Posts Tagged ‘marathon’

NYC Marathon vs Boston Marathon Part 2 – which one is more awesome

My friend Christopher and I have had this conversation many times, because we never could agree: “Which is the ultimate US marathon experience Boston or New York?” In Part 1 I asked the question which is tougher now I ask the more controversial question which is more awesome!

IMG_20171105_084203SusanChristopherBoston

Who has the best crowd support?

By the numbers

According to the Boston Marathon media guide, the Boston marathon has an estimated 500,000 spectators and the New York marathon has an estimated 1,000,000+ spectators. So in terms of sheer numbers there is no question you have more people cheering you on in New York. Not surprising given New York has ten times the population of Boston. Also, in Boston, you run through the suburbs into Boston itself, whereas in New York you are running in the city for the entire race. Since you run through areas with a higher population it makes sense you would get bigger crowds.

By decibel level

decibel-meterThis is a tough one to call. The 2017 crowds in Boston seemed louder to me than the 2017 crowds in New York. But! I know the weather is a huge factor. The 2015 crowds in Boston were much quieter because it was cold and wet. Boston 2017 was a gorgeous sunny day, great for spectators (a little warm for runners) and I experienced Boston crowds at their ear drum splitting best! New York 2017 was cloudy with drizzle not as appealing to spectators (great for runners). From everything I have heard, New York on a sunny day is louder than my 2017 NYC experience and I have no doubt that is the case. 2017 NYC was louder than 2015 Boston, but, 2015 Boston was colder and wetter than 2017 New York.

At both the New York and Boston races there are parts of the course where the cheering is so loud that it is overwhelming.  At either race, if you put your name on your bib you may suddenly end up with a group of complete strangers chanting your name (which I think is awesome!). Though some runners will deliberately run in the middle of the road or cross to the side with less spectators because it can become quite intense, especially when you are struggling.

One of my favorite moments of the New York City marathon was the contrast between the Queensboro bridge and Queens (hope that’s the right borough). On the bridges you have no spectators, all you hear is the breathing and feet of the runners. But as you come off the bridge you can hear the crowds cheering in the distance ready to welcome you back to the streets.  Decibel levels peak around mile 8 when the three colour corrals merge, right after the Queensboro bridge and around and through Central Park.

In Boston, you may be in suburbia but they show up to cheer their runners! The loudest stretches are  Wellesley, Boston college. Wellesley college is at the top of the hill at around the half way mark, and you can hear them well before you reach the top. In the past few years Boston college has stepped up their game and dare I say it are in fact louder than Wellesley college. Of course the final stretches of Boston along the brownstones and along Boylston are also impressively loud.

By spirit

CheeringNew York city has a vibe, it’s New York! You run through the Bronx, Brooklyn, Queens and Manhatten (twice). The vibe and crowds vary from borough to borough. You might hear rap, gospel singers, and my personal favorite the dancing rabbi. If you love New York City, you are going to love the New York marathon it’s that simple! Let’s be clear, I come from Ottawa, Canada where, let’s face it, the overwhelming majority of the population is white. It’s awesome to see such diversity in the crowds (and runners!).  If you look for it there is also a pride in the residents of each borough. One of my friends running crossed the Willis bridge and was greeted by a man on the sidewalk yelling “Welcome to the Bronx!” That’s just cool!

Boston has a very different vibe, partly due to the bombing in 2013. 2 bombs detonated 200 m apart on Boylston near the finish line killing 3 people and injuring hundreds of others.  The effect was an increase in popularity in the Boston marathon, as runners around the world wanted to show that one bomber could not scare everyone away and they would take back the race. The phrase “Boston strong” is seen on shirts and signs around race day. DaffodilsMy first Boston marathon was in 2015. It was rainy, windy and cold. A spectator on their lawn in the first few miles yelled out “Thank you for running!” my immediate response was “Thank you for cheering” I was getting a medal out of this and I was moving to stay warm, they were standing in the cold rain cheering on the back end of wave 3!  The majority of those injured in the bombing were spectators and year after year they return “Boston strong” to cheer us on. So seriously “Thank you for cheering!”.  Boston rallied the day of the bombing, there are so many stories of strangers helping each other after the bomb went off. They closed the course with runners still on the course, tired, cold, with no cell phone or way to reach their families at the finish line and the area with the bag check was locked down. Restaurants provided warm soup to runners stepping inside to get warm, strangers offered rides to help them reunite with their families. Chances are at some point during the race or before the race you are going to feel that spirit.

