Thursday, March 26, 2015

No rest for the weary

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

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

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

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Sunday 22 miler

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

My first Boston Marathon is just under a month away.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

2015 Haddonfield Adrenaline 5k Race Report

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, March 20, 2015

Winter's swan song

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

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

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

March 20th: who would have thought?

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

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Wednesday night run party

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

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

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

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

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

Also, Ron won a freaking pair of Brooks:

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

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

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

2015 Boston Marathon Wave and Corral

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

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

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

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

Just over a month away!

Saturday, March 14, 2015

To buy or not to buy?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Just call me Natalie Imbruglia, because I am torn.

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

Sunday, March 8, 2015

500 miles

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, March 5, 2015

The snow run to end all snow runs

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

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

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

And then it began.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, March 2, 2015

Sunday, March 1, 2015

20 miler #2

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

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

Post 20 miler.

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

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

It was a nice confidence booster.

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

Saturday, February 28, 2015

February mileage

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

January: 197
February: 231.

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

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

Only a month and a half until Boston!

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

400 miles

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

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

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

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

Mmm... Philly beer.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Movie Monday: Shalane's 2015 Boston Marathon

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

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

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

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 all of this advice 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.
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