2014 Dam Triathlon Recap – I’m A Triathlete?

July 15, 2014

It’s been far too long since an update here, and now all of a sudden it’s like, wait, what, triathlon?  That’s right, dear reader, triathlon.  Let’s start at the beginning, shall we?  In the summer of ’97 I participated in my first triathlon at Winding Trails in Farmington, CT.  At the time, the format was a 1/4 mile pond swim, roughly 8 mile bike ride, then 5K trail run.  The weekly summer race series is still going strong, though they’ve switched up the bike to a 5 mile trail ride.  All the same, pretty neat that the tradition lives on these many, many years later.  At the time of these races not only did I not have a wetsuit (though most racers weren’t using them in the fairly warm water), not have a road bike, instead using my Mongoose mountain bike, but I was running in long mesh shorts and a cotton tank.  That’s right.  Frickin’ COTTON.  I shudder at the thought.  It would be a long time before I embraced the split short as anything but a cross country race piece of apparel.  But, embrace it I have since then.  About the only “legit” gear I had was were my trusty Nike Zoom Country racing flats.  Through the magic of technology, I have been able to take what were once actual physical photographs from those races that could be held in one’s hands and converted them into “digital files,” that I might share them with you.

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Sigh, look at that fine head of hair.  Also, please note the old school TYR swim briefs in the middle picture.  Cool briefs, bro.  I’m sorry if that came off as sarcastic, I really do think that dude rocks the grape-smuggler look with panache.

Between those heady high school days and this past weekend, despite having a love affair with road bikes and roughly a dozen solid intentions to get into triathloning, I only followed the sport from the sidelines while concentrating on road racing, geeking out over bike tech, and swimming every now and then for a couple weeks when injured.  Case in point, I purchased a Zoot wetsuit in November 2012 but did not open it until June 2014.  And so, I existed as a pure runner, at least until my wife and I decided to each get bikes.

After a number of test rides and trips to bike shops, which was very difficult work, let me tell you, I finally decided on a Cannondale CAAD8 bike, which seemed to be a good compromise between an “endurance” bike and a “racing” bike in terms of comfort and geometry.  Sure, I could be making that up, but it sounds right at least in my head.  Also, it’s pretty, don’t you think?

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I…like taking pictures of my bike.

Concord Ride Mass Ave Bridge

I joined up with local triathlon club Zoom Multisport and starting joining them for Track Tuezday workouts at the Harvard Track and gorgeous Walden Wednezday open water swims (OWSs) at Walden Pond in Concord, starting to get used to swimming in my wetsuit and the difference between pool swimming and non-pool swimming.

Walden 1

Walden Team

I mean, beautiful, right?  Not the worst way to start a day, if I do say so myself.

Now that we’ve established that I had a modicum of training under my belt in the three ancient disciplines of triathlon, let’s get onto the race recap of this past weekend’s Dam Triathlon.  That Dam race (I feel it necessary to overuse the Dam/damn thing as the race itself certainly did) consisted of a 1/2 mile swim, “13” mile bike leg, and “5K” run.  I use quotes to indicate that although the race may have said one thing about the distances, my Garmin said otherwise, as did others’.  In the end, the bike was likely more like 12.5 miles and the run 2.9.

Alright, let’s finally get to the race.  Friend and Zoom teammate Jocelyn picked me up bright and early and we loaded up her Subaru with my bike alongside hers, because taking anything other than a Subaru to a race involving bikes would be a USAT violation.  Arriving in Amesbury, I was downright giddy to go through the pre-race procedures of getting Sharpie’d up with my number and getting my ankle timing chip.  Then it was time to set up my transition spot, which just happened to be right next to another Zoomer, Greg.  Now, I’ve seen transition set-ups before, but somehow trying to do my own filled me with anxiety.  Above all, I didn’t want commit any newbie faux-passes.  Here’s what I ended up with.

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I even managed to do that nifty thing where you hook your bike onto the rack using the saddle…and it didn’t fall down!

And for my fellow shoe geeks, shoes.

Pearl Izumi plus Hoka One One.

Pearl Izumi plus Hoka One One.

Headed to the shore for the start of the race, Rebecca flagged me down and gave me some last minute words of encouragement.  She also got a pre-race shot.

They were supposed to have yellow swimcaps for new triathletes.  Instead, they wrote "NOVICE" on the regular ones.

They were supposed to have yellow swimcaps for new triathletes. Instead, they wrote “NOVICE” on the regular ones.

My swim wave was second in the water behind the elites and was to be a “waist-deep” start, which I didn’t know existed until that day.  I tried to relax a little bit before the start by joking around with my fellow swimmers to calm my nerves and it must have worked because, for my first time in open-water swimming, I didn’t have any moment of panic when I got into the actual swim.

I'm in the white cap.

I’m in the white cap.

My only strategy on the swim itself was to survive and maintain forward momentum.  I achieved the forward momentum goal, and survived as well, but definitely could have done a lot better job when it came to sighting, not that it likely would have done anything to change the fact that I left the water second to last in my age group (12/13) and behind a number of athletes that started 6 minutes after I did.  But, hey, I swam a half mile both without drowning and without collapsing on the beach in a huffing mess after it was over.  Final time for the swim was 17:49, which I’m pretty sure is a time I should be happy with given my training paces.

Photo by Rebecca.  Editing by Snapseed.

Photo by Rebecca. Editing by Snapseed.

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It would be fair to say that my first transition was glacial in pace. In fact, it took a whole 5:01.6.  I should have listened to J’s advice to put my calf sleeves on under my wetsuit and swam with them and I should have gone sockless rather than spending the time to dry off my feet, quite deliberately it would seem given the time.  Other than that, I’m not entirely sure what I could have done to get through the transition faster, but I’m sure as I get some more tris under my belt it’ll just…happen.  Finally, all set up, I made my out of T1.

