Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Reflections on Crazy

"When we remember we are all mad, the mysteries disappear and life stands explained. " --Mark Twain

If I were to be able to monetize all recent interactions where someone says to me, "You're crazy", I would be well on my way to early retirement, or at least paying off student loan debt.  It's actually interesting that people can, in what would be considered the course of polite conversation, casually cast aspersions on another's mental health and treat it like harmless banter.  While not generally sensitive personal slights, this oft-repeated exchange has made me wonder what it is that people are really trying to say, and why.

Let's start with Webster's definition:

n.1.The state of being insane; unsoundness or derangement of mind; madness; lunacy.
 2.(Law) Such a mental condition, as, either from the existence of delusions, or from incapacity to distinguish between right and wrong, with regard to any matter under action, does away with individual responsibility.

As a practicing lawyer seeking to run 100 miles, I'll go ahead and discard the second definition.  I suspect I retain the ability to distinguish between right and wrong, and have absolutely no intention of shirking individual responsibility for my actions.  That leaves "unsoundness or derangement of mind; madness; lunacy" . . . hhhmmmm, are we getting somewhere now?

No, we aren't.  At least not in this context.

When people call someone else "crazy" for life choices, they are essentially saying, "I could personally never imagine doing something like that."  That promotes the definition of "insanity" as being a person who's conduct deviates from a collectively-acceptable norm.  Since this so-called "crazy" endeavor is so far outside a person's own realm of contemplation, they categorize the mental state required to pursue it as defective.  Ultra-running is but one example.  Any extreme sport - skydiving, bungee-jumping, drag-racing - might evoke a similar reaction.  So might trekking through the Amazon; or dog-sledding in Alaska; even hiking the Appalachian Trail.  But, is it a fair characterization?  I cannot imagine ever speaking or understanding Japanese, but I don't think those who do are "crazy".

And, what is it that all these sorts of pursuits have in common?  The possibility of sustaining physical harm by virtue of a leisure activity.  Never mind that any of us could be in a car accident at any time.  Or that chronic inactivity and poor diet will likely lead to a host of medical problems in middle and old age, if we live that long. 

We have arrived at a point in modern Western civilization where most of us are able to go about our daily lives with minimal physical exertion or discomfort.  Of course, some people still break their backs doing hard manual labor, be it in the field, or in factories, or in construction, etc.  But, now we are able to press buttons to do things that once required actual effort.  And with that ease comes a sense that we're "safe" from injury.  A lot of us spend our days at a desk, typing on a keyboard, clicking a mouse, maybe talking on the phone.  We sit for breakfast, during our commute, at our desk, and then again when we get back home.

Problem is, we weren't designed to sit. 

So, some of us choose not to.  We choose to move through the world propelled only by the power our own muscles can generate.  We run a 5K race.  Then a 10K.  Then we gear up to the Holy Grail of endurance tests: the marathon.  Except that marathons aren't the end-all-be-all of testing the limits of our aerobic capabilities.  That's where ultramarathons come in.  Ultras don't necessarily reward innate athletic talent.  They don't favor the super-speedy, or the incredibly strong.  They certainly don't require a ton of coordination (though nimble feet are a plus on trails).  One need not measure 7 feet tall, nor bench press 300 pounds.  No, just look at a race field and you'll see that runners come in all shapes and sizes.  Why is that?  In large part, it's because completing races of 5 or 12 or 24+ hours is largely a mental endeavor, and a brain capable of that sort of tenacity can fit within all manner of body-types.

Is it therefore "crazy" to pursue something which affords a tremendous chance for personal growth, loosens our daily shackles, and provides perspective on the things which most matter in life, even if that means experiencing discomfort, fatigue and maybe a not-too-serious injury?  Some of us submit that it is.

As I recently reflected from one of my all-time most personally influential books, Robert M. Pirsig's "Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance":
" 'Is it hard?' Not if you have the right attitudes. It's having the right attitudes that's hard.”
What percentage of this will be mental?  I truly have no idea.  But I do know that setting off on a well-supported journey of 100 miles without knowing whether I will be able to complete it, how long it will take, or what toll it will take on my body AND mind is the essence of the appeal of this.  I am choosing to strip myself bare of the daily trappings which keep us safe, but which simultaneously create a barrier between us and the world we inhabit.  I don't just want to be of the world; I want to be truly in it. 

