Friday, April 29, 2011


It's the middle of the night, and I just ran 8 miles in 1 hour, 14 minutes, and 29 seconds. I think I get a donut for that.

That's getting the Friday ass kicking off to a good start.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

The Toughest Race I've Ever Run: Nightmare on Broad Street

This Sunday at 8:30am, a gunshot will go off at the intersection of Broad Street and Somerville Avenue in northern Philadelphia, and 30,000 runners will charge southward 10 miles to the Philadelphia Navy Yard. Unfortunately, but for no one's fault but my own, I will not be joining them. The Broad Street Run is, according to its website, the largest 10 mile race in the United States. Last year, it was the toughest race I've ever run.

The Broad Street run billed as a flat, fast course through the diverse neighborhoods along Broad Street. And it probably would have been, had the weather not taken an unfortunate -- in my humble opinion -- turn.

Last year's Broad Street Run took place on May 2, 2010. I registered for it on February 22nd, after wavering back and forth for a few weeks and waiting to see if vacation plans would conflict with the race date. Last winter, training was a challenge as Central Pennsylvania was bombarded with more snow than Wisconsin, Minnesota, or upstate New York received. I had been running about 5 miles at a time, and probably no more than 15 miles a week before the double-blizzards that hit the week before Valentine's Day, and running was sporadic at best through the rest of the month.

However, I redoubled my efforts in March, increasing my distance back up to 10 miles by the end of the month, giving me all of April to focus on running it faster. (I didn't know about tapering "back then".) My goal was to finish the race in an hour and a half. I'd achieved that twice on training runs in York and come very close to it on a few other runs, and I thought that Broad Street would have both the disadvantage of a crowded field and the advantage of a flatter course with a net downhill. I was clearly ready for the distance.

What I was clearly not ready for was dramatic shift in weather. I'd run 10 miles on the Wednesday morning immediately prior to the race (like I said, I didn't know about tapering), and the temperature was in the low 50s. But, an unseasonably powerful heat wave moved in during the latter part of the week and by Friday it was in the upper 80s. On Saturday, after packet pickup at Lincoln Financial Field, Chris and I sweltered through one of the hottest baseball games I've ever attended. The forecast for Sunday was no better: It was predicted to be in the mid 80s and extremely humid by the race's 8:30 start time.

I admit, I was scared. Not even my favorite carb-loading dinner, Ravioli at Pietro's Brick Oven Pizza, my traditional one pre-race beer, and cool refreshing maple ice cream at Scoops Deville could reassure me. It was, I feared, the last meal of a condemned man. Have I told you I like to over-dramatize things?

I took what precautions I could against the heat. I got up several times in the middle of the night to drink extra water (One of the volunteers at the expo, who I also heard along the course, just yelled "HYDRATE! HYDRATE! HYDRATE! IT'S GOING TO BE HOT OUT THERE!" over and over, which has become a running joke amongst my wife and I.), I filled one of the bottles on my hydration belt with coconut water to restore electrolytes, I liberally applied sunscreen, and...and...well, that was about it.

I left the hotel to board the Broad Street Line subway at about 6:00, hearing that crowds made it difficult to get to the start. At this hour, this was no trouble at all, although there was a decent crowd already there when I arrived. The early arrival was a positive and negative. On the plus side, not to be gross, it gave me plenty of time to rid myself of the excess fluid I'd consumed the day before, despite long lines for the impressive number of restrooms available. On the negative, it gave me a long time to sit on Broad Street without my iPod and think about how miserable this race was going to be.

And, it was miserable -- one of those days where I was sweating profusely well within the first half mile. The course is a visually interesting cross-section of Philly that passes by or through Temple, City Hall, Little Italy, and the Sports Complex (Go Sixers, by the way!) before it's terminus at the Navy Yard. Crowd support along the whole route is unbelievable. There was army of smiling volunteers offering water, Gatorade, and encouragement. Still, it felt like the race would never end, and I did see many participants, either due to frustration or injury, head off the course to any of the numerous subway stations along the route. The main thing keeping me going as I melted was my ever-increasing desire to hurl my oft-maligned Garmin Forerunner 201, which was become more and more out of sync with the mile markers on the course, into the Delaware River.

I eventually did finish in 1:38, well below my goal, but quite satisfactory under the circumstances. I did not hurl Garmin, which said that I had run over 11 miles in a 10-mile race, into the river, since another GPS wearer reminded me that if I'd meandered back and forth on the course to frequently hit water stations or run through the fire hydrants that the city had opened to cool down runners, that it was feasible that I really had added an extra mile. D'oh!

Garmin lives on to frustrate me to this day.

I sat for about 15 minutes, completely exhausted, on the steps of one of the Navy Yard, re-hydrating and eating before Chris made her away across the crowded finishing area. The Broad Street Run, though three miles shorter, had been unquestionably more challenging than the '09 Philly Half, my first half marathon. According 6ABC, 36 runners were taken to local hospitals during the race and one man collapsed at Pattison Ave, almost within sight of the finish line, and over a million cups of water were dispensed. Although I felt like I was wise to not push myself for a 1:30 finish in these conditions, I also don't think i would have finished if the city had not opened the fire hydrants. Between the hydrants and the multitude of water stops, there is nothing negative I can say about this race as an event.

I'd looked forward to a chance to compete in the BSR again in more favorable conditions, and as the 30,000 journey down Broad Street this year, I wish them luck and will regret that I am not among them.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Power Outage

The last week of running has really been a struggle. Last Thursday, I had a decently-paced 7 mile run, but a lot of stuff hurt: ankles, quads, knees, calves.

