NYC Marathon vs Boston Marathon Part 2 – which one is more awesome

My friend Christopher and I have had this conversation many times, because we never could agree: “Which is the ultimate US marathon experience Boston or New York?” In Part 1 I asked the question which is tougher now I ask the more controversial question which is more awesome!

IMG_20171105_084203SusanChristopherBoston

Who has the best crowd support?

By the numbers

According to the Boston Marathon media guide, the Boston marathon has an estimated 500,000 spectators and the New York marathon has an estimated 1,000,000+ spectators. So in terms of sheer numbers there is no question you have more people cheering you on in New York. Not surprising given New York has ten times the population of Boston. Also, in Boston, you run through the suburbs into Boston itself, whereas in New York you are running in the city for the entire race. Since you run through areas with a higher population it makes sense you would get bigger crowds.

By decibel level

decibel-meterThis is a tough one to call. The 2017 crowds in Boston seemed louder to me than the 2017 crowds in New York. But! I know the weather is a huge factor. The 2015 crowds in Boston were much quieter because it was cold and wet. Boston 2017 was a gorgeous sunny day, great for spectators (a little warm for runners) and I experienced Boston crowds at their ear drum splitting best! New York 2017 was cloudy with drizzle not as appealing to spectators (great for runners). From everything I have heard, New York on a sunny day is louder than my 2017 NYC experience and I have no doubt that is the case. 2017 NYC was louder than 2015 Boston, but, 2015 Boston was colder and wetter than 2017 New York.

At both the New York and Boston races there are parts of the course where the cheering is so loud that it is overwhelming.  At either race, if you put your name on your bib you may suddenly end up with a group of complete strangers chanting your name (which I think is awesome!). Though some runners will deliberately run in the middle of the road or cross to the side with less spectators because it can become quite intense, especially when you are struggling.

One of my favorite moments of the New York City marathon was the contrast between the Queensboro bridge and Queens (hope that’s the right borough). On the bridges you have no spectators, all you hear is the breathing and feet of the runners. But as you come off the bridge you can hear the crowds cheering in the distance ready to welcome you back to the streets.  Decibel levels peak around mile 8 when the three colour corrals merge, right after the Queensboro bridge and around and through Central Park.

In Boston, you may be in suburbia but they show up to cheer their runners! The loudest stretches are  Wellesley, Boston college. Wellesley college is at the top of the hill at around the half way mark, and you can hear them well before you reach the top. In the past few years Boston college has stepped up their game and dare I say it are in fact louder than Wellesley college. Of course the final stretches of Boston along the brownstones and along Boylston are also impressively loud.

By spirit

CheeringNew York city has a vibe, it’s New York! You run through the Bronx, Brooklyn, Queens and Manhatten (twice). The vibe and crowds vary from borough to borough. You might hear rap, gospel singers, and my personal favorite the dancing rabbi. If you love New York City, you are going to love the New York marathon it’s that simple! Let’s be clear, I come from Ottawa, Canada where, let’s face it, the overwhelming majority of the population is white. It’s awesome to see such diversity in the crowds (and runners!).  If you look for it there is also a pride in the residents of each borough. One of my friends running crossed the Willis bridge and was greeted by a man on the sidewalk yelling “Welcome to the Bronx!” That’s just cool!

Boston has a very different vibe, partly due to the bombing in 2013. 2 bombs detonated 200 m apart on Boylston near the finish line killing 3 people and injuring hundreds of others.  The effect was an increase in popularity in the Boston marathon, as runners around the world wanted to show that one bomber could not scare everyone away and they would take back the race. The phrase “Boston strong” is seen on shirts and signs around race day. DaffodilsMy first Boston marathon was in 2015. It was rainy, windy and cold. A spectator on their lawn in the first few miles yelled out “Thank you for running!” my immediate response was “Thank you for cheering” I was getting a medal out of this and I was moving to stay warm, they were standing in the cold rain cheering on the back end of wave 3!  The majority of those injured in the bombing were spectators and year after year they return “Boston strong” to cheer us on. So seriously “Thank you for cheering!”.  Boston rallied the day of the bombing, there are so many stories of strangers helping each other after the bomb went off. They closed the course with runners still on the course, tired, cold, with no cell phone or way to reach their families at the finish line and the area with the bag check was locked down. Restaurants provided warm soup to runners stepping inside to get warm, strangers offered rides to help them reunite with their families. Chances are at some point during the race or before the race you are going to feel that spirit.

The crowds in Boston have energy as well. I didn’t see any dancing rabbis, but you do have the dancing Santa, the guys at the biker bar, the store with the mirrored windows so you can see yourself running, and the most famous spectators: the girls at Wellesley college with their signs offering up kisses (equal opportunity kisses, some have signs saying they will kiss girls).  For the record, I did not stop for a kiss in 2015, but in 2017 as I read all the different signs “Kiss me I’m Irish” “Kiss me it’s your last chance before I move to California” “Kiss me if you voted for Clinton”, “Kiss me and I will drop this sign” signs held up to suggest that perhaps the sign was all that stood between you and a naked woman (sorry guys, she was wearing a sundress) I decided it was part of the Boston experience and ran over for a kiss.  She was absolutely willing to give me a kiss on the lips, but I settled for a kiss on the cheek.

Taking over the city

Boston has a population of about 650,000 and gets around 20 million tourists a year. New York city has a population of 8.5 million and an estimated 60 million tourists a year.

As a result, even though 50,000 runners and their support family and friends descend on New York City, it is not as noticeable as 30,000 runners with their support teams in Boston. Boston also has the advantage that the race falls on Memorial Day long weekend. So everyone in Boston knows when it’s race weekend.

Boston rocks the pre-race

BostonJacketsWhen you arrive in the city, runners from previous years walk around wearing their Boston race jackets from past races. Let me tell you, I couldn’t wait to arrive at the 2017 Boston marathon because this time I had a 2015 race jacket to wear around town before race day.  It becomes a game to try and spot the oldest Boston jacket, or to find the oldest in the list of race years on embroidered on Boston jackets.

The Boston jackets also make it obvious to the locals who the runners are, so chances are when you go out for breakfast, lunch or supper, someone at the table will ask “Are you running Monday?” and wishes of good luck on race day.

The weather forecast talks about the weather on “Marathon Monday.” The local restaurants serve the special Edition Sam Adams Boston marathon beer. For 3 or 4 days, Bolyston is the center of all things Boston marathon. You can check out the expo and the run center with it’s 3D contour map of the course. Try to spot elite runners (saw Meb just casually walking down Boylston Sunday in 2016). Cheer on friends in the 5 km race, watch the college kids compete in the invitational 1 mile race. Wait your turn to take a picture at the finish line. Receive the blessing of the runners from the church on Boylston Sunday morning.  Anytime you want to feel like part of something special you just walk down Boylston and soak it all in.

Of course, there are reminders of the Boston bombing as well. Pots of daffodils line streets and store windows in memoriam. “Boston strong” is painted in store windows and appears on signs and posters. The lampposts where the bombs were set off are decorated with crochet blue and yellow daffodils. Police with rifles walk the streets, SWAT vans are parked on the corner. Police with dogs walk past. Spectators are reminded of the security procedures to watch the race on Boylston race day. But the overall impact of the bombing has really been “We are strong, we will not be intimidated, we will go on stronger than before… Boston strong!” It’s empowering.

After the race, the streets and restaurants are flooded with runners sporting their new Boston jackets. Those who have run Boston 5 or 6 times may arrive and say ‘this year I won’t buy a jacket’ but then you get to the expo, and discover oh this year’s jacket is reflective, or I like the colour this year, or you see your friend trying on a jacket and eventually your resolve weakens. Gotta have the jacket. It all adds to the spirit that is the Boston marathon! (Kudos to whatever marketing person came up with that idea, my sister now owns about 10 Boston jackets?)

New York rocks the post-race

SusanMimosaSince most of us follow the superstition or tradition of not wearing our race shirts until after the race, it’s difficult to spot the runners before the race in New York City. As a runner you can have playing spot the other runners based on the shoes, the conversations, the expo race bag slung over their shoulder. There’s comradery in hotel elevators as we glance at each other and tentatively ask “are you running?” The race expo and the finish line are located miles apart, so you have to make an effort to visit the finish line area. It’s totally worth the effort as you can walk down that finishing stretch lined with flags, visit the run center and see the winner’s medals, the giant race map, and whatever other fun experiences sponsors have cooked up to get you in the mood!

But it’s after the race when New York truly embraces the runners. We walked into a Bierhaus for a post-race dinner and the restaurant patrons burst into applause at the sight of the famous blue poncho on Christopher and in my case the good old mylar blanket ( I chose bag check). Any time a runner came into the restaurant we all cheered and clapped as we stumbled to a table and collapsed into a chair.

It’s tradition to wear your medal the day after the race. I am perfectly willing to walk around wearing a race medal! Concierges, taxi drivers, strangers on the street all smile and say Congratulations!  We made our way to a news stand to buy the New York Times which has a special marathon section where they print the names and times of the first 35000 runners (what an awesome souvenir!) The man at the newsstand gestured to Christopher’s medal and said “Can I touch it?” Smiling, Christopher passed it to him, and he lifted and caressed the medal with a big smile and a heartfelt congratulations.

Marathon Monday is a thing in New York, with a whole series of celebrations and activities the day after the marathon! Free medal engraving? Maybe it’s because the race in Boston is on the Monday of a holiday weekend, but in Boston the day after the race all we are thinking about is how soon we can get on the road and head home. I had no idea that in New York, I should have booked a later flight so I could take part in the post-race celebrations and atmosphere of Marathon Monday!

What moments impact you as a runner

Boston is about getting to the start line!

BostonAcceptanceAside from the charity entries at Boston, everyone in the race has already completed a marathon, most of them have completed several.  They know they can do it! Some of them have trained for years to earn a BQ. A task that has become more and more challenging since the year of the bombing.

There was a time you could run a BQ in March and register for the Boston marathon one month later. In fact, there was a time when runners could take advantage of the rounding down rule (if you ran a 3:55:06 that counted as a 3:55 BQ). In the past 5 years, too many runners with qualifying times have registered and as a result Boston has had to calculate a cut-off time to keep the number of runners down to 30,000.

