I talked with Joe Marruchella via Skype on Thursday, just three days before his Austin Marathon race on February 20. Joe has set some incredibly ambitious goals for this race, and we settled in to chat about his goals, training, race plans, and where his brain is at before the big race.
This is a guy that blogs regularly, ran two marathons within thirteen days of each other to raise money for his friend Dom’s cancer treatment last year, and is writing training plans for getting new dad’s off the couch and toeing the line for a 5k. Joe is a new dad himself; Landry was born just two weeks after Dom lost his valiant battle with cancer and left behind a 3-year-old daughter and 1-year-old son.
Joe and I have built a solid friendship over the past 18 months, and have shared stories about running as well as commiserated when things got hard in our personal lives. We communicate through our blogs, on DailyMile.com and email, and sometimes via telephone. I’ve never met him face to face or run a trail with him… yet.
Through all these forms of communication, the one piece that I didn’t have was talking with the guy face to face. There are so many nuances of expression that you miss when you’re on the phone, and so many opportunities are lost when you write back and forth. I was tickled to try out Skype, even though I knew I was losing the chance to have a written transcript of our conversation. The trade-off was one I was willing to take.
We sat in front of our computers and saw each other’s faces for two hours. Joe did a lot of the talking, and I got to witness the wacky spiral of runner-energy that builds like a storm cloud before it finally lets loose. He was stuck in a chair in front of his computer for the conversation, but if I could have seen it his brain was spiraling like a tornado with the built-up of taper. His speech was fast, his mind was racing a mile a minute, and the most interesting thing was how he tangented into various topics that were seemingly several degrees removed, but then connected all the dots and circled back to his original point. After a while I felt like a piece of driftwood being buffeted through the hurricane surf; I could swim in this ocean, but fighting it was futile.
This is the first marathon Joe has raced since spring of 2010, when he ran Boston and then Pittsburgh thirteen days apart. He had a fundraising goal of $26,200 to help Dom’s family pay for his medical bills, knowing that the money would be a drop in the bucket compared to what the real expenses were. The races he wanted to run and the money he raised were dedicated to the spirit of Dom; Joe raced because he had strength and health, and he dedicated those miles to his dear friend who was losing the good fight for life on this earth.
During 2010, there were a lot of changes and loss in Joe’s life. He lost two people that were important to him and became a dad for the first time. Because he’s an athlete, he instinctively channeled that energy, that frustration, loneliness, confusion and grief into his running. Running was absolutely cathartic for him, and he raced his demons into the ground. Joe ran a total of seventeen races in 2010, and PR’d in every one. He focused his mind on his training. When things got hard, he pushed that energy into hill repeats and built strength and stamina. When he wasn’t sure where to turn or how to cope with the loss he was feeling, he laced up his shoes and ran until the world stopped hurting. And he got faster.
Midway through the year he came across the Austin Distance Challenge, a series of five races of varying distances that culminated with the Austin Marathon in February. Because he was already signed up for the marathon, it was easy to retroactively register for the other four races. As part of his base training, he challenged himself on 10-mile races that incorporated hills, a 10k race that he crushed with his speed, and a half marathon that proved that a sub 3:00 marathon time was possible.
Joe posts his workouts on DailyMile.com, a social networking website that connects athletes around the world. Through DailyMile he’s become an icon of sorts. He’s the guy that always has something positive to say, even when he’s not feeling fabulous. He cheers on his fellow athletes and celebrates their personal accomplishments. Through DailyMile, other athletes have had a chance to learn about Joe’s innate athletic ability that has yet to find its peak. He’s still heading up to the apex of his ability, and the DailyMle community is cheering him on.
Because this is Joe and not someone who craves attention on a personal level, he feels a responsibility to the DailyMile community and the running community he’s associated with in Austin. He’s mentored enough people that they feel they have a stake in his race, and in return Joe wants to do his absolute best to show people that when you believe in yourself, when you dig deep and set hard goals, you fail only if you fail to try.
