Saturday, April 21, 2012

“Turn me over; I’m done on this side”

This quote is attributed to a Christian martyr named St. Lawrence as he was slow roasted to death over an open fire. While it would be overdramatic to say this year’s Boston Marathon was in any way a close comparison, one could easily see how the sentiment is a good fit.

For those of you that may not reside in the Boston area, this year’s race was one of the hottest (but not the hottest) on record. With temperatures along the route predicted to hit 90 degrees the race organizers (B.A.A.) started sending warnings to runners days in advance not to run if they had any recent illness or were not in top physical shape. By the day before the race that warning was extended to anyone who was a first time marathoner, or those that may not have experience with running distance in heat. To emphasize the concern, they took the unprecedented step of offering runners who did not run, the option to defer this year’s entry to next year. This is a big deal given to get a number in Boston runners either have to run a marathon under a qualifying time for their age group (each year), or get a number from a charity which comes with the added bonus of committing to raising $4000 for the charity.

This raised a little bit of a dilemma. Do you take the deferment and guarantee you will have a number next year or do you run knowing there is no way you can run under the qualifying time in that kind of weather. I was fortunate to have most of my family in town for race day support which provided me with plenty of “advice” on what I should do. Consensus was strongly in the camp of “you would be nuts to run”. Not much of an argument given their already established view of my mental state. Supporting my position to run were my twin 17 month old grandsons. While it was a bit difficult getting a straight answer from them, they did respond the same to “should I run?” as they did to “want a cookie?”. I took that as a yes. The only one without an opinion was my 4 month old granddaughter who only seemed to have a strong position on only two topics; being fed and being dry.
It’s hard for a runner who has spent months and uncounted hours of discomfort training for Boston to take a pass on race day. It's even harder when so many people have supported your effort. So the decision to run was not that hard. The run itself was a different story.

Race day starts at 4:30 AM, then in the car before 5:30 to drive to Boston to catch a bus at 6:30 that will take me out to the start in Hopkinton. Thanks to one of the most generous, fun and kindhearted people I know, Susan Hurley, I was able to get a seat on one of her charity buses. Those that have read my race day blogs from previous years know that what makes a charity bus a luxury bus on race day is that it has one of life’s little pleasures…a bathroom. It also has a collection of runners from all over the US who have not only trained for Boston but who have raised thousands of dollars for charity. Marathon runners have big hearts.

We were at the “runner’s village” just before 8AM giving me a couple of hours before my start time to walk the area, hydrate, talk to other runners, slather my body in Vaseline and sun screen, hydrate some more and of course make periodic trips to the port-a-johns. Because of the volume of runners, start times are staggered. The main field goes off at 10 AM which includes the 9000 fastest runners. Then at 10:20 the next fastest 9000 and finally at 10:40 the rest. It is so well organized that the 9000 runners will clear the start in less than 10 minutes, allowing 10 minutes to queue up the next 9000. A thing of beauty to watch.

It didn’t take long to realize it was going to be a tough day. 10 AM and it’s already 80 degrees and not a cloud or breeze of any kind. Just standing in the runner corrals at the start I was sweating. For the first few miles I stuck to the right side of the road where there was occasional shade. After that the sun was almost straight overhead and there was no escaping. On a normal day I would take a quick assessment of how I feel at half way, again at 16 miles as I go into the hills, and last when I crest heartbreak hill at about 21 miles. Each of these points gives me an opportunity to adjust my pace based on strength, aches, and pains. On this day at 5 miles I already knew I was in trouble and I started backing down on the pace even more.

