Sunday, February 22, 2009

Phoenix Rising, Part One

These sort of things seldom happen overnight. In retrospect, I suppose there just came a time in my life where other interests claimed my passions. Not all of my passions in the Nineties were necessarily productive, either. While I did focus a fair amount of energy working overtime at my law enforcement assignments, and an increasing amount of energy in the latter half of the decade working at a variety of radio stations, I must confess to you that I also exchanged an enormous amount of time contrasting the 'last call' routines of many a barroom in Greater Boston and beyond. I still ran some during these days, but for the time being I was finished with training. No track workouts. No hill workouts. Very few long runs, and very few races for me in the nineties. No PR's.

It was a revelation, therefore, when I discovered the cathartic teachings of Larry "Bud" Melman.
His soul purification ... err ... oh .. no! Ah, we miss you, Larry, but ... no.

No saga, either. I scarcely drank enough to embarrass myself (okay, there was that one night in Waltham, but I never touched Jack Daniels again!) Looking back, I think I drank just enough to stay out late just enough to get functional, just enough, three hours later to work just hard enough to get to the end of the day. No running that day. A few years later, I drank much less, but slept even less than that, moonlighting between jobs to the extent that I spent a lot of downtime on the weekends catching what few hours sleep I got in my Chevy before sometimes driving upwards of 90 miles to the next gig. No run that day, either.

The months turned into years and the lost miles on the road inversely remodeled their way onto my waistline, to the point where, by the end of 2003, I knew that if I did not make some wholesale changes to my daily routine, that I would soon reach an apex remanding me to a 'fat and 40' point of no return. A foundational influence upon me at this juncture was the woman who would become my wife, the ever bewitching Barbara, whose poise and guidance underlined her Thoreau-ian pleas for me to "simplify, simplify!"

So, I did. By the start of 2004, I had shifted my work hours to a more orderly daytime schedule, and we both joined a local gym. I invested considerable time with a nutritionist, and after the superficial pretense of New Years' resolutions had passed, on February 13th, 2004, I finally stopped dismissing my divine spark, and sought to reclaim my own initiative through the most direct means I knew towards rekindling my own honor. I ran. I ran, not only because running taught me to excel on the roads and in the classroom before ... not only because the primal act of moving quickly unlocked the doors to many of my most treasured friendships ... not only because running fast proved to me that heights were within reach with drive over drama ... but I ran, because I liked how I felt in flight, and running could be so much fun!

Not so much fun on that first run, however. Mind you, I had been going to my gym for a few weeks by then, and I had gone for some runs over the previous year - I even remained on staff every few weeks or so at the Bill Rodgers Running Center - so the mere act of running was not entirely foreign to me. However, this run was different, because it was not just a jog around a few blocks. It was the first day of training: for what I did not know, but I was back in training. I knew I wanted to race.

I didn't make the 5 miles. I was a bloated 287 pounds on my 6'3" frame, and 'flight' had nothing to do with this run. It wasn't even running, at least by my former standards. I walked across a bridge over the Mass. Pike about a half mile from home and, cold from the falling wet snow and swirling wind, I ran the final minutes of this run as fast as I humanly could. It hurt. A LOT. I didn't care, though. Dismayed but not frustrated, I promised myself, even bent at the waist while involuntarily clearing the weeze from my head, that I would STAY CONSISTENT.

I will never forget that moment - it was my personal epiphany. I was dedicating 2004 to the changeling, and I knew it would take time to lose weight, gain strength, and get to the point where I could even consider running quickly again. Through every temptation to concede to age, I kept my mantra born on that run: STAY CONSISTENT.

NEXT TIME: the next part: Get Your Wings.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

The Bill Rodgers Running Center School of Running

In November of 1977, the Bill Rodgers Running Center, one of the first running specialty stores in the nation, opened its doors for business. Located on the Boston Marathon course in the 23rd mile at Cleveland Circle, its existence primarily became a means to keep Bill Rodgers from having to continue working as a full time special needs teacher. From now on, Bill could, in essence, become a full-time professional runner, with the 1980 Olympic Marathon in Moscow on the horizon.

