Training Smart!!!

Training smart, what does that mean? Well, depending on who you ask, it could mean a million different things…but, I am going to give my spin on it.

For two years now, I have been training for and or running marathons. Boston, this past week made number 6 for me. I have done three with Team Hoyt, two solo and one pacing a friend. Each one has had it’s ups and downs and each one has been special in it’s own way.

What I have found unique about the marathon, aside from the fact that it is twice as long as any other road race, is that there are as many “training plans” as there are runners who run them.

But, what I have found intriguing is trying to find the perfect plan that will be effective and one that will work for YOU. To often, we find some cookie cutter training plan that MIGHT work, or we see some partial puzzle piece to a Ryan Hall, Desiree Davila, Frank Shorter training plan and we think that we can do that same thing to improve upon our own race performances…This is where I have to be frank. Guess what? None of us (any of you reading this blog) are elite (except maybe David Mick)…so don’t think that you can do the same thing as an elite and get the same results…you will be broke in no time flat.

For us real world runners, those of us who do not collect a pay check to run, we have to be very smart and very cautious. In the past, I have been guilty of trying to pile on the miles because I thought there was something magical about hitting 70, 80 or even 90 miles per week!! We get sucked into the Dailymile vortex..or what I like to call “mileage whoring”. This is where we only care about the total number of miles ran, rather than the quality of miles ran….This is complete and utter craziness (in my opinion).

I personally know several runners who think that they need to hit X amount of miles per week..yet, when you ask them why this number is important, they can’t even begin to tell you. Then there are those who are slave to X pace on their Garmin…They have no clue what the difference is between a tempo a steady state, a recovery, etc..They just go out and run and try not to be slower than some arbitrary number that they have set for themselves.

But, for those scientific driven individuals like myself…we want to know WHY we run each run and WHAT is the purpose of each run. I have come to understand that a recovery run is just as important as a key speed workout, or a hard tempo..The body needs to repair and recover, otherwise, those key runs are useless and the body cannot adapt.

However, runners are very stubborn individuals and for some reason believe that if they miss a workout, all of a sudden they will go from their current pace to some snail like crawl overnight…Did you build your current fitness overnight??? Well guess what? You won’t lose it overnight either!!

I don’t know why exactly, but for some reason, a good amount of runners in my training group and elsewhere seek my advice..Maybe it’s just because I am so dedicated to it and I love helping other runners meet their goals..whatever the reason, I get asked daily about the “this or that” of running. Although I love helping and “coaching”, it can be very frustrating. I see many injured runners continuing to stay injured, or get re-injured because of nothing more than stubborness (myself included).

A runner gets injured, they get depressed, they get upset and they have to slug through “alternative” training methods, i.e, X-training, agua jogging, physcial therapy, etc. They begin to improve and rather than continue doing the things that are helping them, they get right back on the road, start cranking out the miles, only to end up injured AGAIN.

Did I say that runners are a stubborn breed??? Now, I don’t know everything and I am by no means a medical expert..but I do know that trying to run through an injury by beating yourself against the concrete for miles and miles is not a great idea. Your body is very smart, listen to it. If you are having pain somewhere, there is a reason for it..and guess what? The cure or remedy is not a 10 miler on a hard surface! The body needs attention to the injured area and it is sending you a warning signal…so listen!!

Another huge issue with runners is NUTRITION!! So many runners believe that hard workouts are all they need to become a better runner. Most runners do not realize that how they fuel there body is just as important, if not more so than just getting in quality workouts.

Would you jump in your car for a cross country road trip knowing that there was no gas or oil in the engine?? No, of course you wouldn’t! So, why do that with your body? The human body (particularly the runner’s body) is a finely tuned and calibrated machine. The body runs off of electricity (hence the name electrolytes), and all of the electrical circuits and paths in the body must be firing correctly in order for you to have a good run.

If you have a bad run, what do you usually do? You get upset and blame your training, or get mad at yourself for not being able to push the pace. But, did you sit down and analyze the cause of the bad run? Any and every bad run can be linked back to something. Maybe you didn’t sleep enough the night, or nights leading up to the run. Maybe you are low on potassium, sodium, calcium, etc, and the body isn’t functioning properly. Maybe hydration ( or lack thereof) is the culprit…or possibly it was those spicy hot wings you had for lunch! Instead of getting upset, find the cause and fix it.

After every run, good or bad, it is very important to rehydrate and replenish the fuel. The body needs fuel to function and this fuel comes in the form of carbs, proteins and fats. Each one functions a bit differently (that’s a whole other chapter)..but, just know that the body needs these fuel sources to repair and replenish, as well as prepare the body for the next run. So, right after your runs (within 10-15 minutes after), ensure that your are taking care of the body by fueling it with proper nutrition. A great “on the go”, high octane fuel source is Chocalate Milk…plenty of carbs, fats and protein to get the body started on the recovery process. After that, make sure to have a good balanced meal within 1-2 hours afterward. Believe me, your body and your next run will thank you!

