The Aging Carrot

Process

Process

As I  was digging up our carrots from our garden, having left them to grow the whole summer, I was pleasantly surprised to find the above carrot couplet you see on your left.  Why, it looked like an adoring couple, snuggling together, spooning.  I was quite taken by this natural representation of love, so I set the carrots on our counter in the kitchen.  There they stayed for some time.  When I again discovered them, hiding out behind other stuff that got piled around them, they had changed.  Yes, they were still in that loving, gentle embrace, but they lost their hair.  They became shriveled.  Their bright orange color was gone.  The embrace had lost some vital turgor.  In a matter of a few weeks, they went from being youthful and attractive, to stereotypes of the aged.

I am feeling this way, struck by the evil vicissitudes of my aging body.  It seems to have come on rather suddenly, as if a switch was turned.  I was still able to manage a decent marathon in 2015.  But this past year, my times for various races rose like hot air balloons.  What happened to the speed?  Also, I’m feeling pains I used to only feel the day after the marathon.  Now, when I wake in the morning and head downstairs to make coffee, I find myself relying on the banister, as my thigh muscles put out little protest yelps of pain.

I suspect some of this has come about due to my daily schedule and obligations leaving less time for training.  I know, people say, “you have to make the time.”  “There’s no excuse.”  But long work days and, during the winter months, short daylight hours, make challenges to getting out there and maintaining the fitness.  The other aspect, though, is what to expect as we get older.  Listening to the broadcasts of the Australian Open tennis tournament, the announcers stated over and over how shocking it was that the finalists, men and women, were all older than 30(!), and some over 35 (shocking!).  One can only imagine the losses in strength and ability to recover when one is over 60.  One estimate I read is that one loses about 0.6% of one’s overall strength and fitness for each year over 30.  I think that percentage applies to the previous year’s fitness, so that the 0.6% is subtracted not from the level at 30 each year, but from the last year’s level.

When I was 48 I got a book by Joel Friel, called “Cycling Past 50”.  While published in 1998, I think it has a lot of excellent information and advice which can be used in any sport, and certainly beyond 50.  He starts with some graphs showing how our bodies lose muscle, strength, and aerobic capacity as we grow older.  He also shows, in graph form, what happens if one allows extra body fat to accumulate, and it is not a pretty picture.   V̇O2max drops much more by the age of 70 if the percent body fat is 30% as opposed to 15%.  He addresses “task creep”, which he states refers to accumulating more work and responsibility as one hits the peak of one’s professional years in the 50-65 age group.  Beyond cycling specific information, he addresses recovery, nutrition and injury avoidance, all taking on greater importance as we get older but still wish to train and compete.  I also just ordered “Running Until You’re 100”, by Jeff Galloway.  That’s the way to take the long view….

While I feel like that carrot on the right in the top photo, I believe I can persevere and even get a few good races in, in the coming years.  At the same time, I want to continue to enjoy the benefits of aging, such as more freedom to travel, offspring who have become successful in their own lives, and an appreciation for life in general.  Anyway, see you out on the road.

 

Looking out; Looking Back

Way back in college, one of my professors, in a class in which I was a bit lost, talked about “signifier and signified”.  Hang with me on this, because it gets confusing before it gets clearer.  This professor, who was French and had an accent, said something about signifier and signified which has stuck with me, and seemed important.  He referred to these concepts as someone looking at another image, whether in a mirror, or another person or thing, and that the image changes the originator of the interaction.  That was probably a misinterpretation on my part.

It turns out, these terms, signifier and signified, are concepts in the large field known as “semiotics”.  Also, the signifier is not a person, it is a form that refers to something else, together making a meaningful sign.  An example would be a written word, like tree, referring to the object which we know as a tree.  But these signifiers are not limited to letters, or words.  They can be body language, facial expressions, clothing, grunts, color coding, and so on.

What the professor meant, and what I took from it, are too far removed from today, for me to say whether he knew what he was talking about (I bet he did), or if I just took from it what I wanted.  But I liked the idea that the message, whether a word, an expression, a gasp, a groan, a sneer, is reflected back and alters the sender, which is where I begin.

I look out from my own eyes, and if there is no one watching, I feel a certain way.  Trees, rocks, the road, my environment, will affect the way I feel or act, but they are not actively answering my message that I am either consciously or unconsciously sending out.  Still, the reflection of that message, say a groan when I see a hill coming up, or a sideways glance at a tree just starting to blossom, will reflect back at me and alter my course.  How we feel starting out on a run is almost never how we feel at the end, likely due to these interactions which change us as we run along.

