Archive for October, 2013

Running Small Town America

Posted: October 18, 2013 in Uncategorized

Running Small Town America.

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Lovely addition to medal collection.

Lovely addition to medal collection.

I wanted a 5mm David Yurman ring for my birthday. Bought by my money. Not expecting it from anyone.

But no. I had decided otherwise. I wanted to let go of all non-essentials because I wanted to save to see more, travel more. Run more races and see how racing is in other parts of the country, the world.

For now, lets talk Scranton. Particularly, Steamtown Marathon.

My friend, Philip, said and I quote, “If you wanna see the spirit of marathon in small town America, come to Steamtown.”

And, in fact, he was right.

Before Sunday, all I thought of Steamtown was that it was or is a race that promises some PR. Apparently not. Or apparently, there is more to that.

So here’s how it went down.

We arrived Scranton Saturday, the day before the race.  Because when you are married with a child, running out of town no longer means just packing your bags and taking the first flight out. Or drive at the earliest convenient time. Rather, running out-of-town becomes some sort of an extended family-to-friend affair: friends-with-kids come along. They are there to act as quasi-babysitters and it becomes somewhat a play date. And it is most (even though it really isn’t) covenient to arrive on a Saturday.

At the finish line, Saturday. I know the police was near. I was actually a bit nervous breaking into the area.

At the finish line, Saturday. I know the police was near. I was actually a bit nervous breaking into the area.

Thus, Saturday, like any other pre-race days Saturdays, was highlighted with the expo and then a side trip to kid-friendly destinations. (If you know me, I do not quite have the patience for children’s activities. Take me to an expo that sells novelties then I’m in!!! Kid-friendly spots in an out-of-town trip? Try to count me out.)

So whatever kid-friendly activity Scranton had to offer Saturday, any day, I was thankful my good friend was there. She took care of that.

One of the landmarks in downtown Scranton, near the finish line.

One of the landmarks in downtown Scranton, near the finish line.

Thus, off I went with the husband and Philip to see what we can of the Electric City.

Fair enough, it was beautiful downtown. A quaint town of many Main Streets. The architecture on some buildings from when, I surmise, Scranton was big and mighty, when electric lights were introduced and when it first started production of rails, was astounding. I had to take pictures. And Instagram them.

But you don’t see more than that when it is Saturday night and its pre-race day. It didn’t even seem fun on a day or night when it was supposedly your birthday.

So what has a person nearing twilight got to do when its her birthday and she is out of town and it is the day before a race?

Hit a Chinese buffet and burn (!!! lol) $55 for 5 adults and 2 kids! Yes! And no kidding! After all, this wasn’t New York. Hit a Krispy Kreme store for a donut on the premise that it is justified because “carbs are needed for the next day.” Then hit the bed. Surely, no alcohol.

Thus, all you have left is a blur of what and how that birthday on a Saturday in Scranton had been.

Race day and you wake up early. Still in a blur. Or a fog. Whatever its called, seeing the beauty in a town, a borrough is probably not on top of your agenda when you have 26.2 miles on foot with only yourself to rely on.

But then, you drive to downtown Scranton, hop on the bus that would take you to Forest City, where the race starts.

And there is where it starts to hit you.

nice

One of the architectural beauties of Scranton.

Because it is fall, a bus ride to the start means a blanket of darkness. While you are wrapped around with anxiety over what might transpire in the next 2 or 3 or 4 or, in a worse case (like mine) maybe 5 hours that would take you to finish 26.2, you cannot help but wonder what scenery, thus, unfolds in your journey.

You see, Steamtown has the reputation of being a “quad-buster.” What this means is that there is a significant elevation drop. Quite profound, especially at the start. Assistant Race Director Jim Cummings kept on reiterating that 955-ft drop. What this also means is that whe you drive up to Forest City, your bus goes up and up and up. In return as you look out and down from your window, you see lights. Lots and lots of them.

For me, it reminds me of a city in northern Philippines called Baguio. Whenever I went there, I was in heaven.

That bus drive was reminiscent of the few times I have been there.

Anyway. The moment you arrive after that 45-minute bus drive with your bladder so full and about to explode because you had coffee to drink earlier, thats when you start to actually feel the beauty of this marathon.

