The mind drives : the body follows ! 3 races in 3 weeks – the comeback trail

Running Wild was well represented !

Running Wild was well represented !

Standing on the start of the Riverwalk 5K run this year I allowed myself a few brief moments to consider where I was in my running life. Having endured the most cursed of afflictions that befalls a runner I was finally on the thresh hold of a race that I hoped to race, at the very least, competently. This said, I was still wracked with anxiety. Questions flooded my mind. Could I hold the pace? What if I blow up after a quick first mile? It is easy to get carried along by the pace, to feel how it used to be only to then recall that training up to this point has been slight ! A recipe for disaster. Add to this the fact I kept telling myself that this was ONLY a 5 K and the cloud of doubt was complete. There was a time when I thought nothing of a 5K even though it is a hard race on the body, especially if that body is 55 years old and coming off an injury. As we get older it is harder to return to prime form and this was becoming ever clearer to me.

On the day I elected to stand a few yards back from the top runners. This way I felt I could avoid any embarassment at the finish as I imagined myself stumbling across the line fighting for breath and way short of what I used to run. I looked around me and many familiar faces were present. No hiding here. In truth no one really cared but having been absent for nearly six months I wanted to be sure that I could compete as incongruously as possible.

The national anthem was played, we all stood still and let the music surround us in the lifting gloom of the early morning. The formalities complete it was time to race. The course split was explained for the 5K and 5 mile runners and then we were instructed about the count down to the gun. In an instant at least 50 of us leaned slightly forward and placed nervous fingers over the start button on our watches. Pulses quickened, the countdown started and then the refrain ‘Runners are you ready?’ preceeded the 5,4,3,2 1 countdown before the gun sounded. Suddenly I was racing again.

Carried along on the wave of multi paced humanity I rounded the first corner to face the New River Bridge. I got into my stride. It felt good to perfuse my lungs with large breaths of air. My legs were moving freely and I was holding a nice pace. As the race prgressed I looked around for other grey beards that might be in my age group. The field had thinned and and, surprisingly, I was on my own somewhere in the first 30 runners. Mile one, then mile two, albeit markedly slower, preceeeded the injection of pace I tried to make as part of my final push. Not a great deal happened. Training is key and I lacked it. As we rounded the corner to cross the New River again I actualy accelerated across the bridge. I always was a good hill runner and muscle memory at this point was driving me on.

My legs got heavier, I tried to maintian my cadence. Improved core work kept me upright and I was praying for the red brick pavong near the finish to come into sight so I could start my sprint for the line. I tried to pick my knees up but not much was happening. I need to work harder in training, but at least I had broken 23 minute, my desired objective on this my second race since injury.

I somehow managed to win the age group in a somewhat thin field, but a place in my age group is always welcome. I can only race who is there on the day.

With Vic Beninate, a true running freind

With Vic Beninate, a true running freind

So. 22:20 was not spectacular by my standards of recent years, but it represented a geunine mark of achievement.My knee was sore but not a problem. In the post race euphoria I was able to see many running freinds and pose for the obligatory pictures. Mementos of a fine day and yes, It really did feel good to be racing again !!!!!

Cameraderie carries us all to the line !

Cameraderie carries us all to the line !

And so, on to Coral Springs 5K and a tougher field. The race was held as a charity event for local breast cancer services. I was not at all sure what was going to happen. I wanted to break 21 minutes, but I was not feeling at all great. It was a lot of fun to greet and offer my best wishes for a fine race to the many friends I saw entered in the half marathon.Once they were cheered on their way I started my pre race prep with Melissa who has graciously guided me to greater fitness these past few weeks. A slow paced mile always serves to get the legs warmed up and ready for the race. I cannot imagine racing without doing this. All runners have rituals of course and I am no different. Melissa did her ‘thing’ and I did mine.

This week the race started very quickly. One second I was standing next to Melissa, the next minute the gun had fired and she was 15 yards ahead of me. It was very impressive to see her shooting off into the distance. I thought I might try to hold on to her and challenge in mile three. Not a chance ! She was strong and I was not. Two great runners in my age group caught me at mile one and then politely left me behind. They were gracious enough to let me have third place in the age group, but in view of where I am at present and that they are both good runners, I was happy to just be in the mix.

The post race euphoria was electric this day. Melissa was the first woman to break the tape which was an amazing result considering her battles with injury. She has been a true friend and an inspiration to me. I owe a lot to her good advice and cajoling. Sadly on the day an unusual intepretation of the normal racing rules for the overall top three saw her cede first place to another fine lady runner who completed the course in 26 thousandths of a secone less time.

It was similarly inspiring to meet so many top local runners afterwards. My age group looks competitive with John House and Joe Gonzalez both at least 40 seconds ahead of me at present. I have work to do and I need to catch these men in time. 22:08 this week. Happy with that.

Chicked !!!!!!!!!!!! Melissa showed me a clean pair of heels all the way round the course

Chicked !!!!!!!!!!!! Melissa showed me a clean pair of heels all the way round the course

John House - faster right now but a great guy to aspire to in terms of speed

John House – faster right now but a great guy to aspire to in terms of speed

Old guys rock. The 55-59 top three on the day !

Old guys rock. The 55-59 top three on the day !

Finally, we come to the TriCycle 5K which was run in aid of Sickle Cell anemia and recognition of the impact of this disease on young people.

1st Woman overall and 2nd in 50-59 age group

1st Woman overall and 2nd in 50-59 age group

Meeting Ron Downey....a 2:17 marathon runner in his day. Respect !

Meeting Ron Downey….a 2:17 marathon runner in his day. Respect !

With team mate Luiz Sousa who was the overall race winner.

With team mate Luiz Sousa who was the overall race winner.

I felt better today having done some decent speed work in the week. Melissa and I lined up for the race in a small field of 125 runners. It was unusual to be in the front 10 for most of the race. I do not do this very often. I hung onto Melissa this week and though I trailed her by 3 seconds at the end, she ran quicker than last week when she absolutely destroyed me. To my surprise I cut 19 seconds off my time and finally got under 22 minutes. Mission accomplished. 21.49 and there is more to come !!!!

I think I will rest this week, but I am certain there is a 5k to run the week after. I have the taste for it again. I love to race. I lOVE TO RUN !!!

Mermaid Revealed !……Helena Redshaw interviewed with Tea and Bikkies, of course !

Helena with Britrunner (me) after another steamy one in Florida !

Helena with Britrunner (me) after another steamy one in Florida !

I’ve been told I am an influencer says Helena Redshaw. First impressions reveal a cheeky, unrelentingly dedicated woman who makes a splash wherever she goes but who retains humility and a beguiling shyness when confronted with the success of her ideas and inspiration. Her story is like so many others but in critical ways it is unique. Read on. Discover more !!!!!!!!!

Striding out !

Striding out !

Time in the saddle !

Time in the saddle !

Her journey from spectating year after year with her Mum at the London Marathon to running it, tackling other ‘majors’, completing a half Iron Man and becoming known in the South Florida running and biking community as ‘the running Mermaid’ (badass Mermaid, no less) after she learned to swim is colorful and inspiring.

Helena has made a life of doing what she puts her mind to and more importantly inspiring others to follow suit. When she meets people the ‘influencer’ in her means that they invariably end up registering for a race somewhere, even if they’ve never run before. Although many great athletes are among her friends, she loves to inspire ordinary women to get up, get fit and get involved.

As an athlete she is regularly seen in gymnasia, bike training centers and on local roads running, clipped onto her distinctive black and white Quintaroo bike affectionately called ‘Nola’ or more recently swimming inordinate distances in local aqautic centers at godforsaken early hours of the day.

Helena is a member of many clubs locally including North West Broward Road Runners Club in Parkland/Coral Springs, Florida, Boca Triathetes, Doghouse Cycling and G2 Cycling among others. She also loves to knit, have a nice cup of tea (with milk of course – she’s English dammit !), be ‘brilliant’ and avoid cooking wherever she can. She is a regular woman, a mother and competitor who lives by a simple mantra : do it and don’t quit. If it is there and it can be done, train for it or just do it !

Helena’s journey from avid avoider of anything remotely athletic at high school to training for a full Ironman in 2014 is colorful and characteristically filled with challenges faced, conquered and then renewed. Her motto ‘coz why not?’ is fitting in the extreme. Why not indeed!

