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App_logo“Just put one foot in front of the other! “  Seems easy enough, but how does your stride really work?  Understanding how you run can help you to understand what stresses and strengths your body has as it covers ground day after day.

 

Running is differentiated by the instant where both feet are concurrently airborne, as opposed to walking, which always includes one foot on the ground.  Some describe the running stride in two phases, support and swing, while others divide the stride into three stages[i] four stages[ii], two stages with multiple stages within these larger divisions[iii], five stages[iv], and more.

 

Regardless of how the stride is divided, many of the ways in which the stride is discussed cover similar ground.  Like the chicken and the egg, as the first one ends, the next one starts, although some have strong feelings regarding whether or not the stride should technically begin at toe-off or while the foot is in the air[v].  For our purposes, we’ll begin with the lead foot about to return to the ground, the hamstring and gluteus contracting and preparing to absorb the coming contact with the ground.  Watching an athlete running on a treadmill helps to more clearly visualize this aspect of the stride.  The leg anticipates pulling the body past the ground underneath and the large muscle groups on the back of the leg in particular help to initiate this pulling motion as the lead foot heads toward the ground.

 

Once the foot hits the ground, the body absorbs the initial contact (whether heel, midfoot, or forefoot), with a bending leg and a collapsing foot (pronation), as the muscles contract to control the joints and effect of the shock caused by gravitational forces[vi].  If bouncing on a trampoline, the trampoline can provide the absorption and return forces needed to propel oneself up again.  In other words, one can bounce on a trampoline with straight legs as the leg muscles aren’t required to contract and extend to return the body to the air.  On the solid ground, the legs must provide the absorption and propulsion.  This requires them to bend and give.

 

Next, the weight of the body travels forward in preparation for the toe-off from the forefoot.  This response is not unlike a rubber band or a spring.  The joints and ligaments of the foot flex and contract to allow transition from the initial landing point on the foot, to a point where the foot is absorbing maximum downward stress, to the toe-off where the hip flexor is extended and the opposite knee is flowing forward and up.

 

When the foot leaves the ground, it cycles underneath the body, and follows the knee forward and downward to ideally land underneath the body to efficiently recreate the cycle again.  As speed increases, the amount of time spent during this portion of the stride increases and the reciprocal percentage of the time during the stride spent on the ground decreases.  The dynamics of this portion of the stride vary widely, depending on hip flexor flexibility and strength, naturally occurring angles of the body, length of our legs relative to our overall height, and current speed.

 

As with all parts of the stride, each runner brings their own physiological idiosyncrasies to the table.  However, each of our strides, rather than a forgettable, automatic process not worth a second thought, is rather an amazing series of actions and reactions that we demand from our bodies thousands of times in a row in even one run.  There is debate about how much we can change our strides to resemble those of the Olympians on TV, or even the winner of last weekend’s 5K.  Each of us, however, have the opportunity to increase the chances we can continue to stride as our best version of ourselves, by being mindful to strengthening and balance exercises in our legs from foot to hip, and by seeking to increase flexibility and avoid prolonged muscle tightness.  Even if your stride isn’t perfect, these steps can help you resist and postpone fatigue, and stay healthy enough to continue training your legs to move you to the finish line as best they know how.



[i] Dugan, S. and Bhat, K. (2011). “Biomechanics and Analysis of Running Gait” Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation Clinics of North America http://demotu.org/pralados60/files/2011/05/DuganPMRCNA05running.pdf : p 612 Retrieved August 6, 2013

[ii] Parker, Ron. “ The Running Stride” http://www.trackandfieldcoach.ca/the%20running%20stride%20with%20photos.pdf Retrieved August 6, 2013

[iii] Phillips, Matt. “Introduction to Running Biomechanics”  http://runnersconnect.net/running-injury-prevention/running-biomechanics/ Retrieved August 6, 2013

[iv] Barreau, Matthew. “The Five P’s of Running Form” http://www.brianmac.co.uk/runform.htm

 

[v] Novachek, Tom. (1997) “The Biomechanics of Running”  Gait and Posture, Vol. 7. http://www.elitetrack.com/article_files/biomechanicsofrunning.pdf p79-80 Retrieved August 7, 2013

[vi] Dugan and Bhat: p. 609



 

 RelaxJeff Foxworthy, before he was famous for hosting a game show asking if we were smarter than fifth graders, became a household name in many parts of America by asking simple (humorous) questions by which one could identify oneself with a particular (colloquial) demographic.

