Monday, March 19, 2018

Race Report: Bay of Fundy International Marathon

It's the last weekend of June - which in New York City, is Pride Weekend! Saturday morning is the NYRR Pride Run, put on by my running club, Front Runners New York, which for this year, I have the great honor of singing the national anthem at!  At 5:45am, I wake up and am out the door by 6:15am while it's pouring rain outside to head to Central Park, as I'm requested by my friend Ryan, the race director, to be there by 7:00am.  I take the 7 train to Bryant Park, running into fellow FRNY member and Jackson Heights resident Marcus, as we head uptown along the B to the 102nd Street transverse.  We emerge from the subway and now the rain is coming down quite steadily, as we follow Cheer New York into the park.  The race is still about 40 minutes away, but we're all a little worried about how the rain will affect the numbers for this race - or if thunderstorms could cancel it altogether - but the show still goes on, and 102nd Street is abuzz with runners arriving to get bags checked and legs ready for one of the year's most popular 5-mile races in the park... in whatever weather ends up blessing us.  I find other Front Runners and hide from the rain under the FRNY, and don a transparent plastic rain poncho, waiting until I'm needed to head to the start.

With Shuga Cain and
FRNY President Dan Ferguson
At about 25 minutes til 8, I make my way to the start stage and luckily there's a tent covering the announcers and the sound equipment, so I get to stay a little dry.  I remark to the announcers about my plans for the weekend, and they work into their introductions about me that the Pride Run would be the start of a busy running weekend, as I'm heading to the airport that afternoon to fly to Maine for a marathon I'm running the next day. NYRR's President and CEO Michael Capiraso and I chat real quick, before he and Events Director Peter Ciaccia make some remarks on the microphone, and then up I go to sing the anthem.  It's still raining, but as I go through the 72 seconds of the song, the rain gradually begins to die down.  I finish and head deep into the corrals to get started with the race, and the race begins - within the first mile, the rain stops altogether, and the blue sky begins to peek out from underneath the clouds.

NYRR President Michael Capiraso
Instagrams this photo of me singing
before the Pride Run

I take it VERY easy during the race, walking every five minutes, as I'm hoping to see friends pass as we make our way counterclockwise around Central Park.  The rain from earlier, as well as the high humidity, soaks everyone through their shirts, but eventually the sun pops out, and by 40 minutes in, it's actually blazing.  I run solidly the rest of the race as soon as we get past Cat Hill, and finish in around 55 minutes, eagerly awaiting my popsicle.  I end up finishing near Michael Capiraso, so we take a selfie quickly before I head down to the festival stage on the transverse, as everyone gathers on the hill.  I manage to find friends after the finish, and gather for pictures, before heading off to the big FRNY group picture.  It was great being able to run the Pride Run again after not having done so the last two years as assistant race director, and partake in some of the activities other members had been able to do!

With the Welcome to Lubec sign!
It was getting close to 11, and I had a flight at 2pm out of JFK. After a quick shower at my friend David's hotel, I head to the airport for the direct flight from JFK to Bangor, Maine.  Upon arrival, I have a two hour drive from Bangor to Lubec, the easternmost point of the entire United States, and the site of the Bay of Fundy International Marathon.  State Route 9 was a really shitty road as it left Bangor; it seemed like I was driving on a constant rumble strip for some twenty miles.  It finally dissipated, but I had to deal with slow drivers and a single lane of traffic going in each direction.  Truck lanes were my saving grace, as I was able to pass.  Additionally, there were some hilly roads though as I made my way further east; taking US Route 1 from Machias to State Route 189 proved that those coastal roads don't get taken care of much either, and were even more worse off than than I had to deal with on State Route 9.

I arrived in Lubec at around 5:30pm, shaving some 15 minutes off of my projected arrival time, and managed to check in at the Lubec School to get my shirt, and then drive across the border into Canada to pick up my bib at the Campobello Island Visitors Center just on the other side of the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Bridge. Runners in the ultramarathon, marathon, and half-marathon do not have to stop at the border as they cross between Canada and the USA, but they are still subject to the normal entry requirements of both countries and must be pre-cleared by both border agencies ahead of time. The border guards on the Canadian side checked my passport as I drove over, as they would do for everyone, but they also checked my name and bib number off of a list provided to them by the race officials. 

