Archive for the ‘Running’ Category

Best presents for the runner in your life

Looking for something to buy the runner in your life? Not as easy as you first think it is, but here are a few suggestions a non-runner can purchase that most runners will appreciate at a variety of price ranges

Pocket Kleenex packs ($1-$5)

If I am doing a long run with a pack, I throw one of these in a pocket. In winter I keep one in my jacket pocket, and year round I keep Kleenex in my car in case I need it after my run. It’s not the most exciting thing to buy the runner in your life, but they will use it!

Road Id ($20-$40)

You need to order these online but they are something every runner should have. This is a metal tag you wear on your shoe or watch strap with your name and contact information just in case something happens during your run. If your favorite runner has any medical conditions you can also pay to register the Road Id so it acts as a Medic alert bracelet. I prefer the version you slide over your watch strap vs the one that goes on your shoes because as a runner I have multiple pairs of shoes and its a pain to move the Road Id between shoes, but I never run without my Garmin, so by keeping it on my Garmin strap it’s always with me when I run.

Reflective Vest $40-$140

These do come in different sizes and styles, so you will need to have some idea of sizing to order it, but still easier than trying to figure out the size for a jacket or shirt. I bought one because it was required for a Ragnar type relay race which included overnight runs, but since I bought it, I have found myself wearing it constantly for low light and night runs. The Noxgear light up vests are very popular at the moment as well. Here’s a very good article by Trail and Kale sharing some of the best reflective vest options.

Reflective gear

We all want to be safe running at night, and there are a fair number of options to help ensure you are seen running at night, including but not limited to

I’ve seen reflective stickers as well, but never used them, Most runners I know prefer the reflective accessories or clothing. I also saw reflective iron ons which is pretty cool but I was totally paranoid about trying to put an iron on on my expensive high tech running gear, so that didn’t work out for me.

Dry bags ($10-$40)

Many of us run with a phone and want to keep our phone dry as we sweat or run through the rain. Yes, you can use a Ziploc bag, but they aren’t as durable and waterproof as Dry bags like this e-case from MEC or this waterproof Phone pouch from Joto. Find one big enough to hold the cell phone, but don’t get one so big it won’t fit in any pockets or belts, it’s not helpful if you can’t carry it on your run.

New shoelaces

No seriously, it’s not a must have, but can be nice to have elastic laces that don’t require tying, generally called Bungee or Lock laces. These are particularly great for triathletes or duathletes because it allows them to improve their transition time when they put on their running shoes. But you don’t have to be a triathlete to appreciate them, they are also popular with those of us who are just lazy and hate untying and retying laces. I actually like them for travelling by air in the US because they are easy to slip on and off at airport security. Another excuse to buy running laces is maybe the runner in your life got stuck buying boring black running shoes and would like some colorful regular laces just to give their runners a little more color. I have more than one runner friend who is disappointed when their go to running shoe only comes in black or grey.

Running gloves/Mittens $30-$80

When it’s cooler out it’s nice to have a pair of running gloves or mittens. Like running shoes, many runners have multiple pairs of running gloves for different conditions. Even if your runner has a pair of running gloves, if they are anything like me (and I know I am), they lose at least one glove a season because you take them off mid-run and shove them in a pocket, when you get to your car or back home you discover one glove fell out somewhere during your run. You do need some idea of sizing, so hold on to the receipt in case they need to get a different size. Be warned that if you buy them around Christmas, the size they need may not be in stock come January if they go back to exchange them, most running stores don’t bother restocking items like winter running gloves in January and you won’t be the only one buying someone a pair as a gift. I could probably write an entire blog post about all the different running glove options out there (hmmm mentally filing that idea away for the future). Here I’ll limit myself to listing the basic options for different weather.

  • Lightweight gloves for those days when it’s just a touch cool out at the start of your run, these are usually listed as “liner gloves” look for a pair that says touchscreen compatible so you don’t have to take off your gloves to use your phone.
  • Hybrid gloves – These are gloves with a flip over top (usually reflective as an added bonus) so when it’s a touch windy or rainy you can flip the top over your fingers to keep them a bit warmer, or you can tuck the cover part into the built in pocket on the back of the glove as your hands warm up or when you are running with the wind and don’t have the added temperature drop of windchill.
  • Windproof running gloves – You can get windproof more insulated gloves for those days that aren’t just cool but are downright cold. These are popular with cross country skiers but are great for runners as well.
  • Overmittens – For serious cold weather running, mittens keep your fingers warmer than gloves. Big downhill ski mitts are too warm for running. Cold weather runners already know how to layer, so we just apply that same idea to our hands. Use a pair of liner gloves with a pair of overmittens. As you warm up you can take off one of the two layers as needed. This concept is popular with downhill skiiers and snowboarders and works for running as well.

I actually own all of the glove/mitten styles described above! (Hey, I live in Ottawa we get ALL the weather up here!) I use liner gloves for those late fall runs. I use hybrid gloves for those rainy spring runs, and I use liner gloves with overmittens for the January February. I don’t use my windproof running gloves very often because I prefer liner gloves with overmittens as it gives me the option to switch to just gloves or just mittens during my run.

Race Bib Belt ($15-$30)

If your runner likes to enter races, this is one of those items they may not know they want but will likely appreciate. When you are handed a bib at a race you get safety pins so you can pin it to your shirt or shorts. This means puncturing holes in our favorite race gear. You can buy these nice simple belts which come with tabs you can use to attach your race bib. If they race with a favorite water or gel belt, you could get bib attachments which can be connected to their existing belt (tip: don’t assume if they train with a water or gel holder belt that they race with one, a long way of saying, you should ask your runner if they wear a belt when they race, if they do then these attachments are an interesting idea, they are are loops you put over your existing belt which to hold your bib. If they hate wearing any belt at all, the other option is running bib buckles. These are clips that allow you to snap the bib on through your shirt without putting a hole in your shirt. You buy them in packs of 20 or so, they come in multiple colors, I’ve never had chafing issues with them and I definitely prefer them to safety pins!

Arm Sleeves ($25-$50)

This is another of those items, the runner in your life may not know they need. Arm sleeves are perfect for those runs when you start out trying to decide whether you need a jacket or long sleeves because you suspect you will warm up once you get going. They do come in different sizes though so might be good to hold onto the receipt because I’m not sure how you subtly check the bicep size of your favorite runner to figure out the correct size. They are really great because it’s a lot more comfortable to just roll down a pair of arm sleeves and leave them on your wrists if you warm up than it is to roll up the sleeves on a long sleeved shirt or to run with a jacket tied around your waist. There are versions with and without thumb holes. I prefer wearing them without so they don’t interfere in any way with my gloves, but if your runner loves long sleeve running shirts with thumb holes they would likely prefer the sleeves with the thumb holes.

Medal hanger $40-$80

Is there a pile of running medals sitting in a box or drawer? Have they recently completed their first marathon and that marathon medal deserves a place of honor? You can get quite creative providing them with something they can use to display their medals. There are pre-made one you can order, a quick search on Etsy will give you lots of options, or if you are creative and crafty you can make one yourself. My twitter handle is HockeyGeekGirl so my husband gave me a hockey stick and told me it was a medal holder. It’s now mounted on the wall above my desk.

Socks $20-$40

I know some of you were waiting for this item, yes you can buy someone else running socks if you know their shoe size but it’s harder than you think! First and foremost you need to know if you are buying socks for warm weather or cold weather. Socks that advertise themselves as ‘wicking’ are generally the best (e.g. wool). Wicking is desirable because it will wick away moisture from your feet, specifically sweat, but it does help a bit if you step in a puddle or slush too. There are few things more miserable on a run than wet feet! Try to find a sock with a ‘seamless toe’ because that means we don’t have a seam rubbing against our toes (we get enough blisters as it is). Then you need to find out what height of sock they prefer or sneak into their sock drawer and to try to deduce it from their current sock inventory. Your basic choices are ankle/no-show/micro, ankle/1/4 cut/mini, crew and knee high. Popular brands include Icebreaker, Smartwool, and Feetures, your local running store should have a decent selection as well. The knee high socks are usually ‘compression socks’. I put compression socks on the what *not* to buy for someone else list. I love compression socks, but to buy the correct size you need to know the size of their calf, kind of hard to subtly grab a tape measure and wrap it around someone’s calf without making them suspicious! By the way, don’t panic if the smaller socks you find say they are compression, that’s fine, it’s the knee high compression socks that are really hard to buy without exact sizing.

A good paid of toenail clippers $5

Not the most awesome present to unwrap, but, any runner doing serious distances is going to be clipping their toenails regularly to avoid losing toenails, so they might look at you funny, but I promise you they will be used.

Lube ($5-$20)

Yes, lube. If you are running 2+ hours and in particular if you are running that in any sort of heat and humidity you will want lube. There are degrees of lube for different needs. The best known product is BodyGlide. If you do purchase BodyGlide, don’t stress over pink vs blue vs foot glide, vs outdoor. most of us just buy the blue and put it where we need it. Bodyglide goes on like a stick deodorant, rolling it on any body part (including feet and nether regions) that is prone to chafing. For guys, a stronger product like Squirrels nut butter may be required for the nether regions. Want to avoid the fancy products? many runners just use Vaseline (hey not everything has to be made for runners), unwraping a tub of Vaseline under the Christmas tree could result in some interesting reactions. But I guess the same could be said of Squirrel nut butter!

Nip Guards $20-$30 per pack

Not required for anyone who wears a running bra, but for those who do not and run any serious distances in a lot of heat or humidity, this prevents bleeding nipples. You can order them on Amazon.

Nip Guards

Pull on Wind blocker skirt $70-$150

For the runners who are happy to wear a skirt, this is a very handy layer you put over your running tights to keep your butt and quads a little warmer, it’s less restrictive than wearing two pairs of tights. There are different sizes, so you will need some idea of what size they need. They do ride up a little bi while you run, but they do not restrict your stride, and they still keep the glutes and upper hamstrings protected. I bought one at a sale three years ago and once the cold weather hits I wear it all the time. It doesn’t make me toasty warm, but it’s just an easy layer to add to give me a big of protection from cold wind. Your running shop may have them, if not check out sites like Smartwool. Some runners do just wear a pair of mid length shorts over their tights instead, so this is definitely a what to buy the runner who has everything sort of gift, or a oh look it’s half price, I’ve always wanted to try these out sort of gift.

I’ll just add a note here on what NOT to buy until I get around to making a separate blog post on this. If there are other good gifts for runners I have missed, please post to the comments and I can add them to the post!

What not to buy your runner without exact details

With the best intentions buying the items below may just result in a trip to the running store for an exchange. Not because they don’t need or want the item, but because they probably need to pick it out themselves or try it on to ensure a proper fit. So unless you have been told the exact brand and size, just give them a gift card and send them to the store to pick it out themselves.

Running shoes

you need to know the size, brand, and model, ideally you also want a picture of the shoe in case the model changed from one year to the next so you can cofirm with the salesperson that any changes are only cosmetic

Compression socks

You should have not only a foot size but also a calf measurement to purchase the correct size of compression socks

Running tights

Sure you know they told you small, medium or large, but are they looking for lightweather tights for cooler days? compression tights for racing? windproof tights for cold wind, tights that fit over their existing tights for colder weather, tights to go under their existing tights for cold weather, insulated tights for cold weather.

