Posts Tagged ‘Dominic D’Eramo’

Kicking Cancer’s Ass 26.2 Miles at a Time

29 months ago I was licking my wounds from running the second of two marathons in 13 days for Dom and his battle with cancer. 

It seems almost impossible that it has been that long since we came through the chute in Pittsburgh with Dom looking on and Landry still growing in her Mommy’s belly almost 4 months away from making her grand appearance on August 29th.  A Sunday.  A long run day of course.

At that point I took a step back and tried to really evaluate where I wanted to go from there with respect to running and more specifically the marathon.

I was a 42-year-old marathoner with a 3:17:43 marathon PR that was getting dusty, now exactly 12 months old.  If I wanted to continue to ascend as a runner, especially in my early 40’s I was going to have to make some changes to my training.  More speed work, more hill work, more racing at the shorter distances to gain valuable race experience and of course more mileage.

To that point I had maxed out my weekly mileage at 55 miles per week and felt like if I pushed any further than that, injury was going to rear it’s ugly head.  I needed to keep my Mondays and Fridays as “off-days” from the pounding – which limited the amount of runs and miles I could cover in a week.  I would have to get smarter, work harder and I was going to have to find a way to keep pushing.

A few months later on August 15th we lost Dom.  It was a dark, dark day.  I can’t speak for everyone who knew Dom, his family, friends or acquaintances.  I can only speak for myself and when I am completely honest, I have to admit that I lost some faith that day.  To that point I believed that if you did the right things, never gave up, battled and persevered – you were to be rewarded.  42 years of growing up a carpenter’s son and member of the Catholic Church had taught me those lessons over and over and over.

And then, it simply didn’t work.  Dom, despite all efforts, treatments, procedures, surgeries, prayers and hopes was taken from his family, his wife, his daughter and son before he reached his 40th birthday.  Somehow “fair” just didn’t enter into it.

As I was flying back to Austin after Dom’s funeral by myself, (Dawn could not make the trip as she was 8 1/2 months pregnant) – I replayed all of the conversations I had with Dom over the last year and a half.  There were times sitting alone on the plane that I laughed out loud, others when I quietly wiped a tear from the corner of my eye, hoping nobody noticed.

But the one conversation that I could not shake was the last one we had in person.  We were hugging each other in the finishing chute under the cover of the Convention Center in Pittsburgh when he whispered to me, “I know you couldn’t run these last two marathons the way you wanted to racing for me.  Go out and run the next one for you and absolutely crush it.”

That was when I decided that I was done running marathons.

I wanted to race them.

It wasn’t going to be enough to simply survive the race, I wanted to hammer away fearlessly and push the envelope of our talent, training and abilities.  I wanted to not leave a single second on the race clock.  The same approach I take in a 5K, 10K, 10-miler or half-marathon.

Leave nothing for later.

This week the runner that could not run more than 55 miles a week as a 42-year-old will be running 80 miles this week at age 45 1/2.

18 miles on Tuesday, 12 on Wednesday, 18 on Thursday, 11 on Saturday, 21 on Sunday – 80 miles.

Training for Houston, knowing this is my last planned marathon for quite some time has been challenging.  Out of the 495 miles we have logged as of lunchtime on Thursday of this week, 123 of them or 25% have been at marathon goal pace (6:52) or faster.  Something we have never done before.

The 80 total miles this week will again be something we have never done.

Next week, another tough mileage week with a 5K race thrown in on tired legs Friday night to make things interesting.

Then our last real test of the training cycle on December 16th at the Shiner Beer Half Marathon.

A final 80 mile week, the week following Shiner and then we will taper this thing up and get ready to race our ass off down in Houston.

I’m not entirely sure how we’ve gotten here.  But make no mistake, this is where we are.

After all this hard work there really isn’t a question as to whether we are going to go for it down in Houston and try to accomplish a goal time in the marathon that less than 1% of the 1% of the population that has run a marathon has ever accomplished.  Running 26.2 miles at 6:52 pace or faster.

We most certainly are.  The question on that day will be how badly do we want to hang on to the pace group when that voice inside our head that keeps saying “I can’t” is replaced by another voice that whispers in my ear for the first time – “I can”.

I’ll recognize that voice when I hear it.

