2018 Race Recap #29: Independence Rhode Race Half Marathon

This shot treats me very kindly as it would appear that I’m actually running – I know it’s toward the end of the race because I’ve taken the head buff off and wrapped it on my wrist.

First, please excuse the late posting for this. I’ve been away and frankly, haven’t wanted to go out of my way to post.  This was THE WORST race ever. Hands down. I mean the course was beautiful, but the result – ugh, for more than a few reasons it was terrible.

At the start of the race — 6:30 AM — it was 73 degrees, and I’m guessing no less than 85% humidity.  I was already feeling a tad under the weather during and after the TVRC race on Thursday, but on Friday it hit me full on. I was huffing and puffing for the 5-miler, and I’m not at all convinced I didn’t slurp down some wonderful allergens and/or mold spores or something because Friday I woke up with a 100-degree temperature and coughing up lungies like you might read about. I spent the night on Friday coughing and gakking and wishing for sweet death.

This was going to be a S-show of a race and I really only had two options: DNS or just do it. I chose “Just Do It.”

Leading up to this week, my goal was 1:50.  I was feeling pretty confident that after all my tweaks and dings and dents I was at the other side and could pull off a decent time here.  With the phlegm and general lack of ability to breathe on race day, I was pretty sure that wasn’t going to happen but I was still hopeful that I would best my worst half time, I mean this was a pretty flat course, ocean front with a generally cool breeze, but no.  The combination of the humidity and the sick-death-pneumonia-black-plague I was suffering wasn’t going to allow anything remotely resembling a respectable time.

I started with the 1:45 pacer and quickly fell behind.  That said it wasn’t until perhaps the 9th or 10th mile, where there was a turnaround in Colt State Park that I saw the 2:00 pacer on the other side of the street heading the opposite way that I realized I was completely screwed.

My running dynamics were reasonably on point – 172 spm average is not far off where I wanted to be at 180, but my stride was terrible and my heart rate was terrible and life was terrible and everything sucks.

ALL OF THAT SAID, My time was my worst half ever. Straight up. No doubt. No excuses.

BUT, it turns out that comparatively, I didn’t have as bad a day as I may have. I mean I have some mitigating circumstances — so does everyone else — but despite my shitty time, I finished about where I would normally finish percentage wise, perhaps a little slower than I may have expected, but overall Dead in the middle. 50.6% for my age.

I had a shitty race. No doubt. But it looks like a lot of other folks had a shitty race too, and I have to imagine not all of them were sick. My race buddy Mike, who was shooting for a 1:45 finished with 2:01, so I know I don’t completely suck.

This will be a redemption race next year, I’m sure, but for now, the humiliation of having put some 3000 miles on my odometer since my first half and this one and finishing 6-minutes slower stings. Worst. Half. Ever.  Redemption will be forthcoming.

Previous Results

Independence Rhode Race: 2:06:32
Horseneck Half Marathon: 1:57:29
New Bedford Half Marathon: 1:48:57
Clearwater Half Marathon: 1:56:32
Cambridge Half Marathon: 1:57:38
Upton State Forest Half Marathon (Trail): 2:18:01.9
Worcester Half Marathon: 1:51:56
Black Goose Half Marathon: 2:00:48

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Strength of Mind: Self Immolation

Malcolm Brown photograph of the self immolation.

Thích Quảng Đức was a Buddhist monk who on June 10, 1963 led a procession of monks to an intersection a few blocks from the South Vietnamese presidential palace, assumed the lotus position where an associate poured gasoline over his head. He recited a homage to Buddha and subsequently lit himself on fire in protest.

I never fully comprehended why a man of faith would willingly take his life. Indeed, in Buddhism, life is precious and its destruction is to be avoided.  But then again, my own world view is that of a Western Christian, and Christianity’s view on suicide is very clear. Buddhism doesn’t work with absolutes.  According to one author, Buddhism sees human birth “as incredibly precious, an opportunity not to be wasted. That the human predicament includes stress and suffering is the First Noble Truth; the Second, Third and Fourth Noble Truths guide our relationship to that suffering.”

