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.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

DIY Marathoning: The Case Against Training Plans

The other day I entered a fellow runner's Dream Race Weekend giveaway, but I should have known better.  I'm now on his e-mail list and have already received more than one unsolicited e-mail as to why I should sign up for his coaching services.  Each message contains tidbits of his running wisdom, including this pearl:

"Today, I want to expose how being a Team of 1 is particularly destructive to runners."

Sorry, you lost me with that line.

Here's a fact about me: I have run 10 marathons, several half marathons, and races of all other distances, yet I have never in my life followed a training plan or coach.

When I ran my first marathon in 2005 at the age of 24, there wasn't nearly the amount of information available as there is today.  My solution was to simply run as much as I could, increasing my distance bit by bit each day (even this wasn't terribly accurate, as all I had was a stopwatch to keep track of time, not distance).  I hit the wall of the Philly Marathon that year as early as mile 16, and walked/ran the rest to a 4:29:47 finish.

While I was incredibly proud of having finished a marathon, I was also seized by the desire to do better.  I knew I wasn't finished with the marathon yet.  I began chipping away at my time over the years, and it wasn't long before I allowed myself to set the ludicrous goal of qualifying for Boston, that Holy Grail of running accomplishments for average Joes like me.

So how did I manage to knock off almost a full 90 minutes from my marathon debut to my current PR of 3:03:05?

Well, as I said, what I didn't do was follow a training plan.

There are two instances in which a person might follow a training plan:

  1. He is training for his first race at a given distance.
  2. He is training to get faster at a distance he has already raced.

I understand that training for a marathon is a monumental and sometimes scary undertaking for many people, and they want some form of guidance and reassurance as they prepare for the unknown.  But could training for your first marathon truly be as simple as running a little bit farther every day?  If your goal is simply to finish, is a schedule crammed to the rafters with tempo runs, long runs, speed drills and other nonsense really necessary?

Ok, so my questionable strategy allowed me to finish the marathon.  But that brings us to #2. What if you've already run a marathon and want to get faster?  What if, like me, your goal is to join that illustrious club of Boston Qualifiers?

Well, let me explain it like this: I'm a high school German teacher.  That means lots of messy German grammar, such as adjective declensions and syntax that constantly involves throwing random words to the end of a sentence.  When I teach new grammar concepts to my students, I try to avoid the temptation of simply telling them the grammar rule and making them memorize it.  Instead, I expose them to authentic materials: poems, song lyrics, advertisements, children's books, etc.  From there I let them look for patterns and determine the grammar rule on their own before applying it to their own speaking and writing.  I let them learn by doing.

After running my first marathon, each time I entered a new marathon training cycle, I asked myself what realistic, small changes could I make to my training?  With each cycle and accompanying marathon, I learned a little more about myself and how I react to certain aspects of training.  As I continued running marathons, my experience started to count for more than anything a training plan could have ever told me. I started to intuitively understand the marathon distance and what was required to go faster.  The big picture became important, and I began to think of training as a lifestyle rather than just one crossed-off workout after another.  I learned by doing.

The fact is, a random training plan found on the internet or in a book doesn't know you.  It doesn't know your daily responsibilities, your family life, what the weather is like where you live, your preferred pace or your preferred time of day to run.  Blindly following a training plan takes the thinking out of it, which creates a disconnect between what is required to go faster and understanding why that is.  Understanding the why behind something is so important, and getting to that point on your own can be so much more powerful than if someone simply tells you what to do.  Learn by doing.

So what does my training plan look like now?  I run every day because I know my body can handle it (though on Mondays I only do a mile to maintain my run streak and let myself rest).  I do long runs on Sundays.  I eat a varied and mostly healthy diet.  I do strength training and core work.  Above all, my training plan is a fluid one.  I am constantly adjusting mileage and effort as I go to accommodate how my body feels.

I should mention I'm not trying to sell you my training plan.  There is already such a cacophony of advice out there, and most of it is from someone trying to become the next marathon guru or sell you his coaching services.  Take it all with a grain of salt.  Yes, including mine.

