Friday, November 21, 2014

The world of OCR - The Spartan Super at Wintergreen

August 23rd was the second running of the Spartan Super Obstacle Course Race (OCR).  OCR's have become the new "fun" race for those that think running a simple 5k/10k/half is boring.  This fad has actually grown into a serious sport, with NBC airing the Spartan races on Saturdays, and showing "American Ninja Warrior" in prime time on Monday's.  This specific race would be considered the hardest race within the Super distance that Spartan would build.  A Super is any race length between 6-8 miles, not including the obstacles.  This race was setup to be 7.2 miles in length.

Having run this course before, I knew that it would be mostly going up and down mountains and ski slopes.  In this case, all of the Black Diamond slopes at Wintergreen.  It was raining and foggy at the start of the race, and for the majority of the heats that went after the Elite runners.  I was running with a team this time, whose heat was at 9:00am, but due to logistical issues with  transportation from parking to the runners village, everything was delayed at least 30 minutes.  It would seem the company handling the buses failed to get them there on time.  Once I got to the village and checked in, it was off to baggage check and then to the starting corral.  My team had already left 15-30 minutes previous to me lining up in the corral, but though Spartan only allows about 100 people on the course every 15 minutes, but if you missed your heat time, you could jump into the next corral and go out wit them.  At a little after 9:45am, the corral let out and we were off.

The race started out with a climb up the bunny slope, and you could tell how this race would progress based on the fact that all the runners "ran" from the start until they were out of the view of the crowd, at which point a large number of racers started to walk up the hill.  With the ground being wet, footing was at a premium and would force you to walk just to get a good push-off.  The obstacles were the normal run of the mill Spartan obstacles, the over the wall, under the wall, the wall climbs of varying heights (8/12/14 feet).  The walls were tricky, as traction on the walls themselves didn't exist, so those runners like me that climbed the walls, versus just pulling up, had to find other ways up the walls (including help from other runners, like one of my teammates Chip Place).  The monkey bars became problematic, as they were wet, cold, and muddy.  Grip was almost impossible, and many racer who could normally complete them, including me, fell for lack of a grip.  It should be noted that strength is far more important then grip here, but if you lack one, the other is required.

I then hit the Hercules Hoist, where you must hoist up and down a 100+ pound bag.  Due to the rain, they absorbed enough water to almost lift me up like a counter weight. Once I completed this obstacle and got back to the trail, I caught up with my team.  They had broken up into two major groups, which I had passed part of earlier.  The other obstacles of note were those that you had to carry 60 pound bags, or a 5 gallon bucket of rocks, or logs up and down the slopes without dropping or spilling them.  We did these as a team, helping motivate each other and help where needed.  Here again, footing was a problem.  Then we hit the Black diamond slopes.  Up to this point, we had gone up and down bits and pieces of them, which were technical due to being wet, as the majority of the downhill went through streams and forests, where the uphill was on the slope.  We now hit the mile long climb up the largest of the Black Diamond slopes.  This was called the Death March, and was considered an obstacle due to the difficulty of climbing such a steep slope.  Footing here was just as bad as earlier in the race., if not worse  Chip Place was with me at this point and I had pointed out that stopping at any point going up this mountain will doom him to pain and a much longer, slower climb.  With this in mind, Chip powered through the climb, staying only a bit behind me and not stopping until the top.

Then we quickly completed a few more obstacles (wall climbing, net climbing) until we came face to face with one of the the worse obstacles in the race.  The obstacle required us to pull a very large tire 60 feet up a steep slope, while sitting.  Since our legs were almost dead at this point, it was not an easy task.  As we completed each of our tire pulls, we heard a request from a group near a much larger tire for help.  It would seem there was a tire setup for a team to pull, versus each individual, but they had the same issue we had with the smaller tire and they needed more manpower to get it up the slope.  Chip and I both jumped right in and helped drag it to the top, and then we headed off back down the same death march slope to the next obstacle.  Here Chip and I took different approaches down the slope.  Chip slid down the slope on his rear, while I tried to take it on foot.  The pain the following days told me that Chip may have been the smarter, as my quads hurt for a week.  

