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.

 

Why I Love the Caesar Rodney Half Marathon

Frank nears the halfway point

Frank nears the halfway point

 

I have written about this race before, The Caesar Rodney Half Marathon, in which I described the race, its history, and the particularly challenging profile of the course.  In brief, the first half of the race is relatively flat after an initial downhill first mile.  Then, there is a long and sometimes steep, 2.5 mile uphill climb, a number of turns through neighborhoods, then a downhill stint to the final steep uphill 1/3 mile to the finish.

This race is run the third Sunday in March, when chill winds still blow.  In fact, this year, we had a snowstorm all day Friday two days before the race.  Most of the snow on the streets melted the following day when it rose to 50˚F, but then the temperature dropped back to below freezing that night.  For race day, we had gusty winds and temperatures in the low 40’s.

Dan and Brian Ambrose pumping up for the hill.

Dan and Brian Ambrose pumping up for the hill.

What is good about this race?  It is one of the first races of the early spring, meaning to be in shape, one must train through the winter.  So, it encourages fortitude in training when the weather is frigid, daytime hours are few, and the conditions on the ground can be pretty miserable.

It is a race with a history.  It is one of the first half marathons in the country, first run in 1964 when Browning Ross, from Woodbury, NJ, won it in 1:07:24.  It has been run every year since then, making this year the 52nd running.

It is well organized.  Runners are given permission to use the Downtown Wilmington YMCA locker rooms, to store gear, use indoor restrooms, and provide showers after the race.  Few races I know of have that sort of facility available.  Picking up one’s number and race packet is simple and done on the day of the race.  There is a very friendly bag drop manned by volunteers.  In fact, there is a friendly atmosphere throughout, and senior Delaware Senator Tom Carper, former Delaware governor and congressman, former naval air commander during the Viet Nam war, runs the race with the rest of us.

It is for a good cause.  The money raised goes to support the American Lung Association, certainly an easy tie in with running.

From a personal view, this was my first half marathon, and the race I keep returning to year after year.  I first ran it in 2007, missed 2008, but have run it every year since.  Up to this year, I have been kind of stuck in a rut, time-wise.  My times these past years have been fairly consistent:

2007  1:51:59

Brandon at the finish line.

Brandon at the finish line.

2008  Didn’t run

2009 1:49:45

2010  1:49:48

2011  1:49:40

2012  1:53:35

2013  1:49:16

2014  1:49:34

This year I wanted to break out of my rut.  I ran fairly consistently through the darkest days of winter, through slush and cold rain, enjoyed the occasional cold but sunny morning run on the weekends, and was feeling pretty good going into the race.  Still, I had some trepidation.  I know the course, and how challenging it is.  After running it all these years I know every turn, and know when it seems like the race will never end.

So, I lined up with everyone else at the start, and took off feeling good.  One cannot help feeling good in a race which starts heading downhill for a mile.  Of course, the clever among us will recognize uphill is coming.  Instead of feeling washed up as the road headed up, though, I felt I still had some energy in me, and managed to gut out the 2.5 mile climb mid-race.  I cruised back down the hill towards the finish, and my good friend and running partner, Brandon, came back to encourage me on the last mile.  This all resulted in a very satisfying finish of 1:47:56, my best half marathon anywhere.  I finished fifth in my age group, averaging 8:15 per mile.

After the finish, a new half marathon PR for Frank.

After the finish, a new half marathon PR for Frank.

Now, I’ve set the bar higher for myself, and each year get older.  I’ll really have to turn up the training screws next winter.

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.

 

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.

How to make Black Eyed Peas

Pat, a delightful nursing assistant with whom I work, was disappointed we would be missing the hospital cafeteria’s soul food extravaganza out in our surgical center, away from the main hospital.  This was an homage to black history month.  I suggested to her we should put together our own soul food pot luck for lunch, and she was quite enthusiastic about that.  In fact, just about all the nurses and techs in our surgical center wanted to contribute something.  I realize I am not black, nor do I have a “soul food” background.  But there is a crossover between Texas cooking and soul food, and I know a bit about Texas cooking, so I offered up my own version of black eyed peas as my contribution.

