Friday, February 29, 2008

It Started as Stress Relief – Verna

I am a medical technologist and have been working in the Chemistry Lab at Newton-Wellesley Hospital since 1984. Why I started running is a bit of an unusual story. In 1994 and 1995, I was unsuccessfully treated for numbness in my right hand through physical therapy. My fingers, my hand and right forearm would be numb and full of pins and needles when I awoke after a night’s sleep. It would also happen during work and when I was eating or any activity that required bending my elbow. I was discouraged and began to think that I would never get better.

My primary care physician referred me to Dr. Joanne Borg-Stein, MD, sports physician at Newton-Wellesley. I remember clearly what she said to me that day in May 1996 after she examined me, “For God’s sake will you get yourself to a gym!" Now one might be puzzled at this but she was right on. My pinched Ulna -radius nerve was caused by a posture position I would assume when I was too busy or in other terms stressed out. I needed exercise to relieve the stress of everyday living to prevent the posture I assumed when life was hectic (which was pretty much all the time).

I wanted to be a compliant patient but loathed exercising indoors and didn't want to fit the time constraints of gym hours or pay the gym fees. I had two small children, my job at Newton-Wellesley, a home and a husband to care for. Running became the answer because it could be done in my neighborhood, in short time periods and when I could fit it in (5:30 am). I started alternating running and walking between telephone poles. I began to look forward to the meditative state running afforded. My distances lengthened and after a couple of months the numbness in my fingers and forearm went away! (I also had weekly physical therapy sessions and Terri was tremendous in helping me realize it was indeed poor posture that caused the pinch nerve). I was hooked on running both for my mental and physical well-being.

My first race was the 1998 Newton Heartbreak Hill International Youth race. It was one mile long up and down Heartbreak Hill. It was a hot April day and I thought I would faint, but my pride and sense of accomplishment was so satisfying. I am so excited to have this opportunity to train for the 112th Boston Marathon, which will take place five days before my 51st birthday and eight years after I began running for stress relief.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Coming Back – Heidi

It is the end of school vacation week and my family is back in Massachusetts after a few warm and humid days in Southern Florida. We are all feeling better from the winter cold bug(s) that were aggravating us before we left and I’m starting to log some miles after a week without running.

It is tempting to try to catch up in my training as quickly as possible, but that is probably not the wisest choice. After running no more than four plus miles for a week, I was tempted to do an 18-mile long run that I had missed last weekend. It is in situations like these that I am thankful for the advice and sanity that my husband provides. He was quick to point out that 18 miles was almost a marathon and I’d just be apt to hurt myself. I did survive a 13-mile long run this weekend while my son was enjoying an outing with his grandfather. It was encouraging to be able to complete that distance but I was certainly pleased that I didn’t have to go any further!

We celebrated my father’s 74th birthday with a dinner out last night and my mom wanted to know how my training was going. I told her about taking time off and not really knowing how the disruption of the schedule would affect me in the end. Always the optimist, she reminded me that I had run consistently for years now and that had to be in my favor. I hope that she is right!

It has been interesting that my experience this year has seemed quite a bit different from last year. I think as a “first timer” I had a little more energy for the training and was more willing to arrange the few flexible parts of my day around my training needs. The novelty has worn off a bit for my family and me so this year the training seems to be taking a back seat to the rest of life. If only there were more hours in the day! At the same time, it feels great to have my energy back and I continue to enjoy having those times on the road to clear my head and unwind as I pound out a few miles on the pavement

A 30+ Mile Week is Good, Right? – John

So I end this week up over 30 miles. I was a little annoyed and feeling sorry for myself for a few reasons. First, for this week’s long run, Jimmy decided to run with our friends Mike and Paul. Both of them are too fast for me, and beyond five miles or so, for Jimmy also. I’m not sure what he was thinking. Secondly, I was disappointed with my level of fitness and my speed.

