The cute yard signs for this race were everywhere, it’s super close (<5mn walking distance), and free GoBerry; I had a hard time finding previous year’s results, but when I dug them up it did seem like enough people ran it that I wouldn’t be dead last. The only other right-next-door race I’ve run is the Hot Chocolate 5K, but now that I’m realizing how much extra fun they are because Jonathan can walk me there, I’m also registering for the Splash of Color 5K. I will want to keep an eye on how much I spend on race fees, though. They do support charities but apparently it’s not that efficient of a fundraiser (Hot Chocolate must be an exception because they get participants on board so full-tilt… they raise a huge amount of money for Safe Passage).
The Courthouse lawn at the intersection of King and Main was full of runners, lots of cute dogs (there was a cool dog treat van), and a good DJ—“Papa’s Got a Brand-New Bag” was playing as we approached. I got my bib and bag (granola bar, coupon for the GoBerry and other coupons), we checked out the finish line on Gothic Street, and I warmed up. The field was small enough (~150, not sure if that includes walkers) that there was no starting mat and they tried to get us to bunch up so that gun time and net time would be as close as possible.
The course was a very nice simple loop, up Main to Elm, around Childs Park, down Prospect to Trumbull to finish on Gothic. I started out fairly fast for the slight uphill (laughed inside when I heard someone complain about “this hill!”, thinking about the Bridge of Flowers), with 10:32 on my watch at the first mile. I had told Jonathan that I’d be happy if I broke 32:00, so that seemed decent. The second mile I tried to keep steady, and then turn up the speed slightly. I had given blood on Tuesday, and was still noticing the effect during a hike to the Horse Caves the day before, so I didn’t feel like I had as much “in the tank” as usual. Still, I was passing some people during the third mile and doing OK. I turned onto Gothic Street and it felt shorter than I expected–then I saw the clock at the finish line and it was still at 30. Jonathan cheered me on, although in my typical finish-line zone I missed him waving his hat and shouting that I would break 31! 30:40, which I’m super super happy about. That’s definitely a 5K PR for my 50s and I’m motivated now to cobble them together.
We cheered some finishers and then headed for GoBerry, which had opened early for the runners. I got raspberry with pecans on top and it was absolutely delicious! I like how RaceWire texts both the time and the finish photo (unflattering, alas). Looks like I was 4th in 50-59!
I loved my first experience of this race in 2016, but it was so hot and humid that I knew I’d do better this year no matter what. I exceeded my expectations! Seven minutes faster than last year and I didn’t walk once, even on the killer Crittenden Hill. Look at this thing:
The forecast had been saying 50% chance of showers, but by the morning-of it was down to foggy with a high around 78. Perfect–at least 15 degrees cooler than last year.
My favorite thing about last year’s race was the giant goat at the top of the hill, who had escaped onto the road and was staring at the runners, ignoring its human bleating to try and get it back under control. So when I was a little slow getting ready to leave, as usual, to motivate myself I told Jonathan “The goat is waiting!” I figured that might help me up the hill as well. Nonetheless I hit the road later than I meant to and approached the Mechanic Street intersection around 8:30 for a 9am race, with registration fairly far from the start. And the traffic wasn’t moving at all. It turned out there were so many walkers in the 3K that the road wasn’t clear. I pulled out of the line and parked across Route 2 near the Arms Cemetery along with some other cars.
Because I have the wonderful Brompton folding bike in the trunk at all times, I was able to zip over to the school and get my packet, pick up my shirt (they had the option of paying extra for a technical shirt, and it’s a gorgeous blue this year), use the porta-potties, and still get to the start in plenty of time. They announced the start would be delayed by eight minutes because of the backups, so I got a chance to enjoy the Bridge of Flowers.
The start lineup is along the Iron Bridge that crosses into Buckland, with a great view of the Bridge of Flowers. I no longer necessarily go to the very very back as I’ve become a more average runner, so I positioned myself ahead of the Strollers area. I admired the shirt a guy next to me was wearing, for the Roseville Cemetery Crypt 5K. I asked where it was and he said Chicago. His partner said the shirt (purple with white print) glows in the dark! It’s a night run and looks like so much fun… maybe someday.
