How Joe Took 55 Minutes Off His Marathon to Qualify for Boston — at Age 51

If ever a season has punched me in the face to say, “Hey idiot, notice me!”,  fall did it today.

With planning for the release of the book and the cross-country tour to accompany it, the past month has been the busiest of my life — I’m ashamed to admit that I’m far beyond out-of-touch with the weather and the season and so many things that matter. I take no pride whatsoever in being busy, but without any experience in the book-launch-and-tour department, it happened.

But today — coincidentally or not, the same day as the autumnal equinox — I looked out the window and noticed that fall had arrived. Erin roasted some sugar pumpkins from our garden using this method from Oh She Glows, and tonight I’ll use some of the output to make risotto (without the butter or cheese, though — that recipe is from before I was vegan).

Football is on, an evening run is planned, and pumpkin ale is in the fridge … fall, I am noticing (and appreciating) you.

But what does fall have to do with the title of the post? Quite a bit, actually.

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What It Means to Be a Runner

Plenty of people who run, marathoners even, will tell you they’re not really runners.

There’s no shortage of posts from running bloggers claiming they don’t deserve the title, despite logging 30 or 50 or more miles every week. (Here’s mine, from over three years ago.)

For me, it took six marathons and a Boston qualification before I began to think of myself as a runner. But now that I’m comfortable with the name, I understand that being a runner has absolutely nothing to do with achievement.

Rather, it’s a mindset, a sense of connection with other runners … something that you just feel.

You feel it when you pass the same runner, day in and day out on your little neighborhood loop, and exchange that almost imperceptible nod that says, I understand.

You feel it when you’re in the car and you drive by a runner laboring to get her day’s miles in, and you wish that your little tap on the horn and thumbs-up could somehow express to her, I know exactly what you’re feeling, I’ve been there; come on, you can get through it.

And you felt it yesterday — Patriots’ Day, Marathon Monday, our sport’s proudest day — when you heard that something had gone horribly wrong at the Boston Marathon.

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How Should You Breathe When You Run? A Remarkably Effective Approach to Easier Breathing

The mental image is of a hurricane: immensely powerful winds moving at tremendously high speeds, but at the center of it all — in the eye — peace and stillness.

It’s an appealing ideal for how you should run — the winds, of course, being your limbs; the eye, your lungs and heart.

And it’s for real. Since I’ve started running this way, breathing this way, I’ve gotten my share of funny looks from the people out for a stroll in the opposite direction whom I pass. I’m moving along at a decent pace — okay, maybe more like a breeze than a hurricane — but the visible and audible signs of stress are none.

No huffing and puffing, no familiar “runner’s mask,” where the mouth hangs slightly open to help the nose take in air. Instead, a calm, closed-mouth smile and an unlabored “Hi there.”

Whereas I used to take a full 30 breaths per minute (in for three steps, out for three steps, at 180 steps per minute), I’ve slashed that number in half, often dipping down to only 12 breaths each minute (five seconds per) on flat or downhill stretches. And with these longer, deeper breaths comes a drastically slower heart rate — hovering around 125, when at a similar pace in the past, the slightest hill, headwind, or even an upbeat song on the iPod would push me over my target rate of 140.

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Sometimes the Goal Just Feels Right

A few days ago, I stepped outside for my run and looked down to start my watch, just like any other day.

It read 24:32. Twenty-four hours, thirty-two minutes. I must have forgotten to press “stop” after my run the day before.

That’s when it hit me just how long a 100-mile race is. Although simply to finish is the main goal, 24 hours would be the number to gun for. Many runners take longer than that to finish, but some races won’t award you a precious belt buckle if you do. And some ultrarunners say you haven’t really “run” a hundred until you’ve done one in 24 hours.

But why, out of the blue, am I talking about a 100-miler?

In case you weren’t reading 18 months ago, I actually signed up for one back then, but never did it. And in a way, I think that particular goal — one that I really wasn’t ready for, one that overwhelmed me, and one that I now realize was only an attempt to keep my flame of motivation burning — is the thing that actually snuffed that flame out for a while.

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The Boston Marathon, and What It Takes to Get There

Today, as you probably know, is Boston Marathon day.

My medal from 2011, and the only one that will remain when I downsize my medal collection soon.

One year ago, I ran it. It was amazing.

Two years ago, I was eligible to run, but I didn’t because my son was born just two days before the race.

