UNSECURED: the ruse of marathon security

It’s been three years since the Boston Marathon bombing killed three spectators and injured 264 others. Since then, officials at major marathons have instituted stringent, new security measures. From bomb-sniffing dogs to metal detectors, runner-only zones, and clear plastic bags for runners’ extra clothes or gear, the focus on security can be intense. It is also misplaced and ineffective in preventing havoc.

In September, a would-be copy-cat narrowly missed harming scores of runners at a local 5K on the Jersey Shore by placing a bomb in a trash can along the race route. Officials say an unrelated delay to the start of the race saved hundreds of runners from passing the trash can as it detonated. The next day, a major half-marathon took 12,000 runners through the streets of Philadelphia. Hundreds of uniformed Police lined the route – all watching the race. They were watching the runners – their backs to thousands of spectators – even though there is no history of race participants causing harm or mayhem, anywhere in the world.

Before the start, most runners strip down to thin layers. It’s pretty hard to hide anything under most runners’ race kits. Major marathons tend to happen during the cool months, with morning temperatures often in the 20’s to 40’s. Because spectators are standing still, sometimes for hours, waiting to see their friends or relatives in the race, they’re wearing coats, hats, gloves. That’s why the Boston bombers blended in. They looked just like everyone else. And the Police weren’t watching the spectators.

Major marathons require thousands of volunteers at the start and finish line areas and along the course. Marathon volunteers have near total access to the runners. At most races, volunteers have no security checks, no screening, no proof of ID, not even a name on a list to be verified. They don’t hand over their backpacks for examination. Most volunteers walk into their roles with no official orientation. They just show up race morning and get a minute or two of “training” from another volunteer. They’re not trained in observing crowd behavior, how to spot someone acting strangely, how to spot a suspicious bag – they’re not even told that they should.

If race directors really want to protect the tens of thousands of runners and hundreds of thousands of spectators at major marathons, they need to focus on the most vulnerable locations and moments of the race. First, the start corrals, where runners are packed like sardines. Runners are focused solely on the challenge ahead. They are nervous. They are fidgeting with their shoes, clothes, and watches. They are not on the lookout for dangerous people or objects.

Race directors need to post trained, diligent volunteers at the entrances to the start corrals, or they need to post paid security, or Police. Runners are required to wear race bibs with their individual race numbers, clearly visible on the front of their bodies. This makes it very easy to make sure no one gets into the race’s most vulnerable zone without the credible appearance of a legitimate runner. As it is, at most large races, just about anyone can walk right into any start corral, unchallenged by untrained volunteers.

Race courses are porous. There is no fence along most of a marathon course. Anyone can jump into the middle of the crowd of runners at any time. At prime spectator locations along a course, thousands of spectators can be packed together, like they were at the finish line of the 2013 Boston Marathon. Everyone is watching the runners flow by in the street. No one is watching the spectators. Remember: the Boston marathon bombers looked like spectators, not runners.

After finishing the race, runners gather in recovery areas to reunite with family and friends, retrieve gear bags, and refuel after the race. Although not as tightly packed as in the start corrals, recovery zones have thousands of tired runners, along with families and friends. They are not on the lookout for dangerous people or bags.

There is no way to prevent every imaginable attack on crowds of runners or spectators. But for race directors and security officials, an important first step would be to spend less energy on disarming runners – who have no history of causing mayhem – and more energy on the non-runners along the course.

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Broad Street Run 2016

I just rediscovered this quick time-lapse video of the rainy 2016 Broad Street Run. This view from inside the race is from my chest-mounted GoPro.

Broad Street Run 2016

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Rev3 Pocono Mountains 70.3, race report

Race Report: Rev3 Pocono Mountains 70.3, August 7, 2016

Full Garmin 910xt data set.

Rev3 has had a great reputation, almost as long as I’ve been doing triathlon. Because of that reputation and near unanimous praise by triathletes (who as a group love to hate companies that produce races), I have always had a Rev3 race in mind – often on my potential list for the season, but because of timing or injury, this was my first Rev3 race. It won’t be my last.

From check-in to post-finish line, the Rev3 crew really did make me feel like they were glad I was there. With a hand-written welcome note in my race packet, they had me at hello. It wasn’t just a generic note: one participant posted a picture of her note, which included wishes for a happy birthday. The race packet included branded race number tattoos – an extra expense for the race but a huge step above volunteers scribbling on my arms and legs on race morning with markers that are already dead from the sweat and sunscreen from a few hundred other athletes.


