Category Archives: Family

Summer Running

“Heat, hills, and humidity.  Welcome to Atlanta.”

Run Atlanta slogan

While summer adds heat to the challenge of running, it also brings time in the schedule for racing.  My daughter Lydia and I ran several races over the past couple of months; here are a few of them.

Celebrate America 10K

For Memorial Day, we ran the Celebrate America race at Alpharetta’s Northpoint Mall.  This 16th annual event was well organized and equipped, making for a smooth race of nearly 900 runners.  The course was pleasant – a loop on tree-lined streets around the mall area, with a few rolling hills.  The 10K was a double loop, which provided an extra benefit for me: I was able to watch Lydia cross the 5K finish line as I started my second time around.  Lydia won her age group in the 5K at 25:00; my 10K time was 53:02.

There were several Memorial Day races in the area, and I’m pleased that we chose this one.  We’ll watch for it again next year.

ATC Fathers Day 4 Miler

The Atlanta Track Club (ATC) held its annual Fathers Day 4-Miler on Saturday, June 18, the day after Tina and I returned from our 25th anniversary trip.  It had the benefits of being free for ATC members and ending inside Turner Field: the Braves home plate area makes a great place for the finish line.

The course was well-planned, through the historic neighborhoods of downtown Atlanta, past Grant Park and the Atlanta Zoo.  There were some challenging uphills, but good downhills to recover.  I enjoyed running alongside Lydia the entire time and crossing the finish line together.  I was proud of her for doing well on the 4 mile distance and hilly course.  Our team finished 22nd overall at 36:47.

Peachtree Road Race

No other race matches the excitement of the world’s largest 10K.  And with 60,000 runners, the 42nd annual Peachtree Road Race was the largest yet.   On July 4, Stephen and Lydia ran the Woodstock Freedom Run, while I headed downtown for the Peachtree.  Getting there is the hardest part: waking in the darkness of 4:00 am and driving to the nearest Marta rail station before the parking lots fill up.

The new time groups make the crowds manageable: it becomes more like 22 serial races of about 3,000 runners each than a mob of 60K.   I was in corral C which, fortunately, is one of the four start waves with access to the starting line area.  This provided more space to relax and explore and enjoy the pre-race activity and wheelchair division start.

Another first this year was a flyover by three F-16s to close the national anthem – a flyover at a 10K – how cool is that?  That added to the excitement of the start, which continued throughout the race.  The entire course is lined with bands, giveaways, spectators (over 100,000), TV and radio stations, costumes, and some unique Independence Day celebrations.  As my college “stomping grounds”, the route also brought back many memories.  All this carried me along so that it felt more like a celebration than a race.  I hardly noticed the heat and “cardiac hill.”

There’s quite a bit of “sideways running” to weave around crowds and dodge fire hoses, so the Peachtree isn’t a race for PRs.  I kept an even pace and finished at 54:01, par for the Wave C course.

This race just gets better every year, and the current ATC leadership is doing a great job of implementing smart improvements.  Taking the AJC’s post-race poll revealed a lot of popular suggestions: tweak the start waves for groups, switch to a technical T-shirt, start earlier.  But, even if nothing changes, I’ll be back next year: me and 60,000 fellow runners.

Etowah River Run

The annual Etowah Swelter River Run balances the benefit of a fast course with the challenge of late July heat.  This year, like last, was certainly no exception: race time weather was at 77 degrees with 91% humidity, but that was offset by the signature opening downhill run and flat-as-a-pancake route.  This was the third year running it for Lydia and me; she finished first in her age group at 25:06, while I came in at 24:23.

The race held many familiar positives: fast course, helpful volunteers, good local turnout (about 500 runners, including a few cross country teams), nice T-shirt design (a repeat of last year’s popular art), valuable and plentiful door prices, and close proximity to home.   This year’s introduction of D-tag chip timing was a nice improvement.  I’d like to see the race start earlier to beat some of the heat, and a technical (rather than cotton) T-shirt would be nice.  As in years past, a few runners complained that the course was a little long (from 3.18 to 3.22 miles), but that narrow discrepancy is really only a concern to folks looking for new PRs.  We’ll be back again next year, pushing the pace against the heat.

Run at the Mill

Racing today was an easy decision, with a rare Saturday off from coaching (compliments of spring break), a race just 4 miles from my dad’s house, and cool half marathon medals with Hebrews 12:1 on the back.  And the first annual Run at the Mill (part of the Run for God series) was a winner!

Lydia and I rode up together the night before and spent the evening at my dad’s home.  We made a Pizza Hut stop on the way: “carb loading,” we said, but any excuse would do.  After arriving, we enjoyed a nice evening just chatting and hanging out.

