Mount Washington Road Race, Or, Only One Hill…

Reader, I know I have been silent for a while, so I worry that you may have looked at the title of this post and wondered if things have fundamentally shifted in my running world.  Let me assure you that I am still as much a Hill Baby as I ever was.  I did attend the 2012 Mount Washington Road Race, but as a spectator.  Runner Mum and my crazy brother-in-law T were the ones running the race this weekend and the rest of us went to cheer them on.

Welcome runners!

Or is it Runners Beware?

Did I mention that the race is sponsored by Delta Dental?

Now, for those not familiar with this particular road race, or mountain, here is a bit of history.  Mount Washington is the highest peak in New England at 6,288 feet.  There is a 7.6 mile auto road that heads up to the summit, which (I learned this weekend) has been open since 1861.  It is said to be America’s oldest man-made tourist attraction.  The first person to decide it might be fun to run up the road was George Foster in 1904.  He made it from start to finish in 1:42.  The first race, which had just twelve participants, was held in 1937.  The race was held off and on for several years after that and has been run annually since 1966.  Now, far more than twelve people want to run this race, so a lottery is held every year for the 1200 spots available. As every runner who runs UP the mountain needs to get back DOWN, the race has no choice but to limit the number of entrants due to sheer logistics.

The Mount Washington Road Race is Runner Mum’s favorite race.  I can’t explain it, except to say that she is one tough cookie and the challenge of it appeals to something in her runner’s psyche.  Now, brother-in-law T?  He is just crazy.  He entered the lottery on a whim, as in “I’ll never get in but wouldn’t it be cool to do this race”.  So, the good news was he got in.  The bad news was this meant he now had to run 7.6 miles straight uphill.  Because, Reader, make no mistake about it – this race is completely uphill.  There are no downhill reprieves and there are no flat areas.  The most a runner can hope for are stretches where the uphill slope is at a slightly less wicked grade.  Oh, the insanity!

See that peak way in the background? That is the finish line!

Race Day dawned bright and clear, complete with blue skies and wispy clouds.  It was a beautiful day for a run.  And a hike, it turned out.  See, being a spectator at this event is a tad problematic.  You can stay at the bottom and watch everyone take-off up the road. Or you can volunteer to drive to the summit, which entails agreeing to bring runners back down with you.  Either way means quite a bit of waiting around with nothing to do.  So, Hubby, sister-in-law C and I decided that we would hike up the road and wait for the runners at some point along the course.  We made it to the Mile 2 marker before we ran out of time and steam.  Let me tell you, just walking up those first two miles gave me a whole new level of appreciation for the runners in this race.  The only word to describe it?  Unrelenting.

This is as far as we made it!

We heard the starting gun go off at 9:00 and just a short 15 minutes later, the lead runners rounded the corner below us.  These guys were unbelievable, running up the road like it was flat, most of them not even breathing heavy yet.  But all of them completely focused on the road ahead.   Gradually, over the next half hour, the field passed us.  At first, everyone was running, then it was a mix of runners/walkers and then followed by the folks who were mostly walking.  And then, and I am not making this up, came a 92-year-old runner, making his steady way up the road.

Leaders of the pack!

To say we were impressed and amazed at all of these runners would be an understatement.  We were able to cheer on Runner Mum, who was making good time, and then brother-in-law T who was doing a run/walk combination at that point.  After he left us behind, he said that this became mostly walk, but he still made it to the top in 2:32:52.   Runner Mum was a bit disappointed in her time, but she came in at 2:12:33, good enough to win her age group (again!) and get her an automatic invitation to next year’s race.  In case you are curious, George (the 92-year-old runner) came in at 2:52:35.  I am not sure I could even walk it in under three hours.  When asked at the podium how he kept in shape at his age, he said “When I wake up in the morning, if I am still breathing, I go out for a run”.  He got a standing ovation.

Congrats to Runner Mum, crazy brother-in-law T, George and all of the other runners this weekend.  Our hats off to you!  Bravo!

UPDATE:  A photo from crazy brother-in-law T, who somehow still had the strength to take photos at the top of the mountain.  It is a fabulous vista, but man, did he have to earn it!

View From Mile 7!

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Crossing A Line…

Reader, I think I may have lost my mind.

I have mentioned before that my mother-in-law (Runner Mum) is a real runner.  For the last 30 years, she has been winning races, holding course records and generally setting a high standard for women runners everywhere.  All of this means that she is serious about running.  She follows schedules, hydrates properly, heads to the gym regularly and does all sorts of other mysterious stuff that real runners do.  She is also a longtime member of the Liberty Athletic Club, an all-women running group based in Boston.  This is where our story today begins.

