Welcome to the Madness

One of the things that tends to happen when you undertake monumental challenges such as training for a marathon is a phenomenon I like to call "collateral damage." That is, the inadvertent inspiration that you pass on to people in your different social circles. I can't tell you how many people within my six degrees of separation have informed me that they've started walking, working-out, running or even training for a marathon as a direct result of witnessing my journey. I always congratulate them and tell them how awesome I think it is that they've decided to take charge of their health and fitness, etc. After all, that is why I started this blog and share these blog posts along with my training log entries on facebook, and talk about my training and marathon experience every chance I get. 

One of the most incredible things that has happened to me so far on this journey was when my friend James told me at the post-race reception after the Boston Marathon that partly because of me, he was beginning to train for a marathon and was interested in doing triathlons and ultimately Ironman Triathlon's. I was genuinely moved by this as James and his family were my inspiration for running the Boston Marathon as part of the Children's Hospital "Miles for Miracles" Team. Those of you who regularly read my blog know that James and Shanna's daughter Brenya spent most of her life in and out of Children's Hospital and died at 7 months old from a genetic brain malformation right before I found out I was accepted onto the team. I ran in honor of her memory, and she got me through many of my toughest runs and races when I couldn't have finished on my own.

So, of course when he told me of his plans, well, I really can't put my feelings into words. I immediately referred him to Coach Cap and Breakthrough Performance Coaching so I knew he would be in good hands. James got together with Coach Cap the other day and called me to tell me he's now officially a member of Team BPC. He also informed me that he is starting his training and will be running a fall marathon with the intent and purpose of joining me on the "Miles for Miracles" Team and running Boston with me next year! So, of course, when I got home I had to write him and welcome him to the team and all that is the madness of training for and running marathons. Turns-out, the e-mail was full of tips and pointers for getting started. Upon further review I realized that it would be the perfect blog post because it fits right in with my mission for "I'm really not a runner." What follows is and edited version of that letter...

I wanted to write and welcome you to all that is running and training (for marathons and triathlons, etc). I'm sure you will find it is one of the most awesome things to undertake as it is a very personal, emotional, passionate, and at times incredibly painful journey. I could get into all sorts of cliché's and get all sappy and motivational about it, but I'll spare you the melodrama. I know you will be successful because I know you and I know what you're all about and there is nothing that will stop you from achieving your goals. I just can't wait to bear witness to the process! I'm incredibly excited to train with you, to race with you in Boston 2011, and I hope to one day share in the experience of Ironman with you! 

But seeing as you are just getting started, I wanted to relay some information that I hope you will find useful. Most of what I'm about to suggest to you has come from experience and are things that I wish someone would have told me from the outset (and all the links go to pertinent info).

1) Get yourself a good pair of running shoes. Money should be of no object here. Seriously. Go to a "running store" like Marathon Sports where they will watch you walk and get you on a treadmill and make sure you are in the right shoe. At the same time, realize that there is a lot of information out there and the people at the running store don't know everything. If what they're telling you doesn't feel right, or you just don't like the shoe, try another. Personally, I'm very partial to Newton and Brooks, but I've found the brand and type of shoe is as much a matter of personal preference as it is form and functon. You should also go in with a little bit of knowledge of what they are talking about when they mention pronation, over-pronation, supination, etc. Know you own feet! A good resource of information on foot-type, shoes, etc. is http://www.runnersworld.com/channel/0,,s6-240-0-0-0,00.html Pay close attention to the articles and videos under the "Featured Content" heading. There are some great videos on pronation and overpronation, as well as "How to determine your arch type" and other useful information about shoes, foot structure, etc. Also, go to the Newton Running website for excellent videos about proper running form, injury prevention and the like.

2) While you're at it, get yourself several good pair of running socks. I found that I REALLY like the Smartwool brand. They are merino wool, moisture wicking, non-smelly, and literally the most comfortable things I've ever put on my feet. I'm quite partial to the "Adrenaline Multi-Sport Micro" but I've been told they are discontinuing them and replacing them with "pHd Running." Whatever you do, make sure they are tight (I wear the Large with my size 12 foot, even though the packaging suggests the XL) and well padded (go with mid or heavy weight, avoid the ultra light at all cost). I've also heard good things about, but not tried the BalegaWrightsock, and Thorlo (although I plan too, I've actually developed quite the sock fetish). And if you find that you develop between-the-toe blisters, I've heard that the Injinji toe socks work wonders. AVOID "Feetures" socks. They are HORRIBLE. Both pairs that I bought, though comfortable to walk in, seemed to wrap around my foot weird while running and the wool completely wore-off the ball of my foot on my first runs in them...

