Archive for October, 2010

Running shoes.  Inanimate objects made of synthetic material, breathable mesh fabric, carbon rubber for the bottoms and ethylene vinyl acetate (EVA) or polyurethane for the midsole.

When they are new, fresh out of the box they have the greatest of smells.  Akin to when I would get a new baseball glove on my birthday in July growing up in Southeastern Pennsylvania. 

The first run in a new pair of training shoes is among one of the great joys in distance running for me.  The ground feels softer, my legs feel like they have more bounce.  The miles tick by easier, sometimes it feels like I could run all day.

Most times I’m not sure exactly where that particular pair of shoes will take me.  They slide into my shoe rotation with two other pairs of trainers that are older and much more “worn”.  Fresh out of the box, these trainers start out as the pair I take on my Sunday long runs and my more difficult mid-week training runs due to the fact that they are the “newest” and provide the most cushioning.

With each run however, they move closer and closer to retirement age.  300 miles for this distance runner, which I found is the maximum distance I can cover in a pair of shoes before my legs start to let me know that it is time for a change as my knees and ankles start to feel the impact of every stride.

My shoes take a lot of abuse, especially training through a TX summer.  Whether it is rainy morning runs along muddy paths or harsh dry dust being kicked up from a granite trail system – the running shoe takes all of this and comes back for more.

One pair might get packed for a trip and get taken for a run across the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco or an 8 mile run along the coast at Wrightsville Beach in North Carolina.  There truly is no telling where my shoes may end up when I take them out of the box and put them on for the first time.  The possibilities are limitless.

Except for my Run for Dom race shoes.

I knew exactly where those shoes were headed when I laced them up for the first time on April 12, 2010 and took them for an 8-mile break-in run.  Those shoes were going to be packed in my backpack and taken with me on my flight to Boston.  They had a date with the 114th Boston Marathon.

First Run

They were going to carry me from Hopkinton, MA through the towns of Ashland, Framingham, Natick, Wellesley and Newton.  We climbed the Newton hills together, crested Heartbreak Hill and traveled up into Chestnut Hill and Boston College. 

We struggled together through Brookline and past Fenway Park.  We finally entered Back Bay and made the left turn onto Boylston Street – crossing the finish line of the Boston Marathon.

Me.  Just an average guy from Austin completing one of the most storied footraces in the world.

Me and my Asics.

13 days later I stood on a rainy morning in Pittsburgh Pennsylvania.  Dom looked on as we again took on the 26.2 mile challenge of the Marathon.  We traveled through the Strip District, the South Side and through Oakland where my wife went to college.  After climbing Forbes Hill, we trekked through Shadyside and Bloomfield over some of the most difficult miles this marathoner has ever run.

For more than 3 hours, in sometimes pouring rain, it was just me and my shoes battling the elements, fatigue and mental demons to reach the finish line and get that finisher’s medal for Dom.

58.4 miles were run in those shoes before they made their way back to Austin where they morphed from my “race shoes” to my “training shoes”.

As I pulled them out of the closet for a training run I would look at the words I had written on the instep of both shoes.

Run 4 Dom.

It served as a great reminder not only of how far I had traveled running for Dom in 2010, but much more importantly why.

Cancer is a terrible thing, of that point there is no debate.  There is no way to rationalize its existence or pretend it is something that it is not.  It is a killer plan and simple.  It does not discriminate and is relentless in its attack.

For the better part of a year, Dom, his family and his team of Doctors and specialists fought tooth and nail to try to stave off its reach.  There were wins and losses, successes and failures, good days and bad, but in the end there was no escape.

Dom succumbed to stomach cancer on August 15, 2010 and the world is a much worse place without him.

I flew to Pittsburgh for Dom’s funeral and I took my Run for Dom race shoes with me.  I ran along the hills of Golf Course Road and along the path system of the Beaver County Country Club near my mother and father-in-laws home.

I logged miles 212-219 on my shoes that morning, knowing I only had 10 or 11 runs left in these particular shoes.  There were no bands lining the road, no high fives or finish clock in the driveway.  Just my first run since losing my good friend.

Upon returning to Austin I was very judicious with the runs I took my RFD shoes on.  In a way I think I wanted to make them last as long as possible.  I wanted to spend as much time as I could before putting them on for the last time.

Perhaps I knew that they were one of the last physical connections that remained between Dom and me.  I was not ready to let them go.

As I was packing for my trip this past week I looked at my training log and saw that I had only 16 miles left on my RFD shoes.  On the training schedule were 6 and 8 mile runs, which would put me very close to the 300 mile mark if I took my RFD shoes with me.

I would be training in two locations I had never had the pleasure of running before – Minneapolis Minnesota across the Mighty Mississippi River and along the waterfront in Toronto, Ontario.  If I stretched my runs to 7 and 9 miles respectively – I would be able to retire my shoes outside of the US running on Canadian Soil.

Seemed like a fitting way to gracefully cover the final miles, literally going the “extra mile” for Dom.

My run on Tuesday morning in Minneapolis took place on a warm, blustery morning.  A large storm was moving into the area which would bring the first snow of the year to the area less than 24 hours later.  I was greeted with a humid 62 degrees and high winds.

A bit unsure of my route I ran high across the Mississippi River along the Third Street Bridge and down onto the river trail, after a quick mile and a half I found my way onto a pedestrian bridge crossing back over the fast moving river below.  I headed west with the wind until my turnaround point and then turned on my heel retracing my steps.

