Thursday, December 31, 2009


Tonight at midnight, 2010 comes marching in. This year will be a busy one, with many changes and challenges, but as in past years I know that I can rely on running to keep me sane. I have been grasping around for a goal now that I’ve proven to myself that I am still capable of going the distance in the marathon, but I’m having trouble finding something sufficiently interesting and challenging. There was a time this past year that I became enamored with ultrarunning and thought that I’d like to take on the challenge of a 50 mile race, but the memory of the last six miles of the Philadelphia Marathon are too fresh for me to even contemplate a feat of that magnitude. Plus, ultras require an investment of time that I just don’t have. I was able to squeeze my marathon training in despite a work schedule that had me in the air for 40,000 miles this year, but I doubt I could pull off the kind of training required for an ultra without sacrificing more sleep than I’m physically prepared to part with. I think I’ll plan on a couple of ½ marathons this spring and decide mid-year whether I want to train for Philadelphia again in the hopes of getting into Boston for the following April. We’ll see.

I tend to divide my New Years resolutions into different categories. Physically, I plan on maintaining fitness, continuing weight training and adhering to the schedule noted above. Diet-wise I would like to try to cut refined sugar completely from my diet and try to eat locally, join a CSA and limit my consumption of refined foods. Staying healthy is very important when you’re an older Dad and have to keep up with two energetic young boys. I also resolve to take the boys out into nature as often as possible, including more camping trips and hiking excursions. I think we’ll all benefit from the experiences.

I don’t see too much happening on the job front this coming year. Hopefully everything in that area will remain status quo. I have some big personal events that will happen this year, including a marriage and the purchase of a house and a car. Not resolutions, exactly, but anticipated events nonetheless. While I am not an overtly religious man, it is my sincere prayer that everyone in my family will remain happy and healthy, and it is that self-same wish that I extend to you, dear readers, as we venture forth into the new year.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Winter Arrives

Winter came a few days early this year, blanketing the Island in snow and forcing the world to momentarily pause and consider frivolous things like sleds and hot cocoa. I was out in the driveway at seven, shovel in hand, ready to make short work of the blowing and drifting snow while getting a full-body workout. J and D came out with me but swiftly retreated to the warmth of the living-room when they discovered that it was fairly challenging to walk through drifts that came up to their armpits. In their eyes it was better to wait until daddy created some serpentine paths through the driveway, rather then explore the wilderness of the back yard unaided.

While watching the snow pile up around the windows late Saturday I was resigned to skipping my Sunday run-the gym was probably closed and the roads looked a little dicey-but the town’s monster plow eventually made it down our street and as I was finishing shoveling out the car, a solitary runner trotted by in the snow. I finished the driveway and laced up my sneakers. I headed out for five blissful miles on quiet roads, unmolested by traffic other than the occasional truck with front-mounted plow. Running on snow is akin to running on sand, albeit a touch easier since the snow on the road was already fairly well compacted. The physical exertion was minor compared to the sheer joy of hopping around in the white stuff. I hope we get a lot more storms this season.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Runner's High-Part 2

After perusing the dark corners of the internet in between doing my actual work, I’ve concluded that there is a wealth of information about how running supposedly aids in alleviating depression. A number of studies done over the last few years provide compelling support for the proposition that aerobic exercise, and running in particular, can be as effective as pharmaceuticals in treating mild to moderate depression.

A study in the January 2005 issue of the Journal of Preventive Medicine suggested that a half-hour a day of exercise six days a week is roughly the amount needed to trigger the anti-depressive effect. The study compared two groups of depressed patients and found that the first group, which performed only 80 minutes of exercise a week, received little to no mental-health benefits. However, the second group which logged 3 hours per week of aerobic exercise had a substantial reduction in symptoms. The study concluded that "the response and remission rates in the (three-hours-per-week) group are comparable to other depression treatments, such as medication or cognitive behavioral therapy." It seems to me that runners, who often train far in excess of three hours per week, would obviously derive the full benefits, while the average 3x per week gym rat’s cardio work-out couldn’t deliver the goods.

What no one is really sure of is how it works. There is speculation that endorphins are released during exercise (“runners high”) and that they act as mood elevators. However, studies in the early 1980s cast doubt on the relationship. One study found that when an antagonist was introduced that blocked neuron receptors, the same changes in mood state occurred as when the person exercised with no blocker. So maybe endorphins have nothing to do with it.

Moving forward, a 2003 Georgia Tech study found that runner's high might be caused by the release of another naturally produced chemical, anandamide (a cannaboid) The authors suggest that the body produces this chemical to deal with prolonged stress and pain from strenuous exercise. However, no cognitive effects were observed when it was released so it’s doubtful it has any association with depression.

Just to confuse matters further, in 2008, German researchers using PET scans combined with recently available chemicals that reveal endorphins in the brain, were able to compare runners’ brains before and after a run and discovered that endorphins were indeed produced during the exercise and were attaching themselves to areas of the brain associated with emotions (limbic and prefrontal areas).
Scientists are now suggesting that endorphins work together with epinephrine, serotonin, dopamine and other chemicals to produce the physical and cognitive benefits associated with the runners high and the commensurate decrease in symptoms of depression.

What I was unable to find was a study that looked at what happens when someone using exercise as a depression treatment suddenly stops exercising. I also wonder whether the depression reduction effect turns into something approaching euphoria at the level of the ultra-marathon runner, and whether a sudden cessation of training in the aftermath of a big race has the potential to send the participant into a depression spiral, possibly triggering a suicide attempt. I’ll keep looking.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Runners High

Dean Karnazes, the Ultra Marathon Man has a blog on that he updates with, how shall I put it charitably, less frequency than yours truly. Frankly, I wonder where the man finds the time to write at all, since most of his waking hours are taken up with running excruciatingly long distances in various inhospitable parts of the world. Nevertheless, Dean does find time to write and his most recent entry on the suicide of his friend, another ultrarunner, seems to have touched a nerve in the running community. One paragraph that stuck out to me contained the assertion that “Endurance athletes can be prone to depression. We experience great emotional highs from doing what we love, but the post-event lows can sometimes be correspondingly devastating.”

I’ve been thinking about this for a few days. Apparently so have many other readers of, who have been moved to comment with their own stories of overcoming tremendous adversity through the act of running. I have absolutely no science to back this up, but there seem to be a disproportionate number of runners who defend the physical and psychological benefits of this sport with the type of zeal usually seen in Amway salesmen and Jehovah Witnesses. I count myself among them. If it weren’t for me discovering running some 20 years ago, I would probably be taking medication for depression and buying my clothes in the tall and fat store. I rarely, if ever, see this sort of gratitude to a sport expressed by people who ride stationary bikes or rock the elliptical at the gym. So what is it about running? Why does running seem to stimulate the brain and at the same time render one calm and focused? On the other hand, why can it, as in the case of Dean’s friend, exacerbate depression? I suspect the answer lies in brain chemistry-neurotransmitters. Hopefully over the next few days I can take a look at some science and let you all know what I come up with. Meanwhile, take a look at some of the comments appended to Dean’s blog. Very interesting.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Sugar Rant

As part of the work that I do managing high dollar value civil litigation, I often hire law firms to handle cases all across the country. This ensures that around holiday time, little gifts of very fattening foods from those lucky firms start to arrive in the mail on a daily basis. Today I received a box of fairly high-end chocolates embossed with the firm’s name on each piece. Yesterday it was a large box of cookies. One firm always sends a 5 pound box of peanuts. It doesn’t let up until a few days before Christmas. Although I usually put the stuff out for the rest of the office, I have co-workers who are doing the same thing, so there is often a buffet of fatty, sugary snacks located smack in the middle of the office. I like to eat. I admit it. However, the rest of the year I can control what goes into my mouth because I work in a building located in the middle of the New Jersey swamps; there isn’t a decent store anywhere nearby. Anything I want to eat I have to bring from home. Thanks to the gym in the building I don’t gain a huge amount of weight every year, but for the whole month of December I find myself walking around either hyper from too much sugar, or crashing from its absence. I feel like a Christmas cookie drug addict. Ok, I’m off to feed the habit. Bye.

Friday, December 4, 2009


I think I’m getting a cold. I'm a little achy, a little congested, a little tired. Either that, or I’ve suddenly lost the ability to run four miles without feeling like I need to sit down and rest for a while. My legs still feel like lead, and perhaps more ominously, my HR was in the upper 130s at an 8:34 pace with no incline. These are classic overtraining symptoms. I suspect that I haven’t been attentive to my recovery from the marathon, despite the four milers and elliptical work-outs I’ve tossed in this past week. Maybe I need a day of complete inactivity to deal with the cold and the tiredness. I suppose this is what Saturdays are for, though with the kids I’m never inactive for more than, oh, a minute or so.

