Monday, April 23, 2007

B2B Showtime!

An enthusiastic bunch of harriers storm the first of two Knapps Narrows drawbridges on the way to finishing the first ever Bridge-to-Bridge Half-Marathon.

A funny thing happened this past Saturday: close to 60 people gathered in front of Tilghman Elementary School and then ran to St. Michaels. You can't blame them, really--the weather was custom-ordered for running. And by the time the last one ran under the old Knapps Narrows Bridge and into the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum, the first annual Bridge-to-Bridge Half-Marathon was in the books.

For me, it was the culmination of about a week with no deep breaths and a lot of spinning in circles--and one forced (for sanity) run on Thursday to scout the 5K course. At the end of a 12-hour day Friday, I left the Museum at 12:30 a.m., after chalking the 5K with Tim Bamforth of the Seashore Striders, then helping organize awards. I was back at 5:00 a.m., on sub-2 hours of sleep, to help set up tables, park cars, and get everything square to get the race underway. At that point, I was not sure I was going to be able to swing running in the race. What ultimately got me to run was the bull-rush of CBMM's Cristina Calvert and John Ford, who took over logistics, and the velcro-hand of friend and training partner Mike Keene, who threw me in a truck and drove to Tilghman. But on to the good stuff.

Parking cars set the tone early. People were pulling into the Perry Cabin field with smiles that matched the weather and great enthusiasm for a new event. Talking to runners I knew and those I didn't carried me into the day. The arrival of "Team Claiborne," Suzanne Scott and Jim Richardson for the 1/2, John Scott for the 5K, with matching signs was a highlight. Seeing local speedsters Stuart Horsey and Matt Dunn arrive, I made a guess at who our front-runners would be.

After a sign-planting trip to Tilghman, and a brief word to the assembled runners as to where the aid stations would be located (funny, I forgot to tell folks how to get to St. Michaels), the gun fired, and we followed an ambulance off the island. Crossing the first bridge, it just felt cool to be a part of an inspired group aiming toward St. Michaels and CBMM.

When you divide roughly 60 people by 13.1 miles, chances are you are going to have long stretches of spread out runners. I ran most of the race by myself, with miles coming between 8 and 9 minutes. I pushed myself, but not overly, and made sure to take the scenery in from Eastern Bay to sunny fields, to stretches of trees. A few folks passed me along the way, but I didn't make a move to try to stick with them, just kept my own pace and followed the shoulder. I have found that races I run that runner/triathlete David MacKendrick also runs in, I tend to keep him in sight, at closing and fleeting distances--and he is kind enough to wear bright colors, so I can see if I'm on pace!

#65 returns to the CBMM roost, not quite able to outsprint #27 (Pierre Bernasse) on the upcoming downhill gravel finish. The bib number reflects almost leaving for Tilghman without a bib, and running to the registration table to pull the next number. Sidenote: CBMM was founded in 1965.

I carried some Gatorade and half a pack of Clif Shot Blocks, to supplement the Gatorade and water at aid stations, and that seemed to work well. After a push at the end, and almost catching the runner in front of me (St. Michaels resident Pierre Bernasse) in a foot race, I finished my second half-marathon race in 1:50:12, a good 8 minutes faster than the hilly Baltimore course last October, doing well enough to earn 3rd place among the men in the 30-39 age group, somewhere around 16th overall (race stats to come). That's my brief account of the race I ran.

More interesting to me were the stories and finishes of the others. I took a post at the finish line to greet and congratulate the runners and give them Restaurant Local bottles of water. I was inspired to see ultra legend Don Marvel come in around 1:57, at 64 years-old, to win his age group. I was giddy when "Team Claiborne" finished in tandem, hands raised and smiles gleaming. I was charged to see Nancy Toby finish her 5th half-marathon in 10 weeks, posting a PR that bowled over her previous best. I was lifted to watch CBMM docent and volunteer Al Kubeluis, who had five friends stay with him from all over the east coast, so they could run the race together. But probably one of the most remarkable sights I have ever been a part of, was the 60+ great grandmother, 3-time cancer survivor, who was the final runner to finish.

She called me earlier in the week to ask if there were going to be cut-off times, as she sometimes has trouble staying ahead of them and being allowed to finish. I assured her it was a pretty straightforward course, and that she'd be able to finish. Her daughter, herself a grandmother, who also ran, went back out to greet her and run with her as she turned in to the Museum, and they crossed the finish line together. I can't think of a better way to finish a race.

(From left) Overall men's champion Stuart Horsey and women's champ Lori Callahan pose with their hardware in a fitting Chesapeake setting.

