Archive for November, 2010

I wanted to thank everyone who has visited the blog over the past year one more time and announce our winner of the SPIbelt™ giveaway contest this morning.

Kristen Shuldt!

Congratulations Kristen, please make your way over to the SPIbelt™ website and do your window shopping.    I will send you an e-mail later this morning for you to reply to letting me know what SPIbelt™ you would like and we will get it shipped right out to you.

I also wanted to thank they great folks at SPIbelt™, right here in good old Austin, TX for the great giveaway item!

As part of the contest rules, contestants were to write in with their favorite post from the previous year and I promised to repost the winniner’s choice.  So with out further ado – the post below was Kristen’s favorite.

A LETTER TO 26.2 ….

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26.2 – It’s been two weeks now since we’ve seen each other.  I’ve had some time to reflect on our relationship and come to a conclusion about us.

Even when you and I are apart, I still think about you.  It happens on early morning runs sometimes when I let my mind wander or when someone asks me if I am a runner.  As much as I want to say “yes” to such a simple question, I find myself replying that “I am a marathoner” instead.  You’ve become a part of who I am and as much as I’d like to say I have you out of my system – I know I am kidding myself.  The fact of the matter is you are not going anywhere, and neither am I.

The way I see it we still have some unfinished business.  A score to settle if you will.  I’m going to be taking the rest of 2010 off from our ongoing battle to tend to some big things on my end, becoming a Dad for the first time.  But I just wanted to let you know that you haven’t seen the last of me yet.

Back in 2006 I thought that I was ready for you and all the challenges that you brought with you to Philadelphia.  I trained for more than six months and showed up confident, although a bit gimpy from a training injury.  You owned me that Sunday.  As the miles continued to build my inexperience showed.  You toyed with me through the first half of the race, but once I hit the river and approached the mid-way point of the course I knew I didn’t stand a chance. 

You made only one mistake that day, and that was you didn’t break me completely when you had the chance.  I limped home on an injured IT band in 3:58:08 – just under the 4:00:00 mark. 

You left me just enough hope that with hard work and more experience I could give you a fair fight.  In November of 2006 our scorecard read:

Marathon 1, Joe 0

I took most of 2007 getting back to full health and trained harder and smarter in 2008.  I decided to fight you on neutral ground at Pittsburgh in May of 2009.  I was a nobody that day.  Bib number 2506, hidden in a pack of thousands of marathoners.  You never saw me coming at you that morning and you paid the price. 

Quite frankly you didn’t have any answers for me that Sunday in May.  Bridges, Hills, Rain, Wind – you tried them all and I kicked your butt to the tune of a 3:17:43 and entry into the greatest marathon of them all, Boston in 2010.

Marathon 1, Joe 1

In April of this year we met again in Hopkinton.  You tried to trip me up with a training injury in December, but frankly I had too much at stake to let it bother me.  We were running for a cause this time around – and even though we had a return match just 13 days later, I didn’t hold anything back.  It was a fair fight and I wanted to see once and for all who was better.

Frankly it was you who surprised me at Boston.  I had heard your hills were tough and that you deceived a lot of runners with your downhill start to the race – but experiencing it for the first time was really something.  We fought it out over 3:22:43 and as much as I hate to admit it – you got me again.  I could make excuses about the late starting time, the 1,600 miles I traveled to our fight or the fact that I “didn’t have it” that morning.  But it’s my fault for bringing a knife to a gun-fight and you frankly kept me from achieving my goal of 3:20:00 fair and square.  Good for you.

Marathon 2, Joe 1

Which brings us to our return match in Pittsburgh two weeks ago.  I know you showed up with a lot of confidence that with only 13 days to prepare you were going to take me down once and for all. 

You played the weather card again, dumping a rain storm, heat and humidity on me for more than three hours.  But regardless of what you think about my finishing time – I beat you.  My goal was simple – to finish that race with a smile on my face and honor my good friend’s battle with cancer.  I was the hands down winner on Sunday – just ask anyone who was there to witness it.

Marathon 2, Joe 2

So here we are my “frienemy” – after four battles we’re all even 2-2.

I’m going to give you some time to regroup and think about how much you really want this next shot at me.  It may be that we finally meet here in Austin, TX – on my homecourt.  Or maybe you’d like to try to take me down once and for all at the scene of your greatest defeat – Pittsburgh.

The next time you see me I’ll have another person rooting for me as my daughter witnesses her very first marathon.  I hope you don’t think for a second you stand a chance.  So enjoy yourself for the rest of 2010, but don’t get too comfortable.  You’re going to look up one day soon and I’m going to be there gunning for you.  You better pack a lunch, because it’s going to be a battle.

There was a great discussion going on throughout the day over on Dailymile – a great interactive website where many runners, cyclists, swimmers and endurance athletes go for support and motivation.  The topic was:  Describe your first marathon experience and what would you have done differently knowing what you know now?

