The Little Things . . .

a Going the Distance newsletter

Early Mid December 2019 || issue #86
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Coach Braz with a group of collegiate runners.

College XC Wrap-up

It was a great season for collegiate GTD xc runners.

Shannon O’Connell (Colby-Sawyer) writes: “I broke the school record in the 5k and 6k My 5k was 18:55 and my 6k was 22:45. I got rookie of the year for my conference and placed 2nd at the conference meet so I got the First Team award.

Shane Braz used his 50 second 10k PR of 31:54 to lead Stonehill at the NCAA Division 2 Championship in Sacramento on November 17.

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The collegiate runners arrived at 7:45 for dynamic warm-up before heading out for their run and then joining the rest of the xc camp for bands, hurdles, medicine balls, and core. Here are some of them at 7:45 starting easily.

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Three Central Catholic runners on the Brooksby Farm xc loop -- Kelsey Seamans, Lily Angluin, Sophia Beland.

Reed Dolan led the Vassar men's xc team at the NCAA Atlantic Regional Championship meet and earned all-region honors.

Marissa Farago (Franklin Pierce) writes: “I placed 15th at the NE-10 championship and achieved an all conference title. The conditions for this race were really awful so the times were very slow but I was really pleased with where I placed. I think it was one of the best races I’ve had since before my injury. I was also really happy with my race at regionals. My team placed 9th out of 23 teams which was the highest finish in school history. Individually I placed 30th out of 162 runners, just missing all region. I really enjoyed this race because it was a very hilly course. I like courses like this one because it feels like true cross country. As for school, I am currently a health science major. My long term goal is to become a registered dietician. After I finish at Franklin Pierce University I am looking to attend graduate school to get my masters degree.” Marissa was the top Franklin Pierce runner at all the meets this fall.

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Wil Aylward leads a college group over the hurdles.

Will Aylward (Franklin Pierce) writes: “I felt my season went well coming back from some injuries last season. I ended up not going to regionals, but felt very strong in the beginning of the season. Highlights were for sure going to Canada and the race I had there, but also the Bruce Kirsch cup race. I had very good races at both of these. I felt very strong in each race, and ran them tactically very well and placed in the top 5 on my team for both. I have big goals for winter and spring. I want to run in NE10 championships for both seasons. As far as PRs go I want to run 1:57 in the 800 and around 4:25 for the mile and then work my way down from there. I feel as though Braz camp gave me a great base coming into the cross country season, and whenever I needed advice and what not the coaching staff was always there for me.

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From left, Madison Conrad, Victoria Lombardi, Sarah Enes, Ali Pais, Shannon O'Connell

Victoria Lombardi (Stonehill) writes: “My first collegiate cross country season was really great overall! Being on a team with so many serious and hard-working women has taught me so much about setting myself up to succeed. I had experienced a setback after my first meet, which I certainly had not anticipated. Being sidelined was difficult, but watching my teammates compete when I couldn't made me appreciate my sport even more. After some time off, I came back better than ever.
One of the highlights of this season was competing at NE10s in one of the most grueling courses I have ever run on. It was my first 6k ever and the course was hilly, uneven, and wet. With our spikes taped to our feet so they wouldn't fall off, my teammates and I stepped on the line together. We finished first as a whole and beat our biggest competition. Being part of the championship team was one of the most rewarding experiences I've had during my time with this sport. I didn't compete at the regional meet, but watching our top 7 women work together to not only become regional champions, but move on to yet another NCAA National Championship was incredible and allowed me to picture myself in their spikes within the next three years.
For winter and spring, I want to work on getting my competitive edge back. For me, this means getting my confidence back. I have always loved the feeling of stepping on the line and I want to be able to use that during the race again. I had plenty of time on the sidelines during cross country--I want to have two consistent track seasons and stay healthy! As I learned from all of my years at GTD, I have to trust the process and trust myself in order to push myself to new lengths and hopefully new PRs!

Ali Pais (Framingham State) was 2nd on her team at the 2019 Suffolk Invitational at Franklin Park. on October 19, and 2nd or 3rd for her team in each race. She writes: “For me, this season was about learning how to run cross country and long distance. In high school, I played soccer and ran mid-distance in track. Walking into the season, I didn’t really know what to expect from myself or the sport, but I ended up loving it. I finished the season with a PR in the 5k of 21:11 at Westfield State. Overall, I’m excited to see how the knowledge and endurance I’ve gained from cross country will affect my track and field season in the spring!"

After her October 26 meet, Sarah Freeman’s (Bryant) coach said "Sarah had a breakout race for the women."

Aidan Kay (Franciscan University) earned All-Conference honors.

Among other GTD collegiate xc runners -- Ali Barrett (Trinity College), Ryan Buchanan (Suffolk University), Madison Conrad (Endicott), Sarah Enes (Assumption), Jessica Freeman (Assumption), Anthony Farago (Assumption), Sam Magee (Worcester State), and Ethan Snook (St Michael's College), who was 2nd or 3rd on his team each race. This is only a partial list.

