Saturday, November 26, 2016

2016 Haddon Township Turkey Trot Race Report

Ran the 10th annual Haddon Township Turkey Trot this morning.


Here are some race recaps from previous years:

2012
2013
2014
2015

I love this race because it's local so it doesn't take long for me to get there, and it's also in the town where I teach so I get to race against a lot of my students (the swim coach makes all of her swimmers run this race for conditioning, so that helps).  Spoiler alert: one of them beat me this year.  Sigh...  Also it finishes at a bar and there is a whole breakfast buffet afterwards.

Racing, followed by drinking beer.  All in all, my idea of a quality Saturday morning.

I got to the Pour House at 8 o'clock and got a sweet parking space on the street right next to the bar and finish line.  Met up with my dad for a bit, then did a quick warm up jog with Erik.



The race started promptly at 9 o'clock with close to a thousand people lining up on Haddon Avenue.  At the signal, we all tore off about a half mile down the street before making the first turn.  The course for this race is great because it is almost pancake flat with very few turns.  If the weather is perfect (like it was today), then it is a great course to set a PR on.  Too bad I just wasn't in PR shape today.

The downside to this race is that despite its size, it doesn't offer a water stop (usually not a huge deal in November, though), nor does it offer race clocks at each mile marker.  I didn't have my watch on so I had no idea how fast I was going.

One of the guys in my running group was hanging off my right shoulder, and we traded places several times in the second half of the race.  I was trying my hardest to fight off the urge to give up and just let him overtake me for good, especially because I've been fighting a cough for the last two weeks.  I kept telling myself to keep pushing because this is most likely my last race of 2016 and I wanted to finish on a high note.  I ended up edging him out by just five seconds and finished in 19:45, 24th overall and 4th in my age group.  The winner finished in 15:34.  This race is nuts.


When I crossed the line I suddenly felt the urge to throw up, which almost never happens to me after races, and I spent the rest of the morning coughing my head off.

Me: I think I made my cough worse by racing this morning.
Father-in-law: Maybe you should have skipped the race.
Me: I couldn't!  It's tradition to do this race!
Father-in-law: Your cough is becoming a tradition at this point.

I tried to congratulate as many of my students at the finish line as I could before heading to my car and getting changed.  At the awards ceremony, a woman saw me wearing an old Philly Marathon shirt and asked me about it because she had just run it last weekend.  My dad and I ended up talking to her about marathons for the next twenty minutes.

Neither my dad nor I won anything in our age groups, but Erik won 2nd in his age group and got a sweet mason jar pint glass which I picked up for him because he had already left.


My dad and I got our traditional picture beneath the Pour House sign:


And I then spent the rest of the morning with the Who's Up? crew drinking beer and talking about Boston (three of us are running in 2017 and one just qualified last weekend for 2018).


If you're looking to PR in the 5k, this is a great race to target.  Flat course, usually good weather, and right at the end of the fall so you can train mostly in moderate weather.  Can't wait for next year...

Thursday, November 10, 2016

2016 Cooper Norcross Run the Bridge 10k: Race Report

Every year in November for the last decade or so, runners have gathered in Camden, NJ to run across the Ben Franklin Bridge in a race aptly named "Run the Bridge."  It's a 10 kilometer race with an additional 2 mile walk, and benefits the Larc School, a facility in New Jersey that caters to students aged 3 - 21 with moderate to severe disabilities.


It's one of those races that has been on my radar for years, partly because I'd always heard good things about it but also for the novelty of getting to run on a closed bridge (the only other time I'd done so was when the Pope came to town).  So 2016 was the year I finally got to check it off my bucket list.

The staging area for the race is Campbell's Field, home of the now defunct Camden Riversharks baseball team.  We live pretty close to it now, so I was able to take a leisurely Sunday morning ride through Camden to get there.


Once I got there, thousands of people were streaming into the stadium.  Everything was very well organized, from bag check, to packet pickup, to ID check (for the post race beer garden).

A little after 8 o'clock, runners started heading over to the base of the Ben Franklin Bridge, about a half mile away.  They had signs for paces, and I placed myself between the 7 and 8 minute pace signs.  There were a few guys from Who's Up? there with me, including Erik who jumped in at the last second.

Dave Welsh announcing before the start: "If you're elite, please come to the front.  If you think you're elite, take a step back."

At 8:30, the gun went off, and we all began the long slog up the mile long incline of the bridge. The entire first half of the race is on the bridge, with the first turnaround point on the Philadelphia side.  The second half of the race is run through the downtown streets of Camden.

I was feeling pretty good on the bridge and began picking people off, and then tried to hold the pace once back on level ground.  By about mile 4.5, I had caught up with two guys from Who's Up?, but I soon began to wonder how much longer I could keep it up.  At the mile 5 water stop, there were several employees from the Haddonfield Running Company all yelling encouragement, which was a nice boost, but I was still hurting and wanted the race to be over as soon as possible.

I forgot how tough 10k's can be.  5k's obviously hurt too, but they're only half the pain.  And 10 miles or longer, you at least have the chance to build up to cruising speed.  But 10k's seem to be balls to the wall for the entire race.

Once we reached the homestretch and the stadium came into view, Michael began pulling away.  I yelled at him to finish strong, and he looked back at me over his left shoulder while motioning with his arm and shouting back "COME ON!"  We made the final turn into the stadium and onto the outfield grass, with Michael just barely edging me out in a photo finish. When we crossed the line, he  immediately turned around to congratulate me, which the finish line camera caught on video:























This is why I love racing.  Getting up early.  Pushing myself to my limits.  Testing myself. Experiencing a beautiful fall morning when I would have otherwise been on the couch at home.  The camaraderie with a fellow running club member.  THIS is why I love it and wish I could do it every weekend.

