Tuesday, July 9, 2019

Race Report: Staten Island Half Marathon

The Whitehall Terminal for
the Staten Island Ferry
After getting back to New York from Hartford, my friend Sally and I tiredly got back to my apartment, pretty much crashing since early the next morning we were getting up for the long trip down to Staten Island via subway and ferry to the start.  After running the Hartford Marathon on Saturday, we were slated to take on the Staten Island Half Marathon on Sunday.  In the five years I had been running at that point, the only time I had ever run in Staten Island was when leaving the confines of Fort Wadsworth and making my way onto the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge for the NYC Marathon; I had never run this New York Road Runners managed race. While we left early enough to consider the amount of time it took for the subway at that early hour to take us into the city, the 7 train became severely delayed due to some track work or accident further down the line once we got to Queensboro Plaza, so with another runner and his wife heading into Manhattan for the ferry, we four decided to jump into an Uber and get ourselves to the Whitehall Ferry Terminal via car instead.

Getting onto the ferry w/ other runners
I'm pretty sure this terminal only gets super crowded twice a year, and both instances are with races - the Staten Island Half Marathon in October, and a few weeks later for the NYC Marathon, which starts on Staten Island.  With security high, we made our way into the terminal and quickly got ourselves onto a ferry to take us down Upper New York Bay to St. George Ferry Terminal, where along Bay Street, runners would assemble for the race.  We donned our costumes (with the weather being pretty nice that day, compared to the wet weather in Hartford the day before) while on the ferry, and prepared to disembark as we passed by Lady Liberty watching us from her pedestal on Liberty Island.

Good morning, Lady Liberty...
Originally, the course started near the St. George Ferry Terminal, then ran down Bay Street toward Fort Wadsworth, then out to Father Capodanno Boulevard and back to the terminal’s parking area. Over the years, the course has changed slightly due to road construction; for instance, in the 1990s, the finish was moved inside Fort Wadsworth (athlete's village for the marathon), but then changed again when that move proved to complicate runner traffic, especially when needing to get back to the ferry terminal.  Starting in 2014, the route changed again when construction began on some large scale developments on the waterfront, so the finish line was moved to inside the Richmond County Bank Ballpark, home of the Staten Island Yankees.  In 2017, more construction caused another tweak to the course, moving the start and finish to Bay Street, which required mileage to be made up by adding the boardwalk and the back hill of Fort Wadsworth, a climb that is rewarded by the beautiful views of Manhattan.  Additionally, over the years, runners have had to brave the elements with usually crappy weather - rain and wind - so this wasn't the most desirable of races, paired with the long trip to get down to the island for many runners who live further away in the other boroughs.

Running down Bay Street
This year, however, the weather was gorgeous.  Crisp, cool fall weather— with a temperature of 50 degrees -- quite different compared to the day before in Hartford.  These were ideal race conditions, and so we made our way to the start area, which was split between the first wave of runners on one side of the divided Bay Street, and the second wave on the other; while wave one took off at 8am, we were slated to take off in the second wave at 8:30. We stepped off the starting mat off of the intersection with Slosson Terrace at about 8:34, taking it easy as we made our way south along commercial Bay Street. After an initial downhill descent from the start, the course flattened out fairly significantly as we made our way right through the thick of the island's northeastern waterfront neighborhoods of Tompkinsville, Stapleton, Clifton, and Rosebank.

We had already run two miles by the time we passed Hylan Boulevard, as the commercial surroundings gave way to a more residential setting in the neighborhood of Shore Acres.  This part of the course started to lightly ascend uphill, and actually met up with a section of roadway that was shared with the return of faster runners, coming up to their 11th mile of the race.  And since we started half an hour behind the first wave, it wasn't much of a surprise to see these race leaders coming up our way, at this point just under an hour into their race, and close to finishing.  We continued on down this residential area, before finally making our first turn of the race, turning right on School Road across from Von Briesen Park.

School Road headed west
We continued to ascend as we made our way westward along School Road, a four lane roadway that forms part of the northern boundary of Fort Wadsworth. Eventually, the course veered slightly left, following Lily Pond Avenue underneath the road structure for I-278 leading up to the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge. It was a fairly long tunnel, considering how wide the interstate is, and we emerged on the other side, reaching the 5K mark in a conservative 34:05, continuing to head southward along the avenue's southbound lanes.

Heading down Fr. Capodanno Blvd.
Just as we passed McClean Avenue, we came up to another section of course that was split with runners coming up toward our direction. There was a nice downhill descent as we made our way down the now divided Lily Pond Avenue (separated by a grassy median), with Fort Wadsworth to our left and the residential neighborhood of Arrochar to our left.  Being that Halloween was a few weeks away, it was fun to see some homes decked out in decorations for the fun holiday; it made us, dressed as fruit, fit in with a costumed theme! 