First, buy some ham hocks.  This is the far end of the leg of the pig, before the foot.  It has meat, but also tendon, bone marrow, fat, and skin.  I like them smoked.  (Michele, my running friend who is meat free, turn away at this point).

Smoked Ham Hocks

Smoked Ham Hocks

Put these in a pot, cover with water, and bring to a slow boil.  Cook them like this for a couple of days with a bay leaf, five or six hours a day, replacing the water as needed to keep them covered.  Let chill, skim off the fat, and set aside.  One day into this process, clean one pound of dry black eyed peas, and start an overnight soak in cold water.

Dried Black Eyed Peas

Dried Black Eyed Peas

On the day of cooking the peas, drain the soaking water, rinse the peas, and return them to a large pot.  Take the chilled pot of ham hocks, which after boiling for two days, have turned the water into a wonderful, protein rich gelatin.  The meat has been cooked to a nice tenderness.  Remove the skin, and carefully extract all the bony pieces.  There will be lots of small bones, and one gets to plow through the hocks with bare fingers, extracting the meat from the bone.  Pick out any cartilage or sinew not wanted in the final mix.  Cut or shred the meat into little bits.  Add all the gelatin and the meat to the peas.

Take one good-sized green pepper and chop into small bits.  Likewise, shop an onion.  Saute these in oil until the onions are translucent and the green pepper looks thoroughly cooked.  Add this to the pea pot.  Add water as needed to just come up to the level of the peas.  Add freshly ground black pepper, sage, and salt to taste.  Don’t over salt, since there was salt in the ham hocks.  Add several dashes of Tabasco sauce, or if you really want them hot, use cayenne pepper.

Bring the mix to a boil, and cook for 35 minutes.  Unlike a lot of beans, the black eyed peas don’t require a long cooking period.  Cooking them too long turns them into mush.  Once they are cooked, check the seasoning to be sure the heat is right.  Let chill over night.

We served these the next day by warming in a crock pot.  They were a big hit, along with all the other incredible contributions to the lunch.  We had collard greens, smokey red beans, chicken, several versions of mac and cheese, rice, corn fritters, corn pudding, green salads, and lots more.  There were several different chocolate cakes, too, since everyone likes chocolate cake.  I think we came out way ahead of the cafeteria’s offerings.

It’s still very cold here in New Jersey.  While we are facing single digit temperatures, trying to get the running miles in, facing snow, ice and wind, it’s not bad to have some nice comfort food to keep us going.

Whole lotta chafin’ goin’ on

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Running in the Dark

Running in the Dark

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

With apologies to the Boss.

Caesar Rodney Half Marathon

Official logo for the 50th anniversary of the Caesar Rodney Half Marathon

Official logo for the 50th anniversary of the Caesar Rodney Half Marathon

Last Sunday, March 17, 2013, was the fiftieth anniversary of the Caesar Rodney half marathon.  This race has an illustrious history, especially since the half marathon distance only became a recognized distance in the early 1960’s with the earliest being the Route du Vin, in Luxembourg in 1961.  The first Caesar Rodney was held April 5, 1964, making it among the first held in the United States.  It was won that year by Browning Ross, from Woodbury, New Jersey, in 1:07:24.  Browning Ross is known as the father of long distance running in America.  He founded the Philadelphia Road Runners Club which ultimately became the Road Runners Club of America.  He also started a newsletter, the Long Distance Log, in 1956, which provided running news to the relatively small and elite group of long distance runners at the time.

