Category Archives: Marathons

NYC Marathon – It Moved Me – Nov 5, 2017

The Verrazano Bridge at the grey, misty start of the NYC Marathon 2017.

50,000 people is a lot of people.  Just so, so many.  How many is it, really?  It’s approximately the population of Monroe, Michigan.  It’s how many days there are in 136.9 years.  It’s how many M&Ms were used to make this.  And it’s how many people ran the NYC Marathon this year, plus another 1,307 (but “only” 50,766 finished).

 

I ran the NYC Marathon way back in 2005, when it was the ING Marathon and had like 2,000 runners in it.  Ok, there were a few more runners than that (about 34,000 more), but a lot has changed in 12 years besides the addition of 14,000 runners.  The race has become even more commercialized and sponsored and bigger in every way.  That’s led to some good things (lots of news coverage, fancy tracking technology with the app, and overall excitement in the city) and bad things (crowds, trash, crowds, lines, crowds).

 

Some things haven’t changed – you still get a tour of all 5 boroughs, you still get a lot of spectators, and you still hear “New York, New York” by Frank Sinatra at the start.  Other things that haven’t changed include the terrible roads (filled with humped asphalt and potholes and lots of other fun obstacles that desperately want to break your ankle), the stupid sponge mile at mile 18, and the long wait on Staten Island (which might actually be longer now because of the logistics of getting 50,000+ runners onto the island before closing the roads).

Approaching the midtown bus line… so many people!

But I’m getting ahead of myself.  First up was getting to the NYC Public Library on 42nd to catch the 7:00 marathon shuttle bus to the start in Staten Island.  I was on one of the latest bus options because I was in wave 4 which didn’t start until 11 am.  When I arrived on the west side of the library at 6:20 am, the line for the buses stretched about 5 city blocks/avenues.  And this was no single- or double-file line – this was the entire sidewalk packed with people.  It took me about 35 minutes to get onto a bus.  There were several spots where volunteers checked your bib but nobody seemed to concerned with precise bus times.  I heard several people around me saying they were supposed to be in Wave 1, so there’s no way they took the appropriately timed bus (even though they’d still make it in plenty of time for Wave 1).  I did speak with a woman in the starting village who missed the last bus and had to get down to South Ferry to take the boat across instead (which was exactly one of my concerns when signing up for transport!).  She said they didn’t hassle her for using the shuttle buses down there even though her bib said “bus” not “ferry” (which was another big concern of mine).  Regardless, sign up for the transport you want and don’t make a last minute decision, since they might tighten up the security on that and you never know.

The “Bus Experience” courtesy of the NYC Marathon.

The bus ride itself was comfortable and only took about an hour (despite getting stuck in a long line of buses), and the walk from the bus drop off to my corral area in the starting village wasn’t very long, although according to my watch I walked about 6,000 steps before the race even began.  There was plenty of ground space in the village to stretch out and relax and wait (and wait and wait).  I brought a Runner’s World magazine to read during my wait (to conserve phone battery) and I was glad I did.  I was even more thankful that it didn’t start raining until just before our wave started, as there was only one small covered tent that would have sheltered the thousands of non-professional or non-charity runners from the rain.

From the top left corner: The security line, waiting and reading magazine, the tent, the corrals, E corral entrance, a fake smile before the race, and a panoramic shot of Blue Village.

The village had tons of porta potties everywhere you looked, and they even had lots of porta potties inside the corrals.  However, along the course they only had 1 or 2 every mile, and I noticed the lines for those were very long.

 

After sitting and waiting for over 3 hours, listening to wave after wave start (the first time I heard the cannon I immediately thought “bomb,” but since the police right next to me didn’t react, I quickly realized it was just the starting cannon), wave 4 was announced and ushered into the corrals.  Once you got into the corrals, it was like being in a real-life dystopian movie – there were high barricades on both sides of the chute, blocking the view, and everyone was crammed shoulder to shoulder, slowly shuffling forward to an unseen destination while loudspeakers played incessant messages directing us in multiple languages.  It was honestly such a strange experience and one I’m pretty sure didn’t happen back in 2005.  As I stood in the tightly packed crowd listening to the zombie warning in Japanese (at least I think that’s what they were saying), it did not feel like I was about to run 26 miles.  Haha, joke was on me!

Right before the start on the Verrazano Bridge, representing Lady Liberty!

Once we got out of the corrals and crossed the highway, it opened up a bit.  The first three miles flew by like a dream.  The bridge was really neat, even though it was drizzling and gusting winds threatened to take off your hat.  Tons of people were stopped on the bridge taking pictures.  There was a surprisingly large group of spectators at the base of the bridge welcoming the runners into Brooklyn.  And then the miles kept coming…

 

Most of the course had tons of cheering spectators, although there was a section in Brooklyn that was eerily quiet.  Like bridge-quiet.  Other runners even commented on how silent it was.  Maybe it was because of the rain, because even 1st Avenue was more subdued than expected.  At any rate, there was still enough cheering and bands and DJs that there was plenty to see and notice (and not once did I wish I had brought my headphones).  Was it just a coincidence that all the songs I heard being played and performed along the course were from the 90s?  Or was I hallucinating the Lisa Loeb, Oasis, Third Eye Blind, and Green Day that I heard?

 

It took a lot of mental energy to avoid all the other runners, the spectators who frequently crowded the course, the potholes, the garbage, etc. etc. – mentally, it was almost like trail running, but with people screaming and blowing air horns at you at the same time.  In retrospect, that’s maybe why I got so frustrated at mile 16.  I had spent the first half of the race running extremely conservatively.  Even though I felt pretty good (despite some minor knee, calf, and ankle pain in the first mile), I really reined it in, obsessively slowing myself to earn that negative split.  But when we hit the bridge at mile 16, I encountered a solid wall of walkers who had blown through the first half and were now suffering the consequences.

The Queensborough Bridge, aka The Bridge of Frustration

Now, you know I’m a slow runner, and I take my fair share of walk breaks.  But when I do, I always raise my hand to indicate I’m stopping, and I try to be on the side or somewhere in the course where I’m not blocking people (which is usually pretty easy since I run solo).  But the walkers on the bridge had no awareness – they were walking all over the course, forcing anyone who actually wanted to move faster than a snail’s pace to weave around and often stop completely when blocked by them.  It was soooooo frustrating.  Totally maddening.  And I was tired, and hungry, and my knee hurt, and I was so sick of the crowds I had been stuck in all day, and I got pissed.  And unfortunately that anger lasted pretty much the rest of the race, because the irritations kept coming (e.g. the hazardous course conditions because all the water cups turned to mush in the road from the rain and the 100,000 pounding feet, the idiots who grabbed a water-soaked sponge in the mother f’ing rain and then tossed it down in the middle of the course, the spectators who refused to stay behind the barricades and made bottlenecks for the runners, the lack of non-caffeinated Gu at mile 18, the relentless crowds, the incessant rain, and the increasing darkness – there was no irritation too small or large to not fuel my rage in the last 10 miles).

The gross paper cup mush that covered my legs and shoes after the race.

These irritations might not have mattered if I were not so focused on running a faster second half.  Why did I want to negative split so badly?  I think it’s because of this fun fact:  Of the 47,000+ runners who completed the 2011 marathon, only 790 ran negative splits!  (Source: NYRR Virtual Trainer email).  As a back-of-the-packer who’s never run an ultra, I’m rarely in a “special accomplishment” group in any race.  Could I even break 5 hours in this race?  Sadly, no.  But negative splits?  That’s something I could do.

