Cornfield Meet

Things collide here.

Feet friends

On May 26, 2008, I put on these then-brand-new shoes and went for a 5.45-mile run.

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Last Sunday, January 27, 2013, I put them on for a 3.5-miler.

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In between, they saw me through 1,758+ miles (!) of running. Following the westbound route I took on my summer 2010 road trip, that would have gotten me from my driveway almost to Gallup, New Mexico.

That mileage included:

They also logged plenty of walking miles in visits to Stark Parks trails, Disney World, Turks & Caicos, and two Star Wars Celebrations.

After almost five years and seventeen hundred miles, they’ve earned a rest, so today, I retired them from running. We’ll hang out for everyday stuff now.

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I went out in snowy, 20-degree weather today in this new pair of New Balance trail running shoes. While I rarely log actual dirt path miles, almost all my running is outside, and most of it is over semi-rural roads, many with gravel shoulders. I wanted something that could handle rain and snow and puddles. I sought the advice of In Like A Lion co-founder Keith, who said while the shoes would likely be slightly heavier than a straight-up running pair, they’d be fine even for longer pavement runs.

I was glad for the trail tread in the snow today, and my feet stayed dry. I like the new shoes so far. It’ll be a few miles before we get fully used to each others’ company, of course, but it was a good start.

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February 2, 2013 Posted by | Ohio, running | , , | 1 Comment

Eighteen Saturdays: Five Things the Canton Marathon Got Right

As a follow-up to writing about my Canton Marathon run, I also did a post for the North Canton Patch site noting several things I felt the race organizers did well: Five Things the Canton Marathon Got Right. There’s already a little bit of discussion about the race over there, and I’d love to hear more. (I’m shutting off comments to this entry, so if you have feedback to share, the Patch post is the place for it this time.)

 

June 20, 2012 Posted by | Ohio, running, Sports | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Eighteen Saturdays: Canton Marathon 2012 – Finish Line

Photo: Kelly Booth (Yes, we have on our Akron Marathon shirts: They’re lighter in color than our brand-new Canton Marathon shirts, and it was sunny and warm for a good portion of the race, so I didn’t want to wear a dark shirt.

Another eighteen-week training calendar is (mostly) full of Xs, and my second full marathon is behind me.

Some numbers:

  • Training start date: Feb. 14, 2012. Canton Marathon date: June 17, 2012.
  • Running days: 68 (Days missed: 4)
  • Total miles: 453.3. (Miles missed: 35)
  • Marathon time: 4:15:33. Marathon pace: 9:47

That time is around 20 minutes slower than my first marathon – the Towpath in 2009 – and well short of the 8:23 pace goal I had in mind when I started training, but ultimately, this race turned out to be about more than that particular goal.

I was a real bundle of nerves the night before the race, but I carb-loaded and was tired enough to go to bed early, so when I woke up at 4 a.m. Sunday, I felt rested enough.

Adam and I left at about 5:10 to head downtown to the Stark County fairgrounds, parked and caught one of the many shuttle buses with no trouble, and were over at Fawcett Stadium by about 5:50 a.m.

Due to the last-minute arrival of many racers (guilty!) the organizers had to push back the start 20 minutes, but that seems like a pretty small inconvenience in the face of how smoothly I thought the whole parking/shuttle situation was handled: They seem to have had more than enough buses running to and from the fairgrounds – Adam and I had the same quick and easy experience getting back to the car at the end of the day. (Having run in three Akron Marathons, there’s no comparing the two parking situations. I know Akron attracts three times as many runners, but parking up there is a real issue, and every year we wind up parking on some side street and walking a half-mile to the starting line.)

I had trained differently for this race than my first one, and I felt a different sort of nervousness going into it. Several differences between then and now: On the one hand, there’s “Yes, I’ve done this before.” On the other, there’s, “Yes, you’ve done this before, so you know it’s going to hurt, and it’s going to suck.” No headphones in reserve for a late-race distraction this time, but Adam was running with me to keep me going, since he wasn’t going for a personal record, and we’ve never run a full marathon together before.

I went into this one with the mental approach of breaking the run into sections, planning for 90-second walk/water/gel breaks at 5, 9, 14, 18, and 22 miles. In terms of timing, I was hoping to maintain an 8:15 pace for at least the first five miles, and the first nine if at all possible – after that, I knew it would be a matter of just trying to keep going.

Now, we knew this course was going to be hilly – hugely different from both the completely flat Towpath and Adam’s first marathon in 2008. And we’ve heard from people who have run the full and also-hilly Akron course that it’s a bear.

Here’s the elevation chart for Canton’s run:

So, see, we knew that the first five miles covered the biggest net elevation gain, but it’s more gradual than the comparatively drastic ups-and-downs from about Mile 12 to the end. How grueling was that second half? Well, we’d reached the 13 mile marker after 1 hour and 50 minutes, so I was still on pace to beat my Towpath time. The second half beat the crap out of me for the next 2 hours and 25 minutes. I mean, damn. And that climb from Mile 20-21 was probably the worst.

