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 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 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 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 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 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. 

Sunday, February 13, 2022

Rundown: Mesa Marathon 2022 (#35)

Kicking off 2022 with another marathon! After running CIM 2021 I have a pretty good base of's a shame to waste that, right?

As a Marathon Maniac I have done a 'double'  (2 marathons in 2 days) but I'm talking about taking some recovery time, re-peaking with a bit of training and then doing another. 

I looked for upcoming marathons and discovered the Mesa Marathon.....Toni and I had been in Phoenix earlier around the new year and had some fun and it's a very quick nonstop flight from San Jose. I decided on a 24hr down day before run the race and fly back. 

Take a look at the elevation profile:

Looks good, right? A lot of net downhill except for the huge uphill bump at miles 4.5 to 6.5. But the scale is quite coarse here...200' per line...some of those little tiny bumps are bigger once you get there....and there's a lot of them, turns out there's about 300' of up which is not that bad but not zero.

I know that downhill races are hard on the quads but I figured I could toughen them up in the 11 weeks I had before race day. 

The course is point to point, which means a bus ride in the wee hours to the start...the other issue with this race is HEAT.  It's Arizona  after all...that was a bit of a worry.

But hey, it's a filler marathon, I'm not going to be re-peaked very well (I do have to recover from CIM properly). I didn't worry about it.

But my training went well, perhaps too well:  I tweaked a muscle on the top of my left foot. I tried to take it easy and train at really slow paces, but no go....eventually after 2-3 miles it would force me to a walk! 

I just laid off running completely for a while, just some easy walks and doing a lot of icing and spa. 3 day before the race and did a ~2.5 mile run and it seems ok. My biggest fear was that it would let go mid race and I would not even be able to walk it in, I'd have to wait for the sag-wagon or some other race vehicle to get me back to the finish. I moved my return flight to 4:30pm-ish to make sure I had plenty of time.

As race day approached the weather looked "ok" but not great. The start time temps were forecast to be 55F @ 6:30am  rising to 70F at 11am ....a 4:30 finish time pace. Add to that a full desert sun's heat on your body..and that adds at least 10F effective heating (if not more).

I would have to be extra careful with hydration, not something I normally have to 'sweat' over...<haha>.  

During CIM 2021 I wore my water bottle belt and it came in handy even though I got water at every single stop. Nice to be able to get more whenever I need it. Normally,  I wear a belt with GU pouches but I have a really nice belt for training with little Lowenpro camera pocket on the belt for my phone. (Quick access for pics!). I decided to use that again. 


Mesa was not a GU race (some other stuff...not trying that out in a race!)  And instead of the sticky little foil packets I would be using these:

These hydropacks (I found them on Amazon) are made by GU and hold 5 packets worth of GU. They are soft, easy to squeeze and the rotating knob on top is easy to close with your teeth.

I found during CIM the ease of use made me eat more and my body seemed to really like it...more on that later..... 

To fill them, you don't have to open up zillions of packets, you can buy a bulk bag of GU  (see below). I got one of chocolate and the other of berry.

I'm not sure one should leave GU for a long time in the hydropak.. but for a short time it seems fine. I only use them for races and long runs...I just fuss with the foil packs otherwise.

Speaking of gels, when we were AirBnBing in Seattle for a month I ran out of gels and had to buy some and could only find "Hammer" gels. I made do with them but they are TERRIBLE. Do Not Buy.  Not tart like GU and the flavors are poorly done. Blech. I'll stick with GU thankyouverymuch. (And it sticks with me ;)

Easy flight down and Lyfted to the Marriot Courtyard hotel Wrigleyville. Plenty of other marathoners arriving there too ;)

(Did NOT have to go to a Expo at all:  I loved the option to get my bib and other race stuff sent to me for a slight additional charge.)

Picked the hotel because it was only a 10 minute walk from where we catch busses to the start. Loading was starting at 4am (YAWN)! Got some food at around 5pm and then just stayed off my feet  in the hotel room, eventually slept a few hours.

Race Day

Was up and double checked that I had everything and out the door @ 3:45am and walked in the dark (but lots of streetlights) to the start.  And .....of course.... it was hopping. One of the helpers directing traffic pointed me to where I should wait for pickup and I walked over to join about 10 runners standing there. In the booklet for the race it had mentioned the busses would be lined up for boarding..and we could see them in the distance..and also everybody heading over.

We realized the helper was wrong and went with the crowds toward the busses.

We left pretty quickly ..driving for a while and started climbing uphill...after 30 minutes we parked in a long line of busses that was facing the start way way ahead. After the buses there was a line of porta potties with a line of propane heaters (a la Covid al-fresco dining style) I tried waiting outside.

It was just too windy and cold. 
I had an old long sleeve cotton shirt as a throwaway and also the mylar rescue blanket that was part of the race kit but not good enough. The start was at 6:30 and we had an hour and a half to go (!).

