Chippewa 50k

I’ve lacked motivation to run long training runs recently. Granted I’ve fought off some minor injuries over the past six months, but am planning to keep up my distance running as long as my legs don’t fall off. To do so I know I can’t just run races. I actually have to train a bit too. Since my last marathon six weeks ago, my longest run was just over 13 miles. Not necessarily high quality miles either. I’ve averaged roughly a marathon or longer race per month for the last 43 months, but part of that was from chasing my 50 state marathon goal (completed in January 2015) and actually doing decent training miles. For some reason I keep getting older and slower as the years slip past. I don’t know why I thought I’d keep getting younger and faster, but the laws of time and cell death rule.

This week in a weak moment of brilliance I thought the best way to get in some long training miles would be to sign up for a race. I have marathons on my calendar for both May and June. A few days ago I signed up for a race. Not a marathon, but a 50k. Nothing like running 31 miles to train for some 26 mile races. If my legs recently felt dead after 13 mile runs, I’m sure they’d feel great for 31.

To shorten the drive to the start at the Chippewa Moraine Interpretative Center near New Auburn, WI, I drove as far as Eau Claire, WI on Friday night. A friend lives in the Twin Cities, but teaches at UW – Eau Claire. (He and a few other professors share a small apartment for times they want to avoid the 90 minute commute home to the Twin Cities.) Thus I had the vacant crash pad in which to sleep before a short drive to the race early on Saturday.

On my drive east I listened to a tribute anthology of Prince music on the radio. While I drove east along the hilly and curvy highway approaching Menomonie, WI, I noticed the full moon rising and surfing the hills of the horizon. Due to particles in the atmosphere it loomed large and orange. As the road dropped into valleys, the moon would disappear. Then rise in tandem to the next elevation lift of the interstate. At one point the road flattened and the moon was poised to the right of the road ahead. In an instant I saw a parallel shooting star along the left side of the road. Coincidentally a minute later my mind focused on the immediate lyrics playing to Prince’s song “Call My Name”.

“I’ve never seen the moon look so lovely
As the night I saw it with you”

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Orange Full Moon.

The music and celestial entertainment made for a nice drive.

Ice Age Trail

Ice Age Trail

After an early drive on Saturday morning I got to the interpretive Center, which sits high on a hill that was created from the sand, gravel and rocks deposited by melting glaciers. The Ice Age Trail meanders through much of Wisconsin and this location serves as one access point to that trail. The race runs an out and back section along this trail.

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Runners milling about the visitor center.

After my pre-race preparation, greetings with a few friends, and a couple of pictures we were off and running. Since I wasn’t intending to push my pace, but merely wanting to finish, I lined up near the rear of the herd of runners. My strategy for ultra races (longer than marathon distance) is generally to walk the steep uphills and run the flat and downhill sections. The rolling terrain includes 4600 feet of elevation change (according to my GPS watch, not necessarily accurate) over the 50 kilometers, so I would have ample walking breaks.

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Jordan in full trail battle gear.

I started running with my friend Jordan in the early miles. Jordan is graduating from the University of St. Thomas in a month and although young, has already completed eight or nine 100 miles races. He traveled with me last August to the Black Hills where I ran my only 100 mile race to date. Just a few weeks ago he attempted to run three 100 mile races over three consecutive weekends. He completed over 200 miles in those attempts. This 50k would just be a “fun” run for him.

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Janet stopping for a picture.

Before the first mile was up we caught up to my friend Janet. I would end up running most of the race with Janet. About a mile and three-quarters into the race my incessant yapping got the best of me and I tripped over a root and went down fairly hard. Skinned my knee, but was otherwise okay. Jordan had been just behind me and employed the strategy of “pass the weak, hurdle the dead.” He stayed ahead of me for the rest of the race and beat me to the finish by twenty minutes or so. At the next aid station I realized I was carrying a few sticks from the course with me from my fall.

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Sticks in my watch.

The weather and trail conditions were the best I’ve seen in the four years of running this race. It was in the low 40’s at the start and rose into the mid 60’s by the finish. As the day warmed, clouds moved in to blunt the heat. Winds were mostly gentle with a few higher gusts. Aside from a few muddy spots, the trails were perfectly dry. Leaf detritus from last autumn only covered some of the rocks and roots. As I ran past my friend and erstwhile race director Jeff, I gave him a hard time about not drying out those last few muddy spots on the course for us.

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Race director Jeff keeping tabs on the runners.

This race course travels through beautiful country. Over hill and dale, it traverses ridge lines and pot hole lakes. The early spring foliage is sparse so the views are unimpeded. Aside from a few gnats late in the race, the insects are not defending their territory yet. Several small bridges of varying structural integrity assist runners across damp spots along the way.

