Saturday, February 28, 2015

February mileage

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

January: 197
February: 231.

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

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

Only a month and a half until Boston!

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

400 miles

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

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

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

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

Mmm... Philly beer.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Movie Monday: Shalane's 2015 Boston Marathon

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

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

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

Sunday, February 22, 2015

DIY Marathoning: The Case Against Training Plans

The other day I entered a fellow runner's Dream Race Weekend giveaway, but I should have known better.  I'm now on his e-mail list and have already received more than one unsolicited e-mail as to why I should sign up for his coaching services.  Each message contains tidbits of his running wisdom, including this pearl:

"Today, I want to expose how being a Team of 1 is particularly destructive to runners."

Sorry, you lost me with that line.

Here's a fact about me: I have run 10 marathons, several half marathons, and races of all other distances, yet I have never in my life followed a training plan or coach.

When I ran my first marathon in 2005 at the age of 24, there wasn't nearly the amount of information available as there is today.  My solution was to simply run as much as I could, increasing my distance bit by bit each day (even this wasn't terribly accurate, as all I had was a stopwatch to keep track of time, not distance).  I hit the wall of the Philly Marathon that year as early as mile 16, and walked/ran the rest to a 4:29:47 finish.

While I was incredibly proud of having finished a marathon, I was also seized by the desire to do better.  I knew I wasn't finished with the marathon yet.  I began chipping away at my time over the years, and it wasn't long before I allowed myself to set the ludicrous goal of qualifying for Boston, that Holy Grail of running accomplishments for average Joes like me.

So how did I manage to knock off almost a full 90 minutes from my marathon debut to my current PR of 3:03:05?

Well, as I said, what I didn't do was follow a training plan.

There are two instances in which a person might follow a training plan:

  1. He is training for his first race at a given distance.
  2. He is training to get faster at a distance he has already raced.

I understand that training for a marathon is a monumental and sometimes scary undertaking for many people, and they want some form of guidance and reassurance as they prepare for the unknown.  But could training for your first marathon truly be as simple as running a little bit farther every day?  If your goal is simply to finish, is a schedule crammed to the rafters with tempo runs, long runs, speed drills and other nonsense really necessary?

Ok, so my questionable strategy allowed me to finish the marathon.  But that brings us to #2. What if you've already run a marathon and want to get faster?  What if, like me, your goal is to join that illustrious club of Boston Qualifiers?

Well, let me explain it like this: I'm a high school German teacher.  That means lots of messy German grammar, such as adjective declensions and syntax that constantly involves throwing random words to the end of a sentence.  When I teach new grammar concepts to my students, I try to avoid the temptation of simply telling them the grammar rule and making them memorize it.  Instead, I expose them to authentic materials: poems, song lyrics, advertisements, children's books, etc.  From there I let them look for patterns and determine the grammar rule on their own before applying it to their own speaking and writing.  I let them learn by doing.

After running my first marathon, each time I entered a new marathon training cycle, I asked myself what realistic, small changes could I make to my training?  With each cycle and accompanying marathon, I learned a little more about myself and how I react to certain aspects of training.  As I continued running marathons, my experience started to count for more than anything a training plan could have ever told me. I started to intuitively understand the marathon distance and what was required to go faster.  The big picture became important, and I began to think of training as a lifestyle rather than just one crossed-off workout after another.  I learned by doing.

The fact is, a random training plan found on the internet or in a book doesn't know you.  It doesn't know your daily responsibilities, your family life, what the weather is like where you live, your preferred pace or your preferred time of day to run.  Blindly following a training plan takes the thinking out of it, which creates a disconnect between what is required to go faster and understanding why that is.  Understanding the why behind something is so important, and getting to that point on your own can be so much more powerful than if someone simply tells you what to do.  Learn by doing.

So what does my training plan look like now?  I run every day because I know my body can handle it (though on Mondays I only do a mile to maintain my run streak and let myself rest).  I do long runs on Sundays.  I eat a varied and mostly healthy diet.  I do strength training and core work.  Above all, my training plan is a fluid one.  I am constantly adjusting mileage and effort as I go to accommodate how my body feels.