The benefits of self employment for Bill became apparent the following April, when Bill won the Boston Marathon for the second time (pictured above) wearing the logo for his store across his chest.

As luck would have it, I played for the Giants of the Brighton East Little League. We were the best team in the league, and I was proud to make three all-star teams, at first base and at catcher. Most kids made only two teams if they were good, so I was proud of my consistent play on the diamond ... a diamond located directly across the street from the new store on the block, the Bill Rodgers Running Center.

As mentioned previously, I first ventured into the store to meet Bill in my Little League uniform, but as the months and years went by, I began to show up a lot more often, and the only athletic gear I ever brought again was to be my running shoes and clothing. In fact, I 'd save my money from the after-school dog-walking jobs I had (remember I was 12-14 years old!) to pay for my own running shoes from there. I paid $42.95 in 1980 for a pair of adidas Marathon Trainers that I know, from the log I kept, got me safely through over 1,100 miles of running! You do what you can with what you got, y'know?

I had become friendly with the store's co-owner and manager, Charlie Rodgers (Bill's brother) and most of the staff, including Jason Kehoe, Gene Caso, Dave Dial, and Jimmy "the hat" Henry, to the point where over the next few years, I was asked if I had wanted to come by the store for the Saturday night run after 5 O'clock.

This was tantamount to a call to battle. I knew the staff schedule by this time: everyone took a break for an hour or two in the middle of the day during the week, one person at a time, and that time was for training. On Saturdays, however, the store hours were 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., and the store was just too busy at week's end for anyone to take a long enough break to go running. It was the weekly retail long run, a mental challenge at times to remain friendly and informative amidst a populous that invariably included the impossibly neurotic. By the time the last customer departed and the door was locked, what was left was a room full of retail wearied runners who hadn't had a chance to do the one thing they did best, which was to run ... hard and fast!

Add a small number of friends, such as I came to be, who had not worked all day there (yet!) and all of the elements for combustion were set. It came to be known as the "Hate Run", a weekly 10 to 12 mile purge of accumulated aggression among the regular band of merry warriors, fighting to defeat the rage within each of them. Therefore, the run was not a test of the fastest over the ordained distance, rather, it was a test of the who could suffer most victoriously. Over any set route there were several places where it had been agreed that everyone would gather together, just to start together again. These were usually water fountains in a park or at a fire station along the way. Consequently, a 10 mile run was, in reality, 3x 3 miles with short rest interval breaks. It was a great run to get in shape, and a better way to release enough aggression to be made compatible with society again upon conclusion of the run, which is often just what happened over the Saturday night that followed.

By the spring of 1982, I suppose Charlie realized that as long as I was going to be around so much, then he might as well hire me, and so he did. Over the years, I have worked at the store full time, part-time, or just some of the time, but I have remained connected to the store since. Though the store has gone through some changes and some relocations, it remains a living museum of running history, expertise and knowledge, located at Faneuil Hall Marketplace in downtown Boston. If you're in the area, stop by -- you'll love it! You can also check out the store online at .

Through the Bill Rodgers Running Center, I have had a chance to run with and pick the brains of some incredible running minds, from the late, great Andy Palmer, to Boston Marathon legends Greg Meyer and Patti (Catalano) Dillon, to two time Olympian and exercise physiologist Pete Pfitzinger (he lived upstairs from the store once!)and, of course, Bill Rodgers himself. Furthermore, through the store I have become friendly with coaching legend Bill Squires, and I was lucky enough to have been coached for years by coach Fred Treseler, who is at least as good a person as he is a coach.

Cumulatively, I have been very fortunate to have lived in a place and at a time of such great American distance running, so much of it occurring from the hub that was the Bill Rodgers Running Center, a place almost literally in my backyard growing up. I learned by example, by oral tradition, and by the experiment of one that my own running became. I want you to know where I came from now, so as we venture forth together this year with my attempt to return to the marathon, you'll be familiar both with my theory, and with the spirits that I'll be running with.

