Archive for the ‘marathon’ Category

Chicago Marathon vs New York Marathon

I had the pleasure of running the New York City Marathon in 2017 and the Chicago marathon in 2018. In this post I’ll compare the two races. I hope one day you get to run them both but if you have to choose, maybe this will help you decide.

Getting a bib

Lottery

RegisterForNYCOne does not simply register for the New York City or Chicago marathon.  Because so many runners want to complete these races, they use a lottery to award bibs.

The odds are much better for getting into Chicago through the lottery

Race # Entries received # Entries selected % selected
Chicago 2015 54,800 29,044 53%
New York 2018 105,184 15,640 15%

New York actually does three separate lotteries from all the entries received.

  • NYC-metro area applicants (residents in and within 60 miles of New York City)
  • National applications (US residents)
  • International applicants (Non-US residents)

New York selects the same % of runners from each group. i.e. if 15% of applicants were accepted, then 15% of international runners who applied were accepted, 15% of applicants from within the US were selected and 15% of runners within NYC metro area were accepted.

Time Qualifier

racetimerBoth New York & Chicago offer guaranteed entry for those who run fast enough.

Time standards are harder to meet for New York and New York limits the number of time qualifier spots for those who qualify at non-NYRR races. They are awarded first come first served. So it’s important to claim your time qualifier spot as soon as registration opens for New York. Those who apply with a non-NYRR race qualifying time after the qualifying spots available is reached are placed in the general drawing.

Age group New York Men Chicago Men New York Women Chicago Women
18-29 2:53 3:10 3:13 3:30
30-34 2:53 3:15 3:13 3:45
35-39 2:55 3:15 3:15 3:45
40-44 2:58 3:25 3:26 3:55
45-49 3:05 3:25 3:38 3:55
50-54 3:14 3:40 3:51 4:10
55-59 3:23 3:40 4:10 4:10
60-64 3:34 4:00 4:27 4:35
65-69 3:45 4:00 4:50 4:35
70-74 4:10 4:30 5:30 5:10
75-79 4:30 4:30 6:00 5:10
80+ 4:55 5:00 6:35 5:45

New York is quite unique because it also has a half marathon time qualifier

Age group Men Women
18-34 1:21 1:32
35-39 1:23 1:34
40-44 1:25 1:37
45-49 1:28 1:42
50-54 1:32 1:49
55-59 1:36 1:54
60-64 1:41 2:02
65-69 1:46 2:12
70-74 1:57 2:27
75-79 2:07 2:40
80+ 2:15 2:50

Charity Entry

charityBoth races provide the opportunity to fundraise for an official race charity. to get a guaranteed entry to the race.

Chicago 2019 fundraising targets start at $1250 if you claim a charity entry during the application window and $1750 USD if you claim a charity entry after the application window (i.e. if you decide to enter the lottery, and don’t make it then decide to do a charity entry because you didn’t get in through the lottery, you have to fundraise more $)

New York 2019 fundraising targets start at $2500 USD.

Local races

shamrockBoth races provide options to help local runners get a guaranteed entry by participating in local races.

Chicago has the Shamrock Shuffle

If you have run the Shamrock Shuffle 8k four or more times in the past 10 years and have signed up for the next Shamrock Shuffle you can guarantee a spot in the Chicago marathon.

New York has the 9+1 or the 9+ $1K program.

If you join the NYRR who either complete 9 score, qualifying races in the year and either volunteer at one NYRR event in the same year or donate $1000 USD to NYRR your and community services program within the year can also get a guaranteed race entry.

Also, if you run the time qualifier at one of the NYRR qualifying races you are guaranteed an entry.

Tour Entry

If you really want to race either New York or Chicago and you have the financial means to do so you can purchase a tour package that includes a bib from one of the marathon tour partners.

Cancelled Entry

If you get into either New York or Chicago and are not going to run the race, you can cancel/defer your entry once. You lose the registration fee but it gives you a guaranteed entry the following year.runner

Pre-Race Experience

Packet pick up

Both Chicago and New York are well organized for packet pick up and both provide a shirt exchange if you discover the shirt size you ordered does not fit.

You must pick up your own race kit at both races. Don’t forget your government issued photo id!

Race swag

Official race gear at Chicago is sponsored by Nike. Nike focuses on running clothes for the official Chicago marathon gear. In 2018 they sold find t-shirts, long sleeved shirts, tank tops, visor, and jackets. If you want coffee mugs, laptop stickers, and cotton t-shirts you will have to explore other booths in the expo. You may also want to visit the Nike store on Michigan to purchase your official race merchandise, the lines were shorter, and they have a DJ and a fun atmosphere Friday and Saturday before the race. The Under Armour store just down the road from the Nike store on Michigan Ave also had some marathon branded running gear.

Official race gear at New York is sponsored by New Balance. There is an incredible assortment of official New York marathon merchandise. You can find the usual running gear, but also hoodies, backpacks, gloves, hats, mugs, and more. Chances are you will spend more money on official merchandise at the New York expo. You will find additional merchandise at other booths in the expo as well.

Pace bands

I picked up a pace band at the race expo in New York and ran into an interesting problem. My arms were not long enough :). Apparently I am now sufficiently old enough and sufficiently near sighted that it is difficult for me to read a pace band during the race. In Chicago, they had arm tattoos instead of pace bands. The font on the tattoos was nice and big so I was able to keep an eye on my target pace during the race.

Race morning

Getting to the start

New York

LadyLibertyThe New York marathon starts at Staten Island. To reach the start you can:

  • take the ferry and a shuttle bus (estimated travel time 90 minutes)
  • take a shuttle bus from New Jersey (estimated travel time 60 minutes)
  • take a shuttle bus from Manhattan (estimated travel time 90 minutes)

Of course you need to add time to get to the bus or ferry and to get on the bus or ferry. Plus the time to get through security (quite efficient did not take long), bag check, find your Dunkin Donuts hat and line up once or twice for the port-a-potty. Luckily the time change is usually the night before the race so your 5 AM alarm will feel like a 6 AM alarm!

If was in Wave 2, which had a 10:15 AM start and the cut-off to drop off bags was at 9:05 AM. I woke up at 5:30 AM, and was out the hotel door by about 6 AM to catch the 6:30 AM ferry. It’s so cool to see pass the Statue of Liberty on your way to the start, it really sets the mood “You are running New York!” But, walking to the ferry, waiting for the ferry, getting off the ferry,a long line for the shuttle bus, riding the shuttle bus, is a lot to deal with pre-race.  I only had about 10 minutes to spare before my bag check cut-off at 9:05 AM.

Chicago

The start is much earlier. Wave 1 starts at 7:30 AM. I was in wave 2, 8 AM start. I still set my alarm for 5 AM. My hotel, like many downtown Chicago hotels, was walking distance from the start line (I was at Ontario St and Michigan Ave).  All I had to do was walk. If you want to find a cheaper hotel, you can stay further from the start and take the Metro line to the start. Yes, the Metro will be packed with runners, the first train might even be too packed to get in, but once on that train, in 15-40 minutes you are at the start. Security is efficient and quick (just like New York).  You don’t have to worry about a bag check cut off time because the bag drop off and bag pick up are the same place. Since they don’t have to transport your gear anywhere, you can just drop it off 5 or 15 minutes before you walk over to your corral.  Getting to the start in Chicago is much less hassle and much less stress.

Port-a-potties

ChicagoPortapottyYou can’t compare marathons without mentioning access to port-a-potties at the start!

In New York the majority of the port-a-potties are in the Open Zone along New York Avenue. The line ups are shorter further away from the shuttle drop off. There are additional port-a-potties in each of orange, green, and blue zones. There are port-a-potties in each of the corrals as well.

In Chicago The start area is split in two by the corrals. I found the lines for the port-a-potties shorter on the city side of Grant Park than the lake side of Grant Park. The lines at their worst were maybe 10-15 minutes long. Which is why there is NO EXCUSE for the dudes who were peeing beside the fence in the start corrals!  Witnessed by at least two of my running friends. Seriously! I have no problems with guys running out to find a tree on races past wooded areas, but peeing on the discarded clothing in the corral is really gross. Not what I want to see when I am walking over to the fence to toss a shirt or stretch. Boston and New York both threaten disqualification if you are caught doing something like that (FYI I have yet to meet a runner who has witnessed the famous ‘yellow rain’ on the Verrazzano-Narrows bridge in New York).

SIDE NOTE: Best solution I saw for this was the Vancouver marathon that had a fenced off set of troughs for guys who needed a quick pee before the start. This saved them a long wait at the port-a-potty and shortened the line for us ladies.

Corrals

Both Chicago and New York divide up runners into waves, corrals, and colors. This helps spread out the runners and keep the start areas less crowded. Both Chicago and New York will check your bibs to make sure you are in the correct corral. Both races allow you to move to a slower corral but will not allow you to move to a faster corral.

