Blaze On: 2019 DICK’S Sporting Goods Pittsburgh Marathon Training Notebook – Week 2

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Two down…sixteen to go.  This is really going to feel much longer than normal since I am actually counting down week by week.  Oh well. Here are my notes for my second week of training for the 2019 DICK’S Sporting Goods Pittsburgh Marathon.  Training notebooks are posted every Monday and summarize the previous week: notes, quotes, and anecdotes.

Let’s get this show on the road, shall we?


Set the Gearshift for the High Gear of Your Soul – Here is where I outline my training for the week.  The miles, the pace, where I ran, how I felt. All the logistics.


1/7/19: Cross-training: Gym workout – Circuit training

1/8/19: 3.00 miles (9:06 minutes/mile)

1/9/19: 5.00 miles (9:12 minutes/mile)

1/10/19: 3.00 miles (8:45 minutes/mile)  

1/12/19: 11.00 miles (9:05 minutes/mile)   

1/13/19: 5.00 miles (8:12 minutes/mile)


The second week of the Hal Higdon Intermediate 2 training plan increases the mileage by only one mile.  The long run on Saturday jumps from ten to eleven. So it is a very gentle increase before a step back the third week.  Which works well for me, because this is the first time I’m training in primarily minimalist shoes for the duration of an entire plan.  All the tendons and muscles in my feet and ankles are slowly getting acclimated.

On Monday though, I wanted to specifically go much harder.  I copped out of an intense cross-training session at the gym the week prior due to New Year’s Eve, so I wanted to make up for it this week.  I want to make sure that I’m giving the same effort on cross-training days (which wasn’t always necessarily the case when training in the past).  I fell into a bad habit of just including an extra rest day when I was supposed to cross-train, but now that I have a plan of attack at the gym, I have no excuses.

I went through an intense circuit training routine on Monday that consisted of deadlifts, kettlebell swings, and one of those dual action exercise air bikes.  I usually do twelve reps of both deadlifts and then kettlebell swings with no rest in between, and then hit the exercise bike at top speed for a full minute immediately after that.  I only allow myself thirty seconds of rest after each cycle. After six rounds of that, I had a good sweat going and was eager for more. After some split squats, calf raises, push-ups, pull-ups, hanging leg raises, and some time with the Stair Climber, battle rope, and Jacob’s Ladder, I was ready to call it a day.  I just created my new baseline for cross-training day.

After last week, I decided that most of my weekday runs would take place along the major thoroughfare near my apartment.  Yes, there were more cars I would have to deal with, but I would run in the opposite direction of traffic. Plus, the boulevard is well-lit, so there would be no need for a headlamp.  But the main reason why I wanted to run along this route was that I usually feel antsy when I run at night after work. I just want to get it over with, so I can relax at home. But running along this avenue, I force myself to stop at every stoplight and take the opportunity to stretch.  This slows and calms me down and teaches me not to force things to get it over with. Ironically, even though I am stopping to stretch, sometimes my pace during these runs are better than those in the park when I’m not stopping.

My fastest run was Thursday’s run, where I clocked an 8:45 minute per mile pace.  But that one shouldn’t coun,t because even though I was running along the boulevard and stopped at every light, I was rushing and running as fast as I could, because we were having dinner with my family for my mom’s and grandma’s birthday.  I was more encouraged by my weekend runs.

Saturday and Sunday both hovered around twenty-five degrees – the coldest days I had run in so far.  It can be tricky to run in the cold, because it takes a little extra time to warm up and get loose. In spite of that, I had some of my best runs in awhile.  

On Saturday’s eleven mile run, I hit a very comfortable pace that I felt I could maintain for an entire marathon and still have energy left at the end.  After four miles, my legs started to get into a rhythm, and I noticed that I was getting more of a push off on each step. Without even trying, I ended up with a negative split on the run, and my tenth mile turned out to be my fastest of the entire run.