Eventually, Lily Pond Avenue curved around down to Father Capodanno Boulevard, a primary north-south artery for Staten Island's East Shore, running through the neighborhoods of Arrochar, South Beach, Ocean Breeze, and Midland Beach.  It was named after Vincent Robert Capodanno, a local Roman Catholic chaplain who was killed in combat in the Vietnam War. Around this section, Sally and I caught up with a Front Runner friend of mine, Faith, as we chatted about my crazy race schedule for the next month.  Eventually, she continued on as Sally and I started to take more extended walk breaks as our tired legs from the previous day started to take a toll on us.
Verrazano-Narrows Bridge in the distance from Fr. Capodanno Blvd.
A Staten Island Corgi!
We would run down this section of road for quite some time, nearly 2.5 miles, with single family homes to our right and Lower New York Bay beyond the baseball fields and beaches to our left. Midland Avenue in the neighborhood of Midland Beach was the turnaround point that would take us for 2.5 miles back in the other direction. It was nice to casually alternate our running and walking along this stretch, enjoying the company of the many other runners blessed with the unusually beautiful weather for this race.  I even spotted a corgi during the race, obviously having to get a photo with him! We made our turn around point about 1/4 mile before the 6 mile mark, and ran across the 10K mat in 1:09:39.  I even spotted my friend Ken, who came down to cheer for runners along this stretch of road.

Nick, Sally, and I with the bridge
One odd occurrence: Sally and I spotted a fellow runner diverting to the playgrounds and fields to our right as we headed back northward, seemingly adding to his running workout by climbing fences and doing push-ups, pull-ups and parkour exercises on whatever equipment was available to him.  We found this super strange, but hey -- to each their own.  Now over an hour into the race, the mileage we had already put in this weekend had started to take the toll on our pace, so we began to walk quite a bit more. We made our way back to the section we so enjoyed going downhill, now trudging uphill, and at McClean Avenue, we turned right, only to spot my friend and fellow FRNY member Nick in the medical tent with someone attending to his knee.  He was on pace to PR, but halfway through, his knee gave up on him and he had to make a trip to the medical tent to get taped up. Sally and I walked with him for a bit, making our way east along the avenue, making our way past the National Park Service guard booth and officers posted there that signaled the entrance to the former military installation of Fort Wadsworth.

Fort Wadsworth sign!
Built in 1663 as a Dutch blockhouse, the site remained continuously garrisoned until 1808, when several fortifications were built on the site over the years. It eventually adopted its current name, Fort Wadsworth, in 1865 to honor Brigadier General James Wadsworth, who had been killed in the Battle of the Wilderness during the Civil War. Over the next century, it served an important role guarding New York City (a natural point for defense of the Upper Bay and Manhattan beyond) in the event of military action, and continued to be a mobilization center for the US Army. The base was turned over to the US Navy in 1979, which used it as the headquarters of Naval Station New Y
ork.  Prior to closing in 1994 it claimed to be the longest continually garrisoned military installation in the United States. The property was transferred to the National Park Service as part of the Gateway National Recreation Area the following year, and today now houses some US Coast Guard and Army Reserve offices, in addition to the National Park Service.  Annually, the fort also serves as the athlete's village for the start of the NYC Marathon on the first Sunday of November.  This time, we would get to run through it.

Up close and personal with the bridge
Past the guard station, the road became Battery Road. We then turned left onto New York Avenue, treated to up close and personal views of the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge. Runners were running toward us on the other side of the road, so we knew we were doing a loop or out-and-back in this section. After running under the bridge once again, we ran around several of the Coast Guard's buildings within the fort, taking a left onto Marshall Road, passing the 15K mark, which we crossed in 1:55:19, then turned left onto Drum Road, before making our return to turn right down New York Avenue back under the bridge span.

The route then had us turn left onto the single lane Hudson Road, around a grassy knoll and somewhat underutilized-looking baseball field, taking us back under the bridge. The area here, though, had some nicely manicured overlooks, with the batteries on the coast below.  Lots of runners were stopping here to get some great photos of the bridge, photos that would not normally be allowed unless taken on National Park Service ranger-led walking tours of the sites.  We continued north along Hudson Road, part of which included a small ascent, before turning left onto Mont Sec Avenue, a somewhat steep downhill back to New York Avenue. Nick needed to slow down a bit, but we wanted to take advantage of the downhill, so we decided to continue on. We turned right onto the avenue, passing the guardhouse on the north entrance of the fort, and the general entrance I was familiar with from using it during the two NYC Marathons I had done. After the guardhouse, the street signs showed I was on Bay Street, and I then realized this was where I had seen the race leaders speeding by nearly two hours before.
Manhattan in the distance from Edgewater Street
Open roads and lots of parking lots
We turned right onto Hylan Boulevard, as we made our way back to the water, as we briefly ran past some of the historic homes of the neighborhood of Rosebank.  Now 11 miles into the race, the last two miles would be nice and flat, right at sea level.  Unfortunately, it was also one of the least pretty parts of the race, as we were led down Edgewater Street and Front Street, a heavily industrialized area littered with rusting buildings, expansive parking lots, and generally uninteresting views of the Staten Island Railroad tracks, warehouse buildings, and overgrown and unmaintained lots and piers.

