Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Race Report: 2018 TCS New York City Marathon

It's been said, tongue in cheek, that runners are the single largest category of people to pay meticulously close attention to the weather, outside of meteorologists.  When it comes to races, runners militantly check weather forecasts days (and sometimes even weeks) out, and for the 2018 edition of the New York City Marathon, those weather forecasts looked quite appealing for the first Sunday in November.  As the date came closer, the forecast stayed the same, though it would be bookended by windy and rainy days on Saturday and Monday. Sunday would be sunny, with virtually no wind, and in the high 40s to low 50s - basically, perfect conditions for a marathon.

It was going to be a very busy marathon weekend for me, as for the third time, I was given the honor to sing the National Anthem at the start of the Abbott Dash to the Finish Line 5K on Saturday, and to sing at the start of the marathon on Sunday morning.  This year, however, I got requested to sing at  TWO of the wave starts - Wave 2 and Wave 3 - before running myself for wave 3.  Both races would also be qualifiers for me for the NYRR 9+1 program, guaranteeing me entry to the 2019 edition of the NYC Marathon, and the 5K and marathon would be runs number 8 and 9.  The +1 is a volunteer credit, which I would also complete over the weekend, spending a few hours at the expo on Saturday afternoon, working bib pickup for marathoners on the last day of the expo.

Expo time!
My marathon week began on Thursday, when heading to the expo after work, truly the only time I'd be able to make it out to Javits Center to pick up my bibs for both the Abbott Dash to the Finish Line 5K and the marathon. After having my work day end early in the city, I ran a few errands before heading to the expo, which seemed markedly smaller than in previous years. I went around to as many booths as I can to find friends, such as Arland at TaoTri (selling his NYC themed clothing and offering trials of Air Relax boots) and Matt, working one of the information booths. After making my rounds, I left just as the expo was ending it's hours for its first day, and proceeded to Hell's Kitchen to meet a new friend, Estelle, who I met online through one of my other friends, and who would be rooming with me for a race in 2019, for dinner.  We chose a ramen place along 9th Avenue, then went over to Lillie's Victorian Establishment for some delicious Moscow Mules in the busy bar (still decked out in Halloween decor) before calling it a night.

Filipino and Fil-Am runners
I spent all day Friday in western Queens for work, checking out some co-working spaces for a project I'm working on with my corporation, then headed to the Consulate General of the Philippines on 5th Avenue to attend a reception they were hosting in collaboration with the Philippine Department of Tourism, JCI Philippines-New York, and local Filipino running groups (Fil Am Tri and Balut Patrol) for Fil-Am Runners participating in the NYC Marathon, along with their family and friends.  Among those attending included former Filipino actress Beth Tamayo and Filipino-American model and host Rovilson Fernandez. The evening revolved around a "pancit party," a spin on the pre-race "pasta dinner" that traditionally happens the night or two before a big race, with the Filipino noodle dish being provided by Aris Tuazon, proprietor of East Village Filipino restaurant Ugly Kitchen, along with some other delicious Filipino foods.  Filipino and Fil-Am runners from all over the world, descending on NYC for the marathon, came to the well-attended event, many from the opening ceremonies happening in Central Park just prior.  The program, emcee'd by my friend Vice Consul Khrys Corpuz-Popov, included speeches from Consul General Kerwin Orville C. Tate, and a runner representing the Philippines and a seasoned NYC marathon runner who gave tips on race day and what to expect on the course.  I provided a welcome with a musical number, singing "New York State of Mind" for all those in attendance as well! After the reception, my cousin took me to the Upper West Side to drop off a bag at the building where my friend Donna works as a nanny, conveniently located a short distance from the finish line of the marathon, and where I'd be able to grab a change of clothes after both the 5K and the marathon.
Singing "New York State of Mind" at the Philippine Consulate

With Michael Capiraso at the 5K start
Saturday morning was early for me, as I would be going from event to event to event all day.  After a 6:30am alarm, I headed out the door at 7am to head into the city for the Abbott Dash to the Finish 5K, a very popular event that occurs the day before the marathon.  Starting on 1st Avenue and 44th Street, in front of the the United Nations, the race, which also is the USATF 5K Championship race for elite runners, runs west along 42nd Street, before turning onto 6th Avenue, continuing northward before turning right onto Central Park South, then proceeding into Central Park through Scholars' Gate at its southeastern corner.  We would then follow the last mile of the marathon course along the park's main road all the way to the marathon's finish line at 66th Street next to Tavern on the Green.  After getting out of the subway at Grand Central, I spotted my friend and fellow Front Runner Nick, heading to the start.  He has been running sparingly after getting injured a few weeks before at the Staten Island Half, so he was planning to take the 5K easy.  He joined me as we stopped into Starbucks for me to grab a ho peppermint tea (seemingly a tradition now for me, as I did the same exact thing last year!), then headed to the start stage as everybody began to assemble for the race. My call time was 8am before the 8:30 pro men's start.  The day, was as expected, a bit crummy - wind blowing, and misty rain blanketing the area. After the wheelchair participants took off at 8:20, I sang the national anthem four minutes later, before jumping into the corrals with Nick. The mass start wouldn't begin until 8:45am, so we had a bit of time to get ourselves into the corrals to begin our 5K trot through the city.
Singing the National Anthem at the start of the Dash to the Finish 5K

The misty rain actually provided for some relief, despite the colder temps, and we were off and running down 1st Avenue.  Before our turn right onto 42nd Street, I spotted my friend Felix, then Nick and I continued down the street, proceeding at a rapid clip.  We made it through the course pretty quickly, and I only stopped once for a quick walk break, just after entering the park, and for only about 45 seconds.  While Nick continued on, I managed to catch up to him during a nice downhill section, and we both crossed the finish line hand in hand in just under 30 minutes.  The official results have me actually beating him by one second, and it absolutely perturbs him -- haha!!  We picked a point after the finish to stand while waiting to spot any friends that were participating in the race, and I got to see several, including Lynn, Donna, Chad, a new friend Ken (who quickly interviewed me for his vlog!) and later Julie.