 

After coming down off the bridge, I pushed *hard* during the last 9 miles. I ran the second half of the race almost 7 minutes faster than the first half, despite a slow mile 13, 14, and that horrible mile 16.

Coming across the Willis Ave Bridge around mile 19.5 and heading into the Bronx.

I tried to hold it together until mile 21.5 where I knew My Cute PT was waiting for me.  And there he was, with an amazing hand-drawn panda sign and a bag of food!  I couldn’t stop long because I was still going for that negative split, so I grabbed the bag of food, expressed my irritation and pain, hopefully thanked him, and ran on.  Unfortunately my mouth was too dry for the bagel (rookie mistake!) so I wasn’t able to assuage my hunger until I finally hit some water stops that hadn’t run out of bananas yet.  They were a godsend.  And less than a mile later I saw my other two friends with another sign!  (Or rather, they spotted me, since I was so focused on the mushy hazards on the ground).  It was definitely a nice pick-me-up to see all those friendly faces but made me feel more than a little bit guilty at being grumpy.

 

When I hit Central Park, I suddenly became very emotional – and I’m not an emotional runner!  (At least not in that way – &$(%*#@ bridge walkers!)  I actually tried to make myself angry again because if I got choked up I wouldn’t be able to breathe.  So I shook it off and focused on getting down the east side hills, up the surprising hill along Central Park South, and through to the finish.

 

The fastest mile of my race was mile 25.  At that point my feet were hurting along with my knee (and in the days after the race I’ve dealt with more black toenails and blisters than I’ve had in years).  But I was thrilled I was about to finish.  18 months after breaking my ankle, one year after getting out of my boot, and six months since my return to running, I finally finished a full marathon.  Huzzah!

12 years and 22 marathons apart…

Right after I crossed the finish, I hit a wall of stationary runners.  Literally every runner had stopped just steps from the timing mat to take a selfie.  Welcome to running a marathon in 2017!  I had to duck and weave my way through the pack because I was desperate to keep my legs moving.

The hell that was the excruciatingly crowded and slow walk after the finish to get your poncho.

The marathon wasn’t over at the finish – all runners had a long, slow walk ahead of them to exit the park.  I chose the poncho option instead of bag check, thinking I could make an “early exit,” but I was stymied by incredible crowds that would occasionally completely stop moving forward.  It was truly awful.  The finish line is at about 66th Street and the exit for the ponchos was at 77th Street, except you couldn’t actually get to the open city streets there because it was still barricaded off.  You had to continue south until 73rd where you finally got your poncho and were allowed to exit.  Fifteen blocks (about 3/4 of a mile) doesn’t sound like a lot, and even after running a marathon 15 blocks is a do-able amount of walking – the problem was the speed!  The crowd moved so slowly it took me half an hour just to exit.  Thirty minutes is a really long time to shuffle along clutching a plastic bag of gatorade and water (and a protein drink, an apple, a Powerbar, and some pretzels) in the almost dark rain, wet and covered in mush after waking up at 5 am and running a marathon.  Unfortunately, this was my last memory of the NYC Marathon, and serves as a powerful reminder of why I should avoid large city marathons in the future (although maybe Tokyo would be different… and London… and Athens…).

The NYRR virtual training runner meet-up post-marathon.

The Monday after the marathon I met up in Central Park for a group photo of all the people who used the NYRR virtual training program.  It was really nice to meet the trainers in person and chat with some of the other runners about their experiences running the race.  While I haven’t used a real training program in many years, I really liked the this one and I’d recommend it if you want a program that’s a little more personalized than just following a chart from a book (I paid extra for the “virtual trainer plus” to get email access to the coaching staff).  The daily emails and the online training log also helped keep me accountable (and often served as motivation to get out the door at all).  It was also uncanny how accurately they predicted my race time – my time fell in the narrow range predicted and I hit the exact same time as the “previous runner most like me.”

There was an insanely long line at the Marathon Pavillion on Monday.

Also as an FYI, the line to get into the Marathon Pavilion on Monday was bananas.  I think most people were in line to get their medal engraved (which wasn’t even free), but I think you had to stand in line even just to enter.  I skipped that line and visited the NYRR Run Center on Tuesday – there was a long line there, too, but not as bad as the Pavilion and at least you could wait indoors.  Also FYI, almost all of the New Balance merch went on sale almost immediately after the marathon (I could have saved $7 on my shirt if I waited 5 days!) and many marathon shoes are now 50% (!!!) off at Jackrabbit with code STEPPINGNYC.

 

Overall, I’m thrilled to have such a successful return to marathoning.  I’m grateful for all the help I’ve had in returning to running (I’m looking at you, My Cute PT), and I’m so excited to continue my 50 States quest with the Louisiana Marathon in Baton Rouge in January!  It looks like the medal is a bottle opener! 😀

 

Thinking of running NYC?

If you want a big marathon experience, there is no bigger than NYC.  It’s one of the World Marathon Majors, in case that matters to you, and it’s definitely a spectacle.  If you want to feel special for running a marathon, this is a good one, because people who don’t run seem to take it more seriously than many other marathons (as if 26.2 miles is somehow shorter when not in NYC).  Be prepared to have a lot of money and a lot of patience, and you might even enjoy it.

 

Scores on a 1-10 scale, 10 being the best.

 

  • Getting There (Transportation & Walkability) – 9/10 – There are 3 major airports (JFK, LGA, and EWR) and no need to rent a car when here.  24 hour subway, plentiful taxis/Ubers, and marathon courtesy shuttles take you from Manhattan or NJ to the starting line.  Not a 10/10 because it can be expensive or time consuming to get around town (sometimes both), and you have to get to Staten Island pretty early because they have to close the bridge you’ll be running on.
  • Staying There (Hotels) – N/A – I don’t really know hotels because I live here and have never stayed in a hotel, but there are tons and tons of options.  Pretty much every neighborhood in Manhattan and even the outer boroughs is pretty safe, but you might want to pick a hotel within walking distance from the finish line (like midtown or the UWS) or the starting transport options (midtown library or the downtown ferry), just for convenience.  Also note that most AirBnBs here are illegal (despite AirBnB being a NYRR sponsor) so think twice before booking one of those.
  • Cost & Registration – 5/10 –  As of 2017, entry fees are $255 for NYRR members, $295 for non-members, or $358 for non-US residents.  You only get the privilege to pay those prices if you actually get in to the race, which requires either getting lucky in the lottery (in 2017, only 17% of runners got in through the lottery), being really fast and time qualifying, paying raising money through a charity, or doing the 9+1 program for local runners.  Shuttle to the start, one shirt, finisher food bag, and one medal included.  You can’t afford not to run!
  • Organization – 9/10 – For such a huge marathon, they do have their ducks in a row.  Lots of emails from NYRR before and after the race.  The expo is huge and can get really crowded, but number pickup is straightforward.  The shuttles to the start had incredibly long lines but they got us there in plenty of time.  Lots of porta potties at the start and some along the course (although those ones had long lines).  They ran out of Gu options at mile 18 (only caffeinated strawberry was left), but they still had bananas in the later miles for the slow people, and I’ve never heard them running out of finishing bags, medals, or ponchos.  Overall, I thought it was well-organized.
  • Course – 8.5/10 – Yes, the roads are bumpy and crowded, but it’s a pretty amazing tour of NYC considering how much of the city they have to shut down to hold this race and the logistics of moving all those thousands of people safely around the city.  Kudos to them for still doing it.
  • Crowd – 10/10 – Pretty much the entire course is lined with spectators (except on the bridges) and the crowd was still pretty big even though it was raining.  I wish they wouldn’t have crowded onto the course (causing bottlenecks for the runners), and/or I wish police would have enforced the police tape, but oh well.
  • Other Factors – 9/10 – As discussed above, it’s NYC, so just do it already.
  • Overall Rating – 7/10 – It’s still not my favorite marathon… Out of the 25 marathons I’ve done, it would maybe make the top 10 only because it’s my hometown and such a spectacle, but …. yeah, I’m just not a big-city marathon fan.  If you are, you’ll love it!

