Friday, April 22, 2011

What a makes a great Marathon Day??

There are lots of people that might define a great marathon day as one where they sleep late, have a big breakfast, grab a cup of coffee (or maybe a beer), head down to the course, open up a lounge chair and watch the crazy runners go by. There were certainly a lot of those “non-runners” out there Monday and I have to say it was great to have them there. Boston spectators are not only the most marathon knowledgeable but they are also the most enthusiastic in supporting the runners. For me it was a great day but it certainly wasn’t because of a stellar running time. On the contrary, this was the slowest time in the last 4 years. But I’m getting ahead of myself. The day started at about 4:30 in the morning with a cup a tea, piece of raisin bread, a check to make sure I had my race number and race goodies and a quick dash to the car. Actually the hour didn’t matter much as most runners don’t sleep well the night before the race. It’s not that they are worried about winning (26,999 of us won’t), it’s really that so much has gone into getting to this point and so many things could go wrong on the day of the race that your mind is racing. Now if only my legs would do the same.

One of the first pleasures of the day was driving into Boston with Cyndi and Bill, a couple of marathon friends from our Lazarus House fund raising days. Some runners like to zone out and not be bothered. But Cyndi and Bill are the gregarious type and it helps to take the edge off your nerves to have someone who will commiserate about training in the winter weather, will pretend to listen when I complain about injuries, discuss strategy for the day and exchange stories about past efforts. Bill has done so many Boston’s they are thinking of naming one of the miles after him. Most runners take school buses out of Boston for the hour ride out to Hopkinton where they are dumped unceremoniously at the high school sports field. We on the other hand got to ride in style. Susan Hurley, who is not only a great marathoner but manages a number of teams of charity runners for the race, was able to get a comfortable bus that not only takes us to Hopkinton but stays at the school with us until we have to head down to the start. Her charity teams combined raised over $600K. That just blows me away.

As I’ve mentioned in previous years, the staging area at the school looks a bit like Woodstock. Thousands of runners scattered among practice fields, along walls

of the school and of course standing in line for the hundreds of porta potties. All trying to stay warm in the 40 degree weather as they wait hours for their turn to start. It part of the pre-race regiment that runners try to drink as much water as they can so they are fully saturated before the start of the race. As nature has proven, there is a direct correlation between what goes in and what comes out of a body so a big part of the pre-race waiting is also the porta potty visits (yes plural). Picture rows of porta potties lining the entire perimeter of a football field with dozens of runners standing in line at each. It’s never clear if the little dancing they are doing in line is nervous energy, keeping warm or a pressing need but watching thousands of runners doing the porta potty polka is quite a sight.

This year there were 3 separate starts 20 minutes apart and each consisting of 9000 runners. For each wave there were 9 corrals of 1000 runners each and your number determined your corral based on your qualifying time. Corral is the right term given we are all packed in like cattle. When it’s 20 minutes before your wave’s start time you take the half mile walk down to the starting corrals and wait for the gun. I was towards the back of my wave so I was about a quarter mile from the start and it took me exactly 10 minutes to get to the starting line. Each runner’s bib number has built into it an electronic key that matches their number. When they pass over the mats at the start, finish and every 5K in between the system records their number and their time. This way every runner gets their actual start to finish time. That extra quarter mile doesn’t mean much at the start but I would sure like to have it back at the finish. I wore a GPS watch this year because I wanted to see what my actual mileage was from the start to finish. The actual distance covered, including the weaving to get around slower runners or to detour to water stops was 26.5 miles.

My run started out pretty good. Cyndi and I ran the first couple of miles together before we became separated and the pace was perfect. Going into the race I had been having knee problems for a couple of months and hadn’t run anything more the 5 consecutive miles without walking. And with only one of my walk/run training runs over 13 miles I wasn’t sure how far my legs would go. What was clear from training was the faster I went, the sooner my knees went. If I went really slow the knees lasted longer but ultimately I would be out on the course a lot longer. I chose a hybrid of a measured pace with the assumption that if I got half way and was still running I could walk it in from there if necessary.

