Tuesday, May 16, 2017

The Power of Negative Thinking

You have always been told, even as a child, think positive and positive things will happen. So why would I title a blog post about the power of negative thinking? Many runners know the answer. To go negative in the second half of a race is the optimal way to run a race. Going negative means running the second half faster than the first.  I am not talking about sandbagging the first half and then blistering the second. I'm talking about running the prefect race where you are minutes or even seconds faster in the second half. It is the best feeling particularly if you plan it or even better if you just feel it happening. The challenge of the course can also have an impact but I have seen and even ran a negative split myself where the second part of the course was more difficult than the first. Frankly, it is a difficult thing to do, at least for me, because I have always had a tendency to go out too fast, even after 97 marathons, its a challenge to run that negative split marathon. I do better in half marathons because it takes me about 4-6 miles to warm-up, even after a pre-race warm-up!

My nephew Shawn Doub ran a negative split at the Baltimore marathon in 2016, on a course famous for its difficulty in the second half due to the hilly miles from16-23. He even received a pair of New Balance shoes on Strava for running that negative split.

I ran 4 (3 consecutive) races this year in negative splits, three half marathons and a full and they were of the perfect kind.  In the first half marathon in Wilmington, NC, I paced with the 2 hour group through 11 miles and then finished in 1:59:24, a 36 second negative split. At the Tobacco Road half marathon, I ran 59 minutes out to the turn-around and then 57 minutes back finishing in 1:56:42. Then at the Raleigh Rock n Roll full marathon, on a challenging, hilly course, I ran 2:17 for the first half and 2:16 for the second finishing in 4:33:02. And, at the Western Maryland Rail Trail half marathon, I ran a 2 minute negative split finishing in 1:55:08.  All 4 of these races felt the best to me this year so far.  In contrast, I didn't have a great Flying Pig even where the second half of the Pig is the fastest. I ran 2:09 in the first half and 2:29 in the second, not a good showing. If I was around 2:15 in the first half, I may have been under 4:30, instead of 4:38.

I know, these times aren't the fastest but are relative to where I am these days at age 57. And, no matter your age or your pace, the power of negative thinking still applies. It should be the goal of every runner, elite, mid-packer, back of the pack. There is a feeling of success in negative splits run well.  Think NEGATIVE and your experience will be POSITIVE!

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Ring the Bell: Cindy's First Half Marathon

The bell is to be rung after running a PR, BQ or a first time accomplishment like finishing the half or full marathon, heck maybe for any reason that a runner wants.  Cindy rang it after her amazing first time finish of a half-marathon, 13.1 miles and nearly 30,000 steps later in the Tobacco Road Half-Marathon.

Ring the Bell
I have written before that some of my happiest times in running have been those when I see the joy others experience in this amazing sport. Cindy has done two first time events this year, a 10K in Wilmington and the half-marathon just a few miles from our house on the American Tobacco Trail.  From the first time I suggested it to her, she never resisted. She wanted to do it.

So, lets set the stage of how all of this went down.  In early December she had a full shoulder replacement. Of all of the replacements, it is believed that the shoulder is the most difficult recovery. Since her shoulder replacement she has lost nearly 20 pounds, always good to be lighter as a runner/walker. She also has had two full hip replacements. So how then does someone run/walk 13.1 miles in a race, not just by dong a lollygag walk? In Wilmington I ran along side a lady with one prosthetic leg which I also find astonishing. In many ways its a mindset, a can-do, no-excuses attitude allowing the mind to control the body and not allowing the body to be the lazy self it wants to be. Its easy when you are a natural runner, young and hardly know what aches and pains are yet. It is not so easy as you age, have bionic limbs/joints and a metabolism like a turtle in hibernation.  Its not so easy when you like being comfortable. Its not so easy to do the work and training day in and day out to even get to race day.

Cindy did it all and she never complained. She adapted. We figured out how to combat the issues with her feet. We figured out the right clothing for the roller-coaster type weather we experienced this year in North Carolina. She worked on balancing the amount and timing of the walking and running she could do. We tried different shoes to find out what worked best. We figured out how to keep the tendon in her shoulder replacement arm from aching. Then came the actual miles. One has to put in the miles to finish the distance.  First we always do two dog walks a day mostly because giant Casey won't go without one always standing at the door in the morning and evening. After the morning walk I do my running and Cindy does her fast walking/running. Then throughout the day she gets all of her additional steps/miles in never missing a 10,000 step day. However, the weekends were where the real work was done. Since we live near the course, we were able to train on most of it.  I would do my 10 mile runs while she did her 6+ mile training walk/runs.  In February she got real-world race experience  by doing the 10K in Wilmington. I could see the joy in her face that day knowing she completed a new, longer distance and it was great training for the half.  Then it was time for a 10 mile training walk/run. Since I had done a trail half (WTF in Gibsonville) the day before, I did this 10 miler with her and frankly I found walk/running 10 miles harder than running it.  We did this training on miles 3-8 of the half marathon course. Most of the course is on crushed stone which has a different feel than the pavement so it was good to have her train on this portion.  However, the start/finish is 2.5 miles  each way on road and is more challenging due to the hills.  Two weeks before the race, we did this stretch, 2.5 miles to the trail and 2.5 miles back. Overall, she trained on 90% of the course. Training on the course obviously gives you experience on how to run it but sometimes knowing what is to come plays with your psyche.

