Wednesday, April 9, 2014

TODAY'S THE DAY

Today's post title comes from an inside joke started by my friend Steve.  When he was a star high school and later standout college runner, Steve would notice fellow runners lining up at the front of the pack, where they would promptly start their race at course-record pace, before rapidly fading and coming back to earth.  Since nothing about those runners' training or race history would objectively indicate that they could hold such a blazing pace, Steve and his teammates summed up their apparent mindset with the simple phrase: "Today's the day," as in, "today-is-the-day-I'm-going-to-run-a-full-minute-per-mile-faster-than-I've-ever-run-before."  Silly thought process surely, but entertaining for the knowledgeable observer.

Well, for me, right now, at this moment TODAY IS THE DAY!  It is the day that I launch my long-awaited (well, by me and the causes I'm running for, anyway) 2014 running fundraising initiative.  4 Marathons.  100+ Miles.  4 Excellent Causes.  And, it all starts 100 days from today, on July 19, 2014 in a lovely field in eastern Vermont.  The causes - and the fundraising links - are listed at the top of this blog, but here they are, with a quick word about each:


The Jimmy Fund: Who doesn't want to help fight cancer?

Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation:Who doesn't want to help people with spinal cord injury?

NH Campaign for Legal Services: Who doesn't favor justice for all,especially for the poor?

NH Public Television: Who doesn't love public broadcasting?  Sesame Street helped me learn English.  "Downton Abbey" is helping me perfect it. :-)



I've also set up a Facebook page, and am affectionately calling this initiative "Ron's Run for Jimmy, Chris, Justice & Elmo".

So, please, donate if you can.  Spread the word.  Send a good vibe.  Pray, if that's your thing.

Nothing about my running history guarantees that I will be able to complete this undertaking.  So, it's just natural, that 100 days to go until I toe the line, "TODAY IS THE DAY!"

Thanks, for reading this, and for sharing this incredible journey with me.

-Ron

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

A False Dichotomy: Reflections on Running WITH/FOR Others

The road and I have become re-acquainted during this fledgling training cycle.  It's a lot like I remember it: undulating, scenic, seemingly endless . . . but a lot whiter and more slippery.




A couple of Sundays ago, I capped a big training week for me.  I drove to Hopkinton, MA and ran 18 miles on the Boston Marathon course with my old friend Stuart, who's training for his first marathon. 

Then, since I'm in an extended base-building phase, I accepted an invitation to join some blind runners for a group run from the Massachusetts Association for the Blind's main offices in Brookline.  I was paired with a really nice guy named Erich, and we sought to negotiate the congested, only partially-cleared streets and sidewalks of Brookline, Boston and Cambridge, connected to one another by a short tether.

My interest in meeting and running with Erich and some of the others stems from my desire to be a guide to a disabled runner again at Boston 2014.  The Achilles International folks remain noncommittal at this relatively late stage, and some of us like to plan ahead.  OCD much?  Yeah, kinda. ;-)

During the first mile together, Erich and I covered the biographic basics.  He explained his sight loss (calling himself "low-vision") and I mentioned that my fiancee is legally blind in one eye.  He then posed what I regarded as a curious question: "Is that why you're interested in helping out, or are you just a good guy?"  I shuffled along without answering for a few strides, and then said, "Neither, really."  And so we discussed why I've taken to pacing and guiding as my predominant "racing" activities in the past several years.

It's not false modesty to say that I don't consider pacing and guiding to be great acts of selfless sacrifice. Granted, being a guide/pacer does require putting one's personal performance goals on the backburner, but - if we're being honest here - I turned to guiding/pacing for all sorts of selfish reasons.

Being a marathon pace guide is like being a rock star for a day.  The pace group members think of you as a running demi-god, someone able to leave them in the dust if you wanted to, but choosing instead to be there to shepherd them to their own goals.  They pose fawning questions; they ask you to pose for post-race photos; in some instances, they even try to kiss you in a way that might violate the Pacer-Runner Code of Ethics. :-)  We can blame that on adrenaline and exhaustion.

For a Pacer/Guide like me, though, participating in a marathon at a pace one-to-two minutes (or more) slower than my own race pace is a safe choice.  Factor in the long training/racing malaise which I endured, and you can get a sense that it would be fair to characterize my "running service" as an elaborately-crafted cop-out.  And, when you consider events like Boston and New York, where just getting into the race requires a qualifying time, some luck, and/or significant registration fees, being a Pacer/Guide is a very sweet deal.

