Why do I run?

“Why did I sign up for a marathon?”

It’s a question that comes up periodically during the months of training leading up to the big day, something I often ask myself when I’m a dozen miles into a taxing long run, feeling sapped and sore, and I just want the ordeal to be over. In those moments the answer is elusive and, often, unsatisfying.

But it’s a question that ultimately needs an answer. Why on earth does anyone think running for so long is a good idea? Why do marathoners spend hours of their Sunday mornings pounding the pavement when they could be lounging, reading the newspaper over a cup of coffee and a plate of eggs and bacon? Not to mention the chafing – my god, the chafing. Giving up so much time and forking over hard-earned dollars to go through 26.2 miles of potential misery is not for the sane of mind.

So then, what is my “why?”

It’s a multi-faceted answer that might not look exactly like yours, but let me explain what motivates me.

I run for health. As I mentioned in my Maine Marathon Ambassador biography, I started running about a decade ago when my sedentary lifestyle and unwillingness to part with good food and drink caught up with me. I was working a desk job for 40 hours per week and my physical activity was largely limited to walking my dog around the neighborhood or cruising the few city blocks around my office on lunch breaks or to catch the bus home. I began the Couch-to-5K program to see what it was like and stuck with it after running my first race in years, and I soon was dropping some pounds.

I run because it makes me feel good. The C25K program improved my physical health, but it did wonders for my mood, too. Getting outside for a stretch of time was something I looked forward to during working hours; doing the actual running afforded me time to think through the day’s problems, and I’m sure the increased blood flow to my brain provided a bit of clarity I otherwise might not have had. While it’s still sometimes difficult to get myself out the door when the weather is dreary or I’m feeling tired or down, I never regret getting out there once I’ve done it.

I run because it’s challenging. One of the things that hooked me on running was the process of starting with small, realistic goals, achieving them, seeing my improvement, and then allowing my ambition to run wild. As I mentioned, the C25K program took me through the first race I had run since I was a lot younger, and after that I was hungry to test my mettle in a 10K. Some time after that I decided a 10-miler was definitely on my bucket list, and when that went well I knew it was just a matter of time before I would be crossing the finish line of a half-marathon. Now I’m here gearing up for my third marathon, and even though I now have a bit of experience, it’s still a formidable task. How do I endure it all and do it well enough to satisfy my ego? This segues nicely into my next point.

I run because I want to improve. I’m back for another marathon because I know I can finish the race faster than I did last time; I just have to put the work in to get it done. The race against the clock never ceases: if I don’t succeed this time I’ll try to learn from the experience and take another shot in the future, but if I set a new personal best then I’ll have a new target for the next time out.

Doing it all for the shirt.

I run because the journey is just as important as the destination. Race days are fun, but even the most mundane mid-week five-miler squeezed in before a work day has its simple pleasures. Spotting a moose, getting charged by a dog, getting dive-bombed by an overprotective bird, having a passerby congratulate me for my “HUGE CALVES!” – these are just some of the things I’ve experienced on runs during the past few months. And amid all of this I can feel myself growing stronger, winning the small battles like swiftly striding up a dreaded hill when I feel like giving up or mustering a vigorous closing kick to round out my last half-mile before home.

I run for the shirts. Let’s face it: it’s nice to have a steady stream of shirts coming in.

So what is your “why?” If you’re having trouble answering that question, why don’t you come out and join me at the Maine Marathon in October? If you’re not ready to take on the full marathon or even the half-marathon, maybe you’d like to gather up some friends and join a relay team? Head over to the registration page and use the code Ryan2021Relay to save some money!

I’ll see you out there!


Maine Marathon Training Check-in

Greetings, all. Happy August!

First of all, let me acknowledge that I’ve been derelict in my duties as a Maine Marathon Ambassador. For that, I apologize. I intended to update this space more regularly as my race training progressed, but a demanding full-time job and being a husband and father (i.e., life), as well as running several hours a week, has messed with that plan. But I’m aiming to do better going forward since race day is nine weeks away and a lot will be happening between now and then!

So, how’s it going? Have you been staying cool? Are you drinking enough water and fueling your body properly? Are you getting your scheduled runs in? Are you an exhausted, useless lump of dough by the time 9 p.m. rolls around? Is that just me?

I’m pleased to report that I’ve been logging lots of miles – more than 300 since Memorial Day – which was my primary goal in approaching this race. I managed to keep up with the first five weeks of the Pfitzinger 18/55 schedule, hitting 45 miles for the week that led up to the July 4th holiday. To date, that’s the most distance I’ve ever squeezed into a seven-day period. To be honest, I thought trying the Pfitz schedule might be too much for me, and I wasn’t sure how my body would respond to multiple weeks of 40+ miles. Fortunately, I managed to stay free of injury, and I’m sure the experience is going to pay dividends for me come October.

However, I had to re-evaluate things as I began the sixth week. It was a recovery week calling for 37 miles, but I had to scale that back due to a hectic workload, some early-morning travel that robbed me of some needed sleep, and a visit from an old friend. Sunday arrived and I had logged just 21 miles, but the non-stop, on-the-go nature of several consecutive days caught up with me and I was exhausted. I listened to my body and took a day of rest rather than add to my mileage tally. Still, I looked at the following week’s schedule and stared down 50 miles of running, and I had doubts about such a formidable number after having such a down week. Call me Peyton Manning, because I approached the line of scrimmage, didn’t like the look of things downfield, and called an audible. I decided to pull back from the Pfitz schedule and again seek the wise counsel of Hal Higdon. I landed on his “Intermediate 2” schedule because it prescribed fewer miles than Pfitz, but the volume remains substantially higher than what I’d done in preparation for my 2019 marathon. I’m averaging more than 30 miles per week and still free of injury, just a little sore and achy from time to time, but nothing unexpected. I have no regrets about my choice.


Sandwiches. Definitely need more sandwiches.

As one would expect when measuring any decent length of time, I’ve had some good days and some not so good days during the past nine weeks. A few of my weekend double-digit long runs have felt challenging during this cycle, particularly in the latter half of the outings. I’ve ended several of them feeling like I had no fuel left in my tank, which was unsettling since the lackluster finishes wounded my self-confidence and had me questioning my endurance. It’s not a question of whether I can complete a marathon, since I know I can do it; the real question is how will I avoid late-stage fatigue as I ramp up to some 20-mile runs in the near future? I think I’ve had difficulties due to several things, like setting out too late in the morning and broiling in hot and humid conditions, feeling the effects of an increased mileage volume during the week, not eating enough carbohydrates during the week to build up my glycogen stores, and not getting sufficient sleep the night before I do my long runs.

