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Today I competed in my second Pittsburgh Half Marathon.

PM2016Logo

By “competed,” I mean I tried to 1) finish, 2) without injury or embarrassment, and 3) with a better time than last year.  I managed the trifecta!

With an official time of 1:49:05 (pace=8:19) I came in 1305th place overall, and 51st in my age group (50-54.)  51 years old and I came in 51st.  Kinda cool.  This outpaced last years race with an overall time of 1:50:46 (pace = 8:26) and an overall place of 1802 which put me 72nd in my age group.

I’m not sure how many half marathon runners there were, but let’s just say there were a lot.  I lost count, oh, about 10 yards into the race.  (According to the website, there were 14,127 in the half marathon and 3,681 places in the marathon.)

The weather started out iffy, and it drizzled/rained for the first couple of miles.

RunningRain

IF IT RAINS, YOU RUN.  IF IT THUNDERS, YOU RUN FASTER.

It was actually a little refreshing, but it became a little humid after the rain stopped.   At the last minute,  I switched from a T-shirt to a long sleeved shirt.  Mistake.  Should have trusted my weather.com temperature predictions!  Instead, I looked out the window of my hotel and saw a lot of people wearing long sleeved shirts and light windbreakers.  Psyched myself out.  It’s kind of like reviewing your answers on a test and changing a correct one at the last moment because of second guessing.  Oh well.

I seemed to be the most popular runner.  I kept hearing, over and over again, “GO TODD!”  Now, I did have an ear bud playing music in one ear, and there was a lot of background race noise, so it is slightly possible that these folks were yelling “GOOD JOB!”, but I think they were cheering me on.

One sign read:  “IF TRUMP CAN RUN, SO CAN YOU!”  Thought that was pretty funny right there.

TrumpRun

Not from this race . . . . too much SUN!

Another one said “SHORTCUT” with an arrow pointing away from the main course.  I thought about it, but it seemed a little questionable, especially since the arrow looked like it pointed to a parking lot.  Maybe they offered a shuttle service to the finish line?  Had it pointed to a bar offering free beer, I’d have gone for it.

And, as I passed a group of young women sporting Nittany Lion logos on the back of their tank tops, I said “GO PENN STATE!” as I passed them.  A guy running next to me then yelled, “Penn State!  Let’s hear it.”  So someone else started yelling “WE ARE!”  and a chorus of “PENN STATE!” ensued.  After three cheers, the cheerleader yelled “THANK YOU!” and we all politely responded, “YOU’RE WELCOME!”

Never had that happen in a race before.

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After watching Penn State lose to Georgia in the TaxSlayer Bowl, I decided to go out for a late afternoon run to burn off some frustration and holiday sweets.  I am usually a morning runner, but I slept in.  I planned on running 6-7 miles, and surely I could get it in before dark.

Please don’t call me Shirley.

I was visiting this weekend and running in unfamiliar territory.  Being not far from Valley Forge National Park, and having run part of it a few days ago, I thought this would be a good place to run.  There appeared to be a nice loop on the map which looked about 6-7 miles.  What could go wrong?

This same question was asked by James Franklin and the Redcoats.  Neither fared well, and neither did I for that matter.  The plan looked great on paper.

Everything went well for the first five miles, until I reached a point which on the map below, corresponds to a covered bridge.

The bridge was closed for repairs, and so was the nice little blue path I had been following.

I was at the red circle.  I was parked at the green square.  I was as far from my car as I could get, and I could not go any further.

Valley-Forge-1

At this point, I had three choices.  One, I could turn around and head back the way I had come.  This would have put me in the 8-10 mile range which was a little longer than I really wanted to do.  The advantage, though, was that I would be traversing known ground.

The second option was to take a trail which ran along the same river as the blue paved path.  I hadn’t bothered to bring a map, but this same map was posted alongside the road before entering the trail.

The third option was to curl up in a fetal position and suck my thumb, waiting for a park ranger to come and rescue me.

Valley-Forge-2

Alas, I opted for the dotted line trail.  It didn’t look too bad.  Besides, it was getting dark and my mind was still numb from Penn State’s loss.

I made a mistake.

The trail climbed a mountain.  I was weaving in and out of trees, roots and rocks as the sun was disappearing and the already dimly lit woods was getting darker.  Each step brought me closer to a difficult choice:  turn around and go back, an ever longer alternative as I continued forward to what I hoped was the warmth and comfort of my jeep.  But I could sense lions, tigers and bears rustling in the underbrush around me, waiting for me to collapse into an asthma attack with the elevation, or in the fetal position sucking my thumb and waiting for a park ranger to rescue me.