Being a Guide for a disabled athlete is quite different than leading a group to a specific goal time.  Guides run their runner's race.  Our commitment is to making sure that this person has the best, smoothest, safest possible race experience, and we'll do what it takes to make it happen.  We stay with the athlete; we don't expect the athlete to stay with us.  Still, despite all that apparent selflessness, the cheers and the energy and the unfettered adulation as you accompany an inspirational figure as they do their inspirational thing is far more satisfying than hitting any goal time in one's own race.


So, Erich, as we discussed, I'm not guiding for my "low-vision" fiancee, and I'm not an especially good guy.  I just want to keep doing what I love doing, among other people who love, at the marquee events of our wonderfully egalitarian sport.

That's it.

TRAINING UPDATE

Since my last post, I've logged three consecutive 70+-mile weeks, with a 75+-mile week during the week of February 3 through February 9.  This is where a lesser runner might gripe about the awful, frigid, snowy, relentless, unforgiving winter we're having.  Not me, though. ;-)

The plan is to log one more week in the mid-70's (mileage, not temps, sadly) before heading to Italy on February 23rd for the kids' school vacation, where I'll be lucky to run half that distance.  The timing is actually optimal, as I'm due for a cutback week, and the trip will force me to take it.

In other news, I'm looking for a 50-mile qualifying race, since Vermont requires that every 100-mile runner have completed a 50-miler in less than 12 hours, with a deadline of June 1st.  I was planning on getting my 50-mile qualifier at Pineland Farms, but with that being on Memorial Day weekend, it felt like I'd be cutting it too close.  Leading candidate right now is the Lake Waramaug Ultra in Connecticut, scheduled on April 27th.  Guiding at Boston April 21st would be a perfect final long run. :-)

Thanks for reading. -Ron


Tuesday, January 28, 2014

From Clarity, Commitment - Going Long in 2014

As this part of the world endures an especially long and unforgiving deep freeze, 2014 is nearly 1/12 over.  Hopefully, this dreadfully cold winter is making its last great stand, before yielding to more historically seasonable temperatures and a blessedly early thaw.

The last post about diet hinted that big things were coming for me in 2014.  Momentous things.  Things requiring preparation, dedication, and focus.  Things that took a lot of thought to decide to undertake.  Things that will likely change me forever.  The decision to pursue these things came from cutting through much of the emotional, physical, spiritual and other fog in my life and finding a clarity of vision which let me see clearly not only my goals, but also - more importantly - how to achieve them.  Notably, each of these what-I-deem-noble pursuits had to start with a full-blown commitment, and each will demand the full force of that commitment throughout its duration.

One of those things involves running, and it should take about a full day.  The other involves the most important of life's decisions, and should - with a lot of luck - take decidedly longer.

Last September, after finishing the 200+-mile Reach the Beach Relay (where we first met 3 years earlier), I asked Meredith to marry me.
  The standard responses to that question include two short options: a three-letter word (highly preferable), or a two-letter word (completely devastating).  The desired three-letter Y-E-S eventually came out, but it took a lot of reflection, emotion and patience . . . on both of our parts.  Now, we're planning a June wedding just outside our beloved Richmond, Virginia, the primary locale of our courtship.  And, while marrying my great true love is itself most appealing, realizing that we will all again someday soon be able to ride inner tubes down the James River helps get one through this winter's deep, dark doldrums.

The other major endeavor of 2014 will happen about 6 weeks later.  In what my friend Barb and others have termed BHAG (Big-Hairy-Audacious-Goal), I have registered for the Vermont 100 Mile Endurance Run
Yes, this guy.  The guy who's struggled to run 35 miles-per-week for the past couple of years.  The guy who's never run more than 90 miles in a WEEK.  The guy who DROPPED OUT of his first attempt to run 50 miles.  That same guy is going to train himself - physically and mentally - to become an uncompromising plodding machine, never going fast, but perpetually beholden to the ultrarunner's mantra of Relentless Forward Progress.  And, you know what?  I'm completely "terricited" about it, equal parts scared and excited.  Actually, that's not true . . . I'm far more excited than scared.

It is a great comfort to be back to having a clear purpose above beyond attending to the prosaic details of everyday living.  And, while some aspects of planning are expectedly less enjoyable than others, figuring out a wedding, a honeymoon, and how to get through a 100-mile footrace, all in the company of my favorite adult person, makes virtually every moment of every day wonderfully purposeful.

