Archive for the ‘The Road to Boston’ Category

On Sunday I ran Heartbreak Hill one last time before it counts.  I actually ran all but the first 4 miles of the Boston Marathon course and I wasn’t the only one out there.  There had to be 100-200 other people running their last long run along the Boston course!

As I was running up Heartbreak I was thinking about the history of the race and how it got its name.  A lot of people think the name is given because it’s the longest, steepest hill (neither of which is true) – or that it’s at a point in the race where fatigue is taking its toll on the runners.  While the later it definitely true, the real reason Heartbreak has its name is because of a man named Johnny Kelley.   A two time Olympian, Johnny Kelley has run the Boston Marathon for 61 years.  He has won the race two times (1935 & 1945) and come in second seven times.  The year after his first victory he was favored to win again.  That year, the race was led from the start by Ellison “Tarzan” Brown, until the hill section where Johnny caught him and passed him – briefly.  It was at the top of the hill where Brown passed Kelley again and eventually went on to win.  Boston Globe reporter, Jerry Nason who covered the marathon for 50 years saw the look in Kelley’s eye and knew Kelley was broken-hearted.  The name stuck.  About a mile before Heartbreak is a bronze statue of Johnny Kelley, two of him actually, holding hands.  On the left is a 27-year-old Johnny (when he first won Boston) holding hands with 84-year-old Johnny (when he ran his last Boston) as they cross the finish line together.  Don’t look for the statue along the course as you’re running the marathon.  The large crowds obscure its view on race day.

In his most recent years of running Boston, Johnny would run the last 7 miles of the course so he could have the recognition he deserved from the crowd.  Before that, when he was still going the full distance, he would be given a 15 minute head start before the rest of the field.  Johnny Kelley died in 2004 at the age of 97.

I had a very rare chance to meet Johnny Kelley at his home on Cape Cod, Massachusetts in 1996.  It was an Olympic year and a local paper interviewed Johnny Kelley to tell the story of his Olympic days.  The article ended by giving Johnny’s home address and saying that fans often stopped by to say hello.  Not wasting a second, I dug out my map (no such thing as Google yet) and found where he lived.  It was actually on my way from work, so I went and knocked on his door.  I very clearly remember Johnny opening the inner door and from behind his screen door saying rather abruptly “wadda ya want?”  I introduced myself and told him what I had read in the paper and I just wanted to shake his hand and meet him.  He opened his door and invited me in.  The whole interaction was kind of a whirlwind experience because as I would learn in about 5 minutes, his sister was on her way over to pick him up.  He quickly stepped out to his garage and came back with a book- it was his biography.  He said, “I’m sorry I don’t have anything else to give you.  This book isn’t very heavy reading but you might find something interesting in it.”  He signed and dated the book and asked me a few questions before his sister came in.  Once she was there Johnny wished me luck and hurried me along.  I can’t help to think that if my timing had been better I may have had a chance to talk to him a little more.  But I still remember that day very clearly and consider myself extremely fortunate to have met him.

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This is my final week of high mileage before tapering for Boston.  Today is a challenging workout of 15 miles with the last 7 miles alternating between my goal marathon pace (6:15) and half marathon pace (5:45).  I remember doing this on a cold, windy day last year – I hated it.  Today looks like it will be hot & breezy, that’s better.  Today in Burlington the temperature is going to reach 80 (exactly when I plan on running), it’s usually in the 40’s this time of year.

This weekend I’ll be heading down to Boston to run the marathon course, and I have a feeling I won’t be the only one out there running it.  The way I see it, people come from all over the world to run Boston.  Since I have the opportunity to train on the actual course, I might as well do it.  I’m going to warm up for a few miles then do 3×5 miles at marathon pace with mile recovery in between.  I’m not sure if I’ll do the whole course yet, I’ll see how I feel after the repeats.  Fortunately, the final miles of the marathon follow the Green line so I’ll just hop on the train when i feel like stopping.

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There are just about 5 weeks to go until Boston 2012.  I have 2 main goals for this year’s race.  First – do NOT let the hills beat me this year.  I can remember my first rational thought after crossing the line in 2011 was to train more on the down hills…much more.  Second is my time goal – I know I’m capable of running under 2:45.