Water stops are one of the more entertaining parts of the race as runners scramble to get either water or Gatorade from volunteers lining both sides of the road. Picture a clover leaf on a highway where the on and off ramps cut across each other and where at any time one of the drivers might slam on their breaks in the middle of traffic to have a drink. There’s nothing more frustrating than to be cruising into a water stop ready to grab a water on the run and the person in front of you grabs a water and then just stops dead to drink it. Rookies. And of course once you have had your couple of sips the polite thing to do is find a clear spot around you and toss the mostly empty cup towards the side of the road. It’s a bummer when some less than considerate runner tosses a half filled cup of Gatorade directly into your face as you are passing by. If you haven’t had the pleasure, trust me it is not an enjoyable experience. Gatorade dries to a sticky substance that turns you into human fly paper.

At 7 miles my wife Pam, daughters Heather and Tiff, son-on-laws Marshal and Matt and twin grandsons were all out cheering me on. Pam spotting me in the crowd is a minor miracle but it was great to see them. Just before 10 miles Cyndi caught up to me and we ran a mile or so together. It was nice boost. At thirteen miles I got another boost…I was still running AND I got to enjoy the running the gauntlet of the Wellesley Girls. Picture 300+ yards of screaming college girls all reaching out for you yelling for kisses and holding signs saying Kiss Me I’m …(fill in the blank …Single, A Lacrosse player, Gay, From Iowa, a Senior). It reminds me of the Sirens in Ulysses. If ever there is a time to quit and throw yourself on the mercy of the crowd, this is the place.

Next goal for me was to make it to 16 miles and the beginning of the hills. This is where the family was waiting along with my sister Terry, her husband Dave, my 3 lacrosse loving nephews, my sister-in-law Toby and husband Bob. It was right about that time the knees started to go but the boost I got from a couple of kisses and the family cheering section really helped. It’s surprising how a little thing like friendly support can help with the mental battle.The weather and the spectators were a big help the last 8 miles. It was warm but not so warm that it was overwhelming and the trailing wind helped at times. There was one spot on the course where discarded plastic water cups were actually blowing down the road faster than we were running. Nothing like running so slow you are being passed by a water cup.

By the time I was half way through the hills the knees were pretty much toast. Mostly it was the left knee going uphill and the right one going down. Favoring one and then the other got over Heartbreak and down the other side although I suspect I looked a bit like a running stick figure moving without bending my knees. From there it was just taking one mile at a time knowing if I couldn’t run any more I could walk it in. I swear that last 1/3 of mile stretch down Boylston Street to the finish line seems to get longer every year.

And so ended the effort for 2011. I felt great from the waist up and like someone had been beating both legs with a baseball bat from the waist down. I’m pretty sure I couldn’t have gone much farther and it will definitely be a while before I can walk up or down stairs without handrails but I finished and without walking. I unfortunately didn’t beat the qualifying time for my age group so I will have to do another marathon before the middle of Sept. in order to qualify for Boston next year. Bummer.

So what makes a great Marathon Day? Good friends, a warm bus to relax on till the start (with an on board porta potty), great weather, terrific crowds, family cheering section, and I made it to the finish line for the 5th year in a row and could walk afterward (well kinda). But what meant the most to me was the kindness and support for the Help in the Nick of Time Foundation. The race is over for another year but the great work the Foundation can do is just beginning.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Only 23,000 strides to go!!!

Give or take a few thousand depending on how long the knee and ankle hold up. I’m actually pretty relaxed about the whole thing. Unlike most of the runners who will toe the starting line tomorrow morning I won’t be worried about running fast enough to qualify for next year, or beat my best personal time or even if I will finish. The first two are not happening and unless something dramatic happens I know I will get to the finish, just not how long or how painful it will be.

It’s hard to describe all the excitement that takes place in Boston in the days leading up to the marathon. I was in Boston yesterday to pick up my number (13534…right in the middle of the 27,000 runners) and the streets were filled with runners and their families from all over the world…93 countries to be exact. Add to that the film crews, reporters, officials and volunteers and you get a sense of the level of excitement. They even have an expo where you can get the latest shoes, running toys, watches, health food, healthy drinks, crazy shoe laces (scientifically engineered to avoid coming untied), and clothes. It says something about the sport that almost half the exhibits at the expo are selling you something to avoid pain, heal your pain or cope with pain. Makes you wonder what that says about the human race….or at least runners. Go figure.

