Thursday, March 31, 2011

Wet lambs

Cold, windy, rainy 6 miles today.  Just an overall nasty time to be outside running.

On the plus side, it only intensifies the pleasure of showering and putting on a warm sweatshirt and sweatpants afterwards.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

The power of choice

Last year over Memorial Day Weekend, Kathleen and I attempted to hike the Batona Trail here in New Jersey.  It's a 50 mile trail through the Pine Barrens, a forest encompassing roughly 1.1 million acres of pine trees, white sand, and cedar swamps.

Unfortunately, the trip did not go according to plan.  We gave ourselves three days to cover the flat trail, but on our second day out, Kathleen started to suffer from blisters and heat exhaustion.  Her pace slowed severely, and when she started to throw up, I decided to pull the ripcord.  We limped into Batsto Village, a leftover town from the 18th century that now shows tourists the history of the Pines, and parked ourselves at a picnic table.  Visions of 911 calls and frantic ambulance rides dissipated once she was in the shade with Gatorade and felt better.  But there was no way we could finish the hike.  We were effectively stranded 18 miles from the southern terminus.  It was now late afternoon, and I had to find a way to retrieve Kathleen's car from the trailhead and come back to pick her up.

I figured I had two choices:  I could either politely ask someone in the parking lot if they would mind giving us a ride, or I could run the final 18 miles myself.

I looked around the parking lot and visitor's center for a bit, but didn't see anyone who I thought would be willing to give us a ride.  I was nervous about approaching people looking like I did, having just come off the trail a sweaty, dirty mess.  After twenty minutes, I decided to run.  I had just stretched and mentally prepared myself for an impromptu long run and was on my way to buy another Gatorade to take with me when I ran into two guys we'd met on the trail the day before. After explaining the situation, I managed to cadge a ride from them.  In the end, the kindness of strangers saved the day, not my own two legs.

My point in relating this story is that running - and staying in shape - gives me choices.  It wouldn't have been easy, but I had the choice of running those final 18 miles instead of just begging strangers for rides.  When I visited the Grand Canyon in 2007, I had the choice of hiking down to the bottom instead of just standing and gawking from the rim.  When I wake up and go to work in the morning, I have the choice of riding my bike instead of driving my car.  When I watch my nephew grow up, I will have the choice of playing a game of tag with him on the playground, instead of just watching him from a bench.

It's an empowering notion to be confronted with choice; the feeling that with each choice added, I have a stronger control over my own destiny.  When I have more choices, when I am not limited to the choices of a lazy or sedentary person, it simply means there is more of life to experience. Keeping up with the running can be a pain sometimes, but when I take a moment to step back and realize the intrinsic benefits I gain from it, I remember how it is all worth it.

Running makes life better.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Movie Monday VIII

Normally on Mondays I post videos that have something to do with running, but I figured in honor of this past weekend's duathlon, I would post this one about a bike race in South America.  It's called the Valparaiso Cerro Abajo Race, and takes participants down through narrow streets and stairways of Valparaiso, Chile.

The first line in the video's description says it all: "I have seen insanity, and it happens on the streets of Valparaiso..."  Pay special attention to 0:37 in this movie for a stray dog that nearly wipes out the biker.  "Perro!  Perro!"

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Every blog needs a TMI post

I'm very slowly but surely rebuilding my marathon training routine.  Running 6 days a week with a long run on Sunday and rest day on Monday.

Went out for a nine miler today which took me about an hour and fifteen minutes.  Next Sunday I'll go out for about 12 miles, and the Sunday after that about 15 miles.  By May I'll be hitting 22-26 miles every Sunday, and my taper will start in June.  I actually wanted to go longer today, but, uh, I forgot to apply bodyglide, and chaffing in certain areas of the body forced me to stop running. 
  1. Thank God for Gold Bond.
  2. I'm going to be walking like a cowboy for the rest of the day.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

The Oddman Duathlon

Every year at the end of March, a large number of runners and bikers go crashing through the woods of YMCA Camp Ockanickon in a madcap race called the Oddman.  It's a 16.2 mile duathlon - 5k on foot, 10 miles on bike, and another 5k on foot.  It's called the Oddman because its organizers frequently came in 5th place, so they decided to devise a race in which only 1st, 3rd and 5th place finishers receive trophies.  And what a unique trophy they offer:

My trophy from the 2009 race.

