Archive for November, 2011

In 139 days I will be standing on East Main Street in Hopkinton, MA ready for the 116th running of the Boston Marathon.  This will be my seventh marathon and second Boston. 

And for the seventh time in seven attempts, I will be training differently for this race than I have for every other marathon to this point.  My goal for this race is simple.  I want to PR.


Running a 3 hour time would be tremendous.

A sub 3:05:00?  Wow.

But really, the thing that I want to do more than anything is to come through the chute in Boston and erase the memories of my race in 2010.  I have never finished a marathon feeling more beaten by the distance than I did on April 16th of that year.  The course started to test me just past the half-way point as we entered Newton, MA and I did not have a single answer for the marathon that day.

Each mile to the finish was a battle for me.  Every hill no matter how slight felt like a mountain.  Even the downhill finish provided me no relief as I slogged my way to a time of 3:22:42.  At that point it was my 2ndfastest time in the marathon, but it left me bruised and beaten physically, mentally and emotionally.

Crushing Defeat in Boston

I vowed that I would train harder, harden my body, get stronger, and run faster.

591 days have passed since that race and I have thought about it at least one time each and every day.

I have indeed learned how to train harder and smarter, transitioned to the triathlon to give my body two more forms of exercise in cycling and swimming, and I have been able to stay relatively healthy.

I have set PR’s in every distance since 2010 from the mile to the marathon and set some of them multiple times.

But this year I want to set one final PR in the marathon and I want to do it at the sight of my greatest disappointment in this crazy sport of ours.

As I have reflected back on my race in New York earlier this month through 19 miles I ran the Marathon about as perfect as I could expect to ever run a race.  Mile after mile, split after split, hill after hill I kept the needle steady and ticked off consistent 3 hour pace marathon splits.

It was only as the course reached the Willis Avenue Bridge at mile 20 did my legs start to falter and the final hills took their bites out of me over the final 10 kilometers.  3:08:09 was a fantastic effort and an overall pace of 7:11 was a full :15 seconds per mile faster than my previous Marathon Best.

Hard to be disappointed in those results, in fact I am very proud of my performance.

But to be able to claim victory on Boylston Street this April I will have to be even better.  Better trained, better prepared, stronger and once again the “F” word – faster.

To do so I have spent a lot of time thinking about my approach to marathon training and will make a few tweaks to my workouts – especially my hill workouts tailored specifically for the point to point course in Boston.

But the one change that I am going to make which I feel will give me the most bang for my buck is to start running slower in order to run faster.

I know this sounds counterintuitive, but after looking closely at my splits from New York and some of my longer training runs (18-22 miles) – I have come to realize that top-end speed is not my nemesis when it comes to my particular goals for the marathon.

An 18:12 5K, 37:30 10K, 1:03:47 10 Mile and 1:23:55 Half-Marathon are all times that stack up very well for a serious attempt at a sub-3 hour marathon.  Certainly a 3:05:00.

What I need to do is make sure that my endurance is where it needs to be to be able to hold my target pace over the final stages of the marathon, specifically the final 4 miles after we leave the Boston College Campus in Chestnut Hill, MA and we push to the finish.

One of the “training mistakes” I believe I have made in the past is running my “easy” days and “recovery” runs too fast.

By not slowing things down on those days I have not spent as much time logging miles “on my feet” as they say and that has shortchanged me when it comes to my endurance training.

It also has made it more difficult for me to run even harder on my “hard” days.

For example, this morning’s 10-mile run at Recovery Pace was executed at 8:06 pace – taking me just over an hour and 21 minutes.

The same workout, if I had run it at 7:35 pace, which is still “an easy” run for me would have forced me to push a bit harder and not gotten as much of my “recovery” from Monday’s workout (8.3/6:56 pace) as I needed.

I also would have run a little bit more than 5 minutes “less” on Tuesday morning – which over the course of a marathon training cycle can quickly add up to a couple of hours of “less running” – shortchanging my endurance training.

One final product of “running slower to run faster” is that it will force me to stay patient.  To be quite honest, running “slower” is kind of hard.  It takes concentration and restraint to stay within yourself and not allow your legs to speed up just because it “feels good.”

This same restraint and patience is exactly what I will need on Patriot’s Day in Boston over the opening 14 miles to Newton.  Every :05 too fast I am on the front of the course is going to cost me :20 seconds on the back half, possibly more over the final 4 miles which have proven to be my “trouble-spot” in the marathon.

So these next 20-weeks or so I will be slowing things down on my recovery and easy days so that I can run faster on April 16th.

I’m working on being more patient.  It’s not happening fast enough …

I hope everyone out there had a wonderful Thanksgiving holiday with their family and friends.  One of my favorite meals of the year, I always look forward to Thanksgiving.

This year it was only Dawn, Landry, me and our 16 year-old dog Kayla, so I dialed back on the menu a bit and just stuck to the family basics:

Escarole Soup – more commonly known as Italian Wedding Soup

A small 7 lb. fresh Turkey

Homemade stuffing

Mashed Potatoes

“Holiday” Mushrooms – also a family recipe

Pretty basic stuff, but good stuff all the same.

I ran a little farther than I normally would on Thursday and stretched things out by a couple of miles on Sunday – but other than that, a pretty relaxing last few days of running and training.