The timing of the topic was very appropriate as this past Sunday marked the four-year anniversary of my very first Marathon.  Philadelphia in 2006.

My first marathon experience was like a lot of others I suppose. 

Limited time and experience as a “runner”, I had only been running for six months or so before starting my marathon training plan.  I was so excited about the prospect of running my first marathon, I dove headfirst into the sport of distance running.

Without a great source of information exchange like Dailymile, I read just about everything I could get my hands on.  Books, training plans, Runners World and finally settled on a training program for Novice Marathoners put together by Hal Higdon.  Hal with more than 100 marathons under his belt, still running strong in his 70’s, had coached literally tens of thousands of runners to their first marathon finisher’s medal. 

I diligently followed Hal’s instructions, learned about the proper rotation of shoes, the types of foods to avoid, how to drink out of a cup on race day and of course how to “train”.  Even though I followed Hal’s plan to a “T”, there was one thing that I did not have and that was enough “time” as a runner.  Hal and many other Marathon Coaches recommend that runners have a solid six months of running at least 25 miles a week to establish their “base mileage”.

Joe & Hal Higdon - Pittsburgh Marathon 2010

I think that is sound advice for runners who are trying to “finish” their first marathons.

What I didn’t know is that even though I did have my 6 months of running 25 miles per week, there is a difference between “finishing” a marathon and “racing” a marathon.

I was hoping to run my first marathon at 8:35 pace, finishing in 3:45:00.

I was able to hit that pace over my training runs, but my inexperience as a runner and my body’s inexperience at logging increased mileage at increased intensity over 18 weeks was about to take its toll.

Over my final 20-mile training run I suffered a strain to my IT Band.  Iliotibial Band Syndrome is a fairly common novice runner overuse injury. 

The IT Band which is a long tendon stretches all the way from your pelvis down the side of your thigh and connects to the outside of the tibia just below the knee. 

You can feel the tendon on the outside of your thigh when you tighten your leg muscles. The ITB crosses over the side of the knee-joint, giving added stability to the knee.

The lower end of the ITB passes over the outer edge of the lateral femoral condyle, the area where the lower part of the femur (thighbone) bulges out above the knee joint. When the knee is bent and straightened, the tendon glides across the edge of the femoral condyle

When inflamed the tendon does not “glide” over that area, it more or less “rubs”, becomes more inflamed and causes pain to the outside of the knee.

I had hoped that the 3 week “taper” period would let the area “calm down” prior to race day, but in the back of my mind I knew I was in for some problems.  My longest run during the taper was 12 miles and at the end of that run, my IT Band was barking at me.

During my shorter runs leading up to race day I felt “o.k.” – essentially I was just hoping for the best.  That my knee would keep itself together for 3 hours and 45 minutes.

Not even close.

At the mile 12 mark I was running right on pace, but as the course began to climb up hill towards Drexel University the pain was back.  Each stride irritated my IT Band more and by mile 14 I was in pain.  Not one to give up, I soldiered on, 16 became 18, 18 became 20.  As I hit the turnaround point in Manyunk I had 6.2 miles to go.  Every step was farther than I had ever run previously as my training runs topped out at 20 miles.

My stride shortened as I tried to take pressure off of my knee.  I never stopped moving.  I never walked, not a single step and finished in 3:58:08.

Mile 12 Philadelphia Marathon

So looking back, what did I learn?

I learned a lot about the sport that day to be honest.  I learned that marathoning is hard.  It is challenging.  The race distance is designed to uncover flaws in the athlete.  If you are not “perfect” or your training has missed certain key areas such as hill work or tempo runs, you are going to pay a price on race day.  The Marathon will expose you.

I learned a lot about myself that day as well.  I learned that I did not have the base-mileage necessary to train and race a marathon.  I learned that I needed to run more hills.  I needed to gradually build my mileage base and my speed, so that any gains I made would not be undone by missing training time due to injury.  I learned that I needed to be patient and let these improvements come on their own schedule, not on mine.

I also learned that I was a Marathoner that day. 

Not just a runner who ran a Marathon.

So here we sit a little less than 14 weeks away from the starter’s gun at Austin.

My hometown race, in the best shape of my life at 43 years, 3 months and 16 days old.

I feel like for the first time my desire to excel at the marathon distance matches my capability to do so.

I feel like I have a great race in me.

A race that I wish I had been able to run for Dom in April last year at Boston.  There were a lot of things going against us that day, which I have thought about, analyzed, thought about some more and learned from.

I’m done with April 19, 2010 today.  I’ve learned everything that I can from that race.

It’s time to look forward, forward to February 20, 2011. 

The day we run our best ever marathon.

