Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Race Report: EDP Rock 'n' Roll Madrid Marathon

Thursday, April 20, 3:30pm: It's the day of my trip to Spain.  I get a text that my flight to Paris on Air France (ticketed through Delta, though... gotta get those maximum MQMs and MQDs!), which is supposed to leave at 11:20pm tonight, is now departing at 12:45am. I immediately call Delta's Elite Medallion hotline, as this delay could very well cause me to miss my connecting flight to Madrid, as Paris is a huge airport, and passport control could take a very long time. There's an hour to two hour wait to speak with a rep.  I leave my callback number.  Ridiculous.

4:18pm: I get a text that my transatlantic flight on Air France that night has been cancelled, but I've been rebooked-- strangely, on another Air France flight that just happens to leave at the exact same time I was supposed to leave (at 11:20pm) but with a different flight number. I continue to wait for my callback from a Delta rep.

4:54pm: Delta calls me back. I explain my situation and they're puzzled by the delay, cancellation, and rebooking, too. The rep, Shani, is very nice and already begins the process of looking at alternate flights and immediately reserves a seat for me on a direct Delta flight from JFK to Madrid, leaving at 7:30pm.  A whole four hours (at least) ahead of my initial flight, and direct instead of with the Paris stopover. I stay on hold for them to re-ticket the flight off of Air France.

5:03pm: I'm ticketed and checked in on the direct flight to Madrid.  Totally free of charge.  Got a window seat, thank goodness, but unfortunately not able to be on the upgrade list since I was moved to the flight so late... but I can't complain. I'm getting into Spain a lot earlier than I had intended.

5:08pm: I still get text response from Air France... "your flight now leaves at 1:00am, arriving at 14:15. Your connecting flight, leaving at 14:40, remains unchanged." #sorryNOPE

5:10pm: I'm out the door and headed to the airport.

5:45pm: Arrive at JFK Terminal 4. Beeline it to TSA Precheck line at security checkpoint (thankfully I could use it... If I flew Air France, I wouldn't have it and would probably still be stuck in the security line at Terminal 1!)
6:00pm: I get to my gate.  It's actually pretty quiet, I rushed for nothing, LOL.

7:30pm: And we're off! I'm flying out four hours early and arriving in Madrid at 9:10am instead of 4:50pm. Yay for 8 extra hours to play in Spain!

The following morning, we land in Madrid at 9:10am! I am able to quickly get through passport control (I run past all the folks just walking along down the long corridor from the gate), and meet fellow Black Sheeper Greg outside in arrivals.  He arrived maybe half an hour ahead of me on a Delta flight direct from Atlanta.  We head straight for the metro, which is a long walk from the terminals.  Sherry was to join us, but her plane leaving Newark became delayed and she wouldn't end up arriving until later in the day.

After about fifteen minutes of walking, we end up in huge lines to get tickets to get on the metro.  We get our single rides to Tribunal station in Chueca, the closest station to our apartment, and arrive by 10:30, meeting up with Mitch, who had arrived yesterday.

Breakfast of champions. Potato, egg,
and onion tortilla española
at Bodega La Ardosa

Before I left, I found an Travel Guide on TripAdvisor entitled, "3 days in Madrid" must dos. I'm starving, so Mitch and I head to Bodega La Ardosa, which is on this list.  Turns out, it's just two blocks from our apartment. The place has been around since 1892, and serves some of the most authentic tapas in the city - one of these items is a tortilla española - a potato and onion omelet - and is the most popular item on the menu, costing me only €2.95, which included a side of fresh bread.  Mitch and I then walked down along Calle Fuencarral southward down to the Puerta del Sol, a large public square known as one of the busiest places in Madrid, and a landmark that we'd be running through in the marathon, before getting a text from Sherry that she had finally arrived at the airport.  We headed back to the apartment to retrieve Greg, and gave Sherry directions to meet us at the race expo, as the expo was much closer to the airport as it was to the apartment - and it would save her money and time.

