Saturday, August 27, 2011

Finishing Falmouth - 2011.

I pounded downhill with the finish line in sight and with hopes of at least matching my strong finishing time of 2010. I knew I had at least attained one goal: keep my streak of consecutive completions of Falmouth going! With the addition of automated time tracking via a computer "chip" on runners' bibs, the finish line at the Falmouth Road Race does not have any of the finishing chutes common in smaller, local road races.

I had crossed the finish line of Falmouth 2011 and had done so in a very respectable time for my division!

My plan was to get hydrated, maybe grab a snack, and then walk back to meet Sarah and the girls just outside Falmouth Center on Main Street. Finishing Falmouth in under an hour has its benefits in that the field (where runner refreshments are handed out) is not too crowded. I did one loop of the field to see what was being offered and although the hot dogs were tempting, I maintained some control and passed on that item. I grabbed a frozen ice cream treat, a drink, a bag of Cape Cod potato chips and started the walk to meet my family.

Falmouth 2011 was a definite success in many ways - I had my best time finishing since 2003, I raised over $2,600 for the Spina Bifida Association of Greater New England (SPAGNE), AND I proved to myself that if I put the training in, I can run competitive times. Finding the time to train is the hard part with three little munchkins to care for, though. Maybe some day, like my brother Jack, I will run in the same race as one of my daughters. Maybe.


Thursday, August 25, 2011

Falmouth: the final three miles.

Although the last three miles of the Falmouth Road Race can be difficult for runners, it is also fun.

Knowing I only had one final obstacle to overcome with the hill at about the 6.7 mile mark, I felt fairly strong and was in good spirits as I turned right off Shore Street onto Clinton Ave. As usual, the crowds here energized me with their screams of encouragement – it was time to start looking for my family in that crowd!

In years past, a sister-in-law had watched the race from the right-hand side of Clinton Ave. so I kept my eyes over there and spotted Sue. We exchanged a quick greeting and I continued on, looking now to my left, very much anxious to see my daughters’ reactions when they saw their daddy. The crowd seemed deeper than usual along this part of the race, which makes it a little tougher to maintain pace and look for family without missing them. Fortunately, I caught sight of my mother-in-law Sheila about thirty feet out.

With my first Falmouth being about 15 years ago, my life was obviously different in 1996. In my early thirties and newly divorced, running had become a way to rediscover myself. Pounding the pavement for minutes or hours allowed me time to not only regain some fitness I had lost, but also to gain some much needed spiritual focus. The first few years running Falmouth were years spent building (and re-building) friendships, family, and self. Fifteen plus years later, I was now running Falmouth as a father to four year old identical triplet girls, father to an angel we named Abigail, and a husband to a strong and warm-hearted woman. This would be the third year my daughters would be watching me run, but the first year in which they had some clue as to what running a race was about. So…I had more reason to be anxious about seeing them.

A few minutes earlier I had grabbed a lei from a woman in the crowd who was passing them out to runners. My intention was to surprise Anna with the pink lei when I stopped to give her a kiss. As I approached my family, I saw Sarah holding Anna and they both had huge smiles on their faces – what a feeling! I got either a kiss or high-five from each of my daughters and was on my way to the mile 5 mark before Anna, Allie or Emily could figure out what their daddy was doing! With the adrenaline now on HIGH, I was ready to finish the remaining 2+ miles…

As I jumped back into the pack, I glanced back for another look at my family. With each strike of my Saucony treads hitting the pavement, I felt a sense of gratitude for what we had as a family. I also thought of Anna and how she can brighten a room with her warm heart and sweet voice. Even though working full-time, taking MBA level classes and being a husband and dad, while fundraising and training for this 7.1 mile race was difficult at times, I could not complain. How could I not run this race for Anna and all the other children (and adults) with spina bifida? My eyes began to water as I ran. I still do not know if the tears which wanted to flow were tears of gratitude, sadness or joy. It doesn’t really matter, I guess. Because the tears proved that I was running from my heart (literally and figuratively).