Packet Pick-up

OK, so training is done and its time for taper and race day. I asked her if she wanted me to come back to find her after I finished and she said no that she wanted to bring it home herself. I told her we would probably see each other on the course at my mile 7.5 and her 4.5.

Race Day

Since we didn't have parking passes (register early if you want them) we needed to shuttle from NetApp to the start/finish line which meant a 3:45 AM alarm, on the bus by 5:00 AM and waiting 90 minutes for the start at 7:00 AM.  The weather was perfect, 45 degrees at the start and ended up partly sunny.  This race draws thousands of runners and has become one of the premier races in the triangle so it is a bit crowded.
Shuttle Ride

We started and finished at the USA baseball complex. I wanted to run with the 2 hour pace group so we  lined up around them.  Once we started, Cindy joined her pace and off we went.  It felt amazing starting a race together at this distance. I was so proud of her even getting to the starting line. We knew she could walk a 3:30 but by cutting a minute off of each mile, it was possible to get to 3:15 so her stretch goal became 3:15, about 15 minutes per mile.

I felt great staying with the two hour pace group. Once we turned around I knew I would be seeing Cindy soon.  Well, it was sooner than I thought. She was doing fantastic and ahead of the 3 hour pacer. I first thought, ut oh, she may have went out too fast, a common mistake that I still make.  After I saw her it motivated me to turn the second half into a negative split. I was at 59 minutes at the 6.65 mile turnaround. My splits from mile 10 on were 8:45, 8:34 and 8:24 finishing the second half in 57 minutes for a 1:56:42.

Now it was time to cheer Cindy (and other runners) into the finish. It was really fun seeing all of the half-marathoners finishing and cheering them on. I also got to see the top 20 marathoners finish including the winners separated by 1 second.
Smiling all the Way

Alas, here comes my girl, just over 3 hours with 600 meters to go. She gave it her all as I ran in front to get some video and then waited behind the finish barrier to watch her finish in 3:06. She has been at nearly all of my finishes, standing and waiting behind those same barriers and now it was my turn. I could not have been more proud of her. After her first hip replacement, we did a 100 mile bike ride on the C&O canal over two days. After her second hip replacement we climbed a very steep mountain in Alaska, and now after her shoulder replacement, she finished her first half marathon.

This is who she is, a strong, persevering, can-do, no excuses, bring-it-on type person.  Remember the bell? She rang it and rang it loudly. The joy in her race pictures tells the entire story of her journey, the story of "yes I can, yes I will"  Ring the bell people and ring it loudly!

...and Half Marathon

Our Start and Finish Line

Bionic Woman

Lined Up To Start

Chillin' Before Her Race

Off We Go

Running With a Smile
1/4 Mile From Finish

Finish Time

Smile and Two Thumbs Up Crossing the Finish

Done and Happy

Ring the Bell!!

Our Rewards

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Little Wins

I've been thinking about this post for a few months. It stemmed from a bad (more like mediocre) half marathon that I raced in Durham back in December. I had some really strong half marathons last year, the fastest being at the Historic Hillsborough Half in 1:55:44. I ran 4 consecutive sub-2 half marathons after posting 3 consecutive over-2 half's the previous year. In Durham, on a pretty hilly course, I posted a 2:02:45 but the majority of the race was a struggle just to keep it around 2 hours. I thought I would pace with hte 2 hour group but could only maintain that for the first 4 miles. I slowly fell back into 9:30 or so pace. However, in the last 2 miles, I raced the others around me including a woman who was keeping up with me on the hills. I finally felt energized to race to the finish and did so finishing ahead of her and some others who I was going head to head with in the final stretch.

Later that day while enjoying a brew with my nephew Shawn who also ran the half in a great time of 1:39:47, I realized that I must find the little wins in all my runs, that the big wins are likely to be few and far between as I continue to age. A big win for me in the half is sub-2 hours, a top 5 finish in my age group, an overall well-run race.  In the full marathon, these days, it might be sub-4:30 or an outside goal of sub-4:20.  Heck, even a finish in the marathon might be considered a big win these days as I approach my 100th marathon this year.