Not the prettiest part of the race.
Before leaving this ugly waterfront area (which honestly showed the grittier parts of New York City to Sally), we crossed one more timing mat, the 20K mark, in 2:40:40.  We turned left onto Hannah Street, which led us right back to Bay Street, as we made the tough ascent up to the finish line.  We crossed the mat to the sounds of cheers of people amused by our costumes to a 2:47:57 finish. I even spotted outgoing NYC Marathon race director Peter Ciaccia, giving out high fives to finishers, who quickly posed for a photo with us.

Sally and I with NYC Marathon director Peter Ciaccia
Victory Headstand at Borough Hall
The finishers' chute led us further up Bay Street, toward the ballpark, and the former finish of the race; while Sally and I caught our breath, I initially had thought of doing my headstand photo in front of the ballpark's entrance; a rather stiff-looking security guard in a trenchcoat was standing watch, and Sally went over to ask if he could move a tiny bit for us to get a photo without him in view in front of the entrance.  He was not very nice, and told her gruffly "no chance," and speaking rather dismissively to Sally.  He even threatened to take her "across the street" to I assume NYPD Precinct; unfortunately, this incident marred a rather fun day; we decided to do my headstand in front of Staten Island Borough Hall instead.

Bling photos on the ferry!
We made our way back to Manhattan on the ferry, taking quite a few photos posing with our medal haul for the weekend and wearing our outfits; after disembarking, we treated ourselves to some delicious sandwiches at the Route 66 Smokehouse on Stone Street in Lower Manhattan. It was actually very fitting, since Sally wanted to be there (but couldn't) to help me celebrate my 50th state finish for marathons and national anthems at the Route 66 Marathon in Oklahoma in November, so being at a similarly named restaurant was the next best thing. We retired back to my apartment to rest up from a long weekend of running and so much fun!
Me and my medal haul with Lady Liberty!

Tuesday, July 2, 2019

Race Report: Hartford Marathon

Marathons in Connecticut are slim picking, especially if you're a "self professed course snob" like me.  While Running in the USA shows as many as nine marathons in the state, all except one, the Hartford Marathon, are courses that feature more than one loop or out-and-back.  So ultimately, Hartford was my only choice for a marathon in the state of Connecticut. And being that it was an October race, including it into my schedule was tough, due to the many desirable races on the calendar for that month.  2018 became the year to do it, especially with my planned 50th state in Oklahoma coming up the following month.

I met Sally Orange through a mutual friend, Frank, at the Malta Marathon in February 2018, and in August, Sally messaged me through Facebook with the idea of coming to the US to do a marathon, as she had realized that she had run a marathon on six of the seven continents within the previous eleven months - all except for North America. Having a couple weekends open in her calendar, she coordinated with me when I had races scheduled in the US, and ultimately, Hartford Marathon weekend worked out for both of us.  And not only that, the Staten Island Half Marathon was the next day, so why not add another 13.1 miles on top of the 26.2 we'd do on Saturday?  Mind you, Sally had an Ironman Triathlon in Barcelona the week prior, so with this goal in mind, she said... why not?!

It was already going to be a crazy weekend, because I had a very busy schedule even leading up to the races.  On Friday evening, a friend of mine was getting married in Brooklyn, so I planned to attend the ceremony then rush up to Penn Station to catch one of the last possible trains to head up to Hartford, a nearly 3 hour trip, before catching a few hours of sleep and then running in the morning. With Sally coming in on Thursday, she was going to head up to Hartford earlier on Friday, retrieve our bibs, and check into the Airbnb I had originally booked, which was OK with me adding another person onto the reservation.  Everything was planned out to a T, perfectly.

The wedding was beautiful (albeit, chilly, as fall in New York can be), and I made it to my train with more than enough time.  All the while, I kept in touch with Sally to let her know where I was.  I arrived at Hartford Union Station and got an Uber to take me to the Airbnb, met up with Sally, and we were knocked out, since the race would start early the next morning.

We woke up to a rather rainy morning, with temps in the low 50s.  Rain was in the forecast, so it wasn't a surprise - but it would put a damper on one of the unique aspects of the race we were going to partake in.  Sally runs all of her marathons dressed as a piece of fruit, a play on her last name "Orange," and within the last year, she has managed to run as a kiwi, bunch of grapes, pear, orange, jackfruit, avocado, and apple, and for this race she was going to run as a lemon.  She brought a second fruit costume, an orange, for me to wear.  But the weather put a damper on that for me, so I decided to not don the costume for the race, as it could prove to unwieldy in the wet weather. We headed out in the rain to the start, in front of the Connecticut State Capitol, barely a half mile walk out the door of our Airbnb, and just minutes before the start of the race.  Since we were doing 39.3 miles that weekend, Sally and I decided to run together, keeping our pace nice and even and not pushing it too hard.  At 8am, we were off and running, heading west on Capitol Street.

