Friday, July 31, 2015

Race Report: Shipyard Old Port Half Marathon

It was our first summer Friday, so we got to leave the office early, but I had come from a meeting in Manhattan (that didn't end up happening... stupid MTA and the USWNT ticker-tape parade blocking all sorts of Lower Manhattan traffic, so we ended up having lunch - paid for by my boss, score - in Little Italy).  Since we had lunch till about 2:15, we got back to Jamaica around 3, and I went straight to the airport for my 5pm flight.  Thankfully, JFK is practically right there, so I didn't have to spend too much time taking the subway to the AirTrain to get to the airport.

Pre-race dinner with friends
(Photo by Donna Dullys)
Except the gate that my flight was on... was pretty much THE LAST possible gate you can get to in Terminal 4.  I swear, it was something like a one-mile walk.  Anyway, I'm a runner, so that ish didn't faze me whatsoever.  Soon, we were off to Boston, and quite quickly I might add... everyone loaded onto the plane, and then we were pushing back from the gate, and then the pilot announced we were first in line to leave - which practically NEVER happens at JFK, especially with the runway construction project that's projected to not finish till December.  Anyway, we got to Boston about 40 minutes later (and 45 minutes early!) and bam, I'm about to get on an early bus to take me on the roughly 2 hour trip to Portland, Maine!

The bus arrives just a little before 9pm, and my friend Hollie picks me up in her yellow Pontiac Aztec, lovingly named "Mimosa," to bring me to the place where the rest of the crew (Donna, Sandra, Hollie, Jascia, and Lynn) were having dinner.  Albeit, a very long dinner because of a myriad of events including the chef walking out, burnt pie, and one inattentive waiter.  Luckily, they ordered me a lobster mac and cheese, which was waiting for me when I arrived and which I scarfed down hurriedly.  By the time we left, it was 10:30, and Donna, Sandra, and I still had a 35 minute drive to our hotel.  As soon as we arrived, we prepped our clothes for the morning and then conked out immediately.

Shenanigans with Hollie before the race
(Photo by Donna Dullys)
Morning came very quickly, and we hurriedly got ourselves ready to head back into town to the Ocean Gateway Terminal right on the Portland waterfront so I could pick up my bib and then get together for customary photos with members of Half Fanatics and Fifty States Half Marathon Clubs.  Today, however, was an important day for Barb Smith, who would be running her 50th state at this morning's race.  She arrived to much fanfare as we posed for photos with her, and she even got interviewed by the race announcer.  Needless to say, she was quite the celebrity!

The race startline
Soon, the first wave was off.  Wave two, which me and practically all my friends were in, was to set off at 7:03, but it seemed like they were running a tad bit late.  I was ready to go, as was Jascia, so we just decided to begin at the tail end of wave one.  And speed off I did... my first mile was clocked at 8:50, definitely one of my faster first miles in recent memory. Probably helped that I had several weeks off of running this distance, so my legs were well rested!  We went down Commercial Street for two miles before I finally took my first walk break, about 17 minutes in and on a slight uphill bridge ramp for the last 200 meters (and posting a 9:16 second mile.)  Then the course decided to get hilly.  As we rounded a corner onto Danforth Street, the course elevation rose from a mere 26 feet above sea level to 161 feet above sea level in 3/4 of a mile.  We continued up the hill along Western Promenade, skirting the edge of the historic 19th Century Western Cemetery, originally Portland's burying ground for the "poor and indigent," and alongside Western Promenade's namesake park with well-preserved Victorian houses across the street, overlooking the race course.

Official Race Photo, going
down Commercial Street :)
We made another turn on Mile 3, and the course began to go downhill gradually again, and I began to post a faster pace as we came down Vaughan Street passing more beautiful Victorian homes in Portland's West End neighborhood.  We rounded Vaughan Street down back toward Danforth Street, continuing in an easterly direction, hitting mile 4 just before Clark Street.  As we turned onto Clark Street, the elevation dipped dramatically, dropping 120 feet down to sea level in 1/4 mile.  We passed a home prominently displaying a large rainbow flag, which was nice to see!  We continued down the hill and returned back to Commercial Street, this time heading back toward Ocean Gateway Terminal.

