Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Race Report: Brighton Marathon

Since I started running marathons in 2014, the London Marathon has been a race I'd been wanting to do for the longest time.  But, as most runners know, the ability to get in via lottery is nearly impossible, with a very low percentage of runners (particularly from the US) getting in. I was set on trying to get the UK checked off, or at least England, in 2018.  Despite the general entries application period having closed already twice for the 2018 Brighton Marathon, they reopened them once more in early November 2017, which happened to be the same day of the NYC Marathon -- I set an alarm to try to get on the list as soon as I finished my race, and got an entry into the race for April!

Flying Delta One to London!
Fast forward to April 13, 2018 -- I excitedly left work on Friday night for my overnight flight from JFK to London Heathrow on Delta One!  I flew in Delta One on my return flight from Europe back in February when I went to Malta, but that was on a Boeing 767.  This flight would be on an Airbus A330, which has a different configuration of Delta One seat than the 767.   Despite some pretty heavy turbulence in the first couple hours of the flight, I got through a delicious dinner and watched two movies - Coco and Pitch Perfect 3 - then slept for about 3 1/2 hours on the lie-flat seats.  We arrived at Heathrow around 7:30am. After getting through immigration and customs, I headed straight to the Virgin Atlantic Revivals lounge just after the arrival hall, which I'm able to use because of my Delta Diamond Medallion status, and took advantage using shower facilities, having a full breakfast, and also getting a complimentary spa treatment!

Arrived in Brighton!
At 10:30, I walked over to Heathrow's Central Bus Station and waited in the station's main hall until boarding was announced for my 11am bus to Brighton.  I slept for part of the way and we encountered a bit of traffic on the highway headed out of Heathrow (also while we were driving through Brighton itself), but we arrived at the Brighton Coach Station around 2pm. After disembarking, I walked over near Brighton Palace Pier to the marathon village set up on Brighton Beach, where after snaking through throngs of people, I picked up my bib and t-shirt for the race.

The rocky beach... not what I was expecting! LOL
Mmmm... Fish and Chips!
I made my way to a CityStasher location about a 15 minute walk away from the pier to drop off my bags so I could walk around unencumbered for a few hours.  I spent the rest of the afternoon exploring the street art and graffiti that Brighton is famous for, among which is a Banksy (or now, a reproduction of a Banksy) on a side wall of the Prince Albert Pub on Trafalgar Street. I also walked around the grounds of the Royal Pavilion Estate, and explored The Lanes and North Laine. I grabbed an early dinner facing the seafront along the Kingsway - a quintessential meal of fish and chips, a Brighton favorite.  At 6pm, I returned to the CityStasher location and picked up my bags before heading to my Airbnb to check in.  After a whole day of travel, I was exhausted, so I stayed in and crashed for the night.

Some of the cool street art that can be found all over Brighton

Stormtroopers can run! Bib #50198
beat me to the finish by 35 minutes!
The following morning was the race, with a rather late start of 9:45.  The skies were overcast, and the temps were in the low 50s.  I easily walked from my Airbnb to Preston Park, following the flow of people walking down the middle of the already closed street. As we made our way up the southwestern edge of the park, we saw all the minis and motorbikes parked in front of each other, ready to lead the way for the race, almost like a parade.  I went straight to the American Express corralled area, a part of the park they set aside for AMEX holders who paid for their entry using the card, a lead sponsor of the race.  We had a stretching station as well as an enclosed area that had coffee and water - unfortunately no snacks other than some packaged energy bars.  There were chairs everywhere, though, so we were able to sit and prep before going into the corrals.  After I checked my bag into gear check, I decided to go into the actual yellow corral for which I was assigned rather than stay in the AMEX area, to be among the masses of people prepping for the race. I got there early enough to have a pretty close to front row view of the massive jumbotrons showing presenters doing pre-race interviews with random runners, as well as the countdown to the start.  Also got to see many of the crazy costumes that some UK runners would be wearing to the race, as they call "fancy dress," like a runner dressed in a full Stormtrooper costume.

Running up the hill at the start!
The founder of the wildly successful Parkrun program, bringing runners to parks all around the UK every Saturday for a timed 5K race, was there as the honorary "grand marshal" to wave the runners off with the checkered flag. Soon, our corral was off, and we made our way down the asphalt pathway within the park down to its southern "tip" and onto Preston Park Avenue, where we made a hairpin left turn and began a grueling ascent to the highest point of the entire race.  The climb was rough, and while I made it in a little over 10 minutes, it was not easy!  On the way up, a male runner dressed in a nun habit passed me by, just as we were passing what seemed like a nursing home facility, where some of the residents were out cheering runners along with their caregivers... actual nuns! It was funny to see their reaction as a man dressed as a nun ran past them.  Preston Park Avenue finally crested, and then as we turned left onto Preston Drove, it was a nice steady downhill as we made our way past the park's cricket grounds and velodrome to the northwestern edge of the triangular shaped park and Preston Manor at the corner of the park, a two-story former manor house of the ancient Sussex village of Preston, built in 1738 that happens to be considered one of England's most haunted houses.