Yesterday, similar levels of discomfort and a slower pace.

Today, run/walked 5 miles with a family member. As we chatted, we walked more than I normally would have, but that's ok. What concerns me is just how dead -- completely exhausted -- my legs felt, making it 3 of my last 4 runs in which I really haven't felt very good. I wasn't in any pain today, but there was just no strength at all in my legs.

Of course, Saturday was a notable exception to this budding trend. A very good (for me) 5K, during which I felt winded from keeping up a faster pace, but otherwise pain-free and feeling great.

I haven't really run a good fast 5K since my IT Band flared up (and since healed) in January, and I'd been having some very good runs prior to the Mud Chasers run two weeks ago, but I don't think I'd over-trained.

Maybe the weather? It's been in the high 60s and very humid the past two mornings, quite the change from the 40s on Saturday. I hate running in the heat, as I've said many times, and I'm wondering if just not being used to it yet has taken its toll.

Or, maybe it's just a coincidence. It's not supposed to be easy, after all.

For now, I'm just going to rest for a few days and hold off till Friday or Saturday, and also start taking vitamins again since I'm probably not getting enough of something or other. (Chris read me a list of symptoms of low iron, and that sounded pretty much like what I'm going through).

I do have a few blog ideas that will probably be more interesting than this post, too.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Slow News Day

(This is how I felt on today's run.)

Today was a struggle. I didn't really feel like running this morning, and it was foggy to the point that I felt my usual morning route would be unsafe. However, a quick scan of revealed that this might be my best opportunity for a run this week (the forecast has since improved), so when I saw that school was closed, I headed over to the high school and ran my usual route.

I got 7 miles in 1:07, my usual pace for this distance but not up to par with what I've been putting up recently. Whatever. But worse was how my calves, feet, and quads hurt the whole way. I'm not sure if I hurt myself on the mud run, am sore from racing my 5K harder than I'd planned, or if I just need to either stretch more or take some time off.

The weather was a 180-degree change from Saturday, too. It was about 63, which is certainly not scorching, but much warmer than I'm used to and super, super humid. I got a little relief at mile 6 when it started raining, at which point it seemed to cool down considerably. I debated adding an 8th mile, but as I passed my car I decided that 7 miserable miles were enough.

Interestingly, there were big slugs all over the sidewalk for a good deal of my run. I wanted to get a picture of one, but I didn't want to stop. Since there were no slugs up near the school where I was parked, I posted a picture of this turtle, which I found in our yard several years ago, instead.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Race Report: Northeastern High School Honor Bus Benefit 5K

The Northeastern Honor Bus program was founded to give World War II veterans in northeastern York County a chance to visit, at no cost to them, the World War II Memorial and Arlington National Cemetery. The program was based on a similar program in Mechanicsburg, which in turn traces its lineage to an educator in Ohio who raised money to fly veterans to DC to see these memorials. I suspect there are similar programs throughout the country; the last two times I visited Washington, there were bus tour groups of World War II veterans there.

I think it's a very worthy cause. Today, the men and women involved in that war effort are likely the grandparents of people reading this blog. It's easy to forget that 65+ years ago they helped save the world from perhaps the greatest evil mankind has ever produced. The WWII Memorial is still relatively new to other memorials in DC, dating back to only 2004, so many veterans have not the opportunity to see it.

When I saw several months ago that local volunteers and high school students here in Manchester were raising money for an Honor Bus program by holding a 5K, I thought it be a great race for me to run -- help out a great cause and have the chance to run a race right in my backyard!

To be honest, though, because the race was so close to home and not one that I'd heard about or gotten flyers about year after year, it slipped in and out of my mind as I considered upcoming races. It was always sort of on my race calendar to do it, but just never got around to -- you know - pre-registering. So sadly, in my case, it really took until the evening before to make a firm commitment to run this race.

We're in the middle of the rainy season here, apparently, and it was raining when I awoke yesterday morning. As I got ready to head over to the local VFW for registration, each time I would say to myself "It's not so bad out", the deluge would begin again. During registration, it was pouring, and I got what I thought was a preview of race conditions when I got rather drenched just walking to and from my car to register and then stash my goodie bag. Keeping in mind both the bad weather and the hilliness of the land here, I figured to just kind of take it easy.

However, just as the race was getting ready to start, the weather took a turn for the better. The rain let up, and local politicians who were kicking the event off kept their remarks short to take advantage of the break in the weather. The honor guard led the crowd in a rendition of the Star Spangled Banner, and we were off at the sound of the gun. Without the detriment of rain, conditions were ideal for me -- I've said on here many times that I much prefer running in the cold, and so contrary to my plan I ran the race as fast as I could in pursuit of a PR.

Despite all my fast runs lately, I fell a bit short of PR with a 24:29, but this is still a very good pace for me -- probably in my top 5 all-time, and given the wet road conditions I'm thrilled with the time and happy with my effort.

As I've kind of implied, the course itself, I feel was one of the more challenging that I've run. The race took place in Mt. Wolf and Manchester, two local boroughs located around some very hilly terrain. The course featured tough uphills and downhills steep enough that I felt the need to hold back a bit rather than risk knee injury by picking up the pace.

I was also impressed by the field. I'll be honest -- the only race I ever medaled in was a 5K in Newberry Township on a freezing October morning in which there were probably fewer than 20 participants. I took 2nd in my age group, and it might have been 2nd out of 2. This was a first year event without a lot of promotion, in a tiny borough, on a really rainy morning. Even without age-group specific awards, I thought the field might be small enough that I might have a shot at taking home some hardware. Nope! I got smoked! Which was fine...since schedule didn't really permit sticking around for the closing ceremonies, anyway. (See! Look at how I made it seem like I lost on purpose.) I'm not sure how many participants there were. I was number 92, but I don't think there were that many runners and walkers total.

I think the race organizers did an excellent job in designing and managing the course. In a small race like this that winds through small-town and suburban streets, I was a bit worried that if I was running too far behind the runners in front of me to see them, that it would be easy to wander off course, but there were volunteers at every corner to point runners in the right direction. The course did get a cheap quarter mile of its distance with a lap around the Northeastern High School track, which I think is cheating, and of course it ended on a steep uphill! (In the unlikely event that anyone who was involved in organizing the race reads this, please DON"T take these as serious complaints, they're just things I joke about).

But, other than the above-mentioned course layout pet peeves of mine, I really think this was a very nice event. The opening ceremony was well-done, the course itself was challenging and a nice tour of some of the side streets of two pretty boroughs, and there was ample food and drink after the race. Unless they can control the weather, I don't think there's anything that can be done to improve this race other than more publicity. I hope this becomes an annual event with more participants every year, even if that does totally crush my hopes of a medal.

Have a Happy Easter, and thanks again for reading.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Everybody Hurts, Sometimes

Tonight was just one of those nights. I ran 8 miles in 1:15, a good distance and good pace. But almost from the start, this was not a good run. Sure, I'd slacked a bit this week, and I can't blame that totally on weather, but from how out of breath I was feeling within the first mile, I'd have thought I hadn't run in a month.

My calves also started hurting very early in the run. This isn't completely uncommon for me, but I thought I'd done a good job stretching. By the time they loosened up and felt better at about mile 5, both of my quads were quite sore; both ankles were aching, especially on the turns; and there was a dull pain throughout most of my right foot.

After quick trip to the emergency room, medical professionals determined that I would live through the night.

A few weeks ago, I posted about how I'd unexpectedly, after a very short night of sleep and extremely stressful day of work, pulled one of my fastest runs ever completely out of nowhere. This was the counterpoint to that -- a very painful run that I didn't see coming. I'm not sure if I didn't stretch enough (I thought I did), paced myself badly, actually have some undiagnosed injury, or if it's just a case of "sometimes I've got it, sometimes I don't", which is what I'm leaning towards now.

I don't always feel great when I'm running -- I usually don't, in fact -- but if I'm feelling this bad I usually cut it short, but tonight I was afraid that due to weather and the holiday weekend it might be awhile before I could get back out there. So I continued, miserable the whole way.

Both during and after my run, I was reminded of another of my least-enjoyable runs: the fourth leg of the 2010 Baltimore Marathon Relay.

I was running the fourth leg of the relay, a 7-mile leg that began at Lake Clifton High School (don't ask me where that is...I was bussed there) and ended between lovely Oriole Park at Camden Yards and whatever they call the Ravens' stadium these days. The three out-of-town members of "Earn Your Donuts", Chris, my sister Emily, and myself got up very early that morning and walked from our hotel to the sports complex to meet the fourth member of our team, Ada, a Baltimore resident. From the moment I woke up, I just didn't feel great. Headache, stomach felt awful, and oh yeah, it was freezing and windy.

Since I -- the most experienced racer in the group -- had arrogantly positioned myself to take the last leg, which was one of the two longest, I had to wait several hours for the baton (actually a timing chip) to get to me. About halfway through my wait, I started to feel much better...until I started running.

The seven miles felt like 15. I was out of breath from the beginning, and all the parts of my legs that hurt tonight hurt then. I finished my leg in about 1:07, which is right around my average, but it was miserable. I marveled at people who were 19+ mile into a full marathon who were doing better than me. When I passed someone, there was no joy in it -- they were on mile 20 and I was on mile 2.

While I was busy choking, everyone else on our team ran a great race. Chris, Ada, and Emily all finished their legs of the relay well below the times they'd estimated. I didn't beat myself up over it -- there were some unique circumstances (namely, waiting around in the cold for four hours before running) that affected me that race, but it was a wake-up call. I tightened up the rather slipshod training I'd been doing for the Philly Half Marathon and ran great race, probably my best, there.

Tonight's run needs to serve as a wake up call, too. Not to train harder, since there's nothing on my schedule longer than 10K till November, but to make sure I find the time to do all of the stretches and knee exercises I learned in my physical therapy.

This was just a bad run, but if I don't do a better job sticking with my PT, I'm flirting with injury.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Tell the Story of Your First Half Marathon

Bad weather and, I must admit, a lack of motivation -- but mostly bad weather! -- have curtailed running quite a bit this week. I'll get some miles in tomorrow, most likely, but they'll be boring Manchester miles that wouldn't be worthy of a blog post, anyway.

Here's something that is. A fellow blogger, who for the purposes of full disclosure I will mention that I am married to, is looking for runners to share with her the stories of their first half marathon, as past of a larger writing project that she's undertaking. She noticed that there were books about about running a first marathon and training for a first triathlon or duathlon, but that the half marathon, which is growing in popularity faster than any other distance, was underrepresented. Whereas I would drape myself in sackcloth and ashes, she proposes to do something about this. And she needs your help:

A couple months ago, I ran the Disney Princess Half Marathon in Orlando, FL. It was a challenge and one that I am more and more proud of as the days go by.

Right before the race though, I hit the bookstore to find something to read on the way down. I bought the hubby a first marathon book for Christmas and hoped to find a half marathon version. There was nothing there, which made me slightly disappointed. When I got home, I checked on-line to see if one existed. From what I found, it does not.

So, now that I'm a tad bit out from the race, I decided to do something about it. I wrote up a list of questions regarding a person's running history and their first half marathon experience. I'm hoping to put together a book that a person running their very first half marathon can read and find a bit of advice, camaraderie, or courage from others who were once in their position. I think it would have helped me on that plane ride!

With that in mind, if you have run a half marathon and would like to help me out, please email me. I am seeking out people who have run a half marathon and would like to share their story with others. Doesn't matter to me what half, how long it took you, if you've never run before it or after it, just that you're willing to share your experience with someone who is facing their very first long race.

Please email me at christina_m_stetler (at) yahoo dot com. I hope you'll be willing to help not only me, but the thousands of people each year who are tackling their very first half marathon!
Please get in touch with her through her e-mail (above) or blog,, or leave a comment here if you're willing to help.

I'm sure your story won't compare to my first half marathon, in which I swung on a vine over crocodile-infested waters, jumped over rolling barrels, and evaded a poisonous giant scorpion on my way to finding glorious treasures.

(This is why she needs YOUR help.)

Monday, April 18, 2011

Boston: More than a Feeling

Today was the day of the Boston Marathon. Kenya's Geoffrey Mutai won with a time of 2:03:02, which is the fastest marathon time ever recorded, although it will not count as a world record because the course is not eligible because of its net downhill elevation change. This is less than four minutes longer than it took me to run my best-ever half marathon.

The Boston Marathon is the oldest and most prestigious marathon in the US, and for many runners, it is the Holy Grail of racing. Most races allow entry on a first-come, first-serve basis. Every race I've ever run has been like this; I'm missing out on the Broad Street Run this year because it sold out much, much more quickly than it did last year, when I melted my way down Broad Street on an unusually hot May morning in Philly.

Some bigger races, such as the New York City Marathon, employ a lottery system to manage the overwhelming demand for entrance, which far exceeds available slots.

For Boston, though, you must be elite. A runner must post a qualifying time at at another officially-sanctioned marathon. Boston Qualifiers don't seem to be too hard to find. Baltimore, Philly, Shamrock, and Bob Potts here in York are all Boston Qualifiers.

It's not the only marathon that I know of that requires qualifying times. The National Marathon in DC, the race that most of the participants in my marathon training group were running, has qualifying requirements. However, you can qualify using a 10K or Half Marathon time, so National can still be your first marathon -- the organizers probably really just want to make sure that they have a rough idea of when they can open the streets back up. My 10K and half times would have gotten me in, and my Shamrock time is at the upper end of National's requirements, but still would have gotten me in by either 2 or 17 minutes depending on which part of the website is to be believed.

Boston qualifying is just a little bit trickier. To qualify for Boston, a runner has to meet higher standards for their age group. For example, my goal for Shamrock was 4:30. To qualify for Boston, I would have had to run a 3:05. Things will be a little easier next year when I'm 35, when I could get in with a 3:10.

Phew, that's a relief.

When I first learned about how Boston worked, I kind of thought this policy was really elitist and that the Boston Athletic Association was a bunch of jerks. Upon further thought, though, it makes sense. Of course I can go up to the park and shoot hoops, but I'm not going to make the NBA anytime soon. Boston is the Major Leagues -- if you can post a qualifying time, I think it's great that you can run it without having to worry about tripping over me. (My opinion, however, is that if Boston is going to allow charity spots, which they do, that those runners should still have to post qualifying times, which is not currently the pace, meaning someone can -- to put it most cynically -- buy their way in while qualifying runners are locked out when the race fills up)

One of my friends ran Boston today, and another friend who has encouraged both my wife and I a great deal in our running is going to qualify for it this year. I'm not sure if Boston is something I aspire to or not. One hand, it's the next "level' up. I went from 5Ks to 10Ks to half to full. I can -- and I think will -- run a better marathon, but I've finished one. To "level up", I can try an ultra and/or I can qualify for Boston.

To be honest, though, I don't think I really aspire to either. 26.2 miles is long enough, and I am almost two hours away from a Boston-qualifying time. I think with better training that a 3:05 is not outside the realm of possibilities, but that it might be outside the realm of how hard I want to work at this hobby. One on hand, Chris told me how she watched a few guys who finished Shamrock with a qualifying time just freak out in absolute joy, and on the other I recall a friend who ran his first marathon in summer 2009 telling me how much more enjoyable he thought his race was because he didn't have thoughts of qualifying pressuring him.

For me right now, the answer is no, and it will probably always be no. If I improve a lot with time and training, or run some perfect race and through the combination of luck, conditions, and conditioning, pull a Boston qualifying time out of thin air, you better believe I'd run Boston. In the meantime, congratulations to all the 2011 Boston Marathon fishers and good luck to all the runners working toward a future Boston.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Race Report: 2011 Mud Chasers 3.5, Sparks MD

It seemed like a good idea at the time. I had just finished a marathon, and this was just a 5K. What could go wrong?

This was my thought process in signing up for the Mud Chasers event at Sparks, Maryland. No problem.

I'm not sure I've ever underestimated anything so badly. I'm calling this a race report so that I get some more page views, but this really isn't a race; it's an adventure. I'm not sure if was a good adventure or a bad adventure, just that it was indeed an adventure.

Let's just admit upfront that my preparation for this was minimal. I've been running regularly since the marathon, sticking to two 7-8 mile courses near my home, and putting up some very fast (for me) times. I haven't been lazy by any means, but I haven't gotten myself back into any sort of lifting routine or even gone over to the playground and climbed around on the monkey bars to prep for the obstacles.

Since the course was small and winding through a field, they wisely have groups starting every hour. I was in the 10:00 wave, and I arrived at the parking area around 9:15. I took the shuttle over to the race area, which was judged to be too muddy for people to park at, and then picked up my packet. I was ready to go at about 9:55, and at this point a race official told me and a few others who had walked to the starting area, "Don't wait for a 10:00 start, just go."

The course turned out to be 3.5 miles rather than a standard 5K, but that wasn't an issue. The issue was my complete underestimation of the sheer muddiness of "Mud Chasers".

Things get off to a quick start, the first obstacle, within the first minute of the race, is "The Pits", several pits of muddy water separated by mounds of mud. Unless someone chose to skip this obstacle ( you were allowed to skip any obstacle, but supposedly would be disqualified from winning a prize) there was no way to avoid getting completely soaked and muddy. The water was FREEZING and so I tried to get through as quickly as possible, leaping from the top of each mound as far out into the water as I could. I, who ran a marathon not even a month ago, was super winded after this.

The next obstacle was "Camel Hills", mounds of dirt/mud without the water between, followed by a Hay Pyramid. As tough as any obstacle was the general condition of the course; there were many sections of the course where I
was running or sliding or twisting my ankles through ankle deep slop courtesy of this week's monsoon season, which thankfully took the day off today. "There is really nothing at all fun about this", I thought to myself, a sad Panda.

About halfway through the course, we reached my favorite part -- three climbing obstacles, two using rope ladders and one just a plank wall. Going into the race, the climbing was where I thought I would struggle, but was the most exhilarating and enjoyable part of the course. The sun and wind had dried me off a bit, and I started to think to myself "Now THIS is fun!"

Sadly, it would not last. Soon after the last climbing obstacle was "The Trenches", a series of muddy water-filled pits separated by mud mounds, with ropes hanging over the pits at about a height of 3 feet. There were two strategies for crossing this obstacle: 1) walking through and ducking the ropes, or 2) crawling through on hands and knees. I immediately applied strategy 1, much to the derision of the volunteers stationed beside the trenches. Being extremely susceptible to peer pressure, I switched to strategy 2, much to their delight and my misery.

Soaked again, I continued around the course. The worst of the obstacles were over at this point. According to the map, there was supposed to be a pond to wade through, but I didn't see ANYONE do this and the course markers appeared to go beside it -- maybe conditions were too bad for them to allow it, because what the heck, I couldn't have possibly gotten more wet -- and also a fire pit to leap over. This would have been pretty hardcore, and maybe I would dried a bit.

The last third of a mile (I'm estimating -- now way was I risking Garmin on this thing) wound mostly up a steep hill, and then leveled off in sight of the finish line. Everything looked fine, except as I crested the last little ridge, I saw there was one more sticky mud pit at the finish line. Of course my shoes got stuck and I plopped over. There were a few middle-school aged kids watching the finish who were yelling at me "go faster!" and laughing as I got stuck. I like kids, and I don't think I'm a mean person, but I really wish I had thrown some mud on them and it was somewhat difficult to hold back the expletives. (There was a kids' mud run, which looked pretty serious, but they didn't appear to be participating in either)

(At least my face is clean...right?)

I'm not sure I've ever been quite so happy to see a finish line. My time was somewhere around 38 minutes, but I'm not especially concerned with it. I survived, relatively intact. Though I was sure as I was running that I'd sprained both ankles, it appears that some cuts on my knees are the extent of my wounds. Update -- Race results say I finished in under 28 minutes. Did I misread my watch for forget to re-set it at the beginning from something else? Or are the official results wrong? I'm not sure. It felt a lot more like 38 than 28. 3.5 in 28 is really, really fast for me regardless of terrain. That can't possibly be right.

(One of my clients makes a medication for complicated Skin Structure Infections {cSSI}
usually resulting from a staph infection. My cut isn't bad, but I fear infection.)

Overall, it was a lot of fun -- but it was one of the things that's a lot of fun afterward and not so fun while you're in the middle of it. I think that's true of a lot of running events, though. It was a unique experience for me and I'm glad I tried it.

Lessons Learned

1) I nailed it in terms of clothing -- don't wear any expensive moisture wicking gear. Wear your oldest shirts and cheapest pair of shorts. I'm not sure yet if the clothes I wore are ruined, but I'm definitely glad I didn't sacrifice something I paid decent money for. If you go to one of these and plan to hang out for awhile afterward, a dry shirt is a must. I saved mine for the car ride home. I forsook Garmin in favor of my trusty Timex Ironman watch. I wish I hadn't even bothered with that, though it appears to have survived unscathed.

2) My shoe selection was not so good. I wore an old pair of Adidas Supernova Glides, which had taken me through a great summer of 5Ks in 2008. They're probably ruined, but that's ok, since they're neither my current running shoes or a more recently-retired pair that serve as my everyday sneakers. The problem was that my ankles were just rolling all over the place -- I can't believe they're not sprained. I saw people running in everything from combat boots to barefoot, and I think something with more ankle support would have been best for me.

(These were once a great pair of running shoes,
just like the Orioles were once a great baseball team.)

3) I can't control the weather of course, but if I do a race like this again, I think I'd hope for warmer weather. I love running in the cold, but being soaked to the bone on a chilly, windy morning is miserable. If today were 80 degrees, it would have felt nice. Of course, during the summer, my fear of snakes may have paralyzed me. In one sense I'm glad I was in one of the first heats, because I think for the people running later in the day when the course is even more torn up might have it even worse. I'm not sure if the general muddiness of the course, not counting the obstacles, was good or bad. I slid all over and was afraid I'd sprained my ankles, but the unevenness of the terrain might have been even more treacherous if the ground were dry.

(This isn't near the course. It's the Conewago Creek, about a mile from my house,
just to show how much rain we've had this week.)

4) This is perfect as a group activity, but less fun by oneself. The people who had the most fun seemed to be the ones who ran with people they knew whether they ran in a group to either help each other or make fun of each other, or just ran at their own paces and met up at the beer garden to swap stories. I chatted with people during the run, but part of the post-race enjoyment was lost for a solitary runner.

5) I congratulate the sadistic bastard who designed the course. Just as I was dry and starting to feel comfortable, there was another obstacle to drench me again. The sticky mud pit at the finish line was positively evil. My hat is off to you, sir.

Conclusion & Event Review
I know a lot of people who have signed up for races like this: Warrior Dash comes most easily to mind. After doing one, I really don't think this is my cup of tea. That said, I could be talked into trying another one, and I think every runner should probably do it once.

I can't speak to how this stacks up to other mud run events, and someone with military/bootcamp experience, which I think races like this are supposed to offer a taste of, would probably chuckle at the obstacles, but I can review it as an event. It was a good one, but there's room for improvement in future years:

1. More post-race food would have been a plus. I paid $60 for this race, which is a lot for this distance. I understand that it costs a lot more and takes a lot of time to set up compared to a regular road race and that this benefited a local fire company, but water, bananas, bagels, etc. for finishers would have been appreciated. I did see a table of such items set up for the kids, but if there was one for the regular race finishers, I missed it. (In which case I apologize.) There was catering by Hightopps, a local sports bar with excellent food. I bought a very, very good hot dog for $2 and their were burgers and roast beef sandwiches available as well.

2. The schwag for this race was good. Schwag is very important in choosing races, so that's no small factor. The t-shirt is nice, but the star of the race goodies show is the Mud Chasers beer mug. The bottle-opener dog tag is very plain. I wish it had come with a chain, and that it had a Mud Chasers logo on it.

3. Beer garden. Any race that includes free beer at the finish is ok with me. That said -- MGD64? I just ran through mud and obstacles, and you think I care about calories? I'm not dreaming of Chimay, but something other than the lightest beer in existence would have been awesome. Miller Lite would be fine. (Oops, I failed to notice that MGD64 was one of the sponsors.) Perhaps since my last race included unlimited supplies of Yuengling post-race, that I am spoiled for life. I'm splitting hairs, of course, free beer is always appreciated. If you wanted additional beer beyond the free one, Blue Moon was also available at reasonable prices.

4. Assorted -- bag check was great and very helpful at a race like this. The bands seemed very fun, too. I didn't stick around too long, but had I been with a group, this had all the making of something to hang around for awhile at. All the volunteers were super, super nice, and overall the event was one that I'd recommend for both families and lone idiots, like me, of any age.

(No, it wasn't.)

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

The Bad Guys Wear __ Hats

You've probably already heard about Bryan Stow, a 42 year old San Francisco Giants fan who was beaten within an inch of his life when he had the gall to wear a Giants jersey to the LA Dodgers' home opener.

The incident has justifiably garnered a great deal of media attention, but today I was directed (via my favorite Orioles blog and the blog of Jeff Pearlman, a writer at - among other places - SI) to a slightly different take on the incident by Pittsburgh area sports media personality John Steigerwald.

His article, "Know When You've Outgrown the Jersey", takes a look at some negative aspects of sports fan culture and also seems to place blame not only with these idiot Dodgers fans (who I strongly suspect represent only the tiniest minority of their fan base) but with Stow himself:

Maybe someone can ask Stow, if he ever comes out of his coma, why he thought it was a good idea to wear Giants' gear to a Dodgers' home opener when there was a history of out-of-control drunkenness and arrests at that event going back several years.
Not only does sound tasteless and unsympathetic, it appears to be a classic case of blaming the victim. Unfortunately, I think there's a shred of truth here. The person who wears an opposing team's jersey at many arenas faces increased risk of being the target of not only verbal harassment (both good-natured and not) but physical violence as well. However, it seems like Steigerwald’s missing the point that it shouldn’t be that way -- a fan who wears the opposing team's jersey shouldn't be risking life and limb -- as well as the important questions, such as “why is it that way?” and “how do we fix it?"

Steigerwald goes on to say that maybe we all need to grow up:

Remember when it was the kids who were wearing the team jerseys to games? It was a common sight to see an adult male coming through the turnstile dressed as a regular human being with a kid dressed in a "real" jersey holding his hand.


Are the 42-year-olds who find it necessary to wear their replica jerseys to a road game, those kids who are now fathers who haven't grown up?

Are there really 40-something men who think that wearing the jersey makes them part of the team? It was cute when a 10-year-old kid got that feeling by showing up at Three Rivers Stadium in a Pirates jersey, but when did little boys stop growing out of that?

Again, I think he's focusing on the wrong thing. Is it dorky for adult fans to wear jerseys with the names of other men who are the same age or younger than them? Yeah, probably. (This is coming from a 34 year old who wears a DeSean Jackson jersey for every Eagles game and proudly sports a black-and-orange hat with a cartoon Oriole Bird on it.) But that's what he identifies as a contributing factor to the increasing culture of fan violence? I think there's some bigger at work.

I think that for a lot of fans (and again, I'll point the finger at myself here) sports have become more meaningful than they really should be, and fandom today for a lot of people seems to be just as much if not more about taunting opposing fans as it does cheering on your own team's successes.

To me, it appears that a lot of sports fans' senses of identity are too tied up in what color uniform they root for on the field. Hence, the guy in the Giants jersey is seen as "the enemy" and not just a guy who happens to root for the other team.

I've probably already gone much too far in playing amateur social psychologist here, but I wonder if people in general in Western society perceive their lives as being more disappointing or difficult than they did in previous generations. I absolutely don't think they are -- look at what the life of a serf in feudal Europe would have been like -- but it's so easy to turn on the TV and see someone who's got it better. Maybe greater disillusionment with country, work etc. have contributed to a lack of a sense of community or meaning that previous generations had, and sports has filled this void and/or became outlet for frustration that would have been expressed in different ways, both positive and negative, in previous generations.

Or, maybe sports fans in Imperial Rome were beating up guys in "Pompeii" togas in the parking lot after the big gladiator games, and there just wasn't media coverage of it.

So what does any of this have to with this blog?

This story jumped out at me because I'm definitely a person that takes his sports fandom too seriously. I'm never going to pick a fight with anyone (and if I did, I would lose), but I've been known to sulk my way through the week (or offseason) following an Eagles playoff loss. Likewise, I sometimes irrationally feel like the Orioles never-ending losing streak has come to reflect poorly on me. To a large degree, my sports fandom had become stressful and not fun or relaxing.

This is a big reason that I started running longer races --- I needed something that I could take pride in about myself that wasn't dependent on others. It was in the wake of an Eagles playoff loss in January 2009 that I first considered signing up for my first half marathon, and a great run the day after freezing my butt off at this past season's miserable playoff loss helped me bounce back.

I'm not cured, but I think it's helped. I still get too excited or negative during the game, but I think having an event of my own to compete in has helped me to obsess less once the game is over. I've also cut down a bit on constantly decking myself out in bird-themed gear because I think in my case that did contribute to my too closely identifying myself with these teams. Instead, I'd rather wear something I can take pride in not because someone won a championship in 1983 or (ouch) 1960, but because of something I accomplished.

For me, maybe it should be less of this:

(You do have to admit, though, that it's the coolest hat ever.)
And more of this:

(And yes, the Shamrock Marathon hat, on the left,
is really, really ugly. How am I supposed to wear it all the time
if it matches nothing?)

In general, though, I think people should go on wearing their jerseys, rooting for their teams, celebrating the wins, and being disappointed in the losses. But, if you're still feeling depressed three days after the game or if you're really feeling anger toward someone just for wearing a different jersey, maybe it might help you too to get out on the road.

You don't need to bask in the reflected glory of Donovan McNabb, Andre Iguodala, or Brian Roberts (sorry, guys). Get out there and be your own hero.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

A Link to the Past

At Christmas of 1991, when I was in 9th grade, I was really excited to receive a new set of wheels. Not a car, my first of which was still over 2 years away, but a new Huffy Canyon 10-speed mountain bike.

I'd finally had somewhat of a growth spurt, and I was outgrowing my trusty Kent BMX dirt bike that I'd had since (probably) third or fourth grade.

My golden age of, biking, when two neighborhood friends and I would ride all over surrounding neighborhoods and trails and build ever more dangerous bike ramps, was over, but I still got a fair amount of use out of the bike during high school and on trips home from college.

In June of 1999, shortly after graduating from college, I moved away from parents' house to Philadelphia, and left the bike behind, relying only on my feet, my trusty Neon and some not so trusty SEPTA buses for all my transportation needs. I moved three more times since then, including back to the York area, but the bike stayed in my parents' garage until they sold their house in 2006.

Since then, it's languished in our basement, tires dry rotted and brakes squeaky from disuse. Until this day.

My wife, Chris, is training for the Keystone Warrior duathlon in June, and so had gotten new tires on another 1992ish mountain bike that had belonged to my mother or sister. She's gotten new tires, and gone out riding several times over the last two weeks, and I decided I'd join her (on some rides, not the duathlon). We picked the bike up from the shop on Friday, and today after sitting idle since at least 1999, it rides again.

Having not ridden a bike in over a decade, I was not fast, and the bike does not shift well or have front brakes that work very well (which is my fault), but it was fun to discover that something I loved when I was much younger is still fun today.

I rode 5.3 miles, if Garmin is to be believed, in 33:46. I guess my next ride should be scheduled for 2023, but I'll probably try again later in the week or early next.

Saturday, April 9, 2011


If this were my other blog, the number "8" would no doubt conjure up images of a legendary iron man shortstop of the Baltimore Orioles who is enshrined in the Baseball Hall of Fame.

On this blog, however, 8 is just a number. In this case, the number of miles I ran this morning. It was my longest run since the marathon by a mile, and I kept up a pretty good pace (9:12 minute/mile), but it was otherwise unremarkable -- notable only for the rather gross combination of cold and very, very humid.

