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Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Why treadmill running (probably) won't kill you this winter.

The treadmill is a swear word to many runners. "Why work out like a hamster" I've heard uttered before. I know, it's not the epic trail that you may run from time to time or a moonlit path in the city, but don't kid yourself. The treadmill can kick your ass- if you let it.

If your like the majority of runners who train mostly alone, keeping honest with workouts can be challenging. There is no incentive, no skin in the game. What if the incentive was not being thrown into the back wall.

Not to mention the excuses we all give ourselves for poor workouts in the winter. .. "oh the cold air is too much too breathe hard " or "the road was so slippery, I'm just glad I didn't trip!". All signs that your run wasn't very productive... but was probably fun.

I'm not trying to be a fun sponge and say that running in the snow and such is bad, but at times it can be counter-productive. Your working so hard not to fall on your ass that your A) utilizing bad running form and B) running slower than your probably supposed to for a given workout.

Also, Heres a Pro- Tip: Literally no one cares if you run outside in sub 20 degree weather. I know, I know, your selfie of your snow beard nearly went viral- but unless your training for the Antartica marathon, everyone will be asking you the same question. Why?

So are you catching my drift, think you want to start doing some workouts on the treadmill? Here are some simple steps to starting.

Option A: Buy a treadmill
I know what your thinking, "Im not sure I can commit to this." Its a big step in a runners life, so lets discuss the most popular and affordable option.

Option B: Join a Gym
The Gym is a very scary place for most runners. It is the shrine of pulsing veins and oily muscles- as well as senior citizen silver sneaker classes. Fear not! Although you may see shirts that read, " Eat Big and leave a huge corpse" or "315 Bench Club", these people do not want to eat you, nor bench press you. They are here to do what you have come to do, and that is workout. Odds are you'll never even compete with them for the same weight room equipment. Here are some unspoken truths of the gym-
1) Every day is Bi's, Tri's, and Chest
2) Heavy Metal means mad gains
3) When someone is chalking their hands, you better pay attention. This person is setting world records.

Other than that you just have to make it to a treadmill without receiving too much ridicule for your tiny shorts and 5k tee shirt. And even if you do, let it fuel the fire! Bring with you a music device preloaded with Rage Against the Machine, Beastie Boys, Naughty by Nature, Cypress Hill, etc. You will have nothing good to look at for the next 30-90 minutes, so get in the zone (unless an attractive women/man gets onto an elliptical thats positioned in front of you). Hopefully after a few sessions you will have found that special treadmill that goes faster than the others. Yes, this is the diamond in the rough- your noble steed that you will ride into the spring race season with. You will tame her, and when you do, your spring PR's will be bountiful.

Listen- you don't have to believe what I say about the treadmill, who am I? Im not even the top runner in the small Buffalo area suburb that I live in. But I can tell you that the people in our area that keep their winter speed work honest by running on the treadmill are kicking my butt right now. So where do you want to be when the spring season rolls around?

** Also, if you are training for a winter race where weather could be an issue, then yes -this post was probably useless to you. Preparing for conditions will be important for your event- so be smart and good luck.

This post was inspired by my good friend "A-List", who is a Buffalo Area runner that has continued to improve his personal records with more than 60% of his training performed on a treadmill. In just 4 years he has taken his marathon time to 2:40 and his 5k to 16:08. Think he hasn't improved on the treadmill? He's the guy that got me to buy into it.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Mini Beast reflections: Beast of Burden 25 mile race report

There is only one constant in our lives
and that is change.

As I pulled into a parking spot on Mill street I couldn't help but think about how different this time running the erie canal tow path would be.

About 6 months earlier I had pulled into a parking spot on Mill street in my cold gear leggings and a winter jacket. The heat in my car was blasting and my music was turned down to a dull rumble. I was nervous- but had the support of my family and three of my friends who were willing to pace me in my 50 mile race. The real feel temperature was in the single digits and as the race started I had no idea what to expect. Pure adrenaline ran through me.