Passing under the London Road Viaduct
We turned left, and eventually, we were then running along Preston Road, the main road that forms the western border of Preston Park.  I began to slow up during this mile, as my leg muscles were feeling pretty tight, a sensation that seems to have been plaguing me since the beginning of the year.  I continued to run a bit, but would end up walking sporadically over the next several miles. As we passed the park, the road became London Road, as the route continued past the 172 year old (but still regularly used) London Road Viaduct, a brick railway viaduct that carries the East Coastway Line between Brighton and London Road railway stations. London Road south of the viaduct is a heavily used commercial corridor leading to the city center of Brighton, but is also currently undergoing extensive redevelopment in the form of new housing and commercial properties.
Running down London Road
A Banksy reproduction along London Road
Running down Church Street
I ended up slowing down markedly over the next few miles, as I tried to get my legs back under me. We ran past the western facade of St. Peter's Church, a pre-Victorian Gothic Revival Anglican church undergoing a facade renovation.  Then the course becomes a series of big switchback-like loops running past each other. We turned right onto North Road and into an area known as The Lanes, a collection of narrow lanes famous for their small shops and narrow alleyways.  We turned left along a narrow street (Jubilee Street) next to a Starbucks I went to the day before, and then left again onto Church Street, past the Church Street facade of the Brighton Dome, an arts venue linked to the Royal Pavilion Estate in Pavilion Gardens. We headed back along the road northwards alongside Victoria Gardens and past St. Peter's Church's eastern facade, before making our way around The Level, another large open space in the centre of town recently restored in 2013.

Running past the Royal Pavilion
We were only 3.5 miles in by this point, and I was going painfully slow as we headed northeast along Lewes in to the largely residential area of Elm Grove before turning right onto a rather steep uphill section on Franklin Road.  Thankfully, it was short, and we ran down hill along Wellington Road past the St. Joseph's Church, a Catholic church marking the bottom of the Elm Grove area. We continued along Lewes Road, and onto the Grand Parade and Pavilion Parade, running right past the Royal Pavilion's iconic facade.  We finally passed the fountain in Steine Gardens, before turning left onto an uphill section along Marine Parade as we make our way through Brighton's shorefront Kemptown community, past grand Regency style building all the way toward Ovingdean.

Overcast skies heading out eastward toward Ovingdean
Fun signs along the route!
As we made our way east, we began to see the faster runners coming in our direction.  The road was hilly, rolling up and down, and seemingly more up than down.  Past the Brighton Marina, the beautiful Regency style architecture gave way to fields of green to our left, and the English Channel to our right.  In the distance, we could make out the white cliffs in neighboring Saltdean.  Along the way, the 5:00 pacers had caught up, including one of the pacers who was a friend/"adversary" of my British buddy Foxy. 

Entering Overdean
At mile 8, we turned onto Greenways and made our way onto the 1/2 mile long out and back in and out of the quaint fringe village of Ovingdean.  Here, I got my first taste of Jelly Babies, a British candy treat much like the American gummy bear, but sweeter, juicier, and with a chewier texture.  Notably, jelly babies manufactured in the UK tend to be dusted in starch, which is left over from the manufacturing process where it is used to aid release from the jelly molds.  After hitting mile 9, we continued eastward along A259 road toward Rottingdean on another dumb uphill, but only for about 1/4 mile, before we hit a turnaround point (with a partial view of Rottingdean's Beacon Mill, a black wooden windmill on the hill of its western side) as we made our way back on the rolling hills toward Brighton.
Beautiful shot heading back toward Brighton
A BOAT running a marathon.
With my legs finally feeling a little looser, I began to run a little more, playing a bit of leapfrog with several runners.  As we continued westward, I got to see a bunch of fancy-dressed runners on the other side of the road - including a group of ladies running together in what looked like a makeshift boat, as well as a guy dressed as a green rotary telephone.  Seriously.. the inventiveness of British fancy dress is unmatched!