I'm also not trying to rail against those who follow training plans or coaches.  You have to do what you need to do to reach your goals, and if following a training plan or even spending money on a coach is going to be what gets you there, then go for it.  I'm merely trying to emphasize there is another way.  It takes time and patience, but I am living proof that you can set lofty goals, goals you have no business setting, and still reach them.  And yes, you can still reach them as a team of 1.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

8 miles in the snow

What do you do when you've spent all day on your feet with a fussy baby, there are six inches of snow on the ground and more falling, and it's going to be dark in a half hour, but you have eight miles of running to do?

You pour yourself a hot chocolate, lace it with Bailey's and settle into the couch for a rigorous session of Netflix.


Ha.  You must be new here.

No, instead you suck it up and go running.

After.  That's an icicle hanging from my eyebrow.

It was like running 8 miles on a Slip N' Slide.  While I certainly burned a decent amount of calories and got my heart rate moving, I don't know that it was a great marathon training run. Everything about the run was erratic - my pace, my stride, my form, my breathing...

Yes, it was a difficult run, and I probably would have gotten more bang for my buck on the treadmill, but in the end it's 8 more miles down, and 8 miles closer to Boston.

Friday, February 20, 2015

The runner's log

I finally invested in a proper running log for this year.  I still like looking at my mileage on a calendar so I can see each day's total for the month, but now I can also include extra info like time, how I felt, where I ran, and of course the temperature.

I am in awe of how cold it has been this month, and what it takes to run in such low temperatures.  I don't know that I've ever seen the month of February this cold in New Jersey, nor have I ever logged this many miles in the month of February before (I am on track to break 200).

That said, my running log is starting to resemble the diary of someone in a Russian gulag.

Some choice entries:

     "Cold.  Always cold."

     "Another run into the heart of darkness."

     "Too much wind.  Too much running."

     "When will it end?"

Some days I think about how dumb my hobby really is.  But then I remember, just as slogging through the summer humidity makes those runs on perfect fall days seem incredible, so too will these frozen runs make spring runs all the more perfect.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

The coldest day of winter

About a year ago I posted about the worst run of my life; 16 miles in a steady rain and wind with the temperature in the upper 30's.  I ran alone and was cold, wet and miserable the entire time.

Today I almost topped it.

I ran my first 20 miler of the season last Sunday, and wanted to drop back down again this Sunday before jumping up again in March, so I planned 16 today.  Unfortunately, temperatures plummeted last night and I woke up this morning to a rather frosty 9 degrees.

I had a gigantic breakfast (3 scrambled eggs with cheese, potatoes, broccoli, diced tomatoes and spinach mixed in, two pieces of toast and OJ), and waited for the temperature to rise a little.  By 2pm it had only risen a few degrees.  When I finished around 4, it still looked like this:

The 31 mph wind gusts coming off of the Cooper River and Newton Lake were torturous.  The thin layers of ice and snow on parts of the roads were treacherous.  The brilliant winter sun coming off of said snow and ice was blinding.

The long run today was challenging, to say the least.

I am not normally one for mantras, but I found myself repeating several times throughout the run, "I am stronger than winter."  This eventually devolved into a lot of yelling and cursing in the latter miles.  The streets of South Jersey have never known such profanity.

When I finished, I took a picture in the backyard:

Train for a spring marathon, they said.  It'll be fun, they said.

As tough as today's run was, and as much as I lament the fact that the Boston Marathon is in April, necessitating so much mileage in the winter months, I don't think I would have it any other way.  The sense of accomplishment I have after a run like this is incomparable.  And nothing tastes as good as a dark porter after a long, hard winter run.

And tomorrow the relentless forward march of marathon training goes on...

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Where's the beef? Homemade vegetarian chili

I am a meateater at heart.  In the summer, I am your typical suburban dad who fancies himself the master of the grill.  But at any time of the year, give me a juicy hamburger, a cheesesteak, some bratwurst or a few slices of bacon, and I'll be as happy as a white girl in Starbucks.

