Wednesday, September 23, 2015

On naked racing and positive body image

Fans of this blog (all three of you) may recall a little race that I won last month... in the buff.  It was something I did on a lark, partly for the story and partly for a new and novel racing experience.  The need to reinforce positive body image never really entered into it.  I have my share of body hangups just like anyone else, but the thought that naked racing could cure any of them never occured to me.

But last week a running friend and freelance journalist interviewed me for an article on just that: naked racing and positive body image.

The article appeared today, and Liz writes, "that public nudity is one of America's most profound, collective nightmares has always fascinated me.  We attach the utmost value to certain clandestine body parts.  We seem to believe skin is more sacred for never having seen the light of day."  I couldn't agree more.

The Germans have a healthy take on social nudism known as Frei K├Ârper Kultur, which literally translates to "free body culture."  Having lived in Germany in high school and college and traveled throughout Europe, I'm no stranger to nude spas and beaches.  It's left a sense of confidence in me and refusal to feel embarrassed or ashamed of my body to the point that doing a naked race wasn't the earth shattering event it might be for others.

I love Liz's angle on it.  I definitely agree that naked racing and social nudism in general could contribute to healthier self esteem and acceptance of one's body, though I don't know that a naked 5k will be gracing Philadelphia's streets anytime soon.

Anyway, as usual when I'm interviewed for an article, I had a lot to say, but only a few quotes made it into the piece, so I thought I would share the full interview here:

Name: Scott
Occupation: high school teacher
Location: Collingswood
Naked Race: Wiggle Jiggle Giggle 5-K at Sunny Rest Resort in PA.
Running since: off and on since high school, consistently since 2005.

What motivated you to try a naked race in the first place?
I love running and enjoy doing all different kinds of races, and it was always on my bucket list to try a clothing optional race. Partly for the story but mostly just to try something different.

What was the most surprising/unexpected aspect of naked racing?

I guess the most surprising thing was how easy it was to forget about the nudity and focus on the racing. It was just like any other race I've ever done: sizing up potential competition at the starting line, setting off with a lead pack of runners, trying to find the right time to make the kick, doubt and worry over whether I can hold the pace, giving it all I have in the final tenth of a mile... just with a whole lot of nudity.

How did naked racing change your relationship with your body?

I don't think that naked racing changed my relationship with my body so much as it reinforced how I already feel. Clothed or not, my body is what I have to work with and it is capable of amazing things, and there is no need to feel ashamed of it. I'm extremely proud of winning that race, even if it was just a goofy run with a bunch of nudists hidden away in the Pocono Mountains.
There were about 130 runners of all shapes, ages, sizes, and running abilities. It was a clothing optional race, but very few people opted for clothing.

How many people have you told about your naked racing experience? What has been the general reaction from your family and friends? What's the most supportive response you received? The most critical?
I wrote a blog post about the race and tweeted a few times about it, and told everyone in the Wednesday night running crew, but that's it. The people in the running group generally thought it was hilarious. There were dozens of questions, and some have even expressed interest in running next year with me. I guess that would be the most supportive response. There really hasn't been a critical response.
I never brought it up with my family. My dad and grandmother read my blog but neither have mentioned the race. My wife would have done it with me but we couldn't work out the logistics with our baby.

Do you think naked racing will continue to grow in popularity or remain a niche event?
I would love to see more people try naked racing, but it will probably remain a niche event. For one thing, you pretty much have to offer races like this at nudist resorts and only in warm weather, so you're limited in the times of year and the places you can offer them. I had to drive an hour and a half to get to this race, which I normally don't do for a 5k. Also, depending on your body type, it's hard to run hard for 3 straight miles without some sort of support. So there may be some people who want to try it but it would be distinctly uncomfortable.

What kind of person should try naked racing? What kind of person should avoid it?
What kind of person should try it? Anyone willing to step out of their comfort zone. I would definitely recommend it for someone trying to overcome body issues. All of those insecurities that we cover up with clothing - a bulging stomach, stretch marks, saggy skin, whatever - are thrust into the open. You quickly see that everyone has some sort of imperfection and no one is judging anyone. This is even more true when racing. You stop focusing on your imperfections and remember how strong your body is and what it is capable of. It's all about joy of running and racing and the nudity quickly becomes secondary.
What people shouldn't try it? Again, the support issue might preclude certain body types from naked racing, but not from social nudism as a whole.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Why I give up alcohol before a goal race

When I train for a goal race, I usually give up alcohol about two months out.  This is never easy, mind you.  I don't want to paint myself as a drunk, but a cold craft beer is one of the great pleasures in life, in my opinion.  So why deny myself the joy of an oat soda or two after a long day's work?

I do it for a few reasons:

  1. It helps me cut weight.  I am not overweight by any means, but when training for a goal race I can always stand to drop a few lbs.  Not drinking saves me a lot of calories over the long haul, in addition to the temptation of eating greasy bar food when I'm out.
  2. It helps me stay focused.  I may still go out during marathon training, but the temptation to stay up till 3am is gone when I'm drinking water all night.  This makes it much easier to get up early to run.
  3. It saves me a lot of money, which I can then spend on races and other race-related things.
  4. So much of marathon training is about sacrifice, and I like the idea of sacrificing something I love to help me keep my eye on the prize.

