Friday, October 25, 2019

Race Report: United Airlines NYC Half Marathon

The 2019 course
Old vs. new courses (changes in 2018)
The New York City Half Marathon has a special place in my heart, because the 2014 edition was my very first half marathon.  I ran the race again the following year, and hadn't run it since.  In 2018, they overhauled the course that used to start in Central Park with a full loop of its main road, through Times Square, then following the West Side Highway all the way to Wall Street in Lower Manhattan - instead, they started the race at Brooklyn's Grand Army Plaza, crossing the Manhattan Bridge into Manhattan, then following FDR Drive through to Times Square, before running a loop of Central Park and finishing at Tavern on the Green, the same spot where the NYC Marathon finishes every year. The 2019 edition was tweaked slightly to start within Prospect Park. So my five year anniversary of running half marathons would be celebrated with the race that started it all for me... with the United Airlines New York City Half Marathon - my 94th half.

Pre-race dinner on the UWS!
Friends from out of town started coming in on Friday, and I got to start off the weekend, which happened to be St. Patrick's Day weekend, fittingly at an Irish pub on the Upper West Side.  My friend Donna was hosting our mutual friend Pam, visiting from Mississippi, so I met them there after work on Friday for dinner and drinks. We ended up getting caught in a serious downpour when we left the pub, as I traversed an avenue to get to the downtown train. Luckily, the skies cleared up on Saturday morning, and I woke up early enough to make a trip back into Manhattan to run an easy 3.5 miles with Front Runners in Central Park, then join in on the weekly Saturday breakfast at Rutgers Church. That evening, I joined a bunch of friends at an Upper West Side Italian restaurant for dinner, many from out of town coming to race the NYC Half.

Oh, what a beautiful morning...
It was a super early morning, waking at 4:45am to get myself dressed and out the door to walk over to 75th and Roosevelt.  I found the Queens Distance Runners shuttle, and joined them on this early morning ride to Prospect Park.  We got there a little after 6, with still two hours left before my start, so I bided my time trying to stay warm in this cold air.  The sun eventually rose, and I made it past the security checkpoint and into the Nethermead, where runners congregated before heading into their corrals.  The area was totally ready for 25,000 runners to descend - there were a good 1,000 portapotties spread out in this open area.  Around 7:15, I would find Heather, and hand over the handmade "#ShiftyCanadian" back bib I made her, and take a few photos. After she headed to her corrals for her 7:50 start with Wave 2.  I was in Wave 3, and had an 8:10 start.
My Canadian buddy Heather
Heather is a "Shifty Canadian"
FRNY all bundled up before the race!
About to start!
Nick found me about 15 minutes later, and was my saving grace with some handwarmers - despite wearing gloves, my fingers were starting to get NUMB.  We then made our way over to the corrals, where we'd find Kat bundled up and ready to run. The corrals began to move shortly after 8:10, and we were quickly on our way to the start mat.

First mile thru Prospect Park
We crossed the start mat at 8:16am, with the first mile of the race fully in the park, a change from last year's race. Starting on Center Drive, we headed east, then hooked up onto the main loop of the park, to summit Battle Pass Hill on the north end, signaling the first mile of the race.  We took a conservative pace making it up the hill, reaching it in just around 10 minute pace, before bearing right onto the road heading out onto the street through Grand Army Plaza. We bore right to continue onto Flatbush Avenue, taking us on a nice steady descent. I broke away from Kat and Nick, telling them I planned to continue my normal interval at the 19 minute mark, so in order to stay in close proximity with each other, I needed to take advantage of the downhill. We would continue to the turnaround point just before Empire Boulevard, naturally slowing down as we made our way up Flatbush. My second mile would end up being the fastest of the race, taking a whole minute off of the first mile.

Running past Grand Army Plaza
We passed Grand Army Plaza once again, and made a nice long downhill along Flatbush, as it made its way toward Downtown Brooklyn. I saw both Kat and Nick on the run back uphill on the other side of the road.  We would hit the mile 3 mark near the Barclays Center (a 29:50 5K, per official splits), as I continued along on a steady sub 10-minute mile pace. We reached mile 4 just as the course began to flatten out a bit; there were a few people out cheering for us, but it was markedly not like the experience of running along 4th Avenue during the marathon in November. My speed definitely got me feeling a bit warmer, so eventually I would discard my handwarmers before getting to the bridge.
Hello Downtown Brooklyn!
The Manhattan Bridge!
Eventually, we were staring at the ascent to the Manhattan Bridge.  I held on past my watch beeping at the 39 minute mark, as we crossed Myrtle Avenue, since the road was still flat. I made it past Tillary Street, and picked one of the gantries along the roadway as a landmark to stop at and do my customary one minute walk.  I was surprised how narrow the roadway was - we were running on the two lanes on the "northern" roadway of the bridge, seeing traffic going in both directions on the southern roadway. I did stop for a quick selfie along the bridge, as we had some magnificent views of the downtown skyline, with One World Trade Center positioned prominently behind me.  Nick was not far behind me, and we ran together across the span over the water.

