Occupying Space in my Brain | March 30

A brief description of things that I've been thinking and learning about recently. (An idea stolen directly from Tim Calvin's "SitRep" posts. Also, you should subscribe to his email newsletter).

  • Sharing. I used to share my thoughts, reflections, and resources much more often than I have the last few years. Several factors have affected this (more stringent district policies, twitter got weird, having a child), but I do miss the active engagement with the education community that occurred through this active sharing. As evidenced by this post, I'd like to be more proactive on this front. As I've been thinking again about how important open sharing has been for me, I always head back to Dean Shareski and his thoughtful writing. His recent piece includes the phrase, "Sharing in its purest form is a moral imperative." And thus here I am, trying to figure out what that sharing should look like in 2017, when blogs are so 10 years ago, Twitter is huge and impersonal, and does anyone even social bookmark anymore?
  • Reflecting & Reading.  Specifically, I'm inspired by the depth (and quantity) of reflection Brian Frank does in public. His recent post on problem solving with forces is just one example. His reflections also include references to physics education research, which I'd like to get back to reading more often as well.
  • Baseball Rosters. For whatever reason, I've been fascinated for some time by the way a baseball team's makeup changes throughout the season. Originally this thinking was inspired by a throwaway comment from the long defunct Up and In podcast that "the team that starts the season is completely different from the team that ends the season" (loosely quoted). I've had in my head the idea for an infographic showing the movement of players between the various levels of a baseball organization, but I don't have the graphic design chops, tools, or skills to really pull it off. My best effort was in 2012 when I made this spreadsheet tracking the Tigers players at all levels. I've tried other years and other formats haven't worked out so well. This year I'm going to track just players on the 25-man Active Roster, which will hopefully make the task more manageable. Also, if anyone has an idea for a tool that I can use to turn this data into a beautiful graphic that uses ribbons showing the movement of all the players. It seems like JSON or something might work well for this, but my skills with that are pretty much zero. If you're familiar with resources that would help me learn how to use JSON (or some other format) to generate infographics, please share!
  • StatCast Metrics. I like baseball and the start of the baseball season is upon us, so bear with me. For the 2015 and 2016 seasons MLB rolled out an advanced system of tracking player and ball movement called StatCast. Now that there's been a couple years of data they've started rolling out some fascinating statistics: Hit Probability and Catch Probability, for example. Catch probability looks at the hang time of the batted ball and the distance an outfielder needs to run to make the catch to determine what probability the outfielder has of making the catch. This is some fascinating next level statistical stuff. As a bonus: The data is all publicly available. Go play!
  • A Big Move. Finally, I'm no longer a Connecticutian. For my wife's career, we moved back to the MidWest (I'm originally from Michigan) in January and I now live about 45 minutes north of Chicago (or 45 minutes south of Milwaukee, for my Wisconsin readers). I was able to find a job for the spring, and am adjusting to being the "new" teacher. It's an odd position to be in as a veteran teacher, and perhaps I didn't realize the level of leadership I had among my colleagues at my last position now that I'm starting fresh.

Book Review: The Monsters of Education Technology

As background, here’s a brief summary of my relationship with Educational Technology, from c. 2003 to the present:
My EdTech Arc
Thanks to my Twitter Archive and apps like TimeHop, I’ve been frequently exposed to my EdTech Pollyanna stage. There sure were lots of excited exclamation points

In the more recent past, I’ve been feeling a bit more like the EdTech Curmudgeon:

  • “Hey, have you heard about this tool? Students can make digital flashcards!” Me: “Ummm…”
  • “Look this tool that automatically grades ScanTron tests!” Me: “Ummm….”
  • “Check out these Khan Academy videos! Students can totally get extra help!” Me: “Ummm….”

Usually I don’t say much when friends and colleagues bring up questionable tools. I mean, that’s pretty much exactly where I was c. 2008. Though I do try to bring up issues with the tools, or their parent companies, or (most often) the type of teaching and learning these tools reinforce when there’s an opportunity, usually I just end up feeling like Debbie Downer in a room full of excited cheerleaders.

