Tuesday, May 24, 2016

A Walk to Believe: 5K for Eric LeGrand

Folks have a lot of reasons for running 5Ks. It's a challenge to get off the couch. It's a way to test your fitness without the grueling aspect of a marathon. It's just flat-out fun to be part of a race. But the best reason to run a 5K is for a cause that's near and dear to your heart.

As you probably know, I am a Rutgers alum and a die-hard fan of the Scarlet Knights football team. I've been with them through some down, down times. There was a winless season. There was a year we lost to the worst team in the country and then a lower-level team in successive weeks. There've been at least two heartbreaking losses with major bowl games on the line. But the most gut-wrenching day for every Loyal Son and Daughter I know was on October 16th, 2010.

That Saturday, Rutgers took on Army at MetLife Stadium in New Jersey. It was a close game in which Rutgers mounted a late comeback. On an RU kickoff late in the game, Eric LeGrand raced down the field and made a jarring hit on Army returner Malcolm Brown. A hit so jarring, in fact, that it left Eric paralyzed.

But since that day, Eric has been a source of inspiration not just for Rutgers, but for the entire country. He refuses to let his injury keep him from his goals. He's been working hard at rehab for more than five years now. He's part of the radio announcer team at home football games. He graduated in 2014 and addressed his fellow classmates. He's written two books and is a constant presence on campus. He's won the Jimmy V Award for perseverance at the Espys, and he's the only Rutgers football player to appear on the cover of Sports Illustrated. And just this month, during his commencement speech at Rutgers, President Obama said that Eric inspires him.

Eric is such a special and important part of the Rutgers community that it's only right that we do what we can for the cause most important to him. And so that's why I'll be running the 5K on June 5th at A Walk to Believe: One Step Closer for Eric LeGrand.

This year's event is the sixth annual walk, and the second year that it's been a USATF-certified 5K. Last year, runners and walkers raised $82,000 for the Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation to benefit spinal cord research. In 2016, Eric has challenged us to clear $100,000 -- and we can do it with your help.

The course begins and ends at High Point Solutions Stadium on the Rutgers campus. It wends around the school's golf course and affords some pretty views -- and it's flat and fast. There are festivities before and after the race, and there are always past and present football stars who are more than happy to take a photo with you. And you'll surely get a chance to meet and talk to Eric himself.

You can sponsor my run by contacting me through Twitter or Facebook, or you can donate directly at AWalkToBelieve.org. And if you can come out on June 5th, please sign up. It's a great race and a great day.

So come on out and and RUn to bELieve!

Monday, May 9, 2016

Marathon Is Over... Now What? 6 Strategies to Keep Up My Momentum

So you might have heard: I had a successful 2016 New Jersey Marathon.

Training for the race, thinking about the race, writing about the race, boring all my friends and loved ones with my obsession over the race -- that's dominated my life for the past four months. And now it's done. So now what?

Time to Evaluate

I haven't really had enough time to evaluate my long-term goals. But the first choice I have to make is pretty simple: How much of my fitness regimen do I want to direct toward running?

Last year, I wrote about the benefits of being a generalist as opposed to a sport-specific specialist. Unless you have very defined goals, I think you're better off trying to mix up your fitness regimen to work on all aspects of your fitness -- strength, flexibility, mobility, speed, endurance, etc. After all, the rest of your life doesn't specialize, does it?

There is no question in my mind that, before this training cycle, I was in better overall shape. I know for sure that my upper body was stronger, and I definitely had better muscle definition. So I absolutely want to regain some of that.

At the same time, I've made positive strides (pun intended) in my running, and I don't want to regress. I do plan to run another marathon in 2017, and I'd like to maintain my running-specific and aerobic fitness levels, rather than have to start building from close to scratch next time around.

So I think the answer is the same one I had in January: and. Now comes the tough question: How do I ramp up my routine and I find the time and energy to accomplish everything I want to? And what about, you know, life?

6 Strategies to Keep Up My Momentum

Scheduling: Training for a marathon makes scheduling easy: You just follow your training plan. But a big key to keeping consistent in your fitness regimen is to have a routine. Now that I'm not on a specific training plan, I'm going to have to create my own schedule, to be sure that I accomplish what I want every week.