Each one is handmade with a picture of the Oddman symbol on one side and the finisher's name on the other.  I won this trophy in the 2009 race and have been using it to drink celebratory volumes of beer ever since, making it one of my favorite trophies out of any I've ever received.

The Oddman is one of my favorite races of the year for several reasons.  The unique prize system helps, but one of the biggest reasons is the setting.  I was a camper for five summers at Camp Ockanickon, and on staff for six.  Nostalgia mixed with natural beauty make it my favorite place on Earth, which says a lot.  This picture doesn't capture the white sandy trails, the softness of the White Pine's needles, the mist blanketing the lake at dawn... but it'll get you started:

Imagine spending the morning racing around this

The first part of the race - the first 5k on foot - went perfectly.  I know every square inch of that camp and am incredibly comfortable on the trails.  I spent this part within 30 seconds of the lead pack, and not one person passed me, which is pretty good for me.

Then I got on the bike.

Simply put, I do not race well on a bike.  I am to biking what Rebecca Black is to singing.  Ok, I exaggerate, but while I held my ground quite easily in the running portion of the race, I quickly lost count of how many people passed me in the biking portion.  One after the other, while I was flailing about, clicking away at the gears and pumping like a madman on the pedals, biker after biker passed me with confident ease.  It was maddening and incredibly discouraging.  Add to this an extremely challenging race course, with abrupt dips, turns, climbs, and tree roots numbering in the thousands, and six trips up and down a hill so steep it practically requires a harness and a six man belay team, and you might imagine how frustrated I was getting.

Then I got back on my feet.

I felt good.  I felt alive.  I was passing people with relative ease.  It reminded me how much I love running and racing.  My unofficial time was 1:37:35, good for 5th place in my age group and 17th overall.  It's nearly a three minute improvement over last year when I took 2nd (and no trophy), and a five minute improvement over two years ago when I took 1st.  It's odd, man (hehe).  My times have gotten faster, but my place in the standings has gotten worse.  C'est la vie.

I don't look anything like a cyclist

After the race two men approached me and said, "So you were in the race."

"What do you mean, I was in the race?"

"You passed us at the end and you were absolutely flying - we thought you were just some guy out for a trail run.  We were going to yell at you to get off the course because there was a race going on."

It was a nice ego boost.

It's tempting to dedicate more time to cycling.  I kept thinking that if I knew what I was doing on a bike, I could easily dominate the Oddman.  Or at least stand a better chance at winning my age group again.  But I'm just not ready to commit to buying a new, expensive bike and spending hours a week on it.  For now, I'm more than happy with a simple pair of running shoes and narrow, winding trails through the woods.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

McRunner and LA Marathon recap

McRunner, he of the 30 day McDonald's marathon meal plan, finished the LA Marathon last Sunday.  He battled hills, failing calf muscles and heavy rain in the back nine to finish in 29th place.  While he did not meet his goal of running a sub 2:36, he did finish in 2:36:14, which is still a new PR.  McRunner will be appearing in the June issue of Runner's World in a section found in each issue, the one dedicated to "interesting" runners.

At the other end of the spectrum we have Kelly Gneiting: sumo wrestler and newly christened "marathoner."  Kathleen sent me the link to the Men's Health article that describes his effort last Sunday, also at the LA Marathon.  While McRunner was showering and enjoying something not on the McDonald's menu for the first time in a month, Mr. Gneiting was still plodding through the streets of Hollywood, and would continue to do so for a total of 9 hours and 48 minutes.  While not the slowest marathoner in history, he did return home with the distinction of being the heaviest person to ever complete a marathon.  Mr. Gneiting weighs close to 400 pounds.