Also, if you miss a run, for whatever reason..don’t sweat it! You will not lose any fitness by missing a run here or there and in fact, your body might just perform better after the little extra rest and recovery.

One of the last, but possibly most important elements to successful running, is HAVING FUN!! Don’t make running a business or a job…Whether you are a elite, sub-elite or weekend warrior…enjoy it!! Enjoy running for what it is and the fun that can be had doing it…If you are not part of a running group already, I suggest you become part of one Running alone and solo all the time can get very boring and very lonely..Get out there with friends and have good conversation…the miles will fly by, I promise. It is much easier to push yourself and suffer a bit when you know that everyone else is suffering or hurting a bit too. Not to mention, you build great friendships and commraderie through running. Runners share a common bond that links you to one another in a special way…you can talk to a runner about things that you wouldn’t talk about with anyone else.

As summer approaches and the days get longer and warmer…lace up the shoes, get out there and get going…If you are just starting running, thinking about starting, or have been running for years…Just have fun doing it and get out there and enjoy the MILES OF TRIALS and the TRIALS OF MILES!!

Boston 2012…

Well, where do I begin? This journey to Boston started nearly a year ago, and through several months of training, setbacks, injury and a very, very close qualifying time, Tim and I were finally on our way to Boston for the 116th running of the BAA Marathon.

The race was being held Monday, April 16th this year. On the Friday before, Crystle, Thomas Hicks and myself loaded ourselves and Tim’s racing chair into the back of a friends truck and headed North from Virginia. Because Crystle couldn’t get the entire day off from work, we didn’t actually hit the Chesapeake Bay bridge until 7:00 pm.

After 10 hours of driving through the night, we finally made it to Crystle’s parents house in Rhode Island at 5:00 am Saturday morning. We caught a few hours of shut eye, then Thomas and I were out the door by 11:00 am and Boston bound. We got to Boston and went to the expo for packet pickup. We picked up our race packets and mingled around the expo for several hours. Then, at 3:00 pm, I had to take off, so that I could attend a Team Hoyt dinner.

The Team Hoyt dinner was incredible. From 3:00-4:00 pm, we did a “shirt swap”. This is where everyone of the 30 members on the Team Hoyt Foundation team would throw a “memorable” race shirt into a box. Once the box had all the shirts, a runner would come up and select a shirt. Once the shirt had been selected, the original owner of that shirt would come up and tell a story about why that shirt was memorable to them. This was a really cool ice breaking event and we all got to hear some amazing stories and we all came away with a really cool piece of memorablia.

While at the dinner party and while we were mingling around and taking photos, all of a sudden, Dick and Rick Hoyt show up, along with Uta Pippig (3 time Boston winner and Team Hoyt running coach). It was amazing to meet Uta for the first time and swap stories and take pictures. Then, as an added bonus, the Boston great, Bill Rodgers shows up and is just hanging out, giving advice and taking photos with all of Team Hoyt. I have to say, both Uta and Bill are the most down to earth and kindest people you will ever meet. Both very humble and two amazing people. Neither one had any quarrels with sharing advice, race strategy or anything. Two wonderful human beings and incredibly awesome runners!

As the dinner was wrapping up around 6:00 pm, I returned to the expo, found Thomas and we both drove back to Rhode Island together for a good nights sleep.

Sunday- Thomas and I decided that on this day, we would drive the entire marathon course from Hopkinton to the finish line on Boylston street in Boston. We wanted to see first hand what we were about to get ourselves into.

So, for all of those who have not ran Boston before, let me tell you, it is quite a hilly course…The problem is, everyone tells you about the legendary UP hills and they don’t mention much about the DOWN hills. To me, the downhills are the worst. Within the first 4 miles, there is a ridiculous amount of downhill. If you don’t change up your form for the downhills, your quads will be doing all the work and you will pay a huge price later in the race and also on the recovery in the days to follow the race.

RACE DAY- So Monday morning race day started very early. I was up at 3:00 am and needed to be at the Sheraton Hotel in downtown Boston by 5:15 to catch the Team Hoyt bus that would take us to the start line in Hopkinton. Since our hotel was 2.75 miles away, I figured I would just walk it and hydrate and fuel up on the walk over. It was very cool to walk through Boston Commons in the dark at an early hour. I needed to clear the head and get my mind right, so this was the perfect way to make it happen.

Once I arrived at the Sheraton, I met up with the rest of Team Hoyt who had begun congregating in the lobby. We laughed and joked and took lots of photos before getting on the team bus.