Registration dates vary based on your qualifying time. Someone who has a time 20 minutes faster than the BQ requirement registers a week before someone like me who qualifies with a time within 5 minutes of your BQ. It’s stressful for those of us in the sub 5 group. You wait for the inevitable email informing you they have too many runners with qualifying times and then you wait. About a week later you receive an email telling you this years cutoff time and whether or not you made the cut. There is some luck involved here. My 2015 qualifying time would not have earned me a spot in 2016, and my 2017 qualifying time would not have earned me a spot in 2018. Those of us on the cusp may have to wait months and months after our qualifying race to find out if our BQ is in fact good enough to get us to the start line.

2018 Cutoff 3:23

2017 Cutoff 2:09

2016 cutoff 2:28

2015 cutoff 1:02

2014 cutoff 1:38

Even charity runners work harder to get to Boston as the fundraising targets are $5000 USD vs $2500-$3000 for New York.

As a result, the celebrations at Boston happen at the start line. Congratulations you are running Boston! Conversations in the start village are along the lines of “Is this your first Boston?”, “What was your qualifying race?” we don’t even need to ask what their qualifying time was because if they are in your corral, they qualified with the same time you did! We assume the runners around us are experienced marathon runners and we are all sharing the joy of being at the start line in Hopkington.

Inevitably there will be someone who earned their first Boston Bib and got an injury. Someone will be lined up with crutches or a cast. They know they probably won’t finish but damn it they finally got a bib and they are absolutely going to cross that start line!  There are a lot of smiles at that start line!

New York is about getting to the finish line

SusanFinishThe most awesome thing about the NYC marathon is it does NOT require a qualifying time. Most runners get in by volunteering, running multiple New York races, or by lottery.  That means in addition to experience runners chasing a personal best, there are lots of first time marathon runners on the course.

In the start corral I was surprised to discover how many people had never run a marathon before. But wow, what a place to run your first marathon! My only comment might be, if you think you will run multiple marathons and you run New York for your first, the New York marathon will make just about any other marathon pale in comparison!

Because there are so many first time, or relatively new marathon runners, there are some great traditions and celebrations of the later runners crossing the finish line. Some elite runners come back to cheer on the stragglers. How awesome is that!  I truly believe those are the people who deserve the biggest cheers. Sure I was tired at the end, but I knew I could do it. These people didn’t even know if they could finish. While I was sitting down at a restaurant ordering food and a drink, they were still out there in the dark making their way to the finish line! Which of us had the greater achievement that day?

Run! Cours! Correre! 実行

Both New York and Boston attract runners from all over the world: Poland, Vietnam, Chile, France, Ireland, Italy, Germany, Japan, New Zealand. Spectators shout out viva Brazil and wave the Brazilian flag as a runner goes past in green and yellow!  At the 2017 NYC marathon 139 countries were represented. At the 2017 Boston marathon 96 countries were represented.

I think that international race spirit is a little stronger in New York. That’s likely because New York encourages international runners by reserving a certain number of lottery spots for international runners. That way, if a group of runners in Ireland decide they should all go run the New York marathon, there is a decent chance several of them will get in through the lottery and they can make the trip together. If someone doesn’t get in through the lottery they can buy their way in through a tour package (that’s how I made it to New York) or by fundraising. You see groups of runners with custom NYC <insert country here> jackets walking down the street!

In Boston there is no lottery, getting an entry is determined by your qualifying time so the race has no control over how many international runners compete.  It’s a testament to the popularity of the race that they have 96 different countries represented!

Getting to the start

LadyLibertyBoston and NYC are both point to point races, so you have to get to the start line. Boston provides school buses from Boston Commons. They have an efficient system for loading the buses. When you can board the bus is based on your start wave. One advantage to being in Wave 3 is I get to sleep in later than all those folks in Wave 1 and Wave 2 😊. You board the bus and try not to think about the fact that as the bus trundles along to Hopkington that you have to run all the way back.

There are specific locations in NYC where you can take buses to the start. You have to select ahead of time whether you will take the bus or the ferry. My friends all took the bus. There was a big line to board the buses, but once you were on board it was easy, and some of the buses even had bathrooms on the bus! Bonus! My friend Christopher said I should take the ferry. I have to say, I am glad I did. It is more hassle because you have to get on the ferry and then line up for buses on the other end. But standing on the ferry with the Statue of Liberty on your right and the Verrazano bridge on your left is an amazing way to get in the mood for the race!  Even if the total time and effort to reach the start was longer, and even though the bus loading system was disorganized and chaotic when we got off the ferry (I am told it was better in 2016, hopefully they fix it next year) I would take the ferry again just for that view.

The start village

Ahhh the joys of the marathons. You get up at 4 or 5 AM and when you finally reach the start you have 1 to 2 hours before you actually start!

The important stuff: Port-a-Potties!

Both races have lots and lots of port-a-potties. Both races have long lines for the port-a-potties. Both races have port-a-potties in the village and either in the corrals (NYC) or on the walk to the corrals (Boston). Tip: If you are in a back corral of a wave, the port-a-potties en route to the corrals usually have nice short lines and you still have time to get to your corral before you start 😊.  New York is famous for “yellow rain”: Runners on the upper level of the Verrazano peeing off the side creating yellow rain for the runners on the lower level of the bridge. I didn’t see anyone doing that in 2017, and I have yet to meet a runner from the upper or lower level who actually witnessed the creation of, or fall of, yellow rain. On the other hand, the aerial view of the first half mile of Boston must be hilarious as waves of men peel off into the conveniently located patch of trees right after the start line to take advantage of nature’s washroom.  Both races threaten to disqualify you if you do that in the village!

What can I do while I wait for my start wave?

StartVillageBoston has several big tents set up which is great to protect you from the sun or rain. If you are in Wave 3 (like me), when you arrive the tents are packed! But once the Wave 1 runners head out you can usually move in and find space (you might even find a few blankets to sit on left behind by earlier runners).

In Boston everyone just hangs out in one big field. In New York there are different villages for different colour bibs. If you are running with a friend you can still hang out together in the common areas OR the friend with the faster bib can go to the slower colour village, but the slower colour bibs cannot enter the faster colour corrals.  i.e. Blue bibs can go anywhere, Orange bibs cannot get into Blue, but can enter green, Green bibs can only enter the green village. The advantage to this system is it spreads everyone out a bit, the disadvantage is the start villages are more confusing to navigate.IMG_20171105_084130

You can find the usual pre-race food/gels and water at both races. But New York does have a couple of cool bonuses: In each village they have therapy dogs & Dunkin Donut hats (while supplies last). If you have bag check, pick up the hat before you check your bag OR bring a safety pin to attach the hat to your race belt for the run. Another nice touch in New York was the hay laid down on some of the grassy areas which made for some nice spots to sit or lie down.

Bag Check & ponchos

Both races will only accept official provided with bib pick up transparent bags for bag check

Bag Check at New York is in the start village, so you have the option of bringing a few extra things with you to the start and checking them after you get there.  This meant I was able to bring my phone and take pictures in the start village and then check the phone with my bag. It also meant I was able to throw some optional race gear in the bag to use or not use depending on weather conditions and just check what I did not use.  You do have to check your bag well before your start time! Make sure you look up the deadline for bag check drop off! My wave started at 10:15 but my bag check cut off was 8:40! You may need to get an earlier bus or ferry to the start if you are checking a bag.

Boston you have to check the bag before you board the buses to the start (pre 2017 the bag check was in Boston Commons, in 2017 they moved it to Boylston). This could be a big hassle if you are not staying near Boylston.

In New York you have to choose between bag check and the famous blue ponchos.  The blue ponchos are thicker and warmer than the mylar blankets given to all the finishers. Keep an eye out for the volunteers with tape to hold your poncho closed for you😊. Runners with blue ponchos also have a shorter walk to the park exit. Yes, that’s right whether you choose bag check or poncho determines where you exit Central park. My bag check was almost a half mile from the finish line and I felt every single step. When I finally got my bag and walked out of the park I then had to walk back towards the start to get to a metro station.

In Boston everyone gets the thick Poncho. On a cold day there were also volunteers ensuring the Velcro was well closed to keep you warm. In 2017 they moved the bag check to Boylston so it is a much shorter walk than it was in the past.

Apples vs Bananas

You’ve seen the sign held up by someone in the crowd “This is an awful lot of work for a free banana!”. Well of course there are bananas at the finish in Boston, but not in New York. Nope, in New York you get an apple, because of course you are in the big apple! Clever, but I wanted my banana. There I said it done, with my rant now 😉

Hey Susan, it’s a race, which is the better race purely from the running perspective?

If you are out for a personal best, neither course will give that up easily. Both courses have some tough climbs.  Check out Part 1 of this blog: which is tougher if you want the nitty gritty details!

The NYC marathon has pacers. Boston does not.

Boston corrals are much more tightly assigned since almost everyone entered had to provide proof of a qualifying time. As a result when you start everyone around you is running a similar pace. In New York you just type in your predicted finish time when you register. Inexperience marathon runners may not know what is realistic.  Both myself and the other runners from my running club found that our corrals were much slower pace than we expected given our predicted finish times. As a result if you wanted to finish at your predicted time you spent a lot energy dodging and passing runners.  The NYC marathon also has more runners which makes for a more crowded course. So, if you are trying to set an aggressive time goal, it’s going to be tougher to achieve in New York.

Of course, if your goal is to be surrounded by other runners and just enjoy the race and atmosphere, New York is going to be a blast! It just depends what you are looking for on race day.

In Boston, I felt like a back of the pack runner. In New York I felt like I was one of the fast runners.

For perspective here are my personal stats for the two races

Boston 2017 New York 2017
Wave 3 (out of 4) 2 (out of 4)
Corral 7 (out of 8) Blue F (6th of 18 corrals)
Finish position 17802 9711
Finish % Top 60% Top 20%
Finish time 4:07:11 (I was running Big Sur in 2 weeks so I did not push it) 3:49:17 (I was trying for and achieved a Personal best)

 

By the numbers

A few stats comparing the two races

Boston 2017 New York 2017
Number started 27222 51307
Number finished 26400 50766
% Finished 97.0 % 98.9 %
Number Men 14842 29678
Number Women 12380 21088
% Women 45.5 % 41.1 %
Number of countries 92 139
Course record Men 2:03:02 set in 2011 2:05:06 set in 2011
Course record Women 2:19:59 set in 2014 2:22:31 set in 2003

 

The volunteers

The volunteers are awesome at Boston and New York and we couldn’t do it without them. Thank you to each and every person who comes out to volunteer!