3) After you go to the running store and give these shoes and socks a test drive, go to runningwarehouse.com and order what you need from there (Marathon Sports, City Sports, etc's prices are outrageous). Let me know when you are ready to buy and I'll show you a discount code to get 15% off of their already discounted prices on everything. Unless you are buying Newton's because their prices are pretty much fixed and don't vary. If you decide to buy Newton's let me know and I'll give you a 15% off coupon for Marathon Sports that I have laying around...

4) Body Glide, and lots of it. It is your friend. I've also heard that Bag Balm is very good and a lot of people use it with the same success. And for your feet use Body Glide Liquified Powder. It's great for preventing blisters, and therefore life saver. Trust me. 

5) Protect your nipples man! They get very chafed and have been known to bleed on some people. It also depends on what type of shirt you are wearing and distance you are running, but, if you're wearing a compression shirt, Body Glide will work for most distances. If you are wearing a moisture-wicking tech shirt that hangs a little and thus causes more friction, you may be able to get away with Body Glide for your shorter runs, but on longer runs you will absolutely need to use Band-Aids on those suckers (or tape, or Nipple Protectors).

6) With that, you need to get yourself some good Tech Shirts for running. Avoid cotton like the plague. You may have to try several different shirts until you find a one that you like, then buy as many of them as you can afford. The Champion C9 Duo Dri's that I found on the cheap at Target, and the Starter Dri-Star shirts I found at Walmart were great! But by far the most comfortable shirt I've ever worn is the Brooks EZ T although it is a bit more expensive...

7) While you're at it, find yourself some good running shorts, the kind with a liner. And go commando in them. That's what the liner is for, it's built-in underwear! I've got Nike's, Champion C9's, and Brooks. Again, my favorite are the Brooks and I prefer split sides, but again a lot of this is about feeling and personal preference.

8) Get yourself a good watch. not your everyday run-of-the-mill stopwatch, but one that can keep track of your time, distance, heart rate, etc. I found a Garmin Forerunner 405 GPS Watch with Heart Rate Monitor on eBay for around $250. It was a "factory refurbish," but I haven't had any issues with it. A little later I purchased the foot pod for it so I could track my treadmill workouts and my foot cadence, etc. It has the functionality to keep track of your data on the bike too. The only complaints I've heard from anyone have been about the battery life. These mostly come from those who do Iron distance triathlon's. I used mine in the Boston Marathon and although it started beeping at me and told me that I had "low battery" at mile 22, it made it through the whole marathon. Again, there are a lot of these watches out there and much of it comes down to personal preference. However, you can ask Coach Cap (Jeff) about it, he has some way of getting a discount for team members, though I'm unsure of what the discount is.

9) Buy yourself a good hydration system (belt) or two. I have a 2-bottle belt that I use on my shorter runs, and a 4 bottle belt that I use on my longer runs. I use the Fuel Belt systems. I have a CamelBack but found it to be too cumbersome and awkward. I think if/when I start training for an Ultra, the Camelback will be great, but until then... There are tons of them out there, and some people even prefer the bottles that you can strap to your hand. Just find what works for you and keep in mind you need something for your shorter runs and something for your longer runs...

10) Figure-out what you are going to use for mid-run fueling. I chose to use GU Espresso Love flavor. Coach Cap really likes the GU Roctane Endurance and a lot of people love the Powerbar gels. There are all sorts of fueling options out there, chews, gels, chomps, drinks, etc. My suggestion is to go to Sports Authority or some other major chain and buy a whole assortment of fueling options and flavors and try them out now. When you find one you like that you can tolerate (that doesn't give you heartburn, the squirts, or make you puke/gag) go to runningwarehouse.com or roadrunnersports.com and buy it by the case. I'd also try to find a good recovery drink, something with carbs and protein (4:1 ratio). I used Accelerade and found it to be easy on my stomach. Many people recommend just using chocolate milk as recovery drink. I did this for a while and found it pleasant and MOSTLY tolerable, but after my longest runs it tended to upset my stomach and give me the runs (I have a mild lactose intolerance apparently).

