Thursday, June 30, 2011

Grandma's Marathon photos

My dear pregnant sister waited for me at the 25th mile of the marathon on a cold and damp day in Duluth, only to have me hobble past her without even noticing her cheers.  Meanwhile, as she was waiting for me, she struck up a conversation with a woman cheering on her husband.  That woman had a fantastic camera and managed to get some really nice photos of me.  She and my sister exchanged e-mail addresses, and the pictures have now arrived.

All photos by Emily Voelker:

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Summa time

For the week after Grandma's Marathon, I didn't do a lot of running.  Kathleen got me a two week trial membership to her gym, so I was able to use the pool a lot.  Working different muscle groups while putting less stress on my legs was a great way to spend the recovery period.

The recovery period is now over and I'm back in the phase of maintaining the base mileage until the next time I feel like torturing myself for a few months.  For now, I'm trying to enjoy the summer as best I can, and am just doing simple 4 mile runs, which means everyone who knows me always says "that's it?!" when I tell them how far I ran that day.

And when I'm not running or swimming, I'm doing backflips on the beach.  Anything to keep up with the fitness.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Movie Monday XX

In honor of Grandma's Marathon a little over a week ago, here is a video recap of the race by Olympian Carrie Tollefson.  It's very well made and captures a lot of the race.  Enjoy!

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Always try...

I first picked up an old copy of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest at a hostel in Australia and read it while traversing the dusty Outback.  I reread it a year or two later, followed by several screenings of the 1975 film adaptation.  But my particular attachment to this book stems from playing McMurphy in the stage adaptation in 2008.

I had been away from the theater for five years, and walked into auditions just hoping to be cast as one of the orderlies.  Instead I walked away with the lead role.  To this day, it remains one of the most challenging roles I've ever played, but easily the most rewarding.

One of the themes in the book is the idea of trying; no matter the obstacles, no matter the odds against you, no matter, as long as you try.  Always try.  In the middle of the book, McMurphy bets his fellow mental ward inmates that he can lift a giant control panel.  "His whole body shakes with the strain as he tries to lift something he knows he can't lift, something everybody knows he can't lift... Then his breath explodes out of him, and he falls back limp against the wall.  There's blood on the levers where he tore his hands.  He pants for a minute against the wall with his eyes shut. There's no sound but his scraping breath; nobody's saying a thing."  McMurphy, in fact, doesn't lift the control panel.  He ends up staring down his buddies with something resembling pathos, disgust, shame and condescension rolled into one before storming out of the room.

I've been lucky to have several successes in the past year, both in the realm of running and outside of it, but I've also had plenty of failures.  Looking back, and looking forward, agonizing in the present... I find this part of the book the most comforting.

"He stops at the door and looks back at everyone standing around.  'But I tried, though,' he says.  'Goddammit I sure as hell did that much, now didn't I?'"

You can't ask for much more, now can you?

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Novice vs. Veteran

The difference between marathon novices and veterans (in Facebook updates):

The Novice: "Oh  my God, I'm running a marathon today!  I can't believe how crazy I am!  This is crazy!  Who runs 26.2 miles?  Look at how crazy I am!  Aren't I crazy?!?!?!"

The Veteran: "Another marathon today.  Git 'er done."

I started out as the former, but I think I've moved on to the latter.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Do Life comes to Philly

Kathleen and I met up with the Davis clan in Philly last night for the third stop in the First Official Unofficial Do Life 5k Tour.  Over 40 people showed up at Eakins Oval next to the Philadelphia Museum of Art to share conversation, a few miles, and dinner.  Kathleen was star struck at seeing people in real life that she'd been following online for months.

Kathleen: (while running) Hey Ben!  If I catch up to you, will you marry me?
Ben: Yes! (speeds up)

We headed out en masse along Kelly Drive, one of Philly's favorite running spots, for a leisurely 5k run. I could still feel the soreness and general fatigue from the marathon only two days before, but the scenery, perfect weather and camaraderie more than made up for it.  And we wouldn't be proper Philly hosts if we didn't make the Davis boys run the art museum steps a lá Rocky Balboa, so that's how we finished out our run.

After running and taking pictures, we headed to the nearest Whole Foods where we all hung out eating and talking.

