Saturday, April 21, 2012

Race Report: Boston Marathon 2012

I survived. I wasn’t fast, and things certainly didn’t go according to plan. But I survived. The 2012 Boston Marathon will go down as one of the hardest and most incredible races I’ve ever done.

The story of the day was the heat. It ended up just as bad as they forecast, with temperatures reaching nearly 90 with a bright sun. I knew it would be a big deal, and in my head planned on adding 30 minutes to my goal time. One of the Tufts’ team captains advised us to add 45-90 minutes, but I figured being the tough guy I am, 30 minutes would do it. In the end, it was just about 60.

The day started off on a great note. I was lucky enough to be a VIP- the team had about 20. That meant I went straight to a waiting coach bus- instead of standing in a very long line waiting for a yellow bus with thousands of other runners. When the small group of coach buses pulled out of Boston, we had a police escort on the Mass Pike to Hopkinton, where we made our way to the middle school cafeteria to relax on floor mats as opposed to outside under tents. Very nice.

During the ride, I had a great time talking with other members of the Tufts Marathon Team, which was made up of undergrads, grad students, faculty, alumni and parents. Every single person had an interesting story to tell, and a bond quickly developed due to our common opponent. It was also comforting to see the other 95 Tufts singlets out on the course. I’m sure everyone got a bit of a lift by seeing teammates at a time when we were all suffering.

Due to the forecasted heat, I decided to monitor my heartrate on my Garmin. Although I haven’t trained with it in a long time, I knew my max was about 177, so figured I should stay below 155-160 for as long as possible. Just before the start, I turned on the monitor and saw an initial reading of 100- while standing still. Oh crap. It should be around 60. Was the heat going to make that much of a difference? (YES!) It came down to 90, but that was still way too high for barely moving.

After a slow stop-and-go walk towards the starting line, everyone began to jog just before the line and we crossed 10 minutes after our wave began. I was immediately surprised by the available space. I couldn’t go at the pace I wanted, but there was very little bumping, and navigating wasn’t too hard. I tried hard not to weave around people and felt I should be slow and controlled anyway due to the heat and downhill start. Mile 1 was around 9:30, mile 2 about 8:58. I was running very easily, slowly picking up speed, and already taking in fluids. All good things. One huge problem, however- my heart rate was in the upper 160s. If the monitor was correct, and I had no reason to doubt it, I knew this would be trouble. However, given how easy the effort was, I didn’t want to walk at this point. So I just tried to keep it as easy as possible and continue with my nutrition.

Mile 9.

My original nutrition plan was to drink a Hammer gel (2) and Heed mix from a 10 oz bottle on the odd miles 1-7 and water on the even miles. Since I forgot the 10 oz bottle, I bought a 20 oz bottle at the expo. I worked on just the Hammer mix for the first 4 miles, then combined a short walk at the water stops to take in added water and lower my heart rate. So by the time I reached mile 9 where Coach waited with a big Tufts group, I probably had 75% more fluid than planned. Calories and salt tablets were just about on plan, but as the race wore on, it got to be difficult to remember what I had done and it mentally became harder to keep taking in the same stuff while enduring such difficult conditions.

From mile 9 onward, I probably had twice the fluid intake as planned, taking from both Gatorade and water at every stop. I also developed a very dry mouth, a sign that dehydration is well established, way too early in the race. I thought I was taking in plenty of fluids, and knew that the body can only absorb so much and taking in too much can also be a problem. So I felt stuck. My solution, which I knew might just mask the symptom, was to suck on ice when I could find it. That helped the dry mouth, and may have also helped me cool down a smidge. I also put ice under my cap and held it in my hands. On top of all this, I felt the all-too-familiar stomach cramp setting in, also way too early. In prior hot triathlons, this cramping reduced me to a painful and slow walk, and at IM Wisconsin, a park bench for 30 minutes. I really didn’t want to go through that again. As a result, I took in even more fluids. Fortunately, that seemed to do the trick and the stomach cramp went away.