The run to cap my fourth week of training is one I won’t soon forget, as my late start made for one miserable experience. I embarked around 10 a.m. on a hot, humid, and cloudless day. The shoulders of the roads offered no shade because the sun blazed directly overhead. I was little more than halfway through my 15-mile goal and my 24-ounce handheld water bottle was bone dry. I felt as though I would gradually melt like a candle beneath the mid-day sun, and I pictured my family mounting a search-and-recovery mission later in the day, finding me and scraping my congealed remains off the asphalt. I’m glad I had the forethought to tuck a few dollars into my pocket so I could duck into an air-conditioned market for a brief reprieve and grab a large Gatorade and bottle of water and recollect myself. I took a solid 10 minutes to cool down and re-hydrate before I set off again to shuffle through the remaining miles. I got it done (well, a half mile short of my goal), but I was not particularly proud of the journey. I’d like to tell you I learned a valuable lesson, but I can’t rule out the chance I’ll again sleep in a little too late one of these coming weekends and be in a similar situation on another long outing.


Newfound Lake, aka Spooky Ghost Lake

On a positive note, not all of my long runs have been such a slog. The following weekend I ran a 16-mile circuit around Newfound Lake in New Hampshire. My wife’s family has had a cabin on the water for a couple of generations, and I’ve been going there every summer since 2004. I’ve circumnavigated the lake (which is shaped like a ghost – show me where I’m wrong) on a bicycle numerous times, but this was the first time I’d ever done it all on foot. I set out on a rainy Saturday morning, and the soggy weather worked in my favor since I stayed cool and relaxed during the couple of hours it took me to complete the loop. I returned to the cabin with a little bit of water left over in my handheld bottle, a marked difference from the prior weekend, and my pace remained strong through the final miles. It was the best outing I’ve had this summer, and it provided a welcomed psychological boost. I can knock out these long runs!


We have nine more weeks until the race, which roughly translates to seven more weeks of hard work and two weeks to cut back on mileage, store up energy, and avoid injury (don’t make the mistake of stubbing your toe while searching for the bathroom in the middle of the night!). I’m sure there will be a few more not-so-great days in my near future, but I hope the good ones outweigh them. The roller coaster ride of marathon training is a theme I return to often because the physical and mental peaks and valleys are unavoidable. You have to roll with them. Whether you’re a newbie or a seasoned veteran, you’re going to have days where you feel invincible as well as days that leave you wondering if it’s too late to get a refund on your registration fee.

Speaking of registration fees, if you haven’t committed yet you should join me in Portland on October 3. Take the leap today and use code Ryan2021 for a discount when you register here.

running, Uncategorized

Post-Pandemic Plans

It’s been 14 months since the onset of the COVID-19 Pandemic and there’s finally cause for optimism. Thanks to the ongoing vaccination efforts across the country we’re beginning to plan large-scale events again, a development that seemed in doubt as recently as a few months ago. Among these gatherings is the 2021 Maine Marathon, which recently confirmed it will hold an in-person running in October. Doubly exciting for me is that I was chosen as one of four ambassadors for this year’s race. I am humbled and excited to be a part of the group, and the honor has jump-started my plans to get my long-distance training back on track.

The starting gun for the Maine Marathon will go off on October 3, which leaves me with about four months to prepare. That’s an ample amount of time to pick a training program and follow it through the summer, so I’ve spent the past few weeks strategizing a plan of attack. For my first two marathons I followed one of the schedules developed by Hal Higdon, an experienced marathoner who has provided a number of 18-week training plans for runners of all skill levels. Before I tackled my first half-marathon back in 2014 I read Higdon’s book “Marathon: The Ultimate Training Guide” and absorbed as much of his wisdom as I could (“What do you mean I’m not supposed to do every run as fast as I can?”). In 2019 I had success using his “Novice 2” program, which I closely followed with a couple of minor adjustments (e.g., I ran two 20-milers instead of one, simply tacking an extra mile on the 19-mile run scheduled in week 13). The regimen was doable, and it helped me exceed my goal of finishing in less than four hours.

The Novice 2 schedule worked well for someone like me – a guy with a bit of distance-running experience looking to finish the race a little faster than I had the first time – and I would recommend it to anyone in a similar situation. But now that I’ve established a respectable personal best time and have learned some lessons from surviving The Beast, it’s time for me to rise to the next challenge.

When we went into quarantine mode last year I grabbed a copy of Pete Pfitzinger’s seminal book “Advanced Marathoning.” I glanced at the introduction and riffled through the pages of the training plans, but it quickly became clear I would not be running a marathon in 2020. I realized I’d made an untimely purchase, and so my copy of the book gathered dust on the bookshelf. But a few weeks ago, with the prospect of fall races looking much better, I picked it up again and decided I wanted to try one of his plans.

Trying to become elite (hah!)

The biggest difference between the Higdon Novice 2 plan and the Pfitzinger schedule is an increase in weekly mileage volume. Pfitzinger’s initial plan calls for 33 miles during the first week and up to 55 miles during one of the other 17 weeks! That’s incredibly daunting for someone who’s topped out at around 40 miles in a week. However, Pfitzinger suggests one be comfortable running a minimum of 25 miles per week before attempting the base plan, which is roughly what I was averaging in late March and early April. To prove to myself that I could legitimately give the schedule a try I attempted the first two weeks of the Pfitz plan in late April. I’m happy to report I was able to complete all 33 miles during the first week, and in the second week I took on 31 of the prescribed 36 miles (I scrapped a five-mile recovery run that week after listening to my body, which I must admit was a little sore). I even knocked down some of the speed workouts and generally felt great. I was tired by bedtime in the evenings and experienced an uptick in hunger during those two weeks, but those are some anticipated consequences of marathon training.

