Archive for January, 2013

Well, it was a long 5 weeks of rest and rehabilitation, but on Monday we were able to resume pain-free running.  Given the circumstances of our first run, I’m not sure it would have mattered very much as I could hardly feel my feet touch the ground participating in the Back on My Feet Austin launch run.

At 5:30 a.m. outside of Paul Carrozza’s RunTex shop on Riverside Drive a crowd assembled for a one-mile run.  For the 28 Residential Team Members, individuals experiencing homelessness, it would be the first mile on a road toward self-sufficiency, employment and housing.

Pre-Run Warm-Up - Photo By Richard McBlane Photography

Pre-Run Warm-Up – Photo By Richard McBlane Photography

For me, it was a mile back to health, full training and ultimately racing again.

The big story of course was everybody else.  I was just a runner among more than a hundred others.

Circle Up Austin - Photo By Richard McBlane Photography

Circle Up Austin – Photo By Richard McBlane Photography

That is the key piece about how the Back on My Feet Program works in breaking down barriers, stereotypes and the way we view a social issue like homelessness.  At the end of the day, we’re all just runners.  It is my hope that the Residential Team Members are able to find the same things I was able to find deep inside of me when I started running back in 2006, underneath 41 extra pounds of unnecessary weight.

I found strength, self-confidence, self-discipline and most importantly a skeleton key that could unlock so many things in the world around me.

Running was able to impact every aspect of my life.  It made me a better husband, a better son, a better brother, coworker and friend.

It has now made me a better Father and ultimately a better human-being.

Wednesday morning I ran with the group again.  I ran again with my new friend Max who I ran with on Monday.

First Mile - Photo By Richard McBlane Photography

First Mile – Photo By Richard McBlane Photography

Just two days after his first mile, he ran 2 alongside me and never broke stride.  His conversation skills started to struggle a bit on the uphill finish to the run, but I took care of that for him this morning.  Next time out, he will be even more prepared for that hill up Trinity and hopefully more prepared for all the other hills that rise up in front of him that require climbing – in and out of his running shoes.

If you are interested in learning more about Back on My Feet or running with the group in Austin – visit HERE:

It is only a one time a week commitment, and there are many other ways for you or your company to get involved as a sponsor, employment partner, through an initiative like Sneaker Week, or by participating in a Back on My Feet Race as an individual competitor, team or volunteer.

There are multiple points of involvement, and like most journeys in our sport – you just never really know where the road is going to take you.

All you can do is run ’em one mile at a time.

Congratulations Max.  Very proud of the work you put in this morning.  I hope you are too.

Run on people.

A Movement - Photo By Richard McBlane Photography

A Movement – Photo By Richard McBlane Photography

Monday morning at 5:30 a.m. a little over 150 people are going to assemble for a morning run in downtown Austin, TX.

30 of those runners will be running their first mile in a long, long time if ever.  The others will be helping them take their first strides toward self-confidence and self-sufficiency.   This run will be special for everyone as it is the first run of the Back on My Feet Austin Chapter.  The tenth such chapter in the Nation.

Back on My Feet is a national nonprofit organization that uses running to help those experiencing homelessness change the way they see themselves so they can make real change that results in employment and independent living.

Back on My Feet was founded on July 3, 2007 in Philadelphia where a young professional women, Anne Mahlum had been running past the Sunday Breakfast Rescue Mission on her morning runs for months.  Each day she would see the men standing outside of the shelter and wonder why is it that I get to run by each day?  Why can’t they run with me?  Why can’t they get to experience the same things I do through the sport of running.

On one occasion as she sped by one of the men called out, “Do you just run all day?” and she replied, “Do you just stand there all day?” – and with that a short 10 second relationship began to build.

Anne called the Mission, and with a little persistence, received permission to start an official running club with nine guys living in the shelter. Anne got new running shoes donated and gave them running clothes and socks. She had one requirement, anyone who joined must sign what she called a “Dedication Contract,” committing to:

  • showing up every Monday, Wednesday and Friday at 6 a.m.
  • being on time
  • respecting yourself
  • supporting teammates

Each runner, including Anne, signed and dated the document and the first one-mile run took place July 3.  In a week, the group grew to add 10 more people as volunteers.  The morning runs created a community that respected equality and promoted and rewarded positive behavior. Friendships were formed and smiles were constant.  Anne made two powerful observations that helped her to realize this growing community could be so much more than just a running club – this could be the core to changing people’s lives:

  1. The Members were coming out every day of their own volition. Anne believed (and still does!) that voluntary behavior is the only way change is possible. No one was forcing or threatening the individuals experiencing homelessness to be on that corner at 6 a.m. They were there because they wanted to be.
  2. While recording how far people ran after the morning runs, each Member waited anxiously to receive credit for their hard work. It was clear: no matter how many differences there are between us, the similarities are what connect us and make us human. We all want to be noticed, appreciated, recognized, valued, cared for and loved.  It is these emotions that drive us every day.