Adding another person running with me is another complexity altogether in this analysis.  Now, I have someone actively receiving my message, interpreting it, and sending back a reflection with that person’s own message included.  I suppose this can happen with an animal as well, say, if one encounters a deer on the run who gets startled by one’s presence.  Or, if one happens upon a snarling dog in the road.  Or, as happened to me on a run in Wyoming, along the road bordering the National Elk Refuge, a ram in a group of big horn sheep standing in the roadway staring me down.  That was a definite direction changer.  Having a person run with me means keeping up, slowing down, talking, looking strong, looking beat, changing posture, and many other changes in direction, attitude, and feeling based on the reflection from the running partner.  This is not to include direct communication, but rather the meaning of the message sent and the reflection received.  We have these interactions with others throughout the day, but in running they take on a certain impact.

One of the most insidious, and dangerous interactions between messages sent and received, is from our own reflection.  As I mentioned earlier, when I am looking out through my own eyes at things around me, I feel a certain way.  But, seeing my own reflection is a message which can really go deep.  As I run, I can feel athletic, strong, tired, wet, dry, sore, fast, slow, or tough.  I can be distracted, angered, calm, happy, gritty or simply wondering at nature.  Almost never am I depressed or lonely, even when running alone.  One glance in a shop window, though, can change my perception immensely.  Almost always, I feel that I look younger  and more athletic than my reflection in the window.  How does one respond to that message, that you are older than you feel.  For me, it’s a great reminder to pull in the abs, straighten the shoulders, head up, and look more like I’m enjoying myself than look like I’m on a forced march.  Then there is the core of feeling, a sense of inner strength but also a minor sense of inner weakness.  These messages confront one’s sense of self, of ability, and of vulnerability.  All that from a simple reflection, one glance which may take less than a tenth of a second.

In sum, these are all messages and reflections over which we have no direct control.  They are ingrained in the way we interact with our surroundings, and we don’t take too much time to think about them or formulate a reaction.  Recognizing them, though, allows us to consider how we think and act on a basic, reflexive level, and use parts of our brain which are in the realm of the subconscious.

Seizing up the Muscles

Christine, one of our Sunday morning regulars, asked this morning, “How do I get rid of muscle cramps?”  Sounds simple, and surely there is a scientific explanation and answer, right?

No one knows.

That’s the answer.  At least, no one who has done the research and looked for a cause, and has evidence to support their conclusions has an answer.  In an excellent article by Kevin Miller, Marcus Stone, Kellie Huxel, and Jeffrey Edwards, sports physiology scientists, titled “Exercise-Associated Muscle Cramps,” (Sports Health. 2010 Jul; 2(4): 279–283), and provided through the National Institutes of Health, the subject of muscle cramps in athletes is reviewed in depth.

There are myriad theories and cures for this vexing problem.  Most of the theories and suggested cures are based on hunches, anecdotes and guesses.  The most common thoughts about why muscle cramps occur in athletes have to do with dehydration and loss of electrolytes.  The thinking goes that if one is dehydrated, meaning a loss of free water in the body, and loss of electrolytes such as sodium, potassium and magnesium, the nerve terminals to muscles are over-sensitized leading to cramps.

Another leading theory is based on neuromuscular interactions.  This theory states that, in overworked muscles, excitatory impulses and inhibitory impulses are not in balance, and the excitation of muscle fibers wins out.

The report mentioned above goes into detail about these theories, looks at the research that has been done in these areas, and the reasons that these theories are not clearly supported by the research.

Most muscle cramps in athletes occur well into a workout or race, or occur after the end of the event.  There is a period during which muscle cramps occur after the event is finished called the “cramp prone state”, and until this period is finished, which may be eight hours or longer, the athlete is still susceptible.  While some cramps may be minor, and not interfere with performance, often the cramps can be debilitating.  Many cures have been tried over and over, with only anecdotal evidence to back them up.  Sports drinks containing (minimal) electrolytes, pickle juice, mustard, bananas, oranges, cold therapy, hot therapy, massage and TENS (trans-cutaneous nerve stimulation) have all been used.  But studies looking at hydration status, electrolyte status and all the above mentioned cures have failed to show statistical improvement in study groups.  Known to work to relieve a cramp, but not for prevention, stretching will stop the cramp.  However, that is a temporary solution, and not one that will prevent a cramp the moment activity is resumed.

