Last time I raced Jonathan I kicked his butt. The Bronx Half. But turns out he was in marathon training and would soon run a 2:44 at the Jersey Marathon. I figured it must have been a downhill, wind-aided course, but that seems unlikely because it was a two-looper/finish near the start race. (Speaking of depth, a second Westchester 50 year old was also under 3 hours in that race.)

JT (her race report) mentioned that he’d be at today’s race. They have a thing going on. And he was.

But first, let me describe the race. I’ve done it three times. It was the subject of my not-ready-for-prime-time post of last March, and I’d been first and second in 2007 and 2008, respectively. The course itself is wonderful. It is mostly rolling with some flat stretches with two very steep but short hills (one at 2, one at 6.5) through the beautiful streets of Scarsdale, with the final 250 meters or so on the high-school track.

This is the longest-running road race in Westchester, and was once hugely popular. In the 70s, the winning time would be around 47, and I mentioned to Andy of Westchester Road Runner (who would be our starter) that I had seen race results from that era and asked how we could get people back and he said there’s been a lost generation after guys now in their 40s and 50s and 60s but that there is actually a bit more enthusiasm from kids now than there has been in recent years. That I won the race, and that Jonathan did, is a testament to the slightness of the field. And the somewhat arbitrariness since last year a bunch of quick guys did show up and took the top spots. (The race was a tune-up for Boston, but this year was moved into April.)

Jonathan and I chatted at the starting line and after the horn and our mutual realization that this was not going to be a year for the fast guys he asked me what happens now and I said my plan was to go relaxed through 4 and then see what happened, which worked for me in 2007. The thought of whether I should run with him was forming in my head when the issue became academic as he moved ahead of me in his damn über-smooth stride, followed by a Scarsdale high schooler. By the half-mile mark (per my Garmin; strangely, the race only has odd — as in odd-numbers — splits) Jonathan was clear and he and the other fellow were well ahead of me. I knew I would not catch Jonathan but I thought the youngster might come back. (He wouldn’t.)

I settled into my rhythm as they disappeared. For the balance of the race I was alone, and they were out of sight by the 2-mile mark. I thought of someone who recently posted about an internal, Hamletian struggle she experienced when she found herself in no-man’s land. The answer: you just keep running.

I was hurting. It was a little warm, but nothing like earlier in the week. The course catches up to the 4-milers who started 15 minutes before we did and you pass the point where they turn into the parking lot to the track and the finish and I so much wanted to make that turn. But it was not to be and I continued straight. I was becoming more and more thankful for the downhills, not caring that there would be an uphill to pay for it. I won’t repeat the drama, because it’s the familiar I hurt/keep going debate with which we are all familiar.

I confess, though, that once again I was caught on a particular stretch. It’s where I stopped for the first time last year and it would be where I stopped for the first time this year, at about 5.5. You go up a slight hill, expecting it to be followed by a recovering down but at the crest it looks (it’s an illusion) like another up is about to hit you. Two or three seconds stopped and off again, left turn, quick stop. Then up a brutal hill at 6.5 which is followed by an incline. There are the firemen with their water. I get to them and stop to get the water. Take my time, and off I go, determined to soldier on to the end.

And I would, feeling stronger as I go. Still, I’m all alone. Checking my Garmin more than I should. 1.25. 1. .75. How much over 9 is a 15K anyway? .3 miles? 1600, 800 to go. Onto the track and the last 250 meters. Fini. The numbers: 6:09, 6:12, 6:15, 6:15, 6:15, 6:26, 6:40, 6:07, 6:08 + = 58:36.

Jonathan has won pretty easily. The high-schooler never came back. And I struggled home, with 4th minutes behind. My time was actually slower than last year’s and thus way slower than 2007 and 2008. (I seem to have misplaced my Garmin so I’ll have to add my time when I get it.)

Chatting with Jonathan afterward, I admit that all I can do is train smartly, get in the miles, get in the speed. If I’m slower than I was, so be it. It is frustrating, but it’s something with which I am familiar.