 

Even if you have been running for several years, you may still be in denial about whether or not others should consider you a “runner.”  Here at runcoach, we’ll let our inner Jeff Foxworthy allow you to decide if you have crossed the Rubicon from a person who runs to an actual, bonafide, dyed in the wool, “runner” by asking a few simple questions of our own.

 

Take heart, even if you answer yes to each of these, at runcoach, you are among friends.  We’ve all done at least one of these a few times…

 

If your foam roller is now “too soft”….you might be a runner.


If you fall ill and your initial concern is whether or not you will have to take a “0” in the training log…….you might be a runner.

 

If you have eaten a gel packet for a snack, even when you haven’t been, or are not currently running……you might be a runner.

 

If you when you see John Hancock’s signature you think “Boston Marathon” instead of “Declaration of Independence”…….you might be a runner.

If you wear your running shoes on the plane for regular travel because you are willing to risk your other clothes being lost, but your running shoes are non-negotiable…..you might be a runner.


If you deliberately save old sweats for race day throw-aways……you might be a runner.


If I say “Heartbreak” and you say “Hill” instead of “Hotel”……you might be a runner. 


If you have started to wear your Garmin occasionally as a regular watch….you might be a runner.


If you stop your watch at stoplights and/ or run up and down the sidewalk until the light turns and you can cross…..you might be a runner.


If you have ever given someone bad driving directions because you know your current neighborhood, town, or location better via the pedestrian paths…..you might be a runner.


If you have jogged circles in a parking lot for the sole purpose of ending on a round number for minutes or miles for the day or week…..you might be a runner.


If you know your personal bests from 5K to the marathon by heart…..you might be a runner.


If you have ever run a couple extra miles at the end of your run for no other reason than it was a nice day…….you might be a runner


If you look forward to traveling west because you’ll naturally wake up early and can get a run in…….you might be a runner


If you can’t help making mental notes of inviting dirt trails and smooth bike paths alongside the road while you are driving…..you might be a runner. 


If you have made the decision to join a community of athletes training with the best individualized, online training on the web…..you might be a runner, and we’re glad to have you aboard!

 



Running can be a life-changing activity, a passion, an outlet, sometimes (hopefully not often), it can even feel like a chore.  As many long-time runners can attest, running can also teach many lessons that are readily transferable to a wide array of life situations.  Some of these examples are encapsulated in the encouragement runcoach (like many other running coaches through history) gives you along your training journey.

 

Run through the Line

Running, belief, commitment, and a willingness to see the task to completion are crucial components to success.  Many times a premature decision to evaluate a project or a race midway through eliminates the chance to enjoy the fruits of your labor, or a change of fortune in the late stages of the race.  Marathoners go through rough patches, and can weather them and find success if belief and commitment are strong.  Many a start-up or a long term project has also gone through a dark season or two before things finally look up.  Commit to running the race until completion, and earn yourself the chance to enjoy the good that might still be possible.

 

Plan your rest days into the schedule

Although not every runner keeps the same schedule of rest vs. training days, every runner has a better chance of avoiding injury and training interruptions when they are able to plan regular rest into their schedule.  Try to push through when rundown, or ignore a nagging sore spot, and an unplanned, and much less convenient rest period might be just around the corner.  Similarly, a non-stop schedule of work and stress can often adversely affect our health.  Although we don’t always have control over our schedules, most would agree a balanced life includes times of planned relaxation and recharging for the next challenge.

 

A positive attitude makes an enormous difference

Life and running have their fair share of challenges and unanticipated roadblocks.  Depending on your perspective, many of these are temporary, and loom frighteningly large or completely manageable.  When you retain a fundamental belief that a viable path exists out of your current bind, and when you attack a problem with the belief that the problem has a knowable and doable solution, you have a much greater chance of success than when a defeatist attitude emerges first.  Get through that mid-race rough patch by reminding yourself of your training and the strength it has given you.  Pick your way through a tricky professional patch by relying on the skills that have brought you to that point.  Stay positive, and it will soon take the idea of giving up off the table.

