Friday, March 30, 2018

the Eastern States 20 Mile 2018 (Race Review)

Reborn on the streets of the city
in a starburst of vivid humanity
opening dew-dropped eyes
Now sighting the coastline


After New York I knew I wasn't done with this running thing. I've got a mind geared towards endurance, and I knew that the biggest challenge for me would be to return to the Eastern States.

I love the Eastern States. If you read my previous post about my history with the race, you know that. But it is logistically a big challenge, because it's not an inconsiderable distance to run, and it's also a weird gray area for racing -- not quite far enough away that I can justify renting a hotel room, but just far enough that it is a bit of a haul for such a big race.

I packed my stuff the night before, had a pretty simple dinner (I was very careful with my food this time around, not wanting to stop at all on the drive up.) I repacked my bag again. My wife unpacked and repacked my bag. I set my alarm for 4am, knowing I would want to leave a bit before 5am. Went to bed. I don't know that I had the best night's sleep, but I had a very good night's sleep two nights before the race, so I ended up waking up feeling OK.

This year for my own comfort I planned on wearing my pajamas up to Kittery and then checking everything in my gear bag. I am super happy that I did that as it kept me comfortable but also let me break up the parts of the morning. I headed out at about 445am, topped off the gas tank and picked up some last minute nutrition stuff. Drove up to Hampton, and passed through some snow squalls on the way north. Tough going at times, but I actually ended up making really good time to the high school for pickup. I packed a breakfast of poached eggs and polenta, so once I was at the high school I ate, grabbed my stuff, and got onto a shuttle.

Folks at the race were super friendly this year, and I had a lot of easy conversation about life, family, racing, and our shared history with this race. It was awesome and a great way to pass the time. Once we got up to the school in Kittery, picked up my bib and shirt for this year. I was a little disappointed that the shirts were tech fabric this year, as I love wearing my Eastern States shirts, and I just rarely wear tech shirts to work. Oh well. The new logo was pretty neat.

Checked my bag and headed to the start line shortly before 11am. I was listening to Shakespeare's Julius Caesar, because I like Shakespeare and it was one I didn't know. A couple of minutes before starting I switched over to Chris McDougall's Born to Run. I listened to that for maybe the first fifteen miles or so.

Amazed at how well I remembered the course. A bit of a headwind for the first few miles, but once we turned and were running along the coast the tail wind helped significantly. Moved along at a decent clip, and making really impressive time in the first half of the race (even coming through the 13 miles at 1:42 -- near my HM record pace.) At around 16 miles I stopped at an aid station to walk a bit. Ended up joining up with another runner and chatting all the way to the finish, coming in around 2:46:30 -- three minutes or so faster than my PR on the course. I was really thrilled at coming in at that time.

Coming in with a smile

Went to the food table, got some Gatorade, headed towards the beach. Walked out towards the beach and took some pictures, helped some others out and took photos for them. Such a feeling of elation, just so happy with how I did. Texted my wife, headed to get my gear bag from the check, and then back on the shuttle.

Wasn't a long ride on the shuttle this year, for whatever reason. I was really happy about that. I remember from previous years the traffic on the 1a bridge meant the buses sat there for awhile. That wasn't a thing this year, so maybe we spent a half hour total on the shuttle. I was really happy about that. The Eastern States remains one of the best organized races I run, the logistics are immense and the execution is just so impressive.

Once I got back to my car I still had a two hour drive home, but I had left a whole bunch of food in the car for me, so I had a blast eating on the way home and listening to tons of music. Got home and gave my daughter the medal, as is our tradition, and I still haven't gotten it back yet.

I know that conditions this year were truly ideal, but even with the tail wind helping me out, I think I'm in good enough shape to do something pretty impressive at my marathon in a couple of weeks. Did not expect to be in this place back in November, but I'm glad the work I've put in is paying off!

Saturday, March 24, 2018

Long, Cold, Miserable, Happy: My History at the Eastern States 20 Mile

"And no known drink
No known drug
Could ever hold a candle to your love" 
-Japandroids, No Known Drink or Drug

About a year ago, I had to face up to some tough realities. I was feeling a lack of motivation, I was in a bog of depression, I had gained a bit of weight but more than the physical stuff I felt drained emotionally. That was when I wrote this post about personal failings.