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On to the bike!  I figured I’d be able to make up some time here and set off to do just that.  Then I missed the second turn, roughly 1/8 mile into the leg.  Oops.  Backtracking, I made it onto the real course and set my sights on the cyclists ahead of me.  Riding in the drops, I got into a good rhythm, focusing on keeping my cadence up and “spinning” rather than “pushing” the pedals.  Soon I was making up ground on, and then passing, other competitors, eventually settling in with about 4 or 5 other cyclists that I would trade spots with throughout the remainder of the leg.  I have to say that there was a moment around Mile 8 where I just had to smile, thinking “I’m racing on a bike right now, and that’s pretty neat.”  It was a truly unique moment in my pursuit of athletics, and one I enjoyed tremendously.  My final time on the bike was 39:24, good for a 19.1 MPH average according to Strava, my best MPH average over any distance to date, and 7/13 for my age group.  Speaking of Strava, here’s your Dam bike route map and elevation chart.

Dam Strava Bike

Sadly the official race photographer didn’t get any shots of the bike leg, but thankfully Rebecca was on the spot and got some!

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And then it was into T2, which I managed to navigate a lot faster than T1, likely because it mostly involved changing shoes and taking off my helmet.

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And then onto the run, which I hoped would be my best showing.  I slipped on the trial pair of Hoka One One Conquests the Hoka rep procured for me and made my way out to the course.  Although perhaps a bit heavier than the shoes I would normally race a 5K in, I was looking forward to the cushioning that the Hokas would give my legs and the Speed Laces were perfect in aiding my attempt to speed up my transition.  Also, they matched my Pearl Izumi cycling shoes, which is very important.

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Almost immediately, I was hit with the exact same problem I would have way back in high school switching over from the bike to the run…calf cramping.  Also, that whole legs feeling like “bricks” thing was exactly on-point.  I stopped at the side of the road to stretch out my calves whereupon Zoomer Lindsey came up on me and encouraged me to get going.  Thankfully that bit of stretching did the trick and I didn’t have any other issues with them.

The run course was about as hilly a”5K” course as I’ve run, which hills definitely took their toll on my already beaten legs.  I tried to keep my sights set on the runners ahead of me and do my best to pick them off as I could.  Given that I’ve run, and written about, my fair share of road races, I can’t say there was a lot to blog home about when it came to the run leg other than to note that, even in the heat, my Pearl Izumi tri shorts and Zoot tri top were both comfortable to run in.

After one last uphill push, there was a quick corner to turn before finally hitting the finish line, 1:25:48 after I started with a 20:53 run split, which was 5/13 in my age group.  Here’s the pace and elevation chart.

Dam Run Leg

And then, I was done, with a neat and glittery medal in hand.

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Flush with excitement, I met up with Rebecca and my fellow Zoomers whereupon we all helped ourselves to the Kegs and Eggs that makes the Dam Triathlon such an appealing race, i.e. one local beer plus some eggs, sausage and blueberry muffin.

The Dam Triathlon was a Dam good way to start my Dam life as a triathlete, or at least an adult triathlete.  Many lessons were learned, and there are many more to come, no doubt.   I’m very grateful for my supportive wife being there to not just cheer me on and take great action shots, but keep me posted on how I’m doing in the field.  Coming out of the water she told me “there are white caps behind you,” which was not quite technically true as there was only one white cap behind me, but it made me feel better nonetheless.  Also thankful for my Zoom teammates, in particular J, who helped me with innumerable training and race-day questions, and then provided more encouragement on the course.

Next up, the Borderline Running Club Triathlon, a 5 mile bike to a pond, 500 yard swim, 5 mile bike back to the start, then a 5K run and then, at the end of September, the Pilgrimman Triathlon, my attempt at the Olympic Distance!

Run, and tri, happy!

 

 

 

Cambridge 5K Freedom Run

June 11, 2014

When is a 5K not just an ordinary 5K?  When it ends with a wicked party, complete with what is essentially an open beer bar.  Such is the case with the Freedom Run, a Cambridge 5K race.  This would be my third Cambridge 5K race, starting with the VERT-Sasquatch Trail Race in 2012 and then the Yulefest in…2013 I believe.  The races are always well-attended with a young race crowd looking to have a great race and then a great party after.

I went into the race hoping for a good time on what I thought would be a fairly fast course.  After being only six seconds off my PR the previous week at the Oak Bluffs Memorial Day 5K, running 21:12 on a course with a few good hills, I thought that I might have a better time in me.  I decided the race would be the perfect time to break out my brand-spanking new November Project Grassroots Gear along with my relatively new New Balance 1400v2 racing flats.

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A cool feature of the race, which started at Cambridgeside Galleria, was the offer of free parking in the Galleria garage such that, even though I was running later than I wanted to be, I was able to park easily, jog through the mall to packet pick-up as a warm-up, jog back to the car and then to the start and feel like I’d gotten my muscles at least a little on the warm side.  I said a brief hello to friends Kat and Thor and then made my way to the starting line, weaving my way through the crowd to get to a spot close to the front.

I resolved in this race not to make the same mistake I did before in Oak Bluffs, i.e. going out too fast in the first mile.  At OB, I went through mile 1 in about 6:24 so, true to my plan, I took it nice and easy and cruised through mile 1 in 6:14.  Damn.  The good news was that I had thought the first mile felt pretty hard and that old “I just don’t have it today” refrain started passing through my head.  I say good news because it would have been really depressing to feel like my legs didn’t have any fast in them and then have it confirmed with a slow opening mile.  As it was, I could take comfort in knowing I had just run 1/3 of the race at a fast pace (for me).

Mile 2 was pretty much a straight shot down Hampshire St., followed by a sharp right on to Cambridge St.  Throughout the mile I could see Kat chugging away ahead of me and set my sights on trying to keep her close, knowing that she would be going at a pace that I’d like to get close to.  Somewhere along the way I got passed by the newly-returned-to-Boston Mike Dow, who proceeded to remove his shirt and truly give the fans a show.  There was little else to report for the mile, and it passed in 6:41, much better than mile 2 of the OB race, which was 7:01 (though that included the two climbs).