Having lived through the first two weeks of the program, I feel a lot more confident in what I can accomplish this summer. Nevertheless, trying to hew to one of the Pfitzinger plans is ambitious. Am I going to meet every weekly mileage goal? That expectation isn’t realistic. I still have to work my demanding day job, and I’m sure there will be family obligations and hot/stormy weather that will affect how much running I can manage during a given week. There’s also the unfortunate reality that injuries (hopefully minor if they have to happen at all!) might slow me down, especially once I exceed 40 miles per week. But adaptation and adjustment are necessary ingredients for improvement and success. If I’m forced to scrap a run here and there for legitimate reasons, then so be it. I can also fall back on one of Mr. Higdon’s “Intermediate” plans if need be – they don’t call for as many overall miles as the Pfitz plan, but they are definitely an increased volume over the Novice plan I last used. The bottom line is that I believe I’ll be in a better position to better my personal record on race day if I can consistently complete my long runs and maintain a higher training volume than I have previously.

But let me take a step back and put my individual goal within the larger perspective: I’m just excited that we’ll be racing in person again, and I’m eager to get to work and document it here and on my Instagram profile. And what about you, Valued Reader? If you’re similarly excited and thinking about running a fall marathon, I invite you to join me in Portland on October 3. Commit today and use code Ryan2021 for a discount when you register here.

I’ll see you at the starting line!


So You’re Living Through a Pandemic!

Things were different then; all is different now. I tried to explain somehow.

Pearl Jam – “Hard to Imagine”

We just reached the first anniversary of living through the COVID-19 pandemic and, like everyone else, I’m taking time to pause and reflect on the past year. In some ways my life now is indistinguishable from The Before Time, as I had already been working my full-time job remotely for several years prior to March 2020. I’ve also been fortunate to maintain that employment during this tumultuous year, though I had colleagues who fell victim to furloughs and eventual layoffs. That increased my workload and ate into my precious free time, so I had to shuffle my priorities. As a result, I spent much less time running these past 12 months.

Ryan the Runner in March 2021 is radically different than his March 2020 counterpart. As 2020 began, I was still riding high from completing my second marathon, and I began plotting a course leading to another one in the fall. I felt incredibly fit and brimming with optimism. By year’s end that fitness had vanished and my confidence waned, as the idea of running more than three or four miles seemed like something I’d done in another lifetime.

I had grand ambitions for 2020, and I was taking steps during the first few months to achieve my goals, not knowing that a dangerous virus was equally determined, rapidly working its way around to globe and poised to upend everyone’s plans. My first step was to maintain a modest mileage base through the winter months. I joined a community Facebook group challenging members to move at least one mile per day, which motivated me to get outside when nothing else would. My wife, similarly on a kick to keep moving through the winter months, picked up a second-hand treadmill so we could jog in the basement when the frostiness outside proved too much. The New Hampshire winter was relatively mild, though, so I found myself on the road more often than not.

In January I also resolved to join a running club. After a tiny bit of research I joined Millennium Running out of Bedford. One of the perks of membership was the weekly workout on the indoor track at the Hampshire Dome in Milford. It was a great chance to run in someplace other than my wooded neighborhood and commit to a training routine during the winter months.

In the Hampshire Dome, pre-pandemic. (Not my caption – I stole this off the running club’s Facebook page.)

I didn’t know it at the time, but the Thursday night workouts would prove to be one of the highlights of my year. In what soon became unthinkable, I joined a few dozen other runners under the bright fluorescent lights and recirculated air of the dome, and we ran laps and laps and laps on the track while two or three soccer matches – with teams comprised of either teenagers or middle-aged men – played out on the artificial turf bounded by the track. We’d warm up by jogging for a few laps, run through a quick series of exercises (high knees, skips, etc.), listen as the coaches explained the night’s workout plan, and then set to work. The workouts were largely about interval training, and I was thriving by both learning from runners with more experience than me and running alongside other people. The workouts could be as challenging as one wanted to make them – “getting comfortable with being uncomfortable,” as one of the coaches put it – and I challenged myself every Thursday night to make myself feel like the two-hour round-trip to the dome and back home had been worth the time.

After a month of consistent weekly workouts I was yielding some promising results. Looking at my Garmin and Strava data I could see my pace getting faster on the usual routes from my house. And with the mild winter and my consistency in getting outside I was maintaining a nice average of weekly miles, peaking in mid-February when in one week I covered 30 miles, a feat I’m sure I had never achieved in winter. I felt great, devoid of aches, pains, or injuries, and I was boundlessly optimistic about what the spring, summer, and fall held in store. I registered for June’s Old Port Half Marathon with the goal of trying to set a new personal record, and soon thereafter I began researching fall marathons as I enjoyed my morning coffee. It was early March.

Everything seemed to come to an abrupt halt on the mesmerizing night of March 11, when we collided head on with the grim reality that the world was changing. That was the night that, within the span of a couple of hours, the president locked down international travel, the National Basketball Association postponed the season indefinitely after a member of the Utah Jazz tested positive for COVID-19 right before a tip-off with the Oklahoma City Thunder, and American treasure Tom Hanks announced he’d contracted the virus.

Clearly workouts at the dome were no longer going to happen, and the prospects of participating in various races and other public events scheduled for summer and fall immediately dimmed. In the early days of the pandemic there was a need to remain optimistic and cheerful, to maintain the ability to look forward to things even though epidemiologists and medical professionals politely tried not to laugh in our faces as we spoke of things returning to normal by late spring or early summer. In this new reality I began spending more time on my computer out of necessity; the downsizing at my company increased the burden on those still collecting a paycheck, and I could no longer escape my virtual workplace at five o’clock to head outside for a run. The new economic anxieties fostered by the shutdown in March added a pressure (imagined or not) to exceed professional expectations, just to demonstrate that I was a valuable and necessary.

So things changed for me as they did for everyone else. I continued to get outside for runs when I could, but my motivation had diminished. What was I working toward if races were canceled for the foreseeable future? For a time I kept lacing up the shoes, and on May 31 I even made sure to squeeze in a three-mile run so I could say I’d run a nice, even 350 miles during the first five months of the year. That turned out to be my final hurrah for running in 2020; in the remaining seven months of the year I ran an underwhelming 50 miles.

Pandemic chic.

I’m happy to report that I didn’t allow the pandemic to turn me into a total slug. I embraced the raceless year as an opportunity to focus on strength training and cardio programs in my basement. Instead of pounding the pavement I pumped some weights and did some high intensity interval training, cycling through Beachbody programs like LIIFT4, Six Weeks of the Work, and Muscle Burns Fat. But the sudden shift in activities and goals invited introspection. Had I been running for the wrong reasons? Was I driven solely by the carrot dangling from the end of the stick, chasing only the race day and not enjoying the journey leading to the destination? Did I ever genuinely enjoy it? Was I ever going to do it regularly again?