Just when I need it the most.  It will be Dom.

 

80 Training days remain before we drop off our dry bag pre-dawn in Houston, run a short, brisk warm-up, re-tie our race flats and tuck in to the starting area among the other marathoners who hope to run a time under 3:00 hours on January 13, 2013.

Last year on a cool, fast day for racing the leader of the 3 hour pace group finished in 2:59:40 which was good enough for 245th place overall.  The 22oth Male Finisher.  He is an Austin runner who I have met at a few races.  Marathon PR of 2:40.  He has paced 5 different marathon groups over the past few years and has come in just under goal time in each of them.

I’m not going to let him out of my site on race day.

Wednesday’s are my mid-week recovery workouts during a marathon training cycle.  They fall just 12 hours or so after my second of two runs on Tuesday and 24 hours before my hill-repeat workout on Thursday.  It is a run of 10-12 miles depending on the week where I just lock into whatever pace feels “comfortable” and cruise evenly up and down the rolling terrain of the hill route.  I run the hills so I can engage all of the different muscle groups, giving a rest to my hamstrings on the downhill sections, working my Quads and calves while I am climbing – essentially flushing out all of the soreness and fatigue from the previous two workouts and giving me the opportunity to reload a bit before going hard again on Thursday morning battling hill repeat after hill repeat.

The runs on Wednesday are not necessarily “difficult”, this week after running 16.5 miles over two workouts on Tuesday with half of those miles between 6:10 pace and 6:45, running a relaxed 7:48 pace over ten miles can feel kind of nice actually.  The challenge is actually in staying patient and not gradually running faster and faster as the miles tick by in an effort to “just wrap this up” or “get back to get some breakfast”.  Early on I would stay nice and smooth for 6 or 7 miles, but the last 3 I would find myself running close to race pace.  Not good.

On a day when I am supposed to be recovering from a tough workout and preparing for another one to follow – I was turning my recovery run into a pace run.

But lately, I have been much more restrained and patient on these recovery days and it has allowed me to run even harder on my hard days.  That is where the good stuff is.  Being able to really hammer away on the days that demand “hammering”.  Recovery days are just that, meant to build your aerobic base and endurance.  In some ways the slower the better as you are going to extend the run and spend more time on your feet.  All important when preparing for a marathon.

What is interesting to me is where my mind wanders on these runs.  When I am running intervals or speed work I really don’t have time to be distracted.  I’m firmly in the now.  But on a relaxed run I can allow myself to think about things other than running.  This morning I spent the first few miles of my run thinking about Dom’s children Sierra and Nico.  With Halloween right around the corner I wondered what they would be wearing to go Trick or Treating next week.  Or what they would be “Going As” which is how we referred to it growing up outside of Philadelphia.

I made a mental note that I needed to call Val this weekend to check-in on everybody and see what their plans were.  Dom in a lot of ways was just an overgrown kid.  Full of fun, laughter and an infectious mischievous side – even at age 39.  His kids are at the age now where Halloween and really all the holidays are a lot of fun.  I know they miss him as much as he misses them.

As I was climbing over the top of the dam around mile 6 I started to think about my strategy down in Houston.  How in my “best” races – and by that I mean when I ran as close to or better than what I thought my capabilities at that distance were at the time, how I had run even splits throughout.  Never more than :02-:05 faster or slower than my race average at the finish line.

IBM Uptown Classic, Austin Half-Marathon, NOCC Balance, Shamrock Half-Marathon, 3M, the Pittsburgh Marathon all races where I was “locked in” for the majority of the race and only over the final 10-15% of the race when things got difficult did I need to tap into the mental strength to keep the pedal down.  Keep pushing.  Not let the brain that was sending me signals that this was getting hard and wouldn’t it feel great to back off a bit right now actually take over.  I just set that thought to the side and realized that every stride I took was one stride closer to the end.  That is the only time relief totally comes anyway.  The finish line.  At some point it really doesn’t matter.  Fast or slow, it hurts just the same.

On top of the dam overlooking Brushy Creek Trail and the lake below, I shined my headlamp out in front of me and I could see the exact spot where I decided to run those two marathons in 13 days for Dom in 2010 as he battled stomach cancer.  Less than 4/10 of a mile from that bend in the trail my plan for the Houston Marathon came together.  80 days prior to race day.

