Tag Archives: NYC

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 Things You See While Running

We’re all familiar with Pizza Rat, right?  Well, lest you think it’s all prosaic sunshine and flowers when you go for a run in NYC, sometimes you spot a true miracle of nature.  Today I was lucky enough to witness nature at its finest:  Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Rat Rat.

 

Rat Rat also reminded me of that dog in the Frontline Gold commercial, except Rat Ran never figured out how to get his treat through the fence.

 

Beautiful day!

#blessed

 

What’s the best thing you’ve ever seen on a run?  What do you like on your pizza?  Have you ever eaten rat?  Share in the comments!

Run & Chug Race Series 10K – Two-fer! – Race Recap

The Hudson River and Jersey views before the race.

A rainy view of the Hudson River and New Jersey before the race.

Yesterday I ran two 10Ks in the rain, and yes, my legs are still tired.  The first race was the Scotland 10K in Central Park, which I started a little after 8 am, finished at 9:20, and got home from at 9:30.  After a quick shower, a change into different, more rainproof gear, and several mouthfuls of essential chocolate, I was in a taxi down to Chelsea Piers by 10:30 for the 11 am start of Run & Chug’s inaugural 10K.

 

Run & Chug (aka NYC Fun Run) is a fun running group with branches all over the US.  They meet every Wednesday at 7 pm at different bars around the city to run (usually 3-5 miles, but you can always turn around early or just skip it entirely), and then drink and socialize.  Often they make a deal with the bar to get drink specials (and they usually have a place to store bags while you run).  It’s good motivation to get out there on any given Wednesday, especially in the winter (but I still don’t go nearly enough… maybe if it were called “Run & Chocolate”?).

 

When I saw they were doing their first race series with a 10K, medal, and free pint glass, I was in!  I knew it was the same day as the NYRR Scotland Run, but I decided to sign up anyway, since I had never tried doing two different races in the same day before, and because I thought that even at my slow pace I’d have enough time to get from Central Park to the West Side Highway before the 11 am start.  And I did!

 

Originally I thought I’d hang out after the Scotland run, eating my bagel, entering the raffle, and checking out the bagpipers, then head directly to the second race, but because I was thoroughly soaked and cold, I hustled back to my apartment to change into dry clothes.  Once I was warm and dry, I had no desire to go outside again, but I did, because I paid money for the swag experience, dammit.

 

When I got to Pier 62 (right behind the northern end of Chelsea Piers), there were already quite a few other Run Chuggers patiently waiting under the awning of a carousel that I didn’t know existed out there.  It took me a minute to realize that packet pickup was actually out on the exposed walkway, where the poor volunteers were getting drenched as they passed out bibs and pint glasses.  I got my bib and hustled back under the carousel to wait for the start.

You know what other animal stands around in the rain?  Yeah, that's right.

You know what other animal stands around in the rain? Yeah, that’s right.

It wasn’t long before the race started.  There were four waves, each 2 minutes apart, so the course was never congested (aside from the area around the Circle Line Sightseeing Cruise which required some artful dodging of tourists and tour buses).

 

Maybe because I was tired from the first race, or distracted by thoughts of what I could eat when this was all over, or because I was chatting with another runner about her race dots and if she liked them, but I missed my wave start.  Bye bye wave 2!  Guess I’m wave 3 now!

Wave 2 is off!

Taking a picture of my wave, not realizing it was my wave.  Oops!

The course started at Pier 62 (about 22nd Street), went up almost to the Intrepid (about 44th Street), then looped back down again.  You ran the loop twice for 6.2 miles, so you passed every spot 4 times.  There were also volunteers standing at key intersections to direct you where to go, and chalk arrows that were surprisingly resilient in the rain.  The run wasn’t that bad, since the rain stopped after a few miles, the wind off the river wasn’t as bad as I had feared, and the course was flat.  It was also nice to see all the same runners again and again as you passed each other.  It was a small community race!

Much of the course was along the river.

Much of the course was along the river.

The Intrepid!

The Intrepid!