Walking around on Calle Fuencarral, and a store called "Oveja Negra" or "Black Sheep" in Spanish

Sweets aplenty at La Mallorquina
We took the metro back up toward the airport to the Campo de las Naciones stop. At that stop is the IFEMA event center, where the expo was being held in one of the center's twelve humongous pavilions. We easily found Sherry and also Erika (another Black Sheep runner) after picking up our own bibs and t-shirts, and we milled around the expo before heading back into town to have Sherry drop her stuff off at the apartment.  We then decided to wander around the touristic areas walking distance from where we were staying, including the Puerta del Sol (again), and the Plaza Mayor, another central plaza surrounded by balconies only a few blocks away.  We also made stops for food (starving again!) at a little storefront on the Gran Via serving Iberian ham sandwiches and for a quick merienda of pastries and beverages at La Mallorquina, a historic 100+ year old bakery along the edge of the Puerta del Sol.  We also stopped into the Mercado San Miguel, to peruse the offerings in a lively Spanish market setting.

Plaza Mayor
Jamón ibérico!!

Reconnecting with my high school friend, Laura,
who's been living in Madrid for the past 3 1/2 years
We headed back to the apartment to rest up for a bit before heading back out for dinner at a later hour (just like how the Spanish do it), and would end up meeting with my high school friend Laura at a microbrewery, Fabrica Maravillas, located the next block over from our apartment, which was recommended by the management folks of the apartment we were staying at.  They had about five different beers on tap, and it was pretty busy when we got there.  After drinks, we stopped at a couple restaurants where we couldn't be seated due to lack of reservation (Friday nights are HOT in the trendy Malasaña district!), but we ended up finding our way to a great restaurant about 10 minutes from our apartment, called La Mucca, where as we waited for a table, we bonded over drinks - in particular, the ever present refreshing tinto de verano, a drink very similar to sangria. We all learned from Laura a Spanish way of saying "cheers" - by bumping the glass to the countertop, as we say "Quien no apoya no folla," meaning "He/She who doesn’t tap the glass down doesn’t get laid" - much like the superstition of not looking someone in the eyes during a toast can lead to seven years of bad sex.  Dinner was great (albeit a little chilly in the evening air, since we were seated outside), and soon we were feeling our eyelids droop from the six hour time difference.  

I <3 Dana! In Madrid,
she became a Black Sheep!
After a restful night's sleep (for me at least... I shut myself into the little alcove loft space without any windows, so I couldn't hear any street noise), we woke up around 10am and took our time to get ourselves ready and out the door before heading right back to the expo, where we would meet up with my friend Dana (as her flight was getting in that morning) and eventually Irene and Jesus from Chicago at the free Pasta Party also located at the expo.  I also realized that the Limited Edition World Rocker Medal, which I was to receive upon completion of the marathon here in Madrid, was to actually be picked up at the expo rather than after the race; so I picked it up that afternoon.  After brainlessly trying to find the entrance to the pasta party (it was all the way around to the other end of the massive building), we got ourselves situated and enjoyed the eh-tasting pasta, but with free beer, we couldn't pass it up.  We then headed back toward the apartment, where we would lounge around and meet up with Erika (again) and her friend Peter, before heading out for a relatively early dinner (by Spanish standards) at the nearby Mercado San Anton.  It was recommended in my TripAdvisor travel guide: "Recently renovated, San Anton Market (El Mercado de San Anton) is a new hotspot for local gastro lovers. That's because it's one part old-fashioned market, complete with meat, fish and produce stands, and another part modern foodie paradise, consisting of tapas bars and even a rooftop bar and restaurant."  We found seats at a pop-up restaurant called Trinkhalle, located on the third floor of the market, in the multidisciplinary "Espacio Trapézio" space. The food was nothing that special, and the service was far from acceptable, as there was a single waitress working all the tables.  But we managed to have our dinner before 10pm (also meeting up with several other Black Sheep who made their way to  our location - Deb, Amy, Fernando, and Ale), which was the goal, since we had a race the next morning.  So, Saturday was a bit more restful of a day.

Palacio de Cibeles on race morning
Black Sheep crew pre-race
Sunday was race day, and with the 9am start, we wanted to leave enough time to leisurely walk to the ~2 miles to the finish line, where gear check would be, have enough time to utilize the port-a-potties near the 10K start line, and then get ourselves into the start corrals along the Paseo del Prado.  We left the apartment while watching several people whose evenings were just ending, stumbling back home after a very long night (and morning) out, as well as the street cleaners washing down the streets and sidewalks.  It was actually very beautiful to pass the Plaza de Cibeles at that hour, seeing the majestic Palacio de Cibeles (currently the seat of the Madrid City Council, home of a terrace that can see the entire city, and housing a cultural centre called CentroCentro) lit against the morning sun.  It was also quite nice being able to walk through Buen Retiro Park, where we would end the race, passing by the huge artificial pond in front of the Monument to Alfonso XII. We eventually made it to the gear check area, which was already filling up with people, before we headed right back to the northwest corner of the park to hit up the port-a-potties just as the 10K runners were leaving at 8:30.  After everyone had gotten through their necessary motions, we headed to the start corrals, and made our way inside to Corral 4, as no one seemed to be paying attention to the assigned corral numbers on our bibs.  The five of us met with Irene and Jesus there, as well as birthday girl Nichole, patiently waiting as our corrals moved forward. With the sun out, it was a nice 55° to begin the race.  We crossed the start mats at 9:13, and began to make our way northward along the extremely wide boulevard, known as Paseo de Recoletos, until we made our way past several large plazas marked with fountains and/or monuments.

