Tuesday, September 27, 2016

2016 Philly Spartan Sprint Race Report

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Until then, AROO!

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

2016 Rock n' Roll Philadelphia Half Marathon: Race Report

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mile 12.5

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

Finish Line

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

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


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

Friday, September 16, 2016

I just registered for the 2017 Boston Marathon

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, September 8, 2016

The story of my favorite shoes

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, September 5, 2016

New digs

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Flying High

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

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

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

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

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

This is now my favorite picture of Neale ever.

Saturday, August 6, 2016

The Tempest

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, July 4, 2016

Haddon Heights Firecracker 5k Race Report

Happy 4th of July, people!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here's an incredibly flattering screenshot of me finishing:

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, July 3, 2016

Second beer mile and first DFL

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

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

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

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

My first beer mile.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Strider Indepence 10k Race Recap

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

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

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

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

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

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

Final stats:

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

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

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

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

Saturday, June 18, 2016

End of the school year

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

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

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

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

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

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

But for now... summer!

Friday, June 17, 2016

2016 ODDyssey Half Marathon Race Recap

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


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

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

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

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

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

Not cool, ODDyssey.

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

Sunday, June 5, 2016

2016 Wissahickon Trail Classic Race Report

It's June, and you know what that means: time for another edition of the Wissahickon Trail Classic, the most insane trail race in the Philadelphia area.

Every year around this time, about 500 runners hungry for punishment fling themselves with gusto at the trails surrounding the Wissahickon Creek.

There is no music.  There are no cheering fans with cowbells and funny signs.  There are no Twitter or Instagram accounts for this race.  There are no shiny medals at the end for all participants.  There is no chip timing.  There are no costume contests.

What is there?  Lots of technical trails, and good old fashioned competition.  In the four consecutive years that I have done this race, I have improved on my time every year, but I still have yet to crack the top ten in my age group.  The race course is tough, yes, but your fellow runners are tougher.

Here's last year's race report: 2015 Wissahickon Trail Classic

I arrived at the starting area around 8 o'clock yesterday morning and registered for $40 (a $5 increase over race-day registration last year), then took my time using the porta potties, stretching, and doing a warm-up run.  At 9 o'clock, we all gathered at the starting line where only the first five rows of people could hear the announcements on the megaphone, and we were quickly sent down the path.

Steep switchbacks.  Lots of rocks.  Lots of mud.  A covered bridge.  Two road crossings.  Two water stops.  Single track.  Wide gravel paths.  A creek.  And finally, a turn into the homestretch and a madcap dash to the finish line.  The sweat continues to soak the clothing as the gasping for breath slowly subsides.  It's finally over.  Another year survived.

Last year I finished in 49:45 and 39th place.  This year I finished in 49:20 and was demoted to 55th place.  So it goes with this race.  I wouldn't have it any other way.

I stuck around for awhile to cheer on runners still finishing and get some of the pizza the race provided.  After the awards ceremony, I headed back to my car.

Can't wait for next year.

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Global Running Day

Like running?  Like social media?  Boy is this the holiday for you:

National Running Day was upgraded this year to Global Running Day, and my Facebook and Twitter accounts have been blowing up all day with people singing the praises of this simple sport (as if we don't annoy the hell out of people already with our incessant run talk, we had to go and create a day where we kick it into overdrive...).

This holiday always falls on the first Wednesday of June, meaning I always end up celebrating it with my Wednesday night run crew Who's Up? over at the Haddonfield Running Company.

This year, though, owner Dave Welsh truly outdid himself.  Our group run is 6.6 miles long, so he recruited six race directors to come and promote their races at each mile marker along the route.  Runners received two raffle tickets at the store, and could choose two of the six races to drop their tickets into buckets while running by for a chance to win a free entry.  Just another example of the creative marketing that Dave employs and why I love the Haddonfield Running Company.

Photo by Ron Riskie

It ended up being the biggest crowd I've ever seen at a Wednesday night group run.