So far things are going very well.  I started training for Boston back in early November.  I was thrown off slightly at the end of December when the flu took me out of commission for a couple weeks.  I went to Houston to watch Olympic trials for the men’s & women’s marathon.  It was very inspiring to watch the country’s best runners that close.  I got a chance to meet Ryan Hall that weekend as well.  Unfortunately, technological issues persisted and this was the only picture I could manage to get from the trip

Hall leading at 2012 Olympic trials

Hall leading at 2012 Olympic trials

I ran the Houston Half Marathon the next day, hoping to have a pretty good race on the flat, fast course.  Instead, I felt the overall effects of not running for two weeks prior – as if gravity had singled me out and decided to pull more heavily on my feet, legs, arms and shoulders.  My quads tightened up on me as soon as I crossed the finish line, I felt like I had just finished a full marathon.  The result of that disappointing race was renewed motivation to get back into the swing of things shortly after.

Fortunately here in Vermont, hills are EVERYWHERE.  I’ve designed my training routes to have miles of continuous downhill early on, followed immediately by rolling hills.  I’ve also been incorporating more high intensity strength workouts in to my plan.  I’ll be giving a presentation this May at the Vermont City Marathon expo on The Effects of High Intensity Training for Endurance Athletes.  Experimenting on myself seemed like a great way to gain some insight on the topic.

In February, I went to Boston to run the last 10 miles of the course.  Knowing the course more intimately will give me a mental advantage.  During the marathon my brain has checked out around mile 16 and the crowds lining the course hide most landmarks that would give you any idea of where you are.  Sure there are mile markers, but my cognitive ability at that point is dangerously low.  The metal barriers that keep the crowds back are also there to prevent people like me from running off the course – similar to the way the heavy concrete walls direct racecars that are spinning out of control and consumed in flames.  I’ve run Boston 2 years in a row and I still didn’t really know where Heartbreak Hill was.  As I tried to recall the course in my head I realized that the details of the final 10 miles were hazy at best.

My memory of the last 10 miles of the race unfolds something like this:  Uh oh, my legs shouldn’t be feeling this tired yet.  Finally! The big right turn at the Newton Fire Station!  Oops a hill.  Another hill.  Oh man these downhills hurt.  Big rush from the cheering crowd heading up another hill – I needed that.  I hope I don’t look like that guy.  Which one of these hills is Heartbreak? Ouch! did I just get shot in the hip?!  Now I am that guy.  I think that was the last hill.  Hey, trolly tracks – don’t get your feet stuck in them.  Now why was that so hard to step over them, they’re flush with the ground.  Where’s that stupid Citgo sign?  There it is!  It’s still there.  Still there.  Am I on a treadmill?  I just ran a hundred miles and it’s still not getting any closer.  I can see the buildings that surround the finish line!  The 40k mark!  I can run one more mile… I think.  Does 40k mean one more mile?  I think so.  Hereford St., one more turn!  I love the crowd down the final stretch.  These last 4/10 of a mile are more like 4 miles.  200 yards. Go! Go! Go! aaaaaaaand done!!  Wow… whoa….. I can barely move… I don’t really wanna move… that was awesome… that was horrible… I can’t wait for next year… a bag of chips would be sooooo good right now.  So it goes.

Heartbreak Hill

Heartbreak Hill

After running this section of the course in February, I learned a few things that will help me get through the final miles in this year’s race.  The pavement changes right at the base of Heartbreak Hill.  The stretch to the Citgo sign is only 3 miles long and goes uphill a little near the end.  Hereford St. is uphill and Boylston St. is slightly downhill.

I plan on getting back one more time to run the entire course before April.  That will further build my excitement for the race and keep the route fresh in my head.

The downhill training and the high intensity training seem to be working.  Three weekends ago I ran the Hyannis Half marathon.  I pushed the race pretty hard on a very windy day and crossed the line feeling like I had done no more than 5-6 miles.  I did a 20-mile run last weekend feeling great afterward.  Very encouraging.

Boylston St.

Left on Boylston

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In Christopher McDougal’s book “Born to Run” he tells of a small population in the Kalahari Desert of Africa that still practices a form of hunting known as persistence hunting.  The most recent search for people who still possess this skill of chasing an animal until it collapses began after Daniel Lieberman proposed the “Running Man” theory.