Apparently NYC's subways aren't
the only public transit that suck
We also finally got a better view of Brighton Marina as we ran closer to the coast, which was at quite a lower elevation, separated by the chalk cliffs that looking down into this area.   The large marina has a working harbor and residential buildings made of townhouses and apartments, some of which have their own moorings.  It seemed that more expansion was underway in the area as well.  After passing through Kemptown, we got back toward the point where we had originally turned off, we were treated to a nice downhill as we passed Brighton Palace Pier, opposite the Old Steine.

Passing Regency style buildings
There was considerably more crowd support as we passed the pier making our way westward on the Kingsway toward the seafront of Hove. Being near the sea, the wind started to pick up a little bit. Just like as we came through Kemptown, the residences west of the pier were beautiful and grand, featuring more of the decorative and fashionable Regency style.  As we continued west, we passed by the British Airways i360, a 531 foot tall observation tower that opened in 2016, a defining landmark of the Brighton seafront. At the same time, we reached the halfway point of the race, in which I ran in a rather slow 2:43.

A bit of champagne!
We ran another mile westward into Hove, before turning right onto Grand Avenue. but then turned left again through a commercial strip of Hove.  Eventually, the scenery around us turned gradually residential. It was essentially a two mile run westward, a loop around a block, with a two mile run back to Grand Avenue.  The residents of Hove were out in droves (haha, I made a rhyme!) to cheer us runners on, and I happened upon a couple of folks drinking champagne out of glass champagne flutes...  I gave a “me want!” face, and they obliged, providing me a swig!

Royals out to cheer us on!
As we made the loop around Boundary Road (forming the unofficial boundary between the community of Portslade-by-the-Sea and Hove), I ran into a couple of royal impersonators, wearing masks of Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip.  Of course, I had to stop for a selfie.  I looked for corgis everywhere during the race, but they were nowhere to be found.  Very disappointed in not finding a corgi in its motherland.

Passing through a lumberyard (?)
We retraced Church Road back to Grand Avenue, and then is started to drizzle a tiny bit.  We then turned right and continued along the Kingsway, proceeding further west, and seeing the Shoreham Power Station in the distance.  The course veered toward the Wharf Road, abutting a small watersports lagoon, before following the Basin Road past runners returning in the other direction, as we ran on the barrier island that's part of the town of Southwick in West Sussex.  All along this road, I noticed a few other runners who I had been running with since we left the main strip in Hove - including two guys in curly green wigs, one with the name "Crispy" written on his shirt; as well as two brothers running in honor of their late granddad whose photo was emblazoned on the back and front of their shirts.  I also ran into a gentleman who I met while running the Malta Marathon, Andy from British island of Guernsey, who was wearing the same kit from that race!

So windy at this point!
Along Basin Road, we started to experience some of the windiest parts of the race, as we were practically right next to the water.  The skies were quite grey, and there was a chill in the air. Starting at mile 21, it began to rain, and it was downright miserable for the next two miles, as I shivered while we rounded the power station (and the lumber yard along the inland River Adur, it seemed, that marked our turnaround point) then headed back in the direction of Brighton. It didn't help that the rain was also saltwater rain from the English Channel, so it stung our eyes.

Hove's bathing chalets to the left
Eventually, we made our way back, and the rain began to subside by about the 23 mile mark, as we ran along the Hove esplanade and its hundreds of colorful huts that run right alongside the stone beach.  These wooden bathing chalets have had a history in Hove since 1800s, rented out to beachgoers during the summer season. These beach huts, a seemingly quintessentially British invention, provide splashes of color in winter and base camps for countless families throughout the summer.

So hungry.  Want roast.
Over the last couple miles, I was able to pick up the pace a little bit, improving my speed for the short segments I did run.  After nearly two miles of running along the esplanade, the course brought us back onto the Kingsway, just after passing the Angel of Peace statue, which commemorated the commemorate the reign of Edward VII. The final mile was run with so many cheering spectators, as I made my way past the Palace Pier and toward the finish line, completing the race in 5:27:47.  I nearly negative split the race, after running the first half in 2:43 and the second half just a hair under in 2:44.  I quickly wrapped myself in a heatsheet, and as the rain began to fall again, I made my way to bagcheck to grab my jacket.  I was able to get a great headstand photo of me on the stone beach, before making way back into town (eventually, across the busy street, where the race was still being run) back to my Airbnb for a much needed shower.


Victory Headstand on Brighton Beach, with the Pier in the background
Originally, I was planning on going to a restaurant that hosted one of Brighton's famous Sunday roast dinners, which apparently are a huge thing in Brighton -- restaurants are VERY competitive with their offerings. Unfortunately, I was a little late with dinner, and three places near my Airbnb had shut down their kitchens already by the time I got there. I ended up celebrating that evening with a delicious Greek meal, and a pint of "Stay Puft" Marshmallow Porter from Tiny Rebel Brewing, a brewery based out of Newport, South Wales.  I also ended up learning that British currency had recently changed, and that the pound notes and even coinage I brought with me was obsolete now, so I had to use an ATM in order to get some appropriate money to pay for my drink.

