Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Epiphany Alley

A straight stretch of road en route to Mt. Pleasant Circle in St. Michaels; one of two regular running routes at work.

Spring can hold some of the best runs of the year. The warming days are freeing as shorts and short sleeves work their way back into the reached-for attire. And unlike fall, a 65 or 70 degree day in the spring is on the warm side of the spectrum. Hitting 80 degrees this past Tuesday was (insert your superlative word here).

Early morning, I got off to a late start with the wake-up routine, and opted to toggle the day to allow a run after dropping Anna, our 5-year-old, off at school, but still before work. I parked at the Museum, cranked the i-pod and picked the shorter of two regular daytime running routes, across Route 33, to Fremont Street, right on Railroad Avenue, then down and around Mt. Pleasant Circle, following the same route back (I measured this route today, by truck odometer at 4.25 miles). Both routes wind back-roads west of the town proper; I am always amazed that St. Michaels hides tree-lined rural roads behind main street-shops and arm-in-arm houses.

I am not generally an i-pod runner, but I have come to appreciate the cadence and company of upbeat reggae or thought-provoking, head-nodding rap on runs at various distances (a 20-mile run from Easton to St. Michaels and back can use an extra kick). On Tuesday, a song lyric stuck in my head on the return portion of the route, "God lit the wick, so I gotta let the light shine." The thrust, for me on a stellar, sunny, short-sleeve day, enjoying a great morning run, was that you are given certain things that you take to--whether it is running, painting, woodworking, writing, sailing--and that you are best served by spending time on those things. Develop what you are good at. Do what you do.

I am not a gifted runner, not a front-of-pack rabbit. But I dig it. I take to it. I have thought some of my most creative and insightful thoughts while running. I hit the full range of emotions on the road or trail for a stretch of time. I live life more fully than when I have gone through periods when I am not running regularly. I have seen how I approach life, family, work, play, as a runner, and as a sitter-still. For me, the wick has already been lit. The choice has been made. I gotta run...

(cool hip-hop beat fades in louder as the pace picks up, and runner moves up the road)

Monday, March 26, 2007

Natural Runners

One of yesterday's running partners, showing the all-terrain
nature of his gear.

Running with a dog is a humbling experience. If you are getting faster, feel like your times are improving, and your ego is growing like an amusement park balloon--grab a leash, a dog (preferably your own or a friend's) and hold your ears for the bursting ego balloon.

I started taking our then 4-year-old Golden Retriever, Ivan, to Tuckahoe State Park for trail runs a couple years ago. I had run a marathon, had knocked some time off my 10K and 10 mile times, and I didn't take Ivan running really, so I guessed I'd be dragging him by the end of the run. Out of the truck, onto the trail, and I quickly came to the conclusion that 4 legs are necessarily faster than 2.

Nose to the ground, bolting down hills, charging up them, adeptly adjusting to any change in terrain--he is a natural trail runner. We did a few 6-8 mile runs, and 11 miles is still the longest to date, at the end of which, he still bounded ahead at our final sprint to the lake.

Dog running, especially on trails, is a real throwback for me--I feel like a boy and his dog on an adventure, which is essentially accurate. Yesterday, Mike Keene and I ran with Ivan and Mike's sub-2-year yellow lab, Luke, in and around Wittman. Mike has the envious running route there that includes friends' dirt and gravel lanes and farms. In the time that we plod along at 8-9ish minute miles, the dogs sprint back and forth, gallop ahead, check back in, bound into and through the river, then wonder what's taking us so long?

Running with a dog gives them the opportunity to be a dog at their fullest, natural potential--tongue hanging out, heart-pounding, happy. And it reminds me that 1) we people are not the fastest designed runners on the planet, and 2) nor are the only ones who enjoy going for a run.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Endurance, Simply Stated

Ishmael Beah's A Long Way Gone is a story of youth interrupted by war; of endurance, simply stated.

Running is universal. Or as close to it as you are going to get. It transcends communities, continents, and cultures. There are organized races around the world, and throughout history, of almost any imaginable distance.

Distance running has become ritual and widespread--on the run to hunt, to celebrate spring or a harvest; to run a message, to lose weight, the reasons are as varied as the people who run.

We are privileged to run for our own reasons and of our own doing. In A Long Way Gone, Ishmael Beah shares his experience as a boy in Sierra Leone. He runs for self preservation, as a teenager; runs for entire days, over bodies, without food, chased by soldiers. He describes what he sees in simple, horrible details, as matter-of-factly as he had to encounter it. His story is a tale of endurance.

Endurance is bigger than running. We are the fortunate, who test our own physical endurance by choice. That's a perspective too easy (for me) to take for granted, rolling out of bed, sipping coffee, cruising out the front door of the house; meeting friends for a group run; or mulling over what running shoes to buy next.

