Shaking the dust off

I’ve had a long journey back to running. One I will get into a little bit more in a post to come. But, I’ve gotten back in to the swing of things slowly but surely. With the help of treadmills, new shoes, and not wearing a gps watch.

Two weeks ago I signed up for the Run To Remember half marathon, a race I’ve wanted to run for several years because the course winds along the Charles and the esplanade and I like the idea of running a race on a very familiar route. Knowing several people also running this year is a bonus.

Although, I’d been getting nervous. A half marathon as my first race in two years seemed a bit intense. I wanted to shake the dust off. And there was a lot of dust. I ran 8 miles a week ago, which made me confident enough in my ability to run 13, but I hadn’t had the nervous feeling of being at a race in a long time. So… I impulsively signed up for a 7 mile race in Danvers with a bib pick up in Beverly. Having only moved to Salem three weeks ago, I had never been to Beverly nor Danvers before. Bring on the adventure!

I drove out to the course in the morning a mere fifteen minutes away, which allowed me to have a nice, casual morning of coffee and oatmeal with bananas mixed in. I laced up my shoes in my car because it was a bit brisk to start the day in a parking lot in Danvers. Which I now realize looked suspicious. I was being eyed by a gentleman in his yard, and I’m pretty sure with my bed hair and fumbling with my shoes I must have looked like I was up to something more illicit. And I hope I alleviated his fears when I got out and did my warmup run and stretches. But who knows.

The course promised to be flat and was on both a local rail trail and mostly residential streets. It started on the rail trail and warming up with crazy high kicks and not an ounce of fat was this guy  I had no intention of actually racing. What I wanted to do was run about even sevens and then have enough left for a faster closing mile around 6:30.

The race went off and for about the first mile I was with the leaders in about 5th position in a long straight line. When my watched clicked 6:26, which felt surprising easy, I decide to back off and get more into a groove. The day was a bit sunnier than expected so it felt warmer than the mid-fifties it actually was, but there was a delightful cool breeze that would pop up now and then. My 4th mile clocked in at 7:20 and I started feeling like there was more dust, possibly even rust, than I had thought but I started turning my legs over a bit more and shortening my stride. By around mile 5.5 two runners that were ahead of me the whole race appeared in sight. With the way the course was laid out I was able to use the curves of the residential streets to line myself up better and run tighter tangents than they were and started closing the gap more and more and eventually passed them. Going into the last miles I felt comfortable and like my legs were and had been moving instinctively for about the last 2 miles. On the final stretch with about 400 meters to go, the one runner I had reined back in caught up and passed me, I fell in behind him for a few strides deciding if I had it in me to bust out a final sprint. But as the picture below(and continuing my legacy of race pictures in which I look like early modern man chasing down prey) can tell you, I didn’t. Last mile in 6:26-chalk that up for a win in my book! PS, definitely looking less cro-magnon in the second shot-photo credit Lisa Kelly.

I did my usual immediate post race dry heave and then stretched and sticked myself before heading over to the after race ceremony at the Osborn Tavern. I got a free beer(nice and unexpected perk!) and introduced myself to a few runners from the Wicked Running Club based in my new home town of Salem that I just joined last week. I haven’t been able to make it to a club run yet, but they have some good vibes about them.

Overall came in 15th place with and overall time and pace of 48:15 and 6:54. I went in with the mindset to cruise and finish well and overall just enjoy the experience. Fun, winding course, quirky little race, just great stuff. And I went to bed at 8:45 last night, so there’s also that.

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Just Like That

One email and just like that-my mind is rewired. I’m looking at the calendar and plotting long runs, hill work, speed work. Loops with water fountains, bathrooms, views and vistas, shade, definitely shade. Around ponds, reservoirs, along the esplanade, down Beacon, across Commonwealth, and hitting my stride when I know I still have miles to go.

Reading race reports, recaps, going through blogs 6 years back. Looking at course maps, watching videos, Yelping places to get burgers and beers in the city of Chicago, where I’ve only seen the inside of an airport.

