Archive for March, 2010

US Capital, Washington, DC

Over the last 13 weeks we’ve laced up the Asics for 52 runs covering 414.55 miles.  That is roughly the same distance from Washington, DC to Columbia, SC where I spent my college years.  Over the same time period we have pedaled exactly 500 miles on the bike to reach this point … the Taper.

When you take a look at a really solid marathon training plan those final 3 weeks before race day appear to be “easy”.  The distance covered in each individual workout decreases, rest days increase and those weekend long runs shorten each week of the taper from 12 miles, down to 8 miles and then a scant 2 mile run the day before the marathon.

Well I’m here to tell you – for me, there is nothing “easy” about the taper.  In fact in many ways it is very hard for me – harder than 20-mile training runs and cycling workouts.  It also happens to be one of the most critical parts of the training plan.  It is to be respected.

University of South Carolina - Columbia, SC

Sure the mileage decreases over the final 3 weeks leading up to race day.  During my taper period I roll the mileage back to 75% of my peak training during the first week.  In week number two I roll the mileage back to 50%.  In the final week leading up to the race I will reduce my running even further down to just 25% of the distance I covered at the peak of my training.  The three weeks of the marathon taper do get progressively easier from a physical standpoint.  Mentally however, they get harder and harder.

I know from sharing stories with other runners that I am not alone.  There is something counterintuitive about reducing your training intensity  for such a long period of time leading up to race day in order to improve your performance.  After just a few days the familiar doubts start to creep in.  Won’t I lose fitness?  Won’t my aerobic capacity decrease?  If I’m not getting stronger does that mean I am getting weaker?  Maybe I should sneak in just one more long run, I mean – I’m feeling so great right now!  No, no, no, no, NO!

You see the problem is that despite all of the information to the contrary – when you start adding feelings of doubt to an already delicate psyche – even the most veteran marathoners begin to waver.  It takes a lot of discipline to stick to that reduced schedule and trust your training.  To borrow from a time-honored Texas colloquialism, “this is not my first rodeo”.  I know the reasons and I have read all the studies about how the taper period benefits not only marathon runners, but runners of all distances from the marathon to the 5K.  But for my own mental health – I read all of the studies and articles again just to reaffirm what I already know to be true.

The taper helps your fitness level.  The taper does nothing to decrease your aerobic capacity.  The taper in fact makes you stronger. 

These next 21 days are critical to running a strong race at Boston.  I know this to be true.  For all of you distance runners out there preparing for a race – say it with me one time …. the taper makes you stronger.

The primary purpose of the taper is to help your body repair itself from all of the difficult training that you have put it through over the past 13-15 weeks.  All of the tempo runs, hill work, long runs and speed work take their toll on your body.  One of the first studies on the topic I read back in 2006 when I was preparing my first marathon was found in the journal of Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise.  That study showed that levels of glycogen in a runner’s muscles, enzymes, antioxidants and even hormones that had been depleted by high-mileage training returned to their optimal levels after a three week taper.

The most impressive conclusion from the study to me was the fact that the muscle damage that occurs during sustained training is also repaired.  The study also showed that immune function and muscle strength improve during a three week taper period which reduces the odds that you will catch a cold or get injured just prior to race day.

The coup de grace in arguing in favor of the taper is that the average performance improvement made by the 50 subjects in the study was 3% – which translates to 5-10 minutes over the course of a marathon depending on your pace.  For me that would be about a 6 minute improvement.

So what is the big deal right?  Just dial back the miles and you are good to go.  Ah, if it were only that easy.  I have said more times that I can count that the marathon is a test of wills.  After a certain level of physical fitness is achieved – the race is far more mental than physical.  Even if you have run marathons in the past, confidence is a delicate thing.  Every race is different, every year is different and there are a lot of variables at play.  Most of them unfortunately are out of your control.  As runners – we don’t like that.

If I were simply leaving my house in Avery Ranch on April 19th for a 26.2 mile jaunt over the streets and trails of Austin that I have run hundreds and hundreds of times that would be one thing – but when I get off the bus in Hopkinton, MA it will be the first time I have ever seen the small New England Town.  What will the staging area be like?  Will there be enough bathrooms?  Will I have packed the right clothes for the race?  What will the temperatures be like?  The wind – will it be from the East in our face to Boston or at our backs?  The hills?  Am I ready for Heartbreak Hill?  Will my shin splint issue from December return?

See what happens as you allow an idle mind to wander?  The reduction in training brings a new challenge – staying mentally strong.  So for me I return to the studies, I read them and re-read them to comfort me.  I load up on the sleep I know I have been cheating my body of by getting up for 5:00 a.m. training runs for the past three months.  As we reach the final week before the race I pay even greater attention to my nutrition and hydration.  Then finally as race day approaches I study the course.  Every map, video and course layout I can get my hands on.  An edge – that’s what I’m looking for.  Any edge I can find.

Trust is what it becomes all about.  Trust the training, trust the plan, trust my strategy and then go kick some ass.

One of the best things about running two marathons in two weeks is that my second taper period won’t be so hard to deal with.  With only 13 days to recover between the finish of the Boston Marathon and the starter’s pistol at Pittsburgh I know I will be happy to be just be going down stairs forward and not backwards by the end of Boston week. 

(You Marathoners out there know what I’m talking about)

The following Sunday we’ll be back on the East Coast in Pittsburgh running a second marathon for my buddy Dom.  I will hardly have any time to think about a loss of fitness or a reduction in my training.  After all Boston is really just like another 20-mile training run with a 10K stuck on the end.  Besides we have some business to take care of in Pittsburgh.

Like kicking cancer’s ass 26.2 miles at a time.  Go Dom!