Trying to "run" 100 miles through a scenic part of Vermont is just one way to achieve that presence.  If that's not what does it for you, then maybe you can find another way.  Or at least choose your words more carefully when you hear about someone doing something which strikes you as extreme: "What?!  You're running a hundred miles?  How cra-, er, I mean what a wonderful way to challenge yourself." :-)

Thanks for reading. -Ron

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Putting the "Mull" in Mulligan

“You’re only given a little spark of madness. You mustn’t lose it.” -Robin Williams

About 355 days ago, I set out to run 100 miles.  Within the virtual bowels of the interwebz lies an unpublished draft of my 2014 Vermont 100 race report.  I could never figure out how to write up that experience without coming across as an annoying, navel-gazing whiner . . . not sure that the almost-50.5 weeks which have since passed have allayed that concern, but here I am again, on the brink of embarking on this journey for a second time.

Last year, I was reasonably well-trained, but extremely anxious and wound up in the weeks leading up to the race.  I'd just gotten married, had a wonderful honeymoon, and was managing a busy law practice, split-schedule parenting, and the generally hectic and unrelenting projectile nature of modern American life.
This year . . . ummmmm . . . no weddings or honeymoons, at least.

The 2014 Vermont 100 Endurance Run began well for me.  I was present, happy, social, in control . . . for the first third of the race.  Then came the first "bad patch", swollen hands, concerns about over-hydration leading to hyponatremia.  I weighed in at Mile 47; 5 pounds heavier than my pre-race weight.  The first-year Medical Director told me I was done.  I didn't argue.  I just did the manly thing and burst into tears. 

Blood work at the at the ER confirmed that things were trending towards trouble, so dropping out was objectively and reasonably the right thing to do.  But, not once in 355 days has it felt to me like the right thing.  Not one day has passed that I have not thought about how I might have approached 2014's race differently.  Not once have I truly accepted that I gave my best that day, and that my best was no where near good enough.  Seriously, if that was my best, then I had better hang up the shoes and find some other leisure pursuit.  I've heard a lot - A LOT - about CrossFit, but do I have what it takes to bring my self-involvement and tireless proselytizing to the next level?  No, I'm not quite there ... yet. ;-)

The disappointment of letting myself, my crew, my friends, my family, and my donors (to the four causes for which I was running) down has gnawed at me like little else in my life.  I knew from the moment that I threw in the disgustingly sweaty towel that I would be back this year . . . and would keep coming back until I cover every inch of that 100+-mile course from start to finish in one try, and in less than 24 hours.  Having joined the race committee as the Sponsor/Vendor Coordinator has only increased my appreciation and esteem for what this event is all about: the myriad moving parts, the community engagement and coordination, the collective effort towards adventure and self-improvement.  And beer.

So, he we are, with mostly the same crew, plus my 14-year-old son Carter, and a baby-to-be-named later (due in early-September), ready to put myself out there again and finish what I started last year.

This year, I think I'm in comparable physical shape.  A year older, of course.  Hips still cranky.  Hair unruly, but shorter in the back.  But, I am far more ready for the mental aspect of this challenge.  How?  PATIENCE  By definition, the primary aim of any race is to get from Point A to Point Z as quickly as possible.  But, much like the Vermont 100's elevation profile, this is by no means a linear pursuit, and success is not measured solely by digital numbers on a clock. 

I am prepared to endure discomfort, pain, challenges, obstacles, both expected and unforeseen.  I have spent much more time training to walk big hills for long stretches.  My ultra-running best-pal Nate has introduced me to overnight walks.  Now I know how it'll feel to keep moving when physical exertion meets sleep-deprivation and things start to get loopy.

One other similarity from 2014 is that I am raising money again.  this time, though, just for one cause which has become a major part of my running and non-running life: the Massachusetts Association for the Blind & Visually Impaired (MABVI), specifically its Team with a Vision (TWAV).

Oh, and I'll run a (short) section of the Vermont 100 course blindfolded, with a guide, of course.  Why keep things straightforward if there's a way to make them more challenging?

If you'd like to donate to the cause, please click here: https://www.crowdrise.com/vt100formabvi .  Even if you aren't in a position to make a donation, please consider becoming either a sighted running guide for blind/VI athletes, or otherwise volunteering in your community.

As for mental preparation, I have been reading about extreme endurance, and have received some excellent chestnuts along the way:
  • "The key is to keep moving while you decide whether you can keep moving." -Ray C.
  • "You can always do/give more than you think you can." -Lots of wise folks
  • "A 100-miler isn't an athletic event.  It's a spiritual experience." -Joe H.
  • "The more you try to force your plan on the race, the harder the race will fight back with a plan of its own. So embrace the shit show". -Jenn Shelton
You get the idea.

And so, it is with a year's worth of daily contemplation -- i.e., "mulling" -- that I get my 100-mile race do-over -- a.k.a., a "Mulligan" -- where I will have another opportunity to find my limits, expand them as needed, all the while being supported by some of my closest family and friends, in the midst of a wonderful community of like-minded adventurers, while covering some of the most beautiful terrain in creation.

