Monday, May 28, 2007

Tea Time

Bay Hundred residents Mike Keene and Pierre Bernasse get fuel and gear straight before the Chestertown Tea Party 10-miler on Saturday, May 26.

I am not hot. I wouldn't show up on the list of what's hot that Paris Hilton dubs with whimsical insight. Maybe that has something to do with why it is difficult for me to post personal fast times in heat-laden races.

On Saturday morning, Mike Keene, Pierre Bernasse, and I made a pilgrimage to the annual Chestertown Tea Party 10-mile run. Mike and I ran this race last year, and were sure to put it on our calendars this year as well--due in part to its Eastern Shore location, beautiful course, enthusiastic volunteers, and well, beer truck at the finish. After the Cherry Pit 10-miler in early April, this was my second 10-mile race of 2007.

Logic and the best-laid plans don't always hold for running. Leading up to the race, I figured: with a course less hilly than the Cherry Pit and some more quality runs under my belt, I had a shot at a 10-mile PR (under 1:20). Then there's that damn heat. Gotta remember that next year.

There is a fantastic energy around the Tea Party runs, 10-mile and 5K. Runners from everywhere, including plenty of Talbot County harriers, and the gathering at Washington College and running through Chestertown and then the back roads around the town, make for a memorable race. In my mind, there are only two down-sides to this great event. The first manifests itself in the form of a mass start, without chip timing, where the 10-mile and 5K runners and walkers crowd a narrow line and then have to sort through each other for the next 3/4 of a mile.

This year, one thing made the starting line chaos worthwhile. The race director made an announcement to all runners that there was a blind runner, who has run the race for several years, who was there to run the 5K, but needed someone to act as a guide. They asked for volunteers who ran at a similar pace, and a middle/high-school-aged girl stepped up to the plate, as well as some of her friends and running partners. An inspirational, heart-warming moment, that would have slipped by many of us, were there a tiered start. I will take that trade-off.

Mike and I both realized we had to position ourselves further toward the front than last year, which allowed us to come across the line with relative ease compared to those further back.
Also playing on last year's experience, we both opted to carry a bottle of Gatorade.

I hit the 1-mile mark at just under 8 minutes. I held that pace until the first aid station, where I walked to slug some fluids. Mad props to the family just before mile 4, who put their hose out as a mister for runners-by. Unfortunately, I could tell at about that point, that it was going to take more than cool mist for me to beat the heat. Though it was beastly hot, I can still take some pride in the fact that I was not one of the dudes puking on the side of the road.

The heat seemed to have an impact on most everyone. After I hit mile 6, I made a point to walk and drink Gatorade at mile markers 6 - 9. I needed every bit of it. This "strategy" (aka necessity) didn't help my speed, but did allow me to finish upright. I have known that heat can thrash me, but that came back in a real way with the hottest day of running for me so far this year. I managed to salvage a decent clip on the last mile, passing a couple folks and feeling decent turning for the chute.

I finished in 1:26:01, according to Tri-Sport Events results (my watch had it 2-4 seconds faster, but I will give them the benefit), which put me across the line 98 out of 289 finishers. Mike Keene banged away a 1:20:44, 70 overall, and Pierre rocked a 1:28:01, for 112 across the line. Pierre got a great training race in, sandwiched between a 20-mile run the previous weekend, and his first marathon attempt, June 9 in Mont St. Michel in France.

Easton's ultra-running legend Don Marvel (right) advises Pierre Bernasse in the prudent uses of the Force.

A lot of familiar faces in Chestertown: Easton native Trevor Robbins, who took 2nd in his age-group with a 1:16 and change performance, Greg and Brent Prossner, Tracy and Matt Saulsbury, Lori Callahan (female winner of B2B), Don Marvel (who won his age-group in the 5K), Ellen McGee of Annapolis Strider and Gotta Run Shop fame, and met Talbot County triathlete Bill Webb. Kind of funny aside, talking with Ellen, I mentioned always seeing the name of Annapolis Strider Robert Cawood near the top of distance runs and ultras--as it turns out, Cawood was the overall winner of the race. For full results click here,

The moral of the story is that I would have dug running faster, but so it goes. I try to make it a point not to get hung up on times--no matter your time, you always run a race faster than if you stayed home. I think heat was the deciding factor, and I heard the same story from other runners, almost all of whom were less than thrilled with times, but overjoyed to be finished the race. And it is after the finish that I will air my only other critical comment about the race: the long and potentially confusing walk from the finish area, back to the start, about 1 mile away. It is what it is.

To wrap it up, if you are looking for a great 10-mile race for your late spring calendar, go for the Chestertown Tea Party 10-miler. It's as hilly a road course as you will find on the Eastern Shore, so challenging by regional comparison, but easy next to its western shore kin. And it is a stellar event to tie in to your Memorial Day weekend.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Of Lakes, Museums, and Frank Gehry

There is no shortgage of unique, scenic trails in Chicago's park district along the lake. Here, runners cross over the highway from Millennium Park, home of the Frank Gehry-designed Pritzker Amphitheater.

