Let’s get this part out of the way first: The Great Balls of Fire 5K benefits research into testicular cancer. Great Balls of Fire. Get it?
I’d mentioned in yesterday’s post that I had done a run over the weekend. This one was it, though the matter isn’t as straightforward as that. Between Saturday and Sunday, I had done 6 runs, totaling 17 miles. That’s an ambitious weekend in terms of running, especially with family in town, extra work at the office, and the usual weekend chores and activities.
I had been invited to this 5K by a friend in the running club; her friend’s son has been diagnosed with the cancer, so she had a personal connection. I signed up because she asked me to; I’ve already said how I am not so much interested in running 5Ks any more (though I have two more on my calendar). You’ll recall that I had run a 5K two weekends ago, turning in my fastest performance ever. So my ambivalence to the distance is a little confused.
This race was being held relatively close to my house, and I got the notion that I could run to the 5K as a warm up so that I could run the 5K well. That would give me a 3 mile run before a 3 mile run (and then a 3 mile run home). Brilliant, right? So I enacted my plan, leaving the house about two hours before gun time to give me plenty of time to get there and mill about, looking for my friend (who had my bib and timing chip), and generally fretting. I did manage to get there with time to spare, but my legs were weary. (I had run 8 miles the day before, all tolled). It didn’t seem then like I had made a prudent choice. Adding to my anxiety was the apparent late start of my friend, who finally showed up about 15 minutes before gun time. I pinned on my bib and tied the timing chip to my shoe, and then I felt ready to run.
They herded us all over to the start (about 250 runners) and I told my watch to find itself some satellites quickly, which it managed to do a few seconds before GO time. (Once the watch finds the satellite signal, it will hold it for a few minutes, but if I don’t engage it to use the signal, it will cycle out and I have to find the signal all over again. Thus I try to wait until just minutes before the start.) And then we were off.
I had driven the course the day before, but the map I had wasn’t detailed, and I soon found that what I thought was the starting half mile, wasn’t. That didn’t matter much. What did matter was a mile near the end that was one long ascent. Not steep: only 50 feet of elevation gain. But a mile long. That part of the map and my drive by were correct. (I had also run this hill on my way to the 5K a little earlier that morning.) This hill was ahead of me. I had started out trying to keep my pace relatively slow, in part to marshal my energy and reserve some (for that hill and) for the finish, and I managed to do that. Other runners were passing me, but I was also passing a few myself. I could feel my weariness asserting itself, but I kept going.
The morning was cool. The sun was behind some clouds. But the humidity was high. I was sweating as I ran, and the sweat ran in my eyes. There was a water station at the halfway point, and a pack of guys in front of me decided to walk through the station. Now, this is a valid method to manage a run, but they were in my way. I had to dart around them, then dart back to grab a cup of water to throw in the general direction of my mouth. And then the ascent of that mile-long hill began.
And I met it. I managed to run up the entire hill, and I kept my pace more or less steady all the way to the top. And I was passing people. Most of those were runners who had run out of energy and were walking. (I had passed all of the full-distance walkers long before.) At the top we turned onto a level stretch and the last third of a mile to the finish. I decided to open up a little here and run in the rest of the way as fast as I could manage. That wasn’t a whole lot faster than what I was already doing, but I could feel my lungs complaining, so I knew I was pushing.
If someone were to ask me to design a 5K course, at least one thing I would ensure was that the last thousand feet were straight and flat. This is where a runner can really kick it in and have a fast finish. Somewhere early on in my running life, I learned that I almost always have a last shred of energy to call on in these glorious final stretches. That straightaway was not the case on this run. I had to make three right-angle turns in the last thousand feet, and the final straightaway was only about 150 feet long. Still, I did it, crossing the finish mats at a really great speed, trying hard to look untrammeled for the photographer I knew must be somewhere around. I slowed, turned off my watch, had the chip removed from my shoe, accepted the bottle of water someone handed to me, and then accepted the medal they gave me. I hadn’t known we were to get finisher medals. For something as short as a 5K, a medal seems more like a novelty than a recognition of achievement. (But it will go on my wall nonetheless.)
When I looked at my watch (and later verified the official time) I found that I had run a PR. I had just achieved a new record for my fastest 5K by 44 seconds. I hadn’t expected to do that at all. I really hadn’t intended to, and the weariness in my legs (from my run to the race and from the 8 miles I ran the day before) persuaded me that I was having merely an okay run. But I had done really well.
