Archive for June, 2007

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#22 – Look at the Clouds

26 June 2007

Suffering through a tempo run in today’s 90-degree heat, I cranked up the volume on my iPod in an attempt to distract me from the discomfort. The song that happened to be playing was Little Fluffy Clouds by Orb, which naturally caused my gaze to drift upwards to the clouds. That’s when I saw it…

An elephant. Or rather, a cloud in which my weary mind saw an elephant. Better yet, the elephant was carrying a civil war cannon on its back! Then I spotted a small, round cloud – the cannonball! Emerging from the hazy sky was a giant moray eel, jaws agape, ready to snatch that cannonball for lunch. I kept watching as the wind slowly removed the elephant’s head from its body and dislocated the eel’s jaw.

By the time my eyes returned their focus back to the sidewalk I realized that the song was over and I was half a mile farther down the sidewalk. Seizing upon this newfound method to pass the time, I took a drink of water and then looked up at the clouds again. Within a minute I spotted a giant rabbit with four ears! A few minutes later appeared a turtle with the head of a snail.

I wound up spending half of my run searching for creatures and other objects among the drifting clouds, a great way to escape the pain of a tempo run on a withering, muggy afternoon!

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#21 – Fire Hydrant Fartlek

24 June 2007

Usually when I run during lunch at work it’s at an easy pace, but Friday I was scheduled for a harder workout. I ran the same old five-mile route but this time I found a way to make it interesting – I fartlek’ed between each fire hydrant!

The sidewalk has fire hydrants stationed along it at near-regular intervals. After a five minute warm up, at the first hydrant I ran hard until the next one, where I slowed to an easy jog until the next hydrant, at which I ran hard again. It came out to about 30 seconds of hard running alternating with 45 seconds of easy jogging, over and over again. Boy did I get worn out!

Next time you grow tired of a routine running route, spice it up with a fartlek! If there are no fire hydrants, use driveways, telephone poles, streetlights or even trees to mark the “finish lines” for each of fast segments of a fartlek. This even works well for groups since each runner can go their own speed during the fast intervals and then allow everyone to regroup during the slow recovery.

Who says that only dogs can enjoy fire hydrants? 🙂

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#20 – Healthy Paws Healthy Cause Fun Run

16 June 2007

What is more fun than running a race? Running a race with my dogs! This morning I was joined by Haven and Beacon for the 1st annual Healthy Paws Healthy Cause Fun Run, a 4-mile event for dogs and their people. I’ve done two 5Ks with Haven before, but I’ve never attempted a race while being hitched to both of my wannabe sled dogs! This should be interesting…

The event was organized by the Cascade Hospital for Animals with proceeds to benefit Mackenzie’s Animal Sanctuary. There were no age groups, awards, or even official results – it’s just what it says, a “fun run” to get folks out enjoying the morning with their dogs. Over 80 people signed up, not bad for the first ever event. The race director I recognized (via her dog!) as Dr. Happel, the runner that I barely out-kicked at the finish of the 2006 Bailey’s Doggie Dash (if you follow the link, she’s in the orange shirt in the photos on the bottom row of the page).

Going into this race I wasn’t planning to run all out; rather, I wanted to maintain a tempo pace as best I could but primarily just have fun with Haven and Beacon. Since most participants were planning to walk, I lined up near the front; there were about 7 runners ahead of me. Dogs and people were still milling about – in fact, one lady was petting Haven – when the race director shouted out “Five seconds!” And we’re off!

The guy at the front broke free quickly and Haven and Beacon decided to chase him – hard! I had no choice but to join their pursuit and within 100 yards of the start we had passed everyone except the leader! It turns out that only eight people were running; the rest were walkers. I pulled alongside the front guy and we sheepishly confided that it felt rather weird to be leading a race. We kept looking back for a while, assuming that some fast runners would blow by us.

We chatted for the first mile where I learned that his dog – weimaraner named Bailey (not the one from Bailey’s Doggie Dash) – was five years old, just a year old than my two pups. She loves the water and behaves well on a leash; so well in fact that the guy (funny how I know his dog’s name but never learned his!) had the handle of his flexi-lead in his shorts pocket the whole time. If I tried that with my dogs they’d rip my shorts right off me!

With Haven and Beacon leading the way we cruised past the first mile marker in 6:45, a very fast pace for me. The course then ascended a moderate hill and Bailey’s owner exlaimed “Uh oh Bailey, daddy’s not feeling too good!” and sure enough, he began to fall back as my dogs pulled me upward. Going down the hill my feet were burning – I realized that I hadn’t tied my shoelaces tight enough and the soles of my feet were sliding along the bed of my shoe.

Mile two was the beginning of an undulating portion of the course, most of which was run on paved pedestrian paths. With nobody to chase, Haven and Beacon slowed their pace and were no longer pulling me up the hills. Around mile 2.5 Bailey and her owner caught up with us and we ran side-by-side for the next half mile. This time we didn’t say anything as we all needed to conserve our oxygen.

Somehow I must’ve programmed my dogs for a 5K distance (maybe they read my blog?) because soon after we passed the third mile marker (in 21:50, not bad!) they slowed waaaay down. Bailey and her runner kept their momentum going and pulled steadily away from us as I was forced to drag Haven and Beacon forward! Those lazy dogs. 🙂 Finally they realized I wasn’t going to stop and they ran beside me the rest of the way.

We passed some pedestrians going the opposite way to relayed to me that the guy ahead of me “was very concerned that I would catch him”, but I told them he had nothing to worry about. Not only were my dogs worn out, I was out of energy as well and we struggled most of the last mile. After passing Amanda with her camera, we finally reached the finish line! Sure enough Bailey had won and Haven and Beacon shared second place just one minute behind in 30:29. It was about five minutes until the next runners began showing up. Walkers continued to trickle into the finish for the next hour.