Sunday I felt even better.  My momentum from Saturday carried over, and my first mile was under eight and a half minutes per mile.  I gained speed with each mile, and when I glanced at my watch after the fifth and final mile, I was elated that I was under eight minutes per mile.  Not that speed is my focus anymore, but it is super encouraging to feel like I’m getting faster. In fact, I can’t be sure, but ever since switching footwear and changing up my running form, I don’t think I’ve run a sub eight minute mile.  I wasn’t even sure I was ever going to be able to again. What’s more: my muscles and joints don’t ache as much as they used to after a tempo run.

I will say this though: the one area I need to improve on is with yoga.  Last Friday, I skipped it to visit my grandparents and this Friday I skipped it because of my hectic schedule.  I incorporated a warm up routine before my long run on Saturday and followed it up with a cool down routine after it.  But I need to make sure I make time on Fridays to include a lengthy session with plenty of hip openers. It is the one area in my body that I feel like could benefit from some stretching and strengthening.  My favorite video to use is Yoga With Adriene’s forty-five minute deep stretch routine. I’m considering keeping her warm up and cool down routines before the long run on Saturday anyway, but including the deep stretch routine will be a point of emphasis next week.  



Got a Clif Bar and Some Cold Green Tea – Here is where I write about nutrition for the week – usually something that is working for me or an issue that has come up in training.


Even though it makes me feel like a toddler, my favorite drink post workout is chocolate milk.  Usually, a glass of chocolate milk before bed is better for my body than any foam roller. Who knew that part of my bedtime routine as a kid would come back into my life when I became a budding ultramarathoner?

I was first introduced to this godsend after the Rock ‘n’ Roll Brooklyn Half Marathon, my first race.  When I crossed the finish line, I was ushered to the buffet line of post race goodies. I took the bottle of Gatorade, grabbed the bags of pretzels and potato chips, snagged the Clif Bar, and enjoyed the ripest banana I have ever had in my life (seriously, my girlfriend and I still talk about how delicious the bananas at this race were – no other banana has ever come close to topping it).  All of those foods made sense. But when I was offered some Nesquik, I was absolutely puzzled. I was sure I was going to eject whatever I had in my stomach onto the grassy turf of Prospect Park. Regardless, I shook the bottle and hoped for the best.

The second the cold, frothy libation touched my lips, I knew I was experiencing a sliver of heaven on earth.  I felt my body cartoonishly feel re energized, like Popeye downing spinach. I felt absolutely spent, and this was the only thing that kept me from collapsing.  

From what I’ve read, chocolate milk has a few things working in its favor.  First off, it’s a fluid, and any fluid is going to help rehydrate you. In addition, the carbs help replenish depleted glycogen stores, which give your muscles fuel.  Finally, the protein helps your muscles heal and recover after a strenuous workout. The fact that it is also tasty as hell is just an added bonus.

Since my midweek runs are in the evening, I have made sure not to fill up on dinner in order to make sure that I have enough room for a refreshing, tall glass of chocolate milk before bed.  Even though I may be sore in the moment, I usually wake up feeling completely rejuvenated and ready for my next training run. The same thing applies to cross-training; it works just as effectively after working out at the gym.   

To those of you who have never tried chocolate milk after a workout, there is no better time than the present.  And to those of you who have, then I raise my glass and toast to your health(y muscles).



Whatever You Do, Take Care of Your Shoes – Here is where I discuss what shoes I ran in during the week – if I ran in shoes at all!


It’s safe to say that the Monos – barring an unseasonably warm day – are retired for the season.  Running barefoot is also out of the question. So in essence, this leaves me to alternate between the Ghosts, Escalantes, and Vibrams.

The total tally for the week ended up being: 16 miles in the Altra Escalantes, 8 miles in the Vibram FiveFingers, and 3 miles in the Brooks Ghosts.  

It is absolutely heartbreaking, because they are probably my favorite “regular” running shoe.  But the Ghosts are falling well behind in the rotation. It’s nothing really against the shoe per se; they are extremely comfortable and provide a sufficient level of cushioning without being overbearing.  But when I wear them, it is just so easy to revert back to older bad habits and turn my brain off when I run. I don’t have to think about where I step, because I know the shoe will protect me. Also, they feel extremely heavy especially compared to the Lunas or Vibrams.  I just feel so much slower and clumsy in them. By keeping them around, I made it a point to not forget how to run in regular shoes, but it is becoming an absolute chore at the moment.

