Tuesday, March 8, 2011

A Sort of a Homecoming

14 years ago this week I started this crazy adventure called running. When I began, I had no idea where it would take me. All I knew was that I needed to get out, get away and do something. Because, when you feel like you’ve lost all control, “something” is a heck of a lot better than nothing! At the time, there were troubles on the homefront and it seemed like the world was crashing all around me. I needed a way to release the stress and tension of the day, to have some time and space to myself, to clear my head and refresh my spirit. So, I went for a walk.

After a while, I wasn’t satisfied with merely walking everywhere. So, those walks mutated into a sort of walk/jog – or what I fondly called “wogs”. I wanted to cover some serious ground and walking just plain took too much time! Unfortunately, in addition to being an impatient walker, I was also a severely out of shape jogger. At 230 pounds it was too difficult for me to run the entire distance. So, I would jog a bit, walk a bit, then repeat.

I was living in Marblehead, MA at the time, and there were a great many old houses, picturesque parks and scenic seascapes to look at during my time on the roads. I enjoyed meandering through town just soaking it in and letting my mind wander. One route I would take quite often was a 2.5 mile loop - which was all I could handle at the time! The first mile rolled along West Shore Drive, then turned left and followed Lafayette Street into town for another mile, then left again and back home for a half mile along Village Street.

As I got a little better (and lost a little weight) I started timing my “wogs”. Nothing real hardcore, mind you. I would just check the clock on the cable box when I headed out and check it again when I returned. At the beginning, it took me about 31 minutes to complete the 2.5 mile circuit (or 12:30/mile) But, with each subsequent trip, it seemed the time to complete the loop would get shorter and my confidence grew as a result. As the confidence grew, so did the distance - from 2.5 to 4.5, and from 4.5 to 7.

But, regardless of how far I went, I always made sure my routes did a “loop”. I did this because I was afraid that, with what was going on at home, if I ran an “out and back” I might reach the turn around point and decide to keep on going! Fast forward 14 years to this past weekend. I returned to my roots to run a race on the streets of Marblehead. And, it was the first time I had run there since I left town in 2001.

The Black Cat 10 Miler began and ended in the Willows area of Salem, MA. It wound through downtown Salem before heading over to Marblehead for a 4 mile section from Salem Harbor to the “Neck”, and back. The turn around for this “out and back” course was at (what once was) Flynnies Clam Shack on Devereaux Beach. So, I’d be racing on roads that had seen more than their fair share of my shoe leather.

The Willows was also the place where I’d won my first ever racing award - a medal for first place in the Clydesdale Division at the 2000 Paul Perry 5m. Nowadays, I’m far below that weight classification. But, I hoped to fare equally as well in the always competitive Mens Masters Division. I was using this race as a tune up for the New Bedford Half in two weeks and planned to run my Half Marathon goal pace of 6:20 (or slightly under) for this rolling 10m.

The field got away quickly and I settled into about 20th place by the first mile mark - which I reached in 6:12. The difficult aspect of this race was that both the 10 & 20 milers started together. And, although each had a different bib color, it was hard to see who I was racing against when looking at the other runners from behind. Mile two cranked along Lafayette Street, and past Salem State College. Then it was down to Salem Harbor, before climbing back up into Marblehead.

I blinked back tears at the 3 mile mark as we passed Gatchell Park where my son learned to play baseball and St. Stephens Church where my daughter first went to pre-school. At the Fire Station (mile 4) we turned onto Ocean Ave and headed out toward the beach. I’d been yo-yoing back and forth with a few other 10m runners, but by the turnaround at Flynnies I was firmly in 10th place – deftly determined by counting the white bibs that came back towards me.

Although I got near a few times, I couldn’t close the gap with the runner in front of me. I was running at (or near) my peak pace, and he kept pulling away whenever I crept up on him. The good thing, however, was that in the process of the chase, he was helping to pull me to a very fast time. Back into Salem we raced, with the last 2 miles being a loop around Salem Neck, past the House of Seven Gables and the Power Plant - not sure which of the two was scarier!

The finish was a rather curious affair as well, as we passed the 10 mile mark and then ran for another tenth of a mile before reaching the actual finish line. I crossed the 10m mark in 1:02:10 (an unofficial 10m PR!) and finished in 1:02:51 - 10th overall and 2nd in my age group. My average pace for the 10m race was 6:18 (or 6:13 depending upon which mark you go by) which, interestingly enough, was about twice as fast as the first time I "wogged" my way through Marblehead - back in 1997!

By all accounts, not a bad homecoming – sort of...

"... And, you know it's time to go, through the sleet and driving snow, across the fields of mourning, lights in the distance. And, you hunger for the time, time to heal, desire time. And, the earth moves beneath your own dream landscape …

... On borderland we run... 

... And still we run, we run and don't look back!" - Paul David Hewson
I still run. But I do, on occasion, allow myself look back.

Because, while running is not my entire life, it did help save it!


  1. Nice writeup of the race; good luck for the New Bedford half.

  2. Thanks guys. I think I'm ready to rock n roll at New Bedford!