The next morning, I slept in a bit before walking back through town, stopping by a Poundland (essentially the British equivalent to a Dollar store) to grab a bag of £1 jelly babies - I had to, they were delicious during the race; as well as some vanilla clotted cream and butterscotch flavored Devonshire fudge from Roly's Fudge Pantry in North Laine, before boarding my coach to take me back to Heathrow Airport for my flight home.  I got back to Heathrow relatively early, as I wanted to get some time to take advantage of the Virgin Atlantic Clubhouse, one of the nicest airline lounges in the world - getting to have a meal as well as partake in another spa treatment at the spa inside the lounge.  It was a fun trip, and I'm glad I got to check off the UK in the process for my marathon journey!

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Race Report: GO! St. Louis Marathon

Nice aerial view of downtown from
my plane, as we come in for a landing.
I added the Go! St. Louis Marathon to my 2018 calendar roughly a month before the race, making it part of my preparations for a double marathon weekend in late April between the Revel Mt. Charleston Marathon and Big Sur Marathon on consecutive days. My "training" consisted of getting myself ready to do lots of mileage over consecutive days, pulling in two "Goofys" - 39.3 mile weekends with a full and half marathon on a Saturday and Sunday - a term coined from the Disney Marathon challenge of doing both distance races a day apart. This was my second Goofy weekend before my big double, having run a half and full in Pennsylvania just two weeks earlier.  This would be my third distance race in St. Louis, having completed the Rock 'n' Roll St. Louis Half Marathon twice - in 2014 and 2016.

Mmm... Imo's Pizza!
I got to St. Louis on Saturday afternoon, after a very busy morning, running a half marathon in Charlottesville, Virginia, then getting on a plane to fly to Atlanta then to St. Louis.  At the St. Louis Airport, my friend Kimberly picked me up, and we dropped my bags off at her house before we headed to our friends' Eddie and Natalie's in the suburb of Chesterfield for a delicious dinner with other runner friends in town for the race. There, we met up with our friends Donna and Georgia who were also staying at Kimberly's, who had driven over from Springfield, Illinois where they ran the Lincoln Presidential Half Marathon on Saturday morning.  After a great time spent with friends, and a full belly from the delicious dinner at Eddie and Natalie's, we headed back to Kimberly's and had some more food before the night was over - needing to stop at Imo's Pizza, a local St. Louis favorite, famous for their St. Louis style pizza - a very thin cracker-like crust made without yeast, Provel processed cheese, and slices cut into squares or rectangles instead of wedges.

Sunrise alongside the Mississippi River
We had an early morning 5:15am wake up call on Sunday, with the temperatures very cold at only 30°F. After waiting for our other friend Hollie to arrive and park her car at Kimberly's, our carpool traveled in one car toward downtown St. Louis and the parking location we were provided a pass for.  We were all bundled up and with tired legs from racing the day before.  After parking, we walked down to the cobblestone streets of Laclede's Landing, already dreading the possibility that we'd have to run over these ankle twisting terrain and met up with other runners who had gone to the dinner the night before.  We also found Ken and Ryan from Arkansas, who were in the corrals preparing to pace the 4:45 marathon group. I decided to start alongside them, knowing full well my finish times in recent memory were not going to be able to keep up.

About to start!
After the anthem, the gun set off and being far back in the corrals we got a good vantage point of the runners as they began to run overhead on the span of the Martin Luther King Bridge into Illinois.  Our start was a bit late, going off some 23 minutes after the gun, but off we went, heading up Sullivan Boulevard alongside the Mississippi River for about a tenth of a mile before taking the abrupt and slightly severe uphill along Carr and North 4th Streets to get up to the Martin Luther King Bridge. We were halfway across the bridge and technically in the state of Illinois as we hit the first mile mark, making it to the other side and arriving in the city of East St Louis, Illinois.  My legs already began to ache as we made our way across the concrete.

Running across the Martin Luther King Bridge into Illinois
Crossing state lines!
Running through East St. Louis
East St. Louis was once a bustling industrial center, but like many cities in the Rust Belt, it was severely affected by the loss of jobs due to industrial restructuring during the second half of the 20th century.  Consistent with the growing poverty and unemployment, the city maintains a seedy reputation as one of the most dangerous cities in the US.  As we made our way off of the bridge's span, and then ran briefly through the city's downtown, we saw many abandoned buildings and strip clubs along Collinsville Avenue.  Our time here in this desolate ghost town was thankfully shortlived, spending roughly 2.5 miles on this side of the border, eventually taking River Park Drive onto the Eads Bridge as we ran back over the river toward Missouri.

