Archive for December, 2012

The stats helper monkeys prepared a 2012 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

19,000 people fit into the new Barclays Center to see Jay-Z perform. This blog was viewed about 110,000 times in 2012. If it were a concert at the Barclays Center, it would take about 6 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

So with now just over two weeks to go to Houston I can’t run.

After coming through the chute at the Shiner Half-Marathon I felt a little soreness in my left Achilles tendon.  Nothing major, just a little niggle, perhaps from the loose stone mile during the middle of the race or maybe it was just the hazards of racing.  Regardless, it was a nagging little soreness.  Nothing too terribly rare for a runner training for a marathon.

I managed the situation the following week, iced, took anti-inflamatories and skipped one of my scheduled runs for a little extra rest, then on Sunday I ran my final 22-mile training run closing out the last two miles in 6:34, 639.

We were ready.

Now, 5 days later and I haven’t run a step.  The Achilles tendon is still not feeling “perfect” and I’m not willing to risk anything until it does.

Every day it is improving.  This morning it felt like it had rebounded to close to 90%.

Instead of running I’ve been on the TRI bike trainer keeping the legs spinning and hoping to retain the fitness that took 16 weeks to build.

The one thing that I knew I absolutely needed to have happen for a shot at a 2:59:00 marathon was 100% health.

The marathon is simply too cruel of a distance to race it when you have an injury – no matter how slight.

You can “fake it” in a 10K or half-marathon.  Suck it up and manage the pain without your form faltering or your speed suffering.  But in the marathon, late in the race it is a struggle to hold your stride and form even under perfect circumstances.  Once that starts to go away due to fatigue after 20 or 21 miles, the last portion of the race is just downright cruel.

It seeks out your weakness, exposes you.  Then it breaks you.  That is the marathon.

So with 16 days to go, things right now are a little unsettled.  By next Sunday I have to be running 100% pain-free and dialed in.  9 days, that is all we have for this inflammation to go away and allow us to have full function, flexibility and extension on our left side.

If we are not there by then, we’re going to have to pull out of Houston.  Plain and simple.

I’ve run marathons before.  Plenty of them actually.  I’m not in it to finish and I’m not racing for a medal.  There is only one goal this time around and that is 2:59.  If I don’t have a shot at it before I take my first stride, it just doesn’t make sense to push a bad situation, aggravate the injury further and spend even more time on the shelf.

But perhaps this is a blessing in disguise.  Marathoning is about the journey to the starting line as much as it is the 26.2 mile journey to the finish on race day.

Maybe after my back to back PR’s in December somebody was trying to send me a message.  Stay humble and remember exactly how badly you really want this.

If that was the message, believe me I’ve got it.  Dom, if there are any strings left to pull up there, I could really use your help right about now.

Just get me to the starting line my brother.  I’ll take care of everything from there.

Merry Christmas Dom

Posted: December 25, 2012 in Motivation

Dom – last year early on Christmas morning you might recall the sound of a runner’s footsteps crunching over the frozen ground over your head to kneel down and spend a little time with you before running back home in time to watch Landry open her Christmas presents.  It was a single 10-mile run in a year filled with more than 260 of them.

I remember it like it was yesterday.

Just like I remember the last time I spoke with you on the phone, the last time we saw each other after the Pittsburgh marathon and all the times in between after you got sick.  Just this past Sunday when I was running my final long run preparing for the Houston Marathon in a couple of weeks I pointed out to my friend Jim who was running with me where I was when “Run for Dom” went from a wild idea to a reality.

You once told me that your biggest fear was not that cancer would eventually take you from us, but that those you left behind would forget about you.

At the time I told you not to worry about that Dom.  That no matter what, you burned so bright during the time that you were with us, that we could never forget you.

Just this week my Secret Santa sent me a package filled with Red Rubber Band Bracelets – just like the Livestrong Bracelet you wore – that were emblazoned with Race for Dom on one side and “Crush It” on the other.

The exact advice you gave me about running my next marathon after we crossed the second marathon finish line in 13 days running for you in 2010.

I am going to proudly wear that bracelet in Houston Dom in a couple of weeks with your initials and the anniversary of your death on my shoes.

I have never been faster than I am right now Dom.  I have never been more fit.  I have never been better prepared.

But when it comes to running and racing Dom – I have a secret weapon that nobody else has going for them on race day.

I’ve got you.

So when things get tough down in Houston and I want to back off of pace to save myself for the finish, I know you are going to be right there with me, in my ear the whole time telling me not to give up.

Thanks for everything Dom – I know that there are people all over that will be thinking about you today, opening gifts, sharing stories and talking about their Husband, Dada, Son, Brother, Cousin, Nephew and Friend Dom.  They will be smiling most of the time, laughing a lot and crying a little.  We all miss the hell out of you Dom and not a day goes by when I don’t think about you still.

You were all-time Dom.  Just know that nobody has and nobody who knew you will ever forget you.

Make sure you keep your morning clear on Jan. 13th Dom.  Something special is going to be going on down in Houston that morning.  Just know you are a huge part of it.  Merry Christmas my brother.


As we were wrapping up our final long run of the training cycle, I was fortunate enough to be logging the final 16 miles of our scheduled 22-miler with my good friend Jim. He of the 2:59:00 marathon finish at last year’s Austin Marathon.

