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First, I’m not doing P2P next year. I’m too old and it’s too technical.

What brought out this revelation you say? I’ve been running on Saturday mornings with the Van Cortlandt Track Club and the route has been up the Putnam Trail. In the Bronx it’s narrow and there are numerous railroad ties as well as tree roots. When it hits Westchester it becomes paved and heads all the way through the County.

It was the Bronx part that was the issue and about 2 miles into the run with a nice group of folks I hit one of those ties or roots and found myself aloft. As the saying goes, it’s not the fall that’s the problem it’s when the fall ends. And end it did. Based on my post-action incident report — a survey of the damage — I landed on my right hand and rolled on my left side, with lots of cinder residue on my lower and upper left leg as well as a nasty scraping on my left elbow and plenty of cinder covering the left back of my (ironically-worn) Paine-to-Pain shirt.

That left elbow itself contains a few plates and screws from the 2008 Incident and I landed right on them. Fortunately, it looks much worse than it is.  But it could have been very, very bad.

CAM00250I completed the run, getting just to the 10-mile mark. But a reassessment is in order. I’m old and not only does it take longer to heal — other than skin damage I have a strained muscle in my back which makes up-and-down movement painful — and the frailty of age makes things that could have been laughed-off in the past are not so easily dismissed now. So I’ve considered where I run in that light. Certain trails I’ll be skipping going forward, including the one on which I ran with Bobby and Ian last week and about which I was so enthusiastic afterward.

This running thing, as is true of life, is not risk-free. And perhaps it’s more dangerous to “run” on trails than carefully navigating a technical trail, where you are careful about each foot-plant. That’s kind of different though from what I enjoy doing. So Rockies: Yes, Putnam: No.

When I have the type of experience of last week’s Paine to Pain I can dwell on it. After NYCM 2006 my thoughts quickly turned to how to better next time, although in that case there never was a “next time”. From P2P, I  had a bucket-load of errors so there’s a wealth of ideas on improvement. (The photo is just before one gets to the final water-stop at P2P, in Twin Lakes.)

Twin Lakes Oct 13 2013Perhaps more important than the single-race angle, though, is, as I posted on FB, “A series of good runs in the aftermath of a bad race is a good way to re-kindle the spirit.”

I’ve had a series of solid runs since the race. I’ve been tired in some, but the big difference between being tired and what happened last Sunday was that then I knew early on that my quads were blowing up. It’s one thing to have an overall fatigure and another to feel that you’re not physically capable of running-through-it.

Today I went out with Bobby P. and Ian. We decided to head up the Hutch Trail, after meeting in the stables parking-lot at Twin Lakes. I run Twin Lakes/Nature Study so often that I’ve neglected simply running along the parkway and had forgotten that while that stretch is not quite at the level of technicality as is Leatherstocking, it is pretty rough. I was somewhat lulled by the ease of Twin Lakes/Nature Study in my P2P prep. Up 35 minutes into Saxon Woods at a relatively-easy pace but the “pace” is confusing because the effort is much higher, say 30 seconds. We stopped at the turn-around since they both had to pee, and I was concerned that I would not hang on heading south.

Now we were duplicating the P2P course with all its ups-and-downs, mostly single-track and I had flashbacks, particularly to spots where I had stopped a week earlier. On little hills (hardly worth the name). Yet unlike last week, my quads were fine and while I had a bit of tiredness I was never stressed, never breathing with every-other stride. No problem running up the big hill south of Pinebrook. Very nice all the way to the end, at 1:07. Longest time and distance (except for P2P itself) in quite a while. This followed on a nice solid run in part with VCTC yesterday at Van Cortlandt, where I was breathing with every other stride, although that was because I was actually pushing it pretty hard. Nice run on the B’ville track on Friday night — 20 laps in lane 5. (I only run on the track after dark out of fear of tripping.)

More important, one can forget the “why” of doing it and forget the simple thrill of a run well-run. Who knows how I’ll end up, or whether I’ll be hobbled by more aches and pains. But the runner’s life always has some level of optimism about the future, about the next race being a wee-bit better than the last.

Separately, congratulations to my friend Helen Dole, who ran Chicago this morning. Helen hit me, literally, in Brooklyn a few years back as I walked at the NYCM (I DNFed). She ran a 2:28:12 2:58:12 [editor's note: my error was pointed out to me] in Chicago and more tellingly, she ran almost perfectly even splits. Her 5K times through 30K ranged from 20:51 to 21:02 and her seventh and eighth were 21:30 and 21:36.  That’s the way you do it. But I’m thinking that right about now she’s thinking of what she can do next time to shave off a few seconds here and a few seconds there.

I’ve not raced much recently. Part of it is in my body. Part of it is in my head. A few months back, while doing a great run that included the Nature Study Trail, I decided I’d do Paine to Pain.

P2P is the creation of my friend and former clubmate Eric Turkwitz. He engineered the conceptual and to some extent physical binding of three discrete trails with the relevant municipalities and Westchester County into what is known as the Colonial Greenway. It happens to be a 13-or-so mile loop, one mile of which is on roads. I’ve been running on some of these trails since high school, over 40 years ago and have done certain stretches hundreds of times. To celebrate the creation of the system, Eric came up with the idea of having a race, and it has grown until it sells out. Today’s was the 6th edition.

The course itself is interesting because it consists of different trails. After a half-mile uphill and a quick down, one enters Leatherstocking Trail in New Rochelle. (Named for the series by James Fenimore Cooper, who lived nearby.) This trail exists because someone wanted to build a bridge across Long Island Sound and wanted an entry road. The bridge was not built so the road was not needed, and New Rochelle and the Town of Mamaroneck converted it into a trail.  For the swampier parts, Mamaroneck built boardwalks. This trail grew up as a path through the woods and that’s what it is. So it’s narrow, it goes up and down short hills, it requires traversing rocks and trees. It is, in short, “technical”. It takes you to about mile 3.5. When I’ve run it as a work-out, I’ve always found it brutal. One can’t relax on a trail like this. This would be my downfall.  I’ll get to that. Then onto Saxon Woods, a County Park. It begins with similarly technical stretches, but not as dramatic as Leatherstocking. Then it eases up and the final trail stretch, which takes one down the Hutch, to the west of Twin Lakes, and through Nature Study, is relatively placid, with one big uphill.

So much for my course description.

So those months ago I was getting longer and longer runs in. Some were struggles, but more and more were crossing that chasm into smooth-relaxed-fast. This is when I decided to do P2P. Then injuries — I’ve been struggling as to my shoes and have now gone back to Brooks Pure Flows — but P2P was out there.  I entered about a month ago. I then found myself in a stretch where I was having difficultly soloing past 30 minutes. This is the brain part. No matter how fast, or slow, I went, I struggled. So I headed down on Saturdays to run with the Van Cortlandt Track Club, and that helped enormously. I’m not an official member yet, but will join shortly. I lost some training while on vacation in the Bershires but last Saturday ran 8 miles, mostly with VCTC’s Kevin Shelton-Smith, on flat trails at Van Cortlandt and felt very strong followed on Sunday with 7.3 at the Rockies with Charles Scott (who I met via some interesting but irrelevant internet stuff). I gave blood on Sunday and missed running because of my schedule until Friday.

I was, naturally, more than a little nervous as raceday approached. I had a plan. I’d take it real easy through mile 5. Then I’d have only an 8-miler about which to be serious. Piece of cake. Go through 5 at 40 and then 1:40 would be a snap.

This was the plan. It did not work. I had not run on anything like Leatherstocking in a very long time. Up/down, right/left. Avoid this root and that rock. As I said, you can’t take this trail “easy”. By mile 2 I knew I was in deep trouble. On the longest mid-race paved stretch I stopped for the first of many times. There are those who say it’s mental. It wasn’t. My legs were screaming. It was humid, and my shirt and shorts were already soaked.

I went into survival mode, determined to finish. Wearing my Garmin, I’d commit to running a certain distance before stopping. I started feeling a bit better on a flat, smooth stretch of Saxon Woods, but it was a cruel illusion. As soon as we hit a bit of hilliness, I collapsed anew. I kept passing people who’d pass me when I stopped only to be passed again, etc., etc., etc. I felt bad and something of a jerk about it.  I was trying to find the least-uncomfortable pace. So it continued down to about a half to go. I had not blown up, but I was getting close. Far worse than the marathon or a later leg of RtB. Far worse.

Somehow I made it out of Nature Study Trail and onto the road to New Rochelle HS. The race ends on its (350-meter) track. I finished. I saw Eric afterward. The race, I said, was a ring of hell. Not the innermost, perhaps, but not very far out.

A while back during a run Bobby Papazian and I spoke about how some people seem hard-wired to be unable to take it easy in races. Have fun/smell the roses. I’m one of those people. I know I can do this thing a lot faster. I must adjust to the reality of Leatherstocking — a few runs there would not be amiss — but I think that if I’m in shape for it, I can do it pretty well. Not the 1:52/14th AG of this morning. As I also told Eric, “I’m pissed”. Not about today; I don’t think I could have done it much faster. But about the fact, and it is a fact, that this beautiful course got the better of me. In my defense, though, it wasn’t a fair fight. I hope next year that it will be.

I also saw how hard everyone in these races works. Everyone near me was busting their butts, focusing on the business at hand — and that they were was reason I felt bad about my frequent passing. It was an object-lesson for arrogance I may sometimes display.

A final thought. I know the folks who put this on — in addition to Eric and Greg Stern and other former SSRMC-mates Steve Lastoe’s NYCRuns did the scoring — but I think objectively they did a fantastic job. Eric was livid [edited to add: Eric dropped me a note to say he was more "perplexed" than anything, including livid, since he too took notice of the course markings] afterward when he learned the the 2 lead runners missed a turn late in the race (and the guy who had been third stopped right before the finish line to let them get ahead of him). He and his team, including guys who ran the course beforehand to ensure that it was properly marked, did a fine job of marking the turns and there were tons of marshals and volunteers — thanks Iona College — on the course, plus cheerleaders on the opening and closing stretch. I think though that in the later stages one’s faculties can be less than ideal. I knew where I was going, but still confirmed that the small yellow flags were properly set-up and they were. Racers, though, can miss things like that and I’m sure Eric will make sure it doesn’t happen again.

I was put into the fourth (of four) wave (presumably because I had no recent marathon or HM time to put in). I emailed Eric last night, and within an hour he and members of his and Steve’s teams assured me that  I’d be put into wave 1. A few years back, I ran part of the course the day before and saw a fallen log across it. I emailed Eric. Within two hours he emailed me back, “What tree?” with a photo of his son holding a saw and pointing to a gap in that fallen log through which the course ran.

One reason I bitch about NYRR is that it doesn’t seem to care about things in its races. Not so with this race director. Who could, were he not a lawyer, make a pretty good living as a stand-up comic (“The New Rochelle Army” indeed).

I wrote about my run last Saturday with VCTC. I ran with them — actually with one person — yesterday and it was another enjoyable day in the park, a bit over an hour, close to 8 min. pace.

Before starting, I made a video of the Van Cortlandt track. After the run, three local runners, I think they’re Ethiopian, were circling the track metronomically, looking to be doing beautiful tempos.

I haven’t posted in quite a while. The vagaries of my running since the last one helps to explain that.

Today I had a good run. I’ve been plagued by stuff and when it finally seemed behind me I was having basic-running problems. In the spring, I found that if I found my Goldilocks pace, I was fine. But I’ve had trouble re-finding it. Plus no matter how slowly I went, I died. I was in a 20-30 minute rut with runs of Herculean struggle in their final stages. So last Saturday I decided to venture down to Van Cortlandt  to run with the Van Cortlandt Track Club. (Right now, I am running unattached (insofar as I am running). I planned to join VCTC a while back, but running set-backs have put such plans on hold.)

I figured, correctly, that if I ran with some of those guys at a more-controlled pace, I could sustain a decent run. This would be in contrast with my old runs with Warren Street or with Bobby, Paul, et al. at the Rockies in which I found myself struggling to keep up. So last week it was around VCP’s parade grounds — the flats for XC races — and then up the Putnam Trail, into Westchester (where it is paved). I turned at 25 minutes and headed back on my own, getting to 45 minutes, over 15 more than I’d managed for months. Plus while I was tired late, I never had the blowing-up struggles of prior runs.

This was a turning-point for me. I followed it with a 40 minuter on the roads and 37 from home onto Nature Study and back, both in high humidity. Beautiful weather today. But there was no one from the club who would be going fast enough so I headed out on my own. I did the same as last week, hitting the 25 minute mark at almost exactly the same spot as last week but continued until just past 30. The paved path in Westchester is flat at first but then begins a gradually up-incline. (This is the South County Trailway and you can take it all the way through the County.) I turned just past 30 minutes and now had a very nice slight downhill. Of course this meant that my pace started to pick up and I found myself locked into a pretty solid pace.

It’s amazing how free one can feel on a path in the Bronx. Low 7s/high 6s but I felt great. The feeling that sucks you into this whole running insanity. Off the trail and up to the parade grounds, now with numerous college and hs teams milling about in their matching warm-ups. This, of course, meant that there could be no easing back. I decided t complete the counter-clockwise loop and finish at the XC finish line. That last half-mile from the north edge was not pleasant but when I crossed under the banner I stopped. 55 and change.

this bell’s been run many times before. Like running, though, this stuff can only be taken one step at a time.

I thought of doing a program on RunnersRoundTable on building a running-trail site, like WestchesterTrails. I realized video would be the way to go. So I tracked down a site that allows for making videos of screen activity,, and away I went.

This is how to build your own running-trail web-site from scratch in 25 minutes.

Not much, but more than I expected. Now, at about 6, my right calf is a little tender, but otherwise I am much more optimistic than I’ve been for a while. This was the first run in about three weeks, not counting one in which I made it about 1/2 mile before having to stop. At the Rockies, the group is Bobby P, Charlotte, one of Charlotte’s daughters, and her friend from Rye Brook:

Of course the prior video, from Mount Vernon High School seems like a different world. Ewen suggested that I might want to avoid intense speed-work for injury-avoidance purposes. He may be right. For now, it’s trying to get things back.

Things were going well. Then they weren’t. So no need to choose between the Litchfield and Rockies races. After everything was falling into place — solid long runs at a proper pace, some track speed, dreams of racing — I was hit with a pain in the hamstring. Just when I was getting through that, on an eight-miler I was hit with something in the Achilles tendon at five-and-a-half. These are things that even a few years ago would be gone in a few days. Now it’s a matter of weeks and I feel no closer to being able to run today than I did a week ago, when things collapsed a half-mile in.

So I don’t know whether this is the end.

Sunday Morning Racing Blues

Gm Blues: Gm, D7, Gm, Gm,  Cm, Cm, Gm, Gm, Cm, D7, Gm, D7

It’s nearly seven and I can’t find my racing shoes.
I should’ve taken them out, I can’t find my racing shoes.
I really need to calm down.
I’ve got the Sunday morning racing blues.

Deep breath, I’ve got everything, time to head into town.
Ready as I’ll ever be, time to head into town.
I’ve been doing this a long time.
Yet each race I get so tightly wound.

Check bag, pin number, do some jogging and I’m good.
I’ve made it here, things taken care of, and I’m good.
Get to the start line.
Try to line up where I should.

A little bit of a wait now, try not to lose adrenaline.
Feel excitement fading, try to keep the adrenaline.
You just have to trust yourself.
And the shape that you are in.

Finally the horn goes, bit of jostling left and right.
Now people are moving, bit of jostling left and right.
I need to keep my composure.
Not let the leaders get out of sight.

Suddenly it’s Cat Hill then float through mile one.
Wave to the cat and then float through mile one.
Time to check and collect myself.
This race’s only just begun.

Starting to get tough, three to go and running fast.
Opening juice gone, three to go and running fast.
Breathing harder, quads streaming.
I swear this race will be my last.

Heading to the transverse, 2 mile water stop coming up.
Left on the transverse, 2 mile water stop coming up.
Douse myself with the first, drink the second cup.

Turn left on the West Drive, and starting to feel the pain.
This is where it all matters, starting to feel the pain.
I just want to stop and not do any of this again.

Somehow I drag my bones and get through the third mile.
Over those little hills and somehow through the third mile.
Although it’s mostly downhill, the final stretch will take a while.

Finally the last left turn and the finish comes into view.
Around that Webster statue and the finish comes into view.
Pick it up a little bit, to gain a second or two.

Through the finish and all I want to do is stop.
Please Mr. Marshall just give me a moment and let me stop.
Keep on moving they tell me, which I should do or I might drop.

Every time I do this I hate it hate it hate and vow not to come back.
It’s like this every time, I swear I won’t be back.
Now that it’s over I want to shave a few seconds, see you Tuesday on the track.

Mary Cain ran a 4:04.62 1500 last night in California. It would apparently be the second-fastest 1500 ever by a US collegian (behind Jenny B.) if Cain weren’t a junior in high school. And the second-fastest 1500 runner in a US high school is Jordan Hasay, all of 10 seconds slower.

Although I’ve been paying attention to what she’s been doing I’ve not written because she has moved on.  A friend who was much more knowledgeable than I could ever be pointed out to me last fall that Cain already had done the high-school team thing about which I said she would be missing. This year she’s shown on the track that she is in fact well beyond the high-school racing thing. I don’t know that she’s elite quite yet. She is knocking on the door. She’s learning how to race and is showing no intimidation. She seems to be racing a lot, but I’m sure everyone is being very careful about it. It is clear, though, that she is well past high school and may have leap-frogged most college runners (she’s beating them routinely now).

It is unfathomable what she goes through. We get anxious about our little 5Ks, races about which no one else cares. For her, there was a LetsRun thread before last night’s race speculating on how fast she’d run (including “let’s get real, sub 4:06 isn’t going to happen this season”, apparently from a Romney pollster). Every couple of weeks we get a where-is-she-going-to-college? thread (and there’s a when-is-she-going-pro? thread now).

Yet she hasn’t had a sub-par race. To the contrary, she’s faster. The last disappointing race I recall from her, going by memory, was indoors in 2012 when she was racing at a high level although not doing much speedwork so it was only disappointing that she was not winning for those who thought she was in full racing-shape at the time when she was training for outdoors. In fact, since I started paying attention, I think the only truly disappointing race she’s had was in the 1500 at Nationals as a freshman, the day after her 2:03.74 800 leg, and I think that she suffered from that 800 in the 1500. That’s a virtually unblemished record under incredible scrutiny.

She just turned 17.

I almost ran into her last week. We were both doing speedwork in the same lane at the same time in opposite directions. She deferred to me, I to her. We missed.  (She was just doing end-of-workout 200 pick-ups.) Yes, there’s a reason one goes counter-clockwise doing speedwork.

I thought Alberto Salazar gave a nice interview about the race and Cain’s progress.


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