I also had the pleasure yesterday of joining Marshall and Heather at a pre-race event in Boston where the author of the New York Times bestseller Born to Run, Christopher McDougall, brought together professors, characters from the book and of course Marshall (who has written the screen play for the upcoming movie) to talk about the growing enthusiasm around barefoot running (there were hundreds of people at the presentation and a hundred more that had to be turned away). To be clear, this is not just running without shoes but includes those that have switched to Vibrams (rubberized slippers with toes) and those of us who have switched to minimalist shoes (like running in the old track flats). The scientific data associated with avoiding traditional thick padded running shoes with fat heals is impressive.

Marshall and Christopher were kind enough to invite me on stage to talk about giving back through running and to promote Help in the Nick of Time (new web site ). Also on stage was Scott Jurek who is the American record holder for the number of miles run in 24 hours (165.7). Scott answered the question he is often asked “What do you think about when you are running 165 miles in one mile loops?”. His answer…nothing. He tries not to think about the distance because thinking causes self doubt. I can relate. The biggest challenge in any long distance race is thinking too much about how far you have left to go. Like a lot of big challenges, the task (distance) can appear to be overwhelming but if you break it down into smaller pieces and take them one piece at a time, ultimately you get there. So it is with Help in the Nick of Time. We have a long term goal of bringing together a broad group of volunteers from around the community to help families in need but the first step was to raise the initial funding and get the program off the ground. We are almost there but I could use a bit of help to get us over the top.

So tomorrow’s run is a thank you effort to everyone who has helped along the way. Aside from the challenges with injuries this year, I have a lot to be thankful for. After a number of years running for various charities I have finally set up the foundation in Nick’s name. I owe a great deal of thanks to all of you who have supported me over the years to help me get to this point. I also have most of my family with me as well. Heather and Marshall are in from California, and Tiff and Matt are here with my new twin grandchildren. The twins are truly miracle babies. Born 2 months early, they spent a month in intensive care but they both are doing well and their first foray into the world is to come see grandpa run the marathon. I will miss the pre and post race calls with my dad who passed away a few months back but I know he will be out there with Nick and I on the course.

If you have time tomorrow and want to follow my snail pace progress you can register at the BAA site for updates every 10K or so. My number, in case you didn’t catch it earlier, is 13534.

Stay tuned and I will touch base on the other side.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

To Dream the impossible dream…

Getting ready for the Boston Marathon is like a season of Survivor. There are so many things that can go wrong between the time you register for the race and the day you stand at the starting line (asking yourself “Why did I agree to do this?”), that it is a wonder that 27,000 people will actually show up. But I get a head of myself.

The real challenge starts with just getting into the race. Boston is one of the few major races (it may be the only one) where every runner (with the exception of several thousand charity runners) have to run a qualifying time just to register to get in. It makes the Boston Marathon the most elite open marathon in the world. Qualifying times are set by age group and by sex. For example, for my age group (55-59) and sex (male – in case there was any question) I have to run a certified marathon in the year before the race in less than 3:45. That’s 8 min 30 seconds/mile for those that were trying to do the math in their heads. If you run under a qualifying time at the Boston Marathon then you automatically qualify again for the next year. Over the years the qualifying times have loosened up to allow more runners to participate and under the guidance of Race Director Dave McGillivray they have added a few thousand numbers for charities to give to runners to raise funds. Over the last 15 years or so the field has grown from around 10,000 runners to around 26,000 runners.

But qualifying doesn’t get you in; it is just the first hurdle in the obstacle course. Because of the narrow roadways and small area of the start (Hopkinton Common), there is a limit to the number of runners that can be safely supported. On race day the population of runners entering Hopkinton triples the population of the town (not to mention the thousands of spectators and volunteers). Step two in the process is to go online when registration for the marathon opens in the fall and register, pay your $130 and report your qualifying time. In the past runners could wait to as late as January to decide if they wanted to make the commitment. It gave them time to get closer to the race to see what kind of shape they were in or if they might be nursing an injury before committing their money. It is an interesting dynamic that it is easier to say yes to an April marathon during the beautiful running days of the fall than it is when you are in the middle of Jan. facing the reality of cold winter training. Marathoners aren’t stupid (for the most part) but I believe there is research that shows that all that pounding destroys the portion of the brain that handles long term memory for pain. I believe the same was true with my wife when it came to having children. Regardless, what sounds good in September is a lot less inviting in Jan.