The crowds in Boston have energy as well. I didn’t see any dancing rabbis, but you do have the dancing Santa, the guys at the biker bar, the store with the mirrored windows so you can see yourself running, and the most famous spectators: the girls at Wellesley college with their signs offering up kisses (equal opportunity kisses, some have signs saying they will kiss girls).  For the record, I did not stop for a kiss in 2015, but in 2017 as I read all the different signs “Kiss me I’m Irish” “Kiss me it’s your last chance before I move to California” “Kiss me if you voted for Clinton”, “Kiss me and I will drop this sign” signs held up to suggest that perhaps the sign was all that stood between you and a naked woman (sorry guys, she was wearing a sundress) I decided it was part of the Boston experience and ran over for a kiss.  She was absolutely willing to give me a kiss on the lips, but I settled for a kiss on the cheek.

Taking over the city

Boston has a population of about 650,000 and gets around 20 million tourists a year. New York city has a population of 8.5 million and an estimated 60 million tourists a year.

As a result, even though 50,000 runners and their support family and friends descend on New York City, it is not as noticeable as 30,000 runners with their support teams in Boston. Boston also has the advantage that the race falls on Memorial Day long weekend. So everyone in Boston knows when it’s race weekend.

Boston rocks the pre-race

BostonJacketsWhen you arrive in the city, runners from previous years walk around wearing their Boston race jackets from past races. Let me tell you, I couldn’t wait to arrive at the 2017 Boston marathon because this time I had a 2015 race jacket to wear around town before race day.  It becomes a game to try and spot the oldest Boston jacket, or to find the oldest in the list of race years on embroidered on Boston jackets.

The Boston jackets also make it obvious to the locals who the runners are, so chances are when you go out for breakfast, lunch or supper, someone at the table will ask “Are you running Monday?” and wishes of good luck on race day.

The weather forecast talks about the weather on “Marathon Monday.” The local restaurants serve the special Edition Sam Adams Boston marathon beer. For 3 or 4 days, Bolyston is the center of all things Boston marathon. You can check out the expo and the run center with it’s 3D contour map of the course. Try to spot elite runners (saw Meb just casually walking down Boylston Sunday in 2016). Cheer on friends in the 5 km race, watch the college kids compete in the invitational 1 mile race. Wait your turn to take a picture at the finish line. Receive the blessing of the runners from the church on Boylston Sunday morning.  Anytime you want to feel like part of something special you just walk down Boylston and soak it all in.

Of course, there are reminders of the Boston bombing as well. Pots of daffodils line streets and store windows in memoriam. “Boston strong” is painted in store windows and appears on signs and posters. The lampposts where the bombs were set off are decorated with crochet blue and yellow daffodils. Police with rifles walk the streets, SWAT vans are parked on the corner. Police with dogs walk past. Spectators are reminded of the security procedures to watch the race on Boylston race day. But the overall impact of the bombing has really been “We are strong, we will not be intimidated, we will go on stronger than before… Boston strong!” It’s empowering.

After the race, the streets and restaurants are flooded with runners sporting their new Boston jackets. Those who have run Boston 5 or 6 times may arrive and say ‘this year I won’t buy a jacket’ but then you get to the expo, and discover oh this year’s jacket is reflective, or I like the colour this year, or you see your friend trying on a jacket and eventually your resolve weakens. Gotta have the jacket. It all adds to the spirit that is the Boston marathon! (Kudos to whatever marketing person came up with that idea, my sister now owns about 10 Boston jackets?)

New York rocks the post-race

SusanMimosaSince most of us follow the superstition or tradition of not wearing our race shirts until after the race, it’s difficult to spot the runners before the race in New York City. As a runner you can have playing spot the other runners based on the shoes, the conversations, the expo race bag slung over their shoulder. There’s comradery in hotel elevators as we glance at each other and tentatively ask “are you running?” The race expo and the finish line are located miles apart, so you have to make an effort to visit the finish line area. It’s totally worth the effort as you can walk down that finishing stretch lined with flags, visit the run center and see the winner’s medals, the giant race map, and whatever other fun experiences sponsors have cooked up to get you in the mood!

But it’s after the race when New York truly embraces the runners. We walked into a Bierhaus for a post-race dinner and the restaurant patrons burst into applause at the sight of the famous blue poncho on Christopher and in my case the good old mylar blanket ( I chose bag check). Any time a runner came into the restaurant we all cheered and clapped as we stumbled to a table and collapsed into a chair.