It brings to mind the following ad from athletic company Pearl Izumi:

This ad ran as part of a series just a year or two ago.  The ads made a clear distinction between jogging and running: jogging is the execrable province of pitiable, shuffling wannabes, while running is the fanatical dedication to speed and all that is required to attain it.  Which side are you on? they seemed to ask.  The ads ultimately caused a lot of controversy for saying what many diehards in the running community were thinking: what is happening to this sport?

Where is the line drawn?  At what point does one move from the runners to the joggers?  At what point is it more accurate to say you've completed a marathon, instead of run a marathon?

Let me first note that I applaud anyone willing to take on the marathon.  But the marathon is only the tip of the iceberg; the mental and physical exertion must extend to the training period as well. Only then can you truly give it your all and respect the marathon by actually racing it.  The greater joy in my life was found not in completing a marathon, but in completing it as fast as I could.  This is a joy many will not experience, because for many, the marathon is nothing more than a checked box on a bucket list (full disclosure: I started out as one of these people).  This is where I start to get annoyed, and will probably come off as an elitist prick, but so be it.  At some point it becomes more of a freakshow stunt than an athletic achievement: "I'll finish a marathon but I won't be bothered to put in the effort to train properly.  I'll finish in over 6 hours and let others be stunned by my perseverance.  I will tell others how I once ran a marathon even though I never ran for more than 5 minutes at a time, and I will call myself a marathoner for the rest of my life."

I suppose finishing a marathon in any time is better than never finishing one, but I hate being lumped in the same category as these people.  Unless I win any hardware, I'm just another marathon finisher, no different than the colossal Kelly Gneiting.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Grandma's Marathon

This finally happened:

I registered for Grandma's Marathon out in Duluth, Minnesota.  I'm really looking forward to this one because not only is it my first spring marathon, but I'll get to visit my sister, nephew and brother-in-law on the same trip, since they live in Minnesota.  Family bonding mixed with running a marathon - what could be better!?

Oh, and I love how the registration above clarifies that Grandma's Marathon is indeed 26.2 miles.  "Crap!  I thought it was 2.62!  Looks like I've got some training to do..."

Monday, March 21, 2011

Movie Monday VII

It's one of those films that everyone knows, yet only upon revisiting it do they recall how fantastically dull it is.  Instead, this is what you really remember:

Yes, the opening scene of Chariots of Fire, a scene that indelibly linked in our hearts the pounding synthesizers of the 80's with slow motion running on the beach.  A scene that gave us one of the most popular songs to be associated with running, only rivaled by Springsteen's "Born to Run" and Jackson Browne's "Running on Empty."

Say what you will about the rest of the film, but if the sight of these gleeful Brits charging down the strand to the rising crescendo of a flawless soundtrack doesn't make you want to run, then you may as well take up bowling.  Or darts.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Scenes from the Cooper River

I like running along the Cooper River for two reasons.  First, I enjoy seeing all of the other runners and walkers out for exercise on a Sunday afternoon.  It really makes me feel like a part of a community.  Second, I enjoy seeing the Philly skyline from the bridge on Cuthbert Blvd:

I have some good running memories associated with that town, most notably my first marathon in 2005, as well as my first Boston qualifier last fall.  I will never tire of running the steps of the art museum, either, whether it's a mad dash to meet a friend on time, or accompanying a Rocky-obsessed out-of-towner on his maiden climb.

And when I'm not reminiscing about running in Philly, I like to chase the geese.  They need their exercise too, you know.

Another 3x8x3 bike/run/bike combo today, followed by free Rita's water ice.  Not a bad Sunday at all.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Haddonfield 5k race report

The race went a lot better than I thought it would.  I had no idea where to place myself in the crowd at the start.  Normally I try to stand close to the start line, but as mentioned in my previous entry, that would get me run over by an Olympian or two in this race.  I placed myself a short distance from the starting line but guessed wrong about the ability of the people surrounding me.  I spent the first twenty seconds trying to dodge and weave and not trip over people until I finally cut a sharp left to the edge of the road where I was able to sprint ahead at my own pace.

