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Oct. 20 2009 - 6:40 pm | 171 views | 1 recommendation | 1 comment

Running for the law: Ron Abramson’s ultra-running endeavor

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If you think you’re too busy to squeeze in a morning run, then you need to take a page out of Ron Abramson’s training plan. Abramson has been an avid marathon runner since 2006, and currently logs over 50 miles per week. That’s a full-time job right there, but Abramson’s got a second gig to think about: he’s also a well-known New Hampshire lawyer. Since 1993, he’s worked as a public defender, small trial firm partner and a law professor. Now, Abramson balances running with a position as Of Counsel to New Hampshire’s McLane, Graf, Raulerson & Middleton, P.A.

But Abramson doesn’t just think of running as an after-hours hobby – it’s also an effective means of philanthropy for the 41-year-old father of three. Last year, he marked his 40th birthday by completing a 40-mile ultra-run, all while raising money for cancer research. On November 1st, Abramson will go for his second ultra distance, by finishing the Manchester City Marathon and then tacking on another 12. Those 38 miles have a legal slant: Abramson, along with colleague Steve Dutton, is raising money for the Campaign for Legal Services, with funds going to legal assistance for low-income NH residents.

I see a lot of lawyers in spiffy running gear trotting through Central Park, and I doubt many (or any) of them are pushing through ultra-marathons and raising money while they’re at it. What Abramson’s doing is exceptional, and I was fortunate enough to ask him a few questions about life as a legal ultra-runner.

You’re running ultra-marathons now, but how did you get your start as a runner, and what drew you to long distances?

I suffered a pretty severe injury playing soccer in 2005 and ended up drifting away from the sport, which had been my passion since I was 4 years old. On July 4, 2006, my brother-in-law asked if I wanted to run a half-marathon with him the following October; 13.1 miles seemed awfully far to me then, but as soon as I found a beginner’s training schedule, I was hooked.

I have not run a sanctioned ultra-marathon, but decided to mark my 40th birthday last December with a 40-mile run to raise money for cancer research in memory of a cousin who died at age 35 of glioblastoma. The kernel for that idea came from Boston Marathon race director Dave McGillivray, who’s been running his age since he was 12 (he’s in his 50’s now).

The notion of running beyond the marathon distance resulted in part from the fact that so many people run marathons for charity these days, so it’s hard to get the attention of possible donors by doing “only” 26.2 miles. Also, by choosing to raise money for causes which necessarily involve helping people facing difficult circumstances, I felt that I should also face some adversity in the process.

Tell me more about the fund-raising effort. Where will the money go, who will benefit, and how much do you anticipate raising?

The fundraiser on November 1st is to benefit the Campaign for Legal Services, which is a coordinated effort to raise money so that New Hampshire residents have access to civil legal representation at low or no cost. This means helping people avoid unfair evictions, obtain public benefits to which they are entitled, protect themselves from domestic violence. My goal is to raise $1,000, but given the inverse relationship between dwindling funding and the growing need for services, I’m hoping to raise as much as possible.

How do you train for this kind of endurance effort? And, in particular, how do you work training into a lawyer’s schedule?

I log anywhere from 55 to 70 miles a week on average, with my longest runs this cycle coming out to 20+ miles, so the overall training volume should carry me through the longer distance run. I’m not “racing” it, so I just need to hit the goal pace (8:45/mile) during the Manchester City Marathon, and then keep plodding along until I’ve reached the 38-mile mark.

As long as I run and work, I’ll likely have to figure out the balance. I may have to get up at 4:00 to get a run in before work, or run at lunchtime, but so far it seems to be working out. And the McLane law firm has a very strong and supportive running culture.

I hear the usual range of questions about how my feet, knees, back, hold up under all the pounding, or about how far a marathon actually is (all marathons are 26.2 miles), or about what’s the point to racing if I’m never going to win any prizes (which is mostly true). When some people ask about my next running event, and I say that it’ll be a 38-mile fundraiser, most either laugh in my face or stare in silence.

This is going to be your second ultra distance. Do you have plans for more in the future?

I plan to run the Boston Marathon on April 19th and the Big Sur Marathon on April 26, 2010 to benefit the Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation. I have no immediate plans to do a sanctioned ultra-marathon, but have been spending more and more time with ultra-runners of late, and may end up being pulled in that direction. I find it easier to just keep going than to try to run shorter distances faster. Being stubborn and realizing that the discomfort is temporary makes it bearable, even enjoyable.

With the recent news of three men dying during the Detroit marathon, I wanted to ask you about your health. How do you think endurance running has changed your physical wellbeing? And do you worry at all about the potential risks?

My father had quadruple bypass surgery in his 40’s and both of my grandfathers died of heart disease, so that background is certainly a factor in terms of my being dedicated to – some might say obsessed with – running. Since I started running, I rarely get sick. I weigh the same as I did when I graduated high school. I mostly watch what I eat, but can eat a ton (which I very much enjoy). My resting pulse is about 45 beats per minute. Becoming a serious runner is the best health decision I’ve ever made.

The Detroit Marathon and other mid-race deaths are tragic, but they are not the result of running, and they occur in infinitesimally small numbers compared with race participation. Most every runner who dies that way had a heart problem which underlies the tragedy. In reality, the biggest threat to a runner’s health/safety is careless driving. I would worry much more about my health – physical and mental – if I were not a runner than I do now.

And finally, what are your three must-haves for training?

A variety of running routes, with varied scenery and terrain – my hometown of Concord, New Hampshire is great that way.

Enough running clothing and gear to dress for any conditions, from 90 degrees and humid to mid-winter blizzards.

The third is a tie between my Garmin Forerunner GPS watch (which I ALWAYS wear) and my iPod (which I use on about half of my runs, mostly for listening to podcasts, which is like having a running partner who does all the talking).


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    I'm a full-time heath & science writer at Sphere and a contributing editor at True/Slant. I also contribute military health news to Danger Room at Wired.com, and have recently written for Marie Claire, World Politics Review and Next American City.

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