Monday, March 31, 2008

A Romp Through the Woods

The scene of the crime - most of us have a run-in-semi-dry-shoes ethic, and scamper over a downed tree to cross the creek at the bottom of the Turkey Hill trail. Landy Cook has a different approach.

After Sunday's run of the Tuckahoe 10-mile loop, two awards need to be given out. The first is the "downed-trees are for wusses" award, which goes to Landy Cook. As we reached the bottom of the Turkey Hill trail, I pointed out the "Bikers Dismount" sign and the crossing point for the creek, meanwhile pointing to the fallen tree that can keep your shoes dry.

"I don't need a way to cross, I came to get wet!" Landy yelled as he forded the creek, thigh-deep, and went charging out the other side. An inspiring sight.

Now, I don't mind getting my shoes wet or dirty--I actually dig it--but most of us who run back there, especially over the winter, opt out of the submerged trail shoe scenario. Landy correctly pointed out though, that there are some big water crossings in the Delaware Trail Marathon, and that he wanted to see how his shoes behaved when wet. In any event, it was like watching a young child with a new pair of rain boots jumping in puddles. And that feeling is one of the reasons I enjoy trail running so much.

The second award is the ironman award, which goes to Joel Shilliday. When Joel, Landy, and I started running together, Joel mentioned that he liked to run 10Ks. He preferred trails over roads, and for Sunday, he was looking to push himself and run about 7 miles. Joel strapped on a Camelbak, bore down, and ran the whole 10.1-mile loop, finishing in somewhere around 1:45, for just over 10-minute miles. I will go out on a limb (or a downed-tree) and say that the 10 miles at Tuckahoe is as challenging a 10 as you will find on the Eastern Shore, in terms of climbs, switchback, downhills, etc.

But by "challenging," I also mean fun. Out at Tuckahoe, and on trails in general, you can run like a kid. You can see blue herons flying, the occasional turkey, deer, and you'd have to ask a birder how many kinds of birds. You cross streams, run hills, and watch the green of spring recapture the landscape.

Conditions were perfect, with the trails mostly dry, and all parts accessible. To catch the sun coming through the trees through the latter stretches of the Tuckahoe Valley trail is a sublime experience for me. To enjoy the morning and the trails among friends, makes it all the more so.

For the record books, our list of runners who have completed the Tuckahoe 10-Mile Challenge during 2008 now looks like: Stephen Bardsley, Mike Keene, Jim Crowley, Landy Cook, Joel Shilliday, and Michael Valliant. With some of the e-mails and interest we've been seeing, it looks like that list will continue to grow, and that will have a fun party at the end of the year. With some of the speedy legs mentioned above, I think we are also going to see the current "record" time disintegrate into the mid to low 1:20s, easy.

My advice to those looking to take the challenge, or simply to enjoy the trails at Tuckahoe: spring is a stellar time of year to do it. Sure beats the black flies and poison ivy of summer ;) And congratulations to Joel and Landy on their prestigious awards, and their continued inspiration to me, to romp through the woods or around town in the dark.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Rise Up Runners?

On Easter morning we ran by moonlight around Easton. I was out the door and running to rendezvous with our pre-dawn running crew at 4:40 a.m. Photo courtesy of Sky & Telescope magazine.

I have always enjoyed the borderline sanity that can accompany distance running. I like doing things that most people shake their heads at or do a double-take. Of late, that includes running at uncommonly early hours.

This past week (of 3/16) saw runs of roughly 6.5 miles, 7.5 miles, and 15 miles. The 15-miler began at 4:30 a.m., and was marked at the beginning by a ruthless wind and a brief period of -in-the-face rain. I don't think there is a neighborhood in south Easton that we didn't loop through to get the miles in. Total time for a hair over 15 miles was 2:20:56, which puts us reasonably close to 9-minute miles, for the long, slow run of the week.

It felt good to work the distance back up and I felt good throughout the run. Our previous run saw us running the last two miles of the run at a quick pace, under 7:00-minute miles for a stretch and clocking one of the last miles in 7:30.

