Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Race Report: Running with the Cows Half Marathon

Running with the Cows has been a race that I'd heard of since I started running half marathons.  Located about half an hour south of Kansas City in the communities of Wea and Bucyrus, Kansas, the race is actually quite a popular one for half marathon enthusiasts looking to check off Kansas as they run in all fifty states.  It's a very straightforward course with few turns, but definitely not as flat as you would think for being in Kansas.  (Note: despite the popular belief that Kansas is the flattest state in the nation, most scientists rank Kansas somewhere between the 20th and 30th flattest state, as there's an area of undulating surface in the eastern third of the state, known as the Flint Hills.)

It's located in Miami County, the county just south of Johnson County, where Kansas City's populous Kansas suburb of Overland Park is located.  My dad's younger brother and his wife live in Overland Park, and their home is actually just under 20 minutes away by car from the race start, so it made sense to stay there overnight before the race.  With my parents in Wichita, only 2 1/2 hours away, they decided to make the trip up as well, and have a fun family weekend - and it just so happened to be both my mother's birthday (on May 13) and Mothers' Day (on May 14).  Perfect timing all around!

So I flew out of New York after work on the last flight out at 8pm from LaGuardia, and we landed about 45 minutes early in Kansas City!  My parents unfortunately didn't check my flight status, so I was left waiting for a bit before they did arrive (on time, if my flight landed right on time).  The airport is about 45 minutes away from my aunt and uncle's house, so they timed it correctly based on my flight schedule.  We got back to Overland Park close to 11pm, and with the race early the next morning, I went straight to bed so I could get some rest.  Not only was I running, but I was slated to sing the national anthem with the children's choir associated with the Catholic School sponsoring the race, but also surprise the audience with a number as runners made their way to the corrals for the start of the race -- a "cattle call," if you will!

Driving in to Bucyrus.
Silo marketing.
So early the next morning, we head down to Bucyrus, and join the rest of the vehicles caravaning to the parking field, and then assemble for photos with various friends who made their way to Kansas for the race, and to celebrate the 100th half marathon of our dear friend Dan, who, with his wife Paula, are from the area.  About twenty minutes before the race, after Dan is introduced to the crowd, as well as two other VIP runners Calix (at 16 years old, running his 200th half!) and Susan (running her first race since finishing chemo!), I head up to the mic stand to sing my rendition of "Somewhere Over the Rainbow," perfect for a race in Kansas.  Shortly thereafter, I joined the Holy Rosary-Wea Catholic School Children's Choir, under the direction of Judy Wolf, for the national anthem!  Both numbers were videoed on my cell phone, and then shortly thereafter, my cell battery died.  A good signal that I needed a new phone, so I just handed it off to my parents, and decided that there would be no pictures from my phone for this race.  Sad face.

At the start with fellow VIPs, while I sing
"Somewhere Over the Rainbow"(Photo by Pamela Brisendine)

Singing before the race (Photo by Dan Roehler)

The startline!
And then we were off, at 7:30 on the dot!  The May weather was definitely felt - at that point in time, it was 59º with 77% humidity.  To cheering crowds, the half marathoners took off out of the starting gate, down the church drive and right onto Metcalf Avenue, where we'd continue for 1.5 miles before turning right onto 215th Street.  The first mile was nice, running alongside several friends, including Tami and Dave, before taking off and running with the 2:05 pacer for a bit of time. I would end up staying with her for the first five miles of the race, as the course rolled up and down, very subtly.  It's a surprisingly hilly course for Kansas - but still relatively flat.

Running with Tami
(Photo by Donna Dullys)
At the 3.5 mile mark, we turned once again, turning left onto the 3 mile long stretch along Mission Road.  There were parts of this section that were nice long downhills, and I took advantage of the elevation loss, and gunned forward.  At around the 4.5 mile mark, we began to see the faster runners making their way toward us, turning onto the road we had just crossed.  It was nice to see some of the faster folks, especially friends of mine, as I continued on down Mission while they were coming up.  We eventually made a turn around at the 6.5 mile mark, and then it was my turn to head back up, attempting to conquer the uphill.  I soldiered on, and still managed to post strong sub-10 minute miles.  At mile 8.5, we turned right onto 207th Street, and it was along here I posted my first over 10-minute mile at the 9 mile mark.

