Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Assorted Thoughts Over 15 Miles

39 degrees is what my smart phone weather app tells me the current temperature is. But wait! The “Real Feel” is 37 degrees.  Guess I better put on that extra layer, I think to myself with a chuckle.  I realize the value of the “feels like” temperature, but sometimes it seems a bit humorous to think that when the difference is so minimal anyone would step outside and say; “Hey, hold on. It’s not 39, it feels like 37! I’ve been lied to!” 

I’m going for a run and with the high today expected to reach 57 I expect to warm up quickly, so I decide to skip the extra layer. Today’s long run route is spontaneous. By that I mean I planned on running but I don’t have a specific route mapped out. I’m just going to run and decide where to go at the time I’m presented with an option. To paraphrase Yogi Berra, when I come to a fork in the road I’ll take it.

My intent today is to build endurance. However, since it’s April and I’m experiencing a bit of cabin fever, my other goal is just to enjoy being outdoors.  I’m in the mood to zone out and not deal with traffic, so I decide that I will seek less traveled roads. 

My primary distance goal with today’s run is to do at least 14 miles, which will put me in a good position to perform well at the half marathon distance or to train for the inevitable fall marathon. I have brought along my ipod so I can listen to podcasts as a positive distraction and a way to learn while I burn (calories that is).  I insert my ear buds and press start, starting my first podcast while simultaneously cueing me to start my run.  I begin with an episode of the NPR’s TED Radio Hour. Today’s episode is titled “What We Fear”, it examines the pros and cons of fear, what causes fear, and how different people deal with it.

Fear is described as something that is both beneficial and restrictive. It is beneficial because we need fear for survival. For example, if we are out in the wild and see a tiger fear lets us know we should flee the scene for survival sake. However, it can be restrictive because our brain also allows us to be storytellers. When confronted with an uncertain situation, such as starting a business or changing jobs, we often tell ourselves the worst case scenario story. We devise elaborate thoughts of how things can go horribly wrong thereby possibly preventing us from taking action that will help improve our lives.

My journey takes me by the back entrance to the nearby fairgrounds. This is a less busy time of year there with most events taking place inside their event center, not in the outdoor sections. I’ve run through the grounds before under similar circumstances and it has been quite pleasant, so my internal GPS tells me to turn right and proceed into the fairgrounds.

I ascend up the primary roadway that goes through the grounds then turn left into the main exhibition area. If it was September this area would be filled with excited fair-goers while the smell of fried foods and cotton candy satiated the air. Today though, all the shops are boarded up with nothing but the crispness of spring filling the air. I run through the heart of the fairgrounds and then loop back around the backside of the grounds, following a dirt road that runs along a wooded section. 

Suddenly, my focus is pulled away from the road ahead of me as I see movement in the corner of my right eye.  Turning and looking in that direction I spy a fox about 30 feet ahead of me walking towards the woods. Because my unexpected appearance has startled him, after glancing my way he does a short sprint towards the safety of the woods before stopping to study me from afar.  The road I’m running on veers to the left away from the woods, so I continue on it so as to not disrupt the fox’s plans. Recognizing that I’m not a threat he continues about his business, which based upon his repeated wandering with his nose to the ground is looking for critters to prey upon.

My first thought is that this looks like a grey fox not the more common red fox. However, I know that red foxes can look like grey foxes upon brief examination. However, I got fairly close to to this fox and didn't see much that resembled red. I always appreciate wildlife sightings,but since I was able to get so uncommonly close I was especially appreciative of this moment, regardless of the type of fox.

(Upon returning home I looked up the differences between the two and learned that red foxes have black on their legs that kind of resembles black socks. I don't recall seeing black on its legs at all. It makes me wish I had a camera during my run so I could have possibly gotten a photo to look back upon and figure out what type of fox I  had the pleasure of witnessing. I'll have to remember that for the future).

Grey Fox

About 25 yards later I turn to look back towards the fox. He continues to walk back and forth along the woods, searching the grounds. He then sits down in the common seated dog position, with his butt down and front legs fully extended supporting his torso in an upright position as he looks out toward me. He appears calm, looking my way in a manner that indicates he is as intrigued by me as I am of him. Within about 30 seconds of this moment two fox pups emerge from the woods. It looks like the “he fox” may actually be a “she fox” and mama is keeping tabs on her young.


                                                                  Red Fox

I love having these synchronistic moments. It makes me feel like my day is unfolding the way it is supposed to.  If I had started my run 30 seconds sooner or 30 seconds later I would have missed being in this right place at the right time.  

I watch the foxes for about another minute and then resume my run, following the dirt road until it reconnects with the paved roadway as I head back towards the fairgrounds exit.  After exiting the fairgrounds I continue down a more well traveled road, with the plan to turn off onto a lesser traveled town road about a half mile ahead. This road also has a pedestrian path along the side of it which will allow for a more comfortable running route.

After a couple of minutes on the main road I pass a local small auto garage and car dealership. The cars on display are all used, or pre-owned to use current terminology. They don’t look new enough to have a rear view camera or brakes that are applied automatically by the car instead of the driver.  Some of them may even have, dare I think it, manual transmission. 

The thought of modern cars having so many features makes me dread the act of having to buy a new car, which hopefully won’t happen for a long time.  I don’t want all these features. I want to be the driver not the passenger. I want to be the decision maker.  I want to be the one who applies the brakes, who steers, who looks behind me as I backup. 

In the not too distant future cars are reportedly going to be able to drive on their own, essentially turning the driver into a passenger. I’m really not a fan of this. Driving should be an experience not a mundane task, there are already enough of those in our lives. I'm reminded of an ad campaign that Volkswagen had years ago in which their slogan was, " On the road of life there are passengers and there are drivers". I really like that slogan because I feel it is a good metaphor for life. People who are drivers are in charge of their life, they are taking their life in the direction they desire. Whereas passengers just let life happen to them. Cars that do the driving are symbolic of living life just as a passenger.

Also, being aware of and reacting to things in our environment (as is necessary when driving) is part of having a healthy body and mind. Having to do this contributes to helping us stay mentally sharp and improves communication skills between the brain and the body. Driving in itself doesn’t help with physical health, but at least there is that brain/body communication component. Take that away and there is one more factor in our world that contributes to poor health.

When I was in elementary school we were supposed to have jet packs by the year 2000. I’d rather have one of those than an automated car.

Making my way onto the pedestrian path the TED podcast ends and  I tune in to the next podcast in the cue which is “Garbage Time”, a sports and pop culture podcast from FS1 (Fox Sports) with host Katie Nolan. Her intelligent line of questioning and sense of humor make it a very enjoyable listen. This episode is an interview with Tom Werner, chairman of the Boston Red Sox whose resume' also includes time as a television producer.  He mentions that after working at ABC in the 70’s he was cocky enough to leave the network and become a producer (and a very successful one at that).

