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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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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

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This was my third year running the Boston Marathon, and the second year of very unique weather conditions.  Last year we had a tail wind that would help Geoffrey Mutai run the fastest marathon ever.  This year, the intense heat would slow even the elite runners, to a winning time of 2:12:40.  With the exception of 2007, when rain and a relentless 30 mph head wind slowed the winner to 2:14:13, a winning Boston time hasn’t been over 2:12 since 1985.

Being a glass-half-full type of person, I’ve been reflecting back on the high points of the day.

  • My pre-race routine went exactly as I planned.  (With the exception of the bus I was on taking a wrong turn.  I hear stories every year of lost busses and this year I was on one.  Fortunately, we got back on the right path within 15 minutes.)
  • I felt like I ate and drank exactly what I should have before the race.
  • I walked to the starting line feeling surprisingly calm and confident.
  • At 9:50 I still didn’t think the heat was too bad.

I entered my corral and immediately made my way over to the left edge where things appeared to be less chaotic (I always start on the edges in big races).  I realized that I was directly in front of the route where the elite runners make their way to the start!  Just as I realized this, they came out from the church with Mutai leading the crowd.  I was impressed with the reverence the other elites showed him.  No one would walk in front of or next to Mutai.  With a smile, Mutai humbly encouraged the others to go ahead, but they insisted he lead the way to the start.  That was nice to see.

Shortly after, the gun fired and we were heading down hill.  It took me a few minutes to really get my head focused.  Something finally clicked and the realization of “you’re running the Boston marathon” sunk in.  I assessed my pace and thought about how I wanted to run these first downhill miles.

  • About 2 miles into the race I saw that I was about to pass Joan Benoit-Samuelson!  I said “Hi Joanie!” as I went by, and she wished me good luck.
  • I passed Dick and Rick Hoyt around 8 miles and said hello to them.
  • My plan to go out a little more reserved was going very well.  I hit the half at 1:21:45.
  • I made it up the first couple Newton hills without any trouble.

Considering the heat, I was very comfortable and happy with my pace.  Even if I backed off this pace a little, I’d still be well under 2:50.  Eighty degrees?  Whatever! …  To continue with the positive points of the day I‘ll have to skip over miles 19-25.  The heat finally hit me during those miles.  My legs wanted to go but my brain was saying “you’re walking now”.

high five at 40k

high five at 40k

  • I discovered that high-fiving the crowd really took my mind off how heavy and slow I was feeling.
  • From mile 25 to the finish I was able to pull it together enough to run the whole way.
  • The faster you run down Bolyston St., the louder the crowds cheer!

I crossed the finish line at 3:02:43.  Considering the fact that the heat even slowed the Kenyan runners, being 17 minutes off my goal time wasn’t that bad.  But the best was yet to come.

  • I could still walk!!
  • This year my preparation for the race was much more thorough and I got through the race without blisters, cramping, chaffing or heat exhaustion.
  • The post-race muscle soreness that followed has been very minimal!!  I consider that a huge success.

The first goal I had set for myself was to not let the course beat me.  Last year, I could barely walk or go down stairs for a full week.  My original time goal of sub 2:45, would have been about 40-45 minutes behind the winner of the race.  When all was said and done on Monday April 16 2012, my finishing time was 50 minutes behind the winner.  I’ll take it.   That’s one of the unique things about endurance sports.  Everyday people get the chance to compare their times directly with the best in the world, on the same day, on the same course, in the same conditions.  When will you get a chance to play in a tournament with Tiger Woods, or sprint against Usain Bolt, or swim in the lane next to Michael Phelps?  Probably never.  But if you sign up for the Boston Marathon, you’ll get a chance to race Geoffrey Mutai, Ryan Hall, Desiree Davilla, Joan Benoit-Samuelson, and probably the next big name in marathon racing.

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The folks at the BAA have been monitoring the weather for Monday and sending updates regularly.  The latest report was not very uplifting…

“We are now making the recommendation that if you are not highly fit or if you have any underlying medical conditions (for example-cardiac disease, pulmonary disease or any of a number of medical problems), you should NOT run this race.

Inexperienced marathoners should not run.

Those who have only trained in a cooler climate and who may not be acclimated (for at least the last 10 days) to warm weather running conditions should also consider not running.
 
For those very fit athletes who decide to run, you should take significant precautions:

Run at a slower pace and maintain hydration.

You should frequently take breaks by walking instead of running.

This will not be a day to run a personal best.”

The high of the day is predicted to be 87, but not until 3pm.  The race starts at 10am and I hope to be done around 12:45.  I’m feeling very ready for this race so I’m still going for it!!

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My number is 1095 this year.

I’m feeling ready for this race!  If all goes well I hope to be hitting the half around 1:19 and finishing under 2:45.

