Archive for August, 2010

You know how you look forward to an event for a long time?  Weeks and months leading up to a moment that you know will change your life forever. 

You think that you are ready for it, as you hear others talk about how it will change you. 

Your first kiss, your wedding day, even the first time you come through the chute after 26.2 miles is pretty remarkable.  These are life affirming moments.  Ones that years later you can return to anytime that you want just by closing your eyes and reminiscing.  Those are the moments that make life so wonderful.  Such a gift. 

Well yesterday was one of those days for me.  But to compare it to those other types of “momentous” occasions really fails to do it justice. 

At 9:51 a.m. Sunday morning, our little angel Landry Grace came into our lives, and after seeing her for just the briefest of moments, I knew that my life would never be the same.  Dawn and I were blessed with the most beautiful baby girl I have ever seen.

Hello World!

 All I can do is stare at her and wonder how I could love anything so much. 

Born exactly two weeks from Dom’s passing – he certainly was smiling down on the three of us yesterday as the events of the day could not have gone more smoothly. 

At 5:00 a.m. my wife woke me to tell me to go for my run now, as she was starting to feel a little funny, but “nothing to worry about yet”

I told her that I would cut my run short, down to 8 miles which I could cover in an hour, and pass by the house at mile 2.  If something was happening, she was to open up the garage doors.  If they were closed I would finish the final 6.25 miles in about 43 minutes.  (You guys didn’t really think Landry would be born on a rest day did you?) 

As I left the house and headed up the hill I wondered if today would be the day when I would actually become a Dad.  Dawn had visited her Doctor on Friday morning and she was told that nothing was happening yet.  The baby’s due date was Thursday, September 2nd and we were preparing ourselves for another 4-5 days of anxious waiting. 

Saturday morning we ran the NOCC Balance 5K and Dawn and I spent the afternoon shopping.  Momma bear was feeling fine at bedtime, could this really be happening today I thought?  As I got back to the house after my run, I quickly showered, packed the car and got our Dog Kayla to the corner and back.  She loves her morning walks, but this would have to be a quick one.  Times were changing already for Kayla.  Just wait until she sees what we bring home tomorrow. 

We made our way to the nurses station at 8:00 a.m., Dawn’s contractions had just moved into the 5 minutes apart stage.  With the Hospital less than 10 minutes from home, we thought we had plenty of time being our first child. 

1 hour and 51 minutes later, about the length of time of my 14-mile run last Sunday – Landry was taking her very first breaths.  I can’t describe the feeling as I have never felt anything like it.  Dawn was truly incredible throughout the process.  Man, if you think us marathoners are tough – all you have to do is spend 5 minutes in a delivery room and tough is redefined for all-time.  I have never been so proud of her.  Truly amazing. 

Dawn and Landry

As I write this morning, Landry is napping in an outfit her Aunt Wendy from Denver sent along – she is bundled up tight, loving her new life.  Born 6 lbs. 2 ounces – I couldn’t help but think we had ourselves a little 10K baby (6.2).  I have a feeling that when we toe the line in October at the IBM Uptown Classic 10K – that sub-40:00 minute goal time of mine is in the bag. 

Not only will I have Dom in my corner as my race day “secret weapon”, I will have little miss Landry there, possibly at her very first race rooting for me.  I know it will be hard to not let her down over the course of our lives together.  But I’m pretty certain that I can at least make it as far as October. 

Welcome Landry Grace – I promise to be the very best new Daddy I can.  I couldn’t love you more. 

New Dad and Landry

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All of us need a little kick in the pants every now and then. 

Friday afternoon was one of those days for me. 

Early in the morning Dawn had visited with her Doctor and we learned that little miss Landry was perfectly content inside her Mom’s belly for the time being.  With her due date still 6 days away, it seemed like it would be a safe bet that I could participate in the NOCC Balance 5K on Saturday morning. 

The National Ovarian Cancer Coalition race is in its third year here in Austin and I had never participated.  It had also been 4 weeks since I raced and I felt like I needed another challenging workout before we head into September and really start zeroing in on the IBM Uptown classic. 