The run back was into a strong headwind.  My legs and arms were working hard to hold my pace with so much resistance.  Two more river crossings, one higher than the next – one much more challenging than the last with the ever-increasing wind.

As I was traveling over the Mississippi River for the fourth and final time, I took the opportunity to look down below at the raging waters.  The river was powerful, relentless, and unstoppable.  I could not help but see the metaphor before me. 

Just as there was nothing that could be done to stop the Cancer that was taking Dom from Val, Sierra, Nico, family and friends – there was no stopping the force of that river below.  It was raging on, swallowing up everything in its path, and there was nothing anyone could do about it.  Especially me.

I covered the 7 miles at 7:09 pace.  It was a good tune-up for this coming weekend’s 10-mile race.

I returned to my hotel, packed my shoes away in my carry-on bag and started my day.  Meetings at the University of Minnesota, then a pair of flights that would take me to Toronto, Ontario.  After some weather delays and clearing customs and immigration, I made my way to downtown Toronto arriving a little after 10:00 p.m.

Just as I do at home I laid out my running gear before going to bed.  This way I can quickly rise, brush my teeth and gear up for my morning run.  Only 9 miles to go.

I left my hotel adjacent to the Blue Jays baseball stadium and wound my way down to the waterfront in Toronto.  I ran along a series of wharves and boat docks until finding myself on the lakefront run and bike trail.

A little bit chilly with the wind coming off the water, but the run was a good one.  I dialed down the pace a bit as I want to save my legs for Sunday’s hilly race course, running most of my splits in the 7:20-7:30 range.

When I heard my watch beep for mile 8, I knew that I was starting the final mile that I would ever run in those shoes.  I looked up at the domed stadium high atop the hill in downtown Toronto.  When I reached it, my 300 mile journey would be over.

Rounding the stadium outside the ticket windows I was running along hard, cold stamped concrete.  I could feel the pounding in my ankles and knees and knew that it was time.  As each stride landed, small shock waves were traveling up my legs to my hips, and I could feel every one of them.

Gone were the pillow-soft footfalls of April 12th, replaced be a much more weathered and “experienced” ride.  Our time together had come to a close.

Final Run 300 Miles Later

I know that reading about a runner feeling sadness over retiring a pair of shoes must seem strange.  But I can’t help it.  There is something about a pair of running shoes that is pretty magical for me.

I can look at those shoes and see images of all of the places we have been together.  I can see the road winding ahead of me along the shoreline in Cancun, MX.  I remember crossing over the footbridge down onto the river in Boston the morning before the Boston Marathon for my 2-mile shakeout run.

I remember tucking a note into my left shoe the morning before the Pittsburgh Marathon at the urging of my friend Ashley Kumlien.  While she was running across the United States this spring and summer from California to New York raising money for the fight against Multiple Sclerosis, she took time out to tell me to “Run like I’ll never run again”

I remember completing my run in Charleston, SC the morning of Monica’s funeral services, quietly sneaking back into Keith’s house and finding him, Garris and Fuller tucked under the covers in bed. 

I remember running the morning of Landry’s birth, just hours away from becoming a Dad.

I can see all of those moments over the past several months, just by glancing down and looking at the faded and tattered lettering on my Run 4 Dom shoes.

And of course, I can flash back to that rainy morning on May 2nd when I was able to pass through the finishing chute at Pittsburgh and was handed that medal for Dom. 

He inspired me to do more than I thought I could do.  Reach deeper for resolve that I hoped would be there when I needed it most and provided me with the tremendous gift of self-awareness. 

That we can all make a difference if we truly believe. 

Even an average guy like me.  

300 miles traveled.  Thanks for the memories, we’ve been through a lot together. 

I’m going to miss you.

It’s race week once again as this Sunday race number two of the Austin Distance Challenge will be waiting for us on Halloween morning.  Just two weeks after the first race in the series, the IBM Uptown Classic, this is the shortest turnaround between races in the series.

Race number three will be the Decker Half-Marathon on December 12th, followed by the 3M Half-Marathon on January 30th.  The final race in the series will be the Livestrong Austin Marathon on February 20, 2011.

I have to admit that I am still a little “beat-up” from the IBM Uptown Classic.  Many experienced runners and racers will tell you that it takes 1 full day to recover from each mile of racing.  13 days to recover from a half-marathon, 26 days to recover from a full, 3 days from a 5K race and of course 6 days from a 10K.

Closing .20 Miles - IBM Uptown Classic

I spent Monday traveling out to Minneapolis, which gave me a rest day from running.  On Tuesday morning I found myself in yet another training location and took the opportunity to run along the Mississippi River in Downtown Minneapolis.  Unsure of exactly where I was going in the early morning darkness, I found the river trail and ended up running a brisk 7.25 miles at 7:07 pace.

My legs were starting to feel like they were “bouncing back” from IBM, but there was still some tightness in my right quad and a little creakiness in my lower left side.  Nothing major, not an injury or really even the start of one, just some lingering fatigue from racing hard last weekend.

So with arguably the “toughest” race of the distance challenge on the schedule this weekend, I am feeling a little bit uneasy heading into my second race day in as many weeks.

The Gazelle Foundation Run for the Water 10-miler is a unique race.  The 10 mile distance is long enough to require strategy and pacing, but short enough where to run a good time and place well I am going to have to push it.

To complicate matters, the hills on this course are significant.  They come at the runners starting at the end of mile two and roll up and down, up and down, up and down over the next five miles.  Some of the climbs are extreme and will take a lot out of the runners.

