big, big buckeye

April 28th, 2016

buckeye

I know I talk about this buckeye in front of the cabin a lot. (It’s actually three buckeye plants in that cage.) I’ve had it in place for four or five years, and after its first year, it brought out flowers. I’m pleased with its progress, though I’m years away from removing that fencing from around it. (Those vandal deer!) The trio on the other side of the cabin are doing well enuf, but they’re not nearly as robust as these three. I think I need to get them more sunlight.

Anyway, these three seem to have hit their adolescent growth spurt. You can see how the branches are now a couple of feet above the top of the fence. (I can remember when they were wee things at the bottom of the cage.)

If you look closely, you can see the many flowers emerging. I think by now they are in full bloom, and I’m hoping some hummingbirds have arrived from the south to enjoy the nectar. Wish I could be there to see it.

traveling tarp

April 26th, 2016

tarp 1

This is where the tarp spent most of the winter. I placed it there to squelch the grass and weeds there were coming up in this area that I’d prefer be exclusively gravel. (You can see the lake at the top of the photo, which is why I don’t use herbicide on this area.)

The tarp method of green plant eradication is more effective in the growing season, and that’s why I left the tarp in the same place for so long; winter ain’t the growing season.

But on my last trip to Roundrock, I decided to move it to a new area of upstart greenery in my gravel. Here is what I found beneath it when I pulled it away:

tarp 2

Plenty of dead grass, and plenty of leaves as well. I don’t think I would have left those leaves there when I laid down the tarp (although I may have). Maybe little critters brought them in?

I moved the tarp closer to the cabin this time:

tarp 3

It should do the job well here, and more quickly, so then I can move it again to a new place. (Everyone needs a hobby, right?)

This tarp has been a workhorse around the area. We’ve had it since before the cabin was built. In fact, it was our shelter tarp for several seasons, more or less rising right where the cabin stands today.

gnaw-some

April 25th, 2016

gnawed

This photo is a close up of the back of one of the comfy chairs at the fire ring at Roundrock. I don’t think I’d ever noticed this pattern of gnawing on the side of it.

Some critter went to a bit of trouble to gnaw on this part of the chair. This is the back, as I said, and the side, and it’s nearly three feet above the ground. The critter would either have to perch on the arm of the chair to do this or exploit the chair when it was in this unfortunate state:

drunk chair

Actually, that doesn’t look like a better angle for a gnawing critter. The part of the chair that is gnawed on is protected by the grill (on the right of the ring, barely noticeable).

In any case, my guess is that Libby or I had handled some food (perhaps ground beef or a sausage) preparing it for cooking on the fire and touched this part of the chair. The grease then attracted the critter, who made a thoroughly non-nutritious exploitation of the plastic.

We have four of these green chairs, and they are worth talking about. We’ve had these longer than the many others of their kind that have come and gone. They have outlasted the others by holding together despite the bitter winters and searing summers for longer than the cabin has been standing. They were a gift from our friends Todd and Tracy years ago, and I think they’d be surprised to learn the chairs are still around and giving us good service.

Skywatch Friday ~ April blue

April 22nd, 2016

blue sky

The green is slowly returning to the forest down in the Missouri Ozarks, and I won’t get this view of the sky in another couple of weeks. That’s the roofline of the cabin at the left and a Blackjack oak rising from the lower right.

Four days of cloud cover and rain followed the weekend when I took this shot.

one-match fire, too

April 21st, 2016

one-match fire

My trip to Roundrock last weekend was an overnight, so that meant a fire. I think I could count on one hand the number of fires I’ve had on trips that were not overnights (mostly when we had guests out who wanted to make foil dinners and roast marshmallows, I think). I’m reluctant to have a fire, put it out, and then leave; I always fear the fire isn’t fully out and that it will flare up in my absence. Better to give it an overnight (when I’m sleeping?) to ensure it is fully out before I leave.

I spoke before about the great, great quantity of strike-anywhere matches I have, as well as my snail’s pace at using them. My pride in building one-match fires does not help with their use. If I built a one-match fire every day for a year, I would use only one-sixth of the matches I currently have. Since I don’t smoke ceegars anymore (#runnerproblems) I don’t use the matches for those either. So I suppose I should make sure the dispensation of the matches is listed in my will.

Anyway, the fire was a success, and I was able to cook my dinner over it:

hot dog

It wasn’t very tasty, to tell the truth, but Flike didn’t object when I shared it with him. Then a few hours of musing before the coals as the night sounds wrapped around me. I heard the frogs, of course, as well as many barred owls all over the Central Valley, and even some yipping coyotes. It was only when I rose in the middle of the night that I heard a whippoorwill.

phoebe is back!

