Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Running and Racing: A Musical Review

The Start
Everyone has to do Falmouth at least once. If you haven't run this classic race yet and you live in New England you should give it a try. Many years ago, Runner's World Magazine did an article on the Falmouth Road Race and they refererred to the "Winding roads that seem to beckon" from an old Patti Page song called "Old Cape Cod". Falmouth is a magical race. I love the history of the race, as well as it being the race that follows the roads of the town where I grew up. I have great memories on these winding roads! Unfortunately, many competitive runners now pass it by. But really, it should be on your list of must do races.

This year I went down Friday night and picked up my race number at Falmouth High School. I was there when autographs were about to start, so I got in the short line because I wanted to meet Meb Keflezighi. Meb decided not to run Falmouth the day before, but as soon as I finished he was the first one shaking hands of us runners after we crossed the finish line.

He was there with his Olympic marathon silver medal and the New York City Marathon gold medal. What was neat was that he let me and others hold the medals. The Olympic medal in particular is getting worn out! I really appreciate that Meb "shares" these medals rather than lock them away for safe-keeping.

 I also got to say hello to Catherine Ndereba. Frank Shorter, Bill Rodgers, Joan Benoit-Samuelson, and wheelchair competitor Craig Blanchette. Frank and Bill were there regular friendly selves and we talked a bit about running Famouth back in the 1970's. I asked Joan when she would run her next marathon. She said Chicago this year. I asked her about running sub 3 and making it into the sub 3 hour marathon in five decades club. She remarked about it a bit, then her whole demeaner changed, she said what she really wanted was to be in the sub 2:50 marathons in 5 decades club. There was a huge competitive fire and drive in how she said this. I would put my money on her easily going sub 2:50 in Chicago.

I went back to the high school to watch the Falmouth Miles. This year they had high school miles for the first time. Unfortunately only two women were in the elite mile, but it was still a good race. The men's race had Olympic 1500 meters silver medalist Nick Willis making a comeback from injury race. He was outsprinted at the finish line as the first two runners broke a 4 minute mile. When you go to Falmouth, you have to watch the miles, they are a lot of fun.It is also run on the track where I started my cross-country  running career back in 1973.  Here is the video I took of Russell Brown outsprinting Nick Willis in the mile.

I guess the best word to describe the  Falmouth Road Race is "efficient". From the buses taking you to the start to all parts of the race, it seems the race organizers have it down to an efficient process. This is good as the race works year after year. It also means it lacks a litte pizzazz as you get used to things always being the same. The t-shirts always have the same design, you get a coffee cup at number pick-up, and everything seems the same. Interchange a few Kenyan (and now Ethiopian) runners with a few top-Americans and the race always seems to turn out in a similar fashion. I would love to see more of the very top American runners show up for the race. I would love to see a little less effeciancy and a more go-for broke effort to bring back the competitiveness of the 70's and 80's back into the race. It would be great to get the top New England runners back to Falmouth. As I line up at the start there are the top runners and a bunch of familiar faces of people I see back at Falmouth every year. I don't see the local road racing crowd. What goes on behind the elite corral, where I am situated is unclear to me. I know there are some runners looking to do well, but there are mostly running tourists. Runners who do Falmouth and it might be there only race of the year and quite possibly there longest run of the year. This is great, but in the end, I just wish more of the "running club" runners would get a taste of Falmouth.

This year's race saw me feeling pretty good at the start. I was able to do strides and a warm up without feeling so stiff like I have been recently and it was an incredibly gorgeous and cool summer day for the race. When the gun went off it was a bit crowded until the first corner and then I started getting more room. I hit the mile at Nobska Lighthouse slower than I wanted, but from then on I think I pretty much kept the same pace throughout the race, which meant I was slowly passing runners the whole race, and was rarely passed at all. I never really sightsee as I run Falmouth, but I got that sense of blue ocean over to my right side as well as that salty air smell and I felt right at home. I ran at a good pace and effort, but didn't really push things.

Here is a video someone posted (there is not much online that I can find) of the lead runners running up Shore Road (right in front of a house one of my good friends used to live in). It is about 4 3/4 miles into the race.

At the 6 mile point, I noticed an old friend named Stewart Johnston at the side of the road and called out to him. His brother was the 8th place finisher at the first Falmouth Road Race. We both went out for cross-country together in 9th grade two weeks after that race and traded last place finishes at races throughout that season. Stu never ran again after that year. I haven't stopped.

I finished the race this year in 301st place in 47:12. Pretty much where I finished in 2009. The Wall Street Journal had an article after the race by Cameron Stracher called Slow and Steady Loses the Race. I don't think it is entirely accurate. He states that, "the increasing popularity of running coincides with the decreasing competitiveness of the U.S. runner." I actually started Falmouth this year standing next to the aurthor. In the article he mentions the Falmouth Road Race, "At the seven-mile Falmouth Road Race, in 1979, a finishing time of 36 minutes was good enough only for 84th place. But in 2009, the same time would have earned 34th place." I don't know how everyone else is doing, but I ran the 1979 Falmouth Road Race in 46:10 and this year I ran 47:12. It looks like I only lost a minute in 31 years, which is part of what is wrong with the article because it is hard to compare years. I did only run 38 miles in July and August 1979 before running Falmouth as I was traveling overseas.

If Falmouth is too busy for you, you can always run the same course at the Falmouth in the Fall road race.

Sunday I ran the Moose on the Loose 10 mile trail race back in Mines Falls inNashua. I finished in 8th place with a time of 1:07:59. My hips were not working in coordination so I had a hard time getting comfortable, which was too bad because I was feeling good energy-wise. Halfway through the race, I noticed two runners ahead of me who looked like they could be in my age division. I picked off one of them but the other guy had over a 30 second lead by the high school bridge (less than a mile before the last of four laps). I put my head down a bit more and started passing a few people then I noticed I was catching the guy in front of me. I caught him at the bridge and ended up winning my age division by 16 seconds. That means I was given an award for being the RRCA state champion in my age group (50+) which on the plaque is called the "Grandmaster" division. So I guess now I can become a rapper.

Monday night I showed up for the last of the Gate City Striders Mine Falls trail races. I didn't feel like racing so jogged it and finished in dead last place. OK it was  handicap race and only a couple of runners started behind me and they passed quickly so I basically ran by myself and did so at an enjoyable pace, and you know what? I had a fun time! I think it is called a "training run" and I have been doing so much racing lately that I haven't had many of those! I ran about 4 minutes slower than last week and finished 59 out of 59. Sometimes you just want to finish last.

I did win my age group in the 2nd half of the race series. I think I ran all of the races in both series except for one week in the first half. What a great series it is to run and much thanks to Mike Wade, the volunteers, and the Gate City Striders for putting on this fun series of low-key races. This is the water bottle you get for winning your age group.

photo Ted Tyler

Tuesday night I had another last race in a race series. This is the first year I have done the Good Times series of races down in Lowell. I had a good time with these too. I ran my course PR with a 19:13. That means I got three awards at the award ceremony. A mylie for setting a PR, a Golden Mylie for running all 8 races in the summer series, and a first place plaque for winning the 50-59 age group.

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