As far as I’m concerned, marathon royalty. Jim has in his back pocket the only PR that I really care about. The only race distance in fact where Jim’s personal best is faster than mine – but to a marathoner, it really is the one that matters most. You can have all the 18:02 5K’s, 37:30 10K’s, 1:23:31 half-marathon times you want, but just as 3:19:59 was once the measuring stick I used to judge whether or not I was a “good runner” trying to qualify for Boston back in 2009, 2:59:59 has become my personal Holy Grail.

21 days away from race day in Houston the two things that can conspire to trip us up on race day are injury and the weather. If we toe the line healthy on January 13th and get a neutral day of say 45-55 degrees and light winds, I am very confident that we are where we need to be to put ourselves in position for success on race day.

The plan on Sunday was to run easy until we were 2 miles from the finish, then run the last two miles “hard” as a fast-finish workout. Jim’s legs, just 14 miles in were of course ready for battle when we reached the two-mile from home mark. Our legs, now 20-miles in were feeling a bit heavy, but at the beep we dropped pace down into the 6:35-6:45 range.

I hung just off of Jim’s left shoulder and ticked them off. The miles felt every bit as challenging as they will feel in three weeks when we race to the finish in downtown Houston screaming for home. When we reached the 22-mile mark the watch clicked over to 2:59:52. The goal of the run was to stay on our feet for 3 hours. An adjustment I made a couple of years ago where running my long runs too fast were actually hurting me. I was only on my feet for 2 hours and 45 minutes or so, then asking my body to race for 20 or 30 minutes longer than that on race day.

The fatigue was palpable and the closing miles even more of a challenge than necessary.

Now with a 3 hour-long run in the books with the final two miles closed out at sub-marathon goal pace, our body and our mind have been there.

We know exactly what it is going to take on January 13th to make it happen.

As usual, these next three weeks are going to be hell from a mental perspective. Some days I will be brimming with confidence, others my legs will feel like concrete and I will wonder if I have the speed to run a single mile at 6:50 pace, let alone 26.2 of them.

Thankfully this is not our first rodeo. In fact it is our 10th. I know that no matter how stressed out I am, how little sleep I get the night before the race or how many nervous trips I take to the porta-potty on race morning once the horn sounds and we cross the timing mat we will fall into pace and our rhythm will feel natural. The opening miles will click over easy, the best we have felt in months.

But this time things are going to be different. In Austin in 2011 I thought we were ready to try to run 3 hours. I woke up to 68 degree temps. and 15-20 mph winds and knew our hopes were dashed before we ever got to the half-way point. In New York 9 months later I thought we were in 3:05 shape and we ran a comfortable 3:08.

Last spring at Boston for the first time I truly believed we were going to do it, only to have 88 degree temps. and no shot at even attempting to race the marathon on race day. We simply ran the course as a training run to stay out of the medical tents.

So what is going to be different this time? What do I know that everyone else doesn’t?

The difference this time is not only our level of fitness and how well we are running and racing, but our level of “want to” is at a point where it has never been before a marathon.

I have no illusions that things are going to be easy down in Houston. In fact, I know exactly how tough things are going to get. I got a taste of it in New York last fall. But having gone through it before has done more to harden my resolve than to create fear and worry.

Just as we did last weekend in Shiner, we can only run the race one mile at a time. Don’t look back, don’t look too far forward, just tick ’em off.

The simplest plans are usually the best ones. When the gun fires, we are going to run a 6:45. At the 10K mark, a 6:45. At the half-way point, a 6:45. When things start to get difficult around mile 17, a 6:45 and just like we did this morning, when all seems lost, our legs feel heavy and we feel like we can’t run another mile at that pace, we’re going to run another 6:45.

As Steve Prefontaine famously said before the 5000 meter final in Munich, “I’d like to work it out so that at the end, it’s a pure guts race. If it is, I’m the only one who can win it.”

Exactly right Pre. Exactly right.steve-prefontaine

Upon crossing the finish line on Sunday morning around 10:54 a.m. our 2012 race season was over.

13 events in 12 months starting in Miami, FL and ending in the small town of Shiner, TX.Shiner

It was by far the most diverse season I have ever completed where instead of the usual mix of 5k, 10k, half-marathons and marathons we competed in:

1 six-runner 200 mile team ultra marathon from Miami to Key West.

3 Sprint Triathlons.

1 Half-Ironman Triathlon.

2 5K Races.

1 5-mile Race.

4 Half-Marathons.

1 Marathon.

We ended up with a podium finish (Top 3) in 8 of the 12 events and set 6 PR’s along the way.  If you would have told me at the start of 2012 that we would have stayed healthy all year, logged more than 2,600 miles running and more than 4,200 total miles swimming, biking and running I would have thought that we had a successful year.

But having success show up on the race clock the way that it has as the calendar has tacked one more year onto this 45-year-old endurance athletes machine – I have to admit that I am pretty happy.  That is tough for me to admit as I believe that there is always some room for improvement, always a small thing — or sometimes a big thing — that I can or should be doing to continue to swim stronger, bike harder, run faster.

I am going to spend the time after the Houston Marathon recovering from the race doing exactly that.  I will start to put together my race calendar for 2013 and see what challenges lie ahead.  There will be no more marathons for me in 2013 after Houston.  We are going to get that event out-of-the-way early on the 13th of January.  I have an idea about where I want to focus my energies as I would like to take a serious run at my 10K PR of 37:30 at next Fall’s Luke’s Locker Uptown Classic and I would like to break 18:00 minutes in the 5K with our new PR sitting at 18:02.