The word cocky can conjure up imagery of arrogance, which can have negative connotations.  However, he was using the term to describe his confidence based on previous success.  Having confidence is a component of success in any venture.  I think about how well this compliments the information from the TED podcast on fear.  Confidence is important for success but I feel a certain amount of fear is as well. Having some fear allows us to make smart decisions so that arrogance doesn’t lead to foolishness. 
At this point I’ve completed 13 miles and I’m feeling pretty good, so I decide to extend my run 1 mile further than I originally planned, making it 15 miles total. I do this by taking miscellaneous side streets.As I wind through the maze of suburban streets my legs start to feel a little heavy, so with about a mile and a half to go my run starts to resemble more of a fast paced shuffle. About 20 feet ahead of me a chicken walks across the lawn of one of the homes and begins to cross the road.  I’ve run through here dozens of times in the past and never encountered a chicken. Even though it is a small town it still seems like an unusual location for a free roaming chicken to appear, so I briefly think maybe I’m hallucinating. But I quickly realize it is a real chicken, which as I get closer completely crosses the road. 

Something I’ve noticed about running is that the longer I run the goofier my sense of humor becomes.  Today that leads me to think I should go to the chicken and say; “Dude, let’s end the debate once and for all. Why exactly did you cross the road?”  I laugh to myself as I think this. At this point I’m heading straight back home which is probably a good think so my goofiness doesn’t get too extreme. 

As I approach my driveway and slow to a stop I realize how happy I am that I didn’t have a pre-determined plan for today’s run. It allowed me to enjoy it so much more. Sometimes in life you just gotta go with the flow.


Monday, February 1, 2016

Flowing into Happiness

It’s 8 am. A fresh coat of snow blankets the earth and a light fog fills the air as I begin my standard Sunday long run.Today I’m running with my headphones for some musical inspiration. My musical selection is quite diverse but even with it set to shuffle I feel like my ipod can sometimes read my mind, as it often picks the right song at the right moment. As I tread lightly across the new fallen snow to get a sense of the degree of slipperiness, Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata is the first melody that serenades my eardrums.

One might not associate this with a workout song but its cadence is perfect for warming up. And despite being about moonlight it seems to be fitting. Being early in the day on a Sunday the rest of the world seems to still be at rest, providing a similar stillness as the moonlight hours. It’s just me running through a silent snow covered foggy town. The song seems to be the soundtrack for this moment, emphasizing the so called loneliness of the long distance runner.

I love my long runs, they provide me with a form of meditation, an opportunity to get inside my head and clean out the gunk that has accumulated from a hectic work week.
Despite the fact that I’m running while listening to music I am still very much able to clear my head. In fact, exercising to music has been shown to induce a state of ‘flow’ or ‘getting into the zone’.

Flow is the point during an activity in which mind and body work in perfect synch, you are totally in the moment and movements seem to flow without conscious effort. Recent research at Brunel University’s School of Sport and Education showed that music can make the experience of cardiovascular exercise far more positive. Promoting a state of flow is a way in which this happens. Researchers concluded that music and imagery could enhance athletic performance by triggering emotions and cognitions associated with flow.  

While music certainly isn’t required for a flow state, sometimes it helps. Today is one of those days for me. As my strides take me over varied terrain thoughts of my week and daily obligations disappear. The rhythm from assorted melodies on my ipod and my breathing are all I’m aware of. I’m out playing in the snow approaching the day with a childlike enthusiasm.

Not long ago I listened to an NPR episode of the TED Radio Hour in which the subject was Maslow’s hierarchy of human needs. In 1943 Psychologist Abraham Maslow proposed that healthy human beings have a certain number of needs, and that these needs are arranged in a hierarchy, with some needs (such as physiological and safety needs) being more primitive or basic than others (such as social and ego needs). Maslow’s so-called ‘hierarchy of needs’ is often presented as a five-level pyramid, with higher needs coming into focus only once lower, more basic needs are met.

One of the discussions during this TED radio hour episode was with Psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (see pronunciation below). The “gist” of this discussion was that after a certain point, increases in material well-being don’t seem to affect happiness. Research shows that people who, regardless of what they are doing, become totally absorbed in the activity (thereby being in a state of flow) tend to be the most truly happy. This explains why I am feeling so at peace and consumed with happiness.

                                     Mihaly Csikszentmihaly; How do you say that?

His TED talk on the subject is here: http://www.ted.com/talks/mihaly_csikszentmihalyi_on_flow

Recently, while perusing through television channels in search of something that struck my fancy I came across the film “Stick It”, a film in which the main characters are gymnasts. The description of this film from Imdb.com is as follows: 

After a run-in with the law, Haley Graham (Missy Peregrym) is forced to return to the world from which she fled some years ago. Enrolled in an elite gymnastics program run by the legendary Burt Vickerman (Jeff Bridges), Haley's rebellious attitude gives way to something that just might be called team spirit.

This film met with mixed reviews but it had some really interesting cinematography and some memorable scenes. One such scene stands out in my mind because I felt it really exemplified the power of being in a state of flow. Haley (the lead character) had a life that was in turmoil. She came from a broken home, had an unsupportive mother, and was viewed by many as being unable to live up to her potential. As a result she was rebellious.

Despite all this and the negative distractions that go along with them, when on the balance beam in this particular scene she tunes out her surroundings and puts her heart and soul into her routine. She stumbles at one point but doesn’t lose focus. From this point forward is where she achieves 'flow'. She gets right back on the beam, pouring her emotions into her routine using them as fuel to power her to a beautiful and flawless finish. My perception is that while she’s on the beam she feels that all negativity is gone and there is only beauty in each moment as she gracefully expresses herself through her routine.

Perhaps this is what the world needs for greater peace, happiness and an overall healthier state; more flow. We are so consumed by day-to-day tasks that often involve multi-tasking that we don’t take time out to lose ourselves in something, to completely immerse ourselves in one particular action. When we are multi-tasking, we cannot possibly devote all of our attention to one thing.

Flow is also far more likely to occur with mastery. By this I mean the more frequently an activity is done, the more skill you acquire. Skill improvement occurs as a result of an enhanced mind and body connection. Since flow is the point in which mind and body work in perfect synch, this enhanced connection leads to this perfect synchronicity.

Today there is too much of an emphasis on shortcuts. It’s difficult to master something if you are taking shortcuts. Also, it’s important to be persistent and not give up. More and more, people give up too quickly when trying something new. By doing this the meditative state of flow is avoided and the empowering self esteem building sense of accomplishment is bypassed as well.

All of these flow preventing factors can prevent happiness. A lack of happiness often leads to negative thinking which leads to poor health (both physical and mental) and negative actions towards ourselves and others.

Okay so maybe getting in the zone won’t cure all of the world’s problems, but it sure isn’t going to hurt. So my advice to myself and others is to slow down from time to time, take time to immerse yourself in something and work at mastering it. Play an instrument, write a book, do some woodworking, go for a run,... whatever. The activity doesn’t necessarily matter as long as it challenges you enough to require focus. I guarantee the action won't be regretted.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Ode to the Wall

On October 25th I ran in the LOCO Marathon in Newmarket, NH.  My goal for running this race was to set a new personal record and break 3 hours in the process. This course is very conducive to doing just that.  I’ve been running marathons for over 30 years and know the importance of proper pacing. That being said, it was also important to not hold back too much, otherwise I would risk having an excessive amount of ground to make up.  So I went at it with controlled aggressiveness, knowing that I would either be successful or “crash and burn”. 