Thankyou

So which is more awesome?

As long as I have known Christopher, he has loved New York city. From the moment he started running marathons he wanted to run the NYC marathon. When he finally got to run it for the first time in 2016, he couldn’t stop talking about it!  What an experience it was, the crowds, the atmosphere, the different boroughs, the QFB (Queensboro “expletive deleted” bridge 😊). I can’t imagine any other race taking first place in his heart!  I also expect that all those runners who did New York for their first marathon or did New York as their first major marathon will never have another race experience as powerful.

MomAndSusanJacketsWhen I was a teenager my dad ran a Boston qualifier, but never got to run Boston. Years later, my sister qualified for and ran Boston.  When my mom turned 65 she qualified for and ran her first Boston. So, you can imagine, from the first time I ran a marathon, Boston was on my mind. In 2015 I qualified for and ran the Boston marathon. I drove down with my sister who was running her 11th consecutive Boston, and our other sister came down with her husband to cheer us on (my mom and dad were of course tracking us online!) It was awesome to share that experience with my family and it was a special moment to pose in my Boston jacket with my sister and my mom.  As a result, for me, no race could ever replace Boston.

So the answer is: It depends.

Yes I know that sounds like a cop out, but it’s true. Each of us has our own reasons for running a marathon. Each of us has different goals and motivations. I don’t know which of these two races will claim your heart but I can promise you that if you get the chance to run either one you should take it! Regardless of which you run it will be an experience you will never forget!

 

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New York Marathon Race Report

NYRRI want to be a part of it New York New York! Many a marathon runner dreams of running the New York Marathon. This year it was my turn, in this post I’ll share my experience running the 2017 NYC Marathon.

I blame two people for getting me into marathons: my sister, Judy Andrew-Piel, and my friend, Christopher Harrison. I think of the Boston marathon as my sister’s race and it was just amazing to run the 2015 and 2017 Boston marathons with her. NYC is Christopher’s race, so racing it with him was inevitable and a treat.

Getting a bib
RegisterForNYC

There are several ways to get a bib to the New York marathon: lottery, qualifying time, fundraise, run 9 + volunteer at 1 NYRR race, or pay for a tour package. Of the 50,000 runners this year only 867 were from Canada, so odds of getting in through the lottery for Canadians seem pretty low ( I did try) . I am not fast enough to qualify, the 9+1 system is great for the locals, raising $3000 for charity is a great idea but they are US charities so tougher to raise for outside the US because your friends can’t easily claim tax deductions. So I coughed up the money for a tour package through the running room that included hotel + guaranteed race entry.  It works out to paying about $600-$1000 CDN more than if you got in through the lottery. 

The Race Expo

Christopher and I arrived Thursday night so we could do the race expo and any bits of shopping for race supplies Friday, leaving Saturday to rest. According to my GPS we logged 22341 steps Friday, so I am really glad we did! The expo opened at 10 AM, we arrived around 10:20 and there was a huge line to enter, but it moved quickly and it wasn’t long until we split up for bib pickup. In a moment of serendipity I met 3 otshirtf the 4 runners from my running club, K2J while standing in line for my bib!

Before picking up my shirt and gear check bag, I took advantage of the t-shirt sizing area to try on a sample shirt and figure out what size fit.

Next up was the NYC marathon shop, they had some really nice gear: jackets and shirts of various shapes, sizes and colors, backpacks, gloves, wine glasses, stuffed bears, tights, shorts, visors, hats, a dangerous yet awesome place to shop 😊 I immediately picked out a nice long sleeve shirt, a t shirt, and a new visor thinking those would make perfect souvenirs, but couldn’t resist a nice warm hoodie and a pair of running gloves as well.  To make myself feel better at the checkout I asked the volunteer what the largest bill was he’d tallied that day.  Knowing someone else had splurged $2500 made my purchases seem downright modest!

20171103_184719Having been to race expos before, I know they can be a little chaotic, so this time I had an actual to-do list for the expo. First up- pace bands! I grabbed a 3:50 and a 3:55 pace band and took a picture of the sign listing the corrals where each pacer would be on race day. I was quite surprised to see that the pacer for a 3:50 was 6 corrals back from my assigned corral. Maybe they do that deliberately, since you can move back corrals but you can’t move up. 

Next up was a pair of recovery sandals. If you aren’t familiar with these, you want to be! My sister got a demo pair at work and decided to try them after Boston. Since then, she is frequently seen sporting them post-race or just post-workout. Oofos didn’t have a booth, but Jackrabbit sports carries the brand, and sure enough their booth at the expo had the recovery sandals, as an added bonus they had NYC marathon branding.  They cost $50 and they look like they should cost $5. (Spoiler alert, they were worth it!).  Finally we went in search of name bars to wear so the crowds could cheer us by name, but sadly the charity booth that offered that service last year was either not there, or was not offering the same service this year.  A trip to Staples for some sharpies and stickers would have to do.

Christopher eyed the recovery sandals, but balked at the price. When we walked out of the expo I st20171103_111829opped to put on the sandals since my feet were already sore from the expo. The look of relief on my face when I slipped them on must have made an impression because Christopher asked to try one on and you guessed it, we had to go back into the expo and buy a pair for him too 😉

The race expo was busy but it was still easy to walk around, we checked out Pepper the bot with her bib, we posed for pictures at various booths and signs, we added Thank you notes to the wall, we reviewed the map and hill profiles. All in all a great race expo and a great way to get stoked for the race. Oh and in case you are wondering, yes they had gels (sorry inside joke for the K2j Runners who did the Petit Train du Nord marathon).

Scoping out the finish20171103_150140

I find it really helpful to walk the last mile of the marathon. We hopped on the metro and made our way to Central Park. We walked along South Central Park and then we rented bikes so we could ride the surprisingly long (and hilly) stretch of the course through Central Park itself. Renting bikes seemed like a good idea, but when we rode out along the race route and back again we discovered the bike path in central park is one way. So yes we were *those* people riding the wrong way through Central Park. Sorry!

When we walk20171103_153854ed to the finish line we had an extra treat. Meb was there with his daughter and fundraising team. They were taking some pictures for his charity. But Meb being the amazing ambassador for the sport that he is, posed for individual pictures with every member of his team and then turned and said we’ll take pictures with that group there and then we are done. “that group there” included Christopher and I, in fact we were the last runners to get a pic with Meb, who was clearly exhausted and tired of taking pictures, but always the trooper took the time so we could get a picture with him and his daughter!  Love Meb!

Pre-race dinner

SmoresThe rest of Friday and Saturday were spent drinking water with Nuun, eating pasta and rice, and generally trying to stay off our feet as much as possible. For a pre-race dinner we made 5 PM reservations at a Gyu-Kazu restaurant.  Kanako, one of my K2J trainin partners, came to join us for BBQ, rice and Smores! As an added bonus it turns there were happy hour prices until 6 PM, so we had a great meal and Christopher indulged in some superior sake at a bargain price!  Kanako works at the Japanese embassy in Canada and informed us that particular sake was given to prime minister Trudeau as a gift by the Japanese prime minister. At $35 a bottle (half price happy hour!) Christopher could not resist, but limited his intake given it was the night before the race so his brother Abram had to step up and make sure it did not go to waste 😉. 

Getting to the race village

LadyLibertyWe got to the ferry terminal just before 6:30 AM and it was packed with runners in various pre-race get-ups.  My favorite was the runner in the polka dot onesie and penguin hat. Christopher and I got a lot of compliments on our pre-race bathrobes.  It was crowded but it wasn’t long until we were on the ferry.  All the seats indoors were taken, so we went to the far side of the boat and outside where we had a fabulous view of the Statue of Liberty and the Verrazano bridge. What could be more inspiring pre-race!

We were chugging along and suddenly they shut down the boat engines. Apparently, they were only operating one dock on Staten Island so we had to wait 15 minutes or so until another ferry vacated our dock and we could move in. The cut off for my bag check was 8:40, so I was a little nervous, but we figured the delay in docking would just reduce the line for the buses at the other end.

BuslinesIf it did reduce the line-ups I’d hate to think what they were like before! Once we disembarked it was ordered chaos. There was something resembling a line but it was a bit of a free for all with people lined up about 15 across, dividing and merging around various obstacles until we were funneled into a covered line about 4 people wide. After that things moved along fairly well, but it must have been 30+ minutes before we finally boarded a bus. The bus ride itself probably took another 20 to 30 minutes. Security checks were quick and efficient, it was the transportation and the waiting for transportation that took so much time.  I would take the ferry again, but I would give myself 2 and a half hours to get there from the ferry terminal in Manhattan.

The hunt for the Dunkin Donut hats!

IMG_20171105_084203When you enter the start village you see a number of people walking around in pink and orange hats. These are the Dunkin Donut hats and they are clearly a “thing” at the New York marathon because “America runs on Dunkin Donuts.” We entered the village at 8:25 AM, 2 hours after we had arrived at the ferry terminal. But, just enough time to seek out the famous Dunkin Donut hats before checking my bag. We asked a volunteer who directed us to the Orange Village, but when we found the Dunkin Donuts trucks we were informed they had run out. They suggested we check the blue and green villages.  By the time we walked back to the blue village it was 8:36 so I had to check my bag to make the 8:40 cut-off. We continued into the village and located not only the hats, but also Kanako, who had been visiting the therapy dogs! Fortunately I was able to repurpose a safety pin to attach the hat to my belt (Sorry James, since I had already completed bag check, I couldn’t grab an extra hat for you) 

Start corrals

I have a tendency to start too fast. So I decided to follow a pacer to help me hold back. I was assigned to Blue Wave 2 Corral F but I moved back to Orange Wave 2 Corral F, home of the 3:50 pacer.  Moving to the orange corral worked out well. Christopher’s cousin Miriam was in the orange village preparing for her first marathon! (She did it, way to go Miriam!) We made our way there after the mandatory stop at a port-a-potty (NOTE: The port-a-potty lines were quite reasonable, there are also port-a-potties in the corrals themselves but they seemed to have longer lines). We had a few minutes to catch up with Miriam, including a bit of a scare when the cannon for the elite start went off. Given events at Boston in 2013 and an incident with a terrorist in Manhattan 5 days before the race, loud bangs bring to mind the worst fears. Fortunately, this time it was just the start cannon. No sooner had we sat down to chat when my pacer walked by holding her sign. It was time to head to my corral. Very different from all my past marathon starts, I never really had a chance to sit down and hang out before heading to my corral. I underestimated the time to get to the start village. I did have one nice bonus when Diane from K2J found me in the corral (congrats on the BQ Diane!)