FRNY Pancake Breakfast
Afterward, I sped off to Bethesda Fountain to meet up with a few other friends getting together for a PRO Compression ambassadors and We Run Social meetup, posing for a few photos, before running off again to pick up some fresh clothes to change into, and then run over to the Rutgers Presbyterian Church, where I got to participate in the annual Front Runners New York Pancake Breakfast, always a fun time to socialize with other members of my running team.  Traditionally, we play a "marathon game" at this breakfast, where we acknowledge the feats of our members who've run this harrowing distance, recognizing first time marathoners and then runners with multiple marathons under their belt.  With 86 already completed, I got to be one of the last five or six standing - already 27 of those happening this year alone.  I slipped out of the dining hall at noon to jump on the train, as I had a 12:30 check-in time at the expo for my volunteer shift!

Volunteering on Saturday at bib pickup
After an orientation, I finally got out on the expo floor at around 1:15pm, ready to greet eager runners picking up their bibs for the marathon!  By chance, I got placed at a booth right alongside Olivia, who I met over the summer at an NYRR 5K, when she sneakily photo-bombed a selfie I was taking. With another volunteer, the three of us spent the next four hours checking ID's and confirmation forms before sorting through the hundreds of bibs at our booth to provide all of the essentials for these runners.  A few friends stopped by to see me, including Rachel (a friend who ran the Petra Desert Marathon), fellow Front Runner Ryan (who I'll get to in a second) and fellow Black Sheepers Martin and Wesley. The expo closed promptly at 5pm, and almost immediately, Javits workers went to work, stripping the carpet from the floor to begin striking the enormous space. All of the volunteers assigned to work bibs took our remaining bibs off of the expo floor to an area just outside, where latecomers were already beginning to line up to retrieve their bibs after the expo had officially closed.  We were dismissed early, and I headed off to the train to get back up to the Upper West Side and meet up with friends for pre-race dinner at 6pm at Polpette, an Italian restaurant that Donna had made a reservation for for all of her friends, and the same place we had dinner last year.  It was great to catch up with many friends, including Cris, Dana, Jessica, and Jennifer, as well as others who I had seen earlier in the day after the 5K.  I headed home happy to finally be done for the day, and ready to get some rest, as I had yet another early morning on Sunday, the day of the marathon.

Thanks to Daylight Savings Time ending, I got an extra hour of sleep, and woke promptly at 5:30am.  I got dressed and out the door to get on the train by 6:30, eventually arriving at Whitehall Terminal for the Staten Island Ferry by 7:15.  As I mentioned, Ryan had come to visit me at the expo while I was working bib pickup, and he had been texting me since earlier that afternoon about his nervousness in getting ready for the marathon. In March of 2017, Ryan suffered a freak accident where he fractured his distal tibia and ended up having two titanium screws put into his ankle to hold it together.  Having registered for the marathon, he obviously had to defer his entry for 2017.  He's struggled through races since, eventually getting back to some decent times (but still slow for him) a year later. He only had an 18 mile long run in his arsenal in preparation for this year's marathon, but soldiered on, knowing he'd be very undertrained.  I agreed to pace him and run alongside him for the marathon, as it was the least I could do - Ryan was my saving grace for my boneheaded endeavor of the 2016 San Francisco Ultramarathon, staying alongside me for the entirety of my second 26.2, something he didn't need to do as he was only signed up to run a half marathon that day.  I told him I would make sure he would get to the finish line, and I'd push him as best as I can while ensuring I was doing it within his capacity.  So, when I got to Whitehall Terminal, Ryan was there, ready to spend the rest of the day alongside me, first making our way to the startline as we boarded the ferry to make the 25 minute journey across New York Harbor.

Waiting for buses after the S.I. Ferry
We got onto the ferry rather quickly (no lines like last year, I guess I arrived to the ferry terminal at a good time before it got really busy), but then after disembarking on Staten Island at around 7:45, we were met with a massive line at the St. George Ferry Terminal heading down the viaduct to Richmond Terrace.  We would be in this line for nearly an hour, finally boarding a bus to take us to Fort Wadsworth at 8:40.  By then, I'd been travelling for nearly two hours. The shuttle was also a long trip, as the buses follow Richmond Terrace around the north end of the island before turning left onto Jersey Street as it traverses the island to Victory Boulevard, eventually taking Bay Street all the way down to the Fort (with a small detour around the Shore Acres neighborhood so that buses could let runners off on School Road).  The bus ride took another 40 minutes as we dealt with traffic on the island getting to the start village, as I finally got through security at 9:20, just as the professional women were beginning their race.  All morning, I was in touch with NYRR staffer Christine, who was my point person in retrieving me from the start village, and taking me to the start truck where I would be singing for the starts of waves 2 and 3.  It took over three hours to get to Staten Island, just as long as it took me in 2015, but luckily with more than enough time before I was to sing. When I finally got to the meeting point, the professional men and Wave 1 were only ten minutes from starting, and Christine had me stick around until they begun before retrieving me.  Ryan and I got to chat with a few friends Connor and JC, and then Christine came to get us with about twenty minutes before wave 2 would begin.

