That Time Again

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Hi, Buckaroos.  Marathon training time again.  Gonna try to slide one by once more.

Yes, I got out early this morning.  I hit the pavement at 5:45 AM, to start my 20 miler today.  My plan was to get around seven miles in before our 7:00 AM group run, which is 12.5 miles, roughly, and have a half mile extra to do at the end.  I am training for the Twin Cities Marathon, Minneapolis and Saint Paul, October 1, 2017.

When one starts out that early on a Sunday in late August, the sun has not yet come up, and it is nice and peaceful.  No lawn crews with their gas-powered leaf blowers sending dust up into the air.  Very little traffic.  The houses are silent as the occupants slumber, completely unaware of the runner going by.  Even the locusts have dimmed their din.  A couple of crickets are still at the party.

What does occur is the senses, hearing, smelling and seeing, picking up little things that would ordinarily get missed.  As I stepped out on my front porch, I took a sip from my water bottle, set down my back pack and second running shirt on top, switched on my Garmin, waited for it to register the numerous satellites it follows, and headed out.  For the first mile and a half, things were very quiet.  At about that point, though, the first big olfactory hit came my way, which was the smell of someone starting up a barbecue.  I wasn’t sure where it was coming from, but guessed it must be someone planning to do some serious smoking, maybe beef brisket or a pork loin, and needed to get things going early.  It would be pretty nice to be around when the cooking is done.

I noticed a few birds and squirrels, but not the usual number one sees later in the morning.  Clearly, these were those looking for a competitive advantage.  I wondered if they also were selective favorites for procreation, or did the lazier of their ilk happen upon willing mates while the others were out foraging.  While the early bird gets the worm, the later bird may ultimately contribute more to the gene pool.

I could hear each foot strike on the pavement.  If one focuses too much on that, the monotony becomes mesmerizing, and takes one’s concentration away from important acts, such as looking for potholes in the road, and listening for the occasional car.  Should cops need an opportunity to fill their monthly ticket quota, I suggest they set up very early on Sunday.  While there are few cars on the road, to a one, they were all exceeding the speed limit by a hell of a lot.  I had on my reflective vest, with a blinking red light in the back, but when I heard a car coming from either direction I hopped on the sidewalk, since they invariably came speeding by, ignoring road signs and the double yellow line.  One car I saw this morning was a Corvette, driven by a guy with a reflective vest of his own on, but there our similarities ended.

I saw as I ran down Park Blvd. that the giant trees that had been uprooted by our last major storm, pulling the sidewalk to a 90 degree angle, had finally been removed.  Where they had been was now dirt, awaiting sidewalk repair.  This is a narrow street, with cars parked along the curb, and neat homes from the 1940’s and ’50’s.  Normally, I would need to run on the sidewalk since it is too narrow and busy to run in the street.  But this morning, I made it a full mile before a car approached.  I darted up on to the sidewalk as it passed, then got back into the street.  As one runs farther down the street, the houses get older, into the 1880’s and even earlier.  It is a measure of how the farmland got transformed into housing developments.  This part of the run is through Collingswood, a town named after the Collings family.  Collingswood was their farm.  Being Quakers, the town has always been dry.

Heading into Knight Park, I passed close to the Collings-Knight Homestead, the home of Edward C. Knight, benefactor who donated the land for Knight park.  One week earlier I ran through this park early Sunday morning, when a large dog, saliva dripping from his jaw, ran at me barking and snapping.  I turned and faced him, palms up and facing the dog.  Its owner was nearby, a woman standing with a couple of other dog owners, all of whom let their dogs run leash-less.  She called to the dog to “c’m’ere”, reassuring me that the dog was a friendly dog and would do me no harm.  The dog did stop a few feet from me, then turned and went back to her.  She repeated several times what a friendly dog it was, and how I shouldn’t worry.  So, this was on my mind this morning, and fortunately, I had arisen early enough to beat this woman and her “friendly” dog to the park.  I was certainly relieved.

Reaching the end of the park, I headed to Haddon Avenue, and started to run back towards my starting point.  For anyone not from this area, Haddon is a common name.  Elizabeth Haddon was the daughter of John Haddon a Quaker in London who purchased 500 acres in the area that is now Haddonfield and Haddon Township.  He bought the land to escape religious persecution, but due to ill health, could not make the journey.  He sent his daughter, Elizabeth, instead.  She arrived, a single, young woman, apparently confident, and in 1702 asked John Estaugh, a Quaker minister already in this colony, for his hand in marriage.  Elizabeth Haddon was the founder of the towns of Haddonfield and Haddon Township.