I answered my questions one day in the fall when I went running for the first time in a couple of months. I set out without earbuds or expectations; I wanted to enjoy the sunny day, the vibrant New England autumn foliage, and breathe in the season’s crisp air. The first mile was slow and unsensational, and my legs protested at having to relearn some long-forgotten task. Things started to feel better during the second mile, and as I neared the third I remembered what I’d been missing. I had missed the rhythm of striding down the road, missed looking behind to admire how much ground I had covered, missed being alone with my thoughts and puzzling over things while my mind reached a different cognitive state due to my increased blood flow, missed the challenge of climbing hills and the satisfaction of conquering them as I reached the crest and eased down the backside. Quite simply, I had forgotten how important running can be for my mental health and general well-being.

2020 was a year of loss. People lost lives, loved ones, income, savings – the list is long. But whether or not you were directly affected by the actual coronavirus, you lost your sense of normalcy. I needed to get some distance from the whole situation to realize the pandemic impacted my lifestyle significantly.

We’ve turned the calendar to 2021 and things are remarkably different. The vaccine is here, and there’s reason to be optimistic even if things will still feel abnormal for a while longer. In 2019 I wrote about how I sought redemption for my lackluster finish in my first marathon the year before. I didn’t have a theme for 2020 – I think everyone was just looking to get by as best they could. In 2021 I’m going to reclaim my sense of normalcy and hit the road more often. I’ve made good on the vow to myself so far, as I’ve already logged more miles during the first quarter of this year than I did in the latter half of last year. There might even be a marathon to gear up for this fall (fingers crossed). I’ll see you out on the road, or wherever it is you try to reclaim your own sense of normalcy.

Here’s to a better year for us all.

running, Uncategorized

Redemption in 2019: The Manchester City Marathon

Wrecked. Absolutely wrecked. But in a good way.

75424816_10106356440494149_88672400144596992_oIt was midday and I had just crossed the finish line of the 2019 Manchester City Marathon. The volunteers swaddled me in a foil blanket, placed the chunky finisher’s medal around my neck, and offered Powerade (like Morpheus, they gave me the choice of red or blue; unlike Neo, I grabbed the blue bottle). I had seen my wife, kids, brother, and sister-in-law cheering me on about a hundred yards from the end, and though I wanted to go to them I needed to get off my feet, if only for a couple of minutes. I took a seat outside Veterans’ Memorial Park and downed the Powerade in three or four swigs. I stood again, hoping that my strength had returned, but I knew immediately I needed to lie down. I journeyed into the park and found an unoccupied granite bench, eased my stiff, sore body down to the ground before it and, with my back on the thin autumn grass, raised my feet above me and set my heels on the bench. I felt marginally better before a chill took hold of my body. My family eventually located me and brought me my warm clothes and chocolate milk, but I needed another 15 minutes to muster enough energy to walk to the car.


Toein’ the line with a brother of mine.

I’ll allow that this all sounds kind of miserable, but I assure you it wasn’t. In fact, I already have a fondness for this memory because it transpired in the wake of a hard-fought marathon in which I annihilated my previous finishing time by about 40 minutes.


My brother and sister-in-law, Matt and Alison, were in town for the race, so we dined together at Fratello’s Italian Grille in Downtown Manchester on Saturday night to load up on pasta. Matt is much faster and more experienced with long distance than me; he ran the Philadelphia Marathon in under 3:21 in November 2018 and was looking to shave a few more minutes off that personal best. I told him I wanted to cut at least 20 minutes off my time from the previous year, and I envisioned myself finishing around 3:40 if I was having a good day. Matt’s advice to me was to go out easily to conserve energy for the back half and aim for a negative split, a strategy that had led to his success in Philly.

After dinner we parted ways and headed home for the night. Ordinarily I would have put the kids to bed and curled up in front of the television to doze off, but my wife Sarah, who’s been studying hypnotherapy, asked if she could use me as her test subject. She proposed an exercise to help strengthen my mindset before the big day, probably because I had expressed fear of the last six miles of the marathon so many times in the weeks prior. I was skeptical about the whole thing but agreed to sit down with her for the 90-minute exercise largely out of love and obligation. However, I was surprised by how relaxed she made me. I didn’t fall into a trance or do anything embarrassing at the snap of her fingers; instead, she asked me some questions about my motivations for wanting to finish the marathon within a certain time frame and helped me develop a “mantra” I could carry with me to help me relax and visualize the success I sought.

“I am a hard worker. I am prepared to finish strong.” I said this to myself many times that evening. I also thought, “I probably won’t use it, but at least Sarah is happy that I did this with her.”

I slept relatively well, fading out before 11 p.m., though I woke in the middle of the night and had difficulty falling back to sleep. I wasn’t exceedingly anxious, but I was obsessing over things I needed to take care of in the morning.


I woke at 5:00 a.m., fed and walked our dogs, and ate a bowl of cereal and some skyr. I think I might have had at least half a bagel with some peanut butter as well, but I genuinely don’t recall – I was clearly preoccupied – though I know I grabbed a banana at a gas station en route to Manchester because we were out at home. I also know I drank a big ol’ glass of orange juice and chased it with a couple of cups of coffee. The needle on my fuel gauge pointed to “F.”

I connected with Matt and Alison in Veteran’s Park with less than an hour to go before the start. We chatted again and shivered slightly in the chilly morning air, waiting to enter the line for the portable toilets. We should have done this sooner, because by the time we both finished there were just three minutes remaining until the starting gun! We quickly stripped off our warming layers and Alison graciously packed them away, then we dashed to the starting line. The gun went off as we arrived, and we looked at each other with raised eyebrows, relieved that we hadn’t missed the start but embarrassed that we hadn’t timed our arrival better.


I spent the first few minutes weaving through hordes of runners who were moving too slowly for me. I didn’t forget Matt’s advice about the negative split, but I wanted to get moving quickly to get my blood flowing and muscles warm. I lost sight of Matt and figured he had taken off way ahead of me, so I was surprised to see him come up alongside me during the second mile. “See you later!” he said before cruising off ahead of me.

2019 MCM_Derryfield-10511

Mile 11.