I found my friends and we hung out, waiting for the awards ceremony. I ate a bagel, but mostly for the salt on the top. We milled about and talked about stuff. And we waited. Finally a young man mounted the platform and started speaking. First he introduced a mother who had lost her son to this cancer. She had inspired the run originally and came back in its second year to encourage and thank all of us. Then came a mother whose son had recently beaten the cancer. This mother was the friend of my friend who had invited me to run with her. This woman had also brought her 17-year-old son onto the stage with her as she shared his story. He seemed like a good sport about it, but I imagine he must have been squirming inside as his mom was telling a crowd of strangers all about her boy’s testicles and how to conduct a self examination and so forth. It got worse, but I won’t go into that.
After this, they began announcing the overall winners and the age group winners. In all of the races I’ve been to, age groups have been divided into 5-year spans. 10 to 15 year olds. 15 to 20 year olds. And so on. For some reason, this race had divided the age groups in 10-year spans. Thus an 11-year-old runner had to compete with a 19-year-old-runner. There is virtually no way a youngster that age could run as fast as a trained late teenager. As it turned out, the 19-year-old male winner had a full beard and stood over six feet tall. My friend came in second in her age group, but had the groups been divided by 5 years, she would have been first in her age group. That was a disappointment. My other friend got second in his age group and would have gotten first if the breakdown had been more traditional. (I got ninth in my age group, and had the breakdown been different I would have gotten seventh. Not stellar but certainly better than last in my age group, which was a position I had defended for a long time.)
Soon after that, we split up. And that’s when I had to engage the third part of my brilliant plan. I had to run home. Three miles. On weary legs. I could have begged a ride from my friend, but I had already boasted about my clever plan to her, and I didn’t want to look like a quitter, especially about running. So I bravely gave her my medal and asked her to keep it for me until we met again at our usual Wednesday night run (which is why I don’t have a photo for you today) then turned on my watch again before trotting away.
Wow. I did not have the energy in me to run another three miles, especially with a huge hill waiting for me in the last mile. Libby said she would come get me if I asked, but I was too proud for that too and just kept plodding along. I stopped a few times when I found some shade and rested. Then pushed on again. I finally made it home, sweaty, exhausted, and gasping. And after having completed the fourth fastest three miles I had ever run. So my legs continued to surprise me, just as they have for the last two and a half years.
Another weekend has passed without a visit to Roundrock. This is getting difficult. I don’t think I’ve ever gone this long without a trip to my woods. Yes, I’ve been busy and active with my free time, so it’s not as though I’m sitting on the couch, lamenting my fate. But the woods and waters there are so much a part of my mental make up that it just seems wrong to be without for so long.
The most recent weekend included a visit from my brother and his family as well as yet another 5K race. This coming weekend includes a visit by Libby’s niece and her family. The weekend after that: my daughter and son-in-law are in town for a wedding. Opportunities for a trip to the woods are not abounding. Plus, I must get my miles. You may remember that I’m running my first full marathon in October. My goal between now and then is to run 230 miles, which is completely do-able if I stay on task. If I can grab those miles, then I will complete 1,000 miles for the year during the full marathon. I did that last year when I ran my first half marathon, and it proved to be both a motivator to persevere and a reward for having done so. Weekends are when I can grab the longer miles, weekends when I might be at Roundrock. Thus are my troubles.
I do wonder about the status of the phoebe nest. Surely she’s done bringing off her broods. If so, if the nest is empty, I will then face the dilemma of whether or not to remove her mud nest from the front of the cabin. The neat and tidy part of me would want to do that, but the nurturing steward in me believes that if I leave it, she’ll return each year to use it (as I understand phoebes will do). But if the nest is not empty and I find eggs still in it, I face a different dilemma. Do I conclude that the eggs are old and will never hatch? Or do I give her more time and solitude.
I also wonder about the status of the mouse in the cabin. Surely by now it’s died of starvation and lack of water. Right? Or did it gnaw a hole through the side of the cabin so it (and all of its friends) can come and go as they please? I suspect the former, but not knowing is what bothers me the most. And not getting out to Roundrock to find out adds to that.
What about the lake? It never filled fully this most recent spring. And though there has been a lot of rain until recently, I suspect the lake is low and looking sad. Add that possibility to another thing I just don’t know.
So sorry for this lamenting post. Here’s a question for you: What is your common name for the piece of furniture that many people call a couch? Do you say sofa. Divan? Davenport? Crash pad? (I knew someone who said it should never be called a divan, that that was low class. How is that kind of judgment even possible?)
I had really hoped to get down to Roundrock on Sunday. It looked like the only opportunity I was going to get for several weeks, but I didn’t go.