At this point it was a race to the end before our legs failed.  The log carrying obstacle mentioned before was next up.  Having this obstacle directly after the Death March and tire pull was cruel, as the slope was almost as steep as the March, and the uphill was very muddy.  At this point Chip slowed down and I lost him to the uphill part of the obstacle.  Finishing quickly, I headed to one of the few remaining obstacle, the side wall climb.  These were rock climbing walls, about 50 feet long, and instead of going vertically, we had to go horizontally.  Then came the mud crawl.  Here we had to crawl under barbed wires, up a slope, for 110 feet.  My opinion was that this was not the hardest obstacle, but the meanest. This was due to  it being placed at the end of the course; was up hill on rainy, muddy terrain; with legs cramping due to limited movement as people stopped for exhaustion ahead of you. 

The last few obstacles were a staple of Spartan races.  The rope climb,  the angled wall climb with rope, and the fire pit.  The race was .25 miles shorter then last year, totaling 8.5 miles with obstacles,  but had twice as many climbs and drops.  The total elevation gain was 4k, and total elevation lose was 4.2k.  This year seemed much harder then previous years, with the elites taking a bit over 10 minutes more this time around.  I ended up around 20 minutes slower, but ended in more pain and exhaustion the last year, so I had no complaints.  I am looking forward to next years version, and possible a 3 hour run versus a 3:30-3:50 from these last two years.  To achieve that task, I will need to put more effort into strengthening my upper body and stability/core muscles.  That and a great deal more hill work!

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Lessons from an idiot runner, or how not to prepare for a race!

Over the past 3+ years, I have had the chance to run a great many races: Marathons, 5/10ks, Obstacle Coarse races, Cycle races, etc.  Each race required a regimented preparation leading up to the race, from eating right, resting, tapering, etc.  When you do races during marathon training season, some of these will be compromised, like the taper, or the rest, but for the most part, these races are used to streamline and perfect the preparation for a race.  Mess that up and your race will be embarrassing, torturous, or just plain bad.  I offer you one such story.

On August 17th, Potomac River Runners hosted the Leesburg 20k (12.4 mile) race.  It was a basic out and back coarse that utilized the WO&D trail for the majority of the miles.  This also meant that the first half of the race was uphill.  Rest and proper fueling beforehand would be needed.  So, how did I prepare:

  1. Sleep less than 8 hours across the two days leading into the race 
  2. Went to a concert in D.C. the night before, that ends at 11pm and got me home after midnight... for a 7:30am race, and had nothing ready for said race
  3. Fasted for 17 hours leading to the race (thanks to #2 above) and then skip breakfast due to a lack of bread (normally have bread/bagel and PB)
  4. Raced with an upset stomach, as I was recovering from the flu earlier this week 
  5. Tried new GUs because they sounded great, while on said upset stomach

Any one of these could have been worked through, and we have all done one of them before a race.  To mess up the pre-race tasks this bad should have been a sign that maybe I should skip the race altogether.  Instead I went out at a pace 30 seconds slower then I wanted, in hopes that fatigue (which was already there at mile 1) would stay away.  Miles 8-12 were not friendly, and I ended up 2 minutes slower then last year (1:46:00 versus 1:44:00).  It also took me longer to recover, thus slowing down further training, for fear of injuries.

So, what to take away from this?  Well, follow your pre-race plans, and if you wander too much from them, skip the race.  It will be better for you then trying to push through it because you paid $45 for a silly medal.