A cheer went up and we started to the sounds of “We Got the Beat,” making it tough to go out slow! My plan for the first section was to treat it like a long slow distance run. The easiest way for me to pace myself is to watch my breaths—three in/three out is slow, three/two a little faster, two/two medium-to-fast. This race in particular, because it’s free once you turn 70 and it draws a lot of great masters runners, makes me think about the relationship between age and speed. I’ve long planned on running into my eighties or later and used to have the fantasy that someday I could qualify for Boston based on age grading. But seeing the reality of aging for people who were truly fast, which I’ve never been, makes me more intent on enjoying running while I can. There’s a couple who run this race every year, Hall of Famers and age-group record holders. Last year I passed Anny, then 84, around the first mile, and this year she was walking on the very first hill out of town. Yet she got the “Under USATF Age-Group guideline” asterisk in the results, meaning she’s still setting potential records: she finished more than 45 minutes faster than the guidelines! Mad respect to her—I hope I’ll be out there three decades from now, but presumably I won’t be getting any asterisks.
After the first turn, there was a nutty-looking one-man band playing “Build Me Up Buttercup,” one of my favorite songs and that I just sang at karaoke a few weeks ago. Last year I’d averaged 12:20 miles, so when I was at 11:40 at the first mile that was a good sign. We started up a steeper hill and I heard a woman wondering if this was the hill she’d been warned about (hah!) A few blocks later, a stereo playing “Chariots of Fire”—a runner next to me pantomimed the slo-mo sprint—and then live musicians I remembered from last year, a bagpipe player and later a woman on vuvuzela with friends using cowbells. Shelburne Falls is very pretty and full of beautiful gardens and nice architecture. I heard someone shout “Gershon!” and realized he was running right next to me–an acquaintance from karaoke who’s an amazing singer. It was his first time running the race, but he had been training on the course so we discussed the hill. Our paces were similar but I prefer running by myself so wished him a good race and dropped behind temporarily. We passed the start again, where the new wave/alternative playlist had moved on to Bryan Ferry’s “Don’t Stop the Dance.”
We crossed the Iron Bridge again and onto Clement Street, where the railroad overpass marks the beginning of the infamous hill. My goal was not to walk until/unless my two/two breathing turned from effortful panting into actual vocalization, which means I’m nearing my limit. I was running very very slowly but still running, as most everyone around me started walking. At one of the curves a volunteer was shouting encouragement, along the lines of “You’re ready! This hill is yours!” and it actually helped. The road rose and turned and rose again. A young woman said “You’re 80% there–you’ve almost conquered this dragon!” Everyone but me was walking and I gradually pulled past a few people. At the top there’s a “TOP OF CRITTENDEN HILL” sign and I whooped as I passed it!
I kept my eyes open for the goat, but alas, no sign and not even a paddock or fenced area that might hold one. The woods smelled wonderful, with huge white pines and mossy boulders. On the downslope many people started passing me. It might make sense strategically to walk the hill and have more energy after, but part of the fun of races for me is their sub-challenges, and not walking is worth a slower overall time for me. As we approached the mile 3 marker I wondered if I might be under 36 minutes; I laughed when my watch showed 35:59. The rest of the course is downhill so I hoped I might break 1:10. I allowed my breathing to slow to 3/3 and then started speeding up again. I hadn’t planned this out in advance, but decided I’d aim for 60% effort in the fourth mile and gradually speed up for a sprint at the finish.
At the base of the hill, where the course meets Route 112, there’s an out-and-back stretch where you cross the faster runners. A very old guy ahead of me turned to bypass the loop and I wondered if he was bailing or was just confused (the volunteers didn’t stop him). Part of the loop is on grass, which made a nice change from the asphalt and dirt, and there was a drum circle performing under a tree. I could see a lot of runners ahead of me; that’s one way I know I’m become more average, because in my early racing days I would trail much further behind.
I enjoyed the whole course, but during this section I ended up thinking about why I specifically love racing so much. On long runs I often attain a state of almost perfect happiness. It’s a combination of the mental effects of running, which I liken to “combing out my brain,” the comforting knowledge that there’s no better choice I should have made about how to spend this time, and the physical enjoyment of using my muscles. A race shares those elements but in the service of an over-arching goal. I harness all my energy and thoughts to focus on a single point, the culmination of days or weeks (even months, for a marathon) of planning. The results are tangible and immediate, the outcome measurable and objective, the endpoint unambiguous and final–I cross the finish line and I’m done, time to celebrate! It’s so clear-cut compared to most things in life, but it’s also a microcosm of any big goal or project. There are aspects I was able to control ahead of time, variables that are random, and combined with all of those are the strategies I can execute in response during the race… it’s pleasurable work.
