Thursday, December 31, 2015

2015 mileage

January: 198
February: 231
March: 281
April: 121.2
May: 159.1
June: 112.3
July: 145.4
August: 210.1
September: 218
October: 235.3
November: 193.3

And December:

52 miles, probably my lowest monthly total in years. The drastic reduction was needed, though, as I've been focusing on high mileage for so long and putting my body through so much.

This means my grand official total for 2015 is 2,156.7 miles, which is definitely a lifetime record.  I can't say if I'll ever try to beat this mark, but if I do, it won't be in 2016.

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Top 10 running experiences of 2015

And so we find ourselves at the end of another year, and so it's time to reflect on the best running experiences of the last 365 days.  It was an epic year of running.  365 days of runs. Trail runs.  Beach runs.  Pavement runs.  Three marathons.  Two new PR's.  Over two thousand miles.  There are so many memories from this past year, but here, in no particular order, are my top ten:

When: September 9th
Where: Haddonfield, NJ
Post: They say it's my birthday

My birthday happened to fall on a Wednesday this year.  While we celebrated with friends at my favorite Belgian Tavern in Philly on Saturday, I spent my actual birthday running a very sweaty seven miles with the gang from Who's Up?  Stevie also surprised me by lining up a babysitter and coming along for the run, then presenting me with a cookie cake afterwards. Beer, running, wife, friends, cookie cake, and more beer.  All at the Haddonfield Running Company.  Everything I love in this world all at once.

When: August 10th
Where: South Beach, Miami, Florida
Post: The Raven Run of Miami

I had known about Robert "Raven" Kraft for awhile, the man who has run 8 miles on South Beach every day for the last 40+ years, and on a trip down to meet the in-laws, I finally got my chance to meet and run with him.  He was one of the kindest, most inspiring and most humble men I have ever met, and I sincerely hope I get a chance to run with him again.  Completing the Raven Run also inspired one of my favorite posts I've ever written.

When: April 20th
Where: Boston, MA
Post: Race Recap and Reflections

The Boston Marathon.  Duh.  Years of dreaming finally yielded to reality on April 20th when I became a part of one of the greatest traditions in sports history.  The years of hard work I put in to earn my spot there only made it better.  It was an incredibly tough race on a cold, wet and windy day, but one I will undoubtedly remember for years to come.  Seeing my dad, wife and son at the finish line?  The icing on the cake.  Someday when I am old and my body fails me, I will still remember the roar of the crowd on Boylston Street and what it was like to touch greatness.

When: Halloween
Where: Philadelphia, PA
Post: Race recap

At the end of October I ran the Rock 'n' Roll Half Marathon in Philadelphia, which ended up being one of the most perfect races I have ever done.  It was one of those days that all runners dream about in which everything comes together for a perfect race.  The weather was perfect, the course was flat, my energy and confidence were high and my pace felt effortless for most of the race.  I ended up finishing with a PR by over three minutes, my first PR in the half marathon in over four years.

When: September 27th
Where: Philadelphia
Post: What it's like to run in Popeadelphia

Pope Francis came to town and shut down the entire city for days leading up to his arrival.  I had 18 miles scheduled for Sunday and decided to take advantage of car free streets by running from my front door across the Ben Franklin Bridge, all around Center City, and then back home.  The entire city was one giant militarized playground, and this run was most likely a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

When: April 6th
Where: Berlin, Germany
Post: The Brandenburg Gate

In April I led a trip for ten of my students to Germany, just as I was heading into the taper for Boston Marathon training.  While in Berlin, I woke up well before my students to run 14 miles around the city.  Training while traveling is always difficult, even more so when leading a bunch of teenagers around a foreign country, and this ended up being the only decent run of the trip.  But it was about as perfect as a solo long run could ever be.  The sun had just come up, there was a spring chill in the air, and I had major tourist attractions completely to myself, including the amazing Brandenburg Gate.

When: August 23rd
Where: Palmerton, PA

At the end of August I completed an item on my running bucket list: run a naked 5k.  I had to drive an hour and a half to get there, and not only did I go through with it and actually run a race in the buff, but I ended up winning the whole thing.  It was certainly one of the stranger and more unique experiences of my running life.

When: March 5th
Where: South Jersey

I ran a lot last winter.  Over 800 miles.  All in preparation for my first Boston Marathon.  But without access to a treadmill, I was forced to do all of my runs outside.  This meant running through some insane winter weather, including one snowstorm that dumped almost a foot of snow on South Jersey.  Running in the snow doesn't make for a terribly efficient training run, but I will take the unsteady footing and cold and wet clothes if it means getting to run through a forest with every last twig covered in snow.  The breathtaking beauty and the otherworldly quiet bring this specific run into the top ten.

When: December 23rd
Where: Atlanta, GA

I was already in the middle of a hellish travel experience on my way down to the Florida Keys for Christmas.  With a mere 15 minutes to make a connecting flight, and with the prospect of spending Christmas Eve alone in Atlanta as a very real consequence, I broke into a dead sprint through the Atlanta Airport and made my flight with a mere two minutes to spare.  It was very clear that were I not a runner, there is no way I would have made that flight, and it was oddly satisfying to see all those  years of training had paid off.

When: May 10th
Where: Cherry Hill, NJ
Post: Finding Neverland Race Report

Stevie and I had technically run one race before this, but we didn't run together during that one, and Neale wasn't even a twinkle in my eye at that point.  This was a first as a family.  It was a poorly organized race, but we stuck together the whole time and stayed for mimosas afterwards.  I loved sharing running with my family, and hope it is the first of more races we complete in the future.