I have been plagued with cramps, mostly of the legs and thighs, throughout my athletic career, starting from when I swam as an eight year old.  In my experience, the cramps are less likely to occur the better condition I am in.  When I was a competitive swimmer, the early part of the season was the worst, but as my training went on, they were less and less a problem.  Now, as a runner, and mostly with long distances, I find the muscle cramps hit me very consistently during a marathon, usually around the sixteen to eighteen mile mark.  This is in spite of maintaining good hydration, using salt or drinking electrolyte drinks, and supports the contention that these factors don’t play a role.  My best marathon performance, in which cramps definitely played a very minor roll, was the one where I had trained the best and most consistently.  There are plenty of good reasons to stay well hydrated of course, which have to do with other body systems.  Running in the heat and humidity causes excessive fluid losses, raises core body temperature as the body has trouble getting rid of excess heat, and can lead to hyperthermia and affect kidney function.  Overhydration by consuming too much water to replace losses, can cause hyponatremia, meaning too low sodium levels, which is equally serious.

Kevin Miller, the lead author of the article mentioned above, wrote a simplified version of myths regarding muscle cramps and what to do about them, called “Exercise-Associated Muscle Cramps: Debunking Five Myths”.

While research into the reason for muscle cramps and the treatment has not provided an answer, he makes sound suggestions on how best to avoid them.  If you wish to have a more complete understanding of the research and conclusions, his paper is a good source, and provides many references on which it is based.  I hope your runs are as cramp free as possible.  Happy running.

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.

It’s all about that pace.

It’s all about that pace, ’bout that pace, no hustle.

It’s taken a little time for me to settle after my last marathon experience.  The short of it is, I cramped up at mile 16.5, and after a brief rest and another half mile, I wasn’t able to continue.  This was to be my tenth marathon, and I hadn’t quit any before, even when suffering mightily.  So what was different this time, and what went wrong?

There are many marathon training programs out there.  Runner’s World Magazine, Jack Daniels, Hanson, Hal Higdon, and others specify when to start training, how often to run, how far to run, and at what pace for one’s abilities.  Generally, one starts about sixteen weeks ahead of M-day, progressing in miles and longest run as the weeks progress.  The basis for this is the way our muscles and heart accommodate to the demand of steady running for three to four hours.  That kind of endurance, unless one is particularly exceptional, requires a long build-up.  Things can go wrong the day of the marathon.  Weather can be awful, a virus can lay out a runner, but if one has not put in the training, a perfect day will not make up for that lack.

For me, the training for my latest marathon, Philadelphia, November 23, 2014, started on time and rather well.  I had a good base, coming off a half marathon in Nice, France, at decent time in late April, and the 10 mile Broad Street run in early May in Philadelphia.  I’ve always designed my own training program, since sticking with one of the popular plans is just impossible due to my work schedule.  I also was working with a new marathoner, helping her train for her first marathon.  We had our long runs planned out for every Sunday, a mid-week ten mile run, and other training runs in between.  Paces were mixed up, and routes changed so that we would not fall into automaton behavior that comes with repetition.  My first slip up came about seven weeks before the marathon.  We were doing one of my favorite long runs, 9 minutes at a 9 minute per mile pace, then 1 minute at a fast pace, generally about 7’45” per mile, for a total of 14 miles.  One does need to keep an eye on the watch, and the pace, to get things right.  Done well, the miles fly by, and the run is energizing.  I think my eyes were too closely focused on the watch.  At about eleven miles, along a dirt path being graded for paving, I hit a rock with my toe and fell hard and fast.  I came down on my right side, connecting my chest, shoulder and head to the ground.  Fortunately, nothing was broken…I think.  I may have broken a rib but it wasn’t displaced and so since nothing would be done about it, I didn’t have it x-rayed.  That little incident slowed my training down, and made the next couple of weeks a little difficult due to soreness.  About five weeks before the marathon, we had a 20 mile run planned. It actually went very well, and I think if I had to run the marathon that very day, it would have been a good run.  After that, two weeks of very busy late nights at work completely blew apart my final weeks of training.  With two weeks to go, we went out for a 21 miler.  The conditions were nearly perfect.  The temperature started in the mid 40’s (F) as we headed out in the pre-dawn light.  The first bothersome event was that my new Adidas shoe was causing a great deal of pain where the tongue of the shoe meets the foot.  The tongue on these shoes is minimal, and the underlying tendon in my foot was being rubbed, causing the pain.  At around the 10 mile mark, I ran to my house to change shoes, while my ingenue marathon training partner waited a few minutes.  That done, my foot felt better.  We continued on, but at 17 miles a familiar and very annoying feeling sprang up in my calves and quads.  I was starting to get cramps in my leg muscles.  I am quite a sight when this happens, taking on the stride of John Cleese of Monty Python fame doing his silly walks sketch.  Not so funny for me, though, and I could not continue.  My training partner was doing well, and continued on to finish her 21 miler, the longest she had ever gone in one run.  I, on the other hand, hobbled back to our home base, unable to run, and in pain.  After walking the mile back, my legs did start to calm down, but the day and the run was shot.  I was very concerned that this might be my fate at the marathon in two weeks time, and I seriously considered not starting.  I had a chat with one of my marathon advisers, an experienced marathoner named Brandon, with whom I regularly run Saturday mornings.  With one week to go, I really didn’t get in the usual taper, because the three weeks before were so poor.  Brandon said he felt I could slow the pace and make it through the race.  He said it would be a shame to not run after putting in the many weeks of preparation.  With that encouragement, I started the marathon the following Sunday.

