Saturday, December 26, 2009

Nice Place to Run: Chalk Ridge Falls

If you're ever in the area of Stillhouse Hollow Lake, just a few miles west of I-35 between Belton and Salado, drop in for a visit to Chalk Ridge Falls.  Pretty trails, cool cliffs (as the park's name suggests), and lovely falls make this worth the trip.

My brother Mark and I had never been there, but were looking for trails to run on near our mom's house in Salado (8 miles away).  The trails were nice, as promised by various web sites, but we learned the importance of getting up-to-date reports.  The first half mile of the trail took us to the falls.  I had never heard of the falls, but Mark said he saw a picture of it in a waterfalls of Texas calendar. 

However, to continue past the falls, the trails are accessible via a suspension bridge that was washed out in 2007.  I guess repairing it is not a huge priority to the Corps of Engineers.  We wandered around some deer trails for a while, then crossed a small dam upstream from the falls, and found our way to the far side of the crippled bridge.

From here, we continued our run as best we could.  Two years of limited accesibility have taken their toll on the trail.  We frequently lost the trail, and got our legs scratched up pretty good from the brambles and branches growing over what's left of the trail.  We finally reached a point where the river was on the left, and on the right was a stream that was too wide to jump over, so we assumed that was the end of the trail and the park land.  In case you're interested, the total distance from the parking area to the end of the trail was about 2.5 miles.

Since we arrived before the park officially opened, we parked on the other side of the dam and started our run by running across the dam.  Looking down the slope from the top of the dam, I challenged Mark to a race up the dam at the end of our run.  Big mistake.  Heading back to the car, he reminded me of the challenge and took off.  I kept up with him for about 10 feet, maybe.  I think he made it to the top before I was halfway up.  Made me feel like a slug.  But when I told my 10-year-old son, Elliot, about my shame, he said, "Yeah, but Uncle Mark has never run 50 miles!"  So there!

So we didn't get a great trail run in, with all the bushwacking and backtracking, but we enjoyed exploring this little park.  It would definitely be worth revisiting.  Next time we'll bring the kids along.

Sunrise from the dam, with a heavy fog in the river valley.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Ultrarunning in Middle Earth

I have been listening to The Lord of the Rings while driving to and from work.  These are such terrific stories!  If you've never read them, do.  If you've never seen the movies, you're missing out.  I was struck by Tolkien's description of three friends' pursuit of their companions' captors, and how apropos it is for the trail runner.

The Two Towers opens with Legolas, Aragorn, and Gimli discovering that Merry and Pippin have been taken by the orcs.  The three take off on foot, in hot pursuit.  Now I realize that for most of the history of earth and middle earth, the main means of transportation was by foot, but as an ultrarunner in an age where most transportation is motorized, I was impressed by their speed and by the descriptions of their running.  Legolas takes the lead: "Like a deer he sprang away.  Through the trees he sped.  On and on he led them, tireless and swift."  That's the kind of pacer I would like on an ultramarathon!  "All night the three companions scrambled in this bony land, climbing to the crest of the first and tallest ridge, and down again into the darkness of a deep winding valley on the other side."  I've never run the Western States 100, but this sounds like a description of part of the course!  "As if fresh from a night's rest they sprang from stone to stone."  The smell of the lush, green valley, Legolas declares, "is better than much sleep.  Let us run!"

By the third day of their pursuit, "they hardly paused, now striding, now running, as if no weariness could quench the fire that burned them."  Gimli tired, but "My legs must forget the miles."   Legolas "still stepped as lightly as ever, his feet hardly seeming to press the grass, leaving no footprints as he passed."  When they finally meet up with the Riders of Rohan, they are impressed with the trio's speed: "The deed of the three friends should be sung in many a hall.  Forty leagues and five you  have measured ere the fourth day is ended!  Hardy is the race of Elendil!"  I think a league is about three miles, so that would be 135 miles, the length of Badwater, only with no support crew, carrying packs and weapons, on trails, and tracking Orcs.  Quite an ultramarathon!