The disconcertingly elevated heart rate and walk at water stops cycle continued on. While running, my pace was around 8:45-9:00. The heat was taking its toll mentally and physically. Around mile 12, I connected with a Tufts grad student and we started chatting. It was a great and needed mental lift that lasted for about four miles. We walked much less than before, which let me think I might be getting better. This section also included the famed Wellesley College stretch. The coeds go nuts for about half a mile, screaming encouragement to everyone.

It was around mile 15 that my quads started to hurt- a lot. Every step was painful, especially downhill. My feet were also hurting- let’s face it- it just sucked all over. In addition to walking at water stops, I did the same on parts of uphills and mile markers. My running pace had also slowed to about 9-9:20.

While this drudgery continued to the finish, I’d like to turn the focus to the more positive parts of the race. The crowds were AMAZING. I’ve never seen anything like it. From the start to the finish, there was hardly a point without spectators. And they weren’t just watching and offering a few words of encouragement. They screamed, shouted, held signs, offered ice (all ice came from them, not the race), licorice, oranges, hoses and sprinklers, and frozen yogurt. And they did this for hours on end. The enthusiasm was incredible even though some 18,000 people were well ahead of us. Boston College, where Heartbreak Hill is, was perhaps the most intense. The road was still just two lanes wide and the crowd was several deep. They were loud-deafening- and outrageous.

It was also incredible to see the support for Tufts. I’m biased, but I swear I heard more cheers specifically for Tufts than any other jersey. Only “Dana Fahbah” came close. While many of the Tufts cheers came from random folks, there were also tons of Tufts groups watching all along the course. And I’m willing to bet there were more official water stops manned by Tufts students than any other organization. I couldn’t go more than a few yards without hearing a cheer directed at me because of my yellow shirt and blue hat. It was an amazing show of support, and made a huge difference.

Back to the race. There are four uphills from about mile 15 to 21, ending with the famous Heartbreak Hill. I had to walk parts of the earlier hills, but knowing this could be the only time I do this race, I was determined to run the entire Heartbreak Hill. I knew I might pay for it, but I’d be damned if didn’t get the memory of what it was like to run up that thing. As a stand-alone hill, contrary to popular belief, it really isn’t that bad. What’s tough about it is the point in the race and ensuing descent, pounding on already spent quads.

At that point, the debate in my head started- “Only 5 (4, 3, 2) miles to go, you’ve done this thousands of time”…”It’s just to the high school and back”… vs. “I don’t want to go another step.” The mile markers seemed to be spread much further apart. I just continued the slow jog/walk/drink cycle. Honestly, I felt guilty walking. The fans were so incredible, I felt I owed it to them to run.

It was around mile 23 when I decided I would run the entire last 1.2 miles. I owed it to the race. The mile 25 marker comes right at the top of the Mass Pike overpass, so I walked up that and then stumbled into a jog. It was a very long 1.2 miles, every step hurt, but I did it. I was lucky to see Christine, Nick and Leah about 200 yards before the finish and went over for hugs. That was awesome. They have put up with all of the training and chatter around the race.

This gives you an idea of how crowded it was, even at the end of the race.  Photo: NT.

Coach was at the finish. He said I was depleted, to keep moving to the VIP finishing tent and get something into me.

At that point a volunteer grabbed my arm and walked me to the tent. As she asked me basic questions, I knew she was screening me for the med tent. I felt like saying, “I know what you’re doing…,” but instead said I was fine and continued on. I’ll spare you of all the details, but suffice it to say I was toast. It was hard to function for probably 15 minutes, and it was another 30 minutes before I felt I could leave the sanctuary of the tent.

A few parting comments:

1. My 10K splits actually were fairly even- 57:25, 1:02:38, 1:02:54 and 1:06:01. I’ve seen plenty of splits that went parabolic, so it seems to me I gauged my effort fairly well. Sure, there’s a piece of me that is disappointed in the time. I’d like to know what I could do under better conditions. But I was able to 1) enjoy the experience, and 2) avoid injury- those were my two primary goals six months ago.

2. A big thanks to all of those that helped with my fundraising. It allowed me to run, but more importantly raised important funds for the Tufts Nutrition School.

