Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Prairie Fire 5k - Wichita, KS

We were in Wichita on the second weekend in October to see old friends and participate in the Prairie Fire 5k. A Sunday morning race, we arrived on Friday evening to spend some time in the city I called home for over twenty years. Our stomachs were growling as the sun went down and my natural instincts, long dormant, took control of the situation. I knew that a quick left onto Hillside and a couple of short blocks down on the left was the pot of gold at the end of our long 11.5-hour rainbow ride out of Tennessee.

Worth the Drive

After filling up on burgers and hot dogs, we did something I never remember doing while living here: visiting the Keeper of the Plains statue up close. I was caught off guard by the number of tourists we encountered flocking to this attraction! I never realized anyone except school children came here. Of course, according to the statisticians at the Wichita Visitors and Convention Bureau, my family and I were tourists, too, and our presence at the Keeper Plaza was yet another indication of the effectiveness of their savvy marketing and good business acumen. Great job, guys!

The Keeper of the Plains

Saturday morning we headed downtown to pick up our race packets. It was a beautiful day so we explored the area while I reminisced about dragging Douglas as a high schooler in the 80s and working as a bartender in what is now the Drury Plaza Hotel Broadview in the 90s. The downtown is clean with wide streets and sidewalks. Unfortunately, downtown also includes a good deal of vacant commercial space.

Site of Race Packet Pick Up
Wichita-Sedgwick County Historical Musuem

As seen on one of the many vacancies downtown

Saturday afternoon and evening was spent catching up with friends before our predawn wake-up call on Sunday. Though the morning was cool, it certainly could have been colder this time of year. With the high forecast to be near ninety, I was thankful for the early morning start. The half and full marathoners took off shortly after the scheduled 7:20 start time, and we started running about thirty minutes later.

Moments before the start of the 5k

The course immediately took us over the Arkansas River to McLean Boulevard, where we ran north to Douglas Avenue and back across the river. From Douglas we turned north and basically looped behind the Keeper statue before heading south on McLean and back to the start/finish line. The course was, of course, flat (duh, it's Kansas) and very fast. I felt like I was making pretty good time but refused to look at my watch. I guess I was afraid I might start slacking if I knew I was faster than my normal pace.

Though there were 609 finishers in the 5k, I ran alone for nearly all of the last mile. Flat courses can be good and bad. They're great because there are no hills obviously, but, by the same token, you can see far, far ahead. With hills, you can set small goals and fool yourself in the process. Example: If I just make it to the top of this hill, I will likely see the next [reference marker] is not far away. On a level course, you can see your reference point nearly a mile away, but it appears as if it's ten miles away. In this race the final turn was just beyond Lawrence-Dumont Stadium. From there, it was a chip shot to the finish line. I could see the light standards far off in the distance, and it looked like a twenty-minute ride on the bullet train to get there.

Lawrence-Dumont Stadium at last!

It seemed like the road was getting longer the more I ran, but I finally made it to the bridge taking us again across the river for a fast, slightly downhill finish. There was a good crowd of spectators around the finish corral cheering on participants as I hurried to close out the loop. I finished in 23:04, a 7:26/mile pace. This represents my best time ever in a 5k and was good enough on this day to capture 3rd place in the men's 45-49 division.

This was a fun course to run, a course almost tailor-made for folks new to running or returning after a long absence. The city hosts this event in both the spring and fall, so it's not too early to start planning your trip to Wichita now!

3rd Place in the men's 45-49 bracket, 5k

Sunday, September 6, 2015

Read and Run 5k - Burns, TN

The last Saturday in August found us gathering in and around the old elementary school gymnasium in Burns for the first annual Read and Run 5k promoting literacy and fitness in Dickson County. A typically hot and humid summer day in Middle Tennessee, I was most thankful for the 7:00 p.m. start time.

With about an hour to kill before the race started, I kept busy by jogging, walking, and standing around shooting the breeze. We were adjacent to the youth football field so I took a short run down the length of the field to the opposite end zone and back. I wanted to sprint down the sideline, imagining I was running back a game-winning interception, but I knew that would not be beneficial in any way to my race performance.

