Saturday, December 19, 2009

Model Role

Among the panoply of personal or professional titles one does not expect to hear in one's lifetime, I'd include "Dan Quayle, Neurosurgeon", "Bill Gates, Mac User" and "Ron Abramson, Male Model". Yes, that last one would be me, and the absurdity of the juxtaposition cannot be overstated.

Yet, your intrepid blogger decided to have some fun, after receiving the following message in connection with a casting call for a national advertising campaign:

It's that time again for _____ to cast fine athletes for our upcoming photo shoot. We'd love your helping finding twelve special people for the next production. Kindly review the criteria, and pass along or post to anybody you may think suitable.

YES! It's completely fine to apply for more than one position (i.e.. a tennis position if you're also a runner as long as you've got the experience).

Many thanks for your assistance!
- ________ Casting Crew

* CASTING for select athletes
We are searching for very experienced or semi-pro runners, tennis player and personal trainers for a high-end photo shoot in the Boston area.

Please read the details of our casting needs :

OF 18-30 within the following categories:





About our photo shoot:
- The client is __________, well-respected fitness retailer with a worldwide presence, This is a professional photo shoot. No nudity.

- You MUST be able to report to our CASTING on Thursday 12/17/09 in Newton MA. Sorry, no exceptions.

- You must be free to work on one or all of our photo SHOOT DATES: 1/5-1/8 in the Boston area

- Rate is $200 an hour, minimum half day shoot.

Naturally, I opted for the "runner" category, and though I have no idea whether I have good running form, I figured I could bluff my way through. I completely missed the age parameters during my first read, but the fact that we wouldn't be getting naked put my mind at ease. ;-) The pay sounded pretty darned good (especially for a guy who just walked away from a steady paycheck), and I know I'm in no immediate danger of having a professional athletic career or of "being sponsored". So, call me nominally qualified, or perhaps "not completely unqualified" for this assignment. I don't watch "America's Top Model", do not really know what "smize" even means and have only seen "Zoolander" once. So, after giving it some thought, I realized I may be in over my head.

Yet, at the suggestion of my beloved (and sometimes hilariously supportive) wife, I sent the following photos:

Not long after hitting [send], I received the following response:

Hi Ron,
Thanks for your interest in our ________ casting! We liked your photos and think you are a good candidate for our shoot, we would love to meet you.

Please report to our casting to meet the client and photographer who will make the final casting decisions. Sorry, we cannot consider you for this shoot if you cannot attend the casting.

So, on my second-to-last day of work, I headed off to Newton, MA, a little over an hour from home, for about 15 minutes of living the life of an aspiring athletic apparel/shoe model. Bear in mind that my son had stayed home from school with a bum tummy, so I dragged him with me. I can only imagine how he'll look back on this day. We followed the twisty Mapquest directions, found the photo studio and experienced the following sequence of events:
  • As soon as we walked in, a hiply-dressed guy asked me, "Name of agency?"; he wrote "None" on the appropriate line and handed me a clipboard with a questionnaire to complete; I was Applicant #57 for the day, having arrived around 11:30 am
  • I left the "Age" line blank; if asked, I planned to say, "Fill in however old you think I look"
  • I changed into a triathlon-style singlet, medium-length running shorts and running shoes, opting for an orange/gray/black color scheme
  • As I waited my turn, I was getting a bit nervous, until I saw C give me a thumbs-up; I looked around and realized that I was not completely out of my league, though I had seen a very attractive, fit-looking couple leaving as I was arriving; other folks seemed to come in various shapes and sizes, with some obvious tennis players and personal trainer types
  • While the clipboard and applicant-shepherding duties fell onto a few young men who had similar clothes, haircuts and facial hair configurations, the apparent brains of the operation belonged to a crew of about 4-5 women, including a photographer, some sort of supervisor person, and a couple of young women working on notebook computers; some were dressed in dark gray, others in black; that was the whole color pallette; I've rarely felt less hip or cool, but that's probably not required for a glorified piece of meat
  • The photographer and supervisor engaged in a brief discussion about whether I should remove my form-fitting shirt; it stayed on; the photographer then had me stand with the information sheet; she snapped a photo, and then things got really silly:

    "We need to see your quad"
    "Um, okay, should I flex it?"
    "Sure" (said by the supervisor with a slightly suggestive tone)
  • So, with some trepidation, I raised the right side of my Saucony shorts and flexed my quadriceps; this is filed under the heading of "I did some things I'm not proud of"
  • The photographer then took some close-ups ("Turn your head this way, eyes looking back at me") and thanked me for coming; on my way out, I asked whether she could airbrush my ears, and she said that she could "airbrush anything"; the supervisor, though, said, "Nah, the ears are cute" and laughed; I've been saying that maybe they'll refer me to be a hearing aid model, since my ears will make any such device look small
  • They said they would let us know next week, and so ended my moment in the fashion world's sun

I have zero expectations, though I'll admit that I do hope to get the job. How can such an opportunity present itself like this just when I'm leaving my day job, and thus able to pursue it? My wife thinks it's very amusing, and she's been embarrassing me accordingly with friends and family alike.

Truth be told, I'll confess that I kind of enjoy the attention, but I also think it's a complete crock. Yes, I've spent the past couple of years turning myself into a runner, and the dedication to that level of training has caused my body to respond in kind. From head-to-toe, I look (and feel) very differently than I did not so long ago. Still, all my life, my primary personal strengths have been above-average intelligence and a decent sense of humor. Being a prime physical specimen was never really part of the equation. However, I seem to be aging relatively well, and - at the tender age of 41 - I attended my first casting call to appear in a fitness-oriented advertising campaign. While I'm not exactly planning to forego setting up the new law firm in favor of pursuing a full-time modeling career, I do have to ask, "How cool is that?" ;-)

Yes, whatever happens, I'll follow up. Those of you who suffer through this blog certainly deserve to know.


Sunday, December 13, 2009

Off the Clock . . . or Clocks

"I must govern the clock, not be governed by it." Golda Meir

This week's post addresses the two major "clocks" in my life. One, of course, is the clock which measures my running. Since late 2007, that timekeeping has existed primarily in the form of a GPS running watch made by Garmin, with my latest model being the Forerunner 405. The other clock is the one which measures my professional output, in the widely-reviled ten-slices-to-a-pie increments known as "billable hours".

My Garmin has been having problems for the past few weeks, since I noticed ever-increasing condensation forming under the glass. It died completely on Sunday, December 6th (coincidentally and fortuitously, the day after my 5K PR race). My other clock has been having "problems" for at least 18 months, and I finally killed it on Monday, December 7th, when I gave two weeks' notice at my current job, so that I make take the big professional plunge and start my own law firm.

Now, to be fair and clear, I have not purged myself of clocks, nor have I decided that time is irrelevant to both running and legal work. But, I did get in a week of watch-free running, and I will now focus on working on a flat-fee basis as much as practicable.

A replacement Garmin arrived on Friday, and on two runs with it, I've found myself checking it only very sporadically to see how far I'd run. I still like poring over the data afterwards, but I don't need the constant real-time feedback like I used to.

In the realm of being someone whose livelihood depends on being paid for turning my knowledge into solutions to some people's most pressing problems (I focus primarily on immigration law), I have only a finite amount of time with which to provide my services (i.e., a limited supply of my "product"). I cannot simply discount the role time plays in my profession.

Yet, this week taught me valuable lessons about running without a watch, as well as about finding a way to focus on a client's needs without giving in to the base urge to squeeze every last drop of time out of a case.


I was grateful that my watch hung on long enough to get me through last Saturday's race. On Sunday, it froze up for good, and I waited for the replacement to come by running familiar routes, running for time and running on the treadmill/indoor track during the coldest and snowiest stretch of the week. Ditching the heart rate monitor strap was also nice. It's one of those things I don't think about when I run, but running without is so much more comfortable. One non-running friend calls it my tiny bra.

Not worrying about a watch allowed me to think, look around and otherwise "just run" in a way in which I normally don't do. I'm hardly a convert, but I already feel less clock-o-centric. Disclaimer: all bets are off when Boston training gets into full swing on January 4, 2010.


Despite some indication to the contrary, I do realize that running is an avocation, and that I need to pay more attention to my actual vocation. I have been lass-than-satisfied at my current job for a while now, and things have come to a head recently. The difficulties come from two related sources: (1) the substantive work is boring, and (2) I don't feel like I'm improving the lot of the world or anyone in it by working primarily on behalf of businesses.

None of this is meant to disparage my current firm, which boasts some talented lawyers who do excellent work. Instead, I could best describe it as my being a "square peg in a round hole". The way I would like to practice (e.g., representing primarily individuals and charging fixed fees) simply does not fit within the framework of a larger law firm.

So, with equal parts excitement and terror, I will be working through December 18th, taking two full weeks off for the first time in over 5 years and am setting up my own immigration and international specialty law firm in Manchester, NH. I expect to be fully operational by Monday, January 11, 2010.