Weather is challenging this time of year. In the 40s and low 50s today, but predicted to be 85 on Monday. I will run in the summer. I'll hate every mile, but I'll do it. However, there's no way I'm ready for that kind of heat, so I think I'll wait till Tuesday (predicted high of 62) to get back on the roads.

Since I'm wrapping this entry quite a bit early, here's some photography goodness courtesy of my wife, who took beautiful sunrise photo of the Neptune statue on the Virginia Beach boardwalk while we were waiting for the Shamrock Marathon to start. You can see more of her work at

Friday, April 8, 2011

A Quick 7

I haven't done a great job in running since the marathon for a few different reasons. I took a week off by design, and work has been super-busy with a lot of late nights and days where a lunchtime run was out of the question.

In the last two weeks, I'd run 4 times in Manchester or York Haven. Each time, the distance was 7 miles and the times relatively consistent (dailymile rounds to the nearest minute):

March 26, 7 miles in Manchester: 1:05 - 9:15/mile pace
March 30, 7 miles in Manchester: 1:05 - 9:19/mile pace
April 2, 7 miles in York Haven: 1:07 -- 9:31/mile pace (York Haven is a bit hillier than Manchester)
April 5, 7 miles in Manchester: 1:07 - 9:30/mile place (This was a night run where I felt like I was going really fast -- but was not.)

And then, yesterday:

April 7, 7 miles in Manchester: 1:01:20 - 8:45/mile pace. That's 4-5 minutes below my usual pace. It's probably the fastest seven miles I've ever run.

I won't lie, I'm thrilled with this. But I really don't know where it came from. Since building distance for the marathon, I really haven't worried about how fast I was going. But I saw I hit the 5K mark at about 26 minutes, which is an ok, acceptable, but not great 5K for me, but really good for the first 3 miles of a longer run. I reached the halfway mark at about 30 minutes, still very good for me.

The second half of this route is mostly uphill. I haven't downloaded spits (I never do), but while I don't think I pulled off the negative split, I ran as fast as I could the whole 3.5 miles back to my car, feeling like I was sprinting for the last mile, and came in at 1:01:20. Usually, I'm feeling pleasantly tired at the end of the run, but not exhausted except during the heat of summer. I worked really hard for those 5 minutes, though. I could hardly breathe when I got back the Neon and chugged a whole Gatorade at Sheetz while waiting for an MTO.

Anyway, the point of the post was not really to brag (ok, it sort of was), but how completely unexpected this was for me. I was going on three hours of sleep and I'd had one of the most stressful work days of my career, which was the culmination of what's been the busiest quarter of work of my seven years at my current company. While I've found that running after a rough day is a good stress reliever, I haven't really found that a frustrating day made me run faster in the evening.

I pushed myself really hard on during the second half of my run because I knew I had the shot at a great time, but I'm not sure where the faster-than-usual front half came from. I had just wrapped up a HUGE three-month project at work 45 minutes earlier, and I told my wife at the time that I actually felt lighter. Maybe I really was.

Tomorrow, I'll probably run the same route. And despite my best intentions, I'll probably be back in the 1:05-1:06 range. After 3.5 years of running, it's still somewhat of a mystery to me. Some days I've got it; some days I don't. But I'm thankful for every opportunity to try.

(Sorry for the even more boring than usual post. This is what happens when I don't know what to write about.)

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Eye of the Tiger

It's been a challenge to get the miles in lately. Go for a run, or hit the snooze button? Zzzzzzzzz...

Get a few miles in, or work late on my day job...which is not blogging about running and/or the Orioles. (Who, as of this writing, are 4-0, their best start since 1997!)? Work is going to win.

"I'm too tired."

"I'm too hungry."

"I ate too much."

I did get a nice 7 miles tonight, my first night run since early March, but it's hard to find a reason to get out there without the threat of a marathon hanging over my head like the Sword of Damocles.

So, with that in mind, I signed up for the next big adventure:

November 20 is a long way away, but it'll keep me honest. I hate running when it's hot, but this will force me to get in at least 1 or 2 double digit runs a month all through the summer. Hopefully I can do better than that and build up mileage to get in the 20 milers I need to run a little better marathon than I did in Virginia Beach. I have a feeling I'm going to be doing my long runs at like 4 in morning or late at night during the week to try to beat the July and August heat, but I'll find a way.

It should be fun. I ran the half the last two years and it was a great tour of the city and a great excuse to eat at Little Pete's and/or the Continental (or somewhere else) afterward. Twice the miles equals twice the cheese steak eggrolls.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Another Great Idea!

With my dream of running the Bob Potts Marathon shot down by anyone with a brain, I had to look elsewhere for adventure. And I found it.

At the advice of a friend, who told me there was beer at the end of it, I signed up for my first mud/obstacle race, the Mud Chasers 5K in Cockeysville, MD.

Here's the course map (from the website) with its list of obstacles:

Basically, I haven't done anything but run since at least mid-January, so this might end up being filed under "It seemed like a good idea at the time," but I think it will be really fun. I'm debating what to do about shoes -- I definitely don't want to risk the current pair, so I'll probably risk knee injury on the most beat-up pair I own, their predecessors.

I'm not looking to PR, just to have a good time and earn my "free" beer, collectible mug, and bottle opener dog tag.

If anyone would like to join in the adventure (!?), here's website to register:

I'm in the 10:00 wave.

If you want to be super hardcore, there's an endurance challenge in which your run the course five consecutive times. There does not appear to be any extra goodies as incentive to do this, just bragging rights.