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The faith of Hall

It can be an uncomfortable relationship, the one between sports and faith. It's not something Americans like to mix together, in part because it can smack of insincerity and self importance. Does God (or the deity of your choice) really care whether you make a free throw, a tackle, a catch or win a game? Doesn't the universe have more important things to do?

But there are athletes for whom their faith is an integral part of their lives and separating it from talking about their sport is just plain unnatural.

Such seems to be the case with American marathoner Ryan Hall.

Pretty much every story about Hall which includes any detail will touch upon his Christian faith. 

And regardless of your own religious views, there's a much larger picture to what he's talking about.

In a story published this week in the London Times Online, Hall shares that should he win Sunday's New York City Marathon and the $130,000 purse, he plans to give the money away to charity. Hall says in the article: 

"If I could change someone's life or have a medal around my neck, then I'd change someone's life. .... Whether you're Christian or non-Christian, you can be inspired by someone running for something different to just sport."

Make no mistake about it, Hall is a driven competitor. Disappointed with his 10th place finish in Beijing he has his eyes on gold for London in 2012. Winning is important.

It's just not the only reason to run.

Hall has used the platform his status as an elite runner created to get involved in several charities. He and his wife, Sara, traveled to Zambia last November with Team World Vision, a Christian organization whose projects include helping African villages establish their own clean water supply. 

This year, they launched their own organization, The Hall Steps Foundation, which will work with the clean water project of Team World Vision, help in the fight against human trafficking with International Justice Mission and fund a home in Kenya through Global Children's Movement.

The foundation also has intentions of starting a mentoring running program in the United States pairing runners with at-risk kids and entering a local race together.

Plenty of athletes do incredible work with their not-for-profit organizations. Hall isn't particularly special in that way.

But there aren't many athletes who in a major feature article in Runner's World would list prayer among his five rules for successful marathon training, along with eating smart and getting enough sleep.

He also lists giving your runs a purpose a key to successful training.

"Running for a charity -- in my case World Vision -- has revolutionized my running," he said in the article in the November issue. "Nothing compares to the feeling of going out on a training run and knowing that I'm part of an effort that's touching thousands of lives. I hope to build this into my legacy that outlives my records. I think everyone should run for a cause."

There's nothing wrong at all in running for yourself.

But there's something powerful in running for something else, whether your raising money, raising awareness or just racing with a different intention in your heart.

Perhaps before I run today's 10K race in Chestnut Ridge Park, I'll set an intention for something greater than just my own performance, something a bit bigger than just surviving up the hill known as "Mother."

Saying a prayer, or a whisper of gratitude to the universe, well, that never hurts.

--- Amy Moritz
Follow Journey to the Finish Line on Twitter at www.twitter.com/amymoritz

Welcome to NYC Marathon weekend

It's New York City Marathon weekend the buzz in the running community continues around American Ryan Hall.

The 27-year-old Hall has unofficially been anointed "The Great American Marathoning Hope" -- the guy who can compete with the best East Africans. The guy who can bring a major marathon win to the United States for the first time in decades.

And when NBC airs it's same day taped-coverage, from 2-4 p.m. on Sunday, you can be there will be generous focus on Hall.

Hall In 2007 Hall broke the American half marathon record, winning the Aramco Houston half in 59:43. He then won the U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials at a Central Park but finished a disappointing 10th in the Beijing Games.

Hall has rebounded from that disappointment. In April, he placed third at the Boston Marathon and right now, Hall feels his fitness level is at its best -- regardless of the time and place he captures on Sunday.

"My marathon training is built on a foundation of strong tempo runs and long runs and I've done some pretty special tempo runs lately," Hall said at a press conference in New York. "I'm not going to tell you about them until after the marathon. ... I've got a real good feeling about this last month. We'll see how it plays out on Sunday, though I can't imagine why it wouldn't be good. Even if it isn't on Sunday, I feel that I'm in new territory -- that I've reached a new level -- and that it's going to be a big help to me next spring or next fall in my marathons."

