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I’m a runner. Being a runner has exposed me to a lot of wonderful places. Running through the English countryside, running the Boston Marathon, running in London, the south of France, the streets of San Francisco. I have also enjoyed memorable running experiences, a great work out with a group of friends, surviving a horrid rain storm, running mile repeats till you drop, racing with a wicked competitive bunch of guys just for the fun of it. Recently I had a run that combined those two, a memorable location and an incredible experience. But it’s not what you would expect.

I have been running the stadium with November Project for a while now. There are 37 sections in Harvard Stadium each section with 31 seats and 62 steps from top to bottom. We run up the seats and then go down the steps. It is really hard, an undeniable tough workout. The only way to be really good at it, is to be fit.

Wednesday, February 11th, 5:30 am, Harvard Stadium.

But on this morning it was different. More than 100 inches of snow had fallen this winter in Boston and so most of the sections were chest deep in snow. But an intrepid group of NP members had shoveled out 4 sections. By shoveled out I mean, there was a path up and path down surround by huge piles of snow. The temperature was 19°, the wind was 11 cold MPHs, and it was dark.

A group of us gathered, bounced, hugged and made merry. Then it was time to go to work. Here is the workout we were told, run the 4 sections, then drop down below the stands and run back to the beginning and start over. Repeat as many times as you can in 40 minutes.

Garmin was confused. There was snow!

Garmin was confused. There was snow!

Off we went, up, down, up, down, up, down, up, down, sprint back to the beginning and do it again. I had not completed more than a couple of circuits when it became clear that a woman and I were locked in a duel. First one of us would pull ahead, then the other would come back, then one of us would get just a bit ahead. Back and forth we went, and as we did the, up, down, up, down, we encouraged each other, raced each other, cheered each other, competed, and talked. “How many is that?” “How many more can we do?” “How are you so dam fast?”

When I got to the top of the stadium and turned to start down it felt like I was at the top of a snow-capped mountain. Snow everywhere, wind whipping, cold, icy, dark. But there, all around me, were others, working as hard as they could, having a blast, racing, cheering, and laughing.

The experience was magical. The setting, the running, the people, the competition. It is a day that I will remember, it is a workout that I will remember, and it is a race that I will remember for a long time. November Project has a saying that their workouts will be, “the best part of your day.” On this day it was never more true.

photo credit: @dkathunt

photo credit: @dkathunt

So because I #RaceEveryThing (another NP saying) I can tell you that I completed 42 sections that morning. Who won? Me or her? Well, that day we both won, just by being there.

You can come too – Just Show Up.

 

 

 

 

 

If your interested, here is a video of racing the stadium, without snow. That is me at 34 seconds finishing the last section.

Runners World asked, “What do you do after a bad race?”

I responded, “First I throw up and then I cry.”

I’m sure they took it as a bit of a joke, however, it is not far from what I did after Boston this year.

What have I done since? I’ve run, I’ve raced and I have gotten healthy.

Just six days after Boston I ran the James Joyce 10K and had fun. Then in June I did the Hollis Fast 5K and then the BAA 10K. No PRs, but good solid times. Plus, no pains, no injuries, no throwing up and no crying. I just had fun running.

I also started hanging out with the November Project. Wednesdays we run the steps at Harvard Stadium. Fridays we run the hill on Summit Avenue in Brookline. Hard workouts, different than running just more miles and the drills are interesting, the people are fun and the leaders are super charismatic.

So, what do I do after a bad race? I stew over it for a few days, then I get back out there and do what I like to do – run.

 

 

@Nov_Project   @runnersworld

Brave

06/29/2014

 

 

BM-2014-Pace

 

70 days since The Marathon.

When you race Marathons you have to be willing to run on the edge.
In order to get those really good times you have to get on the edge right from the start.
You cannot play it safe.

I was not going for a really good time. I was going for what should have been reasonable, do able, safe.
I was playing it safe.
You just never know.

12 miles of nice, even, safe splits. Half marathon split just where I wanted it to be.

When I could not manage to run down the hill to Newton Lower Falls I knew my day was done.
I walked another mile to The Firehouse and dropped out.

To race Marathons you have to be brave. You have to be able to accept that failure.

I’m not, willing to accept failing, so racing Marathons is tough.

He is the deal, I was crushed and sad that I failed. However, in the big picture, it just does not [really] matter, the world goes on. It still hurt.

In August I hurt my knee running and did not run for a month. By early January I was just starting to feel good again about my running fitness. Then on Friday the 10th I had The Big Crash.  Sprained Ankle which resulted in no running for 9 days (that is zero, none). Even after I managed to get back on my feet it was a very gradual ramp up. At first I could only run on the treadmill. Then it was a huge victory when I managed 4 miles outdoors. Running was no fun, painful, slow, and depressing. I was running, but not without gritting my teeth, a lot.

At the beginning of February training was going so poorly that I contemplated giving up. I just thought, “This is not going to be possible, I will never come back.” I even thought about just going to the starting line and then perhaps taking the train to Boston as a way to be, sort of, involved. The idea was quickly rejected.

Then it came to me (surprisingly). Come on George, there was no reason, at that point, to think too far down the road. Just run today, try again to run tomorrow. Just keep running and let’s see what happens.

It did start to happen, slowly at first, and then gradually the workouts just started to click. It was hard, there were days when it was torture and there were days of running joy. I just kept plugging away.

Now, two months later I am feeling strong and running pain-free. I had a great day on The Course last Saturday. With thousands of other runners I ran 16 easy miles. Then today, with just 18 days to go, I am just putting a little final polish on my fitness. I ran 12 miles at Marathon Goal Pace minus 10 seconds. It was perfect. Perfect weather, perfect pace, I felt great, and never had to push.

The next mile, the next run, the next day. You might surprise yourself. Maybe you can run from the Top of Heartbreak to the Boston Public Library. Just maybe.

Number Pick up

Number Pick up

One_to_Go

When I passed this sign I decided that I was going to run the last mile of my last Marathon. Little did I know that just ½ mile later I would be stopped. Not stopped because I want to stop, but stopped. I heard two loud booms one after another but given my condition it did not register. I briefly thought Patriots Day stuff? But then, there they were, two Boston Police Officers almost begging us to stop. “There has been an incident, we need you to stop right here.” I could see the runners that just a moment before I had been right behind disappearing down under the Mass Ave bridge, ready to make that right on Hereford and left on to Boylston Street that every Boston Marathoner dreams about.

 It quick became apparent that there had been an explosion. Runners and spectators with phones were getting updates and trying to make calls. At this point I was so cold I could barely control my shivering and then to make things even worse, I threw up. The people around me were so nice; a girl gave me her jacket, others offered water and a very nice man talked with me to make sure I was OK.

 I pulled myself together and knew I need to get in touch with the family as they were at the finish line. I borrowed a phone and called William but it went right to voice mail. I left a message and almost cried at the end of it. The message did not get through at first but the missed call notice did. William recognized it was a number he did not know but guessed that it could be me. He texted the number and the nice girl whose phone I had used found me again (“George? George? Where are you?” she called out) and then texted William my location.

 In short order the family found me. You can only imagine the fear, joy, relief, anger and sadness that came pouring out in the moment. After giving me a heavy shirt and a coat we managed to walk a mile to our hotel.

 I was incredibly lucky, 2 minutes, just 2 minutes faster and I would have been on Boylston Street. I wasted 2 minutes at mile 16 waiting for a port-o-potty.

 I love the Boston Marathon – it is The Marathon. I am obsessed with running it.

My running world has been changed forever.

 It hit me driving home today – I was frightened, really scared. It was way to close. I can only imagine what I put the family through. I can even imagine how to process it all.

It seemed hard to believe that people were doing normal things. I thought, “What is that UPS man doing delivering packages? Has he not heard the news?”

 To those who were physically harmed, to those who lost loved ones, my thoughts, and prayers are with you.

Hayward Field

We gathered in front of one of the most famous tracks in the US on a cool, overcast April morning. As with any Marathon a runner’s reason for being there varied. However the slowly growing group of runners I was standing with had a common goal. Go to any Marathon and you will always hear runners talking about the goal. Boston, qualifying.

This Marathon Had Cliff Shot Pace Teams and the pace team leader was standing there holding a stick with two balloons tied to the top and a pace chard fixed to the staff. On top of it all, the sign said 3:35. Now that time is magic for a big group of people. A woman of any age can run that time and qualify. A man over the age of 55 can too. In the early morning light we gathered around a guy that we hoped would lead us to Hopkinton.