I finished the first two miles in less than eight minutes apiece, which was a lot faster than I had planned on heading out, but I was cool, calm, collected and in control, and it didn’t feel like a strenuous pace. I also knew the third mile had a huge downhill section that would help me maintain my early speed. Was I reaping the benefits of the reduced mileage in the weeks immediately before? Was it the favorable temperature that morning? Was it adrenaline? I don’t have a precise answer, but the combination of those elements was some beneficial alchemy.

I also strategized my nutrition early on with the intention of remaining fueled to the end. While waiting in line for the bathroom I had chewed three CLIF BLOKS as a primer to get me going. I had a few more sleeves of BLOKS with me, and though I initially carried them in the pouch in the back of my shorts, I nixed that plan when I felt they were jostling too much. I carried one thin package in each hand and judiciously popped one or two into my mouth every 15 or 20 minutes, trying to coordinate their intake with water stops. I believed that if I continuously absorbed the gummies without going overboard and upsetting my stomach, they would prevent me from smacking head-on into the wall during the last few miles of the journey.

I was ebullient during the entire first half of the course, finishing all 13 miles in less than eight minutes save for the seventh one, which took me 8:06. I crossed the timing mat at the 13.1-mile mark in 1:43:24, a 7:54 average mile pace. I brimmed with optimism, but the potential pitfalls of the second half loomed in my imagination. I had brief glimpses of the year before when I crossed the Merrimack River to the second half of the course and things began to unravel for me. I pushed the thoughts away as quickly as they appeared. This year was going to be different.

“I am a hard worker. I am prepared to finish strong.” I pictured myself proudly crossing the finish line.



Halfway there! (Thanks to Alison for the photo.)

My pace fell off slightly during the 14th and 15th miles, but not dishearteningly so. I knew it was happening, though, as the talkative dude leading the 3:30 pace group crept up behind me with a half-dozen or so of his followers, and they eventually pulled ahead of me. I was in his presence for only a few minutes, but amid stories about running the Boston Marathon and getting hit by a car, pacer dude said something that I added to my mental toolbox for the remainder of the race: “As long as you see my sign, you’re still in it. Don’t give up. As long as you have this sign in sight you can hang with us and empty your tank when you see that finish line.”


I remained on his tail through the 17th mile, when we began the most difficult section of the race on the Goffstown Rail Trail. The pavement gave way to a dirt path about a dozen feet wide that ran along the Piscataquog River. The ground was uneven in sections, particularly on the shoulders, and there were very few spectators due to the wooded setting. The reward for reaching the end of the trail around the 19th mile in Goffstown was a hydration stop with some food (I grabbed half a banana) and a turnabout to run the Rail Trail in the opposite direction for a few more miles.

On my way out I kept my eyes peeled for my brother, as well as Jason, a guy from my neighborhood I’d met through Strava (we’d logged a dozen miles together a few weeks earlier in anticipation of the big day). I saw Matt on his way back to Manchester while I was still headed toward the turnaround. We gave each other solemn waves; Matt had a strong stride but a flat affect on his face, so I couldn’t tell how he felt. I didn’t see Jason.

2019 MCM_Bridge-10784

Mile 24. Feelin’ it.

I cruised through the 20th and 21st miles – running them in 8:10 and 8:03, respectively – but shortly thereafter began to feel the effects of the accumulated mileage. I still felt relatively strong, but the tendrils of fatigue started lashing me, waiting for an opportunity to take hold. My legs felt heavier and my breathing subtly slipped out of rhythm. According to the elevation profile of the course I was descending a very gradual downhill section, but it sure didn’t feel like it. My thoughts became murkier, too. There was something I was supposed to remember to tell myself. What was it again?

“I am a hard worker. I am prepared to finish strong.” I pictured myself proudly crossing the finish line.

Mile 22 was done in 8:21. I tried to reassure myself I had little more than a 5K remaining, but I wasn’t very convincing. At 22.2 miles I slowed to a walk to regain my composure. A couple of runners passed me on my left, with one of them offering words of encouragement. I was down for a moment, but I knew I wasn’t out. I studied my watch to ensure that only about 90 seconds elapsed, then I gently shifted from walk to shuffle, shuffle to trot, trot to jog.

“I am a hard worker. I am prepared to finish strong.” I pictured myself proudly crossing the finish line.

I lasted a few minutes this time before slowing to a walk. Bending, not breaking, I again allotted myself about two minutes of respite before picking my pace back up.

“I am a hard worker. I am prepared to finish strong.” I pictured myself proudly crossing the finish line.


Someday he’ll be faster than me, but not today.

I was in the throes of the late-stage head game, knowing I was near the finish but having trouble commanding the various cells in my body to keep working in concert as they had so well during the first 22 miles. The 23rd mile beeped off on my watch at a little more than 10 minutes, and I prepared to take a third walk break. The quick rests were taking nibbles out of the average mile pace I had worked so hard to maintain for three hours, but they weren’t devastating chunks. I knew my pace was going to be manageable as long as I could minimize the walks, and I still had a realistic shot at finishing in 3:40 as long as I didn’t completely fall apart.

“I am a hard worker. I am prepared to finish strong.” I pictured myself proudly crossing the finish line.

The mental battle continued as I crossed the river and headed back toward Downtown. Mile 24 was behind me in 10:03. At this point, I was looking forward to returning to Elm Street, where I was hoping to see my wife and kids, which would bolster my spirits heading into the last mile.


In the midst of mile 25 I saw my wife’s purple coat on the left side of the street, and she was sandwiched between two little munchkins. They spotted me and cheered my name, and it was exactly what I needed. I surged past them, slowing only to give my son a high five (which my wife managed to capture on camera!).

After that excitement wore off I prepared for the final mile, which was psychologically more difficult than it was physically. The course was arranged so that runners had to cross the river once more, heading out on a long section of bridge only to turn around once reaching the other side. I tried to keep the momentum I had built from seeing my family going, but I had to take a few more brief walking breaks. As I headed out on the bridge I heard someone on the other side call my name. I looked over and saw Jason waving. I waved back and told him he looked strong, and the interaction provided another short-lived jolt that carried me forward. It took several more minutes, but I finally found myself on Elm Street for the last time, now pointed directly at the finishing chute. I spotted my family once more after passing the sign marking the start of mile 26 and raised my arms in triumph. With a last oomph, I hurtled myself across the finish line.

2019 MCM_Finish-12749

The end.



