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.