and finished a little further back. But we both strategically won the race by having pristine memories of an incredible run on a perfect fall day through the greatest city in the world, unblemished by a single bad memory of the transport to the start line or the stay in Fort Wadsworth.