Tag Archives: Boston Marathon

Compress That, Buddy!

In a recent on-line article about compression gear, the author cited a bunch of studies on elite runners and concluded– wait for it… that there was no conclusion. No scientific consensus on whether compression has benefits or not.   Well, this never-been-elite-and-never-gonna-be is ready to disagree!

Back in 2013 I had pretty much ignored the ads for compression clothing, figuring they were just another sexy way for manufacturers to part runners from their money. It seemed obvious to my innocent mind that having to stretch that heavy fabric every time my legs bent or straightened would bleed-off precious energy which was better applied between my feet and the ground.

But…I was also on the verge of quitting marathons. Not because my times weren’t progressing (they were, though only very gradually and not consistently), but because running 26.2 just felt plain wrong. Despite having followed a ramp-up training plan to build strength and endurance, every marathon left me feeling more mangled than majestic. Gutting out those final miles on legs that refused to respond, then staggering around for several days like a stiff-legged zombie, I figured I was simply not cut out for it. Until the horrific Boston bombings happened; after which my entire cardiovascular system wanted desperately to line up in Hopkinton the next year and join the hordes of other runners and spectators to show the world that those two impotent losers had not accomplished a damned thing.

Knowing I’d need all the help I could get, I scrunched up my tight little fists and sprung for a pair of CW-X ¾ length compression tights, after which – drum roll please….

What I did not experience was any sensation of resistance or wasting energy. My mental image now is that, just as much as your motion in one part of a stride stretches the fabric, the springy stuff acts to snap your leg back in the other, so fifty-fifty.

What I did experience was a big difference in how my legs felt in the later stages of long runs. Where before the heavy muscles around the thighs had been flapping and flopping like to tear themselves from the bones, now they were solidly in place, and because of that they maintained more strength longer. Day-after was the real kicker though, with noticeably-less leg fatigue and stiffness after running in compression than without.

Third conclusion? A couple of months after getting those tights, I wore them for an official marathon – and PR’d by over 15 minutes! I’m not saying that was all the compression tights (it was a downhill course, after all), but could I have kept up that pace in the last 6.2 if my legs were feeling flayed from the bones like I’d learned to expect? Not on your Lycra.

Since then I’ve worn compression tights for pretty much every event over half marathon distance. (But not for training; training is about applying stress to induce growth, so I save the stress-reducing super-gear for actual events.)

Thus sayeth the Follow-dog: get yourself a pair and see how they work for you. I’m already sold.

P. S. – Compression socks? Haven’t tried ‘em for running (I’m hooked on wool socks by Darn-Tough or Smartwool) but do use them after a big effort, for comfort and quicker recovery. Compression sleeves? Sleeves are a great layering option for warmth in marginal weather, have never tried compression up there. Compression shirts? Not with my mid-section, thank you very much!

The Measure of a Run

In 2014, Meb Keflezighi won the Boston Marathon, the first American man to do so in 31 years.  Millions watched intently, thrilled and awed by his victory. His winning time? in 2:08:37.

In 2011, Ryan Hall ran the same course in 2:04:58, the fastest marathon ever run by an American, anywhere.  But Ryan Hall didn’t win; he didn’t even get to stand on the podium, because three men ran even faster that year. So his run, nearly four minutes faster than Meb’s, didn’t bring anything like the acclaim – or rewards – of that performance.

Is beating every other runner who shows up for a particular event on a particular day the best measure of a runner’s performance – or is hitting a particular time the more absolute and lasting achievement?

On one hand, winning seems dubious when the time required to do so can vary so much from year to year…

On the other, there was reportedly a tailwind in 2011, which may have boosted the entire field’s times – though how much that affected them is undetermined; and undeterminable. Swinging the pendulum in the opposite direction, 2015’s winning time was 2:09:17, widely thought to be attributable, at least in part, to headwinds; but again, how much so is impossible to determine.  Consider that Robert Kiprono Cherulyot had won – and set a new course record – in 2010, but if his 2:05:52 had occurred one year later, it would only have been good for – fifth!

Clearly, actual time isn’t the absolute objective criterion it seems to be, either.