At the same time, I have applied for a legal contract position in State Government which would be fast-paced, exciting, challenging and which would go a long way towards giving me a guaranteed revenue stream during at least the first year of the new gig.

Having spoken to about a dozen or so lawyers and other professionals who've made a similar move, I'm buoyed by the universally positive feedback. After all, I have a specific (hopefully useful) skill set (aka, a "niche"), will run a lean operation and tend to be pretty good with people. I should have enough clients coming with me to "prime the pump" and I expect things to ramp up pretty quickly. This time next year, I expect to be asking myself the common question others shared: "Why did I wait so long to make the move?"

So, while I attend to myriad details and try to keep the demons of doubt at bay, I'll share an observation from Alexis Carrel upon which I recently stumbled: "Life leaps like a geyser for those who drill through the rock of inertia."


Now we arrive at the obligatory moment where I feebly attempt to tie together life and running so as to impart some pithy little lesson upon the poor reader. Well, as cliched as it may sound, running has really given me the fortitude to take this big step, to trust that I am up to the challenges ahead, and to know that each and every obstacle along the way teaches valuable lessons. Our paths then take us squarely into the den of those obstacles again in the future, when we arrive ready to conquer them, or they deviate so that we find a better way to get to our destination.

No more than any other can I escape from the restrictions of time, but I can choose to be less of a slave to the clock which sometimes ticks so loudly that it drowns out the sounds of our lives. I want to hear the literal and figurative sounds and rhythms of my heart more often, so the running watch and the billing timer will need to lay quietly in the background while I do.


Saturday, December 5, 2009

Close, but still a PR

Today is my 41st birthday, and I started my day with - of course - a running-related goal. The local Jingle Bell 5K always falls on this weekend, and it is the only race in which I've ever taken a DNF ("did not finish"). Turned out I was sick on a zero-degree day in 2007, but that's another story. This year, the goal was a new 5K PR of 18:41 (41, get it?) in honor of my age.

For reasons that will surely get more profound treatment in a separate blog entry, I have been under a lot of stress. I'm not eating or sleeping very well, yet I continue to depend upon running to help me stay focused and relatively sane. It's working.

The race starts and finishes at my oldest daughter's school, and brings out close to 500 people to support the Arthritis Foundation. The weather was gray and cold, with snow on the way. I ran the almost-4 miles from my house to the race in long pants and a jacket. Then I registered, changed into my race gear (including my evil-but-unbelievably-light-and-comfortable Nike LunaRacers). My friend Steve's advice rattled around in my head: keep it together in the second mile (which is the toughest mile of the course, with two decent hills). I saw my friend Jim, who said that I looked like I had my "game face" on. I told him that I was mainly coming to terms with exactly how much I was willing suffer on this cold day. I had run a barefoot mile as part of a 7-miler on Thursday, and my calves (but especially the right one) were pretty sore. A good thing in terms of building lower leg strength, but not so great in terms of trying to run as fast and smooth as possible two days later.

I debated about what to wear, but got down to a sleeveless shirt, arm-warmers, headband and gloves. As the start time neared, I ran a quick 1/3 of a mile, with a couple of bursts, and found my way to the starting line. Pre-race nerves coursed through me a bit, as I tried to identify which runners I might want to key off of during the first mile, and which ones to let go.

The gun went off, and I watched the instant pace on my defective Garmin FR405 (it's got ever-worsening condensation on the inside of the glass, making it hard to read; no worries, as a replacement is on its way) carefully to avoid going out too fast. I saw 5:4x and then 5:5x on the display, but I settled down. The race played out as follows:
  • Mile 1: 6:03 - A couple of sharp turns and a slight, longish uphill. I kept sight of the leaders for longer than I expected, but I tried to stay smooth; I was not cold, or hot, or anything; just felt like I was working hard, but not too hard
  • Mile 2: 6:02 - This mile was an unequivocal triumph of race execution for me, and perhaps my best race mile ever. I stayed steady, and then increased my effort on each of the two uphill climbs. The women's leader and I exchanged places, and I dropped several male runners throughout this mile. I was working as hard as I can remember ever doing so in any race while still staying in control. It was amazing to find that balance. My HR topped out at 199 bpm in this mile. As I descended the second hill, I finally pulled ahead of the female leader (a lovely young woman with whom I've done some training runs) and visualized the relatively straight shot to the finish.
  • Mile 3: 6:00 - Pure maintenance mode. I just kept pushing and pushing, thinking about how close it was to being over. I caught up to a couple of guys, and passed my friend Pete with about a half-mile to go. I reminded myself that with about 2200 miles already logged this year, I could certainly hold on for a little bit longer.
  • Final 0.1+ at 5:25/mile pace - I saw the entrance to the school parking lot and ratcheted up my effort. Then, just after I turned right, I heard a loud commotion, which turned out to be my entire family hooting, hollering and cheering for me ("Go Dad!" & "Come on, Ron!"). They'd surprised me by coming to the race on my birthday, and said that I surprised them by finishing so soon (yes, they had me at "hello"). I smiled as best I could, and crossed the finish line, feeling as completely spent as I've been at the end of a race. I could not even manage to push the stop button on my watch for a few seconds.

I went inside to get some warm clothes, talked with my wife and kids, and then did a couple of cool-down miles with Jim and Pete. The 9:00+-minute pace felt great. The results went up, and all the times were off. My "official" time went from 18:52 to 18:50, but I'm calling it 18:46, a 33-second PR from April and a mere 5 seconds short of my goal. Hills, cold, sore calves, stress, etc. might have cost me those few seconds, but I cannot say that I did not run the best race I could have run today.

The only downer for me was that while I had somehow managed to finish 14th overall, I was 7th in my way-too-competitive age group (40-49). So, I hung around to cheer my friends who won awards, and then ran a shorter route home, for a total of about 11.6 miles for the day.

Today's race is a satisfying way to end a very successful running year, while starting off a new "life" year on a good note.

In the meantime, my virtual running buddy "SpiderPig" qualified for Boston at the Memphis Marathon. Congratulations to him. Also, on Sunday, a number of my friends will be running the California International Marathon. Best of luck to them.

Thanks for reading. -ESG

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Please Kill Me . . . Actually I'm Fine

Today's post's title sums up how I felt during this year's annual Thanksgiving Day race. I lined up on Thursday morning with about 450 other runners to attack a tough 4-mile course. The first mile is all uphill; the second mile rolls and the third mile climbs back towards the start (along an alternate route). The race's saving grace is that the last mile is the same as the first mile, but in reverse, so it is a full-on descent. I ran this race two years ago in 27:26. Last year I ran a Thanksgiving Day race in Portland, Maine on a less difficult course in a little under 27:00.

This year, I decided NOT to set a time goal, but simply to run hard from the gun and see what the day would bring. I ran the almost-3 miles from my house to the start, decided it was warm enough for a singlet and arm warmers (low-40's, breezy and cloudy). I chatted with some friends and then took off, probably faster than I should have, as I kept the leaders in sight for longer than was likely prudent. I settled into a hard, yet seemingly manageable, effort level, and my Garmin kept showing what I thought was a very slow pace given that effort level. Still, I was no more miserable at the end of the first mile, and held on to ride out the downhills in the second mile. Somewhere after the mile mark, one young guy passed me, and then I found myself running pretty much alone.

At the turnaround at two miles, I saw a colleague who lives in the neighborhood cheering. We turned into a fancy neighborhood and started climbing again, getting back the elevation that we'd just lost. I was hurting badly at this point, feeling battered, wondering why this sort of misery makes any sense at all and at about the 2.5+-mile mark, another work colleague came up behind me. This guy is 57 years old, and a lifelong, intense endurance athlete with a marathon PR of 2:44 at Boston. He usually wins his age group, even in large races, though he's much more of a cyclist than a runner these days. He just returned from a long European vacation where he rode 250 miles a week on average. He gave me a playful push and told me to step it up. We ran together for a bit and then he inched ahead of me. When I saw that we'd reached the 3-mile mark, I stepped it up, knowing that the downhill would carry me all the way to the finish (in fact, that mile was my first sub-6:00 mile when I ran the race 2 years ago). I passed a lovely young woman (2nd overall female) and started putting some distance between my colleague and me. I was running alone and could not believe how fast and furiously my arms and legs were pumping, though I felt relatively relaxed. I could feel the lactic acid coursing through my shoulders and neck and wanted nothing more than for this self-imposed torture to end. With a sharp left-hand turn just before the finish, I saw the clock reading 25:2x, and I gave it one last push.

The splits:
  1. 6:43

  2. 6:27

  3. 6:45

  4. 5:33 (new mile PR!)

Official time (different from my watch, which I did not stop right away) was 26:25, good for 29th overall and 3rd in my always-competitive age group. Second place was a full 2:30 faster than my time, and that guy had run an earlier 5K that morning! Of course, he is a professional triathlete.