Those two seconds are eating at me just a bit after last Friday Night’s Lights of Love race.

From a triathlon perspective, I do not see another Half-Ironman out there this coming year – although a return to Kerrville is not entirely out of the question.  But right now I feel like focusing on track work and improving my top-end speed is where I am headed in 2013 – having never really dedicated my training to that pursuit.  A sub 5:00 minute mile in May at the Congress Avenue Mile is something that is rolling around my head right now, but again, I think the goals for the year will come into focus after we reach that finish line in Houston.

Goal setting is something that I think is important whether it is in business, athletics or life in general.  Normally I would be going through that process leading up to New Year’s Eve for the coming year.  But this year things are a little bit different.  I set up 2012 in such a way that our race season would end exactly 4 weeks prior to the Houston Marathon.

Nothing left to distract us.  Only 26.2 miles and 179 minutes and 59 seconds to cover them in.

That is all I am thinking about right now.  Finish off this last week of endurance work which started with a 16 mile Tuesday morning run and will finish on Sunday with our last 20+ mile long run of the training cycle.

Then we will start the taper and get our body and mind right for the toughest race of our life on 1-13-13.

We have set PR’s in the last 5 individual events we have competed in.  Sprint Triathlon, Half-Ironman, 5-Mile, 5K, Half-Marathon.

The last two races quite frankly were among the most perfectly executed races I have ever run.  My previous 5K PR had stood the test of time for more than 27 months and over 15 attempts at knocking it off.

The Half-Marathon PR in Shiner on Sunday might have been my best “race” ever given the course, conditions and my previous PR set so close to my max potential in Virginia Beach last spring on a near-perfect day.

1st Place Age Group

1st Place Age Group

Now there is just one race on our calendar.  The first time that has been the case in more than two years.  The distance that has at times toyed with me, sometimes beaten me, but has never broken me.

The marathon.  This time is our time.

Houston.  You most definitely have a problem.

Sunday morning marked two important milestones. Our final race of 2012 and exactly 4 weeks away from the starting line of the Chevron Houston Marathon. Coming off of a PR in the 5K distance last weekend at the Lights of Love 5K, I had a solid week of training with good runs both in Philadelphia and after I returned to Austin. But as it pertains to racing during a marathon cycle, you just never really know if your legs are going to show up or not.

Without the benefit of a true “taper period”, you just can’t be sure if you are going to fire out and feel great or if you are going to be flat.

To complicate matters I had a pretty eventful week. A late flight to Philadelphia on Sunday evening to start my new job with Back on My Feet.

Early mornings on Monday and Tuesday, a long flight home Tuesday night and then three days of meetings back to back to back through Friday.

I got my training runs in, but had to flip-flop my run on Wednesday and my off-day on Thursday to an off-day on Wednesday and a run on Thursday. Not ideal with a half-marathon on Sunday, but I literally was woken up in the middle of the night Tuesday at 3:00 a.m. with an excruciatingly painful cramp in my left calf. Full muscle spasm, it looked and felt like I had a baseball in my calf muscle.

I got it to calm down, but it was still tender on Wednesday morning when I woke up for my run an hour and a half later. Better to switch days to be on the safe side, but it did cost me a rest day closer to the half-marathon. The weather forecast for the race in Shiner was 70 degrees, 90% humidity – so again, things weren’t really lining up well for us, but that is the thing about racing. You just never know.

The Drive: My friend Ed signed up to volunteer at the race to take in the first year event, root me on and get a free brewery tour, Shiner beer and barbecue post race. He showed up at the house at 5:15 a.m. and we made the two-hour drive down to Shiner. From the moment we pulled out of the garage it rained.

There was light rain, stinging rain, big old fat rain. It even rained up. Well maybe not that bad, but it poured all the way to Shiner. As we approached town the rain slacked off and it slowed to a light drizzle. Good news would be we wouldn’t be running in the rain, bad news is the humidity did indeed reach 90% with race temperature at 71 degrees. Not exactly PR weather.

Pre-Race: The course was hilly, there was an “unpaved” mile in the middle of the course – essentially a gravel country road and we had the weather to contend with. As I ran my warm-up, I couldn’t help but feel great however. My legs did not feel like we had raced last weekend and my stride was strong.

I thought about goals for the day. 1:24:00 – 1:24:30 would put us in the right ballpark for 3 hours in Houston. Maybe a bit better than that given the conditions. Our Half-Marathon PR stood at 1:23:46 set last March preparing for Boston. The fastest I had ever been. In the back of my mind I thought about going for it. But I knew it was a longshot.

As I pulled back into the start area for my warm-up I decided to keep it simple. To PR I would have to run 6:23 pace. I was going to open with a 6:23, give myself a chance, and just hold on as long as I could. If I had to back off I would. But if I didn’t give myself a chance early, I would not be able to close strong enough once things got hot out there to make it.

The Start: It was a mixed start meaning the 1,000 half-marathoners would line up with the 500 5K runners. Dicey as a half-marathoner as it is very easy to get sucked into starting too fast chasing after someone racing 10 miles less than you are. I took inventory of the guys up front, decided to go out smooth and check my watch repeatedly in that first mile. I would glance at my Garmin every minute or so to make sure I never went below 6:20.

