Wednesday, November 25, 2015

How to run your fastest marathon ever and still be disappointed

Last Sunday I finished the 2015 Philadelphia Marathon in a personal record of 3:01:06.  It was the fastest I've ever covered 26.2 miles on foot by a minute and 59 seconds, yet I still came away from the race with a feeling of disappointment because I failed to run under three hours.

This is not to say that I didn't rejoice in my physical capabilities or marvel at the triumph of the human spirit.  I didn't exactly hang my head in shame afterwards or cry myself to sleep that night.  On the contrary, I drank some awesome beers with my awesome dad and some awesome running friends and laughed the morning away.

But the disappointment was still there.

I do get how silly this comes across, especially to non-runners.  It's an arbitrary time, one that I picked, and without any concrete rewards beyond the title of "sub 3 marathoner." The time I did run was a two minute PR, and as I mentioned three weeks ago, PR's at my age are becoming harder and harder to come by.  Two years ago I was ecstatic to have run 3:03:05, and now I've bettered that time yet feel disappointed.  It doesn't make sense and I know that.

The disappointment isn't just with the time goal.  But before we get into that, let's reflect on race strategy first.

I had a distinctly different race strategy from two years ago.  In 2013 I wrote all of the mile splits on my arm that I needed to hit in order to run a 3:05.  At each mile marker I compared the splits on my arm with the time on my watch, and as long as I stayed under, I just kept doing what I was doing.  This resulted in me going out too fast for the first few miles and hanging on for dear life towards the end.

This year I wanted to run consistent 6:50 miles while saving some juice for the kick at the end. I wanted to negative split the race.  So my plan was to keep an eye on my pace on my Garmin and try to run as evenly as possible.  As mentioned in my race report, I had a really tough time locking into a consistent pace.  I ended up looking at my Garmin far more often than I should have, stressing over how slow or fast I was running, which may have added to my erratic pace.  This may have also caused me to lose concentration on running the tangents and veer too far off.  In 2013 I ran 26.23, but this year it was 26.43.

The problem with the marathon is that there are so many factors that go into a performance, good or bad, that it's sometimes hard to isolate exactly what helped or hindered during the race.

I think it's clear that one of the biggest factors in this particular race was the wind.  I've never experienced wind like that in a race before.  But how much can I realistically blame my performance on it?  30 seconds?  A minute?  When do I stop searching for external factors to blame and concentrate on myself?

This brings us to just why I'm so disappointed.  One of the biggest factors contributing to my disappointment is how I performed in the last few miles of the race.  Now, the casual observer will note that I kept going in those final miles, kept pushing despite the realization that my A goal had slipped away.  I didn't quit.

But you see, in a way I did.  In those final miles, as I did the math in my head, I knew it was going to be close.  But at some point I gave up the fight.  And it absolutely kills me now to think back to those miles and know I let the fight inside of me die.  I never once said to myself, "This is hard, but I can do this."  My two amazing pacers, Robin and Kim who had jumped in at mile 23.5, kept telling me I could do it, and in response I just kept spitting back in their faces, "I'm not going to make it."  I let the pain win and accepted that I wasn't going to run sub 3, and might have imploded entirely were it not for them.

They say the marathon is a metaphor for life, and so it's disheartening to know just how easily I gave up.  To confront the fact that I may not be as strong as I think is a humbling feeling.

I've gotten a lot of nice comments, tweets, texts and Facebook messages over the last few days, all of them proud of what I did and some of them assuring me the elusive sub 3 marathon is just around the corner.  But the truth is, I highly doubt it.

Most marathoners peak at the age of 35, give or take a year.  That means, at best, I only have a few years left to make good on the sub 3 goal.  But the truth is I'm tired of training at the level I do, literally and figuratively.  It's exhausting and quite frankly detrimental to my own sanity and the health of my family.  While I would certainly like to do more marathons in the future, I just don't think I have it in me to train at this level again.  This last training cycle was meant to be one last hurrah.  I went into this marathon knowing it would likely be my one and only shot at sub 3, and I came up short by a mere 67 seconds.

Despite the gloom of this post, I still feel proud of what I accomplished.  Proud of my running journey and what I've overcome to get to where I am.  Grateful to those who have helped me along the way.  

I am humbled by running, but above all, I'm still excited about it and all it offers, excited to share it with friends and family, to see where it takes me in the future.  With or without a sub 3 marathon.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Challenge complete - 2,015 miles in 2015

Last year I set the goal to run 2,014 miles over the course of the year.  This goal derailed at the end of August with the birth of my son, and I ended up finishing 2014 with only 1,676.8 miles.  As my wife put it, it was too bad we're not living in the 1600's.