The startline!
Running up the Paseo de Recoletos toward the Plaza de Colón
The fountain at Plaza San Juan de la Cruz

Obelisco de la Caja
Past the Plaza Colón and its fountain, the boulevard became known as Paseo de la Castellana, which we would follow all the way up until the four mile mark near the Almenara ward of the Tetuán district of the city.  Along the Paseo, which we could definitely feel was a gradual uphill the entire way, we would pass several major points, including the Nuevos Ministerios, a complex of government buildings including the Ministry of Public Works; the Estadio Santiago Bernabéu, home of the Real Madrid Club de Fútbol since 1947 (and where the very important annual "El Clásico" match versus Barcelona would be played THAT EVENING); and many business, banking and financial buildings, including those that house AZCA, Puerta de Europa, and the CTBA.  At the north end of this part of the route was the Plaza de Castilla, where the Puerta de Europa towers are situated, and the 301 foot tall Caja Madrid Obelisk, designed by Santiago Calatrava, stands.  We would also pass a large bus stop area, and see runners coming southward clear on the other side of the massive boulevard.

Paseo de Castellana, passing the Estadio Santiago Bernabeu
10k in, through Castillejos
As per usual, the first water stop is what could be explained as a shitshow.  People running over each other to quickly get a swig of water before continuing -- of course, I try to make my way to the edge unsuccessfully.  I manage to get myself appropriately hydrated, and then get back onto the course.  The turn around point is unassuming, but we get back onto the Paseo de la Castellana heading southward, and its noticeably less difficult to run on, since we're heading downhill.  Past the Puerta de Europa towers and the obelisk, we make a right turn, and proceed down the Calle de Bravo Murillo, deep into the middle of Tetuán district. This commercial thoroughfare is the boundary between several of the barrios within this working class district.  At about the 6.5 mile point, we turned left at the Glorieta de Cuatro Caminos, going down a nice downhill along the south lanes of the Calle de Raimundo Fernandez Villaverde.  My high school friend Laura, who's lived in Madrid for the past three years, lives near here, and indicated she'd be at the 11k mark on the left side - but it turns out, she was on the right.  Sadly, I missed her and a sign she had made specifically for me and my friends!

A tree lined street in Arapiles
Undeterred, I continued onward, as we crossed over the Paseo de la Castellana, which we had ran earlier, and to the southeast, as we passed the Plaza de la Republica Argentina, eventually making our way down an offramp onto the Calle de Lopez de Hoyos.  We weaved through some streets of the El Viso barrio in the commercial district of Chamartín and the Castellana barrio of the more upscale Salamanca district, before separating roughly 8.6 miles into the race from the half marathoners, who would continue straight down the Calle de Serrano, while we turned right onto the Calle de Juan Bravo, immediately being able to spread out with less people taking up the roadway.  We hit the mile 9 mark as we made our way down Calle de Almagro.

Our Lady of Montserrat Church
At Plaza Alonso Martinez, we made a sharp right turn and headed northwestward along Calle de Santa Engracia in the district of Chamberí, a very traditional, village-like area that seems to be your typical Madrileño relaxed and friendly neighborhood, still close to the city center, but not too close to make it be too touristic.  We then made our way down the Calle de San Bernardo, partly with a steep descent sending us past the Church of Our Lady of Montserrat, one of the finest examples of Baroque architecture in Madrid.  After a short few blocks down Madrid's Gran Via, we made our way onto the Calle de Preciados, one of the first pedestrian thoroughfares in the Spanish capital, and also a buzzing street notably known as one of the most expensive streets in the world with commercial rents approaching an average of $316 per square foot per year

