Saturday, April 13, 2024

It's a Family Affair

 This past week Pam and I went down to Florida to visit Pam’s 97-year-old dad.   Dick, a veteran, was also a runner up to the last decade when his knee put an end to his running.   Both my daughters ran their first road races with him when they were knee high to a grasshopper.   

While I never pushed my children to run, all of them ran in high school.    I don’t know if my running had any influence on their decision but it is something they all have carried on later in their lives and now are passing on to some of their children.    

I had hoped this year’s marathon Challenge was going to be done at the Boston Marathon but that just wasn’t to be.  The combination of a gift of leftover hardware in my body, surgery, sepsis, and an all-expenses paid trip to the ICU in the last few months made that near impossible.  Add in the impact to my Parkinson’s (illness turbo-charges symptoms) and a wife who was a voice of reason, throwing in the towel was discouraging but the right answer.

My family, who were universally behind my wife’s position, stepped up again this year to help me out.  We got together in Pennsylvania where my daughter’s families live and they joined me in an effort to complete 26.2 miles as a family.    My goal was to jog/walk half the marathon distance and have the other half completed by family.  As it turns out, altogether we covered almost 100 miles with three of my grandchildren (ages 7,13,13) doing a full 13 miles with me.  My father-in-law even contributed a mile remotely making it a 4-generation effort.    

With another year in the books, I want to thank everyone for all the support and kind words that helped me make my Help in the Nick of Time goal and Marathon Challenge possible.   The children and families it will help send their thanks as well.   Finally, a special thanks to all my family members for putting up with me through this year’s efforts.  Love you all.

Stay safe and God willing I’ll be back next year.


Sunday, March 24, 2024

Running for the Children

 While many of us have been touched by cancer, most of us can’t begin to imagine what it’s like to be a family with a child fighting cancer.   Bringing a little joy and support to them during the tough times has been the goal of Help in the Nick of Time. This is a story of one of those cancer patients we touched.

Connor was 12 when he was diagnosed with cancer.  A passionate hockey player (goalie) and a member of the local baseball team, his life changed overnight to a life of injections, IV’s, surgery, chemo, radiation, and transfusions.    To get the specialized help he needed he had to travel away from home staying over 200 days during the next year at a Ronald McDonald’s House near the hospital.   During that time Connor would face rounds of chemo (82 treatments), radiation, transfusions, and testing, and in the process losing a third of his body weight.   But a measure of a person’s character is not just surviving the fight but how they fight.  In this case Connor would be considered a world heavy weight champion.  Not only did he keep a positive attitude, he made a positive impact on the people around him, including his hospital staff and other cancer patients.   Described as a good friend, kindhearted and sweet hundreds of people darned red and white striped “Where’s Waldo” knee socks to show their support.  This carried over to his own family as well.  His sister wrote on Facebook “i actually have no idea how he has been so strong and not only kept my parents sane but me aswell, connor is the strongest person i know and i love him more than words itself.”  

It was well into his second year of treatment when, with your support, Help in the Nick of Time, together with One Mission, sent Connor a box of gifts with the goal of bringing a bit of joy and surprise into what can often be a daily grind of tests and treatments. 

The initial treatment for Connor’s tumor was a success but like most battles with cancer it was not a “one and done”.    Six months after coming home Conner lost his battle with cancer.  

My running and fund raising with Help in the Nick of Time is not going to cure cancer or fund breakthrough research, no matter how fast or far I run.  But I believe it’s all about offering a bit of joy and a note of caring at a time when a child and their family really needs it.

As for my marathon efforts, getting back to running has been a challenge.  Age is a soulless master and my 70-year-old body is taking longer to recover from the hospital stay than I would like. But I’m back to walking and a bit of jogging and with the help of my family we hope to complete this year’s Marathon Challenge as a team next weekend.


Sunday, March 3, 2024

Sometime Dreams are just Dreams

 It’s April 2022 and I had just finished my marathon challenge, 26.2 miles in 4 1/2 hours over 3 days.    I have the Boston Marathon on the TV and as I’m watching the runners and  I’m reminiscing about past Boston Marathons.  I realize (duh) I’ve had been running Boston off and on for the last 40+ years, at least once every decade of my life since I was in my twenties (5 decades…wow am I old).

There’s always been a war in my brain between two personalities, the adrenaline driver “Mr. Risk-Taker” and the cautious (and boring) “Mr. Rational”.    In the adrenaline driven fog of watching the race Mr. R-T takes over, “you’ll be 70 in two years, you could do one more Boston and add another decade to your accomplishments.”   Of course, Mr. R is not going to ideally sit by, “It taken you 4 years since cancer to get to where you can run a marathon in three days there’s no way you can do complete the Boston Marathon”.

And so it begins:

Mr. R-T….You have two years to train, you can do this.

Mr. R….You can barely make half the distance today and your Parkinson’s is getting worse.    Even if you could make it, you are so slow you would be out there for 5+ hours.