 

Do you ever get grumpy/irritated/angry during a race?  How do you improve your mood?  Do you love or hate big city marathons?  Share in the comments!

The NYC Marathon Expo – Big and Buzzy!

Welcome to the Expo!

Usually I fold any coverage of a marathon expo into the marathon post itself, but since the NYC Marathon Expo is not your typical expo, I thought it deserved its own (brief) post.

 

The expo opened yesterday and is open 10-8 today and 9-5 on Saturday at the Javits Convention Center (11th Ave and 35th Street).  It’s free and open to the public so even if you’re not running the marathon, feel free to stop by!

Thursday morning at the NYC Expo guarantees seeing runners in business attire picking up their bib numbers.

I went first thing Thursday morning when it opened, expecting to avoid the crowds – but there were already a lot of people there!  Luckily there was zero wait at either the bib or t-shirt pickup.  Unlike at some other large marathons, there was no scanning or checking of the bib after you picked it up.  Just past the bib pickup there’s an area to try on the marathon shirt to make sure you get the right size.  I ended up getting a women’s large instead of XL since the large was baggy enough for me.

The 2017 NYC Marathon shirt – nice and thin, but kinda cluttered with logos (and note the large, reflective NB logo on the sleeve and hem).

While the bib and t-shirt areas were relatively empty, the New Balance store (the largest shopping area and the one you’re basically forced to walk through to get to the “main” expo area) was surprisingly crowded with medium long lines already forming.  I rushed through that area since it was unpleasantly tight and was quickly rewarded by a relatively empty main expo area.

The main floor of the NYC expo.

After buying the one shirt I “allowed” myself to buy (the New Balance NYC “arms up” shirt I’ve had my eye on for weeks now), I wandered the rest of the expo looking for bondi-band style headbands (surprisingly not available), picking up some Gingerade Gus for the race, and buying more things I wasn’t “allowed” (sunglasses, anti-fog cream, another shirt).  I picked up a few free things but avoided the food samples since I didn’t want tummy troubles before the race (some sort of egg white protein drink? no thank you!).  I also checked out the course strategy lecture (held every hour on the hour!) for tips on how to run the race.  In a nutshell – don’t go out to fast, don’t get swept up by the excitement of the crowds, and only let yourself open up after mile 20.

Tonight in Central Park near the finish line they’ll have opening ceremony events including the parade of nations at 5:30 and fireworks afterwards (at a runner-friendly time of 6:30!).  See you on the course!

 

Do you enjoy visiting expos or do you try to get in and out as quickly as possible?  What’s been your favorite free giveaway from an expo?  Did you buy any Halloween candy on sale?  Share in the comments!

Tapering for NYC

The NYC Marathon finish line bleachers being set up today, with some fall color in the trees finally.

I’ve made it through 19 weeks of training and now I’m tapering for the NYC Marathon that’s in a little over a week!

 

In those 19 weeks of training, I’ve gone on 54 runs for a total of 336 miles.  That sounds like a lot until you divide it up and realize my weekly volume was only 18 miles/week and I only went on 3 runs per week, on average.  However, I did totally skip two weeks while on vacation in the Pacific Northwest (one of the best places to run, I know, ironic), and in the 10th week I ran only once because of travel to see the solar eclipse.  Also, while I’ve been plagued by knee pain since I’ve been running again (hello darkness my old friend), it’s gotten worse in the last two weeks, and has even cut short (and cancelled) a few of my runs.

The finish line pavilion is also coming along.

Encountering sharp knee pain during my taper has… not been great for my mental game.  After a successful 18 mile tune up and another 19 mile run on my own, I felt great.  My legs felt strong, I felt strong, heck, I even felt refreshed.  But then I started my taper, and suddenly I’m having this knee pain issue, and I can only shake my fist at the sky and shout, “why, God, why have you sent me knee pain when I’ve prudently built up a base and am resting even more now?”

A picture of the pavilion from October 19 (but with the carriages instead of the cars it looks like a few decades ago).

Of course, God doesn’t answer, either because he’s not real or he’s not a runner (do not try to tell me he ran in those sandals like a Tarahumara).  And so I look to a more trustworthy source, my PT.  He tells me to stretch and ice (and ice and ice) and he periodically inflicts searing pain works my knots out and tells me to rest and stretch and ice some more.  But even he doesn’t have the answer as to why my knees are hurting now more than ever.

 

So, I keep tapering.  I’m tapering hard.  So much taper.  And I’m still carbo-loading (since summer ’77)!  And I’m still dreaming of the expo and race morning prep and all the fun non-marathon things I’ll get to do after the race… But I’m not thinking much about the race itself anymore.  Maybe because it’s such an unknown again?  When training was going well, I was kicking myself for not signing up for another state and making progress on my 50 states goal.  I’ve never repeated a state!  But then I remember why I signed up for NYC – because if things go upside-down, I can easily pull the plug at any time with very little on the line.  No flight, no hotel, no missed state, no pressure.  And I might have to use that escape hatch after all.

The NYC Marathon app is now available for free in the app store, and lets you track runners and has helpful info like maps and more.

You can also use these amazingly cute NYC Marathon stickers in your texts (on updated iOS, for free in the app store).

My goals for this race are, in order of importance:  (1) to not injure myself (further), (2) to finish, (3) to get negative splits (even by sandbagging the first half), (4) to finish in 5:30 hours or less, and (5) to enjoy it?  I’ve already signed up for three more marathons next year, with plans to sign up for 5 more after that.  And then 18 more after that…  Plus I’d really like to run Tokyo… and Athens… and London… and Antartica…  I guess I’ll just have to keep praying to the PT Gods…

 

How much do you love/hate the taper?  What should my spending limit at the expo be?  Do you think the more frequently I check the weather forecast, the less likely there will be rain?  Share in the comments!

Ferry vs Bus to the NYC Marathon

The eternal debate rages on…

Warning:  Long boring post ahead that will only be interesting to you if you’re considering baggage and transport options for the NYC Marathon.  Mom, you can skip reading this one.  😉

 

This year the baggage and transport options for the NYC Marathon open on Tuesday, July 11 (and close on August 22). But runners won’t find out their bib numbers or starting corrals until much, much later (probably October).  So how do you choose between the options?

 

Bag or No Bag?

This one is pretty easy.  Most people say not to check a bag.  The upside of no baggage is an earlier exit from the park (relatively speaking – you’ll still exit 1/2 mile after the finish line vs 1 mile for those with bags) plus a free waterproof fleece-lined hooded parka.  These parkas are huge, thick, just massive things that really help you stay warm (and dry, if it’s raining).  They are ugly, and you’ll never wear it again, but you’ll also find it hard to toss because it’s so nice.  The downside is you’ll have to toss your warm layers and whatever else you want at the start but don’t want to run 26 miles with.  Use this as an opportunity to get rid of clothes you don’t want anymore (everything is collected and donated) or buy cheap or used clothing if you don’t have anything you want to leave behind (but I mean, c’mon, when are you going to wear that stained sweatshirt again?).

