Thursday, June 20, 2019

Race Report: Bellingham Bay Half Marathon

Celebrating Nina and Aaron!
I reunited with one of my good friends from college, Nina, when coming to visit Seattle in April of 2017.  I've known her since even before our freshman year at the University of Michigan even started, meeting at orientation.  So when she sent me a save the date for her wedding, I knew I had to be there for her and her fiancé Aaron, to celebrate their special day!  The wedding was set for September 29, 2018 in Bellingham, Washington - which happened to be the same weekend as the local marathon, the Bellingham Bay Marathon. On a whim, I sent a quick email to the race organizers offering my services for the anthem, and it just so happened, they were trying to find someone to perform it for their race around the same time! They were more inclined to have a live singer for the half, 10K, and 5K start, as the crowds there would be much larger at the stage set up at Depot Market Square, so with that, I was conveniently booked to sing the anthem, run the half, and attend my friend's wedding, all within the same weekend!

Packet pickup at the cruise terminal.
I flew to Seattle on Friday night after work, arriving before 10PM, then drove the 1.5 hours up to Bellingham. I got to my Airbnb at about 12:15, ready to crash, since it felt like 3:15 in the morning for me, having the three hour time difference.  Getting to sleep in on Saturday morning, I decided to hit up the Fairhaven historic district, a neighborhood in the southern side of the city of Bellingham, to grab a late breakfast, grab my bib at the Bellingham Cruise Terminal nearby, then had some time to go to Aslan Brewing Company for a lunchtime beer. In the afternoon, I attended the wedding at the nearby Church of Assumption, followed by the reception at the Hotel Bellwether, part of the "Bellwether on the Bay" mixed-use waterfront development.  I retired early from the wedding, tired from the drive and the three hour time difference, and knowing I'd have to wake up the next morning for the race.

The forecast in the week leading up to the race was gloomy, with rain expected to mar the morning.  In fact, it already had started to rain during the reception for the wedding, and I continued to hear it come down before going to bed, waking up to it still coming down in the morning. I left my Airbnb to walk less than a mile to the startline, umbrella open, where we would begin the race at 9am. I found co-race director Brooke at the start, and met with the emcee, before he introduced me to sign the national anthem, as runners began to assemble.  I sang, and shortly thereafter moved into the corrals, assembled along Railroad Avenue.
A wet startline
Under rainy skies, we took off from Depot Market Square, and quickly headed out to the northeast along Railroad Avenue. What was once roadbed for four sets of tracks for freight delivery from the Bellingham Bay & British Columbia (BB&BC) Railroad is now a very wide avenue with two lanes of traffic, four rows of angled parking, and a median. The site of the Downtown railway station, Railroad Avenue connects several primary Downtown destinations - Depot Market Square on the south end, Bellingham Station in the middle, and major trail connections on each end (South Bay Trail on the south, and Whatcom Creek Trail on the north).  We then turned left onto Holly Street, heading out of the central business district, then turned slightly right onto Prospect Street, with the city's 1892-built Old City Hall Building, a beautiful red brick building with Victorian cupolas and a stately central clock tower defining the city skyline, home to the Whatcom Museum of History and Art since 1941, to our left. We continued northward into the trendy Lettered Streets area, curving left along Dupont Street and passing over Whatcom Creek, as we entered the largely residential area of the Columbia neighborhood, historically established as Bellingham's middle class community adjacent to the city's downtown district.
Running up Railroad Avenue
Bellingham's Old City Hall, now the Whatcom Museum
Residential areas of Bellingham
Running north along Marine Drive
We continued northwestward, eventually curving our way onto Madison Street heading due west.  Eventually, we were back on a northwestward path, making our way along Eldridge Avenue, the edge of the city with backyards of homes abutting the bayside railroad tracks separating the residential neighborhood from the more industrial marina side of Bellingham. We crossed over a bridge we'd eventually run under later on in the race (Squalicum Way) until the road turned into Marine Drive, and became wider and more commercial; we hit the 5K mark, gladly putting down a split just under 30 minutes - mile splits all under 10 minutes per mile. This was also where we also began to feel a little bit of the uphill - from a low of 72 feet climbing to 148 feet over the course of 1.25 miles. And surely, I felt it, as my pace slowed for the fourth mile.  Likely on a clear day, you could see Bellingham Bay and its islands, but the weather had other plans for us.