Mr. R-T….You will never know unless you try.  Think about the thrill of crossing that finish line one more time.

Mr. R……There is no chance you could qualify to get in.

Mr. R-T….Maybe I can get one of Help in the Nick of Time charities to give me a number. 

You can guess who won the argument.  Fast forward a year and a half  and I’ve managed to get a coveted number for the Boston Marathon and a hotel room near the finish line (no small feat).  All that is left is the training.   While my running had progressed well for the first year, the combination of a kidney operation and the inevitable progression of Parkinson’s in the last 6 months forced a strategy rethink.  The new plan is to use a run/walk approach which would require over 6 hours to get to the finish.

The 3 training months leading up to the marathon are the critical ones.   Between the operation in January to retrieve the wayward clip in my bladder, the resulting ICU visit with sepsis and a recent fall resulting in a cracked rib, my training has suffered.  Mr. R-T believes we can still do the marathon but the doctors have advised against it.   For once Mr. R wins and I am throwing in the towel on the Boston Marathon.   Sometimes dreams are just dreams no matter how hard you try.

As I’ve said in the past, “Acceptance is not Surrender”.  I’m working on a new approach to do the marathon challenge this year and will have more on that shortly.

Thanks to all who have been cheering me on, it has meant more to me than you’ll ever know.    More to come.


Sunday, February 4, 2024

One Step at a Time

Colin Powell, a man I admire, wrote a book listing his 13 rules for life and leadership.  Great book.  The first rule is “It ain’t as bad as you think.  It will look better in the morning.”  I can tell you from my experience over the last two weeks, he’s right.    My situation was not as bad as I thought it was, it was much worse.

Two weeks ago, facing an early Sunday morning long training run I went to bed early feeling a little under the weather.   No problem, Colin Powell says I’ll feel better in the morning.   So I was a bit surprised in the morning when I woke and couldn’t get out of bed.  Literally.  I tried to sit up, that wasn’t happening.  Tried to push myself up with my arms but they were like over cooked spaghetti.   Realizing something was not even close to a normal situation I of course should have called for help.   Not a chance.  Have you ever noticed how one bad decision can often snowball into a series of irrational steps that when you look back begs the question “What were you possibly thinking?” 

In this case it started with the idea that if I could move my legs over the side of the bed I can sit up and then stand.   Fifteen minutes later after successfully slipping my legs off the side bed I found myself lying on the floor like a beached whale, unable to get up or roll over.   At this point my wife finds me and calls my son and they rationally decide to call an ambulance.  The ambulance ride was cool but not something I would recommend you put on your bucket list.  I did get them to put on the siren and lights for part of the trip.

Long story, but the short version is I ended up in the ICU for a few days with a raging kidney infection and sepsis, likely caused when they went in the week before to remove the wayward clip in my bladder.  Touch and go for a few days but I finally got home 5 days later with a walker to get around.  It’s a total mystery to me how I could literally overnight go from running 30 miles a week to unable to walk because of a kidney infection.   Now a week later I’m able to get around without the walker but I haven’t tried running yet.

Not sure where that leaves me relative to the marathon.  I have a little over two months to go but I’m unsure what level of training and endurance I’ve lost.  Right now I’m thankful just to be back on my feet.

The hospital stay did remind me how hard it can be facing each day of poking and prodding, endless tests, medications that make you nauseous and nights of constantly interrupted sleep.   It also reminded me that this is why we work to bring a bit of joy and distraction to children battling cancer, often in the hospital fighting not for days or weeks, but for months and years.   

Stay tuned, an update on the recovery progress shortly.


Saturday, January 20, 2024

Special Gifts

My running was not so good this week.  Have you ever received one of those gifts where you said to yourself “I really wish they hadn’t. Really!

The first gift came from my grandchildren.  Seems Pink eye had been running rampant at their school and while they were over it, they managed to gift it to me (not Pam…they like her more).    If you never had it, count yourself blessed.  Eyes are crusted shut, blurred vision, light sensitive, and goopy (technical term).    Often it felt like I had sand in my eyes and I would be walking around squinting like Popeye.  As you might imagine, that’s not conducive to running on narrow country roads.

Which leads to the second gift, this one from Mother Nature.   What happened to global warming?   I have enough difficulties training without adding snow, ice and cold to the challenges.  And who doesn’t love that stimulating feeling you get when you are not fast enough dodging an ice cold slush wave.

 The third gift was from my Urologist/Oncologist.   You may recall last year about this time I was being treated for a mass in my bladder blocking flow from my kidney.  Ultimately it wasn’t cancer but they needed to operate to remove the blockage and restore the kidney function (as a side note, it was a fascinating robotic surgery).

A follow-sup ultrasound last week detected a new mass in the bladder.  This week they did a cystoscope to look inside the bladder.  If you’ve never had one, count yourself lucky.  It’s not something to put on your bucket list.  Good news, no tumor.   Surprise, it was a surgical clip leftover from the original operation.   They were able to grab it with a little claw on the end of the scope and pull it out.   I can attest from the discomfort that the route it traveled on the way out was never meant to carry anything solid. 