When I went down to the packet pick-up on Friday afternoon I started to think about what I could reasonably expect out of myself for Saturday morning’s race.  I had a tough week of training already.  A 10K tempo run on Tuesday was followed by 8 miles on Wednesday and 9.25 miles of hill repeats on Thursday.  Certainly I would not describe my legs as “well-rested”

My mind was excited for the opportunity to race, but my heart did not seem to be in it.  Was it too soon after Dom’s passing to be racing for a cancer society?  Was I still feeling sorry for myself after the events of the previous week in Pittsburgh?  Tough to say really, but I knew something just was a little off as I was driving home. 

I decided to log on to Dailymile for some much-needed motivation.  Dailymile is a tremendous website for athletes.  Whether you are a runner, cyclist or triathlete – Dailymile is a place where you can share your workouts and races with friends.  I often describe the site as a “Facebook for Runners” – it is free, easy to navigate, and a great place to keep track of your training.

Where it truly excels is the community of athletes and just how supportive and positve everyone is.  Wheter you are a first-time marathoner, an elite amateur runner, a cyclist, walker, trainer or just an average Joe or Jane trying to get back in shape – there is a great support group waiting for you every time you log on.  Simply tremendous. 

 

I snapped a quick photo of my bib and uploaded it to the site.  I posted that I would be racing on Saturday morning, asked any of my Austin friends if they too would be out there and made a comment that seemed very innocuous: 

“Racing tomorrow – won’t be a PR with this week’s training – but looking to run well and have some fun. Have a great Friday everyone!” 

First to the rescue was my friend Bob from Riverhead, NY.  Bob told me not to sell myself short on the PR.  That I had been “running well” and I should not be surprised if I “Nailed a beauty”

Less than two minutes later my friend Winston from Wichita, KS chimed in saying:  “I’m with Bob. The way you’ve been hammering it, it’s about time you reaped some big rewards soon. Go for it, Joe!!!”   

You may remember Winston as he is the runner who walked up to me waiting outside the bus at 5:00 a.m. on Boston Marathon morning who asked, “are you Joe?”  We had never met in person to that point and Winston recognized me out of a sea of marathoners awaiting our trip to the start of the Boston Marathon.  We chatted the whole way from Boston to Hopkinton, a bus ride I will never forget. 

The straw that broke the camel’s back was from my friend Jim in Wells, ME who wrote:  “Last pre-Landry race Joe … make it good one. I will not be surprised by a PR at all – particularly if the weather cooperates. You hammered those hill repeats again and have just been running and cross training so consistently that I got to believe a PR is entirely possible Saturday!” 

Jim has been training for his first marathon in more than 15 years this year.  I draw such a great amount of motivation from Jim and his dedication to not only his training, but to his family and friends. 

In just 5 minutes I realized just how short-sighted I had been.  Get it together, it’s race day for crying out loud! 

My response:  Thanks guys! This is why Dailymile is so great, you have me all thinking about a PR tomorrow .  I guess it would be kind of fitting with everything that has been going on and will be going on soon ….. screw it. Go big or go home. 

I walked downstairs, pulled out my Run for Dom Race singlet, pinned my number on my shorts and grabbed my Brooks T6 racing flats from the closet.  I didn’t know how much bounce my legs were going to have on Saturday morning – but we were certainly going to find out. 

Race Day:  I pulled into the parking lot about 1 hour before the race start and threw on my trainers for a quick half-mile warm-up.  My legs didn’t feel great, but they didn’t feel bad either.  We’ve run and raced on worse I thought to myself, let’s check-out the course. 

I had a hard time finding any runners who had run this course before, so I asked one of the race volunteers.  It turned out that the course was a little different this year and would only have a short “out and back section”, less than 1/2 of a mile.  So it really was a large circular course which makes the race fun and interesting – however tough to predict the terrain as you really only see each section of the course once. 

The race had close to 950 runners and walkers, which is a big, big turnout for a little Saturday morning 5K.  I saw quite a few “teams” who were running and walking in memory of a friend or family member who was taken from them by ovarian cancer.  Quite a few people asked me what “Run for Dom” was and if I was running for someone. 

Each time I let them know that yes, I indeed was running for a good friend who passed away August 15th from stomach cancer.  I will always be running for him I told each of them.