The sixth mile at Falmouth, which runs adjacent to Falmouth Inner Harbor, went by fairly quickly for me. And, given the fact that I always find mile 6 to be difficult, I was fine with that! The one thing I will say is that the whistle-blowing lifeguard runner who I had run alongside earlier in the race was back alongside me. Let’s just say that the whistle-blowing did not have the same positive effect it had on me during mile four…we turned right onto Falmouth Heights Road and I got ready for the last mile and a half. My pace had slowed slightly, but I knew I still had an opportunity to reach at least one of the goals I had set for myself. My wind was fine, but my legs began to feel a bit sluggish. The final hill was going to be tough.

The base of the hill is beyond the 6.5 mark – just as Grand Ave. turns left. Earlier the same day I had told a Falmouth first-timer “just remember - if you feel like you are going to vomit going up the final hill, you are not alone!” Similar to the Boston Marathon’s Heartbreak Hill, the final hill at Falmouth is placed such that it can really zap a runner if the runner is not ready for it. I was ready mentally, but I wasn’t feeling very confident in my body at this point in the race. Time to focus. I started the inner chatter: “take it little by slow…just get to the top…the finish is near…suck it up…”. I hit flat pavement. And then downhill. The enormous American flag came into view and the cheering of the crowds continued as I picked up the pace in hopes of reaching my goal…

Next post: final thoughts on Falmouth 2011.


Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Falmouth: Second 3rd of the Race

When I run Falmouth or any other race, I usually break the run into thirds. Having completed the first 1/3 of the race, it was now important for me to find a comfortable rhythm and go with it through at least mile 5. I was in that spot and felt good. The humidity seemed to have increased, but there was still decent cloud cover and the temperature seemed to be holding in the mid to upper 70’s.

Shortly after passing the mile 3 mark, the Falmouth Road Race comes out of the shade and out to the open air with the surf of the Atlantic ocean to the right of the runners. The majority of miles 4 and 5 are run on a flat stretch of Surf Drive – unfortunately in fifteen years running Falmouth I have never felt any beneficial breeze during this part of the race. What runners do benefit from is the energized crowd, however. Whether it is year-round residents or renters viewing the race for the first time, the crowd along Surf Drive is electric! And, sure enough, about ½ to ¾ along Surf Drive was a gentlemen with his amplified guitar belting out some tunes for us – thank you!

Knowing I would see my wife Sarah, my daughter Anna and the rest of my family shortly definitely was a huge help mentally at this point in the race. Long gone was the adrenaline of the start. Falmouth does not get easier with each mile – it gets tougher.

As we ran along the beach, I heard a loud whistle from behind me. And then another. A male runner (probably in his twenties) wearing a Falmouth Lifeguard t-shirt, had a whistle around his neck! He started blowing his whistle at the crowd and waving his hands to get the viewers to cheer. And cheered, they did! I generally do not feed off this type of stuff during a race, but I thought this guy was an original. His whistling and the crowd reaction helped push me along for the next mile or so. Thanks lifeguard “Joe”.

I continued along Surf Drive and just as Surf turns to the left and becomes Shore Street I heard a woman scream out “way to go Kathy from Accounting” “Kathy from Accounting – whoa!” Okay maybe her name was not Kathy, but given I have been a boring accountant for my entire career, I got a real kick (and boost) from this crowd-to-runner exchange. We now would approach the extremely loud DJ screaming names on the left hand side of the road. Another guy who has been there pretty much every year I have run Falmouth.

I was now at about the 4.5 mile mark and approaching the spot where I should start looking for my family and the reason why I was running Falmouth.

Next post: seeing my daughter Anna…

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Falmouth Road Race: The First Three Miles.

The starting line of the Falmouth Road Race is at the heart of Woods Hole, the home of Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution or WHOI. As described on their website, it is “the world's largest private, nonprofit ocean research, engineering and education organization”. Added to the history of the race, the caliber of runners, and the pure beauty of the Atlantic Ocean and Martha’s Vineyard on the horizon, you almost have to be a zombie if you are not pumped as a runner.