16 weeks seemed like such a long time to get ready for Boston back on December 28th when this training cycle began with a quick 3-mile run.  Now, 13 weeks later and Boston is just three weeks away, Pittsburgh two weeks after that – and we have passed the final “real test” of this training period.  The last 20-mile long run.

I’ve said many times in the past that no individual workout is really any more important than any other when training for a marathon.  It is the cumulative effect of all of your training miles that prepare the marathoner to cover the 26 mile 385 yard distance.  Long runs, tempo runs, hill work, speed work, recovery runs and those critical rest days all contribute to the marathoner’s fitness level.  Just as important are a solid nutrition plan as well as taking care of your body.

Final 20-mile training run - RFD

But I have to admit before I post the very first training run on the “Magic Fridge” I mentally circle the date of that final 20-mile run.  When I reach that point of the training period and I complete that run healthy – I “know” that I am ready for race day.

For a distance runner the difference between thinking something and in fact knowing it is very powerful.  Any activity that requires you to be alone with your thoughts for hours at a time requires a great deal of mental strength.  There is a lot of time for self-doubt to creep in and very little to take your mind off of it.  Very few distractions – but after Sunday’s workout we “know” we are ready.

I was itching for this workout to start as early as Saturday and half-contemplated straying from my schedule and running the 20-miler a day early.  I had an early 6:45 a.m. flight scheduled to the East Coast for Monday morning, and an extra recovery day would have been nice before making that trip.  But it was more important to stay on schedule and stick to the plan.  With the exception of some wind on Sunday (7-9 mph) it was pretty near perfect conditions.  A chilly 49 degrees with clear skies and an almost-full moon above to throw some light on the early morning trail.

Post 20-miler - Bring it on Boston

Splits over the run ranged from a high (slow) of 7:33 over the first mile as I was “shaking loose” at about 4:45 a.m. to a low (fast) of 7:03 at mile 8.  Splits over the course of the run were:  7:33, 7:12, 7:15, 7:22, 7:06, 7:20, 7:12, 7:03, 7:07, 7:15, 7:06, 7:13, 7:19, 7:24, 7:14, 7:05, 7:28, 7:31, 7:23, 7:17.  Really solid mile splits over a very hilly course as I was trying to simulate the rolling hills we will encounter from Hopkinton to Boston in three weeks.  Training on a flat course can make your times look great and build confidence in your ability to race fast, but it was more important for me to get used to adjusting my stride, speed, breathing and leg turnover over a hilly course.  It is important to practice pushing hard up-hills and then recoving your breathing pattern for the flats and downs.

Not all miles are created equal when it comes to the marathon – it’s hard.  But to borrow a line from Jimmy Dugan in the movie A League of Their Own, “It’s supposed to be hard.  If it were easy everyone would do it.  It’s the hard that makes it great”Some people say that if you don’t feel like “you have to” run a marathon you shouldn’t do it.  Now I don’t know about that.  I think that the challenge of the marathon and accomplishing such a tremendous goal if you are passionate about running is well worth the price of admission.  It changes you and gives you great self-confidence that carries over to everyday life.  I truly believe that.

Had I not been through the journey that is the marathon before I’m not sure how I would have responded to the news about Dom and his battle with cancer.  Probably feeling helpless and powerless I’m guessing.  Those feelings did exist this past summer when I heard the news, but lasted less than a week.  Then it was time to get on with it and figure out a way to help.  Which leads us to where we are today.  Finished with the last 20-mile training run with nothing but The Taper (which will be a topic on the blog later this week) between us and the starting line at Boston.  A race, a big one, on an international stage and then 13 days of recovery before our second marathon at Pittsburgh to honor an amazing friend and help raise money for Dom and his family.  Kicking cancer’s ass 26.2 miles at a time.

We’re ready.

If you would learn more about how you can support Run for Dom please visit:

Dear Silver & Black:

I have a lot of mixed emotions as I write you this letter.  When we first met back in December and started to get to know each other I was going through a really difficult time.  I was starting to work my way back gently from those nasty shin splints.  From the first few minutes we spent together – I knew you would be there for me.  I was hopeful that in you I had found relief from the pain I had been suffering from.

Black and Silver Trainers

The first few mornings that we were alone together were tentative and I was really unsure about the future.  But in just a couple of weeks that all changed.  You were so supportive and cushioning – you made the pain I had been experiencing literally vanish.  For us at that point, it was all about the future.  We started spending more and more time together and we had a lot of great memories.

Remember that half-marathon in January where we set a new PR?  That was amazing, it wouldn’t have been possible without you.  Or do you remember the time that I took you with me out to California?  We went to Venice Beach together and the Santa Monica Pier.  Then we took that great trip up to San Francisco and traveled over the Golden Gate Bridge and back.

Those times really meant a lot to me and I’ll never forget them.  But right now it’s time for me to move on.  These relationships for me always seem to end quickly.  After you and I spent 31 hours together and we reached 250 miles traveled, I started spending time with someone else.

Black and Gold Trainers

That was about the time that new box arrived and a shiny pair of Black and Gold Asics were brought into the house.  Well lately the two of us have started spending more and more time together.  Starting this weekend we will be entering into an exclusive arrangement to finish up my training for Boston and Pittsburgh.

I know that I haven’t always treated you the best.  I sometimes took you out on muddy trails and rainy streets.  I would stuff you full of newspaper to dry you out only to drag you back out there the very next day.  Never once did you complain – never once did you let me down.  You did not even hold it against me when I had that brief fling with that pair of Asics Gel Kinetics.  You honestly could not have been better to me.