There's so much to figure out.  So many options to weigh.  So many attendant sacrifices to make.  But, sacrifice need not equate to burden when it's for reasons which mean so much to the sacrificer.

And, um, soooooo ... about that . . . it's been a while since I channeled the selfishness inherent in pursuing a running BHAG into benefiting a good cause.  That said, though, I'm not going to run for a cause this year, either.  I am going to run for FOUR CAUSES.  On Friday, July 18, 2014, I will run 4.8 miles.  Added to the 100 miles I'll run starting at 4:00 am on Saturday, July 19th, I will have run the equivalent of four full marathons.  And, so, I have chosen four causes which mean a great deal to me personally, and I will ask any like-minded folks to support them.

Since I'm setting up fundraising sites and finalizing other logistical details, I'll share the details soon.  Save your charity money just a little longer, then, won't you? ;-)

And, finally, partly for old-times' sake, and partly because it will keep me accountable, here is my training from the past two weeks.  I may or may not keep posting training recaps regularly in the months ahead, but I welcome thoughts, opinions, and insights, especially from the knowledgeable ultrastuds and studettes out in the Interwebz.

WEEK OF JANUARY 13-19
Monday - 5.3M (coming off my first long-run stack of 15M Saturday, 20M Sunday)
Tuesday - AM: 4.5M easy;      PM: 90 mins Indoor Soccer (fun!)
Wednesday - 5.2M
Thursday - 7M
Friday - 13.1M (ran to work)
Saturday - AM: 6M group run (for #megsmiles) PM: Indoor Soccer
Sunday - 14.3M

WEEKLY TOTAL (counting soccer estimates) = ~63M

WEEK OF JANUARY 20-26

Monday - 5.1M
Tuesday - AM: 5M      PM: 90 mins Indoor Soccer
Wednesday - 6.7M
Thursday - 9.4
Friday -5.8
Saturday - 20+M
Sunday - 10M

WEEKLY TOTAL (counting soccer estimates) = 67+M
January 2014 is shaping up to be my best month of running/training since March 2011.  In terms of the overall training arc I've begun to map out for myself, I'm right where I want to be mileage-wise.  My legs and hips are certainly fatigued, but my energy is good (high-fat/low-carb/ketosis!), and I seem to be managing the higher volume well.  Of course, other than a few pickups on the treadmill and the short bursts which inevitably happen in soccer, all of these miles are quite slow.  As I realized during my most recent 20+-miler, where I was dragging and at times even walking up steep hills: When training for a 100-miler, running slow and walking *IS* race pace.

As I settle into this most excellent journey towards adventures and rewards both known and unknown, I'm glad that YOU (yes, you, reading this), are choosing to come along.

Thanks for reading. -Ron




Tuesday, January 21, 2014

GUT CHECK

This post - or at least the underlying impetus for it - has been a long time coming.

Since I my late-teens, I've had chronic stomach issues.  Attributed to heredity (my mother has a "nervous stomach"), I'd come to accept it as a permanent burden.  Granted, it's been a longtime nuisance, but never been quite bad enough to derail me from doing what I've wanted to do.  In more recent years, though, let's just say that it became severe enough that I knew the precise location of every port-a-pottie and shielded patch of roadside woods within a 10+-mile radius of my house.

Among the suspected culprits of my gastrointestinal woes have been Celiac disease, Irritable Bowel Syndrome, lactose intolerance, and food allergies.  As a beer-loving aficionado of the carbohydrate-driven lifestyle, though, I embraced the traditional United States' government food pyramid (below) like a gospel.


But, despite my ostensibly "healthy" low-fat diet, I never felt quite right.  There's the obvious GI distress in the form of stomach aches and extended post-meal bathroom sessions (no one wants their kids to say "See you in two hours, Dad . . .").  My sleep patterns have been a mess since adolescence.  I have experienced daily energy spikes and crashes.  I needed to end every meal with a sweet dessert.  I couldn't sit in a movie theater without a box of Milk Duds or Twizzlers.  Oh, and there's was my much-beloved IPA life stage.  But, all along, I was at war with myself.  And, after years of constant training, racing, experimenting, it only seemed to get worse.  To this day, I think often about my fueling travails at the 2011 Boston Marathon, where I ran my PR of 3:08+ despite being unable to take any fuel after about Mile 14.  I know I was in shape to run faster.  But I didn't, so the marathoner I thought I'd become was tempered by the actual marathon I ran that day.  And, frankly, I haven't even been as good a runner, on any level, since.

