Thursday, April 30, 2015

April mileage

January: 197
February: 231
March: 281

April: 121.2

April saw a significant decrease in mileage due to tapering for and recovering from the Boston Marathon towards the middle of the month.

I'm still streaking and I'm still pushing along in my quest to hit 2,015 miles this year.  I'm very optimistic that it will happen.

I'd like to up the mileage again in May in preparation for aa few races I'm signed up for in June.  Nothing major on the horizon; just a half and a few shorter distances.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

The cost of Boston

I don't like to spend money.  I am destined to be that stereotypical cheap dad who never likes to open his wallet for anything, for whom "free" is the greatest word in the English language, whose wardrobe hasn't been updated since the Clinton Administration.  I can live with this.

But in all seriousness, as a single-income family (and that income from a public high school teacher's salary), it's important to think frugally and not buy into the culture of consumerism and materialism that is so prevalent in this country.  So the thought of bringing my family of three to the Boston Marathon gives me genuine heart palpitations.

Everyone talks about the hard work associated with Boston, the glory and the guts, the rewards and the esteem.  But no one ever talks about the money.  So here goes.

  • Cost of entry: $175, paid back in September during registration.
  • We drove from South Jersey there and back, leaving on Saturday and returning on Tuesday, so estimated cost of gas and tolls: $150.
  • Estimated cost for use of public transport/parking throughout the weekend: $30.
  • We stayed with two different friends in the city and brought each a bottle of wine: $30.
  • We packed food for the trip and ate some meals with our friends, so we ended up eating out very little during the weekend.  Estimated cost of eating out: $50.
  • I ended up not buying the official race jacket because I figured the tech shirt, race medal, poster, bib, and numerous pictures from the weekend would be enough.  I did buy the official race photo package, though. $80.
  • I also bought Meb's book at the expo: $15.

Total estimated cost for the weekend for a family of three: $530.

If I start saving now, maybe I can do the weekend properly at my next Boston Marathon.  Until then, if you need to find me, I'll be the guy in the Umbros shorts and a coed naked volleyball shirt.

Monday, April 27, 2015

2 year anniversary

April 27, 2013

The things I love most in this world, in no particular order:
  1. Beer.
  2. The outdoors.
  3. Traveling.
  4. German.
  5. Movies.
  6. Neale.
  7. Stevie.
  8. Family.
  9. Running.
  10. The feeling I used to get in the 90's when I bought a CD and discovered a secret song at the end. It was always after I'd had the disc for a bit and found my favorite songs to put on repeat, but occasionally I let it play all the way through.  Invariably, my attention would wane until the disc ended and I didn't even notice the silence, only to be jarred a minute or so later by more music.  The secret song was always short in length, but quirky, experimental, and done for the love of music and the fans, like a present from the band for our love and devotion.  I always loved the secret song because it was usually something I had to discover on my own, like I was the only person to have ever discovered it, and understood it in a way no one else could.

Two years ago I brought together many of the things on this list by marrying Stevie in an outdoor ceremony at Camp Ockanickon.  It remains, in a lifetime of questionable decisions, one of the best I've ever made.

Happy anniversary, Stevie.  

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Find your Boston

When I returned to school last Wednesday, I showed each of my classes a few pictures from the race along with my medal, and told them a little about how it went.  I finished by explaining that I didn't expect all of them to want to run the Boston Marathon someday, or any marathon for that matter.  But I did encourage all of them to find their own version of Boston.

I am not a natural born distance runner.  Making it to the Boston Marathon was not a given for me, and I often doubted if I ever would.  But I set the goal and I did everything within my power to achieve it, and I finally did.  The sense of accomplishment, I need not tell you again (but ok, once more), has been profound.

I encouraged my students, and I encourage you, dear reader, to find your own Boston.  Find something that might take years to accomplish.  Something you're not even sure if you're capable of.  Something you're passionate about.  Something that inspires you to be a better person (if somewhat obsessive).  Something that will create amazing memories.

Then do it.

And don't forget to tell me about it.  I love being inspired by others' journeys.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

2015 Boston Marathon reflections

In the 5 days that have passed since completing my first Boston Marathon, the question I've gotten the most (after "what place did you come in?") was "are you happy with your time?" And the answer?  It's complicated.

