Friday, November 1, 2019

Race Report: Ann Arbor Marathon

In my lead up to my goal race for spring 2019, the Two Oceans Ultramarathon in South Africa, my March was mostly empty, and with most races in Europe not starting until April, I decided to look domestically for marathons to add to my schedule last minute.  Those who know me know that I'm quite particular about courses and I'm more likely to pick a point to point or one big loop course rather than a multiple loop course; with the third weekend of March open, I found the Los Angeles Marathon (a race I've done before) as an option as well as the Ann Arbor Marathon, once my residence when I attended the University of Michigan for my college years.  The Ann Arbor Marathon was a double loop course - not really my cup of tea, but because I was familiar with the city, I felt it would be nostalgic to run there.  I was able to book the national anthem gig after reaching out to the race director, Eva Solomon, via email, and soon secured flights for a weekend back in the city I lived in from 2002 to 2006.

I left very early on Saturday morning on a 6am flight, reaching Detroit around an hour and twenty minutes later.  I grabbed my car rental (ending up getting an upgrade to a full sized Chevy Malibu when no mid-sizes were available in the lot) and headed out to Ann Arbor, heading to the Kerrytown Historic District to grab a cup of coffee at Mighty Good Coffee, a local roaster.  I bided time working on some race reports while enjoying the ambience of being back in a college town, and before long, I headed out to the race expo at the 2|42 Community Center a few miles west of campus.

At the race expo, I retrieved my bib and met with Eva to quickly go over logistics for the following morning.  It was great to see friends Clint and Aaron from the Glass City Marathon, who were there advertising the races that they run in Toledo (only an hour south) and the DXA2, a half marathon  they recently took over that runs from Dexter to Ann Arbor. I also briefly saw Rob and Liz, who I met while doing the Pyramids Marathon in Egypt, and chatted with my friend Jayvee, who was running the half marathon as his 35th half state.

Lunch at Wolverine State Brewing Co!
I was starting to get hungry, so I sought out a local brewery, and made my way there for a late lunch. Wolverine State Brewing Company, which has been around since 2006 (the year I graduated from Michigan), was located off of campus and had a great menu of sandwiches and local brews, which I got to partake in.  I then headed back to campus to finally check into my Airbnb and drop off my backpack.  After exchanging a few text messages with my friend and former career advisor, Beth, we agreed to meet up at the Art and Architecture Building on North Campus, where she toured me around the new addition of the building, which I got to briefly peruse when I came back to town the previous year after running Glass City Marathon in Toledo.  Dinner was relatively early that evening, and I met up with my spring break intern, Jake, at one of my old haunts, Pizza House, while watching Michigan beat Nevada in the second round of the NCAA Basketball Tournament. Altogether a great day, and I called it an early night to head back home, tired after having woken so early for my flight in.
Enjoying Ann Arbor at night
The startline
I woke up at 6am the following morning, quickly getting dressed and out the door to head to the race startline.  My rental car's windshield, sitting in an open parking lot, was covered in a thin layer of frost, still common for this time of year in Michigan. I warmed the car up while scraping off the frost then was on my way, parking in the Crisler Center (Michigan's basketball arena) parking lot, a short walk from the startline.  About a week before the race, we were informed that the race was going to start and finish in a slightly different location, taking over S. 5th Avenue in front of Fingerle Lumber, a longtime Ann Arbor business providing carpentry and renovation materials for the area since 1931 that would be closing for good the following week.  While normally starting and finishing near Michigan Stadium, this move still allowed traffic to flow freely around the area, and runners still got to see the humongous "M" at the stadium during the run.  It was quite a chilly morning, hitting just below the 30ยบ mark, so I kept myself as bundled up as possible.
Running near the stadium!
I met up with Eva and race announcer Justin at 7:15, and shortly thereafter was called up to the stage to sing the national anthem.  It was a meaningful rendition for me, since I got to sing the anthem in a place I once called home. After singing, I headed into the corrals, ready to take on the 26.2 miles in front of me.  I crossed the start line some 15 seconds after the gun sounded, making my way south along 5th, and beginning the race by looping around Hill Street, Brown Street and Hoover Street, as we caught sight of Michigan Stadium in the distance.  We continued to loop around Elbel Field, practice field for the renowned Michigan Marching Band, along Division Street, before turning right onto Hill.  The road was riddled with potholes, not a surprise coming off of a normal Michigan winter, but also an obvious realization of the condition of roads in general throughout the city.

Passing the Law Library
Our first real uphill section came off of the aptly named Hill Street, as we turned left onto State Street, the campus' primary north-south road.  We only ran up State Street, a rather steep incline, for a block, as we passed by the Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy, turning right onto Monroe Street. As we ran east along Monroe, we passed by the striking Gothic-style buildings that form the Law Quad, and the first mile of the race, which I ran in an affable sub-10 minute pace.  We continued to zig-zag through campus, turning left onto Tappan Avenue, and then right onto South University Street, as we ran past several prominent buildings on the campus of the University: the Hatcher Graduate Library, the Clements Library, the all-female dormitory of the Martha Cook Building, the Shapiro Undergraduate Library, the School of Social Work, and finally West Hall.