Soon, we turned right onto Broad Street, then right onto Farmington Avenue.  We were now just north of Bushnell Park, an area we would be returning to at the end of the race.  Now on Asylum Street, as we passed underneath I-84, we turned onto Ford Street, then onto Pearl Street, passing by the Soldier and Sailors Memorial Arch, which would mark the finish line of our race. On Pearl Street, we continued on through Downtown Hartford amongst the tallest buildings in the city, many of which are headquarters for insurance companies, which makes Hartford earn its nickname as the "Insurance Capital of the World."  Naturally, my Garmin did not enjoy the tall buildings messing with its location signal, coming as no surprise as I run through areas with many skyscrapers. Just as we passed by the Old State House, a 222 year old Federal style building by noted American architect Charles Bulfinch, the course split with half marathoners turning right on Main Street and marathoners continuing along Pearl for one block before turning left onto Market Street, to make our way out of downtown into North Hartford.

Running through Riverside Park
It was considerably less dense after we passed underneath the I-84 overpass, eventually making our way over the Reverend Moody Overpass, the only real "hill" of the course.  Almost immediately, it felt like we were not in a city anymore.  Out of sight (as it was below the grade we were running on) and to the left was the Xfinity Theatre, a 30,000 seat amphitheatre, one of the largest in the country.  Before long, we were turning right onto Weston Street, passing underneath the I-91 overpass and heading south into Riverside Park. After passing through the park's parking lot, we began to run alongside the paved riverfront trail, known as the Riverwalk.  While in better weather, the views of the Connecticut River would be nice, we kept our head down and just kept going.
Riverside Park
Sheldon Street and Travelers Tower
From here, we made our way past Mortensen Riverfront Plaza (a landscaped park area considered the centerpiece of the Hartford's Riverfront park system) and the Convention Center, eventually exiting the trail through a pathway underneath the overpass, and onto Van Dyke Avenue, where we began to run through a largely industrial area south of the downtown. Turning right onto Sheldon Street, we passed the mile 5 marker, with the iconic Travelers Tower (the second tallest building in Hartford) dominating the view ahead of us.  After a slight left continuing along Sheldon Street, we ran westward until turning right onto Prospect Street, to head north back into the Downtown. At Pearl Street (right near the intersection where the half split off from us), we turned right, heading over the Founders Bridge and over the river into East Hartford, where we would be running for the next 19 miles.

Running along the Connecticut River
Founders Bridge is one of three bridges that span the Connecticut River between Hartford and East Hartford. Built in 1957 to ease traffic from the congested Bulkeley Bridge, it was rebuilt in the mid 90s to accompany the riverfront plaza we had passed earlier as we ran alongside the river. We passed the 10K mats along the offramp of the bridge in 1:02:13, a nice and easy 10:01 mile pace, as we began some of the flattest stretches of the course. We ran along Pitkin Street for a few blocks before turning right onto Meadow Street and right again onto Hartland Street, essentially making our way around a complex of office buildings surrounded by acres of blacktop parking lot.  We turned right onto East River Drive, heading north until we detoured onto a sidewalk pathway encircling a fairly nondescript office tower, eventually running on pathways alongside the river and a grassy berm built to combat potential flooding.  This section, as well as the Founders Bridge, is actually an area designated part of the East Coast Greenway, a 3,000 mile biking and walking route connecting the major cities of the Atlantic coast from Maine all the way down to Florida.

We then left the trail, running back along East River Drive, then made a detour along a long, somewhat circuitous road that led up to a school - it almost felt as if we were detoured to this area to just add the necessary miles.  Once we came back out onto East River Drive, we continued east running through a forested area with nothing but the road taking us anywhere. Eventually, we turned left onto Route 5, East Hartford's Main Street, beginning our journey north.

Sally and I on Main Street!
After more of the same, we eventually turned left onto Carroll Road, finally running through a largely residential area of East Hartford, turning right onto Prospect Street. We crossed Connecticut Boulevard, a largely commercial corridor through the city, but continued northward past the mile 10 mark, as we ran up the two lane road with homes to our right and a jumble of endless forest to our left.  The route gave way to a sad looking industrial area, but returned to residential, and then we turned left to continue northward back on Route 5/Main Street.

Eventually, the route became King Street, and the road became very suburban, with the terrain on small rolling hills.  Here, we encountered the elite runners running towards us, making a beeline to the finish, only two miles away for them.  As they came down another street to our left, we continued on along King Street, past our mile 12 marker.  Now we were in the town of South Windsor, and up ahead we would eventually hit the halfway point, passing the mat in 2:16:22, a 10:25 mile pace.  Eventually, we turned right, and we were now running along South Windsor's Main Street.
South Windsor
Only a couple miles left
We would be on Main Street for roughly four miles heading out to a turnaround point before coming right back.  South Windsor, a former farming community turned suburban town with industrial and commercial districts, has a burgeoning Main Street, and despite the rainy weather, several members of the community were out to cheer us on.  In fact, with Sally in her lemon costume, we got a lot of love from the residents of South Windsor!  While not as densely packed residentially as East Hartford was, the views running up Main Street consisted of lots of green farm land, old trees, and older homes, all on a very slight incline.  After Oxbow Lane was our turnaround point, and shortly thereafter, the 17 mile mark of the race, where a timing mat recorded us crossing in 3:06:44, slowing down to just under 11 minutes a mile.

