July 4th

For many, July 4th means fireworks, barbecues, and big crowds.  For me, Independence Day has usually meant a road race.  Over the past 20 years, I have run July 4th races 15 times on 7 different 5K to 10K courses.  The years I’ve missed have been due to injury or a crowded race schedule.  In Massachusetts, I’ve run races in Boston, Concord, Marblehead, Dedham, Hingham, and Nantucket. In Vermont Woodstock, Morrisville, South Hero and before that in Seattle, Denver, and Epping NH.  I can’t tell you about the fireworks displays those years but can recall the details of most of those races. I’ve read the most races on any given day is Thanksgiving.  It’s cool (or cold!) and both seasoned and occasional runners work up an appetite for the big T-day dinner.  My guess is July 4th has the second most races. Often there is beer, barbeque, bands, and a party following.  The weather is predictably warm (often hot!) and people are eager to hang out.  The races draw kids, grandparents, and everyone in between.    So in 2020, we have Covid-19.  Everything is different with essentially every race cancelled or virtual between March and so far through July.  I … Continue reading

The Heat is On!

During the past week, I ran two races in 80+ degree temps, with high humidity under sunny skies. It was hot! In July we might, and perhaps should, expect that. Coincidentally I’ve been reading Alex Hutchinson’s Endure in which he probes various conditions elite athletes overcame to achieve new heights. Or if they miscalibrated, went over the edge.   This book is a winner – Hutchinson has done his homework along with first-hand experience as a top middle distance runner. He was also an inside journalist on Nike’s attempt to break the 2-hour marathon in May 2017. Considering the recent heat spell, the chapter on heat was relevant. I’ll paraphrase how Hutchinson describes it. When core temperature rises, blood shunts to the skin as a way of dissipating heat and cooling the body. This mechanism works up to a point but there’s a tradeoff – this shunting steals blood from internal organs. At the extreme, heatstroke makes an appearance. This is dangerous stuff. When core temperature rises above 106° the self-regulation process breaks down and external cooling (ice baths!) is needed immediately to avoid long-term damage. I thought back on an experience with my first car — a ’56 Chevy. It … Continue reading

To Race or Not To Race? That is the Question!

Is it a stretch to suggest this Shakespearian corollary applies to competitive runners? Most of us have at least some of our identity connected to this sport we love. Not seeing our friends at races and toeing the line attacks our sense of self.   George Sheehan probed this years ago in his first book Running and Being. However, to shift from the existential to the practical side of the question, we competitive runners find ourselves in this predicament, probably several times a year. We train to do well in peak races that have meaning for various reasons.   For me I look forward to doing well in the USATF-New England Grand Prix series and the BAA Distance Medley (5K, 10K, Half). I know the best runners will be at the Grand Prix races and I want my age-class competition to know I need to be reckoned with! At root, these rivalries are supportive and rewarding. Camaraderie develops because we have each made sacrifices over an extended time. And races are a celebration of that. The BAA races are all large (~10,000 runners) events drawing an international field and there’s a definite “buzz” being part of then. If you’ve followed my blog, … Continue reading

The 80/50 Principle

Richard Koch wrote a bestseller in 1999 entitled the 80/20 Principle. He refers to the Pareto Principle, which goes back to 1896 and cites numerous activities where 20% of inputs gives 80% of the result. Others have professed something akin to a 90/50 principle.   In comparison, a steep decline – 30% more effort for 10% return. Let’s look closer at 80%. What is special about that? If we think about various things we do, 80% is pretty good. Better than just getting by. A decent level of success.    I’ve been thinking about how this applies to running. I started with the question of “what is 80%?” I thought about a 10K race. Let’s consider a runner whose current “best,” (i.e., 100%) is 40:00. This is solid running – for a 50 year old man that’s a 75.1% age grade – or halfway between a national and regional class runner according to the WAVA (World Association of Veteran Athletes) tables. For a 50-year old woman this is 85.7%, more than halfway between national and world class.   In the 2017 BAA 10K, 40:00 would have placed in the top 2%. So 40:00 is a reasonable standard. Coincidentally, I consider 40:00 my current … Continue reading