I actually finished a little faster than my Scotland run, I think because it was totally flat compared to Central Park and because I was so excited to be finished for the day, but even with my blistering speed of 1 hour 7 minutes I was still one of the slower people to finish.  After the race I remember thinking, “if I were my friend Ben, I would just run home now.”  But I am not Ben, and I was tired and hungry, so I got my bag, changed in the Chelsea Piers bathroom, and hopped into a cab to Billymark’s where my free beer (and post-race party) was waiting.  Unfortunately it turned out that there was no food at Billymark’s, so I went next door (to a Chinese restaurant I just learned is called “Aaron’s“) and in mere minutes got an order of piping hot and delicious sautéed string beans and white rice.

The medal!

The medal!

When I walked into Billymark’s it was crowded and noisy and didn’t have a place for me to eat my meal, so I wistfully gave my beer tickets away and hopped back into a cab to go home.  I was tired, a little cold, but mostly I was STARVING.  It was about 1 pm at this point, and I was DONE.  I even ate before I showered, shoveling sauce-covered beans into my mouth like a lunatic.

 

Overall, I think the first Run & Chug race was a success!  For $30 ($40 if you registered later) you got a medal, a pint glass, and a free beer (if you were willing to wait and/or eat something outside first, which I was not).

The pint glass with a map of the course underneath.

The pint glass with a map of the course underneath.

As for two races in one day, it was ok!  It was definitely exhausting, and it took more out of me than I expected, but if it hadn’t been for the rain I think it would have been a lot more manageable.  I also should have packed snacks in my bag, but I obviously wasn’t thinking clearly (and I always pack snacks!).  I’d consider doing two races in a day again, but I hope next time it’s in the summer, and instead of complaining about the rain and cold I can complain about the heat and how my chocolate melted.

 

How was your weekend?  Do you want beer or food more after a run?  What’s your favorite Chinese food order?  Share in the comments!

NYCRUNS Frozen Penguin 5K – Race Recap – March 13, 2016 – Sprrrrring Forward!

Walking down to the start of the Frozen Penguin 5K.

Walking down to the start of the Frozen Penguin 5K.

This morning I ran the NYCRuns Frozen Penguin 5K in Riverside Park in Manhattan.  Luckily, it was not freezing, nor did I turn into a penguin.  In fact, against my better judgment, I pushed hard in the final miles and turned it into a real race, finishing in about 31 minutes, which is the fastest I’ve run anything in a long time.

The race director said, "please step into the start corrals now, if you have nothing better to do."

The race director said, “please step into the start corrals now, if you have nothing better to do.”

 

The last time I ran this race it was called the “NYCRUNS M-m-manhattan Hot Chocolate 5K & 10K,” (which is why I didn’t remember running it before) and it was on February 4th, 2012 (well before I started this blog, and before I got super slow).  That time I ran it with a couple friends, who were pretty adamant about not doing the race again this year, despite it being much warmer and 4 years later.  I’m hoping it was because the course it pretty hilly, and not because they didn’t want my company specifically.

 

Lining up at the start all by myself, I looked around and wondered why other people were running this race.  It was kinda expensive if all you wanted was to run 3 miles in Riverside Park ($40 for early registration, $50 for normal, and $60 on race-day).  So were they running for the swag?  The bagels and peanut butter at the end?  Because their friends roped them into it?  I had signed up thinking maybe my girlfriends would join me, and that at the very least it would force me to run on this random Sunday morning.  Ok, and yes, the promise of another medal for only running 3 miles was also pretty tempting.

The route!

The route!

 

I started out near the back of the pack of about 360 runners.  This kept me honest in the beginning, as my plan was to run easy and steady for the entire 3 miles – but then I ditched that plan around mile 2 when I decided to see what I could do.  The first mile is by far the hilliest, but since it is a looped course, for every up there is a down.  The second mile sends you down along the Hudson River and around the tennis courts, and the final mile brings you back up to the middle of the park, around a playground, and into the finish.

Such a cute medal!  Breaking the 2016 trend of ugly medals!

Such a cute medal! Breaking the 2016 trend of ugly medals!

 

It was definitely congested over the first mile because of the relatively narrow paths, and occasionally congested at other random spots, but overall it’s a nice race.  I’d recommend this race to anyone who likes getting a shirt, medal, and lots of food for a short distance!

The front and back of the shirt (and the medal).  It's actually dark blue - sorry for the weird coloring above.