At the end of the day, there were a number of stories. Easton runners Stuart Horsey and Lori Callahan won the male and female overall races. Close to 100 runners came out for the half-marathon and 5K--with a U.K. resident finisher, a strong Annapolis Striders contingent, and a great showing from Eastern Shore runners. And I just get the sense that we started something really cool, worthwhile, and hopefully enduring.

Check back here, the Museum's website, and the Seashore Striders website for official results. And look for an upcoming issue of Running Times magazine for photos.

Monday, April 16, 2007

It Takes a Village (or Two) to Organize a Race

If you start the Bridge-to-Bridge Half-Marathon on Tilghman Island this Saturday, when you see this bridge, chances are you're almost finished.

I enjoy running in races. It's a great way to push myself; to create a (semi-)disciplined routine; to work towards a goal; to gauge my fitness. And I thoroughly enjoy when a race presents itself locally that allows me to redefine running routes and thoughts. This was my mindset when two St. Michaels runners sprung the Bridge-to-Bridge run concept on me. I thought, "what a cool race to run!"

Grassroots is a word I can relate to. Helping to organize a first year race is as grassy and rooty as it gets. I have a tendency to get tunnel vision on a project and try to will it into being. But a funny thing often hits me on the really big, worthwhile goals--I need help to get there. And the help is inspiring and as much of the process as the end result.

I don't know much about race directing. So the first thing I thought about was to bring in someone who does. Tim Bamforth runs the Seashore Striders, and I have been impressed with another local race Tim directs, the Oxford Day 10K. So I emailed Tim, who was excited about the idea of a half-marathon on the Shore. As we started to spread the word to runners I know, I started getting calls and emails from runners I don't know. Hearing their excitement for the Bridge-to-Bridge run has been another huge motivator.

And then the logistical fish-throwing game. After measuring the course, we realized Tilghman Elementary School would be a good place to start the race. My wife, Robin, teaches there, and the staff at Tilghman have been great about having the school open and available on a Saturday morning.

The Tilghman Volunteer Fire Department stepped up to help with an escort for runners coming off the island and going over the first of the Knapps Narrows Bridges. The St. Michaels Police Department, and new Chief Dennis, have been supportive and excited to help keep traffic in check on race day.

Then people start catching thrown fish where you didn't even know you threw them. I got a call from The Historic Tidewater Inn and Restaurant Local, who asked if they could supply water to all the runners at our finish line (uuhh, sure!). The Inn at Perry Cabin extended their service road so that we have ample room for runners to park their cars in St. Michaels (cars at the finish line is absolutely the way to go!). Kelley Cox at Dockside Express is helping out to shuttle runners from St. Michaels to the Tilghman start.

A lot of great synergy dancing in synch to help to hopefully create something cool, memorable, historic, and an event that people plan their spring running calendars around. But let's remember--it's grassy and rooty. And while life giving, once the grass grows, you've got to cut it, weed it, and get it lookng even better for next year!

Sunday, April 8, 2007

Bridge-to-Bridge Extreme Half-Marathon

Lab rat Mike Keene testing the Bridge-to-Bridge route in 30 degree, snowy weather. April 7 marked the B2B "Extreme" run.

Epic is one of my favorite words. I get lost in epic literature--sweeping tales of awesome journeys--and I am easily excited by the prospect of epic adventures (which partially explains my desire to run trail ultra marathons).

When we put a training run of the Bridge-to-Bridge course on our calendars for April 7, it didn't figure to be such an adventure. That's why they play the games.

At 6 a.m. it was about 30 degrees, with driving snow. Leaving Tilghman, Mike Keene and I employed the Jedi (a.k.a close-your-eyes, look down, and only look up to get your bearing when absolutely necessary) method of navigating to avoid severe wind and snow stinging our eyes and leaving us sightless. The terrain for the first 3 miles was snow and slush, and the whole scene was surreal. There is no doubt that cars going by correctly classified us as "idiots."

Gear was the operative word for the first half of the run. Making the right call--rain jacket and pants over base layer, then adjusting on the fly, not to mention toting the camera, keeping it dry, and snapping a few photos. Our pace was slower for those reasons, and we hit the half-way mark--the Wittman sign on Route 33, across from McMartin & Beggins Furniture and Pot Pie Road--in 1:09 on the mark.

St. Michaels Road has its share of twists and turns. Mike pointed out that the wind had hit us from every direction, without having shifted. Yesterday, it was ever present, but never as bad as the stretch from Tilghman Island to Sherwood, where there is nothing between the road and Eastern Bay.

Prior to the half-way point, we had hit a groove, which we kept for the rest of the run. The snow made for a serene backdrop of beautiful fields with snow-covered trees and lanes, and a combination of conversation and awestruck silence created a fitting soundtrack. We ran the second 6.55 miles in 58 minutes, to give us a 2:07 finishing mark for 13.1 miles, without pushing the pace.