As runners came together near the start line in the moments leading up to the beginning of the race, I observed that most participants were hanging back, allowing the more "serious" runners plenty of space to claim up near the front. Even with a modest turnout of about 65 competitors, I knew there was no way I would finish near the head of the pack. I didn't want to crowd the line, but because I felt like I had a chance of being competitive in my age group, I chose to start closer to the front than I customarily do.

We took off on time with quite a few folks hustling right out of the gate, as if they were trying to beat out a ground ball to shortstop. It's tempting to try to keep up at the onset, and I think indeed I was moving too fast, even though I was telling myself to run my pace and not worry with what everyone else was doing. Probably within the first two tenths of a mile, I passed by a runner who had already succumbed to walking. For the first half-mile or so, I would eclipse many more (and be left in the dust by a few others).

At maybe a half-mile in, my right shoelace came undone. This had never happened to me in a race before. Not only had I neglected to retie them before the race, but I had also fell out of the habit of double-tying after purchasing new shoes a while back. It was way too early in the race to have to stop for this nonsense. I figured I would lose several positions by stopping to tie my shoe and might not be able to get them back. I would have to stop at some point, but for now I would push on a little further, at least until the herd thinned around me.

I finished the first mile in 7:39, which is too fast for me, but because I wasn't far behind a runner who I knew to be good, I was still hesitant to stop and address my shoelace for fear of ruining my performance. The thought of getting tripped up by my wayward shoelace never left my mind, however, and I could visualize me taking a hard dive on the pavement, an event in which a ruined performance could be the least of my worries.

By the time mile number two was preparing to hand off to mile number three, a couple of other runners were petering out. With my shoelace flopping about and my side cramping (that's exercise related transient abdominal pain, or ETAP, for those keeping score at home), I moved ahead a couple of positions. The introduction of side stitches added another layer of disbelief and frustration to the competition for me. I have been running three times per week since April, and this was the first occurrence I'd had. All I could think is that maybe I drank a bit too much water too close to race time in a desperate attempt to compensate for what I feared may have been insufficient consumption throughout the day.

Now within earshot of the commotion surrounding the finish line, I refused to look at my watch. The last time I peeked at it was at the completion of mile one, and I was afraid of how much my pace might have slowed since then. Turning the final corner with shoelace untied, I was thrilled to observe that I would come in under the 25-minute mark. Don't trip now, I thought. Dashing across the line at 24:51, a new personal best, I would be pleased to learn, too, how this equaled an 8:00/mile pace, a goal of mine for nearly a year now.

The biggest surprise was during the awards ceremony upon hearing my name called for first place in the men's 40-49 year-old category. Granted it was a small field, but it always feels good taking first place, particularly after enduring months of training designed specifically to perform at your highest level in a specific type of event. That's what I want to believe anyway, that all those endless hours of sweaty dedication to my thoughtful training regimen paid off in spades. But, so as not to leave anything to chance, I plan on running with one shoe untied from here on out.


Saturday, July 18, 2015

Day Hiking in Temescal Gateway Park

During our recent visit to SoCal we made it a point to visit the trails at Temescal Gateway Park. My two outings here offered welcomed reprieves from the bustling crowds we encountered everywhere else during our week-long stay in L.A. The spillover into early July of what the locals call "June Gloom" coincided with our visit and kept the hot sun at bay, though it did also detract from the magnificent views of the city and ocean from high atop the Santa Monica Mountains.

Trailhead at Temescal Gateway Park
With so much to see and do in Southern California, we were on a tight schedule. Hiking, though a priority for me, wasn't on my kids' radars at all. I had to squeeze it in when I could. My plan for both days was to start early, go as far as time permitted, and turn around from wherever I may be on the trail, giving myself just enough time to make it back to my aunt's condo at the appointed hour. We made an executive decision to throw precaution to the wind. Instead of wasting time in the parking lot familiarizing ourselves with a trail map, we would look for a well-worn trail and take it. Nearly two weeks later, as I sit here with a copy of the trail map by my side, I can see we were headed up the Viewpoint Trail, also shown as the Temescal Ridge Trail on Google Maps. This was hiking at its best: cool, dry air; no mud or slick surfaces, no crowds, and no mosquitos or ticks.
Cool enough for a jacket in July
My aunt had told us about a waterfall 1.3 miles away from the trailhead. As it would turn out, the waterfall was not along the path we were traversing. But we didn't know this at the time and because the hiking was so exceptional, we didn't care. Besides, in our minds, we were hiking to the waterfall. I soon began outpacing my wife so, after synchronizing our watches and agreeing on a turn around time, I trekked on ahead.
Though the gloom lingered, it was still breathtaking