At the horn we jumped out quick, made the first right hand turn and started to climb immediately. The first 7 miles of the course were up, up, up – then after the unpaved mile we would enjoy a net downhill finish. A couple of rollers late, but mostly flatter and faster than the first half of the race.

I settled in among the first dozen runners and held position. It was a little hotter than I had hoped, but all in all the cloud cover was keeping things moderately cool. As long as the sun stayed hidden behind the clouds it might not be too bad out here I thought. At the beep of the opening mile we turned in a perfect 6:22.

At the 1.5 mile mark the half-marathoners would make a right turn, where the 5K runners would continue straight into a cone turnaround. At that point I would know who we were racing and who were irrelevant. At the turn things shuffled a bit and the best I could tell there were 6 runners in front of us in the half-marathon. The rest of the runners continued on into the 5K. I gave a quick glance over my shoulder and did not see anyone in my rear-view mirror within 800 meters. It was going to be a race of 7.

Locking In: The course continued to climb and climb and climb. I stayed conscious of my splits through the next two miles posting 6:21 and 6:17. After 3 miles I am usually locked in and don’t have to worry about my pace – just stay even and the watch will do the same. I hit the water stop, grabbed a quick drink and dug in for another climb.

Mile 4 was another 6:22, mile five 6:21, mile six, 6:25. We were almost through the worst part of the course and were rock-solid to this point. Things were heating up temperature wise, but our pace was holding steady. Just when I started feeling a little bit of confidence grow the sun peaked through the clouds. It felt like the temperature jumped up 10 degrees. Fun times.

The Battle: I reached the gravel surface, banked a left turn and looked ahead to a stretch of road filled with loose stone and rock. Thoughts went back to the off-road section of the Ragnar Florida Keys race last January when I battled through 9+ miles of gravel. This section would last only about a mile, which was comforting, but in my race flats I was feeling every rock underfoot.

Pace dropped over this mile over 6:30 for the first time. All I could do was hold even effort and hope we gained back some time over the downhill sections. Mile 8 came in back on pace more or less at 6:25, then three solid miles at 6:21, 6:23, 6:22. When I reached the 11 mile marker I started to look at my watch and do the math in my head. If I could post two more miles just under 6:30 I had a shot at the PR.

I was very surprised to see myself in this position – better make the most of it I thought. You just never know when you might find yourself in this spot again. Time to go to work.

Mile 12 came in right on target in 6:25. No matter how hard I pushed, I just couldn’t make a dent in the lead the 6th place runner held over me. I would watch him cross a landmark ahead of me and count the seconds until I reached it. He was ahead by :31 seconds at mile 4, :32 seconds at mile 8 and was again :30 seconds ahead at mile 12.

I had more than a 4 1/2 minute lead on the 8th placed runner. I had nobody to race but the clock at this point, but with less than a mile to go I thought I had a good shot. We reached downtown Shiner, made the left-hand turn back toward the finish line where I had run my warm-up. I gradually lengthened my stride and with 1/10 of a mile to go we had worked ourselves up to a full-on sprint.

Finish: The race set up with a hard right turn just short of the finish line coming off of the bridge. I would not see the official clock until I was less than 10 strides from the finish. Finally I heard the crowd start to cheer and I put my arms out to the side to thank them for the push, I caught a glimpse of the finish clock and I could hardly believe what I was seeing. 1:23:25, 1:23:26, 1:23:27.

A final burst and …. 1:23:31. New PR by :15.

Post-Race: I sawEd immediately in the finishing chute and asked him if he saw the same thing on the clock as I did. we shared a brief fist bump and I started to collect my water bottle, race medal and went over to bag check to get out of my wet clothes and into my compression gear.

We hit the Brewery Gift Shop, mingled with other runners and waited for the final results to be posted.

We missed out on 1st Place Masters by one spot, but we were able to take 1st place in our age group and finished 7th place overall out of 1,000 runners registered for the half. 4 weeks out from Houston, it is hard to find anything to complain about right now. I’m nursing a little bit of a bruised right big toe – but that kind of stuff is just part of the deal when it comes to marathon training.

Our final three races of 2012 resulted in PR, PR, PR. 5-miler, 5K, half-marathon. It is safe to say we’ve never been faster.

The question in Houston will not be whether or not we are fast enough, but whether or not we are tough enough mentally.

4 weeks and we’ll find out.

January 13, 2013. Boom goes the dynamite.Shiner Photo

Man, it feels like we just started this training cycle for Houston and now there are just two rather big hurdles to clear before we start our taper and prepare for race day at the Chevron Houston Marathon on January 13th.

This Sunday’s half-marathon down in Shiner, TX.

Next week’s 80 mile week culminating in our 23 mile/3:00 hour final long run.  That long run will be the one that allows us to stay on our feet for 3:00 hours, simulating race day in Houston and getting our body used to moving for that period of time without stopping.  If we reach 23 miles before we reach 3 hours, we’ll shut things down.  But I’m betting that with our pacing that morning, we will be right around 22.8 – 23.0 miles on the legs when we reach 180 minutes.

But as I’ve said over and over again, when it comes to marathon training it is not wise to get too far ahead of yourself.  Just think about and focus on the hurdle immediately in front of you and cross it off the list.  There will be plenty of time to worry about the next one when it comes.  No sense thinking about something 7,8,9 or even 31 days away (not that I’m counting).  Just tick ’em off.

