Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Race Report: Half at the Hamptons

Large Road Race!
March marked my return to checking off states in my journey to complete half marathons in all 50 states. The Half at the Hamptons in Hampton Beach, New Hampshire, was supposed to be my 20th lifetime half, my 22nd state, and my 6th half marathon of 2015, but due to "relentless accumulation of snow, compromising parking, roadway access and overall safety," the February 22, 2015 edition of the race was postponed to March 15, a date that I had already booked with the NYC Half.  Eleven days before the rescheduled race date, organizers sent out an email ultimately was cancelling the race "due to the extraordinary Winter with record breaking snow, and continued cold weather."  They added:

"The streets continue to have huge snow banks that have recently caused a significant number of accidents.  Additionally, the streets are still very narrow and dangerous at intersections and at blind driveways with 5-6 feet of snow banks. Many of the race course roads have no shoulder at all and the finish area at the beach is now full of 35-50 feet snow dump piles!   Holding the race would put at significant risk over 1,000 runners, 200 volunteers and police and medical professionals."
Thankfully, and unprecedentedly, the race directors offered a deferral program into the 2016 race or complimentary entry into another New Hampshire race in 2015 they offered.  I decided to take the deferral, and so March 6, 2016, came along to mark New Hampshire off my list as my 60th lifetime half, my 43rd state, and my 3rd half marathon of 2016.

Snow on the beach!
I took an afternoon bus from New York City to Boston, transferring at South Station to a "Boston Express" bus that took me up to North Londonderry, NH, where I was picked up by friends and New Hampshirites Steve and Pam Provencher, who I had met at the RnR Las Vegas Half in 2014, and subsequently met up with at multiple races throughout the country, including RnR New Orleans, Philadelphia Love Run, and Boston Run to Remember.  We headed to nearby Manchester, NH, for a delicious pasta dinner at popular local restaurant Fratello's, and then headed back to the Provenchers' home in Merrimack for a good night's sleep before the following morning's race 45 minutes away in Hampton Beach.

The startline
The race had a later start than other races, with the gun going off at 10am, so we got to sleep in a tiny bit longer than usual.  We picked up Pam's friend Scott nearby, before driving to Hampton Beach, where we easily found parking only a couple blocks away from the Ashworth by the Sea hotel, which housed bib pickup and post-race food.  Once again, I had emailed the race directors to offer my services of singing the national anthem, which they approved, and I sang the national anthem a couple minutes before 10am to about 900 folks gathered behind and around the startline along Ocean Boulevard.

Quiet and residential...
Being situated next to the Atlantic Ocean, the race was super flat and at sea level, save for a 100 foot climb over 3/4 mile at the 10k mark.  In 36º weather, we set off, heading north on Ocean, immediately making a sharp turn onto  Island Path, and then ran down Brown Ave, which turned into Ashworth Avenue, where we would run toward the southern end of town, past the mile 1 mark, and onto where Ashworth Avenue connected onto Ocean Boulevard.  We made our way around Duston Ave (which unfortunately wasn't fully plowed and had a slippery layer of packed snow covering the asphalt) and Harbor Road, before taking Epping Avenue and River Avenue.  At the mile 2 mark, we returned back to Ocean Boulevard, and headed back northward, passing the startline.  We continued on up the coast along Ocean Boulevard for several miles.  I was having a rough time in these first few miles with my left leg - likely still being tired from the previous weekend's 24 hours in Arizona to run the Phoenix Marathon, and suffered while running into the wind along the seawall.  We also passed by the New Hampshire Marine Memorial, a memorial dedicated to all New Hampshire servicepersons lost at sea due to warfare, a kneeling woman gazing out to sea, a laurel wreath in her hands, and an icon of Hampton Beach. Around mile 4, Scott passed me by, and at mile 4.5 I saw my Mainly Marathons friend Dave waiting for his wife.  It wasn't until we finally made our first left turn away from the coastline and away from the headwind onto High Street at mile 5, that the pain in my leg subsided.  Right before the turn, Pam had caught up to me, and we walked a bit while my leg pain started to subside.  As we ran away from the coast, Pam and I played leapfrog for a few miles, and my stride began to normalize.

Victory Headstand!
We turned right onto Mace Road, which was where the small uphill began.  We took Mace Road up to the 7 mile mark, where we turned onto Mill Road, before turning right onto Barbour Road.  This whole area was the very residential areas of the town of Hampton.  At mile 8, as Barbour Road connected into Woodland Road, I caught up to Pam and Steve, who began to run together.  At this point, I felt a second wind come on, and I began to lock into a steady 9 minute per mile pace.  We curved our way through what looked like some of Hampton's newer homes, as we turned onto Great Gate Drive, Juniper Lane, and Huckleberry Lane, as we headed right back to Ocean Boulevard, at roughly mile 10.  With only 5K left to go, we returned back to Ocean Boulevard, running southward under warmer temperatures and less wind, headed straight to the finish line just past the Ashworth by the Sea Hotel and New Hampshire Marine Memorial statue.

