Saturday, October 31, 2015

2015 Rock 'n' Roll Philadelphia Half Marathon Race Recap

It's only rock and roll (half marathon) but I like it!  Huge day for me in my life of running.

This morning I set a PR in the half marathon for the first time in over four years by running 1:26:05.

As I grow older, personal records become increasingly harder to come by in any distance, and frankly I don't know how many PR's I have left in me.  So I'm ecstatic to have finally taken down my PR from 2011.

Let's get into it, shall we?

Normally this race is run towards the end of September, but because the Pope was in town at the same time this year, Rock 'n' Roll changed the date to Halloween.  I've run this race for the better part of the last decade, starting back when it was known as The Distance Run, though I missed last year to attend a wedding out near Pittsburgh.  Sadly, my dad's friend whom I mentioned in the last post who has completed every iteration of this race for the last 38 years, had to end his streak this year due to pneumonia.

I took the train over to Philly this morning leaving at 6:10am for a 7:30 race start.  Met my dad on the train and walked over to the Philadelphia Museum of Art where the race started and finished.

Logan Square at 6:30am
Photo by Wayne Partenheimer

Close to start time
Photo by Wayne Partenheimer

Two years ago I arrived at the starting area 35 minutes before the start, only to have to wait 40 minutes in line for a porta potty.  I ended up starting in the 8th or 9th corral which I'm pretty sure cost me a PR that year because I spent so much time dodging and weaving around runners going at a different pace.  So imagine my horror to arrive at the starting area and find myself reliving the exact same situation, standing in line for the port potty freaking out as the line inched forward and the time ticked closer to the starting gun.  I can't tell you how close I came to dropping my shorts and going in the bushes outside the Rodin Museum.  In the end I stayed in line and made it into the corral with about 90 seconds to spare.

The start
Photo by Wayne Partenheimer

For the first half mile I had to repeatedly slam on the brakes to not hit people, but it didn't take long until I was surrounded by people running a similar pace.  The first half mile was the only crowding I experienced in the whole race.

The course had been altered slightly since the last time I ran it.  I have to give credit to whoever created the course, as it was almost 100% flat with long straightaways ideal for cruising speed.  I loved the course.  It did, however, make it difficult for spectators to access the course for the majority of the race, so there was little crowd support, but this didn't bother me as the bulk of my training runs are done alone, so I'm used to the solitude.

I was running consistently in the 6:20 - 6:30 min/mile range, and I honestly felt like I was holding myself back.  I decided to continue this pace until I hit the turnaround point at the Falls Bridge around mile 9, and then ramp up the pace a little.

I was concentrating on hitting the tangents, alternating between water and Gatorade at the aid stations, and picturing myself celebrating a new PR as I ran.

By the time I reached the turnaround point, though, I had developed a side stich under my right rib.  By mile 10 the pain was excruciating and breathing was difficult.  I considered turning this into a war of attrition; who would break first - me or the race?


At mile 11 I couldn't take it anymore and decided to slow down to about a 7:30 pace.  I was worried that the side stitch would unravel me altogether in the final mile, so I figured I could run mile 11 at a slower pace, then ramp it back up again during mile 12.  When I hit mile 12, I did just that.  The final mile of the marathon ended up being my fastest one of the race.

Mile splits:

Mile 1: 641
Mile 2: 6:53
Mile 3: 6:44
Mile 4: 6:31
Mile 5: 6:28
Mile 6: 6:38
Mile 7: 6:32
Mile 8: 6:35
Mile 9: 7:05
Mile 10: 6:30
Mile 11: 6:40
Mile 12: 6:31
Mile 13: 5:50

After finishing, I collected the various food on offer - a banana, water, chocolate milk, chips, protein bars, etc.  My dad and I had arranged a meeting spot, but he was able to find me easily enough before I even exited the runners' finisher area.

