2017 Philadelphia Marathon – Race recap

On Sunday 19th November I participated in my sixth Philadelphia Marathon. I have come quite a way since my very first marathon also in Philadelphia in 2011. This race would take my total number of marathons to 19 setting the stage for number 20 in January at Walt Disney World. Trying not to get ahead of myself though, I’d like to focus on my experience for this race.

Last year the running of the Philadelphia Marathon transferred hands from the City of Philadelphia to the race team that hosts the Broad Street Run. They made some changes to the weekend, some welcomed and some less so. One of the changes was to split the half and the full races into separate days and different courses. They also created a challenge event for those that participated in both races, the ‘Rocky Challenge’. If you follow my recap from last year you can read how that unfolded.

This year the race organizers announced the challenge (rebranded the ‘Liberty Bell Challenge’) at the time of registration. Seeing as I will be running a 39.3 mile event at Walt Disney World in January I decided that I would focus on just the marathon this time around. I do occasionally need to get some sleep.

As always, I was getting excited prior to race day as I followed my friends running the Chicago Marathon, the Marine Corps Marathon and the New York City Marathon in the weeks leading up to Philly. I was just waiting for it to be my turn. Soon enough though the weekend rolled around.

I visited the expo on Friday evening. It was again held at the Philadelphia Convention Center in Center City. Packet pickup was fairly straight forward. I was only doing the marathon this year but it looked like they were pretty organized for the challenge runners unlike last year when no one seemed to know what I was talking about.

Arriving at the Convention Center

Expo time

Once I picked up my race bib and shirt I went back to a table I had passed on my way to packet pick up to do a quick meet and greet with Bill Rodgers who was signing copies of his new book. I asked him to sign my bib as I had met him previously but didn’t think to ask him for his signature. I hoped that having a four time Boston Marathon and four time New York City Marathon winner and former Olympian sign my bib would automatically make me run faster…

Bib pick was well organized

Bib pick was well organized

Bib pickup was fairly easy

Once I had finished meeting Bill (he’s a talker 🙂 ) I headed over to the expo and to the race merchandise area. As per prior year it was well stocked and divided up into men’s and women’s sections. I made my purchase of a puffer vest that I had looked at the prior year and passed on and also a new beanie. I was happy with my purchases but even happier about the bag that they provided for my new gear. Okay, maybe I get too excited by race expos but I thought that if they are going to take the time to provide logo bags then they might enhance the running experience on the day. We shall see.

Meeting Bill Rodgers

Fingers crossed this brings me good luck

At the expo they had the Lexus pace car on display. It was covered with the names of all the runners. This was not an alphabetical list so after a few minutes of looking for my name I gave up. I’m sure it was somewhere on there. Why would it not be alphabetical????

Seriously…not alphabetical?

Seriously…not alphabetical?

I didn’t make any major purchases at the expo…unless you count registering for another marathon. Yup, I’m now registered for the 2018 Delaware Marathon in late April. I had my eye on this as I can drive there on the day and I was looking for a spring race. They were offering a discount so I went for it. Looks like another winter training plan for me. With no other merchandise jumping out at me and no other needs or accessories that were required I headed home for an early night and hopefully a restful weekend.

Something different

My next race…after my next race

What was planned to be a restful day came to a grinding halt early Saturday afternoon. While I was driving the family to the car dealership so my wife could do some test drives, I had a major cramp in my left calf. It came from nowhere and was extremely painful. I couldn’t walk for a good amount of time and I was seriously concerned. I reached out to my runner friends for advice and they all told me to hydrate. I started pounding water for the next couple of hours to which came the next bit of advice…don’t drink just water, electrolytes…you need electrolytes. So at this point I was heading home and started taking salt tabs every 30 minutes or so as I tried to massage out my calf. Then I was told to take an Epsom salt bath which I did and followed that up with a hot shower. Next up, icy hot applied to the area and then a calf sleeve. Desperate….you betcha!!!!

Well, with nothing more that I could do I headed to bed. Hoping that the rain that had been coming down all afternoon would give way to some better weather (spoiler alert – it didn’t) and that I would get a good night’s sleep so that I would wake up rested, relaxed and hopefully with a seemingly normal feeling calf muscle.

All set and ready for the next day

….so at 3am when my neighbors were still partying I sat up in bed and decided then and there that I was buying my eldest a full drum kit when he needed it…

My alarm went off around 4am. I started to get ready, very bleary eyed, listening to the wind and rain outside the window and feeling my calf muscle still sore and tight. I guess my goal time was out for the day.

I headed downtown hoping to get to my regular parking lot before they started blocking off the roads and was able to make good time. It was still raining while I was driving down and also as I walked to the race staging area holding onto my rain poncho and praying it didn’t fly away. Thankfully as the morning started to break the rain stopped. There was still a very strong wind and it was cold but at least the rain had stopped. That was something.

Heading to the race start and clinging onto my poncho so it wouldn’t fly away

Unfortunately due to the amount of rain which had been falling steadily since Saturday afternoon the ground was saturated. It was pooled with water and muddy in many areas. I met up with a colleague who was also running and we headed to bag check together. In past years (each of the 5 previous times I have run this race) bag check is in Eakin’s Oval itself on the paved area. This year they had moved it off to the side of Eakins Oval. While the trucks were on the street you could only access this by walking across the grass…which happened to be almost ankle deep with wet mud in places. Another annoying aspect of the bag check was that it wasn’t sorted by bib number nor alphabetically, it was a first come first served process. Everyone went to the first truck they saw which was out of the way of the soggy ground. This became a mad crowd surge as people started hearing the National Anthem being sung. We had only a few minutes to get to our corrals before our waves went off and people were still queueing up to check their bags.  Crazy. What a mess. I ended up with a tag from truck 2 and my bag was put on truck 3. I’d have to hope that they sorted the bags out before I got back at the end of the race.

A grey morning start at the corral

The race had already started before I made it to my corral but my corral had not yet been released. It was a mad dash but I made it. Talk about an adrenaline rush. It was crazy. Although the rain had cleared it was still cloudy. The temperatures were in the high 40s but with winds of 25mph+ and gusting well above that the temperatures felt much colder.

Once my corral was released and we were underway I kept up with the pack of runners around me. I had set my goal time to sub 3:50 hours and a secondary goal of 4:00 hours. This meant running a pace in the mid 8:30 minutes/mile. As we were running down towards Delaware Avenue (around mile 2) a gust of wind blew as we passed by a gap in the buildings and everyone moved sideways. Wow. It was strong. I was able to maintain a pace between 8:25-8:30 minutes/mile for the first 7 miles or so despite the headwind but as I ran towards Chestnut Street around the old city I felt my calf tweak again and I knew at that time I would have to back off or at least do something different.

I had not been doing any run/walk intervals during races since running the Mohwak Hudson Marathon back in 2016. With the sudden jolt to my left calf I decided to minimize any pain/damage and go back to my old intervals. My Garmin watch still had alerts as I had never turned them off so I just settled into a 4:00/0:30 minutes/mile run/walk ratio so that I could keep my momentum going. This slowed my pace a little but not considerably so I was able to keep moving at a decent pace. My sub 3:50 may be out of reach but I felt good for a sub 4:00 hour (or close to it).

Running up Chestnut Street towards Drexel University was like a 2 mile wind tunnel. All around me people were losing hats/visors. I tightened my hat on my head and just pushed into the wind waiting for a break when we turned the corner up towards Fairmount Park.  The wind was pretty brutal.

The sun was out though so it was still an enjoyable run. The crowds were out to cheer despite the cold and the wind. That is one of the best things about the Philadelphia Marathon. The crowd support for the first 10 miles is great. It thins out a lot in Fairmount Park until you get back to the Art Museum around mile 14 and then thins again until you hit Manyunk. Still, the crowds are one factor in this race that keeps me coming back again and again.

The run through Fairmount Park was fine (once you get beyond the big hill up to Memorial Hall) and I’m glad we get to spend more time in the park so that we can avoid the old out and back that used to be around mile 17. This however prevents you from hitting the half way mark at the Art Museum as used to be the case when the Half and Full marathon was run on the same day. We hit the Art Museum around mile 14 since they changed the course and I was there just in time to see the race leaders making their way up the finish line. Yup, they were 12 full miles ahead of me…and running in singlets in this weather.

The slog…sorry, run…up to Manyunk along Kelly Drive is scenic but into wind is just tough. Very tough. There is no shelter from the wind the whole time you are running. The course is fairly flat but it felt like you were running up hill all the way as the wind was just relentless. Some of my friends behind me took pictures next to trees that had been snapped in the wind. Yes, I’m not exaggerating that the wind was strong.

At least when we entered Manyunk we were sheltered from the wind by the buildings. This also made it much warmer for those miles. The run through Manyunk is an out and back from mile 19 to 21. There is a slight uphill but with a break from the wind this didn’t seem too bad. I was slowing a little though. My pace had fallen off while running miles 14 to 19 into the head wind. I was probably not looking to make my 4:00 backup goal. My goal was to finish and do so with a smile.

So, thinking that if you are running into wind you would have it on your back on the way in would make sense…neh, all of a sudden you get a cross wind on the way back from mile 21 to 26 (insert face palm emoji here…) The run back was steady. I was just looking to finish at this point. My legs were aching more than usual for a marathon. I can really describe conditions as though you were running uphill the whole way because the wind was honestly that strong on the day.

I made it to the finish line in 4:08. Not my best time but again not my worst. I was very relieved to finish this one. As I was running the finisher chute there was a runner receiving emergency medical treatment just in front of the finish line. I saw someone go down just after they crossed the finish line. It was not an easy day. Still, marathon number 19 was in the books.

Another marathon finish in the books

Marathon #19 complete

I stopped for a large cup of hot coffee on my way home. I’d earned that for sure. Usually I’m pretty much up and about the afternoon of a marathon but I was cooked. I needed to rest up. I reviewed my running data and looked at my charts. Holy moly that was an effort today. My time in the highest heart rate zone was insane. 2:31 hours out of the 4:08 was almost at maximum effort. I wasn’t exaggerating when I said it was not an easy day.

24 ounces of pure gold

A little too much time in the high red zone

Interestingly enough, it took me a few extra days to recover from this race. I’m usually sore a day or two after a marathon but I was really struggling even by day 3. I finally was able to run properly just in time for our Thanksgiving Day run on the Thursday post race.

I told my wife I may be taking a break from Philly after this year, after all, I’m running the 2018 New York City Marathon next November. That was until Black Friday when I signed both my wife and myself up for what will be the 25th anniversary running of the Philadelphia Marathon. I’m a sucker for a special medal.

So, until next year…

 

 

 

 

2017 Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon, Washington D.C. – Race recap

Back on March 11th, my wife and I were in Washington D.C. to run this year’s ‘Rock ‘n’ Roll’ D.C. Marathon. This was our first ‘RnR’ race outside of Philadelphia where we have run the Half Marathon each of the last few years. This was our chance to run multiple ‘RnR’ races in one year and earn one of the extra medals in their ‘Heavy Medals‘ series.