“You should come with me to track sometime”.  Runner Mum has been saying this to me for the last year and I have deferred time and time again.  I know that I don’t stack up next to a track full of real runners.  But Runner Mum is persistent (VERY persistent) and I finally agreed to accompany her to track, meet her coach and basically check out the scene.  My first visit was scheduled for last Tuesday, but we were rained out.  A rain delay, you could call it, because she wasn’t letting me off the hook.  It was also raining this Tuesday, but this time the indoor track was available so there was no more room for procrastination.

So, there I was last night, driving through the gates of Harvard (yes, they practice at Harvard, the closest I am going to get to that school!), my stomach in knots, just worrying and worrying about this thing called Track.  When I first started running, I ran on the local high school track until I could run more than a mile – it was a good way to keep track of distance and, yay, it was flat!  But that is pretty much the sum total of my acquaintance with any kind of track.

This was an actual indoor track, with banked corners and real athletes running in circles around it.  To say I felt out of place would be a vast and bottomless understatement.  But here is the thing, the group of women who belong to Liberty Athletic Club were nothing but friendly and supportive.  I didn’t really expect anything different, Runner Mum after all would never be part of a group that wasn’t, but it was a relief all the same.  As I made my slow way around the track for warm-ups, I thought that somehow I would feel SLOW RUNNER emblazoned on my forehead, a neon sign that could be seen for miles away, like the Las Vegas skyline. But I felt pretty normal, just, you know, slow.

I did drills and speed work at track.  How is that for sounding like a real runner?  The coach did not have me doing the same drills as the others, which was just fine with me.  I did easy one-time-around-the-track runs, each time trying to go a bit faster.  And I did!!  The first time around was 1.33 minutes. The second was 1.31 minutes.  Hmm, it felt kind of good to beat my time.  The next was 1.25 minutes – even better!  Now, that feeling can get a little addicting, because each time around I went just a little faster until my last lap was 1.15 minutes and everyone was cheering like I was crossing the line at a marathon.  I am pretty sure that not every time at track will be quite so fun, but for a first time, well, it is something to remember.

I will admit to you, Reader, that today I am a bit sore, my poor legs not really used to being asked to move faster.  But I also feel different too.  Like I have turned a corner, crossed some kind of line, made the first move to becoming a Real Runner.  I may have lost my mind, but I think I will be glad that I did.

Sidelined…

Well, Reader, I guess I am a runner.  At least, I have the running injury to prove it.  And it’s not something athletically glamorous like a hamstring pull, or even something embarrassingly explainable like a sprained ankle from a rogue pot hole.  No, I have shin splits, perhaps the most mundane and annoying ailment that ever plagued a slow runner.

Now, up until now, I have been running injury-free.  Hubby has had some issues with a pulled Achilles and with tight calf muscles, but I have been pretty lucky.  Hubby couldn’t understand it, as he has been active his whole life (unlike me!) so he would have thought it would be reversed.  My sister-in-law said it was because I have been “resting” myself for the last 40 years, so I am just fresher.  Either way, it has been bizarro running in our house.

Now, I should be clear that I think I have shin splints.  Like most people with access to the all-knowing Google in the sky, I am self-diagnosing.  According to sportsinjuryclinic.net, shin splints “is a common name often given to any shin pain at the front of the lower leg. However, true shin splints symptoms occur at the front inside of the shin bone and can arise from a number of causes. The most common cause of shin pain is inflammation of the periosteum of the tibia (sheath surrounding the bone). Traction forces on the periosteum from the muscles of the lower leg cause shin pain and inflammation.”

I was an English major, so I only understand the first sentence there, but more or less it fits what I have been experiencing since Minneapolis – a slow burn pain from the top of my ankles that spreads up my shins as I make my slow way down the street.  But here is the one sentence that really convinced me – “Shin splints can be caused by a number of factors (such as) abnormal movement patterns and errors in training.”  Errors in training?  How about no official training?  Who knows all of the things I am doing wrong?  Certainly, I watch other runners at races and I can point to those with good form and those where you just have to wonder how they are propelling themselves forward at all.  I imagine that I fall somewhere in between.

So along with self-diagnosing, I also self-prescribed a solution.  Which was that I didn’t run for almost two weeks.  Which was a lot harder than I thought it would be.  I thought I would relish a few days off, sitting on the couch reading a book instead of heading out for a run.  But no, I was really frustrated by not being able to stick to my running schedule.  Whether I am good at it or not, it is something that I do for myself and I really missed it.