I told myself going into the race that I would be happy with anything under 3:30.  I had to hustle down the homestretch on Boylston in order to make this goal, but I made it.

But time isn't the only arbiter of success when it comes to racing.  Like I wrote last fall, you don't have to run a PR to feel successful.

I was talking with Stevie the other night when she asked me a similar question: how did I feel about Boston now that I'd completed it and had time to reflect on it?

It was hard to put into words.  Towards the end, I felt beat down by the marathon.  Weak.

Stevie: But isn't that how you feel with every marathon?

Well, yes and no.  I certainly feel beat down physically at the end of every marathon, but it's usually me delivering the beatdown, not the marathon.  When I know I am pushing myself hard, I may feel tired and sore, but I feel anything but weak.  The exhaustion I feel fuels a sense of strength in me, which in turn drives me to push even harder.  Time doesn't always matter.  It's usually that feeling of personal power and strength that I'm after.

But it's easy to feel strong when things are going your way.  Being forced to confront the fact that I may not be as strong as I think I am is exactly why the marathon is so humbling, and why I love it.  So while I felt weak and demoralized in the final miles of Boston, I reveled in the humility provided.  Well, maybe not until afterwards.  But I made my time goal and despite that sense of weakness I felt, I have still come away with an awe and respect for Boston.

Does any of this make sense?  I told you it was complicated.

I did, of course, have a lot going against me, much of which I couldn't control.

  • The weather.  Probably the worst weather I've ever experienced in any race of any length.  20mph headwind, steady rain for over half the race, and 45 degrees.
  • Poor race day nutrition.  This was my own dumb fault as I forgot to bring my gels to Boston and again forgot to bring anything to the starting line with me.  I didn't take in any fuel other than Gatorade until mile 18.
  • Poor weather during training cycle.  I ran every mile of training outside in some awful conditions including plenty of temperatures in the teens and an awful lot of snow and ice.  This certainly made me feel badass, but the weather stopped me from doing much speed work.
  • Probably went out too fast in the first half, which everyone warns you not to do, but I swore I felt like I was holding back based on effort.
  • I'd picked up a nasty cough while in Germany with my students over spring break, and the cough hung on until the day of the marathon.  The day after?  Completely gone.  Naturally.
  • Lack of sleep.  My son is eight months old and still won't sleep through the night.  I have felt like a zombie since August, and while I got the miles in, the quality of those miles definitely suffered.  Again, I barely did any speed work.  Only a handful of tempo runs, and no track work like I normally do.

Overall, I'm proud of what I overcame, proud of the journey to Boston.  The overall experience was an incredible one, despite the tough physical and mental hardships towards the end.

And I keep returning to that finishing stretch on Boylston Street, but rather than describe it again, I'll let Vladimir Nabokov take us off:

"Listen - I want to run all my life, screaming at the top of my lungs.  Let all of life be an unfettered howl.  Like the crowd greeting the gladiator.
Don't stop to think, don't interrupt the scream, exhale, release life's rapture. Everything is blooming.  Everything is flying.  Everything is screaming, choking on its screams.  Laughter.  Running.  Let-down hair.  That is all there is to life."
From the short story "Gods" by Vladimir Nabakov 

Friday, April 24, 2015

2015 Boston Marathon recap

Get ready for the recap of your life.  Also, I plan to buy the official race photos and will edit this post to swap them in when I get the chance.

Quick stats:

  • First Boston Marathon
  • Qualified at 2013 Philly Marathon in 3:03:05
  • First half in 1:36
  • Finished in 3:29:36

For those in it to win it, here we go...

Ain't no time like go time

We were staying with my college friend Amy who lives just outside of Boston, so I needed to get up at 4:30am to walk to the busstop, catch a bus to the T, take the T to Boston Common, then take the BAA shuttle bus out to Athletes' Village.

6am at Boston Common

Adrenaline was pumping, but I still had to wait until 10am to actually start running.

