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Tonight I am running a marathon.

No, literally, I am running the Around the Lake Marathon tonight, starting at 7PM. If you are in the Wakefield, MA area this evening, please feel free to come out and cheer.

I have never in the last 21 month of marathon running felt more unprepared.

How unprepared am I? Let’s go by the numbers:

If I had stuck with my 12 (week)/70 (mile peak)  plan, these are the weekly miles I would have run:

55/59/62/66/59/70/70/64/70/57/44/28 for a grand total of 704 miles of training.

If I had stuck with my fall back 12/55 plan, these are the weekly miles I would have run:

35/39/43/48/42/48/55/49/52/43/32/22 for a total of 508 miles.

***   ***   ***

Here are the actual miles I ran:

54/51/47/42/30/7/32/32/15/30/28/4 for the mighty sum of 372 miles.

Not pretty is it.  That’s close to only half of what I originally planned on running.  In addition, you’ll notice the downward trend in mileage over the last, well, um, during the entire training cycle.  I had some motivational issues to be sure, but there were some weeks marred by either injury or life simply getting in the way (it happens).  Still, I have never felt so unprepared for a 26.2 miles race.  Even in my first marathon I had the advantage of not knowing what it was I was getting into.

But you want to know something funny? I’m ok. In fact, I feel at peace with the fact that I am way undertrained for this race. There’s no reason really.  Maybe it’s the fact that this is my 7th marathon in 21 month, maybe it’s that I feel somewhat rested (though heavier with the lack of miles), maybe it’s that I’ve set my Garmin to beep if I start going too fast (avoiding the debacle of Boston 2011), or maybe it’s just the cumulative effect of repeated endorphin highs…I don’t know.

Am I worried? A little to be sure.  But I don’t have the nervousness I’ve had before every other marathon (who am I kidding, before every other race!!!), that awesome/awful feeling in the pit of my stomach.

What will happen tonight?

I don’t know.

All I know is I’m running a marathon, I’m totally unprepared, and I’m totally fine with that.

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“On behalf of every man
Looking out for every girl
You are the guide and the weight of the world
So fathers, be good to your daughters
Daughter will love like you do…”

-Daughters by John Mayer

Last night I had the privilege of speaking at the Greater Boston Autism Speaks Walk Kick Off Party. I have to admit that I was a little nervous, in part because anybody who had been to the Event a few years ago would remember Jess’ absolutely amazing, ovation-inducing keynote speech. I was asked how my worlds as a runner, a father and a person touched by autism interconnected. What follows is a video of my speech (thank you Jess for recording it), a transcript of the speech, and a few “thank you’s”. You can tell my public speaking skills are a little rusty (I hadn’t given a speech since my PTO President days), but I think I got my point across.

Good Evening.

Some of you may know me through my wife’s blog, A Diary of a Mom, as Luau.

I am a father of two beautiful girls, one of whom has autism.

I am also a believer that awareness is the key to understanding which in turn leads to acceptance – I firmly believe that if I can sit down with anyone and talk with them about autism and how it affects my little girl’s interactions with the world, I can erase one more disapproving face, one more thoughtless comment, one more snicker from the world – as parents, these are things we have all experienced at the playground or the grocery store or the mall.

Those “know-it-all” parents who look at you and say, “I would never let my child do that”. – They are a big part of why I do what I do.

But what is it that I do?

Well, I run.

And I write about running.

And you’re right – that should have nothing to do with autism; but as I am sure many of you know, when you have a child with autism, it becomes a part of everything you do.

When I write about running, I often find myself drawing parallels to the challenges, the trials & tribulations, and of course the victories of living with a child who has autism. As my audience has grown, so has the number of men and women who have now developed a sense of compassion for our families. I hope that as time goes by, more people like me, specifically dads who just aren’t sure how to make an impact, will find their own voice, their own way of contributing to the conversation, whether it be through running, talking to other parents while coaching Little League, or sitting around a poker table – ultimately raising awareness.

Now don’t get me wrong. Awareness, understanding and acceptance are not the goals – they are the vital first steps on the journey toward the goals. This is one of the many reasons why I work so hard to raise funds for Autism Speaks.