 

The only reason you’d check a bag is if you absolutely have to have something at the start that you can’t toss but can’t carry.  If you need something particular at the finish (but not at the start), I’ve heard you can check a bag at Jackrabbit on 72nd between Columbus and Amsterdam (for a small fee). Otherwise you can probably last until you get back to your hotel or car (or, heck, even buy it from a store near the park).  Ultimately, I haven’t heard many complaints about the choice either way – I think the bag check runs pretty smoothly, and those who don’t check a bag are fine, too.  Can’t really go wrong here.

 

Ferry or Bus?

This is the big question I’ve debated for a long time, but I think I’ve finally made my choice.  When I ran in 2005, the buses left from downtown and the ferry was not an official option.  Now, buses leave from midtown (next to the library at 5th and 42nd) and the ferry is an official transport option.  (I’m only going to debate the NYC options since if the bus from Jersey is an option for you, you’re probably not debating anything!)

 

The bus is appealing because it’s one-stop-shopping.  You get on the bus, you zone out, and you get off at the starting area.  Lovely!  My friend who took the ferry last year said it was cold and if he had to do it again he’d take the bus.  Plus, the bus is in midtown, which is easy to get to even if there are delays on the subway or something (I could taxi or uber or even walk if it came to it).  So at first the bus was the clear winner for me.  But then I realized they close the bridge at 6:45, which means that all the buses are really early.  Not a problem if you are in one of the first couple waves, but if your start time is 11:00 and you’re taking a bus at, say, 5:45, that means you’d board the bus more than five hours before your start time!

 

So what are the start times, and how do you know which wave you’ll be in?  I’ve found several old pace charts that really, really help with this question – this is from 2014this is from 2015, and this is from 2016.  NYRR will seed you based on what you said your finish time will be (and maybe possibly based on data it has on you, but I’m not 100% sure on that).  Basically, and assuming this year will be like last year, if you’re a 3:00 to 3:30 marathoner you’ll be in Wave 1 that leaves at 9:40 am, 3:35 to 4:00 will be in Wave 2 at 10:15 am, 4:00 to 4:30 will be Wave 3 at 10:40 am, and 4:30 to 6:00 (yikes that’s a big spread) are Wave 4 at 11:00 am.  Note that it might take several to many minutes to cross the actual starting line.  Last year I had friends who started almost at noon.  That means that even if they finished in 4 hours 45 minutes, the sun would already be set.  🙁  (Let’s note here that I’m gunning for a 5:15 finish, but will be happy with 5:30 and ok with 5:45.  So, yeah.  A lot slower than sub 5.)

 

So, setting aside the fact that there’s a decent chance I will finish this marathon in the dark, I will certainly be in Wave 4, and I will probably have a green colored bib and have to run on the bottom of the Verrazano bridge (rumor has it blue and orange get top, green gets bottom).  These are all depressing things to learn, but I guess I’d rather make peace with them now than be surprised on race day.

 

Back to the ferry!  The ferry is highly recommended on online boards, but why?  It seems like a hassle – you have to subway or taxi all the way to the tip of Manhattan, stand in a crush of people to get onto a ferry that holds 5,000 people, then get off in another crush and make your way onto another bus (one hopes there are enough buses there waiting), which then finally takes you to the start.  And as my friend said, it’s cold.  And it sounds like a lot of standing and walking and generally being on your legs to me!  So why so recommended?  Honestly, it sounds like the #1 reason is because the “view is nice.”  Yeah, you get to see the Statue of Liberty and feel like you’re really “in” New York City.  I mean… I guess?  But as someone who has lived here 17 years and has seen the statue many times, I think I can pass on marathon morning.  Other ferry advantages?  You can “stretch out” and there’s a bathroom on board (and in the terminal).  But there are also bathrooms on the buses!  (or so I’ve read)

 

The real reason I’m (probably) choosing the ferry?  (Gasp, yes, I think I’m going to deal with the ferry hassle!)  Because of the time cutoffs and my late start.  Even if they have buses as late as 6:30 (which I highly doubt what with the 6:45 bridge closure), that’s still 4 1/2 hours before my wave starts.  I could take the 8:30 or even 9:00 ferry and probably make it on time (although I’m sure my nerves will get the best of me and I’ll be on the 8:00 ferry).  Regardless, that’s a pretty big time difference, and ultimately makes taking the ferry worth the additional hassle.  And who knows, maybe I’ll be so inspired by the beauty of the Statue of Liberty that I’ll crush my time.  I am strongly considering dressing like the statue for my race costume anyway…

 

Either way, people say be on the bus or ferry 2.5 to 3 hours before your official start time to give yourself time for the transport(s), walking, security, bag check, porta potty visits, getting to your corral, etc.  Also note that in the past, bag check closed a little over an hour before the wave (e.g. 9:20 for a 10:30 start) and corrals closed about 20 minutes before the waves started (e.g. 10:10 for a 10:30 start), so you might need even more time to get to the start depending.  The upside is it gives you more time to eat the free bagels, Powerbars, coffee, tea, and water that’s at the start.

 

Ultimately, getting to the NYC Marathon start is a big hassle, no matter how you slice it.  And then after getting to the start, you will inevitably be waiting around a long, long time (in the cold and other unpredictable elements).  But then after all that hassle and all that waiting, you get to run 26.2 miles, so there’s that.  Why do we do this again?

 

TL;DR – take the bus if you’re in waves 1 or 2, if you’re staying in midtown, or if you don’t mind hanging around the starting village.  Take the ferry if you’re from out-of-town and really want the “NYC experience,” if you’re staying at a downtown hotel, or if you’re in a later wave and don’t want to kill too much time in the village.

 

Are you or have you ever taken the bus or ferry to the start of the NYC Marathon?  Checked a bag?  What meal are you planning for before and after the race?  Share in the comments!

I got into the NYC Marathon!

It already has!

I was just finishing my dinner when my email dinged – I checked and my stomach dropped – I got into the NYC marathon lottery!  Hooooooo boy…  I did not see that coming.

 

First, apologies for the incredibly long break in posting.  I still can’t run due to injury, so I haven’t been in the running mindset, so this blog has been gathering as much dust as my running shoes.  I was going to write a post about what I have been doing besides running, but I kept putting that off because, well, it is profoundly uninteresting.  I’ve been resting a lot, and walking a little, and just started rowing and going to the gym again, but then I played tourist in this beautiful weather we’ve been having and overdid it, compressing my ankle and causing pain and swelling, helping keep my PT busy and my running shoes dusty.

 

On a lark, I applied for the NYC Marathon lottery two weeks ago – the last day they accepted applications.  The odds of a local resident getting selected for the lottery were only about 23%.  Well, apparently I am one of the 23%, because I got in!  (You might remember I was only 2 races away from qualifying last year, but I couldn’t make it because of the injury.)

 

I really didn’t think I’d get selected, and I was okay with that.  I still can’t even run a block, so the idea of running a marathon seems farfetched.  But I also rationalized that if I did get in, it might be a good way to test the waters – I ran the NYC Marathon in 2005 (good lord, has it really already been 12 years?!), so there would be no pressure to finish for my 50 States quest, plus it’s a local race so I wouldn’t have the added expense and stress of travel and hotel.  But now I’m realizing it’s only 8 months away, which seems so so so very soon to learn how to run 26.2 miles.

It’s making my stomach do flips, that’s for sure.

 

So, I just won probably the worst lottery in the world and I paid $255 for the privilege.  As the immortal Forrest Gump(‘s momma) said, “stupid is as stupid does.”  I guess I’m back to being a stupid runner, even without the running!  Huzzah!

