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New York Marathon Race Report

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

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

Getting a bib
RegisterForNYC

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

The Race Expo

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Scoping out the finish20171103_150140

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

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

Pre-race dinner

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

Getting to the race village

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

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

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

The hunt for the Dunkin Donut hats!

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

Start corrals

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

The pacers

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

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

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

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

The race course

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

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

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

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

SusanFinish

Exiting Central Park

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

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

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

Post-Race celebrations

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

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

SusanMimosa

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

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

Let’s talk hills…

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

New York

NYCHillProfile

Boston
Screenshot_20170430-162846

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

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

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

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

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

What about the weather…

let’s compare the two year over year

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Which race posts faster times…

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

Men’s Race

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

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

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

Women’s race

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

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

Setting world records

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

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

So after all that, which course is tougher?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Susan and Japanese runner

Making a friend at the start

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

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

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

PalaceGuard

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

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

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

Mileagemarker

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

Pedestrians

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

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

raceresults

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

CourseRecord

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

I want to be more like Lee Dirks, I’ll miss you

Sometimes even in a brief time of knowing someone you can still feel inspired by them

Lee Dirks of Microsoft Research and his wife died this week in a tragic car accident. I met Lee Dirks at the iSchools conference in Toronto in February. We spent a few hours together talking about opportunities to work together in the coming months, about our kids, and life in general.

Lee was one of those people who greeted everyone with a very big smile, he was thoughtful and courteous. He did those little thing that matter, like standing aside to let you enter the elevator first. Despite the fact that Microsoft is a company where we are all inundated with emails every day. He answered every email I sent his way (that is truly an achievement at Microsoft). He never made me feel like I was being a nuisance, he was always helpful. Put simply, I will miss him. I would like to be a bit more like him. Gone but not forgotten. I am glad I had the pleasure of knowing him and very sad to think I will not see him again.

That said, I believe that when you meet someone you like, somehow a little piece of them stays with you, because there will be moments when that encounter comes back to you and affects how you respond. I suspect there are a lot of people out there who may be a little better for having known Lee, I’d like to think I am one of them.

Is Certification Worth It?

Yes it is! The usual argument I hear against certification is “When I apply for a job, they don’t care if I’m certified, they just care about my experience.” Well of course a hiring manager cares about your experience, but they also care about certifications!

Earning a certification tells everyone *you* are someone who takes initiative! When you walk up to your boss and say “I want to get certified on Windows Azure”, it says a lot about you. It tells them you want to build your skills, you want to grow, you care enough about your career to make the extra effort, you want to stay on top of technology. When a manager sees someone who keeps their certifications current, it tells them this is someone who can learn and keep up with new technologies, a skill EVERY manager wants their developer to have. It’s also a good way to convince your boss they should send you to a conference as well! TechEd North America has an entire certification area to help you earn a certification while you are at the show. Coming back from a conference certified is a very tangible return on investment.

Earning a certification will help your day to day development! You build web sites every day, you’ve written multiple ASP.NET applications, you’ve used Ajax and JQuery. You are a strong web developer. Why would you bother getting the ASP.NET certification? Have you looked at LINQ yet? How about ASP.NET MVC? I am not suggesting you should rewrite your old applications every time there is a new feature, but shouldn’t you know the features exist so you will know when you should use them? When you work with a product every day, you become very strong using the 20-50% of the product you use. But what about the features you haven’t used? The features you aren’t even aware of? Sure you have code that calls stored procedures from your applications, but did you know that in SQL Server 2008, you can pass multiple records to a stored procedure? If you had your MCTS SQL Server 2008 Database Development certification you would know that. I can’t tell you how many times I have been studying for a certification exam and had an ‘aha’ moment where I said “no way! You can do that? I wish I had known that 3 months ago on my project”, or 6 months after I passed the exam I had a moment where I said “Wait, we CAN do that, I remember seeing that feature when I was studying for my exam!” Gradually, you will be seen as the person who knows what we can and cannot do with the product, you will become the person who can provide advice on when to migrate to a new version of the product, you are becoming the expert.

Earning a certification can help you get a job or promotion! Taking a Visual Studio 2010 certification does not guarantee you will be hired as a programmer, because you are competing with others who have been programming for 5-15 years! However, if I am trying to choose between two programmers with similar experience and one of them has the certification MCTS .NET Framework 4, Service Communication Applications. I might decide that someone with a little extra knowledge on how to write and call services will bring more to the team. Certifications are particularly valuable on new tools and technologies. Have you ever tried to hire an experienced SharePoint developer? They are hard to come by! I think many managers would consider the MCTS Microsoft SharePoint 2010 Application Development certification sufficient evidence that you could be hired as a SharePoint developer.

So there you have it I am a big believer in certification, which is why I agreed to do a webcast with Microsoft Learning to help anyone preparing for the 70-536 .NET Framework Application Development Foundation exam. The webcast was recorded and you can view the recording here.

This week’s My 5 is all about helping you get certified, so here are

My 5 Steps to getting certified (in order this time)

  1. Set a goal – Go to the Microsoft Learning website and look at the certifications. Choose a certification you can earn which matches your existing skills and goals. Look up the exam or exams you need to pass to achieve your goal. Once you have set a goal, get it added to your annual commitments at work. Some companies will give you time and resources to study and most employers will pay for the exam.
  2. Find gaps – Look at the exam guide for your exam and check the skills measured tab, purchase a practice test at MeasureUp or Self Test Software, this will help you find out what you need to study to pass the exam.
  3. Fill gaps – Don’t spend a lot of time re-studying the exam content you already know. You found the gaps, now use resources around you to fill in the gaps of your knowledge. Check the Learning Catalog for a Learning Plan for your exam, or check the Preparation Materials tab of the exam guide for suggested books, and courses, and hey don’t forget MSDN and TechNet!
  4. Take the exam – go to the Prometric web site and schedule the exam. Set a date. Otherwise you will never get around to taking the exam, you can study forever! Worst case scenario, you don’t pass the first time you take the exam. Keep an eye out for promotions that give you a free second try Smile
  5. Be proud of yourself! – Some of these exams are pretty tough to pass, it is an achievement to earn a certification, give yourself a pat on the back, put it on your business card or resume. Tell your boss. Send me an e-mail and brag!

