What a fantastic experience it was Valentine’s Day weekend with my friends from New Balance, new and old, and at the New Balance Grand Prix Indoor track meet in Boston. I was put up in the Lenox Hotel on Exeter Street overlooking Boylston Street – just half a block from the marathon finish line. And while the weather was not conducive to running an outdoor marathon this weekend (temperatures for a large majority of the time there hovered just above 0), it was conducive for a high-energy indoor track meet with some of the world’s greats at the Reggie Lewis Center on the campus of Roxbury Community College.
On Friday evening myself and other specialty running retailers from around the country were brought it to the brand new global headquarters for New Balance in Brighton. As you would expect from one of the world leaders in athletic footwear, the lobby was covered with different styles of New Balance shoes and other running memorabilia. Upstairs we were treated to presentations from New Balance executives highlighting their footwear and apparel innovations (had a chance to reconnect with Sr. Footwear Product Line Manager Claire Wood – met her when she was at Brooks year ago), their community outreach to high school student-athletes (the next generation of American runners), and their sponsored athletes. New Balance has about 25% of their global footwear line manufactured in the United States and is really doing some innovative things with their new Fresh Foam cushioning technology. Fresh Foam uses convex and concave shapes in the shoe midsole to provide cushioning and support where needed. They are even looking at ways to custom fit midsoles based off of runners needs. Clearly the shoe technology of the future is now!
We also had a chance to interact with some of New Balance’s small group of hand-selected elite athletes – 1500 meter world champion Jenny Simpson, 1500 meter world’s bronze medalist Brenda Martinez, newly minted professional sprinter Trayvon Bromell, and multiple NCAA national champion Abbey D’Agostino were among the crowd. After the formal part of the evening broke, I had a chance to grab Jenny Simpson for a few minutes and talk to her about her training principles. When I asked her what she sees as the most important part of her training, she said that it has to be recovery. Whether it was recovery between workouts or between training blocks, utilizing a soft-tissue specialist to flush out her legs or simply finding time to get in the pool and walk around (which she and her 2:20-something marathoning husband Jason do weekly) was programmed into her training schedule.
Saturday was the same day as the U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials from Los Angeles and most of the group gathered in the hotel restaurant, Solas, to share lunch and visit for a few hours during the televised marathon. I invited 1976 Boston Marathon winner Jack Fultz to the lunch. Jack has become a friend through a mutual friend of ours, Dustin Hinton (rundustin.com). Jack is a very gracious man with his time and a true historian for the sport of running. He is one of the founders of the Dana-Farber Cancer Institutes Marathon Challenge team 27 years ago and presently is their coach. The team is the fundraising arm to the cancer institute. Each Spring Jack takes on anywhere between 550-600 charity participants and trains them to get to the finish line of the Boston Marathon. I only saw some of the trials as Jack was telling running stories to me and Varsity Sports principle owner Jenni Peters. Jenni ran competitively in the 80’s and early 90’s and participated in the ’84, ’88, and ’92 women’s Olympic marathon trials. It was a true treat for me to sit between these two legends of their respective running worlds and hear the stories of training and racing. Felt like a kid on Christmas morning.
Saturday and Sunday mornings started off for me with a cold run around the Boston Public Gardens. Temperatures both mornings were in the negatives with wind chills in the negative teens or greater. I recalled my winter days of growing up in New Jersey and was sure to layer and have face coverage (three bottom layers, five top layers, two pairs of gloves). Exposed skin would start to hurt in a matter of minutes otherwise. Sunday was especially cold as minus 26 was the wind chill when I went out and I was the only one crazy/brave enough to loop around the Gardens that morning. Even Sunday morning services at Trinity Episcopal Church (right next to the finish line area where our medical tent was for the past year’s marathon was positioned) was sparsely attended. But I can say that I was there for the epic cold of 2016.
Our group gathered for a brunch in Solas with more of the New Balance gang and then we loaded up and went over to the “Reggie” for the meet. Area school kids and youth track program races were first before the elites took the stage with a nationally televised meet starting at 4pm. We were treated to front row seating right on the rail of turn one. Really a great spot stocked with food and drink and a great vantage point. First-class treatment at a first-class event. Olympic, national, world champions competed in this early season meet. Very exciting seeing these athletes run and jump (Olympic decathalon champion Ashton Eaton pole vaulted, long jumped, and sprinted), but I don’t think I will truly grasp the caliber of these athletes until I see them on television in Rio at the Summer Games.
After the meet we all gathered again and I now had the chance to visit with Jason Simpson. While not a sponsored athlete, Jason is aiming for around 2:20 for this year’s Boston Marathon. He said that the one thing that has given him confidence in this running is his gradual increase in his weekly volume. But this has taken him three to four years to get to 100 mile weeks and truly feel strong at the distance. It takes years to season the firewood for it to burn right.
As the weekend wrapped up, I can reflect on the truly wonderful experience I was afforded – First-class treatment, first-class event, and first-class company that looks out for it’s people.