I rediscovered running in 1998, when I was an
out-of-shape, over-weight 29-year old who desperately needed a lifestyle change.
“Why not try running again?”, I said. “It couldn’t possibly be worse than it
was in high school.” Well, turns out it takes significantly more effort to
propel a 240 pound body than it does for one that’s half that. It was then, in
this state of self-induced suffering, that I decided I needed a goal to
distract me from the pain I was feeling. So I vowed that, once I could run a
mile without stopping, I’d start training for the Boston Marathon. For some strange
reason this seemed like a logical progression to me. Little did I know, that decision
would start me on the journey of profound joy and stunning disappointment that
is long distance running.
When I began, I had no idea where running would
take me. All I knew was that I needed to get out, get away, and do something.
Because, when you feel like you’ve lost all control, something is a whole lot better than nothing. At the time, there was
trouble at home and it seemed like my world
was crashing down all around me. I needed a way to release the stress and
tension of the day, to have some time and space for myself, to clear my head,
expand my lungs and refresh my spirit. So, I opened the front door of my house
and went for a walk.
I was living in Marblehead Massachusetts at the time, where there were a great many historic
houses, picturesque parks and scenic seascapes to look at during my time on the
roads. I enjoyed meandering through town just soaking it all in and letting my
After a while, I wasn’t satisfied with merely
walking everywhere. Too impatient for that, I wanted to cover some serious
ground. Walking just plain took too long. So, I would walk a little, jog a little,
then repeat – morphing into something I fondly called “wogs”.
After a few months of this, I got a little better,
started losing weight and the wogs slowly became jogs. Then, I decided to take
the next step and began timing myself. Nothing hardcore. I’d just check the
clock on the cable box when I headed out the door and check it again when I
returned. In the beginning, it took me 30 minutes to complete my 2.5 mile
circuit. But, with each subsequent trip, the duration got shorter and my
confidence grew as a result. As the confidence grew, so did the distance - from
2.5 to 4.5, and from 4.5 to 7. But, regardless of how far I jogged, I always did
so in a loop. Because I was afraid that, with all that was going on at home, if
I did an “out and back” I might reach the turn-around point and just keep on
When I officially started “training” for the
Boston Marathon, I didn’t know anything about the science of marathoning. The
words tempo, interval and fartlek meant nothing to me. All I knew was that in
one year’s time, I needed to find a way to run, walk, or crawl 26.2 miles. And that
I should probably trade in my Nike “high-top” basketball sneakers for some real
running shoes. After building up slowly over the course of the year, I got my
long run up to 16 miles and proclaimed myself “ready” for the 1999 Boston
Marathon. On race day, I started at the back of the pack, with the rest of the
unqualified runners (or bandits), and began what turned out to be an arduous,
26.2 mile wog from Hopkinton to Boston. More than 4 and a half hours later, I
crossed the finish line on Boylston Street a bruised and bloody mess. I
staggered to the curb, crumpled to the ground and exclaimed to no one in
particular, “Never again!”
It’s been 16 years (and 20 marathons) since that
fateful day. And what started as a walk has turned into so much more. I’m now a
fortunate husband, a proud father of four, and a semi-proud owner of a three
hour, zero minute and twenty two second marathon personal best. So, just how
did I get from “Never again” to running twenty marathons - and now to signing
up for my first 100 mile race? Well, it’s actually a rather interesting answer.
And one that will unfold through the collection of stories that wind their way
through the remaining pages of this book.
The Mill Cities
is a 5-leg, 27.1 mile foot race from Nashua, New Hampshire to Lawrence, Massachusetts.
But, that information alone doesn’t even begin to convey what MCR really is.
The Mill Cities Relay is quite possibly the biggest, single-day team event in
MCR began in 1984 as a way of celebrating the end of the
local road racing season and determines bragging rights among 21 participating
Merrimack Valley area running clubs. The race kicks off not with a starting
gun, but with the drop of a ceremonial mill city brick. The mileage for the five
leg distances are 5.6, 4.8, 2.5, 9.4 & 4.8. And, points are awarded to
teams in each of 18 different divisions – male and female aged 18 to 80. Teams
finishing in the top 3 in their respective division get a trophy brick with a
small plaque on it.
However, the trophy that everyone covets is the one they bestow
upon the running club that scores the most overall points in the race. This
amazing trophy was painstakingly assembled with a working gear from an old mill
building, set upon a finely crafted four-sided wooden base and crowned with a
“winged-victory” trophy top. The base of the trophy has engraved upon it the
very history of the race! With a running list of the first, second, and third place
clubs for each of the 31 years it’s been run. It’s a sight to behold and hold. And,
it’s quite possibly the heaviest trophy in all of sports, weighing in at just
over 40 pounds! Yes, more than 6 pounds heavier than the Stanley Cup!
missing and I don't know what it is. No,
and I don't know what it is. At all…” –
Yup, something’s missing from my life. And I don’t know what it
is. I do know that I SHOULD feel fulfilled. I’m healthy. I’m married.