 

Pace yourself

Life is a marathon, and not a sprint.  We say this because we understand that a marathon takes a great deal of patience, training, and learning to succeed.  We also understand that if you start out with a pace that throws caution to the wind, then your end result might be a bit unpleasant.  A life a thousand miles begins with a single step.  Stick to your plan, keep a steady, confident tempo, and arrive on time and in one piece, both in life and in the race.

 

Practice Makes Perfect

This saying, along with its cousin, “Perfect Practice Makes Perfect,” reminds us that it pays to consider our goals and to make sure we have rehearsed the requirements of the day as much as is possible beforehand.  Just like that important presentation or pitch, rehearsing your fueling patterns during your long run or embarking on routes similar in topography to your goal race will teach you how to flesh out the tricky parts and handle them more confidently.   We perform better when we can eliminate unknowns and focus on executing our plan.  Running long distances can be a great incubator for us to reinforce that habit.

 

There are many other sayings and phrases out there that encapsulate the similar challenges and successes we go through as runners in and out of our training shoes.  As runners, we are fortunate to have a great laboratory every day, and hopefully our lives are better for it even after we slip off our shoes.



 

Day Before

Whenever possible, pick up your bib number, timing chip, and goody bag the day before the race.  This way, you won't have to worry about rushing to get it on the morning of the race.  (Added bonus - you will be more likely to get your desired race T-shirt size if you pick it up early!)

Once you have your bib number, pin it to the front of the shirt you will wear on race day.  (Don't pin it to the back).  Most races will have boxes of safety pins for your use.  Take four so that you can fasten all 4 corners. 

Dressing The Part

For race attire, consider some "throw away" warmups for the start.  These will protect you from the elements if it is cold or rainy.  Old socks can come in handy for keeping your hands warm.  Some runners will even wear the t-shirt for the first couple miles of the race until they warm up and then pull it off and throw it away.  This is a good strategy to prepare for all temperatures.

Once the race starts, you WILL warm up.  Be prepared by wearing lighter clothes underneath your "thow away" sweats.  A good rule of thumb: Dress as if the weather is 15 degrees warmer than it is. That's how much you'll warm up once you start running.

Hydration

Drink Gatorade (or any sports drink that doesn’t include protein) and/or water frequently to assure you are hydrated before the race.  Clear urine is a good sign.  At some point (usually 10-20 minutes) prior to the race stop drinking so you can empty your bladder before the start.

Breakfast

We always recommend eating breakfast and an essential, light breakfast is important on race day.  2-3 hours before the race, try to consume 200-400 calories of food you are accustomed to and can easily digest.  Your body will need that fuel in the latter stages of the race. 

Don't try a new food the morning of the race.  Instead, experiment with different foods beforehand or stick to things that have worked for you in the past.  The best breakfast foods contain both complex and simple carbohydrates and high-quality protein (in small amounts).  Your breakfast should include some healthy fats, but also in small amounts.

Heading to the Start Line

There will often be race day traffic so allow plenty of time to get to the starting area.  You will need time to stretch out, do a warm up jog, and use the bathroom.  (Warning:  The lines for the bathrooms at road races are always long.  Don't wait until the last minute to go!)

Pace

Remember this is an endurance race and the key to success is pace.  As soon as the gun goes off remind yourself that you have a long race ahead of you.  Check your breathing, body tension and other physical markers to gauge your pace.  If you are running faster than a pace you can maintain throughout the whole distance, slow down immediately.  The goal of any successful race is to run every mile within 10% of your average pace.

Remember the 3 ‘C’s’

Confidence:  Have confidence in your ability and your training.   Remember all those hard workouts you did.  Remember those early mornings, late nights, sore calves, tight hamstrings etc. - they weren’t in jest.

Control:  Feel comfortable with the pace for the first 1-2 miles.  Stay relaxed and controlled.