Running jacket

Running jacket you thought the list of tights to choose from was long, it gets even more complicated with jackets! windproof, lightweight, breathable, lightweight, water resistant, cold weather but breathable, something you can crumple up and shove in your hydration backpack mid ru if you get warm

Garmin/Smart Watch

If they don’t have one, they probably want one, but there are a lot of different features that affect prize, there are also different sizes and styles. What battery life do you need? Do you want one which allows you to store music so you can listen to music without a phone? Do you want one that you can use when cycling or swimming? If for swimming lap or outdoor swimming? Do you want one that will sync to your phone so you can get notifications while you run. If you are spending $200-$1000 on a Garmin you want to make sure you get the right one! If they already have a Garmin, they might appreciate an extra charger though 🙂

Berlin Marathon 2022 Race Report

I just completed the 2022 Berlin marathon, my fourth Abbott major marathon. I’ll write a separate report on what you want to know if you decide to run Berlin, this report is about my race!

First you need a bib

I’ve entered the Berlin marathon lottery multiple times to no avail. So, I was pleasantly surprised when Christopher and I received the You made it email! As an added bonus my sister qualified for Berlin so yay group road trip! Berlin is clearly more interesting than most race destinations because all our spouses came along for the ride as well!

Acceptance to Berlin marathon

Gel trauma

Maurten gel

For the past two years I’ve been running with Tap Endurance. I love maple syrup, so a gel that’s basically maple syrup equals happy Susan! But crisis! In 2021, they changed the packaging. I spent the entire CIM marathon swearing at Tap Endurance as I tried to rip open the new packages with my teeth. Throughout my Berlin training, my run-buds listened to me complain and made sympathetic noises when the package finally tore open squirting maple syrup all over my shirt and hands. So I decided it was time to jump on the Maurten gel bandwagon. I ran my last two long runs with Maurten gels. It’s a bit like taking a flavorless jello shot every 6 km so not as tasty, but my stomach didn’t mind, and I no longer spent half my run trying to use my sweaty shirt to wipe syrup off my hands so I decided I was good to go with a new product on race day (what could go wrong?) and ordered the Maurten supplies listed on their marathon fuel guide for my race.

To cheat or not to cheat

Nike Vaporfly

Okay cheating is the wrong word, as it’s completely legal, but I have now run a 5 km race and a 15 km race wearing Nike Vaporflys. These are the crazy expensive shoes with carbon fiber plates that wear out faster than regular runners. There are no shortage of articles explaining how these give you an advantage, and I did notice a difference in my 5 km and 15 km races. However…. I generally run in mild stability shoes. All the carbon shoes are neutral, so this means I’d be running in a shoe with a different profile for 26.2 miles… you know what they say about don’t try anything new on race day… I’ll pack my regular runners as well just in case I change my mind (what could go wrong?)

The race expo – Sh*t is getting real

I arrived in Berlin with husband on Sunday a full week before the race so I can play tourist and completely adjust to the time zone. Judy and Christopher arrive Thursday so we meet at the race expo at 5 PM. The expo is in Tempelhof, an abandoned airport with a fascinating history that includes Operation Vittles/ The Berlin Candy Bomber. We walked past the abandoned check in counters, out onto the tarmac and into the hangar for the expo itself, we were wandering around trying to find bib pick up, and finally asked a volunteer who sent us in the right direction. I got a gear check bag with my bib because I did not select the poncho (Berlin is kinda like the New York Marathon you have to choose one of the other). T-shirts are not included with race fee, but I had pre-purchased the finisher shirt so was sent to the pre-purchased clothing area to get my shirt. Now time to enter the madhouse that is the official marathon race shop for some serious spending! The jackets are Adidas and similar style to Boston jackets, but they have a cute little windbreaker that clearly needs to come home with me. There’s also a nice running shirt. There’s the usual fun of scouring the racks to find the correct size. Super glad we got there Thursday night, because some sizes are already in short supply. Once you exit the official gear store you have a lot more space. The expo is located in a hangar so there’s a good amount of room between booths.  We spend a pleasant hour or so visiting different vendors before walking back out onto the tarmac for one last photo op with the Candy bomber plane in the background before we leave.

And now for the final touch…

For pre-race throwaway clothes I researched German thrift shops. Christopher and Karin join along with the Piel clan. Christopher and I find our go to pre-race outfits… bathrobes!

Ewwww

While at the thrift shop Christopher tried on a hoodie and when he took his hand out the pocket, pulled out two used masks. Traumatized he went in search of Judy who fortunately had hand sanitizer in her purse (thank you Judy).

Pre-race traditions must be observed!

Christopher and I have a pre-race tradition of walking the last mile of the course, so we meet at Brandenburg gate to scope out the finish area. We locate our names on the hall of fame, and as an added bonus Christopher locates a pretzel and a NA beer. After we walk the last mile we meet up with Judy, Harold, Christopher and Sam. Judy and I find a bear for our traditional pre-race photo!

Scoping out the start area

The printed map in our race kit showing the course, is unhelpful with regards to the start/finish area. It doesn’t show where runners enter, the corrals or gear check locations.

Start area berlin marathon
interactive map berlin marathon start area

The website and mobile app all direct you to the “interactive map” Well the interactive map shows a bunch of tiny icons that stay tiny even when you zoom in, it doesn’t rotate when you try to display it in landscape, and tapping the icons doesn’t do anything, and there is no legend explaining what all the tiny icons mean. That’s a few too many unknowns for me on race morning, so Trevor and I go off to scope it out in person. We find the runners entrance and family meeting area and we find a giant map of the start area posted on the fence with a legend! Apparently the little coat hangars are gear check. There are two of them in completely different areas (what could go wrong?), but at least I know which tiny icon is gear check now.

The big start area map on the fence of Berlin marathon

The day of rest

Saturday is dedicated to staying off my feet and race prep. According to the Maurten fuel guide I should drink 500 mL of water mixed with my Maurten 320 drink powder. I mix it up, take a swig and OMG what is this stuff! And why won’t it fully dissolve? It’s got floaties in it! It triggers my gag reflex. Still, I am determined to follow the nutrition guide so I take another sip. I do some stretching. I take another sip. I read for a bit. I take another sip. I charge my Garmin. I cut my toenails. I take another sip. I check the hourly forecast (cloudy and 12 degrees at 9 AM). I take another sip. I take a bath. I take another sip. Eventually I manage to drink all of it. I’m dreading the 500 mL of the Maurten 160 I’m supposed to drink tomorrow morning pre-race according to the marathon nutrition plan, but I premix it in an empty Coke bottle and put it beside my oatmeal and bowl for tomorrow’s breakfast.

Flat runner

Time to lay out my flat runner and pack my gear check bag. Now remember when I mentioned I packed my normal runners, just in case I decided not to risk the Vaporflys on race day? Smart right? Well yes, that’s smart if your luggage arrives with you. That’s right, It’s 6 days since we landed in Berlin and our luggage is nowhere to be seen. Our bags arrived in Berlin Monday, but the delivery service is apparently very very slow, and no, you can’t pick it up from the airport yourself. Fortunately I packed the absolute minimum to race in my carry on: Vaporfly shoes, Maurten gels and powder, shorts, compression tights, bib belt, hat, running bra, socks, shirt, arm warmers. I managed to find the German equivalent of Body Glide at a sports store in AlexanderPlatz, I got a new pair of Oofo recovery sandals and some gloves at the race expo, and I’ve bought lots of new clothes in general to get me through the week.

I lay out my flat runner with the Vaporflys. I pack my gear check bag with my new Oofos and I head out to meet Christopher and Karin for dinner at a Japanese restaurant because rice and fish or meat works for me as a pre-race meal. Christopher and Karin arrive a little late because they accidentally went to a different location/same chain, but I amuse myself trying to read the articles in the German version of Rolling Stone magazine and we still finish dinner well in time to get to bed early.

Sunday – Race day!

Susan in a bathrobe at the Brandenburg Gate

Berlin is a pretty late start for a major marathon. After copious searching of the marathon app, I finally find an FAQ that tells me specifically: the Elites start at 8:50 AM, corrals ABCD start at 9:15 AM, I’m in corral F so I start at 9:35 AM. I set my alarm for 6:30 so I can have my oatmeal and banana in plenty of time for it to digest pre-race. I even manage to drink my Maurten 160 and refill the Coke bottle with water to sip on the way to the start. Trevor decides to accompany me to the runners entrance. Christopher will meet me on the way. I don my stylish bathrobe and off we stroll.

Where are you?

At least I thought Christopher would meet me on the way. When we get to the designated meeting spot I get a message “I went to the wrong place because I’m an idiot, let’s just meet at the runner entrance”. When I get to the entrance I get another message “I’m at the meet area.” Turns out he’s at the family meeting area. “Lets just meet at the gear check”. While all this is going on Trevor has located a map of the start area with a legend mapping bib numbers to each gear check tent, so at least I know where I need to go check my bag. Trevor gives me a good luck kiss, I enter the start area. I head for bag check keeping an eye our for short port-a-potty lines (the next priority). I get another message from Christopher “At Bag check 26000” . Christopher has literally been getting the run around! Susan took the purple path. Christopher took the red path. Unfortunately, I’m at bag check 25000 which you can see from the image below is nowhere near bag check 26000.

Susan and Christopher runaround the start area

Because I had looked at the gear check tents on the map earlier, I know where he is, so so off I go and YAY there are Christopher and Molly (Molly who I met at the Shamrock Shuffle).

The all important final pre-race pee!

Now that we are united, we all have one thing on our minds… where are the port-a-potties! As I was walking around I scanned the start village for the port-a-potties with the shortest lines. Unfortunately, there are nowhere near enough port-a-potties for this many runners. Not even close. I have never seen lines this bad! Someone said the lines are shorter near the corral, so off to the corral we go. As we walk Christopher scans for water, but no luck there either. I have an old Coke bottle in my pocket filled with water. COVID fears be damned, the three of us share it because we can’t find any other water or electrolytes in the start village. The port-a-potty lines continue to be atrocious. We notice a gap in the fencing where security is letting runners sneak into the woods to pee. We decide we aren’t that desperate…yet. We are almost at the corrals, we notice four garbage trucks along the fence and a few runners sneaking behind the trucks. We look at each other and nod. Behind the trucks are male and female runners squatting or standing as needed. It’s full frontal or full rear view depending on the gender. It’s also a narrow gap between the trucks and the fence so runners carefully step around each other to avoid being hit by an active stream. We do what we need to do and I can now tell you those puddles you see on the other side of the garbage trucks…that’s not water. Laughing we decide before we split up to take a selfie in front of the garbage trucks, and laugh even harder when we realize we are photobombed by a guy coming out from behind the trucks who was doing the same thing we did. FYI, We did find a few port-a-potties near the corral along with urinals for the men right beside the path. Not the discrete hidden behind a wall urinals you see at some North American races, these are just urinals right beside the path. This is Europe people, yes that guy has a penis, yes he needs to pee, get over it.  There’s a lot to be said for the practicality of that at times like this.

The corral

Susan And Christopher in the start corral in our bathrobes

Christopher and I are in Corral F.  The lady checking bibs at the entrance is highly amused by our bathrobes. After all the complications, we have about 15 minutes until we start. They have a big jumbotron at the front of the corral and they show us clips of Eliud Kipchoge and the lead pack already out on the course. It’s warm enough I ditch the bathrobe right away (foreshadowing #4). We spot the 3:45 pacer but no sign of the 4:00 pacer that Christopher was hoping to follow. I have decided to try and run somewhere between 3:50-3:55 which means maintaining between 5:27 and 5:35/km pace.