Nike Pegasus: sunglasses not included

Athletes' Refugee Camp

Once I arrived at the Common, I checked a bag and headed for the nearest school bus.  The busride was about 40 minutes out to Hopkinton where the hype immediately started. Hopkinton Middle School is taken over by the BAA every year for the runners and deemed Athletes' Village.  I don't have any pictures because I don't run with my phone and so I left it in my gear bag back at the Common.  But let me paint you a picture.

Imagine thousands of runners all piled into two separate circus tents, trying to stay warm and dry with all manner of accoutrements, including trash bags, sleeping bags, and yoga mats. The runners are so packed together that it's nearly impossible to walk through the crowd. Hot tea, coffee, and other amenities are available on the periphery.  Outside of the tents are medical tents, information tents, and porta potties stretching off into the horizon with runners waiting patiently in line.  Music blasts and an announcer shrilly heralds each new arrival.  "Welcome to Athletes' Village!  You made it!"

I was cold while waiting around.  I'd brought some throwaway clothes, but clearly not enough, and I had nowhere to sit but the cold ground for two hours.

No seriously, it's now go time

At about 9:15 the announcer began calling my wave and corral, and we started walking en masse to the starting line, almost a full mile away.  The energy was intense; people were already cheering for us and we hadn't even started yet.

Volunteers checked our bibs multiple times to make sure we were going to the right corral, which I appreciated.  We stood there for a bit, I shed my throwaway sweatshirt, the national anthem was sung, and the race began.  Somewhere up ahead of me, Meb was already at the 1 mile mark, but I had yet to reach the starting line...

Miles 0 - 2: Runner's Nirvana

Just past the starting line, the landscape created a natural amphitheater where hundreds of people were sitting to watch, and all cheering wildly.  I started my watch and grinned, and the smile on my face would not budge for the first two miles of the race.  I high fived as many little kids as I could, I was struck by the thundering ACDC on the loudspeakers, I was swept along by the amazing crowd, and I thought, this is where runners must go when they die.

Miles 2 - 8: Reality Check

I had no idea how fast I was going because I hadn't brought my Garmin with me (intentionally), but each mile marker and a glance at my normal stopwatch told me I was doing about 7:30 miles.  I was trying to run by effort, and my body was telling me to take it easy because I had a lot of work ahead of me.  I stopped high fiving kids and just tried to focus on my running.

I was also aware of a slight pain in my left quad and was constantly monitoring it and hoping it wouldn't get worse.  This is a pain I've been dealing with for the last few weeks that I thought would be gone by now, but it has hung on all this time, never getting worse but never getting better.  Fortunately it did not become an issue later in the race.

Fueling was also an issue.  I stupidly left the gels I bought for the race in NJ, and forgot to bring my Clif Bloks to the starting line, so I was running the majority of the race on a banana and a luna bar that I'd eaten in the Athletes' Village.  I was desperately scanning the aid stations for gels, but would not find any until mile 18.

My dad had driven up from New Jersey the night before, spent the night with his brother, and took the train into Framingham to cheer for me there.  Unfortunately I missed his cheers and wouldn't see him until after I finished.

Miles 8 - 12: Someone build an ark

And then the rains came.  The rain started around mile 8 and continued steadily for almost the rest of the race.  Within a few miles I was completely soaked through to the skin.  There was a 20mph headwind throughout the race as well, and the temperature never went above 45 degrees.  April in New England - can't beat it.

I hung for a few miles with a U.S. Marine carrying an American flag, which was worth it to see the crowd's reaction.  Many, many chants of U-S-A! broke out.

Miles 12 - 20: Thank you Wellesley

By mile 12 I knew I was in trouble.  I didn't feel as strong and as confident as I wanted to, and I thought about how effortless the first 16 miles had felt in my last marathon compared to how they felt now.  I was much more fatigued than I wanted to be this early in the race, and was genuinely worried about how those last six miles were going to feel.

But those Wellesley girls.  Those Wellesley girls.  Let's take a break in this opus to acknowledge just how much they add to the allure of Boston.  For in what other race is one faced with a cheering section dubbed "The Scream Tunnel", where young coeds work themselves into a dionysian hysteria for the benefit of complete strangers?  In what other race is securing kisses from sweaty runners seen as a rite of passage?  Where else would high fiving the crowd lead to me being grabbed by one such coed and almost dragged over the railing?