I did a cool-down mile with a friend and then hung around to get my very nice travel mug, not a bad prize at all. I ran the 3 miles home for 11 miles on the day.

We went on to have a great Thanksgiving Day, with an epic neighborhood Wiffle Ball game, a huge meal, and some more playing when the Dads took the kids away for a little while.

As the month comes to an end, I feared that my monthly mileage would be anemic, but despite taking a little extra time away from running, I logged 211 miles for the month. Now I will race once more before year-end, a 5K on Saturday (my 41st birthday) and will then hold easy mileage until Boston training kicks off on January 4, 2010.

There are also some major winds of change blowing around me, but I'll post about that when certain fuzzy plans come into clearer focus.

Happy Holidays, everyone. -ESG

Sunday, November 15, 2009

There's Only So Much We Can Run From

My father is not old (68). My father is not well. What my father is, is dying. There, I said it. And while it's not a huge surprise that it has come to this, it still hurts like hell.

Things have never been easy between us, and the time to "make things right" (in a meaningful way) might have passed. So, with news of my father's rapidly declining health, I went to Florida this weekend to spend some time with him, rather than waiting on the dreaded "call", only to learn that it's too late.

My father has been in the hospital four times in the past 16 months for pneumonia and related complications. He has been diagnosed with COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease), an incurable, degenerative lung condition, of which smoking is the leading cause. He also has rheumatoid arthritis, congestive heart failure and other medical issues which are beyond the grasp of my liberal arts brain. He is on oxygen 24/7, and could keep a pharmacy chain in business all by himself as a result of his medication regimen. In a nutshell, COPD slowly asphyxiates its victims. My father will become more and more uncomfortable as less and less oxygen makes its way into his bloodstream. There's no way to know how long and - ultimately - excruciating the process will be. It could be weeks, months or even years, but it won't be pretty.

The current situation seems to have magnified some of my father's less desirable personality traits. Feeling inclined to be charitable, I could call him "eccentric" or "quirky", but I'm going to spare him, myself and my dear followers the details of why he and I have had such a troubled history. It's complicated, boring, and - at this point - irrelevant.

What I do want to share is how I think my father's life has influenced my own.

Like any dedicated runner, I run for many reasons, not the least of which is the fact that I have a family history of heart disease. My maternal grandfather had triple-bypass surgery in 1977. He lived another nine years before dying of heart failure the summer I graduated from high school. My paternal grandfather had died 5 weeks earlier, also likely from a heart attack while he was sleeping.

Not to be outdone, my father had quadruple-bypass surgery in 1988, at the ripe old age of 47. Yes, he smoked. Yes, he was overweight, highly-stressed and sedentary. So, putting aside the influence of my father's choices on his current health, the fact that the longevity deck is stacked against me plays a significant role if my running/exercise obsession. Truth is, however, that I don't run to extend my time on earth; I run to get more enjoyment - and meaning - from it. Should I live longer thanks to doing something I've grown to love, well, that's simply a beautiful bonus.

Being several years into the "running lifestyle", I realize that there's a duality in running, whereby it propels us towards some things (such as performance goals, health, clarity, etc.) while also moving us away from others (such as stress, obesity, monotony, etc.). Yes, running allows us to shatter a great many of our preconceived limitations and achieve what may have seemed impossible, but there are some things from which we simply cannot run.

As painful as it is to admit, I've dedicated much of my adult life to the conscious pursuit of not repeating many of my father's mistakes, be it in terms of marriage, parenting and/or professional achievement. I will admit to mixed success, but I hope I've gotten more things right than wrong.

This is a tough time for people in my age bracket, sandwiched between the needs of aging parents and growing children, being pulled in different directions when it comes to deciding on what career path I wish to follow at this stage in my life. I am certainly more blessed than many, yet the burdens of life still feel quite heavy. Thanks in part to running, I know I can handle whatever comes my way, even if it doesn't always feel that way.

While we all have that strength, runners (and other extreme athletes, adventurers, soldiers, disaster-survivors and other envelope-pushers) have developed the ability to tap into it. That skill is about to come in handy for me.


P.S. On the running front, I'm still somewhat tired after the long run 2 weeks ago. I managed a over 40 miles last week, including 13+ along the Atlantic Ocean on Saturday, in what was for me very hot conditions. I finished with 1.5 miles barefoot on the actual beach, but was glad that run was done. I'm slightly achy in both knees (and my right calf is a little sore), so I'll keep running easy until that passes. I do wish to get some fast-paced running in before a Thanksgiving Day 4-miler. I'm going to go into that race with no real plan and see what happens. I'm hoping to surprise myself . . . in a good way for a change. ;-)

Monday, November 9, 2009

Nacimos Para Correr

Rather than make one more bad Springsteen reference, I thought I'd resort to my first language for today's blog post. While it does lose a little something in the translation, "Born to Run" is a master work of running journalism. Mixing in cultural anthropology, human evolutionary theory, running lore, extreme ultra-running and a cast of unforgettable, larger-than-life characters, Christopher McDougall has turned a personal quest (i.e., figuring out why his foot hurt and he was unable to run) into a sort of Rosetta Stone for those of us who think about the mysteries and enigmas posed by running.

The reason for this review is because I got to spend an hour-plus last week listening to Chris speak at the Barnes and Noble in Manchester, New Hampshire. There was a crowd of about 50 people, probably 65/35 percent men to women. Some of us wore our work clothes; others looked like they might have been about to go for a run. Chris showed up right on time, wearing a black Smartwool zip mock-turtleneck and his Vibram Five Fingers, essentially gloves for the feet.

McDougall began with the story of the book, which segues neatly into the barefoot running "debate" which Born to Run has rekindled. At its core, the message of Born to Run is that running - in particular endurance running - played a critical (perhaps the critical) role in humankind's evolution. McDougall notes that our big brains required lots of energy, which ended up needing to come in the form of meat. We've had that big brain for 2 million years, but we've only had weapons for about 200,000 of those years. If that's the case, how did we kill our prey before the advent of spears, arrows and firearms? We became the ultimate endurance running animal, and through "persistence hunts", learned - literally - to run our victims to death. This realization explains why endurance is a major equalizer. As distances grow, the gap between male and female performance narrows. While we may lose raw speed with age, a well-conditioned endurance athlete can compete at long distances well into their late 40's and beyond.
The backdrop for this gripping yarn is the Copper Canyons of Mexico and the only known inhabitants of that area, the long-isolated Tarahumara Indians. With the help of a wayward specter of a man known as "Caballo Blanco", McDougall finds his way to the source of his initial puzzlement and wonder: a 55 year-old Tarahumara who had just won a 100-mile race wearing flowing robes and sandals.

The argument is compelling, but tracing our running history necessarily raises the question: how did we run before shoe companies started peddling all sorts of fancy modern shoes? These shoes provide cushioning and - by design - interfere with our natural running stride. Common sense would lead us to believe that the advent of the modern running shoe would lead to far fewer injuries among runners. While Charles Goodyear's rubber vulcanization process led to the first rubber shoes in the mid-19th century, it was not until the 1960's and 70's that mass-produced, running specific shoes made their way into the American (and ultimately the industrialized world's) consciousness. Nike, co-founded by legendary University of Oregon track coach Bill Bowerman, started selling "waffle trainers" in 1974. Nike grossed over $19 billion in 2008, and its stock went up 60% (in contrast to the S&P's -18% performance). There's clearly no financial incentive for Nike and its competitors to greet barefoot running with an open mind (though - ever savvy - Nike did create the "Nike Free" line of unstructured shoes to help "strengthen the foot"). And while publications such as Runner's World and Running Times may occasionally cover barefoot running as an eccentric niche within the sport, it would be potentially catastrophic for such publications to trumpet a movement - however sound - which would potentially put their advertising base out of business.

McDougall re-learned how to run, eventually arriving at the conclusion that shoes were contributing to his chronic injuries. He now runs barefoot - or in the Vibram Five Fingers - and has been injury-free (except for one problem he encountered when he wore some old running shoes on a winter run) since.

For my part, I embarked upon my path as a diagnosed "biomechanically inefficient" runner. I theorize that the severe groin tear which ended my soccer playing days has resulted in asymmetries in my hips. Start logging 30, then 50 and now 70 miles per week, and those imbalances will manifest themselves in injury. True enough, I started running in heavy motion control shoes such as the Asics Gel Kayano, a feature-packed 13-oz. behemoth which I supplemented with custom orthotics.

Interestingly, barefoot running found its way into my training (just 1-2 miles per week) before I read Born to Run. While there are certainly additional relevant factors, I have not had a running-related injury since April 2008, despite steadily increasing both my mileage and the intensity of my training. I have also moved down from heavy, overly supportive shoes to a much lighter array of training and racing options. The results have been nothing but positive.

So, whether you want a fresh perspective on what has become a tired expectation that running safely requires over-engineered foot coffins, or you want to read a page-turning tale of what human beings can do when we reconnect with our true nature (and, thus, our greater selves), pick up a copy of "Born to Run". You will not regret it.


Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Manchester 2009: A Brush-With-Greatness/Pacing/Fundraising/Ultra-Run Report

How exactly does one describe a week that rolls spending quality time with American running royalty, pacing, fundraising and ultra-marathoning all together into a single stretch of running-related indulgence? In a word? AWESOME.

As I have previously droned on about in these virtual pages, I have decided to do at least one "outside-the-box" running-related fundraiser per year. Last year, it was 40 miles to mark my 40th birthday and raise money for cancer research. This year, it was running 38 miles to mark 38 years of legal services for the poor in New Hampshire. Next April, it will be "Boston 2 Big Sur" to benefit the Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation.

BILLY & ME (oh and DANE, too)

Of course, anyone with any sense of karmic balance knows that good things happen to those who do good things. I volunteered to be a pacer for the Manchester City Marathon, and one of the perks of so doing was being invited to the pre-race "VIP" Reception. While I was more of a CIP (Completely Inconsequential Person), I had the privilege of hanging out with none other than Bill Rodgers, a.k.a., "Boston Billy", renowned for winning BOTH the Boston and New York City Marathons 4 times each. The man ran 28 marathons under 2:15, a shocking achievement in the realm of distance running.

Suffice it to say that I had a chance to chat with Bill Rodgers for the better part of two hours last Thursday evening, ending up talking to him alone during the last half-hour. I also met Dane Rauschenberg, a former lawyer who ran 52 marathons in 2006, one each weekend, while working a full-time job. He's written a book, and now makes his living as an author and motivational speaker. It was good to connect with someone who's essentially living my dream (the fact that he's single is no small factor in terms of traveling around the country hitting marathon expos). I enjoyed speaking with Dane on a peer-to-peer sort of basis. Having Bill Rodgers to myself, though - hearing about Rosie Ruiz in Boston in 1980, how friendly he was with Frank Shorter & Greg Meyer, talking about his health and future running plans, even learning how much he likes cheese - was an experience I may never duplicate in my remaining running life. He was even gracious and interested in the fundraising ultra-run, and commented on legal assistance being a great cause.


Choosing to pace a marathon brought about a whole new level of anxiety. No longer did I worry about completing the distance, or about qualifying for Boston or about blowing 4 months of training with a shoddy race performance. No, instead I fretted about running too fast, a sure sign that the apocalypse cannot be far behind. I had a tough time dialing in the 8:45/mile average pace during my recent training runs, but just kept telling myself that, come race-day, I'd rise (or fall, as the case may be) to the occasion.
As befits my dysfunctional relationship with race-day weather (see 3 of my 4 prior marathons and my recent half-marathon at Bay State), Sunday turned out to be a PERFECT day for running a marathon: 40's at the start; low-to mid-50's by finish time. While I appreciated the good weather, I noted that it had to be that good on a day when I wasn't racing. As my wife pointed out, of course I'd find some reason to fault the weather.

I got to Manchester, left my stuff at the YMCA, and went for a 1.8-mile "warm-up" run. Why? Because having settled on doing 38 total miles, I figured that having "only" 10 miles to go after the marathon would seem more manageable than doing nearly 12. I saw some Kenyan-looking types going for an easy jog, and it felt good to get moving. After trying to eat everything I could get my hands on on Friday and Saturday (Halloween made that interesting), I wanted to run already. Here's how the pre-race miles stacked up:
  • 1-8:48
  • 0.85-7:13 (8:33/mi)

Total = 1.85 in 16:01


So, with 1.85 miles down, I headed for the start area, where I found the pacer coordinator, took the 3:50 pace sign and lined up a good ways behind the start. People immediately began to hover around me, and the chattiest Kathy started telling me how she planned to run with the group for the first half, and then leave us behind as she sped up in the second half. When I asked her about her training, she answered by telling me why she had not been able to run much "lately". Not a good sign for a first-time marathoner. She told me she peaked at 30-40 miles per week. I not-so-gently suggested that she not speed up at the half. She huffed and puffed her way up the hills, and I did not see her after the half.

It merits mention that the pacing strategy I chose to follow was to start close to "on pace" (8:45/mile), exert even effort on the hills and plan for a slight fade towards the end. An online running friend makes brilliant customized spreadsheets for various marathons, and he made me one for free since I was volunteering as a pacer (and fundraising). Check out his work at

The first half of Manchester is hilly, but it runs through a nice part of town, with ample crowd support and the half-marathoners making it feel like a nice, big race. I was chatting with my group, telling them stories of races past, checking in with them. We must have had about 15-20 people together for a while, with maybe 6 or so of those staying close to me while keeping the dialogue going.

Below are the mile-by-mile splits, with notable (at least to me) observations for each one.

  • 1-8:46 - Start about 30 seconds after the gun; carrying the big 3:50 Pacer sign for a mile, while finding space for our group to run; the stalwarts are with me; we're chatting (though I remind them to relax and save their energy); I'm answering questions and smiling at the crowd; missed the first mile marker, but the Garmin had us right on pace

  • 2-8:32 - More of the same, settling into a rhythm; I tossed the sign to the side during this mile, which was a bit fast

  • 3-8:35 - Smooth and steady up a short hill; still enjoying the crowd and chatting with my group

  • 4-8:41 - Hitting the first real hill, I tell the group to look up, run tall and relax up the hill

  • 5-8:47 - The biggest hill of the first half, and I see my accountant up ahead; he says hello and realizes he's gone out way too fast for his 4:15 goal time (he ran a full marathon 3 weeks earlier)

  • 6-8:36 - Keeping things steady; the group asks me about my training, PRs, what my goal would have been if I weren't pacing, etc.; we cut through the park where I plan to run most of the extra mileage later in the day

  • 7-8:46 - A couple of hills as we work our way through a nice, supportive neighborhood; pace group is sticking together nicely, with a couple of folks staying close to me and chatting away

  • 8-8:40 -The last significant hill of the first half; everyone seems to be doing well, drinking when they should and keeping it smooth and steady

  • 9-8:32 - Some rolling terrain, but some downhill lets everyone catch their breath; I suggest that they shorten their stride to save the quads for later

  • 10-8:38 (+32 secs in attempt to reset laps to match up with mile markers) - Coming back towards town, with the group hanging strong as we pass some half-marathoners who may have gone out too fast; somewhere in this mile, I notice a brand new pain on the outside of my left foot; it ebbs and flows, but stays with me for the rest of the day

  • 11-8:37 - Getting closer to town; a couple of rolling hills; I tell the official race photographers to take pics of the best-looking pace group around; we'll see if they did ;-)

  • 12-8:36 - Pass the Greek Orthodox church which occasions many remarks about the unfortunate architectural style

  • 13-8:22 - We crest the final small hill of the first half, and I remind the group to relax on the long downhill; I feel a strong headwind for the first (but, sadly, not last) time; Half-marathoners are kicking it in as I ask who in our group wants to bail out now; no one volunteers, so we turn right where the halfers turn left and are on the way to the second half

  • HALF - 1:53:31 [about 40 seconds faster than the projected pace]

  • 14-8:29 - Things changed immediately upon crossing the Merrimack River; the west side of the course has fewer runners (maybe 2/3 of the runners were half-marathoners), more wind and far less crowd support; we take a short, steep climb into a nice neighborhood, and I can sense the group beginning to thin out

  • 15-8:29 - The grind begins here; some members of the group are falling back; there is no traffic control in this part of the race (not much at all for the rest of the race really); things start to get quiet

  • 16-8:36 - Staying focused and steady; talking to those who are with me, I explain that the next mile is dedicated to my ailing father (as we'll be on "Louis Street" for a stretch); I sense some quiet support from the crew

  • 17-8:39 - Working our way along, the group thins out noticeably; there's one guy right on my hip (a guy who last ran a marathon 6 years ago and acknowledged sub-par training for this one) and one woman seeking her Boston qualifying time who's staying a step or two ahead, looking strong

  • 18-8:44 - It's been a long slog to this point, and there's still a lot of running left; I notice that some slight right hip soreness is evolving into actual pain; not sure where this came from or what to do about it

  • 19-9:06 - A very long uphill (pace projection was to do it in 9:00) and we take it smoothly; the BQ woman leaves us to go ahead, while many others drop back; the guy stays with me, and we start picking occasional "stragglers" for stretches along the way; my hip is getting worse; the HS students at the next aid station provide some welcome positive feedback about the tie-dyed arm sleeves

  • 20-9:21 - We turn into St. Anselm's College campus, and my hip becomes unbearably painful, with a shooting stab on each step; I let the group know to go ahead, and I think I will now have to walk the remaining 16 miles to make the 38-mile goal for the day; one of the "new" members of the 3:50 group offers me some topical Biofreeze gel; I stop, apply it, walk briefly and try to stretch and massage the painful spot; it feels remarkably better (still painful, but goes from stabbing pain to dull ache) and I catch back up to what passes for the group at this point