The rest of the race was a breeze.  One gradual hill, then back onto Kings Highway with the finish line in sight a half mile in the distance.  I heard the announcer saying there were still 30 seconds left to break 20 minutes, so I started sprinting and thinking, "here comes THE KICK!"

Photo by Wayne Partenheimer

My official chip time: 19:37.  At this rate of progression, I'll break my high school PR of 18:29 in no time.

After the race my dad and I met up with his old running buddy Mike Geiger:

Mr. Geiger was a sub 3:00 marathoner in his day and reckons I have a sub 3:00 in my future.  At least for the immediate future, I just have my sights set on a sub 19:00 5k.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Haddonfield Adrenaline 5k

The 6th annual Haddonfield Adrenaline 5k is tomorrow.  It's hosted by the Haddonfield Running Company and tends to draw a large crowd, making it more interesting than the average neighborhood 5k.  It also offers over $1,000 in prize money, so the elites tend to come out of the woodwork for this one.  When I enter little neighborhood 5k's, I usually stand a chance at placing in my age group.  With this race, there isn't a chance in the world.  Last year the winner posted a 14:03.  The female winner was a 2008 U.S. Olympian.  See what I mean?  This race is nuts.

I ran it back in 2009 and finished in 21:26, which I wasn't too worried about because it was my first race of the season at that point, and my fastest times are usually run in May.

Tomorrow, I just hope to finish faster than 20:45 which I ran last month at the Princeton Cupid's Chase 5k.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Happy St. Patrick's Day

Happy St. Patty's Day to everyone.  I did sprints this afternoon for the first time in months, then cooked up a storm in the kitchen, conjuring a meal of Irish soda bread coupled with Irish beef stew, washed down with Guinness, natch.  Then I spent a few hours at a local bar with this crew:

Kathleen with Christina and Thiago, two Brazilian couchsurfers

More Guinness at the bar:

Making Dr. Seuss proud

What a great night.  Tomorrow on the running schedule?  Rest day!

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

*&%$#@! II

Speaking of rather permanent spelling mistakes, here's a picture of a WWII memorial outside of an elementary school in my district:

Oh well, at least it's not written in stone, right?  Oh wait...

Monday, March 14, 2011

Movie Monday VI

This is a video from a guy out in California who is involved in his own personal marathon challenge.  He is attempting 6 marathons in the span of 6 months to raise money for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society.  This video shows him doing hill workouts in the California hills, set to some really nice music.  He's blogging about his challenge over at, so check him out and support him if you get the chance.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

In the dining room

My roommate has the peculiar idea that the dining room table is the best place to put his dirty underwear.

To be fair, it is his table, so I guess he can do what he wants.  But still.


Saturday, March 12, 2011

On the bike

The bike is finally out of winter storage.  Sent it in for a tune up the other week, and now I can't get enough of it.  I've been biking everywhere lately for four reasons:
  1. Saves adding the miles to my car, which is already over 120,000.
  2. Saves money on gas.
  3. Good for the environment.
  4. Good exercise.
Quadruple win!

Is it just me, or is my helmet excessively large?
(photo by Wayne Partenheimer)

Biked 3 miles to my dad's house today, ran 8 miles, then biked the 3 miles home.  Great workout today.

Friday, March 11, 2011

World's greatest sandwich

Speaking of healthy eating...

Slaying hunger and packing a nutritional punch, behold, the greatest sandwich known to man:

12 grain bread with roasted red pepper hummus on one slice and sweet chili pepper sauce on the other.  Interlayered provolone cheese and turkey.  Spinach.  Tomatoes.  Sliced diagonally.

How's your mind?  Blown?

Thursday, March 10, 2011


One of my favorite parts of marathon training, and running in general, is that it gets me to concentrate more on what I eat.  If I want my body to be up for a 20 mile training run, I'd better be fueling it adequately.  Fruits, vegetables, leafy greens, milk, lean meats, etc.  All the stuff we know we should be eating anyway but most of us don't.  Sure, I still eat my share of junk, but usually I keep it in check.