The NYC Marathon - Part 3 - The Race

The morning started like any other race morning, dark and quite.  Since I chose to take the early ferry to Staten Island (5:30am), my day started quite early, at 4:00am for dress and travel to the docks.  After I clothes and lubed up and used Nip Guards for the chest, it was layering time.  While the temp would be in the mid-40's, the forecast called for high winds.  Keeping warm until the race started at 9:40 would be paramount.  Ski pants, sweatpants, and multiple jackets were the clothes for the day, which would allow me to remove layers as the temp rose.  After gathering my belt, GU, bib, and hat, I headed off to the docks without waking anyone in the hotel room.

The city that never sleeps seemed to be taking a nap, as the only people I saw from the hotel to the docks were racers, all bundled up, all excited and scared of the next 10 hours.  Since it was far too early to eat my normal breakfast of bagels and peanut butter, I grabbed a Clif bar at the docks and joined the crowd boarding the ferry.  At this point I was concerned with how I would hold up for the race.  I had an issue a month and a half before the race to my foot that caused my training to move to a non-running solution for a month, and I was concerned that it wouldn't hold up to the stress of a marathon, even at a slower pace.  I was worried about pace, as I was in the first wave, with the 8 minute milers and faster.  Basically, I was worried, but all that went away the minute I saw the Lady, standing there in the harbor, greeting all of the runners as they headed towards the start of an amazing adventure through her great city.  Seeing her put my mind to rest.  My pace didn't matter, my foot didn't matter.  I was running the largest marathon in the world, through one of the greatest cities in the world that loved this race and its runners so much, they shut the city down for us.  This would be amazing, and I wanted to take it all in.

The view from the Bus before heading to Fort Wadsworth

The dock on Staten Island was several miles from the actual staging area at Fort Wadsworth and while it would be interesting to use those few miles as a warmup run, the wind was enough of a deterrent to choose the bus as transport.  The benefit of being so early to the staging area was a lack of people, so there was zero wait for a bus.  After the bus took a wrong turn leaving the dock, we headed to the staging area and the long wait for the start.

The view heading to the staging area
The staging area was at Fort Wadsworth, which is at the base of the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge, and the area was split into three sections, based on the color assigned to each runner.  The starting line is at the base of the bridge, on both levels.  Two groups would start on the upper level of the bridge, split between the two lanes, while the last group would start on the lower level.  I was in the green group, which started on the lower level.  All group green racers met on the other side of the fort, with a nice open field to gather in, outside of the parking lots.  The wind at this point was gusty, but not too bad, but it reminded me that I should have brought something to cover my ears, as all I had was my white Shamrock cap.  Luckily, Duncan Donuts had a free hat that could solve this issue.  While it was “something I didn’t train with” I grabbed one to help for the start of the race.  At this point, I found a place on the grass to lay in and get more rest, while waiting for the start.

Verrazano-Narrows Bridge

The corrals open at 8:30, and closed at 9am, leaving us 40 minutes to get to know our fellow runners, and try to keep warm.  In these corrals resided big blue bins where runners were putting clothes they wanted to donate, which is where I placed all of my throw away clothes.  Several people were actually hanging inside those boxes to keep from the wind, or find clothes to help keep warm, as they came under dressed.  At 9:30, Wave 1 moved to the starting line, so we stripped down to our running clothes and headed out.  The National Anthem was played and the Mayor spoke, twice, due to a commercial break, and we were off.  Everything went well for the first 2 minutes, and then we hit the bridge over water.  Cross winds of 45+MPH were slamming us at a steady rate, and within 5 minutes I had lost my cap.  For the next 2 miles, each runner made a valiant attempt to stay on their feet and not crash into the runners to the right of them, while dodging clothes, bags, and anything else that had now become a projectile.  The two miles went quick, and everything felt good, while each of us tried to draft without any disasters.  The next few miles put us on the highway, and then through small community roads, as we moved down a slightly different path from the path used by the upper level starters.  The wind was still there, but we waved enough to help hold it off, and we had enough people to easily draft. 