I am going to line up slightly behind the 3 hour pace group and cross the start line a handful of seconds after they do.  Over the first mile I am going to keep them exactly in sight and gradually reel them in over the first three miles of the race.  At the 5K split I will pull alongside Brian the pace-leader and tuck in to the group.  :20 or so of “wiggle” room in my back pocket.

I will stay with them through 10K and through the half-way point.  Around mile 15 or 16 when the group starts to break up a bit, I am going to tuck in on Brian’s heels.

At mile 20 when there are even fewer of us remaining, I am going to fasten a string in my mind from Brian’s waist to mine.  I might let the string stretch a bit, but never break.  I will not no matter what let him get away from me.

The hardest miles in the marathon to hold pace are from 20-24.  It is at that point that your Glycogen stores have run out and you are now starting to burn fat as fuel.  It is much less efficient, and you have to work harder to hold the same pace.  Your legs are feeling heavy.  For me, the outside of my hips start to get sore and it is more difficult to raise my legs as high on my stride as I did just 15 minutes earlier.  It is the time when your brain starts telling you to back off, this is getting hard.

It is the point in the race where I ask myself the same question that I have posed at every “A” race I have ever competed in.

“How bad do you want this today?”

I know that if I can hold on to the pace group to mile 24 we are going to make it.

Mile 25 is going to hurt regardless, whether that mile is at 6:52 pace or 7:15 or 7:30.  I am going to disassociate from everything going on except the back of Brian’s singlet.  Don’t let that string snap.

Mile 26 is going to run itself.  I can do anything for one mile.

And when we make the final turn and only 400 meters remains we are going to kick like we have never kicked before.  I have always had a hard time visualizing what the end of a sub 3 hour marathon would be like.  Perhaps it is because I knew that I wasn’t quite ready before.  Or maybe it was because I wasn’t willing to pay the price of admission.

But on a dark trail 81 days prior to race day I could see every bit of it happening right in front of me.  With a glance I am going to thank Brian for the escort through the first 26~ miles of the race and then I am going to drop him like a bad habit.  It is going to be the most painful but at the time the most exhilarating 400 meters we have ever raced.  We’ll have plenty of time to recover when it’s over.

Dom, it’s been awhile since I’ve sat down and written you. The last time we really caught up was Christmas morning when I stopped by to visit with you at the cemetery long before anybody had gotten out of bed yet. I remember that run like it was yesterday as it was more than 700 feet of climbing from Dawn’s Parent’s house up the hills past your Mom and Dad’s, the High School and into the cemetery. I guess it wouldn’t have been too fitting if I had a nice downhill jaunt to visit with you. Instead you treated me to that downhill return trip after we caught up for a bit. Sorry I couldn’t stay longer but it was of course freezing cold in the ‘burgh for this Texan and my legs were tightening up on me. I also wanted to make sure I was back before Landry woke up looking for Santa Claus. I would give just about anything for a cold morning like that one to run in right now Dom, it’s been over a 100 degrees here in Austin for almost a solid month now and there really isn’t much relief in sight.

I’ve been swimming a lot and biking my rear end off getting ready for our first Half Ironman next month. Sometimes I don’t know whether I should thank you or curse you for all of the strength you have given me to keep chasing down these crazy dreams of mine. The fact of the matter is that among all of the gifts you gave me throughout your cancer battle the one that stuck with me the most is how to handle fear.

People can talk about not being afraid all they want, but I’ve come to the conclusion that they are full of crap.

Everyone is afraid sometimes. I know that you were quite afraid of leaving Val, Sierra and Nico two years ago as well as your Mom, Dad, Brothers, Cousins, Nieces, Nephews, Aunts and Uncles.

I also know that when I am standing on the shore of the Guadalupe River with my cap pulled down tight over my goggles with a 1.2 mile swim staring me in the face, I’m going to be afraid.

But you showed me that it was o.k. to be afraid. What it wasn’t o.k. to do was to let it control you. Let it own you. Everyone knew that you were one scrappy guy Dom long before you got sick. It was just the way you were. Willing to fight anyone and anything that got in your way or threatened those that you cared about. When you got sick you simply turned that attitude loose on your cancer. I have to tell you Dom it was pretty damn inspiring to witness.