That's a long way down from up here.
I registered a 10:30 mile 5, expected with the ascent, but promptly returned to a faster mile as we made our descent down the bridge into Manhattan.  I took another quick photo as I saw runners making their way down Pike Street below, then barrelled down the bridge as best as I could.  Notably, the downhill to the East River is longer and greater than the climb to the top. We rounded the corner at Canal Street, then turned right onto Pike Street, continuing to take advantage of downhill momentum as the course headed to South Street.  My sixth mile came in at a 9:17, and registered a strong 1:00:18 as I crossed the 10K timing mat.  I made a quick stop alongside the bridge to empty out a small pebble that made its way to the sole of my shoe.
Just came off of the Manhattan Bridge, about to enter FDR Drive
Running near Stuy Town on FDR Dr.
We turned left onto South Street, and from then began a stretch of the course that was super flat.  We ran underneath FDR Drive for several blocks, until we crossed underneath the roadway and made our way onto the drive itself at Montgomery Street. It would be nice and flat over the next three miles (save for a slight incline near Stuyvesant Town) as we had the entire northbound roadway of FDR Drive overlooking the East River to ourselves. I ran a few sub-10 minute miles along the way, sticking to my 19:1 interval, and even hit the 15K mark at 1:30:47, continuing a pretty evenly split 5K since the beginning of the race. The roadway ended at the United Nations Secretariat building and veered left to turn into 42nd Street.
The Empire State Building in view as we run on FDR Drive
Running west on 42nd Street
I've run the Dash to the Finish 5K (the 5K run the day before the NYC Marathon) six times now - every year since 2013 - and its course is almost exactly like the last three miles of this NYC Half course, with the slight exception being our run north along 6th Avenue (in the 5K) instead of 7th, and taking the lower loop of the park (in the 5K) instead of crossing the 72nd Street transverse.  So in my mind, I felt I knew how to tackle 42nd Street.  But oh, how tough it ended up being!  Almost immediately as we made our way off of FDR and onto 42nd, I felt my legs feel like lead, running along the slightly ascending roadway.  My friend and fellow FRNY member Todd was there, cheering me on as I took a quick walk break, and lo and behold, Nick was right behind me, catching up to me for the last 5K of the race.  We both felt terrible as we tried our darnedest to make our way along 42nd, and I ended up having to take a walk break near the Park Avenue overpass before catching back up to him near 5th Avenue. As I monitored our time, I yelled out to him that his goal of 2:08 was within reach, if he maintained a 10 minute pace from here on out.

Times Square!
The spectators were out in full force as we made our way through the shut down Times Square, turning right onto 7th Avenue.  This was the centerpiece of the race - the only time other than New Year's Eve when Times Square is shut down to vehicular traffic. I struggle-bus'd my way up 7th Avenue alongside Nick as we found another troupe of Front Runners stationed just past the M&Ms Store after the 11 mile mark.  At 53rd Street, I had to take another walk break as Nick broke off again in front of me. At 60th Street, we turned right, and while I gained a bit of speed, it wasn't enough to catch up to him. I happened upon Heather and her unmistakable Canada jacket on the north end of 60th Street as I blasted past. We made our turn into Central Park at the 12 mile mark on its southeastern entrance, roughly where FRNY was in charge of a water station, and I got to see more friends who cheered me on to conquer this last mile.  I was spent, though -- I shuffled as we made our way through the rolling hills of this short part of the park.  Kat had quite a final kick, as I saw her distinctive shock of blonde hair run past me, and even past Nick as she hauled ass to the finish line on the other side of 72nd Street.  And that's how we would finish - Kat in front with a 2:08:41, Nick a little over thirty seconds behind her in 2:09:13; and me over thirty seconds behind him in 2:09:56.

NYC Half... complete!
Coming into this race, we all wanted to stay under a 10 minute pace, which is what we accomplished. While it was just short of Nick's goal, it was a 5 second PR for him; I was ultimately just looking for under 2:15 - if I could even get below my fastest half in NYC, a 2:12, I'd be even more happy.  I totally blasted past that goal by nearly 2 1/2 minutes!  So this race was a happy finish for me... it also meant that I was back to my ~2:10 half marathon time, right in the pocket for a successful marathon time similar to what I was accomplishing at the end of 2018.  We posed for several pictures before making the long slog down the park's West Drive to Columbus Circle, where we could finally exit.  Nick helped me take my headstand photo at Merchants Gate, featuring the Maine Monument (commemorating the 260 American sailors who perished in February 1898 when the USS Maine exploded in the harbor of Havana, Cuba) behind me.  I then headed to the FRNY brunch, held at a member's apartment near to Columbus Circle, before changing into some dry clothes, and meeting up with a coworker to catch The Cher Show on Broadway later that afternoon.  It was so much fun getting to run this race again, especially with the new course... and hope to enjoy it in the years to come!
Victory Headstand at the Maine Monument

Monday, October 21, 2019

Race Report: Chattanooga Marathon

The Chattanooga Marathon was a very late addition to my race calendar.  As March was looking pretty empty, I actually decided to join the field barely a week before the race date itself. I was casually looking at ways to fill this hole in my schedule with a distance race, since Two Oceans Marathon in South Africa was looming in April, and I had still yet to run a marathon under 5 hours since restarting my distance runs in 2019, and Two Oceans has a strict 5 hour time cut off at the 42K mark of the 54K race.  Originally, I was considering the Snickers Marathon in Albany, Georgia, but after chatting with my friends local to the area, I ended up booking Chattanooga, while also including a brand new race the Atlanta Track Club was putting on, called the "Road to Gold," a test event for the club for the 2020 Olympic Trials which would be held exactly one year later.

The course for Road to Gold would be the final 8 mile loop that the Olympic hopefuls would be running to stamp their ticket to the 2020 Tokyo Summer Olympics later that year. Not only would the Road to Gold include some 1700 recreational runners, but elite runners hoping to make the Olympic Team, and wanting to test out part of this course, would start off the race.  My friend Winnie, manager of events for the ATC, also needed a national anthem singer for the race and convinced me to come down.  At the same time, as a bona fide race enabler, I got her to sign up for Chattanooga on Sunday too, allowing us a nice road trip just two hours outside of Atlanta.  I booked an easy flight down on Friday night for a decent price, and I was set for a 34 mile weekend... exactly the same amount of mileage I would be running in South Africa!

Landing Friday night was a breeze, and I took the MARTA straight toward Winnie's apartment north of town. Luckily, I had dinner on the plane ride over, so after she picked me up, we both went straight to sleep, as Winnie was going to be waking up only a few hours later in order to make it for her 3am call time at the race start.  I got to sleep in a few more hours, getting my friend Jim to pick me up at 5:45, making our way to parking at Mercedes Benz Stadium by 6:15, with ample time for me to get my bib at race central and then meet with the ATC crew handling the start shortly thereafter.