The return trip back on Commercial Street was significantly hotter than the half hour prior during the first two miles of the race.  In addition, the trash left out on the street from the restaurants along the shore began to stink to high heaven, so it was definitely required to hightail it off of Commercial as best as possible.  Mile 5.5 was when we passed the crowded start/finish area where people were cheering us on; it was also where the course started to go uphill again in elevation along Fore Street, going from 13' to 102' in a 1/2 mile. We rounded a corner along Fort Allen Park and the Eastern Promenade, hitting the 10K point of the race. At mile 7, we descended again, and then crossed Washington Avenue to run down the sidewalk of the US-1 offramp toward the Back Cove Trail that would take me all around the bay.

Making my way around the Back Cove Trail
Almost around the trail...
While the trail around the cove is super flat and only about 3 miles around, this was where the heat and humidity began to take its toll on me.  I managed the first mile of the trail fine, and then had to walk intermittently because of my calf muscles cramping on me.  I ended up stopping for 30 second to 1 minute walk breaks seven times during the remaining two miles of the trail.  We exited the trail and got onto the sidewalk along US-1 at around mile 11.  We then took the Bayside Trail underneath the highway and onto an out and back along a small part of Sewage Plant Road. 

Marimba Band at the
Eastern Promenade trail
Sewage Plant Road - such an ominous moniker for a street, right?  Well, it didn't take long til we realized what that signifier meant.  As we passed an aid station and a marimba band playing along the route, we took the rolling hills of the Eastern Promenade Trail where we did another run alongside the smelly stretch right next to Portland's sewage plant.  We finally passed it and continued along the trail, which was actually quite scenic as it skirted Casco Bay and paralleled and the historic Maine Narrow Gauge Railroad tracks.  With the finish line in sight, I hobbled with my cramping calves to the line, crossing in 2:19:30.  It had been a while since I had posted a sub 2:20 race, so I was happy to do so at this Maine race!

Barb Callahan Smith - proud 50 states finisher!
As the rest of the crew came in, I sought refuge for shade and sustenance, and we tracked Barb as she made her way to the finish line.  We cheered her in, and she heroically crossed, arm in arm with the race announcer, of course!  Barb gave Donna the great honor of coloring in her 50th state on her shirt, which she did with great ease.  After a few beers over at the beer tent, we made our way to lunch at the Sebago Brewing Company Brewpub for some much needed post-race food!Maine was a lot of fun... nothing like a race fueled by lobster!

Pretty Shipyard Old Port mural at the finish...

Victory headstand!


The pretty medal!!
(Photo by Donna Dullys)

Peace out, Maine! 

Friday, July 17, 2015

Race Report: Rock 'n' Roll Seattle Half Marathon

RnR Seattle Start Line
We sat on the Tarmac for an extra hour and a half before setting out for Seattle on my flight from JFK. Turns out, there was some stormy weather right in our path, and add to the fact that more than twenty planes were in front of us lined up for take off, we were surely to be delayed. The flight was going to land at 10:15pm, and Donna and Hollie were gonna pick me up, but after the six and a half hour flight, we didn't land until after midnight, just a bit too late for them to pick me up since they had to race in the morning, too.

