Archive for February, 2009

Marathoning Returns to Pittsburgh

Pittsburgh hasn’t had a marathon since 2003 but thanks to the hard work of some local sports enthusiasts, a marathon will be held in this eastern PA college town this spring with the Dick’s Sporting Goods Pittsburgh Marathon on 5-3-09. It’ll be the 20th running of a marathon in Pitt. I came out here for the Spring Thaw races in the a.m. I was the guest speaker at the afternoon event, the Philips Respironics Half Marathon Kick- off at Senator John Heinz History Center . the great news is that all the events are already full but it looks like they will be taking 1500 folks from their various marathon, half and relay waiting lists. Welcome back Pitsburgh!

Austin Marathon & Half

“Keep Austin Weird” is the unofficial slogan for this fun city. It has spawned some pretty hilarious parodies including: “Keep College Station Normal,” “Keep Round Rock Mildly Unusual,” “Keep Lubbock Flat,” and “Keep Houston Under Construction.”  You gotta love Texans. In Austin, there’s always  something to do, see and experience. I was here for the race director’s conference and to speak at the race expo. This year’s event, like last year’s, is a totally “Green Race.” And it was evident everywhere. The marathon sold out well in advance and the half was near full – a good thing to see in our current economy. A funny thing happpend during the marathon – a vidoographer caught a mysterious fireball/meteor/ufo while filming the first few minutes of the race. (Check youtube.com) Strange things happen during the Austin Marathon and Half and this wasn’t the first time: In 2005, some deer got caught up in the start corrals and made for a surreal experience not just for the runners but the poor deer. I wonder what they have in store for next year’s race?

 

I did make time to experience some of Austin’s more well known as well as lesser known venues including Barton Springs (famous) and Ginny’s Little Longhorn Saloon (infamous). The former, actually four natural springs, is located on the grounds of Zilker Park. The largest spring, Main Barton Spring always maintains a temperature of about 70 degrees regardless of time of year. I did some laps there one morning before the expo opened up. Our time in Austin culminated with an excursion to Ginny’s, a tiny, dark honky tonk known for its eclectic mix of locals who mostly hang out back in broken lawnchairs when the interior fills to capacity, $2 Lonestars, free chili dogs, the kinds of bands (Texas swing mostly) that just make you want to dance! And Chicken Sh_t Bingo every Sunday night. As luck would have it, it was Sunday night when our posse including local Genny (who had never even heard of the place) and five of us from four corners of the continent made our visit. While I left the building before the insanity ensued, this is how CSB works: A live chicken, this time an orange hen named Sissy, is placed in a large cage atop a piece of plywood marked with a grid. Ginny sells tickets for each of the 54 squares, then she let the chicken strut around the cage whiel honky tonk plays in the background. When the bird relieves itself, you’ve got a winner. PETA hasn’t complained and the bird seems to be liking the attention. We followed this little bit of craziness with an incredible Indian dinner at the Clay Pit in downtown Austin.

Back in The USA – Running USA

I was home for less than 24 hours before heading off to San Diego, La Jolla to be exact, for the annual Running USA Conference. The non-profit, through its conference and other channels, serves as the industry’s “meeting place” for major road racing events, media and athletic industry personnel. Everyone from elite runner Ryan Hall to Boston Marathon RD Dave McGillivray attends.

Cruise To Run Day 7: St. Thomas, Golfing the Devil’s Triangle

Devils TriangleAnother day, another island: We started the day with the 2nd annual St. Thomas Prediction Run, a 5K, an out and back road course that included many, many locals among the 200+ entrants. The top 10 runners “closest to the pin” won awards. This group, ranging in age from 21 to 65, were very impressive and were within 1 second to 6 seconds off of their respective predicted times. Post race a bunch of us shared in a much need latte on the water before deciding to find the nearest golf course. Within 30 minutes, we were lovin’ life at Mahogany  Run in Charlotte Amalie, – the most beautiful golf course I’ve experienced – even nicer than Spy Glass and Torrey Pines. Canadian-Brit Martin Parnell and I did 11 holes on this spectacular course. The Devil’s Triangle, three oceanside holes were beyond brutal but we actually golfed pretty well. Already looking forward to Mahogany Run next year and even know the date – January 25th, the second day of the 2010 Cruise To Run.