The 1.1 miles were a long straight shot down Cambridge St., affording a good view of the runners ahead of me and giving me some targets to keep sight of.  I wasn’t able to catch them, but hopefully just having that visual helped me avoid slowing down more than I might have otherwise.  Though the course featured some slight, gradual uphills here and there on the course, the only real hill came around mile 2.5 and last about 0.2 miles.  It wasn’t a real hill by most race standards, but coming so late on an otherwise flat course, it certainly took its toll.  During the hill, my pace jumped up to around 7:25, not exactly the pace I was hoping for.  But, with the course finishing on a downhill, I was able to put the hammer down, at least as much as I had in me, and I felt like I really turned in a solid kick effort.  It certainly helped to see the clock ticking inexorably towards the 21 minute mark and I really, really wanted to be under that time.  My final, official time?  20:44, good for a 22 second PR and an ecstatic feeling given that I hadn’t seen 20:xx for a 5K since high school.  I’m particularly proud of this picture because, I think you can see the effort in my face.

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Post-race, I met up with Kat and we hit the beer garden.  I wish I could say that I hit it hard, given that I had to drive after, but I still managed to have some tastes of the offerings from the likes of Night Shift, Notch, and Downeast Cider.  If you can take public transportation to a Cambridge 5K party/race, I definitely recommend you do so.

When I got home, I allowed myself a couple treats to celebrate the PR, enjoyed while attempting to do some gardening.  Long story short, I was exceedingly happy with a great result at a great race enjoyed with some great friends!

The tribe is strong.

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Road Runner Sports R-Gear High Five 5″ Short

May 27, 2014

This post kicks off an exciting new relationship with Road Runner Sports!  RRS was kind enough to send me some great clothes from their house R-Gear brand, along with a sweet running dufflebag, for me to review.  I’m going to kick off the reviews with the R-Gear High Five 5″ short.  Here they are, pictured below front and back.

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Anyone who has seen my race pictures knows that, when it comes to race shorts, I like to keep things as short as possible, usually in the 3.5″ range.  Still, there are times when having a bit of extra coverage is more appropriate, particularly when it comes to group runs when I don’t want to be “that guy in the short shorts.”  What I love about these 5″ shorts is that they give me some extra coverage without making it feel like I am wearing basketball shorts.  You can see where they hit my leg here, which is to say about an inch or two above the knee.

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This is pretty much my ideal length.  The shorts feature a fairly standard built-in mesh brief that didn’t bind or chafe.  The shorts were, in a word: comfortable, even when tackling the stairs of November Project.  When I run, I don’t want to have to think about the clothes I’m wearing, either in a positive or negative light.  If I’m not thinking about them, they are doing their job, and I’m very happy to report that is the case with the High 5 shorts.  When I first put them on, I noticed that the waistband seems a bit thicker and…for lack of a better word, sturdier, than some of my other shorts.  I thought this might wind up bothering me, but instead it proved to be a positive feature, as the waistband material did a better job of staying put without a lot of need for a tight drawstring, which can cause unpleasant pressure in other shorts.  The shorts stayed put, no riding up, no twisting.

A final noteworthy aspect of the shorts are the pockets, which, for anyone training for a longer race, are quite important to get right.  What’s very cool about these shorts, and, I believe, unique among all the shorts I own, is that these shorts have 3 pockets, two of the “holster” style, i.e. slanted on the back hip with velcro closures, and one zip pocket right at the small of the back.  I typically prefer velcro pockets because they allow faster access to gels and I never have to worry about not being able to get a zipper undone when I’m really hurting for fuel.  At the same time, a zippered pocket is really idea for when you want to be certain you don’t lose something important like a key or hotel room card.  3 pockets, one zippered, two velcro, that is the way to go.  Hands down.  Overall, I really liked these shorts and, for $35 they’re priced right too.  I definitely recommend these shorts!

Full Disclosure: These shorts were sent to me free of charge by RRS.  All opinions are my own.

Drinking The Kool-Aid: My First November Project Experience

May 23, 2014

I am now 3 days removed from my first November Project experience and just now starting to regain full use of my quadriceps. Such is the difficulty of doing HALF a full workout.

November Project, briefly, is a grassroots fitness movement started by two former crew rowers, Brogan and Bojan, in Boston. Meant to last but one month, ie November, NP has grown from 1 member beyond the founders to hundreds in Boston alone plus new NP locations in cities from Boston to Vancouver. Yes, Vancouver. I can’t speak for the other city’s schedules and activities, but in Boston NP meets three days a week, with a moving Destination Deck on Monday featuring various exercises, stadium steps at the Harvard Track on Wednesdays, and hill work on Friday. Members are held to an accountability system through “verbal” commitments and you may find yourself publicly called out for reneging on such a verbal. Oh, and it’s free.  To get more of the story, and a glimpse into practices, check out this video.

Since its inception, NP has developed something of a cult-like following, with NP members referred to as The Tribe. It’d be tough to meet a duo more charismatic and engaging than Brogan and Bojan, the proverbial pied pipers of fitness. Perhaps it was this exuberant devotion that caused me to stay away for so long, not wanting to be sucked in, or perhaps it was laziness in not wanting to wake up at 5 am to make a 6:30 am session but, whatever the reason, I did not attend an NP workout until I finally made a verbal to attend a Wednesday session of stadium stairs.

Walking up the steps into the stadium, I began to get both excited and terrified, hoping I wouldn’t do something to immediately identify myself as a “noob.”

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I arrived to find a large group of mostly young, think 20-30 something’s on the whole, gathering and chatting at the base of the first section of the horseshoe-shaped stadium.

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There are 37 sections with, according to the official numbers, 1147 steps if you complete a full Stadium. Wednesdays feature both a 5:30 and 6:30 am group. You can see the 5:30 group taking their group shot here.

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Before I actually started the workout, Bojan called a meeting of Newbies, about 20 of us. After some light stretching, we were told to high 5 five people. Then hug a stranger for 5 seconds. Then hug a stranger for 7 seconds. Sound silly? Sure, and it is. And that’s the point. You giggle. You laugh. You drop an F Bomb or 2 and, even for a brief moment, you make a connection with someone. I hugged a dude for 7 seconds and survived to tell the tale.  When the hugging and high fiving was over, Bojan explained to us how the session would go.  As you might expect, it’s fairly straight-forward: 45 minutes on the clock, do as many sections as you can.  Sometimes a bell will be rung, indicating a fire drill at which point everyone drops on their step and does push-ups until the bell stops ringing.  Being new to the Project, Bojan recommended we go halfway on our first time, to section 19.  I hated the idea of cutting a workout short, but everything I’d heard going into this was that the stairs were a lot harder than could be expected and I’d be wise to follow the advice given.

