Monday, October 3, 2016

10 Years of Running: My 10 Favorite Medals

December 1 will mark 10 years since I became a runner instead of a smoker and changed my life. On the way to that 10th runnerversary, I am going to celebrate with an occasional top 10 post.

My 10 Favorite Medals | My 10 Favorite Bibs | My 10 Favorite Shoes

10. Miami Marathon, 2012. It's a humongous No. 10, so naturally I have to include it here at No. 10. This formalized a new era of "spinner" medals, as the palm trees whoosh through the medal like a warm Biscayne Bay breeze. It was a hard-fought medal, because around mile 17 I tipped over in someone's front yard due to ITB that suddenly stole my stride. Because of that, I got the back engraved: OVERCOME ANYTHING.

9. St. Louis, 2008. My boys were all there waiting for me at the finish line, two years after I had moved from St. Louis to NYC due to my new MLB role, and I was so glad to have them there. My mission and purpose with running had been to make sure I stay healthy and live as long as possible to enjoy life with my kids -- still is -- and set a positive example for them of healthy living and goal achievement. There is nothing cool about the design of this medal, but that meaning makes it special.

8. Fort Lauderdale, 2013. I don't think any race obsesses over its medal more than this one! It's all I heard about, before, during and after the marathon. Best medal, best medal! Well, this particular year, the "theme" of the Publix Fort Lauderdale A1A Marathon was seahorses. The special twist was a sort of amulet in the center that opened, revealing palm trees inside. The only problem was that my amulet, as with that of some other runners', was defective and broke off. The race director, to his credit, was livid with the firm that produced his designed medal, and he sent a replacement by mail later. It is easily the heaviest medal I own and I can't ever imagine a heavier one in the future.

7. Los Angeles, 2014. When Deena Kastor hands you your medal, it is going to mean something! I was part of the ASICS LA Marathon Blogger Challenge Team that year, flown out with Lisa and Rachel and given the VIP treatment all weekend. I sprinted the last mile, helping another runner finish, and Deena was among ASICS elites who greeted us at the end. It was a scorcher, and that medal was earned!

6. Hamptons, 2014. Honestly, if I have one "most beautiful medal" in my collection, this is it. My Hamptons Marathon bling is like a stained glass window. I admired it for a long time.

5. Maratona di Roma. I would be lying if I said this was a glorious finish, because the cobblestones destroyed my feet, there was an unexpected long uphill tunnel toward the end, and there was a long and frustrating trek to find my bag-check truck. Respiratory problems at the start of the year had set me back in training and I was overweight. But all of that agony kind of washed away when I asked someone to please take my picture holding the medal with the Colosseum behind me. I was a gladiator, just like the ones I channeled for the entire 26.2 miles. I survived. And this medal reminds me I did.

4. Oklahoma City Half, 2007. My first running medal.

3. New Jersey, 2009. It's funny because out of all my medals, this is the one that I really don't ever remember receiving. Someone put it around my neck after I crossed the finish line, but I was focused on the bling that was in my hand. I got down on my knee and asked Lisa, who was waiting there next to the medals person, and I asked her to marry me. She said yes. So we both got a new accessory. The New Jersey Marathon also had the added touch of a little pin affixed to the ribbon.

2. Marathon de Paris, 2012. Mais oui! This medal has grown on me ever since I received it beside the Arc de Triomphe. It is my lightest-weight medal, with not much of a ribbon, and it didn't feel that substantial at the time for such an immense event -- capping my first trip to Europe. It kind of felt like a popcorn garland on a Christmas tree at the time: quaint, not really bling. But I soon realized that it carried over the tradition of the Tour de France, an event run by the same sports body that runs Marathon de Paris. And every time I look at it now, it reminds me of running alongside the Seine, posing for a Mile 16 picture le Tour d'Eiffel, such beauty and magic. Je t'aime, Paris!

1. New York City Marathon, 2007. This is my Honus Wagner card in the collection. When I quit smoking and started running at the end of 2006, I gradually increased my mileage, ran the Manhattan Half in January 2006, and soon after that I decided that I would set an outrageous goal of running a marathon within my first year of running. Today it's not that uncommon, but in 2007 it was kind of crazy. This medal is the fruit of that labor. My first marathon was marred by plantar fasciitis that forced me to land on a different spot on my foot every step for the last 14 miles, but I made it, looked up at my Dad in heaven as I neared the finish line, and danced across the finish line, receiving this.