Main Street
Over the next couple miles, the rain finally started to subside, and the rain was practically over by the time we hit the 20 mile mark.  We crossed that timing mat in 3:45:46, with a sub 5 hour marathon time still in our sights.  This time, we continued along Main Street southward rather than take on the rollings hills of King Street, eventually coming to the point where I saw the elite runners run toward us a couple hours earlier.  We retraced our steps down Prospect Street, eventually weaving our way to Pitkin Street for the last two miles to the finish.

Only 1.2 miles left...
Heading back over the bridge
The Old State House to the right
We pushed our way back up the ramp to the bridge, crossing the 10K timing mat, now doubling as the 25.1 mile timing mat in 4:55:17.  Our speed had slowed enough in those last five miles, so a sub-5 wasn't going to happen, but we weren't disappointed - we still had a half marathon to run the next day!  We crossed over the Founders Bridge with a beautiful view of Downtown Hartford in front of us, as we continued on along Pearl Street, past the Old State House and the final mile marker with the finish line just past the Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Arch, the entrance to Bushnell Park which was completed in 1886, and honors the 4,000 Hartford citizens who served in the Civil War, including 400 who died for the Union cause. We crossed the finish line in the park in 5:09:01.

After the finish!
The Connecticut State Capitol
Victory Headstand at the Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Arch
Reuniting with friends post-race!
We passed through the muddy park (the rain left tons of puddles all throughout the area where finishers had to pass through), and after getting my headstand photo and some photos of Sally and me with me wearing the dry orange costume (which we retrieved from gear check), we headed back to our Airbnb to shower up and then get ourselves via Uber over to our post-race lunch at First and Last Bakery, a pizza party celebrating my friends Andrew Ruffino and Terri Pignone, both 50 states finishers after completion of the Hartford Half Marathon.  At 6pm, we had a train to head back down to New York, via New Haven; we were tired - I'm pretty sure we both fell asleep at some point in the trip down!  After all, we still had another race to run the next day!
About to head back down to New York!  Bye, Hartford!

Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Race Report: 2018 Bank of America Chicago Marathon

In 2014, I ran my very first marathon - the Chicago Marathon.  It was quite the emotional race for me - and the start of what would become an addiction to distance races (though you can call my half fanaticism really the beginning of it all).  I wouldn't run another marathon until about 13 months later when I ran the 2015 New York City Marathon. I'd do two more before the year ended, 20 in 2016, a whopping 35 in 2017, and had already completed 23 in 2018 by the time October came along.

In November 2017, I began to talk to my friend David, who I had met at the 2014 race, was involved with Frontrunners Chicago and also was close to the Chicago marathon race director, Carey Pinkowski.  Over the course of the next several months, he was a conduit in helping to communicate my interest in singing the national anthem at the start of the Chicago Marathon, sending Carey my YouTube videos and providing all my references to prove my talents as a reputable performer of the Star Spangled Banner for the race. Ultimately, I was not selected in the lottery for an entry into the race in December, but David assured me he would be able to secure me a legal bib for the race, nonetheless.  The gig for the anthem, though, was still up in the air.  While he presented me to Carey, and he was very interested to suggest me as the singer to Bank of America, who would make the final decision, no decision was made for several months.  It became 2018, spring turned to summer, and while I continued to follow up, there was still no news. I still had no entry for the race either, and by the time September rolled around, I began to be very anxious -- the weekend was a prime race weekend for races both in the US and internationally, and I had a few on my list, but if Chicago were to happen, it would obviously take precedence.

After Labor Day, I finally got word - Bank of America decided to choose someone else to perform the anthem, but as compensation and thank you to me for my diligence and interest, Carey offered me a complimentary bib to the 2018 Chicago Marathon.  It was an incredibly kind gesture, and I took him up on it, registering for the race through the comp code they provided on September 13, and officially receiving my approved entry six days later.  It was only 18 days away, but I secured my entry to the race, my four year anniversary of my first marathon. I quickly found flights to the Windy City, arriving on Friday night and leaving Monday night (as Columbus Day was a holiday for my office), and found accommodations with cousins who lived walking distance from the startline in Grant Park.

Me and my bib, in portrait mode.
Also back in 2017, my cousin Mico decided she'd tackle a marathon, initially asking me about good "first marathon" races that were mostly flat and in the fall.  I immediately told her about Chicago, and she ended up getting in through the lottery for the 2018 edition.  When I didn't, she was obviously sad, but I kept the hopes up that I might still make my way to the startline. What we both didn't realize was it would literally be less than three weeks before the race when I would confirm I would be there!  When I got my bib assignment, I was strangely assigned Wave 1 Corral D, a pace for a marathon completion time much faster than I would be capable - by well over an hour - while Mico was in the last corral, Corral L, in the third wave, not a surprise for this was her first marathon, and Corral L would be the largest of all the corrals, holding most first time marathoners. I told her I would be helping to pace her for the entirety of the race, and would start the race with her in her corral.  I'd make sure she would run this race smartly, and to help her progress further as we reached that finish line... together.