Running up Haddon Avenue, I passed the numerous shops and restaurants in Collingswood.  While a dry town, there is a very vibrant restaurant scene, since one can bring wine or beer to the restaurant.  The restaurants have turned Collingswood from an aging, decaying town, with out of date stores like vacuum cleaner repair and hardware stores, to a busy, hip place, especially on Friday and Saturday night.  I pass the parking spots.  These used to be meters, but now are marked with poles labeled with notices that one must pay at the pay station.  Parking is paid seven days a week.  This morning, there are no cars parked here.  Leaving Collingswood and entering Haddon Township and Westmont, one enters the bar scene.  Capturing the revelers which Collingswood missed, this stretch of Haddon Avenue has numerous bars which are busy usually every night.  Again, in the early morning, they are shuttered and quiet, awaiting the opening gong much later in the day.

I turned back into the neighborhood streets for the last mile or so of my run.  I was again aware of a strong olfactory stimulus, this time, bacon.  The smell of bacon cooking is, first of all, unmistakable.  We have two eyes which can see various colors.  We have two ears to hear a wide range of sound.  But we have about 800 genes in humans each coding for a different olfactory receptor.  Most scents stimulate multiple receptors, which is how we can be so discriminatory identifying different odors.  The smell of bacon also is a strong motivator.  It motivates one to eat bacon, which I was, unfortunately, not able to do at that moment.

By this point, the birds were starting to become active and sing to each other.  To us, it is an entertaining bird concert, with different songs coming from different directions.  To the birds, it is the result of sexual selection at work, a subset of Darwin’s natural selection, establishing the male’s dominance for his territory and mate.

I made it around the last corner back towards my house, the sky now a mix of grays and rosy pinks.  I stopped by my house briefly, to change to a dry shirt which I had left on my front porch, grab my backpack and water bottle, and head out to meet the usual Sunday morning runners at 7:00 for our 12.5 mile loop, with 7 miles in already.

By the finish of the morning run, I got my 20.2 miles in.  One of my good running friends, Kealan, ran the 12.5 miles with me, and even the extra half mile I needed to get to that 20 mile mark.  Our conversation the whole way made the run seem much shorter.

I’ll leave you with a link to the song running through my mind as I was running the dark streets in the early morning of last Sunday:

Frank relaxes at Starbucks with his running friends, 20.2 miles in the training bank.

Animals on the Run

Saturday mornings, my friend Brandon and I usually head out from his house for an early morning run around our local park, the Cooper River Park in Camden County, New Jersey.  We don’t have to go too far before we run into the most populous animals in the region, the so called Giant Canadian Goose.  These animals have learned to call New Jersey home, and long ago gave up their instinctive migratory pattern.  The reason they stay is that life here is pretty good for them.  According to state biologists and naturalists, they thrive on fresh water, grazing areas of tender, mowed grasses, and areas where they have a wide view of potential predators.  They like safe areas to make nests, which they make on the ground, with the goose laying five or six eggs, nesting for 30-35 days in April, and with the gander keeping guard.  All the eggs begin to develop the same day, and hatch the same day.  Once the goslings are out of the shell, they are taken right to the water.  The geese gather multiple nests-full of goslings together, making a very attractive grouping of thirty or forty goslings being watched over by the multiple parent geese of the broods.  It is sort of like how it takes a village to raise a child.  Apparently, our parks and lawns have created ideal places for these formerly migratory birds never to want to leave.  This is just one of numerous species we encounter on our runs.

Non-plussed geese and gosslings along the trail. (courtesy Sue Hamilton)

Non-plussed geese and gosslings along the trail. (courtesy Sue Hamilton)

Geese can be annoying.  They are crowding our parks, cover the trails with goose droppings, and hiss at us as we run by, indicating it’s their park now.  Counter to the geese, much fewer in number, and generally a pleasant natural site are our local ducks.

Ducks looking for a handout at Newton Lake Park

Ducks looking for a handout at Newton Lake Park (courtesy Brandon Hamilton)

I’m not sure of the particular species of these ducks, but I believe they are American Black ducks, common throughout the greater northeast.  Known as a dabbling duck species, meaning they tip bottom side up in the water to find food, they are fun to watch as they feed in the ponds.

Another very common site is the squirrel.  Now, everyone knows squirrels, and they do seem to be everywhere.  Our particular South Jersey squirrels are the Eastern Grey Squirrel, known by their genus Sciurus, a portmanteau of Greek, skia (shadow) and oura (tail), meaning that it is in the shadow of its tail, per the Wikipedia article.  They have adapted very well over a large geographic area, and even have pushed out other squirrel types in places such as the United Kingdom and Australia.  Closely related, but much harder to see for more than a few tenths of a second, are our local Eastern Chipmunks.

Chipmunk gathering seeds.

Chipmunk gathering seeds.

 

 

 

 

I see them mainly along heavily wooded trails in the local parks, darting across the trail to hide in dense roots and ivy.  They live in extensive burrow systems underground, where they store food, and have many entrances and exits.  I also see them darting out from overgrown ivy in my backyard to gather seeds that have fallen from our bird feeder.

A variety of turtles and frogs occasionally poke their heads out, or send a croak out along our lake side trails.