First Avenue!
We then hit Third Avenue, where all of the runners merged together.  This went far better than I thought, making me wonder if these NYC runners merged like this with thier cars.  Here we experienced the wind directly, as it was now a steady headwind.  From this point until Queens, we would be in the open, with a valley of buildings directing the wind at us.  Here also started the 45MPH cross wind bursts.  All of my planning of drafting and slowing down for the wind, all of the strategy that should have been put into play at this point, all of it was tossed out the window.  Not because of forgetfulness, not because of pain or tiredness, but because of the people.  Third Avenue was lined on both sides with a sea of people cheering for anyone and everyone.  Police stood on the medians cheering the runners, and bands lines the sides playing a wide range of music.  All of this energy, all of this joy rushed over me like a wave, and I rode it.  As I came up to the police on the medians, I would try to high-five them, and when they would let me hang, their partner would give them crap.  I would run the crowd and high-five everyone that had their hand out.  The joy was so great, I just wanted to keep running hoping it would never end.

Almost to Manhattan part 1
As we got closer to Queens, and thus closer to the halfway point, I kept looking at my watch, as I felt I was running slower than my planned race pace of 8:30, as it felt like 9.  It would seem that, even with the headwind, I was keeping pace, so at the halfway point I chose to keep pushing the same pace.  It was risky, as I know I had been fighting wind the whole time, but without risk, how can you learn?  On to the 59th street bridge and Manhattan part 1.  The crowds were still full as we weaved through Queens, keeping the energy level high.  I could see the Manhattan ahead of us and started to think of the bridge and the fear everyone had for it.  Could it be as bad as the 14th street bridge on the Marine Corp Marathon course?  The answer would be yes.  The 59th street bridge is a double-decker bridge, where we would be using the lower level.  Only runners were allowed on the bridge, so as we turned onto the approach, which was a steep grade up, the cheering crowd faded into the background.  All we could hear was the traffic above us and the footsteps of each runner as they pushed through the bridge.  The view was interesting, as it starts over Queens and then across the river, but the view ahead was depressing.  You cannot see the exit of the bridge until you are almost on it, so you never get the feeling of almost being there.  Instead, all you can think of is "When will this end?".  Something was needed to get the energy back, as I was slowing down and my drive was fading.

That something was First Avenue in Manhattan.  As we got closer to the end of the bridge, you could hear the growing roar, the amazing energy that could only be a New York City cheering crowd.  The break in silence was amazing, with each runner picking up the pace, showing a smile and gaining back some of that drive lost across the bridge.  We passed through Mordor and we were no worse for wear.  Turning onto First avenue also meant that I was just a mile away from my wife Sallie and my father Steve.  They were waiting at 92nd Avenue, and that gave me a push and focus.  Only stopping briefly to remove a stone from my shoe, I recovered a good amount of my pace by the time I met up with them.  I said my hellos, got a kiss, and headed back out and up First avenue to Harlem.  The crowd here started to thin, compared to the mass of people earlier in this section of the course.  At mile 19, the wind and pace finally started to take a toll, as my hip flexors started complaining.  I dropped the pace a bit, knowing that we still had headwind until Mile 21, and once we got to Fifth Avenue, we would get a tailwind.

Running after walking up the Harlem bridge
This strategy went out the window less then a mile later, when we hit the bridge to Harlem.  The steep uphill triggered more pain, causing me to walk a bit up the bridge and run down the other side.  I pushed through Harlem and when we hit the bridge back to Manhattan, I ran into the same issue, so I walked a bit more and moved to a run/walk strategy.  This worked for a bit, but the pain grew and by Mile 22, I was done running.  I was also mad that the expected tailwind wasn't there, instead we got more headwind up Fifth Avenue, which was uphill.  