Post race celebratory photo
with Scott and the Provenchers!
I crossed the finish to the triumphant announcement of the race announcer, who had met me at the beginning of the race and saw me finish, in 2:22:06.  The Provenchers finished about five minutes later, and we celebrated by taking some pictures at the Marine Memorial, as well as my customary headstand photo.  We then went inside the Ashworth to warm up and take our celebratory vegetarian chili (which was absolutely delicious!) and some local beer from Smuttynose Brewery.  I met up with Dave and his wife Gail, as well, and then soon, we had to head off so I could take a quick shower back at the Provenchers' house, pack up my things, and get me to the bus station in Nashua to catch my bus down to Boston South Station to transfer to my bus back to New York City.  It was another quick trip, but I got a new state checked off my list, and my fourth national anthem state, too!

Post race with the Lewises... and a spoon (not a fork)
(Photo by Dave Lewis)
Mmmm.... Vegeterian Chili!

The Provenchers coming in for their finish!

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Race Report: BMO Harris Bank Phoenix Marathon

Cacti in the desert.  Duh.
My second marathon of the year was going to be a QUICK trip to Phoenix, Arizona - literally less than 24 hours in the state.  I took a late night flight from New York that connected in Denver, where I got the last flight out to Phoenix landing past midnight.  The positives out of it though... my flight to Denver was in Comfort Plus (so yay legroom!) and I had two empty seats right next to me, allowing me to lie horizontal for the long flight -- and then I was upgraded to first class for the flight to Phoenix!

Upon landing in Phoenix, I found a spot in the airport to sleep.  I had done a little research, thanks to, to find out where the most comfy spot in PHX would be, and thankfully, I landed at the terminal where there were some armless cushioned seats where I could lay flat.  It did not make sense at all for me to be paying for a hotel room that I would be sleeping in for something like 4 hours, so I opted to sleep in the airport, and then get myself to the shuttles at Mesa Riverview by Uber.  Thankfully, I got some sleep on the flights as well, but after four hours, I got myself up and out to the Phoenix Sky Train, which I took outside of the airport to a location where the Uber could pick me up.

My Uber driver brought me to Mesa Riverview, where cars were just beginning to trickle in to park in the parking lots for both the half and full marathons.  About half an hour after I arrived, the traffic got really intense, and I believe some people were scrambling to get their cars parked before heading to the buses.  I waited around for Brian, who had retrieved my bib for me at the expo earlier in the day, and was also running the marathon.  We then boarded the buses which were beginning to fill up, and then headed up the mountain to the startline area.

Boarding the shuttles to the start...
As I had come directly from the airport, I had my bag with me, stuffed with my change of clothes. I also had to figure out a solution to get my winter coat into the bag since I left a pretty frigid New York City earlier that day and was expecting to come back to pretty cold temperatures.  The folks at bag drop were nice enough to allow me to tie my two overstuffed bags together, and then I proceeded to the pre-start area.  I ran into fellow FRNY member Manny, who was also running the full and aiming for a BQ - I wished him well, before I went off to get warm in the pre-start area, which was well stocked with many tall "umbrella" heaters - the kind that you find on patios at restaurants and bars. There were also a decent amount of port-a-potties, but with the amount of people running the marathon, they seemed to have a never-ending line.  Some of us just took advantage of the surrounding desert (literally, the start line was on a road in the middle of the desert, overlooking Mesa, AZ, with nothing on either side of the road except sand, cacti, and the occasional tumbleweed), and peed against the cacti, hoping to not get pricked by a cholla cactus or get bit by a snake or some other desert animal lurking in the darkness.  Rumor had spread that someone actually did squat down on a cactus before the race, but I'm unsure if that was true.

The PHX Marathon start
Soon, the time had come for the race to start.  The sky was still pretty dark, with the valley lit up by the lights of the city, but minute by minute, it started to lighten up.  The national anthem was played over the speakers (a recording, womp womp...), which was accompanied by fireworks (!!) at the lyrics of "And the rockets red glare, the bombs bursting in air!"  At 6:30, the runners were off, heading downhill on Ellsworth Road, dropping 222 feet over the course of the first 1.8 miles.  The sun was still not out, where we were yet, but to our right, the mountains were just blocking it, so everything had that "sun kissed at dawn" look to it.  We turned right onto McDowell Street and finally to some civilization - a residential area! - continuing to go downhill and dropping another 239 feet until just past the mile 4 mark.