The pacers

Did I mention I decided to follow a pacer so I wouldn’t go out too fast?  Boy did that plan backfire! We walked to the start line and then she took off! 

When we hit the half-way mark of the race we were 4 minutes ahead of the time on my pace band indicated for a 3:50 marathon. (Side note, do they make large print pace bands? I discovered on this race that my arms are too short, apparently, I need reading glasses to read the pace band 😊). I held on and thought perhaps she was just trying to gain us time before the Queensboro bridge climb. But she had a shoe problem just before the bridge so we all ended up running that at our own pace. To her credit she caught back up to us about 2 miles later and for the second half of the race at least we were not g! I decided to make it a game, how long could I hold onto her. I’ll let you guess from my split times below when I let her go and decided to treat myself to walking the water stops.

Split 3:50 split time My split time
5 km 27:15 26:17 (-0:58)
10 km 54:30 52:09 (-2:21)
15 km 1:21:06 1:18:27 (-2:39)
20 km 1:49:00 1:45:11 (-3:49)
25 km 2:16:15 2:12:38 (-3:37)
30 km 2:43:30 2:39:22 (-4:08)
35 km 3:10:45 3:07:21 (-3:24)
40 km 3:38:00 3:36:42 (-1:18)
42.2 km 3:50:00 3:49:19 (-0:41)

I don’t think I would try to follow a pacer again at a big race. You spend too much time trying to figure out where your pacer is and not enough time soaking up the atmosphere. Why they put the pacer that far back in the corrals is beyond me. We were running faster than all the runners around us for the first half of the marathon. I expended way too much energy zig zagging around runners trying not to lose her as she set the pace. Also when you follow a pacer, you follow their race plan not yours. My strategy would not have been to bank 4 minutes in the first half. To put that in perspective we were on pace for a 3:42 at the half way point. But hey, I did get my sub 3:50, and I do appreciate the volunteers who pace! Thank you!

The race course

There are three colored corrals to split up the runners at NYC: blue, orange, and green in order of speed. The blue and orange corrals go on the top level of the Verrazano bridge. The green corral runs on the lower level. I was assigned to the blue corral but moved back to orange (allowed because that is a slowed corral) to be with the 3:50 pacer (more on that later). I have to say running over the Verrazano bridge is awesome. Yes it’s a hill, but you are too stoked to really notice. 

As soon as you step off the bridge you are treated to the famous New York marathon crowds. These crowds will stick with you through the entire race (except for the bridges). The weather was cloudy and a slight mist so the crowds may have been a touch lighter than usual. New York typically has over a million spectators lining the course!  The crowds peaked at mile 8, after the Queensboro bridge, and around Central Park. I managed to find Christopher’s brother Abram and his girlfriend Julia at Mile 8 and I heard Vincent from K2J call out my name on South Central Park. Always a treat to see a familiar face during the race!

I knew that the second half of the marathon held some good hills.  I actually felt pretty good going over Hill #1: the Queensboro bridge. It’s a fairly long climb, and the quiet after 15 miles of crowds cheering you is quite the contrast. For the first couple of hundred meters you aren’t even over the river and because you are on the lower level, it’s hard to see the top of the hill. Christopher told me the trick: there is an island in the middle of the river, when you are over that island you have reached the top.  Half way down the other side you can hear the crowds waiting for you on the other side.

I found hill # 2, the Willis bridge,  a little tougher,. It’s shorter and steeper than Queensboro but still a good climb. When I reached it, my brain was focused on getting into the Bronx and making the U-turn to head South back towards Central Park and I really wasn’t in the headspace for that hill. Hill # 3 is the climb to Central park. We did the bike ride through Central park Friday in our course preview, but, I had not appreciated the long climb to reach Central Park! (PS there is a small park about 1 km before Central park designed to trick you into thinking you are in Central Park (thanks for the heads up on that Christopher, I was ready for it) It was only on the final climbs along South Central Park and up to the finish line that I felt the twinges and pulses of various leg cramps threatening to stop me, but I was able to breathe through it and get to the finish line. There was no finishing sprint or leap for the cameras, but I finished intact if exhausted.

SusanFinish

Exiting Central Park

Okay seriously whose idea was it to put the bag check that far away from the finish line? It was 800 meters from the finish to the bag check and most of that was uphill! I sat down on the curb for a break and a stream of medical team volunteers came over to see if I needed help (one of them was kind enough to crack open my Gatorade and water bottle for me). I knew if i stayed any longer they would drag me off to the med tent, so I got up and kept walking. I stopped at another curb further up, and once again was decended upon by concerned medical volunteers who encouraged me to keep moving to avoid cramps. Finally I made it to the bag check and once I got past the last UPS bag check van I was able to sit down uninterrupted. I put on some dry clothes, I got out my phone and looked up my official finish time, I took the photo you see above, I put on my cushy recovery sandals. But eventually I knew I needed to walk again. 

ParkExitThey have a timing mat to let friends and family tracking you from the NYC marathon mobile app know when you exit the park. A brilliant idea because it took me 50 minutes after crossing the finish line to actually exit and make my way to the area where you could meet friends and family.

My feet, legs and back were sore, I had some serious chafing issues, but I was done. I was happy (okay I was hiccupping and hyperventaling when I first crossed the finish line as I tried to keep myself from crying as I walked to the bag check from exhaustion, but yes I was happy) . This is the point where all the friends who don’t run marathons and read this report ask “why would you do that to yourself” . To them I say, go watch a movie like Spirit of the Marathon, or watch the Barkley on Netflix, then the marathoners will only seem a little crazy.  Oh one last note, after I exited Central Park up by 88th street I had to walk all the way back to 72nd street to meet up with Christopher and his brother. I was amused by all the pedicab drivers offering to give me a ride. But at $3 a minute and now wearing my recovery sandals and some warm clothing I chose to stumble along on my own.

Post-Race celebrations

At some point your body realizes you need food! We ate dinner at a german Bierhaus and the whole restaurant cheered when we came in with our thermal blankets and race medals. it was awesome! We returned the favour and joined the cheering when any other runners entered throughout the evening. One of the runner’s girlfriends got all of us together for a group photo at the restaurant. I would love to see a video of each of us struggling to get out of our seat and walking very slowly to their table for the photo.  A nice salty pretzel and some bubbles in the form of Prosecco , and a little ibuprofen, and I was feeling much better!

The next day I met up with Christopher for breakfast. Wearing our race shirts and medals of course! En route to the restaurant we stopped at a news stand to pick up a copy of the New York Times. The top 30,000 runners finish times are published in the marathon section the day after the race. The man selling the news papers asked Christopher if he could hold the medal. He caressed the medal and congratulated us both. Concierge, waiters, and random strangers congratulated us as we made our way to French toast with strawberries and a mimosa. Given the challenges of getting a bib and the sheer number of other marathons out there to try, I don’t know if I will run this again. But, I think this old commercial sums up the NYC marathon for many of us.  I Love New York

SusanMimosa

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Boston Marathon vs New York Marathon Part 1 which is tougher?

NYCvsBostonMy friend Christopher and I have had this conversation many times, and it occasionally gets quite heated 🙂 Which is the ultimate US marathon experience Boston or New York? (for those of you who scream neither! Hey perks of blogging, feel free to counter with your own post :)) This year I ran both, so I wanted to take a moment to compare the two and perhaps settle this matter once and for all (if that’s possible). In Part 1 I start by trying to figure out which course is tougher. (if you want to know which is the ultimate race experience check out part 2)

Let’s talk hills…

If I look at the hill profile for each race from my Strava account, it’s very interesting to compare the two races.

New York

NYCHillProfile

Boston
Screenshot_20170430-162846

New York has a higher overall elevation gain: 305 meters vs Boston 166 meters.

Each race has very little that you would truly call flat. You have rolling hills of various difficulty through most of the race.

Each race has three nasty hills in the second half of the race:

  • Boston has the famous Newton hills, 3 solid climbs back to back that start at km 28 (mile 17.5) and end at km 34 (mile 21).
  • New York has the Queensboro bridge at km 25, the Willis bridge at km 33 and the climb to Central Park from km 37 to km 39.

Many runners point out that Boston is a net downhill course, and therefore easier, but I’d like to point out that many first time Boston runners actually regret not training for the downhill. There is a little dip under an overpass just before you reach Beacon street which is a short steep downhill that draws many an expletive from the lips of the runners. Because the Newton hills are so close together many runners either tighten up on the uphill and cannot loosen up and find a downhill stride again, or they run the early downhills in Boston too hard and pay for it later.  Of course, many first time New York runners will tell you the biggest mistake they made was going to fast down the Verrazano bridge at the start and in so doing wrecked their quads and were unable to leverage the downhills later in the race.

What about the weather…

let’s compare the two year over year

YEAR Boston weather Boston Wind NYC weather New York Wind
2008 53-53F Clear W 2 MPH (tailwind) 44-50F Overcast NE 13 MPH (headwind)
2009 47F-51F Parly Cloudy ESE 9-16 MPH (slight headwind) 53-59F Overcast N 14 MPH (slight headwind)
2010 49-55F Partly Cloudy ENE 2-5 MPH (headwind) 46-51F Scattered clouds WNW 12 MPH (slight tailwind)
2011 46-55F Cloudy WSW 16-20 MPH (tailwind) 51-54F Cloudy SW 9 MPH (tailwind)
2012 65-87F Clear WSW 10-12 MPH (tailwind) Cancelled
2013 54-56F Clear E 3MPH (headwind) 51-53F Cloudy N 17 MPH (Slight headwind)
2014 61-62F Clear WSW 2-3 MPH (tailwind) 45-48F Cloudy N 18 MPH (slight headwind)
2015 46-46F Overcast and rain Calm 59-64F Cloudy S 6 MPH (slight tailwind)
2016 61-71F Clear WSW 2-3 MPH (tailwind) 57-59F Scattered clouds NW 15 MPH (slight tailwind)
2017 70-73F Clear WSW 1-3 MPH (tailwind) 55-62F Cloudy ESE 3 MPH (slight headwind)

New York has more consistent good race temperatures than Boston year over year.  Boston has a few years where heat would affect your race.