New York has port-a-potties in the corrals which is nice. Chicago does not and as I mentioned above there were some people peeing beside the wire fences.  But aside from that both races had well organized corrals.

Race course

Hills

Below are the hill profiles for New York and Chicago. Note the difference between minimum and maximum elevation in each image.

New York

The big climbs in New York are about 20-40 meters in elevation. New York has three particularly tough climbs: the Queensboro bridge at km 25, the Willis bridge at km 33 and the climb to Central Park from km 37 to km 39. It also has rolling hills through Central Park and a steady climb in the last km to the finish. New York is considered a difficult marathon.

NYCHillProfile

Chicago

The big climbs in Chicago are less than 10 meters. My friend Christopher said Chicago is “waffle flat”. I think that’s a perfect description. It is flat, with little bumps here and there. There is one “big’ hill in the last half mile of the course, but that hill is about as hard as one of the rolling hills in Central Park, it just messes with your head because it is so close to the finish line.  Chicago is a much easier course in terms of hills. Chicago is a good course to try for a personal best.

ChicagoElevation

Crowds and Energy

racesignsNew York has an estimated 1,000,000+ spectators. The Chicago marathon press release estimates they have 1,700,000 spectators.  That number will of course vary depending on the year and on the weather. Both races have great crowd support. I loved the dancing rabbis in New York. I loved the dancing drag queens in Chicago. I had less than ideal spectator weather in both cities, but each only had short stretches with thin crowds except in locations where they cannot cheer such as the tunnel at the start of Chicago or on the Queensboro bridge in New York.

The years that I ran the race the crowds were louder in New York. There were a couple of “scream tunnels” in New York. A “scream tunnel” is a stretch where the crowds yell so loud you cannot hear your name if your best friend is yelling it at the top of their lungs. I did not encounter any sections that loud in Chicago. To be fair, that may be due to the width of the roads as much as to the size and volume of the crowds. Overall, I felt slightly more energy from the crowds in New York, but both races were amazing crowd support!

Running your own race

In 2017 there were 50,766 finishers in the New York City marathon. In 2018 44, 571 runners finished the Chicago marathon. At no point in either race are you going to be running alone.

In an attempt to keep runners moving smoothly, New York divides up the start into blue, orange, and green corrals. Each follows a slightly different path and is kept separate from the other colors for the first 8 miles.  But with 50,000+ runners that road is going to be crowded no matter what you do. I found the road more crowded with runners in New York vs Chicago. I tried to follow a pacer in New York and for some reason my pacer was two corrals back from where I was assigned based on my predicted (target) pace. As a result we had to zig zag and pass a LOT of slower runners which was stressful given the lack of space and took up a lot of extra energy. I didn’t really feel like I had space to run my own race until after 9 miles or so in New York.

In Chicago the roads are wider, they have a few less runners, and they also did crowd management asking the spectators to move back off the road and leave room for the runners. As a result I found I was able to settle into my own pace within the first mile and only got stuck behind other runners very occasionally. I caught up to the 3:55 pace group and ended up following them for about 5 miles without any difficulty and I managed to pass them without a lot of dodging around runners as well (often pacers have a clump of runners around them making it hard to pass). I found Chicago less stressful when trying to maintain my pace.

International spirit

World_map-3One of the things I love about Chicago and New York are the runners from around the world! Specatators from Mexico are among my favorites for their passion and cheering.

In 2018 Chicago had runners from 105 countries

In 2017 New York had runners from 139 countries

Spectator Experience

Getting around

Chicago has a fantastic spectator guide  you can pick up at the race expo

Elites at the race

20171103_153854Both New York and Chicago are likely to have presentations by well known runners on the main stage. Sponsors may have an autograph session with familiar names as well.  In Chicago 2018, Maui Jim sunglasses had Meb Keflezighi signing autographs at the expo and you could catch Meb, Joan Benoit Samuelsson and Paula Radcliffe on the main stage.

Prize money draws big names. Both Chicago and New York offer big prize money

The prize money is the same for the men and women.

Ranking New York Chicago
1st place $100,000 $100,000
2nd place $60,000 $75,000
3rd place $40,000 $50,000

There are also a variety of bonuses as well for running under a particular time, being fastest American, etc…

New York elites in 2018 include:

Athlete Gender Top Finishes
Geoffrey Kamworor Male 2017 NYC Winner
Shadrak Biwott Male 2018 Boston 3rd
Shura Kitata Male 2018 London 2nd
Daniel Wanjiru Male 2018 London winner
Lelisa Desisa Male 2x Boston winner
Daniel Wanjiru Male 2018 London winner
Mark Keitany Female 3x NYC winner
Vivian Cheruiyot Female 2018 London winner
Molly Huddle Female 2016 NYC Podium finish
Shalane Flanagan Female 2017 NYC winner
Des Linder Female 2018 Boston winner

Chicago Elite in 2018 included:

Athlete Gender Top Finishes
Galen Rupp Male 2017 Chicago winner
Mo Farah Male 4X Olympic Gold
Abel Kirui Male 2016 Chicago winner
Yuki Kawauchi Male 2018 Boston winner
Dickson Chumba Male 2015 Chicago winner
Brigid Kosgei Female 2017 Chicago 2nd
Birhane Dibaba Female 2018 Tokyo winner

It seems that despite the similar amounts of prize money, New York seems to attract a few more of the top elite. BUT! you are more likely to see a record setting run in Chicago

Four world records were set in Chicago

  • 2:08:05 Steve Jones 1984
  • 2:05:42 Khalid Khannouchi 1999
  • 2:18:47 Catherine Ndereba 2001
  • 2:17:18 Paula Radcliffe 2002

in 2018 Mo Farah set a new European record 2:05:11

Finish Area

finish-ponchosIn New York when you finish you have to sign up for the option of getting the blue poncho a month or so before the actual race. If you choose a blue poncho you get to exit the park at the close exit, but you cannot do bag check. There are a limited number of blue ponchos, so if you do not request it soon enough you will have to exit the park at the far exit regardless of whether or not you actually check a bag.

I did not have anyone meeting me at the finish line in New York, so I checked a bag. That meant I got the standard mylar blanket and had to walk to the far end of Central Park to pick up my gear and exit the park.  That was a long walk after running 26.2 miles and I felt every step, but bag pick up was quick and efficient when I got there. After bag pick up you still have a decent walk to get out of the park to meet friends and family. I was highly amused by the pedicabs offering to give tired runners a ride (for a fee of course :))

In Chicago the walk from the finish line to the exit is not short, but it is shorter than New York. Bag pick up was quick and efficient and it was only a short walk to meet friends and family (although there was a short set of stairs, I think I felt all 6 of them 🙂

Both races insist you keep moving after your cross the finish line. If you sit down, a medic will be by quickly to either take you to the med tent or get you moving again. When I sat down on the curb en route to bag check in New York, a medic came over to encourage me to get back on my feet and also offered to open my chocolate milk for me.

Both races had food and drink at the finish.  I got a kick out of the beer in souvenir beer cans in Chicago provided by Goose Island, though as drinks go I prefer a chocolate milk post-race 🙂 My only complaint about New York is that they give you an apple instead of a banana because of course New York is “the big apple”

Post-race atmosphere

ChicagoSpectatorWhen I hobbled into a restaurant in New York with my thermal blanket still wrapped around my shoulders the entire restaurant clapped and cheered. The next day lots of runners walk around with their medals and strangers congratulate you on the race. I regret taking an early flight out the next day as it would have been fun to soak of the post-race atmosphere and get my medal engraved.

The New York Times lists the names of the runners and their times in the Monday edition.

When I hobbled into a pub in Chicago with my thermal blanket, there was no cheering, but the staff took amazing care of me. In no time I had sugar, caffeine and salt in the form of a coke and some pretzel bites. When I asked for a couple of wet naps to wipe my face they even brought me a clean rag soaked in warm water. If you want cheering head to the Nike store post-race for the cheering staff on every floor as you proceed to the 4th floor for free medal engraving.  The next morning there was no shortage of runners walking around with their medals and/or race shirts. The local pancake house had quite the waiting list for breakfast but was worth the wait.

The Chicago Tribune lists the names of the runners and their times in the Monday edition.

Volunteers

Volunteers rock at both races. THANK YOU to all the volunteers at both races!

thank-you

Summary

New York is a tougher course than Chicago and the road felt more crowded, but I found the crowd and atmosphere had more energy. So if the cheering of the crowds is what keeps you going, I think you will prefer New York.

Chicago is a lower stress race. It’s easier to get to the start, you have a more room to run on the course, and I found the water stops had enough tables that I could get water and Gatorade quite easily. You are more likely to set a personal best in Chicago.

You may have a different experience from mine in New York or Chicago depending on your start wave and the weather.  But there is a reason these races are so popular. If you get a chance to run either race, do it!

