Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Race Report: Rutgers Unite Half Marathon

For once, I was staying close to home.  After finishing two weekends of crazy mileage (42.4 and 26.2, respectively) I was going to do an easy 13.1 in New Jersey at the Rutgers Unite Half Marathon, put on by CGI Racing, a race management group based out of the northeast - not to be confused by Competitor Group Inc that puts on the Rock 'n' Roll Series.  I had done the Philadelphia Love Run that they put on in March of 2015, which I thoroughly enjoyed, and loved that they included a coffee mug as part of the race swag - and one I continue to use to this day for my morning cup of coffee at the office!

I love my friends. And I met several of them because of this club.  A club
I am no longer in, and I left on my own accord. This is the original picture, before I
was so lovingly cropped out on the club's official Instagram page. I still love my friends.
And I'm pretty sure they love me back, and wouldn't crop me out of group photos.
Spite isn't cute. And that's that. (Original and uncropped photo by Pam Provencher)
(Photo by Pam Provencher)
The weekend started on Saturday morning, when I got a chance to sleep in!  Family friends of mine from back home in Kansas (who now live in Chicago) were in town visiting, so I met up with them for the early afternoon at their hotel in midtown, then walked with them through Central Park, to the Upper West Side and the Natural History Museum (and a stop at Shake Shack!), before taking them down to Lincoln Center.  After parting ways, I waited for Donna to come pick me up with our friend Kimberly, who was in town from St. Louis to run a women's only half marathon in Central Park on Sunday, and we drove off to New Brunswick for dinner.

The crowded startline
Several of our friends, including the Carlsons and the Provenchers, were in New Jersey to do the Rutgers race, which was happening at the same time as the MORE/Shape Women's Half in Central Park, so we decided as a group to have a dinner get-together in downtown New Brunswick to catch up.  We had a great dinner which concluded with sparklers, before heading back to the city later that evening.  I had an early morning wake up call as I had to take the subway to catch the train at Penn Station for the one hour train ride to New Brunswick and arrive around 7am to catch a shuttle to the start line across the Raritan River at Rutgers' Busch Campus in Piscataway. I got to the start area with more than enough time, and at 8am, the race started!

The course runs through roads and paved paths all throughout Rutgers' campuses, but not on any main drags - it seemed like a lot of it was on side streets and the like.  The course was very flat, with any elevation inclines coming at a very gradual distance, nothing too steep until the very end, when we had to ascend the hardest hill in the entire race.

Livingston Campus in the distance
We started on Barthlomew Road, alongside the Sonny Werblin Recreation Center, heading northward until turning right onto Brett Road.  Brett Road curved around the perimeter of the campus, passing several of the Busch Campus dormitories, eventually turning into Bevier Road.  We then returned to Bartholomew Road, passing the main Busch Campus Center, before taking the overpass on Avenue E that bypassed New Jersey's Route 18. We then took Avenue E crossing into Rutgers' Livingston Campus, running on a straightaway with the modern architecture of the TEN Arquitectos-designed Rutgers Business School directly in front of us.  We continued down the Avenue E straight away, passing Livingston Campus' dormitories, before turning right onto roads that curved around the university's facilities, shops, and warehousing buildings, and past the university's salt storage silos.  Probably the course's least exciting stretch.

Brett Road heading back into Busch
We then ran up to Joyce Kilmer Avenue toward the newer area known as "The Plaza at Livingston," a small town concept for the campus that contains apartment residencies, a cinema, eateries, and stores, as well as the Louis Brown Athletic Center (where the Scarlet Knights basketball teams play), the Rutgers Livingston Student Center and Rutgers Business School Annex.  This was about 4.5 miles in, before we essentially took a return trip on the roads back toward Busch Campus over the next 3.5 miles.  While we were still on the Plaza on the out-and-back, I finally caught site of my friends for the first time - seeing the Provenchers as I was headed back toward Busch.  We actually passed the start line on Bartholomew Road, then ran to Frelinghuysen Road in front of the Werblin Recreation Center, where we ran a seemingly unnecessary 0.5 mile out and back before continuing out onto the rotunda onto Scarlet Knight Way, right alongside the HighPoint Solutions Stadium, the home of Rutgers Football.  Right around here is where I began to experience some stomach discomfort, feeling some bad midsection cramps, and nagging myself for not having drank more water the night before.

The East Coast Greenway path
With a lot of stops to walk and deal with my cramps, I continued on, taking Sutphen Road out to the East Coast Greenway, the pedestrian path that ran alongside Route 18.  We got to Johnson Road, where we were on a LONG out and back through the wide open Johnson Park, where the cramping got so bad that I was walking every two minutes.  Having run about 1:07 for the first 6.5 miles of the race, I was well on my way to getting around a 2:15 finish, but when these cramps kicked in, I knew that was a bust.  My mile pace began to deteriorate from 10 to 10:30 miles to 11:00 and 12:00 miles; even 14:00 miles as the race was ending.