Upon arrival I went straight to the Link station and got as close to downtown as possible. Apparently, after a certain time, the Link stops running past Beacon Hill, and riders have to transfer to a bus into downtown.  It was already 1am so I wasn't having any of that and called an Uber to get me to the hotel. Thankfully, I had coordinated with my friend Dave while we sat on the tarmac in New York, and he had a hotel room at the Best Western Executive with an extra bed (and it was literally a two minute walk from the start corrals) so I bunked with him for the night after arriving close to 1:30, opting to stay with Donna the next night, as we had opted to leave on Sunday, and Dave was off to Los Angeles hours after completing the Seattle race to do the LA Front Runners Pride Runs the next day.
All ready to go before the race!
Fireworks off the Space Needle

Half Fanatics assembled before the race
(Photo from Half Fanatics June 2015 Newsletter)

Early the next morning, we rose to get ourselves to the start line on the southeast corner of the Seattle Center; I picked up my bib, and got together for photos with Half Fanatics and Fifty States Club members before the race.  Soon, fireworks were set off from the Seattle Space Needle, and we were off!  We took off down 4th Avenue, making a small turn to continue down 5th Avenue into downtown Seattle, and toward Westlake Center.  We ran underneath the Seattle Center Monorail, and just after mile 1, ran right by the Seattle Central Library, a Rem Koolhaas-designed building that I happened to study when I was in architecture school.  So, of course, I stopped to snap a photo!

Running past the Seattle Central Library

Oh, hey NUUN... I see you!
We continued to steadily climb in elevation along 5th Avenue, finally turning left onto S. Dearborn St., where we began a nice downhill for about a mile.  Just after mile 2, we ran right by the building where Nuun is headquartered, so I stopped for a quick photo there as well!  Steadily down Dearborn, we took a right onto Rainier Avenue, passing underneath I-90.  We'd run down Rainier Avenue for about 2 1/2 miles - right through the neighborhood of Mount Baker, which happened to be the site for a project I worked on while I was in graduate school but only saw in photos!  Somewhere between mile 4 and 5, a noticeable smell overtook my senses -- and sure enough, on the right side of the street were several marijuana dispensaries, as Washington had legalized marijuana three years ago!  We continued down Rainier into Columbia City past Genesee Street for a few more blocks until a turnaround point brought us back up the street and finally making a right turn onto Genesee.

"Run Happy" barge in Lake Washington
At mile 6, we turned left onto 43rd Avenue, following this street up to the fairly flat Lake Washington Boulevard.  Half marathoners turned left to continue up the boulevard, while full marathoners turned right for an additional six miles along the shore of Lake Washington.  We continued up Lake Washington Boulevard northward for about 1 1/2 miles, with a gorgeous view of the Lake on our right side.  Out in the lake, there was a barge with large "Run Happy" inflatables for runners to take in.  In the distance, you could see Mercer Island, and the I-90 Floating Bridge, which the full marathoners would also cross.

Pause for a photo with downtown
Seattle in the background from I-90
As we ran toward I-90, we made our way up a path that took us to the tunnel that carried I-90 underneath Mount Baker.  On the approach, I nearly had to hurdle a bollard that I didn't see in front of me.  We turned left into the tunnel and continued for just over half a mile - I wasn't too fond of the tunnel, as I felt like I was overheating as we ran through it.  We emerged onto I-90, running westward, while traffic whizzed by on the east ramp.  By this time of day, the sun was out and blazing, and we made our way through one of the steepest sections of the course, a 240 foot incline over 1/4 mile at mile 9.  Running on highway ramp was also hard, as we didn't have the firm ground to support us - only the concrete holding up the road.  There were some folks that needed medical attention, likely because of the heat while on I-90, which looked like to be a harrowing and logistical nightmare trying to get medical personnel onto this part of the race course.  I soldiered on, crossing the ribbon of I-90 and I-5 and hitting the mile 10 mark, with Seattle's sports stadiums and arenas in the distance.