Looking back at my pictures I can now ascertain that I made it to the junction of the Leacock and Temescal Ridge trails before turning back due to time constraints. Fortunately, I was able to make it back to the park two days later, and this time I explored the Temescal Canyon Trail. Still cloudy and cool, and again with one eye on my watch, I sometimes ran and sometimes hiked 1.7 miles into the park's mountain range before my allotted time elapsed, forcing me to retrace my steps back to the hustle and bustle of the city below.
Before turning around, I came upon the location of the waterfall. Not surprisingly, it was dry. I didn't even realize this was the location of the wet weather waterfall until my uncle described the area to me the following day. Now piecing things together on the map, I can see it would have been nearly as easy for me to hike the loop trail formed by the Temescal Canyon and Temescal Ridge trails in opposite directions rather than backtracking both days. Oh, well. Hindsight's 20/20.
Near the sight of the wet weather waterfall


Either way, the hiking was outstanding. On our final full day in town, under sunny skies, we walked the picturesque streets of Pacific Palisades and viewed the Pacific Ocean from Palisades Park. The next time we visit we will have to allocate more time for walking and less time for traffic jams, as there are many miles of trails connecting to Temescal Gateway Park, as well as an extensive network of city sidewalks, remaining to explore.

Views from the Temescal Canyon Trail

Sun is out at Palisades Park on our last day in town

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Palisades/Will Rogers 5k

We were in the Los Angeles area on July 4th to visit family and participate in a local 5k benefiting the Pacific Palisades Optimist Club, a volunteer organization supporting various youth charities and activities.

My anticipation for this event had been mounting from the day we booked our flights to LAX in early April. For the next three months, I decided, my training would be focused solely on this run and achieving a degree of fitness which would allow me to perform at my very best level. Amazingly, life cooperated nicely during those 90 days so that I was able to follow through on my training program pretty well as designed. By the time training was over, I actually felt like a runner.

The day before the race we walked with my aunt to the local sporting goods retailer to collect our bibs and then around the community to sort of get the lay of the land and a feel for the course itself. As workers were erecting the start and finish structures, my aunt was showing us how deep the crowd would be gathered at the starting line in the morning. It became clear to me this would be the largest race in which I had ever participated.

Setting up the day before the race
The morning of the race was cool and overcast. Thank goodness! We made our way through the field of entrants, and I settled in the 7-8 minute per mile grouping. Unfortunately, my aunt had to sit this year's race out, and the rest of my family felt more comfortable starting a little deeper in the pack. With a crowd this size, it was certainly wise not attempting to run in pairs or as a group. After a sterling rendition of The Star-Spangled Banner, the starting gun sounded and the mass of people slowly began moving forward.
Participants gather before the race
The beginning of the race was a cluster, of course. Slower runners, including parents pushing strollers and some very young children who had no business up front, were causing many folks to jump the curbs and run on the sidewalks. The first half-mile or so was spent running more or less a zigzag pattern, simply trying to find space enough in which to settle into a good pace. Fortunately, this part was all downhill. Everything frustrating about running is easier to deal with when going downhill.
A walker's perspective
Somewhere around 1.2 miles, the Pacific Ocean came into view and the course transitioned from downhill to uphill. For the next 1.5 miles or so, we would climb 120 feet. This was it. This is what I had been training for months to conquer. If I could get to the top of this hill in good shape, the rest of the course would be easy peasy. As homeowners waved from their front lawns, shouting words of encouragement to all of the runners, I felt like pulling up a chair and doing the same. Instead, I kept plugging away until I somehow made it to the top. Though I wouldn't necessarily classify my condition as "good" at this point and the remainder of the course certainly wasn't easy peasy for me, I knew I had enough in the tank to see it through and finish with a respectable time.
The bulk of the climb was over by mile 2
On the ascension I eclipsed several people, many of whom had slowed to a walk. Heading down the homestretch, I gave back a few of those gains to smarter, better conditioned runners. Running harder downhill to the finish line which was now within sight, I observed a boy in front of me determined not to let me pass. As he increased his pace to a sprint, so did I, and we crossed the finish line neck and neck, though I do believe his chip time was faster than mine.
I finished with a pace of 8:05 per mile, 10th out of 74 participants in my division. Though I had entertained notions of breaking the 8-minute mile, I felt satisfied with my time, particularly given the inevitable slow start due to the sheer number of participants in this popular event. My family and I rendezvoused beyond the finish line at the Palisades Park and Recreation Center to review our times and collect our shirts. The opinion among us was unanimous: the Palisades 5k was everything we hoped it to be - a great way to celebrate the 4th and a perfect beginning to our week in California.
Rested and ready for the 4th of July parade to begin