And is an individual’s performance really due solely to their efforts, or do drafting, switching leads and the emotions of the chase contribute – how much did the pacing of others play into those astounding 2011 times?   Speaking of intangibles, seven of the 2014 men’s field had previously run a 2:05:30 or better somewhere.  How readily do we conclude that it was only Meb’s personal commitment to making a statement after the tragedy of 2013 which set him at the head of such a phenomenal group – or were their efforts moderated, as some have claimed, by Hall himself, lulling them into a relaxed pace until Keflezghi had opened a gap which was to prove unbridgeable? (Apparently the same factors that can skew finishing time can affect placement as well – and make my brain start to hurt…)

When confusion reigns supreme, seek refuge in the simple: and one simply indisputable truth – especially for an MPR – is that both Meb’s and Ryan’s performances are spectacular, inspiring, and borderline incredible.  When your own marathon times hover around 4 hrs. (or five, or…), it is almost beyond belief that someone out there can do it in just over two – and those who can do so seem so superhuman, it makes little sense to differentiate between one or the other.

Another thing we can be sure of, is that neither of these runners –  among the very best in the world – really knows before a given event what they will achieve.  They may run a new PR and win – or run an even greater PR, and not win. Someone else may not run their fastest race – and still win. Or not.  All they or any of us can really count on is the satisfaction that comes from knowing you did your best; for that day, for those conditions, for all the factors that play into what seems like the simplest of sports (run from here to there, as fast as you can) but is in reality, fraught with complexities.

Doing your best is the most reliable measure of achievement, whether you’re an MPR or an elite champion: another way in which there’s not as much difference between us as one might first suppose!


(By the way, why is the US running conversation so focused on ‘American’ runners.  Lelisa Desisa won the event in 2013 and 2015;, where were the magazine covers, cable TV profiles, and full-page sponsor-ads for him?  Or for Geoffrey Mutai, leader of that blistering pack in 2011, with a 2:03:02 that still stands today as the course record? And we cannot go without mentioning Dennis Kimetto, whose 2:02:57 in Berlin 2014 is the fastest marathon to date; anywhere, in any field.

And why is this post only about the men?

More to come.)

Run-up to Boston – Part 7 – Turning On To Boylston

Hypothesis: for an MPR, running Boston is not about the finishing-time, but the experience, and when one takes that view, perhaps the ultimate moment is not crossing the big yellow line (yes, it really is big enough to see on Google Earth); the real climax is when you round the corner from Hereford St. onto Boylston and see that last .2 (it’s actually .36, but who’s counting?) stretching out, straight and simple and piece-of-cake, lined with roaring humanity, to the banners and bridge that will mean it’s over; and realize you wish this run could last forever.


And so:

To the 27,000 who came from around the country and around the world to run…

( you saw them sprinkled around airports, train stations and highway rest stops across the country Friday, Saturday and Sunday, proudly displaying runner-shirts or jackets from years past, a pop-up community coalescing more and more, the closer each one came to the epicenter of its strange ambition…)

To the family and friends who humor and support them in their obsession…

To the organizers (the Boston Athletic Association, and its many generous sponsors), who put this enormous celebration together so seamlessly and well…

To the police, military, EMTs, firefighters and nobody-but-them-knows-who-all, who did so much to keep all of us safe, with as little visibility or inconvenience as they possibly could,

To the photographers, who captured moments and memories of what can otherwise seem an ephemeral experience…

To the volunteers, smiling with astonishing good cheer through –

  • Seemingly-endless lines of registrants to be checked-in, bags and shirts to be handed-out
  • Ushering dazed and hapless crowds around the expo
  • Dishing out tons of pre-race past in the bowels of City Hall
  • Preparing a safe and un-miss-able course from rural woodlands to city center
  • Accepting drop bags and shepherding thousands of manic, jittery would-be-racehorses onto busses in the early morning hours
  • Handing out coffee, water and smiles under drizzly tents in the runner’s village (even when we couldn’t figure out which side of the tables was for servers, and which for servees…)
  • Dispensing hydration, energy, first aid and encouragement every mile along the route
  • Draping medals over sweaty necks, thermal ponchos over about-to-become-hypothermic shoulders and handing out still more hydration, calories, first aid and encouragement after the line
  • The after-party – which many of us (like this one…) were too full of the experience by then to attend, so we’ll never know what it was like…

And did it all with patience and courtesy and heart-warming generosity…

And most of all, to the crowd, who came out in droves – despite the rain, wind and cold – to once again cheer a bunch of self-absorbed migrant-strangers as we exercised this odd compulsion, disrupting lives and clogging the streets of their cities and towns for hours on end, and made us feel completely and utterly welcome…

To anyone I’ve overlooked (as I’m sure I have, someone)…

There is only one thing to say:

Boylston Corner Tight Crop


Run-up to Boston – Part 5 – That Crowd!

I’d read about it before my first trip to Boston, but nothing in print prepares one for the reality, which includes:

Homeowners and compatriots hooting and encouraging from their front lawns as you leave the holding area at a Hopkinton school yard to walk the half-mile or so to the actual starting corrals.