So, I did what skeptics do.  I questioned myself, my beliefs, my behavior.  I consulted learned sources who have found a different way.  I shed that unquestioned orthodoxy and kept an open mind.

And, I'm rather glad that I did.

My first attempted foray into a full-scale diet modification came in the Fall of 2012, when I paid for a "Metabolic Typing" assessment.  The 25+-page report and analysis was enlightening, but the proscription for how to combine foods soon became unworkable for me.  The two main positive changes for me at that time were that I gave up soy and soda completely.  But, after feeling notably better for a few weeks, I went back to my old ways, where grains and sugars made up most of my daily caloric intake.

After another year of sub-par training, medication-assisted sleeping, and continued facially-okay-but-actually-fundamentally-poor nutrition, I decided to try something radically different.  Thanks to information received from accomplished runner/athlete friends (Abby, Tamy, Wes, Tim, Ernesto), as well as from experts such as Drs. Jeff S. Volek & Stephen D. Phinney, Dr. Tim Noakes, and the knowledgeable-but-occasionally-bloviating Vinnie Tortorich, I adopted a different dietary approach just before Halloween 2013.

The key resources for me have been Drs. Volek & Phinney's book, "The Art and Science of Low Carbohydrate Living"; a few select episodes of Vinnie Tortorich's "Angriest Trainer" podcast, and a cornucopia of excellent Paleo recipe sites, including PaleOMG, NomNomPaleo, and and the useful recipe compilation site Paleo Grubs.  Another unexpected benefit has been that I've discovered that I actually enjoy cooking and baking, and appreciate the challenge of preparing delicious dishes and treats within my newly discovered dietary parameters.


Since I despise labels, I call this new way of eating a low-carb/Paleo/NSNG (no-sugar-no-grain) approach.  It's not any one of those things exclusively.  I do consume some carbs, notably sweet potatoes and some honey/maple syrup.  I do consume dairy, but only whole-milk/full-fat.  I do eat peanuts, beans and some other legumes.  So none of the strictest labels fits me, and I'd have it no other way.  And, because a lot of folks ask, I most certainly DO NOT CALL IT A DIET.

The results since I started doing this have been - for me - nothing short of remarkable. I have managed to increase my running mileage from 25-30 miles per week to over 60, and have been playing soccer once a week, to boot.  I've run back-to-back long runs of 15 and 20 miles, with one small chia bar or a single nut butter packet to fuel me.  I am less sore after running longer than I could have imagined.

 Bear in mind that while I have been slowly ramping up my running mileage, I now eat more fat in a day than I used to consume in a week.  And I now eat fewer carbohydrates - especially sugar - in a week than I used to consume in a day (sometimes even in a single sitting, like breakfast).


But, more importantly, my mental focus and acuity have improved to the point that I don't know how I was getting by before.  My friend Ernesto addressed this quite well in his own recent blog post: http://www.ernestoburden.com/2013/12/low-carb-iq-boost-ketosis-and-cognitive-function/.

Also, despite because of consuming SO MUCH FAT, moderate protein and so little sugar/carbs, my weight and body composition seem to have found their own equilibrium.  Here's a self-consciously taken selfie from about three weeks into the new way of eating:


And here's the most recent, taken a couple of days ago (about 10 weeks in):


Of course, this remains an experiment, but the initial results and transformative feeling are so overpowering that I cannot imagine going back.  Have I cheated?  Of course.  In New York City.  In Italy.  During the holidays.  But every lapse reminds me in stark physiological terms just how much better suited I am to this new approach to eating. 

Much bigger tests are coming.  Stay tuned . . . :-)

Thanks for reading. -Ron

Thursday, November 7, 2013

THE (RUN-)WALKING DEAD: NYCM 2013 "Event" Report

After two October trips to the pop-up Halloween store, it appears that the zombie apocalypse is nigh.  It used to be that female-targeted Halloween costumes tended to the "Sexy/Naughty/Slutty".  While that remains true, now it seems that "Sexy/Naughty/Slutty Zombie ___________" is the order of the day.  The title of this post, therefore, comes from the fact that this blog - moribund for so long - simply refuses to die.  It may also reflect my guiding experience in last weekend's New York City Marathon.