3. Speaking of nutrition, I’m curious about what I could have done better. I took in nearly twice the fluid than planned, and about the same calories. I was probably a little light on the salt, but I figured the extra Gatorade made up for that. The one time I peed (mile 7), it was a very light yellow, so I figured I was OK. I think it’s possible to get into trouble from too much fluid, so I didn’t want to get ridiculous.

4. Next up? It’s time to get back on the bike. I’ve been on for a total of 90 minutes since September. Where did I put those training wheels? Polarbear should be interesting. By the time Pirate Tri rolls around, I should be better. I’m also signed up for Norway, which I’ve never done before. Then the big one is Sprint Nationals. I’d really like to improve upon my 2011 performance. That race was hot (sounds familiar) and mid day (familiar). This year, the race is in the morning and I’ve figured out several other things that should help. I’d love to win my age group, but the competition should be stiffer because the race will have 3-4 times the competitors, and many will likely double up from Saturday’s Olympic race.

5. “Coach, ” otherwise known as Don Megerle, is great. The fact that 95 out of 96 Tufts starters, most of whom were first-timers, finished the race on a day like this is amazing. In talking with many of them, I heard countless examples of his dedication to the team. If a runner was injured, he showed up at every PT appointment. He cut fresh strawberries as part of his multiple aid stations- for training runs every week for six months. The night before the race, he called me to ask what I thought about the message that was being put out by the BAA- which was alarming, encouraging people not to run due to the heat. We agreed that those at the greatest risk were the higher end athletes that wouldn’t adapt to the conditions. At the end of the call, I asked if he could send a couple of the Tufts Marathon hats sometime after the race. He said he would have them to the hotel before we left in the morning, “I’ll probably drop them off between 3 and 4 (AM).” Half an hour later, the front desk called to say we had a package. His dedication to the Team and school is incredible.

6. Lasting memories…Coach’s efforts…the support for Tufts on the course…the incredibly energetic crowd that stretched for 26 miles…seeing the family before the finish…the view of the finish line as I turned onto Boylston…running a race with TWENTY-TWO THOUSAND FOUR HUNDRED EIGHTY starters…

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Game Changer

As recently as four days ago, the weather forecast for Boston was all over the place. Then it became more consistent and my only concern was a possible strong headwind. That was then.

Now we're looking at temperatures in the mid to high EIGHTIES. This is no longer a race. You can deal with nearly any other weather, making adjustments with clothing and still make it a race, going for your goal time. But heat is a different matter. Sure, there are plenty of adjustments to make. But unfortunately, the biggest adjustment is effort. Overheating can be very dangerous, and once that point is reached, it's tough to recover.

I read a bunch of articles that discuss running in high temps to get suggestions. Problem is, they weren't very helpful. Run early in the day before it warms up? No. Find a shady course or trail? No. Acclimatize for 10-14 days? Not so much. I read one article that reviewed the famous 1982 Boston when Salazar beat Beardsley by two seconds. By the way, there's a great youtube clip that shows the last few miles. Anyway, is was noted that Bill Rogers, who was expected to be the one to challenge Salazar, suffered due to the heat that day. IT WAS ONLY 68 DEGREES!

When it became clear yesterday that it would be scorching hot, the emails and web postings started to fly. The organizers and charities will allow everyone to defer entry to next year. Even the fundraising can count towards next year. I gave it some serious, serious consideration, but in the end decided to run. Here's my plan:

- Most importantly, adjust my goal. I'm not quite sure what's realistic, but probably something like 3:45, 30 minutes slower than I wanted. And that goal is adjustable. It's far more important to have a healthy finish.
- Run / walk protocol, or walking at regular intervals. While I've never even practiced it, I've heard plenty about it. And it really isn't that different from interval training. This should help my heart rate to recover a bit and allow me to be more diligent at aid stations. I'm not sure what the intervals will be. It could be as simple as walking every aid station, or it could be determined by heart rate. Which leads me to...
- Wear a heart rate monitor. I haven't trained with it, but I think I have enough experience to make it useful. I will also be able to watch the change/increase as the race wears on.
- Wear arm coolers. These will keep the sun off, have some sort of fancy fabric that promotes cooling, and can absorb cold water every mile.
- Bring extra salt and gels.