We turned right onto Alderwood Avenue, a location where the marathoners finally met up with the half marathoners, as they came down from the north -- at that point in time, marathoners were 2 hours and 10 minutes into their race at the 17 mile mark, some fast runners posting 7:40 average mile pace reaching this juncture when I was there only 4 miles in!  We passed by the south edge of Bellingham International Airport, as the course continued to climb up to a crest of 160 feet, before flattening out somewhat.  Then we got to coasting - the course began to descend some 140 feet over miles 5-7 as we ran through the Birchwood neighborhood, and my splits returned to the 9:30 per mile vicinity.  I even got in a quick beer stop after grabbing a small bag of cookies, taking in a little chug of Rainier to wash down that bite to eat, as we made our way eastward along Cottonwood Avenue.

Muddy trail through Birchwood Park!
The descent flattened out as we made our way south on Firwood Avenue, turning left onto Cedarwood Avenue, and then turning right into Birchwood Park, as we made our way along the somewhat muddy gravel track to the Coast Millennium Trail and Squalicum Creek Park.  We finally hit our first timing mat at the 6.5 mile mark, which I crossed at 1:06:18, a decent 10:12 mile pace. We were met with a nice crowd of supporters cheering us on at this juncture, as we made our way off of the concrete path and onto the side of the road, Squalicum Way.  We then ran through a nice wooded area, as we made our way closer to the water's edge, eventually crossing under Eldridge Avenue, and merging onto Roeder Avenue, as we ran alongside the not-so-pretty industrial waterfront section of Bellingham.

Running down Squalicum Way
Arriving at the waterfront
Bellingham's marina and the Bay
We eventually made our way onto the sidewalk, running alongside the marina, and I even passed Bellwether on the Bay, where I had just spent the evening the night before for my friend's wedding.  At mile 8.5, we crossed over Whatcom Creek and ascended the ramp onto Chestnut Street, eventually back to downtown Bellingham. I still had 4 miles to go as I reached Railroad Avenue, turning left as I saw the faster half marathoners and some marathoners hitting their homestretch to the finish line behind me.

The nicely paved South Bay Trail
The road made its way past some condos, before we found ourselves on the South Bay Trail, surrounded by tall evergreen trees, as we left downtown Bellingham.  Shielded from vehicular traffic, and going down this beautiful paved trail made this part of the race unlike anywhere else on the course.  It wasn't particularly hilly here either, maybe only a bit slippery from fallen leaves and all the rain. I managed to take off 30 seconds from my pace at the tenth mile, as we continued down the trail.  A half mile later, we were coming down toward the next timing mat, and the last before the finish line, which happened to be right before a railroad crossing - and I could hear the train coming down the tracks not too far away!  We were actually warned that this was possible, as the race had no power to ask the trains to change their schedules on race morning, so they set up timing mats to make up for the differential if people became stranded by the train.

The train is coming!
Crossing in 1:44:24, I passed through probably a minute or two before the train came barreling down the tracks, and watched it pass by at a relatively high speed as I made my way around the pathway through Boulevard Park, continuing southward as the trail became overwater boardwalk, known as Pattle Point Trestle and Taylor Dock, altogether some 572 meters of wooden planks and Bellingham's most popular and scenic promenade. The wooden planks allowed my knees a bit of a rest from the pounding asphalt and concrete I've been running on for miles already.

Pattle Point Trestle to our big "hill"
We could see the next big "hill" ahead of us, as the dock ended, and we turned left to climb the short, but steep incline into Fairhaven..  We veered northward along 10th Street as it gently ascended to become State Street, and later the mononymous Boulevard, following the route back into downtown Bellingham. Along the way, we ran past the popular "Welcome to Bellingham" sign, visible to boats on the bay, pointing the way to Mount Baker in one direction (the 10,000 foot tall mountain impressively standing over Bellingham some 31 miles due east of the city), and Chuckanut Drive in the other (widely considered to be one of the most scenic drives in the region, oftentimes called "Washington's Big Sur.") Over the final mile, the course gently descended to the deafening roar of crowds cheering us in to the finish line back at Depot Market Square.

Victory Headstand at the goat statue
It had rained the entire 13.1 miles, even as I crossed the finish line in 2:15:42.  I grabbed my medal and immediately beelined it to the bag check where I could get my coat and gloves to warm up from the chilly weather -- it's not that fun to be running in cold and wet weather!  After enjoying a "Running on Empty" craft beer, the official beer of the race crafted by local brewery Wander Brewing, I found a fellow runner to take my headstand photo with Depot Market Square behind (as well as the notable goat statue, a meeting point for local runners).  With my Airbnb host having locked up, I arranged for getting a much-needed shower at the Whatcom Family YMCA just up the street, then eating lunch at Boundary Bay Brewery, literally steps from the finish line.  I enjoyed a pint of Dry Irish Stout and some grilled fish tacos before getting on the road to head down to Seattle to spend my afternoon and early evening.
BLING at the brewery!
Save the Ales, guys.
Pumpkin Beer flight!
A stop in the Capitol Hill neighborhood of Seattle capped off my Washington weekend trip, as I enjoyed a flight of pumpkin beers from Elysian Brewing Co. Public House then stopped in at the highly popular Salt and Straw Ice Cream Shop (a Portland institution, but this location had some local flavors such as Whatcom County Honey Rocky Road, which I had - fittingly, since I spent most of this weekend in Whatcom County!) before heading to the airport for my redeye flight back home to New York City. A fun weekend, killing two birds with one stone... attending a good friend's wedding (as well as reuniting with college friends, many I haven't seen since I graduated in 2006!) and running a half marathon, to bring my total up to 91 lifetime half marathons!

Monday, June 17, 2019

Race Report: Loch Ness Marathon

Flying over Central London
After a roughly 6 hour trip across the Atlantic from NYC after work, I made it to London, giving myself just over two hours to get over to Terminal 5 from Terminal 3 for my flight to Inverness. After easily getting myself to the other terminal via flight connections bus, I arrived at Terminal 5 to stand in a line probably about 30 deep, to get through UK border control.  Minutes after I arrived, a group of maybe 100+ Argentinean high school rugby players and their coaches show up for their connection, and it becomes a bit of a mess, as the airport staff were allowing them to come up in groups of five to pass through border control, despite the line of people in front of them. Many of us felt it was a bit unfair, and I was getting a little worried since Heathrow to Inverness flights only happen twice a day. But luckily, I got through, and despite some extra waiting at security, I made it to my gate with a bit of time to spare before boarding.

Arriving at Inverness Airport
In the days prior to the trip, I was in touch with my travel buddy Elaine about planning a tour during the short time we were in Scotland. One of the top options was to do a tour with Loch Ness by Jacobite, who offers cruises seven days a week all throughout the year. Because I knew my flight connection could be a little hairy, I decided that I'd book a tour with the company only if I was assured I'd be getting on the flight to Inverness. Upon arrival, I'd have roughly two hours until the tour that we wanted to go on would start.

Picking up our bibs!
I arrived at Inverness Airport just a little after 11am; about 15 minutes after disembarking, I got on a £4.40 bus to the station in Inverness City Centre to meet up with Elaine. We casually walked across the bridge over to Bught Park to pick up our bibs for the race, roughly a mile away - the "expo" was small, entering the park area complete with a giant inflatable Nessie as the entrance and a giant cardboard cutout medal for the sake of photos. We were in and out pretty quickly. We then walked back into the city centre - it's all quite small and walkable - then did a bit of window shopping down Bridge Street and pedestrianized Church Street before heading to the bus station.  We even encountered a truck towing a trailer with a half naked man tied to a chair, covered in egg yolk and feathers.  Apparently, it’s tradition in Scotland to take grooms-to-be hostage and allow random strangers to egg and feather them before their wedding day - talk about painful and humiliating!
Walking down a street in Inverness
Inverness Castle, built in 1836
The Greig Street Bridge over the River Ness, with Free North Church in the background
Groom-to-be, getting egged and feathered.  Apparently Scottish tradition!
Our boat, the Jacobite Maverick!
We made it back to the bus station just before our coach was to leave for the tour. We were worried about how the weather would turn out on the tour, as it began to rain as we were waiting for the bus to show up, but what's known about weather in Scotland is that things can change in an instant -- and within ten minutes, the rain had stopped.  The particular tour we booked was the "Temptation" tour, a three hour tour that began with a coach taking us from Inverness Bus Station about five miles outside of town down to the Dochgarroch Lock boat dock, with commentary about Inverness and its sites along the way. We then boarded a brand new ship, the Jacobite Maverick, and sailed down the Caledonian Canal (a navigable 60 mile long canal that connects the Scottish east coast at Inverness with the west coast near Fort William), into Loch Ness, ending with an hour long self-guided tour of Urquhart Castle, on the shore of the loch.

Sailing down Loch Ness!
Sailing down the canal into the loch was quite magical - it was at first a cloudy day, but as the morning progressed, the clouds magically dissipated to reveal the bright blue sky underneath. Food and drink was sold on board, and I decided to try some local beer - a specially crafted "Nessie's Monster Mash" chestnut beer by Cairngorm Brewing Company, a brewery located in the Scottish Highlands. Once we came out of the Caledonian Canal into the loch itself, our ship picked up some speed as we sailed down its length.  It made sense - at its deepest point, Loch Ness goes down 755 feet, making it the second deepest loch in all of Scotland.  Obviously, we were also all keeping our eyes peeled for any strange shapes coming to the surface - could Nessie be making an appearance?  Unfortunately, during our trip on the loch, he was nowhere to be found.  Alas, another opportunity awaited tomorrow during the race!  A video was shown on board that gave us a history of the area, and some of the sights we were seeing on both banks of the loch.  It was just under an hour of sailing until we finally reached the dock where we would disembark to visit Urquhart Castle.
Looking down at the ruins of the castle from Grant Tower
Urquhart Castle with the impressive vistas of the Scottish Highlands beyond
Photoshoot in the castle
The present ruins of Urquhart castle, one of the largest castles in Scotland in area, date from the 13th to the 16th centuries, though built on the site of an early medieval fortification. The site has played an important role in Scottish history, first becoming a castle when Alexander II crushed a revolt in the lands to the north and decided to defend this strategic route through the highlands. Through the next few centuries, the castle's ownership fell back and forth between English and Scottish hands, as well as to rival clans (particularly the MacDonalds and Grants) vying for rule in neighboring areas with the Scottish crown. The castle fell into decline through the 17th and 18th centuries, regarded as a romantic ruin by 19th-century painters and visitors to the Highlands and eventually largely abandoned and decaying until it was placed into state care as a "scheduled monument" or nationally important site in the early 20th century. Today, it is the most visited site in Scotland, after the castles of Edinburgh and Stirling. Ultimately, the time we had to visit the castle became a photo shoot between me and Elaine, as we enjoyed the beautiful views from well preserved Grant Tower and its battlements.

Enjoying a local craft beer!
Waiting for us after we finished our tour of the castle was the coach bus, which would bring us back into Inverness. The half hour trip proved relaxing, as I practically fell asleep the entire way. When we got back into town, we headed to the Black Isle Bar right in the heart of the city.  Black Isle Brewing Company is Scotland's only organic brewery, located some 7 miles northwest of Inverness in Black Isle.  They opened this bar (and hotel) in Inverness in 2016, and seemed very popular with locals and tourists alike. With a decent food menu, and of course craft beer on draught, we decided to have our pre-race dinner here, carbloading the best way I know how... a locally made porter and some really delicious pizza - one with lamb meatballs the other one with venison salami - and a goat cheese/pine nuts/honey bruschetta! Afterward, we headed back to the Airbnb that I had booked for the weekend, which Elaine had already been to; I had been lugging my backpack with me all day, and it was a good half hour walk, slightly uphill, from the middle of town. Needless to say, when we finally got there, I was exhausted! After donning some face masks, provided by Elaine, we crashed, since we had an early morning on Sunday!

Crossing the Ness Islands
Race morning was upon us not six hours after we laid our heads down... after a 5:45am alarm clock, the two of us got dressed and were out the door by 6:15, with a 1.5 mile walk from our Airbnb to the race shuttles in front of the Inverness Ice Centre next to Bught Park.  My GPS took us through some residential roads before taking a quaint bridge through the trails on the Ness Islands in the middle of the River Ness, taking a shortcut to get us to the park rather than cutting all the way through town and over the main bridges.  Despite the race not starting until 10am, we were on the buses super early, being requested to get there between 6:45am and 7am, which made sense for the nearly 3,000 runners that all needed to be bused to the start that morning.

We boarded a bus (when we got there, there were some super long lines snaking around area, and buses filled up one by one pretty orderly) and caught a few more z's as the trip to the start was about an hour long through windy roads, getting around the southern tip of Loch Ness, past Fort Augustus and up the road, climbing a bit uphill toward Whitebridge.  We'd be dropped off into literally the middle of nowhere along the side of the road at an area of high ground, but treated to some of the most stunning and beautiful scenery of rugged hills mountains, 360 degrees all around us.  The mist lifting, fog rolling through and the cloudy sky in the highlands made it even more impressive... it was like a scene out of Lord of the Rings.  Apparently the prior year had some windy and rainy weather right from the get go, so we were quite lucky.
Such incredible views!
The startline
Having arrived at around 9 am, we still had a whole hour in the cold waiting for the race to begin. With the road closed off for us - it was only a two lane road - it was a bit narrow dealing with everything going on at the start; but being that we were in the UK, everything was orderly with a queue - one really long one for the port-a-potties, one for the bag truck, one for hot tea (which was MARVELOUS with how chilly it was that morning).  There were just A LOT of people. Soon, we were called to assemble, and a bagpipe band led us off to start the race, a slight uphill for about a minute before downhill downhill downhill!