The out and back on Johnson Road seemed endless, though it was only about a cumulative two miles.  I had finally seen the Carlsons as I ran on the back end of this route as they were going out, as well as the Provenchers again, and it seemed like we were all having issues.  The escalating heat wasn't helpful either!  We were at about mile 11.5 when we finally got off of the Johnson Road path, and then turned onto Landing Lane to cross the Raritan River over to George Street to finish off the last 1.6 miles.

Let this be a lesson.  No sweatpants.
Those last 1.6 miles were still tough. We took George Street, curving around on an incline, before heading into Buccleuch Park on yet ANOTHER out-and-back.  I'm not really crazy about out-and-backs, even though sometimes you see friends.  In any case, we ran through the park, ran around a gazebo, I saw the Provenchers again, and then finally came back out of the park, and back onto the main street, turning right onto a massive, massive hill.  This was College Avenue, and the dreaded last 1/4 mile of the race.  Of course, we had to work for it - a 52 foot climb, the steepest over the first hundred feet.  When it became a little more of a gradual climb, I picked up the pace, zipping right through the main drag of the College Avenue Campus, and finally crossing the finish line in 2:31:41.  My second 6.5 miles was a slow 1:24, but thankfully I finished after experiencing such terrible cramps.

I stuck around to watch the Provenchers and the Carlsons slug it out to the finish, and we posed for some flattering post race photos (sarcasm)  Then, the Provenchers and I went out for lunch before I headed back home on NJ Transit, feeling awfully exhausted, which translated to me getting pretty sick that evening and missing work the next day with a bad cold.  But I finished yet another half, and my second in the state of New Jersey.

The Provenchers finishing
The Carlsons finishing
Friends finished with another half!

Victory Headstand at Rutgers

King of the Castle with a (R)oyal piece of bling :)

Sunday, May 8, 2016

Race Report: Rock 'n' Roll Raleigh Marathon

Found myself on the
Hall of Fame board!
The week before flying to Raleigh, I ran the most mileage I’d ever done in a weekend - 42.4 miles, having run a half marathon, 5K, and full marathon over a Saturday and Sunday, in Lexington, Kentucky, and Knoxville, Tennessee.  I decided early on in the year to return to Raleigh to run the Rock ’n’ Roll Raleigh Marathon - this time, the full - to give me even more of a challenge by attempting back-to-back weeks of full marathons.  This was notably one of the Rock 'n' Roll Marathon Series' hilliest marathon courses, even one that my friend Jessica said was tough enough to send her into tears.  But I was up for the challenge, and the opportunity to mark off another state for my marathons.  I was also greatly anticipating this trip, as I would be able to see my friends Amy and Chris, who I stayed with in 2015, but this year - Amy is several months pregnant with their first child!

Seen at the expo: Maureen Bowen!

Nobody likes HB2.
My race kit for the 26.2...
I flew into Raleigh early on Saturday and got a cheap car rental - I proceeded directly to the Raleigh Convention Center to meet up with Black Sheep Run friends who I mostly hadn’t seen since San Antonio in December, and pick up my bib for the following day’s race.  After our little reunion, we headed over to The Pit Barbecue a few blocks away to have a group lunch and catch up a bit.  I headed back to the car to drive to Amy and Chris’ place about 25 minutes away in Durham, and filled up the rest of the evening with a nice four mile walk around the neighborhood with Amy, a delicious dinner at a local farm-to-table spot, and a Target stop, before heading back to their apartment to watch “The Barkley Marathons: The Race That Eats Its Young,” a documentary I had watched LITERALLY the night before, but talked it up so much to my friends that I convinced them to pull it up on Netflix and watch it with me.  (Which means, I want YOU to watch it too, if you haven’t yet!)  Before long, I needed to head off to sleep since I had a VERY early morning ahead of me, which included the drive out to Raleigh, and parking in one of the several parking garages in the downtown area.

Fellow HB2 protestor/runner!
I woke up at 4:30 and headed out the door around 5:15 (having to hear back because I stupidly forgot my wallet), and thankfully without the dogs barking up a storm when I returned to the apartment.  I got to Raleigh around 6 and got myself parked at likely one of the closest parking lots I could get to the start/finish area, and then hung out for a bit to enjoy the warmth before having to go out into the frigid cold for the race start.

It was FREEZING, or at least nearly so, as we checked in gear to gear check and began to line up in the corrals.  I found Mitch and Elaine at gear check, and saw De Moe briefly, before heading into the corrals to meet up with the rest of Black Sheep.  At 7am, we were off, into the brisk cold air, weaving our way through downtown Raleigh.