Looking back at previous years, runners have run a lot of “negative splits” on this course, where their last five miles were run much faster than their first.  That is a difficult race strategy for even the most experienced runners to execute – which tells me it is more a by-product of the course than any “strategies” being implemented.

So on Sunday morning I will be racing a course I have never run before, at a distance I have never raced on tired legs from a tough race two weeks earlier.  The good news is I am in line for an “automatic PR” as it will be my maiden voyage at the 10-mile distance.

The bad news is that the first update to the Austin Distance Challenge Standings made their way to my inbox this morning and after only one race we find ourselves right in the thick of this thing:

Austin Distance Challenge – Race 1 Rankings

M: 40 – 44 Top 5
Andy Yaeger 37:31:00
Joseph Marruchella 38:06:00
Michael André Ford 38:56:00
Talmedge Matts 41:37:00
Jeffry Russell 42:57:00

When I signed up for the distance challenge, I really did not have a lot of expectations.  I did not imagine “competing” for an age-group title.  I just wanted to participate in the race series, race well enough to help prepare myself for the Austin Marathon and perhaps make a few friends in the Austin Running Community.

But the competitor in me looks at the list above and sees :35 seconds separating me and Mr. Yaeger after the first race.  Run well at the Run for the Water and we may just have a shot at an age-group award.

So once again I will be making a small change to the training plan this week and taking an extra rest day on Thursday.  My hope is that I can find a little extra “juice” in these legs and after driving the course on Friday I will be able to put together a race strategy that will allow me to hold my position heading into the longer endurance events.

My hope is the literally hundreds of hill repeats we have run this summer and fall will show up on Sunday.  I have a new found confidence in my climbing ability and it should pay dividends Halloween morning.  The race starts at 7:00 a.m., which again, sets up nicely for this early morning runner.

I just wish I had a little bit more experience at that distance to really know after finishing the final large climb at mile 7, just how much we will have “left in the tank” to race hard to the finish.

It is shaping up to be an interesting race this weekend for sure.  Perhaps my training runs in Minneapolis and Toronto this week will provide me with some extra “mojo”.  Perhaps right now Andy Yeager is looking at his rear view mirror wondering who this Marruchella guy is and where he came from.

Being only 40 and a newcomer to our age-group this year, perhaps he thought he had a little bit of an advantage racing the “older guys”

We’ll see how things shake out on Sunday, at the end of the day I’m just running for my friend. 

I’m sure Dom would be proud of me no matter where I finish.

At the same time, I also know him well enough to realize he would be disappointed if I didn’t try my best.

Stop back for the race report on Sunday – should be a good one!

I woke up early Sunday morning with a big day ahead.  Little Landry Grace was going to be baptized later in the day as Uncle Keith and Aunt Kim had arrived from Charleston, SC and Denver CO to stand-up as Godparents at her Christening.

This was the first time I would be able to see Keith since I had traveled out to Charleston in August for his wife Monica’s memorial service.  That was an incredibly hard time for Keith, losing his wife of 10 years and Mother to his two boys Fuller and Garris just now 6 and 7 years old.  Landry was still a month from her birth when I made that trip, but even still, those few days taught me vivid life lessons on what it was going to mean to be a first-time parent.

I don’t think anyone enters into that period in their life without a bit of soul-searching, wondering if they have what it takes to be a Mother of a Father.  At least they shouldn’t.

But for me to that point, it was still something that was going to happen “later”.  There was still time to read all the books, talk with Dawn, reflect on my beliefs and arrive at what I thought was “most important”.

But that weekend, in the face of an incredibly difficult time, I really started to understand what it meant to be a “Dad”.  To be able to put your daughter or your son first, above all else, caring for their health, happiness and well-being, where anything else going on in the world around you takes a backseat to the task at hand.

I can still close my eyes and see Keith and his boys that weekend, getting them ready for the day, making their breakfast and lunch, getting them dressed, and of course tangled up in bed together in the morning – three pairs of arms, legs, feet and elbows going in every direction from under the covers.

I had snuck out for a quick paced 8+ mile run on Saturday morning after only a few hours of sleep.  Groggy for a lot of the run, but fueled by wanting to hurry back to make breakfast for the gang at the house and get the day started.

Keith and I had some shopping to do as he wanted to help fill Landry’s library with children’s books, we needed to stop by a local camera shop and take my Tri-Bike into the shop for a scheduled tune-up.  The day went by in a blur with a quick lunch at Chuy’s Hula Hut, and then an afternoon of College Football, an at-prompt photo shoot for Landry and a Low-Country Boil for dinner.

When the alarm clock woke me early Sunday, I was a bit sad that the weekend was already halfway over.  I didn’t want to miss any time with the gang, but the reality is the 26.2 Miles of the Marathon makes concessions for no one.

I had a date with a 12-mile training run on the refrigerator door – and it was time to go to work.

As I was stretching on the family room floor I could see the large Harvest Moon shining in through the upper windows high above me.  It seemed like a great morning for a little bit longer run, and it would allow me some “alone time” to really think about the day ahead.

A half-marathon seemed like it would be an appropriate ending to the first week of Austin Training, so I loaded a bottle of water and a bottle of Gatorade into my hydra-belt and snuck out into the darkness of the morning.

The temperature felt a lot more like August 24th than October 24th, 68 degrees with more than 90% humidity.  After only a few runs requiring a singlet so far this year, I was back to just shorts, socks and shoes.

I decided that since Brushy Creek Trail and I have missed so much time together lately due to the storm damage and my traveling – it would be a nice day to knock out the half-marathon along the trail system.