The good news is that I think I am on the mend.  I went out on Friday and did a walk/run combination along my 2.25 mile route.  I took it easy and I felt good.  Today, I went out again and except for a short warm-up walk at the beginning, I ran straight through with only a few twinges.  I am going to take the next two days off and hope to be back in regular form on Wednesday.  The website recommended a few stretches aimed at the calf and shin area that I am going to add to my admittedly cursory stretching routine in an effort to ward off any recurrences.  I have too little patience to be a good patient.

Running Away From Home…

Distance: 2 miles (approx.)

Time: 27.24 minutes

Pace: 13.37

Weather: Overcast & 40’s

I-Pod Highlight: Stronger (Kelly Clarkson)

Run Rating: Very good

Hey reader! Greetings from the city of Minneapolis!  I think I have told you that my job takes me to this Twin City on occasion and I find myself back here again, but this time I have enough daylight in the wee hours of the morning to run.   I have a favorite running route here, so I took my fancy new phone with me this morning and took some pictures to share.   Of course, it was early and overcast too, so not my finest photographic effort, but I did so want to share the view with you.

My route is along a stretch that is called the Mississippi Mile, a mostly pedestrian area with shops and restaurants and history.    I am particularly partial to the views of the old Pillsbury and Gold Medal flour signs.

 

I have to cross the mighty Mississippi twice – there and back again, so to speak.   On the way back, I run across the Stone Arch Bridge, which is a pedestrian bridge usually filled with runners and bikers, though they were pretty scarce this morning.  It is actually a former railroad bridge, and in case you are wondering, the “arch” part is actually under the bridge, not over, which is how it got its name.  It is on the National Registry of Historic Places.

Stone Arch Bridge, but where are the other runners?

From the bridge, you have a nice view of the Mississippi River as it heads through downtown Minneapolis.   You can see St. Anthony’s Falls, which used to be one of the only major waterfalls on the river, but was at some point turned into a series of locks and dams in order to facilitate navigation up and down the river.

St. Anthony's Falls on the Mississippi

After you cross the bridge, there is an area called Mill Ruins Park.  I had to look this up (where else, on Google!) to find out some more info.  I was supposed to be running, after all, not sightseeing, so I didn’t stop to read all the signs.  They started excavating in this area in 1998 and have found the remains of several old flour mills, along with stone piers and trestles that held one of the old railroad lines that went through town.  According to the Minneapolis Park & Recreation Board website:

In its 19th-century heyday, this area of mills, canals, tailraces and other historic resources comprised the largest direct-drive water-powered facility in the world and was the leading international producer of flour, a commodity which was shipped both nationwide and worldwide. This industrial powerhouse was the catalyst for the development of Minneapolis and the birthplace of a number of companies which remain significant to this day, including General Mills, Pillsbury, Washburn Crosby (WCCO), and Xcel Energy.

 

As I was running and/or being a tourist this week, it struck me that one of the reasons why I like this area is that it reminds me of so many old New England towns which also grew up and around the mill industry.  So I guess even though I am running far away, I still feel connected to home.

Highs And Lows…

Distance: 2.25 miles

Time: 30.35 minutes

Pace: 13.29

Weather: Cloudy & cool

I-Pod Highlight: At Last (Etta James)

Run Rating: Very good

You may remember, when last we spoke, I said, “And then the running gods took pity on me, as my last two runs were fantastic.  Smooth, steady, strong – almost like I knew what I was doing.”  Perhaps I should not have put that in writing, on the Internet where everyone (twenty people) could see it, because what the running gods giveth, well, they can taketh away.

See, following that wildly optimistic post came a series of runs so bad, so horrible, so non-runnerish that I couldn’t even be bothered to talk about them, let alone write about them. Well, I shouldn’t say I didn’t talk about them, but saying things to Hubby like “remind me why I am running again” and “I will never be good at this” probably doesn’t count.  To be clear, my goals and expectations aren’t high.  By “good”, I mean being able to run down the road without stopping for three miles.  I don’t mean crazy things like 7-minute mile paces, winning road races or running marathons.  I know my slow running limits and have set the bar accordingly.  Which is why it is so very frustrating to be having these same struggles after two years.

So I did what I always do when I have a series of bad runs.  I took a short break.  Not long this time, just four days, but long enough to regroup and regain some perspective.  Some may call it being lazy, but I call it resting my poor bruised running psyche.  And of course it worked.  This week I have had two perfectly fine short runs, no stopping.  Yay!  I mean, Erg!  I mean, Yay!  This is the frustrating and fascinating thing about running – the inexplicable highs and lows, the pendulum swinging from great runs to runs so bad I want to quit (but I won’t, don’t worry) and then back again to feeling fine.  I don’t get it, though in truth, it may be what keeps me coming back for more.  The hope that today will be a good run.  And Reader, today was a good run.

