Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Poor People's Dinner

Yesterday, Nov. 23, my Aunt Mac O'Callaghan invited me to Project Hospitality's "Poor People's Dinner". Project Hospitality is an interfaith charitable organization on Staten Island that provides food, shelter, and other services for the poor and homeless on Staten Island, and assistance for those with HIV. Mac and her late husband Pearse and their 10 kids have been very involved with this organization for more than 20 years, and I raised some money for them this summer running Badwater.
In the spring I attended a luncheon for them at the Hilton on Staten Island, a very nice meal. Mac had invited me to this latest event several weeks ago and I accepted for the sake of the event, without really asking about the nature of the event, which was also to be held at the Hilton.
So I have a light lunch, go to Mac's house and ask about the event, and I'm glad I did. Otherwise I'd be embarrassed asking, where's the main course?
The Poor People's Dinner is a fund-raising dinner where instead of a fancy several-course meal, what is served is a tasty but simple vegetable soup, bread (no butter) and water, a typical "poor person's meal." This event has been a tradition for 10 years on the Monday before Thanksgiving, as we prepare to stuff ourselves bloated.
I realize Mac had told me about this event before, but attending it, and hearing the speakers, makes me give it a little more thought. While one cousin who sat with us (who shall remain nameless) sneaked some cookies in from the front desk, and one attendee was seen bringing in a glass of wine from the bar (a faux pas), it reminded me of the Catholic fasting during Lent. In fact, many religions have some tradition of fasting, which may have different roots but all serve to put us in mind of more important things. And what a great time to be thinking of fasting, to help us think about those for whom soup and bread is a feast, and for whom an apartment or house of their own is a far-off dream. Perhaps we can be moved to provide some sort of assistance for such people, while at the same time acknowledging the waste in our own lives - the waste not only of food, but of time and energy spent on petty things and misguided priorities. Maybe we can catch ourselves before we go overboard for the holidays.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Knickerbocker 60K

Nov. 21, 2009, today, was the Knickerbocker 60K, a race in Central Park that was sponsored by the New York Road Runners and worked by John Garlepp and Millrose AA. This race had its first running in 1978 (I'm told), and was conceived as a distance roughly halfway between a marathon and 50 miles.

Having run the New York Marathon three weeks ago, a 6-hour two weeks before that and a 24-hour two weeks before that, I wasn't sure I was up for another ultra just yet, but I was feeling good this week so I signed up. I thought I might have a chance at a win, depending on the competition. With this race being in Central Park and on the NYRR calendar, it has lately had a large turnout, and mostly runners who don't regularly run ultras, including a lot of first-timers. Possibly a lot of marathoners looking for another challenge. This is exciting, since it could be a start to a long-term ultra career for some of them, and it was a similar race back in 2002 (Kurt Steiner 50K) that served as my introduction to ultrarunning.

At the start, I said my hellos to some of my friends, and it was good to see them all there. One of them, Kevin Shelton-Smith, I thought could be a contender for the win, and I knew he'd be one to keep an eye on. But with so many new face (new to me), you never know who might pop up and have an incredible race.

At the start at the Engineer's Gate at 90th St., the runners take a 1.5 mile out-and-back to 102nd St., then return to the start to begin the first of 9 4-mile clockwise loops on the park road to 72nd St., to the west drive, up to 102nd St., across to the east drive and back to 90th. After the turnaround, I was surprised to see the number of runners. I'm told there were about 200!

Soon after the start, a group of four runners pulled ahead of me, including Kevin, two men I didn't know, and one man with "Dominguez" on the back of his shirt. I'd say I ddin't know him either, but I think I remember running behind him for a while towards the end of the Queens Half Marathon in September. I think I eventually passed hime there, but I'm not sure. (After the race, I learned his name is Jesus.) I felt like I was on a good pace, so I didn't chase, and sure enough, my first 4-mile loop was about 27:30, faster than I would be able to maintain, but it was feeling pretty comfortable, so I stuck with it.

I passed one of the lead group after a few laps, and back at the start was told I was in 3rd place. I don't remember passing anyone else, but it would turn out that I passed Kevin while he was taking a pit stop. After a couple more laps, I passed one of the other leaders, putting me in 2nd behind Dominguez, who I was told was moving at quite a speed. Thinking back to Queens, I was hoping I could just wait him out till he slowed.