Sad, annoyed, and in pain, walking
I sent a text to my wife, informing her that I was in trouble, but that I would be walking the rest of the way.  I knew they were waiting for me further up Fifth, and I used that as a focus point to keep moving forward.  After what felt like a century, I got to them at Mile 24, and just seeing them almost brought me to tears.  The emotions of finally getting to my support team, the pain, and the fact that I felt I had failed my father all hit me at once.   I used this emotion to push on, yelling at myself to make it to Central Park and then try to run a bit.  While this was a good idea, it didn't work, as my hip had tightened and wouldn't run more then a minute's worth before I had to go back to walking.  The crowd was amazing, even here.  Each person tried to encourage me to push forward, to get back to running, and that energy helped me as I finally felt like I would get to the end, being it much later then I had hoped.  As we rounded the corner out of Central Park, I made the decision that I would run the final section to the finish.  This meant that at Columbus Circle I had to push through the pain and run.  The crowd was loud here, cheering each runner to finish strong, and I used that to move me forward, to trot, then run, then sprint to the end.

The finish was uphill and I was in pain after I crossed the line, but I crossed, at a time of 4:24:19.  Then started the walk of the wounded to the exit.  Since I signed up for no bag checks, I would be gifted with a fleece poncho.  The problem was that it took over a mile to get to these ponchos, and it was cold, and I could barely move my right leg.  Once I finally got there, and after telling multiple first aid volunteers I was OK, I met up with my wife and father, changed clothes, and started the trek back to the hotel for a shower.  I made sure we walked as much as possible, as the walking was helping the hip, and by the time we got to the hotel, I felt 100% better.  I showered, packed, and headed to Penn Station for the train home.

After reflecting on the race, my training and how I ran it, I had many takeaways.  Drafting and slowing the pace a bit was paramount to surviving this race, and I deviated from that strategy too quickly.  The fact that I lost over a month of running near the end of my training also proved to be a problem, as that was one of the factors that led to my hip flexor having issues.  Most important, I reminded myself that running is fun, that the atmosphere, crowd, and course was amazing, and just finishing such an iconic race was enough for me.  Now it is off to rest, then training those hips and legs to help stability from here on out.  Remember that there is no such thing as a failed race, unless you never use the lessons learned, and keep repeating your mistakes.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Mustache Mile 2014

While endurance racing is a challenging and enjoyable endeavor for a runner, sometime you need to try something a little shorter, to remind yourself that running is as much about speed as it is about longevity.  Many will run 5k's and 10k's to fill this urge, and I am no different, but there is one distance that is a unique challenge for any runner, especially an endurance runner.  That distance is 1600 meters, otherwise known as a mile.  What makes this distance challenging is how it must be run.  Unlike marathon's, 10k's, or even 5k's, a single mile will give the runner very little room for mistakes, cannot allow them to start slow, and punishes them for starting off too fast.  In a nutshell, there is a complex strategy that will need to be played out in that short few minutes of a race to achieve a successful 1 mile race.  The first part of that strategy is knowing the course.

 Potomac River Runners has hosted several 1 mile races over the last few years.  Initially they were known as 'The Nearly Naked Mile', to support burn victims, and recently 'The Mustache Mile', supporting prostate cancer.  Each of these utilized a course that looped through the Reston Town Center.  The course is broken up into two loops; the first is a 600 meter loop starting at the fountain and goes around the first block.  This loop starts downhill, turns right, then goes up two small hills, and then back downhill to the starting line.  From this point, the course continues one more block down before turning right and heading back up the hill, this time with a third hill section.  While an elevation map would say the course is flat, running it as short distance speeds would tell you otherwise.  Any strategy for this race must take into account the second half of each loops uphill.

Another part of a strategy for this short of a race is where you position yourself at the start line.  While this is a critical part of any race, positioning can make or break you for a mile race in the first 400 meters.  If a racer starts at the front, toeing the line with the fastest racers for that heat, expect to start out fast.  If you can keep up, then this is a great place to be, as you can mentally grab onto a fast racer and hold on, focusing past the pain to a fast finish.  If your a 6 minute mile runner in the heat with 4.5 minute mile racers, this would be a bad idea.  You will start off fast and you will try to keep up with the 4.5 minute milers, until your legs give out and you either severely back off or drop out.  Instead, starting a bit further back, allowing for a slightly slower start, will give you a much better chance at a strong finish and a satisfying race.

