Friday, May 10, 2019

Race Report: Santa Rosa Marathon

San Francisco is well known for the fog that rolls in during the summer months, a result of rising hot air in California's interior valleys creating a low pressure area that draws winds in from the Pacific Ocean through the Golden Gate, so it was no surprise that SFO airport was having issues in the early Friday morning hours for flights landing in the overcast weather. Unfortunately, that fog stuck around for most of the day, resulting in extended delays for inbound aircraft. I was only delayed about an hour in my departure, and we made up some time in the air, landing only some 40 minutes late.  Almi, who flew in from Los Angeles but had just returned stateside the night before from a weeklong vacation in Iceland (where she ran and Boston Qualified at the Reykjavik Marathon!), was waiting at a Starbucks outside near a neighboring terminal, as we waited for our two other friends, Aidin and Paola, to arrive on their flight from San Diego.

A little while later, we realized that Aidin and Paola's flight was going to be severely delayed, mostly due to compounded delays on their aircraft shuttling back and forth between San Diego and San Francisco. We ended up picking our rental car up and catching a few z's at the cell phone lot when we realized just how late their flight was going to be getting in - three hours delayed! With Almi still in Reykjavik time, and me having just arrived to a three time zone difference, we asked one of the other two to drive the 80 minutes up to Santa Rosa.  They landed shortly after midnight, and we were finally on the road headed north through San Francisco at 12:30am.  Aidin was at the wheel, and let me tell you - that was not an easy task, as the fog rolling into the bay was THICK with visibility at maybe 20 feet in front of us at times; it was not easy to drive in, especially once we were on the Golden Gate Bridge, passing through the Marin Headlands and Sausalito, finally clearing up once we reached the outskirts of San Rafael. We arrived at our Airbnb at 2am, quietly getting ourselves into our respective rooms that our hosts had prepared for us, while trying to tiptoe around the house as to not wake them sleeping in the next room.

Alongside the Creek for the 10K
After some three hours of sleep, we woke to get ourselves downtown for the 10K, scheduled to begin at 7am.  We made sure to get out of the house with enough time to park and then pick up our bibs at the start in the Old Courthouse Square, a plaza only recently reconstructed to create a civic gathering place in the heart of downtown Santa Rosa.  It was a chilly morning, only 55ยบ, similar to last week's overcast weather in Alaska. With Aidin and Almi (Paola slept in), we zig-zagged through the gridded streets of downtown Santa Rosa, passing Santa Rosa City Hall at roughly the 1 mile mark, before entering the Prince Memorial Greenway, a concrete trail with some ramps up and down when passing underneath some city streets that ran alongside Santa Rosa Creek.   We exited the trail briefly to run a loop around two blocks from Pierson Street along 6th Street, Adams Street, 7th Street, and Madison Street, before returning back to the Greenway to continue heading westward onto the Santa Rosa Creek Trail, this time an asphalt trail through a wooded corridor.  We maintained a pretty easy 10 minute mile all the while, on a 9 minute run/1 minute walk interval. At the 3.4 mile mark, we came off of the trail onto Stony Point Road, returning back toward downtown along the other side of the creek, on a part of the trail that was almost all gravel. This part was a bit more difficult to deal with, as I kept my eye on the trail as to not roll my ankle, and before long, we were back onto Pierson Street, following the Prince Memorial Greenway back to the downtown.  We crossed the finish in 1:02, a perfect 10 minute per mile pace.  It was made so much more fun being able to casually chat with both Aidin and Almi over the course of the race!

At the Schulz Museum!
We were treated to a delicious pancake breakfast which we quickly devoured, before heading back to the Airbnb to shower and prep for the rest of the day.  When we got back, we finally met our hosts Glen and Dawna, and their friendly cocker spaniel, Choco! Once we were all ready to get on with our day, we made our way to Sports Basement to pick up our bibs for our Sunday races. Sports Basement was a sports store (much like a Sports Authority or Dick's Sporting Goods) that set up vendor booths like an expo would along the store's main circulation loop.  We were able to get our hooded jackets (provided to runners of the half and full marathons on Sunday), as well as our complimentary bottle of "Runner's Red" wine from DeLoach Vineyards. After the expo was where the fun began... we headed to the Charles M. Schulz Museum and Research Center to check out works of the celebrated American cartoonist who penned the Peanuts comic strip for fifty years. We also stopped into the neighboring Redwood Empire Ice Arena (commonly known as Snoopy's Home Ice) owned by Schulz, who had a long association with ice sports and featured both figure skating and ice hockey prominently in his cartoons.
The four of us at a "trompe l'oeil" crosswalk at the Ice Arena
Being Snoopy
Strange flavors at the Jelly Belly HQ!
We then drove 90 minutes to Fairfield, California (dealing with some fairly tedious traffic through Napa) with the objective of heading to the headquarters of the Jelly Belly Candy Company, making it just in time to go on the last possible self-guided tour on the 1/4 mile long catwalk over the factory floor, featuring interactive exhibits, Jelly Belly bean art, and videos featuring the candy manufacturing process. We got to sample as many flavors as we wanted that the company offered, some normal, but some very outlandish! After having our fill of jelly beans, we stopped in at Sonoma Harvest, a store specializing in artisanal olive oils and locally produced wine which we had driven by near the Jelly Belly factory, in order to sample some olive oil and even do a wine tasting (at least for Almi and I!)