 

Did you get into the 2017 NYC Marathon?  Have you ever won any sort of lottery or prize?  How much would you pay to not have to run the NYC Marathon?  Share in the comments!

2016 Year in Review

It feels like I have more range of motion now, but the photos don’t really show it…

There’s a bit of poetic symmetry (is that a thing?) in that 2015 was the best year ever and 2016 was the worst.  If you’ve been living in the woods this year and missed all the happenings, first, I’m jealous, and second, you can watch this trailer to catch up on what 2016 was like:

That was basically my year, but throw in a sprained ankle, a broken fibula, multiple weeks on crutches (spread across multiple months), multiple weeks in a aircast boot, a cortisone shot deep into my joint, and general declining health and a total loss of fitness, and that’s my 2016.

 

Before my injury, I was doing almost a marathon per month (the Mississippi Blues Marathon in Jackson, the Little Rock Marathon in Arkansas, the Garmin Marathon in Olathe, Kansas, and the Delaware Marathon in Wilmington), and I was convinced that 2016 would be the “Year of Ugly Medals.”  Sadly, it just became the “Year of Ugly.”

 

I still don’t know when (if?!) I’ll ever run again, let alone run a marathon.  But I really, really, really, truly, madly, deeply hope that 2017 is better than 2016.  It isn’t a high bar, but if 2016 has taught me anything, it’s that almost anything horrible can happen.  🙁

 

Luckily, there are only a couple more days left in 2016 (plus one extra leap second), and poetic symmetry (it’s now a thing) indicates 2017 will be a good year.  I wish all of you health and happiness and health in the New Year!  (Health twice because it’s so important.)

 

How was your 2016?  Are you super glad it’s almost over?  Did you make any resolutions for the New Year?  Share in the comments!

Rocket City Marathon Video from 2015

A big expo for a small race!

A big expo for a small race!

The Rocket City Marathon is celebrating it’s 40th anniversary this weekend, and while of course I won’t be there, I did run it last year and wrote about it here.  I also made this video back then.  I meant to post it ages ago but I was somehow still too shy to post a public video to YouTube.  For some reason, I’m over that now, so here it is!

 

It’s about 2 minutes long and I used a GoPro template, keeping the “GoPro” tags at the beginning and end as a joke since nothing in the video is extreme (except for the dunk into the fish pond where I risked catching salmonella from all the duck poop).

 

 

I hadn’t watched it since last year, and it was a fun/painful reminder of healthier times (although I didn’t do particularly well at that race).  It’s also an embarrassing reminder of how little I’ve used my GoPro since then, both because I haven’t done anything GoPro-worthy and because I find taking footage and then editing it to be exceedingly time consuming and difficult for me.

 

I wish all the runners this year luck and good weather, and I’m sorry to hear they switched the venue of the pasta dinner from the space center to the art museum, because honestly that was the best part of the whole race!

 

Have you ever made a GoPro video?  Do your videos tend to end up in a black hole on your computer?  What’s your favorite online video?  Share in the comments!

Delaware Marathon Recap – Happy Mother’s Day – May 8, 2016

A cool bridge along the Delaware Marathon course.

The cool bridge along the Delaware Marathon course that’s featured on the medal.

I tried three four new things for the Delaware Marathon this past Sunday, because, as the old marathon saying goes, “Everything new on race day!”  (That is the saying, right?)  What new things did I try?

 

  1. I finally wore my Marathon Maniacs shirt!
  2. I tried fueling with PayDay bars!
  3. I ran with a sore throat!
  4. Bonus – I saw a woman cheating!

I can recommend two of those four things, but you’ll have to read on to find out which ones!

 

The view from the Doubletree Downtown Wilmington.

The view from the Doubletree Downtown Wilmington.

The number-one thing Wilmington has going for it is its location.  On Saturday morning I zipped down on Amtrak (if “zipped” includes a 30 minute train delay) and walked two blocks to the outdoor expo.  Because of all the rain, there was a bit of a mud “situation” that the race organizers tried to combat with piles of straw, but it wasn’t entirely effective and I left with my shoes and jeans spattered with mud.  Luckily, they were not my race shoes and the mud hazard was worth all the goodies – I picked up my bib, two free Gus, a shirt, a pint glass, a hat, a cowbell, and a bag.  Before heading to my hotel I continued down the riverfront a couple blocks to Harry’s Seafood for some sea bass and a ridiculous chocolate peanut butter dessert.

After eating too much I hauled all my stuff to the Doubletree Downtown.  At check-in I got another goodie bag (with another Gu, a Kind Bar, a marathon door hanger, a marathon oval magnet, and marathon info) plus a warm chocolate chip cookie.  Later that afternoon I went out for some water and fun sized PayDay bars, which I planned on eating during the race for the first time ever.

 

To be clear, it’s not the first time I’ve ever had a PayDay bar, but it was the first time I’d ever eaten them during a run.  They ended up working out pretty well!  I’m in an eternal process of tweaking my marathon nutrition, but I’m trying to move away from gels/gus because I think they’re yucky.  Instead, I’m trying to eat things I actually enjoy and using races as a way to eat (more) treats!  I picked PayDay bars because they don’t have any chocolate to melt and the peanuts are salty, which is something I often crave during a race.  Their nutrition profile also isn’t too far off from “typical” race food, but is a little heavy on the fat – each fun size bar is 90 calories, 90 mg sodium, 5 g fat, 8 g sugar, and 2.5 g protein.  Compare that to Salted Caramel Gu at 100 calories, 125 mg sodium, 0 g fat, 7 g sugar, and 0 g protein, and 2nd Surge (my standard go-to) at 90 calories, 115 mg sodium, 0 g fat, 13 g sugar, and 3 g protein.  PayDay bars don’t have potassium listed (so I assume it’s zero?) and they don’t have any caffeine, so I did supplement with 2nd Surge and some Gu chomps on race day.

The start of the Delaware Marathon 2016.

The starting area of the Delaware Marathon 2016.

Race day morning was cool (in the 50s), overcast, and very humid, but cleared to sunny skies with a bit of wind a few hours into the race.  Considering the rain we had had the entire week before, we certainly lucked out on Sunday.  I dropped off my bag on the bag check tables behind the tents (nothing very formal) and got into a long line for the porta potties (definitely needed more of those, in my opinion).  It only took me 3 minutes to cross the starting line (even with my back-of-the-pack starting position) and I actually jogged across the starting line since it was so open/uncongested.  It got a little more crowded a few blocks into the race because of the narrow walkways and I felt like I was running in a sea of “HALF”ers (which I was).

Running along the river, reading "HALF HALF HALF" all the way home...

Running along the river, reading “HALF HALF HALF” all the way home…

Luckily I had been warned about the hills on the course, so mentally I was prepared to walk a lot.  But since I expected big hills, the actual hills didn’t seem that bad.  They were very gradual but looooong, and everything had to be done twice because of the looped course, but at least every uphill came with a corresponding downhill.  The worst hills came at approximately miles 5-7 and 12 (and again at 18-20 and 25).  Since I compare everything to Central Park, I’d say the hills were similar but stretched out and stacked end to end, leaving longer portions of flat and longer portions of uphill/downhill.