But this time was different. Due to an injury a few weeks prior I would only be running the 25 mile version of the race. The temperature was in the 80s- and my pacers in the previous race were no longer with me. Each is dealing with their own struggles- one has a family member with health concerns, the other with a job that hasn't left him much time to run, and the other a product of a failed romantic relationship.

I currently have good relationships with all of them, but it was bittersweet knowing that I would be traveling this course without their company.

The temperature changed, the company changed, the distance changed, and my apprehension was totally different. No longer was adrenaline pumping through me- but doubt. I was concerned about my injured heel holding up on the course.

Im typically a chatty guy at races, but this time was different. I put in my ear plugs at the start line and become mostly silent for the rest of the event. I think I was trying to drown my feelings of self doubt in Rage Against the Machine and Radiohead music. Thankfully it worked.

The heat and humidity were difficult to manage. I found myself with stomach discomfort after each gel I consumed- luckily I had brought some ginger candies with me to battle the pain.

At the last Aid Station I filled my water bottle and poured cups of water over my head. As soon as I left Radioheads "High and Dry" played into my ears- a funny reminder of how I hadn't actually drank any water at the station.

As I ran the final miles I couldn't help but think about the past. So much has changed for me in few months- but had I not returned back to this course I may not have realized it. 

Upon finishing I was helped into an aid station tent by Jim Pease and Dwight- a massage therapist from New York City. We chatted about ultra running- mostly about how crazy I thought they both were for running hundred mile races. Dwight told me about his 100 mile journey just a few months prior- he said that it was his first race ever. No 5ks, 10ks, half marathons, or marathons- just 100 miles. I was floored.

I watched few runners come into the 25 mile mark- many of whom were running the 100 mile race and were looking very fresh. I iced my ankles and knees and felt grateful that I could even complete the 25 mile race today. I felt no envy towards these runners- just gratitude.

There were many repeat customers from the winter version of the Beast of Burden. It was good seeing them - these crazy people that I share a passion with. It was a beautiful reminder that although many things were different in this race, some things had not changed- my own desire to run.

25 miles in 3:05

Thanks to all volunteers of the Beast of Burden ultra marathon and to the Race Directors Ken and Bob! Congrats to Sam Corey, Heather Burger, Laura Makey, Denise Salmons, Justin Fitzgerald, Will Sulak, Tammy Messmer, Kevin Carrigan and everyone else that ran in the heat and humidity on August 9th 2014. You all inspire me :)

Be safe and always remember to run your own race.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Desert Solitude, Perfect Strangers, and Running in the Heat: my summer adventure in the American Southwest

There is a wonderful New York times story about a man nicknamed "slowmo". He roller blades along the streets of California in a fashion that makes him look as though time has stopped. He glides. It looks very strange, but you can tell by the smile on the mans face that he is having the most fun in the world. What many californians did not know was that "slowmo" was once a prominent surgeon. He lost his eyesight and subsequently lost his practice. At his last day in the hospital he asked a 90 year old man how he had managed to live so long. The man looked him straight in the eye and said, "You do exactly what you want."

I had planned out a month long summer road trip in the beginning of the winter. When the plans fell through, I set into a short phase of self loathing. "I'll just stick around here this summer, work a lot, it'll be fine" I convinced myself. But I had the time off of work, I am young, single, and mobile- I had to take the opportunity. I had to see the desert. I thought of "slowmo" as I booked the flight to Las Vegas. I did exactly what I wanted, and after a few minutes the reality sunk in that I was traveling to a region of the country I had never been to before with not a single person I had ever met..... this might be a little weird.....

 The trip

"Traveling alone is good for the soul" said Katie, my vacation tour guide as I buckled into the front seat of the van. I couldn't agree with her more, but due to the fact that I had been alone for the last 3 days starved of any real human communication I only nodded briefly at her comment. In the hours that passed, we traveled to Zion National park. Our conversation lasted almost the entire drive. In the previous 3 days with all the traveling, running, and new experiences I had made- I didn't really register how alone I had become, how downright weird and awkward I now was. Gushing out my life story to a complete stranger in an oversized van- it was absolutely what I needed.