Two factors conspired to prevent me. First was the Rock the Crossroads run I did on Saturday night. With the physical demand of running (not so much, it turned out) and the late night of partying (not so much, it turned out), I didn’t know if I would have the energy to give to a day in the woods. The second factor was that I had to rise at 3:00 a.m. on Sunday in order to get #1 Son Seth to the airport in time for a 6:00 a.m. flight, first to Chicago, then to Zurich, then to Nairobi, and finally to Dar Es Salaam in Zanzibar. He’s gone over there to reconnect with an old friend from his Peace Corps days.
So the combination of a late night and an early morning made me choose to stay home and have a nap with my 70 pound Border Collie who jumped on the bed with me for consolation when the thunder boomed that mid morning. Yes, I could have driven to Roundrock, but I wouldn’t have trusted my driving, relying on only a few hours of sleep. Plus, Sunday was miserably hot and humid in Kansas City and I suspect it would have been the same down on the edge of the Missouri Ozarks.
This weekend is not looking any better. Not only do I have another 5K (Great Balls of Fire to benefit research into testicular cancer), but my brother and sister-in-law are coming into town with their two boys, and I’m sure we’ll meet up for all sorts of revelry. Nor is the next weekend looking good. Libby’s niece and her family are going to be here (though I do not have an official run scheduled).
This is really shaping up to be the Roundrock summer that wasn’t.
Some time ago I had decided I wasn’t going to be running 5Ks any longer. It’s just not my distance. I can’t get warmed up enuf in that short distance to turn in a good performance. Or so my thinking went.
I now have three 5Ks on my schedule for the next few months, and I ran one over the weekend that turned out to be my best 5K yet.
This year was the fifth year of Rock the Crossroads, but since I’ve only been in the running universe for two years, I’d never been involved with it before. It takes place in downtown Kansas City, in the artsy Crossroads district, and it’s set in the evening so that everyone can party afterward. A friend from my running club had asked me to join the team she was part of. As I said, I wasn’t keen on 5Ks any longer, but I’m always flattered when I’m invited to anything, so I signed up and began fretting right away.
That morning I had joined my running club for our usual Saturday run and put in four miles at a decent pace, which is to say I pushed myself. Thus I was not sure what kind of run I had in my legs and lungs for Saturday evening. I showed up downtown an hour early, which is always prudent for these things, and began wandering the area. Headquarters for the run was a bar/restaurant known for death metal music, and I walked through it, looking for familiar faces but not finding any. I thought about having a beer to get hydrated, but I wondered about the efficacy of that, and I certainly didn’t want to have carbonated liquid sloshing around in my stomach as I ran. Plus, since there was still an hour before the run, I didn’t want to find myself standing in line for the foul portable toilets at gun time.
The heat of the day had collected in the downtown pavement, and the tall buildings were alternately throwing shade and reflecting heat. The reported temp was 90+ degrees at race time, but I think the temperature on the street was higher than that. Fortunately, a breeze was coursing through the streets. Eventually, I spotted my friend and her boyfriend, and then she introduced me to her coworker, who was our team captain. We milled about, visited the toilets (also prudent), and at least one of us (though not me) had a beer. With about ten minutes before gun time, we all began milling toward the start chute, whereupon I was separated from my group, which was fine since we all ran at different paces. The run only had about 1,000 participants, but even so, the chute was noisy, and I think the national anthem was half over before I’d even heard it. I turned on my watch and hoped it would catch some satellites there among the tall buildings. The gun went off and the herd milled toward the starting mats. I did have a satellite signal as I crossed the starting line, and I was off.
“Start slow,” I told myself. “Start slow.” I ran at what felt like a comfortable, sustainable pace, but when I made the mistake of looking at my watch, I saw that I was going faster than my normal average pace. So I tried backing off a bit, but I’ve never been good at this. Or rather, I can slow myself, but I soon unconsciously pick up my pace (which I did, until the one, long hill at the beginning of mile 2).
The course wove through the grid of streets downtown, turns coming every few blocks. The pavement alternated between decent and dangerous. There was one hole in the first mile, right at a turn where everyone was crowding to cut off the corner a bit, that could easily have swallowed a person’s leg halfway up the calf. I was surprised it wasn’t marked or blocked with a cone. But I rounded that turn unscathed and kept going. I thought I had a decent mental picture of the course in my head, but there were a few turns I wasn’t expecting before we completed mile 1 and came upon the first water station.
I used to disdain the water stations, especially on something as short as a 5K. But my tough experience on my first half marathon last fall taught me a hard lesson, and now I nearly always get a drink. Since the heat was intense this evening, I knew I would grab a cup of water as I dashed past. (No, they didn’t have Bud Light, though I did ask.) Then we turned into mile two and the long, long climb of the only hill in this run.
