Thursday, December 12, 2019

Race Report: Vienna City Marathon

Vienna had been in my calendar for awhile now; I had visited in 2006 during a monthlong trip along the rails through the whole continent, where we hit up ten countries, one of the last being Austria. Chalking it up to vacation fatigue, we spent only a couple days in Vienna, and can remember being a bit underwhelmed by the Austrian capital. This was an opportunity to revisit this destination and give it a second chance - perhaps take in the opulence of the Hapsburg Dynasty through the palaces and gardens of the royals that once ruled this area.

My Austrian Airlines plane to Vienna!
I left New York after work on a Virgin Atlantic flight that took me overnight to London, then had an easy connection to Vienna on Austrian Airlines.  We arrived shortly after noon, and I was quickly off the plane and through the efficient immigration area, easily finding my way down to the train station a level below the airport. There was a bit of a line of people trying to figure out how to utilize the kiosks to purchase tickets, but once I got one, I got onto the next train that could take me directly to the expo at the Marx Halle south of the city centre in the district of Landstraße. The expo was very busy, but I managed to get my bibs for both the 10K and Marathon fairly quickly, then made my rounds around the expo, hitting up a few of the booths advertising other European races, including a couple I had already run - Malta and Swiss City.  With a few hours left to go before I needed to be at the start of the 10K in Prater Park, I contacted my friend Pål and his wife Tone, my Norwegian friends who were also here for the race.  They were back at their hotel near Stephansplatz and agreed to meet with me, so I could drop off my bags at their hotel while I ran the race, since I hadn't had time to check into my Airbnb.

It was easy to get to them via the U-Bahn, and I found them just outside of the imposing St. Stephen's Cathedral, the Roman Catholic church with its multi-coloured tile roof that dominates the skyline in the center of Vienna.  We got to hang out for a bit at their hotel, and I got to leave my bags with their concierge, before I set off for my race, and they went out to enjoy a bite to eat. I headed out to Prater Park, and easily found the startline of the 10K, following the loads of people heading in the direction of the Hauptallee and the start archway, situated in front of the Restaurant Meierei.

Startline for the Saturday races
A few races were occurring this Saturday afternoon - the Youth Run and Home Run, 5Ks for ages 18 and under, and one for the adults - as well as the 10K.  It was fun getting to watch the kids get their races started, heading north along the Hauptallee, while the rest of us about to run the 10K watched.  When we finally got onto the road, we lined up in the other direction, as our route was headed south. I positioned myself in the second wave, and shortly after 5:30, we were off.

The course was nice and flat along the Hauptallee, considered not only Vienna's, but Austria’s most popular running location. Surrounded on both sides by 2,500 horse chestnut trees, the Hauptallee is a beautiful treelined street stretching some 4.5 kilometers long. It comes as no surprise that this was the route that would be chosen for Eliud Kipchoge's storied INEOS 1:59 Challenge that would occur later in 2019. For the 10K, we were only running down it for one mile, before turning left onto Meireistraße for a short out and back that would take us back along Stadionallee to Rustenschacherallee, skirting the edge of the park, before returning to the Hauptallee via Rotundenallee, but now heading northward.  We passed back through the start arch, which conveniently marked the 5K point of the race - which made sense since the 5K runners began here, and we would follow their route to the finish line all the way near the Rathaus and Burgtheater on the Ringstraße in the city centre. After curving around to the Franzensbrücke, running into Landstraße, we found our way running alongside the Vienna River, then crossing the Stubenbrücke onto the roads that bordered the Stadtpark.  We followed the Ringstraße all the way to the finish, where I crossed in 56:17. I felt really good, clocking in a fast and solid pace, registering an average just over 9 minutes per mile, which made me feel SUPER confident for the following morning's marathon.

After the race, I went back to Stephansplatz to pick up my bags from Pål and Tone's hotel, and of course, feeling super hungry after the race, made my way over to a nearby spot for dinner.  On my mind was wienerschnitzel, one of the best known specialties of Viennese cuisine, and one of the national dishes of Austria.   Dinner was at Wienerwald, a franchised fast-food restaurant that's actually based in Germany, but it didn't matter to me... I was starving!

I later checked into my Airbnb, which was conveniently located about a ten minute walk behind the Rathausplatz, where the race's finish line was located. Night had fallen in Vienna, and I was starting to get quite tired from a very long day that included my overnight travel from NYC, but nevertheless, I still went back into Stephensplatz, eventually meeting up with Bryan and Walt from Ireland, who I had gotten in contact with over Facebook as Bryan was a member of Frontrunners Dublin.  We ended up at 1516 Brewing Company for some drinks, before I decided to head home and get some sleep.

With Pal and Bryan at the start
The race began at 9am, so I was up at 6:30 to get myself dressed and found the bathroom at my Airbnb already occupied by one of the other guests in the other bedrooms.  I eventually was able to get in around 7:15 for a quick shower and was out the door just after 7:30 to take the U-Bahn to the race start across the Danube in the neighborhood of Kaisermühlen in the Donaustadt district, right in front of the Vienna International Centre, the campus and building complex hosting the United Nations Office at Vienna.  It was a quick less than half hour trip, and I had ample time hanging out before runners started to assemble in the "blocks."  The excitement was palpable; while it was chilly (roughly 49°), the sun was out, and would only get warmer today.  While we still had an hour to go, I decided to head over near my start block, Block 4, which was situated near the lobby of the Park Inn.  I used it as a meeting point for Pål to find me, and take a quick picture before he headed off to his start block. It just so happened I found Bryan as well, so we took a quick photo before preparing for the race.

The startline area
The blocks were getting filled quickly; after a few announcements in German, the Austrian National Anthem being played, and a flubbed audience participation clapping sequence that noone seemed to get right to Queen's "Radio Ga Ga" (I guess nobody saw Live Aid or the recent Bohemian Rhapsody movie?) the race began, and the elites made their way out of the start blocks to the tune of Johann Strauss' "The Blue Danube," a quite unique way to start off the race, but fitting for being the start of a race in the Austrian capital, with its classical music legacy.  And also since in the first mile, runners would actually be crossing the Danube, Europe's second longest river.

