Tag Archives: Race Recaps

NYRR R-U-N 5K – Lightning the Load – Aug 11, 2016

Fun acrylic glass and temporary tattoos for the NYRR R-U-N 5K.

Fun acrylic “glass” and temporary tattoos for the NYRR R-U-N 5K.

My plan to triumphantly return to road racing tonight by walking the ironically named R-U-N 5K was, as many of my race-related plans have been recently, foiled, this time by heat and then severe thunderstorms.  At about 3:30 pm, the race officials emailed us saying the race would be an untimed, unscored fun run due to the weather (it’s about 1,000 degrees and very humid here).  The good news was that runners would get a marathon credit whether we ran it or not.

 

I debated on whether to still walk it because as much as I wanted to get back out there (even just walking), it was also as hot as heck and I have an early morning flight tomorrow and didn’t want the hassle of getting to/from the park and stressing my ankle before a special getaway.  Luckily the decision was made for me at about 6 pm when officials told all runners and volunteers to seek shelter immediately due to severe thunderstorms.  As I’m sitting here guilt-free in my air-conditioned apartment, I can hear nasty cracks of thunder and am waiting for the deluge.

 

The race was advertised as a “social” race – when I signed up I had to select whether I wanted a corral according to my time or if I wanted to be “social.”  I chose “social,” although to be honest I think I would have gotten the same corral anyway since I’m so slow.  It was supposed to start at 7 pm in Central Park, with drink specials for the runners at various restaurants after the race.  It would have been my first race that started in the evening (not counting Ragnar, since that lasts multiple days) and of course my first race since The Injury.  Ah, well!  There’s always the France Run (8K) in a little over a week!

 

Have you ever had a race completely cancelled?  Have you ever done an evening race?  Have you ever been to Nashville?  Share in the comments!

Marathon Recap – Wisconsin Marathon, May 2, 2015

Lighthouse near marathon start in Kenosha, Wisconsin.

Lighthouse near the marathon start in Kenosha, Wisconsin.

The Wisconsin Marathon is in Kenosha, Wisconsin – a town of 100,000 residents located about 45 minutes south of downtown Milwaukee and 1.5 hours north of Chicago.  It’s a relatively quaint town with not a lot going on, but makes for a nice weekend visit especially if you’re a fan of ice cream.

 

The marathon itself was fine but, like much of the Midwest, bland (and I can only say this as someone from the Midwest).  I lucked out on the weather, with sunny skies and temps in the 50s to 70s, but if it had been raining it would have been pretty miserable.  All told, it was a perfectly pleasant weekend in a perfectly pleasant town, but I’d never put this race on a “must do” list.

 

I flew in on Friday morning, the day before the race, picked up my chintzy rental car, and drove down to Kenosha.  The lady at the rental counter told me to visit a place called Mars Cheese Castle on the way.  She didn’t have to tell me twice – I’d definitely visit anyplace that had both “cheese” and “castle” in the name.

It's right off Hwy 94 in Kenosha - you can't miss it.

It’s right off Hwy 94 in Kenosha – you can’t miss it.

While the building was somewhat castle-like and featured a suit of armor in the entrance to greet you, the interior was simply a fancy gourmet grocery store with a bakery, deli, huge beer section, and a separate bar that served food and drinks.  I wanted to get my race packet and have lunch somewhere downtown, so I didn’t take full advantage of the Cheese Castle, although I heard that they do have really good food.  I bought the first of many pounds of candy there and was on my way.

 

The drive from the castle to the packet pickup at the Best Western Harborside was about 15 minutes of non-highway driving, bringing you past farms and the Kenosha Velodrome before dumping you into downtown Kenosha.  Packet pickup was quick and easy, and I was pre-warned there was no expo so I made sure to bring all my own gels and whatnots for the race.  I did buy a cheese pin ($3) to add to my cheesy hat, but lost the pin somewhere between the finish line and my car, which was probably the saddest thing to happen to me all weekend.  (I replaced the pin for twice the price at the airport.)

The Wisconsin Marathon 2015 tech shirt, free bondi bands, free jelly bean sample, and (purchased) cheese pin.

The Wisconsin Marathon 2015 tech shirt, free bondi bands, free jelly bean sample, and (purchased) cheese pin.

I was pleasantly surprised to get two free bondi bands in my race packet!  The race shirt is also pretty nice – a short-sleeved tech v-neck with zero sponsor logos on it so it’s nice and low-key.  While black is not my favorite tech t-shirt color, at least it’s not see-thru white!