Eyeing the soles of my shoes, do I need new ones? I need more socks, smartwool, and tech shirts. Stocking up on Gu and where did that handheld water bottle go? Getting reacquainted with coconut water, protein bars, and the endless search for calories.

Looking forward to naps, cold showers, sunset runs, outrunning the T from Hynes to Coolidge Corner, the feeling that moves swiftly from cannot to can just from turning on to the next street.

Hello lactic acid, old friend. Seeing people running after you’ve already run and feeling the need to tell them that you yourself had run. Why? I don’t know.  Compulsion, pride, being part of the tribe.

There is spring and summer and autumn and in between I’ll go from this initial excitement to frustration, elation, exhaustion and energy. But then there will be a start line and then a finish line, and it going to be great. Again.

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Is Ragnar Relay Selling You Your Experience? Or, Is Everything Really Awesome?

Last night I did 2 things — 1) I came hope from Ragnar: Cape Cod 2015 very, very tired — as you should from running and being sleep deprived for 24 hours and 2) watched The Lego Movie.  Little did I know that watching The Lego Movie would perfectly summarize how I felt about my Ragnar experience.

Prepare for a bad synopsis…In The Lego Movie the Lord Business/President Business seeks complete control of a Lego Universe by ensuring that every member of the Lego society rigidly conforms to the rules by forcing them to only build by the instructions and enforcing a strong PR campaign to convince everybody that ‘everything is awesome’ (as the crazily catchy song from the movie suggests).  He embodies the ideal of corporation and fears the concept of being creative.  Everything must be contrived and controlled.  While there are much deeper explorations into the rise of historic dictatorships, the manipulation of mass media and subterfuge of the fifth estate, as well as themes of youth versus the older generation, I’ll leave some other mind to write about those.

Here’s my thing.  This was the 7th 200-mile/24-hour relay I’ve done.  The bulk of them having been the NH and MA iterations of Reach The Beach, as well as one very local edition of a relay called Mass Dash.  The first Reach The Beach I ran was life changing, and I’m not being hyperbolic.  These things became an addiction.  It was the wild freeness and experience of unbridled running combined with the organic comradeship of your teammates.  The spirit and fire of friendly competition.  Seeing a place like you’ve never seen it before by covering it on foot for 200 miles. Memories and new friendships.  Well…just everything was awesome…that’s what it was.

Last year RTB: MA and Ragnar Cape Cod merged.  Later RTB engaged in a partnership with Ragnar for the NH edition of the race.  For 2012 and 2013 Ragnar scheduled their race within one week of RTB: MA.  These races are massive undertakings requiring support from the state and local municipalities.  Having two back to back are definitely strains on resources and the understanding of residents.  You can put out as many press releases as you’d like, but the scheduling of the first Ragnar Cape Cod to compete directly with an established relay with local connections is tantamount to undeclared war.  When RTB folded in to the more well funded Ragnar, I was a little depressed.  When I ran RTB: NH last year, the first year with the Ragnar partnership, I could feel the difference in my experience in the race.  For lack of a better way of explaining it, it felt more corporate.  While I still had an amazing time in NH, I could sense it feeling more tightly wound.  For instance, during one of my legs, my van got lost and could not meet me at the transition area.  It was nighttime and I was getting cold after waiting for 15 minutes, so I informed the people at the TA that I was running through, and to please inform my van when they arrived of this.  The next leg was a ‘no van support leg’, i.e. they could not stop to give me water/swap another runner in.  They did catch up to me, ask me how I was doing, I said ok and to just meet me at the end.  On arriving, the race officials checked my bib number and called the previous TA to get a description of me to ensure that I was the same person to had left and arrived, they also asked me if my van had stopped, which they hadn’t, and I was informed that if they had or had another runner jumped in we would have been instantly disqualified.  I had just run 16 miles with almost no water — if they handed me a bottle of water, that’s called safety. Two quick things, A) we were not a competitive team looking to place and B) chill out.  In past races, representatives were more understanding of circumstances and generally more relaxed when it came to the ‘rules’, especially when the safety of runners was concerned.