Forecast since the week before called for rain during pretty much the entirety of the weekend, and varied between percentage chance of showers and thunderstorms.  Obviously the latter would not be welcomed - any semblance of lightning could end up canceling races altogether.  I was to leave on an evening flight to Chicago after work, but ended up changing to a flight leaving some three hours earlier.  It was a smart move, as the flight I was originally on ended up getting diverted to Detroit due to thunderstorms that rolled into the area. I arrived to a foggy Chicago, rolling up to my cousin Mark and his girlfriend Hanna's beautiful condo in the South Loop, overlooking downtown, Soldier Field, and Lake Michigan.

We got to bed somewhat early, as we all planned to run the International Chicago 5K the following morning, but ended up waking up to lightning and thunder.  We were actually going to casually run it with my other cousin Dennis and his wife Ants, but they ended up contacting us race morning that they wouldn't be able to come in, partly due to a late night of the work the night before and partly due to weather. There was no word from any race officials about the start of the race until barely a half hour before, even as many folks questioned whether the race would go on on social media.  When we realized they were still planning on holding it, just with a delayed start, we ultimately decided  to stay home and continue sleeping instead, waking up a couple hours later and casually getting breakfast at The Spoke & Bird just down the block.  Afterward, I headed into the expo at McCormick Place, where I would ultimately spend four hours wandering the place (matching the amount of time I spent at the same expo four years earlier with my cousin Kaye!) running into many friends from all over the world who were coming to race Chicago!

Mico made it to the expo!
Mico got into Chicago from Newark after 12pm, and met up with me at the expo, as we went around and took lots of photos and took in all of the awesome sights and sounds to help keep her excited for her first marathon.  We stopped by my cousin's place so I could throw together my clothes for the night, as I agreed to stay with Mico at her hotel the night before to accompany her to the startline. We took a Lyft to her hotel, the Residence Inn by Marriott Chicago Downtown/Loop, conveniently located only a few blocks away from the park on LaSalle Street, and actually right alongside the marathon route, for her to officially check into her room, before we headed up to Lakeview to meet up with my friends who kindly added the two of us to their reservation for eight at Mia Francesca, an Italian restaurant, for a proper pre-marathon carb load.  There, I introduced Mico to my friends Brian (from Nashville), Jim (from Atlanta), Johannes (from Zurich, Switzerland), and George (from Glasgow, Scotland), and met Brian's friends Jonathan and Daniel (also from Nashville) as enjoyed the company of fellow runners getting ready to run the next morning's marathon. After dinner, we retired back to the Residence Inn, ready to get a good night's sleep before the big day. My friend Hollie stopped by to drop off an INKnBURN shirt she had ordered for me, and to offer me and Mico entrance wristbands for the Ronald McDonald House tent at the finish line.
Mico and the boys, pre-race dinner!
My race kit, all laid out and ready to go for the morning!
Breakfast of champions.
The two of us woke up at about 7am ready to go - Mico having woke up a bit earlier, feeling obviously nervous for her first 26.2 mile race - but both of us feeling nervous about how the weather would be for the day.  With our start not beginning until 8:35, we casually made our way downstairs to grab a quick bite to eat at the complimentary breakfast buffet, then headed out toward Grant Park.  Just outside the park, we met up with Mico's friend Aileen, also attempting her first marathon that morning.  With Mico and Aileen, we headed through our assigned gate and into Grant Park, eventually finding my friend Elaine.  The sidewalks were crowded as all of the runners trickled into Grant Park, individually making our way through tight security.

The startline!
We stopped into an area with long lines for portapotties while some of the corrals in our wave beginning to close. As we waited, we began to feel raindrops; when Mico and Aileen were ready, we made our way into corral L, as the crowds began to swell around us for our race start. I tried to locate my cousin Kaye, running her fifth Chicago Marathon (finishing today would make her a legacy runner and allowing her guaranteed entry in future years) as well as my college friend Drew, running his first ever marathon - but no luck, there were far too many people in the crowds.  We found my friend Ken, pacing 4:55 alongside Marie, and decided to start with them.  By then, the rain was starting to come down a bit steadier.  I gave my last pep talk and provided race-specific suggestions to my two marathon newcomers - namely, considering the rain, running on the carpets that are provided over the six open-grate bridges that pass over the Chicago River.  The crowds moved forward, and at approximately 8:49, we crossed the start line, embarking on a 26.2 mile journey through the streets of the Windy City!

Lower level streets
We made our way northward along Columbus Drive, a nice and steady clip, somewhere around 10-10:30 pace, eventually heading through the tunnels on the lower level of streets that define downtown Chicago, and a sight I was very familiar with having begun all of my distance races in the Windy City in the same way.  Almost immediately, my watch began to not enjoy the concrete and difficulty in paring down a proper signal, so my GPS was off practically by the get-go. 

The iconic Chicago Theatre
Mico and I started off by running the first 19 minutes of the race straight before taking a walk break, which took us nearly to mile two as we turned left onto Grand Avenue, then down State Street.  I shot a few photos, including one of the famed marquee of the Chicago Theatre, with perfect timing to hit the first aid station of the race right around our scheduled walk break.  After looping down along Jackson Boulevard, we headed back north along LaSalle Street and past our hotel, for the long route northward to neighborhoods due north of the downtown area.