The theoretical question that Anne asked herself was, “if we can change the way people see themselves, can we change the direction of their lives?” She felt very strongly that if we could help people experiencing homelessness see themselves as deserving, capable, hardworking, responsible, disciplined, focused and reliable, it would be possible for them to move toward independence. This question is no longer a theory – it is a reality.

Today, 46% of Residential Members in the Back on My Feet program move their lives forward with a job, independent housing or both.

This special organization launches on Monday morning – 5:30 a.m. outside of RunTex on Riverside Drive.

Very rarely in life do you know exactly when and where lives are going to be changed forever.  But in this case – we do.

I’ve run a lot of miles over the past 7 years, somewhere around 15,000 of them, but I can honestly say that I have very rarely looked forward to a run more than Monday’s.

Hope to see all you Austinites out there to support the mission!

Feet Austin Weird!

Today Steve Prefontaine would have turned 63 years old if not for the one-car accident that claimed his life in Eugene Oregon on May 30, 1975.  He was just 24 years old at the time of his death and held every single American Middle Distance record from 2,000 meters to 10,000.

Seven distances, seven American records.

I’ve written a lot about Pre since I started blogging.  Usually on his birthday and the anniversary of his death.  Other times before or after an “A” race, sometimes after a grueling workout or just a day where the weather or another outside stressor made me reach deep to either get out the door or push through tough circumstances.

My cousin Joe and Pre were basically the same age.  One passing away on a dark road late at night more than 30 years ago.  The other just this past week.  I have often wondered just what Pre would have become had he not died on the way home from a post-race party that night in Eugene.  He of course won the three-mile earlier that day at Hayward Field.  A track where Pre was essentially unbeatable.

Would he have gone to Montreal in 1976 and won the 5000?  Given the disappointment in Munich where Pre finished 4th in one of the most talented 5000 meter fields ever assembled at the age of 22.  Yes, I believe that he would have or in Prefontaine fashion, would have just about died trying.  That was the way he ran – he as his college roommate Pat Tyson once said, “People in the 70’s had drugs, alcohol or whatever.  Pre was addicted to winning.  At everything.”

38 years have gone by and people are still talking about Pre.  I still see his image on race shirts from Austin to Boston every year.  To have that kind of impact between your High School years and age 25, that is pretty remarkable.  Pre was a remarkable runner.

By now he would most likely be a powerful voice in American Track and Field.  He as an early activist for athletes rights, and was very – sometimes to a fault – outspoken against the governing bodies of the day.  He was also a kid.  How tactful were you at 21, 22 years old when it came to something you were passionate about?  That was everything you thought about 24 hours a day?

I give Pre a pass on that one.

He would be a father and by now more than likely a grandfather.  But in my mind’s eye I still see him chiseled and fit, racing around a track with nobody remotely close to him – charging down the home stretch at Hayward field, hair on fire, simply put …. crushing it.Pre at tape

So today on Pre’s birthday I pause to say thank you.  Thank you for showing athletes that winning is one thing, but it really is about the effort you put forth, pushing your talents and abilities to their limits, getting as close as possible to your absolute best.  THAT is winning, whether you finish first, second, fourth or last.  It is what makes runners of all talent levels drawn to Pre.

He didn’t win races because of God given talent alone.  Obviously Pre had the genetics for the sport.  But he was also a small, short-striding runner with a left leg that was shorter than the right.  Pre out-worked, out-trained, out-smarted and out-hearted his competition.  Pure and simple he just put forth the maximum effort possible to make the most of his talents and abilities.

That is something that I have tried to remember whenever things have gotten tough either on the trail, on the hill or on the road race course.

I may never “Win” another event.  It has only happened once since I started this journey 7 years ago.  And as I get older and as the races I choose to compete in get larger and more difficult, the chance shrinks to virtually zero.  But the thought of not trying my best never enters my mind.

The day that happens is the day I will have run my last race.  Unable to run this morning due to my still recovering Achilles strain I hopped on the bike trainer and pedaled as hard as I could for 63 minutes.  One for every year since Pre was born.  Seemed like the right thing to do.

Go Pre.

Cousin Joe

Posted: January 22, 2013 in Motivation

On Friday my cousin Joe passed away in New York. Age 62.

We shared a grandfather who we were both named after. We shared a love of sports, especially baseball. We had the same “coach” growing up, my Father. His Uncle Pat. The same man who would shovel snow off of the Pennsylvania driveway to hit us “infield” with snow on the ground. We both learned how to throw what today is known as a cut-fastball and a circle change before we were 12.

We were similar in a lot of ways, outgoing, gregarious, fun-loving.

We also were very different, Joe standing over 6′ 5″, batting and throwing left-handed.