April 18th, 2016

phoebe nest

Flike and I made an overnight trip to Roundrock this past weekend. (Partly a self-indulgent reward for that little bit of running around I did the weekend before.)

One of the first sights I saw upon stepping onto the cabin porch was the new phoebe nest. I thought I saw signs of it on my prior trip since there was splattered mud on the porch floor then. Let a few weeks pass and she’s able to build her nest anew and, I suspect, lay some eggs in it.

As long as I was around, phoebe left the nest but scolded me from the branches of the trees in front of the cabin. When I’d sneak up on the porch and peek around the side, I would see her sitting in the nest, which strongly suggests to me that she was sitting on some eggs in there. Last year I had stuck my camera into the nest and got some blurry photos of eggs (and later chicks), but I decided not to do that this year.

You can see the outline of last year’s nest on the boards of the cabin, to the right of this year’s nest. One late fall trip last year, I found the nest fallen to the porch floor, so I swept it off. Phoebe had apparently concluded that this spot that was so successful last year (we counted three broods) that she returned to within inches of it this year. At the other end of the porch are two spots smeared with mud that were. I think, first drafts of this year’s nest.

GO! St. Louis Marathon 2016 ~ Part Four

April 15th, 2016

Days later and I’m still upset. I have experienced being among the last in on a race and seeing the vendors packed up and gone. But never the race officials.

But I suppose I shouldn’t carry around this bitterness. (It just slows me down.)

What else can I tell you about the race?

After I finished, we made our way back to the bed and breakfast, making a short stop at the local grocery story to pick up some chocolate milk and some epsom salts. I intended to soothe my wounded ego as much as my wounded body. The bed and breakfast where we always stay when we’re in St. Louis has a pool in the back — a cement pond, I fondly call it — and I intended to get in it after the race. Ice baths are an actual thing that many runners indulge in after a hard run. I don’t know the biomechanics of it, what good it does for your muscles, but I was determined to try it, and the cement pond allowed me to do so without filling a bathtub with ice. I don’t think the temperature ever rose above the mid fifties that day, and the sun never did make an appearance. Plus, the host at the B&B told me the water temperature was in the 30s in the pool. (Ideal ice bath temperature is between 50 and 60.) So when we got back, I took off my (soaked) shoes and socks, emptied all of the little pockets in my skimpy shorts, and then stepped in the pool. I only went in as far as my hips, and I only stayed in for about 5 minutes (ideal time is 15-20 minutes). My feet went numb, but the pain in my thighs did go away. Libby got it on video and posted it to Facebook. Ha ha ha!

Then I went into the house and prepared a hot bath with the epsom salts. Again, I don’t know the biomechanics of it, but many runners swear by this post-run treatment too. The B&B is an old house, and the tub I was to use was large enuf for three people, and plenty deep. I drew the water, stirred in the salts, and then somehow coaxed my legs to lift themselves high enuf to get over the top of the tub and into the water. It was blissful! It was heavenly! I could fill the tub to the rim if I wanted, with copious amounts of hot water. I soaked in there for most of an hour, and I felt about as great as you can after having run (and walked) 26.2 miles. But then, a problem.

I couldn’t get out. The tub was deep. I couldn’t push myself up enuf with my arms and had to use my legs. But every time I bent them, they cramped up severely. I literally sat naked in that empty tub for a half hour, waiting for the cramping to subside after each attempt. I finally called for Libby and she came, but she wasn’t strong enuf to be able to pull me up. So I just kept trying, finally sliding high enuf up the side to perch there and let the cramping subside again. I did eventually get out, of course. I put on some clothes and gingerly walked down the 17 steps from our room to the ground floor of the B&B, then out on the town for some well deserved pizza and beer.

The equivalent of the index finger on my right foot is swollen and smarting. I expect to lose that toenail and possibly two others. When the rain came and soaked my socks, I could feel three of the toes on my right foot rubbing against my shoe. This was partly the result of me running on the right side of the road where it sloped to the gutter. This caused my right foot to slide inside my shoe to the right (downhill). I tried to correct for this by running in the center of the road where it was flatter, but I don’t think I caught it in time. The coming days will tell the tale.

I realized the day after the marathon that I had run it with the arch support inserts in my shoes. This was a little experiment I had begun some months ago to see if it would prevent Achilles tendon problems after a run. That worked, but I didn’t know if I could go a full marathon with the inserts. Then I did it without even remembering they were there. So that’s a win.