I have run Caesar Rodney six times now.  It was my first half marathon, in 2007, and aside from one Philadelphia Rock and Roll half marathon (formerly the Philadelphia Distance Run), my only half.  The course is a tough one.  It starts in downtown Wilmington, Delaware, at one corner of Caesar Rodney Square.  It then proceeds south, slightly down hill, then flat, through a variety of neighborhoods, industrial areas, under the I95 overpass, and along a small tributary of the Delaware River.  As the route passes back in to the downtown area of Wilmington, the course runs over a curb, along a small parking lot, and along a road where numerous church goers are trying to get to their church.  The celebrants seem to have little forgiveness for the runners sacrilegious activity on Sunday morning.  At this point, though, the runners are nearing the six mile mark and steeling their minds and bodies to the grueling 2.5 mile climb ahead.  The ascent up Park Drive runs along a very attractive public park and another small tributary of the Delaware. Here is where the middle of the pack runners can see the ultimate winner, racing back down the hill already.   At the apex, there is a turn through Rockford Park, and a gently hilly pass through a neighborhood.  After that, the route heads back down the same Park Drive, a relief but still hard on the quads.  The finish is particularly cruel, as the route turns steeply uphill to the top of Caesar Rodney Square.  The finish line remains out of view as one takes a right, then another right, then a left to finally crest the climb and get to the line.

Caesar Rodney Elevation Profile

Caesar Rodney Elevation Profile

My times over the last seven years have been remarkably consistent, with one outlier.

CR2013Frank

Crossing the Finish Line, 2013

2007  1:51:59

2008  Didn’t run

2009 1:49:45

2010  1:49:48

2011  1:49:40

2012  1:53:35

2013  1:49:16

 

 

 

 

 

 

Last year was a bad year for me in this race.  I remember heading up that hill, head facing my feet, and thinking I was doomed.  A youngish woman came bouncing beside me, no heel strike for her, and suggested I lift my head.  I grumbled something about how my glasses were fogged and I needed to look down to see.  The truth was I was grinding away and in no mood to be pleasant.  This year, fortunately, the fog lifted.  I held my head up the entire race, paced it well, and wound up with a PR.

The honorable senator of Delaware, Tom Carper, age 66, ran the race, too, with bib #1, finishing in a very respectable 2:05:47.  I watched as he crossed the finish line.  I have great respect for someone as busy as he to take the time and make the major effort to run his hometown half marathon.  We have a number of very fast runners in our club, the South Jersey Athletic Club, and we were well represented in this race.  Dave Stewart ran 1:28:26.  Brandon Hamilton ran 1:29:50.  Joe Clark ran 1:30:49.  Sixty six year old Joy Hampton came in first in her age group with a 1:55:16.

Frank, back in warm, dry clothes again, at the finish line of Caesar Rodney

Frank, back in warm, dry clothes again, at the finish line of Caesar Rodney

After the race I was able to meet up with my son and his girlfriend who came out to watch.  After grabbing a few apples, a couple of Clif Bar samples, and some Starbucks instant iced coffee samples (not yet the weather for it, though), we walked down Market Street to the only place open for breakfast, The Chelsea Tavern.  It turned out we couldn’t have found a better spot.  They had a brunch menu which was very creative.  We managed to squeak in before several tables of fourteen runners got their orders in, which was probably very fortunate.  I had T. A. Farms Turkey Benedict, with avocado salsa, which was a very nice and spicy turn of a standard.  My son had some thick country fried scrapple, which turned out to be remarkably tasty, and his girlfriend had a delicious waffle.  While they went for standard fare, the brunch menu also includes such items as Crispy Chili Spiced Pork Belly Benedict, Green Eggs and Spam Hash, with tarragon providing the green, and a Veggie Fritatta.  The service was quick and friendly, and if you find yourself in downtown Wilmington in search of brunch, dinner, or a good beer, I highly recommend this place.

We then made our way back to the car, the crews disassembling the finish line structure, and the tents and tables being removed.  I believe next year I’ll be back.  This race, while tough, has a way of drawing you back again.

Frank K.

