It Was…
Saturday, July 11, 2015

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Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, it really wasn’t a dark and stormy night, but it was one of the hardest rains I’ve had to run in for awhile.  And one that fell throughout the run.  As a runner that prefers cooler temperatures and rain (not necessarily together) I’d have to say today was a good day to do my 10-miler.  I wasn’t supposed to do my weekly long run until tomorrow but when the rain washed out my umpiring duties this morning I did what all good runners do; I adjusted.  Even a small detail like today will become critically important at some point during training or more importantly, during the actual marathon.  I was trying to avoid doing my long run and home plate umpiring duties in the same day and after the rain out today I’ve now got two games tomorrow so I bumped my long run up by one day.  Oddly, despite my schedule calling for weekly long runs on Sunday I prefer to do them on Saturdays and had toyed with moving the run to Saturday anyway.  Funny how some things work out.

Incidentally one of my favorite cartoon characters of all time is Snoopy, so it was nice to work him into my daily posts today, especially since we are both aspiring writers.  Possibly one of the best cartoon strips of all time, in my opinion.  The picture doesn’t do it justice, but here is a shot of the start of today’s dreary run:

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Back to the actual run today.  As I completed a 10-mile loop through the streets of Salisbury I couldn’t help but think about the two most important runs of the week.  Today was one of them.  When prepping for a marathon it is imperative that the long run goes well and the weekly speed workout goes well.  With my first week of training coming to a close tomorrow I will have put in 28 miles and had a decent speed workout as well as an acceptable long run.  I felt fatigued today but not complete exhaustion.  If I go back and review my past experience I realize that I probably need to focus on getting more sleep, cutting out or at least back on my desserts, slowing down when the runs need to be slower, and continuing to focus on staying hydrated.  It is a combination of all those things that will keep my healthy, which is also a big part of the training.  If I can do those things I will avoid the actual dark, and stormy nights that our friend Snoopy first penned in 1971.

A Solemn Run
Friday, July 10, 2015

Last evening I got home from umpiring a District Little League playoff game in Delmar, MD and checked in on Twitter.  At the top of my feed was some startling news.  Kenny “The Snake” Stabler passed away after a very brief stint with colon cancer.

The year was 1976 and although I can’t remember exactly what date, it was a Sunday at some point during the NFL season.  Every Sunday after 11:00 a.m. mass our family would converge at my grandmothers house for dinner.  To appreciate the rest of this story you must know that almost every single person in our family including aunts, uncles, cousins, brothers; just about everyone, was a Pittsburgh Steelers fan.  Almost everyone with one notable exception, my Uncle Tom.  Uncle Tom was a rabid Oakland Raiders fan.  On this particular Sunday I recall my dad and a few others giving Uncle Tom the business.  If you recall the Raiders and Steelers were as bitter a rivalry that has ever existed in the NFL.  To this day I don’t know why, but as I remember I felt bad for Uncle Tom because he was arguing alone.  Being an impressionable six year old I recall saying, “I’m a Raiders fan” and immediately everyone turned on me as well.  But Uncle Tom was instantly my partner in crime.  Two things came out of that particular afternoon.  My Uncle Tom and I have been close ever since, and I’ve never stopped being an Oakland Raiders fan.  In some ways I think it could be argued I’m an ever bigger fan of them than Uncle Tom, but for the sake of argument and keeping the peace, we’ll call it a tie.  It helped that in January 1977 the Raiders went on to win Super Bowl XI over the Minnesota Vikings, led by none other than starting quarterback Ken Stabler.

For my 7th birthday my parents bought me an Oakland Raiders helmet that I still own to this day.   My older brother Rick used his model car paint to paint a #12 on the back of the helmet just like they did in the pros, with the 1 on the left side of the stripe and the 2 on the right side of the stripe.  Kenny was our quarterback and when I read the news I can tell you that I felt a pit in my stomach.  The first thing I did was call my Uncle Tom to share the news and talk Raiders.

