Wednesday, June 28, 2006

A Race Report from the Other Side of the Race

Last Saturday, our local running club put on its annual midsummer 4 mile race, the "Summer Scamper." I have felt "raced out" so volunteered to help with organizing the race, rather than run. It was interesting and I learned some useful things.

This was a very small event, about 60-70 runners total. Registration was a card table set up in a gazebo in a small strip mall on the west end of Purdue's campus. The race director asked me to show up around 6:30am for the 8am race. I got there and three of us had everything set up. Registration started at 7am and folks showed up on time. It was a little hectic as the single card table was a little overwhelmed. But we got everyone signed up.

My assignment during the race was to stop traffic at one of the two road crossings on the out-and-back course. As the race was mostly on the south end of the city trail system that I run on daily, I knew the point well. It was a beautiful morning, there was no traffic to stop. So, I had the chance to just stand in the middle of an intersection, encourage fellow runners and listen to the birds sing on a summer's day.

The local HS cross country runners smoked the field. After a large gap, the the usual spread of runners came along, the gliders, the clompers and the gaspers. A very relaxed race on a nice morning.

And I learned two useful things.

First, greet people you don't know. While I've lived here for 25 years, this is only my first year in the running club. Most club runs don't fit my family schedule, so I only know a few people in the club, none of whom were there Saturday. The other club members helping out didn't know quite what to make of me and thus I only had one hand shake and had several odd looks. Made me feel like an outsider...perhaps I was. It taught me a lot about welcoming folks I don't know. I did this in a couple of business meetings yesterday...with amazing response from the newcomers. They were grateful. It's not hard to smile, say welcome and ask about their interests.

Second, how cool it is when runners say "thanks." I've always tried to say thank you to course marshalls, particularly police who handle traffic. But I never grasped how good it feels to be on the other side. A simple "thanks for helping!" as you run by makes a huge difference.

What fun to be outside on a mid-summer Saturday morning. And the fact that it pushed my own long run into the heat of the day really didn't matter.


Tuesday, June 27, 2006

The Mirror Image of Winter

ORN: Saturday: 10.5 miles, bonkable
Sunday: zero
Monday: zero
Tuesday: 5 miles, nice

Today, I had the first enjoyable training run in about three weeks. The key issue? The weather. Last night's big thunderstorms lowered the temps behind them and it was a nice 58 when I headed out the door at 5:30am.

It struck me how this is so much like train and train but mostly just get the miles in. Then, every once in a while, you get a day in the 40s and you get rid of the tights and just run "free." It felt the same way today. I've been getting in the miles but today felt a ton better. Unlike Saturday, when I ran mid-day (that's another blog entry as to why) and the temps hit 90 around mile 8.

Lots more news personally, as well...I'll dribble it out as it makes sense.

And, in any event, we persevere.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Welcome, Berneice Abigail Ely!

It has been a big week in our family, as our son David and his wife Susan had their third child, Berneice Abigail on Monday, June 19! We are very excited to welcome her to the family!

Berneice weighed 7lbs 8 oz and was 20” long…just a perfect size. She is in wonderful shape and, as of today, is catching on to nursing. Susan is doing well, considering the baby was delivered via C-section. David is thrilled to have a little girl and we couldn’t be happier either. If you’d like to see photos, check
here. (You can also scroll down and see some of David’s photos from his time in Iraq.)

As this wasn’t enough, Gretchen and I celebrated our 31st wedding anniversary today. She continues to be the light of my life, who knows me best and loves me anyway.

We’ve been deeply blessed and we are humbled by God’s graciousness to us. We seek to persevere, each day. Rejoice with us!

Saturday, June 17, 2006

Flora Hog Jog: Race Report

ORN: 6.2 miles, 52:33

Summary: A pleasant little race in a small Indiana farm town. And a much better result than I expected.

The Report: This little race has been around for 27 years now. Flora is in Carroll County, just north of here and one of the top 10 counties in the United States in hog production. It is flat, farm country with lots of corn and lots of family farms. I haven’t run this race for about 12 years, so it was good to be back again. And little has changed in 12 years…kind of like the little town of Flora in which we ran.

I ran this race with my long-time friend Jess. He’s been running for 7-8 years but has never run a race…until today. I invited him to join me and he seemed glad he did.

After my run yesterday, when I pretty well bonked, needing to walk just to get home after a mere 3.5 miles, I was quite pessimistic about how this race would go. My right quad hurt, I umpired home plate of a long baseball game the night before, it was hot and I truly wondered if I could even run the entire distance.