The wind is an interesting factor. Boston is a point to point race that goes pretty much the same direction the entire race, so a tailwind or a headwind can affect the entire race.  Most years the winds in Boston seem fairly negligeable, with only 3 of the last 10 races reaching winds over 5 MPH. Two of those years were tailwinds, one was a headwind. In New York you go North for two thirds of the course and then turn South for the last third of the race. Conditions in New York have generally been noticeably windier than Boston, but the wind switches between headwind and tailwind (in the table above I indicated headwind if it was a headwind for the longer portion of the course).

Out of curiosity I did a little research on the affect of winds on a runner.

“All else being equal, the drag on a runner created by air resistance varies according to the square of the runner’s velocity through the air. That means that the performance hit from a 10 mph headwind is four times greater than that from a 5 mph wind.

A tailwind helps runners, but not quite as much as a headwind hurts them. One estimate says that, when running at a six minute-per-mile pace, a 10 mph tailwind would increase one’s performance by about 6 seconds per mile, while the equivalent headwind (six-minute miles into a 10 mph wind) slows one down by about 12 seconds per mile. That’s a possible swing of almost eight minutes over the course of a marathon.”

All in all it looks like you have better odds of cooler temperatures in New York, but you are less likely to be battling a headwind in Boston.

Which race posts faster times…

We can’t compare average finish times for the everyday runner because the average runner entering Boston has a faster pace than the average runner entering New York. So the best we can do is to compare the times set by the elite runners.

Men’s Race

The Boston Course record of 2:03:02 was set in 2011 by Geoffrey Mutai when it was 46-55F cloudy with a 16-20 Tailwind (near ideal race conditions!)

The New York Course record of 2:05:06 was also set in 2011 by Geoffrey Mutai when it was 51-54F cloudy with a 9 MPH tailwind for the first two thirds of the race (wow he was having an amazing year!)

Year Boston Winner Time New York Winner Time Difference Fastest race
2008 Robert Kipkoech Cheruiyot 2:07:45 Marílson Gomes dos Santos 2:08:43 0:58 Boston
2009 Deriba Merga 2:08:42 Meb Keflezighi 2:09:15 0:33 Boston
2010 Robert Kipkoech Cheruiyot 2:05:52 Gebregziabher Gebremariam 2:08:14 2:22 Boston
2011 Geoffrey Mutai 2:03:02 Geoffrey Mutai 2:05:06 2:04 Boston
2012 Wesley Korir 2:12:40 CANCELLED
2013 Lelisa Desisa Benti 2:10:22 Geoffrey Mutai 2:08:24 1:58 New York
2014 Meb Keflezighi 2:08:37 Wilson Kipsang 2:10:59 1:22 Boston
2015 Lelisa Desisa Benti 2:09:17 Stanley Biwott 2:10:34 1:17 Boston
2016 Lemi Berhanu Hayle 2:12:45 Ghirmay Ghebreslassie 2:07:51 4:54 New York
2017 Geoffrey Kirui 2:09:37 Geoffrey Kamworor 2:10:53 1:16 Boston

Women’s race

The Boston course record of 2:19:59 was set in 2014 when it was 61-62F with 2-3 MPH tailwind.
The New york course record of 2:22:31 was set in 2003 when it was 57-66F with 5-6 MPH headwind
Year Boston Winner Time New York Winner Time Difference Fastest race
2008 Dire Tune 2:25:25 Paula Radcliffe 2:23:56 1:29 New York
2009 Salina Kosgei 2:32:16 Derartu Tulu 2:28:52 3:24 New York
2010 Teyba Erkesso 2:26:11 Edna Kiplagat 2:28:20 2:09 Boston
2011 Caroline Kilel 2:22:36 Firehiwot Dado 2:23:15 1:21 Boston
2012 Sharon Cherop 2:31:50 CANCELLED
2013 Rita Jeptoo 2:26:25 Priscah Jeptoo 2:25:07 1:18 New York
2014 Rita Jeptoo (Disqualified) 2:18:57 Mary Keitany 2:25:07
2015 Bizunesh Deba 2:19:59 Mary Keitany 2:24:25 4:26 Boston
2016 Caroline Rotich 2:24:55 Mary Keitany 2:24:26 0:29 New York
2017 Atsede Baysa 2:29:19 Shalane Flanagan 2:26:53 2:26 New York

The majority of the time the men’s times are faster in Boston than in New York. The women’s times are more evenly split across the two races. But the course records are both faster in Boston than New York.

Setting world records

You may or may not be aware, that Boston race times do not qualify for world records. There are two reasons for this:

  • The elevation change exceeds the IAAF limits.
  • It falls outside the rule requiring the separation between start and finish to be no more than 50 percent of the race distance. As a result runners can benefit unreasonably from tailwinds (which clearly occurred the year Mutai set the Boston course record)

So after all that, which course is tougher?

From the data above, I would have to conclude that the New York marathon, despite the more reliable temperatures, is the tougher course.

Let’s be clear though, both of these courses will chew you up and spit you out if you don’t do your hill training, and finishing either is of course a huge accomplishment!

Now which race is more exciting to run…. for that you will have to wait for part 2!

Racing in Japan – Kokyo Marathon – different yet the same!

Taking a trip? Always worth checking to see if there is a local race you can run! In this post I share the story of my first experience racing in Japan!

Before arriving in Tokyo, I registered for the 8th Kokyo Marathon. Before you are too impressed, I should explain that in Japan the term marathon can be used to refer to a race of any distance. My Kokyo marathon was 21.1 km so it was what most of us would call a half marathon!BibNumber

I received an email with instructions on how to find the start, right down to which exit to take from the subway station! Arigato! They also sent me my bib number: 1. With a bib number like that I already knew this would be a race to remember!

Race day was 18 degrees and raining. There was no mention of bag check, so I stopped at Tokyo Station to leave a backpack with dry clothes in a locker. Unfortunately I underestimated the time to get lost in Tokyo station and reached the start line 2 minutes before gun time. The start line consisted of a volunteer in a white rain coat clutching a Ziploc bag standing next to a large garbage bag. The local runners had all received their bibs in the mail, but since I was coming from Canada I was told to pick up my bib at the start. Luckily I found another runner who spoke English and with her help the volunteer retrieved my bib and four safety pins from her Ziploc. I was ready to go!

Susan and Japanese runner

Making a friend at the start

I looked around and spotted 4 or 5 other people with bib numbers. Several of them wearing clear plastic bags with arm holes to keep themselves dry. One gentleman stopped to ask where I was from. He has run the London Marathon, 2 Boston marathons, 7 Tokyo Marathons and 8 Maui Marathons (and those are just the ones he mentioned)!

9 o’clock was the scheduled start time, but at 9 AM we were still standing around. There were now about 15 runners milling about. The lady in the white raincoat starts explaining various instructions in Japanese. Thanks to a helpful local with fluent English I determine she has told us to make sure we make sure as we complete each loop we make sure we pass close to the garbage bag on the wall because it contains the timing mat and registers your timing chip.

Our race route is the loop around the Imperial palace, a popular local jogging spot. One loop is 5 km. Since the Japanese tend to be very organized, there are signs that inform joggers they should run counterclockwise. Our race will be 4 loops (counterclockwise of course!) and then an extra km after the last loop to reach the finish line,

PalaceGuard

Because there are others using the trail, instead of a bulk start which might clog of the path with runners, one runner starts every minute. Soon I am called forward and I get a nod indicating I can tap my bib to the timing garbage bag. I can’t hear the beep but the official says she heard it so off I go

The first part of the loop is uphill and you past the first of the many imperial palace guards.

It’s easy to track your mileage even if you don’t have a Garmin. There are tiles of flowers on the sidewalk every 100 meters marking the distance.

Mileagemarker

1 km into the race I see two guys in white raincoats and another black garbage bag leaning against a wall, this must be the finish line. Shortly after there is a nice downhill stretch with a beautiful view of the moat around the palace.

20171021_104127
At the bottom of the hill was another volunteer cheering us on and making sure we did not miss the turn through the gate.Volunteer

Immediately after the gate I pass the start line for the 5 km and 10 km runners. They start at 10 AM and it isn’t long before some of them start running past me. The trail is now a mix of joggers, 5km , 10km and 21 km runners. It’s fun checking out all the different race shirts from races across Japan. Apparently some races give you shirts after the race with your finish time. A group of 3 fit looking young men job past me wearing shirts that say 100 km finisher. Their shirts show a finishing time of 9:33, 9:34 and 8:27! Okay no shame in being passed by them! Some of the runners have different ways of coping with the rain, I spot a few raincoats, and a couple of runners jogging with umbrellas! I also met two joggers who were running clockwise (at least one of them was clearly not a local, any tourist doing a Google search for running routes in Japan will likely find the Imperial Palace loop as a recommend running spot :))

20171021_105932I also discover that my trip to Tokyo station was unnecessary. The Japanese are a very honest society. Apparently there is a designated patch of trees and benches where everyone leaves their bags and water bottles.

 

HeronThe views along the route are beautiful, a pair of swans swims in the moat,  a heron flies past and lands near one of the bridges. I could get used to this!bridge

The Imperial Palace is a popular tourist attraction, so of course on a Saturday morning, even in the rain there are people coming to tour the gardens. A volunteer holding a sign in English and Japanese asks the tourists to wait on the other side of the sidewalk for the pedestrian signal so they don’t block our path.

Pedestrians

The next time I pass the water stop, I take a cup. It’s a cup of Gatorade or something similar and as I finish it I realize I have a problem. I am now clutching an empty cup and don’t know what to do with it. I can’t just throw it on the ground, there is absolutely no litter around Tokyo! But of course, the race volunteers have already thought of this, a little further down the path is another volunteer who takes my empty cup and adds it to his growing collection.

