A Long Time Ago. Galaxy Far, Far Away.

The F Words

“Dad, I know what the ‘F’ word is.”
This took me by surprise. How did a kindergartener even know there was such a thing as an ‘F’ word? I played it cool, though.

A Long Time Ago. Galaxy Far, Far Away.

A Long Time Ago. Galaxy Far, Far Away.

‘OK, son,” I said, “Whisper it to me”. I leaned down, and he put his mouth up to my ear.
“Fart,” he said.
It was all I could do not to laugh. I also breathed a huge sigh of relief.
“Yes, son. That’s it. Let’s not use that word, OK.”
I also told him, “If you ever hear other words that you don’t know, come ask me first. If they’re bad words, I won’t be mad if you ask me. If I hear you using bad words, though, I won’t be happy, and you’ll be in trouble.”
He agreed.

A couple of years later, he came up to me again and said nonchalantly, “Dad, what’s a motherf&%$#$?”
I almost choked.”Where did you hear that?”
“Charles said it.”
I composed myself, remembering our agreement. “Well, son, let’s DEFINITELY not say that again. Remember when you told me you knew that the ‘F’ word was fart?”
“Yeah.”
‘Well, the part of that word after ‘mother’ is another ‘F’ word, and it’s REALLY bad. I don’t wont to hear it again, but you did the right thing by coming to ask.”
“OK,” he said and went on his way.

The Others

It’s been a long time since I had those conversations with my son. Unfortunately, these days, we all know about THAT word, as it seems to be way more popular than I’d like. However, there are several other ‘F’ words I’ve decided are almost as bad, except they are allowed on network television. Here they are:

Forty/Fifty

40th Birthday

40th Birthday – 2008. Oh my.

Turns out, right in the middle of life, a couple of effin’ ages come at you. The first is 40. For some, this is about the time when the print on screen or paper starts to be tough to read, and the doc introduces you to reading glasses. In my case, these were expensive prescription progressive lenses, a fancy modern name for bifocals.

I also had several other problems. I was out of shape and weighed the most I ever had. Then, soon after turning 40, I faced the possibility of a layoff when the economy crashed in late 2008.

But wait! There’s more!

As soon as your 40’s wrap up, something worse comes along – 50! This happened to me this year. As much as I tried to stop it, there wasn’t much I could do about the calendar.  The good news is that physically, I’m handling it much better. More on that in a moment. The bad news is, I’ll admit, 50 has been tougher mentally than 40. Probably, due to the next F word:

Failure

This ‘F’ word is my Jekkyl and Hyde of the ‘F’ words. For many years, one of my personal mantras was “Just dumb enough to try.” For certain pursuits, like chasing a Boston Marathon qualifying time, failure was almost guaranteed. At first anyway. And if I didn’t succeed, it was no big deal. My livelihood wasn’t dependent on my running success. The early failures at qualifying didn’t bother me as much as they served to drive me, and I eventually succeeded.  That’s the Dr. Jekkyl. Good medicine.

But what if the failure IS your livelihood. What if the near-miss layoff at age 40 turned into the real thing at 47 when your employer left town and took away the jobs of several hundred people? Sure that company decision wasn’t your fault, but what about the inability to pull your career out of the ditch over the next three years? Is that failure? This is the Mr. Hyde I wrestle with every <Fart?>-ing day. Is this daily battle going to drive me to success again in my field of the past 28 years or is my head going to explode at the office? We’ll see.

Failure Part 2 – Fiction

NSbook_3D_400x448The other week, my daughter told me I needed a side hustle. I laughed, and thought: “No, I just to do a better job at the one I have.”  See, one other failure over the past two years is my writing journey/side hustle. If you’re reading this, it’s likely because you signed up for the mailing list from some guy with a site called GregFowlerAuthor.com.

Yes, he wrote a book. Therefore, by definition, he was an author. But you likely signed up expecting to receive some regular content. Well, news from that guy has been spotty at best. And when he did post something, it was likely about running. Heck, even his book had a little bit to do with running. (If you still haven’t read it, you should, by the way.)

While pondering my tendency to write more non-fiction, especially about running, I had an epiphany of sorts.  This also brings me to the final ‘F’ word of this post, which may be the ugliest ‘F’ word of them all for most people over 40:

Fitness

50th Birthday

50th Birthday

I mentioned back in the Forty/Fifty section that I was able to physically handle age 50 better than 40. If you’ve followed my writing over the past decade you likely already know what happened – I took up running that December day in 2008 when I first thought I might lose my job after Christmas.

Unlike Forrest Gump, who eventually stopped running, I continued. Then I added more than running to my list of tricks, like swimming, cycling, yoga, and sometimes the dreaded weightlifting. As a result, I arrived at 50 in better physical shape than age 40, possibly even 30.

I also believe my commitment to running and fitness over the past ten years is one of the major reasons I’ve survived the latest rough patch. For this reason, and my propensity to drift back to writing about running, here’s the epiphany part: I realized I wasn’t going to give up running and training, but I still wanted to write. So why not write about what I love doing? As a result, I have started a new blog/fitness site dedicated to fitness after age 40. Just a quick glance around shows a whole lot of people could use this.

The new site is called Second Half Stronger and is dedicated to doing the second half of life better physically than the first. This is the journey I’ve been on for almost 10 years now. It will certainly have a running tilt, but I’ll hit other activities as well as habits, motivation, and perseverance.

Finale

So what does all this mean for you, a subscriber or reader of GregFowlerAuthor.com? You have two options:

First, do nothing, and you’ll still see the occasional posts here. I currently have several fiction pieces in the works, and I’m committed to finishing the work-in-progress second fiction novel. I’m just not committed to a timeframe yet.