Water stops were a madhouse. The race has water and Gatorade stops at each mile, on each side of the road offset by about 100 yards. Normally you can just stay on whatever side of the road you are on and catch a cup on the run from the outstretched hands of the volunteers. But given the heat, runners were stopping to get more than one cup to both drink and dump over their head. When runners stop to get a drink they block other runners from being able to run by and grab a cup and the result is a huge traffic jam. By the 5th mile I was grabbing water on both sides of the street when I could. Logistically it means you grab a cup on one side and then fight your way across the stream of runners to get to the water on the other side 100 yards down the road. You end up running more distance but the way my brain was melting I would have done anything just to get a cold cup to dump on my head.
By the time I reached the Wellesley girls at 13 miles I was toast…literally. Despite their screaming and offers of a kiss I couldn’t find the energy to oblige (not that I would normally do that). By the time I got to my family at 16 miles I was just trying to make it from one water stop to the next. Temperatures had hit 90 degrees and a significant number of runners were down to walking. The Gatorade spilled on the road was evaporating so fast that your shoes actually stuck to sugar remnants on the pavement at the water stops.

By the time I got to mile 19 I was stopping to drink and walk at the water stops. Starting up again was like the rusted tin man scene from Wizard of Oz only without the oil can to help. I’m sure it would have been humorous to watch if it wasn’t so pathetic.

I don’t usually wear a hat but with increasingly sparse coverage up top I figured I’d need it. Over the course of the day I must have dumped 3 dozen cups of water over it and it held ice on my head whenever I could find it. At mile 23 the visor shredded and by the end it literally fell apart at the seams.

Cramps started as I was headed up heartbreak hill and then seemed to move around over the next few miles. It started in the ankle, then chest, calf, thighs and hamstrings. I had been taking Gatorade at almost every water stop but my stomach was literally sloshing around and there was no way to get enough electrolytes into the body. As I turned on to Boylston Street where you can see the finish .3 mile away the cramps ganged up on me. As I tried to limp through the cramps and keep running I suspect I looked like some crazed Kabuki dancer.

So another year and another finish. I was way off my qualifying time so I will need to run another marathon before September to qualify for next year but that’s a problem for another day. I have to thank all the heroes of the day as there is no way I would have made it without their help. My family were awesome, standing in the sun and meeting me at 6 and 16 miles with bags of ice. The ice in my hat, mouth, and in places not to be mentioned helped to keep the body temperature down. The crowd and volunteers were exceptional. They had hoses out to spray the runners, they handed out water, oranges and occasionally ice. I especially want to thank the person that handed me a Popsicle at 22 miles. It was amazing how much that little gesture helped both physically and mentally.

And last but far from least, my thanks for all your words of support and encouragement and the donations to Help in the Nick of Time. Much like what Nick of Time does for families; your support helps me get through the tough times.

Until next year…stay well and God Bless.

Friday, April 13, 2012

It's all over except the ....

Pick your favorite answer…Waiting; Running; Worrying; Excitement; Eating? Probably all of the above sometime over the course of this weekend.
But given the weather forecast there may be a lot more angst about temperatures than anything else. Most Boston Marathon runners trained through winter weather at temperatures less than half what forecasters are predicting for Monday. So it’s understandable that they would be concerned about how their body will hold up in such heat.

They have good reason to be concerned. Not only does heat siphon off valuable energy trying to keep the body cool but it can lead to serious injury if the body temperature is not kept under control. Heat cramps, heat exhaustion, and ultimately heatstroke can lead to permanent damage to organs.

So am I worried? I’d say just a wee bit concerned but mostly just pissed off at mother nature. At my age I have enough hurdles already dragging my well worn sorry butt 26 miles without having to worry about whether I’m getting enough fluids and electrolytes or what my core body temperature might be. To add to the challenge, the Boston Marathon lowered the qualifying times you have to run to get in next year. I was already challenged to run fast enough to get under the new lower qualifying time for my age group so the heat may very well put it out of reach.

Worried about making it without melting my brain or losing body parts? No, I’ve done this before and while I was a lot younger at the time the following basic rules still apply:

- Go out slow. Comfortable is much more important than speed. Once you get in trouble with the heat it is really hard to recover.

- Drink at every water stop. Even if it is only a half cup it is important to continuously put water in the radiator.

- Drink some Gatorade….or something that can replace your electrolytes (salt works but downing salt packets is pretty nasty).

- If you are offered ice, take it. Even if you just hold it in your hand while it melts it will help lower your body temperature. I dropped some in my shorts one year resulting in an unusual running stride for the next quarter mile.