Unfortunately I crashed and burned, which involved “hitting the wall” very hard around mile 20, something I haven’t done in 15 years. If you are an endurance athlete you are no doubt familiar with this term.  For those unfamiliar, “hitting the wall” refers to the point when your muscle glycogen (the body’s most efficient fuel source) is depleted.

While at first I was upset that it happened, it turned out to be an empowering experience. Having an extinct fuel supply, yet still having over 6 miles to travel with nothing but your feet to carry you, makes one find out how deep inside themselves they can dig for strength. It also puts life in perspective, making everyday stressors seem petty.

While I would have loved to have achieved my goal, I must say I am happy I hit the wall, as it recalibrated me. Despite the effort it took I was able to finish in a respectable, Boston marathon qualifying time of  3:20. Most importantly though, post race I am approaching each day with more passion, calmness and confidence, knowing I can handle anything life throws my way.  I also learned what I need to do in my training going forward, increasing the odds that my next attempt at a personal record will be successful.  This inspired me to write Ode to the Wall.

The “wall” represents more than just a runner depleting their fuel supply. It is anything in life that stands in the way of you achieving your goal. Therefore, it is my goal and hope that my Ode to the Wall is a source of inspiration for anyone who has had a setback in pursuit of their goals,athletic or other.

Ode to the Wall

The horn sounds and racing begins. With strength and speed the hills and valleys are effortlessly traversed. Hopes run high that this will be standard fare. Yet as time passes and heart rate rises, the threat of your appearance lingers faintly in the air.

Kilometers and miles pass with no credible hints of your arrival. My imagination erupts with visions of race day glory. Could I set a record, could I win!

I confidently run on.  I feel good, I feel strong, “Bring it on!”

Hold that thought. Stay cool. I think to myself. The experienced marathoner knows that after mile 18 is when you notoriously strike.  Like a lion attacking its prey, you wait until the moment when your victim appears weakest.

Miles go by, no indication of you in sight.  With cautious optimism I power on.

Mile 16, Mile 17, the legs, they start to feel a bit heavy, my pace begins to waver. 

Have some water, have some GU, that’s what I need to do. 

This process re-energizes me. It was a false alarm. My hopes and dreams return. I run on.

I cross mile 20, you waste time no more, with the velocity and abruptness of a snipers bullet you strike. A pace once mighty becomes feeble. The day’s hopes of glory segue into hopes of survival.

I dig deep within myself for the power to propel myself forward. The hare has become the tortoise. Seconds feel like minutes.

Walk, jog, run, repeat, just keep the legs moving. Your blows are powerful but I will not be broken. I can still finish respectably.  

After much perseverance, in the distance I finally see it, a sign that says finish. Is this for real? Or did I die and enter heaven?

It is in fact for real, yet they are one in the same. The finish is heavenly on this day.

Today I was your victim, but little do you know that your attack has made me stronger and wiser. I have learned more about your ways and what it takes to defeat you.  Mark my words I will return and it will be with a vengeance. There is a crack in your armor and I’ve got a hammer.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Staying Sane In An Insane World

"What a mistake that was!"  I think to myself as I turn off the evening news. Like anyone else I want to know what’s going on in the world, but 30 minutes ago I was in a good mood. Now, after hearing negative story after negative story, I’m a bit melancholy.  I decide I need a dose of endorphins, so I put on my workout gear for a little running therapy.

Dusk begins to settle in as I venture out into my neighborhood, beginning with a jog then progressing into a moderate paced run.  I sometimes run with an ipod, but not tonight. I’m feeling the need to be without technology, running with just the sounds of nature and my thoughts.

Having just watched the news my thoughts are of course on the world today and how easily accessible information is. Between television, radio, internet and even the endangered newspaper, from the moment we wake up to the time we go to sleep we are easily inundated with information. Unfortunately, much of this information is negative. Frequent news topics such as the growing concerns over foreign policy, foreign relations, the economy, health care issues, and school shootings can easily provide many reasons to feel scared, angry, sad, or hopeless. 

The media outlets, however, would not bombard us with this information, if in fact there was no demand for it. I’ve heard that various television networks have experimented over the years with a focus on positivity, which unfortunately resulted in poor ratings. People want to know, and certainly need to know, about the dangers in our world. That being said, while it may be human nature to want to know about the dangers and events in the world, it is possible to be overloaded, causing negative effects to both physical and mental health. Just as a boat only sinks if it lets in the water around it. Negativity will bring us down if we let it consume us.

But how do we prevent this? How do we make a difference in the world? How do we create positivity? Putting an end to all the stress and strife in the world is no simple task. Fortunately, there are things we can do which will have a positive effect on ourselves and our environment. Which, in the spirit of the expression “pay it forward”, will have a domino effect and lead to others benefiting as well.

Since I’m running, the first thing that comes to mind is exercise. There is a strong body and mind connection. By exercising regularly, both your brain and body become healthier.  Scientists have been linking physical exercise to brain health for years and there is compelling evidence that physical exercise helps the brain resist shrinkage and increase cognitive abilities.  For example, we now know that, regardless of your age, exercise promotes a process known as neurogenesis, which is your brain’s ability to adapt and grow new brain cells. Additionally exercise reduces cortisol levels, which in turn reduces stress and anxiety.  All of these factors combine to make a more positive state of mind.


Positivity contributes to happiness and research has shown happiness to be contagious. I recently read about research in which the researchers looked at twenty years' worth of data on more than 5,000 individuals and found that when any one person was happy, their friends became more likely to share that joy. 

Benefits spread out to three degrees of separation, meaning a better chance at happiness for not only their friends' friends, but also their friends' friends' friends. It’s been my experience that periodically challenging myself by stepping outside of my comfort zone, such as with a higher intensity or longer duration workout, leads to empowerment and as a result, greater happiness.

Getting outside also helps tremendously.  Studies by researchers in England and Sweden have found that runners who exercise in a natural green setting with trees, foliage and landscape views, feel more restored, and less anxious, angry and depressed than those runners who do the same workout in a gym or other urban setting.

I have personally found that running outside at different times of day is also great for creating a pleasant state of mind.. For example, in the early morning I get to experience serenity from the stillness that exists in the hours pre-hustle and bustle of the work day. In the evening, I get to eliminate the stress that accumulated during the day and sometimes see some magnificent sunsets in the process.

Expressing gratitude is a common practice for producing positive emotions too. It’s certainly worked for me.  Taking a few minutes each day to write down a few things we are grateful for in our life, whether big or small, brings on feelings of positivity.

