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Monday, April 21st was a great day for redemption in Boston! After the unthinkable events of Boston 2013, it seemed that the marathon would be negatively affected forever. It turns out that Boston and the running community used their resiliency and the memories of a year ago to fuel the excitement of the day and make Boston what it once was, and always should be; a day of celebration, achievement, and joy. This year, Boston was bigger and louder than ever! While there was a moderately increased awareness of law enforcement and security, which was graciously accepted, it quickly faded into the background of the overwhelming support from the entire world. The stage was set first by perfect weather – mid 50’s and barely a cloud in the sky.

a small sample of Athlete's Village

a small sample of Athlete’s Village

Before being directed to the start line, the runners gather in an area called “Athlete’s Village” which is a couple of the athletic fields of Hopkinton high school (surrounded by just about every rentable porta john in the state of Massachusetts). Spirits were high and the energy of the gathering crowd clearly indicated that today was about more than just running a marathon. Race director Dave McGillivray summed it up in the moments before the start when he said “We’re taking back our race today! We’re taking back the finish line!”

Dave’s comment likely carried a slightly different meaning to different people, whether you thought of it as a more global message to the running community or more personally directed to the people who were injured or didn’t get the opportunity to cross the finish line in 2013. But I’d imagine that no one saw it as a prediction that the U.S. would take back the men’s title, as Meb Keflezighi became the first American champion since Greg Meyer in 1983. Meb is also the oldest winner since 1931. Meb represents the true spirit of the marathon. Leading up to the London Olympics, Meb was recovering from a glute injury and had very minimal training. Despite the odds, he still managed to finish 4th overall. He recognized that friends, family and the country were looking for him to do his best, and that’s what he did. In the NYC marathon last fall, he decided early in the race that it was not going to be a good day for him, but he did not drop out. He finished the race with another competitor, showing that the race is not always about winning. These kind of selfless acts are truly inspiring and no one else deserved to win the 2014 Boston Marathon more than Meb!Meb Boston_edited-1

 

I went to the start line cautiously optimistic. I felt like my training had gone well. Over the past months I had tremendous support from my girlfriend who made sure I was eating well and recovering well. She also helped motivate me to run on those single-digit Vermont winter days in January (and February… and March). I had some fine tuning from my friend and coach Dick Vincent. I recovered very quickly from speed work, hill repeats (up and down) and IMG_7589long runs. My legs and my head felt ready. But I’ve had that feeling before only to have the later part of the Boston course beat me into submission. The start corral was surrounded by countless supporters holding signs saying: “Boston Strong!” “We own that finish line!” “This is our race!” “Boston is BACK!.” Once the race was underway, that trend, along with many other encouraging signs only increased as we ticked away the miles to Boston.

The key to Boston is to run the first 5k a lot more slowly than you think you should. I crossed the 5k at 20 min and the 10k at 40 min; much better pacing than I’d done in the past. I began to play around with my pace for the next few miles, picking it up on the flatter sections but still holding back a little on the steeper down hills. After having my ear drums blasted at Wellesley College, I entered the center of Wellesley and hit the half in 1:24, a bit slower than I planned. In previous years, this is when I realized I was already in trouble because my quads were showing untimely signs of fatigue. But this year my legs still felt good which boosted my confidence a little. I tried to stay steady and relaxed for the next few miles as I approached the Newton hills.

Finally, I arrived at the turn at the Newton fire station which is followed immediately by a respectable climb. Most will agree, this is where the work really starts. I put my head down, focused on my technique and the fantastic energy of the crowd and went up the hill with surprising ease. The next hill was easy too! And the next! Only one more hill, Heartbreak hill. Just as I started up the famed hill I realized that I had usually walked once or twice by now, but today walking had not even entered my head. I still felt really good! About half way up the hill I looked for the top to focus on getting to it. At that instant a red-tailed hawk soared very low over the top of the hill and three thoughts simultaneously came to my head – Dad is watching me. Float like that bird. Go! Any soreness that I was experiencing disappeared and I found an extra gear.

At 20+ miles in the marathon there are many things you have no control over and can’t change, but there is at least one thing that you CAN control – your breathing. For the next 6 miles I made sure I was breathing fully, inhaling and exhaling all the way. Doing this, I was able to hold a pace that I never thought I could maintain this late in the race. The last mile was quite a bit of work and pretty uncomfortable but knowing that I was going to have a new marathon PR made it much easier to tough it out. I crossed the line in 2:46:10 bettering my previous best by 4 minutes and 20 seconds. It was one of those days that we all hope for.  A day where all the training comes together and you feel like you could run forever. It turns out I WAS ready for Boston!