Being stupid in front of an East St. Louis strip club...
Leaving East St. Louis, I see the arch!
The Eads Bridge was opened in 1874, the first bridge erected across the Mississippi River south of the Missouri River, and one of the oldest bridges on the river. At the time of its construction, it contained the longest rigid span and the deepest underwater constructions for its foundations. The bridge was also an iconic image of the city of St. Louis, up until 1965 when the Gateway Arch was completed.  Upon crossing back into Missouri, the half marathon and marathon runners continued on down Washington Avenue, eventually turning left onto Broadway. Enthusiastic cheers of spectators welcomed us back to the Missouri side of the course, with runners doing the 7k ramping off of the bridge to the right and to their finish line.  Despite clear signage along the course directing traffic, some 7k runners got confused and kept running with us!

On Broadway, headed south
We headed south along Broadway, reaching the mile 5 mark just past the I-64 overpass and Busch Stadium, home of the St. Louis Cardinals.  We continued on south, as our surroundings became more drab, especially to our left, as we passed by the largely non-residential industrial neighborhood of Kosciusko.  To our right was the neighborhood of Soulard, one of the oldest communities in the city, and home to the North American headquarters of Anheuser-Busch.  A group of fun spectators out cheering us on in the cold provided us some snocaps - an old fashioned, small dark chocolate disc shaped cookie sprinkled with small white candy balls on top.  Somewhere near the Anheuser-Busch headquarters, I ran into Pam from Mississippi, who I met at Eddie and Natalie's house the night before, and we would run together from miles 6 to 9.5, taking us all the way around Soulard and over the confusing interchange of the I-44 and I-55 highways, before following the perimeter of the 29.95-acre Lafayette Park. The nicely restored homes in the charming neighborhood of Lafayette Square surrounded the park, an area I've been through during both half marathons I've run in this city.
Running through Soulard
With Pam in front of the Anheuser-Busch headquarters
The full and half split
We began to run due north along Jefferson Avenue, taking us over the railroad tracks and I-64 before I split off from Pam underneath a massive American flag, as the half marathoners continued on straight up the avenue to run the remaining 5K to the finish.  Marathoners turned left onto Market Street, and with the crowd thinning out considerably, we were treated to a nice downhill for a short length of expansive road. Around the 10.5 mile mark, just as we were turning left to head down Compton Avenue, and back over the railroad tracks and I-64, my cellphone buzzes and find out that Hollie was not far behind me, so we meet up and decide to run together for as much of the next several miles as we could.  We would end up running the next eight miles together. The route then turned onto Chouteau Avenue, an area of St. Louis I was very familiar with, having run along this stretch of road during both of the previous halves I've run.

Enjoying The Grove
After continuing through a largely industrial part of the course, we found ourselves running over a small overpass over more railroad track, just as faster runners aiming for a 3+ hour finish were coming up the avenue on the other side of the road.  Among them was my friend Marc, pacing one of those faster pace groups.  The course then veered left slightly, as we ran through the more commercial Manchester Avenue in the bustling Grove Entertainment District, home to several LGBT friendly businesses, several of which led the initial wave of investment in the area. We turned right onto Newstead Avenue, making our way toward Chouteau Park and eventually up toward Clayton Avenue, as we ran past the halfway point of our race, recording a split time of 2:45:32.  Nearby, we could see the behemoth towers of St. Louis' hospital quarter - passing by the Shriners Hospital, Barnes Jewish Hospital, and the Washington University School of Medicine as we made our way under Kingshighway Boulevard into St. Louis' famous Forest Park.
Posing in front of one of the gay bars on Manchester Avenue. LOL
Passing Pagoda Lake
Over the next several miles, we wove through the asphalt roads of Forest Park, considered the "Heart of St. Louis," and was home to several significant events since its opening in 1876 - namely, the 1904 World's Fair and the 1904 Summer Olympics.  We first passed by Jefferson Lake along Faulkner Drive, before turning onto Wells Drive, and skirting alongside the Highlands Golf and Tennis Center. We then passed by the Jewel Box, a stately glassed-in art-deco greenhouse that operates as both an event space and horticultural facility on McKinley Drive. We then followed Union Drive up to a left turn onto Theatre Drive, looping ourselves around Pagoda Circle past the St. Louis Municipal Opera Theatre (better known as the MUNY), an 11,000 seat amphitheatre that totes itself as the oldest and largest outdoor Broadway-style musical theatre in the country.  We also ran around Pagoda Circle, encircling Pagoda Lake, with an island at its center that houses the classical-style Nathan Frank Bandstand.

