Archive for October, 2009

A tough race, but no complaints

Posted in Uncategorized on October 31, 2009 by Trail Boy

Oooh, that race was a little tougher than I expected.

Wet roads. Gusty headwinds. Tight hamstrings.

It made for five long miles.

This was my first time running the Historic Irvington Pleasant Run Run. I don’t know why, but I thought it would be a walk in the park.

It wasn’t. The roads were wet from several days of rain, making the bricks and asphalt on several streets incredibly slippery. The air was gusty, and switched directions constantly. It seemed I was constantly running into a stiff headwind. I know that can’t be the case, because the course changed directions every few minutes. (See map here.) But it sure seemed that way.

And what was up with my legs? Just weird. I can’t explain. My hamstrings were tight. Maybe it was residual damage from last weekend’s trail half-marathon. It was a total surprise. I ran Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday and felt nice and strong. I took Friday as a rest day, hoping it would give me some extra bounce.

No bounce. I was running stiff and tight most of the race. Like I said, weird.

Still, I finished the race in one piece, with a time of 37:56, for an average pace of 7:35 a mile.

That was good enough to put me in the top half. I finished 66th out of 418 overall (top 15 percent). In my age, group, I finished 8th out of 20. I can live with that.

And as I said before, the scenery was great, with lots of interesting old houses, churches and parks.

So I’m certainly not complaining.

I just hope my legs loosen up before next weekend. I’m registered to run a road half-marathon on Saturday. Tight legs won’t carry me for 13.1 miles. Trail Boy is going to be doing a lot of stretching between now and then.

Looking forward to a Pleasant Run

Posted in Uncategorized on October 29, 2009 by Trail Boy

Even though I love running on trails, I also have a soft spot for historic, urban neighborhoods.

You know the kind of place I mean: the pre-World War II communities with lots of cool architecture, very walkable, often built around a town square.

On Saturday, I’m planning to run a five-mile race through Irvington, one of the oldest neighborhoods in Indianapolis, located about 10 minutes from downtown.

It should be a very pleasant run, in more ways than one. A good chunk of the course follows the Pleasant Run Creek. In fact, the name of the race is the Historic Irvington Pleasant Run Run.

If you’re a sucker for old architecture and walkable neighborhoods, like I am, you can’t visit Irvington without doing a double-take at all the beautiful buildings — houses that are 80 and 90 years old, Colonials and Georgians and Tudors, Arts and Crafts, and Four-Squares.

Here are some images of typical Irvington houses and attractions, inside and out, that make the place so interesting:

 My challenge, during this run, will be to resist the temptation to stop and stare at one interesting house after another.

When I first moved to Indy, I desperately wanted to buy a house in Irvington. I visited dozens of open houses. Just about every time, I was blown away by the rich woodwork and hard floors and creative layouts. And the houses were very affordable.

irvy3Unfortunately, Irvington has fallen on hard times since it was founded more than century ago. Walk three blocks outside of the historic area, and you will see lots of red flags: payday loan stores, dollar stores, liquor stores, plasma centers.

As much as I wanted to overlook those red flags, I just couldn’t — not with two small boys to raise.

That’s not to say Irvington doesn’t have its loyal fans. The place is a haven for artists and architects and urban pioneers.

My own neighborhood isn’t nearly as interesting as Irvington. It was built in the 1960s, and is filled with Cape Cods, ranches and split levels. It’s nice and safe, but nothing really to take your breath away.

I noticed that again this morning, when I was out running loops in my neighborhood before breakfast, 4 1/2 miles in 37 minutes. The run got my blood flowing. But it didn’t do much for my imagination. It would have been much cooler running through Irvington.

I’ve lived in  plenty of walkable cities — Lakewood, Ohio and Cambridge, Massachusetts and Washington, D.C.  And I always enjoy visiting places like that.

Places like Irvington. I’ll be there Saturday morning, running, rain or shine.

And afterwards, I have a feeling I’ll be walking leisurely through a few residential streets, enjoying the sights before I head home.

The Race Shirt That Just Won’t Die

Posted in Uncategorized on October 27, 2009 by Trail Boy

A few days ago, I was digging through a dresser drawer, looking for a shirt.

And then I saw it, in the middle of the pile: The Race Shirt That Just Won’t Die.

It’s an ordinary cotton T-shirt that I got at a 5K race in 1993, called the Human Race, in New Wilmington, Pennsylvania.