Crossing the Reichsbrucke
Our start block would go off about 15 minutes later, and we ran along Wagramer Straße southwestward making our way across the span of the Reichsbrücke over the Danube River.  Along the way, I made some small talk with a couple South Africans, proudly wearing their flag colors on their singlets, as I told them how excited I was to head to their country in a couple weeks for the Two Oceans Marathon.  I would be playing leapfrog with one of them for much of the race.  The span of the bridge began to make its way downhill into the district of Leopoldstadt, as we were treated to magnificent views of the St. Francis of Assisi Church, a Basilica-style Catholic church built at the turn of the 20th century to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the reign of Emperor Franz Joseph I of Austria. We made our way to the western bank of the river onto Lassallestraße, hitting the first mile in 9:30, while runners continued to roll down the bridge in waves.
Some of the more modern office buildings on our way from the start
Destination: Praterstern.
Riesenrad ferris wheel
We continued down this street heading toward a building with a big "ÖBB" on it, housing the Wien Praterstern railway station, at the end of the avenue.  The Österreichische Bundesbahnen (ÖBB) is Austria's federal railway, owned by the government and manages and operates passenger and freight services in the country.  We came to a big roundabout, and those from the north side of the divided avenue went around the roundabout counterclockwise, while we went clockwise; both sides converged on the Hauptallee. We were now in the Wiener Prater, a large, nearly 1500 acre public park in Leopoldstadt, and the Hauptallee bisects the park.  To our left was the Wurstelprater, an amuseument park that has been open to the public since 1766.  Rising prominently amongst the attractions in the park is the Wiener Riesenrad, a Ferris wheel that from 1920 until 1985 was the world's tallest Ferris wheel and one of Vienna's most popular tourist attractions.  While it was still fairly early on - not even two miles in yet - we'd definitely get more time on it during this race, as we'd be passing through this area not once; not twice - but three times today - the next time coming at 17 mile mark for an extended out-and-back! 

Running along the Schüttelstraße
We continued on down partially down the Hauptallee, an area with many spectators cheering runners on, until reaching the 5K mark, where we turned right onto Stadionallee, running the curvilinear road to the Donaukanal or “Danube Canal,” a branch of the Danube that runs right through the Vienna city centre. We ran alongside the Donaukanal’s eastern shore on Schüttelstraße. This street gave way to Untere Donaustraße, before we turned left over the Aspernbrücke in the shadow of the UNIQA Tower, an area we’d be revisiting in another 11 miles.

Now in the Innere Stadt, the central district of Vienna, we began to run along Stubenring, part of Vienna’s famous Ring Road, the Ringstraße. We ran past the Ludwig Baumann designed War Ministry Building built in 1913 (now officially known as the Regierungsgebäude and is used as seat of the Minister for Economy, the Minister for Social Affairs and the Minister for Agriculture and Environment); and at the 10K mark, past the 28 acre Stadtpark, with its opulent Kursalon Building, an Italian Renaissance style music hall.
One of the statues along the Stubenring
The road curved slightly as we made our way along Kärntner Ring and past the beautiful facade of the Wien Staatsoper, or Vienna State Opera House. We then turned to follow the Wienzeile on an eastbound direction, running out toward Schönbrunn Palace. Before leaving the city center, we ran by the Secession Building, an art museum distinct with its stylized gold leaf dome, housing works of artists from the Vienna Secession movement, a group of rebel artists who broke apart from the long-established traditional fine art institution. We also ran by the Naschmarkt, a popular food and produce market open during the day every day except Sunday. We also ran by the Cafe Savoy, a popular coffee shop and one of the most beautiful cafes in the city.
Passing by the Seccession Building
The Wienzeile runs through the districts of Mariahilf and Rudolfsheim-Fünfhaus; it follows the course of the Vienna River, which has a riverbed made almost entirely of concrete (installed at the turn of the 20th century) within the city limits, in order to stop flooding and spread of disease at the time. At the same time, a railway part of the Vienna U-Bahn system was also built, making use of the concrete river bed and is only separated from the river by a wall. As we ran along the Wienziele, we could periodically hear the trains speed by, echoing from the area below.

Running along Wienziele
It was a bit monotonous as we ran along this stretch of the course, an area roughly 5k long. Rather uniquely, the first relay point for relay runners was here, just as we began to pass by the Auer-Welsbach-Park, nearly 15.5 kilometers into the race.  It seems the four relay runners would run legs of different legs - and the first runner would run the longest.  Before long, we were turning right onto Schloßallee, which happened to be the road right in front of the imperial palace of Schönbrunn. As I was deep into my run, I barely even noticed we had passed by the site of the palace, since it was behind us!

Mariahilfer Straße
I had slowed significantly by the 10 mile mark, nearly reaching a 12 minute mile, after consistently running just over 10 minute miles for the last five; it was probably because I was needing some electrolytes - the aid stations had been spread out so far apart in these early miles, and I was feeling a bit tired by that point.  We then ran a short 1/4 mile section of the course along Schloßsallee, before turning right onto Mariahilfer Straße and our easterly run back toward Vienna's city centre. We passed the Vienna Technical Museum (Technisches Museum Wien), a museum devoted to technology and sciences in a building that just celebrated its 100th anniversary last year.  It would be a gradual climb as we ran along the street, passing by Vienna's western train station (Wien Westbahnhof) trying to not trip over our feet on the metal tram tracks that vary up the terrain for us runners.

It wouldn't be until we reached the 12th mile that we'd start to run downhill, running down a section of Mariahilfer Straße that was covered in dark grey, wide bricks and is considered Austria’s most popular shopping street. There were many spectators along this section of the course, and having them there gave me an added burst of energy. We ran past the Baroque parish church of Mariahilf, with its copper towers, covered in a layer of distinctive green patina, as barricades began to separate runners into half marathoners heading straight ahead toward the finish line and marathoners turning left as we passed the massive MusueumsQuartier complex.

