Monday, June 27, 2011

Nugget #36

I wrote the following back in 2004 just before the Boston Marathon, which I did not run, but which my wife, Diane, did.  Next nugget will be the results of that race.  Nothing like winter marathon training in Buffalo.

The Joys of Winter Marathon Training
By Bill Donnelly

            Spring is in the air and runners by the boatload are out enjoying the warm breeze and sunshine upon their faces.  If you happen to be out and about in the city of Buffalo on Sunday, May 30, you may see hundreds of runners challenging themselves as they try to finish all 26.2 miles of the Buffalo Marathon.  As I write this, many of my friends are poised to run the same distance in Boston on Monday, April 19 in the world famous Boston Marathon.  And many of you may think to yourself, what crazy people, running that far at once, what an accomplishment!  You don’t know the half of it.
            Just to get to the point of being able to complete a spring marathon such as these two, one has to put in many months and many more miles of training just to reach that goal.  Tough for anyone, but I think even tougher for Buffalonians than for most other runners.  As I have been training with many friends for these races, and as a matter of fact, I may run the Buffalo Marathon, I know the hardships they all faced to get there.  Now I’m going to try to convey to you what it takes to run a springtime marathon, just in case you ever might think of doing one, or at least to give you a better understanding as to what these amazing, courageous, and idiotic people go through. 
            Training through a Buffalo winter?  Running most every day, going out in sub-zero weather at eight o’clock in the morning (which means getting up by six) to run sixteen or more miles into the wind and snow, with poor footing because it snowed six inches the night before, and gee whiz, the Buffalo snowplows haven’t quite gotten around to clearing the streets this Sunday morning when most people are sleeping in!  But let me tell you about the joys of running, as there must be some, for most of these runners have done it many times before, and will assuredly continue to train for spring marathons.
            Dick Sullivan, the 75 year old Founder of the Belle Watling A.C. running club, will be running his 29th Boston Marathon this year.  His teammate Jack Meegan will be doing his 25th Boston.  The list goes on.  I’ve run seven Bostons, starting back in 1974, taking a break after 1979, but for some reason getting back into it so that I ran Boston the last three years.  I’m not running this year, but I’ve been training with many friends who are.  What makes us do it?  Surely not Buffalo’s winter wonderland.  Or is it?
            Let me explain a bit about the running boom before I go on.  Back in the Day, or during the first running boom during the 1970s, most runners were marathoners, and we were extremely competitive, running 100 mile weeks even during the winter.  My first Boston in 1974 had 1700 runners, which was considered a lot then. My best time of in Boston in 1975 placed me 181st out of 2000 runners.  Last year there were 17,000 runners, and a time of would have been in the top 100, and that is true of the last five Boston Marathons.  There are way more people running marathons now, and plenty are darned competitive, but more are in it for a healthier lifestyle kind of thing.  If training in a Buffalo winter can be called healthy.
            Back in the 1970s, we pretty much just ran the miles, getting in speed when a group of us got together, and the testosterone took over and we were soon flying.  This was pretty much every day.  I can say testosterone because there were very few women running back then, locally you could count them on one hand.  Now the figures are pretty even, and I say, viva la figures.  Now every one runs more like 40 to 50 mile weeks, but usually using a training method much smarter then we used to use.  Testosterone just aint all that great!
            So let’s finally get to the winter training that we do today.  I’m just talking marathons since I’m still crazy enough to keep running them.  Today there are so many more runners who go in for the shorter distances, and I say more power to them.  And yes, they too train through the Buffalo winter, just not as many miles.  Now a few people do some of there training on a treadmill, but for a imagination-impaired klutz like me, it’s just too boring, and being a klutz, I’m deathly afraid of a misstep, which often results in one flying off the back of said treadmill and landing face-first into the back wall.  Happened to me the second time (and last time) I used this terrible invention. 