The moon was so bright in the sky, it felt like I had my own personal headlamp to light the way.  This was not meant to be a “fast” run, as I had run 8.3 miles the previous day at 6:47 pace.  Sunday was just a pace run, I was hoping to come in about :05-:10 seconds slower than what will be our Austin Marathon Goal Pace of 7:26 min./mile or a 3:15:00 marathon.

I found my rhythm quickly during the run and the miles seemed to tick off one after another.  The heat and humidity were ever present, but I was able to lock onto my goal pace and keep the needle nice and steady.

At the three mile mark, I began having “technical difficulties” with my iPod.  For some reason the volume was fading down to zero on its own.  I would pull it out of my pouch, set the volume again, and it would return to zero after only one song.

Something or someone was instructing me to “run quiet”, so I took down my ear-buds and ran the remaining 10 miles with just the sound of my feet hitting the crushed granite trail.  I was almost 11 miles into my run before I saw another runner.  It truly was a morning all to myself.

Miles ticked by at: 7:32, 7:32, 7:10, 7:12, 7:19, 7:31, 7:36, 7:34, 7:45, 7:42, 7:34, 7:35, 7:40

Total time 1:37:40 – 7:31 min./mile pace.  Perfect.

Big deal on your half-marathon this morning Dad ....

As I snuck back into the house, Dawn was getting Landry up and ready for a breakfast out, Kim and Keith were stirring and it was time to start the day.  In a blur Sunday went from breakfast to another Landry photo shoot, to lunch, a trip to the church to meet with Miles the priest who would be baptizing Landry and then the ceremony.

Dressed in her Christening Gown that was made from Dawn’s own wedding dress, Landry looked like a little angel.  Somehow she wound up in my arms for the church service and she slept through the entire thing without the smallest of peeps.

Landry in her Christening Gown

Passed over to Miles, Landry had water poured over her head, blessings and prayers passed over her and again, not a peep.  Just the sweetest little grin on her face that she has started to show us when she is happy and content over just the last week or so. 

So beautiful, so tiny, with a lifetime of endless possibilities in front of her.

As we went back to our seats I passed Landry over to her Godfather Keith to hold her through the end of the service.  I don’t know what felt better holding her in my own arms or seeing her cradled in Keith’s.

Afterwards a quick, dinner with Dawn, Keith, Kim, Justin, Tedd, Sarah and Neil – Landry’s big day was drawing to a close. 

A Christening and a Half-Marathon all in the same day, not a bad Sunday.

Keith and I parted ways this morning at the Austin airport, me heading to Minneapolis and Toronto this week for work, Keith heading home to Charleston and his boys. 

1,300 miles are separating us once again, but in many ways, we’ve never been closer.

Peer pressure is a funny thing.  I remember back in High School it revolved mostly around girls, beer, girls, cars, girls, smoking, girls and well, girls.

Now 43 years old, a beautiful wife and baby daughter at home, you would think that I would be more or less “immune” to the trappings of peer pressure.  But alas, I guess I am not as strong as one would think.

On Thursday I registered for the Austin Distance Challenge.

The Austin Distance Challenge is a one of a kind series of races here in the Austin area that are put on by local businesses, non-profits and supporting charities.  To participate runners are required to compete in and complete all five races in the series, wrapping things up with the Livestrong Austin Marathon on February 20, 2011.

The five races that make up the series are the:

IBM Uptown Classic 10K 10/17/10

Run for the Water 10-Miler 10/31/10

Decker Challenge Half Marathon – 12/12/10

3M Half Marathon – 1/30/11

Livestrong Austin Marathon – 2/20/11

Truth be told I had the first and last events of the series on my race calendar already.  It was a matter of whether or not I could work the 10-Mile Run for the Water race as well as two winter half-marathons into my training schedule for the Austin Marathon.

IBM Uptown Classic

I was vacillating back and forth, thinking about all of the pros and cons until I saw my friend Mick in the starting area prior to IBM.  During our conversation Mick got me excited about the prospect of running my first distance challenge. 

As my future marathon plans become more and more murky as I contemplate a return to Boston and several other races I would “love to run” in the coming years – this may in fact be my one and only Austin Marathon.

It seemed like a now or never proposition, but I still wasn’t sure.

After IBM I traded a few messages with my friend Andy, the same Andy who I came upon in the late stages at IBM, and he asked if I would be “Running for the Water” this coming Sunday.  He offered to meet me for a run over the extremely challenging course this Sunday as a “training run”, but I had to beg off as we will be christening our baby daughter Landry this weekend with Uncle Keith and Aunt Kim coming in to serve as Godparents.

Andy shared the course with me and how it will serve as a great training run for Austin in February.  Huge elevation changes over the middle portion of the 10-miler, as well as a killer ascent up over 150 feet in less than a half-mile at mile 6. 

The back side of the course is downhill returning along Town Lake to the 1st street bridge.  What a great test for a great cause I thought …. You know what …. I’m in.

So with very little fanfare and a few clicks of the mouse I was registered for the ADC.

I found out that at each of the races in the series I will gain a little “VIP” treatment in the form of tents and refreshments and even a special post-race party after the Austin Marathon at one of our local restaurants.

The race series results are tabulated after the Austin Marathon; there are overall winners of the series as well as age-group award recipients.  I’m not sure if we have what it takes to compete at the Age Group level, but we will receive one of the Austin Distance Challenge Jackets for our trouble – which is definitely a nice touch.

So thanks to Mick, Andy, Shelly and a few other runners here in the Austin Community – I’m in.