- Be careful of energy Gels and Goo. Many have caffeine in them which can take fluids out of your system. I watched this happen to a woman I was running a marathon with and she ended up in a medical tent at 20 miles with the doctors pouring salt packets in her mouth (that’s how I know it’s nasty).

- Watch for signs you are not getting enough fluids or are in trouble. First signs may be nauseous or cramps. At a marathon I ran in the fall it was around 70 degrees but humid. In the last 4 miles I got cramps in places I didn’t even know I had muscles.

- Sweating is your body’s air conditioner. It’s a good thing and trust me, no one out there will be offended.

Finally, to all my marathon friends who be running Monday….RELAX. You are prepared and if you are careful about your fluids you will be fine. Worrying about it all weekend won’t change mother nature (although a few prayers might help).

On the bright side, great weather brings out more spectators. And worst case, if I keel over there will be plenty of people around to help me out.

Speaking of support, thanks to everyone who sent along their well wishes and donations. Both are greatly appreciated and hopefully you have enjoyed riding along with me through the blog over the last couple of months. If all goes well I’ll take you for one more trip after it is all over.

Saturday, March 31, 2012

Running on the edge….Quitting is not an option

I recently was approached by a friend of a friend who was planning to run a marathon. He was calling to ask for advice and started the conversation by proudly announcing he had bought the book “Marathon Training for Dummies” (a title that some might say is a bit redundant). When I asked how many miles a week he was running and for how long, he told me he hadn’t started yet. At this point I was tempted to suggest he start with the “Idiot’s Guide to Running”.

Why any sane person would want to start running with a marathon as the initial goal is beyond me. It occurred to me that maybe I should write a book called “The Smart Person’s Guide to Marathoning”. It could have chapters like “Pain: Learning to Live with and Love it”; “Port-a-Potties: my home away from home”; “Basking in the health benefits: wind burn, black toenails, swollen knees and heat rash”; “Enhancing your social life: trading alcohol for Gatorade”; “ Practical road skills: Dodging flying beer cans and burning cigarette butts” and of course “Time: I’ve got plenty so why not spend it running”. I figure any sane person would quickly bail on the idea of a marathon long before the end of the book. If by chance they do get to the end they are a prime candidate for the afore mentioned “Marathon Training for Dummies”.

But I digress. The question I typically get from non-marathoners is “What’s the toughest part of doing a marathon”? I can honestly say the second toughest is getting out the door for the first day of training. The toughest is keeping it up week after week, month after month as the distance, time commitment, and soreness increases.

I’ve mentioned before that I believe just about anyone with half a brain (or less) that sets their mind to it can run a marathon. But it does require a mental tenacity that far outweighs the physical effort required. This is why ideal marathoners often have a good balance of stubbornness and mental instability.

When you think about what it takes to commit to the training for a marathon it’s easy to see why most runners never make it to the starting line. Months of training 8-12 hours a week often at the cost of another hour in a warm bed or a night out with friends. But then who would want to miss all that quality time in the dark, in the rain, or snow, or freezing cold or all the above. And just to make sure you have something to keep you company during all that alone time, there are the injuries, aches, and pains that come with the increasing mileage. And let’s not forget the hazards of tripping while running in the dark (been there done that), getting sick enough to cough up a lung from running in the cold (pretty nasty), and wearing out body parts from over training (yup…been there too). Nothing is more frustrating than to be in the middle of your training and you have to hit the reset button because you lost a week or more to injuries or sickness.

Often rookie marathoners think the training is about getting the body in shape to run the marathon. In truth it is more about training the mind. No matter how much training you do, somewhere between 18-20 miles your body will run out of fuel and the battle shifts from physical to mental. You have now reached the zone I call Running on the Edge, where your body is telling you to stop and your mind is fighting with itself over taking another step.
Dealing with the Edge requires the mental training that comes from getting out there every day, often sore, sometimes injured, frequently sleep deprived, and fighting self imposed doubts. And doing it day after day, week after week, month after month. To make it to the starting line you have to be convinced that Quitting is not an option. To make it to the finish you will need all that training and more.