Running past Palacio Real
Eventually, we emerged onto the Puerta del Sol, surrounded by thousands of people cheering the runners on, as we turned past the La Mallorquina bakery onto Calle Mayor, heading westward toward the Calle de Bailén and the Royal Palace (Palacio Real), the largest royal palace in Europe by floor area and the official residence of the Spanish Royal Family; and the Plaza de Oriente,  the rectangular park that connects the east facade of Palacio Real to the Teatro Real.  While it was quite awesome to be running past the palace and its surrounding sights, I had to pay some real attention to my footing, as much of the roadway was cobblestones or slippery stone pavers.  We were only a kilometer away from the halfway point of the race.  Notably, I had been running by the 4:45 pacers for much of the first half of this race, but by the time we reached the palace, it was funny to see them BEHIND the 5:00 pacers.  Obviously, someone had gone out too fast, and had not being paying attention to their pace!

Parque del Oeste and the Fountain
We passed the hubbub of the Palace and took off northwestward onto the Calle Ferraz, passing the halfway point, which I crossed in a chip time of 2:23:54. Although slower than I would like, the temperatures were rising rapidly, and because of the later start, we were in the thick of temps rising to the upper 60s at this point in time.  We also had a tough uphill right up to the halfway point, which was allayed by the fact that we had a nice downhill coming up shortly, as we made our way into the Parque del Oeste, which at one point in time of Madrid's history was its landfill.  Right as we turned into the park and past the beautiful Fountain of Juan de Villanueva, we had a nice solid downhill for the next 3/4 mile, finally posting a steady 9 to 9:30 pace right up til we got to the edge of the park at the mile 15 mark, and where I took my first GU packet of the race.  We make a sharp left turn and cross underneath a bridge and then run down the Avenida de Valladolid, basically running along the western edge of the Parque del Oeste.  In the distance, we can see the Royal Palace high up on the hill, as we ran toward the Puerta de San Vicente arch.


A tunnel of trees
in Casa de Campo
We made a turn into the open plaza facing the arch, then proceeded along the pathways through the riverside Parque Virgen del Puerto, taking us across the Rio Manzanares, and through the shaded pathways along the Paseo del Embarcadero as we moved deeper into Madrid's largest park, the Casa de Campo.  Once a royal hunting estate, this 6.8 square mile park is MASSIVE, and has many more natural and hilly areas, showing off Madrid's semi-arid beauty with red soil and scruffy pine trees.  This park actually has a bad reputation of being a place frequented by prostitutes, however none were seen during the run (at least, from my vantage point, lol!) We proceeded along a lengthy treelined stretch (which was gradually uphill) along the Paseo Maria Teresa, before making the turn at the 18 mile mark onto the Ronda Lago, finally enjoying a downhill that would take us out of the park via the Paseo Puerta del Angel, and onto the Avenida de Portugal, where I was able to buy back some time by proceeding down the hill at a screaming pace.  Just after the 19 mile mark, we turned onto the Paseo Marquès de Monistrol and followed the west bank of the Rio Manzanares southward.  We banked right onto the Paseo de la Ermita del Santo, following it through the high-rise residential area, chugging long through a rather uninspiring section of the course.  However, it was here, where I began to play a little bit of cat and mouse with an older woman wearing a "100 Marathons Club / Bionic Karen" singlet, and later chatted with her to find out that this race was her 200th marathon!  Karen lived in England, and has done many races in Europe, and her partner Brian was setting a world record in running 100 marathons apiece in three different countries - England, the Netherlands, and Spain!

Estadio Vicente Calderón
The wall came down hard.  With just over a 10K to go, the high temps were definitely becoming a factor, and I struggled to keep up a steady running pace before needing to walk again.  To make matters worse, miles 20-25 were gradually uphill.  And boy, would we feel it.  We made our way back over the Rio Manzanares, but this time over a bridge called the Puente de San Isidro, which would take us past yet another stadium, this time the home of Real Madrid's intercity rival, Club Atlético de Madrid. The Estadio Vicente Calderón loomed to the south of us, as we ran exposed to the sun, but we continued onward, as we looped our way to the eastern bank of the Rio Manzares, running northward along the Paseo de la Virgen del Puerto, through the barrio of Imperial in the central-southern district of Arganzuela.  We trudged along through a very unimpressive residential neighborhood along the Paseo Imperial, eventually making our way to the Paseo de las Acacias, and a long stretch of gradually uphill road that we would end up being on for the next mile.  I felt like I was playing fartleks with my body, just trying to run to every other stoplight, walk for a minute, then start over again, as we continued along this stretch of road.