Breakfast, like most race mornings, was three scoops of Generation UCAN chocolate with protein, for a total of 54 grams of carbohydrates and 330 calories. From my room in the Shawnee Inn, I walked about – 45 seconds – to Transition Two to set up my run gear, and then hop on a bus for the quick three-mile ride to Transition One and the swim start. I sat with an Air Force member who was on vacation from his post in Okinawa and visiting family. We talked about this race, past races we’ve both done, what’s next on our schedules. When sitting with another triathlete on a shuttle to the race start, there is never a shortage of topics for conversation.

Swim:  1.2 miles, 0:45:36

The swim course was in the mighty Delaware River. Surrounded by Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area, with forest covered hillsides on both sides of the river, this is one of the most scenic swim courses in triathlon. With an air temperature of 64 degrees, and water temperature of 76, a light fog danced over the river. Not enough to limit visibility, but just enough to add a quiet, magical look to the dawn.

After entering the water from a boat ramp, in a few easy strokes I was in deep water and ready for the in-water start. Although the first third of the swim is upstream, the current is relatively mild, protected by a bend in the river that sends most of the current to the far bank. This section didn’t feel like pushing against much of a current, but when you pass over aquatic vegetation and see it laying downstream because of the current, you know you’re pushing. At the end of the upstream section, I turned across the current to the far bank, and then really felt the current as I flew downstream. I came out of the water at 40:18, a good time for me, and then ran roughly a quarter-mile to transition for an official swim time of 45:36.

I came out of the water 10th of 21 men in my age group. I have been last my age group out of the water. More than once. I am perpetually lazy in swim training, rarely putting in as much time as I know I should. This season, with a torn meniscus and tendonitis in nearby tendons, I have been putting in more swim time. I swam my fastest 1.2 miles in three years at Eagleman, this year, and this water-exit time beat that by nearly three minutes.

Rev3 swim exit

Transition 1: 0:02:53

This was a very easy transition. Maybellene (my bike) was waiting just inside the entrance to T1, so I quickly got to my designated spot, pulled off my wetsuit, sprayed sunscreen, donned my helmet and bike shoes, and pulled Maybellene out of the rack. A quick jog to the Bike Out exit and I was on my way.

Bike: 56 miles, 3:22:27, 16.6 mph

The official course map says this bike course has 2,347 feet of climbing over the 56 miles. That’s not huge climbing, but not inconsiderable. At eight weeks before Ironman Maryland (with less than 150 feet elevation gain over twice the distance), I haven’t been doing a lot of hill work this season. The first four miles of the bike course are mostly all climbing, including one rise of a couple hundred yards that made me look down to make sure my brake wasn’t stuck on my wheel. As with every part of the race, I stuck with my heart rate and perceived effort plan and cranked out the climbs, watching some people huff and puff past me and others fall behind me, huffing and puffing.

After that slow four miles of climbing, the course turned onto US 209 and calmed down. Significantly. Roughly 45 miles of the bike course is in 209, which is mostly straight, with mildly rolling hills. With a long section of non-technical, closed roads, this was where I could settle into the aero bars and focus on staying in my zone, sticking to my hydration and nutrition plan, and enjoy the ride.

For hydration/nutrition, I had four bottles on board: each with one scoop of Generation UCAN unflavored carb powder, plus one pack of UCAN Hydrate Lemon-Lime. I drank three full bottles and just a couple swigs from the fourth. I had a UCAN Snack chocolate bar on board just in case I needed it. I didn’t feel like I needed the fuel, but having something solid on the bike is a good break from all-liquid fuel. I ate the bar after the second hour on the bike. Chocolate and peanut butter – yum! Total carbs on the bike: about 95. Calories: about 480. Old-school nutrition advice for endurance athletes is to take in a minimum of 300 calories per hour. But it’s not about calories, it’s about fuel. It’s about training your body for metabolic efficiency. It’s about burning the never-ending supply of fat at a higher rate than the always-limited amount of blood glucose.

Gen UCAN fuel Rev3 Pocono Mountains 70.3

I stopped at an aid station at Mile 31 to pee and to add some petroleum jelly to the nether regions to avert chafing. Comparing this day to Eagleman, which is notoriously hot, year after year, I did not pee once the bike or run, despite drinking nearly twice as much on that hot day.

Rev3 bike 2

Transition 2: 0:02:15

I rolled into T2 feeling ready to run. My left knee (which has been bothering me since the winter, with an oblique tear to the medial meniscus and tendonitis in nearby tendons) was not feeling great, but not as bad as it has felt at times. Nancy was waiting near Transition, so we chatted for a minute while I was changing into my running shoes. With Nancy at the Transition fence, I was able to get a quick kiss before heading out on the run. I think that’s what made the run so good.

