Monday, September 21, 2015

Race Report: Rock 'n' Roll Virginia Beach Half Marathon

Back in Virginia Beach...
After finishing the Mt. Nebo race and having lunch, I headed to Salt Lake City airport for my flight to Virginia Beach/Norfolk via Chicago Midway airport.  The flight left at 2:30 in the afternoon, and arrived in Virginia Beach close to midnight.  My race buddy Dana was kind enough to pick me up from Norfolk Airport, and then take me back to the Airbnb that I booked for the two of us only a mile and a half from the startline.  Because of my late arrival, we rushed back so we could get some very necessary sleep until the race started the following morning.  We stopped into a 7/11 so I could grab some Benadryl because I was having some crazy allergies upon arrival.

Why am I doing this again?
After about four or five hours of sleep (sigh), we got ourselves dressed and out the door to the startline at the Virginia Beach Convention Center.  It was actually nice that we walked to the startline, as I was able to stretch my tired legs out a bit and they felt good going into my second half of the weekend.   As we neared the Convention Center, it started raining, which was actually a bit refreshing with the temperature at that time of the day.

Fifty Staters at RnRVB
(photo by Chris Falconio)
I got together for pictures with members of Fifty States, Half Fanatics, and Black Sheep Run before we got on the course, and then under cloudy skies, the race began.  I jumped into an early corral and took off down 19th Street toward the ocean.  As I ran down the street, I saw Derek Mitchell running the 5K, who has lost over 100 pounds since starting to run at the beginning of the year and running 5Ks every month since March. By the Virginia Beach race, he's surpassed that goal, already finishing 14 5Ks!

Filipino Mafia ;)

Start line of the Rock 'n' Roll Virginia Beach Half Marathon... it's a little windy!
Derek Mitchell, conquering his 14th 5K race this year!

We took a right turn onto Arctic Avenue and rounded 18th Street to make our way northward for a mile on Pacific Avenue.  We turned up at 29th Street and then took Atlantic Avenue southward until reaching 6th Street, where we turned to make our way down US Route 60 over the bridge taking us over Lake Rudee at around mile 3.5.  This turned into a LONG 3 mile stretch of roadway that seemingly never ended - General Booth Boulevard.  Despite the length, it was well supported with people cheering us on along the side of the road, and aid stations staffed with plenty of volunteers, as well as cheer teams!  I even stopped to twerk alongside some cheerleaders, who were elated to see me stop to have some fun along with them.

Treelined Prosperity Road...
Not long before the mile 6 mark, I had caught up to my friend Amy, who was having a tough race.  Seemingly, this Virginia Beach heat was making it hard for everyone.  We walked, chatted, and fartlek'd some for the next few miles, playing a little leapfrog as we went down Prosperity Road, where we actually had some pretty treelined sections of road.  We turned right onto Birdneck Road at the mile 8 mark, and entered Camp Pendleton weaving around the roads that passed through the complex for the next two miles.  Mile 9 had the iconic Brooks inflatable "rocker dude" arch presiding over the runners.  At some point in time around this area, another friend Ainsley and her sister passed us, with Ainsley carrying a portable speaker to keep the "party rocker" tradition going at this race.
Brooks Rocker Dude!

The last 5k of the race took us out of Camp Pendleton, and turned right back onto Booth Boulevard for two miles, but headed back toward the ocean.  It felt like an eternity, but there seemed to be more people cheering us on along the side of the road.  At mile 11, there were some folks in front of a house handing out beers - EXACTLY like what had happened last year!  I took one and decided to just drink one as I walked along the route instead of running with it to the finish line like I did last year (haha), but quickly realized how the heat would probably not make good out of me drinking an entire beer and still running a couple miles, so I only finished half of it and left the rest on top of a mailbox (sorry homeowner...)  I continued on, and schlepped my way back up the bridge over Lake Rudee and then took advantage of the downhill headed into mile 12.  We looped around Atlantic Avenue and then made our way to the boardwalk, where we had a mile left before the finish line.  Of course, there was a fake finish line along the way (that damn orange Humana arch!) but soon we saw the real finish in the distance.

Black Sheep Run before and after
RnRVB (photo by Almi del Villar)
Sadly, there was an ambulance only a few hundred feet from the finish blocking part of the boardwalk, which some of us learned was a runner who had required medical attention due to the excessive heat and humidity.  As runner passed the ambulance, the finish line was in clear view, and I crossed in 2:36:51, which I was more than happy with, after having finished a TOUGH downhill race the day before.  I mingled with some other Black Sheep Runners while trying to cool down with cold towels and water, and then met up with Dana and Hollie to do my traditional headstand after the race before heading out for brunch at Scrambled (the same place I went to last year with Donna, Hema, and Joe!  Darn good sweet potato pancakes, I must say!)  Afterward, I went back to my Airbnb for a much needed shower and a NAP, while Dana had to get back to the airport for her flight home.

Labor Day morning on the beach!
Bling photo with Dana and Hollie :)

Victory Headstand!
Good effort, Annette :) (photo by Annette Geringer)

Danielle and I - she was so kind to drive me up
to Philadelphia on her way home!
I stayed in Virginia Beach for an extra day, as I took in the Sheryl Crow concert later that night at the American Music Festival (always a fun part of the Labor Day weekend experience in the area), and then the next morning got some beach time in before I got a ride back up the coast with new friend Danielle and her daughters.  After five hours of driving, I got dropped off in Philly and then got on a train back to NYC.  SUPER long weekend of traveling - 4000 miles of flying, 400 miles of driving (thanks to Peggy and her husband in Utah, and Danielle from Virginia Beach to Philly), a 100 mile train ride back to NYC, and 26.2 miles of running! :)

Exhaustion.  But two 13.1's done!

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Race Report: Mt. Nebo Half Marathon

With Eva, pre-race
I didn’t intend to come back to Utah so soon after my first trip out there to do my Idaho race, but when I decided to step up my schedule and tack on a Utah race this year, it became necessary to do this race to start off my Labor Day weekend. The Mt. Nebo Half in Payson, Utah (an hour south of Salt Lake City, only 20 minutes from Provo) is a fast downhill half marathon, starting at roughly 8,070 feet above sea level, descending down Payson Canyon down the Nebo Loop Road to 4,766 feet, a 3,304 foot elevation difference. If there was any race to PR at, this was it. And that was my goal… the elusive “sub-2,” which after 45 races I had still not successfully achieved – my closest was the flat Best Damn Race in Cape Coral, Florida in December 2014, where I ran a 2:00:18. SO close, yet still… 18 damn seconds.

This race is run by Runtastic Events, who puts on some great downhill races in and around the Salt Lake City area, such as the Dino Half and the Timpanogos Half.  Mt. Nebo is another race in their arsenal that boasts some spectacular views in addition to that harrowing elevation drop.  I was a little worried because I had tried to get in touch with the race organizers on both email and their Facebook page in the weeks prior, but I do have to admit, the communication was, at times, a bit shoddy -- questions that should have been easy to answer took several days, or were not even answered at all without some additional prodding from other resources who did have connections with the race organizers.

Fifty staters, pre-race...
I had initially made arrangements with my friend Eva (who I had stayed with when last in town) for pickup from the airport as I convinced her to run the race as well – we’re both running the NYC Marathon in November - but with some unintended last minute happenings that day,  she was unable to make the pickup and would have to drive directly to the race early the next morning.  Thankfully, due to my connections with people in the Fifty States Half Marathon Club, I was able to get in touch with my new online friend Peggy to arrange for pickup.  I arrived in Salt Lake City around 8:30pm and headed down to Springville, where Peggy and her husband Derrick and I had booked rooms at the Days Inn only 15 minutes away from the shuttle pick-up spot/finish line at Payson High School.  On our way, we stopped for some much needed dinner at Utah’s answer to Chipotle (and in my opinion, fresher and MUCH better), CafĂ© Rio, and had their delicious fish tacos as my carb loading for the evening.

Welcome runners...
We had a SUPER early wake up, because the school buses taking half marathoners to the start line were picking up as early as 4:15am from the school, for only a small half hour window.  This was actually advertised incorrectly on their website, and one of the complaints that were aired on the Facebook page stemmed from the very late announcement as to when people needed to be at the school for the shuttle pickup.  As I prepared, I realized that while I brought my Camelbak and it’s water bladder (added positive to help me with the PR, bypassing the water stations along the course), I had forgotten the tube that went along with it.  When Peggy and I arrived, we met with Eva, who had driven in from Centerville about an hour and 20 minutes away.  The parking lot was packed with people and lines had begun to form at the school buses to be ready for boarding.  After shuffling between a few lines (it wasn’t really that organized), we finally got into one that got us seats on the bus, and we made our way up the canyon for the roughly 20 minute trip to the start line.

It was a definitely a winding road getting up there.  It was still dark when we arrived, and thankfully the organizers had prepared a clearing with fire pits spread out around and port-a-potties ready to be used.  We had waited for quite some time before we actually got ready to start, as it seems the buses that were contracted for the race didn’t send enough (thankfully, they actually sent buses, and it wasn’t a disaster like many had to endure at REVEL Rockies in Colorado earlier in the summer).  We bided our time by gathering around the fire pits and mulling around with other runners – I got to meet fellow half fanatic Karrie, and another Fifty Stater, Kate.

The only picture I took the
entire race...
At the same time, the last buses to arrive with runners became repurposed as gear check buses, so those who were needing to check bags, yet again scrambled to get their bags onto the buses.  Again, slightly disorganized, but everyone who needed to check their bags managed to get their things onto the bus.

The race started about 10-15 minutes late due to the late buses, but we were happy to get going.  Pacers, provided by xxx, were clearly marked and spread throughout the start chute.  Eva and I positioned ourselves around the 1:50, 1:55 and 2:00 pacers, with the intention to stay close to these folks as much as we could for the race – the downhill profile of the race provided a very strong opportunity to set a personal record.

Some of the views
(Photo by Peggy Shadel)
Before long, we were off, and we were off like bats out of hell from the start.  Immediately, you could feel gravity helping to carry you down the mountain.  I managed some of my most impressive first miles in a race, clocking a sub 8 first mile, and two miles just above 8, my fastest 5K I’ve ever run.   The course provided some of the most BEAUTIFUL views I have ever run, with the morning sunlight dancing against the expansive canopy of pine trees that dotted the surrounding mountainsides.  The course winded around curves, some steeper than others, some sharper than others.  I stopped at all the water stations (which were scattered roughly every two miles along the course) for much needed hydration and a quick walk to rest the legs a bit.

Spectators! (Photo by Peggy
I stayed pretty consistent over the next few miles, managing 8:30-8:45 pace up until mile 8.  Around mile 8, I caught up to Eva, who had been doing well as well, but needed to stop to eat something.  We chatted while making a quick walk break, and then went back on our descent.  Miles 9 and 10 were rough, as we began to exit the canyon, and the race began to flatten out – whatever carried us down the canyon at the speed that we did was gone! We found our first non race-personnel spectators…  of the four-legged variety!  We passed a ranch on the side of the road, and we encountered our first “hills” – it seemed as if there were some sections of this part of the course actually had some uphills that we weren’t aware of.  Thankfully, those subsided, and the downhills came again, up to mile 11.  But we had slowed down significantly from the pace we had kept from earlier.

Official race photo from
Runtastic Events
Official race photo from
Runtastic Events
Just after mile 11, there was a left turn into the town of Payson.  Eva was only about 100 feet in front of me.  Mile 11 soon turned into mile 12 as we saw Payson High School coming into view.  But these last two miles proved to be some of the toughest closing miles of a race I’ve ever run in all the half marathons I have done; everything I put into my fastest miles started to show, and the elevation started to take its toll on my performance.   I struggled to catch my breath as we passed the mark with only 1 mile to go.  As we turned into the high school’s parking lot and made our way through the crowds of folks cheering us on, we turned into the Payson High School football field and around the track to the finish line.   I was just on the other side of the track when Eva finished, and I made my way as fast as my legs could take me.  The clock showed 1:58:58 as I crossed, and Eva managed to take a photo as I finished my first ever sub-2 hour half marathon.  I caught my breath and proudly grabbed my finisher medal, checking off my 37th state in my journey to 50.  While the race lead up had been lacking, due in part to communications with the race organizers, the race itself was very well run, with aid stations scattered properly throughout the course as needed, and the finish was well stocked with volunteers handing out medals and vendors providing services to finishers on the football field.