Early miles
Loch Ness is long and skinny, stretching from Fort Augustus up to Inverness.  Its length is approximately 22.5 miles, but we would be running right next to it for approximately 10 miles.  From the start, we couldn't see the loch, but we would some seven miles in.  After our start on the B862 road on the high ground between Fort Augustus and Foyers, the course dropped elevation very quickly - sure, there were a few short and sharp hills in there, but our first real significant uphill wouldn't happen until 45 minutes into the race, about 4.75 miles in.  Miles 1-6 were some of the most beautiful miles of the race; not only was I flying I was taken aback by how gorgeous the Scottish highlands were... it reminded me of a mix of Big Sur and races I've done in the Pacific Northwest, Western Canada, and Alaska. I'd post my first two miles at approximately 9 minutes per mile, and my third and fourth mile at around 9 1/2 minutes per mile as we passed through the village of Whitebridge.
Loving the tree coverage, reminds me of running in Washington or Oregon!
More running through the trees
Here come the uphills...

Before the fourth mile, we turned left onto road B852, with the road starting to finally undulate and take us through uphill parts. This road was part of the military road system built by General George Wade in 1727 (and the section alongside Loch Ness later realigned in 1732), to link the forts along the length of the Great Glen at Fort William, Fort Augustus, and Fort George. Obviously, back then, the roads were cobblestone and compacted gravel, but the modern roads today had evolved from the original 250 mile network of military roads and bridges conceived by Wade, his successor Major William Caulfeild (who built an additional 800 miles and over 600 bridges), and the great Scottish engineer Thomas Telford, who was responsible for upgrading, straightening, and widening many of these roads.  That steep hill just before mile 5 flattened out and then we had a nice downhill again.  The course wound its way along this country road, eventually making its way down to the banks of Loch Ness into the village of Foyers around the 10K point. From there, the route follows the loch’s south eastern shore, where it would flatten out for a couple miles.

Beautiful views of Loch Ness
Now that we were next to the loch, we were treated to some truly beautiful views.  Occasionally, it would hide away, as we ran through a pretty-tree lined path that reminded me again of parts of Big Sur, but also other "waterside" races, like the Freedom's Run, where we ran alongside the Potomac River on the C&O Towpath Trail. After a nice flat section through the village of Easter Boleskine (even running past a home formerly owned by Led Zeppelin guitarist Jimmy Page that was supposedly haunted) and a short downhill to the village of Inverfarigaig, the sky all of a sudden opened up, and it rained for a good ten to fifteen minutes.  After that... it was dry again, and the clouds separated for blue sky.

Loch Ness, behind me!
Runners passing the loch
The course continued heading north east on a fairly flat stretch for the next nine miles towards Dores on the northern tip of the loch. Somewhere around mile 10, we encountered some folks cheering on runners, a rare sight in this largely scant-spectator race. I run by, wearing my Nessie hat as the Scottish woman with her kid explained, "Oh look, a lizard!"  I turned around abruptly, in awe and explained,"SERIOUSLY? And where are we right now... what's that? (pointing to the loch) So I'm a lizard, just any old lizard?"  Some spots gave us some truly magnificent and unencumbered views, even across to Urquhart Castle near the mile 12 mark. We hit the halfway point shortly thereafter, when the skies opened up again for another bout of rain, but it was shortlived once again, only raining for ten to fifteen minutes.

Different trees along the course
Entering Dores
At mile 17, we finally reached the village of Dores, and the end of the run where we'd be within view of Loch Ness.  Just as the loch came out of view, we ran by a humongous open field filled with hundreds of grazing sheep. It was a slight climb out of the fairly flat section we had been accustomed to, roughly 100 feet, but then we began the toughest climb of the race.  We were at about the 18.75 mile mark running along the road through the village of Aldourie, when we reached the start of a 170 foot climb over the next mile.  Signs along the side of the road poked fun at the elevation change: "Slightly steeper bit approaching" and "wee bit hilly."  From the comfort of 70-80 feet of elevation we had ran alongside the loch, we had climbed to just shy of 300 feet by mile 20.  Of course, the sun also decided to come out of hiding at that point, so not only were we tired from the distance we've been running and the elevation we've been climbing, but now we were going to raise the temperature a tiny bit.  The nasty hill slowed a lot of folks down, myself included, but once it subsided, I pushed hard and threw down some speed to help me complete the last six miles of the race.