I thought about just doing half.  The official half marathon had closed weeks earlier, so I couldn’t drop down as a registered runner.  I felt if I kept my pace reasonable, around a 9 minute mile, things would be okay.  I did feel quite fine through the first half, and the Philadelphia marathon route is a very nice one.  It starts along Ben Franklin Parkway, with thousands of spectators lining the start, and Mayor Nutter giving hi-fives to runners as they pass the start line.  The route goes through Old City to Delaware Avenue, down to South Philly, then up along South Street to Chestnut and through Center City.  Crowds with clever (or not-so-clever) signs cheer on the runners.  The frat boys at Drexel bang on pots and shout out to the runners.  The route winds along to the Belmont Plateau, and past the Please Touch museum, then down hill to West River Drive along the Schuykill river and back to the Philadelphia Art Museum at the half.  At this point, the runners doing the half peel off and head to their finish line along the Ben Franklin Parkway, which is where I should have headed.  Thinking I could muster on, and not feeling bad, plus averaging around 8’45” to that point, I kept going, making the turn around the front of the museum to head out Kelly Drive towards Manayunk.  It is a route I have done six times before, sometimes suffering with leg cramps and having to walk, sometimes cruising through, and once, doing well enough to make my Boston qualifier.  This time, at mile 16.5, the cramps set in.  I tried to slow down and keep running, but it was just impossible.  I moved off the course, and like some soldier going AWOL in an old movie, removed my number from my chest.  I started walking back towards the start line, which was about 3 miles away.  I should have quit as I turned in front of the museum, so the walk would have been much shorter.  After walking for 5 minutes, my legs felt better, and seeing all those other runners streaming by me I put on my number again, got back on the course, and started to run.  Well, that didn’t last very long.  I got about a half mile when my legs seized up again.  This time I decided to quit for good.  I moved off the course, this time leaving my number on, and walked back towards the start.  Shortly, a volunteer driving a golf cart-like vehicle, already carrying two other runners, stopped to pick me up.  I got in, and the young man next to me offered me the Mylar blanket he had around his shoulders.  He was very thin and fit-looking, not the kind to quit a marathon I thought.  But he had a similar problem to mine, and had to stop.  He insisted I take the blanket against my protests, as he appeared to have far less insulation than me.  He wouldn’t take it back, so I kept it.  Shortly after getting in the cart, I had to get right back out.  My legs were seizing up, and there was no way to stretch them out in the cramped seat.  So I was resigned to the long walk back.  Along the way, I passed another fellow DNFer, about my age, who had quit due to ankle pain.  As I walked I thought about my justification for stopping and not mustering on.  I felt that I had made the right decision, to not hurt myself further, recover, and live to run another marathon another day.

I got back to the art museum, and made my way around the outside of the course to the bag pickup.  Several people told me “way to go”, and “good job” as I made my way through the crowd, giving me the feeling of a complete charlatan.  It was crowded, and I didn’t want to take the time to explain, but I simply put my head down and decided it would be best to not recognize these well wishers.  I made it into the bag area having to enter through an exit guarded by police, since the security around marathons is way up these days.  Once I picked up my bag, I had my cell phone.  I phoned my wife, who had been monitoring my progress on her phone.  Up to that point, I was pretty calm and collected.  As I spoke to her, though, I completely broke down, as the emotion of quitting hit me.  The rational me had left as the feeling of failure overcame.  I like to be seen as the invincible warrior, not the vulnerable person I am.