I think I can monitor my own condition and make adjustments. But I'm concerned about other runners. A few years ago, Chicago had a disaster in this kind of heat. Because of that, I would imagine that Boston will be better prepared. However, there are two key differences with Boston. First, no one has been able to run in warmer weather. It will be a shock to the system. Second, Boston is the only marathon where you need to run a qualifying time to get in (other than us charity runners). There will be thousands of people that worked really hard just to get there. Knowing something about the Type-A, bulldog competitor mentality, these folks may not let anything get in their way. I fear for Tuesday's headlines.

Here we go....

Sunday, April 8, 2012

On your mark....

This time next week, I'll be wondering if I will get ANY sleep the night before the Boston Marathon. Given that I've been waking up at 4 AM recently, feeling ready to go and immediately thinking about the race, I doubt sleep will come a week from now. My taper has been going very well. We've been home for the last two weekends- my first since November- which means I haven't skied in three weeks and I've had plenty of time to rest. I finally figured out my ideal napping/tv watching position with elevated legs. This has led to some epic amounts of a whole lotta nuthin. I'm talking about 2+ hours per day for two weekends in a row.

While tapers bring all sorts of energy back to the body, they also typically bring other odd sensations. I swear that constant exercise creates some sort of buffer around injuries. When the volume of exercise is cut back, that buffer subsides. The newly exposed nagging pains can be disconcerting, whether or not you've experienced the process before. I'm feeling it in my left hip and feet. Obviously it's from all of the pounding. I really don't think it's anything more serious than that. And when I run I feel fine.

Tapers gradually reduce volume. They also change training speeds. In general, my weekly routines have evolved into two different speeds. As a point of reference, I'm shooting for a 3:15, which is 7:25/mi. Most running during the taper is easy- 8-8:20. Then once per week intervals (200s and 400s) get me down to exact race pace. It feels very easy, and should. I'm not trying to build fitness. With the slow running, I'm maintaining fitness and promoting recovery. With the intervals, I'm training my neurological system what it feels like to go at my target speed.

That's what I'm supposed to do...but it doesn't always happen that way. Two weeks ago my long run was 9 miles. I planned the run as much as possible to mimic the race- the time of day, my nutrition from the time I woke up, my nutrition during the run, and the clothes/equipment I would use. For example, I plan to carry a Fuel Belt bottle for the first 7 miles of the marathon. It will have one scoop of Heed and two Hammer Gels mixed with water. I typically don't run while carrying anything, so I wanted to get used to the feeling. This dress rehersal had me pretty excited. After a mile, I looked down at my Garmin and saw I was going about 7:40. It was hard to believe because it felt soooo easy. So I tried to shorten my stride, relax and slow down. After a while I looked down again and I was even faster. This cycle repeated itself to the point where I ran 7:00 for miles 6 and 7, still feeling great. It was one of those runs where I felt great, wanted to let it fly, but knew I should slow down. It probably wasn't smart, but I went with it. I felt the effects for a couple of days. Not smart, but lots of fun. It also was a bit of a boost to my confidence.

One huge variable with the race that I have zero control over is the weather. I know two week forcasts are useless, but I've been looking anyway. It's changed several times, and has varied from 49 degrees and rain to 70 degrees and sun. At least it shouldn't snow. At this point I'm not sure how I'll handle heavy rain. The other stuff I can adjust to.

I look at long distance events as a mix of art and science. We can train at a certain pace and practice nutrition. That's the science. The art of the race comes from all of the necessary adjustments that are needed. Knowing when to adjust can be tough. Should I stick to my plan and fight through this discomfort, or should I be smart, listen to my body and adjust? For example, given that I haven't run in weather warmer than about 50, a 70 degree day will require more fluids, electrolytes, and possibly a slower pace, especially early on.

In the end, I think I'm smart enough and have trained well enough to have a good race. My key will be to enjoy it. I need to stay loose, smile, and take in the experience. That will promote fluid movements, extend my range and give me a better result. Go easy to go fast.

Speaking of results, will have live 5K splits. My bib # is 25251. I expect to be pretty slow in the beginning due to the crowd of runners and the fact that I start at the back of the pack- there will be thousands of people to get past. After the first 5K, I should be around 22:49 per 5K.