The road was wide and quite a bit less crowded once we turned left onto Museumsplatz and past the MuseumsQuartier, which houses several museums such as the Leopold Museum and the MUMOK (Museum of Modern Art Ludwig Foundation Vienna), the Kunsthalle Wien, and the Architekturzentrum Wien.  To our right was the Maria-Theresien-Platz, a large public square with the identical buildings of the Naturhistorisches Museum (Natural History Museum) and the Kunsthistorisches Museum (Art History Museum) facing each other.  The lack of hydration stations in the first half of the course caused me to take an "unusually early" GU, at the 12 mile mark, some three miles earlier than I normally do. We continued along Landesgerichtesstraße, a road that paralleled the Ringstrasse as we headed north, past the backside of the Rathaus - past the street where my Airbnb was on - reaching the halfway point for the marathon in 2:18:38, before turning right onto Universitätsstraße, past the beautiful neo-gothic spires of the Votivkirche and the campus of the Universität Wien. Here, we also ran past the second relay handover station, the second relay runners having finished their 6 km segment, and the third relay runners beginning a 9.3 km segment. We were now in the trendy and densely populated Alsergrund district, just north of the Innere Stadt, heading north along Liechtensteinstraße.

As we continued north along this street, to our right was the Gartenpalais Liechtenstein, where a private collection of masterpieces from the early Renaissance to the High Baroque era, owned by the Princely Family of Liechtenstein, are displayed. The palace is on the grounds of a 12.4 acre garden, all largely hidden behind high privacy fences, so unfortunately, all we were treated to were the tops of trees and the small glimpses of the 319 year old building. We turned right onto Alserbachstraße, the northernmost part of our course, as trams ran up and down the street next to us. The Wien Franz-Josefs-Bahnhof, a regional train station hub, with a glassed-in office structure on the floors above. Soon we were crossing over the Donaukanal along the Friedensbrücke, then ran southward along Brigittenauer Lände, merging onto the Obere Donaustraße, experiencing the surprisingly windiest part of the race, as we ran alongside the canal. Just past the 26 km mark, we were back at the UNIQA tower we had run by at the 9 km mark of the race, but this time, turned left onto Aspernbrückengasse,  veering right onto Praterstraße as we made a straightaway toward the Praterstern station, our second time in this race.
The Praterstraßeon our way back to the Hauptallee
Out and back along Hauptallee
After curving around the road that encircled the station, we ended up back on the Prater Hauptallee, now 17 miles and just over three hours into the race. We would run along the Hauptallee for the next 1.5 miles, and muscle memory, having run this road already now three times before (counting the previous day's out-and-back during the 10k), put me into the zone to try to maintain a consistent pace on this relatively flat part of the course. Along the way, I caught up with my friend Dan from Indiana, and we ran together for a short period of time before I ended up overtaking him.

Along Stadionallee
(Photo by Hideki Kinoshita)
At Meiereistraße, we turned left, seemingly mimicking the out-and-back we had taken during the 10k course the day before, however this time, we were running past the Ernst-Happel-Stadion, Austria's largest stadium and home to the Austrian national football team, right up to a turnaround point where the Wiener Linien tracks for the U2 line at Stadion station passed overhead.  I passed by my friend Kino at this point, who wasn't too far in front of Dan.  The out and back took us back to the Hauptallee, and past the third (and last) relay handover point, located in the parking lot of the stadium.  We turned left back onto the Hauptallee (where eventually, we would hit mile 20) and were roughly two kilometres from the Lusthaus, a historic summer hunting lodge that was first built in 1538 when the Prater was still a hunting ground.  Once serving as the location for large celebrations and festivities (such as the imperial celebration to mark the first anniversary of the Battle of Leipzig, in which Napoleon was defeated), the Lusthaus now houses a coffeehouse and restaurant and serves as the easternmost point of the marathon course.

Caught along the Hauptallee
(Photo by Hideki Kinoshita)
Once we rounded the Lusthaus, we made our way back up the Hauptallee toward Stadionallee, where I saw both Kino and Dan on the out-and-back.  We turned left, now 35 km into the race, then turned onto Rustenschacherallee, a peaceful road that cut through the most pastoral part of the park, and an area I had run through during the previous day's 10K.  We continued on north, and eventually found ourselves with only 3 miles to the finish.  My mile splits had slowed down significantly at this point, but I was still determined to finish under 5 hours.  Totally doable, after hitting 23 miles in 4:13:11.

My customary 40K photo!
We crossed over the Franzensbrücke into the northern tip of the Landstraße district, now emulating the final two miles of the Saturday 10K. Battling my fatigue, I made my way down Radetzkystraße, then followed the Vordere Zollamtsstraße alongside the Vienna River. We crossed the Stubenbrücke, passing by the four rather creepy looking "Lemurenköpfe," or lemur heads, that are exhibited on the pylons of the bridge.  We then found ourselves back on the Ringstraße, which we'd follow all the way to the finish line, dodging the trampolines, along the way.  As the finish in front of the Burgtheater loomed near, we ran our last few hundred meters over the gold "carpet" until we crossed the finish line.  I crossed in 4:56:33, feeling happy to have completed the race under my 5 hour goal time.  My second half was run in 2:37:55.  I was thrilled to receive my finisher medal for this race - a star shaped golden medal, with a single Swarovski crystal in it -- Swarovski being the 124 year old famous Austrian producer of glass
Kino and Dan didn't finish long after me, so we snapped a quick photo.
Victory Headstand in front of the Rathaus.. the part not under construction.
Globetrotter photo!
After the race, I waited up for Kino and Dan, who I imagined weren't too far behind me.  We posed for several finish line photos, and they helped me with taking my customary victory headstand photo, which we took with part of the Rathaus in the background. After meeting a fellow Globetrotter, Donald from Germany, we went our separate ways, as I had a quick and easy walk to my Airbnb barely five minutes away.