Despite some registration disorganization, the gun went off about 8:20am and we began our tour of Flora (population 2,000) and Carroll County (hog population of easily 100,000). Mile one was a bit of a mystery, trying to find some groove. I felt good but doubted if it was real. I was surprised to hit the first marker at 8:38. Mile 2 kept us winding through Flora, where we ran on Easy Street. Seriously. We made a turn in town and the street sign said, clearly, “Easy Street.” I commented on this to a fellow runner who dryly observed “Yeah, and we’re only on it for one block and then move on.” Kind of like life; any time on Easy Street seems incredibly short. Still, there were a bunch of houses there with a really cool address. Mile two went by in another 8 38.

Mile three took us out in the country. We did a long straight run on a county road, bordered only by corn and soybean fields. Straight into the wind, I slowed to 8:47. Still, my pace and feel for the race was a mystery. We finally turned and went by a large hog operation, upwind of the course. The “aroma” on a day heading for temps in the mid 90s was pungent. It reminded me of growing up on a cattle farm in Nebraska…were it not for such smells, I’d never have been able to go to college. I smiled, hit mile four at the same pace, 8:48, and turned to head back towards Flora.

About this time, I finally seemed to get into a groove. I felt more comfortable and begin to run in a more relaxed manner. I had been trailing Jess the whole race, and suddenly found myself catching him. We chatted a bit and then I kept moving. I found a nice flat portion of the road, dropped my shoulders and just let the running flow. I did mile five in 8:14.

I started picking out people ahead of me, gaining on them and passing them. Made for a fun mind game. One lady had quite a decorated left arm; I set sights on Ms. Tattoo and passed her just past mile five. I then spotted about three guys with really cool running shirts, the type that go for $40 or so. Could my $8.95 technical shirt from Campmor really be good enough to pass them?? Amazingly, it was. As we wound around back in town, I did mile 6 in 7:55. I finally felt good. And only two tenths to go, which took me another 1:30. Done, in 52:33. Not a PR, but only 14 seconds off of it...way better than I had dreamed I would do.

Jess cruised in about a minute later. He was pumped…he had a fun, pain free race and was pleased with the whole experience. We hung around the city park for a while and enjoyed our complimentary Pork Burger, then headed home. The usual Saturday errands awaited.

I learned a couple of useful things today. First, fueling is important. Having bonked on my training run on Friday, I realized I had been truly empty. So, I had a toasted bagel today when I woke up, had a Clif’s Bar an hour before the race and a Gu just before the start. That all seemed to work. Second, I observed a consistent theme…it almost always takes me four miles or so to find a groove. Which probably explains why I avoid 5K races altogether and this is only the third 10K I’ve run in the last two years, during which I’ve run 9 half marathons and a full marathon. The proportion of enjoyable running to mysterious running is simply a lot higher in the longer races. And so, subconsciously, I’ve pushed myself to the longer races.

A fun day. Thanks for listening. And keep persevering.

Friday, June 16, 2006

Runnin' on "Empty"

ORN: 3.5 miles, run/walk

I must be feeling the effect of too-little sleep. Today's planned 5 miler wasn't to be. I cut it off at a turning point and walked much of it home.

The legs were flat, amazingly flat. Simply nothing there. In analyzing why, I noted that:
  • I have had less-than-normal amounts of sleep the past week
  • Umpiring baseball has kept me up later and on my feet more
  • Squatting to see 11 year-old strike zones takes a toll on the quads
  • I ate a light dinner last night, umpired, went to bed, got up and ran
  • Low hydration plus low fuel plus low sleep equals "empty"

All of this leads to the 10km race I'm entered in tomorrow. It will be interesting to see if I can run the entire distance. Given that I have to umpire again tonight!!

Some runs are great. Many are unremarkable. Some are lousy.

And you always persevere.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

This'll get interesting

ORN: Zero

Work and my other hobby, umpiring Little League Baseball, have severely chewed into my running this week. I was set to do 5 this morning and only vaguely recall turing off the alarm at 5:15 this thing I knew, it was 6:30 and a full day awaited. Tonight I umpired and then have to speak to a local quality management group early tomorrow morning.

Blah, blah, blah, except I'm signed up to do a 10K race on Saturday. I was hoping to improve on my last 10K from last October. I suppose that is still possible but my surprise "taper" is not what I had planned. I'm still trying to put the base down for the Portland Marathon on October 1.

We'll see. And I will persevere.