The sun shines on The Tribe.

The sun shines on The Tribe.

At last, we lined up, 10 at a time to begin our up and down journey around McCurdy Track.  I was quickly taken aback by just how tall the stadium steps, requiring more of a lunge than a step.  This was not the stairwork we would do in high school.  I started off by trying some approximation of running up the steps and then walking back down (the stairs used coming down are more like regular steps, but narrower, making them feel quite precarious when your legs are wobbly).  That strategy didn’t last long and likely doomed me from the get-go.  Before long, I was struggling, hands on knees, trying to will my burning quads to keep moving.  Soon, there was no attempt at running, or bounding, up the stairs.  There was only one thought: “get to the top of this section.”  I was thankful to have fellow Hub Runner Brenna there as she provided motivation and encouragement as I made my way up and down, up and down, up and down, the concrete steps.  Despite strong inclinations otherwise, I didn’t let myself stop to try to recover at the bottom of a section, having a strong feeling that if I did I might never start again.  Some of the de facto leaders of NP made their way around the stadium, shouting encouragement, giving more high-fives, and reminding those that stopped that the base was “lava” and they had to get out of it.  Again, silly, but, from what I saw at least, it never failed to work.  No one wants to find him or herself in lava.

At Section 18, I decided to give a little extra push, mixing in a few bounding/running steps up.  Then I finished Section 19, the halfway point and figured, “what the heck, why not 1 more?”  So, my workout ended after Section 20, and I was happy to call it a day there.  Despite having given up running long ago in the morning, my legs felt like absolute jelly.  Quivering jelly, at that, like a wobbly jello mold.  After finishing the last up section I didn’t even trust myself to go back down the stairs, for fear my legs would just give out from under me and I’d go a-tumblin’, tumblin’ down, down, down to the lava below.  This is what my workout looked like via GPS (kind of, at least, I don’t think Garmin had a lot of luck tracking the stairs).

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I found Brenna and finally got some blessed relief sitting at the top of Section 19, waiting for the rest of The Tribe to finish this insane workout.  Many were still running, yes running, up the steps to finish their stadium, some were even ON THEIR WAY BACK, having already done all 1147 steps but not having found satisfaction yet.

Recovering with Brenna.

Recovering with Brenna.

Finally, the 45 minutes was up, and the majority of participants gathered in Section 19.  The first order of business was the awarding of the Positive Energy Stick.  That might not be its actual name, but it’s a big stick, and you get it for displaying utmost positive energy during the workout.  It seems to be quite the honor.

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The presentation of the Positivity Stick.

Next, we wished a Happy  Birthday to Tribe members, along with doing some sort of echo-type shout, which I couldn’t quite figure out, but it sounded neat, so there was that.  You can even hear it here.

And, with that, my first November Project workout was complete.  I made my way, slowly, to the car, seeing two of the people most responsible for getting me to finally go, Lindsay and Renata of Marathon Sports group runs and Hub Running, along the way.  I felt flush with excitement over the possibilities that lay in store with more NP workouts, albeit I foresee myself being limited to Wednesdays until we move out of the suburbs.  I pictured tearing down downhills with my stair-strengthened quads, being propelled forward on taut calves, and a general increase in stamina for race day if I stuck with it.  I was even motivated to run later that night, my first 2 workout day in Lord knows how long.

In the end, I’m not remotely surprised that I find I drank the November Project Kool-Aid.  Hard.  It’s a gathering of people all trying to be the best they can be, whatever that means for them.  Some are trying to get in better shape, some trying to be better runners, some better athletes in general.  Maybe some just really like working out.  Whatever their reason, they are there doing their thing and supporting others with an infectious air of positive energy and optimism.  If you go to a November Project workout, I urge you to go with an open mind and  a willingness to smile.  It’s easy to be cynical about it all, especially if you’re a bit of a curmudgeon like myself.  But, at least as far as I can tell after one workout, it’s real.  The people, the energy, and, above all the work you will put in, all real, and all ready to kick your butt into shape.

The Tribe is strong, and I hope to make it one person stronger.

Verbal for next Wednesday.

1964 Boston Marathon Footage

May 19, 2014

I just came across this 26 minute documentary film on the 1964 Boston Marathon on Running Warehouse’s blog, which is simply amazing from a runnerd perspective.  Although I haven’t yet watched the whole thing through, but I can’t imagine anyone in the film can beat the Reverend Shannon, who ran the race 14 times but couldn’t compete that year with an official bib because he lost his amateur status after competing as a professional boxer.  The good reverend has a few interesting training techniques including:

The Back Wiggle

Back Wiggle

And The Stomach Bounce.

Stomach Bounce

Whatever happened to the Lynn Athletic Club?

Lynn AC

This Guy.

This Guy

BAA Runners.

BAA Runners

 

I won’t spoil the rest of the fun, here’s the movie in its entirety!

 

Blue Trailer Lockers

May 16, 2014

With races everywhere instituting new, strict security policies, the bag check amenity is getting harder and harder to come by.  This can often mean running back and forth between wherever you managed to park your car, then to packet pickup, then back to the car, then back to the start, all while trying to not be over/under-dressed in the time before the race.  In short, it can be a pain in the neck.  Enter Blue Trailer Lockers!

I first became aware of Blue Trailer while training for the Boston Marathon this winter.  As a very cool way to market themselves, Blue Trailer had a table set up on Beacon St. with goodies for the troves Saturday morning runners out on the course.  Essentially, Blue Trailer Lockers brings a mobile set of, that’s right, lockers to races for you to securely store your gear in. Lockers can even be rented online in advance of your race.

Blue Trailer Lockers at a race.

Blue Trailer Lockers at a race.