We had signed up for this marathon with the added incentive that Marathon Finishers were to receive a special jacket for completion of the race. We are pretty easily motivated by free swag and so that was the mantra for our all the winter training to be ready for the early (or just pre) spring race.

Our big fear training through the training was that it could be a bad winter. Actually, it was pretty mild. We did lose a couple of days of training due to snow and ice but for the majority of the workouts we were able to run outside, especially on some of the longer runs. In fact, the last long run for this marathon occurred in February when we were able to dress in t-shirts and shorts as the weather was so good.

During our last long run together I said we had been incredibly lucky with the weather which was when my wife yelled at me for jinxing us. Just because I had said this she started to say she would blame me if the weather turned bad. Oops.

As we got closer to race weekend the forecast kept getting colder and conditions worse. I felt a little unsure of my safety…I had to keep reminding my wife about the jacket…it’s all about the free jacket. In fact, the day we left for the race (Friday morning) there were a couple of inches of snow on the ground and the weather driving down to D.C. was pretty bad until we got to Maryland where it cleared up. As you can see from the screenshot below, it wasn’t going to the kind of weather for t-shirt and shorts.

 

Eek!!!

We arrived at the D.C. Armory early in the afternoon and were fortunate enough to find a parking space right outside the building. While the sun was still shining, it was far from nice weather. It was cold and windy. There was quite a lot of security to get into the building (every bag was checked and we were all scanned by a security wand). This led to waiting lines outside the building and it wasn’t exactly good weather for queuing up either. In fact, I had to run back to the car to grab some jackets as we were standing in line for a while.

Made it to the Armory – we had to go back to our car to get coats so we could wait in the line outside.

Once inside the expo we were led downstairs to bib pickup. We also had the chance to try on the Marathon Finisher jackets to make sure we had selected the right size. Bib pickup was fairly simple and t-shirt exchange was easy.

We’ve arrived

Bib pickup was on the lower level, the expo on the upper level (despite where the arrow is pointing)

Bib pickup was quick and easy

My wife has second thoughts about letting me personalize bibs in the future

My wife has second thoughts about letting me personalize bibs in the future

The infamous jacket

Once we were done with pickup we headed up to the main floor for the expo. This was typical Rock ‘n’ Roll series expo where Brooks Running had a significant presence followed by the general expo out on the rest of the floor. We didn’t pick up anything at this part of the expo but I did get to see the special edition Brooks Adrenaline Rock and Roll shoe. This happens to be the shoe I run in so I’ll keep my eye out for some discounts.

Your typical Rock ‘n’ Roll Brooks set up

Brooks Adrenaline GTS 17 – Rock ‘n’ Roll Special Edition

Other than the jacket, this was what we were running for 🙂

We then headed out to the main expo. Interestingly it was quite a small affair than what I had expected. We were quickly through the floor and didn’t really see anything unique that caught our eye.

Obligatory race bib photo

Just before the exit to the expo Rock ‘n’ Roll had some race merchandise set up. Both my wife and I bought the same cool shirt, me the long sleeve and my wife the tank t-shirt.

We bought the Abe in the sweatband t-shirt

I had signed up on the website to reserve spaces on the bus that would return us from the finish line back to the start line (this was a point to point race). I asked the information booth where to pick up the tickets. I was told all I needed to do was to show my receipt (the email) to the driver the next day. Sounds easy, so off we left for our hotel.

Outside the expo we bumped into my friend John who hosts the Runner of a Certain Age podcast (we recorded a race recap a few days later which you can listen to with this link). He was running the half marathon the next day. We probably wouldn’t see him the next day as the marathon started at 7am and the half marathon at 8:30am so we wished him luck and will probably catch up with him again at another race.

We then headed to check into our hotel and then meet up with a friend for a pre race dinner. We made a reservation at a restaurant near our hotel in Dupont Circle which was recommended by a fellow Mickey Miler teammate who works nearby. We met up with our friend Robyn and it was a nice relaxing meal. It was obviously a popular place pre-race as more runners seemed to check in for dinner (we figured that with the sneakers and their Rock ‘n’ Roll gear bags they were runners).

Walking to dinner from our hotel. Notice the cherry blossom behind us.

After dinner we stopped into Starbucks for my usual pre-marathon cookie. It’s a tradition I work hard to maintain 😉

It wouldn’t be a marathon without a pre-race cookie

As the weather was not expected to get above the mid-20s the next day I set out warmer clothes than I would normally run a race in. I used a jacket that I could zip open or closed depending on the conditions. It was more worried about waiting around at the start but I did have a plan for that.

Flat Ian – a little warmer than usual.

As we were close by to the start line we were able to walk from our hotel. We got up at a reasonable time (my wife would tell you too early) and made our way to the lobby (she refused to leave until she saw another runner pass through the lobby). My wife was wearing her New York City Marathon finisher blanket and I was wearing my father’s old dressing gown that he left on his last visit from the UK. It was nice and warm and worked perfectly (although I looked like an escaped mental patient walking the streets of D.C.).

We look silly but warm

We walked to the starting area from our hotel as the sun was rising and noted other runners doing the same. As this was the National Mall where the Smithsonian Institute, the White House and all the other Governmental offices were situated I expected quite a lot of security around the perimeter. Certainly after how much there was at the Armory the day before. Instead there was none. There were no check points, nobody checked our bags. Really unexpected.

Once we were changed out of our warm gear (I decided to pack the robe rather than throw it at the start line) we headed into our corral.

The trash bags are out. That should keep us warm in the corral.

Not a bad view to start a race. Early in the morning – note the long shadows.

Ready to get moving

The starting temperatures were in the low 20s. There were not many marathon runners and they brought the waves through very quickly. In fact, as they moved the waves forward we ended up actually on the start line rather than back of a corral so it was kind of weird to be right up front waiting for the word to go, but once we got the word we were off (and hopefully giving us a chance to warm up). We had been out of our plastic bags for a couple of minutes waiting at the start line and already I couldn’t feel the ends of my fingertips never mind my toes.

Here is the full marathon course map:

Full Marathon Course Map

The first mile of the course took us around the Mall and a few of the surrounding Federal buildings. We actually passed by the White House within the first half mile (it was to our right). Again, I was amazed by the lack of any security…I wasn’t amazed by the lack of spectators as it was very early and very cold.

Thankfully it was a beautiful sunny day. As there were fewer marathoners overall and the half marathon wouldn’t start for another 90 minutes or so we had wide open space to run. When my wife and I ran the Marine Corps Marathon in 2015 there were 40,000 people running at the same time. This race had about 2,500 people running and this made it comfortable to run.

After rounding the Mall and the Federal buildings there we ran around the Kennedy Center and the Watergate Building Complex and onto a short out and back that took us along the back of the Lincoln Memorial and along the Potomac River. I can tell you from comparison of the both this race and the Marine Corps race that you get to see more of the District during this race. I think during the Marine Corps Marathon (technically starting and finishing in Arlington, VA) you only get 2-3 miles at the most in the District.

Between miles 5 and 6 of the course was the ‘inspiration – run to remember’ Blue Mile. It was all uphill but the side of the road showed pictures of all the fallen who have served our Country. As we neared the second half of the hill, members of the military and families of the fallen were holding American flags out for us as we passed by. It was a big hill but puts into perspective that it is just a hill and there are people who endure more on a day-to-day basis. For that reason, we could make the hill with no complaints.

We ran through some genteel neighborhoods in D.C. and the weather was sunny but still cold. The sun helped but you could definitely feel the cold when you hit shaded areas. It was nice running through the Howard University Campus around mile 8-9 and the drumline that was playing was pretty great. In one of the neighborhoods during the first half some spectators were handing out champagne and donut holes. Sweet.

As we run through the Capital Hill district just before mile 12 we got a beautiful view. It was a gorgeous looking area and the view of the Capital at the top was the only time during the race we decided we needed to stop and take a picture.

In the Capital Hill area with the Capital in the background.

We rounded the corner into another nice neighborhood and we saw the markings where the half and the full were to split. The wind was picking up now and one of the directional signs blew down right in front of us. The split for the half occurred around mile 12.5 so we didn’t really see a glimpse of the finish line (actually it approached from a different direction than the full marathon). We still hadn’t seen any half marathoners as, although they would have already started, we were running a decent enough pace that even the leaders would have been a few miles behind us. We continued at a fairly decent pace. Pretty consistent actually and at this pace we would be on to beat my wife’s recent New York City Marathon PR from last November.

We hit the Washington Nationals Baseball Park just before mile 15 and the aid station before the bridge that would take us over to Anacostia Park along the river. This was the first time we saw that there were not enough volunteers manning the water stations. Most people were running the half marathon (13,000 vs 2,500) so we anticipated less spectators along the second half of the course but it seemed that also resulted in fewer people manning the water stops on the second half of the course. Don’t get me wrong, the volunteers were enthusiastic, there just were not enough to keep up with the runners. In fact, for most of the second half of the course water was the only thing available, no Gatorade, at many of the stops. You could see that the Gatorade mix was there in the boxes but there not enough volunteers to prepare the mixture let alone hand it out. It may have been something to do with the cold weather and I cannot fault Rock ‘n’ Roll because there were enough aid stations, just not enough people to manage.

The section from mile 15 to mile 18 is an out and back. Not much to see but you are always thankful when you reach the turnaround point. These are the tough miles in the marathon especially when it is an out and back. From mile 18 to around mile 21 we ran along the Anacostia River and a loop around the park. Although there wasn’t too much to see it was peaceful and thankfully all flat. The wind had again picked up and running along the water made the temperatures feel colder. We never really got warm during the race.

Okay then, here we go. As you leave the Anacostia Park area you enter Fort Dupont Park where there is an unfortunate hill, the second such hill of the day, however it was not a pretty sight at mile 23! It is both long and steep. We were becoming a little slower paced (still on for the PR) but we had managed to be caught by the 4:15 pace group. We watched them ‘attack’ the hill. The only thing I can tell you is that less than half of the group was still together at the top of the hill. It took a lot out of everyone. Unlike the hill around mile 5-6 there was not much to inspire, this was just a gutsy get to the top effort. We had to remind ourselves again about the jacket at the finish line 😉

Here is the elevation chart for the race. You can see both hills.

A couple of hills during our run.

That last hill, positioned where it was on the course, took a toll. We slowed down quite a bit. My wife began to feel some discomfort in her knee. I could feel my calf muscles twinge from the elevation. As we made our way back to the finish we had to walk a bit. My wife told me to go ahead but I was not intending to leave her so we walked probably close to half a mile or so until we saw RFK stadium rise up in the distance. It was then a run/walk to the finish (we had run straight through until the hill and were making good time). By now we had slowed down and the PR was out the question, still I knew we would still get to the finish around four and a half hours which was just a few minutes slower than my wife’s New York City time.

