ast year, as most of you know, I ran the 117th Boston Marathon as a 70 year old. It was to be a birthday present to myself but it ended badly when terrorist bombs left 3 dead and many injured at the finish line. I was one of nearly 6000 runners who could not finish — but given that any of us could have been victims, we were actually the lucky ones. (For my full report, see .)

This year, through the good graces of the BAA, I will get a "do-over" and I will run the race, not as a birthday present to myself, but in memory of the dead and injured and in tribute to the volunteers and first responders who saved many, many lives last April.

But training is training no matter the motivation, and I am putting in the miles and hours needed for a sucessful marathon. And as I said last time around, "Here we go again!"

Prologue: Here We Go Again

y training for Boston didn't start suddenly at the stroke of midnight on New Year's Eve, but actually started about 2 months ago. But New Year's Day is a good time for publically starting new things and to express hopes and aspirations for the year ahead. Here are a few important steps taken in my training over the last two months that got me to where I am today:

I Engage a Coach

A couple of years back, my massage therapist, Joe Yates, who has been coaching runners professionally for a number of years, mentioned that he could help me lay out a plan to improve my marathon performance. At that point I was in the middle of training for the St. George Marathon and didn't want to "change horses in mid-stream", so-to-speak. But this time around I was about to start training for another marathon and decided to give Joe a shot. So I engaged Joe, and massage-guy Joe, became coach Joe. Over the next several weeks we laid out a weekly schedule (which included runs, drills, cross training and stretching), a weekly conference call and, of course, regular massage.

We Lay Out a Training Schedule

One of the great things about Joe is that he tries very hard to integrate the training patterns a runner has used successfully in the past into his training methods. In my case I had moved to a 4-days-a-week run schedule over a decade ago. Typically I would do Monday and Wednesday morning runs, Thursday evening hill workouts, and Saturday long runs. Joe took this pattern and tweaked it a bit — he changed the Saturday long run into a morning "shorter" run and an afternoon "longer" run. The distances were set as conditions allowed and as my fitness improved. He also structured my off days so that on Tuesdays and Fridays I would do a weight workout and bike workout in the gym with specific weights and repeats specified and increased as time went by. Very specific types of stretching were added before and after the runs and weight workouts. As of now, these workouts have become routine and I feel a gradual improvement in fitness.

Addressing a Persistent Problem (left over from last year)

Last February 10th (see ), on one of the only days with appreciable snow in Central park, my friend Susan and I did a 13+ mile run. Unfortunately, we chose to run the first half mile or so on the bridle path, which had about 4-6 inches of snow on the surface. This caused some soreness in my right hamstring (probably due to muscle stress in balancing and avoiding slips and falls). The rest of the run was uncomfortable. Normally this sort of thing should heal in a week or two, but my problem lasted forever — and it's still with me. It has hampered me in all the races I've done since, including last year's Boston.

Joe, as my massage guy, has worked on the problem area and given me various stretches and strenghening exercises, and things have gradually improved. Here's hoping that by April it will be a thing of the past.

January 1st: A New Year's Day Hash

usan and I were hoping to do some kind of run on New Year's Day. She was going to Central Park to do some running and watch the fireworks on New Year's Eve, and I would be home quietly celebrating with my wife. The strategy was, she would call me on New Year's Day when she was up and about and we would meet for some kind of run. Instead, she called me about noon the day before saying she got an email that there would be a New Year's Day Hash at 3:00 in the afternoon and would I like to do it with her? It was to meet at in Washington Heights, a favorite of ours, so I said "sure".

So what's a Hash? I had never done one, but it's a run where you follow a course (unknown in advance) marked on the sidewalk with various arrows and other symbols, and — if you don't get lost — end up at a bar. They are organized by clubs of a group called the Hash House Harriers aka HHH (variously described as "a running group with a drinking problem" or "a drinking group with a running problem") and you can apparently find one to join in most major cities of the world. Sounds like fun. See this: , and you'll find out more than you want to know.

Susan ran up from home (show off) and arrived about 5 minutes late and I arrived at Coogan's by subway about 10 minutes late. There was no one on the street so we thought we had missed the start and would never find the course or catch up with the pack. But when we peeked into Coogan's, we saw about 20 folks hanging out at the bar, apparently "hydrating" prior to the hash run. Finally about 3:30 we moved outside and the chief Hare explained a few fundamentals and abruptly we Hounds took off to follow the trail. Basically we went south a few blocks, then west to Riverside Park. We followed a path down the hill under the highways and eventually over the tracks and ended up on the Hudson River shore line.