Since then, I have recovered, both my body and my senses.  I have heard many stories from my experienced marathoner friends of times they, too, have had to quit for various reasons.  I have plans for a half marathon in March, my annual shot at Caesar Rodney in Wilmington, and I am trying to decide which marathon to sign up for in the fall.  I think I want to do an early October marathon, since the training doesn’t run into the problem with short days and the conversion to standard time.  Of course, I may piggy back Philadelphia onto that, since I will have done the training after all….  In the end, it really wasn’t about the pace, it was about the training, and getting it right.  Yes, the pace is important, but not if the training is missing.

 

 

Enlightenment versus Romanticism and Marathon Training

Is marathon training a product of the Enlightenment, the age of reason, or is it more a result of romanticism, seeking nature and intuitive feeling?  In the era of the Enlightenment, men, well almost only men due to the circumstances of the time, were not likely to be out running for sport or athleticism.  Descartes did not write, “curro, ergo sum”, or “I run, therefore I am.”  He did write “Cogito, ergo sum”, or “I think, therefore I am.”  Who were the famous people of the Enlightenment?  Sir Isaac Newton stands out.  His laws of motion laid the basis for centuries of physics study and they may say something about running.  A body in motion tends to stay in motion, while a body at rest tends to stay at rest.  A lot can be read into that statement, beyond the mere physics.  One pictures a runner who needs to get out daily and run or his or her day is not complete, versus the person lying on the divan waiting for divine intervention to get moving.  The second law states that the force exerted on an object is equal to its mass times acceleration.  Another way to look at that is the acceleration equals the force divided by the mass, meaning the lower the mass, the greater the acceleration.  So, when you lose weight, and get into running trim, less force is needed to get up to speed.  His third law about equal and opposite actions may be more applicable to ice hockey than running.  Other famous individuals include Baruch Spinoza, Immanuel Kant and John Locke.  They wrote about individual liberties, blending logic, reason and empirical knowledge, and religious freedom.  They represented those who felt selling indulgences was not the way to heaven, which began with Martin Luther nailing his ninety-five theses to the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg.  I read this as one cannot buy himself into anything that takes dedication, work and time, never mind the implications to organized religion.  Our own Ben Franklin was a great thinker, inventor, writer, politician and leader.  He was not a runner, as far as I can tell.  He was part of the Enlightenment, and his words and works had great impact in his time and forward.  A reading of famous quotes from Poor Richard’s Almanac provides the curious with plenty of sayings to thinku about while running solo on a 20 miler.  Here’s a taste:  “The noblest question in the world is:  What good can I do in it?”  We’ll return to that thought.

How do romanticism and running relate?  Romanticism followed the age of reason, as a reaction to the scientific and industrial advances which seemed to obliterate the beautiful, natural and emotional.  To a scientist, Maxwell’s equations were beautiful, but to Lord Byron, beauty was found in nature, love, turmoil, adventure, and pleasure.  George Gordon Byron, called “Lord” because at age 10 he inherited the lordship of Byron, was born of a profligate father named Captain John “Mad Jack” Byron, a rogue and scoundrel who apparently had anger problems.  Lord Byron, a most famous figure of the romantic era, who wrote “She walks in beauty”, and a wealth of other poems, long poems, satires and tales, was an athlete and warrior.  This was in addition to being a lover, adventurer, cad, and debtor.  He was known for boxing and equestrian skills, and played cricket.  Many other authors, poets, musicians, and artists, including Jane Austen, Delacroix, Wordsworth, and Mary Shelley, who penned “Frankenstein”, defined this era.  Romanticism meant defying order, industrial progress, rigid attachment to religion and social norms, and seeking the whole of natural and human experience.  Does this sound like a marathon runner?  In many ways, I think it fits.  We train under all sorts of adverse conditions, from the sweltering heat of summer to the icy roads of winter.  We train in the dark, and in the rain.  We gather at the local pub to swap running stories while downing pints of beer.  Our goals may be ephemeral, enjoying the training as much as the racing.  We are smitten by the beauty of our co-runners, their form and grace.

When training for a marathon, we are drawn in by plans which prescribe the length, the pace and the frequency of our runs.  There are competing programs, and some swear by one while others will follow a different program.  Some, like scientists in a lab, will try different programs and measure success by the outcome of their latest race.  We use the latest technology of the day, GPS, Garmins, heart rate monitors, and smartphone apps.

Counter to this is the marathoner who just wants to finish the race and is not so concerned about a Boston Qualifier.  This is the runner who gets in the zone, and is focussed on the Zen of the run.  He or she is still facing the great challenge of 26.2 miles, a long run, but who eschews technology and goes for the feel.

