Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Race Report: Vermont City Marathon

Photo by Jan Leja
The weather leading up to this year's VCM was rainy and cold, but the forecast a week out looked promising -- a dry, cool race day. Each day, however, as we inched towards the start, the forecast changed a little bit for the worse. And when Sunday finally did arrive, several parts of Vermont had declared flood emergencies, temperatures had dropped (Mount Mansfield emerged Monday covered in white), winds had picked up... and it was still raining.

So with the biggest story being the weather... which, with the right clothing adjustments and a few thousand trash bags, didn't seem to dampen (pun intended) spirits -- the race began.

It was a day on which spectating must have been more difficult than running. And there were definitely fewer spectators than normal. But the 2013 VCM crowd report is an A-plus; it was one of the most enthusiastic, active, and boisterous VCM crowds I've experienced.

The race itself boiled down to two directions: south (i.e. with the wind) and north (against the wind). I wore a contractor-weight trash bag for 2.5 miles, then realizing that it would serve as a wind-catch on the Beltline section, ditched it at the Church Street water station. Still wearing a light jacket, I ran north on the Beltline behind two 6-foot relay runners who ran consistent 7:10-minute miles -- a perfect wind-break. I felt that this was a little quick; although I have run the Beltline faster, this year, I tried to dial back my early race pace in order to run a more consistent marathon than in the recent past (also, Alison said she wouldn't give me a post-race hug if I didn't do this). And I succeeded (and got my hug): my total race time this year, despite being a minute slower than last year's personal best 3h11m, included a 1:36 back half (versus 1:39 in 2012). This year's VCM was my most consistent marathon in years.

I ran the Beltline with Marty Courcelle, who shattered his previous PR by 17 minutes (no surprise given his recent training patterns). For anyone looking for crowd support, don't run with Marty in Burlington. Everyone we passed (except my parents and wife) saw the two of us and said, "Go Marty!" This was a big help to a runner from Boston who ran behind me the entire race and finished next to me; his name was also Marty.

My personal spectators were awesome. Alison walked all over the course... carrying Baby Gunnar on her chest, his diaper bag on her back, and an umbrella to keep him dry. Gunnar, meanwhile, let her get away with it. Meanwhile, my dad (wearing similar rain gear to that Bill Belichick wears in similar conditions) and Jill navigated the course so that I passed them no fewer than four times -- and they managed a visit to Bahrenburg's Bagel Shop. Impressive. I should also mention the Pink Panthers -- Jess Cover, Angie DeFilippi, and Kristen Courcelle who provided me with a good laugh biking around the course wearing pink sweatsuits.

I stopped on the Beltline return trip to use the bathroom (aka the bushes) and spent the next few miles slowly catching up to Marty (the one getting all the cheers) -- finally doing so just before the halfway point at Oakledge Park. From there on, it was more or less into the wind for the next 7 or 8 miles. We ran together up Battery, exchanging a high-five at Mile 15.

The turning point in the race for me happened on North Avenue next to the Lakeside Cemetery, where my mother is buried. I always give a wave as I pass, and I try to handle the hill in front of Burlington High School as respectably as possible (don't want mom to disapprove of my effort). This year, for Mother's Day (Alison's & Gunnar's first), we had gone down to her grave site to plant a few flowers. I couldn't see how they're doing (they experienced a week of dryness then a week of downpours), but I got a real lift there after the annual wave. I bounded up the hill and kept a very even pace on North Avenue, Leddy, and the neighborhoods.

By the time I reached the bike path and the home stretch at mile 22, I felt good enough to pick it up, passing 25 marathoners while getting passed by 7. On the bike path, I experienced some angry chafing in my right arm pit -- probably the worst I've ever had. At the finish, I also noticed blood spots over each nipple, although these didn't hurt. I was pretty grossed out by this, and what's worse, Ali had recommended I wear my blue USA singlet instead of white for this reason. As usual, I should have listened.

All in all, it was a good race -- probably the fastest I could have run on this particular day. Positives for me were the fact that I had nearly even splits (front half to back half -- less than two minutes difference) plus a strong kick at the end. More importantly to me, however, was seeing that one can become a parent, still fit in training, and still run a strong marathon. Finally, it was my 9th consecutive Vermont City -- a streak that I am very excited about. Thanks to my training partners, the Run With Jan Sunday group, Sarah Pibram's Thursday morning track workouts, my two dogs (also training partners), and, most of all, Alison and Gunnar (also training partners) without whom I would not be able to run marathons.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

A Tale of Two Sides...

