Thunder Road Half Marathon

Once is Enough. Bring on the Ice!

Coming into the Thunder Road half marathon in Charlotte, North Carolina, I was keenly aware of the race reputation: tons of declines v. inclines that test the calf muscles and will power of most runners. They don’t call it Thunder Road for no reason!

There are several different mentalities when preparing for a long-distance race:

1. Run the path beforehand

2. Drive the route and visualize your run

3. Go in blind – ignorance is bliss

My preference will ALWAYS be #3. I thrive on having each and every mile fresh in my mind and enjoy not knowing what is around the corner. The newness helps keep me motivated, physically on my toes and also the primary reason why I never run to music. I feed off the atmosphere of each city’s supporters and want to hear their words of encouragement. Is it stubborn? No question, but it has worked thus far…

The morning hovered around a chilly 30 degrees-cold for Charlotte as we are spoiled down south-so I warmed up in one of the buildings downtown before the race. A common rule of thumb in running is to dress 20 degrees warmer than the actual temperature. With that in mind, I wore shorts and a short sleeve dry-fit running shirt as I knew the temperature would rise about 25 degrees from start to finish.

With over 1,200 (full marathon) and 3,000 (half marathon) runners, the clear skies and welcomed sun made race conditions ideal. Despite knowing about the challenging hills, I was still taken aback. Mile 1 was pretty flat as we raced through the downtown area; the cold was a non-factor as my body temperature warmed by Mile 2. By Mile 3, the main theme of Thunder Road emerged: fairly short declines matched immediately with larger (at least triple the length) inclines.

Many people think sharp declines are welcomed for runners, but I bet those people aren’t runners. When running downhill, a runner has to be cautious not to over-stride and control their body’s momentum. It is easy to run these stretches too quickly only to be immediately met with a hefty uphill battle. From Mile 3 to 13.1 this rotation of decline v. incline ping-ponged back & forth for the duration of the race – a mental test to say the least! During the sharper inclined hills, I kept my head down and ran. Occasionally, I looked up to gauge the distance (until the hill leveled out), but it was far easier to approach each hill as another obstacle to be conquered.

One of the toughest stretches for me was Mile 7. There was a small incline, followed by a bigger incline, layered on top of an even larger one. I am always nervous about cramping and was convinced that was going to happen on this upward slope. As my calves tightened midway, I convinced myself so long as I could reach the top, all would be well. Thankfully, I made it up without any cramping and continued forward. This type of self-manipulation has enabled me break through some pretty tough walls in the past and this was no exception.

For the first time in the history of Thunder Road, the organizers moved up the date by one month to give runners better weather conditions. Throughout most of the race but especially from Miles 8-13.1, the view was unbelievably scenic as the leaves recently turned in Charlotte and the multitude of colors were widespread along the route.

As I approached Mile 12, my right knee started to feel unusually sore and I am confident my little sister would say I am getting old (of course I would adamantly disagree). Regardless, I pressed through the last 1.1 miles and sprinted toward the end.

Running across the finish line in most races is especially gratifying but no more so than a half or certainly a full marathon – the overwhelming sense of accomplished engulfs your body and instantly becomes the best feeling in the world!

It’s hard to express in words, but your mindset and life are forever changed.

I finished the half marathon in 2:05:22, about 18 minutes quicker than my last half marathon almost a year ago (what say you now little sister?). I was pleased with the 9:34/mile pace and believe I can run quicker moving forward.

On the walk back home, I mentioned to my friend Brad the value of an ice bath for recovery. We hopped in his car and took a detoured route because the roads were blocked off for the full marathoners. We drove from approximately Mile 26 to Mile 19 which was a different experience seeing the range of emotions on the runners faces knowing how much more was left to go. I knew those expressions and body posture all too well.

When we got back, I filled the bath with freezing water, jumped in for roughly 3 mins (give or take a min!), preceded to stay indoors for the remainder of the night and let my body recover.

By Sunday morning, I was virtually back to normal and am ready for the next adventure to begin…any suggestions?