Sunday, June 11, 2006


ORN: Saturday: 12.3 miles, no watch, steady drizzle, nice run
Sunday: 5 miles, easy run

One of the treats of running for me is the
West Lafayette Trails, a city-wide system of about 14 miles of off-street, paved, 10 foot-wide paths that connect the residential, wetland and University portions of the city. While it is a super place for running, it is also a social phenomenon, providing a civil, enjoyable place for many citizens to interact while they enjoy private exercise. I’ve had many neat social experiences on the trails, but only one cooler than what happened this morning.

About a mile into the run, near the woods, I heard some music. It didn’t sound familiar but was getting louder. I rounded a turn and realized what was happening. A pair of Chinese women were walking towards me, singing their hearts out! Walking slowly, unconcerned about how it might look, they were making great melody. Perhaps a mother and daughter, they were radiant in face, singing a tune that was both beautiful yet unfamiliar to my Western ears. I’ve seen these women before, so they recognized me as I said hi and waved. They smiled and waved but kept on singing. It was melodious, full of two-part harmony and clearly a song of joy.

How cool is that. To walk along with a friend or family member, singing at the top of your voice, outside, simply enjoying life. And to let me be a small part of it…that’s a gift.

The trail system is very popular with our extensive international community and it is way cool to be part of that as I plod along each day. I could stand to just start singing some days too.


Sunday, June 04, 2006

Sunburst Half-Marathon: Race Report

ORN: 13.1 miles, 1:53:22, 8:39/mile

Quick Summary

On a beautiful day, the
Sunburst Half Marathon was a great event. Amazingly, I PRed for the second time in four weeks and had a marvelous experience. It was a profound moment as well, something more than mere running.

All the Gory Details

The theme of this race was “Things did not go as planned and still came out great.” I hope I can convey that here.

I drove the 2+ hours to South Bend on Friday night and deposited myself in the lap of luxury at a Days Inn south of the city. I fell asleep early, reading a good book and listening to the Cubs and the Cardinals. First unexpected result?? The Cubbies won!

I intended to get up at 4:30am, leave by 5 to get downtown South Bend with plenty of time to pick up my bib, chip and T shirt. I stirred in the dark, wondering just how much time I had left to sleep and when I discovered it was 4:45am!! Somehow, I had turned off my trusty alarm on my watch and was already 15 minutes behind. But, I stayed relaxed, knowing I had a time buffer. Out the door at 5:10am or so, with lots of dew on the car. Not seeing clearly in the dark, I then proceeded to drive over a traffic divider I didn’t really see. No damage to the front end, but it did get my heart rate going. Two odd things and I was not even 500 feet from my motel!

The drive in was good, with
Twila Paris on the CD player, the eastern sky only starting to brighten and Venus a bright, morning star out my right window. It took a while to park, though and I was tighter on my schedule than I had hoped to be. Unexpected item #3.

I walked up to get my packet around 6:05am and noticed many of the Marathon runners still hanging around, looking relaxed. Since the marathon was supposed to start at 6, this seemed odd. Asking one of them about this, I found out a major chemical spill had happened on the course overnight, they were still cleaning it up and all the race start times were bumped back by 15-30 minutes! Can you imagine being the race director and getting that news with over 10,000 runners set to run a 5k, 10k, half-marathon and marathon in one morning? Ugh.

However, my lost 15 minutes due to a faulty alarm was made up by this delay. So I now had time to relax a bit more and stretch more deliberately. Which was good, as I didn’t get any safety pins for my bib at registration. But, digging into my race-day stash, I had plenty, so that was minor. I put on my
shirt with my Dad's photo, watched the start of both the marathon and the 5km race, then got ready for the start of the half.

Unexpected result #4. At the lineup of the half, there were no signs for paces. So, I simply had to start asking folks what pace they were going to run at and tried to position myself accordingly. For this engineer who likes to run by the numbers, this was a foretaste of what was to come.

The weather was unexpectedly wonderful. Starting temp of 59, with low humidity, blue skies and a gentle breeze from the northwest. The gun went off and once more, the race was underway.

I quickly found out I was way too back in the pack, unexpected #6. But four of us formed an impromptu running conga-line and, together, we snaked through the slower runners and by a half mile in, we found a reasonable spot in the pack.