I’ve been reading a lot lately about the health benefits of being creative and it’s quite fascinating. What I’ve learned, in a nutshell, is that the link between creativity and health has been well established, so anything that allows you to be more creative in your life benefits the physiology of your body and mind.  Creative expression releases endorphins and other feel good neurotransmitters, reduces depression and anxiety, improves your immune function, relieves physical pain, and activates the parasympathetic nervous system, thereby lowering your heart rate, decreasing your blood pressure, slowing down your breathing, and lowering cortisol.  I’ve experienced this first hand. Besides running, nothing puts me in the zone and helps me relax (or in the moment) like creative tasks. When I’m writing or doing home improvements, for example, the world is tuned out and I’m totally in the moment and stress free.

And of course, periodically disconnecting, as I have done for this run, is extremely important.  Being connected all the time to a smart phone, mobile device or computer means we’re subject to interruptions, we’re constantly stressed about information coming in, we are at the mercy of the demands of others. It’s hard to slow down when you’re always checking new messages coming in. Disconnecting also means avoiding TV and radio, thereby avoiding being flooded by more negativity.

Adding fun into each day is often overlooked because adults mistakenly feel there is no place for it in their life. But this belief is false,play is absolutely crucial for everyone young and old. Just because we’re adults, that doesn't mean we have to take ourselves so seriously and make life all about work. We all need to have fun.  Fun (a.k.a play) is a time to forget about work, commitments, and everyday stress.  In one of my favorite TED talks, DR Stuart Brown of the National Institute for Play, suggests that a lack of play contributes to shrinkage of the brain.  Sharing laughter and fun can also foster empathy, compassion, trust, and intimacy with others. It also helps us adapt and problem solve by stimulating our imagination. 

On this thought I conclude my run. As anticipated my mood has been elevated, I’m now happy again. As I do a cool down walk I promise myself to practice all the things I’ve been thinking about.  I hope you do too.  The world is counting on us!

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Monday, July 20, 2015

Rejuven-8-tion; Getting Back my Mojo at the Stowe 8 Miler

I step out of my car and the humid air of this hot July morning quickly envelops my body. It’s been a fairly cool summer thus far so this heat and humidity combination makes for an extra dramatic transition as I escape from my Ford Escape into the great outdoors.

I’m at the Stowe 8 Miler in Stowe, VT.  I haven’t done much testing of my speed since my lackluster performance at the VT City Marathon (see my blog post Exposed to Kryptonite) so I am unsure what to expect. However, I’m hoping to at least equal my performance from 2012 (the last time I did this race) in which I ran a 52:57, averaging 6:38 per mile. Today’s toasty conditions may work against me though.

As I walk towards the registration table I hear a whoosh sound overhead. As I look towards the sky my eyes are greeted by a dozen or more hot air balloons, spanning from almost directly overhead to Mount Mansfield in the distance.  I’ve been to races where there have been flyovers by military jets, but never has there been a hot air balloon flyover.  Today’s race happens to coincide with the Stowe Balloon festival. Hence, the sky full of balloons. Regardless of the reason, it makes for quite a festive start to the day.

Going into the day my mind had been filled with clutter and mental gunk from a busy, stressful week. The demands of everyday life and running a business had been weighing on my mind. I was excited to run today but I was still, nonetheless, slightly distracted. The impressive display of balloonery, however, helped put me in good spirits.

I arrive at the registration booth, after completing my form and submitting payment for the entry fee I am handed a free jar of Bove’s pasta sauce(one of the race’s sponsors) and a lively colored orange race t-shirt. I return to my car equipped with my race booty, then proceed to suit up and warm-up. I still have 50 minutes until the start so there is plenty of time to prepare.


At last the time to report to the starting line is at hand. The start is on a gravel road in an athletic field.  I line up a few rows from the front. I’m not going to win this thing but I do intend to run fast enough to require being able to separate myself from the pack as soon as possible.

5….4….3….2…1…. Go!  We are off and running. The first tenth of a mile (approximately) of the course remains gravel before turning onto a paved road. I stay within the pack while on gravel, but as we turn onto the paved road I look for areas to run more freely. The left side of the road allows me to do this as there is more space between runners.  So, that’s where I steer myself. 

Going into this race I decided I was going to enact the strategy of having a controlled start, running the first mile at a slower pace than my 6:38 target.  This would allow for additional warm-up and enable me to feel out what my capabilities are. The number 6:45 entered my mind as a good target pace. After crossing mile one and hitting the “split time” key on my watch I see that my time for mile 1 is; drumroll……………….6:45. Right on pace! 

I’m loosening up and feeling good. These facts combined with the fact that mile 2 is flat makes me decide to increase my pace a bit. I cross mile 2 with a split time of 6:25. Mile 3 is one of the tougher ones because it has a short but steep hill as Luce Hill Rd turns onto Barrows Rd which goes by Stowe High School. Therefore, my goal is to just maintain a sub 7 minute pace, then make up any lost time on the back side as the course goes downhill through mile 4 after the high school.

Upon reaching this section, I find the downhill to be very refreshing.  My pace increases almost effortlessly while the trees are making for very helpful spectators, providing substantial amounts of shade.  I cross mile 4 in 26:30, pretty much at my pace for the 2012 race. The upcoming sections of the course are rolling, with no major inclines. However, there will be little relief from the sun, which is now beating down more intensely with the humidity rising, causing a double whammy (pardon me for incorporating fancy meteorological terms..lol). Therefore, even though I’m feeling strong, maintaining this pace is by no means a sure thing.

As I continue along at what feels to be a consistent pace I gradually reel in runners who I have seen in the distance ahead of me. I’m not sure how many runners are ahead of me, but it doesn’t seem like it could be a large number. I’m also curious as to how many there are ahead of me in my age group, which is 40-49. When I ran this race in 2012 the age groups were in 5 year increments so I took home a plethora of goodies as a result of finishing second in the 45-49 division. Doing so again this year will be significantly more challenging with the larger range in ages within the division.  Really that’s not a major concern though. Today’s race is primarily against the clock.

At mile 5 I begin to feel some heaviness in my legs, the heat and humidity are taking their toll, causing some effects of mild dehydration to make my pace feel more laborious.  As the course turns left off from the Moscow Rd and onto the River Rd there is a short, yet steep feeling ascent.  There is a runner who appears to be in his early to mid twenty’s who has stopped to walk up this hill. He has the leanness of a fast runner. He must have been done in by the heat.  “Just keep the legs moving Moe”, I think to myself, “and then open up your pace again at the top.”

Upon reaching the summit of this mini-mountain I see water.  Water in cups! Water from hoses!  This is no mirage. There is a hose perched atop a ladder raining water down to the ground below, enabling runners to run through and cool off.  I, of course, am happy to partake. This water is perfectly timed, I think to myself as I run underneath this makeshift rain cloud.  Ah, sweet exhilaration!

Immediately following the hose is a water station. Now that, for the time being, my external need for water has been satisfied I can deal with my internal need. I grab a cup and drink it down.

Upon consuming the water and discarding the cup I spy yet another hose perched above the course a few feet ahead. I capitalize on what will most likely be my last chance for cooling off and run through this second rain station.  All this water has enabled me to feel some rejuvenation. I charge forward to make my assault on the final 3 miles. 

