Saturday, April 30, 2011

Precious Gems Run For Our Girls 5k

In April of 1999, five high school students were on spring break in North Carolina.  They were driving at night when a drunk driver ran a red light and collided with their car, killing four of the five.  After the incident, the families of the victims created The Precious Gems Memorial, an organization that educates NJ high school students about the dangers of drunk driving.

One of the five students, Amanda Geiger, was the daughter of my dad's good friend Mike Geiger. Every year for the past six or seven years, my dad and I have gone out to Seneca High School to run the Precious Gems Run For Our Girls 5k.  This is a race in which I usually place in my age group, and this year was no exception.  Unfortunately, this year comes with an asterisk.

It was a beautiful day for a 5k, and twelve years after the accident, it was the largest turnout I had ever seen.  The race is heavily promoted in the area high schools, so the majority of the runners were high school students.  Everything started off well, first with the typical stampede of overzealous and overconfident teenagers, then with me passing them after a hundred meters.  I was in the top ten and passing the two mile mark when the few guys ahead of me turned left.  I called out to them, asking if we weren't supposed to keep going straight, but no one knew.  We soon passed a race volunteer who saw us take the left turn, and he didn't say anything, so I trusted we had gone the right way.  The start of the race had been changed this year, so I just assumed there were other course alterations as well.

When I crossed the finish line in 17:46, I knew something was up.  I've never broken 18 minutes in my life, and haven't broken 19 minutes since high school.  I was incredibly annoyed at the lack of signage at the point where we went left, and the ignorance of the race volunteer.  I ended up coming in 4th overall and 1st in my age group, but who knows how many people behind me ran the true course and how many also made the left turn.  I feel like these are stats I didn't earn, hence the asterisk.

As a runner chasing down an old high school PR, it's easy to get annoyed, but it's also important to remember why we were out there in the first place.  We were there to honor the memory of four young girls taken before their time, and to raise money to continue to educate people about drunk driving.

Afterwards we went to breakfast at L.B. Daniels, a restaurant I've been going to my entire life, where I housed a breakfast of champions: french toast, eggs, sausage, toast, hash browns, and a giant OJ.

Dad: Are you really going to eat all of that?
Me: Hi, I'm your son Scott.  Apparently we've never met.

Friday, April 29, 2011

On sports gels

One of the things I like about traveling is the ever-present opportunity to put strange things in my mouth. Nothing beats playing a game of menu roulette in a new country and receiving a heaping plate of "what the hell is that?" for dinner.  It may be delicious, it may be gross, it may offend your senses indefinitely, but never is it less than memorable.  Silkworm larvae, squid tentacles, fermented mare's milk, salted pig's fat, and kimchi; all of these, and God knows what else, have passed between my lips at some point in my travels.

One of the things I don't like about running is the ever-present opportunity to put strange things in my mouth.  Run for more than an hour or hour and a half, and your body requires more fuel than you can adequately store beforehand.  Enter the witches brew known to endurance athletes as sports gels.  They are made by a myriad of companies and come in a plethora of flavors, but few disguise the taste of food left to liquefy in the back of the refrigerator three weeks after Thanksgiving.  Make no mistake, these things are vile.

Some have asked what I use to fuel up on long runs, and the answer is this:

It's the lesser of many evils, in my opinion.  I go strictly by taste with these things, and I have found that Powergels do the trick, meaning they are the least likely to provoke my gag reflex.  Vomiting after a run means you're hardcore, but vomiting during a run is nothing short of inconvenient.  I take one and wash it down with water right before a long run, and take them every hour during the run, alternating water and Gatorade.

One of these days I hope to be like Dean Karnazes and just order a pizza in the middle of a run, but until I attain a resting heartrate of 4bpm, or whatever else it is that makes him superhuman, I'll just stick to the Powergels.  Maybe I'll try washing it down with silkworm larvae to get rid of the taste. I'll let you know how that works out.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

What's next?

As previously stated, marathons have long since entered my comfort zone.  

Now what do I do?

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

16 miles

A week ago I was in Canada, spending a week with temps in the upper 30's and plenty of rain.  I ran outside once through the soggy city streets, and spent the rest of the week on the treadmill. Yesterday I attempted 20 miles in 80 degree weather without a cloud in the sky.  It was brutal.  I only lasted 16 miles.

I was in a daze afterwards, like I barely understood what had just happened to me.  I spent the next hour on my dad's back porch just trying to slowly rehydrate and regain my senses.  Permanent hot weather is on its way.

One thing's for sure: long runs are never glamorous.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Movie Monday XII

Most of the videos I post in the Movie Monday series usually lean towards the inspirational side. This one, however, is just plain funny.  It's one of the funniest marathon videos I've ever seen, and if you've run at least one marathon yourself, you might agree.