2:46:10

2:46:10

Did you run Boston this year?  How did it go for you?

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The Boston Marathon is less than a week away! The weather forecast, so far, is setting us up for a great day -partly sunny with a high in the upper 50’s. I always hope for nice weather because that will encourage more spectators to come out. I can clearly remember not just the sound of the crowd but the feel as I passed through the center of Wellsley in 2011.  The cheering was beyond loud, it was deafening, like it was literally traveling through me. It was awesome! I’m expecting that times 10 this year!  The crowd was a little more subdued in 2012 because it was so hot.Boston_strong_edited-1

When I crossed the finish line in 2012 in the 90 degree heat, I decided right then that I would take a break from Boston in 2013. Watching the events of the 2013 marathon unfold on TV brought a sense of anger and sadness to me. Marathon Monday is supposed to be a day filled with joy, pride and happiness.  Everyone is there because they want to be, whether they’re running, volunteering or lining the course cheering for the runners. People who have qualified for the race have a sense of personal achievement and pride.  The people running for the charities have their hearts filled with pride because of the difference they are helping make. Everyone has worked hard to get to the starting line of the Boston Marathon and each person should have the happiness of crossing the finish line and celebrating with their friends & family. That was thoughtlessly taken away from so many people last year, leaving physical and emotional scars. I have heard many stories of people who are coming back with more determination than ever this year; to cross the finish line, to have their closure. I’m really looking forward to hearing their stories after.

There is a Tibetan saying – ‘Tragedy should be utilized as a source of strength.’ The support that the world will have for the city of Boston, the runners and everyone associated with the marathon will be overwhelming. That will reinforce the strength the running community has this year, which is already immeasurable. It’s going to be a great year to run Boston!  As I have been reflecting back on past experiences and thinking about this year’s race, I came up with the following list that I hope will enhance the Boston marathon experience…

Things for runners to do on Marathon Monday:

Talk to someone you don’t know on the bus to the start. My first year I sat next to an older fellow with a long grey beard. After asking him his name and where he was from, I asked him how many times he has run Boston. Without saying a word, he unzipped his warm-up jacket to reveal a home-made race bib he had pinned to his shirt. It said: “BILL, 25th Boston, 100th lifetime marathon”  This was the year he would make the Quarter Century Club!

Breathe. The long early downhill miles are not as metabolically demanding so you won’t feel the need to breathe as deeply. You can probably carry on a conversation without too much work. This can set you up for cramping and early fatigue later in the race as the course levels out and heads into the hills.  Try to take a few really deep breaths every mile to keep the lower regions of your lungs trading oxygen for CO2.

A little motivation at the 40k mark

A little motivation at the 40k mark

High-five 50-100 cheering spectators in a row along the course. Nothing picks you up like being right next to the crowd and drawing from their energy. That strategy has helped me through some tough sections in the past.  Technique is important here to keep moving: don’t make full hand to hand contact because each hand you hit slows you down just a little and you’ll be reduce to a walk after just 4-5 people.

Thank a volunteer. Whether it’s the bus driver that you pass at 7am, the person handing you water at the half or the person putting your finisher’s medal around your neck, the marathon would not be the experience it is without volunteers. Be appreciative and let them know it!

Smile. Researchers have been looking more closely at the ways our brain effects our performance. Keeping a positive attitude is paramount, whether you’re trying to set a new PR or just finish the race. I try to keep positive words in my head (“up”, “light”, “fast”) and congratulate my self for staying strong up a hill or keeping good running form when I’m tired. The minute negative thoughts enter our head, we start a downward spiral that makes us feel worse and slows us down.

Remember you’re running The Boston Marathon. People come from all around the globe to run this race because of its history.  It’s one of the few remaining races that’s not shrouded in cheating, doping or other unnecessary drama. This is also a race where you can actually compete against the best runners in the world! True, you’re probably not going to run next to them on the course, but you’re still running the exact same course on the same day as the best.  I consider myself fortunate that I grew up about 40 min from the start line and now only have to drive a few hours to get to the race. I never take a single step of it for granted.

 

Are you running Boston?  What would you add to the above list?