Monday, December 28, 2015

2015 goals revisited

I did terribly on my 2015 goals, but I'm at peace with it.  Looking back, I realize that a lot of them were just kind of thrown against the wall to see which ones would stick, which may not be the most efficient way to set goals.  I'm not even sure I'm going to set any goals for 2016 other than transferring a few from this list onto next year.

So let's take a look back:

1. Run 2,015 miles: Completed.  This was probably my biggest goal of the year and one I focused on the most.  I'll have to tally up the entire year's total and put it in a future post.

2. Run the Boston Marathon: Completed. As I mentioned in my post setting up my 2015 goals, this was more of a life goal that just happened to fall this year.

3. Run a 50 miler: Uncompleted.  I think the intention here was to combine a fall 50 miler with my next goal, but it's clear I bit off more than I could chew.  I still want to run a 50 miler someday; I think the experience of running so long through the woods would be very spiritual, but I would probably have to make this the main goal in a given year and not thrown in with a bunch of other goals.

4. Run across the state of NJ: Uncompleted.  For awhile I planned to do this in December after completing the Philadelphia Marathon since my mileage and endurance would already be high, but I wanted to make sure I gave my shin time to properly heal, so I ended up drastically reducing my mileage right after the marathon.

5. PR my beer mile time: Uncompleted.  This one should have been easy, but I just never got around to doing a beer mile this year.  They're tricky, though, seeing as they aren't exactly legal, in the strictest sense of the term.

6. PR my half marathon time: Completed.  Ran a 1:26:05 at the Rock 'n' Roll Philadelphia half Marathon on Halloween.  It was a very zen race in that all the planets aligned for a perfect race in which everything felt effortless.

7. Run a sub 3:00 marathon: Uncompleted.  Sigh... this one still stings.  I spent all fall waking up at 4am to train like a madman and gave it my all at the Philadelphia Marathon in November, but came up short by just over a minute.

8. Continue to make running friends, both in my immediate community as well as online: Completed.  This one is a bit of grey area.  I definitely continued to hang out with my Wednesday night running/beer crew, and made more of an effort to connect with other runners online, but let's just say I'm becoming a bit disillusioned with the running blogosphere and its attendant social media nonsense... Perhaps a topic for another post.

9. Continue the run streak through 2015: Completed.  Can't stop won't stop.  Over two years and counting now.

10. Run more trail races: Uncompleted. I only ran one trail race this year, and that's the one I do every year (Wissahickon Trail Classic).  The problem is, to get to any trail races requires a lengthy drive, which I'm not always willing to do, especially for a race that I've never done and can't be sure I'll enjoy.

11. Run a Spartan Race: Uncompleted.  I was signed up for the Spartan Race just before the Philly Marathon but backed out due to my shin.  Fortunately I had gotten free entry from the Spartan PR team so I didn't lose any money on that one.


1. Publish a piece of writing: Uncompleted.  Someday...

2. Travel to a country and/or state I've never been to before: Uncompleted.  Plenty of time, but never enough money.

3. Continue to spend time with Stevie and Neale: Completed.  Another grey area.  We spent a lot of time together over the summer when I wasn't working, but in the fall, between my teaching job and my running, and Stevie's two plays, quality time was sparse.  This is one reason I'm not going to do a marathon in 2016 and Stevie doesn't have any upcoming shows.

And there you have it.  5 out of 11 goals on my running list and 1 out of 3 on the non-running list.  If I do set any goals for 2016, it will probably be a smaller list.

How did you do on your goals?

Sunday, December 27, 2015

The airport sprint

Sitting in the teachers' room on the last day before winter break, conversation naturally veered towards plans for the holidays.  I mentioned to my co-workers that I was headed to the Florida Keys that afternoon to spend Christmas with my in-laws.  I was looking forward to this, but I could certainly do without traveling at one of the busiest times of the year.  At this, one of my co-workers chimed in.

"I love flying during Christmas!  Everyone is on their way to see someone they love, so everyone is in a good mood, and I can sit and relax with a book and people watch and enjoy the atmosphere."  His eyes practically glazed over after imagining such personal bliss.

I thought about my co-worker the following morning when I finally reached the Keys, sans luggage, after 18 hours of travel, resolving this year to slap him in the face the first chance I get when back in New Jersey.

I arrived at the Philadelphia Airport at 12:30, a full four hours before my plane departed because that was the only time I could get a ride from a friend.  My flight was then delayed an hour before we ever even boarded.  Once in the air, the captain came on the intercom every ten or twenty minutes explaining another delay that kept us from landing in Atlanta. Eventually all of these delays in the air caused an unplanned stop in Chattanooga to refuel.

After a half hour of sitting in Tennessee, the captain came on the intercom again.  "Yeah folks, looks like this airport only has one fuel truck, and it was accidentally sent to the wrong airplane, so we'll have to wait for it to come back."

After nearly two hours, we took off again and landed in Atlanta at 11pm.  I had long since missed my connection, but Delta's app told me there was one more flight for the night.  There was only only one catch: it left in 15 minutes.  Knowing it was the only available flight for the next 24 hours, I rebooked myself as we taxied to the gate and told my seatmate I was going for it.  

"Do you think you'll make it?" he asked, doubt in his voice.

"I'm a very good runner," was my only reply.  "I'm also very modest," I should have added.

I shot off the plane towards the departures screen and groaned when I saw the connecting flight was in a different terminal.  With the straps of my backpack battened down close to my body, I stormed down the terminal towards the escalators.  The airport was near empty, save for a group of guys who whooped and hollered and offered high fives as I drew near.