My half marathon start time was 90 minutes before Lydia’s 5K start, so Dad was gracious enough to shuttle Lydia over, dropping her off just before her race, and even bringing over my dropped race bib earlier.  Did I mention how nice it was to be only 4 miles away?  It was so humid I had to use the car wipers while driving, but at least the temps were in the low 60s.  Pollen counts were off the scale, but that’s a small price to pay for a very beautiful wooded setting.

Combination race, ministry, and country fair

Prater’s Mill is out of the way, but I can hardly imagine a better place to hold a half marathon.  The course was scenic, along country roads past pastures, homesteads, and rocky streams.  Since this is a mountainous area (north of Dalton and very near the Tennessee line), I expected many steep climbs, but it was actually quite flat: mostly gently rolling hills with just a couple of long uphills.  This run in the country was so pleasant that I spent the first several miles with the MP3 player off, listening to singing birds and other morning sounds.

At 9:46, the first mile was my slowest, as I navigated through running traffic.  I kept thinking I should have started closer to the front, but at least it forced me to start at a measured pace.  In the end, I definitely negative-split this thing.

T-shirt, 1/2 marathon medal, and bib

Miles 1-3 took us up some of the longer climbs and past the aptly-named Strain Road.  Around mile 4, the fog began lifting, leaving very low clouds with sunlight streaming through, painting the countryside in bright gold.  If only Tina could have been there with her camera!  Shortly afterward, we were chased by some yap dogs, but they were all bark and no bite, succeeding only in adding humor and speed motivation.

After about the 10K mark, we were treated to some nice downhills, and then mostly level territory until about mile 11.  Mile 8 was a turnaround: not my favorite, but it offered the chance to see where I stood against other runners.

I had recently recalibrated my Nike+ on a flat course, which left it confused on these hills.  On average, it reported nearly 10% too much distance, since it did not account for my shorter uphill strides.  But the course’s consistent, well-marked milestones helped me adjust.

Lydia finished first in her age group

After mile 11, we hit another uphill stretch, which troubled my left knee.  So once I cleared mile 12, I checked my time and, seeing I was in great shape to finish at my sub-2 goal, dropped my pace significantly, perhaps a little too much.  As I approached the final tenth, I could see the race clock and hear a volunteer shout, “hurry and you’ll beat 2 hours!”  So I kicked into a final dash (a sub-6:00 pace) and finished at 1:59:50.  Lydia had just finished her 5K and met me at the finish line.

Looking around, I could see the post-race activities in full swing.  The grounds around the river and historic buildings were filled with bounce houses, booths, concessions, and a talented praise band playing in the pavilion.  Joining the racers were many families and other visitors, giving the place the feel of a combination race, ministry, and country fair.

Cornbread: another reason to recycle

Lydia was excited about her strong running, so we checked and found she ran the 5K in 25:57, finishing first in her age group!  She received a very nice award for that.

Lydia takes on the 5K

Overall, this race had a lot going for it: scenic course, nice venue, valuable ministry, abundant post-race activities, small town hospitality, plenty of helpful volunteers, top-notch timing system, and great execution.

For all the promotion and activities, this was still a small race: just over 600 runners.  I would like to see it grow, and I have a feeling that once the word gets out, it will.  There was a registration cap for this first annual race; I hope they can expand and accommodate a larger group next year.

Cherokee Fall Classic

For the third straight year, the Cherokee Fall Classic had near-perfect weather and good turnout, with a broad spectrum of runners.  This is one of those “must do” events for our family: worth squeezing into our overbooked Saturday schedule.

The annual event features a 10K, 5K, and 1 mile fun run.  The 10K and 5K courses are now USATF-certified – good for qualifying times and accurate comparisons.  Each race offers its own appeal: the 10K route is very scenic, particularly for an “out and back,” and the 5K route is flat.  The race coincides with the adjacent and popular Cherokee Pignic for those who worked up an appetite for barbecue.

As always, the race was very well organized and well promoted locally.  Having full access to the YMCA facility on a chilly morning is a huge plus.  The volunteers were knowledgeable, helpful, and friendly.

Due to time constraints, both Stephen and I ran the 5K.  Lydia was disappointed that she couldn’t run it, but she had to stay fresh for a competitive soccer game that followed.  Stephen had a good run in his usual style: striking up conversations with adjacent runners while maintaining a strong, steady pace.  I had several clues that I took it too easy: I had too much energy at the end, my first mile was the slowest by far, and I got nowhere near a record time despite the flat course.  But it was good enough for a second place age group finish, since some of the faster runners were in the 10K.  Besides, for nice races and great family events like this, “a good time” measures fun more than speed.