(The silver lining is that a few weeks prior, I said I was going to skip his birth to run the race, in an April Fool’s joke that resulted in the loss of many friends and readers but was nonetheless an instant classic.)

And just two and a half years ago, I qualified.

Qualifying for Boston had been my goal since I signed up to run my very first marathon back in 2002, and brazenly wrote down “3:10:00” — the time I would need in order to qualify — as my projected finish time.

Pretty good estimate … I was only off by an hour and 43 minutes. I should have known something was up when I lined up in the starting corral, just behind the elites, and surrounded by serious athletes with crazy calf muscles who were obviously in a different league than I was.

Anyway, I know how inspired I used to feel on Patriots’ Day when I would see all the coverage of the marathon and envision myself one day running it, even when I wasn’t yet close to being fast enough. So I figured I’d post a few links and tips today, just in case you’re in the same boat I was.

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5 Steps I Used to Take 104 Minutes Off My Marathon

Over the past two years, I’ve written plenty on No Meat Athlete about the changes I made to get fast enough to qualify for Boston.

I’ve talked about how I stopped getting injured, how I improved my form, and the mindset that was required to take that much time off my first marathon.

But it was all scattered among lots of posts — some bit-size tips here, a few more there. Good information, but hard to put together into any sort of cohesive plan.

Not anymore.

Yesterday I published a huge, 15-page PDF report about what I did to get so much faster. It’s called The BQ Blueprint: 5 Keys to Running Your Fastest Marathon and Qualifying for Boston.

It’s the most I’ve ever written about getting faster and qualifying for Boston, and it’s entirely free to download. You’ll get it immediately when you sign up here.

What’s in the blueprint?

The BQ Blueprint is a “30,000-foot level” guide that brings together the major pieces of the puzzle, so you’ll be able to see the big picture of getting faster, instead of getting caught up in all the nitty-gritty details (more on those in a minute, though).

If you’re in the same boat I was, where you just know you’ve got potential to be so much faster — maybe even qualify for Boston — but it’s not happening, then this report will walk you through the steps I actually took to get there, so that you can apply them to your own running and start seeing real results.

There’s one more thing that a lot of people have told me they like about this report — in it, I detail my progress through my first six marathons, so that you can get a reasonable estimate of what’s possible for your situation. I also explain the major factors that I now believe contributed to each incremental improvement.

And as for all those nitty-gritty details I mentioned?

Well, Jason Fitzgerald, running coach and author at Strength Running and my partner in creating Run Your BQ, has got you covered there. Tomorrow he’s going to be sending out a follow-up report of his own, about what needs to be included in any serious marathon training program (and what doesn’t), for anyone who has signed up to our list.

This stuff won’t be available for long, so don’t miss out. Sign up to download the free BQ Blueprint report, and let me know what you think of it or if you’ve got any questions at all. Enjoy!



The Boston-Qualifying Mindset

“Would you like me to give you a formula for success? It’s quite simple, really. Double your rate of failure.” – Thomas Watson, IBM

I just came across this quote in a blog post called Failure Club, by Eric at Roc the Run. The post is about Eric’s dedication to qualify for the Boston Marathon, no matter how badly he has to fail in order to get there. For me, it was an incredibly moving post to read.

The best part? Eric is not even close to qualifying right now.

You know that please-let-this-be-over-before-I-puke feeling that it takes to run a 5K PR? Well, to qualify for Boston, Eric would need to hold his current best 5K pace for an entire marathon.

But you know what? I think he will do it.

How can I say this, when I don’t know anything else about him? Because his post grabbed hold of my soul and shook it, the way a piece of music, a line in a favorite book, or the smile of your child does, when you recognize in it something that is purely, unmistakably you.

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How Tom Lost 30 Pounds and Went from ‘Average’ to Plant-Based Marathoner

Tom in the summer of 2008


That’s how Tom Giammalvo describes his health and lifestyle prior to 2010. Not atrocious, not disgusting, not embarrassing. Not any of the extreme, negative descriptors we’ve come to expect with stories of transformation. Just average.

And that’s why his is the perfect one to share. As far as his health was concerned, Tom wasn’t the guy you see on The Biggest Loser. Instead, he was your next door neighbor.

Tom is an RN at Falmouth Hospital in Massachusetts. When he worked night shifts in the intensive care unit, the odd hours made it difficult to find a healthy routine.

The way he describes it, “I ate an average American diet. Food was the least of my worries.”

At the peak, Tom weighed around 190 pounds. Just 0.9 below average.

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