As a result of the water I’m able to pick up my pace a bit and I feel stronger too. The remaining miles don’t have any major terrain changes so my plan is to put myself on cruise control and then unleash whatever I have left during the final mile. This current stretch is flat and on a dirt road, so aside from the heat it makes for good running. I steadily make progress on some of the runners ahead of me and end up passing several.  

At mile 7 the course enters Stowe village before turning up the Mountain Road for the final stretch. Here is where I shift into a higher gear to give everything I’ve got left.  As I exit a short stretch of bike path that connects with Route 100 in Stowe village I see another runner about 10 seconds ahead of me. This guy has been in front of me the entire race, I’d love to finally pass him but I need to do it strategically so he doesn’t pass me back. 

The turn from Route 100 onto the Mountain Road is upon us. This means there’s about a half mile to go. I hang back and, for now, avoid additional acceleration as the course takes us across a bridge over the Little River. Immediately after the bridge, the road turns right. At this point the road has a gradual but constant incline. This is where I choose to make my move. With only about four tenths of a mile to go I know that I can kick it in all the way from here.  I pass this runner I’ve had my eye on for several miles and never look back.

I dig deeper into my fuel reserves and pick up my pace. I know that very soon I will round a bend and see the turn for the finish by The Golden Eagle Resort.  However, I still need to make sure I don’t begin my final sprint too soon. I round the first bend and see another runner potentially within striking distance. With each foot strike I move closer and closer to him. I’m reeling him in, but even so, there may not be enough distance between us and the finish line to catch him.

After rounding the next bend I hear an increased amount of cheering and spectators are lined up on the right side of the road. I know the finish is right there, a short distance ahead.  I see the runner in front of me turn left onto Eagle Ridge Rd where the finish is located, which means that I will be unable to chalk up another victim. All I can do is just give whatever I’ve got left and finish as quickly as I can.  I cross the finish line in 53:58.

I ended up with a slower time than my 2012 race, however, I learned that overall I finished 9 places higher (24th vs 33rd). The heat and humidity definitely took their toll resulting in most people’s times (even the top runners) being 1-2 minutes slower than usual. The realization of this fact made me feel  ecstatic about my performance, just what I needed to push myself out of my funk.  Age group-wise I performed better than expected, finishing 5th out of 57 competitors (just 26 seconds shy of taking home a prize).

The stresses of life (aka the clutter) that consumed my mind at the beginning of the day were now completely replaced with happiness and a sense of being at peace; Thereby, proceeding to further emphasize the importance of incorporating challenge into our lives and stepping off of our normal well beaten path of routine.  It’s through challenging ourselves and stepping outside of our comfort zone that we gain a renewed appreciation for what is really important in life. Our threshold for discomfort is raised, which brings about a greater enjoyment of life as a whole. Additionally, we find out that we are capable of much more than we think.

As I sit on the deck at the Rusty Nail Bar and Grille with the sun beating down on my face and a Smuttynose (another race sponsor) Old Brown Dog Ale in my hand, I reflect on how important it is to celebrate.  For life is best enjoyed with balance. Work hard and challenge yourself, but take time to celebrate your accomplishments and life itself.


Sunday, May 31, 2015

Exposed to Kryptonite: My 2015 VT City Marathon

“F#@%!" I utter. Not loudly, yet at a volume loud enough to be audible to the runner passing on my left. It’s very evident I’m hurting. I’ve just reached mile 10 of the Vermont City Marathon, a section of the course which begins with a modest descent before leveling off. Certainly not challenging terrain, and not far enough into the race to induce “hitting the wall”. Yet, here I am, feeling as though I am about to do just that.

All week long the pollen count has been incredibly high. As a result I’ve been battling intense allergy symptoms which have provoked my asthma. My breathing has been inefficient and slightly labored, even with the help of medications. Yet through it all I remained optimistic that it would clear up by race day. 

Race morning found me with slight nausea, but my breathing much more unrestricted. I’ve had many a race in my career in which I haven’t felt the best in the pre-race hours, yet I performed surprisingly strong and felt almost invincible once the race got underway. I was hoping today would be one of those days.

While not feeling strong, I certainly had been feeling decent from the time the starter’s horn bellowed at 8:03 am. I had been running at a consistent pace and was on pace to complete a very respectable marathon, finishing somewhere in the vicinity of 3 hours 15 minutes. That was, until I hit mile 10. As a result of inefficient breathing my body was using glycogen (it’s most efficient fuel source) at an elevated rate. Once the glycogen goes away, so does any semblance of speed.  So now, at mile 10, the needle on my internal fuel gauge is flirting with “E”.

I reach for a GU energy gel from my Fuel Belt. I have each individual GU packet stored in the belt with the top half of the packet facing down. This allows for fast and easy access, enabling me to remove the GU packet as if I’m removing a gun from a holster. Also, the packets tend to stay in place more securely this way. I blindly reach down and grab the first packet I feel. As I pull it up into view I see it’s the flavor “chocolate outrage”. I am aware that I may just be delaying my inevitable termination from the race. Yet I can’t help but hope that this “chocolate outrage” will provide me with the “rage” of energy I need.

Upon consumption I have a slight spike in my energy, yet it is certainly no rage and it is very short-lived. An epic battle of “tug-of- war” now begins in my mind. The sensible side of my brain gives a tremendous pull, proclaiming: You should drop out! You have nothing to gain by staying in the race!  If you do you will end up walking, being on the course for hours longer than anticipated and it will take at least twice as long to recover once the run is over!

The stubborn side of my mind then tugs back mightily, proclaiming that I should: Suck it up! Dropping out is a sign of weakness! You should stay in the race and finish, even if it is a slower time than you’ve ever done!  At least you’ll have completed the mission! All the while there is a lingering optimism in the back of my mind that I will still get my second wind, a resurgence of energy that carries me through the remaining miles. 

I’ve never been one to drop out. If I start, I intend to finish. The mere thought of a “DNF” (Did Not Finish) is difficult to comprehend. I am also slightly concerned with how my decision will be perceived. I normally am not tremendously concerned with what others think about my actions. However, as a trainer and a coach I want to set a good example. Will dropping out send a bad message? Will taking 5 ½ - 6 hours (or more) make me look unskilled?  Which of my current choices is the lesser of two evils?  These thoughts may be unfounded, but for an athlete who, for the first time in years is suddenly forced to come to terms with the fact that he is human, are completely natural. 

I tell myself I will postpone the decision by giving myself until Oakledge Park, the halfway point. If I am going to get a second wind it should happen by then. At each aid station I consume both water and Gatorade, hopeful that they will join forces to give me the resurgence I so desperately seek.

With each foot strike the tug-of-war continues in my mind, with no clear winner in sight. My pace slows significantly with each mile, down to as low as 9:30 when I finally hit Oakledge Park in a time of 1 hour 45 minutes. Doubling this time would certainly make for a very respectable marathon. However, that would require averaging 8 minute miles from this point forward. I face the reality that this will not happen. It was all I could do to hit the last mile in 9:30 and I feel my energy waning. I still, however, cannot bring myself to actually drop out. If I do drop out here I will still have to walk back to the start. So, I might as well continue to run. The battle wages on!