As previously noted she did not immediately gravitate to an athletic lifestyle but the seed of her future endeavors had been firmly planted back in her native London. Every year she would watch the London marathon with her mother and wonder at the runners and charity competitors as they sped past or staggered in some cases laden down by elaborate fancy dress costumes. Ultimately the desire to run the race got the better of her.

Helena eventually ran the London Marathon in 2009. She said that she ‘just winged’ the race as she knew nothing about running back then. She readily admits to ‘winging’ races a bit ever since. Despite training in a determined and utterly focussed manner she always seems to have an injury to take along for the race. That said, for her, seeing the finish line in her first marathon was a memory that will ‘live with her forever’, one which has inspired her for everything else she has done since. After finishing London she decided to run New York. After this the realization dawned on her that she could run all the world ‘majors’. New York and Chicago are in the bag and only Boston and Tokyo, the newly minted ‘major’ remain to be tackled. Many would ask : why would anyone do all this ? In her own inimitable words the answer is simple -‘Cos why not?’.

Prior to running the race she had been successfully treated for an illness called Ventricular Tachycardia ( VT) which is a potentially life threatening medical condition that results in the heart beat getting up to 100 beats per minute. In Helena’s case her heart beat irregularly and up to 190 times a minute. This is clearly not a good thing if you aspire to run or for that matter live beyond a certain point. It would certainly curtail any likelihood of ever becoming a running mermaid. Thankfully medical science came to the rescue and Helena was able to start her unique contribution to women’s fitness athletics after successful treatment. As a result She raised $6,000 for the British Heart Foundation as her charity effort at the London marathon.

In Helena’s words, ‘It was after this that the real journey began’. The London marathon was duly completed with a modicum of training, ‘winging it’ all the way, of course ! As is the case for most first time marathoners, the finish line was a sight she will never forget. The emotion of finishing the first marathon is one of those life events that has inspired thousands of writers and more runners still. Helena, as we know, was not content with running one major marathon which is why New York quickly followed thus inspiring the desire to complete the set.

Another ‘first’ ocurred after the London Marathon when she bought her first serious bike. It was a Trek bike affectionately called Tonka ! She joined G2 Cycling and naturally completed her first century ride within two months of starting. The purchase of ‘Tonka’ was inspired by the notion that inflicts itself on all first time riders : why spend a fortune on something that you may not like? Of course she loved cycling and eventually got her first Triathlon Bike from Doghouse Racing after she learned to swim. This was one dubbed ‘Nola’ after New Orleans the venue for her first 70.3 race! She is often to be seen on the roads of Fort Lauderdale, Boca Raton, Parkland and Coral Springs astride her striking black and white speed machine putting more than a few male riders to shame ( the author included). She is a member of Boca Raton Triathlon Club as well as Doghouse and G2 and she has inevitably made hundreds of friends along the way. Her infectious enthusiasm draws people to her and if they have not done so already they will run, ride or swim something shortly after meeting her. Her ability to inspire and enthuse women and men of all levels of athletic ability is clear testament to the energy she brings to our sport.

Since getting involved with the world of triathlon she has completed several sprint tri’s, the HITS series Olympic distance triathlon and the New Orleans Half Ironman. With these considerable achievements behind her the Ironman Texas is next up in 2014. After that , who knows……………..she lives for the next goal and seems to be up for anything.

I became friendly with Helena some two years ago. We share common ancestry in that we both are English. This provides us the benefit of being able to communicate and joke in English English much to the confusion of many of our American friends. It is this Englishness that has inspired many hilarious moments, a few private jokes and the kick starting of my writing aspirations as they presently stand. Helena even inspired me with her wit when we ran early wednesday runs at the start of 2013. The adventures of the Glades runners as we became known provided me with a great deal of material for posts that acquired a small following on my Facebook timeline.

Me with more mermaids !

Me with more mermaids !

Helena and her trademark Jump with me failing miserably !

Helena and her trademark Jump with me failing miserably !

Shortly after she mentioned she was thinking of starting a club. This became The Mermaid club. Consequently a web phenomenon was created. Why ‘Mermaid Club’? Firstly, the epithet ‘Running Mermaid’ was given to Helena by people she trained with when she learned to swim shortly after her 40th birthday. Soon after gaining the confidence to swim 9 lengths of the pool she was participating in her first Sprint Triathlon. Not only did the title of Running Mermaid stick with her, but it inspired the founding of The Mermaid Club in 2013.

Secondly, the name of the club was derived from the club of the same name formed around, it is said, William Shakespeare though there is little evidence that he was a member. Leading Elizabethan literary figures would meet on the first Friday evening of the month at the Mermaid Tavern in London partly to imbibe and partly to share ideas and inspire one another. Inspiration of others is a key attribute of The Mermaid Club. Helena is also a big fan of Shakespeare.

Thus it was that one of her greatest achievements was not been related to training for a race, it was the founding of The Mermaid Club. This online global community for women who aspire to ‘think big, make things happen and inspire others’ is beautifully described in the tag she coined ’Live life, make waves”. The club links women all over the world, many of whom are working mothers, who in the words of Anais Nin, ‘have a fear of shallow living but no fear of depths’. They share their achievements, knowledge, athletic journeys and support for each other via Facebook and a webpage ( livelifemakewaves.com) launched in 2014. Inspiring women to take the first step of a journey that will fulfill them in so many ways is a fundamental principle of the rapidly growing club.

The three passions of running, biking and swimming are embraced by the club although pure fitness activity is included as well. The planking posts on FaceBook have become a weekly staple for women all over the world on the club page.

Much of the clubs art work is original with Helena taking many great pictures. I am convinced her bike pictures will be a great coffee table book within the next five years. More lively ideas make up the online presence of the club including Motivating Mermaids on a Monday, Tuesday tool kit, Thursday Anything Goes, and Friday is focused on rest and relaxation or Mermaid love! The mantra of the club is ‘live life, make waves’ and the women who take part and share their athletic highs and lows are encouraged to live by the words of Anais Nin by ‘having a a great fear of shallow living and no fear of depths’. The analogy is perfect for the Mermaid club and typifies the creative zest that Helena brings to its evolution.

A web page has been launched to add to the club use of FaceBook, Instagram and Twitter. The phrase ‘Show your fins’ has been widely adopted as encouragement for those women starting their athletic journeys. The phrase has also developed a life of its own as many women now ‘show their fins’ as they finish races or train for them. The pictures of them completing races with fins held aloft are plentiful and the enthusiasm of those connecting with the club is clear for all to see. The women who get involved love the club and voraciously acquire the T-shirts, swim caps and running tee’s that Helena advertises and sells bearing the club crest. Much of this is done either as a non profit activity or where possible donations are made to charities such as Swim Vietnam which is run by a friend of Helena’s in Vietnam.

It is clear to me that the club has a real chance of becoming huge over the coming year and beyond. The face book page has well over a thousand ‘likes’ and the ‘goodies’ offered for sale simply race out of the box soon after Helena receives them from the manufacturer. All of the merchandise, online posts, pictures and ensuing correspondence support the notion that there is a clear desire for women to share their stories and to grow from this. Whether a woman is an established athlete or a complete novice, the Mermaid club has a place to discuss and connect just about every aspect of being fit, training, competing or simply being a woman who is living life and making waves.

Helena is unquestionably a difference maker, someone for whom just getting on a bike, jumping in a pool or knocking off an early morning run is not enough. She will continue to innovate and drive her ideas forward while have a lot of laughs along the way. Tea and bikkies (English cookies) are her fuel and an unrelenting enthusiasm for every challenge she sets herself allied to an ability to get thousands of others to follow suit are her hallmarks.

This recent USA Triathlon Florida woman of the month is an irreverent but dedicated athlete who relishes the next big challenge as something that has to be done…………Riding a hundred miles? Just do it, as she says ‘Cos why not?’ Why not indeed !

Ready for a nice cup of tea now !

Ready for a nice cup of tea now !

A return to racing !!!! ……………………..It has been a while !!!!!

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Bringing home the bling !

Bringing home the bling !

So. A week ago I was happily trundling along on another training run when Melissa Hinton, Stephen Scott and I were joined by a young Triathlete in our club called Manuela Corrales and the pace picked up. This somewhat innocuous event triggered a train of thought that led me to be catapulted into my first race since Dunn’s run last October. Little did I know as we picked up our knees in repsonse to Manuela’s pace that this would lead to me racing for the first time in 5 months.