I was disappointed to not reach this goal, but like with most goals, I just decided to try again. Bring on 2,015 miles in 2015.  It was a pleasant surprise to discover an official challenge launched by the folks behind Run the Edge (Tim Catalano and Adam Goucher).  Participants were able to team up with others or complete the challenge solo, and miles could be logged by walking, running, or doing the elliptical.  Like in 2014, I opted to do the challenge solo.  I also only wanted to count running miles, which would all be outside.

The primary feature of the challenge was a Facebook group with over 17,000 supportive and informative runners all over the world.

Well, in addition to completing the Philadelphia Marathon on Sunday, I also officially crossed the finish line of this challenge.

That's 2,015 miles, all run outside through all kinds of weather.  I ran through snow, sleet, rain, humidity, heat, and cold.  As early as 4:30 in the morning and as late as 11:30 at night.  On snow, dirt, pavement, asphalt, sand and grass.  On the beaches of South Florida.  On the beaches of South Jersey.  In the hills of Ithaca, NY.  On the city streets of Berlin and Munich. In big city races and small town races and with my local running/beer club and completely by myself.  I ran every single day, sometimes logging as little as one mile, occasionally logging 26.2.

It is incredibly satisfying to not only complete a goal that I missed the first time around, but to look back and remember all it took to accomplish it.

Run the Edge is offering the same challenge in 2016 with a completely revamped website and brand new participant perks.  I won't be taking part next year since I need a break from high mileage, but I highly recommend this challenge to anyone looking for a long term and different kind of running goal.

As their slogan goes, get out there and make fit happen.

Monday, November 23, 2015

2015 Philadelphia Marathon race report

I'll try to keep this one to the facts and save the emotion for a separate post.

Quick stats:

13th marathon
6th Philadelphia Marathon
3rd marathon in 2015
Finishing time: 3:01:06 (PR)

Here goes the long version...


The race was set to begin at 7am.  I woke up at 4am and showered, which I always do before a big race to wake up and loosen up the muscles.  I got to the train station in time for the 4:40 train into Philly and arrived at the entrance to the secure zone around 5:20 and breezed right through security.  I'm told the security line stretched a half mile long as it got closer to the race start, so thankfully I showed up early.

I made it to the starting line by 5:30 and just sat around by gear check for awhile since I didn't want to warm up for the race so early.  I would have run up and down the art museum steps to psych myself up for the race, but there were about 400 security fences in the way.

At about 6 I started getting ready.  I taped my nipples (using duct tape, natch), applied Body Glide, stuffed Gu packets into my shorts pockets, and stripped down to what I would be wearing at the start: shorts, shirt, throwaway hoodie, gloves and hat.  I handed my bag into gear check and got in line for a port-a-potty, then ran about a half mile warmup and did some dynamic stretches.

To my horror, around 6:35 I realized I still had to go to the bathroom, but the lines were outrageous at this point and I never would have started the race on time.  I walked around and found a small group of port-a-potties hidden away with only a small line, but after getting in line I found out these were only for elites.  A large and loud woman started yelling at runners to show their bibs and that only elites were allowed in this line.  I managed to hide behind two other runners as she came by and was able to use the port-a-potty here after all.

Once in my corral I had to endure the usual banter between the MC, Mayor Nutter and other people onstage.  I really wish the Philadelphia Marathon would consider just playing music before the start.  They then announced that the start would be delayed due to a car accident somewhere up on the course.  Great.  I love getting myself psyched to start a race only to have it be delayed by 15 minutes (no I don't).

The Start

They sang the French national anthem to honor those affected by last weekend's terrorist attacks in Paris, then the American national anthem, then the wheelchair division started, then the elites, then my corral - the maroon corral.

The first mile was a nightmare.  My garmin told me I was doing a 6:28 pace, which I found hard to believe, then beeped well before the first mile marker.  This completely threw me off my game, and I ended up having pacing issues for the entire race.  I just could not keep a steady pace.  I would look down at my watch and see I was going way below a 6:50 pace, so I would slow down, only to see a second later that I was doing a 7:18 pace.

Mile 5

By mile 5 I could already feel a twinge in my shin, and around the same time I started to feel the familiar pain of a side stitch under my right rib, same as the half marathon three weeks ago.  Great.  So this is how it's going to be.

I saw a few people from my running club at mile 6, and a few employees from the Haddonfield Running Company at mile 8.  Also, Bryan from Twitter snapped a picture of me around this point.

I was sticking to the plan and keeping within my time goal, but it was anything but smooth and easy, and I was already worried about how I was going to fare in the latter miles.

Mile 10

The worst hills of the course were now behind me, and I knew I would have several miles until the next hill, so I tried to settle into a comfortable pace and take advantage of the relatively flat and straight course.