Some -- like, say, every older Jewish relative I speak with -- may ask, "Why do you do this?"  The reasons are plentiful, ranging from poetic to philosophical to psychological to spiritual to inspirational to selfish to insipid.  On one end of the spectrum is the fact that setting huge, intimidating personal goals leads to greater growth and self-awareness.  On the other, that I want to earn a pewter belt-buckle to wear around for the next 365 days . . . well, maybe not EVERY day, but most of them.  And definitely through airport security, so that I may remove it with a flourish and loudly identify its nature and origin to anyone within earshot.

Come to think of it, maybe I am ready to try CrossFit.

Thanks for reading, and stay tuned for more updates . . . or, if you actually have an interesting life of your own, don't.


Wednesday, July 16, 2014

The Run ***OF*** My Life

Sitting in the relative comfort of my office, with race-start-minus-less-than-72-hours . . .
"In the end, endurance sports are a test of yourself against yourself; they require nobody else, and sometimes they can hardly tolerate anyone else." -Bill McKibben, "Long Distance"
I've spent the past few weeks (months?) thinking a lot of myself.  Yes, by cloaking this 100+-mile challenge as a fundraiser for four charities, I have essentially insulated myself a bit from otherwise valid charges of self-indulgence, self-centeredness, and self-congratulation.  But, if I'm being completely honest, I'm doing this because I want to do it, to test myself, to see where my limits lie, and - if it goes well enough - to bask in the glory of the achievement of completing 100 hilly miles on foot.  If things unfold in a reasonably positive way, this will turn out to be THE RUN OF MY LIFE.

But . . . my thoughts are not completely focused on my own navel.  In addition to my wife, my children, and my clients, my thoughts keep turning to the worsening crisis at the U.S. southern border.  The crisis where tens of thousands of unaccompanied children whom have fled violence-ravaged parts of Central America are streaming into the United States in order to have a chance to live.  Largely, their parents have done what loving parents do: they have sought to protect their precious children by any means necessary.  And yet, in this day of political polarization, shameless demagoguery, and fact-bereft ignorance, we cannot even seem to see this problem for the humanitarian crisis that it is.  Even Glenn Beck sees hurting children in need.  The response from his "constituency" when he went to help them?  Threats. How did we get to this hardened, punitive place?

While there is room for reasoned debate as to how we might reform our immigration laws and policy as a whole, there should be little disagreement about what to do with these children.  We should take them in, give them immigration/asylum hearings, and allow our flawed-but-still-workable legal process to sort it all out.  Instead, we get a political blame-game, with misinformation fueling unfounded fear and misguided anger.  I won't get into the details here, but will offer this photo meme for consideration:

As I wrote on my firm's Facebook page:

At its essence, the reason we have the humanitarian crisis at the southern border is because some people in the world still view us models of freedom, peace and opportunity ... read this article about what they're fleeing, and then answer this question: Are we going to prove them right?

So, along with supporting legal services for the poor, public broadcasting, cancer research, and spinal cord injury services, I will also maintain the perspective that - when all is said and done - I'll merely be on a recreational journey within an organized race, amongst other like-minded athletes, and with the support of a wonderful crew.  But, when it gets particularly tough, when it hurts, when the doubts are poised to dethrone my determination . . . I will think of these children, whose plight involves something so much more serious and dangerous, and who - unlike me - are in a RUN FOR THEIR LIVES.