I should mention I'm not trying to sell you my training plan.  There is already such a cacophony of advice out there, and most of it is from someone trying to become the next marathon guru or sell you his coaching services.  Take all of this advice with a grain of salt. Yes, including mine.

I'm also not trying to rail against those who follow training plans or coaches.  You have to do what you need to do to reach your goals, and if following a training plan or even spending money on a coach is going to be what gets you there, then go for it.  I'm merely trying to emphasize there is another way.  It takes time and patience, but I am living proof that you can set lofty goals, goals you have no business setting, and still reach them.  And yes, you can still reach them as a team of 1.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

8 miles in the snow

What do you do when you've spent all day on your feet with a fussy baby, there are six inches of snow on the ground and more falling, and it's going to be dark in a half hour, but you have eight miles of running to do?

You pour yourself a hot chocolate, lace it with Bailey's and settle into the couch for a rigorous session of Netflix.


Ha.  You must be new here.

No, instead you suck it up and go running.

After.  That's an icicle hanging from my eyebrow.

It was like running 8 miles on a Slip N' Slide.  While I certainly burned a decent amount of calories and got my heart rate moving, I don't know that it was a great marathon training run. Everything about the run was erratic - my pace, my stride, my form, my breathing...

Yes, it was a difficult run, and I probably would have gotten more bang for my buck on the treadmill, but in the end it's 8 more miles down, and 8 miles closer to Boston.

Friday, February 20, 2015

The runner's log

I finally invested in a proper running log for this year.  I still like looking at my mileage on a calendar so I can see each day's total for the month, but now I can also include extra info like time, how I felt, where I ran, and of course the temperature.

I am in awe of how cold it has been this month, and what it takes to run in such low temperatures.  I don't know that I've ever seen the month of February this cold in New Jersey, nor have I ever logged this many miles in the month of February before (I am on track to break 200).

That said, my running log is starting to resemble the diary of someone in a Russian gulag.

Some choice entries:

     "Cold.  Always cold."

     "Another run into the heart of darkness."

     "Too much wind.  Too much running."

     "When will it end?"

Some days I think about how dumb my hobby really is.  But then I remember, just as slogging through the summer humidity makes those runs on perfect fall days seem incredible, so too will these frozen runs make spring runs all the more perfect.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

The coldest day of winter

About a year ago I posted about the worst run of my life; 16 miles in a steady rain and wind with the temperature in the upper 30's.  I ran alone and was cold, wet and miserable the entire time.

Today I almost topped it.

I ran my first 20 miler of the season last Sunday, and wanted to drop back down again this Sunday before jumping up again in March, so I planned 16 today.  Unfortunately, temperatures plummeted last night and I woke up this morning to a rather frosty 9 degrees.

I had a gigantic breakfast (3 scrambled eggs with cheese, potatoes, broccoli, diced tomatoes and spinach mixed in, two pieces of toast and OJ), and waited for the temperature to rise a little.  By 2pm it had only risen a few degrees.  When I finished around 4, it still looked like this:

The 31 mph wind gusts coming off of the Cooper River and Newton Lake were torturous.  The thin layers of ice and snow on parts of the roads were treacherous.  The brilliant winter sun coming off of said snow and ice was blinding.

The long run today was challenging, to say the least.

I am not normally one for mantras, but I found myself repeating several times throughout the run, "I am stronger than winter."  This eventually devolved into a lot of yelling and cursing in the latter miles.  The streets of South Jersey have never known such profanity.

When I finished, I took a picture in the backyard:

Train for a spring marathon, they said.  It'll be fun, they said.

As tough as today's run was, and as much as I lament the fact that the Boston Marathon is in April, necessitating so much mileage in the winter months, I don't think I would have it any other way.  The sense of accomplishment I have after a run like this is incomparable.  And nothing tastes as good as a dark porter after a long, hard winter run.

And tomorrow the relentless forward march of marathon training goes on...

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Where's the beef? Homemade vegan chili

I am a meateater at heart.  In the summer, I am your typical suburban dad who fancies himself the master of the grill.  But at any time of the year, give me a juicy hamburger, a cheesesteak, some bratwurst or a few slices of bacon, and I'll be as happy as a white girl in Starbucks.