Just like that it was time for the star-spangled banner and we were in the starting corral ready to go.  I did not see any familiar faces at the start, so I began the search for my “rabbit” to get me out fast.  It was time to Go Big or Go Home

Mile 1:  We fired out of the chute and I was running in the top 5 from the outset.  I knew that we were going out well under 6:00 min./mile pace – and that was fine with me.  To come in anywhere near my PR of 18:12:48 I was going to have to run a fast first mile.  Three of the runners started to pull away at the .50 mile mark.  They were young, strong, confident and I was no match for them.  But number 4 …. we had a shot at him if we could stay close enough. 

We hit the 1st mile mark and as I glanced down at my watch I had turned in a 5:43 first mile.  Runner #4 was just five or six strides ahead of me.  Time to go to work. 

Mile 2:  We started down an incline early in mile 2 and it seemed to last close to 1/2 of a mile.  I saw the leaders up ahead make the turnaround and the course turned back uphill.  I knew that would be the start to mile 3 and that uphill stretch would come at a time where my legs were starting to hurt a bit. 

It was better to push the pace now and use all of that hill training I had been doing to carry me back uphill on tired legs I thought.  I lengthened my stride just a bit and gobbled up some ground on runner #4.  I gave him a quick nod as I went by him on the left and pushed hard to open up some room between us.  At the beep mile 2 came in at 5:59.  PR territory, but it was going to be close. 

Mile 3:  As I started up the hill into mile 3 I started thinking about all of the hill work that we had been doing lately.  This is exactly the time when that training will show up I thought.  I kept my eyes focused ahead, went to my arms and tried not to lose too much time to the hill. 

I was back on the flat section of the course and glanced down at my watch.  Only 3/10 of a mile to go, we’ve got this I thought to myself.  At the beep mile 3 came in at 6:07.  With a PR of 18:12:48 it was going to be ridiculously close. 

Finish:  I will say this about the final 1/10 of a mile. It hurt. A lot.  Thankfully it was over quickly – we had closed with a pace of 5:16 over that stretch to the finish.  I don’t have a lot more than that in these legs of mine.  A great feeling of satisfaction came over me as I came through the chute, I didn’t leave a thing out on the course.  Just the way it’s supposed to be. 

Final time – 18:12:06.  A new PR by this smallest of margins, just 4/100 of a second. 

The result was a 4th place overall finish – and my 1st ever Male Masters victory at the 5K distance. 

1st place Male Masters 18:12:06

I couldn’t help but think of Bob, Winston and Jim and how I was going to receive my virtual “I told you so’s” when I got home Saturday and posted my race time. 

I am so thankful for my good friends who took the time to get me focused on the things that are important.  It wasn’t about the 18 minutes and however many seconds that I was out there on the course.  To them, they didn’t want me to give anything but my very best effort.  

That’s a lesson that all of us should try to remember when we think about the way Dom fought courageously throughout his cancer battle.  I stayed around the race for close to an hour watching all of the runners and walkers finish, paying close attention to those “teams” that were out there for thier loved ones.

I might have been at the race all alone on Saturday morning.  But there is no doubt that my “team” was there with me every step of the way.  Pushing me to do my very best to honor my good friend Dom. 

Bob, Winston and Jim –  I really can’t tell you how much you helped me today.  Thank you all so very much for the reminder that when it comes to racing, there really is only one way to go about it.

Go Big or Go Home.

September 27, 2009 – 9:06 a.m. 

“This twitter feed will keep you updated on my progress in running 2 marathons in 13 days to support my friend Dom Deramo’s cancer battle”. 

11 months ago – those were my first words on Twitter. 

Who would really be interested I thought?  Today we are closing in on 9oo followers.  Amazing. 

November 9, 2009 – 9:25 a.m. 

Joe Runs for Dom’s very first blog post hits the internet. 

http://wp.me/pHGel-1 

Would anyone want to read my ramblings about our good friend Dom’s battle against cancer and my crazy idea to run two marathons in 13 days? 

27,500 visits later.  I guess somebody did.  I am astounded daily. 

The amount of people who Dom’s cancer battle touched truly is amazing to me.  One of the all-time “good guys” that you would ever come across in life, taken so young at age 39, with a loving wife and two small children that loved him dearly. 