Thanks for reading. -Ron

Friday, July 11, 2014

Vermont 100 - One Week Out

People have been asking whether I'm ready to run 100 miles . . . here's one answer, in stream of consciousness so as to reflect the thought process as accurately as possible:
I can do this . . . it's just a day . . . need more BodyGlide . . . what's that pain? . . . did I have it before? . . . my diet's been shit . . . I've gained weight . . . I feel great . . . I'm exhausted . . . why is my wife putting up with this? . . . why isn't my wife more supportive . . . wish I'd raised more money for these charities . . . who am I trying to impress? . . . sub-24 hours is in the bag . . . there's no way I can finish 100 miles . . . I LOVE running . . . Running is stupid; I'm going back to playing soccer . . . I need to pre-order those peanut butter protein balls . . . is my crew going to be okay? . . . why would anyone agree to crew me? . . . I love Vermont . . . look at these splits from 2013 . . . how does one wear a belt buckle?  . . .  Doesn't matter, I'm not getting one . . . Unless I'm injured or too sick to continue, I WILL FINISH . . . why does any of this matter? . . .   what do my kids think? . . . I can't wait to take a few weeks off from running . . . which shoes should I wear? . . . When should I change them? . . . Is THAT really the elevation profile . . . 15,000 feet? Are you SHITTING me? . . . Speaking of that, how many pairs of shorts should I bring, in case I shit myself? . . . Nip Guards, DO NOT FORGET THE NIP GUARDS . . . I need sleep . . . Wish I could sleep . . . I know so many people who've finished 100-milers . . . I can do this, too  . . . those people are far stronger than I am . . . When should I start eating carbs during the race? . . . Fig Newtons are yummy . . . I miss Oreos . . . Why does everything that tastes good eventually kill you? . . . Bug spray! . . . Troy's beard is dreamy . . . It is a nice beard, but what if I hallucinate that he has a 'possum on his face . . . Are there possum's in the woods of Vermont? . . . what about that time I chased the porcupine off the trail when I paced Kami . . . I know those last 30 miles . . . that'll help . . . Man, I've seem some carnage in those last 30 miles . . . 100 miles . . . that's far . . . But, really, it's just one day . . . less than 24 hours . . . unless it isn't . . . could be 30 hours . . . that would suck . . . can't worry about that now . . . I wish Nate was gonna be there . . . Nate's doing a 200-mile race . . . Nate's crazy; I'm wicked normal . . . is the World Cup really about to be over? . . . Suarez to Barcelona; how can that be? . . . I'll miss the kids . . . now way the kids . . .  Focus, you're about to run 100 miles . . . 100 miles . . . It's like 90 miles to drive to the race from my house . . . why did I agree to this? . . . pickle juice! gotta have pickle juice there . . . bacon; bring lots of bacon . . . hydration vest or handhelds . . . I haven't run enough trails . . . I haven't run enough hills . . . I haven't run enough . . . I got this . . . Can we just run already? . . . will the crew find the aid stations? . . . what if I miss them . . . what should my weigh-in strategy be? . . . will I get too dehydrated . . . HYPONATREMIA KILLS . . . I've never had that sort of problem . . . I've never run more than 50 miles . . . 50 miles wasn't that bad . . . of course, it was a cool day . . . and it was a flat course . . . but I'd just run Boston 6 days earlier . . . Not really, that was a long slow effort . . . This will be a long slow effort . . . True . . . Point me (or is that you?) . . . I can't wait to eat whatever I want during the race . . . Bring on the sugar and gluten . . . Mmmmmm, gluten . . . will they have peanut and plain M&Ms . . . I like them both . . . They're really giving us a poop bag? . . . Who the f--- crapped on someone's organic blueberry farm during last year's race . . . So many changes . . . I fear change . . . Change is life . . . Whatever, it's all new to me now . . . Will I be chatty during the race? . . . Will I make new friends? . . . Will my hair get in my face? . . . should I cut it? . . .  a dyed mohawk would be cool . . . I don't want to get divorced again . . . earrings? . . . should I get new ones?  . . . bigger? . . .  smaller? . . .  seriously, dude, enough with the bullshit details . . . stick to the important stuff . . . Will Meredith get enough sleep . . . Does she ever get enough sleep anymore? . . . I hope she enjoys this experience . . . It's cool of her to support me as I do this . . . What should I eat the night before? . . . what about breakfast? . . . 4:00 am is harsh . . . what time should I get up? . . . who's gonna drive me from Justin's house? . . . how do I do spreadsheet projections? . . . My poor crew . . . I gotta stay positive the whole time . . . I love trail running . . . I'm good at going slow . . . Not too slow, though . . . Whoa, slow down, cowboy . . . you're not going to set the course record . . . Today is not "the day" . . . No music? . . . that's stupid . . .  actually, it's cool . . . but, music would be awesome . . . maybe the crew can sing to me when I see them? . . . that's really stupid . . . I've met some awesome people through running . . . where the hell are they all? . . . Maybe I should have asked E.M. to crew for me? . . . He's blind, remember?! . . . Oh, right . . . well, I chose to do this, so I have to figure it out for myself . . . Weather looks nice . . . is that warm front going to move in a day early . . . good thing I've run in the heat lately . . . hot means shirtless, which means no nipple chafe . . . scrap the nip guards  . . . actually, bring them, just in case . . . bring everything . . . two of everything . . . no way I can do this if it's 90 . . . yeah, fret about the stuff you can control, like the weather . . . it's going to be so hard . . . it's going to be awesome . . . it's going to be both of those things and so much more . . . and, eventually, it's going to be over . . . and I'll have done it . . . and I'll know I can do just about anything else.
* * * * * * * * * 

The lesson here?  Don't ask whether I'm ready.  I'm as ready as I can be, which is not ready enough.  That's what big unknown new adventures do to you.  Bring it on.  Bring it all on!