My finishing time wasn't too bad, either.  I'm pretty sure it's a PR in the 10k, but hard to tell as I just don't race 10k's very often.





















After finishing, I waited for Erik, and then we went over and got beer (Yards Brewing - interesting that they went with a Philly brewery as opposed to the many South Jersey breweries).



We hung out for awhile listening to the live music, and each got another beer.  Dave Welsh came around and while talking, he mentioned how they're planning to demolish the stadium within the next year, so next year's race will be much different.

So I'm not sure what next year's race will look like, but if it's anything like this year's, I can definitely recommend it.  Great, challenging course with great beer at the end.  What more could you need?


Tuesday, October 25, 2016

2016 Jonas Cattell Memorial 10 Miler: Race Report

Running nerds and history geeks can finally find common ground.  Introducing the best race in New Jersey that you've never heard of: the Jonas Cattell Memorial Run.  It's also quite possibly the oldest, having been run every year since its inception nearly fifty years ago.

The race was started in 1969 to commemorate Jonas Cattell's 10 mile run from Haddonfield to Fort Mercer on the east bank of the Delaware River in 1777.  18-year-old Cattell had been arrested the night before by British troops and spent the night in jail, where he overheard the plan for Hessian troops to attack the fort in the morning.  As soon as he was released, he took off westward, using his experience as a hunter and outdoorsman to easily navigate the trails to the fort.  His advance warning gave American troops, expecting an attack from the water, enough time to prepare appropriately.  Despite being outnumbered, they won the battle while experiencing few casualties.


What is remarkable about this race is that no one seems to have heard of it, despite its age and remarkable backstory.  Unlike other races of the 1960's and 70's that started modestly and have since swelled to the thousands (Falmouth Road Race comes to mind), this race stays true to its roots with roughly 150 runners each year.

The race does little, if any, advertising.  There is no official race website or any presence on social media of any kind.  The only way runners seem to hear about it is through word of mouth, and indeed that's exactly how I came across it.  Erik from Who's Up?, also a history buff, told me he was planning on doing the race, and I agreed to do it with him.

This race is point-to-pont, so organizers provide bus transport from the finish line at Fort Mercer to the starting line in Haddonfield.  I made the drive down Rt. 130 at 6:30 in the morning, parked at the battlefield park's parking lot, then boarded the bus to Haddonfield. Registration forms were distributed on the bus to those who still needed to register.  How much was race-day registration?  Are you ready for this?  $30.  For 10 miles.  That's probably the best bang for my buck I have ever found in a race of any size or length.

Once in Haddonfield I was able to complete registration, use a toilet at a local supermarket, meet up with some of the guys from Who's Up?, and drop off my bag to be transported to the finish.  At 8:00, police stopped traffic on King's Highway, Haddonfield's main street, and 170 runners lined up to race.

Erik and I run similar paces, and planned to run together at roughly 7:30 pace.  Neither of us had a Garmin, though, and we were forced to run by effort, which is never a good idea for us as we always end up going out with guns blazing at the start of races.  We were surprised to pass the first mile marker in 6:50.  This time a year ago, 6:50 would have been child's play, but I'm just not in the same shape now that I was then.

The entire course is brilliant - gently rolling hills and almost a straight shot all the way to the river.  The roads were not shut down, but there was plenty of police support along the way to ensure smooth crossings at intersections.

Somewhere in those early miles, Erik and I got to talking about my marathon training over the years.

Erik: How do you do it?
Me: Do what?
Erik: Run for so long by yourself?
Me: I spend a lot of time building mental toughness.  It gets easier after awhile.

Just before the halfway point, I pulled away from Erik and began running on my own, slowly picking off runners.  Minus a few strong wind gusts, the weather was a picture perfect fall day, and I felt strong and confident throughout.

I ended up finishing in 1:09:27, good for 9th place overall and 1st in my age group (though if I had run the same time in last year's race, I wouldn't have even placed.  Just goes to show you it's sometimes about who shows up, not how fast you run).  The good news is it was a 10 mile PR, though not exactly a hard-fought one because my last ten mile race was almost a decade ago, which I ran in 1:31:20.






I gasped for breath and yelled "The Hessians are coming!"  It could have been my running daze, but I think I got a few chuckles.  Erik pulled up shortly afterwards in 1:10:54, taking second in our age group.



The post race scene was a bit sparse, with nothing more than Philly pretzels, bananas, and sports drink on offer (though for $30 I'm really not complaining).  But Red Bank Battlefield Park itself was in full fall swing with dozens of Revolutionary War reenactors patrolling the grounds and getting ready for an official show that afternoon.  Alas, Erik and I each had to return to our respective households and resume fatherhood duties.  I'm told I earned a medal for my AG win, but I'll have to wait until tomorrow night to get it.

Overall, I cannot recommend this race more.  I love races like this where competition is a large factor in entering.  It's not about the bling.  It's not about the costumes.  It's not about the post race party.  It's not about the swag.  It's not about the music on the course.  It's just about the race.  What a novel concept in today's running industrial complex.

Already can't wait for next year.

Sunday, October 9, 2016

5000 Yards Dash Race Recap

This morning I raced the inaugural 5000 Yards Dash in Philadelphia, which was organized by Great American Brewery Runs, a company that pairs road racing with breweries in the Philadelphia area.  They have races sponsored by Flying Fish, Sly Fox, Fordham and Dominion, River Horse, and now Yards Brewing Company, hence the name and distance of today's event.