We’re off

It’s time to start. Christopher and I walk to the start line together then split up, we need to run our own races. I feel good. I feel rested. It’s crowded for the first couple of km, but that’s not unusual for a big race. I take off my arm warmers right away and tie them to my bib belt, it’s warmer than I expected.

0-10 km

Did I mention it’s warmer than I expected, it’s actually a little humid as well. There are several spots where the road narrows and I get stuck behind other runners, but I’m feeling good. Easily keeping a sub 5:35 pace. Be nice if there were more water stops though.. first water stop is at 5 km, just water. I have my Maurten gel at 6 km as planned. I’m feeling pretty good, our bibs have our names on them. A random spectator calls out “Go Susan this is your day!” The second water stop is at 9 km. This one has water and the Maurten drink. Given the gag reflex it caused me Saturday, I pass and stick to the water. My pace varies from 5:23/km to 5:35/km I’m on track.

the first 10 km of the Berlin Marathon

10-20 km

Wow this course really is flat! Still keeping pace, a few spots where my Garmin is slightly off, but my splits seem to be solidly on track. Passing lots of runners. Feeling good. 12 km is another water stop so I take another gel. I wish they had the paper cups instead of plastic ones, I’m spilling half the water all over my shirt. Hey look a Canadian flag, first one I’ve seen! Woo hoo Go Canada! At 15 km another Maurten stop, I stick to the water. That sun is getting warmer. A good number of spectators, not many silly signs though. At 17.5 more water, the water stops are busy but manageable. My pace is 5:25/km to 5:35/km still feeling good.

Km 10 to 20 of the berlin marathon

20-25 km

20 km is the next Maurten stop but I’m still sticking to water. Trevor and Karin said they would be at 23 km on the left. At 22 km I meet some guy from Spain, we run together and chat for a bit, both shooting for around a 3:50 both feeling pretty good.  We hit the 23 km water stop together and he’s still with me when we meet Trevor and Karin! Hi! Always a huge boost to see family and friends cheering you on the course!  Pace is varying between 5:25 and 5:30. Even at 23 km the course is still fairly crowded. Another water stop at 25 km, glad they are getting more frequent!

Running the berlin marathon with a new friend
km 20 to 30 of the berlin marathon

25-30 km

There’s a fair number of bends and turns, my watch is about 400 m ahead of the km markers so I start following the blue line. It’s not easy given the steady crowd of runners, but it’s manageable. Gels and water are falling into a pattern: 24 km gel, 25 km water, 28 km water, 30 km gel and water. At this point water stops only have tables on one side of the road. Since the Maurten stops only have water at the first few tables you have to spot them and move over quickly. At the 25 km Maurten stop, I overhear a runner who missed the water table and at each of the subsequent tables she’s calling out asking for water to no avail. Since the cups are quite big and always filled to the rim. I’m still holding mine. I’ve had my usual three gulps and was about to throw the rest away, I look over at her and say “If you are desperate, you can take the rest of mine” COVID be damned she needs the water and gratefully accepts the rest of my water. About a km later she catches up to me and says thank you, we chat and run together for a bit. We pass the 27 km marker, “we are on track all we need to is just need to hold this pace for 90 more minutes” she says cheerily! But I’m starting to slow down, the last two km are a 5:40 pace.

km 25 - 30 of the berlin marathon

30 – 35 km

Trevor and Karin with their sign cheering

I take my gel at 30 km and it triggers my gag reflex. I manage to keep it down but that’s a bad sign. Trevor and Karin will be at 32 km. The heat and lack of electrolytes is beating me up, I stop for a short walk, my next two km are slower than 6 minutes. It’s humid, that cloud cover we had at the start is long gone, and I have not been treating this as a warm weather race. There’s Trevor and Karin, great to see them. Trevor’s sign is a huge hit! There’s a shortage of fun signs on the course today. I let Trevor know that the BQ is not going to happen today. At the next Maurten stop I try drinking some of the warm tea (no idea what benefits this has during a run, but clearly I need something other than water) and I manage to take a sip or two of the Maurten.  At the 34 km stop I dump water on my head. My pace is now closer to 6:30/km.

35-40 km

I start getting muscle cramps. For me, running at this pace, that’s a sign of heat/salt/electrolyte issues. First my hamstring threatens to cramp, then a couple of foot cramps (which I’m able to run through) but when my calf cramps, I have to stop to stretch it. On one occasion, I smile meekly at the two medics who are sitting right beside the fence evaluating me as I stretch. Clearly I pass the test as the don’t even bother moving in my direction to ask if I need help. I turn on my music to keep myself motivated. The number of people passing me has dropped considerably, maybe I’m not the only one out here hurting. I manage one full km without stopping. I don’t take my gel at 36 km because I’m worried I won’t be able to get it down and keep it down. At around 39 km beside  the Mall of Berlin there is a table giving away Coke… OMG yes please! I needed that. I want to keep going the last two km without stopping I really do, but my calf does not co-operate, so I average about 7 minutes/km as I approach the Brandenburg Gate. With 200 meters to go, my right calf tightens again and I start to limp, this will look amusing on the finisher video, but at this point I’m not stopping.  At around 100 meters to go, my other calf starts to seize as well. My running style looks a bit like Forrest Gump when he still has the leg braces, but I make it across the finish line! Woo hoo!

The finish

Kipchoge WR sign

I get my Eliud Kipchoge medal and notice a handmade cardboard sign “New WR 2:01:09” .That’s really cool! Eliud Kipchoge did set a new world record today! Part of my brain notices a single table giving away mylar blankets, I’ll just grab one further up (oh apparently that was the only table giving out mylar blankets, good thing it’s warm). There’s a table with water. No thanks honestly I’ve had enough water today. I focus on getting to bag check where they read my bib and quickly hand me my bag. I collapse on the grass feeling slightly dizzy. I change into my Oofos, and manage to remove the timing chip from my running shoe. Did I mention they use the old school timing chips you put on your shoe? And they don’t give you zip ties to attach them, so you have to tie them onto your shoes and therefore untie your shoes to get them off after the race. After some amount of time has passed, I find the energy to get up and go in quest of food which I also seem to have missed. There are some runners walking around with white plastic bags. I spot a table with white plastic bags near the NA beer tent. Success! I now have the all important free banana along with an apple and some junk foods.

Celebrating post race Berlin marathon

I start wandering to the exit so I can go meet up with Trevor. I can’t see anywhere to return the timing chip, I ask someone with an info flag, she says she can take the chip for me, thank you! I stumble out of the area and make my way to the “i” in the family meeting zone where Trevor and Karin are waiting. There’s a concrete post to sit on and Trevor has a coke for me. Happy Susan. Christopher isn’t far behind and soon the two of us are giving happy but exhausted grins for the camera.  I check the online results and see that Judy finished 4th in her age group, amazing! My official time is 4:10:57.

Post-race celebrations

We celebrate at a German beerhall with Una and Todd who I met at CIM and also ran today. We finish the evening with a photo of the runners and a photo of our always important support crew!

Now we just need to pack up for our flight to Barcelona the next morning. Packing doesn’t take long since we still haven’t received our luggage. I give Judy a call to talk about her race, and while we are chatting Trevor gets a message on his phone from the front desk. They have our bags! What! Really! Trevor rushes downstairs and returns with all three of our suitcases!

No BQ today, so, I won’t be running Boston 2024, but I have my luggage back. I’m content. I did just finish the Berlin Marathon, and my 4th Abbott World Major. For whatever reason today wasn’t the race I hoped for, I don’t think the Vaporflys messed me up, maybe I underestimated the heat and humidity, maybe I screwed up my nutrition, but maybe (none of like to admit this possibility) I was just undertrained, you never know for sure. It’s all those little mysteries that cause the strange addiction to the marathon distance. If it was easy and you always knew what was going to happen, it wouldn’t be such an achievement when you do run a good race. If you are thinking of running it, check out my (coming soon) practical Guide to the Berlin Marathon for the nitty gritty details a runner will want to know. If you enjoyed this you may want to check out my practical guides to various marathons, training tips, and other fun run related posts.

Vielen Danke Berlin!

Susan with Eliud Kipchoge medal after Berlin marathon

Boston Marathon 2022 Race Report

I’ve often said, half the battle of marathons, is getting to the start line. Boston 2022 was a stark reminder of that reality!

The training…

  • Go me! I did real hill training for this cycle +10 points (thanks for the company Judy)
  • Not only did I buy kettle bells but I used them to get in some regular strength work +10 points (listen to your Physiotherapist, right Richelle?)
  • Made sure to have fun running by going to Chicago to run Shamrock Shuffle +5 points (thanks Molly & Christopher)
  • Cut my long run short the day after the Shamrock Shuffle, because I was just feeling lazy -5 point
  • Realize all that good food in Chicago + pandemic, I am a full 10 lbs heavier than I was just before COVID. – 5 points
  • Hard to believe I did 3 long runs on the treadmill (the weather was that bad) +10 points
  • Uh-oh ran out of musicals and concerts on Youtube to motivate me when running on the treadmill, weather sucks, skip at least one long run completely -10 points
  • Yikes! Sidewalks were so icy I had to walk for an entire km -10 points (+20 points to Terry and Harold for waiting for me, so I didn’t just go straight back to the car and bail on the run completely)
  • Post-Chicago, managed to drop 2 lbs before race day +1 point

Getting to Boston…

  • Sorry Air Canada, we are allowed to drive across the US border now +10 points and save $$$$
  • Sweet! No COVID tests required if you are fully vaccinated +20 points and save $$$
  • Ottawa is in a 6th wave of COVID, with a record number of COVID cases, turn into a hermit for 14 days before we leave -10 points
  • Whoah, that’s a serious line! Easter weekend Boston means everyone is cross-border shopping, and the NEXUS lane isn’t open -10 points
  • Why are we stopped on the highway? A truck caught fire and they had to close a lane of the highway in Vermont – 10 points for us, -100 points for the poor truck driver
  • Why are we stopped again? Three more lane closures in Vermont because they are picking up litter -30 points
  • What can I say, depending on my mood I pick different beverages, so yay! the New Hampshire liquor outlet gives me a chance to buy my go-to non-alcoholic gin, a four pack of canned bubbles, and some great scotch +10 points
  • Despite all the delays, we made it to the expo before it closed Friday night +10 points
  • Oooh! Boston marathon running tights +10 points -$50
  • That’s cool, after the expo closes, the fan fair is still open and there is no line to get a free custom badge on your Boston jacket + 20 points
  • Oooh they also have a really nice hoodie at the fan fair +10 points -$50
  • The hotel reception has awesome “welcome runners” signage and super friendly staff, and unlike the downtown hotel rooms, our room is spacious, has a view of the water and it’s sunset +10 points
  • Hotel bar has decent food +10 points
  • My husband hid Easter candy in my luggage +5 points

