Tuesday, November 07, 2023

Rundown: Fresno Marathon (#37)

I'd been doing a lot of running lately and Toni.... kept angling for a marathon. After some research I decided on Fresno. Fresno is the current name for what was a 'twin cites' situation years ago, i.e. two cites side-by-side: Fresno and Clovis. Gradually two cites grew and merged and so it seems people decided to stop the confusion an call it all Fresno....which is the name of the indiginous ash trees on the San Joaquin river.

I was looking for a marathon within driving distance and Fresno seemed to fit the bill it was about 2 1/2 hours away. They had a race coming up on November 5th. It's a town mostly you visit when you pass through on the way to Yosemite. The Fresno marathon is not huge and it's very flat..which is great.

My training went well..I only had time to do two 20 milers (usually I want three under my belt) but you know, life, work and other stuff prevented that. But that's okay, I wasn't shooting for any particular time, just to have a nice solid race. Many days I trained it was also quite warm, even in the early morning, 60's rather than 50's, and on the long run days sometimes it touched the 70's. This turned out to be a good thing.

Fresno has been trying to build up the marathon and make it destination race. I think they've done a good job, with a couple of suggestions for improvement. More on that later....

Toni managed to snag a room at the Holiday Inn and Suites in Fresno. We had some problems with the reservations at this place..and when we arrived they also forced us to get a room for two days. In all my previous races we always got late checkout and only paid for one day. At least the room itself was very nice.

Drove to the Expo (which was at the local high school..a very nice school, btw). Picked up my tech shirt as well as a very thick sweatshirt. I've got no interest in any of the stuff they are selling so kept trying to push Toni along.

Toni found a nice italian restaurant and I got some tasty carbs...we ate early so I could get a good nights sleep.

The forecast was for 55F at the 6:30am (yawn) start time. The start was about 8 miles away from our hotel and as a mix of roads would be closed I drove a bit east before going north to avoid traffic. As usually even though still dark the place was hopping with arriving cars. We parked the car in (and marked it's location in google maps) and I headed.

I wore my marathon mainiacs singlet for maximum cooling, after putting level 100 sunscreen on my head and shoulders/arms/knees. Nice Nike shorts with two pockets:...some GU packets in the left pocket, and my big GU squeeze bottle in the right pocket..it's filed from bulk GU bags you can get off Amazon and is the way to go, much easer and more eco than tearing open packets during the race. I can eat smaller amounts of GU at a time and wash them down with a sip of water. (I carry a single water bottle for that purpose).

There was a bright RED sunrise in the east. Never seen one so powerful. The Chinese are right: The East is Red. 8)

The start was very informal....compared to races like CIM wich are hyper organized. No lining up in pens...there were pacers with the usual pace target times held up in on a stick. Everyone seemed pretty chill about it all. I hung back and eventually it was tim to give Toni a hug and set off. She was going to be waiting at several points and cheer me (and everyone) with her cowbell.

In the early miles I was near a fella that had the most unique water bottle carrier I've seen to date: the two bottles were behind you and just below his head. You reach back over your head and pluck the bottle out ..and then I guess (hopefully) you can stick it back in the holder without seeing it.

The temps were ok, below 60F..but I'd prefer to see more like 55F. I had picked a pace of around 11:00 but was concerned about the high temps forecast..we'd be seeing close to 70F by the last 6 miles....ugh. I was taking two glasses at each water stop...one in and one on my head.

There wasn't much crowding as the streets at this point in the course are *very* wide. As often happens I was running near two young fellas with similar pacing and so eventually we struck up a conversation. They were local folks, born and raised in Fresno and this was thier first marathon. But, I learned they hadn't done much running to prepare. Ah the hubris of youth!

We were doing a 11:15 m/m pace. My two 20 milers were done at more like an 11 m/m place, but I it was going to be hot and so started a bit slower. I could always speed up later (ha ha). I concentrated on good form and was loving my Nike Alphafly shoes as always.

There were a decent number of spectators, cheering on their friends and everybody else. The water stops were spaced at two mile intervals which I didn't like (spoiled by CIMs one mile spacing). They were staffed by very enthusiastic cheering young folks.

But I didn't like the tiny dixie cups they used..not enough water by any means. I would take two at each stop...I'd drink the first and part of the second and dump the rest on my head. Felt nice and cold!

Eventually, we looped back toward the start on one of the long out-and-back 'fingers' of the course. When we got closer to the start location I could hear a cowbell..yes: it was Toni! She was the only person IIRC on the entire race that had a cowbell. (Yes, Fresno is a bit new to marathoning ;) I gave here a touch-hug (I'm sweaty!) and off on a new section of the course.