With just over 15 miles already logged in, we ran up Cricket Drive, momentarily being misled partway through an adjacent parking lot due to some misplaced barriers.  We eventually realized that the course didn't mean to take us through the parking lot, and we turned left onto Grand Drive, seeing the mile 16 marker a little out of place, but where we needed to be.  On the other side of the road was another friend Ed and his 5:30 pace group, not too far in front of us. I also happened upon my new friend Lara, who I met at the Two Rivers Marathon a couple weeks prior.  After introducing her to Hollie, the three of us would run together for the next couple miles, playing a bit of leapfrog once we felt a little kick in our step.  Lara would end up running with me all the way to the finish for the second time in two weeks!

The Grand Basin and Art Museum
Grand Drive became Lagoon Drive, and at some point along the way (past the Emerson Grand Basin with the St. Louis Art Museum in the background), we finally reached the turnaround, where we would head back in the direction we had just came.  Hollie would leave me at mile 18, and I would continue on with Lara along Grand Drive to Jefferson Drive.  The course would then retrace our steps from the time we had entered the park near its southeastern entrance.  We were now about 18.5 miles into the race, and would retrace the next 4.5 miles along the route that cut through the center of the city, past the hospitals and back over Manchester and Chouteau Avenues, and then through Midtown all the way back to the huge American flag that stood at the corner of Jefferson Avenue and Market Streets.  This time, we continued up Jefferson Avenue, along the route the half marathoners were continuing on some 13 miles ago.

Nearing the end.. and I found Gay St!
We headed up Jefferson Avenue past the 23 mile mark, then turned onto Washington Avenue as the course cut its way east back toward Downtown St. Louis.  My watch read 5:00 as we had 3.1 miles to go.  We actually had a nice steady downhill as we came down Washington, playing a little bit of "run two blocks, walk one block" intervals.  On Tucker Boulevard, we turned left, having reached the 24 mile mark, and followed the route northward as it ran along the border between the Columbus Square and Carr Square neighborhoods. We then turned onto Cass Avenue, as the route then veered back onto the riverfront on Sullivan Boulevard. The last mile seemed to take forever as the arch got closer and closer, but as I knew the race would be over just in front of the arch, we pushed as best as we could.  I crossed the finish line in 5:41:25.  My second half was only ten minutes slower than my first, so despite the less than stellar time, I was pleased with my consistency over running so much distance over the course of the weekend.  I had completed 39.3 miles of running for the second time in two weeks!
Bling with the Gateway Arch!
Victory Headstand with the Eads Bridge and MLK Bridge in the background
Bailey's Range!  YUM...
There to give me my medal was my friend Brigitte, a fellow distance runner and local to the area.  After getting my headstand photo with the bridges we ran across early in the race in the background (already having gotten headstand photos with the arch in the background in my two previous St. Louis races), I headed off to local haunt Bailey's Range, always a must for me when I'm in town.  This restaurant has fantastic burgers as well as delicious alcoholic milkshakes! I met up with several friends who had finished the half hours before and were already a few drinks into their afternoon.  After spending a good amount of the afternoon with them, we made our way to the airport for our flights home.  I had finished another 39.3 mile weekend, and I felt good going into the home stretch with three weeks to go before my Revel Mt. Charleston/Big Sur Marathon double!

Wednesday, February 6, 2019

Race Report: Charlottesville Half Marathon

In preparation for a double marathon weekend at the end of April, I decided to load up my March and April schedules with weekends where I'd do 39.3 miles - a marathon and a half on successive days.  That way, my body would be attuned to the wear and tear of the amount of mileage I'd be putting it through.  I did a full and half a few weeks earlier with the Two Rivers Marathon and Philly Love Run, so this time I decided to switch them around to do the half first, and the full second. At the same time, I got to book a national anthem gig to check off the state of Virginia in the process.  First up was the Charlottesvillle Half Marathon, home of the University of Virginia.

The weather forecasts in the week prior to the Charlottesville Half Marathon seemed pretty dire. With temps seemingly plummeting, high winds, and precipitation ranging from rain to snow, it was difficult to determine what to wear for the race, let alone where I was going to stay.  Initially, I had gotten in touch with my friends Patsy and Kerry, parents of my friend Caitlin, who would house me the night before the race in Staunton, about 45 minutes west of Charlottesville.  But with the weather forecast as it was, they suggested I look at alternative means of accommodation (the road from Staunton to Charlottesville was over a mountain pass that could close for inclement weather.) With most of Charlottesville hotels booked up or super expensive, I ended up last minute contacting another friend Glen, who lived 45 minutes to the east, in the town of Kents Store. He had told me a couple weeks before at the Two Rivers Marathon that he was going to be in town to do the race, and that if I needed a place to stay, that he had a spot for me.  The route from Kents Store in Louisa County to Charlottesville was significantly better and did not have mountain passes to deal with, so I came into Virginia with the plan to stay at Glen's.

These temps don't look promising.
Three days out, and the weather on Saturday was looking to be pretty wet, turning into snow at 10am. As the weekend was going to be a double weekend for me, I was slated to fly out of Charlottesville at 12:30pm after the race to get down to Atlanta before connecting on to St. Louis for my Sunday race.  I was landing pretty late on Friday night, and upon landing, the pilot had warned us of high winds, warning us to be careful as we exited the plane down the stairs and onto the tarmac. I drove through the hilly back country roads carefully, as I made my way to Kents Store, and promptly went to bed in the detached single room "cabin" behind Glen's house.  Through the night, I could hear the wind pick up and the rain start to fall, making me very anxious about the weather on Saturday morning.

When I woke about five hours later, the wind had died down (mercifully), but it was still raining a little bit.  Glen, and his two houseguests Cade and Jennifer, all running the marathon, were up and getting ready for the race. I decided to leave first and took Glen's advice to park somewhere near the First Presbyterian Church along Park Street - my initial research revealed that parking in downtown Charlottesville was complex and subject to potential fines for parking without a permit in certain designated areas.  I decided to park a couple blocks from the start in street parking, knowing that I could get a fine, but it would only be $25, if anything.

Meeting up with Patsy, pre-race
It was actually quite nice in the morning prior to race - only 48° with thankfully no rain - I dressed in a single longsleeved shirt, and some long tights.  I headed over to the start area in the Historic Court Square area, the oldest portion of the City of Charlottesville, where some of the buildings date back to the early 1800's. The start and finish line was located directly in front of the Albemarle County Courthouse.  There, I met up with Patsy, who was preparing for the 8K. She was able to make it with no problems from the weather over from Staunton. Patsy was going to wait for me to finish, and I estimated that I would be done at about 9:30, 2 1/2 hours after the start.  I made myself known to the race director, Francesca, located at the startline, and at about 6:45, readied myself for the national anthem - effectively checking off the state of Virginia with my rendition.  After singing, we were off!

West on Jefferson Street
We headed west along Jefferson Street, past Justice Park and Emancipation Park (the two parks with controversial Confederate statues that dominated the news media in 2017), before taking a steep downhill road as we ran along Preston Avenue past several old buildings in Charlottesville's historic district.  At the bottom of the hill was the Albemarle County Office Building, a building which used to house the main high school up until the 1970s. The route then had us turn left along Ridge McIntire Road, and then right through the West Main Street Historic District, a commercial corridor and important connection between the University of Virginia and Downtown Charlottesville, and to its surrounding neighborhoods.  As we passed through another commercial district known as The Corner, we gradually climbed up along University Avenue until we reached the 1 3/4 mile mark near the University of Virginia's Rotunda, about 125 feet higher in elevation than at the bottom of the hill.
Past the Albemarle County Office Building
Uphill climb along University Avenue
The Rotunda at UVA's Campus
The Rotunda, a building located on The Lawn on the original grounds of UVA, was originally designed by Thomas Jefferson in 1822, later rebuilt in 1898 with a modified design by Stanford White after it had burned down in a fire, and then gutted and completely rebuilt once more in time for America's Bicentennial in 1976 to Jefferson's original design.  It is also, along with Jefferson's home at Monticello, one of only three modern man-made sites in the US to be internationally protected and preserved as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO.  Modeled after the Pantheon in Rome, it was designed to house the library and be flanked on either side by faculty pavilions, interspersed with student rooms.

Along residential Northwood Avenue
We turned right onto Rugby Road, taking us past the Fralin Museum of Art, before turning right once more onto Gordon Avenue, as well as the highest point in the entire race, at 574 feet in elevation.  After taking a short turn that took us along Grady Avenue, we had a nice steady downhill as we returned back to the corner of Preston Avenue and McIntire Road, where the Albemarle County Office Building was.  I reached the 5k mark at around 33 minutes, as we turned left onto McIntire Road.

The route took us through the largely residential part of the North Downtown neighborhood of Charlottesville, curving from McIntre Road onto Perry Drive, then a short steep climb up to Northwood Avenue and Evergreen Avenue, past many beautifully restored homes, replete with the character of the history that defines the city of Charlottesville. We curved our way around to Lexington Avenue, and then turned left onto Poplar Street, while we could see the 8K runners continue straight up a rather intimidating looking hill.