Pretty nifty idea, right?  And absolutely worth the cost to know your gear is safe and secure.

Here’s where you can find Blue Trailer Lockers in the near future!

May

17 – TI Disco Fever

18 – Newton 10K

24 – Gold Star Run For Honor

25 – Great Hyannis Road Races

June

1 – Old Sandwich Road Race

7 – York Hospital 5K

14 – Flag Day 5K

21 – Sharon Timlin 5K

29 – Bands on the Run Half Marathon

July

4 – Hingham Road Race

12 – Jamestown Half Marathon

13 – Shipyard Old Port Half Marathon

20 – Salisbury Beach Relay

So, check out Blue Trailer Lockers on Facebook and Instagram and keep up with their latest activities, your bag will thank you!

NOTE: This is not a paid advertisement, just a cool service offered by people who care about runners that I thought you should know about!

First Impression Review: Hoka One One Conquest

May 15, 2014

Greetings readers!  After a bit of a lull post-Boston, I’m back with another First Impression Review, this time it’s the Hoka One One Conquest, courtesy of a wear-test run at Marathon Sports in Boston.  Hoka One One (pronounced “hoe-kah oh-nay oh-nay”), which I’m just going to refer to as “Hoka” from hereon out, is a relatively new brand on the market, having been founded in 2009 but only recently showing up in running stores.  Hokas were originally targeted at ultrarunners and gained a foothold among a small, but extremely devoted, group of trail runners that gravitated towards the highly cushioned ride, which protected them over the course of 50 or 100 miles.  It would be fair to say that Hoka is singularly responsible for the recent “maximalist” trend sweeping the shoe industry.  Where the Saucony Kinvara 5 has a stack heights of 22 mm in the heel and 18 mm in the forefoot, the Hoka Bondi 3, pictured below, has heights of 35 mm and 30 mm.  Essentially, Hoka has kept the best lesson to come out of the minimalist trend. i.e. lower heel-toe drop (from the traditional 12 mm) while adding back in cushioning.

Bondi 3

Bondi 3

As you can see, all that white stuff is cushioning.  To give you a sense of some other Hoka offerings, here are some shots of other models in the lineup.

Stinson Tarmac

Stinson Tarmac

Stinson Tarmac (Womens)

Stinson Tarmac (Womens)

Rapa Nui 2 Tarmac

Rapa Nui 2 Tarmac

Mafate Womens

Mafate Womens

Mafate Trail

Mafate Trail

Kailua Tarmac Womens

Kailua Tarmac Womens

The first time I ran in Hokas, I tried out the Bondi 2 and, I’l be honest, I hated it.  It was too clunky, too SQUISHY, and just didn’t provide the responsive ride that I’ve come to look for in my preferred running shoes.  After asking around, the general consensus was that if I was going to give Hoka another shot, I ought to try the Conquest model, which as it so happens, was being offered as a wear-test option at the run.  According to Running Warehouse, the Conquest weighs 11.9 oz. and has stack heights of 34 mm in the heel, 28 mm in the forefoot, amounting to a 6 mm drop, not quite the 4 mm drop that typifies many minimalist shoes but flatter than even Saucony’s now-standard 8 mm drop.  The Conquest would be considered a neutral shoe.

From a purely aesthetic perspective, I think Hoka made an excellent choice with this colorway, choosing the same color for the midsole as the upper, which distracts from the gigantic midsole and makes the shoes look a bit more traditional.  Having seem a number of customer’s at GBRC reject a shoe just based on looks, this is not insignificant from a sales perspective.

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I’m happy to report that, after giving the Conquests a shot, I finally am starting to understand what all the fuss is about when it comes to Hoka.  Starting with the fit, the Conquest felt great on my foot, with enough volume to allow for comfort but without my foot feeling like it was swimming.  You’ll notice that my test pair featured Hoka’s bungee lacing system, my first time using such “laces.”  I found they pretty much worked the same as traditional laces, though they may have been slightly harder to dial-in the right pressure.  Hokas come with both traditional laces and the ones seen.  The upper is “no-sew,” which means no seams to dig into your foot.  I definitely felt the tall stack height upon lacing them up, but not to the point of distraction.  The other thing I could feel immediately was the shoe’s rockered design, which seems to be increasingly commonplace.

As per usual, the proof is in the running, in this case the run was a glorious 5.5 miles around the Charles River with none other than Runner’s World Shoe Guide Editor, Jeff Dengate.  As a side note, this was pretty a pretty cool experience for me, being a shoe geek and all.  This was my first run in 4 days, finally getting back after a stomach virus socked me, literally, in the gut, so I wasn’t sure what my legs would have in me.  After an 8:00 first mile, Jeff and I picked up the pace, going through the next 3 miles in 7:26, 7:22, and 7:19, which is definitely on the faster side for me.  I don’t think I could have comfortably run this pace in the older Bondis, but the Conquests proved up to the task, delivering on the promise of a responsive, but cushioned ride.  The bungee laces and no-sew upper held my foot well and the rockered outsole provided for a fluid ride.  Unlike the Bondi experience, I never felt like my foot was pushing through the cushioning, and wasting energy in return.  After only one run, I’m undecided on how the weight of the shoe affected pace.  For 11.9 oz., the shoe didn’t necessarily feel heavy, but nor did it feel as fast as, say, the adidas Adios Boost.

If Hoka keeps making more models along the lines of the Conquest, and finds a way to drop the weight while maintaining the uniquely cushioned yet responsive ride, they are going to continue to make headway in the mainstream market.  Cosmetics will continue to be a challenge to widespread adoption, but not not an insurmountable one.  I can say that I’m happy I gave Hoka one more chance, as I can now confidently recommend that runners looking for a neutral shoe that can handle some uptempo running give the Conquest a chance.

Have you tried Hokas yet?  What was your experience?

Guest Post: Nike Women’s Half Marathon DC Recap

April 30, 2014

Hello all!  Rebecca ran the Nike Women’s Half Marathon DC this past weekend and did a write-up of her experience as a forum post, so I thought I’d share it here!  Enjoy!