  • 21-8:17 - Trucking along, the major downhill does nothing to help my aching foot and hip; This is a "grin & bear it" mile, where I take my third gel of the day, a caffeinated Gu Roctane I see some friends who just ran the relay and we do the obligatory high-five thing

  • 22-8:47 - While I needed the energy from the Gu. I did not need the ensuing GI chaos; this required a 2-minute port-a-potty stop; according to my watch, I then ran the next mile in about 6:45 to catch back up (again); I found the one guy who'd been steady all along, and stayed with him; at this point, I'm noticing the dejected reactions of the people we're passing when they see my 3:50 Pacer's shirt; must have heard some version of "Oh, sh*t!" close to a couple dozen times in the final 5+ miles

  • 23-8:38 - A very turny, twisty part of the course, but the neigborhood is nice enough and we know we're getting there; my one stalwart is with me stride for stride, and I encourage him as best I can

  • 24-8:43 - We cross the river again over the lovely foot bridge and I know the end is coming up; in this mile, I see a guy walking wearing Vibram Five Fingers (essentially, gloves for one's feet which allow for "barefoot" running); I tell him I like the VFF's and am sorry he's injured; he replies that "sh*t happens"

  • 25-8:43 - Bringing it home, my sole remaining acknowledged "pacee" and I are buoyed by a beautiful spectator who gives us some warm encouragement; he thanks me and tells me he'll drop back in the final mile to run in with his young son in his arms

  • 26-8:32 - A volunteer tells us there's a mile to go (though it's clearly less); I look at my watch and think I'll be cutting it too close if she's right, so I step it up a bit; a guy with a triathlon race shirt apparently decides he doesn't want the 3:50 pacer to pass him, so he goes with me; I try to talk to him, but he acts like we're racing, and ends up fading back with less than a half-mile to go; I see my older two kids up ahead with less than 0.2 miles left, and they run alongside me on the outside of the course barriers; I smile and raise my arms as I approach the finish line

  • FINISH - 3:48:57 (chip time)
Boy, was I glad to be done. The announcer botched my name a couple of times before I crossed the line, but then nicely pointed out that I was the 3:50 pacer who appeared to have done his job properly ("How's that for knowing how to run"?, I heard him say). I got my medal, saw my family and took a planned 10-minute break to eat, stretch, change shirts and shoes and steel myself for the remaining 10 miles. I also saw the woman who'd gone ahead and gotten her BQ. She gave me a hug and asked her husband to take our picture together. The guy who came in just behind (but under 3:50) also thanked me and promised to look me up on LinkedIn.

As I was leaving the finish area, my running club teammate Dan appeared like an angel from heaven, having decided to come just to watch the marathon finish and keep me company during the final 10 miles (AND he gave me a check for the Campaign for Legal Services!). We bid my family adieu and were off on the final chapter of the day's running adventure.


My foot and hip still hurt, but I was able to run fine with Dan chatting away and keeping me company. We ran a couple of miles to a local park in which I often run at lunchtime, which has a 1-mile lakefront path, a perfect way to stay away from traffic on a softer surface. I chose this because a number of friends had said they might "run a mile or two" with me, and I figured this would be easy logistically. It turned out to be a tough slog, especially with the small hills and one particularly bouncy suspension bridge that was sheer torture each time we crossed. After the first lap, one of my best friends - Scott - appeared, and it was great to see him. My family cheered during each lap as we passed by.

I was not in a good place during miles 3-7 of the extra 10, with each step radiating pain and discomfort in my foot and hip. I reminded myself about novelist/marathoner Haruki Murakami's cogent observation: "Pain is inevitable; suffering is optional." It helped to bear that in mind.

After running my 33rd mile of the day, we chatted with a family which asked jokingly whether any of us had run the marathon. The mother was incredulous about the fact that I had and was doing more, and she kept saying, "You don't look like you've run 33 miles", which begged the question of just how one should look at that point. Bloody? Stooped like Quasimodo? Covered in vomit? LOL I was tired and hurting, but had not physically begun to fall apart.

After several of the lakefront laps, I needed to take a 30-second stretch break, but when I stretched my hips, my hamstrings would cramp, and vice-versa. So, I took to pulling/stretching my back and legs by holding onto a park bench. I also drank and ate during those stops, and changed back into the Brooks Launches which I'd worn during the marathon, as the Montrail trail shoes were just too stiff for my aching feet.

Dan, Scott and I rounded the pond for the fifth full lap, and then did a partial lap to leave the 2.4 miles it would take to finish at a local ale house back near the start/finish area. That was the Legal Services' folks' gathering place. Once on the road, Scott said goodbye and I found my stride again (not implying a connection there). As we came back into town, the aches subsided and I was running smoothly again. Dan actually fell back with a half-mile to go (he said he was out of gas, but I suspect he was letting me have my moment), and I finished the final mile running around 7:15/mile pace.

When I saw the sign for the bar, I smiled and raised my arms (I'd just passed the marathon finish line, with the clock showing right around 6 hours). As I arrived at the pub, a guy came straight outside, seemingly to greet me. I thought he was a Legal Services person, but turned out to be just a guy coming out to smoke a butt. He asked me what I was doing, and in his semi-inebriated state, seemed to have trouble processing what I was telling him. Then my wife came outside, to tell me that the other folks were confused about my plans and had left for the park to meet me there.

I changed my clothes, greeted the well-wishers and fellow runners when they arrived and hung out for a while. I drank a lot of water, then forced down a black & tan and some sweet potato fries, and relived some of the day's highlights, both mine and those of other runners. This included everyone from my 2:50 friend (who broke 2:52 on a tough course for a new marathon PR) to a first-time ever runner who ran the half-marathon in around 3 hours.

My wife and younger two kids left to go for the season's inaugural ice skate, while my oldest daughter insisted on staying with me (foregoing her time with her visiting out-of-town "boyfriend", a very moving gesture).

Here are the (somewhat painful) splits from the final 10 miles:

  • 29-9:52
  • 30-10:11
  • 31-10:27 (who's stupid idea was it to run on a hilly lakefront path anyway?)
  • 32-10:49
  • 33-11:03
  • 34-10:47
  • 35-10:45
  • 36-10:35
  • 37-9:56 (feels like heaven to be back on the flat, even sidewalks)
  • 38-8:59

  • TOTAL FOR LAST 10 MILES - 1:42:52

TOTAL RUNNING TIME FOR THE DAY: 5:47:50 for 38.3 miles

AVERAGE PACE = 9:05/mile (approx, not counting brief rest stops)


As with other 2009 running endeavors, Sunday's experience confirmed that I am not the runner I was last year. Consistent, mostly injury-free training has vaulted me to a new level, in terms of speed, endurance and - perhaps most importantly - mental toughness. Selecting a day where all my running was to benefit other people made it that much easier to ride out the rough patches and complete the day's mission(s). Quitting was never an option.

Pacing is something I'll definitely do again, but perhaps a little closer to my actual fitness level (say, 20 minutes slower) and without committing to additional mileage (duh!).

The fundraising aspect was moderately successful. I surpassed the $1000 goal, but by nowhere near the margin I had hoped. It was a lot of work to raise about $1200 (so far), but I have no regrets. I got to do what I love to do on behalf of an organization about which I care a great deal. It's hard to imagine many things surpassing that on the personal satisfaction-meter.

Now, it's time to run easy for a couple of months before focusing on Boston, and next year's kooky running fundraiser: Boston 2 Big Sur, to benefit the Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation.

Thanks for hanging in for this topsy-turvy journey.

-ESG (Ron)

Monday, October 19, 2009

My Better Half - Bay State 2009 Race Report


After fulfilling my BQ dream earlier this year and then falling short of a sub-40:00 10K in August, I had thought achieving any new running goals would have to wait until 2010. Having decided to skip a fall marathon, I ended up agreeing to pace the 3:50 in Manchester (NH) on November 1st, which then turned into a 38-mile run for legal services. However, as the fall marathon season ramped up, and runner friends near and far, real and virtual prepared to meet their goals, I tried to fit in a competitive half-marathon. The only weekend that worked was October 17-18th, and the Bay State Half-Marathon was the ideal event: close, flat, fast. By the time I went to sign up, though, it was sold out. I e-mailed the Race Director, explained why my fall running schedule had been a work in progress, and got a "late invitational" entry.

As my recent training reflects, by the beginning of September, I'd done very little lactate threshold work. The 6:40 (downhill) mile I ran during a 3-mile LT workout before the middle of September did not inspire me to think that I could knock off 13.1 miles at 6:52 (or better) pace. However, after my performance at Reach the Beach, I was confident that a sub-1:30 half-marathon was within the realm of possibilities, if I trained well for the next few weeks and if conditions were favorable. It turned out that I was half-right.

With my recent weekly mileage consistently in the 60's, including two "quality" workouts each week, I felt pretty confident going into Bay State. The plan was to try to run 6:45 through 10 miles, re-assess then and hold on for a solid, sub-1:30 finish.