Gamers Can Teach Us All a Few Things

Whether you are developing a website, a windows application, a windows phone application, or a game, there are certain universal truths to application development. Friday evening, I attended the Algonquin college game expo where graduates of the Game Development program showcased their final projects. Teams of students each developed games for the Xbox 360. The team members brought their graphical design and programming skills together to bring their game visions to life. I had some great conversations with them about the challenges they faced during development. It was interesting to discover how the lessons they learned are the same lessons I have seen others learn the hard way in the “real world.”

I couldn’t resist throwing together a My 5 featuring some very sound advice from the graduates of the Game Development program.

My 5 (or I guess I should call it Their 5) in no particular order

What I would do differently if I had to rebuild my application from scratch

  1. Make the code as extendable and reusable as possible.
  2. Get the core functionality working before you start developing the little details, otherwise you have to keep changing the little details over and over as you develop the core functionality.
  3. If you are going to rely on someone else’s code for functionality, identify requirements before you make a final decision, and make sure your chosen product supports those requirements.
  4. Never give up on your original vision. You will encounter problems and make compromises, but always keep the original vision in mind and strive to achieve it!
  5. Think about and design the overall user experience, not just the graphics and screen design. Is your application intuitive? Will users be able to use if effectively? This last point is one I think many of us miss, sure we talk about designing screens, but that is only part of the user experience. There is a very interesting book by Bill Buxton called Sketching User Experiences that will challenge the way you think about design.

I wonder if next year’s students will be using the Kinect SDK! If you are interested in creating games, check out the App hub to access resources to develop for Xbox 360 or Windows Phone. The Go DevMental blog has some great tips too!

How to Make Your Code Demos Rock!

imageDo you present at user groups, or conferences? Maybe you have to walk through your code at team meetings. Regardless, there are a number of little things you can do to make your code demonstrations more effective. Whether you are working with SQL Server Management Studio, Visual Studio, or the Command Window, it is worth taking a little time to learn a few best practices. That’s why I co-presented a session entitled “Creating Captivating Code” with developer MCT, Christopher Harrison (@geektrainer) at the “MCT Third Thursday“ April 21st.  If you are an MCT, you can visit the MCT Summit site and see the recorded session. For those of you who are not MCTs, maybe you want to become one (but that’s a blog for another day,) meanwhile, I’ll share a few tips and tricks here.

The first step is to take some time to learn how to make the most of the tools themselves. For example, if you are doing a demonstration in  Visual Studio, choose Tools | Options from the menu and explore!  You can add or remove line numbers, change the font size, or even the tab settings.  Learning how to use the tool features to make your code appear more clearly will make your demonstrations more effective and can even make you look smarter Smile! Don’t believe me? Next time you are showing someone your code in Visual Studio, put your cursor in the code window and try <ALT><SHIFT><ENTER>. I promise you, your co-worker will look at you impressed and say “Hey, that’s cool! How did you do that?” (by the way to exit this mode use <ALT><U>) Like that trick? There is a great session from TechDays called Visual Studio Tips 2010 and Tricks you can watch to learn more. In SQL Server Management Studio, go to the menu and choose Tools | Options | Environment | Fonts and Colors, choose Selected Text Item and set Background to yellow, and Foreground to black. Now when you highlight part of a SQL command or stored procedure it will jump out at you (no 3D glasses required.) Working in the Command Window? Right click at the top of the Command Window and choose Properties | Font | Size to change the size of the font (I like 12X16.)

How you write your code affects code demonstrations too. Formatting counts! Indent your If statements and loops, use meaningful variable names, make keywords uppercase in your SQL commands. This makes your code easier to read and consequently easier to understand. Keep your methods short, I don’t need to see the code that declares the connection string when you are trying to show me a LINQ query. If you want to write the code from beginning to end so you can show all the steps required, consider refactoring. For example, if you start your demonstration by creating and opening a connection, refactor that code into a method called OpenConnection and call the method, then go on to write your query. This way when you are explaining the query all eyes are on the query, exactly where you want them!

My 5

5 Tricks to improve demonstrations in different tools

  1. For all your demonstrations – Install and use ZoomIt or something equivalent. With Zoomit, you can zoom in when the text or image is too small to see. In particular, Zoomit is great for property windows, Explorer windows and execution plans.
  2. SQL Server Management Studio – Change the Font Size for the Text Editor, Grid Results, and Text Results (Tools Options | Environment | Fonts and Colors)
  3. Visual Studio – Change the Font Size for the code editor window (Tools Options | Environment | Fonts and Colors)
  4. Command Window – Change the Screen Background to White and the Screen Text to Black (Properties | Colors)
  5. Windows Phone 7 – Clean your fingernails. It sounds nitpicky but seeing an enlarged view of dirty fingernails on the projector is actually distracting me from the cool stuff you are trying to show me!

One of the great debates (aside from VB vs C# but that is a discussion for another day) is whether code demos should be kept simple to just illustrate the concept, or more complicated so they better reflect the real world. I would be curious to know what you think both from a presenter and audience perspective. Should code demonstrations be Simple or Real World?