After lying in the park for 15 or 20 minutes and exchanging stories with the family, I felt strong enough to hobble to the car. Back at home, I showered and stretched out on the couch, eventually falling into a well-earned nap. I hadn’t eaten much after the race but I woke up feeling ravenous. For dinner I gorged on a roast beef and salami sub with Swiss cheese, lettuce, tomato, red onion, and horseradish dressing, chased it with a slice of pepperoni pizza, quaffed a pint of a double IPA, and indulged my sweet tooth with some whoopie pie.

Despite feeling extremely tired (I think I was asleep before 9:00 p.m. both Sunday and Monday nights after the race) I was aglow with the feeling of success. It was a welcome difference from 2018 when I felt as though the marathon had laughed at my feeble attempt to take it on. This time I was proud of my effort and encouraged enough to legitimately think about getting faster next time.

So, what’s on the docket for 2020? I don’t know yet, but that’s part of the excitement, isn’t it? The only thing I know for certain is that I am a hard worker, and I am prepared to finish strong.

running, Uncategorized

Checking in Before Marathon Number Two

As I sit down to write this recap of my second marathon training cycle, with the race I’ve been training for just a few more sleeps away, I realize it’s a year to the day since I finished my first marathon. I’m happy to report, though, that November 2019 feels in no way like November 2018 did.

I’m much stronger and more confident this week than I was at this time last year. I’ve been nailing my runs since early September, hitting all the weekly mile totals on Hal Higdon’s Novice 2 schedule, and have been trending faster during my workouts as well. I’ve also run two 20-milers in the past month, which, at the very least, should serve as a confidence booster as I enter the late stages of the race.

Of course, things haven’t gone perfectly (but what 18-week plan doesn’t encounter obstacles and challenges to which one must adapt?). When I wrote about the fun I had participating in the Dragon Dash Triathlon in August, I left out the detail about the pain in my left knee that developed in the days after the race. I guess I went too hard on top of all the non-racing mileage I was piling up, and the discomfort forced me to assess where I was at. I stayed cool and switched things up temporarily, telling myself I would cut out running for a whole week and find something to replace it. When I visited my mom for Labor Day Weekend, I rode my bike a couple of times through scenic Central Maine, including a rejuvenating 30-mile ride on a Sunday morning. It turned out the be the tonic I needed, as my joints were grateful for the respite and felt much better when I set out jogging again.

The pair of 20-mile runs also reacquainted me with the extreme fatigue of running for hours at a time. The final few miles of each outing tested me physically and mentally, but really served to reinforce my need to nail my nutrition during the taper. Lots of whole wheat pasta, bananas, and bagels are on the menu for the next few days. Oh, and on race day I’ll probably want to down those 100-calorie servings of Clif BLOKS more frequently. I would hate to see my goal time slip away simply because I run out of fuel.

And that’s my segue into this year’s goals. Thinking back on last year’s finish of 4:18:14, my primary goal in 2019 is to finish in less than four hours. Optimistically, I believe I’m capable of locking in an 8:25-per-mile pace, which would yield me a finish time around 3:40. But I’ll also be happy with a 3:55 performance. It’s a long race and there are a lot of variables that can skew the average pace one way or the other. I simply want to come out of this one feeling as though I finished strong, and I’d like to use it as a stepping stone to my next marathon (because, let’s face, there’s almost certainly going to be another one) and its attendant goals.

I’m off to spend the rest of my week preparing for the huge task ahead of me Sunday morning. I’ll check in again here some time after it’s all done to reflect on how it went.


How to Destroy an iPhone

Today I bring you a cautionary tale of woe, for the marathon training cycle claims victims other than runners. Sometimes it takes those closest to you, those you’d never even feared for, and you might not have a chance to say goodbye.


“DRAMATIZATION: MAY NOT HAVE HAPPENED” (Photo courtesy of techradar.com)

While training this summer I managed to ruin my phone. On a Saturday morning in early August I awoke to a light rain and prepared for an 11-mile run. In what would be one of the last actions I would take with my iPhone 6S, I opened my weather app and checked the radar. It looked like some scattered showers that would be well east of me by the time I set out, so I ate breakfast, drank coffee, and geared up. Indeed, by the time I set out the rain had subsided, though a pall of gray clouds still covered the sky. My iPhone was nestled in the belt I wear around my waist for some of my long runs, and from there it sent its invisible signals to the Bluetooth headphones firmly planted in my ears. The thing to know about this belt is that it isn’t waterproof. In 2018 I sometimes enclosed my phone within a Ziploc bag before securing it in the belt. I did that on the days I thought I might sweat enough to damage it, but I didn’t do that this day, even though the thought crossed my mind.

I was rocking and I was rolling through the first few miles – the temperature was mild, the traffic on the road was thin, and I had boundless energy. I felt powerful and accomplished as I crested one of the largest hills on my route with little effort. I don’t recall what was on my mind at this point, but I’ll guess it had something to do with movie quotations, which seem to flow from me when I’m in a good mood. “I’m the king of the world!” might be one that came forth, or maybe “Our pets’ HEADS ARE FALLING OFF!” even though that would’ve made no sense in context. But as the hill leveled off I noticed the sky darkening in the southwest. I was in the very middle of my route, the furthest possible distance from home, so I picked up my pace a bit but braced for what I knew was coming. Rumbles of thunder were audible over my music. Before long the clouds poured their contents down on me. It was a magnificent abundance of moisture, the kind of rainfall that sluiced down my face, adhered my shirt and shorts to my skin, and welled up puddles in the soles of my shoes. Squish squash was what I felt beneath my feet as I plodded along, and the rain persisted for nearly 20 solid minutes. I passed a dude on a motorcycle and we acknowledged each other – either for our bravery in the soggy conditions or for our shared bad fortune, I’m not sure.

I pulled the hem of my shirt over the pouch around my waste, even though I knew it was it was a feeble defense. The rainfall was merciless and it found its way into every nook, cranny, and crevice on my person. The first sign that the water had done damage was when the sound in my earbuds started to crackle and fade out. I shut them off and stashed them in the pocket of my handheld water bottle; better them than the iPhone, I thought. I didn’t dare to remove my phone from the pouch, hoping against hope that it would remain safe and relatively dry if I left it alone and somewhat shielded from the elements.