After an hour bus ride from Boston, we were in Hopkinton and about to embark on a 26.2 mile journey. Tim and myself would be starting the race at 9:20, along with Dick and Rick and all of the other disabled athletes. We would assemble in a local gymnasium so that we could put our race chairs together and go over any last minute “tweaks”. Then we would walk over to the starting line and wait for the race start.

The race morning temp at the start was 80 degrees, with a forecast of 87 as the afternoon high. Because of the heat, the BAA was allowing runners to defer their race entry until 2013. Personally, I don’t agree with this and think that they should not be allowed to defer. Yes, the temperatures were hot, but a marathon is not supposed to be a cake walk…besides, those of us who would go on to finish could brag about how hot it was and how we still crossed the finished line despite the heat.

After a few introductions, some singing and the Star Spangled Banner, we were off and racing. The first mile out of Hopkinton is nothing but a very steep downhill. I spent the first 4 miles of this marathon riding the brakes of Tim’s chair and trying my best to keep my steps quick and choppy so as to not overstride or beat my quads to death.

The first 2-3 miles went by super quick and I was running more or less on adrenaline. By mile 5, the road had flatened out and we were just cruising along. From the very start, the crowd support was amazing. Spectators were in their front yards passing out hydration, oranges, ice, etc.

About mile 8, I started to realize that the heat was certainly going to play a factor, but I decided I would try to hold pace as best as possible….I was hydrating as much as possible and was keeping Tim cool by dumping cold water on his head as often as possible..but the heat was starting to weigh in on us.

It was at mile 12, when I started to get a ringing in my ears (a symptom of heat stroke) that I decided that it was time to “shut it down”. I knew there was no chance of holding any heroic pace and that to save my body and reduce injury, I had no choice but to slow it down and try to keep the core body temperature as low as possible.

Going through the famed “screech tunnel” of Wellesely, Tim and I were just cruising along and enjoying the crowd support. By the time we got to mile 16, the hydration (water and gatorade) at aide stations was getting really hot and was far from refreshing. It was here that I notice some young girls selling ice cold lemonade. They were charging a $1 and I told them that I had no money…They said that it would be “no charge” and quickly began filling my two squirt bottles. I don’t know if it was the heat and the fact that the lemonade was ice cold or not, but these little girls had the best lemondade on the planet and at this point in the race, it was a life saver. After chugging down about 20 ounces of this heavenly goodness, I got a little more “pep in the step” and was back to clicking off some decent paces again.

At mile 18, I realized that I was going to be way off pace for my projected finishing time and that Crystle would be losing her mind with anxiety. So, with that in mind, I pulled out my cell phone and texted her the following “ I am at 18. I am hurting from the heat and the hills. It’s gonna be slow, so don’t get worried..I will finish”

After that, I knew it was just going to be a matter of having fun and enjoying the Boston experience. So, from mile 18 until the finish, I “high fived” about every single spectator, accepted popsicles, oranges, water, ice cold towels and lots of cheers from everyone. There is no possible way to explain the crowd support that the specatators show for the runners..but it is even more intense for Team Hoyt. Those spectators made Tim and I feel like absolute rockstars. The entire race, they were yelling and screaming for us as if we were leading the race.

At mile 20, we had finally reached the base of the famed “Heart Break Hill”. Since Tim and I were doing a run/walk up this legendary hill, it didn’t seem too bad..But, we did get to see first hand what it could do to the runners who tried to tackle it. We saw top elite marathoners, those who could easily go sub 2:40, succombing to it’s toughness. All along the road upward, there were runners reduced to a stumbling, staggering walk. Others were on the side of the road, either trying to stretch out their fatigued legs or sitting down on the curb in a dazed state, not sure what to do next.

I knew that if we could just get to the top and crest this hill, it would be some downward smooth sailing to the finish line. Finally, after what seemed like two hours, Tim and I reached the peak at mile 21..then it was all downhill from there. As we begin picking up speed on the downhill, I started to realize that nothing was going to stop us at this point…Yeah, it had been hot, it had been tough as hell and it had been a long, long, long road from Hopkinton..but, we were going to become a part of history and a part of a very, very small community..We were about to become members of a very prestigous group…we were going to be Boston Marathon finishers!!

As we start to make our final approach towards Boylston Avenue, the roars from the crowd seemed to amplify by a thousand. As we drew closer and closer the finish, the cheers got louder and louder.

With a mile to go, we see the famed Citgo sign and we knew we were on the home stretch.

Finally, with only a few hundred meters left to go, we make our turn onto Boylston Ave. and make our final push to the finish line ahead. Every step we took, the crowd got louder and the emotions ran higher. This remarkable journey had started so long ago and it was now coming to a close. Tim and I had been through a lot just getting to Boston..then, we would have to go through another 26.2 miles of extreme conditions to finally reach our finish line. With tears in the eyes and fatigue in the legs, we finally crossed!! We had done it…we came, we saw and we conquered!! On paper, it wasn’t pretty..our finishing time was 3:46..a full 37 minutes slower than what we had ran a month earlier at Shamrock.