I continue to shuffle along at whatever pace I can muster. There are no significant terrain changes but my pace continues to slow, with it now down to 10:00 per mile. I'm also feeling out of sorts and not exactly steady on my feet. I make the decision that I will pull out of the race as I hit the bottom of Battery Street. This will allow me to have minimal walking distance to get to the baggage check area where my warm up gear is stored.

However, as I turn the corner from Maple Street onto Battery I am quickly seduced by the rhythmic beat of the Taiko drums and the intoxicating cheers of energetic spectators. The drums are being played at the base of Battery Street and the spectators are lined up along the hill. Both combine to provide a powerful driving force that propels runners up the hill. I can’t deny myself this experience, nor can I resist!

I continue to run(my pace still somewhat resembles a run so let’s go with that) with my eyes focused no more than 15 feet in front of me to avoid being done in by the daunting hill.  As I ascend the hill I hear cheers of; “Go Moe!” To avoid burning excess energy I avoid turning to look at the crowd but I wonder how so many people know who I am. Then I remember that along with my number my first name is written on my bib. I love how spectators will cheer for you even if they don’t know you. It’s one of the many things that make marathons so rewarding.

My legs start to burn with the fires of accumulating lactic acid. I tell myself to just keep moving, make it to the top and worry about the rest from there. The beauty of this stretch of the course is that the drum beat and spectator’s cheers provide so much energy they can make even the slowest runner feel fleet of foot. As a result, I summit the hill much quicker than I anticipated.

As I round the corner to turn into the Battery Park, the tug-of-war is over. My body has made the decision for me. With all of my glycogen depleted, running is no longer an option. I slow to a walk and exit the course, officially proclaiming my sensible brain as the winner.  

I stand in Battery Park to reflect for a few minutes. I’m at peace at the moment but fear that as the fatigue wears off I will become upset that this happened. In my 31 year career as a runner I have NEVER  DNF’ed.  

As I slowly make my way to the baggage area, then to the finish line to transition into the role of spectator, I pause to think further. There really is nothing I could have done differently. What made me have a bad race is a poorly timed peak to allergy season with a pollen count that is higher than it’s been in years. Even Superman has Krytponite to deal with. I was just exposed to my Kryptonite, which happened to be in microscopic granular form. The good news is that I didn’t drop out because of an injury. I live to run another day!

Monday, April 20, 2015

From Hopkinton to Boston

            April 20th, 2015 marks the 119th running of the Boston Marathon. I have competed in this amazing event 7 times, including 2013 when the tragic bombings occurred.  I feel extremely fortunate that I finished the race and had exited the finish area before the explosions occurred.  However, that didn’t take away my feelings of anger and sadness. The Boston Marathon occurs on Patriots day; a day of families, happiness and rejuvenation.  How dare someone bring so much hurt to this day! I knew I had to return for my 7th Boston in 2014 to join in the “take back the race” effort.

           This year I have chosen to forego the race to participate in the Vermont City Marathon in hopes of getting a personal best time. As great of a race as Boston is, it offers its own unique challenges (such as heartbreak hill and the adjoining hills of Newton, MA) which make running a personal best time difficult.  However, I will still be following the race this year with excitement, and most likely with a slight sense of sadness that I am not there.

          The Boston Marathon has always held a great deal of mystique for me. I still recall sitting in the back seat of the family car as a child and looking up in awe at the “It all starts here” sign while traveling through Hopkinton. We had relatives in the area and would periodically travel there for visits. Little did I know that one day I would be running in this extraordinary event and gaze at that sign through much older eyes.

          The marathon itself is a metaphor for life; you get out of it what you put in. By persevering through the challenges you experience the joy of achievement and success.  In this blog post I have chosen to share with you my experiences at the 2011 Boston Marathon (in which I set a course personal best) to help illustrate this point.

From Hopkinton to Boston; The 2011 Boston Marathon through my eyes

It’s Monday, April 18th, 8:00am and I’m walking up Hayden Rowe in Hopkinton, MA.  I’m on my way to the Hopkinton Middle School, home of the Athlete’s Village for the 2011 Boston Marathon.  On Sunday evening, I was fortunate enough to be able to stay with friends in Hopkinton, avoiding the need to catch the official race day transportation bus to the starting line, which left early that morning from Boston. 

I’m walking up Hayden Rowe, because the streets surrounding the middle school and starting line are closed to traffic.  My friends dropped me off as close to the Athlete’s Village they could get, which was just under half a mile away, leaving me to walk the remaining distance, this is fine as it allows me to work off some race-day jitters. 

As I approach the Athlete’s Village, I can feel the energy in the air.  Thousands of runners are spread out on the school grounds, stretching, hydrating, and doing their best to stay warm.  The temperatures are expected to reach the mid 60’s and the sun is shining, but there is a steady wind that puts a slight chill in the air.  I don’t want to expend too much energy walking around, so I search for a spot that’s out of the wind as much as possible, where I can sit and relax and stretch.

Directly behind the school, I see a spot located between two buildings, which can provide both shelter from the wind and sunlight to help me stay warm.  As is typically the case on race day, I’m anxious to get started.  However, I’m not scheduled to report to the starting line for at least another hour, so I bide my time by listening to motivational music on my iPod and visualizing the race ahead.

My training for this year’s race was more aggressive (as far as mileage and speed-work go) than in the past.  As a result, I have high expectations for the race, with a goal to accomplish a new course personal record.  However, with challenges unique to the Boston course, I'm not expecting do to complete a personal record marathon time.  I knew that I was prepared to run strong, but variables such as how you respond to weather conditions, make the marathon a challenge regardless of how well-conditioned one may be.      

With that in mind, I am having some doubts about whether I can really run a PR.  Fortunately though, these doubts are overcome with the help of Steven Tyler and Aerosmith.  On my iPod are several Aerosmith songs, one of them being “F.I.N.E.”  In the chorus for this song, Steven Tyler repeats the words “I’m ready, so ready,” and while I know he isn’t talking about being ready to run a race, it reminds me that I am, in fact ready.

Finally, it’s very close to the time that I need to report to the starting line.  I shed my warm-up clothes and my iPod, giving them to race volunteers to transport to the finish.  I want to get to the start early enough to watch the elite women, who are scheduled to start before the elite men.  Between television and news articles, I have heard so much about these women, and am excited to see them in person.  I am also interested in watching some of the elite men, however the fact that I am scheduled to start at the same time makes that impossible.

The elite female runner I’m most interested in seeing is Kara Goucher, who in 2009 came within seconds of being the first U.S. female winner of the Boston marathon since Joan Benoit Samuelson in the early 1980’s.  Each of the elite women does their warm-up near the starting line.  Kara Goucher just so happens to do a warm-up run within 20 feet of me.  While I had envisioned her being taller, she was just as attractive in person as in magazine photos.  All of the women, including her, looked very fast.