Running past the Museo Prado, which I remember visiting when I was 8 years old in 1992!
Eventually, we'd reach Atocha and the first of the Golden Triangle of Art - the Reina Sofia Museum. We then turned right onto the Paseo del Prado (surprisingly the same road where we had assembled at the start of the race, and where we would pass where the start line had been, just south of the Plaza de Cibeles), passing the Museo Nacional del Prado on one side of the road, and the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum on the other.  We were less than a 5k from the finish at this point, but it was a truly ROUGH last 5K.

Finishing alongside new friend Karen,
who ran her 200th career marathon!
We continued back up the Paseo Recoletos, feeling a sense of deja vu from earlier that morning, eventually turning onto the Calle de Goya, and hoping for the right turn to get into Retiro Park... but no, we actually turn left into Salamanca, taking the Calle de Velazquez only four blocks north and the Calle del Principe de Vergara four blocks south.  An out-and-back through a not very exciting neighborhood... but it had to be done.  Eventually, the park finally came into sight, and also the metal barricades.  The crowds had long gone, cheering for most of the half marathoners and faster marathoners who had come in over an hour ago, but we had the finish line in mind, as we took the Paseo Fernan Nuñez through the eastern part of Buen Retiro Park.  A fake finish line (for the 10K, I believe) greeted us, but we knew better after having seen that earlier that morning when getting gear check -- the actual finish line was another hundred yards away.  I crossed in 5:08:23, relieved to be done, and gasping for water and shade.  Karen had finished about ten minutes in front of me, but I managed to get to her and take some photos, before finding my Black Sheep who had waited up for me, and for the rest of us still coming in to finish the race.  It was a tough one for all of us, with the heat and the slightly unexpected variations in elevation... but another country was done!

Celebration... at Taco Bell!! (Seriously!)
Taco Bell and beer.  YES.
While there was no beer tent or party after this race, we decided to make our own, and despite feeling deprived of all of our energy, we sought out a place to celebrate... and in Spain, Taco Bell has beer.  As we headed in that direction, we passed by the Puerta de Alcala, a stone gate monument at the corner of Retiro Park.  Here, I did my victory headstand, in front of what is regarded as the first modern post-Roman triumphal arch built in Europe, older than the similar monuments Arc de Triomphe in Paris and Brandenburg Gate in Berlin. We got to Taco Bell at the perfect time... it just so happened to be "happy hour," only available 5-8pm from Friday to Sunday, we could purchase a meal item (in my case quesadillas) and THREE Mahou beers... all for only €4 - what a steal!  We all laughed as our orders came in... the Madrileño cashiers had much trouble with pronouncing and spelling our American names: Jim became Yin, Greg became Gred (?) Dana became Deina, and Mitch became Mish.  Laura even came down to meet us, too, and brought the handmade sign she had made for us that said "Vamos Campeones!" or roughly, "Let's go, champs!"  After our celebration, we headed back to the apartment for much needed freshening up, and soon, dinnertime was already upon us.  We made for a quick dinner at a small bar around the corner from our apartment, and decided to share some delicious Spanish tapas, before we turned in for the night, and woke up early the next morning to get ourselves to the airport for our flights back home, the earliest starting at 11am.  I flew home via Paris, and got home that evening, eager to get to bed, as I stayed up the entire transatlantic flight in order to readjust to east coast time quicker.  Plus, I had work the next day.  Such is my life after these run-cations!

Well earned Victory Headstand at the Puerta de Alcalá, in the Plaza de la Independencia.
Final meal in Spain... and FINALLY getting my Pulpo a la Gallega (Galician-style octopus)!
And what a trip it was... another country checked off!  It had been 25 years since my last visit to Madrid, so it was definitely quite nice to be able to experience it as an adult.  I'm so glad to have been able to experience it with my running friends - and to reconnect with old friends as well!

Monday, January 15, 2018

Race Report: Newport Rhode Race Marathon

The scariest trip happened to get my to my race in Rhode Island over Easter weekend. But I got out of it ok.

