Friday, November 27, 2015

Race Report: Rock 'n' Roll Brooklyn Half Marathon

Rock 'n' Roll Marathon Series announced plans to return to Brooklyn, but didn't have a date set for the Inaugural Rock 'n' Roll Brooklyn Half Marathon until the late spring.  The date was set for October 10, 2015, and the course was revealed to be centered around Prospect Park, with two extensive out-and-backs along Eastern Parkway and Ocean Parkway.  The course would still be different enough from the Brooklyn Half that New York Road Runners puts on in May.

Back in April, after talks with some folks who work with the Rock 'n' Roll series, I had gotten in contact with the event manager for the Brooklyn race about singing the national anthem.  At the time, though, they were pending confirmation for a singer that had just been booked to perform the anthem for the race.  As the singer hadn't confirmed yet, I was placed as the back-up just in case.  Fast forward to August, and after a few emails back and forth, I ended up with the job, as they preferred having a seasoned RnR racer, especially one who would definitely be there to run the race, as well as a New York City local, to sing the anthem!

In the days prior to the race, the expo was held at the Brooklyn Expo Center, a new exhibition space, located in Greenpoint, Brooklyn.  While in Brooklyn, it was not a very convenient location, and very difficult to get to, forcing commuters to take the oft-ridiculed G Train, New York City's Queens-Brooklyn subway line, and the only line that doesn't go into the Manhattan.  Add to the fact that the expo was VERY small, especially compared to other expos in the Rock 'n' Roll series, for the size of the race based on number of registrants.


With former BK BP, Marty Markowitz
Because of the start location at Grand Army Plaza, located on the north side of Prospect Park, and the 7am start time, I opted to stay with a friend who lived in downtown Brooklyn, an easy two to three stop subway ride from the park.  The train was very full as it pulled into the station, and very congested as people emerged from the subway onto the street level.  As the anthem singer, I was given race day VIP, which included breakfast and private bag check located inside the adjacent Brooklyn Public Library.  I was also given a guest VIP, which I used on my friend Anna, who was running the race as training for the NYC Marathon, and who I was going to help pace, as she was experiencing some plantar's fasciitis issues in the weeks prior.  Soon, I was brought outside to the start area for the anthem, and while waiting, got to meet former Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz (who gave me and Anna each a "Brooklyn" pin, that we put onto our bibs) and world-record holding oldest female marathon finisher Harriette Thompson, who at 92 years old, ran the Rock 'n' Roll San Diego Marathon earlier that year and was going to the run the Brooklyn race!

With superstar Harriet Thompson
After a little delay, I got to sing the anthem in front of my largest audience to date - about 15,000 people, which included runners and their family and friends who were gathered at Grand Army Plaza for the start of the race.  The anthem went extremely well, and then Anna and I proceeded into the corrals to find my group of friends, who were gathered in corral 3.  Due to some issues with clearing of the race route and with bottlenecks of security getting into the corrals, the race started nearly 15 minutes late- but we got started soon enough, and with my portable Ultimate Ears speaker, I got to help pace Anna through 13.1 miles of Brooklyn!

The startline
Running on an easy 4 minute run/1 minute walk interval, we rounded Grand Army Plaza, and began the 1.5 mile jaunt down Eastern Parkway into Crown Heights, up until the turnaround point just before Albany Avenue.  We made the turnaround and was able to see the sheer amount of people who were running this race, which was staggering.  We stayed close to the median, as it gave me the opportunity to put a smile on the face of runners who were en route to the turn around point, as Anna and I dance-ran and just had as much fun as we can on the route.  Thankfully the stretch on Eastern Parkway was pretty flat, with a downhill start.  We returned to Grand Army Plaza to cheering crowds as we made the turn onto Flatbush Avenue.

Grand Army Plaza selfie w/ Anna and Mindy!
Stilt walkers on Eastern Parkway
What 17,000 people looks like

At mile 4, we made a slight right onto Ocean Avenue, as we skirted the southeastern side of the park, and then to Parkside Avenue, running along Prospect Park's southern boundary.  Mile 5 took us to the onramp to Ocean Parkway, which was a little bit of a climb for the next half of a mile, but then we had a small downhill for the next half mile, and then the course flattened out considerably as we continued down the long stretch of street in the neighborhoods of Kensington and Midwood.  Anna was feeling good, so we took some stretches of 9 minute run/1 minute walk intervals, which we did convincingly well.  We turned around at the 7.5 mile point and then continued back in the direction we came, bounding up the parkway until we came upon the offramp which was a nice and steady (but not too difficult) climb.  Thankfully, BeyoncĂ©'s "Get Me Bodied" started playing on my speaker, which made those around me work hard to match their cadence to the beat of the song -- they were very thankful once we reached the top of the hill, that we were able to conquer it without feeling as if we exerted crazy amounts of energy just trying to get up it.