A LITTLE CONTEXT

Every marathon race is a 26.2-mile journey (YES! that's the official marathon distance, dammit) that begins long before the runner toes the starting line.  In this case, my journey began in the late summer of 2012, when I was lucky enough to be chosen by Achilles International to guide a triple-amputee Marine who would be doing his first marathon in a handcycle.  Alas, Superstorm Sandy nixed that.  Then came Boston, where I was assigned to run with an above-the-knee amputee (we'll call him TS) who was shooting for a 4:30 finish.  As with so many of life's endeavors, things did not go as planned for TS there.  He set out a bit too fast in the first half, but the second-half fade spared us from being much, much closer to the finish line at the time of the bombings.  We made it to Mile 25.5, and immediately made a pact to try again in NYC in November.

So, for me, NYCM 2013 started more than a year earlier.  For TS, this would be a race almost seven months in the making.

THE RACE

If finishing time is the only measure of marathoning success, then NYCM 2013 would have to be filed as an unqualified disaster.  Fortunately, though, it isn't, so it wasn't.  And because the metrics are not conventional, neither should a "race report" be.  Rejoice, therefore, Dear Reader, since this post will not take you through a mile-by-mile recap of the good, the bad, and the ugly which tends to comprise the marathon race experience.  In fact, this wasn't really a race at all, so I won't treat it as such.  Instead, I would characterize more like a series of wonderful and discrete experiences tied together by consistent forward motion towards a blue and orange banner in one of the world's most famous parks.

Knowing that his training had not been optimal, and dealing with a problem in his knee (as in, his only knee), TS dialed back his original 4:15 goal.  As I pressed him, he cagily said "4:30-4:45".  Having run and paced and guided quite a few of these things by now, I prepared myself for a mostly pleasant five-plus-hour amble through the Five Boroughs which are New York City.  It was a good thing that I did, because it turned out to be all of that and more.

What follows here, though, is a list of the encounters, images, and memories with which I left New York City.  Maybe every significant life experience changes in some way.  Serving as a guide for NYCM 2013 certainly changed me as a runner; time will tell how much it has changed me as a person.

THE START

View from the AWD starting area
The ride from Midtown Manhattan was dark and long, though the sun was up by the time we got there.  TS and I rode together, and I mostly just sat quietly, preparing myself for the long day ahead.  The Achilles bus was full of Athletes With Disabilities (aka, AWDs) and their Guides.  All of the athletes on our bus were ambulatory, as the wheelchair/handcyclists require special transportation.  AWDs span a wide range in terms of the conditions which lead to their needing a Guide.  Amputation, blindness, paralysis, and cerebral palsy were among the reasons I heard from fellow Guides and their runners.  We were shuttled to a special AWD staging area, and the most striking visual was the scores of wheelchairs and other adapted contraptions which would allow so many people to pursue their dream of hurtling 26.2 miles through the five famed boroughs of New York City.



SECURITY

Having been on the course during Boston 2013, and having pored over every announcement about heightened security at NYCM, I was prepared for anything.  TS was checked quickly and allowed to bypass the metal detector/body scanner, since his composite carbon-fiber prosthetic leg would have set off the machine.  I was extended no such courtesy, and therefore waited, and waited, and waited while a malfunctioning metal detector was resuscitated by NYPD officers.  Not surprisingly, the police department was out in force, but I noticed many officers with special badges, including "Auxillary", "School Safety Division", "Taxi Squad", and others.  Everyone was on call.  And virtually every one of them was attentive and courteous.

From the time we arrived at the start area until I made it back to my friends' Upper West Side apartment some 8+ hours later, I saw more uniformed police than I had ever seen in a single day in my life.  Other shows of high-alert included police buses, armored vehicles and strategically hovering helicopters.  I was able to take the following picture from the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge:



The ubiquity of armed personnel watching over 50,000 runners and more than a million spectators was simultaneously comforting and unnerving.  After Boston, authorities weren't going to take any chances.  Since the 2013 NYCM went off without an incident, their abundant caution worked.  Still, perhaps some day such measures won't be necessary to thwart prospective wrongdoers, or even to assuage public concern about bad things happening.  For now, though, reality dictates differently.

BROOKLYN

Staten Island gets the race start, and - as in life - apparently not much else.  On the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge we climbed the first big "hill" amidst a cold, strong crosswind as we headed towards Brooklyn.  The eerie quiet of the first few miles soon gave way to people, lots and lots of people.  People yelling.  People dancing.  People playing musical instruments.  People holding signs.  People clapping.  People encouraging every single person who went by in the most unequivocally positive terms.  It's not something one sees every day, and certainly not in a city of over 8.3 MILLION (!) which would not be named a bastion of congeniality on a normal day.  The New York City Marathon makes for not a normal day.

Brooklyn was a blast. 