Aragorn and Legolas scope out the course.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Things Seen While Running: An Amphibious Car

While I was running around White Rock Lake at the White Rock Marathon Sunday, I saw some folks enjoying the day on their kayaks, cheering on the runners running along the lake.  Then I thought I saw a motorboat riding low in the water.  But as I got closer, I saw that it was actually a car!  Now that's not something you see every day!

It's the Texas Shark, and the owner actually has a video posted from Sunday.  I think the video starts shortly after I passed by.  He's obviously proud of his car.  Unfortunately, this video is mostly his view from behind the wheel.

This short video, which the owner posted this morning, shows the exterior of the car.  Perhaps you'll understand why I was a bit surprised to see this in the water!

Monday, December 14, 2009

Things Seen While Running: One Inspiring Duo

I mentioned in yesterday's post about my experience at the White Rock Marathon that I had seen a number of inspiring runners, particularly the lady with the prosthesis pushing the little girl in a wheelchair.  I did a little digging and found out more about them, and now I am even more moved, so I thought I'd share it here.

Amy Palmiero-Winters, a high school swimmer and runner, lost her leg due to a motorcycle accident in her early 20s.  Determined to keep competing, she was fitted for a prosthesis and continued to race.  She now holds a bucket full of world records for amputee athletes, but competes with the rest as well.  In October she was the overall female winner in Heartland 100 Mile Endurance Run!  She competes around the country and frequently visits children who have lost limbs.

When she came to town for White Rock, she paid a visit to Texas Scottish Rite Hospital, which is the beneficiary of the White Rock Marathon.  While there, she met Ryanne Carr of Mineola.  Ryanne's right hand and legs were severed while she was still in utero.  The Carr family adopted Ryanne, one of 4 children born in Kazakhstan and adopted by them.

Amy asked Ryanne if she would like Amy to push her in her wheelchair for the marathon, and Ryanne jumped at the chance.  Amy pushed her most of the race, but down the homestretch Ryanne switched to her racing wheelchair so she could finish under her own power.  In my passing meeting with them, I could tell both ladies were joyful to be on the course.  Ryanne has been fitted with prosthetic legs and has begun running in races on her own; I won't be surprised to see her racing at White Rock on prosthetic legs in a few years!  My guess would be that she has a new role model in Amy to look up to.

In yesterday's post, I made the comment, "What a blessing to be able to run!"  I can't even begin to understand that blessing.  What a blessing for Amy and for Ryanne.  Amy and Ryanne, I will probably never meet you, but you are both on my hero list now!  Thanks for the inspiration!

A video interview with Amy, including clips from the marathon here.
Story in the Dallas Morning News here.
Story about Amy, a Runner's World 2007 Hero of Running here.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

White Rock Marathon 2009: A New PR

What a perfect day for a marathon!  It was in the low 40s at the start, and very overcast, with very low hanging clouds.  Cold enough to chill you while waiting at the start, but not so cold that you needed to bundle up much.  Once we started running, of course, I warmed up quickly, and never felt too cold or hot.  Wind was not much of a factor this year, like it was last year.  A bit of a breeze hit us in the face across the lake, but for the most part it was calm.  Shortly after I finished, the sun came out and the clouds disappeared, warming quickly and making me thankful that I was not still out on the course.  All in all, pretty ideal conditions for a race.

So how did I do?  First, the good news: I finished, with no injuries to speak of.  One small blister on my left forefoot, sore feet and legs, and a very tired body, but all of that will heal quickly.  No need for medical attention or physical therapy.  What a blessing to be able to run!  (One other physical item: I remember to put anti-chafing cream on my feet, but not on other parts.  That red streak on my shirt will look lovely in the finish photos!)