Onto the shuttle.  Up another flight of escalators.  Down the length of another terminal.  I pulled up beside another guy doing the same maniacal sprint I was and exclaimed, "well this is exciting!" before edging him out at the boarding gate desk.  The woman at the counter looked my name up, issued me a boarding pass, and I staggered, panting, onto the boarding ramp.  About two minutes later she closed and locked the gate.

There were no age group awards for this race.  No post race water or bananas.  No medals and no finishers' shirt.  But there was the satisfaction of finally having found a practical application to all those hours spent training to hone my speed and endurance.  And that felt incredible.

We spent another hour sitting on the plane before take off due to more odd delays.  I knew I wouldn't arrive in Fort Lauderdale until 2am at this point, and not make the drive down to the Keys until the morning.  And I knew that because my connection had been so close, the carry-on they made me check in Philadelphia would most likely be stuck in Atlanta for another day or two.  

But none of this mattered.  Knowing that I wouldn't be spending Christmas Eve away from my wife and son was all that did.

Friday, December 25, 2015

Merry Christmas!

We're down in Florida celebrating Christmas in the Keys for the second year in a row.  From my family to yours, thanks for reading and have a very merry Christmas!

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

On the marathon and American manhood

Elizabeth Gilbert writes in her book The Last American Man,
"Briefly, the history of America goes like this: there was a frontier, and then there was no longer a frontier.  It all happened rather quickly.  There were Indians, then explorers, then settlers, then towns, then cities.  Nobody was really paying attention until the moment the wilderness was officially tamed, at which point everyone wanted it back.  Within the general spasm of nostalgia that ensued... there came a very specific cultural panic, rooted in the question What will become of our boys?
The problem was that, while the classic European coming-of-age story generally featured a provincial boy who moved to the city and was transformed into a refined gentleman, the American tradition had evolved into the opposite.  The American boy came of age by leaving civilization and striking out toward the hills.  There, he shed his cosmopolitan manners and became a robust and proficient man.  Not a gentleman mind you, but a man."
It's in our cultural heritage that a man is not truly a man unless he has endured hardship, unless he has experienced something in life and come out on the other side better for it.  In earlier generations of America, this could mean anything from striking out for the frontier to going to war.

But what could that be in today's society?  Examine American culture today and it's easy to conclude how much of it is built around the idea of comfort.  Today, one isn't truly a man until he can show it off in the form of appliances and air conditioning and the perfect car and everything Apple has ever sold; basically anything that takes the hard work out of life.  Hard work of the physical variety is just not sought out any more.  In short, material possessions and the comfort they bring have laid claim to American manhood.

Worse still, American culture lacks a coming-of-age ritual, and young adults are left to find what they can to mark the passing into adulthood.  Left with no alternative, most are simply retreating to the couch to binge watch Netflix, eat take-out and complain and/or brag about life on social media.  Succumbing to the cultural zeitgeist is an antidote to the idea that one should do something with one's life.  Something important and something grand that lays the foundation for a successful future.

Can the marathon be that ritual?  Can the months of hard work, pain, and sacrifice lead one to a higher plane of existence?  If the second running boom of the last decade is anything to go by, it seems many Americans are answering this with a resounding yes.  It seems that the marathon can serve as catharsis and ritual to those of all genders and ages.

Those who have run a marathon will recognize the pain involved, pain so acute and so dramatic for being self-inflicted that it's a miracle anyone ever does two of these things.  The word itself conjures images of both physical and emotional pain, and while hardship of any kind does not exactly equate to pleasure, there is pleasure to be found there all the same.

Pleasure in pain.  Not quite a new concept, but still mind boggling to the non-marathoner. Why does the marathon hold such appeal to me, and so many others?  Why do we insist on making such dire sacrifices, training like Olympians for such minimal gains?  Why do we endure the pain for a space blanket and the same medal 20,000 other people get?  Where exactly does the pleasure come from?

There is something to be said for those who willingly endure hardship.  There is personal glory to be found in taming the wilderness; not so much the literal wilderness fawned over in American literature, but that found within.  It allows everyone to play both the person in need of rescuing and the rescuer, to be the hero in their own journey.  To pull themselves from the depths of their lives and rise to the next level.

This begs the question: am I more of a man since I ran my first marathon at the age of 24?  I'd like to think so, yes.  I'd like to think that the marathon indeed made me more robust and proficient, that it taught me to deal with pain, both physical and emotional, that I now understand the idea of sacrifice and hard work to achieve something difficult.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

The strange case of Mr. Michael Rossi part 2

Click here to read part 1.

When we last left off with Mr. Rossi, he was about to be investigated by the Via Marathon to determine whether he had, in fact, cheated in their race to qualify for Boston.  To the chagrin of message board posters world wide, Rossi was not disqualified, and that seemed to be that.

As it turns out, though, this is one of the best running stories of 2015, and the saga just won't quit.

Perhaps incensed by the lack of justice, the creators of, the website that first broke the story of Rossi's alleged cheating, decided to up the ante in July:

Can't run a 3:11 marathon?  No problem. offered to pay him $10,000 if he ran sub 70 minutes in a 10 miler or sub 20 minutes in a 5k.

Nothing seemed to come of it, though, and so I lost interest in the story, stopped reading the message boards and went about my life.  Again, that seemed to be that.

Fast forward to Thanksgiving when Rossi entered a 5k turkey trot with the apparent intention of running a sub 20.  Which turkey trot?  The very same one I ran: the Haddon Township Turkey Trot.  Turns out I ran the same race as the scourge of the running community himself, though the coincidence isn't that enormous given that Rossi does live in the Philadelphia area and apparently grew up in Haddon Township.