The race down in Shiner is in its’ first year.  So there is really nothing to gauge my expectations on.  I do not know if the course is going to measure long, short or spot-on 13.1 miles.  I think it is unlikely in the first running of the event that it will be perfectly measured, but that is nothing to really worry about.

There is one mile of the course that is not a hard paved road I have recently found out.  Country Road 347 which takes runners from the 6.25 mile mark to just past 7.3 miles is gravel.  I am hoping that the conditions are dry and the road is packed hard, but again, there really is no way of knowing until we reach that point on race day.

With Shiner, TX being about 2 hours from Austin, I will not have the luxury of heading down before the race for a course preview.  We are just going to take it as it comes.  That makes pacing a bit tricky for this race as well as setting a firm time goal.  The plan as of right now is to take Thursday and Friday off from running this week.  Run a short 2-mile shakeout on Saturday and drive down to Shiner on Sunday morning treating this as a “real race”.  Not a glorified training run, or a dress-rehearsal at Marathon Goal Pace (6:52).

We are going to race Shiner “honest” and try to run as fast as our legs will take us on that day.

Yes we are not rested in a real sense, coming off of 80 and 70 mile training weeks back-to-back with a 5K race last Friday Night thrown in for good measure.  But from an endurance standpoint we are as strong as we have ever been, and I expect to go out somewhere around 6:25-6:30 pace over the opening mile and see where the uphill start to the race takes us.Shiner

By the looks of the elevation map, we will be climbing from about 344 feet above sea level at the start up to 430 feet at the top of mile one.  A bit of a rolling next two miles and then the climb to the top of the course from mile 3 to mile 6 which should be approximately 120 feet.

When we hit Country Road 347 the footing will be soft, but the terrain will start to tilt in our favor with a nice long, slight descent until mile 10.5, where we will climb again ever so slightly to mile 12, with a slight downhill finish.

The course sets up well as it will allow runners to use different muscle groups throughout the race and not pound on any one area too long like a downhill course or even a dead flat course tends to do.  It does look like there are some hard turns on the course, I counted thirteen different 90 degree turns along the route and two rather tight turns that look like 180’s.  That does not bode well for a fast time as each of those turns can cost between 3 and 5 seconds on the race clock, depending on how much runners will have to slow down into the turn before they can navigate it.

Over the course of the race, that could add up to between :45 and a full minute on the race clock.  So again, until we get into the meat of the race, our goal time is going to be a bit up in the air.  The hope is that we run a strong race, we hold pace late, closing the race as fast as we start it and in the end that we place well within our age group.

There is no telling if a time under 1:25:00 is going to be good enough on Sunday for any post-race accolades, but I think given all of the variables surrounding the race, that is a number worth shooting for.  If the course proves to be faster than anticipated and the mile stretch on 347 is not a factor, then perhaps we can go lower – we’ll see.  After all, that is what racing is all about.

But more than anything I am looking forward to a tough workout – where 13.1 miles at 6:25-6:35 pace is not something to be taken lightly.  It will hopefully springboard our training to that final tough week where we break everything down as far as it has gone to this point for the three week taper to build everything back up and put us in position to run the race of our life on January 13th down in Houston.

We are not going to be in “peak” condition at Shiner on Sunday – but that was never part of the plan.  It is just another step of the way to hopefully deposit the greatest marathoner we have ever been to the starting line outside of Minutemaid Park on race day.

What happens from there?  Who really knows.  The only thing I know for certain is that we are going to run a smart, tactical opening 20 miles hanging onto that 3 hour pace group like grim death.  When we reach mile 21 we are going to take the race over from them and run the toughest five miles of our life.

A day like Sunday in Shiner are the days where you learn just how tough you really are.  Legs aching, lungs burning, 3 miles from the finish line and you are hanging on by a thread to that 6:25 pace.  Every part of your body except one is telling you to back off and slow down.

Your calves, quads, feet, knees, abdominal muscles, arms, hips – all aching, begging for the finish line.

But your heart won’t have any of it.  It just keeps pumping away, harder, harder and harder still.

Sunday morning will be the toughest test so far in this training cycle.  Here’s to a passing grade.

8:30 a.m., Shiner, TX – Boom goes the dynamite.

I spent most of the day Friday relaxing and enjoying my last day off before starting my new job with Back on My Feet on Monday. They say that this generation of workers will have three “careers” before retirement. Monday will mark number 2 for me as I get a chance to serve as an Executive Director with an incredible organization that is launching a chapter in Austin this January.

Back on My Feet (BoMF) is a national nonprofit that is dedicated to creating independence and self-sufficiency within the homeless and other underserved populations by first engaging them in running as a means to build confidence, strength and self-esteem. The organization does not provide food nor shelter, but instead provides a community that embraces equality, respect, discipline, teamwork and leadership. Back on My Feet’s approach focuses on the very profound and innate desire for all of us – regardless of age, race, socio-economic status – to feel recognized, appreciated, valued and important. Through dedication and hard work, Members earn the opportunity to create a new road for themselves by advancing to the “Next Steps” phase of the program where they gain access to educational, job training and employment opportunities, as well as financial aid. In short, BoMF focuses on changing the direction of people’s lives by changing the way they see themselves.

As I was getting ready for Friday Night’s Race I took a moment to reflect on all the gifts that running has given me over the last 7 years and how fortunate I was to be able to go out and do something I love to do for a great cause. We were going to be racing Friday Night and trying to run a fast time, but we were going to show up already winners as Landry was able to raise $1,315 for the Ronald McDonald House before we even got in the car to head over to the Mueller Hanger. Our team, Caleb’s Army was well over $6,000 in donations making it two years in a row where the Team raised the most money among all groups for the charity.