The area I knew as "C.C. Little"
We turned left off of South University, jumping onto the curb, as we proceeded to run down the East University pedestrian mall.  We headed northward between several university buildings, some of which I attended class in as an undergrad!  We crossed North University Street, passing by the Central Campus Transit Center (formerly known as C.C. Little, named after a former university president, but recently changed) and toward the university's brand new Biological Sciences Building and its distinctive glass and terra cotta exterior. We veered slightly left between buildings and past Palmer Commons, before crossing the pedestrian bridge over Washtenaw Avenue.  We then skirted alongside Palmer Field, known for its track and the site for recreational sports and club team sports, then followed the sidewalk paths as it meandered between the dormitories of Stockwell and Mosher-Jordan, two of the five "hill dorms" clustered on the eastern edge of campus.  By the time we reached here, we were only two miles into the race, and we were now headed away from campus.
Running over the pedestrian bridge at Washtenaw Avenue
Near the "Hill" dorms on Observatory
We ran southward along Observatory Street, along the edge of Forest Hill Cemetery, before turning left on Geddes Avenue, as we began our longest stretch of rolling straightaway. We ran through a largely residential neighborhood known as Angell, named for the U-M’s longest-serving president, James Angell. The streets north of Geddes were lined with large, stately older homes built in the 1920s and 1930s, while to the south, were more individualistic homes in one of the city's most wealthy districts. Many of the residents here are doctors and medical professionals associated with the university's medical school and medical center, just up the hill.  As we navigated the stretch of road, I finally had the opportunity to chat up fellow runners running at my same pace, which included a couple students, one of which was currently in the Stamps School of Art and Design; and an older gentleman, visiting from nearby Lansing. The road slightly curved as we ran alongside the Huron River for a short period of time, reaching the fourth mile of the race before looping onto Huron Parkway.

Heading east out of the main campus
From Huron Parkway, we turned left onto Huron River Drive, as the course flattened out and continued its eastward route past the Huron Hills Golf Course and the South Pond Nature Area.  It was quite peaceful out here, with this area largely forested and taken over by nature. We eventually passed underneath US-23, giving a high five to a volunteer directing us to turn left (the road to Washtenaw Community College was to the right), and made our way to a slightly more hilly area as we reached the easternmost point of the race.  Just before mile 6, I spotted a dead raccoon on the side of the road, but passed by it too quickly to take a picture, noting its location as I planned to take its photo on my second trip through the area in a couple hours time. It was also near here where I encountered a lady bedecked in a rainbow and unicorn headband, with unicorns adorning her skirt and her socks, and we would strike up a fun conversation that would last over the next 6.5 miles.

Running with Melissa!
Melissa lived in Saline, Michigan, the town just south of Ann Arbor, and was running the half marathon today, more of as a training run in preparation for a longer distance goal race she had in her sights. She was planning to run an easy ten minute mile pace, which happened to be just what I was doing, so we stayed with each other for the remainder of her race.  We turned onto Dixboro Road, crossing over the bridge that overlooked the Huron River and Dixboro Dam down below (the Ann Arbor Wastewater Treatment Plant is located just downstream), and after descending down Old Dixboro Road to the Gallup Park Path, part of the 40 miles of existing trail that make up the Border-to-Border (B2B) trail in Washtenaw County. Right along the banks of the Huron River, we were treated to some spectators urging us on with Japanese Taiko, continuing the next three miles on the gently rolling Gallup Park Path. Roughly halfway on this stretch, we passed through Gallup Park itself and one of the relay exchange stations, located at the park's parking lot. We kept a pretty consistent pace, running just below 10 minute pace for each mile.
The Dixboro Dam
Running along the Gallup Park Path
Fuller Road, passing by Mitchell Field
We crossed over a pedestrian bridge just over 9 miles in, with Ann Arbor's VA Hospital looming overhead.  At this point, I knew we were the closest we would come to the university's North Campus.  We skirting the side of a fenced in soccer field in the expansive Mitchell Field area just north of Nichols Arboretum. We then followed the sidewalk along Fuller Road westward.  This was an area familiar to me as an undergrad, as I regularly rode the bus between Central Campus and North Campus that would drive along Fuller Road.  It was just over half a mile along this sidewalk, when we reached Medical Center Drive, where we went uphill over the railroad tracks up toward the university's medical campus and University Hospital.  We then followed the lower road that ramped down below the hospital's helipad, arriving to the lower entrance to Nichols Arboretum.

Entering "The Arb"
Nichols Arboretum, known locally as the Arb, is a 123 acre arboretum located on the eastern edge of Central Campus, designed in 1906 using the steep glacial topography of the area.  Containing an extensive, but dispersed collection of native and exotic trees and shrubs, we entered the Arb and began running alongside the Huron River on the dirt trail which was beginning to look a little wet from its use today - from 10K runners who ran through about an hour earlier up to the half marathoners running there at that point.  Melissa and I walked as the trail began to ascend sharply some 100 feet to its highest point within the Arb, then rising another 100 feet as we made our exit out of the Arb onto Washington Street in front of Mary Markley Hall, one of the hill dorms. We ran underneath the Vaughan School of Public Health's Crossroads building, turning left onto Observatory Street, then began to run the gradual downhill back through campus, zigzagging along the city streets as we made our way through the campus.
Coming to the halfway point!
We ventured down the steep slope of State Street before turning onto Hill, and I separated from Melissa at this point as she continued straight ahead toward the finish, while I turned left, following Division Street past Elbel Field, then completed a loop of Brown and Greene Streets, before coming right back onto Hill to begin my second loop of the course.  Just as I was about to reach State Street for the sharp ascent once again, I ran into Jayvee, making his way toward the finish line for the half, and we gave each other a quick high five, as I began my second loop of the course.
Seeing Jayvee as I began my second loop