To watch video commentary of this race and a segment on an ice bath afterward, go to: Thunder Road + An Ice Bath

To see photos, go to: Thunder Road Half Marathon

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Red Rock Amphitheatre

Running the Steps in Altitude

After hiking through the Red Rock Canyon trails out in Colorado, my friend ilana drove us over to the Red Rock Amphitheater. Having never heard of this place before (yes music is not one of my expertise categories in life), I was intrigued to see this venue carved out in the middle of these beautiful Red Rock Canyons. We toured the “wall of fame” and saw all the artists and bands that performed over the years: The Beatles, Jimi Hendrix, Bruce Springsteen, The Allman Brothers Band, The Grateful Dead, R.E.M., Fleetwood Mac, Dave Matthews Band, Phish, Coldplay, and of course local folk rocker John Denver (and hundreds more not listed).

The amphitheater is a rock structure where concerts are given in the open-air amphitheater. There is a large, tilted, disc-shaped rock behind the stage, a huge vertical rock angled outwards from stage right, several large outcrops angled outwards from stage left and a seating area for up to 9,450 people in between. This was some sight to see during the daytime, I can only fathom the experience at night under the stars.

Overlooking the railing at the top of the amphitheatre, we saw row after row of seating (no seatbacks, just benches). The rows were spaced apart to the point where you would have to take one very large stride to reach the next row.  There were a handful of people running the stairs from bottom to top & top to bottom while other people were running up one row and then down another. And of course, you had a couple characters who were flat out insane doing all sorts of intense pushup’s and lunges from one side to the other in the seating area (it hurt to look at!).
I had every intent on soaking up the surrounding scenery from the impressive architectural layout to standing on a stage where so many legendary performers have played over the years. However, watching people train at this venue quickly became too good an opportunity to pass up. I had to improvise and seize the opportunity…

I asked my friend ilana to film several clips for Run 4 Papa campaign in the amphitheater at altitude. Just like running in the south can help prepare for long distance races due to the heat, the altitude is a solid test of how fit one actually is. Not surprisingly, while running these steps and rows, the altitude attacked my lungs and forced shorter breaths as fatigue set in at a faster rate. The recovery time was far harsher than I envisioned, but another important learning experience that will be invaluable out on The Great Wall of China.

All in all, it was a memorable experience and one which I was appreciative to share with my friends and all of you who continue to support the cause to raise awareness for PPA research on behalf of all patients and families fighting everyday for a cure.

To watch video of this improvised run, go to:

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A Year Ago

365 Days Ago The Journey Began

Good luck to all those running the ING NYC Marathon today! A year ago today, the evolution of the Run4Papa campaign started to become a reality. A simple suggestion and conversation with my little brother after completing the marathon began a journey that has continued to inspire so many…

Denver Gorilla Run

 Running Wild in The Mile High City

When Detroit Lions wide receiver Calvin “Megatron” Johnson did not “complete the process of the catch,” the Detroit Lions ended up losing  a heart breaker on the road last season to the Chicago Bears. He clearly caught the ball, but it was ruled an incomplete pass. My friends and I decided right then and there we were going to take a road trip next season to watch our boys play in person.

When the schedule was released earlier this spring, Denver was the unanimous choice.  What originally started out as weekend trip to see our boys compete, ended up turning into an extended trip to The Mile High City that embraced Halloween, hosted one of the most enjoyable 5K events around the nation, and of course magnified the hype that is Tim Tebow.

The 8th annual 5K Gorilla Run attracted more than 1,200 runners in ape suits to the Wynkoop Brewery to raise money for the Denver-based Mountain Gorilla Conservation fund.  You can go around this course anyway you would like that is not motorized. For the diehard runner and going for 1st place (male and female), the only requirement is that you have to keep your full gorilla suit on.

There were 3 waves: 1st wave was all gorillas with wheels (bikes, roller blades skateboards, wheel chairs, etc.).  The 2nd wave was all “Silverback” runners (the competitive ones that plan to win the race).  And the 3rd wave was the rest of the walkers, joggers and etc.

