Whoa, this wasn’t supposed to happen (Sandy, that is).

Rain from hurricane Sandy

It’s raining, but Hurricane Sandy’s full force has yet to take effect.

One thing I’ve found fascinating, and sometimes discouraging, is the way we sign up for a marathon many months in advance, start the training program about four months before the race, and have no idea what may befall us during that time.  Right now, it’s hurricane Sandy which is disrupting our smooth passage to the Philly marathon, Nov. 18.  It’s also one week before the New York City marathon, and a few of our club members are running that race.  With one week to go for NYC, a forced couple of non-running days may be just what they need to be in top form.

Where I live in South Jersey, minutes from Philadelphia, we are, as the forecasters have noted, in the “cross-hairs” of the hurricane.  As a hunter, that implies intent, as if we are the target.  In fact, it is the joining of weather forces, with a waxing moon and rising tides, that steers this particularly enormous weather system directly towards us and makes it so threatening.  Not very long ago, around 1960, the first successful weather satellites were launched which allowed tracking and predictions of hurricanes’ paths.  Before then, barometers and reports from the Caribbean were harbingers of a storm, with little predictability of which way the storm would go.  Our house was built in 1884.  I imagine at that time, a storm of this nature would be devastating, with no hint of it’s arrival.  It is humorous, though, to see what is going on at Lowe’s and at the grocery store in terms of preparedness.  At Lowe’s, they were completely out of “D” batteries, for powering flashlights, I guess, although other appliances come to mind.  Plenty of AA or AAA, though.  I noted a good number of customers buying a garden hose and a pump.  I’m not sure if the pump was plug-in or manual, but good luck to them who need to pump out the water with that limited device.  We were at Lowe’s for a new washing machine, since ours died.  Not many folks shopping in our side of the store yesterday.  At the local Acme and at Lowe’s, customers were carting away enormous plastic-wrapped bundles of 0.5 L water bottles containing 50-100 bottles per bundle.  I can see a use for this.  If the water level gets very high, one can empty the water bottles, put the caps back on, and create a raft by tying the bundles together.  If one is concerned about the water supply, another, perhaps saner approach, would be to put water from the tap into available containers at home, but that means not contributing to the economy, so never mind.

We did a check of all our outdoor areas, for loose furniture, potted plants and other objects that might take flight in the storm.  Of major concern around here is the possibility of trees coming uprooted as the ground soaks and the winds rise.  We have a few tall trees close to our house, hopefully strong, and also hopefully protected from the full force of the wind by being between houses.  Our tallest tree menaces were taken down in the last few years, having lived to about 100, and starting to drop large branches indiscriminately.

My hospital was closed for all but emergencies today, so no elective procedures.  The trains are not running into Philadelphia.  The bridges are staying open unless sustained winds up to 70 miles per hour hit, then they will close.  At the moment, it is fairly windy, with a steady fine rain blowing sideways, covering areas usually under cover with a wet sheen, and creating large puddles around the leaves raked into the streets.  The township was supposed to do an emergency leaf removal yesterday, but I didn’t see it happening.  The center of the storm is due to hit New Jersey around midnight tonight.  I think our offices will remain closed tomorrow, since this storm has not yet peaked, and is cruising at a very conversational pace, to relate it to running.  By the traffic I see from my window at home, plenty of folks are braving the weather.  I am taking this opportunity to catch up on things I say I will do, but can’t seem to find the time.  Hopefully, by at the latest, Wednesday, we’ll be able to get out there and hit the pavement.

I hope all of our neighbors, i.e. the whole eastern seaboard, remain safe and dry.

The Heart of Fall

Golden leaves.

The bright golden colors of fall.

Here we are in the middle of fall, with the bright but fleeting colors of the leaves creating a beautiful backdrop for  our runs.  Right now, the weather doesn’t quite know if 75 or 45 is the correct temperature.  One day it’s tights, long sleeve shirt, and light gloves, then its back to shorts and short sleeves.  One thing is constant, though, evening runs are in the dark.  I equip myself with a headlamp and reflectors for these runs.  The headlamp is annoying, but necessary.  Some areas are well lit by streetlights, but our town is notorious for potholes, especially in areas where the streets are dark.  Potholes seem to congregate in the dark.