 

While the course was more beautiful than I expected, Wilmington is certainly a city of contrasts.  We ran through some very fancy suburbs with nice parks only to turn suddenly into run-down neighborhoods with payday loan shops (not to be confused with PayDay candy bars) and vacant storefronts.  The most shocking thing I witnessed during the race had nothing to do with the course, however.  Around mile 20.5 a woman blew past me, which was surprising since at that point the course was very empty and I was still trotting along at a decent pace (for me).  A little farther ahead I noticed her turning around at a non-turnaround point – basically cutting the course.  I joked with the guy standing at the intersection that I was jealous of her getting to cut, and he said she told him she had gotten lost and run extra, so was cutting it off now.  I raised my eyebrows but didn’t think much of it until after the race when I realized just how much she had cut – two small loops including the entire portion through Little Italy, or a little over 2.5 miles.

 

Now, even with the cut, at this pace the woman wasn’t qualifying for Boston or winning any awards (maybe… she looked youngish so I don’t think she’d win an age award… and I didn’t get a look at her bib number so I don’t know what she ultimately got), but it was startling to see someone cheat during a race, especially with all the publicity cheating has gotten recently.  Did she really get lost?  Maybe, who knows?  But if you make a mistake like that should you still have to run the full regulation course?  I’d lean towards yes, but I’ve also never had to run 29 miles for a marathon before.  Is it really cheating if you run at least 26.2 miles that day?  What do you think?

 

Because I was sick (my sore throat was slowly developing into some congestion, but the real waterworks, headache, and fatigue didn’t really kick in until Monday – and I’m still battling what turned into a pretty bad cold), I was keeping the option of only running the half and still getting a finish time (which was allowed, according to pre-race communications).  And while I hope not to run while sick again, it didn’t seem to affect me much that day.

 

Marathon Maniacs shirt Delaware Marathon May 2016As usual (at least for the past several marathons), my plan was to run the first 20 miles and let myself walk after that if I wanted (since I’d make the cutoff time by then).  I ended up walking most of miles 18-20 because of the hills, so I kept running afterwards, and was able to keep all but one of my miles under 14 minutes.  Ultimately I finished about half an hour faster than I expected, and while my knees were quite puffy (as you can see I had them iced at the end), I felt pretty good.  A nice touch at the finish was having your name, hometown, club affiliation (like 50 State and/or Maniacs), and number of previous marathons announced.

 

So, the PayDay bars were a success, the illness, while not recommended, wasn’t bad, but the real home run was wearing the Marathon Manaics shirt.  I’m not a runner who needs crowds or lots of distraction during a race, but I do love the social aspect of races, and wearing that iconic yellow shirt got me a lot of cheers and high-fives from other maniacs during the race, plus I got to hang out and chat with some maniacs after the race, too.  Again, not that I don’t chat with maniacs without the shirt, but it does make a great icebreaker.  (The hot pink gloves and the rhinestone necklace were just extra…)

 

The medal!  It is so nice.

The medal! It is so nice.

The best thing I overheard:

“Same day finish!” – from a runner and fellow back-of-the-packer.

 

All the Delaware Marathon swag!

All the Delaware Marathon swag!

Thinking of running the Delaware Marathon?

 

There were 459 full marathoners, 1101 halfers, and 938 people in the two relays (about 2,500 runners total).  The start was staggered (full and halfers started before the relay runners) and there were no pacers allowed.  Because of all the relay runners, the finish area takes on a party/tailgate atmosphere and seems like a fun way to spend a Sunday morning.

 

All categories on a scale of 1-10, 10 being the best.  Note this review is based on running as a “back of the packer,” with a finish time over 5 hours.  Your experience may vary.

 

  • Getting There (Transportation & Walkability) – 9/10 – From NYC (or Philly, or Washington, DC), Wilmington is easy to reach via Amtrak.  Once there, hotels, restaurants, and the start/finish are all within about a half mile or so, so you don’t need to rent a car.
  • Staying There – 8/10 – The Doubletree Downtown Wilmington is old and showing its age, but it was fine for a night or two, and the price was pretty good (total with tax was $240 for two nights, but they also offer late checkout or “very late” checkout at 5 pm for an additional fee if you don’t want to stay the whole night).  I’m not sure if there was an additional parking charge since I didn’t have a car, but I’d imagine there was.  The location was good for the race – about 1/2 mile from the start/finish/expo area, and only a block or two from a Rite Aid and several restaurants, both sit-down and takeout.
  • Cost & Registration – 9/10 – You get a lot of stuff!  I paid $97 (with processing fees) in September 2015, which got me a short sleeved tech shirt (same as the half marathon), headsweats hat, pint glass, cowbell, and a couple packets of Gu.  During the race there was decent on-course support (water, Gatorade, Gu/cookies, porta potties, and medical).  After the race, you get a really nice medal (this year’s had cutouts and a spinner portion!), beer, champagne, and food (the quantity and quality depended on your finish time, but after 5 1/2 hours there were still some sandwiches left, along with lots of bags of chips, some cold pizza, little cups of pasta salad and fruit salad, bananas, chocolate milk, and sugary drinks).  I thought photos were included because they promised “access to digital photos” but that just meant they had on-course photographers and you can buy the pictures afterwards.  I will say the photographers were better than average and took a lot of scenic photos during the race.  There was no memo pad that said “Memo from a Delaware Marathoner.” 🙁
  • Organization – 8/10 – Pre-race communication was good – I particularly liked the trio of race-week emails with all sorts of info included.  The expo was very small and a bit muddy.  The course support was pretty good, but they were missing some volunteers at intersections so you had to keep your eyes open for cars.
  • Course – 7/10 – For a looped course, it was a lot more scenic and less boring than I expected!  And while it did have some hills (most notably at miles 5-7 and again at 18-20, because of the loop, plus a final hill at 25), they were quite gradual, although quite long.  The mile markers felt really off, though, actually coming a lot earlier than they should have according to my watch (which never happens – usually I’m .2 or more ahead of the markers due to weaving), but the course itself wasn’t short (unless you cut it…).
  • Crowd – 1/10 – Basically no spectators except at the finish party area – and it really was a party in that park, with all the relay runners and family members enjoying a sunny May day. There looked like a lot of tailgating and fun going on, and it was painful to run past it to do another 13.1 mile loop.
  • Other Factors – 4/10 – There’s really not much to see in Wilmington.  If you’re from the area, it’s easy to get there, and if you’re not from the area, Philly is incredibly close, in case you want to do some sightseeing there.
  • Overall Rating – 6/10 – The race was decent, the swag was nice, the maniacs were great, but the overall trip was just “meh” – there just wasn’t much else to the weekend…  And yet I’d consider coming back to do the half just so I could enjoy the post-race food (before it’s gone or ice cold) and relax in the park.

 

Delaware is “The First State,” but it was number 24 for me.  26 to go!  My next marathon is the Missoula Marathon in Montana on July 10th.

 

Have you ever visited Wilmington?  Do you try new things on race day?  Do you think that woman cheated or was she justified in cutting?  Share in the comments!

Expectations for the Delaware Marathon

My new Pop Tart case, balancing out becoming "Enlightened" and the "Inner Peas" I might get from the other foods.

My new Pop Tart case, balancing out becoming “Enlightened” and the “Inner Peas” I might get from the other foods.

The Discover Bank Delaware Marathon is this Sunday, and food is on my mind!  Most of my marathon preparation involves not so much running but rather the buying and packing of food.  I finally got a Pop Tart container so my Pop Tarts won’t get smashed in transit – I’m a little too excited to see if it works.  I also got a bunch of other new-ish snacks to take with me.  Since it’s a short visit and Wilmington is only a 2-hour train ride away, most of my luggage will be food for before and after the race.  I can even pack liquids!

 

The Delaware Marathon started 13 years ago because Delaware didn’t have a marathon.  (There were a few marathons before 1998, but nothing between 1998 and 2004.)  Now there are several marathons in the second smallest state, but it goes to show how much running has changed in the last 10 years, and how it might change in the future.