I arrived to Vegas on June 15th at 10 am and headed straight to Red Rock Canyon in my tiny red rental car. The sun was hot, the air was dry, and the colors of the desert were magnificent. I hopped out of my car at the first stop of the scenic loop and went for a jog. The sandy soil felt great on my feet. There was not a single person on the trail, I had her all to myself. Its a miracle I didn't trip- I was looking all around taking in the sights. The large red and white rocks that looked like they had been placed there by aliens surrounded me. The cacti and bushes that brushed my legs asI ran by them gave me a pleasant rush of adrenaline. I was in total sensory overload, and loving every second of it.

After 8 plus hours of exploring the park, I headed over to the campground/picnic area to watch the sunset. The grounds were noisy. Lots of young families were starting fires, playing games, and singing loud songs. I became a tad irritated with the noise as I watched the sun set. I decided that if I couldn't get peace and quiet I might as well continue to experience sensory overload. So as the sky became dark, I packed up my car and headed to downtown Las Vegas.

In my sweat filled running singlet, bright green sneakers, and short shorts I would have stood out in many a crowd. Vegas was different. No one batted an eye at my goofy attire.

The lights and architecture of Vegas are mesmerizing. Such a stark contrast from the natural wonders I had seen earlier in the day. Walking around the strip at 2 am on a Sunday night felt like walking around a busy street in Buffalo at 8 pm on a Friday night, with probably 4 times the amount of people. And due to the lax open container laws in Las Vegas- almost everyone I encountered that night had some form of alcoholic beverage in their hands.

Skip ahead to the next day at 11 am. I am finishing my tour at the Hoover Dam and looking at my watch. I have run the scenic road into the dam area, taken pictures and conversed with employees of the dam, and had a large breakfast. With no further plans for the day, I decided to head to the Grand Canyon.

I arrived at the Grand Canyon around 3:30 and rushed out of my car. My legs were half asleep, so when I actually got close enough to see the canyon the jitters that started in my stomach radiated down my legs and made them feel as though they were about to explode. It was a weird rush, I loved every second.

I ran the rim trail of the Grand Canyon for about an hour and a half and walked back with my camera at hand. I took lots of pictures, but nothing could really do justice. I closed my eyes and took a mental snapshot. I also convinced myself that I must return someday. Maybe it will be the Grand Canyon ultra, or a Rim to Rim run, or a hike down into the canyon with some friends.

That night I scored a motel room in a nearby town called Tusayan. They had a nice little continental breakfast  from which I grabbed three bananas, a bagel, peanut butter packets and small box of cheerios for the day ahead. 

That morning I ran and hiked in the grand canyon- this time going down into the actual canyon as a opposed to just going along the rim. After a few hours I hopped back into the little rental car and headed to Vegas once more. That night I met up with my travel group and went down to the strip with them. ::What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas::

From here on out the vacation became a blur. I was with so many new people, talking, exploring, and hiking in these exquisitely beautiful parks. The drives seemed so much shorter with people to talk to- and a driver doing the actual driving. We packed our days to the fullest, some days waking up at 4:30 am to make it to a park on time or to see a sunrise. Although I returned home to Buffalo a zombie for a few days, the sleepless nights were one hundred percent worth it. So not to make this blog entry 100 pages long, here were some major highlights.

-Angels landing trail, Zion national park
- Bryce Point and Fairyland, Bryce Canyon 
-Sunset at Dead horse point, Moab 
- Late night ice cream at the Moab Diner, Moab 
- Off Road Hummer tour, Moab
- Sunset at delicate arch, Arches national park 
-The Needles, Canyonlands national park 
- Pow wow, sleeping under the stars, and experiencing a sunrise in navajo nation, Monument Valley 
- Antelope canyon tour and cowboy dinner, Page UT
- Petroglyphs on cliffs, Capitol Reef State park 
-Karaoke at Ellis Island, Las Vegas
-Shark Reef at Mandelay Bay, Las Vegas
- Running, essentially everywhere

Running in the heat 

One of the most wonderful things about canyons, especially the Grand Canyon or Bryce Canyon, is how far you can see when standing on top of them. At Bryce point I felt as though I could see 50 miles ahead, watching the red desert sand turn to lush cattle fields and then to bluish grey mountains. In the Grand Canyon I looked down as saw the red and orange rock formations that patterned the canyon floor. The greenish blue river that runs through the Canyon is very visible from the top- its color almost a complete opposite to everything else in the Canyon.