With Justin and Leny,
minutes before finishing the race!
(Photo by Leny Debler)
We exited off the highway and back onto the downtown streets, taking 4th Avenue northward, past Seattle King Street Station to our left and then turning onto 2nd Avenue.  We continued in a northwesterly direction as we made our way through Pioneer Square, and then hit the mile 11 mark where we turned left onto Seneca Street for a STEEP, STEEP 70 foot drop to the Alaskan Way Viaduct, the elevated highway that overlooked Puget Sound.  Along the way, I ran into my friend Dave.  We passed the Waterfront Park and the Seattle Great Wheel on our left, while the famous Pike Place Market was up on the hill to our right.  At mile 12, we entered yet ANOTHER tunnel, exiting onto Aurora Avenue.  While in the tunnel, I ran into Leny Debler, a runner friend/courageous cancer survivor/fellow RnR "gypsy"/fellow Fifty Stater.  I decided to chat a bit with Leny, and then run with her at her pace to the finish.  We finally emerged out of the tunnel and continued down Aurora Avenue, then veered off to the right to make the slight turn out and around to take the underpass to get us to the finish line along Mercer Street.  As we made the turn, we ran into another mutual friend, Justin!  The three of us continued on, vowing to be hand in hand as we crossed the finish line... And we did!

Victory headstand, with a
perfectly placed Space Needle!
I completed my 38th lifetime half in 2:32:11, finishing it in style.  I made my way over to the Heavy Medal tent and picked up my snazzy "Headliner" medal, marking my 9th Rock 'n' Roll race of the year, and met up with friends for some photos in the family reunion area, in addition to reuniting with an old classmate of mine, Jake, who had relocated to the Seattle area nearly a decade ago.  All in all, a great race, and a wonderful tour of this great city.  This would be my last half for about four weeks, as my next one would not be until July in Portland, Maine - my position as Assistant Race Director for the New York City Pride Run on June 27 required my attention for the next few weeks!


Delicious post race noms...

Boom, number 9!

4/6 of the Renegades reunite in the Pacific NW!

Necessary stop at the world's FIRST Starbucks!
Until next time, Seattle!

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Race Report: Rock 'n' Roll San Diego Half Marathon

I am SO delayed in writing this and putting it up, but June has been a crazy busy month!  Thankfully, I'm not too far behind, since I took a short break from my half marathon schedule to focus on my position as the assistant race director of the New York City Pride Run at the end of June, but here's my chance to catch up... So, now the race report from RnR San Diego at the end of May!

The day before my flight to San Diego, I got a call from United asking if I wanted to be rebooked to a new flight from LGA to DEN or direct to San Diego because it was oversold – I really wish I could’ve taken it, but with the new job, I stuck to my guns and stayed on the original flight.  On Friday, I took a half day and left New York at 3pm, arriving in Denver for a quick 40 minute layover before going on to San Diego.  I arrived in San Diego around 8:30 in the evening, one of the last two of the crew of 16 of my running club, Front Runners New York, who were doing this “destination” race to culminate the month of May – and for me, to complete my 30th state in my quest to run a half marathon in all 50 states.

My friend Giovanny, a flight attendant with American and also a member of Front Runners as well as the Half Fanatics and Marathon Maniacs, flew in on an American flight that landed not long after mine, so we both waited for our pick up by the remainder of our crew, who had gone out to eat at a Mexican restaurant near the airport.  Thankfully, they picked up some fish tacos for me after my long day of flying.  They pulled up to pick us up from the arrivals area in… no joke… a white 16-passenger “church” van.  Soon we were on our way to our swanky accommodations, the La Jolla Cove Suites, where we were able to get a great deal from one of Gilbert’s friends who is a member of Front Runners and Walkers San Diego.  After scarfing down my tacos, I got to bed as quick as I could, opting to sleep on the couch in the living room, since I had an early morning the next day, as Giovanny, another FRNYer Kenny, and myself were running the Rock 'n' Roll San Diego 5K in Balboa Park.

Going to sleep to the sound of these
guys barking through the night...
After a good night of sleep, catching my z's to the sound of sea lions barking in the cove below, I woke up early to get myself ready at 5am, since the 5K started at 7am, and we were all the way out in La Jolla.  We drove down to the park and parked in a lot about half a mile from the startline, and Gio and I went to get our bibs to prepare for the race.  Soon, we were off, on a route that took us out and back along 6th Avenue, bordering Balboa Park, and then for a small loop into the park all the way to the finish line.  We took it VERY easy - at a manageable and conversation pace - and we walk/ran the whole thing side by side.  We got a taste of the San Diego humidity and managed to get pretty sweaty, even with our conservative stride.  37 minutes later, we finished, and got our first medal of the weekend.

