"It's a little self indulgent..." - My mom
"After I read a sentence, I get mad at myself for caring what you're doing." -Karl Dusen

Thursday, June 30, 2011

He finishes almost every run with a mean Steak-Umm sandwich

My friend and former teammate when I ran with the Pittsburgh Pharaoh Hounds, Eric Laughlin, will be running in the world masters marathon championships in a few weeks. He has not only come back after years away from the sport, he has exceeded the standards he set as an undergrad at Slippery Rock. He's now the coach at West Liberty State in Wheeling. If that wasn't cool enough, he has a sponsor for the race- Steak-Umm Meats.
Steak-Umm Meats is proud to support Eric Laughlin in his upcoming marathon race in the World's Masters Athletics Championship in Sacramento, CA on July 17th. He will be wearing the Steak Umm logo on his race singlet during the World's Masters Marathon.

Eric is 41 years old and lives in Ohio. He is the cross country and track and field coach at West Liberty University in Ohio. He competes in races at the masters level and recently won the Tuscon, AZ Marathon in 2010. He also won the Master's Division in the Pittsburgh, PA marathon last month.

Eric is a big fan of Steak Umms and this is where is gets most of his protein to keep running at this high level. Eric tells us he finishes almost every run with a mean Steak-Umm sandwich.

Check back closer to July 17th and we will give you information on this televised event. GO ERIC!

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Let's fill a bathtub full of sweat

I sweat profusely.

I will support that statement with a lot of evidence from recent attempts to run in the DC summer, which began Monday.

Monday evening was relatively dry, though pretty hot- in the mid 80s, but I figured I might as well try a long run, because in addition to being sweaty, I'm also stupid. I did, however, put Gatorade mix, as many ice cubes as I could fit, and a little bit of ice water into a plastic bottle and carried it with me on an Irvin loop, dropping it off at four miles, which I hit in 25:00. I then kept going, thinking I was loosening up slowing down. Evidently not, because I hit seven miles averaging 6:10 pace. I got a little cautious here and slowed, partially because the .9 mile stretch on Maple Street in Vienna is on crowded sidewalks. I came through 10 miles at 6:15 pace exactly, then eased up again on the climbs on Old Courthouse Road. Wolftrap Road, usually, a struggle for me, was very doable, and I felt stronger coming out of the short trail that connects two parts of the road than I ever had before on this particular loop. A block later I had my chilled Gatorade, and managed to drink most of the 32 oz of it without feeling sick to my stomach. This is a dramatic improvement from when Howard first encouraged me to practice doing that last fall. He said my body would get used to it, and by god, it did. Even though I just had the fluids for the last 3.5 miles, being well hydrated helped my recovery immensely. I ended up averaging 6:20 miles for 16, which was my longest run in two months, since the extended Brook the day after the George Mason race.

Tuesday did not go as well. I slept in to recover from the long run, then when I got home from work headed out for an easy 8-12. I figured the best way to keep it easy was to stick to the Pimmit Creek trails, but about three miles in, the lack of air movement and the humdity really got to me, and I headed back, getting only six.

Wednesday was the first time I went to the BCC since right after the Swarthmore meet. The plan was 8x800, with two at 2:32, 2:30, 2:28 and 2:26, respectively.

I was quite surprised to have no trouble running 2:31, 2:30, 2:27, 2:28, 2:26 and 2:27. After the third, however, it sounded as though I had stuffed sponges into my shoes.

A few steps into the seventh 800, I recognized I was running on borrowed energy and stopped. I was actually too loose to hope to succeed, and I had lost too much sweat to pull myself together effectively. My limbs were feeling a little loose, for lack of a more apt description, and moving them at a cadence appropriate for running 800s took more energy than I though prudent to dedicate. I was happy enough I had done six, though eight would have been even better, my marginal delight for each of those additional intervals was not worth it...yet...

Thursday morning, I ran the Park Plus, which I had neglected for a long time, and had a pretty fun time. I ditched the mp3 player, which I think makes a big difference in the heat and humidity. I am more attuned to my other senses and never get in over my head, which I sometimes attribute to being distracted by listening to something. And it kept me from inadvertently shorting it out with sweat. In the evening, I made up a loop taking 26th street to Marymount and coming back on Old Dominion and Little Falls.

Friday I slept in and planned to reintroduce myself to the treadmill in the afternoon, but it was 88 degrees and pretty dry, so decided I should go out and use the opportunity to acclimate myself further to the heat. I ran six miles out past Catholic and decided to run at a moderate pace as long as I could, and managed 5:20 pace for 17 minutes, a but more than 5k.

Saturday morning I finally wore my Chicago Marathon shirt, which really is quite nice, very thin, but the memory of the race and my poor performance made me hesitant to wear it too much. I did a morning run of nine miles on my New Virginia Manor loop, then an afternoon run of seven miles on my Timber loop to total 85 miles.

Sunday morning I just wandered along the trails following the Pimmit Stream for 90 minutes.

Monday I just ran in the evening- 11.5 miles as part of a Fairview Park loop.

Tuesday morning I did a five-mile Idylwood loop and in the afternoon finally reacquainted myself with the treadmill in my office basement. I absolutely hate it, but the reality is that given how much I sweat and the consistently formidable humidity in the DC area, I need to be ready to do a workout on the treadmill if going outside would be unproductive, so I bought a box fan to keep in my office to at least make the conditions reasonable in my office's fitness center and help me avoid disgusting anyone else with a lot of sweat flying off of me. I did eight miles while watching the middle of Jerry Maguire and an interview with Dennis Kucinich.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Northwest Side

I came back to Pittsburgh two weeks after Memorial Day to do some volunteer work in Sheraden, and as timing would have it, run another race. A few months ago, my friend and former intern Jenni posed an open question- where would you do a service project with 350 people and $30,000? I immediately and factiously responded, "Fairywood,"then anywhere west of Duquesne Heights. Kevin Acklin then put together 12 great projects that community organizations have targeted and Renew Pittsburgh put some plans together for Deloitte to unleash its employees. I thought it would be fun to join in.

I led the Sheraden swimming pool group, which painted over graffiti on an exterior wall and cleared thick overgrowth from the surrounding land. The pool had been closed for three or four years because an Army Corps of Engineers sewer project would have caused problems for the pool's water system, so entropy had made things a little thick. I didn't help myself by starting off recklessly, cutting clumps of weeds and tall grass with hedge shears. The problem was that I hadn't done any work like that for a long time, nor had I bent at some of the angles that the work required for an even longer time, so after an hour and a half, I started to hit the wall and reexamine my effort. It was hot, but not unbearable, and we made a lot of progress, right up until the downpour started. That boded well for the race conditions, I thought. Until the temperature rose again, and compounded the humidity from the rain. This is backwards!
By that point, the bus came along and took my volunteers away, so I got ready for the Riverview Park 5k.

I had wanted to do the race for a while, and Michelle helped me make that happen in 2009. I had biked to work that morning, 18 miles, when I was trying the one-day-a-week cross training plan, though it was more to see the part of the commute I usually skipped over on the bus. While at work, she told me the race was that night, at 7:30. I hurried to finish my work and get back home. Unfortunately, I had to stay past the time the bus left, so I had to bike back home. I did so frantically, and when I reached Highland Park, some jagoff in a convertible forced me into a parked car, beating the hell out of my right forearm. I got home, changed and got into Michelle's car. We sped from Shadyside to Observatory Hill hastily, but her directions neglected one detail, three details, rather, downtown would be bustling with a Pirates game, the gay pride parade and the Three Rivers Arts Festival. Our comfortable margin for travel compressed dramatically, but somehow we got to the course with three minutes to spare, while a young man was slowly singing the national anthem. I sprinted to the start with a check for our race numbers, telling the race director we would fill out the forms later. I got the numbers, but Michelle was nowhere to be found.

Suffice it to say, when the gun went off, I was ready to go.
I ran the whole race alone and won with about 35 seconds to spare. Michelle ended up not racing and the race director tore up my check because my "wife didn't get to run." A few hours later, the Penguins won game seven of the Stanley Cup finals.

This year I was able to calmly walk up to the RD and ask him "is it too late for me to register?"
He took a look at me and said "I think you're okay this year."

I was able to get a warmup in and see the Hounds who made it- Matt Meurer, Greg Byrnes, Brandon G and Steve Kirkland, previously known as Bradford Mike. Matt and Greg both live on the Northside and Brandon lives in the northern suburbs, so the three of them have put together the "Nor'side" gang and made Steve, who lives in Greenfield, an honorary member.

I got out quickly and hesitated for a second, partially to avoid going out too hard and more because I wanted to run with the guys for a while. When nobody joined me, I figured the real race had begun and it was up to me to make it. A little more than a quarter mile into the course I took a turn up the long driveway to the observatory.

The hill really broke my spirit and my pace early on, but I figured I would be better off extending my lead before we headed downhill, where I never feel secure. I never had a natural chance to see who was behind me, so I took off down the hill. I was pretty damned hot, and the humidity was great enough that nothing was evaporating. I threw some water on my face and that woke me up a little, but it was safe to say my pace down the hill was not as reckless as the hill would suggest. The course is a loop with no net elevation change, so I was mindful that every step down the hill would come back in the third mile.

That's the problem with hills, they're just like the wind. The advantage from a tailwind does not equal the disadvantage from a headwind, and you don't gain the speed on a downhill you lose on an uphill, ceteris paribus. Throw in the downhill first, and there's the temptation enjoy the hill too much and not have enough left to climb again. This was a major problem for this course.

Brandon G was on my tail for a while, and he said I was at about 10:03 at two miles. I charged up the hill and heard one woman say "You're winning!" No shit. By how much, though? Help me out here, sister. The suspense was killing me, because it the haze of the heat, I wasn't sure if the steps I heard were my own, and I severely doubted my ability to fight back if Brandon, Steve or Greg passed me. My dive at the Kevin Gatons race, not two weeks before, hung over me.

I kept climbing, now under glorious shade. That's the point where you realize how gorgeous the course is, and what a shame it is to be in such discomfort. I did get a look around a tight turn and saw nobody behind me for quite some time, so I eased up. The uphill only stops about 100m from the finish, and I just cruised in in 16:48.

I really enjoy the race, it's one of my ideal road races. The early registration price is $12. The day of the race, you can get in for $15. The course is tough but representative of the area, and the Friday night race time is unique where weekend morning starts are the norm. And, it's hard. Each time I've raced it, I've come in with a major physical deficit- either the long bike rides and frantic preceding half hour or the day of manual labor, and I've ended up trailing for one second out of a little less than 34 combined minutes of racing. I've been shocked to win both times, but maybe it's something about the overall race that spurs me to overlook those circumstances. I've run a lot of road races, and you don't find that at every one.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Five years of the Kevin Gatons 5k

I got a little lazy completing blog posts for a while, so I am catching up. From Memorial Day weekend:

In terms of my performance, the fifth annual Kevin Gatons 5k was forgettable, but in the larger scheme, the race was a success.

I ran, by far, my slowest time for the race in the five years I have run it. 15:36, 16:02, 16:08, 16:59 and 17:52; that's an unsettling trend.

Pat McGuire encouraged me to come to the first race, and from then I never thought about missing one. It was my sole reason for coming to Pittsburgh Memorial Day weekend this year, I had been to every race and wanted to keep that going.

Kevin was a Pharaoh Hound, but he was long gone by the time I joined the team. He was a frequent topic of conversation among the old Hounds when we'd go to Bootlegger's for wings after Thursday night 400s on the cinder track, taking on Braskeyan stature. I met him through both Coach A and Coach Wright when I was at the 2001 WPIAL cross country championships. Coach Wright tried to embarrass him by talking about his fast marathon times, but it didn't work because I didn't care about marathons at the time. I might argue that I still don't.

My mom and I got to the race at a reasonable time, but it was warm. I went out for my warmup on the course, and came back with 10 minutes to spare. After changing my shoes and running to the start, I knew I was in trouble. I hadn't even begun to cool from the warmup and sweat was pouring off of me. When the race started, I worried about the opening mile- it had gone out in 4:40 each year I had run it, only once with me pushing the pace. I tucked in an went with the lead pack, but four minutes in, I had enough. I pulled over to the side of the course and slowed down. I came through the mile in 5:09, but I had no intention of trying to keep that up. A course change meant an additional few blocks in the second mile, and I slowed down to a quick walk for a little bit. When I started up again, I decided not to let anyone pass me for the rest of the race, but the race was long done for me by then.

It's a great course, that Lynch Field 5k. The hills, turns and winding roads set up nothing short of a street fight. I don't remember where I dropped Pat in 2007, but I remember thinking that I could not take any of my lead for granted, because his familiarity with the course could make a devastating difference. It reminded me, in part, of my high school course, the most difficult refined cross country course I ever ran. McGuffey was difficult, but that was because we heard the coach with a chainsaw, cutting the course when we arrived for the race. I'd call the Lynch Field course one of the best overall race courses, in the variety, difficulty without sacrificing fast times, opportunity to show off the city of Greensburg, and the staging area in the park.

It's two days after the end of the high school track season in Pennsylvania, so it frees up a lot of distance runners who want to try a road race when they are in excellent racing shape. That is one of my favorite legacies of the race, and one I strive to create for the Run for Roch- the race is always fast and features some tough efforts. Fast runners made it a point to be there, and I hope that honored Kevin as a competitor and a coach.

I guess didn't notice the message on website earlier, but after the race my mom told me it was the last time the race would honor Kevin. The yearly hoopla evidently was too painful for Cheryl and the kids. Things like this can't go on forever, and five years is a good run. Honestly, Memorial Day has been really hot the last five years anyway, so it was rarely a day I could really enjoy the race or run really well. I am also relieved to have Memorial Day weekend at my disposal again, though I don't think I would have felt otherwise had the race kept going. It's just time to move on. Hound attendance was waning, too, as family obligations piled up. It was enjoyable, though to see Jim Hommes' daughter May win her age group in the children's races. Watching Mara and Mati Keen run with a crying Leah was also a treat, and having the children's races in general was a great component to the race.. It was race director Jeremy Lenzi's favorite touch:

"I'll always remember the kids' races in particular - this is mainly due to the fact that Kevin took me under his "wing" when he saw me at a local road race when I was 12 - I know the kids participating in our race are even younger, but know how much Kevin would have LOVED to see these kids battling it out."

Over the five years, the race raised $30,000 for scholarships for 10 students. Not a bad run at all.

Saturday I did 10 miles in Frick Park, and Sunday I just did an easy three in Schenley, seeing Moira and Wendy along the way.