I complete my last lap and cross the finish line! I am wet and I am tired but this was a lot more fun than just going out for a jog on my own. One of the volunteers at the finish line asks if he can take my picture. I assume they want the picture because they don’t usually have Canadians in their races. I am invited to join the post race celebrations at Tony Romas (Yes apparently they have Tony Romas in Tokyo) Unfortunately I have plans, so I skip Tony Romas and check the race results the next morning on the website. Lucky for me they printed my name in English so I can see how I did.

raceresults

The time is about what I expected. Not the fastest race I have run, but good enough. So I was very surprised to see my picture is on the race site and to discover my time was fast enough to set the women’s course record!! Okay, only 35 people registered, and only 18 people finished the race, but I’ll take it! I always remember my mom’s advice when it came to running races “Every race is won because someone else didn’t come” so enjoy your victories big and small! My mom was in the 50+ and 60+ category when it wasn’t as common as it is now for older women to run, so she was frequently the first and only woman in her age group 🙂

CourseRecord

So maybe my bib number was a sign!  Perhaps a return trip is needed next year to defend my title! I hope they are able to ship my official finishers mug all the way to Canada! Arigato to all the runners, and volunteers at the race!

Boston 2 Big Sur – A practical guide for those crazy enough to consider it

It’s a run20170415_121039ner thing… Boston 2 Big Sur. You run the Boston marathon and then you fly to California and run the Big Sur marathon.  Some years the races are 6 days apart, some years the races are 13 days apart.

This year (2017) the races were 13 days apart so someone in my running club said, hey this year it’s 13 days apart so we should all do Boston 2 Big Sur!

Step 1 – Get a Boston Bib

“Sure, I’m in!” I chimed, at that point, technically I had a Boston qualifying time, but I was not 100% sure I would qualify. Since the Boston bombing in 2013 running your qualifying time does not guarantee you an entry.  So many people submit qualifying times they have to reduce the BQ times.  I had 2 minutes and 43 seconds under my BQ. In 2016 the cutoff was 2 minutes 16 seconds below the BQ times Sure enough, when they sent out acceptance emails for Boston I got the “we have too many entrants… we will let you know if you made the cut” email.   One week later the cut off was set: 2 minutes 9 seconds I was in!Bostonlogo

Step 2 – Get a B2B BibBigSurlogo

Well that still didn’t guarantee a Boston 2 Big Sur jacket. Now I had to enter the lottery for Boston 2 Big Sur.  You cannot enter the B2B lottery until after you are accepted into Boston. 6 runners in our group entered the lottery.  They accept 400 B2B registrations for the Big Sur marathon.  If you are curious, there are about 4500 runners total in the Big Sur Marathon. You can enter the Big Sur marathon lottery ahead of time and then if you make the B2B lottery they can convert your entry to B2B.  When the lottery results were announced 4 out of our 6 runners were accepted. We had one runner number 12 on the waiting list, and another runner number 43 on the waiting list.  Apparently a lot of people think it’s a nice idea but when it comes down to it have second thoughts, because in the end everyone, including #42 on the waiting list was accepted.  We were all going to run Boston 2 Big Sur

2 Marathons  in 13 days are you nuts?

Well not as crazy as the ultra runners who do 100 km in a day up and down mountains, or the people who do B2B the years they are 6 days apart.  But a little crazy yeah.

How many marathons should you run before even attempting B2B?

My teammates have all run 20+ marathons some were 30+.  For me, Boston was marathon #5 and Big Sur was marathon #6.  So as marathoners go, I am relative newbie. I am still learning how to train properly and how to pace myself.  I don’t think I would recommend it to anyone who had not run at least 3 or 4 marathons.  I think it also helps if you have run the Boston course before. This was my 2nd Boston marathon. My first Boston marathon I made all the classic mistakes first time Boston runners make, starting out too fast, getting beat up by the Newton hills and really struggling the last few miles. This time around I was very relaxed at the start and I knew what to expect from the race course. It’s think it’s definitely riskier to do B2B your first time in Boston.

Do you need to be a “fast” runner to do B2B?

I am not slow, I did get into Boston, but fast is a relative term.  It really depends who you ask and who you hang out with. The others who ran B2B with me had Personal bests that ranged from 2:55 to 3:35.  My personal best is 3:51 and change. So for this group I was the slow, inexperienced runner.  but I have other runner friends who say ‘whoa you have run a marathon in under four hours, you are fast!’  You know my PB, you can decide if you consider that fast or slow.  I suppose a charity Boston entry could register for B2B, I think you can be a slow runner and get through it as long as you are a strong runner.

How did you train for it?

I did not worry about my speed at all.  The training was all about getting stronger NOT faster.

The goal was simple: Don’t get injured and finish both races strong. I did a total of 4 runs that were at least 20 miles during my training.  I also made a point of cross training to avoid injury.  I did yoga once or twice a week to loosen up all those joints and muscles strained by the long runs.  You MUST do hill work.  In the last 8 weeks of our training we actually did hill repeats at the end of our long runs to practice running hills when we were tired.  This was not the year to go after a personal best, this was the year to build strength and endurance so I could finish strong and have something left for race #2.  My weekly routine included:

  • Monday: Optional easy recovery run 3-5 miles and ideally a yoga class
  • Tuesday: Hill work (which I never skipped)
  • Wednesday: 6-11 mile run. I never pushed the pace on Wednesdays and I missed a few of those due to one thing and another and ideally a yoga class
  • Thursday: Speed work with K2J fitness (5 or 6X1600s were the hardest nights) always followed by a drink at the bar to share running and injury stories.
  • Friday: rest… no yoga, no biking, no swimming, just enjoy a day off maybe a glass of wine 🙂
  • Saturday: spinning class to build my leg strength without the impact.
  • Sunday: long run.

I had planned to do morning swims twice a week, but I’ll be honest most of the time I only made it once a week, and in the last 6 weeks of my training I might as well have just turned off my alarm, because I decided a good night’s sleep was more important and almost wore out the Snooze button.

I think the key elements in my training plan were the multiple 20+ mile runs, the yoga and the hills, YOU CANNOT DO TOO MUCH HILL WORK!  Even on my shorter runs I deliberately chose routes that added hills.  I had run Boston once before and fell apart on the hills, my goal was not to let that happen again.

How fast/hard did you run Boston?

It was pretty hot race day in Boston this year. I decided up front to walk every water stop. Given the number of water stops in Boston, that’s a lot of walking… I only walked for 10 seconds at each water stop, but yes I did stop to walk at each and every one. I did this for two reasons, one to make sure I actually drank some water or Gatorade to stay hydrated, two to just shift up the way I walked for a few seconds and reset the muscles and joints.  I forced myself to slow down for the first 6 miles despite the steady downhill. Boston has rolling hills in the first half but the hills get bigger in the second half.  My goal was not to stop and walk on any of the hills. I was going to get through all the Newton hills including the infamous Heartbreak hill without walking this year.  It was hot, and it was tough going. But the warm weather also mean huge crowds cheering us on.  I wrote my name on my arm in Sharpie so fans could shout my name (no name on the bibs in Boston so if you want to hear people call your name, you have to get creative). I gave myself a maximum pace… I was not allowed to run faster than a 5:30/km pace (which is about a 3:52 marathon).

The end result, the only walking I did was the water stops, and I finished in 4:10.  I was tired but my knees, hips, etc… were in better shape post-race than my previous marathons. I have never been so happy with a personal worst (my previous PW was 4:07 at Grandma’s marathon in blistering heat). My sister (also registered for B2B) also took it easy in the first half of the race, but then she felt so good she picked it up in the second half and ran a great race finishing 8th in her age group overall! My friend Faye took it easy at the start and also felt good at the halfway mark and picked it up a little bit. (I guess all those people who tell you negative splits are the way to go may be right ;))

How did you feel after Boston?

The bottom of my feet were very unhappy as soon as I crossed the finish line. I got a few concerned looks from the medics as I left the finish area in Boston because walking was such an effort.  My quads were sore. Walking downstairs sure wasn’t any fun. Some of our crew knew there were toenails whose days were numbered. But I had no joint pain.  I was pretty confident the aches and pains would be gone by the time I crossed the start in Big Sur.

What training did you do between races?

Honestly? I ran one easy 5 km run and one easy 8 km run. That was it.  My training plan said do a 15 km race on the Sunday between races. Two of our team did the 15 km, the rest of us just did a couple of easy short runs.  Most of us made a point of finding either a yoga class or a massage treatment between the two races.  Highly recommended!

Did you fly or drive?

If you are running B2B you are going to end up flying to at least one of them! I had a 7 hour drive to Boston and 7 hours of flying to reach California.

YogaForRunnersI made a point of drinking lots of water on the plane and in the car. I made a point of doing leg swings to loosen up when we took breaks from driving. I made a point of doing a series of yoga stretches the day before the Big Sur race as well to loosen up after flying.  Sitting for hours tightens up your body and it’s important to find a way to loosen up before the start.  Find something that works for you.

 

So what about Big Sur?

Big Sur is SO DIFFERENT from Boston.

The expo

The race expo in Boston is a mad house, every vendor you can possibly imagine is there and the place is packed! Big Sur is a tiny expo, but you will find gels, race clothing to buy and oooh Big Sur marathon wine (yes I bought the Big Sur marathon Pinot Noir).

The spectators

Boston is lined with spectators cheering you on and has 30,000 runners all doing the marathon. For the first 25 miles Big Sur has more cows than people on the sidelines (no I am not exaggerating).  The only sounds you hear are the other runners, the occasional birds singing or cow mooing, and in some stretches the sound of the waves.  They do also have musical acts all along the course which are a nice treat.

Wind

Both races can be windy, but the winds are more likely to be an issue at Big Sur. Hurricane point is infamous.  You can get some big headwinds in Big Sur, so find a tall runner to follow 🙂

Shade

There is zero shade on the Boston course, but there were actually a few shady patches in Big Sur.