The race was going to be basically a victory lap – but I had a feeling something good might be in store as even though the temperatures were a bit higher than I would have liked for a race, 70 degrees, the wind was still and my legs were feeling very “runnerish”.

I thought about my splits from last year as I was slipping on my race shorts – 5:43, 6:10, 6:04. I had run a solid opening mile last year, then I let off the gas too much. That 6:10 would need to be more like a 6:02 this year and that final 6:04 closer to 6:00. If I was able to pull that off, that would turn my time from 18:19 to 18:09 and a new PR at the 5K distance by :03. I didn’t share this with Dawn, Landry or anyone else – but in my mind I had my goal for the night.

Just PR, by the narrowest of margins – I would be fine with that. My 5K PR was one day older than Landry having been set at the NOCC Balance 5K on August 28, 2010. 25 hours later I would be a Dad. With Landry running, talking and doing all the things that a lucky, healthy and happy 27 month old can do – it was time. That PR was old news.

Sure it was hot, sure I ran 80 miles last week and had another 31 in the books already on this one, but for some reason – I really liked my chances.

To The Race: Dawn, Landry and I left the house around 4:20 p.m. to make our way over to the race site and beat some of the traffic. We had an easy drive, chit-chatted on the way and got a great parking spot to get in and out after the race ended. We loaded up Landry’s jogging stroller with our bags and made it to the Caleb’s Army Tent that the Ronald McDonald House was so generous in providing to the teams who raised I believe $3,000 or more for the race this year.

We saw Bea and Jay, Caleb’s Mom and Dad upon arriving and helped them get the tent and their Triple Jogging Stroller set up with a big Caleb’s Army lighted sign. That’s right – TRIPLE jogging stroller for Caleb and his two sisters. Great stuff.

Dad and Landry got a chance for a quick photo-op with Ronald McDonald himself.Lights of Love 2012 Dad-Landry-RMc

Landry chowed down on some pizza, potato chips and a water – pre-race meal of champions. I decided to just have a bagel on the drive over and a Gatorade. No need to get the stomach feeling full before a short race like the 5K. I was very relaxed up until it was time for Landry and Dawn to get in line for the family fun run that preceded the 5K race. Once they were ready to go I would head out alone to run my warm-up.

Pre-Race: I ducked around the side of the starting area and ran down the course all alone. The only people out there were some early spectators setting up their food, drink and music and the volunteers that were lining the course. I quietly strode along the race course running the final mile in the opposite direction that I would be traveling in about 45 minutes. Downloading the turns to memory from last year and remembering the slight hills and where the water stations would be.

It was all coming back to me and I was starting to feel the pre-race anxiety that no matter how many events you run, always seems to hit me about 30 minutes before the gun.

I wrapped up my warm-up of 2 miles in 15:48 – and quietly went down to the tent. I hit the porta-potty for one last visit and then dropped my singlet in a bag for after the race. Time to line up.

The Start: I waited to see Landry and Dawn return from their Fun Run and sure enough my little daughter stayed out of the stroller and walked the entire route. She crossed the finish line and with about 5 minutes to go until the gun, she and her Mommy disappeared from sight.

I hopped across the starting mat and ran a quick 200 meters to get the blood going in the legs, tucked back in to the front and waited for the Star Spangled Banner. After the anthem, Robert “Evil” Evilsizer did the honors as announcer, got us staged as he does race after race in Austin.

“Runners to your Mark! – Horn!”

Mile 1: With a lot of small kids up front at the starting line which happens at these events all the time, it was a little bit dicey. I just jumped out quickly – far above pace for the first 15 meters to get away from any trouble and hit the course running out front. I knew that I would be swallowed up by some of the younger college aged runners in the first quarter-mile, but I wanted to get out clean and not have to do any dodging.

In a short race like the 5K, you just can’t make up precious seconds later on like you can in a longer event. I was happy with my start – the legs felt great and all I could think about was that opening 5:45 I wanted to post. Stay smooth I thought, don’t get caught up racing anyone yet – just run your mile.

As a few runners slid past me I fell back into 7th place. I didn’t hear or feel anyone else going with us, I was just off the lead pack and did not think that I would have anyone coming up behind me from the rear. A race of 400 runners was now down to a group of 7. Just stay steady I thought, they’ll come back to you when you are getting stronger, they are going to be getting weaker.

The first mile ticked over in a blur – I heard the watch beep at me – 5:42 split. We had given ourselves a chance.

Mile 2: I wanted to run the second mile as close to 6:00 flat as I could. I knew that this mile in particular was going to define the race. No matter how tired you are, the last mile tends to run itself, basically 3/4 of a mile and then a kick. But mile 2 is where you are starting to hurt a bit and still have a long way to go before you get to finally empty the tank.

I decided I would try to just run two identical 1/2 miles. 3:00 minutes and 3:00 minutes. I was still running in 7th place, but the distance between me and the 6th place runner was shrinking. I clocked the first 1/2 mile of this section in 3:00 flat. Perfect. Oddly, I didn’t feel like I had to pour any more energy out to hold pace. It was hot for sure, sweat was running down my face, shoulders, chest, legs – but with no wind, the course still felt fast.