Autism Speaks understands that there isn’t just one solution to the challenges faced every day by people with autism and those who love them. And so while Autism Speaks works hard to raise awareness, they are also tirelessly working to unravel the mysteries of this epidemic using a reasoned, scientific approach, pushing for good, solid science to eventually answer the myriad and endless questions we have.

As men we are wired to “fix” things. As fathers we are wired to protect our children. This is our nature. But autism is neither something that can be fixed nor something we can protect our children from – instead it is messy, complicated, hard, frustrating. And so as fathers we lose faith in ourselves.

But I am here to tell you tonight, no matter how lost you may feel, no matter how overwhelmed by the process you may be, there IS a way that you can help, there IS a way that you can make an impact, not only for your child but for all of our children.

You walk. And as you talk to your friends sitting around the poker table, to the parents at the little league game, and to your co-workers about why you are walking, I bet you get to see judgement replaced by compassion and ignorance with understanding.

The first time I ran the Boston Marathon, my wife handed my an Autism Speaks pin to wear during the race. Her message was that if our little girl could fight each and every day to interact with the world around her, then dammit, I could drag my butt up Heartbreak Hill even with my legs failing me. And when they did – I put my right hand over my heart where I was wearing the pin – I made it past Heartbreak Hill and finished with a Personal Record of nearly 25 minutes.

I now wear this pin to every road race I participate in. This simple token does two things:

  1. It gives me strength when my legs start to tire.
  2. It starts a conversation and helps me pull more people into my community of understanding.

I run, I write, I talk, and I walk for Autism Speaks because to quote one of my newest heroes, Autism Speaks’ Chief Science Officer, Geri Dawson, I want “A world in which suffering because of autism no longer exists.”

Several weeks ago, I had the privilege of listening to Dr. Dawson speak about the latest scientific breakthroughs and ongoing research initiatives that are being funded by events like this. During her talk she gave me something I had been struggling to find in the preceding weeks. We were having a particularly hard time and had let our fears for our baby’s future grab hold of us. But on the night that Dr. Dawson spoke, she gave me, us, the gift of hope.

The hope that “A world in which suffering because of autism no longer exists.” is possible.

“A world in which suffering because of autism no longer exists”

That is not only Autism Speaks’ mission statement, but also mine – not just for the sake of this dad’s little girl, but for all of our loved ones who live with autism every day.

Thank you for being here. Thank you for listening. Thank you for helping to make the world a better place for my little girl.

***

I would like to thank Jess for helping me turn my crude rough draft into a polished piece; Kelley Borer for inviting me to speak (I was convinced she was asking the wrong member of our family at first); Autism Speaks for helping make the future brighter; Randy Price for continuing to be a fixture at every Kick Off event and walk; and last but certainly not least the amazing people of the Teamsters Local 25, who have raised nearly $1,000,000.00 for Autism Speaks – Sean, Trish and Tom, you are Heroes in my book.

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Yesterday morning I went out for what the training schedule called a “dress rehearsal” run – 7 miles with 2 miles at Marathon Pace.  As crappy and as sporadic as this training cycle has been, I’m not sure why I’ve continued to stick to some of the training program, but there it us.

The temperature was already into the upper 70’s and the humidity was pushing 80% – not a good combination, but I figured it was “only” 7 miles – just get it done, I told myself.

The whole time I felt like I was running through molasses. Even when I ran my 2 marathon paced miles (15 seconds per mile too fast at 7:10 per mile), I felt sluggish.  What’s scaring me just a little is the fact that 24 hours later, the sluggish feeling hasn’t left me.  My legs aren’t sore, and they aren’t tight, but I just feel like I’m dragging, like no matter what I’m doing, I’m walking, pushing my way through molasses.  My legs just feel heavy.  What’s up with that?

Is this a new version of the phantom pains I’ve felt before every marathon?  That’s what I’m hoping anyway, because come Friday, I don’t know if I’ll have the strength to carry these two lead weights around a lake 8 times for 26.2 miles.

Any of you experience something similar?

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A couple of weeks ago, Dr. David Ludwig of Harvard Univerity suggested that morbidly obese children be removed from their parents custody because allowing these children to reach the sizes that they had was tantamount to child abuse.  I’m going to let that sink in for a minute.  Removal of a child from his or her own home because he or she is obese.