Each runner is given a full-on gorilla suit accompanied with a mask and gorilla hands. Most people elect to “add” to their costume.  For example, there were groups of people dressed up as Star Trek Monkeys, Bay Watch Monkeys, Hockey Monkeys on Roller blades and even two monkeys running while carrying a “mock-human” on a stick (arms and legs tied together).

We chose to outfit our costumes in Detroit Lions jerseys! #81 (Johnson), #26 (Delmas), #90 (Suuuuuuuuuuh) and #9 Stafford. From the minute we got out of our car we were getting positive reactions from on-lookers.  Other monkeys wanted our picture together, with them, and of course “Tebowing.”

Since we weren’t in the timed wave, my friends and I really took in the atmosphere of this race. It was a welcome change from some of the other races where my competitiveness takes over and I am shooting for a particular time to hit.

The weather was about 65 degrees and sunny when the race began.  We ran alongside the streets and river of downtown Denver.  We chased after people dressed as bananas, went between a semi-circle of rocks to do a unified “Tebowing,” and stopped at various points to take pictures of fellow monkey runners dressed in costume.  At one point during our race, I saw a skater park and veered off course temporarily to pose on a skateboard. The skaters were laughing and not entirely sure why a monkey wearing a Lions jersey was on their skateboard.

The entire event was so much fun and I highly recommend participating in this race if you live in Denver or if you are thinking about coming to Denver over Halloween weekend in the future. Of course, it didn’t hurt either that the Lions demolished the Broncos and confirm that in fact, Tim Tebow does not walk on water with a 45-10 victory!

To watch video, go to: Running Wild in The Mile High City

To see photos, go to: Denver Gorilla Run

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It is Official!

Hustling up the Hancock

Each year over 4,000 people climb to the top of John Hancock Center to raise funds for lung disease research, advocacy and education. In 2011 over 2,500 participants indicated they or someone they know has been touched by a form of lung disease. Participants choose from two climbing categories–full climb (94 floors) or half climb (52 floors).

I have elected to do the Full Climb: this division is for the competitive athlete looking for the ultimate challenge of scaling 94 floors.

This race will be a perfect measuring stick in preparation for The Great Wall of China Marathon’s 5,164 steps.

The race takes place on February 26th, 2012 in Chicago, Illinois.

Run4Papa Meets High Line

I am NOT Justin Verlander

Sitting in Row 15, Seat C flying toward La Guardia airport, I was contemplating which area of NYC to run through on this visit. My little brother Jared normally would’ve mapped out a plan of attack for the entire weekend of fun adventures; however, on this particular getaway, he was off to Israel making his own plan of attack: a wedding proposal!

Fortunately, my little sister Natalie (who interned in Manhattan last summer) had plenty of advice on places to run. One of her suggestions was High Line: a 1.45 mile section of the former elevated freight railroad running along the lower west side of Manhattan which has been redesigned and planted as an aerial greenway. The recycling of the railway into an urban park has spurred real estate development in the neighborhoods which lie along the line.

On my previous trip to Manhattan, I was told to visit the Chelsea Market (highly recommend by the way) but was not aware of this new development nearby. My sister mentioned that it was a touristy hot spot and wasn’t confident that I would be able to run this stretch due to the clutter of visitors. With that in mind, I woke up around 8AM, threw on some gear and walked to the subway.

As I emerged from the subway and headed toward High Line, I sensed this was going to be a different type of experience. Thankfully, there were only a handful of people at High Line when I started my run from Gansevoort Street in the Meatpacking District through the neighborhood of Chelsea and finished near the Jarvits Convention Center.

Throughout my run, I saw people relaxing in rolling lounges positioned for river views and vendors underneath the windy overhangs selling works of art promoting city culture. I saw an area that had several clear blocks of glass where you could sit on benches that overlooked Manhattan’s west side skyline. Other features of this urban park’s attractions included naturalized plantings and unexpected views of the city and Hudson river.