This was not just a marathon and it was more than just Boston…It was a journey and a mission. Tim and I became the first ever Team Hoyt runner/rider pair, other than the legendary Dick and Rick Hoyt. This Boston was the 30th for Dick and Rick and the 1st for Tim and I.

When it was all said and done, there were 4000+ runners who deferred their entry until 2013 due to the heat. It was said that 2000+ were treated for some sort of medical issue and that 120 were taken to the hospital via ambulance. There were also a good amount who quit somewhere between Hopkinton and Boston. Geoffrey Mutai and Caroline Kilel, the 2011 men and womens winners would both drop out of the race at some point.

For those who finished, it was a day to remember forever…for runners, Boston is the mecca of running..for non-runners, it is the equivalent to the Super Bowl or the World Series.

I would like to think that Boston 2012 was only the first and not the last for Tim and I..however, if by chance it is our last, we sure had one hell of a time and we enjoyed every step of the journey.. This was an opportunity to show the world that those with disabilities can still be a part of something as big as the Boston Marathon. 31 years ago, when Tim Brown was born, I surely doubt his parents would think that he would be running the Boston Marathon. Then, with some pioneering by Dick and Rick, Tim would get that chance as a member of Team Hoyt. I am extremely grateful to have given Tim and his family this wonderful experience and to be the legs to his heart.

We would like to thank everyone who helped make this possible. Big thanks to Dick and Rick Hoyt, Kathy Boyer, Doug Gilliand and Dave McGillivray for allowing us to be a part of the team. Many thanks to our family and friends who supported us along the way. Big thanks to Jim Golden and Final Kick Sports for getting our race chair tweaked and ready to go. Thanks to our Team Hoyt VB family for being our biggest supporters and our biggest inspiration. Also, we would like to give a shout out to all of the members of the 2012 Boston Team Hoyt Foundation charity team..we met some wonderful people on this team and every single one of them started and finished the race..many of them finishing step for step with Dick and Rick.

If you want something bad enough and if you are willing to suffer and sacrifice enough, all things are possible.

Pre-Boston Race Report

As inspired by a friends recent blog post , I figured I would do a Pre-Boston Marathon report. As most of you already know, Team Tim (Tim Brown and myself) recently qualified for the Boston Marathon by running a qualifying standard time at the recent Shamrock marathon on March 18th.

Since the Shamrock, we have been doing a “recovery/taper” for Boston. There are only 28 days between the two marathons, so I have had to carefully recover, but also maintain fitness. To do so, I have been spending a lot of time in the pool, minimizing hard surface running (only one run per week on concrete or asphalt) and a good amount of walking and stretching.

It took a while for it all to sink in, but now with the Shamrock buzz behind us, it has finally hit me that we are less than 5 days away from toeing the line of the most historic running event on the planet, THE BOSTON MARATHON!

The Boston Marathon started in 1897 as is the longest running marathon in the world. The race runs from the town of Hopkinton and finishes 26.2 miles away on Boylston Avenue in downtown Boston. Spectators are at record numbers (500,000+) every year. Check out wikipedia for some more Boston info

Yesterday, I even got a call from Uta Pippig (3 time Boston winner with a PR of 2:21). She is the Team Hoyt Boston Charity Foundation team coach. She called me and broke down the course, mile by mile, telling me where I can make up time and where I should stay conservative. She literally walked me through the entire course. I would say that she has some pretty good first hand knowledge of the route 😉

The rest of this week will be spent relaxing and tweaking/tuning Tim’s race chair. Since I won’t have bike support at Boston, I have to prepare for every possible scenario.

Crystle and I, along with our good friend/runner Thomas Hicks, will be driving up north on Friday evening. We will spend the day Saturday checking out the expo and also attending a Team Hoyt dinner/banquet. Then, Sunday will be a day spent relaxing, taking in Boston, the BAA 5k (supposed to be a fast field) and the guest speakers at the expo…Then some early bedtimes for an early race morning.

Since Tim and I will be  running with Team Hoyt and the charity group, we will have our own bus that takes us to the start line in Hopkinton. Once we arrive at Hopkinton, we then have a house (provided by a friend of Dick and Rick) to hangout at until the race start time. Because we will be taking off with the 9:17 a.m.: Push Rim Wheelchair Division, we will have a significant head start on the elites. If all goes well, the elites won’t catch us until around mile 20-ish or so.

With the difficult part (qualifying for Boston) now out of our way…Tim and I are hoping to just get into the excitement of Boston, let our hair down and just fly!! We have a goal in mind, but are keeping it under our hats for now….as everyone who has run a marathon knows, anything can happen. But, no matter our finishing time, this is going to be one hell of a grand experience and one to remember ALWAYS! I would like to think that Boston will become a yearly thing for Tim and I (or other Team Hoyt VB rider/athletes). But, if by chance it is our first, last, and only Boston Marathon, we plan to go out with guns blazing!!