Either way, I was wondering if I would ever get home.  I wasn’t even sure this stupid dotted trail would cross the water or if I was even going in the right direction anymore.

Just as the westering sun was setting, the trail headed back down Mount Krumpet and eventually deposited me on Route 23.  A welcome sight came into focus.  A bridge!  And on the other side–a paved trail that headed back to Washington’s Chapel.

I was saved!  I lived to get lost another day!  I wonder if Washington ever considered collapsing into the fetal position, sucking his thumb?

Probably not.

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How many times have you been at a bowling alley, ready to throw your next shot, perhaps a strike or two away from a perfect game (or just hoping not to throw ANOTHER gutter ball,) and suddenly it hits you?

“This ball stinks!”

I mean seriously.  When was the last time it bathed?  I have a bowling towel to wipe the excess oil from the lane, but that hardly counts as a good cleaning.

Somewhere, at some time, someone had too much time on their hands.  Or too much to drink.  And they thought to themselves, “why don’t we make scented bowling balls?”

I.  Kid.  You.  Not.

My kids bought me a Storm bowling ball for Christmas.  The box said fragrance: Caramel Pecan.  WTF?

NewBowlingBall

 

It really does have a scent.  It was making me hungry–like a huge piece of caramel candy.  I think I gained 15 pounds!  But who needs (or wants) a fragrant bowling ball?  And just what was wrong with the way my balls smelled before?

I promptly Googled this shit to see if it was real.

Aromatic Bowling.

Competitors dismiss Bill Chrisman’s scented bowling balls as a “novelty,” but he believes there’s more to his success than that, reports Jonathan Eig in The Wall Street Journal. Bill’s balls — marketed by Storm Products, Inc., stormbowling.com, of Brigham City, Utah — smell of peppermint, spearmint, orange, blueberry, amaretto, banana, cinnamon-apple, and pina colada, for instance. Bill’s been making the aromatic balls for about four years now, to a point where his brand is to the market leader in high-end bowling balls, ahead of Brunswick. (You might think Brunswick and the other ball-makers would be rushing scented balls to market. Storm does not officially claim that its aromas affect performance, but the company’s technical director, Steve Koempken, “says the aromatic liquid chemicals added to the vats of urethane had the unintended effect of increasing the tackiness or friction of the surface area, which resulted in a tiny bit of extra hook.” Not only that, but some customers report that the fragrances have the dual effect of relaxing them while distracting their opponents.

I am stunned.  Speechless (but I can still type.)  How does the chemical selectively relax one person but annoy another?  Technology is simply fantastic.

Do the chemicals act like pheromones?  Will my ball be attracting other balls?  What do the pins think about this?  So many questions; so little interest in answering them.

I wonder if they will start adding fragrances to running shoes.  Now that would be a great idea!

SniffingBall

I smell a 300 game in my future!

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The past week I had the opportunity to go running on Hilton Head Island, in the Sea Pines area mainly.  The weather was fantastic, although perhaps a bit more humid than one would choose for running.  After the winter we had in central PA, I will not complain about heat or humidity!

This was a typical view while running:

HiltonHead

The Sea Pines Resort area had an elaborate maze of biking/running trails that wound along the roadway system and golf courses.

Trails

This made running really enjoyable until . . . .

STOP

Thou shalt not pass! (DO NOT collect $200)

ARE YOU KIDDING ME?  A STOP sign for pedestrians?

STOPcloseup

Well!  Isn’t that special?!  Let’s give the benefit of the doubt and the right of way to the two ton death machine instead of the helpless pedestrian or biker.  Who came up with this idea?

As if that wasn’t bad enough, there were still thoughtful drivers who would come to a stop to allow bikes, runners and walkers to pass.  The problem was, the cars behind said Good Samaritan weren’t always ready to stop–they weren’t expecting it, especially if they were local and used to this cockamamie hierarchy of right-of-way privileges.  Worse yet, one lane of traffic would stop, which they didn’t have to, but the other lane wouldn’t.  This was problematic when a small child on a bike started forward  because the nearest lane stopped, not realizing the other lane wasn’t stopping.  I saw this happen numerous times.

I have to be honest.  I ran many of these STOP signs.  Literally.  Forgive me Father, for I have sinned.  A Hilton Head cop finally pulled me over.

I tried to explain.  “I slowed down officer.”