At least when it comes to important races, I've had some bad luck as far as the weather, so much so that some running friends are asking - jokingly, I hope - whether I really plan to run Boston next year. :-) The weather forecast for Sunday, October 18, 2009 in Lowell, Massachusetts went from mediocre to bad to awful, with everything from snow, sleet, high winds and heavy rain popping into the reports in the days leading up to the race. I started down the path of negative self-talk, and dealt with my anxiety not by revising my race goals, but by obsessing about what to wear. A stern talking-to by my wife on Saturday night also helped me avoid getting too deep into the wading pool of self-pity.

I opted for having a range of options, with the staples of the day's wardrobe being SmartWool socks and a Gore-Tex cap. I applied a spray-on waterproof coating to some thin fleece running gloves, and wore my favorite new Saucony shorts, a Zoot triathlon singlet, tie-dyed Moeben arm-warmers, along with a long-sleeve tech shirt that I planned to ditch as soon as I was warmed-up.


I got up a little before 5 am, ate my usual pre-race breakfast, got my gear on and applied tons of BodyGlide. I got to Lowell right around 7 am, drove around looking for a spot, and "marked" the spot by dropping a "pin" in my iPhone's GPS application. It was not raining . . . yet.

Getting my bib number took longer than I'd expected, as did finding the gear check en route to the start. I ran into Bendy Wendy from RWOL in the Tsongas Arena, and saw coachbr as we headed over to the start. I wished him them both well.

I felt crunched for time, so my 1.5-2-mile warm-up became a zippy half-mile, with a quick burst at the end. I went to the half-marathon start area and waited. I pushed the sleeves up on my white shirt, exposing the bright orange arm-sleeves. Two fifty-something women behind me started admiring them and pawing me shamelessly. I told them to go ahead, that they didn't need to ask permission and that I was glad not to be wearing similar compression shorts. LOL We laughed, discussed our goals and wished each other well. Another RWOL forumite, Rovatti, stopped by to say hello, as he decided to follow through on his original plan to run the full and shoot for a sub-3:00 finish. I'd miss running with him, but knew he was making the right call. Turns out that all three of them had incredibly solid performances in the full marathon, despite the conditions worsening as the day went on.

As I always do, I lined up in the "second tier" of the start corral. It filled up quickly, and all-too-many people who had no business doing so lined up ahead of me. At 8:07 a.m., a few minutes behind schedule, the Mayor of Lowell started us off, and my quest for sub-1:30 was under way.

  1. 6:51 - Congestion was the name of the game here; did more weaving than I would have liked, but didn't feel like I was pushing too hard to get to pace
  2. 6:40 - Settling in, with a tailwind and what seemed like a slight downhill, I took advantage and made up for the first mile's lag
  3. 6:37 - Finding a rhythm and feeling pretty good; I can tell I'm working hard, but at this point I make the conscious decision NOT to check my heart rate, lest it make me back down unnecessarily (turns out that it was a good thing that I didn't, as I topped out at 178 during this mile)
  4. 6:48 - Plugging away, into the wind, but trying to stay relaxed; in this mile we broke off from the full marathoners and turned to cross the river, running smack into a nasty headwind as we thinned out
  5. 6:53 - Settled into a groove with another runner, a younger guy named Pierson; We chatted briefly and agreed to try to hang together for a while, taking turns leading so the other could get a break from the wind; he didn't totally get the concept, but it was nice to have some company; working hard into the wind, with some GI trouble percolating (I'd had a touch of stomach bug the last couple of days, which I essentially "treated" by eating some bananas)
  6. 6:49 - Decision time about whether to take my one gel (a caffeinated Gu Roctane) and risk aggravating my stomach; I decided to go for it, and didn't slow down much
  7. 6:44 - Coming up to the end of the first loop, passing right by the minor league baseball stadium where we'd be finishing; effort feels hard, but manageable; it's getting colder, as I can now see my breath, and my ears, hands and other "vitals" feel cold
  8. 6:41 - Bearing down; Pierson is hurting a bit, while two guys fall in with us,looking all-too-casual; I ended up dropping one guy, while the other guy and I were together off and on until the finish
  9. 6:39 -The consistent splits are now making me believe that sub-1:30 is going to happen
  10. 6:40 - Wanted to hit the 10-mile split under 1:08; quick glance at my watch showed 1:07:40; I realize I'm in the hunt and try to stay focused; Pierson falls back (he finished a little more than a minute behind me, getting his sub-1:30)
  11. 6:55 - The combination of seeing that I had some "wiggle" room and the still-fierce wind might have caused me to ease up; when I saw the mile marker, I hit the lap button (resulting in a 29-second "overage") and told myself not to have another mental lapse; I increased my effort slightly at this point
  12. 6:40 - Holding steady; passing some of the slower runners who are still on the first loop; starting to creep up on other fast runners
  13. 6:30 - I dig in and and start picking off a few people; I might have passed 10 or so runners in the final mile-plus, while 2 runners passed me
The final 0.3 or so mile takes you into the Lowell Spinners' stadium, through a back gate and around the field. I finished with the Garmin reporting a 5:31 pace for the post-Mile 13 segment, and a 4:55 maximum pace. I passed a very fit-looking woman with about 50 meters to go. The finishing arch, the Mylar blanket and the volunteers were a welcome sight. Finishing time on my watch: 1:28:47, over a five-minute improvement from April. Official time was 1:28:55 (no chip time for the half-marathoners), 41st place overall (out of over 1250+ half-marathoners), 7th in the 40-49 male age-group. Qualified for the 2010 NYC Marathon if I choose to run it.


I was so cold after the race, that I could barely handle the soup, water and banana provided to me by the wonderful volunteers at the stadium. I went into a men's room bathroom stall (unheated) and changed into dry, warm clothes. I bagged my planned 4-mile cool-down run; I was plenty cool, thank-you-very-much. I updated my Facebook status and sought news from other friends' races. At 10:00 am, I headed for my car, following the directions on my iPhone. After cruising the streets of Lowell in the cold rain, I found my car at 10:59 a.m. There's a lesson about not putting too much faith in technology. Of course, that walk would have been much less tolerable if I had not had a good race. ;-)


It was very, very fulfilling to get a solid PR this fall. After a disappointing summer, I feel like my running is "clicking" once again. Now I am brimming with confidence that I can improve markedly when Boston comes around in April, but will not set any specific goals at this point. We'll see how training shapes up.

For what it's worth, I'm starting to feel like a "real" runner, which is not to say that I have any delusions of greatness, but I'm becoming a better practitioner of the sport, especially when it comes to racing. This race involved an honest self-assessment of what I could do, with the development and execution of a straightforward racing strategy, and enough faith in myself to go for it despite adverse weather conditions. Those are lessons which I hope will stay with me in future races.

Having achieved a modicum of personal glory yesterday, it's now time to focus on running for others, via pacing and fundraising on November 1st. More on that later.

Thanks for coming along for the ride. -ESG

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Short & Sweet - Chicago & My Next PR Attempt

A brief entry this week. First of all, a HUGE congrats and shout-out to my friend Paul (a.k.a., screaminzab) for an astonishing performance at the 2009 BoA Chicago Marathon. He PRed by 24 minutes, running a seemingly effortless 3:05 to qualify for Boston 2010. Congratulations to him and the rest of my friends (real and virtual) who ran in Chicago. On balance, there was far more joy than heartbreak, and it was inspiring to watch them from afar.

Otherwise, all systems seem to be a "go" for my sub-1:30 attempt on Sunday at the Bay State Half-Marathon in Lowell, Massachusetts. By all accounts, it's the flattest course in New England, and the weather is usually good. Temps look favorable (high in the 40's), but it may or may not rain (and, if it does, how heavily is not clear) on Sunday. Attempting the previously unaccomplished always causes me to think that my goal is too ambitious, but I am reasonably confident that I can dial in a 6:45/mile pace for the first 10 miles (again, not worrying about hills makes it possible to go on "cruise control" for a while). Whether I can hold it - or even accelerate a tad - is the big question, but I don't think I'm risking much beyond a fade by going out at that pace. With sub-3:10 shaping up as my early goal for Boston, Bay State could give me some serious confidence that I'm on the right track.

Last week, I ran a total of about 62 miles, including Tuesday's pretty tough track workout and a modified 10/10/10 Hudson workout on Friday (early, and on the TM - yuck!). That was 10 minutes at MP (7:20-ish), 8 at HMP (6:55-ish) and 8 at 10K pace (6:30-ish). I cut the last two short because I was struggling to get my legs moving that fast that early and my hips felt a tad tight. As an aside, my iPod is dying, and while I can get by outside without it, I NEED it to drown out the numbing sound of the TM motor. Time for a new one, I suppose.

On Sunday, I ran 15 miles at an average pace of 8:24, with the last 3 as a progression. Splits for those last three miles were 8:03 (uphill), 7:35 and 6:58. Got home in time to check Chicago finishing times and begin celebrating.