Proud owner of a new medal and new half marathon PR
Photo by Wayne Partenheimer

Father and son

We didn't stick around long for the festivities and missed the Gin Blossoms play their extensive catalogue of 90's hits.  Instead we walked back to the train and headed home to New Jersey.

Once again, I'm ecstatic to have lowered my time in the half marathon.  A lot goes into a PR, such as luck.  The conditions today simply couldn't have been better: temps in the 40's, sunny skies, no wind, no humidity and dry streets.

But at the end of the day, the biggest factor in setting a PR is the hard work put into training.  I may often question whether I am training as hard as I could be, but there is no doubt I am training hard.  I came into today's race confident I could run a PR, and in fact it's kind of odd how effortless it all felt.  It didn't feel like some grand heroic struggle like some of my other races.  Aside from overcoming the side stitch, it was all rather mechanical and business-like. I simply set out at a sustainable pace and maintained roughly even splits for the whole race. That's all there was to it.

My time today is only 3 minutes away from a New York Qualifier.  It makes me wonder if it might be worth it to concentrate on that goal for 2016.

As a PR is pretty rare these days, it would be nice to celebrate properly tonight, but I'm already putting it behind me and training my focus on the Philly Marathon 3 weeks away.  As nice as today was, it is only a minor detour in the larger journey to a sub 3 performance.

Big thanks to my dad for coming out today, for spectating and holding my bag.  I'll never get tired of bonding over running.

October mileage

The year in monthly mileage totals so far:

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

And October:

235.3 miles for the month of October, bringing me to 1,911.4 miles for the year.  October was a solid month of training, with many early morning runs, more speedwork, and two great races.

Also, I'm in the homestretch of the 2,015 miles in 2015 challenge with just over a hundred to go.

Friday, October 30, 2015

2015 Rock n' Roll Philly Half expo and race goals

I took the train into Philly this afternoon to pick up my bib from the expo.  To be honest, I was a little underwhelmed by the whole thing.  It seemed smaller and less flashy than expos of the past, and I was surprised they didn't play up the Halloween theme a little more.  Gone were the goofy photo ops and the guest speakers that I enjoyed at Rock 'n' Roll expos of the past.

I did see this sign honoring the legacy runners, including my dad's longtime running friend Mike Geiger:

It's nice that Rock n' Roll honors those who started back when the race was still known as The Distance Run.

In case you want to know what a runner looks like:

I was in and out of the expo as quickly as possible to get back home.  Fatherhood calls.

I'm looking forward to this race because I'm going to try to PR, and I'm fairly certain I can do it. Normally when I run this race, I'm still towards the beginning of my marathon training regimen. But this year, I've had some extra time to get some solid speed workouts in as well as drop a few lbs.  

Also, conditions look like they should be perfect tomorrow.  The course has a few annoying turns throughout Center City in the early miles, but the majority of the race is out and back on both sides of the Schuylkill River, meaning I can take time to warm up and by the time the course straightens out, I'll be able to run at cruising speed and on auto pilot for a bit.

It's been over 4 years since I've last rung that PR bell in the half marathon, so here's hoping tomorrow is the day to make magic happen.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

October days

Traditionally, October and March tend to be the most difficult months of the year for me. These are the times of year when work stress wreaks its havoc on me and I do all I can to keep my head above water.

Here's a look at what October 2015 is/has been like:
  • SGO (student growth objective) pre-assessments are due.  This is an assessment I create and deliver to two of my six classes, grade, create a spreadsheet of the results, then upload the assessment, rubric and spreadsheet for each class to an online portfolio.
  • A professional development plan needs to be written, signed by an administrator, and uploaded to the same online portfolio.
  • Two separate nights of parent-teacher conferences with two hour delays the following day that disrupt the schedule.
  • Other random events that disrupt the schedule, such as PSAT testing and school assemblies.
  • Oktoberfest put on by the neighboring high school's German program that I take my students to.
  • College letters of recommendation.  Every year I get more requests.  This year I'm up to 7.
  • No days off the whole month.
  • New this year: Stevie directed one show and is acting in another.  She has spent the better part of this month in rehearsal.
  • Also new this year: I'm mentoring a student teacher from a local college.  She observes me a few times a week and has to complete 2 lessons which I have to give feedback on, then write up a lengthy evaluation of her for her professor.
  • On top of all of this, October is my highest month of mileage when I'm training for the Philadelphia Marathon in November.
We're coming to the end of the month, and I can see the taper from here, but there are still some hard training days left to go.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Movie Monday: she ran a marathon without talking about it