But it’s race week this week as we will be toeing the line as part of TEAM CALEB for our good friend’s Bea and Jay’s son at Friday night’s Lights of Love 5K which benefits the Austin Ronald McDonald House.

Austin Ronald McDonald House

I haven’t raced since the New York City Marathon and have not raced a 5K since August 13th.  Our strength and stamina is in good shape right now, but our high-turnover, fast twitch running muscles are woefully unprepared for the all-out effort that makes for a fast 5K time.

I’m hoping to run something right in the 19:00 minute range on Friday night – it would be great to be able to crack through that barrier for Caleb, but I have to be realistic about our chances having not done any speed work in quite some time.

The race is more about giving back to our Austin community and making a difference in the lives of many families across the area who are struggling with a sick child.  It is also about Landry and I participating in the event for her (Boy)friend Caleb.

Caleb was born with a congenital condition – imperforate anus.  He also has kidney reflux and tethered cord.  Long-term serious issues that threaten Caleb’s life and development.

Most parents will tell you that all they hope for is a happy, healthy baby – that it is truly a blessing.  Seeing the things that Caleb and his family have had to go through so early in his life have illustrated to me just how lucky those of us with healthy children truly are.  It is a remarkable gift.

Caleb and his family have been working hard to find help for him and this search led them to Cincinnati where the top rated colorectal surgery team in the world resides.  The Smith family stayed in the Ronald McDonald House where the care and support the family needed took care of all of the daily worries for things such as food, shelter, laundry – all free of charge – which allowed the family to focus solely on Caleb and getting him better so they could return home to Texas.

The Ronald McDonald House has been doing this for years and years – providing countless families the support they need at the time when they need it most.

Caleb’s family wants to give that same experience back to other families with sick children.  As Caleb’s Mom Bea put it:

“It was such a blessing, in your time of greatest need to have a home away from home where they cared for you like family- every family with a sick child should have that. They helped ease the burden, comforted us and encouraged us.”

Landry has been practicing her walks in the evenings for the 1K event and Dad has been running and training as usual to make sure we are ready to do our best out there.

On the fundraising front – Landry has been doing AWESOME and is closing in on her goal of $400 before race day on Friday.  You can click HERE to see Landry’s fundraising page and read her letter about her good friend Caleb and what she is doing to help him and other children like him.

I’d like nothing more than for Landry to beat her Dad on the fundraising front.

As for the race on Friday – sorry Landry.  There will come a day when Daddy isn’t as fast as you are – but I’m sad to say, Friday is not that day.  You’re going down kid.

You gotta teach them at a young age how to lose gracefully ….

Thanks for all of the support everyone!  Hope to see you out there on Friday night.

The Real Story of the Marathon

Posted: November 25, 2011 in Training

As a follow-up to Tuesday’s post about marathon related deaths – I thought you would enjoy a historical telling of the “Real Story” of the Marathon as told by Michael Clarke who is a Professor of Defence Studies at King’s College, University of London.

I hope you enjoy Michael’s telling of the story as much as I did!

Everyone knows the original story of the marathon, right? This runner – whatsisname – ran 26 miles back from the Plain of Marathon to Athens, bringing news of the Athenian victory over the Persians, and he died of exhaustion after he gasped out his story. I have to say that I’ve always found this an improbable tale, even when I was told it in school. Why should anyone run themselves to death to bring good news? And can you kill yourself by collapsing at the end of one 26-mile slog?

In fact, the real story is better than the legend, and much more of an inspiration to today’s runners. For the Greeks won the Battle of Marathon as much by their running as by their fighting.

In 490 BC a Persian army of over 25,000 men (some accounts put the figure as high as 60,000), plus cavalry and some 600 ships, invaded Greece and began to ravage the coast of Attica. The target was always the city-state of Athens and their plan was simple: to land at Marathon, 26 miles north of Athens; beat the small Athenian army; then sail round the coast to invade the city from the south, where they hoped the gates would be opened to them by traitors within.

The Athenians could only put up an army of 10,000 men, with no cavalry and no ships. Their allies from the tiny city-state of Plataia sent 1000 soldiers. The Greeks were hopelessly outnumbered, but when the Persians landed, the Athenians and Plataians marched out to Marathon, a narrow plain by the sea where they could block the road to Athens. It was then about August 5 or 6.

This is where the running epic began. The Athenians needed help from Sparta – the Peloponnese city near the present-day town of Argos. Before they marched to Marathon the Athenians had sent the runner Pheidippides to beg the Spartans for assistance. He was a professional military messenger and must have been quite an athlete; able to cover dangerous ground alone, look after himself, commit accurate messages to memory and answer questions when he arrived.

If the situation was so desperate why didn’t he use a horse? Because the quickest route to Sparta was too rough. It had to be done on foot. The distance from Athens to Sparta is 140 miles and Pheidippides apparently did it inside two days. This is feasible – in 1982 three RAF officers (including a 56-year-old) tried the likely route and did it in 35 hours.

The Spartans would not send forces immediately. It was a religious festival in Sparta and they refused to set out until the full moon – this would have been August 11-12. They could not have reached Athens sooner than August 20-21. It was vital that the Athenians knew the bad news as soon as possible, and Pheidippides must then have run another 140 miles back to Athens with the dire news. We don’t know how long he took, but by August 11 the Athenians and Plataians certainly knew they were on their own.

