The Little Things . . .

a Going the Distance newsletter

Late October 2021 || issue #109
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Boston Marathon Returns

The Boston Marathon returned on October 11. Due to COVID, the race was cancelled in 2020 and postponed from April to October this year. And everything was different. In addition to the logistics of health-related guidelines, there was the change of season for the race. For those running the marathon, training was in the summer rather than the winter.

We asked three runners who trained for the marathon with Coach Braz to describe the experience. We are grateful to Arianna Maida, Carol Blanchard, and Lana Popova for their reports.


Trust the Process – Arianna Maida

This was my 4th marathon (3rd Boston), but first time having a structured coach helping me along the way to train for it.

This training cycle was different for me because I was working full time (I’m a PA at DFCI/BWH) compared to a more flexible schedule being a college/grad student for my prior marathons. This was also the first marathon I trained for in the summer rather than the winter for a typical Boston in April.

Training with Coach Braz allowed me to trust the process better and truly believe in myself as a runner. I felt the most physically and mentally fit for this Boston marathon. He was an incredible resource from advice for training through the hot and humid summer days to how to attack the course on marathon day. He was extremely thoughtful with my work schedule as well as it can be difficult to fit in runs working 12h shifts and other summer life events.

The first 13-15 miles felt really great, controlled and relaxed. Then the hills start around mile 17-21 and that’s where true grit and mental toughness come into play. The crowds throughout the whole course were amazing and motivational. The city truly carries you through the last 10k after heartbreak hill (and at that point in the race, all you have left is running with your heart!).

One of my favorite things about the journey to run a marathon is witnessing your body and mind build up the strength and perseverance to go the distance for 26.2. I was overall happy with my performance of 3:11 (personal best of 3:10 at Boston). I cannot thank Coach Braz enough for his words of wisdom and training plans.

I think I’ll skip out on Boston in April, but have goals for Chicago or New York next fall when I hope to have Coach Braz help me to chase closer to a 3h to sub 3h marathon.

[Arianna trained in the GTD summer program during her scholastic years. She was our first interview in 2014. Since it was new back then, I asked her if she wanted me to send her some questions. She said “no, I know what I want to say about the program.” She did and she does. To read it, go to this link.]

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The COVID Marathon – Carol Blanchard

The Event

COVID didn’t stop my running, or marathon training, but it sure changed the process. To begin with, since I usually run early mornings, in addition to laying out my shirt, shorts, socks, and running shoes the night before, I added a mask. I had a mask with me at all times, wearing it properly as I approached people on the sidewalk or road, and wearing it as a chin strap when no one was nearby. It’s just not easy to run that way.

I tried them all – surgical mask, cloth mask, 32 degrees running mask, Under Armour running mask, and more. Just like finding the right running shoes, I thought the perfect mask must be out there somewhere. If it is, I haven’t found it. With longer runs, stopping at a convenience store to replenish my water required a mask as well. After a while, it became a habit – I put on a mask without even thinking about it.

My group runs ended early in the pandemic. I usually run with a group on Thursday mornings and for some of the longer training runs. That was hard to give up. We had been running together for years and I really missed the camaraderie. It’s hard to get motivated when I’m not meeting someone for the run. I also stopped going to the gym to use a treadmill on mornings with really inclement weather because I just couldn’t get comfortable wearing a mask on the treadmill for an entire run.

Getting closer to marathon day, the emails from the BAA started coming and they were rather cryptic … not a lot of detail about getting to Hopkinton, or how the start would work, or how they were planning to manage potential COVID exposure. They let out a little information at a time and it was confusing waiting for the plan. On the other hand, it was such a relief to know we were finally going to be able to run Boston again!

Eventually, the details emerged -- showing proof of vaccination or a negative COVID test at the medical tent screening was required before getting a bracelet. The bracelet was required before getting a bib number. And the only way to the start at Hopkinton was on the Marathon bus with the bracelet and a mask required to board. It seemed like the BAA thought it through and marathon day worked out well. I think runners are pretty cooperative and it seemed everyone was willing to do whatever was necessary.

A mask was required in Hopkinton until crossing the starting line which was doable. The rolling start was mentally challenging. I missed hearing the National Anthem and the support of a group start. The idea that I could decide when to start was pretty intimidating. One more porta-potty run?? One more piece of a bagel?? With no deadline, it was hard to decide when to start.

But it was so great to be back in Hopkinton. The crowd at the start was not as big as usual, but their enthusiasm made up for it. Once we got going and into Framingham and Natick, there seemed to be the usual numbers of spectators though. And if you can believe it, the Wellesley women were louder than ever. I think everyone was so happy to be able to celebrate the marathon again that the excitement was incredible. And along Boylston the crowds were cheering and motivating, which always helps.