My running watch once again gave me a low battery message during the run. Granted, I am not a fast runner and my finish time is higher than most, but it was still well within the advertised capacity of the watch battery. So I’m disappointed.

I seem to have forgotten the pain of the run. (My legs are mostly better, and I intend to try a short run this weekend.) I’m already thinking about what I can and must do to make the New York City Marathon a good run. And I’m actually thinking about running more full marathons. It may be that my body only has one of these in it each year. (I hope to find out when I run NYC in five months.) If so, I’m resigned to that. But if I can train better, and fuel better, and find some forgiving runs, maybe I can tease out two a year.

Finally, I really thought the medal for this run was ugly. (You may recall my posts about how ugly I’m finding the medals lately.) But when I crossed that finish line and they hung that medal around my neck, it didn’t look so ugly any longer. It now hangs with my two other marathon medals, and I’m happy with it.

 

GO! St. Louis Marathon 2016 ~ Part Three

April 14th, 2016

marathon bling

Because I had a serious (though unfounded, it turned out) concern that I would not make the timing cut off at the halfway point, and because I had a semi-serious desire to, you know, actually run the full marathon, I had instructed Libby and Seth not to meet me there but to be beyond that point a half mile or so. If I needed to stop and change my socks or vomit or eat all of the cached candy bars at once, I would have the leisure to do so since I would be past the sweeping point. Since they would be in downtown St. Louis while I ground out the first half of the marathon, Libby had said she intended to do some sight seeing and hoped she could be in place to meet me when I passed through again.

The half mile after the cut-off point was blessedly downhill, so I could take my eyes from the ground before my feet and scan the (dwindling) crowd for the faces of my support crew. And I didn’t see them. I was carrying my phone, and I had the tracking function turned on so they could see where I was, and the damned thing had been pinging regularly throughout the morning (because my adorable grandson, Kenneth, was in Prague that day, checking out all of the European playgrounds and sending adorable photos of himself). So if Libby’s plans changed (say, she found something better to do than provide ground support for me), she could let me know.

But then, far ahead (far because it was part of the way up a hill), I saw them. They had once again separated themselves from the crowd so I could spot them. It was time to shed the throwaway jacket, laden as it was with sweat and my ill will, and as I handed it to Seth, he instantly said, “Can I burn this?” I immediately felt 400 pounds lighter. Then Libby extended me my choice of candy bars: another Twix or a Snickers. I chose both and began with the Twix. As I said before, I had GU packets pinned to the waistband of my shorts — eight packets so I could swallow one every three miles or so. I really think they work, at least for me. But after I’d eaten that first Twix after mile 7, I could tell the difference the sugar in the candy bar offered over the GU. The candy bar was a bigger jolt (though I understand a quicker let down too). I had another 13.1 miles to struggle through, and I wanted that jolt.

I didn’t linger long with Libby and Seth, though they did manage to take some photos of my decrepit self and post them on social media, and I faced the hill ahead of me with resignation (and, by this point, two candy wrappers in my hand). Without the jacket, I felt measurably better. I’ll never be a sleek runner, but I felt that way for a while. And I was resigned to conquering the second half no matter how tired I felt or how much walking I had to do to manage it.

When I had driven this route the day before, I remembered it being a seemingly endless straight line out to Forest Park (and then back later). I hate straight-line running over long distance. It demoralizes me. I can see how far I must go and how little progress I am making and how much I regret ever signing up for whatever the stupid run is and how much I hate the world and myself in particular. But something was different this time. For one thing, I was keeping pace with a man about my age who thought my name was Tom. (By this point, I had to look at the name on my bib to be sure what my actual name was. See above.) Also, I was allowing myself to walk as much as I needed because my body had decided to finally reveal what part was going to fail me during this marathon. Portland was the knees. Kansas City was the hips. And St. Louis would be the quadriceps, the muscles at the front of my thighs, the largest muscles on my body. They were beginning to burn and stab with every step. But they were only beginning to do so. There was still half of a marathon left for the pain to evolve and grow more robust and unforgiving and memorable. I had been doing exercises to strengthen my hips and knees, but I hadn’t considered my quads might betray me. (I suppose they would think it was the other way around.) My regular training runs would have seemed sufficient exercise for them, and since they hadn’t raised this complaint in the two prior marathons, they completely surprised me. Jerks!