Sunday morning arrived leaving 14 weeks until the starter’s gun will sound and we will take our first strides toward the finish line of the Austin Marathon. 14 weeks sounds like a lot of time to prepare, but from a training perspective, it goes by in the blink of an eye.

One day you feel like you are coasting through 12 mile training runs, the next thing you know you are entering the taper and Marathon Sunday is just a week or two away.

Sunday also marked the four year anniversary of our very first marathon – Philadelphia, 2006.

I thought a lot about my first marathon on Sunday, how far I’ve come since then and how far I still would like to go in this sport. That first race was a celebration of my first attempt at training for the marathon.

My first ever 12 mile run, 14 mile run, 16 mile run, 20 mile run and of course, my first ever 26.2 miler.

In my ramp up for Philadelphia looking back with 20-20 hindsight, my running history and base mileage did not equal my heart and desire. I trained a bit too hard. I pushed a bit too much and in turn, ended up with a very sore Iliotibial Band (IT Band) that blew up on me at the 12 mile mark on race day.

The final 14.2 miles of the 2006 Philadelphia Marathon were a struggle. I was in a world of hurt, but never thought about quitting or giving in. I finally came through the finishing cute in 3:58:08 and earned my first Marathon Finisher’s Medal.

I learned a lot that day. I have learned even more in the 4 years since, and feel like my training and base mileage are finally at the point where they are close to matching my heart and desire to run my best-ever marathon.

Sunday morning was a run that I was looking forward to all week long. 15-16 miles were on the schedule, but I knew I was going 16. I also knew that after a pretty tough week of training, my legs would be a bit fatigued, but strong enough to run well.

I set out to run what would amount to “two” 8-milers. The first 8 miles at a comfortable pace, something between 7:20 and 7:25 minutes per mile. Over the second 8 miles, I was looking for a negative split or “faster” than the first half of my run. Something between 7:10 and 7:15 minutes per mile pace.

A workout that I was not capable of back in 2006 due to both my level of fitness, but also something just as valuable for a marathoner, my level of patience.

They say the marathon is a thinking man’s (or woman’s) race. I never fully understood that comment until I started racing shorter distances this year. You can’t attack the marathon as you can a 5K or 10K race. Pushing yourself to the limits of your speed and stamina from the start.

You have to have a sound plan and you have to have the patience to stick to that plan. Go out too fast and risk blowing up on the course. Go out too slow or not manage your pace effectively, and you will miss your time goal.

So Sunday was a great test early in my marathon training cycle. I was able to work on my pace, try out a new pair of shoes and start working on my nutrition plan for race day by incorporating the gels that I will be using at Austin in February at mile 5 and mile 10.

I left the house shortly after 5:30 a.m. in near perfect conditions for running. 45 degrees with light variable winds. I chose shorts, singlet, Moeben Arm Sleeves, my light gloves and skull cap. If I had my choice, exactly the weather I would like to see on February 20th for race day.

This run was the “maiden voyage” for my new Asics Gel Nimbus 12’s. A shoe that I have been running in for more than four years, but the latest “upgrade” from Asics. The shoes are a little bit lighter (11.3 ounces), a more ergonomically designed lacing pattern – and of course a new color scheme – bordering on obnoxious – but I really like the looks of them.

Asics Gel Nimbus 12

I chose the hilly route on Sunday as one of the features of the Austin Marathon course are quite a bit of hills over the first 17 miles of the race. Learning to understand your effort and pacing with elevation change is a key to racing well. It is something that was honestly “lost on me” back in 2006, but one of the things I have been spending a lot of time and energy on since our experience last spring at Boston.

The first 8 miles on Sunday went very much according to plan. After the first mile or two my new shoes seemed to lose their initial “stiffness” and started to cushion my footfalls quite comfortably. Although my legs wanted to roll into a quicker pace, I held myself back a bit and looked forward to my first three Clif Shot Bloks at mile 5.

Bought in bulk from Zombie Runner

It had been since the 2nd of May since I took in any fuel on a training run, but just like old times I was able to pop the package out of my Moeben Sleeve, drop each Blok into my mouth, a quick bite in half, followed by a swallow and we were hitting our water bottle to wash them down in stride.

Splits for the first 8 miles came in at:

7:24, 7:27, 7:17, 7:16, 7:15, 7:27, 7:20, 7:22

Mile 9 features a little bit of a climb on this route, it was time to pick up the pace a little bit, so I got “up on my toes” and started to gradually increase my leg turnover.

Still no traffic on the early morning Austin streets, I had the road virtually all to myself. Very different than the experience will be on February 20th, surrounded by runners and spectators at every step, I enjoyed the solitude however and started to push a little bit harder.

At mile 10 I took in three more Clif Shot Bloks, washed down with some Gatorade this time, another change to my fueling as up until this training cycle I had used only water on my training runs. I think that took a toll on me at Boston last year, so now I will be alternating between water and electrolyte replacement during my runs of 15 miles and longer.