I decided to try to set a good pace for Janet for as long as I could and mostly stayed just ahead of her for the first half of the race. After the half-way turnaround, it became obvious that Janet was setting the pace for me. Either that or she kept trying to drop me and I wouldn’t give up.

At the last aid station with three miles to go, I needed to have the bladder of my hydration pack refilled with water. Janet took the opportunity to leave me in her dust. She beat me to the finish by three or four minutes. My intentions to pace her for the race thus turned into her pacing me, or rather schooling me on how to run tenaciously to the finish. Darn! Chicked again in a race!

I pulled into the finish at 7:56 on the clock, or about twenty minutes slower than I was last year on this course when I was much younger (where is the sarcasm font when you need it) and in better shape. I was able to recover and caught up with Janet and Jordan. I hung out with friends for a bit after the race before starting the drive home.

Probably not the best training strategy for future race preparation, but at least I got a long run completed. One day I will not be able to continue running and racing. Until then I’m going to seize the available opportunities. One foot in front of the other. Repeat.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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For Red and Blue

We used to get released from school an hour early every Tuesday from Bryant Junior High. This wasn’t a big deal for most classes, as each class was merely shortened by about ten minutes to fit the shorter day. It did create a problem for gym class as there wasn’t enough time for preparation, participation and showering in the short period. Instead the class would repair to a sort of student lounge for a “study hall”. A few students actually studied, but most of us just hung around, listened to the radio, read, played games or just talked. The gym teacher Mr. Cross was a former football player (and served as football coach). His imposing figure may have contributed to our good behavior during this period. I recall being on the periphery of a conversation in which someone compared Michael Jackson of the Jackson Five to one of my class mates. If my addled memory is correct, my classmate took some umbrage to this comparison.

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Several months later I attended the school talent contest in the school auditorium. The students displayed their talents (or lack of talent) as they performed each act. For the last act, my classmate from gym class came on stage and proceeded to play a half-dozen band instruments and then pulled out an electric guitar. He nailed every one of those instruments, especially the guitar. Off to the side of the stage stood the school band teacher. He had a slight, but very wise smile on his face. He recognized the gift that was Prince Rodgers Nelson. Prince did win the contest.

After high school I never saw Prince again, except on the big or small screen. About a decade after graduation, I did bump into his brother Duane in a Seven-Eleven store in the old neighborhood and had a brief chat. I lament never making it to one of his performances in the years that followed. I always assumed I would randomly bump into him one day around the Twin Cities. To much of the world, Prince owned the color purple. Had I met up with him, I would have regaled him with a couple of different colors. I think I could have raised a smile from him by singing a verse from the Minneapolis Central High School fight song. (Of course upon hearing my singing voice he probably would have called security.) After today I’ll never get the chance to find out.

For Red and Blue, we’ll sing anew
Our song of loyalty
And follow you, dear Red and Blue
With faith to victory.

RIP Prince

 

 

 

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Guts and Glory

After waking in the dark hours of Saturday morning and stopping to pick up my friend Mike, I made my way to the Zumbro State Wildlife Management Area in southeastern Minnesota. The Zumbro Endurance 100 / 50 / 17 mile trail races were taking place over Friday and Saturday. My plans were to hang out with friends, cheer on runners and take a few photos around the event. (I post the pictures to a share-site so the runners can download them if desired. Zumbro Pictures – 2016) The day lived up to and exceeded my expectations. I came away energized and inspired by the efforts and hard work by the race volunteers and runners.

This is the start of the 17 mile race at just after 9:00 on Saturday morning.DSC_0349.JPG

The longer distances began long before our 7 am arrival on Saturday. The 100 mile race began at 8 am on Friday and the 50 mile race began at 12 midnight Friday night. The 17 mile (the fun run) would begin at 9 am. The course consists of a 17 mile loop through the Karst topography leftover from the actions of ancient ice ages. This includes many sculpted bluffs standing guard over the mostly bucolic Zumbro River. This lovely setting is great to look at, but also has frequent elevation changes and rugged paths which provide opportunity for mischief and fatigue to your body. The 50 mile race completes three loops of the course and the 100 mile race completes the circuit six times. Not to be out done by the challenges of terrain, the weather can also wreak havoc in early April.

Here is a 100 mile racer and his pacer forging ahead on Saturday.DSC_0630.JPGFriday’s runners enjoyed bursts of sunshine, gusty winds and occasional snow squalls. For the runners running through the overnight hours, the temperatures dropped into the teens. The aid stations couldn’t keep the liquids unfrozen for the runners. Saturday dawned cold with somewhat lighter winds. As the paths warmed to the kisses of many feet, slippery mud emerged in numerous places. As with many trail races, scores of runners had to drop out of the races due to cold, exhaustion or injury. Amazingly most starters completed their chosen distances.