The stadium was on the horizon but it was like a wind tunnel running up to the finish line. The wind had picked up again and it was just cold. Slowing down had allowed us to cool down which didn’t help either. Nevertheless we sucked it up and made a run to the finish. We rounded a small hairpin turn within the last quarter of a mile which is where the half met up with the full. The finish line was divided into two different sides and the finish chute for each race started as the two races met up. We crossed the line in 4:31:16 which considering our big slow down over the last 3 miles was not a disaster.

We stopped for a quick picture before looking for a mylar blanket to keep us warm. It was still only 26 degrees at this time of the day even before the wind chill. Brrrr….

Made it. Another marathon down.

This was my 18th full marathon and my wife’s 9th. It was, despite everything, a good day.

We made our way through the finish line area to pick up some water and other refreshments. I like Rock ‘n’ Roll races as there is always chocolate milk at this finish line. This race was no different. However, as it was so cold it was like drinking a milk shake. I got brain freeze. My wife was so cold she couldn’t drink it. Our mylar wraps were blowing around and not really keeping us warm so we hurried over to the bag check to get our warm gear out again.

Feels amazing to be warm(ish) again.

We then had to line up for our Marathon Finisher jackets. After all, this is why we did this, right? Apparently, so did everyone else!!! Long lines but they moved fairly smoothly.

Look at all these crazy marathoners looking for a free jacket.

Once we had the jackets it was a matter of finding the shuttle back to the start. I had my tickets so I headed to the information booth. The lady at the information booth said that there were no shuttles and didn’t know what I was talking about. The map did however show a VIP shuttle area so we headed over to the VIP area to ask about the shuttles to the start line. No one had any idea what we were talking about. The map did say where they were supposed to be so albeit with little help from anyone who knew anything about RFK stadium we made our way to where the shuttles were said to be parked. There was a lot of walking involved….and stairs. We were not happy (or optimistic at this point).

Yeah…just what you want to see at a marathon.

The only problem was, no shuttles. Any empty parking lot. Ugh. We made our way to where the roads were open to traffic and decided to call for an UBER (this would be my first!!!) We had no money so the taking the Metro was out. This was not smart and totally my fault. I had four fully loaded Metro cards back in the hotel but I was relying on the shuttle so I didn’t bring them along. As we approached what appeared to be every UBER users’ rendezvous point we stood and waited for ours to arrive. Luckily ours seem to arrive ahead of everyone else and so we took it back to the hotel which was better than the shuttle would have done for us anyway. The driver even cranked up the heat for us in the back. We were very grateful.

Best UBER driver ever!!!

We made it back to our hotel and grabbed some coffee to warm up. We showered and got ready to head out for a late lunch. We took time to admire that darned jacket!!!!

Was it worth it? I’m not sure. I just like running marathons I guess.

So that we didn’t stiffen up we decided to take a walk from our hotel around the local area and grab a bite to eat. We filled up on warm yummy food and indulged in an awesome peanut butter milkshake (which we did share). Notice my wife is wearing her marathon finisher jacket 🙂

She had to make sure the jacket got into the photo.

We took another UBER into the District and spent the afternoon at the National Museum of American History. Specifically the Armed Forces exhibit which we didn’t get to fully see when we came with the boys last summer. We were in the museum until it closed around 5pm and then took the rest of the day walking through the Mall and back to our hotel where we were pretty much beat for the day.

Walking around to keep ourselves moving.

Marathon legs? What marathon legs?

36.3 miles? Yes, I was pretty much toast by the end of the evening.

The next morning we had brunch plans with a friend of my wife. We did have a reservation but it was still an hour or so wait for a table. We gave the restaurant manager our cell number and he said he would call us around 15 minutes before our table would be available. We took advantage to walk around the George Washington University Campus where we were and then headed over to the Lincoln Memorial. It was a glorious sunny morning (still not warm but warmer than the day before). What a great finish to our weekend.

At the Lincoln Memorial

At the Lincoln Memorial

At the Lincoln Memorial

Despite the cold we really enjoyed the race. The course was beautiful but the hills were tough. It was definitely worth more than just the jacket.

Thank you for reading (I know this is really really late).

 

January and February 2017 – Two months in review

Life has been a little busy, all good though. I’m only just getting around to catching up so this will be a quick recap of both January and February together.

Here is my Garmin and Nike data for January.

Garmin Connect – January 2017

Over 201 miles this month – 178 miles running with a couple of days cross training (Swimming – 1.66 miles and Biking – 21.85 miles). Notice January 7th with the snow shoveling activity that got added!!!!

Nike just records my running total. This is the result of training for a marathon during the winter.

Nike + Summary – January 2017

I was happy to wake up early on January 1st and knock out a 15 mile run while the streets were quiet. Best running day of the year (provided you are dressed for the weather). We have had a fairly warm winter although I did have to take a few long runs on the treadmill due to juggling some parent handling duties and extra early morning runs. Still, I was able to keep myself occupied with numerous episodes of Star Trek – The Next Generation.

My wife and I were still able to get outdoors together thanks to the mild weather. This made winter marathon training much more fun – especially when we were able to get our long runs in together while the boys were in school on Sunday mornings.

Here we are running along the Delaware Canal Towpath

 

Crossing the Delaware River at Washington Crossing. A little colder but still a great morning.

Here are my Garmin stats for February.

Garmin Connect – February 2017

You will notice another day of snow shoveling on February 9th. To have only 2 days of major shoveling in two months is great and welcome relief for my lower back! No swimming this month but total miles of 166 miles for the month made up of almost 141 miles of running and 25.5 miles of riding (indoors). As you can see we knocked out the last of our long runs mid month and very happily enjoyed the start to our taper.

Nike + Summary – February 2017

February weather was incredible. I got to run my last 20 mile run outdoors in t-shirt and shorts….in February!!!!!!

Incredible weather for mid-February. So lucky.

For Valentine’s Day this year my wife decided to sign me up for a couple’s class at the Orange Theory Fitness gym she attends regularly. Boy, was I not prepared for that. I did hold my own but I’m not used to doing squats holding medicine balls or doing multiple rounds of burpees (they are not a nice thing!). I was very happy to have survived and enjoyed our sushi dinner at the restaurant next door post workout. With an extra helping of green tea ice cream.

My one, and to date only, Orange Theory Fitness class report

I had to skip my running for a couple of days after this as my quads were beaten up from the squats and burpees but I guess it was good for me.

February also brought about registration for the 2018 Walt Disney World Marathon weekend. Usually registration opens up in April but it seems to be getting earlier and earlier. My wife and I haven’t done a runDisney race since we did the Goofy Challenge back in 2015. This was the 25th Anniversary Walt Disney World Marathon and that it would be a special race (we had run the 20th Anniversary race back in 2013, my wife’s first marathon). We would also be timing this to be my wife’s ’10th’ marathon and my ’20th’ marathon. Big goals. To add into the mix we decided to register for the Goofy Challenge again. This is really such a fun race and this will be her 2nd Goofy and my 4th (if you include the Goofy distance that I ran as part of the 2014 Dopey Challenge). Our boys are signed up for the ‘Mickey Mile’ too that weekend. Lots to look forward to in 2018.

It should be a very special race again

Ready for a redo of our Goofy fun. Costume ideas are being planned.

Looking forward to another Goofy Challenge together

But firstly in March we have the upcoming Rock ‘n’ Roll D.C. Marathon and then I will be back in triathlon training mode. It will be a busy year.

November 2016 – Month in review

Another late ‘Month in review’ post but technically getting in under the wire.

November was a busy month with 150 miles in training and racing. Not my biggest month for distance but one of the busiest for activities. With all the running, I did still return to the pool for the first time at the end of the month for my first swim since September. I’ve been focusing on my marathon training since my last triathlon so it felt good to finally get back in the water.

November 2016 - Nike+ Summary

November 2016 – Nike+ Summary

The month started off with the New York City Marathon. While I was not running myself (hoping to eventually make that lottery) I was there to cheer on my wife as she ran earning a new PR that day. It was my first time ‘race chasing’ and spectating a marathon and it was truly a thrill. The excitement for waiting for and watching my wife run her race and to cheer on friends and complete strangers was such a great experience. I cannot wait to experience this race for myself one day.

My wife and her NYC Marathon finisher medal

My wife and her NYC Marathon finisher medal

The weekend before Thanksgiving is the Philadelphia Marathon. This year was the inaugural ‘Rocky Challenge’. While I have mixed feelings about how the weekend was organized I was proud of my performance in running both races, the Half Marathon and the Full Marathon back to back, in under 2 hours and 4 hours respectively. They were two of my best performances at those distances this year.

A good weekends work. A sub 2 hour Half Marathon and a sub 4 hour Full Marathon

A good weekends work. A sub 2 hour Half Marathon and a sub 4 hour Full Marathon

On Thanksgiving Day itself is the annual Bucks County Road Runners Thanksgiving 5 Miler. This was my first race way back in 2010 when I started running. My wife and I ran together the whole race and this was our second fastest time we have run the race. It was a nice start to a long weekend of family time and was a great way to finish the month.

Pre-race at the Thanksgiving Day run

Pre-race at the Thanksgiving Day run

Always great to cross a finish line together

Always great to cross a finish line together

A nice way to earn our Thanksgiving dinner treats

A nice way to earn our Thanksgiving dinner treats

November marked the end of my race season but after a week of recovery I jumped straight into week 4 of my marathon training plan for the 2017 Rock ‘n’ Roll DC Marathon next March. Oh well, at least I finished the race season upright and healthy so that is something that I really want to give thanks for.

Thank you for reading.

 

 

Mohawk Hudson River Marathon – race recap

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On October 9th I participated in my 16th marathon, the Mohawk Hudson River Marathon in Albany, NY.

Earlier in the year I had entered the TCS New York City Marathon lottery with my wife. She got in, I didn’t. That left me looking for another fall marathon just so it would not drive me crazy not having a race during that time. With family located in Albany, NY and the reputation for this being a fast course I did some research into this race. There was also the Hannaford Half Marathon running concurrent to the marathon (essentially the last 13.1 miles of the marathon course) and this distance slotted in nicely with my wife’s NYC training plan. This helped seal the deal and so I signed us up for our respective races.

I knew this was not going to be a big city marathon but I knew there would be a lot of serious runners taking part so I thought this would be a good race for me to attempt and conquer that sub 3:50 marathon that has so far remained elusive to me. With the date set and the training complete we planned our weekend.

We picked up the boys from school and packed our car. The drive to Albany was 180 miles at the end of a long week. The boys were pretty good (i.e. we fed them so they would be quiet) along the route. We stopped just once along the route and as it was a Friday evening we battled some weekend traffic so we didn’t get into Albany until close to 11pm that night. The boys went to bed quickly and we took the opportunity to get a good night’s sleep as we didn’t plan on heading to the expo until late morning.