Here's a comedy group that took runners' penchant for oversharing (i.e. bragging about) their accomplishments on social media and made a mockumentary about the first person to run a marathon without telling anyone.

Isn't that the point of running?  So we can brag about it?

I'm only half joking.

I'd like to think I'm pretty good about leaving my Facebook friends alone when it comes to my running, considering only a fraction of them are runners.  That's partly why I started a Twitter account; so I could specifically connect with other runners and have a place to nerd out.

But you can bet the next time I set a PR, I'll do everything short of hiring a skywriter to announce my feat to the world.

Until then, enjoy this video:

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Homemade pumpkin soup

Last year Stevie and I bought a pumpkin to carve, which we never got around to carving.  We left the thing on our front steps as decoration, which the squirrels promptly massacred, spilling seeds all over the bushes in our front yard.  This year we had our very own pumpkin growing in those bushes.

I decided to make soup out of it, like one does.

I googled pumpkin-soup-from-scratch recipes and kind of made it up as I went using what I found as a guide.


  • One pumpkin
  • Heavy cream
  • Chicken broth
  • Olive oil
  • Nutmeg
  • Salt
  • Maple syrup


Cut the pumpkin in half and scoop out the innards, then peel the skin and cut into small chunks.  Place on a pan and bake at 350 for at least an hour.

Put into a pot and add syrup and chicken broth.  Let simmer for a bit, then add to a blender. Add cream and nutmeg and salt and blend until smooth.  Return to pot.

Serve and photograph next to a Harry Potter pumpkin for ultimate Halloween effect.

It comes out looking more like porridge than soup, but has a really nice, unique flavor.


Friday, October 23, 2015

Afternoon Delight

Coming to a magazine cover near you

I've taken to doing speedwork on Fridays, and planned another speed workout for this morning.

I woke up at 4am to the buzzing of my cellphone, headed downstairs to the couch to read and drink tea, and had just changed and was on my way out the door when I heard my son upstairs.  I decided to postpone my morning track session to look after Neale so my wife could sleep.  She's been working herself into exhaustion on her latest show, so I wanted to lighten her load for at least an hour.

This meant I had to do my track session this afternoon.

After work and coming home to change, I headed over to my school's track where the football and cross country teams were practicing and the field hockey team was playing a game nearby.  Our track is currently being renovated, which is why you don't see any lanes in the picture above.  They also have yet to lay down the springy, soft surface common on most tracks.  Right now it's nothing but rock solid asphalt. I'm told this is a more forgiving surface than a concrete sidewalk, at least.

There's a reason why I hate speedwork and don't do as much of it as I should: it sucks.  It's incredibly painful and I come away feeling dizzy and drained every time.  Today was no exception.

I did my go-to track workout: a series of 400's punctuated with jumping rope, pushups, sit-ups,100 meter dashes, and 200 meter recovery jogs.

My 400's went like this:

Lap 1: 1:15
Lap 2: 1:16
Lap 3: 1:11
Lap 4: 1:14

All told, at least it was better than doing the same workout in the dark.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and the Hoff

So not only is there a musical version of the 1886 novella Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (because of course there is), but my wife Stevie is appearing in a steampunk version of it.  Here she is with her friend April promoting the show at Barrington's fall festival:

Jekyll and Hyde meets steampunk

Fun fact: None other than the Hoff portrayed the dual-personality lead in the Broadway version, obviously putting his days as a German popstar to good use.

This show was no day at the beach.