As runners began to congregate downtown, the chilly temperatures definitely pierced the air, and after a little delay due to some unforeseen circumstances (Bad Boys III filming right at our startline!) I headed to the mic to sing the national anthem.  We got to see the elite men and women start before we put ourselves behind the start mats and began our 8 mile run through the city.
Watching the Elites start

With Jim and Jessie, post race.
Like the several other races I've run in Atlanta, the course was hilly.  Most of the course contained elements of the other races I've run, notably parts along Peachtree Street and the stretch toward the Olympic Rings and Centennial Olympic Cauldron at Capitol Avenue.  I ran a surprisingly fast 8 miles, coming in at 1:15:52, a pace of 9:29 per mile.  After finishing the race, I headed over to the race central area to retrieve my race bag and commemorative scarf, also seeing the elites receive their awards. I met 2016 Olympian Jared Ward, who remarked that he really enjoyed my rendition of the national anthem, almost distracting him from the start of his race!  (Sorry Jared!)  I also posed for a few photos with friends Jim and Jessie, and caught up with my college friend James who was also running the race, before Jim and I headed to The Silver Skillet for breakfast, then back to his house until Winnie was done with her duties.

With Jared Ward after the race; and he commented on my Instagram post, too!

Mmm... dessert!
Winnie and I got on the road just before 1pm, and made our way out to Chattanooga in roughly two hours. We headed straight for the small expo at First Tennessee Pavilion, an open air covered pavilion adjacent to Finley Stadium, and home of the Chattanooga Market, a local food and arts market which runs every Sunday, May-November each year. We made our way to our Airbnb, a cute first floor apartment less than two miles away and rested a bit before we met up with my friend Ralph at Chattanooga Brewing Company for an early dinner, then retired back to the apartment for the evening.  After all, we had another early morning ahead of us the next day.

The race begins!
6am came too quickly, and we got ourselves dressed (in my case, bundled up!) and out the door to overcast skies, and the air saturated with humidity. Rain had been forecast for the area, and getting wet was going to be inevitable - however, what was initially thought of to be steady rain before dawn and throughout the day turned into a light drizzle from the 7am hour, not turning into any significant precipitation until around 11pm, some 3 1/2 hours after the race start. We sat in our car for a little bit until it was some 15 minutes til the gun, finally deciding to go out to the startline on Reggie White Boulevard - right between the stadium and the First Tennessee Pavilion, just a short walk away. They played the national anthem over the loudspeakers (yes, played it... I emailed them offering to sing it, but nope, they played an instrumental version.  Whatever.) and then we self-seeded within the corrals. Winnie and I found Ralph and we started the race shortly after 7:30am, taking off northward for about 1/2 a mile into the City Center, before turning right onto 11th Street, then right again onto Market Street.  It was 46°, super overcast, and rain in the forecast, especially for the later hours of the race.

The Chattanooga Choo Choo
Market Street is Chattanooga's de facto north-south "Main Street," where many locally owned establishments from mom and pop luncheonettes to clothing stores and other retailers are located.  Making our way southward along Market Street, we would pass by the famous Chattanooga Choo-Choo, once the Terminal Station for the city, the first train station in the south (built in 1908) to help open a pathway to connect the north from the south, mostly to connect the city of Cincinnati, to Chattanooga. After the decline of railroad passenger traffic after World War II and other means of travel becoming more popular (interstate road travel and flying), the station closed its doors to the public in 1970.  It was saved by the wrecking ball in 1973 by a group of businessmen who were inspired by the internationally known 1941 big band/swing song, "Chattanooga Choo Choo," made popular by Glenn Miller and His Orchestra, renovating the station into a hotel and convention center. Within its grand Beaux-Arts style exterior, it contains unique accommodations - guests can stay in half of a restored Pullman train car - as well as amenities, such as the complex's fine dining venue, housed in a restored 1938 Class A dining car.

The Olgiati Bridge behind me
(Official Photo by the Erlanger
Chattanooga Marathon)
We continued on south, eventually turning right onto 20th Street, following the road underneath US-27 and onto the Riverfront Parkway on the west side of the city.  This road, barricaded from the Tennessee River by a largely industrial and manufacturing area, was nice and flat; as we continued north along the parkway, at one point reaching the 5K mark of the race, which I ran in a respectable 30:44 (9:55 pace). Eventually, the Tennessee River finally came into view, as did the span of the Olgiati Bridge, a simple steel girder bridge we would be running underneath. Of the four bridge crossings over the river in downtown Chattanooga, we would be crossing only two of them; this one and the Market Street bridge would be left to vehicular traffic.  This, of course, differed from Chattanooga's other marathon offering, the 7 Bridges Marathon, which takes runners across all four bridges, plus the two other bridges in the eastern part of the city near the Chickamauga Dam. This point of the race until the halfway mark (roughly the next nine miles) would be the section of the course that would be repeated twice, to begin again after a four mile detour after the halfway point of the race.

Running to the Tennessee Aquarium
Continuing along Riverfront Parkway took us behind the Tennessee Aquarium, one of the country's top aquariums, the building designed to serve as a cornerstone for redevelopment in downtown Chattanooga by reconnecting the city with the Tennessee River.  Its two buildings are organized the theme of water traveling through the Tennessee River system from the mountains to the sea. Along the river and across the street from the aquarium was Ross's Landing, the last site of the Cherokee's 61-year occupation of Chattanooga and is considered to be the embarkation point of the Cherokee removal on the Trail of Tears. Ross's Landing Riverfront Park memorializes the location, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.  The Market Street Bridge was to our left, the unique concrete arch bridge with a center steel-truss draw span, standing 70 feet above the surface of the Tennessee River.
The Market Street Bridge in view
Running on Veterans Memorial Bridge
Immediately behind the Market Street Bridge was the Walnut Street Bridge, the pedestrian bridge we would be running over when coming back from the other side of the river.  But first, we had to make the first steep ascent of the race, nearly 100 feet of rise over just 1/4 mile.  We powered through as we passed the modern wing of the Hunter Museum of American Art, an art museum with collections of 19th and 20th century American art situated on an 80 foot bluff overlooking the river and Downtown Chattanooga. A tiny bit more ascent was required as we rounded the corner and found the crest of the parkway, which overlooked Veterans Memorial Bridge, where we could see the faster runners running across.  We were finally treated to a bit of downhill as we made our way to a break in the siderail that took us down to Batter Place, where we ran to Georgia Avenue and the mile 5 mark of the race.  Turning left there began our trek across the Veterans Memorial Bridge, a steel girder bridge connecting us to North Chattanooga.  Year round, this bridge honors veterans by flying American flags, replaced twice a year.

