Tuesday, February 11, 2020

Race Report: Tet Riga Marathon

To recap how I decided to do this double, it was back in January of 2019 when I started to do research on a few European races, looking at some double marathons on consecutive days when I found the option of doing a Helsinki, Finland/Riga, Latvia or Helsinki, Finland/Copenhagen, Denmark double. It was going to be two marathons, two days (in actuality, all within 24 hours), in two countries.  A rather logistically challenging feat, but one that could be done.  However, because of the late start of the Helsinki race, I wouldn't be able to make in time back to the airport for a flight to either of the second destinations on Saturday, meaning I'd have to look at options for a "first thing in the morning" flight on Sunday.  SAS had a flight to Copenhagen and AirBaltic a flight to Riga; the Copenhagen flight would land only an hour before its race start, the Riga flight two hours before its race start.  I inquired with fellow world traveling marathoners in the Marathon Globetrotters Facebook group, asking about the reliability of AirBaltic, the flag carrier of Latvia, which I didn't know too much about, and then ultimately decided on that combination for the weekend. The two hour cushion gave me more assurance in case of flight delays or other hindrances.

A completely empty plane!
So, when we last left off, I had just finished the Helsinki City Marathon in Helsinki. With a rather unique start time of 3PM, I finished 4 hours and 39 minutes later, before 8PM local time.  After waiting for friends to finish, I got a train back to my hotel, the Hilton at Helsinki Airport, where I decided to stay because of my very early morning flight the next morning to Riga. By the time I got back to the Hilton, it was nearing 9pm, and with my impending 5:30am flight, I quickly packed everything up and forced myself to sleep.  I woke up at 3:30am, more than enough time for me get dressed for the race underneath some sweats, walk over to Terminal 1 without feeling rushed, and got through security quickly, ready to get on the flight to Riga on time. After passing through the boarding door, the jet bridge quickly took us downstairs to an awaiting bus that drove us out to the AirBaltic plane flying us on the 45 minute flight.  I would run into my friend Paul, who I had spoken with about this trip, but wasn't sure if he was going to attempt to do the same - it turns out, he would!  We sat together on the short flight which had barely 20 people on board; the flight was virtually empty.  We'd arrive early into Riga (before 6:30), with more than enough time to get a cab into the old town to prepare for the marathon start at 8:40 that morning!

I had read that while there was no Uber in Riga, there was Bolt, an app formerly known as Taxify, that could be used to book a cab in a similar way, which was the same app I used when I was in Malta. Upon leaving the airport, Paul and I were easily able to get one of those cabs, and for €6.90, we were in Riga's historical centre, known as Vecrīga (literally "Old Riga"), where the cab had brought us within a short distance of my hotel, the Hotel Justus.  The cab driver was a little concerned with getting into Riga because of road closures due to the marathon, but having researched on the Riga Marathon website, the Akmens Bridge was going to be open for cars getting into the old city, but not out, at that early hour. It was 7am, and I still had more than an hour and a half before the race would start.  After dropping my bag, I went to pick up my bib from my friend Bernadette's hotel, just across Cathedral Square (Doma laukums), where she had left it with the concierge.  I still had quite a bit of time to spare, so I headed back to my hotel and used the time to upload some photos from the Helsinki part of my trip using the hotel's WiFi, before heading out to the November 11th Embankment (11. novembra krastmala) for the race start.

The start line!
It was a beautiful morning in Riga with temperatures similar to that in Helsinki the previous day, as half marathon and marathon runners began to assemble on the street prior to the race.  We were located right next to the Daugava River, the river that flows right through the center of Riga, which we'd be crossing multiple times over a number of bridge crossings in the city. The atmosphere was electric; the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF), international governing body for athletics, had just named the 2019 edition of the Riga Marathon as a Gold Label Road Race, the first Northern European marathon to join the league of the world's most prestigious races, which includes Berlin, Tokyo, New York, Prague, Amsterdam, Vienna among many others. In 2018, only 36 marathons worldwide were allowed to use the IAAF Gold Label (of which only 11 were in Europe).  Prior to this year, the race spent six consecutive years as a Bronze Label Road Race. The race has been around since 1991, and is one of the fastest growing marathons in Europe.

Bernadette and I at the start
With some great music pumping up the crowd, announcements were made in Latvian, with a few in English as well; but it was truly an international race, as they spent a bit of time welcoming runners from the many different countries being represented in that morning's race, saying a phrase or two in their native language.  I ran into my Bernadette while waiting for the race to start, thrilled to be able to see her and thank her for helping me with getting my bib, as I wasn't sure if I was going to be able to see her at all over the weekend. Shortly thereafter, we were off, heading north along the wide multi-lane road.  I ran alongside a group of rather cheerful Spaniards as the route ran alongside the Daugava, turning into Eksporta iela, before veering right onto slightly narrower treelined Elizabetes iela.  All the while, the route was quite crowded, with many runners jockeying for position.  The legs were doing fine, but I was running noticeably slower than the day before.
Treelined Elizabetes iela
The Three Star Tower in the distance
We eventually turned right about 1.25 miles in, turning onto Krišjāņa Valdemāra iela, Riga's main street, passing by a number of beautiful Art Nouveau buildings, including the Latvian National Museum of Art (Latvijas Nacionālais mākslas muzejs), the Art Academy of Latvia (Latvijas Mākslas akadēmija), and Latvian National Theatre (Latvijas Nacionālais teātris).  As we continued down the street, we could Riga Castle's (Rīgas pils) prominent Three Star Tower piercing the air.  The road shifted slightly, and all of a sudden, the 358 foot tall concrete pylon of the Vanšu Bridge (Vanšu tilts) came into view.

The leaders of the race!
We began to ascend the bridge's span, making our way past Riga Castle, as the pylon became the dominant figure directly in front of us.  We hit the second mile of the race as we made or way over, passing by its array of cables, which were each covered by an entanglement of barbed wire, in order to prevent people from attempting to climb them. As we made our way over the span, I took advantage of the slight downhill, as we made our way down an offramp onto the neighborhood of Ķīpsala, on the same named island, on the left bank of the Daugava. The route took us up Ķīpsalas iela, the main road of the island, as faster runners began to make their way toward us, having completed the loop on the north end of the island.  We were largely surrounded by a mix of traditional and more modern residential buildings as we made our way further north. After turning right onto the slightly uphill Enkura iela, and then left onto Ogļu iela, I hit the 5K mat in just under 34 minutes, quite a bit slower than yesterday.  And within that amount of time, the temperatures already felt like they were beginning to warm up.
Vanšu Bridge before the 5K mark
Quiet residential area on Ķīpsala Island
It was pretty narrow as we made our way up this street, before turning onto a small street where an aid station was located, then turning left onto Matrožu iela, curving its way to Zvejnieku iela, which eventually became Ķīpsalas iela making our way back toward the road coming off of the Vanšu Bridge. When we got back to Krišjāņa Valdemāra iela, we veered right, taking the onramp back onto the wide four-lane street, continuing westward.  Faster runners were coming back along the other side of the street, which was separated by a metal barricade, which only meant the turn around point (which was not immediately visible), was not too far away.  Looming over us to our left were a pair of 30-story cylindrical towers, a high rise luxury condominium known as Z Towers.

Back across the Vanšu Bridge!
The route took us back over the Vanšu Bridge, giving us our first real view of the Riga skyline, with all of the old town's church steeples being beautifully lit by the morning sun. After crossing the bridge, we continued along Krišjāņa Valdemāra iela, passing by a legion of camouflage-clad men and women, sporting badges from various countries, actively manning an aid station for the runners.  This was also where I noticed that in the four aid stations we had passed so far into the race, each one of them not only had water and energy drink, but also LOTS of bananas and oranges (some even so largely cut, they were hard to bite!)  It was then I realized... it helps to have one of your race's major sponsors be THE major supermarket retailer in the country, Rimi Baltic.