Then there was Easter morning. I ran 2 miles to meet Landy Cook and Joel Shilliday at Idlewild Park, connecting at 5:00 a.m. We ran by moonlight at an easy pace, catching up on Easter egg hunts, upcoming races, common experiences, and plans for the coming week. After a good group run, I ran home, with a total running time of 1:24, probably about 8.5 or 9 miles, and walked up the front steps at about 6:00 a.m., able to talk to our older daughter, Anna, who was awake and curious if the Easter Bunny had been to our house, and I was even get back in bed before the holiday with the family started.

This makes three weeks of 3-per-week morning runs in the log book, and the start of a fourth, pre-dawn. Since the training race in question is a trail marathon, we've got to get some trail miles in out at Tuckahoe, hopefully this weekend for the next round.

The early morning runs, and the posse (at 5:00 a.m. on Easter morning, three fathers of young children out to run constitutes a posse), has talk of a running group going. Of the names proposed, Rise Up Runners is the only one with any sponsorship potential ;) The natural connection between getting up to run in the dark and coffee is poignant. If our friends at Rise Up Coffee--with two convenient locations in St. Michaels and Salisbury--would consider some coffee rations and use of the name and logo, maybe we can spread the word!

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Rekindled Running

Setting your sights--2007 was the year of the ultra, with Keene and I running our first 50K and 50-mile races. The challenges for 2008 are emerging with new trail races and a new fire for morning runs.

If I'm not careful, I'm going to turn myself back into a runner. The last two weeks, I have managed three runs per week, with runs of 9, 7, and 12 miles during the week of 3/09. A couple runs have been notable.

On Sunday 3/09, I tried to introduce Landy Cook to our 10-mile Tuckahoe loop, only to find water blocking sections of trail that aren't usually wet. Our normal crossing required a canoe not to be chest deep getting from the bottom of Turkey Hill Trail over to Little Florida. So we re-grouped, and took our dip with just a couple miles left in our 9+ mile run, when Landy bonsai'ed through a thigh-deep crossing at the beginning of Pee Wees Trail. By far the wettest I have ever seen the trail and a blast for good trail running in challenging conditions.

After a 7-miler at 5:00 a.m. on Tuesday, Landy and I embarked on a dark distance exploration, starting our run at 4:30 a.m., and running 12.3 miles. We hit the first mile mark at 9:30-pace, kept it easy and wound up along Rails to Trails in Easton hitting a good 8:30-pace for the last couple miles. Our total time for the run was 1:54 and change.

Morning runs have hit a whammy bar that has rekindled my running. I'm making myself follow a schedule and enjoying the roads in the dark and the trails when we get out there. This renewed energy has also reopened my training goals and race schedule. On April 26, the Trail Dawgs in Delaware are hosting their Triple Crown and Delaware Trail Marathon. The Triple Crown is a half-marathon, followed by a 10K, followed by a 5K, run back-to-back-to-back. I have thought about that race before and it got my attention this year as well. However, we've outlined a rough training plan to have a go at the trail marathon. There, I said it. During my self-proclaimed year of the half-marathon, I've gone and busted out the "m" word. In my defense, though, it is a TRAIL marathon!

We'll see how training continues. As it stands, Keene is gunning for the Triple Crown, liking the breaks and different legs, per his triathlon training (he biked 42 miles from Wittman to Gunston School on Thursday--I'd say he's getting along towards the Eagleman). Landy and I are gunning for the marathon. Reports from those who have run Trail Dawg races have all been great.

For those with muddy intentions, and those not set on the Oxford Day 10K that weekend, take a look at the races. You can run the marathon, half-marathon, 10K, or 5K, or package the last three for the TC. Their website has some great info and links to photos, including a fantastic looking creek/stream crossing, which is way to wide to allow for log/tree fordings. Any takers, give a holler. And stayed tuned for other local, creative running challenges to be posted soon.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Car vs. Swimmer: Oxford-Bellevue Challenge

"The impossible dream"--no one thought that Doug Hanks could turn his time in bars into a book deal. To hear the story, meet the author, and mack on his mojo, come to Latitude 38 in Oxford this Saturday, March 15, from 3 to 7 p.m.

