Blow Up Your iPhone!!!! Please?!?

One of the things I (used to) look forward to before any race, be it a local 5K or a Big Event I’d been training for in solitude for several months, is the opportunity to commune with my fellow running humans before and during the race.  Well, it pains me to report that it’s really hard to find any kind of camaraderie in the start chute or on the course anymore, when fully 75% of all runners seem to have audio equipment stuffed into their ears, fully engulfed in music.

Also, I could not help but notice people whining on the ol’ face books about their GPS malfunctioning during parts of last weekend’s race in Trenton. Oh, boo-fucking-hoo!!!  Seriously?  Will someone please explain to me how this enhances your experience in any way?  If you refuse to run, or somehow find your running experience diminished, without a satellite telling you where you are, you should seek professional help immediately.  I know where I am.  I’m right here.  Thank you very much.

In a nutshell: I run to escape technology, not to become further enslaved by it.  Staring at a screen all day, I fucking live for the 4-10 hours a week where I can completely unplug, and work on my hobby with nothing more complicated than a watch on my arm.  I pity those who cannot or will not do the same.

I should not have to get this out of the way, but I will:  I love music.  Love, love, LOVE it.  And I am aware of the literature linking motivational music to enhanced performance, not to mention its anesthetic properties regarding the task at hand.  Still, I don’t need it pounding in my ears for one to four hours while I’m out running.  Having spent nearly half my life as an extremely amateur drummer (with occasional flashes of actual proficiency), my mental jukebox can dial up any of literally thousands of songs, from AC/DC to Zeppelin.  And I use this skill with alarming frequency.  Sometimes I forget all the lyrics or skip a verse, but it gets the job done.

My sister has told me on more than one occasion “I have no idea how you can be alone with your thoughts for that long.”  Granted, my thoughts are generally vile, disgusting, and self-deprecating, but overall, running actually empties my head, which I find to actually improve my performance in other aspects of life.

I know you’re by now dying for a few more reasons why else would I never think of taking my so-called smartphone along with me on my runs, so read on, kids!

Fancy traveling man that I am, I often find myself running in sketchy neighborhoods in the predawn darkness.  With nothing but a hotel room key stuffed down my compression shirt, this has rarely concerned me.  That said, doing the same thing with several hundred dollars’ worth of electronics strapped to my arm – a glowing beacon that might as well scream “Rob Me!” – seems like a very unintelligent thing to do.

Taking the whole personal safety thing one step further, I am at a loss to explain why any person with an IQ north of room temperature would go out for a run – especially on roads – equipped with anything less than 100% awareness of his or her surroundings.  In my experience, my ears have often been more important than my eyes in keeping me out of trouble out there.

Then, there are the races.  One of my favorite things about race day is that lift you get from the crowd, the random people cheering you on; by name even, if the bibs are equipped so as to identify you personally.  Why would you want to miss out on that by having Slayer, or Foster the People, or Barry Manilow drilling into your cerebral cortex?

Lastly, it’s pretty much a given that technology will, at least occasionally, let you down.  As in physically fail you, and at the worst possible moment.  I think some guy named Murphy had something to say about that.  So what do you do when you’ve been using a training aid (crutch?) for months, and it craps out on you in the last third of your Big Event?  Where are you now?  This past Saturday, I was stupefied at how many people would stop running in the middle of a half-marathon, in order to dick around with their electronic devices.  It simply blew my mind.  I can guarantee you that any of a host of issues will bog me down in Philadelphia on Sunday, but they will all be purely biological.  Why leave yet another thing to chance?

Where this tirade has inevitably taken me is to the point where I explain how I always get a chuckle when I read a race FAQ that says something like “the use of headphones on the race course is strictly prohibited.” (at a minimum, race organizers at least officially frown on this practice).  Heh. Heh.  Of course headphones are prohibited.  Of course everyone will obey this more-or-less unenforceable mandate, and of course I will not nearly be knocked over four or five times by people who decide at the last minute to cut clear across the road to the water table, absolutely oblivious to everyone around them.  Feh.