But I see here, Quảng Đức was not escaping from suffering or stress.  He was drawing the worlds’ attention to the ignoble condition of the Buddhist population in South Vietnam – a country that was then 90% Buddhist and ruled by a Catholic minority, intolerant of the Buddhist world view. “Not to be wasted” is not the same as “having ended.” It makes sense in a way: Catholics are very black and white about life and death, about subservience to authority and hierarchy; Buddhists tend to be more complacent, willing to accept their lot. Where Christianity is very much ordered around the ten commandments – concrete rules not to be violated – Buddhism is ordered around four noble truths, guides without much in the way or explanation.  In Christianity we’re taught “right from wrong;” In Buddhism the meaning of Right includes an ethical, and a balanced, or middle way.

So, why would the practitioner of a religion teaching life as incredibly precious and the destruction of which is to be avoided, self immolate in protest? The middle way.

The idea that he wasn’t escaping suffering, but rather he was embracing suffering in hopes of bettering the lot of those of his countrymen.

What was shocking to the rest of the world – his ability to remain in lotus.  In The Making of a Quagmire, David Halberstam wrote “…As he burned he never moved a muscle, never uttered a sound, his outward composure in sharp contrast to the wailing people around him…” He had accepted his suffering, embraced it.

The Four Noble Truths liberate people from suffering.  Here they are from Lionsroar.com

1. Suffering

Life always involves suffering, in obvious and subtle forms. Even when things seem good, we always feel an undercurrent of anxiety and uncertainty inside.

2. The Cause of Suffering

The cause of suffering is craving and fundamental ignorance. We suffer because of our mistaken belief that we are a separate, independent, solid “I.” The painful and futile struggle to maintain this delusion of ego is known as samsara, or cyclic existence.

3. The End of Suffering

The good news is that our obscurations are temporary. They are like passing clouds that obscure the sun of our enlightened nature, which is always present. Therefore, suffering can end because our obscurations can be purified and awakened mind is always available to us.

4. The Path

By living ethically, practicing meditation, and developing wisdom, we can take exactly the same journey to enlightenment and freedom from suffering that the buddhas do. We too can wake up.

So, by immolating himself, he was actually freeing himself and his countrymen from suffering.  Reread that passage from David Halberstam: “…As he burned he never moved a muscle, never uttered a sound…”  Suffering people do not sit still. He had let go of the samsara, that belief that he was separate from others.  He gave up this existence and its suffering: to be sure, he believed in reincarnation – that he would return to the earth in another form, and not to be sent to an afterlife to sit before judgement.

The Catholics in charge of the country could not comprehend why he had done what he did because they believed in an absolute prohibition on suicide, and in the certainty of sitting before God’s judgement.  When Quảng Đức’s action did not yield immediate results, several other monks self-immolated as well.  Interestingly enough it was not the leadership of South Vietnam who came to understand, but rather the rest of the world, horrified by what was now happening, pushed the government to action.

Now that I’ve described my understanding of what happened on that day, I want to share a video taken of the event.

At a time where public protest was not the norm, at a time video recording was a novelty – if not luxury – there is a video recording of it.  Think of what a video recorder in 1963 would have looked like – as the first 75 seconds of the movie show, it must’ve been large and bulky, and judging from the angle, frowned upon by the authorities.  We see the thousand or so protesters encircling the monk, jostling perhaps for a better view, and the authorities pushing them back.

I can’t help but to think how this man was about to light himself on fire for these people, people who clearly had not reached the level of enlightenment he had – likely people with less strength of belief as his, or less commitment.  The protest was allowed to continue, even as the police would have seen the gasoline being poured over his head; perhaps it wasn’t immediately obvious to them that was, in fact, gasoline.

The most powerful moment of that recording occurs at about 2:07 – the moment he lights the match.  It’s as if everything else STOPS. The jostling stops. The police turn away from the throngs of people to face him, to a man their arms and hands by their sides: Respect? Awe? Disbelief?