Thanks for stopping in Philly, guys, and good luck on the rest of the tour.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Ze Germans

If you've read the "About Me" section of this blog, you know that I'm a teacher.  But in the grand tradition of only sharing half-truths on the internet, that is, well, only half the truth.  Yes, I've spent the past two years teaching in South Jersey.  But one of those years was filling in for two maternity leaves, and the other was just regular subbing.  When I spoke of the horrible time I went through last summer and fall, not being able to secure a full-time teaching position was the main factor. Feeling like I was wasting my talent was another.

And then something remarkable happened today.  After many months of networking, formal and informal interviews, a demo lesson, writing and revising my cover letter, and securing letters of recommendation, I was offered a full-time position as a German teacher at a high school right down the street from where I live.

"But Scott, your certification is in elementary education."  Yes, it is.  Which is why I will be spending the majority of the summer taking classes and official state exams to make sure I am certified to teach at the high school level come fall.  Unfortunately, once fall comes, I will have to spend all of my time wrapping my head around teaching a new curriculum and age group, meaning there may not be time to train for a fall marathon.  As much as I hate to say that, I just have to be careful about spreading myself too thin in my first year as a new teacher.

Getting the job now seems like it was the easy part compared to all that I have to accomplish in the coming weeks and months, but for now I leave you in extremely high spirits knowing that once again, hard work has paid off.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Grandma's Marathon: Race Report

Grandma's Marathon is based out of Duluth, MN, on the shore of Lake Superior.  It's a straight course, so it starts 26.2 miles away in the town of Two Harbors.  It seems like hotel rooms in the area had been booked solid for the past year, so my sister and I stayed in the small town of Tofte, an hour from the start line.  It was a beautiful area, practically in Canada, but required a 5am wake up call.

We made it to Two Harbors by 6:30 where Kirsten dropped me off at a hotel where I could take the shuttle to the starting line.  The shuttle was late, and we sat in marathon traffic for awhile, which means I didn't arrive at the starting area until 7:15 for a 7:30 start.  I barely had time to drop my bag at gear check and go to the bathroom before I had to get into the starting chute.  There were no official corrals, so I just had to fight my way forward.

I started behind the 3:40 pacer, and because it was so crowded, I ran my first mile in 8:10.  I soon passed the 3:40 group, and shortly after that I passed the 3:30 group.  I didn't catch up with the 3:20 group until mile 14, and then passed them too.  Unfortunately I couldn't keep up this pace, and they passed me around mile 22.

The course had long stretches with no spectators, but fortunately there were plenty of patches with spectators and music to help get me through.  Lots of cowbells and cheerleaders and dogs, and in the later miles, exuberant college kids handing out cups and cans of beer.  I grabbed a can of Budweiser at mile 21 and took 2 swallows, crushed it and slammed it on the ground.  The college kids erupted in cheers.  It was a nice boost, but unfortunately didn't last long.

My marathon MO seems to be to head out at what I consider a steady, sustainable pace, and inevitably I start to crash after 20 miles and just try to hang on for dear life.  I would love to be able to run perfectly even splits, but so far this ability has eluded me.  Apparently my sister was at mile 25 and yelled my name, but I didn't hear her at all.  According to her, I looked like I was "in the zone."  The last mile was my slowest, and I finished the race in 3:24:15.  Beforehand I told myself I would be happy with anything under 3:30, but I can't help but feel discouraged at my weak finish.

The weather was in the low 50's the whole race with a threat of rain, but luckily only drizzled a little in the first few miles.  I was debating whether to wear a long sleeve shirt, but at the last moment opted for just the short sleeve shirt.  For the most part this worked out, but I was shivering uncontrollably once I crossed the finish line and stopped running.  I was experiencing severe pain in my hips, and it took ages to find and then hobble to the gear check to collect my things.

After getting changed, I met my sister, and we took a picture at the finish line before slowly walking back to her car.  We drove back to St. Paul where we went out to an Irish Pub for dinner, and I enjoyed my first beer in almost a month.  Many thanks to Kirsten for helping with logistics like hotels and parking, and of course for driving me to and from the marathon.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Away we go...

At Marathon arrayed, to the battle shock we ran
And our mettle we displayed, foot to foot, man to man
And our name and fame shall not die.

-Aristophanes "The Arachanians"  425 B.C.