Again, I have not been to many marathons or races, thus, my points of comparison are quite limited, admittedly. And this is where that David Yurman dream comes into the picture. You know, that wanting-to-see-more agendum.

And just when you thought your bladder couldn’t hold any longer, the bus finally halts. You step off the bus, you are greeted by young kids (high-schoolers, I think), and they, in uniform shirts, guide you to either the porta-johnnies or the school auditorium, where you can take cover from the cold. But wait. Before you even enter the school, you are greeted by cheer-leaders!!! Full of energy at 7-ish in the morning!!! You just know you are up for something wonderful.

Inside the auditorium, runners are gathered on the floor, against the wall, all over. In retrospect, while I felt security may have only gone as tight as implementing the “universal” plastic bag thing, the atmosphere seemed relax and friendly. Don’t get me wrong; you still see the over-achievers and the elites. But there is the absence of the snotty-ness of big-city races.

It was at that point when I decided I miss those days when running was simply a free-for-all, smorgasbord of fun, sportsmanship, and shared experience by families. And knowing how I haven’t been running that long, the memory of that is not from long ago. F@#k those Boston bastards!

Stepping out into the start line, where you await the start, the unassuming-ness of the Steamtown Marathon can be seen from the akward lack of corrals that I have, somewhat, become accustomed to in NYRR races. Or the absence of pacers. But then when I think about it, that becomes spectacle in itself. No “stiffness” or rigid rules, where runner 1 can only go to blue or where 4055, slacker that you are (and yes, that was my BIB number at one point) can only go to the pink corral (or was it purple?).

So off the cannon (yes, cannon) blew in lieu of the gun. And out and about the runners went. Down the downhills of Forest City towards Scranton.

But before all the finish line revelry happens, a lot of other things happen.

Runners who made a mad dash down course blow their quads. And yes, you see many of them. Ouch!

But that aside, other lovely sights unfold before you as you balance enjoying them and avoiding crapping in your pants or bonking or both.

Picture doesn't do justice to how fun this neighborhood really was. They made me take beer and I said I was coming back.

Picture doesn’t do justice to how fun this neighborhood really was. They made me take beer and I said I was coming back.

People are just everywhere!!! Kids are everywhere— from the high-schoolers who hand you water at fluid stations to children giving you high-fives.

A personal favorite was a young boy that had a sign that said “Push button for more horse-power.” I saw him once earlier a few miles from the race start then again, perhaps, past mile 22 when I was close to dying. What has a girl with no leg power that day to do? Yes, she “pressed” the button on the sign and ran. At that point, you just want to try anything to avoid hitting the wall.

But just when you think you felt like sh#t and had no muscle power, you see more lovely people along the course.

You see elderly men and women in wheelchairs, outside some nursing home or assisted living.

You see blocks and blocks of houses with residents gathered outside their homes, beer in hand at 10am, 11 am on Sunday, feeding on BBQs.  They cheer you and give you the biggest lie ever told (and a lie youv’e heard more than a thousand times if you’ve been running): LOOKING GOOD, RUNNER!!!

No matter how you know how shitty you look at that point, you actually try to believe it and go on a smile, talk, or high-five with them.

It makes you go on. It gave me a renewed sense of envigoration even when I felt like I didn’t have strength.

And you take your strides. And I took my strides, little as they were at that point and saw more lovely faces of Steamtown. They are nameless and faceless at that point. Faceless at this point. But they were faces that gleamed and beamed, passing on those gatorades and water set up by the race organizers. Passing on slivers of oranges, plates of pretzels, bottled waters. Yes, bottled water.

As we would find out a day after, those residents in the “unofficial” aid stations apparently pooled some funds to set up everything. Now thats the spirit.

And there would be more. The fall scenery of leaves turning the color of autumn. The mom, who I’d always call from hereon as “Megan’s mom,” as she had screamed from mile 1 to another and another and another for, who I supposed, was Megan, her daughter. The bands playing “Cotton-eyed Joe” to the other band of elderly men taking a break, violins on-hand to the lone man by the bridge with his cassette player blasting  “Charriots of Fire.” So appropriate.

