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As I slipped into the pool this morning to try to implement my new effort to incorporate a complement to my running, I was momentarily distracted by the cheery singing of “ring around the rosy”. I looked up to see a group swim lesson going on with parents and toddlers. I smiled at the joy on the parents faces and the playful laughs of the little ones.

And then I cried a little.

As we come to the end of Autism Awareness Month, I can’t help but wonder, how much further along would Brooke be had I just been more aware when she was that age. Watching those parents and their children brought me back to swim lessons with Brooke. Swims lessons that were fraught with anxiety, screaming and crying. There was no joy, there were no playful laughs.

It was the beginning of an 18 month stretch where Brooke became more and more difficult to interact with.

We’ve come a long way since then. Her progress has been tremendous. But there is still a long, long way to go.

And moments like the one this morning as I slipped into the pool are tough reminders that maybe, just maybe, life would be different right now had I been more aware.

If only I had been more aware.

Had we given Brooke the therapies she needed at a much younger age, maybe her autism would not be as severe. Maybe her social interactions would not be as difficult.

This month is important. This month can save lives. Awareness can alter the course of personal history.

Please, PLEASE, don’t let Autism Awareness end with the turning of the calendar.

You just might ease the life-path of a little girl or boy and save the collective life of a family.

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com·ple·ment/ˈkämpləmənt/
Noun:A thing that completes or brings to perfection.
Verb:Add to (something) in a way that enhances or improves it; make perfect.

***

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It’s time to complement – not to be confused with compliment.

No, though I’m sure I could write 1000’s of words complimenting all of you, today the topic is complement.

***

With every marathon that I’ve run, I have tried to follow a plan of some sort. For Manchester in 2009 it was the Runners’ World plan for Intermediate Runners. For Providence, and consequently Boston, last year (Spring 2010), I went with lots of long, slow, miles. For Smuttynose & New York (Fall of 2010) and Boston this year I followed my running bible, Advanced Marathoning.

In retrospect, I now believe I missed a very important part of the training process in each of these training cycles.

Yes, I put in the miles – man, did I put in the miles.

I ran fast.

I ran slow.

I ran hills.

I ran flats.

I.

Ran.

A lot!

See a “running” theme here? Despite mixing up the types of runs I was doing, I essentially did nothing other than run. Oh, I touched on doing push ups for a couple of weeks, planks for even fewer, but for the most part, every workout was about the run, run, run.

***

Now, my ego is still hurting a little from my collapse at Boston this year. Yes, I did manage to make Lemonade out of Lemons. I enjoyed myself immensely. But honestly, it is not the way I would have chosen to run this, or any marathon.

I’m not saying that my asthmatic episode was caused by a lack of core strength or lack of flexibility. I’m not looking for excuses. But I do know this – Pfitz’ 12/55 program call for 4 – 5 day of running per week. On the off days, the plan calls for either rest or cross-training. During the past two training cycles I have almost always chosen rest, and by “almost always” I mean always – an older guy like me needs recovery time, right?

Looking back I can’t help but wonder – would a stronger core have helped me expend less energy over the first 17 miles of Boston? would that conserved energy have translated into my breakdown happening much later in the race? would I have arrived at mile 17 just that much sooner? would increased flexibility have prevented the eventual tightening of my legs and shoulders after I went into survival mode? would I have been able to stride it out on the Newton Hills?

I don’t know the answer to any of these questions.  In fact, I’m starting to wonder if the episode was stress and anxiety induced.

However, I do know that every edge helps.

I went into Boston this year thinking that my legs were ready to run a 3:10. I still believe that they are, but I wonder if there are other parts of my running system that need a little extra work?

With that thought in mind, the next training cycle is going to be a little different from previous ones. I will still take rest days to be sure, but they will be significantly fewer and farther between.

There will be more stretching.

There will be more consistent core work.

There will be regular cross-training.

I’ve got 2 1/2 weeks to adapt to this new routine if I’m gonna run the marathon portion of the 24 Hours Around the Lake Race in late July. Hopefully, these complements will take my running up a notch and eventually take me to my goal.

…and then we can talk about compliments.

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…but sometimes I sleep

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When the alarm went off at 4:15AM this morning I rolled out of bed and headed to the bathroom to change in the dark.  2 days of predawn running and my body had already fallen back into the routine.

I wasn’t awake yet really.

My eyes were half-closed, my consciousness stuck somewhere in a fog.  As I slipped into my shorts, somewhere in the back of my mind I wondered why I hadn’t snapped to alert yet.  Usually by the time I’m walking out the bathroom and heading downstairs for some pre-run coffee, I am wide awake.