Treble singing for us at mile 4!
Barkada runs half marathons!
At mile 10, we reentered the southwestern corner of Prospect Park, to teeming crowds of people, just as "My Shot" from the hit Broadway musical HAMILTON began to play on my speaker.  Perfect timing, as it's a song about perseverance and strength: "I am not throwing away my shot!/ I am not throwing away my shot!/ Hey yo, I’m just like my country/ I’m young, scrappy and hungry/ And I’m not throwing away my shot!"  Supposedly, Lin-Manuel Miranda, the talented and influential composer and lyricist of the show, as well as the actor who plays Alexander Hamilton, was there cheering on a couple members of his cast who were running the race!

Anna and I trudged on through the last three miles of the race, being cheered on by lots of people lining the street.  We climbed the ridiculous hill on the north side of the park that I know all too well.... and then coasted on the downhill as we took on the final mile of the course.  Anna started to feel some pain in one of her knees, but we continued on, knowing the finish was within striking distance.  Soon, we made the turn off of West Drive onto Center Drive, with hundreds of people lining the route, and crossed the finish line in 2:27:41.

Anna and I after the finish!
We made our way into the Nethermead with THOUSANDS of people basking in the absolutely gorgeous Saturday morning weather.  I proceeded to the Heavy Medals tent to meet up with friends and get my "Beast of the East" medal, then headed to the VIP tent for some food and a massage.  We watched Nate Ruess from the band fun. perform on the MainStage, and then I got a phone call at the end of the show to come up to the stage and participate in the meet and greet!  Later that night, I got to take in the revival of the Broadway show Spring Awakening with my friend Juan, who was in town for the race, followed by some drinks with Ndegwa and Rebecca at the Rum House. All in all, it was a fantastic weekend...
Me at Meet and Greet with Nate Ruess
Victory Headstand!

Brooklyn pin thanks to Marty Markowitz!

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Race Report: Catamount Half Marathon

Welcome to Brattleboro!
My next race was a Sunday morning trot through the Green Mountain State of Vermont.  Being relatively close to New York, and accessible via Amtrak, I took a noon train from New York Penn Station, taking me to northward.  Regularly, the Ethan Allen line goes directly to Brattleboro, but there happened to be some construction going on along the line, so the train stopped in New Haven, and riders moved onto buses that took us through the rest of Connecticut, Massachusetts, and then into Southern Vermont - and I got off the bus in Brattleboro, VT around 5pm.

Oh man, these beers were strong...
My Airbnb for the weekend was in an old 19th Century house only a ten minute brisk walk from the train station (which happened to be right on the border between Vermont and New Hampshire).  I met up with my host, Calvin, and dropped off my bags, before I returned to the cute little downtown area to have dinner and drinks at one of the local haunts.  I ended up at Fireworks Restaurant for dinner, having a delicious pappardelle with a veal ragout, and then to the Whetstone Station Restaurantand Brewery, where I indulged in a Stone Imperial Russian Stout flight, with 4 oz pours with a very high 10.5% ABV... good Lord, those drinks were strong - I felt drunk after a few sips -- and I thought I'd be sweating out brown for the half the next day!

The start (and finish) at the Brattleboro Retreat
The shoulder of Route 30
I woke up bright and early for the race the next morning which was conveniently less than a five minute walk away from my accommodations, at the Brattleboro Retreat, a hospital founded in 1834 for mental health and addictions treatment, who was kind enough to let us use a portion of their grounds for the race.  As the few of us gathered to stretch and prepare for the run in the chilly high 40 degree weather (cold compared to what I had been running for the last several weeks!), we got ourselves on the course, and soon, were off on the shoulder of Vermont's Route 30, heading northward.  We ran alongside the West River (a tributary of the Connecticut River) over rolling hills toward the town of Dummerston, for approximately five miles.

The Iron Bridge

At mile 5, we crossed the Iron Bridge, then ran over some hilly gravel trails before crossing the West River again at the 6.5 mile mark, over the West Dummerston Covered Bridge, one of Vermont's famed and iconic covered bridges!  Since mile 4, there was a guy that I would play leapfrog with, and we would do the same as we ran back along Route 30 headed back toward the Brattleboro Retreat.  This would happen until mile 7, when I got a second wind and began to run mile splits nearly 30 seconds faster than I had been for the first six miles.  The last couple miles were the toughest, as we had to go uphill -- of course, it was easier at the beginning since it was downhill!  The guy I was leapfrogging with ended up passing me at mile 12.5 and soon, the finish line was in sight.

The West Dummerston Covered Bridge
Running through the covered bridge
Victory Headstand!