Friends and family six-deep and more at the start, snapping shots of loved ones as they finally find enough open pavement to break into a run, bursting with energy pent-up thru several hours of waiting, queuing and standing shoulder-to-shoulder.

Barely as much as twenty feet of unoccupied curb on either side for the entire distance.  (Except one thinly-wooded stretch early-on, where lots of male runners were stopping relieve themselves, barely off the route and not at all concealed – come on guys!)

Service-women and -men in uniform controlling traffic at many of the side street intersections along the way; a great honor to be so cared-for by you.

The colleges: yes, there are hundreds of college students in Wellesley and Boston College, generously offering the kind of hysterical enthusiasm that comes from being cooped up on small campuses with large expectations.  Much appreciated!

Signs – some clearly aimed at a particular runner, but tons offering non-specific encouragement, with the result that even an out-of-towner feels like they are running thru family and friends the whole time, making this feel like a home-town event, no matter where one hails from.

The volume!  You want to plug-in for extra encouragement thru the late-teen miles? Fugeddabout it!  Not only is it impossible to hear over the crowd without cranking-up to a head-splitting level; it quickly becomes clear that not even Born To Be Wild is as effective a spur as all those voices and faces!  Plug-out and observe; this is priceless

Crescendo – by mile 22 or so, the bigger buildings are closing-in, the crowds even thicker and the volume just continues to grow, equally-heartening whether you are struggling to hang on or ready to start squandering some hard-won hoarded reserve for a strong finish.

Rounding the turn onto Herford street it seems like it can’t get any better (visions of Olympic rings and Super Bowl trophies may come to mind, as you picture your own private ‘Miracle on Ice’), until that final left onto Boylston kicks you in the shorts even more.  How can you not give your all to these people who fill the sidewalks, standing in the cold, or rain, or baking sun, beaming their own personal energy and emotions out to supplement whatever you have left?

Which brings up a somber thought: none of the reporting I’ve seen about the tragedy of 2013 has sufficiently emphasized that the bombs were placed not on the course, but in the midst of the spectators at the finish.  The majority of those injured that day – and all of those killed – were not runners at all, but people who had come to cheer them on. People who would get no medals that day, would have no finishing-time to put in their logbooks; who were only there to encourage others.

And the next year, the crowd was bigger than ever!

Running a marathon is in many ways a selfish pursuit; spectating at one is just the opposite; an act of generosity and even love.


Run-up to Boston – Part 3

So, OK – you’ve made your BQ, sent in your registration, received the very nice notice they send out and posted it somewhere you cannot possibly miss seeing upon waking up every day. Now what?

First of all, it’s a wait. With registrations confirmed in September or early October and the run in mid-late-April, that’s up to seven months to anticipate. Seven months is 28 weeks give or take, and there are plenty of 20- or 16-wk. marathon training plans out there, so lots of latitude building your own schedule to arrive fully-prepared.  Set a plan and follow it; ‘nuff said.

Second – Boston is a big city, but close-in, affordable (everything is relative) accommodations fill-up early for race weekend, so find a place to stay as soon as you’re confirmed.  The event website has great info on travel arrangements and my experience is they are decent deals, so check them out and get something booked soon.

Plan other activities.  The race is held on Patriot’s Day, for goodness sake, and Beantown (beware, no one from or in Boston ever calls it that) has tons of U.S. history.  Touring the Old North Church or Paul Revere’s house takes on extra meaning when you’re in town to participate in one of its best-known events, and you’re sure to see other runners (recognizable by their jackets, shirts, caps etc. from the current or past years). For one or two days before and after the running it feels like the entire town is dedicated to marathoners, so plan time to soak it up – this weekend is a good as it gets for the sweat-soaked, black-toenailed crowd (and unless you tell them, no one knows or cares where in the pack you will start or finish).

Shop the gear – maybe I’m a dork, but it really fuels me to have a cap or shirt even before getting to the expo, plus it helps us loonies recognize one another.  Beware though, I’ve found the official Addidas shirts and shorts are proportioned for storks, giraffes, super-models and stick figures.  If you’re the least bit teapot-shaped (‘short and stout’) like me, they may not work all that well…

Tell people!  Many MPRs are kinda shy about their achievements – I mean we are the folks who bust our butts, consume our mornings, evenings, lunch breaks and weekends, spend our money and baffle our families – knowing full-well we will never actually win a race… But even most total-non-runners are aware that Boston is special, so drop a (brief) clue in conversation, and enjoy the reaction.  You’ve earned it!

More to come…