Monday, November 17, 2014

One year ago...

... I crushed it at the 2013 Philadelphia Marathon.

November 17, 2013

Months of hard work culminated in a PR of 3:03:05.  All for one goal: Boston.

A year later, both the confirmation e-mail and postcard have arrived, and we are currently 154 days out from the 2015 Boston Marathon.

Made the cut.

But it's kind of weird, if you think about it.  All that hard work really only earned me... more hard work.  Because the race is in the middle of April, the bulk of my training will be during the long, cold winter months here in New Jersey.

Was running Philly last year merely the prologue, with Boston as the main event?  Or was Philly the journey, with Boston as the proverbial icing on the cake, a sweet victory lap?

Yes, I'm excited for Boston, but as the temperature drops and the days get shorter, I can't help but think of the long road ahead of me.  One most likely filled with a lot of snow and ice.

I hope y'all follow along, because I know the next few months are going to be interesting.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Does the Philadelphia Marathon need fixing?

Excellent piece yesterday in the Philadelphia Inquirer by high school friend Jen Miller:

It should be noted that I love the Philly Marathon.  I've run it five times and set a PR every time.  It was my first marathon back in 2005, and my most recent.  I love it for the memories I have, I love it because it is my hometown race, and I love it for its size - big enough to feel special but without the insanity and logistics of races like in New York and Chicago.  So I was unaware that it needed fixing.

But Jen makes some excellent points.  The half and full should be separated and run on separate days. The half was only introduced in 2009 and has since begun to dilute the experience of the full, so it's time to return to the basics and give the full the attention it needs.

Jen also mentions that the race is run out of the Mayor's office, and there is no reason what should be the premiere event of Philly's racing season should not have its own staff and race director.  There is no reason this race should not be selling out well in advance after years of doing so, and when so many marathons around the country continue to do so.

So how can it return to "sell-out shape"?  Concentrate on the runners.

If you want to attract more runners, start with the elites.  The winner of the Philadelphia Marathon receives a mere $3,500.  For comparison, the Houston Marathon, mentioned in the article, doles out $40,000 to its winner.  Money talks, and the more prize money offered, the better the elite field.  With a more varied elite field of high profile runners, including speaking and signing engagements at the expo, it's possible this will energize the middle and back-of-the-packers.

The course could definitely use an upgrade.  There is a little nub around mile 17 that detours across the Falls Bridge, down a hill, hangs a complete 180 in the middle of the street, then back up the hill and across the bridge again.  Completely unnecessary.  And the stretches up and down the Kelly Drive do get pretty lonely (though without the twists and turns of downtown, it does let runners settle into a consistent pace and essentially run on cruise control for a bit).  In order to increase crowd support, they should keep the course in the city's residential areas allowing for easier access to the course.

Finally, runners need better amenities.  I hate finishing the marathon and finding nothing more than a green banana, some pretzels and chicken broth.  Make the finish line a celebration of the marathon itself and give me a reason to stick around.  Provide a post race beer and/or a concert, and I'll hang out around all afternoon.

At the end of the day, I've never run a big city, world class marathon, so it'll be interesting to gain some comparison once I run Boston this spring.

Have you run Philly?  What would you change?

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

My first marathon

Another 7 miles with Who's Up? over at the Haddonfield Running Company tonight.  Within the beer selection afterwards was this gem:

It's a coconut caramel chocolate brown ale, and it is everything you hoped for and more.

Afterwards I went to the monthly meeting for the South Jersey Athletic Club.  Normally they have some kind of guest speaker at every meeting, but because the Philly Marathon is coming up, and a lot of club members are running it as their first marathon, the club president thought it would be fun to have other members talk about their first marathon.  I volunteered to be one of the speakers and brought along this picture for show and tell:

My first marathon was at the 2005 Philly Marathon.  I'd always wanted to run a marathon after hearing about my dad's seven marathons in his day, and I finally bit the bullet after hearing about a friend who had just run her first a few months prior.