The national anthem begins and 10,900+ runners go silent out of respect.
The US Coast Guard does a flyover.

"Two minutes to the start of the 39th running of the Falmouth Road Race" The runners cheer.

BANG! They are off.

Off we go, a sea of runners – first over a narrow metal draw bridge, then up a small hill past store fronts on the right and a few residences and commercial properties on the left. And throngs of cheering, enthusiastic runners on both sides. Although I would not have family at the start this year, I am reminded of years past when both my mother and dad (God rest his soul) stood among the crowd near the start to cheer me and other family members on. After we passed by, my parents would get in their car and drive up further (close to mile 5) to cheer us on again. Memories like that make Falmouth special.

As I ran that first ¼ to ½ mile I looked to the left, as I always do, at the Atlantic Ocean with Martha’s Vineyard in the distance. I thought of my dad and I also thought of my niece Julie who had cystic fibrosis and for whom I ran in memory of in 2002. And I thought of our daughter Abigail for whom every run of mine is dedicated. And, I of course, I thought of our daughter Anna; I would run my hardest because Anna and many others with spina bifida are not able to run.

At about the ½ mile mark, the race turns right and down a hill into a shaded rolling terrain before opening to what I consider the most scenic part of the course – the approach to Nobska Lighthouse! The one mile mark is at the base of the hill to Nobska Lighthouse - I usually have a good feel at this point in the race of how the race will play out for me. And, given my age and experience with Falmouth, I know to run the course with humility, not cockiness. That is how I approached the hill at Nobska – with humility.

My time at mile 1 was under 8:30. I was happy.

As runners approach Nobska, it is almost a guarantee that the theme song from the movie Rocky will be blaring. And no, that song has not gotten old for this runner!

As I took in the scenery and the cheering crowd, I remembered John H. (a former work colleague) had told me that he would be rooting me along at Nobska. And, even though I was skeptical of spotting him, I made sure to look. Sure enough, I spotted John standing on the lawn in front of Nobska Lighthouse! This is a guy who I had not seen in about 8-9 years and I pick him out of the crowd. The best part is that he spotted me! We exchanged acknowledgements and down the hill I went with the last view of ocean for about another two miles.

I rode the emotional charge of seeing John for about the next ½ to ¾ of a mile before settling into a nice rhythm as I scampered through the wooded and rolling pavement of the next couple of miles. This part of the race can be difficult mentally due to the fact that there are not as many cheering people and runners have come down from the “high” runners often experience the first mile.

Both my second and third miles were @8:20 pace. This was good.

To be continued…

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Falmouth Road Race: The Starting Line

The start:
Sometime after arriving at Woods Hole, I heard that the start of the race would be delayed 10 minutes - another first for this road race. Given the shuttle bus fiasco, it made sense to delay the start, but it was still unacceptable to me.

Given the number of runners at the start, it is normally somewhat challenging to find a comfortable spot for runners to rest their legs before finding a place in their designated starting corral. This year, however, I was able to plop down on a wall overlooking some of the docks. I sat and watched the runners pass while a photographer from MarathonFoto snapped pictures.

Falmouth is great in that there is a great variety of runners - from the world class elite professional runners to the weekend warriors. And, although many years removed from the party scene, I could relate to one conversation I overheard at the start: "Ya, my uncle is running the race drunk...he worked last night, starting drinking beers at @2:00 am this morning and switched to the hard stuff around 7:00." They were from Dorchester, Mass - think his uncle is Irish?

Anyway...I'm sitting there people watching and I see this younger guy (college age, maybe) all excited saying "Tedy Bruschi....Tedy Bruschi...I cannot believe it". So, sure enough, I see a group of about 6-7 runners appear, all wearing the same blue-colored singlets. And, sure enough, one of the runners was Tedy Brushi wearing an elite colored bib - #54! I did not approach him, but instead was entertained watching other runners react to seeing him, especially the female runners! Two "girls" were in line for the port-a-potty and they produced beaming smiles at the sight of him. Tedy gave a charming smile back while he got his iPod ready and he and the other Tedy's Team members moved on to their starting corrals. I have a feeling those girls still have those ear-to-ear smiles today!

