Welcome to my blog! This project has been in the works for a while now so I’m glad to finally make it official. After watching the remarkable success of the running blog that my son, Alek, developed more than a year ago, I finally decided to take the plunge into the “blogosphere” with this effort. My primary purpose in keeping this blog is to keep myself motivated and focused on the daunting task that lies before me in the coming months: finding the focus, discipline, and training regimen that will get me back to the Boston Marathon.
First, some brief remarks about my marathon history. I have been a competitive runner for more than 30 years, but I have never been a disciplined “trainer.” I have always relied on relatively low mileage, coupled with cross training sports (tennis, rowing, and swimming at various times in my life) and mental toughness to reach my goals. Now that I’m 45, it’s impossible to “fake it” the way I used to do at the marathon distance. I’ve managed to produce respectable sub-1:45 half marathon times in the past five years on 15-20 miles of training per week, but the marathon is a totally different undertaking. I haven’t run a marathon since 2004 and that was a hugely disappointing effort (4:02) on a very hot day (upper 70’s) at the Toronto Waterfront Marathon. Actually, three of my last five marathons (including Toronto) were big disappointments (4:03 at Jersey Shore in 2002 and 4:10 at Florida Gulf Beaches in 2003). There were two promising efforts during that time, though – a 3:44 at Wineglass (2002) and a 3:47 at Mystic Places (2003). So, I figure if I could produce those times with improper training and low mileage, perhaps there’s hope to get back to Boston with the 3:30 I need to punch my ticket if I train “by the book” (or least close to it) for a change.
I’ve run 21 marathons and 19 half marathons. My marathon career began on a whim in 1988 at age 24. I was in my second year of law school in Vermont at that time. One of my classmates who was about as fast as I was at shorter distances (we placed second and third in the law school’s five mile race the year before) told me than he had completed his first marathon at a small race in Stamford, CT. He ran a 4:19, which impressed him and me given the half-baked training he had done and his mere goal of just finishing and not walking. So, I decided to run that marathon just to say that I could finish one, too (and hopefully improve on my classmate’s time). To make a long story short, I didn’t train properly (about 20-25 miles per week with no long run above 10 miles) nor did I hydrate properly before or during the race. I also went out way too fast in the race (I ran a 1:41 for the first half). After making every rookie mistake in the book, including having chosen a tiny marathon as my first marathon (about 400 runners) with very little support on the course, I surprised myself by crossing the line in 3:49. I also was surprised to find myself relocated to the medical tent immediately after the race because of severe dehydration. My blood pressure was dangerously low and I had lost sensation in my arms from the elbows down. I dodged a medical bullet and walked away unscathed from that incident, vowing never to run another marathon.
I’ve never been one to learn from my mistakes. About six months later, I ran my second marathon – the Vermont City Marathon. I trained a little more this time, paced myself properly during the race, and even was a little more attentive to my hydration needs – and it paid off. I ran a 3:35 and felt great at the finish. From that point in 1989, I knew that Boston was within my grasp. Little did I know it would take me 10 years and another 12 marathons to get to the finish line of Boston!
In November 1998, I qualified for Boston with a PR 3:15 at the Steamtown Marathon. I had run several sub-3:35 marathons prior to that performance, but nothing close to a 3:15. The secret to my success? — unintentional weight loss during my summer in Nairobi, Kenya in 1998 teaching International Environmental Law. I lost about 15 pounds in seven weeks and ran maybe a total of 50 miles while I was there. Just getting away from my comfort zone of American high-fat convenience food and “stress-related eating” paved the way to success.
Five weeks after running a 3:15 at Steamtown, I ran a 3:17 at Philadelphia, so I knew I was for real. I didn’t train as hard as I should have in the months leading up to Boston, and my weight slowly climbed. I still ran a strong race at Boston in 1999 (3:26) and placed in the 25% of the field. But I didn’t soak up all of the hype and thrill of being at Boston that year because I assumed that I had “arrived” as a perennial Bostonian. That assumption proved to be wrong beyond my wildest dreams.
Somehow “life got in the way” in the years that followed and my training suffered. I turned in solid marathon performances later in 1999 (3:27 at Hartford and a 3:28 at Columbus) but my “Boston magic” was gone. It soon became clear that I didn’t have another 3:15 in me at that time and I would need to wait to “age up” for a slower qualifying time. Soon thereafter, it became clear that I didn’t have a 3:20 in me, either, based on my limited training regimen. It also became clear that my glory days of marathoning (’96-’99) were behind me and I started to branch out into other endeavors. I transitioned to half marathons as my primary competitive running distance (and turned in a few respectable sub-1:40 efforts at the Philadelphia Distance Run) and resumed competition in tennis, swimming, and rowing. I also coached a charity marathon team (Train to End Stroke) in the Philadelphia area in 2003-2004 and helped approximately 100 novice runners reach their goal of completing their first full or half marathon at the Kona (’03) and Disney (‘04) marathons. All of those pursuits gave me a nice break from the wall I had hit with my marathoning.
Upon moving to Florida in 2006, I continued with my half marathon focus and did several shorter races as well (mostly 5K, 5 miles, and 10K). Although I fared well and collected lots of hardware in my age group at these shorter distances, I still wasn’t even close to marathon shape. My long runs were 7-10 miles, with weekly mileage rarely above 20, and marathoning started to seem like a distant memory. However, once Alek started to take up competitive running very seriously in 2008, within a year he was beating me at all distances between 5K and 15K. At that point, I thought that a transition back to marathoning would restore my sense of pride as a runner after watching this loud-mouthed, whipper snapper trash talk his way past me in all of our races.
I was smart enough to know that my aspiration to return to Boston would be nothing more than a pipe dream without proper training and focus. That’s where this blog comes in. Keeping track of my progress with training and racing on this blog between now and when (if ever) I run that elusive 3:30 to get back to Boston will help me maintain the focus I need. Also, I have joined Coach Paul McRae’s marathon training group for some expert guidance with my preparation. In addition to prescribed weekly mileage and group workouts twice a week in Coach Paul’s group, I am looking to supplement my training with other mechanisms. I need to lose 15 pounds to have a fighting chance at achieving a 3:30. Most of that weight will come off easily with my increased mileage and “just saying no” more often than not to the drive through windows along the way on my twice weekly, two-hour commute from Ponte Vedra Beach to Orlando for my job. I also plan to do some core work at Alek’s urging because the core workouts (mostly abs with the medicine ball) he has been doing in the past year have helped him rise to new levels with his training and racing.
So, I welcome your support, inspiration, advice, and criticism as I boldly go where no fat old man should venture – on a “Boston or Bust” mission. Hopefully, my effort to “come out of retirement” will be more successful and less annoying than Brett Favre’s efforts. The first benchmark on my journey is the Jacksonville Marine Corps Half Marathon. I ran a 1:49 at this race in 2006 and a 1:45 in 2008. My goal for this year is sub-1:44. Stay tuned for the details on my performance in that race on October 4.