Friday, April 17, 2015

My road to the 2015 Boston Marathon

Every single person racing this Monday has a different story of how they made it to Boston. This is mine:

Let's go all the way back to the beginning...

I ran my first marathon, the Philadelphia Marathon, in 2005 at the age of 24.  I didn't quite know what I was doing and it took me 4 hours and 29 minutes to finish, but I was ecstatic to finish.

As a newly christened marathoner, I was certainly aware of Boston and its prestige, but I just never bothered to dream of one day qualifying.  My next two marathons also took me well over four hours, so I honestly didn't think I was physically capable of it.

But then my 4th marathon happened.  Something must have clicked with my training that year, or I was finally coming to better understand the distance, because at the 2009 Philadelphia Marathon, I ran a 3:30, shattering my PR by 42 minutes.

I was seriously impressed with myself and wondered if a BQ might now be in the cards.  Even if I originally thought a BQ was a 3:20.

I decided that if I went all in, I would stand a chance at taking another 20 minutes off of my PR and run my first BQ.

The following summer, I started my training regimen and put my heart and soul into it.  I trained harder and smarter than I ever had before, and it all paid off.  I needed to run 3:10:59 or faster, and I ended up finishing in 3:09:45.  I had never been more proud of myself than in the moment I crossed the finish line that year.

I also made a YouTube video documenting my training that year.  You can watch the video here.

Unfortunately, my timing was pretty lousy.  2010 was the same year that registration for Boston sold out in 8 hours.  Three months after I qualified, the BAA changed the registration rules to the current system of allowing the fastest qualifiers to register first.  Even though I qualified fair and square under the rules in place at the time of my marathon, I was subject to the new rules put in place after I qualified.  When registration rolled around in September, it was official: I did not make the cut.  I was heartbroken.

I let myself sulk for a little, but I ultimately knew what I had to do.  I just had to suck it up and train all over again.  It took a few years and a few false starts, but I finally made a concerted effort again in 2013.  Everything had changed now, though.  I was now 3 years older, married with a full-time job, and the qualification time was now 3:05 flat.  I once again went into the Philadelphia Marathon that year with more doubt than I care to admit, but once again prevailed with my current PR of 3:03:05.

I then had to wait nearly a year for registration to come around, all the while wondering if BQ-1:55 would be enough.  Turns out it was - but by less than a minute.  But no matter.  I was finally in.

But all that hard work only earned me... more hard work.  Over the past four months, I've run roughly 800 miles.  Every single one of those miles was run outdoors, many in some really tough conditions.

The dream was officially born in 2009, and now here we are over 5 years later, and I'm finally on my way to Boston.  We're leaving for Boston tomorrow, and on Monday the dream finally comes true.

If you've followed me for any or all of this journey, thank you.  This one's for you.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Germany 2015 comes to an end

We're back from the trip.  This has nothing to do with running, but as I'm immensely proud of the work I put into this trip, I wanted to document some of it here.

A refresher course for those who are new around here:

I teach high school German, currently in my fourth year.  Every other year I offer a trip to Germany with students in my upper level classes.  Two years ago I took seven students by myself.  This year I took 10 students and one chaperone.

I organize the entire thing myself because I don't like packaged tours of Europe where we sit in a bus all day long going from one tourist spot to the next.  It's a lot more work to organize the trip myself, but it's incredibly cheaper and a lot more flexible.

