Friday, November 13, 2009

From Dayton to Cincinnati

Every year my neighbor participates in a bike ride with some friends and this year he invited me to join in. Steve’s friend lives near the bike trail here on the outskirts of Cincinnati. His friend’s brother lives in Dayton and every year they organize a ride with family and friends from one brother’s home in Dayton to the brother’s home in Cincinnati, a trip of over 70 miles.

On Sunday, I woke at 5:00am and went next door o Steve’s house. The morning was chilly, about 42F, and we were bundled up for the ride. We loaded our bike in Steve’s car and drove to the Cincinnati house. We picked up some other riders and drove to Dayton. The front yard of the Dayton house had bikes on it and people were going in and out to use the bathroom and get one more granola bar and banana before the ride.

There were 9 riders this year which was down from previous years. This is a sort of family reunion with relatives coming in from Atlanta and California. I was one of 3 or 4 non-family riders and was just meeting people for the first time. Even so, I was warmly welcomed and included in the friendly banter.

The ride started out and wound through some of the suburbs of Dayton and even rode by the Wright Brothers home (quite a nice place for bike shop owners). We rode into downtown Dayton and soon picked up a bike path that took us east towards Xenia Ohio. During this part of the ride we were really riding easy as a group, just trying to get warmed up.

We reached Xenia station and took a break. Xenia is the head of a portion of the Little Miami bike trail; a rails to trails bike path that goes through my little village to the east of Cincinnati some 50 miles away. At Xenia station there is a nice little park with water fountains and bathrooms. They have done it up nice.

Once we started back on the path we came upon a portion of the path that was wide and without anyone else on it. We formed a double pace line. This was the first time I had ever rode in an actual pace line and it was very cool. I found that I really had to concentrate, particularly when it was my turn at front since I had a tendency to want to speed up. With the double pace line you were only in front for less than a minute, but it really increased the speed of the whole group and going 20mph felt almost effortless. We would repeat the pace line a few times over the course of the ride, but as we got closer to Cincinnati the path got narrower and more crowded and the group broke up. It was very fun while it lasted.

The path follows the Little Miami River and is very rural for most of its length. Every so often it would go through a portion of a small village that has set up a park along the path. While riding the rural sections it is not unusual to see farm livestock and other animals along the path. When I ride this path in the morning I regularly see deer, foxes and small forest animals. At one point of this ride we even had a call of “Chickens Up!” as a flock was wandering across the path.

As the day wore on it got warmer and with the clear blue sky is was a very pleasant ride. We were not pushing the pace, but it was by no means a casual ride. There was really not much opportunity to talk while riding and being a newbie I was concentrating on my bike handling and trying to avoid the walnuts, sticks, wet leaves and other riders/walkers/runners.

Finally we reached the turnoff from the bike path and started up a nice climb to Steve’s friend’s house. It was here that I saw the real race begin as there was a sprint up the hill to be the first one home. When I arrived back where we had started there were dozens of people waiting as the family reunion was in full swing. Once again, everyone was welcoming and there was plenty of food and drink to go around.

The ride had been 72 miles and was the longest I had gone. I am not really sure how long it took, but this really was a ride and not a race. I did feel like I could have gone further and it made me confident that a century is in my future.

The Sunflower Revolution 2009

One of the things I miss most about running is the race day excitement. When you show up at the starting area of a road race, the feeling is electric. You are nervous, excited and thrilled all at once.

I wondered if I could have a similar experience at a bicycle race, so I registered for the Sunflower Revolution 100K. This was a 62 mile ride out through the countryside of Clermont County just to the east of Cincinnati. I trained for the ride by taking training rides that finally topped out at 55 miles.

The first thing I learned is that it is not called a race, but a ride. I also noticed that they had different levels of medals depending on how fast you finished the ride. Hmm, sounded like a race to me.

A great thing about this ride is that it started only two miles from my house, so I could ride my bike to the start. The 100K ride started at 7:30am, and as with any race I got there a few minutes early. I got my timing chip (remember this is not a race?) and took in the scene.

The Sunflower is one, if not the, largest rides in the Cincinnati area. It has about 1,000 riders. The largest running event in Cincinnati will have upwards of 15,000 runners, so the start area seemed pretty empty to me. An upside of that was that there were no lines for the port-a-potties. The mood, however, was much like the start of a running race. There were, people meeting friends, checking their equipment, exchanging training stories, and a few, like me, looking a little anxious.