Pheidippides had covered 280 rough miles in, at most, 10 days. He might have ridden some of the time, near to the Athens road, but he still covered almost a marathon a day, allowing for the time he spent fruitlessly in Sparta.

Faced with Pheidippides’ news, the Athenians decided that their best chance was a rapid attack of their own. At dawn, probably on August 12, they formed a phalanx and, to the astonishment of the Persian host, ran at them in a fierce assault. The Greeks deliberately left their centre weak and allowed it to fall back, but their strong flanks broke through the Persians and then wheeled inwards to trap the main body of the enemy in the centre of the plain. Once the Persians had been broken up in this way, they were routed and the Greeks pursued them over the three miles back to their ships at the north end of the plain.

The Persians rallied at the ships and a second battle developed which lasted several hours. It was here that the greatest of the Greek losses occurred, including that of Kallimachos, the commander. By noon it was all over. The surviving Persians had escaped, leaving about 6500 dead. The Athenian dead numbered under 200, the Plataians about 600. It was a stunning victory, but the Greeks knew this was not the end.

Now came another astonishing feat of running. The Persian fleet was already at sea, in the second phase of the plan, sailing round Cape Sounion to arrive on the beach at Phaleron and march against an undefended Athens. It would be 8-10 hours’ sailing. An advance fleet, probably with cavalry on board (for the dash into the city) had already set off before the battle had begun. Almost certainly, this is what accounts for the legendary 26-mile run of Pheidippides. He was running back to announce the victory, but also to warn the Athenians that the Persian fleet was even now on its way. Quite possibly he did die at this point, perhaps from long-term exhaustion, perhaps from wounds. One of the walls of the Acropolis is named after him, to mark the place where he was said to have collapsed.

More to the point, the Athenian army at Marathon had endured a fierce hand-to-hand battle, a running pursuit of almost three miles, and a second battle around the ships and the marshes. Now they had to race back to Phaleron before the Persians could land their cavalry. It’s hard for us to imagine how people feel after such a battle. Modern research suggests that hysteria, numbness, multiple minor wounds and, above all, sheer exhaustion form a complex set of reactions that send some soldiers into acts of casual cruelty, others weeping for their mothers, most into dumb lethargy.

But there was no time for any of this. The Athenians who were freshest set off as fast as they could to cover the distance back to the city. The rest gathered themselves up, some in formal units, others as groups of friends and neighbours, with their shields and equipment slung on their backs, and ran and trotted back as best they could in the August heat. We could say it was the first mass marathon – not exactly a fun run – but all runners will understand the sort of help and support they must have been giving each other, and the reception of the Athenian populace who came out onto the Phaleron road to bring food and supplies to them.

By late afternoon it had become a straight race; the Persian fleet rounding Cape Sounion as the fastest Greek soldiers ran south through Vrana, Kephista, into the city and out again towards the coast. The first Athenians at Phaleron made it in five or six hours, only an hour ahead of the advance ships of the Persian fleet. Their victory in this race was critical.

The Persians couldn’t believe their eyes when they saw the troops, filthy, bloodstained, hollow with exhaustion, lining up on Phaleron beach ready to repel the landing. The Persians hesitated, fatally, waiting for the main fleet to arrive during the night. And as night fell, the rest of the Athenian army came limping into the Greek camp. They began to cook their food and, as the night wore on, the Persians saw more fires springing up on the ground behind the beach. By dawn, their worst fears were confirmed. The Athenians were there, over 9000 of them, ready to fight again. The Persians were still overwhelmingly stronger, but now the Greeks seemed superhuman, and Persian nerves failed. The Persian fleet hung around for a few days in the vain hope of an opening, and then sailed away.

The campaign was over and the ‘Men of Marathon’ were celebrated across generations for their running as much as for their fighting. They were the saviours of the city, and to have performed such prodigious feats it was assumed that they must have been the instruments of the gods. The legend of Pheidippides came to symbolise both the greatness of the soldiers and the role of the deities. There is a neat irony, however, in all this. The Greeks would have regarded our modern marathon as a grotesque contest, too specialised, requiring too much training – not what a gentleman should spend his time doing. Perhaps that is why they could only explain what Pheidippides and the other Men of Marathon achieved by regarding it as somehow divine.

Two weekends ago, quite sadly there were two fatalities at the Rock n’ Roll Marathon held in San Antonio, TX.

This past Sunday I was searching for news about the Philadelphia Marathon which was marking the 5 year anniversary of my first marathon in Philly back in 2006.  Instead of reading about a tremendous race in a wonderful city with near perfect weather once again the headlines spoke of two more marathon related deaths.

This has been a tough year for the sport of marathoning with respect to running related deaths.  Savannah, Los Angeles, Chicago, Toronto all experienced fatalities during their events this year.  The sudden and surprising loss of a loved one – especially while participating in an endurance event that quite frankly very few can understand who have not taken on the challenge personally – seems unnecessary and quite tragic.

Comments after each article contain some level of a public appeal to “ban the marathon” as it simply is not worth the inherent risk.

The reality is that there is a significant “myth” surrounding the dangers of the marathon, just as there is a “myth” surrounding the story of Phillipedes who legend tells was the first marathon related death in history.

