Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Just Me 'n L.

Last Saturday as we left Gotta Run on the training group run after I announced my retirement from coaching for the club, my Garmin as usual was slow to pick up any satellite signals. (Look in the sky, Dummy.) It asked me if I had moved 500 miles since the last reading. I snorted disgustedly and just started running, because I don’t know which of its four button and two bars to push to answer in the negative.

A quarter of a mile into the run we entered the long pedestrian tunnel running under an elevated eight-lane interstate highway that debouches into the South Pentagon parking lot. Charmin picked up the signal while inside that concrete tube. There must be powerful satellite signal boosters around the Pentagon.

I was following H and another woman, running alongside L while a third woman followed us close behind. We were the front running group, swiftly separating ourselves from the main body. With our two fast coaches absent, I pulled front running duty last week. I thought I could probably handle it, having run 1:14:34 (7:27) in my last ATM in 2006. (Right: Program Director Emily leads a discussion in front of a rapt audience. A Certified Outdoor Fitness Instructor in addition to being a certified running coach, this dedicated volunteer devoted half a year to designing, implementing and running an outstanding Program for my club, which also brought the club about $12,000 in revenue. She found the contract for us to be the exclusive training partner for the Army Ten-Miler Race and brought it to us. It would be a no-brainer for my club board to wholeheartedly support Emily's appointment to direct almost any club training program.)

The first mile was in the 10:30 range as we ran by the Pentagon and headed to the river bank along the Potomac. L kept right beside me every step. He had come the furthest in the Program. He used to run mid-pack but lately, although he never pushed the pace, he was always up front.

The two of us forged ahead of H and her companion as I slowly stepped on the gas to drag everyone along in my wake.

L told me that his goal for Army was 1:35 (9:30). He said he’d only done one other race, a 10K in June in 1:03 (10:10). He was running much better than that now and I told him he had an excellent chance of meeting his goal.

The three women behind us remained in sight but started to fall away. No one else was in view but I knew that by design, there were two coaches back there mid-pack with the main group, with yet two more further back acting as sweepers. My task was to lead the strong group out. (Left: Heading out past the Pentagon. This is the corner that was struck on 9/11/01.)

For the first time in sixteen weeks I was out in front and free. Being the Site Director, usually I rove and I always wind up running or walking back with a runner experiencing a problem that day.

We pushed a 9:20 second mile and L didn't get nervous when I announced it. We burned the third mile in 8:48 mile and he didn’t blanch then either.

As we approached the hill on the Mount Vernon Trail which surmounts the bluff leading up to Key Bridge, I explained my theory of hill running to L. Whenever I encounter a hill on a run I attack it in order to derive the maximum benefit from the expected or unexpected occurrence of a hill during a run. A hill is a place where you can take down a faster runner in a race, if you practice it.

L was game and we both labored up the sharp hill, a circular switchback concrete ramp that passes over the GW Parkway and goes up the bridge. We didn't exactly sprint up it but our effort was sharply elevated. We were both winded by the time we gained the bridge. We recovered our breath as we ran into Georgetown across the level expanse of Key Bridge as far below us the dancing azure water of the Potomac sparkled in the bright sunlight.

I coaxed some information out of the naturally taciturn L. A retired Navy officer who now works for a private contractor on a satellite integration system for battle groups, he has never been married. Stationed overseas most of his Navy career, he spent considerable time in Italy, Germany, Japan and the Mid-East, with Rome being his favorite post. He spoke some Italian and German. I love coaching small groups because it enables me to run alongside different people every week and chat with them. Everybody has an interesting story.

Once over the bridge, I ducked into the Georgetown Running Company to thank the proprietor there for opening his store early every Saturday morning to accommodate the Program runners who meet in Georgetown under Site Director Katie. Katie's trainees just adore her and she keeps up with every single one of them, both on and off the trails. Program Director Emily made an astute choice in picking Katie to be a SD. (Coaches Rachel and Jerry at one of two social hours planned by Program Director Emily and organized by by Rachel, who will replace me as Site Director at Gotta Run.)

With L in tow, I identified myself as club president and told the store owner who the club Vice President of Operations is, saying that she would take over if anything happened to my presidency. He looked at me curiously as we left the store.