The last American to win the New York City Marathon was Alberto Salazar in 1982.

Hall may have the cheers of the Big Apple fans, but the field for the 40th running is deep, including James Kwambai of Kenya, Jaouad Gharib of Morrocco and Patrick Makau of Kenya. All have run faster times than Hall's best marathon of 2:06:17.

And then there are three former champs in the field who know how to win a marathon -- two-time defending champion Marlison Gomes dos Santos (Brazil), four-time Boston winner Robert Cherulyot (Kenya) and 2004 NYC champ Hendrick Ramaala (South Africa).

Hall said he doesn't feel any pressure as the American favorite. And the American field at the race is actually pretty solid since it is also serving as the USA Men's Marathon Championship.

The depth, and perhaps the desperate hope for an American winner, on the men's side has overshadowed the women's race. Then again, it's Paula Radcliffe's race to lose. The 35-year-old from Great Britain has won eight of the 10 marathons she's entered -- with the unfortunate aberrations coming in the 2004 and 2008 Olympics

Of interest to American fans is the return of Joan Benoit Samuelson. The 52-year old won the inaugural women's Olympic marathon in 1984 and she continues to set the standard for women in the sport. Last year she broke the U.S. women's 50-plus record with a 2:49:08 in the Olympic Trials. While not a contender for the overall podium, she is gunning to win her age group while using the race as a platform for her broader message, encouraging people to simplify their lives and connect with nature.

But if Benoit Samuelson's race is less about winning and more about running, Hall's race is ready to be scrutinized before he even begins. He has been both praised and criticized for his aggressive race pacing. He was the cover story on for this month's Runner's World magazine with the cover teaser "Ryan Hall, He's special but will he ever win?"

The more you read about Ryan Hall, the more you want to cheer for him. And the more you realize that the numbers are important, but that winning is not the only thing which drives him to succeed. Not any more.

More on that tomorrow.

--- Amy Moritz
Follow Journey to the Finish Line on Twitter at www.twitter.com/amymoritz

The beauty of the charity race

It's a morning where everything hurts. Well, not everything exactly, but that new functional strength training routine which didn't look like much has suddenly caused aches in my rear end and hamstrings. And generally speaking I'd rather just stay curled up in bed. I feel tired and old.

But then I think of 84-year old Lan Yin Tsai and her 150-mile bike ride, every year, for 26 years.

Yeah, a few minutes of yoga stretching will fix me right up.

The story from CNN made the rounds on one of the local cycling email lists. In September, Tsai participated in the annual City to Shore event in New Jersey, a fundraiser for the MS Society. She stands out not just because of her age or the fact that she is the last one to finish, but also, as the story notes, because she rides in the event like she does every day. She wears the clothes she usually bikes in -- a dress and high heels -- and rides her one-speed bike with the basket on the handlebars.

Charity events have grown in popularity and they range in all types of sports and competition levels. Most (if not all) triathlons associate with a particular charity, raising funds for a local organization. The majority of local 5Ks have charity tie-ins. Big-time events, like some Ironman races and major city marathons, reserve spots for charity participants. For some, the charity slot is the only way into the race. For others, it's the only reason to do the race.

But it doesn't have to be a marathon or Ironman. You don't have to become obsessive about training or raise thousands of dollars in order to enjoy the experience.

You don't even have to be competitive.

You just have to volunteer your time, be active, and find a cause and and an event to support.

Locally, there are charity walks (like the 5K Hospice Memorial Walk or the Relay for Life series by the American Cancer Society) and cycling events (the multi-distance Ride for Roswell, Tour de Cure for the American Diabetes Association and Bike MS for the MS Society).

My first organized athletic event as an adult was the Hospice Memorial Walk shortly after my grandmother passed away. It was an event that got me moving, a goal that had me exercising regularly and eating healthier in preparation.