Marathon weekend…

  • Thanks to my awesome sister Judy we snag an invite to the 261 get-together, maybe we can meet Katherine Schwitzer, lots of cool, passionate women at the event, free smoothie and oooh nice bracelet, singlet and arm warmers +10 points -$75
  • Fun, but no sign of Katherine Schwitzer, so can’t get our jackets signed -2 points
  • Find this guy in the Boston Commons, +10 points
  • We make a donation and he asks if we’d like to request a song which results in me accompanying him to Sweet Caroline +5 points
  • Find Yvonne and Pat immediately afterwards and convince them to come back so we can all sing Sweet Caroline +20 points
  • Desperately need new jeans and there is no Lucky jeans in Ottawa, but there is one in Boston, oooh and a nice jean jacket too, I’ve been looking for a jean jacket +10 points -$90
  • Hotel is cheap but too far away to have time to go back before supper -5 points save $$$$
  • Need something to do until supper. Stand in line to visit secret store hidden behind a Snapple machine (no really it’s a thing, not a very well kept secret though) +10 points for being cool enough to find this store
  • Still got time before supper so visit the Christian Science library which has a 30 foot high stained glass globe of the world you can walk inside +10 points for finding new weird things to do in Boston!
  • After trying a Unitarian, Baptist, and United church realize dinner is in the Italian district and there must be a Catholic church here where we can light a candle for a friend’s mom who recently passed. We did leave a prayer request for a few friends and family who are either dealing with loss or dealing with other challenges at the big church on Boylston as well (worth going inside, quite beautiful). Take a moment to appreciate being healthy. Can’t score points for that, just take a moment and appreciate it and say a little prayer for someone.
  • Dinner with Run K2J members and friends, the dish that fell on the floor was not Judy’s supper, Pat has big balls, the owner has big Italian hair, and they were nice enough to do separate checks +10 points
  • Amazing location for a shakeout run Sunday morning along the beach, 2.5 km of shoreline +5 points
  • Stop to write Run K2J in seashells +5 points
  • What the F****? Turnaround and start running back to the car, 300 meters in my upper back start to spasm causing considerable pain and preventing me from running at all -50 points
  • Oh SH****! Walk all the way back to the car, and have Yvonne and Judy do the shoulder checks because I can’t turn my head without considerable pain -20 points
  • Panic! Spend the next hour freaking out and asking Yvonne (who is a PT), and Christopher (who has had back spasms) what the heck I can about my back +10 points
  • Fortunately I packed Advil +20 points
  • Fortunately our hotel room is big enough I can lay out my yoga mat and go through a 60 minute gentle yoga class +20 points
  • Fortunately the guy at the hotel bar is great company, and it’s just me there for lunch, and he tops up my wine for free, +10 points
  • Stoned on Advil and free wine I feel up to going into town for the team photos at the finish line +10 points???
  • Confusing my family, I spend the family zoom call from lying on my yoga mat using my yoga tune up balls to roll out everything connected to the back muscle that is messed up +10 points
  • Controlling what I can, I go to bed carefully positioning pillows to be kind to my back +5 points
  • Lie in bed thinking, damn I can’t return the jacket because it has a custom patch on it. If I can’t run, how far can I actually walk before they kick me off the course? How long do I have to walk to feel I earned the right to wear the jacket?

Marathon Monday…

  • Well my back is no worse now than it was when I went to bed, so time to break out the stylish zebra bathrobe and head to the start with Judy and Yvonne +10 points
  • Wow, dropping off bags at gear check and getting back to the buses was crazy slow -10 points
  • Holy cow our bus driver is cruising, we passed at least 10 other buses +10 points
  • Whoah! we are at the back of the bus and at this speed really feeling those bumps -10 points
  • Bwahahaha! That last bump triggered my Garmin to say I reached my step count for today +1 point
  • Yikes! they are calling Wave 3 to the start and we haven’t even got to a port-a-potty yet -5 points
  • Score! I still remember where the shortest port-a-potty lines are located +20 points
  • I forgot my sunscreen, and the sunscreen dispensers are all empty -10 points
  • Found one dispenser with sunscreen and a huge crowd of people around it but manage to get a tiny bit for my face and Judy’s shoulders +5 points
  • I guess I’ll find out soon if my back is better, hello corral 5
  • Pretty happy with the name bib I made so people can say “Go Susan” +5 points
  • Cross the start line, start running, every km I manage to run is one less km to walk

The race

  • Wheeee I do love the downhill at the start
  • Maybe I’ll start counting the uphills as a way to distract myself
  • That’s one hill
  • “Go Susan” – excellent, the name bib is working
  • That’s two hills
  • “Go Susan you’ve got this”
  • That’s three hills
  • Wait that’s the 5 km mat, I ran 5 km, my back is okay, I think I’m running a marathon today, woot!
  • High five all the people!
  • “Not far now, Susan” – dude I’ve barely started that’s cruel
  • Oh how I wish I was on the other side of the road where they have a giant Will Smith carboard face for runners to slap
  • “You can do this Susan!” – from a little 8 year old girl I was giving a high five, okay THAT was awesome
  • I have totally lost track of the number of hills
  • At this point I think the back will be okay!
  • Oh wow, there was so much news about Spencer the dog that you can’t even see him so many runners stopped and surrounded him to take pictures
  • “Looking good Susan” – so sweet when spectators lie and tell us that
  • Santa Claus!
  • Diane hi! great to see you, you are running faster than me have a great race!
  • “Susan! Susan! Susan”
  • Oooh there’s Karen ahead of me, she’s having a good race, I won’t catch her she’s pulling away
  • Big Bird! Was Big Bird there last year? I feel like he was but I can’t remember
  • 20 km mat which means must be time for yes, Wellesley college and the scream tunnel
  • I miss having Jonathan on the right hand side in his CBC shirt after Wellesley cheering us on
  • “Oh my god there she is we found her, Susan, Go Susan, you’ve got this Susan!!!” – from a total stranger, okay that made me laugh
  • Yvonne? shouldn’t you have passed me a while ago? oh stomach issues, yikes! Go Yvonne Go! Bye Yvonne
  • Hi Diane good to see you again, just in time for… ‘dramatic sound effect’ the Newton hills.
  • Okay the first hill is a long one, I know this, I got this
  • It really is long!
  • I’m going to keep running beside Diane, hope that works for her but it’s helping me on these hills
  • “Go Susan”
  • Second hill, this one is nice and short, is this actually one of the Newton hills or just a bonus hill
  • “Go Susan you’ve got this”
  • Okay now this one is definitely a Newton hill, there are three right?
  • “Susan, Go Susan!
  • Well this is another hill so at that’s definitely three solid hills in Newtown, but is this heartbreak hill or is there another?
  • “Woo Hoo go Susan!”
  • I’m thinking all this Go Susan stuff might be getting irritating for Diane
  • I Hate Newton! Seriously how many hills are there?
  • Okay THIS one has a banner at the top saying heartbreak is over, so that MUST have been heartbreak
  • Diane – look a photographer let’s get a pic!
  • Boston College has great cheering, but having a guy in a Boston college t-shirt in front of me is causing next level screaming!
  • Ha! As soon as we got past Boston College the guy in the Boston college shirt started walking
  • Hey that’s a Run K2J shirt up ahead. That’s Chris!
  • Who is that tapping Chris on the shoulder, it’s Vincent, Diane’s husband!
  • That big downhill after heartbreak helped me a lot I’m feeling pretty good for 35 km in I’ve got enough in me to pick it up and catch Vincent
  • Hi Chris! (who apparently when realizing he would not have a great race decided to get his money back by collecting extra Maurten gels at all the gel stops)
  • Vincent! Diane is about 20 meters behind you
  • Diane says run with Vincent, okay.
  • “Go Susan” wait a sec that’s JR not just a random stranger!
  • Vincent points out “all the times I’ve run this race this is only the second time I’ve noticed the Citgo sign”
  • I realize this is the first time I’ve noticed the Citgo sign up close, and I would have missed it if Vincent hadn’t pointed it out
  • I feel good, I’m going for it
  • “Go Susan”
  • I kid you not, my arm is actually getting a little sore from waving back to all the people calling my name.
  • Hey there’s Karen, Hi Karen!
  • One mile to go I know this stretch, follow the blue line, go, go
  • Right on Hereford
  • Left on Boyleston
  • That Boyleston stretch is always longer than you think

Cross the finish line of the Boston marathon!

  • Feel light headed, trying not to pass out -10 points
  • Wow long walk to the heat sheets -5 points
  • Oooh cookies in the goodie bag + 20 points
  • Gyu Kaku complete with smores with my run buds to celebrate +20 points

Thanks to everyone who got me through the training and the race! 21 km into the race all I could think was I never want to run another marathon, but now that it’s over, I’m hoping my 2021 run at California International Marathon will get me a bib for 2023 (1 minute 39 seconds faster than my required BQ ). If not, I’ll be there to cheer!

If you enjoyed this post, check out my other Boston related posts and race reports

Shamrock Shuffle (8km) 2022 race report

The Shamrock Shuffle is a very popular 8km race in Chicago. This post will give you an idea of what to expect if you choose to run the race. The key takeaway: It’s a fun race, I highly recommend it.

shamrock shuffle t shirt and hat

There’s something to be said for going out to run big races that are NOT marathons. If you fly or drive to a town to run a marathon the 24-36 hours leading up to the race you find yourself constantly wondering did I walk to much? am I drinking enough water? too much water? meals are carefully selected to provide the calories you need without upsetting your digestive system. You lay out all your gear ahead of time to be sure you haven’t forgotten the tiniest detail and you are usually in bed by 9! The Shamrock Shuffle gives you a lot of that big marathon experience without all that added stress. You can go out and eat deep dish pizza or cannolis the night before along with your beverage of choice and all you need to do is get to the start by 8 ish to get into your corral.

The Shamrock Shuffle in Chicago may only be an 8 km race but with 16,000 runners to organize, the pre-race experience is reminiscent of a major marathon. My friend Christopher was picking up a bib for feelow Seattle Greenlake runner Molly, a Shamrock Shuffle regular. So we walked to the race with her and she summed it up perfectly “All the fun and energy of the Chicago Marathon without the pesky 20 miles in the middle.” Both races you’ll see random reminders of the race around town. Both races have the same sponsor, Bank of America. Both races start beside the fountain in Grant Park, with corrals lining up on the same stretch of road with that stunning view of the Chicago skyline from the start corral.

Shamrock Shuffle start line

The two races also follow the same route for the first mile, and both races finish with the infamous hill on Roosevelt 🙂

Shamrock SHuffle route vs Chicago marathon route

The race is extremely well organized with an impressive number of volunteers taking care of packet pick-up, t-shirt pick-up, t-shirt exchange, info desks, gear check, managing start corrals, and all the other details that go into a great race. They even have a small store beside the t-shirt pick up where you can buy branded race gear.

shamrock shuffle waiting to start

At marathons and half marathons it’s rare to see people wearing their race shirts on race day. But this race is all about green! The majority of runners are sporting their emerald green race shirts. I had not realized what a faux pas I had committed by wearing my usual out of country red Canada t-shirt. Even the race announcers at one point were making jokes about the sea of green and the 5 people wearing red. At least, I was wearing the green race hat and bandana.

I was worried with only two aid stations and not much opportunity for runners to spread out over 8 km that it would be difficult to get hydration. I was happy to see the tables were well spread out and were set up on both sides of the road so it wasn’t difficult to get water or Gatorade at either of the two aid stations located at mile 1.6 and 3.6. Now to be fair, it wasn’t particularly hot today, that may have reduced demand, also it’s 8 km, so not all runners will bother hydrating (I didn’t) .

One other important thing to mention in any race report! The port-a-potty situation! There were port-a-potties at both aid stations and in ample supply at the start/finish area. We actually found port-a-potties with no line up on our way from gear check to our corral

Shamrock Shuffle runners

The race was generally a lot of fun! if you want to go fast, there are plenty of people running fast, but if you want a PB you need to be right at the front of a corral. They pause between corrals, so that provides an opportunity for those trying to go fast to avoid getting caught behind other runners in that first mile before runners start to spread out. You will likely post a faster time at the front of a later corral than at the back of a faster corral. Remember the race is only 5 miles, so if you struggling to find space to pass people for a mile that’s 20% of the race!