I had no idea what I was doing and didn't train very well for it.  My legs started cramping as early as mile 16, and I walked long stretches afterwards.  I finished in 4:29 and was immensely proud of myself, and spent something like $80 on this special frame.  I'm really glad I have this souvenir, especially since I've now run 10 marathons.  It's a nice way to commemorate my first.

It started as a bucket list item, but after finishing I knew I could do better.  So I signed up the next year and ran 4:12.  All told I've now run Philly five times and PR'd every time.  I'm hoping to run it next year and break the three hour mark.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

5 miles at the Cooper

It's been a long time since Suze has put in an appearance on the blog.  We met through blogging back in 2011 and were running/racing buddies for awhile, but she has since developed chronic ailments in her hips and legs and has had to back off running.

It finally occurred to me that if she was comfortable riding a bike, we could still do our usual jaunt around the Cooper River, just a little modified.  So I rode my bike to the Cooper this morning, about a mile away, at 8am, and gave my bike to Suze who then rode 5 miles with me while I ran.  It was the coldest morning yet this fall, and we finished in about 39 minutes.

To show my gratitude for waking up so early to work out with me, I made her pose for a picture.  But then we went back to my place for a giant breakfast of eggs, toast, and bacon.

Suze: (Seeing how fast I eat) You should get into competitive eating.

Friday, November 7, 2014

The meaning of running

Running is a simple sport, so I've often wondered about the tendency of runners to assign so much meaning to it in comparison to other sports.  Maybe I just don't read enough Sports Illustrated or ESPN Magazine, but it seems like there is an incessant amount of YouTube videos, articles and blog posts equating a Sunday morning long run to the meaning of life.

I am guilty of this myself.  Take the time I wrote about passion, or the time I compared my current self to my 16-year-old self.  Or the entire videos page of this blog.  And just a few months ago I wrote, "But when I push myself to my breaking point to see what I am made of, I experience a visceral connection to my natural surroundings, to the athletic world, and to my own being."  It seems there is always some life lesson to be learned on the road, no matter how tangentially related to running, and more than enough people willing to write about them.

When I qualified for Boston for the first time at the age of 29, there was the temptation to describe this event as The Most Meaningful Event of My Life, which made not getting to run Boston all the more heartbreaking.  The sequel came last year when I replicated this feat while bringing my PR down by 6 minutes.  The Most Meaningful Event of My Life Part II.

In short, running has meant a lot to me over the years.  It has given me strength, both literal and figurative, and at no other time do I feel as spiritual as when I am running in nature.  

All this to say I've been coming to a slow realization this fall: running doesn't matter like I thought it once did.  My runs have been slow and forced, my mileage has drooped, and I haven't learned a single life lesson in months.  This is all related to becoming a father at the end of August.  Because when you witness the miracle of birth and all of the raw emotion that surrounds it, nothing else seems to matter.

You want to talk about pride?  Pride is no longer running some distance faster than I ever have before.  Pride is making my son smile for the first time.  It's rocking him to sleep when he's been crying.  It's standing next to my wife, looking down at him as he sleeps, and thinking, "we made that."

You want to talk about heartbreaking?  Heartbreaking is no longer not getting to run some race.  It's looking into the confused, teary eyes of my son when he's been crying for an hour, and this time not being able to do anything to comfort him.

Maybe I'm simply in a rut caused by fatigue, the frustrations of parenthood and giving up the Philly Marathon this fall.  Maybe things will pick up with training in the winter and Boston will be The Most Meaningful Event of My Life Part III.  But right now in this moment, this face is more meaningful than any race I have ever done, and any I am likely to do:

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Running distilled

Pictures from the Runner's World Half are in, and there's one that I really like:

This was in the homestretch of the race, that part of a race when the crowd gets bigger and the finish line finally comes into view, when you feel a surge of emotion and pride and enjoy it all even more for the hard work it took to get here.

