Monday, September 23, 2019

End of the Beginning: Worcester and Gloucester (9/21 - 9/22/19)

Living Root representing strong at Worcester-
Red, Blue and Purple boats

"Now this is not the End.  It is not even the beginning of the End.  But it is, perhaps, the End of the Beginning."

~ Winston Churchill

In the Autumn of 1942, British and American troops drove back Rommel in North Africa.  At the Battle of El Alamein, the Allies secured the North African coast and Hitler was finally faced with a force between the combined American and British/Commonwealth equal to his.  The Allied forces could threaten fortress Europe from Britain, the Soviet Union and - what Churchill word term the "Soft Underbelly" - the Mediterranean front of Greece and Italy.

Like the Allied forces 77 years ago, I too reached the End of the Beginning this weekend.  (However, there was far less global survival on the line.)

Urvi, Ryan, Amie and I rolling into the Semis at Lone Gull
photo by: Erin Morin

Race: Worcester Dragon Boat Festival
Location: Lake Quinsigamond, Worcester
Distance: 200 m
Times: Heat 1 - 52.5"; Heat 2 - 49.9"

Race: Lone Gull 10k
Location: Good Harbor Beach, Gloucester
Distance: 10k
Time: 46:01

Purple Boat heading out to the Start Line
photo by: Mark Estrada
Sit Ready!
There's a lot of commotion to get to the start line. Everyone has to pile into the boat in an exact spot.  We have to go out on unfamiliar water and the captain has to steer us around unfamiliar buoys.  (Before Heat 1, Dave had to yell, "whoa, right side watch out" as a small green bobber we didn't see before slapped around against the boat.) There's turning around; there's other dragon boats with unfamiliar people milling about as they get to their start line.

But as you get to the start line and everyone is nearly lined up, there is moment of peace.  The paddle is buried into the water. The starter isn't yelling; no one is joking around in the boat.  It's peaceful and calm.

On Saturday at the start of race 2, we sat there in silence.  In the 3 and a half months, this was really the metaphysical definition; I was ready. Since back in June was when I first picked up a dragon boat paddle again, from 11 years earlier. I talked to Fed about getting into racing.  He probably knew I wasn't the slightest bit ready for it.  Instead, he told me to look at Worcester at the end of the season. So I did, I imagined my training arc from that moment until that quiet moment on Quinsigamond. (Just in case non New Englanders don't have enough problem with Old English names of towns, e.g. Worcester and Gloucester, we decide for lakes to take the Nipmuck names; at least it wasn't being held at Lake Chargoggagoggmanchauggagoggchaubunagungamaugg.)

Then we were messing with Lester while he was trying to order BBQ
photo by: Mark Estrada
On Sunday, I stood on the backside of Good Harbor Beach "ready."  It was almost year since the Chicago Marathon and many months ago, I thought this would be the great "comeback" when I was finally healthy and finally ready to race for "real."  By two weeks ago at Salem, I had long since realized this was NOT going to be true. But here I was at a USATF Grand Prix race with many members of SRR and was a possible scorer for our men's masters team.

For a moment, I'd like to hop into Mr. Peabody's WABAC Machine. January 3, 2019.  It was probably the beginning of one of the worst months of my life.  I got laid off and then tried to run 3 miles on the treadmill.  My knee hurt for a week and then I found out my thesis topic wasn't accepted.  Awful awful month.

Early on at Lone Gull, Dennis and I merged into one person: Jennis
I assume this picture is actually from Tim Morin since Erin was running (maybe it was Keagan?)
I recovered from that month well enough to pick up running again in March.  Several one mile runs on treadmills and indoor tracks eventually became 45 miles in April and 57 miles in May.

By June, I was done with my masters (new thesis topic and all) and itching to get out there.  I also knew that running right into the knee would cause problems.  So I kept my slow build of miles going (95 miles including a few attempts at fast ones).