What's your favorite medal? How do you display bling? Let's discuss in the comments!

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

26.2 things to know about the New York City Marathon

The 2016 TCS New York City Marathon will be my fourth, going back to the first one in 2007. For those preparing now to live out the dream journey through the five boroughs of Staten Island, Brooklyn, Queens, Bronx and Manhattan, here are some things you need to know:

1. Nothing else compares. You are among more than 50,000 participating athletes in a major televised sporting event. It does not matter whether you are starting with the elites or walking across the finish line in the back of the pack, this is the rarest of opportunities. No other sports or events globally can make this claim, with no qualifying required, as in Boston. Anyone can go for it. Give it everything you have and it's yours the rest of your life.

2. Set your clocks and watches back. Daylight Savings Time will end at 2 a.m. ET on Sunday, Nov. 6 -- raceday. Get that reminder on your digital calendar right now, no matter whether your mobile device auto-adjusts. Have your #flatme laid out the night before and then leave yourself plenty of time to reach your Transportation hub. Make sure that your best, deepest sleep is Friday night.

3. Run the tangents. Deena Kastor gave me this advice at a race last year and I think it applies to ANY race. Follow the route that the elites will be running, hugging the turns. It is the true 26.2, the shortest distance. Most of us wobble off the tangents here and there, and that will all add up at the end. It's not an ultra! That's why your Garmin rarely shows the same time as you cross the finish line.

4. Choose "No Bag Check." The other option is to check a bag in Staten Island, and having done both,this is not even a close call. If you check a bag, you are going to walk forever and ever, while in pain, to finally get to your truck that has your checked bag, and then you have a long walk to exit the park. Choose No Bag Check and after a short recovery walk -- any walking will help flush the lactic acid from your legs and slow your heart rate -- a nice volunteer is going to wrap a great NYCM parka around your body (you're holding a hefty nutrition bag in one hand) and point you to the park exit. Thus you are warm and just have to get to your meetup area or your car or your subway or taxi.

5. Think 10-10-10. That's 10 miles, 10 miles and a 10K, running the second 10 faster than the first, and the 10K faster than all three. Save up, save up, save up in the first 10 miles. Our Team for Kids coach preached that back at the 2007 race and it stayed with me. Probably the most commonly offered piece of NYCM advice bears repeating here: Go easy at the start, when the excitement level is sky-high and the crowds and bands are propelling you forward.

6. Suggested mantra: "Races are run with the legs, but marathons are run with the heart." Say it over and over throughout the 26.2 miles. And then after you cross the finish line, take a look at the Central Park bench plaque right next to you. Those exact words are right there. It's where I got the mantra. Give a lot of thought to your own mantra and make it your ally in training and the race.

7. Bring a raceday bag. Since you are not going to check a bag, this is going to be the only bag you bring to the Athlete's Village. Use the same bag given out at Expo registration that you would use if you were going to check it, only you are going to throw it away before entering the corral. Include hand warmers, a banana or other pre-race snack, water, your running hat (you will be wearing a knit cap prerace), any carry items for your race (sunglasses, fuel belt, GUs, mobile device, earbuds, etc.). Anything else you can fit into that raceday bag that helps keep you warm, bring it! Get creative.

8. Get these special ASICS NYC Marathon shoes. Models like these below are coming soon -- around the start of September, I am told, so be on the lookout at I got a "sneak" preview of the ASICS Fall Collection this past spring, and they are must-haves for this race. Hey, they'll be collector's items, too, because this will mark ASICS' final year as merchandise sponsor.

9. There is no bad way to get there. All of us make our Transportation choice, either the Staten Island Ferry or the Midtown Bus, at various times. I have done both, and either way you are going to be so moved, emotionally speaking. It is exciting. I personally prefer the bus at this point, as it is just more comfortable and it's one stop from Midtown to the Athlete's Village. It is quiet time for reflection for me, and time for visualizing my race. . . or maybe a little snooze. The ferry means you get to brush right past Lady Liberty for incredible raceday blog photos, you might make friends for life, you immerse yourself a little more. It's a little taxing getting into the line and onto the ferry and then from the ferry onto a bus and then over to the Athlete's Village for the big security check, but like I said, both ways are great.