Me, just 5′ 8″, 138 pounds now, barely breaking 120 in High School.

He fought in Viet Nam, a decorated soldier who rose to the rank of Sergeant, married twice, raising a family on Long Island, then living in the Bronx.

He was offered a minor league contract with the Phillies, a basketball scholarship to Fordham, but ended up chasing neither dream. Either of which would have had me over the moon. He was a legendary athlete in the City public schools as a school-boy phenom, clashing with a young Lew Alcindar. Later known as Kareem Abdul Jabbar.

All True.

Here is what I remember about my cousin Joe. It was Thanksgiving and it was freezing cold out. He heard my Dad talking about the points I put up in a recent middle school basketball game and Joe looked at me and said, “Joey, get your ball.”

We went across the street into the park I grew up playing ball in and we shot baskets for about an hour. He grabbed rebounds for me, showed me a few moves and ball handling drills and mostly talked to me about my Dad. How he was a huge influence in his life, how great an athlete my Dad was in his own right and how he was responsible for his love of all things sports.

How lucky I was. How I should listen to what he says, not only “even when it doesn’t make sense, but in fact, ESPECIALLY when it doesn’t make sense.” – I’ve never forgotten that conversation, although I wish I took his advice a little more often growing up as a kid.

On Sunday night I flew to Philadelphia, spent the night at my Sister and Brother-in-Law’s home with my two nephews. My sister and I drove to the Bronx the next morning for the viewing and funeral, then to Long Island for his military burial at the National Cemetery, then a brief reception at one of his son’s homes, then back to Philly.

It was a sad day from the time I woke up until the time I went to bed more than 19 hours later. But it was a day I won’t forget, just like that Thanksgiving long ago.

As I stood in the church next to my Sister on my left, Joe’s sister Toni on her left, his other sister Anna Marie across the aisle on the right, I was surrounded by family but felt very alone. Cousin Joe was gone. It felt impossible.

As I listened to the sermon all kinds of memories went through my head, then like a switch was flipped I started to look ahead. My future, my family’s, my wife. My daughter.

What do I want people to think about me when it comes my time? What stories will they tell. How will I be remembered? It’s not how long you live that marks a life as special. It is how well you live – the same lesson I learned from Dom a little more than two years ago.

The priest spoke of making the most of your opportunities and not being afraid to try new things, new experiences, seizing moments and of making memories.

Without warning, without even the slightest of signals a small voice seemingly from nowhere whispered a word in my ear that I had honestly never taken very seriously in the past.

I pressed it back down, and a moment later it was back. I again shook it off, focused on the sermon but it came back a third time, and my gaze settled on the steel blue casket 20 feet away from me.

The word.


I’ve said before to myself and others that I didn’t want Ironman. Didn’t see the sense in the sacrifice of training for the race. The time commitment. Then I thought about the difference between starting a Saturday bike ride at 4 a.m. to get home by 9:30 a.m. for my 100 mile training rides that would be necessary or the 6:00 a.m. wake up call to get back by 9:30 a.m. for a 56 mile training ride for Half-Ironman I did last summer multiple times.

You know what the difference is? 8 hours of sleep on those 4 weekends.

Small price to pay to put myself out there to conquer what to me is essentially the most amazing test of will that an endurance athlete can take on.

2.4 mile swim, 112 mile bike, then run a full marathon.

If I nail my training, have everything come together for me, race to my maximum potential I would be looking at an 11 hour day of swimming, biking, running, eating and hydrating. That’s a tough day. A big day.

But coming across that finish line and hearing, “Joe Marruchella – you are an Ironman” is something up until Monday seemed absurd.

Kind of like some guy at age 39 years old who starts jogging 1/2 mile at lunchtime to lose some weight that ends up less than 24 months later standing on Main Street in Hopkinton MA at the start of the Boston Marathon 41 lbs. lighter.

A ridiculous notion.

So what makes that same guy think that he can go from not being able to swim a single length of a 25 meter pool on April 15 of 2011 to an Ironman Triathlete?

Lunacy correct?

Perhaps, but I know one thing for certain, Cousin Joe would have encouraged me with his good-natured ability to make everyone around him feel like they could do anything. Cousin Joe made you feel significant, exceptional, valued, special. You felt like if a guy like Joe takes the time to tell you how amazing you are – you truly were.

After 11 hours of racing I have no doubt that I will cross that line and be called Ironman.

Cousin Joe would have called me something much better, much more special at that same moment though.

He would have called me his “Cousin Joe”. And I would have been damn proud.

I have been on the shelf now for one month as of Monday morning. My strained achilles has made enormous strides the last 10 days or so, enough that I even went for a short 2-mile run on Friday, but it is still not 100%.

