I'm not saying I've put the shorts away or that we're no longer getting strawberries from the garden. But the signs are there.
This weekend, Ali and I engaged in some activities that, for sure, signify that changes are afoot. For one, the overarching theme for me was "get the woodpile done." We're getting there: we have 3.75 cords split and stacked -- out of the 5 that we usually go through each winter.
We also -- and yes, I realize it's only September -- had our first fire in the woodstove. Usually, Alison doesn't let me do this till November... and even then not till it's freezing -- maybe even snowing -- outside. But this was her idea. And boy was it nice. In addition to being nice and cozy in here on Saturday night, the laundry dried right out, and that wet-dog smell that has pervaded the Aiken home for most of the summer... Gone! Amazing what a woodstove fire can do!
The fall signs continued Sunday. Ali wanted to go for a hike, but she didn't want to do one of the same old hikes that we always do. So I found myself following her, Oscar, and Gladys up a route that none of us had hiked before: White Rock Mountain to Hunger Mountain from the Middlesex side. The weather was fickle -- one minute it was sprinkling, the next it was sunny; and I went from sweating and hot to wearing my sweatshirt and raincoat. Like autumn, it was all over the place.
The route, too, was varied. At times it was flat and smooth; other times we were scrambling up sheer rock walls. Gladys loved it; she went up and down the worst Class 4 pitch five times. The summits were deserted, and it was a beautiful hike. On the way home, we followed the backroads through Middlesex to visit Steve and Marisa's new place -- a totally perfect spot in the woods of Middlesex. (I still think they should find a way to use the garage as a woodshop AND carport and not just wood shop -- just me though!)
Finally, the last sure sign of fall: everything went on hold Sunday as I watched the New England Patriots play their home opener at Gillette Stadium. Staying about 30 minutes shy of live-time, I used my DVR capabilities to fast-forward all commercials. They didn't play their best football, but as usual, they still put themselves in position to win. Somehow, however, their kicker missed the last-second field goal that would have given them the victory.
And that's fall. Sometimes it sneaks up on you, and you never know just what to expect... except that somewhere on its heels will be a long, cold winter.
For last year's PumpkinMan Triathlon, my first Half-iron, I stayed in a beach house in York, Maine with great friends (and
better triathletes) Kristen and Marty Courcelle, Lauren Cady, and my wife
Alison. We had perfect weather, lots of seafood, and great races at the South
Berwick event. So how do you top an experience like that?
The answer: you don’t.
But what is possible is to have an equally awesome – although completely
different – experience the second time around.
The main difference – and probably the only bummer – of this
year’s Pumpkin was that Alison did not race. Believe me, she wanted to. But it wasn’t in the cards for her, and although she made
the best of it (and was a superfan on the course cheering everyone on), I know
it was highly difficult to be in a house full of triathletes excited for their
event. I look forward to cheering
her in her next big event, which will come before we know it.
Our pool of talent (and support) grew this year. Triathletes
Alex Jasinowski and Jacqueline Hubbard (to be referred to as “J-Hubbs”
heretofore) and superfans Mike, Tyler, and Ally Cady joined us as we rented two
beach houses instead of just one.
Another difference was my conditioning. I was physically prepared for last
year’s race, but I didn’t really know what to expect at my first race at
this distance. Last year went
well as I finished in 5:01. This year, however, I’ve been improving at every
race I’ve done, whether it’s the Vermont City, a sprint tri, or an
Olympic. I had some goals for this
Which brings me to the main difference in this year’s race.
As athletes, you learn great lessons about goal-setting. You learn what it
takes to achieve goals, and, perhaps even more valuable (although sometimes not
the lesson you want at the time) you learn how to regroup when you don’t
achieve what you want.
I experienced the latter when I didn’t qualify for the Age
Group Nationals in Burlington – a main focus for me this summer. Part of the
reason was because the status of the race in which I had planned to qualify
(the Branbury Classic) changed from Special Qualifier to regular
qualifier without notifying registrants. However it happened, only one person
is ultimately responsible (me), and it was a big disappointment to watch that
event from the sidelines.