I was also thinking about the mental/physical divisions that running both erases and heightens. Like when I decided to exert 60% effort, then 70%, etc… what does that mean? I don’t need to know exactly. My mind says “60%, then turn up the dial” and I can let my body do the running. My brain is part of my body, and my thoughts affect my physical self (if I have a negative train of thought on a long run, sometimes I’ll slow down or stop without even realizing it), and it flows both ways: when my muscles are deeply engaged, my mind feels good. My ADHD has gotten so much better over the decades, and a big part of that is due to running; it aligns my physical, emotional, and mental selves, and the neural pathways get stronger over time. Not original thoughts!
A volunteer shouted out my number (109) and my shirt (Northampton). On the last mile, there was a solo drummer on a full kit set up next to the road, and then another (different) stereo blasting “Chariots of Fire” again. A spectator said “Looking good! Lone wolf!” which made me smile. I was mostly on my own, but there were several women who had been periodically falling behind and passing me again; my racing style is to be solidly consistent in my pacing, which feels right to me, but alternating walking and running works for plenty of people. The burst of energy in the sprint to the finish line is one of my favorite parts, and I start to look for people I can pass in the last quarter mile. A woman with a safety triangle on the back of her shirt breezed by me as I was speeding up and I figured she would be out of reach. As we approached the bridge for the third and last crossing, there was a man in a gray t-shirt who looked catchable. The clock was just shy of 1:10 so I knew I’d break that for net time! I went full out and passed gray t-shirt, then to my surprise caught up to the safety triangle and another woman who’d passed me a while back, just as we approached the finish mat. The announcers were looking up numbers and calling out names–I got only “Hilary” because the last name must have looked intimidating.
I walked around a bit, getting my breath back, and cheered more finishers. A woman said “Good race! I was following you the whole way!” Then I made my way down to the post-race party: chocolate milk from Our Family Farms, fruit, pizza, and the highlight for me: grilled vegetarian sausage from Lightlife, which is headquartered in Turners Falls. Last year was Smart Dogs–the sausage was much better. I crossed to the Buckland side for the free beer at Blue Rock and was in line when I realized I hadn’t been given a ticket. Oh well. I went upstairs to admire all the gorgeous work at the Salmon Falls Gallery, then instead of beer went to get ice cream at Baker’s Pharmacy.
As a runner I could have gotten a dollar off a cone, but when I asked about the “Baker’s Blitz” (description: hard ice cream, milk, candy), the young woman said I would be the first person to order it ever! She had just posted it the day before and was excited to sell one. How I could I turn that down? I expected it to be kind of like a soft-serve blizzard, but it was a little more like ice cream soup. I got chocolate ripple with Heath Bar, so it was still delicious, and I enjoyed it on the Bridge of Flowers. Finally I impulsively purchased two issues of The Bookman: A Revue of Life and Letters (September and November, 1927) from the dollar cart outside Nancy L Dole Books & Ephemera. Contributions by Dorothy Parker, Robert Benchley, E. E. Cummings (so capitalized) etc. drew me, but best of all are the many book ads of the time. On the back cover, To the Light-House (“by the author of ‘Mrs. Dalloway.’ $2.50”) is one of eight minor books surrounding the likes of Black Stream (“By the author of ‘Green Forest’ – Nathalie Colby – A dramatic story of New York, the second novel of this remarkable writer.”).
It’s taken far longer for me to write this recap than actually running the race (factor of 3!), and nobody besides the occasional friend or family member reads this blog since it went dark for four years. Plus Charlottesville happened the day of the race and its consequences are unfolding right now, so my privilege to experience and write this feels particularly unearned and arbitrary. But it isn’t wrong to celebrate what’s good and fun; my future self will enjoy this post; it builds the writing muscles I’ve been struggling with this summer (trying to write a second book, not getting as far as I had hoped); it’s a tangible/external record of an experience, which helps me feel like it doesn’t just vanish into the sands of memory; in fact, as writing it’s a microcosm of larger projects, just like a race. So now I’m at this finish line!
Since I started running “seriously” in my 30s (not really compared to many people, but in the sense that I do it regularly, keep track, and try to improve), my cornerstone/minimum is a five mile run on the weekend, usually Sunday morning. That ties into my personal base level of fitness, which is being able to roll out of bed and do a 5K any time. I’ve done much more distance when training for longer runs, but because I’m so slow 5 miles takes me an hour and that’s a good time commitment.