Stevie has been working tirelessly over the past few months, and has been working particularly hard this past week as the show comes together.  It opens tonight at the Grand Theater in Williamstown, NJ and runs for three weekends.

At the Grand Theater in Williamstown, NJ

If you're in the South Jersey area and want a great Halloween show, come check it out!

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

10 miles before work

I don't think I blog enough about the specific details of day-to-day training, so for you and for future-me, here's a post about this morning's run.

This is what I look like at 6 in the morning in the backyard after just having run 10 miles in the dark, with the last few miles at ludicrous speed:

I woke up at 4am and read for a bit on the couch to wake up before heading out around 5.  My goal was to run each mile progressively faster until the last stretch when I would finish at 100% effort or as close to it as my quad would allow.  I did reasonably well with this goal.

Overall time: 1:14:20

Mile 1: 8:41
Mile 2: 8:16
Mile 3: 7:56
Mile 4: 7:27
Mile 5: 7:40
Mile 6: 7:01
Mile 7: 7:24
Mile 8: 6:57
Mile 9: 6:34
Mile 10: 6:13

It's the longest and most intense run I've ever done before a full day of work, and I'm just as proud of getting it done at such an early hour as I am of the effort involved.

But I still keep wondering to myself: is it enough?  Is this the year I go sub 3?

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Spinach and artichoke vegetarian lasagne

I am not vegetarian by any stretch of the imagination, but I oftentimes find myself preparing meatless versions of classic dishes.  This is probably due to my sister going vegetarian in college and her being a big influence on my life in cooking... but I digress.

When I make chili, I make a vegan version that I then bastardize with sour cream and cheddar cheese.  And when I make lasagne, I forgo the beef and add artichoke and spinach as a filler instead.

I have no idea where or even when I got this recipe.  I just remember I've been making it for years.  Herein some of the details on preparing it:

  • olive oil
  • lasagne noodles
  • onion
  • garlic
  • veggie broth
  • fresh rosemary
  • artichoke hearts
  • spinach
  • pasta sauce
  • mozzarella cheese
  • herb and garlic feta
  • ricotta cheese


Cook the onions, garlic, broth, rosemary, artichoke hearts, spinach and ricotta down into a sauce.

Layer a baking dish with lasagne noodles, sauce, pasta sauce, mozzarella cheese, repeat. Finish with feta cheese.

Cover and bake at 350 for an hour.

Note: don't be shy with the rosemary.  It's what makes this dish, in my humble opinon.

Pro tip: Don't bother cooking the lasagne noodles beforehand.  There is enough sauce that they will soften while the whole thing bakes.

Fun fact: the first time Stevie ever came over for dinner, I made this dish along with a salad and garlic bread.  She was part of the show I was directing, and I had invited my cast over for dinner and to rehearse for the first time.  She was bummed she had forgotten to tell me she was vegetarian, but pleasantly surprised when I told her the lasagne was in fact vegetarian.

Fun fact: Stevie is no longer vegetarian.

I love making this dish because it's hearty and filling, and it makes a ton of leftovers which heat up really well with a little extra red sauce.


Sunday, October 18, 2015

2015 Baltimore Marathon Race Recap

Five years ago, I decided to run the Atlantic City Marathon as a training run for the Philadelphia Marathon five weeks later.  It ended up being a great decision as the weather was near perfect, it was a great way to knock out a long run, and an overall confidence booster for Philly.

Two years ago I decided to do the same thing except run the Baltimore Marathon instead.  I registered for the race and booked a hotel room and everything, only to back out at the last minute due to shin splints.  It was my first and only DNS.  I'm happy to report that I finally got my chance to run Baltimore yesterday morning, once again as a training run for Philly five weeks from now.

I drove down to Baltimore on Friday afternoon shortly after school ended.  Got stuck in some traffic on I-95 but otherwise made it to the M&T Bank Stadium (home of the Baltimore Ravens) without incident.  Parked in one of the lots just outside of the stadium and followed the massive stream of people going inside.