The very wet Walnut Street Bridge
Once over the river, we ran along the right shoulder of Barton Avenue then made a u-turn to take the ramp downward along Frazier Avenue.  We followed Frazier Avenue to the small and compact center of Chattanooga's North Shore, being directed to utilize the sidewalks here instead of the roadway. Eventually, we turned left, onto the wooden planks of the Walnut Street Bridge.  As we passed Coolidge Park, we continued on southward back over the Tennessee River -- our run through North Chattanooga was very short. We hit the 10K mat, and I crossed in 1:03:37 -- a 10:16 pace. With the rain, it made the planks a bit slippery, so I went about running across the bridge a bit carefully.

Fort Wood
On the other side of the bridge, we continued down Walnut Street, enjoying the natural downhill, before turning left onto E. 3rd Street. We faced a brief one block ascent up to High Street as we continued southeastward, running nearly parallel to the section of Riverfront Parkway we had run early on before crossing the Veterans Memorial Bridge.  At Mabel Street, we turned right, and began our run through the campus of the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, passing first by McKenzie Arena (fittingly nicknamed "The Roundhouse"), the primary basketball arena for the UTC Mocs. The street became E. 5th, as it curved through campus, passing a few more of the university's athletic venues, then academics buildings. We veered right on Palmetto Street to begin running through the Fort Wood Historic District along Fortwood Street as the neighborhood became distinctly more residential.  At Fortwood Place, we turned right, running a block south, before turning right to run northwest on Vine Street.  Many of the grand homes in this area were converted into student apartments, designed in the Queen Anne, Tudor Revival, and Romanesque Revival styles.

We continued on back through campus, passing by the university's Fine Arts Center, then reached an area of some considerable construction - for a couple minutes, we were directed to the narrow sidewalks bounded by academic buildings on one side and chainlink fence on the other. After the library, we were finally back on the street, running a few more blocks before reaching a left turn at Lindsay Street, exiting the campus area.

Running along MLK Boulevard
Running four blocks southward on Lindsay Street, we then were directed to turn left onto Martin Luther King Boulevard to begin a 1.5 mile long run southeastward.  The nine mile mark passed, and eventually, we crossed the 15K timing mat - my split was 1:37:27, or 10:29 pace.  I had gotten slower, but I chalk it up to the hilly downtown area and bridges I had to run over!  We were now running through the heart of Chattanooga's black enterprise zone, once known as the 9th Street District, or the "Big Nine."  This area was a mecca for black music and entertainment from the early 20th century into the 1970s -- Tennessee's very own Harlem. When desegregation occurred in the late 1960s into the early 1970s, the Big Nine became a ghost town, with the black community scattering across the city, and the area becoming overridden with crime.  Colorful murals are a reminder of what once was - and over the last decade, the area has started to bounce back.

Chattanooga National Cemetery
After a slight ascent, and less than ten minutes after crossing the 15K mat, we crossed the 10 mile mat, recording a split of 1:45:12, or 10:32 pace. Passing over the railroad tracks meant that MLK Blvd turned into Bailey Avenue, and to our right was Chattanooga National Cemetery, a 120 acre cemetery with interments since the Civil War.  We would run the perimeter of the cemetery, turning right onto S. Holtzclaw Avenue. We would turn right again onto Main Street, just past the 11 mile mark.  As we continued northwest for the next 1.6 miles along Main Street, we would actually pass by our Airbnb. We ran through Chattanooga's Southside Historic District, once the urban center of industry in Chattanooga, which came to be known for its abandoned warehouses and old buildings during the mid-20th century. Today, revitalization has filled the neighborhood with the art, culture, cuisine and entertainment that has come to define the city.

We turned right onto Chestnut Street, to round our way up to 13th Street, and then left onto Carter Street, where we had run up our opening mile of the race.  The finish line lay ahead, but I was only halfway done; marathoners turned right onto Main Street to begin our second loop of the race.  It wouldn't be exactly same as the first; as we continued along Main Street to streets that were far less crowded, we crossed the halfway point timing mat to record our half marathon split.  I crossed in 2:18:17.  Pretty respectable - and it still gave me enough cushion for the second half to get my much desired sub-5 hour marathon that I've been wanting since the beginning of the year.

Running on the Tennessee Riverfront
At Riverfront Parkway, we turned left, heading south, the opposite direction of how we ran along this road two hours before.  We took a right turn onto W 19th Street, taking us through a highly industrialized area surrounded by huge warehouse buildings. The road was in pretty poor condition, too, so I had no idea where the route was taking us. We were directed up onto the paved sidewalk, along a pathway very heavily bounded by fencing on either side of us with an imposing blue gantry crane overhead.  With faster runners coming back toward us, we were now on the sole out-and-back portion of the race, taking us on the Chestnut Street section of the Tennessee Riverwalk.  We would run along this quiet paved pathway through the largely forested and isolated section of the riverfront, with views across the river to Lookout Mountain, bathed in cloudcover.  Eventually we would meet up with asphalt roadway (which I far preferred running over than concrete) as it took us underneath the US-24 highway and eventually to the turnaround point.  There was some hilliness here, but it wasn't incredibly difficult.  We made our way back to where we turned, but this time kept heading north alongside the river.
Clouds rolling in on Lookout Mountain
Rusting steel supply buildings along the race route
Over the next mile, we would run past the former Alstom manufacturing site, an area that the company had once invested some $500 million in in anticipation of a renaissance in the nuclear industry that never arrived. After selling it off to real estate developers in 2018, there are plans to potentially turn the area into Chattanooga's "West End," a huge multi-use district with new office space, residential, retail, and commercial ventures occupying the 112 acres of land.  While the overcast skies and existing imposing structures made it hard to envision such a site, it's easy to think it would create lots of exciting opportunities for Chattanooga's future.