However, this was not going to be enough.  That's when I returned to dragon boating.  I surprised Dave wearing an old school Living Root shirt to the Boston Dragon Boat Festival.  Talking with him and Mark, I got myself invited to the next Thursday practice.  Paired with Jeff on the boat I tried to remember everything I could from before (which was very little).  But for the next month, I tried to get to every practice and weight workout I could.

Thus on Saturday for the second heat, our blades were buried in the water.  I had Julien's back-up paddle instead of the t-ball bat sized ones that the festival had (below).  The air horn went off, Dave gave a yell and On banged the drum.  We paddled away.

photo by Mark Estrada
We got an amazing jump on the go.  There was a confidence (which Dave & Matt had both attempted to install* instill in us during the previous 2 weeks), and a pure power.  It felt like we knew what we were doing.  I noticed that I was reaching (and rotating a bit) without having to tell myself to do so. The leg drive from the nubs beneath the seats were driving my paddle harder and faster.  (Thanks to Alfonso for teaching me to leg drive from there instead of the side of the gunwale nubs).

In July and August, I dove into training.  I ran over 100 miles each month and paddled nearly 40 each time. Slowly, I watched myself move from a newbie in dragon boat and in recovery in running into a regular paddler and almost "normal" runner.

While there were constant reminders of how far I had come, there were equally constant remiders of how far I had to go.  On the roads and tracks, I would see the effort required to put in what previously wasn't a real fast pace.  On the water, the reminders were largely from the mouth of Mark Yuen to correct my form that could be described as "atrocious" at best.

Purple Boat racing the second heat
photo by Mark Estrada
On Sunday, I was determined to put what I could in.  But I remembered the failures of being too overconfident from Salem two weeks ago.  So the game plan was simple.  Start towards the middle, get over the first steepish hill and down the water to mile 2 before thinking about plans.  At mile 2, I readjusted.  I had put in two decent miles - 7:17 and 7:17.  And unlike two weeks ago I wasn't totally gassed yet.  Carrie-Anne in her all-black singlet and shorts was right ahead of me as we headed into the hilly neighborhood part of the race.  I put two more goals here: catch up to C-A in the next mile; run no 8 minute snowman miles.

I reached the first goal right at the 5k.  "I'm going to settle in behind you for a second,"  I said.  "Ok," she said, "I'll block the wind."  (A little tall guy and short girl joking here.)

Urvi, early on in the race
photo by once again Tim or Keagen
I actually didn't settle in too long.  Within a minute or so, I pushed ahead.  I worried that I might be going too fast here.  I didn't want to crush myself early and get to the 5th mile and just have to reset with an 8 something mile.  So I just kept telling myself "no snowmen; no 8s." If I have to run a 7:59 that's fine.  But, I'm going to keep this up.

At the beginning of August, the dragon boat calendar started to get real.  I wasn't the new guy just trying it out anymore.  And we had two erg time trials at the beginning of the month.  Each of these were to be 2:15 and as far as you can go.  (One assumes there is some sort of 500m bench mark for men - but I could be wrong).  Needless to say I was still new to this.  First one was 432m and the second one was 438m.  I guess, on the plus side one can only go up from here.

Worcester also so the Living Root Dragon Boat's Dip Off!
Renen's Mexican refried bean** dip with delayed jalapeno won
The end of August brought me to my first race: Lowell.  While I was not on the boat that flipped, I was able to enjoy the whole day.  (Or maybe BECAUSE I was not on the boat that flipped...).  It also got my competition juices flowing again.  By the beginning of September, both the Pawtucket Dragon Boat Race and the Salem Road Race were on my target.  Neither of these went as well as I wanted them to.  But, they were nice bench marks and reminders that I was getting better and healthier.

Purple Boat's Second Race
video by Dave Parker

Saturday, our first heat didn't go as well as any of us wanted.  We didn't get off the line as well.  And the three other boats slowly pulled away from us.  We might have held the line for a while through the finish area.  But in the end, we finished 2.5 - 3 seconds behind.

But in the second race, after our massive start, we were hanging with the other boats in our heat.  We started the power and I saw through the periphery that we were pulling up on the team on the right.

