Thursday, April 19, 2007

Nick still has a sense of humor....

Well we made it!! If anyone had predicted the path we would take to get to the finish line we would have suggested some serious mental counseling. Given that Nick was our guardian angel we should have known it would have unusual twists and turns. When Heather and I started down this road we wanted to do something that would honor Nick's memory and help others at the same time. Running the marathon for Lazarus House was a perfect way to do both. When we first talked about it we actually were more intimidated by the fund raising (hitting the goal of $3000 each) than we were about running the race. We had done a marathon together before but we had never taken on a fund raising role at that level.

Thanks to all of you (thank you, thank you) Heather and I were able to raise over $11,000 for Lazarus House. Combined with the other 15 runners we raised over $75,000 against a goal of $65,000. The funds will go towards restocking the food pantry that was destroyed in the floods last year and towards putting in place a new self service "shopping" program (more on this in a later blog). Any attempt to just say Thank You would fall short of really expressing how much good you have done for the community and people's lives. So instead I will follow up with some details of the results of the new food program once it is up and running so you can hear for yourself what the impact has been.

Now...back to the marathon. For those not interested in all the details, here are the highlights:

- Heather and I both ran into painful knee problems before we were half way. With some awkward limping, a shuffle like run and a much slower pace we were able to finish in 4:23:22.

- The weather was more of a factor before the start and at the end of the run than during the run.

- Heather and I are both recovering well although it will take a while for the knees to heal and before we can run again.

- All seventeen of the Lazarus runners started and finished.

For those interested in the details and the story behind the on.

Heather and I started the day at 5 AM as we headed to meet the Lazarus House team bus that we would take to the starting line. We hauled our bags with 50 pounds of clothes (each) into the pouring rain and hurricane winds as we tried to plan for any contingency. Thanks to the efforts of Betsy Leeman (our Lazarus manager) our bus would take us directly to the staging area in Hopkinton and we would be able to stay on the bus until just before the start of the race.

Most runners have to take one of the race buses from Boston out to Hopkinton where they are unceremoniously dropped at the staging area to wait the 2+ hours until the start of the race. The staging area is a large field with a big tent in the middle and with endless rows of port-a-johns around it. Under normal circumstances a rather relaxing setting but in torrential downpours and howling wind it rather resembled a scene from Woodstock...except in the winter and without the music. Huddled under the tent were thousands of runners sitting on trash bags hoping to stay dry and warm enough to comfortably get to the start of the race. Many of the runners walked around with plastic bags over their shoes as they tried to avoid getting covered in mud in the trips to the port-a-john.

After close to a 2 hour ride (all the roads into Hopkinton are closed so traffic backs up for quite a distance) we arrived at the staging area at 8AM and set about planning what we would wear (we were worst than a couple of teenager girls planning prom night) and evaluating the constantly changing weather forecasts. While the temperatures were warmer than expected, there still was a driving rain and heavy winds. We settled on wearing running jackets over our long sleeve shirts and then our Lazarus singlets over our jackets. I decided to bring along my cell phone to chronicle the journey and potentially get help if I needed to bail.

A quick is a regulation of the Marathon that your number must be visible at all times. Partly this is because photographers and video companies take pictures all along the course and they need to know your number so they can solicit you to buy the pictures (we all want those candids of us agonizingly navigating Heartbreak Hill). The other reason is to help the BAA track runners in case of a discrepancy in the automated chip timing system. Numbers are fixed to the outside of one's shirt with 4 safety pins. Thus the problem...whatever I choose as my outside layer pretty much has to be my outside layer for the entire race. Thus the decision to wear the singlet, with our names, our numbers, and our picture of Nick over our jackets.

Next came a knock on our bus door. A woman runner with a German accent asked if she could come inside to get out of the rain for a while. Turns out it is Uta Pippig, 3 time woman's winner of the Boston Marathon in the mid90's (that's me with Uta on the bus). She was charming and outgoing and wonderful to chat with.

With so many runners (23000 registered with numbers of which over 20000 actually showed up to run), the start was changed this year to go off in two at 10 AM for the faster runners, and one at 10:30 for the rest of us. Wheelchairs go off at 9AM and the elite Woman runners at 9:30. It's hard to imagine what 10,000 runners packed into a fairly narrow street looks like (picture here is one I took with my cell phone looking back into the crowd behind me. The runners filled the street back almost a quarter mile and then continued up a side street.). We were about midway in the second wave and it took us a little over 7 minutes to get to the starting line after the gun went off.

Heather and I were like race horses in the starting gates (Heather and Kristen waiting in the drizzle for the starting gun). The first mile is pretty slow despite the fairly steep downhill as the crowds are still pretty thick. By the second mile we had settled into our 9 min/mile pace and were comfortably cruising along. The rain had stopped, we were getting hot and we started peeling off clothes ( jackets, hoods, and gloves). For the next 3 miles we picked up the pace and felt great, alternating water and Gatorade at each mile. We had a nice conversation with a couple running in a tux and wedding veil who were getting married at the top of Heartbreak Hill (they got engaged at the NYC Marathon). Round about 6 miles, just before Framingham, the sky opened up and it started pouring. While we got wet over the next mile (it pretty much stopped at 8 miles) it was warm enough when we were out of the wind that we were not cold. At 7 miles we got moral support from my wife, Heather's significant other and my son Matt.

It was just about 8.5 when my knee started to go and by 9 miles I couldn't bend my right leg without a shooting pain in the knee. Heather went on ahead to keep her pace and I gimped along at about a 10 min/mile pace having a private conversation with Nick about why he wasn't supporting me in my efforts and how unfair it was that I couldn't run the race with Heather. Just when I was thinking I might quit running and start walking, or worst...bail out, I looked up and caught sight of Heather on the side of the road. It seems the cold had gotten into her leg muscles and she was struggling with the same knee pain as I was. At his point we were just about 12 miles into the race and coming up on Wellesley. We found a pace where we could limp along together and we headed out with the plan that we keep going until one of us had to walk and then we would finish the race walking together. Heather and I laughed about the circumstance, suggesting that this was Nick's way of assuring that the two of us ran together and that we helped each other finish the race together. Heather says she got the short end of that deal.

Other than the pain in our legs we were doing fine. We got plenty of moral support from the Lazarus support teams who were scattered across the course and from my family (two sister in laws, my sister Terry, and 7 nieces and nephews). A funny aspect about being out on the course for that long is that you actually get hungry. We went by one place that was cooking steaks and we were actually tempted to stop and get a sandwich. At about 16 miles when we met up with my nephews he gave us a handful of Texas size jelly beans. They were like gold. We nibbled on them for the next 3 miles.

The rest of the race was a series of firsts for me...My first kiss from one of the Wellesley girls, My first time taking a picture while running a marathon (this is Heather going up Heartbreak Hill), My first phone call while running a race (I called my brother in law Bob who was suppose to meet me in Newton with a beer but was home bailing out his basement), My first (and second) beer while running (kindly donated by fans near BC), and of course my first Boston Marathon finish with one of my children.

I don't want to leave the impression that all was jelly beans and beer for the last 12 miles. Heather and I struggled to keep moving at times and it was only because we were together and supporting each other that we made it. The downhills were excruciating, the uphills a relief. Heather and I were doing great through the Heartbreak Hills, passing over a hundred people on the last hill (to be fair, most of them were walking...we were just shuffling faster), but I swear all of them passed us going down the other side as we limped along together looking like two old people who needed their walkers.

But with the help of family, friends, fans and Nick we made it. Crossing the finish line with Heather and knowing Nick was there with us was one of the most satisfying accomplishments of my life. While it was one of the toughest Boston Marathon's I've run it will also go down as one of the most memorable.

So to all of you...thank you. I hope these updates have been interesting and in some small way helped you to know how much you have participated in helping me and my family with our healing process and at the same time helped others through Lazarus House who are facing their life challenges.

God bless and stay well.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Can't Go Fishing in a Watermellon Patch....

You might be wondering what this title, taken from a 1964 Roger Miller song, has to do with running the Boston Marathon tomorrow. That's right...tomorrow. In the rain (or snow?). With the wind blowing in our face at 500 mph. And temperatures hovering at artic levels. Ok, so I'm exaggerating a bit. Kind of reminds me of the stories my parents use to tell about walking 5 miles to sub zero temperatures...wading through 4 feet of bare feet.

Anyway...I digress. Heather and I are nervous but anxious to get started. I'm most concerned about my injuries and how far my legs will last. She is most concerned about the weather (having trained in temps about 65 degrees). Most marathoners go through a bit of mental anquish in the last 24-48 hours before the race. Have I trained enough? Have I chosen the right clothes? Will I be too warm or too cold? Will that injury come back to haunt me during the race? Can I achieve the race pace I've been training for? Should I drink water or gatorade? Should I drink at all ( the BAA warns about drinking too much and too little)?

In the end it wil be more a mental game than a physical one. The decision to keep going long after the body says "no" will be challenging, but not nearly as tough as the effort it took to train through all the bad weather, endless miles and injuries to get here. Each runner has his/her own reason for running Boston and it is that motivation that carries them through. For Heather and I it is the memory of Nick and the ability to give back to the less fortunate by raising funds for people who are struggling with their own life marathons. Thanks to Lazarus House and Bestsy Leeman for giving us the opportunity.

To all of you who have helped us along the way we want you to know that we will never be able to thank you enough. Your kind words, encouragement and financial support has been awesome and will carry both Heather and I to the finish tomorrow...even if we have to swim there.

As Roger Miller says in this same song...


See you in Boston!!!

PS: For those of you who might be out on the course...Heather an I are planning to start out at 9 min./mile pace. We start around 10:30 so if my knee holds out till 13 miles we should be half way around 12:30 (give or take 10 minutes to get through the crowd at the start). We both have royal blue singlets with a white stripe on the front and with our names. I will have black wind pants and Heather will have on black tights. We will be wearing two of Nick's baseball hats...Heather has a camoflauge and mine is blue and says "Irish" on it. If it is raining Heather will have a Navy Blue Boston Marathon jacket and I have a black New Balance one.

For those that might be tracking us online...our numbers are 20640 (Heather) and 20641. We haven't even started and Heather is already ahead of me.

Friday, March 30, 2007

Youth is great....Too bad it's wasted on the young.

I heard this quote years ago but I'm just realizing how prophetic it really is. In my past life (back when I was a youngster in my 30's), training for a marathon consisted of lacing up a new pair of shoes and getting out for a regular run 6 days a week. Little or no stretching, little concern for weather, no plan for water or gatorade, no concern for the size of the hills on the route, or even a thought about injuries. Just me, the road and my thoughts. Ahhh, the good old days.
Today, I wouldn't think about doing a run over 5 miles without water and a MP3 player. If the weather looks bad I'll retreat to the treadmill at the gym (bad weather defined as too cold, too windy, too wet, too dark, too many leaves on the ground, too many beers last night...). If the hill is too big (as defined by taking more than 10 seconds to get to the top), find another route...preferably downhill (Boston is actually a net downhill marathon...although you would have a hard time convincing me while I'm halfway up Heartbreak Hill).
You can imagine my surprise when I started training for this year's marathon much like I had in the past and everything did not work the way it use to. First to go was the endurance. Lesson One: the body needs more rest between runs than in the past and stretching is now a critical part of keeping the leg muscles from contorting into knots that leave me walking like Frankenstein. The first to object was my left calf which would seize up when running up hill. In my infinite wisdom and denial I proceeded to ignore the warnings and instead altered my stride to favor the calf. That resulted in a problem with the right hamstring that required I shorten my stride to keep from pulling the muscle, particularly on downhills. With uphills and downhills out, a limp on the left leg, short hopping stride on the right I was pretty much restricted to running only on relatively flat terrain, around my neighborhood. Next to go was the right knee whenever I would get over 11 miles. As with any machine that is out of balance, the parts that are doing things that they are not made to do soon wear out. In this case it was my IT Band. In my blind wish to keep training I ignored all this until a neighbor asked me if I had seen the poor deformed man that was limping back and forth around the neighborhood. Lesson Two: when hurt, seek help right away...And see Lesson One.
In an attempt to make up for ignoring the timely application of the above lessons, and with only three weeks to go before the marathon, I implemented a crash course in body maintenance. I started with a quick trip to the doctors to get a cortisone shot in my right knee. This was followed by several days of rest, ice baths ( sit in a tub of's a modern day version of medieval torture tactics), and stretching (you can teach an old dog new tricks...if he is desperate enough). Next up was a sports massage. I could do a whole blog on sports massages but I think the best way to explain the experience is to relay the response from the massage therapist when I asked him if his wife appreciated that she could have a professional massage whenever she wanted. He responded," When I first started, I use to do massages at my house. After hearing the screams from the first few clients she has never let me do a massage on her."
So, with less than three weeks until the marathon my body is tuned up and I'm ready to start training...again. At this point I'm pretty sure I will be at the starting line with Heather. I'm just not sure about the finish line.
One thing I do know....if doing my first marathon had involved all of this effort, I'm not sure I ever would have made it to the starting line. I have new found respect for anyone running their first marathon at my age.

Monday, March 19, 2007

I now know what a hamster feels like

When the BAA (Boston Athletic Association) originally planned the date for the Boston Marathon they clearly didn't take into consideration that training for the marathon would require running through some of the worst weather of the year. Runners who live in northern New England and who are first time Boston Marathoners may find it a cruel joke that in addition to finding time and energy to to run 35-50 miles a week they have to face the challenges of 3 months of winter weather that would make a polar bear think twice about going outside.

One might suggest that the Boston Marathon application come with a disclaimer that reads something like this:

In addition to paying your $200 entry fee for the privilege of running "the" Marathon, you are responsible for finding your way to the starting line in the remote town of Hopkington (where the roads will be closed in the wee hours of the morning), and determining how any extra clothes you wear to the start to stay warm in the hours you wait for the start will make it to the finish line in Boston (we recommend you leave them behind in Hopkington where they will be collected and given to those them need them).

You also recognize that running a marathon is a strenuous event and will require months of training at 30-50 miles/week (your mileage may vary), numerous 15-18 mile training runs (followed by ice baths), hundreds of pain relief tablets, several pairs of expensive running shoes (you can buy cheaper ones but budget for more pain relief tablets and add in some doctor visits). Given the requirement to train through the winter months, you may face running in some extreme weather conditions including snow, driving rain (sometimes frozen so that it stings when it hits your face), icy roads (it helps to train behind the sanding trucks), 50+ MPH winds (good practice for running in place), and sub-zero wind chills (be careful to chip the frost from eye-brows to avoid running into parked cars or street signs). Runners should also practice "safe running" including wearing bright clothes, headlamps if running in the dark, and reflective vests and flashers (although these will make better targets for the occasional beer cans from passing cars).

Despite all this, there will be 10,000+ runners at the staring line in Hopkington. And the amazing part is that most of them have already run a marathon to qualify for a race number in Boston and would not blink a frosted eye at the above description.

So what does this have to do with Hamsters? Last Saturday was my scheduled day for a long run. You may remember from my last blog that I'm running a bit behind in my training and there is little flexibility in the schedule, so every long run is critical. So early Saturday morning I wake to 8-10" of slushy snow, high winds, frozen rain and a forecast that it will turn to rain over the coming hours. My mom didn't raise no fool (although Pam would debate that at times) so off I headed to the YMCA to do my long run on a treadmill. 15 miles. Over two hours.

Long runs outside offer the pleasure of breathing the fresh air, experiencing the changing scenery, and exploring new neighborhoods. Treadmills have the unique benefit of allowing you to count the number of tiles in the wall in front of you, experience the coming and going of numerous recreational runners and to stare at a display that constantly reminds you of the slow progress you are making. A long run on a treadmill is clearly an un-natural act. Even the treadmills agree...they shut off automatically at an hour and you have to restart them to continue (this could be me Hamster Wheel Gone Wrong ).
I have a renewed sympathy for hamsters that are kept in a cage with just a hamster wheel. I pledge if I ever get another one I will buy it one of those habitrail habitats that can be reconfigured to keep it entertaining.

BTW...the above should in no way reflect negatively on the BAA. They do a great job organizing one of the most logistically challenging races in the world. It's one of the charms of the race that it is not like all the others.

Wednesday, March 7, 2007

Marthon Training is Like Credit Cards

Someone asked me the other day..."How do you train for a Marathon?". There are two ways to answer...the short and the long. The short usually starts with a smart-ass answer like "very slowly" or "by putting one foot in front of the other". The long answer would create a short book that would rival the Harry Potter series, and I find that a non-runner quickly get's bored with a marathon runners detailed answer to the question (at least with my detailed answer).

But in truth, there is nothing short about running (or training for) a marathon. There is no shortcut to the training, you either put in the miles and do your best to prepare for the race, or you don't and you pay the price on the day of the marathon. Pay me now or Pay me later.

A few facts (at least they are my interpretation of the facts based on prior marathons) that might help to put this in perspective:

- When you reach the 18 mile mark you are about half way in the race. Yupp...I know the math doesn't work out but believe me the last 8 miles can be far tougher than the first 18.
- Somewhere between 16 and 19 miles your body runs out of fuel. You have burned all the carbs that your body has stored and now you are running on pure willpower. In runners terminology this is called "hitting the wall". It can feel more like the Great Wall of China has fallen on you. Training long distances teaches your body to deal with it (mentally and physically).
- By 20 miles your shoes are having their own personal crisis. Having supported your pounding body weight for the last 2 - 3 hours the cushioning in your shoes have given up the ghost. It's a little know fact that the cushioning in running shoes compress during a run and then expand again between runs. Even the best shoes will be toast by this point.
- There is an art to drinking during the race. You can drink too much, drink too little, or drink the wrong stuff. Runners have died from the first two and have collapsed from the third. I was running a marathon with a friend who had been drinking only water during the race and around 19 miles began to weave a bit. We knew there was trouble when she mistook a band playing on the side of the road as a water stop. It took a half hour in an aid station dumping salt in her mouth to get her electrolytes back to normal.

Training is all about acclimating your body to the physical and mental challenges of the race. Pay me now or pay me later.

Which leads to the discussion of Credit Cards. I heard a statistic the other day that if someone has $5000 on their credit card and makes the minimum payment each month it will take 12 years to pay off the $5k plus interest. And that is assuming they don't charge anything else. Between interest and late fees the numbers can become overwhelming. Delaying payments or paying the minimum just digs the hole deeper.

Marathon training is all about getting in your miles. Missing your mileage goals is like missing your credit cards payments. If you get behind in your miles (payments), you have to run more (pay more) to catch up. The more you run to catch up the more likely that you will get injured. If you get injured you have to take time off and in turn that puts you further behind in your miles. It's the reason so many people who plan to run a marathon never make it to the starting line.

So how are we doing? Heather is doing well having run another 18 miler last weekend. Dad is struggling with injuries and still has not gotten beyond 11 miles. It could be age or it could be that I got behind with a week of Bronchitis and then got injured pushing to catch up. But regardless, it will be a challenge to get the necessary miles in before race day.

But I have lots of inspiration to keep me going and I intend to be at the starting line with Heather regardless of training (I won't comment on where I'll be when she finishes). I was helping out at Lazarus House last week and I was so impressed by the difference they are making in people's lives. I also have been incredibly impressed by the support of family and friends, both with donations and messages. Bless you all for the really helps...especially on cold mornings these days when I need to get outside to run.

For those of you that still wish to contribute you can do it online at Lazarus House or if you are more comfortable sending a check drop me and email ( and I will let you know where to mail it.

BTW...if you are interested in a great book about the Boston Marathon check out 26 miles to Boston by Michael Connelly.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Boston Marathon Updates

Many of you have asked me for updates on how Heather and I are doing on our Boston Marathon training, fund raising and in general dealing with the challenges of life without Nick. Rather than bury everyone with emails I'll be using this blog to keep you updated on our progress and to give you some insights into the highs and lows of training to face 26 miles (and 385 yards).

For those of you that may be new to this story, my daughter Heather and I will be running the Boston Marathon this year (April 16th) in memory of my son Nick. Nick had been a distance runner in high school, although he would be quick to tell you he only ran to get in shape for Lacrosse. Getting an official number for the Boston Martathon is traditionally restricted to elite runners who have run qualifying times at other marathons, but each year the BAA adopts a small number of charities and provides numbers to help them with fund raising. One of those charities this year is the Lazarus House in Lawrence MA. which lost it's food pantry warehouse in last year's flood.

Life has strange twists and turns at times. Leading a number of the fund raising events at Lazarus House (including the Boston Marathon effort) is a wonderful, giving, high energy woman, Betsy Leeman. Betsy's daughter Alissa was Nick's best friend. For two years they were almost inseparable (we use to call them the velcro twins).

So...thanks to Betsy, Heather and I have been blessed with official Boston Marathon numbers and will be working to raise donations for the Lazarus House. If you have a moment, check out their website. They offer a broad range of services not just aimed at helping people with today's problems but also helping them build a happy and self sustaining life. And while you are there, if you are interested in donating toward our marathon efforts you can do it on-line at the web site. Just click on the Boston Marathon tab at the top of the screen and scroll down to the list of runners. Click on the "DONATE" button next to our names and it will walk you through the rest. Our heartfelt thanks to all of you that have donated already. Nick would be thrilled and you are helping so many people who need a little extra support to rebuild their lives. how's the training going. Having the advantage of training in the Los Angeles warm winter, Heather's training is going pretty well. While she is not getting in as many running days a week as she would like (some excuse about her law firm job requiring a substantial amount of her time), she is getting in her long runs (I believe she did a 16 miler last week).

Dad on the other hand has been struggling with weather, some old running injuries, and a bad case of Bronchitis. So far my long run has only been 11 miles and with only 7 weeks to go it will be challenging. Heather says I'm just making excuses for when she kicks my butt. I haven't played the age card yet.

I'll attempted to keep this updated on a regular basis but also feel free to drop me a note with questions or words of encouragement.