If you ask Doug Hanks, "Barguments" began at a bar. Duh. But in the case of Hanks's new book from Simon and Shuster, it was actually sparked by a beer tap in Latitude 38. The tap was for a black-and-tan beer, and showed a lion wrestling a bear. Hanks is nothing if not a debater.

"Who do you think would win in that fight?"

I worked as a cook in Latitude at the time, and by the time I got off work was usually 6 to 12 beers behind in a discussion, but doubtless Henry Hale tending bar wasn't aware that he was witnessing the birth of a book.

During his life as a journalist, while living in Oxford Doug wrote for The Star Democrat, then the Daily Times in Salisbury, then the News Journal in Wilmington, before landing a stint with The Washington Post. For the last 7-ish years, he has been Coconut Grover, writing for The Miami Herald. All this is to say, he's got a writing pedigree. And if you find yourself in the Oxford Museum, or browsing a local's bookshelf you'll see a novel called "Muskrat," about a band of sailors from the Eastern Shore who win the America's Cup, as well as a great photo-history of "Oxford: Then & Now." These are by another Doug Hanks--Dougie's father.

So there's some background behind the Barguments phenomenon. As you can see from the book cover and the website, a "bargument" has to be simple and controversial enough to elicit discussion--perhaps heated, without a necessarily correct answer. So I want to tell you a story about a bargument that wasn't. It wasn't because we answered it.

Oxford is a town surrounded on three sides by water. If you drive through, much less live there for some time and spend time on the water, you come to realize that the Oxford-Bellevue Ferry draws some attention. It is thought to be the oldest continuously running, privately owned ferry route in the country.

"Do you think it would be faster to swim across from Oxford to Bellevue, or drive around?" the discussion began.

Immediately, people took sides. There ended up an almost equal number of "swimmers" and "cars," who would pick up the debate on at least a weekly basis, discounting after work beers in Doug's shed. The bargument evolved (and they generally always do) to, "Who would win in a race, a swimmer swimming across the Tred Avon from Oxford to Bellevue, or a driver driving around?"

Then is when the stipulations come in. The driver has to drive the speed limit--if he or she speeds, it discounts the experiment. Okay, and none of us are swimmers, so the swimmer can pick between flippers or a life jacket. Alright, well there has to be someone from the "swimmer" team who rides with the driver to make sure they don't speed. And a "car" person has to ride over on chase-boat to make sure the swimmer doesn't just get in the boat. The particulars worked themselves out. Now, all they needed was a swimmer.

At this particular time, summer 1996, I had found running. I was running and lifting weights regularly, while Hanks and most the rest of the crew, were barguing. It helped that I was working nights, away from their inebriated charms until the kitchen closed.

So by virtue of being in shape, I became the swimmer. I am not a swimmer. I always passed the swimming test at the Tred Avon Yacht Club's sailing class by treading water for 20 minutes, but the motivation for that was not to look like a dork having to wear a life jacket all summer.

Knowing that I was going to have to swim, I did what most people would do: went to swim. At the YMCA pool, since there were fewer jellyfish. You can imagine my surprise to learn that one mile in the Y pool was something like 18 laps or 36 lengths of the pool. Holy crap. In my one swimming trip to the Y, I don't think I swam a full mile. I kept running and lifting, and hoped general fitness and flippers would get the job done.

August 23, 1996

It was a breezy, warm summer evening. A Friday. The wind and tide were strong moving east (towards Easton). Board shorts and flippers vs. a Nissan Altima. If memory serves, Bo Manuel was selected as the "swimmer" to accompany Hanks as the driver. Eric Abell's Wahoo was loaded with Bud 10 oz cans and a handful of people as the chase-boat.

Funny thing, Oxford being a small town: people heard about the race. Local fixtures and bar-goers Ed and Helen Thieler were out in their boat. Henry Hale and the Oxford Fire Department brought a crew in their boat. And my parents had a boat full. We had a fleet following the swimmer across!

