Thursday, May 26, 2011

What I Learned at Biker Week: We're Not So Different

My parents own one of those timeshare deals where you use points to get vacation rentals. My Dad always invites my sisters and I to join. I usually go for part of the week. Last October, my Dad asked Adam and I when we could join them in the Spring and he'd book at that time. We said mid-May. By the time my Dad booked, a place in Garden City, SC was the only place available for the week. Adam and I agreed to drive down Wednesday and stay until Saturday when my parents left.

Garden City is just South of Myrtle Beach and mid-May is biker week in Myrtle Beach and the surrounding area. I'm not from MB and I'm not into motorcycles so the thought that we could be at the beach at the same time as the Hell's Angels never entered my mind. It wasn't until my Dad sent me an email that Tuesday letting us know about the weather and saying "it's biker week, so it's really loud" that I realized I'd be getting a cultural lesson on my mini vacation this year.

The car ride to the beach was uneventful (not a complaint) and we arrived late Wednesday night. The condo was maybe a quarter of a mile from the famous Garden City Pier. The fishing pier is the largest attraction in Garden City. At the pier, in addition to fishing, the pier has an arcade, two bars and great "people watching." One of the bars is just outside the tackle shop and another is at the end of the pier. Each bar features live entertainment from bands to karaoke. It's a must see while in Garden City.

The first morning that we were there, we got up early (by vacation standards) to do our exercise for the day. Adam enjoyed a nice cool run while I had to walk because I'm still recovering from quad tendinitis. My Dad decided to walk with me and we headed out south of the condo to walk in a small neighborhood. It was on this walk, I got my first glimpse of "biker week." We passed several parked motorcycles and their leather-clad owners waking up and greeting their fellow riders. Some were already on their bikes revving their engines to announce their presence. Or is it a mating call? We heard, for 3 blocks mind you, a man heaving over the balcony of a rented house. I don't know why he couldn't do that inside. I noticed, though, that there weren't as many bikers as I'd thought that there would be. I think most of them stay in Myrtle Beach and that the ones near us were older and more tame. There's no Hooters restaurant in Garden City which also could account for the small numbers.

The bikers weren't the most interesting people that we saw this trip, however. Adam, my Dad and I spent some time at the end of the fishing pier. There we talked to a man who was missing several teeth and had a tattoo across his chest that read "DO NOT RESUSCITATE." And then there was the guy from Isreal working at the Slick Track place who was wearing a white t-shirt that read in big black letters "And For My Next Trick I'll Need A Condom and a Volunteer."

Adam and I did try the Slick Track place. It was not a slick track. I think at one point it was, but it needs to be repaved. The carts were old and not in great shape. However, it was only $5 and we got to ride just the two of us for about 9 minutes. A bargain.

As Adam, my Dad and I were leaving the track and heading back to the condo, my Dad made a comment that really made me think. He said "As far as I can tell, all the bikers do is ride around, drink beer and buy (cycle) paraphernelia." My first thought and what I said was "Well, all we runners do when we go for a running weekend is run, drink beer and buy running paraphernelia."

Then I started thinking about all of the people that I've run into over the years while I was running a race in another city. Imagine a person who finds themself in Boston or Chicago on the weekend of the marathon having no clue that 40,000 runners will be their clogging streets and Italian restaurants. Someone with no knowledge of running races. What impression did we leave on them? I thought about the guy in Nashville that I shared a cab to the airport with. He was Australian and when he asked me where I was heading and I said Charlotte, NC, he didn't know where that was. And by 'didn't know where that was,' I mean North Carolina. I was his first and probably last encounter he'd ever have with a person from North Carolina. I thought about the European guys that stopped my friend Jody and I on a street in Asheville, NC to ask us about the Asheville half marathon that was finishing close by. They wanted to know how far a half marathon is, in kilometers. We couldn't tell them the answer. It's roughly 21.1km, just in case you get asked.

New races are created every year and old ones are gaining popularity. We book flights, hotel rooms, rental cars and arrive en masse to run, drink and buy running paraphernalia. Sure we pay taxes and help boost the local economy, but is every person living in the area on board with that? This week is a big week in Charlotte for NASCAR and it's fans. Statistics prove that this is a great boost to the Charlotte economy every year, but how many complaints from residents have you heard? I don't want people to feel this way about runners. I'm setting a goal to be more respectful of the citizens of the places that I visit and more knowledgeable of Charlotte. I plan to be more polite and empathetic to a bewildered person who stumbles upon a finish area full of sweaty, smelly, dry fit-clad runners, when they were hoping to ride their seqway through Grant Park. Runners think that runners are the nicest people in the world. We shouldn't keep that to ourselves.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

GHB and Fog

So my running streak ended at 99 days and picked up 15 days later. Streak 2 ended at 14 days, but more on that in a minute.

This past Saturday I ran the GBS 5K. GBS stands for Guillain-Barré syndrome. GBS is a disorder in which the body's immune system attacks part of the peripheral nervous system. A friend of mine contracted the disorder a few years back and became involved in organizing the GBS 5K, which started about 5 years ago. Saturday was my 3rd time running the race. It's a small race so the first two times I ran it I placed in my age group.

I told Adam when I signed up for the race. I told him that he should sign up because he'd have a good shot at winning it. Adam is fast enough that winning a 5K is actually a reachable goal. Adam, like a lot of people had never heard of GBS. He asked me the week of the race "you have that GHB race this weekend, right?" I laughed so hard!