As the start time approached I moved to the starting area. I had decided to start way in the back. My biggest fear was that I would cause a crash if I started ahead of faster riders. The starting corral was a little tight and I did not yet trust my bike handling skills in a crowd.

The race started on time and we were off. The first few miles were crowded and I really tried to be careful to keep clear of people. The major intersections were monitored by police and the side road intersections by volunteers. Still, there were times you had to wait for traffic to clear. A major difference between this ride and a running race is that the roads were not closed. Particularly on the small portion of the ride that was on major roads, you had to be very aware of cars.

At mile 10 we turned off State Rt. 50 on to a side road. Soon we came to a covered bridge (yes there are covered bridges in Ohio) and we all had to dismount and walk through the bridge and its’ very uneven planking to the other side.

After the bridge we had our first significant climb. It was here that I saw my first crash. We were all laboring up this hill and some were standing on their pedals. There was a lot of weaving side to side and someone off to my left lost balance and went down. I think he took at least one other person with him. I really don’t think I had anything to do with the fall as I was being very careful to hold my line, but we were still bunched up after the bridge. It really had an effect on me. I had to be careful.

The hill, and some nice descents, had the effect of thinning out the field. I soon found myself out on my own. Up ahead I saw a group of about 10 riders and decided to try and catch up. Using my running experience I started to reel them in slowly.

Before long I had caught up and found that I was riding with Team Portman. For those who don’t know, Rob Portman served in Congress for a number of terms, and was the Budget Director and US Trade Representative under G.W. Bush. Rob is an avid runner, cyclist and the presumptive republican nominee for US Senator from Ohio in 2010. Rob lives in my little village, and regardless of political party, everyone knows him as an intelligent person with a solid family and an all round good guy. It you want to know what pressure is, be a newbie biker riding inches off the wheel of a possible US Senator. I definitely did not want to be the known as the person who wreck Rob.

This was my first experience with drafting and riding in a pace line. It was a very informal pace line since the members of Team Portman were really more interested in having a good time and conversing, but the rest of us hanger on’s were happy to draft. It was my first experience in any type of group ride and I was amazed at the drafting effect. The decrease in effort needed to keep up a higher speed was more dramatic than I ever thought. I really noticed it when I took a turn at the front.

I rode with this group for a long time. The ride wound through the country side of Clermont County, past farms and fields of corn hard against the road that towered over our heads. The weather was great with blue skies and temperatures in the 60’s. It was really a perfect day for a ride.

At about mile 50, Team Portman pulled off at a rest stop and I kept on with a handful of people. We took turns leading in a very informal arrangement. It was certainly not an organized pace line, but it kept our speed up until the finish.

I rode across the finish line in 3:08, which was much faster than the 3:45 I thought I would finish in. I attribute that to the race day effect, and the help of the pace line which increased my average speed from 17.5 mph on my training rides to 19.5 miles on this ride. It also helped that my Garmin had the ride as only about 60 miles. My time earned me a “Gold” finisher’s medal, short of the platinum (remember this is not a race), but ahead of the silver.

While different from running, I found the ride a great experience. It was fun how people worked together in the pace lines and I found that I had to really had to concentrate throughout the ride while in a group. It was, however, definitely a race rather than a ride, and I loved it. I can’t wait until next year and do my first century.

Monday, August 24, 2009

The Start of My Bikeing Adventures

Well I finally have a bike adventure to tell you about, but nothing like riding through France.

This past Wednesday I went for my morning ride. I have a headlight on the bike, a flashing taillight and I wear a head lamp. We have a nice paved bike path that goes through our neighborhood. It actually runs for over 50 miles, but I use a 5 mile section for some out and back speed work. I was just starting out and getting up to a cruising speed of about 20 mph when all of a sudden I see a big tree across the bike path. We had storms come through the day before and this old tree must have fallen then. I know it was old because there were no leaves on the tree which made it hard to pick up in the dark, even with all my lights. The tree trunk blended into the paved bike path.

I hit the tree at what I figure was 15 to 20 mph. I literally flew off the bike and over the tree. Thank goodness I did not hit a part of the tree during my flight. I landed some 10 to 15 feet on the other side of the tree. I lay on the ground groaning for a few seconds until I realized that I was not hurt and that I really did not have anything to be groaning about. I got up and found that my bike had also landed on the other side of the tree.