I later learned that everything I did with my phone when the rain had passed was wrong; like a Civil War medic sawing off limbs without sanitizing his surgical tools, I hastened and ensured my patient’s demise. First of all, I was supposed to shut down the device completely, as water interacting with its powered-on circuitry is not good. I was eager to sync my Garmin data with my account and review it on Strava when I was back home, but a funny thing was happening: the touch screen was not registering that I was touching it. Well, not on certain parts of the screen, anyway. Stupidly, I plugged it in, thinking that another surge of electricity would do it some good. Oh, I was so naïve and dumb back then in early August. Eventually I powered it down and placed it in a plastic bag filled with dry rice, which I had known to do . . . I just didn’t do it quickly enough.

For the next day or two I checked on my iPhone like one might an ailing loved one. She regained consciousness at one point, though her screen was black and the only way I knew she had any life was because she pinged my Garmin Forerunner with push notifications. After 48 hours she refused to turn on entirely. She was gone.

So I learned an expensive lesson, and I’m sharing it here in the hope that someone else can learn from my mistake. To be sure, the heartache of losing my phone is preferable to suffering an injury that would shut down my marathon plans, but it also would have been nice to hold on to the money I needed to lay down for a replacement phone. I’m once bitten and twice shy, and have taken to wrapping my replacement iPhone in a Ziploc bag and folding it over several times to create a barrier impermeable to any moisture, even on days when there’s not a hint of a cloud in the deep blue sky.

I leave you, dear reader, with this small bit of wisdom, which is not unlike something you might have heard in your eight-grade health education class: WRAP IT UP.


Gear Check: BLOKS Energy Chews by CLIF Bar

A few years ago when I started running 10 miles or more in an outing, I began to incorporate nutritional boosts into my workouts. At the time, the most popular form seemed to be GU Energy Gel, so I tried it out figuring they must be the best thing available. The GU gels were appealing for a few different reasons: they were readily available online or in sporting goods stores, they were easy to carry and the package was easy to open during a run, and they had an attractive price point at a little more than a dollar per serving. They also came in a wide variety of flavors, some standard (vanilla, blackberry) and some a little more exotic (salted watermelon), and a few of them featured extra caffeine and sodium infusions so you could fine-tune what your body needed to meet your endurance needs.


Courtesy of GUEnergy.com

For years I stuck with GU for these reasons, but I wasn’t a brand loyalist. At my brother’s recommendation I also tried Tailwind powder, which I mixed up in a water bottle for some long runs and extended bike rides. I didn’t dislike it, but it wasn’t always convenient to lug a bottle along with me, particularly during races. My main hang-up with GU and Tailwind was the aftertaste that lingered in my mouth long after I’d swallowed the stuff. The cloying flavor became something to dread, especially during long outings when I needed two or three servings to get me through. Additionally, the gel, by its nature, is a syrupy formula that can create a bit of a sticky mess if not handled and disposed of properly.

This summer I wanted to see what other fuel was on the market for endurance athletes. I went to the lab to do some research (that is to say I searched Google for a couple of minutes) and decided to try BLOKS Energy Chews made by CLIF Bar. I ordered a variety pack of eight flavors from Amazon, which cost me $21.30. With two 100-calorie servings per pack, it ran me about $1.33 per serving, which is a comparable price point to GU. CLIF was off to a good start. CLIF’s marketing also says the chews are vegan-friendly and use non-GMO ingredients, and five of the eight flavors that arrived were branded as “USDA Organic.”fullsizeoutput_355

I took the package of strawberry flavored chews out with me for an 11-mile run in early August and waited until I was halfway through to try them out. I tore open the top of the package and squeezed the first cube onto my tongue. It wasn’t sticky, another point in CLIF’s favor. The chew had the consistency of a fruit snack, and the strawberry flavor was mild – definitely not too sweet. I swallowed it without effort, chasing it with a splash of water from my handheld bottle. Rinse and repeat with two more chews and I had ingested a 100-calorie serving with another one remaining in the pack.

The BLOKS have become very reliable to me over the past few weeks as my mileage has increased. I was thrilled when I timed a couple of servings almost perfectly on my 17-mile loop around town. It was a humid and moderately warm late summer morning, so I knew I’d be sweating a bit. I headed out the door with a sleeve of the margarita flavor (which boasts three times the sodium content compared to a standard serving!) and a sleeve of orange (packing 25 milligrams of caffeine into three cubes). 55 minutes into my journey I had a serving of margarita. About an hour later, with roughly four or five miles remaining, I ate an orange serving, hoping the caffeine would help me avoid bonking at the end. My only difficulty was in opening the orange package; my sweaty fingers struggled to tear the top of the sleeve open, and I had to work at it for longer than I care to admit. I realized, though, that in the future I can make a tiny perforation in the plastic before my outing without opening it completely and avoid frustration. Aside from that hiccup, my strategy worked well. I managed to speed through my last two miles and cruise home with an 8:11 split on the 17th mile of the morning.

So for now I’m sold on the BLOKS, but I know there are a lot of other products out there that others swear by (I spent time in the lab, remember?). I’m aware that GU makes a product similar to the BLOKS (GU Chews), so maybe that’ll be something I sample next. But I’m sure there are some strong opinions out there. Whether you agree or disagree with me, let me hear what you swear by for your long outings.

running, Uncategorized

Race Recap: Taking on a Triathlon

Some of the most humbling experiences I’ve had in the realm of physical fitness have come by way of the triathlon. Taken individually, the events don’t seem so daunting. Swimming? I’m not great, but I don’t sink. Cycling? Barring any mechanical issues or tire blowouts I can ride for miles. And running is as simple as putting one foot in front of the other and repeating, trying to do so in relatively quick fashion while remaining upright. The problem is that somewhere along the way some wise guy or gal thought it’d be fun to string these independent exercises together consecutively. I’ve spent plenty of time during triathlons – between gasps for breath – spluttering some unsavory comments about this person.

But the triathlon wouldn’t be humbling if it wasn’t a challenge, and we wouldn’t develop if we never challenged ourselves. So in mid-August I broke up my marathon training miles by participating in the Deerfield Dragon Tri, a local sprint triathlon organized by the parent teacher organization at my kids’ school. The event was fun, but once again provided a healthy dose of humility.



Surfacing near the end (I must have just removed my goggles).