Posing in front of the Jelly Belly Branded Vehicle!
Good Friends. Good Wine. Good Times.
A beautiful Napa sunset to end a busy Saturday.
 The hunger pangs began to hit real quickly, so we ventured into Napa to have dinner, setting our sights on the Stone Brewing Brewery and Restaurant, situated on the east bank of the Napa River, just across from the cute little downtown. Despite originating in the Southern California city of Escondido (near San Diego), the Napa location was just recently opened only a few months earlier in the renovated Borreo Building, named for the family that formerly owned the stone structure, which was completed in 1877.  We enjoyed our delicious dinners, carbloading for our races the next morning, some of us taking advantage of the delicious beers on tap; I took to a full-bodied Imperial Stout named "All the Best Beer Names Are Taken." We were treated to a beautiful sunset before we drove back to Santa Rosa by way of city of Sonoma, turning in early because of our rather early morning wake up.

Sunday morning came VERY quickly.  We were up at 5am, each of the four of us making use of the single bathroom as quickly and quietly as we could, finally getting out of the door a little late at 5:40.  We found parking only a couple blocks from the startline, and I headed straight to the start stage where two new friends, Kathy and Lisa, were waiting for me to give them their bibs and drop bags which I had picked up for them from the expo the day before. It was another brisk morning, a little colder than the day before, and far more people milling around. Leslie, the announcer, was at the start stage and ready to hand me the mic at 6:25, moments before the 6:30 start gun. I got up there to sing the national anthem, my third time doing so in the state of California!

The startline for the big race!
After singing, I found my way to my corral, situated myself near the 4:38 pacer, who happened to be my friend Julia, as we started the race, and we were off!  Like the day before, we zigzagged through the streets of downtown Santa Rosa, first taking a wide berth around 5th Street toward Fremont Park; I eventually got myself next to Almi, who was pacing 4:23, and ran with her and Aidin for the first mile before needing to take my first walk break, as we made our way down E Street. We passed Santa Rosa City Hall once again, then headed straight for the Prince Memorial Greenway, practically mimicking our route from yesterday, but this time without the detour from Pierson Street. I ran a fairly consistent 10 minute mile as we made our way along the Greenway as it turned into the Santa Rosa Creek Trail, continuing to head westward along the wooded paths, and playing a bit of leap frog with a few runners I got to befriend for short conversations along the way.
Running through downtown Santa Rosa
Running past Santa Rosa City Hall... we'll see you again in 25 miles!
The trail narrows...
At mile 4, I ended up meeting Richard, who was wearing an "Antelope Canyon Ultra In-Training" shirt; we got to talking and I found out he was planning to run the 55k at the fairly popular race. He was local to Santa Rosa, having done this race several years in a row.  He was also an accomplished ultramarathoner and triathlete, having done several of both; we ended up running together for the next thirteen miles, keeping at a conversational pace, never exerting too much as we continued along my 9 minute/1 minute interval that he was actually quite enjoying.  At about the 5.5 mile mark, the course transitioned from the flat creekside asphalt trail running behind residential areas, to being treated to acres of grape vineyards as far as the eye can see to our right.

Trees and vineyards on the trail
We turned right for a short out and back along a dirt and gravel trail that took us up to Guerneville Road, before heading right back to the Santa Rosa Creek Trail heading westward.  We continued to keep a fairly steady pace doing the intervals and walking through hydration stations, clocking in miles all fairly cushioned under 11 minutes, on par to finish the first half in roughly 2:15. The trail was beautiful with the quiet creek on our left, and the vineyards to our right, and in some cases, some beautiful tree canopy cover, creating a tunnel effect. We crossed over some quaint trestle bridges along the way, as the creek meandered below us.

Newly paved road to run on.
At the 8 mile mark, we finally came off of the trail, turning right onto Willowside Road, our first asphalt road since we entered the Prince Memorial Greenway at the 1.4 mile mark. We passed Batala San Francisco, a Brazilian samba reggae performance group, but unfortunately they were on break as we passed - we ended up hearing them start up again behind us as we continued on the nice downhill along this newly paved road.  Richard remarked that we were treated this year to not only great conditions weatherwise (it was blazing hot last year), but the roads were also recently repaved. We turned left onto Guerneville Road, continuing down the road for half a mile before turning right onto Olivet Road.