Normally, I'd be stressed out if it was this close to start time, but having this be my third time doing this, and knowing the logistics of getting to the start area for the race, I knew what to expect.  Instead of having to cross under the mechanical systems of the bridge's ramp like I had in the past, Christine took Ryan and I directly to the start passing in front of the wave two runners, and up to the start suite. My good friend and fellow singer, Teresa Hui, who would be singing and running with Wave 4, was already there waiting.  With ample time to warm up, drink some water, and then get outside for the start, I was introduced by start line announcer Jeff Fromm, as he highlighted the fact that this was my 3rd NYC Marathon and my 87th lifetime marathon.  With Ryan on the top deck of the truck, he videoed me while I sang, "God Bless America," for Wave 2!
 
Singing for Wave 2

Watching Wave 2 take off!
After finishing, I headed back inside the trailer, remarking how chilly it was to stand in the shadow.  We had a bit of time before I was to go out and sing again and then prepare for my own race to start with Wave 3, so the three of us headed up to the top deck and watched the runners as they headed off to start their race.  As the tail end of Wave 2 passed, we headed back into the trailer for a little more warmth, before I headed back out again to be introduced for the start of Wave 3.  This time, I sang "America, the Beautiful," the first time I'd be singing the song publicly.  I may have started the song a little higher than I was used to, but got through it in one piece, and then headed right down with Ryan to get ready for our race start!
 
Singing for Wave 3

Amy found me at the start!
This year, runners were held back about fifty or so feet from the actual race start (have no clue why), so when Ryan and I came down from the truck, we were right at the front of Wave 3.  Waiting for us there was my friend Amy, who budged her way through to get right to the front and greet me.  The howitzer went off (always so loud, and I'm always SOOO unprepared for it, haha!) and we were off.  Somewhere at the startline, we spotted a debit card that fell out of someone's pocket (what a tough place to lose that!) and found a NYRR staffer to bring it to Lost and Found, before Ryan and I began our 26.2 mile journey through the city.  It was an absolutely beautiful, cloudless day, and in front of us was the imposing Verrazano Narrows Bridge, which would provide us with the highest elevation climb of the entire race.

Heading over the Verrazano
Over 3/4 of a mile, we'd make a 174 foot elevation gain, but its hardly noticeable.  Then again, it's right at the start of the race, and the strategy is always to not go out too fast at the start.  We took our first walk break halfway through the bridge (despite Ryan's initial thoughts to keep going); then started up again as the bridge began to make its downward descent into Fort Hamilton, Brooklyn, cutting our first mile split from 10:26 down by nearly a minute and a half to 8:52 by the time we hit mile 2.  We continued to run as we came off of the bridge exit and then turned onto 92nd Street, extending our run a couple more minutes til our next walk break.

Ryan and I through a walk break
We then began our northward trek along 4th Avenue, the orange corrals on the left side of the median (the southbound lanes of the avenue) passing through the streets of Bay Ridge at a decent clip, hitting the next two mile splits under 10 minutes per mile apiece.  I was happy with our 30:43 5K split as we headed right into the heart of the neighborhood.  It was right around here where the runners who ran on the lower level of the bridge, the green corrals, joined up with the blue corral, running on the northbound lanes of the avenue. The day was absolutely beautiful, and there were so many people out cheering for the runners in these opening miles of the race.  We stayed to the right, and found one of Ryan's friends, who he quickly went in for a hug for, as we continued on.
An aid station in Sunset Park, Brooklyn
Williamsburgh Savings Bank tower
Our pace dropped to 10+ minutes per mile as we continued forward, keeping to a pretty even 9/1 cadence or whenever the aid stations (of which there are many) appeared as we passed underneath the Gowanus Expressway into into Sunset Park. The course actually slightly descended some 50 feet as the street numbers came down from the 50s into the 20s, passing through Greenwood Heights and into Park Slope.  We hit the 10K mark in 1:02:39, still going strong and making me feel good about potentially hitting the half in around 2:15. The 4th Avenue/9th Street elevated station came into view as I carefully scrutinized the thick crowds of people for corgis, since it was around here that I had spotted the first of two during last years race.  So far, there were quite a few dogs -- especially ones that looked terrified from their owners picking them up and holding their paws out for high fives -- but so far, no corgis whatsoever.

An ass-slap from Martin!
Suddenly, I felt a massive slap on my ass - it, of course, had to be my friend Martin, who almost always does this whenever he spots me at a race. I also spotted a figure to our left, wearing a black shirt with "FR. BOB" written on his back - I had read an article just a few days before that that was Monsignor Robert Ritchie, the 73 year old presiding rector of St. Patrick's Cathedral in Manhattan, participating in his third NYC Marathon, after leading a well attended runners' pre-marathon mass (that he has led since 2006) the day before. Just after the station, we reached the 7 mile mark, and the Williamsburgh Savings Bank Clock Tower came into view, coming ever closer until we reached the big block party and thousands of spectators cheering us on at mile 8, as we made a slight left onto Flatbush Avenue. We then turned right onto Lafayette then began a tough climb heading east into Fort Greene and then Clinton Hill.

We slowed down a bit here, hitting our first 11+ minute mile, and this is where things began to feel a little dicey for Ryan.  We were now about an hour and a half into the race, and I made sure he was making our stops at each aid station, as he was sweating bullets, ensuring he take in water and Gatorade to replenish his depleted water reserves.  He was also taking salt tablets at every hour, and GUs at roughly the same time. We walked a fair amount of Lafayette Ave, hoping to spot some friends along the way - I ended up seeing a friend I knew from work, Vanessa, who had told me she'd be across the street from the gospel singers at St. James Place.  At mile 9, we passed right by my first apartment in NYC at the corner of Classon Avenue, which I pointed out to Ryan; he said we'd pass by his first apartment a bit later in the race.  We hit the 15K mark in 1:36:57, now looking at reaching the half at around 2:18 and change, but knowing we'd still slow down some.  More hills were yet to come.