Watch the video link of Dick and Rick Hoyt. This is a recent interview they did a few days ago in preperation for their 30th Boston Marathon.

If you don’t get inspired and motivated watching these two men, then you have some issues! These guys are true heroes and are now legends at Boston. Their names are in the same breath as Bill Rodgers, Uta Pippig, Joan Benoit, Clarence DeMar, etc. Their Boston PR of 2:48 minutes is sickening fast for anyone, let alone for a runner and rider/athlete team.

Tim and I will have the priveledge and honor of running with these two amazing men on their home turf of Boston. I doubt any other person on the planet knows the 26.2 miles from Hopkinton to Boston better than these two.

As I close, I want to thank you all. I want to give a huge shout out to Team Hoyt VB, Kathy Boyer, Dick and Rick Hoyt and Dave McGillivary for letting Tim and I onto the team and for allowing us to run Boston this year. Tim and I would also like to thank all of our families/friends and all of our Virginia Beach running community for all of your support and continued support. Big thanks to all of those who donated to our Team Tim fundraiser…without those donations, we would not be going to Boston. With that said, the 30 runners and rider athletes that are making up the 2012 Hoyt Foundation Charity team, have raised $175,000+ (and counting) that will go towards the needs for special needs children/adults.

Oh, and for those who want to follow us via text, twitter, etc. Tim and I will be wearing bib # 5998 and our friend Thomas Hicks will be wearing # 5999.


Race re-cap to follow




The Man, The Myth, The Legend (the inspirational Thomas Hicks)

The man on this poster is Thomas Hicks, a good friend and training parter. Those of you who know Thomas know that he is more than just a great runner. He is one of those people that are just, well, “different”.

I met Thomas in June 2010. Like myself, he had just joined HRR Also like myself, he was a former competitive runner, who was looking to make some changes and get running back into his life.

We would discover, that Ole Thomas was quite the runner back in day (4:13 mile PR). But, like many of us, he had gotten away from running and had spent 20 years living a not so healthy life. He was a smoker, overweight and badly out of shape.

Over the next couple months, we would also learn a couple more things. 1). Thomas had MS and an A-fib (both of these we would find out in a scary way)..and 2). He has the strongest will power and determination that you will ever see in your life. He refuses to give into any adversity.

So, after several months and many miles of running and training with Thomas, a few of us are out on a 18 miler when about half-way through, Thomas starts mentioning that he can’t breathe and his heart is acting crazy. Luckily another runner on the trail had a cell phone and called the ambulance. The rest of us were a bit freaked out, but Thomas was only uspet because he couldn’t finish the run. Thomas would be rushed to the hospital to find out that he had an A-fib.

We figured this would sideline Thomas for a bit, but within a couple days, he was right back out there running and laughing about the whole situation as if it were nothing.

As the months go by, Thomas is getting stronger and faster and the old miler in him is coming back..He is starting to get that look again. But it was during this time that we discover he also has MS. He didn’t tell anyone for a long time that he had it, because in his own words “He didn’t want the sympathy and he didn’t want a crutch”. Shortly after he ran his first marathon, they told him he could run Boston with his 3:36 because he could get his qualifying time waived due to his MS. He said “HELL NO”….He was only going to Boston by qualifying like everyone else (he would eventually run 3:09 later that year and get his qualifying standard).

We were on another training run, when Thomas’s body started seizing up on him. Now, if you haven’t seen this happen, it is a bit alarming. His body will lock up into one big cramping spasm and he can’t control his muscles. Oh, and for those who have ever had a cramp and know how painful it is..just imagine having that feeling throughout your entire body and not being able to do anything about it. Yet, despite this, Thomas continues to push through it. How he does it, I will never know!

In June of 2011, our HRR group assembled a 6 person ultra team to run the Green Mountain Relay in Vermont. The team (Thomas, Mike Wolfe, Logan Johnson, Michelle Gosselin, Alan Fitzgerald and myself) would be spending, hopefully 24 hours or less running 200 miles from northern to southern Vermont. We would have one van (for the runners) and one support car, made up of Crystle Santos and Jessika Briggs.

Each runner would run 6 legs of varying mileage (from 2.6 up to 10.8) across varying terrain and often severe elevation gains. We would start at 9:00 am on Saturday and hope to be finished by 9:00 am on Sunday. There had only been a couple teams who had gone sub 24 hours and we were going for the course record.