The expo was being held at the Hilton Albany, NY which was just over a mile from our hotel. Parking nearby was easy and free at weekends. Good to know as I would need to drive to the same location the next morning.

New York State Capital, Albany NY

New York State Capital, Albany NY

Once inside the expo we headed first to pick up our bib and race packets. It wasn’t a huge room nor was it a huge expo but there was plenty to look at and the race merchandise area itself was plentiful and very reasonably priced. We were probably in and out of the expo within 30-40 minutes which included shopping and chatting with the vendors there.

Arriving at the expo

Arriving at the expo

Marathon packet pickup

Marathon packet pickup

Half Marathon packet pick up

Half Marathon packet pickup

Ready or not

Ready or not

A map of the course (both the full and the half)

A map of the course (both the full and the half)

There were some very reasonable prices for marathon gear

There were some very reasonable prices for marathon gear

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A small but busy marathon expo

A small but busy marathon expo

A small but busy marathon expo

A small but busy marathon expo

A small but busy marathon expo

After the expo we headed over to visit family for the day. The plan was for us to spend the day with them and the boys would be sleeping over at their house so we would have someone to look after them in the morning. Both races were point to point races ending in downtown Albany which was about 10 miles or so from where the family is located so it was convenient from them to come out and cheer the next day.

Post expo and ready for race day

Post expo and ready for race day

Meeting up with family

Meeting up with family

We spent that afternoon at a farm in Esparance NY picking pumpkins, walking through a corn maze, doing a scavenger hunt and eating warm apple cider donuts (that was my favorite part). From there we headed back towards home and had an early dinner at a local Italian eatery, where I proceeded to eat the bread basket. After dinner we took the boys over to a local trampoline park to get out whatever energy they had left and then after saying our goodbyes we left them with family and headed back to our hotel to get everything ready for the next day.

The face on my little guy (in the yellow dress) is priceless

The face on my little guy (in the yellow dress with the bunny) is priceless

I'm lucky to have this little lady

I’m lucky to have this little lady

I didn’t forget my usual pre-Marathon tradition of a cookie the night before the marathon. There was a Starbucks in the hotel for my convenience.

Was this a potential PR cookie?

Was this a potential PR cookie?

Flat Ian set out for the next day

Flat Ian set out for the next day

We woke up early on Sunday morning. As we were planning to head over to meet up with family after the race we planned to shower there after the race so we checked out of our hotel early and headed over to the where the buses would be shuttling us over to our respective start lines. The hotel seemed to be popular with other runners and we all pretty much departed at the same time. My wife always thinks I make her get up and leave too early. Having other people leaving the same time as me is my only defense to that argument.

It was a 10 minute drive to the center of Albany (if that) and we parked very close to the host hotel. From there we walked down the hill to the bus staging areas. The buses for the full and half marathons were parked on opposite sides of the street and volunteers made sure we got on the correct buses. I said goodbye to Shari and we headed off to grab a seat on our bus.

Nice and early

Nice and early on the bus

My wife was on the bus across the street

My wife was on the bus across the street

The drive from downtown Albany to the start of the race in Central Park Schenectady took about 40 minutes. It was dark when we left but by the time we arrived at the Park it was daylight. I was sitting next to someone running their first marathon. Judging by how he was talking to me about his pacing he was probably a sub 3 hour guy. Not much I could say to him in advice other than to enjoy his first race…he would be done sooner than me.

The race was a point to point race from Schenectady to Albany. The Half marathon followed the same route from the mid point of the course.

The race was a point to point race from Schenectady to Albany. The Half marathon followed the same route from the mid point of the course.

It was a small race in comparison to most of my other marathons. There were just over 1,000 runners according to the final results. There was plenty of space at the starting area and plenty of port-a-potties for all the runners. Lines were not too long. They were definitely prepared for runners.

Well prepared for their target audience

Well prepared for their target audience

As the time got closer to the start I checked my gear bag and put on my large plastic trash bag to keep me warm. I just wish I had cut a larger hole in it to get my head through. I needed a little assistance getting through. Oops. Once appropriately bagged I went over to the start line and waited with my fellow runners. That was until they told us we were standing on the wrong side of the start line.

Ready at the start line

Ready at the start line

There were no corrals as this was a self-seeded race by the honor system. I lined up between the 3:45 and 3:55 pacers. My goal was to go sub 3:50 (my elusive goal time) and I figured if I could keep the 3:45 guy in my sight for most of the race I would come in close. Once the National Anthem had been sung and final instructions given I waited for the word to go.

Waiting for the start of the race

Waiting for the start of the race

Just over 1,00 runners took part in the marathon

Just over 1,00 runners took part in the marathon

I had a plan to set off steady with a run/walk ratio of 4:30/0:30 and set off pretty comfortably. I was within sight of the 3:45 pacer the whole time I was running through the first few miles. These took us around the local neighborhoods until we reached the banks of the Hudson River where we ran on along the Mohawk-Hudson Bike-Hike Trail.

The race is a net downhill and the view from the very high point before we headed towards the river was breathtaking. It was a beautiful day, perfect conditions and the colors of the trees were amazing. I was told it was the prime weekend to see the Adirondacks in the fall. It was amazing.

The beautiful view along the Mohawk-Hudson Hike-Bike trail

The beautiful view along the Mohawk-Hudson Hike-Bike trail

We ran down towards the river past the large General Electric plant and I still had the pacer in sight. In fact although I wasn’t running with the pace group I was running with an informal group of runners who I would keep in touch with between walk breaks. The path was wide enough for 2 to 3 people to run side by side comfortably.

This was just past the General Electric plant

This was just past the General Electric plant

Finally, at around mile 9 as we encountered a slight upgrade a fellow runner came by alongside me and remarked that she was impressed that I was using the Galloway method (she was familiar with it). She said that was running a very good pace and was looking good. That was the worst thing she could have said at that particular moment. I wasn’t thinking about pace, I was just going with the flow. I knew I was maintaining my goal pace but didn’t want to think about it too much. Marathon math is no good to me.

I soon began to fall back from the pace group ahead. I was still in touch with the small group I was running with but with every walk break it was taking me longer and longer to catch up. By the time we reached mile 12 and had to run up the hill to start the second half of the course I was no longer able to see the 3:45 pace group and the small group of runners I had been running with for the last 12 miles were out of my range.

The next few miles were not my happiest but I plodded along. I had developed a side stitch running up the hill which is quite unusual for me and I could feel my heart rate had become elevated. It wouldn’t come down so quickly during walk breaks. I hit the half marathon point at 1:56:32. Still on target for sub 4 hours.

On the second half of the course you encounter a couple of small but steep downhills and also a set of railway tracks. They have timing mats set up around the tracks in case you have to stop for a train. Luckily I was able to avoid any stops. The downhills allowed you to pick up a few seconds here or there but I would soon find that a net downhill does impact your legs more than you would think.

I settled in with another group of runners. I will still on pace for a sub 4 hour marathon but I wasn’t able to maintain a steady pace per mile.

We were away from the bike trail for the next 6 miles as we ran along the highway. It was tight at the side of the road as the race organizers had set the traffic cones on the inside of the lane. The traffic was fairly heavy on the other side of the road as they were open during the time we were running. It was however perfectly safe to run. I tried to stay on the road vs the sidewalk as it was much smoother than the sidewalk which was pretty much concrete slabs which were not always even.

There were 6 miles running along the highway. I chose to run along the road as it was more even underfoot.

There were 6 miles running along the highway. I chose to run along the road as it was more even underfoot. I’m looking tired at this point.

We ran through the small town of Watervliet for a short time. I noticed that there were banners all along the route to commemorate fallen soldiers from the town from World War II. Wow, so many. I could only imagine that this community would have been deeply affected by that time. It was a nice tribute. You had to look up to see the names, battalions and dates of each person but it kept my mind off my running for a while.

As we were close to exiting the town, which was around mile 19, I was passed by the 3:55 pacer. Looking back at my stats, I was holding my own through mile 18. My slowest mile up until that point had been just over 9 minutes per mile. But by mile 19 I started to drop 30 seconds per mile. I wasn’t quite toast…I must have hit the wall but it wasn’t a total collapse.

Just after mile 20 we hit the Bike-Hike trail again. Just as we did that I was passed by the 4 hour pacer. I was determined no other pacers were going to pass me. Although I was now posting miles in the mid 10 minutes per mile I persisted along the path until I was near the finish. Around the last mile I saw an unfortunate runner on the back of an emergency vehicle. He was obviously in a lot of discomfort but he made sure he gave every runner he passed a thumbs up while he was being driven away.

Back on the Hike-Bike trail along the river as we come down to the last few miles.

Back on the Hike-Bike trail along the river as we come down to the last few miles.

Once I hit the last mile I could begin to hear the crowds at the finish. I could see downtown Albany rise above the trees. I looked at my watch. A sub 4 hour race was now out of the question but I knew I could get close to 4 hours. I buckled down and headed into the finish chute determined to cross the finish line.

I crossed the line in 4:04:46. Not my fastest but not my slowest. It is actually my 3rd fastest marathon (I do have two sub 4 hour races). At least I beat out the next pace group.

Always great to finish a marathon

Always great to finish a marathon

The crowds were great. The Bike-Hike trail is narrow so the crowds were close on both sides which was great as you were bearing down on the finish.

Beyond the finish line I was given my medal, a mylar blanket and a bottle of water. Beyond that there was Gatorade and chocolate milk (yeah for chocolate milk). A few steps beyond was the runners village. There they had plenty of food and refreshments. Chips, bagels, water, Gatorade, bars, bananas and more chocolate milk. The Half Marathon (which my wife had run) was sponsored by Hannaford Supermarkets so I’m sure they were the provider for the post-race area.

My finisher medal

My finisher medal

Just beyond the finish line

Just beyond the finish line

The athletes area beyond the finish line

The athletes area beyond the finish line

The athletes area beyond the finish line

The athletes area beyond the finish line

Plenty of post run refreshements for runners

Plenty of post run refreshements for runners

Plenty of post run refreshements for runners

Plenty of post run refreshements for runners

Plenty of post run refreshements for runners

Plenty of post run refreshements for runners

Plenty of post run refreshements for runners

Plenty of post run refreshements for runners

Plenty of post run refreshements for runners

Plenty of post run refreshements for runners

There was also a tent where you could go in with your bib and get an instant race result. This was a big Boston qualifier race (for those who could). They were also selling race merchandise too.

I grabbed my instant results. Ouch...look at that second half!

I grabbed my instant result. Ouch…look at that second half!

What was great was that when I got to the bag check they handed me my bag without me even asking. They must have had a system when they saw someone cross the line the information (bib number) was fed to the bag check people who got the bag out the truck and ready for pickup. Genius!!!