I am proud to say this, though: I only walked for those scheduled 90-second breaks, and the only alteration I made to my plan was that I took my final gel walk at 21 miles instead of 22. Granted, there were times when I was barely passing the marathoners who were, in fact, walking up those hills, but I stuck to my plan, dang it.

Another big difference this time around was my familiarity with the course – for the most part, it covered streets I’ve driven most of my life, so turning a corner or coming over a rise, I had a pretty good idea just how far it was to the next landmark or turning point. Lots of changing scenery and neighborhoods. I liked the route.

Despite fears of an uncharacteristically hot day, the weather turned out to be pretty good for a run: Adam and I were a little worried just after Mile 5, when the sun was clearing the trees and starting to heat things up, but not long afterward, the clouds we had been hoping for moved in. In fact, in Mile 22, just after my last break, there was a great blattering downpour for about 10 or 15 minutes – it was refreshing and energizing and I laughed out loud and whooped with a sort of delirious exhilaration. It didn’t last long, and it made my shoes feel about 3 pounds heavier for a couple miles, but it was crazy and fun.

The last mile, then: Mostly uphill. Again. But I can feel the end drawing near, even as part of my brain pushes a super-early-warning button that sends the message, “Hey: Am I going to throw up? ‘Cause I kind of feel like -”

Just breathe. Slow, deep breaths. You’re almost there.

And then we turn onto the final street, and Adam has slowed to let me catch up, and I can see Fawcett Stadium ahead, and I want so badly to charge full-tilt, but that whole not-barfing thing is keeping me a little in check, and then, when we’re about 30 feet from the gate into the stadium, Adam nods and points to a runner about 15 feet ahead of us: “We gonna pass this guy?” He’s smiling.

I’m not sure I can mount a charge without puking, and I say, “I don’t think I can.” Adam: “No big deal. Whatever you can do.”

I look at the runner ahead again and say, “Yeah, let’s do it.” Adam: “Go ahead.”

I cannot stress enough how much it meant that Adam ran this race with me. We weren’t side-by-side the whole way, but he was always within earshot, and he’d slow up to check on me, to make sure I was hydrating at all the stations, to remind me to try and get my knees up and stride out the downhills when we could, to tell me I was doing well even in those later miles when I knew my hopes at another sub-four-hour time were shattered. On those late-race hills, when I wanted so badly just to slow down and walk, I saw him up ahead and kept going.

And it meant maybe a little more because I’m not sure I’ll be doing another full marathon again. Training for this one, I’ve come to realize that while I can do these 26.2-milers, I’ve found myself thinking more about running half-marathons and working on that pacing and seeing how long I can sustain and 8-minute (or faster!) per mile pace.

So when Adam said, “Go ahead,” I poured it on and passed the guy. And then with a quick left turn, I was on the field at Fawcett Stadium, and I could hear people cheering in the stands, and I could see the finish line, and then – goosebumps – I heard the announcer’s voice echo, “And here comes…John Booth!” And yes, dammit, I raised both fists to the sky and couldn’t help smiling, because then he said, “Followed by… Adam Booth!” And we were about 30 feet or so from the finish line, and I turned backwards and pointed both hands at my brother, and just before we hit the finish line, he did a goofy Heisman Trophy pose (c’mon – it’s Fawcett Stadium!) and I cracked up, and we high-fived and completed our run together.

I won’t forget that.

And then we enjoyed the post-race atmosphere for a bit. Canton’s medals were much bigger and heavier than I’d anticipated; and while there were no sandwiches, the food haul of chips, apple slices, peanut butter, bananas, water, cookies, chocolate milk, beef jerky and two beers easily topped the disappointing dry bagel handouts at Akron last year.

Funny how quickly the marathon’s moments of pain and doubt, which felt like they stretched on and on during the race itself, have receded so quickly in the rear view.

June 19, 2012 Posted by | Ohio, running, Sports, Uncategorized | , , , , , | 10 Comments

The Eighteenth Saturday: Canton Marathon 2012, Last Training Day.

Tomorrow is race day.

Today I will drink water, eat carbs, and try to distract myself from the fact that Tomorrow. Is. Race. Day.

I still need to pick up my runner’s packet with my number and timing chip – I plan to do that this afternoon.

The ever-diminishing training run distances over the past three weeks have me in  a strange mindset: Even though I know the Hal Higdon training schedule works as designed, all these low-mileage days have kind of fogged over what it feels like to run double-digit distances. I don’t remember feeling this way in 2009.

At the same time, I’ve been really excited to see the effect this year’s training has had on my short-run abilities. In the past month, I’ve recorded personal bests for three, four and five miles.

This week, Adam and I have only been aiming to make sure we’ve stayed faster than 8:20 per mile, and we’ve been able to do that pretty easily, carrying on conversations through entire routes and climbs, and never going into full-on sprint mode.

For this morning’s final pre-race run, while we could have taken a 2-mile loop that avoided large hills, I felt like doing an out-and-back along the road that has often marked our final mile, and which includes our least favorite climb. (Why did I want to do this? Because choosing to run the hill felt like a way of flipping it the bird, I guess. Juvenile and illogical, I know. But there it is.)

