Friday, October 19, 2012

Rocking the Green Mountain Marathon

My wife is a city girl. She has no appreciation whatsoever for the olfactory experience of the rural world. So as we cruised slowly down West Shore Road in South Hero, Vermont, and I told her to watch for the sign for our Bed and Breakfast, the word "Farm" in its title caused an immediate reaction. "No, no, they just CALL it a farm," I said quickly. We approached a small muddy field full of sows, which I started to point out to her would NEVER be anywhere near a Bed and Breakfast... yup, you know it. The pigs were the (unprepped) breakfast.

The B&B turned out to be infinitely relaxing, roomy, and perfectly located for our purposes. A mere couple miles from the start and finish line, right on the course which was a 13 mile out and back along the western shore of the island.

As you can see, the weather on Friday and Saturday was sunny and cool, with a light breeze and perfect running conditions. But the marathon was set for Sunday, leaving plenty of time for the weather to deteriorate. In the meantime, though, we had a great time exploring the narrow back roads, the pretty town of Burlington, the local colour.

We met a couple at the local pub on Friday night who had organized the race for years. They were great folks, and we ended up meeting them on Saturday night at the pasta dinner as well where they introduced us to more locals and made us feel right at home. The pasta dinner was held at the local school and was put on by the Grade 7 and 8 kids as a fundraiser. Impressive job by the kids, great turnout by the entire town.

This being backwoods country, there weren't too many distractions after the pasta dinner, no street lights or rowdy nightclubs or any such craziness. So after meeting our fellow B&B guests, also marathoners, and chatting for a bit, we retired early.

I woke in the middle of the night to a howling wind that sounded like it would rattle the sturdy old farmhouse to an untimely end. This was worrying.

But the day dawned dark, drizzly, and windy. The temperature was around 45F, and the high humidity made it bearable. In fact, the wind wasn't all that bad, maybe 20 mph at times.

We parked about a mile from the start, in a field, and walked up. Once the race started I was able to focus and contend with the elements rationally.

There was a long, steep decline after the first mile, which meant that there would be a long, steep incline at mile 25. The wind was at our backs for most of the first half. In other words, restraint and strict adherence to pace were the name of the game.

The field thinned out appreciably after mile 6 or so when the half marathoners turned around. I referred to my Garmin more than I have done before, forcing myself to stick to a pace that would bring me in around four hours. It worked like a charm, right up to around the last 2 or 3 miles when I struggled to keep running. Another excellent boost was the Hammer gels that I took faithfully.

There weren't many spectators, but the couple who banged their pots and pans at the end of their farm lane, the group that yelled and screamed around mile 6/19, the water station volunteers who were all right on the top of their motivational game... all of them were incredible.

Some of the views along the route were beyond postcard perfect. The colourful trees, the rolling hills, the expanse of dark lake. You have to see it to appreciate it. Absolutely breathtaking.

When I saw how close i was to a PR by mile 20 (my PR was and remains 4:12), I pushed as hard as my cramping legs would go. the pain was becoming intense; various spasms and collapses racked my legs with no rhyme nor reason. But I pushed on, maintaining a steady focus on trying to get a bit of momentum, determined to either PR or come close. And yes, I came in 3 minutes short of my PR, one minute faster than my second fastest time. That worked for me!

These Green Mountain folk know how to celebrate, too. The chili they had for the runners after the race was seriously some of the best chili I've ever had, and that's no mean feat.

So do I recommend this race? Absolutely. Sign up early because it sold out this year. Here's the website link: Green Mountain Marathon

Monday, April 9, 2012

Life Before Radiation

 Tomorrow afternoon is the first radiation session for my wife. The lump in her breast has been removed. There will be no chemotherapy per her doctors. Twenty sessions, one every day for the next twenty business days, should do it.

The initial shock has worn off to an extent. Yes, there's a real desire to return to normal life. Normal life that is more intensely experienced for having had this brush with mortality. The knowledge that cancer has invaded, that it could still return, that from now on, even after five years of confirmed victory, there is no ultimate victory. You always knew that death will come, as it always has to everyone, but you're shaken when it first extends its exploratory tentacles. You circle the wagons and defy it to even slow you down.