My two local companions and I spent some time running near what I think was the Dry Creek Trail. This was a tree lined area and had some welcome partial shade.

At some point I realized I my two co-runners were very gradually dropping behind and losing contact. I was feeling quite good and was getting a lot of kudos here and there..I guess for just being an old guy still running ;)

At about 20.2 miles we turned around on Pollasky ave and headed back north. Shortly after that we went out onto a little stub off the main coarse to Cottonwood park and back. That was very nice and shady (IIRC). After the turnaround on that stub ...on the return.. I saw my two compatriates going out and I waved to them.

I was still feeling good..and waiting to see what the final miles would bring. It was so hot and sunny, even with all the water I was still feeling dehydrated quite a bit. But the pace was holding so...I kept on keeping on.

One more sighting (and hearing) of Toni (plus cowbell) and we were on the last few miles to the finish. At that point I just tried to keep the pace but gradually I was heating up. I had run out of my own water and shamefully all the water stops were basically out of water too. (they had dixie cups with 1/4" of water in them.

Oh well, we kept on keeping on. As you can see from the splits I finally had to drop to a walk-run abt mile 24..that was still good for 12:40 m/m-ish...so I was not losing too much.

Finally turned and spotted the finish line and managed a slow 'sprint' to the finish.

Marathon 37 done!

  1. 1 11:15
  2. 2 11:01
  3. 3 11:03
  4. 4 10:55
  5. 5 10:44
  6. 6 11:03
  7. 7 10:50
  8. 8 10:43
  9. 9 11:04
  10. 10 10:40
  11. 11 11:00
  12. 12 11:16
  13. 13 11:05
  14. 14 11:25
  15. 15 11:17
  16. 16 11:28
  17. 17 11:28
  18. 18 11:09
  19. 19 10:56
  20. 20 11:04
  21. 21 10:44
  22. 22 11:16
  23. 23 11:06
  24. 24 12:39
  25. 25 12:28
  26. 26 11:37
  27. .2 0:21
  28. Finish 4:51:38, 11:12 average pace

Sunday, November 13, 2022

Rundown: New York City Marathon (#36)

Yes, New York..the big apple. This is the biggest marathon in the world with ~54,000 runners.

Two months prior, I had no idea I would be running it. I had signed up on the website and put my name in but usually it takes a few years to get in.   

As luck would have it, out of the blue I got an email from Runner's World magazine asking if I would like an entry. (!)  I have no idea why they contacted me....I dropped my RW online subscription many months earlier. I have read every book on running and subscribed to RW previously for years, and frankly there ain't that much new to say about the subject from my point of view. I'm not that interested in what the elite racing community is doing except during the Olympics. 

I digress. 

I happily accepted the invite and Toni and I proceeded to line up airline tix and a hotel. I had about two months to train up..I was already doing ~30 miles / week as per normal so I just had to up the mileage a bit more and do my three 20 mile runs...these went ok. I was running them at a 10m/m to 10:15m/m pace.

A about a month later....I got another email telling me I had "VIP" status now for the race...in fact would would get a bib with a small "VIP" printed on it.  This meant I would ride on a different set of buses to the start, and I would have access to a "VIP" tent to wait for my start wave. That was pretty sweet, because I knew it could be really cold and miserable waiting around outdoors for the start. 

My 3 long runs went well but I did worry that I hadn't done enough hill training (I have to run 2.5 miles just to get to any hill), but I wasn't trying to run a specific time or anything so I didn't worry about it. I would regret this cavalier attitude later...

Time passed quickly and soon enough we flew to NYC on a very smooth nonstop from SFO to Newark. A bit of a pain snagging a Lyft to take us to the Empire hotel but eventually we got there. I picked this hotel because it was near the finish area, but it was way too expensive for quality. e.g. the AC ran all the time just to keep the temp reasonable. 

Oh well. We're here to run, not gripe!

My expo window was in the afternoon the day before the race. The expo was of course, HUGE. I've been to a zillion so just zipped over to get my bib (yup..."VIP" on it ;)..I did buy a nice running hat with the marathon logo on it.

Race Morning

Yaaawn, up at about 5am. Everything laid out ahead of time but still double-triple checked that I had everything. The VIP buses left from a spot 12 min walk away on seventh Ave,  so I headed down there. Already other crazy runners making their way in the same direction.

Ready to go! (5am)
The buses were lined up but not allowing loading yet, so we all sat on various brick walls and things nearby to save our legs. It was already concerning that the temps were not that cold for so early in the morning...<sigh>.

Eventually we loaded up and I sat in the 2nd row of the bus...I got a good view of the twin motorcycle policeman leading our entourage to the start in Staten Island at one end of the Verazanno bridge. This area was on old fort and had large grassy fields....perfect place to set up for a marathon start.

