Saturday, April 12, 2014

Boston Strong: A Year Later

The Boston Marathon has always been the THE marathon...everyone knows THE Yankees, everyone knows THE Notre Dame football team, everyone knows THE Kentucky Derby, and everyone knows THE Boston Marathon...just known as "Boston". Six times I was fortunate enough to qualify to run the race, and five times I was able to fulfill that dream and travel the runner's sacred 26.2 mile path from Hopkinton to the middle of Boston. I ran it enough to now be able to visualize the whole course in my head and feel the sneaky downhills of the first half of the race, hear the Scream Tunnel of the girls of Wellsley, battle the three (or is it four) bumps of Heartbreak Hill, and cherish the "Right on Hereford, Left on Boylston" to the finish line. I haven't run it since 2007. No excuses. I'm just not anywhere speedy enough to qualify anymore. But it's still ingrained in my very fiber and means more than just "my favorite race". Running Boston provides you entrance into an elite least those of us that have done it feel it's an elite club. It's still a rush to answer "yes" when somebody asks "Have you ever done Boston?". With all it's quirks and traditions that have flourished in a race well over a century old, with all it's history of great battles for the victory with sprints down the last few hundred yards of Boylston, and even with it's growing commercialism and busting-at-the-seams participants, there is a Disneyland presence of being THERE.

      Or maybe there WAS a Disneyland presence. We all know of the terror of last year's race, and the terrible aftermath. I certainly won't recount it here. We all know somebody who was there and we remember feeling helpless. The terrorists didn't hate runners, they just chose a venue of runners to do their evilness.  We hated them for what they did to innocent families. We hated them for further deteriorating the security that living in the USA gives us. And selfishly, we hated them for staining the sport we loved.

     Whenever there's a storm, the sun eventually shines, and the sun here was how the running and non-running community solidified around this tragedy. A nation gave Boston support, and the City of Boston rallied behind a collective force that became BOSTON STRONG. Immediately after the bombings, makeshift memorials sprung up around the scene. Running shoes, shirts, notes of love, letters of grief, trinkets of all kinds were placed along the Crime Scene barriers. When the investigation was over, the memorials were moved to a park, and not until June were they carefully packed up, but with the Mayor's promise that there would be a fitting display in the near future.
     This weekend, one week before this year's 118th running of the Marathon, my wife and I are visiting our family in Boston as we try to do about every other month. From the moment you get off the plane, there are signs everywhere signifying BOSTON STRONG...banners, signs in storefronts, on buses, on taxis, on lightposts, literally everywhere. And so, I had the opportunity to visit the very recently opened "Dear Boston" exhibit at the Boston Library. 

It is free and will run until the middle of May. It was a beautiful remembrance of those days one year music playing, no somber lighting, no photos of the day of the race. This was a tribute to a community by that same community, but never with the arrogance of "Don't mess with us", or "You picked the wrong city". It was a display of this happened and we care. Walking through, you felt proud for what we can be as a society. We can rally for the good of all. We can pick up the pieces. Heck, runners do it all the time, but this was for all to see, for all to feel, for all to be a part of. 

I, as all of us do, pray that we never see anything like this again. But sadly, we know we will. It may be man-made, it may be nature, it may be something else. But, when the smoke begins to clear, all we can hope for, and pray for, is to be Boston...Boston Strong.

Until next time, I'll see you on the roads - AL

"One child lost is too many...One child saved can change the world"

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

In Awe of My Friends

"I have not failed. I've just found 10,000 ways that won't work" - Thomas Edison

Ok, the truth is I'm getting older and slower. I know that. You know that. Any of the world who has known me over the past three decades knows that. Big deal. I wish it wasn't that way, but it's the way of life. The alternative to keep from running slower is to stop running. Well, that, of course, is not going to happen. At least not until I look pretty doggone stupid trying to put one foot in front of the other, and then someone is going to have to convince me that I really do look stupid, because sometimes I feel like I'm flying at 17 min/mile heading down some trail. 

 A few months ago, I wrote a post here about the changing paradigm that is taking place in running. So many runners are doing runs that years ago were on the outer fringes of being possible for the masses. Now, they get more and more commonplace...half-marathons, marathons, ultramarathons, trail races, etc. However, now it seems there is another paradigm shift (I really don't know exactly what the word means, but it just sounds so cool to use it). That shift seems to be in the way and attitude runners are approaching training and running races. 

