Tuesday, June 1, 2010

It's Doesn’t Hurt to Tri

"I want to go to Miami."
....."to do a triathlon...."
...."thirteen days after the Boston Marathon."
Those who know me would not be surprised to hear me utter those words, but, it was not I who came up with this crazy idea - it was my wife, Lyn! Yes, I am a very lucky guy.
If you read the account of my 34th running of the Boston Marathon, you can imagine my trepidation about attempting a triathlon, even a sprint tri, less than two weeks later. My journey from Hopkinton to Boston was not kind to my legs, and conventional wisdom dictates taking one day off from racing for every mile just raced. I would be cutting that formula in half.
It wasn't too difficult for Lyn to convince me to enter us both in the "Tri-Miami Sprint Triathlon" on Key Biscayne. I certainly could use a five day get away, we have very dear friends who arranged to meet us there, and I could fit in a client visit while there as well. Casting reasonable coaching advice aside, we booked the trip.
The few days following the marathon were filled with the residual aches that are to be expected after completing a twenty-six mile jaunt, and the general sense of fatigue made me think that, perhaps this time, I took on a challenge that wouldn't end well.
Four days after Boston, I put on my Vibram Five Finger shoes and ran five miles. Those tight IT bands that were a pesky problem during the marathon continued to remind me that they were there and weren't going to make the running portion of the tri (usually my strongest event) easy.
I also needed to get my biking legs ready, and I wanted to get a chance to ride outdoors. The long winter meant training on my Computrainer in my den, and it just isn't the same. I didn't want to have my first real ride occur in a race, so it was a relief that we got a warm Saturday perfect for riding. It was a delight to ride the roads, and I was able to "crank it up" in a way that running wouldn’t allow.
It was time to get into the pool. Marathon training kept me away from swimming for too much of the winter, and the thought of an open ocean swim without my trusty, super buoyant wetsuit motivated me to get back to the YMCA.
Within a few laps, I found that I really hadn't lost too much of my swim stroke capabilities and the therapeutic benefits of swimming after a marathon really helped sooth those damaged muscles.
Again, my triathlon training offered a great alternative during a time when getting back to full time running is unwise. With only thirteen days separating competitions, however, I hoped my optimism wasn't over-reaching reality.
When we reached Miami, we headed to the bike shop to get our rental bikes. Lyn and I were outfitted with bright red, spiffy, new Cannondale road bikes. As nice as they looked, switching from my carbon fiber Guru Crono Tri bike to this model was like going from a Ferrari to Yugo.
On race eve, we picked up our race packets and headed to Key Biscayne to check out the race venue. For triathletes who find the swim to be the biggest challenge, a pre-visit to the swim location can help calm nervousness...or not.
The photos of the swim on the race website feature a serene tropical beach with lake-calm waters. What we encountered were winds gusting at 30-35 mph, choppy water, and beach sand swirling. The distance from the swim exit to the bike transition area was a 1/4 mile run up the beach, and it was hot.
After surveying the triathlon race site, we needed to either do a practice ride to assure our rental bikes were well tuned and shifted correctly, or have lunch. The lure of South Beach was too great. We began our carbo loading with the delicious Cuban fare served at Gloria Estefan's restaurant, "Larios".
Triathlons have very early start times, and Tri Miami was no exception. We arrived at the transition location at 5 AM to rack our bikes and prepare our assigned area for the quick transition from swim to bike, and then bike to run.
Each triathlete has his own method and rituals for laying out his gear in transition. This would be my first triathlon to require a new decision about running footwear. Should I run in my traditional race shoes that I could slip on very quickly, or should I take the time to get into my Vibram Five Finger shoes to experience the near bare foot approach? Undecided, I laid out both options.
Though the winds were still strong, the water was relatively calm, and I completed the swim with ease and in the middle of my age group wave.
With a quick dry-off, I slipped into my bike shoes, put on my helmet, and mounted my "Yugo", hoping that everything worked. Surprisingly, I had a very strong ride with a time that put me near the top of my age group.
Back to the transition area, it was running shoe decision time. Nike or Vibram? Faced with indecision and a ticking clock, I chose "none of the above", and headed out bare footed.
Yes, it was a rash decision. I had only done one totally barefoot run before.
To my surprise, I felt great, my IT bands weren't complaining, I was passing other runners, and I couldn't stop smiling.

In triathlons, athletes are "body marked". The competitor number is written on your arms, thighs, and one calf. On the other calf is your age. What fun I had passing 30'something year olds. First they saw the bare feet, and then as I passed, they saw my age. ""Oh man, are you kidding!" was the frequent refrain I heard.
In a competitive field, I placed fourth in my age group. Not to be outdone, Lyn took second, so we both came home with medals, though Lyn's was far more impressive than mine.
So the lesson I learned yet again, is that triathlons are a great alternative for runners. I am a diehard runner, but triathlons keep me in the game when my body needs recovery time from the rigors of too much road work.
The season is young, and you are probably planning your race season. If you own a bike and have basic swim skills, you may just want to fit in a Sprint Triathlon. There are lots from which you can choose, you probably know a triathlete that can give you some advice, and you just might find yourself beaming with pride as you cross the finish line of your first event and proudly tell your friends that, yes indeed, you are a triathlete!