Quick pic w/ the Central Campus sign
While it was less crowded, there still was a decent amount of runners spread out along the course as I continued this second loop.  I had caught up with the 4:30 pace group for miles 14 and 15, and ran alongside them as we weaved through campus, but eventually lost track of them just before we made our way back onto Geddes Avenue on our way out of campus. They were still within sight, but the rolling hills would end up slowing me down on this second go around.  My legs were definitely tired from the first 13 miles of running, and I wasn't registering as fast mile pace as before, though I did manage to eke in a 10:11 and 10:43 mile at miles 17 and 18 as the course took on some nice longer downhill stretches. It was nice to see several volunteers and spectators still out on the course, including the volunteer giving out high fives after passing underneath US-23, and the Taiko drummers along the Gallup Park Path.  And if you were wondering, I did stop for a a photo of the dead raccoon on the second go-around, of course!
An artistic shot with a dead raccoon
The traditional mile 25 shot!
I ran considerably slower down the park path, but still managed to pass a couple people, and knew I was still on course to have a pretty respectable time.  The 4:30 pacers were out of sight, so I didn't really have a good grasp of how far behind them I was, especially considering I still had yet to ascend the big hill in the Arb for the second time.  When I did get there, the trail was considerably muddier, and I did get my shoes a little dirty as I traipsed through this ascent as best as I could.  Once the uphills were done, I knew I had less than 1.5 miles to go, I knew I was probably about 15 minutes from the finish line.  My watch read 4:30, and I knew that I had a sub 4:45 in me, which could catapult this race into one of my fastest I've run.

Excited about the end!
I zigzagged back through campus, pushing myself to the finish line as strong as my legs could take me.  Once I got to Hill Street, I knew I would definitely go under 4:45, but how far under was left to be seen.  My legs were TIRED, and I knew I still had to turn right at 5th Avenue then push to the finish line.  I crossed the finish line to the cheers of spectators and Jared announcing my name, and after catching my breath glanced down at my watch... 4:44:28, at that point my 5th fastest marathon of now 96 I have completed. Over twelve minutes faster than my last marathon, the Chattanooga Marathon two weeks prior. The Ann Arbor Marathon was such a fun marathon for me... so nostalgic.  Even though it was two loops (and I detest looped courses), I actually didn't mind running through the campus and the city twice!
Victory Headstand with the Big House in the background.
Post race lunch at Zingerman's Deli!
I drank a celebratory 26.2 Brew from Marathon Brewing Company, then grabbed a breakfast burrito to go before walking back to my car. I managed to get some other runners walking by to help me take my Victory Headstand photo with the stadium in my background, as well as a couple jumping photos near some block M signage at the Crisler Center. I then headed back to my Airbnb to grab a shower and pack up my things before meeting up with Jayvee for a late lunch at Zingerman's Deli in Kerrytown, a must-do whenever I'm in Ann Arbor.  We enjoyed our sandwiches, then he joined me as we drove around campus - I got to show Jayvee where I spent much of my time over the four years I lived in Ann Arbor.  I even tried to retell all the superstitions we were taught as students - in particular, never to cross the block M in the Diag until after your bluebooks are over.  My flight was later that night back home to New York, so I bided my time in town, taking it in as much as I can, before heading to the airport.  I was exhausted... it had been a quick, but busy two days back in Ann Arbor, but completely worth it!
A wolverine, his marathon medal, and his alma mater.

Friday, October 25, 2019

Race Report: United Airlines NYC Half Marathon

The 2019 course
Old vs. new courses (changes in 2018)
The New York City Half Marathon has a special place in my heart, because the 2014 edition was my very first half marathon.  I ran the race again the following year, and hadn't run it since.  In 2018, they overhauled the course that used to start in Central Park with a full loop of its main road, through Times Square, then following the West Side Highway all the way to Wall Street in Lower Manhattan - instead, they started the race at Brooklyn's Grand Army Plaza, crossing the Manhattan Bridge into Manhattan, then following FDR Drive through to Times Square, before running a loop of Central Park and finishing at Tavern on the Green, the same spot where the NYC Marathon finishes every year. The 2019 edition was tweaked slightly to start within Prospect Park. So my five year anniversary of running half marathons would be celebrated with the race that started it all for me... with the United Airlines New York City Half Marathon - my 94th half.

Pre-race dinner on the UWS!
Friends from out of town started coming in on Friday, and I got to start off the weekend, which happened to be St. Patrick's Day weekend, fittingly at an Irish pub on the Upper West Side.  My friend Donna was hosting our mutual friend Pam, visiting from Mississippi, so I met them there after work on Friday for dinner and drinks. We ended up getting caught in a serious downpour when we left the pub, as I traversed an avenue to get to the downtown train. Luckily, the skies cleared up on Saturday morning, and I woke up early enough to make a trip back into Manhattan to run an easy 3.5 miles with Front Runners in Central Park, then join in on the weekly Saturday breakfast at Rutgers Church. That evening, I joined a bunch of friends at an Upper West Side Italian restaurant for dinner, many from out of town coming to race the NYC Half.