"Wait, when did the Kenyans finish?  Son of a - !"

Friday, April 22, 2011

2:00 Marathon?

I'm on the bus home from Toronto, but there was a three hour delay at the border due to traffic, meaning I'll be getting into Philly at around 1am.  I'm not impressed.

In the meantime, at least I have the (spastic, maddening, wholly unreliable) internet on this bus, so I was able to read the following article in the New York Times.  It discusses the possibility of a future marathon run in less than two hours, comparing it to the four minute mile, a barrier once thought unbeatable until Roger Banister came along.


Thursday, April 21, 2011

On Canadian art and landscapes

"The new type of artist... puts on the outfit of the bushwhacker and prospector; closes with his environment; paddles, portages and makes camp; sleeps in the out-of-doors under the stars; climbs mountains with his sketchbook on his back."  - F.B. Houser, 1926.

In the Canadian section of the Art Gallery of Ontario, there are several rooms dedicated to the Group of Seven, a vaguely cult-sounding name to describe seven painters of the 1920's that championed the Canadian landscape.  Before they banded together and began trading tips and techniques, the Canadian landscape was thought to be unworthy of rendering on canvas.   The Group of Seven painted anyway, and with names like "Mountain Solitude," "Where the Eagles Soar," and "Above Lake Superior," their paintings "sought to capture the essential spirit of the north."

The gallery invites the viewer to question the mythology that has grown around these paintings and asks "are these landscapes a true representation of Canada?"  Based on limited experience and a healthy dose of Molson Beer commercials, I would say yes.

It was within this landscape that I had hoped to run this week.  I could very clearly see myself in those paintings, lost somewhere amongst the old growth Douglas Firs, bounding down a long forgotten path perhaps used by fur traders generations ago.   The path would intermittently afford views of the surrounding area, of mountains flecked with grey and white that puncture the forest canopy, escaping to the sky, before plunging me back into a relative darkness where strange woodland creatures roam, suddenly a woodland creature on my own, all in what is my version of my own personal escape. The cold is startling at first and fights to enter my body, but my pounding limbs and heaving chest put up resistance.  The bouncy needles of the white pine littering the forest floor offer little resistance and leave no footprints, and I simply keep running - light, unfettered, fast - relishing the wind created by speed, exercising a different medium than the Group of Seven, but capturing no less of the essence of the north, because the best way to capture a landscape is to run through it.

Instead I've been running on a treadmill all week.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

I thought they said vodka...

I tend to talk about marathons - and running in general - a lot.  It's clearly a comfort zone born out of experience and a few successes, an area of my life that is easy to fall back on for lack of a better topic.  You could say that I get slightly excitable over running.

I've known my friend Yashy since our freshman year of college, and having befriended the manic, 18-year-old version of myself, she is familiar with how excitable I can get.  Eleven years ago it was over any manner of topics, from feuds with my next door neighbor Jesse, to captaining our dorm's freshman league soccer team (F.C. Spartenheimer), to planning a yoghurt wrestling party.   Nowadays... well, this blog speaks for itself.

This can be slightly offputting to someone with no interest in the sport.  To be fair, I did arrive at Yashy's apartment on the day of the Boston Marathon, perhaps bringing my sometimes excitable nature to a fever pitch.

Yashy: After tonight, you're not allowed to talk about marathons anymore.
Me: That's not fair!  Then what am I supposed to talk about?
Yashy: I don't know, but you'd better get it out of your system tonight.

Yashy, incidentally, works for Corby Distilleries Limited, "Canada's foremost distributor of premium spirits and fine wines."  Among her list of clients is Absolut Vodka, and she receives a monthly allotment of liquor.  All of which confirms it as the coolest job in the world.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Oh, Canada

Some people go to Florida or Mexico for spring break.  Having gone to college in Maine and with no friends south of the Mason-Dixon Line, I continually find myself taking trips north.  And so I find myself in Canada at the moment.

My friend Yashy lives in an apartment building in downtown Toronto with access to a small gym.  I ran five miles this morning on the treadmill, then met up with Liz for a four mile (sorry... 6 kilometer) run with the Running Room crew at 6:45.  It was very cold and it rained the whole time. City running, with its constant stop-and-go pace can be frustrating, but soon enough it was over and time to take pictures.

Me: We just ran in the rain - we have to look hardcore.
Liz: I want a picture of me beating a Boston Qualifier!
Guy taking the picture: I don't know how to properly frame a shot!