Of course, you don’t have to go all out! This is a great race to just jog and enjoy yourself. Regardless of your pace, you will be surrounded by runners the entire race. There are also options for family or friends who aren’t runners to dip a toe in the green water (side note: green water in Chicago around St Patrick’s day is a thing.) There were plenty of people walking the 8 km, and there was a 1 mile race and a 2 mile walk.

Of course there were lots of runners who took green to the next level with costumes and accessories. The most famous among them is “The Green crew.” The Green Crew are such a staple of the race that they have one of those photo ops with cutouts set up in near bib pick up. I took a quick pic after I picked up my race packed and was thrilled to meet two members of the actual Green Crew at the finish line for the live version of the same photo op 🙂

Like any big race you have the option of buying race photos, but like any big race, if you want to get good race photos you will need to keep an eye out for the photographers and make sure you get in front of that lens! I will say the red shirt made it easy to figure out where I was in the group shots! At $24.95 for a single print, I didn’t feel the need to purchase an official download. But maybe I’ll talk to Molly and Christopher and see if they want to split the cost of buying 1-3 prints, since we have several with all three of us in the shot and it passes the Marie Kondo test, the photo will bring me joy.

So if you are looking for a race that’s got big fun without the big miles, get your green on and head out to Chicago! If you’ve run Chicago and are looking for other unique or big destination races where the main event is shorter than a half marathon, you might want to check out Bay to Breakers in San Francisco, the Perth Kilt Run in Ottawa, I can also recommend City2Surf in Sydney Australia (haven’t written a race report for that yet.) If you have suggestions please add to the comments below! I’ve already added Vancouver Sun Run, Atlanta Peach Tree, and Bolder Boulder in Colorado to my wish list.

You don’t need to be a marathon runner to be a runner and you don’t have to run a half or full marathon to justify a trip for an amazing race experience!

If you enjoyed this post, check out the rest of my running related posts with everything from gear reviews, to running disaster stories!

Boston history – The challenges of qualifying for the 1973 Boston Marathon

Ever wondered what it was like to try and qualify for Boston before you could Google “Boston training plans?” Ken Parker discovered marathon running in the early 1970s, this post takes you through his journey to earn a Boston Qualifier and will be followed by a post about his experience running the 1973 Boston marathon.

I didn’t start out as a distance runner. I was a sprinter, and my best event was the 100 yards. I had no coach, and I ran in a pair of thin leather shoes with spikes. Like many sprinters, I was occasionally drafted to take part in a relay, so I considered the 4X400 distance running. I was pretty good, but there was another kid from North Bay who always passed me around 70-80 yards, so I had no illusions of winning gold medals at the Olympics.

Boxcar C119

When I joined the Canadian Air Force, as a navigator in Squadron 436 in Ottawa (flying in the vintage gas guzzler, Boxcar C119,  for the aviation fanatics out there), there was a fitness test. My commander took this test seriously, if you failed you were grounded. Not a desirable situation for a navigator! Part of the test included a mile and a half run. I played flag football and basketball, I’d run track, I wasn’t concerned, and I did pass the test, but I was shocked these skinny guys were leaving me in their dust on the run, humbling for someone who thought of himself as a runner.

Not long after, I was posted to Winnipeg and I heard a news story about the Boston marathon. 26 miles!  Wow! One day I want to do that! I started researching and finding out everything I could about the marathon and discovered Boston wasn’t just “a” marathon it was “the” marathon. For a competitive runner like myself the lure was irresistible. (side note from Susan: The first New York marathon was 127 runners running loops around Central park in 1970, the London marathon didn’t start until 1981, the Chicago marathon has been around since 1905, and is a great race, but does not have the prestige of Boston)

Run to the Top by Arthur Lydiard

Now keep in mind this was in the early 70s. I didn’t have the option of doing a Google search for marathon training plans. I had never seen a copy of Runners World (side note from Susan: apparently the first issue came out in 1966). So, I researched training for a marathon the way everyone researched in those days: I went to the library. I asked the librarian to show me the section on running books. Well they didn’t have a section, but they did have a book by Arthur Lydiard called Run to the Top.

Arthur Lydiard was a controversial New Zealand runner who created his own training plans using trial and error. He was somewhat controversial as a coach, but it’s hard to argue with his results. He coached New Zealand’s running team which dominated the middle distance at the time. His team included Peter Snell, New Zealand’s Sports Champion of the 20th century, who won gold in the 800m and 1500m at the 1964 summer Olympics.  Runner’s World has since hailed Lydiard as the ‘All Time Best Running Coach’. Lydiard believed in building an endurance base by putting in a lot of miles, and he believed in designing a training plan to reach peak performance on the day of your goal race.  His training plans combined strength work such as hill running and sprinting, anaerobic training, and every marathon runner’s favorite part of the training plan, a taper. Sound familiar?

Fun fact:  We used to do seminars every month from the fall leading up to the Ottawa Marathon in May partly because, in the early years, the general public didn’t really know how to train for a marathon. In the late 1970s we brought Arthur Lydiard as a speaker to talk about how to train for a marathon. So I had the chance to meet the man who wrote the book I used to train for my first marathon. He was really great!  

Meme What if I told you its not that simple

So, back to my training. I started training for a marathon. The biggest change for me was adding a lot more long runs. But of course, those of you familiar with Boston know that you don’t just register for Boston, you have to qualify for Boston. Boston introduced qualifying times in 1970 because the number of runners registering for Boston had been steadily increasing. They had 1,342 runners in 1969. The Boston Athletics Association officials felt that a field over 1,000 was too congested on the course so the 1970 Boston marathon application stated “A runner must submit the certification of either the Long Distance Running chairman of the Amateur Athletics Union of his district or his college coach that he has trained sufficiently to finish the course in less than four hours. This is not a jogging race.”  

This new requirement reduced the field size in 1970 to 1,174 but that still exceeded the target field size of 1,000 runners. So, in 1971 they updated the race application again “An athlete has to have run a marathon in under three hours, thirty minutes; or, in the last year to have run ten miles in 65 minutes or under; 15 miles in 1:45, or 20 miles in 2:30.” That’s right, they reduced the qualifying time by 30 minutes! (side note from Susan: I guess I should stop complaining about that 5 minute drop in Boston qualifying times in 2020). This resulted in a 1971 field size of 1,067.  They kept the 3:30 qualifying time until 1976 but added requirements that the time must be achieved at a B.A.A. or other sanctioned marathon, or an A.A.U. sanctioned long distance race. They continued to allow runners to qualify at races shorter than the marathon distance because there were a limited number of marathons at the time. 1972 was also the first year women were officially allowed to run the Boston marathon, but they had to meet the same qualifying standards as the men.   

So, to qualify for the 1972 Boston Marathon, I needed to run a sub 3:30. In May of 1971, there was a charity event organized for the Royal Canadian Air Force base in Winnipeg called the Spacewalk. People walked various distances. The Spacewalk was my first opportunity to run the marathon distance. I ran it in 3:20:05. But it was not an “official” marathon so I could not use it as qualifier.

Spacewalk race newspaper article

But the timing of my quest for an official marathon worked out well, as 1971 was the year they founded the Manitoba road runners association. In May 1972, they put on a marathon in Birds Hill provincial Park. The park had a nice running loop around the exterior. I ran it in 3:30:50. At this time I was running around 250 miles per month with a long run of 16 miles.

I had an opportunity to improve my time in September 1972 when I ran a marathon was in St Vital, a suburb in the South end of Winnipeg. I remember being interviewed by the CBC and I had to explain to the reporter that a marathon was a 26.2 mile race because he had never heard of marathons before. 13 runners entered the St Vital marathon. The route took us winding through the suburban streets, up and down crescents and side streets. My wife came to cheer me on. When I spotted her on the course she called out “you’re in third place!” I finished in 3:11:54.

I had my qualifier and I was on my way to the 1973 Boston Marathon!

Boston Marathon Qualifier

Who is Ken Parker?

Ken has been active participant in the development of marathon as a mainstream support and in particular with the development of competitive women’s running which he champions to this day. He was inducted into the Ottawa Sports Hall of Fame in 2005 and continues to coach the OAC women’s running team in Ottawa. This post is intended to start setting the stage for a series of posts, as I hope to continue interviewing Ken to learn more about his experience in the marathon space and in particular his involvement with the evolution of competitive women’s running!

If you enjoyed this post you may want to check out my other running posts, everything from race reports, to practical tips on Boston, to running disaster stories from runners just like you!

All I want to do is run Chicago! Running Disaster Stories

In running as in life, things don’t always go as planned. This series is meant to remind us of those times. Sometimes we look back and realize that perhaps we made some poor choices, but sometimes events occur that are completely outside our control. This tale from Rita of her plans to run the Chicago marathon falls into the second category.

This is part of a series, if you missed it, check out the previous post “The 1958 Beer mile”

In 2011, I decided to run the Chicago Marathon. The sequence of events that followed are a reminder that there are things in life you cannot control, but patience and persistence (might?) pay off.

In the good old days of 2011 there was no lottery for the Chicago marathon, you could just register.  It has a great reputation as a fun and fast race, so, a group of running buddies and I registered for Chicago 2011.

Alas for me …it was not meant to be …  my brother was diagnosed with brain cancer. It was not a difficult decision, I stayed close to home to spend time with him.  Chicago could wait.

In 2013, there was momentum to return. A group of running buddies and I registered for Chicago 2013.

Alas for me … it was not meant to be… my father passed away the week before the marathon. Once again Chicago could wait.

By the time 2014 rolled around, Chicago had switched to a lottery system. It’s one thing to have a fun group trip with all your running buddies running the Chicago Marathon, it’s just not the same to go all by yourself. With the lottery system we couldn’t figure out how to plan a group trip, so my dreams of Chicago had to wait.

Fast forward to 2018, one of my running buddies noticed that you could get a guaranteed entry to Chicago with a qualifying time, and a good number of us had times fast enough to qualify! Enough to gather momentum, I registered once again, hopeful that I had correctly provided all the necessary details required to show I had run a previous race fast enough to qualify. As soon as I received the email informing me I had a bib, joyfully, I did a status check with my run buds, yes! They had all received the same email. We were in!

I set my sights on a 3:30 marathon… that would require taking more than 4 minutes off my Personal Best (PB), but my training that summer indicated that it was surely possible! Finally I was not only going to run Chicago, but I would use it to try and set a PB!

The Chicago Marathon is on a Sunday morning. I live in Ottawa, which is a bit far from Chicago to drive, and trains were impractical. Chicago does require you to pick up your own bib in person at the race expo by Saturday at the latest. Due to work and family reasons, my time in Chicago would be limited to a three day weekend trip.  I booked a late Friday afternoon flight from Ottawa to Chicago via Montreal.  On the  day of the flight I had all my bags packed and ready to go. I had planned to leave my car at the airport, and I set off for the easy 15 minute drive from my home to the Ottawa airport.

Clearly I hadn’t accounted for traffic patterns at that time of day….minutes passed, cars backed up, the clock ticked away. No, it couldn’t be, after all this, would a simple traffic jam keep me from running Chicago?