Eight years later, I'm still participating in charity events, this year entering Carly's Crossing open water swim. Granted, part of my motivation was to sneak in some extra long-distance open water training, but the energy of the day, the stories around Gallagher Beach, are worth more in inspiration than the mile-long swim.

You can use the charity event to get off the couch and move toward a healthier life. You can use it to honor a loved one. You can use it to kick start your fitness routine or as a training day en route to a bigger athletic goal.

There are intensity levels and distances that accommodate age and fitness and individual goals. These are the events with no age group winners. No timing chips. No PRs.

These are events that solely celebrate movement. They celebrate health and live and love.

You do them not to win, but because you can.

"I always try to tell people, whatever you can do, keep doing it, keep doing it," Tsai said in the CNN story.

The hamstrings don't feel as tight this morning when considering that perspective.

--- Amy Moritz
Follow Journey to the Finish line on Twitter at www.twitter.com/amymoritz

The Biggest Loser: Choose different

Last night's episode of The Biggest Loser may have the title of most emotional episode.

It was the week where three of the contestants on the black team had major breakdowns. And the end result was emotional, dramatic and completely inspiring.

The breakdowns always happen in the gym during one of the show's infamously difficult workouts.

It was Amanda who kicked off the breakthrough episode when she walked away from the treadmill while working with trainer Jillian Michaels.

The pressure of the cameras started to get to the 19-year-old but it was more than that. "I"m used to being the fat girl," she said. 

"I feel like you have high expectations of me," she told Jillian. "I've never been a leader. I've always been the fat girl in the back."

For those who can relate to that sentiment, it was a powerful moment. When you've always been in a certain role -- in school, in work, with friends or with family -- it's scary to change that role. Even if you don't like it. Even if you want to change it. There's comfort in what you know, even if what you know makes you painfully unhappy.

For Shay, her role in life has been to search for a mother's love. She broke down with Jillian, talking about her mother who was a heroine addict. The 30-year old who weighed 411 pounds at the start of the episode put herself in the role of her mother's keeper. She felt guilty and responsible for her mother's addiction and for the fact that she never got her mother's love.

"I couldn't make her love me," Shay said.

"And you couldn't save her," Jillian added. "When are you going to forgive yourself for that? Until you do, you will be killing yourself. You blame yourself because you couldn't save her. It's not your fault."

Finally, it was Abby who shed tears in the gym. The 35-year-old lost her husband and two children in a car accident nearly three years ago. And after that, Abby stopped living. She stopped dreaming because it reminded her of the plans she had with her husband. The pain was just too much handle.

But in working at The Biggest Loser ranch, she was able to start dreaming new dreams. She rediscovered herself, got the light back in her eyes. She learned to be president of her own life.

"I'm gonna make it and I'm gonna be all I'm supposed to be," she said.

Which is why she asked her teammates to vote to send her home when the black team ended up in the elimination room.

She was ready to start living her life again.

Speaking to an auditorium of students and teachers upon her return to Texas, she hammered home her message.

You can always choose different.

Of all the messages I've heard on the show, this is my favorite and I believe most important lesson.

We all can choose different.

We can accept the roles we've been assigned, the ones we've become accustomed to. Or we can look to create something different for ourselves.

Abby talked about being the person she was meant to be. It's about living authentically. It's about first finding out who you are and then being true to that.

You don't need to take a year off and soul search. You don't have to be accepted as a Biggest Loser contestant. You don't even need to lose weight in order to do that.

Every day, we all get a choice on how we want to show up in our lives.

Every day we choose again.

Do we choose the same thing and get the same results? Or do we choose something different and let magic unfold?

--- Amy Moritz
Follow Journey to the Finish Line on Twitter at www.twitter.com/amymoritz

In defense of the marathon plodders

A friend from college ran her first 26.2-mile race at the Marine Corps Marathon this weekend. New to running, she was, um, talked into the challenge from some of her co-workers. She trained for seven months, just like everyone else, and on Sunday she crossed the finish line. She didn't expect it would take her 6 1/2 hours but the hills of the first eight miles took their toll and she plodded through the last half of the course.