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

A Week to Remember: Boston and a Little Cool-down Run

At some point or another, we've all likely succumbed to the bizarre phenomenon where time simultaneously flies and drags by . . . a week ago, I was running the Boston Marathon.  I know that because the calendar tells me so, but it could have been a month, or even a year ago as far as my perception goes.  Or was it yesterday?

BOSTON 2014 RECAP: Running as Another's Eyes and Ears

Boston 2014 will go down as a running event like any other.  Not only did the world's oldest continuous marathon see its 118th iteration, but a city, a state, a country, and large swaths of the world bound together to avenge the catastrophic events of 2013.  It was impossible not to be moved by the stories of resilience, of facing down terror, or overcoming incomprehensible adversity to take back an event which now unarguably transcends running.

#BostonStrong pretty much sums it up, but the meaning of "Boston" part of that has taken on an ever more broad definition.

For my part, not having qualified for 2014, I was determined to be a part of it, especially if I could do so by helping someone else realize his or her own goals.  Through a series of fortunate coincidences, I found myself assigned to guide a visually impaired runner, Corvin Bazgan from the Bay Area in California.

There is little reason to subject the few decent people who find themselves ensconced in the contents of this blog to a long narrative race report, especially since Boston 2014 wasn't about me.  Perhaps a list of highlights and other memorable aspects would be the better approach, then.

  • Corvin's original goal was to improve from 3:45 last December to 3:26 in one training cycle, in his third marathon and first Boston.  We revised that goal to 3:40.  It was a warm day, and the Boston course is notoriously unforgiving, especially to first-timers.  Alas, we ran a 4:25.  I enjoyed every second; I suspect that Corvin - at least at the time - did not.:-)
  • Doing this magnanimous thing led me to get to hobnob with one of the only celebrities over whom I would ever fawn . . . one of the other sighted guides was none other than NPR's "Wait, Wait . . . Don't Tell Me!" host Peter Sagal [or, as one Facebook friend called him, "Peter F-in' Sagal!"].  I got to have brunch with him; hang out for a few hours pre-race with him; run the first 7 miles of the race with his runner, Erich Manser, and him; and decompress after the race with him.  His in-person persona resembles his radio one, and it was very enjoyable to exchange barbs and banter with a pro. 
  • I also met Aaron Scheidies, whose visual-impairment didn't stop him from running a 2:44 (!!!) at Boston 2013 (and a 2:47 this year).  Talk about another inspiring story.
  • The energy in and around the city of Boston and the marathon route defies verbal description.  It made me feel warm and safe and energized and happy and loved and accepted and all sorts of other things.  It's unlikely I'll ever get to be a part of something quite like that again, and I'm extraordinarily grateful that I was.
  • I was the recipient of myriad acts of kindness, including having another runner, Dan Streetman, volunteer to clear a path ahead of my runner and me, as well as navigate the aid stations, every big-city marathon's most challenging feature.  It is unfathomable to me to have gotten through the race without that extra help.
  • I had wished many of my runner friends good races and "pleasant surprises".  My own pleasant surprise was that my friend Holly fell in with my runner and me at just before the halfway point.  Her sore foot was our good fortune, and she stayed with us until the finish.  That allowed Dan to surge ahead to find another visually-impaired runner who had outrun (!) her guide and was fumbling her way on her own.  Holly's grace helped two blind runners and one guide.
  • Seeing friends from all over before, during and after the race was a nonstop source of joy.  Some of these "virtual" friends have turned into some of my actual closest real-life friends.  Seeing so many of them on Saturday night and then again on Monday was a tremendous bonus.  I even got to have a nice quiet lunch with Mark Remy, without even having had to enter a Runner's World contest or anything. :-)
The weekend came and went too quickly, but I have a priceless film reel playing in my head, and have felt buoyed in all facets of my life by the high level of all things good during the Boston weekend.

On Tuesday, I went to the office, and eventually got home feeling pretty wiped out.  Wednesday was an intense work day, before the kids and I took off to Vermont for a couple of days of their school vacation.  I ran some during the week, got back home Friday night, packed up more gear and left for the next running-related adventure . . . a 50-mile race around Lake Waramaug in Connecticut.

Lake Waramaug Race Report: aka, "Oh Shit, My Balls!"

Monday, Boston.  Tuesday-Saturday, frantic bustle of a busy life. Sunday, a 50-mile race in order to qualify to run 100-mile race.