I didn't run the Eastern States 20 mile today. I've run that race for the past three years, and I truly love it. I love it even when I'm not using it to train for a spring marathon. It is a lovely course, and a point-to-point, which is pretty rare to find in the racing world. I'm not happy about not running it. I'm not really all that happy at all, anymore.

That was a tough time. I had a baby who had just learned to walk, was becoming super interactive, and the highlight of my life. I'd put on Japandroids No Known Drink or Drug and my daughter and I would dance around in the living room. If you've ever danced with a toddler, and you've seen the unbridled joy in their face when they recognize a song, you know the sweet melancholic joy I experienced in that. The recognition that you are so happy in that moment but also know that it is fleeting, and can never be lived again. I'd hear the song mid run and tear up at the somber and yet happy feeling.

Through the depression I was still happy to be where I was in life. I was just tormented by some harsh relationships, tough work life, and a lack of sunlight that affects New England for such a long time (always longer than I expect.)

I wanted to make a plan to come back from that depression, and I've worked really hard to make that a reality in the time since. I'm running regularly again, I had a successful holiday running streak. I've been monitoring the stuff that I eat (not really restricting anything other than calories.) I'm feeling a lot better, and my mood seems to be a lot better as well.

I'm getting ready to go back to the Eastern States 20 mile road race. I'm not really sure I've ever told the story of my history with the race, and I want to write that now.

“Beyond the very extreme of fatigue and distress, we may find amounts of ease and power we never dreamed ourselves to own; sources of strength never taxed at all because we never push through the obstruction.” 
-William James

Back in 2013, having just run my first marathon in October, and then doing a holiday run streak, I was at a point in running where I had to make some decisions. Basically I could get into other sports, or I could stick with running as my primary outlet. But I knew I wasn't ever going to be anything big in running. I was too old, for one thing. Also, I'm not a tremendously competitive person by nature. I prefer collaboration.

So what I decided to do was to run races that seemed like fun, would offer me some good stories, or some interesting travel. I decided I'd look into some races that were in New England, and at different times of year. I especially looked into what I considered novelties: weird distances, weird combinations of events, trail races, obstacle courses. That was how I found the Eastern States 20 miler in 2014, and signed up to run it for my first time.

I had to get up pretty early to make the drive up to Hampton beach, which is about two hours from where I live. It was cold when I got up, and even though it can be pretty mild in the daytime in late March, overnights are usually brutal. I had a bag with some food, gear. I didn't know what I'd need to do the race, and I wasn't really sure how the logistics would play out. What I knew was that it was pouring rain. I mean, just absolutely torrential rain. The highway I lived on at the time was flooded as I drove out.

When I arrived at parking lot in Hampton beach, the school buses were already lined up. I had my printed bus ticket. I got onto one of the buses, having left my stuff at the car (I was too new to racing to really trust anyone with my gear if I checked it.) The race director, Don Allison got on the bus. I'd been really looking forward to meeting him, since reading his brief mention in Christopher McDougall's Born to Run. Don's a former editor of ultra running magazine, and he's a hell of a race director, too. He got on the bus. There were a bunch of us sitting there in seats, in our running gear.

"So who would rather drop down to the 10 miler?"

Some folks chuckled. No one raised their hands.

"People, I'm serious. If you want to run the 20 miler, that's fine. But if you aren't prepared for it, in these conditions, hypothermia is a very real risk."

OK, so that freaked me out a bit. No one raised their hands. I didn't raise my hand. He continued talking, and bandied around the word hypothermia a bit more. I went back to my car, grabbed another layer (a big orange hooded sweatshirt) and threw it on under my Brooks light jacket. Better safe than sorry, right?

The shuttle ride wasn't terrible, and we were soon at the school where the race would start. One of my acquaintances from Strava had planned on running the race as well, but I wasn't able to find him at the school. It would have been nice to pass the time talking to someone, but I opted to take a few warm up laps around the inside of the building instead. I was overhearing people talk about the rain, and hypothermia. Fun.