Around mile 10 I saw Brandon from the South Jersey Athletic Club.  We exchanged a few words and ran together for a few minutes, but he was doing the half and ended up picking up his pace.  I was trying hard to stick to my pacing and save some for the second half of the race, so I stayed behind.

Mile 13.1

Just before the halfway point, the half marathoners veer off to the right to the finish line while the full marathoners head left, past the art museum and out onto Kelly Drive towards Manayunk.  I passed the halfway mark in 1:30:17, which was exactly where I wanted to be.  I was trying to negative split this race, so I wanted to run a slower first half and save some for the latter miles.

At mile 14 I made a tactical decision and stopped to go to the bathroom.  I was surprised that I had to go at all as I hadn't had much to drink that morning and in addition to using the port-a-potties a few hundred times, I had also watered every nearby tree before the start.  I would estimate this cost me about 15 seconds.

Normally this is one of my favorite parts of any Philadelphia race, because gone are the hairpin turns of Center City and the hills of Fairmount Park.  Runners are sufficiently warmed up at this point, but it's still before the real pain begins, so it's easy to lock into a consistent pace.  Most runners hate this section, though, for its lack of spectators, but I enjoy the solitude and the chance to zone out.

But the wind.  I have never felt wind this bad in a race before, including last year's Boston. Heading along the Schuylkill, we were repeatedly smacked in the face with wind gusts coming off the river.  It was torture and incredibly dispiriting.

Mile 17

The worst part of the entire course.  The course ends its pleasant ambling along the river and hangs a sharp left across the Falls Bridge, down an incline, hangs a complete 180 in the middle of the street, then back up the incline and back across the Falls Bridge.

Manayunk (19-21)

The sidestich and the hills took their toll in Manayunk, and I purposefully slowed down to help ease the pain and keep myself in the game, if only for a minute.

I remember loving this section of the race the first few times I ran Philly, because it's one gigantic block party with music and food and screaming spectators lining the sidewalks.  But particularly in yesterday's race, it was all a blur as I was too deep into my own world of pain. My eye was on my watch as I desperately clung to the hope that my goal was still feasible. The math worked out in my head, but just barely.  I ditched my gloves and kept pumping my arms and legs as hard as I could.

Mile 21

I must have caught another wind, because this is when I really thought I could do it.  I was still running a 6:50 pace and knew the headwind coming out to Manayunk would now be a tailwind heading back to the art museum, and the course would level and straighten out again, allowing me to cruise to the finish.  It would be close, but it was doable.

I also knew that I had my two friends meeting me at mile 24, so I began focusing on them.

Imagine my frustration, then, as gusts of wind continued to blow in my face as I headed back. It would appear the wind had changed direction.

Mile 23.5

I had put out the call on Facebook two weeks earlier looking for someone to pace me in the last two miles of the marathon.  The catch was that this person would have to be capable of running two consecutive 6:50 miles, which limited the number of people.  Lo and behold, not one but two of the women from my Wednesday night running group Who's Up? volunteered to help out.

Robin and Kim met me earlier than expected and fell into step with me.  I must have been a peach to be around at this point, muttering monosyllabic complaints and negative thoughts, but both of them continued to tell me I was doing great and that I could make it.  They were an absolute Godsend, and I just can't thank them enough for the help they offered.  While I didn't make my goal of sub 3, I have no doubt I wouldn't have run a PR without them.

I was struggling but still hovering around 7 minute miles.  The math I was doing in my head told me if I kept up a 7 minute pace, I could make it, but I knew the .2 miles at the end would take at least a minute, and that that was probably going to make the difference.

Mile 26

As the crowds thickened and the security fences started, Kim and Robin veered off the course.  I had warned them ahead of time that they wouldn't be able to finish with me, so I knew this was coming.  I had to do the final .2 on my own.

I watched as my watch passed 3 hours with the finish line just around the curve.  Somehow, amidst the hundreds of screaming spectators and the emotion of the moment, I heard my dad call my name as I kept pushing, muscles screaming and all the pain, sacrifice and hard work of the last four months spilling forth onto the course.  I high fived Mayor Nutter as I crossed the line and keeled over, gasping for breath.  It was everything I ever wanted in a marathon finish, only a minute and 7 seconds too slow.

Post Race

After finishing I drank some Gatorade and collected my medal, and wanted to get some food but the line was incredibly crowded with half marathon finishers, so I kept moving.  I did manage to grab a cup of chicken broth and a bottle of some sort of fruit infused water, but no food.

I found my dad at the family reunion area in front of the Franklin Institute where we took some pictures.