Following motorcycles

I found the VIP tent, which did not have nearly enough chairs and so sat on the floor with my back against a big support pole..pretty comfy and easy to nap a bit. I did not partake of any coffee as I've been off the stuff for years now.

VIP tent not very full

Eventually the PA system called for the first wave people to line up over near the on-ramp to the bridge...i.e. the corrals for the start. I was in wave 3 so I still had a loooong time to wait. The temps were already way too warm for a marathon and the cloud cover was kind of anemic and fading. I was still trying to nap in the VIP tent when I later on I heard a big "BOOM"...which was the cannon they used for the start. A BIG cannon...I wondered if it was part of the old fort.

Waiting to walk to bridge
After another hour or two of on-and-off snoozing I heard the call for wave 3 to line up. OK! Let's get this marathon started! People from the VIP tent and all over the various field positions they'd lounged around in suddenly got up and converged on the meetup area. When given the word, we would them march out, take a left and head up the on ramp to the beginning of the Verazanno bridge. But first we wait.

For what I don't know, but that's marathons for you. Presumably they want to space us out after wave 2. Meanwhile there was a PA system repeating a very LONG message about what you were allowed and not allowed to do. It cycled through a huge number of languages.... some of which I could not guess at...I'm guessing Portuguese.  I could understand a wee bit of the Spanish and Japanese but that was about it.  After a zillion repeats of that message we finally got the go ahead to march to the bridge.

As we moved up the on ramp, a couple of guys climbed the concrete from the lower bridge deck onramp (where part of our wave also queued) and jumped in to our level. That kind of shenanigans normally pisses me off...so I was all set to ream out the guy nearest to me. He saw me giving hem the evil eye and confessed sheepishly that he was from England,  had traveled aaalllll the way here..and really wanted to get some pictures from the top deck.  Ok, well....heck...there's room.

As with most big-ish marathons we sang the anthem...difficult vocal jumps and all and then shortly got the big BOOM to send us on our way. 

At this point, any photos of the marathon are from Toni. 

The view from the bridge deck was amazing.  Tried to take it all in and not get tangled up with other runners jinking and dodging around.  There's quite a bow-shape to big non-suspension bridge decks (for structural reasons)...we climb about 135 feet. I was warned about this and took it easy on the up and then on the downs. It's tempting to blast the down side as it's easy to do...but it does trash your legs, especially your quads,  if you go too crazy. 

It's a long day....

Let's look at the map. I started way way down at the bottom and have crossed over the first bridge. 

Now we are in the southernmost part of Brooklyn..and honestly I have only dim memories of the area, I was just trying to keep 

By now (about 10:40am) it the sun had broken through the previously solid cloud deck and it was getting hotter. I had seen the forecast for 75F and here we were already! Uggh. 

If there's one thing you learn in running it's that heat forces you to slow down. Notice the word "force". All the mental will in the world will not prevent it. 

It is true that you can train for heat but that means you have to run in the heat. But if your home turf is cool all the time, well, there's nothing to be done. 

(I did some long soaks in the spa in the last week before as it's said to help the adaptation but I didn't do it as much as suggested.)

.....oh by the way, you see that after the bridge that green line that swings out and back? That's the green group path from the lower bridge deck. They get sent out and round and merge with the rest of us later. That Brit that jumped into our wave for better photos was spared that diversion too. 

Ok back to the race....I am already on 4th ave heading north thru Brooklyn. The wave starts with 3 different lanes has kept the crowding from being too bad. There's  a little bit of jockeying around but easy to avoid.

The first water stop at mile 3 comes up ..and I'm curious to see how they handle it. They are passing out water on BOTH sides of the street which is great. The volunteers are cheering along with the crowds and handing out water thick and fast. I spot a person holding two cups up ahead and point to her and run up, slow way down, snag both...with a pinch move at the tops....and don't  spill a drop. 

I drink both cups worth in a flash. I also have been drinking from a single water bottle on my running belt since the start to pre-charge more water in me. That extra water really helps me get through the race.

But, I notice something I don't like about the water stops...runners here are pitching their cups all over the course rather than to the side like most marathons. This means the footing at the water stops gets more slippery (although these are the old style waxed paper cups..really deadly). The road gets more littered as the day goes on. Shameful! 

More on that later...

Miles 3 to 8 

After the water stop at mile 3 we pass through Bay Ridge, Sunset Park and then Park Slope all on 4th ave (which is packed several layers deep with people on both sides.)  There are bands playing with lots of speakers. One set of amps is so turned up the sound is massively distorted (nobody else seems to mind) but it just kills my ears. I run with my hands over them. 