At the middle of the race, I saw my cousin Kirstin and her boyfriend Sal (both marathoners themselves from New Jersey), who were lending me support and cheering for me. It was real nice hearing that in the middle of the race. This would also be a good time to mention all the great volunteers. No doubt most of them were there to fulfill their volunteer requirement for automatic entry to the NY Marathon, and at first it seemed like there were a lot more course marshalls than necessary, but boy, a lot of them were really cheering, and it felt great! There were three really great clusters, one at 72nd St., just before and at the turn north on the west side, a group at the turn onto 102nd St. on the west side, and especially a great bunch of people on the west side at 95th St. If any of you are reading this, thank you!

One volunteer on 72nd St. kept me apprised of the lead of Dominguez. On the 5th lap he was 7 minutes ahead of me, and on the 6th 5 1/2 minutes, so I was hopeful my patience would pay off. Then at the turn onto 102nd St., I was passed by a runner I didn't know who said "You can do it" as he passed me. Nice words, but not nice to pass me! (After the race he told me his name was Sebastian.) I trie dnot to let him get far ahead, and I kept him within 10 seconds, my pace now being about 28:15 per lap. On the 7th lap, I was told Dominguez was now just four minutes ahead, and at a point I passed Sebastian but he passed me back again. He was only about 7 seconds ahead when at the start/finish aid station he stopped to drink. I don't know why he stopped, but I saw my chance to move ahead at the start of the 8th lap. But I was worried this could come down to a sprint to the finish.

About halfway around on the 8th lap I passed Dominguez who was not crashing but not moving at his old speed. I felt conifdent, and was still moving at a good speed, but couldn't take any chances. On my final lap, I felt myself tighten up a little, but figured this was the final push, no reason to save anything. I finished first with a time of 4:22 and change, and had my first Central Park victory. I was very happy about winning, not just for the win itself, but because this is a historic race that speaks to the history of ultrarunning itself in the US. And it was a beautiful day, upper 50's, and lots of people in the park, who might not be classified as spectators as much as curious observers.

But a good day overall. Great to see my friends Frank C., Frank D., Emmy, Rob, Tony, Sal (another Sal), Kevin, Tony, Wayne, Harry, Lucimar, Shishaldin, my friend Ralph who came by, and of course Kirstin and Sal, and a few others I'm sure I'm forgetting, and to make some new friends. And of course, Richie, our regular MC. Special kudos go to Nick Palazzo, who Emmy told me ran his 200th ultra today!!! Congrats Nick! Nice hanging out with the terrible trio of Frank C., Emmy and Rob afterwards for burgers and beer. Thanks for the ride home!

Friday, November 13, 2009

City life

I was awaken at 3:30 this morning by someone playing loud music from their car, and I'm on the 5th floor! I got up and looked out the window and sure enough, they were right below me - man and woman on the sidewalk and one person in the car. Last time this happened I was wishing I had something to drop on them. Fortunately, this time I had some rotten fruit in the fridge. (Don't even say it - you've all got something rotten in the fridge!) Fortunately or unfortunately, by the time I realized this, they turned off the music and drove away. Even a rotten pear could've done some damage to a convertible top or falling on someone's head. Even a warning shot could've brought on massive retaliation. Still, it's convinced me not to throw away that rotten pear! Maybe I'll go get some balloons, just in case.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Visit home

Last week I finished up a quick trip to Norfolk, Nebraska to visit my family, visit my old school, see some football, and basically just come home for a bit. Right when I got into town on Thursday the 22nd I got to see my HS football team, the Norfolk Catholic Knights, finish up an undefeated regular season, in cold wind and rain.

Friday I drove down to Lincoln to see by brother Tim, his wife Jane and their kids. Tim and I went to the Husker game Saturday, my first in 16 years! Of course, it turned out to be an embarrassment against Iowa State (no offense to Iowa State fans). But by any stretch, 8 turnovers, including four fumbles within the opponent's 5-yard line is an embarrassment. And we lost 9-7. Ugh. But I'm nothing if not loyal, and I will always bleed Cornhusker crimson (as if I had a choice).

Sunday was very special as I got to speak to my HS cross-country team at their annual year-end banquet. Just a few days before the boys' team had won their 4th state championship in a row!!! This is in Class C (out of A, B, C, D), so it's a smaller school, which I only mention because senior Jarron Heng won the all-class gold medal for the second year in a row! He ran a time of 16:05. He could be one to watch, folks. So I was honored by coach Doug Zoucha (who was my junior high social studies teacher) to be asked to speak, and I told a few of my ultra adventures, and hopefully convinced the students and their parents that I wasn't crazy and that there is something of value here. (Full disclosure - I didn't run XC in high school, I played football - poorly - but I was a sprinter on the track team.)

So it was a very nice trip, but went by fast. But it was good to see my Dad and my brothers and their families, and since I usually only get back at Christmastime, it was good to see Nebraska in the fall.