Tomorrow marks two months until the Philadelphia Marathon, so tomorrow I start my self enforced sobriety.  I'm saying goodbye to the boozy life tonight by enjoying one of the best fall beers I've ever had, which my dad picked out for me.  I'm pairing it with a dram of Woodford Reserve's double oaked bourbon.  The bitter hops pair brilliantly with the slight sweetness of the bourbon, and I'm in heaven.

It's going to be a long two months.  I'll catch you on the other side.

Friday, September 18, 2015

Notes from a morning runner

In any marathon training cycle, especially for a goal race, it's easy to become hyper focused on training and let everything else fall by the wayside.  Success requires dedication, which can easily morph into obsession if I let it.

In an effort to keep Stevie and Neale a priority, I've been attempting, for the hundredth time in my life, to become a morning runner.  By running when they're both still asleep, I will then have time for them in the afternoons/evenings.

I normally get up at 6am for work, so this means if I want to get in any kind of meaningful workout, I have to get up as early as 4am.  My new normal has become to wake up at 4am, drink tea and read on the couch while I slowly wake up, then head out the door around 5am, depending on the day's workout.

Some notes:

  • Getting out of bed is the struggle of my life.  Once over that hurdle, it isn't so bad.
  • But then I get so comfortable on the couch with a good book that I don't want to leave that either.
  • I leave so much time between waking up and getting out the door to give myself time to digest the previous night's dinner.  I have to use the bathroom at least a few times before every morning run.
  • Nothing is better than coming home from work in the afternoon knowing I've already taken care of that day's run.
  • I have definitely felt a surge of energy in my morning classes, but feel pretty exhausted by the time my last class of the day rolls around.
  • I hate running in the dark.  It is doable, but it makes it significantly more difficult to get up to "cruising speed" when I can't see the terrain as well and don't want to trip.
  • Spiderwebs and sprinklers: the bane of a morning runner's existence.

Are you a morning runner?  Leave me some advice or encouragement!

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Back to School

Welcome to my classroom.

Recently started my 5th year of teaching high school German.  The teachers started work on September 1st with two days of professional development, and the students returned on the 8th.

I teach six classes over five levels (1-4 and AP) in grades 8th through 12th.  I'm a one man show, as I like to say, with over a hundred students as my captive audience.  If you thought some of the jokes on this blog were bad, you should try spending time in the classroom with me.

As with every training cycle for a fall marathon, one of my biggest hurdles becomes adjusting to the new school year. Training starts in July when I have a lot of free time and can pretty much run any time I want to.  Once back in school, though, I have a very strict schedule I have to adhere to.  I try to arrive at school every day at 7am with first period starting at 7:45. The school day ends at 2:30, but we have to stay until 3.  My life is ruled by the school bell.

Strangely enough, I found the last time I went through this (in 2013) that the tighter schedule actually helped my training.  It forced me to be more disciplined and focused and not waste a second of the day, whereas summer training and the accompanying heat made for a more laissez faire attitude.

Not only do I have to find time to cram in training runs, but I also have to keep nutrition in mind.  Our school cafeteria is like most other American public schools in that "beige" seems to be the only item on the menu.  During the school year I have to work extra hard to make time for breakfast and then pack a healthy lunch for the day.

The marathon isn't until November 22nd, so until then, German rap and long runs, grammar charts and pushups, vocab games and sore legs must all coexist peacefully.  But once the marathon is over...

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

They say it's my birthday

Just two weeks after my son's birthday, I get to celebrate my own.  He celebrated his 1st, and now I celebrate my 34th.

A couple of girls in my German IV class wrote all over the whiteboard in my classroom, including this part by my desk:

I was certainly flattered but couldn't help correct their spelling.  Once a teacher always a teacher.

Stevie surprised me with a Team Spartenheimer sweatsuit in the morning and then brought me lunch from my favorite sandwich shop during the day.  The final surprise came when she told me she'd lined up a babysitter for tonight and was going to join me at beer/run club.  It was her first time there and she only did 3 miles as opposed to the whole 6.6 mile loop.

In the store after the run she brought out a cookie cake to share with everyone.  She wanted everyone to sing me happy birthday, but I wouldn't let her and she settled on "three cheers for the birthday boy."

The humidity was absolutely horrendous today and I had to work all day in a room without A/C, but this really was an amazing birthday.  Beer, running and several thoughtful surprises from the love of my life... what could possibly be better?

Monday, September 7, 2015

Movie Monday: Ginger Runner and the NYC Marathon

I love the Ginger Runner and I love his videos even more.  They're incredibly well-polished; the editing and sound are leaps and bounds above the average YouTube content, yet they never lose the amateur feel of just an average guy talking into a small camera.

I've posted one of his videos before; his running of the 2014 Gorge Waterfalls 50k.

In this particular video, he chronicles his journey to and subsequent running of the 2014 New York City Marathon, the one with nasty wind and temperatures throughout the day.  I love his sentiment as he approaches the finish: "Got my ass handed to me today, and loved every second of it.  Let's finish strong."


Saturday, September 5, 2015

Keeping things in perspective

Counting marathoning as a hobby is a bit of a double-edged sword.  On the one hand, it keeps me healthy, gives me a great sense of accomplishment, helps me meet new people, and takes my mind off of the stresses of life.  It accomplishes what every hobby should.


It takes a lot to run marathons.  Sacrifice.  Patience.  Time.  It's one thing to dream big and set big goals, but it's difficult to not feel like the world is crashing down when those goals aren't met.  It starts to feel like more than a hobby when it just shouldn't.  Hobbies shouldn't consume an entire life at the expense of other areas, nor should so much self-worth be based on an arbitrary time goal.