More good news: This is about as fast as I have ever run!  I set PRs (personal records) for four distances.
My previous 10K PR: 47:54.  Today: 47:28  (26 seconds)
My previous half marathon PR: 1:57:34.  Today: 1:39:56 (18:38)
My previous 20M PR: 2:40:33.  Today: 2:37:23 (3:10)
My previous marathon PR: 3:51:38.  Today: 3:35:32 (16:06)
I also beat my White Rock time from 2008 by 27:44.
I'd say that's quite an improvement!

So the bad news: I have made no secret that my goal for White Rock was to qualify to run in the Boston Marathon.  To do so, I have to run in 3:20:59.  I have been training pretty hard, but for the last several weeks, looking at my pace times during training runs, I knew I was unlikely to meet my goal.  I figured that even though I had a pretty good shot at meeting a new PR, my chances of qualifying for Boston were probably 30% or less.  Nevertheless, I started out with a 3:20 pace team, which means I was following a runner with balloons on a stick who would keep a steady pace fast enough to finish in 3:20.  As long as I could stick with him, and cross the finish with him or shortly after, I would meet my goal.

I lined up with the 3:20 group at the start, and looked around at the lean, fit runners.  I wasn't sure my middle-aged girth would allow me to keep up with these guys.  I did pretty well for some time.  I stayed with the 3:20 pack for a good 17 miles.  I was beginning to flag, though.  Around mile 18, I had fallen behind, but I could still see the balloons and figured I was less than a minute behind him.  By mile 19, I could no longer see him, so I knew I would not be qualifying for Boston today.  As I noted before, some say that for every pound you lose, you cut 2 seconds off your pace.  My average pace today was 8:13; it should have been 7:40 to meet my goal.  If only I had lost another 17 pounds before race day, maybe I could have kept up!

I was wearing my Garmin GPS watch for the race, but I had put duct tape over the display so I would only focus on running with the pace team and not on the time or distance.  But after 19, I could feel my pace slow considerably, and EVERYONE on the course seemed to be passing me.  (I know you might think that was only my perception, but there is a handy stat on the official results page which helpfully points out that during the final 6 miles, I passed 13 runners and 156 passed me!  Those 13 were mostly people who were clearly injured and were limping along, just trying to reach the finish.)

So I took the duct tape off my watch, and payed more attention to my pace.  While before my pace was in the 7:30-8 miles/min. range, now it was in the 9-9:30 range.  I was determined to keep it below ten, no matter how I felt.  Even though the hills aren't that bad on this course, and even though I run hills a bit when I train, I was reminded that I'm not too good on hills.  Mile 18.5 to mile 20.5 is a pretty good climb; that's when people really started passing me up.  As is my habit, I had started too fast, ran too hard the first miles, and the negative splits I always wish I ran again once again eluded me.

Even though I would love to have qualified for Boston, a 3:35 finish, and a 16 minute improvement in my PR makes a pretty terrific day.  Running a race like this, I was constantly reminded of what a gift the ability to run is.  The wheelchair racers were inspiring.  When I passed the lady running on a prosthesis who was pushing a girl who had no legs in a wheelchair, I almost lost it; I nearly started weeping openly right there on the course.  And plenty of t-shirts testified that the runner was, for example, a recovered cancer victim, Hodgkins survivor, or veteran, or was running to honor one of the above.

The emotion of running is a mystery to me.  Besides the inspiring runners, the mere fact of pushing my body, of reaching a goal brings out the emotion in me.  When I saw Kelly and the kids cheering for me at the finish, I nearly wept.  I nearly started weeping when I finished.  When I found my famity later, I probably would have wept if the boys had hugged me, but no one wanted to touch stinky, sweaty Dad!  I can't really explain the emotion of finishing a race.  Maybe after a few more races, I will become inured to it.  But for now, I'll enjoy the high of the finish, and the tremendous feeling of accomplishment that comes from crossing that finish line!