5am in the hotel: the calm before the storm.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Flashback Friday

It was October 7, 2007, I was at mile 4 of the Twin Cities Marathon, and I was already in trouble.   What was supposed to be a marathon in chilly Minnesota fall weather was quickly turning into a slog through a sultry indian summer day.  The temperature climbed into the 80's as I ditched my soaked shirt on the side of the road.  I grabbed two cups at every water station and still couldn't sate my thirst.  In the late stages of the race, paramedics tended to passed out runners on the sides of the roads.  It was chaos.

I hadn't trained properly, either.  Used to running the Philadelphia Marathon the week before Thanksgiving, I was now running a race at the beginning of October.  I should have done much of my training over the summer, but I failed to do much of anything while on a cross country roadtrip from June to August.

My legs felt useless, my thirst was overpowering, and I had to stop to walk far more than I wanted to.  It was painful and demoralizing, and I couldn't help thinking it had been a waste to come out to Minnesota for such a dismal performance.

You know the reaction kids have when they open a present on Christmas morning and it's exactly what they've asked for?  Though I may not have looked it, that's the excitement I felt when I saw my sister Kirsten at the 23 mile mark.  She jumped in and started running with me, and I felt compelled to give her a running commentary of the status of my legs.  "OH GOD it feels like my quads are going to rip through the skin!" I was in bad shape.  But my sister offered encouragement, and waited with me while I stretched, and continued to run with me.

When we crested the hill on Summit Avenue, the Cathedral of St. Paul and State Capitol Building came into view.  Next to the finish line, flapping in all its old glory, was the largest American flag I have ever seen.  Kirsten and I ran side by side as the crowds thickened on either side of the course, their cheers thunderous, and I can say without a doubt that this is one of my favorite memories of my life.

With my sister Kirsten after the 2007 Twin Cities Marathon

Thursday, June 16, 2011

On carbo loading

This is just my first helping

I remember hitting the wall quite clearly in my first marathon.  It was somewhere on the Kelly Drive in Philadelphia around mile 17, and my legs suddenly seized up, like some tiny demon was yanking at my muscles from the inside.  I spent the rest of the race taking walk breaks and finished in 4:29:47.

I didn't really know what I was doing then, but through trial and error and a little research, I have a routine that keeps me from hitting the wall anymore.  Quite simply:

I carbo load like a mother*#$!@.

This is, obviously, not a new concept to most marathoners.  But I don't just start the night before with the traditional pasta dinner that most big races offer to runners.  No, I start three nights out.

For a Saturday marathon, I'll start on Wednesday night with a heaping plate of pasta.  I'll have the same heaping plate on Thursday night, and on Friday I'll lower the intake to a more normal portion and make sure I finish by 6pm.  By Saturday morning I'm fully digested, and my veins are absolutely pulsing with carbs.  Together with the gels I take before and during the race, my legs manage to not seize up in the final miles.

Last night was the start of carbo loading, which meant all the spaghetti my gut could handle.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Meeting of the Uncles

My first full day in Minnesota, in bullet form:

  • Went for a slow thirty minute run around my sister's neighborhood.  The muscles are stretched and loose, my energy is up, and I'm ready to give it hell this Saturday.
  • Went to the Minnesota Children's Museum with Kirsten and Oliver.  One of the best museums I've ever been to.  Makes me nostalgic for my time at Philadelphia's Franklin Institute when I was a kid.
  • Reading to Oliver.  He walks up to me and hands me a book and wants me to read it to him.  He's not even two yet and already obsessed with books.
  • Meeting of the Uncles went well.  Oliver's other uncle Andy came over and we chased Oliver around, had a spaghetti dinner so I could start carbo loading, and traded stories full of uncle-style shenanigans.

Uncle Scott, Oliver, Uncle Andy

Tuesday, June 14, 2011


I arrived safely here in Minnesota, and look what I found in my sister's basement!