The Hofburg
Kino invited me out for a celebratory dinner with his roommates for the weekend at a local Austrian brewery near his hotel, so with 6:45pm as my goal time to meet them, I had enough time to check out the sites. I quickly cleaned up and got dressed and back out into the city for some tourism time! I first passed by the Hofburg, the massive former principal imperial palace of the Habsburgs and now the official residence and workplace of the President of Austria. But ultimately, The Prunksaal (State Hall) of the Austrian National Library, was my main destination... having been told it was a must see, and could be done pretty quickly. The Prunksaal is one of the most beautiful historic library halls in the world. Emperor Charles VI commissioned the construction of this jewel of secular Baroque architecture for his Court Library. The Hall was designed by famous Court architect Johann Bernhard Fischer von Erlach and was built between 1723 and 1726 by his son Joseph Emanuel. Today the State Hall is home to around 200,000 books, dating from 1501 to 1850.
Beautiful interior of the Prunksaal
Attractions inside the Globe Museum
Also part of the library are two museums housed in the Palais Mollard, about 400 meters up Herrengasse, past the Michaelerplatz. These two museums were of great interest to me, since I'm such a big geography and language buff. It was 5pm by then, and the museums close promptly at 6, so I had half an hour each to check out these sites.  Thankfully it was enough time... the Esperanto Museum is a museum for the constructed language of Esperanto, as well as other constructed languages, founded in 1927. Today, it is a museum, library, documentation center, and archive. It accommodates the largest collection of constructed languages in the world and a linguistic research library for language planning... which even includes Klingon from the Star Trek world! The Globe Museum opened in 1956, and is the only public museum in the world devoted to globes, being three-dimensional models of Earth or other celestial bodies, or spherical representations of the celestial sphere.

Lunch at Salm Brau
With 45 minutes to go to meet them, I walked down to the brewery, Salm Bräu, a very popular brewery that can sometimes have a very long wait time for a table.  Luckily I got there just in time to grab a table for us, since when Kino and his friends Matt and Alex arrived, there was a line out the door!  Amongst the four of us, we enjoyed a few delicious weissbeers, traditional Austrian wiener schnitzel, Austrian goulash, and for me - stelze, or ham haunch, accompanied with bread dumpling (that looked more like a matzoh ball at first glance!), tasty mustard and some very strong horseradish, and a unique side dish of beer cabbage (it looked strange, but tasted fine!)  We finished off the meal with dessert - which Austria does very well - an incredible apfelstrudel with whipped cream. We then walked over to 1516 Brewing Company just up the street for another beer - this time trying an interesting Kimchi spiced sour porter that interesting didn't taste like kimchi at all.  Before leaving to take the tram back to my Airbnb, we made plans to meet up the following morning to check out the Schönbrunn Palace grounds together.

I checked out of my Airbnb fairly early after another morning of competing for the bathroom with the two other Airbnb guests, packed up and left my keys as directed on the dining table in the bedroom.  I took the train down to the Vienna State Opera House, touring the beautiful building which is the world’s largest repertoire theatre. From the foyer, we took the grand staircase to the state rooms and viewed the empty 2,284 seat horseshoe-shaped auditorium space, catching a look at the stage.  While most of the building was reconstructed in 1955 after being destroyed in World War II, the facade is part of the original structure that has been preserved since 1869. The facades are decorated in Renaissance-style arches, and the veranda on the Ring Road side emphasizes the public character of the building.

Schonbrunn Palace
I met up with Kino, Matt, and Alex, having breakfast at their hotel and leaving my bags there, before we set out to to Schönbrunn Palace, the main summer residence of the Habsburg rulers. The 1,441-room Baroque palace is one of the most important architectural, cultural, and historical monuments in the country, and Vienna's most popular tourist destination, attended by nearly 4,000,000 visitors each year. The history of the palace and its vast gardens spans over 300 years, reflecting the changing tastes, interests, and aspirations of successive Habsburg monarchs. We purchased a Classic Pass ticket, which included admission into the palace (the 40 room “Grand Tour,” which includes not only the state rooms and private apartments of Franz Joseph and Sisi, but also the precious 18th-century interiors from the time of Maria Theresia), the adjoining Privy Garden and Orangery, the Maze, and the Gloriette viewing terrace.

As the tickets are timed, we had about half an hour to preview the gardens at Schönbrunn. The gardens, and in particular the Great Parterre, are massive - spanning some 460 acres. We only had time to check out the hedge maze that was laid out around 1720.  Consisting of paths between tall, narrow hedges with dead-ends and false turns of a classic maze, it was intended to offer an inviting setting for a gentle stroll.  We decided to tackle this “activity," with great fun, trying to get to the viewing platform in the center of the maze, before heading to the palace.

The majestic Great Gallery
Once inside, we were given the option to use the audio guided tour, free of charge.  But because I was on a limited time schedule, needing to get back to the hotel to get my bags, I opted to use their written guide to get around. The palace itself was extraordinary. I couldn't believe how incredibly opulent and well-maintained the rooms were.  The paths to get around were intensely crowded, as tour groups with guides were leading their massive hordes of people through, but I managed to squeeze by. It was overwhelming, but some of my favorite rooms included the great hall and its beautiful ceiling paintings, the Porcelain room and its handpainted blue and white wood panelling (intended to imitate porcelain and chinoiserie), and the Millions room and its precious wood panelling.
The gorgeous Millions Room - my favorite

Overlooking the side gardens
In addition to visiting the Privy Garden and Orangery located adjacent to the palace, the garden axis points towards a 60-metre-high (200 ft) hill, which since 1775 has been crowned by the Gloriette, the largest and probably best-known structure of its kind - a building erected in a garden that is elevated with respect to the surroundings. The Schönbrunn Gloriette was destroyed in World War II, but had already been restored by 1947, and was restored again in 1995, offering panoramic views of Vienna.  I went all the way up to the top of the Gloriette, a steep hike with several switchbacks, but it was worth it for the gorgeous views of the palace grounds from above.  After taking it all in, I headed back down, eventually finding Kino, Matt, and Alex milling around; with me on a strict time clock, I said my goodbyes and headed back to their hotel to retrieve my bag and head off to the airport.

Me and my Swarovski crystal
studded medal
Unfortunately, my flight out of Vienna was a bit late, and then when we landed in London, we ended up sitting on the tarmac for some additional time, which ate into my layover.  It was extremely close by the time I deplaned and headed to a shuttle bus to the other terminal, and unfortunately upon arriving got caught up in a security line, eventually missing my flight home to the US.  I ended up staying an extra night in London, but was able to be rebooked for a flight the following morning. Despite the rough trip home, I was happy to have another country checked off the list, especially at a race I'd been meaning to do for awhile!

Friday, December 6, 2019

Race Report: Two Rivers Half Marathon, Day 1 and 2

Lackawaxen, Pennsylvania is roughly two hours away from New York City; it's not very easy to get to unless you have a car, and the closest you can get with public transportation is via the Port Jervis Line of the Metro-North Railroad/New Jersey Transit.  When I first ran a race at Two Rivers Marathon weekend, it was 2016 (I ran the half), and I took the New Jersey Transit train out to Dover, New Jersey, where my cousin picked me up and I stayed with them for the weekend, borrowing their car for the seventy-two minute long journey from their house in Jefferson to the finish line. I fell ill and couldn't make it in 2017, but returned in 2018 to run the full marathon. I took the trip to Port Jervis then, and got picked up by friends at that station, who then drove the half hour to Lackawaxen.  This year, my friend Seth was flying up from Fort Lauderdale to LaGuardia the night before the race, so I agreed to meet him at the airport, and we drove together the one hour and forty five minutes to a hotel he had booked in Matamoras, Pennsylvania, the city just across the river from Port Jervis.
Morning in Matamoras
Parked in Lackawaxen, fog rolling in
Seth's flight arrived at 11pm, so it wasn't until midnight when we finally were on the road. We arrived in Matamoras to the Hampton Inn at 1:45am, and promptly went to bed. While the race the next morning wasn't starting until 9am, we still had a half hour to drive to the finish line, then take the shuttle up to the startline at the Woodloch Resort. So the alarm went off at 6:30, and we were out the door by 7am.  We arrived in Lackawaxen, which has a pretty straightforward "Main Street" near the confluence of the Delaware Water Gap and the Lackawaxen River - but this time, our normal parking area at the Fire Department building was barricaded off; cars were turning right, past Two Rivers Junction and to the large parking lot for the Zane Grey Museum and Zane Grey Public Access Boat Launch. When we got there, it was pretty full, and a line was forming to board the school buses to head up the mountain.  I spotted a few friends in line - namely Glen, Karen, Cade, and Danielle - but didn't make it on the next bus that went up full. After waiting a little bit, another bus came by, and I boarded along with Seth, Louise and Ralph.
JC, with his "whatever" pace sign.
The Saturday crew about to start
We were up at the top of the mountain at Woodloch Resort by about 8:15, with many runners milling about the nightclub where packet pickup was held and outside the building, preparing for the start.  New at this year's race were pacers, who would runners reach their goals at with the marathon! The race was going to start roughly 15 minutes late, since it seemed that there were still folks at the bottom of the mountain waiting to board a shuttle.  After Maniacs and Fanatics took a quick photo, we headed out to the startline on Welcome Lake Road, and Mark and JC began some opening remarks before handing the microphone to runner Tony Ochoa for a benediction, and finally to me to sing the national anthem.  It was a beautiful morning, with temps in the mid 40s, sunny and rising.  Soon, we were off!
Barreling down the mountain

The first half mile of this race is a downhill, some 68 feet. It rolled gently over the next half mile (with mostly a climb) before we got to the screaming downhill section, dropping us 350 feet over the next mile.  It amounted to giving me a blazing fast 8:15 and 8:03 split over the first two miles.  The road is pockmarked with potholes, so not only are we barreling down the downhill sections, we have to be very cognizant of our footing.  About 1.8 miles in, we make the slight right turn onto Masthope Plank Road, which we follow for the next 9.6 miles.

Staying in the middle, with less potholes
Mark puts out aid stations every two miles along the route, so I quickly grabbed a sip of water before continuing on, trying to maintain my speed.  The course flattens out with some small hills over the next two miles, while we run by the Masthope Creek that meanders to our left. I'd end up running the next couple miles with Karen and Jeanette for a little bit, as they helped to push my pace - but eventually, I ended up getting behind them.  My third and fourth miles were a little slower - just over the 9 minute mark - making me reach the 5K point in roughly 26 minutes, while mile 5 popped up to 9 1/2 minute mile, featuring the largest elevation gain so far on the course.  The 3:50 pacer Yoshiko passed me by, and I tried my hardest to stay at least within view of her over the next few miles. Mile 6 featured a nice steady downhill, dropping 186 feet, and after clocking an 8:20 mile, I reached the 10K point in a staggering 54 minutes, one of my fastest 10Ks to date.  At roughly the 10K mark, we passed by RD Mark's house. This was also where we began to see homes along the route.  I happened upon Nora around this time and gave her a quick hug before I was back on my way.

A slight incline...
Over the next few miles, we hugged the shore of the Delaware Water Gap, where on the other side of the river was New York.  The course rolled slightly, and with the 3:50 pacer long gone, I knew I had to deal with two particularly steep ascents along the way - a short one at roughly the 7.6 mile mark that happened right after a longer flat section, and then one roughly a mile later, as we passed underneath the railroad overpass.  This was actually where we had one of the largest ascents through the entire race, which reduced my mile split at the 9 mile mark to a staggering 11 minute pace.  But what goes up must come down, and I used the downhill to my advantage, logging in a 9:19 at mile 10 with only 5K to go. In my head, I knew there was a slight possibility I could still go under 2 hours if I ran a particularly strong last 5K, but knowing how tired my legs were already starting to feel and the fact that despite these last few miles being flat - the short out-and-back along route 590 was mentally demoralizing - it was more likely that I would be just over. So while I maintained a sub 10 pace on these last few miles, it was just short of what was needed to stay under 2.

Passing by the ski lift
I knew a sub-2 was gone for sure right after the 11 mile mark when we made the right turn under the second railroad overpass, to where Masthope Plank Road ended and the right turn to Route 590 began.  Based on just completing a 9:41 mile at mile 11, and my watch at 1:44 to go and just under two miles of running left, I knew getting anywhere under 9 minute pace was going to be impossible with the fatigue I was feeling. So I did my best, and made the turn, first seeing my friend Cade on his run back to the finish.  He was having a tough morning dealing with an injury, and he decided to drop down to the half.  Mile 12 came along, and I posted a 9:40 pace, running to the turnaround point at roughly 12.2, then pushing as best as I could out to the finish.  I spotted a few other friends as they made their way out for the first time on 590, while I did my best to maintain pace across the bridge over the Lackawaxen River to the finish.  I crossed the finish line in 2:02:31, my fourth fastest half time ever, and enough to snag 3rd in my age group.  The 2nd placer in the men's 35-39 group was literally 19 seconds right in front of me, running with his wife - if only I could've gunned it a bit more!  Nonetheless, this was my first age group placement in a distance race, and I couldn't have been more thrilled.
My first ever age group award!
Me with the Gastons!
The temps had soared over the course of the last two hours, easily in the mid 50s by the time I finished.  After replenishing my stores and grabbing some food, I waited at the entrance of the park area as more half marathon runner friends Louise, Danielle, and Nora came through the finish line. I eventually stayed for the remainder of the afternoon as the marathoners, including my friends Sam, Ralph, Jeanette, Glen, Karen, Dave, Jun, JC, Seth, and Larry continued to trickle in, celebrating each ones' finish with gusto.  The temps definitely soared even more, hitting the 60s by mid afternoon - but with some strong gusts of wind pushing by - one even blowing away the inflatable arch that was part of the finish line, which would eventually get dismantled for safety's sake.

Matamoras at sunset... spectacular!
By the time we left, the temps had hit a high of 70 (at least, that's what it said on the rental car's dashboard thermometer), and we made our way back to the hotel in Matamoras to clean up.  Friends Andrew and Joseph, who had drove in from two hours away in upstate New York for the race, had come in earlier that afternoon - they were slated to run the half on Sunday morning - and Seth and I met up with them for dinner at an Italian spot near our hotel.  Seth, having struggled through some injuries in the last few weeks, wasn't completely sure if he'd be running the next morning and decided he'd make a decision in the morning if he was going to make the drive out for day 2.  We both fell asleep relatively early around 8pm, tired from a whole day of activities with little sleep the night before.

My alarm woke me up at the same 6:30am alarm on Sunday morning, and I got dressed, wearing a long sleeve shirt as I anticipated colder weather as the forecast showed rain and dropping temps for the morning.  Seth decided to stay behind, so I got out on the road, driving to Lackawaxen as the skies opened up with some light drizzle, reaching the parking lot (relatively deserted compared to the day before) at about 7:40am. I got on the next shuttle heading up the mountain, reaching Woodloch Resort with comparatively fewer runners milling around the nightclub.  We got out to an ontime start for the race, as the skies stayed dry when opening remarks and my national anthem was sung.  But barely five minutes into the race, it began to rain, and it would rain on and off over the next two hours.

Creeks flow after it rains...
The temperature was 52 at the start, and you knew with the impending rain it was not going to feel like 52 for long.  While I ran a faster first two miles than the day before (an 8:08 and 8:02, respectively), the rest of the race would be just slightly slower, having faster mile splits on day 1.  Chalk it up to more tired legs, the cold, what have you... but despite virtually identical first 5K times, I was 30 seconds behind by the 10K mark, and over a minute off at 15K (9.3 miles) The wind picked up significantly around the 10 mile mark of the race, and there was a bit of a downpour then, as well, which had a part in hampering my speed for the last 5K of my race.  I hit each of the last three mile marker nearly a minute slower than the day before, and crossed the finish line in 2:07:00, roughly 4 1/2 minutes slower than the day before.  And there were faster people in my age group this time - my time was only enough for 5th place that day.  Still, I was not discouraged - I managed two VERY strong half marathon times, and it made me feel good in my lead up to South Africa less than three weeks away.

Wet roads, but finishing up half #2
The temps had dropped significantly to somewhere in the mid 40s, and being wet, I was beginnign to shiver.  My fingers were visibly numb by the time I finished.  I stuck around to watch Andrew and Joseph finish, before heading off to the rental car to warm up and then have them help me with taking my headstand photo.  I left Lackawaxen just after the 12 o'clock hour, and got back to the hotel for a quick shower before Seth and I checked out and headed back to NYC.  With quite a bit of time before Seth needed to return the rental car and get back to the airport for his flight, we decided to make a stop for dinner at Sammy's Fish Box, one of my favorite seafood restaurants in the city, on City Island in the Bronx.  After a humongous and delicious swordfish meal (which I had leftovers of, and packed up for dinner later that night), we drove over to the Bronx's Little Italy, Arthur Avenue, to have some coffee/espresso and dessert.  We then refilled the car up with gas, Seth dropped me back to my apartment, and he headed off to the airport for his 8pm flight.  And my half marathon count grew to 96, matching squarely with my 96 full marathons, ready to begin April, and the next two months of extensive international travel.
Victory Headstand to represent two halves completed!

Friday, November 1, 2019

Race Report: Ann Arbor Marathon

In my lead up to my goal race for spring 2019, the Two Oceans Ultramarathon in South Africa, my March was mostly empty, and with most races in Europe not starting until April, I decided to look domestically for marathons to add to my schedule last minute.  Those who know me know that I'm quite particular about courses and I'm more likely to pick a point to point or one big loop course rather than a multiple loop course; with the third weekend of March open, I found the Los Angeles Marathon (a race I've done before) as an option as well as the Ann Arbor Marathon, once my residence when I attended the University of Michigan for my college years.  The Ann Arbor Marathon was a double loop course - not really my cup of tea, but because I was familiar with the city, I felt it would be nostalgic to run there.  I was able to book the national anthem gig after reaching out to the race director, Eva Solomon, via email, and soon secured flights for a weekend back in the city I lived in from 2002 to 2006.

I left very early on Saturday morning on a 6am flight, reaching Detroit around an hour and twenty minutes later.  I grabbed my car rental (ending up getting an upgrade to a full sized Chevy Malibu when no mid-sizes were available in the lot) and headed out to Ann Arbor, heading to the Kerrytown Historic District to grab a cup of coffee at Mighty Good Coffee, a local roaster.  I bided time working on some race reports while enjoying the ambience of being back in a college town, and before long, I headed out to the race expo at the 2|42 Community Center a few miles west of campus.

At the race expo, I retrieved my bib and met with Eva to quickly go over logistics for the following morning.  It was great to see friends Clint and Aaron from the Glass City Marathon, who were there advertising the races that they run in Toledo (only an hour south) and the DXA2, a half marathon  they recently took over that runs from Dexter to Ann Arbor. I also briefly saw Rob and Liz, who I met while doing the Pyramids Marathon in Egypt, and chatted with my friend Jayvee, who was running the half marathon as his 35th half state.