As I slowly worked my way back to running fitness these past weeks the thought of how I might race again had crossed my mind a few times. Indeed, I even thought I might not race again such was my lack of pace and general running fitness.That said, I stuck to the plan and ground out an incresingly long series of runs culminating in an eight mile effort on the weekend before the race. Racing was the farthest thing from my mind during these weeks of rehabilitation!!!!

Decision time !!!

As we stretched and imbibed our recovery drinks after completing the eight miler my running partner that day, Melissa, came up witht the crazy thought that I should join her and Bill, her husband, for a 5K they were planning to run in a weeks time. I immediately said ‘why not!’. It was only after this that I thought to myself……….’what have I done?’. I had not run a speed session for more than eight months. Up to the point where I suffered the knee injury I had been slowly grinding to a halt as accumulated niggles, the strain of a marathon and years of training week in week out took their toll. A race? I had almost forgotten what this was. My only nod in the direction of races was to acknowledge the efforts of my friends during a cool winter in Florida where many great times had been posted. I , of course, was not doing this and to a degree I blocked out the fact I was missing the major part of the racing season.

A week later I raced !!! Under Melissa’s tutelage I ran two speed oriented sessions in the week before the race so as to be ‘ready’ to go ! I am not sure what ‘ready’ really meant but I approached the race with caution. To get under 24 minutes seemed a reasonable aim after such a long layoff from racing. Melissa had the same goal in mind as she had been injured too.

The morning of the race came. Once again I found myself in the tender grip of pre race euphoria. It never fails to fill me with tingling anticipatory energy. There is something magical for me about getting up at an early hour and preparing for a race during the quiet sleeping hours. Of course, I followed the same ritual of laying out my kit the night before and packing my race bags in a certain way before setting off for the race. I love knowing that the world sleeps as I ready myself to run. The prospect of a race adds to this wonderful emotion.

To be a runner in Florida where early starts are a required fact of life is to be exposed to the world at its most peaceful, a time when the natural world takes back the earth for a few fragile hours before the madness of humanity launches itself headlong into another day. To run in Florida is to experience the quietness of the fringes of the Everglades, in our case, and to see the stars in a way that we do not normally experience. I love those dark murky hours. The wonder of my environment often serves to takes my mind off the stultifying humidity of South Florida.

The spot

The spot with a view !!!!

As I got into my car I was so thrilled to be entering a race again. Such was my euphoria that I got up FAR too early. I got to the FAU campus so early in fact, that they had only just begun to set up the packet pick up tent. I called Bill and Melissa. They, of course, were still getting out of bed because they are sane, normal people! I agreed to get their packets and save them a spot in the parking lot !!! There were, of course, spots aplenty. The picture says it all, but it is the thought that counts…..Bill asked for a spot with a view after seeing the initial picture of the space I was holding for them. A view I thought. I obliged !!!! Apparently he meant an ocean view. Me pictured standing in the spot which I then texted to them as they drove to the race venue did not ‘cut it’ apparently. Some people are really fussy !

The spot

The spot

The spot with a view !

The spot with a view !

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On their arrival we warmed up for the race and greeted a number of race friends who noted that Melissa and I had been absent for some time from the race circuit. Well, yes!! This was comeback day. We set off on a slow mile warm up and then made our way to the start line. It was a low key race. This was a deliberate choice that Melissa and I made as we wanted to avoid too much scrutiny in case we really messed up.

I will cut to the race. Unlike the previous weekend where the A1A half marathon started in a cool 53 degrees, we faced the mid 70′s and bright sun on a largely exposed course. The anthem was sung, this time beautifully I might add. We readied for the start. The usual fidgeting with watches, fist touching and utterances of good luck gave way to the ear splitting sound of the starters gun. We set off at a lively pace. Too lively it seemed. Mile one was about 20 seconds quicker than we had planned. I concluded that muscle memory and the pace of other runners had carried us along. Soon our lungs reminded us of the fact that we were severly undertrained. Mile two was a little more realistic and mile three humbled us both but we gritted our teeth and ran to the end. The final half a mile had at least three acute twists and turns. Thankfully I had no speed today so it didn’t bother greatly. As I approached the finish I saw the time and I picked up my knees. My watch stopped at 23:35 and thus it was that my first race in five months was complete. I , with Melissa and Bill had done it !!! Maybe not as fast as in the past ( nearly three minutes slower in fact) but this was a mark in the sand. A point from which I could build. I had run a race and got that particular burden off my mind. I was back and now the work begins to regain my speed and joy of racing.

Age group winners, we finished !!!!

I used to think a 5K was a fun little thing. This is a fair assertion when core fitnness and endurance have been practised. Today we had little more than our inate running ability and a couple of weeks of decent preparation. Somehow we got through but were reminded of how brutal a 5K is when fitness is not what it should be.

I am grateful to my good friends, the Hinton’s, for pushing me to do this. An age group win for us Melissa and I, albeit against thin opposition, is a nice way to come back. It is uplifting to the soul of a runner to be back in the flow……….today we did it. Thanks Bill and Melissa …………and Manuela Corrales

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The road gets longer………………….and Mike gets a BQ !!!!!

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It has been quiet in here recently. I have diligently gone about my efforts to get back to training and racing. It has been slow at times, but thankfully there have been no real setbacks. My knee,though sore at times, has not become swollen at all. Indeed the only issues have focussed on sore quads and groin muscles no doubt, I am certain, because I had not run for three months. As we advance in years there is little doubt in my mind that returning to running becomes harder. It is for this reason I simply conclude that caution and careful management of incresing run lengths has to be the order of the day.I started running a mile and then gradually increased to 1.5, 2 , 3 , 4 ,5 nd 6 over seven weeks before moving up to 8 miles! The strategy has worked so far.

Thus i worked up to yesterdays 8 mile run slowly and patiently. It was rather strange to wake again at 4.30 to ready myself for the challenge ahead. In the past an 8 mile run was usually done in mid week. I never ran 8 at the weekend,but this is where I am at present. I was happy to see many of my usual friends at the start of the run. We gathered as ever at 5.30 AM – the ‘runners hour’ as I should henceforth dub it !!!!! Once all the salutations and ‘welcome back’ utterances were exchanged it was time to set off.

The first mile was approached with a little caution. To my surprise we hit the mile mark at 8:30 pace which startled me somewhat. I had previously been struggling to break nine minutes a mile up to a week ago but now I was easing into better paced runs with little issue. I am certain the sight of my friend and impromptu coach ahead in the dark morning murk acted as a real spur. I caught Melissa by the time we hit the first water stop after which I completed the next few miles of the run with her. She has been a major source of inspiration and guidance to me during the layoff. I heartily recommend getting coaching support after a major injury. As experienced runners we may think we know how to plan a recovery, but I have been left in no doubt that having good quality advice is vital if the return is to be successful. I owe Melissa a real debt of thanks.

It was pleasing to note that I was able to sustain some pickup miles during the run. We were joined at one point by Manuela Corrales, one of our triathletes. I had no idea that she was running so well, but it soon became evident that she was pushing the pace. I heard my friend Steve call out that we had dropped the pace to 7:30 a mile. I was running quickly again and not having any problems. We kept this up for just under two miles before getting to the next water stop. I was so grateful to Manuella for pressing the pace as I had been thinking in weeks past that I might never get any speed back such is the bewilderment of post injury recovery ! In addition it was truly gratifying to see the progress of a club mate who cleary seemed to be enjoying her running and not only that, she was running strongly and very ably !It will be a pleasure to see her improve.

I continued with Steve. We kept a nice pace and managed an average of 8:29 for the duration of the run. Considering my struggles of past weeks , this was something of a breakthrough. Thanks to Steve , Melissa and Manuela my first real long run after some 4 months absence was a far greater success than I had hoped for. Running is a beautiful sport and the way we help each other is one of the aspects of running that keeps me enjoying this incredible sport.