Pink wildflowers in bloom
We faced a slight uphill, but were treated to a beautiful sight of the pink wildflowers in bloom along the roadside in front of these houses. We continued northward passing homes with small vineyards in their front and side yards, before arriving at the entrance of the DeLoach Estate Vineyards, an official sponsor of the marathon.  The course veered us temporarily off of this straight shot, as we turned left and ran down the narrow driveway headed into the property of the vineyards, past thousands of grapevines almost ready for harvest. We ran past their farm buildings (and a few farm animals including goats and sheep) before running through their barrel room, a part of the race that has only been included since 2013, when the vineyards joined as a sponsor. After passing through, we were even treated to a chardonnay station - nothing like having a swig of wine 10 miles into a marathon!
Running through De Loach Estate Vineyards!
Taking advantage of the mid-race chardonnay stop!
Heading out back on the course, past all the ripening grapes!
Fresh grapes on the course! 
Eventually, we made our way back onto Olivet Road, and Richard and I continued north before the course veered left just before the 11 mile mark.  We continued as the road forced itself to turn right (there was no other way to go) as we ran along Oakwild Lane. We were out in rural northern California, with vineyards surrounding us on both sides. The course grew monotonous, as we finally made a turn eastward onto Woolsey Road and crossed the halfway mark of the race in 2:17:32. We stayed on Woolsey Road for quite some time - seemingly endless - finally turning well after the 14 mile mark onto Wood Road, which zigzagged its way toward Fulton Road. Along the way, a family cheering for runners in front of their house had laid out some fresh seedless grapes from their personal vineyard - I took a handful and had one of the best midrace snacks I've had in quite some time!  My pace slowed down as I devoured every succulent bit of fruit. We then hit Fulton Road, and turned right, hitting a busy main street with cars zipping by, as we hugged the bike lane/shoulder.
Vineyards as far as the eye can see...
Fulton Road, with a slight tailwind.
We got back into our rhythm, paying attention to my watch beeps as the 4 minute and 1 minute alarms came and went, seemingly quickening as we had a slight tailwind taking us southward. We were back in Santa Rosa city limits as we hugged its northwestern corner, turning right onto Piner Road, now nearly 17 miles into the race.  The course veered into the parking lot of the Northwest Prep Charter School as we took a quick aid station break, then continued on along much of the same vineyard-full views on both sides, before reaching Willowside Road where we turned left and made another pitstop at the aid station in the parking lot of Olivet Elementary School.  Richard needed to take a quick break and told me to continue on, as he knew I could probably quicken my pace in the closing miles, and so off I went, hitting the mile 19 mark heading back southward.  My pace did quicken, as I was able to keep some consistency in my cadence as the road crossed Guerneville Road, back onto the section of Willowside Road we had run some 11.5 miles earlier. I came upon Batala San Francisco for the second time, but to my unfortunate luck, they were on break as I passed by again! I turned left back onto the Santa Rosa Creek Trail, with exactly six miles of race left to go.
A bridge crossing on the Santa Rosa Creek Trail
Back in the city limits along the trail
1.2 miles to go!
I traced my path back to downtown Santa Rosa along the trail, paying attention to my intervals as I kept it consistent for the next few miles. I was actually making some good time, as my pace was only slower by an average of 20 seconds than when I ran this section on fresher legs when it was miles 5-7. Before long, we were back on the Prince Memorial Greenway, running on concrete with those same up and down ramps I had run yesterday and earlier this morning feeling much more difficult to negotiate 4 1/2 hours in to a marathon! There were even a few half marathon walkers who I passed along the way. I felt strong as we finally exited the greenway, and navigated the few blocks we had left as we passed City Hall, and came up D Street to the sounds of music and the announcer bringing in people across the marathon finish line. I sprinted across, and ran my fastest marathon all year - 4:50:07 - and at the time, my 10th fastest. Not only that, I'd have my fastest marathon in the state of California, beating my previous fastest by almost 40 minutes!  To say I was thrilled would be an understatement.

With Richard after the race
Richard was not far back from me, and he came in at around 5:04. He was pretty thankful for my help early on in the race, to keep his legs in check for his upcoming triathlons. I found Almi and took advantage of the free runners' breakfast yet again, and got my headstand photo taken before finding our way back to the car, where both Aidin and Paola were warming themselves up from the chillier temps outside.  It was only in the high 50s, low 60s, but for these two San Diegans, it was a bit too cold, lol.

Victory Headstand and art deco
We headed back to the Airbnb, taking turns using the bathroom to freshen up, and packed up our bags to go on with the remainder of our day.  We went back downtown to grab lunch with Elaine and Mitch at a paella place only a few blocks away from the marathon finish line, and then got on the road out to our last adventure before heading to the San Francisco Airport.  Based on our estimations, we'd have just enough time to drive out to Point Reyes National Seashore in Marin County, past the town of Inverness, California, where a unique tunnel of massive Monterey Cypress trees form a tunnel.  We took a few photos before the cold and wind started to get to us, and we also had a time crunch to get back down to SFO for Almi to make her flight. While I drove us out to the tree tunnel, Almi drove us down to San Francisco; I got super nauseous as we navigated the twists and turns of Lucas Valley Road down to San Rafael, then finally got onto the highway straight to the airport. Almi made her flight (along with the beer and wine she had to check inside her luggage), as the rest of refilled the gas in the car then returned it to the rental company; I headed home on the redeye, ready to take on yet another week, and happy to come home with a fantastic finish to yet another great marathon!
Jumping for joy among the cypress trees
SO many great memories shared between us friends!

Friday, May 3, 2019

Race Report: Anchorage RunFest Ultra 49K

I took a 3:30pm flight out of JFK after my early summer Friday, heading across the country to Seattle.  I had been really worried about the flight because of the unpredictable weather New York City has been having all summer, and while we left JFK close to an hour late, the built in "padding" that Delta puts into flights in and out of the NYC area got us into Seattle a little earlier than expected, allowing me more than enough time to enjoy the Sky Club at SeaTac.  Already while flying into Seattle, the skies were a bit hazy, brought about by the smoke from wildfires creeping into the area from British Columbia.  My flight from Seattle to Anchorage took off on time, and we landed at about 11:30pm; my new friends Chuck and Susan were providing me a place to stay over the weekend alongside my Chicagoan friend Gaby (who met Chuck in Las Vegas earlier this year) -- they even picked me up from the airport at the late hour!

The brand new Big Swig Tour Bus!
Thankfully with all my flights coming in on time, and my anticipation for that, I booked a tour the day before I arrived with Big Swig Tours, a company in Anchorage that provides several types of brewery tours for beer connoisseurs interested in the brews the Anchorage area has to offer. When I did the Anchorage Mayor's Half in 2016, I did their four hour tour taking me to three breweries in the Anchorage area plus infamous/quintessential Alaskan bar Chilkoot Charlies.  This time, I opted to do the "Hops on the Rail" tour, which would take 11 hours of my day - owner and "hoperator" Bryan Caenepeel would pick me up at 7:30am from a point in downtown Anchorage to take us to the railroad station, where we would embark on a three hour trip by train up to the town of Talkeetna, where Bryan would meet up with us again and chauffeur is in a brand new branded van before hitting up four breweries on our way back down to Anchorage. There were only three of us on this tour - me, along with a couple from New Jersey who had a day long stopover in Anchorage during their cruise.