You helped me in more ways than you ever knew Dom when I was pushing through training for those two marathons, and the races themselves. Quitting never was an option. In fact it was an absurd notion.

Since then we’ve run a lot of races and competed in quite a few triathlons. We haven’t won them all, hell, we’ve only won one of them outright – but we’ve done pretty well for ourselves. But the thing that I’m most proud of is that we finished every damn race we’ve ever started. Sometimes it is great to run well and set new PR’s, but the thing I’m most proud of is that I’ve put your name and initials on pair after pair of race flats and we have never ever started a race we didn’t finish. They haven’t all been things of beauty, Boston this year Dom was one of the longest and toughest days of my life – but those days are all mine, all genuine, and I owe those gifts to you. So thank you.

Dawn’s 40th Birthday is in a couple of weeks Dom. I know she thinks about you a lot as she has mentioned to me on more than one occasion that this is a birthday you never quite reached. We kicked around the idea of a party, but with Landry’s 2nd birthday just two days earlier, I think we are going to try to put something special together for her 40 1/2 birthday. Maybe try to get Ritchie back down to TX and have a little fun. Of course it won’t be the same without you, none of those kind of events are and they never will be. You are very much missed Dom, but I know you already know that.

I’m not sure if you remember the conversation we had when we found out that Landry was going to be a little girl, but you said that, “there is nothing better than being a Dad, except being a little girl’s Dad ….”

I thought that I knew what you were talking about at the time, but man, was I ever wrong. Dom, she is absolutely the greatest. Just watching her learn new things, laugh at me with that big belly-laugh of hers, see her be kind to her friends at school, run to greet me at the door of daycare or just last night when she asked me for a kiss before bed – there is nothing like it in the world. You would have loved her Dom, she has such a great spirit and fearlessness. I could not be more proud of her. I feel privileged to have a front-row seat to seeing her grow up. In a word, it’s the best.

Landry testing Dad’s new running shoes

I’m not sure if we are going to be making it back to Pittsburgh this winter or not. Once we get some things settled down here in Austin after summer wraps up and we get through our race in Kerrville we’ll start thinking about that I’m sure. If we do make the trip back we’ll be sure to stop by and see your Mom and Dad and the rest of the D’Eramo clan. Your family is the way family is supposed to be Dom. I always feel so much better after having spent time with them.

And if one morning long before the sun is up to warm the ground that you are sleeping under you hear footsteps slow from a run to a walk, then kneel in the wet grass you’ll know who it is. But I suspect you’ll know that I’m coming to see you as soon as I lace up my shoes that morning. If you wouldn’t mind sending a little wind at my back on the way uphill to see you it would be greatly appreciated Dom.

I know you like to have a little fun with me some mornings when you think I’m getting a little too big for my britches. You drop the occasional thunderstorm on me for a 20-mile training run, or a 20 mph wind in my face on the bike as I’m climbing a tough set of hills.  I think of you every time that happens and can almost hear you laughing at me.  Almost.

I promise to stay humble this year going into Kerrville and the Houston Marathon. I also promise to try my best no matter what happens out there. I may not owe you as much as I feel like I do Dom, but I’m quite certain I owe you at least that much.

Godspeed my friend. I love and miss you.

J

Dom

Posted: August 15, 2012 in Motivation
Tags: , ,

August 15th is here once again, it’s been two years since we lost Dom to cancer.  It still hurts.  A lot.

I know that I am not the only one who has lost a friend or family member to disease, illness or accident.  Sadly, most everyone that I know can share a story or two about someone they cared deeply about who passed away before their time.  I’m long past feeling sorry for myself, wondering what the meaning to it all is, what I am supposed to learn from the journey, from the experience.  After two years of thinking about Dom and all of the twists and turns that his treatment, surgery and recovery took on the way to August 15, 2010 I’ve come to realize that there really aren’t any good answers.

Coughlin’s Law – “Everything ends badly, otherwise it wouldn’t end.” 