So we went out and talked the entire way – even up That Hill. And though exertion crept into our breath and voices at a couple times, for the most part it felt like a slightly-faster-than-leisurely jog.

We didn’t sprint up the street at the finish, either. Final time: 15:12.

And I’m kind of floored, because the last time I competed in a two-mile race (2007), I finished in 15:16 and had to mount a full-on uphill charge at the end to hit that. Makes me wonder what I could do if I actually took a shot at the Hall of Fame or North Canton 2-Mile races this year, with a full season of marathon training to build on.

Today’s pace has little actual bearing on tomorrow’s run, I know, but it was nice to finish the training on a positive note.

See you beyond the finish line.

June 16, 2012 Posted by | Ohio, running, Sports | , , , , , | 1 Comment

Canton Marathon 2012

I haven’t decided yet if I’m running a marathon this year, but my brother Adam and I have already circled the inaugural Canton Marathon on the 2012 calendar.

The organizers published the routes (there’s a half-marathon and a 10-K, too) today. Here’s the full 26.2-miler:

Canton Marathon 2012

Image: CantonMarathon.com (click to enlarge)

The Canton Repository drove the route and created this video.

I’ve manually mapped the course at my favorite run-planning site, Gmaps Pedometer, including the last bit not included in that video and reflecting the Repository‘s statement that the marathon finish will be at the 40-yard line of Pro Football Hall of Fame Field in Fawcett Stadium, which is awfully neat. (Doesn’t specify which 40-yard line – I guessed.)

In 2009, when I ran my first (and only) marathon, I deliberately avoided training on the course because I wanted it to remain unfamiliar territory. It helped that the Towpath is an hour’s drive from my house. And where that course was all wilderness and  long stretches, this one is a winding path over streets I’ve been traveling most of my life, which – even though I’ve done this once – seems to present a fair mental challenge, because I’m watching that video and going “Damn, that’s a long way.”

And yet I’m looking forward to it, so clearly, something’s wrong with me.

February 11, 2011 Posted by | Current Affairs, Ohio, running, Sports, Weblogs | , , , , | 1 Comment

Finishing strong

I hate feeling like I could have run faster, pushed harder, done more.

I know – I know – that it’s easy to sit there, 10 minutes after a race and think, “Hey, I’m feeling better already, and that must mean I could have run harder.” The memory of the struggle fades so quickly once I’m past the finish line that sometimes it eats at me. Yes, in effect, I’m saying that I’d feel better if I felt worse for longer after a race.

So, here’s how my part in the Akron Marathon unfolded on Saturday:

My youngest brother Adam – as he did last year – had put together a five-man relay team and offered me the 7.9-mile anchor spot so I could enjoy the Finish Line run into Canal Park. outfield. Adam (running relay leg No. 3) and his friend Scott (relay spot No. 4) and I hit the road a little later than we probably should have, but we made it into Akron a little after 6:30 a.m. for the 7 o’clock race, and Adam managed to get our lead runner his racing bib at the starting line.

We walked to the first relay point, caught up with Eric, our No. 2 runner, and then Scott and I caught the shuttle buses out to our respective relay points while Adam walked to his.

It was almost 8:30, I think, by the time I got to my relay point, where I caught up with a couple guys I went to high school with, which made the time pass pretty easily – although I was still going through my usual race-day jitters, all keyed up and everything, even though nothing’s ever really at stake except me vs. me.

Shortly after 9 a.m., I decided I’d better get a little bit of warm-up jogging in, so I went down to the runner’s path and did some short back-and-forth along the trail. Around 9:15, as I’m jogging in the opposite direction as the race traffic, I hear the announcer call our team’s number, and suddenly, there’s Scott, right in front of me, so I have to wheel around and basically run alongside him the last few dozen yards back to the relay station. Our team, it seems, is making better time than we had planned, and after a quick handoff of the relay bracelet and my bag of running gear, there I am, back on a race course for the first time since last year’s Towpath Marathon.

It’s been an up-and-down year for me, running-wise. I’ve never stopped completely, but it wasn’t until two months ago that I had myself on a race training schedule again, aiming for the Akron Half Marathon. Then in late August, the same day I reached the 10-mile mark again, I wrecked my back and all but put the Akron run out of my mind until two weeks ago, when Adam encouraged me to join his relay team.

Now, I’d been shooting for an 8-minutes-per-mile half marathon pace, and despite falling out of my speed training, I was still hoping to manage something near that for Saturday’s 7.9-mile run. (For perspective, this was an admittedly ambitious goal for me. I hadn’t hit the toughest part of this summer’s half-marathon training when it was derailed – the longest sub-eight-minute distance I’ve run was a 7:51 five-miler, but that was on a treadmill. All the other times I’ve run below eight minutes per mile have been distances of 4 miles or less.)

So the run started off like all my races do, with me taking a few moments to gather and find my rhythm. And I’m sort of struggling a bit, feeling like I’m working too hard to relax, feeling like 7.9 miles is waaaaay too far – and yes, this is another strange, but thankfully passing feeling, because one benefit of having run a marathon, even once, is that distances of 10 miles or less lose their mystique. Until, of course, Race Day – and so naturally, it’s during this first difficult half-mile or so that the buckle on my my trusty Nathan running belt decides it’s a good time to break.