Then we headed north under the GWB, up the hill, across the highway and eventually headed north through Bennett Park towards Inwood Hill Park (home of the Cloisters). Along this section a side trip took us to an old structure from the 1920s where we had some "fluid replacements". Water? No, Bloody Marys! Hey it's New Year's Day and many of us (not me) needed something to counteract last night's revels!

If you've followed along on the map and know a little about this area, you will realize we were running up and down hills big time. In fact the stretch from the shore near the GWB (a little above sea level), to Bennett Park (the highest point in Manhattan) has the most elevation gain in one contiguous stretch in all of Manhattan! The one ritual cry we all learned was "On, on!". This is yelled by a hound who finds the trail after it is temporarily lost. We ended at a small Irish Bar on Upper Broadway () where members of the group trickled in and started their recovery from the run (re-hydrating — but of course!)

Unfortunately Susan and I both had comittments and couldn't stay for what would probably turn out to be the central activity of the hash — I think the time they would spend at the bar was longer than the time spent running the hash. But we didn't just go home — we took a short cut and jogged back to Coogan's for just one beer (each). We both agreed this was just a terrific way to start the New Year. But if we ever do a hash again, we'll have to plan to stay after the run for the "full monty".

The Album below gives a few of the landmarks we passed on the run. The photos were from previous runs in the area — sorry, no photos were taken today. Click on the photo to bring up the Album.

New Year's Day Hash

Valentine's Day: The Halfway Point – a Very Busy Week

  figure that Valentine's Day (February 14th) is about the halfway point in my training. Of course that depends on exactly when I started, but it's close enough. I have just over 9 weeks to go and if you look back 9 weeks, that's when I was getting serious and increasing my mileage. So how am I doing? Well, it's complicated. I have had to deal with some anticipated issues, such as my chronically sore right hamstring, and some unanticipated ones — chief among them, the unseasonalby cold weather (the attck of the Artic Vortex) and a long lasting bout with some chest congestion.

Let's see how I'm doing by sketching out what my schedule was over the last week:

One thing you'll immediately notice is that the runnig is almost entirely in Central Park (except for Saturday's long run – and even for that, 4 miles was in the Park). That's because with snow (often frozen snow) constanly on the ground, streets clogged with pedestrians and intersections clogged with ice and slush, the Park was one of the few places with cleared, traffic-free roads. When we did run on the streets (as we did for much of the long run) it was very slow going.

Considering the conditions, the 15 mile long run was quite an accomplishment. Susan and I met in the north end of the Park (after I had run about 8 miles to get there) and mostly followed St. Nicholas Avenue up (see the map, which is just the part north from the Park). We took one gamble which did not pay off: thinking the route along the Harlem River in High Bridge Park would be cleared (since most of Central Park's walkways were cleared), we ran down the Harlem River Drive access road at 155th Street. At the bottom, one lane veers south to connect with the southbound lanes and the other lane crosses over the highway on an overpass to connect to the northbound lanes. The pedestrian walkway on this overpass was filled with frozen snow which was very slow and treacherous. But we were hoping against hope that when we reached the park walkway along the river, it would be clear. It was not to be – it looked like two miles of frozen snow ahead of us. So we turned around, slowly made our way back over the overpass and ran back up the sidewalk to 155th Street. That was a slow and tiring ¾ mile detour. You can see it on the elevation profile where the route goes down to mile 3 and back up. After this "detour", we made our way up St. Nicholas and Audubon Avenues to 190th Street and thence to Broadway using the 190th Street IRT subway elevator and tunnel.

Looking back at the elevation profile, you can also see that most of the elevation (aka Hills) of the run was from about 145th Street and Edgecombe Avenue (at mile 2) to 190th Street. The first two and the last 1½ miles were pretty flat. And no, that wasn't a cliff we fell off at 190th Street – that was the elevator in the 190th Street IRT subway station we took down.