As a matter of fact, it’s not you, it’s me.  As I’ve gotten older I just can’t extend a relationship past 300 miles any longer.  If only my muscles were stronger maybe we would have been able to spend a few more weeks together, but we would have only been delaying the inevitable.

Again,  I’m sorry you had to find out this way and I’m going to try to find a new home for you.  I would never make you cut grass or wash cars with me – you’re better than that.  I’m hoping that your new owner will appreciate you for how great you still are, not how great you used to be.

Race Shoes

I wish we would be able to race together one more time, but that just isn’t in the cards.  I will remember you though when we cross the finish lines at Boston and Pittsburgh.  I never could have made it without you.  And don’t spend any time worrying about Black and Gold.  They won’t be racing with me either.  That honor is reserved for Blue and White who still haven’t been put on yet.



I’ve been fielding a lot of questions this week from friends in Boston that I’ve made through Run for Dom as well as family members who will be making it to the race in Hopkinton wondering what I will be wearing on race day.  The first extended weather report for the Boston Marathon will not be available until April 5th, so at this point it is a little premature to commit to my race gear as New England spring weather is famously erratic – but there is one piece of gear that I really hope fits the bill at Boston.  My Moeben arm sleeves.

Moeben Arm Sleeves in action (behind the back water bottle flip - needs work)

Learning to run in the right gear for the temperature and weather conditions is definitely both art and science.  Not all 50 degree days “feel” the same.  Humidity, wind, cloud cover and rain can all make a huge difference in the way a certain temperature feels for a distance runner.  And a key to running your best race is to make sure you are dressed for the conditions.  Being overdressed or underdressed for the elements on race day can significantly impact your performance.  So like all things when it comes to marathon training – practice, practice, practice makes perfect.

After hundreds of training runs in temperatures ranging from as low as 18 degrees and as high as 100 degrees, in rain, sleet, ice and snow I feel like I have a pretty good feel for the various conditions and how they affect my performance.  I very rarely roll over to the weather and run indoors on a treadmill.  In fact not a single training mile preparing for Run for Dom was covered indoors. 

At this point if you give me a temperature, precipitation and wind reading and I can tell you specifically what I need to wear to be comfortable from my toes and legs to fingers and ears.  I’ve made plenty of mistakes along the way which is how most of my running knowledge has been acquired – but it is definitely nice to be able to check one “variable” off of the worry list come race day.

For me the magic barrier is 42 degrees.  Below 43 degrees I need leggings (long pants) to stay comfortable.  43 degrees and above I am good to go in shorts.  A long sleeve top from 40 – 45 degrees, short sleeves from 46-49 and a singlet (tank) for 50 degrees and above.  Skull cap for anything between 40 and 45 degrees, my arctic beanie under 40 degrees, no hat at 46 degrees and above.  Gloves?  No problem, my heaviest gloves under 40 degrees, my mid-weight gloves for temperatures between 41 and 44 degrees.  I only need my light-weight gloves (liners) from 45-48 degrees.  No gloves 49 degrees and above.

Clif Shot Bloks

This is all personal preference of course – many runners like to be warmer, some like to be cooler – but for me the above works like a charm.  That was until earlier this year when the Moeben Arm sleeves entered my life.  Once I slid them on for the first time – my trusty clothing regimen was altered forever.

I’m really not sure what made me try them.  I think it was a combination of the fact that I really like running in a singlet – it allows my arms to swing more freely – but sometimes it is just too cool to do so.  I think I also was hoping that the small pocket would allow me to store my gels in an easy to reach location and not around the back of my hydra-belt – where I have to fumble around and break my stride to retrieve them.

The Moeben sleeves really did the trick on both counts – they are perfect to store my gels and they now allow me to run in a singlet all the way down to almost 40 degrees.  From a comfort standpoint they are tremendous.  The sleeve is tight enough at the top to stay in one place (even loaded with gels in the pocket) – so chafing is not an issue – but not too tight to cut off circulation.  They are long enough to tuck into your gloves on a cold day – but not too long to interfere with your wrists and become irritating on a warmer morning.

White Nylon Moeben Sleeves

Racing this year at the 3M Half-Marathon I used the sleeves for the first time in a race and absolutely loved them.  They performed as advertised and allowed me to race in just a singlet on a cool 44-47 degree race day very comfortably.  It was then that I began hoping for similar conditions at Boston and Pittsburgh.

The Moeben sleeves come in solid colors, prints and even a fleece line for colder days.  They even have an eco-friendly hemp line that instead of nylon.  

You can check out Moeben sleeves here:

So what is in store for Boston?  I am really hoping for cool enough weather to wear the Stars & Stripes sleeves that I have been wearing for my last three training runs of 18+ miles. 

Paired with our Blue RFD Asics I’m hoping we can honor Dom and Patriot’s Day properly in Boston.  Please be sure to check the blog on Sunday, April 18th as I will be putting up a post the day before Boston letting everyone know what Runner 7929 will be wearing on race day.  For everybody who plans on being in  attendance this year – please be on the lookout – we will be looking for all the encouragement we can!

Moeben arm sleeves …. two thumbs up!

Today kicked off the final truly tough training week before I begin the taper period over the final three weeks leading up to Boston.  I tend to stick pretty religiously to the training plan on the magic fridge most weeks, but this morning the temperature was perfect (45 degrees) with no wind and it felt like a good day for some hill work.  I decided to flip flop my Tuesday and Wednesday workouts this week – covering 10 miles today with a 5-mile recovery run tomorrow instead of vice-versa as the schedule dictated.

My long run on Sunday was only 12-miles, so having a recovery run today was not as necessary as if I had run 18-20 miles.  Yesterday’s cycling workout allowed my “running legs” to rest enough to push hard through my workout this morning.  That meant hill work – really my last opportunity to train “hard” before Boston. 