Run: 13.1 miles, 2:29:53, 11:37/mile

Most of the run course is on crushed gravel paths. Shaded, crushed gravel paths. In the forest. Is this my new favorite run course? Maybe, just maybe. With concerns about my knee, I planned to take it easy on the run and just find a comfortable pace to cover the half-marathon. Heading out of Transition, the first section is flat and then turns onto River Road with some rolling hills, before going off road for the rest of the out and back course. I stopped to pee at the aid station at Mile 2. As I alluded to in the bike section, the hotter the race, the more fluids go to sweat and less to waste. Although Rev3 was at least ten degrees cooler than Eagleman, this year, it still got into the 80’s during the run and I wouldn’t want to take in any less fluid. It’s worth a stop or two over 57.2 miles of biking and running to make sure I’m adequately hydrated.

There are some HILLS on this run: two at 60 feet and one at 80 feet on each loop. Most people walked the hills, just like they always do. The thought crossed my mind, but as usual I told that thought to shut up. I know I can eat hills better than most, and in doing that, I put people behind me because they just don’t pick up the pace after giving into that surrender mind set. Given my lack of running distance and volume this season, I didn’t expect to do much damage on the hills, but still I left ‘em feeling defeated.

At the end of the first loop, with the turn-around about a quarter-mile before the finish line, I headed back out for loop two, an exact repeat of the out-and-back route. I picked up my pace and held it through loop two.

For fuel and hydration, I decided to take my Fuel Belt with four, eight-ounce bottles, to stick with the Generation UCAN plan. Two bottles had one scoop, each, of chocolate UCAN; and two had one packet, each, of UCAN Hydrate. Every mile I had a drink from one of the bottles, alternating chocolate (carbs/protein) and lemon-lime (electrolytes only). At each aid station I had a gulp of water and dumped a cup of cold water on my head.

Rev3 run

As I closed in on the last quarter mile, Nancy was sitting beside the course. She didn’t know it, but I had already planned to have her cross the finish line with me. While most triathlon companies have banned family members from crossing the finish line with athletes, Rev3 still allows it. Our son, Ben, who was eight when I started doing triathlon, ran across a few memorable finish lines with me: my first 70.3, in St. Croix USVI; my first marathon, the Philadelphia Marathon; and the New York City Triathlon. But Nancy had not shared the finish line experience with me, until now. As we ran that last quarter mile together, she apologized for slowing me down, but I assured her – quite honestly – I wasn’t slowing down much because of her. We let another athlete pass us in the finish chute so we could enjoy the moment, and then shared a quick kiss under the finish line banner.

Post race:

Some races give you a small, cold, wet, hand towel and a water bottle when you cross the finish line. Rev3 came through with a towel about half the size of a bath towel, a cold water bottle, and a large, cold Gatorade bottle. I laid down in some shade with the cold, wet towel on my legs, and poured the cold water over my torso and head. After I cooled down, I filled a plate at the generous post race buffet, and then Nancy and I walked over to the Delaware River where I laid down in the shallows for the soothing effect of water flowing over my tired but wired body.


A week later, I’m seriously thinking about building my 2017 season around the Rev3 schedule, with my annual full-distance race at Cedar Point.

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Race Report: New Jersey State Triathlon (Olympic distance)

Garmin data: New Jersey State Triathlon

My plan for this tri was to go hard. It’s only an olympic distance tri at a point where my Ironman training is at full distance for swim, nearing 100 milers for bike, but very low volume running because of my meniscus tear.

Pre-race: breakfast was 3 scoops Generation UCAN chocolate while drivng to race. When I started using UCAN in 2012, I’ve use this same breakfast for all races and it’s served me well. For longer races, it gets me off to a good start that lasts through an Ironman swim and then time to get settled into the bike and more UCAN. For shorter races like this, it’s enough to last to the finish line.

Water temp was 82 degrees – not wetsuit legal, so I swam in my DeSoto Liftoil. I saw at the top of my three-stroke-per-breath effort. Kept my lines pretty well with good and frequent siting on bouys. My swim cap came off, twice, which has never happened before. This season, I finally started putting my cap on over my goggle straps to insure I don’t lose my goggles. For sure, having the cap come off and spending about 10 seconds getting it back on takes less time than getting goggles back on, readjusting them, etc. Time of 36 minutes and change was slower than I had hoped, but better than my last two Oly tris, so I’ll take it.