Because Joe wants to try for that sub 3:00 time, he’s been looking at the weather forecast and willing the weather gods to cooperate. Unfortunately, it looks like a beautiful day to be living in Austin; 63 degrees at 7 AM and 75 degrees by noon with a humidity level of 96% at gun time. The spectators are going to be standing in the sunshine wearing hats and sunscreen, while the athletes will be fighting for breath through the wall of water sitting in the air, trying desperately to stay hydrated and have enough juice for the “race” that starts at mile 20.
Joe got good news at the Expo yesterday; a friend of his will be leading the 3:00 pace pack. Scott’s plan is to hold steady throughout the miles. Joe is hoping to dial in a 6:52 pace, but acknowledges that if his breathing is labored in the humid air, he might have to back off and feel his way to a 7:02 or even a 7:12 pace. All of these are contingency plans. Every scenario has been discussed and worked over, save for those random moments that are totally out of anyone’s control, like slipping in a water station or dropping a gel pack.
While we were talking Joe was working his way around the idea that running is ultimately a selfish sport. Getting up early, buying gear, tracking miles and assaulting loved ones with nervous race energy… is it worth it? How you deal with it is the ultimate key to success. As a new dad, Joe’s wife and baby actually benefit by him having an outlet that isn’t related to anything the family is doing after 7 AM. He expends his energy and is ready to connect and hang around the house blowing raspberries on tender baby tummies and sit in awe as she learns to sit up. By going out and running as hard and fast as he can when he’s feeling like a volcano that’s about to explode, he moves that energy away from his family and acknowledges it in a safe, controlled and non-destructive way. At the end of the run he’s excited to go inside and sit down to a hot breakfast with his family. That’s the epitome of time well spent.
And because we started talking about balance in his personal life, we talked about cross-training. Joe currently runs five days a week. If he tries to run six or seven days a week he risks injury. He talked about runners who try for “100 consecutive day challenges” or the guy who’s running a marathon distance every day for a year, just to see if he can. Joe shook his head at this. “You gotta cross-train if you want to avoid injury,” he said. “Runners forget that they can’t just run day after day and get away with that as a lifestyle. Cross-training is key.”
When Joe had shin splint issues 18 months ago be started cycling. Riding his tri-bike on the trainer has increased the muscle strength in his legs, muscles that get neglected by continual lateral movement. He feels stronger because he strength trains and cycles, and talked about his next goal; learning how to swim.
After the race, Joe is looking forward to improving his swim stroke. He wants to improve from “controlled drowning” to “incredibly competent”, and has thoughts of doing a triathlon at some point.
The past twelve months have been dedicated to Dom, Dom’s memory, and raising money. This will be the last race that is an official fundraiser. At Pittsburgh last year, Dom told Joe to run the next marathon just for himself. And now, ten months later, that’s what Joe’s planning on doing. Each step, each labored breath, each mile that slips by as he races toward the finish line and the waiting arms of his wife and baby daughter, he’ll be racing his hardest with every ounce of speed strength and stamina he’s gained from training and racing in seventeen races this past year, racing this time for himself alone.
Next week I’ll do a follow-up with Joe, to see how things went and re-hash the race. After that, he’ll do his next run on Friday when he runs in the Ragnar Relay. The part he’s most looking forward to is the leg of the race that begins at 1AM. It’ll be just him, running in the dark without a watch, without worrying about pace or splits. It’ll be the time that he reconnects with his absolute love of running, even though his legs will still be trashed and his body will still be recovering.
Run Joe, run. Race fast. No matter what happens, no matter what time you have at mile 13.1, you’ve trained and raced harder and faster than you’ve ever gone before. THAT’S the reason people look up to you Joe. You don’t hold back and you give it everything you’ve got. You’re all in, Joe. Clear eyes, full heart, can’t lose.