But when you head down into them, it gets hot- quickly. The bright angel trail in the Grand Canyon was my first canyon hike/run and boy did it wake me up to the realities of canyon running. Luckily, there is a water bottle filling station right at the trail head, so I had a full bottle of water as I headed down the trail.

Running in the Grand Canyon, Bryce Canyon, Arches National Park, and Page Utah was incredible. I abandoned my gps watch, split times, and workout schedules and just cruised along the trails. I stopped when I wanted to and took in the sights. The runs were like quick tours of the area, I was killing two birds with the same stone. They were also some of the only times I ventured off alone from my group. After almost two weeks of running completely alone, I missed my training partners back in Buffalo.

I especially missed them while running in Arches national park. As I ran from balanced rock trail out to the Windows trailhead I saw a bunch of cyclists buzzing by me on the opposite side of the road. I was taking in the sights, feeling the dry desert air, and getting the runners high like I have never had before- but I will be unable to share that experience with any of my training partners or friends. Its a trade off you make when you travel alone, but Id make the decision again and again. Sometimes you need to be free of the things and people you love before you really start to notice how valuable they are to your life. That being said....

Go it alone

I could go on and on about the things I saw and did on this trip, but I'd rather just convince you all to go out and experience them for yourself. Go to experience a pow wow in monument valley, sleep under the stars, and get woken up by wild horse at 2 am. Look down into the cliffs of Dead Horse point Utah and watch the sunset. See the desert, touch the sand, feel the heat. Its seductive in its own special way.

And if you have no one to go with... go it alone. Its hard if you follow the news to have faith in the kindness of strangers, but you just have to trust sometimes. I booked a trip through an adventure travel company- so although I did not know anyone, I was traveling with people who had decided to spend there vacation time in national parks. We had to have things in common.

I'm not going to lie, I got very lucky. Our group bonded almost immediately. The fellow travelers were from all over the world- Australia, Germany, Switzerland, England, and Scotland. We all brought something different to the table, but we acted very well communally. All of our destination times were met. When we had 45 minutes to prepare a meal we had it done in 30. We all took hikes and went on excursions together. I can say after a week of living in close quarters with these people they became my friends.

In conclusion 

I fell deeply in love with the desert, I tell anyone planning a vacation to strongly consider it as a destination. My parents even switched there summer plans to fly down to Arizona and see the Grand Canyon, I guess I can be pretty persuasive. I also boosted my own self confidence about traveling alone and I took the sound advice from the anonymous old man that inspired "slowmo"- I did exactly what I wanted (in a positive way). If your young and looking for an adventure, I urge you to go to the American Southwest. Do it now, do it before you can't. You'll thank me when your older.

A  very special thanks to Alyson Duffy who told me all about Moab Utah and got me salivating over the pictures of delicate arch. Also a special thanks to my Intrepid guide Katie Regan who was a vital part of me seeing so much on my vacation. Last thank you goes to Mike Wach who last years took a road trip with me to Wyoming and Colorado. You got the "travel west"bug in me and I cannot thank you enough for it. 

Be safe- and always run your own race :)

Monday, June 2, 2014

The Science and Art of running: Cayuga Trails 50 race report

I know that there is a science to running. It includes physics, chemistry, anatomy, mathematics, nutrition, psychology and numerous other disciplines.

The scientific theory that applied most to the Cayuga Trails 50 mile race was that of relativity- as Albert Einstein put it,
"Put your hand on a hot stove for a minute, and it seems like and hour. Sit with a pretty girl for an hour, and it seems like a minute, THAT's relativity."