I wish I could report on the post-race activities because they’re always excellent, but we had to leave immediately after Stephen crossed the finish line to make it to an early morning soccer game.  But I heard it was enjoyable from folks I talked with later in the day.

I expect the folks at the Canton YMCA will do a jam-up job with this race again next year, so count me in!

Cartecay Day

It’s been a long time coming: I’ve wanted to run the Middle Cartecay since the waters warmed in the spring.  But it’s a bit too fast for the entire family, so other nearby rivers and lakes took precedence for this summer’s kayaking trips.  But with Tina and the girls out of town for a soccer tournament, the boys (Luke, Stephen, and I) headed over for a beautiful September afternoon on the river.

This section has a lot going for it.  It’s only 35 miles from home and very scenic.  With mainly Class IIs (and occasional Class IIIs), it’s approachable even for teens and beginners.  It’s a short run (two hours or less), so it can be done easily in an afternoon.  And yet within that 2 1/2 river miles are some interesting rapids: Rock Garden, Surfing Rapid, S-Turn, Whirlpool, and the grand finale: Blackberry Falls.  There are a few outfitters in the area, so it’s easy to get shuttles and any extra rentals needed.  For all the above reasons, this is one nearby river section I highly recommend, particularly before taking on longer runs.

A heavy rainstorm the night before lifted the water to near 1.4′ on the standard American Whitewater gauge:  high enough to be runnable (we never got stuck) and low enough to keep the rapids easy.  Although neither Luke nor Stephen had run this stretch before, they handled it like pros, maneuvering the falls and s-curves perfectly.

The first mile was gentle, and offered time to relax and get accustomed to the river.  We enjoyed the trees, rock faces, mountain laurel, birds, riverfront homes, and a friendly dog along shore.  After a few shoals, we paddled straight through Rock Garden and Surfing Rapid, which provided a good warm-up for what lay ahead.  The S-Turn near mile two provided our first real challenge: Luke’s kayak got swamped and he struggled a bit to find a place among the shoreline boulders to flip and drain it.  We met another kayaker there with goggles, treasure-hunting in the big pool at the end.  Just this week, he found two rings and a dozen pairs of sunglasses in those eddies.

Shortly afterward, we heard the rush of Blackberry Falls and enjoyed running it the only way we could at this depth: left to right through the chute, then hard left at the end.  Our two unskirted open kayaks swamped on every run, so we used the one sit-on-top for repeat runs.  I ran it six times in a row: never gets old.  After some body-surfing down the rapids, we passed under the bridge to our Mulkey Road take-out.

I’m determined to catch this stretch at higher water levels, so that the rapids will be faster and we can run a longer section.  That’ll likely mean getting out there in cooler weather (late fall or early spring), but I’m sure I can talk the boys into it.

Labor Day “Triathlon”

My original Labor Day plan was to run the U.S. 10K Classic (a great race, I’ve heard), but that would have stood in the way of the family canoeing/kayaking trip (something of a family Labor Day tradition now).  But then the late-breaking forecast called for mid-50s in the morning: perfect for running, but not good for little ones in a river.  So we delayed hitting the river for a few hours, which gave me time to head over to nearby Hickory Flat and run the Hickory Flat Out 5K.

I was glad I did.  The 5K was sponsored by Mt. Zion Baptist Church, and benefited their children’s camp ministry.  The race was run on the roads in front of the church, and ended on trails behind it.  It was a beautiful setting for an early morning race, participation was good, the event was well organized, and the volunteers were very friendly and helpful.  The technical shirt for the race was nice, although I didn’t get one: that’s what I get for registering only minutes before the race started.  However, the volunteer at the shirt table told me they would mail shirts to those who didn’t get one.  That’s a very nice gesture; with many races, the policy is, “you snooze, you lose.”  I’m a bit out of training, so I certainly didn’t set any personal records (my time was around 25:30).  But I enjoyed it, and it was much better than morning loops around my usual running spots.

Afterward, we loaded up the two kayaks, one canoe, and 5/7 of the family and headed out to run the 13 mile stretch of the Etowah River from East Cherokee to 140.  Last year’s floods changed this section a bit, but it was still very nice, with blue herons escorting us, interesting aquatic life, and the native American fish weirs still intact (Tina posted some nice shots in her Picasa Gallery).  Water levels had receded, but it was very runnable.  Rapids never get above Class II in this segment (if that), so it took awhile: 6 hours for us (with stops), and it made for a good paddling workout.  My only complaint is that put-in and take-out remains a real challenge; we look forward to the planned launches to improve that situation.