Walnut Street Bridge, the second time.
At 16.5 miles in, we began to run along the Blue Goose Hollow section of the trail, taking us past townhomes and condo developments, complete with unique public art installations along the paved trail.  At mile 17, we returned back to the roadway to follow the course we had run in the first half of the race all the way to the finish.  The second time around of course, was a bit slower; and there were far fewer people to share the course with.  With the local police starting to allow more car traffic to utilize the streets, we were pushed to the shoulder at points, as we continued along the Riverfront Parkway. The rain also began at the mile 18 mark, and would continue all the way to the end.  My pace remained fairly steady around the 12.5 to 13 minute mile, save for the 11 minute mile I posted at mile 19, which I could attribute to the downhill along the Veterans Memorial Bridge that pushed me through. We pushed through North Chattanooga, now at this time of the day starting to be busy with people as we made our way over the Walnut Street Bridge back to the downtown, then passed the 20 mile mark, a timing mat recording a 3:41:17 split with 10 kilometers to go.  A sub 5 race was still definitely in sight, despite the obvious slow down in my pace.
Coming off of the Walnut Street Bridge
(Official Photo by the Erlanger Chattanooga Marathon)
The rain really started falling as we continued through the UTC campus and Fort Wood, before passing back through downtown and the MLK Boulevard stretch, when it let up a little. We then made our way around the cemetery.  From there on to the end, we would be on the flattest parts of the race.  The rain had begun to come down, making it a very wet last three miles, but I managed to pick up my speed after reaching 4:17:11 on my watch for the 23 mile mark with a little over 5K to go.  That sub-5 was mine.

My traditional Mile 25 photo!
The flatness definitely helped; my next couple miles would be at 11:30 and 11:13 pace, and while I was getting super cold, I knew I had that sub-5 in my sights.  I punched it and made my way through the Southside Historic District, and around Chestnut Street over to Carter Street with the finish line in view.  I ended up crossing the finish line in 4:56:49, finally getting the sub-5 that’s eluded me so far this year, and in inclement conditions. 

With fellow serial marathoner, Ken
I sought refuge inside the First Tennessee Pavilion as the rain started to come down harder again.  I found my friend Ken, who I had first met in the Bahamas back in January, not even knowing he had come here to run the race!  The bathrooms were actually nice and warm, so I ended up spending a bit of time in there, as I changed into some dry clothes.  A little while later, Winnie finished her race and after eating some post race food and her getting changed into dry clothes, we made our way back to Atlanta so I could make my flight.  Ken joined us on the ride up for his flight as well.

A photo with Ralph back in NYC!
Driving from Chattanooga to Atlanta was harrowing (thank you Winnie for getting us back safely!) and I lucked out on getting on standby for a flight leaving a bit earlier, at 5:30pm than my original 7:30pm flight... when checking the weather forecast, snow was supposed to come down quite heavily in New York City that evening. It turns out Ralph was on that same flight, and I even lucked out with getting a seat with extra legroom at the emergency exit.  It was good I got on that flight, as the later it got, the more ominous the forecast looked; the 5:30, 6:30, and 7:30 flights from ATL-LGA left and arrived on time, but the 8:30 and 9:30 flights would be delayed to the following morning.  Again, I managed to dodge a bullet!

The weather wasn't great.  Look at all those cancelled arriving flights!
A victory headstand with Lookout Mountain, and the theme of the day... clouds!

Thursday, October 10, 2019

Race Report: Cowtown Ultra Marathon

Over the last few years, I've eyed the Cowtown Marathon as a race in the Dallas-Fort Worth area that I was considering doing.  What was particularly intriguing to me was the 50K distance they offered, one of the rare urban 50Ks that are offered that wasn't on a trail course.  I hadn't run a 50K yet, despite the longer distance with the San Francisco Ultramarathon (essentially two marathons, one right after another), and a 49K in Anchorage back in August 2018, so this would actually be my first 50K race with a time for that particular distance. With the race happening in February, a week after returning from Egypt, I signed up for the race on New Years' Eve, and booked flights and accommodations a month out.  I booked an Airbnb in the vicinity of the Will Rogers Memorial Center, where both the expo and race start and finish were located, a short five minute walk away.  And I booked flights to leave early Saturday morning on one of Delta's newest jets, the brand new Delta Airbus A220-100 (formerly known as the Bombardier CS100) that will have just began passenger service at the start of February.

Race weekend came, and after a night out seeing friends Friday who were in town Friday night, I was out to LaGuardia for my direct flight to Dallas first thing Saturday morning.  The plane was brand new, and I was lucky enough to get an upgrade into First Class.  I ended up befriending a couple sitting directly behind me from the suburbs of New York City, who were also headed down to Texas for the race weekend.  And it also turned out that Ralph and Louise had been present at other races that I had run, including the Route 66 Marathon weekend in Tulsa, where I ran my 50th state!  We got to chatting about our future race schedule, and somehow, I managed to get Ralph to sign up for the Chattanooga Marathon in Tennessee the following week!  I've become quite the race enabler... but I didn't realize I was that good, to get someone to sign up right then and there for a race the following weekend!

We landed in Dallas a little after noon, and I headed straight for the rental cars area to pick up my rental for the weekend at Hertz. My friend Pete, who lives in the Dallas area, reached out to me a few days before I left about grabbing lunch when I arrived, so we made plans and I met him at Los Amigos, a Mexican restaurant in nearby Grapevine, for a filling lunch.  It was great catching up, and getting to find out about his upcoming race plans, including his first Boston Marathon, which he'd be running in April. I then headed out to check into my Airbnb and getting a lay of the land before heading off to the expo to retrieve my bib for Sunday's race. At the expo, I'd meet up with a friend from high school back in my hometown of Wichita, Kansas, who I hadn't seen since I graduated back in 2002; Lauren (who was a year younger than me) and her younger brother Dillon were both running the half marathon, and a bunch of their family was in town to cheer them on.  She invited me to dinner with them that night; I would end up relaxing for the rest of the afternoon before heading out to dinner.