I have a good job. And I have four beautiful children. But somehow,
on most days (and even more so now that I’ve reached Mid-Life), I still feel a kind of emptiness inside. A void, if
you will. And it scares me.
My primary running focus these days
(besides not embarrassing myself at Reach the Beach) is my training for the 2007
Clarence DeMar Marathon. The goal for my "lucky" thirteenth marathon
is to break 3 hours for the first time and hopefully better Lance Armstong's
time in the process. Speaking of which, I'm working on getting Joannie Benoit
to come run Clarence with me so she can elbow other runners out of the way,
grab my Gatorade, and whisper encouraging words in the final few miles. Her
people have yet to get back to me. I'll keep you posted on that one.
Anyway, of the three core workouts I do for my marathon training (speed, tempo
& long) the one I look forward to the least is, without a doubt, the tempo
run. I don't know why, there is just something about it that causes me dread.
Maybe, it's because I do it at lunchtime on Fridays after a long week of work,
during the hottest time of day, on a hilly course. Or, maybe, it's simply
because it just hurts more than any of my other workouts.
Speed Work is fun for me. I think
getting out on the track and running with 50 or 60 of my teammates is a blast.
It's sort of like a race, but much more enjoyable. And, the distances are short
enough (400's, 800's, 1200's, etc.) that by the time it really starts to hurt,
you get to stop and jog. Long runs are also easy for me. I'm not blessed with a
lot of speed, but I can run all day without a problem. I just dial in my pace
and I'm set. Tempo runs are, by far, the hardest for me. So, it's no surprise
that I like enjoy them the least. However, it's the Tempo run above all others
that I find to be the true barometer of my running fitness.
This week’s Tempo run was scheduled for 8 miles in total. 1 mile of warm-up
going right into 6 miles at Tempo pace, and then 1 mile of cool down. In order
to psyche myself up for this one I tried to emphasize the positive. It's been a
month since my last race, so my legs should feel fresh ... I'm down to 184
pounds, so I should feel lighter... The weather has cooled from earlier in the
week, so it should feel easier, etc. The goal for this workout was to run a
controlled 6:10 avg. pace during the tempo section with no mile of it (including
the uphill sections) in over 6:20. I chose 6:10 because it was just slightly
slower than the 6:08 pace I averaged the last time I ran this 8 mile tempo run,
just before the New Bedford Half.
My first mile was 7:16 (nice & easy). Then I picked it up for the first of
my tempo miles. Mile 2 was 6:11 (not bad considering the hill in the middle).
Mile 3 was 6:16 (mostly up). Mile 4 was 6:01 (mostly down and feeling ok
still). Mile 5 was 6:14 (up & down and starting to fall apart a bit). Mile
6 was 6:26 (mostly up and fighting the urge to make this a 4 mile tempo). Mile
7 was 6:12 (mostly down and I just couldn't get my legs to turn over). Mile 8
was 7:29 (a flat and wobbly jog back).
My totals were: 8 miles in 52:05 for a 6:30 average overall pace. 6 tempo miles
in 37:20 for a 6:13 average tempo pace (or 3 sec/mile slower than my goal). I
was a little bit disappointed that I didn't meet my pre-workout goals. But, all
in all, it's not too bad for this point in the training. I had hoped to take
advantage of the cooler temperature, but I didn't. Maybe next time it will be
hailing, or something, and I won't have to do the workout at all.
Man, I hate that one...
Postscript: This story first appeared in my "pre-blog" blog called Mine Falls Milersand I'm re-publishing it today because now I wish I could run 6:13's and be disappointed about it.
Many of you have been asking about how the book is coming along, so I figured I'd give you all an update on the What, Why, Who and How of Going Further...
What is my book about?
is complete (or at least as complete as I can make it) and it's called:
Going Further – One Man’s
Journey to the Marathon and Beyond
about running, hiking, fatherhood, and pushing beyond your comfort zone. It’s
basically an action-adventure, parenting, self-help, travel journal disguised
as a memoir. The stories inside the book are told from the perspective of a
regular guy, with a keen sense of humor and a high threshold for pain, trying
to raise two families while attempting to strike a balance between his home
life and his passion for constantly exploring the envelope of his abilities.