When we lived in Pennsylvania, I had just one option for a 5 mile loop, but it was very nice (described at the bottom of my “about me” post). Here in Northampton I have lots of choices, but I settled on my regular loop fairly quickly and I’m very happy with it. It’s a full 5 miles or a little more, and while it doesn’t have woods and cattle, I get those on my bike to work. What it has that Friendsville lacked is lots of gardens, beautiful architecture, and a bridge over the Mill River at the half-way mark where I always stop for a minute to look at the water. This morning I saw a trout! There are a few small hills but not really enough to feel prepared for the Bridge of Flowers 10K, which I’m running next Saturday. At least the weather will be better than last year, which was horribly hot and humid.
I didn’t write a proper race report for 2016, but summarized it in an email:
SO hot and sticky, and the killer hill was as bad as everyone said. It just kept going around all these curves so you would think you must be near the top and then after a switchback it would get even steeper–I ended up walking a few hundred yards of it. Aside from that, it was full of fun stuff–lots of music, including a vuvuzela!, people dressed up, and best of all a very large *goat* spectator whose human was trying to get it back in its pen by bleating. The goat was much more interested in hanging out on the road and looking at the runners! Plus all-veggie sausages and free beer, and Bill Rodgers handing out medals.
My net time last August was 1:16:34. With cooler weather predicted and having lost a few pounds (not trying to specifically, but I’ve been doing the “eating window” thing where I only have black coffee between about 9pm and noon–it’s working very well for me), I’m curious if I can do any better or if age will start slowing me significantly year over year. I’m definitely slower than I was in my late 30s/early 40s. One of the really nice things about this race is you can run it for free once you turn 70. I plan to keep going!
Update: thanks to everyone who contacted the powers-that-be, the trail between Pleasant and North King was plowed during the winter of 2012-2013. It stopped after the demise of the BID, but this past winter (2016-2017) it started again. Thank you to the Mayor and the DPW! Now, if we could get the Norwottuck plowed from Northampton to Amherst, especially once the tunnel under the railroad tracks is completed, that would be awesome!
Since we moved to Northampton in early 2012, I’ve been enjoying the incredible network of trails we have here. But some sections are now plowed in the winter, which is too bad. With support from the Friends of Northampton Trails and Greenways, the Northampton Business Improvement District, and various individuals, I’ve started an informal group to try and address that. Initially we’re focusing on the mile-long stretch of the downtown rail-trail parallel with King St. The city’s Department of Public Works plows north and south of that section.
Snow turns into rough, bumpy ice (because people use the trail anyway!)
Compacted ice takes forever to melt
On dry winter days, trail could be used by hundreds of people if not for the ice
Plowing the trail will increase:
Recreation and fun
Physical and mental health
Carbon-free commuting options
There are costs (equipment and labor) and issues (fences and bridges). But it is less than a mile, and the benefits are huge!
2:27:00! That fell into my “yay” category (I had predicted 2:30-2:45 as a satisfactory time). My one previous 1/2, on the D&H trail, was a very well-run race but not that much fun for me because it was so flat.
#94 out of 117 in the 40-49 F category (full results), which puts me in the bottom 20%–when I typically think of myself as in the bottom 10%, so not as bad as I thought.
Seeing so much of Binghamton was nostalgic. Since we’re planning on moving away, it felt like a farewell tour. NYSEG Stadium, which we saw built–I’ve seen 4 baseball games in my life, 2 at Yankee Stadium and 2 here. Clinton Street, which long ago held the Guinness World Record for the most bars in one mile, and later became the prime area for antiques in Binghamton; I bought a $2 formal gown there for the fanciest black-tie wedding we ever attended. The many places the food co-op lived. Many locations where I visited clients when I was a home health aide. The old taxi station, boarded up. The old library, where I first started reading seriously about librarianship (the Horn Book and the Trouble in River City books); the new library which we toured half a decade ago when planning our new building (plans which will have to be re-done when it’s finally at the point of being built). The Crowley dairy plant with its iconic chimney. The Park Diner where we met friends.
Things I want to do before we leave: visit the Bundy Museum, River Books…
Trying to get back into the writing (of any kind) habit!