Regardless of one’s perspective, what good can we do?  Does running a marathon help mankind or is it a personal indulgence so inwardly focussed to be useless to society?   This question could be fodder for pages of argument, but not here.  I would say it is both a personal indulgence and a way to enhance life experiences for many.  It keeps us fit.  It engages us socially, away from the desk and computer.  With the enormous growth in popularity of marathon running, it has become an economic boon for many cities.  I’ve been impressed and amazed by the support given by the crowds lining the course.  I think marathon runners set a great example of dedication to the supporters, who in turn provide us with encouraging cheers and clever signs to make it across the finish line.  My readers can let me know whether Enlightenment or Romanticism best represents the marathon runner, but ultimately, it is a noble effort.

Note 1:  Lord Byron’s daughter, Ada Lovelace, was an example of Enlightenment wrapped in Romanticism, designing the first type of algorithm used in an early type of computing machine.

Note 2:  the header photo shows Lord Byron’s scrawled name in a pillar in the dungeon of the Chateau de Chillon, where he was inspired to write “The Prisoner of Chillon”, photo by the author.

Un détournement de Chamonix.

Chamonix

Chamonix, and a view of Mont Blanc

On my return from Chamonix, the most common question asked of me was how I was treated by the French.  I said very well, but my friends weren’t buying it.  Weren’t they rude and dismissive? Or, do I speak French, and so had an easier time.  Or, if one just makes an attempt to speak French, is that enough?  Until one travels to a foreign country (foreign to the traveler, not so foreign to the people living there), it is difficult to understand the experience.   In the case of Chamonix, it is an international resort, welcoming adventuresome people from all over the world throughout the year. French is the native language, but English, German, Italian, Japanese, Arabic, Russian, Turkish, and Polish, were among the languages I heard while there. There is no doubt about it’s French nature, though. This is evident in the super marché, or super market.  Generally, ski towns have very nice super markets, and here is no exception.  But the meats and cheeses were the best, the wines excellent for about $7-10, the alpine butter delicious, and the choices of fresh vegetables, superb.  It was a very busy place, and typically, around 4 to 5 PM, the locals were crowding the store to buy food for dinner.  It is not customary there, to stock up for a week or more.  How would the food be fresh?  There were boulangeries (bakeries) on every street, and the image of a person carrying a baguette or two sticking out of the bag or backpack is real.  The bread is devine, crusty, yeasty and just the right texture.  Pâtisseries, the pastry shops selling incredible raspberry tarts, eclairs, and other sweets are also common, their wares displayed in windows to lure in the customers.
I don’t speak French, at least not well enough to engage in a conversation, and I may never, but I took the time to learn a little, and have picked up some over the years. While this is an international town, not everyone speaks English, so it helps to know a bit of the native tongue.  Whenever I am in France, I am reminded of the brilliant essay by David Sedaris, “Me talk pretty one day” , in which he describes his attempts to get conversant in French. It is so funny and true, and dangerous to read in company. You’ll embarrass yourself.

I was in Chamonix for a ski trip with friends from Pennsylvania and the UK.  We are an interesting mixed group, thrown together by chance and acquaintanceship, and of varying abilities on the slopes.  Yet we invariably have a great time, and plenty of adventure to boast about.

Teresa and AJ, among the UK set, enjoying the alpine sun.

Teresa and AJ, among the UK set, enjoying the alpine sun.

We arrived in Geneva on Sunday, March 2, and took a van to Chamonix.  We were dropped off at our elegant Chalet close to the center of town.  One advantage of going with a sizable group, there were eleven in ours, is that we can rent a whole chalet together, and get the benefits of a kitchen, nice rooms, and comfortable living areas.

Our chalet, Chalet Arkle, on Rue Joseph Vallot in Chamonix.

Our chalet, Chalet Arkle, on Rue Joseph Vallot in Chamonix.

Our chalet was, according to the “bible” left for our perusal by the owners, originally a home built for a physician in Chamonix, over 100 years ago.  It was solidly built, and the current owners upgraded everything to modern standards, with bathrooms in all the bedrooms, a huge, modern kitchen with an industrial stove, and even an outdoor hot tub, which we certainly did make use of.  A few peculiarities of local life:  recycling is done, but one must carry the trash and recyclables to receptacles in town, where there are big bins for trash, glass, plastic and paper.  Bags are not free in grocery stores.  They do sell reusable shopping bags, though.  Vegetables and fruits are weighed by the customer on a scale near the produce section, which spits out a label with the weight and cost.  Without this, one is sent back by the check-out person to fulfill one’s responsibility.