Oh, what a beautiful morning...
It was a super early morning, waking at 4:45am to get myself dressed and out the door to walk over to 75th and Roosevelt.  I found the Queens Distance Runners shuttle, and joined them on this early morning ride to Prospect Park.  We got there a little after 6, with still two hours left before my start, so I bided my time trying to stay warm in this cold air.  The sun eventually rose, and I made it past the security checkpoint and into the Nethermead, where runners congregated before heading into their corrals.  The area was totally ready for 25,000 runners to descend - there were a good 1,000 portapotties spread out in this open area.  Around 7:15, I would find Heather, and hand over the handmade "#ShiftyCanadian" back bib I made her, and take a few photos. After she headed to her corrals for her 7:50 start with Wave 2.  I was in Wave 3, and had an 8:10 start.
My Canadian buddy Heather
Heather is a "Shifty Canadian"
FRNY all bundled up before the race!
About to start!
Nick found me about 15 minutes later, and was my saving grace with some handwarmers - despite wearing gloves, my fingers were starting to get NUMB.  We then made our way over to the corrals, where we'd find Kat bundled up and ready to run. The corrals began to move shortly after 8:10, and we were quickly on our way to the start mat.

First mile thru Prospect Park
We crossed the start mat at 8:16am, with the first mile of the race fully in the park, a change from last year's race. Starting on Center Drive, we headed east, then hooked up onto the main loop of the park, to summit Battle Pass Hill on the north end, signaling the first mile of the race.  We took a conservative pace making it up the hill, reaching it in just around 10 minute pace, before bearing right onto the road heading out onto the street through Grand Army Plaza. We bore right to continue onto Flatbush Avenue, taking us on a nice steady descent. I broke away from Kat and Nick, telling them I planned to continue my normal interval at the 19 minute mark, so in order to stay in close proximity with each other, I needed to take advantage of the downhill. We would continue to the turnaround point just before Empire Boulevard, naturally slowing down as we made our way up Flatbush. My second mile would end up being the fastest of the race, taking a whole minute off of the first mile.

Running past Grand Army Plaza
We passed Grand Army Plaza once again, and made a nice long downhill along Flatbush, as it made its way toward Downtown Brooklyn. I saw both Kat and Nick on the run back uphill on the other side of the road.  We would hit the mile 3 mark near the Barclays Center (a 29:50 5K, per official splits), as I continued along on a steady sub 10-minute mile pace. We reached mile 4 just as the course began to flatten out a bit; there were a few people out cheering for us, but it was markedly not like the experience of running along 4th Avenue during the marathon in November. My speed definitely got me feeling a bit warmer, so eventually I would discard my handwarmers before getting to the bridge.
Hello Downtown Brooklyn!
The Manhattan Bridge!
Eventually, we were staring at the ascent to the Manhattan Bridge.  I held on past my watch beeping at the 39 minute mark, as we crossed Myrtle Avenue, since the road was still flat. I made it past Tillary Street, and picked one of the gantries along the roadway as a landmark to stop at and do my customary one minute walk.  I was surprised how narrow the roadway was - we were running on the two lanes on the "northern" roadway of the bridge, seeing traffic going in both directions on the southern roadway. I did stop for a quick selfie along the bridge, as we had some magnificent views of the downtown skyline, with One World Trade Center positioned prominently behind me.  Nick was not far behind me, and we ran together across the span over the water.

That's a long way down from up here.
I registered a 10:30 mile 5, expected with the ascent, but promptly returned to a faster mile as we made our descent down the bridge into Manhattan.  I took another quick photo as I saw runners making their way down Pike Street below, then barrelled down the bridge as best as I could.  Notably, the downhill to the East River is longer and greater than the climb to the top. We rounded the corner at Canal Street, then turned right onto Pike Street, continuing to take advantage of downhill momentum as the course headed to South Street.  My sixth mile came in at a 9:17, and registered a strong 1:00:18 as I crossed the 10K timing mat.  I made a quick stop alongside the bridge to empty out a small pebble that made its way to the sole of my shoe.
Just came off of the Manhattan Bridge, about to enter FDR Drive
Running near Stuy Town on FDR Dr.
We turned left onto South Street, and from then began a stretch of the course that was super flat.  We ran underneath FDR Drive for several blocks, until we crossed underneath the roadway and made our way onto the drive itself at Montgomery Street. It would be nice and flat over the next three miles (save for a slight incline near Stuyvesant Town) as we had the entire northbound roadway of FDR Drive overlooking the East River to ourselves. I ran a few sub-10 minute miles along the way, sticking to my 19:1 interval, and even hit the 15K mark at 1:30:47, continuing a pretty evenly split 5K since the beginning of the race. The roadway ended at the United Nations Secretariat building and veered left to turn into 42nd Street.
The Empire State Building in view as we run on FDR Drive
Running west on 42nd Street
I've run the Dash to the Finish 5K (the 5K run the day before the NYC Marathon) six times now - every year since 2013 - and its course is almost exactly like the last three miles of this NYC Half course, with the slight exception being our run north along 6th Avenue (in the 5K) instead of 7th, and taking the lower loop of the park (in the 5K) instead of crossing the 72nd Street transverse.  So in my mind, I felt I knew how to tackle 42nd Street.  But oh, how tough it ended up being!  Almost immediately as we made our way off of FDR and onto 42nd, I felt my legs feel like lead, running along the slightly ascending roadway.  My friend and fellow FRNY member Todd was there, cheering me on as I took a quick walk break, and lo and behold, Nick was right behind me, catching up to me for the last 5K of the race.  We both felt terrible as we tried our darnedest to make our way along 42nd, and I ended up having to take a walk break near the Park Avenue overpass before catching back up to him near 5th Avenue. As I monitored our time, I yelled out to him that his goal of 2:08 was within reach, if he maintained a 10 minute pace from here on out.

