Archive for the ‘Running’ Category

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.

California International Marathon 2021 Race Report

This post will give you details on what to expect if you run C.I.M. the California International Marathon. This a popular fall race for runners hoping to achieve a Boston Qualifying time. So let’s see how it holds up!   If you want to know how my race went, that’s in a my personal race report.

Where and When is it?

The California International Marathon (CIM) is held in Sacramento, California. If you are not familiar with Sacramento, it’s the state capital and is located about a 2 hour drive inland from San Francisco (depending on traffic). The race is usually held the first Sunday in December and the race starts at 7 AM.

What’s the race route?

The course is point to point so you have to get to the start line. To reach the start you have two options. Option one take a bus. Most buses leave at 5 AM so it’s an early start to the day. Option two, have someone drop you off at a shuttle stop. A shuttle will bring you to the start. One very important advantage to taking the bus is that after you get to the start line you can stay on the bus (and yes you are allowed to get off the bus, go to the port-a-potty and return to the bus). Shuttles go back and forth continuously so you don’t have that option of hanging out on the bus if you choose the shuttle option.

You start in Folsom and basically follow the river to the Capitol Building in downtown Sacramento. The start line is right next to Folsom Prison, yes *that* Folsom Prison, made famous by Johnny Cash. You run through Citrus Heights, Fair Oaks, then into Sacramento. You cross a bridge around the 22 mile mark bringing you into Sacramento. You are not running along a river path, you are running on the streets so it’s basically a run through suburbia.

Do take a close look at the last mile. See the little hook at the end? I recommend walking that last half mile before the race so you know what to expect. You will be running along L street, you will pass 10th street where the runners exit from the finish area, you keep going and turn left on 8th street. Then you will see two finisher chutes on your left, the first chute is for the women, the second is for the men. The women’s finish line is a touch further down the chute since you make the turn sooner so they can even out the mileage.

Is it hilly?

Great question! It is a net downhill of 366 feet as you can see from this little picture in the corner of the race map. Doesn’t that look like a great downhill course? Yeah… so let’s dig a little deeper into that.

The Boston marathon is also a net downhill course, in fact Boston has a net drop of 447 feet. I have never heard anyone say Boston is a great downhill race! Net downhill does not necessarily translate to easy downhill race!

What you cannot see in that elevation map are all the tiny ups and downs all along the route. Take a look at the hill profile below that shows up for my race in Strava. See all those tiny ups and downs along the way? This race is not flat! This race does not have long downhill stretches! Don’t be fooled by that smoothed out hill profile on the map. According to Strava I ran 292 m (958 feet) in elevation. Based on my Strava for Boston, the Boston marathon is 340 m (1115 feet) Boston is known as a tough hilly course! Let’s be clear, CIM is easier than Boston. None of the hills in CIM are as long or steep as the Newton hills and you don’t get those big nasty hills in the second half like you do in Boston. At CIM you are constantly running light rolling hills. But, if you go in expecting downhill and flat you are in for a shock. Do your hill training and you will be fine. I actually liked the rolling hills because it allowed me to use different muscles (full disclosure: I ran Boston 7 weeks earlier so I just kept thinking oh well these hills are easier than Boston)

If it’s hilly why is it known for Boston qualifiers?

That’s a great question! First of all lets dig into their Boston qualifier reputation.

According to the race program they have a higher number of BQs than the Erie marathon, or Tunnel marathon both of which I know are popular for BQ attempts. Erie has the advantage of being one of the last races before Boston registration opens and had 1302 finishers in 2019, and the Tunnel marathon is famous for it’s downhill but is generally less than 1000 finishers. CIM 2019 had closer to 7500 runners so bragging you have a higher number of BQs isn’t really an indication that an individual runner has a better chance of qualifying at CIM.

What I find more interesting is according to the race program they have a higher percentage of BQs than Grandma’s marathon, Philadelphia, OR Chicago. Conveniently I have run all those races so I can compare them to CIM based on my personal experience. All of them are great races! Chicago is flatter than CIM and Chicago has better crowds (it is one of the world Abbott majors after all!) but Chicago has a lot of twists and turns and forget using your Garmin to pace in Chicago, the skyscrapers really mess up your Garmin. Philadelphia I remember as being similar difficulty in terms of hills but has this out and back on the second half with very few crowds to cheer you on and is very exposed so you can get strong headwind for a solid 6 miles. I think Grandma’s was flatter than CIM, and has good crowds near the finish, but the first part of the race the crowds are a pretty thin.