10. Official Arm Sleeve Event. Definitely bring arm sleeves with you, whether you want to buy a pair now from Zensah or pick up an official set at the Expo. The average temperature is 40s-50s, and frigid winds especially impacted the 2014 event. You may find yourself taking them off shortly into Brooklyn, but they will be your friend early. Just tuck them into the back of your shorts. I always start with old gloves and handwarmers and then toss them. A buff is also a staple for me, so that I can lift it up over my chin and cover my ears if it's cold or just wear it around my neck of put it in my pocket.

11. Athlete's Village Warmth.
Speaking of the chilly starts, I have had a real challenge with keeping warm in Staten Island while waiting hours for my corral to open. It was fine at my first one, because I ran for Team For Kids and the VIP tent is a real perk. Unfortunately blankets were abolished a while back, so you have to get creative. Wear lots of disposable clothing and don't worry about how embarrassing you will look in the morning; I will break my no-Village-attire-photo policy just this once. Wear a secondary pair of thick wool socks over your race socks, and then dispose of them (and all your other extra gear) as the corrals open. You're going to be climbing over piles and piles of clothing getting to your start area, but it all goes to charity. There is coffee to help keep you warm, but beware overdoing it and relying too much on (popular) portapotties.

12. Take advantage of a respite. If you take the ferry, use the bathroom in the Staten Island terminal, where it's warm. You might even want to hang in the warm terminal a while if you think you have too much time until your start. This is one advantage of the ferry over the bus; once you board the bus, it's going to put you out in the cold soon enough. Portapotty lines will be a good half-hour anywhere in the village -- unless you're in a VIP tent, where you get your own dedicated portapotty. You can see why fundraising is such a payoff.

13. Feel all the feels. Go without the earbuds unless you absolutely need them. Listening to Pandora or other music was great during those brutal long training runs. But at the New York City Marathon, the course is the music. You are going to have about 120 musical acts along the way, from gospel choirs in Brooklyn to R&B coming back from the Bronx into Harlem, so soak it all in. And more importantly, HEAR all of those screaming spectators who are going out of their way to support your endeavor. See and hear all the neighborhoods and cultures. Embrace the outside world.

14. Hydrate well in advance. Drink 60 to 80 ounces of water a day in the week leading up to the marathon. Your pee should be pale-yellow . . . never clear.

15. Enter Brooklyn upright and easy.
I was initiated into marathon life at the 2007 NYCM by nearly being trampled to death and a possible God experience. The Verrazano-Narrows Bridge is the biggest hill right at the start, two miles leading from Staten Island into Brooklyn. So naturally Mile 2 is downhill and leading into a bottleneck, and the tendency for many is to flow with a fast surge into Mile 3 and expend too much energy there. Be intensely aware of your footing and the feet around you. Someone clipped me from behind, and I did a forward somersault like Simone Bailes on the balance beam. Somehow I was able to crawl my way through traffic over to the right side curb, and as I picked pebbles from the palms of my hands, I saw a pair of boots. Then looking gradually up I saw jeans, then a t-shirt, then a beard, then a crazy stare looking  down at me, then a sign that this mountain of a man was holding high overhead that read: "FAILURE IS NOT A F**KING OPTION." Welcome to the New York City Marathon.

16. Avoid the tourist trap. If you are an out-of-town entry, think like a local and not like a tourist. In other words, don't spend Friday and Saturday constantly pumping pavement and wearing out your legs. Do consider the hop-on, hop-off open-deck tour buses, though. Sitting is your friend. Even at the Expo, sprawl out somewhere on the floor and just chill, soak it in, watch the course visualization video.

17. Plan your meetups carefully. Tell family and friends specific street-corner meetup info. With more than one million spectators, many intersections will be deep with onlookers at every corner and sidewalk space. If that loved one is going to be waiting for you with an orange slice and kiss on First Avenue and 64th Street in Manhattan around Mile 16, ask which corner of the intersection so you will know where to look. It's easier for you to find them than vice-versa. This is more important than you might think, because it sucks when you can't wait to hear a shout from someone and it's not there.