Outside, we descended the steep hill going from K Street to the Georgetown Waterfront, passing over the C& O Canal halfway down. My last training run as a coach was halfway over. Counting our brief stop, we were at a 9:22 m/m pace for the run. The three Program women who had been trailing us were ahead of us now. I told L my theory of passing runners as we set out to reel them in.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Giving Back

After explaining that morning's run, an eight mile jaunt past the Pentagon, up the Virginia side of the Potomac, over Key Bridge, down the Georgetown Waterfront to Rock Creek Park, past the Lincoln Memorial and onto the Mall, around the World War II Memorial and back over Memorial Bridge into Virginia for a return to our starting location at Pacers Running Store in South Arlington, I announced my retirement from coaching for my club to the 32 runners waiting expectantly. (Right: Four coaches actively engaged.)

"After four years of being blessed with the ability and opportunity to run with persons such as yourselves, good folks working to bring running into your lives and striving to bring fitness to the community, I am stepping down as a coach for the running club. I will coach further, if at all, only upon a drop-in basis for the benefit of my friends. And all of you standing here, about to go on a run with me on this beautiful, sun-dappled morning in our nation's capital, are my friends."

They applauded me. After so many early morning hookups in all kinds of weather, sunny days, cold drizzle, bright but cold dawns, sweltering humidity, it was over. Being the current president of my club had showed me that other duties awaited me.

(Left: Coach of the year Lauren leans back and talks easily to questioning runners, approachable, open, friendly, concerned, but fast.) The pleasure of running along with eager friends, and imparting to them what little modicums of running wisdom and racing lore that my nine years of running, three hundred races, RRCA coaching certificate and experience directing or coaching ten training programs allowed me to, had come full circle to this bright, warm morning.

Interestingly, in an hour I would be running past the steps of the Lincoln Memorial on my way back to Pacers and the end of my coaching career for the club twenty minutes after that. By my side would be the lead small-group runner with several more burgeoning athletes close by behind me as we progressed past the place where it all started for me on a similar morning so long ago. Then my very first running group was anxiously forming up and I was about to head out with it, embarking upon a long and productive journey of self-development and giving back.

(Right: A coach giving back, having arisen at 5:30 on that weekend morning so that he could run alongside newer runners and offer them encouragement.) I actually believe that running is about giving back. I also believe that there are runners who don't give back, who descend into the grip of hubris, narcissism and ego and impede the giving back of others. Have you ever noticed how critical some runners are? But that is another post, one that perhaps will never be written.

Embarrassed by the small but sustained applause, I started out on the run and everyone fell in behind me, twenty-seven trainees, raw runners three months ago who were now nervously but confidently awaiting eight days hence when they would line up for the Army Ten-Miler Race, and overcome the largest physical activity many of them had ever attempted. I took the lead that morning, the four other coaches strung out along the giant moving group. Several of the faster runners fell in beside me and I adjusted my pace to theirs. My Garmin told me 10:30 m/m and I subtly picked up the tempo slightly, imperceptibly I hoped, in order to draw the aspiring athletes along.

(Left: Rachel, program person of the year, listens patiently.) I suddenly remembered that my car was parked at an expired meter in front of Pacers and Arlington's aggressive parking enforcement would start in half an hour. No matter, I was running alongside four or five runners bursting to let their inner selves out and hang with me, the fast coach today. This was by far the greater good than abandoning my lead role for the group in order to return to my car to feed the meter.

Perspiration was just starting to bead upon my face as we headed towards the Pentagon at a steady lope, chatting easily but breathing raggedly in the throes of the first mile of my last training group run. I was going to miss this so.

Saturday, September 26, 2009


I've been real busy lately. Maybe someday I'll tell you about it.

Today was the last day of training for my club's Ten-Miler Training Program, which is the exclusive training partner for the Army Ten-Miler Race next week. I am a Site Director under Program Director Emily, who brought us the contract from Army in the first place. Registration for the Program was three and a half times what it was last summer when I directed it, thanks to us being the exclusive training partner for the Army Ten-Miler. This translated into well over ten thousand dollars in additional revenue for the club. Do ya think my club wants to keep Emily happy? (You probably have no idea how clubs actually run.)

I picked Emily to be Program Director because she was ready to step up from coaching, where she had excelled. She is also a Running Boot Camp Instructor and directs a 5 a.m. workout for that. She has a terrific background in web programing and she also has an art degree.

She excelled in the job and took the Program to a higher level, despite its greatly increased complexity. Emily devoted half a year to it and managed three Site Directors meeting on both weekend days, and she usually ran along at the sites on a roving basis. Along with assistants Katie and Rachel, Emily helped create for the Program a series of programs that benefited the entire club like the Jump Start Program, a Monday night run on the Mall, a Tuesday night run over bridges in the District, a weekly email dispensing training tips and an Alternate Track Workout that wouldn't be too intimidating for the newer runners as the club's regular workout has been wrongly reputed to be.

