Tuesday, October 25, 2016

2016 Jonas Cattell Memorial 10 Miler: Race Report

Running nerds and history geeks can finally find common ground.  Introducing the best race in New Jersey that you've never heard of: the Jonas Cattell Memorial Run.  It's also quite possibly the oldest, having been run every year since its inception nearly fifty years ago.

The race was started in 1969 to commemorate Jonas Cattell's 10 mile run from Haddonfield to Fort Mercer on the east bank of the Delaware River in 1777.  18-year-old Cattell had been arrested the night before by British troops and spent the night in jail, where he overheard the plan for Hessian troops to attack the fort in the morning.  As soon as he was released, he took off westward, using his experience as a hunter and outdoorsman to easily navigate the trails to the fort.  His advance warning gave American troops, expecting an attack from the water, enough time to prepare appropriately.  Despite being outnumbered, they won the battle while experiencing few casualties.

What is remarkable about this race is that no one seems to have heard of it, despite its age and remarkable backstory.  Unlike other races of the 1960's and 70's that started modestly and have since swelled to the thousands (Falmouth Road Race comes to mind), this race stays true to its roots with roughly 150 runners each year.

The race does little, if any, advertising.  There is no official race website or any presence on social media of any kind.  The only way runners seem to hear about it is through word of mouth, and indeed that's exactly how I came across it.  Erik from Who's Up?, also a history buff, told me he was planning on doing the race, and I agreed to do it with him.

This race is point-to-pont, so organizers provide bus transport from the finish line at Fort Mercer to the starting line in Haddonfield.  I made the drive down Rt. 130 at 6:30 in the morning, parked at the battlefield park's parking lot, then boarded the bus to Haddonfield. Registration forms were distributed on the bus to those who still needed to register.  How much was race-day registration?  Are you ready for this?  $30.  For 10 miles.  That's probably the best bang for my buck I have ever found in a race of any size or length.

Once in Haddonfield I was able to complete registration, use a toilet at a local supermarket, meet up with some of the guys from Who's Up?, and drop off my bag to be transported to the finish.  At 8:00, police stopped traffic on King's Highway, Haddonfield's main street, and 170 runners lined up to race.

Erik and I run similar paces, and planned to run together at roughly 7:30 pace.  Neither of us had a Garmin, though, and we were forced to run by effort, which is never a good idea for us as we always end up going out with guns blazing at the start of races.  We were surprised to pass the first mile marker in 6:50.  This time a year ago, 6:50 would have been child's play, but I'm just not in the same shape now that I was then.

The entire course is brilliant - gently rolling hills and almost a straight shot all the way to the river.  The roads were not shut down, but there was plenty of police support along the way to ensure smooth crossings at intersections.

Somewhere in those early miles, Erik and I got to talking about my marathon training over the years.

Erik: How do you do it?
Me: Do what?
Erik: Run for so long by yourself?
Me: I spend a lot of time building mental toughness.  It gets easier after awhile.

Just before the halfway point, I pulled away from Erik and began running on my own, slowly picking off runners.  Minus a few strong wind gusts, the weather was a picture perfect fall day, and I felt strong and confident throughout.

I ended up finishing in 1:09:27, good for 9th place overall and 1st in my age group (though if I had run the same time in last year's race, I wouldn't have even placed.  Just goes to show you it's sometimes about who shows up, not how fast you run).  The good news is it was a 10 mile PR, though not exactly a hard-fought one because my last ten mile race was almost a decade ago, which I ran in 1:31:20.

I gasped for breath and yelled "The Hessians are coming!"  It could have been my running daze, but I think I got a few chuckles.  Erik pulled up shortly afterwards in 1:10:54, taking second in our age group.

The post race scene was a bit sparse, with nothing more than Philly pretzels, bananas, and sports drink on offer (though for $30 I'm really not complaining).  But Red Bank Battlefield Park itself was in full fall swing with dozens of Revolutionary War reenactors patrolling the grounds and getting ready for an official show that afternoon.  Alas, Erik and I each had to return to our respective households and resume fatherhood duties.  I'm told I earned a medal for my AG win, but I'll have to wait until tomorrow night to get it.