My wife had a great race. She ran 1:53:53 for the half. Close to her PR. She had the advantage of finishing a couple of hours earlier. Both races started at the same time (8am). Our family had brought the boys to the finish line and they were there to cheer her on and see her finish. They were long gone by the time I finished the race. She went back to the house with them and she was ready and showered by the time I got there.

My wife had finished her race a couple of hours earlier

My wife had finished her race a couple of hours earlier

She had great crowd support

She had great crowd support

She had great crowd support

She had great crowd support

Getting back to my car was quite the challenge. I now had to walk back up the hill to my car but first I had to cross the highway back into downtown Albany. While there was a ramp up the bridge there were steps down. Yup. Steps. I’d only run a marathon!!!

Up was easy

Up was easy

Down...not so much

Down…not so much

I’d cooled down quickly by then and the breeze had picked up. By the time I got back to the car I was cold and more than grateful for the fact that my car has heated seats. Once in the car I made the 20 minute drive back to the house where I took a quick shower and changed into some warm dry clothes for the journey home.

As our family had plans that afternoon (they were attending a wedding) we didn’t stay too long. We stopped at a local diner to refuel before heading back home for what turned out to be a 4 hour drive.

That tired and hungry look

That tired and hungry look

I was a little stiff the next day but I put that down to sitting in the car for such a long time so soon after the race. While I have returned home from marathons on the same day before and sat for many hours in a car to do so in the past, for those races I had spent time walking around and sightseeing before jumping into the car. Sitting still is not the best way to recover from a marathon. I think that required me to have an extra couple of days extra rest.

Overall I really enjoyed the race. The course was scenic (for the most part) and the community did come out to cheer us on. I think I have to figure out my own game plan for running a marathon as this was a perfect day to run and the course was set up for a fast race. In fact, the winner broke the course record that day. My wife had also had a great race. I was for the most part having a good run until around mile 16-18 when I tired.

I would recommend the race especially if you are after a BQ. It isn’t too crowded and there are not many turns. It is a fast course. I’d wished we had spent a little extra time there after the race but we all had to get back to work and school the next day. Either way, marathon number 16 was complete and I was very happy.

Thank you for reading.

2016 HITS Hudson Valley, NY Triathlon – Race recap

 

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I am thrilled to be writing this race recap.

On July 9th I completed my first half iron distance triathlon at Williams Lake, NY up in the Hudson Valley put on by the HITS Triathlon Series. This is a 70.3 mile event made up of a 1.2 mile swim, a 56 mile bike ride and a 13.1 mile run.

Since I started running back in the late summer of 2010 I have achieved many things I didn’t think possible. Just getting off the couch and training for a 5K was a big accomplishment for me. Slowly I built up my running endurance and 15 months after my first run I finished my first marathon, the 2011 Philadelphia Marathon. Since then I have achieved some big milestones for myself. In May this year I completed my 15th marathon and I have completed a number of the runDisney Challenge races and even an ultra distance run.

However, I never even considered a triathlon. I don’t know what made me finally decide but in late 2014 I signed up for my first triathlon, the New Jersey State Triathlon for the Olympic distance in July 2015. My problem was that I hadn’t been swimming in years and I needed a lot of work. I ended up freaking out a few weeks before the race and stepping back my distance to the sprint triathlon as I was really nervous for the swim. I did conquer the swim in my first triathlon but unfortunately the race did not turn out as planned. It was cancelled due to a lightning storm mid race. I quickly rebounded by signing up for another sprint distance a couple of weeks later and finally completed a triathlon. I followed up that after some encouragement (peer pressure) by a number of work colleagues to sign up for another local sprint triathlon which I successfully completed. Okay, my triathlons were over. Done. Complete…Or so I thought.

Competing in the Medford Lakes Colony Sprint Triathlon last August.

Competing in the Medford Lakes Colony Sprint Triathlon last August.

Some of my friends were talking about doing longer distance triathlons and a few were actively talking about half iron and full iron distance races. Around the same time they announced a new 70.3 distance race down in Atlantic City, NJ and I was considering that, however, it was a little costly and the timing didn’t work out. I also lacked the ability to swim far enough at the time (or so I thought) and I only owned a hybrid bike which I knew wouldn’t get me through a longer distance race. Speaking to my friend Bob, he mentioned that he had signed up for a smaller sized 70.3 race up in the Hudson Valley. It was also held on a Saturday so it wouldn’t take up a full weekend away and it was a good value (about the same price of a runDisney half marathon). I looked into it and thought maybe…I just had to convince my Wife. Challenge accepted!

Somewhere somehow my Wife was informed (probably by my Sister-in-law) that triathlons involved swimming in shark infested waters. I had to convince her that there were no sharks. All my previous sprint tri’s were in ponds or man-made lakes but she was still convinced there would be sharks. I explained that (at the time I signed up) the swim was held in a bend in the Hudson River and that there were no news reports of sharks in Upstate New York (bears maybe but not sharks). She then asked if I had enough life insurance and whether it was fully paid up. Seeing as my Father-in-law is our insurance agent I said we were covered and paid up. Finally she said I could do it as she knows there was no talking me out of it. So, in early November last year I signed up for my first 70.3 race, the HITS Kingston, NY Triathlon.

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Now that I was signed up I found a half iron distance training plan that seemed to fit into my schedule from Endurance Works, I joined LA Fitness so I could go swimming regularly (the plan called for at least 3 swims per week, I subscribed to a swim training plan (Tri Swim Coach) and purchased a road bike (with all my saved up gift cards and a some birthday money) from my local bike store (Guy’s Bicycles). The training plan fit in perfectly between the New Jersey Marathon and the actual race. I steadily built up my swim distance and endurance in the pool and got used to sitting on that bike saddle for a few hours. By the time the race approached I felt that I was ready, nervous…but ready.

One final thing I needed to take care of was a wetsuit. I hadn’t used a wetsuit for any of the sprint distance tri’s I had done last year but based upon the distance it was recommended that I take advantage of the extra buoyancy a suit would provide me and so not wanting to jump into a big expense straight away I decided to rent a wetsuit. I ended up renting from a company based in Florida called Tri Wetsuit Rentals. The owner, Mike, was very helpful in answering my questions about sizing and suggested a couple of suits and even said that in the (unlikely) event that I lose some weight before, all I had to do was call before the suit was shipped in late June and let him know.

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I had my first minor freak out when the wetsuit shipped but got lost by the US Postal service for about a week. I could see from the tracking information that it was close but it had gone via multiple post offices including my local post office more than once before it was finally delivered exactly one week before I was due to leave for the race. Mike was very helpful throughout and we had a ‘Plan B’ to send a replacement but thankfully it wasn’t required. Unfortunately I missed my last opportunity to try out the suit in an open water swim with the Bucks County Tri Club as the suit arrived too late. I wouldn’t get a chance to try the suit in the water before race day. I did watch a few YouTube videos in advance of receiving the wetsuit (some more helpful than others) on how to get into and out of a wetsuit, none of which helped prepare me for the full body workout that was putting one on without any help!!! It was a struggle the first time but after a couple of attempts I found a method that worked best for me.

For someone who has been overweight most of their life, having Orca emblazzoned across your chest isn't exactly flattering.

For someone who has been overweight most of their life, having Orca emblazoned across your chest isn’t exactly flattering.

When my Wife saw this she had a field day with orca related jokes…

Thanks honey for all your support…

Race Weekend:

Race weekend finally arrived. I had been in touch with my friend Bob over the weeks leading up to the race and we had planned to meet at the staging area (Williams Lake) and get a quick open water swim and then grab lunch before the mandatory athletes’ meeting that afternoon.

Having taken a vacation day from work I packed up my car and headed (via a quick stop at my chiropractor for a last-minute alignment check) on my way to Kingston, NY.

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On my way. 70.3 or bust!

Thankfully it was a smooth and easy ride up. About 30 minutes out from my destination I pulled over at services to grab a drink and a snack before the last leg of the journey and happened to bump into Bob who was also on his way up to meet me. I followed him the rest of the way to the race area and we quickly set about getting ready for a swim. Bob gave me a couple of tips on putting on the wet suit and we headed down to the water. It was a hot and sunny day and the water temperature was really nice. It was time for my first wet suit swim…I let Bob go first.

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Arriving at the race site. This confirmed we were in the right place.


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The finish line just a day away.


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Williams Lake. The buoys were being set up as we arrived.


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Bob went first. We planned to swim out and back to the first buoy.


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Not nervous at all…


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Okay…ready…set…

I ventured out. Bob advised me to go a little slower than I would in the pool to keep my heart rate down as you can quickly overheat in a wetsuit. Once I started swimming it did feel a little weird and there were a couple of anxious moments early on but I followed his advice and I set out to the buoy, circled around it and came back. One thing that was very evident from my swim is that my sighting in the water needs a heck of a lot of improvement…that would be evident the following day as well. As you can see from the GPS map below, this was supposed to be a simple out and back, i.e. pretty much a straight line. Not quite.

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Not the best sense of direction


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I did it. A little out of breath but I got it done.

Even though it was a short swim I felt comfortable in the wetsuit, the water temperature was warm but not too warm and the spring fed lake was clear (you could see your hands in front of your face!).

After we both completed the swim we stayed to talk to a few of the people setting up and looked around the staging area. This was a small race to be sure. There were 5 events going on the next day – full distance, half distance, Olympic distance, sprint distance and an open distance.

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Hanging the suit up to dry


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The packet pickup tent


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Swim course map – Two loops around the lake


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Bike route around the Ashokan Reservoir


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The updated run course


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A small merchandise tent who made custom shirts on request (more on that later)

When I had signed up for the race originally it was a two-day event. The swim was supposed to be in a bend in the Hudson River in Kingston, NY with the full and half distance being held on the Saturday and all other races being held on Sunday. Back in February it was announced that the location was moving to Williams Lake in Rosendale and that it would be a one day event with the races staged at 4 different times during the day (the full and half would start together).

After the swim we went to pick up our race packets. I have to say that the staff were all very friendly. The staff took time to ask if we were okay and were happy to chat and answer questions.

Bob and I headed into Rosendale and had lunch at a small cafe with lots of vegetarian options (perfect for me) and chatted over lunch. Bob showed me how to use my Garmin 910 in multisport mode which I hadn’t really tried before. We then headed back a few minutes before the Race Director started the athletes meeting.

Tom Struzzieri, the founder and CEO of HITS, was there to talk us through each leg of the event, the how to’s of the transition area and the weather outlook for the next day. He shared the plans for the aid stations and explained what would be provided even down to how many scoops of Heed would be in the pre-made water bottles on the bike rides (so that we had an idea how much nutrition to carry and could take in on the route).

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The race director giving the pre-race athletes meeting

The weather overnight was forecast with a storm and lots of rain. As the race wasn’t too big most people decided not to check in their bikes the night before so we could keep all our equipment dry and bring it the next day.