But not all gifts are unwanted.    In 2024 Help in the Nick of time provided almost 100 children fighting pediatric cancer with surprise boxes of toys, games, and gifts.  In a world full of isolation, pain, and loneliness these boxes bring a mountain of joy and distraction.  Here’s what one teen’s mom had to say….I can honestly say that I do not recall Addie being as excited about a gift as she was with this box ... every item was a hit and it was all a surprise to her!!! The Friends Lego set and Ugg blanket were both items she has wanted, but thought were too expensive to request.”  

None of this is possible without your support.  I wish you could be there to see the joy you bring to these children and their families.   It’s what drives me out the door on mornings where I challenge slush waves and icy roads looking like Popeye.

Thank you!

Sunday, December 31, 2023

Paying for Pain


I’m struggling with a running question that I’m hoping someone who reads this can answer for me.    When did the competition to enter a marathon race become so competitive that people will sign up a year in advance and pay hundreds of dollars just to get to the starting line?    Seriously….can someone explain to me what happened that took running a marathon from something that a few thousand elite athletes or a handful of crazies would do to something that is now the venue of hundreds of thousands of couch potatoes, soccer moms, and weekend warriors every year.  

In a few days Walt Disney World will host the runDisney Marathon.  20 years ago, if someone had suggested that running a marathon is something you would do when you went on vacation to an amusement park, they would have been a candidate for a padded cell.    I can just imagine the initial proposal sounded like from some runner in the Disney marketing department….We hold a marathon that runs throughout the parks, charge hundreds of dollars to enter, make them buy a park pass for the day (over $100 today) and limit the number of entrants to 20,000 so people are fighting to get in.    After several days in the parks with the kids, some parents would pay to run a marathon rather than face another day of lines and rides.   And why limit it to the parents, let’s get the kids involved.  We can have shorter runs..a 5K, a 10K, and a half marathon and make it a family affair.   Oh, and for the real Disney diehards we can have a special “Dopey” medal for a runner who does all 4 runs over 4 days (it will only cost $600).

Last year there were 1,100 marathon races in the US with over 500,000 people participating.  Allowing for international runners and people running multiple marathons, that’s about 1% of the US population (actually more since I didn’t rule out children under 16).   Crazy as it may sound, about half of the entrants in the bigger races continue to be first time marathoners.   Who are all these people paying big bucks to torture themselves?

Clearly the demand is there as the races continue to raise prices and many have limits on the number of entrants.   It’s the classic case of supply and demand…make it harder to get in and more people are willing to pay more to run it.  The NYC Marathon (the largest in the US) had 50,000 finishers last year with an entry fee is $295.  According to my Texas Instruments calculator that’s almost $15 million.  Not bad for a weekend event.  

The Boston Marathon is even harder to get into.  If you manage to run a qualifying time or are lucky enough to get one of the limited charity numbers, you have the privilege of paying a $375 entry fee.   A privilege I will have this year.  Yup…I’m headed back to Boston to attempt one more Boston Marathon and to raise funds to help families facing pediatric cancer.  It will be the first time since my stem cell transplant and Parkinson’s diagnosis that I’ve attempted anything longer than a half marathon but having turned 70 this year I’d like to give it go one more time.     

So, I invite you to come along with me on what is bound to be an interesting ride.  As always, it’s your encouragement and financial support of pediatric cancer families through Help in the Nick of Time that fuel my efforts.

Happy New Year….it should be an interesting one!

Wednesday, April 19, 2023

The More The Merrier

 Last weekend my family got together in Pennsylvania to make this year’s Marathon Challenge a family affair.   That amounts to 8 adults and 9 grandchildren (between the ages of 12 and 2), almost a small village.   Rounding out the Nick of Time Team was my sister, her husband and Jeep the dog.

Given the medical issues that curtailed my training, I had changed the run from a marathon run alone and spread over three days to a team effort done in one day.   The plan was for me to run as far as possible and then have family members complete the 26.2 miles for me.    Not counting Jeep, we had a team of 10 runners ranging in age from 6 to 69.

We picked a course that had a 3.5-4-mile loop so we could loop by the support team (the rest of the family) for moral support and refreshments.   A different family member would join me for each loop.   My twin grandchildren ran the first two loops with me, and while they are much faster than me these days, they were kind enough to slow down to my pace.   The team continued trading off runners in a relay fashion to keep me company while I ground away at the miles.   At 12 miles my legs starting knotting up and by 14 miles I was cooked.    Not as much as I would have liked but the farthest I’ve gone in one run since the stem cell transplant 5 years ago.  The team more than made up the rest of the mileage by adding on another 31 miles.   Those 45 miles don’t include all the miles run by people who signed up for the Miles for Smiles Virtual Run/Walk.

But the success of the weekend is not measured in miles but in what we (yes…you and I) were able to raise this year to help the children battling Pediatric Cancer.    Already this year we are on schedule to send out over 50% more boxes than last year.  Here’s an example of the joy you bring with your support.