Because of its proximity, and the lack of air connections direct from New York City to T.F. Green Airport in Providence, I decided to take an Amtrak train up to the Rhode Island, getting off at the Kingston stop, where my friend Joan, would pick me up and host me at her home about half an hour away from Newport the night before the race.  I left work early to get to Penn Station, but ended up waiting inside the glassed in dedicated Amtrak waiting area.  We had extensive delays due to a train stalled underneath the Hudson River, so there are literally HUNDREDS (possibly four figures, a couple thousand maybe?) of people here at Penn Station, waiting for both Amtrak and NJTransit trains delayed for well over an hour.  There's currently only two tunnels underneath the Hudson River that accommodate for all Amtrak and NJ Transit trains going to New York City - one going in, and one going out - so if one tunnel gets "clogged" due to a stalled train, the whole system is screwed. Prospects for major infrastructure projects to improve this drastically over-capacity system have come and gone (notably, the "Access to the Regional Core" or ARC project that was cancelled by New Jersey governor Chris Christie), but the new Gateway Project, slated to be completed in 2026, is the latest to be considered.  An article about the importance of this project can be found here: "What One Really Expensive Tunnel Means to U.S. Train Travel"

Back to the story... after about a half hour delay and still no sign of the train arriving, the atrium holding Amtrak passengers (where the big screens are, and where people line up to take the escalators down to platform level) had become wall to wall with people.  All of a sudden, people just started running away from the atrium. It sounded like a bunch of horses running by, at full speed, as I'm sitting in a glassed in area within the station. It was basically a stampede, happening INSIDE Penn Station. Supposedly, a belligerent person was being pursued by cops and they had chased him into the station. He started to become violent, so in order to subdue him, the police had to use a taser on him. The crackling sound of the taser scared some people, thinking it was gunshots.  Of course... that triggers mass hysteria.  Everyone in the waiting area just drops to the floor and underneath the ganged waiting room chairs. My heart was racing. There were children with me, and they're sobbing hysterically. We have no idea what's happening. We stay here, lying on the floor, for about five minutes. After word is spread that it was a false alarm, we come up from under the chairs. Everyone is visibly shaken by what just happened.

Some fifteen minutes later, my train finally arrives into the station, and we were able to get out of NYC easily, on an uneventful three hour trip up, roughly 1.5 hours late.  Joan was there to pick me up and take me back to her house, where I crashed for the night, ready to wake up early the next morning for the race.

Near Eastons Beach
Pre-race photo with Maniacs and 50
Staters (Photo by the Mercury Blast)
I woke to my alarm at 5am, got myself dressed and was out the door by 5:40 am.  By 6:15, I arrived in Newport's Second Beach, where we were directed to park, then boarded school buses to get us to the start area at Easton's Beach, Newport's largest beach located in the center of the city.  The temperature is quite chilly and rather windy, so I keep all my layers on before braving the cold.  The entirety of the race would take place on Aquidneck Island, which is home to the city of Newport, and the towns of Middletown and Portsmouth. Runners begin to convene at the beach pavilion as the time ticks by to the start of the marathon.  I run into a few friends running the race as well, trying to keep warm at the pavilion.  We head out to the startline on the main road, which is closed off to traffic, and I'm called over to the mic to sing the national anthem for the marathoners.  The half marathon start, which a few friends would be participating in, would occur 15 minutes after our start, but a few folks, - my friends Andrea, Pam and Steve - came out to see me off before they would begin their half.



Running up Memorial Boulevard
At 7:15, we began, running west up a distinct hill along Memorial Blvd toward the site of Newport's famous gilded mansions.  We would run past the Newport Cliff Walk, a 3.5 mile public access walkway along the shoreline that runs behind those mansions, and is considered one of the most popular attractions in the city.  From there, we turned left onto Annandale Road, right onto Narragansett Ave, and are able to see all the cottages side by side.

Llama!
We then turned up to Wellington Avenue with beautiful views of Narragansett Bay and the Claiborne Pell Bridge to our right.  We followed the curve of road along Halidon Avenue, which in turn turned into Brenton Road then Beacon Hill Road then Harrison Avenue.  This whole area was beautiful and serene and so GREEN - very much like the country, but with the ocean not too far away.  Along the way, we passed a secluded pastoral property built to resemble a Swiss village, with animals grazing in pens alongside the road.  Some of these animals were quite unique - there were llamas in close proximity to us!  Later, I would find out it was the SVF Biodiversity Preservation Project, which for years has maintained a remarkably low profile in Newport despite its unusual and futuristic mission to preserve genetic material of rare livestock through cryogenics.  The sprawling property was a generous contribution of an heiress to the Campbell’s soup fortune, and the project operates in partnership with the prestigious Smithsonian Institution.