Next up, The Run for the Water 10-Miler on Halloween Morning.  It will be my first ever 10-mile race, and yes, I’ll have to run an additional 4 mile workout afterwards to hit my Austin Marathon Training Mileage for the day, but I can’t wait. 

This won’t be a “goal race” for me obviously as I won’t be able to truly taper and recover properly given my marathon training to “Go Big or Go Home”, but I do expect to run well and enjoy the event. 

I am going to try to gain a little something from each of these races, and for this coming Sunday it will be to stay with my race strategy and pace even though I know I am “capable” of running faster.  That will be a very valuable lesson for the early stages of the Austin Marathon when I want to attack the course and chase down a new PR.

That is foolish in the early stages of a marathon.  No matter how foolish that may be, it is also a trap that many an experienced marathoner falls victim to on race day. 

The next 17 weeks will have a lot of smaller “steps” that lead to the starting line.  The first 20 miler, my 21 mile longest of long runs, recovery weeks, hill repeats and tempo runs.  All geared toward showing up on February 20, 2011 ready to run the race of our life.

The journey has begun, we’ll just be taking a slightly different path to get there.  Thanks guys for the motivation (peer pressure), to take on the Austin Distance Challenge.

By all accounts Dom personified the adage it’s not the size of the dog in the fight, but the size of the fight in the dog …. I think he would be proud of me to be participating in this series of races. 

I’ll do my best not to let him down.

I woke up on Tuesday morning in New Haven Connecticut at 3:45 a.m.  Normally a morning runner, a 6:00 a.m. flight conspired to move our first training run of this Marathon Training cycle to Tuesday afternoon.  I would have to connect in Newark, NJ and then catch a second flight to Philadelphia.

From there a 45 minute car ride would drop me at the University of Delaware and an afternoon of meetings.  Throughout the day my running shoes sat in my carry-on luggage.  Silently, but all the while tormenting me.

Is it time yet?  Can we get out there and get this tempo run in?  We have a Marathon to run in 18 weeks.  Our best ever marathon!  Let’s get out there!

At the end of the work day I was finally able to gear up and get out there.  I had checked with the “locals” and it sounded like the “place to run” was the reservoir in Newark.  A Tuesday tempo workout was on the schedule and even though we were only 36 hours from the finish of the IBM Uptown Classic – I felt like a good hard 6.2 mile run was just what we needed to kick things off properly on the road to Austin.

Being able to mix in new running locations and training grounds is a wonderful gift for this distance runner.  Although there is the occasional stress that accompanies an unfamiliar route or chance of getting lost, the exhilaration of a new course is a “pro” that far outweighs any of the “cons”.

When I heard about a run around the “reservoir” I had a picture in my mind as to what it would be like.  It would certainly be a large circular trail surrounding a flat lake in a low lying area.  There would probably be a downhill stretch leading to the reservoir with the same uphill stretch taking me back to the hotel – but for a tempo Tuesday – it sounded just about perfect.

I banged out of the hotel like a kid on the last day of school.  I had all kinds of energy and was able to click off mile one at 6:52 without even a short warm-up.

At the Papermill Road Stop Light I made my left hand turn as I was instructed and sure enough a long downhill section appeared as I had imagined it.  As I reached the bottom of the hill, I found my right turn and started to head to the reservoir.

Just as I started into mile number two I saw a runner on the horizon ahead to my left.  They were clipping along about ½ mile away, but were high above my line of sight.  When I say high, I mean HIGH.  I turned onto the trail and realized that the reservoir that I was searching for was on top of that hill. 

Five years ago I would have been very discouraged.  I’m not sure that I would have turned around, but I am sure that I would have at least “thought about it”

Instead, I smiled.

10 weeks of hill repeats every Thursday will do that to you I guess.  I hit the trail and started to climb.  148 feet over the next ¾ of a mile, almost as high as a 15-story office building.  At the top of the hill I was rewarded with an incredibly beautiful 1 mile looping trail going around the reservoir.

Newark, DE Reservoir Trail

I glanced down at my GPS watch on the beep for mile two.  6:49 pace up to the top.  It felt awesome.

The run around (twice), down the hill and back to the hotel was a wonderful experience.  I brought the tempo run in right at 42:05 (6:47 pace).  Perfect.

The late afternoon run was a great end to day 1 of Marathon training.

Wednesday morning, less than 12 hours later, I found myself back out on the early morning streets surrounding the University of Delaware campus.  8 Miles were on the schedule at a relaxed pace.

I thought for a moment of exploring another part of the city, but the allure of seeing the sunrise from high atop the reservoir was too strong.  The temperature was about 43 degrees; just cool enough to require a long sleeve technical shirt and light gloves for the first time this year.

I took the pace nice and easy, legs turning comfortably in the 7:30-7:45 min./mile range very close to the pace we will need to run on February 20th to qualify for the 116th running of the Boston Marathon in 2012.

After my first of four loops around the reservoir I noticed a stream of runners joining me.  All dressed similarly in the distance, it looked like a team or group from the University of Delaware.  As they approached I saw the ARMY ROTC insignia on their matching shirts. 

A few good mornings and hellos were exchanged as we passed.  Lap after lap we passed each other, an aging distance runner more than 20 years their senior I was clipping off miles on my “easy” day at a much faster pace.  As I entered into my final one mile loop before heading back to the hotel I noticed that I was once again alone atop the reservoir.

As I looked to the west to see the sunrise breaking through the clouds, I couldn’t help but take in all of the amazing fall colors that were exploding all around me.  Everything was changing from the grass bordering the trail to the tree tops and shrubs 150 feet below.