Thursday, April 22, 2010

There is no finish line......

April 18, 2011.

That date probably doesn’t mean much to most, but for those of us who ran the Boston Marathon this Patriot’s Day, we know that’s the date of the 115th running, and we plan on being there.

I have to admit that I’m a little surprised that I’m already planning my 35th consecutive Boston run based on my last two races. It’s taken two years to figure out that incredibly tight Iliotibial Bands (ITB’s) have been the root cause of limited training and maximum discomfort in the race. But, in the long run, it really doesn’t matter. It’s all about the journey.

Here are the quick facts about the 114th Boston Marathon.

More than 500,000 spectators lined the street to watch the 23,071 starters of the 26,776 entrants. Some entrants were injured; some were sidelined by a volcano in Iceland. 22,588 completed the trek, an amazing 98%. Helping to make the experience as positive as possible were 8,000 race day volunteers – one volunteer for every 3 runners!

1,350 athletes raised more than $11 million for 24 charities; since the start of the charity program, more than a $100 million has been raised.

Teyba Erkesso of Ethiopia won the women’s division in 2:26:11, while Robert K. Cheruiyot set a course record in 2:05:52. To put that record in perspective consider this. His pace was 4:48 per mile. The all time best mile for high school girls in Massachusetts was set by Kirsten Kasper in 4:49…and she didn’t do a 25 mile warm up before running that time!

Behind the headline stories lie the other 23,000 stories. Here is mine.

On the Monday before the race, I was on my physical therapist’s table enduring excruciating pain as Greg attempted to loosen those pesky ITB’s. Had it been race day, I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t have made it to Ashland, a mere two miles from Hopkinton.

Along with my physical therapist, Greg, my acupuncturist, Sarah, massage therapist, Lou, and Hot Yoga Instructor, Terri, all pitched in to get my reluctant legs ready. We runners tend to be very stubborn and find the option of not running totally unacceptable.

Race morning dawned clear and cool with a brisk north westerly breeze – perfect conditions. I hadn’t run in 10 days. I was wearing my Vibram Five Finger “shoes” (the minimalist shoe that is virtually like running barefoot) in my attempt to complete the race with the least amount of training miles I’ve ever logged. Yet, I had no doubt I’d finish. I just hoped it would be on the same day I started!

My training buddy and fellow Ironman, Ken, and I decided to run together. At the sound of the starter’s gun we began our race with a slow 10 minute walk to the starting line. There I got the chance to kiss my wife, Lyn, who is the Captain of the “human chain” – the folks who stand at the front line to keep the world’s fastest runners in check until the gun fires.

The road opens up at the start line, and Ken and I began running at our target pace. To my surprise and delight, I was relatively pain free. Of course, I was only 1 mile into the day and we were running downhill!

As the miles passed, I found my modest pace kept potential problems under control and allowed me to really enjoy the spectacle that unfolded along the way. Many of the runners around me were sporting their names on their racing singlet’s which made it easy to strike up conversations. Some were running for charities, some in memory of loved ones, but all were happy and very eager to share their stories.

At 10 miles, the happy chatter began to slow as the enormity of the day’s task began to sink in. The good news was that the girls of Wellesley College were but a few miles ahead. The bad news was that the hills of Newton loomed after that and threatened to the break the hearts of those inadequately prepared.

At the half way point, Kenny dropped back a bit, and I mentally prepared myself for the task ahead.

At 17 miles I took the right hand turn off of Rte.16 to head into the fabled Heartbreak Hills. A series of three hills, the challenge is not the steepness, it’s the timing. From 18 miles through 21 miles the hills are unmerciful on tired quadriceps, and my ITB’s began to remind me how unhappy they were.

Coming off the hills into Cleveland Circle provides a welcome downhill which I really needed, for my next pursuit was to get past the famous Citgo sign that marks Kenmore Square and the final mile. The big treat for me, though, came at 24 miles where my wife and my niece, Megan, were waiting to run in with me. Though Lyn and I have experienced the excitement of Boston 34 years, it was Meggy’s first, and seeing the amazement in her eyes as she took in the sights and sounds of the last two miles was wonderful.

At 25 miles, I crested the Mass Ave overpass and my legs were on fire. But it didn’t matter. My time didn’t matter. All that mattered was that I was again granted the gift of traveling down the same roads that world class runners of today and from the past 114 years had traveled.

Up Hereford Street and onto Boylston, and there it was – the finish line.

I crossed the line and completed the pair of kisses with Lyn – the one at the start and now at the finish. Meggy said, “I think I’d like to run the whole thing next year!” Later that evening, my 4 year old granddaughter, Lexi, told her Mom, “Someday I’d like to run the Boston Marathon, just like Poppy, but I’ll be a girl Poppy”.

So, yes, I am planning to run number 35 next year.