I try to smile as much as I can when I run.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Runners Begetting Runners

The runners of Day 47 of the Endurance 50--50 marathons in 50 states in 50 days--the Delaware Marathon course in Wilmington. Dean Karnazes center, kneeling, Mikes Keene and Valliant far left, standing.

I ran 13.5 miles with Don Marvel today; a great experience. We chatted about running, life, sports, family, and road racing. Some rich conversation and a good way to sweat out some St. Patrick's Day indulgences.

Going over the Peachblossom Creek bridge, we talked about the lack of young people in organized running. Part of the reason could be kids specializing in sports at very young ages--from 5 years old, you can play soccer, baseball, lacrosse, you name it. By the time they get to high school, they are locked in; too late for cross country or track to have any appeal.

There may be hope though, both on the grassroots level and through the media coverage of the exploits of determined runners.

At St. Michaels Elementary School, Physical Education teacher Kevin Baum has organized an after school running club for the past two years. Elementary students meet and do 1-mile fun runs with Kevin. Tim Bamforth, a Physical Education teacher in Delaware has groups of students that will meet him in the morning for runs. And there are other creative teachers setting great examples for young runners.

Then there are runners who strive for unusual accomplishments; the kind that attract a media looking for examples of a positive human spirit in the face of Iraq, poverty, global warming, and baseball free agency. When a teacher runs across the country with his gear in a jogging stroller to keep a promise to his students, it matters. When Tim Twietmeyer finishes his 25th Western States 100 in under 24 hours or Neil Weygandt finishes his 40th consecutive Boston Marathon, it inspires. And when a runner runs 50 marathons, in 50 states, in 50 days, and invites 50 runners to run with him each day, the number of lives touched is extraordinary.

Who are the other running ambassadors? How else is the sport being spread?

Monday, March 12, 2007

Roots Running

If I'd hauled the camera this past Sunday, you'd see a lot more mud and
warmer runners.

I started running in high school because I was tired of soccer practice. I'd played soccer through youth league, middle school, and a year of high school, and was done. I fell in with a few other free-thinking, skateboarding vagrants, who said, "We're going to run cross country. You chill out, run through the hills, and have a blast. You in?"

I was the new kid at school in Hagerstown. Sounded interesting, and I'd be set for lacrosse in the spring. Our home course was hilly and wooded and fun. 3.1 miles became a breeze, and our coach would frequently load us into the school van and turn us loose on the C&O Canal tow path or a trail around the Antietam battlefield. I consistently placed between 3rd and 5th for our team at meets (in the 20:00s for 5K, it was a small school) and we traveled into West Virginia, Delaware, and western Maryland and ran in the woods. I was 15 and 16 at the time.

Running didn't find me again until I was 22 and hell-bent on joining the Army. I got into the routine of running almost every day, and occasionally ran from Oxford to Easton, where I would bum a ride back down Route 333 from a friend. My self-inflicted boot camp, and a chance meeting with my now-wife (we became the couple who ran 2 or 3 miles together before hitting the dock bar at Schooners Landing at night), provided me with the discipline I needed to finish college, while working, and then find a real job, whatever that may mean.

Entering races through that time meant 5Ks and 10Ks. It was the group-think of a friend that got us signed up for the Annapolis 10-miler 6 years ago (incidentally, that friend was too hung-over on race day to make the trip to the western shore). I suffered through the hills, but ran well enough for me, and enjoyed the longer distance among the other runners.

Two daughters and a daytime desk job caught up to me coming up on Christmas time a few years back, and I made a commitment to get back running. My goal was the Oxford Day 10K in April--a race from my roots, that I had never done. Training for that race, I began picking up Runners World and Running Times magazines and read about a nut named Dean Karnazes who was trying to run 300 miles without sleeping. I picked up his running autobiography and other magazines and books, kept running, and decided I was going to run the Baltimore Marathon that fall.

Distance is what has made it stick. I enjoy the time on the road or (even better) the trails. I enjoy pushing myself. I enjoy going to work on a Friday after a 4:45am 15-mile run. I've found a training partner equally nutty who enjoys the long runs, and the goal races of increasing distances--26.2 miles, 34 miles, 50 miles.

Roots running hits on a couple levels for me. It is a return to my roots--of my first runs in the hills and the C&O canal 17 years ago; it is a return and refocus on the things that keep me rooted--family, friends, being outside, writing; and it is nurturing and growing solid roots for life ahead.

Three of us put in a great 11-ish mile run this past Sunday at Tuckahoe, mud-happy in stellar weather. Stephen talked about running marathons with his father and how his own son ran the last couple hundred yards of the B&A Trail Marathon with him the weekend before. Mike's two girls each won their age group in a 3-mile race in Easton the day before. And my 5-year old ran her first 1-mile race the day before as well, with her sister (in a stroller) and me behind her. I was overfilled when she told our friends that night at dinner, "I ran 1 mile in a race today!"