Before I knew it I was pushing onto Brushy Creek Trail and the climb to the top of the dam. Only 4 miles to go and I was feeling just about perfect. I glanced down at my watch for the first time in several miles and saw that we crested the last big climb at 7:13 pace. Feeling good, feeling strong – and I started to think about the closing miles at Austin in February.

How would my legs feel at that point? How much would I have left? What kind of time will I be capable of that day? I let my legs go a bit and knew I was clipping along at close to 7:00 minutes per mile pace.

I popped out of the trail system about 4/10 of a mile from the house. My watch was sitting at 15.80 miles meaning we would push just a bit past the 16 mile mark for the run. Up the final hill I had plenty left and kicked through the driveway.

16.20 miles – 1:57:11 at 7:14 pace.

Splits over the final 8 miles:

7:21, 7:12, 7:14, 7:05, 7:13, 7:05, 7:02, 6:48

Sunday’s run wrapped up one of our best training weeks ever.

6.2 miles on Tuesday – Easy run in 46 minutes 10 seconds.

8.3 miles on Wednesday – 7:00 minute/mile effort over hills.

10.2 miles of Hill Repeats on Thursday – Fastest Hill Repeat Session to date.

7 miles under 7 minutes/mile pace on Saturday – Tempo run with a closing 6:31 mile.

16.2 miles – hitting my goal for a negative split and sub 7:15 min/mile pace.

47.9 Running miles with another 16 miles logged on the Tri-bike.

We’ll be dialing back the distance and intensity just a bit in the coming “step-back” week, which I have learned to “respect” over the years. During Marathon Training I push hard for two weeks, and then dial it back for a week allowing the body to adjust to the increased workload and grow stronger.

Push hard for two weeks again and repeat. It is a formula that allows me to train hard and improve, but also stay injury free leading up to race day.

All in all, we’re off to a pretty good start for Austin. That goal time I had in the back of my mind this summer seems like it is in need of a revision. I’ll be working on that over the next 6 weeks and with two months to go we’ll lock in on our goal for Austin and train specifically to hit that mark.

As of this morning 73 Training runs and 610 miles to go to get to the starting line, don’t blink, it will be here before you know it.

To help celebrate our birthday at Run for Dom this week, I thought that it would be appropriate for me to give back a little something to all of you who visit the blog on a regular basis. 

I wanted to thank all of you who have supported our journey in honoring Dom and his battle with cancer, providing me with the gift of motivation, inspiration and support as I try to make even the smallest of differences in the lives of Val, Sierra and Nico.  Helping ensure that Dom and Val’s children will have the opportunity to pursue an education just as their Mom and Dad had always hoped and planned for them.

I wanted to have a giveaway that captured in some way the spirit of what Run for Dom is all about.  I wanted it to be “real”, I wanted it to be “Austin” and I wanted it to be something that would “go places”.

I wanted to give something that the recipient would be able to make theirs and take with them on journeys, much like I am able to take Dom along with me anywhere, anytime.

Thanks to the great folks at Overton Enterprises, LLC – I am able to have a great, great giveaway today of one of their SPIbelts™.   

The SPIbelt™, an Austin original, is a tremendous product for runners and non-runners alike.  SPIbelt™ the original Small Personal Item Belt – was the creation of Kim Overton, who while out on a run one fall day with her house key tucked in her sports top thought “There has to be a better way!”.

That story resonated with me as a runner who shortly after learning about the serious nature of Dom’s illness had the idea of Run for Dom pop into my head on a training run along Brushy Creek Trail here in Austin.

Almost four years later and the SPIbelt™ is seen at just about any race expo, race course and even running trail that I frequent throughout the year.

The SPIbelt™ is sleek, expandable and can hold any iPod, Blackberry, Cell phone, car keys, Gu packs, Gels, Road ID or whatever items you need to take with you on your runs, rides or walks. 

It has a heavy-duty adjustable strap, fits snugly around any waist and best of all does not “bounce” as you get those legs churning.  It’s pretty much ingenious to tell you the truth.  The SPIbelt™ has evolved quite a bit since Kim sewed the first hundred or so by hand and now even comes in all kinds of designer colors.

Everyone knows that it’s all about looking good out there.

So, what do you have to do to win?  Pretty easy:

Just enter a comment into the comments area below, and tell me what post on Run for Dom this year was your favorite.

The “Archives” can be visited by scrolling down a bit on the right had side of the toolbar just under the Calendar.

On Wednesday (November 17th) I will use a random numeric generator to pick the winner and post their favorite story on the blog.

You will be able to visit the SPIBelt™ website (here) to pick out your favorite SPIbelt™ to be shipped directly to you.