I was adjusting the belt at the time, so I had a grip on it, and suddenly it goes slack and comes off in my hand, and now I’m jogging along carrying the thing, and hey, I can at least take my mind off the whole “finding my rhythm” trick because I’m too busy wondering what the heck I’m going to do. I can’t toss the belt aside because while the course offers plenty of hydration and power gel stations, it also contains my driver’s license and my asthma inhaler, and I have no pockets in which to stow them. Besides, I really do like this belt – Jenn got it for me one Father’s Day, and it’s been with me for probably a couple hundred miles of running, and it seems silly to ditch the whole thing for a plastic buckle I hope to replace for far less than the cost of a new belt. For a few minutes, I tried just carrying it, but that got old really quick, so I just adjusted the belt to its largest size and then just tied it on. When it didn’t feel like it was going to slip off, I got back to the business of, you know, running.

I still wasn’t feeling settled in, though – hitting “The Zone” eluded me through this entire race, and it never felt like it wasn’t work – but once I passed the sign for Mile 20, I was able to start breaking the rest of the run down into two-mile pieces: two more miles until the halfway point and my scheduled power gel; then two miles to Mile 24; and then just two (point two) more miles to the finish line.

I think the first half of my run took more out of me than I expected because there was more climbing than I’d anticipated, and most of it was the sneaky kind that’s gradual – except for a 100-vertical-feet-in-a-half-mile hill just before the midpoint near Stan Hywet Hall. (The marathon web site calls it “Heart Rate Hill” for a reason.)

After that, things went – at least mentally – pretty quickly. With the boost of my power gel and the knowledge that I had some long downhill stretches ahead, I started feeling better, although even in the final two miles, I still felt like I didn’t have much left in the tank, and I really wanted to be able to finish strong.

I tried to push harder the last half-mile to the stadium, but that half-mile stretched. I even wondered about how well I’d cross the finish line, because honestly, when I’ve been out running here at home, the last few hundred feet up our street can often seem like they go on for-freaking-ever when I’m trying to run them full-tilt.

And then I was turning down the alley/driveway that runs along the outfield of the stadium, and with a left turn through the centerfield fence, there it was.

I had anticipated the finish line seeming distant, the way my mailbox looks when I’m trying to sprint up our road, but it wasn’t- it seemed so close, there across the expanse of sun-brilliant green grass, with the backdrop of the stands and the crowd, and while I had thought about this moment for a year, I’m experiencing those parts of it mostly in memory’s replay because right then, all I saw was the finish line a few hundred feet away, and I got that adrenaline surge out of nowhere, and there was me and the line and one guy about 100 feet ahead of me, and all I wanted to do was pass him and keep barreling on across and finish this thing going as fast as I could.

Which is exactly what I did.

And within 10 minutes, there I was, sitting with Adam and Scott and saying, “Man, I feel like I could have run harder.”

Our team finished in 3:23:40 – good enough for 73rd out of the 1,099-team overall relay field, and 25th in the 125-team men’s division. And even though I finished with a pace of 8:37 per mile – slower, in fact, than I paced my 12-mile run a year ago – and it took me 68 minutes to cover my 7.9 miles, remembering those last couple hundred feet, running and breathing and just pounding forward with everything I had while the sun blazed and my ears filled with wind – has made me feel better than I did when I sat down to start writing all this.

Which makes all the miles worth it.

September 26, 2010 Posted by | Current Affairs, Ohio, running, writing | , , , | 2 Comments

Back on the runner’s path

For the first time since last October, I’m running with a plan.

There’s another Hal Higdon training schedule hanging next to my desk and another date circled on the calendar as I aim for the Akron Half-marathon on September 25.

My brother Adam and are making Akron our once-a-summer race for the second straight year, and while I’ve stepped back in terms of distance – unless there’s a truly irresistible race opportunity next year, the next 26.2-miler I run will probably be the inaugural Canton Marathon in 2012 – I’m going to work on increasing my speed a bit.

I’ve set an 8-minute-mile pace goal, which may be ambitious by my own standards, but I want to have a challenge on my hands. Here’s my thinking: My pace in last year’s Towpath Marathon (my first, remember) averaged to 9:01 per mile. At the other end of the spectrum, when Adam and I were doing our short “speed runs” on 3.65-mile Tuesdays, we topped out at a 7:16 pace. I think the only double-digit-distance run where I came close to the goal I’ve set this summer was a 10-miler I ran during my peak week last year, which I finished with an 8:09 average and a 7:11 final mile. When I made my 12-mile contribution to our Akron Marathon Team Relay last September, I managed an 8:20.

The most direct comparison I could offer, of course, would be the 13.35-miler I did last August 1. Unfortunately, I bumped the stopwatch or something during that run, so the best guess I have on record is that I did it in something just under nine minutes.