Reunion with Wichita friends!
Dinner with Lauren and her family that night was at Woodshed Smokehouse, along the Trinity River, and it was definitely carbloading Texas style. Also there visiting as one of Lauren's friends and another alum from high school, Jackie, who I actually attended preschool with, was in town, too! Quite a fun reunion.  It was quite busy that evening at the restaurant, but it was great being able to catch up. I went to bed that night full and contented, ready for the race the next morning.

I woke up just before 6am and got myself dressed and out the door some 20 minutes later, to walk the short ten minutes over to the staging area for the marathon in the parking lot of the Will Rogers Memorial Center. It was quite chilly that morning, so I headed straight for the exhibit hall, where hundreds of people were congregating for warmth. It was still relatively early and the corrals hadn't opened yet, so people were taking advantage of being inside until they absolutely needed to.  Everyone started filtering out to the start area at about 6:40, I myself heading toward corral 4, where I was assigned.  The national anthem was sung shortly before the elites and corral 1 took off, and with still ample time before I was to start my race, I took to my Facebook messenger to shoot a message to Louise and Ralph. I found out they were in corral 7, so I headed over there to join them.  It was frigidly cold, and despite the sun just peeking over the horizon, I think we were experiencing the coldest temperatures of the entire morning - some 36° with enough wind to make it feel just below freezing.

The start...
It was 7:27 when we finally crossed the start mats, making our way north along Gandy Street up to Lancaster Avenue, where we'd enjoy an eastbound straightshot with gorgeous views of downtown Fort Worth (and many cranes signaling new development in the area) in front of us.  Along the way, we'd pass the Amon Carter Museum of American Art,  Kimbell Art Museum, and Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth on our left, and the distinguished Pioneer Tower of the Will Rogers Memorial Center (currently undergroing some renovation) to our right. We ran along a nice downhill veering to the ramp to our left, before turning right onto Foch Street and under Lancaster Avenue, then followed the street to Trinity Park Drive, running through the northwest section of Trinity Park, the first of three times we'd be running through the area.
Running up Lancaster Avenue in the first mile of the race.
Running through Trinity Park
We exited off of the extreme northwest corner of the park onto Fort Worthy's vibrant West 7th Street, a shopping, dining, and entertainment development area. We notably passed by the Montgomery Plaza building, originally built in 1928 as the largest building in Texas as the original Montgomery Ward store. When Montgomery Ward Company ceased operations in 2001, the Mission Revival style building was purchased and transformed into a new luxury residential community, still maintaining and preserving its Art Deco period roots. After turning onto Carroll Street, we ran on the much less commercial 5th Street, surrounded by a more industrial then single family residential setting, before we veered off northwestward onto Bailey Avenue. I was able to pick up the pace a little bit here.

Running down White Settlement Road
At White Settlement Road, we made a sharp right turn, as we ran alongside Greenwood Memorial Park.  We hit the first timing mat of the race at the 5K mark, crossing it in 32:48, a modest 10:30 average pace. We turned left onto N University Drive, crossing over the West Fork of the Trinity River, eventually ramping its way downhill as it curved northeastward. Here, we'd be seeing our first real hills of note during the race, as we ran uphill past Jacksboro Highway and onto Northside Drive. We turned right onto Grand Avenue for a nice flatter section as we ran alongside historic Oakwood Cemetery (four miles into the race, and we'd run by two cemeteries?!) before making a turn left onto Circle Park Boulevard.

North along Ellis Avenue, 6 miles in.
Circle Park Boulevard was actually wide residential street, separated by a wide grassy median that ran some 3/4 of a mile (5 1/2 city blocks) from Oakwood Cemetery to the aptly named Circle Park. We'd run only four of these blocks before turning right onto NW 15th Street, then around the perimeter of Marine Park, before heading northward along the mostly flat Ellis Avenue toward the direction of Fort Worth's famous Stockyards. The last two miles, I managed a decent pace, clocking in mile splits on my watch just under 10:30 per mile.  We hit the 10K mat in 1:05:30, managing to stay consistent to the same 10:30 pace we were running at the 5K mark.

Entering the Fort Worth Stockyards
Fort Worth Stockyards is a historic district that would mark our the furthest north our race course would reach. Back in the late 1800s, Fort Worth was a very important livestock center, and the arrival of the Texas & Pacific Railroad to this area made it eventually a very profitable venture. Here, Swift and Armour companies established packing houses (facilities for slaughtering livestock and processing and packing meat and its byproducts), selling more than a million cattle per year by the turn of the century.  By the mid-1870’s, Fort Worth had become a major center for the buying and shipping of livestock, and it soon became known as “Cowtown."

The Cowtown Coliseum
The Stockyards were listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1976, recognizing the area's long tradition as part of the cattle industry.  We were running down the main strip of the Stockyards, Exchange Avenue, a brick road retaining the character of the old west.  We passed by many old buildings, including the Cowtown Coliseum, the home of the Stockyards Championship Rodeo, dating back to 1908 when it was the finest indoor exhibition and rode performance center in the world. It was totally refurbished in 1986 and brought up to modern day standards.