Aid stations

There are lots and lots of water stops in Boston, plus spectators offering everything from freezies to peanut butter cups(?!) to orange slices and beer! There are only 11 water stops in Big Sur. I ran with water (which I really prefer not to do) in the end it wasn’t too hot and I hardly touched my water and could have managed without, but it was comforting to know it was there. If we had the heat we encountered in Boston I would have needed it.  They have water bottle refill stations at every second water stop (two or three volunteers holding beer pitchers filled with water), so if you do bring water you don’t have to carry too much. They do have orange slices at the last few stops and juicy strawberries at Mile 23.

Mile markers

Miles and kms are well marked in Boston. Miles are clearly marked along Big sur (with awesome signs… trust me on that one).

Hills

Boston has lots of rolling hills and very little flat. Of course you also have heartbreak hill – infamous for being tough because it shows up at 20 miles after you have already run the other two Newton hills. You can see my Elevation chart from Strava below.Screenshot_20170430-162846

Big Sur has hurricane point, it’s a 2 mile climb but it shows up at the 13 mile mark.  With all my hill training I actually didn’t find hurricane point as bad as I expected, but then the fun began… I read one report that said there are 11 hills in the second half of the Big Sur marathon.   I tried to count but lost track after a while, all I can tell you is that last hill at 25 miles just adds insult to injury!  Basically assume you have one good hill in every mile for the second half of the race. Ugh! You can see my Strava elevation chart below.

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What was your game plan for Big Sur?

We managed to find a list of the times the previous years B2B runners posted at each race. Most of the runners ran Big Sur in a time that was within 10 minutes of their Boston time. Most of the runners were slower in Big Sur.  So based on that I decided I would go out at a 5:45 /km pace and see where that took me.  I kept the pace nicely on the first half, and slowed down considerably on the hills in the second half. I walked at each water stop (but there were only half as many as Boston so less walking overall). I did walk the very last hill at mile 25. I could have run it. But honestly, at that point, I decided I would prefer to walk that one hill and then finish a little stronger and faster. The break felt great and I actually passed a lot of people when I started running again for that last mile. I finished in 4:16.  A new personal worst, but I was quite happy to run a course that tough 13 days after Boston and only be 6 minutes slower.  Again, I was tired (okay exhausted), but no knee or hip pain (I have battled IT band issues in races past). I am very happy with my race. Three of our 6 runners placed in their age groups. In fact there were a LOT of B2B runners who placed in their age group!  To be fair, I think that may partly be because most of the runners who do B2B are pretty experienced runners and have trained hard for the double marathon.

What are the perks of doing B2B?

20170430_111635At the Boston marathon race expo when we went to the Big Sur booth they gave us a little Boston 2 Big Sur gift (you were supposed to wear your B2B Training shirt, but I forgot mine and they didn’t mind)

  • Separate bib pick up line at Big Sur race expo.
  • When you finish the race you get an extra B2B medal and a B2B finisher jacket
  • Your own tent in the finish area, with tables, chairs, shade, and food (although the only food I was up to eating was the cookie you can see in the photo)

Free admission to the post-race Big Sur party. We had never attended a post-race party, but this was kind of cool. One free drink (subsequent drinks are ridiculously expensive), pretty good food (we had do it yourself fajita wraps, salad and cookies), and a room full of other people who did Boston to Big Sur to chat with.  The race organizers also go around and chat with different groups of people. We really enjoyed meeting some of the people behind the scenes (including the mile 10 poster boy).  Glad we went.

Was it worth it?

Hey if you are reading this you know the real reason you do B2B, bragging rights 🙂 I have no regrets but no desire to do it again. I would run Boston again. I would run Big Sur again. But I have no desire to do B2B again, it’s a big commitment in terms of time, training and money. Add up the flight, hotel, vacation time, meals, etc… and suddenly the “free B2B jacket” doesn’t seem so free any more.  But as I type this I am sitting in the airport wearing my B2B jacket two weeks later and my Boston jacket is packed away in the suitcase so I guess it was worth it 🙂  If you do it in a year with a 6 day break between races than good for you! You make me look sane 🙂

 

 

Right job, wrong city– getting and keeping a remote job Part 1

map-of-north-americaI have accepted a new job at Microsoft. I work for a team in Redmond, but, I still live in Ottawa, Canada. I have spent the last 5 years working remotely for Microsoft Canada. I won’t say I’ve mastered the art of working remote but I’ve learned a few tricks to help manage a successful career remotely.

In Part 1 I will discuss:

  • How did I end up working remote?
  • When do you tell the hiring manager you won’t relocate?
  • Why is working remote such an issue?

Coming soon…

  • Why would a manager hire me as a remote employee?
  • How to thrive in the company as a remote employee?
  • Staying sane as a remote employee
  • Does working at home impact your career?
  • Is it worth it?

How did it start?

5 years ago I got a phone call from an employee at microsoft. At the time I was teaching programming, database and business analysis courses. I was a frequent speaker at Microsoft events. I figured the call was a request to present or help out at a local event. Instead the first words I heard after the usual greetings were “Have you considered your career”. To be honest I hadn’t given any serious consideration to working for Microsoft. Any jobs of interest were in Redmond, Washington (Microsoft head office).  I had two boys in school, and a husband with a good job in Ottawa. For me, moving simply wasn’t an option.

This call was a little different. It was for a job as a technical evangelist at Microsoft Canada. Canada! So no need to move to the US. The title alone was too intriguing to pass up. I submitted my resume and went through a gauntlet of interviews.  But once again location was an issue. They wanted me to move to Toronto. First things first, I convinced them we should go through the interviews and then discuss location. I never told them I would move to Toronto, I simply asked them to talk to me before deciding having me work from Ottawa was a deal-breaker.

When do you tell the manager you won’t relocate?

interviewRule number one: Don’t lie! I have never told a hiring manager I would move just to get to the interview.  I certainly don’t open the conversation with “by the way I won’t relocate”, but I never lie or mislead them just to get an interview.

When I find a position of interest, step one is always to find out more about the job. Set up a short call or informal meeting with the manager. In Microsoft we refer to this as an informational. It’s a chance for you to learn more about the job, and for the hiring manager to learn more about you. It’s a good idea regardless of whether you expect to work remotely or not!  It is hard to tell from a written job description what a job entails, and it’s also a chance to find out if you and the manager are likely to get along. I’d rather have a bad job with a good manager than a good job with a bad manager (of course what I really want is a good job with a good manager! but I’ve experienced all the possible combinations in my career). If the meeting is going well, i.e. I still want the job and the manager is encouraging me to apply, that’s when I break the news. I explain that I have some bad news, I am interested in the job, but relocation isn’t an option and would they consider hiring me as a remote employee..

More than half of the time, the opportunity ends there.

When the manager says remote is not an option, I always ask if they could wait until after the interview process before making a final decision. I encourage the manager to wait until I have deeper insights into the job, and the manager has deeper insights into my skills. During the interview process we can discuss the specific concerns around having a remote employee and strategies to alleviate those concerns. But, understand, that there are some jobs that do require an in person presence. If this is one of those roles, you are wasting your energy and the manager’s time pursuing the role. Accept it and move on. Finding a role you want remotely requires patience and persistance.

Why is working remote such an issue?

teleconferenceThere are a number of reasons a manager may not one someone working remotely. Understanding these concerns can help you determine if the working remotely is a deal breaker or simply an obstacle to be overcome.

 

The job

Some jobs are better suited for working remotely than others. Does the job require regular access to special equipment? Does the job require organizing in person events? If a job frequently requires your physical presrence in a particular location, then you are facing an uphill battle. In these situations you are unlikely to get the job without relocation.

Company culture

Does the company and the team already have remote workers?

Some companies are very open to working remotely, others actively discourage working from home. If the company has never had a remote worker you will run into all sorts of complications: How do you get IT support when you are having issues with your computer? What is the policy for expensing travel to and from the office? Does time spent in transit count as working hours? If there is an Annual General Meeting, a big in person announcement by the CEO, or a company holiday party will you travel to the office for those occasions?  Does the company understand the impact on your personal life when you have to travel to the office?  Are you expected to travel on weekends? What are the accepted methods of travel (plane? train? car? first class? economy?)

If the company does not have remote workers, do they have people in the office who regularly work from home?

Companies with a work at home policy are more likely to have a way for you to connect to the company network from home, an IT support team who can help you solve issues remotely

Does the company have customers they work with remotely?

Companies who work with remote customers are more likely to have tele-conferencing capabilities so you can easily present screens from your laptop and collaborate with co-workers remotely.  Office rooms as more likely to have cameras and microphones in meeting rooms so you can be a part of larger meetings as well.

Team culture

Just because the company has policies in place for remote workers, doesn’t mean the team you are applying to knows how to deal with it. If you join a team in the habit of walking down the hall for impromptu meetings, making decisions in elevators, and having all their meetings in person, you have a challenge ahead of you. Best case scenario you will often find out after the fact that decisions were made, because they simply forgot to start up the conference bridge, or just had a quick chat in the hallway and didn’t think it was necessary to bother you. It’s not malicious! It’s simply human nature. Everyone is trying to get things done, you get caught up in a good conversation you don’t always stop to think, wait there is someone who isn’t in the room we need to call in! The simple fact you are not physically present means there is a risk you end up out of the loop. Worst case scenario (and sadly this can happen) you have someone on the team who actively takes advantage of your absence to make themselves look good an make you look bad. So far as I know, that’s never happened to me! So assume best intentions!

Your work habits

Have you worked remotely before? It’s a different life waking up every day having breakfast and walking 10 steps to your office. No-one popping by your desk to ask if you saw the latest episode of Game of Thrones. No donuts in the kitchen (though you still get the email telling you there are donuts in the kitchen at the office). No-one to sit with at lunch. Instead you have your home with all its distractions: dirty dishes, laundry, house cleaning, weeding, tele marketers calling, odd jobs to be done, maybe kids coming home from school before you finish your work day? It’s not for everyone, and not everyone can thrive in that environment. It takes some discipline to get your work done and stay connected.

Networking

At many companies networking is key to a successful career. It can help you get things done. It can help you get credit and visibility for the things you do. It can help you find little projects that are ‘above and beyond the call of duty’ that get you the raise, the award, or the promotion.  It is also how you will your next job in the company. When you work remotely networking is more difficult.

