Posts Tagged running

A Running Dialogue

2000 Boston MarathonMany years have passed since I ran the Boston Marathon. I used to work in the Boston Athletic Association’s hospitality suite for the sponsored runners as well. It was there I met Joan Benoit Samuelson, worked with Ernst van Dyk, and shook hands with Little Richard. I also met Jacqueline Gareau there, the actual woman that won the 1980 race, not Rosie Ruiz. It all seemed so long ago, until this past Monday, April 15th. I was driving out of Boston, not there for the race, when my phone started going berserk. I had checked the times of the few people I knew running the race that day and could not imagine what could be going on. Turns out, nobody could imagine what was going on would ever happen there.

Cities that play host to marathons find a cohesive bond that brings out the best in its citizens. With the exception of last year’s New York City Marathon debacle, a marathon has unprecedented support from the public. History has shown that the marathon is one of the only spectator sporting events that bystanders can be so close to the champions and that everyday runners can compete on the same course as those very champions. I have been in New York City for their Marathon, watched the throngs of people cheer on the runners and yell their support. Nearly every street was lined with people, in the bitter cold. They know that the runners are giving all they have to complete the course and the spectators want them all to do it.

The race on that Monday was one of those days made to run; the weather was near perfect. Everything seemed to have gone just as everyone had wished it could go, until that fateful moment. After that moment, everything before it was washed away. The anger and outrage that followed was there for many reasons, many of which you cannot understand unless you have been in Boston for the race, let alone run in it.

The Boston Marathon is the Mecca of running. I do not use that analogy haphazardly, but instead to put it in perspective for those that might not quite understand. I only trained for marathons so I could qualify to run in the Boston Marathon. I qualified on my first attempt, barely. Runners may run for charities to get a bib number, but those runners that are the obsessive, devout distance runners want to qualify; it validates their being there.

To run in Boston, to finish, is to reach the end of a religious journey. Once you have done it, no one can take that away from you. The race on Monday was defiled by a senseless act and the entire community responded by coming together to rebuke the attack.

While many other people around the world wondered why a community would be so outraged by an act that injured relatively few in the view of the world, the running community of the world understood. New York City understood. London ran its marathon the next weekend and they understood. It was not just an affront to a group of people running for 26.2 miles, it was a community coming together to support people running for various causes, fundraisers, and the memories of loved ones. It was a city supporting those people running for all of those reasons, whether the people watching and cheering knew the reasons or not. THAT was the reason for the anger and outrage.

What happened on that Monday was a despicable act, perpetrated by ignorant, hate-filled individuals. The people of Boston showed that they will not waiver in their support of that city’s marathon. The Boston Marathon is THE marathon, and that will never change.

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The Art of Running in the Rain

I woke up today at the usual ungodly hour. After silencing one of my many alarms, I heard the hushed sound of falling rain outside. It was a scheduled day for a run. As I began going through the daily morning routine, I weighed my options. Yes, I have run in everything from blizzards to hurricanes, but with the current pandemic of flu circulating, I preferred to reduce my risk of lowering my immune system and tempting fate. After further consideration, I decided to go out for the run.

For the twenty plus years I have been actively running, some of my best runs have been in the rain. I really cannot point to one reason why, it is just the way it usually works out. People who are not avid (read fanatic) runners often ask why anyone would go for a run in the rain during near freezing temperatures, while the runners just smile and nod. Perhaps it is my knowing that during those days I will only see the most diehard runners out there and we will nod and wave in a mutual understanding; or maybe it is more that I know that I will rediscover the reason or reasons I run.

Over the past few years I have been dealing with a few nagging injuries, the latest one sidelined my running for several months. Recently, I have begun slowly working back up to the speed and mileage that I had prior to the injury. It has literally been a process of re-education on the basics of running; mentally and physically. Running in the rain presents additional challenges like avoiding puddles, potholes, and drive-by tsunamis. Throw in the fact that at this time of year I run before daylight and the logistics can be more than a little disconcerting while recovering from an injury.

Still, I embraced the challenge. As I set out on the run, the rain fell lightly, without any discernable breeze to complement it. The temperature was well above freezing, so ice was not an issue. Out on the road, I had to plan my steps well ahead of time, avoiding all that I could without the benefit of ambient light. Only two cars passed me around West Chop, normal for this season. I began to get a feel for where to step and where to avoid, even while correcting my stride and pace for my still recovering injury. While the run was challenging, I felt more confident with every passing mile.