Trying a whole lobster for the first time
After picking up my bib, I have some time to kill so I decide to hike around the nearby Friars' Bay area, before heading back across the bridge into the US, where the wait times were a little longer as border patrol scrutinized passports a little harder. Just like when I crossed over to Canada, the same methods were in place for crossing back over to the US, with the border agent checking my name and bib number off of a pre-provided list.  I headed to the Bed and Breakfast I was sharing with my friend Jessica to drop off my things, and was just about to leave when I run into her pulling up, having just arrived from the race's lobster bake.  With nothing else to do, she accompanied me to what seemed like the only restaurant in the city that was still open that evening - The Wharf, which was only a ten minute walk away.

The restaurant was quite the experience.  I decided that I needed to go big or go home with this Maine experience, and get a whole lobster... which I've actually never done in my life until that point. The photos Jessica was able to capture of me shelling a lobster for the first time were priceless. We had a neighboring table that helped me with the task, while also reading the provided directions printed on my placemat.  It was kind of a shitshow.... somehow, I got pieces of lobster on the window. And I was grossed out by the green stuff inside the lobster. By the time I was done, the table was a mess, and my hands and fingers smelled like lobster for the rest of the night.  We retired for the night early, as we were both pretty tired, me particularly after the early wake up, five mile run, and long travel day.

Photo op at the
West Quoddy Head Lighthouse
The next morning, I had another early wake up, heading out the door to walk to the Lubec School, about 0.6 miles away, to catch the shuttle to the start. I end up being on the FIRST shuttle out. While on the bus, I notice another wearing a FRNY singlet - and it happens to be a fellow FRNY member named Zinon who lives in Baltimore, but is still a member of the NYC club.  I was a bundle of nerves, as this is was going to be a HILLY race. While the course does not climb more than 200 feet above sea level, it goes up and down quite a bit in between. In fact, per the race director, the total course elevation gain is approximately 2,400 feet.

Our startline
The bus arrives at Quoddy Head State Park, and we wait around for awhile for the other busload of runners.  People take advantage of the extra time to take pictures of the beautiful West Quoddy Head Lighthouse, a 159-year-old active lighthouse that has served as an inspiration for many photographs and paintings and is also the actual easternmost landmark of the US, and of the Bay of Fundy - since this is pretty much one of only two times we're actually seeing the bay during the entire race (we either see Lubec Channel, Johnson Bay, Cobscook Bay or Friars Bay, not seeing the Bay of Fundy again until we get to the turnaround point at Mile 16 at the northern tip of the island)  Gradually, other marathoners come in on other shuttles, and we cheer the ultra-marathoners as they run in, making a turnaround at the lighthouse.  Meanwhile, it's a little buggy in the area, and I immediately notice that I have two mosquito bites on my forehead.  Great.


Running along S. Lubec Road
Our start time ends up beginning a little late, but I get up there and sing the national anthems for both Canada (just as the final two ultra runners end up coming in unbeknownst to the starting coordinator) and the USA. And then we take off.  It's 63°, sunny, and a bit humid, the mercury measuring at 83% humidity. A drone buzzes overhead as we take off, heading into town along S. Lubec Road.  The road, which gradually rolls through the town's hills, makes its way around the Lubec Channel, which at this time of the day seemed to be at low tide. But it wouldn't be for long - the Bay of Fundy produces some of the world's highest tidal bores, coming in to flood the Lubec Channel at a fast rate but not when us marathoners would be able to see. Out in the water, we could see the Lubec Channel Light, also known as "The Sparkplug," in the distance.

First signs to Canada!
The official international boundary!
We made the turn into Lubec proper at about the 4.5 mile mark.  The city closed down the eastbound lane of traffic on State Route 189, and we continued eastward into town, proceeding directly for the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Bridge, a decked steel truss bridge, which is the only road connection for Campobello Island, New Brunswick, to the mainland of North America.  This would be our first real hill challenge, going over the span of the bridge. We had one lane of the bridge open to the runners, as vehicles going between the Canada and US sides had the other lane.  It was very cool going over the bridge, as the actual line that demarcates the two countries is marked on the bridge, something you wouldn't get to see if you were just nonchalantly driving over.  As soon as we made it over the crest, we took advantage of the downhill and ran past the border house on the Canadian side, then began to ascend up the steep hill taking us deeper into New Brunswick.

Entering Canada!

Welcome to New Brunswick - and the beginning of 20 miles of running in the Canadian province!

Fields of lupines
The road was a straight shot up, and we finally reached the crest of the first hill in Canada. On the right was the Adventure Centre/Tourist Information Centre for the island, where I had gone the day before to pick up my bib.  A nice gradual downhill followed, as we made our way past the entrance to Friars' Head Park and the Roosevelt Cottage and Visitors' Centre. The island has long been a popular summer destination for wealthy Canadians and Americans, among them the Roosevelt family - in fact, 32nd US President Frederick D. Roosevelt spent summers on Campobello through childhood.  His summer retreat, a 34-room cottage, was acquired when he was an adult, and it is notable for being the only official property considered a home of a former president located outside of the United States. Along the way, were beautiful fields of purple flowers, which I later found out were called lupines.  They seemed to be everywhere on this island!