As it turns out, over the last few years the registration has closed out before the end of the year and registration for 2010 closed out by Thanksgiving. But imagine the surprise for runners who have been doing this for decades when the registration this year closed out in 8 hours. That’s right…over 22,000 QUALIFIED runners in just 8 hours. Elite runners and people who had streaks of running Boston for 15, 20, even 30 years in a row found themselves without a number. It raised the bar so it is not just good enough to be fast on the roads, you have to be fast online as well. As an aside, you have to wonder, where did all these crazy people come from? I understand there are millions of people who now run, or have run marathons. It’s one of those bucket list things that many people want to say they have done like skydiving, bungee jumping or climbing Mount Kilimanjaro. But qualifying for Boston isn’t a walk in the park (so to speak), it requires a pretty serious commitment (as in “you ought to be committed…present company excluded”). Anyway…scary trend that is way beyond my understanding.

So to fix things, the BAA is culling the herd by tightening up the qualifications for getting in. Starting next year runners beating their qualifying time by 20 minutes or more (that’s about 45 sec/mile less than the qualifying pace) get to register first, followed by people 10 minutes below their qualifying time and then open to the rest to be prioritized by time. Qualified runners with a streak of at least 10 consecutive marathons also get to register early. Kind of a Darwinian approach of “survival of the fastest”.

All this is just to get a ticket to beat the crap out of your body in sub freezing weather for months on end while worrying all the time if your running too much, too little, too fast, or too slow. It’s a good thing that running keeps the blood pressure down or we might see more heart attacks from worrying if the long runs are long enough, am I running enough hills, am I stretching enough, should I be doing cross training, do my shoes need to be replaced.

The running itself is just one of the survival test. Runners have to travel the gauntlet of nipping dogs (the little ones are the worst), attacking birds (has happened to me more than once), and rabid raccoons (true story). Dodge flying beer cans from passing rednecks, climb snow banks to avoid attention deficit drivers, and avoid breaking a leg in potholes the size of tank traps. .

And then there are the obstacles Mother Nature contributes. Taking a butt ride on black ice, frost heaves that seem to reach up and grab your shoes, and of course the cold rainy days that turn a healthy runner into a flu ridden bed jockey.

And if you survive getting bitten, pecked, frozen, hit, tripped or stoned, you face the mother of all threats…the injury. It could be because you ran too many hills, or too many miles, too much speed work, or your shoes are worn out, or you switched to new shoes, or you stretched one yoga position too far. When you are training at the higher levels necessary to qualify for Boston, it doesn’t take much to throw a spoiler into the mix. Oh…and you can add age to the mix as well. The parts definitely don’t move like they use to. The other night I was in a hotel room and I woke up screaming with a cramp in my calf. I jumped out of bed and was bouncing around the room like a kangaroo trying to get it out. It was Las Vegas so I’m sure the guy in the next room figured I was either having a heck of a good time or murdering someone.

I’ve know a number of people, myself included, who managed to beat the odds right up to the week or so before the start, only to succumb to a last minute injury or illness. They are not fun people to be around when that happens. We have a little over a week to go before this year’s Boston Marathon and I am so NOT ready. As I mentioned in an earlier blog, a rookie move of changing shoes took me from the best shape in years to a hobbling, walking, poor excuse for a runner. I started running in minimalist shoes having read the New York Times best seller and bible of bare-footing; Born to Run by Christopher McDougall . It was the switch from minimalist shoes back to regular running shoes that trashed my legs. Full disclosure, my son-in-law, film director Marshall Lewy, has written the screen play for the upcoming movie on the book. He and Christopher will be in Boston for a “Naked Run” (that’s barefoot running…get your mind out of the gutter) on this Saturday if you would like to meet them both.

As for race day; I’m a guy that likes a challenge and these days it’s figuring out how to limp with both legs. I’ve almost got it mastered and figure with a bit of luck, and if the weather holds, I will make it in before the 5 hour cutoff. If nothing else, it will be entertaining….at least for the spectators.

Stay tuned…I’ll have one more update before the race.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

One Step Away

I just spent a couple of days with my twin grandchildren (oh yeah, and their mom and dad too) and I’m convinced grandchildren are God’s apology to old people for the trials of aging. If ever there is a spark to keep people young it has to be babies/children. Not that I would have said that when I was a parent of 4 but it certainly holds true when as a grand parent changing the diapers is an option, you don’t have to get up in the middle of the night when they are sick, you can bribe them with candy and ice cream and not pay for dental bills, and you don’t have to worry about paying for their college education.

The twins are awesome. I can sit for hours talking and playing with them and the fact the are only 4 months and don’t care a thing about what I’m saying is irrelevant. It’s nice to have someone who will smile at you through a half hour conversation, not offer a bit of criticism and not care they don’t understand a word you said (sounds like some of my international sales meetings). But I also wonder, “what is going on in their heads” as this grown man coos and makes noises like a 4 month old while the 4 month old nods sagely and smiles like an adult?

Occasionally I get the same question about long distance running. “What do you think about when you are out running for hours”? There’s not a short answer since it depends a lot on the weather, the terrain, the location (day dreaming in a city can be an invitation to become a hood ornament), and probably most important, whether you are injured or not. Injured runners spend a great deal of a run thinking about their injury and ways to avoid the pain or avoid making it worst. I polled a few injured runners and to the man (it was all guys) they said their number 1 concern was “Will the next step be the ONE.”. The one that pulls my hamstring again, the one that wrecks my knee, the one that pops my Achilles, the one that prevents me from running again. For an injured runner with a goal, like running Boston, that one step can be the difference between completing another training run or standing on the sidelines on the day of the race. It usually means second guessing everything…did I stretch enough, should I go slower, maybe avoid hills today, should I wrap the injured area, how far should I go so I don’t go one step too far. It’s not hard in the course of the run to be haunted by self doubt and obsessed that every twinge means you are just “One step away” from that run stopping injury.

At some time in our lives I think we all feel like we are “One step away” from disaster of some kind. Problems with finances, jobs, relationships and health issues can pile up and become overwhelming. You reach that point where you feel if one more thing happens I’m going under. I give up, I just can’t try anymore. It might be easier to do that when it is just you but if you have children, family, employees that are dependent on you, giving up is not an option. When you reach that point, where do you turn for help? For some of us it’s friends and family. If you have no where else to go it might be a church or local charity. It is to these last people that we want to offer Help in the Nick of Time. The goal of the foundation is to target families that need a little helping hand to get them through a difficult time. It might be to fix a broken car, get a new suit for a new job, handle a short term medical issue or help someone travel to see a dying family member.

My goal is to let donors know on a regular basis the affect they are having in reaching out to others.

As for me and the marathon, I’m in the gray area this year. I had the best training I’ve had in years up through the beginning of Feb but it has been a disaster since. I’ve had days where I could jog a few miles, days I could walk and jog for several hours, some days I could barely cover a couple of miles and some I couldn’t run at all. It started with the Achilles but as is typical of runners insane enough to run with an injury, my attempt to compensate has resulted in problems with the opposite knee. So at this point I have no idea where I will end up on Marathon Day. I plan to be at the starting line and I know I won’t be moving fast enough to be anywhere near last year’s time or even near the qualifying time for my age group. But I plan to make a go of it and use the walk/run approach and with good weather, a stiff breeze from behind, the support of the crowd and the grace of God, Nick and I will make it to the finish line in under 5 hours.

So I’m not giving up, at least not yet. If I can move I will be out there and I’ll be counting on Nick for a little Help in the Nick of Time.

Until next time….

Sunday, March 13, 2011

You are now leaving your Comfort Zone.

I was in the UK for work last week and spent a good deal of it doing a reasonable imitation of the old John Candy/Steve Martin movie “Planes, trains and automobiles”. Throw in a few subways, a number of buses and a lot of walking and you pretty much the picture. I travel a fair bit so the idea of finding my way around the mass transit systems and navigating the labyrinth of city streets is not overly intimidating; especially in a country that kind of speaks English. But it does take you out of your comfort zone the first time and can be overwhelming if you are in a situation where you don’t speak the language.