After running one full length of High Line, I turned around and started heading back toward the other side. On my jog back, there were noticeably more people out and about taking in the sights and sounds of the city. As I was neared the end of my run, there was a lady who started following me snapping her camera pretty rapidly.  I thought I was in her way until she asked, “Aren’t you supposed to be in Texas?”

This caught me off-guard because I originally convinced my brother weeks back that I was going to be in Dallas celebrating my birthday over this weekend. The purpose: to distract him from thinking I would actually be in NYC so that I could surprise him and his fiancée upon their return from Israel.

“All I want is a picture and an autograph. I won’t create a scene but my husband will appreciate it!” I asked her who she thought I was and she replied, “Justin Verlander.” Being from Michigan, I was flattered by the comparison (even though I don’t see it), and took a picture with her and said again, “You’re husband is going to know that I am not Verlander.” She laughed and said, “Sign this and I will let him decide…”

I signed the piece of paper and handed her my Run 4 Papa business card.  Hopefully, when her husband sees the digital picture, he will affirm that I am not Justin Verlander, but rather a guy looking to promote PPA research instead. And if they are still not convinced, maybe they will choose to make a contribution and spread the word on behalf of Justin Verlander and his supporters at Run 4 Papa.

To watch video of the event, go to: Run4Papa Meets High Line

To see photos of the former elevated freight railroad transformed into an urban park, go to: High Line

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Run4Papa Surveys Sunset Cliffs

On the Edge of the Ocean

There is no shortage of beautiful panoramic views throughout the city of San Diego, California.  One could clearly run along Harbor Island with it’s scenic view of the downtown skyline, take a hike around the Historic Lighthouse at Pont Loma, or handpick anyone of the famous beaches along the coast from Ocean all the way up to La Jolla.  And while I was tempted to run in each of these locations, I was persuaded by my co-workers that Sunset Cliffs was the ideal locale to run ocean-side.

I arrived to work at 6AM and left at 2:30PM in order to take full advantage of each and every day since clear blue skies and 75 degree weather were a constant fixture in this city.  My co-workers apologized for the poor weather because “it was partly cloudy” (until 10AM) and then the sky cleared like clockwork everyday!  I would say San Diego-ans are spoiled rotten but they aren’t.  They just chose to live in a place where the weather is picture perfect 95% of the time!

My good friend Pat grabbed me from a beach social at Mission Bay (an after work get together of course) and drove toward sunset cliffs as we prepared for an hour long trek overlooking the sea…

When we arrived at the cliffs, we a saw signage posted every couple of hundred feet: Danger.  Sheer Unstable Cliffs. STAY BACK.

Ever so carefully, I walked near (just near mom) the edge of the cliffs and prepared a little commentary before our run.  The panoramic view was breathtaking.  To the left and right as far as the eyes could see were an endless amount of cliffs parallel to the sea. Below me – a solid couple hundred foot drop to the ocean floor. In front of me – a glowing sun symmetrically reflecting off the sky and calming body of water.

We zigzagged through the sandy path (about 5-10 feet from the cliffs) carefully avoiding bystanders sitting in chairs sipping on cold beer, couples comfortably nestled up together on towels and cars hugging the roads absorbing the ever-changing scenery. I wish I had a time lapse camera to capture the sunset throughout the duration of this run; however, I was able to secure a handful of images along the way.  I will have to put the other images in my mental vault and store them away for safe keeping.

As the sun continued to set, we headed back towards the car.  The sun was about to dip into the sea so we quietly filmed a wrap-up so as not to disturb the locals from enjoying that special moment of their day. As the sky turned into night, I found myself snapping one last shot.

I became lost in my own thoughts but I wasn’t lost at all…I was just in paradise.

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Run4Papa versus The Sandbar


You might not think heading to a lake would be an ideal running spot to train; however, with a venue like The Great Wall of China, I am constantly thinking outside of the box. There is no handbook to simulate the elements of this run so I figured any type of training would be beneficial. With this in mind, my father and I headed to  Union Lake, located in Commerce Township, Michigan.