Cruise To Run Day 6: Tortola & Virgin Gorda

Tortola is one of our favorite islands. It’s beyond hilly so no sense in trying to map out a flat course to run on. The island demands you explore it via it’s hills so when Jerry Friesen and the locals designed the “King and Queen of the Mountain” course – some of the runners thought it was designed by a man who hates his fellow man. Even though the run was a mere 3K I immediately went into oxygen debt on the first turn which seemed to be at a 45 degree angle aroudn and up. The hill climb starts on the main drag in Road Town, we got up and around several winding paved roads – switchbacks that lead to a dirt trail that leads to the highest point on the island. Canadian triathlete Dave Cracknell and I had a plan – we’d only run when a vehicle or the paparazzi (other runners with cameras) were in view – it was all about looking good. Each runner/climber/walker gets to break the tape – the BVI flag – when they reach the finish at the summit. Within 40 minutes we had 200 folks on top checking out the awesome views 360. Last year during the hill climb, Tom White was onboard the ship on crutches saying next year he would do the climb. Next year came and not only did he do the run, his first hill climb on his new prosthetic, he placed in the top 10 overall – and on his birthday no less. Later, an Irish friend of ours, Helena Dunphy, who lives on St, Marten’s, shanghaid a bunch of us and before we knew it we were on one of the most gorgeous beaches we had ever experienced – The Baths at Virgin Gorda. I can see why Sport Illustrated does a lot of their swimsuit shoots there. The beach has everything – pristine white sand, giant boulders, flora, fauna (chickens!), and some cray waves to frolic in. If you ever go to VG, be sure to look for the most perfect shell ever; 10-year-old Whitney White found it but lost it in an undertow and will be much obliged if you find it and return it to her.

Cruise to Run Day 5: Stressing in Antigua & Books for St. John’s Library

STRESSING IN ANTIGUA?   Impossible to have those two words in the same sentence. My wife noticed that by the fourth day of our running cruise,  almost every time a fellow cruiser was having a photo taken of themselves, they would tell the photographer the caption for the photo they were about to snap. I didn’t know I did this until our own running paparazzi  were taking photos of me out in the middle of the ocean -

me wearing Laura’s bucket hat and with two beers (Pitons) in my hands trying, unconvincing, to convince the photogs: “I’m stressing! I’m stressing! Really. I am.”  

DRINKING CLUB WITH A RUNNING PROBLEM   Ffryes Beach was the staging area for our third annual trail hash with the local chapter of the Hash House Harriers. For the uninitiated; HHH are internationally known as a “Drinking Club with a Running Problem” and in Antigua the drink of choice is rum! Antigua, pronounced “an-tee-guh”, is known for its beautiful white sand beaches and it’s said there are 365 of them so you can go to a new one every day but we’d be content to hang at Ffryes every time we visit. Antigua is our double workout day – a long morning run to and from Fort Barrington and an afternoon trail hash option where many opted to just frolic in the water instead.

BOOKS FOR ANTIGUA   Our morning run is mostly on country roads but starts in town and this year it went by a grade school just before classes started; it was a mutual lovefest between our 300+ runners and the 300+ students in their crisp plaid uniforms. Before we headed out on the morning run, we presented the local library staff with 240 new books – 145 of which were children’s books –  to stock their not quite done new library. (And yes, “My Life on the Run” was one of those books.) How cool it would have been to present the school kids with those books. Maybe next year?