I need to go chop down a Christmas tree. That doesn’t sound too strenuous. Perhaps a walk around the Dickens festival in Port Jefferson. But no running, really. Scout’s honor.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

A Bit of a Stretch

I have always been suspicious of stretching. From my earliest days as a runner I couldn’t for the life of me see how stretching a muscle before or after a work-out could reduce the risk of injury. If anything, it seemed to me that pulling a muscle was something that happened to you, not something you’d willingly undertake as an injury preventive. After taking a few yoga classes, I came to see the benefits of stretching in increased flexibility and range of motion. Yet it still seemed to me that the amount of time necessary to engage in a yoga class or comprehensive stretching program was out of proportion to the limited benefits. I currently have no formal stretching routine. I also have never been injured, or should I say, I never sustained an injury that would have been prevented by stretching.

A week or so ago, the New York Times Well blog had a posting that reviewed recent scientific studies pertaining to stretching. The conclusion? Researchers now believe that stretching is not only a waste of time, but might actually be bad for you. Stretching, the studies conclude, may actually weaken muscles rather than strengthen them, and your flexibility and range of motion is likely genetically predetermined and cannot be expanded without tremendous effort.

“In a recent study conducted at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, athletes generated less force from their leg muscles after static stretching than they did after not stretching at all. Other studies have found that this stretching decreases muscle strength by as much as 30 percent. Also, stretching one leg’s muscles can reduce strength in the other leg as well, probably because the central nervous system rebels against the movements.”

Unfortunately, the study doesn’t distinguish between pre- and post- workout stretching, and many runners I know forgo the former but religiously engage in the latter. I feel somewhat validated in my non-stretching position, but I still wonder whether as I venture further into my 40s I should be worried more about flexibility than performance on the road. Thoughts?

Monday, November 30, 2009

Recovery II

A reduced running schedule the week of Thanksgiving is a difficult thing. On the one hand, recovery from the marathon requires a certain amount of compulsory inactivity, on the other hand, apply/blueberry crumb pie. Achieving balance is tricky. This year I made it through Thanksgiving week without stuffing myself fuller than the turkey, but I was also less active than usual. By Thursday morning I was trotting down the road at a 10+ minute mile pace, happy to be moving forward on healing legs, however slowly. Four miles seemed quite enough. Friday was more of the same. Saturday found me in better stead, and I bumped up the speed a little and added a mile. Sunday was a 5 miler at a nine minute mile.Getting there.

This week I plan on making use of the elliptical for a few days and perhaps doing an 8 miler towards the end of the week to aid recovery and keep up my fitness while I try to decide on a new goal. I have a suspicion that things are going to be busy at work and home for a while, so I think I’m going to stay on point and focus on bettering my time in the ½ marathon as well as taking to the trails at the nature preserve near the house for some cross-country running. By mid-January I’ll probably be thinking about a spring marathon, but I’m not going to make any commitments right now.

The week-end was restful and full of family activities. We took the boys into the City on Friday to see the Samurai exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and I got all the exterior Christmas lights up. We also cooked a big pot of stew and a chicken and olive tagine. The weather has been perfect for outdoor activities, but I know the deep freeze is lurking somewhere around the corner. Fortunately, I think work is going to take me to San Diego a couple of times over the next few months so I’ll get to enjoy some southern California weather and a few runs along the waterfront. I’ll be back tomorrow with a post on stretching, or something like that.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009


Here's a couple of me after the race. You can see how painful kneeling was for me after the finish by the way I'm holding onto the stroller with a death grip.


Training for and running the marathon was hard, but I’m finding the recovery part harder. I am unaccustomed to being idle and I’m chafing to get back out on the road and log some miles. A friend of mine who regularly runs 3 hour marathons at age 42 has been urging me to take off an entire week or two to let the muscles heal. That’s what he does and it makes him a faster, better runner. Intellectually, I know he’s right, but I’m an endorphin junky and I’m starting to get antsy without my fix.

I decided after the marathon that I would forgo running until the day I could walk down the stairs in my house without feeling any pain in my knees, hip or quads. Today was not that day. I’m definitely on the mend, but I think I need at last another two days before I can resume even light running without risk of injury. Ordinarily I would hit up the elliptical or stationary bike just to keep active, but I don’t belong to a gym yet in my new town and I’m off work until next Monday (no office gym) so my options are limited. I think tomorrow I’ll propose a pre-Thanksgiving walk in the nature preserve near the house. Walking is healthy, I hear. Happy Thanksgiving everyone.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Philadelphia Marathon Race Report

I woke with a start and peered at the clock. 5:15am. I swung my legs out of the hotel bed and quietly got dressed. It took me a while to figure out a way to pin on my number and stow my Clif Shots (like GU but made with brown rice syrup) in the new fanny pack that I bought at the expo the night before. I got it all sorted out, kissed Erin and made my way down to Broad Street, where I joined an unusually silent procession of runners who were heading towards the Marathon starting line at the other end of Ben Franklin Parkway. Philly has a lot of hotels and they were all seemingly disgorging their lycra clad guests at the same time. The distance to the starting line from the Doubletree on Broad Street is a mile and a half, and there is no way to get there by public transportation. Along the way I ate some sort of energy bar and worried about the lines for the port-o-johns.

6:15am I was waiting on one of those lines. At 6:30pm I was waiting again. Nerves, I guess. I found the 3:50 pace group which was inexplicably lined up in the gray corral, rather then the green corral. Slight panic. Made the first of several mental adjustments. (Incidentally, the weather was perfect. 42 degrees at the start and it didn’t get above 55 for the duration of the race) 7:00, we’re off! Or not. This year the race started in waves so it was closer to 7:20 when we crossed the starting line and I hit the button on my Garmin. I had pockets full of Cliff Shots, and a bracelet on my right wrist that had the splits for every mile printed on it for a 3:50 finish (courtesy of Cliff). This would prove valuable once I lost the pace group.

The first 5 miles were along narrow Philadelphia streets that had been designed and built  back in the days when Ben Franklin was still a dandy around town. Unfortunately, the staggered starts didn’t do much to reduce the crowds. I felt more like I was running with the bulls in Pamplona than with runners in Philadelphia. (I must pause here to take note of the fact that there were many, many runners who completely overestimated their abilities, started in the first corral, and became lumbering obstacles to everyone behind them by the time they hit the wall at mile three.) Around mile 5 I slowed down at a water stop and saw an open port-o-san. I let the pace group go, peed, then ran a 7:38 mile to catch up with the pace group. Stupid, I know, and I paid for it later.

At Mile 6 I spied Erin and the boys at the corner of Chestnut and Broad. I gave Erin a kiss, tossed her my hat and gloves and continued up Chestnut towards West Philly. I was feeling good and the crowds just before the bridge were very energetic. The race then entered University City and climbed a long gradual uphill towards Drexel University. I passed by some Drexel frat houses at mile 7 or 8 and noted that the kids had probably been up since the night before, and in any event, were clearly wasted. A particularly cheerful bunch were blasting music and offering swigs of beer from a gallon milk jug. I declined.

Another hill greeted us as we passed the zoo and entered Fairmont Park. My legs were starting to protest when we came out of the park and headed back to the Parkway at the 13.1 mile marker. The ½ marathon peeled off at this point and the marathoners headed up Kelly Drive towards the town of Manayunk where the turn-around was. I let the 3:50 group peel away at mile 14 and they quickly pulled away. I couldn’t understand it, because I was hitting my splits pretty dead on yet they were running a pace that was much faster than 8:47. I later realized Clif promises that the pacers will get their group to the finish line 2 minutes faster than the advertised pace time, and they run negative splits for the first half of the race.

The lead racers started passing me coming from the opposite direction as I got to mile 16. They were cruising. I was not. I briefly rallied when I noticed that one of the lead runners  was a 60 year old man wearing a pink ballerina outfit, but it didn’t last. The route from mile 15-20 follows along the Schuylkill River and is fairly devoid of spectators. I put on my I-Pod at mile 18 and grimly soldiered on.

As I entered Manayunk I grabbed a small glass of beer that was offered by the local Hash-House Harriers club and downed it. It tasted pretty good considering it was warm Yeungling and I had had nothing to eat but Clif Shots and water for the previous three hours. I made the turn-around at the 20 mile mark and headed back down the river. I was dying. The last six miles totally sucked. My knees and ankles were killing me and my pace started creeping up to over a 9:00/mile. Every time it did I sped up which made it hurt even more.