Beautiful morning views to behold
The one damn hill in the race
that lasted for nearly two miles.
We turned right onto North Ridgecrest, and that's where we encountered our first hill - a 200+ foot climb over the course of 1.75 miles. It was more residential subdivision-like area, surrounding us, but luckily by the time we approached mile 6, the uphill was over, and we proceeded to go downhill again!  And downhill we went... the course would drop over 400 feet until we hit the halfway point of the race.  Sure, the views were still pretty spectacular, as we continued through the Northern Mesa residential neighborhoods of Las Sendas and Red Mountain Ranch.  The roads then began to look a bit more suburban and commercial, as we headed southbound for a mile on Recker Road, then turned right onto East McDowell Road, running on four to six-lane roads with big-box stores and golf courses surrounding us.  We passed the halfway mark on McDowell Road, a road which we were on for two miles, then turned left onto Val Vista Drive, notable for its many orange trees on the west side of the road.  This was, however, where the course became so monotonous for me.

The last of the pretty views before we hit suburbia.
The halfway point, and I'm already over it.

...but I'm happy to see some orange trees and real oranges alongside the course...

We ran for two miles on Val Vista, then turned right onto East Brown Road for FOUR miles.  The course just got so... "same old, same old" for me, and I found myself bored to tears with the route.  By this point, we had hit the 20 mile mark, and I was DONE - exhausted from the lack of thorough sleep, and the sun starting to wreak havoc on my body, as by this time I had been on the course for nearly four hours.  At this point was one of the only times I have ever taken my phone out to text my friends waiting at the finish, because I was just through.  Of course, I just kept on going...

Some fun aid stations toward the end
Thankfully, there was some great crowd support toward the end of the run, especially with one lady who always had a bag of pretzels at the ready, roughly every mile and a half (was she following me?)  The course had flattened out significantly in the last six miles of the race, but thankfully we had some turns here and there to break up the monotony of running miles and miles in a straight line.  We made our way through more historic sections of Mesa, pushing through to the finish when finally, we made our way to the last half mile, turning off of Alma School Road onto Bass Pro Drive as we made our way to the finish line at Mesa Riverview, where the buses picked us up earlier in the morning.

Done.  SO DONE.
I crossed the finish line in an exhausting 5 hours 19 minutes and 58 seconds, and consumed all but 15 ounces of my 100 ounce Watermelon-Nuun filled Camelbak.  I retrieved my medal, the first "point," cotton, of a five-pointed copper star, with each point representing the 5 C's of Arizona - copper, climate, citrus, cattle, and cotton.  The medal is quite nice, also featuring a golden phoenix.  If the each year's race from 2016 thru 2020 is completed, the Phoenix 5 "copper star" will be completed.  That is, if you have the patience of running this course. At the end, waiting for me were Kristi, Hollie (finishing her 100th half!), and Donna, and we celebrated with some drinks at the nearby bar, the Brass Tap, where Jim and Brian were waiting, celebrating Brian's Boston Qualifying marathon run.  After a quick drink, we headed back to Hollie's apartment in Tempe to freshen up, and then Hollie, Donna, and I headed to Scottsdale to meet up with my friend Jeremy for some food and drink.  Hollie headed back to the airport, as she was catching a flight to New Orleans to run the RnR New Orleans Marathon the next day, and I was extremely exhausted, so I had Donna take me to the airport too, where I slept for a good 3-4 hours in various places at the airport before my evening redeye flight taking me back to New York (or rather, Newark) via Chicago.  I came back to NYC exhausted out of my mind, but I had my sixth lifetime marathon under my belt, and my second for the year.

Victory Headstand!

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Race Report: Gasparilla Distance Classic

The 15K and 5K startline on Saturday
Gasparilla is a long standing tradition in Tampa, Florida.  For the entire month of February, the entire city festively celebrates the Gasparilla Pirate Festival, a friendly "invasion" of the city by mythical pirate José Gaspar and his crew. On the day of the Gasparilla Parade of Pirates (held annually since 1904), members of Ye Mystic Krewe of Gasparilla (YMKG), accompanied by a flotilla of hundreds of smaller boats, sail across Tampa Bay to downtown Tampa on the Jose Gasparilla, a 165-foot long "pirate" ship which was specially built for this purpose in 1954. Once the ship lands, the pirate captain demands that the mayor hand over the key to the city in a playful ceremony which has had different outcomes in different years. Whether or not the mayor actually "surrenders," the pirates hold their "victory parade" through the streets of Tampa.