My earliest hopes for Run for Dom were that we would be able to raise awareness for this terrible disease.  Raise funds to help defray the cost of treatments, surgeries and procedures and honor my good friend as he literally began the fight of his life. 

Hundreds of donors later the original Run for Dom enjoyed some success surpassing our fundraising goal of $26.2K.  Equally important has been the friendships that have been forged and the thousands of individuals who got to know “our Dom” before he passed away on August 15th. 

Dom, Sierra, Nico

 

I always said that I would know “what was next” after we came through the finishing chute at Pittsburgh. 

 Well, that “something next” is to help fund the 529 Education Plans that have been established for Dom and Val’s two children Sierra and Nico.  

I know that I have a lot of running miles left in these 43-year-old legs.  Many races to run and events to host in Dom’s memory.  It is something that simply “needs doing”, and we’re not about to stop now. 

Of course heavy lifting is always easiest with an extra set of hands.  

Being the son of a carpenter taught me a lot of things throughout the course of my childhood.  But that lesson, above all else, has proven to be the most valuable. 

Enter my good friend in Ohio Sean Brown. 

Sean like me is a regular guy.  A wife, two young boys – who are going to be “heartbreakers” in school if they are not already – and a love for running. 

Sean and I connected through Run for Dom.  Almost immediately he became a great source of inspiration and motivation as my training moved on through the winter months culminating on April 19, 2010.  

That morning I made my way to Hopkinton, MA, and as I stood among 25,000 other marathoners an Air Force Flyover “whooshed” above my head.  What in the world was a guy like me doing in the starting corral of the Boston Marathon?  Sean had written to me the night before and wished me a good race.  He would be following along in Ohio, tracking my progress. 

13 days later I stood again at the start of a Marathon, this time in Dom’s hometown of Pittsburgh, PA – Sean sent me a great message the night before the race, wished me luck and told me how proud he was of what I was doing.  

With Dom’s name written on both arms I took my first steps toward marathon number two.  Thoughts of Sean, his wife and boys went through my head as the rain started to fall and lady marathon started to take her first few swings at me. 

Have I mentioned that Sean and I have never met?  True.  

It is also true that I consider Sean a close friend.  One who if I had the chance, I would do just about anything for.  

As I look back on the last year I have come to realize that is what Run for Dom truly is all about.  For those of us who had the good fortune to know Dom and experience first hand just how selfless and generous he was in life – there could be no greater tribute. 

Sean on Sunday's 18-Mile Training Run

 

Well Sean is now just 43 days away from his first ever marathon.  

Chicago, October 10, 2010.  When he comes through the finishing chute that day, he will be a marathoner.  Accomplishing something that less than 1% of us will dare ever attempt. 

Sean himself will have doubts on the eve of his race.  He will wonder if he prepared enough.  If he trained hard enough.  Is his nutrition plan sound.  What will the weather be like.  He will wonder what miles 21-26.2 will be like as he will have never run that far before in his life. 

I however have no doubt that Sean will finish.  Just as I had no doubt that I would finish marathon number two in Pittsburgh. 

I know this because Sean is Running for Dom

He asked me just this week if it would be o.k. for him to pick up the mantle and run his marathon in Dom’s memory.  To raise money to help fund Sierra and Nico’s education plans.  

I could think of no greater reason for anyone to run and I could not be happier for Sean.  I told Sean that if not for little Landry’s arrival next week, and the very real chance that my wife Dawn would kick me out of the house, I would be there in Chicago with him.  

I will have to settle for lending Sean my secret weapon on race day – and have Dom be there with him instead. 

To share with you just how committed to this effort Sean is – below are his three promises that you can find on the website he has dedicated to his very own Run for Dom. 

You can help by pledging to sponsor me for each mile I complete at the 2010 Chicago Marathon on October 10th. For instance, if you sponsor $10/mile and I complete the entire marathon (which is a 26.2 mile run), your donation would be $262.00. 

Here’s what I promise: 

  1. I will try with everything I have to complete this marathon. Assume your donation will be 26.2 times your pledge per mile.
  2. Every single dime that I raise through this effort, every single one, will go directly into the D’Eramo children’s 529 College Savings Accounts.
  3. Whatever total amount is pledged by all of you, I will personally match half of that total.