Get set....

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Getting Closer

Boston is just 33 days away. Things have been going well, including the training. I don't have a single theme to share, rather several smaller happenings and thoughts:

- A couple of weeks ago I went out for a morning run around 5:35 and was faced with a beautiful sky. The horizon was just starting to light up with an intense pink/red/orange color. After a winter of training in the dark, it was very uplifting. It was a sign that we're almost through winter, the days are getting longer, I won't have to train in the dark much longer, and that this "marathon thing" indeed is getting closer. It also got me thinking about horizons and what they represent. By definition, horizons are always far in the distance and never get closer. I think it's important to balance "horizon thinking" with living in the moment. It's important to have long range goals and plans, to think about long term implications. However horizons can also be lonely and always leave you wanting. One of the greatest feelings is when a thought starts on the horizon, steadily moves closer, then becomes reality.

- We had a great February vacation at Sugarloaf. I used it as a time to get some good exercise, but also recover from the poundings. Last year I went for a couple of early morning snowshoes up the mountain. This year, I wanted to get to the summit. My first try ended at the top of the King Pine chair. At that point, I needed to turn to the west, straight into a stiff and very cold headwind. I wasn't prepared for that, so opted to head back down. Two days later, I headed out the door at 4:45 in the hopes of making it to the summit for sunrise. It wasn't too cold, the skies were clear, and there was very little wind. I decided on a more direct route, also one that was potentially more protected from the wind, and made my way up Narrow Guage. As I climbed, it seemed as if I was watching the entire region wake up. I made it to the top just after sunrise, and saw this:

- On Friday night that week, we received 10 inches of powder, a rarity for this winter. High winds were forecasted for the next morning. When this happened several times last year, lifts were delayed and then only a few opened. It was incredibly frustrating to be unable to take advantage of the new snow. So this year I strapped my skis on my backpack, threw in by boots and helmet, and snowshoed nearly to the top. It was very slow going because while the pack was heavy, I didn't want to sweat and get my clothes soaked through. When I got to the top the winds were howling- probably gusting over 50. I changed into my ski boots in the lee of the t-bar hut and headed down Sluice. It felt like I was floating the entire way down. It felt great to make the freshest of tracks:

- The running has been going well. Four weeks ago I did 18 miles, splitting 73:30 and 71:15. I was able to fight through a physical and mental low point around miles 12-15, and then felt great at the end. Last week, I did another 18, this time on a different route, and one that might be just a bit harder. I split 71:53 and 68:55, a huge improvement over the first one. In hindsight, I may have pushed too hard, but it was a big confidence booster. I hit that same low point at mile 12, and got through it again. I'm sure there will be a couple of low points in Boston. I know I can get through them and have something left on the other side. One highlight on that second run- as I entered the path going around Back Bay, the moon was enormous and just setting. There were clouds all around, so the sky had this medieval feel to it. Also, I found that wearing compression socks for the morning makes a big difference with recovery. I don't have time to take an ice bath or lie with my legs elevated for a few hours, so the socks are one of the few tools to help recovery. So far I've been able to avoid the fashion comments at work.....

- With five weeks to go, it's all about recovery and resting. I'll do 12 tomorrow morning, but at a slower pace than the 18. Next week my long run will be 9. The high-end interval workouts have evolved to much more race-specific pacing. This is the critical time of the campaign. I've seen magical results come from thorough tapers. I'll also spend time getting everything in order for the race- logistics, clothes, nutrition, etc. With a couple of weeks to go, nothing will be left to chance. That will put my mind at ease and enhance the resting process.