Our pace stayed fairly consistent, staying between a 10:15 and 10:45 pace as we continued on, and as the rain continued to fall.  The 5K split was just over 33 minutes, a 10:39 pace.  We passed by my friend Monte, running his incredible 601st marathon that day, along LaSalle Street as we went from River North into the Old Town neighborhood, eventually making a right turn at the 8K mark into Lincoln Park, running along Stockton Drive, Fullerton Avenue, and Cannon Drive. Along the way, we ran into my friend, former Chicagoan and fellow Black Sheeper Hyalker, We hit the 10K mark at 1:06:38, only 26 seconds slower our split from the 5K mark, showing our strong consistency in our pace!

Corgi spotting!
Now that the first hour had passed, I decided to shorten our interval ever so slightly to a 14 minute run, 1 minute walk. Still, our pace stayed consistent as we continued northward along Sheridan Road through the neighborhood of Lakeview East.  Right near Belmont Avenue, I encountered a woman with a corgi, which I obviously had to stop for! We continued on alongside Inner Lake Shore Drive opposite Belmont Harbor, running along one of the windiest parts of the race, as we were exposed to the elements with no buildings to the east. Eventually we reached the northernmost point of the race, turning left onto Sheridan, as we then began our southward journey down Broadway, and the mile 8 mark of the race.

Heading up Belmont Ave
It was along Broadway after 8 mile mark that the rain finally let up, and it stayed dry, though humid for the remainder of the race. Just before the 9 mile mark, we reached the Frontrunners Chicago aid station in the heart of Boys Town! Each year, the club dresses to a certain theme as runners pass through one of the most remembered aid stations of the entire course, embracing the LGBT community who both make this place home and a center of life and commerce.  Four years ago, the theme was the Miss America Pageant; this year, it was Superheroes!  It was a thrill to pass by the stages on both sides of the street featuring Frontrunners Chicago members decked out in superhero drag!  We passed the 15K timing mat shortly thereafter at 1:39:33, clocking in our fastest 5K split yet, coming in 32:56 since the last timing mat at the 10K mark.

We spotted the Philippine flag!
Old Town Chicago
We continued on through Boys Town and Lakeview, as we progressed down Clark Street, and into Lincoln Park.  The course continued down Sedgwick Street and Wells Street, as we returned to River North and the tall buildings of the downtown coming near.  We slowed down a bit over the last few miles as we broke into the second hour of our race, shortening our pace once again, now to 9 minutes on and 1 minute off.  We reached the 20k mark a bit slower than the last several splits, and hit the halfway mark in officially 2:21:18, which Mico was comfortable with - not too fast, not too slow. This gave us some wiggle room in still managing a sub-5 hour marathon, but now the hard work began.

Finding De Moe in the West Loop!
We passed through the West Loop, now heading down Franklin Street, before turning right onto Monroe Street.  Just before turning left onto Jefferson Street, my friend Anna was there cheering, but I didn't hear her until we made another turn onto Adams Street and she found me again yelling out my name. Around the same time, Mico and I came across my friend De Moe, in his unmistakeable kilt, but decked out in all pink. We stopped for a quick selfie before continuing on, running down Adams Street westward as we passed through the Charity Mile, past tents housing the charities that many of my fellow runners raised thousands of dollars of money for.  We continued past mile 15, and at Damen Avenue near the United Center, we turned left, to run one block down to Jackson Boulevard.  Just as we were turning onto Damen, I hear a bunch of folks calling my name - and I spot my cousin Jose and his wife Malu and kids JJ and Ian. They were all out cheering for Jose and Malu's eldest child, Inna, who was running her first marathon that day! The 25K mat was on the block where we turned onto Damen, clocking a split of 2:50:54.
Champagne stop along the Charity Mile
Heading east on Jackson Blvd
Mico and I continued down Jackson Boulevard, passing miles 16 and 17, with the Willis Tower (formerly Sears Tower) completely shrouded in clouds in the distance, before turning right onto Halsted Street, as we ran alongside a stretch of course next to University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC). We turned right then on Taylor Street, as we passed by Chicago's Little Italy and University Village in the Near West Side. After turning left onto Loomis Street, we hit the 30K mark in 3:26:34, consistent with a 35 minute 5K, and just a hair faster than the last 5K split. We continued on with a manageable pace, doing the 9 minute/1 minute intervals with the water stations interspersed for shorter stops right up until we reached the 19 mile point. We then turned left once again, now heading into the lively neighborhood of Pilsen, where Latin music wofted through the atmosphere, giving us a little beat to groove to as we ran down 18th Street, as we slowed our intervals down to 4 minutes/1 minute, to give Mico's tired legs a bit more rest. We turned right on Halsted once again passing the 20 mile mark, then made a quick pitstop at some port-a-potties at the intersection with Canalport Ave, where we'd make a sharp u-turn at Cermak, past an artists' loft building that used to be home to the Chicago Macaroni Company, pumping out 82 varieties of pasta at the turn of the 20th century, as much as 150,000 pounds of pasta a day! The plant closed in 1968, and now houses the Lacuna Artist Lofts, which rents event space and work space for artists and other creative endeavors.