There have been numerous scientific/medical studies surrounding the inherent risk in marathoning – which after pouring over races, participant lists and related deaths come back with an estimate that there is an expected mortality rate of roughly 1:50,000.

One study conducted by the British Medical Journal (BMJ) examined all major marathons (with a participant list of over 1,000 runners) between 1975 and 2004.  These marathons held over 750 different days included 3,292,268 runners covering more than 14 million hours of exercise.

There were 26 fatalities.

0.8 in 100,000 participants.

Now I am not for one moment trivializing even .08 of one death in 100,000.  That is .08 too many.

But as I left the office for lunch today and walked by the 9 individuals smoking cigarettes outside the building – what exactly is the percent chance that one or more of those individuals are going to experience a fatality directly related to their chosen activity or “pastime”?

Well, according to Life Science Smoking accounts for 30 percent of all cancer deaths and 87 percent of lung cancer deaths; the risk of developing lung cancer is about 23 times higher in male smokers compared to non-smokers; smoking is associated with increased risk of at least 15 types of cancer; or that smoking causes millions of deaths worldwide.

What does this mean?  To the happy and dedicated smoker, it means nothing.  The Internet is rife with pro-smoking sites dismissing these kinds of facts.  There are billions of people, the argument goes, and they have to die of something, even rare diseases.  Rarely are simple messages heard, such as the fact that about half of all smokers will die from smoking, and of these, about half will die before or around age 50. 

Similarly, research from the ongoing Nurses’ Health Study, published in May this year in the Journal of the American Medical Association, finds that 64 percent of nurses who smoked died from smoking-related causes.  The life expectancy for a smoker in the United States is about 64, which is 14 years shorter than the national average (which includes smokers), according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Going by these numbers it becomes clear that few pastimes, habits or addictions are deadlier than smoking.  Only Russian roulette and scorpion juggling come to mind.

I don’t see a requirement that before you pick up a pack of Marlborough’s you have to pass a stress test or undergo a rigorous cardio exam.  It’s a choice that individuals are making in how they want to live their lives.

How about wearing your seatbelt?  Seems like that should be done 100% of the time.


Drinking and driving?

Hell, I could make a case that eating Chicken Fried Steak is far more dangerous than marathoning, but I don’t want my neighbors showing up on my lawn tonight here in TX with pitchforks and torches.  (I do enjoy me a fine “chicken-fried” every now and again).

I think it is extremely wise for anyone who is thinking about taking up the sport of distance running to have a full physical.  I did so before I started training for my first marathon in 2006.  I was also told by my physician, a University of Pennsylvania Medical School Graduate with more than 25 years experience in practice that she would not be able to tell much at all about my readiness to train for the marathon by a simple examination.  My numbers, blood pressure, cholesterol levels all were excellent.

But if I had a genetic defect or a heart related congenital issue – it would not show up on any test.

The bottom line is that every runner who toes the line at a marathon is doing so for their own set of personal reasons.  They have weighed the risks and decided that the marathon is for them.  It is hard.  It is not for everyone.  That is part of the allure of the event itself, where athletes are there to test themselves and see if they have what it takes to do something that most others cannot or will not.

I can only speak for myself in saying that if I had not taken up the sport in 2005 I more than likely would still be at least 46 lbs. heavier than I am today (my weight before starting to run topped at 176 lbs.), I would be eating poorly and probably drinking a bit more than I should.

"Before" the Marathon and "After"

If you were going to lay odds, which “Dad” would have a better chance of being there to walk my daughter Landry down the aisle in twenty-five years?  Which one would be more likely to meet his grandchildren?

I’m putting my money on the six-time marathoner.  Run on people.

The 2011 NYC Marathon three weeks ago filled pages and pages of thoughts, feelings and emotions as I put together my race report (found here).

On Sunday, the running of the Philadelphia Marathon marked the 5-year anniversary of my first marathon back in 2006.

As I was reading about the Philly race online, it is amazing how vivid my memories of that first marathon still are today.  I can still remember being carried down the Benjamin Franklin Parkway heading towards City Hall in a sea of marathoners.  Making my way up the hill on Girard Avenue and past the Zoo and Fairmont Park.  I remember the sights and sounds at Eakins Oval and passing by the Art Museum Steps for the first time.

The run down River Drive to Manyunk and the 20 mile mark – and I of course remember just about every step of those final, painful 6.2 miles back to the Art Museum and the marathon finish.  It was one of the most difficult days of my life to that point, but also one of the greatest.  It presented me with all kinds of new adventures through training, running and racing – culminating in New York on November 6th.

I thought after having you read all about that day it would be appropriate to give you a chance to view it from the lens of the course photographers who tracked more than 46,000 runners 26.2 miles from start to finish.

I hope you enjoy the view(s)

Runners assembling before the gun on Staten Islandh

View of the Starting Corrals from overhead

Straight on View of the upper level of the Verrrazzano Bridge

View from the Bridge of the FDNY Fire Boat

Lower Deck shot of the bridge where our Green Wave crossed

Runners coming off of the Verrazzano

Welcome to Brooklyn!