First there wasn't a settle and then Dave didn't even wait for us to complete the power.  He just shifted from "Get Some!" to yelling FINISH!

Sunday was much the same for me.  While I ran along the estuaries of the last mile trying to retain the last bit of cold water Tinger had flung upon me, I just pushed at slightly faster than I think I could have before the Finish sprint.

Andy and Ruth got shots of us on the finishing stretch on Saturday
Erin, Deb, Liz, me, C-A, Dennis, Mark, Gonzalez Victor and Urvi
Saturday the Finish command just propelled us faster.  The last 100m we just put everything in.  I put 3.5 months of training, 15 months of anger about my knee, 10 months of anger about my thesis into Julien's paddle and - in Fed's word's - "attacked the water with anger" while maintaining form and timing.

Sunday, I passed the 6 mile mark in the parking lot and then Paulo and Patrick who were sitting up against the dunes.  I realized there was less time in the 10k left than the entire 200m on Saturday. So I let everything out. I just heard Dave, still from Saturday, in my head yelling "FINISH! GET SOME! FINISH!"

Between the heats, many of us look for skipping rocks
Let it Ride!
Across the finish, I was totally spent.  On Saturday it was after breaking 50 seconds: 2.5 seconds faster than the morning heat.  On Sunday it was just over 46 minutes: 1 and a half minutes faster than Salem.

Both times I couldn't just stop.  On Saturday we needed to go into Hold Water - hard - unless we crashed into the other boat that angled into our lane after the finish.  On Sunday I needed to avoid vomiting and find shade.

The End of the Beginning.

And, thus, the Summer ends.  Purple Boat didn't make the final race.  But Saturday, Living Root Blue WON the Finals for the Worcester Championship! And on Sunday I scored for the SRR men's master team.

But for dragon boating or for running, it isn't the end or even the beginning of the end of my comeback.  Instead, it's only the End of the Beginning.

Living Root Blue Boat - Champs

Watch out for me at:
- Fenway Spartan in November
- Martha's Vineyard 20 miler in February
- Boston Dragon Boat Festival in June

Zicke Zacke Zicke Zacke....
We finished Sunday with some festbier and some of the worst wurst (true, not just a pun) at Notch
* - We're not computers but install did sorta work. But really I meant "instill."
** - Renen claims there are no beans in this dip.  While I'll take him at his word intellectually, my tongue doesn't have the same brain cells.

Friday, September 20, 2019

City Ride: Hub on Wheels (9/15/19)

Start line of Hub on Wheels

Event: Hub on Wheels
Distance: 43 Miles
Time: 2:32 moving (3:10 elapsed - including tube collapse)
Route: From Downtown, up and down on a closed off Storrow Drive, Emerald Necklace, Stony Brook Reservation, Franklin Park, Neponset Valley Trail, Columbia Point 
Pivo Index: 2

Me and 5000 of my closest Friends await the start

Yankee Publishing Building, Haymarket

Storrow Drive

Emerald Necklace Trail, Brookline

Bridge, Neponsett Valley Trail, Mattapan

Neponsett Estuary, Quincy

Keytar Bear!, Finish Line, Government Center

Found the Beer Tent, Voodoo Ranger IPA

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

Dragons and Witches: Weekend Racing (9/7 - 9/8/19)

Top: Living Root Dragon Boat Club at Pawtucket
Bottom: Somerville Road Runners at Salem
September 7, 2019: Outside Providence, Rhode Island Dragon Boat Festival

Despite causing issues because I gave Emily the wrong phone number, Emily, Casey, Harshil and I were able to get to Pawtucket before the race.

“My brother's in a wheel chair because of a freak accident as a kid. One day we were playing touch football and he fell off the roof.”

This was only my third dragon boat festival.  The second one involved a freak accident where Cheddar boat fell into the Merrimack River.  But the first one was actually this very race, 11 years ago.