He wasn’t impressed.  “You were supposed to STOP.”

“But I slowed down, ” I protested.

He then pulled out his nightstick and started beating me.

As I’m writhing in pain, he asks, “So!  Do you want me to slow down, or do you want me to STOP?”

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Scrolling down Facebook, I came across an add for compression socks for runners.

SeussRunners

I see this, and immediately, my mind isn’t thinking running socks, it’s thinking Dr. Seuss.

WhoVille

Every Who down in Whoville liked Running a lot, but the Grinch, who lived just north of Whoville – did not. The Grinch hated Running – the whole Running season. Now, please don’t ask why; no one quite knows the reason. It could be, perhaps, that his shoes were laced tight. Or it could be his shorts chafed and didn’t fit him quite right. But I think that the most likely reason of all… may have been that his Asics were two sizes too small. But, whatever the reason, his shorts or his shoes, he stood there on Race Day hating the Whos. 

I certainly don’t hate running, but why on God’s earth  would I wear something that looks like it was designed by Dr. Seuss or trendy in Munchkin Land?

I fully understand visibility, particularly if you run in the dark.  But seriously?  These things are visible from space!  They hurt your eyes!  I’m an eye doctor.  I should know.  And drivers might be laughing so hard they still run you over like the Wicked Witch of the East.

You have no running power here.  Be gone!  Before someone runs a car over you too!

I tried the whole clown shoe thing–you know what I’m talking about–those shoes that try to use every color in a Crayola set of 64 and were probably designed by the owner’s 3-year-old daughter in preschool.  The experiment failed primarily because they weren’t comfortable.  But the gaudy color thing is just not me.  It is actually getting harder and harder to find shoes that only have one or two colors, and don’t glow in the dark as if they were manufactured in Chernobyl.

In running, function and comfort should trump everything.  But do we have to sacrifice good taste?

Do we want our sport to end up like this?

AlCzervik

Nice thing about these clothes? I can play 18 holes and then jog 13 miles without changing!

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Had me a blast.

Summer Runnin’

Happened so fast.

I recently read a blog entry that discussed some of the downsides of running in summer weather, among which were complaints like it’s hot and humid, you have to wear less clothes (not sure why this is an issue,) chafing (which would be reduced if you wore less clothes,) salt encrusted selfies, and mosquitoes.

Of all the things on their list, I have to agree with the mosquitoes.  especially bugs in the mouth.

As someone who has run in -9 degree F weather in Pennsylvania and the 120 degree dry heat of Phoenix, I have experienced quite a spectrum of seasonal running and temperatures.  Without a doubt, I would pick 120 degrees in Phoenix over sub zero temps in Pennsylvania–any day.  No questions.  End of discussion.  And no mosquitoes at 120 degrees.  Maybe a gecko.  Or a scorpion.   And they won’t end up in your mouth unless you collapse from dehydration or heat stroke.

But if I had to pick one thing that bothers me the most about warmer weather running, it has to be the spider webs.

spiderweb

Run into my parlor said the spider to the guy !

There is a trail that I traverse along the course of my run.  As the temperatures rise, so do the number of spider webs crossing the rather narrow path.

I have visions of being caught like extras in Stephen King’s The Mist, or ending up like Frodo in a spidery cocoon.

frodoweb

I was just out for a run with Samwise and Smeagol . . .

You can’t always see the wispy strands, but you can feel them on your legs and face.  I end up running this trail most summer mornings with one hand held up in front of my face as though I am trying to elude the Phantom of the Opera’s punjab lasso.

At least I don’t need a machete.  Yet.

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Today, I participated in the Beaver Stadium Run sponsored by the Paterno family, with proceeds benefiting Special Olympics of Pennsylvania.  I was able to raise $1,450 to benefit Special Olympians.  Last year they raised over $400,000 but I do not know the total for this year.  As a result of my fundraising efforts, I was invited to a reception with Sue Paterno, Jay Paterno, Franco Harris, and Pat Chambers, who is Penn State’s basketball coach.  I know!  I didn’t even know we had a basketball team!  James Franklin wasn’t at the reception but he and his family were there for the race.

I'm in there somewhere!

I’m in there somewhere!  Maybe.  It’s last year’s photo.  I was there.

Anyway, after the Blue-White Game, a free football scrimmage that marks the end of Spring practice,  and the private reception they had accommodations at a hotel in State College for runners that wanted to stay overnight before the race.  I only live about 40-45 minutes away depending on how many cops are alongside the road, but the reception ran till 8:30, and the race was the following morning at 11:00.  I could save gas by not driving back and forth.  It seemed like a win-win situation for me and the environment to stay in the hotel.