Aerial shot of 4th Avenue in Brooklyn

Hitting the 10K Mat in Brooklyn (bottom right)

Hitting the Half-Way point in 1:29:45

Making the turn onto 1st Avenue

Racing in Manhattan along 1st Avenue

Crossing the Willis Avenue Bridge to the Bronx at Mile 20

Racing in the Bronx

Watching feet in Central Park, course still packed at mile 23

Form starting to falter over the final miles

Things got worse before they got better

Thanking the crowd along Central Park South – less than 1 mile to go

Just 400 Yards to go – fighting for every inch

Pointing to Dawn and Landry on way to the finish

PR Baby – 3:08:09




We are back to our normal 5-day run schedule this week, albeit at a reduced volume and intensity as we continue to focus on recovering from the New York Marathon.  Bouncing back from the marathon has been as different for me as the races themselves over the last 5 years.

In Philly in 2006 and Austin in 2010 I ended up needing to take some time away from running as I was nursing injuries to my IT Band (Philly) and some minor knee inflammation (Austin).  Coming back from the Pittsburgh Marathon in 2009 and again in 2010 I was able to gradually work back into my normal routine and mileage after just a couple of easy recovery weeks.  It appears to be the same thing this go round coming off of New York.

As for Boston in 2010, we never really got a chance to recover as we were racing another marathon just 13 days later for Dom.  That would be the same as me running another marathon this Saturday.  Yikes.  Sometimes I wonder how I ever managed to pull that off.  The answer of course is that the mind is a powerful thing, and I never let the thought of that second race creep into my mind.  I just knew we had another marathon to run for Dom, went out and did my thing. 

The final miles in Pittsburgh were some of the toughest I’ve ever run, but they were also some of the most rewarding.

There are three of variables that I think make a huge difference in a runner’s ability to bounce back from the marathon.

1.  Are you “running” the marathon or are you “racing” it?

2.  The course topography.

3.  Preparedness.

Running vs. Racing:

This one is a huge factor, just as recovering from a really tough interval workout takes more time than a long, slow, steady run of 18-20 miles – the same thing applies to recovering from a marathon where the runner is pushing the limits of their potential vs. another marathoner who is simply extending their training pace or comfortable long run pace to cover the 26.2 mile course.

My average 20-22 mile long run during training for New York City was about 7 minutes and 30 seconds per mile.

My first mile that came in at that pace last Sunday was mile 22 of the race not counting the climb up and over the Queensborough (59th street) bridge at mile 16.  I was averaging less than 7:00 minute/mile pace from the start of the race until the final 4 miles of the marathon – pushing the limits of my potential over the course and hanging on through the finish to a time of 3:08:09 (7:11 pace).

That kind of effort will take much longer to recover from than if I had simply locked in at 7:25 pace and ran a time around 3:15:00.

The added stress to the body manifests itself over those final 10 kilometers, resulting in literally thousands of small microscopic tears in the muscle and tissue of the marathoner.  Repair time takes longer with increased effort.  It will more than likely be close to 26 full days (one day for every mile raced) before my recovery from New York is complete.

Course Topography:

Another major factor in a marathoners recovery is the nature of the course itself.  A flat course like Chicago or Houston requires that the marathoner run essentially “the same” terrain for the entire 26.2 miles.  The pounding on the various muscle groups is virtually identical mile after mile and the wear and tear is isolated to those same areas.

On a course with rolling hills or an equal/alternating series of up-hill climbs and down-hill descents for many runners causes far less muscle soreness than a flat course.

The flat course may be “faster”, but the varying terrain actually allows the marathoner to utilize different muscle groups over the course of the race, resulting in far less post-race delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) and an easier recovery period.

Austin’s marathon course which is truly a hilly monster provided me with the most varied of any race topography I have ever traversed during a marathon.  I was “less-sore”after Austin than any other marathon.

Austin Marathon Elevation Chart


One of the most difficult races for me to “recover” from was Boston in 2010.  I had a very short time before marathon number two for Dom, just 13 days, but even still – Boston really uncovered some training weaknesses for me and left me exposed out on the course.

You’ve all heard the story by now I’m sure about how I was coming back from an injury (shin splints) before Boston and could only run 4X a week.  My mileage was dramatically down from previous training cycles and I did not do the requisite hill work that is now part of my marathon training.

That said, I simply was not a “prepared” runner for Boston in 2010.  I was trying to get by on heart and determination which are commendable and required traits for a marathoner, but I was simply not prepared properly for the race.  I got exposed.  I paid for it.

Coming back from New York I believe has been going as well as it has been because of my increased preparedness for race day, despite the fact that I have never “run harder” during a marathon than I did on November 6th.  My mileage, hill work, up-tempo workouts and racing all put me in a position to push pace hard and hold it there for more than 2 1/2 hours on race day.

The marathon is a race that seeks out any weakness in the athlete it can find.  The goal for the prepared marathoner is to minimize those weaknesses during training and then execute a race plan that will focus on their strengths for as long a period of time on race day as possible.

Reflecting on New York I’ve come to realize that I was “prepared” to run a tremendous 22 miles.  I took the marathon to a place where I have never taken it before.  My final 4 miles of the race, 7:46, 8:05, 8:04, 7:44 were nothing to write home about.  Sure the final two bridges, the hill up 5th avenue and the rolling hills of Central Park slowed those mile splits. 

But I simply could not hold strong over the final 4 miles.  Not like I needed to break the 3:05 barrier, which weather permitting will be our stretch goal for Boston after running another PR in the marathon which will be our primary goal.

