Archive for the ‘marathon’ Category

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?
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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

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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.

 

 

 

 

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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.

 

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

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

Let’s talk hills…

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

New York

NYCHillProfile

Boston
Screenshot_20170430-162846

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

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

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

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

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

What about the weather…

let’s compare the two year over year

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Which race posts faster times…

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

Men’s Race

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

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

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

Women’s race

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

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

Setting world records

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

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

So after all that, which course is tougher?

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

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

Now which race is more exciting to run…. that’s in part 2!

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

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

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

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

Step 1 – Get a Boston Bib

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

Step 2 – Get a B2B BibBigSurlogo

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

2 Marathons  in 13 days are you nuts?

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

How many marathons should you run before even attempting B2B?

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

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

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

How did you train for it?

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

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

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

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

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

How fast/hard did you run Boston?

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

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

How did you feel after Boston?

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

What training did you do between races?

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

Did you fly or drive?

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

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

 

So what about Big Sur?

Big Sur is SO DIFFERENT from Boston.

The expo

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

The spectators

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

Wind

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

Shade

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

Aid stations

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

Mile markers

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

Hills

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

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

Screenshot_20170430-143146

What was your game plan for Big Sur?

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

What are the perks of doing B2B?

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

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

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

Was it worth it?

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

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