But there are still some dishes where I actually prefer the vegetarian option over its meatier counterpart.  This is probably due to my sister who went vegetarian during her sophomore year in college and never looked back, and over the years I've acquired a few recipes from her that I've kept in rotation.  Vegetarian chili is one of them.

Nothing is better in the deep dark of winter than a big vat of steaming hot chili, so I made a batch for a group of friends who stopped by last night.

First step, assemble your ingredients:

  • 1 tablespoon canola oil
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 1 yellow bell pepper, diced
  • 2 sweet potatoes, diced
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 Tbs chili powder
  • 2 Tsp ground cumin
  • 1 can each: black, white, red, pinto beans
  • 2 cups vegetable broth
  • 1/4 cup chipotle sauce
  • 1 Tbs sugar
  • 1 28 oz, can fire-roasted diced tomatoes
Sauté the onions and garlic for a few minutes, add the spices and sauté for a minute more, then dump in all the other ingredients at once.  Stir, bring to a boil, then let simmer for an hour.

(My sister didn't make up this recipe on her own.  It's from Cooking Light, 2005.)

When you're finished, serve with a dollop of sour cream, a sprinkling of cheddar cheese, and some crusty French bread.

Watch your friends' dubious expression at meatless chili turn into squeals of delight as they shovel down the batch inside of ten minutes.  "Where's the beef?"  More like, "where's the recipe?"


Friday, February 13, 2015

Welcome to America

Meet Matteo and Kiera, my new niece and nephew.

As my sister put it, the U.S. just welcomed its two newest citizens yesterday.  When my sister and her husband touched down on American soil, the two children they adopted from China automatically became American citizens.

It's been an exhausting few years as my sister jumped through hoop after bureaucratic hoop, followed by an equally exhausting three week trip to China.  My sister already has two biological children, and today they officially started their life as a family of five.

Here is a video that a friend of my sister's filmed of their homecoming:

A Peek at Pictures - Welcome Home Mateo & Kiera from Tracie Bea Photographie on Vimeo.

My sister has documented the process of adoption, and her three-week trip, over on her blog:

Congratulations, Chris and Kirsten, and welcome to America, Matteo and Kiera.  Aunt Stevie and I can't wait to meet you.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Boston is 75 days away

I've never trained for an April marathon before, and so I've never logged so many miles in the winter before either.  I've joked with Stevie that this is going to be my first and last Boston Marathon for that very reason.  I don't really care for running in the cold, you see.

Luckily this winter hasn't been nearly as severe as last year's, and luckily I live in New Jersey and not New England.  It's been cold, but we've dealt with very little snow here this season, as opposed to the people with their trenches a.k.a. sidewalks up north.

Swearing off the treadmill can certainly make me feel badass, but it has its drawbacks.  Night after night I find myself bundling up and trudging out into the cold and wind for another run, and it's starting to wear on me.  Maybe I need to back off on the mileage for a bit, or just find some new running routes.

Due to the bombings in 2013, the average person has heard about the Boston Marathon and may even know of its legacy and stringent qualifying standards.  As a result, when I meet someone new and talk inevitably turns to my running, they are pretty impressed with the fact that I'm training for Boston.

Sometimes I even impress myself.

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Church of the Sunday Long Run and January mileage

Ran an 18 mile long run today and passed the 200 mile mark for the year.  The last two miles were cold and exhausting, but I stuck it out to finish strong.

Yesterday I finished out January with a 6 miler:

I managed to knock out 197 miles for the month, which means I tripled my amount from this time last year.  It helps that winter has been considerably milder this year, not to mention the desire to give my all for Boston.

I'm happy with the steady, slow progression throughout the month, adding only a few miles per week with two mile increments in my long runs.  The plan is to keep increasing slowly for the next week or two, then back off for a week or two to give myself a chance to rest, then ramp up again until I hit a 100 mile week.  I might have to add in two-a-days to do so, which I'll also introduce slowly.

A 100 mile week would be cool, but as always I'll be listening to my body and will back off at the first sign of distress.  No point in arriving at Boston injured.