Boo discrimination!!
I'll keep the report for the first 8 miles short - after all, I did run the half last year, and the races ran together for those first eight miles.  That race report can be found here. The first mile saw us take off down Salisbury, make a turn around South Street, then head up McDowell Street, up toward a particularly grueling hill, one that I didn’t really remember being so tough from the year prior.  We turned onto Jones Street, passing the NC Museum of Natural Sciences, hit the one mile mark, and then took off around Wilmington Street, North Street, and then Blount Street, where I made my first stop... in front of the Governors Mansion.

#RepealHB2... Love Conquers Hate!
Now, North Carolina has been embroiled in some controversial politics as of late, when its state legislature passed a law that, among many other things, eliminates anti-discrimination protections for gay, transgender and intersex people, and legislates that in government buildings; requires individuals to only use restrooms that correspond to the sex on their birth certificates; prohibits municipalities in North Carolina from enacting anti-discrimination policies; setting a minimum wage above the statewide minimum; and regulating child labor, or making certain regulations for city workers. The legislation also removes the statutory and common law private right of action to enforce state anti-discrimination statutes in state courts.  It has been described as one of the most, if not the most, anti-LGBT legislation in the history of the United States.  The bill, which passed the North Carolina House and Senate, and was signed into law by Governor Pat McCrory, has been criticized within the state by municipal governments, and publicly denounced by elected officials, celebrities, performers, athletes, and big corporations alike.  Some states have even barred government employees from non-essential publicly-funded travel to the state, due to the law.  When this law passed, I highly reconsidered my trip back to Raleigh to run this race, but I believed strongly that in order for a voice to be heard, there needed to be a continuous ACTION and protest, in addition to all the travel bans, pull-outs and concert cancellations that had happened in the state.  I decided that, yes, I would run 26.2 miles in North Carolina, and wearing a "Legalize Gay" shirt and "Repeal HB2" back bib that would show my solidarity with the NC LGBTQ community, and in opposition to the blatant discrimination that the state government is affirming.

Thumbs down to Gov McCrory!
Back to the race... when we got to the governor's mansion, I stopped, and wanted to take a protest selfie.  As I was about to take the photo, Elaine came up, and took it for me.  What resulted is one of my favorite race photos ever... one of protest!  I can only wonder if the governor (who, by the way, is up for reelection, and is definitely up for a HUGE fight in November) saw it.  Elaine and I continued on, passing under the Shaw University marching band playing on the overpass, as we made our way to Martin Luther King Jr Blvd and turning left onto Chavis Way, skirting Chavis Memorial Park.  At the 5K point, we were greeted by a cheerful Irish step team, several in costume!

Irish step and sumo... an interesting combination!
Out toward Meredith College
Around this point is when Elaine and I decided we'd tough the 26.2 out together.  We continued on through the same route we ran last year (albeit, this year in much chillier weather), and took our time on the hills, agreeing to take walk breaks when we needed to, but gun it on the downhills when we could.  Both of us were feeling ragged in the early miles - my calves and feet feeling stiff from the cold; Elaine's shins and knees not up to par.  But as the miles wore on, our pain began to subside.  We ran in the residential neighborhoods east of Raleigh, through Oakwood, Pace Street Village, and Oakdale.  We found our way to the 10K mark on Peace Street, then headed westward, past William Peace University and Cameron Village.  We then found our way to the mile 8 marker, turning right onto Pogue Street, which curved around toward Gardner Street, and then made its way to the split off point on Hillsborough Avenue, where the marathoners would turn right and head out to Meredith College for an additional four miles before returning back to the same route as the half marathoners on Hillsborough.

Business in the front....
The split off heading west on Hillsborough was nice, being an out-and-back, we got to see a lot of the faster sub-4 marathoners making their way eastward on Hillsborough.  Miles 8-9 were rolling, and as we turned onto Gorman Street, we took advantage of a nice downhill as we headed to the front gate of Meredith College.  That ended as we made our way up East Campus Drive.  The hill was nasty, but  with some club music pumping in the background, I made it an opportunity to "stomp it out" before the course flattened out again.  Once deep inside the campus, we made our way through the parking lot and all the way around the college's sports facilities (the baseball field and tennis courts) before making our way back from whence we came onto Gorman and back to Hillsborough.

Party in the back :)
It was just after mile 12 where we rejoined with the half marathoners, and we were 2 hours and 15 minutes into the race.  There was still a significant amount of folks out on the course from the half marathon's side who were coming upon the 9th mile of their race, as we made our way further east on Hillsborough before turning right onto Pullen Road.  Just before the turn was the big inflatable rockstar guy, where Elaine and I took a quick photo op.  We continued on down Pullen Road, finally reaching the halfway point of our race as we crossed the overpass at Western Boulevard.  I distinctly remember the music being played out on the course at that moment and at that place - Iggy Azalea and Jennifer Hudson's "Trouble" - because coincidentally, it was playing on my iPod shuffle at the same time... (OF ALL THE SONGS!!)  At this point of the race, the half and full marathoners split off again, like before, marathoners turning right, half marathoners turning left and toward the finish.  We still had another 13 miles to go...