At mile 22 I saw a runner power-vomiting on a tree off the side of the road. The EMT’s pulled up seconds later and carted him away. At that moment I would have given the rest of my energy gels to grab a few seconds of rest on the backboard his unconscious body was strapped to.

I passed through a gauntlet of cheering spectators and hit the finish line in 1:51.07. The guy next to me promptly passed out, fell over and was dragged out of the chute. I picked up my medal and a bottle of water, found Erin and the kids in the crowd and limped back to the hotel for a shower. It had been an unbelievable day and a great race. Thank you, Philadelphia, for reminding this old goat that he can still get up the mountain every once and a while.

Sunday, November 22, 2009


I completed the Philadelphia Marathon in 3:51.08. The end was tough, but isn't it always? I'll have a full race report tomorrow, but right now I'm working on a plate of tacos. Mmmm. Tacos.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Parting Thoughts

Well, I'm putting the kids in the car and heading down to Philly. The race is tomorrow. I've had a case of the taper worm these last few days and have been eating a lot, but I've been trying to keep it on the healthy side. Today I'll hit the expo, pick up my bib, take the kids to the Please Touch museum and get a good night's sleep. Tomorrow after the race, it's a trip to John's Roast Pork for a cheesesteak. I feel pretty good, albeit a bit nervous. See you on the other side of 26.2.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Palin on Running

A long time ago, during the reign of King George Bush II, I was the author of a lefty political blog. I was an extremely vociferous blogger, the very epitome of the angry crank in the basement. I sat at my desk firing my slings and arrows hither and yon, striking out at anyone who didn’t agree with my own peculiar brand of anarcho-libertarian-progressivism. During the last election a particular target of my ire was Sarah Palin, the erstwhile Governer of Alaska and former vice-presidential nominee. Sarah was, to be fair, an easy target. To compound the fact that she lacked a certain intellectual rigor, she also suffered from that peculiar Republican tendency to dig in your heels during the discussion of an important issue despite the fact that the position you’re taking is patently absurd.

Well, Sarah has a new book out and the publicity machine is cranking away, ensuring that every time we open a paper or turn on the news we’re greeted with a picture of the former Ms. Wassila’s sunny face and chirpy banter. Palin’s current complaint about the media centers around a picture of her on the cover of Newsweek, (at left) apparently taken during a photo shoot for Runners World. Wait, WHAT? Apparently the controversial photo was shot for the August 2009 issue, which featured Palin in the monthly “I’m a Runner” column.

I headed on over to Runners World’s web site to read the interview, which I found completely fascinating. Apparently Palin has been running regularly for 35 years, and in 2005 ran a sub four-hour marathon (The 2005 Humpy's Marathon in Anchorage). One of her greatest frustrations she had during the campaign (besides Katie Couric, I assume) was that the McCain staff wouldn't adjust her schedule so she could fit in a run. As she put it, “The days never went as well if I couldn't get out there and sweat.”

Although it kills me to say this, my opinion of Palin has just inched up a couple of notches. She cites George Sheehan as one of her favorite authors and answered a question about what running has taught her about politics this way: “Same thing it's taught me about life: You have to have determination and set goals, and you don't complain when something's hurting because no one wants to hear it.” Ain’t it the truth.

Finally, Palin on running in general: “It doesn't matter your background, your demographics, your race, your political affiliation—it's such a uniting, healthy, fun, awesome activity…we're all there together and we're smiling and we're having a good time because we're going to do something healthy and active. We need more of that. That's what sports are able to do. It's a wonderful kind of diversion from the divisiveness that is politics or that is life.” Amen, Sarah. Keep that in mind, ok?

Tuesday, November 17, 2009


Anyone who runs long distances and has a family life outside running, eventually encounters tension between the demands of the sport and the responsibility of being a full-time parent or partner. Let’s face it, distance running requires a certain amount of discipline and training which take up time that could be spent doing other things. With the paucity of free time most of us have to spare for anything other than work, conflicts on how to best utilize that time are bound to arise.

Some of us are lucky-I have access to a gym (with a shower) at work and I’m able to log 25 miles per week on the treadmill during my lunch hour-but not everyone has that luxury. I’m also fortunate to have a family that understands that running makes me a better person, and by extension, a better father and partner. I think that is the key. It is imperative for the runner to communicate to his or her family the depth of commitment to the running lifestyle in a way that makes sense to non-runners. This isn’t easy. Runners tend to be fiercely dedicated to the sport in a way that elliptical jockeys simply aren’t. Putting on a light coat and heading out to run in the driving rain or snow seems totally insane to most people, yet it makes perfect sense to me, as I’d imagine it does to most runners. Put simply, I have to get out there and put in the miles the same way I have to drink water or eat. Running keeps me fit, gives me the mental acuity to solve seemingly intractable problems, clears my head and improves my mood. It is meditation in motion, poetry in physical form.

Running is such a part of my identity that I can’t even imagine life without it. I would willingly get up at 4am, in the winter, to run in the dark, rather than push it aside in the name of time constraints. Of course, I love my family and would do anything for them. I’d give up running in a heartbeat for them if they asked-but because of how much it means to me, I know they never would.

I think I do a decent job balancing the demands of family life with running. It is easier for me because my family is incredibly supportive-they come to my races and cheer me on in all kids of nasty weather. Could I do better? I suppose one could always do better. I strive for balance. You'll have to ask them if I've managed to achieve it.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Six Days to Go

Six days remain until the Philadelphia Marathon. I ran 4 miles on the treadmill at lunch today, the shortest distance I’ve run since 2007. For some odd reason I’ve also dropped 5 pounds in the last few weeks. This is encouraging, although seemingly without reason. I gained that same five pounds over the course of the last six months as I increased my mileage and concurrently, my eating. Perhaps the last three weeks of decreased mileage also decreased my appetite or something. Whatever, I’m not going to worry about it.

My plan for after the race is to decrease mileage to 20 or 25 a week and see if I get back to my fighting weight of 178 which is where I was before I started racking up the miles. I also think I want to spend more time in the gym this winter, working on strength training with an eye towards trying some triathlons. I love running but I think I’m a little burnt from this training cycle.

I have an addictive personality, which is great for training routines that require high mileage. Unfortunately I also tend to push myself pretty hard towards the outer limits of my physical abilities, and end up overtraining. One this race is over I can go back to being a normal neurotic runner and leave the high mileage to the young kids.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Pacing Myself

I got my final confirmation email from the Philadelphia Marathon yesterday. Based on my anticipated finish time I have been assigned to the “grey” corral. At the time I submitted my race application I put down an estimated finish time of 4 hours, but I’ve decided to run with the Clif Bar Pace Crew and try to finish in 3:50. I therefore have to change my position to start in the “green” corral. According to the email this should be a simple process to accomplish at the expo. I like the idea of running with a pace group. Who better to run the race with than others who share your goal and level of fitness? I ran with the 3:50 group for a few miles last year when I was competing in the ½ marathon. The pacer was pretty entertaining.

I can’t believe the race is next week-end. I am starting to get a little nervous. Instead of worrying about the race I should probably be looking for things for the kids to do on Saturday. The race I can handle; two kids in Philly without some planned activities, maybe not.
Past week:
S: 6
M: 5
T: 5
W: 5
Th: 8
Fr: 5
Sat: Off
Total: 34

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Calories Out

Runner’s World has an intriguing Peak Performance blog entry up which discusses the amount of calories burned by various exercises like running, biking, walking and swimming. I was always under the impression that whether you ran or walked a mile, the energy expenditure was the same-roughly 100 calories. Apparently that isn’t the case. Running actually burns about 30 percent more calories per mile than walking, because running involves a completely different form of locomotion than walking. Runners "hop" or "bounce" across the ground, while walkers skim along without raising their center of gravity. All that hopping burns a lot of extra calories. There is a handy chart in the article that compares the exercises. For simplicity sake, in running, your gross calorie burn per mile = .75 x wt in lbs. For walking, it = .57 x wt in lbs. So a 175 pound runner burns approximately 130 calories per mile. Hand me another granola bar.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Two Weeks to Go

I ended up running 14 on Saturday and I wasn’t feeling it. Dragged my rear the whole way and my legs felt like cement. I probably should have gone with my instincts, knocked it back to 10 and took Sunday off, but I ended up running 6 yesterday at an average pace of 9:15. I’m definitely overtraining. Thank god it’s time to start the taper. Hopefully after two weeks of moderate mileage I’ll be back in fighting form. My concern now is food intake. I’ve been eating everything in sight since my mileage has exceeded 35/week and I’ve actually gained a few pounds during the training cycle. I’ll be monitoring my intake much more closely and I have decided to skip my evening glass (or 2) of red wine until after the race. That decision will make the next two weeks feel far longer than they actually will be. Sacrifice is good for the soul, I suppose.
Last week:
S: Off
M: 5 speed
T: 5
W: 5
Th: 6 tempo
Fr: 5
Sat: 14 (8:53 pace)
Total: 40

Wednesday, November 4, 2009


My babysitter just asked me for the day off tomorrow to go on a job interview, which torpedoes my chance of getting in a long run during the week. Instead I’ll be home with my son, entertaining him while simultaneously trying to get work done. He’s almost three years old and can’t quite comprehend why I have to do work on the computer rather than play with him in the park all morning. Frankly, I’d rather play in the park with him all morning, but the boss wouldn’t understand.

I suppose if it’s a nice day I can pump up the tires on the baby-jogger and get out there for 5 or 6. I haven’t used that thing for a while. When J. was a little baby I used to take him for runs in Silver Lake Park every week-end. We both appreciated the fresh air and got to know each other better. I remember thinking that his legs would never get long enough to reach the footrest at the bottom of the stroller-now they hang below it. Time passes so quickly. Less than three weeks to the Philly Marathon.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Meb Keflezighi

Perhaps it shouldn’t surprise me that Mebrahtom Keflezighi’s win at the New York marathon has become controversial. Even though Meb, an American citizen who immigrated to the United States at age 12, never ran a step before he was trained in running programs here in the US, there have been a number of people who are questioning whether he is “American enough” to claim victory under the hallowed flag of our forefathers.

Most criticism I’ve read of the people espousing this view point to racism as the explanation, but I have my doubts. I think the post 9-11 xenophobia cultivated over the 8 years of the Bush administration is more to blame. Hey, Meb has a funny name and he was born somewhere else. This alone makes him suspect to the legions of red state mouth-breathers who’s closest brush with a marathon was probably when they passed by their TV Sunday morning on their way to the kitchen for another plate of biscuits and gravy.

In North America, except for the Native Americans, everybody is an immigrant. My grandfather came to this country from the ass end of Poland in 1918, became an American citizen and worked his tail off so his kids could have a better life. He would have scratched his head at the idea of someone criticizing someone who has been here for 20 years as not “American” enough. As someone pointed out in a letter responding to the Times article on this subject, “All the comments about when you become a REAL American miss the point. A country of immigrants should be thrilled to see that one person of recent immigration succeed.” And so I am.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Shoe Fetish

Despite my recent affinity for minimalist-shoe running, I went out and bought a new pair of Saucony Pro-Grid Guide II running shoes yesterday. I figured this is the last possible week I could buy a pair of shoes and have them sufficiently broken in by race day. My last pair was disintegrating on my feet and had, by my estimation 1,120 miles on them. It was time to say good-bye.

For the last couple of months I’ve been switching between my old Sauconys and my Nike Frees. I’ve never had the guts to take the Frees on a run longer than 7 miles. While I agree intellectually with the minimalist shoe philosophy advocated by Chris McDougall in his well researched book, Born to Run, I was too chicken to try a 15 miler on the Frees. Don’t get me wrong, I love those shoes-they fit like a glove, or rather, a sock, and I feel like my feet have benefited from all the exercise they have been getting that they don’t get in regular running shoes. They are pretty comfortable to boot. Nevertheless, modern roadways are not the plains of the Serengeti and I am not a subsistence hunter. So, I took a trip to Dicks and tried on a few pairs of Sauconys. (I love that brand and have been wearing them almost continuously since 1990. Anyone remember the Jazz 3000? You can buy it today for $19.95, although it was state of the art in the 1980s).

Today at lunch I slipped on the new kicks and knocked off a brisk five on the treadmill at lunch. What a difference! I forgot how good a fresh pair of shoes feels on the feet. Can’t wait to do 15 in them later on this week.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Marathon Sunday

Here in NY, 40,000 people are making their way to Staten Island right now to run the marathon. Good luck to everyone running. I'll be watching the festivities on TV from the comfort of my couch. Ran 20 yesterday so I'm taking the day off. I'm allowing myself more rest days as the race gets closer. I have a tendency towards overtraining that I need to rein in or I'll get injured.

That last 20 miler was tough yesterday. No obvious pain anywhere, just general pain everywhere. I was slightly faster than last week, averaging 8:53 per mile. If I can maintain that over the last 10k, then I'll have a sub-4 hour finish in Philadelphia in three weeks. We'll see.

Friday, October 30, 2009

I got two flu shots on Wednesday and I’ve been feeling a little achy ever since. I’m not sure whether I am just catching what Jack and Erin have had for the last few weeks or if this is the result of the vaccines. I suppose the cause doesn’t matter as much as the effect.

I’m taking the day off from running because I want to get out there tomorrow and get in a 20 miler before trick-or-treating. The marathon is only three weeks away and I need to get in one more very long run before I begin to taper. Hopefully a mellow day and a good night’s rest will recharge the batteries enough for me to get out there and rock the run.

Su: 6
M: 5 (speed)
T: 5
W: 6 Tempo
Th: 5
Fr: off
Sat: 20
Total: 47

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Some Thoughts on Training

I was reading some articles on the net that discussed the tragic deaths of three runners at the Detroit ½ marathon last week-end. Many of the experts interviewed in various media outlets thought the cluster was a statistical aberration and not a result of any changed circumstances that would raise the mortality rate for marathon participants above the current level of roughly 1-in-50,000 to 1-in-75,000. Nevertheless some interesting facts have emerged which make me wonder whether insufficient training was implicated.

According to an article at Live Science, “among people who properly train for a marathon and work their body up to such a peak performance, heart failure is very rare.” Fair enough.

Although the friends and family of the men said they had trained for the 13.1-mile race and were in great shape, from what I’ve been able to garner from news reports, this might not have been exactly accurate.
Brown, the oldest fatality in Detroit at age 65, usually ran the full marathon, but decided this year to join his wife in the shorter event. "He'd had some health problems which weren't related to running. He wasn't in the best of shape," said Allman, president of the River City Runners Club in Parkersburg, W. Va.

Langdon (36), another fatality, was apparently going the full marathon distance and had run half marathons before, but he hadn't trained for a full marathon, said his mother-in-law, Deborah Windish.

Fenlon (26) the youngest casualty, “jogged and weightlifted” and was apparently healthy. He had no history of heart disease, according to his mother, Laura Fenlon. Fenlon had been training with his girlfriend since June for Sunday's race, said his mother, "They had been running like six miles," she said. (Six miles?)

The three runners in Detroit are among a cluster of seven deaths since early September in prominent ½ marathons and marathons. If it turns out that the other’s training was implicated, one has to question whether too many runners are attempting marathons without being fully prepared.

I found this from the San Jose Mercury News: “J.T. Service, the race director for Sunday's Dean Karnazes Silicon Valley Marathon, described the recent tragedies as a "wake-up call" for event organizers — and perhaps runners, too.

"I'm not sure, but sometimes people might not be ready for what they're getting themselves into," added Service, an elite marathoner himself… Hard-core marathoners have been joined on the pavement by people of all shapes, sizes and ages who view events more as challenging fun runs rather than races.”
Service, a long-time race director, was also quoted in the Mercury article as saying, "I don't know if the marathon is the answer for everybody. Maybe that's not the best stance to take as a race director. But there are worthy distances that are shorter and still great for charitable endeavors."

Three-time Olympian Craig Virgin, the runner-up in the 1981 Boston Marathon noted that "It has been packaged, marketed and promoted that anybody can do a marathon if they get a little bit of instruction." Virgin once worked with Team In Training (a leading charitable organization), but now thinks that the charity arm of road running "falsely misleads people" into believing they can run a marathon without serious training.

Now, runners are, for the most part, responsible adults, able to make their own decision about whether they are properly prepared. On the other hand I wonder whether you could get two runners together to agree on what “properly prepared” actually means. Some marathon training programs advocate running every other day, some three times a week, and the conventional wisdom holds that 40-50 miles per week should be the standard. Those are pretty divergent concepts of training.

My question to you all is whether race organizers have any responsibility to ensure that runners appear at the starting line sufficiently trained. Is there any way to even make this workable? Should it be the race organizers business at all?

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Running and Music

If you are interested in responding to my letter to the Times, scroll down to the next post. Otherwise...

I heard a story on the radio yesterday, I think it was NPR, which noted that many of the larger races have been banning the participants from wearing portable listening devices and from accepting water from anywhere other than official aid stations along the marathon route. In fact, the top two female winners of the Milwaukee Lakefront Marathon were both disqualified for those very offences. "The fastest woman, Cassie Peller, a 23-year-old student at Marquette University, was disqualified shortly after the race for accepting aid - a water bottle - from a friend outside of the official water stations. That made Jennifer Goebel, 27, the winner, but only for a couple days," according to A few days later race director Kristine Hinrichs confirmed that Goebel has also been disqualified for using her iPod in the late stages of the run. Apparently, Runners competing for USATF championships with cash prizes are not allowed to use electronic devices." An official from USATF said Goebel's disqualification "may be a first in the country," as race directors are now allowed to determine whether to ban iPods during races, Held reported.

In Milwaukee, at least, the organizer’s rule didn’t apply to mid-pack runners, only the elites who were competing for prize money, but that isn’t the case with some popular East Coast marathons like New York and Philadelphia. While there is a ban in place for NYC, race organizers will not be enforcing it.

So why ban Ipods? The USTAF claims the rule was put in place because of concerns that runners listening to music would have a competitive edge over those who were simply listening to the little voice in their heads. A secondary reason involved safety concerns about runners not being able to hear race announcements and there were also some insurance company issues. Apparently there is some science to support the performance enhancing effect of music on athletic performance. Anecdotal evidence abounds.

I’ve run distance events both with and without an Ipod. The ½ marathon I ran without my I-pod I beat my previous PR by almost 4 minutes. Then again, I was better trained for that race so I can’t say whether music (or lack of music) was a factor. All of my indoor treadmill runs are done with an Ipod, otherwise I get so bored that I feel like I might claw my eyes out. On my long training runs, I take it or leave it depending on my mood. The runs where I listen to music are usually a little faster than those without. I have to wonder though, whether running a race with an I-Pod is gives me an unfair advantage. Full disclosure: I also drink coffee before a race and caffeine is a known performance enhancer. Am I cheating? Do you race with an I-Pod? What do you think about a ban?

Sunday, October 25, 2009

An Open Post to Everyone Who Read My Letter in the NY Times and Thinks I'm An Asshole

Welcome back. I had to take the blog down for a bit because the attacks on my personal integrity were starting to get tiresome. I deleted any comments that referenced my religious beliefs, or intimated that I was morally defective. Comment moderation remains on. Comments engaging issues will be posted. Comments attacking me personally will be read by me, but not by anyone else. They will be posted, and mocked, if sufficiently entertaining.

Most people who commented, while they clearly (clearly!) disagree with the idea of a cut-off time or a qualifying time, took particular exception to the following: “So, when I pass some fat dude who looks to be gearing up for a 7 hour finish I get a little annoyed at the fact that he's even there-because its obvious he hasn't spent too much time in training.” Now, I didn’t hear from any undertrained fat dudes, who are really the only people who should be taking exception to what I wrote, but I got an earful from cancer survivors, heart transplant recipients and the like, who seemed to think that that comment applied to them. I’m not sure why. I certainly didn’t say anything negative against first-time runners, cancer survivors, or anyone else who wants to run 26.2 miles as a sign of their recovery/survival/whatever. I have nothing but respect for people who have overcome adversity and want to celebrate this by running. Could I have framed this in a better way? Absolutely. I apologize to undertrained fat dudes everywhere, and anyone else I may have offended.

My intention was not to question why people run, or their motivations for wanting to finish a marathon. People’s goals are all different. MY goal is to set a PR while passing as many people as possible between the start and the finish lines. After all, the marathon is a RACE. (I’m not sure why competition has turned into a dirty word when it comes to the marathon.) If your goals are different, who am I to question them? That said, I don’t think the course should be open until every single person who signed up for the race and wants to finish, crosses the finish line. Nor should the people who stopped for lunch and to socialize with their friends along the route get a medal for finishing. Not if you’re going to give the same medal to someone who ran the whole way. It isn’t fair to the runners.

Remember, I also said this: “I have no problem with people plodding their way through a course in 6 or 7 hours” and this: “My personal belief is that stopping for lunch should result in instant disqualification, but this is America and I suppose if you pay your entrance fee you have a right to toe the starting line and take whatever detours you want.”

If anyone wants to debate these points, I’m all for it. Interesting ideas I’ve heard include specifically differentiating races with qualifying times with those without to try to strike a balance between those who want to go out and race and those who are looking for a less competitive experience.

Anyway for those of you running a marathon this fall, good luck. Hopefully I’ll see you at the finish line.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

19 in the Hole

This morning I headed out the door and came back 19 miles and 2:53.01 later. It was tough, but not as hard as running that 15 I did a few weeks ago, for some odd reason. I feel a little sore and a touch fatigued, but I know I could have hit 20 pretty easily. I was having trouble picturing another 6 miles on top of that, but I know it can be done since I've done it twice before.

This I know because from my 18 years of running hither and yon across most of the tri-state area, I've learned that the body doesn't do the running. The mind does. If you tell the mind that it has to run 18 miles without stopping, the body will obey, absent some structural injury that simply prevents forward momentum. On longer distances the mind requires a bit more attention, or distraction, depending on the circumstances. I firmly believe that with enough training of mind and body, anyone is capable of running any distance. I really hope I'm not eating my words come mid-November.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Running & Sitting

So, back after a short break spent moving, unpacking and settling in. I’ve been having some trouble sleeping in the new house, probably because the boys are coming into our room earlier than they did in Great Neck and also because I haven’t been able to find my white noise machine. I know it’s in the box with the alarm clock, which I also haven’t been able to find. Last week I skipped my long run-it was all I could do to keep up with 6 milers as tired as I was from humping boxes and putting Ikea furniture together-so I’m a little concerned about trying to run 18 tomorrow. The marathon has been the furthest thing from my mind these past couple of weeks and last night I even considered throwing in the towel and switching to the half. I decided to defer my decision until I see how tomorrow’s long run treats my body.

In addition to being a runner and a lawyer, I am also a student of Zen Buddhism. It was with a heavy heart that I discovered that an old teacher of mine recently passed from this life. John Daido Loori, the founder of the Mountains and Rivers Order of Zen Buddhism died on October 9 at age 78 after a protracted battle with lung cancer. I took dokusan with Loori-Roshi only once, about ten years ago, but I soaked up his dharma like a sponge through recorded lectures and visits to the Zen Mountain Monastery and the Fire Lotus Zendo. Logistics and life circumstances prevented me from becoming a formal student, but I feel that Daido taught me more about reality than I could ever properly thank him for. I took Jack and Dimitri up to the monastery for the Zen Kids program last fall and saw the old man making the rounds of the dining hall. By then he had already received his cancer diagnosis and was looking pretty frail. Nevertheless, his eyes were bright and it was obvious that his spirit was strong.

While some of his dharma brothers have drifted into new ageism, and Buddhism as a whole seems to be suffering from the trivialization brought about by excessive attention from pop culture, Daido retained the essence of the dharma in his teachings while simultaneously integrating Buddhism into the American context. He often described his approach as "radical conservatism." He had a healthy distrust of consumer society and was in no hurry to exchange traditional Buddhist values for passing fads.

In his own words, Loori described how he saw Zen in America in an interview with Shambhala Sun in 2001: "Zen is not Japanese and it's not Chinese. It is American. It didn't come from Asia; it has always been here. It is a way of using your mind and living your life and doing it with other people. Unfortunately nobody can supply a rule book to go by because what it is about can't be spoken of, and that which can be spoken of is not it. So we need to go deep in ourselves to find the foundation of it. Zen is a practice that has to do with liberation, not some kind of easy certainty. The wisdom of that liberation not only affects our lives but all those whom we come in contact with, all that we know, and all that we do."

He will be missed.

The mind-
what can we say of it?
Forms, created by rock shadows.
-John Daido Loori Roshi

Friday, October 9, 2009

A Busy Week

Packing, building things, cleaning, more packing. I’m right in the thick of it now. Tonight I plan to shove the remaining contents of my two bedroom apartment into cardboard boxes. I will drink wine while doing so. The wine will be consumed before tackling the bedroom closet, but after disconnecting the electrical supply for the ceiling fan. We’ll be up late, I fear, since the early part of the week was dedicated to making the Syosset house habitable and torturing Ikea hardware with Allen wrenches. The boys will be spending the night with grandma out in Mt. Sinai.

Like many New Yorkers I have moved fairly frequently. Over the last 20 years I have lived in at least 10 apartments. During the past two decades I have reduced the act of pulling up roots and transplanting them in greener fields to a set series of movements, performed in order, over the course of several months. Granted, there are always small surprises, usually revolving around broken promises made by U-Haul and Ryder, and plenty of last minute scrambling, but overall things have gone smoothly.

For the first time I’ve hired a couple of helpers. Hopefully they will arrive on time and reasonably sober, but if I have to handle it alone I can. I have before. All this activity has left little time for running-I was only able to muster up a 33 mile week-but that is to be expected. I’ll have to take off tomorrow, seeing as how it is the actual moving day, but I’ll be back on the road on Sunday. See you then.

S: 6
M: 5
T: 5
W: 12
Th: off
Fri: 5
Sat: off
Total: 33

Friday, October 2, 2009

15 Miles in the Bag

Yesterday I managed to get a 15 mile run finished before my first conference call. It’s been a number of years since I last ran 15miles, and although my brain had forgotten what it was like to run for two hours plus, my legs remembered the feeling pretty well. It was harder than I expected, especially that last two miles, when I felt like my feet were barely clearing the uneven sidewalk flagstones and my knees were reminding me that the last time I tried this I was a much younger man. Well, if I can do 15 I can do 18. If I can do 18, I can do 20, etc.

I hope I can get in at least two 20 milers before race day, but with the move and my upcoming trip to San Diego, it might be tough. I might try a long run in California if my work schedule permits. I find it very soothing to cruise along the beach. What better a place than California to enjoy a little LSD. (Long, slow, distance).

Wednesday, September 30, 2009


With our move to Syosset looming in the near future, I haven’t been so attentive to my running (or posting) this last week. True, I did get in a nice 13 miler last Thursday and I plan on getting that 15 done tomorrow, but I’ve been distracted. The school district we are moving into requires an inordinate (IMHO) amount of proof that we are living within the town of Syosset, so I’ve literally spent hours a day gathering up documents and persuading utilities to forward letters with our new address to satisfy the bean counters over at the district office.

I have been assuaging myself with the thought of running under canopies of crimson maple leaves on the trails of the nature preserve near our new house. This visualization of me on a cold morning run-clouds of vapor breath and frosty dew on slowly browning fields- never fails to reduce my stress to manageable levels. I plan on using it extensively while on line at the DMV tomorrow.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Missing Runner

This is unfortunate. Apparently a pair of ultra-runners set out in California on Sunday for a 30 miler, got separated, then she disappeared. He was found alive yesterday. Authorities are scouring the area and ultra-runners are running the trails looking for Maria "Gina" Natera-Armenta, 34. Sheriff's deputies and U.S. Forest Service agents are using a helicopter and bloodhounds. But the dogs have their limits. "A dog cannot run that far, and their scent can only work for a mile or so," Sherriff Amormino said.

Hopefully she will be found, alive and safe.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Race Report-Bluemont 10k

I rolled out of bed on Saturday morning and instantly knew I hadn’t had a sufficient amount of sleep. We pulled into Virginia late, around midnight, but it still took me a good hour to wind down from the 6 hour drive from New York. It seemed like my head just hit the pillow when the rooster started crowing at the crack of dawn. Mark and Sue live on a farm in the town of Bluemont Virginia, with an arthritic dog, a gaggle of hens, and a rooster who gets up earlier than everyone else. I stumbled downstairs to grab a cup of coffee, pulling on my running shoes and searching around for the car keys. I had to make my way over to Great Country Farm to register for the 10k race that started at eight, and it was approaching 7:15. I didn’t know how many people were running and I didn’t want to get shut out.

I needn’t have worried. When I got to the starting line and registration area there were no more than 20 runners milling around, jogging in place or nervously eyeing the bathroom. When I filled out my race form I was given number 47. The most recent race I’d run prior to the Bluemont 10k was the Long Island ½ marathon which had a field of 12,000 runners. By the time the gun went off in Bluemont, the number of participants had swelled to around 120, which according to the race director, was a new record. While I was waiting for the race to start, I took stock of the competition, mentally dividing the field into people who would end the race behind me and those I could tell I had no prayer of beating. The competition seemed to be an exceptionally fit and trim group of runners, and I was starting to get a little nervous about where I would finish, especially because the field was so small. Oh well, I thought, I’m just out here to have some fun and get in a work out.

The race director counted down from 10 to one and then we were off. The course wound around a dirt and gravel path inside the farm before spilling out onto the back-country roads which rolled through the Virginia countryside. The air was crisp and clear, the day sunny. Fall was in the air, although the leaves had yet to change colors. I started out chugging at a 9 minute mile until I could pass a few handfuls of people who were blocking the narrow path through the hay fields. By the end of the first mile I had passed about 15 people (and at least as many farm animals) and was in turn passed by a few runners who had also gotten stuck in the back. Most of the people who blew by me were the sort you’d expect would be able to leave a 41 year old borderline Clydesdale eating dust-high-school cross country runners, skinny girls, etc. I was ok with that. I believe in the decline of the body with advancing age and acknowledge my limitations. Nevertheless, there was one fellow who got ahead of me whose speed seemed to offend the natural order in some fundamental way. He was over six feet tall and pushing 220 pounds with tree-trunk legs and a bit of a beer belly. He was breathing heavily and had a stride that resembled an out of control helicopter. When he passed me, my first thought was that he had opened up the throttle a little too early and that within a mile he’d be either walking, or jogging so slow that he’d wind up finishing long after I’d started on my second banana. It took me four and a half miles to catch him. He maintained a killer pace and then raced me neck and neck over the last ½ mile until I finally left him in the weeds.

My time was 48:08, not bad for a first outing at that distance. In the last half mile I passed a 16 year old girl and a US Army Ranger. I’m not sure which was more satisfying. It was a great morning and a fun race. Now its back to some distance.

Friday, September 18, 2009

A Good Week

This was a model week for training-long run, speed-work and a 10k race on tap for tomorrow morning. I feel like I’m right on schedule for Philadelphia, but I need to increase my time out on the road. Things have been hectic at home and I haven’t been sleeping all that well. I also am getting a little irritated gaining and losing the same 3 pounds over and over again. Lately the scale has been stuck at 192 (with clothes and sneakers on)-probably about five pounds heavier than I should be. More running means more eating and I think I might be a little out of balance. I have some time to lose it so I’m not going to get too upset.

After work today we’re driving down to Virginia to see Mark & Sue and take the boys to the Bluemont Fair. The race is part of the fair festivities. I have been meaning to run it for several years, but never wanted to get up so early after the long drive the night before. This year I’m going to do it. The T-shirts are pretty artsy and the run winds through the Blue Ridge Mountains so the course is nice as well. I’ll definitely set a PR since I don’t think I’ve ever run a 10k race before. They always seemed too short to be worth the effort. Since my regular Saturday run is a 6 mile loop, I figure I might as well do the race and run with other people for a change.
S: 11
M: 5
Tu: 5
Th: 5
Fr: 45 minutes Elliptical
Sat: 6.2
Total: 39.2

Monday, September 14, 2009

Lost Week-end

I went to an old friend’s wedding on Saturday and ended up tipping back a few too many Coronas. Then when I got home, Erin and I stayed up late killing off a bottle of wine. As a result I was in pretty poor shape for running on Sunday. Nevertheless I was able to grind out an 11 miler, even though it felt like someone was following just behind me whacking the back of my head with a bat the entire time. When I was younger I used to enjoy running with a hangover, plus I think carb-loading with all of that beer made the long runs easier. Now I’m too old and out of practice with drinking to derive anything positive from the experience. Hopefully I’ll be feeling recovered enough (from the run, not the drinking) on Wednesday to get that 15 mile run in. Time is slipping by and the marathon is getting closer.

I came across an article in Time Magazine last week that bothered me on several levels. The author was seeking an answer as to why he finds it hard to lose weight even though he exercises around five days per week. What he discovered was that scientists are now finding that while it's true that exercise burns calories and that you must burn calories to lose weight, exercise can also stimulate hunger. That causes us to eat more, which in turn can negate the weight-loss benefits we just accrued. Exercise, in other words, isn't necessarily helping us lose weight. It may even be making it harder. Jeez. My thinking is that the last thing legions of American couch potatoes need to hear is that they can give up on exercise because it doesn’t work as a weight loss routine. I mean, come on. “Dieting doesn’t work”, “exercise doesn’t work”, shit, we might as well nestle into the couch cushions and rip open that second bag of Doritos because getting in shape is impossible. I think Time is pretty irresponsible for using their public bully pulpit to encourage laziness. People exercise for all different reasons. Personally, I run for my mental sanity as much as for the physical benefits. I have always struggled with my weight and have also noticed that once my weekly mileage goes over 30 my weight actually rises by a pound or two. Oh well. I firmly believe if it wasn’t for regular running I never would have lost that 30 pounds I dumped in 2007. The key is balancing exercise with a fundamentally healthy diet and good lifestyle choices. I guess that story wouldn’t sell as many issues of Time to the immobile masses.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Running in the Dark

This morning I got up at 5:15am to get in a run before heading off to work. I used to run in the mornings all the time, but when Jack was born I fell out of the habit. I wasn’t getting any sleep as it was, so rising before dawn to hoof around Silver Lake Park for six miles seemed slightly insane. Plus, I had a gym membership so I could run at lunchtime and save that extra hour in the morning for fitful sleep between feedings. I still have a gym at work, but I’ve been having a lot of lunch meetings lately so I’ve been contemplating a switch to a morning running schedule, at least for a few days out of the week.

I realized that mother nature wasn’t going to make it easy on me when I stepped out of my building into the darkness at 5:30. A driving rain and heavy winds threatening to wash away my resolve, but I cranked the i-pod and headed out into the night. (I mean, early morning.) The north shore of Long Island is a sleepy place even in the middle of the day, and it is positively spooky in the dark during a storm. There are very few streetlights along my six mile route, so I stuck close to the middle of the road to avoid stepping in a hole or tripping over a branch. Fortunately, I think I saw only one car during the entire run, which was kind of nice, actually. Clearly, morning runs in the dark are not the best venue to set any new pace records. I chugged back into my apartment complex after a 6 miler which took almost 56 minutes. In the dark I felt like I was flying, but I must have been moving more slowly as I felt my way through the darkness.

I think I’ll take it easy tomorrow-maybe a 5 mile tempo run, and rest up for a 15 miler next Wednesday.

Thursday, September 10, 2009


I got to do a few runs in the Nike Frees, the longest being a 6 miler at 8:30 pace. Honestly, I can’t feel much of a difference between them and my regular beat-to-shit Saucony’s, but maybe I need to go long in them to see what the big deal is. My first outing I stepped into a big pile of dog shit which I hope is not an allegory for the training I have in the immediate future.

I’ve been having a pretty good week mileage-wise, even though I had to cut my long run to 10 miles yesterday to get Dimitri to his first day of kindergarten on time. I might try for 15 on Saturday morning, but it might be a crunch because I have to attend an old friend’s wedding which starts at noon. Today is an off day.

Erin and I are moving to a house in Syosset next month. Syosset is a town on the North Shore of Long Island where I grew up, and where I did some of my first long runs 18 years ago. It will be nice to get back on those old familiar roads and also have the opportunity to put in some miles on the trails of the Muttontown preserve which is a mile or two down the block. I’m eagerly anticipating the pleasure of a long slow run down 25A to Sagamore Hill, Teddy Roosevelt’s Long Island home.

The temperatures have been coming down and fall is definitely in the air; this morning was a nice, cool 58 degrees. I think I’ll get out on the road early tomorrow because I have a lunch meeting and won’t be able to grind out 5 on the treadmill.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Long Run Thursday

I went out for a long run this morning. I work from home on Thursdays so it’s easier to get up early and knock out some mileage, rather than trying to do it on a Sunday when there’s usually a lot going on. A couple of days ago I decided that I needed to add some kettleball squats to my daily routine, with the result being that I stressed out just about every muscle in the upper part of my hamstrings. For the last two days I have struggled to get up from my chair, never mind get in my daily mileage. Yesterday it took all of my strength just to get on the treadmill and get 5 miles in. I felt a little better today but it was still a tough 11 miles. I’m not going to beat myself up too much about the pace (9:15/mile) as I’m sure once my hamstrings get back in action I’ll be able to get back to my goal pace of 8:50. Overall I felt pretty good. Next week I’m going to shoot for 13 or 15.

I got my Nike Frees in the mail. They seem to fit ok in that tightish Nike sort of way. I ordered a 1/2 size larger to account for the fact that the shoes tend to run small but I’m wondering whether I should have gone up a full size. The toe box seems a little snug. I can’t wait to take them out for a run, but since tomorrow is a rest day I will have to wait until Saturday.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Back on the Road

A lot has gone on since I posted my last entry. For one, I finished the book, Born to Run by Chris McDougall. I’m not exaggerating when I say that this book changed my life. It reminded me why I am a runner and reignited my dream of becoming an ultra-marathoner. For those who haven’t read the book, Born to Run is ostensibly a story of the the reclusive Tarahumara Indians of Mexico’s Copper Canyons, a tribe who’s 100 plus mile foot races through mountainous trails are legendary among runners. However, McDougall’s book goes beyond an entertaining and thought-provoking look at the Tarahumaras (and the ultra-running community that is the tribe’s closest American counterparts.) Indeed the first two-thirds of the book lay the groundwork for the introduction of a startling thesis--that human beings have evolved for running. With the support of evolutionary biologists and anthropologists, McDougall tackles and answers some big questions: Why did our ancestors outlive the stronger, smarter Neanderthals? Why do expensive running shoes increase the odds of injury? Ultimately he comes to the conclusion that running steadily for hours at a time is not only therapeutic but also natural. Primitive humans did it constantly, catching and killing quarry simply by exhausting them in marathon hunts. They also did it barefoot. I urge everyone, whether runner or not, to read this wonderful book and then go for a run.

In acknowledgment of my evolutionary destiny, I signed up for the Philadelphia Marathon on November 21, 2009. Training has already commenced, and I am going to get this race under my belt and start running ultras.

Monday, August 3, 2009


Attachment. The Buddha taught that suffering is caused by attachment to concepts and ideas, as well as attachment to our notion of the self. Attachment to ideas is associated, at least to me, with our obsession to label people and things and place them into mental categories where they become static and fixed. Some psychologists think that labeling and categorizing is the way human beings cope with enormous amounts of information. It is much easier to view a person or event superficially and put it into a neat little box in our mind where it remains, undisturbed, until something happens to disturb it. Of course, reality is neither static nor fixed. It is in a state of constant change. The really remarkable illusion that we all buy into to one degree or another, is that there is something solid that we can hold onto. But accidents happen. People die unexpectedly. Buildings are blown up in Manhattan and collapse into a hole in the earth. And there is nothing we can do about it.

It is with this in mind that I’m pulling the plug on my marathon training. October 11 is 10 weeks away and I haven’t been doing the kind of training necessary to get through 26.2 miles. I have spent most of the summer on airplanes, crossing the country for work, and as a result I haven’t been able to fit in any runs exceeding 10 miles. I am still logging 35-40 miles per week, but simply do not have the time to go out and knock out a 15 mile run on a Saturday or Sunday morning, especially when I haven’t seen the kids in a couple of days because I’ve been stuck at a meeting in Los Angeles for the better part of a week.

After I read Dean Karnazes books I became very attached to the idea that I wanted to run long distances, despite the fact that there is no way I could fit that kind of training into my lifestyle. I can run 40 miles a week, but I cannot run much more than that and still have time to do anything else. I have made peace with this decision. I still get to go out for 6 and 7 mile runs in some of the nicest places in the United States, and I can do it now without the specter of the Steamtown Marathon looming over my shoulder. I am going to replace Steamtown with the Philadelphia ½ and be thankful that I will have the time to do some fall camping and late summer scuba diving. Life is good.

Friday, July 10, 2009

The Pool Is Open

On Sunday I’m scheduled to go on my first Atlantic Ocean dives since June of 2007. I find scuba diving to be pretty much the antithesis of running insofar as the sport requires an enormous amount of expensive gear, considerable travel to get to the dive site, slow movements to conserve energy and total focus on the act of diving. On the other hand, both are intensely physical activities so maybe the difference isn’t as great as it first appears. I like to dive to get away from terra firma for a while. After pounding the pavement for weeks on end without a break, it is nice to float weightless in water, even if that water clocks in at a chilly 55 degrees Fahrenheit. A wetsuit keeps the hypothermia away, though just barely.

Diving in the Atlantic Ocean should not be confused with the sort of diving one watches in brilliant HD on the Discovery Channel. Tropical diving is a truly sublime experience, akin to floating weightless in outer space. Most time you don’t even need to wear a wet suit because the water temperature is in the upper 90s. Visibility is often unlimited, and sunlight illuminates the reefs and wrecks well below 100 feet.

In contrast, diving in the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Long Island is a decidedly more intense experience. For starters, the water is cold, and it’s liable to be dark as night at any depth exceeding 70 feet or so. Visibility can be as great as 80 feet, or as little as none, with the average somewhere in the 5-20’ range. You have to wear, at minimum, a 7mm thick wet suit, booties, gloves and a hood, and you should carry around a spare air tank in case something goes wrong. Despite or maybe because of the challenges, divers here in so-called Wreck Valley have the reputation of being the best trained and skilled divers anywhere in the world. I got into diving a few years ago and having experienced both environments. As much as I enjoy tropical diving, I have to admit I like the challenges posed by northeast conditions. Since my budget for travel to warm climates is decidedly limited, I think I’ll reacquaint myself with the Atlantic and get some chilly dark dives under my belt. The pool, as they say, is open.

Thursday, July 9, 2009


At lunchtime today I was watching the talking heads on CNN attempt to dumb down the health care debate, while grinding out my daily 5 on the office treadmill. Admittedly, healthcare is a complex issue, but to hear how the debate is being framed by the mainstream media, one could come away with the impression that if we allow Obama to push through a publicly funded plan, the government is going to come and take away our soda and cookies while taxing everything else in sight. This alarmist coverage is so far removed from what should be a sober debate on American fiscal priorities that I am compelled to conclude that the coverage is being scripted by CNN’s insurance company advertisers.

With the enormous wads of cash being thrown at the financial industry and the fact that the United States military is engaged in fighting two costly wars halfway across the world, the debate should be focusing on where else besides the taxpayer’s pocket the money to fund healthcare reform can come from. I have not heard a single media report that suggests that the money spent bailing out Wall Street bankers would be better spent on health-care. CNN and its corporate cronies have instead decided to frighten Americans by raising the specter of “socialized medicine” and tax increases that would be necessary to pay for it. As far back as the 1930s, conservatives have attempted to smear progressive national health care reform proposals by calling them "socialized medicine" or a step toward that inevitable result.

And what’s wrong with socialized medicine, anyway? To me it just seems like everyone chipping in through taxes to take care their neighbor. Insurance companies are only interested in making money, so they do whatever they can to deny people treatment. One of the worst things about the American system is insurers denying referrals to specialists, thus ensuring that preventable or treatable afflictions blow up into catastrophes. Countries with socialized medicine also have programs that provide numerous incentives to foster healthy lifestyles so that one doesn’t get sick in the first place. That is much more proactive than our culture can stand. Remember, America is home of competitive eating.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Running on Empty

I have been taking it easy lately, trying to build up a good reserve of rest before jumping into marathon training. I also haven’t been watching my diet as carefully, which is a problem since I’m still about 5-7lbs over where I want to be for the fall. Fourth of July was full of beer and bar-b-q; kind of a lost week-end insofar as fitness is concerned. Beer is especially troublesome since it takes a good five days or so for the excess water weight to dissipate. Meanwhile you carry that extra two pounds around. I feel like I’m sloshing every time I put my foot down. Stopping off at White Castle in the Bronx on the way back from Pennsylvania probably didn’t help any.

There are many opinions about the proper nutrition for runners; timing, composition of food, hydration, etc. In fact, there is a lively discussion on the topic over at The Well, the NY Times fitness blog. What I’ve been able to gather, is that aside from some areas of common agreement, i.e. the White Castle Bacon Double Cheeseburger is not a particularly desirable fuel source for runners, scientists and nutritionists are all over the map when it comes to this stuff.

When I started running 20 years ago I was a vegan. I lost a lot of weight, but I was also tired all the time and would feel like I was about to faint if I stood up too quickly. I think it was my vegan self-righteousness that kept me alive until I transitioned to a more normal ovo-lacto vegetarian diet several years later. Eventually, I tired of eating beans three times a day and switched to a more conventional diet, loosely based on the Zone diet, but less restrictive. My problem has always been volume. If my running exceeds 30 miles in a week I become an eating machine. I have been trying to figure out a way to prevent my weight from increasing along with my mileage, but so far I’m finding it to be a delicate balancing act.

People are different. It follows that bodies will respond differently to different fuel sources. Some people chug Gatorade at water stops with no problem, others end up heaving it up on the side of the road a mile later. The trick is knowing what works for you. My favorite pre-run drink on Saturday mornings is a large cup of coffee. Others prefer a smoothie. Vive le difference.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009


Being the neurotic sort, and bored to tears with the treadmill, I completely ignored my own advice and did a speed work-out today. 200m x 7 with 200m recoveries. I hit the doldrums at 1.75 miles, so I just said "fuck it", and punched up the incline and speed. The only good thing about a speed work-out on a treadmill is that the time goes by marginally faster. Plus, I get to watch TV. Which, I suppose, is a mixed blessing considering the programming scheduled for the noon hour on cable. I have managed to get all caught up on pretty much the entire broadcast history of Air Emergency on National Geographic, which has the added bonus of providing me with hours of white-knuckled anxiety as I fly around the country for work. I’m also partial to the Food Network. There’s nothing quite so satisfying as watching people prepare and eat huge portions of fatty foods while you’re grinding out five miles on a conveyor belt.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Getting Back to Basics

The rain seems to have finally left the Northeast, which is a mixed blessing for runners. I enjoyed the cooler temperatures this past month and have especially relished running in the rain. Saturday I got out on the road early because Erin had a class that started at 8am and I had to drop her off and figure out how to keep the boys occupied for the day. I was still fighting the lingering effects of fatigue so the six mile jaunt around the neighborhood wasn’t as much fun as usual. In fact, I felt like I was slogging through wet cement in a rain forest-the humidity was definitely upwards of 60%.

Yesterday was much better. I was on the road by eight and cooked through the six mile loop at better than eight minute per mile pace. I felt like my old self for the first time in a week. I’ve decided to drop my long run from the schedule for the next two weeks to give my legs and body a chance to rest up for Steamtown training, which I’ll start mid-July. By long run I mean anything more than 7 miles.

My work schedule requires that I be flexible about where in the week I can squeeze in a long run. The fact that this day is going to end up a moving target throws off the rest of the training week. I’m not sure how easy it’s going to be to fit in a day of speed work and a day of hills and still program enough rest into the schedule to satisfy the demands of my creaky 41 year old body. When I ran the Marine Corps in 1997 my training was pretty minimal-one long run on Sunday, one longish run on Wednesday, and 4 miles a day every other day except on my rest day, which was Monday. Maybe I need to get back to simplicity and not over-think the routine.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Hamster on a Wheel

I think I’ve been overtraining. The combination of long flights in a cramped seated position, too many time changes and an increase in mileage have worn me down. I had to take a break today with a 45 minute trip on the elliptical. I have a love-hate relationship with that particular piece of equipment. About a year ago I fell down a flight of stairs and injured my right foot. I was unable to run for almost two months, but had just enough mobility that I could maintain my fitness by daily workouts on the infernal space walk to nowhere. Surprisingly, I found that if you set the resistance up high enough, you get a great full-body work-out. Like many neurotic runners, the entire time I was on it I was thinking about how to equate that work-out with the one I was doing on the treadmill next to it.

Experts have long debated the benefits of the elliptical versus those of the treadmill. Most maintain that ellipticals allow for the least bodily damaging workout because the machine is extremely low-impact. My question is whether the fact that they’re low impact detracts from their efficacy as a (albeit temporary) running replacement. Some advocates of the equipment assert that the fact that the elliptical is low-impact allows the user to burn more calories with less exertion than a treadmill, especially when the lower-body workout is combined with the machine's moveable arms function. My personal experience tells me that I sweat a lot more when I’m cranking away on an elliptical, and it gets my heart rate into the zone a lot faster than running at a normal pace either on the treadmill or outside. Nevertheless, both running and working out on the elliptical give me that nice endorphin hit that I expect after some intense aerobic activity.

The main problem with the elliptical is the same problem I have with the treadmill. They both turn the act of exercise into an intensely boring experience. Neither machine delivers the emotional benefits of running outside. Unfortunately, four days a week I have to exercise at the gym in my office so I’m usually yoked to the treadmill. I think I might throw one elliptical work-out per week into the mix for variety sake and to ease the strain on my knees and lower back , at least until my body gets accustomed to marathon mileage again.