Saturday, May 16, 2015

Dartin' Downtown 5k

The first rainy day in three weeks found us in Paris, TN, for the Dartin' Downtown 5k. Runners assembled inside the nice, warm and dry First United Methodist gym for pre-race instruction before getting shooed outdoors to the starting line just prior to 8:00 a.m. Standing in the rain, we were told if we found ourselves running on a level stretch of road then we must be off course. At that point, I really began questioning every decision I had made over the course of my life which led me to this particular intersection of place and time.

A police cruiser and a young lady on a bicycle guided us through the commons of downtown Paris and downhill into a residential setting. Of course it wasn't long before I lost sight of both the police car and the bicyclist. But there were only a few runners up front and out of sight and just a few others ahead of me still within sight. The hills began to take their toll, as a couple of younger runners were forced to drop back to a walking pace. My clothes, saturated from the rain, introduced much unwelcomed additional weight, but my hat was shielding my face like a dream. Thankfully, and perhaps because of the rain, traffic was light and the handful of drivers who were on the road were most courteous.

I crossed the finish line with a time of 25:19, good enough for 6th overall and 1st in the men's 40-49 age bracket. My daughter came in 20th overall and 2nd in the 15-19 women's category. The church graciously welcomed us back into their nice, warm and dry gym with towels and snacks prior to the awards presentation. I must say I was never so grateful for a race day t-shirt in which to change as I was this morning. Access to indoor restrooms was a pleasant surprise, too! And to cap off what was truly a great event, my daughter was lucky enough to win a door prize - a beautiful handmade quilt, compliments of the Peacemakers Quilt Club of the First United Methodist Church.

 Handmade by the Peacemakers Quilt Club, Paris TN

A must-see when you're in Paris

A modern day must: selfie in front of attraction/destination

Henry County Courthouse

Confederate Soldier Memorial on the Square

We'll always have Paris

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Bells Bend Park

We took advantage of a break in the cold weather and paid a visit to Bells Bend Park, situated on Nashville's west side. A large park with several miles of trails and old farm roads suitable for hiking, an outing at Bells Bend is the perfect prescription for taming the wintertime blues. Here, we walked under wide-open skies, not a canopy of trees, and fully enjoyed all the unfiltered sunshine nature could muster up this time of year.

Bells Bend Park on the prettiest day in February
For more than three hours we hiked the easy trails and roads, cutting through and around the fields, even following the contour of the Cumberland River for a time. With no maps available at the trailhead, we were on our own. Our strategy was to turn right at every intersection, figuring eventually we'd make it back to where we started. Of course we did, but not after hiking nearly every section of every trail, both marked and unmarked. I hadn't thought about simply snapping a picture of the trailhead kiosk map with my phone while we were there. But it didn't matter; we had nowhere else to go and were in no hurry to get there.
The Cumberland River
Bells Bend offers a hiking experience unlike any other I've experienced in Middle Tennessee. The open spaces and relatively flat terrain give the park a distinctive Midwestern feel. Had the wind been blowing twenty or thirty miles per hour, I might have thought I was stomping across a Kansas prairie. But on this day my hat stayed firmly in place on top of my head, so I knew I wasn't in Kansas anymore.
Bells Bend sports a Midwestern flair
We came across a few other people in the park, as well as a raccoon, an armadillo, a cardinal, and a number of bluebirds. Back at the house, I also uncovered a tick which had hitched a ride on my leg. There is still snow and ice on the ground in places and I'm getting ticks! I reckon it will be another bad year for insects around here.
My estimation is we walked somewhere between 6-7 miles. The trails here are wide and in good shape. While there is some standing water in places, this can't be avoided right now due to the weather we've been experiencing. We discussed during our hike how the trails at Bells Bend would be good for running, too. You could just take our word for it, but we encourage you to check this unique park out for yourself and see if you agree.
Bluebird near the park property line