Immediately post-race
Photo by Wayne Partenheimer

With my dad at Logan Square
Photo by some guy who recognized me from YouTube

People from my running group were all meeting at nearby Tir Na Nog for drinks, so we stopped in there for a few beers before heading home.  It was a blast hanging out at the bar swapping stories over beers with everyone and celebrating everyone's successes.

At Tir Na Nog with members of Who's Up?
Photo by Wayne Partenheimer

My first beer in 2 months!
Photo by Wayne Partenheimer

With my amazing pacers, Kim and Robin
Photo by Wayne Partenheimer

I was a little disappointed that I missed my goal, and by such a close margin, but I'll get more into why in the next post.

At the end of the day, I still ran 26.2 miles faster than I ever have before in my life, and got to bond with my dad and running friends afterwards.  Four months of hard work ended not in disappointment, then, but with laughter and friends and good beer.  Success.

And with that, the 2015 Philadelphia Marathon comes to a close.  Thanks for reading.

Photo by Wayne Partenheimer

Saturday, November 21, 2015

2015 Philadelphia Marathon goals and race strategy

So here we are.  The night before my next marathon.  My nerves are a wreck.  Let's talk goals, shall we?


I have three goals for this race tomorrow:

  1. Run a sub 3.
  2. Run under 3:03:05 for a new PR.
  3. Run as far under 3:10 as possible for a 3rd BQ and possible trip back to Boston for 2017. 

I will always love the marathon distance, and this is far from my last one, but the truth is I really want this to be the last one for which I give my all in training.  To be honest I'm tired of the self induced stress over a few measly minutes.

I want this to be my marathon swan song.  I want to go out feeling strong and know I achieved something great.  There is, of course, always the possibility that I will not achieve any of my goals tomorrow, which begs the question: will I be able to come to terms with that?  How will I react?

Here's a fact: I've run the Philadelphia Marathon five times now and have set a PR every single time.

2005: 4:29:47
2006: 4:12:12
2009: 3:30:58
2010: 3:09:45
2013: 3:03:05

What's another three minutes and six seconds?  Let's hope I can keep up this streak tomorrow.

Race Strategy

Bad news.  There is no 3:00 pacer this year, as the first pace group starts at 3:05.  So my plan is going to be to use my garmin and run the first two miles in roughly 7:00.  I'll then bring the time down to 6:50 and try to hold even splits there until the end of the race when I'll try to find another gear to kick into.

The good news is that this year I have two friends who are going to meet me at mile 24 and pace me to the finish.  I know I said this last time and my friend didn't show up, but I trust the two women who volunteered this year to not flake out on me.

The bad news is that both Stevie and Neale won't be there at the finish line, as Stevie had to go down to Florida earlier this year before I meet her there for Christmas.  This took a bit of wind out of my sails when I first found out, but I've had time to accept it.  My dad is coming into the city, though, and it's always great to have his support.

It's going to be a battle tomorrow, that's for sure.  Time to make good on four months of hard work.

I'll catch you on the other side, internet.

Friday, November 20, 2015

2015 Philadelphia Marathon Expo

Race weekend is here!  

I felt crazy with anticipation all day today as I waited for the work day to end so I could take the train over to Philly for the expo.

As soon as 2:30 hit, I biked home to change, then headed to the train station.  Of course I wore my 2005 Philadelphia Marathon shirt, my first ever marathon and the last time they gave out cotton race shirts.

At the expo I picked up my bib and meandered around the booths, sampling various foods and talking with a few race directors.

I was really looking forward to seeing Bill Rodgers talk at 4 o'clock.  He's a legendary marathoner with wins at Boston, New York City, Philadelphia and many other major marathons on his resume.  All told, he's run 60 marathons.  I saw him speak at the expo 2 years ago, and his talk today was much like it was then: unscripted with no visual aids.  He has self-diagnosed ADHD, and his talk veered abruptly from advice to race stories to plugging his book to the current state of marathoning.

I couldn't care less how scatter brained his style of public speaking is, though.  I'm pretty sure that because he seems to talk off the cuff, no two talks of his are ever alike.

He fielded questions at the end, and I couldn't think of anything to ask him, though now I wish I had asked him how he dealt with nerves before a big race.  Now that race weekend is here, the nerves are starting to kick in to the point that I'm fighting back brief waves of nausea.

At any rate, I was first in line at his booth after his talk and bought a copy of his book, Marathon Man and had him sign it.  He was such a nice man and I can't wait to read the book. I'm sure I'll write a review of it soon.

I walked out and took one more picture for good measure, then headed back to the train to go home.

Less than 48 hours until the marathon.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Carbo loading with pasta and lentils

When I have a marathon on Sunday I start carbo loading on Thursday.  Here's what I'm carbo loading with over the next two nights:

Pasta and lentils with Italian sausage and spinach.