Vermont Redux

dsc_0082a

Looking up Route 100a towards the Calvin Coolidge Homestead, in Plymouth Notch, VT

Heading east on NY route 7, towards the Vermont border, the sky had the appearance of an expressionist painting in shades of gray, with streaks moving in different directions, slightly distracting me from driving.  The trip so far, up the New Jersey Turnpike, up the Garden State Parkway, then on to the New York State Thruway to Albany had been wet and dreary, but uneventful.  I was heading up, for the second time in a month, to spend a few days with friends in the Green Mountains.  Passing through Troy, I got a sense the weather might be changing.

One day earlier I had a new set of tires put on my 2008 Saab.  I only have 34,000 miles on it, but I had noticed lately my anti-lock brakes activating even on light rainy days.  I’m a careful driver, so it concerned me that even though it appeared sufficient tread was still on the Pirellis which were original with the car, they seemed to have lost the ability to grip the road.  Heading into the mountains and snow, I didn’t want to deal with unreliable tires.  I chose Michelin MXV4’s, which my local Tires Plus had to order in for me.  They are a four season touring tire, meant to handle well in rain and light snow.  I considered real snow tires, but felt that I would need them for one trip, then not for another year, and I would still want to replace the ones I had.

Crossing from New York 7 into Vermont, the route changes to Vermont 9.  Having driven four hours, I needed to take a break, get a fill up, a snack, use the rest room, and stretch the legs.  I usually stop at a Shell Station in Bennington, at the junction of Vermont 9 and 7.  Yes, I would be heading up route 7.  You would think Vermont and New York could work out these numbers so that 7 in NY was the same number in VT, but no, they are two recalcitrant states.  I got out of my car, and started to pump the gas.  In New Jersey, all the gas stations are full service.  Only when I leave the state and need a fill up do I actually have to, or get to, pump my own gas.  Who doesn’t love the smell of petrol on the hands?  Stopping in at the convenience store attached, there was talk among the locals of how bad the driving conditions were in the mountains, the very area I was heading.  In Bennington, the streets were dry and it was around thirty eight degrees.  When Vermonters mention how bad the roads are, though, one ought to listen.  Full of confidence, and desperately wanting to get to see my friends this night, I headed back onto the road and up Vermont 7.  I popped open a short can of Pringles to keep me entertained as I headed north.  Driving up to Manchester, I finally started to see some snow on the side of the road.  It had been pretty much absent up to that point.  But still, the road was clear.  The real test would come when I reached the turnoff at Manchester, where,  instead of heading into town to wisely wait until morning, I bravely ventured east into the Green Mountains.

The guy at the gas station in Bennington got it right.  Very quickly, as I headed up the mountain road, ascending as I went, the snow was already coming down.  It gets tricky driving in these conditions.  There is a long climb out of the Manchester region as the road heads east, and several large trucks were pulled to the side, their drivers putting chains on the tires.  The road had not been plowed, and snow was accumulating at a rapid rate.  My jaw muscles were tightening as I continued to climb, staying within the car tracks of whomever had passed before me, my  wipers trying to keep up with the accumulation of snow on the windshield.  I had the defroster blowing to keep the windshield warm so that the wiper blades could still work.  Up to this point, I had made very good time, staying ahead of the speed limit and avoiding the speed traps.  But now, I was slowing way down, and the last forty three miles of the trip were going to take considerably longer than an hour, judging by my current speed of around twenty miles per hour.  While the road mostly went up, there were the occasional downhill segments as well, which felt very treacherous, especially if they rounded a curve.  I tried to keep myself focused, and avoid imagining the car sliding off the road.  I thought, at least there were snow banks on both sides of the road which could keep me from winding up plummeting down an embankment into a freezing stream.