MICHAEL FARMER

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I am reminded today of the generosity of human spirit evident in running as I reflect on the events of the A1A Marathon and Half Marathon which was run today in Fort Lauderdale. One of my friends, Michael Farmer, finally got a Boston qualifying time for the marathon. He is 60 but regularly outruns men 15 years his junior. He is the instigator, with Jenny Chapman, of a wonderful Monday bridge running group. He also inspires so many of us to run with him and be better at what we do. Mike is one of the sports great characters locally as well as being one of the true gentlemen of South Florida running. I am proud to be a member of the Bridge runners that he leads.

In 2013 he narrowly missed the Boston qualifying time at the Philadephia Marathon. Such is the genuine affection that this fine runner engenders from those who know and run with him that they ( me included) clubbed together to pay his entry fee to A1A to enable him another attempt at his dream – to qualify for the Boston Marathon. Today he did it. He beat the required time for the 60-64 age group by one minute. He BQ’d as we say. Fellow runners guided him home from the 16 mile marker ( Todd and Dan) and Jenny was there to scream at him to pick up a sprint with a few hundred yards to go. This final spur got him the time he needed as he readily acknowledged to me in a message after the race. I know of no other endeavour in life where we work selflessly to help each other achieve our goals. I have expereinced this a few times, but people like Mike bring out the best in all of us.

So many times his massive beaming smile can be seen on training runs and at races. He never seems to be down and he is forever encouraging others to keep improving. He really does lead by example. I know how hard it is to keep running as i approach my 56th year, but Mike has another 5 years on me and shows no signs of slowing. The passion we have for the sport is absolutely exemplified by the huge heart, humor and kindness of this man. He is a fine athlete, a fine human being and I am proud to call him a friend. It is to my eternal shame that I missed his great moment today. This short tribute is an attempt to make slight amends.

Well done Mike

Well done Mike

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Well done Mike and accept my apologies for not being there today………..enjoy Boston because you earned it and I want to follow as best I can in your footsteps. You inspired me today.

#megsmiles

Honoring Meg Menzies

Honoring Meg Menzies

I am sure I share the sense of stunned horror among runners all over the United States since learneing about the tragic events that led to the death of runner Meg Menzies in Richmond, Virginia this past Monday morning. A drunk driver hit her and thus robbed a young family and husband of a mother and wife. This is clearly a tragedy of the most gross proportions. We are left wondering what will happen to the perpetrator of this murder. We hope that he will be sent to jail for a very, very long time. The full weight of justice, such as is it is in the event of a life being so mercilessly and abrutly taken, needs to be exercised in the case of the driver at fault. There is no mercy in a case where an intoxicated person uses his car as a murder weapon because he is incapable of controlling it properly. Sadly this will not bring Meg back for her grieving children and husband but it will provide a grain of comfort to know her death was not in vain. More of this later.

Daily we ‘run’ the gauntlet of drivers who give us no room at the side of the road or who startle us by driving too fast. This happens on the relatively safe roads of Deerfield Beach, Boca Raton and Parkland where I run regularly as much as anywhere else. The heat and humidity in Florida is such that we have to start our weekend long runs hours before dawn so as to avoid the blistering temperatures of the sun bleached days. Many has been the time that a driver misses us by inches despite the fact that we are lit up like christmas trees with a veritable store load of road lights sprinkled liberally among our number!!!!!! To no avail,the road belongs to the ignorant it seems and our job is to get out of the ‘damned way’ as a rapidly advancing motorized steel box heads towards us. Trucks can be the worst. SUV’S conferring an air of invincibility on their occupants are no better.

Running in groups is one way to stay safe, though it offers no guarantee. Running alone certainly invites problems. Lights and reflective strips on clothes and shoes are critical. I have no doubt that Meg could have done nothing to avert her untimely demise as no amount of lighting will prevent a drunk driver from unleashing his violence! That said, this reminds us all that running with lights is of paramount importance for early morning, dusk or night runs. Life is such that we have to fit our runs into the early or latter hours of the day. Safety becomes our most pressing concern. Despite this, I do see people running in dark clothing and with no lights. Occasionally the local police will stop them and even issue a ticket. I support this. If we cannot police ourselves , then others must do it for us.

We have a right to use the roads if riding a bike. As runners we must always share the road fringes responsibly and with care. I can understand the annoyance of drivers when cyclists ride 3,4 or 5 deep on a road or where runners run out suddenly. This does not condone the disgusting and frankly imbecilic bahaviour of some drivers who try to intimidate training athletes with aggressive driving. There has to be a balance wherein all road users can share the pavement fairly and responsibly.

As a driver I always slow down and give a wide berth to the riders and runners that I encounter. Simple courtesy demands this. It seems the same code does not extend to people who feel that losing a few seconds at the wheel is somehow detrimental to their life. Sadly Florida is overrun by drivers with this frame of mind. These are the worst and most inconsoderate drivers I have ever known.

What can we learn from the tragic events of this week? Clearly the simple rules of safety and courtesy set out above are part of the lesson we must learn and constantly emphasize.

For me, there is an emotion that goes beyond the practical issues that must emanate from such terrible events. I am constantly moved and humbled by the way in which the running community responds to tragedy. After Boston we came together in a manner that embraced every runner from every corner of the land. So it is with the loss of Meg. Her local club called for the #megsmiles day. I, for one, decided to forgo the ride I had planned and elected to run instead. I posted the picture and a brief descriptor of events on Facebook as my small part in this massive outpouring of concern from our community.

For me running is as much about passion and camaraderie as it is about athletic achievement. We are community ! Runners are drawn from all races, ethnic groups, political and religious persausions and above all from vastly different levels of ability. Despite this we are held by a common bond : We run! We run and we love it. We are passionate about it. Passionate about the simple art of rapid ambulation alone or with friends. There is no choice as such for runners. We do it and we then do it again. We meditate, we grow or we simply clear our minds of the clutter from the day. We help each other, we applaud each other and we embrace each other. Today a simple call to our community to honor Meg was met unfailingly and without hesitation by runners all over the United States. It is at times like this that I understand what a beautiful thing it is that I do. I am little more than a decent club runner though I feel at one with everyone who runs and particularly so on days like today.

We cannot bring Meg back, though how dearly we wish we could. Her death was not in vain. We are closer because of her and we are wiser. Today through a million simple gestures we honor her. No doubt she was a fine runner, a Boston Marathoner, a great human being and, of course, one of us. She will be dearly missed by those close to her. We cannot salve their pain but we can stand close in our community. As for me. I extend my metaphorical arm and join with you the reader, the runner who ran #megsmiles today to embrace in spirit those close to her. I simply hope, this never happens again.

Rest in peace Meg……your loss is deeply mourned by millions who never knew you but who now know so much about you.

Britrunner

The First Mile is the Hardest

IMG_0089The day finally dawned. After not running for 10 weeks I finally took the plunge. My diagnosis of chondromylasia had sidelined me as a runner. This created the opportunity to cross train on the bike and pool run….’bobbing’ as I call it. As helpful and necessary as these activities have been, there is no substitute for strapping on running shoes and getting out on the road again. My Doctor said that when I started running again I was allowed to do one mile and one mile only. He is a triathlete so I decided to heed his advice. He added that I could then apply the 10% rule after that to increase mileage until I am fit again…….I may bend that one a little. We shall see.

Stangely, I had not missed running at all. I knew I could not run and the realist streak that courses through me meant that if this was so, why should I get anxious about something I simply could not do? Indeed, I believe that the hiatus created by injury allowed me to focus on areas that had been lacking in my training. I was woefully short of core strength and this is something I rectified with a twice daily regimen of crunches, planks, push ups and other strengthening exercises at ome that all serious runners should consider. I also started to use my road bike again and have really enjoyed not only the pleasure of being on the road again but have experienced the rush of gaining leg strength and thus being able to ride faster each time I went out. The competitor in me was alive and well.

Training with Mermaids !

I decided to warm up for the mile with a pool run in the morning. I was aided in this respect by the coaching of Melissa Hinton and the support of fellow English athlete Helena Redshaw. Mermaids both and stalwart supporters of my recovery these past ten weeks. Forty five minutes of bobbing along got me in the mood. I managed to do many of these pool running sessions which, in all honesty, bored the hell out of me, but they were a necessary part of maintaining as much cardio strength and muscle memory as I could during the interegnum. I jokingly said at one point that you could call me “Bob”because of the bobbing action of pool running, but Melissa added that my name at first was “Dunk” due to the fact that I struggled to stay above water until I had mastered the intricasies of pool running such as they are. I jest of course, but there is no doubt that this exercise played a vital part in my recovery. Boring it is, but the message here is simply : do it !!! You know it makes sense.