The point is, PumpkinMan was my opportunity to rebound from a missed goal. So much so that I made two sets of goals:
public and private. Publicly, I announced that I hoped to have a good race and
that I hoped to come in under 5 hours. Privately, I was a little more
determined; I wanted to shatter 5 hours, and I wanted to come in the top ten
percent and therefore qualify for the 2013 Nationals (which I doubt I’ll
participate in since they won’t be in B-town). In short, I wanted to prove to my own self that I belonged in that Burlington race.
One more difference this year: I was nursing an injury. Some
pretty serious tendonitis forced me to skip my training for a week leading up
to the event, and had me wondering whether I could even finish.
So those were the underlying themes as we pulled into Spring
Hill resort in South Berwick in the dark on Sunday morning under the watchful eyes of the pumpkin-headed scarecrows set up by race organizers. Everything seemed
to take too long as I got my kit together and set up my transition area, and I
found myself barely getting to the Start on time. In fact, in the first critical decision of my day, I ended
up peeing in the woods after the elite racers started (just 2 minutes before my
wave). Thank goodness I did… and I
still have yet to pee in my wetsuit after over a year of use.
When you come out of the water, you have no idea where you
stand in your age group, but I apparently finished 2nd of the 38 40
to 44-year-olds. I jogged up the 300-yard-long hill between the pond and the
T-area (the kid that won the PumpkinMan Hill Challenge did this in 36 seconds…
it took most mortals over a minute… and I’ll also note that most mortals
actually beat that kid in the overall race), and made my first improvement over
last year – I had better transitions.
Probably the most important piece of this gain was the fact that I left
my fold-up stool at home. Making
sure to pop a few Tylenols for my shin, I hopped on my bike and headed out.
The bike was my favorite part of this year's race. I got in a pack of
5 or 6 super fast riders and we traded the lead for 45 miles, during which time
I only saw one other rider from my age group (who passed my pack like we were
going backwards). Using my new bike computer (which, incidentally, came from Marty -- thanks! -- who had upgraded), I was able to push more consistently than I ever had. (Another digression: also from Marty came my tri top, my number belt, and my shoelaces; not much of my kit, come to think of it, didn't come from Marty. But anyway, back to the race report...) I would have
kept biking, but unfortunately about 2 and a half hours later I was at the
transition again for the run.
The run was a challenge. My shin was so painful when I
pulled out of the T-area (after 2 more Tylenol), I was sure I was going to drop out. But I had goals I
wanted to reach, so I decided to run a mile to assess. I
adjusted my gait and ran that mile in 8:22 (with a minute-long pee stop in the woods), and ran the rest of the
half-marathon in under 7:30 minute miles. Towards the end, I became aware of a
sharp rock in my left shoe, so the first thing I wanted to do at the Finish was
get it out – it felt like a size 1 fish hook digging into my foot. I pulled off my shoe, and, to my dad’s
great amusement, there was nothing in there. What I did have was a fat
blister from running differently to compensate for my shin. (Note: it’s 5 days
later, and the shin is still all swollen and I haven’t run yet; otherwise I
The results from the group of triathletes staying at our
houses were impressive. Six athletes. Six PRs. Three
podium finishes in age groups (Kristen won hers, Alex came in second in hers,
and I took home bronze in mine). In terms of my goals, I finished in 4:46 and
did crack the top ten percent. It is simply a great experience to come up as a
group, share great camaraderie, run fantastic races, and have tremendous
support on the course (in addition to Ali, my dad, and Team Cady, Doug, Ruth, Jill, Sheila,
Heather, and Team McGovern were cheering all over the place). Vermont (and Beverly, Mass -- there you go, J-Hubbs) was well-represented at PumpkinMan.
That night, our group went out for seafood (I had the twin
lobsters) and ice cream. Although I don’t usually branch out in terms of
flavors, I got two scoops. On the bottom, I ordered chocolate -- my usual. But on top, in honor of a great team, awesome supporters, a wonderful weekend, and all the athletes who ran kick-ass races, I ordered -- of course -- Pumpkin.