So, what was the little win in Durham? It was how I finished, the last two miles where I put it out there, truly raced on the course set out before me, through to the finish. It was a satisfying finish. I didn't give up at the end although I was having a challenging day. The first 4 miles were a struggle to just maintain a 9 minute pace. Miles 4-11 were holding-on miles to get through the meat of the race. But miles 11 -13.1 were racing miles.

So, each run I do, racing or not, I look for the little wins. At some point what I take from the little wins will end up being a big win. This has likely been true over my running years but more evident now with age. It has certainly been true at the marathon distance.  Achieving finishes at 95 marathons hasn't come easy but I've learned with each and reaching 100 finishes this year will be the big win.

I've run quite a few races this year so far, 3 on trail and 1 on road. Since times are slower on trail runs, I had to look for the little wins in them and there are many. This year I have used trail runs for building strength, not to mention loving being free in the forest with silence, the focus needed, the calmness, and the challenge of hilly, uneven terrain.

I have run two Trivium racing events, the Lakeside Trail Race which I wrote about previously and the Whiskey Tango Foxtrot (affectionately known as the WTF) half marathon. Both have been on trail.  I finished the WTF in 2:31 which is about 30-35 minutes off my normal road half marathon. However, the WTF was hilly, had a knee deep stream crossing twice and started at 2:30 in the afternoon in 70 degree weather just after a 10 minute rain deluge. The little win there was my finish related to my age. I realized that there were only 21 runners older than me out of the 266 that finished, however I finished before 122 runners coming in 144th. To me, that is a little win.

Another little win was walking a 10 mile training walk the day after WTF with Cynthia Anne training for her first half marathon coming up on March 19. That little win was seeing her determination to get this done, her excitement to having gone 10 miles and her anticipation to finish all 13.1 in a few weeks. The little wins can come from other people and motivate me just as much. I could cite example after example where this is true including seeing my nephew Shawn return to running and racing after losing 70 pounds. These are big wins for them and little wins for me.

Today I turned 57, now in the middle of my racing age group. I'll continue to find the little wins in myself and others. The same is true in life. It is not always going to be about the big win because they don't come as often as we would like. Its all about the little wins that we look at and say, "yeah, there is something good in that!"

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Unsteady - Lakeside Trail Race

My last post was for the Madison Marathon and our adventure with David to find Rosie, a kitten to replace his cat Goofy, who died of old age. So, it's been two months.  Last year I generally wrote when I had a race to write about and there were some good ones and some staples. This year, I'm going to try and write more as I venture toward my 100th marathon.  I'm also running more half-marathons and other types of events and distances. It will be fun writing about those journeys as  well.

I also usually start the year with a reflection on the previous year and a look into the new year. One of my favorite things to do is to plan a year of running, more specifically races. Its been more difficult because of how much I have slowed down. I can't blame it all on age because there are some changes I could make in training and diet that would help me trim seconds, maybe even a minutes off of my pace in some events.  I'm still hanging tough in the half marathons with four of the five half marathons last year under 2 hours. I ran 1:58, 1:56, 1:55, 1:56 and 2:02. Those times thrill me to no end. Likely, I will do more half marathons when I no longer enjoy the full distance.

So why unsteady? I titled this post Unsteady because I ran a trail run for the first time in years. It even been a couple of years since I've been on a single path trail, one with roots and small climbs where I needed to focus for much of the time.  I ran the Lakeside Trail Race put on by Trivium at Bryan Park near Lake Townsend. Since I hadn't a great start to running in the new year and hadn't been on trails for some tine, I was a bit nervous and really didn't decide to go to the race until the morning of the race. The distance was 15 miles and I hadn't run more than a half marathon since Madison where I ran the marathon.

The race is small and friendly as it seemed a lot of people knew each other. It is one thing I regret in all my running years that I never got involved all that much in a running community. Yes, I'm a Marathon maniac, a 50-Stater and have met some friends through those communities but not a local running community. Anyway, the Lakeside race had an 8 mile race and a 15 mile race. There were only 51 finishers in the 15 mile and 113 in the 8 mile race. There is a cap of 200 runners. It is run on a series of trails on the Greensboro Watershed Trail System; Osprey, Peninsula and Blue Heron trails some of which, I believe, are part of the Mountains-to-Sea Trail.

I am big on logistics for races. If I have to be more anxious about the logistics of getting to a race, parking, packet pick-up than the actual running of a race, I will likely not run the race.  This is not the case with Lakeside. They stage it at the Bryan Park Soccer Complex with plenty of parking right next to packet pick-up and the start/finish line, have heated indoor bathrooms and no traffic issues. Its just a great all-around set-up.

