Thursday, June 18, 2015

Race Report: Boston's Run to Remember

At the expo
Memorial Day weekend was to get started with an early morning bus ride from New York to Boston on Saturday.  Upon arrival in Boston by noon, I headed to my friend Shams' place near Harvard Medical School, west of Northeastern University, where I was going to stay for the weekend; after settling in and getting a bite to eat, they drove me over to the Seaport World Trade Center, where the Boston Run to Remember expo was occurring.  The expo was a decent size for a fairly sizable race attracting over 10,000 runners - 6,600 running the half marathon, with the remainder completing a 5-mile race, through the streets of Boston.

After perusing the expo (and grabbing some Boston running paraphernalia, as we are in a running mecca!), I went to the adjoining Seaport Hotel for a quick drink, before meeting up with fellow 50 States Half Marathon Club runners in town from all over the US (including California, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Georgia, and New York, to name a few) for an early Italian dinner at Strega by the waterfront.

50 Staters after our pre-race dinner on the waterfront
(Photo by Jann Carlson)
I retired back to Shams' place for the night, joining them for some more food (I picked at some Japanese street eats at a nearby izakaya), and then headed off to bed early to get some rest since the race was to have an early start the next morning, and I had to figure out a way to get to the Seaport area at around 6am.  Morning came, and I ended up getting a bit of a late start, so I threw on my clothes (including my Operation Jack virtual run gear), and ventured out to Huntington Avenue to locate a cab or even get an Uber (during surge pricing... sigh...) to take me to the startline near the Seaport.

I got there early enough to gather for a picture with some 50 Staters and get myself ready for the race... the legs, as usual, had been very tight in the days leading up to the race, as this was my 17th half in about 13 weekends.  After a quick bathroom trip, I headed out to the corrals (which, really, there were none... just line up according to your pace), and then I was off... except, like in New Jersey, we couldn't really tell where the start line mats were.

State Street with the Old State House
Almost immediately, my legs became stiff as boards, and I began to walk less than half a mile into my wobbly traipse down Seaport Boulevard.  Soon, we crossed over Fort Point Channel and the mouth of Boston Harbor into downtown Boston. We turned onto Atlantic Avenue, skirting around onto historic State Street with the Old State House in the distance at Congress Street.  This was where my legs just started to give out, and I was walking every few minutes despite the very flat course.  We made our way around the West End taking Cambridge Street then turning onto Charles Street, before seeing Boston Common in the distance, but turning right onto a westbound Beacon Street, where we passed some gorgeous Back Bay brownstones.  By this time, I had hit the 5K mark in a disappointing 40 minutes.

Beacon Street
Police officers cheering us on
along Memorial Drive
We finally turned onto Harvard Bridge, crossing into Cambridge,  where my legs finally started to gain their traction, and I managed to pick up the pace a little in my regular run/walk intervals.  The soreness in my shins and calves subsided by the 4-mile mark, as we proceeded eastward on Memorial Drive, to a turn-around point just before the Longfellow Bridge.  Then, we went on a long out and back westward on Memorial Drive, passing MIT's campus and curving around the Charles River waterfront, amass with rowing crews having their morning practices.  Along the route, we had some police officers from Boston and the surrounding communities cheering us on, which was a great motivator.  Oddly, there were not as many folks cheering us on as I had anticipated, but granted, it was Memorial Day weekend, and most Bostonians were out of the city, and likely out on the Cape for the weekend.

The out-and-back along Memorial Drive
Harvard Bridge, heading back
into downtown Boston
The out-and-back was LONG, and after making my way on the back end, I ran into the Provenchers from New Hampshire (completing their first double weekend after running the Dandelion Race in upstate Vermont!) at the mile 7.5 mark.  We posed for a quick photo as they were headed to the turnaround, and I proceeded on my way.  At mile 9.5, I was back on the Harvard Bridge headed back toward the finish line (seeing the iconic CITGO sign from the Boston Marathon course in the distance), and then back on a fairly empty Beacon Street, headed eastward.  We made a turn at Arlington Street and began to skirt the edge of the Boston Public Garden, where we were starting to finally get some crowds to cheer us on to the finish.

So happy to see the Carlsons!
As we turned onto Boylston Street and headed back into downtown, I spotted two familiar figures in front of me - the effervescent Jann and Mike Carlson from California, who were like me, crossing Massachusetts off their list, and completing the tail end of a whirlwind three-week adventure discovering the New England states and running races while they were at it.  These two are a lovely couple - Mike is quite the athlete, having several IronMan triathlon finishes in his resume plus some easily sub-2 hour half marathon times in his heydey, while Jann is a retired schoolteacher who began to take up running and steadfastly hopes to complete her goal of running a half marathon in every state in the US.  Despite Mike's ability to "smoke" Jann by virtue of his athletic prowess (her words, not mine! LOL) - he stays right by her side and helps to pace her at all of the races that they do together.  I ran up to Jann and Mike and decided then and there to join them all the way to the finish.  They're just such a great couple that I wanted to cross that finish with them, hand-in-hand!