I arrived at Ottawa airport much later than anticipated. I thought I had been prepared, I even had prepaid parking, but when I got there, all the spots were full! I circled, and circled, and finally found a spot! I parked the car and ran into the terminal. To my dismay there was a huge line up for check in. I walked up to the airline staff and said “I think my flight is boarding.”  He answered “sorry to hear that, we’ll try to get you through as quickly as possible.” I get the feeling they deal with this sort of thing a lot. But I got checked in, and then  dashed to security and of course today was the day they pulled me over for a random check. I gave the security agent my best puppy dog eyes and said “I think my flight is boarding.”  FYI that really doesn’t work on security agents, no sympathy, they took their time, did their thing, and off I went again. I ran to the gate, the doors hadn’t closed yet, I  boarded. Okay breathe, I’m on my way to Chicago. Well actually I’m on my way to Montreal, but I’m on my way! 

The flight to Montreal was blissfully uneventful. I arrived in plenty of time to make my connection and boarded my plane to Chicago.  All good you are thinking? Maybe not…

Mid-flight I had the inflight entertainment system displaying the flight map that shows you the progress of your flight. It’s about 90 minutes from Montreal to Chicago, so it wouldn’t be long now. As I was watching the screen, I noticed the little line showing the route the plane was taking made a U turn. That’s odd, surely a technical glitch, or maybe not. 

No sooner had I decided this mysterious U-turn was nothing to worry about, the pilot came over the loudspeaker and informed us there was a terrible rain and wind storm in Chicago making it unsafe for us to land so we were… you guessed it… heading back to Montreal.

In disbelief, but convinced I couldn’t possibly have yet another Chicago Marathon attempt thwarted, I got up and asked the airline attendant “are they going to put us on another flight later tonight?”

“Oh no,” she said, “by the time we get back to Montreal, customs will be closed so you won’t be able to go anywhere tonight.”

Deep breath. I texted my friends already in Chicago eating deep dish pizza, to let them know my flight was heading back to Montreal and to stay tuned. I’ve got until 5 PM Saturday to get to the race expo and pick up my bib, it’s only a 90 minutes flight, surely…

We landed in Montreal and were directed to follow the crew’s instructions at the terminal. When we got off the plane, names were being called and hotel vouchers were handed out. I didn’t care about the hotel “What about a flight?” I asked.

“You’ll have to call this number on the back of your voucher, and they’ll rebook you on a new flight” was the reply. Okay I can do that. I started walking to catch the shuttle for the hotel with the rest of the passengers, and suddenly it dawned on me that every single passenger on that flight would be calling this same number with the same goal of getting an empty seat on one of the next flights to Chicago. I’ll be smart, I’ll call now *before* we even get to the hotel and beat the rush!

My plan worked, I got through to an agent, and explained my situation. The agent said sure I can put you on a flight tomorrow at 5 PM. Noooo! I protested and pleaded, “I’m running the Chicago Marathon (at least I hope I am) and I have to be there early Saturday so I can pick up my race bib in person before the expo closes.”  “Ok” she said sympathetically, “let me see what I can do, I’ll just have to put you on hold.”

So I sat there, with my cell phone, on hold. The hotel shuttle arrived, I was still on hold. I boarded the shuttle, I was still on hold. The shuttle started driving to the hotel. I prayed that the line didn’t disconnect as we drove under overpasses and down the road. We arrived at the  hotel, I was still on hold. I picked up my hotel room key, I was still on hold. Then “Hello?” the attendant came back on the line.

“So, I was able to get you the last seat on the 6 AM flight from Montreal to Chicago Saturday morning.” Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!

It was around this point that I realized I hadn’t eaten and that to catch a 6 AM flight I would have to get up in about 2 hours to catch the shuttle back to the airport. Well, luckily I had a protein bar in my luggage. I at the protein bar, set my alarm and fell fast asleep.

At 3 AM my alarm went off. Groggy but determined, I got my belongings, went to the lobby, jumped on the shuttle, arrived at the airport and was greeted by a huge line up at customs.

At this point, you can probably imagine how I felt: tired, frustrated, hungry, defeated. But it was actually at this moment I stopped and did a reality check. Ok Rita, in the grand scheme of things, how bad is this, you might miss a flight and not get to run the Chicago Marathon. Talk about first world problems! There are people out there in food lines at refugee camps, you’re ok Rita, get a grip, get some perspective. Take a deep breath, and move forward, whatever happens, happens. 

Mentally in a much better state, I got in line, and I did in fact get through the line and arrived at the gate where I was thrilled to meet Anderson who was also running the Chicago Marathon.  We became fast buds.  Chaos and stress is much easier to deal with as a team. We agreed to work together to navigate our way to the race expo after we landed. Having someone else with me was such a boost to my mental state. The flight landed on time, I’m in Chicago, maybe it’s really going to happen!

No time to go to the hotel, we went straight to the expo from the airport, suitcase in hand. Next thing I know I’ve got my bib and I even had time to wander around the expo! With that out of the way, I boarded a shuttle to my hotel for the next two top priorities: food and sleep! Not necessarily in that order

After  a two hour power nap, I hopped on a bus to the restaurant where my running buddies were already settled in for supper. I think the grin on my face says it all

Pre-marathon dinner with running friends

Not quite the relaxed pre-marathon rest day I had envisioned, but I’m here! Sunday morning, I’m in the starting corral. I’m finally going to run the Chicago marathon! My corral starts moving towards the start line. I remind myself that despite the chaos of the last 36 hours, my training went well, I’m fit, and I’m ready for this. No excuses, let’s do this!!!

5 km I’m on pace; 10km, hmm that was an impressive downpour but I’m still on pace; 21km I’m still on pace, 32 km I’m on pace. Of course the real race starts at 32 km! 35km, ok I’m off a bit on that one, it’s raining a bit, it’s a bit humid, no excuses Rita, hold the pace, keep going!

40k okay yeah I’m lagging 3:30 is not in the cards, but I so some quick calculations in my head, I can still get a PB (personal best). No excuses Rita! Leave it all on the course!

41km, seriously whose idea was it to put this hill here, 42 km, ok Rita time for your signature 200 metre sprint down the finish line, I just finished the Chicago Marathon YAY!! 

I glance at my Garmin, interesting. My thoughts turn to more practical things, walking back to the hotel, getting my medal, taking photos. I received a congratulatory text from a friend ”nice run Rita.””Thanks”, I replied, “you’re not going to believe this but I think it is the exact same time as my current PB.”

I grab a quick shower and when I come out there is another text from my friend “Rita, your previous PB was 3:34:10, your chip time for Chicago time is 3:34:09” I PB’d by one second (nine years after I set the previous PB)!!!  Woo hoo!!

Rita holding her medal at finish line of Chicago marathon

So after a seven year wait and more hurdles and obstacles than I care to remember, Chicago 2018 was my year. Sometimes races have their own beautiful timelines and we just need to go with it. It was so worth the wait 🙂 On that note, remind me next time to tell you about the time I  registered for Berlin 2019…

Who is Rita?

Rita is a marathoner who trains in Ottawa, Canada through wind, rain and snow.  Her basic philosophy towards life is: Live Life Large, every day is a new adventure, giv’r your best and enjoy the ride.
She ran her first marathon in 2004 as a bucket list item. 24 marathons later, she recognizes that running has given her so much in life. Her basic philosophy towards running is to give it the respect it deserves as it serves so many purposes in her life including but not limited to social convenor, therapist, problem solver, and immune system booster. So much bang for your buck with every step you run. Her philosophy on racing is similar to her philosophy on life: giv’r and have fun but not necessarily in that order 🙂

If you enjoyed this post, check out the previous disaster story “The 1958 Beer mile” or check out the rest of my running related posts which include race reports, gear reviews, and other posts I write to amuse myself but that do occasionally amuse others.

The 1958 beer mile? Running disaster stories

Have university athletes changed since 1958 at Oxford. What happens when they find themselves invited to a race in Dublin, the home of Guinness? This post is part of the running disaster stories series, a series of stories about those races or training runs that did not quite go as planned.

In case you missed it, the previous disaster story: The wardrobe malfunction. Here’s the next story in the series!

When you wish to attend the storied institution of Oxford university, you don’t just apply to Oxford University, you apply to one or more of their colleges. The application process may have changed somewhat now, but when my mum and dad attended, each college had it’s own entrance exam and interviews. Each college had it’s own sports teams and competed against each other. You probably know at least one famous running alumni from Oxford: Roger Bannister. Bannister started his running career in the fall of 1946 while studying medicine at Exeter College at Oxford and it was at a meet between British AAA and Oxford University at Iffley Road Track in Oxford, May 6, 1954 where Roger Bannister became the first man to break the 4 minute mile

What follows is my father(Tim Andrew)’s tale of carrying on the family tradition of running on one of the Oxford college cross country teams just 4 years after fellow Oxford alumni Roger Bannister inspired the nation.  Tim’s father also raced for Oriel, 30 years earlier, and based on the photo below, that team won the two mile relay.

Oriel college 1926 cross country team photo for winning two mile relay
Oriel College 1928 winners of the two mile relay, somewhere in this photo is Leslie Andrew, father of Tim Andrew.

In the fall of 1958, I was captain of the Oriel College Oxford Cross Country team. Now, before you are too impressed, you should understand that every college had their own team. A college was made up of about 250 students, so sometimes it was hard to field a full team of 8 runners. That said, Oriel college was one of the stronger teams. We had three runners in 1956 who ran for the university team, and another runner  who had trained with Bannister. I tried out for the Oriel college team in first year but didn’t make the cut. The next year, I did make the team, and due to the fact I volunteered and no-one else wanted the job, I also became team captain.

1958 Oriel College Cross Country Team
Oriel College Cross Country team 1958-1959. Tim Andrew is seated in the middle of the front row

We competed every one to two weeks. Most meets were 5 or 6 mile runs against one or two other Oxford college teams or occasionally a Cambridge college. 8 runners could enter, and the top four runners on each team earned points based on their finish position. The team with the most points at the end of the meet won. 

Trinity college in Dublin had always been a twin college to Oriel so it was not uncommon to arrange competitions against them. Because of this history between the colleges, that meant travel costs to a meet against Trinity College in Dublin would be subsidized, which provided the perfect opportunity for a match up.

Sample room Guinness factory 1958
P.G. Holbourns, Foreman in charge of the Sample Room, draws a glass of Draught Guinness for tasting – photo came from the post “Draught Guinness 1958: Two casks one tap”

We travelled by boat to Dublin where Trinity were amazing hosts. They took us to the theatre the first night, and the next morning invited us to join them to tour the Guinness factory. The tour itself was interesting (check out “Draught Guinness 1958:Two Casks one Tap” to learn how they made Guinness beer at the time) and of course it terminated in a hospitality room where we were encouraged to try free samples of different Guinness beers. These were not small samples, but in fact were proper filled glasses of beer if it was on tap, or bottles if they weren’t on tap. I never realized how many different beers Guinness produced. We partook in a fine assortment of samples with our hosts and then headed to nearby Phoenix Park for the race itself.

When we arrived at the park, we discovered, much to our chagrin, that the team that had accompanied us to the brewery was not the team that we were going to race!

At this point, I was of course under the influence of a not insignificant number of stouts and porters. I was also unfamiliar with the race route. The only sensible course of action, I decided, was to ensure that I kept the captain of the opposing team in sight throughout the race so that I would not make a wrong turn. I seem to remember he was quite a serious runner, and had competed for Ireland in the Commonwealth games. But, as you can imagine, my memories of this race are somewhat fuzzy, so don’t quote me on that. In a sort of bladderfull single minded blur I stuck with him, close enough for us to exchange a few friendly words. I was still with him when I saw the finish line ahead. At this point I had two thoughts, the first was “I think I may be able to pick up the pace and pass him,” the other was “the sooner I finish, the sooner I can take care of my full bladder that has just spent 5 miles being jostled about.” That second thought may have in fact been the more prominent motivation, but regardless, I ran past him to win the race and to my amusement I also set a personal best by a solid minute per mile! 