- I was heartbroken to read about a friend in California this week. I got to know Marit electronically in late June 2010. She landed in the hospital with DVTs, or blood clots in the legs, about a day after I landed in the ER with PEs, or blood clots in the lungs. Marit is a terrific athlete, having competed in Kona the prior October. While I had a tough couple of months, her road has had many more bumps along the way. Through it all, she worked hard at keeping up her positive attitude. This week, however, new clots developed. That means she'll be on coumadin for the rest of her life, have regular blood checks, and carefully watch what she eats That's because vitamin K promotes clotting, just what the coumadin is fighting. So she needs to have a consistent amount of spinach, other green leafy vegetables, cranberries and other foods every day. It's all about striking a balance between K and the drug. Coumadin also affects your lifestyle. A bleed of any sort may not stop. That means you have to avoid situations where you might get hit or cut. Back in 2010, I feared exactly what Marit is going through. I suppose it's always possible that I clot again and end up in the same boat, for we never found out why it happened in the first place. So I don't know what to avoid. I do know that I'm fortunate to be able to live the life I want. My thoughts are with Marit and her family. I know it's a tough time, and also that she will keep moving forward with an inspiring and positive attitude.

Till next time.....


You know the rules....keep yourself safe, put a little joy into your life and those around you who you think may merit it, and never ever- that's never ever- pass up an opportunity to kiss someone you love.

Friday, February 3, 2012

The Sound of Silence

I headed out for a 16 mile run at about 5:20 this morning. It was "crisp"....about 15 degrees crisp. But the roads were clear, there was no wind, and the schedule said today was a long run of 16 miles. I wore a long sleeve shirt, covered by a t-shirt. Over that I put on my hydration pack, sort of like a Camelback, but made for running and much more comfortable. Over that was a thin windbreaker, then finally my reflective vest. My thinking was that I should keep the hose/straw out of the cold air so it wouldn't freeze. As is turned out, it did freeze about 5 miles out. Not good. Fortunately, it thawed after putting it against my skin.

The first two miles were slow and ended at the top of a long uphill. From that point to the end, I averaged 7:54 and felt pretty good the whole way, with the last few miles more like 7:40s. That tells me the training is going fine.

I brought my iPod, but never used it. Sometimes I can simply get in a mental zone where I don't need the stimulation of the iPod to get me through. Today was one of those days. With the quiet, I was able to hear my feet strike the pavement. It sounds like a small thing, but trying to keep quiet foot strikes led me to shorter strides with less heel striking which leads to a more comfortable, less damaging and faster run. I remembered that when I race, always without music, the sound of my running is a new sensation. One rule in training is to mimic racing conditions as much as possible (or advisable) in training. I hope I can get through more runs without the iPod. I think it could make me a better runner.

At the end of the run I saw Christine driving Nick to school. They stopped a gawked at me. While I hadn't realized it, my face and hair were all frosty white and I had a huge icicle handing from my left ear. Quite a sight.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Checking In With Coach

Today I had a need to get down to Boston for work, so I took an early detour to visit Coach Megerle. As usual, he was busy juggling responsibilities as the director of the Tufts Marathon Challenge and every inch of space on his walls was filled with pictures of former athletes. His passion for his athletes and their performances is contagious. I left his office energized as we're inside of three months before the race. I clarified a few questions and had plenty of other issues reinforced. Here are a few tid bits:

- It takes 30-60 days for training efforts to fully take hold. He shared a study that isolated certain key muscle fibers. The athletes in the study did ZERO exercise for three months. At the end of the time, those fibers were stronger.

- Around 1996, he had a swimmer (from Sanford, ME) who caught pneumonia in early January. For the next seven weeks, he swam every third day and hardly did any hard swimming. At New Englands in the first week of March, he won and set school records in five events. This is one of his classic stories that demonstrate how important rest and recovery are.

- My longest run should be no longer than 18 miles, and no closer than 5 weeks before April 16.

- Descending interval repeats shouldn't end at all-out efforts. On a good day, I can get hard 400m intervals down to about 1:22. There's no need to go any faster than 1:30.

- Coach doesn't like gels/shot blocks, etc. He believes in peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, which he will serve at mile 9 on race day. Since PB&Js are my favorite food, I'll practice eating them in practice so I can handle it on race day. Having said that, I'll still bring the Hammer Gel along for the rest of the run.

- He said one of the biggest detractors from performance is when runners have specific time goals. Guilty as charged. I'd like to match my time in 2003- 3:15. Given that was 9 years ago, he said that might prove to be difficult. He told me to go out in early February and do 6-9 miles at that race pace (7:25) and see how I feel. If I'm able to do it and feel fresh at the end, it might be fine.