After the meeting Bob and I took a walk through the transition areas and walked the start of the run course. As the course had changed from the original location I hadn’t seen the new map. The course was described as an initial run out, a loop through a cave (a bat cave…) and then a double out and back along the Wallkill Valley Rail Trail across the Rosendale Trestle Bridge.

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Everyone was provided with their own individual transition box. It was spacious compared to other events I have taken part in and the stool they provided was a nice touch.


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The exit from the swim to transition


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The exit from transition to the bike course.


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And back to transition. You can see from the debris on the side of the transition that this whole area is currently under development. This should make the site much more attractive and with added features in the coming years.


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The view back into the transition at the start of the run

I hadn’t realized before now but as soon as we started walking the course we saw it was a proper trail, i.e. not paved…mud, rocks, sticks and roots…and a bat cave.

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Yes…that’s a trail.


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I will point out that this is ‘before’ the heavy rain that fell overnight.


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Yup, that’s a cave.


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They said there were bats in side.


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I just looked straight ahead to the exit and didn’t look deep into the cave. No need to cause a kerfuffle with the locals…


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I’m ready for the next day. I may have to change my outfit though.

Bob and I decided around 4pm to head back to our respective lodgings (I was about 15 minutes away in a hotel in Kingston and he was staying with family about 30 minutes south) and so we wished each other a relaxing evening and said we would see each other bright and early the next day.

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By the way, you may notice from the above picture that I am wearing a ‘Team Up! Autism Speaks’ shirt. Since 2013 I have run a number of events for this charity and this was the first year I had missed running the Walt Disney World Marathon (or Challenge) with them. Over the last three years I have raised close to $13,000 for the cause. As this was to be a special event for me I decided to dedicate my race to continue to raise funds for them and I signed up through their Team Up! Your Way with the goal of raising $1,000. I’m pleased to say that in addition to completing my event (spoiler alert) I was able to meet my goal. As of the date of posting this recap I have raised a total of $1,092.

I headed to my hotel in Kingston and moved all my gear (not packing light) into my room on the second floor.

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My two-wheeled roommate for the night.

I quickly looked through my race packet to make sure I had everything and decided to find somewhere local for an early dinner. As I was traveling on my own I asked the front desk at the hotel for places to eat and was recommended the Olympia Diner across the street. Well, I love a good diner so I was happy to head over and see what they had. Although the diner was just across the street there was a huge downpour and I ended up driving over. Glad I didn’t leave my bike outdoors overnight.

After a meal of gazpacho and spaghetti marinara, I followed my usual pre-race routine…a cookie (unfortunately not oatmeal raisin)…and headed back to the hotel and started getting ready for the next morning with a goal of getting some sleep.

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My pre-race ritual. Stick with what works, right?

I unpacked all my gear for transition and laid it all out for one final check. As you will notice from the pictures below I used flash cards in my shoes to remind me of the steps I would need to remember in transition if I was not thinking too clearly in real-time the next day.

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I think that’s everything.


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Cut me some slack…I’m 44 with two kids. Sometimes I cannot even remember their names.


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At least I didn’t have to tell myself which wrist to put it on.

With all my gear repacked I took a hot shower and put myself to bed around 8pm hoping to get as much sleep as I could.

Race Day:

My Fitbit shows that I got just under 7 hours of sleep, waking up just before my 4AM alarm (one of three that I had set just in case). I made myself a cup of coffee and tried to remain as relaxed as possible. I grabbed my pre-race Powerbar for breakfast and checked my emails, other messages and the weather before getting all my gear ready. As expected, my Wife sent me a message wishing me all the best in her own way.

Thanks again honey…

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My training plan sent me this message to my inbox.

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I headed out around 5:15AM to the race site. There had been plenty of rain overnight and you could the result of the storm as there was quite a bit of debris on the road. I was a little nervous about riding in the rain on my road bike tires. I already had concerns about the elevation of the course and making the cut off time (I hadn’t trained too much on hills). I had never ridden on wet roads before.

When I got to the race site the course had been impacted by the rain too. Although the temperature had cooled considerably the parts of the parking areas were under water. I arrived as cars and trucks were being towed out after getting stuck in the mud. I moved my car further away on some higher ground and started to unpack.

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Cars being towed out.


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The aftermath. I hadn’t considered what it would do to the running trail yet.


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I’m here, the bike was pumped up and so was I.

On Thursday night before I left I decided at the last-minute to grab a few kitchen trash bags to pack up any wet and dirty gear after the race. I’m glad I did as there was more rain scheduled for later in the day. I’m so glad I had them with me as when I got to transition it was very wet underfoot (and squishy) and so I used one of the bags as a waterproof barrier between the ground and my transition set up. With the extra bags I wrapped up my bike and running gear to protect them from the rain that was predicted. That was a good move.

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My home base for the next few hours.

I ate my Honey Stinger waffle for a last-minute fuel top up and after a couple of bathroom breaks I got my swim gear ready and my wetsuit on and made my way through the transition to the edge of the lake.

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Everyone getting ready in transition.


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Ready to suit up. See you in a few hours.

As we got to the beach for the final race announcements before the start the race director asked that due to the road conditions that we are extra vigilant on the bikes and announced that they had people out on the course doing clean up where ever needed so that conditions would be as best as they could get them for us for the bike.

The race was scheduled to start at 7AM. The full and half distance athletes were due to go off at the same time. The full distance athletes would swim four times around the buoys and the half distance athletes twice. My plan was to stay steady and smooth and try to keep my heart rate down. As the race started I stayed at the back of the pack and waited until almost everyone was in the water. I didn’t plan on getting into a mess right out of the gate.

The temperature was great, a couple of degrees cooler than yesterday, and my plan was to keep a steady rhythm. My sighting wasn’t perfect…I did veer of course a couple of times but it got better as I started to get into a groove. I actually found myself passing a few people. I could feel the difference that a wetsuit provides. It was a definite help. My confidence was building as I rounded the first loop and I was able to maintain the same rhythm on my second loop.  I still had a couple of sighting issues but if you look at my map below I didn’t do too bad. Ultimately my distance swam was 1.4 miles not 1.2. Not sure if it was my bad sighting or the GPS trying to grab a signal which led to the difference but I was pretty happy.

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The official results had me at 54:32 for the swim. I was pleased with that. Anything under an hour for that distance was a win for me. I actually got out the water and wasn’t too out of breath. As I got out the water the race had ‘strippers’, volunteers to help you get out the wetsuit. On a side note I mentioned that in the car the next day when I was talking to my wife. She was quite taken aback…however, two little voices from the back of the car then asked “Daddy, what’s a stripper?” Oops. I explained in triathlon terms. Move along. Nothing to see here.

As I got out the water there was a little light rain. I’m glad I had my gear wrapped up. I was even more glad for the stool. I was a more tired from the swim than I thought I would be. I dried off my legs and my feet, covered them in talc and popped on my Injinji socks (not the best at helping me rush through transition). 8:02 in transition. Not good but I had a 56 mile ride ahead of me and I wanted to make sure I was ready (my longest ride previous to this was 52 miles on a bike trainer). I quickly ate an energy gel and grabbed my bike and headed out.

Once out of transition and on the bike I started slowly. I started out on the small chain ring so that I wasn’t beating up my legs early into the ride. I didn’t get out of the small chain ring for the first 8 miles.

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The bike route


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Bike elevation chart

The first big hill (big for me) was around mile 6. Thankfully I was able to get up the hill and knew that somewhere on the back of the course I would probably make up some time coming down the same hill. My cadence and speed were not very fast for the first hour. It was really a matter of me getting up the hills for the ride around the reservoir. My goal was to maintain an average speed over 14mph so that I would make the four hour cut off. After the first hour it wasn’t looking good…13mph. I settled into a rhythm on the bike and as the course flattened out in areas I was able to make up some time. There was light rain at the time and I had to stop a couple of times to wipe clear my glasses as they were getting wetter and wetter.

Around mile 20 the heavens opened. This was rain. The real stuff. Not the wet misty type that had been going on from the start. It was a slog for the next 20 or so miles as the rain continued. For someone who was nervous about riding in the rain and worried about the bike cut off this was not a good combination.

What I can commend the race organizers for is that despite the conditions out there, each turn on the course was clearly marked out or was manned by police or volunteers who stood out in the rain the whole time. For a race with such a small field it must have seemed a very arduous task and I fully appreciate all the volunteers that day.

There were two aid stations, one of which we passed twice, for a total of three stops. The first was around mile 12 just after we had climbed a big hill. I made a quick porta potty stop there (obviously I had been hydrating to this point) and grabbed some more fluids. The aid stations provided Hammer gels, Heed and water. The second stop was around mile 30 I think. When I got there the rain was heavy. The table was set up for a bottle exchange. I stopped and poured a bottle of Heed mix in with my existing bottle of Heed and moved on as there was no point in hanging around too long with the rain.

One thing that I will take away from the ride is that I am weakest on the bike. I have definitely become more comfortable in the seat but I did most of my riding either on the bike trainer or outside in an enclosed park loop with little elevation. It showed. I need to do more hill riding and get my cadence up. It’s all too easy to ride for three hours watching movies but I really need to know how to maintain a high cadence with my legs and how and when to push. I also need to learn how to properly fuel while riding. I kept to my plan on taking in an energy gel every 45 minutes but I had to pull over each time for fear of falling off the bike. I was able to maintain my drinking every 15-20 minutes just slowing down while I used a bottle.

The route along the reservoir itself was beautiful…well at least what I could make out through the rain and clouds was beautiful. There seemed to be a lot of ‘S bend’ curves as the road travelled around the reservoir and by this point we were sharing the road with cars. We had travelled down a major road (Route 213) earlier, however, there was a wide shoulder and although cars and trucks were zipping by, there was plenty of space for riding.

I played leapfrog along the bike course with a couple of other riders almost the whole way. I didn’t catch up with many people nor was I passed too often other than by participants in the full distance race on their much more expensive and faster tri bikes.

Finally, with about 15 miles to go the rain ceased and the skies cleared a little or maybe just the clouds got thinner. Either way the last 15 miles were more comfortable weather wise. My socks inside my shoes were soaked through by the rain and so I had to endure the sound of squelching for the last hour but I figured it was a small price to pay. My average speed was now over 14.5mph so I knew I would make it under the time limit and I still had a couple of large downhill rides.

The roads were still damp on the reverse trip down to the transition area but I flew down them (white knuckled). At one point I hit over 36mph. I’m not one for riding roller coasters…and this to me felt almost as freaky. I guess that’s another thing I have to get used to in training.

I finally made it back into transition with a time of 3:48:19 (official split was 3:48:58). Not great by any means but a) not last, and b) under the cut off. I now have a baseline for a 1.2 mile open water swim and a 56 mile bike ride (although my actual GPS distance was just over 55 miles).

On returning to transition after the rain I was glad to have kept my gear wrapped up in those trash liners and was extremely pleased that I had packed a second pair of socks. My feet were soaked through and I pretty much had to repeat almost the same transition that I had after the swim (minus the wetsuit). Dry off, talc on feet and the struggle back into the Injinji socks!!! Time in second transition was 6:01. Slow but typically it would just be changing shoes and swapping my helmet for a visor. I took the opportunity to take another  energy gel before heading out on the run.

I’ve done many brick work outs in training (bike to run transition) but never after a 56 mile ride nor anything longer than a 30 minute run. This was going to be interesting.

As I headed out to start the run the ground was more soaked than before. As I ran up the hill to the first aid station I was told that the ‘bat cave’ was wet and to be careful. That was an understatement. I hadn’t even reached the cave yet and I was already having to be careful with my footing. The trail was soggy and puddle filled. In fact there were a couple of places early on where I had to walk for fear of slipping in the mud. I didn’t expect to run my normal pace for the half marathon (my PR is 1:51) but I also didn’t expect my first mile split to be 11.36min/mile.

When I had walked the course the previous day I wasn’t wearing sunglasses so when I got to the cave I could kind of see my way through with the little daylight that was streaming through the entrance and exit. I was also walking. Today I was running and wearing sunglasses. BIG difference. Once I hit the cave I could barely see. I decided to take the higher ground on the left of the cave on the assumption that it might be drier as the water would flow down to the lower side. What I didn’t know about or see was that there were rocks on that side. I tripped…twice. While I didn’t wipe out I was a little shaken and pretty much ended up walking through the cave rather than run (hence the slow 1st mile).

Once out the cave I was back in the daylight and it was then just the double out and back to run. The ground was still soaked, soft, slippy and puddled in many places. My nice clean shoes didn’t stay that way for very long. I stepped in a few places where I went down into muddy water to the tops of my shoes. I had been glad I had some dry socks on to start with but they were soon beginning to get damp from the ground below.

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The run was a double out and back.

I passed the first aid station again (I would see it two more times) and the folks manning the table were very cheery and supportive. Each aid station stocked water, Heed, flat Coke, chips, orange slices, candy and cookies. At first I drank only water and Heed at each station (there were another two out on the course) but as it was getting hotter and I was beginning to feel more tired so I started to dunk a cup of cold water over my head at each station too.

I passed Bob on my way out the first time. He had a much stronger ride than me and was at least 30 minutes ahead of me. Just before the third aid station we ran across the Rosendale Trestle Bridge. If you are scared of heights you may want to rethink this race. The bridge was wide, sturdy and safe but quite a way up.

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Rosendale Trestle Bridge (picture from the HITS Facebook page)


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An aerial shot of the bridge on a much sunnier day

It was a spectacular setting and the benefit of running mostly in the shade kept temperatures down. It wasn’t the sunniest of afternoons as there was still a lot of cloud cover but it did feel cooler in the shade.

The turnaround was about a mile past the bridge and at that point I was taking my time negotiating points on the trail that were like mud rivers. Nevertheless it was a keep moving forward mentality. By this stage I had been on the go for over 5 hours and counting.

On my way back to the first aid station (and turnaround for the second leg) I took another energy gel to give myself a boost. I needed something at that point. At the aid station one of the volunteers suggested I take in some flat Coke. I had heard that ultra runners used this as a quick sugar energy boost and as I had just taken a gel I decided to pass this time around but as I progressed on my second out and back I decided to try something new (yeah…during a race…smart!). Luckily I had no bad reaction to ingesting the flat Coke. I haven’t had any soda since quitting last August so this was a bit weird. I had sworn off soda and now I couldn’t get enough… I was still pouring water over my head at each aid station but I was now substituting the Coke for the Heed just to keep me going.

It was at this point that I started playing the math game. I had no goal time other than to finish somewhere between 7-7.5 hours and I knew that my bike leg would eat up a great deal of that time. I was now looking at my Garmin every few minutes to see how much distance and time was left. I had seen Bob on the second out and back as I was going out and he was coming back. I figured he would be done before I reached the turnaround for the second time.

As I rounded the turnaround for the last time I began to realize that I had just under 5 miles to go. I could do this. I was going to do this. Having once run 39.3 miles in 7 hours I knew I had the endurance, but that was straight running and now I was beginning to feel a soreness in my left quad and hamstring from the bike. Everything else felt good other than tired and achy shoulders. I just put one foot in front of the other, walked around the muddy parts and powered on until I saw the first aid station for the final time.

Once I hit the aid station it was just a small up and down hill to the finish line.  This was not a fast half marathon for me by any means but I was going to be under 2:20 and that meant I would be under 7:20 total time. I just had to make it another half mile to the finish.

Rounding the corner to the finish I could see Bob standing by the finish line and he had his camera out taking photos of me coming in. I ran up and gave him a fist bump and turned towards the finish line where to my surprise my Wife’s Aunt had driven down with her family from Albany (about an hour north) to meet me at the finish line. What a wonderful gesture. Totally unexpected. I got so excited I jumped high in the air as I crossed the finish line. Having family and friends meet me at the finish really lifted my spirits and took away any tiredness I was feeling.

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Bob took this photo of me running into the finish


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Woohoo….70.3 DONE!!! (Thanks for the photo Francine)


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Hey, I know you!


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Let me stop my Garmin so I can give you a High Five

I arrived during the awards ceremony so, as had been my luck all through the event, I missed having a photo taken by the official photographer. Luckily, between Bob and his wife Francine and my family I was able to get some photos at the finish line. A volunteer handed me my medal and a bottle of water and I stopped to catch my breath and take some finish line photos with everyone.

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Nice to have a family meet me at the finish (Thank you Nadine, Steve and Benjamin)


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Bob and I. He looks a little more rested than me.


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Bob making sure I saved my multisport event file.


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YES!!!

My official finish time was 7 hours 15 minutes. Not great…but not last. I did my first half iron distance triathlon and finished smiling. That’s enough for me. Will I do another 70.3? Probably, but I’m going to enjoy this one for a long time.

I said goodbye to Bob who had been waiting to see me finish and went over to transition to pack up my gear. My family wanted to take me to lunch (a late lunch) before I had to drive home. There wasn’t much food left by the time I had finished. I was told they were going to order more food (pizza) within the hour for the final finishers and for the full distance finishers. I decided that I would be better off having a full meal to refuel.

So much for my fancy shoes...

So much for my fancy shoes…


...and fancy socks. Just a little muddy

…and fancy socks. Just a little muddy

In transition I used the changing tents to put on some dry clothes. Those trash bags came in handy as I threw all my wet gear and towels into them to carry to the car. Before I left transition I sat down and took it all in. I had just finished my first 70.3. It was a different feeling than finishing my first marathon. That was a runners high which lasted days. This was more a mix of joy and relief. I tried to explain to someone a couple of days later that sometimes when I run I can zone out and just get into a rhythm until I am near the finish line. With the triathlon it’s a matter of focus, concentration and technique. You cannot really zone out doing a triathlon. You’ll drown or crash!!! I’m pleased to say I did neither.

I quickly called my parents in the UK to let them know I was done. I’m 44 and I still call my mother to let her know I’m okay 🙂

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Once I was dressed, the car packed and the bike racked we headed to Kingston where we had a late lunch/early dinner at an Irish pub. Those were the best fish and chips I’d had all day! I drank lots of water to rehydrate and a few cups of coffee to keep me awake before I said goodbye to the family and headed for my three-hour drive home…with a HUGE smile on my face.

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The guy on the left in 2010 has just finished a half iron distance traithlon in 2016

I really enjoyed the event. HITS put on a professional, supportive and friendly event. For anyone dipping their toes into longer distance triathlons I would recommend one of their events. Their communication was responsive in the weeks leading up to the event, the staff were friendly the whole weekend and it was just a relaxed informal atmosphere the whole weekend. They took care of the athletes and it was good value for money compared to some of the other big race organizations out there. Check out their events list.

Oh, by the time I got to the finish line the merchandise tent was being taken down. I wasn’t able to get a finisher shirt that I had spoken to the supplier about the day before. I was waiting until after so not to jinx myself.  The owner gave me his card and told me to call him the following week and he would customize any shirts that I wanted and ship them to me. Pricing was very reasonable so I followed up and ordered a customized long sleeve and short sleeve ‘70.3 Finisher’ shirt. Nice.

That night I had a pretty good long deep sleep.

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Something like this. Even my kids let me sleep in.

In my inbox the next day was this message from my training plan. I didn’t need telling twice 🙂

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Thank you for sticking with me for this (longer than normal) race recap. At least this took you less than 7 hours to read.

2016 New Jersey Marathon – race recap

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Back on Sunday May 1st my wife and I ran the 2016 Novo Nordisk New Jersey Marathon. This was the third time running the event for me (I ran in back in 2013 and 2014) and the first time running this event for my wife. We were looking for a spring marathon and also somewhere less hilly than our recent marathons together (Baltimore, Pittsburgh and Marine Corps) so this fit the bill.

Having not run the event since 2014 I wasn’t familiar with some of the changes to the race that had taken place since. I know that the sponsor had changed since I ran last time and that there was a new look to the website but I wasn’t sure (I am still not sure) if it was the same race director. What I had liked about this race in the past was the regular communication from the race director. Starting around 8 weeks out there would be a weekly email coming every Sunday evening leading up to the race. This year I counted about 2 the whole time. Nevertheless, the biggest change and the one that would actually be a factor for this year was a change they had made the previous year. When I had run in 2013 and 2014, the half marathon started about an hour before the marathon. Starting last year the half and full started together. It would be interesting to experience the change.

As I work not too far from Oceanport, NJ I headed over to the expo on the Friday evening after work. The expo was held as in previous years at the start location for the race, Monmouth Park Racetrack. After parking and walking into the pavilion the set up was the same as in prior years. Head through to bib pickup, then t-shirt pickup and then through the official merchandise (none bought this year) and through the small vendor expo.

The expo was held at Monmouth Park Racetrack

The expo was held at Monmouth Park Racetrack

 

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The expo was held at Monmouth Park Racetrack

 

Ready for bib pick up

Ready for bib pick up

 

Bib pick up for the half and full marathon

Bib pick up for the half and full marathon

 

Bibs in hand and ready to go

Bibs in hand and ready to go

 

Men's and women's cut t-shirts were provided

Men’s and women’s cut t-shirts were provided

 

I prepaid for parking at the start line so I was set for race day

I prepaid for parking at the start line so I was set for race day

 

There was an area of official race gear although I left empty handed

There was an area of official race gear although I left empty handed

I wasn’t looking for anything in particular but I did stop by a shoe vendor as they had stacks and stacks of Brooks shoes. I wanted to try on the Brooks Adrenaline GTS 16’s to see how they fit as the sizing between the 14’s and 15’s had changed and I had subsequently had to change my regular sizing. I was able to find a pair my size so now I know for when I’m ready to buy new shoes, (which is never too far off).