We hit the C shaped section of the course and I worked the tangents, around a right turn I pulled past the runner ahead of me and dropped him quickly behind. I was not speeding up so much as he was slowing down – at the beep the second 1/2 mile in this section came in at 2:58.

A 5:58 2nd Mile – if we could just stay even we had it.

Mile 3: Quickly into the mile we closed on two runners up ahead. With a glance over the shoulder the first runner acknowledged me as I slid past, then the next runner let out a “nice job” as I pulled past him into 4th position. The rest of the runners were far out of reach – no chance to catch them – so I would be alone for the rest of the race, but the crowd support in the neighborhood was great and we were getting a lot of encouragement every block.

I didn’t check my watch at the first 1/2 mile split in this section of the course as I didn’t want to know how hard we were pushing. I was just gradually opening the faucet until we hit the 3 mile sign, then I would make the last turn to the left and let it all hang out.

Mile 3 came in at 5:57, then it was time to kick.

Finish: As I made the left turn at the large Oak Tree in the circle filled with Christmas Lights, I saw the race clock still ticking in the high 17’s … for the first time I thought we might have a shot of finishing sub 18:00. I kicked to the finish and left every ounce of energy I had out there on the course.


Post Race: Our effort was good enough for 4th place overall, 1st Place Male Masters and a new PR by :10.

I couldn’t find Landry and Dawn in the finishing chute or at the Caleb’s Army Tent, so I went back out on the 5K course and found Bea pushing Caleb and the girls in the triple stroller. I spent some time with them and then jogged back to the finish area and found Dawn and Landry. We chatted a bit with everyone and then went over to the hanger for the awards ceremony.

Landry made the trip up to the stage with me and we got a chance to be interviewed for a promotional video about the Lights of Love event that Ronald McDonald House will be putting together for next year. It was again a tremendous event that is absolutely as well run and organized as any of the races in Austin.

Landry and Dad getting 1st Male Masters Award

Landry and Dad getting 1st Male Masters Award

They do a tremendous job having a little something there for everyone and even the smallest details are accounted for. Pretty indicative of how the entire Ronald McDonald House Operates on a daily basis. Just a top-notch organization that makes a tremendous impact on the lives of so many.

So what’s next for us? First day of work on Monday which is pretty darn exciting and then another race – this time a half-marathon down in Shiner, TX next Sunday. At that point we will be exactly one month away from the starting line down in Houston. Makes you want to tap the brakes just a bit and slow things down – as things are moving way too fast right now.

Kind of like raising a little girl.

Landry & Santa - Lights of Love 2012

Landry & Santa – Lights of Love 2012

Race day is upon us once again and little Landry is pretty psyched.

At breakfast this morning as I was eating my traditional peanut butter bagel and a Cliff Bar, Landry with a mouth full of blueberry muffin looked me in the eye and said, “I’m going to run slow tonight Daddy.  You are going to run fast.”

I smiled at her and asked, “Why are you going to run slow tonight Landry?  Don’t you want to race fast like Daddy?”

She seemed to think about that for a second or two and replied, “You are going to run fast tonight Daddy …. and Landry is going to run fast too!”

So there you have it, I guess my 18:19 time from last year is in some serious trouble tonight as Landry has made it clear that I’ll be laying it down tonight at the Ronald McDonald House Lights of Love 5K.  Truth be told, I think it is going to be awfully hard to match last year’s performance.

The race was 4 weeks after the New York City marathon, where I had just run my marathon PR by 6 minutes and 52 seconds.  I took two weeks of recovery time and was just ramping my mileage back up.  I was sound, rested and coming off of a week where I had only run about 30 miles.

I have already run 31 miles this week, and I haven’t run since Wednesday morning.  Last week?  80 miles.  Highest mileage ever.  On top of all that mileage the weather tonight is not going to be very cooperative with temperatures around 70 degrees at 7:00 p.m. and some sticky humidity hanging around.

Last year was a cool, damp evening that was near perfect for racing.  Tonight?  Not so much, but it will be a great night out at the event for all of the families who are there to take in all of the sights, sounds, events and activities that go along with this race.  Tents, face painting, food trailers, lots of kids, doggies to pet and play with and of course Santa and Ronald McDonald will be there.

Pretty awesome.

So, from a racing perspective.  We’re just going to go out somewhere around 5:45 pace for the first mile and take it from there.  Last year our splits went – 5:43, 6:10, 6:04.  Only that middle mile was a mild disappointment as I would have rather been around 6:05 or so – but all in all, it was a great performance just :07 off of our 5K PR.

Tonight, I’d like to put myself in a position to match last year’s time, but the closing two miles, especially that dreaded 2nd mile of the 5K is going to be a tough one.  It always seems like that is where I am fighting my legs as they want to relax off the gas a bit and float until the closing mile.  It is something that every runner has to deal with in the 5K.  I am waiting for that race where I just hammer through that float mile and push through to the finish.  It is going to take a performance like that one of these days to break through that 18:12 mark, which truth be told is a pretty fast time for a 45 year-old distance runner to try to take down.

We’ll see, as you never really know what is going to happen on race day.  Sometimes those breakthrough moments come at unexpected times like the IBM Uptown Classic in the fall of 2011 when I was just a month out from the NYC Marathon, worn down by training and showed up hoping to run a fast time.  Without any indicators that a big performance was coming that weekend, we ran our 10K PR of 37:30 (6:01 pace) on our way to NYC.