One other note: I ran today in my VFFs.  This was my longest run in them.  I ran my last 20 mile training run in them, and ran the Great Brazos Relay in them.  It will be hard to go back to running shoes now.  And talk about a conversation starter!  Several runners asked me about them, or said they had some but hadn't worked up to running much distance.  I heard plenty of comments from spectators, like "Look at that guy's shoes," or "Go, barefoot runner!"  I saw one other runner wearing some; he said he used to get shin splints all the time, but since he's been running in VFFs, he never does.  My feet and calves are sore, so maybe I'm not completely built up to where I need to be, but I really believe I ran faster today than I would have were I to have run in regular running shoes.

All in all, a great day for a marathon, and, in spite of my slower-than-desired finish, I'm proud of my performance.  I finished 529 out of 4453 overall, 459 out of 2855 men, and 98 out of 506 men 40-44.  Plus, not that it matters, I finished ahead of 96% of female finishers.  (Oh, and by the way, if I were 50, or if I were a woman, my time today would have qualified me for Boston.)

Friday, December 11, 2009


As a bit of inspiration leading up to Sunday's White Rock Marathon, I decided to pick up this biopic of Haile Gebrselassie, who Runner's World calls the greatest distance runner of all time.  Gebrselassie, an Ethiopian, has won a world championship or set a world record at every distance from 1500 meters to the marathon.  (Let's just stop right there and say WOW!)

The film focuses on Gebrselassie's performance in the 10000 meters at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics.  Most of the film flashes back to his childhood in Ethiopia.  One of 10 children living on a farm, Gebrselassie's childhood was marked by work in the fields, taking the pack of donkeys to fetch water miles away, and running barefoot 6 miles to school.  Running a 10K in the morning and another in the afternoon gave him a training foundation that served him well competing in 10Ks later!  (It is said that he still runs with his left arm crooked, as if holding school books.)  If he was late to school, the teacher slapped his palms with a ruler; if he was late coming home, his father beat him.  How's that for motivation to boost your PR?

He longed to be a competitive runner.  He enjoyed watching races at the local track and following reports of Ethiopian running stars on the radio.  He competed with a local running club, then, against his father's wishes, decided to move to Addis to train full time.  He placed 99th in his first marathon, but quickly became competitive.

Gebrselassie is known to be a humble, modest, and generous individual.  Even as he runs, his exuberance inspires.  I aspire to matching his effortless, joyful gait (though I am not so self-deluded as to think I could come close to matching his pace!  If I beat double his marathon time I'm doing well!)  This picture of him winning the 10000 meters at the 2000 Sydney Olympics says it all.

Besides highlighting the life of this inspiring runner and the odds he had to overcome as a child to become a professional runner, Endurance beautifully portrays life in Ethiopia.  The soundtrack is perfect, featuring Ethiopian music.  There are long sequences in which there is little dialogue, or dialogue in the Ethiopian language that is not translated for the viewer.  It gives the feel of being a fly on the wall watching real life rather than watching actors portraying real life.  Many of the later scenes star Gebrselassie himself, as well as his father and wife, adding to the realism.

Although it was not a major feature of the film, Gebrselassie starts the film out speaking of the importance of prayer.  He says, "You hard work, and the God help you.  If the God not help you, your work is nothing."  I wish we could learn more about his faith through out his career.

Endurance is a beautiful, moving film, not just for the runner or fan of distance running, but for anyone who enjoys inspiring stories in which the good guys win.

Bottom line, 3 1/2 stars.


Sunday, December 6, 2009

White Rock Marathon 2008: My First Marathon

With White Rock coming up one week from today, I thought it would be fun to relive WR08.  As I have written here, I started running in February 2008 with the intention of getting into shape and losing a little weight.  Running organized races didn't hold much appeal to me, but I got on a training schedule for a 10K (the Fort Worth Zoo Run) to keep myself disciplined.  I ran it, enjoyed it, and was hooked.  I still didn't think I could run a marathon, but after running a couple longer races (a 1/2 marathon and a 25K) I figured I might as well try a marathon.