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Only six more days to Boston!  All the work is done so it’s really a week of low mileage and REST.  See how I put “rest”  in bold and capitalized it?  That means it’s pretty important!  In the last week or two before a marathon, a lot of people fear they haven’t done enough, and they try to cram in more mileage and/or speed work to make up for it.  At this point it’s too late.  Trying to make up missed workouts will only keep you from recovering completely for the big race.  If you’ve done the work in the months leading up this point, have faith that the training will have made you stronger.  The lower mileage in these last weeks will give your muscles a chance to recover and rebuild so they can handle the marathon.   This is why listening to your body is important.  If you need the extra rest, take it.  That can mean more sleep, lower mileage or an additional day off.

Over the weekend, my plan was to run 12 miles for my last long run.  As I started out, my calves were a little tight and I was feeling fatigued overall.  I didn’t really feel like running.  When I feel like that, I usually give myself 15-20 minutes to warm up and then decide if I should cut the run short.  I felt better after a while but I did decide to stop around 8 miles.  This close to the marathon, I’d rather end a training run feeling like I could have done more.

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“Knee pain” – it seems like those words are as common in the running community as “running shoes.”  It’s a frustration of so many runners.  Many people go online trying to self-diagnose the nagging knee pain they’ve had only to conclude that they need a full surgical knee replacement.  There are many, many factors that affect why/how someone’s knee hurts.  Obviously, there will be exceptional situations, but in my next few posts, I’ll do my best to discuss the most common causes of knee pain related to running and what to do about it.  First, calm down, it’s very likely that you do NOT need a knee replacement.  Second, a quick anatomy lesson…

The knee joint is unique in that it sits out there in space between two relatively stable joints – the hip and the ankle.  The hip has the pelvis and core to help stabilize it and the ankle is stabilized by the foot and ground.  You cannot move the hip or ankle without it affecting the knee to some degree (this is important because hip weakness is a common source of knee pain… stay tuned).  The big bone of our thigh is the femur; the big bone of the lower leg is the tibia.  The knee is where these two bones meet and glide over each other.  The patella (kneecap) glides in a track over the end of the femur when the knee is bending.  The smaller bone on the outside of the lower leg is the fibula, it’s sometimes considered part of the knee.

Bones of the knee

Bones of the knee

On the back (posterior) of the knee, our gastrocnemius (calf muscle) attaches to the femur – above the joint line.  The three hamstring muscles – biceps femoris attaches to the fibula, semi membranosis & semi tendonosis attach to the tibia – below the joint line.

posterior muscles

In the front of the knee, the four quadriceps muscles converge to form the patella tendon and also attach on the tibia, the kneecap sits inside that tendon (see small image).  The

patella tendon

patella tendon

sartorius muscle attaches on the medial side of the knee on the tibia, (push your knees together, where they hit is the medial side, where your hands are pushing is lateral).

anterior muscles

Lastly, the iliotibial band (ITB), which is really a long tendon, attaches on the lateral side of the knee on the tibia.  And then there’s the medial & lateral meniscus and a whole bunch of ligaments and other structures that help reinforce the knee… like I said, quick lesson.

How did your knee start hurting?  That’s the first question I always ask people.  This starts the dichotomy toward the proper steps of fixing the problem.  With runners, the most typical answer is: “I don’t know.  It started as a slight pain that I thought would go away but it has just been getting worse.”  They usually continue by saying: “at first it hurt toward the end of my run, then it slowly started hurting earlier during runs, now my knee hurts the next day, stairs are painful to walk down“, etc.  Believe it or not, that’s actually not difficult to fix, I’ll explain how and why soon.

The not-so-easy-fix and the answer I don’t like to hear goes something like this: “I stepped, [stood up, turned, tripped, jumped, landed, fell, slipped, knelt, squatted] and felt a sharp pain, [pop, snap, strange feeling] and then it was immediately painful and swollen the next morning.”  That usually indicates a more serious injury.  If you had something like that happen (sudden pain that occurred with a specific movement or incident) you should head to a doctor or physical therapist right away.  Clicks, pops, snaps and clunks that are painful are something to be concerned about.  As is any kind of “locking” or “giving out” sensation.

Getting back to the person who had the pain start slowly with no specific event (aka: insidious onset)– My next question is – Which part of your knee has the pain? The answer is usually one of these: along the outside (lateral) edge, above the kneecap, below the kneecap, behind the kneecap, along the inside (medial) edge, behind the knee.  For these scenarios, the knee pain is usually being caused by something (a muscle imbalance or strain) that affects the alignment of the knee.  It’s a difficult theory to accept at first but hopefully I can explain it well enough to get people going in the right direction toward fixing the problem.

In my next post, I’ll start with the most common type of knee pain – lateral knee pain, often referred to as IT band syndrome.   This is where the IT band passes over the lateral condyle of the femur, creating friction that eventually leads to pain.  It’s very, very common in runners.

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