And then there's this guy:

According to an article in today's Chicago Sun-Times, marathoner Joe D'Amico, the self-proclaimed McRunner, is prepping for the LA Marathon on March 20th by eating nothing but McDonald's for 30 straight days.  He's blogging about the endeavor at

The best part?  He's actually good.  He started out in 1998 running a 4:16 marathon in Chicago, and last fall, 13 marathons later, brought his time down to a PR of 2:36 in the Twin Cities.  So he has a little clout when he talks about what his body can and can't handle.  If he says his body is up for it, I believe him.

I like this guy.  Aside from his devotion to the golden arches, and the fact that he could smoke me in head to head competition, we're a lot alike.  He also keeps things simple in training by focusing on the running and not much else.  He subscribes to the "miles make champions" school of thought and packs on the miles.  He doesn't crosstrain.  He barely stretches.  He doesn't drink protein shakes.

In his own words, "simplicity, consistency and convenience is what I'm about; that is what makes me a drive-thru runner."  He aims to PR in LA, and I can't wait to see how he does.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Old Man

While out running today, I passed an older man also out for a run.  As I did so, he called out to me, "Hey!  Slow down, you're making me look bad!"  Almost as good as the time an old man yelled to me, "Want to trade legs for a day?"  Or the time one yelled, "I used to be able to do that when I was your age!"

Old men always seem to be yelling at me.  I never know what to say in response.

Post run.  Scared I'm doomed to be a crazy old man someday

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

You shall know my velocity

One of my favorite books is You Shall Know Our Velocity by Dave Eggers.  It's about two young men named Will and Hand who travel around the world in a frenzied attempt to give away $32,000 to those they deem worthier than themselves.  They are low on time, dogged by guilt, and succeed only in a series of anticlimactic encounters with cabbies, restaurateurs and random passersby.

Eggers employs a narrative gimmick here that I love.  Will often starts conversations with the people he meets and continues them in his head, projecting his own character traits in the voice of his new acquaintance.  Oftentimes it is merely a stranger on the street.

"It helped me work through problems, solving things, reaching conclusions final, edifying and even, occasionally, mutually agreeable.
-You, on the motorcycle.
-It's only a matter of time.
-I know."

I've been known to employ the same mindgame on long runs, usually in the middle of a horrific 24 miler, before my mind can concentrate on nothing more than putting one foot in front of the other, but after it has been baked in the 80 degree heat just a tad longer than is recommended.  The obese teenager outside of the 7-11:

-I wish I could do what you're doing.
-You can.
-Yeah right.
-I'm going to outlive you, you know.
-My Gammy says the same thing.
-That's a stupid name for a grandmother.

The woman who asks directions as I scream past:

-Some people need help.  You need to be more polite and stop.
-You need to be more polite and ask someone not in the middle of a workout.
-What are you running from anyway?
-I'm not running from anything.  I'm on a run.  I'm just headed back to the place where I started.
-Then how do you get anywhere?
-You're talking figuratively, aren't you?
-Yes, I am.

Towards the end of the book, Will comes to a sad realization.  "I couldn't think of anything I'd done in six months that brought me anywhere new... that I'd been taking air from the world and using it to a justifiable end."  I think about this a lot while running, trying to convince myself that the running I do matters, that the choices I make in life matter.  But sometimes I wonder.

The name of the book stems from the legend of a South American tribe forced from its land by the invading conquistadors.  The tribe isn't terribly put off by this inconvenience, as it is a semi-nomadic tribe, one curious about the lands beyond its borders.  They flee their village, but before they do so they carve a message in giant letters in the cliffs above: "YOU SHALL KNOW OUR VELOCITY!"

To the man walking his dog, the crowd of people waiting to get inside the restaurant, the people inside the gym, the people inside the coffeeshop, the fellow runners:

-You shall know my velocity!
-We'll see.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Movie Monday V

This is a compilation of everyday folks crossing the finish line of the Chicago Marathon.  It's all here: the camaraderie, the disbelief, the exalted triumph, the tears, the pride, the pain, the exhaustion, and the screaming fans.  It's a montage encompassing everything that makes a marathon great.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Remember Chuck Norris facts?