A little larger in the animal kingdom, and certainly more rare as a sighting, is the local red fox.  There are two species of fox in New Jersey, the red and the grey.  I’ve never seen a grey fox, probably because they live in the woods and rarely show themselves.  The red fox we see every now and then, early in the morning, trotting along the side of the water in our local park, looking for rodents.

Red fox.  Wonder what he is thinking....

Red fox. Wonder what he is thinking….

White Tailed Deer have become extremely common around us, which is a bit puzzling to me.  Living where I do in New Jersey, these animals had to cross some major highways, such as the New Jersey turnpike, I295 and US 130 to get to us.  I guess we are seeing the deer that got pushed out from the more desirable locations, or just a population that enjoys suburban living.

Some does have antlers, but this looks like a buck to me, with a fawn.

Some does have antlers, but this looks like a buck to me, with a fawn.  (from Rutgers website)

On a run through a local park not long ago, early in the morning, I was startled by a small herd of six deer bounding across my trail in a wooded area.  According to Rutgers School of Environmental and Biological Sciences, the deer population in much of the northeast was almost gone around 1900.  This was due to a combination of hunting and natural predators.  Since then, there has been an explosion in the population, due to lack of predators such as wolves and cougars, lack of space for hunting, and increasing habitat in populated areas.  As with any part of an ecosystem, balance is important.  An acceptable herd size is good for forest edge regions.  Too many deer, though, can cause a spiral of decline of forests, as the underbrush is eaten out, leading to lack of saplings, lack of cover for birds and many small animals, and lack of leaves falling from the decreased tree population.  For runners, I’ve yet to hear of someone hit by a deer, but deer also carry the scourge known as the deer tick, a tiny biter which can pass on Lyme disease as well as other illnesses.  Watch your legs in grassy areas.

Looking up, one of the hardest birds to spot is the woodpecker.  In our area, we frequently hear these birds rat-a-tat sound from high in the trees along the trail.  But, the sound is tough to locate, so without spending some time standing still, not what we usually do on a run, we usually don’t spot these birds.  Most likely, we are hearing the tap of the red-bellied woodpecker, the most common in our area, or we could be hearing the marvelously named yellow-bellied sapsucker.

Red-bellied woodpecker (not red-headed, that's another type which is much rarer)

Red-bellied woodpecker (not red-headed, that’s another type which is much rarer) (from NJ Audobon Soc.)

 

Yellow-bellied sapsucker.

Yellow-bellied sapsucker. (from NJ Audubon Soc.)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The ultimate wildlife spotting while on a run, in my opinion, was when I was running early Sunday morning a few months ago.  What first appeared to be a large hawk took off from the high branches of a sycamore tree.  As it made a wide, arcing turn, though, we could see it was no hawk.  It was a bald eagle.  I had heard there was a bald eagle nest in this area, but this was the first and only time I have seen one.  It was a beautiful sight, and we followed it with our eyes as it headed along the park lake.

Bald eagle photo (taken from free photos from photobucket)

Bald eagle photo (taken from free photos from photobucket)

There are many other birds and land animals we encounter on our runs.  There are blue herons, red-winged blackbirds, groundhogs and an occasional snake.  On runs outside my own territory, there have been many animals I have spotted, including beavers, skunks, and others.  No bears, fortunately.  I enjoy spotting these animals on the run, and it’s part of the joy of running outdoors.  Very few animals, other than homo-sapiens, are spotted running on a treadmill.

Arrivederci Winter

Moon, 4:30 AM, Friday, March 5, 2015.

Moon, 4:30 AM, Friday, March 6, 2015.

The whole eastern part of the U.S. was under the icy clutch of a band of frigid air the last two weeks. This air traveled from the Pacific, over the north pole, through the northern reaches of Canada, freezing Niagara Falls as it crossed the border and settled on our home. When winter comes upon us, everyone wonders, will this be another year of little snow and mild temperatures, or will we get hit with big snowstorms, creating scenes of pathways dug through backyards to driveways, snow piled high in parking lots, plows running up and down our roads, salt spray painting our cars gray-white, and people walking through the snow bundled with layers of clothing, knit caps, and big gloves.

While the weather forecasters got it mostly right this year, they did miss on a couple of occasions, when the snow hit Boston but pretty much missed us in South Jersey.  We managed to get a late winter snow three days ago, in the early days of March, while the temperatures were still in the frigid single and teen digits.  I went for an evening run the day of the latest snowfall.  It was only 7:00 PM, usually a time of the later rush hour crowd irritated and pushing to get home, but the roads were oddly quiet.  Since it had been snowing all day, it seems many businesses closed early.  The snow plows had passed through, but the snow kept falling, so the streets were covered with a thin layer of snow which had not turned to ice.  The combination of fresh snow everywhere, low clouds, and streetlights made for a very well-lit run in spite of the sun having disappeared an hour earlier.  There was a nice, faint crunch under foot as I ran, and the cold air felt good in my lungs.  My run took me past many local small shops and restaurants, all closed for the weather.  With one exception, that is.  The bars were hopping.  I think the bar owners get special attention from the snow plow drivers cleaning their parking areas.  Perhaps they need to pay a little extra for this but I’m sure it is worth it.  Teachers can’t get to the schools, but they make it to the bars.  Office workers get in late and sent home early, but they can make it to the bars.  Doctors, lawyers and dentists close early, no patients or clients are braving the slick roads to make their appointments, but they all make it to the bars.  The last few miles of my running route I pass about ten bars and every one of them was doing business like it was St. Patrick’s day already.  There is a quaintness about bars in the depths of winter.  It’s dark outside, the windows are frosted over, and one sees the profiles of the people inside all animated and lively.