I crossed the finish line and my 13.1 miles in Vermont in 2:11:39.  While a small field, this was a fun race, run by the prolific New England race series, 3C Productions.  This, however, was a rescheduled date, as the original race, which was scheduled for mid July,  was cancelled less than a day before the race.  I don't know too much of the details about that race, but it's still unfortunate to hear of a race being cancelled so close to the start, and with not much information given as to why the race was being cancelled.  I'm glad I was able to get Vermont off my list, though, and allow it to fit into my schedule.  I headed back home on the Amtrak at around 12:30pm, and got home at a semi-decent hour for the first time in weeks!

The spoils of my Vermont race!

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Race Report: Pinedale Half Marathon and Rock 'n' Roll San Jose Half Marathon

One of the views on the drive
from Salt Lake City to Pinedale
Less than a week after returning from Hawaii, I was on a flight out west yet again.  For the third time this year, I made my way over to Salt Lake City, the "gateway" airport for the immediate area (meaning, cheapest option for flights.). I took the day off and got on a plane that left New York early in the morning, and took off to Dallas, connecting to Salt Lake City, and landing in the early afternoon.

My 50th Half sign!
However, this trip wasn't staying in the area.  Upon landing, I got myself to the car rental counter and got my vehicle to drive off to my ultimate destination, roughly 4 - 4 1/2 hours away, in Pinedale, Wyoming. After a quick side trip to a FedEx Office to laminate a special "50th marathon" bib from the 100 Half Marathons Club, I embarked on my long journey through the ever changing terrain of eastern Utah into the flat, flat country with expansive and beautiful vistas of southwestern Wyoming.

World's first JC Penney in Kemmerer
The drive, while long, proved to be quite fun for me, being able to take in the amazing scenery.  En route, I stopped in the small town of Kemmerer, Wyoming, home of the world's first JC Penney store!  The drive took me through town, so I hopped out real quickly to grab a photo and then continued on my way to Pinedale, driving by the Green River and passing through the small towns of La Barge, Big Piney, Marbleton, and Daniel. I reached Pinedale just as the sun was beginning to set, and stopped into the Rendezvous Pointe to pick up my bib, where I met up with race director Nora Farrand, who welcomed me with open arms, and outfitted me with a ton of great swag to bring back home.

Preface dinner - STEAK!
I headed of to my accommodations for the night to drop off my bag and familiarize myself with the navigation as my GPS signal was completely inoperable due to the location's lack of cell service. I booked an awesome little cabin on the land of a local resident, with the backdrop of the beautiful Wind River Range. Apparently, MJ's place was the only Airbnb listing in the immediate area, and due to her success with them, several other homeowners in the area may sign on to the service in the near future!  I headed out back into town and met up with Peggy and Derrick, my friends from Utah, who had signed up for the race as well. We had dinner at the Wind River Brewing Company, and I had a massive 14 oz. hickory smoked prime rib, accompanied with fresh horseradish and au jus, broccoli, and sweet potato fries. Definitely well fed for the next morning's race!

A Wyoming sunset...
The sun creeping over the Winds...
The following morning came rather quickly (after an awesome night of sleep in a huge, comfortable bed!) and I left for the race just as the sun was rising over the mountains. I headed back over to the Rendezvous Pointe and stayed warm inside the building before we made our way outside to gather just before starting the race.  Nora had emailed me earlier in the month after seeing my YouTube video of me singing the national anthem at the Queens 10K over the summer, and had informed me that the race committee wanted to invite me to open up the race by singing the anthem for them.  I gladly obliged, and the morning came for me to provide my talents... The song went off swimmingly, and soon, the 104 of us signed up for the half were off and running!

Singing the National Anthem prior to the race
(photo courtesy of Pinedale Half Marathon) 
Nice long stretch of road...
As a genuine out-and-back course, the race took us down Magnolia Street, then turned right into Tyler Avenue. After a little U-ey through some residential areas near Pinedale's high school, we went on an uphill climb on Lake Street, then turning onto Fremont Lake Street, where we passed some beautiful farmland and had some four-legged spectators "cheering" us on along the course. We turned onto a side street and made our way to our first real water stop, manned by ladies dressed in Grease Pink Ladies outfits!

Our four-legged spectators...

We continued on and found ourselves at a crazy uphill climb at mile 3, taking us onto the bike paths (and rolling hills) that would bring us in and around Fremont Lake.  I took in the great views while running through this area, and then made my way to the road that formed the southern border of the lake.  At around mile 5, the runners in the 10k began their trek (having been bused to their startline) and they proceeded on the same route but going in the other direction.  We got some great shout outs as we continued on toward the halfway point, along a long road that seemed to go on forever, but still provided us with some incredibly majestic views.