So I set out to run White Rock, aiming to finish in under 4 hours.  I trained pretty hard, sticking with my Runner's World Smart Coach training calculator.  One of the training techniques I read about was Yasso 800s, a way to run intervals that helps predict your time for a marathon finish.  I went to the expo to pick up my number a couple days before the marathon, and there was this guy at a booth promoting his new book.  The name on the cover was Bart Yasso, so I asked him, are you the Yasso 800s Yasso?  Of course he was, and is, and we had a very nice conversation.  I bought a book, which he signed, and which I have thoroughly enjoyed.  We have exchanged a few e-mails since, and I wish he were my personal running coach.

Saturday night I got my clothes and shoes ready, pinned my number on my shirt, and pinned some of my favorite Sport Beans to my shorts.  On Sunday morning, I got up in plenty of time to drive to the American Airlines Center.  Knowing that the train, which stops a couple miles from my house, has a stop at the AAC, I checked the schedule to see about riding it over that day.  They don't run on Sunday so I decided to drive.  I got near the ramp to the AAC almost an hour before the start time.  And I sat in my car, totally stopped on the freeway, for an hour.  I could see the AAC.  I could almost see the starting line.  But there was no way I could get there.  I found out later that the train runs on Sundays for special events like the marathon.  I could have kicked myself.

I finally got off the freeway and found a parking spot a few blocks away from the AAC.  I had a warm up run from my car to a skid-o-can near the start (no line if you use it after the race starts) and crossed the starting line about 20 minutes late.  Of course that flustered me, and I spent a good hour running past very slow runners, dodging around little groups of ladies walking four abreast, squeezing through crowds of walkers, trotters, and strollers.  Part of me knew I was going too fast, but it really felt good to be the fastest one around.

Finally I caught up to some runners running more my pace.  Unfortunately, I ran past them, too, to the group that was running faster than I could run for long.  I reached the halfway point in about 1:50, halfway to a 3:40 finish.  At that point I was thinking I could maybe even run a negative split in the second half, and finish at 3:30 or even--gasp!--3:20!  The naive fantasies of a first-time marathoner who went out way too fast.

About that time, I saw my friend Brian, who was out with his family cheering on his brother-in-law.  He ran along with me for a minute, encouraging me to keep up my good pace.  Then it hit me--literally.  The wind coming off White Rock lake hit me in the face like the proverbial wall.  I know it seems like I'm exaggerating, but even the elite runners said they probably lost 5 minutes or more to the wind.  I struggled for most of the second half against that wind.  I quickly knew I wouldn't be running a 3:40, much less a 3:20.  A few miles from the end, I wondered if I could even meet my goal of 4:00.  Many of those I had passed a while back started passing me.  I got into survival mode, still wanting a good finish, but not caring too much about time, as long as I finished.  I finally crossed the line at 4:03.  Not a bad first marathon, but probably not as good as it could have been had I not started out too fast.

My goal since then has been to run a 3:20 marathon, the time I need to qualify for the Boston Marathon as a 40 year old.  I will be running with a pace team, in which an experienced marathoner will set the pace for the team to finish at or just under 3:20.  He'll have balloons or something so I can easily follow him.  I am not sure I have trained well enough for that, but I'll give it my best shot.  3:20 will be my #1 goal.  My #2 goal will be to beat my time at Cowtown in February, 3:51.  My #3 goal, which should maybe be my #1 goal, is to finish without injury.

No matter what my time is, I know it will be fun to be out there, and, as always, I am thankful to have two good legs and a relatively healthy body so I can run for hours and still enjoy it.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

My First Barefoot Run

This morning I got dressed for my run, my weekly Yasso 800s.  Lately I have been running almost exclusively in my Vibrum Five Fingers, but as I started to put them on, I thought, what better day to try a barefoot run?  I run my Yassos around the lake next to our house, so I knew the surface would be smooth, familiar, predictable, and relatively free of debris (if you don't count the goose poop).

So off I went, shoeless, in the 38 degree morning.  At first I thought I would have to call it quits after a mile or so, but once I got warmed up and used to the feel of the bare feet, I decided to go ahead with my intervals.  I stopped periodically to check my soles, half expecting to see them bloody and raw, fearful that the cold would have numbed them too much.  But each time they looked great.  Occasionally I would flick away a tiny piece of twig or something that stuck to my foot, but I kept a solid pace and the feet felt great.