By 2:25 or so you can see clearly how accurately Halberstam reported his lack of movement: it’s not for another 30-seconds of the video before his now charred remains fall over. Halberstam notes just how quickly a human body will burn, so bearing in mind the footage has been slowed down, in real time some the gathered crowd would have begun immediately bowing on hands and knees and this would have been over in a matter of seconds.

As with any telling of story, I’m quite sure there is so much nuance and fact missing from the account.  That’s not really what this post is about though. It’s about the strength of mind and purpose,  of self control and selflessness, of belief to be able to make a decision you believe to be the middle way – one coming from a place of enlightenment – even if it means putting yourself in harms way, giving yourself up for the good of the majority.

I will remember this lesson just how much the mind controls our perception of the world, how it controls our sensations. How it can allow a man literally burn to death without so much as flinching. I will remember this the next time I am faced with a challenge I don’t believe I can complete.

2018 Race Recap #24: The Great Inflatable Race

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The battle weary warriors set about yet another challenge side-by-side.

I’m just going to say it: it’s a stretch to call this a race at all.  It’s the least competitive “race” you’ll see recapped here. Arguably it’s not truly a race at all: “a competition between runners, horses, vehicles, boats, etc., to see which is the fastest in covering a set course.” Early on when I started keeping track of such things I decided I would define a race as more than one person was running and that it met at least two of the following criteria: 1) the event has a given course; 2) the effort was timed; 3) there was a bib or that there was some formal means by which runners are kept track of.  THIS “race” barely qualifies this criteria. Basically, it had a course (Kinda. It was loosely cordoned off by cones on one side – Stay to the right of the cones!) and we got finishers medals.  They do check you in, but that was more to account for the event T-shirts (of which they were out of my size) and to distribute wave bracelets.

So, the obvious question is: if you’re going to goof on the thing, why did you sign up for it? A solid question indeed.  A high-school classmate mentioned he had signed up with his daughters and it looked like a fun time. I recruited my boy, found a Groupon, bought in. Look, worst case scenario was that we’d have a fun time. I’m here to say that mission was accomplished. It was fun.

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Exhibit 1 in support of the idea that this wasn’t the most competitive race out there.

Now, don’t get me wrong. This was low rent. $27 on Groupon, $27 at the official registration page, but that excluded the registration “fee” tacked on as a percentage of the cost of a ticket – buying a Groupon essentially tells the registration site to “comp” the registration so there’s no fee.  It took place on an auto race track site; they hold flea markets and other such things on the grounds. The race itself used the track’s overflow parking area. The inflatables were basically elements from shopping mall parking lot carnivals: not quite fully inflated, perhaps a little suspect. The biggest threat of injury was friction burn from the vinyl inflatables.

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It was a super casual time, but generally organized. They did a pretty good job of keeping the starting wave organized – what could have been a crushing disaster was kept organized and safe. The inflatable obstacles were placed at reasonable distances – there weren’t an over-abundance of them but there were enough. Lines weren’t bunched up and things moved quickly.

It wasn’t quite 2-miles – again, the competitive thing – which was probably a good thing: the temperature was in the mid-to high-70’s with humidity around 85%.  The air was pretty thick and saturated with pollen. They could have done a lot more with the festival area – they had an Italian Ice truck.

So, I haven’t described the most appealing event, have I? Here’s the thing: I had a good time with my boy with the added benefit of seeing my old friend. I went in expecting a low-rent, casual, mostly-fun event. It met those expectations.

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And there it is – finishers of some of the most bad-ass 2-miles of inflatable fury going.

I don’t have results information, because…well, because.  That whole time thing.  My watch had it done in about 34 minutes.

I Spent Zero Time Editing This.

At various points, I’ve fancied myself a bit of a writer. Really, just a whim, a passing interest that occasionally loops around again – more the way a curiosity catches one’s attention every so often, more than any real interest. Perhaps a means to an end when the spirit moves me to communicate an idea or information more than any particular interest. I don’t even know what the point of this post is.