The states had an alternate course that year due to some bridge construction. It was still 20 miles but started at a different school and ended near to the casino at Hampton beach (instead of in Salisbury where it usually ends.) I didn't track the run on the app I was using at that time. I was nervous, I didn't know what to expect from the race, the weather, the course, and I just wanted to have fun.

We took off out of the school parking lot on foot. Overcast, decently cold, with an occasional gust of wind. Since I had opted not to track the run, I didn't really worry about anything other than just moving. Through the town, over bridges, eventually running with the beach on our left and at point long stretches of marsh on either side. I grew up playing in salt marsh, catching fish and chasing crabs, so it felt very much like being home. At around ten miles I stopped and asked a photographer who was taking pictures from the tailgate of an SUV where we were.

Warm, heavily layered, happy.

I was surprised to find myself half way done, and spent the next few miles with that same photographer playing "leap frog" as he'd drive ahead to get a photo or two, and then I'd pass him only to see him further on.

As we came into Hampton I remember the last couple of miles taking a toll on my legs. All in all I finished that year in about two hours and fifty six minutes. I was really proud of the accomplishment, and at the end went into the casino. I walked over to Don and shook his hand, and thanked him for a really great race. Moving was tough, as it always was after a run like that, but I was euphoric. I glowed for hours after I got home and hummed with an energy that irritated my wife.

“A man on a thousand mile walk has to forget his goal and say to himself every morning, 'Today I'm going to cover twenty-five miles and then rest up and sleep.”   
-Leo Tolstoy, War and Peace

In 2015 I wanted to go back to see what the original course from Kittery to Salisbury was like. No construction that year. I imagined that with the weather having been so bad the first time out, there was always a chance that I'd get lucky and actually see the sun this time.

Same deal, up early. Get some coffee. Eat along the way driving up to the shuttles. This time there was a guy in the parking lot who asked me what the deal was with the buses. I recounted the previous year's experience, and my impressions of the whole thing. The guy was pretty amiable, and we ended up chatting on the bus on the way up. Then hanging out in the gym at the Traip academy, where I found out he was a previous winner of the event. He told me about how he was hurting, and had forgotten his gels, but Don had given the previous winners free entry to come and run the 20th anniversary of the event. "He wants us to make sure the overall winner comes in under two hours."

Nice guy. We chatted for the morning until the start of the event. I had a good run that year, coming in a six or seven minutes faster than the previous year. My acquaintance from the morning ended up coming in second overall. He did that in an hour and fifty-six minutes. So there you go, we both had good days.

That year I wore jean shorts over tights, which multiple people remarked on during the race. One particular gentleman from Australia saw me along the course a few times as we leap-frogged. He would stop and talking to me about running in jeans, chafing. He saw my Marine Corps Marathon jacket and we talked about that race, how much we loved it, and parts of the course we despised. It was a fun bit of camaraderie, where often racing in New England has you in with people who aren't super friendly or open to talking to strangers.

“Winning isn't about finishing in first place. It isn't about beating the others. It is about overcoming yourself. Overcoming your body, your limitations, and your fears. Winning means surpassing yourself and turning your dreams into reality.” 
-Kilian Jornet, Córrer o Morir

In 2016 I ran the ES20 because I was starting to see the race as a 'tent pole' to my running year. I wanted to get to a place where I'd run this race many times, and I was starting to feel at home in it.

I was also using it as a last long run before the Big Sur International Marathon, and a measure of my training to that point. It was a beautiful, if cold, day. Sun was shining, though. I was a bit over dressed for the race that year, wearing jean shorts over my tights. I also had a bag checked with some food and stuff for after the race -- a first for me at this race. I was running unsupported, so I needed to make sure I could take care of myself at the end.

I was impressed at how well I knew the course from the previous year, and all the landmarks along the way. I was wearing a pair of tights with running shorts over them, a lightweight brooks jacket and bandana. I think I had dropped my sunglasses somewhere along the way, which was a bummer. I also ran in the shoes I ran Big Sur in, so that was a good chance to test them out before the big race.

I remember feeling like the last two miles took me forever during that race, and I was so happy to cross the finish line. I started to over heat on the shuttle bus, but staved off fainting by downing some cold water from my pack.