I’m a huge supporter of Daniel Leiberman’s theory that humans look and move the way we do because of endurance running.  As we evolved, there was a point when we began benefitting from running and therefore adapted traits that helped us run more efficiently, which led to us to become very efficient endurance runners.  Many new studies have been coming out that give more detail as to why humans need to be moving to be healthy.  Believe it or not, simply standing is healthier than sitting.  Standing work stations are becoming more popular for people who are stuck at computers all day.  Even though standing doesn’t raise your heart rate there are significant health benefits.  The most profound benefit of standing during the work day is how the production of the enzyme Lipoprotein Lipase, which is minimal when we sit and much higher when we stand, affects us metabolically.  Standing and increasing production of this enzyme has a very positive effect on our physical health.  Standing also prevents muscles and tendons from tightening up, specifically hamstrings and hip flexors, which directly affects runners.

Now, looking beyond the physical benefits, new research is indicating that physical activity may help maintain brain health- more than simply helping us clear our mind after a long, stressful day.  The New York Times article- Exercise and the Ever Smarter Human Brain is based on research that goes a little more in depth about the theory of why and how exercise helps our brains.  Researchers theorize that physical activity helped to mold the structure of our brains over millions of years.  If that’s the case, then it’s likely that physical activity remains essential to brain health today.  Similarly, we evolved as social creatures and we still need social interaction to be well balanced.  I use this example because the social aspect is something that we can easily perceive and are more attuned to.  We have the desire to spend time with others, to talk to people, to solve problems or to feel loved and accepted.  Many people enjoy running with another person or group of people.  I think this is a deeply rooted instinct that comes from when we ran and worked together for a successful hunt.  See my post on persistence hunting to see how people ran and work together to chase down their prey.

Researchers have found evidence that “regular exercise, even walking, leads to more robust mental abilities.”  This does not mean that every couch potato who starts running will become a genius.  In stark contrast, Stephen Hawking has been wheelchair bound and unable to feed himself since the mid 70’s, yet is one of the most intelligent people in the world.  We all fall somewhere under the bell curve and everyone has their potential.  The bottom line is that physical activity can help with decision making and keep our memory sharp, helping each individual achieve their full cognitive potential.

Unfortunately, the brain experiences a similar use-it-or-lose-it phenomenon that skeletal muscle does.  Other research has shown that animals who were showing cognitive improvement from exercise demonstrated signs of decrease after just one week of inactivity. Within three weeks of inactivity, the exercise group had results very similar to the group that had never exercised.

So if someone you know has been excessively inactive, try to get them out walking either during lunch or after work.  Suggest an up/down work station for their desk.  Any light activity will help them both physically and mentally and may be the catalyst for an overall healthier lifestyle.

There is a lot of talk about the importance of recovery with running.  This is especially true if you are training to run a marathon or other competitive race.  A common word of advice for runners is get plenty of sleep in order to facilitate the recovery process.  However, the quality of sleep we get may be something that we pay little attention to.  We sometimes wake up in the morning still feeling tired, like we didn’t get enough sleep.  It may be because we didn’t get enough sleep but it could also be the result of poor sleep hygiene.  In the modern world, we have grown accustomed to having distractions all around us through the day – lights, cell phones, computers, traffic and various types of stress.  At night, we may minimize these distractions.  While there are some distractions we can’t control, we allow others to remain, and they could be having a greater negative impact on us than we think.

sleep-1

Sleep hygiene includes the pre sleep routine or habits that we perform in the last few hours before going to bed.  It also includes our sleep environment.  Better sleep hygiene leads to higher quality and more restful nighttime sleep, which in turn helps us be more alert and less fatigued the following day.

Sleeping well helps maintain health, reduce stress, rebuild tissues after exercise, improve memory and replenish energy stores to name a few.  It can also improve performance indirectly.  It has been found that a tired person is less pain tolerant than when they have had a good night of sleep.  The goal of this post is to make people more aware of habits that might have a negative affect on sleep and how to avoid them.

When we sleep, we continually cycle in and out of 4 stages of Non-Rapid Eye Movement (NREM) sleep followed by Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep, each stage of REM sleep lasts longer than the previous.

Stage 1 of NREM sleep is the light, drifting off stage where we are easily woken up.  Through stages 2 and 3, we continue falling into a deeper state of sleep as brain activity slows down.  Stage 4 of NREM is where our bodies do most of the repair and regeneration work, as well as strengthen the immune system.  Brain activity is very low at this time and a person is very hard to wake.  The last stage of sleep is the famous REM sleep.  Brain activity increases, our eyes move in quick random movements while muscle activity in our limbs is inhibited.  Most of our dreams occur in, but are not limited to this stage.