Happy direction man.
The Gasparilla Distance Classic, celebrating its 39th year in 2016, happens a few weeks later, with more than 30,000 participants in the four running events held over the weekend.  Saturday morning begins with a 15K, followed by one of the largest 5K races in the country (over 12,000 finishers), while on Sunday, race morning begins with a half marathon, followed by an 8K.  Runners elect to run one or more of the distances, participating in "challenges" if they participate in multiple races.  A cap of 1,000 participants was made for running all four races, known as the Michelob Ultra Challenge, a total of 30.4 miles over the two days.  400 participated in the Michelob Ultra Amber Challenge (the 15K and 5K on Saturday, and Half on Sunday); while 600 participated in the Michelob Ultra Lime Cactus Challenge (the 15K on Saturday and the 8K on Sunday).  Challenge participants get an additional medal for finishing the challenge, as well as a special commemorative jacket.

15K - the first race of the weekend. Done.
Fun signs on the route...
I flew in late Friday night after work, arriving at around 11:30pm after a flight delay, and took an Uber to my friend Ryan's apartment.  Ryan's a tour manager for the Rock 'n' Roll marathon series, who I have gotten to know in my travels across the country and through that series over the past year. He was kind enough to let me stay at his place while I was in town over the weekend.  After a quick few hours of sleep, we were up by 4:30 in the morning, to be picked up by Ryan's coworkers to head to the expo at the Tampa Convention Center, steps away from the startline for the 15K.  The expo for the race weekend continued on into Saturday, and Ryan was working the State Farm booth, so we both headed into downtown Tampa  - for him to prep their expo booth, for me to run 12.4 miles of races.

The 15K, equivalent to a 9.3 mile course, departed from the corner of Brorein Street and Franklin Street at 6:45am, heading westward, then turning onto Bayshore Boulevard, where we would continue for 4.5 miles, before turning onto Gandy Boulevard, reaching a turn around spot at Quincy Avenue, and then returning back onto Bayshore Boulevard, finishing at the foot of the Platt Street Bridge.  I started off well, posting a 9 minute first mile, but my tiredness from the week prior's mostly disastrous LA Marathon increased my successive mile times.  My lack of sleep from the night before didn't help either.  Somewhere after the turnaround, someone was giving out glazed donut halves from Krispy Kreme, so I partook.  I finished in a time of 1:37:51, a 10:29/mi pace.  If I kept it up, I'd be at a 2:17:26 half, which is where I'd expect to be anyway, being that my half times have been near that as of late.

Out on Bayshore Blvd...
and Back on Bayshore Blvd... x4.
5K done.
After a quick run into the expo to drop off my medal and cool down, I went back out to do the 5K.  There was a MESS of people getting ready to run, as they had set it up for five separate waves, each leaving 15 minutes apart from each other, with runners capable of sub-30 minute 5Ks first, then 31-35 minute runners, 36-40 minute runners, 41-45 minute runners, a stroller start (46-50 minutes), and then walkers who would take over 51 minutes.  This meant many runners would be finished while others were still yet to start.  I started with the first wave, but by this time the sun was out and in full force in the high 60s, and my legs were still tired from the first race.  On the turnaround, I found another person handing out Krispy Kremes - but this time full donuts - and I partook yet again, stopping to walk and chow on an entire glazed donut (...I was hungry!)  I finished the 5K in 33:22, not bad for having a donut-slow-down. :)  The temps may have crested over 70 by the time I was done, so I was drenched in sweat, and happily took a wet rag to cool myself off. I went back into the convention center, and signed up for a 20 minute massage, which was much needed after the rough day of running I already had.  I went back up to the expo and milled around, got some photos taken, and then went off to get some much needed lunch at local barbecue joint Holy Hog Barbecue.
Another name board!



Autographs :)

Shalane and Meb.
American marathon superstars!
I went back to the expo later that afternoon to see Shalane Flanagan and Meb Keflezighi, who were in town to cheer on the runners.  The Gasparilla Distance Classic Association had booked them to attend the event, and were probably ecstatic to have snagged two of the six members of the 2016 US Olympic Marathon Team headed to Rio this summer, having qualified with their placements at the prior week's Olympic Trials in Los Angeles.  Shalane and Meb held a Q&A session and stuck around for photos, and I gladly stood in line to grab a photo with two amazing American champions.  I then headed back to Ryan's place with him after he had finished working at the expo, and we got some rest before heading out for dinner at another local haunt, Bungalow.  He brought me back to the apartment (while he went out, lol) and I went straight to bed to get a good night's sleep for the following morning's races.