Thank you for playing along and many thanks to our friends here in Austin at SPIbelt™ – you guys are the greatest!

Good luck everyone and thanks for a great year at Run for Dom!

Joe Still Runs for Dom turns 1 today.

It is hard to believe that a year has passed since the launch of Joe Runs for Dom last November.

188 stories have been posted over the last year.  Some happy, some sad, some triumphant and some quite honestly crushing.  37,000 times readers have visited the blog to encourage, congratulate, inspire, motivate, cheer and more times than I would like to count, help me pick up the pieces after disappointment and hurt.

As much as I wanted to write something profound today, I find myself remarkably for me, at a loss for words.

The last year has been a very special one, filled with all of the things that make life so precious.  I cannot thank you enough for stopping by to check in on my good friend Dom as he fought tooth and nail in his battle with cancer.  The first story on this blog, an introduction really, was posted here just one week after Dom’s surgery.  Click here.

Life is pretty tough to predict, I think all of us who have been paying attention to the world around us for even the shortest of time have learned that lesson.  But when I look back over the past 12 months, I had no idea what was about to come my way.

There was a training injury in November that would put the entire Run for Dom effort in great jeopardy before we even reached Marathon Number 1 in Boston on April 19th.  Tense weeks of Doctor’s visits, PT and stretching exercises, anti-inflamatories and ice, ice, ice.  All in the hopes of getting back to it and taking on two marathons in 13 days.

As I was fighting to get back to training, Dom was fighting through his recovery from Surgery.  The procedure which removed his stomach, spleen, tips of other organs and a hot-chemotherapy “bath” treatment went as well as his Doctors could have hoped.

I remember visiting with Dom and his family at his Mother and Father’s house on Christmas Eve, incredibly thankful for how things had gone in November.  If we could only get Dom’s eating back on track, we were all very optimistic that his surgery was going to prove to be a great success.

I remember sitting in the kitchen where Dom grew up feeding little Nico a bottle.  My wife, was carrying our little angel Landry at the time, although very few people had any idea that she was pregnant.

I couldn’t run because of my injury, but I was training on the bike like a demon and doing all I could in the gym preparing for my first miles on the road to Boston.

As I got back to training, tentatively at first, I could feel the resolve building inside of me.  I was finally able to start gathering my physical strength to go along with the mental strength I would need to complete Run for Dom.

I was growing stronger, but Dom was growing weaker.

His nutrition still was a constant struggle and Dom was unable to eat solid foods.  All of his nutrition was coming from a liquid diet via a feeding tube.  He still had a few rounds of chemotherapy to go, and he needed to build up his strength before those procedures could occur.

On the fundraising front, things were going well.  We began accepting gifts hoping to raise $26.2K for Dom and his family. 

Yet another goal, a big goal, which I was unsure of.  But I knew that we were going to do all that we could to try to get there.

As the Boston Marathon approached I was starting to feel like my old self again.  I was about 90% healthy leading up to the race and even though I had to cut my run days down from 5 per week to 4 and could only post two 20-mile training runs instead of 3, I was confident as we made the trip to Boston.

The race at Boston was a tough one.  I never “felt it” at any point during the race.  Even the very first few miles leaving Hopkinton were a bit of a struggle for me – you can read about the Boston Marathon here.

I remember thinking about Boston in 2009 and how it would be a huge accomplishment for me, just an average guy from Austin, TX – running one of the most storied footraces in the world.  But a year later, the race was all about my good friend battling cancer.  It was almost fitting that the marathon took a bite out of me that day.

None of this was easy.  In a way, it never was supposed to be.  We struggled up Boylston Street with a time of 3:22:46.  Narrowly missing our requalification time of 3:20:59 to return to Boston in 2011.  It just wasn’t meant to be.

1 minute, 47 seconds short

Dom and I chatted after the race and he told me how proud of me and the effort that I put out there running for him.  All I could think about was how much I wish I had raced better.  That next time, when I got my chance at that Boston course again down the road, I had a little score to settle both for Dom and for me.

310 hours later I remember standing in the starting coral at Pittsburgh.  Marathon number two was stretching 26.2 miles ahead.  It was warm, humid and there was significant rain coming our way from Ohio.  Dom, Val, family and friends were all at the race to root us home.

All I had to do was finish.

I thought about the night before as I was waiting in the starting area.  Dom and Val made it to our pre-race dinner and we laughed and joked around like old times.  Dom ordered Italian Wedding Soup and could fight down only a couple of spoonfuls.

My friend was very sick.  The cancer that we had hoped had been taken care of once and for all was back.  I remember that being the first time that I realized we might not win this one.

Standing amid a crush of runners, crowding around for the race start, I couldn’t wait to get going.  I needed some space.  I needed to feel my legs underneath me.  I needed to start moving forward.