Saturday morning pain and stiffness returned to my lower left foot from a run so short that I typically run an easy 2-mile warmup like that BEFORE a half-marathon. On a typical day, I would not break a sweat and certainly would have no soreness the day after. But these are anything but typical days right now, and I am simply trying to stay active while allowing my body to heal without any set-backs.

The exercise that feels the best right now is swimming, so I will continue to stretch out my swims when I get back to Austin from a work trip this week and start hitting the bike a bit harder weather permitting. I had been hoping that by now I would be back to training and I would jump right back into a cycle that would prepare me for a May Marathon. But right now, even that timeline is looking too aggressive. The next starting line I toe at a marathon I do not want any doubts in the back of my mind wondering if I am prepared enough for the event, or if I am ready to chase 3 hours.

So after some thoughtful laps in the pool this week, 100 of them, I decided that the prudent approach would be to let marathon season go and shift my focus to the Triathlon, just as I had planned on doing in February originally. Most mistakes in this sport are due to trying to force things when the timing is not right.

Going out too fast, not adjusting pace on a hot race day, taking shortcuts during training to hop into a race without enough preparation, not taking enough recovery time after an event before ramping back up.

Not allowing an injury to completely heal before resuming training.

After 7 years and closing in on 14,000 miles I think I have once and for all learned from all of the mistakes above and some others not listed. If this is going to be a lifetime sport, thinking in the “long-term” and not in terms of immediate gratification is a requirement.

As much as I love all of the support groups, running clubs, local run shops, social media interaction (Twitter, Facebook, Dailymile) – I think at times it makes it difficult to stay conservative in your approach, when even you yourself know how difficult it is to take the safe route or the least aggressive tact. It’s bad enough you are fighting your own internal battle, but add in a few runner buddies who talk about how they trained through an injury, or how your fitness level will allow you to be ready to race again in 8 weeks instead of 18 and it can lead to some poor decisions.

So in the pool this week I made a couple of decisions.

1. I remembered that each time I have had time off from an injury (IT Band in 2009, Shin Issues 2010) I came back gradually, patiently and most importantly – better – than I was before.
2. I am going to do the same thing this time. Joe version 3.0 is going to be better, stronger and faster than I was before.

Training for the Kerrville Half-Ironman last summer had me enter the fall race season not only a better athlete than I had been in the past, but a better runner. The proof aside from my 5:06 debut in long course triathlon was in my 5K PR of 18:02 (-:10) and Half Marathon PR of 1:23:31 (-:15) in the middle of marathon training. Prior to this little “inconvenience” I have never been more fit.

So why change the formula now? Why rush into a spring marathon without the benefit of all of the cross training, core strength, added flexibility and fitness? It just doesn’t make any sense.

So we are going to turn the page, prepare for a summer of local triathlons and a handful of running events that we run every year, (Holland Cornfest, IBM Uptown) – and peak again for a fall half-ironman.

Kerrville 70.3 at the end of September or Ironman Texas 70.3 at the end of October will be our “A” race. Everything leading up to that point, just training and sword sharpening.

Post Half-Ironman we are going to jump into our fall training season again with a focus on Houston for all the same reasons the race set up perfectly for us this year. A flat, fast Texas Marathon, easy travel, seeding to the front of the pack and perhaps some of the things that didn’t go right this year, Rainy, windy weather, our “Pacer” Brendon being unavailable to us will set themselves right in 2014.

So for the first time since 2007 we won’t be running a marathon this calendar year.

I’m just fine with that – it is going to make me want to race Houston even more next January and for the last time kick that race squarely in the ass. I am going to set my Houston goal the way I set goals for every other race distance and event. I am going to look at my training times, my recent race results and project it out for the race distance and course details.

Instead of assigning a Pass/Fail grade based on an arbitrary number of 179 minutes and 59 seconds, I am going to set my own definition of excellence and chase it down.

If that time is 2:56 or 2:58 or 3:03 or whatever it is – will be what it is.

I’ve got more than 340 days before that morning right now to figure that part out. Right now that is the furthest thing from my mind. We’re going to continue to reboot this thing until we are 100% healthy, then put our plan together to peak for two events, one Fall, one Winter.

Just like all the previous versions, I plan on some surprises and enhancements in version 3.0 that competitors have not seen before.

Version 1.0 went from 1st time marathoner to Boston Qualifier.
Version 2.0 went from 3:08 marathoner to Half Ironman finisher.
Version 3.0 – I guess we’ll just have to wait and see.

No sense putting any limits on things right now, that is a recipe for selling yourself short.

Sometimes the smartest thing you can do is stop thinking about things so much and just let it come to you. It has happened more times than I can count on race course where I was at my absolute best when expectations and pressure were at their lowest because I didn’t over think things. The gun fired, I ran until someone told me it was over.

That is going to be the approach for 2013. Just keep pushing until someone tells me that it is over. We’ll take a two week taper and then drive down to Houston to run the marathon of our life.

Simplicity at its’ finest.