I was determined, on getting home, to finally run the much talked about mile that the Doctor had suggested I start with. I got out of my car and surveyed the skies. Hmmmmm I mused, there were some dark clouds gathering………both in the atmosphere and in my mind. But, no matter………the first mile is the hardest but has to be run if the subsequent miles are to be attempted and in time enjoyed again.

On getting in the house I decided ot waste no time. Prevarication was likely to add doubt and delay to the decision to get on the orad again. Even though the knee felt ok, I was surprised by the nervousness with which I appriached the outwardly simple task of running a mile. A mile for pities sake !!!! This was what we ran to warm up for and cool down from a 5K. A mile is something decent runners do not even think about, yet here I was feeling as if I was standing on the edge of a precipice.I selcted the gear and sat down. Taking a deep breath I slipped on and laced up my shoes. The energy I felt course theough me was papable………..heck, I was about to run. ‘Let’s do this’ I thought.

The Garmin was primed and set and I strode manfully out of the house iand into the street. A quick stretch and a deep breath prefaced the starting of my watch and I was off.

I have to say that the first few paces were painfu. ‘Oh no’ I thought. ‘This is not going to work’. Soon my legs settled down and i got comfortable. I waas running at something over 9 minute pace which though slow was challenging enough. Every step completed saw me closer to my goal, each twinge was carefully logged in my mind before the next footfall moved me on th=o the next considertation. My mind computed every variable imaginable. Soon I was at the half mile poiunt and still moving. No pain as such but some stiffness as my legs told me that they did not recall doing this for some time. They were right. Even though the pace was very easy, I was pleased to note that i weas not out of breath……….bobbing and riding had done their work.

As I rounded the top of the curve in the road and started the stretch to the one mile point I started to relax and feel confident. I was running again. I was smiling. I was happy. Like the return of a long lost lover, I was once again at one with one of the greatest experiences of my life. Running.Many had been the time as I drove to work that i saw a runner in the street and felt a pang in my heart. A pull at the strings of my existence…………but I looked away and drove on. Did I miss it or was I simply lovelorn? Who know? Whocares? On this day I was in love again, I was running and it felt marvelous.

Lost in my thoughts I was rudely awoken by the bleeping of my Garmin announcing that the one mile mark had been reached. Sensibly I stopped even though i felt able to continue. I recalled the stridently phrased advice of Melissa and resolved to do this sensible and carefully. I stopped and walked home. A mile run. A mile done. Now i was ready to takle the rest. I was a runner again.

Fingers crossed !!!!

Britrunner returns, tentatively !

The trusty steed !

One week later : Space Coast Marathon – not run but cheered !!!!

Finally !! Lift off.......time to cheer

Finally !! Lift off…….time to cheer

Ready for the off.....see ya !

Ready for the off…..see ya !

Rosa's first marathon

Rosa’s first marathon

The marathon shuffle

The marathon shuffle

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Is that Paula?? No its Helen. looks like her though !!!

Is that Paula?? No its Helen. looks like her though !!!

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Pace setters !

Pace setters !

Making the pace !

Making the pace !

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P1020476It was tough. Tough not to run the Space Coast marathon as I had planned. Tough not to make an effort to get a Boston Qualifying time in my new 55-59 age group !!! Did I just write that?? Sadly yes. Having reached the tender age of 55 I am now in a new age group. New challenges await me if I can get this knee back to normal.

The Space Coast Marathon was to be my second full. It was not to be, but i went along to be sure to cheer the friends I had trained with often in the earliest part of the day, through heat and humidity and amid the increasingly long training runs that were to get us ready for this day.

Ready for the challenge

Ready for the challenge

Northwest Broward Road Runners

Northwest Broward Road Runners

As a friend noted while we sipped a post ‘race watching’ beer: ‘sometimes the best marathons are the ones you do not run’. A curious assertion but one that begs further thought for its insight. He, sadly, managed to get hurt 5 days before the race. I, at least, had 6 weeks to get used to the idea. The upshot of all this was that Tom and I were able to jump around the course courtesy of his driving and get great pictures while encouraging our friends to get to the 26.2 finish line. Quite a few were running their first marathon and despite our injuries it was critically important to be out there cheering and witnessing these life altering moments in the lives of these runners. Besides, we had been part of their training and we had trodden many steps along the training roads with them.

My new mantra? If you cannot run, then cheer !!!!!!

If you can't run , then cheer !

If you can’t run , then cheer !

The result of this was one of the great days in my running life. It was without doubt hard to watch the runners edging to the start line as the starting gun fired. For this marathon so close to the Kennedy Space Center, a large screen showed rocket engines firing to symbolise ‘lift off’. My heart fell into my stomach for a few seconds. I pondered the fact that I should have been with them. This should have been my second marathon. It was not to be. Once the final corral had inched past me I called a friend who was watching her husband run and agreed to meet her immediately. It was at this point that I was greeted by other smiling faces including the ill fated Tom. They quickly offered me transport and thus one of my best days at a marathon was also ready for lift off.

We went to the 10K point and cheered freinds and clubmates past. Most were looking in good form despite a slightly more humid, warm day than had been the case the year before. We had experienced runners, virgins and even pace group leaders out there. All aspects of our fine sport were represented. Every good sentiment we could muster was carried along in that river of humanity that comprised the 2013 Space Coast Marathon. Despite the hard work and effort involved in completing this race many smiles and screams of pleasure were uttered as the runers paced by. I did ask myself just how enthusiastic all this might be at the half marathon point, but that mystery awaited.

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Thus it was that we clambored once again into the car and made our way to the 13 mile mark. Fortunately we had justmanaged to get ahead of most of the peole we knew. As each came by we cheered and even offered to occasional banana which in one case was directly ascribed to one freind being able to finish. Cheering does make a difference. We all know this. The current fashion for race organisers to put our names on the race bib means that all manner of strangers lining the route can for the briefest of second be out best friend as they cheer us and encourage us to keep going. It really does help.

By now the heat was beginning to sap the strength of the runners. Marathons in Florida no matter the time of year are utterly dependent on the luck of the day. News of a cold front if heard a few days before a race has racers in apoplexy as they comtemplate PR’s and more enjoyable racing condistions. Talk of BQing and sub 4 hour marathons abound among the makirity of marathon entrants. Today was warm, humid and on the last few miles windy too. It was this that led, in part, Tom to suggest the idea that it may be the case that the best marathons are the ones you do not run !!!! I was certainly seeing a great race today and witnessing the wonder of the marathon from a totally different angle. I was not ready to disagree desoite the fact I had spent 10 weeks getting ready for this race befoe the injury Nazi shouted ‘ No marathon for you !!!!’. Thus it was that injury and the need to rehabilitate a seriously damaaged knee prompted me to look into other ways of making this a great day.

Having witnessed all our guys and girls run past the 13 mile point I walked to the finish line and readied myself. This is a narrow course and the half marathon was also finishing at the same point. Some of the slower runners finishing 3 hour plus half marathons were still coming through as the first runners in the full finished. It was hard to weave among the slower runners but once again, such is the magnanimity in running that a mix of elation at finishing was etched on the faces of the marathon runners while also understanding that the half finshers had just run their own marathon of sorts. There were no sogns of annoyance as the top parathon runners finsihed. Everyone was simply glad to see the finsh line. Either anotherone or the first one was in the bag. It did not matter……..all were worthy of the medal. I honor and congratualte them all.

Another one????

Another one????

The green man, from Newcastle, England !!!!

The green man, from Newcastle, England !!!!

El Presidente and banana power !

El Presidente and banana power !

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Rosa's son offers mom water....I love this picture.

Rosa’s son offers mom water….I love this picture.

A post script : The amazing thing is that even though I compete with other men that are a mere 5 years short of the 60th birthday, there is still a strong competitive spirit allied to a desire to get better and then stay at a high level. When I look back at my parents and their peers when they hit this age I cannot think of one of them that could run round the sofa let alone run a 5K, half marathon or marathon. Some of these amazing guys are still running in the low 1:30′s for the half. The challenge exists as well as the desire to do everything I can to reach this sort of level remains in my heart. The example of my fellow runners drives me on. One day I will be running again and I will be hitting that finishing line. I cannot wait. I hope that my knee will comply !

