Archive for March, 2012

We will begin our tapering phase of training in earnest this weekend with a 12 mile run.  Our course will also avoid as many hills as possible in an effort to allow your body to recover as much as possible.  We’ll run primarily out Beacon Street and back to accomplish this.

Although we’re significantly reducing our overall mileage, it’s important to maintain your intensity.  You don’t want to become sluggish my going completely into a dormant state.  You should also reduce other cross training activities at a similar rate (i.e., 20% first week, 40% second week and 60% the final week).  Another important change is to adjust your caloric intake so it’s commensurate with your physical activity.

One of the biggest challenges during the tapering phase is occupying your mind.  You should review the Boston Marathon Checklist that I have posted here previously and start organizing everything you expect to need for marathon weekend.  This is also an ideal time to send handwritten thank you notes to all your donors.  These notes are far more meaningful to everyone that has supported you.  It’s also beneficial to review the notes of support and encouragement that you’ve received.  They are extremely motivating and serve as an important reminder of the significance of the difference you are making in the lives of so many.

I’m so proud to be your coach and look forward to sharing the most exciting weeks of our training as the Boston Marathon approaches!

Marathon Women- You Go Girls!

Posted: March 28, 2012 in Uncategorized

It amazes me that it was just in 1972 that the BAA finally “allowed” women to run the Boston Marathon, with some restrictions- women had a separate starting line, they couldn’t compete with the men and they had to qualify by the men’s qualifying time of 3 hours, 30 minutes.  With that door open, the number of women competing in the Boston Marathon grew from 9 entries in 1972 to 43% of the field in 2011!  You go girls!

Check out this article in the MetroWest Daily News:

Boston Marathon And Beyond!

Posted: March 27, 2012 in Uncategorized

At this stage in your training you’re likely focused on the goal of getting to the finish line in relative comfort.  You have to focus on tapering properly by following the prescribed training schedule and avoiding injury.  You have to also ensure you eat well, stay hydrated, get sufficient rest and not introduce anything new into your routine.

There is so much to consider in the remaining weeks before the marathon that you may not consider life beyond the marathon.  While focusing on the aforementioned tasks is precisely what you should be doing, I encourage you to take a moment to consider life beyond Boston.  Many runners have expressed concern over the huge void that will exist in their lives once the marathon is over.  It’s so easy to become consumed by the monumental task of training for Boston that you  don’t consider how your life may change from this experience.

You many never have a clearer glimpse into what you’re capable of accomplishing in life than when you cross the finish line of the Boston Marathon.  I’ve heard countless stories of how life-altering this accomplishment is to so many.   Once you prove that you’re capable of committing to and completing a major challenge you begin to consider what other pursuits may be in your future.  Completing a marathon, particularly the Boston Marathon, is one of the most empowering experiences you’ll ever have.

Becoming a  Boston Marathon Finisher will be part of your legacy forever.  No one will ever be able to take that title from you.  The finisher’s medal will likely be kept with your most valuable possessions.  But this experience is about so much more than checking it off your ‘Must Do’ list in life and the finisher’s medal.  It’s about discovering things about yourself that you never considered or imagined.  Training through the difficult winter and mostly on the hills of Newton likely revealed some weaknesses in your fitness, your mental state and possibly even your character.  Those runners that embrace the reality they’re not as strong as they once thought and dedicate themselves to improving are likely to take more than the finisher’s medal from this experience.  They take a passion and commitment to live their lives in the spirit of continuous improvement.

Too many people focus exclusively on their strengths and attempt to ignore their weaknesses which guarantees their accomplishments and self-perception will forever remain limited.

I hope that you take a moment to consider life beyond the marathon….it’s never going to be the same!

Time To Recover

Posted: March 25, 2012 in Uncategorized

Now that the 21 miler is in the books the tapering process begins in earnest.  It’s important to take several complete days off from running to allow the muscle soreness to completely disappear.  The residual effects of Saturday’s long run can actually cause soreness to worsen on the second day so don’t be alarmed if this occurs.  Walking and other forms of low-impact cross-training (i.e., spinning, water running, yoga, elliptical, etc.), along with getting sufficient rest, eating well, and staying hydrated will speed your recovery.