But there are still some dishes where I actually prefer the vegetarian option over its meatier counterpart.  This is probably due to my sister who went vegetarian during her sophomore year in college and never looked back, and over the years I've acquired a few recipes from her that I've kept in rotation.  Vegetarian chili is one of them.

Nothing is better in the deep dark of winter than a big vat of steaming hot chili, so I made a batch for a group of friends who stopped by last night.

First step, assemble your ingredients:

  • 1 tablespoon canola oil
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 1 yellow bell pepper, diced
  • 2 sweet potatoes, diced
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 Tbs chili powder
  • 2 Tsp ground cumin
  • 1 can each: black, white, red, pinto beans
  • 2 cups vegetable broth
  • 1/4 cup chipotle sauce
  • 1 Tbs sugar
  • 1 28 oz, can fire-roasted diced tomatoes
Sauté the onions and garlic for a few minutes, add the spices and sauté for a minute more, then dump in all the other ingredients at once.  Stir, bring to a boil, then let simmer for an hour.

(My sister didn't make up this recipe on her own.  It's from Cooking Light, 2005.)

When you're finished, if you want to downgrade from vegan to just vegetarian, serve with a dollop of sour cream, a sprinkling of cheddar cheese, and some crusty French bread.

Watch your friends' dubious expression at meatless chili turn into squeals of delight as they shovel down the batch inside of ten minutes.  "Where's the beef?"  More like, "where's the recipe?"


Friday, February 13, 2015

Welcome to America

Meet Matteo and Kiera, my new niece and nephew.

As my sister put it, the U.S. just welcomed its two newest citizens yesterday.  When my sister and her husband touched down on American soil, the two children they adopted from China automatically became American citizens.

It's been an exhausting few years as my sister jumped through hoop after bureaucratic hoop, followed by an equally exhausting three week trip to China.  My sister already has two biological children, and today they officially started their life as a family of six.

Here is a video that a friend of my sister's filmed of their homecoming:

A Peek at Pictures - Welcome Home Mateo & Kiera from Tracie Bea Photographie on Vimeo.

My sister has documented the process of adoption, and her three-week trip, over on her blog:

Congratulations, Chris and Kirsten, and welcome to America, Matteo and Kiera.  Aunt Stevie and I can't wait to meet you.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Boston is 75 days away

I've never trained for an April marathon before, and so I've never logged so many miles in the winter before either.  I've joked with Stevie that this is going to be my first and last Boston Marathon for that very reason.  I don't really care for running in the cold, you see.

Luckily this winter hasn't been nearly as severe as last year's, and luckily I live in New Jersey and not New England.  It's been cold, but we've dealt with very little snow here this season, as opposed to the people with their trenches a.k.a. sidewalks up north.

Swearing off the treadmill can certainly make me feel badass, but it has its drawbacks.  Night after night I find myself bundling up and trudging out into the cold and wind for another run, and it's starting to wear on me.  Maybe I need to back off on the mileage for a bit, or just find some new running routes.

Due to the bombings in 2013, the average person has heard about the Boston Marathon and may even know of its legacy and stringent qualifying standards.  As a result, when I meet someone new and talk inevitably turns to my running, they are pretty impressed with the fact that I'm training for Boston.

Sometimes I even impress myself.

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Church of the Sunday Long Run and January mileage

Ran an 18 mile long run today and passed the 200 mile mark for the year.  The last two miles were cold and exhausting, but I stuck it out to finish strong.

Yesterday I finished out January with a 6 miler:

I managed to knock out 197 miles for the month, which means I tripled my amount from this time last year.  It helps that winter has been considerably milder this year, not to mention the desire to give my all for Boston.

I'm happy with the steady, slow progression throughout the month, adding only a few miles per week with two mile increments in my long runs.  The plan is to keep increasing slowly for the next week or two, then back off for a week or two to give myself a chance to rest, then ramp up again until I hit a 100 mile week.  I might have to add in two-a-days to do so, which I'll also introduce slowly.

A 100 mile week would be cool, but as always I'll be listening to my body and will back off at the first sign of distress.  No point in arriving at Boston injured.
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