Here are a few of the hundred mile racers getting close to finishing a loop.

I asked my friend Maria who had been working an aid station with her husband for a day and a half, whether it was harder to do sleep deprived aid station work, or to run a hundred miles. She said the aid station was definitely harder. Maria was one of over 100 volunteers donating their hours (otherwise used for sleep) and hard work to make the race a success. Kudos to every one of them.

I spent much time at the start / finish area, but trekked out along the course on a couple of forays to get some action shots of the racers. On the second of these sojourns I experienced what really brings out the best in people. My buddy Mike and I started climbing up what is known as “Ant Hill”, one of the steepest parts of the course.

While downhill running can help runners speed up, that is not necessarily true for Ant Hill as these photos attest.

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We joked with the runners attempting to run down the rugged footing of rocks, dirt and mud where one misstep could break and ankle or worse. “Don’t look at the camera, look where your feet are landing!” You could usually tell which runners were the seventeen milers doing their one lap or the weary fifty or one hundred milers slogging through the late laps.

About half way up the hill, several runners told us there was a runner at the top of the hill who needed help. When we reached the top, one of the hundred mile runners was hunched over in obvious pain. He had pulled a groin muscle and was having great difficulty in moving on normal terrain, much less the steep decent ahead of him on the trail. We asked if he wanted to drop out or have us go for help and he declined. He was about 94 miles into his first 100 mile race and was determined to finish it. If he could make it down “Ant Hill” on this his sixth and final loop, he felt he could limp his way for the last five miles to the finish. Much of that last five miles would be along the flatter terrain near the river. I agreed and we set off. He didn’t need both of us, so my buddy continued along the course and I agreed to catch up to him later. I learned my new friend was John. Another runner had found a large stick which the injured John was using as a walking stick. We agreed that I would walk just ahead of him so he could put a hand on my backpack in case he started to fall. Attempting to minimize the pain, he tried to keep his left leg straight, but sometimes the slope of the path made that difficult. If a rock slipped out from under him or he hit some slippery mud, he felt it in the wrong way. He’d have to pause to catch his breath. Moving slowly, John started getting chilled, and I had two outer layers on, so I gave him my jacket to stay warm. DSC_0760.JPGWe went very slowly down the incline one step at a time. It took us nearly an hour to get down the worse part of the hill, which was probably a bit over a third of a mile. To put this in perspective, John is thirty years younger than me and a very talented runner. He works at a local running store and normally runs very fast. In the early 17 mile laps, he ran with the runner who eventually took second place in the 100 mile race. (one lap was only two-hour and forty-four minutes). At this point and aid station volunteer joined us where the steepness abated a bit. She had been sent back by other runners ahead of us. She was confident should would be able to get him the rest of the way down the hill and within reach of the last aid station. She suggested I find another stick so John could have two walking sticks. I did so before leaving John in her competent care.

I then turned around and headed back up the hill to catch up with my buddy. It took me three miles of guessing which way he went to catch him, but at least I got my daily streak run completed for the day. I found Mike at the last aid station near where I had moved my car. Before we left that aid station to head back to the finish, I saw John moving along towards us on the flat road approaching the aid station using his two walking sticks, so I was relieved to see he was still going. By the race course it was only a bit over three miles left to the finish, but the roads were not so direct. Mike and I then drove ten miles on the back roads around the wildlife area to get to the finish line. At the finish line we cheered finishers, listened to the epic runner stories of battles won and lost. There is nothing like the experience as seeing the look in a runner’s face upon crossing that finish line. It is a collage of relief, weariness and emotion. An hour after arriving, I saw John making his way across the campground where the race ended. Though battered and in pain, he had made it to the finish line. While I was only a small part of his one hundred mile journey, I was humbled by his thanks to me for simply helping him out for a third of a mile. I was truly inspired by his determination. I told him “You’ve heard the saying, ‘No guts, no glory!’ Today you showed tremendous guts and got the well deserved glory of a 100 mile finish. Great job!”

I continue to be amazed by what the human spirit can achieve.

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Waves

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There is a season for all things. I lost my mother on Sunday. She was 93 years old. The picture above was taken on her honeymoon in August of 1951 in Duluth, MN. She was the last of her generation within our family in many ways. My father and his four siblings and my mother’s four siblings all passed before her. She and my father had a combined eight children. One of her sons died four years ago, but seven of us are still here. Many of us along with several grandchildren were able to spend some of her last hours with her over the weekend. She will be greatly missed.