Adam didn't sign up and instead got up early and ran 14 miles. I got up and hour before I wanted to leave and started my race morning routine which is just waking up early and getting my butt out of bed. I hate mornings. I peaked out to check the weather. It was foggy which is my favorite type of running weather! When Adam came back I asked him how cool was his run in the fog? He agreed it was pretty cool. Adam quickly showered and got ready to go with me to watch the race. The fog had started to lift by the time we headed to the race, which was only about 7 miles away in the southpark area of Charlotte.

We parked about half a mile from the race and headed towards packet pickup. The DJ already had the music cranked and there were volunteers still prepping the finish area. I found packet pick-up easily and got my bib and t-shirt. This race, like many races, sends a virtual goodie bag by email instead of giving you a bag with race brochures, coupons and other crap you'll never use. I am a huge fan of this concept.

It was about 45 minutes before the race start and I should have been stretching and warming up. Since I had only run the 2 weeks leading up to this race and those runs were shorter than a 5K, I knew placing wasn't a possibility. So instead I looked around for other runners I knew. I didn't know of anyone who had planned to run, but was happy to run into Mike and his family. Mike moved to Charlotte from Pennsylvania a few years ago and started running with us on Wednesday night. His wife and their 3 kids stayed in PA until the house sold and when they got to Charlotte, Mike disappeared. He reappeared a few weeks ago and was at the race Saturday to support his wife by watching the kids while she ran. We chatted a while and then all headed to the start line.

This year they were chip timing the start. I was really happy about this. Adam looked around at the competition and said that he should have signed up. He asked me how fast I expected to finish and I said I'd be happy to break 26 minutes, but considering how the past couple of weeks had gone, I'd settle for breaking 27 minutes.

The race director called the runners to the start line. Victims of GBS often make a full recovery with no lasting effects, but after a long, slow healing process. Victims who have to go on a respirator within the first day of coming down with the illness, usually have some residual disability or effect. This is why the race's slogan is "Running for those who can't." Another thing I love about this race. Many people at that race are running their first 5K and they don't always seed correctly. Case in point was an overweight lady standing about 2 rows off the line who was wearing spandex capri pants and long sleeves under a short sleeve shirt in 55* weather. I'll give her this, it was workout wear and God love her, she was out here!

The race started without a fanfare (which is also a personal favorite). The race starts on Colony road and continues down until turning left onto Ferncliff. The first year that I ran this race, I ran a 7:42 in the first mile fueled by a combination of downhill, adrenaline and the misplacement of the 'Mile 1' sign. This year it was just over 8 minutes with the sign correctly placed. Starting at Ferncliff we started climbing about a mile and a half of hills. There are only 2 steep ones with the rest being slow inclines. The race winds through neighborhood streets behind Southpark Mall and runs up Morrison which is the finish line for the Southpark Racefest races and the Southpark 8K. Once you get up Morrison, you turn left onto Sharon and it flattens out to the finish. I hadn't run the race in 2 years and didn't remember the course, though I knew it wasn't fast. I overheard a guy, before the race, telling a kid (possibly his son or he was the kid's coach) about the course flattening out at Sharon and his comment stayed with me the whole race.

I passed the lady in the capris within the first quarter of a mile and got passed by several people. I felt like I was walking while everyone else was in a race car. However at the turn onto Ferncliff and the first steep hill, I passed a few people and a few kids who were already walking. At the top of the hill is the Mile 1 marker and then there were several turns and some nice rolling hills until we took another left and had to go up the second steep hill. At that point, I thought "I don't remember this course at all!" When we turned onto Morrison for the last mile and I realized we had to run through and beyond the finishes for the Southpark Racefest races, it posed quite a mental challenge. But I came back to that man telling the kid 'when you get to Sharon it flattens out and you can kick it in.' Telling myself that helped me up the long slow incline and then the short, rather insulting hill up to Sharon. When I made the turn, I fixed my shallow breathing with three short blasts out and a long inhale and then did my best to kick it in. At the 3 mile marker, I checked my watch 25:43. I knew 26 was out of range, but I also knew I'd beat 27. At the turn back into the shopping center to finish, Adam was standing on the curb and cheered me on. I gave a wave or a thumbs up, who can remember at the end of a 5K? I finished at 26:38, 5th in my age group and 80 overall.

During the first mile, I had recognized a man that I don't know but I've seen at races before. He's tall and runs completely straight backed, on the front of his feet with his toes turned out about 30* in each direction and he has a small stride. His calf muscles are well-defined. He was ahead of me the whole race. I tried watching his feet and taking as many steps as he did, trying to figure out how he could stay ahead of me with such bad form. He finished about 30 seconds ahead of me.

When I finished, Adam told me that the winner had run a 18:42 and was "some kid." He was disappointed that he didn't run it, because he could have beat that time. Laughing I said, "You need to listen to me, I know how to cherry pick a race." Adam introduced me to a guy he knew that he'd been talking to while waiting for me to finish. While they continued to talk, I checked out the finish area tables. Earth Fare was there and provided the fruit. I grabbed a couple of Chic-Fil-A chicken minis for Adam and some Starbucks coffee for me. After seeing that I didn't place, we headed back to the car by walking past the finish line and out of the shopping center. There we saw the capri pants lady slowly jogging to the finish. We cheered for her. She had a satisfied look on her face and I was relieved to see that she was in a good mood.

After the race, my left knee hurt again. I was able to do a short run on Sunday but I had to take Monday off and won't run again until the pain is gone. There's no sign of swelling and I find that taking Aleve really helps. So I don't think it's time to go to a doctor. I found this site: I believe I have "Quad Tendonitis." I plan to do the recommended stretches a couple of times a day. This course of action makes sense to me as stretching is a weak point. I do yoga, but haven't had time recently to be consistent. After doing the stretches this morning, my knee feels a lot better.

I don't have another race planned until I can get the knee issue figured out. Hopefully it isn't long.