I did manage to stay on the road, past the entrance to the Bromley Ski Resort, up and down a few more hills to Londonderry.  Here, the relative ease of traveling Route 11 was left behind, and I needed to turn north up Route 100.  The first challenge is in the first quarter mile, as the road twists its way up a short but steep hill.  With the Saab still staying on track, I continued this adventure at a very modest pace, still needing to drive in the tracks in the road which were now filling with new snow.  Before, on Route 11, while I shuddered as each logging truck and four wheel drive SUV passed in the opposite direction, at least someone would have noticed me go off the road.  Here, on Route 100, I seemed to be alone.  This was more frightening, not having any witness available should I slide.  In the dark, snow coming down, I managed to continue on the windy course of Route 100, holding a steady 15-20 miles per hour.  I knew that up ahead, there was a sharp right turn to stay on 100 north.  I’ve driven this route many times before, but I didn’t remember exactly where this turn comes.  One thing about snow, though, it does reflect light, and make even a dark night seem a little brighter.  I passed through the little village of Westin, with its classic New England B&B, the Westin Inn.  It beckoned me to just pull in and take a room for the night.  Yet, I continued driving, knowing there would be good food and beer and good friends when I reached my destination.  Driving on,  I noticed some familiar landmarks, a barn, a curve in the road, and noticed a signpost up ahead.  The signs were completely caked with snow so that they were unreadable, but I recognized the turn to stay on 100.  I slowed to quite a crawl to negotiate the turn, and kept on.  This, I knew, was the most challenging part of the route.  The road climbs and descends at pitches up to 19% grade, and I knew my front wheel drive sedan was not designed for this.  If I did slide into a ditch, I knew the response from whomever would rescue me would be one of derision, that I was foolhardy to think I could handle this road in these conditions without a serious four wheel drive ve-hic-le.  I finally crested the last hill leading down to the town of Ludlow.  As I again slowed so not to skid off the road during my descent, for the first time in many miles I started to get a cue of drivers behind me.  I hoped they wouldn’t drive too close, since I knew I would be going very slowly on these last few miles into Ludlow.  As I neared the town, the road showed signs of recent plowing.  My jaw muscles, now tetanic from being contracted so long, were starting to relax.  I made it onto the main street in Ludlow intact, thankful I had not lost control on that snowy ride through the mountains.

In Ludlow, I had a few items to pick up.  First and most important was a stop at the Brewfest Beverage Company, conveniently located at the junction of Routes 100 and 103 in Ludlow.  The parking area was thick with snow, but I didn’t care.  I pulled in and walked in.  It felt very good to stretch my legs after the drive.  I picked up a sixpack of Long Trail Double IPA, a four of Long Trail Triple Bag Ale, a sixpack of The Shed Mountain Ale, and a Silverado Cabernet.  Back in the car, I had a bit of trouble getting through the thick snow which had piled up in the parking lot, but managed to blast my way through and get back on the road.  Another block and I stopped at Shaw’s market to pick up some food for my hotel room.  There was a fair amount of traffic along this road, and the plows had come through, making it easily passable.  A couple of miles down the road and I again headed north on Route 100, for the last few miles to my destination, the Salt Ash Inn in Plymouth Notch, at the junction of 100 and 100a.

The Salt Ash Inn

The Salt Ash Inn, a unique, rustic experience in Vermont

As I pulled up to the inn, I realized I had made it intact, and was thankful I had made the decision to get the new tires.  I don’t think the old tires were up to the task, and there were definitely points along the way I would have lost control had the old tires still been on the car.  I stepped out of my car, and went in.  This inn, the Salt Ash, is unlike any other I’ve stayed in before.  While it has a very nice Vermont country feel to it, and it is certainly charming visually, it is very rustic in that one is mostly on one’s own in this place.  There’s a sign in the hall to ring the innkeeper on an old fashioned handset phone, all in black.  Al, the innkeeper, showed up a few minutes later to give me my key, a regular dead-bolt key on a key ring, and clue me in on my room’s features.  It was the Union room, a small, one-bedroom room with a bit of a slant to the wood floor.  The bed was very comfortable, but it was squeezed into the small end of the trapezoid shape of the room.  It had a thermostat to control the radiator, a sink which had very slow flow, and a toilet and small shower.  Perfect for me, traveling on my own.  It would work for a couple, too, but no room for an extra bed.  The one homage to modernity in the inn was free WiFi, which was quite welcome.

living room with wood stove

Unlit wood stove in the living room of the inn.