Along those lines... The day before and morning's of your long runs and races, cut back on fiber or avoid it altogether. This will save you lots of pain, discomfort, possible embarrassment and time in the toilet afterward...

And finally, as I noted in a recent blog post "I just don't think anyone can do something like this without a great support network of kindred spirits.  A group of people who have either been there and done that, or are currently doing the same thing. I've been so lucky to have discovered an awesome community of runners on twitter, which eventually led me to dailymile. I owe so much to this AMAZING community that I don't know where to start. So much to be said about the kindness of virtual strangers who are always willing to lend a supportive ear, offer advice, words of encouragement or bits and pieces of acquired knowledge based on their years of experience, or just plain commiserating." Get yourself out there. Get involved in the running community both real and virtual.

My advice to you is to create an on-line presence strictly for your running life. Put yourself out there on Twitter and dailymile. It's an endless and invaluable resource. I can't even begin to describe what it has meant to me. Start a blog and write about your training experiences, the thoughts that swirl around through your mind while out on your long runs, your hopes, fears, dreams and doubts. Trust me, it helps. And it preserves it all for posterity's sake. Once you do decide to put yourself out there and get a Twitter account and/or a dailymile profile, let me know and I'll introduce you to all of the people in this awesome community that have meant so much to me and my training/racing. That's all for now. I'm sure there will be more. If you can't tell, I'm really excited that you've decided to do this! I can't wait to follow your progress and be a part of your transformation!


My Ultimate Pancake Recipe

So, I've been opening my mouth and telling people about my awesome pancake recipe for a couple of months now, so I guess it's time to put-up or shut-up!

I'm going to preface this by saying this recipe is the culmination of about 20 years of trial and error practice, refining and revision. I picked things up from one chef or another that I worked for, from greasy spoons and diners that I worked in, friends, family members and co-workers. I added things here, took away things there and voila'! My wife is very upset that I am giving this "family secret" recipe away freely, so I hope it is well received!

I can give you some tips on cooking pancakes, but if you don't know how to cook pancakes, no recipe is going to help you. Like I said, it's trial and error and you'll figure out what works for you with experience.

1) Cook on a flat iron griddle over medium-high heat (350 degrees F)
2) Always pre-heat the griddle, and use butter or cooking spray to "seal" the griddle, only using it prior to the first pancake being cooked. After that you don't need use it again and in fact it will lead to uneven cooking surface temperature and messed-up pancakes.
3) Flip pancakes when the batter bubbles and looks dry on the outside edges, at this point they should be golden brown. They are done when they rise and the steam coming-out from the edges slows to a near stop.
4) Be quick with the spatula. Don't drag the spatula under the pancakes.
5) if you're adding any type of fruit, add it on top of the batter on the griddle. DO NOT ADD FRUIT TO THE BATTER!

I'm sure I'll come-up with some more tips, but here's the recipe:

Makes 8-10 8-inch pancakes

2 Cups Flour (I use whole wheat flour, but you can use whatever flour you prefer)
1-2/3 Cups Milk (I use skim, again use whatever you like)
2 tsp. Baking Powder
1 tsp. Baking Soda
1 tsp. Salt
1/4 Cup Sugar {1 Tbsp. set aside in separate bowl} (I use organic raw sugar)
2 Eggs (separated, whites in bowl with the sugar)
1/4 Cup Butter (melted)
1/4 Cup Orange Juice (pulp free)
1 tsp. vanilla
1 tsp. cinnamon

**In a large bowl, combine and mix dry ingredients well. Set egg yolks aside for now. Combine egg whites and 1 Tbsp. Sugar in a medium bowl and whisk vigorously for several minutes until the beaten egg whites come to soft peaks (think meringue). Add egg yolks and all liquid ingredients to dry ingredients and mix until smooth. Fold in eggs whites with a rubber spatula until thoroughly mixed-in. Let batter stand for at least 15 minutes prior to cooking. Pre-heat large pan or flat iron skillet to 350 degrees F. Use butter/Pam/oil to seal the pan. Ladle from 1/3 to 1/2 Cup of batter onto pan/skillet and cook until golden brown on both sides. A proper pancake should be served with butter and pure maple syrup.

Let me know if you have any questions or need any help perfecting these pancakes.




Ok. I started this post the night before the Boston Marathon. However, most of it just wasn't right. I couldn't find the right words, they didn't sound right, I couldn't express my overwhelming feelings in any way that came close to justifying them. I don't know why it's taken so long to edit, re-edit and finally post this, but here goes nothing...

So, as I sit here on the eve of the Boston Marathon, I can't help but reflect on the path I've taken to get here. While taking the long-view of everything that I've accomplished and all of the experience and knowledge I've gained I keep coming back to one thing... Gratitude. The most important thing I've learned is that although at times the life of a distance runner is lonely (much of the training and even the competition is very solitary, as an overwhelming majority of runners compete only with themselves), nobody can do this alone. We all need the love, support, kindness and mentoring of dozens, if not hundreds of other people. Sitting here just trying to wrap my head around the sheer number of people that have made this all possible for me makes me dizzy. So, as usual, in order to help myself grasp sheer magnitude of the support I've received, I'm going to write it all out...

First and foremost, it took the love and support of my family to get here, and it was no easy road (no pun intended), I only made it more difficult for myself by how I went about it. Let's just say I should've been a little more open and discussed my intentions and decision with my wife Lex, but I honestly didn't think I'd get accepted onto the Children's Hospital team on the first try. When I did get on the team, I kinda just dropped it on her like a bombshell. When she read all of the paperwork later and saw the financial commitment I'd gotten us into, she was rightfully pissed-off. It certainly didn't make the first few months of my training any easier. That doesn't mean the love, support and sacrifice weren't there, because they were, but the enthusiasm for what I was doing was certainly on the lower-end. It was purely my own fault. Then we found-out that Lex was pregnant at the end of November. The first 5-6 months of pregnancy when your husband is training for his first marathon? Not fun.

Despite all of this she eventually came around and was my rock during all of this as she is every day in all that I do. Her and Isabelle became my support crew on my longest runs in the worst conditions, and even some of the shorter ones when she knew instinctively that I needed help out there. Throughout all of this she has been amazing, and she's even kept-up her own fitness by fitting in her own 3-4 mile runs 2-3 times per week (until a stress fracture of her pelvis at 24 weeks sidelined her). I can't even begin to express to her how much I've needed and have appreciated everything she's done and all she's sacrificed in order to make this dream come true for me. As soon as she gives birth to our second daughter in August the roles will be reversed as she trains for her first half-marathon. I only hope I can be as wonderful to her as she has been to me!

I know that I couldn't have even made it to the starting line without the help of my coach. Jeff Capobianco of Breakthrough Performance Coaching has been instrumental to my success. Jeff is a co-worker of mine at the fire department, and he is quite the accomplished endurance athlete himself as a six-time Ironman who qualified for and competed in the 2009 Ironman World Championships in Kona, HI. I initially approached Jeff with a few simple questions and he gave me some tips on training. Eventually, when we discussed what I was doing and why, out of the kindness of his heart he offered-up his coaching services to me. This was incredibly generous and almost overwhelming.

He created a completely customized training plan for me, taking into consideration my previous injuries and lack of experience, and was able to get real results out of me. In order to grasp the magnitude of what he accomplished with me you really have to think about where I came from, what I was able to accomplish, and the timeframe I was able to accomplish it in. He took a fat (265 lbs), out-of-shape non-runner with "bad knees," and turned him into a 4-hour (ish) marathoner in less than six months. Along the way I lost over 70 pounds, brought my 5k time from 29 down to 22 minutes, ran a 16-mile torture-fest, ran a sub-2 hour half-marathon, and finished my first marathon (the Boston Marathon no less) in 4:14:09. I did exactly what he told me (most of the time) and got exactly the results I was hoping for.

I also have to thank everyone associated with the Children's Hospital "Miles for Miracles" program for making this such an incredible experience for me. But especially the coaches Mike Ferragamo and Jeff Hintlian and the team coordinator Stacey Divine. They really helped to guide me every step of the way in becoming a charity runner. They inspire me to be more and to do more. From fundraising questions and problems solved, to planning and executing the weekly runs and most especially the 17 and 21-mile team long runs on the course. massive productions that were open to all of the BAA Charity Programs (re: hundreds of runners) that  they pulled off with lightning precision.

The coaches always made sure that they interacted with every one of us out on the course during these runs and even during the marathon itself providing insight, encouragement, and even first aid to everyone who needed it (even though it meant running 30-40 miles themselves). And my teammates who inspired me in so many ways. Regular people from all walks of life, each with their own reasons for running and inspiring stories. There were the rookies like me, people with a few marathons under their belts, and the seasoned veterans of 10, 15 even 20 Boston Marathon's. There were those who qualified for Boston yet still committed to the "Miles for Miracles" program and raised funds like the rest of us,and there were those who would never dream of qualifying. But most special to me were the friends I made whom I ran the team long runs with, the 16-miler and half-marathon with, and was most happy to see on Marathon Monday... Sarah, Steve, Daniel, Peter, Scott and Chuck. I can't wait for next year!

I really want to thank my friend James and his wife Shanna who allowed me to do this to honor the memory of their beautiful daughter Brenya. I felt her presence many times throughout my training and especially during the marathon. When things got really tough I called on her for strength and she helped me push through. When I saw them at mile 20, it made everything worthwhile. I also have to thank all of my friends and family and other donors from all over the country who supported me and donated to Children's Hospital on behalf of my campaign. Trust me, when my calf cramped-up at 21.5, I thought about everyone who had donated an everyone who was following along and getting my splits via text and email, I thought about all of the hopes, dreams and expectations those donations came with, and I was able to get moving again.

A very special thanks to Eric Derrico of Boston Massage and Acupuncture who helped me with a fundraiser, made a very generous donation as a result, and gave me one of the best massages I've EVER had following my 21-mile training run. A few of my teammates and twitter friends have also visited Eric and had nothing but glowing reviews of his services. If you're in the Boston area and in need of therapeutic massage, schedule an appointment with Eric. you won't be disappointed. I have to get in to see him again SOON!

One of my co-worker's (also coached by Jeff), has been a great support to me and has finally reached his goal of running a BQ at the Country Music Marathon last month, thanks for your support Thin! You are truly an inspiration to me! I just don't think anyone can do something like this without a great support network of kindred spirits.  A group of people who have either been there and done that, or are currently doing the same thing. I've been so lucky to have discovered an awesome community of runners on twitter, which eventually led me to dailymile. I owe so much to this AMAZING community that I don't know where to start. So much to be said about the kindness of virtual strangers who are always willing to lend a supportive ear, offer advice, words of encouragement or bits and pieces of acquired knowledge based on their years of experience, or just plain commiserating.

There are so many people that I owe thanks to, that there is just no way I could list them all and I'm bound to forget some of them, but I have 216 friends on dailymile and 528 followers on twitter. Trust me when I say that I love and appreciate all of you in your own way. But there are several of my tweeples and dailymilers that I want to give special thanks to for their kindness, support and inspiration along the way: Suann (afterward, when I saw your tweets rooting me on, they brought a tear to my eye), Ali, Lori, Mary, Tim, Jennifer, Matt, Ally, SteveKimberly, Josh, Alett, Ashley, Ed, Ron, Chris, David, GlenBob, @IronmanLongRunr, my very close friend and inspiration Jess (who will be running her first half-marathon at the San Diego RnR soon!), and last but certainly not least, my friend and Boston Marathon Running partner/pacer @runnrgrl. I can't tell you how disappointed I was that I was forced to start dropping back at the 30k mark, but I was so proud to watch you pull away as you kept-up our intended pace. I really thought you were headed to another BQ. I'm truly sorry I couldn't keep up to continue pushing you, but it was great conversation and cool getting to know you better along the way. Thanks for sharing in my first marathon experience!

Stay tuned for my next post where I talk about the "experience" of it all and post pictures from the expo and dailymile meetup, etc.