The front and back of the shirt (and the medal).  It’s actually dark blue – sorry for the bi-coloring above.

 

Organization

I picked up my bib about 15 minutes before the race started (fast and easy with a very short line), but the only shirts they had left were size small, so if you want to make sure to get your shirt size, I’d recommend doing early pick up (which was at Jackrabbit Union Square on the Friday afternoon before the race).  Bag check was incredibly fast and you could check whatever bag you wanted (not just those clear bags many races these days supply).  They also had plenty of porta potties and medics on hand.

Bagel cornucopia!

Bagel cornucopia!

What You Got

You got a chip timed course, with plenty of volunteers to guide your way at the turns.  There was one water stop you passed twice on the course, and cups of water at the end.  You also got a sleeveless tech top, a nice and very cute medal, and plenty of post-race food (red and yellow apples, strawberries, grapes, and piles of bagels with tubs of both cream cheese and peanut butter).  There was a long line for the food, but it was quite a spread for a 5K!

 

Have you been enjoying the early spring weather these past couple weeks, or are you too busy binge-watching House of Cards?  Are you still missing that extra hour of sleep despite changing your clocks Saturday afternoon?  Share in the comments!  (But no spoilers on House of Cards, I haven’t watched it yet!)

Race Recap – NYC Cupcake Run, Oct 17, 2015

Beautiful start at the NYC Cupcake Run, but the best part of the race were the hot dogs afterwards.

Beautiful start at the NYC Cupcake Run, but the best part of the race were the hot dogs afterwards.

Yesterday I survived my first ever NYC Cupcake Run, immediately ate two foot-long hot dogs (for free!!!), and then rode the subway home.  My friend thinks that’s accomplishing something, but I think that something might be “advancing towards Type 2 diabetes.”

 

I got so excited walking by this place on the way to the race, until I saw the second sign...

I got so excited walking by this place on the way to the race, until I saw the second sign…

The Cupcake Run is organized by the same people who do the NYC Pizza Run (I registered for both for $96 – or you could run one for $54).  It differs in location (Queens instead of Manhattan), length (3 miles vs only 2 for the Pizza), month (October vs September), and of course food, but otherwise it’s very similar.  You run around a small park (on an open course, so you have to be considerate to random pedestrians and watch out for cars), eat the designated foodstuff three times at various intervals, then get a themed shirt and bag and drink coupon for a local bar (this time for the lovely Rocky McBride’s).  The biggest difference was that the free drink was accompanied by a free full-on BBQ at the bar – hot dogs, sausages, hamburgers and cheeseburgers, beef and chicken kebabs… so much meat!  And so delicious.

All the delicious BBQ at Rocky McBride's

All the delicious BBQ at Rocky McBride’s.

 

But sorry, you were interested in the run?  Yeah, it was… ok.  The route was two loops on the sidewalk around Astoria Park.  Luckily there weren’t many other people there to be annoyed by the random runners, save for a wedding happening in the middle of the park, but we were far enough away that we didn’t seem to bother them.

The Cupcake Run route.

The Cupcake Run route, courtesy of NYC Cupcake Run.

 

Cupcake #3 - Chocolate

Cupcake #3 – Chocolate

Cupcake #2 - Red Velvet

Cupcake #2 – Red Velvet

Arguably the most important part of the race?  The cupcakes!  They were… not good.  There was a different flavor at each station – first was vanilla with white frosting (not pictured), second was red velvet with “cream cheese” flavored frosting (the least worst), and third was chocolate with “chocolate” frosting.  The best part about the cupcakes was that they weren’t very big.  (I mean that to be as damning as it sounds.)  The cake was tolerable, although a bit dry.  It was the frosting that was the truly horrendous part – it was uniformly waxy, greasy, and flavorless, like eating a cold ball of Crisco.  Pardon me – three cold balls of Crisco.

 

I got this shirt over 2 years ago just for this day.

I got this shirt over 2 years ago just for this race.

I’ll admit that I “cheated” for the first time ever in a race, in that I did not finish all of the frosting.  There was about as much of this disgusting frosting on each cupcake as there was cake, and I regret eating any of it at all.  I will continue to sleep well knowing I cheated, because truly no one should have been made to eat those lumps of lard.  (And where were these lovely cupcakes from?  Sweets First, “[t]hey’re not just ordinary sweets!”)

