Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Race Report: JTB Maui Half Marathon

The view as we fly into Maui!

The airport greeting all of the runners!
The trip from the east coast to Hawaii is a long trip.  It is a LONG ASS trip.  Like... 10 hours of flying time long.  It takes about 5 hours to get all the way across the country to Seattle (in my case), and then another 4-5 hours from Seattle to Maui.  Because my schedule worked out that I had to work a full day Wednesday, and ideally, I wanted to get onto the island when the sun was out, I decided to do the first leg across the mainland on Wednesday night after work, and then have a layover in Seattle before doing the second leg the first thing in the morning on Thursday, arriving in Maui (after a quick stopover in Sacramento).  Thankfully, I was able to use airline mileage to pay for the trip!  I arrived to  heat and humidity seeping into the air at Kahului Airport in northern Maui just after noon, after a beautiful flyover that had us circle around and see the breathtaking views of both the West Maui Mountains and Haleakala from high above.

Welcome to Maui!
On the beach on my first day
(Photo by Donna Dullys)
Donna greeted me at the airport in a cute black convertible VW Beetle, which we later named "Kekoa" (meaning warrior in Hawaiian), having spent the last five days on the island, taking in the beauty and majesty of Hawaii on her vacation.  We decided to spend the day on this side of the island, as the trip back to Ka'anapali where our hotel was would be 45 minutes in both directions, and Hollie would be flying in later that night.  We went to island mainstay "Da Kitchen" for lunch (and lunch I did... I ate the biggest thing they had on their menu!) and posed for the requisite photo on the islands seemingly only "welcome" sign just outside of the airport, in front of a Krispy Kreme donut shop.  We then drove up to the northwestern part of the island to check out the view from the Waihe'e Ridge Trail, and even do a little hike (which ended up being very little - steep inclines, flip-flops, and slippery paths made for a 0.8 mile hike, but with absolutely breathtaking views), before stopping at nearby Waiehu Beach and at the aptly named "Jaws Beach" (no sharks, but a few humongous sea turtles!) for a little zen-out and relaxation.  Before long, the sun headed over the horizon, and Hollie was arriving from her very long trip also coming from the east coast. We retrieved Hollie, and with the top down, we drove under the night sky to west Maui, and to Ka'anapali, for some dinner, pool time, and a much needed rest to adjust to the six hour time difference.
First meal on the island... starving my face off!

Parrots aplenty on the Road to Hana!
Friday morning, we woke up bright and early, and headed on a bit of an adventure, taking the road we took the night before, but now in broad daylight, appreciating the trip as we knew we would be running on part of this road (and the marathoners were going to traverse most of the length of it).  We headed past the airport to the little town of Pa'ia, picked up some lunch for the road, and took the iconic "Road to Hana" toward east Maui, a famous 50 mile trip along absolutely beautiful natural landscapes - but also 620 curves and switchbacks on sometimes single-lane bridges and roads.  We stopped multiple times on the trip to Hana, for pictures with parrots (!!!), beautiful waterfalls, hikes into bamboo forests, refreshments at the halfway point, the occasional downpour (both in and out of our car... haha) and stops for views, but also for the ridiculous carsickness I ended up getting for most of the drive.  Donna was a consummate driver, but I, without having taken dramamine before the drive, suffered from a loss of equilibrium during the harrowing drive.  My heavy breathing just trying to keep my head on straight and my stomach from lurching resembled a Lamaze session.  As soon as we arrived in Hana, and we finally found a place that carried dramamine, I was able to get my head back to normal, and resume enjoyment of the trip.  We went a little further than Hana and checked out Hamoa Beach, and then we had to hightail it back to West Maui in order to make it to the Westin for bib pickup at the expo.  Managing to cover the Hana to Pa'ia trip in 2.5 hours, we got back to the Westin and then met up with other friends for dinner that night at Leilani's, one of the restaurants overlooking Ka'anapali Beach at Whalers' Village, before retiring for the night to get ourselves ready for the following morning's races!