It’s your support that has put that smile on her face.   And we don’t stop there.  Often times the parents need some help as well.  It may be as little as gas to commute to the hospital each day, money for a baby sitter to watch siblings, food service to bring a hot meal to the family at the end of a long day, or repairs for a single mom’s car so she can be with her child.   In the words of one mom:

 “thank you for the gift card to Target. That will help with getting more diapers or wipes. That's a never-ending purchase right now."

During really tough times, it’s the little things that let people know they are not alone and can put a smile on their face.   I keep being reminded by a close friend…it’s not about the miles it’s about the smiles.

So next year…definitely more smiles and maybe, just maybe, more miles.

Saturday, April 15, 2023

It's a Family Affair

 It’s Boston Marathon weekend and while I'm  not able to run it this year, I still remember the thrill and excitement of the first one I ran over 45 years ago.   That sense of excitement was still there when I last ran it in 2017.   While the race had changed a lot over the years, I was still like a little kid arriving at Disney World for the first time.

It's not like running the marathon is as much fun as a ride on Space Mountain or Expedition Everest (at least to most people).    It’s just that there is so much effort that goes into getting to the starting line healthy, that when you finally join the other 30,000+ runners at the start staging area there is a huge sense of relief, excitement, and accomplishment (not to mention nervousness).    It's also the 10 year anniversary of the Marathon bombing, another year I'll never forget and a whole different set of emotions.

This weekend I will be running my Marathon Challenge fund raiser to help kids battling cancer.  It’s no substitute for doing it at the Boston Marathon but I consider myself blessed to still be running at all.  In December I had a medical issue that required several operations and will require another in several weeks.  While I’ve still been able to run, it has been at a much-reduced level.   So this year I put out a call for help.   All three of my children, their spouses, 4 of my nine grandchildren and my sister will be joining me to run part of the distance with me, or if necessary, for me.  It’s an awesome tribute to their brother/uncle Nick and to Help in the Nick of Time.  Should be an interesting day.

I’ll post an update after the weekend and let everyone know how it goes.

Fingers crossed!

Wednesday, March 29, 2023

Arrogance can be Humbling

A number of years ago in one of my blogs I boldly stated that anyone could do a marathon as long as they put in the training.  I’m now living proof of how wrong I was.   Over the last 3 years I racked up over 4000 miles, consistently averaging over 100 miles a month.   It’s the first time in my life that I have run continually for that many months in a row.   Given that dedication to insanity it would be natural to believe that a marathon would be the proverbial walk in the park (pun intended).   Not even close.    In fact over the last couple of years not only have the miles gotten harder but I’ve gotten slower.     But it’s not speed that is the challenge, it’s time on your feet.   It’s an interesting conundrum, the slower you go the longer you are out pounding the pavement for the same distance.    The longer you are out there the harder it is to stay hydrated, fueled, and injury free.   At some point you’re like an engine without oil, your body just seizes up and won’t go anymore.

An astute reader might be thinking…can’t you just eat and drink along the way?  It’s a good question Captain Obvious.    If I remember my high school biology class correctly, eating draws blood to the stomach to digest the food.  Guess where that blood comes from.   Going back to my earlier car analogy, the muscles are much like the engine, they need fuel and oxygen to function.  For muscles that’s your body’s stored fuel and the oxygen from your lungs.   The oxygen takes a ride in the blood stream from the lungs to the muscles.   Either getting out of breath or reducing the blood to the muscles will ultimately cause the engine to grind to a halt. 

But enough geeking about the biology.  The reality is despite all the training over the last 3 years, I haven’t been able to get the body to go longer than a  half marathon.  It’s the reason the Marathon Challenge takes me three days.   Is it the lung damage from the chemo, the awkward running mechanics from the Parkinson’s or maybe I’m just getting old.   But the point is, it was incredibly arrogant of me to assume that everyone else had the same physical ability I had been blessed with and it was just a matter of them putting in the effort.  Sometimes wanting something and putting in the effort just isn’t enough.   Lesson learned.

Karma can be a bitch and incredibly humbling.  

Friday, March 10, 2023

Microscope VS Telescope Views

The other day I was out for a run and as sometimes happens, I was really struggling.    Overnight the hills in the neighborhood had gotten bigger, the air had gotten thicker and harder to breathe, my shoes were suddenly made of cement, and every old knee, hip and muscle injury decided it was time for a visit.    

I’m only a little over a mile into the run and that voice of self-doubt in my head (you know, the one that always reminds you of what you can’t do and gives you excuses to quit) grabs a megaphone and starts whining.  “You can’t do this.  Your too old, too sore, too cold and too stiff from Parkinson’s to continue.   Quit now before you embarrass yourself in front of the neighbors with your Walking Dead shuffle, or more likely, keel over in a culvert on the side of the road”.    At the end of these runs I’m tired, frustrated, discouraged and full of self-doubt.  How am I ever going to complete a marathon challenge when I’m struggling with just a short run?

