About jrfinger

John Finger is closer to 40 than 30 and vividly remembers every Philadelphia baseball playoffs since 1976. He writes exclusively about the Philadelphia Phillies and baseball and is somewhat aware that the city features other professional teams in various leagues. Away from work John writes fiction as well as about pop culture. He also enjoys marathon running, punk rock, books and movies as well as debunking myths and goofing off. John attended J.P. McCaskey High School in Lancaster, Pa. and dotes on his wife Ellen and their two sons, Michael and Theodore.

Hello …

Yes, it's me. As you can tell there have been few updates on this site. However, this will change. Over the next few months the plan is to re-design and overhaul the site and get it back functioning like the old days. 

In the meantime, visit my Tumblr page for various updates. It's cleverly titled, http://johnfinger.tumblr.com.

Thanks. See you soon. 

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My friend Catherine Ziegler Dowling was killed in a freak accident on Wednesday. She was a mom and writer. She was also funny and cool as hell. Think of her and her boys and remember to be nice and cool to each other.

First we take Manhattan …

Central Park MapNEW YORK — Wouldn’t you know it … Anton Krupicka was in New York City today for a screening of In the High Country, a movie I caught at the premier in Boulder, Colo. last July. After the movie I had a chance to talk with Anton and told him about how tough runners don’t just scale 14,000-feet of rock. Sometimes the tough guys run in the heat and humidity of Central Park.

As it turned out, it was humid in Central Park this afternoon. It was about 92 percent, according to the weather stats, and it would have been unbearable if it had not been for the snow falling over the city.

I didn’t see Krupicka in the park on Monday or Tuesday, but I bet he was there. After all, where else is a guy going to run in the middle of Manhattan?

Central Park has it all. There are hills, trails, woods, lakes, waterfalls and wild life. There is also sweeping vistas of the skyscrapers to go along with the nature. Mix in the tourists, the city life and tons of runners and bikers and the park is the nexus of the world. 

It doesn’t take long to see the genius of Frederick Law Olmsted within 400-meters inside of the park’s borders. Central Park just might be the greatest piece of American architecture ever created. It’s truly an inspiring place and there are few better places in which to run in the world.

The test in the park, of course, is running the big loop. Not only is it approximately 10 kilometers around without veering off to other trails, but also the big loop passes by seemingly every social, cultural and financial castes. In fact, one of the prettiest spots in the park is the Harlem Meer and the nature trails on the north side of the park. 

Neither the Meer nor the Harlem side of the park are not part of the Central Park Marathon, a race I’m jumping into on Feb. 23. Instead, the marathon course will be the very same five loops run in the 2007 Olympic Trials, one of the most exhilarating and tragic days in American running history.

It was a great day because Ryan Hall, Dathan Ritzenhein and Brian Sell made the Olympic team. Hall did so spectacularly while Sell fought for third place as if he was in a gang fight. Hall also established himself as the most talented American-born marathoner ever by obliterating the field and a hilly course in 2:09. Over terrain more favorable to fast running, Hall might have challenged the American record.

2012-04-15_10-50-32_633The tragedy occurred nearly 30 minutes and approximately 5.5 miles into the race when Ryan Shay collapsed and died on the course of a heart attack caused by an enlarged heart. By the time the ambulance got into the park and carried Shay to nearby Lenox Hill Hospital, he was gone. In a cruel irony, the ambulance carrying Shay passed the leaders of the race near the nine-mile mark. Hall, Ritzenhein and Sell had no idea what was happening.

These days there is nothing to indicate the exact spot where Shay collapsed. But for those who take their runs through Central Park, no marker is needed. 

We can feel it.

There is a rock along the side of the road just north of the Boat House on the east side where Shay fell. For those of us who know what happened on Nov. 4, 2007, our eyes are drawn to the spot as we close in on the Boat House. Running through that area of the park feels like a sacred act. It’s like passing through a shrine site where one of “our guys” went down.

The memory of Ryan Shay is one of the reasons why many of us run. Distance running, and marathon running in particular, is as beautiful as a sport can be. Bathed in simplicity, running is as pure as athletics can be. But it’s also a cruel sport. Often, every weakness is exposed during a competition no matter how strong or well prepared a runner is.

But then again, that’s part of why we love the sport so much.

The only memorial to Ryan Shay in the park is a bench, located on the other side of the road from “Ryan’s Rock.” The inscription reads:

“It is necessary to dig deep within oneself to discover the hidden grain of steel called will.
Ryan Shay, 1979-2007

It’s going to be an honor to run a marathon in Central Park along the course used for the Olympic Trials. It’s also going to be tough and hilly. It’s going to take a lot of strength.

It always does. 

***

Here’s a shot of the Harlem Meer from a run around the park last January:

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This is a shot of the park from the Essex House on 59th Street from last February:

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And this is the statue of Fred Lebow, the legendary director of the New York City Marathon:

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Quick turnaround

When you decide to run a marathon on low mileage and no long runs, it's difficult to gauge how fast you'll go. The only way to know is to go out there and run it.

So that's what I did on Nov. 30 in Sparks, Md. at the Northern Central Trail Marathon. The result was 26 miles in 3:21:13, (almost an hour slower than my best time) which was a good indicator of my fitness.

Here is what it looked like:

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The splits for the race were strangely consistent, despite not training the way I would have liked. I got a little tired and tight around 21 or 22 miles, but was able to keep moving at a decent clip.

You know … considering.

Splits

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It was a pretty good day. The footing on the course was a little tough in spots, and it was cold. But the race was fun and well organized. 

The best part about the race was I didn't get too banged up. The day after I ran five miles with only a bit of post-marathon soreness. By the end of the week, I was holding myself back so I don't overload myself so quickly.

But that marathon itch is tough to scratch. Because I'm old and time is short, I'm running the Central Park Marathon on Feb. 23. That one is five loops around the park, a very familar loop from trips to New York City.

It should be a lot of fun.

And then after that one, how about the Garden Spot Marathon in Lancaster County, Pa.? Yeah, why not? I know a lot of serial marathoners and it seems as if the weekly workload isn't too hot. The key will be to drop some weight and get those long runs in.

I'm ready.

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Len Bias: Older dead than alive

The plan …

… was to keep this updated frequently. Sometimes, though, life (and work) gets in the way. 

Such a pain. When is that Powerball gonna pay off?

Anyway, if Anton Krupicka and those guys can be the masters of mountain running, I figure I can be the urban runner. You know, the dude who explores cities and tears through neighborhoods most people wouldn't go by car? For the past 16 (or so) months, I've been dashing around cities all over the country in search of interesting running routes. I even documented and recorded some of them and will begin posting stuff here about the travels.

So in the near future, get ready for running posts about Detroit, St. Louis, Chicago, Indianapolis, Pasadena, Las Vegas, Boston, Philadelphia, Cooperstown, Estes Park, Houston, Dallas, Atlanta, New Orleans, New York and Washington, D.C.

Additionally, I'm going to run the Northern Central Trail Marathon on Nov. 30. I can't say my training is where I want it to be and I'm unsure of what kind of time I can run, but what the hell … It's been five years since I've run a marathon. It's time to get back out there and see what happens.

Of altitude, mountain climbing and running …


IMG_0616So…

I had a bunch of in depth and insightful thoughts on how running in humidity is tougher and more difficult than running at high altitude. Then there were the ideas about the Trayvon Martin case has been one of the great injustices and how Americans are really bad at understanding nuance.

These were going to be trenchant posts all related to running and surely will come out on this site again soon enough. However, they are going to be put on the back burner for a time because I just got back from Colorado.

And just like always, it’s a trip to Colorado that has jump started another build-up for a marathon.

How so? How could an old salty veteran like me be rejuvenated by yet another trip to Estes Park, the Rocky Mountain National Park and Boulder? After all, it’s not like I haven’t gone up there to put in some miles before.

Certainly this is true. Then again, I never made an attempt to run up to Longs Peak and attend a world-wide movie premiere featuring Anton Krupicka running up Longs Peak.

Anton Krupicka? Of course, in a sport like ultrarunning that is filled with badasses and envelope pushers, Krupicka is currently the baddest of the bad. Close followers of running already know about Krupicka because of the superficialities like his long hair, beard and shirtless runs for hundreds of miles per week. Then there are the victories in some of the most prestigious ultramarathons in the country … these are all the things that get a guy known.

But the thing about Krupicka that is most interesting is that it isn’t really about those things. Kind of like the running version of Ian MacKaye, Krupicka is interested in running for the sake of running. It means something to him that can’t really be cheapened by categorization or a pursuit of resume fodder. Maybe that’s why lately Krupicka has seemingly been focused on running the highest peaks in Colorado instead of trying to get from point A to point B faster than someone else.

Besides, as I learned again last week, there is something about climbing a mountain that teaches a person a lot about where he fits in. Some, like Krupicka and his partner in making In the High Country, Joel Wolpert, find a connection to nature and place in these pursuits. There’s a transcendentalism to it.

Frankly, I go the other way. When battling the wind and the chill while moving up the trail up the east side of Longs Peak, I felt like I was small and insignificant. My sense of place was that I was nothing more than a tiny speck — just a blip on a line to infinity.

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Nope, it’s not about me. The warning signs on the trail kind of spell it out. On the mountain (or anywhere else on earth), I don’t matter. But you know what? That’s pretty life affirming in some weird sense. The idea that we are insignificant should free us of our egos and allow us to be ourselves. In Krupicka’s and Wolpert’s movie, that theme is evident.

When running up a mountain, Krupicka gets that it isn’t about him.

I especially felt that way when looking up toward the Granite Pass:


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Anyway, Krupicka and Wolpert made a fantastic movie. It’s a film that smarter reviewers than me say flips the script on conventional running movies. Instead of some inner battle or agonizing fight to complete or win a race, the movie was about running. Actually, make that running up mountains. 

Running. Pure and simple.

Better yet, Wolpert, the filmmaker, is a tremendous photographer. The film was shot beautifully along some terrain and spaces that may never have seen a movie camera before.

Here’s a look at the trailer:

Distribution for the film is still being worked out. However, there are tentative plans to hold screenings in West Virginia, New York, Washington, Philadelphia and Lancaster. My suggestion is to download it and to go to a screening near you.

Meanwhile …

There is nothing that gets a runner going than a trip to Colorado. The altitude, the weather, the lack of humidity, the hills and the scenery are just part of it. Running, in all its forms, really is a part of life in that part of the country. Hell, just being outside is the way it is out there. 

Before we get into the trek up the mountain, here’s the week of running in Colorado …

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

10.05 miles


Fish Creek

Ran down Fish Creek Road and then turned around and went back up. Started at around 8,170-feet of altitude and went down to 7,500-feet. It used to be that I had to run on the narrow shoulder going up (or down) Fish Creek, but now there is a beautiful new running trail made of crushed cinders.

Perfect.

Better yet, my pace held up and lends credence to my theory that humidity is more difficult than altitude.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

10 miles


Fish Creek

Same exact run as Tuesday. The difference was I ran faster, especially down the mountain.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

10 miles


Fish Creek to Lake Estes

Mixed it up by going down Fish Creek and, instead of going back up, I circled Lake Estes. The trail around the lake is built up now, too. Good stuff.

We need more running trails at sea level.

Friday, July 19, 2013

7 miles


Longs Peak Trailhead to Granite Pass

I didn’t think I was going to get too much farther than the Boulderfield on the Key Hole route to the summit of Longs Peak, but man oh man was the “run” tougher than I anticipated. Aside from the rugged terrain, the toughest part was the chilly and windy climate above the tree line. Like a dummy I wore a sleeveless shirt and got a little worried about exposure. Also causing worries were the clouds and threatening-looking clouds on top of Longs Peak.

Very tough. I worked my ass off and covered just 7ish miles in two hours.


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Friday, afternoon


5.25 miles

Added a second run because I don’t feel like I actually ran while on the mountain. About 3 or 4 miles in, I got pretty tired.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

10 kilometers


Fish Creek

Gassed. Quads were pretty sore. Felt OK through the first half and then fell apart.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

11.5 miles


Fish Creek to Lake Estes

Still tired and sore but didn’t tie up. Definitely got tired at the end, though, but that was probably from the sun beating down on me instead of the altitude and the run. Perhaps the flatness of the trail around the lake helped.

The mountain …

Yes, it was difficult. Surprisingly, it was more difficult than expected. At one point of the “run,” I had a clear view of the Twin Sisters Peak, a run I bagged in 2008 that began at 9,000-feet and ended at 11,428-feet above sea level. On that run, I struggled on some of the switchbacks and long steps. I also got a tremendous headache above the treeline near the summit. It made me want to get to lower altitude quickly.