The “Running Man” theory states that human structure and physiology make endurance running very efficient.  We evolved, and therefore look, move and sweat (this is very important) the way we do because we’re designed as endurance running machines.  But why?  Since nature/evolution makes no mistakes in its design department, there has to be a reason that we are so suitable for long distance running.  Lieberman suggested this reason: Food – we are designed to chase antelope on the plains in the heat of the day until they collapse so we can eat them.  If that is true, and since our physiology has not changed in 2 million years, we should theoretically be able to outrun and catch an animal over a long distance, even today.  Lieberman was right, we do have the physiologic ability to chase an antelope until it collapses, however most of us are lacking the skill to do it.  And it turns out that the skill level is similar to playing Beethoven’s Waldstein Sonata… sit down at a piano without first learning how to play the instrument, (and years of practice) and you get nowhere.  Trot off across the desert after an antelope expecting to eat it, without learning how to chase them and you’ll run in circles until you die of starvation.

Bernd Heinrich’s book “Why We Run,” which I highly recommend, lists several accounts of Native Americans chasing down everything from jackrabbits to deer, bison and pronghorn antelope (which are said to be capable of running over 60 mph for up to 7 miles!)

This BBC video follows a group of Kalahari Bushmen on a persistence hunt.  This is no quick trip to the grocery store to pick up a few things.  This particular chase lasts 8 hours!  The outcome is really defined by who collapses first.  In addition to being an excellent runner, this hunter has to be highly skilled at tracking, which includes thinking like the animal he’s chasing.  They don’t even mention the fact that there could be a role reversal with the possibility of an opportunistic predator sizing up the tiring human.  The whole situation is tremendously impressive, all the way down to the extreme respect the hunter has for the animal.

This hunting strategy is unlike any other mammalian predator.  Most predators rely on speed and/or surprise, which is why they have the same general body style.  The primary design focus for most if not all animals (excluding some of our domesticated friends) is food getting.  This is why a giraffe has a long neck, a hawk has sharp talons and a hooked beak, a blue whale has baleen etc., although Mother Nature gave some creatures a few upgrades to avoid being eaten, such as rabbit ears, porcupine quills and turtle shells.  Why would this food-getting-design not hold true for humans?  Our upright posture allows us to breathe independent of our running gait.  We sweat to cool ourselves without panting, while we’re still moving.  Our large brain allows us the mental aptitude to assess tracks and think about where our quarry went.

Our large brains also give us the ability to make everything from spears to space shuttles, which may be why despite having the ability to run for hours, so many people don’t like running.  We as a species are also good at and prefer being lazy.  It’s much easier to walk to the fridge in the next room than to walk all the way outside and run after an antelope for a few hours.  I think it comes down to the loss of our connection to the earth that began happening when we made the transition from nomadic people to farmers.  We have other people who raise and kill the animals then bring them to the store for us, just as there are people who put the potato chips and pretzels in their respective bags and ship them to the store for us.  If getting food was the reason we ran, we don’t have to run anymore.  But since we spent many thousands of years evolving as runners, our physiology works best (we’re most fit and healthy) if we do run.  There is new research showing that prolonged sitting is much worse for us than we originally thought.  Not only do we suffer the direct effects of sitting – not burning as many calories – but also our metabolism works differently, which has further deleterious effects.

But things are looking up!!  In recent decades, there has been a boost in the running movement, as many more people are becoming runners. For example, in 1989 there were about 4 million people (77% men, 23% women) who finished road races in the U.S.  That number doubled by 2004 (54% men, 46% women) and in 2009 was over 10 million and dominated by women (47% men, 53% women).  These statistics don’t account for the runners who don’t race.

Everyone has a different reason for running, there are probably even a few that lost a bet, but fortunately more and more people are embracing the human need/desire/drive/instinct(?) to run.

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14 Days after Boston:

With the Boston Marathon two full weeks behind me, my legs still feel like they’re still recovering.  I’ve been running 4-7 miles a day for the last week but have yet to feel the “spring” back in my legs.

Within 5 minutes of crossing the finish line at Boston, my quads and calves started tightening up and walking became very uncomfortable.  I must have looked pretty bad because I attracted the attention of several medical people who came up to me asking me if I was ok.  I could tell by the way they were looking at me that they didn’t care what I said, they were making their assessment based on how I responded.  If a person says they feel fine but are unable to fix their gaze on you, they’re not fine.  I might have been doing that because these people were pretty relentless.  I finally said to one of them that I could use some ice and they happily escorted me to the medical tent.  Given my pre-race history of calf and Achilles issues I knew I immediately needed to be proactive about recovery.  I wanted to get some ice on my calves and Achilles ASAP.  I sat down (finally!) and kept moving the ice bag around to various locations on my calves and Achilles, leaving the ice in one spot for no more than 15 minutes.