Finally, a special congratulations to the many seniors who "survived" many summers of Braz Camp and have now finished their last collegiate xc season. Among this great group are Sydney Packard (WPI), AJ Ernst (Virginia) and Coach Emily DeMarco (Boise State).

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After a great 4 years at Bishop Fenwick, Sydney has had an even greater 4 years at WPI. She pays attention to the "little things" -- getting the workout right, leaning into the stretch.

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AJ was a state champion at Marblehead and continued his success at Virginia, never losing intensity and focus.

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After success at Ipswich HS (2 divisional titles and 5 school records), Emily has run for 4 years at Boise State, and returned to coach in the GTD xc program. Emily has never missed a hurdle drill, and makes sure she knows Coach Braz's plan.


Linda Jennings

[Linda Jennings was in her late 40s when she started running, and soon after started working with Fernando. After 6 years of increasing her competitiveness, in 2006 she won the USA Track & Field (New England) Grand Prix title for her age group (50-59). The Grand Prix is an annual series of 7 races that crowns the top runner in each age group.

What's next? For most, there are more local races and more Grand Prix years. Linda went in a different direction -- she chose to compete on the national level targeting some of the USA Track & Field Masters National Championship races. Even though these races are open to all runners, they do attract the top master runners across the country in each age group. As in the local race series, she was successful nationally, and found other women at her level competing in the races around the country. Then there was a sudden decline. Linda writes about the decline below, and her return. In two more articles, she'll talk about racing on the national circuit, and starting running in her late 40s.]

The fall of 2016 was the start of an increased decline in performance. There were sporadic workouts or runs that were “off”.

Everyone has an off day so I wasn’t overly concerned. There was also an underlying subtle fatigue. Over time the decline became worse. I still had stretches where I could run track workouts at targeted paces, had good long runs and races. Then I’d have a workout that I couldn’t run close to the target pace. Or, I’d have a long run that I needed a walking break after only a mile or so of very easy running. The next day would be a good day, no issues. It was baffling and unsettling.

Over time my performance continued to decline. Now I was no longer competitive with my peers who I had raced with. Fernando saw the issues and made changes to my weekly outlines. We tried various things but nothing solved the problem. I did address this with my Primary Care physician. He did a few tests but did not find anything wrong.

Using a chest strap heart rate monitor, I found that on the bad days my heart rate was unusually high. I used a device, similar to the EKG feature on the Apple Watch, to record the abnormal heart rate. I finally got a referral to cardiology. It didn’t take long for the cardiologist to diagnose this as Atrial Fibrillation (AFib). I have paroxysmal AFib, episodes are sporadic and typically last 18-36 hours.

The AFib would start during the night and when I tried to run in the morning, I was still in AFib so would have problems. As the AFib progressed, the episodes became more frequent and lasted longer. The bad workouts, long runs and races that I had initially may have been due to AFib.

AFib wasn’t a diagnosis I expected or wanted to have. I was assured that we would find a treatment that would control the AFib and allow me to get back to the level I was running before all this started. The first treatment was medication. It did not work. The AFib episodes continued and became more frequent. I was referred to an electrophysiologist for a cardiac ablation. Basically the ablation would create a barrier of scar tissue in the heart which would stop the erratic electrical signals causing AFib. The procedure was longer than expected so the timeline for returning to running had to be adjusted.

The ablation was in February and the recovery is still ongoing. After a few weeks of rest which consisted of watching movies, reading and naps, I started back with easy running. Did a 3 mile very slow run and needed a walking break. Each day was a little better although I needed walking breaks. Six weeks after the ablation I was told that I had no restrictions. The cardiologists were confident that I could regain the fitness I had lost. However, it would take time and would be hard. I was not ready at that time to start workouts but welcomed the news.

Getting back to running after the ablation was unlike anything I had experienced. Fernando gave me outlines that had mileage on designated days. We then progressed to adding some time at a harder effort.

During all of this there was a lot of communication. I would let Fernando know what I ran, how long and pace, and how I felt. He would adjust accordingly. Some weeks went better than others. This was a difficult time for me as everything was different and there was no timetable or guide for progress. This was another aspect that Fernando needed to work on with me. At times I was too focused on what I had run previously and how much slower I was currently. Fernando would remind me of the progress I had made and his confidence that I would continue to improve. In June I progressed enough to start track workouts. Over time I could do longer runs and eliminate the walking breaks. In August I ran a Fresh Pond 2.5 miler. These races consist of running one loop (2.5 miles) or two loops (5 miles) around Fresh Pond in Cambridge. These are “old school” races. Free, timed race held every Saturday and attract a wide range of runners. I’ve done these every few weeks to assess my progress.

Although I’ve made significant progress, I have a long way to go but confident that I can do it.


GTD Summer Programs -- XC and All-Sports

Registration for the 2020 GTD cross-country and all-sports conditioning programs will be available on March 1. Onsite sessions for the programs will begin on Monday, July 6.
More information on the cross-country program.
More information on the all-sports program.
Questions? Contact Dave


Personal Coaching

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

Registration Form

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.

Program details
Sign-up Steps


Previous Issues of The Little Things

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