Famous early members of Le Compagnie des Guides de Chamonix

Famous early members of Le Compagnie des Guides de Chamonix

Chamonix is famous for extreme sports, winter sports, and mountain climbing.  The mural above shows early, formative members of the Compagnie des Guides de Chamonix, an association for the guides in this region.  The woman depicted at the top, Marie Paradis, at the time a worker in a hotel, was the first woman to climb to the summit of Mont Blanc, in 1808.  Chamonix was the home of the first Winter Olympics, in 1924.  Mont Blanc, the tallest mountain in Europe, can be seen clearly from the town, and is a primary attraction here.  The Vallée Blanche is the ski route off of Mont Blanc, accessible from L’Aiguille du Midi, the highest reaching cable car in the valley.  It is unmarked, unpatrolled and quite a challenging run.  I did this run in 2003, with a group from Philadelphia, led by a guide named Christian.

Entrance to the Vallée Blanche

Entrance to the Vallée Blanche

The trek down to the start of the ski run, Vallée Blanche

The trek down to the start of the ski run, Vallée Blanche

Our guide, Christian.

Our guide, Christian.

Some of our group did this same run this year.  I decided not to go, having done it once and survived.  The skiing, though, in this region is not easy.  While there are slopes meant for beginners and intermediates, they are pretty tough due to their steepness and iciness.  Up high at the top of the multiple ski areas which surround the valley, the snow is good and the views amazing.  But the runs at that height are steep, ungroomed, and mainly moguls.  My friends Teresa and Kristine and I took on the second most challenging descent, off the top of Grand Montets, the Point de Vue run along the Argentière glacier.

Frank and Kristine at the top of Grands Montets

Frank and Kristine at the top of Grands Montets

Point de Vue run off Grands Montets

Point de Vue run off Grands Montets

The Argentière glacier along the Point de Vue run.

The Argentière glacier along the Point de Vue run.

Frank, Teresa and Kristine after successfully descending off the top of Les Grands Montets summit.

Frank, Teresa and Kristine after successfully descending off the top of Les Grands Montets summit.

During this trip we also spent a day on the Italian side of Mont Blanc, the Monte Bianco side, in Courmayeur.  To get there, we took a bus from Chamonix through the famous Mont Blanc tunnel.  This eleven kilometer long tunnel runs under Mont Blanc, and was the site of a fire in 1999, due to a truck catching fire which was carrying flour and margarine.  Thirty-nine people died, and the tunnel was closed for three years after that for repairs and improvements.  Our bus left from the Chamonix train station and took us directly to the ski resort on the other side of the mountain, with no problems to report.

Our group, waiting for the bus to Courmayeur.

Our group, waiting for the bus to Courmayeur.

Skiing in Italy seemed a bit more fun and lighthearted than skiing on the French side.

Enjoying a break in Courmayeur.

Teresa, Christine, Simon, AJ, Drew, Eric, Jen, Paul, Kristine and Frank enjoying a break in Courmayeur.  Thanks, Will, for taking the photo.

The challenges were there, too, as we learned ascending to the top of the Youla gondola.

Looking down from the top of the Youla gondola station, see if you can spot the helicopter.

Looking down from the top of the Youla gondola station, see if you can spot the helicopter.

Simon, Will, AJ, Kristine and Paul at the top of the Youla gondola.

Simon, Will, AJ, Kristine and Paul at the top of the Youla gondola.

Drew, Jen and Eric, part of our Pennsylvania contingent, with Monte Bianco looming over us.

Drew, Jen and Eric, part of our Pennsylvania contingent, with Monte Bianco looming over us.

Traveling to really get away, to have an adventure, take some risks, and be out of range of work allows one’s batteries to recharge.  We had great food, some cooked by our chalet’s caretaker named Abdel.  He is Algerian by birth, with a Moroccan passport, and he loves to cook.  He prepared several dinners for us, including a Moroccan style dinner, and a fondue dinner.  Always he would include fresh salads and lots of vegetables, unlike what a restaurant meal might provide.  We played a truly bawdy card game called “Cards against Humanity”, which we learned from our UK representatives, was heavily weighted toward Americanisms.  Nevertheless, it had us rolling with laughter.  We drank plenty of beer and wine, and completely enjoyed ourselves.

I arrived home late Sunday night and had to be at work the following morning at 6:30.  It was a jarring reminder that I don’t live the holiday, jet-set life full time, only on special occasions.  I also have a half-marathon coming up, and the week of skiing is hardly preparation for a run.  I did run a couple of times in Chamonix, with Will, the eighteen year old who needs to stay in shape for lacrosse.  Good that I was able to keep up with him, although he did carry a backpack on our runs.  By the way, the French people I met were very friendly and forgiving of my grade-school French.  It was a great get-away, and I am looking forward to the next big adventure.