I had no idea he had run in the race until the following day when I received a message on Twitter from Tony Rigdon asking if I had noticed him.  I ran a 19:39, and Rossi a 20:25, and apparently Tony was contacting those who had finished within a few minutes of Rossi both ahead of and behind him.  Something was rotten in Haddon Township, it would seem.

Over the next week, Haddon Township became the 21st Century Dealey Plaza, with the running nerds of dissecting the evidence with the fervor of the Warren Commission.  Though he did not break 20 minutes to collect his $10,000, they are convinced he cheated yet again and are demanding his disqualification from the turkey trot.

Their evidence this time seems a bit flimsier than from the Via Marathon, but I agree something seems fishy.  Apparently Rossi started at the back of the back, leaving a differential of 42 seconds between his chip time and gun time, which he explained away with a shoe malfunction.  But then he somehow weaved around over 700 people on his way to a PR.  He is absent from photos that should show him finishing next to others around his time, and no one recalls seeing him on the course, myself included.

I and others I know who ran the race responded to Tony, and I once again went about my business.  For reasons completely unrelated to the race or Mike Rossi, I decided to unplug from online life for a bit right around this time.  While talking to a guy in Who's Up? last Wednesday, I was clued in that none other than this very blog and my own name had turned up in's world famous message boards during my absence.

Apparently running a 3:01 marathon doesn't impress the Olympians of, and I was even called a hobby jogger:

One of my 8th grade students, who should have finished seconds behind Rossi, was mentioned time and again as a key witness, with some posters wanting to contact him or his parents and one poster even creating a fake account in his name.  All of this, sadly, is only the tip of the iceberg of the bizarre infighting, conspiracy theories and trolling that exists in this message board thread.

It's no surprise that Rossi denied the allegations again, deleted several tweets and later his entire Twitter account.

And that about brings us to the end of part 2 of this saga, but knowing Mike Rossi's love of the limelight and penchant for feeding the trolls, I have no doubt there will be a part 3.  I just hope I'm not a part of it.

Monday, November 30, 2015

November mileage

The year's mileage so far:

January: 198
February: 231
March: 281
April: 121.2
May: 159.1
June: 112.3
July: 145.4
August: 210.1
September: 218
October: 235.3

And November:

193.3 for the month of November, which brings me to 2,104.7 miles for the year.

I'm finished with most of my running goals for the year, so December will be a simple month of little running while I recover from a high mileage year while maintaining the streak.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Marathon Man by Bill Rodgers

Want an engaging read about the running scene of 1970's New England?  Of course you do! Then look no further than Marathon Man by the marathon man himself, Bill Rodgers:

First a little background: Bill Rodgers was a New England road runner who dominated 1970's marathoning, and was most famous for his four wins apiece at the Boston and New York City Marathons.  He has won major marathons on five continents, finishing a total of 60, and now spends a lot of time doing guest speaking stints at marathons around the country, including the Philadelphia Marathon.  I saw him speak in 2013 and again at this year's marathon where I met him and bought his book.

The majority of the book toggles back and forth between a detailed description of his first win at Boston in 1975 when he was still an unknown in the sport, to his days as a high school and college student and a conscientious objector during the Vietnam War.  About 3/4 of the way through, the book finally moves into a straightforward linear narrative that goes on to describe his meteoric rise and the ups and downs of his subsequent career in road racing.

If you've ever seen Bill Rodgers speak, you'll know he has undiagnosed ADHD (which he also mentions in the book), and his book follows a similar pattern of chasing down random thoughts to narrative dead-ends.  Also, the book is absolutely riddled with typos and misspellings, which makes the ornery grammarian in me a tad berserk.  Whoever edited this thing should be fired.

Here's the thing, though: I don't care about the writing.  The story is just that compelling.

In addition to a memoir of a running legend, it's a fascinating account of what runners had to do back then just to make a living.  The Boston Marathon did not dole out the hundreds of thousands to its winners that it does today. Winners back then received the famous laurel wreath and a bowl of beef stew.  Most road races of that era had similarly ridiculous prizes. Rodgers describes one race in which the winner received a new set of car tires.  Because he didn't own a car, he offered them to the second place finisher, who also didn't own a car.  The tires made their way down the line of runners until finally finding someone who could actually use them.  Guys were out there every weekend killing themselves for the sake of random household appliances.

This is how the Amateur Athletic Union wanted it back then.  Runners who wished to compete in the Olympics were denied the professional and commercial support of their counterparts in other countries, and were forced to receive appearance fees under the table just to make a living.  To the AAU, protecting the integrity of the sport meant forcing elite athletes to live a spartan life of training and hardship while trying to compete against the best the world had to offer.

Yet Rodgers and his counterparts of the era doggedly persisted in the name of competition and honing their skills.  He goes on to describe taking eight guys from his Greater Boston Track Club down to the Philadelphia Marathon in 1974, driving down back roads to avoid paying tolls and all eight sleeping in one hotel room.  Rodgers won the race the following morning, after which they all piled back into the car and slowly made their way back north.  I love that.

I think in order to be a part of any community, it's important to understand the history behind it and to recognize the pioneers that forged the path before you.  That's why I love this book, because it shows me a deeper understanding of the man that is Bill Rodgers and what he did for this sport.

From the man himself: let's run forever.

Scott, fellow teacher; world's greatest profession - Let's Run Forever! - Bill Rodgers

Saturday, November 28, 2015

2015 Haddon Township Turkey Trot race recap

Ran the Haddon Township Turkey Trot this morning, one of my favorite races of the year because it's in the town where I teach and I usually know about half the race field.  The fact that it finishes at a bar helps too...

Here are some recaps from previous years:


My dad runs it, several of my students run it, people from Who's Up? run it... always lots of friendly faces and always a good time.

It's a great race for a PR because it's at the end of the fall running season, the course is completely flat, and the weather is usually always perfect.

Here we are this morning at the start:

I wasn't even sure if I was going to race this morning or not as I'm still recovering from last Sunday's marathon.  All week I've felt slight pain in my left shin, right knee and just overall fatigue, so I decided to leave the decision until this morning.  When I woke up feeling ok, I decided to race but to take it easy.

Moments before the start
Photo by Don Licorish

I tried not to worry about the pace of those around me and just run my own race, telling myself I would be ok if I came in over 20 minutes (usually my gauge for race performance in a 5k), so I was surprised to pass the first mile marker in 6:14.  Nothing was bothering me so I just tried to keep up the pace.  I was pushing it but not to the brink of exhaustion like in some 5k's.

I passed one of my eighth grade students.  I passed two guys in Who's Up?.  I entered the final stretch and took out a few more runners.  I don't care if I just ran a 3:01 marathon six days ago, I just can't kill that competitive drive I get in shorter distances.

Final stats:

24th overall (out of 742 finishers)
4th in age group (30-34)

We hadn't entered Who's Up? as a team (I don't even know if they had a team competition in this race) which is a shame because we would have cleaned up.  Huge congrats to Robin who won the overall women's race, and a slew of others who won age group awards.

The race conveniently finishes at The Pour House and offers a large complimentary breakfast (beers unfortunately not included) so we camped out upstairs for a few hours after the race.

Nothing like drinking beer at 10 in the morning (and then sitting on the bar to pose for a picture) to celebrate the holiday season.

My dad and I also got our traditional picture under the Pour House sign:

Also, check out Liz's recap of the race here.  She took third in her age group and won a sweet mason jar.  I also stole one of her photos that her dad took.

Here's to a great year of running and a great season of racing, to great running friends and to long-winded race recaps.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

2 year streakiversary

In addition to today being Thanksgiving, in addition to eating so much that I felt like I ruptured internal organs, in addition to spending quality time with my extended family out in West Chester, PA, today I hit yet another milestone in my life of running.

Today I went for a one mile run, thereby completing two years of running every single day.  I started this streak after the marathon two years ago when I decided I wanted a new type of running challenge, so I started the Runner's World Holiday Run Streak and just never stopped.

To be honest I rarely even think about the streak anymore.  It's such an ingrained part of my life, so much a daily habit on par with brushing my teeth or going to work in the morning that it doesn't require much thought.  At most a mile will take me 10 or 11 minutes.  I can easily find 11 minutes in a day to get a mile done.  The rest of the time I'm training for one race or another, and the streak just takes care of itself.

Compared to setting new PR's in various distances, the streak is a pretty low-key goal, one that doesn't require a lot of effort in upkeep.  For now, I plan to keep the streak going as long as I'm physically able.

So who wants to go streaking with me?!

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

How to run your fastest marathon ever and still be disappointed

Last Sunday I finished the 2015 Philadelphia Marathon in a personal record of 3:01:06.  It was the fastest I've ever covered 26.2 miles on foot by a minute and 59 seconds, yet I still came away from the race with a feeling of disappointment because I failed to run under three hours.

This is not to say that I didn't rejoice in my physical capabilities or marvel at the triumph of the human spirit.  I didn't exactly hang my head in shame afterwards or cry myself to sleep that night.  On the contrary, I drank some awesome beers with my awesome dad and some awesome running friends and laughed the morning away.

But the disappointment was still there.

I do get how silly this comes across, especially to non-runners.  It's an arbitrary time, one that I picked, and without any concrete rewards beyond the title of "sub 3 marathoner." The time I did run was a two minute PR, and as I mentioned three weeks ago, PR's at my age are becoming harder and harder to come by.  Two years ago I was ecstatic to have run 3:03:05, and now I've bettered that time yet feel disappointed.  It doesn't make sense and I know that.

The disappointment isn't just with the time goal.  But before we get into that, let's reflect on race strategy first.

I had a distinctly different race strategy from two years ago.  In 2013 I wrote all of the mile splits on my arm that I needed to hit in order to run a 3:05.  At each mile marker I compared the splits on my arm with the time on my watch, and as long as I stayed under, I just kept doing what I was doing.  This resulted in me going out too fast for the first few miles and hanging on for dear life towards the end.

This year I wanted to run consistent 6:50 miles while saving some juice for the kick at the end. I wanted to negative split the race.  So my plan was to keep an eye on my pace on my Garmin and try to run as evenly as possible.  As mentioned in my race report, I had a really tough time locking into a consistent pace.  I ended up looking at my Garmin far more often than I should have, stressing over how slow or fast I was running, which may have added to my erratic pace.  This may have also caused me to lose concentration on running the tangents and veer too far off.  In 2013 I ran 26.23, but this year it was 26.43.

The problem with the marathon is that there are so many factors that go into a performance, good or bad, that it's sometimes hard to isolate exactly what helped or hindered during the race.

I think it's clear that one of the biggest factors in this particular race was the wind.  I've never experienced wind like that in a race before.  But how much can I realistically blame my performance on it?  30 seconds?  A minute?  When do I stop searching for external factors to blame and concentrate on myself?

This brings us to just why I'm so disappointed.  One of the biggest factors contributing to my disappointment is how I performed in the last few miles of the race.  Now, the casual observer will note that I kept going in those final miles, kept pushing despite the realization that my A goal had slipped away.  I didn't quit.