Keeping perspective during a marathon training cycle is difficult but something I need to consistently work on.

Yesterday Stevie, Neale and I went to Wildwood, NJ.  We spent some time on the beach and then spent the night with a friend before heading out this morning.  I had saved my 8 mile run to do on the beach, reasoning that the change of scenery and running on the beach would be preferable to running my same old boring running routes at home.


It didn't quite go according to plan.  It was much hotter than I anticipated in the afternoon, and when you run at the beach you pretty much run in direct sunlight the entire time.  The humidity soaked through my shoes within 3 miles so that they squelched with every step thereafter.  I barreled into a headwind for much of the run.  It was slow and monotonous and not at all the kind of run I had envisioned.

But afterwards we all went to the beach where Neale went into the water for the first time of his life (he'd been to the beach before, but only ever stood at the water's edge).  We took turns holding his hands while the waves approached him, and the look of sheer joy on his face is one I hope I never forget.  The shrieks, the laughter, the giant grin, the splashing and the pulling of his mother's arms as he struggled to go farther... It made my heart swell to see him take to the ocean the way he did.

Greater men than I have tried and failed to put words to their feelings of love, so I will leave it at this: Good runs or bad, I will always love my son more.

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Ode to grilling

The summer season is winding down, and with it goes one of my favorite aspects of warmer weather: backyard grilling.

Ever since we moved to a place with a backyard last summer, I've fancied myself the lord of the grill. We don't have air conditioning downstairs, so if I cook in the kitchen, I may as well climb into the oven while I'm at it because that's how hot it gets.  Which leads to one of the great pleasures in life: the smell of sizzling meat over charcoal while sipping an ice cold summer beer.

I grill anything and everything on my tiny, humble charcoal grill.  If it can fit and needs to be cooked, I'll throw it on there.  Here's a selection of the things I've grilled this past summer:

  • Burgers
  • Dogs
  • Swordfish
  • Salmon
  • Corn
  • Assorted vegetables
  • Shrimp skewers
  • Chicken breasts
  • Chicken drumsticks
  • Bratwurst
  • Steak

Salmon on cedar planks

Shrimp skewers, swordfish, veggies, eggplant

Don't forget the appetizers:

Homemade guacamole, fresh fruit with yoghurt dip.

The whole ensemble is only complete with a summer beer, good friends and family, the soft sound of crickets and the occasional airplane flying through Philadelphia airspace.  Summer in a nutshell.

I'll be sad to say goodbye to grilling, but still looking forward to getting back into the kitchen and moving onto the next season.

Here's to eating well!

Monday, August 31, 2015

August mileage

This year's mileage:

January: 198
February: 231
March: 281
April: 121.2
May: 159.1
June: 112.3
July: 145.4

And August:

210.1 miles for the month of August, bringing me to a total of 1457.1 for this year.  I'm ahead of schedule to break 2,015 miles for this year with two very big mileage months coming up.  I could end up passing 2,015 miles by the end of November, which would coincide nicely with completing the Philadelphia Marathon.

August was a tough month as I readjusted to a marathon training schedule and dealt with virtually no rain and an unusually high percentage of days with temperatures in the nineties. The school year is starting back up as well which will present its own set of challenges.

Truth be told, I'm kind of tired of counting miles and am looking forward to 2016 when I can run as little or as much as I want to with no major goal races on the horizon.  Until then, only four months to go...

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Running in Ithaca, NY

Ithaca is gorges.

There, I got that out of my system.  Now let's get on with things, shall we?

Stevie and I went up to New York for a friend's wedding this weekend and decided to spend a few extra days in Ithaca.  It was a lovely trip filled with hiking the many gorges in the area, beer and wine tasting, the wedding, and relaxing in our bed and breakfast, an old farmhouse on the outskirts of town.

And running.  With a runstreak that won't die and a marathon coming up in November,  I take my running clothes with me anytime I pack a bag these days.

I love to run while traveling.  It can be a hassle, especially the worry of getting lost (I never run with a cellphone), but I love the feeling of exploring new territory on foot.

Our bed and breakfast sat at the top of an enormous hill that was only the start of miles and miles of undulating roads, and I wasn't exactly looking forward to four days of mandatory hill training.  I set out on Wednesday to explore some of the side roads around our B&B and quickly found a road that ended by a forest.  I found a well-marked and well-maintained trail leading into the woods, so I decided to follow it despite having no idea how long it was or where it would lead me.

I love running in the woods and I was in heaven.  The trail was almost completely flat but had plenty of twists and turns to keep me alert.  I eventually connected with what was labeled the blue trail, which after a few miles delivered me to a YMCA wilderness day camp.  Children were spread out learning how to build fires and shelters and other outdoor skills, and I charged back into the woods for a total of 8 miles that day.  I did 6 the next day, then begrudgingly tackled 10 miles of roads and hills on Saturday, and this morning I returned to the woods for 4 miles of speedwork.

I'm happy everything worked out and my training didn't suffer during this trip, but at least during marathon training, it'll be nice to get back to a predictable routine in South Jersey.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Neale turns one

Three years ago Stevie and I took a trip to Germany.  Because she had never been there, I felt compelled to show her as much as I could of the country in the 10 days alloted.  We rented a car and took in the cities of Berlin, Hannover, Munich and Cologne, as well as smaller towns and villages that showcased Germany's charm.