We headed out on our pontoon boat and took a loop around the lake.  The weather was around 75 degrees and being a fall Sunday in September, there weren’t many boats on the water. As we reached the midway point of our ride, I had the notion of running the sandbar: End-to-End. I figured, why not? I have run on all types of surfaces and races the past couple months; surely, this would be a one-of-a-kind training experience.

I had no idea exactly how accurate that statement would turn out to be…

For those of you unfamiliar with the depth of a sandbar, it is roughly 3-5 feet.  Most people pull their boats into the designated area, anchor, and swim. With only a couple of boats on the lake, we dropped anchor and I slid into the water – slightly cooler than 4th of July weekend.

When I began running the sandbar, there was soft sand beneath my feet which produced minimal resistance in my strides.  This lasted for several hundred yards and was comfortably manageable.

As I continued getting further and further away from the boat, the dynamic of the run shifted because the surface below was getting deeper and muckier. My strides shortened considerably and transitioned from a solid run to a slower jog. The once smooth sandy surface quickly turned into a thicker muck surrounded by algae (god only knows the species roaming around below).  It felt like someone attached 10 pound weights to my ankles because my feet were sinking and needed to be stretched ever so carefully to release them from the surface below.

Step after step became tougher and tougher; however, like running any long-distance race, you just put one foot in front of the other and push forward.  I was able to reach the end of the sandbar and was jumping up and down for a long-distance picture.  On the third jump, my sunglasses flew off my face into the murkier water.  I held my breath, cupped my hands and dove below to try and catch ’em.  For the record, I have never lost a pair of sunglasses on any body of water; yet, a pair of $7 Venice Beach sunglasses were just donated to the bottom of Union Lake.

After reaching the far end of the sandbar, I thought it only appropriate to run back to the boat.  Without a doubt my father would have grabbed me, but he looked pretty content relaxing on the boat.  And to be honest, it has never been my mentality to do anything halfway.  Putting one foot in front of the next, I strided back through the sandbar until the muck was behind me. At last, I was able to run full stride and complete the Run4Papa v. Sandbar challenge.

This valuable run proved to be a solid test of both mind and body because you can never fully anticipate how the elements and mother nature are going to alter your route. Marathon preparation is 80% mental & 20% physical so when unexpected moments occur, you need to be able to readjust your approach and improvise along the way…

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Bayshore Boulevard: Tampa, Florida

 The World’s Longest Continuous Sidewalk

Before making the trip out to Tampa, I was trying to locate a local 5K or 10K race in the city.  Despite my best internet researching efforts (and others), I was unable  to locate any official races over labor day weekend.  Of course, this would not deter me from running for Papa, and my good friend Ali informed me of a beautiful strip to run along in Bayshore Boulevard which links South Tampa and downtown.

Based on some after-the-fact research, Bayshore was built in the early 1900’s and is deemed the world’s longest continuous sidewalk because its 4.5 mile stretch of concrete is not interrupted by cross streets. This 10 foot-wide sidewalk starts at the Columbus Statue Park at Platt Street on the north end, and ends at Gandy Boulevard. It’s an official greenway trail, with amenities like benches, a water fountain, bicycle parking, a city marina and fitness stations. Fifteen cast bronze trail markers are embedded in the sidewalk, denoting each half mile and kilometer southward along the trail.

What I enjoy most about running is the ability to run in new places and along new routes.  I love taking in all the scenery and people along a run.  There were people riding bikes, men sitting on the balusters fishing, and an older gentlemen from the UK that was inquiring about my cause.  By writing PPA on one hand and Papa on the other, people are often stopping me and inquiring about the cause and reasons behind my journey.  As a result, people have been quickly gravitating to this campaign to create awareness for PPA research which is a top priority!

Too see pictures from the run go to – The Longest Continuous Sidewalk in the World

To see video from the race go to: One Looooooooong Sidewalk