Apparently this is my interpretation of "hardcore"

The crew then adjourned to a local sports bar to watch the Vancouver Canucks lose to the Chicago Blackhawks on a tv the size of a movie screen.

I drank Canadian beer and ate the Canadian burger, eh.  No seriously, that's what the menu called it.

Canada rocks.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Movie Monday XI

I'm on a bus right now to Canada, specifically Toronto, to visit a college friend.  It's ten hours.  But not to worry -  I've got a hefty Jonathan Franzen novel with me and updates on the Boston Marathon to tide me over.

And speaking of the Boston Marathon, this week's video is in honor of the oldest continually run marathon in the world, the obsession of many, the marathon that even fewer get to run, the one that sends reverential chills down many a veteran's spine.  One word says it all: Boston.

There are several of these videos, "Reasons to Run Boston," but this one, from the 2007 race, is my favorite.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

17 miles and a recital

Last night.  Saturday night.  While the sensible person goes out to a bar or the movies to blow off steam from the work week, the marathoner goes to bed at 8:30.  I tend to spend a lot of money on races throughout the year, so it's nice to know that the training is also saving me a lot by hampering my social life.

I went to bed so early so I could get up at 6:45am and do my long run.  Ran for a total of 2:23:37, an estimated 17 miles, and looked like this when I finished:

The last 20 minutes were spent running into a wall of wind, much like in the race yesterday.  I was not happy.

I then had a half hour to shower and make myself presentable for Kathleen's recital in Princeton.

I frequently tout the benefits of hard work and training, so it was nice to see it pay off for someone else.  Kathleen has been working on this recital for months.  She abstained from alcohol for a month, chose songs in three different languages that would entertain an audience as well as appropriately showcase her vocal abilities, spent countless hours with her vocal coach, printed programs and fliers, and organized the reception afterwards.  Today was the reward for all of the hard work she put in, as she was surrounded by friends and family who rained flowers and pictures and hugs and standing ovations down upon her.

Congratulations, Kathleen.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Run for Hope 5k: race report

And now for something completely different:

I won a race today!  No, not just my age group, but the whole flipping thing!  To be fair, there were only about two dozen participants, but hey, an accomplishment is still an accomplishment.

The 5k today was in memory of Gail B. Zane, "wife, mother, grandmother, teacher and friend who was diagnosed with thyroid cancer in early 1998... Gail continued to teach until the end of the schoolyear in 2006 when she was forced to retire due to the advance of her illness.  Gail passed away on November 13, 2007."  All proceeds from the race this morning will benefit the American Cancer Society.

The race was held at Cooper River.  Just before we started, a man asked me what I was hoping to run, and I told him I'd be happy if I broke 20 minutes.  It was 45 degrees and extremely windy at the start, and we had to weave our way around people gathered for a regatta, but within 10 seconds of the start, I was in the lead.  It was exhilarating to be in a race in which I was leading, no matter how small the turnout.  I never relinquished the lead, even when I rounded a corner for the homestretch and hit a wall of wind.  My unofficial time was 19:07.  The man I'd talked to at the starting line finished just under 20 minutes.

Several people asked who won, and when I told them I did, they asked me my time.

"19:07?!  I feel like that was the year I was born after running that race!"

Today I get to quote possibly the dumbest catchphrase of the decade, because today?  Today I'm like Charlie Sheen, boy.

Duh - winning!

Friday, April 15, 2011

Boston warm up

The Boston Marathon is a mere three days away, and coverage in the Boston Globe is heating up.

On today's front page is a human interest story about a woman who is a former drug addict.  She spent some time on the streets, stealing to support her habit, and ended up in jail as a result.   She became interested in running, which became her therapy, and she is now ready to run on Monday in what will be her third marathon and her second Boston.

Today's Boston Globe also features articles on the elites, how to run as a bandit, more human interest stories, and a feature on four-time American winner Bill Rodgers.  It's fun to watch the hype around the marathon, but only makes me wish I could be there to run it!

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Medal wall

I earned a fair share of soccer and baseball trophies as a kid, and for years I had them displayed on a small bookcase in my bedroom.  Some of those trophies survived childhood and currently reside in cardboard boxes in my dad's basement - for what, exactly, I'm not sure.  It's not like I have grand plans to create a trophy room when I finally have a bigger place so I can show off the time I won some random tournament when I was 12 years old.

In the meantime, my adult equivalent of that trophy bookcase is this:

The ones on the bottom are from the half marathons (I've done more, but lost a few of the medals over the years).  The ones on the top are from the full marathons.  The picture in the middle is my first marathon in 2005.