Too early in the AM.  Half startline
With a 6:00am start, the half marathon kicked off at the corner of Platt Street and Bayshore Boulevard.  I took an Uber that morning from Ryan's that took me as close as possible to the startline.  It was pure madness, with so many people congregating on the bridge and on a side street just off the bridge, as we got ourselves into the corrals before the startline.  Soon, we were sent off, into the pre-dawn darkness, turning left onto Plant Avenue.  Almost immediately, it got really dark, as the road was not very well lit, and I got a little worried about misstepping because a short portion of the road was covered with brick pavers.  We then crossed a bridge onto Davis Island, following the perimeter roads of Channel Drive and Davis Boulevard around the island.  With the sun not up, I was not able to really appreciate the views, which were of million dollar homes (including Derek Jeter's massive estate) scattered around this affluent island.  It wasn't until about 6:45 when the horizon began to be illuminated.  The first five miles of the half marathon were on Davis Island, and it was pretty devoid of people cheering us on, save for the volunteers providing us water and the one random fire-juggler around mile 4.5.
Davis Island sights

Fire juggler!

Bridge back to... sigh. Bayshore Blvd.
We took the exit ramp out of Davis Island and crossed the five mile mark, and before we knew it, we were back on Bayshore Boulevard.  Oh.  Bayshore Boulevard.  Fan-freakin'-tastic.  The third out-and-back on this stretch of road for the weekend.  And not only that, it was four miles out and four miles back.  Lord have mercy, it was tough to have to see the same route again, and knowing I have to cover part of that AGAIN in my last race of the day.  I trudged through, and made the turn around at Gandy Blvd, and then we headed back toward the finish line.  And with a stop to twerk with the lady at the 12 mile mark.

8K start.
As we neared the finish, the start was set up for the 8K race on the other side of the street, and we were cheered on by onlookers on both sides as we closed up the 13.1 miles back onto the Platt Street Bridge.  I crossed the finish in 2:27:02, and just like yesterday, just busting through to the finish under the heat of the blazing sun.  I was spent.  I got my medal (yay, fun skull with hinged jaw!) and then immediately dropped it off to the "challenge" table, where they kept it for safe keeping while I ran the 8K.  I sped off to cool down a bit before heading back into the sun to get ready for 8K (thankfully I had roughly an hour).

Dee Dee, Deb, myself, and Margaret
At 9:30, the 8K started, and yet again, we were out on Bayshore Blvd, for the last time.  Thank god.  We turned on the first cut in the median just after Bay to Bay Blvd, and then returned to the finish line.  The roughly 5-mile distance was under yet another scorching sun, and I finished in 59:29.  Ryan was waiting at the finish, and after getting all my stuff, we headed out toward the Riverwalk area behind the convention center, where a huge line had formed for people to get food - the line was so long, we decided to forgo the food (and we found out later that they ran out!) so we went to the finish festival in Cotanchobee Park for our free beers.  Local restaurant Ulele had a tent where they were giving out free craft beers, so we disposed of our Michelobs in favor of those, and then met up with Ryan's Competitor Group (and fellow Tampan) Dorcas at the VIP area, which we ended up going into (perks of knowing people!) and munched on some Cuban sandwiches and delicious garlic bread provided by another local restaurant (and popular haunt) Columbia Restaurant.  I later found out that my friends Dee Dee, Deb, and Margaret were over near the Riverwalk area, resting underneath some shade umbrellas, and Ryan and I met up with them to reminisce about the weekend, and chat about future races.  They then charged me with a challenge to sing the national anthem at a race in every state, and it looks like I may up for completing that challenge :)

Ryan and I stopped for some awesome Cuban food near his apartment at Pipo's Café for lunch, before heading back to his apartment so I could shower and then get all my stuff ready before heading to the airport. I had a fantastic weekend getting a bucket list race/weekend of races out of the way!

Bling haul for the weekend!

Showing it all off...

Victory Headstand in front of the docked Jose Gasparilla

Friday, March 11, 2016

Race Report: Skechers Performance Los Angeles Marathon

It's mah birfday weekend!
To run 26.2 miles in temps reaching 79° is not easy.

To do it on your birthday... a bit masochistic.

On Valentine's Day, I did just that, running and finishing the Skechers Performance Los Angeles Marathon, my fifth lifetime marathon in my fifth state.  Many months earlier, my good friends Josh and Meg decided that they were going to get married on February 13 in California, and lo and behold, the LA Marathon (then, sponsored by ASICS), had announced their 2016 race date as being on Valentine's Day - my 32nd Birthday.  So I decided to "kill two birds with one stone" and run the marathon the day after my friends' wedding.