 

The saving grace of this run was that I got to do it with a friend, a former Ragnar teammate and excellent photographer.  Two other Ragnar teammates met us after the race and we all ate meat and swapped running stories at the bar.  If it were not for them, this race would not have been nearly as much fun (and I probably would have skipped the bar, which means I would have missed the hot dogs!!).  So thanks, guys, for making my day!

The coveted cupcake shirt and tote from the race.

The coveted cupcake shirt and tote from the race.

 

In other news, even more depressing than bad cupcakes – I think I’m developing an injury on the inside of my lower left leg.  I first noticed it early last week on an otherwise excellent run, then really noticed it during my first NYRR class on Thursday (& iced it afterwards), but still felt it even during the slow and short Cupcake Run.  I’m skipping my long run this weekend and am not sure how I’ll manage this development – just when I was getting back into running and feeling good, I develop an injury.  This is so classic it makes me want to scream.  But it is what it is.  I’ll rest it, I’ll lose some fitness, but hopefully can get back into it again soon.  Ugh, life can be so frustrating when it’s filled with sub-par cupcakes and budding injuries.

 

What’s your favorite cupcake?  What sort of injury makes the spot just above your medial malleolus hurt?  What did you think of the Walking Dead premiere?  Share in the comments!

Race Recap – Bronx 10-Miler, Sept 27, 2015

Beautiful day for the Bronx 10-Miler.

Such a beautiful day for Bronx 10-Miler, I didn’t even mind the lines at the porta potties.

I ran the Bronx 10-Miler* this morning and if every run were like this, I would love running.  Seriously, this was one of the most enjoyable runs I’ve had in my life.  I think it was a combination of my training (not great, but better than it has been) and the weather (a HUGE factor, as it was cool and not humid), plus an easy course (wide, no congestion, very gentle hills) and nice atmosphere (lots of colorful runners and the DJ at the junction was great).

The Bronx 10-Miler course.

The Bronx 10-Miler course.

One of the cool buildings near the start of the race.

One of the cool buildings near the start of the race (Bronx County Clerk’s office).

The course took us up the Grand Concourse (starting just northeast of Yankee Stadium), around a little park, out and back along Mosholu Parkway, then back down the Grand Concourse to finish where we started.   I thought I’d get a nice tour of the Bronx and maybe I did, but it was indistinguishable from any other place in the city.  There were some cool buildings at the start and along the way, but nothing that stands out in memory.  That’s not to say it was a bad course – it was quite pleasant, actually, and completely closed to traffic, which was nice.  I also actually liked the looping aspect as I got to see the winners streaking to the finish while I was just past mile 2 (and they were at mile 8).  BTW, the top three finishers all averaged sub 5:00 minute miles, and the top 66 finishers all averaged sub 6:00 minute miles.  We have faaaaaast people running NYRR races.

 

I still got a medal, though!

I still got a medal, though!

I am not one of those fast people.  I was aiming for about 12 minute miles, and ended up averaging 11:30/mile (finishing in 1:55ish), which I might regret in a week (when I have to run double this distance plus 6 more miles), but for today it felt great.  I was able to keep a pretty steady pace, too, again due to the great weather and even course.

 

I also enjoyed the race because I ran into two of my friends and Ragnar teammates on the course.  They both ran the full Beat the Blerch Marathon in New Jersey yesterday (!!!) so they are insane.  I got to see them a couple times, actually, but didn’t see them finish (they said they were going to run across the finish with takeout food, and I really hope they did).

 

The shirt and medal - brighter in person!

The shirt and medal – brighter in person!

Closeup of the medal.

Closeup of the medal.

So, overall, I thought it was a very nice race.  Not many spectators, and the only entertainment was that DJ at the junction (miles 3.5, 5.5, & 6.5), but the shirt is great (nice tech shirt in bright green with minimal logos), the medal is nice and unexpected (I’m still used to the old NYRR when few races gave medals), the on-course support was excellent (water and Gatorade at every mile) and the post-race food was tolerable (typical NYRR – dry bagels, apples, mini bags of pretzels, bottles of water, and some random granola bar I didn’t like).  The one weird thing was that the 5K was finishing as the 10-Miler started.  It wasn’t a problem logistically or crowds-wise, but psychologically it was a little tough to see all those runners finished with their race when we hadn’t even started.  But as other fellow 10-Milers noted, their shirts were unisex cotton and I don’t think they got medals, so whatevs.