Given the time frame, I had to jump right into Week Three of the schedule, and I’ve also had to shift it by a day since the Akron race is on a Saturday as opposed to a traditional Sunday run.

The speed training days, where you run repeated quarter-mile stretches at your pace goal, are new to me, and this schedule also calls for 5 days a week of running instead of four.

I’m enjoying the step back into a running schedule – although my legs were really sore yesterday as I rested from my first three consecutive days of running in I don’t know how long. And when I attempted a 3.15-miler at race pace this morning, I clocked in at an 8:02 average and felt pretty beat afterward, so clearly I’ve got work to do.

And that feels good.

July 23, 2010 Posted by | Ohio, running, Sports | , , , , , | 2 Comments

On the road again.

I actually had to search for one of my running shoes yesterday morning.

I’ve worn them once or twice since the marathon, but only in a “running errands” sense, and not for actual, you know – running. But with today marking four weeks beyond the finish line of my seventeen Saturdays, I felt like it was time to get out there again.

One shoe was in the closet – where it belonged – but the other had snuck under my side of the bed.

So just before 7:30 a.m., on a bright and clear morning with the air just over 40 degrees, I headed out the front door for my first run in a month.

And it felt kind of strange, going out with no stopwatch and no real goal in mind. Sunday, May 31 – more than five months ago – was the last day I went out for an unplanned run that wasn’t a number to be crossed out on a training chart.

I covered 3.56 miles on a well-worn loop through a nearby housing development, past some fields, and up a hill I really, really hated on more than one morning.

Most of the trees have gone bare since the last time I ran, although there were still a few stretches of maples with bright red leaves standing out in the muted morning. There are still a few unharvested cornfields, too, acres and acres of stalks and leaves the color of old book pages rattling over hilsides and along the woods’ edge.

I have trouble figuring out why I run.

I don’t think it’s the sport or the action itself, though the journey wouldn’t be the same if, say, I walked or biked. I could see the same sights, hear the same sounds, smell the same air, and though all of those are also part of why I do it, none of them are the reason, either. I love the way my mind wanders and refocuses and explores and, yes, gets bored, too, but again, it behaves similarly when I’m driving with the windows down or mowing the lawn or sitting in our back room listening to the rain. It’s never the same, though, as when I’m running.

There’s a quote I often use about writing that I sometimes think fits my running habits, too. It’s attributed to screenwriter Michael Kanin: “I don’t like to write, but I love to have written.”

It’s kind of like that: I haven’t enjoyed every run I’ve ever taken, but I have always been glad I put the shoes on and hit the road that day.

November 8, 2009 Posted by | Ohio, running, Sports, writing | , , , , | Leave a comment

Seventeen Saturdays: Episode XVI

Saturday, Sept. 26

I ran in my first marathon today.

Being part of a relay team in the Akron Marathon isn’t the same thing as Running My First Marathon, of course, but still, it was a Race Day, and that meant pre-run adrenaline and excitement, no matter how much I kept telling myself, “This is just your regularly-scheduled 12-mile run; just the normal ‘X’ through today’s box on the calendar; a distance you’ve covered eight times already.”

Even so, I wanted to run well.

Adam and I left for Akron at 5:30 a.m. – an hour-and-a-half prior to the start time – when it was still dark. I’d had a bagel and cream cheese for breakfast, which was more than I usually eat before a race, but pretty much standard for my long run Saturdays.

And I decided to run with my belt, carrying my own water and gels, figuring I’d rather be in total control of when I wanted to “eat” and drink rather than having to plan the consumption around the relief courses on the route. Also, I’ve gotten used to taking the gels and drinking on the run rather than stopping completely, and I’m pretty adamant about sticking to the rituals and patterns that seem to work for me.

We parked the car around 6:15 and met up with our fellow runners about 6:30, hanging out on the fringes of the mass of people at the starting line, pinning our numbers on and talking a little about the logistics of the thing.

After Dean, our leadoff runner for the first 3.5-mile loop, headed toward the starting line, Adam and Angie and I walked to the first relay point, where I’d take over for legs two and three – 5.7 miles and 6.3 miles – and then hand things off to Angie for her 2.8 miles. Adam’s 7.9-mile finish would bring him into Canal Park where we’d meet up.

Waiting with Adam and Angie at the relay – after all, once I took off, they’d have plenty of time to get to their own spots – I really started getting race nerves, especially when the first competitors started passing through: First the wheelchair marathoners, and then a few solo runners. As the relayers arrived, they’d announce the team number over loudspeakers so we could keep our eyes open and get ready.

One minute I was standing there joking with them about the anticipation and letdown of similar numbers being called out, and then we heard “8-6-5-4” blare from the amplifiers, and I was out at the edge of the waiting crowd looking for Dean.
And then, 28 minutes or so into the race, I was taking the bright yellow relay bracelet from him and jogging south and uphill.

Because I’ve only run one race a year, those first few moments of competing feel new to me every time: The sudden change in the surrounding sounds, as the crowd around me is suddenly making noise only with its feet and not its voices; the realization of my commitment to a particular run and passing the point of no return.