Second, you can go check out the new site at SecondHalfStronger.com. I have a couple of posts so far, along with a product review of my 2018 Father’s Day gift – Bose SoundSport Free earphones.  If Fitness is a dreaded ‘F’ word for you, please subscribe. I’d like to help change that for you.  If you’re already into fitness, I’d like you to subscribe as well. We can learn from each other. On the site, you can also find links to follow my new Twitter account – @2ndHalfStronger.

Currently, new subscribers receive a new ebook I’ve written called Don’t Stop Believin’ and Other Musical Running Lessons. Click on the image below to go to the site and sign up to receive the ebook. Just scroll to the bottom of the page for the subscription pop-up.

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Thanks for reading,

Greg

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Three Strikes But Not Out: A Boston Marathon Memoir – Part Three

For part one of this memoir, click here. For part two, click here.

There were two plans for the race – a running plan and a music plan. The smart running plan would have been to accept the slow pace of the last, and only, double digit mile run of the last two months. However, I’ve never been one to accept my own limitations. At least not at first. Sometimes, I have to learn the hard way.

In January, my ego wanted a sub three and a half hours marathon. Now, with a nagging injury (strike one) and extreme weather (strike two), I was willing to compromise. My ego and I could live with a sub four hour race – roughly a nine minute per mile pace. After all, my slowest marathon was my first way back in 2009 – a 3:58. No need to give into age and injuries quite yet.

I had done some mile split planning, of course, and had a race plan. I’d try to start out super slow then increase my pace if hamstring and fitness permitted. Mentally, I had the course broken up into three sections. The first section was 16 miles, and appeared to be easy with lots of downhill and flat spots, ending at the Charles River crossing. The second section was going to be very tough – approximately miles 17 through 21 were the four Newton hills, climbing 200 feet. I figured if I could survive those, then the last section – the five miles to the finish – might not be so rough, as this section was another net downhill. Here’s the elevation map:BostonMarathonElevation.001The music plan was much simpler than usual. Under normal circumstances, the length of my music playlist would match up pretty close to my goal time. But this was Boston, and I was injured. Despite a paper plan, my race pace was likely going to be a mystery. On top of that, crowds were fabled to be like nothing I’d experienced in a marathon. I didn’t want to be immersed in music and miss the crowds.

The music plan went like this: play the first three Boston (the band) albums (their best) back-to-back-to-back. After that, I’d play the usual classic rock artists who had accompanied me on the many miles I’d put in for this day. For a finishing song around the 3:30 mark, I had a last minute addition in honor of the weather forecast- Led Zepplin’s “Fool in the Rain.” Seemed appropriate. At least there were 25,000 fools. When “Fool” was over, I planned to shed the headphones and take in the crowd for the last few miles.

The Day the Music Died

As the race began, I settled into Boston’s first album, and tried to run my goal pace. Most people have a tough time holding back at the start of the race, and I’m no exception. The atmosphere and huge pack of runners made it even tougher. The first couple of miles were definitely slower than my best, but still faster than my goal pace.

I wanted to run 9:30 per mile for the first three miles, but I couldn’t make myself go that slow and ran right at 8:50 per mile for the first five miles. Since that seemed to be my “groove” for the day, I decided 8:50-9:00 minute miles were fine.

I average 8:51 per mile through 10 miles, but I had a suspicion this was a tad fast. My hamstring was not protesting, but I decided to slow down the pace for a bit. Miles 11 and 12 were right around 9:00 minutes each.  Mile thirteen included the Wellesley scream tunnel, where the young ladies of Wellesley College raise quite the ruckus. I heard them long before I saw them. I couldn’t believe they were out in this weather and felt obligated to give some high fives. This was truly a bright spot in the day.

Still Smiles at Wellesley

Still Smiles at Wellesley

Shortly after Wellesley, the screams were replaced by something much worse – the shutdown tones of my wireless earphones.  Uh-Oh. Apparently, Bluetooth doesn’t like the cold, either. A supposed six-hour battery life reduced to under two. Strike three.

A pulled hamstring is bad, as is a cold pouring rain with a twenty mile per hour head winds. But no music? No one should be subjected to cruelty like this. I was distraught. Funny thing is, I actually had a backup plan for just such a situation. My phone’s battery had been acting up, and I was worried about it dying, not the headphones. I had located an old phone at home, along with a set of wired headphones, and loaded up my playlist. Given the weather, though, I didn’t think I could keep them dry and left the backups in the hotel room. I was kicking myself now.

I finished out mile 13 in 9:08, and shortly thereafter, my halfway point split time was 1:57:20, which was great considering everything. I was on track for that sub-four time, but the rain seemed to fall harder and the wind seemed much stronger.

Brick Masonry

There’s been a time in each of my marathons where the adrenaline bubble bursts and despair sets in. This feeling tells me “the wall” is going up, and it’s going to be a long, painful road to the finish line . Usually, this descends on me somewhere between miles 15 and 18. At Kiawah in 2016, proper training kept the feeling at bay until about mile 23. Today, as I started the second half of the race with no music and inadequate training, there it was. Way too early. I could hear the foreman bricklayer calling, “All right boys, let get moving on that wall!”

Mile 14 was another 9:08, and mile 15 slowed to 9:23. Those brick masons were working fast. Up ahead, I saw we had a nice long downhill. Time to get back on track. I lengthened out my stride and felt fast for a bit, motoring down the hill. For the first time, the hamstring gave a protest. I heard a voice inside my head. It was my internal first mate.

“Hold on, Cap’n. We’ve got a complaint from the transmission crew. You better slow down.”