Close to the middle of the country, we stopped in my ancestral village of Partenheim, a mere hamlet of a thousand inhabitants in Germany's wine region that makes some seriously astounding wine.  We stayed above one of the two bars in town and had dinner and drinks below.  We quickly befriended the locals, and after three hours of conversation, we were gifted three bottles of Partenheimer wine and two wine glasses.  Because the wine bottles bear my surname and because it is all but impossible to procure outside of Partenheim, my family tends to save them for special occasions.

We drank the first bottle on the night after our wedding in 2013, and opened the second bottle tonight, the night of our son's first birthday.  Neale already had a party in Florida a few weeks ago, and another in our backyard last weekend, so tonight was about Stevie and me.  It was about celebrating our first year as parents; the joyous highs and the maddening lows, the endless laughter and the endless crying, everything we have gained and everything we have sacrificed in the name of raising our son.

A year ago today we were in the hospital, exhausted and exhilarated from the previous 24 hours, amazed at what we (but mostly Stevie, of course) had just accomplished, and humbled by all that was to come.  And tonight, a year later, we sat on the porch of our bed and breakfast here in Ithaca to take it all in and reflect.

At the end of the day I can still say I love being a father to Neale and husband to Stevie.  To all those who have played a role in Neale's first year of life, big or small, I offer you my most sincere thanks.  And here's to the next year of parenthood, and many more, whatever they may hold.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Thoughts on the term "self-coached"

I have always considered myself self-coached.  Indeed, I used this very term in my post from last week explaining my approach to this fall's marathon training regimen.  I've even taken pride in the term given that I have achieved some lofty running goals (namely qualifying twice for the Boston Marathon) while relying on nothing more than my own will power and experience.

But last month I saw this tweet from Scott Fishman:

Scott Fishman has been a coach since 2000 and just celebrated his 9th anniversary as founder and leader of Team All-American, an online coaching service for athletes worldwide. When someone with a B.S. in Exercise Sports Science and certifications in running coaching and personal training says something like this, it genuinely makes me think.

Because he's right.  I don't have any sort of certification in training or coaching.  I have no professional or academic credits to my name in the athletic world, yet I insist over and over on this blog that I am self-coached.  It causes the self-doubt to rear its ugly head, making me second guess my decision to constantly train alone rather than putting my training and consequent race results in the hands of professionals.

But does it really matter what I call myself?  You can't argue with the results, can you?

Scott expounds on his views in his blog post from last month in which he calls out people like me:

And tonight's tweet:

I get it.  He's running a business and must relentlessly promote his expertise to sign up new customers.  But in doing so I think he's forgetting - or ignoring - the element of experience. Do I need to sit in a classroom to learn about how to train properly, or listen to a coach who has sat in a classroom to learn how to train properly, or can I simply learn by doing?  The learning curve is steep, but I've come away with a training plan tailored to me and only me.

In the end it probably comes down to semantics.  By Scott's logic, I should call people out who refer to themselves as self-taught in a given skill or subject because they don't have the proper teacher certifications like I do.  But I don't because that's ridiculous.  If someone wants to teach himself German by watching YouTube videos and studying grammar charts and call himself self-taught, go for it.  Will he learn more or better by studying with me?  Who's to say? Everyone learns differently.

Once again, like in this post, I'm not trying to knock coaches trying to make a living or those who hire them.  If you have the means and a coach will help you achieve your goals, then go for it.  But I strenuously deny that working with a coach is the only way to train smart and avoid injury.

Now here's hoping I'm not strenuously humbled come November when I put this all to the test. Until then, keep training smart folks, however you interpret that.

Monday, August 24, 2015

14 mile Monday

To make room for yesterday's shenanigans, I had to push my long run to this morning. Thankfully because I'm a teacher and still on summer break, I can swing a schedule shift like this.

14 miles on tap for this morning.  Pleasantly cool but still a fair bit of humidity left in the air. Overall it took me an even 2 hours to finish it, including one bathroom break and one water/gel break.  The pace wasn't exactly blazing but I was pleased to note how good I felt throughout the run.  Gone was that death march feeling running in August usually elicits.

I felt strong today, despite being drenched in sweat like so many previous runs this summer. It was rewarding to watch the work I've put in so far already start to pay off.

In a marathon training cycle, it's normal to experience ups and downs.  One only feels as confident as the last workout, and in the wake of a poor workout it's easy to succumb to the feeling that all is lost.  The feeling after a workout that went well, then, is an extraordinary confidence booster, and in the long run, confidence and mental fortitude can sometimes count more than physical capability.

Not only was it a solid training run, but I also crossed over the 1,400 mile mark on my journey to run 2,015 miles this year.  I also found an unopened can of Bud Light at mile 13.  Wins all around today.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Wiggle Jiggle Giggle 5k Race Report

This morning I straight up won a 5k.

This is a very rare event in my running life, last occurring in 2011, so pardon me while I celebrate a little.

But this wasn't just any old 5k.  This one was extra special, because I won the entire thing wearing nothing but shoes and socks.

Say what you will about me, but don't ever try to call me boring.

It was always on my running bucket list to try out a clothing optional race, so when I found a flier for this race at the Haddonfield Running Company, I figured why not give it a shot?  So I drove an hour and a half out to the Sunny Rest Resort in Palmerton, Pennsylvania this morning to check this one off the list.