Regardless of her time, she is a marathoner.

Whether you like it or not.

My first, and only marathon to date was a 5:02 adventure where I learned to (a) not throw away my nutrition plan after Mile 8, (b) to hold off walking as long as possible, and then a bit longer and (c) that I can indeed soldier through cramps and a bloody foot to the finish line.

The marathon, like other endurance events, is about a journey. It is about you versus yourself, your fears and demons and anxieties. It's about where you've come from and about where you're going.

But apparently that journey is creating some "controversy" within the running community.

A recent article in the New York Times suggests that the plodders in marathons -- those who take six or more hours to complete the course -- are annoying hard core runners. As the piece by Juliet Macur reads, hard core runners believe that, "slow runners have disrespected the distance ... and have ruined the marathon's mystique."

Oh really?

From a safety standpoint, time limits for courses make sense. Eventually, roads have to open, water stops have to break down and the finish line has to close. Each race director makes his or her own call as to how to navigate time limits.

But to imply that slow runners "disrespect the distance" is really quite disrespectful in itself.

Marathons have become more accessible to the masses in recent years. More people are able to pick up running, to enter and train for a marathon. Many people get involved with the sport as fundraisers for charities, including the well-known Team in Training for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society while Roswell Park Cancer Institute has its own version in Team Cure Challenge.

So what if there are more people finishing at the back of the pack? My 5:02 marathon doesn't diminish the accomplishment of someone who has run a 3:15 marathon.

"Let's face it, in order to complete 26.2 miles, it must have been preceded by at least some form of base endurance training," said Vicki Mitchell, the track and field coach at the University at Buffalo, coach for the running club Checkers and a former elite distance runner herself. "To me, this means individuals are promoting healthy lifestyles, improving heart health, improving overall quality of life. 

"Participation is one of the beauties of our sport. We should not be excluded for being a professional athlete versus an amateur. We should not be limited by our genetic-given abilities, or lack or. We should not be limited by socio-economic status. And we should not be excluded for our ability to run fast."

Indeed, why would any sport want to limit participation? Why wouldn't you want your sport to grow, to create interest, to have as many people as possible choosing to participate in your sport? Mitchell points out that there are marathons which cater to those who want an "elite" level of competition. Many strive for the elusive Boston Marathon qualifying time as a sign of success. Which is fine. Others just want to complete the distance. And there are events for that.

There is room at the starting line, and the finish line, for all types.

There is better karma in supporting and expanding than there is in judging and closing ranks. Because for all those who complain about the "plodders" well, they might find themselves in the back of the pack some day.

And the rest of us will still be cheering and encouraging them.

--- Amy Moritz
Follow Journey to the Finish Line on Twitter at www.twitter.com/amymoritz 

Race report: BobKat Honorary 5K

The idea right now in my training, my strength and base training phase, is to throw in 5Ks every once in a while. It's about getting performance indicators. It's about seeing where I'm at.

Well, if you can keep a secret, it's really about having fun. Because while sometimes I crave the solitary time of the early morning workout, it really is fun to take that 30 minute run to a race course, pin on a number and join a group of people on a marked course.

So with a 30-minute run on my training plan for Sunday and a 5K scheduled to benefit the Boys and Girls Club in Tonawanda it was a perfect excuse to break out my racing shoes. 

The race was named in honor of long time Boys and Girls Club of the Northtowns director Robert "BobKat" Nowak with all proceeds going to support that organization. Since it was going up against the Niagara Falls International Marathon, the turnout was expected to be light. And while a small race, they had a solid walk-up on a beautiful autumn morning with about 90 participants in the 5K run, 5K walk and 1-mile walk. The course was a simple out-and-back on the Niagara River bike path.

My friends Jen and Greg ran with me, or more specifically in front of me. And thanks to them, and a stranger on the course, I was able to really work on my mental game while enjoying the run.