Each race also has a charity component, and today's race was in benefit of Philly Achilles, which "pairs disabled athletes with compassionate and trained guides who place an emphasis on safety to ensure that our disabled athletes reach their optimal fitness potential."

I was lucky that a friend from my running group won free entry to this race last Wednesday, but wasn't able to use it.  He sent an e-mail to the group offering up his entry, and I jumped on it.  Before anyone gets their panties in a bunch over bib swapping, he was never actually registered for the race. He just gave me the free code they issued him and I registered with it. I was also supposed to run the race with Erik, another friend from my running group, but he must have seen the rain this morning and bailed on me.

With race entry fee, tax, and online processing fee, the total came to about $55.  For that price, runners received a custom beer glass and coaster/bottle opener (seen above), bananas/beer/hard pretzels afterwards, a festival with live music and food trucks, and a course along Columbus Boulevard (and the only Philadelphia race permitted to run in Penn's Landing).  I was surprised there was no race shirt.  I thought this was a staple of all races.

The race started and finished at Yards Brewing Company, located on Delaware Avenue on the Delaware River Waterfront.  I had planned to ride my bike there because it's only five miles from my front door to the brewery and I didn't want to deal with parking, but the steady rain all morning made that a no-go.


I found parking on a side street close by, walked over to the brewery where a large tent was set up, picked up my bib and then stood around for an hour as more and more runners showed up.  By race time the tent was so packed with runners trying to avoid the rain that it was hard to move inside.


According to the announcer, there were 1,400 runners there (though if they went by registered runners, I'm pretty sure there were plenty who decided not to show up due to the rain today). When 8:30 rolled around, we all trudged out onto the road where I positioned myself close to the front.  My running group Who's Up? just got new T-shirts and racing singlets, and I decided to break mine in today, though it meant I was shivering uncontrollably while waiting for the race to start.  I was fine once we got going, though, and the singlet ended up being a good choice.

The race itself was rather uneventful.  We charged en masse down Columbus Boulevard, eventually made a left into Penn's Landing where the view would have been nice if I wasn't being pelted by rain, then turned back onto Columbus straight into a headwind.  Being 5,000 yards, the course was a little shorter than a traditional 5k, and I finished in 18:33.

I grabbed some water, high fived the runners who came in behind me, and immediately went over to the beer tent.  One of the men there asked to see my I.D.

Me: I don't have my ID, I forgot to bring my wallet today.  How much of a problem is that going to be?
Beer Guy: It's a bit of a problem.
Me: (probably looking wet and pathetic) Can I go look up my race results which will show you I'm 35?
Beer Guy: All right, you're ok.  Go on.
Me: Bless you, good sir.

The wet T-shirt contest was my favorite part of the race.


We got a choice of the pale ale or the Brawler.  I went with the pale ale, one of my favorites.

I was surprised that the brewery itself wasn't open.  I had brought a complete change of clothes, and had planned to hang out at the brewery for awhile with Erik and others, but instead I drank my beer and just walked back to my car.  I doubt the race had any control over it, but it would have seemed like a logical choice to open the brewery, especially on a day like today, but runners were confined to the tiny tent instead.

The race and/or brewery also desperately need to work out a system to dispense the beers more quickly.  Runners were standing in the rain in a line practically as long as the course itself just to collect their free beer.  It was also a very slow line.


All in all, not a bad race experience.  Tough luck that the inaugural race just happened to fall on a day with such terrible weather, but it didn't seem to dampen anyone's spirits.

Were you out there with me this morning?  What did you think of the race?  And how long did it take you to get a beer?!

Saturday, October 8, 2016

My last Boston Marathon (for a long time, at least)

It's official.  I got into the 2017 Boston Marathon.


Registration after my first BQ was a real nail biter, and I missed the cut by less than a minute. I was put through the ringer again during registration after my second BQ, though this time I made the cut,  again by a margin of less than a minute.  But this year I went into registration with a cushion of 8 minutes and 54 seconds below my age and gender's qualifying standard (aided by the fact that I moved up an age group).  For the first time, I got to register during the first week, and I never had a doubt that I would get in.  It was definitely a nice change of pace.

For the record, I do love Boston and am very much looking forward to this April, but this will undoubtedly be my last Boston Marathon for a very long time.  I would love to someday run it with Neale, but I'll be in my fifties or sixties if that ever happens.  So for now, I'm hanging it up. But why?  Why am I not one of those obsessive marathoners that comes back every year? My years-long obsession with Boston certainly pointed to that trend, but instead I'm calling it quits after just two times.

Here are a few reasons:

1. The new registration system.

I have a love/hate relationship with the new registration system.  Had it never been implemented, I probably would have been happy with my former 3:09:45 PR and never would have pushed myself to the outer limits of my abilities and chased my true potential.  I love that it favors faster runners, keeping the competitive spirit of the race alive.  But I also hate that it favors the faster runners, because these are the people for whom Boston may not be as big of a deal.  The people that chase the dream for years and are elated to have finally qualified, are the ones most likely to be left out.  Because of the new system, every year there are thousands of runners who qualify but still don't get into the race.  If I keep doing Boston year after year, I'm taking a spot from one of those people.

2. I'm tired.

I've never been one of those runners that can just go and knock out another BQ any day of the week.  Or even better, one of those runners that just re-qualifies at Boston every year and never has to run a different marathon.  No, qualifying was never something that came easy for me, and I don't know that it ever will.  It took months of very literal blood, sweat and tears to achieve each of those 3 BQ's, and each BQ was achieved at the expense of other areas of my life.  Frankly, I'm just tired of the physical and mental strain and the sacrifices involved to keep running at that level.  I've qualified 3 times. I've run Boston once, soon to be twice.  I've proven to myself and others that I can do it, so I'm left with the existential question of: what's the point?  Why keep pushing myself to the breaking point over and over just to return to Boston as many times as possible?