This morning I began my run and before I had gone 1/4 mile I thought a lot about the 1970’s and what Stabler and the Raiders meant to me growing up.  I can honestly say I got choked up a bit and held back some tears.  I wondered why someone passing away whom I never met could affect me so much.  But before I reached 1/2 mile I realized how and why.  With the passing of Stabler I feel as though I’ve lost a piece of my childhood.  It was at that point I began thinking about The Green Mile and the closing scene:

 “We each owe a death.  There are no exceptions.”  I think it’s a common reaction to think about death when someone close to us dies, or in this case, someone who was influential in our lives.  And so I spent most of my 3 miles this morning thinking about death and how we never know when it will come.  And indeed, as Tom Hanks’ character Paul Edgecomb remarked, “Sometimes the Green Mile seems so long.”  That’s why it’s imperative that we spend the time we have on our own Green Mile doing the things that make us happy and utilizing our time and talents to the best of our abilities.  For me, I’ve chosen to write a book and enter a tenth marathon.  I will spend the next fifteen-plus weeks preparing for that marathon.  It’s what I want to do and it’s something I’m physically able to do.  I realize that there are many people out there who may want to but can’t.  I also realize that Ken Stabler found out he had stage 4 cancer less than six months ago and now he’s parted from the earth.  I don’t know how long my own green mile is, but I will make the most of what’s left, because it may seem so long sometimes but in reality, life is way too short.

Raider for life.

R.I.P. Snake.

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It’s Not About Today
Thursday, July 9, 2015

How about another bowl of boiling chowda?  I figured that it could get worse than it was yesterday.  I was hoping that it wouldn’t, but it did.  You wouldn’t think that 2 degrees of temperature and a bump from 94% to 100% humidity would make all that much difference, but it does.  And that’s what I walked out into this morning.  The training plan called for 0-3 miles.  My “short” runs even before formal training were mostly 2-milers on a course I call RoFo and Back (I’ll explain this and others in a future post). So I decided on the 2-miler.  And after umpiring in the soup last evening and sweating out about 5 pounds I awoke somewhat dehydrated.  Heading down the road my legs felt tired and the paste I was running in really felt oppressive.  Just a few hundred yards from my driveway at the outset I came upon a small pile of sticks and branches that had fallen off one of the trees.  They were strewn along the side of the street which is a pretty typical thing around these parts.  Especially lately after some storms and high winds we’ve experienced in the past week or two.  As I approached this scattering of branches I intended to simply stride over them but not really realizing how tired I was I didn’t pick up my right foot high enough and kicked one of the larger branches with a pointy tip.  Immediately I blurted out a word I am choosing not to use here, but I must tell you that for a few seconds it hurt.  I knew I didn’t break my toes but pain radiated up into my calf and for another couple hundred yards I worked out the stinging in my foot.  I also thought that when you’re training over a sixteen week period for a marathon one of the most important things to remember is that it’s not about today.  It’s about the next day and perhaps the day after that.  Some days you just have to take them for what they are and work through it the best you can.  I’m proud to say that despite the near disastrous incident with the branch and the fact that I felt sluggish when I first started out, I logged a 7:14 mile.  I blurted out, “that’s not bad”.  And knowing I only had the one mile return I put the fatigue to the side and made my way back and followed it up with a 7:01 for a run time of 14:15.  Still way too early, but encouraging nonetheless.  And for this simple reason: on marathon Sunday, I know I will most likely have to run near the end on tired legs.  The kind of tired legs that you can barely pick up to stride over some fallen branches on the ground.  A simple two-miler that doesn’t seem like much as part of training to run 26.2, but it’s not really just about today. Until tomorrow…

Chowda!
Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Day three of official MCM Training had me warming up with an easy 2-mile run followed by intervals.  Other than doing a few 800’s just for kicks back in March, I haven’t done formal planned out speed work in years.  Which makes sense because I haven’t been training for a marathon in years.  Intervals, if you’re not familiar with them, are shorter bursts of hard running followed by a short cool down and then another burst of hard running.  Today called for six intervals on my plan, which incidentally was provided to me by Runner’s World.  When I registered for the www.marinemarathon.com I did so through the www.runnersworld.com Challenge.  But back to the intervals.  After my 2-mile warmup I had to run a 400 (1 lap around the track) followed by a 200 (1/2 lap) jog and repeat six times.  Then the plan called for a 1-2 mile cool down.  When I finished I had done six miles and my interval times were as follows:  1:33, 1:36, 1:42, 1:41, 1:41 and 1:43.  Ideally your interval times will remain consistent throughout or get faster as you go.  Taking a look at my numbers you’ll see that my last interval was ten seconds slower than my first.  But in between I remained fairly consistent and even got faster for interval four and five.  It’s still the first week, so I’m not reading too much into it.