That's my roots running story, or at least part of it. What's yours?

Thursday, March 8, 2007

Captain Marvel

Ultra-runner Don Marvel at the JFK 50-miler in 1978. After getting lost and running an extra mile out of the way, Marvel still placed 6th overall.

The cultural tendency is to think that we are the first to find something. Ultra-running has an astonishing popularity, thanks to charismatic runners like Dean Karnazes, and wunderkinds like 7-time Western States 100 champion Scott Jurek. The JFK 50-miler had more than 1,000 finishers in 2006. Surely, this is a new phenomenon! We can take no such credit.

I am working on publishing an article about Easton ultra-runner Don Marvel, so I won't go into extensive detail here, other than to give you some highlights from Don's running resume. In the late 1970s and early 1980s, you would find him in the top finishers list from ultra-marathons across the country. Take a look:

- 2nd overall in the 1980 New York 100-miler in a time of 13:36:35, which was the 5th fastest time run by an American in a 100-mile race at the time.
- 1st place Columbia 24-hour run, 2 years in a row 1981-82. In the 1982 race, Don ran 124 miles, coming back to win the race after being 2 hours behind the leader at 100 miles. In South Carolina heat, no less! In 1981, he ran 132 miles to win the race.
- Ran JFK 50-miler, 3 times, finished 3rd overall in 1981, time of 6:22:04 (the winner that year was then Running Times Editor, Ed Ayers)
- 2nd place, 1979 Lake Waramaug 100K, time of 7:23:17.
- 1st place, 1982 Great Philadelphia to Atlantic City 60-miler, 7:28:09, course record.
- In 1981, he logged 6,752 miles. That year Don was ranked 6th in the All-Time U.S. 100-mile rankings.

That's a peak at the pedigree. And why did Don start running ultras? His marathon PR of 2:39 was too slow to make him competitive at that distance, so he just ran further. Personally, I am going to have a party when I crack 4:00 for the marathon!

This weekend Don will be running a 5K in Delaware on Saturday and returning to the "First State" on Sunday for a half-marathon. You can find him most mornings on or around Rails-to-Trails in Easton, and he is excited for the Bridge-to-Bridge Half-Marathon in St. Michaels in April. Truly an inspirational cat. Stay tuned, I will let you know where and when the article might land.

Monday, March 5, 2007


The Bridge-to-Bridge race is a run back through time from the new Knapps Narrows Bridge (left, above) to the old at the Maritime Museum entrance.

We are all predictible. We fall into routines. We have behavior patterns, like running at particular times or days of the week. And we gravitate toward things we like while staying away from stuff we don't like.

One reasonable guarantee for me is that I will seek out caffeine in the morning--just out of bed, and beyond. I accept and enjoy my coffee crutch. And after dropping our 5-year old at school in St. Michaels, I generally stop through the same stomping grounds to grab my start-the-workday joe.

Most mornings, it's the same hellos and similar sounding conversations as I fill up a cup at the Blue Crab Coffee House. A notable exception came this past fall, when Bradley Hower, a friend and fellow runner, called me over to his table and introduced me to Bill Frost, a running partner of his. They had just finished the Army 10-miler in Washington, DC/northern Virginia and were looking to latch on to another race. Bradley mentioned the fact that I worked at the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum.

"You know what you guys should do?" Bill offered. "You should have a Bridge-to-Bridge run. You have that cool Knapps Narrows Bridge at your entrance and then the new one on Tilghman. Connect the bridges. I bet it'd be about 12 miles."

As a runner who works at the Museum, drives under that bridge 5 days a week, and with a wife who is a teacher on Tilghman Island, I don't know how or why that never occurred to me. It made so much sense. It was quirky, different, iconic, and oddball enough that it could attract runners. And it fit in with the Museum's mission to promote and preserve Chesapeake Bay heritage.

"And another thing," Bradley and Bill knew they had me. "We need a longer road race in the spring--there are so many in the fall, but we want to stay in shape all year long, so we need an anchor to get us going in the beginning of the year!"

The more people I ran the idea by at the Museum, the more support it gained. When I gave it the flagpole hoist with other area runners, it stood up as well. As it turns out, the Bridge-to-Bridge Half-Marathon is going to be the kick-off to a newly formed concept for a day-long environmental festival, Bay Day, on April 21.

Since I am not a race director, I called some folks I knew who put together well-organized road races, and ultimately got together with Tim Bamforth, who runs the Seashore Striders, to help take care of race and course logistics. The one condition I included as we began to conceive the race, was that I would be able to run it.

What we have so far, is a windy (wine-dee, wind is TBD), flat, point-to-point course with Eastern Shore scenery that is certain to help some runners post half-marathon PRs, and a fun finish at the Museum, with waterfront, food, shelter, and bathrooms! Stay tuned for more details. And be sure to sign up to be a part of this historic Bay adventure.