From the Broadway end of the IRT tunnel, we went up Broadway and assorted roads in Inwood to finally get to – one of our favorite destinations. And guess what? With all this stop and go running and the slow side trip, my right hamstring didn't bother me at all!

Monday's, Wednesday's and Friday's runs were all in the Park. The high point was Wednesday's destination brunch at , a great favorite of ours at 97th and Park. Friday's 6 cold Cat Hills () were tiring, but were dutifully done. (Hey! "6 cold Cat Hills" sounds like a 6-pack, no? And "Cat Hill" would be a cool name for a local micro brew, doncha think?) (No, I don't suffer from excess beer on the brain!)

In all of these runs the temperatures were seldom over 30° and my chest congestion was definately a factor. Like most runners in the Northeast, we are wondering when this cold snowy weather will ever end. Enough Already! Bring Back Global Warming!

But not to be forgotten was the on Saturday night. It was stupendous, as always. But a 5 hour party after a 15 mile run surely tests one's endurance!

The Polar Vortex and Other Nasty Stuff

his winter, we learned there was somthing new to worry about, "The Polar Vortex". It's a catchy phrase, don't you think? It has something to do with some phenomenon up in the polar region which causes a vortex of cold air to break away from the usual circumpolar flow, and this "breakaway Vortex" heads down to our region, makes us cold, and eventually dissipates. I guess we used to be told there was some "cold Canadian air" moving down into our region. A vortex is clearly a much sexier term.

And the usual crowd of Global Warming deniers were quick to make fun of this as clear proof that if our weather was getting colder, then Global Warming must be a hoax. And of course the other side vehemently pointed out that the Polar Vortex, proved Global Warming was happening since it was warm air at the pole that was pushing this cold vortex south.

But for us, it was just cold.

Most of the runners I talked to agreed that this was the worst weather for training they had experienced in a long while, or ever. I tried to keep to my training plan but ended up skipping a run here or there. The two races I ran (see below) were very cold — 16° and 23° — and one long run in the frozen show was very sketchy. I tried to do some runs on the treadmill, but soon gave up. I guess I'm just an outdoors kind of guy.

But with the arrival of April, it seemed like spring was finally arriving. Early flowers bloomed in Central Park and I could at last run without wearing 2 or 3 layers.

Maybe it was all just a bad dream ...

January to March: Aches & Pains and Doctors

from the very start of my training, in fact for almost a year, I had been bothered by tightness and soreness in the right hamstring. Typically this caused a slight tightness during the first mile or two of a run and then later a soreness which eventually would necessitate stopping and massaging and stretching the problem area. This was manageable, but just barely, and seemed to be slowly improving. One thing that may have helped was a gradual evolution of my foot strike from the heel to the midfoot. But it was frustrating that what should have been a minor injury a year ago would become a chronic condition.

To add insult to injury, just as my hamstring problems seemed to be diminishing — I could run longer and longer without having to stop and stretch — another old nemesis, namely numbness (which would increase to the point of pain) in my right forefoot seemed to be coming back to haunt me. I first noticed this in 2011, and it would start towards the end of a few 20 milers I did that summer, and also around mile 10 in a couple of half marathons. Once again this started to bother me in the late miles of my long runs and it was getting worse, happening earlier and earlier in a run.

And lastly, throughout most of January and February, and extending into early March, I had persistent chest congestion. No runny nose, no sore throat, just congestion which would cause some caughing and shortness of breath. And not surprisingly, this, coupled with the interminable cold weather, had a strong negative impact on my running.

The General Practitioner

Having gone 3 or 4 weeks with little improvement of my chest congestion, and at the urging of my wife, I went to see Dr. K., my primary care physician on February 11th. She did a routine exam, including a throat examination and listened to my breathing. She said, no, I certainly did not have bronchitis or (heaven forbid) pneumonia, it was just a chest cold, and she had seen many of these from among her patients this season. She said just take some cough medicine (Robitussin) and expect it to last 6 or 8 weeks.

Well, it did slowly (very slowly) get better and had largely disappeared by March.

The Orthopedist

I decided that I should see an orthopedist to get a professional diagnosis and recommendation for my hamstring problem. So it was that on Feb. 14th I went to see Dr. P. (who is part of my health care group) and he did a thorough examination and got the whole history of the problem. He ordered X-rays of the pelvis and lower spine to rule out skeleton problems. He characterized my condition as "hamstring tendonitis", which is very non-specific.