What a great job Emily did. She is the most qualified person in my club to run a high-visibility complex training program by far. I should know, having directed, or created and run a component of, the last eight run-along club training programs. Only two other persons in my club have ever directed a run-along program that I know of. I don't believe that anyone who has never run a small program or been a Site Director could do anywhere near as good a job as Emily did handling a complex program like this one. The results she achieved were of tremendous benefit to the club.

These programs sometimes get scorn as "chaperoned running" from club members who train hard to improve their times and place in race standings. It's true, we run with new runners at their pace and draw them along as they work on their base, and Emily is very good at it. (Left: Chaperoned running along the W&OD Trail in the Program. Does that look like a perfect morning to you?)

Yes, it hurts our conditioning and our times but we want to increase the pool of runners out there by reaching out to the mid and back-packers in a spirit of inclusion. When we hear scorn sent our way, we realize there is another side to running, running for one's own aggrandizement. To these runners, coaching is all about ego. They don't run with slower runners, rather, they tell them what to do and then wave goodbye. As club president, I have tried to foster a spirit of inclusion within the club. I cannot say that I have been successful.

I have been coaching (running along with) small groups for about four years now. As I said, today was the last day of training in the Program that Emily so masterfully put together. Army has so loved what Emily accomplished that they want her to do it again next year. I believe they would follow Emily anywhere.

After our pre-run discussion this morning, I said goodbye to the assembled runners and announced my retirement from coaching for my club, even though I love it so. I'll still do drop-in coaching for friends. (All of the coaches in the Program are my friends.) But it was time to move on, as other obligations beckon. They all clapped appreciatively for me. Aww...

(Right: Bad John Braden, a good coach of Emily's. Doesn't it look like Bad John is drawing out the best in the other person he is running with? Bad John could go faster and leave her behind if he was only concerned about his own training. But then Bad John wouldn't be coaching in one of the club's run-along programs, not if I had anything to say about it.) Next I'll tell you about the beautiful morning and the great eight-mile run that wound up my coaching career for the club. It's why we run.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

More Charmin' Garmin

I went for a six mile run Sunday morning to practice my nine-minute miles. I’m the 9-m/m pace leader for the Army Ten-Miler Race next month. It’s something you have to practice, so your individual miles aren’t all over the board.

I went with Emily, the program director for my club’s ten-miler training program, which is the exclusive training partner for the Army Ten-Miler. She’s leading the 8-m/m pace group at Army. I don’t think I have a 1:20 ten-miler in me anymore but I know, especially after Sunday, that I easily have a 1:30 in me.

We met at a coffee shop in Arlington near the courthouse and ran down Wilson Boulevard to near the Potomac, then over Memorial Bridge into the District. Emily was as fine a back-seat driver as you’re going to find.

"You’re going way too fast."

"No, I’m doing 9:04."

"No, you’re doing 7:40. Slow down."

"Well, my Garmin says 9:04, now 9:05. I need to bump it up."

"No, I can feel you’re going too fast. What do you have your pace reading set for?"

"For the pace of the total run."

"It should be set on instantaneous pace. You’ll have to change the setting."

Yes dear.

From happily not having a Garmin a month ago, now my eyes are glued on it during a run.

"One-oh-oh. 8:48. That’s good."

"No, that’s not good enough. You’re 12 seconds off after only one mile. You’ll be two minutes off over ten miles. You have to bring it in within 30 seconds of your goal time."

"Well, I can’t bring it in at 1:30:30. People will be depending on me to break 1:30."

"That’s true. But you can’t run a fast nine miles and then dawdle on the tenth mile just to achieve your time. It has to be even."

"8:48 is close. I’m practicing. Besides, the first mile was all downhill."

"Doesn’t matter. It was too fast."


We went on like that for the first three miles. Then on the Mall near Lincoln Emily pulled up saying, "Three miles. 26:10. Way too fast."

My Garmin, however, said 2.98 miles. While Emily waited, I continued on for eighty more feet before turning around to go back.

"Three-oh-oh. 26:35. That’s good. Going back is uphill and we’ll lose that half-minute. We better speed up."

"No, you’re too fast. It has got to be even. And stop looking at your Garmin so much."

This was driving me nuts. Telling me to stop looking at my Garmin was like telling Dorothy to pay no attention to that man behind the curtain. I was hooked.