When I tell people that I am planning to run 50 miles they often give a reference to that distance, "Well thats like running from (location a) to (location b, which is 50 miles away)!" The most common reference I hear is Buffalo to Ellicottville. 

It sounds daunting. It looks awful. It appears altogether overwhelming, but then you have to factor the theory of relativity:

I love to run long distances. Many of my friends are all along the course giving me encouragement. The temperature is perfect. The trail is beautiful. My legs are fresh. 

This doesn't change the distance- nor the 9 plus hours spent completing it, but it changes of the perception of the task. It wasn't 9 hours of job that is dissatisfying, it was more like 9 hours in disney world. 

Running trails may not be your bliss, but I'm quite certain everyone can relate to an activity that they can get lost in. To recognize that bliss and develop your ability is the choice we are all given.

So heres how the race went: 

I arrived at the North Shelter of the Tremon State park at 4:45 am, driven by my brother Alex. We had camped at Buttermilk State park the night before. I tried to lay down and fall asleep at 10 pm, but instead I lay awake almost the entire night listening to my brother, Mike Wach, and Jenna talk about when humans would need to leave the earth and colonize other planets. It kept my mind off the race.

Waiting for me at the shelter was Gil, Tim, and Laura- my race crew for the day. I briefed them on my drop bag and the location of all the essential items. I was trying to remain calm, but as the minutes ticked down til the race started to feel giddy. 

I drank some coffee, ate a bagel, went to the bathroom and before I knew it the horn sounded and the race began. 

Being that this was the most competitive ultra marathon I had ever competed in, I had no idea what to expect. The lead pack started out at a dizzying pace. Did I not get the memo? Was this changed to a 5k race?

That was really the last I saw of the leaders. I settled into a comfortable pace. My coach had told me to stay conservative in the beginning. After checking out the course with Mike the day prior that may have meant to power walk the first 25 miles. 

The first loop was a blur. The course was so beautiful and the cool morning air made it for an extremely pleasant 25 miles. I saw my friends scattered along the course route- always a pleasant pick- me- up. A hug from Mike at the halfway point, a thumbs up and smile from Alex at an aide station, loud cheers from Julia Smith her sisters and mother at crossroad point, and the Bloody Nipples Athletic club guys (and girl) Andy, Jay, and Lynn clapping for me at trailhead.

I felt like I could go on forever. That wasn't the case.

Meanwhile at each aide station, Gil was making sure I wasted as little time as possible. He handed me roctane energy gels, filled my water bottles, and monitored my caloric intake. At mile 18 he filled my water bottle with Ginger ale. Id never trained with ginger ale before- but it worked wonders. Any uneasiness in my stomach subsided. 

While on the course I chatted for a few miles with a man named Eric. He was a chemist from New Jersey running in his first 50 mile race. He told me all about his humble beginnings in running, his kids, his research, and about living in New Jersey. I conversed a little bit, but when the 38 mile point hit I told him that I was too physically taxed to keep talking. 

He was fine, his stride still looked strong and his spirits were high. "Go make a move Eric, don't you wait for me. I'll see you at the finish." I said. We didn't encounter again on the course, but I saw him at the finish line and gave him a huge hug. He finished his first 50 mile race in the 24th place.

At the time Eric was leaving, so was the strength in my legs. As I went to walk up a stone staircase- my left quad just wouldn't contract. I came back down the stair, had to regroup, and hopped onto the next step. I pushed my hands hard on my legs as I climbed the stairs, giving some added boost to my weak steps. The wheels had fallen off. And I knew it.

The next few miles were painful and when I reached the final aide station my emotions started to spill. While taking a video of me leaving the final aide station Julia said to me, "Say hi to your mom Zach, she probably thinks your crazy!" 

I tried to hold back the tears, but it was no good. I was going to finish this course and I had hundreds of people to thank. It all went by so quick. The 50 mile ultra marathon turned into a 2.9 mile hobble to the finish- and I was going to make it.