Jen and I are the same age but she is much faster than I am. Of course, she tells me I'm not that much slower than she is, despite my insistence on self-deprecating humor. As the race began and she took off, I kept her in my sight line for the first half mile. In fact, at the turnaround, I wasn't that far behind and she probably stayed about half a mile in front of me the entire race.

This is key. In a race, or heck even a training run, how many times do you think, "That person is so much faster than me?" or "I can't keep up with (insert name of friend or foe here)?" Thoughts become things and if you think something consistently enough, it will manifest itself in your existence. Granted, I didn't go so far as to think I would keep up with Jen, but I did think that I could keep her in my sight.

By the time I hit the turnaround the runners around me had thinned out. There was one woman who had passed me in the second mile but stayed a comfortable distance in front of me. In that final mile, we were running pretty close and once or twice I passed her. My thought actually was not that I wanted to beat this woman. Instead, I was grateful. She pulled along and gave me a reason to push myself, even as my core was starting to ache and I wanted the run to be over. She ended up beating me by probably 10 or 15 seconds. I found her afterward and thanked her. She said I helped her too, especially since it can get tough when you're running and there isn't anyone around.

Yes, maybe it's a female-thing that we find our "competition" inspiring rather than wanting to crush them.

In the final analysis, I was pleased with my run. When the running got hard I took a deep breath, and looked around at the beauty of the autumn morning light and the colorful trees. I thought about my friends running elsewhere today, particularly my friend Amy who was running her first 26.2 at the Marine Corps Marathon. And I pushed. When the running got hard, I kept going and kept going hard. An all-out effort 5K it was not, but it was a steady, solid, effort -- particularly a day after my first "big" workout in a long time with an hour endurance bike ride and an hour of running around Chestnut Ridge complete with hill bounding.

My final time was 28:43, well off my PR but still better than the last 5K I ran. And in the grand scheme, these 5K times are showing me improvement. When I started running, not even two years ago, my 5Ks were 30 minutes. Then, I consistently ran 5Ks in 29 minutes. Now, I'm solidly in the 28 minutes. There may be a huge breakthrough one day. Or it may just keep getting better bit by bit.

Regardless of how slow my 5K time may be (and the notion of "slow times" at races is coming in tomorrow's blog) racing is always about competing with yourself. You're competing for a better time, for a better quality of race, for a better execution and a better frame of mind.

I hit all of those markers on Sunday.

And based on that definition, Sunday's 5K was a smashing success.

--- Amy Moritz
Follow Journey to the Finish Line on Twitter at www.twitter.com/amymoritz

Review: Race Across the Sky

It's the race that got Lance Armstrong back into professional cycling. The one that taught him a lesson you'd never think you'd hear the seven-time Tour de France champion say -- that it's OK not to win a race.

Wait. That's Lance Armstrong saying it's OK not to win?

You bet.

And it was the Leadville Trail 100 which taught him that lesson while rekindling his passion to race bikes again.

Lance was only part of the story in the documentary "Race Across the Sky" which had a one-time nation-wide viewing last night. (Although there were hints there may be future nation-wide showings.) The documentary takes viewers through the 100-mile mountain bike race in Leadville, Colo. -- from the founders to the town to the elite races to the everyday stories. This is one of the toughest endurance challenges a person can enter. And the film does an amazing job of capturing the event.

It was 2008 when Lance asked his coach Chris Carmichael about the mountain bike race, infamous in those cycling circles. He decided to try it, though wading deep in retirement and keeping his fitness through marathon running. Lance finished second to six-time champion Dave Wiens and actually felt OK with second. The difficulty and uncertainty of the course led to (a) want to return in 2009 and (b) got those competitive cycling juices flowing again. The rest is a continuation of Tour de France and pro cycling history.

The movie describes the race itself, begun in 1994 by Ken Chlouber after the mine that employed the majority of the town closed. Looking for something to help the economy, he began this mountain bike race. There already was a Leadville 100 mile trail run. He added the mountain bike. And the endurance franchise if you will in Leadville, Colo., 10,200 feet above sea level, has grown ever since.