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Mission accomplished

Mission accomplished

A well earned beer !

A well earned beer !

More well earned beer !

More well earned beer !

Homeward bound from Space Coast Marathon and then……………….

My driver and Jeanine !

My driver and Jeanine !

The other occupants of the car with theor marathon medals.........before the trials of the drive home

The other occupants of the car with theor marathon medals………before the trials of the drive home

Friends are a beautiful addition to life. They embellish an otherwise dull existence. They pull us up when we are down and they give a shoulder when one is needed. They give advice out of a selfless desire to ensure that those they love do not suffer the trials they endure.

However. There are limits to even the most cast iron of friendships. As we headed down the infamous I-95 from Cocoa Beach replete with thoughts of getting home to Boca and Parkland after a long but fun marathon weekend the bluetooth jumped into life. Jeanine was calling my driver for the day, Michelle, to advise that traffic was at a standstill ahead. Jeanine and Michelle are long time friends. Apparently Jeanine and her husband had been at a stuck in traffic a few miles ahead of us for quite a while. They had decided, quite generously we thought, to call to warn us as a precursor to our taking evasive action based on their advice. Choices are limited along the Interstate in this part of central Florida. No plethora of exits for the cities along the way as in South Florida. No. Things are a bit more strung out this far up in the state. Exits are thereby rare thus necessitiating quick action to avoid being comitted to the snare up that lay ahead.

This advice duly noted, we quickly reacted and utilized all the computing power Siri could muster to create an alternative route. Clearly we were at a disadvantage as previous utilization of Siri had not left me brinning with Confidence. Quite apart from the difficulty she has in deciphering my fine English accent she seems to come up with the most bizarre responses to my increasingly distraught pleadings for her, at the very least, to find a number in my contact list. Clearly the suggestion that she should find us a new route to avoid the bumper to bumper mess that lay ahead was more than I could take. Google map was thus consulted with the resultant blue flashing blip showing up on my phone displaying the fact we were close to an exit that veered directly west from I -95. Coincidentally the gathering gloom was about to add its particular complication to matters.

Having agreed a plan it was executed with all calm assurance the four occupants of the car could muster. High fives exchanged we celebrated our good fortune in getting the call from Jeanine as we set off into the western reaches of central Florida. Karl Hiaasen would have been proud of our fortitude and decisiveness. He could have structured a chapter in his latest novel describing the way in which a car full of townies faced up to the prospect of driving along pitch black roads in the near wildeness of rural Florida. After all, we were driving a modern SUV, we had all manner of technology to call on and we we wre confident we could skip round the traffic mess and be swiftly on our way after a brief detour. Wrong !!!!!

And so it was that we drove and we drove. Twenty minutes later we were still driving west. We had nothing but the white line to the side of the road to ensure we did not inadvertantly round up cattle for some slightly peeved farmer who might have observed that more ‘lost’ southern staters were ploughing a field that was, to the best of his knowledge, laid to pasture for a reason.

An hour later we were still coursing along a dark single lane road staring from time to time into the bright full headlights of oncoming cars. he were clearly locals as we still had our lights dipped. Such consideration for the toothless ones that made this place their home I pondered ! There were absolutely no land based lights to be seen for miles. We were sure that locals sat quietly out of sight monitoring our progress just in case we ran out of gas. Treasure to be had they no doubt thought.

Michelle asked in a slightly more agitated tone ‘are we anywhere near the turn south?”. I retorted,’it looks like 441 is only a mile or so ahead’. Ten minutes later the mile had stretched to many more and the blue blip on my Google map seemed chronically stuck near but not close to 441. I realised that scale was not one of the strong points of these maps. This was matched closelty by my ability to interpet the map in a way that might make my driver happier. Her young children waited for her at home and we were not getting closer to her being reunited with them anytime soon it seemd.

We, of course, were not lost. We had Google, but we certainly had no idea where we were amid the pitch black of the back of beyond. Trying to reconcile the graphics of a map to the fact we were in an area that had not artificial light at all proved to be very challenging.

The road stretched on and on. Nerves were stretched to a point where we were even conpemplating changing driver as the tension of going at 35 miles an hour in the pitch black was wearing espeicailly as Michelle had completed a marathon only 6 hours or so earlier.

Suddenly out of the tar like dank of thenoight the lights of traffic on a highway appeared. It was the turnpike. All we had to do was find the feeder road from 441 to the said turnpike and all would be well. Salvation was at hand ! An artery to civility and comfort lay enticingly close. We were on the verge of rejoining civilization. We navigated the slightly tortuous route of the connecting roads, dodging trucks and other drivers to stand close to the lights of the toll plaza. We were so close that we could almost smell it. After nearly two hours discovering parts of Florida we really had never cared about we fantasized about speeding along the Turnpike and the prosepect of home, our own bed and safety.

Joyously the four occupants of our vehicle cheered as we finally turned on to the turnpike only to find ……………………………….

this!!!!

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The very thing we thought we had outwitted. Cars nose to nose for miles and miles.

It was another traffic Jam !!!!

Aaaaaaargh !!!!!!

Exceptional athletes #1 : Florencia Morales interviewed – Top 20 overall female placing at Chicago, her first marathon

Ready to run !

Ready to run !

Meeting Florencia Morales for the first time is an illuminating experience. Her demeanor is undeniably humble, quiet, calm and collected. Her soft voice carefully enunciates her thoughts. She sits very still and answers questions in an un-animated manner. I had expected someone who was brimming with bravado after her recent performance at the Chicago Marathon but what I witnessed in this, the first of my features on local athletes, was a rare spirit among top athletes.

When I noticed so many people congratulating her on Facebook after the race, I wondered what all the fuss was about. Even though Florencia posted updates in response saying how this was ‘the greatest day of her life’ it was still unclear how well she had actually done. For her, the need to communicate her emotion was clearly more important than the details of the race itself. A refreshing outlook I have to say.

I made a call to Don Wennerstrom, owner of the Running Wild Race Team. He confirmed the magnitude of her race. I was speechless with pride. Florencia is known as a top athlete locally and although I cannot get close to her as a runner, she is a member of my racing team at Running Wild in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. I felt a connection, no matter how tenuous it was. This is one of the beauties of running for me, we run in our age groups and thus take pride in sharing races with highly talented runners who are much quicker than ourselves and thereby enjoy the camaraderie that flows from it.

I was deeply struck by the notion that anyone could go to one of the major marathons and, at their first attempt at the distance, do so well. I resolved to find out more. I approached her to discuss the possibility of a feature. To my surprise she agreed without hesitation. I was pleased to witness the initiation of correspondence that led ultimately to a meeting that produced the material for this feature.

Florencia does not trumpet her achievements from the rooftops or paste Facebook with her results and race times. Indeed time is not critical to Florencia the runner as she is quick to state. She pointed out to me that she does not wear a watch in her every day life. Her main reason for wearing one when running is to be able to keep to the training goals set by her coach James Loaring!

Making good progress !

Making good progress !

Florencia prefers to run by ‘feeling’ and to listen to her body as a means of knowing how she is progressing in a race or training run. It is for this reason that she feels less pressure than most might expect when discussing what might follow her outstanding result in The 2013 Chicago Marathon. She posted a breathtaking time of 2:46. This was so fast that it enabled her to break into the ranks of the top twenty female athletes overall in not just any marathon but one of the major marathons. It is hard for me to comprehend the magnitude of such an incredible achievement but talking to Florencia provided such clear insights that I almost felt I had paced along side her at points during our conversation.

Prior to Chicago she had been preparing for Triathlons and therefore ‘only’ managed to dedicate two months of specific training by way of preparation for the Chicago race. I found it fascinating to hear how an athlete of this calibre described her preparation for and participation in the run. I know that my best races have always been when I am most relaxed. I also try to ‘go by feeling’ as Florencia does when I am running. In this sense I know what she means. I, of course, have never run as fast for as long as her, but in my experience ‘feeling’ is a critical part of sensing how a training session or race will evolve on the day.

In good company and running well !!!

In good company and running well !!!