Before I got on my feet, I was approached by a fellow runner who was also running for the spina bifida association. It was a nice light conversation, but also a good reminder of why I was really running Falmouth this year.

Off to my starting corral I went...

Since I have run Falmouth, the organizers have used a wave start, which is definitely necessary. A wave start in a road race is when start times are in “waves”. Rather than having almost 11,000 runners stampeding each other with the start of the race, runners are grouped according to their expected finishing times. As a major road race, Falmouth has a field of elite (really fast) runners who are placed at the front and begin their run about 10-15 minutes after the wheelchairs. Although this system works well, I have been told the course can still be quite congested for runners in the rear groups. I have been fortunate to be placed in one of the front groups each year so I can usually do my desired pace after getting through the first 1/2 to 3/4 of a mile.

Before getting to my corral, however, I had to get through an extremely congested area where runners were very close to pushing each other. It was ridiculous the way they had the entrances to the front corrals this year. Again, thank you for the change, New Balance.

Despite the frustration, standing elbow to elbow with the 10,000 other runners while our national anthem played and The US Coast Guard did a flyover, is a feeling which is almost indescribable. I was ready to run.

To be continued...the first few miles next post.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Falmouth Road Race 2011

This past Sunday, I completed the 39th running of The Falmouth Road. And I am also proud to report that my time was a very respectable time for my age group - I finished ahead of almost 9,000 runners (there was almost 11,000 total) and ahead of about 1,000 in my division. Not bad for a middle-aged dad to triplets!

I have run the scenic, yet challenging 7.1 mile race every year since 1996 and as such I know the course and race logistics very well.

Saturday (the day before the race):

I didn’t run, but spent the mid-summer day with Sarah and the girls. We did some errands in the morning and then took Allie, Anna and Emily swimming in my brother’s above-ground pool in the afternoon. After putting the girls to bed, I was exhausted as I had not yet recovered from the effects of our drive to Michigan two weeks earlier. After phoning in our order for dinner from a local pub-restaurant, I plopped myself down on the back deck for a 5-10minute cat nap. I was zonked! I think I was in bed @10:15 Saturday night.

Sunday morning (race day):

Before I left the house, I had my regular bowl of cereal and then I gave Anna a kiss, said goodbye to Sarah and Grammy, and then I was out the door.

Experience has taught me that arriving for the buses which take the runners from Falmouth to Woods Hole at 8:45 works best for me. So I knew I had time to stop and get a small coffee for the drive to Falmouth. That is what I did. Unfortunately I only took three sips of the coffee because they decided to make a milk with coffee instead of a coffee with milk. This was not a good start to my day, but I decided I could survive without the java.

The drive to Falmouth was uneventful. The traffic I hit where Route 28 turns into one lane was a little more than I would have expected, but I was still on schedule. I parked the car at the designated spot where I was to meet Sarah, Sheila, and the girls after the race. I had put my bib on my singlet the night before and had my shorts and singlet on so I just changed from my flip-flops to my Saucony treads, locked the car, and slipped the car key into the tiny pocket in my shorts. I was ready for the 5-7 minute walk to the buses, fully expecting to get on a bus shortly after arriving at the school where the runners board.

Surprise! The line for the buses was ¼ mile long – no lie!

I got in line, watched it move (albeit very slowly) and then watched the line continue to grow. It was not moving fast. It started to become apparent something was wrong. In the fifteen years having run this extremely well organized race, there had never been a problem with the buses. The organizers have historically stressed to runners the importance of arriving before the LAST bus leaves at 8:45. It was obvious they would be lucky to get all the runners boarded on buses by 9:15.

Knowing the port-a-potty situation, I ducked out of line at the school where the buses were being loaded. It was then that I heard one of the volunteers announce that the runners could thank the new sponsor New Balance for the delay. New Balance had cut the number of buses shuttling runners from Falmouth to Woods hole from 70 to 40! What!?