Before the 5K with Kenny and Gio!
After finishing the 5K in Balboa Park 
Museum of Man... YEP.

FRNY at the RnRSD Expo!
We returned to La Jolla to have breakfast and then get together with the rest of the group (some of who did a fun run in Balboa Park with Front Runners and Walkers San Diego) so we could go to the expo at the San Diego Convention Center in downtown San Diego.  The expo was pretty big, as massive as some of the larger Rock 'n' Roll expos that I've been to.  I purchased a snazzy jacket, as I had told myself earlier in the year that I would only get the RnR branded merchandise from a marquee race for me - in this case, San Diego, since California would be my 30th state.  I went around through many of the same booths that I've managed to hit up at other RnR expos, and met up with some other friends - my other "gypsy runners" who travel from place to place to run these events.  I even managed to coordinate a reunion of sorts between Giovanny and my friend Dana, who both are flight attendants for American -- it turns out, they had worked together on a flight many years ago!

Cali Bear won't share his humongous medal.  I want it.

...but I am special!
After the expo, we headed out to lunch in the Gaslamp Quarter, a bunch of us hitting up Dick's Last Resort for some grub, accompanied by insults and NSFW handmade paper dunce caps!  After a stroll through the neighborhood, we hit up the Seaport Village waterfront shopping complex to do some window shopping (and in some cases, actual shopping!) - I managed to snag a floral trucker's hat and some matching socks that I would don for the following morning's half marathon.  We then headed out to Il Postino Restaurant in the North Park neighborhood of San Diego, where we would meet up with members of Front Runners and Walkers San Diego.  We took over a whole area of the restaurant and had a ball of a time socializing with our San Diego compatriots - and even managed to surprise two of our own, Doreen and Dominic, with custom cakes from a nearby bakery -- these two were celebrating birthdays that weekend!

Doreen with her birthday cake!
Waiting for the light rail to take
the half-marathoners to the start...
(Photo by Kevin McCahill)
Eventually it got late, and we ALL had a very early morning - so we headed back to La Jolla to get ourselves ready for the morning.  It was about 4:30 when we awoke, and the marathoners (Gilbert, Giovanny, and Miki) were up even earlier to leave earlier than us since their start time was about before ours.  As a group, we drove the van to the Mission Valley Mall and then take the light rail to 5th Avenue station, walking the mile up the start line area alongside Balboa Park.  As we bounded up 6th Avenue, we were joined by fellow FRNYer Ruth, who was in town for a convention, and also decided to run the half.  The startline was a mob scene - SO many people congregating, and dozens upon dozens of lines for the port-a-potties.  I took care of my pre-race essentials before heading over to the corrals, hoping to find my crew of Black Sheep Run folks who like to pose for a photo in one of the front corrals.  I moseyed my way into Corral 2, and found a few of them for a quick picture, and then we were ready to start!
Customary startline photo