The race in Chicago was run, in her words, completely ‘by feeling’. She ran ‘mile by mile’, as she describes it, up to a point but ‘feeling’ was the essence of her experience of the race. She did not truly sense time or pace apart from the occasional glance at the watch when she ‘felt’ she was behind goal pace. She said she did not have a genuine appreciation of how far she had run until she hit the 13.1 mile point. After this she became aware of where she was when people began shouting out mile markers after mile 20 and when she had 5 kilometers or half a mile to go. As many runners know, the crowd is a major factor in lifting runners to the finish line in a marathon. This is clearly the case if Florencia is to be believed no matter what pace is being maintained. Everyone who completes the magical 26.2 miles undertakes an emotional, physically demanding and ultimately rewarding journey from start to finish. The crowd in any race plays its part in ensuring that journey is fulfilled.

Florencia hails from Argentina where she studied nutrition before arriving in the USA. Indeed nutrition is a critical component of her approach to running. This is a common feature among the preparation of top athletes. She eats a largely plant based organic diet with no alcohol, dairy, white and unprocessed food. In keeping with the maxim, ‘you are what you eat’ top athletes seem to share the view that performance is, in part, based on the quality of what you put into your body. It is an element of the discipline of being a top runner that most of us find hard to emulate though we can certainly use many of the principles of consuming healthier foods.

At the age of 34 she has trained for and completed her first marathon after building a fine reputation as a local top runner in races from 5K to half marathons since 2009. Her first half marathon was completed in 2011. For her, the special significance of the marathon is that she feels she has ‘found her race’. Prior to finding top flight capability as a runner she was predominantly a swimmer. The swimming clearly underpins a major part of her non running life. She works as a Fort Lauderdale beach lifeguard.

In the months before Chicago I was oblivious of her preparation for the race. Even among the Running Wild Team I was not aware of any talk of how she was progressing. That said, I was conscious of her evident love of art, photography, spiritual exploration, literature and culture in general through her use of Facebook, such is the power of social media in the modern connected world. This says a lot about Florencia and the fact that she is so much more than just a fine runner.

On meeting Florencia, her intelligence and curiosity about wider issues in life becomes quickly evident. She is a talented painter. Her cultural and intellectual interests encompass many aspects of art and even include issues related to violence against women which she intelligently expresses with a quiet passion. This recognizes the importance of her potential for inspiring other women of all levels to run, achieve their goals and progress as people. All runners including men would do well to understand what motivates her and be inspired by it.

Interestingly Florencia was particularly interested in communicating how she felt before, during and after the race in addition to how the race ‘felt’. In the two weeks before the race she was like a ‘caged animal’ as her coach emphasized rest and shorter runs before the race. He called her regularly to be certain she was holding back as her instinct was to keep training and training hard. Clearly her success is founded on her natural ability, genetics, training and diet, but the role and influence of her coach cannot be underestimated. She readily acknowledges her debt to James.

At the Expo and before the race she stated that she became very emotional and was crying before the start. She sensed deeply that she was on the brink of something that transcended the normal experience of life. Running 26.2 miles at pace is no ordinary undertaking. Having run one marathon I recall feeling powerful emotions as I stood in the pouring rain of Houston spellbound, on the threshold of the greatest athletic test I had ever set myself. I can only speculate how this effects the very best runners as they stand at the apex of 4-6 months preparation with, it is hoped, perfect conditions on hand and nothing but the starters gun to focus on.

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Even in this respect Florencia is different. She articulates clearly the idea that many runners have a tendency to ‘over think’ their races. For her the way to overcome the emotion of the lead up to the race is to relax as best she can on the start line, empty her mind and simply focus on ‘doing your thing’. She notes that she was relaxed during the whole race apart from where she hit the 13.1 mile mark and posted a time of 1:22. At this moment she told herself something special might be possible. As the second half of the race evolved she assured herself that ‘everything was ok’. She was surprised not to hit the dreaded ‘wall’ outside of changing her cadence a little at mile 20 which enabled her to accelerate smoothly to the end of the race. She ran to the finish in an phenomenal debut time of 2 hours and 46 minutes. A wonderful achievement by any standards.

When she crossed the finish line she experienced a sense of incredible peacefulness and calm. It was some time after this that the magnitude of what she had done started to dawn on her. She even admitted to being shocked by the result. This became more apparent with the torrents of emails, Facebook posts and text messages that engulfed her after news of her performance in the race became known. Of the communications and congratulations : ‘It took me days to answer them all’, she said.

The last few strides - an incredible 2:46 posted in an incredible marathon debut !

The last few strides – an incredible 2:46 posted in an incredible marathon debut !

I found her expression of peace in her running to be very insightful. Even at my level, the longer races and the training for them often feel like meditation in motion. Florencia confirmed that this is something she commonly experiences on long runs. I was pleased to hear that she too values the ability to hear her breathing and feel her cadence and flow unencumbered by any technical devices when running. The rhythm of our body often induces a meditative state or as Florencia maintains : ‘running makes me free’.

I have little doubt that her inner strength, highly evolved approach to the discipline of the marathon and the spirituality of running will serve her well in the coming years. She says she feels no pressure for future marathon races because she is able to ‘ live in the now, live in the present’. I understand this to mean that future races will take into account her training, the weather conditions on the day and how she is feeling. Most runners would acknowledge this, but many use this as a reason to say why a race did not go well. I do this myself. Florencia seems not to subscribe to that notion, she asserts that she ‘has nothing to prove’ and that, as previously noted, she will try to relax and just run,‘run by feeling’.

If she continues to progress as expected after this spectacular debut in the hardest of all running races, there is the very real prospect of her participating in the Pan American games and maybe even an invitation to the Olympic trials either for Argentina or the United States. Clearly the future is bright for her barring injuries or setbacks along the way. She has endured injury in the past but dealt with it with in her customary calm manner. She has an ability to accept her reality and therefore understand what needs to be done to get past any obstacle and return to running stronger in body and mind.

I was left with the distinct impression that Florencia has an approach to her craft that has the rare attribute of being utterly inspirational to others. Her philosophical and spiritual approach to running is one that I, for one, readily identify with. Running, training for races and the marathon in particular has, in her words, made her ‘a stronger person’. I have heard many stories from other runners of how they started running after a personal crisis or life changing experience. Such is the power and majesty of the personal challenge running issues us at times when we need to reach deep and learn about who we really are !

The training demanded for racing enables people to test themselves, feel good about their achievements and grow. There is also the added bonus of meeting great people as friends who often perform incredible acts of selflessness to help fellow runners develop and progress in training and in races. This is almost unique to running. Florencia confirmed much of this to be true in her experience. By sharing her story she will unwittingly help thousands of others at all levels of running ability to better understand why they are driven to do what they do and eventually run a marathon. In her words, ‘the marathon changes you, it is unbelievable’.

It was refreshing to meet Florencia, to learn more of her success and her approach to running. While many can never run as quickly, there is a great deal all runners can learn from this talented, unassuming woman who keeps it simple : she eats well, works hard, nurtures her spirit and does no more, no less than run. She runs ‘in the moment’, she runs very well. Very well indeed.

The hard work continues.................

The hard work continues……………..

Mark Darley aka Britrunner
11/19/13

I prepared for this, the lonliness of the long distance tracker writ large………………..tracking a marathon on line

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As marathon season progresses and various friends run races they entered months ago, I am left to ponder the way the injured athlete can continue to contribute while others race. There is no doubt that even if I had a marathon to participate in I would want to follow my friends on line. That said, there is something about tracking the progress of those you train with during their 26.2 mile phyiscal test of speed and endurance that inspires the soul. These are people with whom I have shared the pain and exhaustion of training for weeks on end. We get up at the earliest of hours, often before going to work. We run bridges, tempo runs and long runs!! We encourage and cheer each other on. Training for a marathon is one of the greatest evocations of the human spirit!

The cameraderie we celebrate is displayed on FaceBook pages, Twitter and blogs similar to this one. Why? Because we want to share the joy and pleasure of progressing towards our goals. This ‘sharing’ makes race day even more important. It becomes all the more important if we are injured while training for our own race and thus robbed of the chance to participate. We can track from afar and thereby add to the energy and support fellow runners feel ! Tracking becomes a new sport in itself !