I found this recipe online years ago and have been making it every time I feel like an easy dish that I can shovel down quickly.  The original recipe doesn't call for Italian sausage but if you want to take it to the next level, have at it.

  • 1 can tomatoes
  • red pepper
  • garlic
  • Italian sausage
  • salt
  • pepper
  • 1 onion
  • frozen chapped spinach
  • 3/4 package ditalini pasta
  • coriander
  • 1 can lentil soup

Start with the onion and garlic.  Then add the tomatoes and lentils.  Then the spinach.  In separate containers, cook both the pasta and the sausage.  Add them at the end.  Finish off with spices.  Plate and top with parmesan cheese.

Tends to dry out easily, but add some chicken broth when reheating leftovers.  Works like a charm.

I had this for dinner tonight and will eat leftovers for tomorrow, stuffing my veins with carbohydrates for optimal performance on Sunday.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Runner's World shrimp and beans

One of the reasons why I love Runner's World is because they post recipes in every issue.  I don't remember when they posted this recipe, but I've been making it for at least the last year.

Garlic Shrimp with white beans and tomatoes

Get yourself into the kitchen and make this.  Seriously.  It's incredibly easy and action packed with protein and flavor.

I like to change it up from the original recipe by using both black and white beans.  And instead of eating it as a stew, I boil it down some more to make it thick enough to put on tortillas and add cheese, avocado, spinach and sour cream.  This is the greatest advice you will ever receive.  You can thank me later.

First assemble your ingredients:

  • a
  • 1lb. shrimp
  • 1 can black beans
  • 1 can white beans
  • paprika
  • bay leaves
  • chicken broth
  • olive oil
  • 1 can diced tomatoes
  • cheddar cheese
  • sour cream
  • avocado
  • spinach

Make a stew out of the shrimp, beans, garlic and tomatoes.  Boil it all down so it becomes thick.

Then spoon it onto tortillas.  Don't forget to make it look pretty.

Or not.

This whole meal can seriously be made in a half hour and is incredibly easy, and I therefor can't recommend it enough.


Monday, November 16, 2015

Movie Monday: Mind Games

This week's Movie Monday comes to you from Suze, who sent this video to me on Facebook.

How many of us have played mental games with ourselves before heading out on a run.  How many excuses to we find when the alarm goes off?  How long before we beat those excuses back and finally make it out the door?  How long do we let distractions like this Facebook and Twitter and this amazing blog and hell - videos like this - keep us from the run?

If you're like me, it could last hours.

Skip the pre-run games, says videographer Casey Neistat, and get into your run so you can get into the real mental games.

"I wonder if I'm faster than that taxi... I wonder if I can take a leak without getting arrested... How many times do my feet hit the ground in a minute?"

These are the thoughts that drive you through your run.  Let your mind wander or tune into the asphalt ahead.  Just get out there.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

One week until the 2015 Philadelphia Marathon

This taper has been a lot more relaxed than I would like, but it seems to be working, as I ran 7 miles this morning with the second half at marathon goal pace (6:50) and was completely pain free.  My shin feels back to normal.

There is naturally a lot of hand-wringing and fretting over my swift decline in training over the past two weeks, and I can only hope race day adrenaline and muscle memory will be enough to pull me through the course in under three hours.

The last week of marathon training is usually more about mental preparation than physical, so now I just have to picture myself running Philly's streets as ferociously as possible in one week's time.

One week to go.  Let's make it count.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Who's up campfire

One of the guys in Who's Up? has a campfire pit in his backyard and invited the lot of us over for beers and grilled meat tonight.  Four of us in the group are running the Philly Marathon next weekend, so he wanted to send us off with words of encouragement.

Someone suggested the two women pacing me at mile 24 should wear bunny costumes, which naturally led to someone suggesting I run the race in a bathrobe and with a pipe a lá Hugh Hefner.

Good food, good music, good beer (so I'm told - haven't had a drink in close to two months now) and most of all, good people.  I love this group.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Saucony Triumph

Shin splints update: ran 1 very slow mile on Monday and Tuesday to keep up the streak.  Iced my shin both at home and at work as often as possible.  Took ibuprofen at night.

Tonight I went to my weekly run at the Haddonfield Running Company and only did 3 of the 7 miles.  My shin felt fine the whole time and I could have probably done all 7 miles, but didn't want to push my luck.  I also bought a pair of compression socks which I'm wearing right now.

Saucony was there tonight to let us try on their shoes.  I wore the Saucony Triumph, which I've worn before and absolutely love, probably because they're similar to the Nike Pegasus I usually run in.