In the case of this race and photo, the hard work didn't result in a PR.  But the hard work over the past few months was not limited to only running.  This was my first race since becoming a father, and that finish line after a tough race and a tough few months came to symbolize all the hard times I've overcome.

I love this picture because it so perfectly sums up everything I feel about running.  I'm what you might describe as a serious runner.  I do it all: hill work, speed work, tempo runs, cross training, you name it.  I put in extraordinary effort to achieve rather arbitrary goals with only intrinsic rewards.   With only the number on the clock as a reward, sometimes it's nice to have a reminder that there is more to it.

I wasn't even mugging for the cameras in this photo.  I was simply caught up in the moment and leaving it all out on the course.  And if I can't run a PR, I will take this as a close second.

Friday, October 31, 2014

October Mileage

January: 65
February: 131
March: 173
April: 201
May: 237
June: 146
July: 170
August: 144.2
September: 100

And October:

131.5 miles this month.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Earn it to buy it: the BQ singlet

Apparently there is a company in New England that is making waves in the running world. Amongst Tracksmith's retro-style offerings is a racing singlet that you are only allowed to buy if you are running the Boston Marathon this spring.  Sorry charity runners, but as the prominently displayed letters "BQ" suggest, this one is only for the qualifiers.

I absolutely love the retro look to it, and since I only own one other singlet, this seems right up my alley.  Two things are stopping me, though.  First of all, it costs $70, and I am loath to pay that much for just a shirt, regardless of how cool it looks or its association with Boston. Second, I would feel eternally douchey for wearing such a shirt.  Bragging rights are one thing, and I won't mind wearing official Boston Marathon gear after I've run the race, but I feel like this shirt takes the bragging to a new level.  

I also don't like that they limit it to qualifiers who are actually running this spring.  This leaves out over a thousand runners who technically qualified for the 2015 race, but weren't able to register due to the 1:02 cutoff this year.

So what do you think?  If you're a qualifier, would you buy it?  And if you're not, does it offend you at all?

Thursday, October 23, 2014


Being of German descent with ties to the magical land of Bavaria, I like to honor my heritage when I can.  Normally this means drinking German beer, but sometimes I'll bring my German enthusiasm to the kitchen.  I decided to make Käsespätzle for dinner tonight, a dish which I usually describe as German macaroni and cheese.

It's a surprisingly simple yet labor-intensive dish, so I don't make it all the time.  When I do make it, Stevie gets excited because out of all of my signature dishes, this is her favorite.

Start by dicing an entire onion and putting them in a frying pan.  Then grate a hunk of cheese. You're supposed to use Bergkäse or Alpenkäse, but this style of cheese is hard to come by.  I find that Asiago is a good substitute.  Set a pot of water on the stove to boil, then make your dough.

You'll need some sort of contraption to add the dough to the water.  I bought this one in Bavaria in the 90's, but they're easy to get online nowadays.

The dough gets squeezed through the holes, drops into the boiling water, and once it returns to the surface (literally in seconds), it's ready to be scooped out.

Layer the dough and cheese, add the fried onions on top and sprinkle generously with pepper, and serve with a side salad.

Add your favorite Munich beer, play some Blasmusik, and have yourself a knee-slapping good night.

Viel Spaß!

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Back at it

I missed my beer/running club two weeks ago due to parent-teacher conferences that night.  I missed it last week when life got a little overwhelming and I decided I couldn't spare the 2-3 hours to get out of the house.  So I was happy to return to the Haddonfield Running Company tonight for 7 miles and some post run beers.

The Wednesday night run has been going on for longer than I can remember, but the informal beer club only started a little over a year ago.  Back then people brought a six-pack and called it a night, but now with roughly 20 members, people are bringing an entire cooler and it's still not enough.  We've joked that we'll have to start bringing a keg every night.