From the start, we were a little worried about Thomas. We knew that his MS was unpredictable and could flare up at anytime. We knew (or thought we knew) that he had the ability and the determination…we just didn’t know what would happen if the MS come on. Oh, and it should be mentioned that Thomas had just recently had oral surgery and therefore could only eat mashed potatoes and drink Ensure (more about that in another post…lol)

So, the race begins and we are underway. Thomas is running the #2 spot in the rotation of 6. The first 3 legs go by with no issues and everyone is looking strong…Then, as Thomas is coming into the checkpoint at the end of his 4th leg, we notice something ain’t right. Thomas’s form is all discontorted and strained. As he hands the the baton to Michelle and she takes off, the rest of us get Thomas to a grass clearing and start stretching him out, trying to relieve his spasming body.

Needless to say, we are a bit freaked out at this point. There is about 30 minutes of daylight left, we are in the middle of NOWHERE, VERMONT, have no clue where the nearest hospital is and we don’t know for certain if we will have to substitute another runner for Thomas, or possibly abandon the race altogether.

As Thomas’s body starts recovering, he ensures us that he can continue on…maybe not at his normal fast paces, but he can continue..The rest of us were leary (our doubts would be banished a bit later). Before his next leg, I ask him how he felt..his response “Dennis, I feel like crap and my body is done…I can’t hit those fast paces again and I feel like I let the team down”. We assured him that he was letting nobody down and just told him to give us whatever he had..If they were 1o minute miles, then so be it.

So as Thomas begins his 5th leg, the rest of the runners go on to the next checkpoint to get the next runner ready..We decided that I would jump in the support car with Crystle and Jessika to follow beside Thomas…just in case!

Thomas’s 5th leg was an 8.6 mile segment through rural Vermont (mind you, it’s pitch black and about midnight at this point). As we are driving along beside Thomas, I am trying to keep his mind occupied and am talking and joking with him about wolves and bears and that he might have to pick up the pace to out run them. At one point, I asked him how he felt. He said “I feel horrible and I am struggling and hurting”..I looked down at my Garmin (I was wearing it to monitor his pace) and he was running a 6:28 pace!! I said, well, I can’t tell you are look strong! Then he replied with something I’ll never forget (I even got choked up when he said it)…He said, Dennis, “IT’S ALL HEART BROTHA, IT’S ALL HEART!!”

After I shared those words with the rest of the team, it seemed that was all the motivation we needed to carry us on the rest of the way…We were all hurting, tired, sore and virtually dead. But, we all managed to find a bit extra after watching Thomas do his thing.

We ended up finishing 3rd overall, went sub 24 hours and was the 1st place ultra (6 person) team. The only two teams to beat us were a 12 person team of college cross country runners and a high school team of cross country runners (You’ll have to ask Thomas how he feels about high schoolers…LOL!). It was no doubt Thomas’s gutsy performance that kept us all pushing on…we would have no doubt gave in and slowed down had he not put on such an epic display of grit and toughness.

So, in the several months to follow that performance, Thomas continues to baffle not only those around him, but also the entire Naval medical staff. He has seen specialists and has been tested and probed more than anyone I know. The doctors tell him on a regular basis that “Thomas, you shouldn’t be running anymore”….he typically responds with 60 mile training weeks, fast speed work on the track or a 3:09 marathon (World record by anyone with an incurable disease). While the doctors and specialists say he should be getting slower, should be crippled and should be blind…he manages to get faster and faster…Usually placing and or winning most of the masters awards at the local races.

Oh, and just one more nugget of information for you. A few weeks back, Thomas was running a 5k..cruising along at his typical sub 6:00 pace, when he started having troubles breathing. A few days after the race, he goes to get tested and the doctors find a tumor in his lung (the size of a golf ball)..this being the cause of the difficulty breathing…..But, in true Thomas fashion, he brushes it off and says “Doc, you have to wait until after the 18th of March to cut me open, because I am running the Shamrock Marathon!!” . Now, they will actually have to wait until after the 16th of April, because Thomas is running the Boston Marathon as well…..You gotta love this guy!!

I am a firm believer that  The burden is equal to the horse’s strength.”

No matter the obstacle, no matter the setback, Thomas always comes out stronger on the other side…Those who know him personally has watched him fight and keep fighting and making the most of everyday. Instead of giving in, he keeps fighting. He never takes the easy way, he never uses his MS, his A-fib, his tumor or anything else as a crutch…I can guarantee that there is not a single runner who knows him that hasn’t drawn upon his inspiration to get them through their own tough miles and trials.

So whatever excuse you are using to avoid making the best of everyday…I doubt it’s a good enough one! Now is the time to get up, get moving and keep moving forward. Fight the fight and keep on keeping on!!!

Why do I run? (a brief view of my running journey)

Running, why do we do it? It’s such a crazy endeavor, right? If you ask a runner, there are many responses that you will hear. Typical responses will be “For health, for the competition, for the serenity, for the beer, etc.”