Although I considered loading up my MP3 player with songs or podcasts to listen to, I’d simply run out of time last night, and at any rate, I’ve run the vast majority of my mileage without that distraction. I figured that this being a totally new experience, I wanted to really soak it in and see how my mind and body reacted.

For the first mile or so, I regretted the decision: The dozens of racers around me made it extremely difficult for me to get my mind into that “running place” of personal calm and near-detachment, and of course, like trying to fall asleep, thinking about getting to that place only made it impossible to do. That the first two-and-a-half miles were a pretty straight stretch on single street probably didn’t help things, since I couldn’t think ahead to the turns and other landmarks.

Eventually, though, I forced myself to think about maintaining a comfortable-but-not-too-relaxed pace and reminded myself that if I weren’t here, I’d still be out running this same distance on this same cool, cloudy, hovering-on-the-edge-of-rainy morning, only I’d be alone and on familiar roads instead of here in new territory with a couple thousand strangers.

And then the discomfort sort of melted away, and I was just running.

We passed Firestone Stadium, and I thought for a minute or two about when I was a sports writer covered a couple regional high school softball tournament games there, one of them, I’m pretty  sure, with Kelsey in tow on a Saturday afternoon.

And several times I found myself glimpsing parts of Akron through my eyes as a 15-year-old, when I had my first girlfriend, and she lived up here. The course didn’t go near her neighborhood, but it took us past areas I remembered, and the houses and streets and trees had a familiar feel.

All along my first 5.7-mile leg, there were spectators. Not a constant crowd, of course, but there was never a stretch where there weren’t several clusters of people on either side clapping and hollering encouragement to both specific runners and all of us in general. This wasn’t a totally new thing, since parts of the Hall of Fame 2- and 5-mile races attracted a few watchers, but somehow, it felt different. (I was wearing a Lake Track & Field T-shirt my brother gave me, and three times along the way, I heard someone yell out “Go Lake!” to which I flashed thumbs-up.)

I was feeling energized as we got to the second relay point, especially knowing I was going to run right through it, not handing off my bracelet, but keeping it for another leg. I heard my team number called as I entered the hand-off zone, and I admit I was half-hoping a volunteer would ask if I needed help finding my teammate just so I could oh-so-casually say, “Nope: Running two.”

Also, I was a bit surprised to find myself suddenly back on familiar ground: We ran past the new University of Akron football stadium, and then onto the campus itself. “Hey,” I thought, “There’s the building where I met LeBron James -” (It was for about a minute, when I caught him for a brief, shallow interview about his marketing company and advertising deals.) “- and there’s the parking garage; and there’s E.J Thomas Hall…”

And then, with a quick right turn, I saw the starting line ahead and realized I was just a couple hundred feet from where I’d been fidgeting in anticipation just an hour or so ago.

I was on the second leg now, though I had honestly forgotten the specific lengths of each one, focused as I was only on the 12-mile total. I knew the longer part of this one, though, would be on the Towpath Trail, down in the woods along the Cuyahoga River. As I ran my last few city miles, I noticed a few more landmarks: “Hey, that’s where I had lunch a month or so ago! And hey, Luigi’s pizza place is right down there!”

Just past the 11-mile mark, realizing I had less than five miles to go, I got another burst of what I’ve come to think of as “calming energy.” It’s not like a new charge, but a wave of comprehension that I just feel good and maybe I can go a little faster, or at least not slow down. (A huge, steep downhill stretch at this point helped, I’m sure.)

My own toughest stretch was probably the one between Mile Markers 12 and 13. For one thing, I had to go to the bathroom, and, not to be too indelicate, not the kind of going to the bathroom that, say, kids figure they can do unnoticed in a pool. This has happened enough for me to know I can run through it and the urge will go away, but it makes for some discomfort.

We were also on the Towpath now – the same Towpath I’ll be running, further north, in just two weeks – and so frankly, there was less going on around me to take my mind off the run. Yes, it was new territory for me, but it was also fairly repetitive: Trees; glimpses of the river to the right, a near-constant hillside to the left; a few short bridges.

Awhile back, Keith and I were discussing the pros and cons of running part of the Towpath Marathon route ahead of time, and I decided against it, in favor of keeping it an unknown to be experienced. And though I still feel strongly about that, I think I probably will make sure I have my music player stocked for that run. Not that I see myself listening for the entire 26.2 miles, but it would have been nice today to have it ready for this stretch.

I distracted myself by mentally playing songs, recreating movie speeches and generally trying to, you know, Think Inspiring Thoughts.

And around this time, I passed a relief station sponsored and staffed by the Ohio State Association of Nurse Anesthetists, and it reminded me of Dad and put a lump in my throat. Just for a second or two. But it also made me smile, seeing them there in their scrubs and surgical caps, handing out cups of water. I didn’t take a drink, but when I passed them, I felt better.

At this point, withabout three miles to go, I started drawing parallels: “If I were at home, running our usual 10-mile loop, I’d be passing Giant Eagle.” Two-and-a-half: “I’m almost to the traffic light at Applegrove.”