Would a few twists and turns or a few less crowds really make the difference? On their own probably not, I think one of the biggest reasons CIM rocks the BQ is the weather! How many times do you obsessively check the forecast pre-marathon praying that rain will end before the race starts, or that the heat won’t arrive until later in the day? I had the bad luck to run Grandma’s in 2016. The high that day was 84F (29C) suffice to say I did NOT run a personal best that day. I had a friend who ran Chicago 2007, the year they ran out of water because it was so hot the early runners used it all up trying to keep cool. The year I ran Philly, the temperature was good, it was a little windier than I would have liked, about 14 mph as a headwind uphill from mile 14-20 (still got a PR and BQ, as I said, those are all great races and you could BQ at any of them on the right day).

Take a look at the weather conditions the last 5 years for CIM

  • 2021 Low 38F/3C High 60F/16C partly cloudy winds 5 mph
  • 2019 Low 51F/11C High 62F/17C partly cloudy with drizzle winds 8 mph
  • 2018 Low 39F/4C High 53F/12 C partly cloudy winds 4 mph
  • 2017 Low 44F/7C High 58F/14C clear winds 2 mph
  • 2016 Low 38F/3C High 59F/15C clear winds 2 mph

Yeah! Seriously I had to go back to 2012 to find a day which could be considered even vaguely bad weather (It rained and the winds reached 20 mph, but temperatures were low 55F/13C high 62F/17C). I couldn’t find a race with highs over 70F! According to researchers the perfect temperature to run a marathon is between 50F/10C and 62F/17.5C. Go back and look at those race day conditions for CIM again. When you are running 26.2 miles the weather plays a huge factor and CIM is the Vegas odds on favorite for perfect race day weather.

Okay this sounds intriguing is it a lottery to get a bib?

CIM usually sells out but it is not a lottery and at least this year (2021) it did not sell out the same day registration opened. That means with a little up front planning it’s a race  you can  do with friends and running buddies.

How was bib pick up and the expo?

Let’s cover the essentials here. Bib pick up was efficient and easy. The race expo wasn’t huge but had all the basics you would want and expect: last minute running supplies like gels and Nuun, CIM shirts, backdrops for photo ops, they do have panels and seating to listen to the panelists. There was also a poster display with details on all the past CIM races.

Did they have enough port-a-potties at the start?

Yes! I am not exaggerating when I say there was a line of port-a-potties as far as the eye could see. So if the lines at the first ones are too long, just keep going until the lines get shorter

Bag check?

As of 2021, bag check is at the finish line, you cannot check a bag at the start. So you need to check your bag Saturday during the day or before you board your bus at the finish line on race day.

Aid stations?

The race had 17 aid stations. All the stations were well supported in terms of amenities. Each had medical, toilets, electrolytes (Nuun) and water. 4 stops had Gu Gels, Gu Chews, and bananas. The last 6 stops had Hylands Anti cramping. They always had the Nuun tables before the water tables. At most stations the Nuun was served in the white & blue Nuun cups, and the water was in white cups which made it easy to spot where the Nuun ended and the water began. At a couple of aid stations they served Nuun in white cups but the volunteers at all the stops did a great job yelling out “Electrolytes” “Nuun” and they were always the first tables so even my running addled mind was quickly able to determine which volunteer had what I needed.

The spacing between water stops was inconsistent and not always on a particular mile or km marker. In a personally prefer having water stops at specific mile markers so that was a small minus for me. But the race absolutely has enough aid stations, and they do get closer together as the race progresses which I also appreciate. You will find aid stations approximately every 2 miles for the first half of the race , approximately every 1.5 miles from 13-19 miles, then approximately every mile from 19 miles to the finish.  In 2021, aid stations were located at miles 2.2, 4.2, 6.4, 8.5, 10.0, 12, 13.6, 15.1, 16.5, 17.9, 19.4, 20.4, 21.4, 22.3, 23.5, 24.5, 25.3 

If you are a runner who wants to be sure you take your gel just before a water stop, watch for the Elite fueling station signs those come just before the water stop and can be a good visual cue for when to take your gel.
One other small complaint, almost all the water stations were only on the right side of the road. I was running with the 3:55 pace group which was a pretty big pack of runners and it was a bit chaotic trying to reach a volunteer to get a cup.  Ideally they would stretch those tables out a bit more or have water stations on both sides of the road.  I did find myself having to mentally “prepare to go in” at every aid station. (Side note the last marathon I ran was  Boston which has aid stations on both sides of the road and has lots of tables stretched out, so that’s the bar I compare all races to). 