The X-ray report from the radiologist had lots of medico-speak such as "mild proliferative changes" and "mild subchondrial sclerosis". Big words can always seem scary, but Dr. P. said for a person my age this sort of reading was not problematic and in fact was better than average.

The only treatment that Dr. P. said might help was to administer cortisone shots to the affected area, which would first require an MRI to identify exactly where the best target area for the shots were located. Since the problem was slowly getting better, I declined.

Out of the Frying Pan and into the Fire

Meanwhile, as I mentioned above, I was gradually trying to move my foot strike forward. I was not to trying intentionally to land on a particular part of the foot, but rather trying to move from my heel to the mid foot and on getting a good leg lift and a more rapid turnover. Whether by coincidence or by cause, my hamstring problem was improving and I only felt a little tightness and soreness. But low and behold an old problem which I had not experienced for almost a year started to come back: my right forefoot, especially near the big toe, would at first get a tingling, then numbness and eventually pain in the later miles of a run. This was particularly evident during a February 1st 14 mile long run.

This problem gradually got worse such that instead of occurring around mile 10 or 12, it would start around mile 5 or 6. It was time to see the podiatrist.

The Podiatrist

On March 13th, I saw Dr. L., a highly recommended podiatrist who specializes in running problems. I had seen him almost year ago, about 2 weeks after the 2013 Boston Marathon, and he suggested moving the contact point back from the forefoot onto the arch. He put some padding on the bottom of my insole (a standard Spenco Arch Support insole) and said to try it out and see how it feels. It turns out that I was cutting back on mileage at that point and taking time off from the high level of training I had done for the 2013 Boston. Subsequently into the summer and fall, I did only short races and modest mileage, so whether it was the reduced mileage or the doctor's padding on the insole, the problem disappeared.

But now it was back.

This time his diagnosis was similar but with more data he gave a more in-depth analysis. He said, yes indeed, moving from a heel strike to a midfoot strike could help the hamstring problem but exacerbate the forefoot problem. And he said the X-ray report which I showed him was one any 71 year old would be happy to get. Since I was planning a 20 miler that weekend, he put some padding in the arch as he had last year and said to call him early the following week to see if that helped.

On Wednesday of the next week, I talked to him on the phone and gave him a report on how the long run went (see post on "Longer" Longer Runs, above). In short it was not a bad run, but not everything went perfectly (what does?) So although the results were encouraging, more trials and testing lie ahead.

How am I doing? A Couple of Races

hen my coach Joe started laying out a schedule for my marathon training, he said I should plan a race of about 10 miles to a half-marathon about 8 weeks before Boston to guage how I was doing in my training. There was nothing I was interested in running just 8 weeks prior to Boston, but the Prospect Park Track Club Cherry Tree 10 miler (on Febuary 16th) was about 9 weeks out. So he said that was fine. I said I would also like to run the Manhattan Half (now renamed the Fred Lebow Manhattan Half) 3 weeks before the Cherry Tree, so he said, go for it.

Interestingly, I ran these same two races last year — the half was a couple of weeks before I injured my hamstring, and the 10 miler was just after. The results were strikingly different: I ran a very strong Half at about a 9 minute pace and 2nd in my age group (see ). In the 10 miler I was practically limping and just managed a 10:25 pace (see ).

A year later things were quite a bit better. Although I still had a lingering problem in the hamstring, to say nothing of a very cold training season and some chest congestion, I managed a 9:49 pace in the half and a 9:27 pace in the 10 miler. No, I wasn't near my 2013 9 min pace half-marathon, but I felt very happy to come back as far as I had. And furthermore, the hamstring problem was only a modest problem in the half, and the numbness problem was not a significant factor in either race.

Winter, on the other hand, was a factor. The January 26th half clocked in at 16° — I wore more layers than I can remember in a race and I even wore a balaclava (aka a ski mask) which I went out and bought for the occasion. The February 16th Cherry Tree was a balmy 23° — but to make up for the warm temperatures, an inch or two of fresh snow had fallen the night before. Luckily the course around Prospect Park was mostly clear, although you had to thread your way carefully at certain spots.