I was doing the math every half mile. At four and a half minutes each half-mile, my next checkpoint was going to be 31:30. We hit 3.5 miles on the return at 31:05, twenty-five seconds fast. I knew the substantial hills leading away from the riverbank on Wilson Boulevard in Arlington were coming up. I was feeling competitive now, with Father Time. I wanted to nail 53:58 for six miles.

It was a beautiful morning for running, slightly overcast and cool. A running couple passed by us. As is my wont, I trotted out an attempt at humor. "There’s a wise guy in every crowd," I said loudly to Emily as they loped by.

The guy turned to stare at me. I waved and smiled. He waved back, and then the woman turned and gave a wave too. Whew, an attempt at humor saved by a smile.

As we tackled the hills in the last mile, I pondered how two identical Garmins traveling side-by-side could be so far off. Emily’s Garmin had read 3.0 miles at the turnaround when mine was only at 2.98. I decided that it was a cosmic mystery.

Our starting point came into view two blocks off. My Garmin was just pushing past 52 minutes. I turned my attention to time management the last thousand feet. Pacers aren’t supposed to get to the finish line early and then stand around waiting for their desired time to come up on the clock before crossing. Protocol demands that you run up to and across the line without a noticeable delay. The key is to effectively manage your last half-mile.

The acceptable window in a ten-miler is supposedly 30 seconds either way, except that you can’t be late, or even exactly on time, because nobody wants a 1:30:00. They all want a 1:29:59. So your window is in reality twenty-nine seconds, from being thirty seconds early to being one second early. It’s nerve-wracking, I tell ya.

My Garmin flashed on 6.00 miles and I stopped the timer at 53:55.49, an 8:59 pace. I was four and a half seconds off of a perfect 9-m/m pace over six miles. I have my good ol’ Charmin’ Garmin to thank for this. Even Emily was smiling.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Yo Dan.

No, my son didn’t come to lunch this noon hour. Too bad.

I'm less than four years younger now than my Dad was when he died. I saw him as often as I could when he was terminally ill, and I wrote to him every single day the last six months of his life.

One day it just all of a sudden becomes too late.

So, Dan Lamberton, why don’t you call me sometime this month on my cell phone and we can arrange to have lunch someplace on Columbus Day. I’m buyin’.

You can tell me how things are at that university you attend for which I have provided the full tuition and fees for all four years. Now that you’re an adult, though, you should consider that some persons might wonder what principles you have (or lack) that allow you to accept all of that without thanks or even acknowledgement from someone you apparently despise.

I'm just sayin'.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

An open letter to my son Dan.

Dear Dan,

Hey, let’s get together for lunch at the Lost Dog Café in Westover at noon this Labor Day! I haven’t heard from you in over two years, or seen you in over six years, so it’s about time for us to catch up!

I used to have an address for you, the house in Arlington where you resided with your Mother ever since she filed for divorce from me in 2001. I always mailed letters and made phone calls to you at that house, although for years they have all gone unreturned and unanswered.

Last fall she sold the house and disconnected the phone. When I asked your Mother for your new address, she refused to give it to me. So to invite you out to a restaurant on Labor Day, as I have done on every major holiday and birthday for years, I have to resort to this open letter on the Internet.

I am sorry that the Court had cause to find that you three minor boys were involved in the divorce "up to [your] armpits." After saying he had a pretty good idea of how that happened, the Judge worried that you and your two brothers, all minors, were going to suffer great emotional distress and permanent harm if you were not removed from the litigation.

Unfortunately, four months later you three boys removed your little life savings from the bank and "retained" (at $425 an hour!) divorce lawyer Joseph A. Condo of McLean, VA to sue me for a supposed fiduciary breach. Since you were too tender in years to be on court papers, your Mother stood in for you as "next friend."

I haven’t spent a meaningful moment with any of you since "your" case was thrown out as a "harassment petition" and your Mother was sanctioned almost $10,000 in this "attempt to interfere with [my] relationship with [my] children."

That was in 2003, and the litigation finally died down in 2005 after the resulting appeal, which Condo signed the pleadings for and argued along with divorce lawyer William B. Reichhardt of Fairfax, was found to be procedurally barred, without merit and/or unjustified and your Mother paid almost $40,000 of my costs as ordered.

I have family news to relate to you about all of the aunts and uncles and cousins etc. on my side of the family, none of whom has heard from you in over half a decade. Now that you’re an adult, please consider that some persons might view this type of severe (and unwarranted) attitude on your part as showing a lack of compassion, or even humanity.

So don’t be square, be there;
at the café, on Labor Day;
at twelve noon, see you soon!

Love, Dad.