Filipino food with Ben and Xaris!
Back in September when I ran the Maui Half Marathon, I befriended a couple folks at the finish line who were wearing Pasadena Pacers apparel.  I kept in regular touch with one of them, Julie, in the months after that race.  As February neared, Skechers was announced as the new sponsor, and through some online friends who were ambassadors for the race, I registered for the LA Marathon using their discount.  Since I was going to be staying in Pasadena near the wedding venue, I needed to figure out how I was going to get to Dodger Stadium (where the startline of the race is), tentatively planning to get myself to Union Station for a shuttle.  Julie contacted me and told me that the Pacers were arranging a shuttle, and so I decided to take that option.

Touristing around WeHo
I flew into Los Angeles on the Wednesday after work, flying out of JFK on a direct flight landing at LAX around 10PM.  I ended up on the same flight as my friend Brad and his wife Courtney, who were going to the wedding and heading out early, as well.  I stayed with my high school friend Ben and his wife Xaris in Encino, and on Thursday, took the bus into Studio City to catch the Metro to spend the day in Hollywood and West Hollywood, before heading to Westwood to meet up with Ben (and getting some Diddy Riese cookies!), getting off of work to head back to Encino for the evening (for Filipino food, YUM!).  The next day, I left their home early in the morning to take the Orange Line Busway from Reseda to North Hollywood; then the Metro, taking the Red Line from one end to the other, and then transferring to the Gold Line to take me to Pasadena to drop my bags off at the Sheraton, where I was staying for the remainder of the trip.  Public transportation in LA is horrendous, because it's so HUGE - it took me two hours to get to Pasadena.

Diddy Riese in Westwood!  The most amazing ice cream cookie sandwiches!
LA Marathon bib!
After dropping off my bags, I headed back to downtown LA, and to the Los Angeles Convention Center, where the LA Marathon's expo was being held.  I spent several hours there, meeting up with various friends - Black Sheep, Front Runners, and NYRR folks (in town for a conference and for the US Olympic Trials, happening on Saturday), before heading back to Pasadena to get ready for evening festivities, primarily the rehearsal dinner for the wedding, and to meet up with friends Anna and Brian, who were sharing the hotel room with me.  For whatever reason, the hotel room was not ready when I arrived (it was 5PM!?), so I bided my time by having a drink at the hotel bar, compliments of the front desk for the delay in having the room ready.  After quickly getting ready, I met up with my friend Mayra, who I met at Rock 'n' Roll Chicago last summer, for a quick drink, before heading out for the rehearsal dinner with Anna and Brian.  Afterward, I called it an early night, as I was exhausted from all the travel of the day.

Expo shenanigans with fellow FRNYers, Zander and Richard

I'm at the expo!

with Aidin and Jessica at the expo!
Hangin' out in Pasadena on my last
day as a 31 year old...

The next day was the day of the wedding, which wasn't till 4pm, so I woke up a little late, had some breakfast, then caught the US Olympic Trials, being televised for the first time on NBC Sports.  Afterward, I ran a few errands along Pasadena's Colorado Boulevard only a few blocks away (including a pedicure, and getting a "birthday back bib" with "Keep calm, today is my birthday" on it, laminated at Office Max), and got a couple miles of running in, as well.  I returned to the hotel and got ready for the wedding; the ceremony and reception were held at the beautiful Athenaeum on the campus of CalTech.  It was a beautiful occasion - my a cappella group, Restated, where the bride and groom are both members and met, sang for them during the ceremony. We sang Josh's a cappella arrangement of "Moon River," which was initially sung at Meg's surprise proposal in 2015.  The cocktail hour and reception were quite festive as well, and I kept my alcohol consumption low, as I planned to peace out by 9PM to get some sleep before the early morning alarm clock.

Posted by Restated on Tuesday, February 16, 2016
Restated singing "Moon River" at Meg and Josh's wedding!

Pre-dawn in Dodger Stadium
w/ Felix, Julie, and Long
I woke up at 3:30am, and changed into my running gear in the bathroom (where I had pre-set it, as to not wake up Anna and Brian, who were waking up about an hour later to catch a flight back to New York).  I had packed all my bags with me, as the plan was to bring everything with me to the Pacers shuttle pick up spot, and store it all in Julie's car, and then upon return after the race, grab everything and then head off to where I was staying Sunday night.  I left the Sheraton and got an Uber to take me to the Rose Bowl, met up with Julie, and at 4:30am, our shuttle was off to Dodger Stadium.  Upon arrival, we had a bit of time to kill, so after meeting up with Julie's friends Felix (a fellow New Yorker who she introduced to me at the expo on Friday) and Long, we took a few photos inside the moonlit baseball stadium, and took care of pre-race necessities before things got too crowded.  As the start grew near, we headed outside - and I have to note, it was rather chilly - much different weather than initially predicted.  En route to the gear check area, where I was to meet up with some Black Sheep friends, I ended up running into friends Cristina (a friend from college at Michigan) and Brianne (an a cappella friend running her first marathon, as well as her boyfriend Ted, another a cappella friend of mine, there for moral support) by chance, which was nice as I hadn't seen them in years! I finally met up for a quick motivational pump-up with Black Sheepers Almi (also running her first marathon), Adrian, and Aidin, near the rather pungent portapotties.

Ready for my birthday run!

With Brianne before the start of the race

Black Sheepers united before the LA Marathon!
The startline

I said my goodbyes, and headed off alone to the E corrals (they were starting in the open corrals), and soon, we were off.  The race took off from Dodger Stadium, and almost immediately, we began to go through the steep downhills out of the parking lot, down Elysian Park Avenue, and onto Sunset Boulevard/Cesar Chavez Avenue.  Over the next two miles, we would descend from a height of 553 feet above sea level, to 272 feet.  At the two mile mark, we turned onto N. Broadway, passing through the Chinatown gate, and running for a few blocks through Chinatown, curving around to Spring Street, and then onto Main Street, passing LA's City Hall.  Immediately, we began to run into LA's Little Tokyo, as we made a left turn onto 1st Street, curving around Central Avenue to 2nd Street.

Chinatown Dragon Gate

Taiko Drummers on 1st Street
Then, here's where the race began to be a little hairy.  2nd Street, and then back onto 1st Street, heading in a northwesterly direction, were both rather annoying hills.  Over the course of a mile, we went from the low of 272 feet back up to 405 feet, as we ran through LA's Civic Center area.  This was my first real test of the race, and sadly, I failed, walking up most of this section.  Taiko drummers on the right side of the road were a great deal of help, bringing me a nice cadence as I trudged up 1st, but I was so intent on getting over this nasty hill, that I neglected to notice the massive Frank Gehry-designed Walt Disney Concert Hall on the left side of the street, its sail-like stainless steel panels glistening under the sun.

Echo Park Lake
We turned right onto S. Grand Ave., and passed the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion and Mark Taper Forum/Ahmanson Theatre which amassed a city block on our left. By this point, we were about 4.5 miles in, and then we turned left onto Temple Street.  We proceeded up Temple, then crossed the bridge over the chronically back-up 101 freeway onto Bellevue Avenue.  Along the left side of the street was the chili cheese dog stand, apparently a "tradition" in the last few years of the marathon.  I decided not to partake because of the impending heat, and how early on we were in the race, and kept going.

We ran along Bellevue all the way to Echo Park Lake, turning right onto Glendale Blvd, and skirting the west side of the lake.  Around this part of the race is where I spotted a fellow runner with incredibly long dreadlocks that I could imagine were drenched it sweat - or were about to be.  As we passed the sixth mile, we continued on through Echo Park, then turned back onto Sunset Boulevard as we proceeded westward, into Silver Lake.

Dreads for days.

The Hollywood sign in the distance
Known as one of LA's gayborhoods, Silver Lake marked the 7th mile of the race, and where LA Front Runners staffed a water stop.  I got a few high fives and cheers as they saw my Front Runners New York singlet, and I continued on, then finally needed to make a quick stop around the 7.75 mile mark to use a port-a-potty.  I then proceeded on, taking Sunset Boulevard into Hollywood Boulevard, as we skirted then boundary between the neighborhoods of East Hollywood and Los Feliz.  The stretch along Hollywood Boulevard (which overall would stretch roughly 3 miles), was pretty boring at least in the eastern reaches, as we passed through Little Armenia which gradually gave way to Thai Town and the many Thai restaurants with signage in Thai script.  Other than the Hollywood sign, viewable in the distance, which we began to see while we were in Silver Lake, it was pretty blah. We began to near two hours into the race as we passed miles 9 and 10, finally reaching the FAR more touristy parts of Hollywood.  Around here, I heard my name yelled out, and there was Ted with Brianne's mom, cheering us on after having been at the startline! We continued on, past Hollywood and Vine, and passing familiar landmarks such as the Pantages Theatre, Capitol Records Building, the Walk of Fame along the famed boulevard's sidewalks, and then Hollywood and Highland and the El Capitan Theatre (where Jimmy Kimmel Live! is filmed, and where I found out later, they had Jimmy's "Cousin Sal" making mischief out front with an unofficial aid station complete with practical joke water bottles glued down to the table, a limbo station, deodorant refreshment station, and strange food offerings like cocktail shrimp, creamed corn from a ladle, and chocolate covered sardines... LOL!)

Hollywood and Vine

Sweltering in the sun in front
of Grauman's Chinese Theatre
As we approached the Grauman's Chinese Theatre, the course took a left turn onto Orange Drive, where we finally had our first downhill in quite some time (after being on a superbly flat Hollywood Blvd) - a matter of 50 feet of drop in elevation over 0.5 miles, enough so you could notice it.  The course proceeded westward on Sunset Boulevard, exiting tourist-trap Hollywood, and entering trendy West Hollywood.  We reached the halfway point at Sunset and Fairfax, and then I realized I was starting to tire out much easier.  I began to hit the wall VERY early, but you know me... I trudge on through.  We got to Chateau Marmont, then followed the famed Sunset Strip through West Hollywood. At La Cienega, the course went strongly downhill for the next two miles (over 200 feet of elevation lost), which was awesome, and I got to get back a little speed, as we turned left onto San Vicente Blvd, and made our way to Santa Monica Blvd.

Fun signs along Sunset Boulevard

Beverly Hills
At Santa Monica Blvd and Doheny Drive, we reached the border with Beverly Hills, and the famed signage separating West Hollywood from its toney counterpart.  We turned right from Doheny Drive onto Burton Way, following a medianed thoroughfare into Beverly Hills, and curved into Beverly Hills' city centre, then left into the palm tree landscapes and whitewashed architecture of stylish Rodeo Drive.  By the time we got to Wilshire and Rodeo Drive, we had reached mile 17 of the race.

We stayed on Wilshire heading westward for half a mile, before turning left onto Santa Monica Boulevard, where would stay for an agonizing 2.5 miles.  Agonizing, because the boulevard is completely exposed to the elements, with no shade whatsoever, and the hot asphalt radiating the heat from the sun, which at this point, 3.5 hours into the race, was blazing.  I had anticipated this, though, as Century City was always known as the hottest part of the race.  Over half an hour, I blew past the Los Angeles Country Club and the LDS Church, making may way into Westwood, and trying to forget the awful boredom of running on Santa Monica Blvd -- other than when I ran into a sandal-wearing, coffee carrying Jesus (complete with white robes and shades) on the race course.

Jesus runs marathons!  Or at least walks them.
Fun signs in Brentwood...

We hit mile 20 as we turned onto Sepulveda Blvd, where we ran on the "new" part of the LA Marathon course, a change from the previous year(s)' courses.  Instead of skirting the VA Hospital, the course headed northward on Sepulveda, running through a rather unattractive wasteland of cement and overhead freeway (the 405), then emerging back onto Wilshire Blvd.  Then we got to San Vicente Boulevard, where we would run for FOUR miles (!!!) through affluent Brentwood and into Santa Monica, before the last 3/4 miles along Ocean Avenue right to the finish line.

The race was BRUTAL, with the second half being a total strugglebus for me. Thankfully, the temps didn't get any higher into the 80s (as the weather reports were predicting), and only topped out at maybe 79, but it was still a scorcher nonetheless.  As we got to Santa Monica, and got closer and closer to the Pacific, the weather definitely began to cool off, and we finished in the mid-to-high 60s.  I hit the wall pretty early on, and finished in my worst marathon time, 5:30:21, a time about 53 minutes slower than my PR in San Antonio two months earlier.


Birthday Victory Headstand in Pasadena
But, all in all, the time didn't matter to me at all. I got hundreds of "happy birthday" greetings from fellow runners during the race. I also got to see a TON of Los Angeles and its different neighborhoods.  And most of all, I got another marathon under my belt. Coming back to Facebook and my iPhone after the race - all the wall posts, FB messages, and text messages - it warmed my heart to be loved by so many! After the race, I headed back to Pasadena, to grab my stuff, and then took public transportation all the way back toward the coast, to stay with my friend Jessica in Marina del Rey.  Jessica managed the whole Skechers Performance team at the expo and then ran the marathon, herself.  And still did work the next day.  I spent the day resting up, and then met up with fellow Black Sheepers Adrian, Almi, and her son Nate, where we had some great seafood at Santa Monica Pier (to celebrate my birthday), before they dropped me off at LAX for my return flight home!  It was a wonderful birthday weekend :)

Peace out, California...