I crossed the finish line, bent over. and put my face in my hands. I cried tears of joy for several seconds- but didn't have the energy to hyperventilate. It was over. Muscles that I didn't know I had ached, my stomach was a wreck, my feet felt raw, but I was grinning from ear to ear. My crying turned to laughter and Im quite sure I must have looked like a lunatic. 

I desperately needed to lay down.

Laura grabbed me by the side and carried me into the North Shelter. She told me to lay on my back and put my feet up on a large plastic bin. She left and quickly returned with three bags of ice which I put on my knees and forehead. I closed my eyes in exhaustion.

When I opened my eyes and saw my friend Nate Beardsley and his girlfriend Katie staring down at me, their faces expressed both pity and excitement. Nate had ran with me in my first 50 mile race along with Andy Campanga and Julia Smith, so he knew what to expect. 

When I regained my composure and finally stood up I read a thank you speech I had prepared the night before I left for Ithaca. It mentioned all the people who had helped make the race as special as it was and who had positively influenced my life. I got choked up during the entire reading- and fortunately for my machismo, Tim- who had been videotaping the entire race, lost battery in his video camera. Perfect timing. 

So although I believe that running has a science behind it, I also believe that it is a form of athletic art. There is no one way to run. Each runner uses there own body as a paintbrush and each course as their canvas. 

Fast or slow, short or long, if you can make your race into its own art form as opposed to a lifeless body of statistics and excel charts you will truly enjoy the pure bliss that running is supposed to be. Then let the theory of relativity apply itself...

So be well, stay safe, and ALWAYS run your own race. 

Monday, May 26, 2014

Running unattached: How running clubs are helping people stay active, reach goals, and develop friendships

There is no cool way to say this. I'm going to sound like that guy in the corner of Golds Gym who reminds everyone near the weight rack how much he, "used to bench".

But here it goes. I was supposed to be a college athlete.

Its kindof a funny story. When I was accepted to D'youville's Physician Assistant program I received a little pamphlet asking if I was interested in any of the schools sports or clubs. I checked cross country.

A few weeks later I saw a guy in a D'youville cross country shirt at a local 5k (the St. John Vianny). I asked him if he had ran for the school. He was the coach.

We trash talked a little before the race and I left him my name and number. He called me the next week and gave me the meet schedule. I was beaming.

I started running tempos. I even made it to a track once. I had one ultra marathon left, but that was it. Done with that and onto cross country racing. I even bought red racing flats to match my jersey. I never received that jersey.

On the day of cross country orientation the athletic director walked into the small classroom and shouted, "does anyone here have an undergraduate degree? If so raise your hand."

I raised my hand.

"Okay bud, I'm sorry to inform you but you are unable to run here. NCAA rules. If you'd like to help coach just let me know."

I was embarrassed, confused, and shocked. I threw on my red racing flats and ran through the city. I came back a few hours later, took a shower and went into the gross anatomy lab to finish studying. I was quiet for a few days.

That was fate. But so was meeting Nate B at the Greater Buffalo Track and Field cross country race at Hoyt lake.

It was a miserable day. The course was soaked. Light rain came down. The skies were cloudy and truth be told, I just wanted to get it over with.

The gun went off and I soon realized that this was not going to be a good race. I was slipping all over the place and the leaders were running out of my sight. "Just finish", I thought.

I was running toe to toe with this kid in a red and white jersey that had the word "ripper" on the back of it. I asked him if his name was Jack. He said it was Nate. We pushed through the last mile, watching each other and we slogged up the muddy hills, neither of us were having a banner day.

At the end of the race we met up. He had mentioned that the club he was in, the "Bloody Nipples Athletic Club" ran long days at chestnut ridge. I told him to call me the next time he was around.

 (Nate B to the left- Justin to the right)

Speed to the present. I have run numerous races with my running club teammates and have had even more great training runs with them. I ran for almost an entire year with one maybe two friends- and now I have a phone full of contacts that I can run with. Or hang out with. Or both. These people have brought me through the longest race of my life- pacing for 20 long cold miles on the erie canal toe path. I have seen them all break personal records- most recently in the Buffalo Marathon and Half marathon. They are even traveling out 3 hours to watch me race in the gorges of Ithaca. I often think, "Wow, what if I had never ran that race. None of this would have happened."