Meggy and Lexi would expect no less.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

The Big Day

The Big Day
By tom licciardello

There are 26,700 athletes around the globe that have a red circle around April 19th on their calendars. For those who live in Massachusetts, it is Patriot’s Day, but for those who identify themselves as marathoners it’s the day for the king of all marathons - The Boston Marathon.
When Boston began its long history 114 years ago on April 19, 1897, there were but 18 men who stood behind a line scratched on the dirt road by Tom Burke in front of Metcalf’s Mill in Ashland, about a mile from the current starting line in Hopkinton. Though spectators marveled at the amazing feat of courage displayed by these pioneers, many folks thought them to be quite crazy.
Much has changed in the past 114 years, though there are still many who would categorize the attempt to run 26.2 miles as an act of foolishness. There are a lot more of these fools nowadays. In 2009 there were 468,000 recorded marathon finishing times in just the United States. No longer is the marathon the domain of only men, as it was in Boston up until Katharine Switzer broke the gender barrier in 1967. Last year 40% of marathon finishers were females and the gap closes more each year.
In Chris McDougal’s runaway hit book, “Born to Run”, he suggests that anthropological evidence suggests that we were, in fact, born to run so that we could pursue animals on a hunt which would typically last 4 to 5 hours. Coincidentally, the average finishing time for men last year was 4:24 and for women it was 4:52. Maybe he’s got something there, but what’s the big deal about Boston?
Quite simply, Boston is the Grand Daddy of American Marathons. It is the oldest continuous marathon in the country, and it holds the distinction of requiring a qualifying time to enter (or a charity pledge). The only other marathons that require qualification are the Olympic Trials and the Olympics. But there is more to it than that. Boston is a “happening” that, once experienced, leaves an indelible mark.
In the early morning hours of race day, Hopkinton is a well controlled mad house of athletes, press, and spectators. It is only because of the masterful organization of race director, Dave McGillivray, his Organizing Committee, and the cooperation of the town that this quite suburb of 14,000 can handle the invasion. Runners are directed to the Athlete’s Village, where tents can provide shelter should it rain, entertainment helps keep minds occupied, and 600 hundred porto-johns are available to service the well hydrated hordes.
The migration from the Athlete’s Village to the start corrals is the first indication runners have of the enormity of the field on these rural roads. The procession to the start line packs the country road with anxious runners, some wearing garbage bags to stay warm, many seeking a last porta-john stop, and all looking forward to crossing the start line.
This race starts on a two lane road, not like the four lane highway starts of other mega marathons such as New York or Chicago. Again, it was the ingenuity of McGillivray and his staff to solve the problem of the “marathon shuffle” – getting stuck in a slow procession of runners for the first mile until the crowd thins out. In the last few years, the race has featured a “wave start” – wheelchair divisions at 9:17, Elite Women at 9:32, Elite men and Wave 1 at 10:00, and then Wave 2 at 10:30.
Additionally, the “runner corrals” which are arranged by qualification time are placed several feet in from the curbs, pinching the staging area. When runners reach the start line, the full road width opens which allows runners to immediately begin running.
After the singing of the National Anthem, and the flyby of National Guard fighter jets (it takes them about 2 ½ minutes to make the trip to the finish line!), the gun finally fires and the journey begins.
In the first mile heading into Ashland, a mid-pack runner can easily be discouraged viewing the thousands of runners in front of him as he heads down the first hill. The temptation is to make up time by picking up the pace – a costly mistake. Better to be patient; after descending the first hill, there is a gentle uphill – a good spot to briefly and carefully turn around to see the thousands of runners behind him.
The first five miles of Boston need to be run with a sense that the pace is too slow. The downhill orientation of the first section of the race can lead to a reckless pace that could make the last few miles a dreadful experience. Boston is best viewed in thirds. In the first 10 miles, the goal is to keep the pace down to the target level, in the next 10 miles keep up to the goal pace, and the last 10 kilometers, well, success all depends on how well disciplined the first two 10’s were.
At mile 3, runners will come to the first of two islands that split the course. Here’s the inside scoop – run to the right of the first one and to the left of the second. It positions you better for the upcoming curves in the road. It probably saves a couple of yards, but the time will come when a couple of yards mean something!
The next five miles can be critical. The adrenaline rush of the start of the race and the downhill nature of the first five miles can easily fool a runner into believing that he is having a “miracle day” and abandon all the thoughtful plans for a pace that makes sense. Keeping control in the first ten miles is critical.
Around the 10 kilometer mark runners will pass the Mugs Away Pub, a biker bar with lots of enthusiastic fans sipping frosty mugs of beer. Very tempting, but another twenty miles must be traveled before enjoying something more robust than Gatorade. Now in Framingham, the crowds are getting bigger and more enthusiastic. Bands are playing, and mirror like store windows provide an opportunity for runners to check their form. Through these miles runners continue to wear smiles of joy and remain optimistic that a PR (personal record) is possible.