When I reached Mile Marker 14, with a mile-and-a-half to go, I lengthened my strides and started to kick. It’s further out than I usually start at home, but then again, at home there’s usually one big climb in the final mile, and that wasn’t the case here. I started passing runners who had been in front of me awhile, or who had recently passed me, and though I knew it meant little overall – many were full marathoners and still had many miles to go – the burst felt good, like the charge up the hill at the end of the Hall of Fame race.

At Marker 15, with a half-mile remaining, I thought, “I’ve just come down the hill near our house: I’m almost there. Pour it on.” I never went into full-on-barrelling-huffing-and-puffing, but I tried to keep my strides strong, even as my mind went, “Hey – where’s the relay point?” I couldn’t see it like I figured I would have been able to. We climbed briefly from the riverbank to the intersection of several busy roads – blocked off, of course, for the run – and I realized I knew exactly where I was: Last month I drove up here to meet with some editors about work.

But more importantly, Where’s the frakking relay point?I’m going up hill now, in danger of losing steam, and I still don’t see it, and- ”

A quick turn to the right, and I’m there.

I can’t do a dead sprint into the crowded relay corral, but I keep things quick until I’m over the timing bar – I hear the announcer call my number – and then I’m looking for Angie, and then I’m trading the relay bracelet for my car keys, and I’m saying, “All right- Go!” and she’s off, and I have ducked into the crowd and am making my way off the course, hitting my stopwatch button: 1:40, almost on the dot.

For 12 miles, I later figure out, that’s an 8:20 pace. And while I do keep telling myself this was just a part of my training, I’m still proud of having run this far with a Race Day mentality.

The shuttle bus back to the finish line inside the Canal Park baseball stadium took longer than I thought it would, and when I get there and make my way inside, I realize that Adam and Angie and I – Dean had to leave after his leg for a football game – have made no plans for meeting up afterward. I figured it would be easy enough to watch Adam cross the finish line and then catch up with him.

I went to the bathroom, then decided to wait until Adam arrived to get my post-race food. I found a front-row seat on the first-base line, with the Finish Line just a few yards off, and settled in to watch.

It was chilly and starting to mist slightly, but having never been at a marathon, I got wrapped up in the joy of watching runners complete their races. I was a little jealous of Adam, in fact, since, as our final runner, he’d get to do the final hundred yards or so, coming in the center field gate and seeing the stadium rise around him, hearing the crowd. But I was also tremendously excited to be where I was, and every so often I’d get goosebumps watching finishers and thinking of how I was going to holler my fool head off when my baby brother came running into the stadium.

A funny thing, though: I missed it.

Somehow, I had missed his entrance, and as I watched the clock run, I got more and more uncomfortable and cold and hungry, and my seat was hard, and my muscles still wouldn’t relax because at any moment, I figured Adam would come into view and I could stand up and yell and clap.

The numbers on the clock got bigger. I struggled to do the mental math figuring out whether we, as a team of semi-experienced runners, could possibly have taken this long.

By 11:15, I knew I had to have simply missed his finish, and I got up to look for him.

We ran into each other about two minutes later.

He’d come in at the 3:32:49 mark, which baffled me, since I’d been sitting there watching since the three-hours-flat point. Or had I? I’d seen the women’s champion arrive at 2:51, but then I couldn’t remember if I’d been sitting down, or if that was before I’d gone to the bathroom and walked around for a little while. Could I somehow blame the people who insisted on squeezing past me to watch other runners finish? Or maybe those obnoxious few who came and sat on the wall in front of me to see their own friends and family come in?

Not likely: Even if someone had blocked me for a few seconds, it was a long enough run across the outfield that I should have seen Adam, and I was just pissed off at myself that I hadn’t.

So Adam had finished, collected our team medals, gotten his bag of free post-race food – by the time I got mine, the sandwiches were gone – and had been wandering around looking for me for the past 45 minutes or so. Angie had caught her ride home long before.

Walking to the car, my anger dissipated, and on the drive home, we talked about our race and the runners we’d seen and where we’d been.

I ate lunch, and then I took a nap – I still felt chilly and achy, more from having sat in that damn stadium seat shivering for an hour plus – but even after waking up and taking a shower, I still felt drained. Much more so than I figured I would have after a normal 12-mile run. Again, I blamed the post-race situation.

Later, when the marathon results were finalized and posted online, Adam and I learned we’d finished 81st overall in the 970-team relay field, and 40th in our “mixed” division of 682 teams comprised of both men and women. I thought this was pretty cool.

I’m glad I did it, and grateful to Adam for roping me into it.

Two weeks until I do one on my own.

September 27, 2009 Posted by | Current Affairs, Ohio, running, Sports | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Seventeen Saturdays: Episode XV

Saturday, Sept. 19

When I went outside this morning, it was still dark.

And not that “pre-dawn blue” kind of dark: Night dark.

It was just before 5:30, and just a shade over 50 degrees.

I’d been more or less awake since 3:45, having gone to bed just after nine p.m. in anticipation of this morning’s run: The 20-miler. My longest training run. The last frontier before race day.

Adam was running the first 10 with me, and he needed to be back home as early as possible, so he suggested the super-early start.