We were packed to the rafters until 8 o'clock when each race held its drawing.  I had put in tickets for the Haddon Twp. Turkey Trot and the Bridge 10k, each in November, but sadly I didn't win either one.  Still didn't dampen my spirit, though, as it was a great evening either way.

Happy Global Running Day, everyone!  Can't wait for next year!

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

May mileage

January: 59
February: 70
March: 73
April: 78


87 miles for the month of May.  Let's keep this upward trend moving in the right direction as we head into summer, eh?

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Stevie's first half marathon

I normally run the Rock 'n' Roll Half Marathon every fall in Philadelphia.  I've done it almost every year for the last decade (unfortunately breaking the streak in 2014 when I had a wedding to attend in Pittsburgh that same weekend).  So the fact that I'm already signed up for the 2016 race this September isn't exactly newsworthy.

What makes it exciting is that my wife Stevie decided to sign up as well.  This will be her first ever half marathon.

Stevie has always enjoyed running, and a few years ago even began bumping up her mileage for no particular reason other than to challenge herself.  She made it up to 11 miles before pregnancy and winter both derailed her, and hasn't gone long since.  Stevie has transformed her body in the last year by doing DVD workouts through Beach Body, and she's completed a few 5k's in that time, sometimes with Neale in the stroller and sometimes without.  So she's been toying with the idea of completing a half for a long time, and has finally gone ahead and signed up.

I won't be running the race at my pace, but instead will stick by Stevie's side to pace her and offer encouragement (2:45 is her anticipated finish time).  I'm a little bit nervous about doing so for 13.1 miles, because there is a fine line between offering encouragement and just being annoying.  It's sometimes hard to gauge in the moment what the runner needs.  Something we'll have to work on and talk about this summer, I guess.

I'm excited to experience this race from a different angle, and I'm excited to share this world of distance running with Stevie.  September 18th here we come!

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Why I won't be running the Wild Half again next year

When I finished the Wild Half last weekend, I was pretty surprised to see the clock on 1:33 as I crossed the finish line, seeing as I had gone into the race expecting to run about 1:45.  I hadn't worn a watch for this race, and knew I had significantly picked up the pace towards the end, so I just shrugged it off and went to look for beer.

It wasn't until I met up with friends shortly afterwards that I started to hear the course had been short.  Almost everyone I talked to told me they had the course marked at about 12.6, a full half mile short.  

Ah, so that explains it.

People were already questioning the course's length on the Wild Half Facebook page that afternoon.  Someone then posted this screenshot of a private message from the Wild Half, explaining that the course was indeed short and was due to last minute construction issues.

The next day, however, the race completely changed course and sent out an e-mail to all participants, claiming the course had been 13.1 miles all along, and made no mention of the above Facebook message.

"While this was a USATF sanctioned event, it was not a USATF certified course but our team has been actively reviewing course maps and calculations to ensure the course measured 13.1 miles... In addition, the course was also measured using an odometer with a reading of 13.18 miles."

In the comments on the Wild Half Facebook page, some compared Strava results to the posted course map in what became, in my mind, the most plausible explanation: the course had indeed been 13.1, but we had missed an approximate half mile detour off of the otherwise straight course.  Either this small detour had not been marked, or race volunteers had not directed us properly.

To the race's credit, in the original e-mail they claimed to be continuing the investigation and would follow up later in the week.  The next day, participants received a second e-mail from the race, finally acknowledging the short course and offering entry into next year's race for just $50.

But there was still no mention of the original message from the race's Facebook page.  And something about the language used in this e-mail bothered me as well.

"...there was confusion about the race turnaround point with several athletes, including our pacers, turning around at the last aid station and prior to the base of the Stone Harbor Bridge (the intended and published turnaround point)."

First, it made it sound like there was only a portion of the race field that turned around early, because we were just too dumb to follow the course properly, and the rest followed the true course. While I can't be completely sure, I'm willing to bet not a single person continued to the intended turnaround point.  This language also shifts part of the blame onto the participants, making it sound like the turnaround point had been properly marked and, again, some of us just missed it.