Each marathon is different. New York has an incredible tracking system as does the marathon I ran in Houston. My family sat around the computer for the entire time I ran the Houston Marathon and watched the ‘little blue man’, as they dubbed him, move around the course. Knowing they were watching 4000 miles away in England inspired me. I could not fail them. Despite being in pain for the last 4 miles I was carried along by them and others that I knew were watching online! My good friend and fellow runner Mike Farmer told me the same thing today. The last mile, he said, was really tough but the knowledge that so many friends were watching him online carried him along. It gave him the strength to finish, to push through the pain of that last mile and get under the magic 4 hour mark ! A great effort that that I have tried to honor below with my own recollection of the race from the trackers perspective.

Marathon tracking is the new sport !!!

As I woke this morning and saw the initial FaceBook posts from Jenny and Mike in Philadelphia. I pondered the notion of what it takes to follow on line and the ‘training’ it takes to properly track a marathon so as to last the distance. This blog entry is no more than a bit of fun, but the anxiety felt when the runners being followed don’t make a split as expected or the elation at seeing then ahead of schedule set me thinking.

What follows is my take on the arduous task of tracking athletes on line in a marathon. It is dedicated to Jenny and Mike !!

So here I am at 6:30 AM readying myself for the test that lies ahead. I am faced with the prospect of tracking two friends in the Philadelphia marathon. Minutes of hard training have gone into being ready for this moment. Like my fellow runners…..I stand on the start line but in my case I stand in cyberspace. Know this my friends. I’m ready Mike. I am ready for this Jenny !!!!

Mike readyng for the race...you can tell he's been in Florida a long time

Mike readyng for the race…you can tell he’s been in Florida a long time

Jenny ready to race............

Jenny ready to race…………

I’ve trained for this. Countless years of making tea and carrying it to the computer desk without spilling a drop have been logged. Add to this the practice and consequent precision that goes into dunking digestive biscuits ( cookies) in the tea without them breaking and falling in. This allows the casual observer to appreciate all that goes into becoming a focussed and well trained race tracker. Race tracking takes guts, endurance and adept decision making. This will be demonstrated during the running of the 2013 Philadelphia marathon.

As 7 AM approaches nerves are beginning to show just a little. How are they feeling? Was the corral policed well to exclude fun runners from trying to get to the front? ( take note Miami )

Did they sleep well and get THEIR pre race nutrition right ? Questions and more questions abound in my mind as I eagerly await notification that the starters gun has been fired.

Now they are off !!

I think quickly : is everything to hand? I say in my mind ‘I am ready Mike and Jenny, I am ready……….the moment has come’. There is just the race left now. Months of thinking about training have come to this, the trackers delight. Poised and ready i am at the mercy of the software emplyed by the race organisers but I’m ready to watch your progress my friends. Wish me luck. I hope to observe a PR. A Boston Qualifying time too if I’m lucky. I know that as long as I go easy at the start and don’t push too hard from the gun I will be ok. I cannot let cups of strong tea divert me or worse still allow breakfast to distract me from watching the guys run a great race. Do it Mike. Do it Jenny because I am with you. Make me proud.

Wish ME luck world. I know I can do it. No going back now. The preparation work is done, PR observing race tracking time beckons.

I’m feeling strong. Tea was made at 7 AM. Digestive bikkies ( cookies) were consumed at the 10k point. I think I’m doing well. I know I can make this. I just have to be sensible and go easy on the caffeine. I keep telling myself I trained for this moment. I cannot watch the miles go by as it is better to focus on how I am feeling. Is the water in the kettle hot enough for the next cup of tea? Can I make the next cup before the latest split is flashed up on the screen? Actually ‘flash’ is a rather strong word for the Philadelphia system. I had to continually refresh my screen and then reload the runners names to be sure of accurate updates. This act of magic was all completed under pressure as I had to be sure to post Facebook updates that were timely and informative for those similarly interested in the racers progress. The pressure faced by the well trained ‘elite’ race tracker is profound.

Oh. I nearly forgot ! News of the runners!!! Both are looking good at 10k. Jenny is on fire. Mike running a slick but sensible pace. I’m feeling confident. I think we can do this, a phrase that is quickly becoming my mantra for the day. A few deep breaths and I press on.

Time passes slowly between the 10K and half way point, but as the half marathon mark approaches I still feel confident. I figured that I might walk around a bit. Loosen up. I had chosen the correct gear for the conditions which was a real boon as such small things can make all the difference when tracking a long race like the marathon. These things considered I checked the lap top for any news of updated splits.

This called for another Cup of tea I thought! Tea is the fuel of the race tracker from England. I am not sure what American trackers do. I presume they consume coffee or some sort of soda, but the British tracker remains confidently wedded to the nourishing and recuperative qualites of a great cup of tea. It cures all ailments, rights all wrongs and enables small nations to stay calm and never panic. Today that quality supported by this humble beverage was tested to the extreme, but thus far I have come through with flying colours !!!!

A big decision has to be made now. Do I push on at the half marathon point and get some toast and marmite ( a nourishing English breakfast spread for hot buttered toast) or just stay with the tea? The marathon is a huge race. A major commitment. I don’t want to mess this up after minutes of hard work has gone into evolvong my strategy for this one day. I decided to go for the tea AND Marmite. A good decision.

The runners? Both have passed the half way mark. Jenny a great 1:40 which gives her a nice platform to run to the finish and maybe crush her best time. Mike was around 1:50 and should also be able to run a strong second half. A sensible approach as he aims to break the 4 hour barrier. I am sure he will do it. Great runs guys. Stay strong.

I maintian my clarity of mind by playing on the web site a bit and checking other names for fun. Naturally none of them were running ! But less of this silliness……there are serious matters afoot. What of the poor saps that are actually running this race? Shouldn’t I say a little more about them? This is a team effort after all !!!

Well. Jenny hits the 30 K mark and she is still going strong. As for me, I’m going for the toast now as it sits cooling on my plate. It is important to keep nutritional intake balanced to avoid hitting the wall. That’s what the marmite is for. It is full of B vitamins for energy. This is harder than I thought. But there’s no quitting now. No going back. Get the marmite jar out and lay a nice thick slug of it on the hot buttered toast is the way to do it. Lovely. Now I am ready and fortified for the final miles of the race.

The Marmite has stayed down and my stomach feels fine. My legs are feeling good. I think I might move to the living room and set up the lap top there. I need to gather all my energy for the run in! Tea? Check. Milk in it? Check. I’m good? Check ! I feel this will be the best marathon I’ve ever tracked. I just feel good. The preparation and early mornings have paid off …………..oh and Mike hits 30k. He’s easing up a bit but clearly hanging in there. But, will he still break 4 hours. Of course he will. Go Mike!

Suddenly the screen bursts into life and after figurng out a slicker way of refreshing things I see that Jenny has finished. What a great race. 3hours and 32 Minutes. She has posted a new personal best and exceeded the required Boston qualifying time by a whole 8 minutes which is well over a mile in running terms. Well done Jenny. I am proud to have trained with you and seen a small part of your gloriuos evolution to this point. What a great race. Well judged and well executed. I did not spill a drop of my tea by the way. Many tea bags were used and much carbohydrate was utilized as I tracked you running such a strong race. But what of Mike ? After a few nervous minutes and several spoonfuls of granola with fresh fruit ( yes, trackers have to eat healthily too) Mike’s time flashed on my screen.

HE DID IT , HE DID IT !!!!! He ran the marathon in under four hours. Nobody can understand what this means until they do it themselves. Mike, like me, is a few summers past his 50th birthday. This stuff is not easy. I did not even get to the start line of what would have been my second marathon due to injury. Mike did and he broke 4 hours. Congratualtions Mike. What a race and what a feeling. I am glad to have shared this with you from afar !!! Rest now, drink a beer and maybe we can run together some day when my knee heals. We can spur each other on to faster times still. That’s the beauty of running. There is always the prospect of new goals to achieve. More bridge runs and early morning long runs lie ahead for us. I cannot wait !

And so. It is over. Somehow we all got through this together. At least 8 tea bags were used. Nutrition was easier than hoped. Toast, cereal and marmite all played their part in getting this tracker to the finish line. It’s a great feeling to track a marathon and KNOW you can make it through because you did the hard work to be ready. It’s like running really !! Honest guv !

What it is all about !!!!!!

What it is all about !!!!!!

I think we ALL need a beer. Well done my friends. I feel as though I ran it with you.

Now it’s important to recover.

Maybe another cup of tea is needed to mull it over. Hmmmm.

britrunner 11/17/13