I continued to run past my initial turn that would have ended my usual loop. With my confidence bolstered and my stride having become quite comfortable, I decided to extend the distance just a bit. When I did turn to begin the final leg of the run, I had the energy and rhythm to increase my pace ever so slightly; something that had not been the case for quite some time while recuperating. At the end, I felt tired, but not spent. The rain continued to fall as I went inside the house to stretch and cool down.

Once again, one of my best runs happened as rain fell consistently, challenging conventional thoughts otherwise. As I reflect on that run, I find the parallels to my life of the past several years, persevering through conditions that many others might falter or concede. The fact that I (or anyone) simply continues on and deals with whatever life doles out is a testament of the human spirit. Sometimes we can sidestep the puddles, other times we just need to splash right through them in order to reach the other side. Whatever it takes, just keep running.

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Going the Distance

How far would you travel to get to a party? What about going to see a really great musical act or movie? Would you drive for more than an hour? If you live year round onMartha’s Vineyard, chances are you are less willing to drive than you are to complete your annual tax forms. There seems to be some sort of malaise when it comes to travelling once one resides on island for any period of time. Call it one of the idiosyncrasies of island life. Allow me to provide a little background information before I elucidate the phenomena.

When I worked as a private investigator aroundNew England, I drove hundreds of miles every day. In less than one year I drove sixty thousand miles for work alone. I drove from Denver, Colorado to Mystic, Connecticut in less than thirty-six hours, non-stop. The odometers of my collective driving career total over half a million miles, amassed while driving nearly a dozen automobiles. Through all sorts of weather, at all types of traffic and terrain, it rarely mattered to me once I started on the journey; as long as I was off island.

During my first season living and working on Martha’s Vineyard, I barely used a single tank full of fuel in my car. My commute to work took less than ten minutes on my bike. Truth be told, I probably ran more miles training for marathons than I did driving that summer. Aside from saving money and getting more exercise, it felt a little more liberating knowing that I did not have to worry about finding a parking space, let alone getting a parking ticket, whenever I rode my bike or walked to my destination.

Still, whenever there was something happening at night or on another far flung part of the island, use of a car was pretty much mandatory, especially when going with someone else. As time passed, and the weather turned colder and less conducive to non-automobile forms of travel, decisions had to be made. Conversations would go something like this: “Hey, are you going to the film festival tonight?” “The one happening in Chilmark; no, that’s too far out to drive.” “Dude, you RAN ten miles this morning!” “Yeah, but not to Chilmark; that’s like WAY out there.”

So the conversations often go here on island. “There’s no parking in ______.” (Edgartown, Oak Bluffs, Vineyard Haven) “I don’t feel like driving ALL THAT WAY and not find parking.” Forget taking the bus unless you are going to school because in the off season, the route coverage is scant at best, even in the middle of the day. You could always call a taxi, but seriously; you own a car, why would you call a taxi?

Perhaps I’m a bit jaded or just more of a curmudgeon, but I have heard the same story from many of the residents relating to social or non work related travel on the island. Actually, I have actually turned down work that would have required me to travel to, wait for it, Chappaquiddick. Okay, discuss…

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Hibernation in the Fortress of Solitude

Well January passed rather quickly this year; must have been the mild weather. As February came over Martha’s Vineyard, those of us left here suddenly realized that here is a winter planned for us and we should not expect otherwise. It was too good to last really; sunny days, little wind, mild temperatures. Still, we have only had a few bitterly cold spells and the odd day or so where the mercury hits 50 still happens. The days are getting longer, but it will be some time before thoughts shift to a sunset picnic on South Beach or in Menemsha. No, this is the time of year when most of the year round residents tend to hibernate.

Now, I have been known to “call people out” when they call themselves year round residents. Their cars still wear the plates of other states, they disappear for warmer climes between January and March, and complain about needing to “get off this rock” before they go insane. Tenderfeet people that they are, they talk the talk but don’t walk the walk. If you want to call a place home, take it for all it is; warm summer days, bitterly cold winter nights, weeks of isolation. They remind me of the tale of the ant and the grasshopper; but I digress.

There are an overwhelming number of artistic and literary type people left in this vast wasteland of winter during the most desolate time on Martha’s Vineyard, and that suits them just fine. Me, I’m just a recluse; days might pass before I emerge from my house. Neighbors cannot even tell if I’m at home. I designed the house like a cocoon, insulating me from all that which I wish to avoid. The internet and the advent of social media have permeated my life, but I need only switch off the various devices to achieve seclusion once more. It can be a blessing.

Festivities do happen here, even now. The Annual Chili Fest just lured hundreds of people to the island with promises of judicious libations and spicy omnivorous delights, but it was for only several hours. Soon hundreds of ectomorphic runners shall descend upon the island for the annual 20 Miler RoadRace, no matter what the weather shall hold for them on their epic run through the course. Other, smaller events will also be held; a film festival, the odd community dinner, etc. For the most part, the people remaining here for the duration appreciate the state that the island remains in at this time of year.