On Tuesday, I walked a couple of miles.  On Wednesday, I worked feverishly, so I could not make time to run as I'd hoped.  On Thursday, I slogged through four-plus S-L-O-W miles, starting up dirt roads/XC ski trails towards Mount Mansfield near Smugglers' Notch, then turning into a stiff headwind and finally ending on the roads amidst unwelcome snow flurries.  On Friday, I managed a lovely 10+-miler, into Jeffersonville, Vermont and back.  Saturday saw a 5+-miler in a cold rain before driving down to Connecticut to meet my equally crazy friend Tom and his wife for dinner before finding our B&B.

Saturday proved to be a cold rainy day, with a small wondrous window of mild sunshine just in time for our early dinner in West Hartford.  We even sat outside.  After a few sweet cheats post-Boston, I mostly kept to my low-carb/Paleo/NSNG way of eating, and felt good energy-wise.

Meredith and I vegged out to "Ghostbusters", which I hadn't seen in who-knows-how-long, and got to sleep reasonably early.

The B&B was nice, with other runners lodging there, as it was about 20 minutes from the race start.  Innkeeper Bill was super-hospitable, even making me eggs upon special request.  He was confounded by a distance runner not carb-loading before a race.  I spared him the inevitably sanctimonious-sounding explanations.

Pre-race breakfast consisted of COFFEE, two hard-boiled eggs, some salami, provolone cheese and a couple of peanut butter "Barista Balls" from my favorite local coffee shop.  These are delicious shots of fat and protein, which taste sinful but help me start many a day on a positive note, carrying me through to lunch with no hunger pangs or energy dips.

Meredith drove me to the race, where we got settled [she'd obtained permission from the RD to do an unsupported long run during the race], and I kept my sweats on in the chilly morning temps.  It was hard to tell what the day would do weather-wise, but the forecast called for mid-50s, sunny with 10+-mph winds. Visually, the lake looked stunning in the early morning light.

My good friend Nate met us there, and Tom rolled in at around the same time.

I wore my official Boston 2014 participant shirt, so that it might explain why I was running so slow.  Given the general badassery of the ultrarunning crowd, though, doing a mere marathon in the same week as a 50-miler is not really anything special.  I spoke with runners who had just done or were about to do 100-milers, and for whom the 50K or 50-miler was just an easy training run.  I also sported thin gloves and a visor, since hats no longer stay on my froed head when I run.

The course started with a 2.2-mile out-and-back section, leaving a total of 6 loops around the 7.6-mile lake perimeter to get an even 50 miles.  All I knew is that I needed to finish the race in less than 12 hours, and that I wanted to be done in under 10 hours.  I was mentally prepared for a long day, and was patient in the early going.

Nate took off ahead, intent on breaking 7 hours for the 50 miles.  He would end up deciding to drop down to the 50K distance, and finished second overall with a smoking 3:54.

I decided not to look at my running pace at this race, focusing instead on heart-rate as a measure of sustainable effort.  While the early pace seemed "fast", my heart rate stayed at or under 140 bpm.  That seemed just right.

Tom and I were jovially talkative in the early stages.  We engaged with other runners.  We joked when we crossed the "finish" line for the first of 6 times.  We smiled for the cameras.  We ran together, except for bathroom breaks (since portapotties are a bit tight for two).  Everything was going well, though the temps did not rise, but the wind did pick up.  The sun made occasional brief cameo appearances.  For the first time in a race, I actually added a layer.

Undertaking to finish my first 50-miler [I'd dropped out of the JFK 50 in 2012 [sorta injured but really grossly under-prepared], I wanted to have a solid fueling strategy.  Based in part on the phenomenal recent racing success of Zach Bitter, I decided to stay low-carb during the first half of the race, and then eat whatever appealed to me during the second half.  I took only water for about 10 miles, then had one Chia Warrior Coconut bar, which I take on runs of 3+ hours these days.  I also had some of those delicious Barista Balls, though my cold-compromised fingers dropped two of them as I finished the second full lap.  That's when I said, to no one in particular, "Oh shit, my balls!", as I saw that delicious pair roll downhill towards the lake.  In an ultramarathon, it's a good idea to bring extra everything, and I was glad to have more balls in reserve. ;-)  Turns out, I would need them.

Somewhere around Mile 20, the reality of the moment hit me.  I had committed to running 50 miles today, just 6 days after the Boston Marathon.  This race was on pavement.  Things started to hurt: calves, quads, hips, shoulders/neck.  But, I shook off the negativity and just stayed in the moment: this lap, the next aid station, the next mile.