Sadly, it's barely two square feet, and Kirsten and her husband Chris are going to remove it anyway once they renovate the basement.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Movie Monday XIX

Ben Davis and crew are taking the show on the road this summer for the First Official Unofficial Do Life 5k Tour.  They're hitting 31 cities in 40 days and stopping somewhere in the middle to do an Ironman, all in the name of promoting the idea of doing life.  I'll be stopping by to see them in Philly a week from today.  Here's the promo video they made:

Sunday, June 12, 2011


I have less than a week to go before the marathon, and we all know what that means: taper.  This means I'm easing back on the mileage in order to give my body a chance to rest and recover from the stress I've put on it in the last few months.  This means, in turn, that I can finally do normal things on a Sunday again instead of running 20 miles by myself.  Normal things like going to Wissahickon Creek over in PA with Stevie, a friend from the theater.

We spent the first hour there scaring ourselves by climbing the rocks.  Now I get to scare my grandmother with this picture:

Can this count as crosstraining?

When we tired of the rocks, we decided to give cliffjumping a go.  Now, I've been cliffjumping before.  I've scaled trees and climbing walls.  I've ridden insane rollercoasters and jumped out of planes.  But I still found myself standing at the edge of the 20 foot drop genuinely scared to make the jump.

Me: Are you going to jump?
Stevie: Absolutely!  I'm not letting you show me up!

I can honestly say that I love cliffjumping.  It's not standing at the edge trembling for 10 minutes that I enjoy.  It's not my stomach bumping into my throat as I scream on the way down that I enjoy either.  And it's certainly not the indelible image these things leave in the minds of spectators.  No, it's the feeling of conquering a fear, however small and unreasonable it may be.

We both managed two jumps apiece, and afterwards, all that was left was to reenact our terror for the camera:

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Tonight's dinner

Chicken in a dijon-tarragon cream sauce with mashed potatoes and asparagus

I don't cook every night, and I don't always cook the healthiest possible meal when I do.  But I will contend that a homecooked meal still outranks a restaurant meal, given the restaurant industry's penchant for dousing meals in sodium.

Kathleen came over tonight and we made chicken in a dijon-tarragon cream sauce with mashed potatoes and steamed asparagus.

The meal was, in a word, decadent.

Two satisfied customers

Friday, June 10, 2011


Another gem from athletic company Pearl Izumi, and this one couldn't better describe my run last night.

Met up with Suze of Suze Does Life fame for a short run around the Cooper River.  The temperature had reached 98 degrees during the day, and was still in the 90's when we met at 8 o'clock.  But within minutes of setting out, the skies darkened and the temperature plummeted. Minutes later it began raining.  Brilliant flashes of lightning followed us around the course as rain pummeled us and thunder rumbled in the distance.  It was a run under end-of-days skies with just enough swiftness and ominous build up to make you think God finally had enough of us down here, but at the last moment thought better of it.  It was the most hardcore run I've had in a long time.

I don't have any running friends.  Not a single one.  I spend so much time running alone that it was nice to have a running partner to talk to last night.  Upcoming races, training, whatever comes to the runner's mind.  Suze just started running last November and is already planning to run the Philly Marathon this November.

Hardcore indeed.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Crazy Town

Crazy Town is not a real place.  It's a state of mind achieved when external forces and physical exertion create a perfect storm of half-baked daftness.  Crazy Town is achieved on days like today:

Some people ask me what I think about when I'm running for extended periods of time. Unfortunately, the truth is a bit... strange.  The outskirts of Crazy Town appear early on an 8 mile run with a simple refrain:

Stacy's mom has got it going on.
She's all I want, and I've waited for so long.

If I could tell you why "Stacy's Mom," the Grammy-nominated, 2003 one hit wonder from Fountains of Wayne entered my head out of nowhere, then I might be smart enough not to go running during a heatwave in the first place.  It was bad enough listening to the song's chorus loop through my head on repeat, but it got worse when I started substituting things around me for the real lyrics.

That water fountain has got it going on
That crazy goose has got it going on
That beefy guy rocking the 80's Walkman has got it going on
That broken water fountain has not got it going on...

And so on and so forth, ad nauseam, until the end of the 8 miles.

Welcome to Crazy Town.  Enjoy your stay.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Article on barefoot running

There is an article in today's New York Times that focuses on the barefoot trend in running right now and the science behind it.  Proponents argue that when humans ran thousands of years ago to chase down dinner on the savannah, they didn't wear anything on their feet.  People who are prone to running injuries, therefor, can thank their over-designed shoes for what ails them, and can forgo the injuries by returning to the basics.

