Category Archives: No Lead Dog

Simple is Good

A few of the reasons that otherwise-normal human beings start to run:

“Mirror, mirror on the wall…” – wait a minute; who is that person in my mirror?!

Reminiscing about that college (or high school) (or junior-high-school-J-V) sports experience

Oh, *@##**! – I just spent how much on new skis? Time to get in shape for next ski season

Oh, *@##**! – I just spent how much on airfare and hotel? Time to get in shape for this vacation

A friend asks you to keep them company while they train (my personal gateway drug)

Seeing someone you love finish an event, and seeing the expression on their face

Hearing:

…Bruce Springsteen’s ‘Glory Days’ after you spent last evening binge-watching old TV shows while eating trash-food.

…The Rolling Stones’ ‘Start Me Up’ while watching a friend toe the starting line for a local 5K

…Melissa Etheridge’s ‘I Run For You’ – anytime

Seeing the video of Meb Keflezighi winning Boston 2014, then wrapped in the flag while smiling like a puppy in a pile of tennis balls

 

And once you do run that first event, thinking:

That was easier than I thought – I’m gonna do it again

That was tougher than I thought – I’m gonna do it again, but better

That totally kicked my butt – now it’s my turn to kick back!

 

But why, years and miles later, are we still running?

Because any day now, we might be forced to stop. And when that time comes, we will miss it. So as long as we can, we do (which seems like a pretty good summation of LIFE, by the way).

Not as often as someone else does. Not as far (no hundred milers for these legs!). And definitely not as fast – hence the Mid-Pack Runner label on this blog.

But we do run and we will run because mobility is a gift, breathing in fresh air is a gift, freeing our brains for a short time of all the complications and frustrations of the rest of the world is a gift, and finding we have something in common with all those younger/faster/more-graceful beings out there, is a gift.

If you run, you are A Runner. If you are A Runner, you run.

Running is simple.

Simple is Good.

What Can Go Wrong, Will. (Part I)

The New York City Marathon is one of the so-called Majors – six big events in famous locales that some runners aim to bag. Having grown up in the greater NYC area (on ‘Lawn-Guy-Land,’ as our loving offspring tell me I still pronounce it) I toyed with the idea, but not seriously, until our eldest son moved to Harlem and offered me a free bed (actually a small rectangle of floor, but hey, I expect Pheidippides slept on the ground the night before his big run…), so in late 2018 I sent in my application. The lottery for open entries was formidable, with 117,708 applications for 10,510 available slots – a 1-out-of-11 chance – but I got lucky.

I arrived at my Airbnb two days ahead (having allowed for potential winter travel delays, a lesson I learned several years ago when I had to literally run the streets of Boston to reach the expo as security was shutting the doors and volunteers packing away unclaimed bibs and packets). That left Saturday for touring with Owen and Sunday for a gentle shake-out run, a carbo load dinner and laying out my clothes and gear for the early start. I think I left the apartment at 3:30 AM, for a 10:30 wave gun, but I could be wrong, those hours are a blur…

Anyway, after a long cold wait, helped immensely by the coffee, fleece beanies, bagels and other treats TCS and Dunkin Donuts so generously provided, we set off. Which is when the ‘ugh’ started, as I discovered I’d somehow gotten my GPS set up so that instead of recording each mile as a lap and letting me know what pace I’d run it, the thing was cycling every 1.61 miles instead.

That may not seem like much, but when you’ve trained for years by pace, it’s an important tool to tell a stressed-out brain when it’s OK to maintain cruising speed, and when it’s time to suck it up and work a bit harder. Now, instead of instantly knowing I’d just completed that last mile in, say 9:26, I was faced with long division of times: quick, what’s 14 minutes and 31 seconds divided by 1.61, anybody? Don’t all raise your hands at once, I know mine’re in my lap. What’s the difference in pace between 15:11/1.61 and 14.31/1.61? Beats me, Prof, can we go to the pub now?

Another thing about NYCM, is the field size, over 50,000 runners. Even with wave starts grouped by expected pace, that means a crowded course and constant pace changes: speed up to get around someone before the slot closes, then slow down to wait for an opening to get around the next knot. Comparing my starting place with my finishing place, it appears I passed nearly 4400 runners along the way – not because I was fast, I’m not – but just because every day is a new day for every runner. In any case, with that many bodies on that much real estate, settling into a smooth efficient pace was out of the question.

About the time I was accepting those two distractions, I reached for the snack-baggie I carry on long runs, full of electrolyte capsules and a few Ibuprofen. I prefer to carry water rather than electrolyte drink; the better to wash down the gels and chews I use for fueling. Also because I’d rather pour plain H2O over my head and neck when it gets hot than Powerade or Propel!  In any case, when I reached for the baggie, I found I’d brought along an identical one, containing instead, the daily vitamins I’d counted out for the trip…so goodbye regular electrolyte hits.

The best laid plans, they say, are the most fragile (do they say that? I think they should. I’m gonna start saying it…), and at that point I lost control of pace, nutrition and incentive. Hopes of a good time were replaced by simply finishing, especially when we turned north onto First Avenue, eerily clear of its perpetual traffic snarl, and could look almost three miles straight ahead to the Bronx, and see for ourselves that up–town is not  flat-bush.

All’s well that ends well, though; I was able to finish the run and enjoy again the thrill of completing something which, for most of my life, I could never have imagined even attempting. Lessons learned? Be even more careful about checking gear the night before (maybe two different types of snack-baggie?) and think carefully before entering events with more than 1000 starters per mile: leave the broken-field running to the NFL, if you ‘re a mid-pack-runner and hope to find your ‘zone’.