In my house, we retreated to the front part of the house where the den with the fireplace is. The back half is beset with all sorts of problems. We live in an old Victorian, and the original design did not account for living in the 21st century. Bathrooms and appliances have been added over the years, and in spite of best intentions, cold air manages to sneak in like a cat burglar, freezing the water within. This past week, as the temperature dipped to a cruel zero, streams of that dense cold air moved in and around our old pipes, freezing some and leading to a couple of burst pipes.  This year, I had the foresight to at least turn off the inflow to these pipes so the damage was minimized, but we’ve had to wait until the thaw before we could fix them.

This weekend, though, brought a break in the icy pattern.  As we clicked over to daylight saving time, temperatures soared to 52 degrees.  The sun shone brilliantly, melting the patches of ice on the sidewalks.  Constant rivulets of water flowed down the street as the snow melted.  And people are out getting all their usual weekend errands in, not sure how to deal with a day when the only cover up needed is a light jacket.

Now we can start thinking about getting the garden ready for planting, cleaning up the debris that conveniently was covered up by the snow, and watch the road crews fixing all the treacherous potholes which have multiplied the last few weeks.  I’m sure in a couple of months we’ll be baking in premature heat, barely remembering how cold it got and stayed this winter.  Before that happens, I’d like to have a few more fires in the fireplace, have a reason to wear long tights and two layers on top when I run, and feel the cold air filling my lungs.

A Slog through the Slush

Here’s how the conversation, via text, went:

It’s all slush and big puddles out there do you think we should run?  And it is raining, too.

Sorry, just saw this.  Let’s go for it.  We won’t know till we try

Okay.  I am just getting ready now.

Take your time driving over.

That was at 6:45 this morning.  The snow, rain, freezing rain, and sleet had started the night before.  I was out with friends in Philly, and late at night, heading for the train, we marveled at the enormous size of the snow flakes falling steadily.  With the temperature close to freezing, they turned to slush as they hit the ground.  This morning, I stayed in bed as late as I could but still make a 7:00 AM start to my morning run.  My running partner and I had the above conversation and so I was committed to the run.  I was relieved, since I didn’t want to be the one to make the call, knowing this would not be our best run of the year.

We had to gingerly pick our way from his front door out to the street, not wanting to start running with cold, wet feet.  The road had not been plowed, and while the “inches” of snow were not that much, it was all wet and forming large pools of ice slurry.  We started off very slowly, running along areas cleared by tire tracks, being careful not to slip as we went downhill towards our loop around the park.  We had to run in the street rather than the multi-use path, which was completely covered by this slurry.  As we ran, we picked up the pace a bit.  Along the Cooper River, the geese were out in force, coping with the conditions without a problem, as far as I could see.  Approaching the far end of the loop around the park, the path was one large slush puddle, which we muddled through.  Now my shoes were wet, and my feet cold.  On the far side of the park, the road was narrowed by construction.  We had to run along on the road, with cars passing us closely and spraying ice and frozen water on our legs.  I think it was partially on purpose, since not all the cars came that close.  We moved over to the construction zone, running in ruts created by a truck that had gone through recently.  As we ran we were able to have a nice conversation, since the forced slow pace made talking that much easier.  We talked about running in the winter, and also about the play I saw last night at the Lantern Theater.  The play, called “Doubt, A Parable”, by John Patrick Shanley, takes place in a Catholic School in the Bronx, in 1964.  The story is that of an older nun, the principal of the school, suspecting the priest of having sexual relations with one of the boy students.  The story gets complicated when one hears the boy’s mother’s side of her son’s life.  The play takes only ninety minutes with a single act, and seems to leave out some crucial inner thoughts of the four characters.  One critic I read afterwards suggested the second act was when the audience discussed their feelings about the play.

Our run finished with a long uphill climb and then a flat last mile, still with the skies gray, and our feet cold and wet.  But accomplishing our seven miles, and then warming up with a change to dry socks and shoes, a dry shirt, and a hot cup of coffee was very satisfying.

A parable is a short narrative about individuals meant to be an example of a larger truth.  So, this narrative I relate to you shall also be short, and meant to convey that even when nature is uncooperative, getting out and doing is better than holing up and not doing.