The Alaska Range from Talkeetna
We arrived in Talkeetna, disembarking from the train and enjoying the beautiful view of the Talkeetna River - though it was a cloudy day, we could still see the the Alaska Range in the distance, with the top of Denali, the highest mountain peak in North America, hiding behind the clouds. After enjoying the views from the riverfront briefly (the tiny town's commercial center is centered around its single main street), it was time to hit up the breweries, so we drove out about 20 minutes down the road to Denali Brewing Company.  The company has always been based in Talkeetna, first opening on the town's small Main Street in 2009. Two years later, their brewery operations outgrew that location, so they opened up just outside of town to expand to the second largest beer-producer in the whole of Alaska (second to Alaskan Brewing based out of Juneau.)  Since opening, they've established other operations under the Denali Brewing Company umbrella, including Alaska Cider Works, Denali Spirits, and Alaska Meadery. It was a great first stop on the tour, enjoying samples of everything they had to offer!

Basket 'o Beers from Arkose
Next up, we had a bit of a drive through some 70 miles of highway, eventually arriving at Arkose Brewery in Palmer, Alaska.  I had a "basket o' beer" with samples of Ovis Belgian Style Golden Strong Ale, Mandarina Moose Grapefruit IPA, Green Chair Kolsch-Style Ale, Berry-Go-Round Strawberry Rhubarb Blonde Fruit Ale, Amber Earth Extra Special Bitter (ESB), and my personal favorite, some of their small-batch special Spicy Mango Amber Ale.  Arkose has been brewing since 2011, founded by husband and wife team Stephen and June Gerteisen: him, the self-proclaimed "mad scientist of beers," and her, the award winning logo and bottle designer.  Their beer portfolio is inspired not only by the majestic surroundings and thriving community, but also by the German heritage and Pacific Northwest roots of its founders spanning from California to the Last Frontier.

A flight from Bleeding Heart Brewery
Just up the road (literally), we next headed to Bleeding Heart Brewery, Alaska's smallest production brewery, located in a single roll down garage space. We had a sampler of four beers there - Kold Shoulder Kristallweizen, Valley Trash Dirty Blonde Ale, their signature Bleeding Heart Beet IPA, and the Grounds for Divorce Coffee Porter.  We sat outside next to a pasture where a few goats roamed, feet away from an electrified fence (!!); the winds started to blow in and make us a bit colder, so we repositioned ourselves next to the firepit before heading to our last stop, Odd Man Rush Brewing in Eagle River, located a half hour away.

The inventive cassette tape wall!
Odd Man Rush is a hockey-themed brewery, with an interior full of hockey-related memorabilia.  The bar is made in part from the old handrail that circled the ice at the Harry J. McDonald Memorial Center, a hockey arena in Eagle River. The old scoreboard from “The Mac,” as locals refer to the ice rink, hangs on one of the walls.  One of the cooler interior elements is a floor to ceiling wall treatment of cassette tapes glued in a bond pattern, which they crowdsourced by initially putting out a Facebook call for on their page, ending up receiving hundreds. Here, we had six more beers to sample: among them a blonde, IPA, Scottish Ale, and Hefeweizen. Of course, being our FOURTH brewery, the actual beers themselves began to blur together!  All in all, I counted having 23 samples of craft beer, plus tastes of vodka, gin, cider, and mead. I was pretty sloshed, but hey... it was carbloading at its finest!  I highly recommend doing this tour to get a taste of beautiful scenery and some delicious locally made beers... maybe not the day before a race, but hey, to each their own!

At the end of the tour, Bryan dropped us back off in downtown Anchorage, and I stopped into Haute Quarter Grill to meet up with a bunch of friends running the half the next morning getting together for a pre-race dinner. Among them was my good friend Dana from Florida, and after their planned dinner was over, we walked over to 49th State Brewing Company to find another group of friends who were also getting together for pre-race festivities. I met up with local Anchoragite Tina, who had kindly picked up some gels for me at the race expo (which I had forgotten to pack in my backpack), and she was nice enough to drive me back to Chuck and Susan's house where I met up with them for a late homemade spaghetti dinner.  The long day of drinking and fun plus the four hour time difference got me quite exhausted, and I had to wake up early for the race the next morning, so it was relatively early when I crashed and finally got to sleep.
The startline
The next morning, I was up early to get myself ready and to ride into the downtown with Chuck and Gaby.  Gaby would be running the full and Chuck the half. It was a balmy morning, 52°, but you could feel the saturation of humidity in the air.  It actually sprinkled a little prior about a half hour before we set off.  The Ultra Marathoners and Marathon Walkers began at 8am, with the marathon runners beginning an hour after us. It was a treat to be able to see Bart Yasso once again, who was announcing the start of the race and meeting George Rehmet, the Western Region Director of the Road Runners Club of America.  Just before the hour, I sang the national anthem at my 49th state for the small group of us doing the 8am start.
H Street, downtown Anchorage
After I sang the national anthem, the small group of us were off, running west down a closed down 6th Avenue, then making a right turn a block and a half later onto H Street.  From there, we ran three blocks north, before taking the steady downhill on Christiansen Drive toward 2nd Avenue.  We turned left onto 2nd Avenue, then immediately entered the trailhead of the Tony Knowles Coastal Trail at the corner of 2nd and H.  We ran through the woodsy area surrounding the paved trail, blocked off from the industrial grounds of the rail depot past the trees, while following the curve of the trail, rolling hills and all, as it skirted the coastline of the Knik Arm.