I don't want to be one of those guys who covers every inch of a room with running memorabilia (or do I?), so I'm not sure what I'll do in the future as I complete more races, but for now they're nice to see when I walk into my bedroom.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Rabbit food

Read enough about food and healthy eating habits, and you'll notice the recurring theme of "eating your colors."  Not the radioactive orange found in cheetos, mind you, but the colors nature intended.  Sometimes I take this idea to heart:

The ingredients in this picture are about to join forces to become the world's greatest salad.

Hyperbole.  Always hyperbole.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Movie Monday X

Speaking of Ben Davis and Do Life, this week's video comes to you from Devon Mills.  A few weeks ago, Ben made a stop in Seattle for another unofficial Do Life 5k.  Devon and her boyfriend Aaron attended, and together they put together the following video to document the day.

It's extremely well filmed and edited, capturing not the hectic, nervous energy of competition, but a group of people out to share a love of running.  When you run with Ben, it doesn't matter how fast or how slow you are, because it's about the camaraderie.  

Do Life: Seattle from Devon Mills on Vimeo.

Speaking of Devon, she's been kind enough to link to me twice already on her blog.  She's currently training for the Seattle Rock n' Roll Half Marathon in June, and has joined the American Cancer Society's DetermiNation team to raise money to fight cancer.  She's pledged to raise $1,250, and so far is at $446, so stop by her donation page and help her out!

Sunday, April 10, 2011

15 miles and a birthday

Long run Sunday.  Ran 15 miles in just over 2 hours today, my longest run since last December.  It felt great to know that my fitness level is climbing ever higher again.

I'm not dead yet!

I felt great when I finished, and it was nice to lie on the grass for a minute and know my long run was over.

Then I realized I'd better stop taking pictures of myself on my dad's front lawn and get back to my apartment, as I had to be back by 3pm for a Skype conference call with my friend Alan.  He and his wife Elizabeth now live in England while he does smart guy stuff (getting his Ph.D.), and she e-mailed several of his friends and family and arranged the whole thing as a surprise.

This time a year ago, Alan, Elizabeth and I celebrated his birthday by rerouting a stream as a preventative measure against erosion on his grandmother's farm.

Alan and his wife (then fiance) Elizabeth.  NJ, April 2010

Last fall I was the best man at his wedding.

Alan, me, my dad.  RI, September 2010

So happy birthday Alan, and welcome to your thirties.  I'll meet you there in a few months.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Phillies 11 - Mets 0

A nice afternoon at the ballpark yesterday, watching the Phillies in a rout against the Mets.

Dad: I hear they're going to start posting loan officers at the concession stands this season.
Me: I hope they're all named Vinny and Frankie.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

The BQ

There is an interesting article in this month's issue of Runner's World called "BQ or Die."  It's about the surge of people attempting a BQ in recent years, the crushing number of people trying to get into Boston once they attain a BQ, and the Boston Athletic Association's response to it all.  The article profiles several diehard Boston veterans and hopefuls, and it's interesting to see how similar I am to some of the people mentioned.

The article mentions that recessions and depressions are great times for self-help.  "Self-help is a quest to control what we can control in a world that seems out of control," says Christine Whelan, Ph.D.  Running a BQ "gives you a feeling of control and well-being that you might not be getting from your Dilbert-type job."

I was going through a horrible time last summer and fall, and training for the marathon while setting my sights on Boston gave me a very tangible and quantifiable goal.  Hard work was not getting me anywhere in other aspects of my life, and I needed the reminder that hard work does pay off.  The BQ was about more than just running; training for the marathon became a way to literally run away from the encroaching depression.  When I crossed that finish line in 3:09:45, it was the single greatest physical accomplishment of my life and easily landed in my top 10 memories of all time.  What depression?

I spent the days and weeks after the marathon eyeing that "BQ" in the far right column, truly in awe that I'd done it.  And I wish now that I had more friends who run marathons.  Maybe then I wouldn't have had to deal with the people in my life who have never experienced the marathon and mistook my obvious right to be proud of my accomplishments for hubris, narcissism and egotism. They'll never fully understand what that day - and what the marathon in general - mean to me.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Word cloud

I made this word cloud on, and it represents the most oft-used words in my blog so far (though possibly only the last few entries).  I like that 'run' and 'life' are the two biggest words.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

English made simple

There is no doubt that English is a tricky language.  What other languages claim in diversity of definite articles or the type of pronunciation that requires the removal of one's tongue, English more than makes up for in spelling variations, rule exceptions and, above all, word totals.  The language becomes a morass of confusion in which native and non-native speakers join forces to coin new words to suit 21st century needs, and where writing in particular is a breeding ground for self perpetuating mistakes.  Never is the tiny inner voice heeded, the one in the likeness of your third grade teacher, the one that says, "say now, that doesn't quite look right! Better look up the correct spelling/defin-"  Too late.  The "enter" key has been pressed, and we're on to whatever is next.