Anyway, this past race there was a distinct corporate vibe that felt like the concept of ‘the man’. The volunteers throughout much other first 2/3’s of the race were miserable and felt like school hall monitors, i.e. — they didn’t want to be there.  An interesting construct of Ragnar is you must supply ‘volunteers’ or pay for them, rather than partnering directly with local organizations for mutual support and awareness.  The race legs were constantly being updated literally until the day before the race was run, which made me question how much support/communication was going on between the race organizers/directors and the towns. This lead to a severely lopsided disconnect between the mileage of van 1 and 2, with van 2 running  substantially more than initially indicated. There were several other little things that contributed to my questioning or Ragnar’s interest in the runners themselves — unmanned open water station where god knows who could put god knows what in the water, for example.

While everyone did have a good time, with the amount of just Ragnar-centric propaganda Ragnar produces, I have to wonder if they are just trying to convince everyone that everything is awesome, that this is the experience of a lifetime like no other has been and no other will be before, the epic, mind body, and soul, feel your very being quiver with life and breathing, the burning heart of the universe in your genetic make up sponsored by and..All. Because. Of. Ragnar.

I will always say whatever gets people motivated to exercise, be healthy (although how ‘healthy’ these things are is always questionable — but you get the idea), I’m all for it.  But much like Tough Mudder, I have to wonder if I’m constantly being told or sold that I’m going to experience something rather than just experiencing it. Am I missing out on the purity of experience?

Ragnar is in multiple states, has over a dozen relays (more including trail relays), they have massive advertising, slick marketing and PR.  I’ve since read of Ragnar squeezing out the local competition in other established relays — like the Wild West Relay and Colorado, much like they did with RTB with direct competition in very localized markets.  While Ragnar proclaims idealized experience, I’m not convinced of their sincerity.

I can’t say that I’ll never run a Ragnar again ( I love running and strangely enough I love spending 24 hours in vans with other runners).  But, I don’t think I’ll ever buy in to their brand.  Reach the Beach and Mass Dash Relay got my passion, I experienced it, and they had me thinking about running another even when I was sleep deprived with legs of lead.  Ragnar got my dollars, which in the end, I think is all they ever wanted.

For the only recap of a relay I’ve written (they’re really hard!) click below.  This is unedited from 2013, where I even give a shout out to Ragnar before I had run any of their events.

https://grahamrunsboston.wordpress.com/2013/07/20/mass-dash-relay-2013-recap/

Other links/opinions on Ragnar:

From Chrissy Horan, local Boston Runner

http://www.boston.com/blogs/sports/runalong/2014/01/new_teammate_for_local_relay_race.html

Paul Vanderheiden, who puts on the popular Green Mountain relay in VT:

http://www.timberlineevents.com/ragnar/ragnar_relays_is_stealing_races.html

http://www.blogher.com/ragnar-relay-race-i-want-support

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Graham Ran Boston – 2015 Edition

Just about 24 hours after finishing I’m very sore, have a severe case of marathon brain, but am incredibly grateful.

Before getting into the details of my day, I have to say thank you to Katie for enduring yet another marathon training season, Lara and Peter for being Lara and Peter, Greta Teller and all of Team Brookline for giving a miserable winter a light at the end of the tunnel, and everybody that helped me reach my $5000 goal for The Brookline Community Mental Health Center!

Now to the day itself.  How efficiently the Boston Marathon goes off never ceases to amaze me.  Even though I was woken up at 4:30 in the morning by Brookline municipal workers getting everything set up, everything went off without a hitch.  A teammate gave me a ride to the Brookline HS, from there we boarded a bus to the Common where we got on another bus that took us to Athlete’s Village.  Along the way, yes, it started to rain.  Here’s what I’ll say about the weather — you can’t do anything about it.  You just have to go out and run the best you can that day.  In 2012 it was 90 degrees.  NYC Marathon ’14 was frigid with 40 mile per hour headwinds.  This year’s Boston was cold, rainy, with a headwind — so, what about it?  Once off the bus I felt something I had never felt before — a pain, from deep inside my knee.  Not much I could do about that either, just go out and run the best I could.