While that time I had probably gone to like six practices, now I've been at it for nearly four months.  But the big issue is that these are different types of boats; Pawtucket, (to quote myself) they are:
... Taiwanese boats. These boats are considerable larger and harder to steer. They were called “barges” by Scott. The paddles are massive, like swinging a softball bat after practicing with a t-ball model... the massive size of the boats made it as much, if not more effort.
"What's a prep school?" "It's to prepare you for not getting your neck broke by me." 

Some teams took the prep time to take out one of the boats and practice with the cricket bat paddles.  For the most part we all tried to stay warm on this windy cool morning.

Taiwanese Dragon Boat
"Oh, you're gonna throw the fuckin' daht?"

Our first heat went off at 10:12.  Quinn made sure we didn't burn out with the heavy boats and short paddles.  The 1:24 was good enough for 11th of the 33 teams.  But we were able to find the wind and currents and - once the race started - stay in a straight line, like a daht.

"Okay, Satchmo why don't you play us a few notes?"

Each team had to qualify on the 23 seat "big boat" and the 15 seat "small boat."  I wasn't assigned to the small boat.  So I got the chance to watch as they ran our second heat.  Once again looking good - with Jess in her first drumming ... playing a few notes.  Out of the water, we had moved on into 13th overall and into the E Final.

Living Root Small Boat Qualifier
 "Brown University? We got one of those in Providence."

Regardless, what Matt termed the "real race of the day" was next.  While a few of us got Living Root colored bolts on our faces, Andrew and Julien prepped for the dumpling eating contest.  On the line was free airfare to Taiwan.

Julien and Andrew vs. Dumplings
In two minutes, Julien ate an impressive 30 dumplings.  He was outdone by Andrew's 41.  But sadly both were out done by some big guy named Eric whose 55(!) dumplings won him tickets from JFK to Chiang Kai-Shek Airport.

"You hit a parked cop car?"

The last race was the E finals.  Frist place went home with the much coveted 13th place overall.  We saved our best for last.  Our start was good, we had very little settle in the middle and then crushed the finish.  I watched the boat to our right disappear from my peripheral vision as we pulled in at a 1:18.

Living Root's Final Race.
We're in the middle taking the big lead!
photo by: Matt Scotti

September 8, 2019: The Witch City, Salem Road Race

Urvi and I caught the 8:30 train out of North Station, along with a large number of others. Getting our numbers was a bit of a shitshow with thousands of people packed into a little park area.  But, slowly it cleared up.

Because of the aforementioned shitshow, the race started late - at 10:15.  But on the warm day (the winds and coolness of Saturday gone), it was actually pleasant.

Urvi and I in Salem

Miles 1-2: The Crucible by Arthur Miller

The first mile, I went like a bat outta hell.  For reasons unknown to me, I decided to run ahead of Dominic from the start.  We flew down the narrow Derby Street, through the National Historic Park.  That first mile was like when you read The Crucible in High School after reading Shakespeare or Tennyson - fast and liberating with all the hysteria of Salem 1692.

We hit the second mile and it was like reading The Crucible in your college literature class.  First you say, "oh, I love this play" and then the professor explains McCarthyism to you.  blerg.  The fast liberating read becomes a bit more challenging.  Tying the hills together without burning out was like relating the play to things you only really knew as black and white newsreels.

Mile 1 was a decent 7:04; Mile 2 was a less decent 7:38.

Miles 3-4: The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne

By the start of the third mile, I knew my first race since Chicago wouldn't be any great American piece of literature like Huckleberry Finn or anything.  Instead it would be something really dull - you know like The Scarlet Letter.  Indeed, I tried to push through the first part of mile 3 like something good was going to happen (like the the first chapters of the novel); but nothing interesting every did (like the novel).  The 7:24 and 7:38 of this section told me I wasn't going to be taking the world by storm or anything.

Mile 5: The Scarlet Letter (1995)

The fifth mile so my desire to put together anything that was any good wane - like the 1995 film adaption of The Scarlet Letter.

I picture the production meeting now: Can we make this book any more boring?  Sure let's put wooden, one dimensional actress Demi Moore in the lead.  Every one loved her in Ghost!