The time has now come for me to race.  The starting line is sectioned off into corrals, which runners are assigned based on qualifying times.  I am in corral #5, meaning that I will be no more than 2.5 minutes from crossing the starting line once the starter’s pistol is fired.  In my corral, I strategically locate myself on the left-hand side.  This is my 5th Boston Marathon, and I have learned that being on either the inside or outside of the pack allows me to run much more free and without encroachment. 

After the typical ceremonial events, such as the singing of the national anthem are performed, the starting pistol is fired.  The 2011 Boston Marathon has begun.   The first four miles are a steady decline, so past experience tells me it’s very important to control my pace.  It’s very easy to go too fast on the downhills in early stages, which will ultimately catch up with me as I approach the infamous heart-break hill. 

To achieve my goal of setting a new personal record, I will need to average approximately seven minutes per mile.  However, as the pack is usually so congested during the first few miles of these races, I’m being forced to run at a 7:30 pace.  Going too slow now will require that I have to make up more time later on.  A 7:30 pace is slower than I should be going, but unfortunately there is not much I can do about it.  For now, I will look for any opportunities I can to open up my pace.

After the first mile, I’m able to pick up my pace.  I will aim to gradually make up time over the upcoming miles as opposed to running a few too quickly.  I cross the 5k checkpoint at 22:03, which is right at my target pace, so much for not making up that time too quickly.  I am wearing my heart rate monitor to keep myself honest.  While my heart rate has fluctuated some, it has not risen too high, indicating that I’m still running within my capabilities.

The start is always full of excitement, with hundreds of spectators lining the course.  Approximately 3 miles into the race, we enter Ashland and pass by one of the liveliest spots, TJ’s Spirits.  We’re greeted by patrons who’ve arrived early on in the day to celebrate and cheer on the continuous stream of runners.  There’s so much energy from the spectators during this stretch that I have to actively focus on my own pace.  Looking ahead, I see a steady, uninterrupted stream of runners, and I know the same can be said about what’s behind me.  We must resemble a human river running through the streets of Massachusetts. 

Leaving Ashland, we enter Framingham and I cross the 10k checkpoint (43:29), putting me right at 7-minute miles.  I am on pace and still feeling strong.  This stretch of the course is straight and wide, which can make it tough on a hot day with no place to hide from the sun.  Fortunately a nice tail wind guides us along and keeps us cool.

At the 15k checkpoint (1:04:45), the course runs by Lake Cochituate.  While my eyes are focused on the road ahead, having that scenic vista makes the run mentally easier.   My pace at this point has decreased to 6:56 per mile.  I think to myself: at this pace, I could break 3 hours.  I know, however, that the hills of Newton may tell a different story.

The next famous landmark is the Scream Tunnel at Wellesley College, but that’s not for another 4 miles.  For anyone not familiar with this famous part of the Boston Marathon course, this is where the women of Wesley College stand and scream at the top of their lungs for all the runners passing by.  Keeping a controlled pace by Wellesley College takes extra focus, and since I have 4 miles until then, I must keep my pace controlled for now.

This is my 5th Boston Marathon, and each time there has been a large, hand-written sign in Natick, stating Detour with a large arrow pointing to a keg party at a nearby house.  Sure enough, this year is no different.  While I’m always up for a free beer, I don’t feel that that would be too conducive to setting a PR marathon time.  So I opt not to take the detour.

I continue to run along at a strong, steady pace through Natick and crossing into Wellesley.  I know that any minute now I’ll be hearing the screams from hundreds of Wellesley college women.  Based on past experience, Wellesley is a point in the race I can use to gage my performance.  While only just shy of the half way, in years past, any indications of a bad race usually start to appear in the form of fatigue at this point.  The cheering women at Wellesley provide a great boost, but if I’m having a bad day, this boost is very short-lived.  So I approach downtown Wellesley hoping for the best.

Rounding the bend just before Wellesley, I start to hear the distant screams.  As expected, the traditional lives on, and the women are lined up outside of the college.  As I get closer and closer, the screams become louder and louder.  It takes everything I have to maintain my composure and keep my pace steady.  Running through the infamous scream tunnel, I move closer to the right side of the road where more of the women are located to absorb up as much of the energy as possible.  Numerous signs are held up saying kiss me.  While tempted, I’m on PR pace and don’t want to lose momentum.  If only these ladies could be lined up at the finish, I would be happy to oblige.

I eventually exit the scream tunnel as the course dips down, only to rise back up again into downtown Wellesley, the official half way point.  While downtown Wellesley is certainly not lacking in spectators, the scream tunnel is a tough act to follow.  But, as always, the cheers of the crowd are uplifting.  I hit the half marathon at (1:31), slightly ahead of pace with miles just under 7 minutes each.  Even better news is that I’m still feeling great with no signs of fatigue, and my heart rate continues to remain steady.  The sun is still beating down, and if it wasn’t for the wind, this might be uncomfortably hot.  The tail wind is still providing a nice, cooling effect. 

The next town we’ll be passing through is Newton, where the real fun begins.  As I continue to run through Wellesley towards Newton, I replay my strategy in my mind for dealing with the Newton hills: quite simply, survive.  I will do my best to maintain my steady pace, with the understanding that it may in fact decrease slightly.  My goal is to keep this to a minimum however.

While not that steep, the hills present challenges because of their location in the race.  Starting at approximately mile 18 and continuing through mile 21, this is where runners typically hit “the wall,” the point at which runners begin to lose fuel and have to dramatically slow their pace.  Having to deal with hilly terrain can bring on “the wall” sooner if proper pacing has not been sustained.  Due to the downhill stretches in the early stages of the race, at this point the runner’s legs can feel like Jello, thus making the uphills that much more of a challenge.

                    Statue of Boston Marathon Legend Johnny Kelley located in Newton, MA

When I crest the top of heart break hill (the last of the Newton hills) at mile 21, I will then open up my pace and aim for a strong, final 5.2 miles.  As the course crosses over Interstate 95 and enters Newton, the number of spectators increases.  I know that any moment, we’ll be rounding the bend, turning off Route 16 and onto Commonwealth Avenue by the Newton fire station.  This is where the hills begin.

To help prevent cramping from dehydration, I take two electrolyte capsules, drink some water, grit my teeth, and prepare for hill #1.  Hills have always been one of my strong points.  While disliking them like most other runners, I tend to perform well on them.  While on my initial ascent, I cross the 30k checkpoint (2:10).  I’m still at my 7-minute mile pace and well on my way to achieving my PR. 

From past experience, I recall that there are some flat and downhill stretches between the major hills.  While running my first Boston Marathon in 2004, these downhill stretches deceived me into thinking the hills were behind me.  I won’t be fooled so easily today.  As I approach the second of the Newton Hills, I am starting to feel some leg heaviness.  This hill is the steepest of the three, and I’m anxious to have it behind me.  I power my way up, increasing my pace in the process.  As I do so, I see runners on both sides of me having their own encounters with “the wall.”  Some are walking and some are jogging at very slow paces.  I feel for them, but hope that’s not me in a couple miles. 