I did my goal race this past weekend: [i.e. the Nike Women's Half Marathon, the second year this race has been offered as an addition to the Nike Women's San Francisco Marathon].

Stretch goal was a 2:15-basically thought it was impossible based on recent training and hip issues.
Secondary goal was a PR.

The wall at Nike Georgetown.

The wall at Nike Georgetown.

There I am!

There I am!

Here is my race report: Weather: Low 50’s and 6-8 miles per hour wind with 50-55% humidity.

Course: Flat-with a half mile tunnel on what I can only believe is a freeway which you do twice (map link: Nike Women’s Half Marathon Map)

Race started at 7 AM so I get up at 5:15, then really 5:30 to shower and dress in my spandex shorts and tank and eat some bread with peanut butter and make coffee I actually get about 5-10 sips of before the race. I get dropped off about a block from my bag check and drop my bag off. I left my pace band in the car when I thought it was in the bag so I go to the bathroom, go back and check my bag and then snuck into my corral without proof I belonged there. This is where the stupidity of the race people continued with the announcer basically saying the most annoying stuff he possibly could about you go strong girl, and just have fun! It was when he started talking about taking selfies during the race and then hash-tagging them that I about lost it. I was at the very front of the corral as I wanted to do 15 seconds faster than the low end of the pace for that corral. I know I said out loud that this was everything I hate about our society. There’s more, but you get the mood.

I made myself only check my Garmin every time I hit a mile marker to see the pace for that mile, since I run best by feel.

I have no idea what happened mile 2 or 3 and why they are so off.

Garmin Data

1 9:52.9 1.00 9:53
2 11:45.9 1.00 11:46
3 9:15.3 1.00 9:15
4 10:43.8 1.00 10:44
5 10:34.8 1.00 10:35
6 10:40.8 1.00 10:41
7 10:34.8 1.00 10:35
8 10:55.2 1.00 10:55
9 10:33.4 1.00 10:33
10 10:42.3 1.00 10:42
11 10:43.5 1.00 10:43
12 10:46.5 1.00 10:47
13 10:30.3 1.00 10:30
14 3:22.9 0.33 10:10

Summary 2:21:02.3 13.33 10:35

My official time is 2:21:02, which is a 5 minute, 44 second PR for me. I’m pretty pleased with this since I went in with a bum left hip that has been paining me severely after running, but not during. It didn’t hurt during the race and very little so far after which is surprising since it hurt like someone was stabbing me after I ran three measly miles Thursday night. My toe continues to be inflamed and painful since I injured it last summer but it’s not keeping me from running.

This race was a mishmash of women who run regularly and train for their races and women who were there for the experience or to raise money for Team in Training.

Mile 1-don’t start out too fast, there’s a downhill here people aren’t noticing. I am a little fast but not breathing hard and my legs feel ok. Yay, my hip doesn’t hurt. Toe, you suck. Downtown DC has a lot of big buildings. WTF are those women dancing next to the marching band wearing. Why would you wear bikini bottoms with Nike t-shirts? Those are some big butts but they can move. Ok, stop looking at the butts and pay attention to the race.

Mile 2: Why do my legs feel weak? What is going on? Why is this hard? My toe hurts.

Mile 3: I feel good, but why are we running through a tunnel underground on a freeway? Why did no one I spoke to who did this last year tell me about it? What do I do with my sunglasses? Oh, good, they stay on top of my head. This band is entertaining and has a good beat. WTF are the giant We Run DC letters and the Nike swoosh doing set up in THE TUNNEL. Why are people stopping in the middle of the race to take selfies with them? WHY? WHY? WHY? Get me out of this tunnel from hell!

Mile 4: This is nice to be outside again. Give me my double caffeine gel now! Yay water stop so I can take it!

Mile 5: OH! Lincoln Memorial roundabout. Look for DH and friend. Where are they? Screw it, I will see them when I have run over this bridge twice and around another roundabout on the other side. Arlington! The bridge again! There they are, remember to wave! I didn’t look in the memorial at all, I was really looking forward to seeing the big guy. Oops. Hey, I feel good and I am running close to my goal pace. Awesome.

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Mile 6: ???? Just get to 10K and then it is really only another 10K to go (a nice little lie I know is a lie but I tell myself anyways). Hey, more of those women dancing with marching bands in bikini bottoms and t shirts. What is up with that? More big butts, but again, they can move in ways I just can’t.

Mile 7: Woo hoo, halfway and I feel good. When do I get to the boring island DH’s cousin’s wife told me about?

Mile 8: Give me gel or give me death! No, I don’t want a Luna bar during a race.

Mile 9-11, Oh, this is the boring but pretty island she was talking about. How many trees with pretty pink flowers can I look at before I go insane? Just keep moving your legs or you can’t wear that shirt you bought. Ahhh! Golf cart, whew there is a fence. Why don’t these stupid team in training runners who have these annoying coaches who keep saying go team every time we pass one of them just disappear. Really, now these “coaches” are jumping in to run with their “team members” five abreast. Yes, pass by so close you sweat on the coach. Hah. Now, pick the team members off and see how many you can roadkill. You better finish before the girl who keeps asking every single one, coach, do you have salt? I cannot hear that phrase one more time. Whew, dropped salt girl.

Mile 12: Bridge! That breeze is heaven-sent.

No idea where this is on the course, but, hey, picture!

No idea where this is on the course, but, hey, picture!

WTF? I know someone told me there was a chocolate station in mile 12 but I didn’t believe anyone would actually take it. Oh, none of them ate it, they just dropped the individually wrapped truffles on the ground where they have melted into piles of goo for me to avoid. Marvelous. Just finish strong. TUNNEL AGAIN????????????????????? It is so loud and humid in here. Please let my sunglasses stay on my head. Going to see husband soon. Hey, my hip flexors feel fine!

Mile 13: SO MANY TURNS. My stupid toe has better just fall off. Hey, that is really cool that people’s names are appearing on these big screens with Go ___________! Oh, they have a mat here reading our chips to make that happen! Cool! Hey, the announcer then husband then announcer just said go Rebecca! I better stop shuffling along and pick my feet up. RUN! Oh, there is the Capitol again! Whew, almost done!

Upon hearing The Husband and Announcer.

Upon hearing The Husband and Announcer.

.1: MOVE IT! STOP SHUFFLING! Oh no, I can hear announcer guy being an idiot again talking about selfies.

Whew, done, and watch says 2:21:02! That’s a 5 minute something PR! Yay! Walk, wow, cool, another race that gives us a real water bottle with the race name! Oh, this is where I get my Tiffany necklace from the 19 year ROTC kid in the tuxedo. More people taking selfies. Weave through, get my necklace and bag from bag check and put on sweatshirt. Oh yeah! I did it!

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Entire weekend summary:

I flew to DC Friday night with DH. We stayed with friends on their air mattress in their spare bedroom in their East Capitol Hill row house. Friday night we went to get dinner at a combination Jewish deli and Irish bar. You read that right.

Saturday we got up and took their dog Maybe for a walk to get these awesome pretzel bun breakfast sliders then got on their metro to ride in an awesome 70s colors (orange, mustard yellow) subway car to the “expotique” in Georgetown on the water.

This was the dumbest place to have the expo. It’s a half mile plus walk from the nearest subway. It was all outside without bathrooms-perfect for 20,000 runners who all need to pee constantly because they are hydrating for the race. Second, your “expotique” (just call it an expo) was lame. I don’t need you to re-enforce all the terrible stereotypes about women athletes/runners. I don’t want my hair braided in some special way for the race and I certainly don’t need photo ops. That’s all I remember them having except for some area for the special “Team in Training” people. However, I wanted a better piece of clothing from the race so we walked up to the Georgetown Nike store and I braved the hordes grabbing merchandise like it was the last piece of cake  left in the world to grab a nice tech half zip which will be good in the fall/winter here.

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Stopping at Nike Georgetown.

A stop at the Georgetown Running Company to grab sunglasses since I think mine were in my stolen running bag and a stop at Dean and Deluca’s and Baked and Wired and we are off to a bluegrass festival on some island where the wind blows dirt into everything and I spent three-four hours in an overcrowded dirt field getting baked by the sun but listening to some good music and having a nice picnic with DH and our friends.

Then back to their place for a watching of the classic movie Coming to America and a pasta dinner and bed.

Sunday: Race and then walking around mall and monuments until brunch at Founding Farmers, then walking by White House to car and back to their house for showers, ciders, dinner and then s’mores on their patio and bed.

The 118th Boston Marathon: A Race Recap and Retirement

April 24, 2014

My third marathon, and fourth race of a marathon or longer, is now, officially in the books.  The official time, 4:26:16, a 10:10 pace.  This wasn’t the time I’d hoped for, it wasn’t even in the same zip code as what I hoped for, but that doesn’t mean I’m not proud of the result.  Here’s how the day went.  Actually, first, let me lay out my marathon day gear:

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photo 3

For shorts, I went with the new Brooks Essential 3.5″ Split Short.

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And, my Skechers GORun Ride 3s.

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And, now, we return to the recap.  The day started with a 4:00 AM alarm so we could make it down to the Westin in Copley Square to reconnoiter with the Run For Research team in our private ballroom.  I wish I had gotten myself there earlier to get some more coffee down, but I didn’t realize how the streets would be blocked off and had to go way out of my way just to get to the hotel.  But I was very grateful Rebecca woke up early with me and drove us in so I could get in a quick nap along the way.  After a team picture, we loaded up our buses and made the trip to Hopkinton.  It’s always a little mind boggling thinking about how long it takes just to drive there and thinking “I have to run back!”  We arrived at Athlete’s Village sometime 7 and then hunkered down for a long morning of…waiting.  With a bank of port-a-potties right outside of our bus, I decided the best bet would be to hunker down with my RFR teammates and try to relax some.  While this mostly worked out well, especially because I didn’t bring anything to sit on in Athlete’s Village, I do think it set the stage for me to be dehydrated during the race, as I only had one water bottle with me.  I knew I could have gotten more if I went into the staging area itself, but I wasn’t sure I’d be let out of it once I passed through security, so I held off until about 9:30, when I couldn’t take it any more and had to get water so I could eat some Honey Stinger Chews.

Now, somewhere along the way, I got either completely mixed up in what time my wave was supposed to start, or just had the time of day wrong, because I totally missed my wave’s start, Wave 3 that is.  I thought that I was joining the Wave 3 crowd to head to the start when, as I looked around me at the other runners, I realized that everyone else’s bib was yellow, while mine was blue.  This seemed like a fairly good indication that I had done something wrong.  Now, this wasn’t exactly the WORST problem to have in the race, especially because it meant I got to see some friends in Wave 4 before I started.  That said, it did throw me off, as I wasn’t starting with my RFR team and it gave me some anxiety that I could have done without.

Starting in Wave 4 meant that I would have many thousands of people in front of me from the start.  Clearly I wasn’t expecting to set any land speed records in this race, but I did have hopes to be around 8:30 pace (Spoiler Alert: I did not achieve this), which would be hard to reach, certainly in the early stages of the race.  I have to be honest and say that weaving my way through the field so I could try to find my stride took its toll on me both physically and mentally.  I became annoyed nearly from the beginning of the race by…well, pretty much everything: groups from the same charity running 4 across in the middle of the road, walkers at mile 1 in the middle of the road, large numbers of runners wearing headphones that couldn’t hear me coming up on them and saying “excuse me” or letting them know I was passing on one side of them.  Some things I think I had a right to be annoyed at, some things I was just annoyed at because I was already in a lousy state of mind and wasn’t doing much to combat it.

I did my best to persevere and try to stay near my goal pace and, for the first 10 miles, did reasonably well at that, ranging from 8:18-8:59 pace during that time.  There’s not a lot to write home about for those first 10, with few opportunities for large crowds of spectators and not a whole lot to look at.  Personally, the Wellesley Scream Tunnel is about when the race starts to pick up for me in terms of spectator support.  Maybe I’d built it up too much in my head, but this years Scream Tunnel just didn’t seem to have the…POP it has in years’ past.  I did think it was fantastic that they made custom signs this year for runners, inviting people to submit what they wanted a sign to read.  My friend Kat (who ran 3:25!!) made this one for me, but sadly I didn’t see it on the course.

