Saturday, February 27, 2010

Colchester Half Marathon

The weather could not have been more beautiful for today's Colchester Half Marathon. It snowed 5 or 6 inches last night and the ground and trees were covered, but the temperature was above 32, so the roads were mostly clear. It made for a peaceful and spectacular run through the hills of Eastern Connecticut. I went with three New Haven friends and we we all agree--it was a GREAT race.

I signed up at the last minute, (after already committing myself to a half in Wilmington, Delaware on March 21), so I was viewing today as a long, slowish training run. For me, that translates to 9:30 per mile. But once I got out there and felt the vibe in the crowd and saw just how stinkin' beautiful it was, I couldn't help but go a little faster. I finished in 1:51:03, for an 8:28 per mile pace. I was more than happy with my time, especially given how hilly the course was.

My only complaint about the entire experience is that the final mile+ is uphill. That hurt. A lot.

On the other hand, (and more than making up for the hill at the end), everyone was happy and welcoming and the post-race meal was excellent.

Even though I live in Connecticut, this is my first half marathon in the state and gets me one step closer to my ultimate goal of running a half marathon in all 50 states.


Thursday, February 25, 2010

High Plains Running


I went for the craziest ten-mile run of my life this morning. Six inches of cold, powdery snow fell two days ago and then asteady 25 to 30 miles-per-hour wind started blowing from the West. Sometimes after a storm, the wind comes down the East slope of the Rockies and out into the Plains, sweeping everything not tied down out ahead of it. The snow streaks across the roads and freezes into a super-slick layer of black ice or gathers into drifts many-inches deep halfway across the lanes of traffic. On a short drive from Billings to Laurel yesterday we passed at least five cars that had spun off the highway and into the ditches on either side of the road.

I am signed-up to run a half marathon in New Hampshire on February 15, so I am on a training schedule that had me doing a ten-mile run today. It seemed like a good idea for me to get out into the cold and the wind—(mid-February on the coast of New Hampshire might just be the same)—so I put on my new Secret Santa running shorts from my cousin Nicole and an undershirt beneath my running shirt and out the door I went.

I got on First Avenue and headed uphill, slowly running my way out of the valley. It was very windy and as the road turned slightly east of north, it struck me that the wind that was whipping me along from behind would soon enough be pummeling me from the front when I turned back for the return five miles. The snow from two days ago was still very light and powdery and the wind was such that the blowing snow never got any higher than six inches off of the ground. It whipped across the fields and across the road in a serpentine motion—looking more like smoke or steam than snow.

The way the blowing snow looked combined with the way it stung my ankles and lower calves to make me think of malicious spirits. I was reminded of Tolkein’s description of Ring Wraiths or the movie depiction of Voldemort in the first Harry Potter film—before He Who Shall Not Be Named has found a body to inhabit.

There was one advantage to the relentless wind that I could not have predicted in advance of my run. Wildlife on the sides of the road couldn’t hear me coming until I was right next to them. In this way I managed to get within 20 feet of a bald eagle as it stood in the snow and picked at the frozen carcass of a mule deer. When the bird finally saw me it didn’t lurch or panic at all. It fixed me in its sharp yellow eye, held steady for a long moment, and then simply opened its wings into the strong headwind and with a slight change in the angle of its feathers it rose up and drifted away in a graceful arc to the east, out over a stumpy cornfield.

I watched the bird for a long moment and then continued my run. By the time I had gone another quarter mile up the road the eagle had circled back around and was once again tearing chunks off of the roadkill deer.

Once I had gone five miles up the road, out of the valley and into the high plains, I had gotten into a rhythm and felt the impulse to just keep running and running and running. The land was so big and the sky so open and the morning so extreme that part of me wanted to be extreme, too. What would happen if I just kept going? How far could I go? My body felt like a machine and the motion was hypnotizing. What I really wanted was to be that eagle and be carried on the wind for as long as it would blow. I felt myself disappearing into the landscape—a tiny dot in the vast sage and scrub landscape. I had no sense of struggle, no awareness of the cold. I was simply moving and wanted to keep moving.

Eventually I turned around, into the wind, and the run became work again. A friendly woman driving by stopped and asked if I wanted a ride back to town. She was apparently moved to pity by the crust of ice coating my lower legs and my beard and mustache. I politely declined her offer and made it back to Grandpa Andy’s house, glad I had made myself go out and sure that my half marathon would be better because of it.

I am also glad that I have my memory of that eagle and of the feeling of self-abnegation that running can sometimes bring.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Going Half Hog

The following post was written just after my 44th birthday, on November 9, 2009. I repost it here to explain the genesis of my decision to run a half marathon in all 50 states.

I went up to Portsmouth, New Hampshire last weekend for a half marathon. It was part of a commitment I made to myself last year that I would run a half marathon every three months until I die. (If you’re going to do something, you might as well go whole hog, right?) Since the promise, I have run the Missoula (MT) Half Marathon twice, the Monson (MA) Memorial Half Marathon, the LOCO Half at the Hamptons (NH), and Boston’s Run to Remember Half Marathon.

Sunday was a beautiful day, so as I waited for the race to start I sat outside stretching in the grass behind Portsmouth High School. After a while I noticed an older woman standing not so far away and, because talking to strangers does not come naturally to me, I made myself walk over and start a conversation with her. Her name was Nancy and she was running the Seacoast Half Marathon as the final leg in her goal to race a half marathon in each of the fifty United States.

We talked for twenty minutes and her story impressed the heck out of me. She didn’t once talk about her times or her pace. For her it was all about being in the race. My conversation with Nancy ended when we got the “ten minutes ‘til start” announcement. We wished each other luck and shortly after, I lost sight of Nancy. Based on the fire and zest for life she showed during our conversation, I am sure she finished and made good on her goal.

While I was running through Portsmouth, my wife, Erica, was jumping out of a perfectly good airplane three times. These jumps were part of a commitment she has made to get licensed to jump on her own anywhere, anytime. (Talk about whole hog!)

After the race, during the 200-mile drive home, I got to thinking about Nancy and about Erica and about going whole hog. And I made up my mind right there on the spot—right where I-95 gets onto I-495 up in the northeast corner of Massachusetts—that I am going to do the same as Nancy. I am going to run a half marathon in all 50 states. I can’t yet put a timeframe on the deal, but I am going to do it.

I have four states down already, if you include the full marathon I ran in Corning, New York in 2002. If you don’t count the Wineglass Marathon, then I have three states down and 47 to go. [I guess this is one of the many technical decisions I will have to make along the way. Nancy was explaining that several of her halfs went through more than one state. She had to decide if those races counted as one state or more. (She decided to count those multi-state races as only one state.)]

Well, what the heck? Here goes nothing. I hereby commit to running a half marathon in every state in the union before I die. So help me, God. I think I will call it going “half hog.” I will keep you posted.

Results: click and then search for the name Dawson from New Haven, CT