Ryan started to complain of some dizziness and cramping as we progressed up Bedford Avenue. Aside from the bridges, this was one of the quietest parts of the race, as we ran through the largely Hasidic Jewish enclave of South Williamsburg, where many of the residents are a bit more insular and modesty reigns supreme.  Staten Island Front Runner Kat ran up alongside us, eventually passing as we began an extended walk break, eventually progressing through the more trendy parts of "downtown" Williamsburg and past McCarren Park.  We still managed to eke out a few longer runs as we continued north into Greenpoint onto Manhattan Avenue, clocking in a couple sub 11 minute miles.  My friend Glen, running in his second NYC Marathon passed us by as he noticed me from my back bib.  A GU gave Ryan a little burst of fuel as we made our way turning right onto Greenpoint Avenue (a slight downhill) the turning left onto McGuinness Boulevard.  Up ahead was the 13 mile mark, and I convinced him to have us run right up to it and toward the Pulaski Bridge, allowing us to walk the rest of the way up the gradual uphill to the halfway mark, passing by in 2:21:11.  A little more than I wanted, but I'll take it.  We still had another 13.1 miles to go.

Crossing the Queensboro Bridge
I knew I had to take it easy on my pushing Ryan, as he was already feeling his fuel supplies beginning to dwindle and his muscles in various places cramp up, so we decided to try to keep up at this point with my watch doing 4 minute runs with one minute walk breaks. Those walk breaks almost always got extended, but I didn't mind. We descended into Queens, making a turn onto 48th Avenue, where I had him find the next person holding out fruit for him to take and eat.  I got us to run a bit, picking landmarks in the distance to run toward before stopping to walk, as we weaved our way through Hunters' Point, and past some of the largest crowds I've seen in the three years I've run this race through my home borough. I mean... the weather was perfect - it made total sense to see so many people out! We made the left turn onto the Queensboro Bridge, and I got us to run up to a certain sunny point on the bridge, before letting us walk the rest of the way across the East River into Manhattan. Our slowest mile was on the bridge, a nearly 16 minute mile at mile 16 (how fitting!) but I didn't mind.  Ten miles to go, and this is where the race truly started.

Ryan getting "served" with The Stick
There's a reason why 1st Avenue has the nickname of "Thunder Alley" during the marathon.  We could definitely hear it as we began our descent off of the Queensboro Bridge, letting gravity do the work as we made our way around the curve and onto 59th Street.  Ryan and I made our way onto 1st and past the 60th Street, before we walked again at a water station, and then began our northward journey along the raucous avenue with crowds as many as ten-deep cheering us on.  We stayed near the right sight when we spotted some ladies with Black Girls Run, one of them sporting "The Stick."  She did her handiwork on Ryan, working out the kinks he was feeling in his hamstrings and calves.  The stop obviously needed a photo op, which probably remains to be one of my most favorite photos of the day, aside from the selfie I took at the top deck of the start stage in Fort Wadsworth.  Thank you BGR, as that seemed to do the trick; we were able to do a small bit of running as we continued northward on 1st Avenue, all along the endless cacophony of cheers.

Crossing into the Bronx!
I got us into a groove of picking a point a few blocks ahead for us to run to, then giving us a decent sized walk break.  It became punctuated with stops along the way whenever he or I spotted friends.  For me, it was my friend and fellow runner Claire, spotting me as we made our way past 70th Street; Arland calling out my name as he picked me out of the crowd of thousands while cheering for the runners at 80th Street; Front Runner friend Mike cheering us on at 100th Street; another friend Derek doing the same at 115th Street; and Instagram friend Rob, spotting me on the course as he came up behind me just before getting to the Willis Avenue Bridge at 125th Street.  19.5 miles had now passed, and the exhaustion was setting in for the both of us.  We were now headed into the Bronx, and we had an extended ascent as we made our way into the borough along Willis Avenue.
I found fellow Maniac, Claire!
Clearly exhausted in the Bronx
The neighborhood of Mott Haven greeted us with lots of fervor, as we weaved our way around the race course.  Surprisingly, Ryan decided to bypass the BioFreeze stations set up near the 20 mile mark of the course, and we quickly made our exit out of the the Bronx along 138th Street.  As we passed the Madison Avenue Bridge, we saw the infamous "Last Damn Bridge" signs with their sign holder out in full force cheering us on, descending back onto the streets of Manhattan. I got us to run on the slight downhill as we turned left onto 5th Avenue, then walked a bit as we passed the public housing surrounding us over the next few blocks. At 132nd Street, I gave us the goal of running the right up to Marcus Garvey Park, which we did at a strong clip, and where we found fellow Front Runners Miki and Sam staying to cheer us slower runners on, as we took a well deserved walk break.

Cousins finding me at mile 22!
We made our way around the edge of Marcus Garvey Park, and back onto 5th Avenue. Just as we made our turn right onto 5th Avenue, I hear my name screamed out, and there, I spotted my cousins Jonday, Mico (if you read my race report from the 2018 Chicago Marathon, I paced her for her first marathon only four weeks prior), and James, waiting for me with a single-serving sized bottle of rosé cider!  It gave us a continued opportunity to walk a bit while I chugged it down.  This was also where we began the 30-block long trek from 120th Street to 90th Street.  This flat-appearing section of the course is anything but flat; the avenue actually trends uphill, going from 26 feet of elevation to 115 feet of elevation over the course of those 1.5 miles. As Ryan was hurting, I decided to have us do the "one block on, one block off" game, something that helped me the previous year when I ran NYC.  Eventually we found ourselves at Engineer's Gate at 90th Street, and we finally turned into Central Park for the last couple miles of the race.