Sunny Rest Resort is a sprawling complex amidst rolling farmland just off of Rt. 476.  The main hub of the resort centers around the swimming pool close to the entrance, but campgrounds and connecting roads snake out across the 190 acre property.  It was on these roads that the 5k was run.

Going into the race I thought I might have a chance at winning, because I doubted there were many nudists who were also serious runners, and few serious runners who would dare to bare it all, as they say.  But at the starting line I saw a number of men, young and old, who looked fairly serious.  They were checking their Garmins and discussing the course and race strategies, just like any other race, yet all were standing there completely in the buff.  The competition, as it turns out was, uh, pretty stiff.

Thanks, folks, I'll be here all week.  Try the veal and always tip your waiter.

"It's my birthday today," one guy told another.  "What better way to celebrate my birthday than in my birthday suit?"

We started a little past 10am, and I quickly fell in just behind the lead pack.  You haven't lived until you've run a race with nothing to chase but several naked male butts in front of you.

The only spectators were nudists who live at the camp through the summer and have set up elaborate campgrounds with their RV's.  Some cheered for us while others went about their Sunday morning routine in the nude.  We had to complete the course loop twice to make it 3.1 miles.  One by one the other guys fell behind until I took the lead with about a half mile to go, and charged through the finish line in 19:52.  I was the only one to break 20 minutes from the field of 129.

This really was a well done race and a lot of fun overall, and I can easily recommend it.  My one complaint, though, is that there was no water on the course.  There were two giant jugs (no not those kind) at the finish area which doubled as the halfway point, but no cups in sight. I was parched early in the race and as soon as I crossed the finish line I mentioned the lack of water to the race director.

Me: There was no water on the course!
Race Director: Yup!  No need for it in a 5k.  By the time the water has any effect on you, you're already finished.

Um, I don't know that I buy the science behind that.  I don't care what the distance is, when you host a race in August with a start time of 10am, especially on a day like today when there wasn't a cloud in the sky, it is borderline negligent to not offer water on the course.

At round 12 we all met down by the pool for the awards ceremony.  The place was packed with the pool side bar "Streakers" doing a brisk trade.  For my win I received a trophy as well as a $25 gift certificate for the professional body painter they had at the resort that day.  I didn't have time to get painted as I had to get home to the wife and baby.

Taking pictures is generally taboo at nudist resorts, and the last thing the internet (or my students) need is a picture of me having a flapping good time, shall we say, so I'll just share a picture of the shirt and trophy and call it a day.

Suffice it to say this was a wonderfully strange morning, and one I won't soon forget.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Ode to the Haddonfield Running Company

I'm part of a running group on Facebook, and recently one of the members asked everyone for shoe recommendations.  One person suggested going to a local running store to try on different shoes, and then buy the pair online for much cheaper.

Which brings me to my daily PSA: don't do that.

Look, I'm one of the cheapest guys on the planet.  I work hard for my money and try not to be frivolous with it.  But even I don't mind paying more money at a specialty running store than I would online for the same products.


Because I am all about supporting not just my local community, but the local running community as well.  The money I pay at the running store goes right back into the community in which I participate in the form of races and other special events.

It's no secret how much I love my local running store - the Haddonfield Running Company - and it looks like that love has finally spilled over into this blog post.

It should be noted that I am in no way affiliated with the Haddonfield Running Company.  This post was not sponsored; in fact, they don't even know I'm writing it (though I'll provide a link afterwards). I'm just a major fan in need of some gushing.

Without further adieu...


Top 10 Reasons Why I Love the Haddonfield Running Company

10. They always have water for passing runners.  Once when I stopped in during a run and there were no cups available, an employee gave me a full bottle of water, free of charge.

9. Speaking of employees, they are the nicest people on the planet (no surprise here - most runners fit this mold).  They greet me enthusiastically when I come in and frequently ask about past or upcoming races.

8. When the bombings happened at the 2013 Boston Marathon, owner Dave Welsh jumped into action and organized a run at a local high school track the very next night.  Candles were placed around the track, and hundreds came out to run a mile in honor of the marathon and the victims.

7. Group runs every Wednesday night.  6.6 miles week in and week out with much of the same folk every week.  They let us hang out in the store afterwards and drink beer, thereby combining two of my favorite things in this world.

6.  They constantly connect with races and running-related companies so that it seems every week there is a different shoe company letting us try on their shoes or people promoting a different race.  Every week feels like a running party.

5. They connect with the local high school track and cross country teams, most recently hosting a "spike night" with deals for high school students looking to get fitted in new pairs of spikes.

4. They run one of the best and most competitive 5k's in New Jersey, the Haddonfield Adrenaline 5k.  A thousand people show up in March, including the best of local elites who compete for hundreds of dollars in prize money.

3. Owner Dave Welsh is constantly brokering food and drink deals with the Irish Mile, a bar down the road, for patrons of his store on special events.

2. Not just one location, but a total of four - Haddonfield, Moorestown, Medford and Mullica Hill.

1. A few times a year they host sidewalk sales in which insane deals on shoes can be found.


If you live in the South Jersey area, you need to check out one of these stores and get involved in the running scene.  Don't live around here?  Find your closest running store and find your own reasons to love it!

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Possibility Days

Here we go again...

Exactly two years ago today, I formally announced that I intended to train for the 2013 Philadelphia Marathon with the intention of qualifying for Boston.  I achieved both goals with a PR that still stands to this day.