Collection:  Keep your thoughts collected and on your objective.  In the typical big city race there will be thousands of distractions along the way.  The further you get in this race the more you need to focus on yourself, goals and race strategy.  Don’t let the fans and competitors into your zone.

You Always Have One Cup Left

That’s right – you always have one cup of energy left.  The difference is that some people find it and some don’t.  Remember what normal, untrained people do when they feel discomfort – they slow down and feel better.  You are not a normal un-trained person.

You are a running machine!

As a machine you will have to dig down at the end to determine if you will have a good effort that you can be satisfied with or not.

Go get that last cup!


glove_boxEven if your runs primarily depart from home or office, running or racing will likely take you to points best accessed by car at some point or another.   Not everyone can have everything in the car at all times, but a few key items left in the car (rather than trying to remember them each time out) can make a driving runner’s life a bit easier. Furthermore, even when days, weeks, or months go by without needing to use these exact resources, knowing they are there can reduce concern and stress heading into an important effort.

 

Blanket / towel (or more than one)

One of these items can provide protection and warmth after a surprise cold rainstorm on a November morning, or a layer between you and the driver’s seat when the air is thick with humidity.  Having a towel or blanket can also make it more likely you will take a moment to stretch or roll, or spend 5-10 minutes adding some core work to the end of your run when you have a spare few moments.  If you or someone you are with is really in distress, a blanket or towel can be invaluable sopping up a variety of bodily fluids, and takes up relatively little space in the trunk.  Although the absorption value isn’t there, a saved space blanket from the end of a long race can also be an easy to store, useful item as a layer between a gross, sweaty, or wet you and your car / the elements.

 

Fuel

Fueling directly after a hard workout or long run is key to regulating your blood sugar and quickening recovery.  Take a moment to stack a few of your favorite bars and some gels for mid run replenishment in the glove box or in a Ziploc in the trunk.  This will ensure you can top off the tank at the end of your run and avoid a midday bonk or rash meal decision due to the sharp pang of hunger + fatigue.  Sometimes, you are coming from a location where you can’t select or prepare a snack to bring with you for before, during, or after.  If you have a snack readily accessible, your chances of success in that workout or run will increase.

 

Water

Even one spare 16 ounce bottle can be of great help if you exhaust your fluids on the run and arrive back at a trailhead with no facilities and a lengthy drive to the nearest gas station or store.  Water can also wash dirt or blood away as needed due to mid-run mishaps.  Pack a dissolve-able tablet or two of your favorite electrolyte replacement fluid with your fuel stash, and you will be in even better shape.

 

First Aid Kit

A must.  Even if it includes only some bandaids, Neosporin, and some basic gauze, tape, and perhaps an anti inflammatory, the chance to tend to a mishap directly after it occurs makes a huge difference compared to how that same injury might react hours later.

 

A charger or an adapter

When in remote areas, having a phone charger that works with the car can be of significant help in a tough spot, and with the proliferation of chargers with USB ports, charging a GPS device with the car’s power is now easily possible as well.

 

Hat with a bill, gloves

A running hat with a bill is compact and crushable, but can help keep water from the eyes in a rainstorm and sun from the face when no clouds are in the sky.  Gloves ($1 gloves from Target, or similar), can feel like the most precious piece of clothing when they are really needed.  Neither takes up very much space.

 

A Roller or a Stick

Again, if your run is squeezed between other appointments or engagements, or involves a decent length drive to and from, consider keeping a stick in the car.   It takes up very little space, and can be used both to loosen up before the run as well as to start the recovery process without some of the stiffness inevitable on the drive back.

 

Wet Wipes

No longer just for the backsides of babies, these come in handy packets and can save the day in an unlimited array of hygiene and cleaning scenarios.

 

Every runner has their particular comfort items, their specific variations of this list that provide peace of mind and care when things haven’t gone well, or even if they have.  A bit of forethought to keep some of these items on hand when driving to runs can clutter the trunk, but can also help our bodies handle the rigors of training well, even while in the midst of our complicated lives.



logoIn July, many athletes begin training in earnest for a fall goal race. We’re glad that this year, more runners than ever are doing so with runcoach.