Lunch at Wolverine State Brewing Co!
I was starting to get hungry, so I sought out a local brewery, and made my way there for a late lunch. Wolverine State Brewing Company, which has been around since 2006 (the year I graduated from Michigan), was located off of campus and had a great menu of sandwiches and local brews, which I got to partake in.  I then headed back to campus to finally check into my Airbnb and drop off my backpack.  After exchanging a few text messages with my friend and former career advisor, Beth, we agreed to meet up at the Art and Architecture Building on North Campus, where she toured me around the new addition of the building, which I got to briefly peruse when I came back to town the previous year after running Glass City Marathon in Toledo.  Dinner was relatively early that evening, and I met up with my spring break intern, Jake, at one of my old haunts, Pizza House, while watching Michigan beat Nevada in the second round of the NCAA Basketball Tournament. Altogether a great day, and I called it an early night to head back home, tired after having woken so early for my flight in.
Enjoying Ann Arbor at night
The startline
I woke up at 6am the following morning, quickly getting dressed and out the door to head to the race startline.  My rental car's windshield, sitting in an open parking lot, was covered in a thin layer of frost, still common for this time of year in Michigan. I warmed the car up while scraping off the frost then was on my way, parking in the Crisler Center (Michigan's basketball arena) parking lot, a short walk from the startline.  About a week before the race, we were informed that the race was going to start and finish in a slightly different location, taking over S. 5th Avenue in front of Fingerle Lumber, a longtime Ann Arbor business providing carpentry and renovation materials for the area since 1931 that would be closing for good the following week.  While normally starting and finishing near Michigan Stadium, this move still allowed traffic to flow freely around the area, and runners still got to see the humongous "M" at the stadium during the run.  It was quite a chilly morning, hitting just below the 30º mark, so I kept myself as bundled up as possible.
Running near the stadium!
I met up with Eva and race announcer Justin at 7:15, and shortly thereafter was called up to the stage to sing the national anthem.  It was a meaningful rendition for me, since I got to sing the anthem in a place I once called home. After singing, I headed into the corrals, ready to take on the 26.2 miles in front of me.  I crossed the start line some 15 seconds after the gun sounded, making my way south along 5th, and beginning the race by looping around Hill Street, Brown Street and Hoover Street, as we caught sight of Michigan Stadium in the distance.  We continued to loop around Elbel Field, practice field for the renowned Michigan Marching Band, along Division Street, before turning right onto Hill.  The road was riddled with potholes, not a surprise coming off of a normal Michigan winter, but also an obvious realization of the condition of roads in general throughout the city.

Passing the Law Library
Our first real uphill section came off of the aptly named Hill Street, as we turned left onto State Street, the campus' primary north-south road.  We only ran up State Street, a rather steep incline, for a block, as we passed by the Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy, turning right onto Monroe Street. As we ran east along Monroe, we passed by the striking Gothic-style buildings that form the Law Quad, and the first mile of the race, which I ran in an affable sub-10 minute pace.  We continued to zig-zag through campus, turning left onto Tappan Avenue, and then right onto South University Street, as we ran past several prominent buildings on the campus of the University: the Hatcher Graduate Library, the Clements Library, the all-female dormitory of the Martha Cook Building, the Shapiro Undergraduate Library, the School of Social Work, and finally West Hall.

The area I knew as "C.C. Little"
We turned left off of South University, jumping onto the curb, as we proceeded to run down the East University pedestrian mall.  We headed northward between several university buildings, some of which I attended class in as an undergrad!  We crossed North University Street, passing by the Central Campus Transit Center (formerly known as C.C. Little, named after a former university president, but recently changed) and toward the university's brand new Biological Sciences Building and its distinctive glass and terra cotta exterior. We veered slightly left between buildings and past Palmer Commons, before crossing the pedestrian bridge over Washtenaw Avenue.  We then skirted alongside Palmer Field, known for its track and the site for recreational sports and club team sports, then followed the sidewalk paths as it meandered between the dormitories of Stockwell and Mosher-Jordan, two of the five "hill dorms" clustered on the eastern edge of campus.  By the time we reached here, we were only two miles into the race, and we were now headed away from campus.
Running over the pedestrian bridge at Washtenaw Avenue
Near the "Hill" dorms on Observatory
We ran southward along Observatory Street, along the edge of Forest Hill Cemetery, before turning left on Geddes Avenue, as we began our longest stretch of rolling straightaway. We ran through a largely residential neighborhood known as Angell, named for the U-M’s longest-serving president, James Angell. The streets north of Geddes were lined with large, stately older homes built in the 1920s and 1930s, while to the south, were more individualistic homes in one of the city's most wealthy districts. Many of the residents here are doctors and medical professionals associated with the university's medical school and medical center, just up the hill.  As we navigated the stretch of road, I finally had the opportunity to chat up fellow runners running at my same pace, which included a couple students, one of which was currently in the Stamps School of Art and Design; and an older gentleman, visiting from nearby Lansing. The road slightly curved as we ran alongside the Huron River for a short period of time, reaching the fourth mile of the race before looping onto Huron Parkway.

Heading east out of the main campus
From Huron Parkway, we turned left onto Huron River Drive, as the course flattened out and continued its eastward route past the Huron Hills Golf Course and the South Pond Nature Area.  It was quite peaceful out here, with this area largely forested and taken over by nature. We eventually passed underneath US-23, giving a high five to a volunteer directing us to turn left (the road to Washtenaw Community College was to the right), and made our way to a slightly more hilly area as we reached the easternmost point of the race.  Just before mile 6, I spotted a dead raccoon on the side of the road, but passed by it too quickly to take a picture, noting its location as I planned to take its photo on my second trip through the area in a couple hours time. It was also near here where I encountered a lady bedecked in a rainbow and unicorn headband, with unicorns adorning her skirt and her socks, and we would strike up a fun conversation that would last over the next 6.5 miles.