It's easy at this point to extrapolate today’s situation into the future and to lose hope.   It’s like looking through a microscope at your current situation being so focused on the difficulties of this moment you miss the big picture.  

So what is the big picture for me.  It’s remembering it’s not about running a marathon, or completing a marathon challenge or even making it through another day of running.   It’s about helping children fighting cancer and inspiring others to join me in the effort.    

But maybe,  if I could find the right words to show the impact that Help in the Nick is having on the lives of these children and their families then maybe my running would become irrelevant to inspiring others.  Imagine a child, ripped away from their family and friends for months at a time, sometimes hundreds of miles from home.   Endless daily treatments that involve being tested, stuck and prodded, often left feeling nauseous, tired and in pain.   Worst of all, the fear that there is no end in sight and maybe no cure.   There is nothing more heart rending than a child asking “Mommy, am I going to die”.   Bringing just a small amount of hope, joy, distraction and laughter into their lives is making a world of difference.  

So for now, running is my tool.  On the bad days I try to remind myself to focus on the big picture and what it means to a struggling child and their family.   If you wish to join me you can sign up for the Miles for Smiles Virtual Run/Walk at:

or donate to Help in the Nick of Time at:


Thank you for all the support.

For now, enough running my mouth, back to using my feet.

Friday, February 24, 2023

How Old is Old

Age had been a regular theme in my running blogs over the last few years.  I don’t feel particularly old (most days), but every once in a while I have to face some situation that reminds me I’m not as … (fill in the blank…strong, fast, handsome, hairy, mobile, etc.) as I once was.   No surprise here but it does raise two questions: how old is old these days and when does the brain catch up with the reality of the body.

The oldest person in the world is currently 118 years old.   In a Scientific America article, researchers projected that if you are not killed by cancer, heart disease or being hit by a bus, people born today have the potential to live to be 120-150 years old.    Of course, your mileage may vary based on your life choices.    Until fairly recently, anyone over 65 was considered old.   I honestly didn’t think of myself as old when I ran Boston at 65.   These days people are doing things at 70 and 80 that would have been unheard of a generation ago.   That’s especially true in sports.  A runner from my city here in VA completed the Boston Marathon last year at the age of 81.   Johnny Kelly, who won the Boston Marathon twice, ran it 61 times, the last time at the age of 84.    There are now age group records for the marathon for runners over 85, 90 and even one set by a 100-year-old man.

My children consider me old…too old in fact to be running Marathon Challenges.   For me, the best bellwether of aging (and my health) has been the yearly marathons/marathon challenges.   It was symptoms while training for the Boston Marathon that sent me to the doctor and ultimately diagnosed my leukemia (and likely saved my life).  It was also difficulty running while getting ready for my Marathon Challenge that resulted in my Parkinson’s diagnosis.   And it continues to be running that not only allows me to assess my health but measure the progression of Parkinson’s as well.    At the same time, I recognize the reality of the physical challenges I’m facing in the coming years.   My new mantra is “acceptance is not surrender”.    That is why I’m enlisting family, friends, and well, anyone who has been touched by cancer to join me in the Miles for Smiles Virtual Run/Walk to raise funds to help children and their families battling Pediatric Cancer.  You can register at:

2023 — Miles for Smiles — Race Roster — Registration, Marketing, Fundraising

or donate directly to Help in the Nick of Time at:

Essex County Community Foundation (

Join this old man and be part of bringing some joy and a smile to a child in midst of the fight of their life.

I’ll see you out on the roads….

Saturday, February 11, 2023

No Brain....No Pain

 I've often heard distance running described as a “brainless activity”.   The kindest interpretation is while running you can turn off your brain and just let your legs go.   Other interpretations are much less polite.    I’ve been delving into the affects on the brain of running/exercise to try to understand the impact it might have on my Parkinson’s.  

My initial hypothesis went something like this….Given Parkinson’s is caused by a lack of dopamine in the brain and dopamine is what causes good feelings (like the high you get from drugs…not that I would know), then the runners high you get when you run long distances should be generating dopamine and therefore alleviate the symptoms of Parkinson’s.   Sounds good in theory but I’m totally wrong (nothing new).     Turns out the brain has multiple chemicals it uses to affect our mood, emotions, body functions and movement (Serotonin, Dopamine, Endorphins and Adrenaline).   Dopamine affects mood, movement, motivation and to some degree, pleasure.  The runners high comes from endorphins that also get released from exercising, eating something sweet, and sex (the latter two being much more enjoyable than a long run).

OK, so running doesn’t have a positive impact on Parkinson’s, does Parkinson’s have a direct effect on running.  I don’t need to know anything about brain chemistry to answer that.  It does, and it sucks.    The best way I can explain it is imagine for a minute that the brain divides the body movement into the left and right sides.   When the brain gives a command to the right side of the body to “run” it responds “yes sir”.   The same command to the left side gets the kind of response you would expect from a typical teenager asked to take out the trash.    “ Do I really have to?” (add the eye roll and heavy sigh here).      To keep from falling on your face the right side has to slow down to match the delay of the left.   My resulting “jog” looks more like a shuffling zombie.     