I was wearing a yellow jacket that I had been given for volunteering at The Marathon a few years ago. On the chest, the BAA logo. A young lady in our group came over and rubbed the logo, you know, for luck.

Like the others gathered, nervously bouncing and stretching, I want to qualify too. I have a plan, one more BQ and then one last Marathon, my 10th, in Boston in April of 2013. In order to make that happen, today, I have to finish with Balloon man.

I have trained hard, the weather is perfect, my mind is set and with that we are racing.

  • 1 – 7:55
  • 2 – 8:04
  • 3 – 8:07

Both the half and a full marathon start together so it is crowded. Hard to run any set pace, you have to just run with the flow. Balloon man is up ahead a bit and I follow along, running easy.

  • 4 – 8:14
  • 5 – 8:03
  • 6 – 8:11

We climb up a long gradual hill, not steep, with a park running alongside. The pack around the 3:35 pace guy is large. 40 or 50 runners are more or less running together. It is not clear that they all want this pace or if they are hanging around for other reasons. There is lots of chatting going on, “should we go faster, slow down, how ya feeling, looking good!” Just before the start our pace leader told us his plan is to run even splits and not to ‘bank time’ that is run a little faster now and save some time for later. This first section of the course is an out and back and as we turn back for Hayward we also start back down the hill. Pace guy speaks to the group this time encourage the group, or anyone within ear shot to not run fast down the hill but to run easy and relaxed.

  • 7 – 8:05
  • 8 – 8:11

Now we are back to the starting line and a bit of a cheering section. The group is still large, still intact. We are a little fast compared to our goal and I am feeling strong. I dropped the long sleeve shirt I had on over a T-shirt and am feeling cool and comfortable.

  • 9 – 8:14
  • 10 – 8:17
  • 11 – 8:09

We leave the street and start running in Eugene’s park system. Running bike paths that take us along and over the Willamette River. The Half Marathoner split off on their own course and the 3:35 pack is brought into sharp focus.

  • 12 – 8:11
  • 13 – 8:10
  • 14 – 8:12

Back on the streets we hit the half marathon distance, 1:47 right on plan. Last fall in Chicago, in the heat no less, I hit the half at 1:40. What was I thinking?

  • 15 – 8:10
  • 16 – 8:09
  • 17 – 8:10

The splits have been nice and even for 10+ miles only varying by a few seconds. The group has lost a few runners and now is a very focused pack of 20. People are chatting a bit now and I start to identify a few of them. 1st time marathoner, the nurse who rubbed my jacket, the girl with the trash mouth who is trying to will her friend, through positive encouragement, to stay with us, the woman wearing the camel back water back who tries to run right next to Balloon man whenever she can. And there are more, sometimes I put a face with a voice, most of the time I hear them talking but don’t look at them. Pace guy and I end up at the front of the pack, not by plan, just because we are both pretty locked in. I learn his name is Jim; he is from Akron and is the Associate Race Director of the Akron Marathon. He asks how I am doing and I tell him that I am feeling strong. I ask him and he says, well, when they give us a pace group it is a speed we can handle. Enough said.

  • 18 – 8:14
  • 19 – 8:07
  • 20 – 8:18

Still heading down river away from the finish we move into the difficult miles. We have shed a bunch of runners from the pack. They never say good-bye, they just slowly disappear one by one. They fall of the back of the group, or walk a water stop or just cannot hold the pace any longer. But as we finish mile 20 we are still 10 strong. Jim encourages us to just take one mile at a time.

  • 21 – 8:08
  • 22 – 8:05
  • 23 – 8:05

We, well I, cruise through 20 and Jim then tells the group let’s run this next mile relaxed. We have now re-crossed the Willamette and are pointed to the finish. I am on the lead, a few strides in front of Jim and I am not going to relax, I push a bit. By now I know I have it, I can feel it, I’m working hard, but in control, no danger of not holding on.

  • 24 – 8:11
  • 25 – 8:21
  • 26 – 7:59
  • .2 – 2:53 (7:47 pace)

I have been ahead of Jim for a few miles now, I even think at one point that I have dropped him that perhaps he has slowed to try to pull a few runners back into the group. But then, there he is, on my right. I look over and smile then look behind us. There is no one there. None, nobody, they are all gone. I ask him, “Am I the only one left?” He says, “Yea, that’s the way it usually goes.” At mile 25 we close up on a girl, struggling a bit but still moving who says, “Oh, if I can finish with you I can get my BQ.” Jim and I encourage her to join us, I tell her that it is only one little mile and she trained so hard that one little mile is nothing.

I have finished 9 Marathons. With each I had a plan. This time, unlike others, I executed the plan perfectly. I had imagined those last 6 miles dozens of times and it played out just like a dream. I got my BQ and I ran not my fastest, but my best Marathon ever.

Jim was just a few strides behind me at the finish. The girl from mile 25, I think she made it. I’m sort of sad that I have no idea what happened to any other the others in the pack. Out around mile 16 I thought a bunch of them would make it, make that magic 3:35. But at the line – it was Jim and me.

Thanks Jim – see you in Hopkinton!

The Boston Marathon course provides a number of unique challenges.  Although it is very much a net downhill course I think that provides as many problems as aides.

I divide The Course into four parts miles 1 to 6, 7 to 16, 17 to 21 and 21 to the finish. Each section has its own characteristics and I want to tailor my strategies to each section.

Section One: Six miles steeply downhill at first with an overall a net loss of some 250 vertical feet. Here the object is to go easy, not let the emotion of the day get to you, conserve energy and not pound your legs down the hills. The road is fairly narrow and very rural and you will have lots of company. Follow the plan and just run easy taking in all the sights and atmosphere that a great Marathon has to offer. Although not strictly at the 6 mile mark the Framingham train station is a good signal that you are down the hill and transitioning to the next section.

Section Two: The next 10 miles are essential flat and now is the time to really settle into your rhythm. By now I would expect to be right on my Marathon Pace and clicking off the miles within a very narrow range. I as a mental crutch I count upwards until mile 16 (after which I countdown) so at mile 10 we pass through Natick Center, then by the Wellesley College Campus, into Wellesley Center and so on. This section ends with a HUGE downhill, the largest drop on The Course. This downhill takes you down 118 vertical feet with an average grade of -3.7% and a peak grade of -5.2%. You have not seen anything this steep since mile one. From Wellesley Hills down to the Charles River in Newton Lower Falls. Caution all, this hill can wreck you for the next section. Use that elevation drop wisely. Take food and water at the bottom of the hill setting you up for the hills.

Section Three: The Hills – Hospital, Firehouse, Kelley and Heartbreak. Starting when you cross over the Charles River you start to climbing, 1st over the Interstate 95 (a.k.a. Route 128) a devious hill as it is strictly speaking not part of the Newton Hills and does not have the reputation of the hills to come. It takes you up 75 vertical feet with an average grade of 2.4% and a peak grade of 3.2%. It is exposed to the elements and can be windy and cold plus not many spectators want to hang out on a highway bridge. My strategy, My race day mantra is, “arrive at the hills with my legs under me” and then “run the hills strong.”

Making the turn

Now  my favorite place on The Course, the right turn at the Fire House, the first turn since you started the race 16 ½ miles ago. (The Course only has 6 turns!) The crowd has grown by leaps and bounds. There are supporters everywhere. Now comes the famous 3 1/2 of miles hills, with 3 climbs. On the first I mentally put my head down and push. I stop paying attention to anyone or anything other than my running. Focused on form and pace I push up the hills. 1st Firehouse Hill at 74 feet, 4.7%, and 4.9% then Kelly Hill at 63 feet, 3.0%, and 4.5%. (Look carefully for the John Kelly statue hidden over to the left) (If you ever get the chance, rub the shoes on the statue, it will bring you good marathon luck) Now it is time for the most famous hill in Marathoning, Heartbreak at 97 feet, 4.6%, and 5.2%. It is a real hill but if you followed the plan and arrived at the Fire House in good shape then it is up and over and almost literally all downhill (-250 vertical feet) from there.

Section 4: The final five miles are more or less a cruise all the way down Beacon Street. The crowds will build with every block. There are a couple of landmarks to mark the miles and a gradual downhill to help along the legs. If I (or if you) survive the Hills then you can do this last part. I know you can. My plan or perhaps my dream is at this point that I can really run. I see myself having enough left in my legs that as I turn on to Beacon I can race to the finish.

Kenmore Sq right in front of Eastern Standard

Kenmore Sq right in front of Eastern Standard

There you have it. Really, it is a simple plan. Four sections, each with a plan. Execute the plan, enjoy everything that is going on around you and run a fun race. You can do this!