The neighborhood of Locust Grove
The marathoners and half marathoners alone now, we would begin a long out-and-back section that would be roughly 4 miles to the turnaround point for the half marathon runners.  From Poplar Street, we were turning left onto the continuously rolling Locust Avenue, beginning a one mile long straight shot into the the residential neighborhood of Locust Grove.  Most of the homes here were built between 1940 and 1970, and you could tell the difference as we got to the end of the section on Locust Avenue before turning left onto Locust Lane. We reached a cul de sac, and ended up having to run through a very narrow pathway between houses before emerging on the other side onto St. Charles Court, which after a slight curve became St. Charles Avenue. The course zigzagged as we progressed further into the neighborhood, passing Northeast Park.  As I made my way past the 6 mile mark, the fastest runners of the day were on their way back, some five miles in front of me.  We completed a short out and back along Sheridan Avenue (which ultimately got really confusing with runners going out to the turnaround in different directions), before curving up to Holmes Avenue.  The road rolled up and down quite a bit as we made our way further up along Agnese Street, then finally emerging out of the residential neighborhood onto Rio Road (pronounced Rye-oh, as we are in the south), a road that connected to Park Street.
It's pronounced "Rye-oh," not Rio like Rio de Janeiro.
The Rivanna Trail
Before it became Park Street, though, we turned right onto Melbourne Road, proceeding half a mile up the road to the John W. Warner Parkway, where we would get onto a section of the Rivanna Trail that skirted Meadow Creek.  The asphalt trail rolled as well, unsurprisingly, as we continued north up the path up to the turn around point a little over a mile later.  Ultimately, the Rivanna Trail is a 20-mile rustic "urban wilderness" hiking trail built and maintained by volunteers that encircles the City of Charlottesville.  It meanders through forested buffers that protect the City's streams and rivers, serving as a community-wide resource for play, exercise, relaxation, and nature-related recreation and education. The Trail passes through many neighborhoods and connects six City parks, but for the half marathon, would only run along this roughly one mile section of trail.  The marathon would continue on north, completing an eight mile loop around the suburban community of Rio, northeast of Charlottesville.

Coming into the finish
(Photo by Patsy Alexander)
The trail crosses Meadow Creek on the Parkway Trail Bridge, then does a couple switchbacks heading uphill before a downhill section toward the turnaround point for the half marathoners.  The four mile return back felt easier, as there seemed to be more downhill sections to run; but perhaps because there were far fewer runners to encounter on the running back? As we made our way on the one mile section on Locust Avenue, I managed to run some of my fastest continuous pace of the whole race. To make matters worse, it began to rain for the first time in the whole race. It continued to rain as we hit Poplar Road and returned back onto the path that we had seen the 8K runners continue along. All the way to the end, as we zigzagged back toward Historic Court Square, it was a gradual uphill, climbing 80 feet over the last 1/2 mile.  We made the right turn from Lexington Avenue onto Maple Street, passing Maplewood Cemetery, Charlottesville's oldest cemetery, as we continued to struggle up the hill, charging ever so closely to the finish line.  A few more slight turns, and we were back to where we started, and I crossed the finish line, fantastically predicting my finish time in a nearly precise 2:30:15, just as I told Patsy I would be finishing in.  This finish time on a hilly race (which I'd later analyze to include some 930 feet of elevation gain and 945 feet of elevation loss), would bode well for me in preparation for the fact I had another race the next day.

2:30 on the dot!
(Photo by Patsy Alexander)
Patsy met with me after the finish chute as the rain continued to fall onto Charlottesville.  I was super hungry, and quickly gobbled down a couple slices of pizza as I contemplated where to take my headstand photo, and ultimately decided to take it near the Albemarle County Court Building, and in front of the historic old city center of Charlottesville.  It felt fitting to make my headstand photo here, and not in front of a controversial statue. Also I didn't think to have it done in the more contemporary center of town at the Downtown Mall, a pedestrianized street only a few blocks away, since the course didn't go anywhere near it or even on it (unlike some other races that did go through main city centers like Burlington or Knoxville).  The rain continued to fall, and I still had to gas up the car and return it, so I decided to just head back to the airport with about two hours to spare.  With my flight still scheduled for departure at 12:30, and the temps staying steady, I was feeling good about an on-time departure, and being able to get out of Charlottesville before any chance of potential snow would come through. At 12:30, I was off to Atlanta to connect to my flight to St. Louis, ready to take on race two of the weekend.

Victory Headstand near the start/finish line!