Anatomically correct cow or
questionably placed udder?
With four miles to go, we continued onward, the sun blazing down on us.  I started to slow a bit from here on, posting a 9:57 and a 10:24, which would end up being my slowest mile split of the race.  The road slightly curved left before we turned right onto the first real "hill" of significance, a very short out-and-back nub on Metcalf Avenue that was the ramp up to an overpass.  We had less than 5k to go, and I gunned it for the final two miles, posting a 10:15, and then a considerably faster 9:28 as we began to move ever closer to the silo with the recognizable cow logo, signaling the turn back onto the drive of the church/school.  My legs were heavy, but I kept moving - and to a barrage of cheering spectators including my parents, I ran a 2:09:37, my fastest half in quite some time, but well within the range of times I had been posting in the past several marathons for the first half of those races.

Coming into the finish (Photo by Donna Dullys)

My parents excitedly seeing me cross the finish line (Photo by Donna Dullys)

It occurred to me shortly after the finish that despite posting my bib up, I neglected to attach my chip timer, which should've been threaded through my shoelaces on one of my shoes.  In the harried commotion of the morning, I had gotten my bib and bag from Donna earlier that morning, but didn't even realize that the race was being timed via a shoe timer.  Thankfully, I had my watch on hand, and I got my watch time collected as my finish time by the timing company.

Dan finishes his 100th!
(Photo by Donna Dullys)
After the finish, I had a blast getting to watch friends come in to the finish alongside my parents.  It was quite a thrill to see Dan finish the race, marking a huge milestone for him.  We all celebrated with delicious food provided by the parish, and then our fun tent specifically for friends of Dan, located outside the church. My parents thoroughly enjoyed themselves, too, getting to meet many of the friends I've made over the last few years of running from all over the country, and getting to partake in all the celebration.  But the day wasn't over yet...

With my always-supportive "Cali Mom," Jann! (Photo by Jann Carlson)

Me and my parents, cute AF!

My parents and I after the race. And a 🐮.

Victory Headstand!

After heading back to my aunt and uncle's to shower off the morning's sweat, we drove out to north Kansas City, where Dan and Paula had reserved a party room at a hotel, for more celebration!  We had some delicious barbecue to chow down on, and some quality craft beers (Dan knows his stuff!) to imbibe. There was even a fantastic cake in the shape of a running shoe that promptly got eaten!  My parents enjoyed this time as well, getting to sit down and chat with many of my friends again; we left with full stomachs and headed back to Overland Park for a much needed nap before... more food.  My cousin Patti made reservations for my parents and I, her, and her parents at Bonefish Grill to celebrate Mothers' Day as well as my mom's birthday.

Happy birthday mom!
I was POOPED by the end of yet another delicious meal, so I passed out early that night, and the next morning, Patti took me to the airport for my flight back home.  It was a quick weekend out to KC, but what made it better was the quality time I got to spend with my running family and my real family!

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Race Report: GoodLife Toronto Marathon

My travel adventures are never without some drama.  Weather screwed up flights all around the New York City area, and after watching my WestJet flight out of LaGuardia to Toronto Pearson (Toronto's major international airport) get delayed and delayed and delayed all day... ultimately resulting in a nearly five hour delay (a 6:30pm ending up being scheduled for 11:15pm!), I decided to just head to Newark and purchase a last minute one way flight on Porter Airlines to the smaller Billy Bishop airport in downtown Toronto.  Porter is a no-frills regional airline headquartered in Toronto, flying turboprop planes regularly between Newark and Toronto, in addition to other locations around Canada.

I get to Penn Station and immediately get on the next EWR bound NJTransit train, which thankfully leaves with only a 15 minute delay (unfortunately, the rain flooded some of the tracks at Penn). While on the train, I purchase my new flight on Porter.  Thankfully, due to the weather, my flight from LGA to Toronto could be refunded because of the existing weather advisory.

I get to Newark Airport to pick up my boarding pass and get in line for check in at the Porter Airlines counter. As I get to the counter, the agent informs me that the flight I had JUST purchased was cancelled, but she was able to rebook me immediately onto another flight leaving a little earlier, that also happened to be delayed... however, I needed to get thru security immediately.