Saturday, January 31, 2015

2015 Spartan Race giveaway results

Congratulations to the winner of this year's Spartan Race giveaway!  Watch the video to see who won, and I'll be in touch!

Thanks to everyone for reading and participating.  You're all winners in my book.

Edit - Apologies if you can't actually watch the video.  There are reasons why I don't blog for a living, and my lack of technological savvy is one of them.  If you can't watch it, Joel Mattingly is the winner.  Joel, I'll send you an e-mail momentarily.

Friday, January 30, 2015

Don't forget your #whorepants

When I was in college, I took a class on black feminism during my sophomore year.  As she strode purposefully into our first meeting together 14 years ago, the very first words my loud and proud black professor uttered were, "y'all are motherfuckin' racists."

Somehow this left an impression on me.

Over the ensuing 90 minutes, she clarified her opening statement with a discussion on white privilege; the idea that my classmates and I were and continue to be afforded countless unearned privileges merely by being white.  These can be as big as not being subjected to racial profiling while driving, to as small as being able to choose bandaids in the color of our own skin.  It was this white privilege that led every one of us, as the song goes, to be a little bit racist.

Last week, high school friend Jen Miller posted an article calling attention to the harassment female runners face, and I was immediately brought back to my college classroom.  My professor folded her arms over her heavy bosom, looked at me with disdain, and said, "you motherfuckin' sexist pig."  It seems time to address the continuing problem of female harassment, and my accompanying male privilege.

The title of Jen's article stems from an earlier, similar article which described her purple running tights.  When someone had the audacity to call her a whore in the comments, her friends coined the term #whorepants, and the hashtag took off.

I asked my wife about this, and while she doesn't have nearly the amount of miles under her belt as some female runners, she has nevertheless experienced catcalls, comments, and otherwise unsavory behavior from men while out running.  And as a male runner, it saddens me to think what my female counterparts go through.

When I run, I do so for the health benefits, for the chance to explore new areas, and to experience alone time.  But for most women, these benefits can quickly become compromised for no other reason than someone who doesn't know how to behave in public. It's a power play.  It's lashing out over previous female rejection.  It's a desire to be crude and insulting, or maybe it is genuinely an attempt to be complimentary.  But rarely is it ever welcome.

Run enough, and it can become tormenting.  When the weather doesn't cooperate, or the intensity of the run becomes too much, it's easy to want to give in and quit.  I've literally run thousands of miles in my day, and I fight the thought of quitting on a regular basis, but never for fear of harassment.  The worst I've ever experienced is a few honks and/or unintelligible yells. Running can be hard enough as it is; adding the insulting nature of some men's behavior is just unfair.

It has just never occured to me to do anything but nod at a female runner as we pass each other. When not running, it never occurred to me to do much of anything when encountering an attractive female.  Seriously, it's amazing I ever got married.

Many runners, men and women alike, have expressed solidarity with Jen and donned their own version of #whorepants while running.  Alas, the one pair of running pants I own doesn't quite qualify, but it never really was about the pants was it?  It's about reclaiming a word, rallying around a silly hashtag, and fighting the good fight together.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

First snow day of 2015

Always a pleasure to see the above message on your district's website the night before a snow storm.  Well, until you get six snow days in one season and countless half days and two-hour delays like last year...

So midterms week at school was interrupted by our first snowday of the school year today. Turns out my area of New Jersey only netted about three inches, but still enough to make running a little more challenging.  I'd forgotten how tiring it can be to run in the snow, and how every run feels like double the distance once you've finished.

I realize I have two streaks going at the moment: one for running at least a mile every day (since November 2013), and one for avoiding the treadmill (last treadmill run in July 2013). Sadly, these two streaks don't always mix well.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

16 mile Sunday

Church of the Sunday Long Run is progressing nicely.  Knocked out 16 miles this afternoon. Compared to the polar vortex we experienced last winter, it's been pretty mild so far this year, and I ran today in just shorts and a long sleeved shirt.  I hear there's a snow storm on the way, though.  Just in time for midterms at school this week...