So, this week is shaping up like this:
  • Monday - 5.5M easy, with 5x10 seconds hill sprints
  • Tuesday - 8M, with 3 @ goal HMP; splits were 6:43/6:45/6:40 all at sub 170 heart rate(goal is 6:45, so we seem to be on track)
  • Wednesday - 6M easy
  • Thursday - 6M easy
  • Friday - 4-5M easy
  • Saturday - 4M easy, with 4x100-meter strides
  • Sunday - 1M warm-up/13.1M at sub-6:52/mile/3-4M cool-down

Somewhere over 50 for the week, with hopefully a great race thrown in there for good measure. Not sure how to handle the two weeks before the pacing/ultra gig, but we'll have to see how it shapes up. I will likely do no "quality" workouts between Bay State and Manchester, just logging easy miles, with the longer runs being focused on holding an 8:45 pace. Should be interesting, if nothing else.


Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Having a Little Peak

No, I'm not losing my fastidiousness for proper word choice and spelling . . . the "peak" of the title refers to the vibrant colors of our lovely fall foliage season. I had my first real treat last Thursday and Friday, as I attended a non-profit board retreat in the northern part of the state, where despite some mixed (i.e., "lousy") weather, I enjoyed a luxury hotel and its amenities. I ran 8 miles on Thursday after our meetings but before cocktail hour, and 6 miles early Friday morning.

To give you a sense of how things look around here right now, here are two recent photographs from the Concord Monitor, our wonderful local daily newspaper:

The top photo is from an area about an hour north of Concord. The bottom is of the two leaders in a recent cross-country meet. There are worse places to live and run.

Thursday's run was fine and pretty straightforward, though the "out" part was downhill and the "back" was thus mostly uphill. Still, unlike last year, I did not get lost or otherwise waylaid, and ended up getting back in plenty time for cocktails and a multi-course gourmet meal.

Friday morning, it was dark and cold when I left right at 6:00 a.m., shooting out in the opposite direction, with the steeply downhill early part making for a rough return. At around the turnaround, the light mist turned into light sleet, turning the final couple of miles into a slog. I thought of the warm, dry room and huge breakfast which awaited me and that got me through. I saw no wildlife, and the occasional car which passed seemed like it was doing 100 mph.

The weekend saw more lovely running conditions, with a 7-mile trail run in the rain on Saturday and 20-miler with my ultrarunner friend Nate on Sunday, about half of which we did on the trails. It slowed down the pace, but made for a very enjoyable 3-plus hours of running and chatting about running and life.

I ended up with about 65 miles for the week, including a great LT/HMP workout on Wednesday. The week of Reach the Beach, I did a 3-mile tempo run, with the last mile on a downhill stretch in 6:40. Last Wednesday, I did 2x2.5 miles on the flat (and windy!) track with none of the 5 miles slower than 6:40. My HR stayed where it should be for a half-marathon, and I had enough left to run the final 0.5 mile in around a 6:00 pace, with the final 200 meters taking me about 42 seconds. Don't bother with the math; just know that for me, that's fast.

So now it's time to focus on how to go sub-1:30 at the Bay State Half-Marathon on October 18th, while still maintaining the volume necessary to pace a marathon and cover 38 total miles on November 1st.

Here's how this week is shaping up:
  • Mon - 5.4M easy (with 4x10 sec. hill sprints), plus light weights, core and stretching
  • Tuesday - 10M, with VO2 Max work of 3x1000 and then 2x800 (hips felt tight, so I revised); paces were 6:01/6:01/6:05 for the 1000's and 5:49/5:44 for the 800's (amazing how much better I felt cutting a mere 200 meters)
  • Wednesday - 9.6M on the second half of the Manchester Marathon course
  • Thursday - 7M easy
  • Friday - 8M, with a 10/10/10 workout, meaning 10 mins. at MP (7:15-7:20), 10 mins. at HMP (6:45-6:50) and 10 mins. at 10K pace (6:20-6:25); I have not done this workout, and it's supposedly a lot tougher than it sounds; I don't do so well on fast running first thing in the AM, so I may "cheat" and do the workout on the treadmill (yuck!), so it'll make me hold the right paces
  • Saturday - 6-7M on the trails
  • Sunday -16-17M easy, with the last 3 miles "hard" (whatever that turns out to be pacewise)

That will be over 60 miles for the week, and then I will front-load and taper steeply over a few days for the half-marathon on the 18th. The current strategy for that race is to go out at 6:45/mile pace and try to hold it through 10 miles on the flat course. At that point, I'll do one of three things: (1) hold on at that pace for a comfortably sub-1:30 finish; (2) feel so good that I'll be able to speed up a bit and have a great PR [though this never really seems to happen], (3) tell myself that I can slow up to 15 seconds per mile and still reach the goal. If it turns out that I'm not in shape for sub-1:30, so be it, but I'm prepared to risk a blow-up in this race.

The pacing gig is starting to feel very real, and a bit daunting. I'll post more on that later.

Finally, a shout-out to my Chicago friends (real and virtual), including Paul, Walter, Jess, Jay, Digby, Snoop, Matt, John, Chad, and a few others. I've done my part by staying away and guaranteeing good weather for you. Now you have to go out and get your BQs/PRs/personal goals. Can't wait to hear about it. I'll miss being there, but it was the right call this year.

Cheers, ESG

Monday, September 28, 2009

So Far . . . So Good

Just a quick update today. After looking back over the RTB week, I realized that I unintentionally set a weekly mileage PR, logging 75 miles from Sunday through Saturday. An anomaly, yes, but I'm very encouraged by the volume, the paces during RTB and what has been a remarkably efficient recovery from all that effort.

After RTB, I ran easy on Sunday through Wednesday, and then did another LT/HMP (half-marathon pace) workout on Thursday. I ran 3+ miles to the track, then knocked off 2x2 miles at goal HMP pace. It was quite windy, but otherwise a nice day. The HMP miles came out to 6:46/6:38 and 6:42/6:40. My HR was where it should have been, peaking at 174 bpm. I ran a hilly HM last November where my HR stayed at around 175 bpm from Mile 3until the end, so I take that to be my "half-marathon heart rate", as explained by Coach Brad Hudson in "Run Faster".

The other running highlight from last week was this cycle's first 20-miler. On Saturday, I did 20.3 miles at an average pace of 8:27, average HR of 145, with 3000-feet of elevation gain. My hips were a bit tight, but not too bad, and - all things considered - I'm very pleased with where things stand at the moment. Last week's total was around 56 miles, but that's a two-week average of 65+-miles per week.

In other news, it was a festival of racing weekend for many in my running circle, with friends of mine running the Applefest Half-Marathon, Clarence deMar full marathon and Vermont 50-miler. Lots of successful running, with virtually everyone I know meeting or exceeding his/her racing goals. Their commitment and success is contagious.

So, with the Bay State Half-Marathon on October 18th and the Manchester Marathon pacing gig and ultra-run on November 1st, here's what's in store this week:
  • Monday - 5M easy, 4 outside and 1 mile indoors barefoot; core strength work (along with "net" fasting for Yom Kippur, by eating only the number of calories burned by exercise)
  • Tuesday - 12M, with more LT/HMP work
  • Wednesday - 8-10M, easy
  • Thursday - 7-8M, during "free time" at non-profit board retreat; maybe add hill sprints
  • Friday - 6M easy
  • Saturday - 8M on the trails
  • Sunday - 18-20, easy

Week's total should come out to about 65 miles. This is my last week to bang out the mileage and quality, since I'll be within two weeks of Bay State after Sunday's long run, and while not formally "tapering" for that race, I will need to think about resting my legs some if I'm to have any chance of hitting my sub-1:30 goal.


Monday, September 21, 2009

A Running Orgy - RTB 2009 RR

That's the best way I have found to describe the festival of running which is the Reach the Beach Relay, unless you go with the overused "The most fun you can have with your [running] clothes on". 420 teams of up to 12 runners covering 209 miles from Cannon Mountain to Hampton Beach, New Hampshire in anywhere from 20 to more than 30 hours. This was my second year as part of "Long Time, No Sea" (I take no credit - nor blame - for the name), a co-ed team consisting mostly of members of my local running club and some members of our extended running circle. While getting my BQ this year is indubitably 2009 Running Highlight #1 (not that I'll make an ESPN end-of-year montage or anything, but you get the drift), RTB 2009 was a close second.

I'll try here to do what I do not normally do, and spare my faithful reader the endless prologue and cut to the Race Report.

Having missed the organizational team meeting, I asked merely for any runner position totaling 20+ miles, to be run in three legs. Consequently, I was given the first position, and thus assigned to run an 8-mile leg (#1), a 3.9-mile leg (#13) and a 9.4+-mile leg (#25). The race involves a staggered start, with the expected slowest teams starting early Friday morning, and the fastest teams starting late Friday afternoon. We started at 2:00 p.m., rather late for a team coming off of a top-third finish in 2008, and who lost two of its fastest runners.