Maintain Successful Strategies: I wrote in a recent Facebook post that I'd like to stick with my new level of alcohol intake, without being a stick in the mud. That's going to mean leaving the beer to the weekends and limiting nights out to two or three drinks. Also, I need to do my best to get to bed on time, to maximize sleep, and to focus on my diet -- stuff I did well the past four months.

Keep the Mindset: After my first marathon in 2014, I got off a regimented schedule. And that led me to ease off the throttle a bit. I ran a fall half-marathon with sporadic training and an early spring half with basically no training. I also had about nine months where I didn't belong to a gym. What happened? I allowed myself to feel that three or four days a week with any exercise -- even just a 20-minute bodyweight session -- was OK. I gained weight, lost endurance and lost muscle definition. Last June, I started to fix things,being sure to do some kind of workout at least five days a week. And now: My goal is to bring purpose to every workout session, just like in marathon training.

Diversify: My wife has been bugging me to try yoga for a while. I think now is the time, concentrating on hip mobility, core stability and glute activation. I also want to work on plyometrics; the simplest plyos for runners is jumping rope. And I plan to keep weekly interval training on the schedule to work on getting faster.

Take Advantage of Vacation: I tend to concentrate my vacation days in the summer. Those days are a great time to ramp up on exercise, when you don't have the time pressure of commuting and work.

Keep Learning: I am certainly no noob on the roads, at the track or in the gym. But I'm no expert, either. I have lots to learn about pacing for various running workouts. And there is seriously no end to the number of strength exercises I could and should be doing -- not the least of which is the deadlift. I won't get better than I am now if I just keep doing the same old stuff.

Walking the Walk

If I can hit all these marks, I believe I'll be in much better shape to embark on another marathon-training cycle in the beginning of 2017, and I'll improve on my time. Now comes the hard part: Putting the plan into action.

And really, that's what being a Regular Guy is all about: Getting stuff done. Figuring out your fitness priorities and doing what it takes to reach your goals.

It kind of feels like New Year's Resolution time. So let's get to it!

What do you do after you've reached a big goal or milestone? What are your next steps? How do you avoid settling for good enough? Sound off in the comments below, on Facebook or on Twitter.

Monday, May 2, 2016

6 Smart Things I Did to Set a Marathon PR

So my second marathon is in the books.

And despite some really awful conditions on Sunday at the New Jersey Marathon, I set a huge PR. Sure, you would expect to see some improvement the second time around -- that's the case for just about anything in life, right? But I went from 4:18:32 to 3:54:47 -- that's 23:45 faster!

So what did I do differently?

If you've been keeping up with my marathon-related posts the last few months, you know that I got much more serious about my training regimen and my taper. I'm not going to re-hash all that here. What I want to talk about is race day and the couple of days beforehand.


On Friday, I more or less spent the entire day on the couch. I didn't do work, and I limited my chores. (My lawn looks like a jungle, by the way.) 

On Saturday, we had some errands to run, but while we were out, I realized I wasn't giving my legs proper rest. So I waited in the car while my wife (bless her) ran into the grocery store to buy the last-minute items we needed.

Later Saturday, at the race expo, we took one spin around the various booths. Tried a few samples of products, but we didn't hang around long.

Me and my friend Dan on expo day (courtesy Christine McDevitt)
And even when we arrived at the start area (Monmouth Park) on Sunday morning, I sat on the floor for as long as I could before heading to the corrals.

Every last bit of rest you can put into your legs helps when you're running 26.2. Conserving all those little expenditures of energy can really add up.


I've been talking for a while about carb loading -- because I'd been doing it for close to three weeks. The last few days before a race are key, though. I had rice with almost every meal. I consumed very little fat, as I wanted to save those calories for carbs. And dinner both Friday and Saturday was pasta.

The morning of the race, I ate a bagel with strawberry preserves (not cream cheese or butter), and a low-fat concoction of whey protein, water, chocolate syrup and iced coffee. My glycogen tanks were as full as they possibly could be.


I'd read extensively on pacing strategy for a marathon. It's a much different beast than a half. In my recent half-marathon, I set a strong PR with some serious negative splits (running faster in the second half than the first). Ask 100 experts, and 99 of them will tell you that the key to a fast time is to start slowly and finish fast. But one article I read blew that idea out of the water. The thing is, most people just can't hold a faster pace in the waning miles of a full marathon -- it's just too far, and it just takes too much out of you.