All racers start at the same time. After a loop around the parking lot to spread runners out, we ventured onto the first trail. There was some slop on the initial entry to the trail downhill but really was no big deal, just had to remain steady. Once downhill the trail was in really good shape even after the snow/sleet storm from the week earlier. The temperature was perfect as well being in the 40's and cloudy skies. It helps to have cloudy skies for a trail run since the shadows on sunny days create mirages for where roots/rocks may or may not be.

I followed a pack of runners for the first 4 miles. Not knowing who was an 8 mile runner or a 15 mile runner, I just ran. We were running 10:45's on what is the most difficult part of the course. Without having run on trails for awhile, I was a bit unsteady but, like riding a bicycle, I got the feel of the uneven ground, traversing the roots, making myself broader like a running back trying to remain in balance. I stayed upright and really didn't have any trips.  It was the most technical section with the most hills. We also would have to run this section back to the finish.  At mile 4, the 8 milers turned around and ran back over the same section in reverse. It was then that I realized there were not many 15 mile runners. When I got to the 4 mile mark, I turned onto a road to cross to another trail.  Frankly, I wasn't sure I was making the right turn because there was NOBODY as far as the eye could see in front of me and since it was a road I could see a good quarter mile. I did see a policeman so I figured I was going the right way. Then, a couple came up behind me and passed me when I stopped to pull my Zensah sleeves up over my knees. Back onto another trail.  This was less technical but being a mountain bike trail had some serious humps. We were on this trail for the next 3.5 miles with beautiful views of the lake from the hardwood forest. Ironically, it was on this less technical trail that I tripped on a root and fell. Like I said earlier, trail running is about focus and I lost focus as I was turning off my GoPro. I went down pretty hard on my left arm/shoulder/knee. But I got up and kept moving while the pain wore off. I was then back to normal pace.

I followed the couple and another guy on this section of the course. Eventually, I lost sight of the couple but was still following the guy. We crossed another bridge between the lakes onto another trail. There was another aid station at mile 7.5 and I high-fived a little girl who was helping with her parents. I carried a water bottle since the aid stations were a bit spread out.  I also had two cookies. Onto the next trail for another 3.5 miles that followed the perimeter of the lake, where in some places, you were right at the edge of the water. This was slightly more technical than the trail I had just run on but still not like the first 4 miles, which would be my last 4 miles. After the first 4 miles and when I didn't have other runners on my heels, I decided to try out my new GoPRO Hero Black. I had mixed results with it, primarily because of getting it turned on and off at the wrong times. I got some decent footage but not what I had hoped. I did trip a couple of more times but didn't fall.

I finally reached the last aid station which was the 4 mile turn-around for the 8 mile runners. I was still feeling pretty decent. I slowed but continued to run the entire time. At the aid station was a girl in a Unicorn outfit. Trail runs seem to be fun like this. The runners and volunteers are generally characters, in a good way of course.  I knew the last 4 miles would be difficult on tired legs. There were more hills, it was more technical, stone steps, a small stream crossing, and the uphill that had the muck. But, I knew it was to the finish.  I did trip and fall one more time. It wasn't as terrible as the first so I just got up and kept running. Also during the previous section, I passed the guy in front of me which was a good feeling. Of course, I later found out he was 67. If only I could be doing this when I am 67.

I got to the finish just as the awards were being given out. It said on their website that age groups would be given to the top 3. After I finished in 3:03, I stood around waiting for my age group.  They gave the top 2 and I later found out that I was 3rd (our of 4) but I guess because they were already giving out awards and I had just crossed, they didn't get my time. Its just my luck.

As unsteady as I was, I really enjoyed my time on the trails and registered for their trail half marathon, Whisky, Tango, Foxtrot. There is something serene, relaxed and tough at the same time doing a trail race.

Start of the Race

Down the Muck


Saturday, November 26, 2016

Rosie and the Marathon: Madison

I had an obnoxious heading to use for post but it really isn't funny anymore, not that it ever was. It was going to be Grabbin' a Little Pussy" Madison Marathon. It's not funny because America, by way of the electoral college, elected a man who thinks it is OK to do this, force himself on women and plainly be a hateful person.

However, my title was related to what we did in Madison (while I was there for the marathon) with Cindy's brother David. We took him shopping for a new kitten.  His cat of many years, Goofy, had passed on beyond her 9 lives a few months earlier. We know how pets enhance our lives and David missed her companionship on a daily basis. The day before the marathon we went on our search.  We first went to the Dane County Humane Society. David was looking for a kitten that he could bond with instead of an adult.  The society only had one kitten and there was a waiting list for it so we left and went to a place Cindy's sister, Deb (who we also visited with early in the morning) told us about called AniMart and that they might have kittens.