The slower pace allows the smaller, more intimate gatherings for quiet dinners or discussions. For others, it is a chance to work on literary pursuits or artistic endeavors. For me it is a time to hibernate in my personal fortress of solitude and contemplate what ways I might better myself; physically, culturally, financially, intellectually. Never settle, always strive for something more because if you do not, you will miss all of the glorious things that exist in this world, even if they reside in your own mind. Understanding how to discover all that could be sometimes requires a certain time, in a special place, in a proper state of mind. I have found that to be now, on my island, in repose. Now go do the same for yourself before life passes you by.

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Hitting Your Marks

With the holidays winding down, it might be a good time to address the different things in our lives in order to insure that we are where we need to be, when we need to be there.

From the time on a clock, to the steps for constructing some new object that we might have received as a gift there are methods to the madness that permeates all of our lives. As I elucidate below, see if you recognize any in your daily routine.

Living on Martha’s Vineyard, anytime I need to leave the island (I never really WANT to leave the island) the issue of transportation looms large in the plans. I have never taken a plane to or from the island, nor do I ever plan to. That leaves transportation via the water and which of the few passenger vessels would be most appropriate. If I plan on taking my car, I have only ONE “choice”. The Steamship Authority can be difficult to deal with from the perspective that you should always TRY to make a reservation for travel in order to prevent either being stuck in stand-by for endless hours or finding out that there is NO stand-by on the day you wish to travel. That being said, you will need to decide which boat you can have your act together in order to be AT the boat on time. Miss that mark, and all hell could break loose. Trust me, even if you THINK you are ready, think again. I refer you to a December 23rd reservation that was prey to the ravages of the wind, canceling ALL boats, including mine.

When I was training for marathons, I had to maintain a certain cadence to insure that I was “on pace” to make the most of my training. If my heart rate was not high enough, I was not working hard enough, which would tend to negate the purpose of training altogether. If it was too high, I would burn out too soon and not have the stamina to finish the training session, if not the race. So keeping my heart rate in the “zone” allowed me to hit the marks, or splits, during the run. These days my running has diminished to what I refer to as “junk miles” that entail maintaining a pace that allows me to finish the workout before I have to start walking or hitch a ride.

Whether for business or for personal, we all have appointments and commitments that require use to meet with people at a given time, at a certain place. On island you might have to deal with a drawbridge that randomly goes up, even when there are no boats waiting to pass through. Or perhaps a couple of moped riders feel the need to ride side by side from the Aquinnah Lighthouse all the way to the Steamship Authority Lot as you are rushing to make your reservation. Then again, there is always the excuse my clients tend to have most often when they arrive late, there was no parking available. I have always found that it always best to be early than late, but sometimes fate deals you a cruel blow and it just cannot be helped. If you cannot be prompt, be gracious when you arrive. Everyone will appreciate it, trust me.

Dealing with a seasonal economy requires everyone involved to obtain a certain amount of seasonal wealth to carry then through the off season. The most important aspect is to understand that this fact exists before the season has passed; otherwise your options for independence dwindle rapidly. Consider working every day, for long hours, until the business slows to a crawl or until you can no longer function at the given, whether you like it or not. That will be the new “normal” unless you just come to the island to work seasonally, as a parasitic worker, in which case you can be on your merry way whenever the urge strikes you. For those of us with a mortgage, taxes, and a business to maintain, we continue to toil away for fear that it will all end too soon, leaving us short of what we need to pay the bills until the next season arrives. This has been an ever more difficult mark to hit, given that every season seems to be shorter than the last.

As the year comes to a close, I look back and see that I have hit almost all of my marks. Perhaps I could have set the bar a little higher, but given all that I encountered over the past year, I have to be happy that I made it this far. How about you? Here’s to next year!

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Go Vineyarders

So this past weekend was very special for the Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School Athletics Program. Yes, for the first time since 2004 both the Boys and Girls Cross Country Teams ran in the Massachusetts (MIAA) All-State Cross Country Championships  at Franklin Park, just outside of Boston. Oh, you thought I was referring to the football game? No, that sporting event did not interest me. After all, I attended and graduated from one of the high schools were the rivalry dates back to 1875. The earliest known game between the two schools was played on May 12, 1875. I never attended a football game in high school, however.