I had this happen to me in Japan one time. I was taking the subway to do a bit of exploring and found myself standing in the middle of a station with no idea which direction to go and totally befuddle by a map only in Kanji (not that being befuddle is new to me). Around me hundreds of people rushed by, heads down and intent on wherever they were headed. One poor unfortunate woman made the mistake of looking up as she approached and I stepped into her path and asked her if she could help. From the look on her face you would have thought I had asked her to hand over her purse or maybe her first born. In fact she probably would have gladly done either if it would have gotten her on her way, except it’s a Japanese custom that if someone asks you for help that you are obliged to either help them or pass them on to someone who can. Turns out she didn’t understand English and most of my Japanese was only appropriate in a bar or singing karaoke. Now both of us are outside our comfort zone. After a couple of attempts that left us staring blankly at each other she turned and grabbed a passing business man. He spoke English but didn’t know how to get to where I was headed. I now had two people who were indebted to me. Over the next few minutes these people in turn grabbed other people and before long I had collected a small crowd of people around me energetically pointing and arguing in Japanese about the right directions. The resulting situation would have made a great You Tube posting.

While somewhat humorous (at least to me), some of you may be asking “What does this have to do with the marathon?”. I’m glad you asked. A few weeks back I pulled a stupid rookie move and changed shoes. It’s normal to get a new pair of shoes a couple of months before the marathon to have time to break them in, but the rule of thumb is to stick with the model you are currently wearing. It’s the old…If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it…approach. I had been running in the new style minimalist shoes (more on this and the book that inspired it (Born to Run by Christopher McDougall) in the next blog), and I couldn’t find the model I had been wearing. In addition I was worried that when I got up to the higher mileage I would need the padding of the old style “big heel” running shoes. I was out of my comfort zone and in a moment of complete insanity I switched back to regular running shoes. Big mistake. Within a week I couldn’t run more than a mile without the sensation of someone driving nails into my leg. I tried switching back but the damage was done and two weeks later it was no better.

Anyone who has read my blogs over the last 5 years know that it is not unusual for me to be whining about some injury or ache at this point in my training. The difference this time; it was not healing and no amount of icing, heating, stretching or resting was helping. I pretty much gave up on the idea I would be able to run the marathon this year (unless they would let me move to the wheelchair division). I was totally crushed. This was the first year of running for Help in the Nick of Time and I’m a wash out.

As my colleague Eric and I were racing between subways, trains and buses last week I realized that I was doing quite a bit of walking without nearly the pain I faced when trying to run. Recognizing my grasp on sanity ebbs and flows (kind of like Charlie Sheen) when it comes to running, I decided I’d try training by walking. For years I’ve heard about walk-run programs to help people get started running and potentially work their way up to a 10K or half marathon. If that is what it takes for me to get to the starting line and make it to the finish line in Boston, then sign me up.

I’m now totally outside my comfort zone and I have no idea where this going to take me, but for now I’m moving again and have some hope. It’s pretty much the same with the Help in the Nick of Time foundation. But on that front the outpouring of support and kind words makes success much more likely.

Stay tuned…it should be an interesting 5 weeks.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

At some point we all need Help

At some point we all need Help.
I’m fortunate in that I have a lot of places and people I can turn to get help. These days it is likely to be Google and the Internet but it could just as easily be the instructions that came with the Ikea chest I’m re-assembling (that I didn’t read the first time through), or my wife (as long as it doesn’t involve sports or assembling anything), or family members and friends, or even getting direction from a GPS. The last is particularly useful since in the past I would have preferred to ride around all day using the “process of elimination method” rather than stopping to ask someone for directions.

For running, I’ve often turned to other runners to get advice. Depending on the topic this can be about as reliable as a weather forecast in New England. Over the years I’ve asked a number of runners (both elite and plodders) what they eat the morning of the marathon. I’ve heard everything from candy corn to pancakes, from nothing to bananas and peanut butter on bagels. Despite the variety, each runner is adamant that their solution is the best. It would take a lifetime of marathons to try them all and for many; the result would not be pretty.

But the area where I’ve needed the most advice has been in handling injuries. When you are marathon training, particularly in the winter (which you have to do for Boston), you are bound to run into the occasional injury. I’m not talking the normal aches and pains but more the “someone stabbed me in the hamstring with a dull knife”, kind of pain. I’ve tried the doctor route numerous times. The non-running doctors all have the same predictable answer….Stop Running. When you have put all the time and energy into training for a marathon, especially Boston, you might as well ask me to stop breathing. I tried running doctors, and while they are very sympathetic to the issue, depending on the injury there is little they can do fix things in a short time schedule. The conversation usually ends with “you don’t want to do anything that will cause permanent damage” followed by “there’s always next year”. Like I’ll take that advice.

Not one to behave rationally, I turn to fellow runners looking for some advice that will miraculously cure whatever injury I have while I continue to train up for the race. Desperation and a “never say die” attitude can make you do some insane things (look at Moammar Kadafi). I’ve changed shoes, running style, clothes, diet and terrain. I’ve iced, heated, swabbed with salve and taped parts of my body that were never meant for that stuff. I’ve taken aspirin, Aleve, Tylenol, herbal remedies, and ice baths (try that in the winter). I’ve had massages, done stretches that are like being on a medieval rack, tried yoga strengthening, weight work, elliptical machines and swimming. I stopped just short of the witch doctor, astrologist, and tarot card readers, although I can say I actually thought about it. You have to draw the line somewhere. All of these were recommendations to me by other runners. Sometimes a little help is too much.

In the end, cherry picking among the advice, some common sense, and a bit of stubborn fortitude have gotten me through most of the injuries. I haven’t always been able to successfully make it to the starting line, but with the help of others, I was there many more times than not. The key for me has always been the support and help of others, and the hope if I just hang on a while longer things will get better.

But what would you do if you had nowhere to turn for help. What would you do if you had no friends or family who could help you? If you lost your job, and were about to lose your house. If you were a single parent living hand to mouth and your car dies. If the choice on a daily basis is feed the kids or pay the rent. When you are one accident, one leaky pipe, one broken appliance, one bill away from falling over the edge?

If you have gotten this far you are probably asking, “OK…have you lost it? What has any of this to do with running”? I’m glad you asked. When I started blogging about running Boston 5 years ago it was to help me raise money for a local homeless shelter in my son’s name. Nick hated to see people (and animals) in need and often reached out to help. Running and doing something that helped others helped me deal with the overwhelming grief and at the same time carry on with what Nick would have done. As the years went by I’ve been working on a way to have the effort survive time’s assault on my body and my ability to annual achieve a qualifying time for Boston. This is the year.

I’ve started a memorial in Nick’s name that I plan to turn into a foundation over the course of this year. "Help in the Nick of Time" has as its goal to help people who are right on the edge, the ones who need just a bit of help and hope to keep going. It will start by providing money through charities and churches but ultimately we hope to offer volunteer services as well.

It wouldn’t be a Boston for me if I didn’t get some kind of injury at a critical point in my training. This year is no different. The jury is still out if I will heal fast enough to get in the training I need. But I have my fingers crossed and I’m counting on a little Help in the Nick of Time.

Stay tuned.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Baby it's HOT outside

No the cold hasn’t gone to my head, and no I have not found some new radical self heating running outfit or some new Zen running technique where you think your way to warm when it is so cold the rubber on your shoes are cracking. I was fortunate enough to escape the snow and cold for a bit by heading off to the Caribbean.

For the past few years I’ve regaled you with whining examples of the tortured long distance runner slogging through the cold weather in heroic style. But after the last blog I figured it was time to report the other side….what it’s like when fewer clothes are better, sunscreen is mandatory and a run without water is an invitation to a death march.

First day out is always the toughest. You would think the body would respond well to going from 20 degrees to 80 degrees. Certainly when I was sitting on the beach soaking up the sun, sipping a cold drink and watching the sun set, the weather seemed perfect. And it was perfect the next day when I headed out for a run with as few clothes on as I could wear and avoid being arrested. By the time I reached the first mile it was clear I was overdressed. It turns out that over 65 degrees most people start to build up heat faster than the body can dissipate it. …even without clothes. By 2 miles I was soaked in sweat and thinking a float in the ocean would be a lot more fun. The body responds to the heat by sweating and by moving more blood flow to the skin to move the heated blood out to the cooler skin (much like a furnace sending hot water around a house).

By 3 miles I was a soggy, red faced, wild eyed tourist that was scaring the locals. Even the local dogs (called Potcakes) were giving me a wide berth. This is about the time that the body can start shutting down if you haven’t been replacing fluids and pacing yourself to lower the effort. The blood flow is moving to the skin and away from the vital organs and is robbing the muscles of the critical oxygen you need. I use to do pretty well in the warmer weather but after a particularly bad marathon where I suffered from significant dehydration I’ve struggled with hot weather. It doesn’t help that the body wants a few days to acclimatize and 24 hours before I had been running in temperatures that were 60 degrees colder.

When I got to 4 miles I decided I had run 8 and headed for the beach. It was easy to rationalize it was 8 miles because at this point I was bordering on delusional. The core body temperature at this point is racing towards critical and the speed it arrives there is a function of the outside temperature, the humidity, the speed of the runner, the clothes they are wearing and their fluid situation. The body’s fluid level is determining the ability to lower the body temperature and move waste from the muscles. Unless the fluids are regularly being replaced it’s like having a leak in your car radiator. At some point the car overheats and the engine seizes up. The spiral down is rapid….kidneys shut down, the body stops sweating, the brain stops getting enough oxygen, and core temperature rises to a level where you cook from the inside out.

While I never got to the point where I was seeing mirages, it was a huge relief to jump in the ocean and down a bottle of water.

Right about now if I was reading this I’d be saying something like “Oh…poor baby! He escapes from 10 degree weather and 3 feet of snow to a tropical island and 80+ degrees and he is moaning about running in the heat.”. Guilt as charged! Whining is one of the less attractive aspects of my marathon training. Pam has learned to ignore me, feel free to do the same.

If it is any consolation, since we came home the temperature has been less than 12 degrees on my runs.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Baby it's cold outside

7 degrees to be exact. I actually don’t mind this kind of cold weather that much, as long as I don’t have to go out in it. But given it is Boston Marathon training season again and I was crazy enough to sign up to run it again this year, there really isn’t much latitude in avoiding the cold (or the snow for that matter).

Yes…that’s right. For the fifth year in a row I’ll be running in Nick’s memory and trying again to use the completion as proof that I’m not getting any older. I guess being delusional is part of successfully running marathons. After 5 years you would think that even a marginally intelligent individual would have figured out a better way to memorialize someone than picking a marathon that is not only difficult to get into and challenging to run, but requires months of slogging through snow storms and challenging the science of frostbite on exposed skin. Why not a nice fall marathon in beautiful Sydney Australia, or Hawaii?

Why pick Boston? The answer is simple…I haven’t the slightest idea. It could be I’m not a member of the class of marginally intelligent individuals (something I’ve been emphatically told at several points in my life…usually involving sporting events or driving). It could be because I have a home court advantage which makes the logistics leading up to the race so much easier. It could be because it is the premier marathon in the world with the best spectators. Being philosophical, it could be that the challenge and difficulty makes it more meaningful in remembering Nick as I try to match physical effort with the emotional pain of his loss. Who knows…probably all the above and then some.

The truth is, 7 degrees if fricken cold. It’s what I call a double up day. Two pairs of running pants, two shirts, 2 pairs of socks and 2 pairs of gloves. Only one hat and one jacket though. A fella has to draw the line somewhere or you may look like Ralph’s little brother in “A Christmas Story”. Most of the materials today will pass the moisture through keeping the bottom layers closest to the skin pretty dry. It was a testament to this that when I took off my jacket at the end of the run there was a layer of ice/frost that have formed inside.

Of course all of this protection does nothing for the face. Given that an important part of running is being able to breathe, and it is particularly challenging to cover any distance if you can’t see where you are going, an exposed face tends to be the norm. This can lead to some pretty interesting developments over the course of an hour or more. On this run it was the frosted eyebrows and 1+ inch icicles hanging from my mustache (although the later can be broken off as a source of water during the course of the run). Add to this the fog of steam and breathe rising around my head and 2-3 inch icicles hanging from my hat and my crazed appearance would give the unibomber a run for his money. Even dogs don’t chase me (most of them are smart enough to be inside anyway). Of course the newer technologies in breathable materials help, especially if you are layering.

So here I am another year, another marathon and another set of blogs for your amusement. I’m still working on the charity for this year so stay tuned and I will have something for you in the coming weeks. In the interim, the notes of support are always welcome. Ridicule is OK too; just remember I have lots of time on the road to think about payback.