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.

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!

“Experienced” marathoner

It may be hard to believe, but this summer is nearly gone. This means the next marathon is looming larger in the near future. For me and my training partners, that date is October 6, for the Wineglass Marathon in Corning, New York. Having now run seven marathons, I am more aware of what is coming. Standing out most clearly in my mind is recalling how, at some point in most of the marathons I’ve run, I tell myself how utterly crazy it is to torture myself this way. Why would I willingly choose to go through the muscle pain in my legs, the pains in my shoulders, the bleeding, the chafing, and sometimes the near delirium, just to say I had done it? While many in our club have run many more marathons than I, I am starting to get the gist of it.

We have several new runners in our club who are planning to run their first marathons this fall. Some have been running with us on our long Sunday runs, and a couple run on their own but tell me how they are doing. To a person, they ask for little advice, but mostly are quite fixed on their training plans. They all have that holy grail of the marathon runner in mind, the Boston qualifying time. When we (our Sunday group) hear this, like a chorus we say, “just work on finishing”. There is little one can say that helps the naive runner get through their first marathon. We offer the familiar advice of not going out too fast, sticking to a plan, hydrating, eating appropriate numbers of gels throughout the race, and preparing ahead with BodyGlide and bandages. Much of this is relative. What is appropriate hydration for one person may be way under or over for another. How many gels, how often, something other than gels, is pure guesswork.

Some advice is sound and well grounded. It is a good idea not to wear brand new anything, especially shoes, for your first marathon. Even that, though, I’ve ignored, when I wore brand new knee high support socks for a race last fall, not having worn anything like them before, and loved them. How to dress is a tough call. Personal preferences, temperature at the start, where that temperature is headed, sun, clouds, humidity, all figure in to that guesswork. I think I changed my mind about ten times the night before my first marathon. In a race that starts early and goes several hours, conditions can change dramatically. Or, they can stay the same. For my first marathon, Philadelphia, 2008, the temperature never got above freezing. It started in the low 20’s with a bit of wind. The water stops were sheets of ice, not very safe to run, or walk on. The next year, that same race started in the mid 40’s and rose to the low 60’s, practically perfect.

Another piece of guesswork is what to eat the night before. I doubt any marathoner would consider it a good idea to eat a huge meal, redolent with fat, and washed down with many glasses of wine. No, save that for the afterparty. Pasta is the standard, but anything light and easily digestible makes sense to me. Is beer okay? My feeling is yes, “a” beer is okay, and probably helps one relax and not be too wound up.

The first time on the start line of a marathon, the atmosphere is euphoric. Dropping one’s bag at the right spot, managing to make it to the portable toilet for one last squirt, finding one’s way to the proper corral, squeezing in with the other runners, and sensing the collective anxiousness makes for a unique, numbing experience. Other runners are wearing giant trash bags with holes cut for the arms and head. Some are stretching in their limited space. Some are chatting incessantly with friends, all of whom are wearing earbuds and probably already listening to some inspirational play list they have created. And some are quietly looking ahead, perhaps playing out the course in their minds. All of this is in a swirl around the new marathoner who is unaware of how the race will unfold.

I plunged right in my first time. It takes a while to actually get to the start once the gun goes off in the bigger city marathons. There’s a shuffling start, corrals move up, and then one gets caught a little off-guard when the start line is actually underfoot. I remember starting my Garmin as I crossed that first detection pad, hearing the faint cacophony of beeps as the chips get registered, like the sound of locusts. Then, one’s own personal best for a marathon is underway.

I am very pleased to see new runners in our club taking on this challenge. I think they will have an experience that will change them for a lifetime. If, like me, they wind up getting sucked in, and go back time and again to challenge themselves, they will really change their lives. Each time I head to the start line now, I don’t know how the race will end for me. I know that I don’t know. But I have become aware of the routine at the start, the way I asses my condition as the race progresses, and certainly the warning signs of trouble, like cramps that all too often befall me along the way. I am still experimenting with strategy, modifying my starting pace, the way I drink during the race, and learning to slow down in the first half to be able to go faster in the second. It is quite a commitment to take on the training, typically about sixteen weeks, all for the one day event which may have great conditions, or perhaps awful conditions. I wish our club’s new marathoners, and anyone else tackling this for the first time, a satisfying and fulfilling experience, that will cause them to come back again.

Frank

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partimetravelers

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