Bottom line is that there are two beautiful, funny, smart little children growing up in Dormont, PA without their father.  There is a wonderful young woman who misses her husband, and an amazing family in Hopewell, PA – a Mother, Father, Brother’s, Aunts, Uncles, Sister-In Laws, Cousins, Nieces and Nephews who miss Dom terribly.  He was everybody’s favorite.  No matter who you were, young or old, a relative, close friend or somebody who got introduced to Dom with a beer in one hand and a brat in the other at a Pittsburgh Steelers playoff game like I did … you automatically loved that guy.

Dom was simply, all-time.

I’m not ready to let go yet.  I still race with his initials on my shoes and his voice in my head when times get the toughest.  If you are really “racing” an event – and not just running in a race – there are large differences between the two, every athlete reaches a point where things seem like they are starting to fall apart.  In a short event like a 5K or 10K it becomes about pain management.  You physically can keep running at that pace.  It is physiologically possible – you just have to shut down your pain-sensors and keep pushing.  Don’t give in.  Hang on until you reach the final mile.  At that point I know that I’m going to make it.

I can do anything for one mile.

In the longer races like the marathon or next month’s Ironman 70.3 it is not the same feeling as a short distance event.  It’s not pain management as much as fighting the changes that your body is going through related to fuel and endurance.  It is what I refer to as “the dark place” where you have to be mentally strong – continue to fight – don’t give in to your body’s desire to slow down and conserve energy.  That is the battle at play.  Your fuel is running out and your body is automatically sending you signals as to how fast you can continue to go on your remaining glycogen stores and fat.  It wants you to slow down.  You want to stay the same.

The battle is internal and it is a dark, dark place.  Until that final mile.

I can do anything for one mile.

It is those moments when I turn to my source of strength.  I think about seeing Dawn and Landry at the finish line.  I imagine what having those little arms around my neck are going to feel like.  What hearing Dawn’s voice in my ear will sound like – and I think about Dom.

There are a lot of brave individuals who have battled cancer.  I meet them all the time.  My desk faces one of them at work every day.  My Mother is another one.  They are amazing to me.  Inspirational.

I don’t know of any who were braver than Dom.

Talking to him throughout his battle was something I will never forget.  I would be at home with ice on my right shin and a bag of frozen peas on my left instep nursing two nagging injuries that I was battling training to run two marathons in 13 days for Run for Dom – and Dawn would hand me the phone with Dom on the line.  We would talk about his treatments, his surgery, how he was feeling and he would ask how my training was going.

“Great” I would say.  “We are going to kill it in Boston Dom.” I would tell him.

All of a sudden my shin didn’t hurt so much and my left foot felt a whole lot better.

That was all Dom.

There were some pretty tough moments racing Boston and Pittsburgh back to back like that.  The thought of it today still makes me shake my head and wonder how in the hell I pulled that off – especially that second marathon less than two weeks after Boston.  But I would sign on and do it again in a second if it would make a difference.  That was what it was all about, helping provide support to Dom’s family and contribute to his children’s educations.  We crushed our goal of raising $26.2K and kept on going almost $10,000 past that mark.

Dom< Val and Renee at the DorStop in Dormont, PA after the Pittsburgh Marathon in 2010.

In the races since I’ve been running for me as much as Dom’s memory and we’ve had some pretty amazing experiences – a lot of them were made possible by Dom as he taught me just how tough I really am.   How much I can endure and how much it takes to break me.  Most of us go through our lives never knowing what those limitations are because we are scared to find out.  Dom’s battle with cancer granted me the opportunity to put myself out on a limb and see just how close I could come to reaching those limits.

I haven’t stopped reaching since over these last two years.  I want to test myself.  It makes me feel alive.

So Dom, when we dip our toe in the water at next month’s Kerrville Half Ironman and I am staring a 1.2 mile open water swim in the face, a 56 mile hilly bike ride through the Texas Hill Country and a 13.1 mile run back through town to the finish line you are going to be there with me every stroke, pedal and step of the way.  Just as you have been for the last 24 months.

Today the training schedule called for a 10-mile training run.  I ran an extra 2 for you this morning, one for each year you’ve been gone.  They were the fastest miles of my workout.

I can do anything for 2 miles.

I miss you Dom.

When I mapped out my training cycle for Ironman 70.3 this summer this week was one that I knew was going to test me.  Not from a workout perspective, but from a life-balance perspective.  That is the reality for us “weekend warrior” endurance athletes.  We do not have the “luxury” of a schedule that revolves around our training, a nutritionist to plan and prepare our meals or a massage therapist on call to help us overcome sore muscles and fatigue to jump right back into our training.