Arrival into Billy Bishop Airport
I get through security and get ready to board my flight, and all along, the gate agents are trying to hurry us through to get seated.  We need to be in the air immediately, because the Toronto Billy Bishop Airport has a very strict 11pm curfew. Flights have been known to descend into the airport vicinity, only to be forced to pull back up and get diverted to other nearby airports because they miss the arrival window. After all is said and done, we end up arriving into Toronto at 10:30pm. Another flight scheduled to leave after mine that didn't get cancelled, however, did not make curfew, and they are forced to divert to Hamilton, Ontario; those passengers have to get on a bus and be shuttled 45 minutes to downtown Toronto.

The Billy Bishop Airport is small, but quite efficient.  Situated on an island in Lake Ontario, the airport is super convenient to downtown Toronto. An 800 foot pedestrian tunnel connects the airport terminal to the Toronto mainland, and my third cousin Rina and her fiance Rob were there to pick me up after I kept them abreast of my changing flight plans.  We immediately head out to grab some drinks in downtown Toronto after my arrival, getting a chance to catch up and enjoy the evening with each other before turning in for the night.

With womens' marathon pioneer
Kathrine Switzer
Saturday was a windy day, but we decided to spend the day to casually take care of my pre-race necessities (pick up my race bib, and the race shirt, which is probably the most generic and ugly race shirt I've ever gotten.  WHY would you pick that shade of green and use Comic Sans font....), but more importantly, hang out with family. While the race expo at the Enercare Centre was small for a race in a city the size of Toronto (this is actually one of two major distance races held in the city; the other, the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon, is held in October, and seems slightly more popular), one of the special guests present was womens' marathon pioneer Kathrine Switzer, who was signing copies of her memoir, "Marathon Woman."  In 1967, she became the first woman to run the Boston Marathon as a numbered entry. During her run, race official Jock Semple attempted to stop Switzer, who was running under the ungendered name "K Switzer;" however, he was shoved to the ground by Switzer's boyfriend at the time, Thomas Miller, who was running with her, and she was able to complete the race. It was not until 1972 that women were allowed to run the Boston Marathon officially.  It was awesome to be able to chat with her and and also hear about her experiences firsthand from when she began to light the way for female distance running.

A dedication in my copy of Kathrine Switzer's memoir, "Marathon Woman"
We are family!
When I contacted Rina about staying with her for the race, my initiative was to be close to downtown and near where the race course and pre-race logistics would be.  Rina is actually my third cousin, as we share a common great grandparent, but I have first cousins that also live in the Toronto suburb of Scarborough, so they all came downtown to meet up with us for lunch that morning at a Vietnamese restaurant in Chinatown.  We're all still pretty close regardless of how "related" we are to each other.  Aside from lunch, the group of us got to hang out in the fun artsy redeveloped area of Liberty Village, then later that night, Rina, Rob, and I decided to catch a show - the Canadian production of Strictly Ballroom: The Musical, at the Princess of Wales Theatre, which happened to star a friend of mine that had done Miss Saigon with me eight years ago in summer stock.

On Sunday morning, I set my alarm to wake up pretty early, at 5:30am.  The start of the race was north of Toronto, in the suburban district of North York.  From Rina and Rob's, I could walk ten minutes to the Hilton in Downtown Toronto, and catch a shuttle bus to take me up to the startline.  I was pretty early, so I was able to get onto the first school bus headed out.

The startline
The start area was at Mel Lastman Square, but to stay warm, everyone congregated inside the North York Civic Centre building, which once served as the city hall for the former City of North York.  When the race began, we all went outside en masse, and crossed the start line as we ran northward on Beercroft Road, then along Churchill Ave for a couple blocks before heading to Yonge Street, where we would be running for the next 5.5 miles.  Yonge Street is a major arterial route connecting the shores of Lake Ontario in Toronto to Lake Simcoe, a gateway to the Upper Great Lakes.  It's been popularly misconceived as the longest street in the world.