I deal in quantity, volume. I’m a purveyor of words. Words are tools. My main goal is getting the idea out, push it to words, organize it in some manner, shape or form, get it done, move along. I’ll sometimes have a draft sit for a bit, but its a rarity that it ever sees the light of day.  Just to show my commitment to the process, I’ll sometimes even go back and re-read a post once – perhaps even twice – after I’ve posted it. Sometimes. Generally speaking once it’s fully out of my head, I hit “Publish…” and away we go, usually not to revisit it again.

Then there are people like my friend David.  He’s considered, often poetic. He says what he means, deliberates over every comma, every phrase. Endlessly revises. Words are beautiful and exquisite materials with which to build stories.  By the time he pushes that friendly blue “Publish…” button, his work is as exacting as one would expect of a trained writer – one who doesn’t just fancy himself a writer, but one who is actually a writer, an expert wordsmith. Because, well, because he is a trained writer. He gives the impression of a person who not only speaks in well-thought out paragraphs, but thinks in paragraphs. The difference between my work and his is the difference between a framing carpenter and a finish carpenter.

In light of my previous post, I’d like to be clear that I’m not complimenting him at my own expense. His blog is something different from this one, his style is different from mine, his purpose is vastly different. I use words to communicate some ideas; he uses words to tell stories and paint pictures. He paints a picture of his father; I talk about the lessons my dad taught me. Just really different vibes. I read or listen to (audio books are ahh-maaaay-zing things) no less than 30 books a year, but since I left high school, I can count on one hand the number of novels I’ve read; I’m willing to bet his ratio is more a reciprocal of that than not.

It’s a good thing there are more than 300,000 books published every year in the United States – something for everyone.  By the time I press that friendly blue “Publish…” button on this post, the number of blog posts published today will be more than 2.7-Million and counting. A good number are rubbish, but I have to believe a plurality are posted by well-meaning folks with solid things to say. I also have to believe most are purveyors in words – more like me than like David. “Just get it out.” There are the hucksters, building blogs to convey topics and information designed to get you to subscribe so they can make money, unlike either this one or “willwriteforfood,” but I’m also quite sure most of the people who press that friendly blue button are legitimately seeking to express themselves.

Here’s what I’ve come to find: the people who stick with it, the folks who keep coming back – no matter the interval in which they come back – to bang on their keyboard and hit that friendly blue button are the people that actually have things to say, like another friend of mine. Some ten years and 2000 posts later, he still cranks it out.

There is just so many options out there, that if you’re pushing these things out for a reason other than the sheer enjoyment of writing, the need to read your thoughts written out, the desire to convey thoughts, you’re just setting yourself up and wasting your time. The odds of making money on a blog are remote. You’re not going to get famous. Not even for a minute. Just do what you do without expectation. You’ll be happier for it. If its not a labor of love, then you’re just wasting your and (perhaps more importantly) your readers’ time.

This fulfills my need for a place to dump my thoughts and words; for David his blog fulfills a need to paint pictures with his words.   Thanks for being here and indulging my words. There are millions of other posts dated just today to which you could give your attention and a fraction of those 300,000 books published yearly you could tackle. I don’t know why you’re reading this, only that you are, and I appreciate that. If you’re an aspiring writer, perhaps you’ve got some inspiration. If you’re someone who just surfs blogs, fantastic. I hope you come back. There are so many options and choices and directions to go that I hope I’ve provided something of what you came here to find.

2018 Race Recap #22: Boston Spartan Sprint (Open)

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Team Mo, rocking the bling at the finish.

Early this week, my daughter texted me and told me that her plans for today had changed and was wondering if there was a race we could do. As it turns out, there was.  Of course, I was already registered for the Sprint and was kind of hoping to rip it up, but I would run with her.  And then it occurred to me that I didn’t have to make a choice.  Since my debacle with the second Beast a couple of weeks back, I really can’t see my way through to getting another one on the calendar (who knows), so my hope of earning a double trifecta this year has been pretty much shot. So since I had a code for a Sprint I decided to just run a second lap: two laps in the same day only count toward the Trifecta once. Groupon had an afternoon entry AND a discount code, so we were able to pick up a couple of late entries for about $60 each – so I got to run with both.