Hollie looking amazing, but I'm the most nauseous.
(Photo by Donna Dullys)

Racing to the finish of the 10k!
(Photo by Chris Norch)
Bright and early on Saturday, we woke to get ourselves to Whalers' Village and start the morning off with the Slappy Cakes 10K, the first race of the weekend.  With the race beginning at 6:30, we had 1.5 hours to complete it before having to be ready to start the Maui Tacos 5K at 8:00am.  I started strongly, with a 9:10 first mile, taking us north on Ka'anapali Parkway, past the Sheraton, and around the roundabout.  We headed southward on the parkway then made a left turn onto Kekaa Drive, an unrelenting 45' uphill climb over just under 1/3 of a mile.  We headed past the Eldorado Resorts to a turnaround point with a water station (and a dead frog on the side of the road) before heading back onto Kekaa Drive and turning left onto the Honoapiilani Highway.  We would run down the highway for 2.3 miles before turning onto the beachside path through Wahikuli Park and Hanakao'o Beach Park.  We then took Nohea Kai Drive, around the Hyatt's eastern edge, passing the aforementioned Hyatt, Marriott's Maui Ocean Club, the under renovation Ka'anapali Alii, before returning to Ka'anapali Parkway, passing the Westin and straight through to the finish line where we had started in front Whalers' Village.  I finished in 56:22 - a 9:04/mi pace!

Having far too much fun on the drive
Soon, we had to get ready to go again, for the 5k.  Already soaked from sweat, I trudged back to the start line, and basically repeated most of the course, except for the 2.3 mile run down the highway - we instead turned right onto Ka'anapali Parkway right back to the finish line.  However, I still managed a 27:32 - an 8:51/mi pace for the 3.1 miles.  Completely soaked, though.  After grabbing a quick bite to eat, we headed back to the hotel (with a stop at Ka'anapali Beach, of course) to change, and then were out again to head to Lahaina for lunch at the Lahaina Fish Company, before the scheduled 3:00pm Bubba Gump Shrimp Co. Front Street Mile.

The sun setting over the mountains
The Front Street Mile was... A MESS.  For one, the course on Front Street was essentially an out-and-back, with the turn around coming around the block that holds Lahaina's iconic Banyan Tree.  As Front Street is not a big street to begin with, there were wall to wall people.  They started with the elites, running crazy fast 4 minute miles, and then one by one, had the KIDS line up by two year age groups: first girls, then boys.  And to make matters worse, there was no announcements on a loudspeaker.  People just had to guess or be at the right place at the right time.  It took FOREVER.  It wasn't until 4:30 when I finally got out on the course - the sun was at full force.  I took off like a bat out of hell and successfully kept to a sub-7 minute mile pace for the first 0.2 miles.  And then the wheels slid off because of the excessive heat and humidity. I slowed down over the next 0.8 miles, and clocked in a 7:56 mile.  Not bad, but not great either.  In any case, we headed back to the hotel to chill for awhile before going out for dinner at the Westin, getting together with some friends to toast to the fun time we were having in the islands.  We headed off pretty early since the Sunday morning race was to start at 5am... before the sun was going to rise.

The sun finally came out...
We woke at around 4am, with an hour to go before the race would start in the pitch black dark.  At 5, all of the half marathoners assembled in front of the Whalers' Village, and we were off, down Ka'anapali Parkway, headed to the Honoapiilani Highway.  Thankfully, there were some lights to light our way down the parkway, but as soon as we turned right onto the highway, it was pitch black again, lit only by cars' headlights coming down the highway.  You could hear some people fall on the course, and likely get trampled by other runners, so some smart folks took their phones out and lit the way.  Running in the dark would continue over the next hour, and as we kept on going south on the highway before making a right turn onto Front Street in Lahaina at roughly the 2 mile mark.  The sun was still not peeking over the mountains, but there was enough to be able to see somewhat in front of you, and with the clouds surrounding the mountains, it was surreal and quite pretty.  It started to rain a little, which was quite a godsend, because despite the early start, the humidity was already beginning to soak our clothing down to the skin, not even an hour into the race.

Taiko drums along the route
We continued along the rolling hills of Front Street for the next 2.75 miles, running down the more rural stretches with modest beachside homes, then down the "downtown" strip which we had run the day before during the Front Street Mile, before continuing down a residential area again.  Just before the 5 mile mark, we emerged back onto the Honoapiilani Highway, at some points being a stone's throw away from the beach.  A taiko drum troupe was even positioned at a point in this area, as runners stopped for hydration.  At Mile 6.5, we made the turnaround in the parking lot of Launiupoko Beach Park, and then went back the way we had come on the highway, pretty much all the way back to Ka'anapali.