Another smile crept across my face as I took in all the wonder of the morning and the fact that this not-quite-yet finished marathoner outlasted those “youngins” on their morning PT run.  This was exactly the start of the training cycle I was looking for.

Like anything worth doing I know there will certainly be bumps in the road to Austin.  800 training miles is a long way to go, but if the last 785.8 go anything like the first 14.2, I’m really starting to like our chances.

Today represents Week 1, Day 1 of Austin Marathon Training.  Sunday’s race at the IBM Uptown Classic served as a great way to close the books on my summer race season, mentally turn the page and set my sights on a return to the Boston Marathon in 2012.

As much as I would have loved to run a “Boston time” at last year’s race, I have come to realize that had that occurred; it truly would have been almost by accident.  Last spring Run for Dom was not really about “peaking” for one marathon, my training was really geared toward putting myself in the best position possible to complete two major marathons in 13 days.

When I look back on that training cycle and some of the obstacles that conspired against us, running that 3:22:42 at the 114th Boston Marathon was pretty damn remarkable.

Due to the shin splint injury I suffered in November, I was forced to take off three weeks from running in December.  Not a single training mile was logged over that time.  I gradually worked back over two weeks at the start of the new year and started my marathon training cycle 16 weeks prior to race day instead of the standard 18 weeks.

I was forced to limit my “run days” to four per week instead of the traditional five, mixing in cycling cross training to hopefully make up the difference.

Instead of three 20-mile training runs prior to race day, I only ran two and my weekly run mileage topped out at 45.5, less than I ran the last several weeks for kicks and grins.

Despite all of that, we hung in pretty tough at Boston only to falter late in the race as we reached heartbreak hill.  13 days later we took to the streets of Pittsburgh and completed the Run for Dom “double” making a real difference in the lives of Dom, Val, Sierra and Nico.  That was the real “victory” last spring.  My race results were not what I had hoped for, but to be honest, I’m not sure I would change anything about the experience if given the chance.

Run for Dom was never supposed to be “easy”.  That was the point.  But as I look back at my training logs and see just how “difficult” it really was, shows me how much strength I was drawing from Dom’s fight against cancer.  There was not a single workout missed, and not a single day where I thought, “poor me, why can’t I be healthy to train the way that I would like to”. 

All I had to do was take a look at the way Dom continued to fight each and every day to survive, and anything that was going on in my life was completely margnialized as it should have been.

Frankly, it is only now that I’m realizing that anything was “different”

So today marks truly a new beginning Running for Dom.  Austin is a race where I plan on training my absolute best and hardest to run my very “best” marathon in honor of Dom.  This race is all the more special as there will not be another marathon lurking behind it less than two weeks later.  One race, one day, where it all comes together like Pittsburgh in 2009 or like IBM this past weekend.

This morning the first of 88 training runs leading to the starting line at the Livestrong Austin Marathon begins.  In the next 18 weeks 799.70 training miles will be run to prepare for race day.

Last year I was able to run only 480.5 prior to Boston.  Back in 2009 when I ran my Boston time of 3:17:43 I covered 687.2 prior to the Pittsburgh Marathon.  I’m willing to go all-in this time and I’m going to do everything I can to prepare for the race of my life.  Anything less would do a disservice to Dom and his family.

This summer has been about getting back to full health, increasing our speed and our base mileage so that we can confidently and with great health add 16% more mileage to our training and preparation for Austin.  Add another 300 miles of cross-training on the tri-bike between now and race day and I think we have a training plan that will produce great results on February 20th.

Austin Marathon Training Plan

I will be almost two years older than I was in May of 2009.  Only a fool would dismiss that as a footnote.  I know I have my work cut out for me to run a “best ever” Marathon.  But I know this, I haven’t run my best marathon yet for Dom – I know that I am capable of much more than I showed on the streets from Hopkinton to Boston last April.  And certainly more than I showed 13 days later in Dom’s hometown.

This time the race will be in my hometown, on my streets and on last count I have a pretty impressive group of marathoners coming to Austin to race alongside me.  Never will I have had so many people in my corner and never before have I had Dom pulling strings for me from high above.

The first steps out onto a marathon course are something that I wish everyone could experience just once.  Runners and non-runners alike can appreciate what the final steps must be like.  Crossing the finish line after a tough, tough race, experiencing the joy in competition and achievement.

But it is those first strides, which you really remember when you look back on the race months later.  I remember the crowd carrying me forward across the mat at my first marathon in Philly 2006.  I had no idea what the day would bring, and whether or not I had what it would take to finish inside of me.

In Pittsburgh in 2009 I remember having a razor sharp focus over the timing mat.  I was going for Boston; I had trained harder and better than ever before.  I was in the best shape of my life and I was going for it. 

I still see that runner when I look in the mirror each morning.

At Boston the first strides felt like I was standing on the sidelines watching someone else take off for Boston.  The experience was so surreal, so vivid, I can hardly wait for the day I get back there and I get to take another crack at that course. 

I can do better.  I will do better.

Last year at Pittsburgh on tired legs, I remember a smile creeping onto my face as I went out on to the course, knowing that all I had to do was finish.  If I crossed that line running, walking or crawling it really didn’t matter.  I just needed to go get that Finisher’s Medal for Dom.

As vivid as those memories are, I always make a point to remember the first strides of my first marathon training run as well.  As I wait for my GPS to find its signal and glance down at the face on the clock which reads 00:00:00, I think for a moment about how far I will be traveling to the starting line on race day.  In this case just under 800 miles all for the chance to run 26.2 of the best miles of my life.