Over the next few weeks while I get my body “right” and prepare for another run at the marathon I am also going to be getting my mind right as well.

Perhaps a slightly less aggressive pace strategy will help us stay strong later in the race in Boston.  That will certainly be part of our approach, but we also need to run more miles once again during training, just as we did on the road to NYC. 

Instead of 5 20-22 mile long runs, this time we will run 7.

In addition to our hill repeat regimen, we will start running “down hill”  hill repeats every third week to prepare for the downhill first 14 miles in Boston.  Strengthening our Quadricept muscles so that when it is time to climb as we reach Newton, MA our legs will be there for us this time.  Not deserting us as they did in 2010.

Our mid-week medium-long runs will be 2 miles longer than usual.

I will incorporate a few “two a days” to add some more bulk to our mileage diet.

Come April 16th we will be even more prepared than we were in New York.  We are going to arrive in Hopkinton that morning rock solid, with legs like steel and an engine that has never been stronger.

151 days to go.  Time to go to work.

Just this week our blog – Joe Still Runs for Dom turned two years old.  Longer than our daughter Landry has been alive.  Longer than Dom’s cancer battle, longer than a lot of things – much longer than Governor Rick Perry’s candidacy for President is sure to last.

Over the last two years we’ve run a lot of races, 37 actually, crossing finish lines from Austin to Boston, Tempe to Charleston, Denver to New York.  Pittsburgh to Wickenburg.  We’ve been fortunate to participate in some large events literally on the world stage and some smaller local events where we were running because it was the “right thing” to do.

To raise awareness and maybe even a little bit of money to help those less fortunate.  We tied our shoes just a little bit tighter in those events and thought about how lucky we were to be there just a little bit more than usual.  Like my good friend Ashley Kumlein told me the night before the Boston Marathon in 2010, I’ve tried to run those events, “Like I would never run again.”

Well our follow-up race to this year’s New York City Marathon will be the 2011 Lights of Love 5K here in Austin on December 2nd.

I will never have participated in a more important event.

Well over a year ago I received a friend request on Daily Mile (similar to a friend request you might receive on Facebook) from a local Austin runner Bea S.  We met each other through the athletes website and started to encourage each other on training runs and races.

Coincidentally my wife Dawn knew Bea through church and we were all very surprised when we connected all of the dots to realize just how small the world can be sometimes.  Bea and her family have been friends of ours ever since.

A few months ago Bea and her husband welcomed their son Caleb to Austin just a short time after we were blessed with our daughter Landry.  Already I was concerned about another man in Landry’s life, but Caleb is pretty darned cute and I figured it would only be a matter of time anyway before I was chasing boys off of our porch.


Caleb however was born with some serious health issues.  He was born with a congenital condition – imperforate anus.  He also has kidney reflux and tethered cord.  Long-term serious issues that threaten Caleb’s life and development.

Most parents will tell you that all they hope for is a happy, healthy baby – that it is truly a blessing.  Seeing the things that Caleb and his family have had to go through so early in his life have illustrated to me just how lucky those of us with healthy children truly are.  It is a remarkable gift.

Caleb and his family have been working hard to find help for him and this search led them to Cincinnati where the top rated colorectal surgery team in the world resides.  The Smith family stayed in the Ronald McDonald House where the care and support the family needed took care of all of the daily worries for things such as food, shelter, laundry – all free of charge – which allowed the family to focus solely on Caleb and getting him better so they could return home to Texas.

The Ronald McDonald House has been doing this for years and years – providing countless families the support they need at the time when they need it most.

Caleb’s family wants to give that same experience back to other families with sick children.  As Bea put it:

“It was such a blessing, in your time of greatest need to have a home away from home where they cared for you like family- every family with a sick child should have that. They helped ease the burden, comforted us and encouraged us.”

I don’t ask for help very often on the blog.  I enjoy sharing my passion for running and for life with all of you and whenever someone reaches out to me for training advice, injury help, coaching or a sounding board I am more than willing to give my time, energy or effort freely and without pause.

Today, I’m asking for your help.

I am going to be running as part of “Caleb’s Army” on December 2nd – hoping to help the Smith Family raise money for the Ronald McDonald House – the recipient charity for the Lights of Love 5K.

If you can make it out to the event to race, please do so and help make a difference for families like Caleb’s.

If you can make a small gift and help me reach my fundraising goal of $250 for the charity – thank you and god bless you.  You can click HERE to help or visit:

Landry will also be racing for her (Boy)friend Caleb on the 2nd with a fundraising goal of her own of $100.  If you would like to visit Landry’s page you can click HERE or visit:

If you can find it in your heart to help, I greatly appreciate your efforts.

On December 2nd we’ll be toeing that starting line as part of Caleb’s Army and I plan on leaving it all out there.  From Staten Island to Caleb’s race, I can’t think of a better event to return to racing.

Go Caleb!

This morning I hopped up into the saddle on my Tri-bike for my first ride on the trainer in 6 weeks.  I had stopped my cycling workouts as my mileage hit its highest levels preparing for the New York Marathon.  I’m a big believer of cross-training to help strengthen the legs, lungs and heart on my “off-days” from running – but as my mileage started pushing 70 miles per week, taking Monday and Friday off as complete rest days was the right move for this now 44-year-old marathoner.