In rotation tonight was one of my favorite breweries, and the most local:

It was a chilly night with gusts of wind and a light rain.  Despite the conditions, I guess I was feeling good because I went hard tonight.  In the first half mile I realized how good I was feeling, and I just went with it.  I love it when I'm able to push myself that hard on an average Wednesday night run, especially when I'm not even training for a goal race.

I wasn't wearing a watch, so unfortunately I don't know my time or pace.  I do remember, however, looking at my watch while drinking my first beer and realizing it was only 7:45.  I felt like I'd been finished for ages at this point so I was surprised to see it was still early in the night.

One of the guys in the group has said his batch of homemade beer is almost ready, so I'm looking forward to that.  And for now, I'm just happy to be back in the club.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Movie Monday: Liz Miele

Last Saturday the runners at the Runner's World Half Festival were treated to a comedy set by New York comedian Liz Miele.  Not only is she a comedian, but she's a runner as well.

In this video, she parodies the "I'm a Runner" videos that Runner's World posts every month.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Runner's World Half Marathon: Race Report

I woke up at 6am this morning and immediately took a shower.  I usually shower before a full or half marathon, not to get clean necessarily, but to loosen myself up and wake up a little.

I had no idea what the parking situation would be like, so I arrived around 7am and found parking easily about halfway between the start and finish lines.  I spent the next hour huddled with the masses inside the ArtsQuest building to avoid the cold.  It was 48 degrees this morning, and somehow I didn't think it necessary to bring a long-sleeved shirt.  I had no choice but to run in just a short-sleeved shirt.

The starting line was about a half mile from the finish line where everyone was gathered, so about 15 minutes before the start we all walked over together.  David Willey, Runner's World's editor-in-chief, addressed the crowd, we heard an amazing rendition of the National Anthem on the violin, and we were off.

I started the race right by Mark Remy and thought I might try to run with him for a bit, but before long I decided to speed up a little and he ended up finishing a few minutes behind me.

This was probably the toughest half marathon I've ever done due to all of the hills (and the biting cold and wind didn't help either).  I knew the hills were coming after reading race reports from previous years, not to mention the biking I did yesterday, but I told myself I would be ok because I train a lot on hills.  But training on a few hills once or twice a week does not compare to the rollercoaster that was the course today.

The course took us down Bethlehem's main street, out by a golf course and beautiful houses where we were cheered on by marching bands and cheerleaders in addition to the random spectators.  For a small-town race, the spectators were amazing.

The hills calmed down a bit in the latter miles, and when we crossed the bridge and I could see the steel stacks in the distance, I started my kick with a few miles still to go.  Just beyond mile 12, the course came within a hundred yards of the finish line, only to veer away for the last mile.  This was a bit of a tease.  I pushed hard and headed into the homestretch with the usual feeling of euphoria I can only experience through physical exertion.

My time was six minutes off of my PR, but I was happy with it due to the tough course. Around this time last year I ran a 1:30 half, and last June I ran a 1:33, and now a 1:35.  It's tough to think about just how easy it is to lose fitness after painstakingly building it up.

But it was a gorgeous day, and Bethlehem really is a beautiful town, and the spectators were amazing, and the aid stations plentiful.  At the end of the day, Runner's World puts on a hell of a festival and race, and I'm happy I finally got to come out and participate this year.  I'm sure I'll be back next year.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Runner's World Half Marathon Festival: Day 1

I'm in Bethlehem, PA for the weekend to geek out on running at Runner's World's Half Marathon Festival.  Located in the Lehigh Valley, Bethlehem was once home to an enormous steel plant, the second largest producer of steel in America at one point.  In 2011 part of the industrial complex was renovated into a modern convention hall, and the decaying blast furnaces now serve as a backdrop to various concerts and festivals.  This is precisely where Runner's World hosts its annual running festival.

I made the trip north this morning, checked into my hotel, and headed over to the convention center.  Saturday is given over to a 5k and a 10k in the morning, then seminars all afternoon, and a pasta dinner at night.