Spent yellow squash plant.

This yellow squash plant was very productive over the summer, providing us with a dozen or so squash, and we ate some of the blossoms, too.

Running in the dark, I feel a bit like a fugitive, darting among the shadows, and aware the drivers are not necessarily aware of me.  It is a bit of a survival game.

Stem of a zucchini plant.

The wizened stem of a zucchini plant.

Unlike the plants in these photos, I am planning to reach a peak in the next few weeks as I take on the Philly Marathon, November 18.  This will be my fifth year in a row running Philly.  If someone told me back in 2008, that by the end of 2012 I’d have seven marathons in the books, I’d have thought they were crazy.  But, as long as I finish it, this will be my seventh, with one Boston and one Steamtown in the mix.

Tomatoes still green in October.

Green tomatoes still hanging on the vine in late October.

Many of my friends, about my age of 58, are looking ahead to retirement and discussing their bucket lists.  Don’t speak to me of bucket lists.  It’s not that I believe that somehow I am less mortal than my non-running friends.  Quite the contrary.  I seem to take on some risks for which life afterwards is not a given.  I don’t think I’m adding years to my existence by running, or eating right.  But, running, and competing are a great deal of fun, an endless challenge, and a great reason to get together with like minded folks and have a good time…often with good beer involved.  The list of interesting things I would like to do keeps expanding.

Orange Peel Fungus

I believe these are Orange Peel Fungus, a type of mushroom which bloomed in our garden.

Running Philly so soon after running Steamtown is a bit of an experiment for me.  Collective wisdom says that it takes about as many days as miles in a race to recover properly.  But after the first week following Steamtown of sore quads and an awkward gate, I got back into the training process.  Last Sunday was a 22 miler.  The legs felt very tired around mile 19 and 20, and I wound up slowing considerably, only to get a second wind and run the last two miles in decent form.  Tuesday and Wednesday were good training runs at close to marathon pace.  Running in the dark slows me down a bit, as I mentioned, having to pick my way through in some areas.  After an eleven mile run last night, Steve and Tony, my friends from Steamtown, and I headed out for some good ales and dinner at a local pub called the Pour House.  The talk covered how best to run an upcoming 10K bridge run, a zombie run (lots of zombies out on the course, since Halloween is coming), the Giants and Tigers first world series game, extremely thin waitresses at the Pour House, the difference between ales and lagers, American vs India Pale Ale, and all sorts of other topics.

Poison Ivy along our fence.

Here’s the poison ivy along our fence which gets me every time I trim along the fence line.

This poison ivy gets me every time.  As I wrote in a previous entry, I got the rash everywhere my last encounter with it, and I’m glad to see it turn colors and drop it’s leaves.  It is an attractive vine.  But this winter, after Philly, and with gloves and long sleeves, I will get in to this area and dig out every bit of it.  That is, I hope I will, since finding it after the leaves are gone might be tricky.  Meanwhile, I’m heading for a 50 plus mile week, I am not particularly sore, and I hope my experiment goes well.

A Week to Recuperate, and a little give-back

Newton Lake

Newton Lake Park, Camden County, New Jersey October 13, 2012.

It is now six days after Steamtown, and my legs are recovering.  The first two days were rough, with pain in the quads, which was particularly awful going down stairs or getting up after sitting for a bit.  But now the pain is essentially gone.  I’ve taken this week to slowly recuperate, and to get ready to put make another push to the next race.  I ran Wednesday, a mere three miles, and it felt smooth and easy.  Friday evening, in the dark, with a headlamp and reflector straps (yup, it’s that time of the year), I did a nice and easy six mile run.

Today, as a way of giving back to the church which allows us to use their facility for our monthly running club meetings for no charge, we held a “Grace Race”, named for the Grace Church of Haddonfield.  It is a 5K, and all the entry fees are donated to the church.  We hold the race at the beautiful Newton Lake Park, in Collingswood, in Camden County.  The race is over paved trails around the lake, and includes a pancake breakfast after the race for the runners and their families.

Runners starting to gather at the start.

Runners start to gather at the start, to sign up for the Grace Race.