Even the Escalantes can feel heavy at times, but they feel so much more natural.  The zero drop in the heel gives me more explosion now that I’ve gotten used to running in them.  While they can feel clunky on shorter runs, the Altras really shine on the longer ones. The wide toe box is just what the doctor ordered when my foot starts to swell miles in.  It also allows me to wear multiple socks on long winter runs. It such a durable, sturdy shoes that I know can take the pounding of many miles on asphalt. I was thinking about the Strolling Jim 40 Mile Run (another race birthed from the twisted mind of Laz Lake of the Barkley Marathons) at some point down the line, and this shoe is almost definitely the one that would make the trip to Tennessee with me.

The unsung hero of this training so far though has been the Vibram FiveFingers.  They act as a way to recalibrate my running form, but now that I’ve gotten the hang of it, the biggest benefit of the Vibrams is that they are so light that I feel like I could go really fast in them.  Some of my fastest times in training have come while wearing the Vibrams. The issue I have to figure out is this: are they fast because I’m switching from a heavier shoe to lighter one – like the principle behind a batting donut in baseball?  Or is it because I’m running the day after a long run (though does this even make any sense? Why have my fastest runs each week come the morning after long run Saturday?)? Regardless, I want to continue to test my limits with the Vibrams and see how durable they really are.  

Though the Vibrams have also gotten me thinking about investing in racing flats again.  I know that’s how I sprained my foot, but I’m a completely different runner now. Maybe I’ll look into the Brooks Hyperions or the Altra Vanish-R (for the wide toe box primarily).  Any comments or suggestions for racing flats are more than welcome!



If Life Were Easy and Not So Fast… – Here is where I offer tips in mindfulness and staying present.  In running and in life.


One of the things that gets mentioned ad nauseam is focusing on one’s breath.  And here, I am going to mention it yet again, because it really is that important.  

In almost everything I do, breathing plays a vital role.  It has been said that running is 90% mental. While I completely agree with this sentiment, breathing probably comes in at 8%.  But that 8% arguably props up the 90%. It’s the Stockton to its Malone.

Listening to one’s breath is so important when running that it is a primary reason why I stopped listening to music altogether on runs.  I need to be able to control it, and I use the steady rhythm between my breath and my strides to center me. If I am running too fast, my breathing will be a telltale sign.  The piece of advice I always give people is you should be able to talk comfortably when you run but not be able to sing. That’s when I know I am right in that sweet spot.

I’ve been able to get rid of side stitches by focusing on my breath and making sure I inhale and exhale deeply.  No joke. I’ve also started to even use nasal strips upon the recommendation of ultrarunner Hal Koerner. As someone with a deviated septum, nasal strips have worked wonders for my running.

Breathing, however, has also had a similar effect on my meditation and in my life.  Your breath gives you something to stay grounded and present within your own body. Many times, especially if you are just starting out with a meditation practice, it is easy for one’s mind to wander.  Then, when we notice that our thoughts have drifted, we beat ourselves up for it and feel as if we have “failed” the meditation. Don’t look at is as a failure: it is simply an opportunity to bring your focus back on the breath.  In this case, I learned this lesson on the running trails and have been able to apply it to my meditation and yoga practices.

Whenever you are having a bad day and your mind is filled with anxious thoughts, it is just an opportunity to come back to the breath.  More often than not, breathing brings us back into the present moment and centers us.

Sometimes, it really is the simplest things that help us be mindful: our breath, the contact between the soles of our feet and the floor, or our heartbeat.  Use it to your advantage! Every moment is an opportunity to be present in your own body.



…On the Soul Planet – Here is where I share thoughts on the encounters with other people along my running trails.


As a white cisgender male, I am fully aware of many of the privileges that are afforded to me in life.  Some of them I experience while running. A perfect example took place during my run on Wednesday night.

On the docket was five miles.  I didn’t want to run three straight days along the boulevard out and back from my apartment, so I decided to head into the park near where I live.  By running along the main loop, then around the track, then along the circumference of each of the parking lots, and then along the pond before heading back to my apartment, I can usually push it to around five miles without having to head into the running trails in the marsh that lies over the bridge.  During the day, I love running in the wetlands. At night when you can’t see the animals that lurk, not so much. I have a headlamp I have used on occasion when I am feeling especially brave, but on this night, I opted for running around parking lots like the crazy person that I am.

As expected, there was nobody in the park at this time, save for a few cars passing through on their way home from a long day at work.  When I arrived at one of the remote areas of the park, that was when I noticed a parked car, but I assumed that nobody was in it. As I started running away from it, I noticed how wrong I was: the car started following me.

I didn’t think much of it until I saw the car was continuing to follow me as I crossed the long parking lot.  It maintained the same exact speed as I did and was on my tail. I didn’t want to flinch or show any sort of hesitation, so I kept going at my pace as it trailed me.  

When I got to the end of the parking lot and was prepared to turn, I knew this was my moment.  The driver hadn’t seen my face, so as I rounded the corner and was ready to come face to face with the car, I acted like it was too hot out (it definitely wasn’t).  I took off my winter hat and bulky sweatshirt to reveal a shaved head (that is complemented with a healthy amount of facial hair) and a form fitting muscle tee. As quickly as the car began following me, it was even quicker driving the hell away from there.  

I don’t share this story to brag about what a tough guy I am (I’m definitely not).  I have pulled similar moves when I would be followed when I first moved into this neighborhood, and it was much shadier than it is now.  In fact, that was a contributing factor to why I shaved my head when my hairline started receding. A lion will hunt a Thomson’s gazelle; it won’t mess with an animal it’s unsure about.  

I share this story as a word of caution.  This story could have had a different outcome, especially if I was female.  Not everyone we come across on the running trails has the best intentions. That’s why we have to be mindful and super vigilant of our surroundings.  It has happened before where I run down a block and am greeted with waves. Later on, my girlfriend runs down the same block and is greeted with leers.  It is unfair, and it makes me super appreciative that I am able to run at any time that is convenient to me without having to consider the ramifications.         

   I will say this, if I am ever mugged during a run, they will be just as disappointed as the people that have broken in to my car in the past I’m sure have been.  They will only make out with one, maybe two energy gels, and the cheapest model of a girl’s running watch (which I decided on my last run, I’m naming Cleo).

That being said, maybe I’ll opt for the marsh next time instead of the abandoned parking lots.        



Concepts I’ll Ponder – Here is where I discuss one pressing thought that has come up in my training – either in the middle of a long run, in the shower, as I drive to work.  Usually a large scale problem I am tackling.


Sometimes when I run in Liberty State Park, I think of An American Tail – an animated film I loved when I was really young.  You probably know the movie: it’s the story of Fievel, a mouse who immigrated to the United States, was separated from his family, and then spent most of the movie searching for them.  

But I specifically think about the song from the movie: “Somewhere Out There” by Linda Ronstadt and James Ingram (who seemingly is involved in almost every duet from the 1980s).  When I saw the movie for the first time and specifically remembered the song – first introduced in the film when Fievel and his sister Tanya sing to each other under the night sky even though they are miles away and looking for each other – I cried myself to sleep that night.  I was probably a few years old when I first saw it, so this is definitely one of my first memories. But I remember thinking – and dreading – what it would be like to be separated from my family: my parents, my sister, my grandparents, and my great-grandparents. Even though I hadn’t experienced anything remotely like Fievel went through, the scene had tapped into my darkest fear of losing a loved one.  

Maybe it’s seeing Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty in the background and remembering Fievel’s journey that brings my mind to this memory.  Maybe it’s the vastness of running under the clear sky that stretches as far as the eye can see across the bay. Thinking that maybe we’re all looking up at that same sky – the same clouds – on this Saturday morning.  We’re all under its protective blanket together.

I think of the distance between everyone I care about.  My sister is in Texas. My brother in Miami and potentially moving to Seattle.  Most of my closest friends are split between California, Georgia, Washington, D.C., Chicago, and Wisconsin.  I think about when my grandpa came to this country from Cuba. He was separated for awhile from my grandma and my mom, who was just a child at the time, while he tried to start a life for all of them in the U.S.  That time away must have been difficult for all of them. But it was a sacrifice that had to be made.