Despite that, I had a great run today. The weather was nice and I was by myself. With three kids and a job in a sales organization, three hours of “alone time” can be golden. I enjoyed the run and the ability to be alone with my thoughts. It reminded me that not too long ago, at the end of last year, I almost thought I would be hanging up my marathon shoes for good. The serenity of running by myself came to me. I was pretty tired for the rest of the day since I have not run this long since last year’s Boston Marathon. I did not clock the mileage, but went by time and estimate about 15 miles.

After running, I did have enough “gas in the tank” to watch my three kids while the older two had friends over. My wife went out for the afternoon (mommies who don’t run need alone time too). My daughter and I baked a cake together, and she and my younger son’s friend (they also play together) decorated it after I iced it. I realized that before my gastric bypass, I would have been this (or more tired) just from hanging around. I would not have even been able to bend over to put the cake in the oven.

So writing this blog helped me come to a few conclusions tonight. Maybe I won’t run my PR this year at Boston. Maybe I won’t even finish. Just being able to line up in that corral this April is more than I would have imagined seven or so years ago. However, being able to live, laugh and bake a cake with your five-year-old daughter is a better thing than a 30+ mile week. I think I’ll take both and smile.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

No Beginner’s Luck this Year – Heidi

This past week was certainly not the week I had hoped for and the running schedule on my calendar is not at all what occurred. Last year I commented numerous times on how lucky Martha and I were in many aspects of our first marathon experience. For example: neither of us got injured; last year’s winter was relatively mild for our training; no one was put out of commission by a flu bug right before the marathon. I think this week is trying to tell me that my luck may have run out a bit!

After writing last week’s blog, I went to bed early Sunday night in hopes of being back to normal for work on Monday morning. My husband and I had theatre tickets that evening but fortunately my in-laws were able to use them. I may have already been asleep by the time the show actually began. I got up Monday morning and made it in to work but quickly realized I was not going to make it through a typical busy day in the office. My great staff moved my patients to other days and I went back home to bed. I survived the rest of the work week including staying at the Hospital for call on Tuesday night, but any down time was spent with family activities and resting – not running. Instead of logging more miles than ever, I spent more time in my bed than I have in many years. Instead of interesting flavors of Gatorade bottles in my recycling bin this week, the plastic bottle that had held an unnatural colored liquid was for Nyquil.

I felt a lot better on Friday and the afternoon was sunny with a feel of spring in the air. I had half an hour to kill while my son was at his weekly evening piano lesson so I figured I would see how it felt to run. I felt like a little old lady for the first few minutes but then got a second wind and actually felt really strong running up some hills. I was slowing down again towards the end of the three plus mile route near the All Newton Music School. I think the running brought on a new round of coughing that night and I awoke on Saturday feeling not so great again. We had a busy day of activities with my son so it was easy to pass on any running for me despite the planned 18-mile training run on the calendar.

My husband has had a grueling spell at work recently but found out he wouldn’t have to travel for work over school vacation. With this news, he was able to find some affordable flights to and from Miami during part of February school vacation week. I was still coughing up a storm on our way to the airport Sunday morning but was so excited to be departing for somewhere warm and sunny and had a relaxing quick trip to D.C. where I enjoyed resting with a good book. Unfortunately, when we went to take our connecting flight to Miami we found that the plane hadn’t even left the airport. After an over three and a half hour delay, we finally got on our flight and arrived in Florida to be greeted with a torrential downpour of rain. At least the humid air felt soothing to my sore throat and dry cough.

The Best Laid Plans of Rodents or Runners - John

This week, the classic poem from ninth grade “To a Mouse” comes to mind: “The best-laid schemes o’ mice an’ men Gang aft agley”.

I was intending to run three to four days this week plus a long run over the weekend with my friend Jimmy. However, I woke up Monday morning quite sore and tired from the half marathon of the weekend. I was quite discouraged until I recalled that I sometimes needed two days off after long runs when the distance spanned into the teens.

So, Monday and Tuesday were a wash. I woke up Wednesday ready to go. However, the weather was quite difficult. I have found after my gastric bypass the worst weather for me is cold rain (around 30ish degrees). My discouragement mounted, as I recalled how the cold rain really wrecked me last year at the Boston Marathon, and it really took close to 12 weeks to recover fully from that ordeal. As the weather worsened all day, my mood soured and was topped off with needing to attend the wake of my friend and occasional running partner, Jimmy’s father-in-law. I just crossed Wednesday off.