There's a strong similarity of these two parks. They were both designed by Ohlmstead and Vaux in the 19th century, and and both have hills to test the runner. The half is a bit over 2 loops of Central Park and the Cherry Tree is 3 loops of Prospect Park.

Manhattan Half Profile

Cherry Tree Profile

The two profiles above give the gist of these runs (sorry, I had to paste 3 pieces together for the Manhattan Half profile). I would say the elevation gain per mile is about the same. I tried to line them up so they are at the same scale and both start at the same point on the page. If you look closely at the numbers on the Central Park profile, although the scale goes way up to 233 feet, the hills just barely make it to 130'.

My personal preference is for Prospect Park. Although it comes 3 times, I think of it as one hill per loop, for what that is worth. And even considering the shorter distance, my pace was significantly faster.

March: The "Longer Runs" Get Longer

  had been following a long run schedule laid out by coach Joe since December. It was actually a schedule of a "shorter Run" in the morning and a "Longer Run" in the afternoon. This schedule was designed to gradually help my hamstring problem heal (see earlier post), while at the same time moving my mileage up. Consequently it was much less aggressive, mileage wise, than many of my previous marathon training schedules had been.

The shorter run / longer run combination was meant to build endurace in smaller increments while bulding on the ability to run a long run while the body was tired. Of course, a 3 mile shorter run plus a 15 mile longer run was not the same as an 18 mile run, but the 3 plus 15 combination did give more training value to the 15 miler than if I had (as I usually do) taken off the day before and the day after the long run.

Here's a quick outline of the schedule (as run):

Date Shorter
Build-up Phase
December 7 3 miles 12 miles
December 14 3 miles 12 miles
December 21 3 miles 13 miles
December 28 3 miles 10 miles
January 4 - 13 miles
January 11 3 miles 12 miles
January 18 3 miles 13 miles
January 26 Manhattan Half
February 1 3 miles 14 miles
February 8 3 miles 15 miles
February 16 Cherry Tree 10 Miler
February 22 3 miles 16 miles
Peak Phase
March 1 3 miles 18 miles
March 8 3 miles 16 miles
March 15 - 20 miles
March 22 5 miles 12 miles
March 30 - 20 miles
Tapering Phase
April 5 5 miles 10 miles
April 13 UEC 10K Trail Race
Boston Marathon

I'll talk a little about the two 20 milers, since those are the epitome of the training.

The first 20 was in good old Central Park on March 15th. It was a mild, partly cloudy day in which Melissa and one of her friends ran 10 miles of the run with me. In rough outline, it was 4 miles for me from home up to the park where I met Melissa and her friend. Then I did two 6 mile loops, of which the others joined me for the first. Then it was 4 miles back home to make 20. Here's a map (although most of you will be intimately familiar with this territory).

Central Park 20 Miler

From my log I wrote:

Numbness overall some better
Moved back to heel striking and used altered arch supports from Dr. L.
Went longer and numbness was more tingling that hurt.

Home to Boathouse via Melissa's: very slight tingle. Massaged foot briefly
1st loop: Some numbness last few miles, no pain. More delayed than previous week. Massaged foot for a while.
2nd loop: some numbness from about 13. Pain at 14.6. Stopped and massaged foot and took out heel lift. Felt the difference - more impact on rt. heel. At end of loop (72 & Fifth) some tingling, massaged some more.
Home: some tingling. Massaged briefly at 34th Street (19.5). OK to home.

Overall fitness good. Rt. hamstring no problem.
Not as sore as previous week after the run.

I considered this a good run with the hamstring problem largely absent, and the numbness diminished. The following elevation profile is interesting in the number of ups and down you get in going around Central park, but I guess everyone knows that already.

Two weeks later found me in Thornton, Colorado, where we were visiting my son and his family who moved there about 6 months before. It was our first visit and we knew little about the area (a suburb of Denver) except what we could get from a Google Map. We did know it was a dry flat area just east of the Rockies. Dry and flat sounded good for a long run (in spite of the 5000+ foot elevation), but where to run? Roads were not pedestrian friendly and I couldn't very well run across farm fields.

I turns out that this particular town, Thornton (largely developed over the last 30 years), had solved the problem. When the residential subdivisions were developed, a series of drainage ditches were preserved (for mitigation in time of flooding) and around most of them a right-of-way was established — somtimes narrow and sometimes quite wide — and a series of bike paths were constructed on these right-of-ways. (see this: .)