It was great to get on the bike today and gauge where I was from a cycling standpoint – which was not very good actually – as I have the next four weeks to fully recover from New York and build my mileage back up to over 50 miles per week with a long run of 16 miles the Sunday before Boston Marathon training begins on December 12th.

That’s right – training begins again on December 12th.

That doesn’t sound like a whole lot of “down-time” which is actually a good thing.  One of the challenges I had last spring was that nagging little knee inflammation I had after the Ragnar Del Sol team ultra marathon in Arizona last February.  Just one week post-Austin Marathon I ran with the team from Wickenburg to Tempe and developed a sore inner left knee during the race.

It took 5 weeks away from running to clear the condition and I lost a lot of my previous fitness.  I started back slowly and it took me quite awhile to get back to my pre-Austin marathon “shape”.  In the weeks after Ragnar I posted consecutive run weeks of:

0 Miles

1.66 Miles

1.18 Miles

2.00 Miles

6.25 Miles

By then I was back to square one and gradually increased my mileage from 20 to 25 to 30 to 35 on up to  40 miles before starting my training for New York.

Health permitting that will not be the case this go round.  After running just 13.75 miles last week in the days after New York to get the legs moving a bit and get blood flowing back into the damaged muscles we’ll be back to a more “normal” schedule this week of 39 miles with a long run of 10 miles this Sunday.

I won’t run very hard this week, just relaxed pace to get some mileage back under foot, then increase to 45 miles next week, 48 miles the following week and then a 50 mile week December 5-11.

When we kick off our training for Boston we will already be up to a long run of 18 miles on Sunday and on 7 occasions this training cycle we will cover between 20 and 22 miles.  We will not be doing a lot of short racing this cycle, instead focusing on longer events with three half-marathons on the schedule leading up to Boston.

January 29th – 3M Half Marathon, Austin, TX

February 19th – Livestrong Austin Half-Marathon, Austin, TX

March 18th – Shamrock Half-Marathon, VA Beach

The hope will be to peak with a sub 1:25:00 half-marathon in VA Beach one month prior to Boston which should put us in the 3 hour conversation once again at the Boston Marathon.

I will be racing the Capital of TX 10K three weeks before the Boston Marathon to cap off our final tough workout of the training cycle and we’ll be racing another ultra-marathon event the first week of January with our “Where’s the Damn Van?” team from Miami Beach to Key West, FL as our “fun” events during this period.

I have decided to forego racing on Thanksgiving this year at the Turkey Trot as I need a little bit more time to recover fully from New York.

One race that I have decided to run in the month of December will be for a special charity – the Lights of Love 5K/Kids K which benefits the local Ronald McDonald House – I will be profiling that race on the blog this week as well as telling you about Landry’s Special friend Caleb who we will be running for as part of “Caleb’s Army”.

This will be Landry’s first race and we’ll be shooting for an Age Group award for her.  They have those things for 14 month old’s right?

So come back tomorrow to check in on the race details – Landry got some practice with Carbo-Loading in New York last week – we’ll make sure she is ready to go on race day in a few weeks.

Landry at NYCM Pre-Race Dinner


My approach to training for the NYC Marathon was very similar to my ramp up to Austin this past February.  I felt as if the balance of endurance training delivered through longer runs on Wednesdays and true long runs each Sunday with speed work through racing and hill repeats struck the proper balance.

I worked on varying my pace on Tempo runs and recovery runs kept my legs working hard but relatively “fresh” for my key workouts.

The one change I felt was necessary however was with respect to the marathon taper period.  Traditionally I had followed the generally accepted principle that the taper period should last 3 weeks from the final long (20+ mile) run leading up to race day.

Each week during the taper the total weekly mileage is cut down from 100% of your maximum mileage the week of your final long run down to 75% two weeks out, 50% one week before the race and then 25% during race week.

I have to preface my next statement by saying that every runner is different.  What might work well for one athlete does not deliver the same results for another.  Popular running plans are designed for the masses.  They are trying to address the needs of thousands and thousands of runners who have different experience levels, time in the sport, injury history as well as goals and aspirations.

It is tough to address all of those individual areas with a “one size fits all” approach.

The primary goal of any marathon training plan should be to deliver a well-trained athlete to the starting line, but even more importantly should be to deliver a healthy one.  The taper period allows the athlete to “rebound” from a  tough training cycle and recover before a max-effort performance in the marathon, but it does just as much good by allowing the nicks, bumps and bruises that accumulate over the course of 18-20 weeks time to heal.

As I reflected on my races in Pittsburgh, Boston and Austin I felt as if I had peaked about a week too early with a three-week taper.  Two weeks after my final long run I felt super-strong on my final 10-12 mile run one week before the marathon.

My legs felt strong, my turnover felt smooth and easy and I was chomping at the bit to race.

One week later I felt a little bit “stale” for lack of a better term.  My legs were a bit heavier, I had gained a couple of pounds that I was lugging around due to the decreased mileage and I feel that I would have been better off racing a week earlier.

So for New York I decided to shorten my taper period to just 14 days.  I removed essentially the “first week” of the traditional taper where mileage is reduced to just 75% of a runner’s peak mileage.