So this gave me something to take my mind off of the tedium on the long straight line ahead of me: pain! Pain will do that. Pain is a great distraction. Fortunately, in the tiny pocket of my skimpy running shorts I was also carrying a hefty supply of Vitamin I (ibuprofen), and I had been dosing myself with it moderately already. I suspect it was helping me along (though better training was probably better for my body than a megadose of medicine in a body stressed and likely dehydrated).

I think I must have zoned out along here because I found myself nearly to Forest Park far sooner than I had expected. Where was the university I was to have passed? At one point, I had noted during the drive through, a single block contained the Salvation Army, Goodwill, and . . . Ikea. I realized I had passed them only in retrospect. I didn’t remember them at the time. I had been trading places with the man who thought my name was Tom. I would run past him as he walked. He would run past me as I walked. I would see him far ahead; I would leave him far behind. It gave me something to think about, and I guess it was another diversion.

And Forest Park lay just ahead. The sky above it was dark with clouds, but they looked to be more to the north than to the west where I was headed. And if the rain fell, I still had those two trash bags tucked away. (I don’t mind the rain, but it was not a warm day, and the wind was constant. Hypothermia is a real concern for runner, even on mild days, and especially later in the run with the body’s resources are just about used up.)

There were plenty of fellow runners ahead, behind, and around me though the pack had thinned. And in the second half of the marathon, the water stations were staged at every mile. My watch was still recording the distance different from the mile flags, but somewhere along here I realized that my watch was reporting greater distance covered, so when (if) I crossed the finish line my watch wouldn’t post less than the full distance but something more (and it felt like the total distance would be about 50 miles). And now it was into Forest Park.

We entered the Park at about mile 16.5, and when we were finished fooling around in there, we left the park at about mile 22.5. So we had six miles to cover in there. Forest Park is a wonderful place. It contains the art museum, the Jewell Box, the zoo, the Cascades, the Planetarium, the Jefferson Memorial, the Grand Basin, various sculptures, a golf course, playgrounds, and gardens. Our course took us by none of that. Instead we were shunted to the wasteland, passing a few empty ball fields but otherwise only getting intimately familiar with the pavement. There were very few spectators in the park, and though the water stations were fully staffed and fully encouraging and supportive, it was a lonely six miles. I don’t know if it was someone’s perverse idea of a joke, but soon after we entered the park we were running up a short but steep-ish hill. And this was where three men with cameras were standing on ladders, taking our photos. On an uphill stretch. Since the pack was so thin, I had seen them in advance and straightened my back, painting a smile on my face. I rarely get a decent race photo, so I have no expectations about what they captured of me on that ascent. I didn’t have time to worry about that though.

Shortly after passing the photographers, when the ground leveled and the running was a bit more manageable (still . . . mile 18-ish), the 60% chance of rain fulfilled its destiny. Thunder began to rumble, and occasional bolts of lightning would arc through the sky. I think if it hadn’t been so late in the run, this might have been cause to delay or even cancel it, but with so many runners already finished . . .

I retrieved one of the trash bags from their secret location and proceeded to tear a hole in the bottom of it to slip my head through. It turns out there are good trash bags for this purpose, and then there are the kind I had. (Gathered at the center bottom rather than a straight seam across the bottom.) I managed to tear a hole more or less where it needed to be, and then I slipped it over my head. It also turns out that a thicker plastic is a better choice than the thin (inexpensive) kind I had. I managed to work it over my shoulders and down my back and front, but if I wanted to move my arms in rhythm with my legs, I would tear through the bag. So I mostly held them against my chest, no doubt running inefficiently and burning energy I couldn’t spare. About this time, the rain let up, and I wondered if I could just rip the damned trash bag off my body and run in a semi-human manner. But I decided to be prudent and wore it like a black plastic scarf, just as I had noted looked comical on the man I had seen in the first half of the race.

That rain was just a tease. Though clear thinking was not much present in my head by this time, it was prudent that I kept my black plastic scarf on. The rain returned about a mile later, and this time it was more earnest. The sky threw large, cold drops at us runners (and the steadfast volunteers on the course). Lots of large, cold drops. Unavoidable puddles grew before us. In no time at all, my shoes and socks were soaked. (Had I even had a spare pair of socks with me then, I wouldn’t have bothered changing them. There was no point.) I continued my run/walk intervals through this featureless section of the park, reminding myself how much character I was building, or something like that. The route wound up and down streets, turning back on itself several times to return us to places we had just been. Few of the people around me were actually running. I was in the cohort that would finish the marathon having walked a great deal of it, which I guess is still respectable.