Because TS lost his left leg above the knee, he has to run as far to the left of a course as he can, which is the safest thing both for him and for other runners (in fact, my job as his guide is to create a buffer zone between him and the field).  That means that we always stayed close to the spectators on the left side of the road.  And so, in Brooklyn, began the high-fives.  Little and medium-sized kids were the most eager to get a hand-slap from a passing runner.  I tried to get every single one (often yelling as I passed, "MAKE SURE TO WASH YOUR HANDS!"), and then, to my surprise, nearby adults would extend their hands, too, offered with a sincere word of praise.  Not just the parents, either.  Adults cheering alone.  People in traditional garb from other countries.  Old people.  Religious people (well, not the Hasidic Jews in Williamsburg).  Even some of NYC's finest extended a hand along the way.

Brooklyn included people of virtually every conceivable nationality and skin tone.  To think that they all convened just to see us (us!) was a happy realization indeed.  I heard my name yelled by a guy I know from online running circles, the only time that would happen over the course of the race.

AWD IN DISTRESS

During the first half of the race, I was pretty pumped up, so I checked and rechecked our pace to make sure I didn't lead TS out too fast.  Unfortunately, that I didn't didn't matter.  It wasn't his day to chase a new marathon PR, but he stayed laser-focused on that finish line.

After settling into a decent groove, putting us on pace for a 4:45-ish finish, TS started slowing down.  Runners often describe that feeling as the moment in a race where "the wheels come off".  Well, not long after we started experiencing that, we came upon an AWD who was the literal embodiment of the phrase.  At almost exactly the Mile 14 marker, TS and I say an Achilles AWD in a prone handcycle off to the side of the course.  The athlete seemed dazed and confused.  He also did not speak much English.  Turns out he's Italian, which felt like karma since I have been shirking my self-guided Italian study and was thus able to say only, "Io non capisco l'italiano" ("I don't understand Italian").  The right rear wheel on chair was cracked.  It had been temporarily held together with duct tape, but as he sought to move the hand pedals, the wheel just came off the axle.  He seemed like he might be hurt, so we called on available race medical volunteers until they thought they had found one who spoke Italian.  10-15 minutes after we came upon the poor prone fellow, we were moving again.

I have tried to find out what happened to him, but no one seems to know.

QUEENS

Dealing with the athlete in distress was our welcome to Queens, so perhaps in an effort to get back into "race mode" (or, at least, "finish mode"), I was less aware of my surroundings in Queens.  It's also just a few miles.  Still, I remember more high-fives; more clever signs ("SMILE IF YOU PEED A LITTLE"; I smiled, even though I hadn't ... yet), and more wild cheers.


Then came the Queensboro Bridge, where we had another AWD encounter.  This time, it was a stopped Achilles amputee, whose prosthesis had become unsafely loose.  We needed a specific hexagonal key to tighten it, but no one had one.  I tried "MacGyvering"it from detritus I found on the ground (a paper clip, a zipper pull, a piece of a key), but no luck.  So, I jumped the concrete barrier, ran up to an ambulance, and asked for help.  No dice.  We left that runner and his Guides behind, but saw him pass us a while later, which made us happy.

At this point, I felt a bit low.  The wind whipped across the Queensboro Bridge; the sky was still gray.  It had gotten crowded on the course, which presented more challenges in terms of keeping TS safe.  We still had over 10 miles to go, and we were walking.  A lot.

It's not very often that I have the impulse to punch a 70-something year-old (much less a runner) in the face, but at about Mile 15.5, we experienced the one act of nastiness amidst a day of otherwise unfettered kindness.  As an elderly gentlemen passed us during a stretch of walking on the bridge, he literally yelled that we were "taking up half the path".  As he kept moving, I replied, "Sorry [sarcastically] . . . we have a disabled runner here."  Most people would apologize, or otherwise acknowledge their overreaction, but he instead doubled-down: "I don't give a shit!  You should be in a single file."  When we caught him less than a half-mile later, I might have eased over to the left again just a tad closer than what one might call socially acceptable.  My job is to keep my runner safe.  Other runners, beware: I take my job seriously.

MANHATTAN, THEN THE BRONX

Manhattan brought what Manhattan is known for bringing: crowds.  People lined up 10 or more deep.  Lots of well-dressed folks sipped coffee.  A few of those who leaned their Starbucks cups over the railing were surprised when I pantomimed helping myself to their tasty hot beverage.  Reactions ranged from pulling away, to laughing, to offering their cup with the greatest sincerity.  We may have been moving slowly, but I was having fun.