Passing through Pilsen
The Cermak Road Bridge
We made the turn onto left turn onto Cermak, and continued along the course as it made its way toward the imposing looking Cermak Road Bridge going over the Chicago River with a very slight uphill, the last real "hill" to encounter before the well known 26 mile mark hill on Roosevelt Road just before the finish. I kept on pushing us toward making our intervals, and Mico was doing quite well, considering we were now past the distance of her longest run in preparation of this race.  As we made our way through Chinatown (where was the dragon?!), we realized that Mico was now in "uncharted territory," and despite this, she was still feeling pretty good with the way the intervals gave her legs time to stave off the pain.  We turned right onto Wentworth Avenue, for a long straightaway section that took us southward and right alongside the Dan Ryan Expressway. Here, we encountered my friend Jim, struggling in the final miles of the race with leg cramps.  We also passed the 35K timing mat, clocking in at 4:06:00 (and our slowest 5K split) with 7k to go. We continued on south, as the course veered left on 33rd Street and into the campus of the Illinois Institute of Technology, and just before turning once again on State, Mico had her first real test of fortitude, as her calves began to cramp, with only 5K left to go.
Continuing on through Chinatown, and well past Mico's longest run to date...

Only 1.2 miles to go! We can hit 5 hrs!
We stopped to massage the cramp away for a short period of time, then continued along the course on State Street, knowing the course ran only another 1/3 of a mile south to 35th Street, before turning left once more to run another 2/10 of a mile.  When we made the stop, I noted that my watch indicated we had been on course for 4 hours and 20 minutes, giving us roughly forty minutes to finish the last 5K to get us under 5 hours; easily doable if we kept on at this interval and this pace.  Surprised by that revelation, Mico at first wasn't so sure about needing to finish under a certain time - she was more concerned about finishing without injuries; but with only three miles to go, something kind of clicked - she felt ok, and pushing felt fine, maybe she could finish before the cramping came back (haha) - that "5 is doable." We began our last northward progression along Indiana Avenue, as we set our sights on the straight shot northward to the finish line back in Grant Park.  Ken passed us with his 4:55 pace group, which I knew was going to happen somewhere in these last three miles, but at least that way, Mico had visible proof that we were still within striking distance of that potential time goal. The course veered leftward one block back onto Michigan Avenue near 31st Street, and the 24 mile mark appeared, where my cousin Mark's girlfriend Hanna had told us she'd be to cheer us on.  Hers was a good face to see as we came upon the last two miles of the race!

Finishers! Mico is relieved. LOL...
The last two miles were a bit of a blur, but we crossed the 40K mark in 4:44:14, averaging a 12:19 mile for the last 5K, a slight improvement from the previous 5K split.  We were still some 1.36 miles from the finish, and with just over 15 minutes of time left before the 5:00 mark, we would be VERY close. The crowds thickened as we came up Michigan Avenue and inched our way closer and closer to Grant Park, then before long, we were at the turn onto Roosevelt Road, and the dreaded "Mount Roosevelt," the only real significant incline in the entire race.  Though it was tough, we climbed that sucker with as much gusto as we could in our legs as we passed the countdown banners indicating we had 800 and 400 meters left in the race... though the 5:00 hour clicked by, we made the turn onto Columbus Drive, and found ourselves crossing the finish line in 5:00:57.  Mico, thrilled that we were done, was now a marathoner!

A wet Victory Headstand!
Exhausted, we trudged through the finish line chute, grabbing photos with our well deserved medals, then exited out to find the Ronald McDonald House Tent, where hot food and a place to sit were waiting for us. Mico's friend Nathan, who was in town from Miami and also attending the conference in town later that week, came by to greet us and celebrate with us immediately following the race.  After Mico and I refilled our empty stomachs with food, we then headed back to the hotel to take much needed showers, then retired downstairs to the hotel bar to have a drink with Nathan. We then headed up to Boys Town to celebrate with fellow runners at Side Track Video Bar, one of my favorite places to relax and have drinks in the city - with delicious frozen alcoholic beverages! The three of us then got dinner at nearby New American spot, Wood.  Tired from a long day, Mico and I both began to grow lethargic after dinner, and we retired back downtown, as our Lyft stopped Nathan at his hotel before dropping Mico and I back at the Residence Inn, as the skies opened up to a heavy downpour.  We crashed bigtime that night, and slept well!
College friend Drew the next morning!
Monday was a holiday for me, and my flight wasn't until later in the day, so I made plans to grab brunch at Bongo Room in the South Loop with my college friend Drew, also now a first time marathon finisher (I never found him or my cousin Kaye on the course!) We had a fun time reminiscing about our college days and what we thought of the race, before heading downtown to get our medals engraved at the Nike Store! After dropping off my medal, I had plans to eat once again, this time with another college friend Mark, an attorney now living in Chicago who is also friends with my cousin Chrissy through an Filipino lawyers network.  We headed to a dimsum place not far from the Nike Store, where we also got a chance to reminisce about college life and catch up on our lives since the early 2000s!  After getting my medal and returning to my cousin's apartment to grab my suitcase, I headed out to O'Hare Airport for the trip home later that night.  Another Chicago Marathon done, another vivid memory made!