Also of note, since Spartan considers a second lap of the course a separate race – different bib numbers, second full registration fee, second insurance fee, second shirt, medal – I consider it a second race too. A race like FIT Challenge considers multi-laps an add-on so I consider that the same race. That’s the difference between an entity overly focused on profit margin (and not wholly well run either as illustrated below) and a labor of love that’s actually profitable and well regarded (and well run).

As soon as the first race of the day was finished – it began to rain.  And hard too.  So I took up shelter at the facility’s shooting range and waited for the kids to get there.  Which is another story, and since this is my blog, I’ll happily digress and tell you that story.

On Thursday of this week, Spartan announced it was changing up the usual practice of $10 parking and instead would make parking free and charge $5 per person to ride the shuttle.  After the backlash on social media about this – that it was contradictory to the idea of carpooling, and/or that folks would simply drop off at the facility and then park – it became clear that it wasn’t going to work out quite the way the race anticipated and on Friday they announced a clarification that what they really meant was that it would be $5 per person to ride the shuttle, with a max of $10 per car. Now all well and good for me – because the kids were showing up later and were riding in together, it was $15 instead of $20.

These guys CRUSHED it, and I’m happy they let me tag along.

However, by the time they arrived for our 12:15 heat, the lot was full and they were now redirected to a secondary lot at a college in the next town over – 15 or 20 minutes away.  Now, there was no mention of this lot on the web site and I’m quite sure I received no email about it.  So the kids find the new place, and wait.  And wait. And wait. Because apparently no one told the shuttle drivers to go there…or how to get there.  5 arrived at once, then another that they got on.  Where they would have been 45 minutes early, they now arrived late.  Inexcusable logistics problems by a company that runs races all year across the country AND, let’s not forget this was not the first time they’d run this specific race in this venue.

Remember, it’s now been about 2.5 hours since my first race ended. I’ve been steadily rained on for two hours, muscles cooling off, and pretty sure my body had gone into full recovery mode – even if I’d only run 5-odd miles, it was longer than it had taken me to run the first race.

The rain made the already muddy course ridiculously sloppy – more than a few of the obstacles were almost impassable, Olympus was exponentially more difficult than it was in the morning; the slip wall was true to its name.  The Sandbag Carry and the Herc Hoist were made more difficult with the water having penetrated the bags.  I used the very same station at the Herc Hoist that I had used in the morning and while it’s safe to say fatigue played a part, I’m quite sure it was also much heavier after sitting in the rain.  The bucket carry was more difficult due to the course itself – thicker, sloppier mud made slipping quite the hazard.

All of which said, it was awesome to run with these guys. “Team Mo” was an experience I wouldn’t give back at all. Watching them help each other and support each other. Not a thing better than that.  On this time around the course, I came up with 5.63 miles and 1375′ of elevation gain.

Results (Open)

1:59:51

OVERALL: 1363/ 4655
MALE: 1028/ 2692
M 45-49: 107/ 272

Today Was A Good Day

There was a moment today, there were a few of us tracking one of the guys in our running group as he was attempting a Boston Marathon qualifying time (BQ) for next year, when it really fully occurred to me.  There we were, every few minutes, checking on Bill’s progress in the Providence Marathon, commenting on the ridiculous pacing. No other reason to be cheering for this guy other than the fact that we know him.

And that’s when it occurred to me. I was volunteering with a group of people who make time in their lives to compete, and who join others for accountability and for companionship. It occurred to me that I care about this guy and his sometimes weird foibles because, like the other people I run with, he’s got a good heart, he’s a good guy, and we all share a common interest in running.

I ran a small 5k that my running group was timing. I didn’t run a particularly good race, but it was good enough for 5th place and an age group win. I’ve never actually won a race before and an AG win is about as good as it gets for me.  My squad celebrated with some goofy pictures.