Ha.  Such a Scottish sign.
Slightly uphill, if you can tell! 
Finally back in Inverness
We had a nice downhill stretch after mile 20 over the next mile, and then it rose again for a little bit for another mile, but not as tough as the "big" hill.  At the 23 mile mark, signs of civilization began to appear, a marked contrast from the rural surroundings we've been running on since the start, and we also saw the signs welcoming us into the city of Inverness.  And then the rain began.  It literally came out of nowhere, and it rained pretty hard, for about fifteen to twenty minutes.  And then like that it was gone again.  The course continued right into the centre of Inverness, as we ran alongside the River Ness and homes situated right on the riverbank.  We passed the bridge we had crossed earlier that morning over the Ness Islands, and could hear the sound system on the other side of the river... but I still had over 1.5 miles to run!

Jelly Babies on the course, finally!
Considering most of the race up until mile 23 was out in the middle of the country, I knew it was going to be pretty quiet out there, with barely any spectators cheering us on. Once we got into the city limits, there were plenty more, and I finally encountered some folks giving out the "quintessential" UK race fuel alongside the course at the 24.5 mile mark... JELLY BABIES!  I had fallen in love with these tasty treats during the Brighton Marathon, and was super excited to do another UK race where they could be along the course, so of course, having it at this point of the race brightened my day.  It definitely pushed me along, because I got to the 25 mile mark at 4:37 - well within means to finish with a sub 5 hour marathon!

1.2 miles to go!
After running along B862 for the last 20 miles, we finally made a turn, onto Cavell Gardens, leading us to Ness Bank, the narrow single lane road that hugged the River Ness' eastern shore.  The familiar surroundings of Inverness' City Centre began to come into view, and finally the Ness Bridge crossing taking us to the east side of the river.  With half a mile left, I hoofed it as best as I can, taking Bishops Road and Ness Walk straight into Bught Park, where I finally crossed the finish line in 4:52:23 -- about a minute faster than two weeks before in Sioux Falls!

Victory Headstand!
I got my medal, and quickly made my way into the tent where we had picked up our bibs, which had transformed into a post race festival.  Here we could get a post-race hot meal of soup and chili and rice, which tasted so delicious. I grabbed my drop bag, which unfortunately was sopping wet (likely from the rain I experienced at mile 23), as it was sitting in puddles of rain water on a tarp outside, and then walked across the pitch to the stadium in Bught Park for a much needed shower.  Eventually, Elaine came through the finish, and after she was settled and ready to go, we walked back  to the Airbnb to grab our bags and offload our Baxters UK soup cans (which were given to us as part of our goodie bags at the finish line) to our hosts, knowing full well we couldn't fly with them since we were flying with hand baggage only.

My new friends!
This soup can't fly.
With tired legs, we slogged back along the road into downtown Inverness so I could get my Nessie figurine for my computer desk - a necessity now that I've gotten something to put on my desk after every international race, then caught a cab to take us back to the airport.  Check in and airport security was pretty quick, as it's a fairly small airport, but we couldn't help but be amused at seeing all the soup cans in a bin just before the checkpoint.  The Inverness Airport folks were kind enough to post a sign: “Congratulations on your achievement! We are very sorry but you must leave your soup here as it is a liquid over 100ml but don’t worry, we will donate in to a worthy cause.”

We had a bit of time before our evening flight to Heathrow, so with my Priority Pass membership, I got both Elaine and I in to the very small lounge at the airport, ending up meeting British folks now living in the Cayman Islands who were there to run the race as well!  Talk about a real trip just to run a marathon!  The flight down to Heathrow was quick, with both of us falling asleep the entire way, and we found our way to our accommodations for the night at the Premier Inn located next to Terminal 4, my "usual" airport hotel at LHR.  Both of us had flights early the next morning, myself back to NYC for work, and Elaine to Amsterdam to meet up with friends and continue some more European travels.  Unfortunately for her, she ended up catching a nasty cold during the race, which would render her exhausted for the rest of the week.  I, on the other hand, returned back to New York on the first flight home on Monday morning... arriving back in NYC before noon and getting a half day in at work... such is my weekly sojourn!