As I’ve written in the past the course from Hopkinton to Boston is known for the famed “Heartbreak Hill” taking runners up a steep ascent at mile 20.  Heartbreak is the last of the “Newton Hills” that begin at mile 16.  That stretch of course is difficult to be sure based on all accounts I have read and heard about from Boston Marathon vets – but it is the downhill nature of the rest of the course that really takes its toll on the runners.  I have spent the last 12 weeks running a lot of hills – both up and down – as part of my marathon preparation.  Along with the cycling workouts designed to strengthen my larger leg muscles (quadriceps and calves) – I can really feel a difference as I try to hold my pace pushing through inclines and declines.  Today’s run was really a mixture of a “Ricky Bobby” speed workout over hilly terrain.  A good test for an early Tuesday morning and it went about as well as I could have hoped.

Boston Marathon Course Elevation

Tuesday 10 Miles of Hill Work

One of the benefits of running with my Garmin GPS is that in addition to being able to chart distance, total time and individual mile splits – I can also chart elevation gain and loss over the course of a run.  This morning’s 10.3 mile course allowed me to cover 1,001 total feet of elevation change reaching a maximum of 972 feet above sea level and a low of 351 feet above sea level.

Time today was 1:14:37 at a 7:15 pace – that’s plenty fast given the terrain as we have been training to run somewhere between 7:25 and 7:27 per mile at Boston depending on the weather and other race day factors.  What I was most pleased with is how consistent our splits were this morning even though the elevation was changing pretty dramatically over the course:  7:10, 7:14, 7:25, 7:12, 7:17, 7:02, 7:19, 7:23, 7:20, 7:04.  Not a single mile fell above of our target of 7:27 pace for Boston even over the hilliest portions of the run.  Good stuff.  I am starting to feel as if we may have a real shot at a new PR at Boston.  What a great way to start the Run for Dom challenge to honor my good friend. 

I know the Pittsburgh Marathon 13 days later is going to be an entirely different challenge.  The honor will be in digging deep into my reserves and simply finishing that second marathon a little more than 300 hours later.  Not a lot of time to recover from Boston and get “race-ready”.  Success on that Sunday will not be measured by a timing chip or stop watch.  That much I am certain of.

Speaking of our hero Dom my wife Dawn (a.k.a. Superwife) returned to Pittsburgh this past weekend for her Big Sister’s surprise 40th birthday party.  Dad to be here in Austin was starting the process of moving furniture and getting ready for our little one’s arrival this Fall – so I was unable to make the trip.  Dawn got a chance to have lunch with Dom while she was in town and catch up a bit over a bowl of Italian “Wedding Soup” and a salad.

Dom came through his final round of Chemotherapy two weeks ago in very good shape.  Since his surgery Dom is still struggling to adjust nutritionally to a life without a stomach – but it is good to see that he has been able to eat more and more as the weeks pass.  In fact Dom was able to dodge a brief hospital stay to hydrate and get the nutrition he needs after this final round of chemotherapy which was necessary through most of his treatment course.

Dom working the Q-Ball look again

Dom is once again working on a new hairstyle – bald for the 6th time now since last fall.  The good news is that with a name like D’Eramo – he has the “good hair” as us Italians refer to it and by the time the Pittsburgh Marathon arrives on May 2nd – Dom should no longer be sporting the “dome”.  All indications are that Dom and his family will be able to make it down to the race.  It is going to be a great site to see them at the finish line when I arrive back at the Pittsburgh convention center one year to the day from the 2009 Pittsburgh Marathon where I posted my Boston Qualifying time and our lives were very different.

There was no talk of cancer, no hospital stays or surgery, no late nights wondering and worrying about the future and of course no Run for Dom.  It is amazing to me all that has happened in seemingly a blink of an eye – how far we’ve traveled and how far we still have to go.

As far as Tuesday mornings go – this was a pretty good one – hills were gobbled up, legs grew stronger and we moved one day closer to Hopkinton.  Find something to smile about today everyone!  Pretty good day to be alive – Go Dom!

Sunday 12-Miler

Training week  number 12 is in the books and only 4 weeks remain to Boston.  I don’t want to jinx anything at this point – but I caught myself smiling quite a bit during my 12-mile run on Sunday morning.  I am feeling very, very good right now.  After increasing weekly mileage each of the last two weeks and stretching our Sunday long runs to 19 and 20 miles respectively – this was a welcome week on the training calendar.

Sunday’s run only covered 12 miles allowing for a good workout – but a bit of a “break” in heavy mileage for these 42 year-old legs.  We had a pretty significant (for Austin) first day of spring cold-front come in overnight and the thermometer read only 34 degrees this morning when I started on my way.  It was actually nice to put the leggings back on with a heavy Under Armour top and my trusty arctic beanie for what might be my last “cold-weather” run of the year.  It took a little while for the legs to get moving after yesterday’s 22 mile cycling workout – but as I reached mile 4 of the run I fell into a nice even pace and really gobbled up the miles.  Total time of 1:27:18 at 7:16/mile pace.

Pace on Sunday was about 10-15 seconds faster than race pace which was just about what I was hoping for at the end of a reduced mileage week.  Mile splits were very consistent at:  7:34, 7:18, 7:26, 7:16, 7:18, 7:12, 7:14, 7:04, 7:12, 7:17, 7:10 and 7:10.  I focused on even effort over the last 8 miles and tried to keep my stride long and consistent.