"You see what the tide is doing, Mike?" Ed pointed out. "It's a strong tide, what you want to do is point yourself left of the ferry dock--aim at that house and you'll wind up at the dock. If you aim for the dock, you'll have to keep swimming back towards it."

On the call, I dove in the Tred Avon and Hanks drove through Oxford. It was late August and the jellyfish were long in full effect. Counting stings would have been sheep to an insomniac. But I aimed for the house and kept going. The chase-boat checked in to make sure I was alright and stayed alongside, to make sure I didn't get run over (for any re-enactment fanciers).

In roughly 28 minutes, I touched a piling on the Bellevue Ferry Dock, roughly 0.8 miles away, signaling the end of the race. The crew in the boat yanked me out of the river, and tried to chase the river water in my lungs with Budweiser. In the time it took me to get my feet in the boat, raise a beer, and look up, Hanks pulled down to the ferry wharf--not a full minute behind.

Man had beaten machine. The swimmer had defeated the car. And the bargument that wasn't-to-be was solved, the debate over. And that was one that didn't make the book. Hanks's ode to head-scratching decisions and discussions is full of more universal themes, all sure to engage debate. Come on out in Easton at Harrison Street Books during the day to meet Doug and find out what else didn't make the cut, OR, come join the party where it all began: Latitude 38 from 3 to 7 p.m., this Saturday, March 15.

For a taste until then, you can check out and follow along on Doug's blog for the latest news and opinions.

A slow news day--an article from The Star Democrat and the sign in front of the Oxford Fire Department the day and weekend after the challenge.

Saturday, March 8, 2008

A 3-Week

Tuckahoe State Park, bridge from Tuckahoe Valley Trail to Griener's Fishing Road and one time scene of Mike Keene as "The Horse Whisperer" to a spooked horse.

The theme of this past week's running was embracing my schedule. Rather than try to jam a run in mid-day or evening, when it's tough for me to make em happen, I ran at times when there were no conflicts and nothing else going on. The result? My first week of three runs (roughly 6, 7, and 7 miles) in who knows how long.

This past Sunday was a postcard day at Tuckahoe State Park, with morning temperatures moving into the high 40s, with mostly dry trails and a trifecta of runners as Joel Shilliday and Landy Cook, and I rolled out for a 56-minute tour of parts of the Tuckahoe Valley and Pee Wees Trails. A few mountain bikers and anglers were kicking it on a Sunday as well.

My other two runs were 5 a.m. specials, through Easton, and motivated in part by tying in with Landy for 00:dark:30 miles. Beginning my runs in the dark, wicked early, has always been what has worked best for me--whether Mike Keene and I have been hitting Wye Island with the muzzle-loading hunters, or I've been catching sunrises on St. Michaels Road, four miles into a run. My problem has been the snooze factor, which is combated when you have agreed to meet someone to run.

In stark contrast to Easton at 5:30 p.m., when cars sit molasses-stuck at downtown traffic lights, the town at 5:30 a.m. is empty, sleeping, and surreal to run. I have always enjoyed a kind of connectedness to places by running them early, when no one (or few people) has accepted an invitation to see what's behind the pace of commerce. There is also a sense of accomplishment in knowing that at 6 a.m., I have finished my run, have 7-or-so miles under my feet, and have the rest of the day ahead, which is already filled with work, girls, gymnastics, making dinner, etc.

Tomorrow (3/09) is on the books for a 10-mile Tuckahoe run, likely a mud-hopping run, based on rain last night and today. Looking forward to enjoying the trails, getting dirty, and hopefully beginning another three run week.

Stay tuned for a post early in the week about the new book Barguments, by Oxford native Doug Hanks, and how a local "bargument" that went on for about a year--Who would win in a race, a swimmer swimming across the Oxford Bellevue Ferry route on the Tred Avon River, or a car, driving the speed limit, driving around from Oxford to Bellevue?--inspired me to take on the only swimming "race" I've undertaken to date. Swimmer vs. car, next on the 4-1-Run.