At mile 10, runners pass Fiske Pond where the legendary Tarzan Brown stepped off the course on the 80 degree day in 1938 to take a dip and finished in 51st place. Tarzan was a two time winner at Boston who captured a lot of attention when he first appeared at the race in 1935 running barefoot!
Ten miles done is an important milestone. This is the point where the runner should be thinking, “I feel great!” The next 10 miles is when the smiles and the happy banter among the runners begin to fade and the real work begins as the mostly downhill portion of the event ends, and the more challenging sections loom ahead.
At 11 miles, runners enter Natick Center to the roars of spectators that pack the roads. The timing is good, because spectator encouragement can help a runner’s flagging enthusiasm. Many runners will tape their names to their race shirts so that spectator’s can personalize cheers to them. Hearing hundreds of people yell, “Way to go, Tom!” is very cool.
Soon, runners begin to hear a rumble in the distance that grows louder with each stride until they reach the fabled girls of Wellesley College at 12.6 miles. Like the Siren Song from Greek mythology, those sweet yells can make the athlete do crazy things. Attractive coeds line the street screaming encouragement holding “Kiss me!” signs that miraculously transform weary runners who are beginning to slump into vibrant running machines. The pace typically drops a minute per mile.
Unfortunately, like the Greek mythology, there can be a dark side to the glorious sight of the Wellesley girls. Once past the college, there is a very lonely, very quite section leading to the center of the town of Wellesley. The sudden loss of cheerleading coupled with an unsustainable “new” pace can be very depressing. Then there is the realization that the college was not the halfway point as many think. Many runners hit the 13.1 mile mark in the center of town feeling the letdown and defeated. Perhaps Ulysses was right by putting cotton in his ears to avoid the dangers of the Siren’s song.
For the ecstasy of Wellesley comes the agony of the infamous hills.
At mile 16, runners enter Newton Lower Falls – well named as there is a tremendous downhill to be negotiated. The danger is the pounding the quads take can have a terrible effect on the ability to conquer the more infamous uphill section of “Heartbreak Hill”. Few have traversed the Boston course more than race director, Dave McGillivray who says of the downhill, “If you land like a helicopter, the course can beat the heck out of your quads, knees, joints, and feet”.
At mile 17, the Rte. 128 overpass uphill looms ahead. It’s one of my least favorite sections. It’s uphill, spectators are sparse, it’s a barren highway, and it’s the precursor to the right hand turn at the Newton Fire Station at 18 miles….and Heartbreak Hill.
For the next three miles runners will be challenged with a series of 3 (some call it 4) hills that collectively can take a terrible toll. Though not extraordinarily steep, they come at a “heartbreaking” point of the race. The good news is that there is a huge crowd of spectators encouraging flagging runners with, “Keep it up, you look great!”
I’ve run this race 33 times and I still get confused about which hill is the last one. The best advice is to keep plugging until you hit 21 miles and can see the Prudential Center on the horizon (which will look like it’s a whole lot further away than five miles!).
Once Heartbreak Hill is crested, the reward is an all too short downhill leading to Cleveland Circle. Taking a few moments to walk before descending is a technique many use to readjust the legs from one gravity challenge to a very different kind.
With a mere 5.2 miles left, the real work begins.
For the next several miles, it’s all about the Citgo Sign. That big, beautiful sign is the landmark that signals the finish line is nearby. I know it can’t be true, but runners will swear that the sign keeps moving down the course as it doesn’t seem to get bigger for a very long time. But at last, it leads the runners to Mile 25, the Citgo sign, and the final assault on “Citgo Hill” at Kenmore Square. The good news is that after cresting that “bump” runners can start the mental celebration of their accomplishment. There is little that can stop a runner in the last mile of the Boston Marathon.
Though battling with a brain that is screaming “Stop!” the last mile of the Boston Marathon is extraordinarily exciting. Taking the right turn onto the fabled Hereford Street can bring tears to the eyes of first timers and veterans alike. Here the screams of spectators are greater than in Wellesley, and every runner is sure that the thousands are there just for him.
Finally, the left onto Boylston Street gives the first view of the Promised Land – the finish line!
That final quarter mile is when the realization that the goal will be achieved really sinks in. No matter how painful the journey may have been, and no matter whether or not the time goal will be met, this is when unbridled joy overtakes the all other sensations. There is simply nothing like crossing that line to the cheers of thousands and having the finisher’s medal placed around your neck.
As the finishers walk through the finish shoot, it is time to realize that they have passed through the same roads of the greats of the past. John McDermott (the first champion), Clarence Demar, Tarzan Brown, Johnny Kelley, Nina Kuscsik (the first official women’s champion), Billy Rodgers, Jack Fultz, Joan Benoit Samuelson, and so many other legends followed the same path, perhaps faster, but there is a bond. Is there another sport where an average athlete can compete on the same playing field with the world’s best?
If you are one of the fortunate folks who will be there on April 19th, best of luck and enjoy every moment of your journey. For those who have supported a loved one who is running, bless your hearts, for you really made it possible for them to reach their goal. For those who dream of someday running Boston, know that all things are possible for those who really want it.
BY THE NUMBERS Statistics and information from Boston Athletic Association