Eva captured this awesome
moment just after I finished!
Eva had to head back to Centerville, so I stuck around with Derrick and his family for Peggy, who successfully conquered a downhill course this summer – something that had eluded her because of injuries.  We got back to the hotel so I could check out and take a quick shower, and then met up with her daughter’s family for much needed lunch; they then drove me back to Salt Lake City (with a stop for cookies at Ruby Snap… thanks Donna for the suggestion!) to the airport so I could catch my flight back to the east coast – because the weekend wasn’t done yet!  To be continued…

Victory Headstand and BRAND NEW PR!!
Polygamy Porter at the airport.  Because I'm in Utah!
Showing off the bling!

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Race Report: Mainly Marathons, New England Series Day 6 - Coventry, RI

On the course....
(photo by Donna Dullys)
You thought running two halfs in two days was hard?  Try seven.  Or seven marathons.  That's what a bunch of folks did during Mainly Marathons' inaugural New England Series, running through the six New England states plus throwing in New York in there just for fun.  Run by Clint Burleson, Mainly Marathons has done several series races where runners can do multiple states in just a matter of days.  Popular are the races through the northern plains, known as the Center of the Nation series; the Great Lakes area plus Minnesota and Iowa, known as the Heartland series; and the southeast coast from West Virginia down to Georgia, known as the Appalachian series, to name a few.

The iconic whiteboard, changed at every state!
These races are unique as they are multi-loop or out-and-back course setups.  Per the website, each course has "one giant 'aid station' [that serves as the finish line and the 'lap' station] with more food and drink than any runner could ever need.  [The aid station] has everything from fruit, to jelly beans, to sandwiches; water to Gatorade to hot coffee; and everything in between - way more than just Goo and bananas (although the banana smoothies really hit the spot on hot days)!"

I joined the series on its sixth day, after runners had already done their 13.1 or 26.2 in Maine, New Hampshire (where the weather caused road flooding and the race had to be suspended at one point due to lightning), Vermont, Massachusetts (on a particularly hilly trail course), and Connecticut (on a pancake flat course).  Needless to say, when I arrived, there were a lot of runners in various states of pain or slight injury, but they were still trudging on through.

My second to last summer Friday at work had me leaving at 1pm for my MegaBus to Providence. Since I work in Jamaica, I had to take the long subway ride all the way out to the pickup area across the street from the Javits Center on the west side of Manhattan.  I got there with enough time to spare to even pick up a salad from a nearby storefront on my way.  With normal rush hour traffic, we were delayed arriving in Providence by nearly an hour, but I was quickly picked up by Dave, Laura, Chad, and Donna, before making our way out to the hotel only a few miles away from the race course.

With Brian and Jim
We turned in for the night, and set alarms super early for the following morning, as with this series of races, there were 6am starts, and I still had to get my bib.  We woke up with lots of time to spare, picked up another runner (who brought his young son with him) from the hotel next door and then made our way to the course, just off the Coventry Greenway.

At 5:30, the scene was already bustling.  This was easily the highest attended race of the entire series.  The "aid station" was set up just as had been described, at an easy spot where the start and end were also situated.  There were a few tables with food already set up, then the table with all the rubber bands which runners would grab as they completed each "lap" of the out-and-back course, and then the timing table where race personnel took down finish times and provided finisher medals upon finishing.

BFF Donna :) (and photo by her, too!)
After a quick announcement from Clint, we were off.  We ran down the parking lot and down a small hill, no more than 20 feet of drop to a point where we had to turn around.  As we returned up the hill and gradually gained in elevation, we took a right through a wide paved roadway between the trees.  We regained that 20 feet up to a clearing where we saw the parking lot again, and ran across the asphalt to a point where there was an orange cone painted black.  This was the "turn around" point.  We ran back the way we came, going downhill the 20 feet as we curved down the roadway to the first cone and then back up the hill with 20 feet of elevation gain as we made our way right back to the start line/aid station.  Here we'd pick up our rubber band, and then do the loop over and over again.  Half marathoners picked up 9 bands before starting their tenth loop and then returning to finish; Full marathoners did 19 bands before starting their twentieth loop to cover the 26.2 miles.

Victory Headstand!
I completed the course in 2:15:55, and was happy to have completed my first ever "looped" course.  It was a unique experience; with all the out-and-backs, we were able to see many other runners and give out high fives as we passed each other.  Later that afternoon, after some much needed lunch, we caravanned to New Paltz, New York, where the last day of the series was being held.  I didn't run in the race but stuck around to cheer folks on with a "only Jim Diego would do this" Twerk Station alongside the course.  That was a lot of fun... until my portable speaker ran out of juice after only one hour of cheering.

I could tell that the runners who had been here for the course of the week had definitely made a bond with each other - which gave me an "itch" to want to do one of these series in the future!

Real nice bling to add to my collection!!
New Paltz shenanigans... my twerk station!
After New Paltz with Donna and Kristi!
The family as we're back in NYC to see Laura off at LGA!

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Race Report: Madison Mini-Marathon

on Lake Mendota waiting to start
My weekend to Wisconsin began on a direct flight from La Guardia to Milwaukee.  I used a part of Delta's terminal that I had never been to before.  I had thought Delta had the nicest terminals at the airport, but this one was akin to the gross ones over at the Central Terminal; a huge jury assembly-like room with two small gates, calling flights out for passengers to proceed through the small doors out ONTO an awaiting bus that would drive us across the tarmac to the plane.  Where we had to climb stairs to actually get inside.  Alas, the flight left, just a little bit late, and I arrived in Milwaukee at around 6pm.  With the hour and a half drive still to Madison, I texted my family friend Elin, who I was staying with to pick up my bib for me at the UW Memorial Union before it closed at 8pm.

With Nicole!
I arrived at Elin's house in south Madison at around 8:45, and she, her husband Brady, and their son Max welcomed me into their new home, which they had only moved into about a month before.  I hadn't seen Elin or Brady since their wedding nearly 20 years ago, and Max was born the year after I graduated high school, so this was definitely quite the reunion!  We reminisced over some tasty Wisconsin cheese and wine, before having a delicious chicken cacciatore dinner that Elin had made that day.  She's quite the cook, and I had quite a bit to satiate me for the night.  I joined Brady and his brother, who had come over later that night, to watch a little bit of "Mad Max: Fury Road" before I had to retire for the evening since the race was to begin so early the following morning.

Fifty Staters 20 minutes
before the start
I woke up early and got myself dressed and out the door before the sun was up (as per usual), and drove the 20 or so minutes up to the UW campus, where the mini-marathon start was located.  The drive up actually covered part of the end of the route, and mile markers had already been placed alongside the road; aid stations were beginning to be set up as well.  Parking was super easy, and I casually walked over to the start corrals on the closed off Langdon Street, and the startline up at the top of the hill at Frances Street.  I met up with Jann and Mike, who had made their way through Michigan and the Upper Peninsula over the past week before heading down to Madison for this weekend's race.  Jann had thrown together a 50 states sign, and we met up with a few others who had come over for the race, including my perennial racing buddy Nicole.  Soon, everybody started lining up; it wasn't a real "line up by pace time" kind of race, so we just kind of threw ourselves into the mix of people.

When we were off (and gave Bucky the Badger a high five), the course took us up Langdon Street headed northeast toward Wisconsin Avenue. We turned right onto Wisconsin Avenue and immediately had ourselves a majestic view of the Wisconsin Capitol Building.  As we rounded the corner on Mifflin, we ran through the Saturday morning Dane County Farmers' Market, just beginning to set up.  Its the largest produce-only farmers' market in the nation, with nearly 200 local farmers offer home grown produce, and live music every Saturday.  It's near the Capitol over the summer, but is a year round market that moves indoors during the colder months.

As we continued on, we passed the 1-mile mark on State Street, Madison's very happening pedestrian mall that adjoins the campus of the University of Wisconsin-Madison to downtown.  At this hour of the morning, it was pretty bleak, but nonetheless, it was nice to see one of the more important parts of where the university and city intertwine.  We turned left onto Lake Street and then right onto Dayton, as we passed the Kohl Center, the arena that UW uses for basketball and hockey games, boasting some of the highest attendance in collegiate hockey. We passed the 2-mile mark as we approached Union South on the right and then turned again to make our way on the roads around Camp Randall, UW's football stadium.  Some small hills as we approached this area, but none too difficult to get around.

We hit the 3-mile mark as we passed the south part of the stadium and then continued onward, getting into more residential parts of town.  The 4-mile mark was in front of the city's Henry Vilas Zoo, Madison's small public zoo near Lake Wingra.  These afforded some great views of the lake, as well. We then began a four mile trek through miles 5, 6, and 7 on some pretty treelined pathways weaving through University of Wisconsin's Arboretum.  The elevation gradually rolled through this area, but it was nice to get some shade for a less crowd-supported part of the course.  Wild turkeys roam throughout the arboretum and have been known to make appearances during the mini, but unfortunately I was unable to catch any.

Fun signs!
We finally made our way out of the arboretum at the mile 8 mark, heading northward on Manitou Way with the Nakoma Golf Club to our right and homes on our left.  This continued on as we progressed forward, and then reached Monroe Street at mile 9, where I had seen the aid stations being set up in the morning.  We turned onto Commonwealth Avenue and hit the mile 10 mark, and then weaved through more residential along Allen and Walnut Streets heading northward, with more spectators cheering us on as we headed closer and closer to the finish line.  All throughout this area of the course (but also through parts of the earlier miles), there were some signs that were posted that actually made me chuckle out loud - some of the more inventive, funny, and original signage I've seen on a race course to date.

At mile 11, we went through an underpass underneath Campus Drive, and reentered the university's campus, passing a few science labs along the way.  At Observatory and Walnut, we went around a rotunda that had the University's sign, which I SHOULD have stopped at but decided to just keep going.  Finally, we had reached the shore of Lake Mendota, and followed the trail-like lakeshore path eastward inching closer and closer to the finish.  We reached a bunch of dormitory buildings where the mile 12 mark had come up, but strangely, this did not match up to the GPS in my Garmin.  It wasn't until we exited the pathway past the dorm buildings and back onto asphalt about 1/4 of a mile later that my watch beeped that we had hit the 12 mile mark.  Either way, we got onto Babcock Drive, and then turned onto Linden Drive, where we experienced the first of three hills at the end of the race that I began to curse out at.  We trucked on, made another slight turn onto Charter, and then lo and behold, another damn hill, this time between two buildings.  This last stretch curved and rolled along Lathrop Drive before finally heading downhill toward Park Street, and we could see and hear the crowds at the finish line making raucous noise for all the finishers.  We turned at Park Street, and there was the finish line at Bascom Hill, the main quadrangle that forms the symbolic core of UW's campus!

I crossed in 2:13:51, clearly slowed down by those final hills, but I was happy with my result, as it signaled a return to times I had been used to getting when I was actually training.  I stuck around to wait for Mike and Jann, who had a much better race this weekend, and then we proceeded over to the 14th Mile Post-Race Party, sitting alongside the lake having our celebratory beers and taking some important post-race photos, including my iconic Victory Headstand Photo (Which this time, was slightly dangerous, as I had to balance on wood planks on the pier into the lake, which had many places where both my medal and my phone could fall in!)

Victory Headstand!

The Oscar Mayer truck was there!!

Sponsored by Sassy Cow Creamery.
So Jann and I had to make our sassiest faces.

Almost ran with a cheesehead, but didn't buy one in time...

Bling and Beer!

The Carlsons and I celebrating!
I spent the rest of the day enjoying Madison - getting some beer and cheese, driving out to visit some folk art sculptures, and enjoying the National Mustard Museum.  I headed back to Milwaukee the following morning and headed back to NYC, where i had an uncharacteristically early finish to my weekend!

My hosts for the weekend, the Torviks!

Peace out, Madison!