At this point in the training program the level of fitness that I am going to carry into Boston has pretty much been attained.  In the last 12-weeks we have posted 48 training runs totaling 369.25 miles, 32 cycling workouts covering 464 miles and 36 strength training sessions to work on building a strong core while strengthening the back, chest, arm and leg muscles.  For lack of a better word – we are essentially – “trained”.

What I try to focus on from here on out is my form and running economy.  Form is what makes you “smooth”, and smooth is what makes you fast.  The biggest difference I noticed during the late stages at the Pittsburgh Marathon last year was that with all the additional strength training I had done leading up to the race I was able to keep my stride long and run tall even when my legs started to go away from me over the last 4-5 miles of the marathon.  This was no accident and I have been very committed to keeping up with my core work over the last 12 weeks.

The 369.25 running miles and 464 cycling miles look good crossed off of the “magic fridge” when I reach inside for a drink or a snack – but the 3,600 crunches, 4,500 incline sit-ups and 1,620 Horizontal to Vertical leg lifts with a 10 lb. dumbbell between my feet these past 12 weeks have paid off as well.  Those workouts are not something that I would call “fun” necessarily – but they serve a very important purpose in strengthening that core and making sure everything is firing on all cylinders for April 19th at Boston and May 2nd at Pittsburgh 13 days later.  I am hoping that it is that race, that second marathon in Pittsburgh where all of this training really pays dividends.

So what is on deck this week?  This is it really – the final really tough training week before we start the three-week taper to Boston.

Monday:  12-mile cycling workout/strength training

Tuesday:  5-mile recovery run

Wednesday:  10-mile run/strength training

Thursday:  12-mile cycling workout

Friday:  10-mile run/strength training

Saturday:  12-mile cycling workout

Sunday:  20-mile long run

This is an important nutrition week with two 10-mile runs scheduled and the final 20-mile long run for Sunday that I may stretch a bit beyond that – but not too much.  It is a great opportunity to get my nutrition plan in order for the week of the marathon and a chance to take out our actual race shoes for a quick test-drive.

RFD Race Shoes

Only 4 weeks to go from here – I am already starting to feel the nerves and anxiety beginning to build a bit.  This seems to happen to me every time a race draws near.  In just a month we’ll be hopping up and down in the starting corral getting loose for the biggest race there is for a marathoner – the 114th running of the Boston Marathon.  Bring it on.

Technology is really an amazing thing.  I received an e-mail on Friday from the Boston Athletic Association introducing the AT&T Athlete Alert Program being utilized at the Boston Marathon.  This program which can be accessed here: allows individuals to sign up for text and/or e-mail alerts so that you can follow your favorite runner as they take on the most famous marathon course in the world.

Updates are sent to you directly from the course as the runner hits the start, 10K (6.2 mile), Half-Way (13.1 mile), 30K (18.75 mile) and finish (26.2 mile) markers on the course.  All you need to do is click on the link and register your e-mail or cell phone along with your favorite marathoner’s bib number.  I’m assuming of course that 7929 (Me) would be your favorite.  If you want to track the race favorites or multiple runners you can do that as well.

Crossing the finish mat at Pittsburgh 2009 - BQ!

At the Pittsburgh Marathon 13 days later they will be using similar technology as last year my wife Dawn was able to keep track of me throughout the race and know about when to start looking for me at the finish.  She also knew ahead of time that I was hitting my target times along the course and was on my way to qualifying for Boston — pretty cool.

As soon as I receive my bib number for Pittsburgh I will provide that information on the blog as well so everyone can keep track of me.  That will be a pretty interesting race to follow as even I have virtually no idea how much of a toll two marathons in 13 days will take on my body.  If you told me I will finish Pittsburgh anywhere between 3 hours and 30 minutes to 4 hours and 30 minutes I honestly wouldn’t be surprised.  This coming from a runner that can usually predict a run covering 15-20 miles within a handful of minutes +/- … Pittsburgh is going to be quite an adventure.

So how does the technology work?  The first type of timing chip that was popularized in larger races was the Champion Chip.  It was a small plastic round chip that was attached to a runner’s shoe laces.  As runners cross timing mats which are placed throughout the course, information is sent electronically to race officials to track each runner on the course.

This tracking is referred to “Chip Time” as opposed to “Gun Time”

Gun time is used to declare the actual men’s and women’s winners of the race.  These elite marathoners who are competing to “win” a marathon as well as cash prizes are simply placed at the very start of the race and when the gun sounds they take off.  They race each other over 26.2 miles and whoever finishes the course first wins – very simple.  This allows the elite men and women to simply race each other and not worry about their individual mile spits or times.  Finish first and you win.  Pretty straightforward.

Elite Men's Start - Boston Marathon

Everyone else in the race runs on “Chip Time”.  My time at Boston will not start until I cross the starting line or starting “mat”.  As I stride over the mat a time is recorded for Bib Number 7929 from Austin, TX and it will continue to run until I cross the finish line at Copley Square in Boston 26.2 miles and 3+ hours later.  For me starting in the 7th corral at Boston, there will be roughly 7,000 runners separating me from the elite men and women.  It may take me several minutes to actually cross the starting line after the starters pistol fires.  This time is not held against me per se – in fact it is not recorded.  My “clock” only starts when I take my first stride across the start line. 

This is a far cry from the days when marathon times were written down by race officials as runners came through the finishing chute and all times were recorded by hand.  As timing technology improved and wireless communication became more popular – the addition of sending updates to interested parties was implemented.

The most popular timing chip in place now is the D Tag.  It is much lighter, cheaper to manufacture than the older Champion Chips and is essentially “disposable” (although I keep all of mine after every race).  This Tag simply folds into the shape of a “D” and is tucked through the runner’s shoe laces.  Even in cold, windy and rainy conditions the tag does not move around and is hardly noticeable to the runner.  Each tag is numbered to synch up with the runner’s bib number.  Each time an individual athlete crosses a timing mat and all splits throughout the race are recorded.