I simply cut my mileage to 50% during the first week of the taper, then 25% leading up to race day.  This added a 5th 20-22 mile long run to my training period which was another added benefit to the revised schedule, but I hoped that the major improvement would come on race morning.  I was hoping to feel very refreshed but not so far removed from my final endurance workout.

Like any “test” it is hard to measure the impact of a change in strategy or approach if you have more than one variable at work.

In a true test, I would have run identical mileage and workouts throughout the training cycle and only changed the taper period.  I of course did not do that as I also increased my mileage over the course of the training cycle by 8-10%.

That said, I can only go on the way my final shake-out run the morning before the marathon felt as well as the race itself.  Simply put, the two-week taper period won out hands down.

As I left my hotel to run up to the finish line in Central Park my legs felt simply tremendous.  I ran smooth and easy without feeling like I was working hard or pushing the least bit.  The 2.3 mile run came in right at 7:10 min./mile pace.

My pace over the course of the marathon the following day:  7:11 min./mile pace.

The result was a new Marathon PR by just under 7:00 minutes in a time of 3:08:09 on a challenging course.

As I put the finishing touches on my training plan for the 116th Boston Marathon this April I will continue to tweak the balance of my long runs, tempo workouts, hill repeats and pace workouts.

One change I will not be making however will be to my taper period. 

Two weeks appears to be the right balance between recovery and preparation for this marathoner.  In about 4 weeks we will begin our next cycle for our next and more than likely final dance with the marathon in Boston, changing over full-time to chase our triathlon dreams and aspirations.

This spring at Boston I plan on going out in style.

The 2011 New York City marathon surpassed the 2010 race as the largest marathon ever. 

A total of 47,438 athletes started the race with 46,795 making it all the way to the finish line.

As I was training for the race I had a lot of fun talking about wanting to beat Apolo Ohno’s effort on race day, but truth be told – I have no grudge against Apolo, in fact I think what he did to prepare for the marathon was pretty remarkable.  You could tell when you heard him talk about his training that he was approaching the race with a great deal of respect.  He trained seriously for the event and ran a tremendous first ever marathon time of 3:25:18.

Huge effort – he even managed to run a negative split on a tough course.  Sure he had his coach and a couple other experienced runners pacing him throughout the race, which removes one of the biggest hurdles for someone running their first marathon – running too fast, too early.  We even saw that issue rear its head on the Women’s side of the race where even a professional runner can make that same mistake.

But kudos go to Apolo for delivering a great race and for paying a great amount of respect to the event.

(I did beat you though Apolo by 17:16 just to be clear ….)

Another celebrity out on the course on Sunday was A.C. Slater.  For those of you who didn’t wach Saved by the Bell and only know him from his later stint on Dancing with the Stars or the host of “Extra” – I’m talking about Mario Lopez pictured below.

An admitted fan of Saved by the Bell – it was pretty cool to hear that Slater was out there on the same course as I was on Sunday.  He finished with a time of 4:12:07.

Former New York Ranger and NHL great Mark Messier finished in 4:14:27.

The top Male “Celebrity” finisher – if you want to call being a contestant on “The Bachelor” a celebrity, was Dr. Andy Baldwin who finished in 3:17:31, narrowly defeating another psuedo-celebrity  Ryan Sutter from “The Bachelorette” who posted a time of 3:17:58.

A great story was Olympian softball star Jennie Finch who ran to benefit the New York Road Runners’ youth programs with Timex donating $1 for every person she passed.  Jennie who waited until all runners and previous waves were released onto the course started dead last.  Her finishing time was faster than more than 30,000 runners finishing in 4 hours, 5 minutes and 26 seconds.   She surpassed her goal of raising $26,000 by more than $4,000.  Great stuff.

Model Christy Turlington Burns ran for Every Mother Counts in 4 hours, 20 minutes, 47 seconds. Restaurateur Joe Bastianich ran for Grana Padano in 3 hours, 47 minutes, 3 seconds.  Shonda Schilling, wife of former pitcher Curt Schilling ran for Autism Speaks in 4 hours, 58 minutes, 50 seconds.

Actor Michael K. Williams, from “The Wire” and “Boardwalk Empire” ran for the community organization Harlem United and R & B singer Mya ran for North Shore Animal League America.

Actor Gbenga Akinnagbe, TV chef Nate Appleman, TV chef Richard Blais, actor Paul Sparks, Manchester United goalie Edwin van der Sar and model Veronica Webb all also ran the marathon.

One of the coolest parts of the race when I look back on Sunday was that unlike Boston – which make no mistake is an incredible race and experience that I am looking VERY forward to my return match with in April – the NY Marathon is really “everyone’s” marathon.  Participants share the streets of Staten Island, Brooklyn, Queens, the Bronx and Manhattan with people from all walks of life racing for all different reasons.

They claim that for every mile run over $1 Million is raised for charity.  Just tremendous.

So with that I close my book on the race in New York.  Time to start looking ahead to a return to training and setting our sights on preparing once again to run the race of our life in Boston this April.

I sent in my new Marathon Qualifying time to the Boston Athletic Association which should move me up closer to the starting line by a few corrals for the race this spring.  A few thousand runners closer to the line behind the professionals and a few hundred strides closer to Boylston Street.

We’ve got a little score to settle with Boston from 2010.

Who know’s, maybe Zac Morris will be running Boston this year so we can kick his butt as well.

Can’t wait.