I got up and started to assess the damage when I saw the light from two other riders approaching. I flagged them down to stop. They told me they had seen my lights and had recognized my double headlights from previous mornings. They had wondered what had happened as they saw my headlights suddenly disappear.

We tried to move the tree, but it was no use. One of the riders left his light on the tree until he came back from his ride and we placed warning branches on the path about 30 feet on either side of the tree. We always see a few other riders on the trail in the mornings and we did not want anyone else to take a flyer.

I was able to limp home on my bike. The only thing I suffered was a few minor scraps on my hand and shoulder. I must have instinctively rolled when I hit the ground, though I do not remember my landing. I was very fortunate and glad I had said my prayers before starting out on my ride. My bike got the worst of it with a bent front fork which will need to be replaced. But even that I count as minor considering the collision. I am out of commission for at least a week, so until then I can only walk on the treadmill – my kids get on me if I do any running.

Maybe I will do a follow up podcast now that I have something interesting to talk about.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

The 113 Boston Marathon – April 17-20, 2009

We left Cincinnati late afternoon on Friday the 17th, after the kids got home from school. We headed north and got as far as Erie, PA. It was 10:00pm when we checked into the Holiday Inn Express and we went straight to bed.

Saturday morning, we got up early and, feeling very smart, ate a quick breakfast and got on the road. We reached Hopkinton about 4:30pm. We got out and walked around, looked over the finish line and took pictures in front of the famous sign. I made sure I was wearing the t-shirt from my orthopedist so that they could see that I had made it this far.

Jumping back into the car, we drove the race route into Boston. This was fun and gave me a good idea of what to expect. I had heard descriptions of the course, and seen a You-Tube video, but it was great to see the course in person for the first time. Unfortunately, this meant that we arrived in Boston, just after 6:00pm and I was not able to pick up my race packet that day. By the time we had negotiated the downtown traffic and street closings to get to the Hyatt, we were tired and hungry. We ate at the hotel and went to bed.

We got an early start Sunday morning and walked through the commons. It was the first time in Boston for the kids and they really liked the city. On our way to the expo we stumbled upon the Invitational Mile Races and stuck around to watch. It was great to see the high school runners, and especially the elites. Stacy, who runs cross country and track, was particularly pleased to see the elite women like Shalane Flanagan and Anna Willard.

After the races we went to the expo to pick up my packet and do a little shopping. Unfortunately the place was so packed it was hard to move around. We left as soon as we could, hopped on the T and headed to Quincy Market. The place was also crowded but we were able to do a little shopping and had some lunch. Our circus expert, Erin, loved watching the street performers on the square. The highlight for me was being able to say hello to John Ellis at the Bill Rodgers Running Store. There were many people in the store, and I felt a little bad taking up his time, but I wanted to thank him for his help on my training plan for the 2008 Pig. John was great, and I think we would have talked for hours about running, but there was work to do.

After the market we walked back to the hotel and chilled for the rest of the afternoon until the pasta party. At about 6pm we walked back to Government Center for the party. It was well done, with plenty of food, but the night was a little chilly to be sitting around. Getting up and walking back to the hotel was much nicer. The great thing about walking around downtown Boston is that around every corner is a piece of history. When we got back to the hotel, we relaxed; I laid out my running gear and went to bed early.

Monday morning came early for me. I got up, dressed and headed the two blocks to the Commons to catch the bus. I was on one of the first busses to leave. I sat next to a woman from Denver and as it turned out, we had a mutual acquaintance from Cincinnati – very odd. Being one of the first busses, when we got to the athletes’ village it was nearly empty. It was fun to watch the place fill up and for the energy to start to build. I walked around and took it all in.

This was the first time that I started to get a little emotional thinking that this would be my last run. It helped that as I talked to people I got swept up in the excitement of the event. However, the best thing to happen was a conversation I had while in the long port-a-let line. I was explaining how this was my final run when one of the people said that it sounded like this was more of a victory lap than a final run. I thought that was the perfect way to approach the race and I kept that thought the rest of the day.

Soon it was time to head to the start area. I dropped my bag at the bus and started the walk to the corrals. I did not mind the walk; in fact it was kind of nice to be moving in the right direction. I was in corral 11 and met an old friend originally from Cincinnati and who was a couple of years behind me at Williams. It was nice to catch up and we ran together for the first mile or so.