Dave Wiens is the star of the race, regardless of if he wins, comes in second, comes in lasts or DNFs. A native of Colorado and six-time winner, he gets a bit teary eyed when addressing the thousands gathered for the pre-race briefing. The race, he says, is not about him, or about Lance Armstrong or any of the other professional and elite riders. It's about that group of regular, amateur athletes trying to conquer their own demons on a brutal course.

And the course is brutal. Already beginning in low altitude, the trail includes 14,000 feet of climbing and all kinds of surfaces. 

Perhaps the most unique feature of the race, the one that keeps it common, is the out-and-back course design. After the turnaround, which is at the top of a climb that ends at 12,600 feet above sea-level, riders begin their descent and 50-mile journey back to Leadville, passing others who are just beginning their climb. Riders aren't just on the same course as Lance and Dave and the best of the best -- they actually get to see them, albeit for a brief second. 

The August race brings all kinds of weather to the Colorado mountain area and riders start in 39-degree temperatures, race through sun, rain and sleet.

While showing how the pro race develops and cutting into interviews with the elite riders, the documentary also does a great job of weaving in the stories of the rest of the pack, without getting too sappy of sentimental. You don't need to create drama when you talk to a woman pushing her bike up a climb, describing how she was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in the 1980s and how she hasn't let that disease stop her, smiling even as she makes quips about the altitude. The film also goes into detail about one woman who in 2008 was hit by a car while out for a bike ride and suffered a broken back, concussion and a litany of other injuries. But there she was, back on her bike while recovering and she and her husband were tackling the Leadville 100 because, well, they could.

There is a 12-hour time limit to finish the race and a four-hour time limit to get to the first check point. It's emotional to watch race personnel jump in front of riders and pull them from the course. Some are ready to hang it up, especially if they've endured a series of flat tires. Others break down in tears, seeing their dreams click away on the clock but determined to return next year.

The documentary itself was sandwiched with a panel discussion featuring Ken Clouber, Dave Wiens and Lance Armstrong. As entertaining as the movie was, the discussions were equally inspiring, informative and entertaining, particularly the exchange about Lance's flat tire with seven miles to go in the race. Lance of course decided to ride on the flat into town, and won the race anyway.

Race founder Ken Chlouber said the race is about digging deep and offered his basic motto about the event:


"You're better than you think you are. You can do more than you think you can."

The Leadville 100 is about more than conquering mountain passes, but about discovering who you are, how strong you are, and what possibilities lie inside you.

Whether you want to mountain bike the toughest course possible or tackle some other challenge, the movie leaves you inspired to get down to the hard work it takes not just to achieve dreams but to discover who you are.

Running shoe logic

Dial my face to shocked. No, make that panic.

Manufacturers underproduced my running shoe. And this, oh, this is not good.

I found out this bit of information shoe shopping yesterday. It shouldn't have been that difficult of a shop because I knew exactly what I wanted -- another pair of Asics 2140. It's the shoe I've been running for the better part of a year now. A basic stability shoe, the bells and whistles are ultimately meaningless to me. The shoe feels good on my feet and my body feels good after a run. That's all I need to know.

And so I walked in to one of the local running shops and informed the helpful staff of my desired purchase.

The duo working the store stopped and stared at each other.

"Um, what size," one of them asked.

"Seven and a half," I replied, concern growing in my mind.

He sucked in air hard, making that noise that usually precedes a negative statement.

"I'm not sure," he said. "Let me check."

He returned momentarily empty-handed and suggested two other Asics shoes -- one with slightly less cushioning and one with slightly more. And like Goldilocks and the Three Bears I was interested in the extremes. My shoe was just right.

The staff member explained to me Ascis had underproduced this model of shoe. That every time they put an order in they would get one quarter of what they asked for.

But this is my favorite shoe, I thought. And I need new ones now. Mine are completely beat up from my 70.3 race, still caked in mud from my cross country race and well past their usefulness other than to keep sharp objects from puncturing the skin on my soles. This is no good.