The halfway mark!
Pink Ladies' water station on
the way back to the finish!
The halfway mark came soon enough, manned with an aid station, so I took a swig of water, before continuing on.  I went back the way I came, offering some high fives along the way from people en route to the halfway mark themselves, and retraced my steps all the way back to the Rendezvous Pointe for 6.55 miles of paved trails skirting the beautiful lake and roads headed back into town.  It seemed much easier to do the run back to the start, as there were more downhills (meaning there definitely were more uphills in the first 6.55 miles!)

My absolute most favorite picture I've ever taken during a race...
Victory Headstand!!
I crossed the finish line in 2:26:36, a fine time considering this being the absolute highest continuous elevation race I have ever run!  We received some very snazzy finisher medals and I proceeded to go into the Rendezvous Pointe building to get a much needed massage and some delicious barbecue, all provided by the race.  I stuck around and got to see Peggy as she finished, and then headed back to my Airbnb for a much needed shower and then rush out so I could drive the 1 1/2 hours up to Jackson for a quick trip to say "I've been there," and then another 4 1/2 hour drive back down to Salt Lake City with enough time for me to head back for my evening flight... to get me to my second destination for the weekend, San Jose!

With Nora Farrand, race director
for the Pinedale Half
But before I talk about San Jose, I wanted to mention how much I really enjoyed my quick trip to Wyoming.  It's races like this one that I really enjoy, because despite the small field of participants, the entire town comes out to support the race, and the organizers pull out all the stops to make sure the experience is a great one for all that attend.  Of course, the area is blessed with some of the most scenic landscapes I've ever run in, rivaling even the beauty of my Utah race at Mt. Nebo, but it truly has placed itself as one of my most favorite races.  What also makes it a great race is how much the race organizers value feedback from runners - not only is the race director increasing their social media presence, but they are also taking into account a name change, renaming the race from the Pinedale Half Marathon to the Wind River Half Marathon.  A consultant suggested this change, as the Wind River Range is more renowned and means something to people around the world; Pinedale not being as enticing.  For those looking for a great Wyoming race, look for the Wind River Half in 2016!

The RnR San Jose startline
After a long drive to Salt Lake City, I got to the airport and got on my flight to San Jose, landing in California at about 9:30pm.  I stayed at the home of my good friend (and renowned Grammy-award winning a cappella producer) Bill, who lives in nearby Milpitas.  After a great carb-loading dinner of In-N-Out, I drifted off to sleep, only to wake the following morning for Bill to take me to the race start in downtown San Jose.

San Jose does Rock!
I met up with my Black Sheep Run friends, quite tired still from my crazy Saturday of running, driving, and flying, but got myself to the start and we were off.  For this race, I ran with my portable Ultimate Ears speaker, providing some great music for everyone along the course, rather than at just the mile markers. I'll be honest, the course was not very memorable - in fact, I thought it was a bit boring.  A couple streets were, though, in particular on The Alameda, where we had an out-and-back and saw the elite racers headed toward the finish line while we were still at the 5 mile mark.  The course took us down Santa Clara Street, looping us northward on N. 11th St.  We ran for 4.5 miles around the Northside and Japantown areas, before looping back to the startline area, where we could see the CGI crew tearing down the start as we ran past.

14 mph?  Don't think so...

We ran in the other direction on Santa Clara Street (westward), then making a slight right onto The Alameda, and then ran about five miles through a very residential area of San Jose, called the Rose Garden.  I was so exhausted by this point, so I was walking periodically and not really paying attention to a strict interval. At one point we ran past the nicely manicured Municipal Rose Garden and then later, the Rosicrucian Egyptian Museum, one of the country's most iconic museums devoted to all things Ancient Egypt.  We returned back to The Alameda and Santa Clara Street, for the last two miles headed to the finish line.  One amusing part was running past a vehicle speed checker that was definitely not tracking our speed correctly, as it was clocking times that were far faster than what we were running.

By the time we were at mile 12.5, my speaker had run out of battery, so I just chugged it out in silence till reaching the finish line on Park Avenue in front of the Plaza de Cesar Chavez.  I crossed in 2:31:45, which was fine by me, considering how tired I was (and how much I wasn't a fan of the course), and then proceeded to meet up with my friends, some of who were the newest "Hall of Fame" recipients, receiving the humongous gold microphone medal that I will be getting in November in Las Vegas.  We took lots of photos (of course) and grabbed some beers... and I managed to meet Meb Keflezighi, top American marathoner, once again -- he had placed 2nd at this race, at the age of 40! I then spent the remainder of the day with Bill, surprising our mutual friends Julia and George (who actually lived around the corner from the race course!), and then having an awesome pizza dinner with Bill's parents, also good friends of mine, near the retirement community they live in in nearby Pleasanton.  Bill then took me back to San Jose, to the airport, where I got on my redeye flight back to NYC!

2nd victory headstand for the weekend!