Running on the coastal trail
Named after former governor of Alaska, Tony Knowles, the coastal trail is known as one of the most beautiful coastal trails in all of the United States; in all, the trail runs 11 miles from Downtown Anchorage to the chalet at Kincaid Park, and is by far the city's most popular trail.  I was familiar with this route as a large majority of the Anchorage Mayor's Half which I ran in 2016, took place on this nicely paved trail. Because of its location next to the coast, one can watch the tide come and go, changing the dense glacial silt of the mudflats constantly. Some of the trail sits directly behind people's homes.  For a few miles, I ran alongside my friend, fellow Black Sheeper Noah, as I kept up a rigid interval of 14 minutes run/1 minute walk over the first five miles. We passed through Margaret Eagan Sullivan Park about two miles in, passing by where we would be turning onto the Chester Creek Trailway a few hours later.  We brushed past Westchester Lagoon over a few low lying bridges and continued on our coastal trek around the edge of the city of Anchorage.

Entering Point Woronzof Park
The coast is dotted with several parks which the trail runs through, including Lynn Ary Park just before our 5K mark, but most notably Earthquake Park, a 134-acre park set in the woods where, in 1964, an entire neighborhood slid into the ocean during the 20th century's most powerful earthquake. Measured at a 9.2 on the Richter scale and lasting 4 minutes long, this tragic event is today commemorated in this scenic park, where we found signs explaining the circumstances of the quake and its effect on the area. Somewhere in the park, Noah continued on while I took one of my timed walk breaks. After running through the park, we found ourselves on the trail passing by the northern end of the Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport, right at the edge of its north-south runway.  At this point, we were now 5.5 miles into our 30+ mile race, curving around into Point Woronzof Park, a 191.7-acre park created in 1994 as municipal dedicated parkland named by Lieutenant Joseph Whidbey, a participant in a 1794 around-the-world British expedition, who named the area after Russian ambassador Count Simon Romanovitch Woronzof.

Into the woods we go...
By about the 8.5 mile mark, we passed a bridge near the westernmost edge of the airport, a fair distance away from the edge of the east-west runway. This happened to also be the turnaround point for the marathon, and while some of those runners hadn't appeared yet having started an hour after us, they were sure to be coming through in droves as we came back from our turnaround point further up. The ultra course continued through the heavily forested area as it made its way into Kincaid Park, the rugged moraine at the southwestern tip of Anchorage that encompasses over 1,500 acres of vast woods. The race reached its hilliest point as we approached the uphill turnaround point at roughly the 10.5 mile point of our race, just a few hundred meters from the park's chalet. The clock said 1:47:29 as I rounded the cone. We then raced back the way we came, encountering marathoners at the aforementioned marathon turnaround point some two miles later - one of them for me being my friend Andy, just as he was coming toward the bridge.

Capturing some sights across the inlet
I felt quite strong in the first half of this race, clocking in a half marathon split of roughly 2:14.  Only once in the entirety of the first 13 miles did my pace go over 11 minutes per mile, which was good time for me, considering I had been carb loading with beer for pretty much the entire day prior, haha!  But as per usual, my pace slowed a bit after reaching that point.  I encountered a few other friends running the marathon as I made the run back; eventually, I'd reach the part of the trail open to the north-south runway of the airport once again (roughly 15.5 miles in), and now that it was midway through the morning, there was quite a bit more activity on the runway.  I even got to capture a FedEx plane taking off as it made its way out of Anchorage airspace (the Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport is a major cargo hub, in fact the fourth busiest in the world.)

Downtown in the distance heading back
The sun peeked out behind the overcast skies momentarily through my return along the Tony Knowles Coastal Trail, elevating the temperature just enough to wonder whether I should've put on some sunscreen that morning before the race.  Eventually, the skies began to cloud again, and it became somewhat inevitable that we'd experience precipitation at some point later that morning. We meandered back through Earthquake Park, and along the trail as it headed back in the direction of downtown Anchorage, reaching the Westchester Lagoon at mile 19 at roughly the 3:23 minute mark; a fairly decent 10:41 per mile average pace.  I was making very good headway, as we turned east past Margaret Eagan Sullivan Park to now continue along the Chester Creek Trail, a part of Anchorage I was now seeing for the first time.

Running the Chester Creek Trail
In the early parts of the Chester Creek Trail, I would encounter many of my friends doing the half marathon, as they were some two hours into their race. It was great to be able to see them, as well some of the marathoners who were heading back as well. The race directors had timed the starts conveniently that there would be ample opportunity to see many friends running different distances throughout the morning. The length of the Chester Creek Trail is roughly 4 miles long from Westchester Lagoon to Goose Lake, located behind the University of Alaska Anchorage and Alaska Pacific University. It passes through the city's greenbelt and several parks, like Tikishla, Woodside, the Davenport Fields, and Valley of the Moon, the last of which was a cut off point marathoners needed to reach by 2:30pm, which I was well ahead of.
Crossing the pedestrian bridge over Northern Lights Boulevard
Seeing other runners on their way back
After crossing a pedestrian bridge over Northern Lights Boulevard, we would run an additional mile out on an adjacent trail within Goose Lake Park that ran somewhat parallel to the boulevard we just ran over; altogether it was five miles out that gradually climbed uphill some 170 feet over the length of this section.  At a point near the 24 mile mark, we would reach a turnaround point as we took the trail all the way back to Westchester Lagoon, and to the right turn in Margaret Eagan Sullivan Park. It was after I had reached the turnaround point that the overcast skies gave way to rain, and at first it was a comfortable drizzle that didn't hamper me terribly. By the time I reached Westchester Lagoon at mile 28 with only a couple miles left to go, did the rain turn steadier and into droplets that were fully drenching me.