But since the pack was so thin, I couldn’t rely on following runners ahead of me (since they were so far ahead of me that I couldn’t always see where they went). As a result, I made a wrong turn and was off the course. I only went about twenty feet before I realized my error and got back to where I needed to be, but I was annoyed that the course marshall who should have been at that point to prevent this kind of error had already left the station. Sure it was raining. In fact, it had started hailing briefly at this point. I was, of course, too exhausted to spin up much animosity. I’d gotten myself back on course, but I did feel abandoned.

Soon after getting myself back on course, I caught up with a young woman who was running (and walking) at about my pace, so I fell in with her and we shared our moans about what hurt and how this was the kind of thing we do for fun! She was suffering from IT band problems, which has plagued me in my first marathon. (This was at least her fourth.) I asked her if it felt like little knives stabbing her in the knees with each step, and she said it did. Then I described what felt like my thigh muscles tearing themselves free with each step. She recognized that. Fellowship on the course. (Also, she said nothing about my trash bag scarf.)

She and I ran together and chatted about our battle scars for a mile or so before she had to stop at one of the portapotties. She told me to run on ahead and that perhaps she would catch up with me. (And she did, about fifty feet from the finish arch when she surged past me. Good for her.) I was once again on that seemingly endless stretch that lead from Forest Park to downtown. Somewhere along here I ditched my scarf, resigning myself to endure whatever was thrown at me from then on. There were perhaps three miles left in the marathon, and I was walking most of them. I’m not too happy about this. I wish it weren’t the case. I ran a few hundred feet then walked a few hundred more. I was alone here. Occasionally passed by someone, less frequently passing someone. We were all the walking wounded by then. I think I had the stamina to run more, but the pain in my quads was intense by then, despite the liberal dosing of Vitamin I. I may have been able to push myself for more distance actually run, but my heart wasn’t in it. In fact, I was more motivated to run just to get finished than to finish well.

I had thought that Libby and Seth might have met up with me along here, though even that wouldn’t have made much difference. There was one candy bar left in the cache, but I think I had overdosed on sugar. The idea of chocolate at that point made me nauseous. As it was, they hadn’t come out this far on the course. I wouldn’t see them until I approached the finish line. What I didn’t know at the time was that there had apparently been some discussion by the race officials of canceling the race for those of us still out there. They didn’t do this; they did something worse. At least the rain had stopped.

So I ran and walked on. I was looking forward to the last mile, which would be downhill, but I couldn’t get much running distance out of it since the thighs were hurting so bad. Two miles left. Then one mile left. Then I could see the last turn to make to head toward the finish arch. And here I had a surprise.

Libby’s niece, who lives in St. Louis, ran up beside me on the course, surprising me altogether and bringing some much needed cheer. She had been monitoring my posts on Facebook, so she knew I was in town and running the marathon. There was some talk of getting together afterward, but then she decided to haul herself downtown and run in with me. This was perhaps the nicest thing to happen to me along the entire course. No, it was the nicest thing!

There was a short uphill stretch before the finish arch, and I had to walk that, but then it leveled out and I started running again, trying to look somewhat alive and in control, ignoring the screaming pain in my thighs. Ahead of me a relay team crossed the finish first, so the announcer called out their many names, leaving me to finish in anonymity, which was okay but still . . .

I finished. I finished my third marathon. Not well. But I finished it. I accepted the bottle of water they handed me, then I bowed my head as someone hung my medal around my neck. Libby and Seth joined me after I left the exit chute, all smiles and congratulations. I wished I had done better, but I felt good that I had done this thing at all. And then I decided to wallow in the glory of it.

Promised to all finishers was a free beer. A free chicken sandwich. Toasted ravioli. More chocolate. A thermal blanket. And where were these things? Gone. All gone. They had packed up their tents when the rain came, when I was still ten miles out. Never mind that I had paid the same amount to participate as all of the other runners who came in ahead of me. I didn’t even want the beer or the sandwich. I just wanted to feel I earned them and could have them. And I couldn’t. (Worse, there had never even been any chocolate milk!) And here I was, utterly depleted, soaked, in skimpy plastic clothing, and they were no longer handing out the thermal blankets to protect against hypothermia. I felt cheated. Ignored. Disdained.

So I decided to just collect the print out of my (dismal) official time and put the race behind me. And where was this tent? Packed up and gone as well. A random race official told me that when the (brief) lightning began — when I was out in the open at Forest Park with soaking socks and a bag around my neck — they had shut down and left. So had all of the vendors in the athlete village. There were literally more than a hundred people still out on the course behind me, but the race officials had bugged out. More than a hundred people who had paid the same price to participate as everyone else, who had given 100% of their hearts to the effort, still out on the course. But the race officials couldn’t stick around for them.