Looking back on runners going down Lahaina's
Front Street during the half marathon

Team Fireball in Hawaii!
At Mile 8, just before going back onto Front Street, I ran into a new friend, Sheri from Texas.  We helped pace each other over the course of the next five miles, right to the finish, as we headed back on the road we came in on, and then the highway.  We stopped as needed, to shake out potential cramps that were starting to creep in (that humidity really started to get to us!), and stopped for quick photo ops with the amazing views, and with the little shot bottle of Fireball I carried with me :)  As we neared the turn back onto Ka'anapali Parkway toward the Whalers' Village, I decided to take off, but not with Sheri too far behind -- we had paced each other to at least finish under 2:30, which we were both happy with.

Bling collected!
I continued on to the finish and managed to cross the finish line in 2:27:38.  I was spent, and immediately went for the water that was given to all finishers, made my way to the Westin tents to get in line for a quick massage to rub out my tweaked out right hip flexor (which was quite welcome!), and then met up with my other friends as they continued to finish the race one by one.  We stuck around for awhile to watch another friend, Chris, complete his 50th state in halfs and fulls (after trudging through the Maui FULL!) and then headed back to the hotel to pack up our stuff and then get ourselves to some lunch in Lahaina (go to Lahaina Coolers, a great little mom-and-pop joint, just off of Front Street!!) and then to the beach to watch Hollie take her surf lesson.  We spent the rest of the day headed back toward Paia to get dinner and then the ladies were off to the airport for their flights back home.  I left the following afternoon after staying at a hostel in Paia, and went straight to the office from the airport on Tuesday morning.  Such is the life!  But my 39th state was checked off, and I made it to Hawaii :)

All of the weekend bling haul!

Victory Headstand!

Going to miss these views...

Mahalo to Maui for an incredible experience!

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Race Report: NM Chips and Salsa Half Marathon

Arriving in ABQ!
It was my first non-summer Friday, so I had to do a whole seven hours on Friday.  Poor me!  Just kidding... Anyway, I was able to secure a really affordable roundtrip from JFK to Albuquerque on JetBlue several months ago, with the perfect flight times that went along well with my schedule.  Two members of my New York City based running club, Stacey and Doreen, decided to make the trip as well, and they secured seats on the same flights out and back.  I met up with them for drinks in JFK's Terminal 5, waiting til almost the last minute to board the flight -- and we were the last ones on.  My flight out to Albuquerque on Friday night was at 8pm, arriving just after 10pm Mountain time.  It was an uneventful flight, and I got the chance to watch a couple movies on the 4+ hour flight.  Upon arrival, I dashed out to retrieve my rental car and then head out to my Airbnb in the northwest part of the city, so my host wouldn't have to stay up too late to wait for me.

Visiting Santa Fe
Thankfully the race wasn't until Sunday, so I slept in some and then went off to pick up my t-shirt and bib at the Fleet Feet about twenty minutes away.  There were a lot of people there when I arrived!  It just so happened, Doreen and Stacey were there at the same time, having taken an Uber from their hotel.  After waiting in line and doing some shopping (I got new socks!), I dropped Doreen and Stacey off at the Hotel Albuquerque for their afternoon trolley tour, while I drove off to Santa Fe to meet up with my friend Sean, and take in the annual Fiesta happening in the New Mexican capital's iconic plaza.

Navajo Taco
After eating some delicious Navajo tacos, imbibing on some strong margaritas, and gorging myself on some fry bread doused liberally with cinnamon and powdered sugar, I took some time (including buying some fun "jalapeno"-themed socks and a matching bandana for the following day's race) before I went back on the road down to Albuquerque to meet the ladies for dinner at the foot of Sandia Peak, where we would take the Sandia Peak Tramway- in fact, North America's longest aerial tram (and the world's third longest) - up the mountain to over 10,678 feet in elevation.  We had reservations at the restaurant, High Finance, at the top of the mountain, however, shortly after ordering, the restaurant experienced a bit of a kitchen fire.  We ended up coming back down the tram to the foot of the mountain and we headed off to a restaurant we found off of Yelp, Nexus Brewery, where we were able to get our carb load in before I dropped the ladies off back at the hotel and I headed back to my accommodations for a good night's sleep in preparation for the morning's race.
Just eating everything in sight.
Cute socks purchased in Santa Fe for the next morning's race...
Sandia Peak with the ladies
Photoshoot on top of Sandia Peak
Breaking rules.

The morning, as always, came way too soon, and I was out the door and headed over to the Southwest Indian Polytechnic Institute (SIPI), a mere five minutes away.  I was able to get a good parking spot underneath some shade, so my car wouldn't be boiling when I returned to it later.  I connected with several friends from my Fifty States Club, and as always, had a bit of a photo op.  Stacey and Doreen met up as well, and soon, we were behind the big inflatable startline, ready to get on the road for my highest continuous elevation race to date.