We ventured to AniMart and sure enough, kittens abounded. It didn't take long for David to find Rose, now Rosie, a pretty and friendly light tan kitten. After a little time alone with her, David decided she was the one and Rosie eventually came home with David later in the afternoon. Mission complete.

Trying Rosie out at AniMart

At home with David and Rosie

Madison Marathon

Aside from the visit with Deb and David, always combining trips with running, I was all set to run the Madison Marathon.  I ran the Madison mini-marathon (half) a few years ago in the summer and really enjoyed it.

Cindy and I stayed at Hyatt Place, just down the road from the Capitol and where the start/finish line was for the race. It's in a nice quiet neighborhood but close enough to state street, race day activities, and also gave Cindy a chance to see me just past mile 10, a few blocks away on Gorman Street.

We went to the expo at Monona Terrace on Friday when they opened. It was a small expo but well organized for packet-pickup. My number was 1812 and all I could think of was the war of 1812, particularly after we had just ended the ugliest campaign in American history. The technical shirts were a vibrant blue with big fluorescent pink letters, Madison Marathon, across the chest.

After picking up the race packet, we ventured back around the Capitol and down State street, in essence, the retail/restaurant downtown of Madison and a street that is bookended by the University of Wisconsin and the State Capitol. It's a nice walk and a happening' place at the right time.  The Badgers were playing at home Saturday and it was homecoming so with the marathon, it was a busy weekend. Enjoying craft beers the way I do, we spotted a place called HopCat. We sat at the bar and was presented with a menu of craft beers from all over the country. The bartender was friendly and had family in Durham. With the plethora of choices, he gave us some samples and then we were on our way with a few pints and snifters of some very tasty brews.  Cindy even enjoyed a nice coffee flavored dark beer while we did some pretzel and bruschetta appetizers.

On Saturday morning before the kitten adventures, I decided to do a 2 mile run over by Lake Monona.  Although the weather can be adventuresome in Madison this time of year, we were having perfect weather with 40's in the morning and 50's to almost 60 during the day. Saturday morning, the day before the marathon, was bright and crisp. The lake was beautiful and I felt good on this short little jaunt on the lakeside trail.

After visits and finding the kitten and getting David and Rosie situated, it was time to head back to the hotel and find a pre-race pasta dinner. Not knowing where we were going, we must have been directed to one of the better Italian restaurants in Madison, Cento. Although I only had spaghetti and meatballs (3 large balls), it was quite tasty as was the lasagna that Cindy had. We would highly recommend the place for anything Italian.

Race Morning

Since the election, I had struggled all week with sleeping. I couldn't believe what America had done (actually the popular vote has gone to Clinton by over 2 million votes.) After 94 marathons, I knew that decent sleep and low stress the week before was beneficial for running a good marathon. My mod and demeanor was poor all related to the election. It was just a sad and angry time in America. Would running 26.2 miles help my world, my mood, my joy?

Cindy has always been there for me during marathons, early to the start, walking to see me at the interim miles and sometimes the long wait at the finish. Honestly, I think it is what keeps me going sometimes, going in the marathon and wanting to do the next one.  We really enjoy getting away for a marathon weekend and doing fun things outside of the race itself. RaceJoy is an app used by some marathons that allows tracking of the runner.  Cindy has it on her phone and I have it on mine which I carry in a pack. She knows exactly where I am on the course and my splits for each mile, even at the end when she sees my mile splits getting longer.

The weather was spectacular being in the low 40's at the start and low 50's at the finish, the best temperatures for me to run in. I knew the course would be a rolling course in spots, fair when you roll up and roll down with a few flat areas thrown in. I would much rather run rolling hilly courses than flat ones.  As a matter of fact, my best two marathons of 2016, Knoxville and Madison, were rolling and somewhat hilly. Hills in the early miles of a marathon let you ease into the marathon a bit but if not careful, they can zap your strength if the later miles also have hills. Madison is fair throughout.  I ran with the 4:20 group for much of the marathon. I hadn't run under 4:20 for a couple of years but with the perfect weather and a course that sets up well for me, I thought I would give it a shot for as long as I could. Interestingly, I was running with a pack of 20 and 30-year olds and almost felt like their Dad running with them. I didn't speak to anyone as I generally don't, but probably should. Just after mile 10, I moved ahead of the pack a bit because I knew Cindy would be waiting at mile 10.75 and I would stop for a hug and kiss. There were not many people out and about during the early miles as we ran near campus and Camp Randall (the Badger football stadium).  Of course, after the big win by the Badgers and subsequent partying, I suspect many were still in bed. After I saw Cindy, I rejoined the pack and ran with them up through Maple Bluff.