1.2 to go!
Though we had wandered into 13-14 minute mile territory, Ryan would experience some bursts of energy, and we'd start running for short bits once again. It was probably the idea of us being so close to finishing that helped to push him. The park's East Drive has some pretty noticeable rolling hills, and a decent descent as we come down Cat Hill, a route we normally ascend when running counter clockwise for races in the park.   We passed the 25th mile mark as the course curved its way near the Central Park Zoo, eventually making our way out to Central Park South to cheers of thousands of spectators lining the road.  We reentered the park at its southwest corner, passing mile 26, with the last 0.2 miles on the short ascent toward the finish line next to Tavern on the Green.  We would cross the finish line in 5:15:54.
Just after the finish line with Michael Capiraso
#victoryheadstand
Greeting us at the finish line was Michael Capiraso, President and CEO of NYRR, as well as Ryan's friend Steph, a NYRR staff member who spotted us as we made our way through the chute.  She veered us off to a VIP section to the left of the main road, where we were able to catch our breath and get our well deserved post-race ponchos.  Ryan was pretty emotional - he managed to get through this "comeback." We made our way out through the crowds of runners, snaking our way up toward the exit to Central Park West, and it was there I spotted two other friends, Gaby and Ken, as we were all led out toward the street. Ryan and I exited to the side streets, where we were able to connect with our fellow Front Runner friends Nick and Jason.  Starving, we decided to make our way down to Hell's Kitchen to get dinner, but after I got my headstand photo near the busy intersection of 72nd Street and Broadway, with the evening starting to descend on the city.
More friends spotted after the finish.... Gaby and Ken!
Ryan and I celebrate at dinner!
At first we headed to Bar Bacon, but it was chaos in there, and it seemed like getting a table would take forever; we eventually found our way into El Centro, where we devoured a delicious Mexican dinner like there was no tomorrow. Today was an absolutely beautiful day, a perfect day, even, for one of the most widely anticipated running events on my calendar. It made me fall in love with this great city all over again, seeing tens of thousands of people running 26.2 miles across the five boroughs and being supported by spectators almost the entire way. I was especially proud of Ryan... after helping to calm his pre-race nerves and getting him through mile after mile all the way to the finish line in one piece, he finished what he sought out to do. He might not have thunk it, but he became truly an inspiration to me, being able to get through a very tough situation - basically being unable to walk - and, in what amounts to really not a lot of time in the grand scheme of things, turn around and RUN A FREAKIN’ MARATHON.

Friday, July 26, 2019

Race Report: Swiss City Marathon Lucerne

Switzerland is a beautiful country, one that I visited for the first time right after college, part of a trip that took me all over Europe for a month.  Me and my friend Mary only spent four days in the country, taking on Zurich, Basel, and the tiny village of Vals in the Swiss Alps, in an attempt to hit up as much architecture as possible.  So fastforward 12 years later, as I take on marathons in all these different countries, and with a stable job to allow me to afford to get there, I decided to find a good road marathon in Switzerland to register for.  I narrowed it down to five...
  • Zurich City Marathon - April
  • Harmony Geneve Marathon - May
  • Swiss City Marathon, Lucerne - October
  • Lausanne Marathon - October
  • Neujahrsmarathon Zurich - January
October panned out the best, and as it turned out, the Lausanne and Lucerne races were happening on the same day. Ultimately, I opted for Lucerne, as flights to the closest major airport in Zurich came out better pricewise than to Geneva, where Lausanne was closest to.  Despite the race being a double loop, which I'm not crazy about, I sucked it up and registered.  I was going to Switzerland in October!

The Old Train Station Gate
After work on the Friday of race weekend, I got on my evening flight to Zurich.  The forecast all week in Lucerne showed rain, so I packed accordingly; it was going to be COLD.  I had even hoped the clouds and rain would maybe go away at one point during the weekend; so much so that I even prebooked a paragliding excursion off of Pilatus Mountain, but after back and forth with the organizers, they ended up cancelling due to weather.  The flight was fine, and I managed to get a good 5 1/2 hours of sleep after meal service finished on the direct flight from JFK. It was already raining in Zurich when we arrived at 10am after the seven hour long flight.  After getting through immigration, I easily got onto a regional train from airport that took me straight to Lucerne, arriving just before noon. As part of the race registration, an added bonus was getting free travel with public transportation from all over Switzerland to get into and out of Lucerne.  Upon arrival at the quite modern looking Lucerne station, I exited the station and was confronted by a magnificent looking archway, all that remains of the former 1896 station that burned down in a fire in 1971. I broke out GoogleMaps and walked straight to my Airbnb to meet with my host Christine to drop off my bags.
Overlooking Lake Lucerne
Ahhh, Switzerland...
Having smartly brought my umbrella, I headed into town as the rain began to pour to explore, this time doing the scenic route and walking along the shore of Lake Lucerne/Vierwaldstättersee.  Part of this would area would be my route for the marathon the next day.  Crossing over the Seebrücke (the paved river span for pedestrians and vehicles, right at the mouth of Lake Lucerne), I first stopped off at the Hotel Schweizerhof to pick up my bib for the race at the race expo. It was a much smaller expo than I thought it would be, and it was actually quite crowded. The rainy day made it worse, as the air felt very saturated; I wanted to get in and out as quickly as possible.  I did manage to however, try what many consider to be Switzerland's national dish: rösti - a potato fritter, much like hash browns - which was another included benefit of the race. After leaving the expo, I continued to explore, sitting by Lake Lucerne, watching the massive swans as they swam by; and then made my way walking around Lucerne's very walkable city centre centered around the River Reuss.