 

A Gibbous Moon Doth Shine

As I ran this evening along the path beside the lovely Cooper River, a shining gibbous moon was on the rise.  It seemed to pull me on, moving with me as I ran, never getting closer nor farther.  More than half, but less than full, it presented a beautiful picture in the sky. I got spellbound as I ran, but coming up to a busy intersection, I was snapped back to full alert state.  It was a subtle reminder, though, how the seasons are changing. There I was at 7:30 in the evening, and already the sun had set and the moon was clearly visible.   It has been warm this week, the warmest week of the summer.  I’ve been finishing my runs soaking wet from sweat.  When I take off my socks I can wring out a cup of sweat between the two of them.

The sound of cicadas would be impossible to describe to someone who had never heard one.  It is an unmistakable sound, though, and so typical for this time of year.  It is never one cicada, it is a crowd of male cicadas sending their messages to females that they are present and ready to mate.  The loudness of the song, and its constancy are remarkable.  As I ran along I listened for the much more delightful sound of a cricket chirping, but my search was unsuccessful.  If there was one it was drowned out by the blaring cicadas.

We are in the last throws of summer.  As the evening sky comes earlier, I am reminded that soon I will need to wear a head lamp.  While a definite safety feature, there is not much that is fun about wearing a headlamp.  It creates a sharply demarcated cone of visibility around my feet and a few yards in front of me, but shuts out the rest of the view.  Early morning runs on the weekends, also, will be dark, although made more pleasant by the lack of traffic compared with the evening weekday run.

Eating in the summer is always fun.  The fresh vegetables from local farms, the peaches, the tomatoes, and the small but significant harvest from our backyard garden make summer meals a festival.  My favorite, the blueberries, seemed to last particularly long this year.  I admit to being a blueberry addict.  I bought several ten pound boxes of them at the height of summer, and washed and froze them for my habit year round.

With colder days and longer nights, there is also an urge to indulge.  Football games with beer and nachos, colder temperatures driving up the appestat, and the diminishing supply of fresh garden produce yielding to potatoes, squash and other filling foods makes for a challenge against fitness.  With a marathon coming up in November, and my desire to be fit into the New Year, I must redouble my efforts at this time to stay the course, get in the runs, watch the calories, and not yield to temptations.  On the positive side, though, my hops are ready to harvest, and there will be another good Backyard Homebrew in the making in the near future.

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.

Summertime, and the livin’ is easy, but the running isn’t!

This feels like the summer of 2012 all over again.  We had a stretch of rainy days which seemed to go on forever, although it was really only about a 10 days or so.  I had two rather interesting rain-related experiences during this time.  Both were during my Monday run from my hospital in Camden, NJ, over the Ben Franklin bridge to Philadelphia, a loop down to the Race Street pier, then back over the bridge and back to the hospital.  It is a very nice six mile round trip, with the challenge of the bridge, but also with a pleasant breeze on the bridge and very nice views.

The first interesting experience occurred on my way back through Camden.  Dark rain clouds and the rain coming down to the east were illuminated by the setting sun to the west, and a beautiful, full-arc, sharply colored double rainbow could be seen as I was crossing Market Street.  I stopped a local man crossing the street who hadn’t noticed this wonder of nature and pointed it out.  He smiled broadly, and said “yeah, cool.”

The other incident was a little more worrisome.  I was doing the same run again.  It was overcast, but the rain seemed to be off to the east, and usually the direction of travel of the rain clouds is west to east.  As I was cresting the high point on the bridge, large raindrops started to splat the walkway.  I still felt this didn’t seem like much of a problem.  In fact, I was marveling at how the rain on the walkway created an outline of the old-fashioned style lamps along the railing.  My reverie was short lived.  Instead of moving east, the storm was heading right towards me.  I still had about a quarter of the bridge to go as the rain picked up and became torrential.  Worse, lightening was flashing around me.  I don’t know the risk of being on an enormous steel structure during a lightening storm, but my gut feeling was that it was not safe.  I scurried down the ending stairway of the bridge, three sets of wet stairs, to the street.  I made it shortly to a loading dock area on the Rutgers campus, and got out of the storm.  As I waited out the storm, several other runners behind me on the bridge kept running in the storm, and I watched them go by.  I felt a little wimpy, as if I should shake my fear and continue running.  But then, reason took hold and I waited a bit more.  Looking up at the sky, I could see swirling clouds which looked like they were attempting to make a tornado.  Fortunately, it never go to that.  With the storm, and the lightening, having moved on, the thunder now coming more than 10 seconds from the lightening, I ventured out and ran the last mile or so back.  It was still raining, and when I got to the hospital I made sure to allow a little drip time before going back in to change.