....back onto a bus:

I picked one that was not too crowded (easy to do) and it was warm enough to do the job...just barely.

Some chatting with people nearby to pass the time.

Eventually back out and walking toward the start.

Did you ever see porta potties with a Saguaro cactus looming over them? Still pitch dark out in the desert.

Eventually it was time to head up to the start ...I didn't even bother to go a pace group. I was playing it by ear and staying out back. The Star Spangled Banner and some fireworks to signal the start!

Started my watch on the mat and off we went. It was dark..some had headlamps but there was the slightest twilight dawn making it not pitch dark and once we got on the course there were some artificial lights set up.

I just had to stop for a few seconds to take this photo:

See that bright star? It's the "Morning Star" , i.e. the planet Venus when it's elongation from the sun causes it to be visible in the early morning just a little while before the sun rises.

The super clear dry sky, low humidity and minimal sunlight creeping over the horizon made it super bright. 

Early Miles

The roads here (and the rest of the course) are quite good.  No winter 'frost heaves' nor huge cracks, humps or other dangers. The roads are crazy wide. I settled into my 10:15-ish pacing and just tried to loosen up. (I realized I had not done my usual stretching and flexibility stuff at the start. oops)

I had my hearing aids set up as usual to give me pace and HR from my garmin once a minute (so I don't have to look at the watch ) and I was running a pretty low HR for my 10:15 pace, about 118. Talking with people on the bus that had run this race before they made it clear that the downs will burn out your quads if you hit then too fast so I was trying to just relax and not push it.

The desert was beautiful......gradually as we bombed downhill there were more (fancy) houses but they were integrated with the desert.

Sun is still not very high, and so not on our bodies. Pretty quickly the road became quite wide with basically 4 lanes of space. This was true all the some cases we had TWO lanes just for runners.  

Here is the course:

We're on the part that heads due south from the start and that's why the sun in that photo is from the East/(our left) and why Venus was over there ;)

Soon we take a sharp right and it's still downhill..we a view out of the city (sorry no photos).

The water stops are every 2 miles and I take one glass at the first and second stops but not long after that I start taking 2 full glasses at each stop.  I can already tell my quads are getting a workout after 3-4 miles. They are holding up but getting beat on. 

Eventually turn right (heading north) and this is the climb visible on the elevation profile. Of course it still early and it's a nice change from the down so no problem. I'm keeping the paces in around 10:15 and on the big hill was at 11+ for one split.

At mile 6 it's another 'bombing down' section....we start hammering the quads again. I feel it adding up over time.  The sun is now on our bodies and it is strong. It probably adds the 10F to the equivalent heat load.  The good news is that it is bone-freaking-dry air and so sweating works really well. 

But you need hydration for that...

In the early miles I was getting annoyed by the tiny amount of water in the cups handed to me at the water stops (1/3 full).  This luckily got better after the first hour,  but I was getting noticeably thirsty: I started taking TWO glasses at every single water stop...I did this for the rest of the race (and I used up the water in my  bottle too).

At the Half

I had averaged ~10:20 m/m which in retrospect was too fast. Thinking I could pull off another 4:30 race in such heat was a bit silly. My quads were indeed toasted but I really don't think that was a problem..they kept working spasms or cramps. 

It was just the heat and sun. At this point of the race there were a lot more spectators. The half marathoners had left before we got there but spectators had hung around cheering us on...with the usual signs (a corny tradition for races, especially marathons).

2 small cups of full of water every 21 minutes (2 miles) in that weather was not going to cut it. But..I could tell I was still sweating so that was good. My shirt was mostly bone dry from the evaporation. (Often in a race  or long run it gets yucky dripping wet, but not here..)

Splits gradually creeping up from 10:30+ ...then at miles 17 and 18 both were 10:55. 

19 to Finish

At mile 19 I was finally forced to drop to a walk/run strategy.  My walking was at about 18m/m and my running was still at 10:20 to seemed to average out at 12:xx to 13:xx. At mile 26 I pulled 11:xx.

The last .2 I did at 8:00 pace....once I see the finish I always speed up ;)

The Finish

Place OverallPlace GenderPlace DivBib #Last NameFirst NameSexAgeChip TimePace (min/miles)Gun Time
1464852 M31 M65-691116RodmanPaulM664:50:3311:054:50:33

I'm not sure what's up with that 4:50:33 chip time. I punched my watch on the start and finish mats and showed 4:47:44. (Answer: I was looking at strava ..which was showing me moving time, doh!)

I was 31/39 in my age group. There are some fast people that run this race! Usually I'm in the top 40%. 

My garmin recorded 26.19 miles...almost no GPS noise. 

Which, after talking with other people, seems to have been common. This is not unexpected for a race that has few turns and is out in the open (no tall buildings/trees, or heavy clouds around)

I enjoyed that free cider...and even so it was quite a few hours before I was properly re-hydrated. 

free cider (or beer) at finish

nice medal

And that's a wrap for #35