We were told by the pacers to mentally get prepared for Maple Bluff. Yes, from miles 16-22 from Warner Park through Maple Bluff and being the later miles, the course became quite challenging with unrelenting hills. I eventually fell back on my pace at around mile 21. Although I was still on 4;20 pace, I started to slowly see that fade away. Relentless forward progress, strong and relaxed, my two mantras to get to the finish kept me moving the best I could. The last 3/4 mile uphill to the finish didn't help much. I turned the last corner and saw the finish and started looking for Cindy, my finish kiss and the last few step across the line - 4:31:47. It was my best marathon of the year. Yep, I know not so great for most decent runners, but it was my 95th completed marathon in the last 15 years. I had a good appetite afterward and downed a couple Panera sandwiches, official race food sponsor.

Overall, it was a great weekend and I enjoy going to Madison.  It has energy, a good running community, fun places to eat and drink. It is just unfortunate that it is in Wisconsin because I would not dig the winters there. We'll be back either for the mini-marathon or to run the Madison marathon again. Oh, and the race pictures are free, the way they should be!

At the start

Chilly morning

Mile 10.7 with 4:20 pace group

4:20 paces finishing without a group

The finish

Still smiling after 26.2

Wisconsin State Capitol

My biggest fan!

Rosie chillin'

Rosie diggin' her cat tree

Capitol at night

Official free photos

Closer to the finish!

95th marathon complete!

Friday, October 21, 2016

A Tale of the Scale

To many runners, particularly the mid- and back-packers, the scale is our nemesis. Each pound overweight translates to 3 seconds slower per mile run. Hence, 10 pounds adds 30 seconds extra per mile. How about 20., 30, 50, or 70 pounds? well, you can do the math, hopefully! It not only means slower, but the weight puts the body at risk in many other ways, high blood pressure, increased heart rate, and joint stress to name a few. We all have heard stories of miraculous weight loss and the transformation of those individuals into runners. I love those stories and the commitment needed to get there. In my younger days, I did it myself losing 35 pounds to run my first 5K followed up by the NYC Marathon in 1994. Frankly, it wasn't all that miraculous but still an achievement as I ran and biked my way with a new sensible eating plan to become a runner.  After 94 marathons, hundreds of other races and an aging slower metabolism, I still struggle with the extra pounds, not 35 but enough to run slower and stress the body. I know the struggle and the struggle is within me as it is in all of us.

Baltimore 2001

My nephew Shawn and I registered for the inaugural Baltimore Marathon after not being able to get into the Marine Corp Marathon. It was going to be my second marathon after running NYC in 1994.  It would be Shawn's second marathon after running NYC in 2000. Through the late 90s and in 2000, I had gained half my weight back. The struggle persisted.  I had a non-running hamstring injury that took forever to heal and my Mom was sick with emphysema, eventually succumbing to the disease in 2000. Running and the runner's diet had taken a back seat. After seeing Shawn so psyched to be running and me being a spectator at the George Sheehan Classic, I knew that I needed to get back on the course. I did in the 2001 edition of the Baltimore Marathon, the year with the toughest course (think 22 miles uphill) and just after one of the most tragic events in U.S. history, 9/11. All the runners ran with heavy hearts that day including Shawn and me. Shawn finished in 4:01:39 and I struggled to a 4:27:13.

Baltimore 2003

Fast-forward a couple of years. The course in Baltimore has changed nearly every year although now stable with minor modifications over the last few.  In 2002, the race director and Corrigan Sports realized that the 2001 course was just not a fair course. Wanting runners to come back they changed the course to make it fair yet still challenging. Shawn hadn't run the 2002 race but came back with a vengeance in 2003.  At optimal running weight he ran his best marathon and PR in 3:36:35. After running a worse time in 2002 from 2001, I finally ran a decent marathon in 4:13:27. More than that, in 2003, he went on to run the JFK 50 mile in an amazing time of 9:06.

Baltimore 2004 and 2006

2004 was a breakthrough year for me, particularly in Baltimore as I ran under 4 hours for the first time - 3:48:01. A well-run race is an amazing experience and it feels like your feet are never touching the ground. In a running 'career', for most of us, these kind of runs only come every so often or for a stretch of races. My stretch of races was from 2004 to 2009. Not every race was fantastic but all of my PRs at all distances were set during this time. My fastest Baltimore Marathon's rank 3rd and 6th out of my list of 94 marathons completed. In 2006. I ran my best Baltimore marathon in 3:47:33.