So if you are a runner who gets really nervous about hydration timing, you might want to consider wearing your hydration backpack. Unlike many of the big marathons you are allowed to wear hydration backpacks at CIM (at least I assume you were since I saw a good number of runners wearing them).

Volunteers?

Yes they had volunteers and they were amazing and wonderful! THANK YOU VOLUNTEERS!

Spectator friendly?

If you have a car it’s relatively easy to cheer on your runner at multiple locations and relatively easy to stand somewhere your runner will see you (as always, I recommend making sure your runner knows what side of the road you will cheer from, and at what mile markers you will be cheering). There were thin crowds the entire way and a few spots with some great loud cheering. It’s not New York marathon crowds (let’s be clear I’ve yet to run a race in North America with better crowds than New York), but for a race this size, there are decent crowds cheering you on.

Pacers?

In keeping with their theme of come to CIM being the best place to BQ, they have pacers for the BQ time for every gender and age group. I ran with the 3:55 pace group. 3:55 translates to a 5:34/km pace. Staying around the pacers my slowest km was 5:38 and my fastest km was 5:17 (remember there were hills so that variation is an indication of consistent effort throughout the race). I don’t know about the other pacers, but my pacers were great. Not only did they run a steady pace but they did a good job talking everyone through the race, the hills, even suggesting when you might want to take off if you still have something left approaching the finish (for the curious, they suggested stay with the pace team at least until you cross the bridge entering Sacramento which is just past the 21 mile mark).

The finish

Once across the finish line you get your medal and instead of the usual mylar blanket they give you a lightweight jacket with sleeves and a hood which helps you warn up and keeps your hands free. Then once again they go above and beyond. Instead of handing you a disposable plastic water bottle they give you a re-usable CIM Finishers water bottle pre-filled with water. They also hand you a re-usable shopping bag with some nibbles. There was a hot food tent and beer tent, and they also had a race shirt size exchange.

It wasn’t too difficult to find friends as there is open field on the lawn on the capital building.

For those who stayed at race hotels further from the start line there are also shuttle buses to take you back to your hotels.

Race Hotel options

There are three popular areas to stay. You likely want to pick a hotel that is near a bus pick up location.  There are hotels near the finish line (convenient for dropping off your bag check  on race day) and there are several hotels near Calexpo .  One word of warning, if you are hoping to get a late checkout so you can shower post-race before driving home, you may have to pay additional fees and there may be a limited number of late checkouts are available. Clearly the hotels are used to race weekend and the massive influx of runners requesting late checkouts. My hotel charged $50 for late checkout on race day.

Fun ways to celebrate if you do BQ!

This race is so well know for BQs they actually had shirts for sale at the expo that say ” California International Marathon Boston Qualified”. It takes serious confidence to buy that before the race (They do have a place to buy shirts in the finish area as well, I’m guessing that’s when most of those shirts are purchased)

I didn’t buy a shirt (and I did BQ) but…they have a fabulous photo op/ celebration moment at the finish line for runners who BQ. You get to ring the BQ bell. They have the bell on display at the race expo, but of course no-one rings the bell in the expo because they haven’t run a BQ yet. The thought of ringing that bell was actually one of my mantras when I started to get tired in the race. I found myself thinking “I am not giving up, I am going to ring that bell” (full disclosure there may have been a few expletives inserted depending on how I felt at that point in the race).

I was clearly not the only one who became obsessed with ringing the bell, because when I did finish there was a line of 50+ runners waiting to ring the bell. But despite my tired legs it was worth standing in line for 30+ minutes with all the other exhausted but very happy runners waiting their turn to ring that bell. I can’t imagine a better way to celebrate a successful CIM!

If you enjoyed this race report check out my other running posts and race reports. Leave a comment if there is additional information I could have shared to help you evaluate this race as a potential destination!