“But it is a blessed provision of nature that at times like these, as soon as a man's mercury has got down to a certain point there comes a revulsion, and he rallies. Hope springs up, and cheerfulness along with it, and then he is in good shape to do something for himself, if anything can be done.”

-Mark Twain, A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court


In 2017 I set an alarm, told myself I was going to get up and make the drive up to Hampton. The alarm went off, and I never got up to make the drive. I had to face the reality of the depression I was in, and 20 miles wasn't going to happen for me that day.

A few days later I got the news about running New York in November, and while that felt impossible in the midst of the doldrums, the months after that saw me covering distances, connecting with my running tribe, and eventually finding rebirth as an endurance athlete on the streets of New York, overweight and running in sandals. I've come to realize that like life, my running is going to have many years and many changes to it. I don't plan to stop doing this anytime soon. I've gained many benefits from it. So I have to allow that some years will be bad years, and some years will be very good years. I have to be patient with myself and my circumstances when things are down. I have to allow them space to change - to morph into something else.

Tomorrow I'm going back to the Eastern States. I've been running, I've covered 20 miles already this year, and I'm down 12 pounds. I'm not at my fighting weight, for sure, but I'm much better off and feeling so much stronger. I'm looking forward to making the drive up in the early hours, waiting for the shuttles and hanging out at the race start.

I've learned a lot, and I'm planning to use my previous experiences. We will see how successful I am, but my plan is three fold: to run for a time close to my course record, run from a place of strength, and cover the distance as a last long run before my April marathon. I'm planning to write a race review so I'll get into the details of my preparation, pre-race rituals, post race stuff there. Forecast looks decent for tomorrow, with an early two hour drive north for a long, cold, miserable, blissful day of running.

Sunday, March 18, 2018

On Materialism

"Any kind of material form whatever, whether past, future, or present, internal or external, gross or subtle, inferior or superior, far or near, all material form should be seen as it actually is with proper wisdom thus: “This is not mine, this I am not, this is not my self.”"

--Gautama Buddha


I'm a materialistic person by nature. I love things. I get a high off of buying things. I have a bad concept of money. Years and years of my life have been spent working to identify this as a problem, and working to correct some behaviors in myself that are undesirable at least, and toxic at worst. I've sought outlets to pull me away from this in the past, and I've always gotten pulled back in. Sometimes through the very skills I'm hoping to learn. Materialism becomes the excuse, and it detracts from the experience.

I think this is an important thing to tackle at this point in my life for a couple of reasons. I'm somebody's dad (soon to be two somebodies) and I'm also a person who wants to savor experience. Its pretty hipster to talk about "pure experience" but I think the term is apt here. Materialism oft pulls me out of an experience. I'll end up thinking about how easy a task would be if I had another tool, device, or something. Very often that makes the task take longer.

Oddly, running is a thing where I do this a little less.

I'm not obsessed with shoes, I tend to keep my gear in service way longer than I should (running until there are holes in it) and I love the experience of the sport because that's where all the stories come from. The things people ask me about running are almost never about the t-shirts or the medals. They ask about the course, the weather, the course support. It is a thing where the memory of the experience is the thing that I savor. The experience adds to how I see myself, and in a very positive way. These experiences are uniquely mine, they help me identify and handle further challenges in life, and I love being able to apply what I've learned elsewhere.

This is a thing that's helped me in the other things I've studied. I was a music student through college. I always felt if I could buy another book it would have the answer, if I could get another piece of equipment it would help me with my playing challenges. That was a disaster. I never improved at the rate I expected, and I could never satisfy my instructors demands of me, even when I was practicing eight hours a day. There was no reason to do any of that. If I could go back, I'd encourage a younger me to slow down, have patience, and internalize no criticism. Knowledge and skill are built from experience, and criticism can serve only to discourage those things. Savor the experience, and benefit from it in time.

Live and learn, I suppose.

I'm older, but I still realize that the arc of my life has many more days ahead than behind. I am making progress slowly towards the goals I want, and I know better that pushing harder doesn't always yield better results.