The East Side blocks ticked off.  Somewhere, maybe around 100th Street, I started hearing a loud female voice roaring, "JESUS!  JEE-SUS!!! JEEEEEEEEESSSSSSSSUUUUUUSSSSSS!!!!!"  Turned out to be an older black woman, waving a black leather-bound bible.  "JESUS!!!!!!!!"  We walked.  "JEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE-SSSSSSSSSSUUUUUSSSSSSSSSSSS!!!"  We jogged a little.  And, finally, we reached her.  Looking more through me than at me, she let it rip, the bible shaking in her hand: "JEEEEEEESSSSSUSSSSSS!!!!!"  I looked at hear, smiled, and said, "No, thank you."  Some runners around me smiled.  TS yelled something about foregiveness.  We forged ahead.  She kept screaming.

A few blocks north of the Church Lady, another exuberant spectator was putting on a cheering spectacle of her own.  On the right side of First Avenue I noticed a younger black woman, slim, with bleached blond hair.  She was sprinting up and down the side of the course, pointing at runners and screaming, "This is YOU runnin' fast," over and over and over.  It was also her, but it's not clear if she appreciated the irony.

And then, seemingly in a flash, we reached the Willis Avenue Bridge, for our brief foray into The Bronx.  As we neared the end of our first pass through Manhattan a guy yelled, "You're almost in the The Bronx!"  I jokingly asked him, "Is it safe?"  His response: "You won't be there long."  I felt so much better.

The Bronx really was just a blip.  A little over a mile and then we were on our final bridge, the Madison Avenue Bridge, for our return to Manhattan and the final push towards the finish.

MANHATTAN,REDUX

The gray skies finally cleared, the temperature rose a few degrees, and we were in the home stretch.  More walking.  More high fives.  More cheers and signs and massive good will.  We were moving slowly, but no one seemed to hold it against us.

I had a nice moment with an older lady in Harlem.  She was in a wheelchair/scooter, sort of slumped, with a sign which read "Harlem HEARTS You".  I looked straight at her and smiled, and she sat up straight, beaming a huge smile back at me.  A perfect little moment like I've never had before, and likely will never have again.

Somewhere after the Mile 22 mark, Central Park came into view.  What a sight, though we were still walking and we still had 4 more miles.  At Mile 24, we turned into the Park, still walking more than running.
 It didn't matter anymore, because the time on the clock meant nothing to us.  The only thing that mattered was that a man who'd lost his leg in a car accident about 8 years ago and a big-eared, Jewfro sporting goofball who likes to cover long distances on foot in the company of others were inching ever closer to the Finish Line denied them in April thanks to a couple of terrorists with a horrifically misguided sense of purpose.  For TS, this would be another finish line in a sport he took up before he became "disabled".  We were cold.  We were tired.  We were ready to be done.  But, I think I speak for TS when I say that we also felt like yelling, "Fuck car accidents!" and "Fuck terrorists!" and "Fuck anyone and anything which seeks to get in the way of people and their hopes, their dreams, their spirit!"  We were going to finish, and finish we did, 202 days, 5 hours and 34 minutes after we first started running together in Hopkinton, Massachusetts.  Not fast by most measures, but at least ahead of Pamela Anderson. :-)









Monday, May 20, 2013

Laying It Out There

Running.

It's been a huge part of my life since I started on July 4, 2006.  It's been my friend.  It's helped me make friends.  It's been my nemesis.  It's been an addiction.  A lifeline. Therapy. Burden. Opportunity. Buttresser of self-confidence.  Inducer of self-doubt.

Running played a supporting role in the breakup of my marriage.  It is also how I met my current love.

Running has remained by my side all this time, but it has been a complicated relationship.  At some point, after running a marathon PR in April 2011, I lost my zest for training.  I didn't want to get up early to run.  I didn't want to run every day.  I didn't want to run hard.  I sure as hell didn't want to race, at least not without pre-fabricated excuses ("my first 50-miler", or "I'm doing 4 long races in 4 weeks") and solid reasons for why my fitness and performance had fallen so far so quickly ("These damned hip flexors!").

But, I didn't want to shed my identity as "a runner".  As "the running lawyer".  As that crazy guy who runs all those miles, eats & drinks to his heart's content, and always stays trim and toned.

Except that I was living a lie, or at least an illusion.