The expo at Hotel Schweizerhof
Exploring the Kapellbrücke
Lucerne's city center has a lot of unique sights that I was able to see all in that first day.  First up, the Kapellbrücke (Chapel Bridge) and Wasstertrum (Water Tower) make up one of the most photographed landmarks in all of Switzerland. Both were built in the first half of the 14th century, with panel paintings depicting scenes from the history of Switzerland and Lucerne under the covered roof having been added in the 17th century. It straddles the River Reuss alongside the Seebrücke. Not far from there was the Spreuer Bridge, the oldest wooden bridge in Switzerland, completed in 1408 as part of Lucerne’s fortifications; and the Reusswehr or Nadelwehr, one of the last remaining needle dams in the world, a fascinating technical construction from the 19th century. The water level of Lake Lucerne and flow of the River Reuss is still regulated by hand using this amazing piece of technology. One can tame the flow of the river by adding or subtracting these thin pieces of wood that make up the weir, known as needles. The water level of the lake can now be maintained at an optimum height regardless of weather conditions.
The wooden interior of the Kappellbrücke
Löwendenkmal
A few minutes walk away, I headed up to see the Hofkirche Luzern, or the Church of St. Leodegar, a Roman Catholic church built in the 1600s with its prominent double steeples that define the Lucerne skyline. Also near there was the Löwendenkmal, “The Dying Lion of Lucerne,” one of the Lucerne's most famous monuments, and is a well known symbol of this city. It was hewn out of natural rock to commemorate the heroic death of the Swiss Guards who were killed during the storming of the Tuileries Palace in 1792.

Enjoying Swiss Beer!
By the time I was done going through all the city sights, it was late afternoon, so I decided to have a late lunch/early dinner at the Rathaus Brauerei, which came highly recommended from the Lucerne page on Wikitravel.  Two different beers are brewed in house (lager and amber), and I was able to try both, before enjoying some food.  Considering meals can get pretty expensive in Switzerland, I ended up getting one of the cheaper things on the menu - a weisswurst, a traditional Bavarian sausage (despite not being in Germany, whatever) made from minced veal and pork back bacon. It doesn't have a long shelf life as no preservatives are used when making it, so when these are made they have to be eaten within the day; usually as a breakfast sausage. Despite having it at 4pm, I enjoyed it, accompanied by a Bavarian pretzel and Bavarian sweet mustard.

The sun had already gone down, so I decided to get some culture in and went across the river to the Luzerner Theater, the only professional theatre in Central Switzerland.  I purchased a ticket for that night's performance, which was a fantastic ballet - Tanz 28: New Waves, a triple bill featuring the works of two choreographers, Spaniard Cayetano Soto and Austrian Georg Reischl. The program read:
New season, new order. We turn the tables and start our 10th anniversary with a Triple Bill evening.

It all starts with «Twenty Eight Thousand Waves» by Spanish choreographer Cayetano Soto - fascinating and disturbing at the same time. The title is based on the image of an oil rig, exposed to the waves of the ocean, which hit the pillars no less than 28,000 times a day. Soto's work is pure — pure dance of modern style: Grace, power and sensuality.

Part two shows «Sortijas,» another piece by Cayetano Soto. The duet portrays human destiny in just five minutes to music by Lhasa de Sela. How is it when things melt between our fingers, when everything decays, when it was so well thought out? Soto tells the story of life in which plans fail, but always something new.

The final act belongs to our associate artist Georg Reischl in «Let’s Bowie!» featuring the songs of David Bowie. The Austrian choreographer moves between well-known and lesser-known songs - with the aim of interpreting Bowie's music into dance. As a master of transformation, Bowie was (and is!) a symbol of diversity in the most dazzling colors. Likewise, Reischl's new creation is a golden firework for the senses and not least a love sweep of Bowie's music.

Three dance pieces, two choreographers, a new beginning
The ballet was a lot of fun, especially the David Bowie piece at the end!  But having been awake for so many hours after only 5.5 hours of sleep on a transatlantic flight, I was beat; to be honest, it was pretty tough to keep my eyes open for most of the show.  I walked back to my Airbnb and promptly crashed, needing all the rest I could get for the next morning's race.

Getting on the ferry to the start
After an entire day of rain, it was almost imminent to happen yet again for race day. Forecasts had predicted rain for more than a week out, and it barely changed as the days went on. Immediate forecasts in the days prior even predicted snow and/or sleet! When I woke up race morning, thankfully, it was just overcast, and there was no rain... yet. I got up at 6:30 (thankfully getting an additional hour of sleep thanks to daylight savings time ending in Switzerland the morning of the race!) and was out the door a little after 7 for the short walk over to the train station, where a unique aspect of this race was being able to take a ship shuttle across Lake Lucerne to the start area at Verkehrshaus der Schweiz (the Swiss Transport Museum) where the start and finish areas were located.

The race's startline
I got onto the ship rather quickly and followed other runners to the museum itself where people were gathering.  We were there rather early - over an hour before the start time - so many of us took advantage of the museum's café to get some breakfast.  Normally I don't eat much of anything before a race, but I decided to have a croissant and a Birchermuesli to keep me satiated.

Eventually, 9am began to arrive, so everyone headed out to Haldenstrasse to assemble for the race. It was a little chaotic, as runners were allowed to self-seed, and many of these corral areas were spread apart rather widely. The race began on time, and I eventually crossed the start mat at 9:18am.  We began to run toward the city centre on Haldenstrasse, almost immediately met with the sound of brass bands playing us down the street (something we'd be hearing all throughout the race, it seemed!) as well as some more unique entertainment along the way, namely an all-female steel drum band called "Hot Bananas."