In addition, the weather was not really ideal for doing a run, let alone any kind of hard speed work.  As I warmed up, I kept thinking that it felt “soupy”.  And by the time I got to the track portion, I jokingly kept saying to myself that it wasn’t just any soup but like clam chowda!  Last evening I saw a special feature on the movie Ted http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1637725/ and for some reason the Boston accent of Mark Wahlberg and Seth MacFarlane was fresh in my mind.  So instead of saying clam chowder, I kept saying chowda.  It continued to be funny throughout the workout.  It’s dumb things like this that help you push through a tough workout like today.  With 94% humidity and temperatures hovering around 75 it was definitely a tough workout, but I persevered and got through it, which is what you do when you’re training for a marathon.  It’s mornings like today that will come into play around mile 18 or 19 on race day.

Slow and Quick
Tuesday, July 7, 2015

An oxymoron, but not really.  Perhaps that was another one.  O.k., so today as I expected I went out for what should have been a relatively slow and easy run.  And just as I figured I was not able to hold myself back as much as I should have.  When the run was over I logged 3 miles at a 7:51 per mile pace.  In order to put that into perspective my current Boston qualifying time at my age is 7:49 per mile.  I really should be running my slower runs between 8:15 and 8:45 per mile.  It is early in training so there still remains plenty of time for me to adjust on those days when an adjustment is needed and necessary.  It will be doubly important for me to slow down since I’m attempting a streak run as well.  Tomorrow will be my first speed workout but it is a shorter workout since it’s only the first week.  It is also not an extremely high mileage week so hopefully lesson learned.  I cannot begin to tell you how difficult it is to slow yourself down.  As a runner, our instincts are to run as fast as we are capable.  I would say slowing down is just about as difficult as trying to run faster.  As oxy-moronic as that may sound.

On the run this morning I did capture one of those “moments”.  It is something that happens a lot when I am out on various runs.  This isn’t the greatest, but at the end of this entry is a sample of the beauty that one can experience when doing an early morning run. I took the shot right around second mile.  It’s something like the beauty of a cold morning back in December, 2005 that led me inevitably to write a book.  That particular morning led me to write the following in my blog (which also appears in Four Seconds from Boston <–another free preview):

“To my left, it is night. The sky is clear and I can see the stars, while below the snow illuminates my surroundings enough that I can see the trees, houses and Christmas lights sparkling off in the distance. The wind is blowing gently and I hear the creaking of trees as they sway in the bitter morning air. It is quiet and peaceful. My attention turns to my right and I look on the horizon where the hints of daylight are just beginning to creep above the outline of the hillsides that surround me. Sure, it is cold and I’d rather be inside warming up, but there is something refreshing about sitting out here alone in the silence as the world is waking up around me. It’s what I like to think of as my ‘me time’. I just sit and take in the beauty of it all. It’s peaceful and cleansing. There truly is something about it that rejuvenates me and prepares me for the day that lies ahead. I know that I have to deal with difficult issues and tackle others’ problems in my job as the HR Director for Somerset County, Pennsylvania, but at that very moment; in the quiet, it’s a peace that I think few people get to experience because they get caught up in hustle and bustle of their lives and either don’t have or don’t take the time to experience. They lose sight of the fact that they are alive and lucky to be so. There is so much negativity and bad that surrounds us on a daily basis. This opportunity is something that exists almost everyday, yet it is not realized by most. I am one of the lucky ones who saw this before it was too late. I am a runner.”

I never got a photo of that morning.  To this day it lives in my mind.  When I took the shot this morning, I instantly thought back to that morning in 2005.

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A Good Start
Monday, July 6, 2015

As I stepped out my door this morning I did so into overcast and humid conditions.  Humidity is a common occurrence here on the Eastern Shore of Maryland, pretty much from May until October.  That is what will make training for this marathon, in the bulk of summer, the toughest.  Despite the sticky conditions I was able to log a fast two-miler in just over fourteen minutes (14:03).  It was a good start to training.  My runs will alternate between fast and relaxed, so tomorrow will be a slower, more relaxed run.  However, I have a tendency to be too competitive and have a hard time keeping my foot off the gas.  Even though faster runs are more difficult, I enjoy those more.  Today when I went outside I went with the intention of running fast.  Throughout the run I couldn’t help but keep thinking of this scene from Talledega Nights.

“If you ain’t first, you’re last”.  I chuckled throughout the run thinking of this scene.  This is the type of nonsense that goes through my mind when I’m on the roads.  And today was a short run.  You should be inside my mind on a 20-miler.  Lots of thinking time and self-talk time.