And now I'd like to make a similar announcement: I intend to run the 2015 Philadelphia Marathon (my 6th) in a time below 3 hours.  My first ever sub 3 marathon.  And most likely my last.

My PR is 3:03:05, just over 3 minutes from the coveted sub 3 title, yet I feel I'm already operating at the outer limits of my abilities and patience.  Can I run a sub 3?  I feel confident I can.  But the required training involves time that, as a husband, father and full time public high school teacher, I'm already stretching as is.  I would love to give it my all one last time before running marathons just for fun in the future (inasmuch as marathons can be considered "fun").

Here's what will remain the same as last time:
  • I will once again be self coached, drawing on my own experience and information culled from articles, books and other runners.
  • I'll train 6 days a week, long runs on Sundays, rest days on Mondays, and keeping mileage around 60-70 miles per week.
  • I'll cross train and strength train as much as possible but will focus mainly on the running.
  • Speedwork once a week.
  • Increased focus on nutrition while cutting out all alcohol two months out.
  • Cutting about 10 pounds to get to race weight of 130.

Here's what will be different this time around:
  • More progression runs and runs ending in goal pace.  I really want to practice negative splitting, which has always been one of my weaknesses.  My MO in longer distance races is to go out at what I consider  a sustainable pace, and then hold on for dear life towards the end.
  • Run the Baltimore Marathon as a training run.  Technically this was the plan last time around, but I started to suffer from shin splints and had to cancel that plan.
  • Focus more on quality of runs, not the quantity of miles.  I simply don't have the same amount of time to train like I did last time, and I need to make each workout count.  Each workout should have a plan and a goal rather than just the goal of adding more mileage.
  • Run the bulk of my runs early in the morning before work.  Becoming a morning runner is one of my life's goals, but sleep always wins out.
  • Make a stronger effort to keep my wife and son as a priority in my life.  Remind myself that I don't need the marathon like I need a positive and healthy relationship with my family.

I've been cycling through periods of intense excitement ("LET'S DO THIS!!!") to periods of self doubt ("Ugh... what's the point of doing yet another marathon and training so much just to lower my time by three minutes?").  I'm worried I'm not as committed as I should be, but for now I am going to stick to the plan of just going for it.

The good news is that I will be in a new age group for the 2017 Boston Marathon, meaning my qualifying time will be 3:10.  If my goal is to run a sub 3 but I miss it by a few minutes, I still attain my B goal of making it back to Boston with plenty of time to spare.

I do hope you'll follow along on this journey.  I'm not trying to be some sort of coach or marathon expert, but let's just say this ain't my first rodeo and I've learned a thing or two over the years.  If you want to leave me encouragement or even constructive criticism about my training, I'd be more grateful than you know.

You can also follow me on twitter: @Spartenheimer

Enjoy the ride, folks.  It's going to get intense in these parts.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

The Raven Run of Miami

Have you ever wondered about your running bucket list?

What kind of running experiences do you want out of life before you ascend to the great trail in the sky?  Ever since a reader brought it to my attention a few years ago, I've wanted to do the "Raven Run" down in Miami, Florida.

In short, Robert "Raven" Kraft is a man who has lived in Miami almost his entire life, and has been running 8 miles on the sands of South Beach every single day since January 1, 1975. Let me repeat that.  8 miles, on the same beach, every single day.  For the mathematically challenged, that's over 40 years and 100,000 miles.  He is currently #9 on the USRSA's active running streak list, but he is the only known person in the world to streak the distance he does.

8 miles.  On the beach.  Every.  Single.  Day.

Robert "Raven" Kraft
From Spirit Magazine

A man like this naturally acquires an aura about him, with terms like "legend" and "rockstar" bandied about casually.  Much like Forrest Gump, Raven has inspired a cult following of runners that join him on his early evening runs (I was the 2,403rd runner to do so).  At the end of each run, Raven bestows nicknames upon the newbie runners.  Runners going by names such as "Taxman," "Dizzy," and "Chapter 11" head up the list of those who have logged the most runs with him.

A few more links to articles about Raven:

"Raven's Way" from Trail Runner
"The Long Run" from Spirit Magazine
"Miami Beach Man Celebrates 40 Years of Daily Run" from The Miami Herald
Documentary trailer on YouTube.

Every time Stevie and I visit her family in South Florida, I think about the Raven Run, and I finally got my chance to join last night.  Stevie agreed to take care of Neale's bedtime routine, and her grandmother agreed to let me borrow her car and drive the hour south, all so I could run with a man I'd never met before.

Getting there was no small task.  The highways approaching Miami are challenging in their complexities at the best of times  ("I only go to Miami at gunpoint" as my father-in-law tells me), but last night I also had torrential downpours and horrible traffic to contend with.  By the time I pulled up to South Beach just before 5pm, my knuckles were whiter than snow and my nerves were just about shot.  I hustled over to the 5th Street lifeguard stand with minutes to spare, expecting to see a shirtless gentleman in black shorts holding court with a knot of runners.

I found nothing.

The beach was full of frolickers enjoying the sun, but no runners.  I paced up and down the sand, scanning for any sign of a slowly moving running herd, assuming I must have missed the group, but still nothing.  Finally at 5:15, feeling a little dejected, I decided to run a mile to take care of my own running streak.  I didn't have it in me to run 8 miles alone.  When I got back to the lifeguard stand, I thought I would take a picture before packing it in and heading back to the car.