After leaving the nearby nursing home late on Sunday, I drove over to Como Zoo for some time alone. I stood outside the wolf pen, hoping so see the two resident wolves behind the fencing. I’m sure they saw me, but I did not see them among the murky shadows. A car slowly approached me across the parking lot. I expected a security guard to question my presence. Instead a gentleman rolled down the window and said, “Oh, it’s you”. Then I recognized him as someone who had been standing in the lobby of the nursing home as they brought my mother’s remains out for the last time in her walk of honor. He offered his condolences to me. The man had been visiting his mother at the nursing home and had two teddy bears that he was carrying out to wash for his mother. Her health was declining and she would be moving floors and into the Alzheimer’s unit the next day. When she was a bit more robust they would drive over to the Zoo in his car with the teddy bears, roll down the windows and commune with the wolves. The teddy bears were on the front seat with him where his Mom used to sit. He said she wasn’t mobile enough to make the short drive over to the zoo anymore. The gentleman told me the wolves know you by your smell and can recognize you from up to two miles away. He said if they got used to you and trusted you, they eventually came out to see you in the dark. He said the wolves knew him, his mother and the teddy bears by their smell. He told me the names and history of the Como wolves. Denali was the darker wolf and Shy-Anne was the white wolf. The Shy-Anne name because she was shy. After a lovely conversation, I turned to head over to my car to head home. There was Shy-Anne sitting and watching us. I took that as a good medicine sign to help me find some peace.

Waves

Grief is a tempestuous sea.

Rogue waves conspire,

But we paddle on.

 

Bad news may seem a tsunami.

Yet gentle breezes of peace interlude.

We simply need to recognize them.

 

Sometimes the business of death

overtakes the business of grieving.

But the waves are never far away.

 

She loved and was loved.

The beat fades away,

But the love gently laps the shore.

 

 

 

 

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Black Lives Do Matter

Saint Paul Cathedral, St. Paul, MN

I plan to run the Medtronic Twin Cities Marathon on Sunday for my 12th time. After running 90 races of marathon distance or longer, this race is still my sentimental favorite. I’ve met runners from all over the world in my travels and am thrilled by the unity the running community provides. These races contribute great sums to worthwhile charities and boost local economies. My experience has been that the runners are mostly apolitical and without skin tone. We are only members of the running party and of the running race.

This year’s Twin Cities Marathon will be different. The Black Lives Matter Group has vowed to protest and disrupt the race. I don’t think disrupting the Twin Cities Marathon is the right venue or method to keep moving forward. Anger from both sides will alienate potential allies. It will only take one or two foolish runners or protesters to escalate events badly. There have been many cruel and disrespectful things said on many sides of this pending confrontation. I sincerely hope cooler heads prevail and we all show more civility and respect.

I think Black Lives Matter group has many valid issues. We are a much better country than we were 60 years ago, but still have a long way to go. Race is still a thing in this country. I firmly believe in accountability. We all need to take responsibility for our actions. There are police officers who behave badly and abuse their authority. There are citizens (sometimes black citizens) who behave badly. Those actors should be held accountable. Rouge cops should be investigated and punished appropriately. Citizens breaking laws should also be investigated, arrested (if necessary) and punished appropriately. I’ve studied Justice Department statistics to try to understand the issues of police misconduct. In one of those studies my analysis of the data determined that about 1 in 200 police officers have a sustained excessive use of force complaint in a given year. That is too much, but not an indictment on all police personnel. That means 199 of every 200 police officers covered in this study did not have a sustained complaint each year. There are police officers that abuse their authority and bias their actions by race. There are many black (and many non-black) people who commit crimes every year. But we all need to avoid stereotyping. Not all black citizens are criminals. Not all cops are abusive. Cops shouldn’t assume any black person they meet on the street is a criminal. The Black Lives Matter protesters shouldn’t assume all cops are bad. After witnessing repeated bad behavior, participants on both sides of these issues can get jaundiced. Both sides need to judge others as individuals and by their individual actions. We need to look for the best in others, not the worst.

I am a product of inner city public schools in Minneapolis. I saw racism and the effects of racism up close. It meant something very different to my young black friends when they were called a “boy” than it did to me. I never forgot those lessons. I also saw hope and love in my youthful experience. I saw others willing to give the shirt off their back and cover the back of others with color blindness. I didn’t forget those lessons either.

As a parent I never had to tell my kids to not get caught driving at night with the wrong color of skin. My wife isn’t stalked by store security because they suspect her to be a shoplifter. I empathize and agonize with my friends that have to deal with those fears. Like many things in America right now, there seems to be no middle ground. I’d like to change that paradigm.

