Regardless how unique you may think you are, there is someone somewhere on this earth who is doing what you are doing. It’s only logical; there are over 7 billion people on the planet. Of course there are no absolutes–Fauja Singh is, to my knowledge, the only 102 year old marathoner.
Which brings me to Ray Charbonneau. Ray is not merely a fellow runner, but fellow fifty-something year old marathoner and writer. He runs the roads of Arlington, Massachusetts, roughly 300 miles northeast from where I pound the trails of Bucks County, Pennsylvania. I wrote about Ray last year when he self-published Chasing the Runner’s High. Well, Ray is at it again with his latest effort Overthinking the Marathon.
Overthinking journalizes his 17-week training program to prepare for the Cape Cod Marathon, his twenty-first, where he PR’d (personal record) at age 41 at 3:13:28. The book is kind of like hanging out with Ray, his closest running partner and wife Ruth, and his friends at the Sommerville Road Runners. If you are a runner from Boston or the surrounding area, it is likely you run some of the same roads and races as Ray. Perhaps you have even passed him along the trail, or sat next to him at one of his many stops like Casey’s Pub, or coffee houses, diners and other local establishments.
Ray shares the strategies that helped him succeed in running sub-3:30:30 marathons, not shabby for a fifty-plus year old runner. He follows some common training techniques like tempo runs and hill training, but also cross-trains, cycles, kayaks, meditates and stresses the importance of rest. Ray is also human. He gets injuries and goes into detail about orthotics, inserts, podiatrist, hang nails, blisters, calluses and sore body parts, and provides pictures to prove it. Some of his preparation might cross into the overzealous, like his pre-race haircut, nipple caps and the color of his jockstrap, but I suppose anyone who aspires to run 26.2 miles could be considered a tad extreme, myself included. What makes it all work, as in Ray’s other books, is his openness and wit.
For those who ever wondered how their performance compares with the days of their youth, Ray analyzes the effect of age on performance. He provides references to USA Track & Field, Good Running Guide, Team Oregon calculators that normalize finishing times so that an aging runner can compare their performance with their peers as well as with their own past performance.
Ray also has an unconventional approach to training–train long. Conventional wisdom is to build up to a twenty-mile training run before a marathon. Ray advocates going long, a thirty-two mile training run, reasoning that to train for a specific distance you should exceed the distance you will run in the race. When a runner has more than twenty marathons and several ultra-marathons in his resume, he’s earned the right to throw convention out the window; plus, when you hit the fifty-year mark, you go with what works.
Only a runner who writes can appreciate that writing a book requires the endurance of a marathoner, and there lies a takeaway from Ray’s book. The stamina and persistence to see a book through to publication is a grand achievement. Another takeaway is that a mortal recreational runner, with proper training, sacrifice and dedication can whip their body into marathon shape.
For more on Ray Charbonneau’s work, visit his website at http://www.y42k.com/index.html