Many years ago, I read a book by Alvin Toffler called Future Shock. Basically, he wrote about too much change in too short a period of time. Of course, he was talking about the development of society as a whole, as in agriculture, industrialization, and technology. He said something like if man on earth was represented in a 12 inch ruler, 99% of all the civilized developments of man would be in the last 1/4 inch. I'm sure Ol' Alvin had no reference at all in mind relative to my running, but if I viewed all the primitive ways I developed my running from the 70's (the same decade as Toffler's book) to what's going on in the past "1/4 inch" of running. There certainly seems to be a parallel that I find "too much change in too short a period of time". In a future post, I'll chronicle some of those changes, but I've got one change that seems to be getting more and more prolific, and I'm having a hard time wrapping my head around it.

Let's back up a little and return to those thrilling days of yesteryear. I ran my first marathon in the Fall of 1979 after 6 months of very specific training. I did well and caught the fever. At the time, there were two marathons in Birmingham...the Vulcan that I had just completed and the Magic City Marathon held in February. Marathoners in B'ham were a small group and I was desperately trying to become a solid member. I wanted to run the MCM 5 months after my first Vulcan, but was warned it was TOO CLOSE. You just didn't do 2 marathons in less than 6 months apart! Well, I was thick-headed and did the race. Finished about 11' slower than my first and blamed it on "squeezing" those runs so close together. I obviously hadn't recovered adequately to put forth a good effort. The 10k's I did were done for PR's, but they were really training to get faster in the marathon distance. This was serious stuff folks. In the 70's and 80's, you ran balls-to-the-wall to do your best time every time you pinned on a bib number. 

I did more and more marathons and started to enter the Ultramarathon world, but still would TRY to be careful not to get crazy with piling on the distance. If I had races coming up close together, I would try to cut back on my training miles. Throughout my "competitive" years, my mileage was pretty steady at 60-70 miles per week. My biggest training week ever  was 108 miles and my longest streak was 80 days. Why do I remember those numbers? Because they both almost killed me!! You planned your long training runs weeks ahead of time, and races were cross-haired several months down the road (and not because the race filled an hour after registration opened!). And there in lies my problem (awe).

I definitely hang out with wrong folks. They say if you want to look skinny, hang out with heavy people. If you want to look smart, hang out with some...well, "not-so-smarts". So, if you want to look like a fast runner, hang out with slow runners, or if you want to look like a big stud ultrarunner, hang out with folks just beginning a Couch-to-5k program. What I'm saying is this paradigm train just went flying by me. Go on Facebook, and I see my friends posting "Hey, leaving from the BMX Track at 6:30 in the morning for a 20-25 miler. Who's in?". Before I get to snicker, there are 15 "I'm in" responses. No thought process that might hint that a 25 miler, comprising 5+ hours on the trail might be a little much on 12 hours notice. Geez!  A few weeks ago, my friend Suman posted that the next weekend he was going to do an "Epic" 40 mile trail training run at Oak Mountain. Tons of people wanted to join him and many did, at least for much of it! What happened to planning for these runs weeks in advance?

Ok, that's not what prompted this post, it just set it up. A few weeks ago, my Twitter/Facebook buddy, Eric from St. Louis decided on close to a whim he was going to run in the Howard Aslinger 24-Hour Run. I doubt he had more than 2 weeks to have a mind/body meeting to see if this was a good idea. As far as I know, his "only" ultras in the past 3 years were 2 finishes at the Leadville 100. This was his first stab at going 24 hours straight. He did 115 miles!!! HE WON THE DAMN THING!!! I've done several 24 Hour runs in my younger past, but I remember being in a panic for months before the race.

But the tip of the Ten Gallon Hat goes to the aforementioned Suman (of Epic Run fame). Since January, he's done a couple of marathons, a couple of 50k's, and several spontaneous runs on the forest trails. So, a week before the Lake Martin 50/100 he decides this would be a good time to run his first 50 miler - a week before! He shows up the morning of race, in a total cold downpour, and decides to BUMP UP to the 100...nobody bumps up!!! He finishes 3rd overall in around 25 hours. I give up!! I'm finally convinced my way of thinking was totally flawed. Preparation is obviously wwwaaaaayyyy over-rated. Spontaneity is the name of the game now! 

Apparently, you can break the 4-minute barrier for a mile.
Apparently, you can put a man on the moon. 
Apparently, you can mix peanut butter and chocolate (yum).
Apparently, women can run and their uterus won't fall out.
And apparently, you can do ultra long runs without the fear of lack of preparation or killing yourself.

It's just switching your mindset, being realistic with your goals, believing in your talent and gene pool, and most of all, having the courage to put it out there in front of God and all humanity. Sure, you may trip a few times along the way, but when things click, do they click! 

I'll see you on the always beckoning roads and trails - Al

"One child lost is too child saved can change the world"