If you are curious how these races compare to Boston, I have compared New York and Boston in another post marathoncomic

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Chicago Marathon Race report

ChicagoWithJudyThis past weekend I ran the 2018 Chicago marathon, one of the six Abbott Marathon Majors and a very popular marathon. In this post I’ll share my thoughts on the race experience so you know what to expect if you decide to run.

  • Getting a bib: Lottery; Qualifying Time; Charity Entry; Shamrock Shuffle; Tour entry; Cancelled Entry; Get the app
  • The Race expo: Where is it? How do I get there? Bib & Packet pick up; Photo ops and things to do; Race goodies
  • Start Area: Getting to the start; Port-a-Potties
  • The race: Room to run; water stops; Crowd support; Hills; Route; Garmin == Timex; The weather
  • Spectator experience
  • The finish: Finish line freebies; bag check and changing area; meeting area
  • The post-race atmosphere
  • Summary

Chicago has been on my marathon bucket list ever since my friend Christopher introduced me to the documentary Spirit of the Marathon. I hope you have the opportunity to run it for yourself!

Getting a bib

There are multiple ways to get a bib for the Chicago marathon.

Race bib Chicago MarathonLottery

More people want to register for the Chicago marathon than the number of bibs available. Bibs are awarded by a lottery system. You apply for the bib during the application window. At the end of the application window you receive an email informing you if your name was selected. If your name is selected you are automatically charged the registration fee. In 2019 you can register after October 30th and the drawing takes place November 29th.

In 2015 53% of those who entered the lottery were accepted.

Qualifying Time

you can run a qualifying time in the qualifying period (for 2019 you would have to run the qualifying time after January 2017). They dropped the qualifying times a little bit for the 2018 marathon allowing me to earn a bib with a qualifying time.

If you can prove you ran the qualifying time below you can get a bib for the 2019 marathon.

Age group Men Women
16 – 29 3:10:00 3:30:00
30 – 39 3:15:00 3:45:00
40 – 49 3:25:00 3:55:00
50 – 59 3:40:00 4:10:00
60 – 69 4:00:00 4:35:00
70 – 79 4:30:00 5:10:00
80 and over 5:00:00 5:45:00

Charity Entry

You can join one of the official Chicago marathon fundraising teams. You must fundraise between $1250 and $1750 USD.

Shamrock Shuffle

If you have run the Bank of America Shamrock Shuffle 8K four or more times since 2000 and have signed up for the 2019 Shamrock Shuffle you can guarantee your spot in the 2019 marathon. A great option for local runners.

Tour entry

You can purchase a tour package. This is typically a more expensive option but will usually include a hotel and or travel. This option is frequently used by international runners or groups of runners. I used a tour entry for the NYC marathon when my running buddy got in through lottery and I did not so we could run together.

Cancelled Entry

One of the really nice things about Chicago is you do have the ability to cancel your entry and defer it to the next year. You lose the cost of registration and have to pay again the following year, but when you have a lottery spot and an injury messes you up, it’s nice to know you have a guaranteed spot the next year – right Christopher, James, Julia, Brian?

Get the app

Once you have your bib, keep an eye out for the link to the official Chicago marathon phone app. It’s very helpful for spectators and runners alike.

The Race Expo

Where is it?

ChicagoStepsThe Chicago marathon has a great race expo. it’s located at McCormick place, a conference centre just outside the downtown core.

How do I get there?

Chicago has a good metro system and there are a number of buses that will get you to McCormick place. You can purchase metro passes at the race expo (they even have souvenir marathon fare cards!) If you are staying downtown, the race also has a number of shuttle stops. We took the shuttle from the Nike store, there was a long line up but they had a good number of school buses and were well organized. It did not take long to get on a bus. The bus also seemed to take some sort of public transit only road most of the way, so it was faster than a taxi, or Lyft/Uber.  Some of our friends tried to get the shuttle from the Hilton Friday morning and said the buses never showed up, which is odd (they ended sharing an Uber with 2 other runners). That was first thing Friday morning, so perhaps there was some confusion about when the first bus left. We took the Hilton bus back later Friday so we know that shuttle bus system was working.

Bib & packet pick up

You have to go through security to pick up your bib, but they have a dozen people to do security screening so it moves quickly. It was quite busy first thing Friday morning, but completely empy at 2 PM Friday afternoon. To pick up your bib you must present government issued photo id and your packet pick up ticket. If you do not have your pick up ticket with you there is a booth which can print it for you.  However if you forget your ID, you have to go back and get it (That’s how I found out the line ups at 2 PM were shorter than the lines first thing in the morning… I forgot my ID and was unable to get my bib…Whoops!) You pick up your bib packet first. Your rake kit & T shirt pick up is in the back of the expo.

They had lots of volunteers and were very efficient!  Leaving us lots of time to explore the expo

Photo Ops & things to do

The race expo was great, lots of cool photo ops from the moment you walk in. My sister and I have a tradition of taking pictures with a bear at every major race we do together, but all we found in Chicago was a Trex and a turtle. This year they also had a treadmill so you could try to run the world record pace Eliud Kipchoge ran at the Berlin marathon. No I didn’t try it, I figured that was the perfect way to pull a hamstring two days before the race 🙂

Race goodies

chicagoswagNike has a booth set up with all the official race wear. They focused completely on running apparel: running shirts, long sleeved running shirts, jacket, tank tops, visor. I think they missed an opportunity. The other US majors (New York & Boston) sell mugs, glasses, backpacks, hoodies, and all sorts of extra branded goodies you can spend money on. There was a very long line to purchase your official race wear.  All the official race wear can also be purchased at the Nike Shop on Michigan Ave.  So you might want to go there after the expo to make your purchase. The lines at the Nike store were shorter and the DJs in the store make for a fun atmosphere.

We still found lots of ways to spend our money. Goose Island IPA had cool shirts and pint glasses (which you can get engraved for free with your finish time on Monday at select locations). The Chicago Tribune had coffee mugs. All the big vendors were there. Garmin had 10% off GPS devices. You could buy souvenir marathon Oofos (great splurge, recovery sandals are amazing post-race). Brooks had some nice race shirts. I even picked up a fun pair of Chicago running socks (also available as running sleeves, compression sleeves, or compression socks).

I was particularly amused by the “Dude” products in the race bag. If you didn’t read the instructions on the back of the packages, it’s worth the read 🙂

Start Area

Getting to the start

Of all the marathon majors Chicago is the most low stress on race day! There are a lot of options to get to the start area in Grant Park. You can take the metro line, and there are lots of hotels within walking distance. Security and bag check were efficient. Your bib has a gate number on it indicating where you should enter, although one of the volunteers told us at the last minute we could have entered at any gate. We still chose to enter at our assigned gate.

ChicagoPreRaceSelfieI left my hotel at 5:45 AM, met a friend at another hotel at 6 AM, and we had time to stop at the port-a-potties, explore the start area, sit on a bench for a bit, take a picture at Buckingham fountain, check our bags, one more stop at the port-a-potty and get to our corral before our wave two start at 8 AM.

Kudos to the Chicago marathon for working hard to be green! They had green stations with volunteers to sort the garbage, and even had a recycling station for the mylar blankets at the finish which apparently they recycle into park benches!

Port-a-potties

ChicagoPortapotty The corrals cut the start area in two. This is relevant because there are more port-a-potties on the city side of the park when you first enter than on the lake side. Bag check and Buckingham fountain (great for that last pre-race selfie) are on the lake side. When the race starts at 7:30 AM the crosswalk across the corrals is closed. It might be possible to enter and exit a corral to cross, but if you can it will be a bit of a hassle.  We took advantage of the port-a-potties on the city side when we first entered and were only in line for a couple of minutes. When we did our final pre-start port-a-potty run after bag check on the lake side the line ups took more like 10-15 minutes.

The race

I was in corral F, the first corral of wave two. The 3:55 and 4:00 pacers were in my corral. No-one checked my bib when I went into the corral, but I did not have any trouble getting into the corral (i.e. it wasn’t overly crowded) and I was able to move up in front of the 4:00 pacer without difficulty.  I was planning to run sub 4, and expected the 4 hour pacer would have a big pack of runners around them.

It took a couple of minutes to get across the start line and we were off.

Room to run

The first thing I appreciated in this race was how wide the roads were. There were 44,571 finishers in this years marathon. That is a lot of runners!  In many big races it can be difficult to run your own pace because you get stuck behind other runners and it is difficult to pass.  I rarely had that problem in Chicago.  There were a few spots where the road narrowed, but 90% of the race I was able to run my own pace without the need to constantly zig zag trying to find a space between runners.  The organizers even managed spectators to keep them from encroaching on the running space asking them to step back when they started to move onto the road. I tried following a pacer in New York and it was extremely difficult because the pacer had to zig zag into small gaps between runners to maintain the target pace. Whereas in Chicago, I ended up behind the 3:55 pacers for several miles quite by chance and could easily have followed them through to the finish line.