Crossing that finish line with
great friends!
We made our way back through downtown Boston, along Washington Street (with a stop for an "ussie" in front of the Paramount Theater) and then zigzagged around some more city streets as we returned back to Seaport Boulevard for the epic finish back in front of the Seaport World Trade Center.  Hand-in-hand, we crossed the finish line, as we were announced as "the trio from California" by the announcer ("it may have been too much of a mouthful for him to announce that you all were two Californians and a New Yorker," said our friend Donna, who notified the announcer as she saw us coming closer to the finish line) which birthed our inside joke that I was Jann and Mike's "Cali Son." 

I may have posted my current "personal worst" time of 2:46:42, but considering my extremely rough start, it all ended on a high note with the way I was able to run across the finish line with some awesome friends, creating some great memories in the process.  Sometimes the tough/rough ones end up being the ones that have a silver lining... It was a gorgeous course, and I'd definitely love to do this one again - perhaps on some better-rested legs!

MBTA Transit Police Cadets finishing out the race in formation!

Victory Headstand, and fittingly on Memorial Day
with the flag waving in the background!

Really pretty bling :)

Great friends finishing yet another half!

Monday, June 15, 2015

Race Report: Sage Rat Run and Rock 'n' Roll Portland Half Marathon

My fourth consecutive double weekend began with a nonstop flight from Newark to Portland.  I flew in after work on Friday night, having to travel from my new job in Jamaica all the way to Newark, which took a bit of planning, coordinating the travel on the LIRR from Jamaica to Penn Station, and then the NJTransit train from Penn Station to the Newark Airport AirTrain.  I made it with more than enough time to grab a sandwich before the roughly 5 hour flight.

With the Sage Rat
Landing in Portland, I made a beeline to the Hertz Car Rental to pick up my car, since I had a three hour car ride ahead of me and it was already past 10pm.  Of course, I made a stop to take a photo with the iconic PDX carpet before heading down there.  I was on the road shortly thereafter and made my way along the Columbia River to Sunnyside, Washington.

Feeling like crap, but still putting
on a smile! (Photo by Sage Rat Run)
I arrived in Sunnyside at about 1:30am, opting to sleep in my car overnight in the Walmart parking lot (thankfully, it was warmer here than in Connecticut a mere three weeks earlier), since the race would start at 8am the next morning on the path alongside the Walmart.  It was a rough sleep, as I had started to feel a scratchiness in my throat the day prior that turned into full-out soreness upon arriving in Portland on Friday.  Saturday morning, I was having trouble swallowing water, which would definitely be a predicament for my hydration needs on the course.

Entering Grandview at mile 4
After picking up my bib and downing a couple Advil to see if those would help with my enlarged tonsil-ness, I got myself ready and pumped up for the ensuing run ahead. Promptly at 8am, we were off on the paved pathway (known as the Lower Yakima Valley Pathway) alongside the Yakima Valley Highway.  This point-to-point course would take us on long stretches of this pathway, which at one point would also skirt alongside I-82.  At about mile 4, we entered the city of Grandview, and then began to skirt Wine Country Road, taking sidewalks through the city.  At mile 5.5, without being too graphic, I started to experience the worst intestinal distress, and immediately needed to find a bathroom, which luckily I was able to get to.  This bathroom stop took out nearly ten minutes from my run, but it was absolutely necessary in order for me to actually finish.  Soon I was back on the route, at one point passing by the folks assembled along the left side of the road to begin the 12k at 9:30.

Fun signs!
The sometimes blah parts of the course
The course continued on, along the not very scenic route.  We passed the 7 and 8 mile marks, which were surrounded by crushed asphalt, somewhat of a barren wasteland.  Thankfully there were some fun signs scattered along the course that broke up the monotony. The relatively flat course continued on, and by the 11 mile mark, we began to enter the city of Prosser, and the final couple miles of the race.  We passed by a few car dealerships and then made our way across the bridge over the Yakima River to the finish line in downtown Prosser.  I crossed the finish line in 2:33:37, exhausted, and prepared to get myself back to Portland by the afternoon.  After taking my customary victory headstand photo, I made my way to the bus shuttle taking us back to the Walmart, and then I was back on the road for the three hour drive back to Portland.

The reason for doing this race. EPIC MEDAL!

Victory Headstand with the Sage Rat... Washington, check!

Thankful that I was done... (Photo by Sage Rat Run)

My outfit for RnR Portland

With a stop at Multnomah Falls, I made my way back to Portland, heading straight to the expo to pick up my bib for the Rock 'n' Roll Portland Half.  I quickly realized my tiredness and felt very weak, which others saw in me.  Soon I headed back to my friend Hollie's house, as she and Kimberlee were arriving from Boise having run earlier that day there.  I opted to stay in and rest, rather than go out for a pasta dinner, which, in hindsight, was a very good idea...