“I heard it,” I replied, and passed over the Charles River.

Mile sixteen was 8:30, my fastest mile so far. Then the voice came back.

“By the way, Cap’n. That was the last hay bale.”

“What? We have 10 miles to go! Find something else!” I commanded. “We’re about to hit Newton.”

“Eye, eye, Cap’n.”

For the next 50 minutes, I “ran” the hills of Newton.  I’ve probably never been more miserable during a race. The Newton hills reminded me of Trenholm Road back home at the Columbia, SC marathon, only twice as long! The last of the Newton hills is the famous Heartbreak Hill. Yes, this is a killer hill, but its job is easy because the first three thugs rough you up so bad. I refused to walk Heartbreak Hill, but my 11:18 split for that section might call me a liar.

Deus Ex Machina

After the Newton hills, the wall was up, the bricklayers’ job made easy by Newton. Now survival mode was in full swing. I was out of Gu energy gels and began drinking Gatorade at the water stops instead of water. Between miles 21 and 22 there was that voice again:

“Cap’n. There’s another problem. The calf crew is wanting to strike. They say they’re going to start cramping soon!”

“I know. I felt their warning protest back there. Tell them to hold on. The hills are over.”

“I’ll see what I can do, but you need to find some fuel!”

“I know. I’ve been drinking Gatorade. It seems to be the only option.”

“Well, we’re desperate down here, Cap’n! Do something!”

Then, the savior of the day appeared. A random Boston spectator, who probably should have been inside somewhere, held out a banana. I took it. I’d never taken a banana during a race before, but times were desperate. I hope my “Thank you” was audible and just not in my head. God bless you, ma’am.

The banana successfully appeased the calf crew, and miles 22-24 were better than the Newton hills, but their 10:15 average had probably taken a sub four hour race officially out of the question. Just past mile 24, I finally glanced at my watch to see my overall time. I was surprised to see only 3:50. I figured I was well past the four hour mark at this point. If I could just hold on to a 10:00 pace to close it out, I’d have an acceptable 4:10 or so race. The crowds were the now the largest  and loudest they’d been all day. This was music back in my ears.

City Road, Take Me Home

The Final Turn

The Final Turn

With four tenths of a mile to go, I made one of the most famous left turns in running, from Hereford Street onto Boylston Street. Even without my prescription sunglasses, I could see the famed finish line in the distance. A lump began to swell in my throat. For a moment, I thought raindrops wouldn’t be the only moisture on my cheeks.

I held it together and focused on the finish line in the distance – a whole lot of distance. The day before, the family and I spent some time on Boylston, sight seeing, shopping, and taking in the pre-race atmosphere. The distance from the turn to the finish did not seem far at all then.

Today, though, soaked to the bone with numb feet, the 800 yards or so looked quite daunting. Spectators completely lined Boylston, albeit not as crowded as better-weather years. Their cheers and encouragement were amazing just the same. The blue arch of the finish slowly grew larger, and soon I raised my arms in triumph as I crossed the painted line in 4:10:45.

I staggered down Boylston in the post finish line chute. A quick check with my internal crew chief told me the medical tent was unnecessary, but I better keep moving. Someone placed a finisher’s medal around my neck. I staggered on.

More Water!

Done! More Water!

Someone else held out a bottled water – uh, thanks? I’d seen enough of that today, but I took it. Despite hitting pretty much everyone of the 24 water stops, I had to be dehydrated, unless of course one could absorb water through one’s feet!

At the next station, a wonderful volunteer helped slip a hooded Heatsheet blanket over me. I could have used this hours ago, I thought. Next, someone handed me a bag of food. I don’t remember much about it except there was a banana.

Two blocks later, in the ‘F’ section of the family meeting area, I found my family. I tried to peel the banana, but couldn’t feel my hands. I think my daughter peeled it for me. The family was also cold and pretty wet. The winds had made the umbrellas pretty worthless, and we braved another block to the hotel. Paying extra for the close hotel now seemed genius.

I entered the hotel through the revolving door and into a small tunnel the employees and other runners’ families had formed. They were giving each runner an ovation as we came through the door. That was really awesome. I felt like a frozen rock star.

At Kiawah, I nursed a 1000 calorie chocolate milk in the medical tent, while waiting for the world to stop spinning. This time, Saint Angie had a Venti (large for all you non-Starbuckers) Black and White Mocha waiting on me in the hotel room.  A hot drink was much better than cold this time. The coffee combined with a 45 minute hot shower finally brought my body back to normal temperature and feeling back to my toes. Post race reports were 2500 people treated in medical tents during the race, most of them showing hypothermia symptoms. I believed it.

The Jacket

The 2018 Jacket

The 2018 Jacket

The next morning, we arrived at the airport and checked in without incident. Most of the passengers on our flight were either runners or family members of runners along for support. Pretty much every runner wore his or her 2018 commemorative race jacket. Some people had been wearing them around town before the race, which I felt was a no-no. Bad karma. I only tried mine on for size  at the expo – and very quickly, I might add. Finally, once we we headed out to dinner a few hours after the race, I slipped it on and proudly wore it, just like half of the restaurant.

Once we arrived back in the south, it was unseasonably cool. I was fine with this for a change. I could keep wearing my jacket! I secretly hoped it would stay cool for a while! If you see me wearing an orange jacket in the heat and humidity of a South Carolina August this year, you’ll understand. I may still be trying to warm up.

Not a Solo Effort

I’d like to give some special thanks to a few people. First, there’s my wife of 27 years, Angie. Not only has she had to endure my pursuit of Boston, she’s washed more athletic clothing than anyone should have to. Next, there’s my son and coach, Miles. Thanks for pushing the old man, son.