The reality for most of us is that we have a full-time job to focus on, a family to spend quality time with, a yard to mow, a shopping list to fill, laundry that needs to get done, meals to prepare and of course for the lucky ones like me, a soon-to-be 2 year old to chase around the house and read bedtime stories to.

Sometimes the actual “training” for a marathon or triathlon is more challenging from a time perspective than from a physical one.

Last week we covered 114.90 miles swimming, cycling and running.  10 hours and 53 minutes of training.  I typically get 7 hours of sleep a night.  Sometimes a little less and every once in awhile a little more.  That leaves 119 hours in a week to “get things done”.  Last week’s training took roughly 10% of that time.

It was a tremendous week with lots of great endurance work in the books including a couple of 2,000 meter continuous swims and a pair of 20 mph 35 mile rides.  Yesterday we ran long and covered 15 steamy miles, building our base for the half-marathon off of the bike in Kerrville.

But this week things get a little more complicated as Landry and I are on our own until Momma Bear returns from a conference on Friday.  That means no early swims or runs while Landry is asleep.  We are going to have to strap on the baby monitor early in the morning while we pedal away on our TRI Bike up on the trainer in the garage, sneak in our swims at lunchtime and run with Landry in the jogging stroller in the evenings.

It is those weeks where you start to question your sanity a bit and wonder what this is all for.  It doesn’t happen to me more than once or twice a year – but for a fleeting instant you do think about how much “simpler” things would be if you  just took things down a notch

This morning I received a comment out of the blue on a post that I had written almost two years ago – 43 things about Joe – just prior to my 43rd birthday, just two weeks before Dom would lose the final round of his battle with cancer.  http://wp.me/pHGel-yO

The note was from a high school friend and football teammate of Dom’s back in Hopewell, PA. Corky had been away serving in the military, and had not been around for Dom’s struggle.  He shared some kind words and asked that I pass along his best wishes and condolences to Dom’s family – which I am going to take care of this evening when I get home.

It seems that on the rare times when my drive to keep pushing things as hard as I can is lacking Dom is there to send me a little nudge.  Just subtly to get my ass back in gear and take care of business.  It has happened during training runs, on mornings where the storms are loud and the rain is heavy as I push off from the corner of the garage after stretching my hamstrings and calf muscles with 20 soggy miles ahead.  It happens during races when I’m not sure I can run another mile at race pace as the fatigue and pain is starting to mount.  Then I run another.  And another.

I say quietly to myself that I’m not sure I can make it.

I make it every time.

Recently I put together a running resume recapping my experience running, training, racing and coaching.  It also reflected my race PR’s, Awards and wins.  More than 50 endurance events since 2009.  We have never started a race without reaching the finish line.

They haven’t all been pretty, but we’ve made it through to the line in each and every one of them.  Running is the ultimate metaphor for life.  There are no shortcuts, no “cheats” or way out.  The only way to the end is to keep fighting, keep pushing and putting one foot in front of the other.  At the end of the line you’ll have plenty of time to look back and see all of it.  The good, the bad, the wins and the losses.

Dom just reached his finish line a little faster than the rest of us..   I’m going to keep on chasing him as long as I can.

Thanks again for the push this week Dom.  Stay tuned on September 30th.  I’ll be registering for Ironman 70.3 today.  Once that is in the books we’re going to chase down that sub 3 hour marathon for you down in Houston.  I’ll stop by one early morning on a run when I’m back in Hopewell and tell you all about it.

Yesterday was our last day of training this week with back to back races looming now less than 24 hours away. After an up-tempo run on Monday, a swim and 35 mile ride on Tuesday, 10 mile run on Wednesday and finally a swim and 20-mile ride on Thursday the hay is in the barn.

Today will be a complete rest day, aside from a trip to the grocery store we will be laying low all day.  We will set-up the TRI bike with a good cleaning, adjust the brakes and pads, switch out to our race wheels and pack our transition bag for Sunday with everything except a few last minute items.

Then it will be time to focus on Saturday’s 5k up in Holland. I will look back over my last three races on the course, analyze my splits as they have changed over the years and come up with my gameplan for the first four half-mile splits of the race.

The final mile of a 5k is really about pain management if you have covered the opening two miles with a well executed plan.  At that point, fast or slow – it hurts just the same.  I just try to gradually empty what little reserves are remaining until the final 1/4 mile, run as hard as I can until the last 1/10 and then kick to the finish with whatever is left.

Heading into this weekend I thought about playing it safe and smart up in Holland to conserve some energy for the Pflugerville Triathlon on Sunday – but if there is one thing I know about racing – especially when I look down at my flats on Saturday morning and see Dom’s initials on my left instep. Playing it safe just isn’t our style.

He deserves better. So on Saturday and Sunday we are going to let it all hang out. If we run out of gas at some point, we’ll simply look for a reason to keep pushing and do the best that we can. Sometimes trying your best means a whole lot more than a few digits on a race clock.

Tomorrow morning – Boom goes the dynamite.

It’s race week once again!  Man, it feels like we just had one of these, and truth told, we did.

When I set up this training cycle for Boston I knew that the stretch of weeks between January 9th and February 19th were going to be the most challenging. 

Smack in the middle of our Boston Marathon training cycle we would be stretching our weekly mileage from 58.63 to 65.50, racing a half-marathon, then increasing our weekly mileage to 71.25 and then 75 miles followed by a second half-marathon just three weeks later.

This is the “break it down” stage of the training cycle, which will be followed by the “build it back up” stage leading to our third and final half-marathon on March 18th – leaving four final weeks to the Boston Marathon to recharge the legs and taper properly for the marathon of our life.

So realistically, how well can I expect to race on Sunday at the Livestrong Austin Half-Marathon?  Including the race itself, I will still be logging a 50-mile week – I am definitely not “tapering” for an “A” race.

Well that is pretty much the point.  In the end I am just adding a very intense 13.1 mile speed workout to my marathon training.  Hoping to run those 13.1 miles over a very challenging, hilly monster of a course at somewhere between 6:28 and 6:32 pace.

Course Profile - Austin Style

A workout that without the competition of race day would be virtually impossible to duplicate.

That said, it is more than a workout for me on Sunday.  Running at a Livestrong event is something that will always take on special significance and meaning.  I’m racing for Dom on Sunday as well as my Mother who when faced with Brain Cancer last year at the age of 82 never asked “why me”, never passed on a Dr.’s appointment, treatment strategy or post-surgery test or procedure.

She beat the odds and is now in full recovery mode, no sign of any tumor on any scans, moving full-speed ahead towards her 83rd birthday this spring.

So on Sunday I’ll be alongside 11,000 other half-marathoners and more than 8,000 marathoners taking to the streets of Austin, trying to lay down something “special” for those that we care about.  Bringing awareness and support to a disease that knows no boundaries and discriminates against no one.

Whether you are a 38 year-old father of two small children or an 82 Mother and Grandmother who is universally loved – nobody is safe.  Cancer is a part of almost everyone’s life in America today.  If it has not effected you or someone that you love, consider yourself immensely fortunate and blessed.

One of the things that was so humbling during Run for Dom in 2010 were all of the letters, e-mails and notes I received that shared a story from someone about their own battle with the disease or the loss of a loved one.

It is something that never leaves you once you experience it firsthand – it makes you value the everyday experiences much, much more than you ever did before cancer became a part of your life.

So on Sunday morning I won’t be thinking about the miles on my legs over the past two weeks or the lack of time to recharge and reload.  I won’t be fretting the weather, the course, the wind or the hills.

I won’t be concerned with the runners around me, what place we are in or if we are on pace to beat our time from the Texas Half three weeks earlier.

My strategy for this race is simple.

I am going to go as hard as I can for as long as I can until I reach mile 12.  As the final hills try to take their bites out of me, I’m going to instead take bites out of them.

It won’t all be pretty on Sunday, but the finish line is going to look pretty beautiful when we get there.

No chance of anything being left in the tank at the end of this race – I owe it to Dom and Mom to lay it all on the line.  I’m going to welcome the hurt, embrace it and leverage it in the form of fuel and fire.

If you plan on finishing ahead of 13056 on Sunday, bring your A-Game.  Just Sayin’.