Thanking him for his time, it was time to try another local running store, careful not to break speed limit laws but anxious the entire drive. I picked up the shoe from the display rack.

"Would you like to try that on?" the woman asked.

"Actually I just need a 7-and-a-half," I replied. "I already know this is my shoe."

She returned with the magical box containing my coveted sneaker.

"I was told they underproduced them this year," I said.

"They did," she replied.

"In that case, what's the difference between this shoe and the Asics 2140 trail shoe over on the sale table?"

Turns out the only difference is the tread, that the trail shoe should feel and perform the same on my foot. With the winter running season coming up, some extra tread for training runs might not be a bad idea. So I grabbed a pair of those.

Had there been more disposable income in my checking account, I probably would have purchased two pairs of each shoe. But that's not in my budget. Still, the exhale finally came and I got to return home with my running shoes ready for a weekend of hill workouts.

But there's some bad news on the horizon. Shoe companies are much like car companies -- every year they roll out new models which are often just jazzed up versions of their old ones with some new colors, new styling and maybe a new "enhanced" feature or two. So starting in January, I will be looking for the Asics 2150 -- and I'm told those are also already being underproduced. Which to me makes no sense. Upon a google of "most popular running shoe for women" results came up for the Ascis 2140. If you have a popular shoe, wouldn't you want to produce enough of them to keep your customers happy?

A final note on shoe shopping: Had my second local running store not been able to provide me with my desired shoe, I would have gone online where it would be easier to locate. It perhaps would have been slightly cheaper also and there have been times when Internet shopping has been more efficient, both in time and money.

But there is something to be said for patronizing the local shop. For instance, introduction to the knowledge that my shoe is getting increasingly difficult to find (an early Christmas hint to Santa) is something I would only get from talking to the local staff. I've shopped at (and will shop in the future at) bigger chain stores, but the feel of the small, local store is still something I love whether it be a running store, a bike shop or the new triathlon-based store and training center TriSpot. Each store has is it's own unique feel and unique personality. You can find one you click with and develop a great relationship or you can go to different stores depending upon your mood that day.

Here's hoping that whichever option you pick, you find your favorite running kicks without having to deal with the mysterious logic of production and demand.

--- Amy Moritz
Follow Journey to the Finish Line on Twitter at www.twitter.com/amymoritz

True confessions: The Biggest Loser

True confession time: I watch The Biggest Loser.

There isn't a lot of TV-time for me these days and while I have routinely professed my love and adoration for the entire Law and Order franchise, there are a select few shows that comprise my guilty pleasures.

And Tuesday night is Biggest Loser night. Blame my running friends who were watching the show last year. I watched to keep up with their conversation. And now I'm hooked.

Granted, there are things which annoy me about the show. First, it's two hours with far too many commercial breaks. Speaking of commercials the product placement segments are obvious. And some of the "dramatic" moments are painfully contrived.

The contradiction of the show is while helping people change their lives and lose weight it's also a game. There are winners at the end with money (and future potential earnings as spokespeople and minor celebrities) on the line. This brings out some nasty game-playing reality-show techniques. It also can create some unrealistic expectations. Contestants are worried about "pulling a big number" at each weekly weigh-in with the hopes of staying in the game. But individual bodies are different and can respond differently to weight loss, new diet and four-hour exercise sessions. And losing eight pounds a week through diet and exercise is not the norm. My hope is that people at home aren't discouraged with "low numbers" if they are trying to get their weight and health under control.

Ah, but rant over.

Because I do like the show.

And things about last night's episode made me smile -- especially as one team of contestants was sent home for a week to try and "go it alone" while another team got to stay on the Biggest Loser Ranch with full access to the trainers and support staff of the show.