Times Square!
The spectators were out in full force as we made our way through the shut down Times Square, turning right onto 7th Avenue.  This was the centerpiece of the race - the only time other than New Year's Eve when Times Square is shut down to vehicular traffic. I struggle-bus'd my way up 7th Avenue alongside Nick as we found another troupe of Front Runners stationed just past the M&Ms Store after the 11 mile mark.  At 53rd Street, I had to take another walk break as Nick broke off again in front of me. At 60th Street, we turned right, and while I gained a bit of speed, it wasn't enough to catch up to him. I happened upon Heather and her unmistakable Canada jacket on the north end of 60th Street as I blasted past. We made our turn into Central Park at the 12 mile mark on its southeastern entrance, roughly where FRNY was in charge of a water station, and I got to see more friends who cheered me on to conquer this last mile.  I was spent, though -- I shuffled as we made our way through the rolling hills of this short part of the park.  Kat had quite a final kick, as I saw her distinctive shock of blonde hair run past me, and even past Nick as she hauled ass to the finish line on the other side of 72nd Street.  And that's how we would finish - Kat in front with a 2:08:41, Nick a little over thirty seconds behind her in 2:09:13; and me over thirty seconds behind him in 2:09:56.

NYC Half... complete!
Coming into this race, we all wanted to stay under a 10 minute pace, which is what we accomplished. While it was just short of Nick's goal, it was a 5 second PR for him; I was ultimately just looking for under 2:15 - if I could even get below my fastest half in NYC, a 2:12, I'd be even more happy.  I totally blasted past that goal by nearly 2 1/2 minutes!  So this race was a happy finish for me... it also meant that I was back to my ~2:10 half marathon time, right in the pocket for a successful marathon time similar to what I was accomplishing at the end of 2018.  We posed for several pictures before making the long slog down the park's West Drive to Columbus Circle, where we could finally exit.  Nick helped me take my headstand photo at Merchants Gate, featuring the Maine Monument (commemorating the 260 American sailors who perished in February 1898 when the USS Maine exploded in the harbor of Havana, Cuba) behind me.  I then headed to the FRNY brunch, held at a member's apartment near to Columbus Circle, before changing into some dry clothes, and meeting up with a coworker to catch The Cher Show on Broadway later that afternoon.  It was so much fun getting to run this race again, especially with the new course... and hope to enjoy it in the years to come!
Victory Headstand at the Maine Monument

Monday, October 21, 2019

Race Report: Chattanooga Marathon

The Chattanooga Marathon was a very late addition to my race calendar.  As March was looking pretty empty, I actually decided to join the field barely a week before the race date itself. I was casually looking at ways to fill this hole in my schedule with a distance race, since Two Oceans Marathon in South Africa was looming in April, and I had still yet to run a marathon under 5 hours since restarting my distance runs in 2019, and Two Oceans has a strict 5 hour time cut off at the 42K mark of the 54K race.  Originally, I was considering the Snickers Marathon in Albany, Georgia, but after chatting with my friends local to the area, I ended up booking Chattanooga, while also including a brand new race the Atlanta Track Club was putting on, called the "Road to Gold," a test event for the club for the 2020 Olympic Trials which would be held exactly one year later.

The course for Road to Gold would be the final 8 mile loop that the Olympic hopefuls would be running to stamp their ticket to the 2020 Tokyo Summer Olympics later that year. Not only would the Road to Gold include some 1700 recreational runners, but elite runners hoping to make the Olympic Team, and wanting to test out part of this course, would start off the race.  My friend Winnie, manager of events for the ATC, also needed a national anthem singer for the race and convinced me to come down.  At the same time, as a bona fide race enabler, I got her to sign up for Chattanooga on Sunday too, allowing us a nice road trip just two hours outside of Atlanta.  I booked an easy flight down on Friday night for a decent price, and I was set for a 34 mile weekend... exactly the same amount of mileage I would be running in South Africa!

Landing Friday night was a breeze, and I took the MARTA straight toward Winnie's apartment north of town. Luckily, I had dinner on the plane ride over, so after she picked me up, we both went straight to sleep, as Winnie was going to be waking up only a few hours later in order to make it for her 3am call time at the race start.  I got to sleep in a few more hours, getting my friend Jim to pick me up at 5:45, making our way to parking at Mercedes Benz Stadium by 6:15, with ample time for me to get my bib at race central and then meet with the ATC crew handling the start shortly thereafter.