The last part of strategy is warming up.  As the races get shorter, you will need to take longer to warm up.  For a 5k, I tend to run around a mile or so as a warmup, and for a marathon, I tend to do a lot less, as I will use the starting few miles as additional warmup.  For a mile race, I tend to do 2-3 miles, making sure my muscles are as warmed up and loose as possible.  Each person will have a different amount of time and distance to satisfy their warmup need, but the faster the race, the more a runner will need to already be in the zone before the start.

Each year that Potomac River Runners have offered this race, I have taken the opportunity to race it, in the hope to achieve a sub-6 mile.  Each time I go through the above strategies before the race, and each time I have missed the mark.  Some of it is failing on execution of the above strategies (aka my attempt to keep up with Mo last year at the start being a prime example of that), but most if it is due to fatigue within the legs.  This has been due to the fact that each year I am coming off of a marathon and/or 10k within a week or two of the race.  This year was no different.  The Sunday before the race, I had completed the NYC Marathon, which fatigued my legs more then previous years.  Leading up to the race, I had run 4 miles in the morning to see how far my legs had recovered.  The run exposed the hamstrings as the current weak point of the legs, having not recovered as much as the rest of the legs.  This forced me to re-look at how I would run the race, as injury would be bad, and a DNF due to going out too fast on the first two hills would annoy the hell out of me.

I had agreed to help pace a friend for this race, as he had a previous PR for the mile of 6:40 and wanted to try to hit 6 minutes.  While I thought that was aggressive, I was willing to help him by pacing with him, hopefully driving him to a strong finish.  Once I met him at the race, I informed him of my concern on how I have recovered and stated that if my hamstrings were as tired as they seemed to be this morning, I would be happy with a sub-8 minute mile.  With that, I suggested that if he wanted to try for the 6 minute time, he should move to the front of our heat, the 6-8 minute heat, pick a runner, and us them as a focus point to pull him through the race and home.  I started near the back of the pack to make sure I didn't start too fast, and to make sure that I am not in the way of the faster runners.  Later, after reviewing the photos posted by PRR, I saw that my friend started at the line, and didn't try to find a rabbit until after the first turn.  This was a bad sign for him, as I observed later in the race.

My friend in the Superman shirt all the way to the right, and Lisa Johnston, the speedster ready to pounce all the way to the left.
When the "gun" went off, I followed the middle of the pack down the street to the first turn.  I had spent a good 30 minutes warming up (running, stretching, high knees and butt kickers) and knew that my hamstrings may not be as problematic as this mornings run foretold.  After the second right, the start of the hills, I started my normal hill mantra: "Same effort, no speed".  Hill running, even in short races, should be the same effort as you would use on a flat section.  For this race, it was a good idea, as you wanted to conserve some energy for the second loop, and those hills.  Two more rights and I was heading downhill to the start line, feeling great and ready for the second loop.  At this point, my friend was not in immediate site, so I assumed he was on pace for a 6 minute mile.

Passing the first loop and starting the second loop

As I got to the start line, I decided to kick up the pace.  If the hamstrings weren't screaming, lets see what was still left in the tank.  Using the downhill part of the course, I gained on the runners ahead of mean and started passing racers.  This always gives me confidences and helps me drive harder.  Two more turns to the right and it was time for the hills again.  While the first loops mantra was about pace, here I tossed that out for a different mantra.  Here I chose to start picking off racers as motivation, ignoring pace and speed at this point.  Focusing on passing people kept my mind off fatigue and pain that was expected at this point of the race, even for the fully rested racer.  Half way up the hill I caught up to my friend, who was breathing very heavy and laboring to get up the hill.  On like some of my friends, he has never liked motivational words or running with him to help push him. Instead, he prefers to get pissed off because you pass him, so I did, adding a solute and wave as I went by,   At the top of the hill, I decided to push it and sprinted the rest of the way to the finish line, ending with a 6:22 final time.