All I had to do was finish.

I remember squatting down below waist level of all the other runners and I could feel tears starting to track down my cheeks.  I popped back up, looked toward the sky and quietly asked for a little help.  It was going to be a long, tough day out there.  I just wanted to make it to the end and get that finisher’s medal for Dom.

The race was pretty incredible.  A lot of those miles were painful, some of the toughest I’ve ever run, but getting to the finish line was all that May 2nd was about.  We made it upright and with a smile on our face.  It wasn’t my fastest marathon, not even close, but it was by far my best.  Click here to read more.

After a quick shower at the hotel we made our way over to the Dor-Stop for a post-race late breakfast and spent some more time with Dom and his family. 

In the next week Run for Dom would reach its fundraising goal of $26.2K – mission accomplished.

June and July seemed to flash by in a hurry as Dawn and I were busy getting ready for Landry’s arrival.  I was starting to feel strong again on my running legs and took on a summer of racing to change our training plan and approach to build speed.

I knew that I was going to run another marathon in 2011, and I wanted to be sure that we were better prepared to achieve our Boston Time for 2012.

My 43rd birthday arrived on a Saturday.  Not a lot of hoopla when you turn 43, but I was looking forward to what would be the last birthday that Dawn and I would spend together before officially becoming “Mom and Dad”.

1,300 miles away there was an accident.  One of my closest and dearest friends, my best friend, lost his wife and the mother of two boys on a camping trip.  Before I knew it Dawn was dropping me off at the Austin airport and I was headed east to Charleston, SC to be with my groomsman Keith.

The week and weekend were very emotional and difficult.  Seeing Keith’s boys Garris and Fuller and the way that Keith took care of them during such a difficult time hit home for me.  About to become a “New-Dad”, I suddenly knew exactly what that meant.  Exactly what I needed to do for our little Landry when she arrived.

I made my way back to Austin and back into my wife’s waiting car.  It was a tough week.  One of the toughest I had been through in those 43 years.  Click here to read more.

It was about to get tougher.

On August 15th we lost Dom.  After a fight that I can describe as nothing less than heroic, Dom’s cancer proved just too much for even him to conquer.

Just two weeks after my trip to Charleston, Dawn dropped me once again at the curb outside our airport as I traveled east to Pittsburgh for Dom’s memorial service.  Click here to read more.

Traveling back to Austin by myself I have never felt so alone.  So defeated.  It all seemed so unfair, two young families losing a mother and a father just two weeks apart.  Children who were 7, 6, 4 and 1 would be growing up without parents who adored them.

What sense did any of this make? 

Two weeks later on August 29, 2010 at 9:51 a.m. I met my daughter Landry.

"Landry-Gator" home in Austin

For those of you with children, you know exactly what that moment felt like.  For those of you who have yet to have a child of your own, stick around, there is absolutely nothing in this world like it.

As Dawn, Landry and I were falling asleep in the hospital that night, I just knew that this gift was in some small way connected to Dom and Monica’s passing.

Just two weeks ago I passed little Landry over to my good friend Keith’s arms, Landry’s Godfather, at her christening.  Wrapped up in her gown made from Dawn’s wedding dress she looked like an angel.

Landry in her Christening Gown

I couldn’t help but think about Dom looking in on us smiling.  No longer feeling any of the pain he spent all of 2010 suffering with.

Now it is November 10th and our Blog is having its first birthday.

There is still a lot of work to do at Run for Dom, training and racing to help fund the education accounts for Dom’s children.  After the holidays we’ll get back to doing exactly that as we push on to the Austin Marathon.

Later this month when we travel to Pittsburgh, Dawn and I will be introducing Landry to Dom’s parents, one of the two promises Dom asked me for when we were huddled together at the end of the Pittsburgh Marathon.  I am very much looking forward to that visit.

Joe & Dom - Post Pittsburgh Marathon

The second promise?  I’ll let you in on that February 20th around lunchtime after the race.  Until then, I’ll be keeping that between me and Dom.

Thank you so very much for all of your kind words and support over this past year.  I promise to keep running and keep writing as long as you’ll keep visiting. 

Best to each and every one of you!

Sunday’s 14-mile long run at 7:08 pace wrapped up a great third week of training for Austin and took us one step closer to race day on February 20, 2011.  Monday’s training called for 16 miles on the tri-bike in the morning, followed by strength training in the afternoon.

This is the part of marathon training that seems to drag for me just a bit.  Still four weeks away from the first “real” long run of 17 miles on December 5th, I find myself looking ahead at this point toward what is coming next instead of looking behind me at all of the great training that is already in the books.