Meeting in the dark at 6 a.m. to go run 13 miles, on the road, in the snow on a Saturday morning is one way to kick-start your own mini epic adventure. It was a stellar way to start a day; get to know the B2B course; and to send out my 34th year. Today, I have become an old runner, at 35. ;-P

Tuesday, April 3, 2007

Cherry Pit 10-miler, aka "The Hill Report"

St. Michaels stalwart Kevin Baum finishing the Cherry Pit 10-miler on April 1, just outside Annapolis, Maryland.

They have yet to figure out how to import hills on the Eastern Shore. Kids in St. Michaels sled down the grassy incline next to the relocated Knapps Narrows Bridge at the entrance to the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum. Growing up in Oxford, we thought the "hill" at the Oxford-Bellevue Ferry dock on the Strand was fast. Neither hill is higher than 25 feet.

Coming from the flatlands, I have managed to log some hillish miles this winter, both at Tuckahoe State Park and certainly at the Holiday Lake 50K++ in Appommattox, Virginia.

A dose of winter hills and a training partner who is slightly faster than I am were certainly factors in running a PR 10-mile time of 1:20:25 at the Cherry Pit 10-miler outside Annapolis on Sunday.

The forecast called for morning rain and temps in the 50s, and thankfully was only right on the latter. Overcast and 50s meant perfect running weather. We had strong representation from Talbot County; I caravan'd over with Kevin Baum and his insanely fast (western shore) friend John Heller, and said hey to Dave MacKendrick, also meeting Nancy Toby and Chuck Potter, three of the "we're-out-to-run-every-half-marathon in the Mid-Atlantic" triathalon faithful.

The banter at the start was how hilly the course was and to come out slow, which fits me well, as I like to start slow and increase the pace over the race. The course was as advertised: rolling, hilly, and absolutely beautiful. Rural, wooded back roads opened up to sweeping horse farms everywhere, with even a llama farm thrown in. I asked the road crew at registration if they were having Gatorade (yep), so I opted not to carry fluids for the race.

I hit a comfortable stride and let the course run the race, adapting along the way, and found I was hitting each mile marker at a hair over 8-minute miles. I was fine with that, wasn't pushing the pace, felt good, high energy (had 3 Clif Shot Blocks about 30 minutes before start), and legs felt fine. I often found looking ahead at some of the slow, rising incline hills that I didn't realize I was going uphill while I was on them.

After about mile 7, I picked the pace up a bit, pulling up to a group who had been slightly ahead of me. I guess I passed a few and ran in the middle of the group. Mile 8 was unmarked and mile 9 started slightly downhill. I realized I had too much in the tank when I hit 9, which was fine, but I cut loose at that point and ran the last mile at almost a full-on run, pushed pretty well up a 30-40 yard uphill towards the finish, and then just kept pace, not sprinting at the end, just keeping the legs really moving. One of the organizers on the uphill at the end made the comment that I looked too strong to be at the end of the race--he was right, I could have run faster, sooner, but really just felt great. Crossing the finish, I didn't have that "I-don't-want-to-run-another-step-I-need-to-sit-down" feeling I had at last year's Chestertown Tea Party 10-miler or the Baltimore Half-Marathon, for which I am thankful.

So I ended up at 1:20:25, a 10-mile PR on probably as hilly a 10-miler as is around here. Nancy and Dave also posted PRs, despite having run the National Half-Marathon the previous weekend, and heading to Ocean City on the approaching weekend.

Let me make a quick comment about John Heller. I first ran into this cat a couple years ago when he won the Oxford Day 10K, passing Stuart Horsey, who led much of race, in the last couple miles. Coming into Sunday, he had not really started his training season, had blister problems during the race, and still ran 1:03, good enough for 22 overall, 2nd in the male 30-39 category. Depending on the field, I would call him a legitimate threat to win or place at the Bridge-to-Bridge Half-Marathon, if he is on board.

I really can't say enough great things about the Annapolis Striders, who put on well-organized, challenging races. The Cherry Pit is in stark contrast to the Annapolis 10-miler they hold in the heat of August, which runs through downtown Annapolis, the Naval Academy, and the old Severn River Bridge. A great course, but being a rural guy, I have to give the nod to the Pit.

The Striders have race results posted on their website (gotta love chip timing, they were posted same day) and will have photos of the race online within a couple days. Check out their other offerings and sign up for a race if one grabs you. Next on the race calendar are the Bridge-to-Bridge Half on April 21 and the Chestertown Tea Party 10-miler on Memorial Day weekend.