BTW, there was an unexpected pay-off: that slower pace meant my legs felt better the next day than after any other marathon I’ve run. Staying in a sixth- floor walk-up to avoid NYC hotel prices? No Problem!

Thank you New York City Marathon, first responders and citizens. Thank you TCS for sponsoring a great event, and thank our lucky stars for every day we can run, no matter what goes sideways.

Cheers,

Running with a Nine-year-old

“Never go on stage with a kid or a dog,” some famous actor once said ( I think it was W. C. Fields, but I’m not sure, and it’s probably a paraphrase, anyway, so who’s counting?)

The sentiment comes to mind after taking part in a local Turkey Trot which had been set up in tight back-and-forth over a grassy meadow covered by about two inches of stale snow and which attracted over 400 participants despite temperatures in the 20’s. Seeing the start line occupied by the usual lean young men (in t-shirts despite the cold), I set myself back among the ‘faster than a walk, but definitely not going to take any awards’ crowd and awaited the gun. The first mile was purely a matter of traffic control; weaving a path through runners who were already losing their initial steam, and trying not to impede those who thought the same of me, as we all hogged the thin strip of muddy grass we were carving into semi-secure footing among all that snow.

By the second mile, things had thinned out as we each found our pace, and somewhere along the way I found mine matched very closely by a slight young woman in a pink jacket, huffing along with admirable intensity.   Focusing on steady level-of-effort as the course rolled up and down around multiple hairpin turns, I found myself easily passing this youngster, and offered a heartfelt ‘way to go’ as I did. Turn-about being fair play, she passed me a little later, which was when I began to really take note. Over the next mile, we traded places several times and I began to appreciate that besides strong lungs and legs, this kid possessed a spirit that did not readily accept being left behind.

Approaching the last turn, she was just ahead of me, within easy reach if I hit the pedal for a good finish. There’s neither honor nor pleasure in passing a youngster in the final yards though, so I told myself if I did not pull past her naturally before the last hundred, I would hang back and follow her in. Around the turn, her pace slackened and she fell behind, with about two-hundred yards to the finish.

Secure in the notion I was not going to make a fool of myself competing with ‘a little kid,’ I accelerated, savoring release from the discipline of pacing (and anticipating the joy of stopping…) when, what to my wondering eyes should appear, but a shiny pink object not only come near, but quickly pulling ahead!

Long story short, I could not have matched that finishing sprint even if I’d wanted to, so gladly followed her across the red line spray-painted on the snow. A few minutes later, after making sure she had been joined by an adult, I made my way over and offered very sincere congratulations and encouragement to the smiling youngster and her parents.

Only when the results were posted, did I learn that the person who’d kept me honest and made sure I did my best that day was all of nine-years old.

Any day we can run is a good day; and well worth a Thanksgiving.

 

R_U_N MPR?

So, what – or who – is a ‘mid-pack runner’ (an ‘MPR’)?

First off, if you step up to the starting line with any real expectation of leading the race and contending for the overall victory, you are not an MPR; you’re a Lead Dog, and my hat’s off to you.  You‘ve earned the open road, the clear view.  But:

If, instead, you start each event knowing there’s always going to be someone ahead of you to claim the big public prize and headline photo, then you are an MPR.

Maybe you’re someone who never thought of yourself as an athlete, and still feels a sense of surprise that you are out there doing what you are doing.  If so, chances are very good that you are an MPR.

Perhaps you’re a really young – or somewhat old – runner who has a shot to place in your division but not the overall; in that case, you’re still an MPR, because you accept that there’s someone in their prime out there, who’s going to finish ahead of you, no matter how good your day.

If you accept, for whatever reason, that you will never be the fastest runner on the course, and look to find your satisfaction somewhere else; then you are an MPR, and you get my applause – for determination, humility, and creativity.  For keepin’ on keepin’ on.

R_U_N_MPR? I_M.

The Mid Pack View, Part 1

So what is the view, if you’re not Lead Dog?  Well, to start with, it’s usually full of fellow runners, every one of them different – and potentially instructive.  Watch who stays ahead of you, who passes, and who drops behind – and you can learn a lot about running, and about yourself.

One example: in the early miles of a local event a few years ago, I played leapfrog with a runner who looked to be about my age and fitness level, trading places when one of us would slow down for a water station or a short uphill.   After I passed him on a stretch of straight and level pavement though, I pulled away strongly in my ground-covering strides, breathing relaxed and deep, while he was mincing along with quick, short steps that looked like the product of approaching exhaustion.  Confident I wouldn’t be seeing the guy again till the after-party, I put him out of mind.  It was a shock then, to see him come up on my shoulder with a couple of miles to go,

My competitive spirit said there was no way I was going to let this guy get the best of me, but when I boosted my pace to stay on his heels, it was quickly clear I wouldn’t be able to keep that up for the duration. In desperation, I tried copying his cadence – speeding my steps up as fast as he was doing, and lo-and-behold, I was able to keep the space between us constant – for a short time.  That gait didn’t feel natural though (I hadn’t trained for it, after all) and soon enough I fell back into my own style – and watched mister short-steps disappear into the distance ahead.

Struck by that experience, I began to read more closely, and train more consciously, teaching myself to run with shorter strides and more of them, and I’ve seen my times and endurance profit from it – a growth experience which only came about because I was in the middle of the pack, mixing it up with a whole range of other runners.

Lead dogs have no one to watch, and no one but themselves to learn from.  Just one reason the mid-pack view can be pretty grand, if you look at it with open eyes!