Then there were the runners. And when you are among the back-of-the-packers,

you see a lot of the spirit, which, to me, can only be surpassed by the camaraderie I’ve seen, so far, in ultra races. Where runners helped other runners. From as little as passing on a cup of Gatorade (because he didn’t want that cup and wanted water, instead) to asking for a pack of salt to giving away some gel to just running along, side by side to the finish line.

I finished at a dismal time. I honestly felt disappointed when my half-marathon split did not yield a number I was looking at. Especially when it displayed an even more “off” of a target number.

I tried to make up for it and pushed on. But I guess, there comes a point in running those 26.2 miles when you are forced into introspection and figure where you went wrong. I wasn’s spared that state. And then, resignation. Be resigned to the fact that you did not meet your expectations.

Was it the 3-hour sleep the night before? Was it the lack of sleep, leading up to the race, which is ironic because I was supposed to be on my 9th day out of 12 days of hiatus from work? Was it the ginseng bottle that broke when it fell off my pocket that morning? Was it nutrition? (Though I doubt it was, as I had been eating well on days prior). Or was it the other marathon 3 weeks ago that still left me battered, physically yet unknowingly?

Then, even in the middle of that immense period of introspection, you eventually snap out of it and just decide and say “F#ck it! As long as I finish.” And you push and walk a little and run again and push again and run like you’ve never run before with your legs dead and tired.

Then you come out of that fugue state that consumed you for several miles.

And you just see the people of Scranton (or Steamtown) cheering you on. Like they know you. As though you know them. And you cross the finish line.

Volunteers, serving coffee, pasta, and pizza!!! And they tasted good!!!

Volunteers, serving coffee, pasta, and pizza!!! And they tasted good!!!

The unassuming finish line marker, void of any of the frills of big-city marathon finish line markers. Arms to the side, not quite high as that of the Marathon Goddess’ but enough to make a statement during that brief photo-op moment to say “I made it.” And you cry inside.

And you stop your Garmin. Then you figure that is the end. At least, the running part of it.

Because the beauty of Steamtown doesn’t end.

Awaiting you are volunteers bestowing you your medal. And they serve you pasta and coffee and pizza and fruits and massage for your legs that surprisingly, still had strength to make you try do a jumpshot.

And you pause.

And say, wow. Beautiful Scranton. I will run you again.

Food!!!

Food!!!

The beautiful lake. Beautiful being an understatement. Can you go wrong?

The beautiful lake. Beautiful being an understatement. Can you go wrong?

adk medal

Beauty! All that’s missing is a bear.

(September 23, 2013)- I should be doing or starting my graduate school paper now (or was it last night?) that is due tomorrow. However, I felt the need to nap. But then considering the coffee I have had shortly before hitting the bed after my 2-mi “recovery” run this morning— and, all the other things I needed to do today— I could not seem to fall asleep. I am somewhat crazy that way; my mind wanders about even when the physical me is dead.

My thoughts lingered, as well, on some introspection and retrospection. On some year it has been. For me. Phew.

Well, honestly, nothing much happens in my life. Its a blah. An almost-blah, highlighted only by some fleeting moments that trigger momentary excitement captured on either Instagram or Facebook or both.

But that particular “year” that started September 22, 2012… That’s another story. So far. In my own terms. And you guessed it right. It talks of running. After all, thats almost all that I care about these days. Everything else (besides family and work), everything else is dealt with with some degree of nonchalance.

jump 2

My friend, Vivian, and I. We both intended to run Adirondack as a long run, thus, all the jumping and rolling on the ground that led us to a 5:34 finish.

Time travel.

A year ago yesterday, I ran my first half-marathon in Jersey City, where I finished a dismal time of nearly 3 hours on a flat course in what I consider  as my hometown for the past 9 years. It was a beautiful September day, by the Hudson River.  Yet I swore while struggling to reach the finish line. And I wondered. ” Why the f- did I sign up for another half-marathon the month after?” At the Runners’ World Inaugural Half at that.  On hills! On hills?! Lotsa hills! I questioned my sanity back then. No, not really. But it was an hour or so of self-doubt while finishing those 13.1 miles in downtown Jersey City. I questioned my ability to do another half-marathon; I thought I could not do any more run that will last almost 3 hours. But of course, as soon as I finished that September day, I felt great, more than anything. I was proud of myself.