But you see, in a way I did.  In those final miles, as I did the math in my head, I knew it was going to be close.  But at some point I gave up the fight.  And it absolutely kills me now to think back to those miles and know I let the fight inside of me die.  I never once said to myself, "This is hard, but I can do this."  My two amazing pacers, Robin and Kim who had jumped in at mile 23.5, kept telling me I could do it, and in response I just kept spitting back in their faces, "I'm not going to make it."  I let the pain win and accepted that I wasn't going to run sub 3, and might have imploded entirely were it not for them.

They say the marathon is a metaphor for life, and so it's disheartening to know just how easily I gave up.  To confront the fact that I may not be as strong as I think is a humbling feeling.

I've gotten a lot of nice comments, tweets, texts and Facebook messages over the last few days, all of them proud of what I did and some of them assuring me the elusive sub 3 marathon is just around the corner.  But the truth is, I highly doubt it.

Most marathoners peak at the age of 35, give or take a year.  That means, at best, I only have a few years left to make good on the sub 3 goal.  But the truth is I'm tired of training at the level I do, literally and figuratively.  It's exhausting and quite frankly detrimental to my own sanity and the health of my family.  While I would certainly like to do more marathons in the future, I just don't think I have it in me to train at this level again.  This last training cycle was meant to be one last hurrah.  I went into this marathon knowing it would likely be my one and only shot at sub 3, and I came up short by a mere 67 seconds.

Despite the gloom of this post, I still feel proud of what I accomplished.  Proud of my running journey and what I've overcome to get to where I am.  Grateful to those who have helped me along the way.  

I am humbled by running, but above all, I'm still excited about it and all it offers, excited to share it with friends and family, to see where it takes me in the future.  With or without a sub 3 marathon.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Challenge complete - 2,015 miles in 2015

Last year I set the goal to run 2,014 miles over the course of the year.  This goal derailed at the end of August with the birth of my son, and I ended up finishing 2014 with only 1,676.8 miles.  As my wife put it, it was too bad we're not living in the 1600's.

I was disappointed to not reach this goal, but like with most goals, I just decided to try again. Bring on 2,015 miles in 2015.  It was a pleasant surprise to discover an official challenge launched by the folks behind Run the Edge (Tim Catalano and Adam Goucher).  Participants were able to team up with others or complete the challenge solo, and miles could be logged by walking, running, or doing the elliptical.  Like in 2014, I opted to do the challenge solo.  I also only wanted to count running miles, which would all be outside.

The primary feature of the challenge was a Facebook group with over 17,000 supportive and informative runners all over the world.

Well, in addition to completing the Philadelphia Marathon on Sunday, I also officially crossed the finish line of this challenge.

That's 2,015 miles, all run outside through all kinds of weather.  I ran through snow, sleet, rain, humidity, heat, and cold.  As early as 4:30 in the morning and as late as 11:30 at night.  On snow, dirt, pavement, asphalt, tracks, sand and grass.  On the beaches of South Florida. Through the suburbs of South Jersey.  In the hills of Ithaca, NY.  On the city streets of Berlin and Munich. In big city races and small town races and even a Pennsylvania nudist resort.  I ran with my local running/beer club and completely by myself.  I ran every single day, sometimes logging as little as one mile, occasionally logging 26.2.

It is incredibly satisfying to not only complete a goal that I missed the first time around, but to look back and remember all it took to accomplish it.

Run the Edge is offering the same challenge in 2016 with a completely revamped website and brand new participant perks.  I won't be taking part next year since I need a break from high mileage, but I highly recommend this challenge to anyone looking for a long term and different kind of running goal.

As their slogan goes, get out there and make fit happen.

Monday, November 23, 2015

2015 Philadelphia Marathon race report

I'll try to keep this one to the facts and save the emotion for a separate post.

Quick stats:

13th marathon
6th Philadelphia Marathon
3rd marathon in 2015
Finishing time: 3:01:06 (PR)

Here goes the long version...


The race was set to begin at 7am.  I woke up at 4am and showered, which I always do before a big race to wake up and loosen up the muscles.  I got to the train station in time for the 4:40 train into Philly and arrived at the entrance to the secure zone around 5:20 and breezed right through security.  I'm told the security line stretched a half mile long as it got closer to the race start, so thankfully I showed up early.

I made it to the starting line by 5:30 and just sat around by gear check for awhile since I didn't want to warm up for the race so early.  I would have run up and down the art museum steps to psych myself up for the race, but there were about 400 security fences in the way.

At about 6 I started getting ready.  I taped my nipples (using duct tape, natch), applied Body Glide, stuffed Gu packets into my shorts pockets, and stripped down to what I would be wearing at the start: shorts, shirt, throwaway hoodie, gloves and hat.  I handed my bag into gear check and got in line for a port-a-potty, then ran about a half mile warmup and did some dynamic stretches.

To my horror, around 6:35 I realized I still had to go to the bathroom, but the lines were outrageous at this point and I never would have started the race on time.  I walked around and found a small group of port-a-potties hidden away with only a small line, but after getting in line I found out these were only for elites.  A large and loud woman started yelling at runners to show their bibs and that only elites were allowed in this line.  I managed to hide behind two other runners as she came by and was able to use the port-a-potty here after all.

Once in my corral I had to endure the usual banter between the MC, Mayor Nutter and other people onstage.  I really wish the Philadelphia Marathon would consider just playing music before the start.  They then announced that the start would be delayed due to a car accident somewhere up on the course.  Great.  I love getting myself psyched to start a race only to have it be delayed by 15 minutes (no I don't).

The Start

They sang the French national anthem to honor those affected by last weekend's terrorist attacks in Paris, then the American national anthem, then the wheelchair division started, then the elites, then my corral - the maroon corral.