Running down Yonge Street

The "nasty hill"
As we continued down Yonge Street, we could see a "nasty" looking uphill section in the distance,  after passing the neighborhood of York Mills, with high-rises of Yonge and Eglinton (aka the trendy neighborhood full of "Yonge and Eligible" twenty and thirty-something year old Torontoans) beyond.  By the time we reached the 5K mark, about 29 minutes had gone by, and I was happy to have broken the half hour mark.  The steady and not so hilly early part of this race was proving to be very helpful for my time.

Yonge and Eglinton
As we continued south along Yonge Street, we passed through the neighborhoods of Bedford Park, a nice suburb with a small downtown feel just outside of the downtown core, and the aforementioned Yonge and Eglinton area, one of the four central business districts outside of downtown Toronto. At about 5.8 miles in, we made our first turn off of Yonge Street, onto Chapin Crescent and into Midtown Toronto, and I reach the 10K mark in exactly 1:00 as we make a turn onto Oriole Parkway. We zigzag our way around the beautiful neighborhood of Forest Hill, known as one of Toronto’s wealthiest and most affluent neighborhoods, with multimillion dollar homes. We also made our way past the campus of Upper Canada College, a private boys school and one of the most prestigious preparatory schools in all of Canada.  It was a little hillier here, too, so I ended up slowing down a little bit, taking a few more walk breaks than usual.  We eventually ended up on Spadina Road, which culminated in the beautiful Casa Loma, a Gothic Revival style house and gardens, notable as both a popular filming location for movies and TV and a popular venue for wedding ceremonies.

Such beautiful trees in the neighborhood near Upper Canada College
Running past Casa Loma, a Gothic revival style house and gardens constructed in 1914.
Running alongside Upper Canada College
Serene through Rosedale Ravine Lands
As we ran along MacPherson Avenue, running parallel to some east-west running railroad tracks for the Canadian National Railroad, we then went through the neighborhoods of The Annex and Yorkville along Davenport Road. We continued east along Belmont Street, before passing Yonge Street and making our way down Aylmer Avenue and Rosedale Valley Road as we made our way through the Rosedale Ravine.  While we were 10 miles into the race, the fastest runners of the half marathon (which started an hour after us) began to turn off of Yonge and join us on the course, approaching their 7 mile mark.

A spectator with her funny sign next to the cemetery

The viaducts passing over us
Along this section of the course, we were treated with beautiful views, and massive trees on both sides of us, bridges high above us (including the very tall Prince Edward Viaduct and the Rosedale Valley Bridge)  We also passed the St. James Cemetery, where a spectator had placed herself in that particular area to be able to showcase her funny, and fitting sign. The course then emptied us onto Bayview Avenue, alongside the Don River and the Don Valley Parkway.  As we approached the 12 mile mark, I ran into someone wearing a very familiar looking singlet - it was a FRNY running singlet!  Fellow Front Runners Justin and Tony were also running the marathon, with two others, Elbert and Albert far in front of us.  How cool that we had five FRNY members running a marathon in Canada... eh!?

Downtown Toronto!
I reached the halfway point of the course in roughly 2:11, as the runners turned onto the streets of Corktown, surrounded by seemingly lots of high-rise apartment buildings in development. At this point, we were also treated to our first real views of Downtown Toronto, with the iconic CN Tower defining the skyline.  We headed westward along Front Street and eventually Wellington Street.  There was so much construction on the street, unfortunately, too, forcing us to pay attention to our footing.  It seemed very crowded here, especially with lots of half marathoners aiming for their sub-2s, running by.  The wind was also very strong here, and we were running into a headwind. We turned onto John Street to get us back onto Front Street, where we continued to head westward.

Running into a headwind alongside
Lake Ontario
At the 15 mile mark at Spadina and Front Street, I hoped to see Rob and Rina, but unfortunately they were unable to make it there by 10AM when I had told them I'd be passing by.  Like clockwork, I took my first GU.  We continued westward until the street dead-ended at Bathurst Street, where we turned left onto the Sir Isaac Brock Bridge that spanned over the rail lines and Fort York.  We then ran onto Fort York Boulevard alongside its namesake as well as the Gardiner Expressway above, as half marathoners sped on with the finish line not too far away at this point in time.  The marathoners finally got to separate from the crowdedness, turning left onto Lake Shore Boulevard, rather than right, and we ran along the trails in Coronation Park as we passed the finish line in the Ontario Place parking lot while we were only 17 miles into our race.