I have to admit, I initially had mixed feelings on this subject.

The undeniable truth is that this country has a weight problem.  When 2/3 of the population is overweight and 1/3 is obese, there is no arguing that.  I know there are “sticks-in-the-mud” out there that insist that nobody can tell them what to do or what to eat, but I can’t help but use an Palin-ism (God help me!) and think out loud, “how’s that working out for ya?”

We are squarely on the path toward a population that will suffer from higher rates of heart disease, diabetes, kidney failure, strokes and other weight related diseases all because we have this attitude of “You Can’t Tell Me What To Do!!!”  And you know what?  I hear that.  No one likes to be talked down to.  It’s not fun.

But reality is reality.  As simplistic and as dumb as that sounds, I think a lot of America misses that.  Want proof? Just go to your local Cineplex this weekend and watch the parade of those in denial walk by.  Stylistic preferences aside, you have to wonder, what kind of warped mirror are they looking at, if they are looking at a mirror at all, when they get dressed to go out.

But in all seriousness, have we reached the point where we have to take these children out of their homes and away from their parents?  and just what will happen to these kids when they are taken out of their homes?  where will they go?  will foster parents or the State do a better job of feeding these kids?  will they get them motivated to be physically active?

On top of that, what about situations where the weight gain isn’t necessarily food and activity related?  1 in 88 American boys has been diagnosed with autism.  Many of those boys will take a variety of drugs to manage anxiety, perseverative behaviors and other symptoms that often come with autism.  Some of these drugs, like risperidone, cause very noticeable weight gain.  Parents of autistic children must go through the heart-wrenching decision of whether the benefits of such drugs (the far out idea of actually being able to connect with your child) outweighs the side effects.  Would the good doctor take these kids away from their homes as well?

A much better and more global solution would be to educate families on what they are actually putting into themselves and into their children.  But that knowledge of what is quality nutrition and what is not only goes so far.  We as a society have to figure out how to overcome the food deserts that are embarrassingly popping up in this country.  How is it that the most powerful nation in the world can’t sustain a big chain grocery store in the proud city of Detroit?  How can parents expect to feed their children nutritious meals if they are forced to shop at the local bodega or 7-Eleven.  Knowing what to eat is pointless if it isn’t available or affordable.

If you want to argue cost, saying that you don’t want your money (tax dollars) paying for educating how others eat and move or incentivising the revitalization of food deserts, consider this: there is a freight train of diabetics and those riddled with heart disease hurtling our way.  When it arrives, there will be a huge cost – who do you think will be paying for the drugs these people need to take?  You will.  Who do you think will pay for the days that these people just can’t get to work?  You will.  Who do you think will pay when these people go on long-term disability when they are no longer able to work?  You will.  One way or another, whether it is through increased health insurance premiums or being asked to work longer and harder at your job, you will pay.  After that, when their hearts and bodies give out under the years of overworking, there will be the cost of losing these people to early deaths.

Is all of that still worth eating whatever you want, whenever you want?

But back to Dr. Ludwig.  To be fair, he was talking about those children who are on the extreme side of obesity – say a 16 year old kid weighing in at 555 lbs.  It is unimaginable to me that I would ever let either one of my daughters reach any where near that weight, BUT I also have relatively easy access to nutritious foods, incredible doctors and space to run and play.  Would I judge a parent in my community if they let their child reach those numbers?  Yeah, probably.  Would I take that child away from his or her home?  I don’t know.  If the parents were good friends, I would hope I would have the courage to advise them to seek help.

But what about communities where nutrition and play space may not be so readily available?  some that are not so far from where I live?  I think that is part of the problem with Dr. Ludwig’s suggestion – it doesn’t take into account the vast societal differences one can encounter simply moving from one neighborhood to another.

What’s the answer then?  I don’t know.  If I did, I’d be running for mayor and implementing a plan.  In the meantime, I can only encourage people to remain active (and to lead by example for the sake of their children) and be aware of what they put in their mouths.

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Manchester Marathon 2009 – Mile 20 – frozen quads.

Boston Marathon 2010 – Mile 20 – minor bonk.

Providence Marathon 2010 – Mile 1 – buckling knee.

New York City Marathon 2010 – Miles 5, 13, 20 and 22 – nausea and cramps.

Boston Marathon 2011 – Mile 17 – Major bonk.

The Ghosts of marathons past are rising up and swirling around me.

Knee twinge.

Back Spasm.

Foot pain.

The Phantom pains are emerging for their regular “1 week before the marathon” visit.

***

These Ghosts and Phantoms haunt me.  They sit on my shoulder and ask me questions like, “do you really want to run this marathon?”, “why are you going to put yourself through this?”, “are you ready for all of that pain?”, “are you ready to fail?”

These ghosts and phantoms are always there, but their voices get louder every time I am in the closing days of marathon training.  It doesn’t help that this training cycle has been a complete wash.  Most of the time their voices can be ignored, in part because during training, there is nothing “official” at stake.  But with one week to go these ghosts, these phantoms will not be ignored.  Every time I see another runner out there training, or I walk by my training log, or I see the current temperature outside, they make their noise.

But there are other ghosts…

***

Manchester Marathon 2009 – Mile 26.2 – 1st marathon!

Boston Marathon 2010 – Mile 26.2 – 1st Boston – PR!

Providence Marathon 2010 – Mile 26.2 – PR!

Smuttynose Marathon 2010 – All of it!  – PR & BQ!!!

New York City Marathon 2010 – Mile 26.2 – finishing despite the pain.

Boston Marathon 2011 – Miles 20 – 26.2 – drinking beer and chatting with friends as I jogged to the finish.

These are also ghosts and not all ghosts need to be scary.  Just like Glinda proved that not all witches are ugly or evil, these ghosts also shout out as next Friday night get closer and closer.  These are the ghosts I will choose to listen to.  Like I said, the training cycle for this upcoming marathon has been almost non-existent.  Who knows what kind of mojo I will bring to Wakefield.  If temperatures are what they are today, I will simply change my goals for race day, but as for now, I will continue to strive for 3:15 and hope the good ghosts of marathons past will help carry me to the finish.

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Back in August last year I wrote a post on posture, essentially saying that simply changing you posture could give you an instant makeover.

As I walked around a town I was vacationing in a couple of weeks ago I couldn’t help but wonder what has happened to America?  I should probably call my dad and a few people of his generation first, but the image I have of kids growing up in the 40’s and 50’s is a classroom with the strict teacher who insists on her students having perfect penmanship and even more importantly, perfect posture.

What has happened to this proud country that we have now become a nation of slouchers?  and it’s not just the kids these days either; it’s my generation and even my dad’s generation.

No wonder obesity levels are rocketing upward in this country.  Have you ever tried motivating yourself when you’re slouched over?  It’s hard!  But straighten that back, lift that head, fill that chest up with oxygen and a wonderful thing happens: Instant Change!

Suddenly you’re filled with energy, motivation, determination.

There are numerous factors that go into our overall health.  Nutrition and the regional availability of healthful food is a topic one could write volumes of books about; exercise, REGULAR exercise is another; as is sleep; but the spark to change has to start from within.  The desire has to be internal and quite honestly, I can’t imagine that there is much desire to motivate, much spark, when we are in a slouched position.

At one point, while sitting on a wall and having an ice cream with Brooke, I watched the crowds walk by.  To my dismay, out of 30 people that walked by us at one point, not one, NOT ONE, was standing proud, head held high.  In fact, some appeared to have entered into a perma-slouch, with their heads bent forward at the shoulders and craned up at the top of the neck.  How can anyone expect to be active walking through life like that?

Now granted, some people have medical conditions that they were born with – this post is not about those people.  This post is about the young moms and dads I see at my daughters’ school when I go to pick them up, almost all of whom have lousy, I mean absolutely lousy posture.  This post is about the kids who slouch in front of a screen for hours a day.

I don’t know what the answer is, but my theory is that part of why we are seeing more and more overweight kids is that we’re not reminding them to sit up and stand up straight.  It’s hard, I know, especially if you haven’t done it in a long time for long periods of time, but I wonder – I wonder what would happen if teachers re-introduced the concept of sitting up straight in class, would we see a change in our kids?  Every time I’ve been in my daughters’ school on PTO business, I make a point of walking by my kids’ classes just to peek in, and you know what? these kids are doing their work or reading with their heads on their desks, sprawled out, their bodies like jello.  I have a hard time believing that one feels motivated when one is essentially lounging.

Posture, for most of us, is much like how we choose to eat.  Going on a diet really doesn’t do a lot for you long term.  Changing the way you eat can change your life.  Posture is the same.  Good posture needs to be a life-style change, a long-term choice.

And I am betting that if you really start to live with your head held up, your shoulders back and your back straight, you’re gonna see an instant change.  You’ll increase the volume of your lungs, which will increase the amount of oxygen you take in, which will give you more energy, which may spark some motivation, which just might get you off the couch or away from the desk for a nice, brisk walk (or even better a run!).

How’s your posture?

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This past weekend the family and I drove to Western Massachusetts; the week before we drove to Maine for a weekend of hanging with the Bushes in Kennebunkport (okay, so maybe we didn’t actually hang with the Bushes); two weeks before that Jess & I drove to White Plains, NY and back in one day – now quick, if a vehicle is traveling at 65 miles per hour and is 20 miles from their exit, how long will it take for them to arrive at said exit?  OR  if they are traveling at 71 miles per hour and are 31 miles from their destination, approximately how long until they arrive?

What do traveling on the highway and a flashback to primary school math word problems have to do with running?

***

I have written extensively about the benefits of running – weight loss, lower blood pressure, healthier heart, increased energy, an awesome community, runner’s high, just to name a few.  Well, it’s time to add one more entry.  Quite honestly, I only realized this a couple of weeks ago, but I know I have been experiencing it for quite some time now.  Over the last couple of years I discovered that long road trips had become easier. It wasn’t because the kids were getting older.  It wasn’t because Jess would stay awake to keep me company (she doesn’t – she’s like a baby – you start driving and within short order she is sound asleep).  It wasn’t because I finally found a good travel coffee mug (though I do find it indispensible!).

No, it wasn’t for any of the reasons above.  You wanna know why long road trips, specifically the driving, became easier?

Because I run.

That’s right, running and marathon training have helped my endurance in that family duty that can make any man question his sanity – the family road trip.

How you may ask?

Well, you may recall that in almost every marathon I have run there has come a point when I started doing math in my head.  It’s not random math mind you, but math with a purpose.  During the last third of just about any race I will constantly be calculating and re-calculating how fast I need to go to achieve the overall time I am trying to hit – the end of my Boston Qualifying run at Smuttynose was spent rolling the numbers over and over again, making sure I crossed that finish line in 3:20 or better.  Boston 2011 was spent watching my attempt at 3:10 and then 3:15 slip away like sand through an hour glass.  Maybe I do it to distract me from the pain at the time, maybe I do it simply to stay engaged, but whatever the reason, my endurance is tied to doing mathematical mental gymnastics throughout a race.

So how does this tie into driving? Quite nicely actually.

By simply adding a factor of 10, I get almost a straight correlation between my running and my driving.  If I am on a twisting back road where I know I will average about 30 – 40 miles per hour, I know that I will cover 10 miles in 15 – 20 minutes (a brisk walk).  Likewise, if I’m on the highway, I know that 60 miles per hours yields a 10 minute/10 mile pace (a slow jog); 65 mph? 9:13; 70 mph? 8:34 (both fall into the long, slow distance category); 75 mph? 8:00; and if I’m lucky enough to be in a flow of traffic that is moving at 80 mph? That 10 mile pace drops all the way to 7:30 (marathon pace, baby!).  All of the studying of the pace charts I did before every marathon has paid off in making the long drives of the family road just a little easier to deal with.

Anything shorter than 260 miles now seems easy.  And once I get within 60 miles of our destination? Forget about it! It’s like running a 10K – done before you know it!

So the next time you go on a lengthy road trip, bring your water bottle, stash a couple of GU’s in your pocket and make sure you’re wearing the proper attire – oh, and don’t forget to stretch!

Oh, and the answers to the above word problems were 18:27 and 26:06.

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