And then it hit me.  Last night was the third or fourth night in a row of getting just under 4 hours of sleep.

I like getting 6 hours of sleep a night.  In reality, I usually get 5 hours a night, which seems to work just fine.  But 4 hours a night?  Maybe for a couple of days, maybe even 3 nights a week, but not coming off of a vacation where I had gotten used to sleeping over 8 hour a night.

Sleep is an important part of any athlete’s regimen.  It is when our bodies heal and strengthen themselves.  It’s when we do most of our recovering, when our brains sort out the events and workouts of the day.  Without it, our bodies (and minds) would eventually break down.

And so, at that moment, I turned around, changed back into my sleeping attire, and caught another 75 minutes of sleep.

Fortunately, today was a scheduled off day anyway.

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'Nuff Said

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So after taking a week off from running, the alarm went off at 4:30AM this morning, telling me it was time to run again.  Time to dust off the shoes, slip on the shorts, put in some miles.

Honestly, I’ve had to force myself NOT to run since Boston.  It hasn’t been easy, but I think my body (and my mind and spirit for that matter) needed the time off.

Still, when the alarm went off this morning, a part of me just wanted to roll over and go back to sleep.  I had gotten used to not waking up so early just to pound out some miles.  As I’ve said many times, I am NOT a morning person.  I really am not.

But then I thought of a picture I saw (above) on someone’s dailymile page.   That was me, all winter.  Waking up between 4AM and 4:30AM, running between 5 to 20 miles.  And as much as I am not a morning person, I loved the feeling I would have for the rest of the day when I’d managed to drench myself in sweat before most people were waking up.

Now that school vacation is over, the days are going to get busy again – which made me think of this:

If I’m going to be good, I have to work around the busy-ness.

And it’s not about the competition with others…it’s about the competition within.

It’s about the desire to do better, last longer, run faster.

I leave you with a quote from a comment my friend M left me:

DISAPPOINTMENT IS THE HIGH WATER MARK OF EXPECTATION.

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Next?

Where will these shoes be running next?

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So…

Now what?

What’s next?

Damned good question.

Boston 2011 has come and gone.

A 3:10 Boston Marathon would have made it easy – the Vermont 50 in September followed by running the New York City Marathon with Autism Speaks in November with some shorter races between now and then.

But I think I have some re-evaluating to do over the next couple of months.  By late-May/early-June I need to make a decision of WHAT is it I am training for.  I have to decide what is more important to me this year – Is it scratching a 50-miler off the bucket list or is it taking one step closer to a sub-3:00 marathon? Can I do both?

A couple of things to consider:

  • The fall marathons I would be considering (a return to Smutty, maybe Bay State) don’t happen until AFTER registration for Boston 2012.  This means that my chances of getting into 2012 would still be based on my 3:19:19 from Smuttynose 2010.  Based on that performance, I will not be allowed to register until the 2nd week AND will have to hope that my 1:40 buffer is fast enough to squeak in.  The likelihood of there still being spots available for me will be pretty slim.  So, does it even make sense to attempt a 3:10 – 3:15 marathon in October.  To add insult to injury, even if I do manage a sub-3:15 but not a sub-3:10, I will be back in the same boat as I am now because of the lower time standards for Boston 2013.
  • If I run New York this year with Autism Speaks again, I will definitely approach it as a fun run.  I would probably still try to improve on last year’s time, but my approach would be completely different, with my first half being a lot more relaxed.  That being said, my New York Marathon strategy should not be hindered by a 50-mile trek in September.
  • I AM considering a small marathon at the end of July.  The 24-Hour Around the Lake Race has a BQ-Certified marathon built into it.  The marathon is 8 laps around Lake Quannapowitt in Wakefield, MA.  That’s pretty monotonous, but it’s also flat, like the elevation varies between 25 and 32 feet above sea level flat.  One other quirk is that it is run at 7PM at night.  That would be interesting and I think that as long as I didn’t get greedy, I could actually make a decent run at a sub-3:15 – that is, as long as the temperatures aren’t too crazy at 7 o’clock at night in late July.  A sub-3:15 here would put me in on the 5th day of Boston registration where I think I would have a better than 50-50 shot of getting in.  In addition, the pull of an early fall marathon taking me away from the Vermont 50 would disappear.

So…

Decision, decisions.

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As I bolted out of the porta-potty, I thought, this is it! this is the moment! THIS is where all of the training kicks in!!! I looked up at the first of the Newton Hills almost with a smile.

You. Are. Mine. I thought.

I had been running along at a decent clip, averaging in the low 7 minute per mile range for 17 miles. My only trouble had been the urge to pee since before the start. I finally gave in to using a porta-potty when I saw one at the bottom of the first Newton Hill. I figured that this was just another star aligning to get me to my 3:10. I would have 20 – 40 seconds to relieve myself while simultaneously recovering for 20 – 40 seconds before tackling the hardest part of the course. Perfect!

So this was it! All I had to do was get through the next 2.5 miles and I would be cruising home-free on the other side of Heartbreak Hill.

I kicked it into overdrive. This was going to be cake…maybe not a tasty cake, but cake nonetheless. I had run these hills dozens of times. Not only had I run them often, I had run them late in long runs (17 miles late to be exact!). My plan was to attack the hills with speed and relax on the back sides. It had worked every time in training. EVERY TIME!

As I hit the base of the hill I shortened my stride and quickened my cadence.

Oh yeah! Showtime!

I got three, maybe five steps in, and then it happened.

I don’t know what asthma feels like. I don’t have it. I have never had a problem with it. But three, maybe five steps up that first Newton Hill, after running like the wind, after looking up at Newton “knowing” this was going to be my day, after having run those hills countless times, my lungs simply said “no”. This is what I have always imagined asthma feels like.

For the life of me, I couldn’t inhale. Whether you’re a car or a plane or a pair of legs, if you can’t take in oxygen, there IS no combustion. Every time I tried to take a breath, my airway felt blocked. I could force enough in to make an awful sound, but that was it.

No, my lungs said, We are not going to cooperate with you in this insane business you call marathon running. No, we will not assist you in achieving you goal. No, we will not let you run fast. We are done breathing.

And that was it. In one moment my day went from spectacular to miserable in the flick of a switch. My legs had felt good. My will was strong. My desire was burning. But my airways constricted and all hopes of a 3:10 or a 3:15 or even a PR (currently a 3:19:19) went out the window.

My bolt out of the porta-potty turned into a walk. A walk? Really? I mean REALLY!?! I was walking up this hill?

Every hundred yards or so I would try to start running again. At first I would start slowly and then try to build up speed. Every time I would get to what I perceived to be about an 8:00 to 8:30 per mile pace, my lungs would collapse on me again and I would be left simply trying to inhale, struggling to do what we all take for granted. I would make a sickening weeze for about 30 – 40 second as I staggered along before my breathing would become normal again. I’m surprised that I did get picked up by medical. Maybe I’m just lucky that they didn’t spot me at my worst.

For the next mile I kept thinking that it would pass. If I could just get through the next 5 minutes or so, maybe everything will reset! It didn’t pass. I struggled to 18 or 19 where I saw the medical tent. I staggered towards it. I sighed.

DNF (Did Not Finish)? Am I going to have to fucking DNF?

As I raised my foot to take another step toward medical, I thought of my little Brooke. No, I wasn’t running this race for Autism Speaks or any autism charity for that matter, but Brooke and kids like her are a source of strength for me.

My foot wavered.

Then I thought of my older daughter, Katie. I had made a promise to her when I put her, Brooke and Jess on a plane the Friday before the marathon. They were going away to Florida ahead of me and I was going to join them Monday night after the marathon. I had promised Katie that I would wear my 2011 Boston Marathon Medal on the plane and would have it around my neck when I woke her up with a kiss when I got to our hotel. How could I break that promise? If I checked into medical, there would be no medal. In addition, I wouldn’t be able to wear the commemorative jacket I had bought days earlier.

And so, I stumbled back on to the course, weezing, trying to catch my breath.

I was scared.

I wanted to cry.

I wanted to quit – I wanted to quit more than I have ever wanted to quit in a marathon.

I wanted to scream and yell.

But I trudged on.

This was going to be the dreaded “Death March”.

By the time I reached mile 20, I was in a pretty dark place, and I still had Heartbreak Hill ahead of me. My lungs continued to rebel and now my feet were beginning to hurt. And that’s when I saw my dear friend Alett. She spotted me and began to cheer. I shook my head. As I staggered over to her, she said some words of encouragement, but I told her, today was not going to be my day. The running gods had given me a lemon of a marathon.

It was at that moment though when my whole attitude changed. After 2+ miles of grumbling and wallowing in self-pity, I realized that I had a choice. I could do the death march thing to the end of the race OR I could embrace what had been given me and take advantage of the fact that I still had many friends on the course waiting to see me and cheer me on. I could stumble by them in misery or take this opportunity to celebrate that I was running Boston this year and a god-damned qualifier!!!

I decided to go with the latter and started snapping pictures with every friend I could find. Click —>HERE<— to see the pics I took over the last 6 miles.

As painful as it was to keep going, and despite having bursts where I tried to finish strong only to be slapped down again by my lungs, it was a joy spotting friends and taking a minute or two to yuk it up. My only disappointment in those last few miles was that I was unable to spot a couple of friends I knew were out there and that I was unable to keep up with my friend Ty who came up behind me with less than a mile to go and tried to pull me along (I tried Ty!) – Nic, Deb, Amelia, Hadar, Yigal, Ramana, TK and Mary, despite missing you, it helped knowing you were out there!

Looking back on my splits, I’m pretty psyched I was able to stop and chat, take pictures AND keep those last miles in the 8:45 – 11:15 range.

***
So I guess the question becomes, what happened? More specifically, what caused my lungs to go asthmatic on me? I don’t know. I’ll have to do some research on that one. Maybe I was taking in too much fluid? I had been training on about 10 – 15 oz. of Gatorade per 20 miles all winter and I’m pretty sure I drank much more than that over the course of the first 17 miles. Maybe I just sucked down some liquid down the wrong pipe? I don’t know. All I know is Monday, April 18th wasn’t my day. Maybe, if I can get in, April 17th will be.

***

There are a lot of titles that went through my mind as I contemplated writing this race report:

Opportunity Lost or Falling Short (it was all there), Breathless (for obvious reasons), Karma (was there a debt to be paid for leaving a man behind at Smuttynose?), Hubris or Foolish or Greedy (was 3:10 a realistic goal? should I have been content with gunning for 3:15? would I have lost my lungs had I been running 7:24’s?)

It was, to say the least, a rough day. A day of disappointment. A day where my goal of a 3:10 marathon seemed well within my grasp. A day where I watched that goal simply disappear with a single breath.

It didn’t start out that way. In fact, when I woke up on Monday morning, I felt great. I mean, I REALLY felt great. My training had been pretty much without incident. My times had been spot on. I was ready. The weather looked like it was going to cooperate too – 50° – 60°. We were even going to have a tailwind. In addition, RaceMenu chief Alain found me right before the start and said that he was shooting for a 3:10 just like me – I thought “perfect! Someone to run with, just like Smuttynose!”

Yes, everything was lining up for an A+ effort on Monday. 3:10 was a real possibility, with a 3:15 all but in the bag! Though my morning was a bundle of nervous energy, I did manage to stay relatively relaxed on the surface. I found my dailymile friends in the Athletes’ Village, and the group of us kept each other loose with small talk and funny stories.

I was so sure that I could feel the natural speed of this group. We were almost all qualifiers, and those that were charity runners were gunning for PR’s.

Speed was in the air.

Some days you have it. Some days you don’t. Some days, like last Monday, you have it and then you lose it. I’m just glad I had the where with all to make lemonade out of lemons. And have no doubt, YOU were the sugar that made the lemonade so sweet!

The turn on to Hereford (2nd to last turn) - trying to keep it light

the turn on to Boylston - the finish line is only a few hundred meters away

Stopping to chat with 150 meters to go...

...and snap a picture! -courtesy of CAUTION:Redhead Running

less than 100 meters to go

All done - 3:37:00 - my worst finish other than Manchester. Aside from my BQ, quite possibly my most enjoyable final 6.2 miles.

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So as I sit here struggling to write my race recap of this year’s Boston Marathon, there is one word that keeps popping into my head.

That word is disappointment.

Now, before any of you start to feel sorry for me, let me clarify one thing – Disappointment is NOT a dirty word. Disappointment does NOT need to be a word of sadness. Disappointment does NOT need to elicit comforting words.

No, in this case, disappointment can be a word of hope, a word of dedication, a word of renewed inspiration.

If I were not disappointed in my performance this past Monday, I would have to question every run, every drill, every drop of sweat spilled since the middle of last December. My disappointment legitimizes the hard work. My disappointment gives my 4AM runs meaning.

…and because of my disappointment, I will go back to the drawing board, come up with a plan, and run another 26.2 – once again with the goal of running faster than I’ve ever run over that fantastic distance we call a marathon.

“Use this experience to sharpen the steel for the next one.”
-my friend Brendan M.

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