Water stops

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAll the water stations had medical aid, Gatorade Endurance. Each stop was Gatorade first, water second (except for one stop where the volunteers clearly got a bit confused and had water in the Gatorade cups at the first couple of tables…but to their credit the volunteers were doing such a great job of yelling out whether they had water or Gatorade it wasn’t really a problem). Each stop had plenty of tables on both sides of the road and the tables were well spread out. I was able to get water and Gatorade at each stop without stopping or walking. Of course the occasional runner would stop in front of me at a water stop, but that is beyond the control of the race organizers. The volunteers were also trying very had to keep the discarded cups out of the way as much as possible without disrupting the runners.

There were lots of toilets along the route as well, but they are often on side streets, so you have to look for the signs around the water stations with the arrows indicating where to find the toilets.

The water stops at 19, 22 and 24 miles had bananas

There were either Gatorade Chews at mile 13 and Gatorade Gels at mile 18

Biofreeze was at mile 21 . If you are not familiar with Biofreeze. It’s a topical analgesic. In English that means you put it on your sore joint or muscle and it will reduce some of the pain. I have not tried it, but there are other marathons where I might have tried that at mile 21.

I had no trouble finding medical aid when my body glide was insufficient for race conditions and I wanted a little Vaseline to get me through the last 8 miles.

Crowd support

ChicagoSignThe press release says there are an estimated 1,7 million spectators at the Chicago marathon. We had clouds and drizzle on race day. That is a bit cold and wet for spectators so I doubt we had quite that many. But, there were solid crowds for probably 70% of the course. The remaining 30% of the course there were always spectators just not as many. There was a wonderful variety of signs “If it was easy, I would do it”, “Hurry up I want to go watch football”, “This seems like a lot of work for a free banana”, etc… I saw costumes, I heard bands, I think the loudest crowds were in Chinatown a great boost late in the race.

I had bonus cheers from friends and family who posted pictures of themselves holding signs they shared with me on Facebook as well which was awesome 🙂

The Chicago race bibs do not have your name on them (unless you are an elite like Sir Mo)  so if you want the crowds to cheer you on personally you will need to find a way to label yourself. The crowds enjoy having a name or a country to cheer.  You could

  • Spell your name with tape on the front of your shirt  (though my friend Christopher had to rip his off part way through the race because the tape was chafing)
  • Write your name in Sharpie on your arm (though then they can only see your name as you run by, it works better if your name is on your front, and if you go straight to your hotel to nap afterwards you may discover your sweaty arm has transferred your name onto the hotel bedsheet)
  • Attach a sticker to the bottom of your bib with your name on it (when I tried that mine fell off part way through the race in the rain)

Hills

ChicagoElevationChicago does not have any big hills. It is flat, but it is not Las Vegas flat. I had it described to me as “waffle flat”. I think that is the perfect description. It’s flat with a number of short little bumps when you have an overpass to cross. It’s considered a great race for trying to run a personal best. Four world records were set at this race. In 2018, when I ran, Mo Farah set a new European record.

You can see my Strava profile from the marathon on the right. There are a lot of little spikes and drops where my GPS was confused but you can see over the entire race the elevation range only varies from 175 meters to under 185 meters, and the total elevation gain was 80 meters.

The biggest hill is at the finish and honestly it’s not a very big hill, but if you are struggling, having your biggest climb in the last 800 meters will suck.  So now you know when you see that 800m sign that you are about to hit “the” hill. I appreciate the sign at the top of that last hill to let you know you only have 300m to go from the top of the hill to the finish line. Once you climb that hill and turn left you can see the finish chute. Make sure you smile for the camera for that finish line photo. But don’t throw yourarms out too wide (I got smacked in the face by a happy runner throwing their arms out in celebration in the final 100 meters, it’s okay no bruises, no harm done :))

The route

The route is basically made up of three big out and backs, which makes it easier for a spectator to cheer you on at multiple points on the route. There are also a number of little turns as you switch from one road to another. This does break up what might otherwise be really long straight stretches, but it also means you can easily add mileage if you are on the outside of all the turns. Follow the blue line if you want to stick as close to 26.2 miles as possible.

I know very little about the city of Chicago, so I can’t tell you if we passed any specific famous buildings or neighborhoods. But I did enjoy the variety of the neighborhoods and scenery along the way.

Garmin == Timex

ChicagoStravaMapThe big buildings downtown combined with a couple of tunnels mean you cannot rely on your Garmin to tell you your pace or your distance. According to Garmin I ran 43.8 km!  When you look at the map on my Strava account on the right you can see odd little zig zags where my Garmin got confused. I was VERY glad I grabbed a pace band tattoo at the race expo. The only way I could tell if I was on track was to compare the elapsed time at each mile marker to the target time on my pace band to keep myself on track. If you usually rely on your Garmin to monitor your speed, you may want to follow a pacer to hit your goal time.

The weather

What sort of weather should expect for the race? It depends. Here are the conditions from the past ten years

  • 2018 57-64F Drizzle Winds ENE 5 MPH
  • 2017 56-73F Partly Cloudy Winds SW 8 MPH
  • 2016 50-63F Partly Cloudy Winds ESE 8 MPH
  • 2015 54-78F Clear Winds SSW 11 MPH
  • 2014 45-64F Partly Cloudy Winds SE 8 MPH
  • 2013 46-65F Clear Winds NW 4MPH
  • 2012 38-51F Mostly Cloudy Winds WNW 6 MPH
  • 2011 57-80F Clear Winds ESE 3 MPH
  • 2010 59-84F Scattered Clouds No Wind
  • 2009 28-45F Mostly Cloudy Winds NW 7 MPH

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Spectator Experience

ChicagoSpectatorMy friend Christopher was injured and had to defer his entry to next year, but he did come out to cheer us on. It is always a treat to have someone on the course cheering you on. I started anticipating his posters two to three miles out. Thank you Christopher!

He was really impressed by the spectator guide which you definitely want to pick up at the race expo. Inside you will find a metro map, fare explanations, map of the finish area and a schedule.

It also lists the metro stops for different spots along the course complete with instructions on how to get from the metro station to the course.

18th Pink Line Station  – Mile 19. Board a Pink Line train and exit at 18th st. Walk four blocks east to Loomis St.

They also provide estimated arrival times for each section of the race

Mile 8 to Mile 10 
Wheelchair participants: 7:40 AM; Runners 8:08 AM to 11:30 AM

His only complaint was an interesting one, everything in the spectator guide provides distances and locations in miles. But, the timing mats on the course are located at 5, 10, 15, 20, 25, 30, 35, and 40 km. So if you are sitting at Mile 14 waiting for a runner, you track them online and determine they crossed the 15 km marker at 9:05 AM, running an average 9:03 /mile pace they should reach you at um…..  oh wait.. this requires math!  So when you sit down the day before and plan where to watch on the course, break out the calculator and calculate how many miles it is from your planned spectator spot from the last timing mat in MILES! Or make yourself a little conversion chart listing the timing mats 5km = 3.1 miles, 10 km = 6.2 miles, etc…

There are a lot of people on the course, so plan ahead! Christopher told me what coloru sign he would have, where he would be and what side of the road he would be on. I did see a few brave spectators crossing the road between runners, but not something you want to try with a bike or stroller!

The Finish

That wonderful moment where you cross the finish line. You did it! Don’t forget to smile for the photographers as you approach that final timing mat.

Finish line freebies

ChicagoBeerCanVolunteers are waiting to give you your medal, a bottle of water (I asked the volunteer to open my bottle of water as well because sometimes I am so tired even that is a challenge).

Next up of course it the official Chicago Marathon mylar blanket. Volunteers also had tape for the blankets so you don’t have to hold the blanket closed with your hands.

There were cups of Gatorade and bananas. This year (2018) They also had cans of Goose Island IPA 312 in a Chicago Marathon souvenir can. That’s the first time I got a beer post-race (I don’t drink beer).  The beer cans were open so I had to pour my beer out. I did try to find a spot where it would not make too much mess since you cannot exit the runner area with the open beer.  There were a lot of runners doing the ame, I guess I was not the only one who wanted the souvenir can but was not up for drinking the beer.  Though of course many runners thoroughly enjoyed the beer as well! There is even a spot to write in your finish time on the can (no that was NOT my finish time shown on the can in the above photo, I am not that fast)

After all that you are handed a plastic bag with potato chips and various other food stuffs. (My sister was wondering why we get the bag at the end of all this, apparently its to stop runners stuffing their loot bags with multiple bananas, water bottles, etc.. thank you Christopher for that little tidbit of information).

Once your hands are completely full you reach the official finish photo area. They have a dozen backgrounds and photographers to capture you and your medal!

Bag check and changing area

It’s a bit of a walk from the finish line to bag check. Your walk won’t be much shorter if you skip bag check because you have to walk past the bag check area to reach the runners exit. They had enough volunteers and bag check stalls. A volunteer was reading my bib number and fetching my bag within 30 seconds of my arriving at the booth.