Thoughts on Lance

Posted: January 18, 2013 in Motivation

Last night I tuned into the Oprah Winfrey network for the first time of my life to watch her interview with Austin’s own Lance Armstrong.

I didn’t spend a whole lot of time leading up to the broadcast wondering if Lance was going to admit to doping or not.  That was pretty much a foregone conclusion.  Lance’s denials in the past were passionate, aggressive and at times extremely combative.  Like the bully on the school yard who controls everything around them to keep the upper hand, Lance’s approach was always to control the dialogue.

Even without all of the leaks that started to surface on Monday and Tuesday this week when the interviews took place at Lance’s home here in Austin, I knew what we were going to hear.

Lance took performance enhancing drugs.

Lance blood doped.

Lance lied about it all repeatedly.

Lance was going to finally admit to it all.

So why tune in?  Why devote my time to it?  There was not even the slightest percentage in me that believed we were all going to be surprised and hear that Lance was indeed clean.  I knew that wasn’t going to happen.

But still, no matter how saddened I was to learn that someone who I had a tremendous amount of respect for as an athlete had cheated and lied about it – there is another part of me that is grateful to Lance Armstrong and the work his foundation has done for cancer victims and their families at Livestrong.

I wasn’t that interested in hearing about how Lance Armstrong the athlete cheated, who did what and when, how was it concealed, why did he do it, could he have won without it etc.

I was interested in seeing Lance Armstrong the man talk about his shortcomings, his weaknesses, his mistakes and his desire to try to make things as right as possible going forward.  To me that is what was most compelling about his interview with Oprah.

To take you back a few years, before Run for Dom began, imagine you are a 38 year-old man, happily married, part of a big, loving, Italian family with a Mom and Dad, brothers, cousins, nieces and nephews and two small children of your own 3 years old and 6 months old.  You are having a hard time eating lately.  Have some stomach pains that seem out of the ordinary, but you’ve been healthy your whole life.  Active, vibrant.  You pop some antacids and go on about your business.

The pain seems to be taking too long to go away and you schedule an appointment with a Doctor.  They ask about your symptoms, give you a check-up, take some blood and tell you that it could be diverticulitis or perhaps even Chron’s disease.

You continue to work, go about your business, you even head to downtown Pittsburgh one Sunday where a friend of yours celebrates qualifying for the Boston Marathon.

A month later you are diagnosed with a rare stomach cancer.  Your chances for survival – not good.  You have Doctors explaining things to you in a language you do not understand.  Your insurance at work is confusing and you do not know where to start from a claims standpoint.  They tell you that you need to go through radiation and chemotherapy treatment, then an aggressive surgery to remove your stomach, spleen, parts of your intestine and parts of some other organs that you really don’t know what they do or where they are.

How much is this going to cost?

Where is this money going to come from?

How much longer will I have with my kids?  My wife?  My Family?

Will my baby boy remember me when I’m gone?  How about my daughter?

You know what you need at that moment more than anything?


Any sliver of hope.  Just the chance that somehow you are going to beat this thing.  That it does happen.  It can happen.

Enter Lance Armstrong.

In October 1996, just 25 years old he was diagnosed with testicular cancer that had spread to his brain and lungs. His cancer treatments included brain and testicular surgery and extensive chemotherapy.  In February 1997, he was declared cancer free and the same year he founded the Lance Armstrong Foundation for cancer support or known to many as Livestrong.

He returns to competitive cycling and two years later wins his first of 7 tour de France titles.

For someone like my friend Dom who had very little hope, Lance embodied what everyone who is affected by that horrible disease wishes for.  Just a chance to be that one in a million person who can beat the disease down, stomp it to the ground and move on living a long, happy, healthy and very aware as to how lucky they are – life.

I remember Dom’s ever narrowing wrist and the yellow Livestrong bracelet he wore throughout his treatments, surgery and recovery periods.  How he spoke of the resources that he would be referred to through Livestrong to help navigate all the paperwork, filings and maze of insurance.  How he believed that the only way he was going to get better was to fight the disease with every ounce of strength he had and every bit of tenacity he could muster – just wanting to extend his life as long as possible to watch his children grow up.  Put as many memories of him as he could into their minds and hearts.

On August 15, 2010 we lost Dom to cancer.

14 days later I became a Dad.

Talk about a month of gaining perspective about life.

So as I watched Lance and Oprah speak last night it was easy for me to separate the athlete from the humanitarian.

Lance is a flawed person.  No doubt about it.  He admitted as much during his interview repeatedly.

As an athlete in Austin who has run with Lance, raced in events that he has raced in, trained on my bike on the very roads that Lance has ridden, run hills he has run and swam in lakes where he has trained I can say that I am very, very disappointed that he chose to cheat, lie, cover-up and throw others under the bus that called him out on his doping.  It was a despicable way for him to operate.  The cheating in a sport full of cheaters is something that I think we all would have been able to understand on some level.  Not condone, endorse or accept.  But I could at least understand it happening given the pressures he felt to compete and win at the top-level of the sport.