By the very nature of this activity, we are a self-absorbed lot, and we are not going to do (or not do) something simply because a race organizer says so.  It’s all about “me,” people.

It saddens (and occasionally infuriates) me that we seem completely unable to just go out and do anything anymore – even the purest, most natural fitness activity known to humankind – without being tethered to technology.  I weep for the future.

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Trenton Double Cross 10K: 6.2 Miles

Back to normal in Greater Trenton; at least my home was.  All facilities fully operational, I was able to actually resume earning a living, so I hopped a train down to our nation’s Capital Tuesday night, for a Wednesday meeting.  Having dinner at a DC bar on a Presidential Election Day evening was quite a special treat.  Calling it “Super Bowl Tuesday for Dweebs” does an all-around disservice, but that’s the best I can come up with right now.  However, when CNN called the extremely important state of Vermont for Obama, the crowd reacted as if the Redskins had just returned an overtime kickoff for a touchdown.  Some dude in the john asked me if “they called Ohio” yet (It was only 8:00. The freakin’ polls just closed.  Amateur.).  I’m just sayin’, if it walks like a duck…

There are few things I enjoy more than getting up before dawn and banging out some miles in DC, starting at my Chinatown hotel, and doing a nice loop that stretches from the Capitol to the Lincoln Monument.  It fills me with an energy that I can’t quite put my finger on, but it’s awesome.  And when it’s not being done in the dank, fetid heat (yes, even at 5:00 am) of a Washington summer?  Well, that’s just gravy.

This set me up for Trenton’s inaugural Double Cross Half Marathon and 10-K on Saturday morning.  I really, REALLY wanted to run the half, but my “virtual coaches” forbade it.  And really, how could I live with myself if I were to do something to compromise my performance in Philadelphia next week?  I donned my 10-K bib with a bit of self-consciousness, and wanted to wear a sign that read “I’m Running a Marathon in Eight Days!  Seriously!”  To be sure, I informed the few acquaintances I came across that I was indeed “only” doing the 10K for that very reason.  Narcissistic jackass.

This first go at a distance race in Trenton was not without its logistical hiccups, from an organizational standpoint.  I had the advantage of knowing my way around the city to find parking, and that the staging area was an extremely walkable distance from there; those who did not were likely no end frazzled.  On top of that, the race started a half-hour late.  For my purposes, this was not a big deal, but the 13.1-ers who timed all their pre-race rituals down to the minute were likely pretty pissed.  Still, the 2,500 runners in attendance largely took it in…stride.  Ha.  Get it?!?

My goal was to run hard, while not trying anything stupid.  A few weeks ago, I was hoping to come in at under an hour, but later said “Fuck it; let’s shoot for 55:00.”  With only about 600 of us 10K-ers in the chute, I casually settled in with the first third of the pack for the starter’s muskets.  Yes, muskets.  Three Revolutionary War re-enactors, firing muskets.  Crossroads of the Revolution, baby!

Running on Trenton streets and expressways that were cleared of vehicular traffic was super cool, in a “28 Days Later” kind of way.  At least partially owing to the small field, most of the course was largely devoid of spectators.  Crossing the Delaware via the “Trenton Makes” bridge on a beautifully crisp November morning, I thought to myself that it was moments like this that make all the training worthwhile.  I also thought that running on steel deck bridges left something to be desired.  The way the course was laid out, we started to pass a lot of 13.1 “roadkill” on the Morrisville (PA) side.  On the flip side, I crossed the Calhoun Street bridge and picked up Route 29, only to be continually smoked by the really good runners, well on their way to clocking sub-1:30 times in the half.

My wife and son were waiting for me at the entrance to Waterfront Park, where the course took a trip around the outfield warning track, then down the third base line to the finish line at home plate.  I clocked a 54:20, which easily bested my goal.  At this point in my running career, I never, ever (well, almost never) compare myself to other runners, but I could not help but notice that I came in 71st out of 591, 32nd among those with y-chromosomes, and 13th in my age group.  Armed with those data, I could only conclude that this first-year event drew an exceedingly weak field.  Still, I’ll take it.