After the fly over and the national anthem, the race started. It took us about 10 minutes to walk up the hill to the start line. The first part of the race is downhill and of course I started too fast. I was planning on running 9:00 miles, but with the downhill and the other fast runners around me I found myself running much faster than I thought I was:

Mile 1 8 :45
Mile 2 8:12
Mile 3 8:22
Mile 4 8:33

The first part of the race had the fewest spectators, and with the exception of TJ’s Spirits, was relatively quiet. After mile 4 I started looking for a port-a-let, but what I found was a spot of woods with a half dozen runners taking advantage of the lack of spectators and I decided to join them. This gave me a slow mile split, but combined with the flattening of the course, I started to get my pace back to where I wanted:

Mile 5 9:21
Mile 6 8:49
Mile 7 8:54
Mile 8 9:05
Mile 9 9:05
Mile 10 9:01
Mile 11 9:07
Mile 12 8:55

The crowds were heaviest as we got into the main parts of the towns and they were great. I was wearing my name on the front of my shirt for the first time. I had always considered it a little cheesy, but I thought it would be fun to try in my last race, and I thought I might need the extra motivation. It was the right decision, as the crowds really picked up on it. All the people calling my name helped, particularly latter in the race. On the back of my shirt I had:

The Final Run
Boston 2009

I must have had ten runners pass me and ask why it was my last run. When I explained it to them, many of them told me I should find a new doctor. If only it were that simple.

Shortly after mile 12 I started to get a cramp in my left thigh. It was not too bad and it did not slow me down, but it stayed with me for the whole race. I think in the end it may have altered my stride a little which drained energy and had me hurting at the end of the race. Unfortunately I did not think that at the time, or I would have stopped and stretched it out. As it was, I kept feeding off the crowds and kept running. The girls of Wellesley were great (no, I did not stop for kisses) and the crowd in the center of town I thought was just as louder.

At about mile 15 I started to get a pain in my right hip. It hurt, but did not seem to be slowing me down too much. Again, in hindsight I should have stopped and stretched. The left quad cramp and right hip pain stayed with me until the end:

Mile 13 8:52
Mile 14 8:58
Mile 15 9:16
Mile 16 9:09

By the time I got to the hills of Newtown, I was beginning to hurt. The cramps and hip had taken their toll and, while I kept moving, my times slowed. Again, the crowds really carried me through those hills. I had made the decision that no matter what, I would run up those hills. I did not want to walk up Heartbreak Hill in my only Boston. Maybe not the smartest decision, but this race was not about a finishing time:

Mile 17 9:30
Mile 18 9:38
Mile 19 9:33
Mile 20 9:47
Mile 21 10:22

I thought the widest crowds to this point were at Boston College. So many people were calling my name that another runner named Dennis decided to run with me to soak it in. I was much relived to be over the hills, but I was pretty spent.

At this point I was running all on guts. My conditioning was OK, but my legs were really hurting. It was at mile 24 that a fleeting thought went through my head that I may not be able to make it. I dug down to that source of discipline and commitment that, at some point in a marathon, a runner needs to draw on. I call it the decision point and I believe it tells you something about yourself. I knew I would finish because I did not consider anything else a possibility. It is all about character at that point.

Mile 22 9:13
Mile 23 9:35
Mile 24 9:21
Mile 25 9:57
Mile26.2 12:01

From Mile 23 one, the crowds were 7-8 deep on both sides of the street and they were into it. One of my favorite memories was around mile 24. There were a number of runners down. I saw one working out some cramps with some help. The crowd was encouraging her and when she got up and started to run the place went wild. It was inspiring. I knew I could not and would not stop.

I turned on to Boylston Street and started looking for the family. Unfortunately, they were on the other side of the street and I did not get to see them. The best part of the race was when I approached the finish line and I heard my name announced. I then knew that I had made it. It was great. I finished in 4:01:21. I had hoped to break 4 hours, but I really was not too concerned. Six months ago I had been told I would never make it to this point, so just finishing was an accomplishment.

I really wish I could run the race again now that I know the course. It is a tough course that can eat you up, but I think I would do much better if I ran it again. But, now I start my cycling career and my start as a race volunteer. I figure it is time to give back to the running community.

I am so glad I had the opportunity to run Boston. If I had to stop running, to go out running the most famous road race was the way to go.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

The Final Run For Mountain T.O.P.