At least the time waiting in line and the ride to Woods Hole passed somewhat quickly with a nice conversation with a mother from Florida with three young children. She was running Falmouth for the first time. We talked of race logistics, running, and what sports is like for kids today….

I think it was close to 9:40 by the time I stepped off the bus in Woods Hole. I would not have been surprised if there were 1,000+ runners yet to arrive to the start.

To be continued....Next post: more logistical nightmares, pre-race anticipation and a Tedy Bruschi sighting!

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Suppoprt Verizon Workers.

After speaking to my brother, I was compelled to do a post about the Verizon worker strike which started this past weekend. I spoke to my frustrated and upset youngest brother yesterday after he had spent a couple of days on the picket lines. C is a member of the local IBEW and his frustration, combined with the information (or lack there of) in the media, made me decide to do my (small) part in getting the public to understand what is really at stake with the strike.

It happens that a story written by Tayrn Luna on better tells the story:

Claudia Slaney did something that many people would consider unthinkable in this economy: give up her paycheck.

She did just that on Sunday when she walked off the job, joining about 6,000 Verizon Communications Inc. employees in Massachusetts after the unions and the company failed to reach an agreement on a new contract. The strike is unusual in its size - 45,000 people nationwide and one of the largest in a decade - and for its timing, during a period of historically high unemployment and concerns about another recession.

“It is a tough situation, but it would have been a lot harder if we didn’t do it,’’ said Slaney, a 41-year-old mother of four who made $1,200 a week as an administrative assistant. “If we gave in to their demands, we’d be without a job the next day.’’

The unions - the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers and Communications Workers of America - are fighting to keep employee pensions, affordable health care benefits, and a clause that makes it more difficult for Verizon to lay off union workers. If that job security is wiped away, union members fear they will lose their jobs and the work will be outsourced overseas or shifted to company facilities in other parts of the country. A Verizon spokesman contends that would not happen.
Since Sunday, hundreds of striking workers have been picketing the downtown Boston building where they worked. They hold signs that read “IBEW Local 2222 on Strike Against Verizon’’ and chant slogans like “What do we want? Contracts!’’

Passing drivers have been honking in support, and the strikers respond with cheers. Other workers have picketed Verizon offices and stores throughout the region - even on Monday when the Dow Jones industrial average plunged 634.76 points.
If the strike lasts more than two weeks, CWA members will be able to tap a half-billion-dollar strike fund and receive $200, and then $300 each week after. The IBEW doesn’t have a strike fund.

That didn’t matter to IBEW members Kenneth and Lynn Caruso. They have been preparing for this day since the ink dried on the last contract in 2008. The couple, who met at Verizon, started tucking away $100 from each paycheck into an account they dubbed a “strike fund.’’

“Every time our contract comes up, there’s always that possibility of a strike,’’ said Lynn Caruso, 38, who is a service representative, while her husband is a central office technician. “We just want to have something to fall back on.’’
The Quincy couple said they started adding $150 to their strike fund a year ago after they bought a house; the Carusos, who have a 2-year-old daughter, pull in $1,600 a week. Their fund will cover two months of living expenses, including their mortgage, but after that they will have to tap into their 401(k) retirement accounts.

Other striking employees like Dennize Denton of Boston wish they had done more to prepare.

“The economy has been so bad you can’t save,’’ said Denton, as she picketed the downtown Boston Verizon building on Monday.

The 43-year-old single mother of three said she started applying for other jobs a few weeks ago and tried to pay off bills early. But with her son’s college tuition payment coming up, she realized even a day without pay is too long.
“If we get to two weeks, this line is not going to be as peaceful as it is now,’’ she said.

Tensions are already rising, with Verizon saying that service lines have been sabotaged in more than a dozen instances and that some nonunion employees have been assaulted by union members. Meanwhile, the unions reported that members in Amherst, N.Y., were hit by a car as a replacement worker attempted to drive through the picket line.

Verizon and the unions have been negotiating since late June. The big sticking points in the contract have been health care benefits, and preserving employee pensions and a layoff protection clause.