That jibed with my experience the first time around -- not just me, but the people who finished in around the same time I did. Your body can store only so much glycogen, and your slow-twitch muscles can hold out only so long. 

OK, so I didn't want to go out too fast and risk an early bonk, but I figured my best bet for a solid time was to acknowledge that I'd probably slow down at the end no matter what. So I decided to start at a reasonable pace instead of holding way back. That paid off, as I did the first half in 1:56:11, and the second half in 1:58:36.

I will bet that had I gone out slower in the first half, my second half wouldn't have been any better. 


As I wrote a few weeks ago, I felt that one of my downfalls in 2014 was the lack of a good fueling strategy. Even a fully carb-loaded runner won't have enough glycogen for 26.2 miles. There's only one way to fight this: Ingest some carbs during the race. (I know that some people advocate "fat adaptation," but it's a difficult strategy that requires months of preparation, and research is mixed whether burning fat for energy actually leads to optimal performance.)

I decided that I would take a GU energy gel roughly every five miles, around aid stations so I could drink some water to help with digestion. GU delivers 100 calories of a carefully engineered balance of glucose and fructose, which ensures that your body will absorb as much of it as possible. And between GUs, I determined that I'd grab Gatorade at rest stations to get a little more carbs and some electrolytes.

I didn't stick exactly to my plan -- I started on the GUs a little earlier than 5 miles, and wound up ingesting one more than I'd planned on. But the overall strategy worked: Take the carbs before you feel like you need them, because by that time, it's too late.


It's impossible to execute a race plan exactly as you've drawn it up. There are just too many variables. As I mentioned, I started on my GU regimen a bit early, and I kept taking them every 4.5 miles instead of 5 -- which helped me keep my energy up. 

It was wet and miserable all day long. (courtesy Jacqueline Richter)
Another area where I needed to be flexible was in my gear. The temperature was around 50 at the start and pretty much stayed there all day. The wind was strong enough to make it feel a little cooler. And there was the rain. So I started out with my rain jacket, gloves and a water-wicking baseball cap. By mile 3 or so, I realized the rain jacket was going to be too hot, and leaving it unzipped would be really annoying. So when I reached my group of supporters for the first time, I dropped the jacket and gloves with them. I also left my wool ski cap, which I had just in case but determined I wouldn't need.

And though I'd planned to stay with the 4-hour pace group for a while, I realized early on that the two pacers with that group weren't running even enough splits, and so I decided to get out ahead of them and not look back. By mile 3, one of my main goals was not to see those people again -- and I didn't.

The Little Things
  • For races where it might be cold, I buy a used coat at Goodwill and wear it to the starting line, and then drop it right before the start. I also wore an old pair of pajama pants. A woman standing near me had a tank top on and was freezing. Since I had my rain jacket on, I gave her my old coat, and I think that helped her.
  • I always carry a hand towel to wipe away sweat -- those freebie golf towels you get a pep rallies and the such. But I figured I'd have sweat plus rain to wipe away, so I carried two of them. Let me tell you how nice it was to pull out a dry towel around mile 20.
  • I always walk through aid stations (when I get a drink), but I took one extra walk break. The New Jersey Marathon course goes through the old, abandoned Asbury Park Casino. I made the most of the respite from the rain to take my hat off and shake it out, really towel myself off, and get myself organized for the final six miles. I'm certain that this helped me focus in the home stretch.
  • When I hit a rough patch, I used mental tricks. I kept thinking of all the people who sponsored my run and how I couldn't let them down. I paced myself behind someone for 3 or 4 miles. I tried talking to people to get my mind off my fatigue. It all helps a little, and lot of little things add up.

It All Added Up to a Great Finish

Check out that awesome support team! (courtesy Christine McDevitt)
I can't claim any responsibility for the great support group I had all over the course, but seeing my wife, my family and one of my good friends between miles 24 and 25 was one helluva pick-me-up. I thought I might have to stop to walk some. But instead, I actually had a kick for about the last mile and a third. I was freakin' moving! I don't recall seeing a 40k timing mat, so I don't know my split in that last 2k, but I'd bet I was around my half-marathon pace. And there is no better feeling in a marathon than passing people in the home stretch and barreling through the finish line. It was awesome!

Have a story of your own to share? Sound off in the comments below, on Twitter or on Facebook