The shirt I made, commemorating 30 states done!
Boobs galore!
We made our way up 6th Avenue, much like in the 5K the day before, but we continued on, finally turning right onto the wide University Avenue in the neighborhood of Hillcrest, San Diego's largely LGBT-focused neighborhood.  We were cheered on by several cross-dressing men, complete with balloon breasts - so of course, I had to take a picture with them!  I also had an opportunity to rest my tired legs, which were already starting to feel the pain of the first mile.  We continued on down University and then turned northward along Park Boulevard, heading into the largely residential area of University Heights.  Erin and Kate, friends of FRNY members Gilbert and Jesus, lived alongside the route and cheered us on (with their pug, Mugsy), at around mile 2.5, sporting some fun signs that our Front Runners would greatly appreciate!  A couple more turns along Meade Avenue, Georgia Street, Madison Avenue, Mississippi Street, and finally Adams Avenue, and we were in San Diego's famed Antique Row.
Best sign ever.
Shots.  They happen.
We turned left at around mile 3.6, running along the twisty turns and curves of Mountain View Drive in the residential neighborhood of Normal Heights.  We wandered through this area for the next two miles, cheered on by families who lived in the homes along the route.  This is the area where... I got drunk. LOL!! Just before mile 5, someone had set up a little bar on the right side of the road, so I stopped, and took a swig of the Bloody Mary that the lady was making alongside the course!  Not a few hundred feet later, and there was a sign on the left side of the road... "¿Quien te gusta tequila?" so of course, I partook!  And then a few hundred feet after that... a shot of Jameson Whiskey!  Before long, we made a right back onto Adams Avenue, and were on our way to the 10K mark, passing underneath the Normal Heights landmark neon sign, before turning left onto 33rd Street, heading southward.

the memorable drag queens
of LIPS San Diego
We progressed further through Normal Heights' residential areas, turning onto Monroe Avenue, Felton Street, and then Meade Avenue, finally crossing over I-805 and mile 7, then turning again onto Ohio Street.  Before long, we were making a turn onto El Cajon Boulevard, with San Diego's "Lips" restaurant coming into view on the corner. Of course, a bevy of beautiful drag queens were observing the race from their perch alongside the route, so I partook in photos at that moment!  We continued along El Cajon, which had a nice downhill section, before turning again onto Georgia Street, looping down around Robinson Avenue and Park Boulevard for a block, before returning through the underpass at University Avenue.

Epic KISS cover band!
It was pretty narrow here, as there was construction along the street, but as we made our way down University, making a turn at Mississippi Street, we encountered a KISS cover band on the corner - so of course, I took a picture there, too! We took Mississippi down to the north border of Balboa Park, at Upas Street, where we hit mile 10.  At Upas Street, we encountered my favorite aid station of the race - one headed up by the Big Ten Alumni Associations of San Diego - and largely staffed by many Michigan alums!  I proudly belted out "Hail to the Victors" as I proceeded into Balboa Park, and ran my fastest miles down Pershing Drive along the relatively steep downhill, getting to the lower part of the park.  Around mile 12, we progressed through some offramps of the San Diego Freeway, and at one point I got bottlenecked on both sides, stepping into a crack in the asphalt, and tweaking my hip at a painful angle.  I had to stop and stretch my leg and hip out, as I had been suffering from some hip flexor pain over the last few weeks - and ended up hobbling my last mile to the finish as best as I could.

All of the bling around my neck.
We made our way through the tunnel underneath San Diego City College on B Street, and rounded the corner onto 13th Street, making our way to the finish - a parking lot alongside Petco Park.  I could probably have sub 2:30'd, but that last mile was ROUGH, and I ended up finishing my San Diego race in 2:35:01.  I did however, set a PR.... in number of shots taken on the course.  In addition to the aforementioned bloody mary, tequila, and whiskey, I managed a vodka shot, a couple dixie cups of beer, and a swig of fireball... a total of SEVEN shots during a half marathon.  Yikes. It was a bit of a cluster at the end, with SO many people in close quarters after the finish line.  The pedestrian traffic getting to Petco Park, where the post-race festival was held, was extremely crowded.  I headed to the stadium, retrieved my extra bling, waited around for other FRNY members to celebrate, and then we were off to grab much needed lunch nearby, several of us opting for some amazing burgers at Hodad's. I ended up staying an extra day with several other FRNY folks, which consisted mostly of some much needed R&R after this weekend's RnR (hahahahaha, get it?) by the pool and on the beach at Coronado Island and even caught the first seven innings of a Mets vs. Padres game, too...  I got a redeye back home to NYC for work early the next day... 30 states down!

FRNY finishers in Petco Park after RnRSD!
(Photo by Gilbert Gaona)
My customary headstand photo!
Shenanigans at the Mets v. Padres game
State #30, done!