Gene Carroll, the director of the Union Leadership Institute at Cornell University, said Verizon’s contract proposals follow a 25-year labor relations trend of diminishing job security for the average worker. Some of the things the Verizon unions are asking for are no longer standard benefits in America, he said.
“Striking is not a common practice at all now,’’ he said. “It’s a risky strategy on the part of the union, and it’s also very courageous.’’

Don Trementozzi, president of CWA Local 1400 in New England, said the unions went on strike to force the company to negotiate on their demands.
“I don’t think this contract was going to be won by the bargaining team,’’ he said. “I think it was going to be won by the strength of our members, and I think Verizon underestimated that and the unity of the unions.’’

Verizon spokesman Phil Santoro said the company is looking for concessions because the recently expired contract was negotiated at a time when the landline division was faring better. The striking employees work for the landline division, which oversees the company’s telephone, Internet, and television service.
The number of landline customers has dropped nearly 60 percent over the past decade, to 26 million last year. At the same time, the number of cellphone customers grew to 94 million, according to Verizon figures.

Santoro said Verizon seeks to remove the layoff clause because it limits the company’s ability to reassign union employees to other cities when work shifts. Because of the contract clause, there have been “no layoffs of union employees in many, many years.’’ He added that fears that jobs would be outsourced are “baseless.’’

Passersby who watched the parade of workers surrounding the Verizon building in the Financial District shared mixed emotions about the work stoppage.
But Stefanie Archer, a 34-year-old Brandeis University MBA student, was impressed.
“It’s important that these [strikes] are organized well to show a threat, because big companies don’t get easily threatened,’’ she said.

Chuck Miller, a 32-year Verizon veteran who provisions circuits, was part of the 1989strike that lasted 17 weeks over similar issues.
The Charlestown man said his wife left the landline division after that strike and now works for Verizon Wireless. He fears the current strike could go on for months - even though both sides continued negotiations for the second day in a row yesterday.
“It’s tough,’’ said Miller. “I didn’t think we’d be here again, but we can’t go back.’’

© Copyright 2011 Globe Newspaper Company.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Triple strollers = Triple trouble?

As is the case with most households with young children, we experienced a serious toy explosion in our house over a two year period. Generous gift giving by family and three children of the same age definitely contributed to explosion. Sarah and I were, of course, also learning how to safely entertain and educate three toddlers at the same time. Should we buy three of these or one for them to share? No, we didn’t purchase three Little People Houses or three shopping carts. But we felt that if we could afford to buy some things in threes, we would. I think we are getting better at the decision-making process when it comes to discretionary spending on the kids, but I am more certain now that the sibling rivalry of “she took that…that is MINE…” will continue for years.

One item we did buy in quantity was a triple doll stroller from FAO Schwarz. A “bahgahn” as we say in Beantown - under $100 (delivered) for all three!

Since the girls got the strollers on their second Christmas, they have only been used sporadically - mostly because the handles are a bit high and our girls are small for their age. We have kept them in the basement with other toys that are rotated every week or two to keep them “fresh”. We also do the toy rotation in an attempt to get the girls to appreciate ALL the toys they have. We tell them often that many kids don’t get to play with so many toys.

This past weekend, for a variety of reasons, was a challenge in keeping the girls entertained/occupied. Rain, errands, and general grumpiness were all contributing factors. So, after the girls became bored (and somewhat frustrated) with riding their bikes one night after dinner, I suggested we take their “lovies” for a walk in the triple strollers. BINGO - they loved the idea! We had a nice walk up and down our street. The girls were so cute and funny.

Here is a little clip:

I must admit that while I walked alongside my daughters pushing the strollers, I had a “what if” thought. What if all three of our daughters gave birth to triplets! Ask my wife Sarah what she thinks about the odds of that happening! :)

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

On The Road Again.

We took a major road trip last week to visit some family on Sarah's side. "Major" in that we drove the distance to Michigan in one day, each way. That is almost 15 hours in the car each way, people! Sarah has several posts about our trip so I will take the easy way out tonight and direct you to her blog for details.

I was, however, able to pull together a few video clips of our playground fun as well as our visit to the Detroit Zoo: