Friday, April 21, 2017

Boston Marathon Day 3: Sunday

On Sunday morning I again woke up around 7am and went for a quick run along the Charles River.  Sunday's temperature was to be much warmer than the day before; it would ultimately reach into the 80's.

Another trip to Starbucks for a chai, then on to the finish line on Boylston Street.  At 8:30am, there were already hundreds of runners milling about, taking pictures.  And a dog.

I then walked the few blocks to the expo at 9am, right when it opened, so I wouldn't have to wait in crazy long security lines.  I was one of the first people into the expo that morning and practically had the place to myself.  I didn't buy anything, but did pick up my free poster.  I also enjoyed talking to some of the vendors.  Sam Adams was there giving away free beer, but not until noon.

After the expo, I headed back to the Runner's World pop up store yet again to see Shalane Flanagan speak.  She's a four time Olympian, (most recently competing in the marathon at last summer's Rio Games), and for the past few years she's been trying to win Boston. She's one of my favorite elite runners due to her badass attitude; her fearlessness and her take-no-prisoners approach to competition.  Unfortunately she had to drop out of this year's race due to an injury, but was hired as one of the commentators.

Runner's World editor David Willey interviewed her for close to an hour about her career, her injury, the recent doping scandals in the elite running world, her new cookbook, and future plans.  It was a great conversation.  Afterwards they let audience members ask her questions, and I got to ask about the doping.  My question went something like this: cheating at the elite level, in the form of doping, and at the amateur level, in the form of course cutting and using bib mules, seems to be more prevalent than ever. At the elite level, do you think the deterrents currently in place are enough to thwart cheating, or do you think the rewards for cheating will always outweigh the risks?  She responded that not just the runners should be held accountable, but their entire entourage, because there is no way the coaches aren't in on it as well.  She also said repercussions right now are a mere slap on the wrist, and need to be more severe.

After Shalane's talk, I wanted to get her autograph and a picture, but I wasted too much time getting in line and they closed the line by the time I got to it.  So I went to a nearby bar to have a lobster roll and fries for lunch.  #whatbostonqualifierseat

Imagine my surprise, then, when I came out of the bar an hour later and Shalane walked right by me on the street.  Before I knew what I was doing, I had turned around to call her name excitedly and catch up with her.  I blurted out, "I'm the guy that asked you a question after your talk, I'm sorry - the line was so long - do you mind if I get a selfie with you?"  It was only then that I noticed she was on her phone and seemed to be in a hurry.  She seemed a little annoyed (I don't blame her), but graciously posed for a selfie with me.  An hour later, while scrolling through photos on my phone, I noticed the selfie with Shalane was not there.  In my bumbling state I managed to botch it and not take a photo at all.  So that happened.  I met Shalane Flanagan on the streets of Boston and have absolutely no proof.  #foreverawkward

I went back to the Runner's World pop up store to see Dave McGillivray, director of the Boston Marathon give a presentation about his life in running.  It was by far the most entertaining talk of the weekend.

For lack of a better idea, I then just wandered around Boston for a little bit.  I had wanted to tour the Sam Adams Brewery, but they were closed Sunday due to Easter.  I thought about doing a Duck Tour, but every tour for the rest of the day was sold out.  Normally I would have just continued wandering around the city, maybe taken in a museum of some kind, but it was 85 degrees and sunny and I had a marathon to run the next day, so I headed back to my Airbnb to get off my feet and out of the heat and sun for awhile.

After several episodes of "It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia," it was time to head over to City Hall for the official pre-race dinner.  I left my Airbnb around 5pm and had a nice stroll along Boston Common, past the Cheers bar and into downtown.  I didn't go to this when I did Boston two years ago, so I had no idea what to expect.  I figured I would encounter another long line since my ticket was for 7pm when the event started at 4, as long lines seemed to be the one theme of the weekend.  But I had no idea the line would be nearly a mile long, wrapping all the way around City Hall.  I considered bailing and just finding a nearby restaurant, but decided to get in line anyway just to see how fast it moved.  25 minutes later, I was entering the food line.  Not bad, BAA, not bad at all.

Food was red and white pasta, cold macaroni salad, regular salad, Italian sausage and meatballs.  Drinks were various types of water, juices, and the ubiquitous Sam Adams beer, which I did not drink.  Normally before a marathon I try to go for a few weeks, even up to 2 months without drinking any alcohol.  For this year's Boston I managed to not drink any beer all day Sunday.  Paragon of self-restraint, this one.

After dinner I strolled back through Boston Common to my Airbnb for another early night.

I laid out my clothes for the morning and made sure my bag was packed for Athletes' Village, then turned in around 9pm.

All told, Sunday was pretty laid back, but just what I needed considering it was the day before a marathon. 

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Boston Marathon Day 2: Saturday

I woke up on Saturday around 7am, and went for a quick run along the Charles River.  It was a picture-perfect, sunny, chilly spring morning in Boston.  Perfect running weather.

After running, I showered and got dressed, loaded up a few things in a backpack, then headed out into the city.  First stop: Starbucks for a chai.  I then walked the 2.5 miles across the Charles River to Cambridge to visit an old friend, which ended up being a lovely walk. The Boston skyline loomed over my right shoulder, runners packed both sides of the bridge, the sun blazed brightly over everything... Just a stunning morning all around.

Martina and I met 21 years ago when I took part in a summer exchange in her hometown of Oberstdorf, Germany, and we've managed to stay in contact over the years thanks to Facebook.  If you read about my experience at the 2015 Boston Marathon, you may recall that she graciously let me stay with her for a night that weekend.  Since I was staying at an Airbnb this time, we settled on breakfast Saturday morning.

Her husband and son joined us in the backyard as we caught up, in German, over a breakfast of tea, fruit and croissants, after which we hung out on one of the side streets as her son tore around on his bike with some of the neighborhood kids.  Norman Rockwell, eat your heart out.

At 11 o'clock, I had to say my goodbyes and make my way back to the city.

Back across the Charles River, back to Boylston Street where I planned to go into the expo, but the security lines to get in were roughly 3 miles long, so I bagged that idea.  Just as I was figuring out what to do instead of the expo, I looked to my right and happened to see Scott Jurek standing there (famed ultra marathoner and all around swell guy whom I wrote about a few years ago).  He was meeting fans and signing autographs, so I jumped in line and got to spend a minute or so talking to him.  Super tall and super nice.

I then headed back to the Runner's World pop up store because I had signed up for a session called Yoga for Runners at 12:30.  I'm not normally into yoga (I'm about as flexible as Republicans on immigration), but I felt like trying to step outside of my comfort zone, so I showed up and went with the flow.  I was one of two guys in the room, and I had to modify a few poses due to the aforementioned inflexibility, but overall I found I really enjoyed it.  It helped that it was led by a woman who had run Boston herself, and a lot of the session was geared towards preparing for the big race, both mentally and physically.  Everyone in the room was preparing to either run or spectate the race, so we all had a common bond.

Directly after yoga, the room was taken over by a meetup from an online crew called #WeRunSocial, which is basically a group of selfie/social media obsessed runners.  I got to talking to Dani who invited me to stay and have a beer with everyone.  Bart Yasso also showed up, and they were giving away Boston themed Compression socks.

After hanging out with the #WeRunSocial crew, I came out into the main room to see the director of the Boston Marathon himself, Dave McGillivray, up on stage with Bart Yasso and others.  I attended Dave's talk the following day, perhaps one of my favorite talks out of all the events I attended.

I had some time to kill before the Red Sox game, so after leaving the Runner's World pop up store, I popped into a bar on Boylston to try the Sam Adams 26.2 beer that they brew every year in limited batches just for the marathon.  It's a gose style ale that "contains light cereal notes from malted and unmalted wheat with a touch of peppery spice.  Soft wheat and citrus character are contrasted with hints of salt and coriander and it finishes clean with soft fruit and crisp citrus notes."   Luckily for you I can confirm that it is indeed delicious.

I slowly made my way to Fenway Park (just a mile from the finish area), had a burrito at Qdoba for dinner, then went to the park to see the Red Sox play the Tampa Bay Rays.

I'm a casual baseball fan, having played it growing up and gone to my share of Phillies games over the years.  I've always wanted to go to a game at Fenway, one of the most historic parks in baseball, so it was great to be able to finally do so.  The Sox ended up winning the game 2-1.

After the game I walked back to my Airbnb.  I had wanted to go to the premiere of "Boston: An American Running Story" (first feature-length documentary about the Boston Marathon), but I hadn't gotten tickets in time, so I just called it an early night again.  Watched a few episodes of "It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia" and was in bed by 10pm.

Stay tuned for Day 3: Shalane Flanagan, the expo, and the pre-race dinner.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Boston Marathon Day 1: Friday

I'm back from my trip to Boston, and I can already say it was, without a doubt, one of the best weekends of my life.  It was so incredible, so amazing, so uplifting, so rejuvenating, and so many other positive adjectives that don't begin to do it justice.  I want to remember every moment of this weekend for as long as I live, so bear with me while I break it down into separate posts by day.  Let's go back to the beginning and start with day 1: Friday April 14, 2017.

My school was already on spring break so I was able to come up to Beantown on Friday this year.  My dad picked me up at 7am and we drove into Philly together where he dropped me off at 30th Street Station for my 8:30am train.  I was there super early but I was so excited for the trip that I didn't mind waiting.