Now, though, the rain has been gone for several days and the heat has arrived.  As we all know, running in the heat can be brutal.  One’s body must acclimate to the heat.  This is a complex process, involving changes in the body’s blood volume, hormonal status, immunological changes, sweat composition and response, and other alterations.  All those intricate physiological changes have yet to occur in me.  I ran yesterday for a seven mile run, and today for a 12.5 miler.  While the starting temperatures don’t sound that brutal, around 79 degrees F, the high humidity of 90%, low to non-existent breeze, and sun made for very uncomfortable running.  Both days we started at 7:00 AM.  My friend Brandon, with whom I ran on Saturday, seemed to already have made that jump to summer running, as he was not nearly as affected as I was.  Perhaps it is his incredibly lean, thin body, or the fact that he runs normally more than fifty miles a week, but he cruised without dying.  I, on the other hand, felt like collapsing after a few miles.  Saturday, I mustered on, drinking water from the fountains along our route, and going a very diminished pace.  Sunday, I started out running with two other runners, planning to go 13.5 miles.  I carried a bottle of water with me in one of those handy runner’s bottles, with a strap for my hand, and a protruding enormous nipple-like spigot, allowing a drink on the run.  One of the guys in my group peeled off at four miles, saying he was never going to make the 13.  The other kept with me until his usual turnoff at my six mile mark.  So I was left alone for the rest of the run.  As I steadily, but at a considerably slower pace than normal, made my way around our standard Sunday loop, the sun got higher, cresting the trees and shining down on me.  Other runners came by in the opposite direction, looking pretty bedraggled, with the exception of one young guy.  He had on a gray army-style t-shirt and was running with a backpack.  He looked pretty tough in the heat.  I was drinking steadily to ward off dehydration, and used the amount of sweat on my hands as a guide.  If they were dry, I figured I had stopped sweating from not enough fluid, and took another gulp.  The sweat continued to drench me, and I could feel my feet getting soaked in my shoes.  At around ten miles, I stopped at a water fountain and had the good fortune of meeting a friend running in the other direction.  I hadn’t seen him in a long time, but still we stopped to talk far more than would be normal under milder circumstances.  As I headed for the last leg, I was running now at around a 9’30” to 10 minute per mile pace, not able to go any faster.  I switched sides on the road a few times to take advantage of the bit of shade I could find from the trees.  With two miles left to go, I made the decision to cut this run short, and headed back up the hill for only a one mile return to the start, thinking that lost mile would not be doing me much good anyway.  I made sure to finish strong, though, as I passed my fellow Sunday morning crew who had run shorter and were already hanging out at the Starbucks.  One always should look good at the start and end of a run.  In between, nobody is really watching.  I banged on the sign marking the end of the run, and wobbled over to get my backpack and my extra bottle of sports drink I had stowed for my recovery.  Sitting in the shade, bent over, calf muscles doing their quivering imitation of fireworks going off, I took off my shoes and socks, wrung the sweat from my socks, and slowly felt the heat dissipating.  Once I had cooled to a nearly presentable state, I made my way over to join my friends. I changed to dry clothes, and sitting outside, with a little breeze and in the shade, it didn’t seem so awful.  But, boy, running in the heat can be brutal.  I do look forward to that magical transformation of being acclimated.

Rudolph’s Red Nose Ale, the tasting

For those of you following my blog, you may be aware I put together a Christmas Ale I named “Rudolph’s Red Nose Ale“.  This was a play on words, since I designed it to be a Christmas spiced ale, but with a red tint and styled after Belgian Christmas ales.  It’s not a typical Belgian Red Ale, in that it is not aged in wood, and so doesn’t have the sour characteristic of that style, but it comes fairly close.  The red color comes from a certain type of “crystal” malt, Caramel 80, which gives the beer a slightly sweet flavor and brick red color.  The Belgian Abbey yeast was used to give it a fruity flavor, not too pronounced, but not requiring the actual addition of fruit.  The hops were meant to be in the background, providing bitterness and a bit of aromatic hop flavor, but this is a malty brew and so not meant to taste hoppy like an IPA.  So starting from this:

IMG_1836a

Partial Mash for Rudolph’s Red Nose Ale

We made it to this:

A Bottle of Rudolph's Red Nose Ale

A Bottle of Rudolph’s Red Nose Ale

The label was cleverly created by my daughter Katie, who seems to have a knack for design.

In the glass:

Glass of Rudolph's Red Nose Ale

Glass of Rudolph’s Red Nose Ale

The pour was very nice, a bit underwhelming for the head, which was thinner than I was expecting.  The final alcohol content was 7.35 % ABV, which is around where I was shooting, and appropriate for a Christmas Ale meant to dull the abrasive edges of family get-togethers.  It has a nice slightly fruity and slightly sweet taste, and the spices are also there but in the background.  Reading further, I could have added spices to the secondary fermentation to make them more pronounced, but alas, didn’t think of this or know I could until after it was already bottled.  It’s part of the learning process.  I like the way the reddish hue comes through.

It got a true test on New Year’s Eve.  A group of about fifteen from my running club went for a late afternoon run, then gathered at my house for a pre-New Year’s Eve celebration.  We had a real fire going in the fireplace, and a warm spinach and feta dip accompanied by thin slices of crusty french bread.  There were clementine oranges and some Manchego cheese.  Many of the gathered runners sampled the Rudolph’s, and reports from this discerning crowd were very favorable.