It’s tradition to wear your medal the day after the race. I am perfectly willing to walk around wearing a race medal! Concierges, taxi drivers, strangers on the street all smile and say Congratulations!  We made our way to a news stand to buy the New York Times which has a special marathon section where they print the names and times of the first 35000 runners (what an awesome souvenir!) The man at the newsstand gestured to Christopher’s medal and said “Can I touch it?” Smiling, Christopher passed it to him, and he lifted and caressed the medal with a big smile and a heartfelt congratulations.

Marathon Monday is a thing in New York, with a whole series of celebrations and activities the day after the marathon! Free medal engraving? Maybe it’s because the race in Boston is on the Monday of a holiday weekend, but in Boston the day after the race all we are thinking about is how soon we can get on the road and head home. I had no idea that in New York, I should have booked a later flight so I could take part in the post-race celebrations and atmosphere of Marathon Monday!

What moments impact you as a runner

Boston is about getting to the start line!

BostonAcceptanceAside from the charity entries at Boston, everyone in the race has already completed a marathon, most of them have completed several.  They know they can do it! Some of them have trained for years to earn a BQ. A task that has become more and more challenging since the year of the bombing.

There was a time you could run a BQ in March and register for the Boston marathon one month later. In fact, there was a time when runners could take advantage of the rounding down rule (if you ran a 3:55:06 that counted as a 3:55 BQ). In the past 5 years, too many runners with qualifying times have registered and as a result Boston has had to calculate a cut-off time to keep the number of runners down to 30,000.

Registration dates vary based on your qualifying time. Someone who has a time 20 minutes faster than the BQ requirement registers a week before someone like me who qualifies with a time within 5 minutes of your BQ. It’s stressful for those of us in the sub 5 group. You wait for the inevitable email informing you they have too many runners with qualifying times and then you wait. About a week later you receive an email telling you this years cutoff time and whether or not you made the cut. There is some luck involved here. My 2015 qualifying time would not have earned me a spot in 2016, and my 2017 qualifying time would not have earned me a spot in 2018. Those of us on the cusp may have to wait months and months after our qualifying race to find out if our BQ is in fact good enough to get us to the start line.

2018 Cutoff 3:23

2017 Cutoff 2:09

2016 cutoff 2:28

2015 cutoff 1:02

2014 cutoff 1:38

Even charity runners work harder to get to Boston as the fundraising targets are $5000 USD vs $2500-$3000 for New York.

As a result, the celebrations at Boston happen at the start line. Congratulations you are running Boston! Conversations in the start village are along the lines of “Is this your first Boston?”, “What was your qualifying race?” we don’t even need to ask what their qualifying time was because if they are in your corral, they qualified with the same time you did! We assume the runners around us are experienced marathon runners and we are all sharing the joy of being at the start line in Hopkington.

Inevitably there will be someone who earned their first Boston Bib and got an injury. Someone will be lined up with crutches or a cast. They know they probably won’t finish but damn it they finally got a bib and they are absolutely going to cross that start line!  There are a lot of smiles at that start line!

New York is about getting to the finish line

SusanFinishThe most awesome thing about the NYC marathon is it does NOT require a qualifying time. Most runners get in by volunteering, running multiple New York races, or by lottery.  That means in addition to experience runners chasing a personal best, there are lots of first time marathon runners on the course.

In the start corral I was surprised to discover how many people had never run a marathon before. But wow, what a place to run your first marathon! My only comment might be, if you think you will run multiple marathons and you run New York for your first, the New York marathon will make just about any other marathon pale in comparison!

Because there are so many first time, or relatively new marathon runners, there are some great traditions and celebrations of the later runners crossing the finish line. Some elite runners come back to cheer on the stragglers. How awesome is that!  I truly believe those are the people who deserve the biggest cheers. Sure I was tired at the end, but I knew I could do it. These people didn’t even know if they could finish. While I was sitting down at a restaurant ordering food and a drink, they were still out there in the dark making their way to the finish line! Which of us had the greater achievement that day?

Run! Cours! Correre! 実行

Both New York and Boston attract runners from all over the world: Poland, Vietnam, Chile, France, Ireland, Italy, Germany, Japan, New Zealand. Spectators shout out viva Brazil and wave the Brazilian flag as a runner goes past in green and yellow!  At the 2017 NYC marathon 139 countries were represented. At the 2017 Boston marathon 96 countries were represented.