There’s also my friend, former co-worker, and once upon a time training partner, Craig Farmer. He ran with me on my first-ever run over 6 miles back in 2009, prepping for my first race, the Lexington Race Against Hunger 10K. He would probably point out he beat me for the only time in that 2009 race as well. Many years later, he provided excellent sherpa duties at my Kiawah BQ in 2016.

I’d also like to thank Trip Davis for advice and encouragement, Scott Flicker for Boston logistics advice, and Dean Schuster for planting the seed all those years ago in the Harbison Target. I guess this was ZeroToBoston II.

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PS. After Boston, I took nine days off from running.  That first very short run back was awful. I felt like my 2009 beginner self  or maybe an 80 year-old man. I then realized what my internal first mate had done for fuel when the hay ran out. The only thing he could have done, really. He burned down the hay barn, and I’m pretty sure he burned down the farmhouse, too. Recovering from this one is going to take a while.

We can rebuild him. Better. Stronger. Faster. Stay Tuned…

 

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Three Strikes But Not Out: A Boston Marathon Memoir – Part Two

If you missed part one of this memoir, click here.

After qualifying for Boston 2018, my coach and son, Miles Fowler, and I discussed my plans and goals for the sixteen month gap between my December 2016 race at Kiawah Island, SC and the April 2018 Boston Marathon.

There was definitely time to work in another marathon, but I had just come off nine months of seriously intense training. I opted for recovery, strength building, and perhaps trying to improve my 5K time. I had PR’ed in every distance in 2016, not bad for a 48 year-old, but missing out on a sub-twenty 5K by four seconds in May 2016 still bugged me. Just one of many flaws, I suppose.

Overall, 2017 was a lighter year on the race schedule. I kept training, of course, but the few events I entered showed a step back in speed, especially my unsatisfying 20:59 in May’s Jailbreak 5K. I blamed it on my new job. For motivation toward year’s end, Coach Miles and I decided to gear up for a PR attempt at the Lexington Half in November 2017.

Half marathon training was going well until a few weeks before the race. I was working on that build strength goal, performing an exercise called single leg dead lifts. This is where you hold two dumbbells and bend at the waist, lowering the dumbbells toward  one foot while the opposite leg raises out behind.  On one of the repetitions, as I raised my left leg behind me and lowered the dumbbells toward my right foot, I felt a pop in my upper right hamstring. It felt as if someone had plucked the muscle like it was an upright bass string. The pain caught me off guard, and I almost fell in the floor.

That can’t be good I thought. A few minutes later, when the initial pain subsided, I headed over to a treadmill to see if I could still run. Surprisingly, I could still run at a comfortable pace without pain. I took it easy until the Lexington Half, where I had a solid run of 1:37:34 with no hamstring pain, but was a far cry from 2016’s PR of 1:35:06. Still, I was at a good fitness level and still looking forward to a solid Boston.

Well, mid-November is too early to start official training for an April Marathon, so I set my sites on another 5K. I really wanted to beat that twenty minute mark. Coach Miles was planning on doing the Charleston Half Marathon in January, and I decided to join him in there for the Shrimp & Grits 5K race that goes along with the Charleston Marathon weekend.

Shrimp & Grits 5K: Meh!

Shrimp & Grits 5K: Meh!

Training was going well, and the hamstring was not causing any problems. Then, a week before the 5K, I was doing speed work (400 meter repeats) on a 36 degree afternoon. Apparently, I wasn’t warmed up enough, and the hamstring twinged on me again. I was not able to complete my 400’s at the targeted speed, but running slow still was OK. I took it easy that week, and managed a disappointing 21:18 in Charleston, where I didn’t push it in the windy 39 degree weather.

With the Shrimp & Grits 5K behind me, Coach Miles and I started “official” Boston Marathon training. The stretch goal was a fitness level capable of a 3:20 marathon, but an “easy” 3:30 (my qualifying target) would be acceptable on race day, depending on what curves were thrown at us. Given my Lexington Half time and Shrimp & Grits 5K times, the 3:30 definitely seemed doable.

I wanted to re-qualify, even if Boston 2019 was probably a not a possibility from a priority perspective. I’d received conflicting reports on re-qualifying for Boston at Boston, from two very good runners former Boston participants. One said it was hard to do and I should just enjoy a celebration run, while the other said re-qualifying was very doable. Decisions decisions.

“The hay is in the barn”

Unless you’re a marathon runner, you’ve likely not heard this phrase. I had not until a running veteran said this to me once upon a time as we discussed an upcoming marathon. It is a reference to doing the hard work of baling hay fields and taking it to the barn to have food for the animals over the winter.

For a runner, it means that if you’ve done the proper preparation, then while you taper off your training the last two or three weeks before a race, you will be OK for the race duration.  Your hay, or fuel earned through training, will be there for you to consume during the race.

Did you catch where I wrote strike two back in Part One of this memoir when writing about the weather conditions?  Did you think it was a typo? It wasn’t. So what about strike one?

Take a look at this chart:

Kiawah2016TrainingGraph

The blue line shows my weekly run mileage for the three months before Kiawah 2016, while the red line shows my longest run distance of that week. That’s some solid running there – 45 miles per week average and seven runs longer than 15 miles during the training.Now take a look at this chart:

Boston2018TrainingGraph

It is the same chart for the three months leading up to Boston. Do you see a problem? Mid-January to mid-February was a solid beginning. I was starting to feel confident and have really solid long runs. My 1968 model GF Hay Baler was really starting to harvest some serious hay. But then…

Boston, We Have A Problem

On Sunday, February 18, a day after my longest run so far in Boston training, 13 miles, the run plan was mile repeats. Coach Miles and I believe Sunday mile repeats after Saturday long runs were the secret sauce to my Kiawah success, and we planned to keep doing them.