            Others like to run indoors on tracks like the one at the Flickinger Center at ECC downtown.  Now this provides a nice warm place to run if you don’t mind keeping track of the laps, which are nine per mile.  Not bad if running only two or three miles, but try getting up in the miles, you will get dizzy, confused, and nauseous.  Take the case of the two runners who last winter ran 21 miles together up there.  I won’t name names, but when my brother Tom and his girlfriend Julie Doell ran those 189 laps, they were not right in the head for months.  Now that I think of it, they’re still not!
            So anyway, nowadays I train with a group through Fleet Feet, the running store on
Elmwood Ave.
  It’s owned by my old friend from days of running together for Buffalo State, Dan Loncto, and he’s been putting on this training program for about three years.  He uses University of Buffalo track coach Vicki Mitchell, who is an excellent runner in her own right.  She puts together an amazingly comprehensive program, taking into account a person’s ability, experience, and the marathon they are training for.  The program has grown each half year (they do it for fall marathons too, and training through a Buffalo summer is a whole different article) and the crowd she has to work with this time around is 110 nuts, er, runners.  Quite a task for the coach, but we have to do the workouts.
            We get together each Sunday at eight in the morning for the long runs, and many get together mid-week for the speed work.  According to the Buffalo News Runner of the Year race schedule, the racing season ends with the Turkey Trot on Thanksgiving Day (the oldest continuously run race in North America) and starts with the Shamrock run in early March.  We marathoners must keep up our mileage throughout this period.  Through December we try to keep running between 35 and 45 miles, not tough through that warm month of December.  But then comes January and the training program starts, and this winter, as you Buffalonians know, was very cold.  Yow!
            Again, I won’t name names, so I will give my running partners fictitious names, ones that fit their personality and mentality.  I ran with my posse of one guy, Rufus Leaking, and the sisters Leah and Rhea Tard., and newcomer Warren Pease.  That first Sunday, January 4th, we ran 8.3 miles, giving me 42 miles for the week.  We built from there, hitting ten miles in zero degrees wind-chill the next week, and 10.5 in snow and cold the next.  On January 25th, the sun was out and there was little wind, as we ran 12 miles on the hills of Chestnut Ridge.  Oh, did I mention it was -8 degrees when we started.  But that sun was wonderful.
            Now it’s getting colder and I ran 52 miles for the next week, and our Wed. speed workouts are ten miles or more in horrific conditions.  On February 8th we ran 14 miles in 10 degree weather, and then came our first race of the year, a Boston tune-up out in Lockport.  It is a ten mile race in the area the Seneca Indians used to call Na-ga-winda-inna-facea-alla-wayga, which simply translated means “one heck of a cold and windy day if it’s early February.”  It was chilly, with a good deal of wind, but the worst part is the finish.  Whoever planned this course thought it would be funny to have a long, steep hill right before the finish!  Ha Ha guys, we get the joke, now could you please get rid of the hill!   Now we are building up the mileage, as the next week the Fleet Feet group ran 17 miles in the cold and snowy wind.  The next Sunday, which happened to be February 29, it was sunny and warm, which meant it was above 32 degrees, and we ran another 17 miles, getting 45 for the week.  Now we get to the Shamrock Run, an 8 K, or basically 5 mile race with one heck of a party afterwards.  For those who could, it was on to Chestnut Ridge for 18 the next day.  I must say, the Irish in me got the better of me, and I couldn’t quite make it to the Ridge.  came too early that day!
            Now we are getting serious, running sixteen the next weekend, but mostly at marathon pace, which in laymen’s terms means fast.  Then the crew decided to run at Chestnut Ridge on March 21st at , to get used to hills, since Boston has many hills, at since the Boston Marathon starts at .  Since it was late March, the weather should be ok for running 20 miles.  Not!  It was 20 degrees and almost a blizzard out there, one of the toughest runs any of them ever did.  Unfortunately, I was stuck out in San Diego, Calf. that day, running in shorts and a tee-shirt.  Darn it to Heck!  I should have sent them a post card.
            Finally getting there, the last tune-up for some of the runners, the Around the Bay race in Hamilton, Ontario.  Just 30 K, or 18.6 miles, with one hell of a hill right near the end.  Must have been designed by those same witty people who planned the Lockport ten miler.  So after three months of running 40 or 50 plus miles a week in horrendously tough, freezing conditions, it’s time to start winding down for the Boston Marathon.  Now to cut back the miles and rest up to get mentally ready to run the 26.2 miles, which is all most spectators will see you do.  But we know better.           

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