They had port-a-potty like stalls set up as changing rooms. But there were not many of them and they had pretty long line-ups (10-15 runners in line at each). I wish they just set up a big Women’ change tent and Men’s change tent like they do at Grandma’s Marathon in Duluth instead.

Standing and waiting is pretty painful for me post race. So I just sat down on the ground. Off with the running shoes. Then with no small difficulty and many threatening calf cramps removed my compression socks. On with the sweatpants, swap sweaty shirt for dry shirt (leaving running bra in place, but there were female runners who decided taking off a wet running bra could be done in runner company (if it was colder, I would probably have wrapped my thermal blanket around me and done the same). With some difficulty I managed to get myself from the seated position on the ground back to standing and hobbled towards the exit. Pausing briefly at Buckingham Fountain for a “I did it!” selfie

ChicagoFinished

Meeting Area

Volunteers directed me to the runner reunion area, a short walk from the bag check under normal circumstances, but post-marathon a little slow, and HEY you have to walk down stairs to get out? That’s just mean.  Okay there were only about 8 stairs… but still 🙂

The runner reunion area has giant inflatable tubes with letters on them.  The advantage to having a last name that starts with I is my reunion area is usually pretty quiet.  I found Christopher quickly and we made our way out of the park and back towards the hotel. With me leaning on him for a little help whenever I had to step off the curb.

There is a post-race party area you can visit with your friends and family. Runners get a free beer from Goose Island as well. I cannot provide any more information than that, because I am one of those runners who is pretty wrecked after a marathon and as I mentioned previously I don’t drink beer anyway.

The post race atmosphere

You can get your medal engraved with your finish time at the Nike store after the race Sunday or on Monday. Sunday they had staff lined up at the entrance and at the top of each escalator (engraving is on the 4th floor) clapping and cheering!  I kind of wish I had checked it out just for the cheers!

If you bought the Goose Island Chicago marathon pint glass, there were official places you could get your glass engraved with your finisher time Monday. Sadly I did not have time to do so before my flight.

ChicagoTribuneThe Chicago Tribune prints a special section in Sunday’s paper, and prints the names and finishing times for all runners who finish in under 6 hours 30 minutes in the Monday edition. I had trouble finding a copy of the Tribune at the airport, so maybe I should have paid the small fee at the race expo and signed up to have them mail it to me.

Monday, the streets and breakfast spots have lots of runners wearing their race shirts. Many runners wear their finisher medals as well.  We smile and nod to each other. Of course waiters and airport staff quickly figure out these are the marathoners and congratulate you on your race.

I stopped at the Elephant and Castle on my way back to the hotel after the race because I really needed salt, sugar & caffeine.  We sat down in the pub and I asked the hostess for a Coke.  The waitress appeared moments later with a coke and thrilled that she could help me recover from the race with such a simple act. She then asked if I needed anything else. So I asked for some wet naps to wash off my face (walking to the bathroom to wash up seemed like a huge effort at this point). She brought me not only wet naps but a clean cloth soaked in warm water. Heaven! Add some pretzel bites and I was almost feeling human again.

I share this story to help you understand that after the race, staff and strangers will absolutely congratulate you on your race, but you don’t get loud cheering the moment you walk into a building  (which happened at the restaurant I went to in New York, and at the hotel I was staying at in Boston).

Summary

Personally, I had a great race in Chicago 2018. The temperature was about perfect. The drizzle caused some chafing but kept me from overheating. The wide roads and flat course allowed me to maintain a steady pace throughout the race. Of course it probably also helps that I didn’t try to set a personal best, I was a little conservative with my pace since I had missed a fair number of training runs.

The Chicago marathon is a very well organized race. It’s a fantastic place to try and set a personal best. They have an amazing team of volunteers and the city will come out to cheer you along the course. There is a reason this race became so popular they had to switch to a lottery system!

Thank you Chicago for a fantastic race weekend!

Thinking of running Boston or New York? Check out my other race reports and running related posts.

Big Sur Marathon Race Report “Beauty and the Beast”

(just found this post in my drafts…apparently I forgot to publish it last year :))

Apparently the Big Sur marathon is nicknamed Beauty and the Beast. I can’t think of a better nickname! If you run marathons, I highly recommend adding it to your bucket list.

I recently ran Big Sur with 5 members of my running club: Faye, John, Mike, James and my sister Judy. James suggested we all do Boston 2 Big Sur this year and at the time it seemed like a good idea 🙂

Tip #1 Give yourself a little time to explore the area

We arrived Friday in Monterey.  The race was Sunday. California lived up to its reputation for great weather. We had lots of sunshine. Yet it was cool enough in the morning and evening for a light jacket and warm enough in the afternoon for shorts and a t-shirt.

We took advantage of the views and the weather to rent bikes and ride along the coast, stopping to take pictures along the way. A sneak preview of the views to come on race day perhaps?
20170429_113910

You won’t regret having a little time to explore the area. You can visit the Monterey Aquarium, check out the shops and restaurants along Cannery Row and  fisherman’s wharf.  The municipal wharf is a good spot to look for sea life and to see fishermen at work (we spotted sea lions and sea otters).  Rent a sea kayak and explore the shoreline. Walk, drive, or cycle to the coves where the seals have their pups. It would be a shame to arrive, race, and leave.

20170501_082834.jpgTip #2 Wear your race gear around town

Big Sur race weekend has everything from a 3km race to a marathon. As a result it seems like everyone in or around Monterey has either run Big Sur or has a friend or family member who ran Big Sur.  Because we were wearing race shirts we ended up meeting a fisherman who tried out for the US Olympic marathon team and got free dessert at a restaurant in Carmel from a waiter who ran the race last year. It’s a great way to meet other runners and to connect with the locals!

Tip #3 Don’t worry about long lines at the expo

20170428_162620

The Big Sur race expo is very small. Don’t worry, it has the essentials for everyone who forgot to pack something for race day: gels, body glide, water belts. It has some nice Big Sur souvenirs including coasters, shirts, and socks. You can buy posters with the names of all the marathon runners. You can meet the pianist who plays the piano at the half way mark of the marathon and buy his CD. They had runners doing seminars. They had Big Sur jewellery. My personal favorite had to be the booth with the Big Sur International Marathon wine! Bottle of red, bottle of white, it all depends upon your appetite! (for the record I picked up a bottle of the Pinot Noir)

Tip #4 Make reservations for dinner Saturday night

With an early start Sunday morning, Italian restaurants are popular places around 5 PM Saturday all across Pacific Grove and Monterey!  We found a fabulous little Italian place in Pacific Grove (my sister said it was the best Pasta Primavera she ever had!). Our restaurant was packed with runners.  Fortunately we made a reservation well ahead of time. Many runners enquiring by phone or in person left disappointed or informed that they could get a seating at 8 PM or later.

Tip #5 Stay on Eastern time

Or if you aren’t travelling from the East to race Big Sur, just go to bed early. The only way to the start line of the marathon is by bus. The buses leave at 3:30 or 4:00 AM. Allow time for your pre-race wake up and prep routine and time to make your way to the location where you board the bus and you should only have to set your alarm for somewhere between 2:30 and 3 AM!

Tip #6 Research where to stay

You can stay in Carmel, Monterey, Big Sur, Pacific Grove. You can stay in a Hotel, a motel, or rent a house.  There are options for different budgets, different comfort levels and different wake up times (If you stay in Big Sur or at the Marriott you can catch a later bus to the start).  If you stay in Carmel you have an easier ride home after the race. We rented a house in Pacific Grove and some of our friends had rooms at the Red Roof Inn.

Tip #7 Bring your phone

No20170430_075603t for phone calls or Facebook updates because you won’t have cell reception at the start area, but this is a race where you can set a new PR (photo record).  Yup, if ever there was a race where you want to take pictures this is it! Whether it’s the awesome caricature signs along the route or the amazing views there is a good chance you will want to take  a picture at some point. They even share photo etiquette in the race program (if you wish to take a picture during the race move onto the should of the road on the left side to take your photo, but don’t move too far to the left!) Apparently a number of runners spotted a whale just off shore in 2017! I am told whale sightings are not a common occurrence.

There are a variety of musical acts all along the course, and unlike most races you can hear the musical acts from quite a distance since the only other sound on the road is the pounding of 20170430_090210runners feet, birds chirping, and the waves.

There are points along the route where you can see the road winding for miles ahead of you (which can be a bit depressing knowing you have to run all that way, but try to enjoy them :)). But wow, talk about gorgeous views. Driving the Pacific Coast highway is a bucket list item for many. We have it all to ourselves for this race with nothing but the occasional race vehicle sharing the road.

Tip #8 Bring clothes to wear in the start area

Many people live under the illusion that it’s always hot in California. Well if it’s 5:30 AM and you are sitting in a park in the dark, you may find that a singlet and running shorts are not enough to keep you warm.

Tip #9 Do your hill training

Did I mention the Big Sur has hills? Lots and lots of hills. Big hills. I knew about hurricane point, the big climb in the first half, but I did not realize that the second half of the marathon is basically continuous hills. The good news is after each uphill climb is a good downhill. So practice running uphill and practice recovering as you run downhill.

Tip #10 Forget the PR/PB and just soak up the atmosphere

You can run a good race at Big Sur, but running a personal best or personal record would be quite a feat given the hills and some years, given the winds. They joked at the start line that the PR you set at Big Sur is a Photo Record for the most pictures taken along the race course. The atmosphere is different from any race I have ever run. Because spectators can’t get onto the closed highway it’s just you, the other runners, the race volunteers, the musical acts, and a few locals who live walking distance from the course.  I saw a runner get startled by a mooing cow. The loudest cheer I got from a spectator in the first 20 miles was a lady with a wooden stick running it around the edge of a bowl of burning incense chanting “gooooooo  goooooo gooooo slowwwwww”

You can hear the Japanese drummers at the bottom of hurricane point from about a quarter mile away.  Someone told me you know you are approaching the top of hurricane point when you can hear the piano at Bixby bridge. I remember hearing the song “walking on Sunshine” well before coming across the lone guitarist singing in the field.

The water stops are small, but it’s a small race and I had no trouble getting water. They even had a bit of a local/small town touch because there are volunteers with water pitchers who will refill your water bottle if you wish.  One of the later water stops is famous for its fresh strawberries.

It’s a small race but even a slow marathon runner will pass others because there are lots of people who walk the shorter distances you pass along the way.

Don’t get me wrong, all those distractions and views are great but those endless hills in the last half are brutal.

If I have one complaint it’s that the start are was way too small for the number of runners. trying to figure out where the line for coffee begins is a challenge. Fighting my way through the crowd to the bag check was a challenge. On the other hand the start area had an impressive number of port-a-potties and each port-a-potty had a silly sign taped onto them such as “shoelace repair” or “luxury bathroom facilities”.

I would run Big Sur again. That’s not something I say often. Marathons require so much training, and I only get to do one or two a year why would I do the same races over and over again.  Been there, done that got the t-shirt, got the finisher medal, move on. But, if a friend asked me to do this one with them, there is a good chance I would go back.

I was in the finishers tent, exhausted, clutching a chocolate milk and a cookie, clay finisher medal around my neck, looking for a place to sit down, when someone (who I later discovered was the race director) asked how was my race. I said “that was gorgeous but evil!” He laughed and said and that’s why it’s nickname is Beauty and the Beast.

Here the rest of my running related posts and race reports.

 

 

 

 

So … that marathon sucked…now what

2018-05-31_13-51-36Nice race picture eh? Notice the fatigue in my posture, the foot completely flat on the road, no bounce or energy at all. There is a reason I didn’t buy this race photo.  Look familiar to anyone?

You sign up for a marathon. You set your sights on a personal best PB (or personal record PR if you are American :))

You train for 16 weeks.

Speed work? hill work? strength training? cross training? physio? long runs in miserable weather? treadmills when running outside was not an option? Dragging yourself through runs when you didn’t feel like it? Getting up early? Headlamps to run in the dark?

When I am doing that last hill, the last 1600, or the last 3 km of a long run in lousy weather I motivate myself with thoughts like “This is what will make the difference, this is what it takes to get that PB!”

Race day approaches, you obsess over the weather forecast, completely pointless because you can’t change it, but we all do it anyway. You taper, maybe you stop drinking, you drink lots of water, you plan your pre-race day meals and rest, everything you can to set yourself up for success.

But on race day. Disappointment. You might even start out well, but somewhere out there on the road you realize the PB is not going to happen, but you still have to finish the race. In Vancouver I started out on track feeling strong and rested, by 23 km I had ripped off my pace band and turned off my GPS because I didn’t want to know how slow I was going from that point forward.  And now the brain keeps asking Did I give up too soon? Should I have pushed harder to stay on pace? Did I go out too fast? My feet hurt a lot was it the shoes? Did I go too hard on the downhill? Should I have done more tempo runs? Should I try active recovery speedwork instead of intervals?

If you run enough races, eventually it happens, often multiple times. Now you find yourself rethinking this whole marathon thing, I mean maybe I just suck at marathons and should go back to 5 km races, those are way less work to train for and if you have a bad race it’s over a lot faster!

So yeah, that’s kind of where my brain is at right now.  I’m also in the post marathon fatigue zone. I went for a run this morning and was working way too hard for a 5 km morning run a full minute / km slower than my marathon pace.

Tonight my running group has their spring party, it’s a celebration of all the spring races (many of which were marathons). You wear your race shirt and medal and we take a group picture. It’s a great celebration and I look forward to talking to everyone, but I don’t look forward to the inevitable ‘how was your race?’ question. Because my race did not go well and I’m not entirely sure why.  It wasn’t crazy hot, it wasn’t crazy hilly, sure I missed a couple of training runs, but all in all I’ve been running strong.

This is such a common story. Whether you run a 2:45 marathon or a 4:45 marathon we all set goals, and we all train for those goals. Training for a marathon is a slog no matter what pace you set, so when it doesn’t pan out it can be mentally tough to get over. I find it easier to get over a bad race if the weather is outrageously bad, or the course is crazy hilly, then at least I have something to blame 🙂

So now what…

well I welcome your suggestions, but here is my plan of attack. 

  1. Talk to other runners You are not alone to struggle with a plateau or a bad race.  Chances are they’ve been there and will be sympathetic. They will remind you of all the things you already know like okay it just wasn’t there today but that training still builds a base for the next race. So yeah, tonight’s party with the running group is probably exactly what I need.  What would you tell another runner in your situation?  You’d probably tell them, hey not every race is a great race, it happens, it doesn’t mean your training wasn’t good training and won’t pay off.
  2. 2018-05-31_14-16-28Read some inspiring books or listen to a great interview or podcast with elite runners who talk about their own struggles.  Finding out the top marathon runners in the world have the same problems can be strangely comforting.  I just finished Julian Achon’s “The Boy Who Runs” (puts running in perspective) and I just had someone recommend Deena Kastor’s new book “Let your Mind Run” because she talks about her own struggles hitting plateaus. You could also watch Where Dreams Go To Die and relive Gary Robbins 6 seconds, and he still got up and back out there! And no he didn’t finish the next year either.  Find the story that resonates for you.
  3. Go out and get in a few runs on your favorite route. For me that means a run on a trail in the woods or along the water away from traffic.
  4. Volunteer at a race. Like they say in the Avenue Q number “The money song” ‘when you help others you can’t help helping yourself’. Whether it’s pacing,  working a water station, helping at registration, or handing out medals.  Putting yourself on the outside watching other runners is a great way to give back and remind yourself of the incredible spirit of the running community. It’s not all about setting another PB. (Note to self: go sign up to volunteer at Canada Day races or a park run
  5. racesignsCheer on or pace a friend for their race. Remember that moment of pleasure mid-race when you: saw someone you knew cheering you on; Saw a sign that made you laugh; passed a banjo player; high fived a 4 year old; high fived someone in a T-Rex costume; passed someone blasting ‘Don’t fear the reaper’ out of a ghetto blaster while ringing a cowbell? You can be that person giving a runner that smile or extra boost of energy! It’s hard not to stay positive when you are cheering on others!
  6. SusanKiltRun_thumb.jpgRegister for a race that will be fun. 5 km color run? a local trail race? snowshoe race? how about your first trail race? a Saturday park run? a Ragnar? For me it’s races with a twist because then I have no way of knowing what pace I should run. I have no idea if running 8 km in a kilt carrying a sword and shield which includes mid-race activities that include a caber toss and wading across a stream to have a shot of whisky in 55 minutes is fast or slow! It takes off the pressure to run in a specified time. I might still push myself because yeah I am a tad competitive, but there’s no PR pressure :). I can just run at whatever pace feels right that day. In the next 12 weeks I will run the Mud Hero 10km, the 8 km Warrior class of the Perth Kilt Run, a relay race called Surf n Turf that includes running, biking and canoeing, and the Peak 2 Brew relay(Ragnar style race).  I need to do something to remind myself that running can be fun again!  In fact just typing out the list of races I have coming up is already making me more excited about getting out running again

So am I at peace with my last marathon. Not yet. But I will get there. It took me 2 years to set my last marathon PR.  Hopefully I still have another PR in these legs and in less than 2 years.

Meanwhile… time to dig up my medal and race shirt for the party tonight, mud race to run Sunday,  and in a few weeks get focused on the next marathon… Chicago!

Here the rest of my running related posts and race reports.

 

 

 

 

Vancouver marathon race report

Thinking of doing the Vancouver marathon? Here’s my take on the race!

Perhaps it is not fair to write a race report when your feet still hurt from the race But I have 4+ hours to kill on the train to Seattle so here goes!

When my friend Christopher suggested the Vancouver marathon as a spring race, I was all in. I like Vancouver and the route looked amazing.

Why do it?

The views!

VancouverSeawall

In terms of beauty the route did not disappoint! There were several spots along the route where I took a moment to simply appreciate the view. Whether it was a glimpse of the mountains in the distance across Burrard inlet, the stunning array of colors at the entrance to the UBC rose garden, or the driftwood along the beaches. From km 31 to km 41 you run along the Seawall, one of my favorite places in the world. No matter how tired you are or how focused you are trying to keep a particular pace do pause and take in the surroundings from time to time!

The city

I love Vancouver. You will find, great food, amazing sushi, art galleries with stunning Haida art, plenty of Tim Hortons and Starbucks, tons of vegetarian options if that’s your thing, lots of waterfront paths for biking or walking, and the gorgeous mountains in the background. There are a good number of hotels, so you should be able to find accommodations, although downtown hotels are pretty pricey.  Vancouver has got a bit of a rough underbelly. Within Canada, Vancouver is the city with the worst drug problems and largest number of homeless, probably due to the fact it has the mildest winters of any city in Canada (it would suck to be homeless in Montreal in February) so you do need to be a little careful about where you go wandering around.

One challenge with Vancouver is they don’t have Uber or Lyft type services. Your only option is a good old fashioned taxi. It’s not too hard to find a cab downtown, but if you are outside downtown expect a wait, especially if it is raining! Download the eCab phone app ahead of time. Ecab is your best bet for requesting a taxi if you can’t hail one down on the street.

So how was the race?

The race expo – 3/5 stars

The race expo was quite efficient for bib pick up, but, they made sure the sponsors got value for their money. T-shirt pick up was on the far side of the expo and you had to wind up and down every single aisle, past every single vendor to get there. They even had people to stop you cutting across aisles between booths! Fortunately there were only 5 aisles of vendors, but is was a little annoying to say the least!

You’ll find the usual assortment of shoes, clothing, gels, nutrition bars & races as you walk through. I didn’t see any great deals or discounts so I escaped with my wallet unharmed. I was interested in trying out some Stance socks so I stopped by their booth. I had a good chat with the knowledgeable staff but they were regular price so no real reason to buy them at the expo.

When we finally got to the end of the expo we picked up our shirts and a transit pass and transit map for race day to get you to the start line. For those a little further out, you could also sign up for a shuttle pick up. The volunteers can help you figure out your best option for getting to the start.

My favorite touches were

  • free blue gloves for all runners (perfect disposable gloves for race day)vancouvergloves
  • a couple of good backgrounds for the mandatory “hey look here I am with my bib photo”
  • A bear mascot (my sister and I have a tradition of always trying to get our picture with a bear at races!)Vancouvermarathon
  • a video booth where you can record a message for a runner that is played on a jumbotron when they run by. Christopher and I recorded one for Karin, when she wasn’t around, I wonder if she saw it!

Getting to the start line – 5/5 stars

The marathon starts at a very reasonable time: 8:30 AM. Bag check doesn’t close until 8:15 AM. So as marathons go, you can sleep in quite late! I set my alarm for 6 AM (as all runners know, you have to leave time for the digestive system to settle down), but I did not leave my hotel room until just after 7 AM.

If you stay downtown, getting to the start is really easy on the Skytrain. Just make your way to the Canada Line (don’t forget your transit card from the race expo!) and go north to Oakridge and 41st St station. It’s a 10-15 minute ride from downtown. From the station, it’s a 10-15 minute walk to the start area. This year (2018), it was a nice day and the walk was pleasant. You didn’t need to worry about getting lost, since pretty much everyone on the train was going to the same spot! I didn’t talk to anyone who took a shuttle, so I don’t know how well that service operated.

The start area – 4/5 stars

vancouverPitStopI got to the start area with time to spare. I had more than enough time to hit the port-a-potty lines. I think these may have been the shortest port-a-potty lines I have seen in a marathon start area. This might be due to the “Pit Stop”. A fenced off area of urinals, allowing the gentlemen at the race a quick and easy option for last minute bladder relief. The ladies also benefited from the reduced number of gentlemen waiting in the port-a-potty lines.

There were grassy areas where you could sit or lie down. Some large trees even provided some shady spots which I appreciated given it was a sunny and a touch warm. There was a road where you could do a bit of a warm up run. The gear check trucks were easy to spot. The start map shows a hospitality tent, but I never saw it, so I’d play it safe and BYO water & nibbles. I couldn’t find any official drop off place for my disposable pre-race gear, so I left it on a fence next to other discarded sweatshirts and PJs so hopefully someone collected it all for donation. I appreciated the effort to recycle and compost as much litter as possible. They even had a volunteer to help you figure out what garbage goes in each bin.

It was also at the start area that I appreciated the ability for runners to specify the name to appear on their bibs during online registration many months ago. I bet the fans enjoyed cheering on the tall lanky guy named “Sparkles”  and I got a laugh out of “John 3:16” Such a simple idea, and fun to spot the occasional runner who got creative while waiting around at the start.

Corrals 4/5 stars

There was signage indicating which way to go for the different color corrals. No-one checked my bib when I entered, but looking around, most of the runners in my corral did have the correct bib colors, and I didn’t have any issues with runners who were clearly in the wrong corral after race start. After the usual warm up and national anthem the first corral was off! Then the next corral walks up to the start line and waits for their designated start time. It was simple and efficient

Water stops 2/5 stars

There are water stops at kms 3, 5, 7.5, 9, 11, 12.5, 13.5, 16, 18, 19.5, 21, 22.5, 24, 26, 28.5, 31, 33, 34, 37, 39, 40. Basically they are anywhere from 1 to 3 km apart. There were a decent number of stops but it was a little confusing because the distance varied. I did appreciate the water stops at the bottom of the two toughest climbs.

The volunteers at the stops were amazing, frequently cheering you by name, and always making it very clear whether they had Nuun  or water (FYI – I am NEVER going to complain about volunteers! Anyone who gets up early to work at a water stop and cheers on the runners for hours always has my gratitude! THANK YOU!)

Unfortunately, almost all water stops were only on one side of the road and there were multiple stops where the number of tables was a little low and you ended up with a crush of runners all trying to move into a small space to grab a drink. Given the weather was on the warm side this made it almost impossible to run through a water stop and just grab a drink without a near crash. A couple of water stops looked like they were having a tough time keeping up with demand, I was in the four hour marathon range so there were plenty of runners looking for water after I went by.  They had Nu’un at about 80% of the water stops. There was one stop with CLIF gels ( I brought my own gels) and there were two stops with CLIF bars. There were apparently bananas at one stop as well. Sadly no sponges or ice at any of the stops which would have been really nice! I guess Vancouver doesn’t get as much heat as our races out East!

The hills

This is first race I have ever run where the hills are in the first half of the course and it flattens out in the second half.

There are steady rolling hills the first few kms but nothing too nasty.

There is one really *good* hill at 8.5 km : fairly steep and quite long. They even have timing mats at the top and bottom so everyone will know how much you slowed down. There were good crowds along the hill cheering us on, and because it was so close to the start of the race I found it tough but manageable. I didn’t see many people stopping to walk which is always an indication of a crushing hill. I would say it is similar to the toughest of the Newton hills in Boston. I am also told it is similar to Stone Mountain in Seattle, a well known hill to Seattle runners in the Green Lake area.

Then you have some more rolling hills, but as you come to the far side of UBC you hit a big downhill! It felt like about 2 km of downhill, some of it quite steep. Looking back I wonder if the reason my feet were so sore from the half way mark onwards was due to that long downhill stretch. Then you have a nice flat stretch along the beaches and THEN just when you are getting used to nice flat stretches, you hit the bridge. I would compare it to the Queensboro bridge in the NYC marathon. A long steady uphill climb. Not as steep as that first hill, but because it appears at around the 30 km mark it takes a lot out of you. I saw a LOT of runners walking on that bridge.

Once you get to the far side of the bridge, you have a nice little downhill and then the awesome flat of the Seawall. Once you hit the seawall you don’t really see another serious hill until the very last km where there is a gentle uphill to the finish. But the crowds, the Air France team cheering you, and the sight of that Finish Line banner will get you through it without too much difficulty (beyond the difficulty we all have in the last km of a marathon).

The crowds 3.5/5 stars

A huge shout out to the threesome who wore the big inflatable TT-Rex-Inflatable-Costume-rex costumes and appeared at least 3 times along the route cheering us on. That brought a smile to my face every single time. Some of the volunteers had good race signs including “Chuck Norris never ran a marathon”, and I laughed at the radio station sign “Find a cute butt and follow it to the finish”. I think my favorite was the woman holding a sign that said “run like there’s a cute guy in front of you and a creepy guy behind you “.

I have to give kudos to family and friends who were not there in person, and posted pictures on Facebook with signs to cheer me onracesigns
The spectators who came out to cheer us were great! Thank you to each and every one of you it really helps. Extra thanks to the lady who handed me a freezie around km 28!