As runners began to congregate downtown, the chilly temperatures definitely pierced the air, and after a little delay due to some unforeseen circumstances (Bad Boys III filming right at our startline!) I headed to the mic to sing the national anthem.  We got to see the elite men and women start before we put ourselves behind the start mats and began our 8 mile run through the city.
Watching the Elites start

With Jim and Jessie, post race.
Like the several other races I've run in Atlanta, the course was hilly.  Most of the course contained elements of the other races I've run, notably parts along Peachtree Street and the stretch toward the Olympic Rings and Centennial Olympic Cauldron at Capitol Avenue.  I ran a surprisingly fast 8 miles, coming in at 1:15:52, a pace of 9:29 per mile.  After finishing the race, I headed over to the race central area to retrieve my race bag and commemorative scarf, also seeing the elites receive their awards. I met 2016 Olympian Jared Ward, who remarked that he really enjoyed my rendition of the national anthem, almost distracting him from the start of his race!  (Sorry Jared!)  I also posed for a few photos with friends Jim and Jessie, and caught up with my college friend James who was also running the race, before Jim and I headed to The Silver Skillet for breakfast, then back to his house until Winnie was done with her duties.

With Jared Ward after the race; and he commented on my Instagram post, too!

Mmm... dessert!
Winnie and I got on the road just before 1pm, and made our way out to Chattanooga in roughly two hours. We headed straight for the small expo at First Tennessee Pavilion, an open air covered pavilion adjacent to Finley Stadium, and home of the Chattanooga Market, a local food and arts market which runs every Sunday, May-November each year. We made our way to our Airbnb, a cute first floor apartment less than two miles away and rested a bit before we met up with my friend Ralph at Chattanooga Brewing Company for an early dinner, then retired back to the apartment for the evening.  After all, we had another early morning ahead of us the next day.

The race begins!
6am came too quickly, and we got ourselves dressed (in my case, bundled up!) and out the door to overcast skies, and the air saturated with humidity. Rain had been forecast for the area, and getting wet was going to be inevitable - however, what was initially thought of to be steady rain before dawn and throughout the day turned into a light drizzle from the 7am hour, not turning into any significant precipitation until around 11pm, some 3 1/2 hours after the race start. We sat in our car for a little bit until it was some 15 minutes til the gun, finally deciding to go out to the startline on Reggie White Boulevard - right between the stadium and the First Tennessee Pavilion, just a short walk away. They played the national anthem over the loudspeakers (yes, played it... I emailed them offering to sing it, but nope, they played an instrumental version.  Whatever.) and then we self-seeded within the corrals. Winnie and I found Ralph and we started the race shortly after 7:30am, taking off northward for about 1/2 a mile into the City Center, before turning right onto 11th Street, then right again onto Market Street.  It was 46°, super overcast, and rain in the forecast, especially for the later hours of the race.

The Chattanooga Choo Choo
Market Street is Chattanooga's de facto north-south "Main Street," where many locally owned establishments from mom and pop luncheonettes to clothing stores and other retailers are located.  Making our way southward along Market Street, we would pass by the famous Chattanooga Choo-Choo, once the Terminal Station for the city, the first train station in the south (built in 1908) to help open a pathway to connect the north from the south, mostly to connect the city of Cincinnati, to Chattanooga. After the decline of railroad passenger traffic after World War II and other means of travel becoming more popular (interstate road travel and flying), the station closed its doors to the public in 1970.  It was saved by the wrecking ball in 1973 by a group of businessmen who were inspired by the internationally known 1941 big band/swing song, "Chattanooga Choo Choo," made popular by Glenn Miller and His Orchestra, renovating the station into a hotel and convention center. Within its grand Beaux-Arts style exterior, it contains unique accommodations - guests can stay in half of a restored Pullman train car - as well as amenities, such as the complex's fine dining venue, housed in a restored 1938 Class A dining car.

The Olgiati Bridge behind me
(Official Photo by the Erlanger
Chattanooga Marathon)
We continued on south, eventually turning right onto 20th Street, following the road underneath US-27 and onto the Riverfront Parkway on the west side of the city.  This road, barricaded from the Tennessee River by a largely industrial and manufacturing area, was nice and flat; as we continued north along the parkway, at one point reaching the 5K mark of the race, which I ran in a respectable 30:44 (9:55 pace). Eventually, the Tennessee River finally came into view, as did the span of the Olgiati Bridge, a simple steel girder bridge we would be running underneath. Of the four bridge crossings over the river in downtown Chattanooga, we would be crossing only two of them; this one and the Market Street bridge would be left to vehicular traffic.  This, of course, differed from Chattanooga's other marathon offering, the 7 Bridges Marathon, which takes runners across all four bridges, plus the two other bridges in the eastern part of the city near the Chickamauga Dam. This point of the race until the halfway mark (roughly the next nine miles) would be the section of the course that would be repeated twice, to begin again after a four mile detour after the halfway point of the race.