This race is notorious for the time it takes to get the awards done, which meant I had a fair amount of time to chat with folks. JT came in as the second woman, and we spoke of some recent unpleasantness (see below). I saw Frank C at the start, but he said he was leaving right after the race (he’s a Scarsdaleite and felt obliged to do his hometown run) to do another run somewhere. [Edited to add: Actually, it appears to have been a brunch.] He was gone, and I never got to introduce myself to Emmy, a member of Frank’s posse.

The most enjoyable discussion was with Denis Dealy, who would win the 70+ crown in the four-miler. He’s an Irishman (County Cork) who came to the US in the 1960s as something of a ringer for a NY hurling team. If you know about hurling, you’ll know it (unlike curling) is a lunatic sport (although now they wear masks). He started running in the 1980s, and has loved it ever since, especially the meeting people part. A guy named Chick of the Jersey Shore club won the 60+ for the four-miler, and he is one of these guys who looks 15 or 20 years younger than he is. And he is another hard core guy.

The race has an award (the Abe Simon award) for 50+ men’s teams of five and 40+ women’s teams of three. Jonathan and I were recruited for a team, and we won, in part since we had 1st, 3rd, 4th, 6th, and 8th in the race. (Yeah, not a lot of youngsters in this one.)

Now three weeks until Rye.

Julie mentioned a few days ago, referring to academia, that the politics are “so vicious because the stakes are so small.” I think I’m a pretty fast runner, but I’m also fast enough to know how distant I am from elite status. I couldn’t have qualified for the Olympic Trials Marathon Trials (the standard was 2:19:04 when I was in my prime) on a downhill course with a tailwind, and I’ve been close enough to elites at a start and far enough back from elites a quarter mile after the start to appreciate the huge gap. As my friend (and runner in today’s Paris Marathon) Pascal has noted, my times may sound impressive, but Geb could run a 2:20 in a jog. Perspective.

Good, not great. But a fellow 53 year old who lives four miles from me beats me by 3 minutes and I’ll get an age-group award in a NYRR club race only when lots of guys don’t show up. I know a 50 year old who lives about a mile away who’s PR is 2:14 and I know I’m not in his class. So I’m good, but there are lots of people who are lots gooder.

When I awoke this morning I had comments to this blog, from Stéphane (of my NYC HM report) and Ewen, that made me feel a million percent better than I had recently. Briefly, Brandon Wood, who I’ve described as an “incurable optimist” and who is a really nice guy, took exception to my recent arms-up post, even after I walked back from it a bit. He apparently responded with a rant about me. As JT put it, he “spewed venom.” I’ve written to him about it and, not unexpectedly, he responded, “Thanks. This will be on my next show, just FYI.”

The rant — much of which I learned of via Twitter detective-work (I’ve not listened to it, nor have a viewed a “so funny” YouTube clip that seems to be about me) — led to much “Here! Here!” “Hear! Hear!” and to “OMG! I found that ‘blog’ which spurred your soapbox, what a pompous, arrogant, ignorant (*&@#$!!! So hard to bite my tongue.” JT, bless her, said, “you’re not an asshole,” which is always nice to hear.

The bottom line is that if you read this blog regularly and think me, or it, “pompous, arrogant, ignorant,” feel free to comment, feel free to stay away. As for me, I’m quite content the quality of the readers I’ve got.

If you want to see what’s here, take a look at my favorite posts.

Here’s the letter I wrote:


I thought I’d write off-Web. I have not heard your podcast, but came upon numerous references to it on Twitter, as well as to the “horses ass” on your blog.

A few points. If you are of the view that the level of respect I have for a runner turns on how fast she is in some absolute sense you’ve not been reading my blog. As an example, I know someone (a guy) who ran a 3:07 marathon on a maximum of 27 miles a week. He said people are plenty impressed by that so it’s good enough for him. (To his credit, he is actually trying to train properly, i.e., with mileage, now.) I have far less respect for someone like that than I do for someone who breaks her chops, puts in the miles and does the speedwork and struggles to break 4. I admit that until I was in the blogosphere I didn’t appreciate that there were such people.

Things for me get dicey with triathlons. Indeed, I had you in mind when I posted my why-the-tri? entry because I set out my thoughts and I would liked to have heard from someone on the other side setting me straight. Unlike runners, every triathlete I’ve met, you, current and former club mates, are incredibly nice. Given the effort it takes to be the best you can be I really and honestly don’t understand breaking it up into three. But the triathletes I know work really really hard (harder than I do), and you’re right to call me out on the point.

You took offense with my Kumbaya statement. Let me give you an example of what I mean. When you did the Wisconsin IM the first thing I said to you was “congratulations, you’re an Ironman.” You and I both knew you had a disaster of a run. The second thing I said to you was to ask your thoughts were about improving in the next one. You received appropriate congratulations from all over, but how many said anything that was honest yet “critical”? Take a look at the comments on Lam’s site. “Great race,” “you’re great,” “that guy’s [meaning me] is a dick.” I like compliments as much as the next man, but I also like conversation, even if it is to tell me that, yeah, I am a dick.

Speaking of Lam, he twittered you, ” “That’s why I thought it was ironic when he criticized me for “not training up to potential” when I’m already top 5% at races.”
You’re not a fast runner or biker, but you are a really good swimmer, so on this you’ll understand. His reference is to a post in which he asked whether he was running enough miles to go sub-3 at Boston, and I said he wasn’t. I then said that what’s the point of doing a half-assed effort to break 3 when you may have the talent to go 2:45 or 2:50 if you put in the mileage. I don’t know how fast it takes a good swimmer to do a 1500, but if you did X and someone said you could go 2 minutes faster if you changed your training, would you view that as “criticism”? But that became part of what he considered a personal attack on him (and led to the “he’s a jerk” comments on his blog and also to my two “what-kind-of-runner” posts). And also, when you swam, did you care how many people were behind you? I’m accused of being elitist when he gets a pass because his time in some absolute sense is in the top 5%. Like the 3:07 guy. In the Kumbaya world only happy thoughts are allowed. His recent commentators suggest he find a really small race in which he can win a trophy to affirm how fast he is. WTF?

On the slow-people-are-unworthy issue, here’s a post I did a bit ago for SteveRunner, hoping to break 4 in which I wrote referring to a BQ:

    It’s an arbitrary, and sometimes changing, number relevant only to those relatively few who find themselves within haling distance of it. Where one “finds oneself,” of course, is similarly arbitrary, turning of factors like genetics. What matters is what one does with those genes.

    I think your determination, expressed on last night’s RunnersRoundTable, to go sub-4 this year admirable and given your apparent history — of which I am blissfully ignorant — a realistic goal. For you. That’s, of course, what “racing” is all about. How fast can you go? How well do you work to reach that point?

I may take this stuff too seriously. The ultimate is to go all in, and to train to be in a position to do it. And I realize I can be a dick about it. My “no raised arms” may, or may not, have been wrong, but as I say, I’m not going to patronize slower runners for something that I don’t think faster runners should do because I think we should all act like athletes. But, as I say, you’re not the only one who thought I was out of line. That’s hardly the basis for your apparent condemnation.

I’ve coached and been on teams with runners of a range of abilities, fast and slow. My only criterion is the willingness to work hard to achieve an achievable goal. People can run to have fun. I used to hammer away on my bike to have fun, working hard, but I didn’t consider myself a cyclist because of it. It was just something I did. People can do marathons until they’re blue in the face and I don’t begrudge them. But they’re involved in a different sport from me, as serious cyclists and tennis players are. Not worse, just different.

Seeing the title of that video — I haven’t watched it — leads me to note that outside of Central Park I always wave at other runners, although most don’t wave back. That drives me nuts. Maybe we can do a rant on that.

I just noted on someone else’s blog the alchemy of road relays in which you put people of different personalities in a van and it somehow works really well. For me I was the up-tight hard-ass and we had guys who could sell anything but it was one of the best experiences of my running life. Fast, slow, it didn’t matter. I say this because while I may be on one end of the spectrum you are on the other and, like Will Rogers, never met a man you didn’t like (until now).

Do with this as you will. And I hope the wife and baby are doing well.

Joe Garland