Sunday, June 26, 2016

Strider Indepence 10k Race Recap

There are many running clubs in South Jersey, both new and old.  Of the vanguards of South Jersey running, the Pineland Striders are among the oldest, which my dad used to be a part of (there's an old man joke in here somewhere, but I'll resist, Dad).

Every year for the past thirty plus years, they have put on the Strider Independence Races (10k and 5k) near July 4th.  The races start and finish at Shawnee High School in Medford, and run right past Camp Ockanickon where I used to live and work in my twenties.

I ran the 10k race two years ago and did reasonably well - won my age group and placed 9th overall.  This year I recruited Neale and Stevie as my cheering section, and we all made the drive out to Medford on a chilly summer Saturday morning.

Despite this event's long history, each race has less than 100 runners.  This means, though, that race morning is not chaotic.  Registration is always organized and easy, and there is access to flush toilets in the high school which don't get too crowded.

At 8:30am we took off from the high school parking lot into the surrounding neighborhoods with million dollar homes, some owned by Philadelphia professional athletes.  The course is completely flat and mostly shaded, perfect for a summer race.  In the final half mile, racers leave the pavement and run a quarter mile across the grass, then finish the final quarter mile on the school's track.

I remember the last time I did this race, I fought hard to pick off runners in the second half of the race and maintain my top ten standing.  This time, though, there was no one close to me, either behind or ahead, and it was all I could do to keep up the pace.  I did manage to beat my time from the last race by almost a minute.

Final stats:

While I was racing, Neale had a great time playing with dogs and other small kids, not to mention roaming the hallways of the high school.

I received a medal for winning my age group again, but unfortunately there was no accompanying gift certificate to the Haddonfield Running Company like last time.

There was a nice post-race spread of bottled water, bananas, bagels and oranges for all runners, but I didn't partake too much, because we went to get pizza afterwards.

Thanks to Stevie and Neale for cheering me on, and thanks to the Pineland Striders for a great morning of races!

Saturday, June 18, 2016

End of the school year

Stevie: Wait, what are we doing?
Me: We're going to point at the camera.
Stevie: Why?
Me: Less talk, more pointing!

It was the final day of the school year yesterday, and as is our tradition, Stevie and I headed to the backyard with glasses and a bottle of champagne to celebrate.

It was my fifth year, meaning for the first time, I taught a class through all five levels of the German program, meaning saying goodbye to my seniors was a lot more emotional than I expected it to be.  I will genuinely miss them when I return in September and for the first time since meeting them five years ago, they will not be in my class.

Technically, this was my strongest year yet.  In the new review system, implemented three years ago, I earned a 3.5 out of 4, my highest score ever, which just barely classified me as a "highly efficient" teacher.

But a single number doesn't tell the whole story, of course, and to be honest I don't feel highly efficient.  Ever since my son Neale was born, I've felt off and struggling to keep up with school work.  Now that he's older, and I have a better grasp on fatherhood, I'm looking forward to next year and making improvements all across the board.

Next year is going to be pretty intense.  Stevie and I are kicking off the year with a half marathon in September (her first).  In October Stevie is acting in a two-woman show called Night, Mother.  We are possibly returning to the Keys during Christmas break, I am running my second Boston Marathon in April, and in June I'm leading another trip to Germany with my students.

But for now... summer!

Friday, June 17, 2016

2016 ODDyssey Half Marathon Race Recap

This was my fourth year in a row running this race.  Race reports from previous years:


Race organizers gave runners who had run three or more years a free mini growler, which unfortunately did not include any beer inside of it.  Or a cap.  Thanks guys?

Also new this year was a relay option.  Runners could do the entire half, or join a team of two and break the race up into two 6.55 mile stretches.  Kim and Erik from Who's Up? decided to do just that.  Erik would run with me for the first half, and Kim would run with me for the second half.  Kim was one half of the dynamic duo that paced me in the final miles of last fall's Philadelphia Marathon, and I promised not to relive those profanity-laced miles this time around.

The heat will almost always be a factor in a distance race in June, and last Sunday was no exception (though as luck would have it, the very next morning was gloriously chilly and humidity free).  The race started on time at 7am, and Erik and I took off with the 7:00 pacer.  I already knew two miles in, however, that this was going to be a difficult day and it would be unlikely I could stick with him the whole way.  Before the halfway point we let him go.

We reached the halfway point in about 48 minutes where we saw all of the relay runners waiting for their partners to come in.  Unfortunately Kim was not one of them.  She was nowhere to be seen.  Erik ran with me for a few hundred yards, and I jokingly asked him he felt like running a half marathon today.  Instead he turned back to wait for Kim.

As it turns out, one of the buses transporting the relay runners to the halfway point was late. Erik only waited about three or four minutes for Kim to show up, but it meant I had to run the second half of the race by myself.  I've done plenty of races on my own, so not a huge deal, but it can still be a mental blow when you're expecting someone to run with in tough conditions only to find out they aren't there.

Not cool, ODDyssey.

I slowed down a fair bit in the second half and finished the race in 1:42:01, far from my course PR of 1:33, but not terrible.

Once I reached the finish line, I grabbed my free beer and pint glass and downed the beer as quickly as I could.  Unfortunately something had come up at home and I wouldn't be able to relax in the beer garden like every year, which is usually the best part of this race.  I had to leave only ten minutes after finishing the race.