 That said, I am still preparing for the Marathon Challenge, it just may be a bit more challenging this year.  To assist me I’ve recruited some family members to run along side for part of the distance (more on this in a future blog).   But recognizing I may not be able to do this for another 10 years, I’ve started an annual Virtual Run/Walk (Miles for Smiles) to give more people to get directly involved in helping to raise funds for the children suffering with Pediatric Cancer.     Last year we doubled the number of families we helped and this year we are hoping to reach even more.  If you are interested in participating, or might know someone who would, you/they can find out more and register at the link below.

It’s a win-win, you put a much needed smile on the face of a child while helping yourself get healthier.    

More on how the training is going in the next blog.

Sunday, January 22, 2023

Teamwork Makes the Dream Work


I recently finished reading Chris MacDougal’s latest book “Running with Sherman”.   Chris is best known for kicking off the barefoot running craze about 15 years ago with his book “Born to Run” (good read….you don’t have to be a runner to enjoy it).    I went to visit Chris a few years back at his farm in Peach Bottom PA. and when we went for a walk on the trails near his farm he introduced us to his running partner, Sherman. 

If you’ve read the book, you know Sherman is a burro.   Yup…4 legs, tail, twitchy ears and a stubborn streak wider than the Mississippi river.   Chris rescued Sherman from sure death and as part of nursing him back to health he would take him running.   Chris set the goal of getting Sherman healthy enough that together they could run the grueling World Champion Pack Burro Race in Colorado.    The race is 14.5 miles up a mountain with a 3000-foot elevation gain and then 14.5 miles back down.   Some would think running 29 miles on mountain trails is enough of a challenge but try convincing a donkey that he wants to do it with you.

We’ve already established in past blogs that distance runners tend to be a few apples short of a bushel so you won’t be surprised to know there are dozens of crazy, sometimes life threatening, races out there.  Of course, wherever you find the combination of alcohol, testosterone and a bet, you know the result may be entertaining but not particularly sane.        For those that find marathons to be a walk in the park, there are numerous 100 miles races.  And since that is not challenging enough, lets’ do them on trails…. over mountains…across streams…in rain and snow….in some cases without any support (what…no water stations?).    Did I mention that these races typically take 24 hours or more to complete which means running in the dark often in locations where mountain lions, bears and snakes live.    In those areas it might be smart to let someone go ahead of you.

If that isn’t enough of a challenge there are longer races, like the 200-mile 5-day race across Wales.   Or how about the Moab Utah 240 mile run in the dessert mountains around Arches National Park.   I recently ran in the area one morning and it was already 75 degrees at 7AM.    If you are partial to heat, there’s the Bad Water 135 (miles) that runs through Death Valley and ends with a run up Mt. Whitney (over 14,000 feet).    Rumor has it you have to run on the white line on the side of the road because the blacktop will melt your running shoes.     For those runners who can spare the time and are in a hurry to go nowhere, there is a 3100-mile run over 52 days.   It’s run in NYC on a .6-mile loop (over 5100 laps).

The one thing that most of these races have in common (besides the questionable sanity in entering) is it takes a team of support people to help the runner be successful.    In the Bad Water race for example, runners are followed by support teams in RVs to periodically help the runners to cool down (sometimes by putting them in ice baths).     

My team in past years have been the generous people who have supported my marathon efforts by donating to Help in the Nick of Time to help families facing the challenges of pediatric cancer.  In 2022 that allowed us to double the families we helped.   But there are even more families who need our support and unfortunately relying on my Marathon Challenge alone is not enough.    So, this year I’m inviting more people to get involved by setting up a Help in the Nick of Time Virtual Run/Walk.   Shortly I’ll be releasing the web site where anyone can join me by either committing to run/walk a 5K (3.1 miles) at one time or run/walk 26 miles over 47 days between March 1 and April 16 (the day I’ll attempt my Marathon Challenge and the day before the Boston Marathon).     The site will allow you to post your results and everyone who completes their challenge will get a run T-Shirt.    You have the option of going it alone or putting together a team of your family and friends to join you.   All proceeds will go to supporting children with pediatric cancer and their families.

We all either have been impacted by cancer or know people who have.  Here’s a great opportunity to do something for yourself and put a smile on the face of a child battling cancer.   There’s also the added benefit giving cancer the finger.

More info coming shortly….warm up those running/walking shoes and start recruiting your partners!

Monday, January 9, 2023

New Year....New Changes


You’ve got to love this time of year. A time when the news shows, talk shows and podcasts all have experts telling us how to make and keep new year’s resolutions.   When someone asks me “What’s your resolutions this year?” what I hear is “You have some real issues and you need to fix them”.  If, heaven forbid, I respond that I don’t have any new year’s resolutions then they are quick to point out I’m totally self-unaware and need a resolution to fix that.