To non-runners, NONE of it makes any sense!!! They will say things like “I would only run that far if cops were chasing me”, “I don’t even drive that far”, “Running is bad for your knees”…and the list goes on!??

So, why do we do it? I will give you my perspective and my reasons as to WHY?

Running, has been a big part of my life for quite some time. I started running competitively in the 8th grade, at the age of 13. It was then that I found, I not only loved the idea of running, but I was actually pretty good at it. By the time I was a high school freshman, I was running sub 5:00 for the mile and racking up medals left and right in all the distance events. I would spend the next few years of high school making a name for myself on the track and getting onto the podium at the State Championships my senior year. I would then go onto Missiouri Southern State College on a track scholarship, before finally dropping out and joining the Navy.

While in the Navy, I continued to run and continued to improve. It was in the Navy that I met a good friend Kipkori Kirui. He was 10 years my senior, a native Kenyan (who had gone sub 14:00 for 5k) and a hell of a tolerant for strong beers and even stronger paces. When I first started running with him, he would thrash me, making me look like I had no business even calling myself a runner. I was good, had some talent, but KK was on a whole other playing field. But, after several months of training with him, something strange started happening…It began to take him longer and longer to drop me on our training runs and our speed workouts. He was still dropping me, but I was holding my own for much longer now.

Finally, and I remember this day like it was yesterday. We were out doing a 10 mile training run in Dubrovnik, Croatia and were hammering the miles on a very hilly course. My plan was just to try and hang on for as long as possible before getting dropped. We went out 5 miles, made the turnaround and really started cruising…As the familiar route we had just ran was getting shorter and shorter on our way back to the ship..I was still there, holding my own and giving it all I had. As we made our entrance into the docks, it was about 1.5 miles or so from there back to our ship…KK started pushing. When we weren’t running, he was the nicest, kindest guy I had ever met..but, when we ran, he showed no signs of emotion, pain or effort. His face looked the same whether he ran a 10:00 pace or a 4:00 pace. He once told me “Everyone is hurting at the end of the race, but the eventual winner is the one who doesn’t show it…never show weakness or suffering to your opponent and at all costs, control your breathing so that the man beside you doesn’t think he is hurting you”.

So, as we are winding through the docks and pushing the pace, I am only hoping that he is feeling as shitty as I am. We make a wide sweeping right turn around a stack of shipping containers and the ship is in site. This is when KK would normally open it up and demolish my soul…It’s a straight lined 800m sprint now!! But, as we are inching closer to the ship, I start pullling away..I look back in disbelief because this has NEVER happened before. I am thinking something is wrong, but KK wouldn’t tell me if there was..he just gave me that usual blank stare. Now, we are within 400m of the boat and I have opened up a pretty decent lead. As we finally reach the boat, stop and catch our breaths, KK approaches me and says “I knew it was only a matter of time”.

I know it was only a training run and there were no crowds of spectators, no prizes or medals…But at that moment, I felt on top of the world! During that phase of my running career, I was in the best shape of my life and over the next couple months would run my lifetime PR’s in the 1600m, 5k and 10k. That was a great summer of running and one that I will never forget. This was long before Garmins, so who knows how many miles KK and I accumulated in the hot sun of the Mediterranean. We saw some of the coolest places you could imagine, drank lots of beers and ran some routes than only a handful (or possibly none) of people have ever stepped foot on. I learned a lot about running (many of the Kenyan secrets), life and good friendships.

So, WHAT does this have to do with the reasons of WHY we run?? HOLD ON, I am getting there!!

Now, as I mentioned before, running has always been a big part of my life, except for a 4 year hiatus I took from 2006-2010. I had taken a job transfer up to Rhode Island from Va. Beach and started working on a project that had me traveling about 75% percent of the year to destinations all over the globe. As the story often goes, I started running less and less, eating a bit more and more, until I ended up at a whopping 218 pounds (I had started at 160). I was doing lots of drinking and smoking cigarettes (something I had never done before). I was non-stop traveling and it was killing my health and my relationship with Crystle.

Finally, in March of 2010, I had reached my breaking point! I had been working down on the boarder of Texas for about a month and putting in some seriously crazy hours…after a month of working down there, I had finished up the job and was driving to the airport (a Thursday afternoon), when my boss called and said “Hey, we need you to just fly from Houston down to Colombia, South America and spend a few weeks fixing some issues down there”. I was livid!! My response was, “well, I am not going, send someone else”. He then proceeded to tell me that if I showed up back at the office and didn’t fly to Colombia, I could expect to not have a job upon my return. At that point, I didn’t give a damn and had already been making some connections to jump ship.

That afternoon, I called a former employee back in Va. Beach, he offered me a job over the phone..I accepted of course. Then, the next day, I went into the office, put in my two weeks notice, finished out the next week and was in route (with Crystle and our belongings) to Virginia, 9 days later.