After completing the third lap, we were at about the 27-mile mark, more than half-way done and past the marathon distance.  And, for me, the Festival of Unrestricted Fueling was about to begin.  And that was my basic mindset for the rest of the day: Run to the next aid station. Eat and walk.  Start running again.  Repeat.

A sampling of what I did end up eating/drinking in the second half of the race:
  • Chicken noodle soup
  • Grilled cheese sandwiches
  • Deviled eggs (am-A-zing!)
  • PB&J
  • Fritos
  • Smartfood
  • Potato Chips
  • Pretzels
  • Peanut M&Ms
  • Oreos
  • Graham crackers
  • Candy fruit slices
My stomach felt fine all day.  My mental energy was ample and positive, much to my beloved fiancee Meredith's surprise.  The fourth time around the lake was the toughest.  Then the fifth lap was worse.  I had no doubt I was going to finish, and I started playing some math games.  Tom did the same, and we ended up running within view of each other, but no longer together.  Without saying a word about it, we understood that it had to be this way.

Coming into the Start/Finish for the final time, I saw Meredith and Nate.  My spirits were still good, but my body was tired.  I'd passed my all-time mileage PR (40 miles when I turned 40) and was in completely uncharted territory.  I felt some new aches, and had a blister which felt compelled to remind on every other step that running 50 miles on pavement is kind of a stupid endeavor.

The last time around the lake was a bit of a slog, but Tom and I treated it as our chance to say goodbye to the wonderful aid station volunteers, including the flirty ladies at the second station; the self-styled aid station chef (auteur of the morning's breakfast burritos, bacon, soup and grilled cheese), the soft-spoken blue-Gatorade peddler at the third station and then the home stretch.

Without a doubt, the least pleasant section of the course was a 2-mile stretch along Route 45, which was much busier than the rest of the lakefront road, and took us straight into headwinds which gusted upwards of 30 mph.  The final turn back onto North Shore Road was a blessing.  Tom and I cruised through the last aid station, where I had some coke and water, and then we headed for the finish.

My Garmin was reading long, so I expected to finish closer to 50.4 miles, as measured by my watch.  Tom was struggling (as was I) and he asked me if we had about 1.5 miles to go.  I didn't mean to be brusque, but I sort of snapped my response: "Don't worry about it."  He said something else, but I didn't really hear it, because a switch suddenly flipped and I picked up the pace.  Before I knew it, I had sped up by over 3 minutes per mile, dropping down into the low-7:00-minute range.  I had no idea that that could ever happen after running for 9 hours.  As I pumped my arms and breathed fast-but-steadily, I came upon a woman ahead, another 50-miler who'd been ahead of me for most of the day.  I flew by her less than 100 yards from the finish, and she was clearly a bit befuddled (as was I).

I raised my arms, hooted and hollered and literally took a flying leap under the finish banner [nearly crashing into the aid station table when I landed].  Official time: 9:07:56.  9th male finisher; 12th overall.  Tom came in a moment later, having been sort of blindsided by my unexpected kick.  I hugged Meredith, and Nate, and Tom, and would have hugged anyone else who'd have let me.


As I said up top . . . it was a memorable week.

Thanks for reading. -Ron

Wednesday, April 9, 2014


Today's post title comes from an inside joke started by my friend Steve.  When he was a star high school and later standout college runner, Steve would notice fellow runners lining up at the front of the pack, where they would promptly start their race at course-record pace, before rapidly fading and coming back to earth.  Since nothing about those runners' training or race history would objectively indicate that they could hold such a blazing pace, Steve and his teammates summed up their apparent mindset with the simple phrase: "Today's the day," as in, "today-is-the-day-I'm-going-to-run-a-full-minute-per-mile-faster-than-I've-ever-run-before."  Silly thought process surely, but entertaining for the knowledgeable observer.

Well, for me, right now, at this moment TODAY IS THE DAY!  It is the day that I launch my long-awaited (well, by me and the causes I'm running for, anyway) 2014 running fundraising initiative.  4 Marathons.  100+ Miles.  4 Excellent Causes.  And, it all starts 100 days from today, on July 19, 2014 in a lovely field in eastern Vermont.  The causes - and the fundraising links - are listed at the top of this blog, but here they are, with a quick word about each:

The Jimmy Fund: Who doesn't want to help fight cancer?

Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation:Who doesn't want to help people with spinal cord injury?

NH Campaign for Legal Services: Who doesn't favor justice for all,especially for the poor?

NH Public Television: Who doesn't love public broadcasting?  Sesame Street helped me learn English.  "Downton Abbey" is helping me perfect it. :-)

I've also set up a Facebook page, and am affectionately calling this initiative "Ron's Run for Jimmy, Chris, Justice & Elmo".