To support Sean and his Run for Dom – please visit: 

http://runfordom.why-i-run.com 

Help Sean make a difference in the lives of Sierra and Nico and honor a true warrior who fought with ever bit of the strength he possessed to remain on this earth for his family and loved ones just as long as he could. 

And Sean, when those miles start to mount and your legs feel heavy, don’t worry.  You will find the strength that you need to keep pushing.  

I know that in my heart.  

Because that is what a marathoner does, and that is who you are. 

Thank you for everything you are doing in honor of my friend.  I could not be more proud of you than I am today.

Picture the scene. 

Sun not quite up yet.

No sounds except a runner’s feet crunching the stone on the trail.

The runner has been running up and down the same hill for just over 40 minutes.  Almost six miles of running, but he has hardly moved an inch.

As he reaches the bottom and turns to head up for his 8th hill repeat he thinks to himself.

“I think I feel like racing on Saturday”.

The story would be hard to believe – if that runner wasn’t me.  Sometimes I really think something is wrong with me. 

Other times, I’m quite sure of it.

The fact is however, I love to run.  That has been pretty well established over the last few years.  But over the last year that I have spent training and running for Dom I have come to another realization.  As much as I love to run, I have discovered that I really love to race.

I love pretty much everything about it.  The nervousness, the excitement, the challenge, the comradarie and of course the competition.

Sure pushing myself up the hill at Brushy Creek this morning was satisfying.  Doing it 9 times this week as I continue to “add one for Dom” every Thursday until we reach our goal of 10 hill repeats felt great.

But there is something special about a race day.  Whether it is a marathon or just a small 5K, racing is the best. 

To me “race day” is really the celebration of all of the hard work and training that you put in.

Let’s face it, as a distance runner the only workouts that are “glamorous” to non-runners or casual runners are those Sunday long runs.  The kind of runs where your friends and family ask how far you are going and you say nonchallantly, “Ah, just 16 this weekend”.  The corners of their mouth turn down ever so slightly and they look at you as if you have clearly lost your mind.

But those long runs are just part of the picture.  Truth be told, there is no glory to be found at 5:15 a.m. on Brushy Creek Trail in Austin, TX knocking out hill repeat after hill repeat.  There are no “attaboys” or high-fives given.  No “way to gos” or “go get ’ems” – just the runner, the darkness and the hill.

That’s o.k. though, because I’m not out there for accollades.  I’m out there for race day.

You see, it’s on race day that those early morning workouts matter.

On race day, it definitely matters if you were the runner who skipped his hill repeats this week, or the one who did not give their all during Tuesday’s Tempo workout. 

On days when I feel like mailing it in, I think of Tom Flemming who said:

“Somwhere in the world someone is training when you are not. When you race him, he will win”

So as I came down the hill on my final repeat and made my way back to the house – I decided that I was in.  As long as Dawn’s appointment at the Doctor on Friday shows no indication that Landry will be making an early arrival, we’ll be racing Saturday at the 3rd Annual NOCC Balance 5K.

The race benefits the National Ovarian Cancer Coalition, improving the survival rate and quality of life for women living with ovarian cancer.

It’s been a tough week of training, covering more than 38 miles since Sunday.  Definitely not the type of week that will lead up to a new PR on Saturday.  That’s o.k. though, as the goal remains to peak for the IBM Uptown Classic 10K on October 17th.  My final day before Austin Marathon Training begins.

There probably won’t be an age group victory in my future on Saturday or a smokin’ fast 5K time to put in the books.

There are other reasons to race however as Cancer certainly isn’t taking any days off right now – so neither are we.

I’m pretty sure that when Dom looks in on me Saturday morning, he’ll be pretty proud of me for being out there doing my best.

No matter what the finish clock says, that will be good enough for me.

This morning, like most, I went through my usual “run-day” rituals.

I brushed my teeth, washed my face and hopped onto the bathroom scale to register my “pre-run weight”.  I do this in the summer to make sure I know exactly how much water weight I lose during the course of my run.  This helps me make certain I drink enough water and Gatorade to replenish my system when I get back. 