Seconds after taking the picture, the man, the myth, the legend shuffled over to the lifeguard stand.  As it turns out, while the website gives the starting time as 5pm, the actual time is 5:30.

Normally 10 or so runners join Raven's run, but I was the only person to start with him last night (we were later joined by a few other runners here and there throughout the run).

"You saved my streak," he tells me while locking up his things at the lifeguard stand.  Raven hasn't run alone since 2005.  As we begin, Raven bellows in his deep, Johnny Cash-like voice: "Roll call!  We've got Scott from Collingswood, NJ joining us tonight!"  Raven's is a life deep seated in traditions of his own making, one of which is to announce each runner, new and old, as the run begins.  Even if we're the only two running.

The sun is alone in the sky and beats down steadily.  Despite the pace being slower than I'm used to, the sweating begins immediately.  On an average day, 8 miles will take me just over an hour.  If I'm pushing myself I can dip a few minutes below that.  But tonight, as with most nights, Raven takes almost two and a half hours to complete his run.  He's in a lot of pain, you see.  Pain that he might be able to mitigate with surgery, but he's afraid the recovery required will break his streak.  Right now running is the only thing that makes the pain feel better, even if it is slow and he often needs to stop to stretch.

Two and a half hours of running is a long time to get to know someone.  We talk about how he used to run in the soft sand in the middle of the beach, but abandoned this for the harder packed sand at the back of the beach sometime in the 90's as the aches increased.

"But I've never run in snow," he tells me, which leads to an involuntary chuckle from me and a brief recounting of the madness that was Boston Marathon training last winter.

We talk about streaking, and I tell him about my own streak, paltry in its newness compared to his, but he encourages me to sign up with USRSA since my streak is longer than a year.  We talk about the days when it seems impossible to get that run in.  Just last week he suffered food poisoning, but still kept the streak alive.

We talk about running, how he's never been into races, how 8 miles is the perfect distance. He tells me about the six runners who have been banned from the Raven Run over the years. He lists his accolades, such as the mayor of Miami awarding him the key to the city, the various articles and films about him, including a recent documentary that he was sad didn't truly capture the pain he is in.  I must stress that none of this comes off as bragging, but instead simple facts in a casual conversation between two runners.  He really is that nice and genuine of a man.

As other runners that Raven knows join us for a mile or two - one of the lifeguards, an insanely fit 53-year-old man from the Dominican Republic, two men in the restaurant business - Raven introduces me and keeps me in the conversation.  If another runner passes us, he repeats a line he often uses: "She may look great, but she ain't doing 8."

My life as a German teacher in a public high school comes up, which somehow leads to me sharing my favorite word in the German language with him.  The word for "sex" in German is just der Sex, but the word for "intercourse" is der Geschlechtsverkehr.  When literally translated, this actually means "gender traffic."  Raven gets a kick out of this and decides this will be my nickname.

"But only if you're ok with it."

It might be the most absurd nickname I've ever been given, by none other than the running legend of South Beach.  Yes, I am totally ok with it.  Gender Traffic it is.

On and on we trot, up and down the beach, making three trips to the pier at the south end. He touches the southern most point every time before turning around, and on our third trip out there, I run ahead and touch it first.

"He's looking like a veteran runner already!" Raven calls out.  I, like most runners, like Raven, like accuracy.  If Raven says that's the southern most point, then that's what I want to touch to know I went as far as I could.

At around 7:30, we finish the run just as we started: just the two of us.  By now the sun is close to setting and obscured by thick layers of clouds, the crowds on the beach thinned but still a presence.

Raven used to complete a 1/3 mile swim in the ocean after each run, but the motion hurts too much now.  He encourages me to complete the swim, but I decide that I need to head back to the Mrs.  I leave all of my running clothes on and take a dunk in the warm ocean while Raven watches my things, and just before I leave he gives me a copy of Spirit Magazine, the one in which he is featured.  We shake hands, he gamely obliges my request for a selfie, and I tell him I hope to run with him again someday, perhaps when I return this December for Christmas.

I walk back to the car and change out of my clothes and drive an hour north, this time along empty highways under the gleaming stars.

I loved running with Raven.  I loved that he was one of the nicest men I've ever met, so open with his story even though I'm a complete stranger and he's told it a thousand times before.  I loved feeling the camaraderie not just with Raven, but with the South Beach running community.

I could never imagine such an unwavering routine, running the same 8 miles on the same stretch of beach every day, crippling myself in the process while paradoxically saving myself from the pain at the same time.  It might seem odd that I find in Raven a kindred spirit, but it's precisely the temptation of calling him crazy, the disbelief at how he chooses to live his life, that cements the feeling.

I think the true badge of honor in being a runner is to be called crazy.  How many times have I laced up on a particularly heinous winter day and received side eye from friends and family? How many times have I described my running streak or the final miles of a marathon and the listener looks like he wants to shake me out of my senses?

While there are certain aspects of Raven's lifestyle I wouldn't want to emulate, I have nothing but respect for this man who found something that works for him, something he is passionate about, and did it.  One man's "crazy" is another man's "dedicated," and Raven is the most dedicated man I have ever met.

Raven lives in a condo he bought in 1988 just two blocks from the 5th Street lifeguard stand. One of the runners tonight joked that Raven will have to sell him his condo someday, but Raven told him he plans to have it turned into a museum about his life and runstreak after he dies.  This is the legacy he has chosen to live and wants to leave behind.