They also had a photobooth set up in the store along with props.  I guess they were going for the whole "A mad scientist cooked up all of this insane footwear technology in a lab somewhere" theme, hence the goggles on the Saucony rep in this picture: 

I also successfully recruited two women from Who's Up? to help pace me in the final two miles of the marathon next week.  One of them told me she is going to work on a repertoire of jokes and tell me a new one every quarter mile.

And now I'm sitting in my compression socks with my legs up.  My spirits are back up after a fun night of running and hanging out with my running people.

Only a week and a half until the marathon...

Sunday, November 8, 2015

A slight setback

God.  Fucking.  Dammit.

Pardon my French (and the blasphemy), but I find it the only way to adequately express my feelings tonight.  You see, my leg hurts.  Again.

In my training cycle two years ago I developed shin splints in my left leg in early October.  And now I'm dealing with the same exact problem in the same exact area, except this time there are only two weeks left until race day.

Looks like running 20 miles the day after setting a new half marathon PR might not have been such a brilliant idea after all.

This is how the week went down:

Sunday: 20 miles.  Start to feel a twinge in my lower left shin that night.
Monday: 1 very slow mile.
Tuesday: 1 very slow mile.
Wednesday: 7 slow miles with my running/beer club.  Shin feels fine throughout.
Thursday: 10 miles at average pace.  Pain returns by the end.
Friday: 1 very slow mile.
Saturday: 1 slow mile followed by 1 mile at marathon pace.  Shin feels fine throughout.
Sunday: Attempted long run, but pain became worst it's been all week, so abandoned run at 6 miles.

The pain this week hasn't been nearly what it was two years ago, which left me optimistic that I could still salvage the situation, but today was a wakeup call.  I need to be more aggressive about letting this heal and arriving at the starting line healthy.

It was the most frustrating experience this morning to be out on a perfect fall day and feel so much strength and power radiating through my whole body, and not be able to access that power and run to my potential due to one tiny section of my body.

I'd like to think the fitness I've built will not dissipate over the next two weeks and I will still be able to crush the marathon, but this certainly isn't helping my mental game at all.

It's going to be a long taper...

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Running and racing mantras

I don't belong to a gym, and I don't own a treadmill.  So when I trained for the Boston Marathon last winter, all 830 miles of training were done outside.  I ran through whatever winter could throw at me: wind, single digit temperatures, ice, snow, darkness, sleet, etc.  To be perfectly honest, training was a bit of a nightmare at times.

Training for the 2015 Boston Marathon

As I continued to log miles outside in the unforgiving elements, I started repeating a mantra to myself:

Stronger than winter

Winter was tough, but I would simply have to be tougher.  Those three simple words got me through a lot of runs during that training cycle.

I'm not normally one for mantras, but in this most recent training cycle leading up to this year's Philadelphia Marathon, I find myself repeating yet another one, even going so far as to write it on my arm before today's 10 miler:

Training for the 2015 Philadelphia Marathon

While training last winter, I wrote a post about the relentlessness of marathon training, about how each scheduled training run arrives whether you are ready or not, no matter how tired or rested you are, whether you had a good day at work or not.

But in training this time around, I came to realize that I am the one who is relentless.  I am the one who keeps pushing myself.  I am the one who refuses to back down and keeps coming back for more.  I am the one who gives it my all not just in racing but in training.  I am the one who will do all it takes to achieve my goals.

I am relentless.

Tell me, do you have a racing or running mantra?

Monday, November 2, 2015

20 mile Sunday

Me: I'm going for a run.
Stevie: How far?
Me: 20 miles.
Stevie: After yesterday's half marathon?!
Me: Can't stop won't stop!

Running a 20 mile training run might have been a questionable decision so close after Saturday's PR in the half marathon.  Don't follow my lead, folks.  My reasoning behind it is while I'm happy with how my tempo runs have been going, I still wanted to add some miles to my legs to get them used to the distance in addition to the speed.

So I knocked out another 20 miles along my usual routes around town yesterday, stopping back at my place for gels and water.  I felt strong throughout and not at all fatigued from the previous day's race.

Less than three weeks to go until the marathon...

Saturday, October 31, 2015

2015 Rock 'n' Roll Philadelphia Half Marathon Race Recap

It's only rock and roll (half marathon) but I like it!  Huge day for me in my life of running.

This morning I set a PR in the half marathon for the first time in over four years by running 1:26:05.

As I grow older, personal records become increasingly harder to come by in any distance, and frankly I don't know how many PR's I have left in me.  So I'm ecstatic to have finally taken down my PR from 2011.

Let's get into it, shall we?

Normally this race is run towards the end of September, but because the Pope was in town at the same time this year, Rock 'n' Roll changed the date to Halloween.  I've run this race for the better part of the last decade, starting back when it was known as The Distance Run, though I missed last year to attend a wedding out near Pittsburgh.  Sadly, my dad's friend whom I mentioned in the last post who has completed every iteration of this race for the last 38 years, had to end his streak this year due to pneumonia.