4 lbs. today or four 16 ounce drinks in just over 42 minutes of running. 

Amazing.

I applied my body glide, climbed into my “runderwear”, running shorts, calf sleeve, running socks and shoes.

I laid down in the family room to stretch my back and legs, did some standing calf stretches and got my iPod ready to rock.

Lastly I slipped on my GPS who celebrates its 2nd birthday today.

My Garmin 405.

We have definitely had some times together me and my Garmin.  For those of you who have an intellectual curiosity about all of this “running stuff”, but are not a runner yourself, a runner’s GPS plays a big role in our running lives.

We might complain about it struggling to find a satellite signal in a new location or synching up on a cloudy day.  We might look at it with great disdain if we forgot to charge it and it won’t power up for our run.  We might even threaten to retire it and “get another one” if it acts strangely and needs the occasional reboot.

But rest assured, we have a personal attachment to our GPS.

It functions very different from a traditional GPS which shows you where you are going.

A runner’s GPS tells us where we have been. 

For a runner, that is what our sport is all about.  When we are moving our eyes are firmly fixed ahead.  Looking toward the next hill or the next mile marker. 

Once we stop moving however, we immediately shift to analyzing all of the strides “that were” so to speak.  We want to know how far we traveled, how fast we got there and to what elevation our legs carried us. 

Nowadays, the technology is truly remarkable.  After each run I view each individual mile independently.  I can see how high the elevation changes were, analyze my fastest pace vs. my slowest as well as look at my average.  I can see how many calories I burned and how that run compares to other efforts over the same course.

All of that data is transferred wirelessly from my Garmin 405 to my computer while I am taking my post run shower.  It is waiting there for me when I return with my breakfast and start my day.  I have to admit, I take my Garmin for granted on most days.  I only pay close attention if something is not working properly – which to be honest has been very rare with this particular friend of mine.

But today, on our two-year anniversary of training together, I thought I would take a look back on the last 24 months to see just how far we have traveled.

Since August 24, 2008 when we went on our first run together we have covered some serious ground.

3,098.50 miles to be precise.

We have run for 387 hours, 5 minutes and 47 seconds.

We have climbed 333,937 feet of hills.

Over that time we have burned 331,539 calories.

We have raced quite a bit as well finishing 3 marathons, one half-marathon, one 10K, six 5K’s and a one mile race.

We have trained in Canada and Mexico as well as 15 states here in the US covering:  Alabama, California, Colorado, Florida, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Maryland, Massachusetts, New York, Nevada, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Tennessee.

We have essentially traveled across the widest portion of the United States from the Pacific Ocean to the Atlantic and are now heading back for another try.  That is a lot of time to spend with something that you don’t really think of very often.

So Happy Birthday Garmin 405.  I might not say it very often, but thank you.  We’ve been through a lot together.  I hope you’re up for another tough year of training.

We have quite a bit more ground to cover as we continue to kick cancer’s ass 26.2 miles at a time.

Sunday morning.

When I was a small boy, Sunday morning meant heading to St. Colman’s church in Ardmore, PA with my mother.  I would see my boyhood friends there, John Egan, Steve Boschi, Bob Winterle, Bill Cavanaugh and many others.

Some of us were altar boys, some of us were not, but it is a part of my early childhood I will never forget.

As I got older Sunday mornings meant Football.  Watching the not so mighty then Philadelphia Eagles.

When I was about 12 we finally had a decent team and we even made it to the Superbowl.  We lost of course to Jim Plunkett and the Oakland Raiders, but it was pretty amazing to see our men in green playing on football’s biggest stage.  Damn you Kenny King.

In the spring and summer it was Phillies games, watching the away games in the afternoon with my Dad.  Listening to the home games on the “Hi-Fi” – some of you youngins’ out there don’t have any idea what I’m talking about – but some of you do.  The voices of my childhood were Harry Kalas and Richie Ashburn calling the Phillies games over the TV and radio.  Like Dom, they are both gone now too.