Photos: (top) Coming down the shoot to the finish, and make sure to notice superfan Alison in a pink shirt racing me in the background. (bottom) The team sharing ice cream, and be sure to notice J-Hubbs' cone which held 1.78 pints of ice cream -- every ounce of which she earned!
Last week Paul Ryan's answers, until a bunch of running geeks at Runner's World magazine sought to verify them, were 1) one and 2) in the 2:50 range. ("Under three, high twos. I had a two hour and fifty something," was his specific answer.) Wow, said RW, those are pretty fast times! Problem was, none of the runner-geeks could find a record of the candidate's marathons.
Later this week, Ryan offered the following explanation: it was a long time ago, and, not remembering the exact time, he made up what he thought would be an ordinary time.
There's alot to be learned here. Namely, lie about policy, tax returns, the economy, etc. But don't make up running times! Runners, as it turns out, are almost as geeky as baseball fans when it comes to stats.
Ryan, it was discovered, did run one marathon in a time of 4:01. Still an accomplishment, but definitely not a 2:50! And he's not the first candidate to run a marathon: George W. Bush (3:44), Sarah Palin (3:59), and Al Gore (4:58) all ran 26.2 too.
And, finally, since this is a learning process for all of us, here are some clues (courtesy of MarathonPW, a commenter on one of the Runner'sWorld blogs) for Mr. Ryan and anyone else who is confused and wondering if they are running sub 3-hour marathons.
"You might not be running a sub-3-hour marathon if..."
10) The awards ceremony is wrapping up when you get in.
9) You carry a waist-pack carrying extra food
8) If friends who come to watch you have time to go out for breakfast and lunch before you finish
7) You find yourself running next to a woman pushing her two grandchildren in a baby jogger
6) If the aid station volunteers ask you "how many behind you?"
5) The temperature rises 20 degrees while you're on the course
4) There are only two bagels and half a Gatorade left when you arrive at the finishers' food tent
3) You cross the finish line and head straight to the nearest bar for happy hour
2) You finish with anyone named "Oprah"
1) You're on a first-name basis with the cone truck driver.
Usually I am good about not over-doing my training. Which is why I have remained (knock on wood) relatively injury-free. Seriously, who wants to over-train anyway? I'd much rather over-eat or over-drink.
But that's another story. With a half-iron and a marathon looming in the coming weeks, the two training programs sort of overlapped in the last couple of weeks, and I probably ran a bit too much. The result: some wicked left shin pain!
And so, I am resting. I actually (you won't believe this) handed over Oscar's leash to Ali last Sunday and called it quits after running .92 miles. (That's point-nine-two for you blog-skimmers.) And, even more shocking, I skipped the first early morning hockey session of the season this morning. That's right: the shin really hurt! And I knew nothing good would come of playing.
Triathlons are hard enough without having to play hurt. But I'm hopeful it will feel good come race-day. Because I have some serious goals (and they're not just to beat Ironwoman Kristin Courcelle). I want to go out there and have a good race, so the result: you probably won't see me beating the pavement until after the race actually starts.
Oldtimers are saying this has been the best summer in Vermont history, weather-wise. Of course, some of these oldtimers can't remember that far back, but everyone is in agreement: it's been a fantastic summer.
And, I'm sure everyone will also agree (at least everyone that matters in regard to making such statements on this blog) that this past weekend -- Labor Day weekend -- was the best weekend of all.
Alison and I spent the holiday in the finest vacation spot in Vermont -- the Aiken camp in North Hero. We paddle-boarded, swam, biked, ran, ate, slept, drank (some of us alcoholic bevvies, and some that looked like alcoholic bevvies), picked apples, hung with family and friends, and relaxed. Oscar and Gladys did all of the above (including one alcoholic bevvie that Oscar knocked over with his nose and lapped up), and had a great time.
At the end, nobody wanted to leave. But it's okay. Just because it's Labor Day doesn't mean summer has to end. I'm looking forward to a few more weeks of perfect Vermont weather.