So we left. Done with that. Not likely to ever do that particular race again.

More tomorrow.

GO! St. Louis Marathon 2016 ~ Part Two

April 13th, 2016

marathon kit

They say that the survival of our species depends on women forgetting the pain of childbirth. I’ve never given birth, but I think I can say that I understand about forgetting pain. This St. Louis Marathon was my third attempt to run the distance. I had run Portland a year and a half ago and Kansas City a half a year ago. I thought I knew what I was doing, was building on experience, and understood what was coming.

Of course, I didn’t. With Portland, my knees gave out (at mile four!), and at Kansas City, my hips did (somewhere in the upper teens). But there are apparently so many moving parts in the human body that are used during a marathon that something new can besiege me every time I try. So too with St. Louis.

#1 Son, Seth, was our driver for the day. He got me to the start and got Libby to various points on the course to meet me, cheer me, and put candy bars in my hands. He got us down to the start about an hour before gun time, having parked several blocks away (which would prove beneficial after I was finished). Although the temperature was in the 40s, I did not feel cold (yet) because I had my throwaway jacket on (the one I have not been able to throw away for a couple of years). Few of the vendors in the athlete village were open at that hour, so I didn’t mill about there much. I used the portapotty because you always do that before a run. And then I wandered toward my corral (far) behind the starting arch, bemoaning the slight drizzle that had begun (it would go away soon). We would be let loose in waves — to reduce crowding on the course — and my wave was well back, which is fine.

There was the usual speechifying before the start, the anthem sung and the hats doffed, and the color commentary as each wave was let fly, made by someone who clearly has never been a runner in his life. I shuffled with my wave toward the start as those before us were gone. Starting with my wave and the three behind it, we would all be let go as one. I guess there was a sense in that — the bulk of the runners were already on their way — but there were still thousands of us at the back of the pack. Soon we were off, though, and I managed to turn on my watch just as I crossed the starting mat. My run had begun.

And a pleasant run it was too, there amidst the tall buildings of downtown St. Louis. We went our way, made our turns, lost satellite signals on our running watches (I think mine reported me running a 4:29 mile pace along here), and were soon approaching the Eads Bridge that would take us into Illinois. I was not moving fast; I was deliberately holding back because I needed to marshall my energy for the full distance. Even so, I was passing some people. But more importantly, it was crowded. People were weaving around others. Some were running on the empty sidewalks. Elbows were knocking. Runners behind were kicking the heels of runners ahead (guilty). I don’t know if this would have been lessened had the last four waves been started separately, but regardless, it was part of the experience that you just have to manage.

I grew up in St. Louis, but I don’t think I had ever been on the Eads Bridge. Historic, impressive, and awe-inspiring when seen from below. On the deck, however, it was just rutted asphalt and too damned many orange barrels in the middle of the road. Each lamp post we past rattled and swayed with the pounding of the runners’ feet; I’d heard of this kind of thing about long spans with many runners. Soon I was in Illinois. I like the idea of the course incorporating East St. Louis, this being part of what made the NYC Marathon become so popular when it included all of the boroughs in the course redesign forty years ago. Yet while it was clear that the part of East St. Louis we ran through had been cleaned up, it was sad to see how run down the place was. We had perhaps a half mile run down Main Street there, and most of the store fronts were boarded up or burned out or literally falling down. The once fabulous Majestic Theater was vacant, with actual trees growing out of its elaborate facade.

We didn’t spend much time in Illinois, for we made the turn that would lead us up the long ascent of the Martin Luther King Bridge back into St. Louis. Because I had driven this the day before, I knew it was coming, but that still didn’t prepare me enuf. Somewhere about mile 3.5 I reluctantly made the decision to walk for a short while, at least a bit of the ascent, so I could make my legs and lungs last a little longer. It was a long hill, what can I say? I wasn’t the only one walking it, and plenty of people were taking advantage of the conveniently placed portapotties staged there as well. I took the opportunity to tear one of the packets of GU from the waistband of my shorts to slurp down the nasty energy goodness. Then I picked up running again after a hundred feet or so and soon crested the bridge and was heading down the far side. It was there that the 4 mile flag was waiting. Its placement did not match what my watch told me about the distance covered, and I immediately began to worry that I was going to get to the end and my watch would say I only ran 26 miles rather than 26.2! I can barely do simple math when I’m running, but I could calculate that fear.