The swim portion at the town’s beach was mercifully short, advertised as 0.15 miles, which works out to be slightly less than a quarter of a kilometer. I found it to be long enough to pose a challenge but short enough to finish without exhausting myself. It was a gray morning during which a fine mist hung in the air, which happened to be cooler than the temperature of the late-summer lake water. The first wave – entirely men – congregated on the sandy shore and waited for the signal to start. My new pair of goggles fogged up slightly, but I was still able to make out the frenzied limbs of other racers sloshing about me. I surged through the first third of the swim on a spike of adrenaline but slowed to much more of a relaxed pace when I became short of breath. If I ever want to become a serious competitor in the triathlon, I’ll have to invest a lot of time improving my swim techniques and endurance. As I expected, I was among the last of the men’s wave to emerge from the water and knew I’d have to compensate for lost time on the ride and run.


The cycling portion was much more demanding. The 10.5-mile distance was not overly long, but the hilly terrain of the area magnified its difficulty. The damp weather also slicked the road in certain parts, adding another variable to the course. It turned out to be a genuine series of highs and lows. Setting out from the lake, I plunged southward down New Hampshire Route 107, which was a deceptively easy prelude to the steep, lungs-and-legs-burning climb that soon followed. From there the course turned onto back roads that continued the roller coaster ride. I banked as much time as I could on the lengthy descents and cursed miserably on the route’s significant uphills. I was relieved when I saw the Town Hall, as I knew the next transition point was just ahead.


“Are we having fun yet?”


I dismounted my bike on weary legs, switched shoes, and started shuffling through the first mile of the 3.5-mile path. I wasn’t cramping, but lactic acid had built up in my quadriceps during the taxing portions of the bike course, which made for an interesting start to the run. The first half offered perhaps the most challenging portion of the entire course, as I slogged uphill and took an abrupt turn off the paved road onto a wooded trail with some narrow corridors. I climbed more than 100 feet over the mile and change and finally hit the summit of the hill, which was when the course returned to paved road. From there the other runners and I traced the last portion of the bike route back to the Town Hall. After one final climb up a hill I emptied my tank over the last 100 yards – flat and fast and beset with spectators – and crossed the finish line.


In the midst of it all I was hard on myself, as I felt a little worn down during each stage. I didn’t enter the race with a finishing time in mind, but I knew I wanted to challenge my mind and body and see if I could push past the triathlon’s attendant fatigue. But on this day I never quite reached “the zone,” for lack of a better term – that magical place in which the effort doesn’t feel like a chore and can keep coming for a long period. But there was sweet relief after crossing the finish line and exchanging some high fives with other participants, and the dawning realization that I had just finished something I wouldn’t have been able to even think about 10 years ago when I was 20 pounds heavier and didn’t take my health seriously.

There’s always a silver lining to find and lessons from which to learn. I helped raise money for the PTO, for one, and it was nice to feel like a genuine member of the community. The triathlon also reminded me that some things are difficult and that they’re worthwhile just for that reason. You can’t breeze through everything in life; you have to strategize, prepare, and persevere sometimes. Challenges test you and force you to consider whether or not you want to get better. I certainly want to get better.

[Photos of me taken by event organizers and found here. Many thanks to everyone who put organized and volunteered so that a few of us could romp around town!]


Back on the (Marathon) Train(ing)

I think I’m ready to try it again.

I’ve spent the better part of the year wondering if I wanted to take another shot at the marathon this fall. I knew I’d try again at some point, yet – in spite of proclaiming that I sought redemption in 2019 – I wasn’t sure it would be this year. I didn’t know if I’d again be up for the challenges of hours out on the road, sore joints and muscles, hunger, and general fatigue. I didn’t want to force training if it didn’t feel right. But then I got thinking about turning 34 in July. I’m not old, but not getting any younger, and every year I wait to try again means the youngest available version of myself loses an opportunity to make the most of my physical ability. At this age, Mortality has crept up alongside me, nudged me with an elbow, and greeted me with a knowing smirk. Hey there, pal! I’m sure you’ve heard about me, and I’ve heard a lot about you. It’s so nice to finally meet! Oh, don’t worry, I’m not here to screw things up for you . . . yet. Just thought it was time I introduced myself!

Having made the Grim Reaper’s acquaintance, I searched the Web for marathons in November, thinking that if I was going to follow through with it I wanted to allot myself more training weeks than I’d need for something in late September or October. The choices were relatively limited, though, as I again wanted to stay close to home. The idea of marathon tourism, which would allow me to get out and explore the many parts of the country I’ve not yet seen, appeals to me, but it’s something to pursue years from now when my kids are older and I (ideally) have more disposable income.

So I’ve settled on attempting the Manchester City Marathon in New Hampshire again. The starting line is a 35-minute drive from where I sit, and running the same course as last year will let me test whether the old adage that “the devil you know is better than the devil you don’t” has any legitimacy. In the last nine months I’ve periodically flashed back to moments I had on that course, particularly the back half where I hit the wall, and imagined how I would do if I had a second chance.


Me after feasting on a dozen miles for breakfast.

In addition to knowing the ups and downs, twists and turns of the course, I’ll draw on some other wisdom gained from my 2018 attempt. First and foremost, I won’t be standing around at a party for three or four hours the same day I complete my 20-miler. My biggest regret and frustration from last year is suffering the foot pain that relegated me to completing just a handful of miles in the two weeks leading up to the race. There’s no question that affected me both physically and psychologically on race day, and so I want to avoid injury at all costs. As I write this, I’m six weeks into Hal Higdon’s Novice 2 training plan, which I also used last year, but this year I’m bringing a different mindset to the physical regimen. Gone is the attitude that I should try to zip through my “pace” training runs at anything below eight minutes per mile. In 2018 I believed with foolhardy insistence I could cross the finish line in three and a half hours, maybe slightly faster if I could keep my pace a shade below eight minutes per mile. I laugh mockingly at last year’s Ryan, and while my main goal remains the same – finish in less than four hours – I know I shouldn’t suffer delusions of grandeur. Do the math, man: finish each mile in nine minutes and finish in less than four hours.

I’d also like to keep up with my strength training in tandem with running. Nothing crazy; some legwork once a week, some upper body stuff (just for vanity utility, general utility), and definitely some core work. The overall goal is to add some variety to my training and enter the race stronger than I was a year ago.

So my next step is to . . . register for the thing. A dozen weeks away and I haven’t yet brought myself to complete this crucial part of the puzzle. I try not to be a superstitious fella, but my training has been off to a relatively good start and I fear meddling with the running gods, who might view formal registration as a sign of deep hubris on my part. It’s a silly thought, but we’re all silly and irrational to some extent. The registration price jumps at the end of September, so I have a few weeks left to convince myself training’s going well enough to get it done (or lose out on some extra pocket money).