Overall, I cannot recommend this race more.  I love races like this where competition is a large factor in entering.  It's not about the bling.  It's not about the costumes.  It's not about the post race party.  It's not about the swag.  It's not about the music on the course.  It's just about the race.  What a novel concept in today's running industrial complex.

Already can't wait for next year.

Sunday, October 9, 2016

5000 Yards Dash Race Recap

This morning I raced the inaugural 5000 Yards Dash in Philadelphia, which was organized by Great American Brewery Runs, a company that pairs road racing with breweries in the Philadelphia area.  They have races sponsored by Flying Fish, Sly Fox, Fordham and Dominion, River Horse, and now Yards Brewing Company, hence the name and distance of today's event.

Each race also has a charity component, and today's race was in benefit of Philly Achilles, which "pairs disabled athletes with compassionate and trained guides who place an emphasis on safety to ensure that our disabled athletes reach their optimal fitness potential."

I was lucky that a friend from my running group won free entry to this race last Wednesday, but wasn't able to use it.  He sent an e-mail to the group offering up his entry, and I jumped on it.  Before anyone gets their panties in a bunch over bib swapping, he was never actually registered for the race. He just gave me the free code they issued him and I registered with it. I was also supposed to run the race with Erik, another friend from my running group, but he must have seen the rain this morning and bailed on me.

With race entry fee, tax, and online processing fee, the total came to about $55.  For that price, runners received a custom beer glass and coaster/bottle opener (seen above), bananas/beer/hard pretzels afterwards, a festival with live music and food trucks, and a course along Columbus Boulevard (and the only Philadelphia race permitted to run in Penn's Landing).  I was surprised there was no race shirt.  I thought this was a staple of all races.

The race started and finished at Yards Brewing Company, located on Delaware Avenue on the Delaware River Waterfront.  I had planned to ride my bike there because it's only five miles from my front door to the brewery and I didn't want to deal with parking, but the steady rain all morning made that a no-go.

I found parking on a side street close by, walked over to the brewery where a large tent was set up, picked up my bib and then stood around for an hour as more and more runners showed up.  By race time the tent was so packed with runners trying to avoid the rain that it was hard to move inside.

According to the announcer, there were 1,400 runners there (though if they went by registered runners, I'm pretty sure there were plenty who decided not to show up due to the rain today). When 8:30 rolled around, we all trudged out onto the road where I positioned myself close to the front.  My running group Who's Up? just got new T-shirts and racing singlets, and I decided to break mine in today, though it meant I was shivering uncontrollably while waiting for the race to start.  I was fine once we got going, though, and the singlet ended up being a good choice.

The race itself was rather uneventful.  We charged en masse down Columbus Boulevard, eventually made a left into Penn's Landing where the view would have been nice if I wasn't being pelted by rain, then turned back onto Columbus straight into a headwind.  Being 5,000 yards, the course was a little shorter than a traditional 5k, and I finished in 18:33.

I grabbed some water, high fived the runners who came in behind me, and immediately went over to the beer tent.  One of the men there asked to see my I.D.

Me: I don't have my ID, I forgot to bring my wallet today.  How much of a problem is that going to be?
Beer Guy: It's a bit of a problem.
Me: (probably looking wet and pathetic) Can I go look up my race results which will show you I'm 35?
Beer Guy: All right, you're ok.  Go on.
Me: Bless you, good sir.

The wet T-shirt contest was my favorite part of the race.

We got a choice of the pale ale or the Brawler.  I went with the pale ale, one of my favorites.

I was surprised that the brewery itself wasn't open.  I had brought a complete change of clothes, and had planned to hang out at the brewery for awhile with Erik and others, but instead I drank my beer and just walked back to my car.  I doubt the race had any control over it, but it would have seemed like a logical choice to open the brewery, especially on a day like today, but runners were confined to the tiny tent instead.

The race and/or brewery also desperately need to work out a system to dispense the beers more quickly.  Runners were standing in the rain in a line practically as long as the course itself just to collect their free beer.  It was also a very slow line.

All in all, not a bad race experience.  Tough luck that the inaugural race just happened to fall on a day with such terrible weather, but it didn't seem to dampen anyone's spirits.

Were you out there with me this morning?  What did you think of the race?  And how long did it take you to get a beer?!