After college, really disenchanted with music, I wanted to take up a hobby that let me work with my hands, preoccupied my mind, and would give me a skill. I started researching and learning how to make bread. Some of the things came really easy, some of the things were harder. Just like with music it was a multi-faceted skill that required attention to many different parts of the process. I was really in the mindset that if I had the right board, bread stone, tools, then I'd be able to make a better product. I've consistently made bread three or four times a year for about ten years now. I'm only now at a place where I make a product I love consistently, and we don't buy bread at the market anymore because it is good enough to replace that.

That's crazy. But again, lesson learned. Bread is like music. And so is running.

I also cook often. I make the food in our house, and I love that. Cooking, like running, or bread crafting, is very much like meditation. I have to stay in the moment, focused on the experience, and then adjusting as I go. I have a pretty standard set of things in my kitchen, but I have very little desire to get more specific gadgets. My kitchen is tiny, and I don't have space to store things anyway. I hand cut my spaghetti with a pizza cutter, I season and maintain my cast iron skillet as a daily ritual. I wake early, make coffee, and prepare a breakfast that typically consists of a roast sweet potato with guacamole and two poached eggs. No fancy egg poachers, just the boiling water in a pot.

These skills and disciplines are areas of my life I'm very proud of. I gift food to those I love, and my close friends. I play music as a part of my job, but also with those I care about. I run for myself, but I've also paced friends. When I think about these areas of my personality, I don't focus on the material things that make it possible. Surely they do and I'm grateful for them, but the skill and practice, the craft and experience is the greater thing I savor.


"Superfluous wealth can buy superfluities only. Money is not required to buy one necessary of the soul."  

--Henry David Thoreau


Back in December 2017 I read an article in the New York Times, "My Year of No Shopping" by Ann Patchett. It got me thinking about whether or not I could do something like that, and it made me think of it almost as a mental game (the way we handle marathons.) I talked to my wife about it quite a bit, and set up some parameters. Basically, my goal boils down to this:

I'm not buying frivolous things this year. I'm sticking only to the necessities.

Practically, this means that the only store I regularly go in is the supermarket. I've also been to the hardware store once, or maybe a baby store when we're getting a gift for someone. Otherwise I haven't been in stores. No department stores. No outlets. No shopping apps on my phone.

I'm only three months in, but I find that I have a clearer mind. Having taken the popular shopping apps off my phone, and I'm finding that what I do now when I open my phone is that I read more. I don't aimlessly click and drag around apps anymore for things I don't need.

And I mean this isn't like me bragging. It's a struggle. I'm a materialistic person, I love accumulating things. I'm just also seeing the downside of it after so many years of this behavior and toxic thought. I don't want my self worth to be tied to the acquisition of things. I don't want that for my kids, either.

It's also not like I'm not spending money. I'm still registering for races. I haven't bought running gear in awhile, but that will come up at some point as I put wear and tear on my gear. But I'll cross that bridge when I get to it. For now I'm just happier with less time spent in physical commercial spaces, and more time spent on family and personal experiences.

I'm also hoping to dramatically downsize the amount of crap that I have. I'm donating clothes, looking at what I have in my kitchen that I don't regularly use (trying to use it more, or lose it.) Stuff just has to change. Some of it can do others more good than me, and that's fine.

And I mean, by the way, I don't judge anyone who likes a run to the department store. I'm just at a place where I'm tired of being sold on things. I'm tired of feeling like I can't actually stop myself from buying a stupid amount of useless crap that I have no room for in my house. If you like your Sunday morning roaming around the department store, awesome. I've been there, I've done that. It isn't for me. I'd rather get up early, clean my kitchen, and make a batch of pancakes.

Hopefully by the end of the year I look back and feel like I gained a whole lot of experience from it. I'm also hoping it communicates a message to my kids growing up that it isn't about what you buy as much as who you're with and what you're doing. The idea of an experience as a gift and a thing to be savored isn't new, but it is something I think needs to come into focus more now.

"Earth provides enough to satisfy every man's need, but not every man's greed."

--Mahatma Gandhi

A lot is made of my generation's impact on traditional economic and social institutions. One of the dominating headlines lately is the sudden bankruptcy of a popular chain of brick-and-mortar toy stores. I'm not indifferent to the loss of jobs, and I will admit to a mild amount of nostalgia for my time spent in such places as a young man. But really, I don't think that it's a terrible thing to avoid stores. A store is basically a place which promises a positive experience provided you intend to spend money there.