 

A runner announces their new training cycle with a fresh pair of shoes brought home from the running store, or an acknowledgement they are about to embark on their first official long training run.  Then, he or she often gets the fun questions to answer – Wow!  When / how did you decide to run a marathon?  Why did you choose that race?  What time do you want to run?  In contrast, runcoach wants you to be able to answer the questions no one will ask – Wow! What is your predicted half marathon time?  Do you have access to a treadmill?  Can you run on Thursdays?

 

In short, one of the significant ways runcoach is different than almost any other training solution is the amount of focus we place on you and your current profile, rather than your hypothetical goals and hypothetical self.  Don’t get us wrong – we are completely invested in providing a path to progress your running as far as you can go.  However, instead of taking a random target and working back from it, we take your actual current profile / performances (or if there are no current or relevant races, we instruct you how to produce a hard effort to approximate a race).  From this, we forge an appropriate, sustainable path forward. Achieve mastery at your present level, then recover, adapt, and perform at peak productivity.

 

What if your goal was to break 4:00 hours for the marathon, but in 20 weeks, it turns out you might be actually better prepared to run 3:45?  What if you had in mind a 1:35 half marathon time, but forgot to factor in the crazy hills and stiff headwinds notorious on that course.  Goal setting is an important motivational cornerstone, but we know at runcoach that each person begins at a different spot – in their experience level, in their current fitness, in their weekly schedules, and in their natural strengths and weaknesses.  Our system provides our athletes with a program that is unique to each person, because each person is indeed unique.

 

As with any new coach/ athlete relationship, initially an athlete might be skeptical if the assigned workouts differ from what is expected.  Often we hear from runners who are used to a “go until you can’t go any more” approach to workouts, or a pattern of going hard everyday out on the roads. Other athletes have never followed a structured plan before and maybe sell themselves short on what they can do over various distances. Hundreds of thousands of workouts and successful goal races have reinforced for us that an approach including proper stress based on your current fitness profile, followed by sensible recovery, will lead to racing at peak performance.

 

Today, an aggressive approach and an ASAP mentality are present in many of the products we buy.  It is easy to be antsy over a five-minute wait when you are used to getting your Starbucks latté made in two. Remember when traveling across the continent or the ocean meant a risky wagon or boat ride and the very real possibility that waving goodbye to home was forever? Now, we are grumpy when a five hour plane ride is delayed one hour. Patience is in short supply.   At runcoach, we want you have fun answering the enjoyable questions from friends and family, but we also want you to be knowledgeable and confident enough about your present fitness to answer the tough questions as well.  We’re ok being the ones with the answers to the unpopular questions, and we’re excited that as our athletes achieve these goals, these unpopular questions are becoming much less so.



beach_runningAt runcoach, we love the enthusiasm of runners fired up after a successful first marathon or long goal race.  Many athletes find the cycle of goal setting, progressive workouts, and solid race performance to be an enticing combination, one which quickly beckons them again.  As a runner becomes more confident in the ability to complete the training cycle, execute the race, and recover, he or she may begin to look further down the road and plan two or three goal races ahead.  But, how many marathons are too many?

 

Each athlete comes equipped with an experience level, injury history (or lack thereof), and other daily commitments specific to them.   Each race also has its challenges and advantages – course difficulty, transportation set-up, weather, etc.  A tough combination of these factors might produce a decision to take things one goal race at a time, but if things are aligning well, we suggest taking about three-four months between marathons.  At most we recommend 4 marathons per year.

 

Many avid marathoners have found a rhythm with an annual fall or spring marathon, or maybe two marathons per year with plenty of time to recycle and train between each.  Other runners prefer to include goal races of different lengths interspersed between marathon attempts.  That could mean a target half marathon in the spring and a big marathon goal for the fall, or a season of running shorter races such as 5Ks and 10Ks to work on speed, while leaving a longer distance race for later in a particular year.  There is no “one size fits all” answer for these race choices, except our desire to make sure you leave enough time to train properly and arrive at race day ready to do your best.