After having a few days to reflect on this year's race, I'm left wondering how much longer the ODDyssey Half Marathon is going to last.  A few years ago they sold out a week before the race.  The following year they sold out a month before race day, and it seemed like this trend would continue indefinitely.  On the contrary, the ODDyssey Half Marathon appears to be on the decline.  It hasn't sold out in the past two years.  The expo, while efficiently run, is never in the same location from year to year.  There seemed to be fewer carnival games than ever on the course this year, and the addition of the relay race seemed like a last ditch effort to add more participants.  They also now have more competition from the Love Run Half Marathon in April, which I've never done but from what I've heard has an easier course and better weather.

So I'll just lay out some pros and cons:


  • Free race pictures.  I wish all races did this.
  • Quick and efficient expo (though one year it was held over a week before race day for some reason).
  • Free, quality beer (Sly Fox) and custom ODDyssey pint glass at the finish.
  • Shady beer garden on the grass right next to the finish line.
  • Free post-race massages.
  • Costume contest.
  • Games on course (very few this year, though).
  • Cool medal, if you're super into collecting race bling.
  • Amazing race volunteers.
  • Pace groups starting at 7:00 and all the way up to around 12:00.
  • Decent price.  I forget the exact price, but if you sign up early enough I think it can be as low as $60.

  • In the middle of June.  Heat and humidity almost always an issue.
  • The course has some serious hills.  It is not a very beginner friendly race.
  • Two years in a row now of bus snafus, with no apology or acknowledgment afterwards.
  • Parking is tough.  You have to get there over an hour early to get anywhere close to the start/finish area.  There is no public transport, though the race does offer a private bus from Center City.
  • Very little crowd support beyond the race volunteers, if that is important to you.
The question always comes down to whether or not I would recommend a race to someone.  I think the pros still outweigh the cons for this race, and someone who has never done it before would love it.  I would recommend that a Half Marathon virgin try a different race for their first, though.

Will I be back for a fifth year?  If money were no object, then I would say yes.  But with an ever shrinking annual race budget, I'm forced to reevaluate how much I enjoy the ODDyssey Half Marathon.  We'll just have to wait and see about next year...

Sunday, June 5, 2016

2016 Wissahickon Trail Classic Race Report

It's June, and you know what that means: time for another edition of the Wissahickon Trail Classic, the most insane trail race in the Philadelphia area.

Every year around this time, about 500 runners hungry for punishment fling themselves with gusto at the trails surrounding the Wissahickon Creek.

There is no music.  There are no cheering fans with cowbells and funny signs.  There are no Twitter or Instagram accounts for this race.  There are no shiny medals at the end for all participants.  There is no chip timing.  There are no costume contests.

What is there?  Lots of technical trails, and good old fashioned competition.  In the four consecutive years that I have done this race, I have improved on my time every year, but I still have yet to crack the top ten in my age group.  The race course is tough, yes, but your fellow runners are tougher.

Here's last year's race report: 2015 Wissahickon Trail Classic

I arrived at the starting area around 8 o'clock yesterday morning and registered for $40 (a $5 increase over race-day registration last year), then took my time using the porta potties, stretching, and doing a warm-up run.  At 9 o'clock, we all gathered at the starting line where only the first five rows of people could hear the announcements on the megaphone, and we were quickly sent down the path.

Steep switchbacks.  Lots of rocks.  Lots of mud.  A covered bridge.  Two road crossings.  Two water stops.  Single track.  Wide gravel paths.  A creek.  And finally, a turn into the homestretch and a madcap dash to the finish line.  The sweat continues to soak the clothing as the gasping for breath slowly subsides.  It's finally over.  Another year survived.

Last year I finished in 49:45 and 39th place.  This year I finished in 49:20 and was demoted to 55th place.  So it goes with this race.  I wouldn't have it any other way.

I stuck around for awhile to cheer on runners still finishing and get some of the pizza the race provided.  After the awards ceremony, I headed back to my car.

Can't wait for next year.

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Global Running Day

Like running?  Like social media?  Boy is this the holiday for you:

National Running Day was upgraded this year to Global Running Day, and my Facebook and Twitter accounts have been blowing up all day with people singing the praises of this simple sport (as if we don't annoy the hell out of people already with our incessant run talk, we had to go and create a day where we kick it into overdrive...).

This holiday always falls on the first Wednesday of June, meaning I always end up celebrating it with my Wednesday night run crew Who's Up? over at the Haddonfield Running Company.

This year, though, owner Dave Welsh truly outdid himself.  Our group run is 6.6 miles long, so he recruited six race directors to come and promote their races at each mile marker along the route.  Runners received two raffle tickets at the store, and could choose two of the six races to drop their tickets into buckets while running by for a chance to win a free entry.  Just another example of the creative marketing that Dave employs and why I love the Haddonfield Running Company.

Photo by Ron Riskie

It ended up being the biggest crowd I've ever seen at a Wednesday night group run.

We were packed to the rafters until 8 o'clock when each race held its drawing.  I had put in tickets for the Haddon Twp. Turkey Trot and the Bridge 10k, each in November, but sadly I didn't win either one.  Still didn't dampen my spirit, though, as it was a great evening either way.

Happy Global Running Day, everyone!  Can't wait for next year!
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