Humber Bay Arch Bridge
We continued on, running on the trails alongside Lake Ontario all the way to Humber Bay Park, something like 7k out.  And boy was it tough... running into a headwind on the Martin Goodman Trail, I was really envious of all the runners running along Lake Shore Boulevard in the other direction.  We passed the huge wind turbine, and the Beaux-Arts style domed buildings at Exploration Place.  The kilometer markers seemed to pass by slower and slower. The highrises in the distance (which turned out to be in Etobicoke, and not too far from our turnaround point) seemed SO far away.  While the views of the lake were quite nice, it became monotonous until we finally reached the Humber Bay Arch Bridge, this beautiful white double-ribbed arch pedestrian bridge spanning over the mouth of the Humber River to protect the environmental integrity of the waterway.  We continued along the trail past Palace Pier Park, and it was at about the 34km mark where the 4:45 pacer had made a move and passed me, and I began to make a decision in my head that I would most definitely have to keep up to finish in front of him.  A couple times, he had slowed down to a walk, so I caught up and asked how much on or off-pace he was, and from then on ensured to keep him behind me as much as I could.

Running past highrises in
Mimico, Etobicoke
We made our way into the more refuge-like Humber Bay Park East, where we ran around a warm-water fish habitat and wetland area, before making our way back to Downtown Toronto from whence we came.  It was the 35km point where the "turnaround" point was, and I picked up my pace a bit, running a little longer (perhaps, more shuffling...) through the normal last 5 miles of pain. We finally got onto Lake Shore Boulevard heading east at around the 23.5 mile mark, and I left the 4:45 pacer in the dust behind me, gritting my teeth through the last 2.7 miles I still had to run.

That downtown skyline seems
so far away...
The wind turbine and the domed buildings came back into view, and I kept moving closer and closer to the Ontario Place parking lot.  The right turn couldn't have come any sooner, and I crossed the mat with Rob and Rina watching me finish!  My finish time... 4:46:31... yet I still finished in front of the 4:45 pacer.  Oh well... it's my fastest international marathon finish, eclipsing my Madrid finish from two weeks before by 22 minutes, and faster by over a minute than my marathon the week before, making this my fastest (so far) marathon of 2017, and my sixth fastest lifetime of 36 marathon finishes!  I had a blast running this race, and being able to see a lot of Toronto in the process; despite it being the smaller of the two marathons in Toronto, the course offers a lot to be able to see, other than the fall race, that stays along the water practically the entire time. 

Thankful to have my cousin Rina and her fiance Rob to capture me crossing the finish line!
Celebrating with a Moosehead

I found Rob and Rina after taking a few swigs of Moosehead Beer, and got my headstand photo taken with the beautiful views of downtown Toronto behind me.  We took a streetcar and subway back home to Rob and Rina's condo so I could shower and get myself packed before stopping into Lululemon to see my old friend Pedro, grabbing a quick bite (poutine!) at, of all places, A&W on Queen Street, and then heading to Rob's cousin's penthouse apartment for a barbecue while watching the Toronto/Cleveland basketball game.

NBA players fly commercial, too.
Tristan Thompson in the green.
My flight back home was to leave at 8:30pm that night, but after many delays, we finally got off the ground at 9:45pm -- not nearly as dramatic as my flights coming to Toronto on Friday night; however, it was very cool to see members of the Cleveland Cavaliers, including LeBron James, walking through the airport and TO THE GATE RIGHT NEXT TO MINE... since, huh, millionaire basketball players still take commercial airplanes.. who knew!?  I got home later that night, and was happy to have had such a fulfilling weekend north of the border, getting a marathon done and seeing family, as well!