But the other part of it.  The deception, attacks on those who challenged him – unforgivable.

As for his humanitarian efforts with the foundation, keeping in mind that it was formed before Lance was “Lance”.  I will say right here the same thing I will say to Lance in person the next time I see him at a triathlon, road race or out training in Austin.

Thank you Lance.  You made a huge impact on the life of a close friend and his family when they were going through a terrible, terrible time.

Thank you.

The Road Back

Posted: January 14, 2013 in Training

At 7:00 a.m. Sunday morning 15,000 runners stood outside of Minute Maid Park in Downtown Houston for the 41st running of the Chevron Houston Marathon.

Another 7,000 runners were nervously entering the starting corral at the 3M Half Marathon in Austin.

On Palmbrook Drive a runner stood in his driveway waiting for his GPS Watch to find its satellite signal on a morning that was perfect for a run.  40 degrees, light winds, sun rising off to the East.  All 22,000 runners were nervous, wondering what the first few strides would tell them.

For everyone but me, they were thinking about Marathon Medals, PR’s and post-race satisfaction.

All I wanted to do was run a mile without any pain in my left foot/Achilles.

I wasn’t going to be greedy.  Just a mile.  If I could stretch it out to 2, that would be beyond my expectations and I would shut things down right then and there, no matter how good it felt to run.

Well, I never really got a chance to find out as when I took my first strides up the block I could tell that we were not quite right yet.

The good news is that the pain in the Achilles and bottom/outside of my foot is gone.  The 3 weeks of rest has done its trick and we are now in a good place from a pain perspective.

The bad news is that all that time I have had to walk a little more stiffly, landing a little more gingerly with a slight limp.  It has made my Achilles tendon tight and I have lost some of the flexibility in my toe off.  I was running without pain, but I was heel-striking in a big way.  Something that if I continued on would manifest itself someplace else in my body.  That is the difficult part coming back from a lower leg injury.

The knee bone’s connected to the leg bone, the leg bone connected to the ankle bone  – so the story goes.

At 1/4 mile I turned around and ran back to the house.  1/2 mile in the books.  Not enough to even post in my training log.  But I was happy nonetheless.

Big progress was made since I visited Dr. Fernandez last Monday.  I’m very close to being back.  I just have to regain the strength and flexibility on that lower left side of my foot and up into my Achilles.  It’s coming – so now it is going to be a mixture of being patient, while helping it along.

The remedy?  Swimming.

This morning I will hop into the pool for really the second or third time since we finished the Half-Ironman in Kerrville.  The zero impact activity – along with flexing the tendons in my feet to kick and stay streamlined is exactly what we need to get the mobility back in the area.

I was going to start preparing for Triathlon Season on February 1st.  A couple of weeks after Houston when I was fully recovered from the Marathon.

Instead, we are going to get a jump-start on TRI season, get back to running pain-free and set our sights on the Pocono Marathon on May 19th.  If all goes according to plan, we will race our first Triathlon of the year about 4 weeks later than we had planned, but slide in our 2013 marathon in its place.  When we look back on 2013 at the end of the year, hopefully we will hardly remember the few weeks we had to take off early in the year to get over our injury – and instead we will focus on the accomplishments.

A few runners might have been let off the hook on Sunday as we missed a couple of marquee running events here in TX.  But with an extra two weeks of cycling and swimming that we would not have done – perhaps a few triathletes in June are going to be a little bit surprised with our early season fitness level.

Either way, I’m feeling close to 100% health and mentally this break has served me well.  I feel like I have never wanted to train so hard and race so badly as I do right now.

That’s a dangerous combination.

Onward and upward.

Sunday morning with the sun still below the horizon in downtown Houston the gun will fire and the sound of 30,000 feet striking the ground will start as runners fire out across the mat at the Chevron Houston marathon.

Or 29,998 feet anyway.

Our two feet will be just starting to mill around the house in Austin, TX.

The bad news is we are still on the shelf from a strained Achilles tendon as our training for the Houston marathon was just entering its final stage and into the taper.

The good news is we are close to being back to running.  Very close.

I have regained the flexibility and a great deal of the strength on my left side.

I can now stand on my left foot only and balance with my right knee pulled up high to my chest like a runner would in a toe-off sprint position.

A week ago I could not balance on my left foot for more than a second.

I can now raise my entire body weight up onto my toes standing just on my left foot.

A week ago I could not.

There is no more “pain” in the Achilles or left foot area – I am close.  Very close.

What remains now is the fear that I am not 100% and the residual doubt about how those first strides are going to feel.  What taking on an incline is going to do to the area, am I going to aggravate the situation further or will I continue to move forward and back to full recovery without setbacks.  The unknown is what is ahead of us.