 

Also in full disclosure, this was the first gif I saw this morning, so that might have influenced my race experience.  And now I’m sitting here looking at this.  For hours.  While eating.  Hm.  I’m a little nervous about my marathon in a week, since this race went so well, my next might be terrible.  But I’m crossing my fingers that I’ll just get a repeat of this day.

 

*Yes, I know it’s called the “Bronx 10-Mile” and not “10-Miler” but I think 10-Miler sounds better so that’s what I’m going to call it.

 

How was your weekend?  Did you run at all?  Have you see the new show Scream Queens?  Share in the comments!

Brooklyn Half “Pre-Party” Packet Pickup

Brooklyn Half Pre-Party lawn - surprisingly spongy!

Brooklyn Half Pre-Party lawn – surprisingly spongy!

The Airbnb Brooklyn Half Marathon is this Saturday and I went to get my bib this afternoon at the “Pre-Party” in Brooklyn Bridge Park.  Just a note for those coming from some of the major subway stops nearby (e.g. 2/3 at Clark, A/C at High, N/R at Court) – you can’t just walk directly to the water like I tried – you have to find an access point like at the Brooklyn Ice Cream Factory at the base of the Brooklyn Bridge.  So I ended up walking a lot more than I anticipated, but luckily it was a beautiful day and I got ice cream.

You can't get there from here...

You can’t get there from here…

You *can* get there from here.

You *can* get there from here.

I also got my race shirt “graffitied” by artists from Klughaus, a contemporary art gallery in New York.  I might have to break my only strong race superstition and wear the shirt to the race itself!  If I end up with a DNF or an injury, I will blame the shirt.

My shirt getting graffitied!

My shirt getting graffitied!

A very nice Airbnb employee rushed over to help me hold the shirt down in the wind (so that's his hand).

A very nice Airbnb employee rushed over to help me hold the shirt down in the wind (so that’s his hand).

 

Speaking of injury, my knee pain has been flaring up again since getting back into more regular running.  It makes me so angry that when I try to be responsible and actually train, I get sidelined by injury, which makes me unable to train, so then I churn out less-than-mediocre marathon after approaching-pathetic marathon.  I feel trapped at the back-of-the-pack at this point.  I just want to be a midpacker!!  I’m going to try to keep training as well as I can, and do foam rolling and strengthening and be better about massage, but I also feel like I can only do so much and then it comes down to luck.  Or genetics.  Same thing?

I missed the bands (which only play at night) but had amazing views of the city.

I missed the bands (which only play at night) but had amazing views of the city.

It's on beautiful days like this that I can't believe I live here.

It’s on beautiful days like this that I can’t believe I live here.

 

I’m excited about the Brooklyn Half, though, assuming my knee holds up.  What a joy to only run 13 miles!  An Airbnb employee also said there would be hot dogs and beer for free at the finish.  Could that possibly be true?!  Perhaps Mary Wittenberg’s swan song?

 

Will I see you at the Brooklyn Half this weekend?  Want to meet me at the finish for corn dogs, cotton candy, skee ball, and the Cyclone?  Will you be watching the Mad Men series finale this Sunday?  Share in the comments!

Pizza Run 2014 costumes tattoo start

Race Recap – NYC Pizza Run, Sept 13, 2014

Pizza Run 2014 costumes tattoo start

Some of the costumes from the Pizza Run, plus a view of the start of the race and the free tattoos they distributed. Circle pizza guy was a very fast eater. Cool Hand Luke pizza shirt guy was one of the final four with me.

It’s a simple concept – run 4 laps around a park and after each lap eat a slice of pizza, for a total of 2 miles and 3 slices of pizza.  Most of you reading this blog have run more than 2 miles, let alone 2 miles with a lot of breaks.  And we’ve all eaten pizza, probably even more than 3 slices at a time, with great ease.  But you really can’t know what the Pizza Run is like without doing the Pizza Run, because once they blow the whistle for the start, you get swept up into a race frenzy, and for the first time in your life you try to eat thick, doughy, bready pizza as fast as you possibly can, and you realize you had such hubris about your ability to eat, and you are ultimately taken down several pegs by pizza and several dozen runners dressed as such.