Early in the race, running into the city
We approached the city centre with the prominent steeples of the Hofkirche framing our view as we made our way onto Schweizerhofquai and onto the Seebrücke, crossing over it and then turning left onto the Bahnhofplatz past the Lucerne bus station (directly in front of the train station) and around the fountain and under the sharp-edged roof of the Jean Nouvel-designed KKL Luzern cultural center onto Inseliquai.  Despite the rain, many spectators were out, excitedly cheering us on in Swiss German.  The amount of times I heard "Hopp! Hopp!" was maddening, but still encouraging. The course then wound its way around the curvy Werfestrasse, passing by a troupe of alpenhorn players entertaining the runners. We skirted around the train station and onto Landenbergstrasse, eventually turning right onto Werkhofstrasse and past the street where my Airbnb was located!
 Alpenhorns along the race course

Uphill on Langendsandstrasse
Turning left onto Tribschenstrasse, we finally began to run out of the city centre, following the route to take us all around the perimeter of the peninsula.  It just so happened, this was also where the rain started to fall... and fall it would for most of the next two hours.  Also, this was where we realized that this course was not going to be as flat as we seemed.  The elevation rose sharply as the road became Langendsandstrasse. We passed by Richardwagnerweg, the street that led to the Richard Wagner Museum (a country manor house overlooking Lake Lucerne where the German composer lived from 1866 to 1872.)  The landscape definitely felt less urban, with a few homes that even had small grazing pastures for their livestock.

Running right alongside the lake
The road then descended slightly, but before long, we were climbing once again, a markedly more tedious climb until we reached the 5K mark at the top of the hill. But once we got past the crest of that hill, it was a nice downhill for what seemed like the next mile. The road changed names to Stutzstrasse, then to Sankt Niklausenstrasse, and the houses and the land they were on got bigger and more grandiose. These were beautiful homes, with breathtaking panoramas of the surrounding Lake Lucerne and the alps across the water, towering over blanketed by clouds.  We had progressed from district to district, from Langensand to Sankt Niklausen along the edge of the Horw peninsula.  Eventually we found ourselves clear on the south end of the peninsula, through the district of Kastanienbaum, and right at the lakeside.  Across Lake Lucerne, we could see the mountains of Bürgenstock, and further in the distance Stanserhorn, in the canton of Nidwalden.
Kastanienbaum
As we rounded the south end of the peninsula along the road now called Seestrasse, we continued to pass by several lakeside homes, with many residents cheering us on as we passed.  Every so often, we had a short section of cobblestones to pass through, as I cautiously made my way across the wet uneven ground.  The peak of the famous Mount Pilatus was hiding under clouds but it was on the other side of the lake as we progressed north into the heart of the municipality of Horw, down Winkelstrasse. Eventually we were running along Horw's main street, Kantonstrasse, then turned left along Krienserstrasse, as we began to make our way briefly through the neighboring town of Kriens. We turned right along Brändistrasse through a quaint collection of garden homes, then found ourselves staring at a major urban centre development under construction known as Mattenhof. All throughout these later miles, it almost felt like the rain turned into pelting sleet for a moment.

Swissporarena
We then ran behind an area of soccer fields, before proceeding directly to the Swissporarena stadium, a football stadium home to FC Lucerne of the Swiss Super League.  We ran right through the entrance of the seven year old stadium, then ran along the warm up track around the edge of the field, before exiting out onto Moosmattstrasse.  We were now a bit over 9 miles into the course, and got to sip on some Swiss coke known as Vivi Kola, a popular cola brand local to Switzerland that's been around for over 80 years.  We passed the 15K mark as we made our way around the stadium and onto the streets leading right back into the city center of Lucerne.
Doing a lap around the edge of the field in Swissporarena
We wound our way through streets south of the city centre, along Voltastrasse and around Geissensteinring onto a narrower side street called Fruttstrasse that hugged the fence alongside the rail lines leading to the Lucerne train station.  We then ran along pedestrian paths that took us past more industrial areas adjacent to the train tracks, before running through a vehicular corridor of a government office building that took us out to Bürgenstrasse. Before long, we passed right by the same alpenhorn players who were there two hours ago and were back on Landenbergstrasse, now heading back along the route where we could momentarily see some of the marathoners on the start of their second loop, but some four miles ahead of us.

Passing through the KKL Building
We curved back around those routes we had seen early on in the race, detouring through a path made for us through the KKL building with a red carpet, emerging out onto the other side through cheering crowds as we ran along the Bahnhofstrasse past the Kappellbrücke, Luzerner Theater, and Jesuitenkirche, then progressing through the crowded old city cobblestones across the Reussbrücke and River Reuss and onto the Weinmarkt.  Here, the cobblestones were even more difficult to navigate, so I took my time walking them (not wanting to sprain my ankle!) until we emerged back on to Schweizerhofquai and the Haldenstrasse.  We ran past a troupe of Swiss cow bell ringers, carrying massive cowbells as they marched past at a slow cadence, ringing their bells in unison. It felt like forever, but the marathoners begrudingly took our U-Turn as we saw the half marathoners heading to the finish -- we were only halfway done.  I crossed the halfway point in approximately 2:22, nearly ten minutes slower than last week.
A whole chorus of cowbells!
Crossing the Reussbrücke
Passing over wet cobblestones in the Weinmarkt
The treelined Alpenquai
As the second loop started, the rain finally began to stop.  The route became markedly more quiet, as less people were on the route alongside me, and runners on the other side of the road heading to their finish (or the turnaround point) began to peter out.  It was still thrilling to hear the cheers from spectators who were still out cheering us on, but eventually that all would peter out as we left the city center, some 14.5 miles into the race.  Now that it had stopped raining, I finally assessed my clothing and realized my bib was falling apart, so I stopped to readjust the safety pins as they had torn through the flimsy material, a victim of the soggy weather. Somehow, I had managed to stop my GPS watch and didn't realize it until some ten minutes later after I had begun running again, so my mileage was a little off for the second half of the race -- on our second loop, we had passed through a beautiful treelined street near the marina called Alpenquai, with the fall leaves a brilliant yellow color, before taking Eisfeldstrasse back to the route that would take us all around the perimeter of the peninsula for the second time.
Cloudy views across Lake Lucerne toward Nidwalden