After 6 800 yard intervals, I was on pace for one of my best Yasso sessions yet.  I stopped to flick another little pebble off my big toe, and, alas, discovered an unanticipated peril: a little blister!  It makes sense, of course, I just didn't think about it.  I was thinking about sharp objects and the like.

Today I ran a bit over 6 miles.  I think I'll be able to build up to longer runs without blistering, but for now that's probably the most I'll want to run.  I sure do have ugly feet.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Mega Marathoners in the WSJ

In under 12 months, I have run 2 road marathons, 1 trail marathon, a 50K, a 60K, a 50 miler, and a few shorter races.  But I have a long, long way to go to catch up with the marathoners in this article!  This appeared in the Wall Street Journal on November 19.  Call me in 30 years to see if I have kept up with these runners!

By the way, Larry Macon, the lawyer from San Antonio who holds the record for the most marathons run in a year, broke his own record at White Rock last year, my first marathon!

I don't know how long WSJ leaves up their articles.  Link to it here to see the pictures and video.  Take a few minutes to watch this video, which follows Eugene DeFronzo on a marathon.

For 'Mega Marathoners,' the Race Is On -- to Run More Races
At 73, Eugene DeFronzo Finishes His 402nd; He's 'a Nut Job' and 'a Marvel,' Says Doctor

KITTY HAWK, N.C. -- Some compulsives collect shoes. Others obsess over video games. Eugene DeFronzo, 73 years old, runs marathons. He clocked his 402nd here on a recent Sunday, and has three more planned this year.
The Connecticut personal-injury lawyer cracked three vertebrae when he slipped during a race last December. He pulled a hamstring in Tampa two months later, and again in Mississippi a week after that. He nearly passed out in the parched hills of South Dakota in August, finishing last by two hours. In October, he got lost in the woods of Indiana when organizers cleared away the markers. "It's an obsession," he says. "No different than gambling, drinking or doing drugs."
Mr. DeFronzo is part of a proud subculture of self-styled "mega marathoners," people who run hundreds of the 26.2-mile races. Three Germans, a Finn and a Japanese woman are known to have clocked more than 1,000 marathons apiece -- that is 26,200 miles, about 1,300 miles more than the circumference of the earth. The record holder, 74-year-old Horst Preisler, has run 1,636 marathons.
Norm Frank, 78, owner of a lawn-care company in Rochester, N.Y., was poised to be the first American to break that one-thousand mark before he suffered a stroke last November, a month after running his 965th marathon. He is now in a nursing home, forced to use a walker as he works to regain his strength and sense of balance. "I still have hopes," Mr. Frank says.
Floridian Denny Fryman, 62, has only 192 to go. Shooting for 20 a year, the hotel concierge figures he can get to 1,000 before he turns 72. "Every time I cross the finish line, it's the biggest natural high there is," he says.
Scientists have studied compulsive running, not only in humans but in rats and mice. Some compare it to eating disorders like anorexia nervosa.
Michael Sachs, a professor at Temple University in Philadelphia who studies exercise addictions and usually runs 18 miles a week, says for most people, running multiple marathons is simply a passion, like skiing or surfing, and not a disorder. He says runners enter addiction territory only when they can't control their urge to race. "If running marathons is at the top of your list of values above all else," says Dr. Sachs, "that might be something to worry about."
Marathon trackers say fixations usually hit in middle age, when men and women want to test their abilities before it's too late. That's also when people tend to have more free time and disposable income. The passion inspires odd fraternities. Have you run 100 marathons? There's a club for that. Have you notched at least one marathon in all 50 states? There's a club for that, too.