Recently, someone referred to
me as a locomotive. Now, they could have been referring to my immense size and weight, or my inability to turn, or even my overall steaminess. Turns out, what they meant was I was: When I get going, I'm almost "unstoppable", like a locomotive. And, while I appreciate his compliment, I know
that there was only one “Locomotive”. He is my running idol and his name was
Last week the running club I
belong to (The Gate City Striders) held it annual "Ultimate Runner Workout".
The "URW" typically occurs during a break between the two halves of
our track season and consists of 4 distances (400, 800, 1 mile & 2mile).
Each participant runs these back to back with about 6-8 minutes rest in
between. It's sort of like "Survivor" for runners. And, the key to
success is to not run any one of the four "all out" since the
competition is age-graded and each distance is worth 25% of your total score.
Of course, in my case, knowing the key and using the key are two very different
The first event was the 400. And, to say I was psyched up wouldn't even begin
to describe what I was feeling. I used to run track in high school, and since I
was the slowest runner on my team, track meets were not my favorite places to
be. Being lapped repeatedly in the mile will do that to a person. However, we
were 20 years removed from that time & place. And, this was my first track
meet since I graduated. Let's just say I was slightly eager for a bit of
So, the race starts and I bolt to the front. Up on my toes and leaning into the
first turn. Down the back stretch I feel like I'm flying. This is why I run.
This feeling right now. I take the far turn and I can't hear anyone behind me.
In fact I can't hear anything at all. I'm all alone. I start down the front
stretch and I can just make out the clock at the finish. 45 ... 46 ... 47. My
legs are starting to get heavy as I race toward the line. It is at this point
that I start to feel like I'm floating above the track watching the race unfold
before me. The clock gets blurry as I get closer. What does it say?!?! I dig
down for one more moment and then it's all over. I collapse on the curve and
look down at my watch. 1:00.9 - a personal best 400 by 5 seconds. So much for
not going all out.
“I am the passenger and I ride and I
ride. I ride through the city's backsides. I see the stars come out of the sky. Yeah, the bright and hollow sky…” – Iggy
Last month I helped my son Casey drive his car across the country. Which is to
say, that I spent the better part of our 5-day journey sitting in a passenger
seat. And, let me tell you, for a border-line control freak like myself, that
is no easy task. In my family, I drive the bus. I decide where, when, and how
we go. Especially on long road trips! But on this 3000 mile drive, that took us
from New Hampshire to California, I was merely a passenger. And, it was quite
the eye opening experience for me!
As a runner, when you're injured
it's almost as if you don't exist. You're not there for your daily run through
the neighborhood, you can't participate in the weekly track workouts with your
running club, and you're most definitely not able to race with (or against)
your friends at the local 5k. You feel like you're invisible. Instead of being
outside where you want to be, you're stuck inside getting physical therapy, or
having a deep tissue massage, or on the couch with an ice pack on your injury.
The reason that I've been
contemplating the existence of the injured runner is because I currently am
one. I have a calf injury. I stupidly did an early morning 8-mile tempo run two
weeks ago without being properly hydrated. Being short on time (before work) I
just bolted out the door with very little fluid intake. I hammered the run
(6:08 pace) and finished feeling good, but my calf tightened up in the last 1/2
mile of the cool down. And, I haven't been able to loosen it up.
Since then, I have been doing
precious little running, a lot of biking, and once a week I have been getting
my calf worked on by my sadistic massage therapist. I'm not kidding. After each
session my calf throbs like it's got its own heartbeat. She's tough. So, to
recap, I went from running 70 miles a week and biking 20, to running 20 miles a
week and biking 140 (Including a 50+ mile odyssey last Sunday). It's sort of
like the Kerry Litka method of transition training, only in reverse. Hopefully,
with sufficient time, I'll be able to tip the scales back in favor of running.
Until then, I'll be pounding the
pavement with my mountain bike that has a chain that grinds against the
derailleur with each pedal stroke. It's not ideal, but, it's the best I can do
for now. And, even though I despise my bike, I'm actually starting to get good
at riding it. I've averaged almost 19 mph for each of my rides. I've also had a
couple of close calls with some cars. But, I can't really blame them. I am
invisible after all!
Postscript: This story first appeared in my "pre-blog" blog called Mine Falls Milersand I'm re-publishing it now because I'm missing my friends at GCS.
When I decided to run (then proceeded to dedicate my life to training
for and finishing) the Ghost Train 100late
last October I didn’t realize the price I’d be paying to do so. Oh sure, I knew
it would be difficult to complete and I knew it would take me some time to
recover. But I never imagined I’d be sitting here (almost 7 months later) still dealing
with the aftermath of that one race.
Come to find out, in order to achieve the goal of finishing my first 100 miler, I’d unknowingly made a deal with the Devil… and he's taken nearly everything!