A few notable things at the finish. They were pretty quick to give a mask to runners once we crossed the finish line. And the volunteers handed us the medals – no putting it around our necks as in the past. So good to be back!!

The Training

I requested a training plan from Fernando for a 4 hour marathon -- probably a stretch, but I wanted to challenge myself and get back into a training mode. The first few workouts sounded doable on paper. A 9 minute mile for 5 laps at the track, 2 minutes at 8:45, etc. No problem, right? But I couldn’t do it. Either the pace was off or I couldn’t get the distance/time done.

I had been running throughout COVID, but all easy runs, no races, no pushing myself since there didn’t seem to be a reason to. Not happy about it, I emailed Fernando to say I couldn’t get it done as written. He sent back a revised plan for the next workout, and I had a much better outcome. It took about 4 weeks for me to get an entire workout and week done as written, with Fernando checking in along the way to see how I was making out. It feels like such an accomplishment to run the week “as written”. Needing to tweak the schedule and the goal wasn’t my first choice, but feeling successful in the challenge is more important.

[Although not a marathon PR – her PR is 3:34 – this Boston for Carol was a major victory. She is qualified to run Boston again next April. For more on Carol, see her interview at this link.]


vaccine verification, bracelet, mask, rolling start


Ice baths and Smiles – Lana Popova

Running Boston Marathon this year was legendary!

The smaller field, the 125th anniversary and the post-Covid time made it special!

Just being accepted into race with unprecedented cut off time felt amazing!

Fernando and I go back to 2005, he is the best coach I have ever had. He qualified me for Boston in 2010. I didn’t believe in myself, but he did.

This year I had no doubts about asking for his help. My mental state wasn’t there and my training wasn’t there. He would send my customized plan every week, adjusting to my schedule plus his ‘little things’!!! Oh, those dreadful ice baths!!

I told Fernando my ideal goal is under 4 hours; my less ideal goal was under BQ (4:10) and acceptable goal was under 4:20.

This was my seventh Boston Marathon and the last two didn’t go well. I bonked after Wellesley, walked the hills, and every water stop after. I wanted redemption.

I loved training in the summer and and getting adjusted to the hot weather.
I had to work on my mental state though, and think about the course.
I was obsessing about the logistics and getting to the start. Taking the bus from Boston for local runners seemed ridiculous, so I convinced my boyfriend to take me to Hopkinton. We parked way out and had to walk for a couple of miles. I loved the rolling start: less people and no congestion, just come and start running. Having my boyfriend there and seeing familiar volunteer faces gave me a jolt of adrenaline, thus sprinting like a rabbit after crossing the start line.

After a mile in, a voice of wisdom kicked in. What am I doing? Slow down and take it easy.

Fernando’s voice was in my head: take it slow, little steps downhill, let gravity work, don’t give out energy, take it from the crowd. And the crowd was amazing! People were lining up all the way. There were no deserted stretches in Natick or Framingham like previous years.

This was the best executed Boston Marathon! Take it slow, don’t walk the hills, and then go as fast as you can! That’s exactly what happened! My last 6 miles were the fastest and with a silly grin on my face! It was emotional, I had goosebumps and tears in my eyes.

Seeing my boyfriend halfway and my daughters at the finish was incredible!!!
I crossed the finish line with the time of 3:55:34.
I inhaled every mile of this race; the memory of 2021 will stay forever with me!
Thank you, coach!!!


Kiley, Tracia, DiVasta Win Conference Titles

At the Merrimack Valley Conference XC Championship on October 30 in Tewksbury, Molly Kiley (Andover) won the league title in 18:27 (5:57 pace), 42 seconds in front of the 2nd place runner.
At the Northeastern Conference XC Championship on October 30 in Gloucester, Logan Tracia (Peabody) won the boys title in 15:53 and Sarah DiVasta (Peabody) won the girls title in 19:30.
Molly, Logan, and Sarah train in the summer in the GTD cross-country program.


Personal Coaching

Coach Braz provides personal coaching for runners at all levels who want to improve their performance or want a guided maintenance program.

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The program is designed for runners who have a specific racing goal, or a series of races to prepare for, or want to build or maintain their running fitness.

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Previous Issues of The Little Things

Please go to this link for previous issues of The Little Things.


Going the Distance is a coaching service for runners at all levels.
If you know someone who might benefit from the Going the Distance program,
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Visit our website -- Going the Distance
Head Coach -- Fernando Braz
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For more information, contact Dave at dave@goingthedistancefb.com

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