We jog left on Flatbush then immediate right on Lafayette Ave at around mile 8. 
Queensboro bridge

Still lots of crowds on both sides making quite a big fuss about us. In fact, this continues until the finish (except on on the bridges of course).  The Berlin marathon is the only other race I've done that had so many spectators! 

I had given Toni a cowbell to ring to stir up the crowds and also to help me find her . ....I have the pitch of that cowbell down pretty well from previous races with her spectating. I hope it helps today too! We have agreed she'll be positioned at around mile 16, just after crossing into Manhattan over the second bridge of the day, the iconic Queensboro bridge.  (The picture is from the Manhattan side.) 

But we aren't there yet..still have Willamsburg and Greenpoint boroughs to pass through on  miles 10 - 13. The sun is still out and it's still nasty hot, there is a very slight breeze forecast from behind which probably helps but not enough to notice it. I hope it's helping. 

The crowds are still several people deep on both sides. At the water stops now I do the 'one in, one on' method. i.e I grab two cups,  drink one and dump the other on my head. It feels really COLD...like ice water....on my head..and that tells me I'm really hot. 

(I have this great hat that Toni got me for a birthday present: it it's a baseball cap shape but has mesh fabric on top. It keeps out the sun but lets the air in, and more importantly today: it lets the WATER in when I dump it on my head.)

Finally, a 90 degree left turn and I can see the bridge on-ramp ahead! 

When we get to it it's another healthy climb: ~90 feet (after various small hills in Brooklyn) and I can tell I'm too hot by a lot. Thankfully, there is more cloud cover but it's already crazy-stupid-warm. The Mesa marathon in Arizona I recently ran had the same problem ...in the last 6 miles sunny and hot...but here I still have a long way to go and it's already worse.

Down the backside and onto the roads and then we do two left turns and pass under the bridge headed north. Here's where I'm listening for that cowbell ...I hear it! and also hear Toni calling my name in these crowds. I run over and give her a sweaty peck on the forehead ;).

Off again..my pace has dropped....on any kind of rise it's getting slow enough that I drop to a power-walk rather than run. After mile 16 I'm alternating power-walking with running. Its a struggle to run continuously for more than a minute or two without a break. I'm averaging 12-14 min/mile doing this. 

I figured at any time I might be dropping to a walk for good but so far I'm holding on.

Next we are headed off Manhattan Island over the Willis Avenue bridge for a very brief tour of the Bronx. We are only running there for 1.5 miles! Frankly I hardly remember what I saw but there were plenty of crowds. 

Willis Ave Bridge

This is a swing bridge. I have no idea how often it gets 'swung'. Not as high as the others, which is nice. 

The Bronx seems more urban in my remembering than Brookline ....more tall buildings. 

Madison Ave bridge

Only in the Bronx for 1.5 miles! We cross via the Madison Avenue bridge (yet another swing bridge) right back to Manhattan. Slightly smaller than the Willis bridge it seems to me.

Done with all the bridges now and at mile 21! 

My paces hover around 13 min/mile. ..with power walking and some slow running. We head due south down 5th avenue for a 1.5 miles and then we FINALLY enter Central Park! 

I get a bit of a lift here because I know 21.5 miles is well into 'wall' territory and I'm still hanging on! 

At the next water stop I see a guy suddenly shout and slip on the huge number of discarded cups ..he goes down hard. I think the slip of his foot caused his leg to spasm and that is actually what took him down. They had medical folks at every aid station so I think (hope) they took care of him. 

Just after entering Central Park, at mile 23, we start a 100' climb to mile 24..ugh...I drop to power walk only and still hold ~14:xx pace, which is decent for a walk. 

At this point I'm looking around for Toni again...she's supposed to be at the lower right corner of the park...around mile 25...(not worth trying to get near the finish...that will be way too crowded.)  The park is beautiful to run in but I don't like all the small rises...each one is a suffer-fest. Holding now at ~14.xx min/mile for miles 24,25. At 25.7 we hit the southeast corner of the park and turn right along the bottom edge. 

It felft like forever to do the last bit here. At one point on one of the larger uphill bumps my left leg starts to spasm. I'm thinking "Ouch!..oh NO! PLEASE not a limp-a-thon to the finish!". 

Somehow dropping to a walk and doing some gradually longer strides loosened it up (and it promised not to do it again). Eventually we passed the bleachers with roaring crowds and under the finish banner! (Sorry no photo) Then we start the long walk on headed northward on the left side of the park.

Marathon #36 done!

Postscript: Loosened up the legs the next day....Toni and I did a nice walking tour around Central Park with some beautiful fall foliage.