So now I have a great brew to keep me warm the next couple of months, while I come up with a recipe for a spring beer.

Frank

Resolutions versus Goals

Yes, 2013 has arrived, the ball in Times Square with a crystal remembrance of Dick Clark has dropped, and now what?  Did something change?  Have we arrived in a new time and place?  Not from what I’ve been reading in the press, and yes, I am one of those who still reads a newspaper.  I admit to reading a lot of it online, but still get the old fashioned paper delivered to my house.  Today, that feels like such an anachronism.  So, perhaps that is something that has changed.  From what I have read and listened to on TV, and also read in blogs, the latest message for the new year is that “I don’t make resolutions, I make goals”.  TV personalities have stated this as if they made up the phrase, although it has been everywhere of late.  What is the difference, and can one, or should one, have both?

From reading about the history of resolutions, it appears the first record of this practice was from the Babylonians, who celebrated the start of the new year around the time of the vernal equinox.  They had an eleven day celebration, and promised to return borrowed goods and repay debts.  The Romans moved the celebration of the new year to January 1, which was to honor the god Janus, whose two faces looked backwards and forwards and symbolized remembering the past but looking forward to the future.  Over time, resolutions have taken on religious and personal health themes, betterment of mankind and other noble features, but generally are intended to make things better in the new year, an erasing of the errors of the past.  A resolution starts at the time it is made.  We all know the most common resolutions.  Lose weight, go to the gym regularly, stop smoking, cut back on drinking, have better study habits, be more attentive to others, learn a new language, laugh more, stress less, attend church regularly, and one which is almost always successful, stop making resolutions.

It is well known that resolutions frequently are not kept.  This is  where goals come in to play.  Goals go hand in hand with resolutions.  If your resolution is to lose weight, set simple, attainable goals which can be kept.  For example: ” I resolve to lose weight, and I will lose one pound in two weeks”.  There!  Not too hard, but not insignificant.  Then you can build on your successes as they come.  Didn’t make your goal?  Not to fear, reset it and keep going.  If you made your goal, picture it going forward for twelve more weeks.  At a pound every two weeks, that amounts to six pounds.

But keeping resolutions is so difficult because we like the ruts we fall into.  The comfort of an extra helping of mac and cheese.  The calming effect of the draw on the cigarette.  The buzz from the second beer.  It takes, yes, resolve, to keep a resolution.

While the recidivism rate for new year’s resolutions is spectacularly high, it is definitely worth trying.  Otherwise, we wind up living exactly the same life year after year.  The calendar may as well have only months, no years listed.  How do we increase the chance that we will keep our resolutions?  One way is to inform your family or close friends of your resolution.  Then, you know they will be watching to see if you meant what you said.  This can backfire, though, if you didn’t really mean what you said, it just sounded good, and now your family is harping on you to put down the Xbox controller and go out for a jog.  Another method is to share a resolution with a group.  The group dynamic can work very well since everyone is working towards the same goals.  For something like learning a new language, this might mean joining a group lesson.  Even if you are the worst student in the group, you are going to learn something.

This leads nicely into running, and why it is good to join a running club.  It certainly is easy to go out and run by yourself.  It takes little in the way of equipment, you can set your time to run whenever you wish, and you are not beholden to someone else’s pace, schedule, or tendency to argue politics while running.  But a running club gives much more than it takes.  First, you are able to meet like-minded people with very similar goals in mind.  You will be introduced to activities you may not have thought you could do, such as running a half marathon, or doing a trail run.  Runners in my club are generally quite upbeat individuals with lots of personal goals in mind.  Once you feel part of the group, which really only takes being willing to show up, you will get a lot of encouragement from the other runners who will smile on your successes and share their own stories of setbacks.  You will have access to meetings where training plans are shared and speakers come to talk about coaching, stretching, yoga, racing experiences, avoiding injuries, and other topics.  You may find yourself taking on more challenging goals as you meet the first few easier ones, which will lead to other resolutions being met, such as weight loss, getting fit, and lessening the stress in your life.  You are not likely to learn a foreign language or attend church more regularly, if those are your resolutions, so those will need to be addressed in another forum.

I feel making resolutions is a good thing, and setting goals makes resolutions happen.  If one is not successful at keeping a resolution, here’s a tip:  many cultures around the world celebrate the new year at different times than January 1.  So, there are plenty of opportunities to re-declare resolutions throughout the year.  My personal resolutions I am willing to share with my close friends reading this blog.  I would like to eat more nutritiously, primarily by making meals from scratch rather than buying anything pre-processed, with the exception of Greek yogurt, which I think is pretty healthy.  I already started, by making pasta from scratch with my daughter the week after Christmas.  It was fun, was a bit of hard work, but tasted great.  I also resolve to read the books piling up on my bedside table, most of which I’ve started but not gotten very far into.  And finally, in the tradition of the Babylonians, I’m going to return books I borrowed from a friend about a year ago and are still on my shelf.