Anyway, as promised in yesterday’s post I want to share why I chose the Marine Corps Marathon to be my tenth marathon.  There were four primary reasons:

  1.  My father has had a rough year with his health and after a scare in which we thought we were losing him in October I primarily chose this race for him and all Marines.  These guys give so much to protect our freedom.  I could not think of a better way to honor my dad and all Marines.  Oorah!

  2. I heard from others who ran this race that it is a fantastic event and is very organized.  Always a plus.

  3. It is relatively close to where I live and I don’t have to fly there.  Not that I am against flying.  I actually enjoy flying, but when doing a marathon it makes flying much more difficult.  I’ll take the 2-hour drive any day.

  4. Despite the summer training heat and humidity, it is an excellent time of year for me to run a race.  Because I officiate ice hockey in the winter, the season is not really in full swing in October so I don’t have to juggle an ice hockey schedule that can be quite hectic on top of training.

Until tomorrow…

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Sunday, July 5, 2015

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Sixteen weeks.  That is what stands between me and an elusive tenth marathon.  Sixteen weeks from today I hope to be adding the 40th Marine Corps Marathon to my list of completed marathons and in the process, put the finishing touches on my book Four Seconds from Boston. Which is why I hope you are here and reading this post and looking over my website.

As I embark on this journey I have decided to chronicle the highs and lows of what goes into training for a marathon.  When I wrote the book I focused a lot on the mental side of the sport of running but most of what you will find in the book is about the events themselves.  The book itself is in its final stages of editing and it is for all intents and purposes it is done; but it is not complete.  When I began to write this book back in 2006 I had the goal of qualifying for and finishing the Boston Marathon but I also talked about completing ten marathons.  I have only done nine.  When I cross the finish line of the 40th Marine Corps Marathon (MCM) in Washington, D.C. on Sunday, October 25 I will deem the process complete.  Marathon #10 or the training leading up to it will never be on the pages of the actual book, but it will live here as a supplement to what will be published on October 17.  Four Seconds from Boston is my story of the journey that began in 2006 and took me to places I’d never been before.  It’s about a regular guy who decided to get himself back into shape and ended up creating a decade-long experience that will reach a final crescendo with the publishing of my first book.

Formal training for MCM doesn’t actually start until tomorrow but I thought I would kick off training today with a relaxing four-miler.  As formal training gets underway what I can tell you is that in all of my previous experiences I cannot remember being as far along as I am right now before the program even begins.  I decided to sign up for the MCM and began laying down a solid base right around the middle of February so I’ve been able to establish a strong foundation of long runs and mileage.  In fact, I just finished June with my sixth highest monthly mileage total ever.  It was my highest monthly mileage total since 2010, which I can tell you was the peak of my marathon career thus far.  It was also about six weeks ago that I saw a story on CBS News that covered the longest running streak-runner in the country.  His name is John Sutherland and he has been running every day for over 46 years!  The story intrigued me and after doing some research, it turns out they have a website that can be found at http://www.runeveryday.com/

It was May 23, 2015 and I decided that I wanted to be a streak runner.  In order to become a member of the club you must run at least 1-mile every day for at least one year.  A few weeks ago, after streaking for twenty straight days my hip flexor began to get sore.  With formal training still a little of two weeks away I opted to run through the pain and treat it with ice and the occasional ibuprofen.  In the process I decided that if I wasn’t able to work through it, MCM training would take precedence and the streak would have to wait for another time.  I realize that it is risky, but part of what drew me into marathon running and what keeps me going with running is doing things that are outside the box and pushing the limits of my body.  I am happy to report that after six days or so of softer running and treatment the pain went away and I have continued my streak which stands at 44 consecutive days.  MCM training will continue to be my main focus and “the streak” will end if I run into too much trouble over the next sixteen weeks.

One thing that I know for sure is that marathon training (which includes the actual race itself) takes an enormous toll on your body.  As I enter training tomorrow I know two things:

  1.  My body will be beaten down over the next four months

  2.  My mind is what will pull me through the next four months

As much as I look forward to the challenge, I am also always on edge and a little concerned.  So many things can happen over the course of a four-month training period.  To put it into perspective, it’s basically the equivalent of an NFL season.  I can honestly say that I look forward to all of it.  It is the unknown that draws me to it like a magnet pulling on metal.

Tomorrow training begins with a short but fast 2-miler.  My post tomorrow will be about why I chose MCM.  Thanks for reading!

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Happy 5th of July! Day 1