 

I drove a few blocks from the hotel into the “main” downtown, had a really tasty lunch at Frank’s Diner followed by ice cream at Scoops, then bought even more candy and popcorn at Sandy’s Popper, but then I felt not so good (still battling something I picked up in Ecuador) so I went straight to my hotel (Best Western Executive).  (I’ll admit now that I went to the doctor the day before my flight since whatever was ailing me from Ecuador wasn’t going away, so there was some question as to whether I’d be forced to quit the marathon in case I felt sick, but after my brief illness Friday afternoon I felt pretty good the rest of the weekend and am mostly recovered now.)

 

I spent the rest of the afternoon and evening getting my cheese outfit ready and relaxing before my early morning wakeup at 4:45 am.  The race started at 7:00 am but they advised people to get there at about 6, and I was a little concerned about parking, so I left the hotel at about 5:40 am.  I arrived in plenty of time to park (there seemed to be ample parking but I did get there early), sit in my car eating bagels, bananas, and Bonk Breaker bars, and slowly walk to the start.

 

Race results say there were about 3,000 participants in both the half and the full, but it felt like more.  There were plenty of porta potties at the start but not a lot along the course itself, so I saw some long lines at the few I passed (I ended up jumping into a “real” park bathroom around mile 10 because there weren’t a lot of half marathoners using them at that point).

 

While sitting in my car that morning I looked over the course map and counted that it crossed itself 24 times over the 26 miles, and in the first few miles it felt like we had sharp right and left turns every few blocks.  My favorite section ended up being miles 5 through 7 (and back again about miles 9 through 11) which was along the lake and afforded a good view of the water and the beach (unlike some other sections along the lake that were blocked by a rock wall or very expensive houses).  I didn’t really need my music until about mile 12 when the halfers turned around and the field thinned considerably.  The only good thing about the course looping back on itself so much was that I got to see the leader twice (the second time he was heading to the finish, still about 3 miles away, with a big goofy smile on his face – the most average guy marathon winner I’ve ever seen).

 

But the second half was tough for me.  Even though the entire course was super-duper flat, there was little to no shade and it was getting to be a warm, sunny day.  My least favorite part were the sections along a dirt road a few blocks in from the lake, so there was no breeze and not enough water stations, in my opinion.  By the time I reached the water station at mile 18.5 I felt like an overheated dust monster.  I learned my lesson and took multiple cups of water after that, since the volunteers only filled them about 1/4 of the way full.  Also, besides the handful of other (back-of-the-pack) runners and the aid stations every two miles, the roads were deserted.

 

I promised myself that when I hit mile 23 I had permission to walk the last three miles, and boy did I take myself up on that offer!  Sometimes in a marathon I feel aerobically tired, or a full-body fatigue, but this time I could tell that my muscles and tendons just didn’t have any spring left in them.  I was undertrained and I knew it.  But it was also my birthday, and the sun was shining and I could see the boats on Lake Michigan, and I didn’t want to torture myself for the last 3 miles, so I walked.  I had no fear of the SAG wagon because of the generous 6.5 hour cutoff, although even if I were afraid I don’t know if my legs had it in them to run anymore.  I didn’t even pretend to jog until the final .1 mile (not even .2!) through the finishing chute.  They gave me a heat sheet, the medal, and I staggered off to a nearby tent for the food.

Beautiful flowers (not far from the marathon finish) with the Kenosha Public Museum in the background.

Beautiful flowers (not far from the marathon finish) with the Kenosha Public Museum in the background.

 

I was relieved to find that they still had brats and beer left for the late finishers, until I actually got the brat – a weird cut-up sausage stuffed into a thin, slightly stale, half pita pocket.  WTF?  Do they often serve brats in pita pockets?  If they do, I’d like to suggest that they stop doing this, because it’s not good.  I ate it anyway, because I had just run/walked 26 miles and I needed something to go with the beer.  And that was it!  No other finishing food except for maybe some half mini bagels I saw near the finish?  And bottles of water.  But the band playing at the end was really good and I would have stayed longer to listen but I think they were actually finishing up anyway because, let’s be honest, I was one of the last people across that finish line and the party was over.

The interior of the Jelly Belly warehouse (and the "train" you ride for the tour).

The interior of the Jelly Belly warehouse (and the “train” you ride for the tour).