Cruise To Run Day 4: St. Lucia, Lighthouse Run & Treetop Canopy Zip Lining

 

St. Lucia is one of our favorite islands on the running cruise. With its tranquil beaches, lush rain forests and gorgeous scenery, impossibly green St. Lucia ranks high on the list of island paradises. Like in Bridgetown, we have a shoe collection for the runners in Castries. The local running club sets up an 8K run for us complete with two much appreciated fluid stops along the way. The turn around point is the Vigie Lighthouse which offers terrific views 360 of this super hilly island. Following the leisurely run and a light breakfast back at the ship we trade our “island time” cadence for a little adrenaline rush. Charlie and his “Night Nurse” jitney take us deep into the St. Lucia rainforest for a “Treetop Canopy Adventure” consisting of a series of zip lines thru the jungle.You travel along a zip line (a network of cables) strung across the top of the trees, cruising from platform to platform. Guides strap you into a waist and chest harness and top you off with gloves and helmet….and lovely shower cap to tie up your hair beneath the helmet. (See photo of me with Canadians Cathy and Tom Hopkins). Of the 11 zip lines, seven included tree platforms high along the forest – and two swinging bridges to cross in between zips. Zip lining was a first for both Laura and I and what a fantastic place to do it in; a perfect way to absorb the stunning lush landscape right in the thick of it. A definite “must do” again experience for us while some others were just thankful they didn’t cr_p their pants!
Pitons St. Luciazip1zipline Bart & Tom & Cathy Hopkins

 

Cruise To Run Day 3: Barbados 5K, Inspiring Runners Front & Back of Pack

Six weeks earlier, Laura and I had plans to attend the Barbados Marathon. My Mom passed away the day before we were set to leave. My mom was the coolest. She lived 81 great years. In her last few years when she was confined to a wheelchair but still coherent she’d want to participate in our family relays – in her wheelchair of course. She was game for any and everything. She would have loved Barbados – especially the kids and swimming in the ocean. 

As part of our Cruise To Run – Give Back program,we had a shoe collection for the local kids. We had noticed than too many of the kids the past two years were running the 5K in bare feet and not because they wanted to. They had no running shoes. This time around, more than 200 pairs of new running shoes were collected and half of those were given to the kids in Bridgetown. Not only was it like Christmas for the locals – it was fun for the cruisers who helped the kids find the perfect fit for them amongst the big pile of shoes.

 

The Barbados 5K, first of three races during the week, is always a hot one but this time the prevailing winds worked in their favor until the last 1k anyway. Like a local said,”That’s not the sun (son) – that’s the Father!” When the Barbadians say it is hot, you know it is. I served as race announcer and  I heard many amazing stories before and after the race. Sue Butts of North Carolina lost 140 pounds and was returning to running after a stroke 4 years ago. Barbados was her welcome back race. Ronnie Levy from Philadelphia had heart surgery 6 months earlier. She ran a 44:13. Colorado’s Tom White was on crutches in Barbados last year – two months after surgery to amputate his leg. This year on his new cheetah leg, he ran a sub-21 and fourth in his age division.

 


Dinner with Iraqi Soldiers & Bart “Freakin’” Yasso

Two of the more than 300 runners in our group of Cruise To Run folks were a young Indiana couple, Daryl Bollhoefer and Ashley Morrison, both of whom served in Iraq. We hoped we could meet them at some point during the week and as luck would have it – they were right next to us waiting for a table so we (Laura and Tutu Man Keith Straw) and I invited them to join us for dinner. Daryl and Ashley are true heroes both serving our great country in Iraq. And when they are back home in Indiana they are very involved in their local running community. We asked them what was it about the cruise that entice them to sign up and Ashley said it was easy to convince Daryl when she saw that Bart “Friggin’ ” Yasso was one of the guest speakers – and from there on out for the remainder of the cruise, my new moniker was “Bart Friggin’ Yasso.” Thanks Ashley!

Cruise to Run Day 1: Super Bowl on The High Seas

Today is Super Bowl Sunday. We boarded the Caribbean Princess during the unadvertised  ”soft opening” – just like at running expos – so no wait, no lines. We have an outside cabin (with deck) on the 12 level, the Aloha Deck. Great vegetarian dinner with friends from St. Catharine’s, Canada and eastern Pennsylvania. Evening out on the deck at one of the big pools watching the Super Bowl on the jumbo tv with my buddy Ron Horn.  

                 Super Bowl Gang