A Bridge, a Fox, and a Tie-in to Running

Unless one were lost in the woods these last couple of weeks, it would be impossible to miss the uproar over the George Washington Bridge closures.  Last September 9-13, lanes were closed on the Fort Lee side of the bridge, which is the busiest bridge connecting New Jersey to Manhattan, in a sudden and unexplained move, later brushed aside by port authority officials as a “traffic study”.  On Dec. 16, 2013, John D. Rockefeller IV, chairman of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, wrote to the chairman and vice chairman of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey requesting answers to very direct questions regarding the lane closures.  Answers were provided in a letter written by the Port Authority Board Secretary which were filled with standard protocol type language.  It was not until a subpoena from state legislators demanded emails and text messages from various people involved with the closures, specifically Bill Baroni and David Wildstein, that it became evident that the lane closings were political retribution against the mayor of Fort Lee, a man of Croat heritage mistakenly referred to as a Serb in one of the emails, perhaps the biggest insult of all.  The people who instigated the lane closures were all close allies and working for Governor Chris Christie of New Jersey.  While the governor has claimed he knew nothing of the involvement of his team in the closure of the lanes, he has a reputation of being a bully, and taking retribution on a political foe is consistent with his character.  He is known for his bullish, bullying style, making fun or yelling at opponents who have the temerity to speak against him.

It was time for the television pundits and posturers to take a stand, generally, as one would guess, along political lines.  There was one comment that really stood out, though, as being a strange, and utterly outdated way to see this debacle for Governor Christie.  After all, he is positioning himself to be the spokesperson for the republican party, and possibly to run for president in 2016.  He should be preparing the big tent, to attract conservatives and near-conservatives, libertarians and tea-partiers, whites and off-whites, men and, yes, even……women.

Brit Hume, senior political analyst at Fox News, on a Sunday talk show called “Media Buzz”, had this to say:  “Well, I would have to say that in this sort of feminized atmosphere in which we exist today, guys who are masculine and muscular like that in their private conduct, kind of old-fashioned tough guys, run some risk.”  He went on to explain that the governor is an old-fashioned guy’s guy, a masculine and muscular guy, in constant danger of looking thuggish or sexist.  He got a quizzical look from a co-commentator on the program, Lauren Ashburn, but later was supported in his contention by another Fox star, Bill O’Reilly, who said that real men who are rough around the edges, maybe rude or blunt, get a raw deal from the public.  Another way to look at this, though, is that real men, manly men, have a right to their own way of behaving, and women are trying, and now succeeding in ruining it for them.

Has running “suffered” from feminization?  The Olympic Marathon of 1896, held during the first modern day Olympics in Athens, Greece was a men-only event, as were all the events at that time.  Initially, women were probably not considered for competition, since they were not felt physically capable of participating.  They were also excluded based on a men’s club mentality.  But, a woman did run the first Olympic marathon, just not as an official competitor.  Her name was Stamata Rivithi, and she completed the 40 kilometer course in 5 hours and 30 minutes.  The winner that year, a Greek named Spyridon Louis won the men’s event in 2:58:50.  Violet Percy, an English woman, was the first officially timed woman marathon winner with a time of 3:40:22 at the Polytechnic Marathon in London in 1926.  These women broke barriers, but the premier marathon event, the Boston Marathon, had yet to be tainted by the presence of women.  It was not until 1966 that a woman named Bobbi Gibb (co-alumnus(a) of mine from Revelle College, UCSD), ran the Boston Marathon as a non-registered runner.  It being an AAU sanctioned male event, women were not permitted to officially run it.  Bobbi Gibb’s story is nicely told in an interview she did which is posted on the Bill Rodgers Running Center website.  She reports she applied for an entry to the race, but got a reply from the race director, Will Cloney, stating that women were not physiologically able to run a marathon, and furthermore, were not allowed to.  She had to hide in the bushes at the start, wearing her brother’s shorts and a hooded sweatshirt.  She joined the race after about a third of the runners had started.  She reports that she was recognized as female, as she put it, by the men studying her anatomy from the rear. The men around her were very supportive.  She says they told her they would not allow anyone to remove her from the race.  She finished with a very respectable time of 3:21:40.  While unofficial at the time, she has since been recognized by the Boston Athletic Association as the first female winner, and she won three years in a row.  Ironically, at the time she ran her first Boston, the longest sanctioned race for women on the AAU calendar was 1.5 miles.

Since then, the number of women participants in running races has grown dramatically.  In a Wikipedia article, a graph of women’s participation (not just runners) in the summer Olympics has grown dramatically from the early 1900’s to the present:

Women as a percent of participants in the Summer Olympics

Women as a percent of participants in the Summer Olympics

In one of our major races in the Philadelphia area, the 10 mile Broad Street Run, held the first Sunday in May, the number of women participating has grown steadily since the race began in 1980.  This past year, 2013, the total number of women finishers was 17,269.  There were 14,773 male finishers.

For major marathons, women have not yet reached parity with the men, but are not far behind.  For 2013, at Chicago, there were 17,395 women and 21,488 men finishers.  For New York, 19,567 women and 30,699 men completed the race.  In Europe, at the Berlin Marathon, 8,946 women and 27,528 men finished.  And in Los Angeles, 7,773 women and 11,761 men crossed the finish line.  In Boston in 2012, 9,006 women and 12,666 men got to run that last stretch down Boyleston Street to the iconic finishing banner.

Women have also become leaders in the world of running organizations.  Mary Wittenberg, the president and CEO of the New York Road Runners, is responsible for the business and operations of the club, including the production of the New York City Marathon.  Stephanie Hightower is president of the USATF, the national governing body for track and field, long distance running, and race walking in the U.S.

Every Sunday morning, I meet with a group from my running club at 7:30, to run a 13 mile loop.  Sometimes we go farther, if we are in the midst of training for an upcoming marathon.  We’ll start out earlier, get the extra miles in, and then meet the group at 7:30 to start together.  We have a balance of men and women in the group.  I’m sure not one of the guys feels put upon, inhibited or less manly because women are participating in the sport.  Likewise, the thought that women are not capable of participating, the thought held 30 years ago and earlier, has been proven to be bunk.  It is true, that when men and women mix together in a social setting, men behave more civilly, less crudely.  At least, they should.  There really is no excuse, in my mind, for bullying and being obnoxious, and it certainly is not the fault of women if someone who behaves that way is brought down.  I would say, yes, running has been feminized, in that women have been able to participate in this great sport which was once closed to them.  They have shown their mettle, and taken on the challenges of the toughest of races, the marathon.  They have contributed greatly to the organization and running of the sport, and their participation keeps growing.  Far from making us guys unmanly, less of a man’s man, they have joined our ranks, and made it better.  What a bunch of “bushwa” (got that from a NYTimes crossword puzzle) coming from Brit Hume and Bill O’Reilly.

Whole lotta chafin’ goin’ on

I noticed when I got up this morning that the sky looked a bit dark and uniform.  The sun had not risen yet, so I couldn’t tell if the sky was clear or overcast.  It wasn’t as cold as it had been the last few days, around 40 degrees F, so I dressed lighter than for a frigid run.  I checked the weather on weather.com.  It showed a massive band of rain heading our way, and it looked like it would reach us around 11:00 AM.

We gathered for our usual run this morning, Sunday, December 29, in front of our local running store, the Haddonfield Running Company.  About 12 runners were out this morning, one new to our group; the rest were the usual gang.  Our typical Sunday run is a thirteen mile loop starting at 7:30, followed by coffee at Starbucks.  We have a number of runners in the group who have started their training for the Boston Marathon, April 21, 2014.  For them, the weather is not an issue.   They are committed to run regardless.  The rest of us have our various races scheduled in the spring, so we also don’t mind getting a few raindrops on us.

I ran from my house to the store, and after a few pleasantries, we started off on our run.  As soon as we started, the ran began.  It was very light at first, just a mere sprinkle.  But not too far into the run, it became a steady, cold rain, with a grey uniform sky, and no real color anywhere.  We kept together as a group, probably from a preservation instinct, unlike other days when the fast ones take off like rabbits.  At first the rain didn’t seem to faze anyone too much.  There was a lot of talk amongst us, about Boston, training, cyclocross racing, geese, news of the day, and so on.  The new guy came from a cyclocross background, and had only been running since he got new running shoes for Christmas.  Geese are everywhere we run around the Cooper River Park.  They are Canadian geese which have settled permanently in our neighborhood.  They don’t migrate anywhere; they are perfectly content to stay here the year round.  Every year a new gaggle of goslings is produced, and the numbers just keep going up and up.

As the run went on, the talk trailed off.  We really just wanted this run to be over.  The rain continued with small, cold drops that now had drenched us thoroughly.  Puddles were all around, and impossible to avoid completely, so our shoes and socks got soaked, too.  We made a quick stop for a drink at the Cooper River boat house.  Oddly, there is no water fountain on the premises, so we have to drink from the faucets in the restroom.  As we got going again, we all noticed how cold we had gotten from just a quick stop.  Crossing a road on the way back, a driver, who had the right of way, stopped to let us cross the road, no doubt wondering why presumably sane people would get out and run in this weather.  While a couple of the group cut the run a bit short toward the end, my friends Tony and Brandon and I gutted it out for the full thirteen miles.  Brandon, who is usually one of the above mentioned rabbits, seemed content to hang with us older, slower types today.  I noticed, after I had stopped, that my body temperature seemed to plummet.  I made straight for the Starbucks, and grabbed my backpack.  I headed for the restroom to change into dry clothing.

The coffee shop has a gas fireplace, which was very welcome today.  We were all shivering on arrival, but rapidly warmed up in front of the fire.  After I got home, I hopped in the shower.  Yeowww!  Those areas that had been rubbed raw by the wet clothing were suddenly and shockingly evident as the hot water sluiced over me.  The shower felt awfully good, though, and once done, I put on some warm jeans and a long-sleeved t-shirt, and stayed indoors the rest of the day.  We have only a couple of days left in 2013.  To all my family, friends, fellow bloggers, and running mates I wish you all a healthy and happy new year.

SJAC members hanging out at Starbucks after our Sunday morning run.

SJAC members hanging out at Starbucks after a Sunday morning run.

Running in the Dark

Running in the Dark

I’m up early this morning
Down the stairs I make my way
Stumble into the kitchen
Getting ready to face another day
Put on some coffee
Man, it’s cold and dark outside
Gobble down some granola
Get a hot shower,
Then it’s off to work I ride.

Now winter’s on us,
Streetlights are lit when I’m home from work
Gotta keep on training
Even though I’m just running in the dark

Just getting home now
Boy, today was kind of rough
Nothing went easy
Had to really show that I am tough
The sofa is calling
Open a beer and just sit back
No one is pushing me
Who’s to know I took some slack

Now winter’s on us,
Streetlights are lit when I’m home from work
Gotta keep on training
Even though I’m just running in the dark

I head up the stairs
Put on the pants with reflective stripes
Long sleeve shirt next
Then the vest that’s shinin’ bright
Gloves ’cause it’s cold out
Warm socks and then my old Brooks
Hat and a headlamp
No, I’m not dressing up for looks

Now winter’s on us,
Streetlights are lit when I’m home from work
Gotta keep on training
Even though I’m just running in the dark

Dodging the traffic
Getting started on my run
Garmin is reading
And it’s starting to be fun
Christmas lights are shining
Illuminate the way for me
I know why I do this
It feels so great to be so free

Now winter’s on us,
Streetlights are lit when I’m home from work
Gotta keep on training
Even though I’m just running in the dark

Wanna’ keep on running
The training game ain’t just a lark
Gotta keep on going
Even though I’m just running in the dark
Even though I’m just running in the dark
Even though I’m just running in the dark
Even though I’m just running in the dark

With apologies to the Boss.

A Handful of Nuts….

Pecan Tree

Pecan Tree, East Ranch, Madill, Oklahoma

A handful of nuts.

A Handful of Nuts

A report was published in the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM) on November 21, 2013, entitled “Association of Nut Consumption with Total and Cause-Specific Mortality.”  This really caught my eye for a few reasons.  The primary reason was I wondered how it was possible to do such a study.  The second, and perhaps the more important, was I wanted to know if eating nuts could really have an effect on one’s mortality.  The third was whether the study would have been published if they had not proven their hypothesis, i.e., that eating nuts is good for you.

The study has a very impressive pedigree.  It was performed and written by researchers from Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School, the Dana Farber Cancer Institute, and Indiana University.  It was funded by the National Institutes of Health (the NIH), and the International Tree Nut Council Nutrition Research and Education Foundation.  I was unaware of the Tree Nut Council, but it is an interesting note that they would be funding research showing nuts are really good for you.  On the other hand, the report states “the funders of the study had no role in its design or conduct; in the collection, management, analysis, or interpretation of the data; or in the preparation, review or approval of the manuscript.”

How was it possible to do this study?  The study was done by examining nut consumption in two very large groups of people for whom intimate details of their lives are available.  One is a group called the Nurses’ Health Study, a group of 121,700 female nurses living in 11 states in the U.S.A., enrolled in 1976.  The other is the Health Professionals Follow-up Study, a group of 51,529 male health professionals from all 50 states, enrolled in 1986.  Food frequency questionnaires were regularly filled out by these participants, and were the basis of the data collected.  The examined group was pared down to those for whom good data was available.  People with known heart disease, stroke or cancer were excluded.  Ultimately, they studied 76,464 women, and 42,498 men.  So they had significant numbers of participants to study.  They report that food frequency data was collected from these people using questionnaires administered every 2-4 years, starting with the women in 1980, and the men in 1986.  They asked how often during the preceding year did the person eat a one ounce (28 g) serving of nuts:  almost never, 1-3 times a month, once a week, 2-4 times a week, daily, or more often.  They also asked if the nuts were peanuts (a legume), or tree nuts.  The end point of the study was death.  So, if you were participating and died during the study, your nut consumption, cause of death, and other factors were then compared against the group still alive.  They found some very interesting things about nut eaters.  As a group, they tend to be leaner, less likely to smoke, more likely to exercise and more likely to take a vitamin supplement.  They also consumed more fruit and vegetables, and drank more alcohol.  In other words, they were very much like my running friends.  The researchers state, though, that they were able to tease apart these other factors in order to look at nut consumption alone as a predictive factor.  They found that how often one ate that handful of nuts was inversely proportional to their chance of dying during the study.  This was expressed as a hazard ratio, a way of comparing relative risks, but not the absolute risk, of an event occurring.  During the years of study, 30 for women, and 24 for men, 16,200 women died, and 11,229 men died.  That is around one in four participants in the study, which seems a high number.  The ones who ate the most nuts, more than one ounce a day, had a hazard ratio of dying of 0.8, or 20% lower chance than those who never or rarely ate nuts.  When they examined peanuts versus tree nuts, the reduced risk of mortality persisted.  Brief mention is made in the report that most major causes of death, including heart disease, cancer and respiratory disease, were decreased in the nut eaters, hence the reference to “cause specific” in the title.

They point out some of the strengths and weaknesses of such a study.  The study included a large number of enrollees, so presumably the statistics are meaningful.  They were careful to include methods for ensuring that the data were as reliable as possible, and that their statistical methods compared apples to apples, so to speak.  However, the study is an observational study, so while it can show an association, it cannot show cause and effect.  Another point not mentioned, is that the number of enrollees who died was significant, and makes me think a good number may have been older when they were first enrolled.  Another criticism of the study is that a large percent of the nut eaters were also, in general, more likely to exercise, eat a Mediterranean diet, and be thinner than the nut avoiders who, perhaps, were also were more likely to consume Ho-Ho’s, who knows.   While they state they were able to separate out these variables, intuitively it seems that if someone eats a healthy diet, exercises, and is thinner that person is less likely to develop diabetes, heart disease or cancer. In a related study published in the NEJM February 25, 2013, “Primary Prevention of Cardiovascular Disease with a Mediterranean Diet,” a group of Spanish researchers showed that in a study of people at high cardiovascular risk, but without known heart disease, a Mediterranean diet supplemented with extra-virgin olive oil or nuts reduced the incidence of cardiovascular events.  This was a prospective study, meaning the study participants were divided into two groups, and studied going forward, rather than observed after the fact.  In fact, the study was stopped at 4.8 years due to the significance of the data being collected.  Of course, that can skew a study also.  It is possible for the healthy eaters to catch up to the poor eaters in their heart disease and mortality given a little more time.

What does this tell us about the value of a handful of nuts, and its effect on our well being?  The researchers give several plausible explanations why nuts may be good for us in general.  They contain unsaturated fatty acids, high-quality protein, fiber, vitamins and minerals.  They also contain certain phytochemicals (plant-based chemicals such as carotenoids, flavonoids and phytosterols) which may be healthful.  They cannot say, based on their research, that if one starts eating a handful of nuts on a daily basis, that person will avoid heart disease or cancer.  If you are my age, 59, much of your fate may already be cast, with regards to eating habits, atherosclerosis, and other long term health issues.  But that doesn’t mean there is no benefit.  In fact, changing one’s dietary ways at any time could have good effects, too.  In general, from numerous other studies cited by the two papers described above, eating a Mediterranean diet which includes olive oil or nuts is a very healthy type of diet.  Does your olive oil need to be “extra-virgin”?  Extra-virgin is cold-pressed and is the first pressing of the olive.  It is less processed than its non-virginal counterparts, and so has more of the natural substances intact.  There are lots of oils that claim extra-virgin status, which don’t quite live up to the name or reputation.  One must shop carefully.

I feel the benefits of a handful of nuts daily are there, but may not be as important as the overall habit of adherence to a Mediterranean diet.  I know at this time of year, close to Christmas, with cold weather and snow, and long nights with short days, the lure of all sorts of dietary indiscretions is strong.  Yet, be mindful of what you eat, as it does become you.  And grab that handful of nuts…

Pecan Tree

Another Pecan Tree

Citations:

Ying Bao, M.D., Sc.D., Jiali Han, Ph.D. et. al., Association of Nut Consumption with Total and Cause-Specific Mortality.  NEJM, 2013, 369:2001-2011.

Ramon Estruch, M.D., Ph.D., Emilio Ros, M.D., Ph.D., et. al., Primary Prevention of Cardiovascular Disease with a Mediterranean Diet.  NEJM, 2013, 368:1279-1290.

Running Philadelphia

Lining up to get in to the Philly Expo, 2013 Marathon

Lining up to get in to the Philly Expo, 2013 Marathon

We had to get up awfully early.  The start of the race was scheduled to be at seven AM, and the officials were recommending runners arrive by five AM to get through security.  That would mean a lot of time standing around waiting to start, in the dark, getting cold.  After Boston, it seems all of the US based marathons, and perhaps worldwide, I don’t know, have gone to higher levels of security around the start and finish of the races.  It seems a false sense of security, but I understand the motivation.  In Philly, we were told there would be security entrances at the staging area of the race and we should expect lines.  Hence, the reason for early arrival.  We compromised, with a knowledge that this being our hometown race, we could predict how things would go.

I set my alarm for 4:00.  I wanted to get a decent breakfast before heading out.  I ate a bowl of cereal and had a cup of freshly brewed coffee.  I bought the beans the day before at Old City Coffee at the Reading Terminal Market.  It has become my tradition, to go to the marathon expo at the Philadelphia Convention Center, pick up my number, browse the expo, then head over to Reading Terminal Market across the street.  I even know the route I will take through the market.  First, a stop at Metropolitan bakery, for a pain au levain and a loaf of cherry chocolate bread, because life is better with cherry chocolate bread.  Then I head to Downtown Cheese, to pick up something tasty, usually a goat gouda or morbier.  Then, it’s on to Old City Coffee for some of their freshly roasted beans.  At Old City Coffee I had a conversation with a young woman also buying coffee.  She asked if I was running tomorrow.

“Yes,”  I said.

“The full?” she asked.

“Yes, the full,” I said, smiling.

“I’m only running the half.  I started to train for the full but got distracted, and I’m just not ready for a full.”

She looked plenty young and fit enough to run an ultra if she wanted, and I felt a bit wistful, that someone could be perfectly satisfied running the half, knowing others would be running the full, and thinking she had done the right thing.  While waiting for our coffee, we talked about the course, how the crowds gather on Chestnut street, how the weather would be, and how early we had to show up the next day.  I then said “have fun tomorrow”, and headed back to meet my friends who had come to the expo with me, and were patiently waiting, actually having lunch, while I indulged my wants.

A group from my running club met at the train station for the five AM train into Philly.  There were plenty of others on the PATCO line from South Jersey heading in for the race.  We definitely were a bigger crowd than the normal 5:00 AM Sunday train sees.  We rode to the end of the line, 16th and Locust, then started walking to the Ben Franklin Parkway. It is more than a walk. We sped along, the adrenaline pumping up the pace and the chatter. We passed two closed Starbucks, and commented, “we’re up before the baristas.” As we reached the Ben Franklin Parkway, the crowd got thicker. There were entrance gates into the staging area for the runners, but we went through without a holdup. The security guards at the gates seemed to recognize who were runners, and just waved us on through. As we wandered up the parkway we saw the UPS trucks waiting to take our clear plastic personal items bags. We decided whoever makes clear plastic bags for marathons is having a banner year this year. Along a grassy stretch there were dozens of portable toilets with almost no line yet. We all stopped to use the facilities, not because we had to, but because the lines were so short. This is never the case at these big races. We then strolled over to sit at on the steps of the Washington Monument fountain in Eakins Oval. It was still early, about 6 AM, so we had another hour before the start.

20131126-220623.jpg

On the steps of the Washington memorial fountain, awaiting the start of the Philly marathon.  Photo by B.A.

I spoke to a young woman seated on our same steps. She was with her mother and father, who were not running today, but just making sure she was not alone in the crowd. I found out this was her second full marathon, but her father was on his way to running a marathon in all fifty states.  That, it would appear, was where the motivation came from for her to run.  He had completed about 20 states, and said Alaska was the most interesting so far.  The marathon, in Anchorage, is run during the summer solstice in the middle of the night.  He’s saving Hawai’i for last.

Another trip to the portable toilet was out of the question. The lines had grown tremendously, and the way the toilets were lined up facing each other, the lines melded into a confusing conglomeration. One didn’t know if one was coming or going.   As the start time grew nearer, we headed to the UPS trucks, dropped off our bags, and found our way to the corrals.  Unusual for this time of year, the temperature was balmy, in the mid 50’s.  I came with a throw-away long sleeve shirt, but decided to pitch it before the race started.

We lined up, and then, before you know it, we were off.  The course for Philly is a great urban course.  It starts down the Ben Franklin Parkway and past our incredibly ornate city hall.  The statue on top is known familiarly as Billy Penn, the founder of the city of brotherly love, and as now known also of sisterly affection.  Then, it’s down Arch Street, and over to the aptly named Race Street to Columbus Boulevard.  The route heads south to Washington Avenue, then in to South Philly.  South Philly has a character all its own.  In addition to the usual signs held up by fans, I spotted a permanent sign on the street which said, “The last car that parked here still hasn’t been found.”  Turning up South Street and heading west, the crowds had grown thick.  The nice weather had brought out a great number of spectators, and they were all very noisy and encouraging.  Then, its over to Chestnut Street, choked with fans to the point that the course got a little narrow in places.  The race was briefly interrupted by a taxi carrying a woman to Pennsylvania Hospital.  Over the Schuykill river, the race turns north through the Drexel University area, where celebrating frat boys are banging on pots as the runners go by.  Beyond that, the crowds thin considerably as the route heads past the Zoo.  Up and around the Belmont Plateau, and the Please Touch museum, the first offering of gels is provided.  The sponsor this year was Clif, so we got Clif Shots in all different flavors.  The last part of the first half heads down hill to West River Drive, along the Schuykill, then back to the Philadelphia Art Museum.  At this point, large signs attempt to direct the half-marathoners one way, and the marathoners the other, for the full trip out to Manayunk.

I was feeling pretty decent up to the half, but noticed my nemesis, muscle cramps, starting to threaten.  It was certainly early in the race for this to become a factor for me, and I was seriously considering  bailing at the half.  I would have finished the half in a decent but not earth shaking time.  But, my stubborn side would not allow it.  This would be my sixth consecutive Philadelphia Marathon, and I did not want to only finish a half, and break my streak.  Looking at it from a rational, objective view, who would care?  Would stopping at the half make me half a person, unworthy of honor?  Regardless of whatever logical argument I could have made, I made the illogical choice to run on.

I had arranged with my friend Tony to have a bottle of Gatorade for me at this point.  I almost missed him, looking on the wrong side of the street.  Fortunately, he was with another of our club members, the delightfully attractive Michele, who I didn’t miss, and I was able to grab my Gatorade and muster on.  Around the front of the art museum I went, heading out for the second half, the long slog out to Manayunk and back.  I was still going fairly well, with the occasional calf cramp sending one leg or the other out in a bizarre spasm.  Another club member had joined me at this point, Dave, running just to support us SJAC club members.  He’s a remarkably fast runner, and I felt guilty as I started to fall apart running with him.  I also caught up to my teammate Brian, normally much faster than me, who, it appears, was having a worse day than me.  The route goes out along Kelly Drive, past the famous boat house row, and along the Schuykill to the Falls Bridge.  This is the only part of the course I really don’t care for.  We have to go across the bridge, down a hill along the West river drive for a ways, then make a U-turn to come back up and across the bridge again, for the sole purpose of adding distance.

As we got back to the road to Manayunk, I started to have serious problems with the legs.  I was having not just cramps, but real pain, and my back, shoulders and arms were cramping up, too.  It made for an amusing sidelight.  As I grabbed a cup of water from a water stop and raised my arm to drink, my bicep and forearm muscles cramped, and I had to pull my arm down with the other hand to get it to straighten out.  By this time, I was already in Manayunk, and the only way back was to go the last six or seven miles, even if I had to walk.  Which was what I did.  Not the whole way, but a good part of it.  My terrific time tumbled, and the walking was all I could muster.  I noticed a good number of other runners who had succumbed to fatigue, or the wall, or whatever, and were walking, too.  It became a race of walkers.  I was jealous of the other runners who continued to zip by me, still able to run and even chat.  I stopped several times to stretch, and Dave, my friend from the club, who had lost me for a while, found me again and was very patient and encouraging.  Finally, as I neared the boat houses again, I had recovered sufficiently to run again.  Interestingly, the pacesetter for the 4:15 group, who had passed me a little earlier, seemed to be having his own troubles, and I passed him as I rounded the curve to the home stretch along the Parkway.  I have always said, “look good going out and coming in.”  What happens in-between, only I am privy to.  So, I looked as good as I could for the finish line.  I gave Mayor Nutter a high-five as I crossed the line with the Rocky theme playing loudly over the speakers.  The crowds were there and shouting, and the atmosphere, as always at this race, was very upbeat and positive.  I sidled along the line of recipients receiving their marathon medals, which this year were beautiful, large gold colored medals for the 20th anniversary of the race.  I didn’t need the mylar blanket, because the temperature had risen considerably and it was quite warm.  I got in line for my post-race snacks, and headed out to the UPS trucks to pick up my clear plastic clothing bag.

Another marathon done, I pondered about the way my muscles had failed me.  I was in very decent shape going in to this race, having done a 21 miler two weeks earlier in fine form.  It turned out the following day, I had, perhaps, a partial explanation.  I developed a fever, sore throat and runny nose, and felt completely washed out.  I think I was in the pro-dromal stage of a virus, and that explains the muscle soreness and cramping of everything, not just my legs.  I was a real sight the day after the race at work.  It is my standard practice to always take the stairs, no elevators for me.  As I hobbled in pain on the stairs, particularly going down, sniffling, and moving slowly, my surgical residents were probably wondering why I would do this to myself.  I don’t have a ready answer, but I do know that I am already planning next years assault on the marathon circuit.  We, my running partners and I, are thinking about Minneapolis/Saint Paul.  We hear it is a great marathon, and perhaps a little easier course than Philly.

Brandon Runs New York

Brandon, in the SJAC jacket, organizing our club's Great Grace race.

Brandon, in the center in the SJAC jacket, organizing our club’s Great Grace race.

People living on the east coast (of the US, for my non-US readers), cannot forget hurricane Sandy.  For some, it was a big storm which didn’t do much damage.  For others along the coastline and in New York and parts of New England, it was a devastating storm from which many have still not recovered,  although it has been a year.  Even if there was recovery, in this campaign season we in New Jersey are constantly reminded of how our fearless governor stood face to face with the storm and chased it away, then went out to help our citizens recover, walking arm in arm with the president.  It made for some strange politics, now replayed as political ads.  It also created mayhem for the New York City marathon, which was cancelled at the last minute.

The New York City marathon started as several loops around central park in 1970, organized by Distance Running Hall-of-famer Fred Lebow.  At the time it had a starting lineup of 125 runners, 55 of whom actually crossed the finish line.  The winner, Gary Muhrcke, finished in 2:31;38, while Mr. Lebow finished in 4:12:09.  Since then it has grown to be the largest marathon run annually, and now traverses all five boroughs.  Staten Island is included by the race starting on the Verrazano Narrows bridge, then it progresses through Brooklyn, Queens, the Bronx, and finishes in Central Park in Manhattan.

Since its start in 1970, it has only been cancelled once, in 2012.  As Sandy hit New York, causing flooding, destruction of houses, buildings, roads and tunnels, electricity outages, and isolation of communities, the Road Runner Club of New York, and Mayor Bloomberg, pushed on, wanting to show the world that the dominant spirit of New Yorkers could overcome anything.  About 36 hours before the race, it was cancelled when the organizers and the mayor recognized the severe impact of the storm on the citizens of the boroughs through which the race would be run.  Instead of using sorely needed generators to provide emergency backup power, these generators were used to heat tents along the route for the runners’ support.  The race was cancelled, and tens of thousands of runners who had gathered in New York were turned away.  Some used their energy to volunteer, helping hurricane victims.  Others, having come from far off points around the globe, returned home, peeved that the race had not been called off before they made the trip.  The sponsors of the race eventually refunded the entry fee to several thousand runners, while others opted for a chance to run in 2013.  My friend and running partner Brandon chose a 2013 entry.

Among several things that Brandon lives for, his beautiful wife and their adopted special-needs son, his faith and his church, running is a very big part of his life.  He ran track in high school, and still relates stories of the races he ran and competitors he raced against.  He has run many marathons, among them multiple Boston Marathons.  He has a tie hanger loaded with Boston Marathon finishers medals on the wall in his living room.  It also displays medals from London and several others, including one from New York.  He ran New York in 1993 at the prime age of 26, finishing with a gun time of 3:02:28.  This was before the modern era of chip timing.

Brandon is a very hard trainer.  He regularly runs upwards of 60 miles per week, mixing long distances at marathon pace, speed work and recovery runs with core training, stretching, and foam roller rolling (for lack of a better term).  Often when I drop by on Saturday mornings for a run, he has a video on in the background of a DVD for core workouts on standby.  The intro shows a woman on a mat raising and lowering her midsection endlessly.  No wonder he enjoys doing core workouts.  Our Saturday morning runs are at marathon pace for me, but a very slow recovery run for him.  He is driven by the fact that our club has some very fast runners who are older than he, and he uses them as a stimulus to keep his game going.  He is also a terrific coach for runners like me who benefit from his years of training and racing experience.

Brandon heads to New York today.  He has plans to take the train to Penn Station, get his number and other swag at the expo, then check in at his hotel.  As he put it, he’ll spend $425 for the privilege of a few hours sleep in a fine New York City hotel, only to have to leave before sunrise to make it to the start line.  Twenty years since he last ran, he has a very good shot at breaking his previous New York City marathon time.  His friends and supporters will be watching the race on TV and on-line, wishing him a great run with the wind always at his back, not too hot or too cold, no stepping in potholes, and a fine finish in Central Park.