D Tag from 3M Half Marathon in January 2010

Runner’s times are then sent via e-mail or text message to update spectators, family and friends as the race unfolds.  Another benefit to the chip timing technology is that official race results are now compiled literally within a few hours after a race is completed and all results are posted to the race website.  In fact, I will be able to sign up to follow all of my Run for Dom friends who are also racing at Boston and Pittsburgh this year.  I will be able to see on my phone how well they did with respect to their goals a few minutes after I receive my medal, have my photo taken and chomp on my first bagel and banana.  Pretty amazing.

Tweet My Time - Pittsburgh Marathon

Something new at Pittsburgh this year for the 2010 marathon is the addition of “Tweet My Time”.  I signed up for this on Thursday which will allow my twitter account to automatically send out tweets for me during the race as I reach the various timing mats along the course.  My twitter followers will receive live updates from the course as they are happening in real time.  Again, amazing.

So if you would like to follow along please sign up!  For the Boston Marathon on April 19, 2010 you simply need to click: enter your e-mail address or cell phone number and my Bib Number 7929.

To follow marathon number 2 at Pittsburgh I will pass along registration information as well as my bib number in the next week or so as it becomes available.  If you are a twitter user you can simply click to “follow me” at

If you are not using Twitter at this time, you can go here to sign up:

Once you set up your account you will be able to find joe_runfordom and click to “follow me”.  I typically send a few tweets a day updating everyone on training, Dom, Deep fried oreo consumption and what kind of trouble Kayla has been getting into.  I’m sure that will increase after the baby arrives. 

Thanks for all of the kind words and support this week!  Only 4 weeks to go to the Boston Marathon on Monday – it’s going to be here before I know it – it is nice to know that so many people are following Run for Dom as we race to make a differene.  Kicking Cancer’s Ass 26.2 Miles at a Time!


Since I started “semi-serious” running in 2005 – running is something that I always did alone.  Back when I owned one pair of running shoes (I have 10 right now honestly), ran in cotton T-shirts (because I didn’t know any better) and didn’t own a GPS to track my training (I set the kitchen timer when I left on my runs to track my time) – I was always alone.

Winter solo run

The only time that I logged any miles with anyone else was when I started racing.  Running was my time, my escape.  It allowed me to think about things with no distraction.  Sometimes I might think about what I can do to be a better husband to Dawn.  Should I make homemade Lasagna this weekend or bake Kayla her favorite homemade peanut butter dog biscuits?  Is it time to spread fertilizer yet?  When is the last time I washed the Harley?  What was the name of the lead guitarist for Journey?  Am I going to have a waffle at the diner after my run or two eggs, home fries and toast?  Definitely a waffle.

Sometimes I even solved problems without being distracted by ringing phones or e-mails.  I could think about work uninterrupted or about how I would replace that light fixture 20 feet above our foyer. 

Sometimes I would just run.  Not a care in the world, just me, the trail, a hill, the wind, light rain, a sunrise – and just be.

Strangely enough it was on one of these solo runs that “running” changed for me – and changed forever.  I’ve told the story in the past about when my wife and I first heard about Dom’s cancer diagnosis – and just how serious it was – I felt absolutely helpless.  I was going through the motions and the emotions of wondering how, why and when. 

Kicking Cancer's Ass 26.2 Miles at a Time!

I couldn’t make sense of a 38 year old man in the prime of his life with a loving wife, 3 year old daughter and a 3-month old son at home could be dealt such a serious and unfair blow.  It didn’t make any sense.  It made me feel small, weak and powerless. 

Damn it, there had to be something I could do to make a difference – and on a 10-mile Sunday run along a trail I had run literally hundreds of times in Austin – the idea for Run for Dom struck me like lightening.  Could I train to run not only the Boston Marathon this year as I had planned but also return to the Pittsburgh Marathon in Dom’s hometown 13 days later and race again in his honor?  Two Marathons in 13 days to help my friend and his family fight this terrible disease.


From that point forward I would never be running alone again.

After telling my wife what I intended to do – which always makes something “real” in my life – I began the journey to Boston and Pittsburgh.  Dom at the same time was starting his journey to treatment, surgery and recovery.  What started out as a small circle of close friends and family members who knew about what I was planning to do has grown over the last several months into an incredible support network.

There have been over 6,000 visitors to this space since the blog was launched in November.  Well over 600 Run for Dom friends follow, support and motivate each other’s training on Daily Mile every day.  Another 605 followers on Twitter are keeping up with my journey toward Boston and Pittsburgh.

I have met amazing people from literally all over the world who are doing amazing things – and they tell me that I have inspired them or motivated them in some way – Me.  Unbelievable.

Well this week I made a new group of friends from the Pittsburgh area who know Dom and the D’Eramo family and want to help.  Collectively they are “Moms for Dom” – and they will be running the Relay Marathon at Pittsburgh on May 2, 2010.

Becky Adams, Stephanie Giusti, Heather Hunter, Chrissy Liberati and Kelly Waldron are the wonderful women of “Moms for Dom”.  All of these ladies according to my friend Becky were athletes in their “former lives” – I got a great chuckle out of hearing that one.  Once an athlete, always an athlete in my book.  Their taking on the streets of Pittsburgh on Sunday May 2nd is proof enough for me.

Each of the “Moms for Dom” runners are training hard for the upcoming race balancing careers, husbands, children and and what has been an amazingly chilly, snowy, wet Pittsburgh winter that is finally giving in to Spring.  