Dom, don’t you worry, I’ve got this one.  We’re heading back to Boston together.  I know it in my heart. 

I just have to take care of a few things first.

Have you ever woken up and known that you were going to have a great day?  Not thinking you were or hoping you were, but really knowing.  Well Sunday was that kind of day for me.  I remember showing up to the starting line of the Pittsburgh Marathon in 2009 with a great deal of confidence.

I had gone through a great training cycle with a singular goal.  3:19:59 and an entry to the most storied Marathon in the world at Boston.  I remember showing up that morning to the starting area, mind you this was only my second marathon, but I knew that I had a Boston time in me.  I had done all the work, had a great race plan and all that was left was for me to go out and execute.

I remember running the final miles that day with time in the bank and a smile on my face.  I was crushing my goal time and would finish at 3:17:43.  Since that day in May 2009, I’ve never had that same race day feeling.  Sure I’ve run well in many of the races since.  I’ve even posted a few PR’s that I was proud of.  But I had never been able to recapture that feeling.

Until today.

I woke up 5 minutes before my alarm clock set for 5:00 a.m., three hours before the starter’s gun.  Instead of rolling over and grabbing those final 5 minutes of sleep, I bounced out of bed and couldn’t wait to get going.

I had laid out my race clothes the night before, the only real question was whether or not I would be running “topless” or with a lightweight singlet, so I decided to pin my bib number to my race shorts.  I made my way to the kitchen, ate a bagel smeared with Peter Pan Peanut Butter and drank a bottle of water.

After stretching on the family room floor, I loaded up the truck, said goodbye to Dawn and made my way over to the IBM campus.  To park close to the start I would have to arrive prior to 6:45 a.m. when the road closures would go into effect.  I got a great spot in the parking garage about one hour and fifteen minutes before race time and relaxed by reading the newspaper online and went over the race course for the seventh or eighth time.

At 7:00 a.m. I was in need of a porta-potty as I had just finished my second bottle of water.  There was already a buzz in the starting area as a lot of runners and volunteers were getting ready for the event.  I decided to leave my asics trainers on my feet to jog up to the starting area and then back to the truck after my pit stop to shake loose.

I said a few “hellos”, took care of business in one of the many porta-potties with no lines (Yay!) and jogged slowly back to change into my race flats.  Due to a pretty significant mileage reduction this week, only running 7, 8 and 2 miles on Tuesday, Wednesday and Saturday respectively – I felt like I was running on springs.  My legs had a lot of bounce and with the exception of a little bit of tightness in my left hamstring, I felt ….. Perfect.

Race Shoes

At 7:30 a.m. I made my way back to the starting area, took a few strides and ran a relaxed ½ mile warm-up.  Just about that time my friend Mick showed up and we got a chance to visit a bit in the starting area.  Mick was not running on Sunday, but was there to “root home” some of the members of his running group from Georgetown.

A few moments later a fellow runner Tom who had been following Dom’s battle with cancer here on Run for Dom came by to introduce himself.  We chatted a bit and before I knew it we were assembling for the Star Spangled Banner.

I decided to in fact discard my singlet, and Mick graciously took it from me for safe keeping during the race.  The temperature was right around 60 degrees with very little wind.  Perfect.

Dawn, Landry and our friends Sarah and Tedd were going to be at the race, but due to the layout and the nature of the large looping course, I was unsure if they would be able to get to the start/finish area or if they would be out somewhere along the 6.2 mile route.

I knew that the first turn on the course would be to the right, so I found myself in a great spot, just short of the starting line on the right hand side of the corral.  As the National Anthem began I began to have a hard time standing still.  I found myself shifting from left foot to right and back again, nervous energy was starting to build inside of me.

During the last refrain I looked up at a beautiful TX morning sky and thought of Dom. 

In a way that is hard to describe, I felt a calm come over me.  I stopped bouncing and calmly edged up to the start.  I turned on my iPod and kicked off a new Playlist that I put together specifically for this race.   I rubbed my hands together, gave one more nod to the sky and tucked in with the first 20 runners at the start.

There would be approximately 1,200 runners participating in the Uptown Classic 10K, another 1,800 runners participating in the fun run portion of the event.  There was a lot of great energy in the starting area, a lot of young high-school and college runners who would be looking to crush the IBM course.  We of course were looking to “go low”, a new PR was the goal coming in under 40:00.

The last thing I thought of before the gun was an exchange I had with my good friend Steve Spiers from Virginia Beach.  Steve who is an incredible athlete and courageous distance runner has had a truly amazing 2010.  He has been running faster and stronger than at almost any point in his life.  Steve’s message to me on Saturday night was:

“Don’t take this the wrong way, but I honestly think you’re in sub-39:00 shape, and that quite frankly is quite a conservative prediction. I’ve been guilty of selling myself short in the past, and have found that confidence is a wonderful thing. Some of my recent race first mile splits would have scared the life out of the old Steve, but now I just tend to go with the flow and attack the remainder of the race.”

I don’t know if it was the message itself, or the source of that message – but it really struck a chord with me.  I felt like I had a great race inside of me, I just needed to have the confidence to put it out there.  To have the courage to go all-in and see just what I was capable of doing with this gift from above.

Days like this don’t come along very often in life I thought to myself.  Time to go to work.

Just like that we were across the mat and out onto the course.  Although I had never run IBM before, I felt like I knew every twist and turn.  I would be able to manage the corners, knew what side of the road to choose and exactly where the difficult parts of the race would be found.  There would be no surprises for me on Sunday ahead.  No blind turns or doubt about where to go next.  I felt 100% locked in and ready to rock.