The train had wifi so I was able to get some work done on the ride up (a teacher's work is never done; in this case I had thousands of grades to enter for the third marking period).  I spent the five and a half hour ride alternately working on grades and watching the scenery roll by outside my window.  I really love taking trains.

I arrived around 1:30 in the heart of the city and walked with all of my gear straight to Boylston Street and immediately found the finish line.

I then went to the expo, still with all of my stuff, and picked up my bib.  There was no pint glass this year but I did score a sweet bottle opener in addition to the traditional tech shirt. Also took a picture of one of the most famous turns in sports:

I wanted to explore the expo but I had places to be, so I kept moving, walking three blocks from Boylston to Beacon Street where my Airbnb was.  That's right, I managed to find a place just three blocks from the finish area.  This made all the difference in how amazing the weekend was.  I was within walking distance from everything and never once set foot on the T because I just didn't need to.

My Airbnb was tiny, but it was clean and quiet and the bed was comfortable, so I really couldn't have asked for more.

I dumped my stuff and immediately headed back out again, this time to Post 390, a restaurant on Stuart Street.  Earlier in the week I had seen something on Twitter about an event with Jared Ward (U.S. Marathoner and 6th place finisher in the Olympic Marathon last summer), and I entered my name, knowing it was a lottery and so I wasn't guaranteed to be selected. But the very next day I got an e-mail confirming my name was on the list.

The event was on the second floor in a private section of the restaurant with its own bar, and only about thirty people made the cut for this event.  The first hour, from 4 - 5,  was a cocktail hour where waiters and waitresses circulated with trays of wine and hors d'oeuvres, and a table off to the side held still more food.  They handed out copies of his senior thesis to everyone, and I sat at one of the tables stuffing my face with red wine and crab cakes while trying to make sense of what I was reading.

Math was involved.  Lots and lots of math.

As I tell my students, there's a reason I didn't become a math teacher.

At five o'clock we were all invited into the next room where a stage was set up.  We first watched an intro video (super amusing to watch Jared Ward standing there watching Jared Ward).

Then a very energetic woman from Saucony interviewed Jared, and finally Jared gave what I can only assume was a very simplified presentation of his thesis on marathon pacing strategy.

In addition to being an incredible marathoner, Jared Ward is also an excellent public speaker. He managed to make complex statistical analysis fun and engaging to an audience of runners, not fellow statisticians.  Bravo to him.

As soon as he finished his talk, I legged it down Boylston Street to a Runner's World event. For the first time at the Boston Marathon, Runner's World rented their own space on Boylston and turned it into a pop up store to host their own series of free events throughout race weekend.  I was headed to the shake out run with Bart Yasso, the Mayor of Running, and Ali Nolan and Hannah McGoldrick, the ladies behind the web series Super Secret Mystery Meeting.

A group of us headed out for 3 miles along the Charles River, then returned to the pop up shop for pictures, beer, and the largest slice of pizza I've ever seen in my life.

Around 8pm I finally walked the few blocks back to my Airbnb.  If this were any other weekend, I probably would have found my way to a bar somewhere and tried to connect with other runners, but because I had a marathon to run in two days, and because I'd already had plenty of beer and wine that night, I decided to make it an early night.  I ended up passing out by about 9pm anyway, so I guess I needed the sleep.

Stay tuned to read about day 2: Yoga, Red Sox and German friends!

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

April Coffee Date

Pull up a chair and grab your favorite caffeinated beverage, dear reader.  It's been awhile, so let's catch up.  Here, in no particular order, are some life updates:

  • We'll start with the heavy stuff.  One reason for my lack of writing over the last several months is I've been enduring a personal life tragedy.  Sorry to be so horribly vague, but I really don't care to get into it other than saying I've been in a fair bit of emotional pain lately.
  • Life marches on, though.  Parenting a toddler and working a full time job as a high school teacher don't just stop so I can take time to reflect and process appropriately.  I've been dealing as best I can, which is to say, not great.
  • I'm still running Boston next week, but the aforementioned personal tragedy really took a lot of wind out of my sails this past winter.  So many of my runs have been hampered by the existential question of "what's the point?"  I seriously considered dropping out of Boston, but I knew that come race weekend, I would probably regret it.  So I slogged through training as best I could, but with a lot less heart than I would have liked.  I'm in good physical shape now, but not great.  I'll survive Boston, but it may not be pretty.
  • I got tickets to an afternoon Red Sox game this Saturday, and I'm going to try to work in a Sam Adams Brewery tour, and meet up with people from Who's Up? who are also running.  Overall I am definitely looking forward to this weekend.  I'm sure I'll put up several more posts over the next week telling all about it.
  • Because the Boston Marathon always falls on a Monday, most people have to take a day off of work.  I'm taking two to allow for travel back to New Jersey, but because the race also falls directly after our spring break (all four days of it), and the administration doesn't like teachers taking days off directly before or after a break, they are docking my pay for one of those days.
  • Speaking of school, I'm busy planning another trip to Germany with my students. Last time we went was April 2015, and this year we'll be going in June.  I'm taking 14 students and they're all very excited, but this will probably be the last time I plan everything myself.  It's just too much work on top of all my other responsibilities.
  • I'm writing a book.  It's a young adult novel set in a dystopian future where kids battle each other to the death.  Just kidding.  All I'll say is the main character is an 8th grader, so it's aimed at middle schoolers and the problems they face.  Who knows what will come of it, but for now it's a fun hobby, and it's nice to give long-form fiction a shot.  Look for the book to hit shelves around 2032.
  • That's the long and the short of it on my end.  How have you been?