Having run the Pittsburgh Marathon last year I can tell you that this is not a “lay-up” marathon course.  There are hills to be run, rivers and bridges to cross and winds to navigate.   It’s a hard course, but then again – it’s supposed to be hard.  It is the hard that makes it great.

Pittsburgh Marathon Course - Bridge #1

The relay portion of the marathon course is broken down into 5-legs, each of our Moms for Dom will be responsible for their own leg.

Leg 1 – Distance 7 miles – Exchange at Mile 7

Leg 2 – Distance 4.4 miles – Exchange at Mile 11.4

Leg 3 – Distance 4.6 miles – Exchange at Mile 16

Leg 4 – Distance 5.9 miles – Exchange at Mile 21.9

Leg 5 – Distance 4.3 miles – Finish Line

Pittsburgh Marathon Course Map

The women of “Moms for Dom” will be raising money to support Dom and his family just as we are here at Run for Dom.  Support of their effort is being accepted through our secure site here at:

You can also click on the Donate via our secure site link under the How You Can Help area of this blog in the right tool bar.

I am proud to call Becky, Stephanie, Heather, Chrissy and Kelly “Amazing Friends” joining Bailie, Danica (Chic Runner), Lara, Ashley (MS Run the US) and all of the “Go Girls!” who have done amazing things to help this cause over the last several months.  You can read about all of the RFD Amazing Friends underneath the mile sponsors listed in the right tool bar of the blog.

It is great to know that I will have 5 more friends with me on the course at Pittsburgh on May 2nd both literally and figuratively.  What you ladies are doing to help is so inspiring – it is an honor to be running with you in May.  Thank you!

Sometimes life has great symmetry.  Single events occur minute to minute, hour to hour, day to day that seem so random.  But when you take a moment to step back and place them into the proper context – it becomes apparent that there is in fact a rhyme and a reason.

Boston Marathon Race Shoes Arrived This Week!

Just yesterday in this space I was talking about how certain numbers can evoke very powerful images.  How just the mention of the number 20 to a marathoner brings to mind memories of the longest “test” in their marathon training plan – the 20-mile long run.  It is this “magic 20-miler” that provides the steepest challenge on the way to their ultimate test – the marathon distance itself – 26.2 miles.

In training last year to reach my goal of qualifying for the Boston Marathon “the number” that I carried around with me on every training run was 7:37 – 7 minutes, 37 seconds.  If I was able to average that time over 26.2 miles I would meet the qualification requirements for my age group of 3:19:59 and earn a spot in the 2010 Boston Marathon.

It was a powerful number for me.  It stared at me from my dry erase board in my office every morning.  Each training run was compared to that pace.  Was I fast enough?  Was I strong enough?  Could I be doing more?  Could I train harder?  Did I want it badly enough? And of course the biggest question of them all – Could I actually do it?


Regular guy running for less than 5 years, could I?  Boston?  Really?

Well today after my training run I received an e-mail from my friend Chaz asking me if I had seen my Boston number yet.  Still in my running gear, dripping wet from my 5-mile recovery run this morning in the rain I hustled upstairs to my computer to log on and see it.  After a few clicks of the mouse there it was:

7929       Marruchella, Joseph M.    42     M    Austin     TX         USA

7929 – Wow.

Holland TX - 5K 1st place age group Bib

I’ve had numbers before.  Back in 2006 in my first ever marathon in Philadelphia I wore bib number 3650 – that was a pretty big deal.  In Pittsburgh last year I ran wearing 2506 in making my Boston time – that number worked out pretty well.  Wearing 1198 this year at the Austin 3M Half Marathon I set a PR with a time of 1:32:13.  I won my age group (and two others!) wearing number 59 at last year’s Holland, TX 5K – that was a great number. 

But 7929 …. Now that one is special.

At most races your bib number doesn’t mean a whole heck of a lot unless you are one of the elite men or women invited to race.  In those cases your number represents a “seeding” so to speak, where number 1 is the most heavily favored runner, followed by 2, 3, 4 and on down the line.

At big international races the elite men and women do not receive numbers, instead they simply have their last name on their Bib – you see the names – MERGA, CHERUIYOT, HALL, KOSEGEI, TUNEI, GONCHAR etc.

But for the rest of us at Boston your bib number is a big deal – as virtually the entire race is “seeded”.  Because all but the charity runners who are asked to run at the back of the field have run a qualifying time to gain entry into the race – all runners are placed in starting corrals based on their Boston Qualifying Time.

25 Corrals with 1,000 runners each line up in Hopkinton, MA on race day and take to the storied marathon course with runners of similar capabilities in their group.  This allows for a “relatively” even start to the race without faster runners being slowed by slower runners ahead, or slower runners being swallowed up by those trying to race past them.

Bib number 7929 places us in the 7th starting corral.  So in a lot of ways I made it into that grouping by a narrow margin – by only 71 runners.  That’s O.K. – I’ll take it.

Saving this for post race party

There are a lot of things that have to occur between now and April 19th to run a good race at Boston in honoring Dom.  We have to finish our training.  Stay injury free.  Take good care of our body during the taper period and watch our nutrition. 

Once training is completed we have to make a trip out east to Boston.  We must hope for and receive good weather from the race gods on race day.  Then finally – we have to trust our race plan, our training, preparations and go out to make good on the first leg of Run for Dom.

2 marathons, 2 weeks 4 Dom. 

That was where this all started back in August and with a little more than 4 weeks to go before Marathon number 1 – we received our first bit of good news.  7929 – Wave I, 7th Corral.