On Race day when you are in the Edge zone your mind and body collaborate to present reasons why you should stop. Sometimes it’s “You’ll never make it up this next hill”, “Your doing permanent damage to your body”, “Your too old for this”(I get this one a lot), “If you just stop now the pain will go away” (it doesn’t), and my favorite “Lots of people don’t finish…nobody will care if you don’t”. Often when it gets bad there are little events that help strengthen my resolve…the crazy antics from the crowd (especially the girls at Wellesley and the beer loving spectators at BC), the next water stop just a quarter mile up the road, a downhill stretch when you really need it or a friend or family member yelling encouragement and support (and handing you jelly beans).

In our lives most of us have had those times when we are Running on the Edge. When the world seems to have turned against you, when the problems are piling up with no end in sight, and when you can’t see your way clear of the situation. Mostly We want to curl up in bed and make the world go away. To just call it quits.

I was reminded of this again the other day when we were approached to assist a family through Help in the Nick of Time. The story is a familiar one with the parents out of work for an extended period of time, behind on house payments, and trying to keep the family together, food on the table, and a roof over their heads. You could say they are a family who’s Running on the Edge. I can imagine that after many months of fighting this battle every day these parents just want to throw in the towel. But despite all the troubles they face, Quitting is not an option. In the room nearby are children depending on them to keep going. It takes far more strength for these families to face another day and keep going than it does for me to make it through a marathon.

But much like the little well timed encouragements in the late stages of the marathon, a little help and support is sometimes all it takes to give them a second wind. This is the goal of Help in the Nick of Time.

So, what keeps me going through the cold, snow, soreness and injuries? It’s knowing that in a small way what I’m doing (with your help) brings hope and help to a family who has already made up their minds that Quitting is not an Option.

Two weeks to race day and counting….

Monday, March 12, 2012

Doing war with the Roads

After a particularly challenging run the other day I was taking inventory of all my aches and pains and I came to the realization that the roads had declared war on me, and I was losing. It wasn’t obvious at first, they were using a stealth program that was primarily a war of attrition but last week that changed. Now that the war is declared it’s “game on” and I intend to win, although at times it clearly doesn’t look like it.

I used to view the road as my friend, leading me places I’ve never been, rising to meet me as I easily stride up the hills, smoothly gliding down the far side and out onto a country road that winds through forests, farms, or neighborhoods. It was the weather that could be the enemy and the road and I were allies fighting against it.

But as I’ve gotten older I begun to believe the road has switched sides.

I know, you are thinking “while I may have questioned your sanity before, you’ve totally lost it now”. Well, before you call the men in the white coats (Pam keeps their number handy) bear with me a bit.

The roads have begun a subtle but relentless conspiracy to undermine my running through a complex combination of changes designed to wreak havoc with my joints, muscles and psyche. The assault started with tilting the road surface towards the side of the road so one knee was always twisting to the side. Then there are uneven surfaces and frost heaves designed to simultaneously twist your ankle in multiple directions and strain the hamstring. And we won’t even discuss the wear and tear of running on cement roads and dealing with sand and gravel. But the mother of all assaults, the roads’ secret weapon of mass destruction is the pothole. Which brings us back to my earlier realization; I’m at war with the road.

I was out for an early morning run in San Francisco and as luck would have it, in the rain. It’s dark, wet, cold and I’m particularly happy to be finishing up my run when the road launched its attack. I was crossing a street, looking up to watch for traffic and splashing through puddles when the road disappeared below my foot. Hidden in the puddle was a trench slightly smaller than the state of Rhode Island.

As a disciple of the book “Born to Run” by evangelist and author Christopher McDougall, I’ve totally bought into the minimalist/barefoot running technique which has the runner leaning forward almost to the point for falling forward and with the foot striking below and behind you. This works really well when you have control of your feet but when your foot gets sucked into a vortex it has the tendency to launch you forward at an accelerated rate of speed.