I think that international race spirit is a little stronger in New York. That’s likely because New York encourages international runners by reserving a certain number of lottery spots for international runners. That way, if a group of runners in Ireland decide they should all go run the New York marathon, there is a decent chance several of them will get in through the lottery and they can make the trip together. If someone doesn’t get in through the lottery they can buy their way in through a tour package (that’s how I made it to New York) or by fundraising. You see groups of runners with custom NYC <insert country here> jackets walking down the street!

In Boston there is no lottery, getting an entry is determined by your qualifying time so the race has no control over how many international runners compete.  It’s a testament to the popularity of the race that they have 96 different countries represented!

Getting to the start

LadyLibertyBoston and NYC are both point to point races, so you have to get to the start line. Boston provides school buses from Boston Commons. They have an efficient system for loading the buses. When you can board the bus is based on your start wave. One advantage to being in Wave 3 is I get to sleep in later than all those folks in Wave 1 and Wave 2 😊. You board the bus and try not to think about the fact that as the bus trundles along to Hopkington that you have to run all the way back.

There are specific locations in NYC where you can take buses to the start. You have to select ahead of time whether you will take the bus or the ferry. My friends all took the bus. There was a big line to board the buses, but once you were on board it was easy, and some of the buses even had bathrooms on the bus! Bonus! My friend Christopher said I should take the ferry. I have to say, I am glad I did. It is more hassle because you have to get on the ferry and then line up for buses on the other end. But standing on the ferry with the Statue of Liberty on your right and the Verrazano bridge on your left is an amazing way to get in the mood for the race!  Even if the total time and effort to reach the start was longer, and even though the bus loading system was disorganized and chaotic when we got off the ferry (I am told it was better in 2016, hopefully they fix it next year) I would take the ferry again just for that view.

The start village

Ahhh the joys of the marathons. You get up at 4 or 5 AM and when you finally reach the start you have 1 to 2 hours before you actually start!

The important stuff: Port-a-Potties!

Both races have lots and lots of port-a-potties. Both races have long lines for the port-a-potties. Both races have port-a-potties in the village and either in the corrals (NYC) or on the walk to the corrals (Boston). Tip: If you are in a back corral of a wave, the port-a-potties en route to the corrals usually have nice short lines and you still have time to get to your corral before you start 😊.  New York is famous for “yellow rain”: Runners on the upper level of the Verrazano peeing off the side creating yellow rain for the runners on the lower level of the bridge. I didn’t see anyone doing that in 2017, and I have yet to meet a runner from the upper or lower level who actually witnessed the creation of, or fall of, yellow rain. On the other hand, the aerial view of the first half mile of Boston must be hilarious as waves of men peel off into the conveniently located patch of trees right after the start line to take advantage of nature’s washroom.  Both races threaten to disqualify you if you do that in the village!

What can I do while I wait for my start wave?

StartVillageBoston has several big tents set up which is great to protect you from the sun or rain. If you are in Wave 3 (like me), when you arrive the tents are packed! But once the Wave 1 runners head out you can usually move in and find space (you might even find a few blankets to sit on left behind by earlier runners).

In Boston everyone just hangs out in one big field. In New York there are different villages for different colour bibs. If you are running with a friend you can still hang out together in the common areas OR the friend with the faster bib can go to the slower colour village, but the slower colour bibs cannot enter the faster colour corrals.  i.e. Blue bibs can go anywhere, Orange bibs cannot get into Blue, but can enter green, Green bibs can only enter the green village. The advantage to this system is it spreads everyone out a bit, the disadvantage is the start villages are more confusing to navigate.IMG_20171105_084130

You can find the usual pre-race food/gels and water at both races. But New York does have a couple of cool bonuses: In each village they have therapy dogs & Dunkin Donut hats (while supplies last). If you have bag check, pick up the hat before you check your bag OR bring a safety pin to attach the hat to your race belt for the run. Another nice touch in New York was the hay laid down on some of the grassy areas which made for some nice spots to sit or lie down.

Bag Check & ponchos

Both races will only accept official provided with bib pick up transparent bags for bag check

Bag Check at New York is in the start village, so you have the option of bringing a few extra things with you to the start and checking them after you get there.  This meant I was able to bring my phone and take pictures in the start village and then check the phone with my bag. It also meant I was able to throw some optional race gear in the bag to use or not use depending on weather conditions and just check what I did not use.  You do have to check your bag well before your start time! Make sure you look up the deadline for bag check drop off! My wave started at 10:15 but my bag check cut off was 8:40! You may need to get an earlier bus or ferry to the start if you are checking a bag.