Let's rally ourselves and vow to make a better effort!  Let's hold ourselves as bloggers to a higher standard! Who's with me?!  Good!  Here we go:

Let's start with the verb to run.  Conjugated in the present tense, it looks like this:

                                                         Singular                                Plural                            
                First Person:                     I run                                   We run
                Second Person:              You run                                You run
                Third Person:             He/She/It runs                          They run

Easy, right?  The verb is run through the gauntlet of conjugation and only changes once, adding a single letter.  It's when we look at the past tense that things start to get tricky.

Present: I run
Past: I ran
Indicative perfect: I have run

Notice that the past participle, once aided by the auxiliary verb to have, reverts to its original form. If you write a sentence on your blog, then, that says, "I've ran two races before this one," or "I would have ran this weekend if I wasn't injured," then I'm afraid you are wrong.

You heard the dog.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Movie Monday IX

We've all seen it before: the movie or tv show or Lifetime special in which a character experiences the death of a loved one and vows to live life to its fullest.  Maybe you are that person who lost someone close, or maybe you even had a near-death experience yourself.  The realization that life is short and precious is forced upon you, and you begin doing things in life that you assumed would only happen in the distant future.

I was always the type to think: why wait until someone dies?  Why not live life to its fullest now? That's what led to a three month trip around Australia in 2004, my first marathon in 2005 and skydiving in 2006.  When my mom passed away unexpectedly in 2006 at the age of 58, it seems an urgency was applied.  I began piling on the experiences at a furious clip while slowly coming to this life philosophy: "I long to fill my life with amazing experiences so that I may someday retire on the richness of my memories."  I drove across America and back by myself.  I raised thousands of dollars for charity and took part in a road rally from England to Mongolia.  I returned to the theater, landing the lead in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest and trying Shakespeare for the first time.  I gave speeches at weddings.  I started a career in teaching.  I fell in love.  I ran more marathons.  In short, I did life, and continue to strive to do so.

Then I found Ben's video.  Primarily a weight loss journey in simplified form.  Insanely inspirational.  Running saved this guy's life and now allows him to inspire thousands of others around the world on a daily basis.  Watch this video and try to tell me it doesn't tap into some inner region of your soul, the place where anything is possible.  Watch this video and then think of the things you want to do before you die, but more importantly, why you haven't done them yet.  Watch this video and then do life.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Bucks County Half Marathon: race report

Woke up at 5:30 this morning and drove out to Bucks County, PA for the 2nd annual Bucks County Half-Marathon, located in beautiful Tyler State Park.  This was the starting line:

A fellow teacher told me about this less than a week ago, and I decided to sign up with her.  She picked up my race packet at the expo for me yesterday, but told me she wouldn't be running afterall because she was sick.  Her husband would run in her place and meet me before the start to give me my packet.

Everything went swimmingly for most of the race.  All anyone could talk about beforehand were the hills, and I was glad that this gave me an excuse to not stress over chasing down a PR.  In my opinion, it's important to decide weeks beforehand if you're going to attempt a PR and prepare accordingly.  Or just have one of those lucky days when running feels effortless and the PR is broken with barely a thought afforded it.  I didn't do the former, and I wasn't counting on the latter.

When I hit mile three of the race, it dawned on me that I had forgotten to apply bandaids and Bodyglide, and forgot to put a Powergel in my shorts pocket.  It was straight up amateur hour out on the course today.  Fortunately I managed to sneak by with only light chaffing.  I have no idea if not having the Powergel in the middle of the race made a difference or not.

When I crossed the halfway point, I realized I was on track to set a PR by 2 minutes.  I felt great for the next several miles, but the hills from miles 10 - 12 killed my pace.  I was gritting my teeth and wincing from the pain in the last half mile from running so hard, and I finished in 1:35:46, just over a minute over my PR from last fall.  I finished 15th overall out of close to 400 runners, and 7th in my age group.

Knowing I gave it my all is all that matters.

One word: layers

Friday, April 1, 2011

What's for dinner?

More healthy eating:

Homemade thai red curry chicken.  Stuffed with zucchini, carrots, bell peppers, onions and potatoes.  Here it's only in the beginning stages of preparation.  Once the coconut milk is added, it will simmer for nearly an hour, letting the flavors bubble and commingle and mutate into something delicious.  Iron Chef I am not, but this is still some damn fine eating.

Serve with jasmine rice, a giant glass of milk, and 30 Rock on Netflix.

No foolin'.
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