Thus, as my foot caught the far side of the pothole I found myself in full flight with no chance of getting my other foot under me. I’d like to say that I watched it all happen in slow motion but the only thing that seemed to be slow was my reaction. First to strike was the right knee followed in quick succession by the left hip and elbows. The hands came up just in time to avoid needing dental repair, although sliding across the road I contributed a significant share of skin to repairing the surface of San Francisco roads. Clearly given the aforementioned pothole, they need it.
I of course did the immediate crazy runner thing, rolling back onto my feet and yelling “I’m OK” as I’m limping off down the street to the amusement of the bystanders. I don’t get embarrassed by these things anymore having had my share of public displays of unusual behavior over the years. But I have to admit I was a bit uncomfortable walking past the doorman back at the hotel leaving a trail of blood droplets on the lobby floor.

As I’m patching myself up I decided to take inventory on where I stand on the battle with the road. In addition to the road rash, half a dozen cuts, and bruised left hip, there’s the swollen and black and blue right knee. Add those to two blacken toenails (and a third that might just vacate the toe altogether), a hamstring that screams on uphills and any distance over 12 miles, and the beginning of a blister and bruise on the ball of my foot. Clearly it looks like I’m losing the war.

But it’s not as bad as it may appear. Talk to most marathoners and they will tell you that somewhere along the months of training, wrestling with pain and injuries is normal. Granted, not usually this many and not at the same time but if the road thinks it’s won it is sadly mistaken.

I’m back out there and I will be at the start on April 16th to take on 26+ miles of “the road”.

I’m redefining the meaning of “Road Rage”. Watch out road…I’m coming for you.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Distance runners have their own sense of humor

Runners, particularly long distance runners like marathoners, can develop an unusual sense of humor. It’s not clear whether this comes from the amount of time they spend out on the road alone, or from long runs with runners already infected with the offbeat runner’s humor, or if it might in fact be the physiological result of the brain bouncing up and down in the head for all those hours.

Regardless of the source, there’s nothing that changes the boredom of the day to day long runs like a little humorous entertainment. When I was in high school this involved the normal pranks like mixing glue in the Vaseline that a runner used on his feet to avoid blisters. It can make removing socks after a run a rather challenging event. Or taking the spikes out of the runner’s shoes and coating the bottom with motor oil, introducing the runner to the equivalent of trying to run on ice. But bright individuals with time will also tend to expand their vision to more challenging escapades.

At our high school we had a small school bus for the agricultural students to travel out to the local farm for classes. The cross country team got to borrow it for races at other schools and our coach would do the driving. This left the runners with freedom to explore all kinds of creative entertainment in the back of the bus. Often these were simple in nature like putting a sign in the window of the emergency door in the back that said honk if you love your country. The coach kept pulling the bus over thinking people wanted to pass him for going too slow. But the simple turned to more complex when we disconnected the alarm to the rear emergency door. The runners would wait to a car was following particularly close behind and then one of the runners would pop open the door and flop out the upper half of his body like he was falling out. We would then haul him back in by the back of his shorts being careful not reduce his chances of having children in the future. I’m happy to report that while startled, none of the drivers had a heart attack. At least that we know of.

Of course as runners move from high school to college and beyond, both the distance and the sophistication of humor increase. One Saturday before a particularly long trail run one of the guys in the group was handing out water and energy food. We had a runner in the group who consistently insisted on running in the front of the group and pushing the pace. On this particular morning his ration of chocolate was replaced with a medicinal version (Ex-Lax). At about 4 miles he had to leave the front of the pack for a nature call. And nature continued to call him every mile for the rest of the run.

Runners have a strange relationship with their T-Shirts and it frequently becomes a way of expressing a more personal sense of humor.