Interesting that we are now 5 weeks out from Houston and in a similar position.

The big news tonight however isn’t so much the racing, splits and times that will be posted.  It is the race beneficiary that is the story – the Ronald McDonald House here in Austin.  RMH is a place where families can stay together, at a suggested daily donation of just $10, and receive a welcoming home environment, meals, access to laundry, toys for the kids, and an exceptionally warm and caring environment for their family as they are dealing with all of the stress and fear of having a sick child cared for at one of our area hospitals.

For our friends Bea and Jay Smith, Caleb’s Mommy and Daddy – the Ronald McDonald House stepped up for a big way for them when they were in Cincinnati during Caleb’s surgeries and procedures for his condition.  When the Smith’s needed to extend their stay after Caleb’s surgery, they truly did not know where they were going to stay or how they were going to afford it.  But the Ronald McDonald House made all of that possible and more for their family as Caleb battled like the little warrior that he is.

2011 was a tough year for the little man.  Caleb was born with a condition called VACTERL association – he had problems with his spinal cord, was born with no anus, had minor cardiac issues and very complex kidney/bladder problems.

In the last 12 months Caleb has had:

1 NICU stay.

4 surgeries.

6 hospitalizations.

4 ER visits.

12 months of difficult times.

So tonight Landry, Dawn and I are there for Caleb and his family – part of “CALEB’s ARMY” – which as of this morning is the top fundraising team with $5,875 raised.

Landry is sitting in third place in the entire fundraising effort which has right now raised more than $225,000.

Last year Caleb’s Army was number 1 overall as was Landry.  Third place is nothing to be ashamed of out of thousands of fundraisers.  But I think my little girl has her eyes on something a little bit higher.

There is still time to help!  If you can, please click HERE:

Or visit:

We all thank you for all that you are doing to help families like Caleb’s this holiday season.

As for the race – 7:00 p.m. tonight.  Boom goes the dynamite.Dad-Landry-Ronald Mc

Race week is here! No, not the Houston Marathon, but it is a big, big race nonetheless in the Marruchella household.

Landry and I are both registered and “bibbed” for this Friday nights’ Lights of Love 5K benefitting the Ronald McDonald House here in Austin.

Landry and her Mommy will be running in the kids K, followed by the timed 5K where Dad is going to be trying to lay down something special in the final event of the evening.

The race is a great one in and of itself, but Ronald McDonald House does a tremendous job making this a wonderful family event.

There is race day packet-pick-up and registration available at 5:30 p.m. followed by the family fun run/kids K at 6:30 a.m. and then finally the timed 5K race at 7:00 p.m.

The course is flat, fast and fun – so if running a quick time is your thing, under the lights in December, this is a great course for that. But there are also some really cool events that make this one a great way to kick off the holiday season.

You can:

  • *Run, jog or walk in the Lights of Love 5K and Family Fun Run
  • *Register your furry four-legged friend and they get a special Lights of Love bandana
  • *Take your picture with Santa Claus and Ronald McDonald
  • *Let your kids enjoy the holiday crafts area
  • *Listen to great music on the course and at the Hangar
  • *All our Child 5K and Family Fun Run finishers enjoy a finisher’s prize
  • *Enjoy the festive lights and hot chocolate stop on the 5K course

There is even an un-sanctioned, un-official beer stop around mile 2 of the 5K course that is put on my one of the local residents. Tent, Kegs, Cups, Table, the whole nine yards. Last year I ran my cool-down back to the table for a beverage after the race and then ran in with the Caleb’s Army Team.

Which brings me to the important part about why we will be out on Friday night racing. The cause.

Landry has a friend in Austin, now just 18 months old named Caleb. Out of all the little guys that I know in the world, Caleb’s first 18 months has been among the most difficult. Caleb was born with a congenital condition – imperforate anus (IA) which means that he was born without a “pooper” as Landry would say. He had several accompanying complications and has spent a great deal of time at the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital where the best Doctors in the world for his condition(s) are located.

Caleb’s family made the Ronald McDonald House in Cincinnati their home away from home. There they have received the care, support and love that they needed while going through an incredibly difficult time. At times the Ronald McDonald House was all that made the situation manageable. For a recommended daily donation of $25 (they will not turn you away if you cannot pay) the Ronald McDonald House came through for them when very little in their lives seemed to be going their way.

Since then, Caleb continues to battle. He is going to need therapy to help him accomplish developmental milestones like climbing stairs, balancing, jumping, even standing on one foot. Things that I watch my daughter Landry do every day and do with ease.

He has a long road ahead of him – but he also has a lot of people in his corner supporting him and his wonderful family.

Landry will be racing in the Kids K/Family Fun Run this year with her Mommy and without a jogging stroller. This one is all her.

Go Big or Go Home

Go Big or Go Home

If you would like to support Landry as she tries to reach her fundraising goal of $750 (Landry has already raised over $600!) – you can visit her fundraising page at the Lights of Love website by clicking HERE:

Or by visiting:

For more information about the race, or if you would like to register to run, raise funds or both – you can visit:

I hope to see you out there this Friday Night! Please say hello if you do, but you better catch me before the race starts at 7:00 p.m.

I don’t plan on letting too many people catch me after the gun fires.

Thank you in advance for supporting Caleb’s Army and my daughter Landry. Afterall, all kidding aside about racing on Friday – that is what this is all about. Happy Holidays everyone!