My hope for the race was to break 2 hours, as I had not done any speed work recently and didn’t see any great run in the works with some of the late hills on this course. That’s a 9:09/mile pace, so I was surprised to see mile one click in at 8:48. Writing it off as conga-line-fueled over enthusiasm, I backed off a bit. We moved onto a beautiful tree-lined residential street and mile two passed at 8:49. Hmmm. Back it off a bit more, run easy, run fluid. Took some water at the second water stop, walking through it and mile 3 came in at 8:57. Surprising with the walking included. Still felt good, though and the day was spectacular.

And the biggest unexpected event so far became clear. The half-marathon route at this point took three excursions off the marathon route to make all the mileage work out and we discovered that we had no more accurate mile markers. “How far are we?” “Where’s the four mile mark?” “What’s going on?” was the tenor of the pack’s conversation. I had my Garmin on, so knew the elapsed mileage but since I had turned off the automatic lap timer for every mile, preferring instead to hit the lap button when I pass each mile marker, I did not know what any of my splits was.

As a Purdue engineer who runs by the numbers, this was a very unnerving for me and took quite a bit of rethinking. I always run races by the numbers. Hit the marks, adjust, keep hitting them. And I suddenly had no marks to hit, only four miles into the race. By mile 6, I had concluded I had to run this one by feel. And I hoped to sense it well.

Around this time, I happened to fall in with a fellow runner who was struggling with the same slight disorientation. We started talking and that seemed to help. Had a lot in common, the most substantive of which was the subject of raising teenagers. It was one of those wonderful, spontaneous things that happen in races and we found ourselves chatting all the way to mile 11. And I was still running by feel.

My new pal offered several times during the chat to let me go ahead. But I was enjoying the conversation and, shoot, I was running by feel anyway, right?? Around mile 10 (as near as I could tell on my Garmin, which is not perfectly accurate), I looked at the splits for a 2 hour half, which I had written in ink on my left palm (told you I was a numbers guy…). Doing some quick math and projections, I suddenly figured I was in striking distance of beating the 1:56 PR I had set in Indy four weeks ago. Unexpected, big time. Around mile 10.5, my colleague repeated her offer and I told her that if I’d stay put till mile 11 and then maybe I’d open it up.

Which is what I ended up doing. Mile 11, as close I could tell, came at the top of the longest, steepest hill on the course. I felt good, so told Susan I’d see her at the finish line and took off. As near as I could tell from my glances at the pace portion of the Garmin, I dropped from around an 8:45 pace to 8:10 or so. I focused on form, breathing, staying smooth. And it still felt good.

The build up of the last two miles was incredible, emotionally. Running now parallel to and south of the Notre Dame campus, I could see all the familiar buildings to my left. It hit me how symbolic this place was of so many good things that have happened to me in life. Most notably, my Dad’s influence on me, much due to his learning and connection to this place. I also thought of and prayed for his older sister, my aunt Mary Alice, who, even as I was running, was moving to a much higher level care facility. In her mid-90s now, she’s the family historian and the main connection to Elys of days long gone. Her mind is as sharp as ever but the body is failing. As she failed, here I was, able to run hard, with no pain and a clear mind on a beautiful day. It is a truly humbling gift and was deeply moving as I cruised along. The race, the pace, all seemed largely irrelevant.

With a little less than a mile to go, the course turned to the left and headed straight onto campus. I kept digging, at the best pace I could hold and stay aerobic. Notre Dame Stadium loomed on our right as we approached. I just started grinning as I ran, this was so cool. We looped to the north side of the stadium, made a hard right and were into the tunnel, heading down to the field. I couldn’t stand it any more. I just started whooping and yelling as I ran down the tunnel, and charged onto the field, in a dead sprint for the finish at the 50 yard line. Breathless, I stopped my watch and looked: 1:53:22. I looked again, yes there it was, another PR, by nearly 3 minutes over the race from four weeks ago. How did that happen?? I’m still processing it. But very, very unexpected.

Post race is wonderful at this event, as we could simply walk and cool off right on the turf of one of the most famous football fields anywhere. Yes, the grass is perfect and lush, even better than on TV. The highlight, though, was Susan finding me, bringing along a friend of hers, and said “Joe, turn around, we wanna see that picture of your Dad again!” I obliged and then the three of us stood at the 35 yard line of ND stadium talking about my Dad and my small effort to honor him, 13 years after he died and 60 years after he played at ND. Being there, on that turf, remembering Dad and seeing others smile at his story was deeply moving.

The day was a profound one and I’m still processing what happened. It was more than a race. More than a family memory. Much more than a PR. But what, I’m still not quite sure. I’ll write more as I process.

Thanks for persevering with me thought this long missive. It was a great day and you are a friend for reading it!!