The Expo

Because the marathon was on a Saturday, the expo was open until 9pm Friday night to give people like me time to get there after work.  Runners had to walk up several ramps to one of the VIP sections of the stadium where the usual assortment of running related companies had set up shop.  The entrance was in the middle with bib pick up and shirt pickup cleverly placed at either end to ensure runners passed by every company.  Once I picked up my bib and shirt, I headed back out to my car.

Friday Night

I stayed in my favorite hotel in Baltimore; it's very small and called my car.  Not very spacious and few amenities, but the proximity to the starting line (1/2 mile) and the price simply can't be beat.  I was asleep by 9pm, lulled by the whoosh of cars on I-395 overhead, and at 6am I slowly woke up and began to get ready as hundreds of cars jockeyed for parking spaces around me.  Alleviating worry over race day parking was definitely a perk.

The Start

The stadium was once again open with full use of its bathrooms; being able to use flush toilets is a huge plus before a race of any size.  Security poked through my bag on the way to the start, and I wandered around for a bit debating whether to wear a long sleeved shirt during the race or not.  I eventually settled on just the short sleeved shirt.

At around 7:30 I finally checked my bag at gear check (after a moment of panic that they weren't going to let me check it because it wasn't a clear plastic bag) and headed over to the starting line next to Camden Yards.

There were no official corrals at the starting line, just a few signs of estimated finish times interspersed along the crowd.  I tried to place myself as best I could.

One of the highlights of the start of this race was listening to the Star Spangled Banner being sung and realizing those words were written just a few miles from where we stood.

The Course

The course loops all around Baltimore before finishing back by the football and baseball stadiums.  One of the highlights was passing through the Baltimore Zoo.  Zookeepers stood at the entrance holding live ravens on their arms.  A few more zookeepers with various squawking birds were posted along the route, and before long we shot back out into the park.

The course took in various neighborhoods, the center of town, and several parks and bodies of water. I would estimate only about half the course had a decent amount of spectators.

The first half of the course was mostly flat, but the second half picked up some rolling hills. Nothing outrageous, but not exactly welcome in the back nine of a marathon.

This race was notable in that the half marathoners had a completely different start time and starting line from the full marathoners.  This seemed like a great idea until the half marathoners joined us at mile 16 and the course suddenly became extremely congested as I weaved my way through runners going at vastly different paces from me.  Negative points, Baltimore.

Aid Stations

The aid stations were perfect.  They were well spaced out, well stocked and well manned. Each one featured water and Gatorade.  Several aid stations also had food, including Gu, bananas, chips, and even mini Dunkin Donuts.  I hadn't eaten a large dinner the night before, and I never eat breakfast the morning of a race due to nerves/GI issues, so I was worried about fueling for this race.  All the food options on the course were extremely helpful.

Post Race

All relay runners, half and full marathoners finished together, and I had to make sure I was given the right medal before collecting my bag of chips, banana, water and Gatorade chocolate protein drink.  Runners then exited into "Celebration Village" where they could meet up with friends and family, ring the PR bell, grab their bags and get changed, pay $4 for a Michelob Ultra, listen to a live band, and buy food from a number of food trucks set up.

After taking in the festivities and reveling in my accomplishment for a bit, I walked back to my car and drove the two hours home to South Jersey and changed from weekend warrior right back into my role as suburban dad.

The Takeaway

So glad I got another shot at this race after being left behind two years ago.

I took it slowly during this race, enjoying the crowds and scenery, telling myself to not be a hero as today was not a record setting day.  Today was all about getting some miles on my legs and celebrating racing.