Shawn continued to run Baltimore well. Also in 2004 and 2006, he broke 4 hours both years, respectively in 3:49:49 and 3:59:25. I've run all 16 editions of the Baltimore marathon and my times have been sporadic but like a weekend golfer who hits that one great, fantastic shot or has that one low round etched in his mind, in hope of another, I continued to come back for more - more cowbell please!

Baltimore 2007 - 2015

During this time period Shawn had taken many of these years as a hiatus, running one Baltimore marathon in 2011 and accompanying me to run my 50th marathon on my 50th birthday in New Orleans in 2010. With this hiatus and inevitable weight gain, his time in 2010 fell to 4:29:28. Being the 10th anniversary and a celebration for us 10-timers, I ran well in 4:03:42.

Shawn's weight piled on over the next 5 year span. Although mine didn't pile, I put those extra 30 seconds of weight on and combined with my age, just became slower overall. Then in 2015 tragedy struck our family when Shawn's brother, Todd, collapsed and died. We were all saddened and stunned. At 49, it was hard to imagine a life that was well-lived  was taken so early.

In December 2015, Shawn's weight was at a high of 232 pounds and with blood pressure skyrocketing he was on blood pressure medicine to manage it. When I would go back to Hagerstown, it became difficult for him to run a few miles without walk breaks. I know how the mental aspect of that feels as I went through it back in 2000 when my Mom was sick and eventually died in March.  I had stopped running and I had gained weight to a point where I could not run a mile and a half without walking. I distinctly remember the difficulty both mentally and physically. At a point, one says 'enough is enough'.  For me it was back in June 2000.  For Shawn it was December 2015. He set out on a weight-loss journey following Ideal Protein. With his wife as his weight-loss coach (who also had magnificent weight-loss on this plan) he started a journey that would change his physical and mental life.

June 2015

Baltimore 2016

With Ideal Protein, there are phases one goes through for optimal weight-loss and they must be strictly followed. The early phases do not include any exercise which means no running. There are definitely good stories out there of runners who lost weight by including running (or other forms of exercise)  in their weight-loss program. However, the more one runs or exercises, the more calories need to be consumed to maintain the regimen which can lead to overeating as the body craves calories.

From December through April, being disciplined and focused, with the help of his Ideal Protein coach, the weight melted off - 232, 220, 200, 190, 170 to 162 - a loss of 70 pounds. After hitting his goals, he could start running again and run he did.  Seventy pounds off of the joints, de-stressing the heart, and mentally knowing that what he just did is harder than running any marathon, he got back out on the road and trails. There was no more need for blood pressure medicine. The heart works as it should when the body is how it should be.

I saw the excitement again - new running shoes and watch, scouring the internet for races, joining the social media running sites. It was all there again.  Frankly, it was motivating for me as my motivation started waning after aging starts to take one's best runs away from them. I needed to see that excitement in someone else so I could see that excitement in myself again.  Although I had not stopped running since 2000, 16 years running 5-6 days a week, 94 marathons, 31 half-marathons, 8 ultras, intense personal struggles, the nagging aches and pains and enough weight gain to make a difference, I found my motivation levels waning. Shawn re-energized me seeing him so excited again.

He found himself wanting to do the difficult runs on trails and roads to make a statement not only about his weight-loss but the discipline it took to get there.  Running is about discipline and consistency. It is the same with eating.  There are no quick fixes. One does not get off their couch one Saturday and run a marathon just as one doesn't wake up in the morning weighing 70 pounds less.

One of the first difficult challenges was to run the Quadzilla 15K. This is how it is described.

Quadzilla is pure guts. It will test your limits. This is a trail race: there are hills, rocks, roots, and water. You think you’ve run hills … until Quadzilla. This course is a BEAST! It will take you to the middle of nowhere and back. It will test your spirit, try your patience, and keep throwing a curve ball at you again and again.

Shawn (in yellow) making the climb

Reading the description of the Quadzilla, this is the very essence of weight-loss. "It will test your limits...test your spirit, try your patience and keep throwing you a curve ball time and again."

I invited him to Durham to run the Running of the Bulls 8000, a premier road race in Durham - fast and challenging at the same time. It was going to be our first race together in years and we were both pretty excited about it. In the usual Durham heat and humidity, we both ran decent races.

The Quadzilla and this faster 8000 meters proved to Shawn that he was good to go and back in the saddle again - 70 pounds of weight-loss running 8 minute miles. At that point I also knew that the Baltimore Marathon, one that we had run 5 times together was in his grasp. I also knew he was going to do well. I received two free entries to the Baltimore Running Festival the previous year for being a 15-time Baltimore marathon runner. I offered one up to Shawn to bring us back together again for another run in Baltimore.