The race was deadly dull: an out-and-back course, on a flat, country road, starting and ending at a small college. I plodded through it and finished in 24:57 (for an average pace of 8:02 a mile), making it one of my slowest 5K races ever.

I have no reason to remember this otherwise forgettable race — except for this shirt.

I’ve worn it hundreds of times, but it just won’t wear out. Sure it’s a little faded, but it’s still intact, and I don’t have the heart to throw it away.

Usually, race shirts begin to fray and wear within a couple of years. Then they become painting rags.

This shirt just doesn’t want to die or become a rag. Its will to live is strong. It is a survivor.

This shirt is now 16 years old. It is so old, it’s retro. The salmon color has gone in and out of style three times.

I think it has another 30 years left in it. It will probably outlive me.

Just look at the expression of the runner on this shirt. He has an iron will. Just like this shirt.

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It’s amazing what difference a day makes.

Yesterday, I was shuffling and limping along the towpath, doing my best to get in a five-mile run. I had to abort about halfway into it, due to tight muscles and sore joints from Saturday’s trail race.

Today, I felt strong and refreshed. I returned to the scene of yesterday’s DNF and ran five miles, feeling not a single twinge. The miles flew by with little effort. I finished in 42:17. 

There’s a lesson here. I’m not a young man of 49 anymore. I have to build in more rest days after long races.

That is, if I want to outlive my shirt.

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RACE UPDATE: The Knobstone Trail race results were finally posted online this evening.

I finished 65th out of 108 runners, overall. Among men only, I finished 57th out of 81.

I had hoped to place better in this field. I need to do more trail racing to build speed and endurance on these tough hills, and become more competitive.

Yes, this was a mostly hard-core crowd of trail runners. If road runners showed up in great numbers, I would have finished much higher in the pack.

But I need to measure myself against the toughest, if I want to be a true mountain goat.

Creak, creak

Posted in Uncategorized on October 26, 2009 by Trail Boy

My legs were a bit creaky today as I started my lunchtime run on the towpath. My left knee and right ankle weren’t happy.

They were still sore from Saturday’s trail race, a fun but fairly punishing run through the muddy woods.

My goal today was to run five easy miles, which normally would take me  40-45 minutes.

But I could tell this wasn’t going to be easy. I couldn’t get out of first gear. I was shuffling along, taking baby steps, very gently, very tentatively.

This was a surprise. I didn’t run at all yesterday, in an effort let my legs recover. Usually, after a half marathon, I’m ready to go within 24 hours.

But I guess I’m getting old and creaky. I need an extra day or two to recover.

I started my run in high hopes. The weather was beautiful — Indian summer with temps in the high 60s, and lots of sunshine. 

But after 15 minutes, I knew a five-miler wasn’t in the cards today. I turned around and hobbled back to the starting point, wrapping up my run in 28 minutes. I’m guessing it was about 3 1/2 miles.

It wasn’t the only bummer of the day. I learned that the winter version of the Buckeye Trail 50K, Marathon and Half-Marathon, scheduled for Sunday, January 17, is sold out.

I wanted to run the half-marathon. Now the best I can hope for is get on the waiting list. 

What’s a trail runner to do? Well, look for another trail race, of course.

In the meantime, I found a road race that I couldn’t resist, the half-marathon version of the Indianapolis Monumental Marathon. It’s the second year of the race, which has gotten good reviews for the organization, scenery and fast course. The race is a little less than two weeks away, on Saturday, November 7.

I sure hope my legs are done with their smoke break by then.

Muddy trails, slippery leaves

Posted in Uncategorized on October 25, 2009 by Trail Boy

The Knobstone Trail Half Marathon was beautiful. It was fun. It was a great way to start the weekend.

One thing it wasn’t: fast.

The trail was wet and muddy, covered with a carpet of slippery leaves and pine needles. As soon as I stepped foot on it, I knew I could kiss goodbye any hope of a course PR.

I finished in 2:25:13 — about seven minutes slower than last year at this race.

But that’s OK. Most runners I talked to afterward said they ran slower this year than last year, when the trail was dry and firm.

The results have not yet been posted, so I don’t know how many people entered or finished, or how I did in my age group.

This was my longest trail run since the Buckeye Trail 50K in July. It was fun to get back onto a hilly, challenging hiking trail again for a few hours of running.

How hilly was it? About as hilly as any other trail in southern Indiana — meaning lots of 200-foot climbs and descents on switchbacks and singletrack. Several of the climbs were too steep to run. Most of us slowed to a power hike a half-dozen times or so.