 

This year there are 459 full marathoners registered, 1101 halfers, and 938 people in the two relays – a 4-person relay and an 8-person relay.  Yes, an 8-person relay!!!  That’s less than 3.3 miles per person!  Man, I’m gonna be so jealous of them…

 

The course is two loops, so it’ll be my first looped marathon course.  They describe it as having some flats and some hills, so I’m anticipating it to be overall a little flatter than Central Park.  We’ve had over a week of rain along the East Coast, but it’s supposed to clear up a bit on Sunday, with highs in the low 70s and lows in the low 50s, so it should be pretty good weather for running.  I’m planning on wearing my yellow Marathon Maniac t-shirt for the first time, along with inappropriate hot pink gloves and rhinestones for fun.

 

Since Garmin Oz was less than 3 weeks ago, and I’m fighting off a sore throat that’s threatening to turn into something worse, I’ll also keep open the option of only running one lap.  Surprisingly, the organizers have said it’s ok to make that race-day decision!  They said you’d still get a time and even a half marathon medal, if available.  Crossing fingers I won’t have to do that, but if I do, it won’t be the end of the world, and luckily Delaware is so close that I can easily return next year.

 

But back to what’s most important:  The food!  The organizers said that “[b]efore the race, there will be coffee, rolls, spreads, bananas, water and Gatorade,” which is already a lot.  During the race they’ll have Gatorade and gels, but more importantly there’s “a Cookie Stop at Mile 8 & Mile 20.”  Awesome, right?  But check out what they’ll have after the race:

Please plan to visit the FranksWine Champagne Tent for a complementary post race glass of champagne!   Also, your hospitality wristband will entitle you to 4 beers from our Michelob Ultra / Shock Top Beer Garden.  Your post race meal will feature BBQ bourbon pulled pork, chicken, or burger sliders, pasta salad and fresh fruit from 2 Fat Guys Catering; Seasons Pizza; Bananas from Shop Rite; soft pretzels from the Pretzel Boys; Herrs Snacks, Hy Point Dairy Farms chocolate milk; Canada Dry beverages; Vitamin Water and Smart Water.  (emphasis added)

5 alcoholic beverages and enough food for several full meals?!  No wonder I signed up for this race…

 

My biggest (recurring) fear is that all the food will be gone by the time I finish, since I’ll be one of the last finishers on this 6-hour time limit course (and there are so many halfers and relay runners!).  If that happens, I will be sorely disappointed (and plain sore), but I’ll try to console myself with the full pantry of snacks I brought from home (not to mention the plethora of restaurants in the downtown and riverfront area).

 

The race also gives out a ton of swag:  For marathoners, “a gender specific  technical running shirt … a Headsweats running hat… and a special finisher’s medal from Crown Trophy.”  Everyone will get a personalized race bib, free online digital photos, and other goodies in the race bag (including a “Memo from a Delaware Marathoner” memo pad and a Delaware Marathon Pint Glass).  Expect all my memos to be from that pad from now on.

 

Delaware has only 1,982 square miles of territory (according to the race info packet – online sources have it range from 1,954 to 2,491, with many answers in-between).  I don’t know how they’ll fit all that food into less than 2,000 square miles, but I’ll help them get rid of a lot of it.

 

Have you ever visited Delaware?  Are you incorporated there?  What’s your favorite snack?  Share in the comments!

Garmin Oz Marathon Recap – Never Surrender Sometimes – April 16, 2016

View of the Garmin Oz Marathon start from the hotel.

View of the Garmin Oz Marathon start from the hotel.

A week ago I ran the Garmin Oz Marathon in Olathe, Kansas (ok, a week and a day).  Olathe (pronounced “Oh-LAY-thuh”) is about 45 minutes southwest of Kansas City, Missouri, is surprisingly hilly, and has an excellent Bass Pro Shops.

 

WELCOME TO KANSAS

I flew in from San Francisco via Minneapolis, arriving late Thursday afternoon.  Before leaving the airport, I met up with a friend who happened to be flying into the Kansas City airport at the same time for work (and when that happens, you have to meet up at the Kansas City airport).  After some iced tea and failed attempts to convince him to run Garmin Oz with me, I picked up my rental car.  The intermediate-sized car I reserved was not available so they gave me a minivan; unfortunately it didn’t come with a husband, mortgage, or a dog, so I had a lot of empty space to myself.  After getting my sweet ride I headed straight to the Embassy Suites Hotel in Olathe.  I missed the expo/packet pickup but knew I’d have time the next day to do that.

Even though it was late and I had eaten multiple meals during the travel day, I was hungry for a real dinner so I asked the receptionist for some nearby recommendations.  She suggested crossing the street to get either Mexican or BBQ.  I went with Mexican and was not disappointed at The Salty Iguana.  Was the food good?  It wasn’t amazing, but it was pretty good!  Was the venue loud?  It was pretty loud considering there were like 10 people there!  Was the food cheap?  Yes, it was amazingly cheap!  The hotel receptionist said to mention I was staying at the hotel, which got me a 10% discount, which meant my chicken burrito with chips and salsa was only $8.93 with tax (not including tip).  Thumbs up!

So much food (at The Salty Iguana).

So much food for $8.93 (at The Salty Iguana).

The next day I had big plans – first, hit up the free breakfast at the hotel, then visit the expo to get my bib and any other goodies that appealed, then visit the Super Target for fun and snacks, and at some point visit either the trampoline place or the IMAX theater.  I managed to do all those things except the trampoline or IMAX, due to a headache and weird fatigue probably brought on by all my recent travel.  It was especially disappointing because I got a free 30 minute coupon to the trampoline place (Cosmic Jump) at the expo, but I just couldn’t manage even trying it out.  Next time?  Instead, I watched Pitch Perfect 2 on HBO in my room while eating mountains of popcorn and treats from Target.  It was a Pitch Perfect 2 way to spend an evening before the race (in that it wasn’t amazing or as good as the first time I ever ate popcorn in bed, but it was comforting and familiar and a fine way to relax).

 

RACE DAY

I spent race morning fussing about my hotel room for as long as possible before the marathon, since the start was literally in the hotel’s parking lot (and I have no desire to use porta potties when I don’t have to).  I ended up spending a little too much time in my room and eating too much in the process.  I was weirdly hungry and overate, which was a bit, ahem, upsetting to me later in the race, but it probably only cost me about 8 to 10 total minutes (two stops), and ultimately I didn’t feel that bad and finished the race feeling fine.

 

Trying to show off my broom before the start.  The dang thing didn't help me fly at all!

Trying to show off my broom before the start. The dang thing didn’t help me fly at all!

While stuffing Pop Tarts and granola bars into my mouth, I got all gussied up in my witch costume (complete with homemade paper bag broom attached to my back), headed out to the start, and almost immediately lost my hat to the gusty winds.  I jammed the hat back onto my head but it flew off again right as I crossed the starting line, forcing me to go back and retrieve it (and giving me mild anxiety that I screwed up the electronic chip reading from crossing the mat twice and would be flagged as a cheater).  Since the hat wouldn’t stay on, and I didn’t want to lose it (because, well, awesome hat), I folded it up and tucked it into the back of my tights.  Yep, I ran with a full witch’s hat complete with long black ribbon tucked into my CW-X tights for 26.2 miles.  It was a little warm but not as uncomfortable as you’d think.

 

Random chicken photo for my mom.

Random chicken photo for my mom.