The first mile was a nightmare.  My garmin told me I was doing a 6:28 pace, which I found hard to believe, then beeped well before the first mile marker.  This completely threw me off my game, and I ended up having pacing issues for the entire race.  I just could not keep a steady pace.  I would look down at my watch and see I was going way below a 6:50 pace, so I would slow down, only to see a second later that I was doing a 7:18 pace.

Mile 5

By mile 5 I could already feel a twinge in my shin, and around the same time I started to feel the familiar pain of a side stitch under my right rib, same as the half marathon three weeks ago.  Great.  So this is how it's going to be.

I saw a few people from my running club at mile 6, and a few employees from the Haddonfield Running Company at mile 8.  Also, Bryan from Twitter snapped a picture of me around this point.

I was sticking to the plan and keeping within my time goal, but it was anything but smooth and easy, and I was already worried about how I was going to fare in the latter miles.

Mile 10

The worst hills of the course were now behind me, and I knew I would have several miles until the next hill, so I tried to settle into a comfortable pace and take advantage of the relatively flat and straight course.

Around mile 10 I saw Brandon from the South Jersey Athletic Club.  We exchanged a few words and ran together for a few minutes, but he was doing the half and ended up picking up his pace.  I was trying hard to stick to my pacing and save some for the second half of the race, so I stayed behind.

Mile 13.1

Just before the halfway point, the half marathoners veer off to the right to the finish line while the full marathoners head left, past the art museum and out onto Kelly Drive towards Manayunk.  I passed the halfway mark in 1:30:17, which was exactly where I wanted to be.  I was trying to negative split this race, so I wanted to run a slower first half and save some for the latter miles.

At mile 14 I made a tactical decision and stopped to go to the bathroom.  I was surprised that I had to go at all as I hadn't had much to drink that morning and in addition to using the port-a-potties a few hundred times, I had also watered every nearby tree before the start.  I would estimate this cost me about 15 seconds.

Normally this is one of my favorite parts of any Philadelphia race, because gone are the hairpin turns of Center City and the hills of Fairmount Park.  Runners are sufficiently warmed up at this point, but it's still before the real pain begins, so it's easy to lock into a consistent pace.  Most runners hate this section, though, for its lack of spectators, but I enjoy the solitude and the chance to zone out.

But the wind.  I have never felt wind this bad in a race before, including last year's Boston. Heading along the Schuylkill, we were repeatedly smacked in the face with wind gusts coming off the river.  It was torture and incredibly dispiriting.

Mile 17

The worst part of the entire course.  The course ends its pleasant ambling along the river and hangs a sharp left across the Falls Bridge, down an incline, hangs a complete 180 in the middle of the street, then back up the incline and back across the Falls Bridge.

Manayunk (19-21)

The sidestich and the hills took their toll in Manayunk, and I purposefully slowed down to help ease the pain and keep myself in the game, if only for a minute.

I remember loving this section of the race the first few times I ran Philly, because it's one gigantic block party with music and food and screaming spectators lining the sidewalks.  But particularly in yesterday's race, it was all a blur as I was too deep into my own world of pain. My eye was on my watch as I desperately clung to the hope that my goal was still feasible. The math worked out in my head, but just barely.  I ditched my gloves and kept pumping my arms and legs as hard as I could.

Mile 21

I must have caught another wind, because this is when I really thought I could do it.  I was still running a 6:50 pace and knew the headwind coming out to Manayunk would now be a tailwind heading back to the art museum, and the course would level and straighten out again, allowing me to cruise to the finish.  It would be close, but it was doable.

I also knew that I had my two friends meeting me at mile 24, so I began focusing on them.

Imagine my frustration, then, as gusts of wind continued to blow in my face as I headed back. It would appear the wind had changed direction.

Mile 23.5

I had put out the call on Facebook two weeks earlier looking for someone to pace me in the last two miles of the marathon.  The catch was that this person would have to be capable of running two consecutive 6:50 miles, which limited the number of people.  Lo and behold, not one but two of the women from my Wednesday night running group Who's Up? volunteered to help out.

Robin and Kim met me earlier than expected and fell into step with me.  I must have been a peach to be around at this point, muttering monosyllabic complaints and negative thoughts, but both of them continued to tell me I was doing great and that I could make it.  They were an absolute Godsend, and I just can't thank them enough for the help they offered.  While I didn't make my goal of sub 3, I have no doubt I wouldn't have run a PR without them.

I was struggling but still hovering around 7 minute miles.  The math I was doing in my head told me if I kept up a 7 minute pace, I could make it, but I knew the .2 miles at the end would take at least a minute, and that that was probably going to make the difference.

Mile 26

As the crowds thickened and the security fences started, Kim and Robin veered off the course.  I had warned them ahead of time that they wouldn't be able to finish with me, so I knew this was coming.  I had to do the final .2 on my own.

I watched as my watch passed 3 hours with the finish line just around the curve.  Somehow, amidst the hundreds of screaming spectators and the emotion of the moment, I heard my dad call my name as I kept pushing, muscles screaming and all the pain, sacrifice and hard work of the last four months spilling forth onto the course.  I high fived Mayor Nutter as I crossed the line and keeled over, gasping for breath.  It was everything I ever wanted in a marathon finish, only a minute and 7 seconds too slow.

Post Race

After finishing I drank some Gatorade and collected my medal, and wanted to get some food but the line was incredibly crowded with half marathon finishers, so I kept moving.  I did manage to grab a cup of chicken broth and a bottle of some sort of fruit infused water, but no food.

I found my dad at the family reunion area in front of the Franklin Institute where we took some pictures.