That's pretty much what went through my head as everyone started passing me when my pace slowed to 8:12.

Mile 6: The House of the Seven Gables by Nathaniel Hawthorne

With a little more than a mile to go, I tried.  I really tried to get the pace down again.  I tried to recreate the fast image of myself, like Hawthorne tried to write an English gothic novel.  Neither of us did too well.  But, at least it was better than the previous miles...

Urvi in front of The House of the Seven Gables - there was a wedding going on inside. 
(Hopefully not haunted by the previous ones.)
As we made it back up to Congress Street, we passed the mile 6 marker and I put in everything I had left.  My finish was actually pretty strong; I ran the last quarter at a 6:15 pace.  So there is something there, but it's mostly a mirage right now.

The after-party at Notch allowed me to enjoy my double medal weekend
Other Scenes from Salem

aboard the Friendship

Urvi fires a Quaker Cannon on the Friendship

Salem Customs House

Urvi looking out over Salem Harbor

Aboard the Salem Ferry back to Boston

Tuesday, September 3, 2019

Shenanigans in the Springs: Weekend Wedding in Saratoga (8/30 - 9/2/19)

Looking out over the Saratoga National Historic Park
Friday, August 30 - National Battlefield

National Battlefield Map
On Friday, Urvi and I arrived early and toured the National Battlefield.

The Battle of Saratoga is really three separate incidents.  In the Summer of 1777, a British Column led by General Burgoyne marched south from Canada with the intent of splitting the radical New England colonies from the less radical rest of the United States.  The idea was to divide and crush New England while welcoming the Southern Colonies, who were less interested in independence back into the fold.

Moving South, Burgoyne took Lake Champlain and Fort Ticonderoga.  The American general, Philip Schuyler was relieved of command and General Gates took his place.  Gates followed Schuyler's plan of fortifying the Brmis Heights along the Hudson River.  This cut off the Albany Road to the advancing British and would have required they: a) run the gauntlet along the river under heavy cannon fire; b) traverse through the wooded hills to the west of the American position; or, c) attack the Americans on their high ground.

Urvi mans one of the cannon at Bemis Heights

Burgoyne chose a bit from a) and a bit from c).

First Battle of Saratoga, September 19, 1777

On September 19, 1777 Burgoyne moved his troops into position to attack the American position from the West while he sent the Hessian mercenaries and the baggage to run the gauntlet to the East of the American position. These attacks were met by resistance at Freeman Farm by Generals Poor, Learned and Benedict Arnold (Yes that Benedict Arnold).  The British were driven back to their camp along the Hudson.

Apparently Gates had some sort of issue with Arnold and didn't include him in his official report.  Arnold and Gates had a huge argument and Arnold was relieved of command.

Me at a replica of Gates' headquarters
The two armies stopped and increased the defenses of their positions.  Burgoyne waited for General Clinton to march up form New York City while Gates awaited General Lincoln who had just made some attempted assaults on Fort Ticonderoga.

British cannon guarding the camp next to the Hudson

By October, it didn't seem as Clinton was coming (he wasn't).  On October 7, Burgoyne sent some lightly armed men for reconnaissance and foraging.

Second Battle of Saratoga, October 7, 1777

These troops met the Americans who drove them back.  Then Arnold entered the fray.  (There is dispute whether this was with or without the blessing of General Gates.)  Either way, Arnold led the charge on Breymann Redoubt and helped send the British Army into retreat.  Arnold was wounded in the leg - and again was not fully recognized by Gates.

The unnamed "Boot Monument" that celebrates the actions of Benedict Arnold at Saratoga without mentioning him by name
After travelling the National Battlefield, we checked into our Airbnb and awaited the others.  We headed out for dinner at Druthers' Brewery.  I had a flight of 6 tasters.  I made sure I got the two I wanted but then allowed the bartender to give me his next four favorites: Summer Series NEIPA, Black Lager, Dog Days Lager, Brevity Wit, Against the Grain Hefeweizen, and French Sour.