Runners can’t stand the unknown.

As a group, I think we would rather try and fail then simply never find out – and that is what fuels runners on race day to test their limits.

On Sunday without me there, a 45-year-old runner from Virginia Beach is going to cross that start line and run the race of his life.  His text to me said:

“I’m going for it.  If I blow up, I blow up.  Nothing to lose”.

Typically when I put a training plan together, in the footer of the document I will put an inspirational quote for me to look at every morning when I cross off my run, swim, bike ride, strength training session or rest day.  I read the words and think about them for a moment, helping them build my confidence and focus day after day until race day.

For Run for Dom I had a quote from Steve Prefontaine, for Austin it was a quote from Dom, for Boston last year, Bill Bowerman.

As I put my training plan together for the Pocono Marathon on May 19th in Pennsylvania – I added a new author to the bottom of the page from Virginia Beach.

Steve Speirs – “I‘m going for it.  If I blow up, I blow up.  Nothing to lose.”

Exactly right Steve, my sentiments exactly.  You do your thing on Sunday.  I’ll follow suit on May 19th.

Knock ’em dead my friend, I would give just about anything to be there with you.

After an hour on the Tri-Bike trainer New Year’s Day I hopped off the bike and came to a few conclusions.

1.  There was very little chance my foot was going to improve enough to race this coming Sunday in Houston.

2.  I needed to make an appointment to see Dr. Jim Fernandez at Austin Sports Medicine for a diagnosis.

3.  Complete rest would be more helpful to me than any cross-training until I saw Jim.

So,  I shut things down and decided not to bike, swim, walk, stretch or really do much of anything until I could get an appointment at with Dr. Fernandez.   I would try to relax about Houston, chalk it up as a missed opportunity to race, but also as a chance for all the other bumps, bruises and slight aches and pains that a couple of years worth of training and racing with no break my body had accumulated to heal.

I had trained through an abdominal strain throughout Half-Ironman training and race day which is now 100% recovered.

My right hamstring was a bit tight, taking longer to warm-up that usual, but was not really hindering me during races.  That is now 100% back to normal.

As for the rest of the machine – I am feeling ready to do some serious racing – which brings us back to the Achilles tendon.

After sending in my race deferral on Friday – officially withdrawing from the Houston Marathon, my first experience ever pulling out of a race – I felt like 50% of the weight I had been carrying around me had been lifted.  My hope was that after seeing the sports Doc. on Monday I would receive the news that I had just a minor training injury/setback and the remaining 50% would be taken off of my shoulders.

Upon rising Monday morning I went through the usual process.  I opened my eyes and flexed my foot several times under the covers.  Making a mental note of any slight changes in stiffness or soreness.  I then put my feet on the carpet and made the tentative walk to the bathroom taking inventory with ever step.  Things seemed to have improved a bit and I was walking as close to “limp-free” as I had been before the gun fired at the Shiner half-marathon three weeks earlier.

I made my way over to Austin Sports Medicine, turned in the sheaf of paperwork that was required as my last visit was almost two years ago and waited my turn.

After Jim and I caught up about family and the kids we got down to business.  He asked about the injury, how I believe it happened, what treatments I had been self-prescribing, my rehab regimen and one of the reasons I love Jim so much as he is an athlete himself and is constantly working with athletes who train hard and race hard he asked, “O.K., so what’s the plan after Houston.  When are you planning on racing again?”

He didn’t have to ask if, only when.

I told him that since Houston was out of the equation, I had made no plans for subsequent large events.  I was going to take a little time to rest and relax, reevaluate things and set some goals for TRI Season and the Fall.  The thought was Houston was going to be my “send-off” race.

I added that if I could return to training in the near future, I was going to circle May on the calendar and look to race the Pocono Marathon – Run for the Red.

A smaller event on a fast course.  Not a lot of pressure, a race with maybe 1,600 runners and one where I would be able to run with the top 25-40 entrants.  Perhaps finishing even better than that if it all came together for me.

Jim gave me about the best bad news possible, or least-sh#%#!y news if you prefer to look at it like that.

I did not have a tear or severe injury to my Achilles.  I had a strain that was causing stiffness and “perceived weakness”.  There was no thickening of the Achilles tendon either, which can be a precursor to future issues.  He felt that during the unpaved mile on the Shiner course, I simply miss-stepped at a high intensity level going all out at half-marathon race pace and irritated the area.  Pushing hard on it the next 4-5 miles to the finish line took its toll even tough with the race-day adrenaline, I never felt it until my cool down.

I was now perhaps another 10-14 days away from a full return to running, my body would let me know.

Just get on the bike, get in the pool, cross-train, stretch and strengthen the area.

I would run again.  I would be able to train hard again.  I would race again.