So, this year I have one new year’s resolution….to eat ice cream every day.    It’s not that I don’t have any flaws that need improvement (just ask my wife and kids) it’s just I know from experience, for me, New Year’s resolutions don’t work.   I’m not alone, only 9-12% of people keep their resolutions and most people abandon their them by January 18th.    In fact, January 17 is known as “ditch your resolution” day.    Resolutions to me are like rubbing your face in your shortcomings that you otherwise can blissfully ignore.  I find being so self-unaware is very relaxing.  

The truth is, I’m pretty comfortable with myself and if something is really important to me, I just throw myself into it.  Like my commitment to use running to fund programs for children and their families dealing with pediatric cancer.   The funds we raise through Help in the Nick of Time touch the lives for thousands of people at a time in their lives when they could really use a helping hand.  In past years fund raising has revolved around my running the Boston Marathon.  When cancer got in the way I moved to running a multi-day Marathon Challenge.    While the combination of age and Parkinson’s create some additional challenges, I will be taking on the marathon this year but with some interesting changes.   This year I working to make it a team effort involving as many people as I can to virtually run with me to help me complete the challenge.

So welcome aboard for this year’s adventure in old age distance running.    As always, your support goes a long way towards helping me making my running and funding goals but more importantly, helping children.  Together we are an awesome team!

More on how to get involved in the next blog.

Sunday, April 24, 2022

Challenges Make Life Interesting

It’s been 16 years since I started down this marathon road to raise funds for charities in Nick’s memory and I can say without hesitation, the runs are not getting easier.  Likely at this point you are saying “Duh!!  Your 16 years older, battled through 2 years of chemo, and are now dealing with Parkinson’s.  What do you expect?”   OK, point taken.

So on to this year’s Marathon Challenge.   The goal was to run/jog 26.2 miles over 4 days in under 4 1/2 hours total time.   My strategy was to run a longer run on the first day, give the old bones a rest on day 2 and then 2 shorter runs on day three and four.   While this is not a big improvement over last year’s challenge, the hills around our home in Charlottesville will more than double the vertical climb this year. 

Day one was pretty much on plan.  I was slightly slower than last year but I attribute that to the hills and the Parkinson’s. Parkinson’s makes my left leg stiff starting out and because the brain to muscle connection is slower it also causes the left foot to drag a bit.   The first 2-3 miles are really slooooow and awkward as I work to get the stiffness out.  So slow that the deer I pass on the road don’t even bother to run off.   On a typical day the first miles will be around 2 minutes slower than my last.   

I started day three stiff and sore but loosened up a bit as I got into the later miles.  Did I mention there are a lot of hills where I run?    Turns out over the first two days of running I’ll climb more vertical feet than the whole Boston Marathon.   On this day alone I’ll cover the equivalent of running the infamous Boston Marathon Heartbreak Hill 3 times.    It turns out, as tough as the uphills are, it’s the downhills that actually beat up your legs.   By the end of the second day of running my left quad (thigh) had more knots in it than a 5-year old’s shoes.    At this point I’m just a hair below the pace I need in order to bet the 4 ½ hour mark.


Day four dawned rainy and cold (35 degrees).  I normally don’t mind either rain or cold, but rain just above freezing is the worst.   There is just no way to dress that will either keep you warm or dry and the more clothes you wear the heavier they get as they saturate.  Kind of like running with a 5 lb. bag of sugar on your back.   The good news, this will to be the shortest of the three runs.   After struggling through the first few miles the quad loosened up enough to get a reasonable stride out of it.   The pace was slower than the previous two days but I was able to complete the run.

And yes…we made it…26.2 miles in just under 4 hours 30 minutes.   Definitely tougher than I expected but a win just the same.

To put this in historical perspective, my last Boston Marathon was in 2018, in between chemo treatments, and I completed that in 4 hours 5 minutes.    I know it is stupid to look back and compare the two but I had hopes that one day I would be able to run a marathon again.   I’ve come to the realization this may be the best I can do.

Truth is, it’s not about me, or the marathon challenge.  It’s about raising funds to help people who are struggling in some of their toughest moments.  We’ve all been there and we remember the relief when someone reached out and said” let me help”.   Your support for me and Help in the Nick of Time has allowed us to do that for hundreds of children and families.


So that’s it for this year.  I’ll be back next year to do it all again…God willing and the creek don’t rise.

Saturday, April 9, 2022

Marathon Spectators

As we come up on the 126th running of the Boston Marathon in a little over a week, the pressing question on everyone’s mind is “What’s the appropriate behavior of a spectator at a marathon?”   Well, maybe not everyone’s mind, or for that matter anyone’s.   In case you find yourself motivated to attend a race, as someone who has run a few marathons, I can offer a bit of an insider’s perspective on etiquette and how to be a supportive spectator.