Mile 1:  I had planned on going out right around goal pace for the opening mile given the uphill nature of the course.  I quickly dismissed that strategy as I settled in at the top of the first straightaway.  The incline was not slowing my turnover at all.  A 6:26 pace first mile at goal pace would definitely be selling myself short as Steve put it.  I decided to simply let myself go a bit and clip of the first mile at a comfortably hard pace.

A handful of runners were passing me over the first mile, but all were of the “collegiate runner” variety.  It is tough when that happens to not get caught up in “racing” the other runners.  I knew that despite the fact I was losing “track position” I was running strong.  No need to change anything.

I glanced down at my GPS at the 1st mile marker.  5:56 pace over the opening mile.  About :10 seconds short of my opening pace during a 5K.  No need to panic, it was fast, but felt just about perfect. 

Mile 2:  I backed off the pace just a touch over mile number 2.  I knew that this mile as well as mile 3 was very “fair”.  Basically a net elevation change of zero.  This was the part of the course to zero in on pace and stay smooth, consistent and strong.

I decided to grab a splash of water at the water station and was able to grab the cup, pinch the top, take a nice cool sip and even toss the cup directly into one of the waste baskets.  At the beep mile 2 came in at 6:09 pace.  My race plan had called for a second mile of 6:15.  We were off to a great start.

Mile 3:  Little did I know that this was where Dawn, Landry and company had set-up shop.  I had tried to look through a few of the crowds to sneak a peak of them, but I was running with a great sense of purpose and focus.  I was gobbling up the ground pretty quickly, and with my iPod blasting Green Day away at me, I never heard their shouts of encouragement.

Mile 3 came in at 5:59 pace.  Half-way there, just needed to keep it together.

Entering mile 3 on Sunday

Mile 4:  I knew by studying the course on Friday that mile 4 would be the last “easy” mile of the day.  It was the last mile before the climb back uphill over mile 5.  I didn’t want to “go crazy” at this point, but I didn’t want to play it too safe either.

I decided to hold steady with my leg turnover and see how close we could come to our effort over mile 4.  At the beep my GPS showed a split of 6:03.  Four down, two miles to go.

Mile 5:  The climb began just past the water station.  I grabbed a cup, pinched, sipped, swallowed and pitched all in one motion.  I knew upon first driving the course on Friday that this was going to be where the race would come together for me …. or not.

The elevation change turned out to be 84 feet over mile 5 or a little bit more than an 8 story office building.  I was feeling strong heading up hill, but knew that my pace was slipping.  It was still too far from the finish to really put the hammer down, so I decided to rely on all of the hill-repeats we have been doing this summer and fall to keep our form together. 

Just stay smooth and consistent I thought to myself, we are going to give some time back to the clock, the question was only how much.

I glanced down at my watch as I hit the Mile 5 sign on the course, 6:33.  Only :07 seconds slower than goal pace.

Gotta love those hill repeats.

Mile 6:  The early portions of mile 6 served as a bit of a recovery mile from mile 5.  I was feeling pretty good actually when I noticed a runner that I had been “chasing” for some time slowing to the side of the course.

He had just said “Hi” to his wife and child in a stroller on the left of the course which grabbed my attention.  As he slowed to a walk, I came up on him and as I pulled even I realized that it was my friend Andy.

I clapped my hands together quickly and shouted to Andy, “Let’s go, let’s go, you’ve got this” …. Sure enough in the next 2/10 of a mile Andy pulled back alongside me and took his place back ahead.  Andy would finish :03 seconds ahead of me on Sunday. 

8 years my junior, I can live with that – I know he would have done exactly the same thing for me.

Mile 6 came in at 6:13 pace.  I had recovered well from the climb at mile 5, it was time to kick.

Final .20:  As we made the turn onto the final straight away I could see the finishing chute and race clock in the distance.  The clock was still reading time in the 37 minute + range, I was too far away to break the 38:00 minute mark, but I was still flying along at a strong pace.

About 100 Meters from the finish I couldn’t help but smile and spread my arms out wide.

I felt like an airplane coming in for a landing and just as the final 2/10 of a mile at Pittsburgh in 2009 was a celebration, so too was the closing stretch at IBM.

I was hoping to wrap this final portion of the race up in 1:20, but was able to close in 1:15 (5:20 pace).

It’s tough to know how much time the “airplane arms” cost us.  But it really didn’t matter at that point.  A new 10K PR by 3 minutes and 1 second.  Boom.

Official Race time – 38:06, finishing 49th out of approximately 1,200 runners, 5th in our age group.

IBM Marked the end point of our summer race season and the start to Austin Marathon training that starts on Monday morning.  We entered May with a 19:43 minute 5K PR which now sits at 18:12.  I had never raced at the 10K distance before, and now have a PR of less than 39:00 minutes.  Most importantly we leave October a much stronger, faster and more confident runner.

I look forward to enjoying this race today and tomorrow, then getting ready to get back to work on Tuesday from Connecticut as we take our first strides toward the starting line of the Austin Marathon.

One thing I know for sure is that we have more left to give.  I have yet to run my best marathon. 

There are no guarantees in marathoning, that race is a cruel, cruel distance that can test a runner like no other.  But the one thing I can guarantee is that we are going to give our all during this training cycle to toe the starting line with the same confidence in our race preparation as we did this morning.

February 20, 2011 – the 20th running of the Austin Marathon, Boom goes the dynamite.