 

It was a cool, overcast morning with threats of showers (that luckily held off until the afternoon).  There were about 100 runners and a decent amount of volunteers plus friends and family there to watch the debacle.  More than half of the runners had pizza-themed shirts or costumes, but there were a surprising number wearing race shirts (including the Brooklyn Half, Ragnar, and Ironman, to name a few).  One guy I spoke with came from Pennsylvania, but most seemed local.  Local news channel Pix 11 was there interviewing runners and many people were taking pics for fun.

 

The race started a few minutes after 11:00 am, and the most uncomfortable part about the race, besides the choking down of pizza, was that the course around the park wasn’t closed and happened to have a food distribution line down half of it.   The race director told us to please respect the homeless and a lady yelled out that she wasn’t homeless, she had keys-to-an-apartment-thank-you-very-much, and it was uncomfortable and strange and then we started running.  (A portion of the proceeds from the race go to the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, and I’m not sure if there was leftover pizza that got passed out or not.)

 

The running portion was easy, despite having to weave and dodge on the open course.  I heard some people say this would be the most they’ve ever run in their life, and one person admonish her friend that they “had to run at least one lap.”  The eating part, however, was tough.  Very tough.  Pizza crust tough.

 

Pizza Run NYC 2014 shirt bag pizza slice

Me eating my second slice and showing you just how thick the slice got near the end. Also shots of the shirt, bag, and back of the shirt (cropped due to formatting).

Why did I have such a hard time?  Mostly because of my mouth injury.  Taking the first bite of delicious pizza gave me a quick, painful reminder to only chew on the left side of my mouth and to never fully close my teeth, which led to swallowing a lot of partially chewed pizza.   I was also a slow eater because I was attempting to enjoy the pizza and the experience, which involved laughing at those who were cramming pizza into their mouths as fast as possible, chatting with other runners, and even posing for a few pictures so I could show you just how bready this pizza was (it was delicious but involved a lot of bread, especially around the edges).  Finally, I was a slow eater because I did not cheat.  If there is no honor in a Pizza Run, there is no honor in this world.  (Spoiler alert:  There is no honor in this world.)

 

The rule was you didn’t have to finish eating the slice before starting the next lap, but the entire slice had to be inside your mouth.  There were many cheaters, from people who simply walked off with their slices, to those who threw away parts of their slices, to those who even spit out pizza along the route.  I always made sure all of my pizza was inside my mouth before starting the lap, which meant I had a dough ball in my cheek for most of the race.  On my final lap around the park, I stopped by one of the volunteers and wailed, “There’s never a time I’m not eating!”  I was also sweating a lot despite the cool temps, and was never sure if it was from the running or the eating.

 

Pizza Run Where's the Finish 2014 NYC

Little confusing finish area where you stood in line to get your bag, shirt, & beer coupon.  Special thanks to Danilo for the pics, race support, and post-race company!

The Pizza Run was more of a workout for my jaw than I ever anticipated, and my recent injury truly hampered me.  I was one of the last four people still eating pizza (!) which was just astonishing since I felt like I was eating as fast as I could.  If I were in pizza-eating shape, I think I would do a lot better, but I’m also not sure if I want to do this race again.  I enjoyed the race itself and the beer at the afterparty, but mostly because my friend Danilo delightfully showed up to cheer me on (and/or watch me upchuck).  If friends or family wanted to join me for the race next year, I would definitely do it again, but I wouldn’t want to run it alone.  I had limited desire to do the Cupcake Run until I realized cupcakes would be a lot easier to chew than pizza, and now I’m kinda interested (but will have to wait until 2015 since I’m out of town that weekend).  Basically, after this dismal showing, I’m even more interested in eating-and-running races to improve my technique and to try to develop unhealthy food aversions (the thought of eating pizza now makes my jaw ache, and I’d love to be adverse to chocolate and ice cream, if anyone has that race…).