1. Chuck Norris shot the sheriff, but he roundhouse kicked the deputy.

2. Chuck Norris built a better mousetrap, but the world was too scared to beat a path to his door.

3. Chuck Norris can divide by 0.

4. Chuck Norris once slept with every nun of a convent in a remote Italian village.  Nine months later, the nuns gave birth to the '72 Miami Dolphins, the only undefeated team in NFL history.

5. Chuck Norris actually died 10 years ago.  Death is just too scared to tell him.

6. Chuck Norris and Mr. T once walked into a bar.  The bar was instantly destroyed, as that level of awesome cannot be contained in one building.

7. The preferred method of execution in 32 states is a Chuck Norris roundhouse kick to the head.

8. Chuck Norris does not own a stove, microwave or oven, as revenge is a dish best served cold.

9. Who would win in a fight between Batman and Superman?  Chuck Norris, that's who.

10. Chuck Norris once made a deal with the devil, agreeing to trade his soul for rugged good looks and unparalleled martial arts ability.  Once the transaction was complete, Chuck Norris roundhouse kicked the devil and took his soul back.  The devil appreciated the irony of the situation, and the two now get together for beer and poker every second Tuesday of the month.

11. Chuck Norris can lead a horse to water and make it drink.


Saturday, March 5, 2011

Now is the winter of my discontent

I wanted to run the Yuengling Shamrock Marathon in Virginia Beach for a few reasons:

  1. Try a spring marathon for the first time.
  2. Enjoy the atmosphere of a marathon weekend again.
  3. I've heard great things about this marathon, especially the after party with plenty of free beer.
  4. I was hoping to bring Kathleen for a fun weekend away from our schedules and routines.

But in the end - and I've seen this coming for weeks - I was finally forced to make the lousy decision of striking it from my spring schedule.  For the second year in a row I let winter wreak havoc on my motivation and failed to get in the miles I should have.  Thankfully I never bothered to sign up for it in the first place (though perhaps if I had, that might have been the very motivation I needed to pick up the training).

I'm still planning on running a spring marathon, even if it kills me - which it very well might if I don't bring my mileage back up.  I had my eye on the Providence Marathon, which I had to strike a few weeks ago because I'm now going to a wedding that same weekend.  Now I'm looking at Grandma's Marathon in June with the idea of running a marathon and getting in some quality time with my sister and nephew at the same time.

For now, though, I'm stuck with the lousy feeling of being a quitter.


Thursday, March 3, 2011


"She brings her hands up towards where my hand's resting;
She wraps her fingers 'round mine with the softness she's blessed with..."

It's pictures like this that remind me what a lucky punk I am.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Second Running Boom

People in the running industry have been describing the last few years as the second running boom, following the boost in popularity the sport enjoyed in the 1970's.  When I registered for the 2005 Philadelphia Marathon, I waited until the last possible moment to do so.  Two years later I employed the same tactic, only to watch it sell out for the first time in its history.  I believe the hype about the second running boom.

Need more proof?  Trying to register for races this spring has been beyond frustrating.  I thought two months qualified as planning ahead, but forget it with these races:

The inaugural Phillies 5k Run, which finishes in Citizen's Bank Ballpark, sold out months ago.

The only Tough Mudder race anywhere near me sold out months ago.

The Broad Street Run, a 10 mile race along Philadelphia's Broad Street in May, sold out months ago.

The Marine Corps Marathon, which doesn't take place until October, sold out in 28 hours a few weeks ago.  I'd thought about entering it just to try something other than Philly, but I guess not.

This last one is actually the Philly Craft Beer Festival, which obviously has nothing to do with running, but is equally devastating for having sold out months before I tried to buy a ticket.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

In the fridge

My roommate has the peculiar habit of buying and opening new containers of food and beverages before he finishes the old ones.  We're now up to three containers of milk, two of tomato sauce and two of OJ.

Our fridge has almost no room and it's making me crazy.
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