Hubby Runs A Race…

Reader, today is Hubby’s birthday.  To celebrate, he ran the New Bedford Half-Marathon.   Yes, he may be losing some brain cells in his old age, but he can still run faster and farther than I can any day.

A nice welcome despite the less-than-discreet tape job!

Hubby's number - notice skinny runner's legs!

Being completely incapable of running with him today, I was there in the role of Head Cheerleader and Chief Water-Bottle Carrier.  And boy, did I have fun!  Obviously, from my vantage at the back of the pack, I never get to see what happens at the finish line of any race I run until I am crawling over it after the winners are already halfway home, but today I was right there watching the whole thing.   And I actually got to take pictures for my post!

Now, the New Bedford Half-Marathon is in its 35th year and there is a reason why it is one of the elite half-marathons in the country.  It is so efficient and well-run (no pun intended), you can tell a lot of thought and experience has gone into making it a stellar event for every runner.  From the well-oiled machine that is registration to the two fabulous guys who were the finish line MC’s to the post-race edibles and libations (chowda!) – it all appeared to go smoothly, at least to this observer.

There were over 3500 runners today and it took 6 minutes for all of them to cross the starting line.  Hubby says it took him about 2 minutes, but I never saw him in the vast crowd of runners.

Starting Line - chock full o' runners!

After that, it was all waiting for the top runners to round the bend, which happened just after the hour mark.  Yes, the top male winner finished in 1:05 – a blistering 5-minute mile pace for 13.1 miles – amazing!  And in true runner fashion, when asked about his time, he lamented that he was just 20 seconds away from beating his personal best.  Another ten minutes wait brought us the top female runner, who came in around 1:14.  She didn’t even look like she had broken a sweat.

The MC’s got the crowd cheering for the runners and they did their best to call out as many names as possible.  Just before the 2-hour mark, they had the crowd roaring as everyone encouraged as many runners as possible to break the 2-hour mark.  I was looking for Hubby right around this time and before long I saw him, running steadily towards the line.  I did some yelling and encouraging and attempted to take a picture of him crossing the finish line.  Not a great picture, so you will just have to trust me when I say that Hubby is there crossing the finish line. His time was 2:01:22.

Trust me - Hubby is crossing the Finish Line here!

I went to find him in the crowd and his first words to me were, “Holy *bleep*, that was hard!”  Sorry, I have to, umm, paraphrase, as my mother reads this.  Well, running 13.1 miles, I would say “hard” is an understatement.  But he did it, and without stopping, and now has this nifty medal to prove it.

Race Bling!

Reader, I am pretty proud of my runner Hubby!

The Runner Wore Black Shorts…

Distance: 3 miles

Time: 38.23 minutes

Pace: 12.44

Weather: Sunny & 60’s

I-Pod Highlight: The Edge of Glory (Lady Gaga)

Run Rating: Very Good

Reader, I am back!

It was an unintentional hiatus, but I think I am now back on track.  Where have I been?  Well, for the most part, my work life has been interfering with my running life.  I hate when that happens!  First I was traveling and then I had to work on a series of reports that had a tight deadline.  But what really did it was that I found myself working on the weekends, which in turn made me not want to touch my computer any more than I had to, even if it meant that slowrunnings had to take a back seat until I was caught up.  But rest assured, I have been running, just not writing about it!

So, what inspired me to get rolling again?  Well, I was able to run in shorts and a t-shirt on March 12th and I felt strongly that this was something that should be recorded.  What an amazing day!  Of course, I always feel that way about a beautiful warm day after a long winter, but there was something about heading outside to run in shorts today that was very liberating.  No bundling up, no hunting for the headband to keep my ears warm, no making sure that I had on the right amount of layers – I just laced up the shoes, strapped on Pinky and headed out the door.  Ah, the sheer freedom of unencumbered movement!

And I wasn’t the only one who felt this way.  I passed countless runners on my route today.  I am pretty familiar with the regular runners in the neighborhood, so I am unsure where these people have been all winter, but maybe they are cold weather wimps.  Or maybe they are just better at using the treadmill at the gym than I am.  We all know how I feel about the treadmill.  It wasn’t just runners though.  My neighbors were all out walking or playing with their kids or just standing in their front yards enjoying the warm evening.  With so many people out and about, it gave my run a bit of a festive feel.

So, how has my running been?  Well, as usual, I have had some highs and lows.  I have had one disastrous run, where I couldn’t go five minutes without stopping to walk.  I have had a bunch of average runs. And then the running gods took pity on me, as my last two runs were fantastic.  Smooth, steady, strong – almost like I knew what I was doing.  It is a great feeling to come off such a run, and with the weather like this?  Well, I just knew I had to share.