I ask you!

I'll leave the shenanigans of the Scream Tunnel to the reader's imagination, but let's just say it was a needed boost when I was already dragging.

I hit the halfway point in 1:36, but started to slow down considerably after that.

Miles 20 - 25: Is that who I think it is?

Imagine running a race with 30,000 other people, and then imagine how you would feel if you accidentally ran into someone you knew at mile 20.  I've been following Bryon's blog for a few years now.  He's from Indiana, and we both qualified back in November 2013 and within 45 seconds of each other.  We ran together for about a mile and commiserated on how lousy we were feeling.  It was a welcome distraction running with someone, and he definitely took my mind off Heartbreak Hill, but pretty soon I knew his pace was too much for me, so I encouraged him to go on without me.

Me: Go on, man, finish strong!
Bryon: This is my strong!

Bryon gutted it out to a 3:24 finish.  Well done, Bryon, and good luck on your sub 3 attempt this fall.

The Newton Hills didn't bother me too much because I wasn't running as hard by then.  I never stopped running, though, and just powered up them with a cold, hard determination.

Once out of the hills I was doing 9 minute miles, watching the mile markers slowly tick by, wishing the race would be over, looking forward to Boylston Street and the feeling of being finished.  Finally I saw the symbol that told me I was near.

Mile 25 - Finish

The Citgo sign came into view and my eyes teared up a little.  I'd read about this point in the race many times, and to finally see it in person, knowing what it meant, was very emotional.

The streets widened, the buildings rose, the crowds thickened, and onward I trudged.

Right on Hereford.

Left on Boylston.

And four blocks later I was finished.

Now, I have had the privilege of experiencing many great things in my life, and I can honestly say those four blocks on Boylston rank among the best of my life's memories.  When I grow old and my muscles weaken and my joints creak, and my days of marathoning have long since ended, I will still hearken back to the deafening roar of Boylston Street and remember what it was like to touch greatness.

I just ran the Boston %@#!* Marathon

After crossing the line (3:29:36), I slowly made my way forward and collected items one at a time.  A bottle of water.  A poncho for warmth.  The medal.  My eyes teared up again when a volunteer and I made eye contact and I walked to her.  She put it around my neck and I must have stood there staring at it for a solid minute before continuing on.

I was staring at the culmination of over five years of hope and hard work.  The most intense training cycle of my life just to qualify.  Training through the most heinous winter just to prepare for this day. And suddenly it was all over.  It was a lot to process.

I had relied on adrenaline and emotion to carry me through the final miles, but after finishing the reality hit me.  I was soaking wet, it was 45 degrees and windy out, and now that I wasn't running anymore, my body temperature was sinking by the minute.  I was shivering and coughing uncontrollably, and had suddenly developed sharp pain in my groin.  On my way to the family meeting area, I had to stop several times to stretch.  Every time I stumbled and winced in pain, a volunteer swooped down on me and asked if I was ok or if I needed a wheelchair.

So much pain

The support crew

I met up with my dad, Stevie and Neale in the family meeting area, and they convinced me to visit the medical tent, though I wasn't sure what exactly they would do for me.  I went in and told them about my groin and just being cold, and they gave me a bed, a blanket and hot water and took down all of my information.  They took my temperature and found I was 95 degrees.  I sat there for about ten minutes warming up before I decided to leave.

I met Stevie and Neale back at the Common where I was finally able to change into dry clothes almost an hour after finishing.  I found out my dad had already had to leave because he needed to catch the train back to his car and start the drive home, so I didn't even get a picture with him.

Stevie and I took public transport back to Amy's apartment where we ate dinner and I drank beer all night, reveling in my accomplishment.

Let's wrap it up, shall we?

My sincere thanks go out to the Boston Marathon volunteers and the people of Massachussets in general for supporting us runners in that weather.  Yours are truly the hardiest of souls.

And it wouldn't be a proper marathon race recap if I didn't thank those who support me specifically.  Martina and Amy, thank you so much for letting us stay with you.  It was great to catch up with old friends.  Dad, Stevie, and Neale, thank you so much for coming with me on this journey, both the literal and the figurative.  Your support means more than you know.