3. I've reached my peak.

This kind of goes along with #2.  I truly enjoy running long distances, and I hope to run marathons well into my twilight years.  But in terms of speed, I believe I've done all I can with the marathon distance.  To be clear, I don't really think I've reached my peak.  I'm only 35, and if I had all the time and money in the world to train properly, I'm sure I could run a faster marathon in the next few years.  But I've done what I can given my life's other responsibilities, and I'm happy leaving it at that.  Achieving a 4th BQ would be slightly less Herculean of a task than running a PR, of course, and true, my BQ time will slow as I creep up through the age groups, but it still won't be easy.  I'm not one to shy away from hard work, I just want to apply hard work to other, newer goals.  I'm finished setting goals for the marathon.

4. I hate training through the winter.

The first time I trained for Boston, I ran over 800 miles through one of the most heinous winters on record.  I don't belong to a gym and I don't own a treadmill, so I was constantly running double digits through snow, ice, wind, and single digit temperatures.  I was fairly miserable for a good 90 percent of my training, and the only thing that kept me going was the idea of running my first Boston.

True, that particular winter could have just been an anomaly (last winter was much milder, for instance), but if you ask me, one long run in the snow is one too many.  Fall marathons are truly where it's at.

5. The cost.

I did an entire post on this after my first Boston, but the gist is this: Boston is expensive. Travel, lodging, eating out, the entry fee for the marathon itself... it all adds up quickly.  With a new house and a single income, the budget just isn't there to take a lot of trips throughout the year.  Spending so much money year after year on a trip that really is only about me and not about Stevie or Neale just isn't fair.  I'd much rather spend the money on going some place new that we can all enjoy.

So there you have it.  The top 5 reasons this will be my last Boston (for the foreseeable future).  What do you think, internet?  Have you run Boston multiple times?  Are you striving to reach it right now? Do you think Boston is overrated and have no interest in ever running it? Let me know!

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

2016 Philly Spartan Sprint Race Report


Disclaimer: I was contacted by Spartan Race's Dan the PR man and given a free entry into any Spartan Race within the continental U.S. in 2016.  I was not asked to write a favorable report. All opinions herein are my own.

Well the time has come, friends.  After so many years of writing about the Spartan Race, I was finally able to get myself to one of the events and join #SpartanNation.  I participated last weekend in a Spartan Sprint, which took place at Citizens Bank Park, home of the Philadelphia Phillies baseball team.

It almost didn't happen.  I signed up for this race back in the spring when we had Saturdays completely free.  But last week Stevie got a job teaching Saturday mornings, and then we had a last minute babysitter scheduling snafu (#parentlife).  I tried tweeting at Spartan Race a few times to see if they allowed racers to switch time heats on the same day as the event, but no one ever responded.  I finally contacted a friend on Facebook who was working registration who told me running in a later heat was no problem.  Crisis averted, even if it meant I had to miss out on the competitive heat I'd signed up for at 8am.

I love that Spartan Race has an elite heat first thing in the morning, followed by a competitive heat that anyone can sign up for, followed by all the jebronies throughout the rest of the day who don't care about their time.  The race still focuses on camaraderie, much like the Tough Mudder, but unlike the Tough Mudder, a sense of competition is not lost.

So I drove over to the stadium in the afternoon and parked in the stadium lot and headed inside.  I found the start area and got in line, and after about twenty minutes of waiting, I was sent off in a group of twenty.

The course immediately sent us into the visiting team's dugout, then up a stairwell and into the visiting team's locker room where we had to do twenty pushups.  We quickly made our way up to the top of the stadium where we spent a lot of time going up and down the stairs, zigzagging through the sections, sometimes carrying heavy things like sandbags or water jugs.  I learned that Spartans love carrying heavy things.


Other obstacles included the spear throw (racers get only one shot to throw the spear into the target, which I nailed), jumping/climbing over walls of varying height, crawling under bungee cords, climbing a rope to ring a bell, box jumps, etc.


I only failed to complete two of the obstacles: Using a rope and pully to pull a heavy sand bag to the top, and the monkey bars (my hands were too slick with sweat).  If a racer chooses to skip an obstacle or cannot complete it, he has to do 30 burpees.  I also learned that Spartans love burpees.

After finishing, we all got a shirt, a banana, and a protein bar, and you could use the beer ticket at any of the concession stands to get a free large can of Coors Light.



Racers wear the same orange chips on their shoes that runners wear, and each racer gets an official time.  I ended up finishing in 50:09.












I loved this race.  If you're a Phillies fan, even a casual one like me, getting to go through the dugout and locker room and onto the warning track of the field is a pretty cool experience. Every future Phillies game I go to I will always think of the different obstacles I did all over the stadium.

Parking was free and easy.  Registration was quick and organized.  The course was challenging and fun with music being blasted on the stadium sound system and video on the jumbotron.  The shirt is comfortable and looks awesome (take note Rock n' Roll, with your hideous neon green tech shirts this year).

My only complaint is that while the course is marked to show racers where to go, there are no mile markers to give racers a sense of how far along they are.  There are so many twists and turns in the stadium that it's easy to lose track of how far you've come and how far you have to go.  I was trying to conserve energy with some of the obstacles and may have saved a little too much.  I felt I could have given even more.

I'm definitely hooked on Spartan Race now, and hope I get to do another soon.  If so, I plan to upgrade to the Super next.

Until then, AROO!