A few of this year's details:

  • Direct flight from Newark to Berlin leaving on April 2nd, arriving the morning of the 3rd.
  • 4 nights in a hostel in Berlin.  The hostel lobby also served as a bar.  The students were all of age in Germany, but I limited them to 2 drinks per day.
  • In Berlin, we visited countless museums, listened to a lecture at the Reichstag (Germany's parliament building), toured the 1936 Olympic Stadium, went to a Hertha BSC soccer game there, and toured IES (my old exchange institute).
  • We took an overnight train from Berlin to Munich and slept in cabins with six bunk beds apiece.
  • We spent another four nights in Munich at a youth hostel, this one catering more towards families and student groups, so no bar in the lobby.
  • In Munich, we went to many more museums, toured the 1972 Olympic Stadium, went to a German movie at a movie theater, swam in the Englisch Garten, went to two beer gardens and one beer hall, and toured Dachau, one of the first concentration camps to be established after the Nazis took power in 1933, and one of the first to be established as a memorial/museum in the 1960's.
  • Direct flight home from Munich back to Newark on the 12th.

Planning for the trip was exhausting.  Train, museum and soccer tickets had to be researched,  prices negotiated, and purchased.  Hostel and restaurant reservations had to be made.  A comprehensive itinerary for 12 people had to be built.  Forms had to be filled out and signed, and mailed/e-mailed to random people in Germany, and endless e-mails between parents and me were sent.  My students will never truly know the amount of time that went into planning this trip.  But that's ok.  I did it for them because I truly believe in the transformative power of travel, and I wanted to share this passion of mine with them.

The trip itself was no less exhausting.  I had to constantly be on, conducting headcounts, talking with hostel managers and restaurateurs, keeping us on time when we had a reservation somewhere, navigating the train system with 11 other people in tow...

But as I said, it was worth it.  It was worth it to see their genuine enthusiasm over things big and small.  To see the satisfaction when they used the language we've worked so hard to learn in class.  To come at all aspects of the trip with an open mind and blind trust in me, their leader.  And on our last night, when they presented me with a note saying how much they appreciated me, it was more than enough.  Only two of the ten came into school yesterday, the bums, but they are all rockstars in my book nonetheless.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

The Munich Mile

We're in Munich now after having taken an overnight train from Berlin ("Well that was a life experience," as one of my students put it).

We took a tour of the 1972 Olympic Stadium this afternoon and got to see the locker rooms, VIP entrance, and go down onto the fields.  One of my students, and avid runner, had brought his running clothes with him and decided he wanted to try to break his mile PR on the track.

While others on the tour kicked a ball around the field, my student calmly charged around the track four times and promptly set a new mile PR of 4:57, beating his previous mark by 29 seconds.

We all joked that he should never again attempt another mile PR, because nothing will ever top this afternoon's experience.

Monday, April 6, 2015

The Brandenburg Gate

I don't know that I'll ever tire of the Brandenburg Gate.

Looming large over Pariser Platz in the heart of Berlin, it anchors the city to its 18th century Prussian roots while simultaneously acting as the vanguard of a new era.  It is a ubiquitous feature of tourism in Germany, and plays a central role in my own memories of this city.

I have visited the Gate with my German teacher and classmates in the nineties, with my wife before we were even engaged, and now with my own students.  I have run through it countless times, and participated in parties at its base countless more.

But I am obviously not the only one to enjoy the Gate, as it is mobbed by all of humanity on any given day of the year.  Tour buses, taxis, horse-drawn carriages, and hordes of camera-wielding tourists occupy Pariser Platz all day long.

This is why I enjoy being a runner.  You see, I woke up at 6:30am this morning to get my long run in.  Before my students woke up, and before a full day of sightseeing, I headed out for 14 miles around Berlin.  One of my first stops was the Gate.  It was cast in deep, golden morning sunlight with brilliant cloudless blue skies behind it, and I ran through it completely alone.  The same Gate where Napoleon and Hitler had marched, that had nearly been destroyed in the Second World War, where triumphant citizens had partied deep into the night in the 80's, I had all to myself.

I continued on through portions of the Tiergarten, through the Memorial to the murdered Jews of Europe, into my old neighborhood of Kreuzberg and its Viktoria Park.  In this park there is a brief climb to a hilltop monument that overlooks the city.  As I charged up the winding path, I thought about how the runner's high is anything but a myth.