Dawn and I love Sunday breakfast, one of our favorite things to do.  Whether it was going to the Coventry Café when we lived in Pennsylvania or 1431 Café in Austin, that is something we will soon be able to share with our daughter Landry.  (I promise to take her outside if she fusses too much Austin)

But for me now, really for the last five years or so when the marathoner in me was discovered, early Sunday mornings are dedicated to my weekly “long-runs”.  If I’m training for a marathon that may mean a run of between 14 and 20 miles most weeks.

If I am “between races” as I am right now, as training for the Austin marathon will not begin until October 18th, it means a run of somewhere between 8 and 12 miles.

Runs long enough to keep my endurance, stamina and mental toughness right there below the “race-ready” stage – but short enough to make sure I stay healthy and can enter marathon training injury free.

The constant over the years is that Sundays are special.  It is a time now where I spend 1 or 2 hours alone, sometimes a little more than that, just running. 

Running and thinking.  Thinking and running.

Sometimes I’m even thinking about running.  Kind of crazy.

But on those Sunday runs I’ve seen many amazing sunrises and beautiful wildlife.  More than I truly could count.

In the fall I can run and run and run as cool Texas temperatures make it a joy to be out there.

In the winter I am bundled up, sometimes with two pairs of gloves and a ski hat to keep me warm.  When I get home there are icicles on top of my head from sweat that has turned to ice.

This time of year I leave the house with four bottles of water and Gatorade in my hydrabelt just to make it through the run, still losing close to four pounds when I get back on the bathroom scale.

Sometimes I encounter babies in jogging strollers, walkers, cyclists and other runners – many of whom I see week after week as we nod to each other or share a good morning as we pass.

But for the most part I’m alone.

A year ago I started taking a companion with me on all of my long runs.  Dom.

When a hill would rise ahead of me I would think about Dom and all that he was going through.

When a song came on that made me smile or a gentle downhill section would present itself to me, I would think about Dom. 

I would think about how proud I was of him, his fearless attitude and his tremendous sense of humor.

How is he doing today?  Will the next news we hear about treatment options or progress be good news or bad?  What is the next step and are we winning or losing this fight?

Never once did I think about what running on a Sunday morning would be like “without him” – until today.

As I was leaving the house for the first time in a long time, I was a little nervous about my run.  Would I find the rhythm for my run quickly and easily or would I struggle to find my groove in the TX heat.

Should I go 10 miles or 12 today?  Would stretching my run out to 14 miles be more appropriate?  What are my body and my heart telling me that I need to do?

As I took off up the first hill that leads away from our home I thought about something that the Priest said to the congregation on Thursday morning during Dom’s funeral service.

There was a story Val had shared with many of us that at the very end Dom had become a bit disoriented.  He hopped out of bed last weekend and started to get in the shower – as if he was getting ready to go to work.

The priest relayed this story to the church and remarked that in fact Dom was getting ready to go to work.  He was preparing for his job in heaven, looking after all of his loved ones, especially Val, Sierra and Nico.  They may have lost a husband and a father, but they gained a Saint.

Saint Dominic.

The words that Val and the priest chose when describing Dom in that story struck a chord with me. 

When I have reached the 20 mile mark in every marathon I have ever run, I have mumbled to myself, “time to go to work”

To me that 20-mile mark is where a marathon truly begins.  Everything else was just a warm-up to that point.  20 miles is the farthest distance most marathoners will run as part of their marathon training. 

They do this to avoid the chance of a training injury, but to also avoid exhausting their glycogen stores which take quite awhile to rebuild once depleted.

You are more or less “saving” those stores for race day.

For most of us the 20 mile mark is that moment where your body begins to fail you and you have to press on for the final 10 kilometers or 6.2 miles. 

Your precious Glycogen can only fuel your body for the distance it takes to burn 2,000 calories.  At 100+/- calories burned per mile, this fuel only lasts long enough to propel you to the threshold of that magic 20-mile mark.

As your body switches over to its fat stores for fuel – runners describe this transition over to the much less efficient fuel as “hitting the wall”.  A well-trained marathoner is left with just 6.2 miles to go.  Piece of cake right?

That is the reason that I run that 6.2 mile distance on the majority of my mid-week training runs.  I want my body and mind to know exactly how long that distance is.  How many strides it takes to get there and especially just how many times we have done it before.  That final 10 Kilometers is about inner strength and confidence as your physical strength has been decreasing over the last 2-3 hours.