Welshpool
The road rolled variably as it met the shoreline.  We approached the 8 mile mark in the community of Welshpool, before turning right, and taking the course through a tough uphill section, with not much around us on either side.  We passed a motel or two, and peeking through the trees, the Herring Cove Provincial Park Golf Club, but otherwise, this section of the course was quite lonely, with few homes along our path.  By the time we reached the 10 mile mark, some of the fastest half marathoners were making their way toward us on the "back" portion of the course, as we were headed "out."  One of the first sights of something other than trees was Campobello Island's only school.

Running into Jessica near mile 11
Just past the 11 mile mark for the marathoners was the 10k mark for the half marathoners, and approximately where I found Jessica.  We took a quick selfie, and then I continued on.  Thankfully, the scenery began to change, as we ran past homes along the main road.  We went up a particularly difficult hill right after passing a small cove on the left that was only about 1/4 mile of distance.  A group of four who had been running together passed me, and became a little motivation for me, as two of the men in their group were running shirtless with particularly short shorts, and well toned bodies.  I picked up the pace as best as I could from there, and kept them within eyesight for the next mile.

Santa lives on New Brunswick?!
We reached the halfway point, and the rolling hills continued, as we made our way past Wilsons Beach.  This also happened to be where the half marathons had started their day, but in an area that was off of the main road.  We continued our way northward, along a stretch of road that continued all the way to the northernmost tip of the island, where the Head Harbor Lighthouse was situated.  A man who looked uncannily like Santa Claus sat near the 15 mile mark of the course, with a makeshift sign giving us approximate miles/kilometers to the turnaround point. As we got closer, we were treated to beautiful unencumbered views of the Bay, and likely some movements of whales coming up to the surface.  The turnaround mark was a relief, but then I basically had to go back through what I just ran - the tough uphills and screaming downhills... and for the next ten miles.

The tip of Campobello Island and Head Harbor Lighthouse in the distance.

In action along the course!
(Photo by Campobello
Whale Watch Motel)
Heading back down our path was tougher, as the temperatures had most definitely climbed, and the flies were bothersome and seemingly blind, as they relentlessly kept smacking into my hat and forehead.  It was also much more quiet, with fewer folks to share the road with, and a lot of us reduced to walking, having spent all of our energy going up and down, up and down. I saw Santa again as we headed southward, and he actually had more writing on the other side of his sign, giving us a glimmer of hope that we were down to single digits left... 9 MILES... before the border crossing back to the US.   I got to yell out a few words of encouragement to marathoners and ultramarathoners who were still making their way to the turnaround point as I headed back.  And I also made a couple new friends along the way, helping to encourage each other a little further through small talk and common distaste of the amount of hills we've been running.  The wind picked up a bit by the time we reached the 20 mile mark, something I had wished we had a couple hours earlier... but thankful it actually came to pass.

Lubec back in view with a few miles left

Views from the FDR Bridge
Looking down toward the US Border Patrol station

Victory Headstand!
The border houses were finally in view after one last natural hill on Campobello Island, and then there was the crest of the bridge to get over, before passing back into the United States and making the right turn to the finish line along Lubec's Water Street.  I pulled my phone out and jokingly yelled out to the border guards as I ran by, "I have lactic acid, sweat, and salt to declare!" to their laughs, and hustled on to the finish.  I crossed the finish line, with an exclamation of "41 marathons!" to the delight of the announcer, in 5:30:00 exactly.  I received my handcrafted pewter local marine species inspired medal, engraved with the race information on the back, designed by local artist Richard Klyver. My Garmin measured the temperature at the finish to be 77°, less humid, but the sun out and blazing.  It definitely was a bit warmer than that in the hour prior to my finish.  I quickly found Jessica, grabbed a small cup of soup, as I scrambled to get my headstand photo done (with the FDR bridge in the background, of course!), and then rushed back to the bed and breakfast to shower, and get on the road, as I was running a tiny bit late to get back to Bangor for the last flight back to NYC.  I made it back in record time, and was the last to get on the plane due to long lines at security (of course, Bangor does NOT have a separate TSA pre-check lane, as it is so small... and I still had my hands swabbed and my backpack filled with sweaty clothes inspected, to the chagrin of the TSA officer).  I was exhausted to get back home, but happy to be done with a 31.2 mile weekend!

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