GO BRANDON!

Wineglass, Warm and Humid

The frequently flooded Chemung River, a tributary of the Susquehanna, in Corning, N.Y.

The frequently flooded Chemung River, a tributary of the Susquehanna, in Corning, N.Y.

I didn’t expect western New York in October to be warm and humid, but then I didn’t know what to expect.  When we train for a marathon, we start months in advance with a plan to build miles and endurance.  This summer, we were slogging through many warm and humid days.  I was hoping for cool and brisk, but that is not the way it turned out.

Our trip up to the Wineglass Marathon, held October 6, 2013, started with a very nice cruise through Philadelphia and up the northeast extension of the Pennsylvania Turnpike.  This in itself is a cause for celebration, knowing what this stretch of highway can be like.  We stopped at Clark’s Summit, north of Scranton, for lunch with a good friend.  On we went further north after lunch, around Binghamton, NY, then westward along the Southern Tier Expressway through Owego and Elmira.  We passed the bridge with the village name of Horseheads chiseled in large letters.  This village has the distinction of being dedicated to the pack horses of Major-General John Sullivan of the revolutionary army.  The bleached skulls of the horses make for an interesting history.  But never mind this distraction,  we were on our way to Corning.

The expo for the marathon is held in the Corning YMCA, in a fortress of an old red brick building.  It is not a big expo, in fact, rather small, but then this is not a huge marathon.  The marathon and the half marathon are capped at 2500 runners each.

In front of the Corning YMCA, home of the expo.

In front of the Corning YMCA, home of the expo.

Picking up my number on the indoor track at the YMCA

Picking up my number on the indoor track at the YMCA

Encouraging signs from my wife for me and clubmate Steve.

Encouraging signs from my wife for me and clubmate Steve.

I picked up my number, and the number of my friend Steve, who was going to arrive a bit late.  The friendly young lady behind the rail took Steve’s word by phone that she could trust me and allow me to pick up for him.  Fortunately, I remembered to check for safety pins, too.

After we picked up our numbers, we headed a little out of town to our motel, the Hampton Inn, of Corning.  I am a fan of Hampton Inns.  They always seem so comfortable and clean, and the complementary wi-fi and breakfast are nice benefits.  We had a little trouble finding the Inn.  We knew the address, but all we could find was a Denny’s and a gas station.  Then, we spotted it.  It was behind the Denny’s a little ways, with absolutely no sign directing one in to the parking area.  No matter, we parked and went to check in.  The pleasant woman behind the desk asked me my name, and then informed me that she did not see my reservation.  Of course, I had made the reservation months ago, and even got an email from the hotel advising us that construction was going on, that there would be noise during the day, and that all of their facilities would remain open.  Another front desk person came over, and they re-examined their records.  As it turned out, the reservation I had made was for two nights starting the night before.  I originally planned to come up Friday night.  Since I didn’t show, they gave away my room and cancelled my reservation.  They informed me they were completely booked, but that they would try to help find me a room in another hotel.  Naturally, the marathoners had booked everything in several miles.  Just as I was getting despondent, and here’s where they really shined, they suddenly realized that one room was not taken.  This was a strange, very large, room on the first floor, close to the lobby, equipped with a board room-like table and chairs, a kitchenette, and a Murphy bed instead of a regular bed.  While all the other rooms had been recently renovated, this room had not, and was in the process of a make-over.  We, my wife and I, were more than happy to take it.  The front desk person even assured me she would remove any charge for my missing the night before.

After freshening up a bit, we joined with the other club members staying at the Hampton Inn and headed back to town for dinner.  We found a place to park on Market Street, the main shopping and dining street in Corning.  They have an unusual way of decorating shops on Market Street, with whimsical signage and artwork.

A Dali-esque clock suspended from a second story window.

A Dali-esque clock suspended from a second story window.

It appears to be a boy dipping his finger in a pond.

It appears to be a boy dipping his finger in a pond.

Steve called a few months ago to the restaurant, Sorge’s, an old, established Italian restaurant in Corning.  He was assured that even though they don’t take reservations, they are a large restaurant which can accommodate a large crowd, and we would not have much of a wait.  As you might expect, Sorge’s was packed, and we were told there would be about an hour or so wait.  We were a hungry crew, and did not want to spend an hour thinking about food, and then another hour possibly waiting for it to arrive at the table.  Right down the street there was a small establishment which appeared to have tables set up for an impromptu dinner.  It was the Palate Cafe and Juice Bar, and they were serving a pasta dinner for the marathoners that night.  We inquired, and it turned out a large party had skipped out on their reservation so they had room for us.  Two in our group, Sara and Brian, wanted a more normal restaurant experience, and chose to return to Sorge’s, but the rest of us settled on the home-cooked style of the dinner at Palate.  It appears Palate specializes in wheat grass juice, and their website has a list of forty benefits and things to do with wheat grass juice, some of which I would never consider.  Check for yourselves if you are curious.

Steve and Caren at Palate Cafe

Steve and Caren at Palate Cafe

Tony, Kat and Frank getting ready to have a pasta feast.

Tony, Kat and Frank getting ready to have a pasta feast.

Kat , my number one supporter, and me, Frank

Kat , my number one supporter, and me, Frank

The dinner at the Palate Cafe and Juice Bar was acceptable, not spectacular, but it was pasta.  We felt we had served our bodies well in the carbohydrate loading department.  It was a family style affair, though, seeing the steaming pots and the rest of the preparation area assembled in a corner of the store usually used for other purposes.  After dinner, we met up at a small bar down the street for a beer, the one beer I would have the night before the big event.  We were definitely out-of-place at this locals hang-out.  There were a few of the regulars standing outside smoking, and Tony seemed a bit intimidated by them, although he’s a lot bigger and stronger than they were.  Inside, the choices for beer were limited, and they definitely focused on the usual, Bud, Miller and Coors.  I asked for a Sam Adams, which was on tap, and without any evil look the bartender poured me one.  I was grateful.  Caren paid the tab for us and we sat at a small table near a group ranging from grandma to young adult-on-iPhone playing electronic darts.  Now they did give us an evil eye or two, having crowded in on their territory.  Our nervousness about the next day started to come out as we sat and drank, thinking about the weather, and the prediction for warm and humid conditions.  After the beer, we drove back to our hotel in relative silence.

Kat and I settled back in our room, the large space intended for meetings, and got into the Murphy bed.  It was no regular bed, with awkward straps holding up a thin mattress.  One had to adjust one’s body so that the hips and shoulders appropriately fit in the hollows created by the straps.  I slowly drifted into dream world, thinking about what to wear the next day.

The morning of the marathon I arose early, waking at my usual 5:00 AM.  I checked the weather on my iPad.  It didn’t look too daunting, with light rain and temperature in the mid 60’s at that moment.  I could hear the rain outside, and it sounded a bit more than “light”.  I decided to go with shorts and my club singlet, and my Saucony compression knee-high socks.  Donning some light cover up pants and a jacket, I headed out to get breakfast, nicely set out for us runners by the hotel staff.  They came in early to set up, since they usually don’t start serving until 6:00.  A number of other runners were there, having a coffee and some oatmeal.  My club mates, Steve, Brian and Tony soon arrived, and we had breakfast.  I went with the oatmeal, too, but Brian went for the pour-your-own waffle, freshly cooked in the waffle iron.  After a bit more conversation and a second cup of coffee, we gathered our stuff and headed out.  Caren was nice enough to drive Steve, Brian and me to the start, in Bath, N.Y., while Tony headed separately for the buses in Corning.  Since he was doing the half marathon, his start was half way down the route from our start.  We gathered up a hill in Bath at a Philips Lighting Company plant.  We were not aware at the time that the plant had closed, laying off 280 workers.  It appears that due to changes in demands in the home lighting industry, this plant made the wrong type of bulbs, and so rather than change the technology in the plant, the company, based in the Netherlands, decided to close it.