Bike: plan was to push an average of 20 mph, which is harder than I’ve gone for this distance for quite some time. HR was between mid-150s and low-160s throughout. I’ve only hit a 20 mph average for one tri, ever, which was at NJ State Tri in 2013 on the day that was my Oly PR. Garmin says my average was 19.4 mph. Official results say 22.82. The question is the bike distance. Race guide says 20 miles, which is roughly right with Garmin. But with official bike time of 1:00:28, the official speed of 22.82 would make the bike course almost 23 miles. Will have to check with them in a few days but for now I’m going with Garmin. Had only one water bottle on bike, with 1.5 NUUN tabs. This race has no aid stations on bike. Did not pee while on bike.

Run: plan was to go hard as long as my knee could handle it. Although my pace of 9:31 (official time says 9:21)  was hardly “hard,” it was hot and I had just pushed a bike leg harder than I would in a race i was trying to place well. I ran at the top of my three-step-per-breath pace (HR mid-160s most of the run). Knee felt good most of the time – had a couple moments of discomfort but nothing bad. Did not pee during run – not until after finish line.

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Eagleman 70.3 2016 (race report)


Eagleman 2016 was my 100th race since toeing the line for the first time at the Rothman 8K, November 21, 2004. My seventh Eagleman.

Swim: with new DeSoto T1 First Wave, I swam my fastest 1.2 mile race time in three years, and my fastest Eagleman. That’s not just the wetsuit – with a meniscus tear, I’ve been doing more swmming than usual, also strength training for more power in my stroke. With seven Eman, that covers a range of wetsuit and non-wetsuit years, weather, wind, and tide stages. They moved the swim course outbound a bit this year so we didn’t have to wade/walk the last 1/4 mile. Official swim time 44:29. 97th in M50-54. 982nd male. 1388th overall.

T1: 5:19, my second-slowest half-ironman T1. My only slower was at Mooseman, when goggles failed and I had to wait in T1 until my vision cleared enough to see again. Stopped to pee in a port-a-pottie because we had no time to take care of business after getting in the water at the start.

Bike: with reduced run prep because of meniscus tear, I was perhaps even more vigilant to stay in my aerobic zone on the bike so I could make it through the run. Lots of head wind, so just kept cranking through it in my zone. Turned into tailwind and smoked it, making up some time. And then accidentally hit lap button on my Garmin so “bike” became “run” at about mile 43. So the rest of bike portion recorded as run. Came off bike 3:16:51 (17.07 mph), my slowest Eman bike. 101st M50-54 (lost 4 spots from swim). 959th males (passed 23). 1311th overall (passed 77). Bike nutrition/hydration: took in full bottle with three scoops Generation UCAN, two full bottles of NUUN, and probably a full bottle of water from aid stations. Also poured cold water into helmet vents and over face and torso at each aid station. Did not pee. A woman went down hard a little in front of me at mile 4.1 – a big dog launched at her and either hit her or she went down trying to avoid it. Several of us stopped with her. Blood on head, probably around ear. Said shoulder hurt (clavicle?). Her husband was there, also racing, and after it appared she was not critical, he urged the rest of us to go on while he waited with her for medical.

T2: 3:29, well behind my normal Eman T2, but not my slowest.

Run: No expectations for the run, given my meniscus tear and reduced running volume. With Hoka One One Bondi 4, I just hoped to be able to find a comfortable pace and hold it. And I did. Run time 2:35:07 (11:50/mile), close to two minutes faster than last year’s super hot run. 77th M50-54 (passed 24 after bike). 799th male (passed 160 after bike). 1103rd overall (passed 208 after run). Started with a full bottle of NUUN, which lasted until about mile 4. Then took on Gatorade at each aid station. Had volunteers put ice in my DeSoto Skin Cooler long sleeve’s back/spine pockets at each aid station. That really helped with heat management. Also water on head at each aid station. Did not pee.

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Because I Ran Without Music Today

Because I ran without music today
The birds sang in the woods
Their voices filled the morning
With joyous, trilling crescendos

Because I ran without music today
The children played in the warm sunshine
Chortling and screaming
Celebrating freedom after a long, cold winter

Because I ran without music today
The dogs played in the park
Panting heavily as they lay in the grass
After catching the ball one too many times

Because I ran without music today
Neighbors greeted each other on the street
During momentary breaks
Helping gardens come back to life

The world was alive
And I was in it
I was alive
Because I ran without music today

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Ten Reasons to Run (in addition to the fun)

Runner’s World gives you ten good reasons to run, based on researchon running’s benefits to your body.  So, what are you waiting for?

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