Saturday, October 8, 2016

My last Boston Marathon (for a long time, at least)

It's official.  I got into the 2017 Boston Marathon.

Registration after my first BQ was a real nail biter, and I missed the cut by less than a minute. I was put through the ringer again during registration after my second BQ, though this time I made the cut,  again by a margin of less than a minute.  But this year I went into registration with a cushion of 8 minutes and 54 seconds below my age and gender's qualifying standard (aided by the fact that I moved up an age group).  For the first time, I got to register during the first week, and I never had a doubt that I would get in.  It was definitely a nice change of pace.

For the record, I do love Boston and am very much looking forward to this April, but this will undoubtedly be my last Boston Marathon for a very long time.  I would love to someday run it with Neale, but I'll be in my fifties or sixties if that ever happens.  So for now, I'm hanging it up. But why?  Why am I not one of those obsessive marathoners that comes back every year? My years-long obsession with Boston certainly pointed to that trend, but instead I'm calling it quits after just two times.

Here are a few reasons:

1. The new registration system.

I have a love/hate relationship with the new registration system.  Had it never been implemented, I probably would have been happy with my former 3:09:45 PR and never would have pushed myself to the outer limits of my abilities and chased my true potential.  I love that it favors faster runners, keeping the competitive spirit of the race alive.  But I also hate that it favors the faster runners, because these are the people for whom Boston may not be as big of a deal.  The people that chase the dream for years and are elated to have finally qualified, are the ones most likely to be left out.  Because of the new system, every year there are thousands of runners who qualify but still don't get into the race.  If I keep doing Boston year after year, I'm taking a spot from one of those people.

2. I'm tired.

I've never been one of those runners that can just go and knock out another BQ any day of the week.  Or even better, one of those runners that just re-qualifies at Boston every year and never has to run a different marathon.  No, qualifying was never something that came easy for me, and I don't know that it ever will.  It took months of very literal blood, sweat and tears to achieve each of those 3 BQ's, and each BQ was achieved at the expense of other areas of my life.  Frankly, I'm just tired of the physical and mental strain and the sacrifices involved to keep running at that level.  I've qualified 3 times. I've run Boston once, soon to be twice.  I've proven to myself and others that I can do it, so I'm left with the existential question of: what's the point?  Why keep pushing myself to the breaking point over and over just to return to Boston as many times as possible?

3. I've reached my peak.

This kind of goes along with #2.  I truly enjoy running long distances, and I hope to run marathons well into my twilight years.  But in terms of speed, I believe I've done all I can with the marathon distance.  To be clear, I don't really think I've reached my peak.  I'm only 35, and if I had all the time and money in the world to train properly, I'm sure I could run a faster marathon in the next few years.  But I've done what I can given my life's other responsibilities, and I'm happy leaving it at that.  Achieving a 4th BQ would be slightly less Herculean of a task than running a PR, of course, and true, my BQ time will slow as I creep up through the age groups, but it still won't be easy.  I'm not one to shy away from hard work, I just want to apply hard work to other, newer goals.  I'm finished setting goals for the marathon.

4. I hate training through the winter.

The first time I trained for Boston, I ran over 800 miles through one of the most heinous winters on record.  I don't belong to a gym and I don't own a treadmill, so I was constantly running double digits through snow, ice, wind, and single digit temperatures.  I was fairly miserable for a good 90 percent of my training, and the only thing that kept me going was the idea of running my first Boston.

True, that particular winter could have just been an anomaly (last winter was much milder, for instance), but if you ask me, one long run in the snow is one too many.  Fall marathons are truly where it's at.

5. The cost.

I did an entire post on this after my first Boston, but the gist is this: Boston is expensive. Travel, lodging, eating out, the entry fee for the marathon itself... it all adds up quickly.  With a new house and a single income, the budget just isn't there to take a lot of trips throughout the year.  Spending so much money year after year on a trip that really is only about me and not about Stevie or Neale just isn't fair.  I'd much rather spend the money on going some place new that we can all enjoy.

So there you have it.  The top 5 reasons this will be my last Boston (for the foreseeable future).  What do you think, internet?  Have you run Boston multiple times?  Are you striving to reach it right now? Do you think Boston is overrated and have no interest in ever running it? Let me know!
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