I have grown up a Baltimore fan--from the city, to its sports teams, to its lore. So when I say, on a cultural and runner/biker-level, Baltimore could learn a lot from Chicago, I don't make that statement lightly. Of course, Orioles and Ravens fans are still superior beings to White Sox and Bears fans :)

Apologies for not updating the site sooner--the last five days, I have been in Chicago for the American Association of Museums' annual meeting. Simply awesome on all fronts. Great conference, great museums to take in, and 3 running explorations that covered ground in the city, along the Lakeside Trail, out onto Navy Pier, and looping through scenic parks.

Architecturally, Chicago is a marvel. And buildings aside, the thoughtful planning that has given runners and bikers uninterrupted lakeside trails, and other wanderers, locals, and tourists, beautifully landscaped gardens and parks, in the midst of the city, could stand to permeate cities and small towns alike.

I actually managed to run 3 of the 4 mornings we woke up in Chicago--each with its own exploratory goal. I won't go into specific runs here, maybe another time, other than to say that the "Windy City" earned its street cred with me this morning. I set out to run for 60-70 minutes this morning, on what was the coldest morning of our trip, out the door at about 5:45 a.m.

Chicago's Lakeside Trail, if you vary the main path slightly, will run you by the Adler Planetarium, at 75 years old, the first planetarium in the western hemisphere (hey, I was at a museum conference).

I noticed it was cool, and could hear the wind, but couldn't really feel it. Having past the Shedd Aquarium, and coming up onto the Lakeside Center, McCormick Place (where our conference was being held, about 2 miles from where we were staying), I was passed by a group of tech-y bikers, decked with new-fangled gear and weather reports. I heard one of them say, "about 20 knots," then didn't think about it for a while, checking out other sights.

About 10 minutes later, it hit me: I could feel the wind at my back. This meant my out-and-back run was going to be a beast for the "and-back" leg. The "Windy City" left its calling card on the return--yet my time back was almost identical to the time on the way out. It just took a lot more to pull it off.

The Lakeside Trail, morning, afternoon, and evening, was bustling with runners and bikers. Chicago has kept them in mind in its layout. I am glad to have spent a few days among their ranks--enjoying the new land- and cityscape, and getting to know a new place, as a runner.

Wednesday, May 2, 2007

Night Runner

Mikes Keene and Valliant, after a 7-mile night run at Wye Island, refuel at the Keene mothership.

Now I know what David Hasselhoff would have felt like... if he hadn't had K.I.T.T. and had to run everywhere instead of taking his tricked-out Trans-Am. Okay, maybe not, but we did manage to get in a 7+ mile night run on Tuesday night at Wye Island, so we are at least "night runners" now.

Wye Island is a great expanse of dirt roads, wooded trails, grassy cross-countryesque trails through fields, and some paved roads. We have used it as a looped training grounds, logging 10, 19, 17, and 26.4-mile runs, in a picturesque setting, on softer terrain, and away from traffic. Our loops have generally taken us by our vehicle, so it is easy to refuel. It has been a welcome running sanctuary. Up to last night, all our runs had been during daylight.

My first mistake was loaning Mike K. Neal Jamison's great book, Running Through the Wall: Personal Encounters With the Ultramarathon. When he returned it, he was smitten, "We've got to do a night run! All these ultra runners talk about races going through the night. We could pick a full moon, hit Wye Island, and I doubt we'd even need flash lights."

After emailing a park ranger there and getting permission for the endeavor, May seemed like the best time to try to make it happen. Having said that, Mike was nursing an ailing calf, post 2 straight weekends of PR races, and neither of us had the free time this week we'd hoped for. So a 3-hour expedition turned into a sub-70-minute fun run, that finished with a momentum-gaining fast mile at the end.

I have never run at night, discounting the occasional inebriated jaunt from a bar or party quite a few years ago (I should note, I have left for long runs at 4:30 or 5:00 a.m, when it is still dark and the moon is out, but the difference seems to me to be sleep first, wake up, and go, rather than go at the end of the day). It is a great and charging experience. Mike was right, even with some cloud cover, neither flashlight nor headlamp was necessary--natural light was plenty.

We parked at the equestrian center, and used the main road, which is a wide dirt road, as our route. At the far end of the road, is the Osage Orange Trail, a 1.1 mile out-and-back wooded-tunnel of a trail, which seems to jettison me through it, day or night. Last night it was like a game--flying down the trail in the dark, flowing with the trail, and dodging the potentially bludgeoning low-hanging branches. At one end of the trail is a beach, and coming out the other was moonlight over the fields, forests, and roads.

Our run was from roughly 10:30 - 11:4o p.m. It was interesting to ask your energy to peak when it is usually on recharge. I dug my first dose of night running--certainly due to a great combination of venue, company, and concept. I look forward to seeing what and where the next installment will be.

As for next on the running adventure list: I have it in my mind to do a trans-St. Michaels run: from the CBMM parking lot, to Royal Oak, to Bellevue, go across on the Oxford-Bellevue Ferry, run through Oxford, up Oxford Road, to the Easton Bypass, onto St. Michaels Road, then back to St. Michaels. Total trip is between 25 and 30 miles.