As much as my training schedule looks familiar stuck to the refrigerator door when compared to past training cycles, there are quite a few differences this go round.  There are more tempo runs sprinkled throughout the calendar when my legs are fresh and I am not in need of a recovery run.  Hill Repeats are featured on Thursdays in seven of the next fifteen weeks, replaced by pace runs on weeks where we are running 20 or 21 miles on Sunday as well as the final three weeks of the taper period.

But the real difference is the three race days that are on the schedule:

Thursday – November 25:  Hopewell, PA Turkey Trot 5K

Sunday – December 12:  Decker Challenge Half-Marathon

Sunday – January 30:  3M Half Marathon

The Thanksgiving Day 5K race in Hopewell, PA is the inaugural running of the event.  The race will start and end on the very football field where one Dominic V. D’Eramo, jr. did battle for the Hopewell Vikings.

Dom #13 Bottom Left

This was a race that will be pretty special for a lot of reasons on Thanksgiving morning.  Even though I will have to run home from the race back to my Mother and Father-in-Laws house, and probably throw in an extra couple of miles along the way to reach my 10-miles for the day, it will be well worth it.

For those of you in the Pittsburgh Area, I will be writing a feature about the race in a week or so with all of the registration details.  The race will benefit the Humane Society, so if you are looking to race, walk or simply meet-up with the Run for Dom crowd, we’ll be back together at the event for the first time since the Pittsburgh Marathon in May.

The remaining two races on the schedule are the next two events in the Austin Distance Challenge.

The Distance Challenge is something that I decided to participate basically “last minute”, but I am getting happier and happier about my decision as the weeks move on.  Racing is something that is going to help me really zero in on my pace for the Austin Marathon. 

The two half-marathons that remain are very, very different.  The Decker Challenge, one of the oldest races in Austin, features a traditionally very windy and extremely hilly up and down course around Decker Lake.  The 3M half-marathon is known as one of the fastest half-marathons in Texas due to its downhill course starting in North Austin and finishing a point to point route just past the University of Texas.

By the time those two races are in the books, I will have completed my three 20+ mile training runs and started my marathon taper.  I should be able to look back on the Distance Challenge and our performance at the 10K, 10-Mile, Half-Marathon (2) races and zero in on exactly the pace and race we are capable of for the Austin Marathon, barring any adjustments for health and weather.

As of the second update to the Austin Distance Challenge Standings we are currently in 10th place overall among all male runners:

As for the competitive 40-44 Male Age Group we are firmly in third place.  Still chasing a couple of runners ahead of us and fending off a challenge from the fourth place runner:

Male 40-44 Top 5

As much as I would like to run within the top 3 in the 40-44 age group and win a series award, the prize is truly Austin on February 20th.  We have set two consecutive PR’s running in the Distance Challenge, and the way things are shaping up, we might very well set two more at Decker and 3M.

As great as achieving those times would be, it really is all about Austin and earning another shot at the Boston Marathon in 2012. 

Stay tuned, it is going to be one heckuva run over the next 15 weeks.

Sunday marked the completion of Austin Marathon Training Week number three.  Just fifteen weeks left until race day remain and that means that our Sunday long runs are about to start getting …. well …. Long.

This week’s long run was 14 miles, a distance that we’ve traveled just a few times since the Pittsburgh Marathon on May 2nd.  Once the Sunday after Dom’s memorial service, once the Sunday after Landry was born, and a 15-mile long run two weeks before the Austin Distance Challenge began at the IBM Uptown Classic.

Over the next 15 weeks leading up to race day our Sunday runs will cover 14, 15, 12, 16, 17, 13.1 (race), 19, 20, 12, 21, 12, 20, 13.1 (race), 12, 8 and finally 26.2 at the Austin Marathon.  This training cycle is a bit different than the one that prepared us for our previous PR at the Marathon Distance back in 2009.

That cycle did not include any racing leading up to race day, and no tempo runs or hill repeats.

This cycle which peaks at a long run of 21 miles on January 9th is a bit more focused, a bit more intense and hopefully will yield big results on February 20th.

The marathon and I have a little bit of unfinished business to settle this go round, and if I am unable to settle this thing once and for all, it won’t be because I was unprepared going into it.

There are a lot of things that I enjoy about preparing for the marathon.  I enjoy the fact that it is hard.  I enjoy the fact that despite diligent training and preparation, nothing is guaranteed on race day.  I enjoy the fact that while the race itself is a solo mission, something that you truly have to accomplish on your own, there is a great sense of togetherness and of community on the course.  I enjoy the first mile, when everything feels perfect and I enjoy the last mile, when nothing seems to be working the way that it did just 3 hours earlier.

But one thing that I truly love about Marathon Training is eating.

Over the next 15 weeks I will burn somewhere around 70,000 calories just during my training runs.  Add in the more than 20,000 while riding the tri-bike and another 13,500 strength training and you have over 100,000 calories burned in just about four months.