1K left to go! I'm getting soaked.
If I were to stop at the 26.2 mile mark, I would've run a successful sub-5 marathon in around 4:54.  But since it was a 49K, I still had roughly 7K to go, pushing me to 30.44 miles altogether.  As the rain fell harder when I returned onto the Coastal Trail, I pushed as I made my way back into Downtown Anchorage, pretty sure I was good to finish under six hours altogether. I pushed, even through the section of painted wooden planks that were made much more slippery by the rain, just as I was exiting the trailhead on 2nd Avenue. Mile 29.5 was Christensen Hill, the downhill I so enjoyed at the beginning of the race, which I had to trudge up with less than one mile to go. I eventually got up it, and ran the last few blocks into the finish, completing my 49 kilometers in 5:49:13, enough to be 57th of the 83 ultra finishers. Another kilometer, and I probably would have a strong sub-6 50K to my name! Gaby and Chuck were there at the finish to cheer me in, thrilled to see me accomplish my 47th marathon state. Before driving back to Chuck's house for much needed showers and warmth, we stopped off at the Visitors' Center a few blocks away, where I had decided to get my headstand photo taken. That day, the three of us came away finishers of the Anchorage RunFest races... in the half, full, and ultra!

Victory Headstand!
Enjoying dinner at Simon and Seaforts
After an afternoon resting, Chuck, Susan, Gaby, and I headed out to Simon and Seaforts, an Anchorage landmark and restaurant with beautiful panoramic views overlooking Cook Inlet, Mount Susitna and the Alaska Range. Popular for their seafood and steaks, we had a fantastic celebration dinner with our hosts, not only eating a delicious meal of locally-raised produce, but amongst great company.  I went to bed quite content with my accomplishments of the day.

The Anchorage Museum!
As both Gaby and I had flights the following day (mine in the afternoon and Gaby's later that night), I requested Chuck to drive me back downtown the next morning so I could spend a few hours checking out the Anchorage Museum, a really impressive, well thought out and well-designed museum with an extensive exhibit on Alaskan history and art, and exhibits on the Native Alaskan tribes that have lived in this part of the world for generations.  It was among the sites my friend Steve had recommended I visit the first time I came to Anchorage in 2016, but didn't get a chance to do.  Afterward, Chuck, Susan, and Gaby picked me up before we headed to Local Burgerman Arctic Roadrunner, a 50+ year old Alaskan institution serving up some of the best burgers in the entire state. The homemade burgers are delicious and quite filling, but even more interesting is the quirky decor; photos and tidbits adorn the walls on every available space of everyday people who have left the rest of the world and made their homes in Alaska. Not your everyday burger joint!
Learning about Native Alaskan tribes at the Anchorage Museum
With a little more time before Chuck and Susan drove me to the airport, we made one more stop on this rainy afternoon - Midnight Sun Brewing Company!  Having come here before on the brewery tour during my last trip to Anchorage, we enjoyed one more beer before I headed to the airport, making my way back to Seattle and taking the red eye all the way back home to New York for work on Tuesday morning.  It was a quick weekend on the other side of the country, but one I filled to the brim with exciting adventures with lots of friends, old and new!

Wednesday, May 1, 2019

Race Report: Rock 'n' Roll Chicago Half Marathon

In front of the CIBC Theatre
As race weekend approached, the weather reports called for rain practically the entire time I was going to be in town.  Friday's forecast showed scattered thunderstorms throughout the Chicago area, and that was not going to be favorable for my scheduled flight, especially with tickets to see Hamilton that night at the CIBC Theatre.  I was able to get confirmed on an even earlier flight allowing me to get enough time into Chicago to even head to McCormick Place and retrieve my bibs for my Saturday and Sunday races at the expo, as well as join in on a late afternoon dinner with my Black Sheep Run friends at a nearby restaurant, Seven Lions, prior to the show.  I even had time to stop into Gensler Chicago, the architecture firm where my friend Amy works in order to drop off my backpack as well as see an old classmate from architecture school, Dorothy, in the huge office building they both work at (it takes up an entire floor at the old Carson Pirie Scott and Company Building, a historic landmark in downtown Chicago designed by famed American architect Louis Sullivan.)
Black Sheep see Hamilton!
The Room Where It Happens!
Hamilton was fantastic, a show I'd seen once before on Broadway with the original cast, about three months after it had opened and before it won all of its Tony Awards.  Seeing the Chicago production allowed me to really take in the story more this time around.  And the cast... altogether outstanding, but standouts in a Filipina Eliza Schuyler, Jamila Sabares-Klemm, and a Korean Aaron Burr, Jin Ha.  I left ultimately inspired and mesmerized once again by this fantastic piece of American musical theatre.

The next morning, I woke up early to run the 5K, taking a Lyft down to Grant Park under some cloudy skies.  The air was pretty saturated, and it was palpable that rain was going to come down sometime that morning.  I approached the startline area at about 7am, a half hour before the start, to let the sound folks be aware that I was here.  With Dave Kappas and Creigh Kelley announcing at the start, I sang the national anthem for a crowd of some 2,300 people, and after a representative from lead sponsor Humana and Kathrine Switzer gave some remarks. In 1967, Switzer made history becoming the first woman to run the Boston Marathon as a numbered entry. During her run, race official Jock Semple attempted to stop Switzer and grab her official bib; however, he was shoved to the ground by Switzer's boyfriend at the time, who was running with her, and she completed the race. It was not until 1972 that women were allowed to run the Boston Marathon officially. She was running the 5K and the following day's half with Team 261 Fearless, her global nonprofit that uses running as the means to empower women to overcome life obstacles and embrace healthy living and named after the bib number she was assigned at the 1967 Boston Marathon.