Pre-Sleep Routine

Sleep experts suggest establishing a consistent pre-sleep routine at night.  This includes turning off the television at least an hour before going to bed, doing your nighttime tasks in the same order and going to bed at the same time every night, even on weekends.

The following have also been found to disrupt sleep and should be avoided 4-6 hours before going to bed if you’re feeling chronically tired: alcohol, heavy meals, caffeine, excessively spicy and sugary foods.  While it’s not recommended to go to bed with a full stomach, an empty stomach is also not optimal.  A light snack that contains the amino acid Tryptophan will improve sleep.  The most common foods with Tryptophan are:  Bananas, turkey, seafood, milk (animal & soy), nuts & seeds, eggs, cheese.

Light reading (nothing work or school related) 20-30 minutes, somewhere other than bed, helps take your mind off the stress of the day and slow your brain down.

Once in bed, if you’re not able to fall asleep within 20 minutes, get out of the bed and find something else to do that will make you feel relaxed.  If possible, do this in another room. Your bedroom should be where you go to sleep. It is not a place to spend idle time when you’re bored. Once you feel sleepy, go back to bed.

The Sleep Environment

even light from this can disrupt sleep

even light from this can disrupt sleep

Light:  Researchers have recently discovered that our eyes have structures (intrinsically photosensitive retinal ganglion cells (ipRGC)) that have the specific task of detecting light to regulate our circadian rhythms.  Some people and animals that are blind maintain the ability to sync their behavior to the daylight because of these structures.  These ipRGC’s are sensitive to very small amounts of light.  Even the light from an alarm clock is enough for the brain to get the signal – ‘it’s still light out,’ which prevents our brain from fully resting.

Darkness triggers the production of melatonin, a hormone that in turn regulates sleep/wake cycle.  A person may be perfectly capable of falling asleep during the day or with a light on, but our brain does not produce the levels of melatonin that help us enter the deep sleep mode where our bodies are most efficient at repair.  Over time, this wears away at our bodies causing us to feel sluggish, unmotivated, irritable, chronically tired etc.

noreadinbedComputer screens and televisions emit high levels of blue light which is one of the wavelengths that the ipRGC’s are most sensitive to.  One way to improve sleep hygiene is to avoid looking at lighted screens at least an hour before going to bed.  Additionally, using minimal lighting around the house before bedtime will help increase the production of melatonin and help you fall asleep faster.  Any light in the bedroom, even the glow from a charging cell phone can be detected by the ipRGC’s in your eye and cause decreased melatonin production.  A completely dark room is recommended to get the best quality sleep, or try a sleep mask.  If you have to get up in the middle of the night, use a dim flashlight and try to avoid turning lights on.

Sound:  Falling asleep with the T.V. or radio on is a bad idea.  Our sense of hearing is one of the last senses to ‘shut down’ during sleep.  Similar to exposure to light, we are usually able to slip into the sleep state with a T.V. on, but our brain does not enter a deep sleep because it’s continually working to process the sound, especially if it’s conversation.  White noise (radio static, water running, AC unit, a fan) on the other hand can be a benefit to sleeping because it can drown out ambient noise.  Our brain can not separate out any one part of white noise and eventually disregards the sound, allowing you to sleep.

Other Distractions:  Having a home office or other work space in the bedroom can indirectly sabotage sleep.  Most of us associate the computer with work of some sort, paying bills, homework or checking e-mail.  Seeing the computer on your way to bed can trigger the mind to begin thinking about work related topics instead of relaxing.  Again, your mind should associate your bedroom with relaxation and sleep.

The above recommendations are not meant to take the fun out of life, but give some direction toward better health by improving sleep quality.  If you are someone who always feels tired, evaluate your evening habits and try adjusting something.  Even making one or two small changes will help you sleep better.  Sleeping better means you recover from a race or tough workout more quickly and have a better chance of avoiding injuries.

Sleep well.

sleeping stickman

This is a fantastic video of Daniel Lieberman that I found on Edge.org. He discusses several points of human evolution, touching on humans as endurance athletes, hunter-gatherers, the design of our heads, back pain and barefoot running.