My humongous finisher medal, and ugly ass race shirt I'll never wear again.
No problems carrying this puppy on, despite the engraved warning.
Victory Headstand in the park, with CN Tower in the background

Friday, January 26, 2018

Race Report: Tacoma City Marathon

I had a LATE arrival into Seattle after my long transcontinental flight from NYC, but luckily I had an empty seat next to me and no seat in front of me, as the emergency exit door bumped inward on the plane, leaving the row in front to have only two seats.  After landing in Seattle I headed to Enterprise to get my rental car, only to find out that Enterprise shuts down their operation at the airport at 11pm, so all of their reservations move over to Alamo (since they have some type of agreement between the two rental car companies) and score... the $70 economy reservation I booked for the weekend became a $42 SUV, since that's all they had!  I drive down to Tacoma to my Airbnb and get there at 12:45am; thank god my Airbnb host still awake to let me in. I'm STARVING, so I head straight to bar about a block away for a drink (and food, since the kitchen was open til 1am!)

Exploring Olympic National Park

Moss, moss, everywhere.
I get a good night's sleep, but decide to wake up pretty early the next morning, so I could head out toward Olympic National Park via the Hood Canal, a two hour drive away.  I set my GPS to the Staircase Campground right on the southeastern edge of the park, knowing full well I wouldn't be able to really experience the park since it's so huge and has different ecosystems depending on what part of the park you are at.  And it's also known as being a national park that has few drivable roads that penetrate into the park's interior; it's more of a hiker's paradise, with trails that traverse many different biomes, allowing hikers to explore from the coast of the Pacific Ocean to the summit of Mount Olympus.  Olympic National Park's trail network varies in length from less than a mile and a few minutes of hiking to many miles that could take multiple days. The section I decided to visit was in more of the temperate rainforest area.

The dome of the
Washington State Capitol
After taking in a bit of nature that morning, I drove down to Olympia, only an hour south, to check out the Washington State Capitol, America's tallest self-supporting masonry dome, and the fourth tallest in the world, surpassed only by St. Peter's Basilica in Rome, Italy; St. Paul's Cathedral in London, England; and St. Isaac's Cathedral in St. Petersburg, Russia. Also around the Capitol are monuments in tribute to World War I Veterans, Vietnam War Veterans, Korean War Veterans, and Washington State Law Enforcement.

Off to see Here Lies Love in Seattle!
Dinner with the "Titas" of Here Lies Love -
my friends Jaygee, Jangle, Debralee, Melody, and Jonelle!
The ever present disco ball
at the start of the show.
My morning was beginning to wane, and I had limited time to head back to Tacoma to pick up my bib for the race, because I had to drive more, heading into downtown Seattle to the Seattle Repertory Theatre, as I had tickets for the matinee of Here Lies Love.  This would be my sixth time seeing the show, as I got to see it four times in New York City at the Public Theatre downtown, and also at a one-night-only benefit concert at Terminal 5 raising funds for victims of Typhoon Yolanda in the Philippines. The Seattle production would be its first full production on the west coast, and several friends would be reprising their roles from the original show in New York, as well as a couple other friends making their debut with the show.  When I arrived, I went all over the place to try to find parking; in fact, in the neighborhood of Queen Anne, where the theatre is located, it is next to impossible to find a good parking space, as most of the streetside parking is 2 hours max and enforceable on weekends.  I ended up parking a few blocks away from the Seattle Repertory Theatre knowing full well that the show is 90 minutes long and I would be hobnobbing with members of the cast afterward.  The show was a blast, and I had a fun time taking in the show again, noticing the parts of the show that were staged differently from New York, which was in a smaller space, as well as feeling super proud to see friends performing in a show that so uniquely portrays the Filipino history.  After the show, I met up with my friends in the cast, and several of us went to go get food at Vietnamese restaurant nearby; they all had an evening show, so our visit was quick.  I headed back to my car well over two hours since I had parked it, and I lucked out -- no ticket. YAY!

With Angie at Engine House No. 9
After the show, I headed back into Tacoma, and realized I still had time to stop by the Old Spaghetti Factory, where my friend Angie had organized a dinner for Marathon Maniacs/Half Fanatics before the next day's run.   At dinner, I end up finding out that Angie booked an Airbnb -- and it was the other room in the same house as I was staying! After dinner, and her settling in, we end up heading over to Engine House No. 9 for another drink to keep the night going, and I even did some karaoke before deciding to call it a night; after all, I was going to wake up at 5am for the race the next morning.