I had some peanut butter toast and a Power Bar while I filled up my water bottles, and actually walked out the door before Jenn, which is saying something since her day shifts start at 6 a.m.

Walking out into the street, I looked up and saw a magnificently clear, moonless sky.

Orion wheeled high – the first time I’ve seen him. I mentally marked the official end of summer.

Waiting on Adam’s front sidewalk, I looked straight up at the Pleiades, and as I did so, a yellow-orange shooting star fled west to east just past the Seven Sisters.

I think I actually said “Yesss!” out loud, and gave a mental fist-pump.

To the east, just over the treeline, Venus was startlingly bright. Brighter than I think I’ve ever seen it, maybe.

And suddenly, I was strangely psyched and excited for this run, like when I’d done the In Like A Lion midnight run with Keith back on March 1.

Adam came out put on his reflective vest and grabbed a flashlight to carry. I clipped a blinking red light to the back of my belt, and without preamble, we set off.

Except for a quarter-mile stretch of well-lit sidewalk along a nearby housing development, we ran that first mile in real darkness, between woods, then along cornfields and horse pastures, and there was a newness to it; a “sneaking out” feel, like camping in the backyard and going for a walk in the middle of the night.

It took a couple whiles for my calves to warm up: They were slightly sore after just a couple miles, but it went away, as I’ve come to expect.

In the fourth mile, we came to a traffic signal and turned left. With no cars or streetlights around, we noticed just how bright a green light really is, casting our shadows long ahead of us.

In mile six, past the well-illuminated parking lot of a shopping center and back into darkness, we passed a trio of runners heading the opposite direction on our sidewalk. After they passed, I said to Adam, “Crazy people.”

It started to get light not long after that. By the time we were at mile seven, most of the sky was pale blue and it was glowing peach on the eastern horizon.

More than a third of the way through, I thought, and it’s not even dawn yet.

Of course, I also realized I was closing in on the last of my shared miles: Just shy of the halfway point, I was going to turn north and begin another 10-mile loop, while Adam headed home.

He offered me pointers, counterbalancing my optimism with his experience.

I broke down my remaining loop for him: 4 miles north, then head east a bit, and then I’m picking up a road we’ve run regularly, and at that point, there are just four miles left. It breaks up nicely, and mentally, I’m ready – there is no longer any doubt in my mind that I can do this.

“Just remember to keep walking that fine line,” he said, “between that attitude and knowing that it’s going to suck. When you get to mile 18, it gets better because you know you’re almost there, but watch out for the ones before that.”

And then he’s off, heading home, and I’m jogging north.

It’s still a gorgeous, cloudless morning. I’m more than 12 miles into my run before the sun is high enough that I’m running in its full light, sending a shadow several dozen yards in to the field off to my left.

The route takes me past the high school I attended, and the attached middle school, where Kelsey goes. There’s a row of trees on the south side of the middle school, and they reach almost to the top of the building, blocking the third-floor classroom windows.

I remember being in those classrooms and looking down on those trees.

Turning east, I’m on a road where one of my friends was in a bad bicycle accident as a kid. Flew over his handlebars and wound up with his jaw wired shut for awhile. I wasn’t there, but our dads took us to a preseason Browns game around that time, and I remember him cheering, teeth stuck together.

And then south again, on a road that runs along the backyard of another friend’s childhood home. His parents still live there. I snuck one of my first beers – stashed behind a tree by an older brother – in that backyard.

Around this point, I was 15 miles in. Three-fourths of the way there, and feeling pretty good. Nowhere near the agony of that 18-mile run two weeks ago.

Still, Adam was right: The next couple miles weren’t painful or a real struggle, exactly, but they just seemed to pass awfully slowly.

And then, after cresting what I knew to be the next-to-last sizable climb of the morning, I realized that the next few minutes were my Frontier Zone. Somewhere between the top of that hill and the intersection I could see ahead, I would pass my long-distance mark and be in new territory, two miles from completing Saturday Number Fifteen.

When I got to that stop sign, I felt like cheering.

At this point, I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve climbed the hill that marks the start of the final mile from this direction. But the climb itself differs a bit each time. There have been days when it vanished because my mind was elsewhere, and there have been days when every step felt like nine. I’ve done it with my eyes shut or glued to the roadside stripe because I didn’t want to see how far off the top was, and I’ve run at it head-on without taking my gaze from the house that sits up there.

Today, I was just plain excited, and if the hill didn’t exactly glide effortlessly beneath my shoes, neither did it leave a painful muscle memory. It was just another stretch of pavement, and then it was behind me.

Final time: 2:58:48. Distance: 20.07 miles. Pace: 8:55 per mile.

That’s slower than I want to run the marathon, but a full minute per mile – and a minute faster overall – better than the 18-miler, and enough for me to feel like I’ve finally buried that one.

I’ll spend the next couple weeks on shorter runs and working on picking up the pace. But until race day, every distance on the calendar has already been done.

One frontier to go.

September 21, 2009 Posted by | Ohio, running, Sports | , , , | 1 Comment

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