My experience with Raven begs the question: what will my legacy be?

Sunday, August 9, 2015

If you can't take the heat...

... get the hell out of Florida.

I love visiting Florida.  I love the palm trees, and the sun, and the beaches, and spending time with Stevie's family where there is never a shortage of laughter, not to mention good food and booze.

But man do I hate running down here.  Especially when I come visit in August.  The humidity is so overwhelmingly oppressive that it's a miracle I get in any miles at all.

The suffocating humidity makes the running torturous, while the absence of hills or trails just make it boring.  Add the vexing nature of Stevie's neighborhood and the whole thing begins to reek of futility.

When I first started visiting here in 2012, I was confronted with a neighborhood so complicated that an out-of-town runner was almost guaranteed to get lost.  My first few runs back then were a nightmare and only lasted 20 - 30 minutes.

While her overall town is situated on a grid, the individual neighborhoods are anything but. Streets twist and curve like the varicose veins of the elderly residents, with each new curve completely renaming the street, following a pattern known only to the original cartographer. This is a neighborhood that names four different streets, all within a quarter mile of each other, the names NW 19th Manor, NW 19th Pl, NW 19th Str, and NW 19th Dr.

Not confusing enough?  Let's name two main streets a mile away from each other Coral Ridge Drive and Coral Springs Drive.

And there are canals.  Canals everywhere.  It's hard to remember which canal each one is and which side of it you're on.

Through all this nonsense I ran 12 miles today.  I methodically ran laps around the area while stopping back at Stevie's dad's place for water every few miles.  I didn't leave until about 8:30am, and I'd set out to do 10, but surprisingly I felt ok enough in the heat and humidity to knock out 2 more miles.  Dare I say I am acclimating to Stevie's insane neighborhood and the ridiculous humidity?

When I finished I was of course soaked from head to toe in my own sweat and enlisted Stevie's dad to take some pictures:

I figured since my clothes were already soaked, I may as well jump in the pool with all of them on.  So that's what I did:

Nothing better than finishing a long run with a dip in the pool.

I guess Florida ain't all that bad after all.

Saturday, August 8, 2015

2015 Miami Marathon Kick-Off 5k

I'm down in Florida for the umpteenth time of my life visiting the in-laws, and Stevie decided to continue her 5k kick by signing us up for another one this morning.  The Miami Marathon is held every January, and every August they hold a 5k to kick off training season.  Because nothing is better in life than training for a marathon in Florida in August.

We left Neale with his grandfather and left around 6am for Hollywood, FL, just outside of Miami.  The race started on a pathway right next to a tiny waterpark/playground area with indoor bathrooms.  The race field was about 200, but we didn't have to deal with port potties or absurdly long lines either.

On the other side of the playground was the beach.  Because the race started at 7am, we were just in time for the sunrise:

Sunrise in Florida

I agreed to run with Stevie so as to pace her to a PR.  She set her PR (34:06) just last month at a 5k in which she pushed the stroller for the majority of the race, so she was pretty confident she could pull it off today.

Stevie's high school friend and her husband were also there:

Pre-race game faces

The course was a simple out and back with the first and last mile along the beach, and the middle mile practically in a tunnel of mangrove trees.  Needless to say, it was pancake flat.

We started out at an 8 minute pace in the excitement of the race, but quickly settled into a pace just under 10 minutes.  As I continued to check the watch and continued to note we were staying under a 10 minute pace, we thought we might be able to go sub 30.

In the last half mile we tried to pick up the pace, but unfortunately fell just short of sub 30 by running 30:07.  But still a 4 minute PR for Stevie.  On a chilly, fall morning with zero humidity, I have no doubt that Stevie will crush the 30 minute mark in a 5k.

Post race sweaty selfie

Every runner received a tech shirt that indicated he or she is training for the Miami Marathon, so I joked with Stevie that we're just going to have to come back in January to run it.  Every finisher received a medal, and I learned that the winner of my age group finished in 19:44.  If I had gone at my own pace I might have been able to win a giant palm tree shaped medal, but I don't regret "coaching" Stevie one bit.  It was great to run as a couple and see her accomplish a goal and set new ones with her for the future.

Another great race in the books.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

2015 SJAC No Frills Just Thrills Race #5

This morning I ran 10 miles with the last mile at a 6:30 pace.  It felt great to push the effort on a hot August morning.

Then I developed stomach issues this afternoon, but because I'm a glutton for punishment (aren't all marathoners?), I still headed over to the Cooper River tonight for the 5th race in the South Jersey Athletic Club's "No Frills Just Thrills" race series.  Amy came with me and acted as my official race photographer.

She took more pictures of her dog than me, though.

This week's race was a staggered start race, with ten different heats offered.  Runners consulted a chart with predicted paces and finishing times next to the ten heats, then signed up for the appropriate one.  The idea is that the slowest runners get to start first, with each heat separated by 3 minutes.

Out of ten heats, no one signed up for the tenth, four runners signed up for the ninth, and I mistakenly signed up for the eighth.  I was tired from the start and everyone in my heat quickly flew ahead of me.  I caught up with a few high school girls from the seventh heat about halfway through the race, and shortly before the end most of the guys from the heat behind me passed me.

Final stats:

Gun time: 45:55
Actual time: 24:55
Overall place: 71st (out of 92)

 Summer is winding down, and only one race to go in this series.  How's your summer running going?

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