At some point, we also might be moving.  And I think about what it would feel like if I have to do the same thing.  To leave behind my girlfriend and my cats for a little while while I start building the foundation for our lives together.                   

The thought makes my eyes water even more than they already were with the pounding of the cold winter wind coming off of the Hudson.  But like in the movie and in the song, it is comforting to know we’re sleeping underneath the same big sky, wishing on the same bright star that we would be reunited.  It gives my run that morning direction and meaning. If I am able to cross off the weeks of a marathon training plan, I am also able to also count down any amount of time where I would have to be away from those closest to me.  Maybe the loneliness of running would be my only solace in the face of crippling sadness.

Also, can we talk about how cats are always the villains in movies?



The Writings of the Helping Friendly Book – Here is where I provide a quote of the week.  Usually from whatever I am currently reading.

“If you have worked for thirty years doing the same [thing]* you’ve hated day in and day out because you were afraid to quit and take a risk, you’ve been living like a [wimp]*.  Period, point blank. Tell yourself the truth! That you’ve wasted enough time, and that you have other dreams that will take courage to realize, so you don’t die a [pathetic wimp]*.”

– David Goggins “Can’t Hurt Me”

* – Words and phrases were altered in order to keep my blog as family-friendly as possible.



Scents and Subtle Sounds – Here is where I serve up a jam of the week.  A song that pumps me up and gets me ready to run.


“Where We’re Going” Hans Zimmer – “Interstellar: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack”

When I was training for the Chowdah Challenge, I started listening to movie soundtracks when I would warm up for runs since I stopped listening to music during them.  It didn’t have to be stereotypical soundtracks like Rocky or Chariots of Fire.  In fact, two of my favorites were the soundtracks of Inception and Interstellar, both by Hans Zimmer.

Rotten Tomatoes be damned, I actually loved Interstellar.  But truth be told, I’m a sucker for anything by Christopher Nolan, so I may be biased.  If you haven’t see it, it’s a thought-provoking film set in a dystopian future where astronauts travel through a wormhole to try and search for a new planet that humans can inhabit.  The movie deals with themes such as isolation, love, family, human connection, time travel, endurance, survival, and sacrifice. Yep, right up my wheelhouse.

The song “Where We’re Going” stood out in particular, because it came at a significant moment in the film.  As I prepare for my eleven mile run and start putting on multiple layers of clothing and stare into my Accountability Mirror, I think about how malleable time is.  Past, present, future all melds into one and affects each other. Who I was informs who I will be. The things I do now are a product of the past and affect my future.  They are all connected by one strand.

This song slows down time for me.  It grounds me to the present and allows me to view the past, present, and future and the magnitude of it all with an omniscient perspective.  It truly encapsulates the sheer power of time and space and gets me into the right frame of mind heading into a run or going to work. It lets me stare into the sky and contemplate the mysteries of the universe and life.



A Picture of Nectar – Here is where I insert the photo of the week.  I hate taking my phone on runs, so usually there is only one contender.




All of this thinking about childhood, An American Tail, the sky and the universe, time travel and Interstellar came to a synchronous conclusion when I received the above photo in a text message from my sister.  This was me probably around the time I saw An American Tail for the first time.

I wish I could talk to that kid like Matthew McConaughey did through that wall.  I want to be able to tell him to hold on tight. To be prepared for the journey. To never let that light go out.  You have no idea what lies ahead.

That same person is buried underneath it all.  Past, present, and future all melds into one. This is me.  This has always been me. It used to only come out with the assistance of psychedelics.  Now, I can summon him after a long run or a lengthy writing session or a deep conversation.

This might be more relevant to the training story than any staged photo of me running would be.  Because what are we if not a product of our pasts?



The Final Hurrah – Here is where I conclude with a poem for the week.  Sometimes about running. Sometimes about something I thought of while running.  Haikus, tankas, sonnets, limericks – everything is fair game.


The streets are empty

Howl and listen for a sound

Nobody responds




Make it a great week everyone!  This has all been wonderful, but now I’m on my way.



* – Above video was chosen, because Phish has not yet covered “Somewhere Out There.”


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