- The realist: “Pain is temporary but your time posted on the Internet is forever”
- Pregnant Runner Shirt – Arrow pointing down to the belly – “Runner in training”
- Woman’s Shirt – “I don’t go all the way” and underneath “Half Marathoner”
- “I like to do LSD” – Underneath “Long Slow Distance”
- For the more arrogant – on the back – “Follow me to the finish”
- Then there are the baby T’s – “Future running buddy”, “Born to Run”, “I plan to run before I walk…get ready”, “Grandpa has me doing wind sprints”
- One of my favorites…On the back “I spit to the right”
- For the Gung-Ho - “Kick Assphalt”
- For the religious – And on the 7th day God did an easy 3.
- “My sport is your sport’s punishment”
- On the back – “Since you’re behind…how’s mine?”
- “There’s no Surgeon General warning about smoking the competition”
- “If you’re reading this you’ve been passed by an old fat guy”
- And least we forget…the mentally self aware – “Any idiot can run. It takes a special idiot to run a marathon” and on the front…”Marathoning is a state of mind”. Back…”It’s called insanity”.

Then there are the inside runner jokes that sound strange to non-runners but get a chuckle out of marathoners. Sayings such as “You know you are a distance runner if”
- You have more running clothes in the laundry than regular clothes.
- You lost a toenail and you tell people it’s no big deal
- Your treadmill has more miles on it than your car
- You watch the weather reports solely to plan your runs for the week
- You have more old running shoes in your closet than regular shoes
- You know where your IT band is and it has nothing to do with Information Technology or music
- You are happy to see (and use) Port-a-johns.
- When someone mentions a city you know all the best running places but none of the best restaurants
- You swear your running watch goes with every outfit
- You can’t smell yourself after a run but everyone else can

If you made it this far in this blog then you are clearly a runner or have way too much time on your hands. In either case you might be interested to know that there is even a running comic strip called “Running on Empty” (Jason Nocera), and at one time there was a running radio station called WRUN that specifically catered to music for runners. Around the Boston Marathon they would play favorites like “Please come to Boston”, “Monday, Monday”, and “Born to Run”.

Maybe the best way to sum up running humor is that the runners don’t always get the last laugh. A marathoner is purported to have asked his wife “Honey, what do you like most about me; my tremendous athletic abilities, my muscular physique or my superior intellect? She replied, “I love your enormous sense of humor”.

Until next time!

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Warning: Entering the Mind of a Marathon Runner can be hazardous to your health

Ever wonder what marathon runners think about when they spend all that time out on the roads? It’s probably not one of those things you think about until someone brings it up (like now).

No question that long distance running can be a lonely sport. A typical non-elite marathoner will train somewhere around 40- 60 miles a week which will put them out pounding the road for 6 – 10 hour (assuming of course that they are not doing a gerbil imitation on a treadmill at the local gym). This much alone time to think might be a good thing if you are sitting comfortably in an overstuffed chair in a warm room with a nice cup of coffee, but the perspective changes a bit when it’s below freezing, in the dark, on an icy road and you are chipping the ice off your water bottle (and in my case my mustache too).

Through the efforts of exhaustive research (I asked a couple of my running friends) and untold hours of field studies ( own running) I came to the following conclusion. It depends.

To say marathon runners can become obsessive would be a significant understatement. We obsess about under training, over training, injuries, and potential injuries (will the hang nail on my little toe turn into a run stopping infection?). We worry about getting sick and missing a run, bad weather on days we have long runs, getting enough fluids or drinking too much (a marathoner recently died from over-hydrating), using GU (energy gel) or no GU. And don’t even get me started about race day obsessions, especially the ones having to do with porta-potty timing.

The definition of OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder) in Wikipedia is:
Obsessive–compulsive disorder (OCD) is an anxiety disorder characterized by intrusive thoughts that produce uneasiness, apprehension, fear, or worry, by repetitive behaviors aimed at reducing the associated anxiety, or by a combination of such obsessions and compulsionsThere should be a picture of a marathon runner next to the definition.

If you are the obsessive type and you happen to be one of those people who don’t like their own company (or fit in the “misery loves company” category) it can be helpful to seek out other likeminded (equally mentally imbalanced) running partners to share your training runs and your anxieties. It may not solve your problems but it may make you feel better to know others are worse off than you.

Then there are those who simply focus on their running, constantly checking their form, taking inventory of how their body feels, checking their watch to see how far they have gone (or more importantly how far left) and ultimately wallowing in their pain. If you happen to be in this category long runs can be very, very, long.