So we plan much more deliberately now.
We take some satisfaction in the fact that we've balanced life thus far reasonably well, having saved for retirement while travelling and doing a lot of the little things that give life colour. Going to the theatre, for example. Staying at hotels that are just a bit more expensive and a bit nicer. Taking off to the beach for the weekend even though you ought to rake the lawn and finish up odd jobs, even though this is the third weekend in a row that you've done so.

You can't do everything, but you can at least work yourself into a job that you actually like. A job that you actually look forward to returning to after the radiation treatments are done and the doctors give you the green light. You can live a life with no reasonable regrets.

You can live a life that you don't put on hold for a minute longer than necessary. You can be very deliberate in planning for those things that weren't so urgent before but are now far more important to ensure take place. Things like finding a beach front place for retirement.

Make it count. Stop planning and plotting only long enough to relax and enjoy the scenery.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Third Time Around the Bay - 2012

This race was all business for me this year. I ran Around the Bay for the first time in 2010 and posted a 3:05 time, which was acceptable to me. Last year I ran it roughly a month after having my appendix removed, against my doctor's emphatic advice, and posted a 3:42 time. Last year's result was heartbreaking, because no matter how you approach it or what you expect out of it, it is, after all, a race. So I try to put that stupid exercise behind me, try to forget the soul destroying experience of puttering along knowing that this proves nothing apart from the fact that I'm every bit as pigheaded as my doctor knows me to be, that the registration money I "didn't waste" would have been better wasted.

This year the weather was perfect, more perfect than it should be on March 25th in Hamilton, Ontario. The runners were all psyched; the energy that coursed through the 9000 plus runners was incredible. I started out strong and fast, disposing of my garbage bag jacket almost immediately. The crowd was energetic; the runners were all focused and pushing hard. This was more like it; this was what it's all about.

The first 20 kilometres flew by at a pace around 5:00. I was well under my 3 hour goal; wasn't even breathing hard, barely breaking a sweat. There was very little chit-chat in this crowd of runners because it was clear that most of us were having a surprisingly fast race and didn't want to jinx it or lose focus.

Proof that I was focused, that I could not be distracted from my laserlike quest: I did not partake at the bacon station. Which reminds me: there was no beer station the whole way. Suggestion for the organizers: get the Grim Reapers to dole out beer shots next time, work that barley harvesting metaphor!

Right before you hit the 20 km mark there is a series of rolling hills, nothing too serious but significant enough to notice. Right after the 20 km mark is a long, very long, and reasonably steep hill. On this hill, just after Mike S. flew past me on the way to his own personal victory, I started to feel a little dizziness, just enough to make me scale it back just a bit. I kept the pace under 5:20, so still pushing.

Self awareness, objective monitoring of your status, becomes important at this point. And you don't simply learn it as you go through the race; you have to have developed this sense in your training. You have to know where that redline is, because although you don't want to become one of those unfortunates being loaded into ambulances along the way if you can help it (and you can't always help it, of course), you don't want to scale back so far that you haven't given it everything you've got. You want to cross the finish line on an empty tank, but you want to stay upright through the food lines.

A collective gasp ran through the group that I was running in as we approached the ravine that was part drastic downhill and part drastic climb. Part of that gasp was fear, but there was an undeniable sense of appreciation of the beauty of the rock formation we were about to tackle. I high fived the little guy on the approach to the hill and began the ascent.

The great thing about this hill is that it climbs quite steeply to a point after which you round a corner and see that the hill continues for another few hundred feet at an even more acute angle. I love to hear the utter depair voiced by first-timers at this point. And I confess that I actually walked the last 50 feet or so this time. I consoled the guy beside me who was also walking, saying that we'd survive to do it again next year. "I hate being passed. I just hate it," he said.

So I loped in the last 3 or 4 kilometres from the top of the hill, knowing that I could push it a bit again, never going slower than a 6 minute km. Sprinted into the entrance of Copps, arms straight up and smiling across the finish line,chip time 2:47:57, 17 minutes faster than 2010. Anyone watching me would have thought I was staggering, limping, hobbling toward the exit after that, but in my mind I was swaggering. The thrill just never gets stale, not when you've given it 110%.