A field of cacti as we run on 23rd St.
We exited the Stockyards as the road went slightly uphill on a switchback-like turn next to the historic Swift & Co. Office Building, before depositing us onto Niles City Boulevard, and back onto asphalt.  we ran southward before turning right onto NE 23rd Street, past a field of cacti, reaching the 7th mile, then turning left onto Main Street as we began our run south back toward the downtown area.  The road was fairly flat and largely asphalted, though occasionally we had to run over some patches of brick at various intersections as we continued on southward, following the curve of the road southeasterly into the neighborhood of Marine Park, where the skyline of downtown began to come into view.  Just after the mile 8 mark, we curved slightly to the left, continuing to run southeastward on Commerce Street as a detour through an area with large vacant lots, parking lots, and a smattering of industrial buildings, before curving back to Main Street.
The skyline of downtown Forth Worth, a fair distance away.
Running up toward the Courthouse
Ahead was a magnificent pink Texas granite building, the Tarrant County Courthouse, home to the Tarrant County clerk's office, probate and county courts at law, a law library, and the Tarrant County facilities management department. The Renaissance Revival style building, built by the prominent courthouse building architecture firm of Gunn and Curtiss based out of Kansas City, closely resembles the Texas State Capitol, with the exception of the clock tower, and was completed in 1893. Main Street was a gradual uphill toward the courthouse, as we crossed over the Trinity River, crossing the 15K mark in 1:40:30 (10:44 per mile pace), as we veered right onto Houston Street to continue running southeasterly into the heart of Fort Worth's Sundance Square, a 36 block commercial, entertainment, shopping and residential district of the downtown.

Tarrant County Courthouse, 15K in.
It became difficult to keep my pace under 11 minutes per mile as we continued through the race; perhaps I was still tired from my trip to Egypt which I had only returned from on Tuesday morning, five days earlier. But still I soldiered on. We continued along Houston Street through the as it passed the Fort Worth Convention Center, in the area once known as Fort Worth's "Hell's Half Acre," a red-light district in the Old Wild West that was one of the most violent and lawless areas of the city's past. After the 10 mile mark, the half marathoners would veer right onto Lancaster Avenue, back the three miles toward the Will Rogers Memorial Center; the marathoners and ultramarathoners turned left, eventually making our way onto Main Street and crossing underneath the crisscrossing ribbon of highways (US 377 and Interstate 30) and railroads above. For the next mile and a half, we headed straight down south on Main Street into the Near Southside, the district just south of downtown Fort Worth.
Fittingly, there was a cow statue along the course. In Cowtown.
Main Street in the Near Southside
This area of the Near Southside began to be redeveloped in the 1990s, with the redevelopment of many buildings bringing new residential units, offices, and bar/music venues to the area, a formerly sleepy corner of the district. It was also the focus of the South Main complete street project, the city's directive to reconfigure a 0.9 mile section of the South Main Village's main artery from Vickery Boulevard down to Magnolia Avenue as a complete street designed for pedestrians, cyclists, and all other users, with a new concrete roadway, wider sidewalks lined with trees and historic lampposts, new underground utilities, protected parallel parking for adjacent businesses, dedicated bike lanes, and distinctive sidewalk sculptures by renowned artist Benito Huerta. Fully implemented by the end of 2017, the new South Main complements an exciting set of redevelopment projects in the works.

At the 13 mile mark on Park Pl Ave
In addition to all the redevelopment here, the Near Southside is well known for being  home to Tarrant County’s major hospitals, as well as dozens of independent medical clinics.  The area is even known as one of the livable medical districts in the US.  We turned right onto Magnolia Avenue, running along the edge of the John Peter Smith Hospital campus, Tarrant County's public hospital that's been part of this area since 1938.  Along this largely commercial corridor, with single family homes surrounding it, we continued westward, before turning left onto 5th Avenue, then right onto Allen Avenue. We would pass by facilties part of the Cook Children's Health Care System as well as Baylor Scott & White All Saints Medical Center, as we continued westward onto a charming revitalized stretch of historic storefronts from 8th Avenue onto Park Place Avenue, reaching the 13.1 mile mark of the race in 2:23:22, a 10:54 pace.

Park Hill
We were now running along the border of the historic Berkeley Place and Mistletoe Heights neighborhoods, both annexed by the city of Fort Worth in 1922. Located just east of the Fort Worth Zoo, this residential area has a distinctive blend of houses from antebellum design, bungalow, and streamline moderne to craftsman and French creole. We turned left onto Forest Park Boulevard, continuing south along this residential stretch before veering slightly left onto McCart Avenue and then onto Park Hill Drive.  From here, we turned right onto Winton Terrace, winding along the meandering street past the largely Spanish-inspired and Tudor-style homes of the Park Hill neighborhood, a bluff above the Fort Worth Zoo.

I needed that Sausage McMuffin.
We eventually emerged back onto Park Hill Drive, before running south onto Greene Avenue, Parmer Avenue, and Lubbock Avenue, along the eastern edge of the Texas Christian University campus. We were in the residential neighborhoods immediately to the east of the campus, with historic homes in prairie bungalow and Tudor cottage style, and like in the other residential areas we had run through, mostly built in the 1920s.  One of these neighborhoods, University Place, is considered among the most historically intact neighborhoods in Fort Worth with facades of homes in the neighborhood preserved in their original form in a majority of cases and very few architectural intrusions.  We eventually made our way down to the neighborhoods of Bluebonnet Place and Bluebonnet Hills, largely similar to the residential areas we had just passed through.  We turned right onto Benbrook Boulevard, where one of the residents was handing out McDonald's Sausage McMuffins to runners -- I gladly took one, starving at the time (16 miles in), and kept it in my pocket, saving it for later.

20 miles in, through Overton Park
We zigzagged through the neighborhood, eventually reaching S. Hills Avenue at the mile 17 mark, where we turned right to continue westward.  Most of the next four miles would be largely uneventful, running through mostly nondescript residential neighborhoods with many cookie-cutter like ranch-style houses.  We weaved down toward the neighborhood of Westcliff, curving down Encanto Drive where we reached the 30K mark (18.6 miles) of the race in 3:32:25, or 11:23 pace. I was struggling to keep my mile pace below 12 minutes at this point. We turned right onto Trail Lake Drive, before cutting through Foster Park, as we took a paved running path (part of the southern segment of the Trinity Trails system) passing through lush greenery and large trees, linking us up to Overton Park.