Boston marathon 2021 the Role Playing Game Race Report

Welcome to Boston Marathon 2021  – the newest role playing adventure game.

Due to COVID, Boston 2020 was entirely virtual and just about every other in person race was cancelled. Many of us couldn’t even train with our run buds any more. When they announced registration for in-person Boston 2021, I really wasn’t sure I would ever reach the start line. Only 20,000 runners means tougher qualifying times, the in person race could be cancelled, and I didn’t know if I would be able to enter the United States. Getting to Boston this year has been like a complicated adventure game filled with puzzles, obstacles and setbacks, so that’s how I’ll approach this race report.. as an RPG (role playing game)… will you get to the start of the Boston marathon?

Stage 1 Getting a BQ

Begin your adventure with a wisdom check. Any wise person would realize going to Boston this year is not worth the hassle, so many hurdles to overcome, but if you are thinking of registering then you must have run at least one marathon already so therefore your wisdom score is probably low enough that you may register. If you are in the hospital with COVID when you register subtract 5 from your wisdom*

*We met a runner from India who was in the hospital with COVID when registration opened for Boston, but she had a BQ and she told her husband to bring her credit card to the hospital so she could register.

Roll 3d10 (that means roll a 10 sided dice 3 times), the first roll is the number of minutes, the next two rolls determine the number of seconds for the cut-off. 7, 4, and 7. If you ran your marathon 7 minutes and 47 seconds faster than the qualifying time for your age group proceed to Stage 2 Planning the trip. If you did not, you may register for the virtual Boston marathon or you can end your Boston adventure and choose an alternate marathon adventure.

Stage 2 Planning the trip

You met the cut-off time congratulations!

Book yourself a hotel. Make a wisdom check, if you pass your wisdom check you book a refundable hotel room, if not, do a wealth check to ensure you can afford to risk losing $600-$2500 for those outrageously priced marathon weekend hotel rooms if something goes wrong. Roll a d4 (four sided dice) to determine the number of nights you book. Subtract one from your roll if you failed the wisdom check (people who fly or drive home the day of the marathon are definitely a little crazy*). 

*Mike

We passed the wisdom check and rolled a 3. My sister booked an airport hotel ($150/night cheaper than downtown) for Saturday, Sunday & Monday.

Roll a d6 (six sided dice) to determine travel restrictions to Boston at the time you found out you got a bib.

  • 6 you may travel freely to Boston
  • 5 you may fly to Boston
  • 4 you may drive to Boston
  • 3 you may fly to Boston with a two week quarantine
  • 2 you may fly to Boston with a two week quarantine in another country before you arrive
  • 1 forget it they aren’t letting you in right now, better hope things improve by the October!

We rolled a 5. But it’s April and the race is in October, no doubt the Canadian/US border will be open by then, I’m not flying, that would be expensive and a hassle. Move on to stage 3 Training

Stage 3 Training

Roll a d6 to determine how many workouts you will complete this week. Do a wisdom check. Add 1 hill workout to your schedule if you passed your wisdom check. Do a motivation check, add 1 to your workout schedule if this is your first Boston, or if you are planning to PB at the marathon. Subtract one from your number of weekly workouts if you are just happy to run a race in person again, and don’t really care what your time is.

At the end of each week, complete a training check. Roll a d20.

  • 20 critical hit, you had a fantastic training week, you are rocking it increase motivation by two.
  • 15-19 training went well, your workouts went well, your motivation increases by one.
  • 10-14 you got your workouts done, feeling a bit tired but basically okay continue training as usual.
  • 6-9 that one workout did not go well, reduce motivation by one.
  • 2-5 something went wrong roll a d10 and check the injury table to determine which body part feels off. 1 Critical miss! You have an injury that prevents you from running next week roll d10 and check the injury table to determine the injury, roll another d10 to determine the number of weeks training lost.

Injury Table

  • 1 Toe*
  • 2 Foot
  • 3 Ankle
  • 4 Achilles/calf
  • 5 Knee
  • 6 IT Band
  • 7 Hip
  • 8 Back
  • 9 Shoulder
  • 10 Gash in the head**

*Randy **Judy

If you had an injury, do a wisdom check, if you fail the wisdom check, you are ignoring your injury subtract one from next week’s training check. If you pass the wisdom check you add some stretching, yoga, physio, to your workout routine and continue to train as usual.