Pastoral "country" scene along Harrison Avenue
Narragansett Bay from Wellington Avenue
Heading into Fort Adams
We turned into Fort Adams State Park, a large coastal fortification at the mouth of Newport Bay, near Newport Harbor.  On this short, just under a mile out and back where we would just run through and around the parking area (not even getting to the Fort itself), we would run by several huge sailboats covered up and stored on the pier for the season, awaiting warmer weather in the summer months.  After reemerging onto Harrison Avenue, we began to follow the coastal road that skirts the edge of Newport and Aquidneck Island.  This obviously afforded us with some truly amazing views of the Atlantic Ocean.  We passed Brenton Point State Park along the southwestern tip, and many astoundingly beautiful summer homes along Ocean Avenue.  We had these amazing views of the oceanfront cottages and the ocean itself for a good three miles, from roughly mile 6 to 9.

Narragansett Bay in the distance, as we finish this short out and back section.
Our first view of the Atlantic Ocean! 
More beautiful ocean views...
Running with new friend Meriam!
All along the way, I seemed to keep up alongside Meriam, the 4:30 pacer for the race, who I later befriended.  We ended up running together from roughly mile 2 to about mile 11.  What struck me most about her was she was Filipino... with a noticeably New England accent.  We later made sure to exchange information before she decided to go past me to ensure she make the first half goal of 2:15. At about 9.5 mile mark, we ran out of road, so the course moved onto Bellevue Avenue, amongst some of the grandest looking houses I've ever seen. Mostly built between the mid to late 1800's, the fourteen mansions along Newport's famous Bellevue Avenue Historic District, eleven of which are open to the public, form a complete essay of American historical development from the Colonial era through the Gilded Age. Some of the front gates to these mansions are taller than surrounding trees. It's as if Versailles was dropped into the northeastern United States.

Well ...that's a gate.
So many mansions. 
Massive mansions along Newport's Bellevue Avenue

Literally across the street from
the photo above.
These mansions continue along Ochre Point Avenue, where we pass the largest of them all, the signature Newport mansion, the Breakers, with a 30 foot high entrance gate, and considered one of the most visited house museums in America.  The road also continues through the campus of Salve Regina University and past a châteauesque mansion (actually the second largest of the Newport mansions, after the Breakers), Ochre Point, owned by the Catholic school.  It is their central administrative building, housing the university's Office of the President, the Business Office and the offices of Undergraduate Admission, Financial Aid and the Registrar.

Downhill toward Easton's Beach
Running along the boardwalk
We tracing our route back onto Memorial Boulevard, and head back toward Easton's Beach, taking advantage of the nice downhill.  Half Marathon finishers are making their way to the finish line, but we marathoners still trudge along, passing through Easton Beach's boardwalk, and right past the finish line.  We continue through a maze of the adjoining parking lot before getting back onto Memorial Boulevard continuing east, and past some of the hotels east of Easton's Beach that are officially in the municipality of Middletown.

Second Beach, and all our cars.
We bear right toward Purgatory Road and then find ourselves along the modest homes along Tuckerman Avenue, as we head deeper into Middletown. Tuckerman Avenue roughly parallels the geography of this part of the island, as we find ourselves running along the super flat section on Sachuest Point Road, overlooking Sachuest Bay. This out-and-back takes us (cruelly) past the parking area where us marathoners left our cars, and right up to the entrance gate of the Sachuest Point National Wildlife Refuge before returning back in the direction from whence we came.

Long stretches of open road
We took a right onto Hanging Rock Road, and run alongside Gardiner Pond as we make our way to Indian Avenue and a long out-and-back section that takes us 3.1 miles northward and into the town of Portsmouth.  The entire way, we're bounded by homes (much more modest than the ones we saw in Newport), with the East Passage of Narragansett Bay peeking through in between the homes.  This section of the race had various degrees of rolling hills.  After having gone through the first hour of the race on a 19 minute run/1 minute walk, the second hour to a roughly 14 minute/1 minute walk, and then the third hour on a 9 minute/1 minute walk, I had reached a point where it was 4 minutes on, 1 minute off - or whatever felt better.