I'll save full reflections and analysis for the next post as this is getting pretty long, but suffice it to say this was one of the greatest experiences of my life, and I simply can't wait to go back.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

2015 Boston Marathon Part I

Shipping up to Boston!

Stevie and I loaded up the car on Saturday morning and finally got on the road around 12:30. We hit some bad traffic around New York, naturally, but it was otherwise smooth sailing.  The excitement mounted once we started seeing signs for Boston.

We arrived at my high school friend Martina's house around 7:30.  I first met Martina when I spent a summer in Germany when we were 14.   She has since moved with her family from Munich to Boston and offered to let me stay with her when she found out I was doing the marathon.  Fun fact: Martina and I have the exact same birthday; both the day and the year.

Sunday morning saw a leisurely breakfast, followed by a leisurely Sunday stroll along the Charles River, and finally, the highlight for me, a trip to the expo.

The expo was absolutely overwhelming.  We had brought Neale along in the stroller and could barely navigate the crowds, so we eventually found an empty room where Stevie could breastfeed (sidenote: hey BAA, maybe start designating a room for mothers to breastfeed.  In one hour there, Stevie was joined by two other moms who were also looking for a place to nurse).  I continued on through the expo alone and got a few more pictures:

I then ventured a few blocks down Boylston to the finish line and got a few more pictures.

After the expo, we braved the streets and drove back to Martina's place where we packed up and headed to my college friend Amy's place.

Amy and Stevie had some wine after we put Neale to bed, and I of course just drank water. We ordered take out from a barbecue place and we all got pulled pork.  The rest of the night was dedicated to packing gear bags and laying out clothing and figuring out Boston's public transport system.  And a few more pictures:

I went to sleep around 9 o'clock and slept fitfully all night, then woke up at 4:30am to start making my way to the starting line.

Race recap coming soon...

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Boston 2015 training recap

This is mostly for my own record-keeping for future marathons, and will be a little boring for the non-runner.

My training officially started on December 20th, exactly 4 months out from Boston.  Leading up to official training, I had been maintaining a run streak for over a year, and was running in the low single digits.  As for races, I completed one half marathon in October, and one 5k in November.

I had hoped to run a 100 mile week and build up to it gradually, practicing an ebb and flow of long runs throughout the training cycle.  Instead, I accepted that my body just couldn't handle it this time around and topped out at one 75 mile week, but kept mostly in the 60's.

I did my long runs on Sundays with rest days on Mondays (though I still ran a very slow mile on Mondays to keep up my run streak).

January was a very mild month.  All but one of my long runs were done in shorts.  My January 2015 mileage was triple what it had been in 2014.  I went into February feeling great about how training was going.  Then the weather shifted.

I ran in some challenging conditions this winter, to say the least.  I ran in 16 degree weather, in wind gusts, in a foot of snow, in falling snow, on ice, and everything else winter could throw at me.  Usually in the dark.  The winter followed us well into March, and I ran in my final snowstorm on the first day of spring.  Because I don't have access to a treadmill or indoor track, I ran every single mile outside.

While I built a solid base of miles, I didn't do nearly as much strength work or speed work as I would like.  I did some, but wasn't nearly as consistent with it as I could have been.

My nutrition was mostly solid, and I definitely dropped some weight, though I don't know how much because I still haven't weighed myself since the 2013 Philly Marathon.  I only know because my clothes have become looser.

Everything was going swimmingly, and I managed to make it to the taper in one piece.  Then I went to Germany with my students over spring break.  An action-packed schedule with little sleep and a completely altered diet (including plenty of beer) wreaked havoc on my training, just as I expected.  I managed two solid runs in Berlin, but once I got to Munich and picked up a nasty cough (which I'm still trying to shake), I was done for.  My taper ended up being a little more relaxed than I would have liked.

Sleep was another big challenge of this training cycle.  I'm very strict about my sleep and try to get a minimum of eight hours every night, but with a baby at home, that has been next to impossible since last August.  While it didn't affect the amount of miles, I feel it affected the quality, hence the lack of speed work.  Constantly running in winter weather didn't help with the quality, either.