Looking down Hillsborough
Bagpipes at mile 15!
Western Boulevard was quiet, but short lived, and then we turned down onto Nazareth Street past the  copper-clad Catholic cathedral being constructed in the huge lot to our left.  We then made our way onto Centennial Parkway before heading directly into NCSU's Centennial Campus, home of the university's College of Textiles, College of Engineering, College of Education, and College of Veterinary Medicine.  The course took us through a breezeway/passthrough  of the main building and into the campus' oval-shaped courtyard, where we did an out and back before heading out of the campus.  Just as we were on Oval Drive, and reaching the mile 15 mark, Elaine and I spotted Justin, Sherry, Leny, and Melinda, heading into the campus for the first half of the out-and-back.  I texted Amy and my cousin Alex at this point, to tell them where I was at, as I was anticipating them at some point in the course in the very near future.

Elaine and I at Lake Johnson
We turned left onto Main Campus Drive, which arced its way concentrically from the oval, then took off onto Varsity Drive as we proceeded to Avent Ferry Road, a long, nearly 3-mile stretch that would take us all the way to Lake Johnson.  Elaine and I bided our time as we trudged along the rolling hills of this road, fartleking, run-walking, and overall just taking in the greenery of the surroundings as we headed further away from the downtown area.  It was about 1/4 mile away from the mile 18 mark when we turned into the parking lot and trailhead that made its way around beautiful Lake Johnson.

Elaine strikes a pose at the Lake Johnson Dam
More cheezin at the Lake
We ran around the paved path that abutted the northeast part of Lake Johnson, following its sharp curves, until we emerged on a section that ran along the lake's dam.  We then ran along the path for a short period before emerging near a bridge near an area where we crossed Lake Dam Road.  Waiting at the foot of the bridge was my cousin, Alex, a busy traveling man himself, who made time to come by and cheer me on as I ran the race!  He and his wife Kathleen would come meet me after the finish line in the Red Hat Amphitheatre.  After a quick picture, Elaine and I continued on, running another mile through paved trail in the woods, and when I was finally starting to bore from the monotony of the pathway, we emerged back onto the road, where we ran along Gorman Street, a steady uphill that dipped and then went up again.  At the corner of Gorman Street and Thistledown Drive was a gas station, where my friend Amy was waiting.  We grabbed a quick photo together (the first time she had seen me since the night before, having left super early in the morning), and again, Elaine and I went on our way -- we had now only a 10K left in the race!

Alex captured this photo of us at the point that he was waiting for us...
Amy captured this photo of us...
Amy and I at mile 20!
Over the next two miles, we ran along Thistledown Drive, which turned into Main Campus Drive, proceeding up and down several rolling hills, and continuing our walk-run-fartleks.  We came back to Centennial Parkway, where we turned left and then ran for a short while, before turning right onto Blair Drive, taking us to the eastern edge of the NC State's Centennial Campus.  We had a tiny out-and-back segment along Barbour Drive, before we ran along Umstead Drive, a winding path passing the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services.  Just before the 24 mile mark, the path seemed to be very familiar to me, and it's when I realized this was approximately where the half marathon and marathon rejoined each other.  Of course, by this time, the half marathon was long over with it's final finishers having completed their race in the hour prior; this area, if my memory serves me correctly, was where the "wear blue: run to remember" running community placed signs of fallen veterans and had people along the course carrying American flags, as we rounded the corner.  The final miles took us down Saunders Street, as we ran toward the mean "Boylan Avenue Hill," the last real test for runners before the finish.  This hill is a nasty 1/4 mile uphill slog, and fittingly, the RnR folks provided us with a celebratory arch to run through once we made it up that hill.  There was less than a mile to go from there, and we took a couple turns before finishing the 26.2 very near where we started, on Fayetteville St and Davie St.

So ready to be done with this marathon! LOL...
Celebratory drinks with my bling!
I crossed the finish in 5:14:40, which I was VERY happy with, considering the crazy elevation profile.  It really helped to be running alongside Elaine, and challenging each other with our agreed upon running method.  Considering Georgia, Knoxville, and Raleigh were all hilly races, as was Run the Bluegrass, I was happy with breaking 5:15, and coming in at the fastest full marathon time I've run in 2016 of the five I've run thus far.  After the race, I met up with my cousins Alex and Kathleen, and we headed over to Crank Arm Brewing Company, where I had a delicious Peanut Butter Chocolate Stout, called "Trail Bandit."  I headed back to Durham to grab my stuff and get it all together before heading to RDU for my flight home.  And with that, nine states have been completed for my marathon journey!


Victory Headstand!

Roomy flight home... thank goodness!