Following that we rushed home just in time for me to grill “dad burgers.”  There: we squeezed as much into one day as is humanly possible.  Can we do it again tomorrow?

Run, canoe, grill: pretty much a perfect Labor Day “triathlon,” if you ask me.

Woodstock Freedom Run

The annual Woodstock Freedom Run is perhaps my favorite 5K, mainly because it benefits The Hope Center.  It certainly helps to have Woodstock charm, a flat course, and gracious weather for July (around 70 degrees at race time).  And it’s always a nice surprise to chat with so many folks that I don’t see often.  It feels like a family reunion.

Lydia won a second-place age group award at 28:09.  Stephen ran very well at 30:06 and was all smiles as he crossed the line, but he’s in the 11-14 group now, competing with 18-minute finishers.  At 25:32, I was certainly no threat to 15-minute defending champ Sammy Nyamongo, but enjoyed the race all the same.

It should return to July 4 next year, so if you’re not running the Peachtree, come out for this one.

The Last Step

I finally finished my bridge over the creek (which, lumber-wise, was closer to a 28′ x 5′ deck).  As promised, here’s the final photo.

Since I started it New Year’s weekend, this project wasn’t exactly a model of speed.  The day job, weather, soccer, family, and other activities often chopped up my work into short, sporadic intervals.  But it was a nice project.

BTW, it passed Tina’s “level test,” although a few other things bug me.  Oh well, “it’s a bridge in the woods.”

A Berry of a Race and More

This morning’s Berry College 10K race (also with 5K, 1 mile, and 1/2 Marathon) could not have been better.  The venue was both ideal and idyllic, and as the world’s largest college campus there was plenty of room to lay out some scenic routes.  The tree-lined roads and trails carried us by pastures with deer, beautiful stone college buildings, and even a bit of snow still around in places as icing on the cake.  It was very well organized and staffed, making the handling of about 2,000 runners flow like clockwork.  By running the 10K, I dropped into my comfortable pace (a 54:14 finish), rather than too-fast paces I often try for 5Ks.  Overall, it was a top-notch event, the way all races should be.

Afterward, we enjoyed warming temps and exciting soccer. Lydia had a great game in our season opener with three goals, some excellent crosses and setups, and a “textbook” corner kick: she lifted it and it dropped right in front of the goal for her friend to finish.  Luke’s first regular season NASA game was a competitive one, ending in a tie.  Overall, a great Saturday!

Spring sports, winter weather

“No winter lasts forever; no spring skips its turn.”
Hal Borland

It’s that time of year when my family’s calendar gets ahead the climate. Luke has been at sub-freezing soccer for weeks now with NASA and Crown, but his first “spring” tournament (the RYSA Spring Kickoff Classic, a blustery affair) made it all the more real.  Lydia and I joined the soccer fray with our first team practice last night.  And I continued my new tradition of frigid races today by running the Guns & Hoses 5K: a benefit sponsored by the Cherokee Recreation & Parks Agency, the Cherokee County Fire Department (hoses) and the Cherokee County Sheriff’s Office (guns).  The 27 degree temps and 17 degree wind chill slowed me below my goal pace, but I did end up with a second place age group finish.  It was a well-organized race with about 400 runners (more than expected), and one that I’ll look for again next year.

I’ll settle down for some more Winter Olympics viewing, to warm up after the soccer games and remind myself that it is still winter.  And I’ll patiently accept that bout of snow and freezing rain predicted for early next week.  But it’s getting time: out with the cold, in with the new!

Building bridges

One of my New Years Weekend projects was starting that long-overdue bridge spanning the creek separating us from the “back 3” of our property.  Tina worked with me on it during the bitter weather, including cold, high winds, and even sleet.

Tina’s involvement is great, but can be a double-edged sword.  She’s a tremendous help, but also an informed critic.  As the daughter of a talented custom home builder, she has the genes and exposure to spot a mistake at 500 paces.

So, for example, while setting one of the 16′ 2×12 joists across the creek, she wouldn’t let me stop at almost level.  Her words were “I’ll know it’s 1/4 inch out of level when I’m walking across it,” while mine were, “it’s a bridge in the woods!”  We had some lively discussions, but all in fun.  At least I think so.

Working together against a real challenge: that’s how we build the real bridges.  And we’ve learned a lot through the years with projects like this: like not to hang wallpaper together.

We got the 6×6 posts cemented in and the joists hung.  Watch for more updates.