This past weekend marked the decisive and final farewell to summer at our house. Bowing to the inevitable approach of winter, we finally turned on the heat, acknowledging that for the forseeable future our comfort would depend on the hot air coursing through the heating vents. It was a melancholy moment, but when we woke up on Sunday morning to a warm house rather than a meat locker, we realized it had taken us less than 24 hours to take our central heating for granted.
It was certainly chilly outside, but it would have been hard to make any other complaint about the weather. The fall parade of colors has been spectacular lately, with day after gorgeous day of crisp air and cloudless blue skies. On Saturday I helped put on a cross country Fun Run for the Concord Academy Alumni Association, and the scene of brightly colored flags marking a finishing chute in the middle of the green quad, with postcard-quality fall foliage for a backdrop was like something out of a memory.
Sunday was a little chillier with temperatures dipping below freezing overnight. Sunday was also the occasion of the final race in the New England Runner Pub Series, the popular “Paddy’s Shillelagh Shuffle” — a three-mile jaunt through my own neighborhood of West Newton that starts and finishes about a third of a mile from my front door. Even with the considerable home course advantage of being able to sit in my (now heated) house and drink my coffee at my own kitchen table before heading out to warm up, I was grateful for the 11:30 a.m. start that gave the morning a chance to warm up a bit, and made shorts and a single layer under the singlet a reasonable choice.
The Pub Races come in various shapes and sizes, and Paddy’s is a grand affair, with a field of nearly 2000 runners and a number of community-related events, such as activities for kids and a street fair. Parking is a huge problem, unless you happen to live in the neighborhood, and I was tickled to see race participants parking up and down my street, not to mention even further away from race headquarters. “Poor bastards,” I thought as I saw them walking towards the race over an hour before it was scheduled to start.
As the final race in the series, Paddy’s also adopts a nice tradition of having the leaders in the various divisions wear yellow singlets (reminiscent of the maillots jaunes in the Tour de France) to recognize their position and also make them targets for anyone seeking to overtake them in the final Pub standings. As leader in the 50-59 age group, Terry was sporting one of the yellow singlets, but there was no way that anyone would overtake him for first in his division.
The race went out very fast, it seemed to me, and yet no one seemed inclined to fade. Ahead of me, I saw Patrick in the distance, followed by Kevin, Terry, and many others that I recognized. Everyone looked good, which worried me because I didn’t feel especially energetic. I had continued my fall pattern of ignoring every rule of race preparation and had “tapered” for the race by doing a “maximum exertion test” at my doctor’s office on Friday morning, just two days earlier (subject for a future post, no doubt). Since the test had involved running for a while at a very steep grade, my calf muscles were a little compromised. Luckily, the Paddy’s course is extremely flat, and there wasn’t the hint of a hill to challenge my tenderized lower legs.
It was strange to be racing on roads that I traverse every day driving to work or to the store, but at least I never had any doubt about where I was or how much there was left to run. In terms of pace, the race was actually fairly boring. I was pleased to be able to hold the fast pace, but I hardly passed or was passed until the final stages of the race.
With 400-500 meters to go, I tried to kick and managed to pass one runner, who I suspected (correctly, it turned out) of being a fellow senior. At that point, I was only about 10-20 meters behind Ginger Reiner, the first woman and overall Pub Series leader, so I summoned what strength was left and used it all to close the gap with about 100m to go. Alas, the move had been mis-timed, or perhaps never meant to be, and Reiner had no trouble whatsoever first matching and then exceeding my pace and sprinting ahead to win the race and the Pub Series championship.
I was happy enough, though. I had again had no breathing/fatigue issues in my warmup or in the race, and had run about 20 seconds faster than two weeks earlier. I had also managed to finish the Pub Series on my feet, having run all six races since March. It surprised me how important that goal became going into the final races. I felt very fortunate compared to some of the other over-50 runners — Paul, who was at the race but off his feet as he recovers from heel surgery; Jimmy, who was impaired in the final two races by hamstring issues, but ran anyway. I reflected on how, in the upper age groups, the motto is not “may the best man win,” but “may the least injured runner survive.”
After the race, I cooled down on familiar streets, and headed back to my warm house. Like summer, the Pub Series was over for another year. The leaves would be off the trees soon enough, and there would be frost to clear from the car windshield in the morning. But for the moment, I found it hard to be melancholy. It had been a good fall, so far, and it was good to run fast in the chilly air.