 

It is not uncommon for runners to go through a period of time where enthusiasm is high and things are coming together so nicely a successful string of narrowly scheduled races can come off well.  However, it is also not uncommon for runners to change that pattern by necessity only after something has not gone well or nagging soreness has turned into an injury.  Your runcoach schedule is designed to progress you toward your short-term goals but also keep you healthy so that you can keep striving toward other long-term goals.  It is far better to have six excellent experiences over the course of two years with more to look forward to, than three experiences followed by a long string of injury and uncertainty.

 

Yes, there are those that can manage a spectacular workload and race frequency, but there are also those who must take the greatest of care to arrive intact at one goal race per year.  Most of us are between the two, and are hoping to continue our running and racing for years and decades to come.  Stay patient, and keep a sane race schedule.  We’ll help you train well, and together we can plan for many congratulations and “high-fives” ahead.



App_logoIn the fairytale Hansel and Gretel, the children overhear that they will be led out into the woods, destination unknown.  To find their way back to familiar surroundings, Hansel gathers a pocket of white pebbles and drops them along the path, providing a trail to trace their planned return route.

 

Hansel and Gretel are just like modern day recreational runners.  They know that tomorrow may bring a new journey away from home. The white pebbles ensure that they are mindful of the process along the way, and that they can retrace their steps (or avoid that path if preferred).

 

At runcoach, we don’t have a pocket full of white pebbles to give you.  We don’t even have a virtual pile of rocks.  However, we do have a tool that not only helps you recount and remember your previous steps, but also helps tailor the running ahead. That tool is our training log.

 

One of the most popular features of runcoach is the ability of our system to adapt and train you to your specific needs, even if those change on the way to your goal race.  If you turn an ankle and need a three day break, or if the flu has you down for a week, our plan won’t schedule you a 15 mile long run on your first day back.    If you decide to schedule a tune-up race six weeks prior to your goal race, the plan will adjust your schedule accordingly.  Likewise, if the workout as written was accomplished with unanticipated ease or difficulty.

 

Almost all coaches, whether in person or online, advocate keeping a training log.   It will help the athlete and the coach understand how to repeat, improve upon, or choose a different path based on how the previous training cycle played out.  A survey of elite distance runners would likely find an almost universal use of a training log tool of some kind.  Many have daily records of their running going back years and years. For decades, this might have been a notebook, or more recently a spreadsheet online.  With the runcoach training log, recreational runners enjoy the benefits of recording this information in the traditional manner, combined with our unique system to provide real time adjustments to your benefit. Even if you are not near your computer screen, our iPhone app allows runcoach users to update their logs on the go.

 

While the runcoach training log is a robust tool with many capabilities, it is most effectively used if the athlete is consistent with feedback.  Both ratings and differing outcomes from what is scheduled are crucial pieces of data to help our system carve a training schedule that tailors to your present situation and plans for future competition.  The more information you provide to us about how your training has gone, the better runcoach can serve you and your goals.

 

Typically, not everyone feels like recording the details of a difficult day or a workout that didn’t go as planned, but most are excited to celebrate a day that went as or better than scheduled.  Many athletes tell us of their dread for a day marked “red” vs “green.”  As coaches, we know that the days that don’t go well are at least, if not more important to know about as the days that go great.  Just as though we were standing there with you holding a stopwatch, letting us know your feedback, (good or bad), can help our system make more accurate plans toward your eventual success.

 

We view our relationship with our users as a partnership – we’re invested in seeing you through and beyond your goals, just as you trust us to help you get there.  The training log is a powerful tool to strengthen that relationship and increase the chances both of us will succeed together.  We hope that you will continue to use it and in doing so help us follow the path of white pebbles together.



 images
Like many of my red-blooded American middle-aged sisters, once I saw my first episode of Downton Abbey, I immediately proceeded to completely DVR binge the rest of the collection.  Although admittedly late to the party, this process proceeded according to the typical fashion. Quoteth the husband, “Ah Downton Abbey….I was hoping to go to sleep right away….. perfect….(snore)”

 

I was training for Boston and it was now mid-January - time to get down to brass tacks.  With a lot of solo long running ahead and in need of good reading while currently subsisting on a daily diet of early season Downton, my interest was piqued when a random iTunes search led me to find that Matthew Crawley reads audio books, and reads them like a boss.