Given my rant on running shoes last week, you might think I'd be in favor of the barefoot running movement, but here's my response: I will never become a barefoot runner for the same reason I will never become a Paleo eater (another trend sweeping the fitness world right now).  I believe in the saying, "If it ain't broke, don't try to fix it."  In this case, I mean that literally.

Aside from the usual minor aches and pains incurred in a 60 mile training week, I have never experienced a running injury.  No shin splints, no IT band issues, no pulled muscles, no blisters and no lost toenails.  Why switch to barefoot running, or Vibrams, if I'm doing just fine with the shoes I have?  So once again, I'll just stick with whatever is cheap and comfortable and leave it at that.

Now excuse me while I go find a piece of wood to knock on.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Heaven in a glass

The temperature is slowly rising again here in New Jersey, but I still managed 8 miles in the heat today.  I imagine by week's end, when temperatures hit triple digits, running outside will be worse than being a contestant on a Japanese game show.  While watching Twilight.  With the sound turned down and Gilbert Gottfried doing all of the voices.  But not by much.

When I finished running, I drank about four gallons of Gatorade.  Still not satiated, I created this in the blender:

Ladies and gentlemen, I have been to heaven, and it is made of mango-peach smoothies.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Movie Monday XVIII

This is what the Movie Monday series is all about.  It's another video from the guy who brought you this one, and is one of the most inspiring videos I've ever seen; I literally got chills the first time I watched it.

Watch Heather Dorniden race at the Big 10 Indoor Track Championships in 2008.  Watch her trip and fall with one lap to go.  And as the drums from the music kick in, watch what happens next.

"This is what all races are about.  This is what life is about."

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Baja Fresher

16 miles this afternoon gave me a hankering for burritos.  Not the fast-food kind, stuffed with God knows what, but the homemade kind:

Wheat tortilla, chicken with spices, tomatoes, avocado, onions, cheese, black beans, pinto beans, sour cream, yellow squash and zucchini.  Serve with skim milk and a dash of mold.

Man vs. Burrito

Does a body good.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

The great mold invasion

Here's a fun fact: apparently my apartment has mold.  My roommate has been suffering from allergies and other ailments over the past few months, and his doctor suggested he set up a mold test.  It came back positive:

Hope you weren't eating just now.

Our landlord doesn't have the money to properly fix the problem, and my roommate wants to leave at the end of this month, skipping out on the last two months of the lease.

Is it in anyway gross that I want to stay?  I love this apartment and its location, and I have yet to notice any mold-related symptoms at all.

This could get interesting...

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Philly Beer Week

I'm less than three weeks out from the marathon, and if you know me, you know that means I'm once again abstaining from alcohol.  Losing the booze.  Off the sauce.  Dodging the grog.  You get the idea.  Why?  I find it helps me stay focused, cut weight, and save money.  Last fall I didn't touch it for almost two months.  This spring I'm being a bit more sensible and keeping it to just under a month.

Not to paint myself as a drunkard, but I do enjoy the occasional tipple, if you will.  Which is why it's killing me that tomorrow marks the start of Philly Beer Week.

There are literally hundreds of events going on all over the City of Brotherly Love this week, with beer from all over the nation.  Sigh... Some people have Lent to practice self sacrifice; I have marathon season.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Heat wave

I think all marathoners have a streak of masochism in them.  There is no other way to explain why something so painful should feel so good and keep us coming back for more.  That being said, I'm trying out a rather perverse experiment this summer:

I'm going to see if I can go without air conditioning.  There are several reasons, money and environmental concerns among them, but the one most related to running goes like this: I spent six summers living at camp in the woods.  In those six summers, I lived in a small cabin with screen windows and no air conditioning.  My only contact with air conditioning came when I did paperwork at headquarters.  The human body is highly adaptable, and I simply adapted to the fluctuation in temperature - heatwaves included - and dealt with it.

Last summer I had a terrible time running.  I had trouble with simple four mile runs, and I wonder if it was because I spent all of my time in air conditioning and never gave my body a chance to acclimate.  I'm wondering if I can spend more time outside this summer, then it won't be such a shock to my body every time I go for a run.

New Jersey is currently experiencing its first heat wave of the season right now, and I feel like I'm about to go to sleep in an oven tonight.  We'll see how long this experiment lasts...
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