I educate people daily about the negative effects of sitting, so I was extremely happy to hear him talk about how industry, technology and comfort – and the resulting “ignoring our body” has negatively affected our health in a profound way — from constipation to obesity to cancer.

The video is about 48 min long and worth every minute. Enjoy!

Click here to watch video

bk_332_lieberman630

The Escarpment 30k Trail Race is the type of event that doesn’t just chew you up and spit you out – exhausted, wounded and mud covered, it also points and laughs at you!  Running the extremely technical 18+ miles from Windham, NY to North Lake in Haines Falls, NY demands the ability to focus on a narrow trail 3-4 feet in front you for several hours.  Lose that focus for more than two or three seconds and it’s likely you’ll be on the ground, before you even knew you fell.  Despite one’s best effort however, the rocks and roots will still probably reach up and grab your foot at some point during the race.  Maybe you’ll fall, maybe you won’t, but you’ll probably fall.

A look at the Escarpment website and it seems that the race founder and director, Dick Vincent spends more time dissuading people from doing the race than inviting them to come attempt it.  He makes it very clear that you need to be an experienced runner with a history of trail running to toe the start line of this race, otherwise he will be pointing and laughing at you.

2013 start

2013 Start – by: Paul Mueller

This year rain was added to the mix.  The ground was fairly dry prior to race day and was able to absorb a lot of the water, so mud wasn’t a huge factor.  It was the wet, smooth rocks boulders, ledges etc. that made things a bit more interesting.  This was my second Escarpment race and despite the rain, I was able to take 6 minutes off my previous time, finishing 6th in 3:18:39.  This race remains the most challenging endurance event I’ve ever done – more mentally demanding than the VT Spartan Beast, harder than the Boston Marathon and more exhausting than a 50k x-c ski marathon.

Since the race was at the end of July, too much time had passed and I’d given up trying to put together a mile by mile race report for this year.  But then I found this race report by Kirk Kittell.  It’s a very entertaining and well written recount of the race.  It was written after the 2010 race but is fitting for any year.  Enjoy!

top of Blackhead Mtn.

Top of Blackhead Mtn. – by: Mountain Peak Fitness

Have you run the Escarpment Trail?  Or are you planning on running it for the first time?  Please share your experiences, advice or questions in the comments section below!

Here at On Track we have a new weapon to battle the sidelining effects of running injuries.  It’s called the Alter G antigravity treadmill.  I should clarify that the benefits of this machine extend beyond injured runners.  People with neurologic disorders (M.S., M.D., stroke, polio) or elderly who need the help of a cane, walker or wheelchair probably realize the most profound benefit of this machine – the ability to walk with a more normal gait, letting their arms swing freely.  People recovering from knee, ankle or foot surgeries are able to walk much sooner and without pain.  When a person moves without pain, they are instantly able to move using proper biomechanics which in turn facilitates healing and prevents secondary complications.

Alter G Treadmill

Alter G Treadmill

By secondary complications, I mean something like ankle surgery leading to back pain.  I have a patient who had ankle reconstruction surgery.  After a couple weeks of walking around in the big heavy immobilization boot, they began to say that their back was hurting a lot.  Their biomechanics were affected from the boot so much that their hip and back were not moving correctly.  Due to the rehab protocol, they had to wear the boot for several weeks and could only limp around for short distances without it.  Once I got the person on the Alter G they were immediately marveling at how they were walking normally, without pain.  At first it was only while they were on the Alter G that they were walking without any pain or limp, but after a relatively short amount of time they were walking around the clinic, home and then out in public without a problem.  This person also wanted to return to running.  Once we were confident that the ankle had sufficient time to heal, they were running on the Alter G much sooner than they ever imagined they’d be running again. After a couple of weeks, they then progressed to running on a regular treadmill.

As you can see in the picture above the person’s legs are enclosed in a large air filled chamber.  The Alter G adjusts the air pressure inside the chamber and can fine tune the weight of the person using the treadmill.  This is done by wearing a pair of compression shorts with a kayak-type skirt around the waist.  You zip into the top of the chamber, let the machine calibrate your weight (which it doesn’t display) and you then select your body weight percentage anywhere from 100 to 20%.  I can say that once you get to about 75-80% of your body weight, you really feel light on your feet!

This Seven Days article tells other success stories and does a nice job of describing the machine more in depth.  You can also check out the Alter G website here:  http://www.alterg.com/

Do you think you’d benefit from using the Alter G treadmill?  Please feel free to stop in to try it out!!