26,700 Official Entrants (approx.)
80,000 People attending the Expo
7,000 Volunteers
1,200 Medical Personnel
1,500 Security Personnel
62 Race Officials
250 Ham Radio Operators
500,000 Spectators Along the Course
1,200 Total Uniform Police Officers
300 State Police
415 Members of the National Guard

24 Official Members in the B.A.A. Charity Program
1275 Total Runners
Fundraising efforts are expected to exceed $10 million

36 Course Clocks
9 Electronic Checkpoints
5 Manual Checkpoints
26 Red Cross Stations
24 Water Stations
60 Volunteers at each Water Station
8 Elite Athlete Water Stations

Boston Marathon generates an estimated $80 million for the local economy

169 Two-way Radios
63,360 Feet of Rope
30,000 Feet of Fencing
50,000 Feet of Cable
10,000 Trash Bags
50,000 Cable Ties
300KW of Electrical Power
500KW of Electrical Power for Media
9 Million BTU's Temporary Heat
2,000 Tables
2,000 Barricades
200 x 2 Inch Tape/Rolls of Caution Tape
10 Fork Lifts
10 Scissors Lifts
600 Port-o-Johns
19 Lead Vehicles
5 Lifeguard Stands
350 Rakes and Shovels
40 Delivery Trucks
350 Buses
53 Baggage Buses
600 Trash Barrels
400 Rolls of Paper Towel
100,000 Safety Pins
65 Shuttle Buses in Hopkinton
15 Medical Buses
140 National Anthems and Countries' Flags
38,000 mylar blankets
25,000 Feet of Ribbon
5 Command Posts
220,000 Sponsor Brochures distributed to runners
25,000 Participants' Tee-Shirts
25,000 Participants' Bags/Packets
25,000 Finishers' Medals
400 packets of Handi-Wipes
1.4 Million Paper Cups
140,000 Sponsors' Samples distributed to Runners
24 Golf Carts
50,000 Drywall Screws
600 Sheets of Plywood
1,000 Pairs of Work Gloves

11,300 Pounds of Pasta
2,825 Quarts of Tomato Sauce
3,400 Pounds of Fresh Vegetables
100 Pounds of Ground Black Pepper
35,300 Powerbars
18,000 Packets of PowerGel
17,000 Cups of Coffee/Tea
5,250 Gallons of Boiling Water
5,225 Hours of Preparation & Cooking Time
140 Waiters/Waitresses Including Chefs
35,000 Gallons of Poland Spring Water

200 Outlets Receiving Credentials
More than 1,500 Media Credentials Issued
8 Countries Receiving Credentials
30 States Receiving Credentials
106 Print Publications Receiving Credentials
30 Television Stations Receiving Credentials
16 Radio Stations Receiving Credentials
15 News Agencies Receiving Credentials
Telecast to more than 200 countries

500 Bags of Ice
380 Cots
1,500 Blankets
500 Tongue Depressors
200 Sick Bags
4000 band aids
175 Ace Bandages
1,500 Gauze Pads
2,000 Adhesive Bandages
250 Rolls of Moleskin

500 Surgical Soaps
500 Tubes of Petroleum Jelly
500 Towels
1,500 Intravenous Bags
26 Oxygen Tanks
12 EKG Machines
36 Defibrillators
150 Blood Pressure Cuffs & Stethoscopes
80 Thermometers
16 Tympanic Thermometers
2,000 Pairs of Medical Gloves
200 Bottles of Antiseptic Handwash
500 Emesis Basins
2,000 Tubes of Antibiotic Ointment

325 medical / admin volunteers2,000 combined volunteer hours120 ham radio operators for course medical communications1,000-2,000 runners, spectators assisted every year along the course31 bottles Antiseptic hand gel104 boxes Gloves
52 bottles Sunblock31 boxes Antibiotic Ointment5,000 Bandaids1,500 Gauze Pads250 Ice Packs52 Heat Packs400 pads Moleskin52 tubes Sports Cream150 pounds Petroleum Jelly52 rolls Paper Towels52 boxes Tissues52 Trash Bags
480 Qualifying Races Used for Boston

The sign says it so well, “Hopkinton – It All Starts Here”.