(Nate B left and Andy C right)

Again, I really don't think that God cares much about running, but I can't call this a coincidence. So if you find yourself training alone- you don't have to be. If you find yourself doing almost any activity alone- you don't have to be.  Join a club. Get involved. And let fate take care of the rest.

In a world where many struggle to make meaningful relationships after high school or college- I can say that that I have made life long friends in my running club. When I entertain the thought of moving after I receive my masters degree I think, "I wonder what the running clubs are like?"

 (thank you to all the people of BNAC, PAC, and Runaway runners- and all the other wonderful people I have met at races and on the trails. I am so glad to be part of such a wonderful community)

(Andy left and Lynn right)


A very special congratulations to my close friend since freshman year of high school- Mike Wach. He finished his first marathon this week and I could not be prouder. You are great friend, a great medical student, and now I can honestly say- A GREAT RUNNER. Keep setting high goals- there is nothing you can't achieve.

Be well and ALWAYS run your own race. 

Monday, May 5, 2014

Digging Deep 5/4/14

Marathon training will get a person prepared for the physical challenge of running 26.2 miles.

What marathon training will not teach you is how to dig deep within yourself during points of total psychological agony and mental anguish. 

Let me tell you about my marathon.

Prior to the marathon I had been feeling depressed. I had been studying for hours non stop, tapering my runs, not drinking alcohol  or coffee, and feeling unwanted in a relationship. More negative thoughts flooded my brain that week than ever before. The voices in my head kept telling me that I would fail. I could not become my own advocate.  To make matters worse I had strained my calf just 6 days prior to my race and had been icing it religiously. I had brought many of my anxieties and worries to Toronto, hoping to let them die or figure them out on the course. In actuality, I did neither. 

When the gun went off at 7:30 am on Sunday morning- I had not a confident bone in my body. My gps watch was malfunctioned from the get go, telling me that I was running 4:53 miles at one point and then 8:43 miles just seconds later. After mile 3 there were at least 80 people ahead of me. 

I ran up beside a man with a large faced watch and asked, "hey! How fast are we running?" He told me 4 minutes per kilometer. 

Crap. Now I have to do math? I decided to switch my watch over to time elapsed so I could monitor how long it was taking me to reach the halfway point. 

My parents who had driven me to the race never actually made it to the marathon course. They had been misguided and waited for me at the half marathon course which was miles away. I wanted to see them so bad. It just wasn't meant to happen.

At the 10k mark my calf started to feel funky. Each step made it feel as though the tendons nearest my knee were beginning to splay. I looked down to see if there was any noticeable swelling. None. The show went on.

I had been eating gels and gummys every 4 miles, which I had trained my body to do on the tempo runs. Unfortunately, non of my tempo runs were 26.2 miles- so when mile 17 hit the latest gel started to flow up my esophagus and onto my jersey. Luckily there was a water station nearby and I rinsed my mouth with gatorade. 

At mile 17 I wanted to quit. I wanted to sit in the grass, let everyone pass me, and wallow in my own filth. I kept moving at a rapidly deteriorating pace and toyed with the idea of failure. But that wasn't the plan.

Out of nowhere this skinny dark haired man hopped onto the course and shouted to me- "Lets go guy! Im bringing you in." He had a running piny on that said Black Lungs Running Club on the front and "way" on the back. The guy coached me through the last 6.5 miles-staying just a few seconds ahead of me, grabbing me water at each station, counting down the kilometers left in the race and overall building my self esteem. 

"Who the hell is this guy?" I thought. In a race of over 2000 people why me? Did I look that bad out there? 

I really couldn't think too much of it until he shook my hand with 200 meters to go and said, "Go bring it on home man. Finish what you started." I sped to the finish line and he darted off the course.