I warmed up for 30 minutes on the bicycle trainer and then did an easy mile with some striders (kinda like sprints) to prepare my body for the planned four repeats. The weather was warm for February – 70 degrees. I felt good, perhaps too good, as I launched into the first mile. I probably started too fast and made it about 200 yards when my right hamstring sent a shock through my leg, stopping me in my tracks. I tried to restart and ran about another 200 yards, but every step was painful and my pace was extremely slow. The 1968 GF Hay Baler had a blown its transmission.

I quit for the day and spent a couple of days recuperating on the bicycle. Run attempts later in the week showed no improvement. Seven weeks to Boston and I literally could not run.

There’s your strike one.

By the way, Boston has a no deferral policy. If you’re injured and cannot go, that’s just too bad.

Any thoughts of re-qualifying for Boston at Boston were now lunacy. Just figuring out how to run pain-free again was the priority, along with how to keep marathon fitness without running. Fortunately, I have a coach who also knows a bit about cycling. Workouts now became almost 100% cycling, with some elliptical thrown in. I logged about 500 miles on the bicycle trainer during last seven weeks. I also found a local chiropractor who practiced Active Release Therapy to work on the hamstring/glute/hip area a couple times per week.

The ability to run slow and pain free finally returned in early April. Just eight days before the marathon, I was able to do double digits again – a mere 10 miles at a 10:15 per mile pace. Certainly nothing to write home about. The weekly average for those twelve weeks leading up to Boston was less than twenty miles and my longest run was only 13 miles.

As I boarded the plane to Boston, I wondered if it was enough. I hoped that somehow the previous nine years of training had stored up some hay in a mystery reserve barn somewhere deep inside.

To be continued…

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Three Strikes But Not Out: A Boston Marathon Memoir – Part One

The Boston Marathon. The oldest annual marathon in the world and arguably the most prestigious (does anyone really argue this?). Twenty-six point two miles starting in Hopkinton, Massachusetts, and ending on Boylston Street in downtown Boston. Along the way, 25,000+ runners pass through the towns of Ashland, Framingham, Natick, Wellesley and Newton. The race is held each year on the third Monday in April – Patriots Day in Massachusetts.

Getting To Boston

Near the finish line on Sunday before the race.

Near the finish line on Sunday before the race.

Making it to the start line of the Boston Marathon is not for the faint of heart. There’s getting to Boston. Then there’s getting to Boston. Then there’s getting to Boston.

The first getting to Boston is qualifying. There are tough qualifying standards. 2014 Boston winner Meb Keflezighi once said “If you are a marathon runner, you are measured based on the Boston Marathon.”*

Trying to qualify can become quite the obsession for some (not me, of course) and may take years of trying. I started officially trying in 2012, and took four years, several failed attempts, and a coaching change to do it. If you’re interested in my write up about my qualifying run, you can find it here: Finish What You Started.

The second getting to Boston is figuring out the travel logistics around traveling to Boston. A seasoned travleer, I am not. Being in South Carolina, driving is doable, if you have extra time to make a couple day trip of it. We chose to fly on the Saturday before the race. My carry on bag held all my running gear, including multiple clothing choices and layers to handle anything mother nature might throw at us – or so I thought.

Passports

Passports

I also made sure my official Runner Passport from the Boston Athletic Association was in my possession at all times. It had been in the fireproof lock box at the house since receiving it a few months back. This was my official ticket to run and had to be presented in person at the packet pickup/expo to receive my race bib. I could replace all gear easily at the expo, if lost, but that passport was not replaceable.

We had no travel problems and arrived at our downtown Boston hotel at 5:30 p.m. We had chosen to stay a few blocks from the finish line to make race day logistics easier on the support team. Upon arriving in the lobby of the Park Plaza Hotel, which was bustling with runners and quite different from the Holiday Inn Express,  my daughter remarked with wide eyes “Where are we?” “Definitely not in Kansas, Sweetheart.” It was country come to town.

The third getting to Boston is actually finding your way to the start line on race day. Boston is a point-to-point race, starting 26.2 miles west of the finish line. Fortunately, the race provides free bus service from Boston to Hopkinton, but which creates a couple of potential challenges. First, you still have to make your way to the bus loading area early on race day. Second, once the bus makes the approximate one hour trip, you’re dumped in the Athletes Village to wait, potentially braving the elements for a couple of hours before your wave start.

My friend and main Boston advisor, Scott, told me about a private charter bus which provided shuttle service to Hopkinton. The cost was only $30 for a ride on a heated bus with a bathroom. The shuttle also left from our hotel at a reasonable hour and you could stay on the parked bus as long as you wanted. Sold.

Hopkinton

Pre-race Poncho

Pre-race Poncho

And there I was, my first race as a 50 year-old, finally standing in Hopkinton at the start of the 2018 Boston Marathon. Despite taking up running at age forty, I’d beaten the odds and qualified for Boston. I’d also successfully navigated travel, packet pickup, and the bus ride to the start. Ain’t it great when things are going your way.

I won’t lie, though. My confidence was low. I probably hadn’t been this unsure of how a marathon might go since marathon #1 back in 2009. The weather wasn’t helping in the least. Just a few days prior, I had been in sunny South Carolina with temperatures in the 80’s. Now, here in Massachusetts, the air was 37 degrees with heavy rains falling in frequent bands. If that wasn’t miserable enough, there was the bonus wind-  20+ mph out of the east, which meant we’d be running into the wind the entire race. I’d done training over the years in cold, rain, and wind but nothing like this. Strike two.