The reason I only give the crowds 3 stars was just a question of volume. It was gorgeous weather for spectators, but the crowds seemed thin. I wonder if the part of the reason is due to the half marathon starting 90 minutes before the full and on a completely different route. Anyone cheering on a runner in the half is unlikely to spend 2 hours there then traverse downtown to start all over again cheering on the marathon. There were a few spots with good cheering, and the finish line was wonderful, but for a race this size I expected more. Ottawa Race weekend has similar numbers in the marathon but better fan turnout. On the positive side, it was easy to spot any friends you have cheering and If you run the half marathon, you can get back to your hotel, shower and change and have plenty of time to go watch your friends cross the finish line, right Karin? If you are really dedicated you can catch them at the 32 km mark and again at the finish right Christopher? And yes it was appreciated!

One other word of warning, there are almost no crowds at all along the seawall. So as a volunteer told me at the race expo, you may want to save your best mental motivation tricks for the seawall, whether that’s dedicating different miles to different people you care about, or finding that upbeat song on your playlist, for the seawall.

The finish area 4.5/5

I love races where I can see the finish line from a distance. This race was great from that perspective. I also found the flow across the finish line to get your medal, water and food moved along nicely. There were lots of photographers and background for you to stop and get a picture with your medal if you so choose. I had my medal, a bottle of water, a banana and a bag of Old Dutch Chips (a personal favorite) in short order. The walk from finish line to the meeting area was blissfully short compared to other races I have run (Notably New York who torture you with long walks uphill to the exit)

The weather

It was sunny on race day with the occasional clouds. The temperature was 12 C (54 F) by 6 AM and the high was 19 C (66 F). There was a light wind that I appreciated on the seawall. Average race day weather is a low of 7 C (46 F) and a high of 16 C (61 F) so it was a touch warmer than usual but not outrageously hot.

Whether you judge that as good race weather depends on where you train of course! I had just trained through what seemed like an endless winter in Ottawa, so anything over 6 degrees would have seemed warm to me! There were over 300 runners from Mexico who probably thought it was perfect running weather 🙂 Spring in Vancouver could be 5 degrees and rainy or 25 degrees and sunny. This year, we got the latter. Fortunately there was some shade on parts of the course and there was a cool breeze along parts of the seawall that made it bearable, but it was pretty clear in the last 10 km or so that the sun and heat took it’s toll on a lot of the runners.

My race

So how did I do? Well, despite being a little nervous about heat I decided to try and PR/PB. I started out feeling strong, easily running my desired pace for the first 8.5 km. I slowed down on the big hill, but quickly found my pace again. I was feeling great! I kept to the shady parts of the road as much as possible. I dumped water on my head at every aid station. But, sadly the heat and the hills was clearly taking a toll. I slowed down a touch but then made it up on the long downhill at km 15. It was around km 19 that I realized I was likely in trouble. My feet hurt and my pace had started to drop even though we had a nice flat stretch. At 21 km I removed my large print pace band for the first half of the race, still on track for a Personal Best. Then about 3 km later I knew I was done for and decided to throw out the other pace band and just accept it was not a good day to PB. A few km later I turned off my Garmin, there were plenty of km markers to help me track the distance and I really didn’t need to know how much I was slowing down. I kept it slow and steady all the way up and over Burrard bridge and was very happy to see my friend Christopher at km 32 (although he would not give me a hug claiming I was too sweaty. I was happy to hear the other girls he was cheering on ignored his protests and hugged him anyway, sweat and all!)

SusanVanRaceAs I mentioned at the start of this post, the Vancouver Seawall is one of my favorite runs ever! So I decided I would walk each water stop along the seawall and make sure I took a moment here and there to look out over the water to try and spot ducks (sadly only mallards and Canada geese today) or herons (one Great Blue Heron around km 40). It is all too easy in a marathon to completely miss the views because you are so absorbed in trying to run an exact pace or simply trying to run through your misery. I was determined not to let that happen on the seawall. My form was falling apart, my feet hurt, but I did still appreciate the smell of the ocean, the breeze off the water, the driftwood on the beaches. I was more than a little jealous of a couple of people taking a nap on the beach, stopping to lie down would have felt soooo good. But of course likely I would need medics to get me upright again. Fortunately I know pretty much every twist and turn of the seawall and as slow as I was, there were others even slower. Seems I was not the only person who took a beating on the course.

Once we left Stanley Park and back into downtown the steady build up of the crowds made up for the slight hill. I spotted Christopher once again exchanged a fist bump and continued on towards the finish. Apparently his wife Karin (the photographer in the photo above) was a little further up but at that point the finish line was within my reach and I was on a mission to cross that line!

medalvancouverOnce at the finish I decided if I can’t have a great time, maybe I can have a great finish photo and did a little jump into the air (based on the effort I put into that jump I’d like to think I got huge vertical, but chances are I only got a couple of inches off the ground). I landed on both feet and almost tripped landing face first on the pavement, but fortunately I managed to recover my balance and no medics were required I fought my way past the photographers and headed to the volunteers with the medals. A 7 or 8 year old boy was at the end of the row with one medal to give out, so I walked over to him and he carefully placed the medal around my neck. Maybe not quite mission accomplished, but another marathon in the books! Around km 28 I really never wanted to do another marathon ever, but I do have a bib for Chicago this fall so…..

Here the rest of my running related posts and race reports.

Ack! What did I forget to pack for my marathon!

You decide to run a marathon out of town. It’s cool it’s exciting. But then you realize how much you have to pack!  Every time, I find myself making a checklist and worrying about what I forgot, so I am making this online checklist for myself, and if it helps you that’s great! If I forgot something on the list please tell me 🙂 This list works for Marathons and such but if you are running a Ragnar/Relay race that’s a different story, I’ll have to write a post on that later!PackingForMarathon

Just checked into your race hotel?

Time to take care of a few logisticsraceexpo

  • GPS Charger
  • ID or Runners passport for bib pickup
  • Location and hours of race expo for bib pickup
  • Details on how and when to get to the start line
  • Do you want to check out the finish line area? Maybe walk the last half mile of the course?
  • Suitable spot for supper pre-race?

Don’t forget to buy your pre-race breakfast supplies

  • Banana (Thank you Randy)
  • Bagel
  • Peanut butter (and a plastic knife to spread it)
  • Oatmeal (amazing what you can do with a hotel room coffee maker – you might want to pack a spoon to eat it with (Thank you Jesse), a bowl is nice but sometimes you can manage with the cups in the hotel room)
  • A place to get coffee in the morning?

Waiting around pre-race

It’s all about keeping warm and dry before the race!IMG_20171105_084203

Staying warm

  • Throw away hat
  • Throw away gloves
  • Warm jacket or hoodie
  • Bathrobe or onesie
  • PJ pants
  • Throw away arm warmers (socks with ends cut off work nicely)

Staying dry

  • multiple garbage bags (something to sit on, something to wear)
  • plastic bags and elastics to put over your shoes if ground is wet

Prepping for the race

  • Body glide
  • Sunscreen
  • Sharpie for writing name on bib or arms & legs
  • Pre-race gel

During the raceStartofMarathon

The basics

  • Running shoes
  • GPS watch
  • Race belt for holding bib,  or bib clips for your shirt
  • Running socks
  • Sports Bra or Nip protectors depending on your gender
  • Earbuds/headphones – if allowed
  • Phone and a holder for your phone
  • K tape

Fueling

  • Gels
  • Belt that can hold gels
  • Water bottles
  • Nuun or Gatorade powder
  • Belt that can hold water bottles
  • Salt tablets

Warm weather

(ah yes Grandma’s 2016)

  • Singlet
  • Short sleeved shirt
  • Shorts
  • Visor or hat

Cold or wet weather?

(memories of Boston 2015… not as bad as 2018 which I did not run)

  • Long sleeved shirt
  • Tights
  • Compression sleeves for arms
  • Hat or headband
  • Gloves

Do you want?

  • SunglassesreadingGlasses
  • Compression sleeves for lower legs
  • Compression socks
  • Hair elastic
  • Tampons (hopefully no, but it happens)
  • Moleskin or tape to avoid chafing
  • Pace band (I need to print my own, because the ones they give out at the expo are too small a print for me to read, either that or my arms are too short)
  • Nail clippers
  • scissors

Gear check for post-race

  • Recovery sandals (Oofos or equivalent, if you haven’t splurged on these yet… they are awesome!)
  • Warm shirt
  • Dry socks
  • Loose fitting pants
  • Jacket
  • If there is a change area, underwear and bra

Back in the hotel post race

  • SusanMimosaIbuprofen
  • foam roller, massage stick or yoga tune-up balls
  • post race snack
  • wine or beer to celebrate

Here the rest of my running related posts and race reports.

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!

Here the rest of my running related posts and race reports.