Saturday, April 25, 2009


OK…so some of you are saying, “yeah….so what’s new”. That’s fair.

I’ve done it more than a dozen times before and through some tough circumstances over the last two years but between you and I, this was the year I had the most doubts that I would even get to the starting line. So while it sounds strange, I am probably the most surprised that I made it.

Much like last year I had the pleasure of riding on a bus to the start with my fellow Hunger Strikers (who raised over $80K this year for the Lazarus House food pantry). Getting a bus to the start sounds like no big deal but for a marathoner it is a pleasure that rivals taking a limo to your senior prom. To contrast it, most runners have to catch a 6AM school bus out of Boston for a long, crowded, bone jarring ride out to Hopkinton (made all the more enjoyable by the famous MA potholes). After banging you knees on the seat in front of you for an hour and a half you have the privilege of sitting around in the sports field of the Hopkinton high school in 35 degree temperatures for 2+ hours with 20,000+ other runners who have little to do but swap running stories, discuss the weather and what they should wear, drink water, make port-a-john visits, re-tie their shoes a half dozen times, get more nervous, drink more water, make more port-a-john visits (you have some of your best conversations in line at the port-a-johns).

As a quick aside, there is a science to making your last potty visit just before the race starts so you don’t have to make a pit stop during the race. This is further complicated by the fact that you have to be in the starting area 15-20 minutes before the gun goes off. Given there are a limited number of units and thousands of people all trying to go at the same time, timing is everything. For an old guy like me who has had his pipes bounced around a lot over the last 50+ years, this is an important issue. I had a dream one year that I was locked in one of the port-a-johns when the gun when off. Scary.

I, on the other hand, got to board a bus near my house, ride in comfort to the high school with my teammates, and then we get to stay on the warm bus until it’s time to head down to the start. It’s the fifth best part of the day (thanks for the pictures Alan).

Then it’s time and we make the half mile trek down to the starting area which is broken up into one thousand person corrals based on your number. There are two waves to the start, 10 am for the 14,000 fastest runners and 10:30 for the remaining 12,000 or so. As you head down to the start you pass busses where you can leave spare clothes that they take to the finish for you. Picture this…I’m walking down this residential side street with 14,000 other runners and I hear my name. Walking next to me is Bob Mackin who works with me at VidSys. Life is funny that way sometimes.

While being in the first wave shaved a half hour off my waiting around for the start, I was 13477 of 14000 runners. I was so far back from the starting line that spectators arriving were asking if there was a shuttle from there to the start. In truth, it doesn’t affect your time (you have a timing chip on your shoe that tracks your actual race time from when you cross the start), but if I ever collapse in the last 1/3 of the mile before the finish I expect to get credit for the distance.

Finally the gun goes off and 8 minutes later I cross the starting line…the fourth best part of my day. And as I’m pounding down the first hill I suddenly realize my timing on the last potty run was too early…I’ve gotta go. For a couple of miles I think “I can hold it” . Delusional. There are port-a-johns along the route but I have an aversion to standing in line to pee when I’m supposed to be running and the clock is. Lots of people jump into the woods along the road but you need to do this in the first couple of miles, after that you are mostly in cities or populated areas (people frown on runners peeing on their petunias). Just after the 5k mark ( 3+ miles for you metric challenged readers) I spotted a construction site with some portable units and made a quick detour. It didn’t make my list of the 5 best parts of my day but it wasn’t far off.

Back on the course things went well until about 15 miles. I knew I was in trouble strength wise at half way but I had been running better than I had expected and while the hamstring was tightening up I was able to keep it under control by shortening the stride and lowering the pace. The real challenge at 15 was the right knee. I suspect favoring the left hamstring and the pace over the first half were a bit too much for it. I made it to 16 miles where my family was waiting and that gave me a big boost…my second best part of the day (thanks Pam, Betsy, Tiff, Matt, Allie, Drew, Ian, and Terry…you are the best).

At that point, just as I entered the heartbreak hills I went into “the zone”. This is the period where you start to focus inward on what you need to keep your body moving . It’s hard to explain but imagine getting so focused on something that you can tune out everything around you. The gremlins kick in big time. “What are you doing out here, you are too old.” “Walk a while , you will feel better.” “ It’s no big deal if you don’t finish.” Being in the zone helps to turn down the volume on the gremlins. You start to make deals with yourself… to get to the next mile marker, then to the top of the next hill, then to the next street corner, then to the next telephone pole. Up-hills are painful, down-hills are worst.

And then you are there. First it’s the sight of the Prudential Center, but you are still 3 miles away. Then the 25 mile marker and only have 1.2 miles to go. You know you can make it even if you have to do the marathon shuffle, walk or even crawl. The gremlins are gone, the pain is not, but the crowd is like morphine. You start looking for the right turn onto Hereford and the hundred yard stretch that will take you to the left onto Boylston Street. And as you make that last turn it is overwhelming…you can see the finish line, the crowd is cheering at an insane volume, you get a burst of energy and emotion and your pace picks up. I swear they move the finish line back every year. It seems to take forever to make that last quarter mile+ …and then we are there. We made it. The best part of the day.

I say “we” because I couldn’t have made it without the support of too many of you to mention here. But know that I carried you in my heart and it helped me when I was in the zone. My son taught me that “living life large” is more important than “living life long” and you have all helped me add to my life experiences and honor his memory. For that I will never be able to thank you enough.

I also want to says thanks again to all of you who have made donations to CAH and Lazarus House. You have not only supported me but given hope and support to numerous families who at this point are struggling to make a new life. You should be proud of yourselves…you may not see it directly but you have made a difference.

OH…and for those counting…the third best part of the day…climbing into bed that night.

Wishing you great life experiences in the coming year.


Sunday, April 12, 2009

Can't go swiming in a Baseball Pool

It's become a tradition over the last three years to title my last blog before the marathon from the Roger Miller song "You can't roller skate in a buffalo herd" (now on YouTube As I was hunting through the verses of the song to find an appropriate phrase it struck me how much the song resembles the way we look at life at times....through the eyes of the "you can't". You couldn't possibly get that job with your experience, you can't...make the team, make the Olympics, win your event, stop smoking, survive being homeless, climb a mountain, walk again, beat cancer, run a marathon...with one leg. The world is full of "you can't".

When I went into Boston today to get my number I stood in line behind a middle aged woman running her first Boston Marathon. She told me when she started running a little over 3 years ago she could barely make a quarter mile. The first time she entered an organized run it was only a mile. She finished third in the "Heffers Division". They literally made her get on a scale (talk about a left handed saying you don't sweat much for a fat person). Just before her first marathon she was told she had cancer. She ran anyway. Now as a cancer survivor she is running her first Boston and has raised over $12,000 for the Dana Faber Cancer Institute.

In two days about 26,000 people who fought off the "you can't-s" will line up to run 26.2 miles and every one of them has a story (and probably more than one).

Like Susan Hurley, our team organizer, mother hen and one of my favorite people. You may remember from last year's blog that Susan fell a few weeks before the marathon and shattered her hand and fingers. She didn't let that stop her and ran with a cast on and metal rods sticking out of her fingers (looked like Freddy Kruger from "Friday the 13th"). This year one charity wasn't enough for her so she was organizing and managing two (Lazarus House and Go Kids) and has been running with both teams.

Or how about John O'Connor from neighboring Bradford, MA who will start running Sunday Night and run the Boston Marathon route 3 times before showing up at the starting line in Hopkinton to start officially with the rest of us for his 4th marathon of the day (that's right...4 Boston Marathons, 104.8 miles ). He is running to raise money for wounded solders from Iraq and Afghanistan.

Then there's Bill Pennington, our Lazarus House Hunger Strikers coach. He has advice, experience and kind words for everyone from the first timers to us veterans. Like EF Hutton...when Bill talks, I listen. And if you ever need company on a long run, Bill's the guy. He's got more stories than the Brothers Grimm. This will be his third year in a row coaching and running for Lazarus House.

Kelly Buckley is running her first. I met Kelly at Lazarus House when were serving lunch together in the soup kitchen 2 years ago. I was training for the marathon at the time and she expressed an interest in doing it some year. This year is her year. She has raised $5000 for Lazarus House. You can see news video of Susan, Bill and Kelly talking about Lazarus House at (just click on the picture of the three runners on the top right).

Then there's Dave McGillivray who is the race director for the Boston Marathon. Dave will be running his 38th Boston Marathon in a row this year.....this time with broken ribs. If that isn't hard enough, Dave spends the day managing the race and then when it is pretty much over, drives out to Hopkinton and runs the race himself...mostly in the dark. He is a truly inspirational person who has worked hard to make the Boston Marathon not only the world's best marathon but also an awesome machine for raising funds for charities.

Speaking of inspirational heroes, in addition to Dave, one of my long time marathon heroes has been Bill Rodgers. It was Bill's series of Boston Marathon wins in the mid-late 70's that got me started running Boston. I had the opportunity to chat with Bill (see the picture above) a couple of weeks back and exchange stories of those early days of marathoning for both of us (his were much more successful than mine). At 61 he will be running Monday in his first marathon in a decade.

But not everyone who starts down the path actually makes it to the start. I had the privilege of running with Christine Andersen back in Feb. and she helped me through a difficult time with my injury. At the time she was not only running well but fast (I could barely keep up). The amazing thing is Christine has raised almost $10,000 for Lazarus House while being a mother, Doctor, and marathoner. Unfortunately Christine will be sitting this one out with a hip injury. We will miss her.

My story starts with doing something every year that celebrates Nick's memory. A little over three months ago I was trying to decide if I should even try to do the Marathon this year. I hadn't run in over a month (what my wife describes as the month from hell), was struggling with a hamstring injury that just would not quit, and wasn't sure if I started running again if I would have enough time to get ready. My long run the first week of Jan. was a tortoise-like 1 mile. But Monday I will be there on the starting line and while I am the least trained I have ever been going into the race and the hamstring is still giving me fits, I'm convinced I CAN make it to the finish (though it may not be pretty).

So back to the Roger Miller song and my mantra for Monday:

All you gotta do, is put your mind to it
Knuckle down,
buckle down,
do it, do it, do it

Thanks to everyone for the kind words of support and encouragement as well as the donations. There is nothing I can say that even comes close to letting you know how much of a positive impact you have had on so many people's lives.

PS: If you a morbid streak and care to track my progress during the race you can go to and put in my number 13477. I should be crossing the starting line sometime around 10:20.