Did I mention the heat? Many, many people were walking up this hill, which was more than a half mile long. I’ve tried to meet hills at a run and to keep running, however slowly, all the way to the top. Only then might I allow myself to stop or take a walking break. I managed to run to the top of this long hill too, but I didn’t give myself a break after that, knowing that the course was almost completely downhill from that point. I just kept going.
Not long after cresting that hill I came to the second water station and gladly accepted the offered cup, managing to splash most of it on my face, which was fine. I’ve run with rain in my face, but on this run, it was my face that was raining from all of the sweat dripping off it. Yet I was sustaining a strong pace (for my ability, natch), and I was sure heat stroke was running right behind me. But if it was, it couldn’t seem to catch me. I could feel the heat, and I could feel the fatigue of a hard run, but I could also feel the strength to keep pushing.
Just before the last turn and the long, flat straightaway to the finish arch, I spotted one of the other runners in our group that evening. He was perhaps fifty feet ahead of me, and I thought if I really tried, I could catch up with him and we could run it in together. So despite being exhausted and not close enuf to the finish to start calling on the reserves, I stepped it up and soon caught up with him. But then something completely foreign and unprecedented happened to me. I decided to be competitive! I decided to pass him without acknowledging him and then drive on as hard as I could to the finish, to come in ahead of him.
And this I did. I was passing many people on the long straightaway, those who had evidently cashed in their energy reserves too soon, but I was also being passed by others who had held their reserves for this glorious, leave-it-all-on-the-course finish. I came in a minute and a half ahead of my friend (as determined by our official times later), but more importantly, I had beaten myself. I had set a new personal record for running a 5K, by four minutes!
So much for not being able to warm up enuf in a short run, I guess.
I got the medal, I got a bottle of water (quickly drained), and I met up with several of our group in the huge party area behind the bar where a live band was shattering the night and beer was flowing. Except that the instructions for buying beer were confusing and I at first had my self stamped as not being allowed any. Any runner could attend the concert for free, but you had to show ID in order to get the special pink bracelet showing you were old enuf to buy beer. Once I figured that out, I presented my ID (I had carried it in the tiny pocket of my skimpy shorts in case I collapsed on the course and had to be taken to the hospital). Then I got a beer. ($7!) But in the meantime, my few friends had disappeared.
The great race had a bittersweet ending. My friend, who had invited me to run it with her, had gone back to her car to get her ID only to find that a window had been smashed out and her purse
as well as her boyfriend’s wallet had been stolen. This must have been an audacious thief. My friend had parked her car on the course of the run where the thousand runners passed. And even though most of the runners were finished by the time she made her sad discovery, there were still runners on the course coming in who were passing within feet of her car. There were also runners who had completed the course and were returning to their own cars, many with family members beside them. And, of course, there were volunteers and police at nearly every intersection.
Would I run this race again next year? If I was invited perhaps. But though I looked, I didn’t see another person in the crowd that I knew aside from my one friend. I think this run attracts a different crowd, one that will put the excellent party facilities to good use. I’m more interested in the running itself. But next year is a long way away.
It hasn’t really been that long since I’ve been to my woods, but in the interval I’ve been to Portland, Oregon and to this exotic place called Springfield, Illinois. I was hoping to get out to Roundrock this weekend, but that’s not looking likely. I have a 5K to run on Saturday evening (!) followed by flowing beer (for rehydration purposes, of course) and a free outdoor concert (of music I probably won’t like until I’ve rehydrated enuf). Even though it is only a 5K, I want to be rested for it, so I won’t go to the woods before this on Saturday. And then, depending on how long the concert (and the company) keeps me enthralled, I may not want to rise early to go to the woods on Sunday. Or maybe I’ll want to rise early to grab some long miles. It’s so hard being me anymore.
Actually, I’ll probably be driving to and from the Kansas City airport on Sunday (nearly an hour each way) since #1 Son is catching a plane to Zanzibar (!) then. He’s hoping to reconnect with an old friend from his Peace Corps days in Kenya, and I wish him well. Depending on his departure time, I may still be able to get my long miles in (before the heat of the day), but I certainly can’t squeeze in a trip to Roundrock (two hours each way).
That round rock you see above sits on the retaining wall (duh!) behind the cabin. Nearly every time I go out there, I find the rock on the gravel behind the wall. It’s hard to believe that the wind could push it there, and anyway, the prevailing winds would push it the other direction. So is some critter giving it the heave-ho? Some interloper? It’s one of my finer round rocks, not completely spherical, but with a smooth surface that I don’t see often.
Nine years ago, I was waxing lyrical about blackberries. This humble blog wasn’t even two months old then.