I felt sluggish at the end of today's run, perhaps because I never had a proper rest day after last week's long run got moved to Monday, and on Tuesday I went right ahead with the next week of training.

The goal is to hit a string of 22 milers, maybe even longer, and complete one 100 mile week this training cycle.  At the first sign of over-exhaustion or excess pain, though, I may pull the ripcord and bail.

So, all things considered, training is going well so far.  85 days until Boston.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Free Spartan Race 2015 giveaway!

Last spring I was contacted by the good people of Spartan Race asking if I would be willing to promote their race on my blog.  In exchange they gave me a free race code to give away to my readers.  They also gave me a code to use for myself, but I was never able to make it to a Spartan Race last year.  Fortunately for you, they have generously offered the same deal for 2015, so here we go...

First of all, for those unaware, Spartan Race is an obstacle race series held all over the United States.  They offer varying lengths, including the Spartan Sprint (3+ miles), the Spartan Super (8+ miles), and the Spartan Beast (12+ miles).

As a new parent, and someone who has spent the entirety of my working life with kids, I'm pleased to see they also offer a Spartan Kids race, with age appropriate obstacles for kids from 4 - 13, and 100 percent of the proceeds benefitting the Kids Fit Foundation.

Dan the PR man has let me know that they have not been resting easy over at Spartan HQ, and they have a ton of new things in store for 2015.

These include:
  • The first ever Spartan Race Cruise.  In March Spartan Race is sailing to the Bahamas for a Spartan Sprint.  Joe De Sena, Founder and CEO of Spartan Race, will also be along for the ride.
  • Speaking of Joe De Sena, he's launching a podcast called Spartan Up in which he interviews titans of the fitness industry and shares tips for living a fit and active life.
  • Lake Tahoe will host the Spartan World Championship in October.
  • There is a season pass for 2015 which offers great perks.
Here's a map for the locations this year.  If you're in the Philly area, there are plenty of Spartan Races nearby this year, and I hope to see you at one of them.

Now for the fun part.  I'm once again conducting a giveaway for one free entry to any Spartan Race in the continental US in 2015.  Like last time, all you have to do is leave me a comment telling me why you want to do the Spartan Race, and a way I can contact you.  Like last time, I'll leave the contest open for a week, and next Saturday night I'll pick a winner.

Good luck, and thanks for reading!

Monday, January 19, 2015

The first 100

Yesterday was the nastiest day of winter yet, with temps in the low thirties, black ice everywhere, and freezing rain all day.  I had 14 miles on the agenda, and normally I would have tried to suck it up and go running anyway.  Because I had the day off from school today, though, I decided to reschedule. Stevie and her friend watched bad movies all day, and I baked a loaf of banana bread.  Like you do.

Today was slightly warmer and a lot drier, so considerably more enjoyable.  I ran in just shorts and a long sleeved shirt, and stopped at the Haddonfield Running Company to drink some water and eat the gel I'd brought with me.

The 14 miles today put me at 112 miles for the year, which means I got to claim my 100 mile bib from the Run the Edge 2,015 in 2015 Challenge:

2015 is off to a great start.  The weather is cooperating for the most part, my body is holding up, I'm getting in the miles, and focusing on nutrition more.

How is your 2015 going?

Sunday, January 18, 2015

My own personalized training plan

When we last checked in with my friend Suze, I was helping her out with a homework assignment for her exercise science and health promotion degree.  She's back at it, this time for an assignment in which she had to create a personalized marathon training plan.  I love nothing more than a random professor somewhere reading of my marathon exploits, so I agreed to be her guinea pig again.