18. Don't gets psyched out by the Queensboro. Keep your head right and pound your mantras. It's been like a barrage to the senses with all the feels until that point, and suddenly you are in a virtual solitary confinement where your own thoughts echo. You're so excited about that thrilling rush of First Avenue up ahead that it can seem never-ending. You may find yourself in those quiet moments wanting to take stock of everything, looking at the big picture . . . and you never want to look at the big picture in a marathon. Just realize that's the mile you are in, focus on your form and your breathing, glimpse the beautiful East River through the left side, and repeat the mantras that are uniquely you. As my friend Michele aka @nycrunningmama says, "Tell yourself to get up and over the bridge and feel 1st avenue and the spectators pulling you in."

19. Pick up the pace on First Avenue -- slightly. The crowds will probably help this happen naturally for you. It's a straightaway into the Bronx after Mile 20. First Avenue will start to climb gradually, so you don't want more than a moderate pace here . . . but you should be starting to take advantage of some of that smart conservation work you did in the first 15 miles. Remember, leave plenty for the last 10K.

20. Wear your first name prominently. I was "Marco" on my Rome Marathon shirt in April and I was "Marc" at the Paris Marathon in 2012, but if ever there was a worldwide race to put your name on the chest of your shirt and maybe mark it down your arms or legs, this is it. Don't worry about falling into a trap of unconsciously going into walk mode, because within seconds there is likely to be a big guy yelling at you: "Yo, (your name here)! You can walk later!" I see that guy every time. Be noticeable.You can see here how I marked up my shirt in my 2007 race, and below that is a picture on Fourth Avenue in Brooklyn where I am clearly visible at the bottom. Stand out!

21. Keep calm. Having said that in the previous paragraph, don't fall into the high-five trap at your first New York City Marathon. I did that in 2007 -- wanting to run along the barricades and high-five every little kid who held up his or her hand. I wanted so much to interact in that way . . . and it used up a lot of energy. I decided after that to be a little more unsociable (sorry!) and run typically in the center of the road.

22. Don't get peed on. Every repeat NYCM runner knows to be on the top deck of the VN Bridge if you can possibly make that happen. There are going to be some guys, usually Europeans, urinating off the side of it into the incoming waters of the Atlantic Ocean below -- trying to replicate those majestic fountain streams of water shooting out of the watercraft down there. Hey, blame it on all that Dunkin' Donuts activity back in the runner village. It's all fun and games until someone running on the bottom deck experiences the thrill rush of what at first seems like breezy raindrops. If you are forced from the corrals into the bottom-deck flow, just make sure that you run in the very middle of the bridge so no one pees on you, because you're gonna wear that pee for 25 more miles. The chances of being peed on are low but why take chances?

23. Be the salt of the Earth. It may get a little tart in the second half of the race, but take advantage of Gatorade at each fluid station to keep that salt and electrolytes flowing in. I always carry my own salt with me, whether it's those little salt packets stuffed into my fuel belt or a baggie of crunched-up salty pretzels. Avoid cramps, get salt.

24. Go to the end of fluid stations. Try to keep moving through fluid stations, so your muscles don't shorten up on you by excessive walking. If you just run-and-grab water and Gatorade, go past the first table to avoid heavy traffic. They aren't going to run out of fluid at the New York City Marathon. Squeeze the cup to help make a funnel instead of splashing yourself, and it also prevents gulping. Don't splash fellow runners by dropping a half-full cup without looking; always be courteous.

25. Use your special hill muscles.
When you come upon inclines, just find that unique gear that is right there waiting to be used. Other than the first bridge, hills are mainly gradual in nature. In addition to the gradual uphill on First Avenue into the Bronx, you'll slowly climb as you head downtown on Fifth Avenue from Harlem to Central Park. Deena Kastor advises to "use different muscles" to conquer hills; put it in a lower gear and don't worry if you are slower. Once you get to 110th, you'll see trees and you are at the top of Central Park. Keep your head straight until you get from there to Runners Gate at 94th, because that's where you will turn right and then head for Cat Hill and the best downhill ride anywhere!