A Marathon in May was a great plan.

So with that I thanked Jim for his time, his expertise and his prognosis – paid our bill and went on with our day – already feeling much better about ourselves, and we even got some points with Dr. Fernandez for being smart about how we managed the situation, not trying to be a hero and pushing through training and racing down in Houston making a not so great situation into a terrible one.

I must be growing up finally after 45 1/2 years.

As for Houston?  We’ll see.  I learned last year that it is not wise to assign too great a value to a particular race or event.  For two years all I thought about was racing the Boston Marathon and exacting revenge on that course since my first attempt back in 2010.  I thought about that race for more than 700 days.  I developed a training plan specific to the demands, my entire race calendar around those 180 minutes in Boston for an entire year.

On race day the temperatures reached 88 degrees and I trotted from Hopkinton to Boston on one of the most anticlimactic days of my life.

So this time – I will not get too carried away about Houston.  The race is just another race.  The day is just another day.

If I have time to prepare properly for the Poconos in May – then I am going to do exactly that.  I am going to wake up that day eminently prepared and 100% focused on that day, those 26.2 miles and those 180 minutes on the clock.  If the conditions are not ideal, I will simply do my best and move on.

If it doesn’t happen in May, then we will set our sites on Houston next January and go through the same process.  I will still have time to register for the race if I want to after coming through the chute in Pennsylvania.  If not Houston, then somewhere else, some other time.  The marathon is not going anywhere anytime soon, and I guess as a matter of fact, neither am I.  Not until we get ours.

logoPerhaps after all of this I’m supposed to race in the Poconos.  A Pennsylvania kid, born and raised, married to a Pennsylvania girl, running on for Dom who was all “Pittsburgh” from the tip of his toe to the hair on his head.  When he still had some.

Who knows, maybe Dom just wanted a better seat in the front row when we come thundering downhill to the finish line on May 19th with 2:59:XX on the race clock, arms spread wide, stride strong and a smile across our lips.  He was there in May of 2009 when we fist qualified for Boston in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.  Perhaps 4 years later, practically to the day he was just looking for a repeat performance.

Sounds good to me.

Deferment in Houston

Posted: January 4, 2013 in Training

At 5:30 p.m. On Friday I pulled out of the Houston Marathon. A race that I registered for 8 months ago, planned an aggressive training plan for to build on our half-ironman fitness from tis summer’s triathlon season and got within 16 runs and less than 100 training miles away from the starting line.

With a mysterious pain that showed up out of nowhere, we are now out.

No race day, no attempt at a sub three hour marathon on what is shaping up to be near perfect weather conditions down in Houston next weekend.

On Monday morning at 10:00 a.m. I will visit with Dr. Jim Fernandez at Austin Sports Medicine and we will try to figure out where the root of my problem is. It is an Achilles strain? A small tear in my soft tissue in the left foot? Right now I really don’t have a clue. I am hoping for the news that this is just a minor injury and that after another couple of weeks of rest we can gradually ramp things back up and get on with training.

There is a small part of me that is hoping against hope that I am going to be back very soon, but as someone with a pretty high tolerance for pain and discomfort, this one just feels “different”.

Truth be told, I’m a little worried.

I kicked around the idea of waiting to defer until the last moment (January 8th is the deadline) or not deferring at all and simply not picking up my packet on race day. After all if I want to race Houston in 2014 I will have to pay my entry fee again. Deferring doesn’t really do much for me as I have a qualifying time for next year’s race that will already grant me entry without going through the lottery.

But I decided to defer for two reasons.

1. I need to mentally move on.

I kept holding on to the ridiculous notion that somehow I would be able to line up next weekend in Houston. Essentially hoping for a miracle. It was time to face facts and move on mentally to let the physical healing begin.

2. Perhaps I would make room for another athlete or charity runner by deferring and giving up my bib.

Race day should be a celebration. I try to remind myself of that on race days, but sometimes I get too wrapped up in my own goals and aspirations to remember that fact. Runners on race day should celebrate the gifts they have, the hardwork they put in to prepare and the joy of racing to the best of your abilities.

If I can’t be in Houston, maybe someone else can and they will carry my bib number for me from start to finish proudly. Perhaps they will run the race of their life like I hoped to. Next Sunday can still be the special experience that I had hoped for, it just won’t be for me,

We will have to have our day another time at another race either this May, next fall or maybe it will in fact be Houston next January.

My last two marathons have been more or less taken away from me.

Boston with 88 degree temperatures and now Houston due to injury.

One thing is very clear to me right now as I face a great deal of uncertainty.

When we do get to the next starting line completely fit, trained and healthy – the marathon doesn’t stand a chance in hell. I am going to run that race with a fearless determination I have never possessed in my 9 other marathon starts to this point.

2:59? Kid stuff.

2:55 has a much better ring to it.

Farewell Houston. See you next year.