At the top, with the sun just above Berlin's horizon, a spring chill in the air and a burning in my lungs, I could still make out the Brandenburg Gate in the distance.

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

March mileage

2015 miles so far:

January: 197
February: 231
March: 281

Total: 709

I wanted to hit 300 for this month, as well as a 100 mile week, but neither were in the cards. Still, it is the highest monthly total of my life, so still something to be happy about.

Now let's hope these miles pay off in a few weeks...

Monday, March 30, 2015

Three weeks

We're getting closer and closer to the Boston Marathon...

I have officially requested two personal days for the day of the marathon and the day after.

My Boston Marathon runner's passport and other items have arrived in the mail.

And I just hit 700 miles for the year:

We're officially three weeks out, and with yesterday's long run, I am officially in the taper period of training.  Normally I prefer a two week taper, but because I am leaving for Germany on Thursday and will be there for ten days with my students, I just won't be able to run as much as I want.  It will be a bit of a forced taper.

I still have a lot to do between now and Marathon Monday, but one by one things are falling into place.  The important part is I survived the hardest part of training.  Now I just have to keep focused for a little longer.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

No rest for the weary

I am, shall we say, fairly overwhelmed these days.

  • Last week my high school was saddled with the state test du jour known as PARCC.  "Farcical" does not begin to describe last week given the amount of technical glitches experienced and the feeling of building the plane while in the air, but what bothers me most is the instructional time lost in preparing for/administering this monstrosity.
  • Our Student Growth Objectives (SGO's) are due tomorrow.  Starting last year, teachers are expected to administer both a pre-assessment (in November) and a benchmark assessment (in March) in two different classes, grade each assessment, chart the growth between assessments and compile the data in a spreadsheet, summarize the information and upload each component to an online portfolio.  Students are expected to demonstrate growth between the pre-assessment and the benchmark assessment, and a certain percentage of growth must be met in order for the teacher to be deemed effective.
  • The end of the third marking period is next week, and with it comes an enormous amount of grading to do, grading I could have finished a long time ago were it not for PARCC and SGO's.
  • Our Reflective Practice Portfolios (RPP's) are due on April 17th.  This is an online portfolio comprised of seven different categories, each requiring videos/pictures/documents with accompanying written reflections.  The bulk of our year-end evaluations hinge on this.
  • I spent the majority of my time in-between classes today playing phonetag with a parent.  She was concerned about her son's grade in my class, and when I finally made contact, I had a great deal of trouble understanding her thick accent.  I may or may not have agreed to tutor her child every day for the rest of the year.  This is why I prefer e-mail.  I am a writer at heart.
  • In exactly one week, I am leaving for Germany for the umpteenth time in my life.  I am leading a group of 11 - one other chaperone and 10 students - to both Berlin and Munich.  I have been spending countless hours on the phone with various German officials, organizing parent meetings, collecting payment, e-mailing random PDF forms, negotiating prices and working and reworking the itinerary.  I am slightly dreading the trip because it is going to wreak havoc on both my nutrition and training.
  • I am currently in the middle of the biggest week of mileage of my life.  I'm going for 75 miles. The hunger and exhaustion are simply mind boggling, to the point that I snapped at a coworker last week.  Though I don't believe my actions were completely unfounded, she hasn't spoken to me since.
  • We are trying to sleep train Neale, and while he has made great progress in the last few weeks, he still wakes up several times a night and cries solidly for longer than my sanity can handle.  Letting him cry also makes me feel like a goddamned monster.

And that's where I'm at right now.  Just trying to keep my eye on the prize and my head above water.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Sunday 22 miler

I ran a thousand miles today for my long run.  It was really only 22.  It was sunny, slightly windy, and warm enough to wear shorts.  I managed to complete the whole thing with no other fuel than a bottle of Nuun and one small Larabar.  Took me just over three hours.