Another incredible day, 60+ and sunny. My indoor/outdoor thermometer is currently at 99.9, but clearly there’s a problem there… I heard a raven off to the west and wished I could take off after it. The black lab with the purple collar who lives along my route and is usually on a chain came with me for about half a mile. He is quite well-behaved–doesn’t bark, jumps up but doesn’t make contact–and his joy in tearing past me is infectious. He’s lanky with a big head, which according to our friends Alex and Rani means he’s of the field type rather than the show type. I met up with my running mate Kris, who worried about the dog getting too far away from home, but I predicted that he would come as far as the timid border collie and then stay with her or go home. That’s exactly what happened. We both alternated running and walking, but my brief interval run on Thursday seems to have helped me do a little better than last week.
I’ve now completed the Wyoming Valley Striders Triple Crown and have a cool (if large) Frank Shorter shirt to show for it. The 10K was in Kirby Park again (like the Cherry Blossom run, which I didn’t blog but in which I placed for the first time EVER because there were only 3 women in the 40-44 age category!) This time we got to run over the bridge into downtown Wilkes Barre and along the new river walk, which is gorgeous.
The race was at 9am. I got there around 8:30, a little later than I had planned because I always underestimate the length of the drive, bearing copies of the two checks that had been cashed for the Cherry Blossom (there was a mix-up and I had to pay again at the last minute). An envelope was already made out for me, marked “FREE,” so no hassle at all. I got a nice denim blue WVS hat in addition to the shirt (technical fabric, not yet another cotton T-shirt I wouldn’t wear.) The race start was on top of the dike, and before the start I walked down to the swampy natural area between the dike and the river. There was a forest of yellow jewelweed, many plants a good 8 feet high, with a little path into the heart of it so I could walk in (stems crunching under my feet). Very cool to see them towering over me.
I was quickly at the back of the pack, near a guy I recognized from the Cherry Blossom. Not a lot of training going on this summer, but I have been doing Tabata intervals regularly so I was curious to see how I did. Two related problems: it was very humid (although overcast, thank goodness), which normally slows me down, and I ended up taking advantage of two water stops, which also increased my time. I should have been more careful about my fluids and especially electrolytes (they only had plain water at the stops, which didn’t help). My final time was just under 1:10–not great but not terrible.
The course was very complicated, with a total of 5 separate loops that kept crossing each other. At least it was varied. Instead of seeing the fastest people coming back, I got passed by just the leader (he was so fast and I was so slow that we intersected). It was amazing–he passed me like I was standing still. It felt like seeing the RoadRunner go by, except that he was so smooth and quiet that I didn’t hear him come up or even go past–a barely-noticeable breeze and then he was speeding ahead of me, short blond hair flying out behind his head and green dots on the base of his shoes bobbing up practically to his waist. It’s thrilling to watch the people who run like the wind, effortlessly.
The coolest part of the race was crossing the beautiful Market St. Bridge and running along the new RiverCommon. It’s gorgeously landscaped, with wildflower banks on the river side. I just attended a fascinating presentation on wildflower meadows yesterday (with expert Larry Weaner, who was brilliant and down-to-earth), so I was excited to see them and notice the black-eyed susans which will be gone next season, as I learned.
Post-race I spoke again to Dr. Armillei of Active Performance Chiropractic. He told me why he’s not covered by our insurance (applied twice and was rejected because they have “enough specialists”), but his rates are reasonable and I might just go there on my own ticket. It’s far away so needs planning, but I do think it might help me.
Plus yummy oranges, potato chips, and “the best whole-wheat pizza in NE PA” according to the race director. It was delicious.
Timing myself–how quickly can I write a run-report post? Great run–just around freezing, a few days after an ice storm, so all the twigs and shrubs were still coated. I “shook the hands” of a few trees bending over the road, hoping the ice would cascade off, but that’s going to be later in the day. Mostly cloudy but with some cobalt blue peeking through, plus lovely pastel blue with a little purple at the edges of the sky in the distance. At times the sun shone through, sparkling in the rounded ice drops–not like diamonds, even though that’s the image my brain reached for first, but dots of white light. Met two people walking a gorgeous collie–Ernie, I think they said his name was; first week in a month I didn’t see a raven, but did flush a grouse; doves, crows, and lots of tracks in the snow. Focusing on peace of mind, my primary goal for my 45th year. Thank goodness for my Stabilicers, or I couldn’t run at all on a day like this.