Um... thanks for the offer?
We emerged at Overton Park Drive East, running alongside the linear park that stretches north to south. Both parks have creeks that run directly through them that lead into the Clear Fork of the Trinity River.  Homes facing the park here were largely ranch-style that were popular in the 1950s, with two story homes in various styles scattered throughout. At Hartwood Drive, we turned right, to follow it through the neighborhood of Tanglewood amongst more ranch-style homes adjacent to the park. We ran along Hartwood Drive as it curved north up toward Mockingbird Lane and the southern edge of the Colonial Golf. Here, we turned right, then followed Country Club Circle past the club's entrance onto Colonial Parkway (taking a few more bites of that McMuffin I had stored away, too) eventually weaving its way up to Rogers Road, as we crossed the Clear Fork of the Trinity River, and reached the 23 mile mark of the race in 4:27:28, or 11:36 pace.

Beginning the run along the trail
From here, we turned right onto Riverfront Drive, actually passing right by Woodshed Smokehouse, where I happened to have dinner the night before.  We then joined the Trinity Trails pathway, the nicely maintained and paved path that ran alongside the Trinity River and its tributaries.  We followed the pathway northward, as it crossed underneath US Route 377 and Interstate 30, and then through Trinity Park.  As we neared Mile 25, I could see runners on the adjacent road running in the opposite direction; it was right before the underpass under Lancaster Avenue that the marathoners split off to complete their last 1.2 miles of the race.  Ultramarathoners, of which the faster runners were already on their way back, began their additional 4.84 miles - a roughly 2.42 mile out and back - from that point, along the trail.
A stretch of the Trinity Trails before Trinity Park
And here begins the extra 4.84 miles...
The extra mileage we ran was pretty, but painful.  We ran under a few street bridges overhead, following the path as it progressed past mile 26, and eventually a split mat marking 26.2 miles, or the marathon distance.  I ran across it in 5:11:23, or 11:51 pace, and then rewarded myself with the last bit of McMuffin I still had in my pocket (no worries, it wasn't gross... it actually stayed pretty intact in the two hours since I had first gotten it!)  I spotted a few other ultra runners, including Ralph from my flight in, on this stretch.  We rounded the confluence of the Clear Fork and West Fork of the Trinity River, then finally had the turn around point in sight.  Appropriately, there was an ultra-style aid station located there, complete with lots of food for the ultramarathoners, before we continued on with the ~4 miles of running we still had in front of us.  The wind was getting a little strong out here, too.
A leafless tree in February.  How original.
Train and road crossings as we run the Trinity Trails system
30 mile mark.  Oof.
My pace had deteriorated rapidly since reaching the 25 mile mark; I couldn't manage to get my mile to go below 13 minutes for the remainder of the race, as I was that exhausted and done! I managed to make it back to the spot where marathoners were turning around, now 30 miles for me, with just a little over a mile left to go.  We continued along River Drive, the asphalted roadway through the southern part of the park, then exited off onto Crestline Road, which we followed westward to University Drive.  After crossing the street, and hugging the curb as we ran southward, we turned right onto Trail Drive, with Dickies Arena, the brand new (and at the time, still under construction) 14,000 seat multipurpose venue within the Will Rogers Memorial Center, in sight. The arena will host concerts, sporting events and family entertainment, and will serve as the new home to Fort Worth Stock Show Rodeo performances.  After turning right on Harley Avenue, then right again onto Gendy Street, the finish line was finally in sight.  I crossed the mat, my first 50K, in 6:19:13. 12:12 pace, so not as fast as I would've liked - but giving me quite a bit of room to improve for the next time!
The last little bit before the finish line!
Well deserved bling!
After getting our medal, we were led through the center's Sheep Barn, where we could receive much needed food provided by the various sponsors of the race.  I then headed outside to get my headstand photo, pondering which location at the Will Rogers Memorial Center I should get the photo with... the iconic Tower perhaps?  No... ultimately, I decided to go with the statue of Midnight, located outside of the Exhibits Hall.  The statue is of the "world's greatest bucking horse," which lived from 1910 to 1936, ad bucked on the American Rode circuit from 1923 to 1933.  The statue, designed by famed western artist and sculptor Jack Bryant in 1984, depicts the horse with its rear legs in the air, with a cowboy who had fallen on the ground.  Fitting, since I felt like I was bucked by a horse after this 50K ordeal!
Victory Headstand in front of Midnight
Art from the Amon Carter Museum
I headed back to my Airbnb for a much needed shower, thankful that my host gave me the extra time to do so after being done well past the check out time; after checking out, and then getting a notification that my flight home would be delayed, I decided to make an afternoon of it at nearby Amon Carter Museum of American Art to check out their collection of American art. The museum's permanent collection features paintings, photography, sculpture, and works on paper by leading artists working in the United States and its North American territories in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. The greatest concentration of works falls into the period from the 1820s through the 1940s. The Carter collection is distinguished for its extensive collection of works by Frederic Remington and Charles M. Russell, fantastic examples of the Old West, as well as its bronze sculpture. The distinctive building was designed by architect Philip Johnson, and completed in 1961. 

The Kimbell Art Museum
The Kimbell Art Museum is right next door to Amon Carter Museum of American Art and showcases a collection of works from all over the world, from antiquity to the mid 20th century. I headed there next, and made my way to check out its permanent exhibit. Among these works include Michelangelo's first known painting, The Torment of Saint Anthony, the only painting by Michelangelo on exhibit in the Americas. The building that houses the works was designed by Louis Kahn, completed in 1972. A new pavilion, by architect Renzo Piano, was completed in 2013.

I didn't have time to check out the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth, the third museum located on the triangle of museums between Camp Bowie Boulevard, University Drive, and Lancaster Avenue, before needing to head to the airport; but before leaving I had to see the Richard Serra piece that sat outside of it - a nearly 68 foot tall sculpture entitled “Vortex.” When you stand inside, you get to experience some incredible acoustics!

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I made a stop for a much deserved "parting meal" before leaving Texas, at the quintessential Texas-based fast food chain, Whataburger!  There are more than 670 of these stores in Texas, with some 150 in other parts of the southern US, including in New Mexico and Arizona.  They've been known for many years for their distinct A-framed orange and white stripe roofed buildings, and this particular location was no different!  I enjoyed my burger and fries, then headed off to the airport.  I had a roughly 2 hour delayed flight, but made it back to New York in one piece, having accomplished my first official 50K!