My first Boston Marathon is just under a month away.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

2015 Haddonfield Adrenaline 5k Race Report

Ran the 10th anniversary Haddonfield Adrenaline 5k this morning.  Not sure how many times I've run it, but here are the race recaps since I started this blog:


I didn't run it in 2013 because Stevie and I went to New York City that weekend.

This is one of the premiere 5k's in the state of New Jersey and typically sells out its 1,000 runner field well in advance of race day.  It starts and finishes at my alma mater and spends a good portion of the race on the town's main strip.  With few turns and a mostly flat course, so much talent shows up that you pretty much have to be an Olympian just to crack the top 100.

Check out the promotional video they made for this year's race:

There was concern about whether the race would even go on given yesterday's snow, but race officials assured everyone last night it was still a go.  Sidewalks were still covered with slush this morning, but the main roads were clear, if still wet.  I've been training in this stuff all season so it was of little concern to me.

I brought Neale to the race with me and handed him off to my dad at the high school before placing myself in the crowd at the starting line.  I was feeling good.  I'd gotten a decent amount of sleep, ate well last night, hydrated properly this morning and was wearing just the right amount of clothes.

As soon as the race started, however, I immediately felt fatigued.  Of course I've been training for a marathon, not a 5k, and my legs have a lot more miles on them as a result.  The 10 I did yesterday in the snow probably didn't help either.  I thought I was slowing down a bit but couldn't tell because I wasn't wearing my Garmin.  The clock at the first mile marker wasn't working, either.

I found a little left once I passed the 2 mile marker and tried to pick up the pace again.  Once I hit the main street again, it was just a mad dash to the finish trying to pick off as many runners as I could.  I was happy to see the clock still at 19 as I approached the finish line.  My official time was 19:28, good enough to beat 2011 me, but not quite enough for 2012 me.

The finish line was pretty much a pile up of people from my Wednesday night running/beer club (a who's who of Who's Up regulars, if you will).  We joked that if the team competition was simply to finish as close together as possible, we would have won hands down.  We all finished in the 19:30 - 20:30 range.  But not good enough to take the team title.

I found my dad and Neale and introduced them to some of my running friends, then took a picture with Neale in front of the South Jersey Athletic Club tent:

It was the first race of mine that Neale ever attended, and I hope the first of many.  I hope that someday we can run races together, and he'll eventually fulfill his legacy of taking down my own PR's, just like I took down my own dad's over the years.

Today's 3.1 miles also put me at exactly 600.1 miles for the year, so when I got home I took another picture to commemorate the moment.

And every year, the owner gives out wrist bands at the store after the race.  The wrist bands are good for an open bar at The Irish Mile down the road from the race.  He picks up the tab for every runner who shows up as a way of celebrating the store's anniversary and just to say thank you to his customers.

You had me at open bar.  See ya at the Mile...

Friday, March 20, 2015

Winter's swan song

Winter decided it didn't want to go out without a fight and dumped a few inches of snow on South Jersey throughout the course of the day today.  Not quite as much as last time, but enough to make me ball my fists in consternation like a villain in a superhero movie.

So I spent the first day of spring this year running ten miles in soggy, heavy snow.  I've been running in just shorts lately, some runs even just a short-sleeved shirt, and couldn't believe I had to dig out all of my usual winter running paraphernalia again.

I did my standard 10 mile route that takes me through the woods a bit and up every hill I can find in South Jersey.  Took me 1:29 to finish.

March 20th: who would have thought?

I'd like to think that with this last snowstorm, the worst of winter is finally behind us.  Maybe now people will finally stop calling me crazy for running outside.  

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Wednesday night run party

Almost every Wednesday, I head two towns over to the Haddonfield Running Company for their weekly group run.  I've done this group run off and on for the past decade, but only started going regularly a little over a year ago.

As I've mentioned before, some of the guys started an informal club called "Who's Up?"  Each week someone new brings the beer for the entire group, leading to the eternal question and our club's name.