26. Don't overdo the fueling before and after. Enjoy a hearty brunch on Marathon Saturday -- eggs, sausage, lots of carbs -- but go easy on Saturday night and avoid the heavy "pasta dinner" appeal. Use moderation in your carbo loading the week before, so that you gain about two pounds before your race. Conversely, don't make the mistake I have several times and go hog wild feasting on massive calories in the 24 hours after your race. I got tired of running marathons just to gain weight from the celebrating.

26.2: Just a little thought. Embrace every moment and every mile. This is for you. You are running the New York City Marathon.

Follow @Marathoner on Twitter and @Marath0ner on Instagram.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

15 reasons why the Falmouth Road Race is such a big deal

CAPE COD, Mass. -- Sunday's 44th running of the New Balance Falmouth Road Race was my 134th race, and definitely the first one with a 7-mile distance. I finished in 1:27:00, well off the average 1:10:55 finish time for the 10,535 who finished, but great for me right now.

I was initially confused about how a 7-mile race could possibly be a lottery event with such a prestigious reputation, but now I completely understand. Here are 15 reasons why #FalmouthRR is such a big deal and a must-add to any runner's bucket list:

Monday, July 25, 2016

The 0BPPG Plan: Why and How I Changed My World

"Change your thoughts and you change your world." - Norman Vincent Peale

Please let me start by describing that dish above: One large grouper filet split in half, seasoned with turmeric and olive oil and steamed in aluminum foil on my grill; quinoa; and grilled squash. This was my first dinner after I changed my world last Thursday and I am not stopping. (Updated Aug. 10: 6 pounds lost in first 3 weeks, 2 pounds per week. Goal is 22 pounds total.)

Every runner knows that you don't look too far ahead when starting a major challenge. You focus on right now, the mile you're in, the present rather than the future. With that in mind, I don't want to get too far ahead of myself on my current challenge, but I wanted to share it as some have inquired.

On July 21, I decided to change my thoughts and change my world. I decided to quit consuming bread, pasta, pizza and gluten. I call it the 0BPPG Plan. My family was very helpful in advising how to go about it, and I evolved my thought process in walking down supermarket aisles. This is what I want to share: why I changed and how I changed, both equally important steps.


Sunday, June 19, 2016

10 Years of Running: My 10 Favorite Shoes

December 1 will mark 10 years since I became a runner instead of a smoker and changed my life. On the way to that 10th runnerversary, I am going to celebrate with an occasional top 10 post.

My 10 Favorite Running Shoes | My 10 Favorite Running Bibs | Follow @Marathoner

10. Li Nings (2008). I worked the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing, representing Major League Baseball. At Opening Ceremonies, I marveled as Li Ning, a local legend who was China's first-ever gold medal winner, "ran" around the roof ring of the Bird's Nest tethered to ropes. Then on the morning of Closing Ceremonies, I went to a local mall and bought a pair of his shoes. Li Nings were the top running brand there, and I communicated (as best I could) with salespeople that I wanted a pair of them. Unfortunately they put me in a pair that ran a size too big, so it wasn't long before I donated these. I wish I had kept them, in hindsight, but they went to a good cause.

Monday, May 16, 2016

10 Years of Running: My 10 Favorite Bibs

December 1 will mark 10 years since I became a runner instead of a smoker and changed my life. On the way to that 10th runnerversary, I am going to celebrate with an occasional top 10 post.

My 10 Favorite Bibs

10. 2012 New York City Marathon. I keep this one wrapped in a drawer for posterity. Superstorm Sandy forced the only cancellation of a NYCM -- controversially decided within 48 hours of the race. A thousand of us ran instead on Staten Island with orange race shirts and our backpacks filled with relief supplies to help victims there. I ran the Harrisburg Marathon as a replacement two weeks later.

Friday, April 22, 2016

Rome Marathon Recap - 10 Things I Learned About Italy

Bonjourno, that's me zooming by Mussolini's Window at Palazzo Venezia in the photo above. I finished the Maratona di Roma on April 10, a major highlight of our dream trip to Italy. Lisa's father is from the Puglia region and she had not been to Italy since she was a little girl, so this was her trip and my only wish was to run the marathon and then go along for a second honeymoon.