NEXT TIME: Phoenix rising?
Also check out this story from my old friend, Dave "Elwood" Dial:

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Racing blindly with Dow Jones

I have an odd theory regarding the success of distance running and of those most successful at it: your economy has an inverse relationship with your success at running long and fast. Think about it. If you're out of work, not only do you have more time to run, but you just might need more time on the roads to alleviate the anxiety associated with being unemployed.

Been there -- done that.

On a championship level, the last few years have seen some breakthrough performances by American runners ranging from Meb Keflezighi, Ryan Hall, and Deena Kastor in the marathon, to Shalane Flanagan and Alan Webb in the middle distances. By all reasonable accounts, American distance running has been more competitive on the world's stage over the past few years than it has been since ... the last time the U.S. economy was in a recession! The economy is sliding downward as fast as many people's marathon PR's.

Such was also the case in the late 1970's, when OPEC held a stranglehold on the price of oil (sound familiar?) and President Carter tried to promote the use of alternative energy to the extent that he had solar panels installed on the White House roof (Reagan took them down). Jobs were scarce, inflation was raising, and the running boom, spurred by performances from Frank Shorter, Bill Rodgers, Mary Decker, and Joan Benoit, was expanding fast and furiously.

Running, seemingly overnight, had gone mainstream. Road races were being broadcast on TV. Michael Douglas did a movie called Running that was unfortunately forgettable. Jim Fixx had the best selling book in the world with his Complete Book of Running, and I, aware of the price of gasoline approaching one-dollar-a-gallon but too young and relatively secure in my middle class family's home to worry about it, witnessed swelling numbers of people standing in the street at the start of a simultaneously growing number of road races throughout greater Boston and throughout the country.
College graduates were not automatically advancing to the Fortune 500 the next day in 1979, and so I noticed them taking to the road. I only had my paper route and my homework to worry about, and many of them were running to keep themselves occupied while waiting within the green rooms of their stalled careers, but we were all starting to run a lot of miles each week, and when Sunday came, and the starter's pistol rang, for a few minutes nothing else mattered except getting to the finish line fast. Preferably faster than you, but above all, faster than one ran the month before at the same 10K distance. It was the ecstasy of intensity. Available every week for a nominal, tax-deductable fee to the charitable cause of the day. Was it a mass act of 'self discovery'? My experiences suggest to me that it was a mass act of going-for-it! The first running boom was made fertile in a populus wound from capital retrograde, but not made personally sluggish by it. On the contrary, the boom trained many in conquering all kinds of life's hills.

Over the next ten years, from 1979 through the last in a series of stubborn hip injuries and stress fractures in 1989, I ran 40 to 60 miles most weeks, and occasionally ran over 100 miles-a-week. It's not my intention to bore anyone with my autobiography here, so I won't, but I am proud of the following PR's that I collected in that period. The immediate future of this blog will explain in more detail how I got myself to the PR's I achieved. I will also try to explain how my early inability to be more flexible in my training likely kept me from achieving much better times. Here are a few of them:

1 mile: 4:29.3

5K: 15:33

10K: 32:44

10 miles: 55:11

13.1 miles: 1:15:11

Marathon: 2:46:33

The 80's eventually became economically prosperous, if not culturally polarizing, and furthermore, Wall Street seemingly soared through the 90's. Is it a coincidence that U.S. distance running receded internationally during much of this same period? I dunno. I do know that as my own careers in radio and law enforcement took more of my time in this period, that ultimately my running took on a lesser degree of importance. It took a few more years for me to learn to balance my life more consistently. I will not try to capture that struggle in one line or posting, but I'm sure the topic will be the focus of upcoming blog entries. Like Einstein said, "life is like riding a bicycle. To keep your balance you must keep moving." So I will try to keep moving more this year, literally and otherwise.
Next time: The Bill Rodgers Running Center School of Running

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Who's this 'running advisor' guy?!?

You may know me from my contributions to Phedippidations, The Extra Mile Podcast, and the Runners Roundtable, but if you have ever been inclined to heed my advice regarding periodization in training and running a little longer and slower to get faster (see Fdip #126), it seems only fitting at the onset of this blog that I fill you in a bit about who I am and how I collected what I know about this sport that has followed me for the majority of my life.