Wide, well-maintained trails are the rule here
Pond at Bells Bend Park



Saturday, February 21, 2015

Race on the Trace, 5-miler

Pin Oak Lodge, left, played host to race participants
Flying solo for Valentine's Day, I said bye to the wife and kids and buzzed down to Natchez Trace State Park for my fifth and final stop on the 2014-15 Tennessee State Parks Running Tour. The weather was just right for running, with a temperature of nearly fifty degrees under partly sunny skies. I had done absolutely no running in two weeks and was preparing myself mentally for the pain I fully expected would greet me somewhere in mile three.
Ordinarily, I study the online course descriptions beforehand for all state park runs. And this race was no exception, so I thought. The first two miles, an easy out-and-back, were just as I had anticipated. The terrain was mostly level, and, as I crossed the start line now in the opposite direction, I was feeling good about my run. Just a few minutes later and right on schedule, however, a nagging pain developed on the outside of my left knee. I focused on my breathing instead, hoping the pain wouldn't worsen.
Around this same time, I managed to catch up with a couple of guys running nearly neck and neck. We were three-wide on the left-hand side of the road, as I continued looking on the horizon for the race leaders, who I thought should be barreling back towards us any minute now. I was also looking for the three-mile mark which, I thought about later, was probably on the opposite side of the road. With no sign of the leaders or the mile marker, I began to doubt my ability to finish the race running. Then there was the moment of clarity when I looked at my watch, realizing I had to be in the fourth mile. Not until this point did I understand we were running a loop, not another out-and-back, and quickly gave myself an F for preparation.
There was a certain amount of relief on my part when I figured this out, but I was tiring fast. The long, gradually sloping hills on the second half of the course were taking a toll on me. I had finally pulled away from the two fellas I'd caught, and I didn't want to relinquish my hard-earned gains. But the hills, it seemed, just kept coming, and, as I ascended yet another, I slowed to a brisk walk for perhaps a minute. I could hear feet approaching from behind as I eyed mile marker number four and knew I'd better pick up the pace if I wanted to hold my position.
Running again, I struggled with the remaining uphill sections but was able to keep it going to the finish line in front of Pin Oak Lodge. My official time of 42:51 was good enough to place dead last in the 40-49 year-old men's bracket, eleventh out of eleven finishers. This is the sentence where I would normally put a positive spin on my performance, but when you're eleven out of eleven, what's the point? Instead, I took a baseball bat to the water cooler in the tunnel before heading to the showers and taking a cab back to the hotel.
One of the two individuals I'd passed somewhere along the road where mile three blurred into mile four congratulated me afterward inside the lodge. Truthfully, I could only assume this was who was shaking my hand because I really couldn't have picked this runner out of a lineup, as I was fighting to simply remain upright at that stage of the race. And if he was who I thought he was, this same individual also offered up words of encouragement to a young girl we passed as he and I ran side by side for the better part of a mile. I was impressed. Short of stopping, I knew there was no way I could possibly utter anything other than a grunt or a groan.
This is just one example of the typically well-mannered behavior I've experienced at the state park runs. Far and away, the best aspect of these events are the people. As much as I dislike running, the atmosphere at these events is always upbeat and motivating. The season is over for me now, but I have a feeling I'll be back in the fall to do it all over again. And maybe next year at Natchez Trace I'll take it up a notch and grab that tenth position.
Fishing may have been a better alternative to my finishing 11 of 11