I spent an hour with Mark Remy of Remy's World and learned that he is even funnier in person than he is in his column.

Then I spent an hour with Bart Yasso and was reminded just how badass he is for all of the traveling and amazing races he's done over the years.

I read his book, My Life on the Run a few years ago, but figured now was as good a time as any to buy it and have him autograph it.  And get a picture for good measure.

I also brought my bike and spent time riding around Bethlehem today (and God help me tomorrow because it is ridiculously hilly here), then returned at night to watch the comedic stylings of Liz Miele.  And now I'm sitting in my hotel room, ready to turn in.

The race starts at 8am tomorrow morning.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

On control

On Chapel Island at Camp Ockanickon

People run for so many different reasons.  They run to lose weight.  To connect with someone. To push themselves.  To overcome a difficulty.  To inspire.  To win.

Me?  Out of the many reasons I run, one is to exert a sense of control over my life at times when things seem to be spiraling out of control.  Because I can control running.  I can control when I run, where I run, how fast and how long, with whom I run, and how often.  The sense of control may be only an illusion, but it's a welcome one.

But I've been feeling that control slip away this fall.   I will most likely not run the Philadelphia Marathon next month.  I will most likely not finish the year with 2,014 miles.  I had planned to run 14 miles today, but I didn't make it out the door until late in the day, and by then I only had time for 10.

As life changes and priorities shift, I am doing my best to be ok with all of this.  Stevie, Neale and I went to a local farm to pick pumpkins today, and then to Camp Ockanickon, where we were married, for a fall festival there.  I knew I wanted to do 14 miles, and we could have easily come home earlier to give me time to do so, but I decided I was more interested in spending a beautiful fall day in the woods with the family I am building than logging the "correct" number of miles on my calendar.

It's still difficult trying to give up the sense of control running makes me feel, and I'm genuinely sad about missing out on so many of my running goals this year.  But I'm also starting to realize how worth it all is:

Friday, October 10, 2014

Friday running

Running on Friday afternoons is always difficult.  Even before Neale came along, I was always pretty exhausted by Friday afternoon after a long week at work.  I always hated making plans for Friday nights because all I wanted to do was drink a beer and go to bed at 8 o'clock.

We had parent-teacher conferences on Wednesday night this week (forcing me to miss my beloved running/beer group), and SGO's were due today (Student Growth Objectives... boring teacher stuff).  It's been a particularly tough week, so to have to go for a run after school, even a short five miler like today, feels torturous.

I can't believe I would regularly run 10 miles on Friday afternoons this time last year.  I generally look back at all of last fall and can't believe I kept up that intensity for so long. Sometimes I'm capable of amazing myself.  Maybe next year I'll think, "I can't believe I kept up the streak with a newborn at home."

And now that the miles for today are in the book, it's time for that beer.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

12 miles

12 miles this morning on a gorgeous fall day here in South Jersey.  Slowly building myself up for the Philly Marathon next month while I make a final push to hit 2,014 miles this year. September was a challenge with the start of school and the birth of my son falling within a week of each other.  But as I head into October, and Neale gets older, I'm slowly starting to feel more like myself and eager to run longer.

As far as food goes, because we can't go out to eat for the time being, we've been eating a lot of homecooked meals, with the occasional takeout.  People from our church have been bringing us a lot of meals, and when they don't I usually try to make something.  I do the majority of the cooking in our household and try to make a variety of things.  Tonight I made homemade pizza fries with a salad to go with it.

Now Stevie is watching Once Upon a Time and I'm getting ready for another long week of teaching.

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Shilling for your thoughts?

My blog is by no means widely read, but I nevertheless receive the occasional e-mail from companies looking to "partner" with me in some way so I can promote their products.  This is actually quite common in the blogging world.  The bigger bloggers will shill just about anything, usually from companies you've never heard of, and the smaller bloggers are even worse in their quest to become bigger bloggers themselves.