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

2016 Rock n' Roll Philadelphia Half Marathon: Race Report

I've done this race almost every year for the last 11 years (I had to skip 2014 for a wedding). It's clearly one of my go-to fall races, and I was delighted when Stevie told me she wanted to run it this year as her first ever half marathon.  I immediately volunteered to run it with her and help her through it.

Between the intense heat we had this summer, and our move, and Stevie directing a children's theater camp, she didn't train as much as she wanted to, knocking out only one eight mile long run in her training.  As for me, my last long run was the ODDyssey Half Marathon back in June.  Though I continued my runstreak by running every single day of the summer, my mileage never touched double digits.  I figured I would be ok, though, because I knew I would be running at a slower pace than I am used to for this race (and yes, I know that kind of makes me sound like a speed snob or whatever, but I can live with that).

Stevie and I dropped off Neale at 6am at a friend's place, who graciously offered to watch him such an early hour, then made the drive across the bridge into Philly and parked near Eastern State Penitentiary.  We had plenty of time to use the porta potties and drop off our gear, then went up to the top of the Art Museum steps where I ran into Lauren from Breathe Deeply and Smile and Janelle from Run With No Regrets.  Lauren is based in Baltimore and Janelle in Philly, and they both write great running blogs, so check them out.

Stevie and I started in the 27th corral (out of 30), and I had no idea we would have to wait 50 minutes just to start (I had told her maybe 20 minutes).  The speakers playing music kept cutting in and out while we waited, and so we amused ourselves by playing freeze dance while slowly shuffling forward.

When it was finally our turn to toe the starting line, the MC exclaimed "What a perfect day for a race!"  No.  No it wasn't.  Sure the temperature stayed relatively cool throughout the morning, but the humidity was off the charts, and runners were falling left and right all day as a result.  Get your shit straight, MC.

I ended up suffering from GI issues all morning, going to the bathroom no less than 6 times before/during the race.  That's the first time that's ever happened to me, so thankfully it wasn't during a goal race.

Aside from two quick bathroom breaks, Stevie ran straight through ten miles before finally taking walk breaks.  Stevie is in great shape from frequent cardio in the form of DVD workouts, but her lack of running caught up with her and her legs started to hate her in the latter miles.  I offered what encouragement I could while trying not to be obnoxious (Stevie later told me I was a great running partner).

Mile 12.5

Before long, the art museum loomed, we crested the last hill and rounded the last bend, and held hands as we crossed the finish line together.

Finish Line

If ever there was a race photo to make me part with my hard-earned money, this might be it.

Afterwards we hung out on the lawn drinking Michelob Ultra and watching Guster, a band I was obsessed with in college and haven't seen live in 16 years.  This was probably the first time I've ever been excited for the post race show at a Rock n' Roll race event.

Guster!



Despite the awful humidity, I had a great morning racing with my wife and hanging out afterwards.  I was proud of Stevie for setting a goal and finishing it.  Stevie claims this was her last half marathon ever and will focus on shorter distances in the future.  Overall, it was a great bonding experience, as I'd hoped it would be, and a day I won't soon forget.

Friday, September 16, 2016

I just registered for the 2017 Boston Marathon


Registration for the 2017 Boston Marathon opened this past Monday.  As per the new process started a few years ago, the fastest marathoners (ones who beat their qualifying time by 20 minutes or more) got to register first.

The first time I registered for the Boston Marathon in 2011, the first year they implemented the changes, I had to wait to the very end to register, and then missed the cut by 59 seconds.  I was crushed.  The second time I registered, this time in 2014, I again had to wait until the final registration window, then was on edge for a week and a half, then made the cut by 53 seconds.  I was ecstatic.

This year, I managed to drop my time by two minutes while simultaneously moving up an age group, which means I'm sitting on a BQ-8:54.  This means I got to register today during the first week of registration, and will most likely get an e-mail confirming my acceptance on Monday.  For the first time, I can be pretty confident that I will get into the race.  This is a nice change of pace from the nail biters of the past.

This will most likely be my last Boston for a very long time.  I'll probably do a longer post on this at some point, but the gist is this: the process to qualify is simply too taxing on my body and mind.  I've met the challenge of qualifying three times now, and I'm happy to leave it at that.  In addition, the weekend in Boston is insanely expensive, and I'd rather spend the money on taking trips to places I've never been before.

Because it's my last Boston, I'm looking forward to making it even better than my first and going out on a high note.  Care to join me for the ride?

Thursday, September 8, 2016

The story of my favorite shoes


A few weeks out from the 2015 Boston Marathon, I decided to buy a new pair of running shoes.  So I headed to the Haddonfield Running Company and tried on several pairs, but in the end went with my old standby: the Nike Pegasus.  It's a shoe model I've been wearing for years, not so much out of brand loyalty, but more out of superstition and hey, if it ain't broke, don't try to fix it.  I'd had a lot of success in the Pegasus before and saw no reason to quit them.

I was delighted when Shawn introduced me to a pair that would require spectators wear sunglasses when I ran by.  

Sold.

I wore these shoes in my first ever Boston Marathon a few weeks later, trudging through a miserably cold and rainy New England morning.  And as soon as I got home, back into the box they went.  I continued to use older models of the Pegasus for training, and would use these for racing.

I trotted them out again in October on a glorious fall day for the Rock n' Roll Half Marathon which I crushed with a PR that still stands.  And back into the box they went.

Three weeks later, out they came again for my ill fated sub 3 attempt at the Philadelphia Marathon.  It was a brutal day with emotions running high.  These shoes carried me to a PR in the marathon but failed to deliver that coveted sub 3.  And back into the box they went.