Until one o’clock in the morning.

That’s when the smoke alarm in my room started to chirp every minute or so.  After listening to this for a few minutes, and quietly hoping it would just STOP, I got up and removed the battery.  Hey!  It’s not like I’m in an airplane bathroom here.  And it’s not because I wanted to smoke.  I just wanted to sleep!  I have a race to run the next day!

Finally, I called the front desk.  They came relatively quickly, although my room is physically as far away from the front desk as you can get.  They gave me a map to help me find where to park.  I had to stop and ask directions.  I was afraid I might need a passport, but fortunately, I did not cross any foreign borders on the way to my room.

They replaced the battery and . . . . silence.  They apologized profusely, and excused themselves.  I turned out the lights and tried to return to my racing dreams of crossing the finish line first to be congratulated by the entire Penn State cheerleading team . . . but I digress.

Within two minutes, the chirping resumes.  WTF?!

I again call to the front desk, but there is no answer.  I guess the two who made the Lewis and Clark journey to my room haven’t returned yet with Sacajawea.  So I listened to the bird chirping and wondered if it was a finch or a blue jay?  After finally contacting the front desk duo again, I waited for their arrival and let them in.

They played with the battery some more.  He thinks perhaps he put it in wrong.  (That’s what she said.)  She just seemed distressed or perhaps she knew the entire hotel was at risk because there was no one at the front desk right now.  She suggested cutting the electric wires to the unit–which makes you wonder why it needs any battery after all except as a backup for power outages and this seems like something that could wait until say, 10:00 the next day.  He asked her if she wanted to electrocute him.  She does not answer (but smiles.)  I was sensing some tension between these two.  Or I might just be TIRED!  He pushed a button to test the unit.  Long, loud chirp.  Okay, I am fully awake now!

Finally, the chirping stops and the two apologetically removed themselves from my room again.

Sleep at last!

I have set my phone alarm to go off at 8am.  I’m only 10 minutes from the race location, but I’m pretty sure I am gong to need to eat something, but I can’t run right after I eat something, so I figure three hours is a good compromise.

Unfortunately, the previous occupant of this fine hotel (“we’ve had no fire in 117,497 days!”) room set the alarm for 6 am.  And it dutifully awoke me at 6 am.

I should have just gone back home!

Humor aside, I don’t think it affected my performance.  Maybe the two beers I drank at the reception did.  Or the two creme filled donuts I had on Friday.  Or the double quarter-pounder with cheese and fries before the Blue White Game.

Whatever,  I did not win.  There were no cheerleaders.  It was only a dream.

But I did place 64th out of 1900 runners, and fifth in my age group (old farts.)  I beat my time from last year (22:43:82) with a new personal record of 20:59:01!

But I have to admit I was humbled a bit.  As we lined up before the race, they attempted to group people by how fast they run.  I moved to a point just ahead of the sign that read 7:00 to 8:00 pace (my official pace was 7:00!)  NAILED IT!  I stood near a young woman (and quite frankly, they all look young to me anymore except for my cataract patients.)  I find it helpful to have something to focus on while running.  She was wearing very short, very skin tight gray shorts, and a tank top.  She was very focused.  She would be the rabbit to my greyhound.

However, as the race started, she was more like a turbo charged super ninja rabbit on steroids, and was out of my sight before we reached the one mile mark.  I never saw her again.  I ate her dust.

Worse yet, the person in my age group that beat me out for third place and a possible medal (by 12 SECONDS) blew by me about 3/4 of a mile before the stadium.  I know this because my first thought when he went by me was, “that guy is old.”  He was.  Gray hair (not tight gray shorts) and everything.  He had on a gray T-shirt with words on the back.  “Ask your doctor if getting off your ass is right for you.”

This is what losers see.

This is what losers see.

The shirt distracted me.  Not the same way the gray pants did.  I had to think about this–it had words and humor and everything.  The shorts only had a Nike Swoosh.  (And that’s what they did.  Swoosh!)  Meanwhile, he’s sprinting ahead of me like I’m standing still.  I’m doing 8.57 miles per hour in a 7 mile per hour zone!  He only beat me by twelve seconds, but I never recovered from that shirt.

It had to be that shirt!

Although it might have been the smoke alarm keeping me up all night.

Or the donuts and beer.

Whatever.

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