Tomorrow California opens up. I'm calling it VC day (Victory over Covid). It's been 15 months where our lives changed in many, many ways. But this is a running blog, so I'll just focus on that.
The biggest change was the loss of in-person racing. I still ran. Even more than normal, actually. Last year was a record high for mileage. With no vacations, no work (I quit uber driving), no going out anywhere, the highlight of my calendar was my running schedule. So I stepped up to 5 days a week and maintained it for most of the last year. There were a few virtual races, but those were really just fast workouts. Without races to look forward to, training got a little bit monotonous. I was avoiding the beach paths because of crowds, and because I didn't want to run with a mask, so the alternate routes on streets were, shall we say, less inspiring.
My running group stopped all regular workouts for about a year. Finally, some of us started regrouping on Saturdays for long runs a few months ago. Official group runs just started in May with Long run Saturdays and Monday tempos. The track is still closed but we hope to be back to real speedwork in the next few weeks, now that school is over. It was great to get back to running with friends in the last month. I don't mind running alone, but the group runs are a lot easier to get excited about.
And now racing is coming back! The July 4th 5K is on with no restrictions, so I will be out there suffering with a few thousand others just like normal. Later this year I'm excited to do the Chicago marathon in October, a local half marathon in November, and another half in Rehoboth in December. So it feels like a new day is dawning. I'm happy to be healthy and running well (although not as fast as I used to be - damn aging). But I do have one more story to tell from the past year.
In February I got a message from a running friend that there was a group she knew looking for volunteer coach/runners. The group is called Strides In Recovery, and they work with recovery centers for people getting over addictions. They set up regular runs to motivate people to stay healthy, set goals, etc. I got set up with a place called Beacon House that has maybe 60 men in various stages of recovery. The running group was 5-10 guys (it varied) and I ran with them every Tuesday. We were training for a half marathon in May. Most of these guys were not athletes and had never run except maybe for other sports or military. They were coming from poverty, from prison, from heroin addictions, you name it - lots of sad stories. But most were dedicated and so, so positive and grateful. We would run 3-4 miles. Some guys would walk about half of it. Some were faster than me, most were slower. But they kept at it and started improving. The runs got longer.
They were running 3 days a week and for the last six weeks I joined them on their Saturday long runs as well. Those built up to 12 miles. It was impressive to watch them keep gutting through those long ones. Many were doing 10-12 minute miles but they kept plugging. Sometimes I would hear a little of a life story, like "I used to have a big house like that and a family. Before I drank it all away...". Or The guy who said he was 50, but really only 33 because the 17 years in prison don't count. But usually we just ran or talked running.
So we made it to race day. Due to Covid it was just a private unofficial race, 13.1 miles measured by MapMyRun that ran along the Palos Verdes coast and finished at Beacon House. The guys got vanned over to the start, and I met them there along with my fabulous support crew.
We were also joined by the Skid Row Marathon group of about 30 runners and a few other friends, so there were maybe 60 runners altogether. Skid Row Marathon is a movie you should watch on Amazon Prime. It is led by a running judge who trains with actual skid row residents in downtown LA. I was pleased and excited to meet the judge and we chatted before the race.
My running buddy Bart also joined so I had someone to run with (and race!). I planned to go out conservatively, but I still wanted to throw down a decent time on this hilly course. I also hoped to "inspire" my guys by catching and passing the fast ones.
So after a few little speeches, we just started heading on to the course. No start line, no gun, not even a "Go!". Of course I used my Garmin, but there was no official times or places.
As expected, most of the guys went out too fast, so I spent the first few miles catching the slower ones and encouraging them as Bart and I went by. "Long way to go! Relax and just run." DW took lots of pictures which we later sent to Beacon House and they printed them out for the guys. Here are Bart and I in mile 3.
I eventually did manage to catch all my guys, the last in mile ten. Forty years of race experience counts for something. I also pulled away from Bart at about mile 9 on a big downhill and managed to beat him by a minute. It was a good hard run.
My time was 1:46:27, but it was a little short (I had 12.96 miles). No matter. It was all about seeing all the other guys finish their first half marathon (See photos)
We hung around the finish for an hour as everyone got to the finish. It was joyous and inspiring and heart-warming. Three months ago these guys probably couldn't imagine doing 13 miles. But hard work, commitment and dedication got them there. Good lessons for guys going through recovery, and something positive to hang on to.
Since then we have restarted the weekly runs and added 6-8 new guys starting from scratch, as well as retaining some of the "veterans". It's a great program that I am proud to be part of.