 

If you have read this far, you likely know that Dan Stevens, the actor who so ably inhabited the character of Matthew Crawley for the first three series, is no longer doing so (see: #Christmas #Downton #carcrash #twitterpocalypse). Instead, he has been up to all sorts of things like producing and acting in a recently released movie, starring in a Broadway play, judging the 2012 Man Booker Prize, and writing. But what he should be doing, my friends, is reading audio books, because lawd ahmighty, he is very good at it.

 

With every new marathon training cycle, we learn new subtleties about the reasons we train. Originally exploratory efforts become tempered with expectations and a more complete understanding of the difficulties and physical pain ahead. Even if you love it all, a 20-mile route can begin to feel like rote if you have done it many times.

 

When running solo and on a safe route, my personal solution to these issues has been to press play. When I clicked “buy” on iTunes and started Fall of Giants, read by Stevens, I was at the trailhead of the tough part of the Boston training cycle with hundreds of miles ahead. First in a trilogy by Ken Follett of Pillars of the Earth fame, it fell squarely into my favorite dusty, middlebrow Michener/Rutherford bookshelf.

 

After many hours and miles listening to Stevens rattle off 20+ different accents from people of all ages and both genders, delivered with the weight, tone, and pace as if notes from Yo-Yo Ma’s cello, I was right back looking for the second volume, or a secret 1000 page appendix. As a kid, the characters of a well-read book almost leap from the page and visibly animate in the room.  Well, now I was five years old again, and had gotten used to these characters running alongside me while I shuffled along for hours on the San Francisco Bay Trail. Back to iTunes I went, only to find that another (probably perfectly nice) person had read the second book.  I quit the series and went pure Stevens-read until April.

 

Much has been made of the timbre of Stevens’s voice, but attached to the persona of Matthew Crawley, it has been confined by saying things like “You are my stick” for three years (and this is coming from someone who really enjoys the show). While his recent successes and the William Morris Endeavor agency will likely take him far commercially, I hope for the sake of my future marathon training (and for yours, should this prompt an iTunes run) that Stevens continues the likely financially inefficient pursuit of reading books to us. Perhaps he is just enough of a word nerd to do so.

 

As Stevens’s voice essentially became the narrator for my own journey toward the race, intertwined with the escalating weekly mile totals and the big fat long run at the end of the week, my kids would get in the car and hear some book I had plugged in after running and roll their eyes. “Does Dan Stevens read anything for kids?”  I was asked.

 

“Well, as a matter of fact, he does!” I happily replied, only to be reminded quickly how little my opinion counts.  Rather, my third grader asked to listen to one of the books popular with her set, the Dork Diaries (think Diary of a Wimpy Kid with a female protagonist). Quickly, I realized, I couldn’t take it.  Pages of “O.M. Geeeeeeeeee. Ma-ken-zieeeeeeeee! I was soooooooooo embarrassed I could hardly breeeeeeeathe!”  had me soon talking to the CD, occasionally banging my head against the steering wheel, threatening all sorts of things if they ever turned in papers that sound like this book, and ruing the day it was published.

 

Brilliantly, my older daughter recognized my distress at the inanity one day and blurted out, “Hey Mom, how would Dan Stevens read it?”  Now, our family has a durable new parlor game as well.

 

For each of us, this year’s Boston Marathon immediately ceased to be what it was the instant before we knew of the events at 2:50pm on April 15. Yet, the well-worn metaphor of training as a journey remains true here, maybe more so. In reflection, this season became a completely separate episode from the race itself, populated memorably by the various character tableaux as well as the creative and technical talent that kept my mind busy while my body did the hard work. I am reminded how precious is the gift of losing oneself in fiction, in music, in the observation of nature, or in a great conversation. May we all have a case of jet lag, a load of unfolded laundry or a run where our feet know the route well enough that imagination, for that mile or two or twenty, is again enough breeze to carry us to the other shore. And may Dan Stevens read a couple more books this year – I’m planning on another spring marathon.



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