Many first-time marathoners can’t imagine how they’ll be able to run another 5 miles after the incredible effort it took to make the ascent up Heartbreak Hill yesterday.  There are two very compelling reasons that contribute to this doubt.  Once your mind knows the precise distance you’re running on a given day it communicates that to your body.  If you were only scheduled to run 13 miles yesterday, I can assure you that you would have been looking forward to just getting to 13 miles.  And you would have been just as grateful the run was over at 13 miles as you were when you completed yesterday’s 21 miler.

Most importantly, Marathon Day is a completely different experience.  Yesterday doesn’t even constitute a dress rehearsal for the Boston Marathon.  Despite running with several hundred other runners as you made the trek from Hopkinton to Boston College, you were largely running alone compared to what your journey will be like on April 18th.  Very few of the cars on the marathon course were happy about all the runners slowing their progress.  But in just a few short weeks, all of New England will be focused on the Boston Marathon.  The marathon course will be entirely yours for as long as you need it to be.

Those same drivers that were frustrated by your presence on ‘their’ roads Saturday will be laying out the red carpet for you and providing a heroes welcome as your make the journey into Boston.  You will plan to run 26.2 miles on April 18th and your mind will communicate that to your body to ensure it’s prepared to cover the entire marathon distance. 

And the unimaginable excitement of everything the Boston Marathon entails is your assurance that you will make it to the finish line!

Last week, Coach Rick wrote to me with what I can only describe as an interesting conundrum. He is a highly experienced marathoner and inspirational running coach, whom I can only presume has spent a majority of his days under the reign of the puffy, cushioned-up running sneaker. But now he is starting to see some of his runners take an interest in the ever-growing barefoot running movement.

Being that I am a barefoot and minimalist runner, I think this is great! But I imagine that Rick might feel he is entering a sort of crossroads. As a running coach, what stance should he take on this whole barefoot thing? How educated does he need to be on the subject? Should he let this paradigm shift inform his way of teaching next year’s runners, or should he stick with what’s always worked in the past?

Even though I am neither a coach, nor a marathoner (well…not yet anyway), I think I know a little bit about where Coach Rick is coming from. I make myself quite visible in the barefoot world, so I have had a lot of friends, family and strangers ask me about barefoot running. Naturally, I am thrilled to pass on my knowledge. But the problem is everyone asks me the same…damn…question.  

“Which shoes should I buy?”

These five words perfectly describe the crux of the most damaging problem to the barefoot running movement. We are such a bunch of consumers that the first thing we think about barefoot running is what shoes we should buy. So it doesn’t surprise me even one bit that when a new minimalist runner becomes injured right away, the first thing he blames is…yep, you guessed it, the shoes. What I call “the blaming of the shoes” is what gives the barefoot running movement a bad name, and there’s nothing more irritating than this!

Unfortunately, there is a huge discrepancy between the soaring sales of minimalist running footwear and the education required to safely transition into barefoot footwear. Many runners, especially the experienced ones, think their feet and legs are strong enough to handle anything. They don’t do a lot of research before strapping on a new pair of Vibram FiveFingers or Merrell Road Gloves. They run way too far, way too fast in the minimalist shoes, and they get hurt. And it’s not because the shoes suck. It’s because the runner has weak, atrophied feet and lower legs as a result of wearing shoes that do all the work.  And it’s also because they have terrible form.

Now I know that Coach Rick teaches the importance of good form to his runners. I have heard him talk, and I have read his blog. But it’s advice that people widely ignore, and cushioned running shoes make it easy to do so. I’ve seen so many runners out there, barreling around the lake like Frankenstein’s monster. There’s this one particular dude who clobbers the sidewalk with these uproarious footfalls, hunched over like a turtle with his head down. He is wearing the latest marshmallowy Asics with the gel inserts and braces wrapped around his knees, completely oblivious to the fact that I can hear him coming from a quarter mile away. And yet he snickers at me when I glide by with nothing on my feet, like I’m the idiot.

Okay, maybe that’s not you. Maybe you’ve bought the idea that good form is important and you’re curious about the whole barefoot thing. But maybe you’re also skeptical like that guy at the lake, because barefoot running is new and weird and, well…sort of “hippy.” And I’ll admit that some barefoot dudes are a little on the…odd side, but that’s neither here nor there. If I could get one thing through to every runner I come across, it’s that the barefoot running movement actually has very little to do with what is or isn’t on your feet, and everything to do with foot strength and good running form.

Your feet are amazing tools. They are exquisitely built structures, consisting of 26 bones, 33 joints, and over 100 muscles, tendons and ligaments. They are intrinsically perfect. The arch of your foot is built just like the arch of a bridge, to support your weight and transfer energy to your legs. A spring made to propel you forward. No technologically engineered foam or gel can mimic the beauty and strength of the human foot – the only thing that stuff can do is get in the way.

I often ask myself what people were thinking when they devised the first cushioned running shoe. Well, actually I know what they were thinking, I just don’t like that it stuck around for so long. Up until the early 80’s, runners and racers historically wore very thin, non-cushioned racing flats. Once running became more popular among the largely undertrained and unathletic general public, the running shoe changed dramatically. Shoemakers figured that a softer, cushier product would make a newbie runner more comfortable. Well, they were right. We loved them. And the rise of the heel-lifted, foam-filled sneaker began. No special technology or mathematics, no structural testing required. They just…caught on.

And so did the many slew of running injuries that we see on a pretty consistent basis. Plantar fasciitis, achilles tendonitis, ankle sprains, stress fractures, knee pain, shin splints, flat feet, pronation, supination…the list is nauseating. The plain fact is that 90% of all runners get hurt about once per year. That’s right, folks, every year! I strongly believe these injuries have risen so much over the last thirty years because cushioned running shoes have largely allowed us to ignore our crappy running form. No, I’m not even really blaming the shoes. I’m blaming our crappy running form.

Here’s what I have to say about running injuries: whether you’re running barefoot or in Vibrams or in Sauconys, it doesn’t matter. If something hurts (with the obvious exception of acute and overuse injuries), then it’s probably because your running form is bad. Shin splints? Bad form. IT band bothering you? Bad form. Keep spraining your ankles every summer? You have bad form.

And we barefooters get it wrong sometimes, too. Just because we bought a pair of shiny new $100 minimalist running shoes last week doesn’t mean we suddenly have good form. I’ve seen a lot of proud new Vibram runners at races, and 75% of them are still doing it wrong. Correct form takes practice, a lot of it, the learning curve is wide for many of us and there is no instant fix.

So today when a friend asks me what minimalist shoe she should buy, I tell her first to get on the computer and do some research, or spend time with a trainer (or as an absolute last resort, me) who can teach her how to run with good form. Below is part of an article I wrote awhile back for, which outlined the most important points to learning good form running.

1. Wear lighter shoes.

Bare feet are your best teacher. But since most people aren’t comfortable going totally bare, why not try some lightweight footwear? The important things to look for in a minimalist shoe are:

  • No significant lift from the toe to heel (4mm or less) or none at all (often called “zero-drop”)
  • Very little to no cushioning
  • An extra flexible sole
  • Plenty of room for your toes to spread and move

If you absolutely cannot part with your cushioned trainers, that’s okay. You can still improve your running form with these next tips.

2. Stop landing on your heel.

The key to good form is contacting the ground with the front half of your foot first. This is more difficult to do in heavy trainers, but it’s still possible. The exact contact spot varies from person to person. Some land on the ball of their foot (forefoot landing), but most land somewhere in the middle (mid-foot landing).

Your heel should still touch the ground briefly. However, it should not carry a large weight load. Most of your weight should be directly above your mid-foot. As soon as your heel makes contact, your arch and lower leg muscles can gather the spring they need to move your body forward. This way you can land much more lightly and bounce out of each stride rather than pound the ground.

3. Stand up straighter, and shorten your stride.

Remember what your mother told you: don’t slouch. A slumped-over runner wastes energy and allows for over-striding, which means extending the leg so far ahead that the foot lands in front of the body’s center of gravity. Over-striding can lead to a host of problems, joint pain and knee injuries in particular. So keep your back straight, lead with your chest and lean forward only slightly from your ankles.

Shortening the length of your stride and increasing your cadence can make it easier to straighten up and resist over-striding. The average heel-striking runner tends to use longer strides and a cadence of 90 to 120 steps per minute (SPM), but the recommended cadence for optimal mid-foot running is about 180 SPM. That’s three steps per second.

4. Listen to your body.

Switching from a heel-strike to a mid-foot strike is serious business. In the long run, good mid-foot form is easier on your joints and spine and strengthens your ankles, feet and lower legs. But it is a big change for your underused lower leg and foot muscles.

It is important to start slow—even slower than you think. Build mileage gradually and always listen to your body when it says stop. Most knowledgeable barefoot runners recommend starting with no more than 1/8 to 1/4 mile at first, and increasing distance by 10 percent each week. For experienced distance runners, this may seem ludicrous. However, learning a new running form is the equivalent to being a new runner. With that said, every runner is different. The smartest thing you can do is be patient, pay attention to how your body feels and avoid injuries by taking it easy during your transition period.

I hope this post has been helpful in making sense about the difference between buying some new pair of shoes and actually running with good form. The sooner we hold ourselves accountable for learning and maintaining proper running form, the less likely we will be to “blame the shoes.”

Anything But Average!

Posted: March 22, 2012 in Uncategorized

I am astonished by the level of mediocrity in our Society!  I simply don’t understand why most people don’t ask and demand more of themselves.  We seem to have lost our fighting spirit and have settled for far less than we ever imagined.  One of the primary reasons that I have been interested in and enjoyed being a running coach for charity runners is that I’m constantly reminded that not everyone has succumbed to this quagmire of complacency!

I believe that any life worth living has to include serving others…a lesson that I learned in the most difficult way imaginable.  Being consumed by selfishness most of my life, it was a revelation beyond measure to learn my needs could be more than taken care of once I focused on the needs of others.  Charity runners embody this spirit and live it every day of their lives…not just on the day of the Boston Marathon.  Their example of service and compassion has inspired me to pursue their level of commitment to others.  And while the Boston Marathon will conclude in less than a month…the impact the Marathon Coalition runners have had on my life with continue well beyond the finish line on Boylston Street…it will last forever!


Hopkinton To Boston!

Posted: March 20, 2012 in Uncategorized

You will be running through most of these towns during our 21 miler Saturday and all of them on April 16th.  There is so much running history that has taken place along this amazing route and you will soon be part of it.

You will create your own history beginning this weekend and further developing it on April 16th.  Your current focus, as it should be, is likely on completing the distance.  But as I look back to 1979 when I ran Boston for the first time in 2:48:35, I continuously consider my history along the course from Hopkinton to Boston and the impact that it’s had on my life.  I hope that you will take a moment to look beyond the finish line and contemplate the impact that your Boston Marathon effort will have on your life.

You will discover this journey is so much more than just running.  It will define you in ways that you simply can’t imagine.  You’ll learn things about yourself for the very first time.  You may be sitting in the Athlete’s Village and hearing a language for the very first time or be standing in the starting corral and be inspired by something or someone who you’ve never noticed before.

I remember signing my very first autograph just as I was entering the starting corral over 30 years ago and haven’t signed another one…that’s the power of Boston!  I’m always touched by the little girls that are always near the starting line with their autograph books asking every female runner in sight for their autograph.  You may spark a dream in a child to one day run Boston…that’s the power of the Boston Marathon!

The marathon is undoubtedly a challenging event and that’s why it is so special.  Boston has a history of being one of the most challenging marathons in the world.  But as with most things in life, the greater the challenge the greater the reward!

And when you cross the finish line in Boston you will be duly rewarded.  You will receive a heroes welcome from the volunteers at the finish line.  And when you look into the eyes of a friend or family member for the first time after finishing you may feel emotions that you’ve never anticipated.  And you will begin to feel the magnitude of your accomplishment. 

 When you hobble to work on Tuesday morning with your finisher’s medal around your neck and receive applause from your coworkers, you will feel their pride for you and realize that you’re an inspiration to so many.

You are an inspiration to me, too!  I will be forever grateful for the opportunity to play a small role in your incredible accomplishment.

Runners preparing for Boston will embark on the most important run of the training season this coming weekend.  Many will be running the first 20-21 miles of the course for the first time.  I’m not an advocate of running beyond 20 miles in training because the risk of injury is too great.  However, I’ve been convinced to extend the long run of 20 miles by one more mile so runners can place a capstone on their training by conquering Heartbreak Hill…the psychological advantage of beginning their taper at the top of this historic hill cannot be discounted.

Most of the Marathon Coalition runners are running their first marathon, so the tapering process may prove to be the most challenging aspect of training.  Asking a runner to reduce their training mileage so significantly the final 3 weeks prior to the marathon is entirely counterintuitive.  It’s analogous to a professor asking their students to only open their textbooks a few times prior to the final exam.  Nevertheless, it’s important to allow one’s body and mind to fully recover from the rigors of training the past 4 months.  It’s more beneficial to arrive at the starting line in Hopkinton feeling slightly less prepared than overtrained and drained…emotionally and physically!

Runners will also learn, despite all the attention placed on the Newton Hills, it’s actually the downhills that present the greatest challenge…particularly in the beginning.  The wait can seem endless in the Athlete’s Village and walking to the corral must feel like what a soldier feels when approaching a major battle.  Couple that with getting into a corral with thousands of other anxious runners, hearing languages you’ve never heard before, realizing you’ve just walked to the edge of the cliff and there is no turning back, hearing the national anthem and having the fighter pilots blaze a path overheard…you are full of energy and adrenalin.

I’ve always thought this moment is the most critical of Marathon Day.  Those runners that can manage their pre-race jitters most effectively have the greatest odds of accomplishing their marathon goals.  However, even the most experienced marathoners in the field will likely start too fast.  The downhills in the first several miles will directly impact how well you run the hills from miles 16 to 21.  Many runners will be tempted to bank time in the early miles by taking advantage of the significant downhills only to lose minutes later in the marathon because the hills that were their friend in the beginning are laughing hysterically as they struggle in Newton.

Patience is a virtue…particularly in the Boston Marathon.  Find comfort in letting the impatient runners pass you in the beginning.  Many of the best experiences I’ve had running Boston the past four decades have been passing the runners I’ve found so annoying (i.e., whooping and hollering as well as jumping up and down next to me in the starting corral) in the later miles  as they walked dejectedly asking themselves, ‘Why did I have to be so stupid?’

My goal in Boston has always been quite simple.  I run conservatively until I get to the 10K point in Framingham center.  Once I find my rhythm I begin running my marathon goal pace until I get to Mile 15.  I also prepare for the onslaught of enthusiasm being thrown out like free candy along a parade route by the co-eds of Wellesley College.  I’m astonished by how many men run like Kenyans through this segment, only to join the ranks of those aforementioned runners also asking themselves how they too could have been so stupid.  I know because one year I was one of them…it NEVER happened again!  The goal of any Boston marathoner should be to get to the Mile 15 point in great shape physically and emotionally.  The most challenging 11 miles lie ahead as you drop significantly into Newton Lower Falls and tackle what I consider the most challenging hill on the course, climbing out of Newton Lower Falls over Route 128…it is wide open, very few spectators and it has a tendency to be windy.  This tends to be a make or break portion of the marathon.

It’s important to run at a pace that’s 10-15 seconds slower than you’ve averaged prior to the hills of Newton.  Being conservative from miles 17-21 will pay dividends as you crest Heartbreak Hill (assuming you are not tempted to join the ranks of the drunken BC students by accepting the FREE beer they offer you) and head into Cleveland Circle.  It won’t be long before you observe the Citgo sign (it’s farther away than you realize) in Kenmore Square and realize that you’re actually going to finish the Boston Marathon!

The adrenalin is pumping through me as I write because I know the emotion that you’re going to feel in these closing miles.  People that you don’t even know will be screaming at the top of their lungs offering encouragement you’ve likely never experienced.  And when you take a right onto Hereford…well, all bets are off…you’re on the dance floor.  Take a left onto Boylston and you realize, likely for the first time, what it feels like to be a ROCK STAR!  There will be people you know that have NEVER felt greater pride for you…they will be filled with emotion they never anticipated when they watch you finish the Boston Marathon…I will be one of them!

Go TEAM!!!

Tribute To My Runners!

Posted: March 16, 2012 in Uncategorized

I commented recently that several of my Marathon Coalition runners mentioned there would be a huge void in their lives once the marathon is over.  There will actually be an even bigger void in my life.  I certainly have so much abundance in my life (i.e., family, friends, work, interests, etc.) to focus on after the training season concludes.  But coaching marathon runners has been such an integral part of who I am for the past 15 years.

I never imagined that I would ever become a coach.  When I lost my mom to leukemia in 1996 at only 57 years old, little did I realize that my last conversation with her would lead to my coaching.  I promised her that I would commit myself to doing something significant with my life, something that would make her proud.  I ran the Ocean State marathon in Rhode Island shortly after I returned to New England after her funeral.  That is when my focus began to shift to thinking about others.

Serendipitously, there were Leukemia Society of America signs along the entire marathon course.  I called the executive director of the Leukemia Society of America the following day and shared my story.  That was the beginning of what has become one of the most amazing journeys of my life.

I began to speak in front of large groups of people about losing my mom.  I shared my last conversation with her and my commitment to honoring her memory.  It was very emotional but I soon became comfortable with just speaking from my heart.

I struggled with giving oral book reports in school and always considered myself relatively shy so standing before a group was something I wasn’t comfortable with.  I suddenly found myself eager (albeit nervous) to open my heart and share my emotions with so many.  Losing mom changed my life considerably.  I began to realize the importance of giving to others.  It was an epiphany to realize I actually thought less about myself when I focused on others.  I also realized that I had the unique opportunity to inspire people to do far more than attempt to complete a marathon. 

I was the first coach of many of my runners…they had never been on a sports team.  When you have someone say, ‘ I have never had anyone say they believe in me!’, you begin to view your role very differently.  I realized that I also had the opportunity to motivate and inspire people to believe they were capable of achieving far more than they ever imagined!

The boxes of cards and letters that I’ve received during the past 15 years are the ultimate validation of the unique opportunity I’ve been given.  It’s an opportunity to honor my mom’s memory in a significant way and to establish a legacy of helping others…that’s important to me. 

None of this would have been possible without Lori.  We met shortly after I began coaching and her example of selflessness dramatically influenced my coaching and my view of the world…my view of myself!  She has stood in my shadow for far too long but I’ve never forgotten that I owe who I am today to her.  I also have been deeply influenced by all the runners that I’ve coached.

To witness thousands of runners commit themselves to making a significant difference in the world has changed my life.  I survived in a world of selfishness most of my life…coaching charity runners has dramatically changed that.  I’ve seen countless runners, who couldn’t complete one lap of running on a local track when training began, become marathoners in less than 5 months.  And they were able to accomplish that because they were so committed to helping others and making a difference in their lives.

Charity runners have a higher completion rate in the marathon than any other group.  That’s undoubtedly due to their commitment to serving others.  The marathon becomes far less about them than it is to fulfilling a commitment to the charity they’re representing. 

Completing a marathon training season is bittersweet for me.  The pride that I feel for each of my runners is immeasurable.  The sadness of knowing I may never say many of them again is something I don’t like to consider.  But I find considerable comfort in the knowledge that I’ve been given a unique gift of being their coach and I’ve given my absolute best effort to them.  My greatest hope is that I’ve instilled in each of them a belief that they can accomplish ANYTHING they commit themselves to and believe in.

I’m not looking forward to this amazing journey of training for the Boston Marathon to be over.  But I am looking forward to observing the  impact that this experience has had on each member of the Marathon Coalition TEAM!

Efficient Running

Posted: March 14, 2012 in Uncategorized

I think every runner that’s interested in improving and transforming their form should view this video.  It captures the essence of what every runner should focus on to become more efficient and ultimately enjoy their running more.

This was produced by Dr. Mark Cucuzzella M.D. (Professor Family Medicine at West Virginia University).  Here are some of the important highlights:

Running is not a battle between you and your body.
Get strong in the right places.
Get loose in the right places.
Be in balance…cadence of 180 steps per minute.
Have rhythm.
Place your feet under you, not in front of you.
Do not overstride.
Extend your hips.
Progress slowly.
Light Drills are key.
Develop quick and springy feet.
Pick up your feet.
Your feet are your messengers…listen to them.
Run tall… with good posture.
Relax and Breathe.
Lean just a little from the ankles.
Lower your loading rate.
Lower your impact transient
Run and have fun.
Learn. Evolve. Run