Over the last five Boston Marathons 7929 has been worn by Rob Spears of Rocky Hill Connecticut, 3:16:05, James Montimbeau of Atlanta Georgia, 3:54:08 as well as Rafael Aburto of Mexico City, MX 3:32:45.  In 2006 Michel Touboul of Dijon, France wore number 7929 finishing with a time of 3:47:36 and in 2005 Bob Crosier of Ravema, Ohio finished with a 3:29:52 time finishing 3,335th.

In the 114th running of the Boston Marathon 7929 will be on the streets from Hopkinton to Boston once again.  Will I ever find my way back to Hopkinton?  Boy I hope so, but what I do know is that we’ll be there on April 19, 2010 – and 7929 plans on leaving an impression.

Wilt scores 100 points vs. Knicks

It’s funny how seeing certain numbers in print can elicit an immediate connection.  For example if I come across the number 56 I automatically think of Joe DiMaggio’s amazing consecutive game hitting streak.  The number 100?  Easy, Wilt’s 100 point game.  85?  High School Graduation.  4?  Wedding Anniversary.   31? Dawn’s birthday (and mine as a matter of fact).

But for marathoners the only number perhaps more powerful than 26.2 is the number 20.

DiMaggio sets Consecutive Game Hitting Streak Record

The number 20 translates in the mind of a marathoner to their 20-mile training run.  20 represents the longest distance that the vast majority of training programs ask the marathoner to run while preparing to cover the 26.2 mile distance.   I have been asked many times why 20 miles is accepted by most “experts” and recreational marathoners as the optimum long run training distance – why not 23 or 24 or even 26 miles?  I mean afterall, aren’t we supposed to be training ourselves to run 26 miles 385 yards?  Shouldn’t we at least cover that distance one time during training?  The simple answer – No.

Many studies have concluded that any added benefit of training past 20 miles is off-set by an increased chance of injury.  Additionally running distances in excess of 20 miles requires a long recovery period.  Most marathon training programs after completion of a 20-mile training run allow for only one “day off” before training resumes.

It is important to keep in mind that the goal is to reach your peak performance for race day.  Entering that race 100% trained – but also 100% healthy is the key.  Posting 3 training runs in excess of 18-miles with a 2-3 week taper period (when training mileage is reduced) prior to race day is a tried and true formula.  Posting mileage above 20 miles may make some runners feel more “confident” that they can cover the 26.2 mile distance – but knowing what it is like to be there previously, and push through that final 10K after 20 miles provides me with enough confidence on race day.

Moeben Sleeves - pockets great for Gels

So 20 it is.  It’s a tough distance, a tough workout and truth be told – I love it when the schedule points to my 20-milers.  For me it is a great time to take stock in my training, my equipment, my nutrition and my strength both mental and physical.  As I woke up this morning to my alarm clock at 4:30 a.m. I had already given back an hour of sleep to daylight savings time. 

I couldn’t ask for a better morning to run – no wind (literally 0 mph), 45 degree temps and a hilly course to test my hill training and endurance work thus far.  The first few miles I tried my best to keep my pace slow and shake out the tightness from my hill training in San Francisco, CA this past week.  I started to hit my stride in the middle portions of the run and when I circled back past our home at mile 12 (which allowed me a chance to discard an empty water bottle) I was feeling very strong with just an 8 miles remaining.

One of the skills that runners pick up early on is to project their current time into finish times several miles down the line.  It is amazing actually that we are able to look at our watch and know that in another 8 miles or for me approximately 14,080 strides I would be wrapping up my run in another  57 minutes and 45 seconds.

On Sunday when I went through this exercise in my head my calculations had me completing my 20-miles in under 2 hours and 27 minutes.  That can’t be right can it can it?  Was I really moving along at that pace?  Would I regret it in the latter stages of my run?  As I took off up the incline that leads out of our neighborhood and up toward Cat Hollow I just focused on keeping my effort smooth and even – let the hills sort out my speed I thought and if I made a mistake in running the early portions of my run too quickly – I would simply learn from them and do better in two weeks when I run my second 20-miler prior to Boston.

Surprisingly I felt very strong through miles 15,16 and 17 and with just 3 miles to go I peeked down at my Garmin GPS and ran the numbers again – the facts were the facts – we were on pace to run the fastest 20-miler we had ever run.  Was it the cycling?  Was it the additional hill work?  Was I motivated more because of Boston?  Could it have been Dom getting through his final round of Chemotherapy this week?  Was it my homemade pasta from last night?  Or the $1,000 fundraising week we had for Run for Dom spurring me on Sunday morning?

In hindsight it was probably a little bit of everything above.  I even pushed past the 20-mile limit and decided to end the run at our driveway instead of a little bit down the street as I like to run that final flat section to stretch my legs after the final hill coming up out of the trail system behind our home.

20.15 miles – 2:27:24 – 7:19 pace – 3:11:50 Marathon Time Estimate

That pace translates to a Marathon time almost 6 minutes faster than my PR.  To put that in real terms I would be close to 8/10 of a mile ahead of my previous best performance when I cross the line in Boston by running a 3:12:00 Marathon.

20-Mile Training Run #1 in books

Now there is of course a big difference between 26.2 miles and 20.15 miles – but weather permitting we may be in line for a heck of a race at Boston, one heck of a race.

5 weeks remain to Boston, 7 weeks to Pittsburgh.  19 Training runs are left and only one will be in excess of 12 miles – my final 20-miler on March 28th.  From there it is simply a three-week taper to race day.  134 more running miles, 196 cycling miles, 15 strength training sessions a trip to Ontario at the end of the month to train in our second country for Run for Dom and then a final flight to Boston.  5 weeks, it will be here in a blink of an eye – I’m determined now more than ever to make the most of this remaining time before race day.  Have a great week everyone!