I woke up Thursday quite fresh and with a better attitude. The weather was excellent, and I decided to give myself a Valentine present. I laced up my shoes, gathered my iPod, and headed out for a relaxed 10-mile run. Friday ended up nice as well, so I took Molly out on our regular route.

Jimmy called me and was ready to take a longer run. I was hoping I could talk him into 14 on Sunday, but we settled for 10 on Saturday. On Sunday, he was using his car to pace our friend Mike for his 13-mile run. Mike is also running Boston; however, our training plans and speed are too diverse to train together.

Although I did not stick to the plan, I was able to get a decent amount of mileage “in the bank.” This week’s experience is making me consider the possibility of adding a mid -week 10 miler every other week for the rest of this month.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Medical Advice - Sheila Partridge, MD, Medical Director, Center for Weight Loss Surgery

I think John Tiso's advice is excellent. One should experiment with products and find out what works well during the training process. "Carbo loading" will only lead to dumping for a gastric bypass patient or fatigue shortly thereafter. The real focus should be on remaining hydrated with electrolyte replacement and paying attention to the post-race recovery meal to replete energy stores. At the Newton-Wellesley Hospital Center for Weight Loss Surgery, we have a registered dietitian, Sue Miller, who is both a runner herself and a dietitian for gastric bypass surgery patients. She can provide helpful advice for gastric bypass patients training for marathons.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Half at the Hamptons - John

Yesterday, I ran the inaugural running of the “Half at the Hamptons” half marathon in Hampton Beach, NH. I was using it as a training run. This was the longest distance I have run since last year’s Boston Marathon. I ran it slightly slower than MP (marathon pace), but I ran it at a regular and even pace. I ran a few of the miles with a lady who lives around the block from me who I met through the Tuesday Night Good Times series ( She asked me how Molly was, since she sees me running with her all the time. It was her brother’s first half.

Other than that, I was able to get four days of running in last week. In my last post, I mentioned that my wife had school so I took my long run on Saturday instead of Sunday. On Sunday, I woke up feeling fresh, so I did a little speed work in my driveway while the kids played outside. We then went over to volunteer at a race ( and we did finish line water.

I’m looking forward to a good week this week and getting out running at least three days, aside from a long one. I am a little sore from yesterday, but I feel like I am heading in the right direction.

My Body Doth Protest! – Heidi

This Sunday marks the end of a grueling week and it has taken its toll on me. I rarely get sick so I never really know what to do with myself when I am under the weather. This past workweek was challenging with non-stop days and too many late nights. We also had lots of family appointments (dentist, doctor, tennis, basketball, school dance) and social obligations (neighborhood progressive dinner). All of my runs needed to be squeezed in whenever there was a quick break. For example, Monday night found me running on a treadmill in the Shipley Center at the Hospital while waiting for an operating room to open up. Tuesday became my rest day, as there were no free hours in the day. I thought it was more important to vote than to run! Wednesday’s run was one of the best of the week despite running in the wet snow as I really felt the need to clear my head and organize my thoughts. I usually run with my neighbor on Wednesday but she was sick. I love company but needed that alone time this week to just unwind and turn my brain off for 45 minutes.

Yesterday’s run was the long one and the only one that was pre-planned and “protected” in the schedule. I left my husband and son sound asleep and drove into downtown Wellesley to meet three other women from the Suburban Striders. They had all had wild weeks as well. Teresa was sipping a coke as she had just returned from a business trip to Spain and hadn’t adjusted to East Coast time. Carol had been up until midnight packing for her family’s flight to Morocco (where her husband is from) and was taking off at 2:00 pm. Stephanie was trying to find/organize her family’s ski equipment for an upcoming trip. We were all happy to see one another, catch up and be on the road where the craziness of the week would take a back seat for the next two hours.

While Teresa and Stephanie have both run Boston, neither are running this April but were still game to meet early Saturday morning for a run instead of staying under the covers at home. We started in downtown Wellesley and our path took us through Needham, Dover and Natick before getting back to our start. The total for the morning was 13.8 miles. I felt ok during the run but certainly didn’t have the energy that I had experienced last week. I kept swigging my lemonade Gatorade to quiet a dry, nagging cough. I felt really happy to see the traffic light in Wellesley that signaled the end of our workout. When I got home, there wasn’t much time to rest as we were hosting eight neighbors for soup and salad and I was completely unprepared. My husband and I finished everything up right before our guests arrived and had a great evening enjoying this neighborhood tradition. We did decide to skip the dessert course because we were having a tough time staying awake!

This morning, I got up to clean up the mess we’d left from the night before but realized I was feeling flu-ish. I made it through breakfast, but then called my neighbor to cancel our planned morning run, as it was all I could do at that point to keep my head off the placemat. As much as all of the marathon training programs tell you to listen to your body and take time off when you are sick, it definitely is frustrating to be slowed down! Today has certainly not been a very productive day but I’m hoping that this day of rest will get me back into the swing of things.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Response to Blog Comment from Bobbi – John

Congratulations on both your weight loss surgery and taking on the 26.2. Obviously, I can’t give you any medical advice…However, I can share my experience. “Carbing up” for runners is considered a little bit of a myth by now. The principal of carbo-loading is no longer widely accepted. Most nutritionists recommend a normal balanced diet for everyone – including marathoners AND those post-weight loss surgery.

However, I assume you mean fueling during your run. Being close to seven years post surgery, I no longer have capacity issues that prevent me from consuming enough liquids. What I can share is some insight on how I fuel during runs.

I have tried a variety of products. I have “experimented” with a large number of bars, gels and drinks. My favorite is POW (plain old water). Aside from that, I found as long as I use it during a long run, Gatorade seems to work fine for me. I also drink some before and after vigorous workouts. I have also tried quite a few products for fueling. The two I seem to like are GU (the original energy gel) and “Sports Beans”. Sports beans are electrolyte-enhanced Jelly Beans. These seem to work since I can grab one at a time slowly. I also use a capsule-based product called “endurolytes”, which is an electrolyte replacement capsule. You also want to be careful with some of the commercial products as some of them contain caffeine, which may have undesirable effects.

I would suggest you experiment with some various products and find what works for you and carry it with you in your race. You might want to also see what sports drink is on the course for your marathon. For instance, when I ran the Disney Marathon, they had Power Aide, which I find I cannot tolerate at all.

Finally, I would suggest that you don’t significantly vary your diet before race time since this may result in undesirable digestive side effects.

So I would say, as post-weight loss surgery patients, we are more sensitive to digestive issues related to refueling products as well as caffeine. So, bottom line, I would suggest trying a few different things and testing them all before your race. A good place to obtain different products and samples is at another marathon in your area, the number pickup usually has an expo where vendors of this stuff offer samples as well as opportunities to purchase products at a reduced cost. These expos are usually open to the general public even if you are not participating in that race.

Good luck with your training and your race. If you have any more specific questions, you can e-mail me at

Monday, February 4, 2008

Experiencing “It” – John

This was a hectic but good week. I was able to run four out of the five days this week, and then topped it off with an 11.5 mile run on Saturday. I haven’t done a 25+ mile week since last fall. I was also able to get the kids away from the video games two times for one mile walks with Molly.

My friend Steve dropped his daughter off and his dog, a Golden Retriever. She has been playing with Molly since they were puppies, so when I left to run I did not get that, “you are not bringing me” look from her, as she was engrossed with her furry playmate in our yard.

I had an excellent run. After about six miles into the run I turned off the iPod and “It” happened. “It”, as I refer to it, is a pleasant mental state I experience occasionally on a long run. “It” is a spiritual experience that for me lies somewhere between the “Runner’s High” and a meditative state. My running goes on “autopilot” and I start to see images of experiences of the past, some positive and some negative. The positive serve an obvious purpose. The negative ones help me to remember the past, what I have overcome and what I have gotten through in my life along with the roads traveled (literally and figuratively).