Twin Sisters from Longs …

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So maybe the reason why I thought the ride up Longs would be “easy” was because I forgot about the experience of going up Twin Sisters. It’s like the old saying that a person shouldn’t race another marathon until they complete forget about the last one.

Bingo.

Anyway, I didn’t get any altitude headaches on the way up. I did feel as though I was going to freeze to death, though. I should have brought a long-sleeved shirt.

More importantly, I realized that I’m no Krupicka and maybe mountain running isn’t my niche. It’s really tough and maybe not as rewarding as running in cities, trails or near historical sites. Plus, you don’t really run up the mountain. You just kind of keep moving … you survive it.

Hopefully I’ll remember all of that the next time. Hopefully it ends with a few pictures from the summit and not the clouds resting on top of it.


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Progress, or something

So we tore off three more weeks of workouts and it's difficult to see any progress. Worse yet, July started with a case of the dreaded DOMS, which is somehting I never experienced except for after a marathon.

I guess this is what happens when a guy gets old.

Nevertheless, June was pretty uneventful. I missed one workout because I was up until 4:30 a.m. covering the NBA Draft and struggled with some heat and humidity while with the kids at the beach.

On the plus side, I got to run a bunch of flat loops in Philadelphia and the beach, which is a good way to check out strength and leg turnover. It also begs the question if there are any hills at all in Philadelphia?

The city is flat as a pancake.

Anyway, here's the non-eventful June. Let's hope July offers more progress and challenges. Tentatively, I'm hoping to turn out some good runs in Colorado, like an ascent of Longs Peak, as well as some quality miles in Detroit at the end of the month. 

That town looks flat, too.

Anyway, here's how we're building up for the Harrisburg Marathon in November …

June 24-30

June 30, 2013
10.3 miles
Tired legs and a weak hamstring after running nine miles of hills on Saturday. Wasn't into it, but as the run progressed there was no point in stopping before 10 miles.

June 29, 2013
12.03 miles
After running on flat roads for a week, why not try a roller coaster loop for nine miles in the Lancaster County Park? The good part about the run is there was lots of shade in the park. I also saw a deer even though crossing paths with wild animals on a run freaks me out. The rough part? Up and down those hills. Oh well … hills are a good way to build strength.

June 28, 2013
ZERO
Up all night the day before covering the NBA Draft. I didn't get home until 4 a.m. and didn't get to bed until a while after that. Rather than run tired and risk an injury with a weak muscle, I stayed indoors. Otherwise, it was a pretty crazy night. The Sixers didn't just blow it up, they nuked it. Hard to imagine that there will be many survivors from past seasons.

June 27, 2013
5.01 miles
Started out with some solid 7s and then the heat/humidity and a stomach ache ended the run. It didn't feel like typical stomach pain from heat cramps, but maybe it was. Whatever. Sucked.

June 26, 2013
6.25 miles in morning
4.11 miles in early evening

Felt a little better in the morning with the heat. Still tough to acclimate, though. The evening runs have been fun and I felt fairly fresh.

June 25, 2013
5.04 miles in morning
5.07 miles in early evening

Doubled up. Remember when doubles were 12 to 15 in the morning and 5 in the early evening? Doesn't seem like it was all that long ago. Nevertheless, the short, quick doubles are a good way to beat the heat. Seem to get more out of it, too.

June 24, 2013
3.6 miles
Planned to take a day off after driving all morning to Ocean City. But then I thought about Gary Player and how he always worked out after traveling as a way to combat fatigue and jetlag.

Week: 51.4 (more like weak).

June 17-23

June 23, 2013
8.35 miles
Covered the Phillies game all day and ran on Kelly Drive on the way out of town. Hadn't planned on running, but realized I would have felt like a piece of trash if I didn't do it. Ran steady 7s around the flat, river route.

June 22, 2013
10.01 miles
Slow.

June 21, 2013
10.26 miles
Slooooow.

June 20, 2013
10.14 miles
Hamstring grabbed a bit. Nothing to get worried about. Ran most of the time on grass. The change in surface may have caused the hamstring thing.

June 19, 2013
10 miles
Moved a little bit. Didn't slow down until the last 5K.

June 18, 2013
10.01 miles
Solid. Ran in the rain. No big deal.

June 17, 2013
10.07 miles
Just a boring, old 10-miler. Nothing to see here.