This was the first really cool day of the fall.  There was actual frost on the ground this morning, and the large green leaves of the squash and zucchini plants in our garden, which have been so prolific this summer, turned gray and wilted.  I put on long tights and a long sleeve shirt, packed a back pack with a fleece, jacket and knit hat, put on gloves, and headed out to run to the race.  I was a volunteer for this race, and the extra clothes were to keep me warm while I stood and stopped traffic at one of the road crossings.  The temperature was a cool 30 degrees at the start, but would warm up to the mid 40’s when the sun came up.

Runners warming up.

Runners warming up before the race.

Dave S. getting a feel for the course.

Dave S. one of SJAC’s finest, gets a warm-up in.

The race went off at eight AM, still cool, but no wind.  The number signed up for the race was modest, but then, there are a lot of competing events at this time of year.  We were very happy to get the runners that we did.   This being a small race,  if you run, you’ll have a very good chance of getting a medal in your age group.

Newton Lake looking west.

Newton Lake, looking west.

Oddly, there were two runners who joined the race late.  So, after the bulk of the runners had passed my station, a woman came up to the road crossing, looking lost.  She said she was running the race, although it was perhaps ten minutes after the last runner had gone by, and this woman was not fleet of foot.  In fact she looked like she was going to take some time to get through the course.  Still later, a few minutes after she ran by, one of our club members who is a fast runner came up to the crossing, and started to head up the return path.  “Tom”, I yelled.  “Are you running this thing?”  “Yes”.  “Well you’re going the wrong way.”   I got Tom back on track, but knew he would have no trouble catching at least the slower runners of the main group.

Ducks in the pond.

Ducks doing what ducks do, swimming.

As it turned out, our trailing female runner did get a bit off the route, was directed back on, and finished, well behind the rest, but she finished.  She was sweating, and clearly had put some effort into the run.  She got a hearty round of applause, a finishers certificate, and she had someone take a photo of her at the finish line.  It turns out it was her first 5K ever.  She’s signed up for another in Atlantic City in a week or two, and she said she would get to the start line on time, next time.

Vapor Trail

A vapor trail in sharp relief against the clear blue sky.

We then moved on to the hall where the pancakes were waiting, along with sausage, coffee, tea, orange juice, and trophies or medals for most.  Volunteers from the church flipped flapjacks and grilled the sausages at the Mason’s Lodge in Collingswood.  As the runners and their families ate and talked, Brandon, SJAC president presented the awards.

Jim F. at the awards table

Hmmmm, it says here he’s sixteen, but he doesn’t look it. Ed, check the numbers.

Jim F. scores.

Ah, that’s more like it, 46 and still a medal winner.

Tory scores.

Tory T. walks off with a nice memento.

The kids in the hall.

A finer group of guys you couldn’t find. They’ll help you drag your truck out of a ditch any time. They’re enjoying the breakfast at the Mason’s Lodge.

So, that’s how it went Saturday, Oct. 13, 2912, six days after Steamtown, still in recovery mode, but soon to get cracking again.  It was good to give back to the nice folks at the Grace Church for allowing us the use of their hall.  It was a beautiful, sunny, crisp fall day, and everyone had a good time.  On the way home (running, naturally), I stopped at the Collingswood farmers market, to enjoy the last look of the season at the fall vegetables.  I picked up a couple of really interesting egg plants, $0.75 each, and now will try to figure out their best use.



Sicilian-style eggplants from the farmers market in Collingswood. They’re about 9 inches long, and purple with white streaks.

Report from Steamtown, USA

We made our way up the northeast extension of the Pennsylvania Turnpike, often a difficult drive, with tractor-trailer trucks being driven like Miatas, and never ending construction zones.  This Friday evening, though, it wasn’t so bad, and my wife and I made good time.  We were heading up to Kingston, to spend a night with friends, and to shorten the trip to Scranton the next morning.  I sent a “Glympse” email to my friend, Ivan, with whom we’d be staying.  This clever app allows your host to follow your progress in real time along the road, know how fast you are going, whether you’ve made a wrong turn, and know when you will arrive.  It was nice to spend the evening enjoying a delicious spinach quiche made by Ivan’s wife Cheri, have a beer, and sit outside with an outdoor fireplace going in complete relaxation mode.

The next morning, I went for a really slow 3 mile run with Ivan, which was a good way to keep the muscles warm and working.  The weather, which had been predicted to be rain the whole weekend, was starting to look less monsoon-like, and more like scattered showers, especially on Sunday.  After some pancakes, we left and headed up the last half hour of driving to Scranton, and to the pre-race expo.  This is held in the Scranton High School gym.  For a small marathon, which is capped at 3000 entries, the expo was well organized, and had all the necessary elements:  a line to pick up your number and T-shirt, commemorative shirts, hats and other Steamtown branded items for sale, vendors for gels, sports drinks, and accessories, and a nice wall-sized map of the course.  I got the feeling this was a “runners” marathon, since I saw an awful lot of Boston Marathon jackets on the people picking up numbers, and no-one looked like they were just there to take an easy jog from Forest City to Scranton.

After buying a couple of T’s, some gels for me, a hat, and, oh yes, picking up my number, we left and headed up to Clarks Summit, about five miles north of Scranton, and checked into our hotel.

Tony, Frank and Lisa

Tony, Frank and Lisa, outside the Hampton Inn, Clarks Summit, with the fall colors in the background.

We took some time to relax in the hotel, then headed out to dinner, at Bellissimo Pizzeria and Ristorante, with the others in our group.

Welcome to Marathoners

Bellissimo Sign welcoming the runners.

At the restaurant, we had a large group, Lisa, Tony Brian, his wife Sarah and their two kids, Dan and his girlfriend Ashley, Steve and his wife Caren, and my wife Kathleen and me.

Lisa, Tony, Carin, Brian, and his daughter.

One half of the table, Lisa, Tony Caren and Brian with daughter.

Frank, Steve and Dan

The other half of the table, Frank, Steve and Dan.

Pretty much everyone stuck to the rule of pasta before the race.  There was ziti, ravioli, penne, spaghetti, and a few others which I don’t recall.  Tony drank a Bud, and Lisa had a Yuengling.  It seems that’s a sure way to do well in a marathon the next day.

We called it a night pretty early and headed back to the hotel.  The staff at the hotel was very accommodating, and told us they would have breakfast ready to go at five AM the next morning, so we would be well fed heading our for our race.  True to their word, the waffle maker, and the whole rest of the breakfast buffet, was ready to go when we came down the next morning.  Thank you, staff at the Clarks Summit Hampton Inn!

Brian and Frank at Breakfast

Frank and Brian at Breakfast

It took some work, a degree in logical thinking would have come in handy, in order to figure out the car arrangements for getting to the start of the race in Forest City.  Our final plan was for Caren, Steve’s wife to drive Steve, Tony, and me to Forest City, then Caren would head to the first support zone.  Lisa would drive Brian and Dan to Scranton and then they would take the bus up to Forest City.  Sarah, Ashley, and Brian’s kids would arrive in Scranton in time for the finish, and Kathleen, likewise would drive to Scranton and find her way to the finish line.  On the way to Forest City, we got to see the starting gun being towed to the start, the “gun” being a civil war canon.

Starting "gun".

The Starting “Gun”. It really sends out a shock wave when fired.

In the gym at the Forest City High School, we took care of last minute details, including, of course, a trip or two to the porta-john.  Interestingly, they had separate units for men and women, which, I’m sure, made the women very happy, since we guys are not exactly neat and tidy.  The runners were filing in, past the cheerleader brigade out front, the friendly students handing out coffee and hot chocolate, and the busy looking officials.  For a smaller marathon, they do know how to make us comfortable.  My impression at the expo was again confirmed, that everyone of the assembling runners looked like they were fit and ready.

Gym at Forest City H.S.

The gym at Forest City H.S. starts to fill up.

Steve came up with the idea of writing our names on our bodies, so the fans would know who to yell for.

Steve gets a name.

Let’s see, that’s S…..T….E…, don’t want to make a mistake!


Nailed it! STEVE : )

Frank and the magic marker.

They’ll need to look at my legs to see my name. I wonder if that will work.

And here’s the group all together, getting a bit nervous, and wanting to get the show on the road.

The group from SJAC

SJAC Marathoners wait in the gym at Forest City, H.S. Dan, Brian, Steve, Lisa, Frank and Tony.

The race started off close to the planned start of 8 AM.  Fortunately for us all, the rain stayed away for the entire race.  The temperature at the start was about 40 deg., and it warmed up to about 50 by the end.  True to all the stories we had heard from former runners, the start is a very steep drop down hill.  The net drop in the first 10 miles is about 900 feet, and one really gets sucked in to the speed one gets from letting it rip down hill.  I noticed that at the halfway mark, while I was still hanging with Tony, my half marathon time was faster than any half marathon I’ve run, just under 1:45.  Ed, from SJAC, warned us about going out too fast.  My feeling was that to slow down also takes a big toll on the muscles, from the braking action, so you are damned either way.  Just past the half marathon mark, the run gets into a rolling hill, up and down, mode.  It heads into the woods over graveled trails, which I found hurt my feet.  By sixteen miles, I had given up all my time savings and started to really slow down.  My legs were in pain, and I was starting to get some twitches  in my calf muscles.  Between the pain building in my muscles and the twitches turning in to real cramps, I could see my time goal not just slipping away, but having left the station a long time ago.  So, what to salvage?  By the way, Tony had steadily moved forward at the halfway mark and it was the last I saw of him until the finish line.  Leaving the last of the trails in the woods, we continued on rolling roads as we headed toward Scranton.  I had the honor of running beside  “Hizzoner” Mayor Chris and his wife Donna, of Scranton, who were both looking very good over the last several miles.  As we ran along, the crowds grew large, and their support for their mayor was tremendous.  I got energized by their loud cheers for their mayor, pretending it was for me, which really helped drive me to the finish.  Over the last two miles I was getting some very strange cramps in my left leg causing my foot to twist almost sideways.  I’m sure I had a bit of a Quasimodo look as I headed up the remaining climb to the finish line.  Crossing the finish line, I was barely able to lift my arms to shoulder height, trying unsuccessfully to look good for the camera.  I finished in 3 hours, 57 minutes and 11 seconds.  My personal best is 3:44:14, so I didn’t make a PR, and I certainly didn’t make my Boston Qualifier.  But, I finished under four hours, and I was happy to have done so.  Tony was brilliant, finishing in 3:39:06, under the Boston standard of 3:40 for his (and my) age group.  He was very depleted at the end of the race, as were we all, although I think he was worse off than the rest of us.  Steve finished in a very respectable 3:45:34, not what he wanted, but then, it’s a tough race.

Tony at the finish.

Tony, wearing the smile of his best marathon ever, and a Boston Qualifier!

Steve, at the finish

Steve, happy to be finished.

Frank, in front of the Scranton court house.

Frank, glad to have warm clothing on, and happy to have survived.

Caren and Kathleen

Caren, Steve’s wife, and Kathleen, my wife, provided invaluable support and cheer in our efforts to prove ourselves on the marathon course, and we thank them from the bottom of our hearts.

After we had a chance to warm up, replenish some fluids and let the muscles stop twitching, Tony, Steve, Lisa, and I, along with our support crew of Caren and Kathleen, headed back up to Clarks Summit for lunch.  We ate at a surprisingly good Mexican restaurant across the street from our hotel, called La Tonalteca, a chain, but with very authentic food.  Poor Tony found it hard to face eating anything at this point, leaving a beautiful bowl of tortilla soup untouched, but the rest of us found it in ourselves to chow down.

I find each marathon I run to be tremendously challenging, often painful, and mostly discouraging.  As soon as I’m done, why am I thinking about the next one?  I think I really love this sport, greatly respect the runners who run with me, and want to keep pushing to get better.


one small regret

It was a great weekend. Unfortunately NOW I have my appetite back and I think of the tragedy of the missed meals with my fellow runners Frank, Steve, Bryan, Dan and Lisa. Also Frank’s wife Kathleen and Steve’s wife Caren who were so kind to a very beaten up runner (me). Ah Saturday night in downtown Clark’s Summit at the Italian restaurant and all I could eat was a side of ziti and lots of bread…are you kidding? And Sunday lunch at a great looking Mexican joint and I just stared at my Taco soup. The horror. Give me another chance and boy would I do my restaurant mates proud. But alas. The run was probably the best run I ever did (btw trust the taper). I wanted to do even splits the whole way. I didn’t but I wanted to. Target time was 3:40 and not a second over that to qualify for Boston. At 13.1 miles I was at 1:45 which is…hmmm…oh yea 3:30 for a full. I felt good but knew I would give some of that time back on the back half with the hills. Sure enough I started fading a bit by mile 16. That’s where the mental games kick in. “when the going gets tough, the tough get going” and ” pain is temporary” and “just do it” and thinking about all the training that I’ve done with Frank, Steve, and Bryan. Head games man. Started fading but fighting it. Finally made the right hand turn onto the home stretch about a mile to go most up hill. My watch said 3:30 something… a runner next to me kicked it in and started sprinting up the hill. I thought “Goddamnit I can’t let this go” and started sprinting also. I was pissed. I needed that emotion. Kept at it and the clock said like 3:39:30. Talk about no margin of error. Of course I paid for it the rest of the day. I didn’t mind the sore muscles so  much as the upset stomach which prevented me from enjoying the meals with my friends but what can you do? Thanks guys for everything and Frank too as sort of the Godfather of the whole event.

The Art of the Taper

Frank tapering

Exercising the brain, i.e., doing a NYT crossword.

What a cheap excuse!  No, not running today.  I’m tapering.  Tapering my butt!  I’m expanding.  I must be.  My shirts are tapered.  No-Iron, too, but that’s for another blog.  No, I can’t be running less than half of what I’ve been running, and then say that I’m gaining fitness.  My last long run, 21 miles, was 10 days ago.  Since then I’ve managed to get in a total of 19 miles, all at a repressed pace to allow for the magic of the taper to take effect.  Part of that low mileage was due to my being on call last week, so I had to work some long hours, and didn’t get in the usual run with the club on Sunday.  It was, in a way, a forced taper.  Now we only have three days left before the marathon, and I don’t feel like a sprite dancing over the water.  I was expecting, perhaps, a feeling of “incredible lightness of being” with homage to, and a twist on, one of my favorite authors, Milan Kundera.  Oh, I will grant that I’ve taken my bluejeans belt up a notch, and I’m running comfortably at paces which used to be impossible.  But I have a fear that all that will slip by, that the peak is passed, and that the old bugaboos will still haunt me when it comes time to face the start line.  We say we are ready, that we’ve put in the miles.  We have certainly sweated a lot these past four months.  Imagine the cost of all the sports drink which cycled through our systems, only to be lost as a stead flow of drips on the ground, and wrung out from shirts, shorts and socks.  Running is considered an inexpensive sport, since there are not many necessities, but buying shoes every few months, and refueling with organic, healthy foods to replace the calories burned is not cheap.

One of our club mates asked that I report on who eats what the night before the marathon.  Our group will be heading out to dinner together the night before, at an Italian restaurant.  Steve, who made the reservation, had the temerity to ask the owner if he was sure he would have enough pasta to feed us.  I’m sure there was silence and disbelief on the other end of the line, then “what, are you jokin’?”  Wine or beer the night before?  Good idea or bad?  I don’t know, but I plan to go ethanol-free.  All these fears come bubbling to the surface a few days before the marathon, but come the day, I’m sure they’ll be suppressed, and only confidence and good cheer will prevail.

Now, it’s off to run my last Wednesday night run before the race.  By the way, I signed up for Philadelphia, Nov. 18.  I think it’s good to keep looking forward.


Bucket List

As Frank did not run on Sunday, I’ll act as the “fake” Frank (“why yes that chianti was lovely with the lobster bisque!!”). In case anyone has forgotten, the marathon is this weekend. I have a lot of mixed feelings about this. Some include being nervous mixed with not quite dread. I mean it’s a hard run, man. But I know how good I’ll feel having completed the damn thing- yadda yadda yadda. Someone mentioned bucket list which I really don’t have this penciled in anywhere but certainly a great idea. I do have a bucket list for my old dog though. That list includes a drive through at McDonalds, a visit to the beach, an afternoon with the Kelly’s dog Daisy with the loose morals, and a night sleeping in the kids bed. Anyway I’ll be eating some pasta this week and trying to stay positive (and this is not a plea for a lot of phony “ah, you’ll do great!!” comments thanks anyway). I did do the El Torro roller coaster at 6 Flags over the weekend so if there was a bucket list that would be on it.

Uncorking Croatia



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