Running to the Tennessee Aquarium
Continuing along Riverfront Parkway took us behind the Tennessee Aquarium, one of the country's top aquariums, the building designed to serve as a cornerstone for redevelopment in downtown Chattanooga by reconnecting the city with the Tennessee River.  Its two buildings are organized the theme of water traveling through the Tennessee River system from the mountains to the sea. Along the river and across the street from the aquarium was Ross's Landing, the last site of the Cherokee's 61-year occupation of Chattanooga and is considered to be the embarkation point of the Cherokee removal on the Trail of Tears. Ross's Landing Riverfront Park memorializes the location, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.  The Market Street Bridge was to our left, the unique concrete arch bridge with a center steel-truss draw span, standing 70 feet above the surface of the Tennessee River.
The Market Street Bridge in view
Running on Veterans Memorial Bridge
Immediately behind the Market Street Bridge was the Walnut Street Bridge, the pedestrian bridge we would be running over when coming back from the other side of the river.  But first, we had to make the first steep ascent of the race, nearly 100 feet of rise over just 1/4 mile.  We powered through as we passed the modern wing of the Hunter Museum of American Art, an art museum with collections of 19th and 20th century American art situated on an 80 foot bluff overlooking the river and Downtown Chattanooga. A tiny bit more ascent was required as we rounded the corner and found the crest of the parkway, which overlooked Veterans Memorial Bridge, where we could see the faster runners running across.  We were finally treated to a bit of downhill as we made our way to a break in the siderail that took us down to Batter Place, where we ran to Georgia Avenue and the mile 5 mark of the race.  Turning left there began our trek across the Veterans Memorial Bridge, a steel girder bridge connecting us to North Chattanooga.  Year round, this bridge honors veterans by flying American flags, replaced twice a year.

The very wet Walnut Street Bridge
Once over the river, we ran along the right shoulder of Barton Avenue then made a u-turn to take the ramp downward along Frazier Avenue.  We followed Frazier Avenue to the small and compact center of Chattanooga's North Shore, being directed to utilize the sidewalks here instead of the roadway. Eventually, we turned left, onto the wooden planks of the Walnut Street Bridge.  As we passed Coolidge Park, we continued on southward back over the Tennessee River -- our run through North Chattanooga was very short. We hit the 10K mat, and I crossed in 1:03:37 -- a 10:16 pace. With the rain, it made the planks a bit slippery, so I went about running across the bridge a bit carefully.

Fort Wood
On the other side of the bridge, we continued down Walnut Street, enjoying the natural downhill, before turning left onto E. 3rd Street. We faced a brief one block ascent up to High Street as we continued southeastward, running nearly parallel to the section of Riverfront Parkway we had run early on before crossing the Veterans Memorial Bridge.  At Mabel Street, we turned right, and began our run through the campus of the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, passing first by McKenzie Arena (fittingly nicknamed "The Roundhouse"), the primary basketball arena for the UTC Mocs. The street became E. 5th, as it curved through campus, passing a few more of the university's athletic venues, then academics buildings. We veered right on Palmetto Street to begin running through the Fort Wood Historic District along Fortwood Street as the neighborhood became distinctly more residential.  At Fortwood Place, we turned right, running a block south, before turning right to run northwest on Vine Street.  Many of the grand homes in this area were converted into student apartments, designed in the Queen Anne, Tudor Revival, and Romanesque Revival styles.

We continued on back through campus, passing by the university's Fine Arts Center, then reached an area of some considerable construction - for a couple minutes, we were directed to the narrow sidewalks bounded by academic buildings on one side and chainlink fence on the other. After the library, we were finally back on the street, running a few more blocks before reaching a left turn at Lindsay Street, exiting the campus area.

Running along MLK Boulevard
Running four blocks southward on Lindsay Street, we then were directed to turn left onto Martin Luther King Boulevard to begin a 1.5 mile long run southeastward.  The nine mile mark passed, and eventually, we crossed the 15K timing mat - my split was 1:37:27, or 10:29 pace.  I had gotten slower, but I chalk it up to the hilly downtown area and bridges I had to run over!  We were now running through the heart of Chattanooga's black enterprise zone, once known as the 9th Street District, or the "Big Nine."  This area was a mecca for black music and entertainment from the early 20th century into the 1970s -- Tennessee's very own Harlem. When desegregation occurred in the late 1960s into the early 1970s, the Big Nine became a ghost town, with the black community scattering across the city, and the area becoming overridden with crime.  Colorful murals are a reminder of what once was - and over the last decade, the area has started to bounce back.

Chattanooga National Cemetery
After a slight ascent, and less than ten minutes after crossing the 15K mat, we crossed the 10 mile mat, recording a split of 1:45:12, or 10:32 pace. Passing over the railroad tracks meant that MLK Blvd turned into Bailey Avenue, and to our right was Chattanooga National Cemetery, a 120 acre cemetery with interments since the Civil War.  We would run the perimeter of the cemetery, turning right onto S. Holtzclaw Avenue. We would turn right again onto Main Street, just past the 11 mile mark.  As we continued northwest for the next 1.6 miles along Main Street, we would actually pass by our Airbnb. We ran through Chattanooga's Southside Historic District, once the urban center of industry in Chattanooga, which came to be known for its abandoned warehouses and old buildings during the mid-20th century. Today, revitalization has filled the neighborhood with the art, culture, cuisine and entertainment that has come to define the city.