I love visiting Coach. He's dedicated his life to helping athletes reach their potential with conviction, research, persistance and passion. Every one of his athletes has their own story and he works to make each one of those stories a success. Many of his ideas aren't mainstream, but when you hear them enough over the years and see the incredible results, it's convincing.

In Coach We Trust!

Monday, January 16, 2012

Three Months to Boston

Assuming things fall into place the way I plan, I will toe the line at the Boston Marathon three months from today. I have a vague idea what to expect, but I'm sure that it will be "more" than anything I can envision. More people, more crowds, more excitement....more pain?....scratch that....more satisfaction at the finish line.

Boston has been on my bucket list for a very long time. It's the biggest mass participation athletic event in New England, and one of the biggest in the world each year. I qualified with a 3:15 back in 2003, however we are never home for Patriot's Day. But last fall when our calendar started taking shape, I saw that the week was open. I was also getting back into long trail runs after a summer of sprint triathlons, so I thought....maybe....

My Tufts Swimming Coach, Don Megerle, now runs the Tufts Marathon Challenge. For about seven years he has helped hundreds of students, alumni and friends of the school train for and complete the race. John Hancock, the primary race sponsor, gives 100 official numbers to many non-profits for fundraising. For Tufts, the beneficiary is the Tufts Friedman School of Nutrition. They do great work on nutrition. Last fall I did a long run with the team and chatted with a current grad student at the Friedman School. She had just finished working with an elementary school in Cambridge to build a new cafeteria and redesign what food was offered and how it was offered. In other words, she was studying how the presentation of food can affect "sales". I think most would agree that 1) today's kids serve as the foundation for our future, 2) good nutrition is vital to their development, and 3) most school cafeterias do a lousy job. So I felt like raising funds for this type of work was something I could really get behind.

Coach organizes two workouts per week for the group- a long run and intervals. Given that I'm busy in Maine, I've only done one workout with the group. Coach emails the interval workouts each week, so I can do them on my own. Many runners would be shocked by the short distances we do. Generally, the sets have been 200s and 400s, all descending, and a total of about 8-12 in each workout. Coach has never been one to prescribe traditional workouts. He believes in quality, teaching your body to go fast(er), and recovery.

My long runs were proceeding very well. After building up to 10 miles, I did three weeks of 12, then 3 of 14, 3 of 16 and 2 of 18. Most of them were on trails, first at Bradbury Mountain, then in late November I shifted to the trails around Sugarloaf. Trail running is not speedy, but it does great things for the mind and all of the stabilizing muscles. I also find it shortens my stride. When I get on the road, the shorter stride reduces the chances of injury.

My two 18 mile runs were great, each in their own right. For the first one, which was the Monday after Christmas, both the trails and roads were in bad shape. That meant I needed to risk possible insanity...the treadmill. I showed up at the Anti Gravity Complex, the gym owned by the town of Carabassett Valley and CV Academy at 6. Above and open to the gym floor below is the "Beach". There is very little visual stimulation- like none. No TVs, and at that hour, there were no kids on the trampolines or in the skatepark to watch. Just me and an empty gym floor below. Ugh. I decided to go as long as possible before using my iPod which can get tiring after a couple of hours. That lasted about 20 minutes. Then I moved on to a couple of podcasts (IM Talk and Endurance Planet). That got me to about 2 hours. For the final 45 minutes, it was music. As for the workout, I slowly built up from a speed of 6.5 to 7.2 and just stayed there. It might sound crazy to avoid speed and pitch changes, but I thought that paying attention to intervals would remind me of how much further I had to go. I chose to get into a mental groove and try to survive. It felt really good to survive this insanely long treadmill session.

The other 18 mile run was from Sugarloaf to Eustis and back, all on Rt 27. There were some slick spots along the way due to freezing rain the day before, so I had to dial it back a bit, especially on the downhills. It turned into a beautiful day- it was in the high 30s by the end of the run. I was pleased with my pace- I was under 8s on most of the flats or downhills, and averaged 8:15 for the whole thing.

Now I've had two weeks of recovery, somewhat caused by a slightly pulled achilles/calf, and I feel great about the next two months. After that it's all down hill to Hopkington.

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