After dumping my bags in the room and skis in the front room of the inn, I joined my friends who had been here for several days already.  They were staying in the inn’s annex, which is a converted out building, with a large one bedroom apartment on the first floor, and two smaller rooms on the second.  We used the kitchen and living area for meals and hanging out.  The group consists of friends from both sides of the Atlantic, the U.S. East Coast contingent and the Londoners.  We planned to ski at Pico the next day, which was a Thursday.  That’s significant because Pico is closed Tuesday and Wednesday, and with the new snow that fell, we were looking forward to a day of fresh powder, or at least what passes for it in Vermont.

The gang in the annex, planning our day at Pico.

The gang in the annex, planning our day at Pico.

This was my first time at Pico, the smaller sibling of Killington.  While smaller, it has some very nice runs, and, as we would find out, there is the possibility of finding some unskied areas to make fresh tracks.  We happened to meet up with a local skier, a friend of one in our group, who took us on a tour of the ski area we would never have known about if not for him.  We traversed through the trees several runs over, making our own trail, until we came to an unused run served by an ancient lift which was not in service.  There we had the pleasure of an untouched slope all to ourselves, with about 12 inches of new snow on it.  Skiing it wasn’t easy.  It made me look pretty awkward, but the others in the group handled it very nicely.  This tour of the mountain brought us to several more unused, or little used, slopes, so we had quite a good day of it.

Fresh snow on a hidden run at Pico.

Fresh snow on a hidden run at Pico.

That evening, one of the women in our group, Christine, made a concoction of eggplants, zucchini, potatoes and onions to go with some spicy sausages we cooked in the oven.  I found out that the English, ever teaching us the right way to speak, say aubergine and courgette respectively for eggplant and zucchini.  Regardless, it was delicious and went well washed down with the local Vermont beers.  We also had some blueberry pie and the famous Ben and Jerry’s Vanilla ice cream, without which a trip to Vermont would be incomplete.

The following day we had plans to go cross country skiing.  Being a runner, I was looking forward to this, as I had no hope of getting any running in, given the road conditions.  In German, cross country skiing is Langlaufen, or “long running”.  I’m sure there’s supposed to be a “ski” in there too, but it’s understood.  We drove about 30 miles south to Grafton Village, home of the Grafton Ponds Outdoor Center.  There they have cross country ski trails and ski rentals.  Our group, being very much an alpine skiing group, was bold to try this form of the sport.  I had done two days of cross country about three years ago, and that was the extent of my  experience.  Of the others in the group, one, Simon, had the most experience, having gone several times, up to a week at a time.  The rest were all newbies.  Since I brought my own skis with me, I didn’t have to rent equipment, but the others did.  The rentals are much cheaper than downhill equipment, and the pass for the trails is likewise a lot more reasonable, about $14 for a half day.

cross country skis

My practically unused cross country skis.

The area has a flat trail which runs around a large pond, and trails leading uphill into the woods.  At the top-most trail there is a cabin.  Reaching it is proof you were able to make it up the most difficult climbs.  What I discovered, but actually already knew, is that descending is a lot more difficult than climbing.  Climbing takes some strength and conditioning.  Descending takes knowing how to slow your descent using ridiculously skinny, edgeless skis on a narrow trail which has hair-pin turns.  After a run around the pond to get used to the skis, the intrepid Simon and I headed up the trail in the woods to the cabin, naturally.  Getting there was addictive.  As we went along the trails, one got the wonder of cross country skiing, shushing along the quiet flat parts, enjoying the solitude in the woods, and using the herringbone technique to climb to the next level.  We ultimately reached our goal, the cabin.  It was small and unassuming, but probably welcome under colder conditions.  As it was when we were there, the temperature was close to 40 degrees, so we hardly needed warming.

Frank at the hut.

Frank at the hut.

dsc_0093a

Simon at the hut.

Inside the hut.

Inside the hut.