I took the train over to Philly this morning leaving at 6:10am for a 7:30 race start.  Met my dad on the train and walked over to the Philadelphia Museum of Art where the race started and finished.

Logan Square at 6:30am
Photo by Wayne Partenheimer

Close to start time
Photo by Wayne Partenheimer

Two years ago I arrived at the starting area 35 minutes before the start, only to have to wait 40 minutes in line for a porta potty.  I ended up starting in the 8th or 9th corral which I'm pretty sure cost me a PR that year because I spent so much time dodging and weaving around runners going at a different pace.  So imagine my horror to arrive at the starting area and find myself reliving the exact same situation, standing in line for the port potty freaking out as the line inched forward and the time ticked closer to the starting gun.  I can't tell you how close I came to dropping my shorts and going in the bushes outside the Rodin Museum.  In the end I stayed in line and made it into the corral with about 90 seconds to spare.

The start
Photo by Wayne Partenheimer

For the first half mile I had to repeatedly slam on the brakes to not hit people, but it didn't take long until I was surrounded by people running a similar pace.  The first half mile was the only crowding I experienced in the whole race.

The course had been altered slightly since the last time I ran it.  I have to give credit to whoever created the course, as it was almost 100% flat with long straightaways ideal for cruising speed.  I loved the course.  It did, however, make it difficult for spectators to access the course for the majority of the race, so there was little crowd support, but this didn't bother me as the bulk of my training runs are done alone, so I'm used to the solitude.

I was running consistently in the 6:20 - 6:30 min/mile range, and I honestly felt like I was holding myself back.  I decided to continue this pace until I hit the turnaround point at the Falls Bridge around mile 9, and then ramp up the pace a little.

I was concentrating on hitting the tangents, alternating between water and Gatorade at the aid stations, and picturing myself celebrating a new PR as I ran.

By the time I reached the turnaround point, though, I had developed a side stich under my right rib.  By mile 10 the pain was excruciating and breathing was difficult.  I considered turning this into a war of attrition; who would break first - me or the race?


At mile 11 I couldn't take it anymore and decided to slow down to about a 7:30 pace.  I was worried that the side stitch would unravel me altogether in the final mile, so I figured I could run mile 11 at a slower pace, then ramp it back up again during mile 12.  When I hit mile 12, I did just that.  The final mile of the marathon ended up being my fastest one of the race.

Mile splits:

Mile 1: 641
Mile 2: 6:53
Mile 3: 6:44
Mile 4: 6:31
Mile 5: 6:28
Mile 6: 6:38
Mile 7: 6:32
Mile 8: 6:35
Mile 9: 7:05
Mile 10: 6:30
Mile 11: 6:40
Mile 12: 6:31
Mile 13: 5:50

After finishing, I collected the various food on offer - a banana, water, chocolate milk, chips, protein bars, etc.  My dad and I had arranged a meeting spot, but he was able to find me easily enough before I even exited the runners' finisher area.

Proud owner of a new medal and new half marathon PR
Photo by Wayne Partenheimer

Father and son

We didn't stick around long for the festivities and missed the Gin Blossoms play their extensive catalogue of 90's hits.  Instead we walked back to the train and headed home to New Jersey.

Once again, I'm ecstatic to have lowered my time in the half marathon.  A lot goes into a PR, such as luck.  The conditions today simply couldn't have been better: temps in the 40's, sunny skies, no wind, no humidity and dry streets.

But at the end of the day, the biggest factor in setting a PR is the hard work put into training.  I may often question whether I am training as hard as I could be, but there is no doubt I am training hard.  I came into today's race confident I could run a PR, and in fact it's kind of odd how effortless it all felt.  It didn't feel like some grand heroic struggle like some of my other races.  Aside from overcoming the side stitch, it was all rather mechanical and business-like. I simply set out at a sustainable pace and maintained roughly even splits for the whole race. That's all there was to it.

My time today is only 3 minutes away from a New York Qualifier.  It makes me wonder if it might be worth it to concentrate on that goal for 2016.

As a PR is pretty rare these days, it would be nice to celebrate properly tonight, but I'm already putting it behind me and training my focus on the Philly Marathon 3 weeks away.  As nice as today was, it is only a minor detour in the larger journey to a sub 3 performance.

Big thanks to my dad for coming out today, for spectating and holding my bag.  I'll never get tired of bonding over running.