Frank

Two Weeks to Philly! And a little diversion over the bridge.

Ben Franklin Bridge

Photo from 2007 Cooper Norcross Run the Bridge.  Our race 11/4/12 was just as bright and sunny.

There has been a lot going on this past week.  The week started out with a storm unlike any we’ve seen for decades hitting the east coast.  Hurricane Sandy and it’s aftermath has been devastating for so many, particularly in New Jersey and New York.  It was a wide ranging storm, without terribly high winds, but the flooding, downed trees, loss of power, and then the difficulty of getting life back to normal has effected millions, and is still a major problem for many.  My son described watching transformers on telephone poles in New Brunswick creating an eerie light show Monday night as they blew up all over the city.  The New York City marathon, scheduled for Nov. 4, was initially planned to go as scheduled.  Then, it was cancelled, after 40,000 runners had already arrived in the city.  But, the fact that so many New Yorkers still had no power, were living in shelters, were lining up at gas stations to receive a ration of gasoline, and were huddled around power strips in order to charge their cell phones, plus many other hardships, made a compelling argument to cancel the marathon.  Brandon, a friend of mine who was planning to run New York, found an alternative marathon the same day, the Delaware and Lehigh Heritage Marathon, in Northampton, Pennsylvania, along the upper Lehigh River.  Apparently, they got a big influx of runners from New York, with their numbers swelling from 500 last year, their inaugural year, to 850 this year, before they closed registration.  Quite a difference from the 47,000 scheduled to run NYC.

In my town, fortunately, the hurricane left very few without power, and life got back to normal quickly.  There were some intense controversies.  Halloween was postponed by mandate from Governor Christie to Nov. 5.  But, our mayor decided to override the governor, and held Halloween on Friday, Nov. 2.  I admit to some surprise, driving home from work, expecting to be able to go to the grocery store and pick up some heavily discounted bags of M&M’s and mini Milky Ways in preparation for Monday, only to see droves of costumed kiddies and their into-it parents already making the house to house rounds.  In our two neighboring towns, Halloween was to be held Saturday and Monday respectively.  How confusing.

Meanwhile, my training for Philadelphia went on.  My second taper in six weeks, and I’m feeling fairly confident that I’ll at least finish the marathon.  The last two weeks were my last long runs, first a 22.8 miler two weeks ago, then last week, I joined up with about 30 other runners planning to do Philly for a 20 mile training run put on by CitySports in Philadelphia.  They organized us into pace groups, provided pace runners, had a water station set up at the Philadelphia Sports Club on 18th and Market, and provided water, Philadelphia pretzels (for the salt?)  and a bit of swag, with a nice CitySports bag and coupon.  It was fun getting together with other runners not part of my usual group, all training for the same race.

This past Sunday was the annual running of the Cooper Norcross Run the Bridge 10k, which starts on the Camden side of the Ben Franklin Bridge, goes across the bridge to Philadelphia and back, then runs through the streets of Camden, past the battleship USS New Jersey, then back along the Delaware to the finish line in Campbell’s Field, home of the Atlantic League Camden Riversharks.

Start of Run the Bridge

Among the early leaders heading uphill at the start, out of 4500 total runners, are Dave Stewart and Rich Wright of the SJAC.

The first mile of the race makes you humble as it heads up the bridge.  But then you head down the other side of the bridge, making the turn in front of the whimsical statue of a kite in the air and  a key on the string, an homage to Ben.  Then, it’s back up the bridge again then down, then finally, for the last 3 miles or so, the route is almost completely flat.

Dave Stewart, SJAC

Dave Stewart of SJAC, still way ahead of the pack, coming back from the Philadelphia side of the bridge.

My race was a bit less speedy than Dave (okay, a lot!), but still respectable.  I wasn’t sure how hard to push, given that I’m planning to run a marathon in two weeks.  I decided to just run it as I would any race, and let the chips fall as they may.

Frank caught in a surprisingly decent shot by Ed, on the Ben Franklin Bridge.

Frank (yours truly) heading down the second leg of the Ben Franklin Bridge, and waving, naturally, to the camera.

It turned out to be a great day for a race.  While a little chilly at the start, especially waiting in the shaded part of Campbell’s Field before heading out to the start, once we started out, with the bright sun the 40 degree temperature wasn’t bad at all.  Just about everyone I spoke with after the race agreed that it was a great day for a 10K.  After the race, a group of us from the SJAC got together for breakfast at the British Chip Shop in Haddonfield.  Our initial intention was to watch the New York City Marathon, but after it was cancelled, we decided we could have breakfast anyway, and enjoy talking about our race, eat bubble and squeak or an Irish omelet, and have a spot of tea.

The SJACers have brunch after the Run the Bridge 10K at the British Chip Shop.

This restaurant shows live coverage of the English football matches,  but our crowd was oblivious to the TV, and had a great time chatting and talking of upcoming races.

Frank

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