Perhaps that’s why I enjoyed reading Audrey Watters’ The Monsters of Educational Technology so very, very much.
The Monsters of Education Technology
Audrey Watters self-describes as the Cassandra1 of EdTech. As she notes about herself in the book:

"I don’t tend to talk about ed-tech revolution and disruptive innovation unless it’s to critique and challenge those phrases. I don’t give ed-tech pep talks, where you leave the room with a list of 300 new apps you can use in your classroom."

You're not going to walk away from Watters' writing feeling like a world beater: able to revolutionize the whole education in your classroom tomorrow. Instead she stares deep into the soul of so many Silicon Valley edtech startups and finds them to be empty.

But this is an important thing. Education technology has been, and- apropos the Cassandra comparison- will continue to be lauded as “the way” to “fix” what’s “wrong” with teaching and learning today. It’s flashy. It’s shiny. It looks futuristic and fancy to administrators and politicians. Unfortunately, so many of the tools simply replicate or reinforce questionable practices from our past. Instead, Watters challenges us (emphasis mine):

“To transform education and education technology to more progressive and less programmed ends means we do have to address what exactly we think education should look like now and in the future. Do we want programmed instruction? Do we want teaching machines? Do we want videotaped lectures? Do we want content delivery systems? Or do we want education that is more student-centered, more networked-focused. [...] And instead of acting as though ed-tech is free of ideology, we need to recognize that it is very much enmeshed in it.”

When schools adopt new technologies there often isn’t much thought given to the pedagogical or social implications the new technologies bring to the classroom. Very little consideration is given to what the tools really add to the learning process over already existing tools (besides being shinier and newer), and even less consideration is given to how this might affect who we are as humans, as Watters describes in her critique of algorithms designed to grade student essays:

"We have no laws of ‘ed-tech robotics.’ We rarely ask, ‘What are ethical implications of educational technologies?’ Mostly, we want to know ‘will this raise test scores?’ ‘Will this raise graduation rates?’ We rarely ask, ‘Are we building and adopting tools that might harm us? That might destroy our humanity?’"

Despite the picture I’ve painted so far, Watters goes beyond simply prophesying doom upon humanity at the hands of educational technology. Though deeply skeptical and harshly critical of most educational technology, she isn’t anti-technology.

She champions technologies that give students agency. Technologies that places students in control of their own learning.  Technologies that promote learning outside the artificial structures society has created in schools and universities. Clearly one of her favorite ideas is an initiative started at the University of Mary Washington, called a Domain of One’s Own. UMW gives each student their own domain- not just space on a university server- but a domain they can take with them after they graduate:

“Their own domain. Again, the word matters here. Students have their own space on the Web. A space for a blog or multiple blogs. A digital portfolio for their academic work that can become a professional portfolio as well. A place to store their digital stuff in the cloud. Moreover, a lesson on the technologies that underpin the Web. HTML. CSS. RSS. It's not quite “hosted lifebits,” but it’s a solid step in that direction. The initiative represents a kind of open learning – learning on the Web and with the Web, learning that is of the Web. ‘Domain of One’s Own’ offers a resistance to the silos of the learning management system and to the student as a data mine. It highlights the importance of learner agency, of learning in public, of learning together, of control over one’s digital identity and over one’s educational data, and the increasing importance of digital literacies."

This is an idea that seems so simple yet powerful. It’s something that could be done even at the high school level- maybe students don’t receive their own actual domain, but students could be given a space somewhere online where 1) they are in control and 2) that can be taken with them once they’ve graduated.

Audrey Watters’ work is simultaneously deeply informative, insightful, troubling, and hopeful. I highly recommend The Monsters of Education Technology and pretty much everything she’s written online at Hacked Education to anyone working in or near an educational setting.

The book is available directly through Audrey Watters’ website in a variety of print and e-book formats. You should definitely buy it.

"Indeed humanity and learning are deeply intertwined. They are intertwined with love, not with algorithms." - Audrey Watters


  1. Cassandra of classical mythology was given the gift of prophecy, but when she spurned Apollo’s love she was cursed to always prophesy truthfully, but never to be believed.     (back)

Linear data sets (for your enjoyment)

Kicking off the year in my modeling physics course means practicing working with and interpreting linear data. Some students quickly pick up the modeling method of describing slope and intercept, while other students just need more practice for the data to speak to them in the same way.

I use the spaghetti bridge lab to introduce graphing linear relationships and have a pretty good handout1 with a few more linear data sets as practice.

However, my experience has taught me two things:

  1. There will be students that just need a bit more practice to really nail down the skill.
  2. It's deceptively hard coming up with linear data sets.

So, I sat down earlier and surfed the internet, found some real data sets, cleaned them up a bit, and imported them into Excel & Google Sheets (from whence they are easily copyable and paste-able). I might as well share them, because I know you'd prefer to avoid converting .txt data files to .xlsx. In fact, I'll make the Google Sheets version editable, so you can add your own awesome data sets).

Download the data sets

The Excel version includes graphs with the equation for best fit lines. Google Sheets doesn't do best-fit lines yet, so those have the graphs (as interpreted by the Google Sheets converter), but no equations.



  1. from the AMTA Modeling Physics curricular materials, which is why I'm not sharing them here. But, seriously, you should just join the AMTA so you can access the huge wealth of resources they provide. Here's the link. Do it. (back)

[Update] Changing student perceptions flyers are rolling in!

Earlier this week I put out a request for people who identify as scientists, engineers, or as working in a technical field who also happen to identify as women or people of color to share a picture of themselves and a brief summary of what they do and who they are.

The response so far has been pretty amazing.

As of writing this, I've received 9 profiles (some are shared below), and had many other people tell me they're planning on sending in a profile.

However, I'd love an entire wall full of profiles of women and people of color working in the sciences. There's no reason I can't keep adding to the wall throughout the school year, so feel free to share this with any of your science-y friends, colleagues, family, or even enemies. 🙂 (here's the link to the instructions & template)

Thanks again for those who have taken the time to share and send in profiles. It's much appreciated.

Jessica SciPerceptions - to Share.002 SciPerceptions - to Share.003 SciPerceptions - to Share.004 SciPerceptions - to Share.005 SciPerceptions - to Share.006 SciPerceptions - to Share.007

Your help needed: Changing student perceptions of who scientists are

Science is awesome. For so many reasons. Studying science and doing science is awesome for at least as many reasons. Yet, science is very often (unwittingly) presented as something that only men do. Especially white men.

If you've paged through science textbook1, there tend to be a lot of white dudes. Just think about the history of atomic theory as often covered by textbooks:

  • Democritus (Greek white dude)
  • John Dalton (English white dude)
  • J.J. Thomson (English white dude)
  • Ernest Rutherford (Kiwi white dude)
  • James Chadwick (English white dude)

Wow. I bet that's really inspiring for all the women and people of color in the world.

I struggle with how to best address this systemic problem. As a white dude myself, I'm certainly not the best spokesperson for greater diversity in scientific and technical fields. That said, I'm not happy with the status quo (especially as the future father of a daughter).

Where I need your help

I'm not planning on solving a systemic problem, but I'd like, at the very least, to expose students to the large number of women and people of color that are actively working in scientific and technical fields.

So, here's what I'm asking:
If you're a woman or person of color working in a scientific, engineering, computer science, or other such field, please:

  1. Take a picture of yourself. Pick any picture you'd like. It doesn't need to be serious. 🙂
  2. Download the PowerPoint or Keynote template file (via Dropbox).
  3. Add your picture and a brief description of what you do and who you are.
    • Feel free to rearrange things on the template.
    • For that matter, feel free to not use the template at all if you're not inclined to do so.
  4. Send me an email with your awesome file (that'd be: ben [dot] wildeboer [at] gmail.com.
    • If you're okay with me sharing your profile on this site or via twitter, let me know in the email. I promise to not share anyone's profile online unless you explicitly consent to that in your email.
  5. Share this with your science-y, engineering-y, or technical-y friends.

Once I receive 10 or so profiles I'll post them up on my bulletin boards. It'd be awesome if they ended up filling both bulletin boards and then spill over to the walls as well. That'd be a whole lot of awesome.


(Yes, this is pretty much a rip off of the This Is What A Scientist Looks Like tumblr. Hey, it's a great idea.)


  1. I don't really recommend doing this as a method to learn anything about science, by the way.   (back)

Keeping it short

Sharing is a Good Thing.

Reflecting on teaching & learning is a Good Thing.

Writing in this space is a great place to both share and reflect, yet as can easily be discovered by scrolling down this site's homepage, I haven't been writing much. I want to fix this, but I'm not too great at simply wishing that into fruition. So, here's my plan (publicly declared so your peer-pressure will force me to keep it):

  1. Keep it short. The latest trend sweeping the baseball blogosphere are short, quick ~200 word posts.  I've too often felt like I needed to write 1,000 word posts full of images and explainers (see GDrive Lab Report Workflow). I like those type of posts- but they take a long time. Seriously long. I need to reduce the barrier to entry, so I'm going to try to keep posts about 200 words long.
  2. Keep it regular. I need to get back in the habit. My goal is to write one post a month for the next year. Yeah, I know, that's a pretty wimpy number. But seriously, have you seen how many posts were published last year? [Hint: It's less than 2, more than 0]

Good luck, me.

[FYI: There's 198ish words up there]

Google Drive Lab Report Workflow

This year I've rolled out using Google Drive for all Physics lab reports. Several people have asked me what this looks like, so I thought I'd share. Feel free to suggest a better/easier methodology- this is something that's come together based on how I know how to use Google Drive, and I certainly don't know all the ways to use Google Drive.

A big debt is owed to Katrina Kennett, whose posts and EdCamp Boston sessions on using Google Drive for paperless grading inspired my use, and for Frank Noschese, whose lab rubric I borrowed from heavily.

The setup

1- Creating shared folders. As soon as I get a finalized class list and my students' email addresses, I set up shared assignment folders in Google Drive for each student in my Physics class. This is a folder that is only shared between the individual student and myself, so anything I put into the folder they can see and vice versa.

Here's what it looks like for me in Google Drive:

Shared Assignment Folders in Google Drive

It can be a tedious process to individually create individual folders for each student. Fortunately, you don't have to- there's a Google Script called gClassFolders, that will automatically create folders for all of your students from a spreadsheet with your students' information. I won't go into detail here about how to setup gClassFolders, as the official site does an excellent job walking you through the process.

2- Share the rubric. I created the lab report rubric in a Google Spreadsheet, then I make a copy of the rubric for each student, and share with them, and place the rubric in their individual folders. Again, this could be a tedious process. Fortunately it isn't, thanks to Doctopus. Doctopus will make copies of the rubric for each student, share it with that student, and put it into their GDrive assignment folder. Super easy.

To use Doctopus, you'll just need a spreadsheet with students' names and email addresses (which you probably already have from using gClassFolders in step 1), and then it'll walk you through your sharing and naming options. Again, I'll forgo the lengthy explanation of using Doctopus, because the official site has you covered.

At this point, when each student signs into GDrive, they'll see their shared folder, with a spreadsheet titled, "Josh- Lab Report Rubrics," for example.

A student's view of the assignment folder

Now we're ready for some student lab reports.

Google Drive in Action

3- Students write lab reports. In lab, students record their data in lab notebooks, graph their data using LinReg, and discuss their results in a post-lab Whiteboard Meeting.  For their formal lab report, they create a Google Doc and type up their lab report. For graphs, they take screenshots of the graphs, and add them to the lab report as an image.

When they have finished the lab report, they drop it into their Physics Assignment folders, where I can then see it and have permissions to edit the lab report.

4- Scoring. Since I am able to edit their lab reports, I leave comments directly on their lab report, as shown below.

Comments on a Google Doc lab report.

A nice feature of Google Docs is that students receive notifications when I leave a comment, so they know right away when I've commented on their lab report.

At the same time I'm commenting on a student's lab report , I'm filling out the Lab Report Rubric & Checklist for their lab report. An important note: For each student, I'm filling out the lab checklist on my copy of the lab report rubric, and not the copy that I've already individually shared with students. This may seem odd, but in the end it means that students will have one spreadsheet that contains the rubrics for every lab that they've done. Below I'll explain how to make that happen.

5- Copying the rubric to students. After I've finished filling out the lab report rubric and checklist for a student's lab report, I select the "Copy to..." option on the tab of the spreadsheet:

The "Copy to..." location

A window then pops up asking me what Google Spreadsheet I'd like to copy it to. Since I've already created a lab report rubric spreadsheet for every student (in step 2), I just search for the student's first name, and select their lab report rubric spreadsheet:

Searching for student lab report spreadsheets

Once selected, the sheet is copied to that student's spreadsheet, where they can see it. On a student's spreadsheet, it'll show up as "Copy of [tab name]," as shown below:

Copied tab- Student view

Voila! Each student has one document that will contain every lab report rubric we do all year. This makes it easier for students to look back at previous lab reports and see where they made mistakes or needed more depth. It will hopefully also easily document their their growth over time.

Once I've copied a lab report rubric to the student's spreadsheet, I revert my copy of the rubric back to its original state so it's ready for me to start on the next lab report.

6- Rewrites. When a student turns in a less-than-stellar lab report, they're required to do a rewrite. A nice (and new) feature of Google Drive is the Activity Pane, which shows all the changes that are being made to documents in a specific Google Drive folder. As students work on their rewrites, I can check the activity pane for the folder with the students' shared folders and quickly see who has been updating their documents (and who hasn't).

Activity view in GDrive

Wrap Up

This is the first year I've used such a system, and it's definitely a work in progress. So far I've been quite happy with how the process has worked, and being able to create one document that contains the rubric for every lab report we do all year is a major plus.

Again, if you have any comments, questions, or suggestions for improvement, let me know. I'd definitely be open for suggestions that make the process even more streamlined.

Book Review: Choice Theory in the Classroom

Choice Theory in the ClassroomA week before I went on Spring Break, my principal came in to my room and asked if I had heard of William Glasser (I had), and if I'd read his book, Choice Theory in the Classroom (I had not). She asked if I'd like to read it and at some point talk with her about what I thought about Glasser's ideas on classroom management described in the book. "Sure," I said, "though I probably won't get around to opening it until the middle of Spring Break." Now on the Thursday of my Spring Break week, I've finished and want to get down a few thoughts I had about the book while they're still fresh.

The tl;dr review

Glasser suggests that having students work on meaningful tasks in well-defined groups is an improvement over lecture-based, kill-and-drill, individual work. However, his reasoning as to why this is true border on pseudoscience and his conclusions come across as being obvious and mundane.

The full review

At the outset I was pretty skeptical of what the book would include. The book was pitched to me as being primarily about classroom management and my experience with classroom management books hasn't been all that great. However, after reading the first chapter, in which Glasser convincingly outlines the primary problem he's trying to address (engaging the 50% of students1 who aren't engaged in class), I realized I had probably too harshly prejudged the content of the book.

Except...well...then there were chapters 2 - 7. I found these chapters especially frustrating because I agreed with the main point Glasser was trying to make, but he seemed to rely heavily on poor, over-reaching, unnecessary, and factually questionable evidence to get there. He should've just said:

Students want to have at least some control over their experiences while at school (both learning and social), but the traditional classroom robs them of almost all control. As a result students often disengage in learning and seek to exert control over their school lives in whatever way they can- often in ways that disrupt the learning environment. Students should instead be given more meaningful work that can be done in groups with the teacher serving as a facilitator instead of a controlling dictator.

That was his main point- and I think it's a good point- but instead he spent six chapters and 86 pages trying to make his case using slippery slope examples (evidently students who wanted to exert control over their lives quickly descend into illegal drug use), direct analogies to schools as factories2 and plenty of questionable science:

  • We have 5 basic needs that are genetically ingrained: 1) Survival, 2) Belonging and love, 3) Gaining power, 4) Gaining freedom, and 5) Having fun,
  • Migraines are caused when people choose negative behaviors that then affect our physiology,
  • Drugs for depression and ADHD are unnecessary, people just need to choose positive behaviors to fix these.
So, I agree with Glasser's main point, but disagree with how he gets there. Is this a problem? Yeah, I think it is. Even though I agree with his conclusion, I'm not sure I trust Glasser to address the conclusion based on the tortured path he took to arrive there.
After repeatedly3 mentioning that he'd explain how Choice Theory solves the problem of student disengagement in Chapter 8, I was pretty excited once I actually reached Chapter 8. I would finally find out what he was promoting! Without further ado, let me spoil it for you. What does Glasser's Choice Theory look like in the classroom?
  1. Have students work in mixed-ability groups (what he called learning-teams) of 2 - 5.
  2. Give the learning-teams interesting & relevant problems or projects to complete.
  3. Assign specific roles for each student in the learning-team.
  4. Make sure students are accountable for both their individual work and the collective group work.
  5. The teacher should serve as a facilitator and mentor who works with students instead of dictating at students.
OK, so these aren't bad things. These are even good things. Yes, having students work in groups on an interesting project with well-defined roles and clear expectations is much preferable to lectures and worksheets. However, Glasser's tone conveys a sense that this is a wholly original idea that he (along with a couple other contemporary colleagues) have just recently made. Choice Theory in the Classroom was published 27 years ago, and at first blush I was giving it a pass because there has been a concerted push to make secondary education more student-centric since 1986. But then I was recalling a piece on education and schooling that I'd read awhile ago, where the author of the piece says:
I believe that much of present education fails because it neglects this fundamental principle of the school as a form of community life. It conceives the school as a place where certain information is to be given, where certain lessons are to be learned, or where certain habits are to be formed. The value of these is conceived as lying largely in the remote future; the child must do these things for the sake of something else he is to do; they are mere preparation. As a result they do not become a part of the life experience of the child and so are not truly educative. [...]
I believe that [a child's] interests are neither to be humored nor repressed. To repress interest is to substitute the adult for the child, and so to weaken intellectual curiosity and alertness, to suppress initiative, and to deaden interest. To humor the interests is to substitute the transient for the permanent. The interest is always the sign of some power below; the important thing is to discover this power. To humor the interest is to fail to penetrate below the surface and its sure result is to substitute caprice and whim for genuine interest.
Surely the author of the above piece must have drawn on Glasser's groundbreaking work? Not so much. Those are excerpts from John Dewey's "My Pedagogic Creed," writing in 1897. While I don't need Glasser to specifically name-check Dewey, it does concern me that while writing a substantial piece on education reform Glasser seems to have missed 99 years of other people's work in the area he's specifically addressing.
Choice Theory in the Classroom isn't a bad book, it just comes off feeling extremely dated and somewhat obvious in its conclusions- which is notable because John Dewey's work, written over 110 years ago, still feels modern.4


  1. Glasser cites this "50% of students aren't working" in class fact over and over. While I agree that a lack of student engagement is a primary problem in the classroom it wouldn't have killed him to throw some citations at this. Instead it came off as a number he drived anecdotally from observing a few classrooms and talking to a few teachers.  (back)
  2. including nearly 10 pages where he uses an LA Times article on the difference between Japanese and American car assembly factories to "help" make his point.  (back)
  3. I didn't keep an accurate count, but I'd bet he mentioned how he'd explain everything in Chapter 8 around ten times.   (back)
  4. I mean, "I believe that education, therefore, is a process of living and not a preparation for future living," is an amazingly challenging statement even today.  (back)

The SuperStorm Sandy Disaster Relief Marathon Results Are In!

Ben Pre-Marathon

The SuperStorm Sandy Disaster Relief NYC Marathon of Oakdale, CT is complete! I'm happy to say that not only did I finish first in my age group, I also won the overall classification. Let me break down the event by the numbers:

Total Distance

26.2-ish miles
The GPS app I use to track my running (iSmoothRun w/ Runkeeper) listed the total distance at 25.73 miles, but I've measured it using a few different mapping tools and I get distances between 26.1 and 26.3 miles. Maybe it was a little short, but whatever.

Running Time & Pace

3:52:46, at an average pace of 9:03/mile
A little slower than I was hoping to run the official NYC Marathon, but given the hilly nature of the course (not surprising considering 6-7 miles of the course were run on roads with the word "Hill" in their name), it's really faster than I expected.

Total Donations (as of this post)

That's a lot. Much more than I would've predicted when this seemingly hare-brained idea was hatched in an NYC restaurant on Friday night a few short hours after learning the NYC Marathon was cancelled. I can't thank everyone who donated enough. I also appreciate everyone who spread the word via Facebook, Twitter, or word of mouth. It made what might've just been a very disappointing weekend into a extremely positive experience.

Donations per mile run


Donations per minute of running


Average miles driven by the support staff to get from their home to the starting line

836 of which were driven by my amazing sister, who decided to take an impromptu vacation and drove overnight from Holland, MI(!) to cheer me on.

Number of support staff

Consisting of my wife, Samantha, my father-in-law, Gregg, and my sister, Meika.

Number of times the police were called because of the support staff

Once. (maybe)
Evidently they pulled into the driveway of some very suspicious homeowners to wait for me. My sister is pretty sure she overheard one of the homeowners on the phone reporting suspicious activity. Fortunately they were gone before any law enforcement officials showed up.

Pileated woodpeckers seen

I didn't realize Pileated Woodpeckers lived in Connecticut, but I spooked one between miles 3 & 5. It flew along the road before landing in a tree further up the road. When I caught up with it I saw it fly away again further into the woods. It was easily the largest (non-animated) woodpecker I've ever seen.

Reflections on the Event

My wife and I had just arrived in NYC. We'd checked into our hotel, and headed out to catch the shuttle bus taking marathoners from the hotels to the Marathon Expo. We just missed the bus and were standing on the sidewalk waiting for the next bus when I received a couple tweets telling me that the marathon had been cancelled. At first I figured these people were confused. I mean, Mayor Bloomberg had said in no uncertain terms earlier in the week that the marathon would go on. Turns out, they were right. Truth is, because we were without power for a 36 hours, I was busy trying to wrap up first quarter stuff at school, and planning for a run I hadn't been paying very close attention to the level of destruction Sandy had caused in the NY/NJ area. I knew it was pretty bad, but I didn't realize the extent of the devastation.

We eventually caught the bus anyway- we really just didn't know what to do- and attended the saddest pre-race expo I've ever seen. It was striking how many people were there from overseas. We passed a large group from Denmark and then were surrounded people talking French, Spanish, Japanese, Italian, and several other languages I couldn't easily identify. Clearly, these people had much more reason to be upset than I did, with my measly 3 hour commute which included a free train ride into the city from New Haven.

I was extremely conflicted: I was mad, but then mad at myself for being upset knowing that the canceling the marathon was the right decision. I was ticked that the decision was made so late1, but humbled by the fact that so many people had flown thousands of miles just to have the marathon cancelled at the last minute.

Ultimately, this frustration is what led to the idea for the SuperStorm Sandy Disaster Relief NYC Marathon of Oakdale, CT. Since the NYC Marathon uses a lottery system, I'd been applying to run for 3 years before gaining entry for this year, and I'd spent the last 6+ months training. I'd made it no secret to those who asked that this was most likely going to be the last time I ran a marathon- the training is extremely time-consuming and strenuous. I do enjoy running, but coming home after school on a Tuesday to do a 13 mile run in the dark or waking up at 5am on Sunday morning to crank out 18 miles isn't so enjoyable. In the end, I didn't want all the preparation to go to waste. I also wanted to do something to help those still suffering- those people who should benefit most from the cancellation of the NYC Marathon.

The response to my fundraising marathon has been more than I would've ever expected. My post announcing the marathon caused a spike in traffic unlike anything this blog has ever seen. Then there's the $1,148(!!!) that's been raised for disaster relief. Here I was thinking that if people donated a hundred or two dollars on top of what we were donating it'd be a wildly successful event. Perhaps it's cliché at this point to say something about the power of social networks but this event certainly wouldn't have been as successful without being connected to awesome & supportive people from all over the world.

Race Recap

The route was a combination of routes I'd used when training, so I was very familiar with most of it- which means I knew it would be a tough run thanks to several long and several steep hills. That being said, the route is also gorgeous. The route is mostly made of narrow backroads through wooded areas, passing small family farms and scenic lakes along the way.

The first 7-8 miles I managed was maintaining a very fast 8:15ish per mile pace. I was hoping to do the NYC Marathon near an 8:30 pace (This may have been a bit ambitious), so I was really cruising. However, I was definitely being helped out by running down a lot of hills through this section. The support staff was stopping every two miles supplying water and cheers. It was fun to come up over a hill or around a corner and see my cheering section and the official support vehicle up ahead.

Just past 8 miles, I started on the only part of the course I had never run before: a 4-mile section that I hadn't actually scouted. It turned out that 3 miles in this section were extremely narrow unpaved roads- I was worried that these roads might not actually go through as they're shown on maps (something that's not all that uncommon in the area), but fortunately they did. At about the half-way mark, I was back on familiar roads- which was good because I knew what was coming- it was also bad because I knew what was coming.

The next 6 or so miles were the hilliest of the entire route, notably featuring a killer mile that included a gain in 280 vertical feet. About 19 miles in, I was thinking finishing this race might not be a guarantee. Fortunately the next couple of miles were more downhill that up, and I felt refreshed (well, as refreshed as one can after running 20+ miles). I was definitely feeling tired- my upper back and shoulders were sore, and my legs were pretty well thrashed.

By mile 24 or so, I was in very familiar territory, but I was also beat. The last mile includes a significant hill. The dread for this hill kept me from having many happy thoughts about being nearly done. I decided to walk up part of the hill since my calves were pretty tight and I was worried I might start cramping up. Fortunately that didn't happen. I got up the hill and ran in the last half mile or so, feeling pretty dern good at the finish. My wonderful support crew even drew a finish line on the street and managed to recruit one of the neighbors to honk his truck's horn as I finished.

I'm glad to have done this race for charity and I'm glad to be done with training. This still might be my last marathon ever- even if it's announced that the 2012 NYC Marathon runners are automatically qualified for the 2013 race. Training for a marathon sucks. For that matter, running a marathon really doesn't go under the "fun" category either.

Race Route


  1. Still my biggest gripe- it should've been cancelled right away on Tuesday. (back)

Announcing: SuperStorm Sandy Disaster Relief NYC Marathon of Oakdale, CT

This weekend hasn't gone quite as planned. The plan was to get into New York City on Friday, meet up with some friends, then cap off the weekend by running the NYC Marathon on Sunday. Unfortunately, the only part of that plan that came to fruition was getting into New York City on Friday.

As you may know, the NYC Marathon was cancelled on Friday. Considering the time and effort that went into training, having the marathon cancel at the last moment was a bit of a bummer. However, canceling the marathon was probably the right decision given the significant number of people in the NY/NJ area that are still suffering after FrankenStorm Sandy.

Since going home and moping about not being able to run doesn't include (1) running a marathon, or more importantly, (2) doing anything to help out those most affected by SuperStorm Sandy1, I've decided to create and participate in the first (and last) ever SuperStorm Sandy Disaster Relief New York City Marathon of Oakdale, CT2.

What is the SuperStorm Sandy Disaster Relief New York City Marathon of Oakdale, CT?

Good question. It's my way of still running a marathon on November 4, 2012 while also helping raise money for disaster relief efforts.

Who will be running?

Just me. My lovely wife will be the support staff, cheering section, course photographer, security, and everything else.

When and where is this happening?

  • When: 8:00am EST, Sunday, November 4, 2012.
  • Where: On backroads near my home in Oakdale, CT.

How does this help disaster relief?

We're donating the cost of the NYC Marathon entry fee ($255.00) to American Red Cross Disaster Relief.

Can we donate towards this cause in honor of the SuperStorm Sandy Disaster Relief New York City Marathon of Oakdale, CT?

Yes! Here's all you need to do:

  1. Visit the American Red Cross Disaster Relief Donation page.
  2. On the donation page, click the box for "Make this Donation in Honor of..." and fill in the following:
    • In Honor Of: Disaster Relief NYC Marathon of Oakdale, CT
    • Recipient Email Address: ben.wildeboer@gmail.com
    • The rest you can fill in however you'd like.

Also, please share this with all your friends and followers using your social network of choice.

How can I follow your progress?

Easy! There are bunches of ways:

  • I'll be using Runkeeper Live, so if you visit my Runkeeper Activity Page while I am running, you should be able to see a live updating map with my progress.
  • I'll also be sending automatic updates every few miles to my Twitter and Facebook feeds.

What's the route?

Here's a map of the route:

Find more Run in CT, United States

Feel free to come out and cheer me on!

What if no one donates?

Impossible! No, seriously: We're donating, so that's at least 2 people. If that's all we get, it'll still be totally worth it.


  1. Which, really, is the reason the marathon was canceled in the first place. (back)
  2. Hat tip to the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim for helping inspire the name. (back)