Repeat for 10 weeks then advance to stage 4 It’s getting real

Stage 4 It’s getting real

Roll a d6 (six sided dice) to determine travel restrictions to Boston six weeks from race day.

  • 6 you may travel freely to Boston
  • 5 you may fly to Boston
  • 4 you may drive to Boston
  • 3 you may fly to Boston with a two week quarantine
  • 2 you may fly to Boston with a two week quarantine in another country before you arrive*
  • 1 forget it they aren’t letting you in right now, okay now might be the time to start panicking

*We met a runner from South Africa who had to complete a two week quarantine in Namibia to get to Boston.

I rolled a 5. Well that sucks! We were planning to drive, time to look up flights. Roll a d2 to determine flight options.

  • 15+ you find a flight that is fully refundable at a decent price
  • 10-14 you find a flight that will provide you with travel credits or a reasonable price
  • 5-9 you find a decent priced flight but non-refundable
  • 2-4 ouch that’s expensive but no real alternative.
  • 1 forget it! I’m switching to the virtual race

Next perform a hotel check to ensure your hotel nights line up with your flights.

We rolled a 13 and got flights on Air Canada which can be traded for full travel credit if we have to cancel, but we failed our hotel check because we land Friday night and don’t have hotel for Friday. We pass a luck check and are able to book Friday night at the same hotel we have for the rest of our stay but lose an additional $100 over what we would have paid if we had booked Friday initially.

Once you have your travel and hotel sorted advance to stage 5 COVID testing

Stage 5 COVID testing

You have a flight and you have hotel booked, now it’s time to research the current rules for entering the US. You require a COVID Rapid Antigen test within 72 hours of your flight entering the US. If you are travelling through another country to arrive in the US, do a luck check to determine if you require a different test to enter the country in-transit.

For each COVID test roll a d10 to determine the degree of Q-tip penetration into your nasal passage required to take a sample.

Roll a d20 to determine if your COVID test is negative, add 10 to your score if you are fully vaccinated, add 5 to your score if you wear a mask in public locations, subtract one for every meal indoors at a restaurant, movie, or large public event attended in the past 14 days. If you fail this throw your adventure ends here. If you pass this throw advance to stage 6 fly to Boston.

Stage 6 Fly to Boston

Complete your online check in, roll 2d10 to determine how many minutes you spend figuring out all the documentation you must submit to check in for your flight.

It’s time to fly, but airports as we know are fraught with complications, so for each flight roll 2d10 for wild magic and hope you make your connections and arrive successfully in Boston in time to get your bib**

**Each and every scenario below is based on actual incidents that happened to myself, friends, or family. You know who you are 😊

  • 99-00 Everything goes fine
  • 97-98 You read all the dire warnings about arriving early during COVID and arrive at the airport before the check-in counters are open, subtract 2 from endurance due to unnecessary lost sleep.
  • 95-96 Rain (d10 minutes flight delay)
  • 93-94 Fog at arrival airport (d20 minutes delay circling and 50% chance of aborted landing adding additional d20 minutes delay)
  • 91-92 Flight crew has worked too many hours (2d10 minutes delay waiting for new crew to arrive)
  • 89-90 Mechanical issues with the plane (2d10 minutes delay waiting for repair and sign off)
  • 87-88 Small overhead bins (d20 minutes delay as they keep begging everyone to check bags at the gate and everyone ignores them and they have to check all the bags when they board and discover their bags don’t fit)
  • 85-86 The seat beside you on the plane is occupied by a 4 year old who spends the entire flight telling you all about his favorite Pokemon in great detail
  • 83-84 You have a middle seat between two squabbling siblings, half way through the flight one throws up in the air sickness bag and shows it to his brother  
  • 81-82 You get an upgrade to first class
  • 79-80 You are in first class but end up sitting next to a bratty 5 year old and have to cut his meat for him
  • 77-78 You accidentally board using the boarding pass for the wrong flight causing mayhem because your boarding pass did not scan properly when you boarded and now number of passengers on the plane does not match the number of scanned boarding passes.
  • 75-76 You carefully packed your race gear in carry on but your carry on does not fit in the overhead and they check your bag after you board the plane. Roll a d20 if you roll 5 or higher your bag shows up on the luggage carousel.
  • 73-74 They lose your checked bags
  • 71-72 You open the bag of pretzels and they fly open showering pretzels on your seat mates
  • 69-70 You have a 7 year sitting behind you who keeps kicking your seat
  • 67-68 You get an exit row seat with extra leg space
  • 65-66 You get a seat that does not recline
  • 63-64 Flight is overbooked you are bumped to the next flight.
  • 61-62 They changed planes, your exit row seat is now a middle seat in the back of the plane
  • 59-60 Thunderstorm at arrival airport (roll d20, if you roll a 1 they turn your plane around and fly back to your place of departure and you have to rebook on another flight, otherwise 2d10minutes delay)
  • 57-58 You flew Southwest Airlines and they cancelled your flight due to staffing shortages during COVID
  • 55-56 Bumpy flight
  • 53-54 Smooth flight
  • 51-52 Person in front of you reclines their seat so far back their head is in your lap
  • 49-50 Short line at security, get an extra drink pre-flight
  • 47-48 Long line at security, subtract one from endurance for sprinting to the gate
  • 45-46 TSA Pre-check for security, get two extra drinks pre-flight
  • 43-44 You have TSA pre-check but TSA pre-check is not open, subtract one from endurance for sprinting to the gate
  • 41-42 Long customs line, subtract one from endurance from stress thinking you will miss your flight
  • 39-40 Short customs line, get one extra drink pre-flight
  • 37-38 Nexus or other express customs clearance, get two extra drinks pre-flight
  • 35-36 You have Nexus or other express customs clearance, but the kiosks are not working, subtract one from endurance for sprinting to the gate
  • 33-34 The paperback book in your carry on triggers a manual search of your bag at security
  • 31-32 You get a pat down because you set off the metal detector
  • 29-30 You forgot you had a bottle of sunscreen in your carry on, throw out your sunscreen because it’s a liquid over 50 ml
  • 27-28 You get pulled aside for the explosive test on your hands and laptop
  • 25-26 You spot another Boston runner at the gate, compare notes on marathons
  • 23-24 Strong headwinds (d20 minutes flight delay)
  • 21-22 Strong tailwinds (d20 minutes early)
  • 19-20 In flight entertainment system has a movie you haven’t seen before and want to watch
  • 17-18 You have in flight entertainment system but you only have Bluetooth headphones and can’t bring yourself to purchase in flight ear buds
  • 15-16 Gate crew is not ready when you land (d20 minutes delay deplaning)
  • 13-14 Dust in the door handle of the emergency exit in the exit row causes the door to emit a high pitched squealing noise, roll d20 to determine if sound stops after you reach cruising altitude
  • 11-12 Plane is struck by lightning, no flight delay but add 10 to stress level
  • 9-10 Propeller plane and you got the seat beside the propeller lose 5 decibel of hearing unless  you have noise reducing headphones, in which case lose 2 decibels of hearing
  • 7-8 A fleet of antique airplanes is landing at your airport (d20 minutes delay)
  • 5-6 Spot a celebrity on your flight
  • 3-4 Your boarding pass says SSSS roll a d20, if you roll 11-20 you make your flight, roll 1-10 you miss your flight and have to catch the next one
  • 1-2 Your name matches someone on the watch list – miss your flight into the US and catch the next one

If you survived the airport wild magic and arrived in Boston in time to pick up your bib advanced to Stage 7 Bib pick up

Stage 7 Bib pick up

Congratulations you have arrived in Boston and hopefully you arrived with your running gear. Proceed to Boylston Street and enter the Proof of Vaccination tent. Roll a d20 to determine if your vaccination is approved by the WHO and you get your runner’s bracelet. If you fail your throw, advance to the COVID test tent and roll a d20 to determine if your COVID test is negative, add 10 to your score if you are fully vaccinated, add 5 to your score if you wear a mask in public locations, subtract one for every meal indoors at a restaurant, movie, or large public event attended in the past 14 days. If you fail this throw your adventure ends here. If you make the throw accept your runner’s bracelet and proceed to the Bib pick up.