As predicted, the descent back to the center was treacherous, mainly for me.  Simon, with his advanced cross country skills had no trouble negotiating the tricky downhill segments.  I, on the other hand, had all sorts of trouble, basically controlling the descent about three quarters of the way down each switch back turn, then wiping out.  The conditions were not ideal for a newcomer to the sport.  The warm day left the snow soft and wet, not dry and crisp which would have been manageable.  At one point I had to take off a ski to get back up, and quickly discovered the idiocy of that move.  The ski slipped out of my hand, and with no ski brake as on an alpine ski, it easily skittered off into the woods.  Fortunately, it hit a tree and stopped.  I went tromping after it in deep snow, almost up to my hip, but managed to get the ski back and crawl back up onto the trail.  I walked about fifty feet downhill, to a flatter segment, and put the skis back on.  Amazingly, Simon had patiently waited for me, and we went together the last kilometer or so down to the ski center. As we descended further, a tall, somewhat natural looking woman, dressed in sweat pants and a long sleeve cotton T-shirt, who had been skiing circles around us, passed in the opposite direction and said, “congratulations, you conquered Bear Hill,” and flew by for another loop.   The others in our group had long since finished their experiment with cross country, and were ready to depart.

The gang at the Grafton Ponds Outdoor Center.

The gang at the Grafton Ponds Outdoor Center.

We were eager to try some of the famous Grafton Village cheese, made locally.  We stopped in at the cheese shop, sampled about everything we could sample, and contributed a bit to the local economy.  We then headed off to Manchester Center, to allow for a little shopping at the outlet stores.  I went to my favorite bookstore in the world, Northshire Bookstore, an independent and thriving bookstore which is a treat to visit.  I bought Paleofantasy, by Marlene Zuk, a detailed and well researched work debunking the myths around the new fads of “paleo” living.  I also picked up an Alan Furst novel about spies in the pre-world war two era, Spies of the Balkans.  It promises to be an exciting read.

That evening, we had dinner in the Echo Lake Inn, for their Friday night, three course, $23 special.  We had a wonderful dinner, a great value for the price, since the quality was very good, along with some very nice wines from California.  The next morning, we had breakfast together, and then I took off.  I left the key of my room on the table with the phone, figuring Al would find it.  The ride home would be a lot less dramatic than the ride up.  The sun was out, the road was clear, and the traffic, light.  I always enjoy my time up here in Vermont.  Vermonters are a tough lot.  They survive severe weather, and in the case of the recent hurricane, Irene, some pretty damaging flooding from which they are still recovering two years later.  Most of the local people we spoke with here had stories to tell of homes and business flooded, or even completely washed away, along with roads and bridges.  But, they have managed to rebuild and enjoy their mountain home, clearly very dear to the people of this state.

Next up, back to real running, with the Caesar Rodney half marathon.

Redefined Timeline

You know all of those things you've wanted to do? You should go do them.

Logical Quotes

Logical and Inspirational Quotes

partimetravelers

Full time dreamers, part time travelers, the World how we see it.

OLD AND FIT

Never a diet, always a lifestyle change

Uncorking Croatia

The Blog of WINES OF CROATIA

RunnersOnTheGo.com

To help enrich the lives of others, we developed RunnersOnTheGo.com to help runners save money on races, running stores, and much more. We also provide the specific local information that makes your travel for business, vacation, or racing as rewarding as possible.

Pearls Before Swine

The Blog O' Stephan Pastis

My great Wordpress blog

Just another WordPress site

Adventures in Wonderland

a pilgrimage of the heart

Hiking Photography

Beautiful photos of hiking and other outdoor adventures.

quotidiously

the spaces between

getsetandgo

Travel Blog of a Budget Traveler on a look out for Vegetarian Food

26.2 with Toddler

A stay-at-home-dad training for 26.2

Hemingway Run

From Couch Potato To Runner Bean!

Mid-Life, Mid-Level, Masters Running

Exploring ideas about running to contribute to a more enjoyable pursuit for the mid-level masters runner

therunningtherapist

"One foot in front of the other and one thought at a time"

%d bloggers like this: