Monday, January 15, 2018

Race Report: Newport Rhode Race Marathon

The scariest trip happened to get my to my race in Rhode Island over Easter weekend. But I got out of it ok.

Because of its proximity, and the lack of air connections direct from New York City to T.F. Green Airport in Providence, I decided to take an Amtrak train up to the Rhode Island, getting off at the Kingston stop, where my friend Joan, would pick me up and host me at her home about half an hour away from Newport the night before the race.  I left work early to get to Penn Station, but ended up waiting inside the glassed in dedicated Amtrak waiting area.  We had extensive delays due to a train stalled underneath the Hudson River, so there are literally HUNDREDS (possibly four figures, a couple thousand maybe?) of people here at Penn Station, waiting for both Amtrak and NJTransit trains delayed for well over an hour.  There's currently only two tunnels underneath the Hudson River that accommodate for all Amtrak and NJ Transit trains going to New York City - one going in, and one going out - so if one tunnel gets "clogged" due to a stalled train, the whole system is screwed. Prospects for major infrastructure projects to improve this drastically over-capacity system have come and gone (notably, the "Access to the Regional Core" or ARC project that was cancelled by New Jersey governor Chris Christie), but the new Gateway Project, slated to be completed in 2026, is the latest to be considered.  An article about the importance of this project can be found here: "What One Really Expensive Tunnel Means to U.S. Train Travel"

Back to the story... after about a half hour delay and still no sign of the train arriving, the atrium holding Amtrak passengers (where the big screens are, and where people line up to take the escalators down to platform level) had become wall to wall with people.  All of a sudden, people just started running away from the atrium. It sounded like a bunch of horses running by, at full speed, as I'm sitting in a glassed in area within the station. It was basically a stampede, happening INSIDE Penn Station. Supposedly, a belligerent person was being pursued by cops and they had chased him into the station. He started to become violent, so in order to subdue him, the police had to use a taser on him. The crackling sound of the taser scared some people, thinking it was gunshots.  Of course... that triggers mass hysteria.  Everyone in the waiting area just drops to the floor and underneath the ganged waiting room chairs. My heart was racing. There were children with me, and they're sobbing hysterically. We have no idea what's happening. We stay here, lying on the floor, for about five minutes. After word is spread that it was a false alarm, we come up from under the chairs. Everyone is visibly shaken by what just happened.

Some fifteen minutes later, my train finally arrives into the station, and we were able to get out of NYC easily, on an uneventful three hour trip up, roughly 1.5 hours late.  Joan was there to pick me up and take me back to her house, where I crashed for the night, ready to wake up early the next morning for the race.

Near Eastons Beach
Pre-race photo with Maniacs and 50
Staters (Photo by the Mercury Blast)
I woke to my alarm at 5am, got myself dressed and was out the door by 5:40 am.  By 6:15, I arrived in Newport's Second Beach, where we were directed to park, then boarded school buses to get us to the start area at Easton's Beach, Newport's largest beach located in the center of the city.  The temperature is quite chilly and rather windy, so I keep all my layers on before braving the cold.  The entirety of the race would take place on Aquidneck Island, which is home to the city of Newport, and the towns of Middletown and Portsmouth. Runners begin to convene at the beach pavilion as the time ticks by to the start of the marathon.  I run into a few friends running the race as well, trying to keep warm at the pavilion.  We head out to the startline on the main road, which is closed off to traffic, and I'm called over to the mic to sing the national anthem for the marathoners.  The half marathon start, which a few friends would be participating in, would occur 15 minutes after our start, but a few folks, - my friends Andrea, Pam and Steve - came out to see me off before they would begin their half.

Running up Memorial Boulevard
At 7:15, we began, running west up a distinct hill along Memorial Blvd toward the site of Newport's famous gilded mansions.  We would run past the Newport Cliff Walk, a 3.5 mile public access walkway along the shoreline that runs behind those mansions, and is considered one of the most popular attractions in the city.  From there, we turned left onto Annandale Road, right onto Narragansett Ave, and are able to see all the cottages side by side.

We then turned up to Wellington Avenue with beautiful views of Narragansett Bay and the Claiborne Pell Bridge to our right.  We followed the curve of road along Halidon Avenue, which in turn turned into Brenton Road then Beacon Hill Road then Harrison Avenue.  This whole area was beautiful and serene and so GREEN - very much like the country, but with the ocean not too far away.  Along the way, we passed a secluded pastoral property built to resemble a Swiss village, with animals grazing in pens alongside the road.  Some of these animals were quite unique - there were llamas in close proximity to us!  Later, I would find out it was the SVF Biodiversity Preservation Project, which for years has maintained a remarkably low profile in Newport despite its unusual and futuristic mission to preserve genetic material of rare livestock through cryogenics.  The sprawling property was a generous contribution of an heiress to the Campbell’s soup fortune, and the project operates in partnership with the prestigious Smithsonian Institution.

Pastoral "country" scene along Harrison Avenue
Narragansett Bay from Wellington Avenue
Heading into Fort Adams
We turned into Fort Adams State Park, a large coastal fortification at the mouth of Newport Bay, near Newport Harbor.  On this short, just under a mile out and back where we would just run through and around the parking area (not even getting to the Fort itself), we would run by several huge sailboats covered up and stored on the pier for the season, awaiting warmer weather in the summer months.  After reemerging onto Harrison Avenue, we began to follow the coastal road that skirts the edge of Newport and Aquidneck Island.  This obviously afforded us with some truly amazing views of the Atlantic Ocean.  We passed Brenton Point State Park along the southwestern tip, and many astoundingly beautiful summer homes along Ocean Avenue.  We had these amazing views of the oceanfront cottages and the ocean itself for a good three miles, from roughly mile 6 to 9.

Narragansett Bay in the distance, as we finish this short out and back section.
Our first view of the Atlantic Ocean! 
More beautiful ocean views...
Running with new friend Meriam!
All along the way, I seemed to keep up alongside Meriam, the 4:30 pacer for the race, who I later befriended.  We ended up running together from roughly mile 2 to about mile 11.  What struck me most about her was she was Filipino... with a noticeably New England accent.  We later made sure to exchange information before she decided to go past me to ensure she make the first half goal of 2:15. At about 9.5 mile mark, we ran out of road, so the course moved onto Bellevue Avenue, amongst some of the grandest looking houses I've ever seen. Mostly built between the mid to late 1800's, the fourteen mansions along Newport's famous Bellevue Avenue Historic District, eleven of which are open to the public, form a complete essay of American historical development from the Colonial era through the Gilded Age. Some of the front gates to these mansions are taller than surrounding trees. It's as if Versailles was dropped into the northeastern United States.

Well ...that's a gate.
So many mansions. 
Massive mansions along Newport's Bellevue Avenue

Literally across the street from
the photo above.
These mansions continue along Ochre Point Avenue, where we pass the largest of them all, the signature Newport mansion, the Breakers, with a 30 foot high entrance gate, and considered one of the most visited house museums in America.  The road also continues through the campus of Salve Regina University and past a châteauesque mansion (actually the second largest of the Newport mansions, after the Breakers), Ochre Point, owned by the Catholic school.  It is their central administrative building, housing the university's Office of the President, the Business Office and the offices of Undergraduate Admission, Financial Aid and the Registrar.

Downhill toward Easton's Beach
Running along the boardwalk
We tracing our route back onto Memorial Boulevard, and head back toward Easton's Beach, taking advantage of the nice downhill.  Half Marathon finishers are making their way to the finish line, but we marathoners still trudge along, passing through Easton Beach's boardwalk, and right past the finish line.  We continue through a maze of the adjoining parking lot before getting back onto Memorial Boulevard continuing east, and past some of the hotels east of Easton's Beach that are officially in the municipality of Middletown.

Second Beach, and all our cars.
We bear right toward Purgatory Road and then find ourselves along the modest homes along Tuckerman Avenue, as we head deeper into Middletown. Tuckerman Avenue roughly parallels the geography of this part of the island, as we find ourselves running along the super flat section on Sachuest Point Road, overlooking Sachuest Bay. This out-and-back takes us (cruelly) past the parking area where us marathoners left our cars, and right up to the entrance gate of the Sachuest Point National Wildlife Refuge before returning back in the direction from whence we came.

Long stretches of open road
We took a right onto Hanging Rock Road, and run alongside Gardiner Pond as we make our way to Indian Avenue and a long out-and-back section that takes us 3.1 miles northward and into the town of Portsmouth.  The entire way, we're bounded by homes (much more modest than the ones we saw in Newport), with the East Passage of Narragansett Bay peeking through in between the homes.  This section of the race had various degrees of rolling hills.  After having gone through the first hour of the race on a 19 minute run/1 minute walk, the second hour to a roughly 14 minute/1 minute walk, and then the third hour on a 9 minute/1 minute walk, I had reached a point where it was 4 minutes on, 1 minute off - or whatever felt better.

Super long out-and-back section through Middletown
I gotta get to the top of that hill!
On the way back, we took a detour into a neighborhood where we just circled the block before returning to Indian Avenue.  My pace slowed as we returned back toward Middletown, and ran up and down over the hills I had run over at the 15 mile mark of the race.  As we approached the busier area just east of Easton's Beach, I pick up the pace, as I realize that my sub-5 hour marathon is within reach, but will be very close.  I end up running alongside fellow Marathon Maniacs Cathy and Jun, and we all have similar goals, pushing ourselves to get to the finish before the clock ticks 5.  I get back to Purgatory Road and Memorial Road, and run right back into the parking lot, but nearly miss the turn to take me to the finish line, as unfortunately, there was no one there to direct me toward the actual finish area!  Thankfully, I cross in 4:57:39, and cross off my 15th sub-5 hour marathon of 33 I have run, and my 25th state!  There to greet me at the finish line was my friend Pam, as well as a few other friends who I ran alongside on the long out-and-back, including David, who I had met when I supervised him as a volunteer when I was volunteer leading at the 2014 NYC Marathon!

Still smiling despite 26.2 miles of pain. (Official race photo)
State #25, coming in to the finish! (Official race photo)

State #25!! (Official race photo)

With Rhode Races race directors
Susan Grenke Rancourt and Karen Lyons
After getting a photo with the race directors who so kindly allowed me to sing for their inaugural race, I got my headstand photo done and then went looking for the bus to take me back to my car. After a little wait, it finally arrived, and I hightailed it back to East Greenwich so I could shower and get myself reorganized before Joan could take me to the airport so I could catch my bus up to Boston.  Thankfully, we got there with time to spare, and I was the only one to board the bus at the airport; a few more boarded at two more stops within Rhode Island's capital city of Providence, and then I eventually fell asleep as the bus made its way on up to Boston.

Headstand photo on Eastons' Beach!
Upon arrival in Boston's South Station, my cousin Kathy came to pick me up. We go to run some errands including going to the Boston suburb of Saugus to get a honey baked ham for easter lunch the next day.  We head back to her townhouse in South Boston, where I get to see her husband Billy and their baby daughter Gigi.  After some time relaxing, we head out; Kathy and I have plans for the night, as the national tour of The King and I happens to be in town, performing at the beautiful Boston Opera House.  Several friends of mine are in the cast, including the actor playing the King of Siam, Jose Llana. Before the show, we grab dinner nearby at a restaurant in Chinatown.  The show was awesome - both Kathy (an actress at one point in time) and myself have performed in regional productions of the show in the past, so it's a piece we're definitely familiar with.  We're brought backstage to see the my friends and the set.

I stay overnight at Billy and Kathy's and wake up again early the next morning, to spend some time down at the Harry Hynes Convention Center.  It just so happens my visit up to Rhode Island and Boston also coincided with Boston Marathon weekend - the marathon itself is on Patriots' Day, a state holiday every third Monday of April, which commemorates the anniversary of the Battles of Lexington and Concord, the first battles of the American Revolutionary War.  Being that it was Easter Sunday as well, Boston was QUITE busy.  That morning, I headed to the convention center to spend some time perusing the Boston Marathon race expo, open to the public. I had to head to the expo to take in the ambience of being here amongst all the excited runners running the most famous and heralded marathon in the world.  While there, I got to hang out with my friend Brian Wright, running in his first Boston Marathon (we enjoyed some free special edition "26.2 Brew" given out by Sam Adams!), as well as meet Ann Haebler from Marathon Tours, who was coordinating the travel packages for the Australian Outback Marathon I was going to be running later that July.

After a couple hours at the expo, I headed back to my cousins' place to meet up with them as we drove out to Haverhill, Massachusetts, where Billy's parents live, for Easter Lunch.  It was a fun way to enjoy the Sunday and reconnect with Billy's family, who I had only met at his and Kathy's wedding a few years back.  After a little while, we made sure to get me back to the Haverhill train station so I could get on the commuter train to take me back into Boston for my bus home.  Unfortunately, we ran into some signal problems which stressed me out a little bit because we were pushing the time to the limit for my bus' departure.  I ended up grabbing an Uber to South Station from the North Station where the commuter train dropped me off, and of course - we get stuck in the middle of Boston traffic due to a Celtics playoff game happening nearby. Luckily, I arrived at South Station with 10 minutes to spare before my bus would leave, and I slept for most of the long drive back down in NYC, which happened to be in a rainstorm nearly the entire time, in addition to the expected Easter traffic.  I arrive back home in my apartment by 12:30am, supremely exhausted, but happy to have had such a full weekend with family, friends, and states and experiences checked off my list!

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