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Caption: “No! Pants stay on!”

We had a fun time, told goofy stories, and celebrated.

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Another post on the club page celebrated a second members’ BQ time today.  Still another celebrated a third club member’s win in another race- Pack Monadnock 10 Miler – with a roster of other club members to run.  Just a ridiculously supportive group of people, thrown together for the sole reason we like to pursue a common hobby, but who are actually supportive of each other.  It’s not often, indeed I think it’s a special thing, when disparate groups of people come together around a common pursuit and support each other in doing what they set out to do.  I think about my half marathon in March when one of the club members taking pictures saw me coming at mile 13, got visibly intense and excited for me and yelled me on – she was excited for me because I was that close to the goal I had articulated of finishing in under 1:50:00.  I finished in 1:49, something I credit in part to seeing her there yelling for me – it was just enough to kick me in the pants enough to find just a little more in the tank.

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Now, here’s the important thing: not one of those posts were from the person who actually DID the thing of some note – it was only after someone else cheered and crowed about the performance did the individual say something.  There were no “I BQ’d today!” posts, there was a post about the journey from surviving advanced cancer and setting this day as a goal after it had been previously mentioned and even then it was about the journey: if couldn’t be farther away from a “lookit me” post.

There are so many inspirational people and things all around if you just take a few moments to look.  For me, it’s the Bills and Karens of the world, who worked hard, struggled, and pushed to get their goals. It’s also the folks that come out to volunteer and time races and share in others’ celebrations. Why wouldn’t you want to surround yourself with people with odd quirks, foibles, and personalities who work hard and are there to celebrate for you when you succeed?

I’ve said before that I actually don’t find running fun, or enjoyable. That’s true. I’ve said I run so I can run, that I like being able to do it. That’s also true. Today was the day I realized that I like it for the community. The accountability, the friendship, and the community.

So, we move on. I’m planning my first marathon, I know someone else who is going to run his first. I’ve cheered for a runner who literally finished last in his first marathon. Why wouldn’t you surround yourself with such people?

2018 Race Recap #20: Corduroy King 5K

Image may contain: 3 people, including Mark Welburn and Jeff Kristoff, people smiling, people standing, outdoor and natureHonestly, this wasn’t my first choice of races when it came up on the calendar. There are a bunch of races I really wanted to be doing today, but familial obligations required I do this one.  Nothing against this race specifically, it’s just I’d rather be doing races with a little more substance to them – a little longer or more difficult. As it happens though, I’ve been dealing with some injury and not running well, so it turns out this was the race I should do. I’m slowly realizing that “what ifs” and “shouldas” do nothing more than suck the life out of your present moment.

It’s also a race to raise money for a good cause – scholarships to an experiential learning program for kids with Autism, so at the end of the day, its not as if anything bad came out of it. Lastly, it was my very first 5k ever a few years ago, so if for no other reason, it should hold a little extra special place in my heart.

The course is about as flat as one gets and it was a smaller group – perhaps 70 or so runners and walkers.  Despite my myriad dents and dings, I got out to a decent start…and about 0.1 mile in I realized my shoe was untied so I had to stop…and let everyone I had just passed, run by me. I picked it back up and ran by them again, this time more or less for good.  My piriformis is still giving me fits, so I wasn’t running as hard as I’d prefer, but for the most part it felt good during the race.

The last 0.1 mile is pretty much down hill, so I started a full on sprint from the 3-mile mark through the finish.  For that tenth-mile, my pace was 6-min/mile.  For the rest of the race it was right around 8-min/mile.  So, a rather disappointing time – made moreso because my running club was timing the race, so I got to be disappointed in the company of friends. That said, I finished 5th overall and won my age division, so I can’t be too grumpy about the situation…and having friends at the finish was a big rush, and may have fueled the sprint I was just talking about – we may never know.

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As it turned out, my kids each won their respective age groups too, so we all got some spiffy medals.

Results:

2018: 24:54
2016: 25:55
2015: 35:40