Ron Marinucci - October Column

Ron Marinucci - October Column

Ron Marinucci - October Column

Well, summer is over. The autumnal equinox on September 23 signaled the beginning of fall. And, more relevant, temperatures have fallen, especially overnight. Gone are those early morning runs at 70 degrees and high humidity. The temperatures have now dipped into the 50s and even the low 40s on some days.

The past few weeks I’ve thought about my summer, fleeting as it seems, and running. It was, for me, very unique, for want of a better word. And it was a good five or six months, in which I did some new things, experimenting perhaps, with my running.

I managed to run in some other places, near and far. Although that’s not unusual in itself, the places, at least a couple of them, were. Karen and I, taking Michael, took our annual summer trip to Las Vegas to see Matt and Linda. Running there before 7 AM is a must, at least for me, to beat the heat. I was surprised to see some runners out there in the early evening, likely after work for them, with temperatures well over 100 degrees. Most had those water camels or bottles of water with them. But I opted for early morning runs. Each day’s run began in the upper 80s or lower 90s and finished in the mid 90s. Yes, that’s hot. People frequently joke about the Las Vegas weather, “But it’s a dry heat.” It’s not really a joke. It is dry, with humidity often in the 5-10% range. That, I think, kept the runs comfortable enough. I never really struggle, at least not nearly as much as back here in Michigan with 80 degree temperatures and humidity to match. Now those days, upon our return, were struggles.

While in Las Vegas, I really enjoy running The Strip. A few years ago, Matt invited me to run the Rock ‘n’ Marathon out there with him, on The Strip at night--yep, at night on The Strip with it closed to traffic for about five or six hours. But daily runs out there are done on the sidewalks, with lots of pedestrian overpasses to break up things. If I run from the south end, near Mandalay Bay, to Downtown/Fremont Street, it’s about 12 or 13 miles. I didn’t do that route this time, sticking with six or seven miles. And there are always other runners out there. Sometimes I count them and it’s not unusual to see 40 or 50 or more others running, often more. I like that, so many runners out there so early in Sin City.

Karen and I, without Michael, spent a week in San Francisco, the Russian River and Sonoma wine country, and the Sacramento area. What I recall most were the hills. Where we live here in Michigan is hardly flat. But compared to the areas in California where I ran, our little hills are nothing. It seemed that the California hills, steep ones, just kept coming at me. I was not ashamed to walk some of them. These were some good, but tough runs.

And, fortunately, we escaped the smoke from the nasty forest fires of northern California. The bad ones actually began the day after we left. Our friends there have since described days with considerable haze and smoke, some so bad they couldn’t open the windows in their home. From their descriptions, I wonder if I would have been able to run. If I deemed it unhealthy, I’d have refrained. If not too bad (Karen said, “You’d have run.”), I’m certain running in those conditions would have been a challenge.

Closer to home, both times for weddings, we spent weekends in Grand Rapids and Dearborn. And, of course, I ran each morning.

I’m not very familiar with Grand Rapid, having run Old Kent once my lone experience there. But I was very pleased to find a running path just outside our hotel door. It followed the Grand River, north of town, and for quite a ways. I didn’t seek the end, but still got in about six or seven miles, just short of my limit these days. The path went through a nice park, with some lagoons from the flowing river and plenty of early morning wild life. I was perplexed why there were so few runners, just a couple, on such a nice morning.

On the other hand, I am very familiar with Dearborn, our other wedding destination. We stayed at the Dearborn Inn, a stone’s throw from the Greenfield Village and Henry Ford Museum complex. I grew up five or so miles from there and spent quite a bit of time in that area, up through high school and college summers. After a late night of dancing, my early morning run there included a jaunt down Village Road, which borders the Village and Museum. I took a turn north there and headed to what we called “the west end” before stopping at Ford Field, a Dearborn city park. Oh, how many innings of baseball did I play there, so many years ago! It was a fun run, one which included a short distance along the banks of the Rouge River and one that brought back many fond memories.

I think, though, that the most memorable part of my summer of 2015 running was how I changed my routine. First, for the first time since maybe the mid ‘80s, I didn’t run a single race—not one. There are several reasons for this, but none a conscious effort to avoid racing. I worked longer than usual. Coaching Michael’s baseball team extended to mid-July. We were out of town, as noted. And, I was running with others, with perhaps their schedules conflicting with any racing opportunities.

I ran a lot, more than I have since training for my last marathon over a dozen years ago. And so much running was by design—I wanted to test/challenge myself. Since March, I’ve run at least 50 miles each week. Once the summer began, with more daylight in the mornings, I put in 60 or more miles a week about 11 or 12 times. I even hit 70 miles a few weeks. I’m not training for anything in particular, just running—and seeing what I can do.

Two factors, related, played into these 60- and 70-mile weeks. Both contributed to my unique summer of running. First, I was running with others, a lot. Both of them also had goals. I’ve been running with blind runner Michael Holmes for nearly 20 years. With some of his other guide runners injured, to meet his goals we had to crank up our efforts, meaning a few more miles.

And my friend Carrie, who I’ve noted “needed something more than walking,” asked me to run with her. She has a goal, “to run a whole 5-mile race” in November. Starting in June from zero running miles, that, too, means a few more miles for me.

It was very cool, gratifying, to run with Michael and Carrie shooting for their goals and reaching milestones. For Michael, it was maxing out on hill repeats. Over the years, we managed to find one hill in his otherwise flat Clawson neighborhood. Until this summer, the most we had run were six repeats. In June he announced, “Before the end of summer, I want to do ten hills.” I was a bit skeptical at the time, but in mid-August, we cranked out his nine and then ten, about two weeks ahead of schedule. The smile of satisfaction on his face was a great reward for me.

Twice now, Carrie and I have run five miles—without stopping! I have been impressed with her drive and her progress. It was nice to hear her say one summer morning, “You know, on days I don’t run, I just don’t feel right.” I think she’s turning into a runner! And those five-mile runs, well, like Michael’s ten hills, they came out of nowhere. One day we did about three and a half miles, our longest continuous run to that point. The next day she announced she wanted to do “at least four.” Hmmm…… Knowing our effort of the previous day was hard, I asked if she was sure and she was. So, I said we’d get to three and see how she felt. At four miles she still felt good and we kept going; now she didn’t want to stop until we reached five. And we did, a few weeks ahead of my projected date. The second five-miler came on an alternate course, very hilly. And her pace was steady and pretty quick, faster than I’d have guessed. Now she’s toying with, not that “five-mile race,” but a 10K. We’ll see, but I won’t count her out.

Running with them both allowed me to pad my mileage in my quest to challenge myself. It was good because I had others with whom to run. For the first time ever, I often run twice a day, four or five times a week. I still do my own early morning runs, then join one or the other later in the day. Some days I drive out an hour to run with Michael, hustle the hour back, and then meet Carrie for our run. My usual long weekly run used to be 12 to 15 miles. Now it’s rarely more than eight or nine miles at a time. But with those second runs, I often put in 11- or 12- mile days. Sometimes it’s more.

I’ve been monitoring myself closely, watching for overuse injuries and even fatigue. So far, so good. I haven’t cut back on my cycling or my weight training either. With my class load now and the colder weather, not to mention the shorter hours of daylight, no doubt my weekly mileage will soon diminish. But, all in all, it’s been a good and memorable summer of running for me. And, with the decreased miles, I’ve even targeted a couple of races before the year ends.