I've worn them for a few more races this past spring, and will probably wear them for next weekend's Rock n' Roll Half Marathon with Stevie, but pretty soon I'll have to retire them as a racing shoe and relegate them to training duties.  

My first Boston.  Two incredible PR's in the span of three weeks.  Over a year of racing memories.  If I weren't so frugal, I would probably put these in a class case.  If ever there was a pair of shoes to enshrine forever out of all those I've worn over the years, these are it.  For now they have their spot on a shelf in my closet.

Incredibly enough, I haven't bought a new pair of running shoes since then.  But when I go see Shawn again, I just hope they have something that can live up to this pair.

Monday, September 5, 2016

New digs



So here's the big news of the summer: one of the reasons I haven't raced much or written much is because we moved in July.

We'd been living in Collingswood for several years, first in the apartment above the fire extinguisher shop, and then in the duplex across town, but when we finally decided to buy our own place, nothing in town was in our price range.  So moving out of town it is.  Unfortunately this means I can no longer ride my bike to school.  I can't really bike or walk at all anymore to do simple errands, which leaves me kind of heartbroken.  I also have to chart out all new running routes through unfamiliar terrain.

Buying a house and moving were... not fun.  The process was long and complicated and sucked all the joy and money out of the summer (all the heatwaves we experienced didn't help either).  Moving with a two-year-old in tow hell bent on destroying everything we own (including one of my prized beer glasses) made it all the more challenging.

But a new school year signals new beginnings.  I'm leading a series of teacher inservice workshops for the first time this year.  I'm helping Stevie run her first half marathon in a few weeks.  I'm looking forward to exploring our new surroundings on foot.  And pretty soon it'll be time to sign up for my second Boston Marathon.

As always, thanks for sticking with me, folks.  Till next time...

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Flying High

Confession time: I haven't been doing a lot of running this summer.  But I'm sure you guessed that considering how little I've written.  I've only raced twice all summer, and not in over a month.  I'm horribly out of shape.  If I were to race a 5k tomorrow, I doubt I could break twenty minutes (the twenty minute mark in the 5k and my occasional passing to the slower side of it is my usual barometer of changing fitness).

But the good news is Stevie and I finally took a trip down the shore for the first time all year on Monday, and ended up doing an impromptu photo shoot with a professional photographer we'd just met on the beach.

Photographer: Want to do a few shots of dad throwing Neale in the air?
Me: Sure, why not.

The Great Nealini flying high above the sands of Ocean City, NJ without a safety net!

Photographer: I've seriously never seen a father throw his kid that high.

This is now my favorite picture of Neale ever.

Saturday, August 6, 2016

The Tempest



Those who have only met me in the last five years might be amazed to know that I used to be heavily involved in theater, owing partly to the fact that I haven't done a single show in that time, but mostly to my quiet and reserved nature.  I can claim mostly German heritage, and it seems that some German traits (quiet stoicism, for one) have made their way into my personality, which doesn't jibe with what people imagine the average theater type to be.

But there I am in the above photo, bare chested and smeared in guy liner, standing with the cast and next to my hot, corseted wife.  For the past few months Stevie and I have been working on a show together on Broad Street in Philly - Shakespeare's The Tempest.  I insisted on a small role and ended up playing Trinculo, the King's drunken jester, while Stevie ended up with the lead role of Prospera (typically a male role, but the director decided to gender bend).

Why the five year absence from the theater?  I found out very quickly that running and theater cultures don't mix.  Staying out late, drinking all the time, eating garbage food, and spending every waking moment memorizing lines do not help with attaining new PR's in running.  Five years ago I decided I could act any time, but had a closing window when it came to discovering my body's true potential in running.  So I put acting on hold and got more serious about running.

But coming off of an intense 2015, I figured now would be a good time to jump back into the theater world.

Closing night is tonight, and like any community theater production, it's been a bumpy ride to get the show ready.  I can't say it's been the most professional production I've ever been a part of, but it's nevertheless been fun rediscovering my love for performing.  Also, all the proceeds benefit Stevie's children's theater camp that she is directing later this month.

So come one, come all to Philly tonight to watch me act the Shakespearean fool!





Monday, July 4, 2016

Haddon Heights Firecracker 5k Race Report

Happy 4th of July, people!


The 4th of July is one of the most popular days of the year to run a race in America (Thanksgiving being the most popular), so I had plenty of races to choose from this morning. Naturally I went with the closest one to me, the Haddon Heights Firecracker 5k, and roped Stevie and Neale into joining me.



We'd actually tried to do this race last year, but had assumed it started at 9.  Thankfully we hadn't preregistered then, either.

We got to Haddon Heights around 7:30 this morning, parked on a side street, and walked to the start to register.  Day-of registration costs only $25 for this race.  You get a tech race shirt, bananas and bottles of water after finishing, medals for age group winners and cash prizes for overall winners, lots of country music at the finish area, and that's about it.

This is a very competitive race, with the top ten runners all finishing under 18 minutes.  The winner finished in 15:36.  I haven't broken 19 minutes in the 5k in over five years now, but maybe with a little training I can get there.

When we started, there was a man pushing a double stroller who dropped his iPhone.  He stopped for a brief second to look back, but decided to keep going instead of picking it up, so I swooped down to grab it for him when I passed it.  I had every intention of catching up to him and handing it to him, but I simply couldn't catch up with him, so I ran the entire race with his phone in my hand and gave it back to him at the finish.

The course was a standard suburban neighborhood 5k - lots of shaded streets, lots of turns, some minor hills.  There were no clocks on the course, or even mile markers, so I had to run by feel as much as I could.