My view of athletics is one that establishes a love for the activities in the individual that will remain with them throughout the individual’s lifetime, promoting a healthy lifestyle that endures. I watched a movie about the American distance runner Steve Prefontaine, where the actor portrayed the runner speaking to a group of kids. He asked them if they liked football. They yelled “yes” and he replied that football wouldn’t be much without running, right? He did the same for several other sports, getting the same response from the kids. My point is, running might seem pretty mundane, but we tend to take it for granted as a sport, for the most part. But I am biased, as I am a runner and I coach runners.

Here on Martha’s Vineyard, I know runners that have run more than 100 marathons, compete in the Boston Marathon year after year, and run road races well into their 60’s. People clamor from all over the country to run in the Chilmark Road Race every year. Every summer residents and visitors alike take to the roads, paths, and trails of the Vineyard to resume running programs lost since the previous season. Running spans the confines of generations like few other sports do. I have been running for more than 25 years, including marathons.

Yet, the weekend the Boys and Girls Cross Country Teams both qualified for the Massachusetts State Finals, a few lines appeared in the local papers; nothing more. The fact that there where kids that stepped up when their team members faltered, enabling the entire team to advance to the next level of competition, well their names and times were not listed or noted. The next Saturday, when the Steamship Authority lot in Vineyard Haven was overrun with people clamoring to board the boat toNantucketfor the football game, the Cross Country Team quietly boarded the boat bound for Wood’s Hole.

The island’s radio station broadcast the football game live. Island businesses had signs posted in their windows cheering on the football players. When the Football Team returned to Vineyard Haven, victorious, they were greeted with a hero’s welcome, or so I was told. Pictures and video of the players and the game were all over the internet. Oh, and the runners on the Cross Country Team made it back to the island, too; just in case anyone was wondering.

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It Was a Dark and Stormy Night

Of the changes one must adapt to while living on an island like Martha’s Vineyard, the isolation ranks right up there at the top. While I do enjoy the isolation for the most part, it is the accessibility that tends to irk me every so often. Once you decide to go off island, it is a commitment that sometimes lasts longer than you initially planned on. Such was the case recently, when a classic Nor’easter descended on the East Coast.

This past Saturday was the Eastern Athletic Conference League meet for Cross County at Borderland Park in Massachusetts. As one of the coaches, I usually accompany the thirty team members to their off island meets, and this was no exception. While the forecast had predicted nasty weather for later in the day, it was pretty calm in the morning and it remained so until the early afternoon. By the end of the first race, the rain had begun to fall. By the end of the final race, it was getting pretty windy to boot.

The bus started back to the ferry under a steady rain and increasing winds. As every islander knows, it’s the wind that will stop the ferries from running. With this in mind, I kept checking the Steamship Authority website and my twitter feed for updates on the status of the boats. At just after 3:30 there were grumblings of trouble. Possible cancellations of boats due to the weather echoed from a few sources. Just before 4 PM there was word the 5 PM boat had been cancelled. That was the boat we had been shooting for.

As the bus pulled into the lot just after 4 o’clock, the lot attendants in the shack said the 5 o’clock boat was on time. Further confirmation inside the ticket office proved that information to be bogus; the 5 o’clock had definitely been cancelled. Now as soon as I heard of the cancellation, we had started to explore the options open to us, should the remaining boats also be canceled. The high school athletics director had been calling around to the motels and hotels in Falmouth, but there were limited accommodations available. Seems the Cape Cod Marathon was scheduled for the next morning. Go figure.

Shortly after 4:30, it was decided that the remaining boat crossings for the day would be cancelled. So there we were, with thirty soggy, hungry teenagers, looking for lodging for the night. Long story short, we get seven rooms at a local inn; three for the boys, three for the girls, one for the two coaches. Dinner consisted of thirteen pizzas. Luckily the kids were too tired to get into any mischief and the night went without incident. Well, almost.

Being an insomniac provides one with opportunities missed by most, like seeing rain turn to snow at 2:30 AM, then back to rain at 3:30. By the time 5 AM rolled around, it was time to start calling the Steamship office and getting updates from the internet about conditions and forecasts. Since the “ghetto” inn gave us a bum television, our BlackBerry devices were working overtime the entire time. While the kids slept we called several office numbers, tweeted a few contacts on island, and hoped for the best.

It was not until a few minutes before 8 AM that we confirmed the first boats would leave the docks at 8:15. Rushing to catch the 9:30 AM boat, we rousted the kids, arranged for the bus to pick us up, and packed up our still wet gear. The boat was packed with those who had suffered the same fate as us and they looked just as weary.

The boat ride back was rather calm, the skies had cleared, and we were all going home. The minor inconvenience is always diminished by the beauty of the island as you round the chop and enter the harbor. Yes, some might simply call it Martha’s Vineyard, but it is the island I definitely call my home.

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