Once at the village there was very little downtime from when we arrived to when we started the slow march to the start line.  I waited until the very last minute to take off the layers I’d brought – – the gun sounded and a few minutes later I was over the start line.  I had to contend with a very congested first mile, training to stay off to the left and find a groove among all the fourth wavers.  Here’s how everything went down after:

Miles 2 – 8ish:  My knee was on fire from step one. Mostly down hill, lots of people.  It took until mile 4 to finally find a groove.  The entire time I thought, I can’t run an entire marathon like this.  I’m going to have to drop out. I decided to just take it one mile at a time.

Mile 8ish – 17.5:  Somewhere in mile 8 there is an uphill in Framingham.  I don’t know what it was, but my knee opened up on this hill and I felt ok.  I decided that I still needed to focus on getting through each mile at a time.  Mile 12.5 or so when you enter Wellesley College was absurd.  I could feel the cheering from the girls in my body.  I kept trying to remain focused on each mile.  The downhill into to Newton Lower Falls felt like a gift from God and even the incline over 95 wasn’t as bad as I thought.

Turn at the firehouse through Cleveland Circle:  Once I made the turn at the firehouse onto Commonwealth three things happened:  1) my knee was throbbing again 2) the wind was directly in my face and strong and 3) I slammed into the Wave Three that had left before us.  Between the pain, the wall of people, and the wall of wind – – I had to slow down.  I bit it into each hill just deciding to get up each one and then figure out how I was feeling.  I hate that first hill on Comm Ave — it’s steep and painful.  Hill two is just a blip.  On the flats before Heartbreak I ran past my friend Meg Reilly who had started with Wave Three.  I yelled ‘move your ass, Reilly’ and she quipped back ‘What took you so long, Kimmerer?’  That may have been my favorite moment of the day.  I hoofed it up Heartbreak, passed all the classless BC students (side note:  the BC girls are totally trying to jack the Wellesley Girls’ style with kiss me signs.  Here’s the thing though, the WC girls are buzzed to possibly even sober – – the BC students were sloppy and questionable) and heading into Cleveland Circe was evaluation time.  I knew I just needed to survive.  My knee still hurt, my hamstrings were getting sore, and my calves felt like Jello, not muscle.

Cleveland Circle to Finish Line:  Once on Beacon, I knew I was on home turf.  I just needed to make it. I was focused on just getting to my family and friends near Coolidge.  The hills roll here more than you think they do, and it was tough.  I ran past my family and friends and gave them high fives, but  I couldn’t stop.  If I did, I just would have walked the 400 yards to my apartment.  I kept running through Coolidge, where the Team Brookline Cheer tent was — so glad I saw that.  I saw my friend Tim, whose wedding I’m a part of a little later this spring, a little after 24 in front of his apartment and gave him a wet high five.  Made it over Mount Kenmore and into Kenmore Square where it was so wonderfully loud.  Through the torturous rollercoaster that goes down and under and then back up under Mass Ave and then up over Hereford until I crested on to Beacon.  Even though the finish is still so far away, I could feel it coming to a close and ran as hard as I could through the finish.

It was awesome.  I got my medal, was helped into a space blanket and then went to my office, grabbed the change of clothes I had left there Sunday night, showered at my gym, came home, went to dinner at the Publick House with Katie, Lara and Peter (burgers beers and fries baby!) and then went home and to bed.

Today I’m walking like an octogenarian, but who cares?  I just had lunch with my sister, Greta, and her brother.  And now, now I’m going to take a nap.  Boston #2 in the books.  I gave it all I had given all there was, I have no regrets, and never will after finishing running a marathon.  If you ever do, you’re doing it wrong.  Even though my nipples did bleed… just a little bit.  Maybe that I regret not preparing for better.

Time : 3:22:36

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Lara, me, Greta, Kedzie -- 24 hours or accomplishment later

Lara, me, Greta, Kedzie — 24 hours of accomplishment later

High fiving at our spot on Beacon in Brookline

High fiving at our spot on Beacon in Brookline

Katie, me, Lara (BAA26.2 alumnae '14), Peter at the Publick House for beers and burgers

Katie, me, Lara (BAA26.2 alumnae ’14), Peter at the Publick House for beers and burgers

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Dammit, Indy, Where Doesn’t It Hurt?!

So, I haven’t written that much about training this go around. This is for two reasons, the first is that as of this morning Boston officially broke its record for most snow recorded in a single winter. I couldn’t do anything about the snow and I didn’t really feel like complaining about it. I did what I could – -ran some long runs on a treadmill (tortured me mind, body, and soul), ran up and down the back stairs of my building (up 5 flights, down 5, repeat, repeat, etc…), ran outside when I could, which wasn’t much. So needless to say, training has been iffy.

The second reason is when I’m training this year, I’m more confident in my ability to do workouts. Each run isn’t a brand new experience. It’s training, sometimes routine.

You know what isn’t routine? Running 20 miles. You never know what is going to happen with those. This past weekend, they dumped us out in the 508 and told us to find our way home. It wasn’t cold cold, but it was cold – and promising to rain. Due to the sub-par training season, I wasn’t 100% convinced I could make it – and I knew I could bail at my apartment about 17 miles in *if I had to.

Either way, started off running and the raining slowly started. For the first 11-12 miles I ran at a good clip with a couple of other runners until I stayed behind at a water stop and missed a light heading in to the Newton Hills and didn’t want to over-exert heading in to that part of the course. By this point it was raining – cold, cold – nay, freezing – rain. Once through the hills and into Brookline, I reached the water stop right before my apartment and decided there’s no way *I could possibly feel any worse, which was a promising sign – so I kept going and managed to grind my way through the final miles to the downtown finish.

Like I said, 20 miles is never normal, never ordinary. 15 is long but you get to this weird place mentally where you’re like, eh, it’s just a shade over a half marathon – not so bad. But 20, that hurts – it requires planning, fueling, thinking, and rethinking. I always seem to forget how bad it hurts shortly after – seriously, everything hurts – legs, eyes, lungs, you can’t feel your fingers, you have knots in muscles the size of bocce balls, you’re hungry,  bottomless pit hungry, cranky — it reminds of the scene in Raiders of the Lost Ark when asked where doesn’t it hurt he points to his elbow.   It’s a lot like that.  And I’m always amazed at how I feel relatively fine the next day.

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Now it’s starting to feel real. Even though we just broke 108 inches of snow, I ran 20 miles 2 days ago and can walk normal today. This training cycle is almost done, then it’s taper, then it’s go time in 5 weeks. It’s starting to feel real, and crazy, more crazy than just waking up and going for a 20 miles run. I’m rambling now, but I can’t wait.

P.S.  I’m just about 3/4 of my way through fundraising — please click here to learn more about why I’m running this year and help me out!

https://www.firstgiving.com/fundraiser/GrahamRunsBoston/undefined/fundraiser/GrahamRunsBoston/team-brookline-2015

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Here’s My Deal

So, here’s the thing — I know social media is the greatest and easiest soap box there is.  You can incite controversy.  Preach to the choir.  Point out the obvious.  Rage against whatever you want.  But one thing I’ve noticed, probably because I’m attuned to it is the radical dislike of people who A) choose to partake in training and running for marathons and B) fundraise while doing so.