As you might know from the map or flyover video, the race starts out on North Ridgeview Road, forming a jagged loop for the first half before heading out and back on the (paved) Mill Creek Trail for the second half.  The most shocking thing was how hilly the first half was.  It felt like running a really boring roller coaster.  For comparison, it was hillier than Central Park, and compared to Central Park, the hills were longer, for the most part steeper, and more “regular” like waves in an asphalt ocean.  It wasn’t terrible, and it wasn’t mountainous (monotonous yes), but it was surprising for what I expected from Kansas.  The only good part was it offered more shade than I expected, mostly because the sun was so low in the sky that the hills blocked it.

The second half wasn’t nearly as hilly, except for the very steep (but fairly short) hill down to and up from the paved trail.  The trail was about 5-6 feet wide, paved, and not as shady as I had hoped or expected.  It’s often demoralizing to be heading out to run 12 more miles when others are heading back in to finish, but the other runners were friendly and mostly in good moods, so it was actually nice to pass them.  There were a lot of encouraging words and even one high-five!  (I was hoping his speed would rub off on me.)

My goal was to “run” until mile 20, then let myself walk the rest of the way to the finish.  I managed to run a bit until about mile 22, when I switched to full walking, partly because I was thinking I had the Delaware Marathon in 2 weeks (it was actually 3 weeks), but mostly because I was tired and I simply didn’t want to run.  My philosophy these days is not to torture myself with any of these races and try to enjoy the day and the experience as much as possible.  So if I want to walk, I walk!  It was a gorgeous day to be outside and I was actually enjoying it.

 

We were very lucky with the weather – it was in the 60s to low 70s and overcast for almost the entire race – a tiny bit warm, a bit humid, and a bit windy, but otherwise perfect.  If it had been sunny (or rainy, which some said it has been for the past several years), it would have been torturous in various ways.  The water stations were only every 2 miles (sometimes a bit more, sometimes a bit less), which was ok since it was overcast, but if it had been hot and sunny, it would have been really rough.

The home stretch - with more hay bales!

The home stretch – with hay bales!

The hill from the trail to the main road (not pictured) was so steep and painful I immediately and un-affectionately nicknamed it “Cramp Hill.”  Even walking it almost made my legs seize up.  I heard others complaining about this hill after the race so I know I wasn’t the only one who struggled with it.  But we were back on the main (Ridgeview) road and had only a few more rolling hills until the hotel shimmered in the distance and the finish line awaited.  I whipped out my witch’s hat, ran the .2 through the finish, and collected my surprisingly enormous medal.

The finisher food and medal!

The finisher food and the giant (smudged) medal!

I heard several other runners say they ran this race every year just for the medal, and I can see why – it’s pretty nice and much much larger than the preview images indicated.  The green portions are a translucent glass, which is cool.  The only disappointing thing is that the metal has permanent smudges and fingerprints on it – and they were there before I even touched the medal.  I washed it several times with soap and warm water, buffing it with a soft towel in-between, but some of the stubborn prints remain.

I'm a wicked witch!

I’m a wicked witch!

 

After the race I was feeling well enough to check out the Bass Pro Shops (yes, it ends in an “s” even though it’s one shop, which is just as weird as “Brussels Sprouts” – it’s correct but seems wrong), and I’m so glad I did.  It’s only about a 6 minute drive from the hotel, and it’s the best Bass Pro Shops I’ve visited yet, mostly because of the shooting arcade!

I didn’t do much else that day (I mean, really, anything else would have been a let-down), and my flight home was super early the next morning (I left the hotel by 4:15 am!).  Overall, it was an okay race, a pretty fun visit, and I’m glad to have another state down!

 

Thinking of running the Garmin Oz Marathon?

 

Front and back of the Marathon shirt (short sleeved, tech fabric).

Front and back of the Marathon shirt (short sleeved, tech fabric).

There were 512 full marathon runners, 1,838 half marathoners, and 559 10K runners (a total of 2,909 runners).  Because it’s a relatively small race and the marathon starts first, it wasn’t too congested (the halfers peeled off at about mile 12).  A decent portion of the runners wear costumes (more in the half or 10K, of course).  The medals for all the races are pretty nice.

 

All categories on a scale of 1-10, 10 being the best.  Note this review is based on running as a “back of the packer,” with a finish time of about 5 1/2 hours.  Your experience may vary.

 

  • Getting There (Transportation & Walkability) – 5/10 – Olathe, Kansas, is about 45 minutes outside of Kansas City, MO, which is probably the airport you’ll fly into.  It’s nice that the start/finish of the race is in the hotel’s parking lot, but there is no easy way to get to that hotel, nor is there much else near the hotel, so that means you’ll probably have to rent a car for the weekend.  (For what it’s worth, the front desk said a taxi would probably cost $50 one-way to the airport.)  You can run across the street for Mexican or BBQ, and the hotel itself has a bar and restaurant.
  • Staying There – 9.5/10 –  The Embassy Suites Olathe is new (opened in late 2015 I think), and it was great.  The rooms felt new and while they’re not large, they were nicely laid out and still provided a pretty full kitchen (mini fridge, separate sink, and microwave, plus coffeemaker).  They had free breakfast (with made-to-order eggs) and even had an afternoon happy hour with free drinks and snacks (like chips and small slices of pizza).  The gym looked ok but the pool is very small.  Parking is ample and the spaces are large enough for your minivan.  My total for 3 nights was $454.
  • Cost & Registration – 9/10 – I paid $76 (with processing fees) for the marathon back in October 2015.  You get a nice short-sleeved tech t-shirt with minimal logos, a big medal, and decent finisher food (the chicken sandwich was excellent, but the only beer left for slowpokes like me was Bud Light).  They also had bananas, granola bars, and tubes of yogurt.  On-course support was ok and included a couple Gu stations, but there were no bananas or pretzels or anything like that.
  • Organization – 8/10 – Pre-race communication was fine, but the redesigned website needs more (or less?) designing (it’s so big and unwieldy for such a small race).  The expo was small and simple with limited vendors, so if you need a particular gel don’t expect it there (they had some Gu but no salted caramel, for example).  They don’t have a pasta dinner, and the “virtual” goodie bag is a joke.  I think they could have done a lot more with the Garmin sponsorship, since so many of us runners have Garmins and often have complicated and serious relationships with them, but it seems like it’s in name only (plus the winners get a watch).
  • Course – 6.5/10 – As I described above, it’s pretty hilly in the first half.  It’s also a little boring, but that was to be expected.  It is closed to traffic, not too crowded, and not very cambered so pretty easy on the legs.  I think they had a porta potty at almost every water stop, but the water stops were only about every 2 miles, give or take.  The Garmin tracking was spot on except for mile 8, but at some point got back on as my watch beeped “26” at almost exactly the 26 mile marker, which NEVER happens in a race!  Starting and finishing in the hotel parking lot was really nice and easy.
  • Crowd – 2/10 – Almost zero, except for that one awesome guy with the cookies and the sign.  One bonus point for a spectator in a “Fear the Tree” t-shirt.
  • Other Factors – 6/10 – Bass Pro Shops shooting gallery, Super Target, Cosmic Jump, and IMAX, and that’s just in Olathe.  I think there’s a lot to see and do in Kansas City, but I didn’t have the time.
  • Overall Rating – 7/10 – The race was just ok, but I actually really enjoyed the overall experience.

 

23 down, 27 to go!  My next marathon is the Delaware Marathon in, you guessed it, Delaware, in two weeks!

 

Have you ever visited Kansas?  Have you ever gone to one of those trampoline places?  Have you ever visited a Bass Pro Shops?  Share in the comments!