If for some strange reason you find yourself planning to stand for hours on the side of the road waiting to try and pick out a runner in a crowd of thousands, so you can shout a few words of encouragement or offer some sustenance in the few seconds they blow by you, bless your soul.  There’s a special place in the afterlife for you.    But if you plan to put out this kind of effort it is good to know the do’s and don’ts of being a good spectator.    This is especially true for the Boston Spectators who have honed the practice over decades and feel that it is their right (no, their duty) to set you right on what you are doing wrong.


Before we talk about appropriate signs, I’d like to point out how helpful signs can be.  Comedian Bill Engvall said it best in his routine about stupid people where he proposes that stupid people should carry a sign so you lower your expectations when dealing with them.  His routine on why Preparation H has a warning on the packaging that says DO NOT EAT, had me in tears.  It’s online, I highly recommend watching it.

A sign saying something stupid like “Only 24 miles to go” or “One foot in front of the other” are not only unhelpful, they reflect poorly on you in front of thousands of runners passing you by, not to mention the spectators around you.

Signs like “Go Daddy Go”, and “You have this Uncle Dave” have the personal touch that offer great encouragement, while the same un-personalized messages from a stranger, not so much.    Anyone with a “Go Faster” sign should be burned at the stake.

The best signs are the ones with humor or backed by enthusiasm.  Most notable in this category are the woman at Wellesley college who set up the scream tunnel.   Not only can you hear them screaming a half mile before you get there but they have great creative signs like “kiss me I’m Irish”, “be my first kiss”, “I know CPR and mouth to mouth”.     There are videos of this online, definitely worth a watch.  I’ve been known in the past to have thrown a few kisses to the women.  Unfortunately, with Covid the mouth-to-mouth personal interaction has been curtailed a lot but the scream tunnel is still the best spectator part of the race. 

Of course, signs aren’t limited to the spectators, the runners get into the act with messages on their clothes.  Some are aimed at other runners, particularly on the backs of their shirts.   “I spit to the right”, “I may be slow but I’m ahead of you”, and on a pair of shorts “stop looking at my butt and run” are both creative and helpful.     Other messages are for the crowd like putting your name on your shirt or the charity your running for.  The crowd does pick up on these and will add some personalization to their cheering.  Having done this, I can say I have mixed feelings.   It can be tiring towards the end of the race to keep looking into the crowd to see if the person calling your name is really someone you know.  A bit of history, the old days (the 1970’s), when I first started running Boston, the Boston Globe published the names and numbers of all the runners and spectators would try to spot your number, look you up and personalize their encouragement.

Other interactions to keep in mind:

-         Lying to a runner is a violation punishable by being staked out in front of the starting line and stomped to death by thousands of runners.   Saying things like “you’re at the top of Heart Break Hill” when you are not or “one mile to go” when there is two or more, are notable examples.  Saying” you are looking good” is excusable as a form of encouragement.   Looking good is not likely or high on the list of priorities.

-         Runners love upbeat music.

-         Hours of ringing cow bells or blowing horns are not bloody helpful to either the runners or the spectators around you.

-         Offering runners food or drinks is very generous but don’t shove them in their face or run along side with repeated offers.   One of the best gifts I received was a popsicle at mile 22 on a 90-degree day.    Jellybeans are my favorite but I even partook in a sip of beer from a college student one year.  

-         Don’t ask the runner to stop to take a picture.   It’s understandable that if you are standing in the sun or cold for hours that you want to get a picture of the person you are supporting, but don’t take it personally if they blow you off to keep running.

-         Don’t spray water on the runners.  I know this sounds obvious but on hot days some people bring hoses to the street to help cool the runners.   There may be times when this is helpful to some runners but it’s the runner’s choice, not the spectator.  Wet shoes and socks are heavier and can contribute to blisters.  One year it was so hot the Boston Marathon was almost cancelled, but instead the race director set up cold misting spray tents on the side of the course and you could just run through the tent and keep going.    I have to say, despite the wet shoes it was awesome.  

-         Lastly, and this is the most important, don’t ask if they are in pain or want to stop.  If they are anywhere past the 15-mile mark they are tired, likely in pain and fighting mentally to keep going.   Of course, they want to stop (Bill Engvall would say “here’s your stupid sign”), but the spectator’s job is not to tempt them to quit but to encourage them to keep going.    Any spectator who says “keep going, pain is just a state of mind” should get a knee to the groin to help to put them in the right “state of mind”.

With my marathon challenge coming up in the next week I can honestly say I’ll miss the Boston spectators, even the inappropriate ones.   Even I get tired of my own company and spending hours in my own head is a scary place.    A screaming tunnel and maybe a few rowdy spectators yelling encouragement would be welcome.  Instead, I’ll be avoiding deer jumping out of the woods in front of me, dodging pickup trucks on the narrow country roads and cursing the incessant steep hills that make up my neighborhood in Charlottesville.    But when the going gets tough I’ll remember all the people who are supporting my efforts and those pediatric cancer patients benefiting from Help in the Nick of Time.  

Wish me luck!