LEG #1 - 8.2 Miles from Cannon Mountain to Beaver Brook Wayside Rest Area

Having stood around in the cold rain, I decided I needed a warm-up mile, so I took an easy jog around Cannon Mountain and previewed the start of the course, a screaming downhill on a loose dirt and rock trail. Add the rain into the mix, and you could almost imagine the oddsmakers figuring out the probabilities of who would fall. About 15 runners lined up, and with the announcers proclamation, we were off. I felt my legs scrambling beneath me on the steep descent, as a couple of guys slingshotted ahead. I tried to find a rhythm until I saw that I was running a low 6-minute pace, unsustainable for me over 8 miles, even with a generous elevation drop. I reigned myself in, and ran the first mile in about 6:30.

At this point, the wind and rain would come and go, and the second mile had a killer hill. I was just on the wrong side of 7 minutes, but kept telling myself that there was a whole heck of a lot of running left.

On the right is a pic of me during Leg #1 courtesy of one of my teammates:

Around Mile 3, I saw my team (the non-running members serve as crew and leap-frog the runner along the route), drank some water and ditched my gloves. As soon as I did, the rain picked up and the temperature seemed to drop 10 degrees, feeling like it was in the 40's at this. I reminded myself about the similarities to Sugarloaf (even the scenery was comparable), and how well that turned out for me.

The miles ticked by, and I talked to a guy running with a team of kayakers. He was moving pretty well and asked me about the pace. I told him we were running around 6:45-6:50, and he said it was too slow. He took off ahead.

As we passed the 6-mile mark, I realized I might have been flirting with my 10K PR. I didn't confirm that, but it was a good feeling. Kayak-Guy and I were still close, and somewhere around Mile 7+, he stopped to tie his shoe. I caught him, we chatted and we decided to make a move on the guy in the red shirt ahead of us. Kayak-Guy was fading, and I tried to push it, but the cruelty of the leg was that the last mile climbs, making it tough to pick up the pace. So, while I left Kayak-Guy behind, I only closed about half the distance to Mr. Redshirt.

Still, I was very happy with the run: 8.2 miles in 55:16, a 6:45 average pace.

Leg #2 - Brett School to Community School

After completing Legs 1-6, we passed off to runners 7-12, a.k.a., Van 2. That gave us time to eat and re-group for our series of nighttime runs. Having learned from last year's dining errors, I went with simple food, eating a Caesar salad with grilled tuna and sweet potato fries. I skipped dessert (no brownie sundae for me this year) and drank two iced teas, along with some water. We finished dinner and headed for the next transition area, which looked all-too-familiar to me, since I believed I had taken the baton there in 2008, when I was in the #2 Runner position. I mentioned it casually, but did not insist that I was sure that we were ahead by one transition area. Sure enough,a s we waited and waited for Runner #12 to show up, we got the dreaded call from the other half of our team, wondering where the eff we were. We drove the 4 miles back to the last area, and my teammates all but pushed me out of a moving van to get me going. I heard a Van 2 member call out, "You guys officially suck!" I took off way too fast into the night' dark chill. Around a half-mile in, I realized that I was running about 6:20 pace, and this leg had some decent climbs. I passed a few people, tried to say something encouraging, and motored on to the next transition area, making up a little bit of time from my projected 7:00 pace.

Total: 3.93 miles in 26:56 for a 6:51 average pace

Leg #3 - Bear Brook Park to the Deerfield Fairgrounds

This was not only the longest of my legs, but it was also the longest of the whole relay, slated to be around 9.4 miles. The distance didn't worry me (much), but the elevation profiled was daunting, with big hills at miles 1 and 3 and what looked like a killer climb in Mile 5. After that, I knew it was downhill most of the way to the handoff at the Fairgrounds.

Several runners started as I waited for my teammate to arrive, including a hip-looking "dude" who took off in the wrong direction. He was wearing oversized 80's-style sunglasses, and had the hair to go with it. After what seemed like a long wait, I took the snap bracelet from B at the park and took off, consciously trying to pace more slowly than I had during my first two legs.

I took the first mile pretty smoothly, enjoyed the downhill in Mile 2, and saw my team as I crested the hill at the end of Mile 3. I took a Roctane gel and girded myself for the next couple of miles.

Mile 4 was mostly uneventful, though I did pass Wrong Way Guy. He told me his quads were hurting, especially on the downhills. I suggested that he shorten his stride, and I wished him luck. When I bumped into him a few transition areas later, he told me that he'd done that and that it helped a lot.

Then came Mile 5. I had been moving pretty well until that point, averaging around 7:20/mile. That mile took me over 8:20, and the last stretch of the last steep hill climb bordered on power-walking, but once I crested it, I got the spring back in my step. I passed couple more people, saw my team again at Mile 6 (where I yelled, "I love running", probably much too loudly) and then pushed the pace as much as my legs would allow past horse farms and stately rural homes.

With about 1.25 miles left, I came up on a muscly guy who seemed to be struggling. I ran next to him and we chatted. He was from Boston, and he was at his limit. I told him it would be far more satisfying if we could run it in together. He seemed agreeable, and I tried to psyche him up. When I asked him if he was ready to "do this", he said yes. When I said we had less than a mile to go, he seemed happy. When I said, "Let's pick it up now!", he said "Okay". But his pace didn't change. He had nothing left in the tank, a feeling I know all-too-well. So, I left him behind and picked up the pace.

When my watch told me that I'd passed the 9-mile mark, I knew I was close, and that my RTB 2009 experience was coming to an end. I gave it what I had left, and I ran the last 0.4 miles at 6:48 pace, finishing at low-5:00 pace, my arms pumping and my head pointed straight ahead.

As I reached the hand-off area, I raised my hands as if I'd just finished a marathon (and placed well - lol). It was great - and a bit sad - to be done. I received a nice complement from one of the teams we'd been passing since the night before, with two vans decked out with lighted gnomes on top. "The gnomes say you run well", one of the guys told me. High praise indeed.

Total: 9.36 miles in 1:09:25 for a 7:25 average pace, & 2200+ feet of elevation gain

One More Leg - Keeping J Company

With marathon training in mind, and feeling surprisingly functional after 21.5 miles at half-marathon pace (or at least effort), I offered to pace one of my teammates during her final 5.5-mile leg. She's a newer runner, and seemed tired and a bit intimidated by this final leg. We took off from a small local arts college, and within a half-mile someone yelled to her, "You can take him!" We laughed and chatted as the hills came and went. The wind picked up, and I had her tuck behind me. She was running very well, until somewhere in Mile 4 when she stopped chatting and started digging deep.

I kept talking, but asked her if I should shut up. She said I should keep talking, so I did. We were passed by a tiny Asian woman moving gracefully along. I said that she should be handicapped for having no body fat. J thought the woman resembled her cousin's wife. She learned later that it was her cousin's wife.

J held on strong during the final mile, then the final hill, then less than a half-mile. I did what I could to "pull" her along, and she get an extra boost as the exchange area came into view. I left her with about a quarter-mile to go, peeling off to the right and re-joining my teammates a moment later.


After our van runners finished, we went in search of food. The consensus was that pizza and beer would be perfect, so we found a divey local restaurant/bar in a strip mall and ordered up. The waitress was a rugged woman, with tattoos all over her arms. She basically barked at us from the moment we sat down, but she seemed to warm up to us. The draft beers and Mediterranean pizza was like manna from heaven. We all agreed that it was the best we'd ever had, though we don't expect to return to that establishment to test whether our opinions would hold true under less extreme circumstances.

Fed and "rehydrated", we made our way to Hampton Beach State Park for the end of the race. We got the ETA from the other van, negotiated awful traffic and got there in time (unlike last year). We walked out onto the beach and soaked our feet in the cold water of the Atlantic Ocean. We waited for B to arrive amidst music and throngs of tired, sweaty, happy people. B came motoring in, and the rest of us valiantly tried to get our creaky, stiffened bodies to match her pace. We all crossed the finish line together, received our medals and posed for team photos.

We finished in the top third overall and in our division. As I checked the results, I chatted with a guy with a heavy accent. Turns out that he's Italian and that he found his team amidst the results exactly one spot above ours, having beaten us by 4 seconds over the course of 209+ miles. We laughed about it, and my thoughts drifted to the blown transition. Still, it's hard to imagine anything more fun than this event.

The things to love about RTB are that it brings together some 4000 or so runners in a way that nothing else does. There are near-elites and people who are not sure they can complete their three legs. But everyone is striving to be healthy, to test their limits, to share their passion with friends (the kind they know and the ones they meet along the way) and the overall feeling is nothing short of joyous. For a guy who blew off Rosh Hashanah in favor of a running event, the thing bordered pretty closely on a spiritual experience.

For as long as I'm fit enough to do it, I hope to be able to enjoy taking part in the Reach the Beach Relay. Perhaps some other athletic experience will rival it, but right now it's tough to imagine.

Thanks for reading. -ESG