Who is Tim Andrew?

Tim Andrew ran cross country and later on moved up to running marathons. He ran his first marathon in 1978 in Fredericton, New Brunswick in tennis shoes. He posted a personal best of 3hrs 10 minutes in 1982 winning the Masters category of the Atlantic Invitational marathon which was fast enough to qualify for Boston, although at the time running Boston was impractical. He and his wife Sheila were both well known on the New Brunswick road racing scene in the 1980s, collecting a large number of trophies and medals for age group and masters top three finishes. Sadly, shoes held together by shoe goo were not kind to his knees, so running is no longer an option. But, if you visit Fredericton, you may well spot him crossing the train bridge on his bicycle. There is also a good chance you will spot him appreciating a beer at the Lunar Rogue Pub, though it will probably be a Moosehead rather than a Guinness.  

If you enjoyed this post check out the previous disaster story “The wardrobe malfunction” a story that features Tim’s wife (my mum!),Sheila Andrew, (as you can see running runs in the family!) or check out the rest of my running related posts which include race reports, gear reviews, and other posts I write to amuse myself but that do occasionally amuse others.

Book review: I Hate Running and You Can Too

I hate running and you can too

Looking for a fun, light read for you or your favorite runner. Look no further than “I Hate Running and You Can Too” by Brendan Leonard.

If I had to describe this book in one sentence? A light weekend read that provides practical advice on the mental game of training/running through all it’s ups and downs.

Who will enjoy this book? Any runner who occasionally struggles with motivation and needs reminding that yes you can do this, and you should absolutely put on those running shoes and drag yourself out the door or onto that treadmill.

Did it make you laugh? Yup! There were several relatable moments in the book that brought a chuckle or knowing smile. Like this excerpt from the chapter on competing against yourself

If you are lucky enough to run the New York Marathon I bet you won’t ever tell your grandkids “I got 33,789th place that year, but if a couple of things had gone a little differently for me I could have gotten 32,372nd place.”

Brendan Leonard – extract from I Hate Running and You can Too

Will this book only appeal to marathon runners? No, I think any runner who has set a goal and struggled to achieve that goal whether it’s your first 5 km or a Boston Qualifier will find something to relate to in this book.

Did it motivate you? Yes, it’s the type of book that motivates you to set yourself a goal, maybe even a fear-based goal (see Chapter 7) and get out there training again.

Did it provide practical advice on how to train? This book really focuses on how to get yourself in the right mindset when training. This book is not going to provide you with a training plan for your next race

Out of 5 stars what would you give it? I don’t like star ratings for books, because how much I enjoy a book depends so much on what I want to read at that moment in time, and it also depends on personal taste! So to sum up my review, Brendan writes well. I think many runners will relate to his experience. He provides some very practical tactics presented in a way that doesn’t feel heavy handed or didactic, you find yourself reading because you are enjoying the book, and filing away the ‘aha’ moments for those low-motivation running days.

If you enjoyed this review, check out the rest of my running related posts including gear reviews, race reports, and some other fun posts that I write mostly to amuse myself and as an added bonus occasionally amuse others.

Hamilton Marathon race report Road2Hope

HamiltonFinish(Apparently I wrote and forgot to publish this race report) I just completed the 2019 Hamilton Road2Hope marathon. This post will give you a runner’s perspective on the race so you know what to expect if you go.

Why run it?

Hamilton advertises itself as Canada’s #1 Boston qualifier, so it’s a popular destination for those trying to get that elusive BQ or Personal Best. in 2019, 22% of the runners qualified for Boston (myself incuded.)

Is it a fast course?

Let’s talk hills

Hamilton has a reputation as a fast course because of the long downhill from 22 – 28 km.  But don’t be fooled into thinking that makes this an easy course. Let’s be clear: there is no such thing as an easy marathon course. Don’t underestimate those little bumps at the start of the race

ElevationProfileHamilton

Yes, from an elevation perspective this course has the potential for a fast run. You get through all the big climbs early in the race when your legs are still fresh. You get a nice long downhill to carry you through 22-28 km and all you have to do is hold on for a very flat final 14 km.

The first 12 km is NOT flat. It’s basically rolling hills. 15 – 20 km is flat. 22 km – 24 km is a fairly steep downhill along the highway. 24-28 km is still downhill but not quite as steep.

The rest of the race is flat. Be warned, that long downhill can take a toll on your quads! If you do this race without any hill training (including running downhill) you could have a pretty rough time in the last 14 km!

There is a tiny climb in the last 50 meters just to remind your legs they are tired

Let’s talk wind

There are a lot of stretches on this race where you are very exposed. So if it’s windy that’s going to be a factor. The route does not have a lot of turns, but just enough that whatever direction the wind is blowing you are going to have tailwinds, headwinds and crosswinds.

If you total the distance in each direction you get approximately

  • 12 km North
  • 3 km East
  • 5 km South
  • 8 km West
  • 4 km Northwest
  • 5 km SouthEast

In 2019 the wind was 23 km/h WestSouthWest. We felt it most when running West. Unfortunately that included the stretch from 14 – 21 km along the escarpment which is very exposed. I also noticed it on 31 – 36 km to the turnaround onto the Waterfront trail. Of course that means when we did turnaround we had a tailwind for 37-42 km.

Outside of that how is the course?

This route is VERY different from the other big Hamilton race: Around the Bay.  It’s got some beautiful views in the first 15 km or so. The downhill stretch is kind of cool because they close one side of the highway for the runners. I’ve never run down a major freeway before. There’s a short stretch around the 29 km mark along a dirt path which includes two 20 meter stretches with these concrete squares with holes in them designed to prevent erosion which are a trip hazard. The last 5 km along the waterfront trail is quite beautiful if you have enough energy left to appreciate it 🙂

What can spectators and family do?

Races for everyone

There is a half marathon Sunday that starts and finishes at the same location as the full marathon. The half marathon starts 15 minutes before the full marathon. so you can travel to the start line together.

Saturday they have 1 km, 5km and 10 km races.

Things to do in the area

IMG_20191102_144451Got some time to explore Saturday or Sunday after the race?

  • Hamilton is along the Niagara escarpment which is Ontario wine country. There are no shortage of vintners in the area offering tours and tastings.
  • Niagara falls is only an hour’s drive away.
  • Grab a coffee and donut at 65 Ottawa St N at Dunsmure – the first Tim Hortons.
  • The Canadian Football Hall of Fame is open Saturday from 9 AM to 12 PM at Tim Hortons Field, 64 Melrose Avenue.

Tracking runners

In 2019, the app for tracking runners was not published to the store, but registered runners  received an email with a link to install the app on Android or Apple phones. You have to create an account to track runners, which is a little odd. Because bib numbers were not assigned until you picked up your race kit, you couldn’t see your runner listed until late Saturday. But, on race day the app worked beautifully. My husband was able to track my sister and I easily. There were timing mats every 5 km, and the app showed our projected time and location on screen

How about the race logistics?

The race expo

It’s a small race expo, but you’ll probably find any last minute items you need on site. The local running store Runners Den was on site selling running essentials and some nice Hamilton marathon race shirts and tops. The Runners Den booth is also open on Sunday after the marathon finishes.

Kit and bib pick up

You pick up your race kit and bib in the finish line area Friday or Saturday in a tent. In 2019, they didn’t assign bib numbers until you arrived at the expo. Shirt pick up was in the back of the expo. The race shirts included with registration were well… pretty ugly (sorry Hamilton organizers, I really didn’t like them), so I splurged and bought a really nice race long sleeved shirt from the Runners Den that has become a regular shirt in my workout rotation.

They did not provide any sort of drawstring back for gear check, so you need to bring your own.

Getting to the start line

The closest parking by the start line is at the Starlite Drive-in a 400 meter walk to the start.

Most runners park at the finish line and take advantage of the free shuttle buses to the start line so they have immediate access to their cars when they finish the race. The bus only takes about 15 minutes to get from the finish line to the start line. I recommend trying to arrive at the finish to park and catch your shuttle no later than 6:15, there will be a long line of cars. The volunteers do a good job directing everyone to parking spots and keeping things moving, but there is only one road into the park, so you can’t avoid a line up. They did run the buses past 6:45 AM in 2019 because there was still a line of cars coming into the lot at 6:35 AM.

The volunteers did a good job trying to make sure everyone loaded efficiently, managing hiccups like buses loading at the wrong locations as needed.

The start area

One of the awesome things about this race is your access to a school gymnasium at the start area. This means you don’t have to worry about staying warm and dry before the race starts. You can literally walk out to the start minutes before the gun goes off. This also means indoor bathrooms! As is typical there was no line for the mens, and a massive line up for the ladies. They also had port-a-potties outside which had noticeably shorter lines than the ladies room.

Bag check is in the gymnasium, so you can wait until the last minute to decide what to wear. NOTE: This is the first race I’ve run where you can be disqualified for throwing away your gear outside designated areas on the route. You can throwaway clothes for the first km, and at aid stations.  Not an issue, just important to know!

Pacers

JulioandSusanFinishThey don’t have pacers for all the Boston Qualifying times, but they do have pacers for 3:20, 3:30, 3:40, 3:50, 4:00, 4:15, and 4:30. But keep in mind this is a smaller race with volunteer pacers, by sheer bad luck, in 2019 I was planning to run with the 3:40 pacer who was nowhere to be found. Fortunately, by sheer good luck, a Montreal runner who was completely capable of a 3:40, had run the Hamilton marathon before, and had experience as a pacer was planning to run with the 3:40 pacer. When he couldn’t find the official pacer at the start line he decided he would take over pacer duties and led a pack of at least 15 runners off the start line. He crossed the finish at 3:39:58!  Thank you Julio (for the record I didn’t run 3:40 but only because in the last 2 km I let him go, I finished in 3:40:29 a PB for me and Julio played no small part in that PB)

Corrals

There are no corrals. In 2019, there were only 677 runners, you could easily get into the corral and the pace bunny signs give you an idea of how far back to go.

Water stops

In 2019, they had Nuun and water approximately every 3 km. There were a few spots where water stops had to be a little early or a little late since you are running on a highway and that limits locations volunteers can access.

The crowds

This race has less than 1000 runners, so there really isn’t much in the way of crowds along most of the course. Because you have an out and back near the finish you get a cluster of spectators around the 31-33km and from 40km to the finish line which is a nice boost.

The finish area

FinishLineI love races where I can see the finish line from a distance. There is a little hook at the very end of this race, you might want to walk that last km when you pick up your bib. You see the finish from about 100-200 meters away. I 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

This is a late fall race so heat is unlikely to be an issue, but you could run into cold or wet.

  • 2021 partly cloudy low 2 C and a high of 16 C
  • 2020 sunny low -2 C and a high of 4 C (race did not run this year, but this was the weather first weekend of November)
  • 2019 cloudy with sunny breaks low 3 C high of 6 C
  • 2018 cloudy with sunny breaks low -1 C high 6 C
  • 2017 rainy low of 6 C high of 16 C

Summary

If you are curious how my race went, check out this personal race report, all in all this is a small but well organized race and a good place to try and run a personal best. If you found this helpful, you may want to check out some of my other running posts including additional race reports, gear reviews, and more.

CIM, Susan’s quest to BQ

If you are thinking of running CIM and want the low down on what to expect that’s over here in my serious race report. This race report is Susan’s musings on her own race! Mostly to amuse myself but if it amuses anyone else, enjoy!