My goal was to start slowly and start picking up the pace in the last few miles, which I did.  In the last half mile, I fell into a dead sprint, soaring across the finish line feeling like all I want to do for the rest of my life is run marathons.  That is the feeling that was lacking from Boston last spring.  I was only three minutes behind my time from Boston, but how I felt in the last half mile of each race was a world of difference.  I felt so alive yesterday, like I finally get the reason behind the second running boom.  You don't always have to push yourself to a PR and/or the brink of exhaustion to enjoy the high of running a marathon, and I can see why there are people who run so many a year.  Yesterday's race reminded me how much I love racing, and how, if money were no object, I would be out there as often as my wife's patience allows, racing my damn heart out as often as possible.

I would definitely recommend this race to anyone.  It has a very similar vibe to my beloved Philly Marathon - a mid sized race with great organization and decent crowd support and a fast and scenic course.  At the end of the day, the Charm City puts on - dare I say it - one charming race.  Thanks for a great time, Baltimore.  Hope to be back someday.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Marathon training: then and now

Out of the 11 marathons I've completed in my day, my most successful one was two years ago at the 2013 Philadelphia Marathon.  My goal was to come in under 3:05 and qualify for Boston, which I achieved with a minute and 55 seconds to spare after a very intense and bumpy training cycle.

Now, two years later, I am throwing everything I have at one last training cycle.  It's one last effort for a big PR.  Namely, a sub 3 hour marathon.  The problem is, I'm constantly wondering if it's enough.  I'm constantly comparing this training cycle to the one I went through two years ago.

Then: 32 years old and married.
Now: 34 years old and married with a 14 month old son.

Then: Ran almost exclusively in the afternoons after work.
Now: Running almost exclusively in the mornings before work.

Then: Topped out at 73 miles per week.  No running on Mondays and some serious speedwork on Thursdays, including lots of stadium stairs and 100 meter sprints at 100% effort.
Now: Topping out around 60 - 65 miles per week.  Maintaining my running streak by doing one slow mile on Mondays.  Speedwork in the morning is difficult because it's still dark at 5am.  Also I can't sprint at 100% for fear of aggravating my left quad.

Then: No alcohol or soda.  Significantly cut down on junk food and restaurant meals.
Now: No alcohol or soda.  Significantly cut down on junk food and restaurant meals.

Then: Brought my weight down to 130 by marathon day.
Now: Currently at 139.

Then: Strict bedtime of 10pm, up at 6am for work.
Now: Loose bedtime of 8-9pm, up at 4am to run then get ready for work.  Quality of my own sleep largely depends on the quality of my son's sleep.

Then: Strength work after every run: pushups, pull-ups, abs, dumbbells, etc.  Also jump roping.
Now: Always pressed for time, my post run routine has been significantly decreased.

Then: Rode my bike to work 2.5 miles every day.
Now: Riding my bike to work 1 mile every day.

Then: Ran the Rock n' Roll Philly Half at full effort in September; backed out of Baltimore Marathon in October due to shin splints.
Now: Rock n' Roll Philly Half moved to end of this month due to Pope visit; slated to run Baltimore Marathon this Saturday as a long run.

Then: Took 1.5 weeks completely off of running in middle of October and another week at low mileage to recover from shin splints.
Now: No major injuries.  Hitting all the miles.

Then: Self doubt high.
Now: Self doubt high.

Then: Wanted a BQ more than anything else in life.
Now: Sub 3 would be fantastic, but a PR or 3rd BQ would also be good.

Sunday, October 4, 2015

1,700 miles

This morning I ran my first 20 miler of this training cycle, and in doing so I passed the 1,700 mile mark for the 2,015 in 2015 challenge I'm a part of.  At my current rate of progress, I should hit my goal by the end of November, over a month ahead of schedule.  It will be nice to celebrate the Philly Marathon and the end of this challenge simultaneously.

I also got to wear my Boston shirt for the first time since last spring, so all around an exciting day.

The 20 miler, incidentally, was a decent training run.  I broke it up into three legs, passing by the Cooper River and a brief section of trail by Newton Lake, and stopping by my house twice for water and gels.  I felt good throughout - no pain or excessive fatigue at all.  Could have easily kept going.  I guess that's the mark of a good long run if I feel like I still had plenty left in me at the end.
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