I'm finding that among parents I know the trend is away from buying lots of things, and towards lower tech experiences. It's a difficult thing because many of us see in ourselves a dependence on technology, but also recognize the downfalls of it. Having a device means that nearly 24/7 you're faced with the decision of buying something or not. I don't have too many doubts that spending less time on devices is a positive thing. But... I do love my device. I like the content I can consume through it, and I like gratification I get from it. I'll write about this massive ambivalence on technology another time. I love tech, and I love toys. It's rampant consumerism I hate.

Probably the children who make up the next generation will grow up in a backlash to these attitudes towards parenting, that seems to be the way of things. They'll no doubt revel in stores, and technology if we limit their access to those things. I'll admit fully to not having the answers to all of these things, but for me I know I need to limit my own involvement in them. Maybe there's a way to raise kids with a healthy attitude towards these negative influences, but my guess is no one has that figured out yet. I find the media I consume on the topic condescending at best, and ignorant of the whole picture at worst.

I'm sure this is the beginning of a longer conversation, however.


Long rambling post aside, life progresses. I've had to take some time off from marathon training at my wife's insistence, due to a horrid cold. I'm going back out today for my first long run in awhile, and looking forward to it. I've got muscle definition in my legs I've never seen before, and I'm very much looking forward to a successful return to the Eastern States 20 mile road race this weekend. I'm planning a post on my history with that race for later this week, but we'll see when it gets published.

Likewise work is progressing on the house. Cleaned and organized the kitchen this weekend, made multiple loaves of bread as well as an excellent corned beef dinner for St. Patrick's day. Lots of traditional Irish music filling the house (along with the standard, more "touristy" fare.) My daughter has been walking around singing "Molly Malone" for the last week which is one of the cuter things I've ever seen in my life. Painting the spare room today, hopefully moving the spare room furniture out of my living room by Wednesday so things will feel back to normal.

Ended up doing several errands as well this weekend to get ready for the baby, but we're well on our way. Clothes and diapers are bought, the nursery is set up and can handle two children. I know that by the time we welcome baby #2 not everything will be as I want it, and that will be fine. Among the projects I may let slide until summer are getting the second car fixed up so that we can sell it. It's actually time to buy a van (there might be a post on this coming as well.)

Saturday, March 10, 2018

March Nor'easters, Pancakes, Housework

Couple of surprise storms this past two weeks. It's kept the snow around, and some cold weather, but basically it has been pretty nice otherwise. I'm glad to be able to layer in my day to day, as I prefer cold weather, wearing flannel, etc. I'm less happy about continuing to wear heavy gear while I'm on the run. Not great. Takes more time to get ready, as well.

Up fairly early this morning to clean the house and make breakfast. The house has sort of gotten away from me, but part of my new pattern is getting up around six on Saturday, regardless, and cleaning the kitchen up. Then I make coffee, prepare breakfast. Today was banana peanut butter chocolate chunk pancakes with corned beef. At least, that was for my wife and daughter. I stuck with a vegan chili, sweet potato, Greek yogurt and guacamole. I'm training, so I'm trying to limit how much junk I eat.

We ended up doing Chinese for dinner, but I did keep track of how much and what I ate. So I'm sure it was pretty rough on sodium, but certainly not as bad as it could have been. I have a long run tomorrow so it'll work out over time.

Running has been going fairly well. Back onto the training plan, only having missed one day this week (an easy run, so I still got in my speed workouts.) Tomorrow is a two hour long run with a "fast" finish. So I'm planning a 15 mile run, where I'll run the last 5 km or so at a decent clip. I'm really doing my best on the nutrition front this time, because I have been feeling so much better on the run with the ten or so pounds I've lost. Climbing hills is easier, I get winded less easily, and I feel better at the end of the run, as well. So it's going to be an important thing to remember that so that it keeps me eating right.

Brief shopping trip today, then hanging out, watching movies, playing video games. Amazed at how smart the toddler is and how good she is at communication. Working on finishing up the spare room (we switched our spare room with the nursery recently, to allow space for the two children.) Still have to paint the room so that we can finally move all the spare room furniture out of our living room. I am seriously ill at ease about my house being disordered for this long!