I’d like to see pro-active steps in the line of police / community relations of more citizen review boards, internal affairs investigations and education / training to participants on both sides of the issues. I reiterate that I believe in accountability. Let’s see Black Lives Matter and the Twin Cities Marathon Organization partner with each other. Let’s build youth running programs to incite healthful habits in underprivileged kids. Let’s set up a Black Lives Matter Cheer section along the marathon course. If this were set up I would high five every person in the group and maybe give out a few hugs too. Let’s set up a friendly competition between a few Black Lives Matter members and some police officers to run one of the weekend races. Let the city of St. Paul give a legal permit to Black Lives Matter to march up Summit Avenue from the Mississippi River to the State Capital. The marathoners deserve their hard earned day. So do the Black Lives Matter people. They deserve a day of their own. If they do so I will march hand-in-hand with the protesters. I won’t rain on their parade, but happily dance in the raindrops with them.

I hope I see the Black Lives Matter protesters at mile 25 of the marathon on Sunday. I hope they will cheer on the runners and not try to block them. I hope to tell them to stay strong in covering the miles left to their reach their goals. I hope they encourage me to stay strong as well. Remember that everyone is a somebody. We all are traversing this marathon we call life. Let’s help each other to break through the barriers that restrain us.IMG_20150928_234940810_TCM Medal

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Race Report: Kentucky Derby Festival Marathon 04-28-2012

Churchill Downs

Pre Race: I ran for the roses last week in Louisville, KY. The Kentucky Derby Festival Marathon coincided with the opening day at the famous Churchill Downs horse racing track. In my pursuit of running a marathon in each of the 50 states, I needed to make a stop in Kentucky and this venue caught my eye. This marathon was scheduled exactly one week prior to the actual Kentucky Derby Horse race, but the town was all ready buzzing with Derby fever.

Three Minnesota friends made the trip with me, Bulent, Todd and Wendy. Todd and Bulent were on separate flights. Wendy and I were on the same flight and had some difficulties getting from the Minneapolis airport to Louisville as there was a security scare at the Minneapolis airport just before we arrived. Apparently a luggage scanner thought it picked up traces of explosives in a suitcase. (We later learned it was only some plumbing supplies.) So the TSA shut down the airport and canceled all inbound and outbound flights. They evacuated Terminal 2 at MSP for a while. Unfortunately our incoming plane was not allowed to land and our outbound flight was canceled. Once we got back into Terminal 2, we had to wait in line for the Southwest ticket counter for 1.5 hours to get rebooked on a later flight. The first opening would have delivered us to the Louisville airport at 12:30 am, just seven hours before race-time. Instead we found another flight on a different airline that got us to Louisville by 8 p.m.

Bulent was kind enough to pick up our race numbers at the expo, pick up the rental car and register at the hotel. He and Todd punctually picked us up at the airport upon our arrival. With that kind of service, I think I’ll be late to all future marathons and let Bulent serve as concierge for me.

Race Ready – Bulent, Todd, Wendy & Dave

The Race: The predicted weather for race day was iffy with the chance of thunder storms. Instead dawn came with clear skies and moderate temperatures. We walked from our hotel to the start area in downtown Louisville. Once there we went looking for a few of my Marathon Maniac friends from the New York area. I found my friend Paul there. After greetings I fought my way into the start corral and managed to lose sight of Todd, Bulent and Wendy.

It took me about six minutes from the gun to actually cross the start line, but knew my chip would record my actual time. Within the first half mile I realized I was running next to another runner with a Marathon Maniacs shirt and struck up a conversation with her. It was Joann of Davis, California. That conversation lasted quite a while as we ended up running together for the first thirteen miles of the race. As marathons go, I thought the course was great. It had a variety of scenery to keep it interesting. After leaving downtown we ran through a neighborhood of beautiful older homes that reminded me of some of the mansions on Summit Avenue in Saint Paul, MN.

The highlight of the course was at about mile 8. At that point the course runs into the famous Churchill Downs racetrack. You enter one side of the stadium and go down a cement ramp that runs underneath the horse track and emerges in the infield. Once in the infield, you run a semi-circle around about 3/4 of the track and exit via a similar tunnel at the end of the stadium. I assumed there would be no horses there so early in the morning. Instead I was startled by a thoroughbred horse racing by just above our heads on the track as we descended the first ramp under the track. I didn’t get hit by dirt flying off the horses hooves, but I might have. What an incredibly fast and powerful animal! Apparently there were several horses making training or warmup runs for the races later that evening.