Full disclosure: This year I’m running the Boston Marathon for the Brookline Community Health Center.  I’m running in memory of my mother.  And I’m running for a few reasons.  The first is I miss her every day.  This will be the 9th anniversary of her death in February.  Starting about now every year is when I start to feel that loss a little more.  For those grieving, seeking help works.  I’m also raising money for people who are not grieving but may have other things they need to sort out, trouble at home, addiction, something they just need to work out, depression, whatever it may be.  My mother was a big advocate of seeking help and guidance and often thought it would benefit anyone who sought help and was honest about it, me included.  If before you get to my take you’d like to support me, please click this link — your contribution is appreciated:

https://www.firstgiving.com/fundraiser/GrahamRunsBoston/team-brookline-2015

Anyway —  here’s my two cents on it.  Before I get going know that whatever your opinion is, you are right but I’d ask that you evaluate people on an individual level and not in aggregate.

The issue with people training for marathons seems to be manifold.  The first is that it’s annoying.  You’re right.  It completely is annoying seeing people constantly tout whatever run they just did.  I was, and still am to a degree, one of the offenders.  However, putting things out in public is a great motivator.  It’s a way of making something a person once thought impossible real.  Putting it out there for scrutiny is proof and a way for someone to look back and know they did that and can do it again.  For most at least.  Many are just shameless and want attention in the ‘look at me, like this’ category.  But I believe most need that validation — for themselves.  They’ll get over the constant posting…eventually.

Secondly, it’s selfish.  You’re right again.  Exercise or any aspect of self improvement is selfish.  It should be.  Whether you’re running, joining  gym, pursuing an advanced degree, taking a cooking class, learning a skill you have a desire to know — all of this is selfish. You should be doing it for yourself.  If you’re not, who are you doing it for and why?  If because of this self improvement other people in your life benefit, too — that’s great.  Again, I think some people have other motivation and may be dubious about why they are doing something — but be the judge for yourself.

Now to the fundraising part.  It seems much of the issue is “you’re going to do this anyway, why should I give you money”.  And you’re right again.  You shouldn’t just because someone decides to do something and then they ask you.  I suggest first seeing the cause the person is running for, if it fits with that person, and why they chose to put themselves out there and essentially beg friends, relations, acquaintances, and strangers for money.  You should not just donate money to a charity because someone asks you.  If that were the case, the thousands of people that harass you on sidewalks for the cause of the day, that cause of the day would be rolling in dough.  But if it’s someone you know and they are asking, know that you are not giving them money  – they will not get any out of it, but something that they care about will.

For me, I’m going to keep being selfish and running as long as I still find it challenging and rewarding.  And I’ll do it no matter one individual’s opinion.  However, here’s what I can say — I’ve run just to run and I’ve helped raise money for charities and I’d rather run and fundraise than just run.  Because you’re right, I’m going to do it anyway but I would rather do some good along the way.  The running is the easy part. Anyone who is capable can plod along.  But tying yourself to a cause and consistently trying to improve their situation.  That one’s hard.

I hope I didn’t incite much controversy, preach to the choir, or rage too much.

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The Epidemic

I can usually mark major milestones in my life with new gym memberships. Turned 17, got a car, joined a gym. Moved to Boston, joined a new gym. Got a new job, joined a gym in my building.

I’ve counted – excluding gyms associated with schools, I’ve been a member of six different gyms. They’re all pretty similar. Lots of cardio machines, free weights, the newer ones have Cross Fit inspired sections. Some have had saunas. Most haven’t.

There is one thing that has been a constant at all of them. Naked Old Men.

I don’t know what it is about gym locker rooms, but old men are drawn to them like horses to a watering holes and then…just linger. Chatting with each other naked. Brushing their teeth naked. Weighing themselves naked. Going to the bathroom naked. Always naked all the time. I also have a hunch they spend more time naked in the locker room than physically exercising — though I cannot qualify or quantify this.

I didn’t play a sport that had a strong locker room culture. Maybe these guys are just harkening back to a time when they came in from a tough game and hit each other’s asses. I don’t know. What I do know is it’s heinous and widespread.

I’ve also noticed that the worst offenders are also the ones that should be waltzing around naked the least. In shape dudes wrap towels like loin clothes of Sioux Braves or Roman Gladiators.

And then I worry – -will I turn into an old naked guy at the gym one day? Is it just a matter of time?

Have you also experienced this? Is there an explanation or is this an epidemic?

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