The organizers thought of everything, providing water (for both humans and canines), bagels, bananas, donuts, and dog treats for the finishers. Haven and Beacon eagerly helped themselves to some water while I shared a banana with Haven. After eating my peanut-covered donut, the dogs both got some treats and then finally I remembered to drink some water myself. Once we got home Amanda had the three of us pose for the obligatory post-race photo, all sporting our event t-shirt and bandanas. Haven and Beacon are now fast asleep at my feet. 🙂 What a fun race!

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#19 – Run Down Memory Lane

10 June 2007

Reason #18 took me back to some bad high school memories; this entry is going back even further to some happy days of elementary school.

Sometimes it feels weird that I’m living in Lowell, Michigan – it’s the same small town where I went to elementary school before my family moved across the state to Ann Arbor. Until moving here four years ago I hadn’t really been back, and I’m still finding things that jog my memory.

Saturday I went for an easy long run of 8.5 miles but never got farther than 2 miles from home. I merely wandered around downtown Lowell, camera in hand, checking out the early morning sights. This is a great way to run! I had no plan other than to run for about 1.5 hours. At one point I found myself running past Bushnell Elementary School, the same one I had attended years ago kindergarten through fourth grade.

It was right next to that tree that I got my first “kiss”… At the end of a first grade recess as we lined up along the brick wall to come back inside, a girl named Lisa ran up and planted one on me! I tattled to the teacher, none too pleased since she now claimed that we were married! It turns out she had been to a wedding the previous weekend and apparently decided I was a pretty good guy. 🙂

Running a loop in the parking lot took me past the playground – I was shocked to see that some of my old favorites were still there! The dome-shaped structure on the left we called the “upside-down eagle’s nest” and on the right are the “monkey bars”. The slide in the middle is new, but the other two were climbed by yours truly!

One of the cool things about modern-day Bushnell Elementary is that my former kindergarten teacher is now the principal. A couple months ago I had a day off from work and on a whim stopped by to say hi and she remembered me! Of course she called me “Andy” instead of the “Andrew” that I currently go by. 🙂

Continuing past the school I came upon Richards Park, a cozy one-block square park that’s been around for over 150 years! In the background behind the sign is a skating rink – during the winter water is poured inside the raised berm to create the frozen surface.

In 2nd or 3rd grade I made a model of that park for a school project. Once again I was surprised to see that the playground equipment I had modeled is all still standing over 20 years later! When I laced up my running shoes that morning I certainly wasn’t expecting to see these items from my past. I’ll have to go for more runs like this and see what else I can re-discover!

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#18 – The Path is the Story

6 June 2007

Trail running blogger Scott Dunlap wrote a touching article about his recent 50K race. Due to witnessing a horrific event days before he was mentally and emotionally drained to the point that he barely finished. Usually this speedy guy is among the fastest finishers! During my 6-mile run today I was thinking about Scott’s story and how it reminded me of a run I struggled through in high school…

Early morning April 5, 1994 one of my best friends killed himself – it was the day after my 18th birthday. What caused Jamey’s death and how it affected my friends and I is a novel unto itself that I won’t get into here. Where this story relates to running is that Jamey is the reason I joined the track team. Monday, April 4 in the school hallway after track practice was the last time I saw and talked to my friend.

When we learned of his death on Tuesday morning, my mind felt numb yet on high alert at the same time. The track team had a meet that evening and I remember being surprised that it was canceled; I hadn’t planned on racing but I figured the rest of the team would still go. Funny how the mind works under stress.

Same goes for the body. Wednesday after school I went to track practice – my first one without Jamey running next to me. The coach was kind to us and asked only that we run 4 miles and go home. I decided to run this practice loop in Jamey’s honor – I was going to will myself to run the fastest 4 miles of my life; I believed that my memory of Jamey would transcend any physical limitations and send me flying across the sidewalks in storybook fashion.

It was the worst run of my life. I started out fast and soon was gasping for air, watching my teammates run ahead and out of sight. I tried to speed up but my legs wouldn’t respond. Then it began to snow. In April! Trudging up a slight hill I gave up and slowed to a walk, shivering and alone on a long strip of concrete. It was supposed to be the greatest run but there I was, staggering among the spring snowflakes. I can’t remember the rest of the run but somehow I made it back to school.

One of my favorite aspects of running is that it is a microcosm of real life. Life is unfathomably complex yet running is simple; lessons learned from various running experiences can be extrapolated into lessons to guide us in life. No matter how much we care, no matter how hard we try, we’re only human.

That awful run in high school did teach me a lesson – we can’t force a storybook ending. Some chapters end in tragedy; some end in glory. As long as we’re reading the book, we’re going to experience both. Trying to skip the terrible pages is delusional at best. All we can do is run, just run and follow the path. The path is the story and if we can stay on it, we’ll experience all of the great moments, good and bad.

I was impressed how Scott Dunlap sought and found some solace in running his ultramarathon. He simply ran and let the trail take him where he knew he needed to go. When Jamey died so many years ago, I thought that I could save my friend by going running. What I should’ve done was go running simply to save myself. Live and learn. And run.

Run I did – today was a beautiful, sunny 62 degrees and my feet floated across the sidewalks for six miles. For whatever reason, today was one of the chapters that ended happily ever after. It’s depressing to know that Jamey ran his last run years ago, yet it’s uplifting to remind myself that hey, I’m still alive, healthy, and enjoying a good run.