The next day I went straight to the Jelly Belly warehouse for the free tour (with free package of beans!) and spent an ungodly sum on candy (mostly as gifts but some for myself, too).  Then I spent the next several hours wandering the Pleasant Prairie Premium Outlets but was surprisingly disappointed.  I used to love outlet mall shopping because it was a special event with special deals, but I realized that in the era of internet shopping, I find amazing deals on the exact same stuff all the time.  I ended up getting some colorful running capris from Aeropostale, a softshell jacket, and a Salomon running vest I had been eyeing for months (which was legitimately an amazing deal – the cheapest price I had found on Amazon was $141 and I got it in-store for about $93).  So, even though I didn’t intend to buy only running stuff and candy on this trip, I actually only bought running stuff and candy.  For dinner that night I ended up at the Cracker Barrel because the German restaurant (House of Gerhard) was closed on Sundays.  Meine Fresse!

Various displays that you might see at the Kenosha Public Museum!

Various displays that you might see at the Kenosha Public Museum!

Part of the reason the weekend was a bit bland was because I was so worn out from all the traveling I had done in the weeks leading up to the race.  By the time I finished the marathon I was perfectly content to lay in my hotel bed eating cheese puffs instead of real food.  I should have explored Milwaukee the morning before my flight left on Monday, but I couldn’t muster any gumption, so I ended up wandering the two floors of the Kenosha Public Museum instead, which wasn’t a bad choice.  But then I was thwarted by everything being closed in town (apparently Monday is the new Sunday in Kenosha), so I ended up heading to the airport early and watching Veep on my tablet.  Till next time, Wisconsin!

 

Wisconsin Marathon Medal 2015Thinking of Running Wisconsin?

All categories on a scale of 1-10, 10 being the best.  Note that this review is based on running as a “back of the packer” with a finish time approaching 6 hours (with a cutoff of 6:30).  Your experience may vary.

  • Getting There (Transportation & Walkability) – 6/10 – The flight into Milwaukee (MKE) was super simple and while just a tiny bit more expensive than a flight into Chicago ($251 vs about $230 to ORD), the car rental was much cheaper (only $22/day).  Ultimately I’m very glad I flew MKE because it was a smaller airport and the drive down to Kenosha was really easy.  However, you do need to rent a car for this race, as there’s no easy way to get from the airport to the race, even if you do manage to snag a reservation at the host hotel (and if you don’t, you’ll have to drive to the start as there are no shuttles).
  • Staying There – 5/10 – The marathon offers a “VIP package” where you get to stay at the host hotel near the start (The Best Western Harborside) but that option was sold out when I registered in January, so I stayed at the Best Western Executive further inland (about a 20 minute drive away).  There aren’t any great hotel options in the area – just a bunch of low-level chains – so it’s purely utilitarian on that front.  If I had to stay there again I’d try the Holiday Inn Express.
  • Cost & Registration – 7/10 – I registered in late January so I paid $86 for registration, which got me a short sleeved tech shirt (with no logos on the back!), two random bondi bands, a decent medal with a bottle opener at the bottom, and a cup of beer and a weird pita with bratwurst in it at the finish.  The race never sold out so it was possible to register at the last minute (I think the final cutoff was the day before the race).
  • Organization – 7/10 – It was a relatively small race (about 3000 total participants, 760 doing the full marathon) so the packet pickup was simple.  There’s no expo, though, so make sure to pack your own gu.
  • Course – 6/10 – Very flat course with large portions along Lake Michigan, but there is some rough road (e.g. potholes, cracks) and portions along a dirt/unpaved road.  The worst part was that it looped and crossed itself a LOT (I counted 24 times it crossed itself), which I knew beforehand so I was mentally prepared but it still kinda sucked.  The benefit for a back-of-packer like me was I got to see the leaders twice as they headed back while I was going out.
  • Crowd – 2/10 – Very lacking in spectators, and don’t expect any spectators handing out candy or beer or anything like that.  Volunteers, as always, were great.
  • Other Factors – 7/10 – Kenosha was a very cute town and it was a pleasant trip, but easy to see and do everything in a day.  Visit the Jelly Belly Warehouse, the Premium Prairie Outlets, the free Kenosha Public Museum, and the multiple food options in Kenosha (Frank’s Diner, Scoops Ice Cream, Sandy’s Popper, House of Gerhard, the Scandinavian Bakery, etc.) – just be warned that many places are closed on Sunday or Monday!
  • Overall Rating – 6.5/10 – It was a totally fine marathon with beautiful weather, but if the weather had been bad it would have been rough.

16 down, 34 to go!

 

Have you ever run Wisconsin?  How do you serve brats?  What’s your favorite Jelly Belly flavor?  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!