Running with Melissa!
Melissa lived in Saline, Michigan, the town just south of Ann Arbor, and was running the half marathon today, more of as a training run in preparation for a longer distance goal race she had in her sights. She was planning to run an easy ten minute mile pace, which happened to be just what I was doing, so we stayed with each other for the remainder of her race.  We turned onto Dixboro Road, crossing over the bridge that overlooked the Huron River and Dixboro Dam down below (the Ann Arbor Wastewater Treatment Plant is located just downstream), and after descending down Old Dixboro Road to the Gallup Park Path, part of the 40 miles of existing trail that make up the Border-to-Border (B2B) trail in Washtenaw County. Right along the banks of the Huron River, we were treated to some spectators urging us on with Japanese Taiko, continuing the next three miles on the gently rolling Gallup Park Path. Roughly halfway on this stretch, we passed through Gallup Park itself and one of the relay exchange stations, located at the park's parking lot. We kept a pretty consistent pace, running just below 10 minute pace for each mile.
The Dixboro Dam
Running along the Gallup Park Path
Fuller Road, passing by Mitchell Field
We crossed over a pedestrian bridge just over 9 miles in, with Ann Arbor's VA Hospital looming overhead.  At this point, I knew we were the closest we would come to the university's North Campus.  We skirting the side of a fenced in soccer field in the expansive Mitchell Field area just north of Nichols Arboretum. We then followed the sidewalk along Fuller Road westward.  This was an area familiar to me as an undergrad, as I regularly rode the bus between Central Campus and North Campus that would drive along Fuller Road.  It was just over half a mile along this sidewalk, when we reached Medical Center Drive, where we went uphill over the railroad tracks up toward the university's medical campus and University Hospital.  We then followed the lower road that ramped down below the hospital's helipad, arriving to the lower entrance to Nichols Arboretum.

Entering "The Arb"
Nichols Arboretum, known locally as the Arb, is a 123 acre arboretum located on the eastern edge of Central Campus, designed in 1906 using the steep glacial topography of the area.  Containing an extensive, but dispersed collection of native and exotic trees and shrubs, we entered the Arb and began running alongside the Huron River on the dirt trail which was beginning to look a little wet from its use today - from 10K runners who ran through about an hour earlier up to the half marathoners running there at that point.  Melissa and I walked as the trail began to ascend sharply some 100 feet to its highest point within the Arb, then rising another 100 feet as we made our exit out of the Arb onto Washington Street in front of Mary Markley Hall, one of the hill dorms. We ran underneath the Vaughan School of Public Health's Crossroads building, turning left onto Observatory Street, then began to run the gradual downhill back through campus, zigzagging along the city streets as we made our way through the campus.
Coming to the halfway point!
We ventured down the steep slope of State Street before turning onto Hill, and I separated from Melissa at this point as she continued straight ahead toward the finish, while I turned left, following Division Street past Elbel Field, then completed a loop of Brown and Greene Streets, before coming right back onto Hill to begin my second loop of the course.  Just as I was about to reach State Street for the sharp ascent once again, I ran into Jayvee, making his way toward the finish line for the half, and we gave each other a quick high five, as I began my second loop of the course.
Seeing Jayvee as I began my second loop

Quick pic w/ the Central Campus sign
While it was less crowded, there still was a decent amount of runners spread out along the course as I continued this second loop.  I had caught up with the 4:30 pace group for miles 14 and 15, and ran alongside them as we weaved through campus, but eventually lost track of them just before we made our way back onto Geddes Avenue on our way out of campus. They were still within sight, but the rolling hills would end up slowing me down on this second go around.  My legs were definitely tired from the first 13 miles of running, and I wasn't registering as fast mile pace as before, though I did manage to eke in a 10:11 and 10:43 mile at miles 17 and 18 as the course took on some nice longer downhill stretches. It was nice to see several volunteers and spectators still out on the course, including the volunteer giving out high fives after passing underneath US-23, and the Taiko drummers along the Gallup Park Path.  And if you were wondering, I did stop for a a photo of the dead raccoon on the second go-around, of course!
An artistic shot with a dead raccoon
The traditional mile 25 shot!
I ran considerably slower down the park path, but still managed to pass a couple people, and knew I was still on course to have a pretty respectable time.  The 4:30 pacers were out of sight, so I didn't really have a good grasp of how far behind them I was, especially considering I still had yet to ascend the big hill in the Arb for the second time.  When I did get there, the trail was considerably muddier, and I did get my shoes a little dirty as I traipsed through this ascent as best as I could.  Once the uphills were done, I knew I had less than 1.5 miles to go, I knew I was probably about 15 minutes from the finish line.  My watch read 4:30, and I knew that I had a sub 4:45 in me, which could catapult this race into one of my fastest I've run.

Excited about the end!
I zigzagged back through campus, pushing myself to the finish line as strong as my legs could take me.  Once I got to Hill Street, I knew I would definitely go under 4:45, but how far under was left to be seen.  My legs were TIRED, and I knew I still had to turn right at 5th Avenue then push to the finish line.  I crossed the finish line to the cheers of spectators and Jared announcing my name, and after catching my breath glanced down at my watch... 4:44:28, at that point my 5th fastest marathon of now 96 I have completed. Over twelve minutes faster than my last marathon, the Chattanooga Marathon two weeks prior. The Ann Arbor Marathon was such a fun marathon for me... so nostalgic.  Even though it was two loops (and I detest looped courses), I actually didn't mind running through the campus and the city twice!
Victory Headstand with the Big House in the background.
Post race lunch at Zingerman's Deli!
I drank a celebratory 26.2 Brew from Marathon Brewing Company, then grabbed a breakfast burrito to go before walking back to my car. I managed to get some other runners walking by to help me take my Victory Headstand photo with the stadium in my background, as well as a couple jumping photos near some block M signage at the Crisler Center. I then headed back to my Airbnb to grab a shower and pack up my things before meeting up with Jayvee for a late lunch at Zingerman's Deli in Kerrytown, a must-do whenever I'm in Ann Arbor.  We enjoyed our sandwiches, then he joined me as we drove around campus - I got to show Jayvee where I spent much of my time over the four years I lived in Ann Arbor.  I even tried to retell all the superstitions we were taught as students - in particular, never to cross the block M in the Diag until after your bluebooks are over.  My flight was later that night back home to New York, so I bided my time in town, taking it in as much as I can, before heading to the airport.  I was exhausted... it had been a quick, but busy two days back in Ann Arbor, but completely worth it!
A wolverine, his marathon medal, and his alma mater.