Initially, I started to remember a few pleasant images from my childhood. The scene then changed. I was running the New York City Marathon and at mile 21, I all of a sudden felt like I was struck by lighting. Each muscle in my body was in revolt. Each step was a bundle of tightness and pain. I believe I was experiencing dehydration due to the fact I was unable to consume enough liquids due to the gastric bypass surgery. This extreme pain caused me to recall what I consider my “first marathon”. I remembered my first walk after gastric bypass surgery. Although I was on enough pain medication to sedate a rhino, it hurt just to breathe. My 458-pound body hurt worse than I had ever experienced in my life. My 16-inch incision and my insides were sewn and stapled like a child’s art project. However, I was determined to get out of my chair and walk. Each footfall to the street sign was agonizing. I was out of breath within 10 feet. I then continued the 20 or so yards to the sign, feeling like I was descending into the circles of the underworld. I made it to the sign and touched it then headed back. There was no crowd, no water stops and no finish line medals. However, to me it was a truly challenging and memorable experience. This memory helped me summon the strength to the New York finish line in Central Park.

As this memory faded, another very powerful image came to me. It was my first Boston, the 108th. The temperature was recorded near record of 88 degrees. However, I had trained very hard and was a confident (although slow) and experienced marathoner at this point. I remember people half my size dropping from the heat. I never felt so strong running this distance. I remember the strength and power I felt as a cruised along. I remember passing Newton-Wellesley Hospital, and drawing strength from that first “marathon” experience. I continued on my way to Boylston Street for my marathon personal best. I remember shaking my fist in victory as I crossed the finish line and I was overcome with emotion.

After that point a variety of different images and reflections came and went along with the miles. Some were positive and some were not. Then, my mind just cleared. All thoughts melted away with the rhythm of the pavement. This went on for some time until, splash! My foot hit one of the many puddles from the melting snow and my concentration was broken.
I have not run this distance alone in months. It gave me the chance to reflect on both the experience of the day and my life. The notion that you must travel the roads you have been on to get to where you are came to mind. That thought then brought me to Confucius’ proverb, “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step”. After that, I said a silent prayer of thanks for where I have been, how fortunate I am and for the serenity this run has given me. I also asked for guidance in the roads ahead, both of life and asphalt that I will travel. I know I will need it. I clicked my iPod back on as I realized home was near.

They’re Getting Longer – Heidi

I had a great long run this morning. Having company for all but 2.8 miles of the 15 miles was the highlight! The gorgeous, 40-degree day was another big plus. The run was quite a contrast to last weekend’s long run of 13 miles in the cold and snow. My neighbor, Susan, was kind enough to do close to seven miles of that run with me and fortunately I had some new music on my iPod shuffle to get me through the second half.

Preparing my “gear” last night for the first time since last year was a sign of getting into the bigger mileage. I filled my fuel belt bottles with Gatorade, which has become my long run beverage of choice. I filled half with the lemonade flavor, which Martha introduced me to last year. My other flavor was “Fierce Grape”, chosen because it was on sale at the supermarket! The taste was ok but it’s a little scary to drink something that blue as an adult.

I ran with three other women this morning who are fellow members of the Suburban Striders Running Club ( This threesome is inspirational given that I am training for a second marathon and hoping to improve my time from last year. Hilda has run four marathons and improved her time with each event. Sharon has completed nine marathons and is also training for Boston. Carol is the fleet-footed one of our group but doesn’t mind slowing down for a long training run. She is also training for Boston having qualified for her number last year and finishing the 111th in 3:30! We talk the entire way sharing training regimens and comparing mileage but also converse about kids, travel and of course, the Patriots!

While my quads and calves are a bit tight having done my longest run to date, I’m encouraged to have enjoyed and survived fifteen miles today. Last year at this time my long run was 12 miles, so I have stepped up the distance a bit. I’m just doing one long run a week, however, most of my running companions today were doing a mid-week long run too. There are always new challenges one can set with the sport of running.