Immediately post-race
Photo by Wayne Partenheimer

With my dad at Logan Square
Photo by some guy who recognized me from YouTube

People from my running group were all meeting at nearby Tir Na Nog for drinks, so we stopped in there for a few beers before heading home.  It was a blast hanging out at the bar swapping stories over beers with everyone and celebrating everyone's successes.

At Tir Na Nog with members of Who's Up?
Photo by Wayne Partenheimer

My first beer in 2 months!
Photo by Wayne Partenheimer

With my amazing pacers, Kim and Robin
Photo by Wayne Partenheimer

I was a little disappointed that I missed my goal, and by such a close margin, but I'll get more into why in the next post.

At the end of the day, I still ran 26.2 miles faster than I ever have before in my life, and got to bond with my dad and running friends afterwards.  Four months of hard work ended not in disappointment, then, but with laughter and friends and good beer.  Success.

And with that, the 2015 Philadelphia Marathon comes to a close.  Thanks for reading.

Photo by Wayne Partenheimer

Saturday, November 21, 2015

2015 Philadelphia Marathon goals and race strategy

So here we are.  The night before my next marathon.  My nerves are a wreck.  Let's talk goals, shall we?


I have three goals for this race tomorrow:

  1. Run a sub 3.
  2. Run under 3:03:05 for a new PR.
  3. Run as far under 3:10 as possible for a 3rd BQ and possible trip back to Boston for 2017. 

I will always love the marathon distance, and this is far from my last one, but the truth is I really want this to be the last one for which I give my all in training.  To be honest I'm tired of the self induced stress over a few measly minutes.

I want this to be my marathon swan song.  I want to go out feeling strong and know I achieved something great.  There is, of course, always the possibility that I will not achieve any of my goals tomorrow, which begs the question: will I be able to come to terms with that?  How will I react?

Here's a fact: I've run the Philadelphia Marathon five times now and have set a PR every single time.

2005: 4:29:47
2006: 4:12:12
2009: 3:30:58
2010: 3:09:45
2013: 3:03:05

What's another three minutes and six seconds?  Let's hope I can keep up this streak tomorrow.

Race Strategy

Bad news.  There is no 3:00 pacer this year, as the first pace group starts at 3:05.  So my plan is going to be to use my garmin and run the first two miles in roughly 7:00.  I'll then bring the time down to 6:50 and try to hold even splits there until the end of the race when I'll try to find another gear to kick into.

The good news is that this year I have two friends who are going to meet me at mile 24 and pace me to the finish.  I know I said this last time and my friend didn't show up, but I trust the two women who volunteered this year to not flake out on me.

The bad news is that both Stevie and Neale won't be there at the finish line, as Stevie had to go down to Florida earlier this year before I meet her there for Christmas.  This took a bit of wind out of my sails when I first found out, but I've had time to accept it.  My dad is coming into the city, though, and it's always great to have his support.

It's going to be a battle tomorrow, that's for sure.  Time to make good on four months of hard work.

I'll catch you on the other side, internet.

Friday, November 20, 2015

2015 Philadelphia Marathon Expo

Race weekend is here!  

I felt crazy with anticipation all day today as I waited for the work day to end so I could take the train over to Philly for the expo.

As soon as 2:30 hit, I biked home to change, then headed to the train station.  Of course I wore my 2005 Philadelphia Marathon shirt, my first ever marathon and the last time they gave out cotton race shirts.

At the expo I picked up my bib and meandered around the booths, sampling various foods and talking with a few race directors.

I was really looking forward to seeing Bill Rodgers talk at 4 o'clock.  He's a legendary marathoner with wins at Boston, New York City, Philadelphia and many other major marathons on his resume.  All told, he's run 60 marathons.  I saw him speak at the expo 2 years ago, and his talk today was much like it was then: unscripted with no visual aids.  He has self-diagnosed ADHD, and his talk veered abruptly from advice to race stories to plugging his book to the current state of marathoning.

I couldn't care less how scatter brained his style of public speaking is, though.  I'm pretty sure that because he seems to talk off the cuff, no two talks of his are ever alike.

He fielded questions at the end, and I couldn't think of anything to ask him, though now I wish I had asked him how he dealt with nerves before a big race.  Now that race weekend is here, the nerves are starting to kick in to the point that I'm fighting back brief waves of nausea.

At any rate, I was first in line at his booth after his talk and bought a copy of his book, Marathon Man and had him sign it.  He was such a nice man and I can't wait to read the book. I'm sure I'll write a review of it soon.

I walked out and took one more picture for good measure, then headed back to the train to go home.

Less than 48 hours until the marathon.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Carbo loading with pasta and lentils

When I have a marathon on Sunday I start carbo loading on Thursday.  Here's what I'm carbo loading with over the next two nights:

Pasta and lentils with Italian sausage and spinach.

I found this recipe online years ago and have been making it every time I feel like an easy dish that I can shovel down quickly.  The original recipe doesn't call for Italian sausage but if you want to take it to the next level, have at it.

  • 1 can tomatoes
  • red pepper
  • garlic
  • Italian sausage
  • salt
  • pepper
  • 1 onion
  • frozen chapped spinach
  • 3/4 package ditalini pasta
  • coriander
  • 1 can lentil soup

Start with the onion and garlic.  Then add the tomatoes and lentils.  Then the spinach.  In separate containers, cook both the pasta and the sausage.  Add them at the end.  Finish off with spices.  Plate and top with parmesan cheese.

Tends to dry out easily, but add some chicken broth when reheating leftovers.  Works like a charm.

I had this for dinner tonight and will eat leftovers for tomorrow, stuffing my veins with carbohydrates for optimal performance on Sunday.
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