When the race ended I mentally broke down. In the corral of people heading to the after party I leaned against the gated fence and wept. My hyperventilating made it feel as though I had wind knocked out of me. A stranger who was behind me in the race grabbed my shoulders and hugged me. We exchanged no words. 

I felt as though God had intervened in that race, but Im hesitant to fully admit that. Why God would care about meaningless marathon is what I struggle to understand- but nonetheless I feel as though it was not a mere coincidence. That man was an angel to me. 

When I saw my parents and youngest brother at the finish I hugged them, cried, and tried to say something but I couldn't. I felt as though my organs had been removed from my abdomen, my insides were absent. I felt a strange sense of hollowness.

When I returned home that night, the relationship that had recently been a huge stressor was abruptly pulled from me. The other person I'm sure wanted to pick another day, but there is never a good day for bad news. 

The hollowness expanded. My insides were gone. I felt incredibly light. 

May 4th 2014 dug deep into me, but it did not dig through me. If you know me at all- it takes more than a broken heart, broken body, or broken hope to get me to lay down. The world can rattle my spine and I would wake up the next day accepting a new challenge. Just. Keep. Swimming. 

In conclusion:

 I want to let all who are running their first marathon, half marathon, 5k or are taking on a new career/lifestyle change that you need to dig deep to accomplish your goals. When you dig to the core of yourself you will be free to accept the help of others and build a positive image of yourself. And when you do, you will create a masterpiece. 

Stay well and ALWAYS run your own race. 

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Who are endurance athletes?

With the Boston Marathon fresh in our minds, many people are asking, "who are these endurance athletes?"

I remember the reaction of a woman that I work with responding to me telling her I was paying to run a marathon- " ARE YOU OUT OF YOUR MIND?? Paying to run 20 some odd miles? Your a lunatic!"

But endurance athletes aren't just those of us who lace up our shoes and head to the roads. Endurance athletes are people that look to the future ahead and need things that are going to last. Our shoes, our legs, our lungs, and our social support has to last us the distance. Our minds must be as healthy as our bodies- neither can be broken.

 In the, "throw away" culture we live in, an endurance athlete needs to find things of value and longevity. For as in running as in life, "its not how you start, but its how you finish."

The hours training, the sweat, the blisters, the heavy breathing- its for a purpose. Its for a goal. Same goes for the student that spends countless hours studying his discipline, the father working long hours to support his family, the actress performing pro bono to make a name for herself.

It is we who strive for better, because mediocre won't cut it.

Id like to take this opportunity to tell you about my favorite endurance athlete of all time: my grandfather who I affectionately call "Nonno". And although he jogs on his treadmill for 30 minutes a day, thats not the kind of endurance I'm talking about.

My grandfather started working when he was in middle school- laying bricks, pouring concrete, and waiting on tables. He worked all throughout college, eventually receiving a PHD in education and marrying a woman whom he was madly in love with. They started a lovely family and my grandfather took on more responsibilities at his work- while always maintaining time for his family. Years later when I was born, my grandfather phased out of his work to spend more time with his new family member. He even took up painting lessons so that he could instill the gift of art in his grandchildren. When he found out that his wife had become sick with a neurological illness my grandfather was a hero. He took care of her at the house for as long as he humanly could- and when the time went for her to leave the house, my grandfather never spent a day away from her. He usually went twice a day, bringing flowers and jokes to my grandmother all the other residents of the facility. My grandfather had done all he humanly could to care for and love his wife- and that is why I believe he will one day receive his heavenly reward.

So although the striated muscles and flashy jerseys may come to your mind when you here about endurance athletes, try not to forget all those who do not just survive life- but endure it.

I hope to one day be half a great as my grandfather- but I know that it will take lots and lots of training.

Thank you to all who inspire- whether, in the classroom, in our living rooms, or at the workplace. You are the endurance athletes of the world. And you sure as heck can run, if you ever care to.

Be well, and always run your own race :)

Inspired by my grandfather Anthony Lorenzetti :) 
I am so blessed to have you in my life, and even more so to have you in my name forever.

Zachary Anthony Lorenzetti Tomasik