The start area was well equipped for the runners.  There were plenty of portable toilets, and UPS trucks were waiting to take our bags to the finish line.  Since the Boston bombing, all running events where bag check is allowed have gone to allowing only clear plastic bags provided by the race.  It’s a bit like making every passenger remove his or her shoes to board a plane, since there was an attempt to set off an explosive in a shoe in the famous “shoe-bomber” incident.  As we gathered for the start, it was misty and a bit warm.  The runners lined up, there was a very nice rendition of the Star Spangled Banner by a local singer, and then we were off.

I get an odd feeling starting a marathon.  I don’t know whether I’ll cramp up or when, whether my training will prevail, or how long it will take me to get to the finish.  One thing on my side, I’ve finished every one of the eight marathons I’ve run to date.  As we headed down the hill I was reminded of last year’s Steamtown Marathon.  That start was a long down hill run, but this one was only about a half mile before the road flattened out.  In spite of the warm, humid conditions, I was feeling alright.  I kept reminding myself to keep my pace in check, and I kept it around an 8’35” pace, according to my trusty Garmin.  I have the 305 model, with a large face which one of my friends referred to as a Dell laptop on my wrist.  It is easy to read on the run, though!

The early part of the race was very nice.  My pace was good, the legs felt good, and the scenery was quite attractive.  We could see the surrounding hills with trees turning colors, and there were ponds reflecting the colors.  We passed through a few very small towns, and some of the locals came out to cheer us on, but they looked a bit sleepy, standing by the side of the road, coffee cup in hand, and not saying much.  Moving on, Steve, running with me, and I were greeted enthusiastically by Caren and Kat, who were driving from cheering stop to cheering stop to give us support.  I stopped for a moment to let Kat get a photo, but she yelled “keep going”, and I did.

Frank (L) and Steve (R) moving on.

Frank (L) and Steve (R) moving on.

Hey Steve, how much farther do we have to run?

Hey Steve, how much farther do we have to run?

It did occur to me that I was losing a lot of fluid.  My clothing was soaked and clinging to me, there was a constant flow of sweat from the brim of my hat, and it wasn’t raining, so the wetness was coming from me.  I was stopping at every water stop, alternating Gatorade and water, and trying my best to keep well hydrated.  The trick to drinking on the run is to crimp the cup.  That way only a third of it sloshes out of the cup on me and my shoes, and two-thirds goes down the right way.  We got to the half way point still feeling fairly good.  By this time, the crowds had picked up and were very enthusiastic.  After passing through the 13 mile mark, there is a significant hill, but it is the last of the real climbs.  As we got into the second half, I started to feel the first signs of trouble from my legs.  There were little twinges of muscle spasm coming from my calves, and I was getting concerned.  The last time I passed her, my wife held out a water bottle filled with sports drink, which I grabbed and downed along the route.  I also was taking gels, about one every six miles.

Caren, heading out to give Steve some encouragement.

Caren, heading out to give Steve some encouragement.

She may have been telling him to "be careful, we need you at home".

She may have told him to “be careful, we need you at home”.

He was looking better just a moment ago.

He was looking better just a moment ago.

Perhaps the photos project the warm and steamy conditions we were facing.  The rubber bands had snapped, the legs had turned to pudding.  By around mile 18, both Steve and I were shot.  In spite of working hard to stay well hydrated, it seemed the loss of sweat, and the inability to get rid of body heat had taken a toll on us, and we both wound up walking a ways.  It really is amazing how much time one loses off one’s goal when the walking starts.  At this point I recognized that my hopes for a Boston qualifier were not going to become reality, so I did what I could to make it to the finish without hurting myself too badly.

Even the supporters along the route were a bit subdued.

Even the supporters along the route were a bit subdued.

My legs were toying with me.  One moment I was able to run, the next they were cramping up and sticking out to the point I could hardly stand.  I was reminded of Peter Sellers’ arm in his role as Dr. Strangelove, and his “alien hand syndrome”.

Walking was the best I could muster around miles 18-20.

Walking was the best I could muster around miles 18-22.

After some walking, some more Gatorade, and another gel, I felt revived enough to run again, although I had completely lost my stride.  I was able to manage around a ten minute mile, and I kept trudging along.  I noticed an awful lot of other runners doing the same at this point.  My plan, what I had practiced for, was to pick up my pace at this point to go for a good finish.  That plan will have to wait for another day.

Back to a running stride, and trying to keep smiling.

Back to a running stride, and trying to keep smiling.

About the last four miles we headed through a park along a bike path, and I could see we were starting to get close to finishing.  The legs, while not working well, were at least working, and I managed to carry through to the finish line.  The last stretch before reaching Market street is over a bridge, with a slight rise.  This gave me cause for concern, but my fears were unnecessary, as I crested the relatively minor hump without incident.  On the other side of the bridge, Tony, having finished his half marathon, was cheering on runners and spotted me.  He yelled “go Frank, you’re looking good”, and it definitely helped.  The finish down Market Street is a very nice finish.  The crowds were out and yelling for us, and I could see the finish line in the distance.  I saw a bank sign with the temperature showing 80 degrees on that last stretch.  As I crossed, it was a great relief to stop.  I needed fluids, and I quickly downed two bottles of water and grabbed a third.  I received my medal, a large glass medallion in purple, hanging from a broad white ribbon.  I walked through the food line, took some broth and a few other items, and met up with Kat, who had spied me on the final stretch.  It was great to see her smiling face at the end of the race, and have her support all along the way.

After the race, we headed down towards the Market Street Brewing Company, where we all met up for lunch.  Brian had turned in a terrific performance, given the conditions, finishing in the 3:34 range.  I had come in at 4:21, and Steve a bit behind that.  We all agreed that the race organization and course were very good.  I would certainly like to do this marathon again.  I just would rather do it when it is in the 40-60 degree range and dry, not 70-80 degrees and humid.  But, one can’t plan that part of the marathon, and you take the conditions as they are.

Brian, who turned in a great time.

Brian, who turned in a great time.

Brian's wife Sara, displaying the sleeveless "T" look for a hot day in October.

Brian’s wife Sara, displaying the sleeveless “T” look for a hot day in October.

Half marathon man Tony, who will be running Boston this spring.

Half marathon man Tony, who will be running Boston this spring.

Steve, who suffered the most this marathon.

Steve, who suffered the most this marathon.

Kat and humble author Frank, two beers down.

Kat and humble author Frank, two beers down.

Wheeling around Western Mass.

Picturesque New England farm in western Massachusetts

Picturesque New England farm in western Massachusetts

I’ve discovered that running is not bad training for cycling, but cycling does not really cross train one for running. Nevertheless, it is a decent break in the marathon training schedule to take a few days off from running. What better way to maintain some cardiovascular fitness than to spend four days cycling in the hills of Western Massachusetts?
I have been heading up to Northampton, “Noho”, every summer for the last ten years to spend time road cycling with an outfit called Ride Noho. My discovery of this cycling camp experience started with a trip to Italy in 2002, to spend a week cycling at the Italian Cycling Center. This is a cycling camp created by the curmudgeonly George Pohl, who, it was said, knows a whole lot about cycling, but won’t tell you all you need to know. The idea of the camp was to have a home base in one place and take rides in different directions each day. It is based in the tiny town called Borso del Grappa, or “pocket” of (Mount) Grappa, which is at the edge of the Veneto, and at the foothills of the Dolomites. I spent a challenging week there with two of my friends, going on rides up switchback roads into alpine highlands above Valdobbiadene, through narrow paved streets of towns like Asiago, and plummeting back down the mountains to neighboring Basano. Our fellow riders were accomplished road cyclists, most of whom spent some time in amateur racing. George kept the challenge going in the evening during prosecco hour, when we had gathered at the outdoor patio to enjoy a glass of the area’s signature sparkling wine.  George read the menu choices only once, and stared disapprovingly, and silently, at anyone who dared ask him to repeat an option.
Looking for a similar experience of challenging cycling without the expense of traveling to Italy, I discovered Ride Noho. It turns out the creator of this outfit, Aldo Tiboni, had also been to the Italian Cycling Center. Instead of looking for a similar experience, he created one, although, as he points out, without the grumpy attitude. Aldo wanted the same approach, i.e., have a home base and take off on different rides each day.  For a very reasonable daily fee, one is provided overnight stay in a hotel or motel in Northampton, a delicious breakfast at Sylvester’s restaurant, a ride fitted to the abilities of the cyclists, and lunch at another Northampton restaurant.  Dinner is not provided, but Northampton and the surrounding areas, including Amherst, have an overabundance of excellent choices for dinner.

Aldo Tiboni, of Ride Noho

Aldo Tiboni, of Ride Noho

Aldo, the creator of Ride Noho, is a remarkably nice person.  He’s also one mean cyclist.  He seems to live for the ride, at least in summer, when he goes out almost daily with groups of varying skill, taking them on rides through the undulating countryside of the northern and western parts of Massachusetts.  Accompanying him, and providing inspiration for anyone who feels sex or small size is an inhibiting factor, is Elaine, his beautiful and athletically gifted wife.  Elaine is a dynamo disguised in the sweetest demeanor.  She can hang with all but the fastest cyclists, climb as if she’s dancing on the pedals, and keeps a mother hen’s eye on everyone to keep them safe.

Eileen, being the center of attention, deservedly so.

Elaine, being the center of attention, deservedly so. (photo from 2011 trip)

Over the last ten years I’ve had many great rides with Aldo and Elaine.  We’ve done the Cosby ride, the backwards Cosby, the ride out to Shelburne Falls, out past Amherst, and taken a few climbs up the short but steep climb to Sugarloaf Mountain, in Deerfield.  We have done a one hundred mile ride into Vermont and back.  The most memorable rides, though, have been our climbs to the peak of Mount Greylock.

Mount Greylock in the distance

View from afar of Mount Greylock

Mount Greylock, the origin of the name is a bit obscure, sits in the upper western part of Massachusetts, in Adams, near Williamstown.  It is the highest mountain in Massachusetts, and has an impressive view from the top extending more than 100 miles.  While it is possible to make a long cycling trip starting in Northampton and finishing at Mount Greylock, or even doing a 100-plus mile round trip, our usual approach is to drive to the ranger station on the southern route up the mountain and start our ride from there.  This past August we did just that.  My friend from college, Keith, who lives near Boston, and I were the only two guests of Aldo and Elaine this week.  We started out early from Northampton with our bikes secure in the rack atop Aldo’s van.  We stopped along the way at the marvelously named “BreadEuphoria” bakery in Haydenville for some coffee and a pastry.  About an hour later we arrived at the ranger station.  Meeting us there was Bob, friend of Aldo and Elaine, and co-leader on many of their rides.  Bob is in his 60’s, eats vegan, and lives an idyllic life in the hills of western Massachusetts, doing what he likes, which is cycling.  On the off chance Aldo has attracted some hammer heads who can really move or climb, Bob is there to work them until they are exhausted, and have gotten their money’s worth.  To Bob, it seems like a walk in the park.

Bob and Aldo

Bob and Aldo, getting their bikes ready for Mount Greylock.

Since neither Keith nor I are in the category of “hammer head”, Bob also serves another function, which is to be absolutely entertaining with his knowledge of the history of the area, his wry sense of humor, and general good nature.

The ride starts from the parking lot of the ranger station with a fast descent down Rockwell Road.  We then do a long route around the base of Mount Greylock, taking on a few hill climbs to get the legs ready, and stopping for a quick restroom break at Williams College in Williamstown.  Each time I have done this ride I have been reminded by my companions what a great art museum Williams College has.  One of these days, I will need to go check it out.  Williamstown is also the staging town for the start of the Long Trail in Vermont, which starts a few miles northeast at the end of Pine Cobble Road.  That’s another of my desires, to someday hike the Long Trail in Vermont.  Leaving Williamstown, we continue on to Notch Road, and the start of the ascent.  From this, the northern approach the elevation starts at about 1200 feet.  The route to the top is about 8 miles, and the summit is at 3491 feet.  The climbing starts quickly and sections of the climb reach the upper teens in percent grade.  One does get a little break from time to time where the road almost levels, but then the climbing starts again.  At around 3200 feet there is a mile of flattish rolling road which is a nice respite before the final climb to the summit.  While not the longest or most difficult climb I’ve done, this ranks up there in the top ten, and has certain characteristics which make it stand out.  It is a particularly scenic climb through natural forest.  The road surface, while pretty good most of the time, does have ruts, ice heaves and warning bumps where hiking trails cross.  Car traffic is light, thankfully.  And the view from the top is very impressive.

We all started together although Bob quickly went off the front, presumably to make sure no earthquakes had taken out sections of the road.  Aldo was behind him, but not by far.  Keith, Elaine and I started together, but I stopped along the way to snap a photo of an odd looking building.

Odd structure along Notch Road, up Mount Greylock.

Odd structure along Notch Road, up Mount Greylock.

Keith and Elaine kept going, while I tooled along, keeping a steady climbing pattern going.  In the saddle at my lowest gear, out of the saddle a couple of sprockets up, then back to sitting kept my climbing going.  Close to the top, I caught up with Keith and Elaine.  While Elaine was just being her protective self, she could very easily have shot up the mountain faster, Keith and I were dragging a bit as we crested the summit.

Near the summit of Mount Greylock.

Near the summit of Mount Greylock.

By reaching the summit, one joins a list of accomplished adventurers and naturists who have climbed the peak before.  This list includes Timothy Dwight IV, president of Yale University in 1799, the writers Nathaniel Hawthorne, Herman Melville, and Henry David Thoreau, and the physician and writer Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr.  In 1929, a segment of the Appalachian Trail was cut to crest the mountain, and since then a multitude of backpackers have visited the peak.  Intrepid skiers of the 1930’s cut a ski run on the mountain called the Thunderbolt Ski Run.  It almost faded to overgrown obscurity until the late 1990’s when it was cleared of trees and brush.  Now, it is a challenging, steep run taken by skiers and borders who hike up, then descend the ungroomed, unlit, and unpatrolled fast and steep run.

Bob, Frank, Elaine, Aldo and Keith at the summit of Greylock, with the Veterans War Memorial in the background.

Bob, Frank, Elaine, Aldo and Keith at the summit of Greylock, with the Veterans War Memorial in the background.

College friends Keith and Frank at the Greylock summit.

College friends Keith and Frank at the Greylock summit.

View looking east from the summit of Mount Greylock (2010 photo).

View looking east from the summit of Mount Greylock (2010 photo).

The weather at the summit can change quickly.  As we arrived, it was nice and sunny, with a great view.  Moments later we were enshrouded in a fine, chilly mist.  That was our signal to head back down.  The descent is not as screamingly fast as one would like, taking the southern route.  In fact, there’s a bit of a climb half way down, but eventually we made it back to the ranger station.  We cleaned up in the restroom, got the bikes back in the racks on top of the van, said adieu to Bob, and drove back to Northampton.

The last two days of our stay this year in Northampton we had two other rides through the bucolic surrounding countryside, including one through Amherst and past the home of Emily Dickinson, famous poet and recluse.  Her house is now a museum dedicated to her life and her works. Again, this is a worthwhile destination for exploring, like the art museum at Williams College, but one for another trip.  Not having read much of her poetry, but being familiar with it, I searched online for a collection of her works.  What I found astounded me, a 3000 plus page collection, only to find that almost all of it was published after her death.

Emily Dickenson House

Emily Dickinson House, Amherst, Massachusetts

The last night in town Keith and I ate at Northampton’s Argentine steakhouse, Caminito, reminiscing about old college days, rides we’d taken, and keeping each other up to date on what career paths our kids, now in their twenties, are taking.

Aldo and Elaine provide an excellent cycling experience with Ride Noho, for all levels of riders.  But my trip to Noho is just as much about getting together with an old friend (or several, when we have a larger group), and unhitching from the stress of daily work.  As for my upcoming marathon, well, we’ll just have to see how it goes.  I’m feeling pretty decent with my training, and I don’t think taking off the four days from the running schedule will seriously impact my performance.

Frank K.

Summer cooking for runners: Fish Taco Dinner

A monkfish in it's natural element.

A monkfish in it’s natural element.

Summer is going fast.  Here we are, already in August, and it seems the autumn races will be on us in no time.  But while it is still here, summer is the time to enjoy cooking on the grill, and eating the fresh produce available locally.  Certainly there is an abundance of fresh vegetables and fruits now.  This report will focus on a nice way to enjoy grilled fish.

The fish taco has a great many variations, and there are those who would argue for one over another, one being more “authentic”.  Paying no attention to purists, this is my version of this dish, along with an accompanying vegetable medley.

Menu:  Fish Tacos (or fish fajitas)

Bean, Corn and Pepper medley

The main attraction of this dish is the grilled fish.  Two of my favorites for making fish tacos are Mahi Mahi, otherwise known as dolphin fish:

Mahi Mahi

Mahi Mahi

and monkfish, a really bizarre bottom dweller known as the “poor man’s lobster.”  It is also known as having all head and tail and no body, and the tail, cheeks and liver are the parts that people eat:

Monkfish in the market

Monkfish in the market

In most markets, one won’t see the whole monkfish, just the tail portion.  Both of these fish are generally available, and are not considered endangered.  There is a tagging program for monkfish run by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration of the US government, and the website has some very interesting information on this fish, as well as great photos.

The mahi mahi is a tender, tasty fish which is very lean.  It can be cooked directly on the grill, but I prefer to grill it on foil, to protect it.

Mahi mahi filet prepared for grilling.

Mahi mahi filet prepared for grilling.

I used a mango chipotle marinade on the top half, for the fish tacos, and a sesame soy marinade on the bottom half, for another dinner.  On the grill, the cooking time varies depending on the intensity of the heat and the thickness of the fish.  It is done when it is flaky and cooked white all the way through.

Mahi mahi sharing the grill with some bison burgers and sliced yams.

Mahi mahi sharing the grill with some bison burgers and sliced yams.

I cook the monkfish the same way, on foil to protect it.  Monkfish is a lot denser than mahi mahi, yet it is still very lean.

Shredded cabbage

Shredded cabbage

Black Bean and Corn Salsa

Black Bean and Corn Salsa

Avocado

Avocado

Assembling the tacos requires the following ingredients:

tortillas (of your choice, corn or flour, but they should be the large ones)

grilled fish

shredded cabbage

Muir Glen Organic Black Bean & Corn Salsa, medium hot

ripe avocado

light pepper ranch salad dressing

The fish can be used right off the grill, fresh and hot.  It can also be refrigerated once it is cooked and it is still good for a few days.

Tortilla with monkfish.  This was grilled with a fajita marinade.

Tortilla with monkfish. This was grilled with a fajita marinade.

Next comes the fresh, shredded cabbage.

Next comes the fresh, shredded cabbage.

Spoon some of the salsa over the fish and cabbage.

Spoon some of the salsa over the fish and cabbage.

Add some avocado slices to top it off.

Add some avocado slices to top it off.

Add a drizzle of light pepper ranch salad dressing on top.  This adds a little creamy sweetness to counter the heat of the salsa.  Then, wrap it up!

 

Black and White Bean, Black Eyed Peas, Corn and Pepper side dish:

This is my wife’s recipe, and she is the cook for this cold dish.

Ingredients:

grilled corn on the cob, four ears

two ripe Jersey tomatoes, chopped small

one large can of black beans, 1lb. 13oz., rinsed

one can of small white beans, 15.5oz., rinsed

one can of black eyed peas, 15.5oz., rinsed

two bell peppers, one green, one red, chopped in small pieces

six green onions, diced

one quarter cup of chopped cilantro

Ken’s Light Caesar dressing or red wine and vinegar dressing

We start by grilling the corn shucked and straight on the grill, to give it a nice char.  This enhances the flavor of the corn.  The corn is cut off the cob and placed in a large bowl.  The other ingredients are added.  Finally, we add a dressing of Ken’s Light Caesar dressing, or some other such as red wine vinegar dressing, to give it some zing.  Mix it all up and serve.

For a beverage to go with this meal, here are some suggestions:

Kona Brewing Company Longboard Lager, a malty lager which complements fish tacos, if only because of it’s Hawaiian heritage.  The Kona one buys on the mainland is brewed here, not in Hawai’i, but according to the Kona recipe.

Iced tea, can’t go wrong with this.

Milagro Farm Estate Grown Rosé of Sangiovese, a dry rosé which matches well with the spicy fish.  If you happen to live in San Diego, seek this one out.  If not, you’ll probably need to find another rosé, preferably dry and medium bodied.

Today was an “almost too good to be true” day.  No rain, blue sky with an artists display of cumulus clouds, and dry, moderate temperatures.  I had a good fourteen mile run today, at a very decent pace.  It was such a relief not to run in murderous heat and humidity.  I’m looking forward to enjoying a couple of these tacos for dinner this evening.

¡Buen Provecho! and happy running.

Summer Pasta Dinner for Runners

Summer on the Farm

Here’s a suggestion for a nice pasta dinner for keeping healthy and refueling in the summer months. This took me about an hour to prepare, and I used a blender for the sauce.

oster

 

 

 

 

Menu:

Salad: mixed greens with tomato, mushrooms, avocado and raisins

Main Course: Organic Sprouted Whole Grain Penne Pasta with organic chicken sausage and tomato sauce

Desert: Ben and Jerry’s Liz Lemon Frozen Greek Yogurt with Blueberry Lavender Swirl.

Ingredients:

Salad: mixed organic greens (I like half spinach, half mixed spring greens)
Organic Tomato
Sliced organic mushrooms
1/4 avocado, diced. If you can find organic, go for it.
Organic raisins
Dressing of your choice. Honey mustard or Balsamic Vinegar and Olive Oil go well with this.

Pasta: organic sprouted whole grain penne pasta. The sprouted grain frees up natural sugars in
the grain, giving it a better flavor than typical whole grain pasta.

Organic Sprouted Whole Grain Penne Pasta

Organic Sprouted Whole Grain Penne Pasta

Sauce:  1 28 oz. can organic whole peeled tomatoes

1 6 oz. can organic tomato paste

organic Italian style chicken sausages, one 12 oz. package

spices to your preference.  I used home grown basil and spicy oregano, dried onion, dried pepper flakes, salt, ground black pepper, and

a touch of garlic powder.  I’m not a big fan of garlic.

Preparation:

Start with the sauce.  A blender is necessary for this step.  Heat the chicken sausages whole in a frying pan.  These usually come precooked, but the addition of a little browning on the skin makes for a tasty sausage.  Add a touch of olive oil or cooking oil spray to the pan, since they don’t have much fat.  Empty the can of tomatoes and the tomato paste into the blender.   Add the spices.  Blend.  You should make a good, thick puree with this method.  Once the sausages are browned, take them from the pan and cut them into half inch slices.  Add them back to the pan and pour in the sauce.  Simmer the sauce while you are making the rest of the meal.

The pasta:  boil water.  Simple, no?  Add the pasta and a pinch of salt.  Boil to preference, but be aware, there is a narrow range of done to al dente for this type of pasta.  Too much cooking and it turns to mush.  Drain.

Salad:  mix greens, tomatoes, sliced mushrooms, avocado and raisins together.  Add a dressing of your choice.

Sit down and enjoy your home made creation.  The salad has the nice touch of the creamy avocado, which I love in a salad.  The pasta was surprisingly tasty for whole wheat pasta.  The meal is relatively low in fat, made from mostly organic sources, and is easy to prepare.  The first time I made this my wife commented the sauce was too bland for her liking, so I spiced it up the second time.  The addition of spicy oregano is unique.  You can make yours as spicy or different as you like, since the sauce is basic and waiting to be customized.  For an accompanying beverage, try Victory Prima Pils, or a dry rose.  Or, just some iced tea.

As a desert in the summer, the Liz Lemon is a perfect blend of sweet and low calories.  I found it delicious.

Ben and Jerry's Greek Frozen Yogurt Liz Lemon with Blueberry Lavender Swirl

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