Your success

I am very fortunate to have work at a company and to apply for jobs with managers who really want to see me succeed. Some of them have had remote employees in the past who were unfortunately unhappy and unsuccessful for one or more of the reasons outlined above. Some teams at microsoft are very dynamic: roles and responsibilities change frequently. The job I am applying for might work remotely, but what happens in 6 months when they re-org? What if my original job disappears? You want to be sure you join a team whose goals you can support in different ways. You don’t want to get caught in a position where there is only one thing you can do remotely. How will you grow? How will you get promoted? How will you keep yourself challenged and motivated?

Elevator meetings

Sometimes the most important conversations don’t happen in the meeting room, they happen immediately afterwards when you are walking out of the meeting and discuss the meeting in the elevator on the way back to your desk. Sometimes a chance encounter in an elevator gives you a rare opportunity to talk to a senior team member in person. Remote workers don’t have this opportunity.

Budget

If you work remotely how often are you going to visit the office?  Will you travel by plane, train automobile? Hotel, meals, and transportation costs add up fast! Spending money for you to visit the office may mean less money for doing business! 

Stay tuned for part 2…

Riding the roller coasters at Mt Fuji!

We recently visited Mt Fuji area in Japan. This post shares some of our experience and some tips you may find useful if you plan to travel there yourself to hike or to ride the roller coasters.

Mt Fuji, a symbol of Japan and for many climing to the top is a life long dream.

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It’s only a couple of hours out of Tokyo, what a great spot to do some hiking. Then my youngest son discovered Fuji Q highland amusement park, home of some world record roller coasters and the destination became a must.

Getting to Mt Fuji

I found this very confusing when I did my research. We had a JR Rail pass, but there are no JR rail stations in the Mt Fuji area. It was hard to tell which stations listed on Hyperdia were in the Mt Fuji area. So if you are as confused as I were, here’s what we learned!

Bus

You can catch a bus to Mt Fuji from Shinjuku station in Tokyo. This bus stops in the towns where most people will stay when visiting the area and goes all the way to 5th station during hiking season.

Train

If you are searching for travel plans on Hyperdia, search for trains going to Fujisan or Kawaguchiko station.

The last stretch of the trip is not accessible by JR Rail. So you have to take the Chuo line JR Rail to Otsuki station (covered by JR Rail pass) and then take the Fujikyoko line through to the Fuji area.  We actually managed to catch a train that went straight from Tokyo to Fuji Q Highland station near our hotel. We used our rail passes as far as Otsuki and stayed on the same train. When we got off the train at Fuji Q Highland, we paid the difference in fare for the portion past Otsuki at the ticket office.

Climbing Fuji

You can only climb to the peak of Mt Fuji in the summer, typically July & August. Most hikers start from 5th station. Ideally you want to see the sunrise from the peak, so hikers will start climbing the day before. Reserve a spot in one of the huts for a few hours sleep and then get up early in the morning to make their way to the peak. There is one path for those travelling up, and another path for those travelling down.

We found some great resources and information about climbing Fuji at japan-guide.com

I spoke to a few people who have done the climb before our trip. Reviews were mixed. one said they climbed in pouring rain and were miserable. Another regretted staying in a hut, because it was crowded and uncomfortable so they got no sleep and wished they had hiked straight through. Another went with his wife, mother, daughter, and son. The mother turned around early not feeling well. The mother was exhausted by the time they reached the huts and refused to hike to their designated hut, so they had to pay extra to get her a spot in the first hut. The sone and father did make it to the top for sunrise. The son was suitably blown away by being able to look down at the clouds from the peak. It’s important to remember you can get altitude sickness. Also, it’s not always easy to pass others on the trail, so you the climb may take longer than you think, since you could be limited by the speed of other hikers.

We were certainly interested in climbing Fuji, but it was not a lifelong dream, so we decided we would start from 5th station early in the morning. Climb for 3 hours and then decide whether to push for the summit or turn around.

Even our conservative plans were thwarted when a typhoon moved in the day we planned our climb.

Screenshot_20160822-123617Spending a day hiking in the pouring rain surrounded by clouds, not knowing if the trails would be closed or there would be a risk of mudslides, we had to settle for looking at Fuji from a distance. If you go, I hope you have better luck with the weather. If you do want to climb, make sure you spend a few nights in the area so you have more than one day available for the climb in the event of inclement weather.  Here’s the lovely view we had of Mt Fuji the day we had planned our climb. Somewhere in those clouds is Mt Fuji, it was there yesterday!

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Fuji Q Highlands – roller coasters!

So we went all the way to Mt Fuji and didn’t do any hiking, so what did we do? We made the most of it and hit Fuji Q amusement park for some serious roller coasters!

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We had already decided to treat ourselves to two nights at the Fuji Q Highlands resort. We figured staying at a hotel with western restaurants and a western style buffest breakfast would work well before and after a long day of hiking. In addition, my youngest son was also eager to try the world record roller coasters at Fuji Q. Staying at the hotel meant easy access to the park. We had to book two hotel rooms to accomodate two large teenagers plus two parents. So we booked one room with a view of the amusement park, and one room with a view of Mt Fuji.  By the time we paid for two rooms it was pretty expensive, but we were only there for 2 nights and it worked out. There are certainly cheaper places to stay and cheaper places to eat walking distance from our hotel.

Tickets and Admission

You can pay to enter the park without paying for rides. Our hotel room came with free admission to the park. You can purchase a one day pass to do as many rides as you want for 5700 yen (adults) 5200 yen (teenagers) 4300 yen (kids under 12).  Since we did not have a full day to explore, we paid for individual rides.

We only arrived in Fuji Q at 3 PM, so we decided it made more sense to pay for the individual rides. The roller coasters are 1000 yen each (though you can purchase a fast pass ticket for double the price, so 2000 yen to get a fast pass tickets for the roller coasters. Fast pass users have a different entrance.

If you are purchasing tickets as you go, you purchase the tickets at the very top of the line just before you board the coaster. There is a ticket machine at the top of the entrance ramp. You are in Japan, so of course the ticket machines are cash only.

Line ups for rides

Fuji Q is notorious for long line ups. We heard horror stories of 3-4 hour waits! Japan’s train system may be the model of efficiency but Fuji Q could learn a lot about how to design rides for faster loading from Universal Studios and Disney! The roller coaster car arrives, everyone gets out, takes everything out of their lockers, leaves the platform, and then the next group of people enters, crosses to the lockers, puts everything away, gets into the roller coaster, and can finally get on their way. Luckily there are some entertaining videos to watch while you wait in the queue. A series of odd videos plus a group of five characters we dubbed the Fuji Q power rangers teaching you what NOT to do in the park (we aren’t sure which of the Fuji Q power rangers was demonstrating the do not go on the rides naked rule).

Snippet of the Fuji Q Safety videos

 

We scoped out the park to get the lay of the land and to see what the wait times were like for the rides. Most roller coasters had sign indicating a 1 hour 30 minute wait. The park is open until 10 or 11 PM but many of the rides closed at 9 PM. We left, found supper, and returned after supper when we figured those who came to the park from Tokyo would be headed home for the day. The plan worked, the lines were noticeable shorter. Our shortest line was 30 minutes (Fujiyama, King of the coasters), our longest line was 60 minutes (Dodonpa), Takashiba was about 45 minutes. Unfortunately Eejanaka the 4th dimension roller coaster was closed by the time we finished the other 3 rides.

The roller coasters

My husband and my youngest hit Takashiba first. This roller coaster holds the world record for the steepest drop, 121 degrees!

Next up was Fujiyama, King of the coasters. It used to hold the record for world’s longest coaster but that title has since been claimed by another Japanese coaster Steel dragon in Nagashima. As of 2016, Fujiyama is the 4th longest roller coaster in the world. The ride lasts an impressive 3 minutes 36 seconds. That is a long time to be on a roller coaster. We all loved it!

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Next up was Dodonpa which accelerates to 172 kph (111 mph) in 1.8 seconds. That works out to a g-force of 4.2G which makes it the fastest launch acceleration of any roller coaster in the world. This ride will literally take your breath away!

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Sadly Eejanaika was closed by the time we finished the other three coasters. Eejanaika is a four dimension roller coaster and holds the record for the highest number of spins of any roller coaster in the world. We made one more attempt to ride it before we left to continue on our journey, but by 9 AM there was already a 60+ minute wait for the ride, and we didn’t have enough time. by 9:15 when we decided to bail the line was already 90+ minutes. The famous Fuji Q lineups were back!

FYI, they have lockers at the top of the ramp as well for purses, hats, eyeglasses and jewellry, even watches had to come off!  This resulted in a blurry view of the ride for my eldest son who didn’t realie he needed his contact lenses to ride a roller coaster. You are not allowed to have anything in your pockets either, even if the pockets have zippers. There are also umbrella boxes to hold umbrellas since they won’t fit in the locker. Though it’s unlikely you would need the umbrella boxes since the signs say if it is raining, snowing, windy, or there is an earthquake the roller coasters will be closed. Glad to know they don’t run the roller coasters in an earthquake!

What do you do during a typhoon at Fuji?

During the typhoon it rained pretty steadily. Not great hiking weather and the roller coasters don’t run in the rain… so we found two ways to pass the time

bowling

Fuji Q has a bowling alley. The bowling was what you would expect, but the unexpected bonus was some very fitting videos featuring the Fuji Q power rangers when you got a strike, a spare or a gutter ball.

water rides at Fuji Q highland

Hey it’s raining, you rae going to get wet anyway, maybe we should just do the water rides! As is traditional at all major theme parks with water rides, you can purchase a poncho. At the entrance to the ride you purchase a ticket for 100 yen. You exchange the ticket for a poncho. Oddly enough they refused to exchange the ticket for a poncho until we were going to board the ride, so my plan to pick up a poncho while we walked around the park did not work out.  

The previous day, the lines for the water rides were anywhere from 60-90 minutes. Well during the typhoon the lines were non-existant! So we took advantage of the inclement weather to get wet!

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There are lots of signs in English in the amusement park, but there are times when the translation is less than perfect.  This was one of our favorite signs in the park:

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So in sumamry. Fuji Q highlands has some fabulous rides and some impressive lines, arrive early or stay late to avoid the worst of the lines!

Mt Fuji is stunning, but if you have plans to do hiking, give yourself mroe than one day in case the weather does not co-operate!

Hapy travelling!