I woke up bright and early the next morning, as shuttles were taking off from the Tacoma Art Museum to take us to the start area at Tacoma Narrows Airport.  I parked my car close by, on a pretty steep hill (thankfully, it's free on Sundays!) and then went right onto a bus, which gradually filled up, ready to take people over the bridge and to the airport, technically located in Gig Harbor, around 20 minutes away.  It was windy and chilly when we arrived, and many folks took refuge inside The Hub, a restaurant located on the tarmac of the airport.

The startline at the airport
(Note for readers: From here on, this blog talks about the race and my experience on the course.  In 2018, the race directors decided to change the course drastically, removing the run across the Tacoma Narrows Bridge because the busing of runners to the start from the Art Museum was proving to costly for the race director.  Some elements of the race are still there, but please remember when reading this that the course will not be the same for at least the 2018 edition and going forward indefinitely.) 

The marathon and marathon relay would start at 7am, with the half marathoners starting an hour later.  It was a beautiful morning, with the sun shining (a far cry from the incessant rain all evening the night before).  The wind was a bit of a nuisance, but that was mostly because we were on a flat and unobstructed airport runway.  Shortly after singing the national anthem and checking off the state of Washington off my anthems list, us marathoners took off, and we headed north along the runway for a short distance before turning right out of the airport's property onto 26th Avenue.

Running along the Tacoma Narrows Airport tarmac
Downhill to the bridge we go!
We followed 26th Avenue along a few short hills as we headed eastward along Stone Drive, which gave us our first real taste of how this race was going to be.  Approximately 9 minutes in, we hit the mile 1 mark, and we turned left onto Jahn Avenue, as we proceeded to the downhill ramp to take us to the Tacoma Narrows Bridge.  At the right turn one block up, we had a crew of folks cheering us on before we took off speeding down the ramp with the beautiful bridge in our sights.

Running on the bridge!
Our route took us along the pedestrian pathway situated on the eastbound span.  The Tacoma Narrows Bridge is actually a pair of twin suspension bridges, with the westbound span completed in 1950, while the eastbound span was completed in 2007.  Originally, a single suspension bridge spanned the Tacoma Narrows strait of the Puget Sound, which was completed in 1940, however, it dramatically collapsed due to strong winds that same year.  From the time the deck to the original span was built, it began to move vertically in windy conditions, which led to construction workers giving the bridge the nickname "Galloping Gertie." The winds were predictably strong as we ran across the bridge - not surprising, then, to see the "Severe Side Winds" signs midway through the span.  For fear of my hat flying off my head, I removed it, and held firmly on to it as we pushed forward (and sideways, ha!).  It was roughly a half mile to cross the bridge, fighting the strong winds as the path began to ascend, and we officially arrived into Tacoma's city limits.

The view from the bridge
Welcome to Tacoma
Running thru War
Memorial Park
After finally making it up to the end of the hill, we crossed Jackson Avenue, aided by a policeman stopping traffic as runners made our way through, and continued on a route through the concrete paths within War Memorial Park, a small green patch situated at the end of the bridge.  However, in the light of the April sun, the park was festooned with gorgeous cherry blossom trees, providing a beautiful setting for us to run through as we made our way past the parking lot and onto Skyline Drive, and into a residential neighborhood.  We ran to the end of the street to the dead end, where we picked up back along the sidewalk on the north side of N. 9th Street, and ran eastward along the narrow path, which was separated by orange cones.  We would run about a half mile along this sidewalk before turning right back around and then continuing over the pedestrian bridge that spanned over Washington Route 16.  All along the sidewalk, we saw many humongous earthworms wriggling around, seemingly fresh from the dewy morning, making their way to the moist dirt nearby.  I'm not sure if others saw them, but they were HUGE.

Tacoma's West End neighborhood
After crossing the pedestrian bridge, we continued running around the residential areas of the Skyline neighborhood in Tacoma's West End, running about two miles along Westgate Blvd and then 21st Street, before making a turn south along Proctor Street.   Along the way, I encountered a couple from Calgary, Alberta, wearing some snazzy Canadian singlets, and I remarked about my interest in running in their hometown after hearing about its popular marathon.  The views were quite impressive along the way, as I admired the beauty of the cherry blossom trees in full bloom, and the miles felt really good as the went along.  We turned along N. 7th Street, before hitting mile 8, and then running north along a very nicely manicured Union Avenue, while passing by the University of Puget Sound, only national, independent undergraduate liberal arts college in Western Washington.