I plan to run a simple one mile shakeout run tomorrow, which will be my final run of this training cycle.  All told, I will have run 830 miles.  My goal was not to PR this marathon, but to make it to the starting line feeling confident and healthy and just enjoy the atmosphere of Boston, and I do believe I will accomplish that.  While I am not at the top of my game like I was for Philly 2013, I am still ready to kick ass this Monday.

Friday, April 17, 2015

My road to the 2015 Boston Marathon

Every single person racing this Monday has a different story of how they made it to Boston. This is mine:

Let's go all the way back to the beginning...

I ran my first marathon, the Philadelphia Marathon, in 2005 at the age of 24.  I didn't quite know what I was doing and it took me 4 hours and 29 minutes to finish, but I was ecstatic to finish.

As a newly christened marathoner, I was certainly aware of Boston and its prestige, but I just never bothered to dream of one day qualifying.  My next two marathons also took me well over four hours, so I honestly didn't think I was physically capable of it.

But then my 4th marathon happened.  Something must have clicked with my training that year, or I was finally coming to better understand the distance, because at the 2009 Philadelphia Marathon, I ran a 3:30, shattering my PR by 42 minutes.

I was seriously impressed with myself and wondered if a BQ might now be in the cards.  Even if I originally thought a BQ was a 3:20.

I decided that if I went all in, I would stand a chance at taking another 20 minutes off of my PR and run my first BQ.

The following summer, I started my training regimen and put my heart and soul into it.  I trained harder and smarter than I ever had before, and it all paid off.  I needed to run 3:10:59 or faster, and I ended up finishing in 3:09:45.  I had never been more proud of myself than in the moment I crossed the finish line that year.

I also made a YouTube video documenting my training that year.  You can watch the video here.

Unfortunately, my timing was pretty lousy.  2010 was the same year that registration for Boston sold out in 8 hours.  Three months after I qualified, the BAA changed the registration rules to the current system of allowing the fastest qualifiers to register first.  Even though I qualified fair and square under the rules in place at the time of my marathon, I was subject to the new rules put in place after I qualified.  When registration rolled around in September, it was official: I did not make the cut.  I was heartbroken.

I let myself sulk for a little, but I ultimately knew what I had to do.  I just had to suck it up and train all over again.  It took a few years and a few false starts, but I finally made a concerted effort again in 2013.  Everything had changed now, though.  I was now 3 years older, married with a full-time job, and the qualification time was now 3:05 flat.  I once again went into the Philadelphia Marathon that year with more doubt than I care to admit, but once again prevailed with my current PR of 3:03:05.

I then had to wait nearly a year for registration to come around, all the while wondering if BQ-1:55 would be enough.  Turns out it was - but by less than a minute.  But no matter.  I was finally in.

But all that hard work only earned me... more hard work.  Over the past four months, I've run roughly 800 miles.  Every single one of those miles was run outdoors, many in some really tough conditions.

The dream was officially born in 2009, and now here we are over 5 years later, and I'm finally on my way to Boston.  We're leaving for Boston tomorrow, and on Monday the dream finally comes true.

If you've followed me for any or all of this journey, thank you.  This one's for you.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Germany 2015 comes to an end

We're back from the trip.  This has nothing to do with running, but as I'm immensely proud of the work I put into this trip, I wanted to document some of it here.

A refresher course for those who are new around here:

I teach high school German, currently in my fourth year.  Every other year I offer a trip to Germany with students in my upper level classes.  Two years ago I took seven students by myself.  This year I took 10 students and one chaperone.

I organize the entire thing myself because I don't like packaged tours of Europe where we sit in a bus all day long going from one tourist spot to the next.  It's a lot more work to organize the trip myself, but it's incredibly cheaper and a lot more flexible.