[Ed – I finished this race in 31:48 – the top male finisher was 14:26 and top female was 15:42, times I couldn’t achieve even if I didn’t have to eat pizza.]

 

What do you like on your pizza?  Did you notice my panda-eating-pizza shirt!?!  Are you ready to start training for Pizza Run 2015?  Share in the comments!

Marathon Recap – NYC ING Marathon 2005

Finding the NYC Finish in 2005 - time obscured to protect the innocent.

Finding the NYC Finish in 2005 – time obscured to protect the innocent.

In the coming days I will post race recaps of the 9 marathons I’ve run so far.  Since I didn’t write a recap for my second marathon immediately after running it, this is coming from memory eight years after the fact, so I’m sure it’s wildly inaccurate and mostly fictitious.

 

In training for my first marathon I ran a lot of NYRR races.  This was back in the golden days when races were only $11 for members and didn’t sell out in 30 seconds.  I ran enough to qualify for the NYC Marathon the following year (back then it took 9 qualifying races with no +1 volunteer requirement), so I thought, “what the heck, I love me a marathon, let’s do this thang!”  (Luckily, I only thought those words and did not say them aloud.)

 

So, after the first marathon, I kept running.  I have no idea what training plan I followed or what the heck I was doing back then.  I do know that I came down with a nasty case of knee pain and even went to a sports doctor who told me my something-something in the middle of my knee was inflamed and I should stop running and take up to 18 Advil a day.  Ok, I’m not 100% clear on the details, but I do distinctly remember him saying “Look, most of my patients are professional dancers or athletes   I’d be out of business if I told them all to stop before a competition.  So I’ll tell you — run as little as possible, then do the marathon if you really want to, then stop running long distances.  As in, don’t run long distances.  Ever.  Again.”

 

Reflecting back on that advice makes me realize that maybe he wasn’t the best doctor for me.  I never did go back to him, nor did I take up to 18 Advil in a day (although I did partake in quite a few of those orange unicorn pills of magic).  I did skip my remaining long runs and I did run the marathon, and then I did stop running long distances.  For a few years.  But I’m getting ahead of myself.

 

It seems like everyone and their running mother wants to run the NYC Marathon.  And I guess I can see why.  It’s really expensive & difficult to register and held in a really expensive city and it’s really crowded and you start in Staten Island.  Ok, ok, running all 5 boroughs in a day is pretty cool, and every time I see the Verrazano Bridge in the hazy distance it shocks me to think I ran all the way from there up to the Bronx and back down to Central Park.  But the race itself?  Shrug.

 

This is a gritted, fake smile if I ever saw one.  Also, no sunglasses?  Amazing.

This is a gritted, fake smile if I ever saw one. Also, no sunglasses? Amazing.

Granted, I was in a lot of pain.  A lot.  At mile 17, amidst the cheering hordes lining 1st Ave, I chewed up an extra strength Tylenol like it was an Altoid.  My knee didn’t hurt as much as my hip, which was an unexpected new pain that cut through all the other typical marathon pain.  I swore to myself then and there that I would never run another marathon as long as I lived.  This goes to show you that the promises you make to yourself while you’re running, especially distance running, are about as valid as the $10 million check from Publisher’s Clearing House you got in the mail last week.  (Everybody knows the real checks are huge.)

 

My biggest problem with the race was the disorganization, specifically at the water stations.  I reached several water stations (Brooklyn, I’m looking at you) that had NO WATER.  The volunteers (bless their hearts) were cheering instead of pouring, leaving the tables empty of any actual cups of water.  I skipped one station like this, but after another couple of miles, I desperately needed water.  I joined a line of runners while we waited like Oliver Twist, holding out our cups, pleading to have some more (water, that is).

 

I think they’ve improved the stations so I can’t imagine this happening now, but you never know.  I don’t think they have the Spongebob mile anymore, right?  That was a veritable minefield of wet sponges you had to plow through around mile 16 or so.  I think with so many runners on the course the volunteers couldn’t clear them away or something, so by the time us mid- to back-of-the-packers came through, the sponges were at critical levels.  I felt like I was in Double Dare, minus the Gak.