Super long out-and-back section through Middletown
I gotta get to the top of that hill!
On the way back, we took a detour into a neighborhood where we just circled the block before returning to Indian Avenue.  My pace slowed as we returned back toward Middletown, and ran up and down over the hills I had run over at the 15 mile mark of the race.  As we approached the busier area just east of Easton's Beach, I pick up the pace, as I realize that my sub-5 hour marathon is within reach, but will be very close.  I end up running alongside fellow Marathon Maniacs Cathy and Jun, and we all have similar goals, pushing ourselves to get to the finish before the clock ticks 5.  I get back to Purgatory Road and Memorial Road, and run right back into the parking lot, but nearly miss the turn to take me to the finish line, as unfortunately, there was no one there to direct me toward the actual finish area!  Thankfully, I cross in 4:57:39, and cross off my 15th sub-5 hour marathon of 33 I have run, and my 25th state!  There to greet me at the finish line was my friend Pam, as well as a few other friends who I ran alongside on the long out-and-back, including David, who I had met when I supervised him as a volunteer when I was volunteer leading at the 2014 NYC Marathon!

Still smiling despite 26.2 miles of pain. (Official race photo)
State #25, coming in to the finish! (Official race photo)

State #25!! (Official race photo)

With Rhode Races race directors
Susan Grenke Rancourt and Karen Lyons
After getting a photo with the race directors who so kindly allowed me to sing for their inaugural race, I got my headstand photo done and then went looking for the bus to take me back to my car. After a little wait, it finally arrived, and I hightailed it back to East Greenwich so I could shower and get myself reorganized before Joan could take me to the airport so I could catch my bus up to Boston.  Thankfully, we got there with time to spare, and I was the only one to board the bus at the airport; a few more boarded at two more stops within Rhode Island's capital city of Providence, and then I eventually fell asleep as the bus made its way on up to Boston.




Headstand photo on Eastons' Beach!
Bling.
Upon arrival in Boston's South Station, my cousin Kathy came to pick me up. We go to run some errands including going to the Boston suburb of Saugus to get a honey baked ham for easter lunch the next day.  We head back to her townhouse in South Boston, where I get to see her husband Billy and their baby daughter Gigi.  After some time relaxing, we head out; Kathy and I have plans for the night, as the national tour of The King and I happens to be in town, performing at the beautiful Boston Opera House.  Several friends of mine are in the cast, including the actor playing the King of Siam, Jose Llana. Before the show, we grab dinner nearby at a restaurant in Chinatown.  The show was awesome - both Kathy (an actress at one point in time) and myself have performed in regional productions of the show in the past, so it's a piece we're definitely familiar with.  We're brought backstage to see the my friends and the set.

I stay overnight at Billy and Kathy's and wake up again early the next morning, to spend some time down at the Harry Hynes Convention Center.  It just so happens my visit up to Rhode Island and Boston also coincided with Boston Marathon weekend - the marathon itself is on Patriots' Day, a state holiday every third Monday of April, which commemorates the anniversary of the Battles of Lexington and Concord, the first battles of the American Revolutionary War.  Being that it was Easter Sunday as well, Boston was QUITE busy.  That morning, I headed to the convention center to spend some time perusing the Boston Marathon race expo, open to the public. I had to head to the expo to take in the ambience of being here amongst all the excited runners running the most famous and heralded marathon in the world.  While there, I got to hang out with my friend Brian Wright, running in his first Boston Marathon (we enjoyed some free special edition "26.2 Brew" given out by Sam Adams!), as well as meet Ann Haebler from Marathon Tours, who was coordinating the travel packages for the Australian Outback Marathon I was going to be running later that July.

After a couple hours at the expo, I headed back to my cousins' place to meet up with them as we drove out to Haverhill, Massachusetts, where Billy's parents live, for Easter Lunch.  It was a fun way to enjoy the Sunday and reconnect with Billy's family, who I had only met at his and Kathy's wedding a few years back.  After a little while, we made sure to get me back to the Haverhill train station so I could get on the commuter train to take me back into Boston for my bus home.  Unfortunately, we ran into some signal problems which stressed me out a little bit because we were pushing the time to the limit for my bus' departure.  I ended up grabbing an Uber to South Station from the North Station where the commuter train dropped me off, and of course - we get stuck in the middle of Boston traffic due to a Celtics playoff game happening nearby. Luckily, I arrived at South Station with 10 minutes to spare before my bus would leave, and I slept for most of the long drive back down in NYC, which happened to be in a rainstorm nearly the entire time, in addition to the expected Easter traffic.  I arrive back home in my apartment by 12:30am, supremely exhausted, but happy to have had such a full weekend with family, friends, and states and experiences checked off my list!