Thursday, March 30, 2017

2017 Love Run Half Marathon: Race Report

I'm a creature of habit.  Once I find races that I like, I tend to do them year after year. Haddonfield Adrenaline 5k.  Wissahickon Trail Classic.  Philly Marathon.  Rock 'n' Roll Philly Half Marathon.  These races and I go back years.

A few years ago, a new Half Marathon debuted in Philly called the Love Run, and I've been wanting to try it ever since.  Because I was planning to drop down in distance for my long run that day anyway, and because I'm not doing the ODDyssey Half Marathon this year, and in an effort to try something brand new, I signed up.

It ended up being a great decision.  It was a very well-run and fun event, and I could definitely see myself doing it again in the future.

Like a lot of Philly races, this one started at the art museum, so I took the train across the bridge into Philly on Sunday morning, then walked out to the museum with several hundred other people.  I'm part of a large running group on Facebook called Run856, and they had a tent set up where people could drop their bags, so I didn't have to worry about official gear check.

The weather was supposed to be cold and rainy for the morning of the race; luckily we only had to worry about the cold as the rain held off.  I ran in just a long sleeve shirt and wool hat which worked out perfectly.

I started in the first corral and set off at what I guessed was about a 7:30 pace (I didn't wear a watch for this race).  The first few miles wound through Center City before returning to the art museum and bearing left onto Martin Luther King Jr. Drive.  I was feeling pretty good throughout, even during the climb up to the Strawberry Mansion Bridge and short detour around the other side of the Schuylkill River.  As I fell into the homestretch in the last few miles along the river, I started picking up the pace.  I finished the last tenth of a mile in a dead sprint, which made for a nice picture:

Side note: I love it when races offer free professional pictures.

My time wasn't too bad either.  I've been running long this winter in preparation for Boston, of course, but haven't approached anywhere near the intensity that I would like.  Going into this race, I told myself I would be happy with anything under 1:40, so the fact that I beat that and managed to finish the last few miles with a solid kick is a win in my book.

I had a full set of clothes to change into, thankfully, considering how cold it was.  I hung out waiting for others to finish, and then got talked into redeeming my free beer in the beer garden.  Because you're not living until you're drinking beer (Yards, natch) at 9:30am outside in 45 degree weather after running 13.1 miles.

I then went to a nearby bar to get out of the cold and meet a guy from Who's Up? for another drink, followed by walking back to the train to return to New Jersey.

If you're looking for a good half marathon in the Philly area, I definitely recommend this one. There was a great turnout for such a new race, the course was beginner friendly with just one challenging hill in the back half, the participant perks are solid, and there were no major snafus of any kind.  Race management was solid all around.

Dare I say it?  I just might love this race.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

2017 Haddonfield Adrenaline 5k: Race Report

Ran the 12th annual Haddonfield Adrenaline 5k last weekend.  I love this race for so many reasons (flat and fast course, competitive field, great after party...) and try to do it every year. It's usually the first race of the year for me and a great time to shake off the winter cobwebs and assess where I'm at in terms of racing fitness.

The race happened to fall the day after St. Patty's Day this year, so rather than go out and drink my face off Friday night, I abstained from alcohol completely and went to bed around 10pm.  Because Stevie works on Saturday mornings, my dad met me at Haddonfield Memorial High School, the site for the start and finish of the race, so he could watch Neale while I ran.

Close to 9am we all gathered on Kings Highway, and I caught up with some people from Who's Up? towards the front of the pack of hundreds of runners.

The race was unremarkable, to be honest.  I ran hard, but without any specific preparation for the 5k distance this winter,  I finished in roughly the same time I do every year.

The winner finished in 14:42, by the way.  Like I said, it's a competitive race.

The after party was held at the gym of a nearby church with wine and kegs of Yards Pale Ale and Yards Brawler.

I love these guys.

Another great year in the books, and already looking forward to next year...
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