In 1977, I was the lead guitarist for the rock band, Aerosmith, when I came to the realization that .... um .... sorry. No. Not me. Only in my dreams. I was 11 at the time. Always wanted to do that, but I digress ....

I always remember my father running. He had joined the Boston Fire Department in 1970 following a career in electronics that had been doomed by President Nixon's initiative to build up California's silicon valley, taking jobs away from the greater Boston area. Consequently, my father, spurred by reading the book Aerobics by Dr. Kenneth Cooper, began running 1.5 mile laps around the Chestnut Hill Reservoir to keep fit for the rigors of firefighting.

By 1973, your six year old running advisor had successfully begged to join his father on the run, I think, as I recall, because I was quite enamoured with his all yellow adidas running shoes (some things never change!). I would struggle to finish one mile and a half loop with him, but I loved the camaraderie that I gained with my dad "'round the res", and I became amazed at flipping through my father's leather bound, self-styled running log, adding up the miles he had run over a month's time and beyond. Soon, I was presented with my own leather bound book of blank pages, and I commenced to filling the pages.

Winters of lessened activity led to springtimes focused on Little League baseball, but by 1978, the running bug had taken hold of my imagination. A series of seminal moments occurred to me in April of that year. On Monday, my family, as we did every Patriot's Day, had walked the three quarters of a mile from home to Commonwealth Ave. to cheer on the Boston Marathon. This year, a local man named Bill Rodgers held off a closing Jeff Wells to win this epic race for the second time. I remember watching him and the women's champion, Gayle Barron, being interviewed live on Good Morning America the next morning, and I was excited to see that they were being interviewed at the site of one of my dad's running loops that I joined him on, by the Brookline Reservoir.

Later that day (it was April school vacation week) I had Little League practice at the field at Cleveland Circle, complete with my wool "Giants" baseball uniform, my cleats, mitt, and bat in hand, when I decided to finally venture into the new store that had opened across the street from my baseball diamond. It was the Bill Rodgers Running Center, and sure enough, upon entry, amidst the slightly curious glares from the lean, athletic staff and comparably athletic band of customers assembled to buy new Nikes, Etonics, Tigers, and adidas shoes, was the champion himself - Bill Rodgers!

It must have taken me two long minutes to muster up the courage to approach this so recently wreathed king of the road, but I finally stepped towards him, awkwardly sputtering, "I saw you run yesterday -- good going!" he thanked me and, spotting my baseball gear that must had appeared to be a Halloween costume to those assembled there, replied, "how did your game go?" I shot back in nervous glee, "oh, um, we were just practicing today, but uh, I jog with my dad a lot and, um, can I have your autograph?"

He readily signed a brochure on hand in the store with his picture on it. I thanked him and departed immediately afterward. It was about a mile home from the store, and even in rubber cleated shoes, I ran the sidewalks all the way home. I don't think my feet spent much time on the ground for that run, and I'm sure my lungs tempered my joy with ample oxygen debt, but my new dream was, nonetheless, crystallized in that impromptu run down Chestnut Hill Avenue: I wanted to become a runner, and a fast one! I continued to play baseball that spring, making the All-Star Team at first base, but I also reopened my leather bound log, and this time, I had plenty to write inside of it. With my autographed brochure hanging in my bedroom as I dressed for each run, I lost 18 pounds over the summer school break, running nearly every day. By the autumn, my father suggested that we run a 7 mile road race together. The race would run over the legendary "Heartbreak Hill", and competing in the race would be non other than ... Bill Rodgers!

My organized baseball career was over.

NEXT TIME: Racing through the "Running Boom".

Monday, February 2, 2009

It's all about to begin again!

Introducing my new blog: The 22nd Miler!

Welcome! I promise to teach a bit, to share a bit more, and to walk the walk and run the run with you in 2009 and beyond! What would you like to see here?

Above all, I pledge to run with the purpose of experience, but tempered always with the passion of child's play ... running is recreation, the toy store of life!

So let's go play!

-- John E.