Thus, fast-forward October 2012, I ran Bethlehem (aka RW Half, which is what I prefer to call that half-marathon). I PR’d by about 12 minutes. On hills! It felt great and I was high, but it was hell. All I could think of running those hills in Pennsylvania was “Why? Why the self-flagellation?” It seemed like the only thought that kept me going was David Willey’s smile when and if I crossed that finish line. (Oh, that smile.) But as history is sometimes meant, yes— I finished and I PR’d and I was proud of myself– again. I still wasn’t fast but I knew I could do more. From then, Bethlehem was my point of reference, in terms of degrees of difficulties for any given race course. It was like singing Sinatra: if I could make it there, I’ll make it anywhere.

In fact, that was precisely the same thought that persisted when I ran Philly Half the next month, where I PR’d yet again by about 2 minutes.

And it was also in Philly that I registered, on impulse, for another half-marathon. Well, supposedly, for another half-marathon— the New Jersey Half-Marathon aka Long Branch Half in May.

Little did I know that that was flood gate of insanity for me.

Back home, I caught myself signing-up for more races.

I registered for NYC Runs Half, ran it, and PR’d about 26 minutes. Then slightly after that,  I ran Manhattan Half on a cold day. Note that before Central Park half, I had only run that place for the Joe Kleinerman Classic 10k. Thus, I hadn’t had any “hill” training of some sort besides that. Let alone run Harlem Hills.

Of course, running both halfs in Central Park, I figured my Sinatra mantra could work. Yes, if I made it in Bethlehem, I could make it anywhere.  And so I did. PR’d in the Manhattan Half by another 4 minutes! To this date, that remains my personal best in half.

I thought my affair with running would stop at half-marathons.

You see, I came from and grew up in a country where, in my time, did not quite value physical activities within the boundaries of educational institutions. Nothing much was presented to students, except to those who were not vertically-challenged like me. For some reason, schools in the Philippines placed more leverage on games like basketball. Basketball!!!!!!! Basketball when our “tall men” could not even keep up with what real tall men are really like come Olympics.

So there I was growing with no talent in sports, whatsoever. Well, I played varsity for badminton in high school, but thats about it. And I can barely even swim!

That’s how lame a duck I am.

So when I started running a 5k last year, 2012, it was all new to me. I knew from the last time I went home to the Philippines in 2006, I could barely run a track. Yet I figured, if I bought enough gadgets and more than one pair of shoes, I would propel myself out of the couch and the computer and just bust my bazinga. Build the train tracks, before the trains come! Yes, that’s how things almost always work for me!

Thus, out I  went with my first two 5ks in June and August. (Note: the husband can vividly remember how I almost brought hydration bottles for those 5ks.)

trophy

Cute, little things called… trophies!!!

Then, went out of my way to start the half-crazy deal in September.

And remember that Half-Marathon I signed up for Long Branch, supposedly for May this year? I upped the ante, put down a few more dollars, and registered for my first full marathon.

Looking back now, I think I owe myself some pat in the back for having come this far— far being subjective, on my own terms.

Yesterday, I finished my 3rd marathon (4th, including a 50k in August… and by marathon, I mean, 26.2 miles, okay?). In a course that can now give Bethlehem a kick in the butt. In the beautiful, quaint town of Schroon Lake— with its hills, and hills, and hills. A run that I had signed up for, again, on an impulse after running my 2nd marathon in Vermont. A run that was meant to be a training run for the two other marathons I have lined up for October and an Ultra in November.  A run that was literally a pain in my behind but one that promised wonderful memories of friendship, scenery, and good food (note: visit Mr. P’s if you’re ever in Schroon Lake).

Now as I contemplate, I know I want to run more. Work more to pay so I can run more. And I know I will never be fast. I will never be Kara or Shalane  or Desiree. I can only be me, who will— knowingly or unknowingly— try to inspire my friends and some strangers, who can barely run like me… who, like me, will remain the backest of the back of the pack. The 99.9%.

As I often say, I can only endure. I can only endure  and, to borrow Ms. Tuff’s words, push past the pain and past the mantra along.

jump adk

At the finish line. Of course, the husband almost bonked but still managed to finish at 3:36.