Running with the 4:45 pacers in Horw
Now, it was so much more lonely out on the road, becoming eerily quiet, as there were very few people in front of me or behind me. Still, there were several people out cheering on the remaining runners, and it was very much appreciated.  The hills of course that we had run on the first loop were still incredibly tough the second time; but with the weather finally dry, and less crowds on the roads, I got to take advantage of some of the downhills a bit better.  It was around the 17 mile mark that I ended up running alongside the 4:45 pacers, playing a bit of leapfrog with them as we made our way around the south end of the peninsula; I stuck alongside them for the next 4.5 miles, as we made our way back into the center of Horw. There was a spectator near the bottom of the course who was there during our first loop, ringing two massive cowbells - and now, two hours later, he was still there, joyfully ringing it.  I thought it was so endearing!  As we reached the 20.5 mile mark, the 10km race was just beginning to start, right alongside our route, so the loneliness of the course we had experienced for the last six miles had been shortlived.  The speedsters blew right past us, and zigzagged their way through Horw's streets, and we began our last five miles heading back into town.
Clearly, he's having a blast.

Heading back into town from Horw
My legs started to cramp around mile 21, just before our second trip through the Swissporarena, but I still managed to navigate through the remainder of the course pain-free, taking walk breaks as necessary. The 4:45 pacers were still within eyesight, but they were rapidly fading from view, as I pushed myself to get through the last several miles of the race.  We passed back through the city centre, still being cautious of the uneven cobblestones, and before long, only 1.5 miles separated me from the finish line.  Along Schweizerhofquai, I saw the 40K sign and took my customary selfie, with the steeples of the Hofkirche behind me, and pushed my way to the finish.  There were lots of us on the course, with the full and 10K making our way to the finish, so thankfully, there were still lots of spectators out.  Eventually, we made the turn into the Swiss Transport Museum, and running through the entrance of the museum itself, through its lobby, and finally through the cement model of the Gotthard Base Tunnel along one last red carpet right to the finish line.
40K!
Running through the museum lobby!
I crossed in 4:54:27; a great time considering the hills of this race! After passing through the finish line, I went through the finish chute and got my medal, then found my way toward where I could get the finisher polo shirt that marathoners received after completing the race, then went inside the museum to warm up a bit.  I eventually made my way to where runners were coming through the museum entrance for the last few hundred feet to the finish line, and got there just in time to watch my friend Bernadette pass through and complete her 181st lifetime marathon!

Bernadette and I, post finish!
We found each other after she came through the finisher chute and went over to find her husband Richard to get some photos taken, and on our way there, a Swiss City Marathon staff member asked if we could be interviewed quickly for social media - the clip would end up on Facebook and shared worldwide! Richard and Bernadette helped me take my victory headstand photo on the grounds of the Swiss Transport Museum, in front of the old Swissair Convair CV-990 Coronado on display. We then separated and I headed back to the city centre by way of the ship shuttle once again (after taking one more headstand photo with the beautiful city landscape across the lake) and shivered my way onto the boat, heading inside to find a seat and try to warm up from having been exposed to over five hours of cold and wet weather. I begrudgingly walked the 20 minutes back to my Airbnb and immediately climbed into a much needed hot shower!
Victory Headstand #1, at the Swiss Transport Museum
Victory Headstand #2, with views of Lucerne across the Lake.
Chügelipastetli for dinner!
That evening, as the rain began to come down once again, I headed back into the city centre to celebrate my finish with a delicious Swiss dinner, going got the restaurant at the Hotel zum Rebstock, highly recommended by my Airbnb host.  I enjoyed a hearty Lozarner Chügelipastetli, essentially veal pot pie - puff pastry stuffed with veal chunks and veal sausage in a cream sauce, mushrooms, apple, marinated grapes in Cognac, and seasonal vegetables. I accompanied it with a nice glass of 2015 Chateau Montlau Bordeaux, then finished all up with a scoop of Swiss chocolate Mövenpick ice cream for dessert!  I slept soundly that night.

A post race day photo with my medal at the Kappellbrücke
When in Switzerland... Fondue it up!
The following morning, I slept in a tiny bit before packing up my bags and heading back into the city, where I spent a couple hours enjoying it one last time.  I posed with my medals with Kapellbrücke in the background, then headed up high, to Lucerne's Musegg Wall, the historic fortifications and their towers built around the city of Lucerne from the 13th century, where I was able to get some sweeping views of the city from above, and when the clouds happened to clear for a quick moment. Eventually I made my way back to the train station and got myself back to Zurich Airport, grabbing a lunch of cheese fondue and picking up necessary Swiss chocolate to bring home.  I flew to Paris to connect onto the evening flight home to NYC, getting home late Monday night, and readjusting to eastern time as best as I could for work the next morning.
Overlooking Lucerne from the Musegg Wall before heading home