Bob Dolphin, who founded the 100 Marathon Club in 2001 with his nonrunner wife, Lenore, says he ran "seven marathons in seven consecutive weekends at age 77 in 2007." Others have been known to do 50 races in 50 weeks the year they turn 50.
More than 435,000 runners crossed the finish line at the country's 361 marathons last year, according to John Elliott, who runs the Marathon Guide Web site, which tracks nearly all U.S. marathons and records. Most of those were content with finishing just one race, but many were repeat runners, estimates Mr. Elliott.
One tally of mega marathoners, compiled by Japan's 100 Marathon Club, counts 167 runners world-wide who have logged at least 300. Thirty-three are American.
Yes, there are the medals, and the bragging rights. Larry Macon, a 64-year-old lawyer at Akin Gump in San Antonio, Texas, says he does it mainly for the fresh air and camaraderie. He ran 105 last year, or more than two a week, and is about to break 600.
"The jerk percentage among marathoners is just so much lower than the jerk percentage among lawyers," he says. This Thanksgiving he plans to run three marathons over three days, plus another four in December. (Obsession appears to run in the family. Mr. Macon's wife, Jane, has a herd of 600 miniature horses.)
Born with a curved spine and diagnosed later with an enlarged heart, Mr. DeFronzo ran his first race, the 1991 New York Marathon, when he was 56. Not until 1994 did he run multiple races -- six that year. He did 15 the next year, 20 the year after that, then 30 in 1997.
Mr. DeFronzo has achieved the 50-states feat six times and is 13 states shy of his seventh circuit. Every lap around the country, he figures, costs him $25,000 in travel costs and registration fees.
He ran past penguins in Antarctica. He had a near miss with lions in Kenya. He did a race in Death Valley, and crossed the tundra in Canada's Nunavut Territory. He has run in Saginaw, Mich., four times.
The walls of Mr. DeFronzo's law office in Cheshire, Conn., are hung with race medals, mounted and framed. A billboard outside bears a 12-foot-square photo of him finishing the 1994 Philadelphia Marathon, and the slogan: "I'll go the extra mile for you."
He can't quite pin down why he does it. "It's hard, and you don't get anything at the end but a medal," he says. "I guess overachievers just like to put obstacles in their way to conquer."
His physician, Dr. Stephen Harris, calls Mr. DeFronzo both "a nut job" and "a marvel." His vitals, Mr. Harris says, are those of a much younger man, while "his muscular and skeletal system is spectacular.".
Even the cracked vertebrae last December and the pulled hamstring only slowed Mr. DeFranzo a bit. His recent trip to North Carolina's Outer Banks marked his 15th marathon of the year. Last year, he ran a total of 35.
He arrived at Kitty Hawk a day early, as usual, to survey the route. He loaded his plate with rigatoni at the traditional pasta dinner the night before, but shunned the sauce because it could upset his stomach. "Too risky," he said. He woke before dawn to stretch in his motel room, swallowed an aspirin and stuffed a spare shoelace in his pocket.
Jostled by runners near the starting line, he chugged a Red Bull, a caffeine-loaded drink whose motto is, "Gives You Wings." He crammed two more cans in his back pocket and carried a fourth in a plastic bag. "My aim is to run this in finish time -- whatever time it takes to finish," he said. "I'm not looking for any hour or minute."
He started strong, stride for stride with the horde, but soon slowed to his own pace. His shirt listed his 50-state accomplishments in bold on the back. A few first-timers jogged past him in awe. "You're an inspiration," one woman said. A guy in a red pick-up stuck his head out the window and yelled, "Way to go, buddy!"
"I don't need crowd support," he said, craning up a slope at the 11th mile. A mile later he chugged his second Red Bull. He navigated much of the course at a pace somewhere between a shuffle and a trot. A second wind, fueled in part by his last two Red Bulls, helped him overtake stragglers in the final miles. He finished 16 seconds shy of seven hours, and 14 runners ahead of last place. The winner beat him by four hours, 27 minutes.
"I'm glad that's over with," he said, before a woman draped him with another finisher's medal. "It wasn't that hard, but still, it's 26 miles."