After leaving the track, the half marathoners and full marathoners split apart. The full headed toward the hills of Iroquois Park. I knew there were significant hills from about 12 to 15 miles. Just before making the turn into the park, I saw my New York friends Steven Lee and Hideki Kinoshita race by going the other direction on about a 3:20 marathon pace. Just behind them I saw Todd running a bit ahead of the 3:30 pacer.  I was pleasantly surprised that I felt pretty good through the hills and maintained a decent pace. I ran with a couple of women from about 14 to 20 miles including Misty who was attempting her first marathon. If she proved successful, she planned to go out with a girlfriend after the race to do tequila shots to celebrate. I later saw in the results she had finished just fine. I kept up a consistent pace up until about 21 miles into the race, after which I slowed.

At about 22 miles, I saw Bulent up ahead of me. I decided to catch up to him. I picked up my speed and caught him on a slight uphill at about 22.5 miles. I snuck up behind him and stuck the palm of my hand into his back to push and asked if he couldn’t hurry it up a bit. We ran most of the rest of the race together from there. Bulent pulled a bit ahead of me in the last mile, but I caught up to him just across the finish chute and we soon found Wendy and Todd. I finished in 4:30:02. Since this was my first marathon after coming back from injury, I was satisfied with this result. My comeback has involved many slow running miles. I thought I was in 4:30 to 5:00 marathon shape going in, so 4:30 was just fine.

Post Race: In the finisher’s area, Todd had reconnected with an old high school friend from Wisconsin who he hadn’t seen in over thirty years. We also found the Marathon Maniac crowd from New York and had great fun chatting with them.

Paul Arroyo

After getting cleaned up, we did some fun touristy things too. We hit the Bluegrass Brewing Company for lunch and beverages, visited the Louisville Slugger Bat Factory & Museum, saw the opening night races at Churchill Downs and the Frazier History Museum. We had no trouble with the flights home. Onward to the next race…

Muddy track after rain delay.

Bulent At Bat

Look out Louisville!

Louisville Slugger Bat Factory & Museum

I’ll Have Another

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Race Report: New York City Marathon 11-6-2011

Race Report: New York City Marathon, 11-06-2011

Last Sunday I had the pleasure of running in the ING New York City Marathon. This was my 49th marathon and 31st state. It was also the first time I ran a marathon (or any race) in a costume. I had some trepidation coming in, as I’ve had a bit of hip pain in runs longer than 2 miles for the past month. I made a running form correction about a week before the race that really helped. Helped enough to make the 26.2 miles anyway. The race and surrounding weekend were incredibly fun, in more ways than one. In the course of running, I’ve made some great friends along the way, many of them fellow members of the group Marathon Maniacs. I’ve run with two of those friends at other races, Hideki Kinoshita (Kino) and Steven Lee. They live in the New York area and both were kind enough to keep me out of trouble for the weekend. Well mostly anyway. A few weeks before the race, Kino told me he and several of his friends were planning to run the race in superhero costumes. He asked if I wanted to partake as well. I agreed to run as Mr. Incredible.

Friday night dinner

At dinner Friday night I learned several of the costumed runners were hoping to take photos in costume the next day at the Brooklyn Bridge. Maybe even shoot a video. Later in the evening, the videographer even sent a script via text. This was turning into an interesting weekend indeed.

Maniacs at finish line.

Superman and Lois Lane.

On Saturday after meeting a large group of Marathon Maniacs at the race finish line in Central Park for picture taking, we visited Chinatown for lunch. From there we went to the Brooklyn Bridge to meet up with the rest of the small group of superheroes; Superman – Steven, Thor – Kino, Iron man – Karl, Evil Tourguide – Ray, Damsel in Distress – Lisa and Concerned Citizen – Bee, Artist – Clovia for the photo shoot. The filmmaker is Leong Ying, who is working on making a marathon video for marathons run on all seven continents. (Europe, Asia and Antarctica already done). We had great fun making the video in the middle of the bridge on a busy Saturday afternoon. The pedestrians seemed to love our costumes and asked for many pictures. I’ve attached a link if you care to watch. (This is only part one as part two was to be shot on marathon day.)

Heroes and Villains.

Rudy the Rat with Superhero Sidekicks part 1:

On Saturday evening I had the privilege of attending the pre-race pasta dinner for Kino’s PANCAN fundraising team. This is a highly motivated group of folks who raised a total of $216,000 for the charity for this race. This exceeded the previous total raised a PANCAN marathon training team by over $40,000. Although I’m a Twins fan, I enjoyed meeting All Star David Robertson, a relief pitcher on the New York Yankees at the dinner.