In fact, they were perfect, flat running territory. So I explored the maps and planned out a 6 mile loop which started about a mile from my son's houes. Voila! a 20 mile route (1 + 3 x 6 + 1 = 20). The map shows the details and the slide show shows the terrain. My impression was that is was dryer than I expected. A desert, really.

Thornton, Colorado 20 Miler

From my log:

20 miler good — but not great
hamstring OK, numbness better but still needed stops for massage

start at Peter's house
Loop 1 (CW 6.27 miles) start at Gazebo / port-o-san, (York Ave at park)
loop 2 (CCW 7.02 miles) at 12.48 (a little before Summit Cove Rd) stopped, rubbed foot to relieve numbness
loop 3 (CW 6.45 miles) at 15.20 (same place) stopped, rubbed foot to relieve numbness / at 18.71 (Colorado and 124th) stopped, rubbed foot etc.
Finish (York and Signal Creek) total 20.60 miles

The elevation profile below is more for comparison to the Central Park one than for it's intrinsic interest. Surprisingly, the total elevation difference between the high and low points for each loop was about the same as in Central Park, however the hills were 2 - 3 miles down and 2 - 3 miles up, which, to tell the truth, I hardly noticed during my run. To me the wrole thing was flat. No one would ever say that about Central Park.

The following Album does not show the picturesque Colorado mountain terrain we'ver come to expect — sorry. But what you see is what I got, and it was pretty easy running.

Thornton Colorado 20 Miler on Bike Paths

BTW: the trees that you see in most of these photos (such as the one above) are Cottonwoods. They're quite impressive and I can't wait till we visit again and they are all in full leaf.

And here are a few more albums we took while we were in Colorado (family stuff):

April 1st: At Last, It's Tapering Time

n just a few weeks I'll be at the starting line of the Boston Marathon. Right now I'm in that phase of marathon training called "Tapering". Basically, that means cutting back the volume of training and letting the body get some rest and rehabilitation from the intensity of the last 3 or 4 months. It's great not to be tired all the time and to wake up without aches and pains from the previous day's efforts.

This year, my training was not easy for a number of reasons and in fact it was probably the toughest marathon training I have ever done. The last 3 or 4 posts (below) will give you an insight into the issues I had. But I'm feeling fine now — it's a wonder what a little rest will do. The cold weather is but a memory and early spring flowers are blooming in Central Park. My several chronic "aches and pains" are somewhat better and I look forward to a good marathon — so, put these training issues in context and wish me luck on April 21st.

April 13th: One Last Fling — The Van Cortlandt Track Club
   Urban Environmental Challenge 10K Trail Race

hat's this? A race barely a week before my marathon? And a trail race? What if I trip and beak my ankle? Relax — this was an easy race and I was very cautious. No falls, no broken ankles for me. And I will quote coach Joe when I asked about running a 5K a week before a marathon in 2012:

"Running a 5K a week before a marathon can be not only OK, but beneficial. I would say that it would only be appropriate for an experienced runner who knows how to stay within themselves and not overdo things. You definitely fall into that category, so give it a go!"

Now, I figure, if a 5K is OK, a 10K must be twice OK !

The Park was beautiful and the weather was perfect (high 50°s to low 60°s) and this really helped me chase away the pre-marathon jitters and do some very enjoyable running in a place I love.

And although I was cautious (I slowed to a walk on the many rocky ups and downs) I did push hard. I saw one other gentleman who looked to be in my age group (= gray hair) and moved ahead and stayed ahead of him in the second half of the course and yes, I beat him by a good minute or two. Unfortunately some other old guy managed to sneak ahead of us and beat me out for the 1st place in the 70+ group.

But 2nd place isn't too bad (as my daughter would say, it was a "podium finish") and I walked away with one of the coveted carrot muffins that we strive for when we go up to "Vanny" to race on the trails. My wife (with whom I will share the prize at breakfast tomorrow) was equally pleased.

VCTC Urban Environmental Challenge 10K Trail Race

So, I "Blew out the cylinders", so to speak, in this race. Now with a few days of rest, and maybe an easy 3 or 4 miler or two later in the week, I AM READY!

For those who like to know these things, here's a link for the race: