Posts Tagged ‘Sunday Long Run’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Meatballs Formed and Braciole Ready for Cooking

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Austin Marathon Batch Ready for Freezing

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

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

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

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

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

Nothing like training for a Marathon!  Yum.

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


Sunday morning.

When I was a small boy, Sunday morning meant heading to St. Colman’s church in Ardmore, PA with my mother.  I would see my boyhood friends there, John Egan, Steve Boschi, Bob Winterle, Bill Cavanaugh and many others.

Some of us were altar boys, some of us were not, but it is a part of my early childhood I will never forget.

As I got older Sunday mornings meant Football.  Watching the not so mighty then Philadelphia Eagles.

When I was about 12 we finally had a decent team and we even made it to the Superbowl.  We lost of course to Jim Plunkett and the Oakland Raiders, but it was pretty amazing to see our men in green playing on football’s biggest stage.  Damn you Kenny King.

In the spring and summer it was Phillies games, watching the away games in the afternoon with my Dad.  Listening to the home games on the “Hi-Fi” – some of you youngins’ out there don’t have any idea what I’m talking about – but some of you do.  The voices of my childhood were Harry Kalas and Richie Ashburn calling the Phillies games over the TV and radio.  Like Dom, they are both gone now too.

Dawn and I love Sunday breakfast, one of our favorite things to do.  Whether it was going to the Coventry Café when we lived in Pennsylvania or 1431 Café in Austin, that is something we will soon be able to share with our daughter Landry.  (I promise to take her outside if she fusses too much Austin)

But for me now, really for the last five years or so when the marathoner in me was discovered, early Sunday mornings are dedicated to my weekly “long-runs”.  If I’m training for a marathon that may mean a run of between 14 and 20 miles most weeks.

If I am “between races” as I am right now, as training for the Austin marathon will not begin until October 18th, it means a run of somewhere between 8 and 12 miles.

Runs long enough to keep my endurance, stamina and mental toughness right there below the “race-ready” stage – but short enough to make sure I stay healthy and can enter marathon training injury free.

The constant over the years is that Sundays are special.  It is a time now where I spend 1 or 2 hours alone, sometimes a little more than that, just running. 

Running and thinking.  Thinking and running.

Sometimes I’m even thinking about running.  Kind of crazy.

But on those Sunday runs I’ve seen many amazing sunrises and beautiful wildlife.  More than I truly could count.

In the fall I can run and run and run as cool Texas temperatures make it a joy to be out there.

In the winter I am bundled up, sometimes with two pairs of gloves and a ski hat to keep me warm.  When I get home there are icicles on top of my head from sweat that has turned to ice.

This time of year I leave the house with four bottles of water and Gatorade in my hydrabelt just to make it through the run, still losing close to four pounds when I get back on the bathroom scale.

Sometimes I encounter babies in jogging strollers, walkers, cyclists and other runners – many of whom I see week after week as we nod to each other or share a good morning as we pass.

But for the most part I’m alone.

A year ago I started taking a companion with me on all of my long runs.  Dom.

When a hill would rise ahead of me I would think about Dom and all that he was going through.

When a song came on that made me smile or a gentle downhill section would present itself to me, I would think about Dom. 

I would think about how proud I was of him, his fearless attitude and his tremendous sense of humor.

How is he doing today?  Will the next news we hear about treatment options or progress be good news or bad?  What is the next step and are we winning or losing this fight?

Never once did I think about what running on a Sunday morning would be like “without him” – until today.

As I was leaving the house for the first time in a long time, I was a little nervous about my run.  Would I find the rhythm for my run quickly and easily or would I struggle to find my groove in the TX heat.

Should I go 10 miles or 12 today?  Would stretching my run out to 14 miles be more appropriate?  What are my body and my heart telling me that I need to do?

As I took off up the first hill that leads away from our home I thought about something that the Priest said to the congregation on Thursday morning during Dom’s funeral service.

There was a story Val had shared with many of us that at the very end Dom had become a bit disoriented.  He hopped out of bed last weekend and started to get in the shower – as if he was getting ready to go to work.

The priest relayed this story to the church and remarked that in fact Dom was getting ready to go to work.  He was preparing for his job in heaven, looking after all of his loved ones, especially Val, Sierra and Nico.  They may have lost a husband and a father, but they gained a Saint.

Saint Dominic.

The words that Val and the priest chose when describing Dom in that story struck a chord with me. 

When I have reached the 20 mile mark in every marathon I have ever run, I have mumbled to myself, “time to go to work”

To me that 20-mile mark is where a marathon truly begins.  Everything else was just a warm-up to that point.  20 miles is the farthest distance most marathoners will run as part of their marathon training. 

They do this to avoid the chance of a training injury, but to also avoid exhausting their glycogen stores which take quite awhile to rebuild once depleted.

You are more or less “saving” those stores for race day.

For most of us the 20 mile mark is that moment where your body begins to fail you and you have to press on for the final 10 kilometers or 6.2 miles. 

Your precious Glycogen can only fuel your body for the distance it takes to burn 2,000 calories.  At 100+/- calories burned per mile, this fuel only lasts long enough to propel you to the threshold of that magic 20-mile mark.

As your body switches over to its fat stores for fuel – runners describe this transition over to the much less efficient fuel as “hitting the wall”.  A well-trained marathoner is left with just 6.2 miles to go.  Piece of cake right?

That is the reason that I run that 6.2 mile distance on the majority of my mid-week training runs.  I want my body and mind to know exactly how long that distance is.  How many strides it takes to get there and especially just how many times we have done it before.  That final 10 Kilometers is about inner strength and confidence as your physical strength has been decreasing over the last 2-3 hours.

So, “Time to go to work” I said to myself – and as I calibrated my body and mind for Sunday’s long run – Seemed like a great day to ratchet things up a bit and knock out a solid 14 miles.  It would be the farthest I had run since coming through the finisher’s chute at the Pittsburgh Marathon in May, completing the Run for Dom double.

The best part of the run was realizing that I wasn’t alone at all. 

I still had my running companion with me when the sun rose over Brushy Creek Park.  He was with me when we scattered the deer coming around the bend on the lower loop near our house.  Dom was with me for the hills, both up and down – and he was especially there on the final stretch coming out of the green belt heading back into our neighborhood.

I felt so foolish during my cool-down.  Where else would Dom have been?  After all, it was time to go to work.

I’ve been thinking about Dom a lot lately. 

I’m not sure if it is the fact that my long runs are stretching back to that 10-12 mile range and I have more time to myself, or if it is because we are approaching the time last year when we first learned of Dom’s cancer diagnosis.

Regardless, as I was contemplating my scheduled 12-mile training run Sunday morning, Dom was front and center in my mind.

I had competed in the Cougar Country 5K just nine hours earlier as the race was held at 8:00 p.m. Saturday evening.  The distance was not the issue as I would have normally run twice as far the day before my12-miler Sunday morning.  But the intensity of racing at 5:50/mile pace in posting that 18:12:61 PR was certainly going to come back and “bite me” just a bit on Sunday. 

It was not a matter of if, simply a matter of when.

I thought of Dom as I was stretching in the early morning darkness of our family room.  I reminded myself that marathoning isn’t “easy”.  It’s not supposed to be. 

So “Cowboy up” and get your ass in gear I thought.

The fact is that Dom has really been struggling since his last Hospital stay.  Over the last year he has had plenty of “bad days”, but right now, things are as bad as they have ever been.  He has faithfully undergone every procedure, followed his Doctors instructions, battled back from numerous chemotherapy treatments and rounds of radiation therapy most recently.

As Dom has done so many times before, his courage and bravery set a great example for me.  So what if it’s hot and humid out there.  So what if your legs are tired and 8 miles sounds more appealing.  I could almost hear his voice in my head telling me to enjoy every minute of what I am doing every day.  Every day is a gift – start acting like it.

Get off your ass and get going I thought as when it comes to my passion for running there are two things I know with absolute certainty.

1.  There will come a day when I will not be able to run.

2.  Today is not that day.

So I loaded up my hydrabelt with two bottles of water, one of gatorade and took off at Marathon pace with a goal of finishing those 12 miles in 1 hour and 30 minutes (7:30 pace).

As I started up the hill leaving our driveway I began thinking about all of the readers, friends and supporters who ask me about Dom each and every week.  How I really need to do a better job in sharing stories about Dom and helping them really get to know him.  To help them understand why those of us who have been fortunate enough to have Dom in our lives, know what a tremendous gift that has been.

So with that I thought I would share two stories about my boy Dom.

Dom is tight with a buck.  By tight, I mean TIGHT.  My wife tells a story that when Dom was just starting out after College he would actually “time” his bathroom “needs” to coincide with his being at work to save money on toilet paper.  Truth.

The ridiculous irony in that story is that the same guy who can be so tight with a dollar is so generous with everything else in his life. 

There is not a single person you can find that upon meeting Dom would not tell you he was one of the nicest guys they had ever met.  His honesty, caring and loyalty are traits that are simply woven into Dom’s fabric. 

Not only is it impossible to find someone to say anything bad about Dom.  It is impossible to find anyone to say anything “neutral”.  He remains to this day someone that I try to emulate when it comes to interacting with others.  He is a tremendous role model for all of us.

There is another story that my wife tells about Dom that makes me smile whenever I think of it.  When Dawn and Dom were kids it turns out that my wife had a little crush on Dom.  I don’t want you guys to think I have a Man-Crush on him or anything, but I can see why Dom was popular with the ladies.  It comes naturally to some of us Italian guys.

To my good fortune, Dom was not interested in Dawn at the time – and they simply remained great friends through the years.

Dom, I don’t think I’ve ever formally thanked you for that – so I want to do so now.  There aren’t too many guys out there that I would shy away from fighting over a young lady for, but you my man are one of them. 

Pretty hard to compete with the nicest guy anyone has ever met.  I’m glad I never had to try.

So as the miles ticked by on Sunday and 2 became 4 which became 8 leading to 12, I found myself lost in thought about the journey Dom has been on since last summer.  He has done anything and everything that his Doctors have asked from him to take the fight to his cancer every day. 

It has been remarkable to watch as through it all Dom has remained true to himself, his family, all that he cares about and those that love him back. 

Proud is the feeling I feel most these days as when it all started Dom set out to give this disease all the hell he could.  I’m not sure that anyone would have been able to fight any harder than Dom has.  He remains the bravest man I’ve ever known.

As I hit the driveway at our house I realized that I had hardly glanced at my watch throughout the run.  I hit the stop button at the 12-mile mark with a time of 1:30:11.  Just :11 seconds off of my goal time after Saturday’s race. 

Not too shabby, but I thought again about Dom 1,500 miles away. 

Next week I’ll do better.

Give ’em hell Dom.