At one point, on  steep climb, I looked behind and saw this:

Yep, if you wanted to make it to the top of this hill, you slowed down, bent over for support and took little steps.

But the downhills were fun, if you kept your eye on the mud and wet leaves.

The weather was chilly — low 40’s, with a rainy mist in the air. I was surprised how many leaves were on the ground. That made it tough to see the trail in many places. Once or twice, I took a wrong turn, because the trail was completely buried in leaves. When I became clear to me a few moments later that I was off-trail, I turned back and got back on course.

I might have run a few hundred extra yards doing this.

I’m glad to report that despite the challenging footing, I did not stumble or fall. Several others did. Every half-hour or so, I would hear a body hit the ground — or worse, splash in a creek — and then hear a string of cursing. Ooh, I know that feeling. I’ve been there. I’m just glad I wasn’t there today.

Speaking of creeks, there were three or four that were too wide and deep to jump across. I had to chuckle when I saw the newbies stopping at the edge, looking anxiously up and down the banks, hoping to find an easy crossing. I charged across, splashing through the water willy-nilly, passing lots of runners each time.

The field thinned out considerably after the 10-mile runners left. I had to do another three mile loop around the Mason Ridge to get in the half-marathon distance. The finished line was so sweet when I finally looped back for the second time, and lapped a few slow runners who were on their first loop. I turned on whatever speed I had left in my legs and got ‘er done.

Then I headed over the pavilion for soup, hot cider and some war stories with friends.

Running with Ali and Merton

Posted in Uncategorized on October 23, 2009 by Trail Boy

So I was out running early this morning, dodging the raindrops, when I found myself wondering whether I should follow Muhammad Ali or Thomas Merton.

Should I go the way of the gentle, scholarly monk? Or should I follow the street-smart, charismatic boxer?

Boy, does that sound like some heavy, life-turning decision, or what?

But no, it was nothing that deep. I just means I was running in a strange city — in this case, Louisville, Kentucky — and really didn’t know my way around.  I was literally at a crossroads: Muhammad Ai Boulevard and Thomas Merton Square. Which way should I turn?

Muhammad Ali, in his famous knockout of Sonny Liston.

Yes, it was a real intersection, not some metaphor.

But it did give me something to think about during a dark, rainy run.

I had been in Louisville for less than 24 hours. Mrs. Trail Boy and I decided to take an overnight road trip with the family. We’ve never been to Louisville, but it’s only two hours hours away, so we decided it was time to check it out, with the boys, during a long, fall-break weekend. 

We got there Friday afternoon and had fun seeing the sights. We visited the Louisville Slugger bat factory, the Muhammad Ali Center, a fascinating geological park where we could see thousands of fossils (Falls of the Ohio State Park), a scenic waterfront playground, and lots of other things.

And of course, I needed to get in a run. So I got up this morning at 5:30 a.m. to trot for an hour on downtown sidewalks, in the rain.

It’s not exactly my natural habitat. But there were no trails near our hotel, and I wasn’t in the mood to drive for miles to find one.

So that’s how I found myself at this unfamiliar intersection, marked by two names that intruiged me. Merton and Ali.

Both of these men considered Louisville their home, but they were so different. Merton was a contemplative Trappist monk, who spent most of his time in a hermitage, praying and writing alone.

Ali, of course, spent much of his life in the spotlight, chasing fame in the boxing ring. He won an Olympic gold medal. He won and lost and re-won the world heavyweight boxing title. In the meantime, he became a polarizing figure over his decision to refuse to go to Vietnam.

I pondered all this as I ran along, in the dark. And then I realized it really wasn’t so strange. And the two men really weren’t so different.

Thomas Merton, in his Trappist hermitage.

Both were converts to their religion. Merton was born in France to a freethinking artistic father and an American Quaker mother. As an adult, he coverted to Catholicism and after years of prayer and searching, entered the monastery.

Ali was raised in a Christian home, but joined the Nation of Islam in the early 1960s, after being scarred by segregation in his hometown.

As they grew older, they grew in other directions, closer to each other. Merton believed wisdom was found in all world religions, and frequently talked with Zen masters and Tibetan Buddhist leaders.

As for Ali, after he retired from boxing, he devoted his life to peace, justice and philanthropy.

I’ve read several books about both of them. Both were fascinating men. From the little I know about Merton and Ali, I doubt they ever met. Merton died in the 1960s, just as Ali was achieving fame.

But on this intersection, they did meet, in a way. And I met them both, in my thoughts, on a rainy morning.

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After getting the lay of the land in Louisville, I decided to make this workout a run of enlightenment.

No, that doesn’t mean I was going to chant or pray or speak in tongues.  It just means I wanted to see some cultural highlights around town as I ran.

So, armed with a visitors map, I ran a wide loop through downtown. I passed by some landmarks that I hoped would measure up to my goal. 

I ran past the Science Museum, the Courier-Journal newspaper, the First Unitarian Church, a few art museums and the Louisville Public Library.

But like any plan, it wasn’t perfect. I also found myself running past the Greyhound bus station, an adult bookstore, a Hard Rock Cafe and a bunch of boarded-up storefronts.

I tried to make sense of it, but it seemed just like a slice of life — the good, the bad and the ugly.

I wonder what Merton or Ali would have thought of it.

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I have a trail race on Saturday morning, the Knobstone Trail Half Marathon. And it’s going to be a muddy one.

It’s been raining for the last day or so, and the ground is saturated.

During our drive back to Indy this afternoon, we stopped at Brown County State Park in Nashville, Indiana, to check out the October foliage and hike a few short trails. The trails were a muddy mess.

Now I know what awaits me in the morning. I don’t think I’ll be setting any PR’s.

But I’ll be having lots of fun on the trails.

The man who gave Ohio a national park

Posted in Uncategorized on October 21, 2009 by Trail Boy

When I lived in Akron, Ohio, I would often pick my sons up from school in the afternoon. While I waited for the last class to end, I would chat with some of the other parents, who were in their 20s and 30s and 40s.  

And every once in a while, there was an older guy, in his 80s, who was there waiting to get his grandkids.  

I knew who he was. But I never worked up the nerve to talk to him. He was a larger-than-life figure to me.  

He was John Seiberling, a retired congressman from Akron and a true giant in the conservation movement.  

John Seiberling in Washington in the 1970s.

  

 More than any other person, he helped establish in 1974 what would become the Cuyahoga Valley National Park — a treasure for everyone in Northeast Ohio who likes to hike, run, or bike through the beautiful outdoors.  

“Without John Seiberling there would be no Cuyahoga Valley National Park,” said Ralph Regula, another Ohio congressman and outdoors lover.  

Every once in a while, I would try to get up the nerve to talk to John Seiberling, and thank him for fighting for the park, over the wishes of developers and utilties and even the National Park Service itself, which said it had too many parks already.  

“You are so strange,” my wife said. “You’re not afraid to speak to anyone else.”  

And it was true. In more than two decades as a newspaper reporter, I’ve interviewed thousands of newsmakers, from big-city mayors to rock stars to CEOs. I’ve talked to governors and bishops and murderers and mobsters. It’s part of the job. 

But John Seiberling was different. He was an American hero, in my book, anyway. He was the biggest man in Akron, grandson of the founder of Goodyear Tire & Rubber, and a local hero for helping beat back a takeover attempt of the company in the 1980s. 

And he was green before it was cool to be green. 

As a congressman, he sponsored legislation to preserve 129 million acres of public land in Alaska and in national parks and wilderness throughout the United States.  

He knew the importance of preserving wilderness for Americans to enjoy.  

“He’s a god,” I told my wife.  

“So talk to him,” she said. “He won’t bite you.”  

Brandywine Falls in the Cuyahoga Valley National Park.

  

I kept putting it off. I didn’t want to seem fawning.  

But then we moved to Indiana. And then, last summer, John Seiberling died of respiratory failure at the age of 89.  

“I never got to thank him,” I told my wife.  

“A lot of other people did,” she said. “Don’t worry about it.”  

Today, I found out that I wasn’t the only one who worshiped John Seiberling.  

I read a story in Akron Beacon Journal that hundreds of people are planning to attend a special reception in Washington to honor Seiberling.  

 The occasion is a new book about him called A Passion for the Land: John F. Seiberling and the Environmental Movement, written by historian Daniel Nelson. Many of the people who were invited said they didn’t get a chance to attend Seiberling’s funeral, or to pay their last respects.  

“It promises to be a Seiberling love fest as former staffers and longtime friends recall the man many consider an American conservation hero,” the newspaper story said.  

I don’t usually get carried away by hero worship, but this tribute is one that is well-deserved.  

John Seiberling, wherever you are, thank you.