Of course, training in the summer is not the easiest road to a fall marathon, particularly in North Carolina where the heat and humidity are unrelenting. Even for the east coast as a whole, it is a challenge for runners. In June I ran the Banff Canadian marathon so I started the summer in nice cool weather but most of the summer saw temperatures above 90 degrees. I could see the times that Shawn was running and the training that he was doing and it was right on track for a really good marathon.

In September, we decided to put it to the test with a 20 mile race called Revenge of the Penguins organized by Marathon Charity Cooperation. The course was primarily flat on the C&O canal near Washington in Potomac MD. However, the weather had not reached fall-like temperatures yet and was nearly 80 degrees at the finish on race day. I sort of melted but Shawn kicked butt.  He ran 2:53:24, 8:40 pace, placed 3rd in his age group and 15th out of 109. This is when I knew that his marathon in Baltimore was going to be great! This picture shows the difference between his run and mine!

The Marathon

Here we are lining up for the Baltimore Marathon for the 6th time together.  Shawn's journey has been full of patience, faith, perseverance and relentless forward progress both with his weight-loss and running. He is living proof that it can be done and that weight matters not only when it comes to running but when it comes to quality of life.

Shawn said he was a little nervous. I'm still nervous even after completing 94 marathons so it is to be expected. But, these smiles show how wonderful this moment is.

Happy days!

Altra's and Saucony's

Contemplating the big race
Standing at attention?

Garmin 235 strapped to our wrists
My champion crew - Cynthia Anne

The weather was as perfect as one gets for a marathon, 50  degrees at the start and 50's most of the time. There were no excuses not to run well or at least not to enjoy the run in those temperatures.  I told Shawn at the start that I could see him running 3:45 - 3:50. I saw his training and I saw that 20 miler. I knew it was in him. The start went off with confetti flying everywhere, the only marathon I have run that shoots off confetti at the start. I love the Baltimore start, confetti flying, fans lining the street and an easy 3 miles up hill to the highest point on the course. I saw Shawn for the first half mile and then only once more on a out and back sect (he was already nearly 2 miles ahead of me) before meeting up with him at the finish.


Salute to the flag

Shawn leaving mile 8.75

Mile 8.75

There always needs to be a kiss somewhere on the course for a marathon and it looks like we both found those people to kiss at mile 8 - Rene and Cynthia Anne. They may have added 10 seconds to our times but knocked off minutes!

I was pretty consistent pace-wise through 17 miles, although faster than I should have been and when I say faster I mean in a slow kind of way. My goal was 4:30.  I knew by mile 21 that I was likely not going to make that goal. I finished in 4:43 and although it is hard to be "happy" with that, it is what it is these days. I still finished better than nearly half in my age group.

As for Shawn, this is the feel-good point of the story. I met him at the Johnny Unites statue figuring that he had been there for awhile.  He wanted me to guess his time and I figured I had guessed it at the start. But, I was wrong! He destroyed my low end estimate for his time.  Here is the story morning glory.

Yes, that reads 3:37:58 only 1 minute 23 seconds off his PR (3:36:35) from the 2003 Baltimore Marathon. Also, it was run as a negative split which is amazing for the Baltimore course because the second half is more challenging with the hills than the first. You can do the math but that PR is 13 years ago which is amazing in itself. Then when you put the 70 pounds of weight-loss into the equation, it is simply astonishing. In 2015, he could barely run 3 miles with me using walk breaks and here he is running 26.2 miles at an 8:19 pace.


So here are the lessons learned. You cannot wish to lose weight jut as you cannot wish to cross a marathon finish line. It takes faith, hard work, patience, perseverance, planning, fighting through struggles, and a desire to make it to the goal. It also helps to have a coach and motivator, someone who can help you through the tough and weak times.  It is all within us for not just losing weight and running but for everything in life. If you want something, nothing is free, there needs to be an effort to achieve it. I know Shawn's faith in God played a major role in all of this. God and Jesus are there to cast a worrisome burden onto their shoulders. You can do it if you are committed to it, whatever it is. Shawn was committed to losing weight and subsequently reinventing his running life and crossing the marathon finish line. As the Brits would say, well-done Shawn, well-done!

Here are some more pictures from the weekend.

Pratt Street Ale House for some cask conditioned ales

Our crew Cynthia Anne and Rene

Picking up the bib for the 16th time wearing inaugural race shirt

Says it all

Cool Socks and shoes.
Navy Lt. Was the winner! It was fleet week.

Shawn ignoring Cindy and Rene running 7+ minute pace at the finish

Finishing on Eutaw Street

.1 mile to go

Soldier ran in full gear

Coolest medal I've received

On the Ferry to Fells Point

Tour of Canadian ship for Fleet Week

Post-race Tacos and Margareta's
Sailor standing guard

The Baltimore nightlife