Some nights we just drink our beer and head home, but other nights, like tonight, end up as an impromptu party.

I love the Haddonfield Running Company for so many reasons, and one is their penchant for partnering with local races and national shoe companies.  Tonight saw Brooks, the ODDyssey Half Marathon and their beer partner Sly Fox all setting up shop in the store.

I had volunteered to be up this week, but wasn't sure how much beer I would need since I knew Sly Fox would be there.  Turns out they were only giving out 4oz. samples, and when I opened the cooler I'd brought, everyone descended upon it like vultures.

Also, Ron won a freaking pair of Brooks:

And Larry's wife made us amazing baked goods, which has become a regular occurrence.

I love this store and I love this group.  Even if they take the group picture without me.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

2015 Boston Marathon Wave and Corral

Thanks for the input about the Boston Marathon jacket, everyone.  I'm definitely leaning towards buying it now, but I still haven't pulled the trigger yet.

In other Boston Marathon news, bib, wave and corral numbers have been posted.

They put the fastest runners in the front and assign them the lowest bibs.  I'm told these become a bit of a status symbol, with the lowest bibs/waves indicating the fastest runners.  #5005 out of 30,000 runners isn't so bad, eh?

Starting in the first wave also means I'll be starting close to 10:00, meaning an earlier finish, meaning I can have my first beer that much sooner.  Priorities.

Just over a month away!

Saturday, March 14, 2015

To buy or not to buy?

Ladies and gentlemen of the internet, trolls and narcissistic millenials, pervy old men and gamer misfits: I need your help, for I am in crisis mode.

I cannot decide whether or not to buy this year's official Boston Marathon jacket.

When I first qualified back in November 2013, I thought it was a given.  I knew I was going to buy the jacket and wear it proudly amongst the running hordes come April 2015.  While there is plenty of Boston gear to buy, the jacket is the one must-have; the status symbol to alert others that you belong to a special club.

But then I got a look at this year's edition, curiously dubbed "Night Flash":

I was not crazy about the color scheme.  But who cares, right?  It's not about what it looks like, it's about what it represents!  And we'll all look ugly together!

But then I saw the price: $110, not including tax and shipping costs.  That's when I started to have second thoughts.

On the one hand, Boston is going to be an expensive weekend, and why tack on another big ticket item when there are plenty of other, cheaper souvenirs to be had?  With a baby at home, I'm trying to think more frugally than ever, and this seems like an unnecessary expenditure.

On the other hand, this could very well be a once-in-a-lifetime event.  I have no idea if I will ever qualify for Boston again.  Even if I do run it again, I will never have another chance at my first, and the jacket would be a great way to commemorate it.  And I have no doubt I would love the feeling of strutting around Boston while wearing it.

Just call me Natalie Imbruglia, because I am torn.

So what do you think, denizens of the internet?  Yay or nay?

Sunday, March 8, 2015

500 miles

I had scheduled another 20 miler today, but I decided to put it off for a few reasons.  I ran 68 miles last week, and the exhaustion has started to get to me.  I had an especially hard time getting out of bed this morning, which is not normal for a Sunday when I've had a decent amount of sleep the night before.

Various life stressors have taken hold as well, including increasing work demands and the ubiquitous lack of sleep from living with a baby at home.

And on Friday I started to feel a strain in my left calf that continued to last night.  I wanted to give myself a chance to rest it and not aggravate it further.

I know calling off the 20 miler was the smart decision, because listen to your body and blah blah blah... But it doesn't make me feel any less guilty.  Runner's guilt is strong, and we put the most pressure on ourselves to succeed.

I did, however, fit in a simple 5 miler, and with those 5 miles I passed the 500 mile mark for the year to 501.

1/4 of the way there!  Here's to the next 3/4 of the challenge, and staying healthy through the year!

Thursday, March 5, 2015

The snow run to end all snow runs

Received word at 4 o'clock this morning that school was cancelled for the day.