The next couple of days, as expected, are the worst for post marathon pain.  This is when the inflammation from the delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) is the greatest.  But it’s also a very important first step for the healing process.  Family and friends were incredibly entertained by watching me take a full minute to stand up or walk across a room.  And stairs!  To me, I felt like I should have had help from the fire department getting up and down the stairs.  It was suggested that tickets be sold to watch me negotiate stairs…the “down stairs without a railing show” would undoubtedly get the highest price.

rocky surf

retreating from the rocky surf

Since I had good results from the ice bath in the past I wanted to do that again, but this time include my quads.  One of the amenities of New England this time of year is very cold lakes and ponds.  I found a small lake and waded up to the top of my quads for 15 minutes.  A couple of concerned passers-by stopped to question whether I was doing this under my own free will and/or would I eventually need a flotation device.  Their concern quickly diminished once I told them I had just run the Boston Marathon.  While it was uncomfortable at the time, my legs felt much better afterward.  Since I was on Cape Cod I figured I should attempt wading into the ocean.  However the surf, adding insult to injury, was tossing many sizable rocks against my feet so I quickly abandoned that idea.

An active recovery is probably the best plan following a marathon.  But first, take the day after the marathon off, you deserve it.  Two days after the marathon, walking from 10-30 minutes, depending on how your legs feel, is a good way to begin the active recovery process.  Other options are light massage, easy cycling or swimming.  These activities increase blood flow to the muscles and facilitate the healing process.  I suggest people increase time spent walking over the following few days, but as far as returning to running: wait until you feel like you could go for an easy run and then wait another 2-3 days before you actually do go running.  Case in point:  My legs were feeling pretty good by the following Saturday (5 days after the race).  I was playing with some dogs and tried to run across a grassy area with them.  Within 15 feet, my quads cramped up and it ended up setting my recovery back a couple of days.

calf foam roller

self calf massage with foam roller

I decided to go for my first post-Boston run 8 days after the race.  It was moderately uncomfortable and my quads were flirting with the cramping sensation again.  After another day of stretching and using the foam roller on my calves, the next run was much more tolerable.  Each successive run has been a little better, and the recovery from each run, shorter.

Up next:  In 4 weeks, the Champlain Valley of Vermont will be in full bloom and runners in the Key Bank Vermont City Marathon will be filling the streets of downtown Burlington.  My plan is to run the 2 person marathon relay with my friend Eli Enman (Kasie’s husband.)  Our team, cleverly named “On Track to Sleepy Hollow,” won the 2 person relay last year and we’ll attempt to defend our title for VCM 2011.

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2 Hours 50 minutes of Boston:

Thinking back to mid January when I started training for the Boston Marathon, April 18th seemed so far away.  BAAThe days of logging miles through the snow, rain, mud, ice and wind slowly passed until Monday at 9:45 when I found myself standing at the starting line…technically I was 25 feet or so behind the line.  They give the elite athletes a generous gap in front of us mere mortals.  With about 5 minutes to go, they brought the best marathoners in the world out to the line.  Ryan Hall came out last, receiving a huge roar from the crowd.  This is one aspect of endurance sports that I really love.  We often have the opportunity to stand on the start line with the best in the world and run with them.  Sure, we’re left in their dust in the first half mile but we still run the same course on the same day in the same conditions (and conditions were exceptionally unique this year) and can compare our time against theirs.  In New England it’s not uncommon to enter a X-C ski race that includes more than one former and/or current Olympic level skier.  Last year at the Timberman triathlon which is a popular half Ironman distance triathlon in NH, Chrissie Wellington, the best woman triathlete ever was at the race.  Not only was she first woman and 11th overall, she stuck around to hand out finisher medals to the rest of the competitors.  In contrast, the local men’s YMCA basketball team will never get a chance to play the Celtics at a weekend tournament.

The excitement continued to grow until the announcer said “30 seconds to the start, the next thing you’ll hear is the start gun”.  Then it was silent…completely silent.  For the next 30 seconds the excitement turned to tension and continued to build.  I used this time to appreciate that I was standing at the start of the Boston Marathon and tried to fill my head with positive thoughts:

*the sun was out

*the wind was blowing toward Boston, the same direction we were runningmarathon runner

*I could see the back of Ryan Hall

*My legs felt good

*My shoes were tied tightly!

*It was going to be a great day

The snap of the starter’s pistol not only signaled the runners to go, but the crowd to EXPLODE into a cheering frenzy.  The first 30 seconds of the race were simply survival, there’s a lot of pushing as people try to establish position.  But things settled down rather quickly and we were on our way.

I had actually forgotten that I had my name on the front of my shirt until people started yelling it.  I’ve seen this done many times in other races but never had enough foresight to actually put my name on my shirt.  It was definitely a really cool experience.  At first I was waving back to the people who shouted my name, but after a while I couldn’t keep up with them and focus on running at the same time, so I just smiled and ran.

I hit the 5K mark at 18:05, which was too fast for this race so I slowed down a bit.  But I crossed the 10k mark at 36:05 which was the same pace, somehow I hadn’t slowed down.  The down hills that are encountered early in the Boston Marathon are very deceiving.  They’ll make you feel like a super hero while quietly overworking your quads, setting you up for a painful final 8 miles.  At about mile 10 my quads started letting me know that I started out too fast.  I hit the center of Wellesley, the half way point, at 1:17:20…uh-oh.  This might have been fine if I started my training back in December.  But due to my lack of training volume, a 5:50 pace for the first half was not going to help me have a good second half.

the finish lineAt this point the field had spread out significantly.  We were essentially running in single file with about 15 to 20 feet between us.  Every once in a while a small pack would pass me or I’d pass them.  But I never had the feeling that I started in a wave of 9,000 runners.  The next 5 miles were more uncomfortable but I was still able to enjoy the race.  At one point I became aware that no one had been yelling my name for a while.  I looked down and saw that the letters were starting to fall off my shirt- no one could read my name.  (Note: electrical tape works in a pinch but will not endure a marathon.)  I pressed the letters back down and people were instantly cheering for me again- at this point in the race I really needed the encouragement.  Mile 16 is where the up hills start to become more numerous which actually felt good on my legs.  But for every uphill in Boston there is an equal or larger downhill.  As I was heading down a hill somewhere between mile 18 and 19, I had a sudden sharp pain in my left hip that quickly reduced me to a walk.  I walked for about 20 seconds and drank from my fuel belt trying to assess what was going on.  I took a few deep breaths and got right back into my pace without the pain.  I think that as my muscles were fatiguing and my form deteriorated, I was running with excessive movement in my hips which eventually led to the sharp pain.  I discovered that running faster than my muscles wanted to go was less painful.  So I pushed the pace until the fatigue set in and the sharp pain came back, which happened about 3 more times.


Finally, the big Citgo sign off in the distance!  This meant I was at the 40k mark and entering the last mile and a half of the race.  This is when I said to myself “just run, go”, no walking until I crossed the finish line.  When I finally made the left turn onto Boylston St. I could see the large banner over the finish line but I still had 4/10 of a mile to go.  I felt like I was running on a treadmill toward the line…it seemed so far away.

I crossed the line at 2:50:28 and all I wanted to do was sit down on the ground, even a controlled fall would have been ok with me at this point.  But the fear of creating a scene kept me on my feet and moving forward.

Kasie on her way to the trials

Kasie on her way to the trials!

Kasie crossed the line at 2:39:55, this qualifies her for the Olympic trials in January.  She was also the first Vermonter.  Nice job Kasie!

It’s a funny thing, considering how bad I felt when I crossed the line, the first thought that came to my head was “Next year, I’m training more down hills for this race.”  The next Boston Marathon is April 16th 2012, that seems so far away…

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11 1/2 Hours to Boston:

finish line

Me, Kasie & Acadia at the finish line

Today was a relaxing day.  I went back to the finish/expo area to take in a few more symposium talks and just enjoy the energy of the crowd which had been building as the day progressed.  I met Kasie and Eli and just strolled around town for a while enjoying the weather and hoping the light west wind will be there for the race tomorrow. Pre race dinner- pizza!

Tomorrow the race starts at 10am but due to the logistics of this race, my day will be starting at about 4:45 am.  I have to be at the bus at 6am for the ride to the start.  So far the weather is looking perfect for the marathon!  Sunny and mid 50’s for the late morning.

race shirt

Everything’s ready to go.  I have my clothes and shoes organized and food to eat on the bus set to grab and go!  All that’s left now is a solid night sleep…

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