Once off the bridge we looped under it and lost many of the runners. It turns out that along with the 5K on Saturday and the half marathon and full marathon on Sunday, there was also a 7K run on Sunday. (This comes to 4.4 miles, and that point was reached just after we returned to Missouri.) So hundreds of runners peeled off to the right, into a party area. A course marshall was yelling at all of us to stay right or stay left based on the color of our bibs. (Mine was dark blue – the color of the full marathon.) I gathered that many of the 7K runners were first timers because many of them were struggling with the distances (also, that bridge ascent). I suppose they may not have been aware that they needed to leave the pack at this point. Or maybe they were eager to. And maybe because there were so many going to the right, longer-distance runners might have mistakenly just followed them. (You get in the zone and stop thinking sometimes.) Hence the barking course marshall.

This was where we headed into the bleak area north of the downtown. It was just as ugly as I remembered from the drive through, though there was a water station that was well staged, so I didn’t have to bypass it as I had the first one where packs of people were standing around socializing between me and the water cups. (More evidence that many of the 7K runners were first timers.) Remember that I was wearing my throwaway jacket, which is lined and has a hood. By this time the lining was soaked with my sweat, and it felt as though it weighed ten pounds. I was tempted to toss it (finally), but I knew I would likely be seeing Libby and Seth in only a few miles, so I kept it on but unzipped it fully to let some air to my torso. The sky was dark with clouds, but as yet the 60% chance of thundershowers had not materialized. Somewhere along here I was passed by a man who had a yellow trash bag around his neck like a scarf. I was glad I wasn’t stuck with that solution to the impending rain. (I was actually carrying two folded-up trash bags with me, tucked away in a private place.)

We wove through streets, making our way back to the downtown, to cross the very street we had started on, and it was there that I expected to see Libby and Seth (and a candy bar — as well as my back-up supply of dry socks, lip balm, cortisone cream, bandaids, and a spare hat since I expected the one I was wearing to be blown off when I was on one of the bridges, which didn’t happen). The cheering crowds were thick here, which was a change from most of the miles I had already covered, and while I was concentrating on putting one foot in front of the other, I was also trying to scan the faces for two that were familiar. I was looking the wrong way it turned out. Libby and Seth were on the far side of the street where there were fewer people, and where they would be more easily spotted — if I had been looking that way. As it was, I heard Libby shouting my name; I never would have seen her. I paused long enuf to grab a Twix bar and begin my push to the south. I wouldn’t see them for another six miles (which meant I would be wearing that throwaway jacket for another six miles since the wind was cold, unless I threw it away).

The next route was down to the Anheuser Busch Brewery and back. This took us through the Soulard area of the city: very old and historic. The open-air market here has been in continuous operation since 1779, which, for this part of the country, is quite old. The pack was spread out by this point. No more dodging or weaving. I passed a few people. A few more passed me. This was a grind, though it was blessedly flat. Once we entered the gates of the brewery complex I kept my eyes open for the promised Clydesdale horse that was going to be there to greet us. It must have been on its coffee break when I came through because there was no horse waiting for me. (This was a sign of further, coming disappointments about the race, but I didn’t realize it at the time.) We looped around the brewery and headed back the way we came through the Soulard area. It was here that I came upon the Chocolate Station. A dozen people were handing out candy to us poor, suffering runners. I’d already had my Twix fix, so I didn’t need the chocolate, but I was intrigued, so I accepted what was given. It turned out to be a single chocolate wafer with sprinkles on top. Not much (and not all that tasty). And so I ground on. I was on the return leg of this out and back, and this gave me the chance to see how many runners were behind me, still on the outward bound leg. There were hundreds, though most had the light blue bib of the half marathoners. It was much too early for me to begin beating myself up with the fear that I would be the last runner in, so I just tried to keep throwing one foot in front of the other.

The route followed the same streets we took to get out to the brewery, which meant that we would once again be at the start, this time running west on the street that had started us going east. The starting arch was gone, as were most of the barricades. Once I turned the corner, I was halfway done. And I was more than halfway tempted to just quit and collect a half marathon medal. In fact, there was a time limit in which I had to get to this point or I’d be removed from the full marathon. (With the more and more frequent walking breaks I took, I feared/wished this was likely.) Part of me was hoping that would happen so I could stop and it not be my fault. But no one was waving me off the course, though most of the people running around me did exit here since they were only doing the half.

And so, the second half of the effort began.