 

Also, the streets of NYC are really not the best.  There are a lot of potholes and manhole covers with humped asphalt around them.  Basically you just had to watch your footing.  But it was quite the big marathon experience and overall it wasn’t terrible.  And now when people find out I “run marathons” and inevitably ask if I’ve run the NYC Marathon, I can say yes and not be lying.

 

Legit smile to be done.

Legit smile to be done.

Finally, if your loved one is coming to watch you run, I think they still have a deal where you pay them a bunch of money and your guest can hang out at the finish line/Tavern on the Green and eat and relax while you’re running your butt off.  I got the deal for my mom, who apparently liked it so much she actually missed me crossing the finish line (5 1/2 hours weren’t enough for her).  She did buy me a burrito after the race, though, so we were even.

 

Thinking of Running NYC ING?

 

If you’re thinking of it, you’re going to do it, and nothing can stop you (not even a hurricane.  What, too soon?).  Because here’s how you’ll get in –

 

  • Lucky lottery, which you’ll take as a sign from the universe that you should run this year.  (By the way, it is a sign from the universe, because nobody gets in that way.)
  • Unlucky lottery, which means you kept trying and trying and after 3 failed attempts you got a mercy admission at the 4th year, which you won’t pass up because you’ve been waiting sooo long.
  • 9+1, which means you’ve run at least 9 NYRR qualifying races (paying at a minimum $153 for those races, not counting membership fees), and volunteered at one of the races (or paid $1k to charity), all of which means you have paid in blood and sweat for your marathon ticket and you wouldn’t let anyone tear that away from you.
  • Charity runner, which means you’re willing to ask your friends and family for money to support your running habit.  A lot of money.  Like $2,600 to $3,500 money.
  • I’m not going to cover those who get in because they run really fast or they’ve run over 15 NYC marathons already, because we are not those people.

 

At any rate, I’m glad I ran NYC, especially back then, so I got it out of the way.  I think most of the magic was lost on me since I lived here, and a lot of the fun I have in running different states is to see new sights (even if it’s crushed rats on the streets of Baltimore).  I would never tell someone not to run NYC (go tourism!), but keep your expectations low and you’ll be pleasantly surprised.

 

New rating system!

 

At the suggestion of a reader, I’m going to add some quantifiable measures to my race recaps.  I hope they will help you decide whether a particular marathon is for you or not.  The number one way I decide whether to run a marathon is based on the reviews at MarathonGuide.com.  I read a page or two to get a sense of whether it’s a good race for me, then I visit the race’s website to get more info on the race and see how difficult logistically it would be to get there.  Your considerations will certainly differ from mine, but the more info the better, eh?

 

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

 

  • Getting There (Transportation & Walkability) – 10/10 – very easy, 3 major airports and no need to rent a car when here.  24 hour subway, plentiful taxis, and shuttles take you from Manhattan to the starting line (and while it’s early in the morning, it’s not the end of the world).
  • Staying There (Hotels) – N/A – sorry, since I live here I’m the worst person to ask about hotels.  In general I think they’re expensive, but there are definitely deals to be found (like $150/night or less at decent hotels).
  • Cost & Registration – 5/10 – see above for more on that.  As of 2013, it’s an $11 processing fee, $216 for NYRR members, $255 for non-members, or $347 for non-US residents.  Shuttle to the start, one shirt, and one medal included.
  • Organization – 5/10 – Expo was great but huuuuge, course support I discussed above, and then you get dumped into Central Park which varies every year in terms of how well that goes.  Also, they keep changing the baggage check policy, so who knows what’s going on there.
  • Course – 7/10 – it’s neat to see the 5 boroughs, but it’s also bumpy and crowded (so New York!).
  • Crowd – 9/10 – there are few places along the course that don’t have spectators.  Personally, I can take or leave cheering crowds, and they can be demoralizing when you’re in pain (some people yelled at me to run while I was in the worst pain along 1st Ave, and back then I was too polite to tell them what they should do to themselves instead).
  • Other Factors – 9/10 – As discussed above, it’s NY, so just do it already.
  • Overall Rating – 7/10 – Certainly not my favorite marathon so far, but glad to have done it.  Also, I’m volunteering to work the expo this year, so maybe I’ll feel a little more loyalty to the race after that!

 

Have you run NYC?  Share your experiences in the comments!