We turned right onto Chestnut Street, to round our way up to 13th Street, and then left onto Carter Street, where we had run up our opening mile of the race.  The finish line lay ahead, but I was only halfway done; marathoners turned right onto Main Street to begin our second loop of the race.  It wouldn't be exactly same as the first; as we continued along Main Street to streets that were far less crowded, we crossed the halfway point timing mat to record our half marathon split.  I crossed in 2:18:17.  Pretty respectable - and it still gave me enough cushion for the second half to get my much desired sub-5 hour marathon that I've been wanting since the beginning of the year.

Running on the Tennessee Riverfront
At Riverfront Parkway, we turned left, heading south, the opposite direction of how we ran along this road two hours before.  We took a right turn onto W 19th Street, taking us through a highly industrialized area surrounded by huge warehouse buildings. The road was in pretty poor condition, too, so I had no idea where the route was taking us. We were directed up onto the paved sidewalk, along a pathway very heavily bounded by fencing on either side of us with an imposing blue gantry crane overhead.  With faster runners coming back toward us, we were now on the sole out-and-back portion of the race, taking us on the Chestnut Street section of the Tennessee Riverwalk.  We would run along this quiet paved pathway through the largely forested and isolated section of the riverfront, with views across the river to Lookout Mountain, bathed in cloudcover.  Eventually we would meet up with asphalt roadway (which I far preferred running over than concrete) as it took us underneath the US-24 highway and eventually to the turnaround point.  There was some hilliness here, but it wasn't incredibly difficult.  We made our way back to where we turned, but this time kept heading north alongside the river.
Clouds rolling in on Lookout Mountain
Rusting steel supply buildings along the race route
Over the next mile, we would run past the former Alstom manufacturing site, an area that the company had once invested some $500 million in in anticipation of a renaissance in the nuclear industry that never arrived. After selling it off to real estate developers in 2018, there are plans to potentially turn the area into Chattanooga's "West End," a huge multi-use district with new office space, residential, retail, and commercial ventures occupying the 112 acres of land.  While the overcast skies and existing imposing structures made it hard to envision such a site, it's easy to think it would create lots of exciting opportunities for Chattanooga's future.

Walnut Street Bridge, the second time.
At 16.5 miles in, we began to run along the Blue Goose Hollow section of the trail, taking us past townhomes and condo developments, complete with unique public art installations along the paved trail.  At mile 17, we returned back to the roadway to follow the course we had run in the first half of the race all the way to the finish.  The second time around of course, was a bit slower; and there were far fewer people to share the course with.  With the local police starting to allow more car traffic to utilize the streets, we were pushed to the shoulder at points, as we continued along the Riverfront Parkway. The rain also began at the mile 18 mark, and would continue all the way to the end.  My pace remained fairly steady around the 12.5 to 13 minute mile, save for the 11 minute mile I posted at mile 19, which I could attribute to the downhill along the Veterans Memorial Bridge that pushed me through. We pushed through North Chattanooga, now at this time of the day starting to be busy with people as we made our way over the Walnut Street Bridge back to the downtown, then passed the 20 mile mark, a timing mat recording a 3:41:17 split with 10 kilometers to go.  A sub 5 race was still definitely in sight, despite the obvious slow down in my pace.
Coming off of the Walnut Street Bridge
(Official Photo by the Erlanger Chattanooga Marathon)
The rain really started falling as we continued through the UTC campus and Fort Wood, before passing back through downtown and the MLK Boulevard stretch, when it let up a little. We then made our way around the cemetery.  From there on to the end, we would be on the flattest parts of the race.  The rain had begun to come down, making it a very wet last three miles, but I managed to pick up my speed after reaching 4:17:11 on my watch for the 23 mile mark with a little over 5K to go.  That sub-5 was mine.

My traditional Mile 25 photo!
The flatness definitely helped; my next couple miles would be at 11:30 and 11:13 pace, and while I was getting super cold, I knew I had that sub-5 in my sights.  I punched it and made my way through the Southside Historic District, and around Chestnut Street over to Carter Street with the finish line in view.  I ended up crossing the finish line in 4:56:49, finally getting the sub-5 that’s eluded me so far this year, and in inclement conditions. 

With fellow serial marathoner, Ken
I sought refuge inside the First Tennessee Pavilion as the rain started to come down harder again.  I found my friend Ken, who I had first met in the Bahamas back in January, not even knowing he had come here to run the race!  The bathrooms were actually nice and warm, so I ended up spending a bit of time in there, as I changed into some dry clothes.  A little while later, Winnie finished her race and after eating some post race food and her getting changed into dry clothes, we made our way back to Atlanta so I could make my flight.  Ken joined us on the ride up for his flight as well.

A photo with Ralph back in NYC!
Driving from Chattanooga to Atlanta was harrowing (thank you Winnie for getting us back safely!) and I lucked out on getting on standby for a flight leaving a bit earlier, at 5:30pm than my original 7:30pm flight... when checking the weather forecast, snow was supposed to come down quite heavily in New York City that evening. It turns out Ralph was on that same flight, and I even lucked out with getting a seat with extra legroom at the emergency exit.  It was good I got on that flight, as the later it got, the more ominous the forecast looked; the 5:30, 6:30, and 7:30 flights from ATL-LGA left and arrived on time, but the 8:30 and 9:30 flights would be delayed to the following morning.  Again, I managed to dodge a bullet!

The weather wasn't great.  Look at all those cancelled arriving flights!
A victory headstand with Lookout Mountain, and the theme of the day... clouds!