Reaching the Sun!
...because upon waking in the morning, I felt like a completely different person.  The rest I got that night was absolutely necessary.  We arrived with lots of time to spare at the Rock 'n' Roll Portland race, with time to take photos with other Half Fanatics.  I wore my Front Runners New York souvenir  singlet, which many members of my club wore on Saturday at the Brooklyn Half.  Additionally, I had a makeshift back-bib put together, as this race would mark 28 states completed in my journey... however, after also having finished DC and Quebec, I accomplished the feat of completing 30 different states/provinces/countries/territories within 365 days, reaching the top tier of Half Fanatics, known as the Sun - something only (now) 73 of over 12,000 members have achieved!  After driving in with Hollie and finding a prime parking spot a mere ten minutes from the start and finish area, we met up with members of the Half Fanatics for a race photo. I was able to meet up with my friend Tiffany (who I first met at the Rock 'n' Roll DC Half in March) and she was with her family at the expo when we decided that we would run together again on my 5:00/1:00 run/walk interval for this race.  Soon, the first corral was off, and with a little delay due to Amtrak trains crossing the course, Tiffany and I crossed the start line about 15 minutes later.

RnR Portland startline! 
The struggle to get across
NW Broadway Bridge...
Almost immediately, my legs were feeling pretty rough.  We ran off the first mile conservatively, finally stopping after the first 11 minutes, making a turn from Naito Parkway at roughly the one mile mark.  Within this first mile, we came upon the Northwest Broadway Bridge high above us, that was being crossed by runners way out in front of us over the Willamette River, which was incredibly daunting.  It wasn't until mile 2 that we actually got to the start of that bridge, and within a tenth a mile, we were bounding up a 70 foot elevation rise, and crossing into North Portland.

Finding De Moe at the 5K.
Fireball time!
At about the 5K point, Tiffany and I ran into De Moe, who was with another friend, Leah!  Of course, as tradition stands, we posed for a quick photo and took a shot of Fireball - but this time, De Moe was actually carrying the entire bottle with him!  After the quick photo, we continued on our way, eventually coming upon the highway ribbon of the I-5 and I-405 loop, where we came up on a real bitch of a hill, which we later found out is "infamous" on the Portland course, known as "Mississippi Hill" as it served as part of N Mississippi Avenue.  The elevation change for this roughly 3/4 mile stretch was 130 feet!  After conquering that hill, we hit the four mile mark, making a right turn onto Beech Street, heading into Northeast.

Really, this hill.  (Photo by Tiffany Ramsdal)
Best spectator ever!
About 4.6 miles later, we encountered the first "bus box" of the course.  This is a unique aspect of the Portland course, done to alleviate traffic congestion and allow for city buses and other automobiles to pass in certain zones to get down main streets.  Acting like a water valve, it's an alternating race route that changes the path for the runners, however it is still running the same distance.  Somewhat controversial to some people, but it's a way for city services to not be completely disrupted by a race as massive as this one is.  Just before we were to continue on for the turn onto NE Grand Street, we were directed to turn two blocks early onto NE Garfield Street, and then continue on down NE Fremont Street, to join in with the rest of the course.

Meeting Anna at around
the 6.5 mile mark!
At mile 5.5, we turned onto NE 17th Avenue and then started to head southward.  We hit the 10K point as we had already turned once again.  It was right around here I took my phone out to contact my friend Anna, who told me she would be alongside the course to cheer me on at a specific point, the 7/11 at NE Weidler and NE 21st Avenue right around the 6.5 mile mark.  Except... we got "bus boxed" once again!  Instead of heading southward down onto NE 21st Avenue, we got rerouted, but luckily, I spotted Anna on her bike in front of a church along the rerouted course, and we stopped for a quick picture!  The moment was fleeting, but it definitely helped me and Tiffany get back on track to go on for the second half of the course.

Laurelhurst Park
On we went, further southward, this time along NE 20th Avenue, crossing over the Banfield Expressway, and then another "bus box" just before the 8 mile mark, as we crossed into Southeast Portland.  We finally made a left turn, and ran down SE Pine Street, and then alongside the gorgeous homes and humongous trees of Laurelhurst Park just before mile 9.  At mile 10, we turned onto SE Hawthorne Blvd, which was the beginning of a nice 1 mile stretch of downhill!  Apparently in previous years, the course had runners running UP this hill, so this was a nice change for everyone :)  We looped ourselves around East Portland, and then finally made our way across Hawthorne Bridge back toward the finish line (with an extra one block loop thrown in, that had us scratching our heads...)

We finally crossed the finish line, hand in hand, in a time of 2:31:31.  I was happy to have improved upon the time from the day before!  I proceeded to the heavy medals tent to get my "Stairway to Seven" medal, and then posed appropriately for my victory headstand (with the PDX carpet, of course!) and then met up with friends for post-race revelry, including some delicious burgers, gorgonzola cheese fries, craft beers, and ice cream!  All in all, a great time in Portland, and I definitely want to come back... likely not for a race, but just to truly get more of an experience out of this great city!

Posing with my medals at the Prefontaine statue in the Foot Traffic store!
Victory Headstand on PDX carpet! 
Saying goodbye to Portland...
My medal haul for the weekend... some MASSIVE medals!