The 5K off and running...
After I sang, we took off, it wasn't long til we crossed the starting line, heading north along Columbus Drive past Maggie Daley Park and Milennium Park under the covered lower level of Randolph Street, then emerged as we passed underneath Lake Shore Drive and turned right along the bike path that took us right along the shore of Lake Michigan southward.  I clocked a nice 9:07 first mile, and we zipped down along the bike path, dodging geese droppings left and right, finally reaching a water station around 1.5 miles in where I took my first quick walk break. People were out cheering us on as we continued further south, finally making a curvilinear turn along the paths directly in front of the Field Museum, then making our way underneath the Roosevelt Road Underpass, as I took a quick walk break, before continuing forward, as we headed northward along the sidewalk back toward Grant Park and the finish line. We passed Buckingham Fountain, and before long, made a left turn onto Jackson Drive, with the finish line in view. I crossed in 29:05 on a supremely flat course with barely any real elevation gain or loss to speak of - 30 feet at most. As I waited for friends to come into the finish, the rain started to come down, and many of us took cover in the merchandise tent located next to the finish line. I called for a Lyft to take me back to Amy's apartment in Lincoln Park some 5 miles north of where we were, but only a $5 shared ride.  Of course, my timing was supremely off... when I finally emerged from out of the tent when it seemed the rain started to dissipate, it decided to come down HARD, and I was fully drenched as I waited for my driver to pick me up, which took QUITE some time.

Frank Lloyd Wright statue in Oak Park
After finally getting back to Amy's, showering, and leaving my wet clothes out to dry in front of a heater, Amy and I were joined by her friend Marc, and we headed out west to the village of Oak Park to grab lunch at Q-BBQ before our 2:20pm tour reservation of the Frank Lloyd Wright Home and Studio.  In all the years I've visited Chicago, I had not visited Oak Park where Wright, probably one of the greatest American architects of all time, spent the first 20 years of his 70 year career.  We spent the afternoon touring his home, where he raised his family with his first wife Catherine and their six children, which was built in 1889.  It was remodeled as their family grew, and had additions made as Wright opened his studio and workspace, which was later converted into a living space. It is owned by the National Trust for Historic Preservation, and has been restored, maintained, and operated as a museum by The Frank Lloyd Wright Preservation Trust, who has volunteer docents that provide the roughly 40-minute tour for interested visitors.  After the tour, the three of us decided to walk down Forest Avenue, where many of his homes (mainly in the Prairie Style) still stand today and are privately owned and can be admired from the exterior.  Before heading back to Chicago, we stopped into Logan Square for a drink at Revolution Brewery, before they dropped me off for my early evening dinner with Black Sheep Run friends at Howells & Hood at the Tribune Tower downtown.
Inside Frank Lloyd Wright's studio
Black Sheep fun at Tribune Tower!
After a lively evening with runner friends with LOTS of photos and gift giving in honor of some of our most valiant and courageous club "members" fighting some tough challenges (lookin' at you, Jamie!) I headed back to Amy's as I needed to get to bed relatively early since the half the next morning was starting at a VERY early 6:30am. I woke up at 4:30 (blecch) and was out the door a little after 5 to grab another Lyft downtown, giving me enough time to stop into the VIP area for a quick bite (despite them not being fully ready) and to drop off my bag before heading to the start area at 6:10.

Me with Kathrine Switzer
Like the day before, Dave and Creigh emceed the pre-race festivities, with a Humana rep and Kathrine Switzer making some remarks for all the racers. The rain, which was guaranteed for the morning, began to fall as I came up to sing the national anthem, a teensy bit slower this time for the 11,000 folks prepared to run either 6.2 miles or 13.1 miles that morning. I had positioned my phone against one of the start tent's legs but failed to realize that where I had positioned it would end up cutting my head off in the video. But still, with the final strains of the anthem, I was able to check off my 48th state to sing the Star Spangled Banner!  Only two more to go... Alaska and Oklahoma, and they were already set in my calendar for August and November!
The start of the half marathon
Just after singing, I jumped into the corrals, and like the day before, we were off! I started in Corral 3, which meant crossing the start mat only a minute and a half after the first corral went off. Like the day before, we proceeded north along Columbus Drive, making our way toward the lower level of Randolph Street.  The rain seemed to come down a little harder as we began, and thankfully had a little break as we ran under the covered street.  We made a right turn, just like the day before, as I passed by the 261 Fearless team, shouting out to their group to enjoy the day despite the dampness.  Before long, we were back under the skies, and turned left instead of right as we made our way up the slight ramp uphill to Lower Wacker Drive. Before long, we were under covered streets again (thank goodness for the double - and sometimes triple - decked streets of downtown Chicago) as we ran westward, before making our first bridge crossing over the William P. Fahey Bridge on Columbus Drive.