Except for those in warmer locales.  Sorry, you will never know this joy.

When I woke up at 6, I saw nary a snowflake on the ground.  I assumed our superintendent had blown the call, and we had wasted our final snow day of the year.  We only get three built into the schedule, and after that we have to start making them up.

And then it began.

The snow didn't let up for the entire day, coating my area of South Jersey in about 8 inches.

But you know where this is going... I had to go running.  I had 10 miles planned for the day, and saw no reason to cancel the run on account of a little snow.

Stevie took a picture of the snow before I headed out.

Me: Oh great, now you're going to put that picture on Facebook telling everyone how crazy I am.
Stevie: Well I was just going to text it to Sheila, but now it's going on Facebook.

I had a massive breakfast burrito for breakfast, and was finally ready to run around 3pm.  It wasn't as bad as the last time I ran in the snow, mainly because most of the sidewalks and streets were already cleared by the afternoon, even as more snow fell.  Most people had stayed home or were now home for the day, so I had few cars to contend with.  I had the peaceful, quiet streets to myself.

Because it was still snowing pretty hard, I wore my old ski goggles.

I ran out to Haddonfield so I could run in Crows Woods on a small network of trails.  I can't even begin to describe how beautiful the woods are in the middle of or just after a large snowstorm. Absolutely breathtaking.  And I had the entire place to myself.  This is one of the few times I wish I ran with my phone so I could have taken pictures.

When I returned home after 10 snowy miles, I was tired and cold, naturally, but filled with a deep satisfaction at having conquered the elements.

It was an exhilarating run, and not without its challenges and hardship.  But as with anything in life, the greater the effort put forth, the greater the potential for reward.

And now nothing in life will possibly taste as good as the porter I am going to drink tonight.

Monday, March 2, 2015

Sunday, March 1, 2015

20 miler #2

I ran my first 20 miler of this marathon cycle a few weeks ago.  I then dropped back to 16, then back up to 18, and today I completed my second 20 miler.

I managed to get out the door by 9am, which means I finished before noon.  This is probably my single greatest achievement of the winter so far.

Post 20 miler.

February is in the rearview, but its weather lives on.  A light snow fell during the last five miles.

This was probably my first long run of the entire training cycle in which I didn't think "oh God, when will I be finished?"  When I did finish, I thought about how easily I could have kept going.

It was a nice confidence booster.

March is going to be a long month, but it will all be worth it on April 20th.

Saturday, February 28, 2015

February mileage

2015 mileage is progressing nicely.  Despite a tough month in terms of weather, and fewer days to work with than January, I still managed to increase my monthly total.

January: 197
February: 231.

That brings me to a total of 428 for the year.  At this point last year I hadn't even broken 200.

I'm hoping to go big next month and break 300 before scaling back during April for my taper. I'm also hoping to increase more core work and speedwork which I've sadly been neglecting this training cycle.

Only a month and a half until Boston!

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

400 miles

Passed the 400 mile mark with the Who's Up? crew tonight in Haddonfield, so I took a picture in the store afterwards:

Another cold, dark run.  Some days I think that I'm acclimating and not fazed at all by cold weather running anymore, and some days I think I'm going to lose my goddamn mind if I have to endure one more run outside in this weather.

Two months into marathon training with more than a month left?  Sounds about right.

Fortunately beer at the end of a run is always a good incentive.

Mmm... Philly beer.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Movie Monday: Shalane's 2015 Boston Marathon

Nice article from Competitor about Shalane Flanagan's third attempt at the Boston Marathon this spring:

She's once again aiming to win the entire thing, and it's exciting to see her try.  The Boston Marathon is her hometown race, and the desire to win is palpable.

It's refreshing and inspiring to see a professional athlete really put herself out there and leave her heart on the course.  While she came up short on two big goals in 2014 (winning Boston and claiming American marathon record in Berlin), it wasn't for lack of effort.  I sincerely hope this is her year to shine.

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