Saturday, March 6, 2010


There is no more famous marathon in the world than the Boston Marathon. There are more challenging courses, there are more picturesque venues, and there are more exotic locales. But there is no other place that 26,400 runners from around the world would rather be on April 19th than toeing the line in Hopkinton for the 114th running of Boston.
If you are not running it, it is likely that you know someone who is. Those that are preparing to run have already committed significant time, energy, and emotion, and their loved ones have be hearing nothing but talk of the event for months, bless their hearts.
If you are a veteran of past Boston’s, you know what the upcoming weeks will bring. If you are a coached newbie, your coaches will help you cope. Those that could really use some advice are the marathon supporters.
Wanda is married to first time Boston Marathon entrant, Ralph. Here’s what she will be facing in the next half dozen weeks.
Up to now, Ralph’s training has been a gradual increase in mileage with the emphasis on the weekly long runs that have grown into double digits. Though gradual, the cumulative effects on Ralph are signs of fatigue, and he sometimes gets a little “edgy”. Wanda will smile, remind him how terrific he is, and hide in the laundry room. It’s only going to get tougher, but she knows it will be over in April.
As the weekly mileage commitment grows, Wanda will have to deal with behavior that other marathoners would classify as normal, non-runners would classify as obsessive compulsive, and she will tolerate because she loves him and supports him. She will need to remind herself of that from time to time.
Weekends used to be the time that Wanda could rely on Ralph to relax, help with household chores, spend some time with the kids, and socialize with friends. Now, it’s all about the long run – getting ready for it, doing it, recovering from it. Because Ralph does his long run on Sundays, dining out with friends on Saturday means the early bird special, pasta, no Pinot Grigio, obsessing over proper hydration, and a 9 PM curfew.
As the training intensity increases, the potential for injury grows exponentially. Paying attention to getting enough sleep, staying away from junk food, and moderating alcohol are important precautions for Ralph to remember. It’s good advice for Wanda as well, though she may find having that extra glass of Pinot Grigio helpful in dealing with the stress of being a “marathon widow”.
Becoming a “high performance racing machine” (Ralph is hoping to break 4 hours) requires meticulous maintenance. One of the most neglected practices of marathoners is adequate stretching. Ralph swears he stretches, but Wanda knows that it may be as exaggerated as his claim to the dental hygienist that he flosses after every meal. Undeterred, she gently reminds him how important it is to care for his tired muscles.
Wanda knows that his running program is taking up a lot of time and squeaking in an extra 10-20 minutes for stretching can be tough. Sometimes alternative measures need to supplement stretching, and there are a couple of great options.
Take a page out of the training program of all the top marathoners – massage therapy is a standard practice. Wanda got a referral to a sports massage therapist from a running friend and will schedule bi-monthly and then weekly appointments for Ralph as the stresses of training increase. Wanda has wisely booked a few appointments for herself as well.
Another great option is Bikram yoga, also known as hot yoga. This technique incorporates a full body stretching program in a room heated to 105 degrees. It is amazing how well it works, and the bonus is a feeling of calm contentment at the end of the session. Wanda likes the contentment aspect and has booked classes for both of them!
At the peak of training, Ralph will do his longest training run that will approximate the amount of time he plans to run. Done at a slower than race pace, Ralph will run 19-22 miles. If he makes it through this, the toughest part of the physical training, he needs to get through the toughest mental phase; and this is the time Wanda will be his greatest ally…The Taper.
With 10-14 days to go before the big day, Ralph will need to dramatically cut back on his training. The stresses of training have reached a critically high point, and now is the time for the body to recover. Though it may sound illogical, this could be very difficult for him. His concern that maybe he hasn’t done enough could lead him to make the costly mistake of overdoing it. The result could be a race ending injury, or being very strong but too pooped to race.
Then there is the dreaded PMS – “Pre Marathon Syndrome”. The last week for Ralph will likely be filled with mysterious aches, concern that he’s catching the flu, worry that he hasn’t trained enough, and, of course, the weather. There will be constant monitoring of the weather channel for reports of race day conditions. This is the week that Wanda will really earn her stripes. She will wear a smile, reassure Ralph about his training, and remind him how proud she is of him. Patriot’s Day can’t come too soon for either of them.
Finally, the weekend of the Marathon Expo will arrive. Wanda will try to keep Ralph from buying every item embroidered with the marathon logo, get him home before he spends too much time on his feet, and have him relax. All that’s left is the pre race meal and getting Ralph to have a good sleep before the race. Arrrggghhh!
Next month, I’ll write about race day – the sights, the sounds, the emotions, the starting line in Hopkinton, the race course, and the final push to the finish line. Oh, and then we’ll talk about the other PMS – “Post Marathon Syndrome”!

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Barefoot Running Gains Traction

In 2006, Chris McDougal wrote the book, Born to Run, which reignited interest in barefoot running. While the book seeks to learn the secrets of the Tarahumara Indians who seem to posses extraordinary capabilities as ultra distance runners, McDougal added one chapter that presented the evidence that would lead you to believe that man was, indeed, born to run, and that modern running shoes were keeping us from fulfilling that potential.
He almost didn’t include that chapter. It broke the flow of the story, but he decided he needed to fit in the scientific basis that would explain why the Tarahumara’s choice of footwear, a thin sandal, made sense.
Including that chapter turned out to be a very good decision that has sold a LOT of books.
For the past five months, I have been experimenting with minimalist running. I’ve run with bare feet, but mostly with the Vibram Five Finger “shoe”, especially now in the winter months. The Five Finger shoe, now commonly referred to as VFF’s, is becoming increasingly popular.
The VFF is a thin layer of Vibram’s tough outsole material, no cushioning, and individual “fingers” for each toe. They may look silly, but they are incredibly comfortable, and they provide an excellent choice for runners seeking to experience the effect of barefoot running.
Within my running circle, several members have taken the plunge, and to a person, have become fans of the experience. But is it simply a fad that will fade away?
On January 27th, the prestigious Nature Magazine had as its cover story the long anticipated release of a study conducted by Daniel E. Lieberman of Harvard University that analyzed the strike patterns and forces of barefoot running compared to running with a well heel-cushioned shoe. The results were dramatic.
This exhaustive Harvard study supports the notion postulated by McDougal’s book that running in modern running shoes is more likely to cause injuries due to impact than running barefoot.
You can imagine how the running shoe industry feels about that! In fact, both Nike and New Balance have already taken notice.
Though both companies will suggest that running in the current style of running shoes is still the endorsed approach, Nike has developed their “Nike Free” line that is intended to mimic barefoot running, and New Balance has their R&D folks working on similar concepts.
If the research conclusions reached by Lieberman are valid, and I’m sure that the debate will continue, how should a runner proceed if interested in giving bare-footing a try?
I’ve put more than a few miles on my VFF’s, and I’ve learned a lot. The easiest way to explore barefoot running is to simply take off your shoes and run for a few minutes. If you’re in a warm climate, run to a park, take off your shoes, and give it a try. For those of us who live in New England type winter weather, your gym may be a good spot to try it. Do not, however, try barefoot on a treadmill. The surface is too rough and the dynamics of the moving belt will make the experience uncomfortable.
As we weren’t brought up running barefoot, our un-tuned tender feet may need a gentle transition. Minimalist footwear like the VFF’s or the Nike Free can help. Because the demand for the VFF’s is so high, availability might be an issue. There is a temptation to order them online, but it is very important to try your first pair on for correct sizing.
A frequent error for many new minimalist runners is to do too much too soon. Because the dynamics of running barefoot are quite different, new muscles will be reawakened and can easily be strained. A common complaint is sore calf muscles. Be patient and the rewards will come.
Bare foot running may not be right for everyone, but there is an underlying concept that is important for all runners to consider. There is ample scientific proof that a mid-foot strike results in less impact than a heel strike, the suggested approach by the running shoe industry since the 70’s.
There are two programs that have been around for quite awhile that attempt to correct this inefficient heel strike approach – “Chi Running” and “Pose Running”. Both approaches reprogram the runner to be a mid foot striker with proper posture. The only problem for many who try it is that typical running shoes mask the impact of the heel strike which makes it too easy to fall back on old, bad habits.
Not so when running barefoot or with VFF’s. The body knows that hitting the heel wouldn’t be wise and forces the correct form. Training without running shoes just might be the right approach to learning to run correctly with running shoes!
The debate will continue, no doubt. More runners will experiment with bare-footing, no doubt. Will it be right for you? Perhaps. Watch young children who are just starting to walk…mid-foot strikers and barefoot! Maybe they know something we forgot.
With shoes or not, get out and go for a run. Thank you, Chris McDougal, for reminding us that it’s what we were born to do.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Run with an Open Mind and Strong Body