As many of you know by now, I am approaching my final run. A torn meniscus and arthritis in my right knee has spelled an end of my running. My doctor has said that I should not be running at all. The irony is that this injury came just as I reached the high point of my time in running – qualifying for the Boston Marathon. Only about 10% of all marathon finishers post a time fast enough to qualify for Boston. It was something I had only dreamed about. Fortunately, I was able to post a qualifying time at the Cincinnati Flying Pig marathon last year.

Over the past 25 years, there has been one aspect of my running that has been missing. I have never run for a cause other than fitness, stress relief and just plain fun. As I approach my final run, I would like it to be more than just that – a final run. I hope that it could be a means of helping to enriching other peoples’ physical and spiritual well being.

It is for this reason that I would like to make my last run, my last marathon, a fund raiser. The charity I have chosen is Mountain T.O.P. (Tennessee Outreach Project). (

This is a ministry that the youth at my church have participated in for many years, but I really never knew the impact until my kids went this past summer. They described it as one of the most fulfilling and important experiences they have ever had.

The mission of Mountain T.O.P. is, as described on their web page:

We are an interdenominational Christian Mission affiliated with the Tennessee Conference of the United Methodist Church, dedicated to rural life ministry in the Cumberland Mountains of Tennessee. Specifically, Mountain T.O.P. seeks to empower those it serves through a philosophy of partnership. Helping to enable the staff, camp participants, and Cumberland Mountain families to realize their potential and their responsibility as God's servants to address the physical, emotional, social, and spiritual needs.Mountain T.O.P. is concerned with achieving immediate results through direct social service programming and serves only those who have expressed a need. While striving to serve as a "faith-in-action" classroom, participants are encouraged to serve those who express needs in their own hometown.

These are the foundational objectives of Mountain T.O.P.:

* To help meet the physical, spiritual, emotional and social needs of the Tennessee Cumberland Mountain people.

* To actively encourage the Christian growth of the participants and staff who come to Mountain T.O.P.

* To develop the leadership skills of participants and staff.

In meeting these needs, Mountain T.O.P. has been able to effect change in the lives of many. As we move toward the future, we keep our eyes focused on the horizon ahead and our hearts rooted in the knowledge that He who began a great work in us will see it to completion. These are the foundational objectives of Mountain T.O.P.

I hope you can help in furthering the efforts of this fine group to improve the physical conditions of people very much in need, and at the same time develop an awareness in young people of the blessing in their lives and the importance of community service. I feel strongly about this organization because it helps people now and instills lifelong lessons for next generation.

There are two ways to help. First there is a link on my blog ( to a PayPal account donate button. You can use this with or without a Paypal account of your own. I have also added a link to the Mountain T.O.P. giving form. This form gives you the option to donate a specific item (wheelbarrow, step ladder, scholarship, etc.) or just an amount and send it directly to Mountain TOP. Every penny will go to Mountain T.O.P. (I am paying all my own race expenses). Either way, please e-mail me and let me know so I can personally thank you and tally the results.

I really appreciate any support you can offer. I have run many miles, but these last 26.2 will be the hardest. Physically, I hope my knee holds up. Emotionally, it will be the end of an activity that I have cherished and which I will miss terribly. The motivation of knowing that my final run could be a benefit for others now and in the future will keep me going to the finish line and beyond.

To hear more about this ministry and some of the young peoples’ experiences (my kids) listen to Episode 16 of the Early Morning Runner at or at iTunes.

Thanks again.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Recording History

It is a shame that it took the end of my running career to get me to start a podcast. The fact is that I likely would not have started one if my running was not coming to an end. Since I know my last race will be in April, I don't feel the need to keep the podcast going forever. This takes the pressure off. I don't have to think up new topics forever, only until April.

The reasons for starting the podcast are a little more complicated. On one level the experience is cool. It is hard to believe that I can produce something that may be listened to by people all over the world. It is rather mind boggling to think about. It gives you a sense of connection with the rest of the world.

The podcast also gives me an opportunity to say good-bye. Reviewing my running past and my thoughts on running has helped me mentally prepare for for the day when I have to hang up my running shoes. It is sort of a running Hospice. It allows me to come to terms with the end of my running and to prepare me for the next stage of my fitness life.

Finally, I would like to leave some sort of legacy. I would like to leave a history for my family and friends. I want my children to know how important it is to maintain an active lifestyle throughout life. I know I will soon not be able to run, and someday I may have to give up cycling or whatever other form of fitness I take up. But, I will always find something I can do that will enhance my physical well being and in doing so enhance all the other aspects of my life.

So the end is near for me, but there will always be a lasting memory for others to run with.