On the flip side, there are those that find running frees their minds to think about other things. The act of running becomes second nature and the experience of being out and mobile supersedes everything else. It takes a while for a new runner to get there but it can be addictive once you do. And what do they think about? Anything their little heart’s desire, from exploring the world around them, to going totally into themselves problem solving. I once heard an ultra-marathoner say I think about anything but how far I have to go. If I thought about that I might talk myself into stopping.

For me it’s a bit of all of the above. When I’m out of shape or injured I obsess over getting in back in shape or healing. But when I’m healthy and the running is good it is not a chore, it’s a privilege.

Regardless, come race day it is a whole different mindset and whether you are an elite runner or a first timer, getting through 26 miles will test your ability to manage your pain and thoughts.
And for a humorous look at what goes through the mind of a marathoner during the race check out the YouTube link below.


Tuesday, January 31, 2012

The Heart of running; Running with Heart

It’s common knowledge that running, and exercise in general, is supposed to be good for your heart. I have always been a fan of the theory that if a little is good for you, a lot must be even better (although I have had a few hangovers that would seem to argue the point).

Yet every year a number of marathon runners collapse from heart attacks during races. A recent study in NE Journal of Medicine shows that in a race of 100,000 marathoners 1 will collapse of a heart attack. In the last 10 years in the US, 40 marathoners have had heart failure and 71% did not survive. In 2009 3 runners died in the Detroit Marathon. There’s 5 times the odds it will be a man than a woman and you have a greater chance of surviving over 50 years old than if you are younger than 40. Regardless of your training every marathoner will suffer some impact to their heart during the race. I view it as one of life ironies that doing something that is supposed to extend your life actually shortens it. But it takes more than a strong heart to make it through a marathon.

Running a marathon is as much, if not more, mental as physical. Regardless of training, health, or race day sustenance, when you reach the 18 mile mark your body has pretty much run out of fuel and your shoes have lost any remaining cushioning. It can feel like the runner next to you has jumped on your back, that someone has shortened all the muscles in your legs, and with each downhill stride someone if pounding nails into your thighs. Oh yeah….and at Boston you are right in the middle of the 5 miles of uphill aptly called Heartbreak Hill.

Unless you are into self flagellation it’s about this point that every marathoner will ask themselves “Why the he!! am I doing this?”. Once this doubt creeps in the battle shifts from being primarily physical to substantially mental. With every stride your legs are lobbying with your brain to stop and with each new mile more and more body parts join the chorus.

Some believe that what keeps most runners going is their mental strength. I think that helps but I believe it’s more, it’s a runners Heart. Every runner has his/her own reasons for strapping on their shoes and heading out the door to train for a marathon. For some it is about health, some changing their lives or dealing with life changing events, some are running for others, and still others are running for time and glory. And then there are the ones who lost a bet or took a dare (they are the ones keeping the mental health industry in business).

For thousands of runners at the starting line in Hopkinton their reason, their Heart, comes from not just running for themselves but for doing it to help others. For those spectators who are part of the marque de Sade school of marathon watching, choosing to view the race from Heartbreak Hill, they may be able to pick out these charity runners. They will look as tired and in pain as the others but there will be that slightly lighter spring in their step and maybe the smallest of smiles mixed with their grimace. Running to help others and with the support of those that have donated to their effort can help them more than any pair of elite shoes or fancy energy drinks.

And when they hit “the Wall” on Heartbreak Hill, they will be the ones that have the Heart to break the hills (yeah I know it’s corny).

God willing, I will be there, running for Help in the Nick of Time again this year.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Top 10 Reasons to run another Boston Marathon

It that time of year again when the normally sane become the temporarily insane as they start the serious training for the Boston Marathon. Of course I’m right there with them again this year.

What makes 26,000 runners train hours/week through the dead of winter to be on the starting line in April? There are easily as many answers to this question as there are to the question “Why did the chicken cross the street?”. Unscientifically here are some of the best answers I’ve heard and some of my own personal ones.