There is no way that section of the race could have been anything other than a turnaround point.  Plain and simple. 

Then Runner's World got ahold of the story and published an article about it.

They continue the blame shift with this line:

"Compounding the problem, an unknown number of runners mistook an aid station for the turnaround point just ahead..."

Not an unknown number.  All of them.  And we did not mistake anything.  We are not to blame in this mess.

I really did have a good time last weekend.  The course was beautiful, the participants friendly and enthusiastic, the weather perfect (minus the wind), and the post race party a lot of fun. But this is first and foremost a race, and one of the most important things in putting on a race is to get the course right.

Yes, mistakes happen, and yes, I appreciate the steep discount for next year.  But I will not be back.  As a husband and a father, my race choices these days are severely limited by lack of time and money.  I simply will not tolerate the gross ineptitude and dishonesty shown by race leadership this week, and in the future will choose to spend my money elsewhere.

Monday, May 16, 2016

2016 Wildwood Half Marathon Race Recap

Wildwood, NJ

This was a race that has been on my radar for a few years, and I finally got the chance to run it yesterday morning.

I had planned to sleep in my car Saturday night, but when Tom from my running group heard I was racing as well, he let me know he had an extra room in his beach house and invited me to stay with him.  His entire family was coming down for the weekend, and several more runner friends came over Saturday night for beer, wine and pasta.

We were up on race morning at 5:30, and I made the short drive over to the starting area at 6:30 for a 7:30 start.  The sun had just come up, and it was a beautiful morning for a race.

Starting line at 7am

Parking cost me $5, but I was able to park about twenty feet from the start/finish, which is an amazing feat for a mid-sized race.  It also meant that I didn't have to worry about a bag check.

Also notable was the fact that a half hour before the race, there were still no lines for the porta potties:

If ever there was a case for doing smaller races, that's it right there.

The race had pacers starting at 7 minutes per mile and going all the way up to 11 or 12, and I placed myself next to the 8 minute pacer.  I hadn't really trained much for this, hadn't gone above 7 miles since last November, so I really had no idea how I would fare.  As is usually the case with non-goal races, my only goal was to enjoy the scenery and atmosphere and get in a decent run.  I thought 1:45 might be a reasonable guess as to my fitness level, so I went with that.

We started promptly at 7:30, and quickly ran onto the boardwalk for the first mile or so of the race.  The rest of the course went along the ocean and then out into the bay area, crossing a few bridges in the process.  The wind was fierce, the most intense I've ever experienced in a race, even worse than Philly last fall.  I usually count on at least a little wind when running down the shore, and as I said I wasn't going for a PR, so the wind didn't bother me too much.

At about mile 2; can you spot me in this picture?

I ran the first half of the race conservatively, not wanting to go out too hard in the beginning and completely bomb in the end.  I was feeling remarkably good in the second half of the race, so I started picking up the pace a bit, ultimately cartwheeling across the finish line in 1:33:18, which I thought might make a fun finisher's photo, but backfired as it resulted in a pretty epic crotch shot:

The after party was pretty sweet; there was plenty of food for participants, as well as free beer from the Cape May Brewing Company and several food trucks and a live band.

Tom and his wife Becky, my hosts for the night in Wildwood.

After hanging out for awhile, I took a picture of the medal, got a slice of boardwalk pizza to cap off the morning, then made the drive back to the other side of Jersey.

So, would I recommend this race to any other runners in the New Jersey/Philadelphia area? It turns out that's a loaded question.

Yes, I had a great time hanging out with friends, eating, drinking and of course running, and the race itself was fun and well-organized, but it also turns out the course may have been short by as much as a half mile.  I'll address this in my next post, but I can say now I'm afraid this error might be enough to keep me away from any future editions of this race.

Update: Here's the follow-up post on the fall out from the mis-measured course:

Why I won't be running the Wild Half again next year
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