Meandering through neighborhoods
We entered Central Tacoma and made our way through what could be considered Tacoma's "Main Street," past the intersection of Proctor and 26th Street.  We looped around various residential streets as we zigzagged our way through the North End, and reached the halfway point along North 42nd Street, where we would eventually meet up with the half marathon runners at Bristol Street. We would run alongside them for the next 3/4 mile (they were just reaching the halfway point of their race), before separating again - us turning left, and them turning right, as we proceeded along 51st Street, to curve around to the entrance to the northernmost tip of Tacoma - Point Defiance Park.  We had a beautiful downhill surrounded by more cherry blossoms along Mildred Street, followed by a strugglebus of an uphill hike just to reach the entrance of the park.

Heading into Point Defiance Park
Old growth forest in
Point Defiance Park
When we got into the park, it was a little confusing as we saw faster runners making their way past us, seemingly finishing a loop of the park. As it turns out, we would be passing the "entrance" area twice.  After being led through some rough terrain - having to run through some sticky mud and grass (that I don't believe was the initial plan to have to deal with running through in the first place-- damn construction!) and past a beautiful Japanese garden, we found ourselves on asphalt yet again.  But, now we were surrounded by the most majestic old growth forest along its aptly named Five Mile Drive.  It was a gradual uphill, and you could totally feel it.  There was quite a bit of walking through, fittingly, the next five miles.

Running down the Puget Sound
Toward the end, after a seemingly endless circuitous route through the quiet park, we finally started to hear some music, and had made it to a fun Blues Brothers themed water station.  Before long, we finally made it back to the entrance of the park, and to the water stop where we were directed to turn right rather than left, and found our way out to the industrial area of Ruston. We then followed the largely redeveloped area of Point Ruston, right along Puget Sound, running on Ruston Way all the way southward, dodging various people, some out to walk with their dogs, many others just recreationally walking on the sidewalk to enjoy the beautiful day, much like we were in the last few miles of our marathon.  Except... we had bibs on, and were clearly involved in a race.

The last hills of the race!
Eventually we made our way off of the side paths and back onto the road, which was Schuster Parkway, within the last three miles of the race.  A surreal moment happened as we continued along this route; a cargo train passed us runners, moving slowly on the left, while a busy Amtrak passenger train, moving Sunday commuters passed us on the right.  The mile 24 mark came and went, and not long after, the 4:45 pacer cruelly passes me by.  I was happy to be running at a decent clip and near my normal, but still little miffed that the pacer passed me.  I did get a chance to catch up a tiny bit because despite next to the coast, there was a very cruel trick -- two small hills were in our way to the finish line - a highway onramp/offramp at mile 25, and then again at mile 26, literally just before the turn to the finish in the Art Museum parking lot.

Victory Headstand!

Nothing like reuniting
with old friends!
I barrelled on through to the finish and made it over the mat in 4:47:59, ecstatic to finish yet another state, and my 11th of the year!  After retrieving my second medal, for finishing my first Marathon Maniacs Signature Series race, and getting a victory headstand photo with one of the steep downtown Tacoma hills behind me, I headed back toward my car to get back to the Airbnb and quickly get showered, so I could head back into Seattle yet again, but this time to the neighborhood of Ballard, to meet up with two friends for a late lunch - my old college friend Nina and her boyfriend ___, who lived further north up in the city of Bellingham; and my former co-worker and roommate in NYC, Cerrissa and her boyfriend ____, who had relocated recently to Seattle.  After a wonderful lunch enjoying each others company, and wandering through Ballard's Sunday Farmers Market, we wandered over to the Ballard Locks to enjoy the rest of the late afternoon.  It was quite the great visit, and I was exhausted after a long day, and headed back to the airport for my flight home that night -- a wonderful visit back to the Pacific Northwest, one I hope to do again soon!