Fifty Staters

Front Runners NY in NM!
At 7:30, we were off, curving around the SIPI's parking lot, down the frontage road that gives cars access to the campus from Coors Blvd NW.  We rounded the street past a Self-Storage store alongside the Paseo del Norte Highway, then turned back toward campus onto Alamo Road NW.  We then took a little detour in a residential neighborhood bordering the campus until we exited and then made our way onto the path alongside Paseo del Norte at mile 2.  We continued along this paved path for a mile as we crossed the Rio Grande (which we were told was cresting in its volume - to us, it looked practically empty!) over into the village of Los Ranchos de Albuquerque.

Hot Air Balloons over ABQ
We turned left and headed northward along the side of Rio Grand Blvd NW for another mile, again passing through residential areas before turning right onto Alameda Blvd NW, where we got some beautiful views of Sandia Peak with early morning hot air balloon rides launching int he distance.  We continued on down Alameda Blvd for roughly another mile before making a sharp turn right onto Guadalupe Trail NW, which we would follow for another mile through more residential neighborhoods.  We turned left onto Ortega Road NW just before the 6 mile mark, as we headed east toward 4th Street NW.  Around here, a nearby fire (remember, we're in dry desert) made it a little hard to breathe as we ran down Ortega.  We turned onto 4th Street to run on an overpass over Paseo del Norte, and then turned again as we again turned into a residential neighborhood along El Pueblo Road NW.  Somewhere around this I had to stop and adjust my sock as my right foot started to go numb.  Likely due to the two socks I was wearing (oops).

Guinea Fowl!
It subsided as we continued along Guadalupe Trail NW southward.  I would leapfrog with a group of three who were dressed in pink, that turned out lived locally and were running their first half marathon.  It was nice to chat with them periodically as we talked about running goals and my struggle with the elevation.  At one point, I spotted some guinea fowl (at first I thought they were wild turkeys!) just strolling down the side of the road  - so I of course took a picture.  I later learned that these guys pack quite a voice on them and I luckily was spared the crazy noises that I would've been subjected to had I actually decided to chase them!

We ran for what seemed like forever down Guadalupe Trail (it was only two miles), when we finally turned right onto Chavez Road NW, passing some sizable properties with mansions on them, as well as a winery that looked like it was preparing for a wedding. Before the ten mile mark, we turned right onto Rio Grande Blvd NW, and continued on that street for about two miles, before turning left back onto the trail that we had run on earlier in the race alongside the Paseo del Norte over the Rio Grande.    We had transitioned over to the left side of the road to make the turn, when I saw something very strange on the side of the road.  It was a snake stretched out - and I had no clue if it was alive or dead.  It came as a surprise to me, so I stopped and, of course snapped a picture.  It wasn't moving, so clearly it was dead (or was it just sunbathing?)  I didn't want to check, so I continued on.

Breakfast Burrito!!!
I turned onto the path and headed back across the trickle of a rio to SIPI, and made my way past the "gate" to the path back to the main road.  We were led across a small gravel section that had been closed off earlier to essentially give us a shortcut back to campus where we could see the finish line in the distance.  I chugged right along, eager to finish this breathless race, and ran across the finish line in 2:25:31, not bad considering it being my first real struggle of a race at altitude.  I got my medal, and waited up for friends as they crossed the finish line, while I caught my breath and ate my chips and salsa and breakfast burrito, provided to all finishers.

Chips and Salsa for finishers! (Photo by Thomas Turner)

Victory Headstand at 5000 feet!
With the rest of the day to play, I went back to shower, and then picked up the ladies (who had gone back to their hotel) for much needed lunch at an authentic New Mexican restaurant suggested by my Airbnb host, El Bruno, where we had quite the fill of really good food, especially some traditional sopapillas, injected with honey.  We rolled ourselves out of the restaurant and drove up to Santa Fe for the remainder of the day, taking in the sereneness of the landscape in our drive up, and the post-fiesta euphoria of the town.  We met up with my friend Sean again, who was working at his job at La Cantina at La Casa Sena, where we enjoyed the entertainment at the piano bar (and got to hear Sean sing!) over some tasty margaritas.  We then headed back to Albuquerque to return to the airport and catch our redeye back to New York City!

More eating, as usual.
Three amigos!