... Of my garden.

No lasagna

It's that time of year: the cold-weather seeds are in, and starter weekend is not far away. Gardening season is here.

As any long-term reader of this blog knows, my green thumb is not a natural green. My stomach is green -- that is, I learned at a young age to love eating home-grown vegetables. I therefore started a garden as soon as I had the space to garden. (Notice I didn't say "...and time" to garden?). And -- probably having something to do with that whole "time to garden" piece -- I've had varying degrees of success.

My gardening nemesis is, without question, weeds. And I've been at this long enough to come to a realization: I'm just never going to make the commitment to beating weeds by weeding. I don't have what it takes.

The alternative? Obviously, I have to out-smart them. But how?

I've tried everything from rugs (they fight through) to ground covers (they grow on top) to threats (they don't take me seriously), but those pesky weeds keep growing. Weeds are tenacious, but there must be a way...

This year I have invoked my inner Italian: I'm trying a new technique known as lasagna gardening. The premise, I believe, is more for those who are trying to establish a garden for the first time. Lay down cardboard then burlap, then more cardboard, etc. Then, in rows, continue layering: peat moss, straw, mulch, leaves, dirt, compost, etc. The idea is that the materials in the rows above the cardboard layers will break down to form a rich soil. Meanwhile, whatever weeds and grass lay covered by the cardboard should break down as the cardboard and burlap breaks down.

And so far so good -- from a "no weeds" perspective. (Although not at first: last fall, the seedless straw bale I picked up for the rows seeded. My rows sprung thousands of tiny seedlings. I dug up the whole operation, moved it behind our row of raspberry bushes, and started over -- skipping the straw.)

Take two. Without straw, the rows did not break down; they came out of winter looking like rows of dead leaves, peat moss, and compost -- exactly what I put into them. The question, of course, will become will plants grow in this stew? But no matter -- the main objective is working: on the side of the garden where I laid down the materials I have no weeds (above, left). None. The other half of the garden: covered with dandelions, goldenrod, grass -- and it's already out of control (above, right). I went out and purchased compost from a local nursery to add to my rows. I didn't want to buy compost, but listen. If it means no weeds, I'll give anything (except weed-killing chemicals) a shot. And -- so far -- the lasagna experiment is working.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Early Track Workout

Two memorable things from this morning's early track workout. First off, for those that don't know, in preparation for the Vermont City Marathon, a group of runners and I have been meeting early Thursday mornings for speed workouts at the South Burlington High School track.

Today's workout was 10x800s. In other words, 800 meters 10 times. Fast. It was a tough workout, but it felt great (expecially afterwards).

Meanwhile, as we were circling the track, I noticed an SBHS track coach working out two student-athletes. One would assume these are elite athletes trying to gain a small edge, right? Not necessarily. As I left, I mentioned to the coach that I thought it was great he was out here at 6AM with these kids. The kids, he said, have all-state band practice for the next two days, so they had been excused from practice.

As for the early morning, pre-school session, he said they approached him, not vice versa. "If high school kids are going to ask me to come in at 6AM to make up missed practices," he said, "then I'm coming in at 6AM."

Great inspiration. And a great morning to run.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Why I Run

A few years ago, our running group made a t-shirt. For the back of the shirt, everyone submitted reasons why they run with the group (for the camaraderie, for motivation, for the post-run breakfast were some of the entries).

As I have for each of the past nine springs, I am preparing for this year's Vermont City Marathon. After signing up in 2005 to run my first and only marathon, it has become "my" race -- the one event that, without fail,  I do every year.

There come times, though -- take for example, this week, when I had to work around pain in my right shin, when I had to get up for my weekly Thursday morning speed workout (6:15AM at the SBHS track -- come one, come all!), and when I'm looking forward to a 20-miler on Sunday -- when one needs to review why. Why do I run? Read on...

10) It's a great way to get around.

9) To wear out my dogs so they don't wreck house

8) Takes less time than hiking

7) Feels great when it's over

6) Feels great while you're doing it

5) Keeps you in shape for hockey (and other sports)

4) Everyone else thinks it's crazy (Note: runners know it's the non-runners that are nuts...)

3) Not much equipment involved

2) It's good for you (unless you read the medical studies out there that say it's not)

1) So I can have seconds AND dessert!

In short, it's just great exercise. And regardless of how much you don't want to run, you always feel better during and after -- and that's a good way to get through a day. See you at the marathon... May 26th!