I passed running friend Liz around mile two (her race recap is here) and took out two more runners in the homestretch to finish in 19:43 (though for some reason I'm listed in the official results as finishing in 19:26).  21st overall (out of 269) and 6th in my age group (out of 20).

Here's an incredibly flattering screenshot of me finishing:



If you click here you can go to the video and watch every person finish.

Then I went back out onto the course to look for Stevie and Neale and run in with them. Stevie finished in 33:16.

After the race we let Neale play on the playground at the finish area, then walked back to our car only to discover we were blocked in by the Haddon Heights parade route.  So we sat on the curb for twenty minutes watching the floats go by before things cleared out and we could go home.


The afternoon barbecue we'd been invited to had been cancelled due to inclement weather, so I fired up our own grill in our backyard and grilled hamburgers and hotdogs and drank Budweiser beer.

All in all, not a bad Independence Day.  Happy birthday, America!

Sunday, July 3, 2016

Second beer mile and first DFL

The beer mile: a race like no other.  Four laps around a track, each one preceded by chugging a beer.  The beer must be at least 5% ABV and may not be opened ahead of time.  Any runner who throws up incurs a penalty lap.  And that's about it.

Born in 1980's Canada (it has been joked that Canadians are to the beer mile as East Africans are to the marathon), it has since grown in popularity in recent years, with national championships and top beer milers earning endorsements and making appearances on national tv.

I've only ever done one other beer mile in my life, which I did two years ago completely by myself with Stevie spectating.  My only two goals then were to finish under ten minutes and not throw up.  I accomplished the latter but failed in the former when I quickly discovered how bad I am at chugging beer.  Still, I came reasonably close by finishing in 10:45.

Here's the post from that experience two years ago (includes bonus comment from a disgruntled former student):

My first beer mile.

Anyway, apparently my love of running and beer is becoming more widely known, because this year I was invited to take part in an annual beer mile with several others.  Many from Who's Up? would be there as well.  I put it on my calendar and immediately started "training".



My goal for this year's beer mile was to beat 10:45 whether I puked or not.  Spoiler alert: I didn't even come close.  I don't even know my exact time.  Maybe twenty minutes?  Let's just say you could have measured my performance last night with a sundial.


My two issues last time had been my lack of chugging ability, and how full I still was when I started.  So I spent last week practicing chugging beer, sometimes going out for my daily run directly afterwards to acclimate to the sloshing effect.  I also made sure not to eat as much beforehand.

But after drinking the first beer in respectable time, the carbonation immediately caught up with me, making it incredibly hard to stomach subsequent beers.  I had also decided to go with warm Budweiser as opposed to ice cold like last time, because I'd read that warm beer is easier to chug.  The only problem is that I may as well have been drinking rotgut fermented in horsepiss.  My gassy stomach made it difficult to chug beers 2, 3 and 4, while the foul taste made it all but impossible.

There was nothing I could do but stand there and take dainty, horrid sips while others lapped me.

Fellow runner: C'mon Scott, last beer!  You can do it!
Scott: Uh, dude, this is my 3rd one.
Fellow runner: ouch.

The winner finished in 7:33.  Like I said, I have no idea what my final time was but estimate about twenty minutes.  On my final lap, I was joined by another guy out of solidarity, and everyone clapped for me as I finished.  DFL.

Who's Up? was only a small faction of the beer milers

Surprisingly we all went out to a bar afterwards where we had more beer and discovered that one of the runners had to be disqualified.  He neglected to check the ABV on his beer of choice (Modelo) which ended up only being 4.4%.

I'm tempted to say this was my last beer mile ever, but let's be honest, the competitiveness with myself is going to kick in, and I'm already trying to think of how I can do better next time.

Until then, I'll keep the running and beer separate.

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Strider Indepence 10k Race Recap

There are many running clubs in South Jersey, both new and old.  Of the vanguards of South Jersey running, the Pineland Striders are among the oldest, which my dad used to be a part of (there's an old man joke in here somewhere, but I'll resist, Dad).

Every year for the past thirty plus years, they have put on the Strider Independence Races (10k and 5k) near July 4th.  The races start and finish at Shawnee High School in Medford, and run right past Camp Ockanickon where I used to live and work in my twenties.


I ran the 10k race two years ago and did reasonably well - won my age group and placed 9th overall.  This year I recruited Neale and Stevie as my cheering section, and we all made the drive out to Medford on a chilly summer Saturday morning.

Despite this event's long history, each race has less than 100 runners.  This means, though, that race morning is not chaotic.  Registration is always organized and easy, and there is access to flush toilets in the high school which don't get too crowded.

At 8:30am we took off from the high school parking lot into the surrounding neighborhoods with million dollar homes, some owned by Philadelphia professional athletes.  The course is completely flat and mostly shaded, perfect for a summer race.  In the final half mile, racers leave the pavement and run a quarter mile across the grass, then finish the final quarter mile on the school's track.

I remember the last time I did this race, I fought hard to pick off runners in the second half of the race and maintain my top ten standing.  This time, though, there was no one close to me, either behind or ahead, and it was all I could do to keep up the pace.  I did manage to beat my time from the last race by almost a minute.

Final stats:


While I was racing, Neale had a great time playing with dogs and other small kids, not to mention roaming the hallways of the high school.

I received a medal for winning my age group again, but unfortunately there was no accompanying gift certificate to the Haddonfield Running Company like last time.


There was a nice post-race spread of bottled water, bananas, bagels and oranges for all runners, but I didn't partake too much, because we went to get pizza afterwards.

Thanks to Stevie and Neale for cheering me on, and thanks to the Pineland Striders for a great morning of races!