The most festive part of the race!
We turned right onto Zigfrīda Annas Meierovica bulvāris, the first boulevard of Riga, which ran alongside the City Canal (Pilsētas kanāls), the city’s old moat, which once protected the medieval interior from invaders.  We would be on here just for a short period of time, passing a couple of the beautiful canalside parks.  Along the way, we crossed the 10K mat - for me, in about 1:08 - before we reached Freedom Square (Brīvības laukums). Locals dressed in traditional Latvian dress were dancing and cheering on the runners as we ran by, giving out high fives as they stood on platforms above the runners.  In front of us was the Freedom Monument (Brīvības piemineklis), a 138 foot tall memorial honoring soldiers killed during the Latvian War of Independence, an important symbol for the country, and often serves as the focal point for public gatherings and official ceremonies in the country.  So it was fitting to have it be a prime centerpiece for the race!
The Freedom Monument
Nativity Cathedral
As we ran past the monument, we were on Brīvības iela, the central street of the Latvian capital.  Historically, the street was the beginning of an important trade route, and now we were running along it on as an out-and-back. Along the way, we'd pass the Nativity Cathedral (Kristus Piedzimšanas pareizticīgo katedrāle), the main Russian Orthodox cathedral in Riga; the Palace of Justice (Latvijas Tiesu pils), home of the Supreme Court of Latvia, of the Cabinet of Ministers of Latvia and the headquarters of the Ministry of Justice; St. Gertrude Old Church (Vecā Svētās Ģertrūdes Evaņģēliski luteriskā baznīca), the parish church of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Latvia, long associated with Riga's German ethnic community; and the bright yellow and green St. Alexander Nevsky Church, a wooden church originally constructed in the 1820s.  Some of the city's notable Art Nouveau style architecture could be seen along this street as well, which we ran along clear to Stabu iela and the "Corner House," a former building of the KGB of the Latvian SSR during the second Soviet occupation of Latvia, now home to an exhibition on the KGB operations in the country, as part of the Museum of the Occupation of Latvia.
St. Gertrude Old Church
Laima Clock
House of the Black Heads
We returned along the other side of the road past the Freedom Monument past the Laima Clock (Laimas pulkstenis), a landmark advertising local chocolate brand Laima that has been known as a meeting place since it was erected in 1924, so people wouldn't have an excuse for being late to work.  We then crossed the street over to Kaļķu iela, a cobblestoned street running right through the middle of the busy old town of Riga.  Barricaded to give us exclusive access to the road, we made our way through as the pavers changed from smooth to slightly uneven,and emerged at the Rātslaukums, Riga's Old Town Square, as we passed Riga City Hall (Rīgas dome) and the House of the Blackheads (Melngalvju nams), the landmark, Gothic style building, once home to a guild for merchants, shipowners and foreigners, and now a fascinating museum.

Akmens Bridge and the National Library
Once we reached the riverside, we finally left the cobblestones behind, but now crossed the Daugava River once again, this time over Akmens Bridge (Akmens tilts), making our way across the span and rounding the offramp onto AB dam, a dam built in the 1880s to save Riga from excessive flooding.  The dam was rebuilt in the 1960s after thwarted attempts to blow it up and now serves as a backdrop for international concerts, festivals and community activities. We ran along its length, making our way past a monumental flagpole bearing a huge 20 meter x 10 meter Latvian flag, with its distinctive carmine red bands surrounding the central band of white. We reached the 15K mat in just under 1:40, as we made our way down the length of the dam, and now under the Akmens Bridge.

Mūkusalas iela, with the TV tower
Now running south along Mūkusalas iela, the road along the Daugava River's western shore, we made our way past a very modern building, the National Library of Latvia (Latvijas Nacionālā bibliotēka), built by renowned Latvian architect Gunnar Birkerts in 2014.  The building's design evokes a "crystal mountain," symbolizing the height of achievement – something not easily attainable but full of rewards for those who make the commitment to reach its peak. As we continued down the flat road, the heat began to take its toll on us, reaching the 70s.  We could see the easily recognizable Riga Radio and TV Tower (Rīgas radio un televīzijas tornis), situated on Zaķusala Island, the massive 1,207 foot tall tower that is the tallest in all of the EU, but the third tallest in Europe (less than the Ostankino Tower in Moscow, Russia and Kiev TV Tower in Kiev, Ukraine)

Krasta iela, heading north
Eventually, we made our way up a ramp toward the roadway taking us across another bridge, the Salu Bridge (Salu tilts), which first crossed over Lucavsala Island and its largely pastoral surroundings, and eventually over Zaķusala Island.  As we were running along one side of the multi lane road, the other side was already choked with busy traffic, additionally dealing with some mundane road construction providing for a rather dusty environment as we made our way across the river. When we finally made it back to the east bank of the river, we made our way down the ramp to Krasta iela, one of the largest streets in the city, heading north back toward where we had started. After another mile, the half marathoners running alongside us joyfully crossed the finish line, while us full marathoners continued on; I'd reach the halfway point of the race in just over 2:24.  It was a considerably thinner crowd of runners continuing on, along the part of the road we ran early on in the race during the start.
Very lonely on Riga's streets during the second half of the race
The hooklike out-and-back in Skanste
Only a couple other marathoners were in my line of sight in front of me, as we followed Eksporta iela north, passing where we had turned off a couple hours ago near the start of the race, and instead turning left a few blocks north at Hanzas iela, as it skirted the Viesturdārzs park, the oldest park in the city.  We continued east, as we made our way to a long hooklike out-and-back section of the course that would take us to the neighborhood of Skanste, northeast of the city center.  Skanste is known for being one the most modern parts of the city, largely populated by office towers, sports infrastructure complexes and high rise residential buildings.  From Hanzas iela, we veered left onto Skanstes iela, taking the course around past large swaths of land ripe for development, before turning right onto Zirņu iela, right onto Vesetas iela, and then looping ourselves around toward the area's huge Elektrum Olympic Center and Arēna Rīga sports complexes, where our turnaround point was located.  This was one of the most boring parts of the course, devoid of crowd support, and largely put in place to add up the mileage - some 4.25 miles out, and 4.25 miles back.  By the time we returned to Hanzas iela, and made our way back toward the Old Town, we were nearly 19 miles into the race.

One last view of Z Towers in Ķīpsala
Once back near the city center, we turned left onto Pulkveža Brieža iela to bring us back to Elizabetes iela, the 19th mile of the race.  We'd follow familiar streets for the remainder of the race, heading back over the Daugava River along the Vanšu Bridge for the third time, this time with the sun blaring down on us as trudged over the river once again.  We disembarked back onto Ķīpsala, following the same roads we ran down early on in the race, returning back to the bridge span, but now seeing thousands of runners on an out-and-back -- these were the participants in the 10K race that began at 12:30, four hours after our start.  While I was approaching the 4 1/2 hour mark of my race, they were only halfway through theirs, and once we joined them on Krišjāņa Valdemāra iela, we would veer a bit further to our turnaround point past the Z Towers.  The only peace of mind was that I only had three miles left in my race once we reached the turnaround-- and that it wouldn't be so lonely again on the course, as the 10K route would be joining the marathoners all the way to the finish line.
One last crossing of the Vanšu Bridge
Struggling through the 40 km mark
One last crossing of the Vanšu Bridge took us back to through the Old Town, and we were led back toward the Freedom Monument, to follow Brīvības iela for the last out-and-back of the race.  Back through the old town and those perilous cobblestones along Kaļķu iela, and we were within striking distance of our finish line.  I finally crossed with a finish time of 5:23:05.  It was considerably warmer, and I definitely felt the heat take its toll on me over the last two hours of the race.  The temperatures had reached 81° by the time I finished, a marked difference compared to the high 60s in Helsinki the day before. Getting only four hours of sleep between races probably didn't help either!

Local food!
Marathoners were led directly to an exclusive "finishers' lounge" in a cordoned off area near the finish after receiving our medal.  The unique medal was one of the big draws of this race for me; its beautiful design, reminiscent of the arcade game Q*Bert, was created by Latvian artist Artūrs Analts. Per the artist: "I created a medal for each distance with one unifying element: a cube. The cube structure reflects the process - systematic physical and mental work to prepare for the goal. Each cube represents one kilometer, and together they make up the medal’s shape - the distance. The medal is an optical illusion, an impossible journey, as a marathon can sometimes be. The path of this cube can be run in different ways, symbolising each runner’s uniqueness, unrelenting training process and willpower." In the lounge, we were treated to a truly fantastic way to celebrate my Riga Marathon finish... local food!  Prepared for me was oat porridge (auzu pārslu putra) with cowberry sauce (similar to the Swedish lingonberry) - and some buttered rye bread (rupjmaize)!
Showing off my newest bling!
A Victory Headstand with the Vanšu Bridge!
House of the Black Heads ballroom
After getting my headstand photo, fittingly with the Vanšu Bridge in the background (after all, I crossed over it four times!), I walked back to my hotel for a much needed shower and a 90 minute nap! I woke up to grab some food but also explore what I could of Riga before the end of the day, walking over to the House of the Black Heads, originally built in 1334, and checking out its fascinating exhibits on a self-guided tour: the historical cellar, the only original part of the building which survived World War II and the Soviet occupation, housing a wine cellar, a hypocaust (hot air furnace), and several exhibits relating to trading in Riga; the sumptuous grand ballrooms, rich with beautiful paintings (including a ceiling painting, the “Apotheosis of St. Maurice,” considered a masterpiece of decorative and monumental art), crystal chandeliers, and replicas of 19th century chairs and sofas; as well as the historical cabinetry housing silverware and snuffboxes that once belonged to the Brotherhood of the Black Heads, a merchant guild active during medieval times.

Baltic Sea caught pike perch!
Dinner followed, and I headed to Restorans Zila Govs, which touts a more modern twist on Latvian cuisine.  While I prefer more "mom and pop style" food, I was drawn to this restaurant due to its presentation and relative affordability.  It seemed that more restaurants in Riga designed their menus to cater to more "refined" tastes. I enjoyed a version of the national dish, pelēkie zirņi ar speķi, a stew of grey peas with speck. Their version was a yellow pea mash with speck and some toasted rye bread. I followed that with beetroot soup, better known to many as #borscht (though I never caught the Latvian word for it...) and finally, for a main dish, a delicious pike perch fillet, locally caught in the Baltic Sea.

The Cat House
The Three Brothers
I had a bit of time to explore near the restaurant, so I checked out some other local sites such as the the Three Brothers (the oldest dwelling homes in the entire city, dating back to as early as the late 15th century) and the Cat House (with its two cat sculptures, with arched backs and raised tails, on its roof.) Legend has it that a disgruntled tradesman who was not accepted into the Big Guild, built this house and put the cats on it with their tails pointing towards the Big Guild, thus expressing his scorn. I also stopped into a souvenir shop that sold Latvia's national liqueur, black balsam -- supposedly, it’s also a good cold remedy - no wonder it has a very “cough syrup” like taste, especially the cherry variety - and used to treat digestive problems (though there are no epidemiological studies which back these claims up.) I much preferred the cream liqueur version, as it tasted like Bailey's!
Various types of Black Balsam, Latvia's national beverage
What a sunset!
Before the sun went down, I went on a little excursion to find a memorial a little outside of the city center.  While I had an impressive sunset as I crossed the Akmens bridge in a bus headed toward the memorial -- complete with the Swedbank Latvia headquarters (the tallest building in Latvia at 397 feet tall), the nearly 200-foot tall Latvian flag on the AB dam, and the Vanšu Bridge in the distance -- my ultimate destination was quite the sight when I finally reached it.  The Victory Memorial to the Soviet Army (Uzvaras Piemineklis) consists of a tall concrete obelisk adorned with five golden stars symbolising the five years of World War II, with massive bronze statues of Mother Russia and soldiers advancing with their weapons raised on either side. It was erected in 1985 to commemorate the Soviet Army's victory over Nazi Germany in World War II. The flowers surrounding the monument were placed there only a few days before, on May 9, Victory Day in Russia, commemorating the surrender of the Nazi Germany in 1945. The monument remains a controversial subject, as many ethnic Latvians regard it not only as a symbol of Soviet victory in the Second World War, but also of the Soviet re-occupation of Latvia.  It was completely empty when I visited, so I was able to get some really interesting photos - the first time for me to visit a Soviet style monument!  I headed home to crash, and ready to explore for the limited time I had the following morning.
The controversial Victory Memorial to the Soviet Army (Uzvaras Piemineklis)
Riga Central Market
After breakfast, I left my bags with the front desk and checked out, but gave myself ample time to check out more of Riga that I could before catching a cab to the airport.  I walked down to the Riga Central Market, the central and largest market in the city. First opened in 1930, it was the largest and most advanced market in the world, with an area of 72,000 square meters, and is still one of the biggest markets at least on the European continent. Fresh produce, including seafood, meat (mostly pork), vegetables, breads, and cheeses make up much of the market’s haul, which receives upwards of 160,000 visitors on its busiest days.  It wasn't as busy today, but I really enjoyed the atmosphere, and even sampled a bit of the food being sold!

"Stalin's Birthday Cake"
Nearby was the Latvian Academy of Sciences building (Latvijas Zinātņu Akadēmija), located in the Riga suburb of Maskavas Vorstadt. It is the official science academy of Latvia and is an association of the country's foremost scientists. Nicknamed locally with scorn as “Stalin's Birthday Cake,” it was built after World War II between 1951 and 1961, collecting the necessary financing from the newly established kolkhozes (a form of collective farm in the Soviet Union, a component of socialized agriculture) in the former Latvian SSR and – as further expenses increased, collecting the finances as "voluntary donations" deducted from the salaries of the Latvian rural population. The building is decorated with several hammer and sickle symbols as well as Latvian folk ornaments and motifs. The spire was originally decorated with a wreath and a five pointed star, which was removed after Latvia regained independence in 1991.
A view into Old Town from the balcony of the Latvian Academy of Sciences
View toward the Riga TV Tower
Being 354 feet tall, it was the first skyscraper in the republic and was the tallest building in the country until the construction of the Swedbank Latvia headquarters, and at the time, one of the highest reinforced concrete buildings in the world. It is a “cousin” to similar Stalin-era skyscrapers, which were representative of what became known as Stalinist Architecture (sometimes referred to as Socialist Classicism). The architecture of the skyscraper resembles many others built in the Soviet Union and Eastern Bloc countries at the time, much like Warsaw’s Palace of Culture and Science (Pałac Kultury i Nauki), which I visited in April. The view of the Riga cityscape is open for public viewing from its 17th-floor balcony.

Dome Cathedral
One last stroll through Riga’s Old City took me past the Riga Cathedral or Dome Cathedral near my hotel (one of the most recognizable landmarks in Latvia), St. Peters Church, St. James Cathedral, the Latvian National Opera, and more examples of the beautiful Art Nouveau architecture and the quaint cobblestoned streets that bring so much character to this charming city. Before long, my time was up and I had to head to the airport for my flights returning home to New York through London.

Riga Airport has no direct flights to Heathrow, only ones with connections. They do, however, fly to London’s other airports, including an AirBaltic flight to Gatwick (LGW). When I booked my flights for this trip at the beginning of April, I begrudgingly added the RIX-LGW segment, knowing I would have to figure out the Gatwick to Heathrow connection, which could be via taxi or bus (direct, but at the mercy of extremely unpredictable London traffic at rush hour) or via train (through central London). For sheer frugality, I booked a bus fare with National Express, and also a Premium Passport Control (basically “Fast Track” since I'd be exiting the airport in London) for peace of mind.

The closer this travel weekend came, the more nervous I got with that connection, so I decided to use some points on a cheap Lufthansa flight taking me from Riga to Heathrow via Frankfurt. It would leave prior to the AirBaltic flight.  I got to the Riga airport, and got through security fairly quickly with my Lufthansa boarding pass, and proceeded to the Priority Pass lounge. While sitting there, I get a notification that the second segment of my Lufthansa flight, from Frankfurt to Heathrow, was suddenly cancelled. So I decide, “I still have the AirBaltic flight (which leaves two hours after the Lufthansa flight), why not get on that,” so I check in. I get on the phone with Chase to get the Lufthansa flight refunded because of the “short term involuntary change” from Lufthansa. However, they’re unable to process a refund at that moment because it’s 6am in the US, and their Lufthansa agents who could issue them a waiver are not available for several more hours.

Literally 20 minutes before the Lufthansa flight was to leave, I get a notification that I’ve been rebooked on an earlier FRA-LHR flight that leaves me only 55 minutes to connect upon arrival in Frankfurt. I realize that this was totally not going to happen. I headed to the Lufthansa gate to double check with the agents there, and they’re a bit skeptical, too. So, as boarding was happening, I quickly decide to not get on that flight.

Flying home!
I watch the Lufthansa flight leave the gate (mind you, fifteen minutes LATE!) while I wait for the AirBaltic flight to Gatwick.  I board that flight and we end up leaving a few minutes early and arrive in London a few minutes early! Immigration also ends up being a breeze - I didn’t even have to use the Premium Passport Control pass, but I do anyway, since I paid for it. I even get on an earlier National Express bus and traffic is not terrible at all. I get into Heathrow nearly two hours before my flight and after navigating through the terminal and fast track security, I end up being able to spend a good 45 minutes to relax in the Virgin Atlantic Clubhouse, even fitting in a complimentary express facial at the spa, and even a quick bite and a mojito. I got on my flight home to New York on Virgin Atlantic, glad to use one of my Global Upgrade Certificates to upgrade into Business Class... though unfortunately, I'm booked on an A340, one of the airline's oldest planes in its fleet (about 14.5 years old) that didn’t have WiFi, touchscreens or USB ports. The pilot even announced over the PA: "yeah, this plane is being retired in a few months."

Accomplished weekend!
Despite that, the trip home was very comfortable, and I got to make use of the lieflat seats, a delicious catered dinner, and the onboard bar, where I got to drink and socialize with a couple other passengers who were trying to shock their systems back into Eastern time zone!  I came home knowing I accomplished a unique feat: two marathons, two consecutive days, in two countries (Finland and Latvia) and all within 24 hours, from the start of the Helsinki City Marathon at 3pm on Saturday to my finish of the Riga Marathon at 2pm on Sunday!

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