My start time was scheduled for 10:25 a.m. – Wave Two and corral five. Thanks to the logistics of herding thousands of people to the start, I’d been in weather better suited for an episode of Deadliest Catch for almost an hour by the time 10:25 rolled around. The three quarters of a mile walk to the start from the Athletes Village would have to serve as the warm up. I threw in a few lunges and leg swings for good measure before the corral filled.

IMG_5735Right on time, Wave Two started. Those of us in corral five started creeping toward the start line. I briefly considered trying to run  in the poncho I’d been using in my last hour’s attempt to stay dry. Nope, I decided, and tossed the poncho into the growing pile of throw-away clothing being discarded along the side of the corral.

I pressed the play button on my wireless headphones, and the beginning organ notes from Boston’s “Foreplay/Longtime” filled my ears.  Crossing the start line timing mat, I pressed the start button on my watch. It was FINALLY time to run the 2018 Boston marathon. So, I hoped.

It’s been such a long time
I think I should be goin’, yeah
And time doesn’t wait for me, it keeps on rollin’
Sail on, on a distant highway
I’ve got to keep on chasin’ a dream, yeah
I’ve gotta be on my way – “Foreplay/Longtime”, Boston

 

To be continued….

References:

My BQ write up from 2016: Finish What You Started.

* http://www.espn.com/sports/endurance/story/_/id/19129302/expert-panel-world-10-best-marathons-including-boston-london-tokyo

Musical Note to Self

As I enjoyed some downtime between Christmas and New Year’s Day, two realizations came to mind.  First, I had not watched my favorite Christmas show, the Rankin-Bass stop-motion animation classic Santa Claus Is Coming to Town. I love this story mainly because it contains the song behind my personal mantra “Put One Foot in Front of the Other”. Kris Kringle’s lesson to Winter is a great life lesson. I skipped watching the whole thing and just went straight my favorite part on YouTube:

Second, I realized I was not prepared for 2018 because I had yet to pick out a theme song. One of my practices over the past few years is to have song that reminds me to stick to my goals for the year. Usually, it’s a classic rock or pop song that I’ll hear every now and then on the radio, offering a random reminder. I’ll also usually include the song in playlists for race events and training.  For example, during my huge training surge in 2016, gearing up for my big Boston Marathon qualifying attempt, I made sure Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin’” was in every race playlist that year. 

Then, in 2017, I was slack – no theme song. Perhaps that was part of my 2017 letdown. So, in this year of getting back on track, I must declare a song. Before I reveal this year’s winner, though, let’s review some that didn’t make the list:

  1. “Do You Think I’m Sexy” – Rod Stewart with DNCE. I was not a fan of this song during its first run in the late seventies, but I have to tell you, this remake is good. It has a solid groove and would be fun to run with. Nicely done, Sir Rod, but probably not the right song for a guy staring down 50.
  2. “Breakdown Dead Ahead” – Boz Scaggs. One of my favorite Boz songs and has been know to make it into playlists. Again, not good for the impending AARP stuffing of my mailbox.
  3. “Waterloo” – ABBA. This is actually a great running song. I occasionally put it in playlists where I imagine the going will get tough during a race. 
  4. “What a Fool Believes” – The Doobie Brothers (with Michael McDonald, of course). I’ve never had this one on a playlist and don’t plan to start now, even though it’s a favorite.

Now, here’s the short list of contenders, some I considered just by quickly skimming through the songs on my iPhone.

Everybody knows
It sucks to grow up
And everybody does
It’s so weird to be back here
Let me tell you what
The years go on and
We’re still fighting it.

– Ben Folds, “Still Fighting It”

  1. “Still Fighting It” – Ben Folds. A pretty deep song from Ben, written for his son. I really like the message. After all, I’m battling this aging thing as hard as I can, but, unfortunately, this is a terrible running song.  Perhaps, I’ll add it to the future piano lounge lizard set list, but that’s a blog post for another day.
  2. “Don’t Look Back” – Boston.  The title track of Boston’s second album, no doubt titled with the massive success of their first album in mind. Should be a good lesson for us all. A strong contender.
  3. “Don’t Stop Me Now” – Queen. Another frequent playlist entry. This implies momentum, though. Being currently stopped, perhaps this isn’t the right song this year.
  4. “Go Your Own Way” – Fleetwood Mac. Heard this on the radio this week, so it met one criteria. And this does cross my mind each morning right before I exit the highway into the parking lot of the day job.

Alas, those just weren’t striking the right chord, so I had to take a trip back in time…

1982

The author. 8th grade. 1982.

The author. 8th grade. 1982.

One of my more important 2018 goals is to be more involved with my daughter. She’s in her last year of middle school, the twilight zone of youth, and I know she’s going through a rough time. Nothing really specific, just that brutally awkward time of adolescence. Thinking about her predicament gave me an idea.

I decided to go back to that time in my life when I was her age. – the early ’80’s – and a student at Northwood Middle School, and look up what where the songs that meant the most to me. Maybe there was something from the 14 year-old me that would be a great theme song for the 50 year-old me.

Thanks to Google, I quickly found the list of the Top 40 songs from January 9, 1982. The number one song that week was “Physical” by Olivia Newton-John. Hmm. I would never use that on a run playlist, but could it be a sign that I should write that Fit after Forty book, I’ve had in the back of my mind? She was taking about exercise, right?

I kept looking down the list and  chuckled as a saw “Don’t Stop Believin'” at number 18. Maybe “DSB” should replace “Put One Foot in Front of the Other” as my mantra song. I also got a kick out of Queen’s “Under Pressure” at number 29. That could certainly apply these days, and I already use it on run playlists regularly. I kept scrolling, but nothing screamed “The One.”