October mileage

The year in monthly mileage totals so far:

January: 198
February: 231
March: 281
April: 121.2
June: 112.3
July: 145.4
August: 210.1
September: 218

And October:

235.3 miles for the month of October, bringing me to 1,911.4 miles for the year.  October was a solid month of training, with many early morning runs, more speedwork, and two great races.

Also, I'm in the homestretch of the 2,015 miles in 2015 challenge with just over a hundred to go.

Friday, October 30, 2015

2015 Rock n' Roll Philly Half expo and race goals

I took the train into Philly this afternoon to pick up my bib from the expo.  To be honest, I was a little underwhelmed by the whole thing.  It seemed smaller and less flashy than expos of the past, and I was surprised they didn't play up the Halloween theme a little more.  Gone were the goofy photo ops and the guest speakers that I enjoyed at Rock 'n' Roll expos of the past.

I did see this sign honoring the legacy runners, including my dad's longtime running friend Mike Geiger:

It's nice that Rock n' Roll honors those who started back when the race was still known as The Distance Run.

In case you want to know what a runner looks like:

I was in and out of the expo as quickly as possible to get back home.  Fatherhood calls.

I'm looking forward to this race because I'm going to try to PR, and I'm fairly certain I can do it. Normally when I run this race, I'm still towards the beginning of my marathon training regimen. But this year, I've had some extra time to get some solid speed workouts in as well as drop a few lbs.  

Also, conditions look like they should be perfect tomorrow.  The course has a few annoying turns throughout Center City in the early miles, but the majority of the race is out and back on both sides of the Schuylkill River, meaning I can take time to warm up and by the time the course straightens out, I'll be able to run at cruising speed and on auto pilot for a bit.

It's been over 4 years since I've last rung that PR bell in the half marathon, so here's hoping tomorrow is the day to make magic happen.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

October days

Traditionally, October and March tend to be the most difficult months of the year for me. These are the times of year when work stress wreaks its havoc on me and I do all I can to keep my head above water.

Here's a look at what October 2015 is/has been like:
  • SGO (student growth objective) pre-assessments are due.  This is an assessment I create and deliver to two of my six classes, grade, create a spreadsheet of the results, then upload the assessment, rubric and spreadsheet for each class to an online portfolio.
  • A professional development plan needs to be written, signed by an administrator, and uploaded to the same online portfolio.
  • Two separate nights of parent-teacher conferences with two hour delays the following day that disrupt the schedule.
  • Other random events that disrupt the schedule, such as PSAT testing and school assemblies.
  • Oktoberfest put on by the neighboring high school's German program that I take my students to.
  • College letters of recommendation.  Every year I get more requests.  This year I'm up to 7.
  • No days off the whole month.
  • New this year: Stevie directed one show and is acting in another.  She has spent the better part of this month in rehearsal.
  • Also new this year: I'm mentoring a student teacher from a local college.  She observes me a few times a week and has to complete 2 lessons which I have to give feedback on, then write up a lengthy evaluation of her for her professor.
  • On top of all of this, October is my highest month of mileage when I'm training for the Philadelphia Marathon in November.
We're coming to the end of the month, and I can see the taper from here, but there are still some hard training days left to go.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Movie Monday: she ran a marathon without talking about it

Here's a comedy group that took runners' penchant for oversharing (i.e. bragging about) their accomplishments on social media and made a mockumentary about the first person to run a marathon without telling anyone.

Isn't that the point of running?  So we can brag about it?

I'm only half joking.

I'd like to think I'm pretty good about leaving my Facebook friends alone when it comes to my running, considering only a fraction of them are runners.  That's partly why I started a Twitter account; so I could specifically connect with other runners and have a place to nerd out.

But you can bet the next time I set a PR, I'll do everything short of hiring a skywriter to announce my feat to the world.

Until then, enjoy this video:

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Homemade pumpkin soup

Last year Stevie and I bought a pumpkin to carve, which we never got around to carving.  We left the thing on our front steps as decoration, which the squirrels promptly massacred, spilling seeds all over the bushes in our front yard.  This year we had our very own pumpkin growing in those bushes.

I decided to make soup out of it, like one does.

I googled pumpkin-soup-from-scratch recipes and kind of made it up as I went using what I found as a guide.


  • One pumpkin
  • Heavy cream
  • Chicken broth
  • Olive oil
  • Nutmeg
  • Salt
  • Maple syrup


Cut the pumpkin in half and scoop out the innards, then peel the skin and cut into small chunks.  Place on a pan and bake at 350 for at least an hour.

Put into a pot and add syrup and chicken broth.  Let simmer for a bit, then add to a blender. Add cream and nutmeg and salt and blend until smooth.  Return to pot.

Serve and photograph next to a Harry Potter pumpkin for ultimate Halloween effect.

It comes out looking more like porridge than soup, but has a really nice, unique flavor.

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