That is a lot of “fueling” that needs to take place and for an Italian guy like me that means pasta and a lot of it.

Spoiled by a Mom who makes the best Spaghetti Gravy that I have ever had, when I went away for School, I was going to have to learn how to fend for myself.  Armed with an old Pasta Dish and a few throw away items from my Mom’s kitchen, it was time to learn how to make Gravy on my own.

Now a lot of you are saying, what is gravy?  Isn’t it sauce?  Technically Spaghetti “Sauce” that is flavored by using meat is “Gravy”.  A sauce without meat that uses vegetables for its source of flavor is “Sauce”.  It is more than a matter of just where you grew up.  Gravy is gravy, sauce is sauce.

Each time I start a marathon training cycle I make a huge batch of gravy that I will be able to freeze and store for my Saturday Night dinners prior to my Sunday long runs.

The process start to finish takes the better part of four to five hours, which you can imagine is a little too time intensive to make Gravy every weekend.  Especially with little miss Landry around these days, time is of course a bit more scarce than it was preparing for Boston and Pittsburgh Last year.

It all starts with preparing the meat that you will be using to flavor the gravy.  Meatballs need to be formed from ground beef, ground pork or veal, (veal in this case), moistened white bread, fresh parsley, garlic, salt, pepper, parmesan cheese and eggs.  The above ingredients are put together and formed into egg shaped meatballs (easier to fry than round ones) and set in the refrigerator to firm up.

Meatballs Formed and Braciole Ready for Cooking

Braciole is next to be prepared, which is flank steak that is sliced very thin.  The flank steak is seasoned with salt, pepper, garlic, parsley, parmesan cheese and rolled up into a long “tube”.  Either string or skewers are used to hold the Braciole together.  Sometimes I will also lay a thin slice of veal scaloppini on top of the flank steak and roll that inside the Brajiole …. Good stuff.

The rest of the meats are pretty simple, Hot Italian Sausage, Mild Italian Sausage, Beef Shin, Bone-In Pork and Bone-In Veal.

All of the meats are browned and set-aside to cool.  In addition Two or three yellow onions are peeled and browned to be added to the Gravy.  I will also place two or three celery stalks, A few cloves of Garlic, Fresh Basil and Fresh Parsley into the Pot in the last two hours to provide Flavor.

Once all of the meats and produce is prepared it is time to get the actually Gravy Going.

Canned Tomato Puree is fine – I like to use Cento when I can find it, along with canned tomato paste.

Depending on the size of the batch I am making, I will use between two and four cans Tomato Puree, filling each can twice with water and adding that to the pot as well.  Same goes with the tomato paste.  In this case 4 cans of puree, 8 cans of water, 2 cans of paste and 4 small cans of water.

The Tomato Puree needs to be brought to a boil.  After it comes to a boil for a few minutes I will add A tablespoon or two of sugar to help cut down the acidity and then reduce the heat to medium low, allowing the sauce to slowly “roll” in the pot for two and a half hours, stirring every 30 minutes or so.

After the initial cooking time, the meats and produce are added to the pot, allowing the gravy to cook for another 2 and one half hours.  It is important to stir and of course taste the gravy every 30-45 minutes to make sure nothing is sticking to the bottom of the pot and you are able to add salt, pepper, garlic etc. to taste.

Those final 2+ hours allow the Gravy to get nice and thick and allows the flavors to come together.  Great, great stuff.

By freezing the gravy I’m only a pot of boiling water and 12 -15 minutes away from a great pre-run, carbo-loading feast.

By having the gravey prepared in advance, it leaves time for making the pasta from scratch Saturday afternoon before dinner.

Austin Marathon Batch Ready for Freezing

A good general rule is a cup of flour and one egg per person to make the pasta dough, but this is definitely something that you have to do by feel.  Some eggs are bigger than others, sometimes the dough is stickier than others, so to get the right consistency, you have to add warm water or more flour accordingly.

After allowing the dough to sit for about an hour, I roll it flat on the “big board” – which every Italian Household used to have back in the day, cut the dough into long strips and then gradually feed it through the pasta maker to reduce the thickness.

When I have the thickness right where I want it, the dough will be put through a final cycle, cutting it into wide noodles, spaghetti or cappellini (Angel Hair).

After drying the pasta on a rack for a couple of hours while the Gravy is finishing up – it will only take about 3 minutes to cook fully in salted boiling water.

Check back in a few weeks as I usually get a hunkering for Lasagna or homemade Ravioli when the Sunday runs start stretching into that 19-20 mile range.

Nothing like training for a Marathon!  Yum.

Sunday’s 14-miler went into the books in 1:39:59 at 7:08 pace.  It was a fantastic run in cool 38 degree Fall Temperatures.  As you can imagine I was able to work up quite an appetite.  Don’t even get me started in on breakfast ….

Yum