I'm sure they will have one pair my size

I’m sure they will have one pair my size

Not much else for me to see at the expo although it was good to bump into my fellow Mickey Miler, Tammy, who was working the Bondi Band booth.

A jockey selfie for good luck

A jockey selfie for good luck

 

My gear all set up the night before

My gear all set up the night before

I usually take a room in a nearby hotel for this race but due to logistics and the imminent birth of my nephew (who came two weeks later…not so imminent it seems) we decided to drive in on the morning of the race. Our regular after school baby sitter came to our house just before 5am on Sunday as we were about 75 minutes or so away from the start.

In past years I had always arrived after the half marathon runners had left so the roads into the starting location were pretty empty. This year, however, because everyone was starting at the same time it took me almost 30 minutes to drive the last 2 miles. Crazy. One fortunate break was that as we turned off the main highway and were stuck in a major backup the local police moved a barrier right next to us and waved us into a back entrance to the park. Thank goodness for that…I needed a bathroom break pretty badly.

A jockey fist bump for good luck!!!

A jockey fist bump for good luck!!!

We headed to the pavilion which was where we encountered our first slightly unpleasant surprise. In past year I had arrived after the half marathon had started and the inside of the pavilion was only left to marathon runners. There were plenty of seats to relax in, there were no lines for the ‘indoor’ bathrooms and generally we all stayed in the pavilion until about 15 minutes before the race. Not this year. With the half marathoners and full marathoners starting at the same time it was pretty much standing room only. The lines for the men’s bathroom were long, but not as long as the line for the women’s bathroom that stretched almost the length of the pavilion. Wow. My wife decided (as she was about 30 places back from the front of the line) that we would try to make our way to bag check and she would line up to use the restrooms outside while I checked our gear bags.

As we were approaching the bag check they were giving us only a few minutes before they were closing the trucks. I met up with another Mickey Miler, Elvin, at the bag check and we went to find my wife who was still waiting in line. Usually at this stage I would be in the corral waiting to go. In prior years I was in Corral C or D and was there before Corral A was released. This year, we were still in the bathroom lines by the time they had released Corral C. I’ve never been in that situation before. There were just too many people compared to the facilities they had available.

Meeting up with Elvin outside of bag check

Meeting up with Elvin outside of bag check

 

Finally made it into our corral

Finally made it into our corral

 

Ready for the word to go

Ready for the word to go

In addition to scrambling to get into the Corral (I was in Corral E and I took everyone in with me) it had started to rain. There we were all wrapped up in our trash bags (Elvin wore a rain jacket) and we still had 26.2 miles ahead of us in this weather. We decided to all run together as long as we could. We were going to use a Run/Walk ratio of 3:00/0:30 and see how we felt.

The first few miles were through local neighborhoods around the race track and it was nice to run through the streets as people had come out to their front yards to cheer us on despite the weather conditions. It was raining lightly, not too hard but enough to get you wet. My wife, Elvin and I maintained very steady pace and were able to stay together despite a little more crowding due to running with the half marathoners. It wasn’t ‘Disney’ congested but more than I had experienced in the past for this race.

Around mile 6 I had to take a bathroom break just after we passed the water stop. I thought it would be quick as there were 4 port-a-potties. Was I wrong? Almost 5 freaking minutes waiting in the rain!!!! I didn’t want to run on as this is a smaller race and I hadn’t seen many bathroom stops within the first 6 miles. My wife was very patient…very…(more on that later).

With that over and done with we ran on. Elvin was still with us and we ran across the first of two small water way bridges and then made our way into Long Branch. Along the side of the road I remembered that there were usually signs with inspirational or funny quotes. They were there again this year but due to the rain they had either sagged or split (they were paper based) due to being so wet. It was a shame but there was nothing that can be done about that. We just got our heads down and plodded along trying to avoid any puddles in the road.

The first part of the course had taken us from Oceanport through Monmouth Beach and then into Long Branch. As we approached mile 11 the half and full marathon routes began to split into two lanes as the half marathoners would turn back up the boardwalk to the finish line in Long Branch while the full marathoners soldiered on. Just after the split we entered the town of Deal. This was the start of the long out and back part of the course. It’s essentially a straight run down to Ocean Grove from here through the towns of Deal, Allenhurst, Locharbor, Asbury Park and Ocean Grove before coming all the way back up the through the same towns to the finish in Long Branch.

The course map that was displayed at the expo

The course map that was displayed at the expo

Around mile 13 as we were running through Deal we saw the leaders making their way back to the finish. They looked strong despite the conditions. Some were dressed as though they had expected warmer temperatures. We were a little chilly in our multiple layers as we saw these runners in their running singlets coming the opposite way. Heck…I was wearing gloves the whole of the course.

Deal, NJ is home to some really impressive houses. There was lots of eye candy to distract you as you ran down. By this stage the runners had started spreading out and as there were less full marathoners in the event we found ourselves pretty much running silently on except for supporters around the aid stations. There were a couple of runs around inland ponds which took us off the straights and gave us something different to look at but it was mostly running along Ocean Avenue through each town.

Around mile 15 the rain started to come down heavier. It was the ‘wet enough to soak you’ type of rain. It wasn’t hard rain but it was not the lighter stuff we had run the first 15 miles in. Oh well, we were pretty committed to this thing by now so no choice but to push on.

As we approached Asbury Park we stopped to take a picture outside of the ‘Stone Pony’. Famous for its links to Bruce Springsteen in his early years and other local New Jersey bands. Asbury Park is famous for its boardwalk and in the past there had been some entertainment out on the course here. With today’s weather conditions there was none of that to be seen.

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Once through Asbury Park you start to sense that the turnaround has to be somewhere near. From my recollections of this race it is one of the most elusive turnarounds. You run around a street corner and think it must be there only to see another street and then another corner and then another street. It was well tucked away. Having run this race twice before I was familiar with the scenario but I heard plenty of people around me asking where on earth the turnaround was. I had mentioned to my wife and Elvin that it does seem to be a bit of a tease but it did exist! Finally we hit this tiny little cone in the middle of the street and turned around. It was just after mile 19.

We were still using our run/walk ratio and mostly concentrating on avoiding the ever-increasing puddles as we ran. Elvin stayed with us until about mile 21 when he told us to go ahead as his legs were beginning to cramp up. We ran on the boardwalk for a short time before returning back onto the road.

There were not too many people around us at this stage but we were still moving at a nice pace. We started to see the back of the pack as they were approaching mile 14 and saw the pace wagon driving slowly behind them. We cheered them on and hoped they would make it. The rain had let up for now and we were just running to get home. My wife was feeling good. In all our marathons together (this is her 7th) she has always begun to struggle with hip and/or knee pain around mile 20. So far so good! It may have been because this course was relatively flat but either way, neither of us was unhappy or uncomfortable.

As we approached Long Branch we picked up the pace a little. We saw the boardwalk and knew that the end of the race was near (or so it seemed). At this point the rain started again steadily. Yup, the ‘getting you more wet than before’ type of rain. The last mile or so is all on the boardwalk. I was a little concerned about footing with the boards being so wet but we seemed to get along fine which was a relief.

The one thing I remember about this race is that if you think you can see the finish line then you are wrong. It is tucked away out of sight and you do not really see it until just after you hit mile 26. Once we saw this we stepped up the pace again and ran in home. Another marathon done. It was wet but no one was hurting and we were both happy and relieved in a time of 4:44. My wife even PR’d by 45 seconds…yup including the 5 minute port-a-pottie stop where she waited for me, and yes…she certainly let me know her feelings about that 😦  I personally had a PR….my wife didn’t shout at me or get mad at me for the whole 26.2 miles!!! Our previous record was 22 miles before I knew to avoid making eye contact. This was a big win 🙂

Once through the finish line we were awarded our medals and handed some water and Gatorade. It was beginning to rain harder and as we had stopped running we very quickly started to get cold and start shivering. There were no mylar blankets at the finish line for runners. Granted, in the past it was a beautiful sunny day and none were needed nor expected.

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We quickly made our way to the gear trucks where we had packed our bags with dry clothes. They had changing tents alongside the trucks but we decided it would be pointless to change into dry clothes as we still had a long walk from the finish line to the buses which would shuttle us back to the start line. As we started walking to the buses I saw Elvin just crossing the finish line. As we had already passed the exit to the race area we figured he’d need his time to recover and we headed on towards the buses.

Once on the bus it was nice and warm. Steamy, given everyone’s wet conditions. At one point I turned to talk to my wife beside me and water poured off my hat onto her. It was funny from where I was sitting at least. Finally we pulled back up to Monmouth Park Racetrack. The bus had parked on the opposite side of the pavilion so that meant we had to walk a short distance (on marathon legs) back to the parking lot. It is a very steep step down from a bus after a marathon!!! Once outside we were immediately shivering. The rain hadn’t let up and we still had to walk to the car.

On the bus heading back to the starting line

On the bus heading back to the starting line

Finally we made it. After switching on the engine in the car and turning on the heat we changed out of our wet clothes and tried to warm up. My wife was a particular shade of blue at this point. We handed our pre-paid parking pass at the exit and headed home. We were keeping a close eye out for somewhere to stop for coffee and lo and behold we came across a Dunkin’ Donuts drive through where we got ourselves coffee and a bagel. The timing worked out as we had just left Dunkin’ and were at the point where the road splits between the direction home for us and the other back up towards NYC when Elvin pulled up in his car next to us. That was a nice surprise. We said our goodbyes and went off in our respective directions home.

Overall it was a good day. I had great fun with my wife and with Elvin. Running together made up for the conditions as it was a great distraction for us all. I was a little upset that I wasn’t able to share my 2013 and 2014 experiences with my wife due to both the weather and the change in the logistics at the start of the race. I enjoyed the course as before but after 3 out of 4 years running this event I think I may take a break and look for another venue for a spring race.

Once back home I had the best ever hot shower. Unlike our normal jam-packed weekend activities, the weather didn’t improve much and it is very rare for us to just stay home and relax. This was probably the first marathon out of the 15 I have completed where I went to lie down once I was showered and dressed. While I didn’t fall asleep I kept off my feet and just rested. That was nice. Rare, but nice.

The marathon finisher medal

The marathon finisher medal

 

I like the way they list all the towns we ran through on the back of the medal

I like the way they list all the towns we ran through on the back of the medal

Apologies for the late post of this race recap. Not sure if it was really as a result of the weather conditions from the race but I was laid low with a sinus infection for a few days after the race and as I recovered from that I threw my back out. I was laid flat for another few days and I was unable to do any training for 9 days. Very frustrating but now I am back on the road after the minor setback and training towards my upcoming triathlons.

Thank you for reading.