Kino stayed over at Steven’s on Saturday night and the three of us caught a cab to the Staten Island Ferry Terminal to meet up with our fellow superheroes for the race. All of the runners getting on the ferry travel up two escalators. We waited for our friends to converge at the lobby area at the top of these escalators. All of the arriving runners walked past our gathering spot at the top of the escalators. Eventually joining Kino (Thor), Steven ( Superman) and me (Mr. Incredible), were Pascal (Captain America), Ray (Evil Tourguide) and Nancy (Bat Girl). Non-costumed friends included Gopal, Yves and Sarah. Since we were in costume, many of the runners passing by us asked to have their pictures taken with the supers. We must have posed for over 100 photo ops. One gentleman, Eric Zerkel, introduced himself as a journalist for Pavement Pieces. He interviewed Kino and me. His article can be found by clicking on this link.

http://pavementpieces.com/nyc-marathon-marathon-maniacs/

We made it onto the ferry and caught up to our erstwhile videographer on board. We took the ferry to Staten Island and were then cattle herded onto buses for the slow trip to the Verrazano Narrows Bridge and the starting area. On the bus trip, Bat Girl, Captain America and I decided we’d run the race together to have more fun. Superman and Steven were slated to be one wave up from us, so we went our separate ways in the starting village. Since we didn’t get off the bus until 9:30, Steve and Kino didn’t make their wave 1 start at 9:40, but did make the wave 2 start at 10:10. Nancy, Pascal and I missed wave 2, and started with wave 3 at 10:40. While waiting in the starting hold-back area, I realized I was sweating pretty heavily for standing still (temperature in the low 50’s). My costume included tights, a long sleeve shirt and a mask. Luckily my good friend Bruce has provided me with two iron-on patches with the Mr. Incredible logo, so I had both a running singlet and the long sleeve shirt with this logo. I removed and tied the long sleeve version around my waist and decided to run in the sleeveless version.

Supers Ready for Battle.

After a rousing national anthem, our wave was off at 10:44 to clear skies and forever views. We were on the upper level of the bridge, so we didn’t have to survive the infamous yellow mist on the lower level. This first bridge is approximately two miles long. The first mile is uphill and the second is downhill. The apex of the bridge is the high elevation point of the race. The density of runners was surprisingly comfortable. With close to 50,000 runners, I expected gridlock much of the way. I found it not much more crowded than other large marathons I’ve run. Since they launch runners in three waves and further split them into three colors on both the upper and lower levels of the starting bridge, it is more like six races of 8,000 runners each. The upper and lower splits come together a couple of miles down the road. We averaged around nine minutes per mile for the first two miles.

Once off the bridge, you hit the streets of Brooklyn. It isn’t until you reach Brooklyn that you realize what lies ahead. The enthusiasm of the crowds spills into your ears. Right after the first corner, I started hearing the Brooklyn accents shouting out “Yo! Go Marathoners!” It was wonderful. Bat Girl, Captain America and I tried to stay together, but the crush of runners sometimes separated us. We could always tell if we were drifting too far apart, because even when we weren’t in direct line of sight, we could hear the fans calling our superhero names nearby. Now Captain America was almost always correctly identified, but Bat Girl and I were often miscast. Captain America got the most shout-outs, and Bat Girl was next, but about 80% of hers were with the wrong name. She was called Bat Man, Cat Woman or Bat Woman. Nancy took some umbrage to these tags. For a time, we would try to shout out the correct name. After a while, we just laughed. My shout-outs were about half right, but I was called Mr. I.T. man, Iron-man among other handles. I’ve never laughed so hard while running a marathon. Often a few adults would call out the wrong name, only to be corrected by some eight-year-old kid – “Mr. Incredible!” My favorite was when running near Bat Girl, a few times someone would call us Batman and Robin. Depending on who was nearest the side of the road, one of us would high-five fans along the way. I only had one bad review and that was from a Yorkshire terrier who didn’t like my costume. A few high steps kept the ankle bites away. The kids looked thrilled when the supers came along. We rollicked through Brooklyn to the half marathon point as the race crosses a small bridge into Queens. We got into a routine of walking the water stops and then when all three of us had cleared the stop we’d resume our dash. With the water stop walks, our pace averaged just under ten minutes per mile.

The run through Queens is short and the crowds are just a little thinner, but were still excited to see us. We zigged and zagged through Queens knowing the real test was ahead. The second half of the course is hillier that the first half. We found that out first hand when we hit the Queensboro Bridge. This is the biggest climb of the marathon. Having run the race in previous years, Bat Girl suggested we walk for a few minutes on the uphill to save ourselves for later in the race. Wearing our superhero costumes, I couldn’t help but thinking of the scene from a recent Spiderman movie where he and the Green Goblin  fight near this bridge. I also thought about advice I received from my Minnesota friend Leila, when she said the quiet of the bridge will be somewhat strange after all the crowd noise up till that point in the race. She said this would prove especially so once we would come off the bridge into the madness of the Manhattan streets ahead. How true. We ran some eleven-minute miles in this section.