At the top of the hill, I’m feeling more fatigued than I should.  Perhaps I got slightly greedy, and went faster than I should have.  I’ll do my best to use the stretch between here and hill #3, aka heartbreak, hill to recover. There are mile markers at every mile along the course, and I use them to make sure I’m on pace.  At this point in a marathon, each mile can feel like two.  The last mile marker I saw was mile 18.  Looking ahead, I see mile marker number 20.  Somehow, I missed mile 19.  Perhaps I blacked out for a while.  Regardless, I’m happy to see that this is in face mile 20, and that it didn’t take me 15 minutes to run 1 mile.  Mile 20 also means heartbreak hill is just ahead.  I focus on keeping my legs moving for 1 more mile, and know then that the hills of Newton will be behind me.

Ascending heartbreak hill does feel a bit more laborious than Newton Hill #1, but overall, I feel good.  I keep my eyes peeled for the church on the campus of Boston College.  This is a beautiful sight, not only because of the architecture, but because it means that I’ve reached the summit of Heartbreak Hill.  I continue to chug my way up, and finally, the church is within sight.  In my head, I rejoice.  There’s still 5.2 miles to go, but it feels awfully nice to have those hills behind me. 

Just pass the top of Heartbreak hill is the 35k checkpoint (21.7 miles), which I cross at 2:32.  This translates to 7 minute, 2 second miles.  Still on track for a PR, this consistent pace means I’m using energy efficiently. Boston College is also a high-energy stretch of the course, as students show up in force to cheer on each and every runner.  This energy helps build the excitement of entering Boston.  Shortly after Boston College, the course enters Brookline.  The Boston skyline is now in sight in the distance.  While great to see, there are still over four miles to go.  I need to keep my excitement in check as the last four miles are typically the toughest of any marathon.

Continuing down Commonwealth Avenue, just past Mile 22, the course descends to Cleveland Circle turning onto Beacon Street.  My legs are feeling quite lively, so I attack the downhill, taking advantage of every opportunity I have to knock seconds off my time.  I round the corner onto Beacon Street.  The street is open, long, and straight, with no turns in sight.  This can be tough mentally, especially in a fatigued state. 

There may be just about four miles remaining, but after running 22, it can feel like a long four miles.  To make this more bearable, I utilize one of my common strategies of breaking the remaining miles down into segments.  Instead of having 28 minutes left to run, I tell myself I have four 7 minute segments. I hit mile 23 with my most recent mile split being 7 minutes, 15 seconds.  This is slightly slower than what I’d been averaging, but not slow enough to negatively effect my PR quest.

Continuing down Beacon Street, more and more buildings of downtown Boston are becoming visible, including glimpses of the famous Citgo sign, located in Kenmore square.  Suddenly my pace drops dramatically.  Every step feels like I have ankle weight attached to me.  While I haven’t hit “the wall,” it’s certainly taunting me.  It’s as if it’s taken human form and is running behind me, whispering in my ear, telling me that today is not my day after all.  I have visions of my PR slipping away.  My legs are heavy, and with each step the ankle weights grow in size.  My split for Mile 23 is 8 minutes, a full minute below what I have been averaging.

 I think to myself, just get through this.  Even if you don’t achieve a PR, you’ve still had a great time.  But then another voice speaks to me louder and screams; No! You’ve trained too hard! You came here to PR, and that’s all that’s acceptable!  I know that my fuel is running low, and each step is pulling “the wall” closer to me.  I have two Gu energy gel packets remaining and quickly consume both.  I then hit the next water stop where I drink both water and Gatorade.  I may not have much fuel left, but I’m going to use every bit of it to get  to the finish line as fast as I can. 

The combination of Gu, water, and Gatorade do their job as I feel a bit of a spike in my energy.  I dig deep and put the throttle down.  I hit Mile 25 with a mile split of 7:20.  I’m too fatigued to do the math, but I’m confident that if I keep this pace that the PR will be mine.  The course then takes me through Kenmore square, certainly one of the most exciting sections of the course, not just because there’s only one mile to go, but because this is a rare opportunity to run though one of the busiest sections of Boston.  I try to put on a good show and hide my pain.  Hopefully I’ve succeeded.

Just past Kenmore square, the course dips down underneath Massachusetts Avenue.  I am elated because the finish line is oh so close, about ¾ of a mile.  At the same time, I feel like I’m running on fumes.  The course is requiring me to run uphill to re-connect with Beacon Street, thereby causing me to work a little harder.  My low fuel supply has left me in a bit of a daze, but I’m confident at this point, I can maintain my pace. 

Upon reconnecting with Beacon Street, I see the turn onto Newbury Street just ahead of me.  Inside, once again, I’m rejoicing because I know that Boylston Street, the location of the finish, is at the other end of Newbury.  Knowing this has caused me to accelerate.  I turn onto Newbury Street and see the runners in front of me, ascending a slight incline and rounding the corner onto Boylston Street.  In my fatigued state, even a slight incline can feel like heartbreak hill all over again.   But as I approach this incline, knowing what lies around the corner gives me the boost I need to propel myself onward with my speed unaffected.

I round the corner onto Boylston, and in the distance I see one of the most glorious sights that any runner can see, the finish line of the Boston Marathon.  It’s looming in the distance, which in my dazed and dehydrated state, makes it resemble a mirage.  I know however, that this is no mirage.  This is the real thing.  Even though the finish line is in sight, there is still about a half mile to go, and in open stretches such as this, you can run and run and feel like you’re not making any progress.  My internal fuel supply gage is on ‘E.’ The ankle weights on my feet are once again getting larger.  With the finish oh so close, I’m bound and determined to get my PR.

This final stretch is loaded with spectators.  The energy they supply with their cheers resembles the force of a tail wind, pushing me along to my destination.  I know that every step brings me closer to the finish, so I focus on the road in front of me, not the finish line in the distance.  As I continue to run down Boylston, the cheers become louder and louder as I get closer to the finish.  Typically, the adrenaline of being near the finish allows me to bring out my inner Carl Lewis and kick to the finish.

My brain summons my legs to kick into a higher gear so that I can sprint to the finish. But, much like Scotty in the engine room of the USS enterprise, my legs say; “we’re giving it all we got captain.”   I continue on, picking up my pace slightly, but not to the degree I would like.  The finish line is within reach, no more than ¼ mile away.  At this point I’m running on sheer determination.  I put my head down, dig deep, and use every bit of my remaining fuel to power my way towards the finish line.  About 20 feet from the finish I I hear the announcer say: “Maurice Brown from Burlington, VT.”  This makes me feel like a rock star as I cross the finish line in 3:06:03, exactly 60 seconds faster than my previous best Boston Marathon time.

Despite my concerns at mile 23 and my close encounter with “the wall,” today was, in fact, my day.  I can now officially use every runner’s two favorite letters of the alphabet, PR, when referring to my time.

              Whether your goal is to run a marathon, become more healthy and fit, start a business, etc...there are often setbacks along the way.  These setbacks can resemble “the wall” that a marathon runner may encounter.  But just like in a marathon, these setbacks often occur when you’re close to success.  With any goal, the closer you are to success, the more obstacles you encounter.  What makes the difference between success and failure in these instances is how you handle yourself in the challenges you face.