Run with an Open Mind and Strong Body
By tom licciardello

I’ve been running the roads for 35 years and it’s been a wonderful 32 years.

Three years ago, a knee injury nearly derailed my love affair with running. Preparing for Ironman Kona, my doctor discovered a small tear in my meniscus that required a “minor repair”. From that point onward, each run was a pain management challenge, and, frankly, not much fun.

The singular focus of Ironman got me through the first year, but the next two years really tested my resolve. It finally got to the point where I would run only in races and then need three or more days of recovery to calm the screaming knee. I was advised to discontinue running marathons. I chose a different path with some help from friends.

Few friends have had a bigger impact on my life than Dave McGillivray, best known as the Boston Marathon Race Director, but he is so much more. His athletic accomplishments have always inspired me, and he convinced me that I could compete in Ironman Kona. I decided to believe him, and he made my entry a reality, something for which I could never thank him adequately.

That decision led me to Sharon Johnson, my triathlon coach. She taught me that being a triathlete means being an endurance athlete, and that means developing the core strength to handle a 2.4 mile swim, 112 miles on a bike, and then a 26.2 mile run.

Sharon and my training buddies got me to do things I never dreamed possible. A lifelong “sinker”, Sharon taught me the basics and made me proficient enough to swim across and back Stiles Pond - twice!

My running background served me well on the bike, and I was able to reduce the frequency of runs to fit in all of the other training.

Then I was introduced to an intensive strength training program. I began to develop strength I hadn’t seen since my days as a college wrestler, and I began to look like a triathlete! Sharon Johnson was the task master that conditioned me to succeed in the seemingly impossible goal of competing at Ironman Kona in 2007.

But then, I had to face the worsening knee pain. My runs became less frequent and the pace became agonizingly slow. The transition from being an age group contender to a “back of the packer” was discouraging, but the ongoing triathlon training kept me in the game.

Determined to not abandon running, I found a physical therapist sleuth, Greg Poznick, who discovered a muscle imbalance that was the underlying aggravation to my knee. His help made me believe I might find the road back to my running life.

Then came Chris McDougal’s book, “Born to Run”. Not only did it convince me that it wasn’t running that hurt me, but that with proper running form I could run without pain. Running barefoot or with the Vibram Five Fingers forced me to abandon the “heel-toe” style and adopt the mid-foot strike that our bodies were designed to execute. I’m running with a smile again.

This old dog has been taken to school. What could have been an end to my lifelong love of running was saved by training as an endurance athlete. The bonus is that I have had the opportunity to open new doors to ongoing fitness. As runners, we need to run; but to remain in the game as athletes we need to train the entire body.

The calendar page tells me that we have begun the first month of the second decade of the second millennium. The page is as clean as is the view of the year, and that means that we have another opportunity to grasp all that life has to offer. Keep the adventurers coming, and make cross training part of your 2010 plan.

New Book Review
“Marathon” by Hal Higdon

A few years ago, one of my best friends, Dana Summers (editorial cartoonist for the Orlando Sentinel), collaborated with running maven, Hal Higdon, to write a children’s book entitled “Run, Dog, Run”. I got a chance to know Hal and read a number of his books including the best selling “Marathon: The Ultimate Training Guide”. Hal’s new release is “Marathon”, his first attempt at a novel.