I decided to dig deeper and spent a few minutes reviewing some of my favorite artists and whether they had albums in 1982. I was now going for the deep track – songs that never made the light of radio or perhaps were from the B-side of a cassette. It didn’t take me long. Right under my nose, and already on my phone, was  “Never Give Up”, the 9th track (out of 10) on Sammy Hagar’s 1982 album Three Lock Box. Sold!

No I’ll never give up.
‘Till I make this dream come true.
I’ll never give up on you.
I’ll never give up.
No I’ll never give up.
I’ve just got to see it through.

-Sammy Hagar, “Never Give Up”

 As the schedule would have it, I had a January race, giving me a chance to try out the new/old song on a playlist. While I didn’t beat my target time, I did OK for an old guy who was nursing a sore hamstring. Sammy’s young voice was a good reminder to the old me to keep at it. Thanks, 1982. Now, let’s go kick some 2018 butt.

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2017 – 1. Greg – 0

Whew! Glad that’s over. I won’t lie; 2017 was rough.  There were high hopes. After all, 2016 started slow but ended strong with finally achieving a couple of long-term goals in running and writing. I fully expected to ride a wave of momentum to continued successes in 2017.

Sisyphus and Me

Sisyphus-Overcoming-Silhouette-800pxUnfortunately, as the year wore on, I began to feel like old King Sisyphus. You may remember Sisyphus from your high school Greek mythology days. After angering the gods, Sisyphus spent the rest of eternity pushing a large boulder up a hill. Just as he’d near the top, though, he’d lose control and the rock would roll back down.  Sisyphus would then have to start over.

Two years ago, I found myself back at the bottom of the hill for the second time in my career – another company layoff. And while I’ve been employed at a new job now for well over a year, I don’t seem to making progress pushing the rock around the valley floor, much less back up the hill.

In a way, my writing “career” has had similar ups and downs – some decent stretches of blogging and writing as I made progress up the hill, only to slip up and let inconsistency and distractions roll me back down. Unfortunately, that’s where I am today.

So, I’ll start 2018 in two valleys – valley of the lost writer and valley of the sputtering day job. This time, though, I’m at least equipped with the knowledge of how to climb back toward the writer’s peak – put in the work and deliver content.  For a floundering day job, I’m not so sure. I’ve put in the work over the past year, but I’m not making much progress. On top of that, I’m not sure I want to climb this particular hill.

Hopefully, you find yourself in a better place to start 2018. If so, awesome! Keep up the good work and don’t lose the grip on that boulder. If not, it’s a great time of year to pick yourself up, and start pushing again. That’s my plan.

So, here’s to a great 2018.

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The Old Dog Manifesto

“Look in the mirror. Go ahead. I’ll wait.

Not one nearby? Then take out your phone and turn on the camera app.

Press the icon that flips the camera to “selfie” mode.

If you’re not sure how, ask a teenager.”  – From The Old Dog Manifesto

What happened?

Does it seems like just yesterday you were young with crazy dreams and now you’re staring in the mirror at wrinkles and gray hair and think you’re going crazy?

OK. Maybe it wasn’t yesterday, but you still cannot believe it, not to mention you don’t really know how it happened.

If you’re not happy with this middle age thing, you need to read The Old Dog Manifesto.  In it, I’ll convince you an old dog can learn new tricks and show you how to start.  Fill out and submit the form below to receive an email with a link to the download. Along with the manifesto, you’ll also receive regular updates from me, Greg Fowler.

The Old Dog Manifesto Cover

 

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Photo Credit: Little_squirrel Flickr via Compfight cc

The Unexpected

Photo Credit: Little_squirrel Flickr via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: Little_squirrel Flickr via Compfight cc

In the weeks since I published Negative Split, I’ve had several unexpected experiences.

First, there’s the surprise reaction.  This is when people I know, but aren’t familiar with my writing hobby, find out about the book in my presence. The looks on their faces have been funny. Sometimes a follow-up question of “Why?” or “What made you want to do that?” comes out.

Second, I’ve been really humbled by several people who read the book and declared “I’m not a reader, but I couldn’t put it down.”  This includes a 74 year-old man who said he hadn’t read a physical book in 30 years (he does listen to audio books!).  He even purchased several copies to give to friends and family.

Finally, my favorite surprise has been talking to people about the whole publishing process from start to finish.  Turns out, a lot of people have felt the pull to write a book  but didn’t know how to begin .  Or, like the current manuscript I’m reading for a friend, people have completed books and don’t know how to take the final steps to publication.

If you’re one of these or if you’re just curious, here’s what went into publishing my first novel:

1. Wrote rough draft. My word final count is just over 62,000 words.
2. Re-wrote a lot of it.
3. Printed out a few spiral bound 8.5″ x  11″ copies of the manuscript from Office Depot and had a few pre-release readers check it out. This was not really for grammar/typos but for story consistency. Some readers did point out plenty of errors.
4. Corrected the errors and made some story tweaks based on the input. I didn’t make every change suggested.  Some were very good ideas but I felt changed the feel of the story too much. Some suggestions just meant more work than I felt like tackling.
5. Re-read it again. Corrected inconsistencies no one else caught and made more error corrections.
6. Hired a proofreader for cheap from fiverr.com.
7. Worked with a designer from fiverr.com to create front and back cover art.
8. Took edited copy and cover art and created the paperback version on Createspace.com (an Amazon company).
9. Ordered and received a printed copy proof from Createspace. Re-read it yet again and caught more mistakes the proofreader missed.
10. Uploaded the edited copy to Createspace, and growing weary of searching for mistakes, approved the online version.
11. Pressed the publish button to make it live on Amazon.com.
12. Created the Kindle version through Kindle Direct Publishing, another Amazon company (kdp.amazon.com).
13. Went live on Kindle.
14. And finally the scariest part: Made the launch announcements on my KeyOfGF blog and social media.