 

GO! St. Louis Marathon 2016 ~ Part One

April 12th, 2016

Ken STL Maraton 2016

Above is my grandson Kenneth, who is wishing me success all the way from Vienna, Austria where his momma ran the Vienna Half Marathon. (In fact, by the time I woke on Sunday for my marathon, she had already finished her Sunday half marathon in that much earlier time zone.) Not sure about the “Grampy” part, though it does rhyme with “crampy” and that is apt.

We arrived in St. Louis on Friday and had some time to fill before we could check in at our favorite bed and breakfast, so we went to the race expo to pick up my packet, get hustled by the vendors there (I took the free samples but didn’t buy anything — and who buys expensive kitchen cutlery or gutters at a running expo?), and asked various people various questions. Then we found a place to have a light lunch. We drove part of the course (as well as we could determine from the tiny maps on our phones) and pretty much just goofed around until we could check in. We stepped up for a slightly more expensive room this visit since it was the one with the bath tub, and I wanted to have the option of soaking in epsom salts after the run if necessary. (Alternatively, an ice bath. Or both.)

Soon after that, #1 Son, Seth, arrived. (Seth lives in St. Louis.) We then drove to the nearby Hill area of St. Louis where the Italian community is concentrated for a last spaghetti plate of carb loading before the run. (Also some adult hydration.) And we made a stop at Ted Drewes Frozen Custard, which is a must-see when in St. Louis. By then it was my bed time, sufficient rest being part of the training plan (a part that I did not shirk).

On Saturday, after a great breakfast and conversation with our host, Seth arrived again and we set out to drive the full course so I could get terrified get an idea of what to expect and when. The marathon starts in downtown St. Louis and by the first mile is crossing the Mississippi River to take us into Illinois and East St Louis. The route only spends about a mile in Illinois before crossing another bridge to return us to Missouri. Assuming we followed the route once we were back in Missouri (and I think we more or less did because we saw road closed signs stacked and waiting at given corners, portapotties staged nearby, and even little water fountains rigged on fire hydrants — all of which suggested a race route), it was a pretty bleak area. Empty lots, vacant, burned-out buildings, pot holes, and general loneliness lined these streets. I guess it was a way to add another mile to the route, or maybe it was a way to take the route around an area where they didn’t want to close the streets. In any case, it wasn’t pretty, but I was hoping that I would be so delirious by then that I wouldn’t notice.

Like many older cities, downtown St. Louis has a lot of one-way streets, and sometimes we couldn’t drive the exact route, at least not without making a lot of oncoming cars angry. But we wove along what seemed to be the course and were soon heading south of the downtown toward the Anheuser Busch brewery. This was an out-and-back stretch, so following the course took us back to downtown (after passing a spot intriguingly marked on the map as the “chocolate station”), to the very point where the run started. This marked 13.1 miles covered, and for those running the half marathon, it would be their finish. For the rest of us, it would be a way to calculate the amount of suffering still to come.

From here the course headed west, and for about two of those miles, the course was headed uphill as well. Hills look completely manageable from the comfort of a car, with two rested legs. I knew, however, that I would likely think differently the next day. In fact, this marathon is listed as one of those mythical “fast, flat” courses, and I understand the redesign of it two years ago removed some of the hills it formerly had. Nonetheless, there are hills. The approaches to the bridges across the mighty Mississippi River include long, steady hills, and while they are not steep, they are long and steady. Their corresponding descents on their far sides are welcome, of course, but the damage is done by then. So too, with the departure from the city. The two miles of uphill (long and steady) crest at a given point and then there is a nice long downhill-ish straightaway that leads into Forest Park. The course meanders for a few miles within the park before returning to that nice long downhill-ish straightaway, which has become, of course, an uphill run. It once again peaks at the same point, and then it’s pretty much downhill (or flat) the rest of the way to the finish. I expect to be fully delirious by this point though, so it will likely be wasted on me.

With the course inspection completed, we bopped around St. Louis a bit, seeing some of the old familiar places and otherwise relaxing. I was back at the BnB hours before my usual bedtime and sat around. I checked my gear, panicked a bit when I couldn’t find some essentials, relaxed a bit when I found them, and generally took my ease, doing my best to stuff down all of the anxiety rising in me.

Earlier in the week, as soon as I could look at the long-term weather forecasts for St. Louis, I saw a 30% chance of rain on race day. By Friday before the marathon, the weather people had taken that out of the forecast. And replaced it with a 50% chance of rain. And then the day before, they changed it again to a 60% chance of rain and thundershowers (which could, in theory, cancel the run altogether), but they would clear out in the afternoon (which would be about the time I finished under such delightful conditions).

And so, early to bed for a fitful sleep on Saturday. Come what may, I would do my best.