She sent over the completed, 11 page paper tonight and here are a few excerpts:
Scott is a 33-year-old marathon runner.  His first marathon was the Philadelphia Marathon in 2005 at a finish time of 4:29:47.  Since then, he has been diligently reducing his time and ultimately qualified for the Boston Marathon at the 2013 Philadelphia Marathon with a time of 3:03:05.  His registration was accepted and he plans to run Boston on April 20, 2015.  He therefore requires a 13-week training program with the goal of a personal record (PR).
I'm not actually planning to PR at Boston.  Training through the winter with a baby at home and running a tougher course than Philly will make it difficult to do so, but Suze decided this would work better for her assignment.
Scott's marathon goal time is 2:59:00 (a 6:50 per mile pace [Figure 1]).  The Boston Marathon's elevation involves more hills compared to Philadelphia's relatively flat course (Figures 2 and 3).  Instead of running every day, Scott will now add in a six-week program that includes two days of strength training and one rest day for increased muscle recovery.  After those six weeks, he will switch to a seven-week program with hill sprints and tempo runs to maintain the power output gained earlier.
She goes on to describe sciency things like lactate threshold, voluntary neuromuscular adaptation, and maximal oxygen uptake.

She then describes the steel rigidity of my hamstrings we learned about in her last assignment.
Some special attention will be given to Scott's hamstrings for several reasons. Over-lengthening weakens the muscle as it is in an inefficient position to produce a contraction.  Weak hamstrings is a risk factor for decreased running economy, shortened length stride, and potential muscle or tendon injury... Part of his program will include core stability and stretching of the hip flexors and knee extensors to corect the pelvi tilt and reduce the stretch effect on the hamstrings. Exercises include plank variations, medicine ball throws with a twisting motion, and single-leg bridges.
I've mentioned this on the blog before, but I should reiterate that I've never actually followed a training plan in my life.  Every success I've had in distance running has come down to gut intuition and listening to my own body and experience.  In short, I just make it up as I go.  So it's interesting to have someone take all of my experiences, and where I'm at currently, and apply a scientific look to it.

I can't say I'll go all out for Boston and try everything Suze mentions in her report, but when I do attempt a sub 3 marathon, it'll be nice to have this document to dust off and consult.

In the meantime...

Friday, January 16, 2015

The relentlessness of marathon training

The word that comes to mind lately when I think of marathon training is "relentless."  Each day brings another training run, and each week increases the intensity and total miles ever so slightly.  It doesn't matter if I've had a long day at work, if I got little sleep the night before, or if I haven't eaten properly.  The next scheduled training run arrives whether I'm ready or not, and the miles just keep on piling up, day after day after day.

For the most part I like it like this.  I like the intensity, the feeling of accomplishment, the sense of challenging myself when it would be so easy to stay inside all winter.

But as every marathoner knows, there are some pretty dark moments in every training cycle when I seriously question why this is my hobby.

But as with anything in life, there are pros and cons, ups and downs, strikes and gutters, and if the whole is greater than the sum of its parts, then maybe it is all worth it.  Right now the parts are made up mostly of cold, darkness, sweaty clothes, and even some doubt.  But lodged somewhere in there is still a healthy dose of excitement for marathon weekend in April, and when it's all said and done and I can finally examine the whole, I'm sure it will all be worth it.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

What a difference two days make

On Sunday I completed 10 miles in the brutal (to me) Florida heat and humidity.  I had to stop twice during the run, once to walk and once to duck into a Publix for a drink of water.  Side note: I used to drink from the sprinklers in front yards I passed until Stevie told me the sprinklers use canal water. This is what the ducks look like that swim in those canals:

Florida cancer-faced duck

No thanks.

Now I'm back in New Jersey where the weather is considerably colder, and we had our first snow today.

Winter running in Florida vs. New Jersey

The only thing getting me outside in these conditions is the thought of lining up for Boston this April. The temperature frequently falls into the single digits in New Jersey during January, and, as usual, I'm training without access to an indoor track or a treadmill.

Happy trails to y'all, and send some motivation my way!

Monday, January 5, 2015

Movie Monday: The biomechanics of marathoning

Suze passed this along, and it's a fascinating look at Meb Keflezighi, Olympic silver medalist and New York and Boston Marathon champion, among other accolades.

Filmed by ESPN, the video concentrates on an elite runner's biomechanics and what it takes to not only run a marathon, but to run it well enough to win it.

I am by no means a science person, but I nevertheless found this video fascinating.  Enoy!

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