Monthly Archives: December 2013

18 Weeks to 26.2 Miles: My Marathon Training by the Numbers

Ready or not, I’m running the Boston Marathon on April 21, 2014.

This race will be inspiring, emotional, thrilling, crowded, grueling, and competitive.  I’m exhausted just thinking about it – no way can I prepare for a marathon with this kind of mental baggage.  Last year’s tragedy at the finish line guarantees that this year’s race will be heavy with meaning and symbolism.

There used to be a sidewalk here...

There used to be a sidewalk here…

If I think too hard about what this marathon means to me and to Boston, I’ll spend the next 18 weeks sitting here at my desk churning out heart-wrenching essays and crumpled Kleenex rather than pounding out the necessary miles.

So for now, I’ll sticking to the cold, hard facts about my training (cold and hard perfectly describes the thick layer of ice currently covering every single running route within 10 miles of my house).

Zero: the number of pounds I’ve lost since I started training.

Everyone warned me this would happen but I didn’t believe them.  With all this running, how can I not lose weight?  Maybe I’m just building muscle (this must be the most over-used excuse of all time but it is such a good one).  Possibly my early carbo-loading regimen is to blame. It is unbelievably easier than the running regimen.

Five: the number of years I’ve lived 2 blocks from course.

boston-marathon-19For years, I’ve stumbled out my front door with chilly fingers wrapped snugly around a coffee mug and wandered over to Commonwealth Ave to watch first the wheelchair racers, then the elite runners, then the incredibly fit masses, and finally the true commoners who bring up the rear.  I’ve cheered, I’ve clapped, and I’ve thanked God for blessing me with enough common sense to know better.  Who on earth in his right mind would run 26.2 miles when not being chased by a lion?  What was I thinking when I signed up for this?

Sixty-something: the number of songs I will listen to during the race.

I’m an unapologetic ear bud runner. My playlist is part tribute to the 80’s (my glory days) and part new stuff my kids find.  I’ll hit “shuffle” in Hopkinton and see what shakes out.  Will I hear Indigo Girls ballads while I run through a tunnel of Wellesley students?  Will Queen’s ever-motivational “Fat Bottomed Girls” play as I climb Heartbreak Hill?  My life experience has taught me that God has a sense of humor, so I’m thinking yes and yes.

Seventy: the age I’d have to be to meet the women’s qualifying standard at my expected pace.

Alas (or thank goodness) – I am not yet 70 years old.  I’ll be tremendously impressed with myself if when I turn 70, I can still run at my current 43-year-old pace.  Based on the time standards, I’m as likely to qualify for the Boston Marathon as I am to win the Nobel Prize or become a Hooters waitress (even though I’m slow, I have a “runner’s build”).  And the Boston Athletic Association (B.A.A.) doesn’t give special consideration to other talents such as blogging – not even for writers who can use “Nobel Prize” and “Hooters” in the same sentence.

Five Thousand: the number of dollars I need to raise for charity.getcashforsurveys1

Of the 36,000 official entrants in the 2014 marathon, about 30% of us are running for charity.  The sweaty stragglers tromping through faster runners’ discarded cups and empty gel packets have an extra reason to celebrate crossing that finish line.  I will be crossing for Sole Train, a running and mentoring program that’s part of Trinity Boston Foundation.  In their words, they “aim to inspire the city’s youth to realize their full potential and accomplish goals they never thought possible.”


I may not be a city youth, but this suburban mom got caught in the crossfire of their inspiration anyway.  By necessity I’ve become a shameless plugger for their cause, which is now my own.  Click here to help me with my fundraising!



Time for me to sign off – I think I see bare pavement where the ice is beginning to melt, and the roads are calling.  The miles need running.  I’m all about the numbers.



On This “Giving Tuesday,” Go With Your Gut

After stuffing ourselves nearly comatose with turkey and pie last week, Americans everywhere are grateful for the clever little weekday nicknames telling us what to do in the immediate aftermath: “Black Friday” is the day for standing in a freezing line outside Best Buy before madly racing toward electronics we can barely afford. “Cyber Monday” is the day for pretending to work while surreptitiously searching the web for the best deal on designer handbags.  And today, “Giving Tuesday,” is the day to write checks to our favorite charities.

But wait – is it OK to just support the charities we believe in?  Don’t we first need quantifiable proof that they have low overhead, maximum efficiency, and measurable results?

On this Giving Tuesday I’ve been bombarded by links to articles and essays telling me how to evaluate charities and how to know if they deserve my dollars.  I recognize most of the advice as “industry best practice” and “supported by all the experts.”  There was even one essay I thought was exceptionally good.

But sometimes I ignore it all.

I think we’ve gone way overboard in expecting charities to prove that they are making a difference.  Do I want to know that a food bank is actually distributing food?  Yes.  Do I want to be certain the food is going to people who really need it?  Sure.  Do I require evidence that those clients are better off with groceries than without?  Nope – I just believe it.

kids readingI also know an organization that buys books for poor preschoolers.  These are children who don’t have many books in their homes and haven’t heard “Green Eggs and Ham” eight million times like I did as a child, and like my own children did.  Measuring the impact of such a program requires collecting data from busy, sometimes transient people and keeping track of their children as they move on to school.  It’s hard, and expensive.  So can I just have faith and believe that these books make a positive difference in the life of each child?

Yes!  I believe it.  Does that mean I’m a bad philanthropist?

No – it means I trust my gut.donate

A few disclaimers: I don’t dispute the basic premise that nonprofits and charities should be well run and effective – and true to their missions.  No one wants to give money to an organization that offers sky-high salaries, gilded offices, and free Starbucks coffee yet serves only a handful of clients.

In addition, large nonprofits with big budgets and copious resources should absolutely invest in tools to measure their impact.  That’s how we learn what works and what doesn’t.

But smaller organizations that do awesome work at a grassroots level, providing high-touch service and helping their very deserving clients overcome one insurmountable challenge after another – they should be freer to focus on those clients and their immediate needs.

After many years of volunteering and serving on boards and running fundraisers for a variety of nonprofits, I’ve observed an obsession with outcomes that sometimes defies common sense.  Donors demand it!  Foundations want to see impact!  I get it.  But when a bare-bones organization is practically spending more money and resources trying to measure its work than it spends on the work itself, priorities beg to be reconsidered.

Nonprofits, donors, and foundations aren’t unique in sometimes missing the forest for the trees.  Actual scientists – who are supposed to be smarter than the rest of us – have also spent time and money proving the obvious. The National Institute on Drug Abuse sponsored a study that revealed – wait for it – that taking both cocaine AND alcohol together is worse than taking just one or the other. 

Also in breaking news, this study shows that going bald can be upsetting for men who preferred having hair! Even more unbelievable: apparently The British Medical Journal (BMJ) decided that the scientific research canon wasn’t complete without this study proving that sword swallowing can be dangerous.

So here’s my pearl of wisdom for Giving Tuesday: go with your gut.  If a charity sends out a funding appeal on embossed linen stationery that’s delivered by a horse-drawn velvet and mahogany carriage, you can pass.  But if a local organization asks for money to match kids with mentors or to help women fleeing domestic abuse go back to school and find work, consider just believing that those actions make sense. Check out their websites, call someone in the office to ask about their programs if you want, and GIVE.

Tuesday and every day.