So, please, donate if you can.  Spread the word.  Send a good vibe.  Pray, if that's your thing.

Nothing about my running history guarantees that I will be able to complete this undertaking.  So, it's just natural, that 100 days to go until I toe the line, "TODAY IS THE DAY!"

Thanks, for reading this, and for sharing this incredible journey with me.


Tuesday, February 18, 2014

A False Dichotomy: Reflections on Running WITH/FOR Others

The road and I have become re-acquainted during this fledgling training cycle.  It's a lot like I remember it: undulating, scenic, seemingly endless . . . but a lot whiter and more slippery.

A couple of Sundays ago, I capped a big training week for me.  I drove to Hopkinton, MA and ran 18 miles on the Boston Marathon course with my old friend Stuart, who's training for his first marathon. 

Then, since I'm in an extended base-building phase, I accepted an invitation to join some blind runners for a group run from the Massachusetts Association for the Blind's main offices in Brookline.  I was paired with a really nice guy named Erich, and we sought to negotiate the congested, only partially-cleared streets and sidewalks of Brookline, Boston and Cambridge, connected to one another by a short tether.

My interest in meeting and running with Erich and some of the others stems from my desire to be a guide to a disabled runner again at Boston 2014.  The Achilles International folks remain noncommittal at this relatively late stage, and some of us like to plan ahead.  OCD much?  Yeah, kinda. ;-)

During the first mile together, Erich and I covered the biographic basics.  He explained his sight loss (calling himself "low-vision") and I mentioned that my fiancee is legally blind in one eye.  He then posed what I regarded as a curious question: "Is that why you're interested in helping out, or are you just a good guy?"  I shuffled along without answering for a few strides, and then said, "Neither, really."  And so we discussed why I've taken to pacing and guiding as my predominant "racing" activities in the past several years.

It's not false modesty to say that I don't consider pacing and guiding to be great acts of selfless sacrifice. Granted, being a guide/pacer does require putting one's personal performance goals on the backburner, but - if we're being honest here - I turned to guiding/pacing for all sorts of selfish reasons.

Being a marathon pace guide is like being a rock star for a day.  The pace group members think of you as a running demi-god, someone able to leave them in the dust if you wanted to, but choosing instead to be there to shepherd them to their own goals.  They pose fawning questions; they ask you to pose for post-race photos; in some instances, they even try to kiss you in a way that might violate the Pacer-Runner Code of Ethics. :-)  We can blame that on adrenaline and exhaustion.

For a Pacer/Guide like me, though, participating in a marathon at a pace one-to-two minutes (or more) slower than my own race pace is a safe choice.  Factor in the long training/racing malaise which I endured, and you can get a sense that it would be fair to characterize my "running service" as an elaborately-crafted cop-out.  And, when you consider events like Boston and New York, where just getting into the race requires a qualifying time, some luck, and/or significant registration fees, being a Pacer/Guide is a very sweet deal.

Being a Guide for a disabled athlete is quite different than leading a group to a specific goal time.  Guides run their runner's race.  Our commitment is to making sure that this person has the best, smoothest, safest possible race experience, and we'll do what it takes to make it happen.  We stay with the athlete; we don't expect the athlete to stay with us.  Still, despite all that apparent selflessness, the cheers and the energy and the unfettered adulation as you accompany an inspirational figure as they do their inspirational thing is far more satisfying than hitting any goal time in one's own race.

So, Erich, as we discussed, I'm not guiding for my "low-vision" fiancee, and I'm not an especially good guy.  I just want to keep doing what I love doing, among other people who love, at the marquee events of our wonderfully egalitarian sport.

That's it.


Since my last post, I've logged three consecutive 70+-mile weeks, with a 75+-mile week during the week of February 3 through February 9.  This is where a lesser runner might gripe about the awful, frigid, snowy, relentless, unforgiving winter we're having.  Not me, though. ;-)

The plan is to log one more week in the mid-70's (mileage, not temps, sadly) before heading to Italy on February 23rd for the kids' school vacation, where I'll be lucky to run half that distance.  The timing is actually optimal, as I'm due for a cutback week, and the trip will force me to take it.

In other news, I'm looking for a 50-mile qualifying race, since Vermont requires that every 100-mile runner have completed a 50-miler in less than 12 hours, with a deadline of June 1st.  I was planning on getting my 50-mile qualifier at Pineland Farms, but with that being on Memorial Day weekend, it felt like I'd be cutting it too close.  Leading candidate right now is the Lake Waramaug Ultra in Connecticut, scheduled on April 27th.  Guiding at Boston April 21st would be a perfect final long run. :-)

Thanks for reading. -Ron