We arrived to Virginia on April 19th, 2010. Crystle was apprehensive and wasn’t so sure about leaving her family..but we knew that me not having to travel any longer would improve our relationship. Luckily, my closest friend and a brother of sort (William Tallent) was living in Hampton Roads with his wife, Sarah. William and I go as far back as 1999, when we were stationed on the same ship together.

Anyway, after a month or so of settling in to our new town, new apartment and new jobs, we were finally starting to wined down a bit from the move and all the anxiety had pretty much worn off.

So, near the end of May, William (aka Micky) asked me to run the ERR 10k with him…I thought he was CRAZY!! Now, there was a time that a 10k wouldn’t even phase me and would have barely been a warmup…but, this was a whole different Dennis than before. William had assumed that I was just going to jump back into the running scene and would be tearing it up right away…Well, he was wrong. That first race, I ran a 49:07 to William’s 44:23. He beat me by nearly 5 whole minutes!! Now, I am sure some people are thinking that 49:07 is respectable..and it is! But, I also have a sub 32:00 to my name as well. So for me, this was devastating. Right then and there, I vowed to make some changes and get running back into my life.

The next few weeks I started researching the area for local running clubs. I had known about the Tidewater Striders for years, but they didn’t have many meetups for weekly group/training runs. I was looking for a group of like minded people, Average Joes who loved running and having fun doing it. If I was going to commit myself to running again, It would be for “The Love Of The Game”, not solely to improve my times…I wanted to get back to loving running for it’s simplest of forms.

It was June 15th (a Wednesday)  and I was at my desk searching for running groups when I stumbled across a group called the Hampton Roads Runners . After reading a few bio’s of the runners, I was hooked! This was exactly what I was looking for. A group of runners who were meeting up several times weekly to run together and have fun. As a former high school and college runner, I missed the comradarie. Throughout my running career, I have never been much of a solo runner. I would say that well over half of my lifetime miles have been logged right along side at least one other runner. So, looking at the meetup run calendar, I notice that this group was doing a “hill workout” for ALL SKILL LEVELS, the very next day (Thursday). I decided to give it a shot and see what it was all about. From the moment I first met the group, it was love at first sight..LOL! But seriously, they were all welcoming and encouraging. I certainly wasn’t up front leading the charge on the first workout, but I wasn’t in the back either. That first workout was tough, but I hung in there and left feeling accomplished. I knew this was the group for me!!

Now, here it is, nearly two years later and I am loving and enjoying running again (even more than ever). Because of the group and running, every aspect of my life has improved. Since joining the group, I have met some awesome people, Crystle has become a runner (and is improving daily..very proud of her), I become a member of Team Hoyt VB

I have ran a total of 5 marathons (3 solo, two pushing for Team Hoyt). I will be running the Boston marathon for the first time on April 16th with Tim Brown and Team Hoyt. I have lost 60 pounds (now sitting in at 158). I have improved the first race time of 49:07 to 36:32 and I am happy and healthier than I have ever been.

So, what is running to me? Running is the joy, the anxiety, the fun and excitement of training days and race days…it’s the feeling of satisfaction of logging miles in raining, snowing, freezing or scorching conditions. Running is being a part of something, being a part of a team, being a part of a small group of people who all have one common interest. Running is about holding yourself accountable for something and then seeing it through from start to finish. It’s about goals and commitments, persaverance and accomplishment. Running can be agony, painful and brutal..but once you run through those walls, something magical lies beyond. Running teaches you things about yourself and those around you that you could never have seen otherwise. Running opens up so many doors and pathways to new adventures. Running is camraderie, loyalty and kinship. On a long run, you never get lost, you just have a longer run..the world is viewed much differently at the rythmic running pace than what it is via a car. I have run all across the U.S.A and all over the world and around every corner, there is always something to see.

To summerize, running has become as much of a part of my life as eating or sleeping. If I am not running, I am thinking about it, talking about it or writing about it. Is that crazy and obsessive? Perhaps! Do I care if people think it is crazy? Not one bit!

I love running and it is who I am. I hope that there is a long running road ahead for this guy. I hope to continue enjoying it all my days. I hope to help others love it and to help them find something in running that captivates them, the way that it has captivated me. I love my running families (HRR and Team Hoyt) and running friends. I think I would be completely lost without my training partners…runs would be much less exciting without them.

That is what running is to me! What is running to you?

I’ll end with this;

“What was the secret, they wanted to know; in a thousand  different ways they wanted to know The Secret. And not one of them was prepared,  truly prepared to believe that it had not so much to do with chemicals and zippy  mental tricks as with that most unprofound and sometimes heart-rending process  of removing, molecule by molecule, the very tough rubber that comprised the  bottoms of his training shoes. The Trial of Miles, Miles of Trials. How could  they be expected to understand that?”