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.

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.


Dancing in the Shower

It has been over 19 weeks since I began training for our upcoming marathon. It’s not unfamiliar territory for me, this being my sixth marathon coming up. For us with families and jobs, obligations, relatives, birthdays, weddings, funerals, vacations, and lawn care responsibilities, we can’t just say we commit to the training plan as outlined in Runner’s World, Jack Daniels, Hal Higdon, or any other plan, and then stick to the plan as it is written. It’s always modified. Perhaps “modified” (in quotes) is more like it, since sometimes we get way off track, and the plan is no longer recognizable. I decided to come up with my own plan, and to be sure, I made a lot of it up as I went along. This way, I could always say I was sticking to the plan. Very clever, no? But the general gist was to up the mileage in a steady fashion, get some long runs in early in the training, and steadily get fitter and trimmer.

It has worked out. The last month has shown I can do the long runs, get in the marathon pace runs, do fifty-plus mile weeks, do hills, and recover quickly enough to run again the next or following day. My companions in training are also looking good, trimmed down, faster, and able to go the distance. We talk of a fourteen mile run as a short run. We eat more than most people and still have dropped weight. In fact, all my belts are being pulled up an extra notch this past month. Jen Van Allen, of Runner’s World, spoke at our last running club meeting, talking about the book she wrote with her co-authors Bart Yasso and Amby Burfoot, “The Big Book of Marathon and Half Marathon Training.”. She is an accomplished ultra-marathoner, and talked about training, avoiding injuries, and the like. She referred to the actual running of the race as the “victory lap” after the real event of the training. While that’s a nice way to put it, especially if you know you can complete the race well under, say, a Boston qualifying time, I think it is fair to say that neither I nor my training partners will be running this as a victory lap. It is tough to get through a marathon. There is pain involved. There is what used to be called intestinal fortitude, but now is more appropriately referred to as mental toughness, which is, I suppose, really the mind-gut continuum. Jen Van Allen asked me what my goals are for this marathon. Here they are again, as I previously stated them: First, to finish without cramping. Second, to break my previous best time of 3:44:14 run in 2009. Third, to qualify for Boston. My Boston qualifier is now better than 3:40:00, six minutes under the allowed time previously, since they lowered the bar last year. I think that is a long shot for me, but I think it is possible.

This past weekend was busy with running. Friday evening I ran ten miles, Saturday morning, seven, and Sunday, twenty-one, at an average pace of 8:52 for the Sunday run. Friday morning, before running, I was in the shower, and feeling good, just started dancing under the shower head. I take it as a good sign that Sunday, after my long run, I still felt like dancing in the shower.


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