Saturday, June 18, 2016

End of the school year











Stevie: Wait, what are we doing?
Me: We're going to point at the camera.
Stevie: Why?
Me: Less talk, more pointing!
*click*

It was the final day of the school year yesterday, and as is our tradition, Stevie and I headed to the backyard with glasses and a bottle of champagne to celebrate.

It was my fifth year, meaning for the first time, I taught a class through all five levels of the German program, meaning saying goodbye to my seniors was a lot more emotional than I expected it to be.  I will genuinely miss them when I return in September and for the first time since meeting them five years ago, they will not be in my class.

Technically, this was my strongest year yet.  In the new review system, implemented three years ago, I earned a 3.5 out of 4, my highest score ever, which just barely classified me as a "highly efficient" teacher.

But a single number doesn't tell the whole story, of course, and to be honest I don't feel highly efficient.  Ever since my son Neale was born, I've felt off and struggling to keep up with school work.  Now that he's older, and I have a better grasp on fatherhood, I'm looking forward to next year and making improvements all across the board.

Next year is going to be pretty intense.  Stevie and I are kicking off the year with a half marathon in September (her first).  In October Stevie is acting in a two-woman show called Night, Mother.  We are possibly returning to the Keys during Christmas break, I am running my second Boston Marathon in April, and in June I'm leading another trip to Germany with my students.

But for now... summer!

Friday, June 17, 2016

2016 ODDyssey Half Marathon Race Recap

This was my fourth year in a row running this race.  Race reports from previous years:

2013
2014
2015

Race organizers gave runners who had run three or more years a free mini growler, which unfortunately did not include any beer inside of it.  Or a cap.  Thanks guys?


Also new this year was a relay option.  Runners could do the entire half, or join a team of two and break the race up into two 6.55 mile stretches.  Kim and Erik from Who's Up? decided to do just that.  Erik would run with me for the first half, and Kim would run with me for the second half.  Kim was one half of the dynamic duo that paced me in the final miles of last fall's Philadelphia Marathon, and I promised not to relive those profanity-laced miles this time around.


The heat will almost always be a factor in a distance race in June, and last Sunday was no exception (though as luck would have it, the very next morning was gloriously chilly and humidity free).  The race started on time at 7am, and Erik and I took off with the 7:00 pacer.  I already knew two miles in, however, that this was going to be a difficult day and it would be unlikely I could stick with him the whole way.  Before the halfway point we let him go.



We reached the halfway point in about 48 minutes where we saw all of the relay runners waiting for their partners to come in.  Unfortunately Kim was not one of them.  She was nowhere to be seen.  Erik ran with me for a few hundred yards, and I jokingly asked him he felt like running a half marathon today.  Instead he turned back to wait for Kim.

As it turns out, one of the buses transporting the relay runners to the halfway point was late. Erik only waited about three or four minutes for Kim to show up, but it meant I had to run the second half of the race by myself.  I've done plenty of races on my own, so not a huge deal, but it can still be a mental blow when you're expecting someone to run with in tough conditions only to find out they aren't there.

Not cool, ODDyssey.


I slowed down a fair bit in the second half and finished the race in 1:42:01, far from my course PR of 1:33, but not terrible.

Once I reached the finish line, I grabbed my free beer and pint glass and downed the beer as quickly as I could.  Unfortunately something had come up at home and I wouldn't be able to relax in the beer garden like every year, which is usually the best part of this race.  I had to leave only ten minutes after finishing the race.

After having a few days to reflect on this year's race, I'm left wondering how much longer the ODDyssey Half Marathon is going to last.  A few years ago they sold out a week before the race.  The following year they sold out a month before race day, and it seemed like this trend would continue indefinitely.  On the contrary, the ODDyssey Half Marathon appears to be on the decline.  It hasn't sold out in the past two years.  The expo, while efficiently run, is never in the same location from year to year.  There seemed to be fewer carnival games than ever on the course this year, and the addition of the relay race seemed like a last ditch effort to add more participants.  They also now have more competition from the Love Run Half Marathon in April, which I've never done but from what I've heard has an easier course and better weather.

So I'll just lay out some pros and cons:

Pros:

  • Free race pictures.  I wish all races did this.
  • Quick and efficient expo (though one year it was held over a week before race day for some reason).
  • Free, quality beer (Sly Fox) and custom ODDyssey pint glass at the finish.
  • Shady beer garden on the grass right next to the finish line.
  • Free post-race massages.
  • Costume contest.
  • Games on course (very few this year, though).
  • Cool medal, if you're super into collecting race bling.
  • Amazing race volunteers.
  • Pace groups starting at 7:00 and all the way up to around 12:00.
  • Decent price.  I forget the exact price, but if you sign up early enough I think it can be as low as $60.

Cons:
  • In the middle of June.  Heat and humidity almost always an issue.
  • The course has some serious hills.  It is not a very beginner friendly race.
  • Two years in a row now of bus snafus, with no apology or acknowledgment afterwards.
  • Parking is tough.  You have to get there over an hour early to get anywhere close to the start/finish area.  There is no public transport, though the race does offer a private bus from Center City.
  • Very little crowd support beyond the race volunteers, if that is important to you.
The question always comes down to whether or not I would recommend a race to someone.  I think the pros still outweigh the cons for this race, and someone who has never done it before would love it.  I would recommend that a Half Marathon virgin try a different race for their first, though.

Will I be back for a fifth year?  If money were no object, then I would say yes.  But with an ever shrinking annual race budget, I'm forced to reevaluate how much I enjoy the ODDyssey Half Marathon.  We'll just have to wait and see about next year...
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