Some of the e-mails I receive don't make any sense, like the time a New York rum company failed to grasp the meaning of a pun and contacted me.  Some make more sense, like when I wrote about the Spartan Race after being contacted by Dan the PR Man.  And there have been many more inbetween.

I don't mind using my staggering influence to promote something I believe in, and let it be known I will do just about anything in exchange for being part of Runner's World's blogging team at their next running festival.  But mostly I politely turn these companies down.

The other day I received an e-mail from someone over at Oscar Insurance.  Apparently October is Health Literacy Month, and she wanted me to write about my personal health hero.

We know firsthand the importance of having the proper tools, motivation and support to make healthy choices, so we're asking a group of influential bloggers like yourself to tell us about a person in your life that helps you do just that. For this campaign, we'd like to know who your Health Hero is. Whether it's your running partner who keeps you going, your mom who still reminds you to eat your veggies, or even your dog, Tommy, who's always there to put a smile on your face. We want to hear about the people (or pets!) in your life that help keep you healthy and happy. 

Like the others, I politely turned her down.  But here we are on a rainy Saturday morning, and now I think, what the hell?

So who is my personal health hero?  Me.

That naturally comes across as wildly narcissistic.  But I'm serious.  The only running partners I have are the dudes I run with on Wednesday night.  While they certainly inspire me to get the miles in once a week, that hardly qualifies them for heroship.  I don't need reminding from anyone to eat my veggies because I do so of my own volition.  And I don't understand how a dog putting a smile on my face qualifies him for heroship either (maybe mental health?).

There are many in my life who inspire me.  There are certain teachers at my school who inspire me to step up my own game in the classroom.  There are students who inspire me to go the extra mile because I see just how much they love German.  My wife inspires me with her loving nature and endless patience as she has transitioned into motherhood over the last five weeks.  There are countless writers, actors, and runners out there whom I have never met but truly admire.

But health?  I am my own hero.  I know of no one else who works out as much as I do, or strives to eat as healthy as I do.  I have my vices and indulgences, but overall I take my health seriously.  Especially as a husband and now a father, I have to take care of myself if I am expected to take care of others.

At the end of the day, you are responsible for your own health.  Don't sit around waiting for someone to inspire you to get healthy or stay healthy.  Let your past accomplishments fuel your future ones, and become your own inspiration.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

September mileage

One of my biggest goals of 2014 is to run 2,014 miles.  I've never kept track of my mileage before other than weekly mileage during peak marathon season.  This year I've been writing down my totals on a simple wall calendar.

My other monthly mileage totals:

January: 65
February: 131
March: 173
April: 201
May: 237
June: 146
July: 170
August: 144.2

And September:

An even 100 for September.

That puts me at 1,367.2 miles for the year so far with only three months to go.  That's 215.6 miles per month.

I once said that 2,014 miles was a totally arbitrary goal and I wouldn't be upset if I didn't make it.  But now I think I might be.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Another record day in Berlin

The men's world record has fallen yet again, and again in Berlin.  Wilson Kipsang's world record time of 2:03:23 last year was broken this morning by his countryman Dennis Kimetto. Kimetto ran a time of 2:02:57, the first man to go under 2:03.

This is the 7th time a world record has been set at Berlin (and the 6th since 2003), which only makes me want to run the Berlin Marathon even more.  To be so close to such greatness must be so inspirational.  That and the fact that I used to live in Berlin and love that city more than any other.

I'm sure I'll run it someday.  For now, though, I'll settle for Boston first.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

I'm going to Boston!

I've been waiting a week and a half for this beauty to arrive in my inbox.  The BAA made us wait until damn near the last second today, but it was all worth it in the end.

The cut-off this year was 1:02, so I made it with 53 seconds to spare.

10 months of uncertainty came to an end today.  It's official.  I'm Boston-bound.
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