I’m sure they will probably never see this, yet I must join (what I would hope to be) many others in thanking the organizers of the Trenton Double Cross for staging this race.  You took a chance on Trenton – a city that really needs something, anything positive to happen within her confines – and it looks like it paid off.  Here’s hoping you laid the cornerstone for what will become a proud and long-lasting tradition.

Sandy Cures Taper Madness: 12 Miles

By the time Sandy made her evil presence known, the apex of my training calendar, some 36 hours past, was a distant memory.  I was no longer thinking about a marathon; I was barely even thinking about running.  Warmth and electricity were pretty much all that would be on our minds for the better part of the week.  Without going into great detail, I will just say that all things considered, our neighborhood got off so incredibly easy.  Seventy-two hours without power and ten days without our bundled services from Verizon were a mere hangnail, compared with the hands dealt to countless others in our region.

As one might imagine, the trunk-, limb-, and power line-strewn roads of our local towns made running al fresco a monumentally stupid idea.  By a stroke of good fortune that I neither deserve nor am able to explain, one important edifice in Ewing was among those spared the worst of Sandy’s wrath: the building that houses my both my son’s day care center, and my health club.

Enter the Treadmill.

I hate the treadmill with the power of a million suns.  It is my running venue of last resort; say, after dark in Kingston, Jamaica.  In this case, however, I made do.  For practical reasons, I had to curtail my medium Wednesday run (sorry, six miles is my limit on the conveyor belt, marathon or no marathon), but otherwise, I was able to pretty much stick with the plan until our lights came back on, and our area returned to something approaching normal.  The ability to get some legitimate exercise under my belt in the wake of this meteorological gut punch gave me a several hours of sanity, along with no small dose of survivor’s guilt.  I had a difficult time reconciling my selfish activity with the on-screen images of Shore towns that appeared to have been leveled by atomic warheads, but any port in a storm, right?*

Oh, and the sauna and hot showers certainly sweetened the deal.

The long run on Saturday was strangely refreshing.  As was promised to me by Hal Higdon, I really could feel my legs starting to come back, and I put this one behind me at a rather alarming pace, actually flirting with ten-minute miles.

As good as it was to not think about the taper this week, I wish there had been a less destructive way to get it off my mind.

*Oh my, I’m going to hell for that one.

Redemption: 20 Miles

Apologies to the one or two people who read this; on account of that whole Sandy mess, I’m just returning to full functionality on the ol’ inter tubes, after ten days offline; I enjoy writing SFoT, but not nearly enough to bother thumbing out entries on my so-called smartphone.  Factor in the work mess from which I still need to extricate myself in the wake of the unplanned, unpaid “vacation” that followed Sandy’s wrath, and you can see why I’ve been AWOL for a few weeks.

You may recall that my 18-mile training run was a bit of a disaster: the wall, leg cramps, almost died, yada yada yada.  My “virtual coaches” assured me that I would bounce back in time for the 20; “take it slow” was the consensus.  Also, in an effort to ward off cramping, I had two bananas before setting off, and filled two of the bottles on my belt with Gatorade, rather than water.

I was treated to an Autumn morning, the likes of which I couldn’t have done a better job creating, even with my own personal weather machine.  Heeding the advice of those who have gone before me, I took it slow.  Really slow.  Just-fucking-finish slow.  As a result, I realized the heretofore laughable achievement of running twenty miles.  On the same day.  In a row.  Without stopping.

When I just-fucking-finished, I didn’t think “Oh well.  My goose is cooked.  There is no WAY I will ever be able to run another hour (plus…very much plus) after doing THAT.”  I felt eerily calm.  I just went into the kitchen, brewed a cup of coffee, ate something, hosed down, and was out the door with the family in under an hour.

Being on my feet for several hours after was a blessing and a curse.  I probably felt better Sunday morning than I would have, had I parked my ass in front of the TV for several hours with a pizza and a six-pack.  Which was for the best, because shit was about to get REAL in New Jersey, in less than 24 hours.