I was fascinated by Hal’s novel depicting a behind the scenes look at the preparations leading to the 40,000 entrant “Lake City” marathon. Though the race director, Peter McDonald, and his event are inventions from the mind of Higdon, the tension and complexities of staging a major marathon are expertly captured. Part of Hal’s preparation, in fact, was being granted a great deal of behind the scene access to the Boston Marathon.

Juicing up the excitement is the mysterious “Celebrity X” – more famous than Oprah, a relatively unknown female contender, a world famous model who is running for charity, and American twins originally brought in as pacers who are cut free to run their own race. Each aspect not only creates an interesting twist, but complicates the task of directing the event.

If you haven’t had a chance to work on a major running event, read this book. You’ll have a new appreciation for the effort that goes into making a race successful. If you have volunteered on a major running event, read this book. You’ll recognize then thinly veiled characters in the book and appreciate the job Hal Higdon has done in capturing the essence in a totally entertaining way.

Friday, January 1, 2010

A Runner's Christmas List and Going Naked....December 2009

The Runner’s Christmas List and Going Naked
OK, first the naked part.
After reading Chris McDougal’s book, “Born to Run”, about the phenomenal running tribe, the Tarahumara Indians, I have been testing a “near” barefoot running style. I found running in the glove-like Vibram Five Finger KSO’s have brought the joy of running back into my life, and the thin Vibram soles give me the confidence to tackle the pavement. But going totally barefoot?
As my wife and I headed to Connecticut on Thanksgiving morning after the Feaster Five Race, I realized I had forgotten my trusty Vibram’s, and I had no traditional running shoes either.
Friday morning I faced the choice of not running or having my feet go totally naked. It was 45 degrees, raining, and a brisk wind was blowing. So I did what you might expect.
I headed out the door for my first truly barefoot run. I decided to be conservative and not go too far. 30 minutes later I returned with an ear to ear grin. No pain, my feet weren’t cold, and the police didn’t mistake me for a confused senior who had escaped from the home not wearing his shoes!
Now that Thanksgiving has passed, many runners are preparing their Christmas list. If you’re looking for ideas for your favorite runner, I’ve prepared a Wish List that should put a smile on any runner’s face.
Winter is the runner’s off-season when we have an opportunity to cross train, and there are lots of great products to help us. When the temperature drops and the snow flies, it’s still fun to get out for a run, but it’s time to gear for that as well. From most expensive to least, here’s my top-ten list:
1. The Computrainer
This cool piece of technology allows you to use your own bike and ride like you were outdoors. It analyzes everything about your technique and provides a 3D image on your computer monitor. Cycling is one of the best cross training methods for runners and this product promises and delivers amazing results. It’s VERY expensive at $1,600, but worth every cent.

2. YMCA Membership – If you’re fortunate enough to have a YMCA as good as my Andover/North Andover YMCA, join! The programs offered in strength training will make you a better athlete and better athletes make better runners. You’ll also get to meet other folks who appreciate a healthy lifestyle who may become new friends! It’s about $50 per month.
3. Garmin Forerunner 405
This heart rate monitor tracks your distance, pace and heart rate, then wirelessly sends the data to your computer for later analysis. The Garmin® Forerunner® 405CX features heart rate-based calorie computation and comes with a second wrist band suitable for smaller wrists. Incredible technology for those who want data – lots of data. Pricey at $350, but ever runner seems to want one. .
4. P90X – A DVD based strength training program that promises to get you “ripped” in 90 days
This is not a strength training program for beginners. It’s a hard-core program that will take strong athletes to the next level with a dozen different workouts done daily for 90 days. You’ll also need to buy a pull-up bar and a set of hand weights. It’s $145, but you’ll proudly show off that new physique as you walk down the beach next summer!
5. Yak Trax – Snow and ice covered roads won’t stop you with these cool “snow tires”.
Hard core runners will get out this winter no matter how bad the road conditions, so these wire wrapped, rubber mesh add-ons to your favorite running shoes will give you great traction. At $26.99, it’s a must have for snow challenged runners.
6. Road ID – Don’t leave home without one!
In case of an emergency, having contact and critical medical info can save your life. They come as dog tags, wrist bands, or shoe attachments. It’s well worth the $25 price.
7. “Born to Run” – This should be on every runner’s book list at $14.58.

8. Number Belt – Such a simple idea that triathletes use.
Every race I ran started with the scramble to find pins to attach the number to my shirt, the struggle to pin the number on straight, and then remembering to remove the number after the race to avoid the rust spots from the forgotten pins. No more since I started using my number belt. The number snaps on the belt, it fits comfortably, and there are no pins to damage my racing singlet. At $6.50, it’s a perfect stocking stuffer.
9. Chia Seeds – Remember Chia pets?
It turns out that those little seeds pack a powerful dose of antioxidants, and when a teaspoon of seeds are added to 8 ounces of water, it makes an better hydration drink than Gatorade! A bargain at $6 per pound. This is the “magic drink” of the Tarahumara Indians.
10. Inner Peace – Free! The greatest gift running can give is the contentment that comes from doing what our bodies were meant to do. Be an athlete – get out and run.
As 2009 winds down, it is a good time for all of us to reflect upon the good fortune we have found in our lives, and to look forward to 2010 as a year filled with opportunities to try new adventures, find ways to encourage others to become fit, and to remember that we were all born to run.