There were the obligatory "going out to eat in a restaurant" scenes where the contestants went with family and friends to their old haunts. Surprisingly, they all seemed to steer clear of temptation, ordering chicken and fish with no oil and butter and steamed vegetables. But what was interesting was their reactions to what their significant others were eating. Armed with knowledge about food and health choices, they were aghast at the appetizers dripping in fat. And they were disappointed in what their loved ones were ordering -- their usual fare that was unhealthy and borderline gluttonous in its portion size. In fact, I believe one woman admitted she was a bit disgusted.

Where was the support? Where was the solidarity? A healthy lifestyle change needs a solid circle of support. Perhaps that was a good take-away lesson for the family and friends at home. Still, the players who went home all continued to lose weight without access to the NBC-show amenities -- except for Daniel.

He was my other favorite moment on the show.

The 20-year old gained a pound in his week at home despite keeping faithful to his workouts and eating healthy. But Daniel faced emotional issues -- his own personal ones. Back at the Biggest Loser ranch, he had a breakdown on the treadmill with trainer Jillian Michaels. Daniel had realized that his mom was trying to help him all the years of growing up when she would do things like question his eating choices. Daniel, however, interpreted his mother's concern differently, thinking he just wasn't good enough. Why couldn't his mother love him the way he was? But in that epiphany, he understood that she did love him -- and she was showing that love by trying to help him be happy and healthy. 

It's just the surface, but it was a big moment for young Daniel, who entered the Biggest Loser family last year at 454 pounds and is back for his second chance. There are issues in his life that Daniel has never dealt with that he "buried under 454 pounds."

The game-playing and the challenges and the screaming trainers create drama that make for interesting television. But watching the transformation of some of the contestants, like Daniel, is inspirational and heartwarming.

And it's why it stays one of my guilty pleasures.

---Amy Moritz
Follow Journey to the Finish Line on Twitter at www.twitter.com/amymoritz

The tragedy in Detroit

It seemed too unusual to be true at first. Three men died at the Detroit Marathon last weekend. Three? And to make it even more of a horror-film premise they all collapsed within 16 minutes of each other -- two of them in roughly the same spot on the course.

Message board condolences were being posted on Facebook and other sites yesterday. And the question of "why?" still hangs in the air.

Daniel Langdon, 36, RIck Brown, 65, and Jon Fenlon, 26, all collapsed and died while running the half-marathon in downtown Detroit on Sunday.

According to a report in the Detroit Free Press, Landgon was the first to go down, at 9:02 a.m., between the 11th and 12th mile of the course. Brown went down around the same spot at 9:17. One minute later, Fenlon collapsed in the finisher's chute after running the 13.1-mile course in 1:53:37.

Published reports of the event indicate that the event was adequately staffed by medical personal and each received treatment immediately. Temperatures were in the 30s and 40s, negating the affect of heat. Autopsy reports were inconclusive and toxicology tests were ordered on all three in hopes of determining a cause of death.

Deaths associated with marathon and half marathons have grabbed some attention this year, including two athletes in their 30s running a half marathon in San Jose earlier this month.

Statistically speaking, it is rare for people to die during a marathon or other distance event. The percentages remain low even as more occurrences hit the news in part because the total number of participants in endurance events continues to increase. The Detroit Marathon, for example, had 19,000 runners.

Among the younger men who end up in tragic circumstances, the result is often cardiomyopathy -- an inherited condition where the heart grows too large. It's a rare condition but one explored in a recent article in the San Francisco Chronicle.

Runners World got on board immediately, posting a Q&A with Dr. Paul Thompson, director of cardiology at Hartford Hospital in response to the recent deaths.

There is risk involved in anything. There's risk involved in running a marathon or running a 5K. And there's risk to sitting home, eating Ho-Hos and potato chips, even if they are baked and not fried. 

Today on my run, I'll remember those men and their friends and families. They took a risk by trying something big, by living life fully, and while a tragic end, I'll take some inspiration from that and offer another round of gratitude for my health and space in which to run, to bike and to swim.

--- Amy Moritz
Follow Journey to the Finish Line on Twitter at www.twitter.com/amymoritz

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