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Passing through the town center of Wellesley and the arch marking the halfway point, I knew that any hope of maintaining a semblance of the pace I was on was out the window.  The wheels may not have come off entirely, but they sure felt wobbly.  Knowing I had the hills coming up didn’t help me mentally.

I think it was around Mile 15 that I took the first of what would be many walking breaks.  Part of the breaks had to do with pure fatigue, part of it was the calf cramps that kept on attacking me, causing me to flail my leg out like I’d been shot.  It was really all I could do to push myself to keep moving in a forward direction through the Newton Hills, losing time all along but never going backwards or stopping.  Here you can see some pretty sweet Pain Face and what happened with calf cramping.

Cram 3 Cramp 2 Cramp

Finally, I made it to the mile 20-ish mark where my mom, sister, and cousins were waiting for me and cheering exuberantly.  They got some great pictures too, where I somehow appear to be happy despite then telling them something along the lines of “I hate the marathon!”

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From there, I knew I only had 3-ish miles to go to get to Rebecca.  I wish I had something interesting to say about those miles other than the fact that they hurt.  They hurt a lot.  Finally, I made it to Rebecca, but I couldn’t even get much out in the way of words, having been socked in a the gut by a wave of emotions  She did get a neat picture where she’s pointing me out to our friends and I’m looking around trying to see the group cheering for me.

Becca Picture

I’ll confess, up until this point I wanted to quit the race a number of times.  I wanted to quit at the halfway point, at a med tent on Heartbreak Hill, at mile 20 when I saw my family, and again at mile 23 when I saw my wife, not to mention a number of times in between.  Despite these impulses, one thought sustained me and kept me moving, namely that there were hundreds, if not thousands, of other runners who were going through, or had gone through, much worse adversity than I was currently experiencing, not to mention the thousands of people who would have loved to have gotten a bib and had the privilege of my suffering, and here I was, thinking of quitting because I was in pain and unhappy with my pace.  How could I ever use the phrase “Boston Strong” again if I proved myself to be Boston Weak?  Plus, there was no way Rebecca was going to let me quit once I saw her with 5K to go.

Because I have no idea where this occurred on the course, I’m going to include this picture of me apparently being chased by a Walker from The Walking Dead here.

Walker

Ironically, though in years’ past the BC kids lining the course basically until the end have normally been my nemesis.  Too loud.  Too obnoxious.  Too many.  This year though, they were awesome.  They were loud and raucous, but encouraging in a way that made me want to respond to them by pushing myself.  Even when I couldn’t run, I at least tried to give them a thumb’s up to acknowledge their cheers and let them know they were making a difference.

At last, I hit Hereford St. and then, Boylston St.  I have to say, it is a LONG way on Boylston St.  The fact that you don’t even hit Mile 26 until you’ve gone a bit on it is disheartening in and of itself.  More disheartening though was that I couldn’t run the whole way, like I desperately wanted to.  Apparently at some point I did manage to break into a semblance of a run for a short period of time though, not that I have any idea where this picture was taken.  Suffice it to say that, at some point during this race, I looked like a runner.

Flying

Despite 26.15 miles of discomfort, when the finish line came into view, I was able to muster some energy to make sure I got a finisher’s picture I could be psyched about.

Hands UpI’ll have a future post with some reflections on this year’s marathon, some good, some bad, but I don’t want to sully this post with negative musings.  I will use it to announce my retirement from the marathon distance though.  It’s just not a distance that seems to agree with me like others do.  Of course, I’ve said that before, so who knows.  Still, if that’s my last finisher’s picture of a marathon, I can say with all honesty that I will be at peace with it.  I’ll still have these memories to treasure.

3 Marathons

Go like never before, my friends.

 

Run “Boston” For Boston

April 17, 2014

On the anniversary of 4.15.13, I was largely silent about what it meant to me and the feelings I was experiencing as a result.  Tributes abounded and there were many others who could more eloquently state how we, as a city, as a community, as runners felt.  Every time I’ve tried to put “pen to paper” I end up rambling as a million emotions flood out and I try to corral them all into something coherent and meaningful.  What I would like to share though is how I, and my wife, Rebecca, started the day, which was, of course, by running.

A friend who runs for Somerville Road Runners and is a wicked good triathlete for Zoom Multisport, Greg, organized an early morning run with the goal of spelling out “boston” using GPS tracking on the streets of Boston.  I initially hadn’t planned on making the early trek into the city, but Rebecca encouraged us to do so, and I’m incredibly happy she did.  After getting up at 4:30 a.m., we arrived at the meet-up spot just in time to get the run started, joining our friends Alett and Jocelyn along with about 30 or so other runners, many of which were sporting yellow and blue attire (often festooned with November Project on it as well).

With a short introductory speech from Greg, we were off into the humid, misting morning, taking the pace easy to try to keep the group largely together.  We traveled up and down the streets of the Back Bay neighborhood, sometimes running down half a block before turning back around in order to create the letters.  Along the way I chatted with whomever happened to be alongside me at the time, as I’m wont to do.  Much the same way people develop beach friendships that may last a summer, I make run friends.  We may only have a few miles together, but that’s plenty of time to learn about a person and it’s an aspect about group running that I love.

Before I knew it, we were pulling up on Boylston St., our run complete.  Thank goodness Greg was there leading as, even though he gave us directions, I am lousy at that kind of thing.  I tried planning a similar run this past winter, hoping to spell out HRC for Hub Running Club on the same streets and this was the result.

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I don’t know about you, but of all the things I see in that picture, “HRC” is not one of them.  With Greg at the helm though, this is what we ended up with (tracked using my brand new Garmin Forerunner 220):

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Because I didn’t have satellites in time to capture the “b,” I decided I should doctor up the picture a little.

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There now, that’s better.

Afterwards, we gathered for a group shot.

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I think the picture says more than I could with words.  I can’t imagine a better show of strength, resilience, and love of city than this run demonstrated.  It’ll be a memory I always keep with me.


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