So, there you have it, my fourteen steps to becoming a published author. Obviously, there’s more detail behind most of those points, but I’m trying to keep this fairly short.

As I post this, I have already decided to do a couple of things differently on book number two.  For instance, I will not use Office Depot for the Beta reader copies.  There was nothing wrong with their product, but it was expensive, and 8.5″ x 11″ was too bulky. For number two’s beta copies, I will go ahead and use Createspace for my proofs.  It will take a few days longer, but I found the book read so much easier for error checking in the final format.

I will also probably form a proofread team, people willing to read very carefully for typos in exchange for a final copy of the book. These won’t necessarily be the same individuals as the beta readers, but they could be.

One last thing. I tackled the book after blogging, albeit irregularly, for several years. Some of my long blog posts might have seemed like novels, but they were nothing like this effort. If you want to write a book, but currently don’t do any writing, I’m not saying you shouldn’t write a book.  However, depending on your subject (especially non-fiction writers), I’d recommend blogging first. This way, you break your subject into small manageable chunks and build up your writing chops.  Then, after some point, you can combine the blog posts into a book.

If you already have a first draft of a manuscript, and it has been a while since you looked at it, I’d recommend re-reading it.  Correct any errors you find, then recruit a pre-release read team. Have them read it and give you feedback. Then go from there based on the input.

If you have any questions, feel free to ask in the comments (click on the comments link at the top of the post).

Greg

Purchase on Amazon: http://a.co/03YzUZx

Purchase signed copy from my site: http://gregfowlerauthor.com/product/negative-split-autographed-copy/

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Upon Further Review

Word on the Facebook street is many of you have received your copies of Negative Split.  I am thrilled and humbled people actually took a chance on my first novel.  With the crazy busy-ness December can bring, I certainly understand if now actually reading my little story is not at the top of your priority list. Once you do get around to reading it, I hope you will take the time to leave a review. Reviews are one of the keys to building an audience beyond the curious friends and family circle.

If you purchased from Amazon, they usually remind you. Just keep an eye on your email. If you purchased a signed copy from me directly, I’m not 100% sure if Amazon will allow you to leave a review there. I hope they will, so please try.  However, if Amazon gives you a hard time about not being a verified buyer, you can leave a review on my author site. (I’ll include these links at the end.)

I know leaving reviews are a pain, especially if it turns out you don’t really like the book and are just trying to say something nice.  In that case, maybe I’ll forgive you for not leaving a review. 🙂  However, some of those honest non-five star reviews probably give a little more validity to the review process. So, don’t be afraid to give a lower star review. People tend to be suspicious of reviews that glow too much, but don’t everybody go giving me one star, either.

Unfortunately, leaving a review might give you flashbacks to those old grammar school book report days when the teacher called on you to stand in front of the class and give your report.  Yeah, not too many people remember those days fondly.

Photo Credit: Dave's Domain Flickr via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: Dave’s Domain Flickr via Compfight cc

I’ll confess, the only part I liked about book reports was drawing a picture of a potential book cover or a scene from the book for the report. (Crayons + manila construction paper = fond memories.)

Another confession: as much as I read, I rarely give reviews. Bad Greg. Add that to the 2017 resolution list.

One reason we don’t give reviews is we don’t know where to start. So to help out all of us, I did some research on writing book reviews and found a template from a blog by Lesley Ann McDaniels that might be helpful:

https://www.goodreads.com/author_blog_posts/4090036-how-to-write-a-fiction-book-review.

You don’t have to follow this by the letter, of course, but maybe it will help get your review wheels turning.

Lesley Ann’s Fiction Book Review Template:

Opening statement: Include title, genre, and author.

Synopsis: Include main characters and brief overview of main plot. Be careful not to give away too much!

Overall impression: This is where you give your personal impression of the book.

Suggested points to include:

Were the characters credible?

What problems did the main characters encounter?

Who was your favorite character, and why?

Could you relate to any of the characters in the story?

What was your favorite part of the book?

Do you have a least favorite part of the book?

If you could change something, what would it be? (If you wish you could change the ending, don’t reveal it!)

Would you recommend this book?

What type of reader would enjoy this book?

 

Here’s an example:

South Carolina and the world lost writing legend Pat Conroy this year.  And while new comer South Carolina author Greg Fowler won’t be mistaken for a Pat Conroy replacement, his first novel, Negative Split, is a solid start for a rookie.  Negative Split is the story of romance novelist Nathan Stiles, who struggles with several mid-life crises. Anyone who’s gone through the threat of divorce, loss of a job, or life not really turning out the way he or she planned will be able to relate to Nathan.  The author does a decent job of exploring a student-mentor relationship between Nathan and his old high school cross country coach (and my favorite character) Willie Silvers. While this novel is listed as contemporary romance, anyone who enjoys a comeback story will enjoy this. It’s definitely not just for women.

Or you could just say: Wow.  Didn’t expect that from new novelist, Greg Fowler.  Can’t wait for his next book.

Anything you care to leave will be appreciated.

To leave an Amazon review (or purchase), go to the Write a Customer Review button at the bottom of this page: http://a.co/2GMNKMa

To leave a review on my author site: http://gregfowlerauthor.com/product/negative-split-autographed-copy/

Thank you,

Greg