The quest for a BQ

It’s not that you aren’t fast enough for Boston, you just aren’t old enough! Fortunately, I am old enough and female enough that I have run Boston. But I need a BQ for 2023! Qualifying for Boston is a mixed blessing, once you’ve been once, you want to go back, over and over! Extra fun for a Squeaker like me! (Squeakers are those of us whose qualifying times are at risk of not making the Boston cut-offs)

In February 2021, my Seattle running buddy, Christopher, and I were living the pandemic race drought, and decided for mental health reasons we needed to register for a race we believed would happen in person. Enter the California International Marathon. It’s in December, surely, please, by then we will be racing in person again, pretty please? As an added bonus, CIM has a reputation as a great place to BQ. Book it!

It just so happens I had my marathon PR at Hamilton in 2019, so I also had almost 14 minutes below my BQ time for Boston 2021 registration (I know, I know, hand in my squeaker card but I promise I’ve slowed back down to squeaker status). Because of the pandemic, Boston was a fall race in 2021, and of course it might be virtual like it was in 2020, and who knows if we will even be able to enter the US to run it, but as it turns out, I had a bib for Boston in person in October 2021, 7 weeks before CIM.

Boston happened

Now as an experienced Squeaker I can tell you, you don’t try to BQ in Boston, are you nuts? Boston is a tough course and it’s also a fun race (if any marathon can be called fun) to just run without stressing out over your time. So I figured run Boston, race CIM! My sister and I navigated the COVID border crossing fun and managed to run Boston in person. I didn’t stress over the time, it was great!

CIM Training

So, now I have 7 weeks. 2 week rest, then start training again? Sadly my body had other ideas. Patellofemoral syndrome, and a wicked hamstring cramp did allow me to check two new running injuries off my bucket list but resulted in my first physio visits in 3 years (Hi Richelle!) I ran maybe 100 km total in the entire 7 weeks between Boston and CIM.

Pre-race rituals

I complete my COVID test (come on negative, come on negative, yes!!!!) and Wednesday Christopher picks me up at SFO (that’s San Francisco Airport in frequent flyer speak). All runners have a few important pre-race rituals and superstitions, especially before a marathon. One of our pre-marathon routines is going out for Gyu-Kaku (Japanese restaurant where you grill your own food). The race is in Sacramento which is sadly a Gyukaku-free zone, so we hit one in San Francisco and binged on beef and rice then the most important part. We sacrificed marshmallows to the running gods with a dessert of smores

CIM Expo

We drive to Sacramento Friday and there is a runner doing As and Bs in the parking lot as we pull in. I think this is the right hotel. The plan was to arrive Friday so we can do all the rushing around now and spend Saturday with our feet up! First stop race expo!

COVID is still a thing so we had to book a time for when we would pick up our bibs. To pick up our bibs we need to show our proof of vaccination, the volunteers are wonderful and within minutes we are trying to find ways to spend our money in the expo.

Clearly I need these two t-shirts, and a new pair of compression socks, Yes Christopher you definitely need another pair of Goodr Sunglasses, and yes I know CIM is one of the best places to BQ but I am *not* buying this shirt that would surely anger the marathon gods!

We continue with the usual pre-marathon rituals, we hand strangers our phones to take our picture (selfies in a race expo anger the marathon gods!), we take pictures of random strangers standing in from of banners, holding up their bibs, while friends yell out take off your mask for the photo (ahhh COVID!)

For the first time I look at the course map and I notice the elevation chart in the corner, ooooh I like that!

Around this point Christopher and I start having *the* talk. “So what pace you thinking of running Sunday? ” Don’t be fooled by the casual tone! Somehow you have to extrapolate a race day goal from your performance through 16 weeks of training with paces and performances that varied dramatically and probably culminated in a long miserable 20 mile run at a pace far slower than you hope to maintain for 26.2 miles on race day. It would be nice to run a BQ, and the weather forecast is good, should I? could I? Will the gods allow it? I need a sign!

Then I see the sign, an actual sign, a sign about a bell!

Well that’s it for me, I’m going to try and run a BQ! I want to ring that bell on Sunday. They have pacers for every BQ time, did you see the hill profile on that map? the weather forecast is perfect, F*K it I’m going for the BQ! Tempted by that hill profile, pacers, and weather Christopher also decides to try for a PB.

Laying out the flat runner

Saturday involves a lot of time in my room with my feet up, sipping Nuun, eating chips, watching whatever will pass the time on the hotel TV. Oooh back to back episodes of Christmas bake-off! Then it’s time to lay out all the running gear for race day. I don’t want to be making decisions about which socks to wear at 4:30 AM! a couple of months ago I ordered a shirt and tank from Athletics Canada so random strangers could yell “Go Canada” at me as I run by in US races. I also have my favorite pre-race throwaway bathrobe and some styling zebra pyjama pants from the thrift shop to keep me warm until the race starts.

The start line

The race starts in Folsom, in fact it’s right next to Folsom Prison of Johnny Cash fame. You can see the barbed wire of the prison yard when you get off the bus. After drinking copious amounts of Nuun Saturday all I can think of after we arrive is where are the port-a-potties!!! Fortunately, they literally have port-a-potties as far as the eye can see. Now, I can take a minute to look around the start, don’t trip over the rope between corals…and hey we can actually get back on the bus to sit down and stay warm… what was that crashing noise? Oh that was a runner who did trip over the rope between corals and pulled the fencing down with him. That would be a sucky way to get injured just before starting your marathon. Hmmm, not that this affects me at all but just wondering where do the 3-3:30 hour marathoners corral?

The race

With the limited mileage and injuries, I honestly have no clue how my body will hold out for 42.2 km! I remind myself of Christopher’s rule: Dead Last Finish > Did not Finish > Did not Start. Time to shift the mindset from I don’t “have” to run this marathon, I “get” to run this marathon!

I line up with the 3:55 pace team, make polite nervous conversation with the other runners in the coral, duck under the clothes being thrown over my head towards the fence and we are off! The weather is perfect, let’s do this.

The kms go by, and of course at various points I feel my knee injury is acting up, no wait my hamstring is acting up, but wait it was my right hamstring I injured not my left. So basically I had a pretty normal race experience thinking some random injury was going to sideline my race but each twinge faded away with the mileage.

There are some crowds along the way but instead of hearing “Go Canada” all I hear is “Go Karen!”, endless shouts of “Go Karen Go!”, “Way to go Karen!” “Yay Karen!” Apparently our pacer has a LOT of friends.

Karen starts giving advice on how to run up the hill, and the next hill, and the next hill, wait a second!!! Where did all these hills come from did they not see the hill profile on the map? Fortunately, I had trained for and run Boston so each hill I just kept thinking okay well not as steep or as long as Boston’s hills but wow what a LOT of hills! Anyone who expected this race to be downhill or flat could be in big trouble! (side note Strava says I ran 292 m of elevation in this race, Boston is only 340m of elevation so yeah that was not my imagination it WAS hilly).

Water stops magically appeared at distances like 4.2 miles and 6.7 miles. I crossed a couple of timing mats and called out hello to family members and my physiotherapist letting them know I was still on pace for a BQ. At the half way point I put on my metal playlist to give me an extra boost ( Iron Maiden Run to the Hills wasn’t the first song I heard, but I did get to hear it before the end of the race 🙂 Here are some of the random thoughts that went through my head as I ran:

  • I wonder what a random passer by would make of the volunteers constantly yelling out “WATER” “CAFFEINATED” “NO CAFFEINE” “BANANA” for hours on end.
  • Okay this new Endurance Tap packaging is hard to open, let’s try ripping the corner with my teeth
  • Seriously does everyone know Karen? Why did I even bother with the Canada shirt?
  • Oooh Banana!
  • 21.1 km to go, I ran 21.1 km last weekend with Terry and it felt okay, I can do this
  • “Run like your mother just called you by your first name” okay that’s a good one
  • Yay I get to see Karin and Stephane at mile 16!
  • got a tiny hole in the top of the Endurance tap gel packet, maybe if I squeeze it like a tube of toothpaste rolling it up from the bottom?
  • Yay I get to see Karin and Stephane at mile 20!
  • Oh no, missed the banana!
  • another hill? wow! they just keep going
  • blister on my toe, blister on my toe, oh better now, probably burst and I’ll have a nice bloody sock at the finish
  • How miserable was I when I ran my PB in Hamilton.. I’m not that miserable yet keep going
  • Oooh banana, not missing it this time!
  • I am going to ring that Bell
  • New York marathon hurt a lot, I can take this
  • I am going to ring that F*** Bell
  • I hate the new endurance tap packaging!
  • I am going to ring that F*** Bell

We crossed a bridge around 21.5 miles. At this point the pace pack was starting to catch up to runners who had gone out too fast or who weren’t expecting all those hills. It gets flatter after the bridge, but oh my foot is trying to cramp, relax breathe, settle in, 3 miles to go still with the pace group calf is starting to cramp nooooooo not now… 3 miles, I’m so close, but no, I can’t keep up with the pacer I’m going to have to slow down or walk, I slow down the pace group starts to pull away, the change in pace settles my calf and I am able to pick it up and rejoin the pack. 2 km from the finish, I’m tired, I’m sore, but I’m not dying. Time to use up anything I have left and go! That runner I can catch that runner, now that runner, now that runner, “Go Canada!” Hey finally one spectator noticed my shirt. Extra 10 points for passing that runner in the Vaporfly shoes, that runner, that runner, 800 meters to go, Christopher and I walked the last 800 meters, every second I gain here is a better chance of making the BQ cutoff, every second counts, go, go, and then a song comes on my playlist with a wicked fast beat and includes the following lyrics:

Time, got the time tick tick tickin’ in my head
Time, got the time tick tick tickin’ in my head
Time, got the time tick tick tickin’ in my head
Tickin’ in my head, tickin’ in my head, tickin’ in my head
If I, tell ya what I’m doing today
Will you, shut up and get out of my way
Someone ask me what the time is, I don’t know
Only know I gotta go now

Anthrax – Got the Time

That’s exactly the song I needed right now! Straight down the chute fist in the air, I even attempted to do a jump as I crossed the finish. (I got about 2 cm vertical and almost fell over when I landed 🙂

Just keep moving…Medal yes thank you.. just keep moving…Finisher jacket, yes thank you… keep walking… water bottle thank you…. keep walking.. goodie bag thank you… okay now get to the gear check… If any of you have ever seen me after a marathon I am a complete and utter wreck, I hyperventilate, I can barely stand or walk, I cry, seriously the medics always watch me carefully as I go by wheelchair at the ready. I get to the gear check bracing myself to walk past all the tents to the 4000-4500 gear check tent. The volunteer takes one look at me and says “Would you like me to go get your bag for you” YES GOD YES PLEASE! I stop moving. I force myself to try and swing my legs a bit. She comes back with my bag. My angel!

The Bell I must find the bell. I hear it ringing, I slowly stumble towards the bell, past runners, single minded, the bell, I ran a BQ I must ring the bell. Oh crap! all these runners I am walking past are in line to ring the bell! Yeah I cannot spend 30 minutes standing in a line right now. Grass lawn, gear check bag, sweatpants, mylar blanket spread eagle on grass. I’m done. I am so so done.

At some point in the future I did find the energy to get in line 🙂 Totally worth it. Thanks to all my running buddies and my Ottawa running group Run K2J for the helping make it happen

If you enjoyed this race report, check out the rest of my running posts everything from a fun quiz, to running disaster stories, gear reviews, and race reviews.