Sprinting across the finish line
My friend crossed at 6:40, a very respectable time, but once he caught his breath, he had one thing to say: "So, you weren't recovered from the marathon, your hamstrings were tired, and you didn't think you would get much under 8?  Dick!"  Now it was time to watch the rest of the heats and cheer on friends as they race through the mile course with a silly mustache and a smile!

Lisa finishing first in the women's 6-8 minute heat!
Chip finishing at 6:40!    
Kim finishing strong, with her rocking mustache and sunglasses shirt!
Michelle finishing strong and waving back at us!

What I got from the race was the following:

  1. Warming up properly can help loosen up sore muscles, and help protect them during a race.
  2. Starting a race at the right point in the heat makes a world of difference
  3. Having fun is as much of a goal as finishing by a certain time
  4. Maybe I should do one of these races after resting a bit and not after killing my body on long endurance races
 Please NOTE!
While I got through the race with a smile, had fun, and finished strong, it should be noted that racing on back to back weekends, especially with one being a marathon and the other a speed-based race, is never a good idea.  It can put too much stress on your body and raise the likelihood of injury.  So while I may be a bit crazy, you should always race safe, have fun, and listen to your body.  There is never a race worth risking injury.

Monday, November 10, 2014

NYC Marathon Race - Part 2 - Pre-Race Saturday

Usually the day before a big race, especially a Marathon, each racer tries to keep off their feet and relax.  Included in this relaxation is a 30 minute shakeout run, to help build some confidence for the big race, and to get the blood flowing after tapering for the past three weeks.  I chose to run along side Saturday's Dash to the Finish Line 5k that NYRR sponsors, and that my lovely wife would be running in.  While a large portion of the racers were also running in the marathon, I chose to run outside of the race itself to keep me from trying to actually race it.  The run was cold and wet, but it felt good, and my body and foot felt up for tomorrows race. Sallie ended up with a PR for the race, finishing in 37:16, which was amazing.

Sallie waiting for the start of the 5k

Once we finished our run, it was time for breakfast.  Sallie wanted New York bagels, so we headed back to the hotel, via the subway, to a local bagel place.  This ended up taking 45 minutes, versus walking in the cold rain through Central Park, but we got our bagels, bananas and coffee, then headed to the hotel to relax.  Watching a few movies and napping was the name of the game until it was time for lunch.  Since we were meeting up with my father at 4:30pm at Penn Station, we decided to head to Grand Central Station via taxi for food and touristy stuff.  After a Hot chocolate, warm cookie, and a pizzette, we wandered around a bit to see the architecture and the Apple store in the middle of the station. 

On the way out, we grabbed some bagels for tonight and tomorrow morning, then jumped on a train to head over to the NHL store. I try to make a visit here every time I am in NYC, as it is difficult to find Buffalo Sabres gear in D.C.  While they didn't have the jacket I was looking for, I did get a winter hat for my mom, and Sallie got to experience the store, which was great.

It was then time to head to Penn Station.  On the way, we stopped by Time square for a quick selfie!

Once we linked up with my father, we wandered a few blocks to a pizza and pasta place for dinner.  We went over the plan for tomorrow, where they would be cheering at, and where we would meetup at the end of the race.  At the table adjacent to us, two women were talking about a lunch with Ryan Hall, and his thoughts on the race.  We joined in on the discussion, talking about the expected wind, the 59th street bridge, starting waves, and when we were getting to Staten Island.  One thing she relayed from her discussion with Ryan was a point about the draining qualities of the 59th street bridge, but assured her that the roar of the 1st Ave crowd echoing through the end of the bridge would get you charged again.

We said our goodbyes and good luck to the women on the race tomorrow, and headed back to the hotel.  I didn't do as much resting as I would have wanted, but we rarely get to NYC, so why waste the chance for my wife and I do see some of the sites.  Once we got back to the hotel, I spent the next hour getting everything prepared and set out for the race, then headed to bed, concerned, nervous, and excited for tomorrows race.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

The NYC Marathon - Part 1 - The Expo

Over the last four years of running, I have had the opportunity to visit several different Running Expos that precede a long race (10 miles to Marathon distances).  Each one had a very unique feel to it, with the smaller races having a hometown feel, versus a more commercial feel for the larger marathon races.  The Expo for the New York City Marathon was no different.  My travels started in D.C., where I rode an Amtrak train to NYC the Friday before the Marathon to help remove as much stress as possible.  Getting to the race city early is always better then the day before, as you might have forgotten or lost something in transit, and I prefer to not rush around the say before a big race hoping I can find whatever I forgot.

With that idea in mind, I decided to get to the Expo the Friday before the marathon to avoid standing in line for potentially hours on Saturday.  Standing for half a day, the day before your marathon race, is also never a wise choice.  Since my train arrived at 12:30ish, I decided to go straight to the Expo from Penn station.  This was a nice brisk 7 block walk with luggage.  The Expo resided at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center, right off the river.  I met a woman from Arizona on the way and we had a great many discussions on the race, previous running, training, etc.  It would seem she had decided to run a half every month this year, and then decided to add three marathons for the last three months of this year to top it off.  

Once we arrived at the convention center, we realized why going Friday was the right idea (as well as going directly there from Penn station).  There were two races planned for this weekend, the NYC marathon on Sunday, and the Dash to the Finish Line 5k on Saturday.  If you needed to pick-up your bib for the 5k, you could just wander inside and get your bib.  If you were a crazy marathoner, welcome to the line, which went around the building, that wrapped back around itself.

Luckily, the line moved quickly, and minus having to cross through the smell of the street vendors twice (nasty, nasty smells), we got into the convention center within 20 minutes.  The convention spanned two different floor.  The lower floor was separated into three sections.  The first was bib pickup, which was crowded, with the t-shirt pickup being a mass of humans trying to grab thier goodie bag and get out.

I grabbed my bib and goodie bag, as well as Sallie's 5k bib and shirt, then headed to the second section of the bottom floor.  This section was the official NYC Marathon store, sponsored by ASIC and TCS.  Before entering, each runner had to test thier bib to make sure it was registered and active, then in you went.  The store was chaotic, to say the least.  People were rushing around grabbing a hat here, or arm warmers there, all wanting that piece of a classic race.  I gathered up a few things for me (jacket, running tights) and something for Sallie (hat and shirt) and then jumped in line.  The line was long, almost as long as the one outside for bibs.

Like the line outside, it also moved quickly, but I had a nice chat with a few more runners on their excitement and expectations for the race.  As I got to the cashier, I saw a perfect gift for my God Son, NYC Marathon Running Bear.  Once I got through the line, the third section could be accessed, the third-party vendor area.  Here, like most Expos,  you could find local athletic stores selling their wares, as well as running specific vendors selling unique clothes or devices to help you train/recover/no feel pain.  Unlike other Expos, this marathon had the support of several large vendors, from ASIC to Saucony, ro New Balance.  They had huge booths with NYC and NYC Marathon specific gear.  I visited most of them, grabbing a hoodie from Saucony and new lenses for my Oakleys that were stenciled with the NYC Marathon logo.  I also teased the Garmin booth with my new 920XT, which they could not yet sell.  After grabbing some GU and some body glide for Sallie (she forgot to pack it), I headed upstairs.

The second level was focused on the race itself.  Huge coins were used to display each of the Burroughs we would be running through, and the line for the Manhattan coin (labeled NYC) was huge.  

Once I got through them and had a chat with the Pacers, I headed out of the Expo, grabbed a sandwich and headed to my hotel.  I was now in the mood for a race, concerns about my training, injury, or weather had left my mind, for now, as I took in the grandness of one of the marque races in the world.