Coming off the Queensboro Bridge was awesome. The exit from the bridge is more or less a cloverleaf and the crowd noise echoes off the walls of the bridge and local businesses. At the bottom of the exit, you turn left and are onto 1st Avenue. This is a wide street with the crowds thickening with every block. The screams and shouts are intense. By this time a few of the bars had lubricated the crowds. Once again the supers received a great New York welcome. 1st Avenue has some rolling hills and takes you north for three and a half miles where you cross another bridge into the Bronx. We averaged a little over ten-minutes per mile for this section.

While there were various bands, boom boxes and musicians all through Brooklyn, Queens and the first pass through Manhattan, they really went all out in the Bronx. A crooner from a hip-hop band changed his lyrics as we ran past. He suggested something about meeting Bat Girl in the Bat Cave later. There was a group of fans holding large purple signs saying “You’re the Sh*t!” One sign would have been funny, but twenty of them were hilarious. The drum corps really pumped up my enthusiasm through here. We ran more eleven-minute miles through the Bronx.

We made the last crossing of the East River and came into Manhattan to begin heading back south for the last five miles to the finish. For late in the race, I still felt pretty strong. Our fearsome trio of heroes got onto 5th Avenue and made our way closer to Central Park. We were getting a little less efficient at finding each other after the water stops and it cost us a bit of time. Somewhere around the twenty-two or twenty-three mile mark, Bat Girl and I got separated from Captain America. We kept slowing to wait for him to catch up to no avail. (We found out later he was behind us, but thought he had gotten ahead of us and was waiting for us to catch up to him.) After running backwards looking for the Captain for much the climb up the twenty-three mile hill, we decided to run on without him. After all he still had his shield to protect himself. Around the twenty-four mile mark, we turned into Central Park. At this time Bat Girl started cramping up. We stopped long enough for her to take a salt pill and then ran on. Aside from a water stop around the 25-mile mark, we ran strongly over the rolling hills to the finish. When attending the PANCAN dinner on Saturday night, one of the coaches advised his charity runners to try hard to not get passed by a costumed runner near the end of the race. Well Bat Girl and I passed several runners in those final miles, so I hope they didn’t feel too bad. Except for that guy dressed as Elvis. Just past twenty-five miles I realized we were closing in on him. As we got close, I said to him “We’re going to take you out Elvis. The supers are coming!” We left him in our dust. You briefly leave the south end of the park and run over to Columbus Circle before coming back into the park for the last half-mile to the finish. Bat Girl and I came in at 4:40 for the race. The last section was at just under ten minutes per mile. We both had completed our costumed marathon debuts.

We waited for Captain America without success for several minutes. A race official told us we had to clear the finish area until we told him we lost Captain America. He let us stay. Eventually we gave up and made our way toward the drop back pick up area. We saw Lisa (Damsel in Distress from the video) who was working the finishing area for the marathon. The efficiency of picking up your warm-up clothes after the race was a little lacking. It took me about 90 minutes to get my bag and make my way back to Steven’s place a half mile from the park. Luckily I had Nancy’s (Bat Girl’s) guidance to find my way out of the north end of the park and to a subway to get back to Steven’s neighborhood. Found out later that Captain America has finished eight minutes behind us and that a race official told him Mr. Incredible and Bat Girl were looking for him.

After a quick shower, I caught a subway to the Times Square area and joined some of my Minnesota Running Wild friends; Scott and Jenny, Don and Bhavna, Dave and Susan and their two lovely daughters Zoe and Grace, Wayne and his sister Laurie for dinner. Wayne’s sister Laurie lives in New York and used to work in the high-end restaurant business. She arranged this dinner for us. As the restaurant staff knew Laurie well, they went all out to take care of us. The food was served family style and was fantastic. One course after another made quick work filling us up. The combination of a raging post-marathon appetite and voluminous gourmet food is a great combination.

From dinner, I met up with my superhero sidekicks at a watering hole for a couple of beers and goodbyes. Steven served as my tour guide for a bit on Monday morning and I caught an afternoon flight back to Minnesota. 

I finished the long weekend by going out for a meal with Anne, daughters Linda, Kate and their boyfriends Jayme and Chris. It was a perfect end to a wonderful weekend. My takeaways from the race included finding that running in a costume was great fun (although only for special occasions). Running with a great group of friends was even better. While I’m noticed the effects of aging over the last several years, it really did my ego some good to have 2.5 million spectators calling me incredible on Sunday.

Here are links to the Continents Marathon Videos:

Rudy the Rat Runs 2011 New York (part 2)

Bernie the Bear Runs 2011 Berlin Marathon:

Penny the Penguin Runs 2011 Antartica:

Pete the Panda Runs 2011 Great Wall:

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