A few of this year's details:

  • Direct flight from Newark to Berlin leaving on April 2nd, arriving the morning of the 3rd.
  • 4 nights in a hostel in Berlin.  The hostel lobby also served as a bar.  The students were all of age in Germany, but I limited them to 2 drinks per day.
  • In Berlin, we visited countless museums, listened to a lecture at the Reichstag (Germany's parliament building), toured the 1936 Olympic Stadium, went to a Hertha BSC soccer game there, and toured IES (my old exchange institute).
  • We took an overnight train from Berlin to Munich and slept in cabins with six bunk beds apiece.
  • We spent another four nights in Munich at a youth hostel, this one catering more towards families and student groups, so no bar in the lobby.
  • In Munich, we went to many more museums, toured the 1972 Olympic Stadium, went to a German movie at a movie theater, swam in the Englisch Garten, went to two beer gardens and one beer hall, and toured Dachau, one of the first concentration camps to be established after the Nazis took power in 1933, and one of the first to be established as a memorial/museum in the 1960's.
  • Direct flight home from Munich back to Newark on the 12th.

Planning for the trip was exhausting.  Train, museum and soccer tickets had to be researched, prices negotiated, and purchased.  Hostel and restaurant reservations had to be made.  A comprehensive itinerary for 12 people had to be built.  Forms had to be filled out and signed, and mailed/e-mailed to random people in Germany, and endless e-mails between parents and me were sent.  My students will never truly know the amount of time that went into planning this trip.  But that's ok.  I did it for them because I truly believe in the transformative power of travel, and I wanted to share this passion of mine with them.

The trip itself was no less exhausting.  I had to constantly be on, conducting headcounts, talking with hostel managers and restaurateurs, keeping us on time when we had a reservation somewhere, navigating the train system with 11 other people in tow...

But as I said, it was worth it.  It was worth it to see their genuine enthusiasm over things big and small.  To see the satisfaction when they used the language we've worked so hard to learn in class.  To come at all aspects of the trip with an open mind and blind trust in me, their leader.  And on our last night, when they presented me with a note saying how much they appreciated me, it was more than enough.  Only two of the ten came into school yesterday, the bums, but they are all rockstars in my book nonetheless.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

The Munich Mile

We're in Munich now after having taken an overnight train from Berlin ("Well that was a life experience," as one of my students put it).

We took a tour of the 1972 Olympic Stadium this afternoon and got to see the locker rooms, VIP entrance, and go down onto the fields.  One of my students, an avid runner, had brought his running clothes with him and decided he wanted to try to break his mile PR on the track.

While others on the tour kicked a ball around the field, my student calmly charged around the track four times and promptly set a new mile PR of 4:57, beating his previous mark by 29 seconds.

We all joked that he should never again attempt another mile PR, because nothing will ever top this afternoon's experience.

Monday, April 6, 2015

The Brandenburg Gate

I don't know that I'll ever tire of the Brandenburg Gate.

Looming large over Pariser Platz in the heart of Berlin, it anchors the city to its 18th century Prussian roots while simultaneously acting as the vanguard of a new era.  It is a ubiquitous feature of tourism in Germany, and plays a central role in my own memories of this city.

I have visited the Gate with my German teacher and classmates in the nineties, with my wife before we were even engaged, and now with my own students.  I have run through it countless times, and participated in parties at its base countless more.

But I am obviously not the only one to enjoy the Gate, as it is mobbed by all of humanity on any given day of the year.  Tour buses, taxis, horse-drawn carriages, and hordes of camera-wielding tourists occupy Pariser Platz all day long.

This is why I enjoy being a runner.  You see, I woke up at 6:30am this morning to get my long run in.  Before my students woke up, and before a full day of sightseeing, I headed out for 14 miles around Berlin.  One of my first stops was the Gate.  It was cast in deep, golden morning sunlight with brilliant cloudless blue skies behind it, and I ran through it completely alone.  The same Gate where Napoleon and Hitler had marched, that had nearly been destroyed in the Second World War, where triumphant citizens had partied deep into the night in the 80's, I had all to myself.

I continued on through portions of the Tiergarten, through the Memorial to the murdered Jews of Europe, into my old neighborhood of Kreuzberg and its Viktoria Park.  In this park there is a brief climb to a hilltop monument that overlooks the city.  As I charged up the winding path, I thought about how the runner's high is anything but a myth.

At the top, with the sun just above Berlin's horizon, a spring chill in the air and a burning in my lungs, I could still make out the Brandenburg Gate in the distance.
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