It's a cool place with good beer.  I wouldn't make a special trip to it; but, if you're in Saratoga it is worth the stop.

Flight at Druthers

Saturday, August 31 - Saratoga Race Track

Scott, C-A, Melissa and Nichole, getting their hats on
Nichole and I spent the morning on a nice 10 mile run that I kept sending us the wrong way on.  And then I recovered with some of Scott's Peanut Butter Chocolate Stout from Madison Brewery...

But, the big attraction of the day was 3 hours at the race track. After some confusion with our Uber driver (I ended up paying the guy cash), Urvi, Nichole, Brian and I met up with the rest in the picnic area on the outside.  It was a nice mix.  Scott commented that he liked just having a picnic area and eating and drinking.  He didn't even need to gamble.

"Down the Stretch They Come"
We all lost money in this race.  The only reason Scott and Brian's horse didn't come in last was that he made a surge to pass mine at the end of the 7 furlong race.

I, of course, was going for the experience.  If I was going to be at a horse track, I was going to bet the ponies.  I went down there with my hat caved in and went back home with a pocket fulla tin. While the first race I doubled my money, I didn't have the same luck again.  But, outside of following Kevin's advice to box three horses in an exacta (there's $12 I'll never see again), didn't lose big.  Went in with $70 and after the betting and chicken fingers and some perfectly fine local DIPA, I walked out with $29. 

We all finished up and split up either to the rehearsal dinner or a group of us went to Brook Tavern for dinner.

Sunday September 1 - Wedding Day

Running to Victory

Saratoga Monument - on Brian's and my 10 miler
Brian and I headed out early for a 10 mile run.  This time I knew where I had gone wrong during the run with his fiance the morning before.  And, in a much more successful trip, we found the victory site.

As seen above on October 8th, 1777 Burgoyne and the British troops retreated from their position near what is now Stillwater.  They retreated North to some high ground.  The Americans surrounded and besieged them for 8 days. On October 17, Burgoyne agreed to the Convention of Saratoga. While Burgoyne declared it was only a temporary convention, it was really a surrender of his army, which he agreed would not fight on North America again.

Brian and ran to and up the Monument that is near the surrender site.

View from the top of the Monument
We then headed South through the Victory Woods and back to our airbnb.

Victory Woods trail

Yaking the Fish

Map of our out and back kayak upon Fish Creek
After I returned from my run, Urvi and I went down to the Kayak Shak at the end of the road.  We rented a double kayak and took it out and back upon the lovely Fish Creek.

We usually kayak several times a summer.  But this year - between keep up with her new job and my dragon boating, it hasn't worked out.  So a nice kayak on the pretty creek was just what the doctor ordered for the early afternoon before Melissa and Kevin's wedding.

We finished off with lunch from Beer Wine Pizza where I had a Fiddlehead and returned home to get ready.

The Wedding

In a lovely ceremony, Kevin and Melissa tied the knot.  Nichole handled the ceremony very well.

The ceremony was out on the patio of the Saratoga National Golf Course.  Meanwhile the cocktail hour was up on the veranda and the reception was in the Ballroom on the second floor.

The first dance was a lively mix of a slow dance and a few pop tunes.  The picture I took was so good that I decided not to take any more the rest of the night.

Melissa and Kevin's first dance
Everything was perfect.  Each of the tables was named for a place that they had gone together and loved.  (Urvi and I were with the Breiders and Saba-Shers at table "Seattle"). There was a craft brew only station (and a regular bar but I never went there).  And the Chateaubriand was ridiculous good.

The SRR boys and I get a picture with the Bride

Monday, September 2nd - the Notorious MVB

Urvi and I drove back through a monsoon.  We stopped in Old Kinderhook at a diner and stopped t see Lindenwald, the homestead of our 8th President - "the Red Fox of Kinderhook" - Martin van Buren.

Lindenwald at the Martin van Buren Historic Site
- - - 

Yes, Scott, we all like Shenanigans