I've not gone more than a few days without running in the past few years, but I've run less often.  And shorter.  And more slowly.  And, most sadly, I've lost much of the joy and satisfaction which comes from being competitive with oneself, with pushing one's perceived limits and finding new ways of improving, achieving, excelling.

Well, the time has come to reconnect with running, or move on to something else.  So, I tried a running streak (and hit 70 days).  That helped a little.  I guided at Boston.  That was an extremely memorable experience.  I scheduled another Boston qualifying attempt, at Keybank Vermont City on May 26th, and was following Pete Pfitzinger's 16-week, 70-mile-per-week plan. That went okay, until I fell off the bouldering wall and sprained my ankle.

But a key unknown in all of this has been the question that's tougher to ask than to answer: "Just exactly how much fitness have I lost?"  There's only one reliable source to answer that, and it displays its responses in hours, minutes, and seconds.  So, I've been on a racing tear, with four races in 14 days.  Here's the verdict:
  • Flat 5K on May 4 - 20:25 (PR is 18:46); couldn't make my legs move faster than that
  • Half-marathon on May 11 - 1:38:55 (PR - 1:26:xx); chewed up and spit out by hills, humidity and wind
  • Slightly tougher 5K on May 16 - 20:3x, a personal worst on that course since I became 'a runner"
  • 12K (~7.5-mile) on May 18th - 52:44 (a HUGE PR, as I've never raced that distance before), and by far the best race in terms of
    making a realistic fitness assessment and executing intelligently . . . suddenly, racing seemed fun again
So, what's the takeaway from this?  I'm done with marathons.  At least for now.  I've withdrawn from Vermont City, and will instead head to Maine for my second annual Pineland Farms 50K.  I will probably not qualify for Boston 2014, so I won't get to go back as a racer and somehow seek to find some personal measure of validation for the fact that so much was taken away from so many on April 15, 2013.

What does this mean exactly?  Well . . . I'm not on a specific training plan.  I'm running every single day, though, even if only a few miles.  I'm joining friends at the track if I feel like it.  I'm racing when it's convenient and close to home.  I'm rock-climbing.  Lifting weights.  Playing soccer, and riding bikes, and playing tag and slacklining with my kids.  I call it loosening my grip.  Some might call it living.

Where will this lead?  I have no idea, but I do know that allowing one's hobby to become a major source of life stress is basically one big failure.

So, what's after Pineland Farms next weekend?  Other than probably a couple of easy miles the next day, I have no idea.  And I feel much happier about that than I could have imagined.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

I Couldn't Have Said It Better . . .

than so many other articulate, thoughtful, wonderfully eloquent observers . . . .

Before the start at Athlete's Village . . . bubbling with joy and optimismMust we now redefine "it"?
So . . . I am not going to post my usual longish Boston 2013 "Race Report".  Suffice it to say that my amputee runner, co-guide and I were a safe distance away from the finish area at the time of the blasts, are all physically unharmed, and managed the chaos and confusion of the situation as well as anyone.

We got word out to our friends and family; we retrieved our material possessions.  Our inspiring amputee runner will receive a finisher's medal, despite having to stop at the 25.5-mile mark, because the course just turned into a fretful sea of humanity, with the police telling us what NOT to do, but not otherwise giving any clear instructions.

The whole experience has been on the edge of overwhelming.  There are some obvious reasons for that (I was there; I live an hour from Boston; runners/marathoners are my "community"; etc.), and some less obvious ones.

Innocence has become a precious commodity in our modern world.  Loss of any of that precious innocence compounds the very tragedy which takes our innocence.  A vicious cycle.

Every day I think about the Boston Marathon.  About how things could have been different for me.  How they SHOULD have been different for the three people who were killed.  How April 15, 2013 has permanently and indelibly scarred the 200 victims, and so many more of us.  How the attack and subsequent police investigation brought out some of the very best qualities in all of us.  How sad it is that the inspiration towards selflessness, caring, charity and love abates all-too-quickly.  And about much, much more.

Yet, I'm going to stay away from much of that: theodicy; existential angst; political grandstanding; the seemingly insatiable need for contextualizing the inexplicable.  Oh, and the media.

Thank you, Boston Marathon, for everything you have given me, fellow participants, the "local" community, the running world, and the countless people who normally don't give a whit about running yet find themselves moved by an event that brings together 25,000+ people seeking to challenge themselves, motivate others, help charities and otherwise simply choose to live in a way that honors the gift which is our limited time on this planet.

One more thing: Boston has also led me to rethink my relationship with running, including (especially?) the marathon distance.  More on that to follow in the days ahead.