Near Lower Wacker Drive
This being my fourth time running the streets of Chicago (after 2014 and 2015 Rock 'n' Roll Chicago Half Marathons and the 2014 Chicago Marathon), I knew what to expect when running over the bridges that span over the Chicago River that snakes its way through the downtown. In all my three previous races, carpet was laid out over parts of the movable bridges that had metal grates open to the water below.  This was precautionary, so that runners wouldn't slip from the rubber soles of their shoes.  Except for today, when the weather was messy enough to warrant needing the carpets.  So, I gingerly made my way across this and all the other bridges later on in the race, as the course continued on. Also, unfortunately, as the rain fell, water would pool in some of the sort of "sunken" areas on the bridges, where the grates were filled in with cement, providing for some of the more unfortunate moments where my shoes and socks would get even more soaked.
Going through Chicago's multi-level streets
Soaked in front of the Chicago Theatre
We made our way through the neighborhoods of Streeterville and River North, zigzagging through the city streets - first along Grand Avenue, then southward on State Street as rain continued to fall, somewhat mistily at first, into full on drops, soaking everything.  A few times during the run, I stopped to take my phone out for a photo, carefully removing it from the ziploc bag Amy gave me to keep my phone from shorting from the moisture. Despite the weather, many were out cheering for us, kept dry from umbrellas, raincoats, and ponchos; as we crossed the Chicago River once again, I stopped for a drenched photo in front of the Chicago Theatre a little over 2 miles into the race.  The course then weaved its way through the West Loop (crossing the Chicago River another two times) along Randolph Street and then Madison Street out almost to I-90, before looping right back along Monroe Street before finding our way back to State Street heading south.  Some bakery was baking cookies or something sweet near the 3 mile mark, because the delicious smell permeated the air as we passed through.

Running through Downtown Chicago
We headed down State Street for about five blocks, before turning onto Van Buren Street, where we would run underneath the L for a few blocks, looping out around Franklin and onto Harrison before our long slog along Michigan Avenue southward in the South Loop. The rain was falling on and off, but stopped slightly around this time.  Around the mile 7 mark, somewhere near Cermak, I apparently missed my friend Hanna, girlfriend of my second cousin Mark, who was out there cheering for runners along the route.  I wouldn't find out she was out cheering until after I was done with the race, when she tagged me in an Instagram story taking a walk break. Haha :D

Heading down the South Loop
We passed the Stevenson Expressway, now in the neighborhood of Bronzeville, passing by Mercy Hospital. We finally turned left onto 31st Street at the 8 mile mark, knowing that a roughly half mile out-and-back was ahead of us.  When we reached the turn onto Martin Luther King Drive, I decided I would try to run as much of the out and back as I could.  Along the way, I saw several friends either slightly in front of me or behind me, including Hollie and Tawni. Finally back on 31st Street, the clouds decided to unleash the strongest rain of the entire race, soaking everybody head to toe.  So drenched, we soldiered on, making our way over the railroad tracks and over Lake Shore Drive, to the mile 10 mark as we proceeded along Fort Dearborn Drive, making our way northward for the last three miles of the race.

Lake Shore Drive, downtown in clouds
I met Joan about 1/4 mile before the run through the covered areas through McCormick Place, who had arrived a little late for the 10K race and was feeling down on herself for being so far behind.  I told her not to fret - we were all crossing the same finish line, and joked about "how the sun was going to start finally shining down on us in the final mile of the race, just you wait." As I left her and ran through McCormick Place, I wondered aloud - "it seems much darker through here than the two other times I've run this race!" Chalk it up to the gloomy weather, or perhaps Rock 'n' Roll chose to not light this section of the course as well as in previous years, but I kept on, as I knew there were only a couple miles left.

Victory Headstand at "The Bean"
The course wrapped around the McCormick Place parking lot, as we followed 18th Drive to the ramp onto Lake Shore Drive, where we would run until the finish line only 1.1 miles away.  Barricaded by a line of semis, we finished our final mile as we continued on Columbus Drive, the same road where we started only 2 1/2 hours earlier.  I crossed the finish line in 2:28:00, thankfully done from 13.1 miles of running while being thoroughly soaked. After receiving my finisher medal and my remix challenge medal, I beelined back to the VIP area, where I was able to promptly get a massage to ease out the soreness in my calves, and partake in the delicious catered buffet brunch, which included waffles and bacon!  The rain continued to fall on and off, and I eventually made my way out of the closed streets of the Grant Park area, to take my headstand photo at Cloud Gate, better known to tourists as "The Bean," a polished stainless steel sculpture and the centerpiece of AT&T Plaza at Millennium Park, which has been a Chicago landmark since its installation in 2006. I grabbed a Lyft back to Lincoln Park, and got myself cleaned up before Amy and I headed out to the movies for a 3pm showing of "Incredibles 2" at the Arclight Theatre in the North and Clybourn commercial district of Old Town.
Chowing down on a Chicago Flag cookie!
Dinner with my cousins and friends
at Barcocina in Lakeview
After the movie, we headed up to Lakeview, where we made reservations for a group of ten for dinner at Barcocina.  I invited some Michigan friends who lived in the area, and a couple cousins and their significant others, as well as my running buddy Hyalker, who used to live in Chicago and moved out to Denver fairly recently, with his two siblings, as we enjoyed a lively evening of catching up with each other.  The evening died down, and Amy and I headed back to her apartment, as we made another early night of it, as I had an flight early (again) the next morning back to New York City.

Bling haul for the weekend!
Another 4:30am wakeup call, and I was out the door headed out to O'Hare for my 6am flight back home, in time for work.  But the weather that had crippled Chicago over the weekend had headed east, so I was saddled with an unfortunate hour-long delay before our flight could take off for me to head home, and off to work.  I made it to the office by 11, and like clockwork, worked a full day like I usually do... but I brought home three new snazzy medals, my 90th half marathon was complete, as was national anthem state #48!  Chicago's always a fun place to visit, and I'm so glad I made it work once again.