10. Challenge Junkie – Some people just like the latest challenge. Marathon, Iron Man, Spartan Races, Ultra-marathons, etc. What makes Boston unique and more challenging among marathons is the requirement to run a qualifying marathon under a competitive time just to get the right to try and register. I know people who have completed Iron Man Triathlons who can’t qualify to run Boston.

9. Keep my streak going – As of the end of last year’s Boston Marathon there are 46 individuals that have done 25 or more Boston Marathons in a row. Two of these mega-marathoners live in my town of North Andover. Tom Licciardello, whose daughter ran with my daughter, has completed 35 in a row. Other than staying married I can’t think of anything of significance I have done for 35 years in a row. The other is Dave McGillivray who in fact has become the race director for the Boston Marathon. Dave has completed 39 in a row, completing his first when he was 17 years old. Given all things that can go wrong leading up to race day these accomplishments are simply amazing. BTW…John A. Kelly started the race 61 times (not in a row) and finished all but three. He won twice and even after 50 he still had a finish in the top 10. To put that in perspective, the top finisher in 2011 over 50 years old didn’t make the top 100 finishers.

8. It’s on the bucket list – If you are a runner with a bucket list then likely the Boston Marathon is on it. Last year 81 year old Clarence Hartley checked that box after surviving two wars and a bout with cancer a few years earlier. I’ve met runners who have been fortunate enough to get a number to run Boston from a charity (doesn’t require a qualification time) and they view it as their first and only marathon. Frankly, once you’ve done Boston, why would you want to do any other?

7. In Memory - Events that cause us to rethink priorities such as surviving a major illness, a brush with death, or the loss of a loved one can drive people to reevaluate their life priorities, look for new meaning in their life or want to do something special in memory. I was running before my son Nick passed away but his death clearly changed my motivations and created an opportunity to help others and keep his memory alive.

6. ”It sounded like a good idea at the time” – I’m surprised at the number of times I hear this story. For guys it usually involves alcohol, a whole bunch of competitive testosterone, and frequently a bet. For gals it is frequently by one in a group of friends as a “fun” activity they could do together. Only first time marathoners would put fun and marathon in the same sentence. In most cases the runners end up being bandits (runners who do the race unofficially) with minimal training and a whole lot of pain on race day.
5. You don’t eat Weight-Watcher meals. When you are putting in 30-40+ miles a week your body becomes furnace that can consume even those chili cheese fries you ate last night. I love Ice Cream. If I wasn’t running I would be a candidate for the Biggest Loser reality TV show.

4. You are a lion or a gazelle – I love this quote (unknown source). "Every morning in Africa, a gazelle wakes up. It knows it must outrun the fastest lion or it will be killed. Every morning in Africa, a lion wakes up. It knows it must run faster than the slowest gazelle, or it will starve. It doesn't matter whether you're a lion or gazelle - when the sun comes up, you'd better be running." For those of us who have been infected by the marathon bug we often are.

3. To get Married – Getting married during marathons has become more common recently. In Boston it is often done at the top of Heart Break Hill. Given the name I wouldn’t choose it for the place to start my married life.

2. Your injuries generate interesting conversations – Nothing like missing toenails to start a conversation at the local gym or pool. Similar conversations can ensue when limping from blisters slightly smaller than the state of RI. And then there are bleeding nipples. On a long run one hot day a bloody streak down the front of my shirt caused a concerned driver to stop and ask if had been shot.

1. To help others – Last year charity runners for the official 24 race sponsored organizations raised over $10M. This doesn’t count the funds that are raised by other runners such as what I do for Help in the Nick of Time. There is no question that running Boston has its own personal rewards but nothing is more rewarding than knowing the effort is also helping someone else.
For me the decision is easy…the ability to eat what you want, the conversation starter of unusual injuries, the vehicle to make one day a year a special memorial to Nick and the opportunity to raise funds for someone desperately in need. Sounds like heaven to me.

Speaking of Help in the Nick of Time ( ) we have made initial donations to help several families. You can read about it at the website.

Until next time….