Eight years ago, I gave an in-depth look at the enemy. Nice photo in that post!
Seven years ago, I was once again talking about blackberries. Must be a seasonal thing.
Six years ago, I was babbling away about swimming (and dinosaurs).
Five years ago, I wasn’t trusting my eyes.
Four years ago, I had begin the Great Hiatus.
Three years ago, I was still on the Great Hiatus.
Two years ago, I had fallen victim to less frequent posting, so there is nothing on this date then.
Last years, I was feeling blue.
I’d known for for a long time that we had sensitive briar at Roundrock, about as long as we’ve been going to our patch of forest, but it seemed like years would pass when I wouldn’t see it at all. This is not one of those years. I’m seeing the stuff all over the place, at least in all of the sunny places.
I first wrote about this nine years ago in this post, which wasn’t really about sensitive briar but in which Rurality, the Queen of all Blogs, had kindly identified it for me. (Alas, Rurality is no longer posting, and the world is a lesser place.) This plant has some nasty prickles, and I don’t mess with it, though I understand cattle love to eat it. It’s in the pea family. I’m told it has a nice fragrance, but I’m reluctant to put my nose close enuf to sniff it.
Several months ago, I wrote about having #1 Son along on a trip to Roundrock to help me dig the holes and plant the upturned tree stumps that have been resting beside the cabin for years as a sort of naturalistic art project. I’d first done this many years ago and wrote about it in this post. To date, I now have four standing stumps in the forest at Roundrock. One is beside the road near the pine plantation. The two above are beside the cabin. And one is deeper in the forest, to be come upon by some hapless interloper who will possibly marvel at the unlikely image he (or she) comes across.
Unfortunately, one of the standing stumps beside the cabin had tumbled. It had actually snapped at the point where it emerged from the ground. I’m not sure why that happened. I don’t think it was something the wind did; the stumps are simply too low to the ground, and there wasn’t any other sign of wind-induced mayhem in the area. Nor do I think it was rot since the wood at the break appeared solid and strong. I’m not sure what happened, but perhaps a bird alighted on the top of the stump, and that weight was enuf to topple it. I’m going with that explanation anyway.
Several visits to the cabin passed before I pushed myself out of the comfy chair (on the shady porch overlooking the sparkling lake) and did something about the stumbling standing stump. First I had to saw the upper part of the stump free from the part still in the ground. It’s a white oak (or was in its life), and the sawing required was considerable. (Just kidding, it was about an inch of wood that needed sawing.) Then I extracted the part of the upended trunk that was in the ground and found a very nice and relatively deep hole in the ground just waiting for me to fill.
After that all I had to do was wrassle the remaining trunk with its heavy root wad into the hole without pushing in too much Ozark gravel in first. I turned it to give the most interesting aspect the view from the porch, and then I back filled the sides of the hole and stomped on it heartily.
And so when we left the cabin on our last visit, we once again had two standing stumps there. (You can see the red handle of my handsaw resting on the farther stump.) I had filled their roots with peanuts, wishing the local critters well. I hope to find the stumps still standing when I return (whenever that is — there’s so much running to get done). And we shall see.
When I visit Roundrock, even when I’m driving to Roundrock, there are visual cues I look for to get a sense of what has transpired since I was away. I cross many streams and even lakes on the way down. If they are high or low I can then imagine what I’ll see of my own lake. Is the grass on my road tall? Then Good Neighbor Brian hasn’t been by to mow. Are tree branches littering my road in? Must have been some storms recently. That kind of thing.
But there are long-term cues I look for as well, such as the growth of the buckeyes I have planted in front of the Cabin at the End of the Road. I had put the original three in three years ago and then the second three a year later. Their first year was successful, though I didn’t know it at the time. They brought out leaves in the spring but then lost them all in July when the relentless Ozark heat and drought attacked. Happily, they bounced back. In their second year, one of the buckeyes actually brought forth flowers, and there was much rejoicing. The other set has yet to bring out any flowers (unless I missed them), but they are still growing and thriving.
In their third year, the original set of buckeyes all bloomed. That was three plants, including the one that looked different from the other two and that I suspected was actually a white flowering variety (rather than the red I wanted). But that third plant brought out red flowers as well, and there was much rejoicing.
And so now I see that the tiny buckeyes I put in the ground three years ago are about to surmount the protective fencing I had put around them. (Those vandal deer!) Best of all, the spindly stalks they grow from are now looking woody, as though they plan to stick around for a while.
So I take a lot of heart from this particular visual cue in my woods. I’ve never found any other buckeyes in my forest, but given the success of the six I’ve planted, maybe it’s time to put in a few more, randomly here and there.