So, “Time to go to work” I said to myself – and as I calibrated my body and mind for Sunday’s long run – Seemed like a great day to ratchet things up a bit and knock out a solid 14 miles.  It would be the farthest I had run since coming through the finisher’s chute at the Pittsburgh Marathon in May, completing the Run for Dom double.

The best part of the run was realizing that I wasn’t alone at all. 

I still had my running companion with me when the sun rose over Brushy Creek Park.  He was with me when we scattered the deer coming around the bend on the lower loop near our house.  Dom was with me for the hills, both up and down – and he was especially there on the final stretch coming out of the green belt heading back into our neighborhood.

I felt so foolish during my cool-down.  Where else would Dom have been?  After all, it was time to go to work.

36 hours is not a lot of time. 

If you really think about it, 36 hours doesn’t amount to a whole lot.

Not even a full work week.

Only a season and a half of 24.

I can cover about 288 training miles in 36 hours or run about 10 marathons.

But as I sit here on my flight back to Austin coming from Dom’s funeral earlier today, I realized that when the wheels touch-down and I walk off the plane to climb into my wife’s waiting car, it will only be 36 hours since we said goodbye on Wednesday morning.

It feels like a lifetime ago.

As much as I would love to share that making the trip to Pittsburgh for Dom’s memorial service was a celebration of his life.  That I was the big strong man that can run far, run fast, climb hills and crush races from 5K to the marathon like many men half my age.  I simply cannot.

If I did, I would be lying.

It was a tough last day and a half for yours truly.

Seeing so many of Dom’s family and friends last night and today was truly heartbreaking.  Seeing Val, Sierra and Nico, who just recently learned to say “Dada”, and was having a grand time showing off his latest accomplishment, was beyond heartbreaking.  It was truly crushing.

But as I left the comfort of family and friends and walked through the airport terminal, still in my suit and tie to make my way through security – there was that feeling again of being alone.

Alone on a morning run with the sun rising in the East – good.

Alone thinking of all of the things you wished had turned out differently for Dom – Definitely not good.

The outpouring of love and support for Dom witnessed by me today truly was remarkable.  It was clear to anyone who was there just how wonderful a young man Dom was and how sorely he will be missed.

His funeral procession was 85 cars long.

My wife asked me who has a funeral procession with 85 cars?

The only answer I could offer up was – Elvis?

So in 36 hours I made the trip out to honor and pay my last respects to Dominic Vincent D’Eramo, Jr. and return back to Austin where two weeks from today our first child, baby Landry is due to arrive.

I know that Dom has a lot of things on his plate right now. 

Figuring out the lay of the land up in Heaven.  Finding out what channel his Steelers will be on this weekend.  Entertaining a whole new audience with the stories of his life …. I have no doubt that Dom is holding court as I write this.

I also know that he will be looking in on Dawn and me when Landry arrives and making sure that these last 36 hours taught me the right things.

The one thing I realized with absolute certainty while this plane continues on to Austin is that this is not over.

Dom gave cancer the fight of its life.  He had it on the ropes more than once.  Each time cancer rallied and knocked Dom down, he dusted himself off, climbed back to his feet to fight again.  He did this repeatedly for Val, Sierra, Nico, Dom Sr., Shirley, Matt, Chris, his uncles, aunts, cousins, nieces, nephews and friends.

Each of us, all of us, has that same fight in us.  We just have to find the things that are most important, that are worth fighting for and not back down from the challenge.  Take the fight to those things, just as Dom took the fight to his cancer. 

There are a helluva lot more of us than there are challenges out there.  Together we can do just about anything.  So as we take some time to regroup.  Dust ourselves off and get back on our feet – we can and will come back stronger than ever.

I know that as long as I can run and write and as long as anyone out there is willing to watch or listen – I’m going to keep Running for Dom.

There are races to run, money and awareness to raise to ensure two beautiful little children have all  of the opportunities that their “Dada” would have provided for them to come true.

So if you wouldn’t mind playing along – I would love it if you would grant me the opportunity to continue to run in honor of Dom’s memory and keep kicking cancer’s ass 26.2 miles at a time.