Look up your bib number. Roll a d4 to determine the number of people in line in front of you. Take a moment to appreciate how incredibly efficient the vaccination check and bib pick up were this year and don’t forget to thank the amazing volunteers.  Then look down in your hands and realize you are holding your race bib. Let it hit you, get a little emotional, it’s okay. Enter the expo. Roll 3d10 to determine the total amount of money you spend  on official Boston race gear and souvenirs. If you wear a Women’s size Small or Extra Small roll a d20 to determine if they have what you want in your size. Subtract 2 from your roll for every 6 hours the race expo was open because all the other women already bought the smaller sizes. Do a wisdom check to see if you can restrain yourself from buying the Medium because it is too big for you, but you really like that blue windbreaker with the dark blue sleeves.*

*My sister passed the wisdom check and did not purchase the size Medium windbreaker and I was relatively restrained this year only purchasing the Celebration jacket, a long sleeved shirt, two pint glasses, a pin, and a badge.

Roll a d6 to determine the number of hours you spend going to sporting goods shops across Boston because the reduced size race expo does not have ANY running shoes, gels, nip guards, socks, etc… anything you needed for race day will have to be purchased elsewhere, but, if you want a Sam Adams beer they’ve got you covered*

*Did you know there is a Marathon Sports store out by Harvard Square? They didn’t have my size at the Marathon Sports on Boylston.

Advance to Stage 8

Stage 8 Take it all in!

You’ve done all your running around, it’s time to take in the sights, maybe go find a cannoli or some clam chowder. Do a wisdom check, if you fail the wisdom check you eat the cannoli* or clam chowder the night before the race and make a port-a-potty stop mid-race. If you arrived Saturday, go for an easy run Sunday morning along the river or if you are staying by the airport, along the ocean at Revere Beach.

*James

Take a photo at the finish line, then get back to your room and lay out all your race gear. Tomorrow you run the Boston marathon! Advance to Stage 9 Get to the start line

Stage 9 Get to the start line

Get up early, dress up in your best throw away pre-race outfit and make your way to the school bus to drop off your gear check if you don’t have a convenient hotel or generous friend or family member to lug your stuff around. Then begin the walk to the bus, board the bus at the scheduled time for your bib colour. Roll a d20, if you roll a 1 the bus driver gets lost and you arrive at the start an hour later than planned*

*Yeah one of the bus drivers got completely lost on the way to the start, and took an extra hour to get to the start line

Once you arrive in Hopkinton, start walking to the Start line. Stop at the port-a-potties, roll a d10 to determine the number of people in front of you in line. Gain 10 minutes if you are a guy and use the open urinal zone.

Begin to discard your throwaway gear into the clear bags, garbage in the black bags. Do a wisdom check to determine if you do any stretches or warm up. Continue walking to the start line. Take one last photo if you have your phone because with the rolling start, as soon as you reach the start line your Boston marathon is underway! Advance to Stage 10 Run the marathon

Stage 10 Run the marathon

Oh my god, I’m here, I’m running the Boston marathon, there are runners all around me, there are fans cheering, try not to run too fast on that initial downhill. Hey look there’s the Ashland Biker bar. Oh wait, uphill now, but look at that cute Labrador holding the Boston Strong flags. Natick… more hills and there’s Santa Claus at the top of the hill. Framingham, more cheering crowds, more hills. Wellesley another hill and the famous Wellesley college girls scream tunnel but no kisses from the girls this year, I guess COVID has changed some aspects of the race itself. Water stops are soooo well organized, amazing volunteers, and here we are in Newton for even more hills! Lots of crowds to cheer you up the hills, good thing because that first Newton hill goes on and on and on. Boston college has a great cheering section too! Brookline and wait I’m confused is this section flat??? Haven’t seen much of that today, I really should have done more hill training.  Now entering Boston, one mile to go, Right on Hereford, left on Boyleston and it’s time to smile for the camera, you are about to finish the 125th Boston marathon! The weather was not as hot as forecast you might even PB*

*Stephanie, Rachel

Stage 11 You did it

My feet hurt, my legs hurt, I just ran 42.2 km / 26.2 miles but as soon as I hit that finish line, the 400 m walk to the gear check feels like another marathon. I make it to the exit, my sister Judy is waiting for me, I greet her briefly and inform her when she wants to find me I’ll be collapsed on the grass in Boston commons. This picture was taken at least 20 minutes later because I found the strength to sit upright again 🙂 Congratulations you have completed the 125th Boston marathon!

For more of my race reports, including comparisons of Boston and New York marathons, the practical guide to Boston marathon weekend (pre-COVID), or Boston marathon treadmill settings visit my page of running related posts.