Boston you have to check the bag before you board the buses to the start (pre 2017 the bag check was in Boston Commons, in 2017 they moved it to Boylston). This could be a big hassle if you are not staying near Boylston.

In New York you have to choose between bag check and the famous blue ponchos.  The blue ponchos are thicker and warmer than the mylar blankets given to all the finishers. Keep an eye out for the volunteers with tape to hold your poncho closed for you😊. Runners with blue ponchos also have a shorter walk to the park exit. Yes, that’s right whether you choose bag check or poncho determines where you exit Central park. My bag check was almost a half mile from the finish line and I felt every single step. When I finally got my bag and walked out of the park I then had to walk back towards the start to get to a metro station.

In Boston everyone gets the thick Poncho. On a cold day there were also volunteers ensuring the Velcro was well closed to keep you warm. In 2017 they moved the bag check to Boylston so it is a much shorter walk than it was in the past.

Apples vs Bananas

You’ve seen the sign held up by someone in the crowd “This is an awful lot of work for a free banana!”. Well of course there are bananas at the finish in Boston, but not in New York. Nope, in New York you get an apple, because of course you are in the big apple! Clever, but I wanted my banana. There I said it done, with my rant now 😉

Hey Susan, it’s a race, which is the better race purely from the running perspective?

If you are out for a personal best, neither course will give that up easily. Both courses have some tough climbs.  Check out Part 1 of this blog: which is tougher if you want the nitty gritty details!

The NYC marathon has pacers. Boston does not.

Boston corrals are much more tightly assigned since almost everyone entered had to provide proof of a qualifying time. As a result when you start everyone around you is running a similar pace. In New York you just type in your predicted finish time when you register. Inexperience marathon runners may not know what is realistic.  Both myself and the other runners from my running club found that our corrals were much slower pace than we expected given our predicted finish times. As a result if you wanted to finish at your predicted time you spent a lot energy dodging and passing runners.  The NYC marathon also has more runners which makes for a more crowded course. So, if you are trying to set an aggressive time goal, it’s going to be tougher to achieve in New York.

Of course, if your goal is to be surrounded by other runners and just enjoy the race and atmosphere, New York is going to be a blast! It just depends what you are looking for on race day.

In Boston, I felt like a back of the pack runner. In New York I felt like I was one of the fast runners.

For perspective here are my personal stats for the two races

Boston 2017 New York 2017
Wave 3 (out of 4) 2 (out of 4)
Corral 7 (out of 8) Blue F (6th of 18 corrals)
Finish position 17802 9711
Finish % Top 60% Top 20%
Finish time 4:07:11 (I was running Big Sur in 2 weeks so I did not push it) 3:49:17 (I was trying for and achieved a Personal best)

 

By the numbers

A few stats comparing the two races

Boston 2017 New York 2017
Number started 27222 51307
Number finished 26400 50766
% Finished 97.0 % 98.9 %
Number Men 14842 29678
Number Women 12380 21088
% Women 45.5 % 41.1 %
Number of countries 92 139
Course record Men 2:03:02 set in 2011 2:05:06 set in 2011
Course record Women 2:19:59 set in 2014 2:22:31 set in 2003

 

The volunteers

The volunteers are awesome at Boston and New York and we couldn’t do it without them. Thank you to each and every person who comes out to volunteer!

Thankyou

So which is more awesome?

As long as I have known Christopher, he has loved New York city. From the moment he started running marathons he wanted to run the NYC marathon. When he finally got to run it for the first time in 2016, he couldn’t stop talking about it!  What an experience it was, the crowds, the atmosphere, the different boroughs, the QFB (Queensboro “expletive deleted” bridge 😊). I can’t imagine any other race taking first place in his heart!  I also expect that all those runners who did New York for their first marathon or did New York as their first major marathon will never have another race experience as powerful.

MomAndSusanJacketsWhen I was a teenager my dad ran a Boston qualifier, but never got to run Boston. Years later, my sister qualified for and ran Boston.  When my mom turned 65 she qualified for and ran her first Boston. So, you can imagine, from the first time I ran a marathon, Boston was on my mind. In 2015 I qualified for and ran the Boston marathon. I drove down with my sister who was running her 11th consecutive Boston, and our other sister came down with her husband to cheer us on (my mom and dad were of course tracking us online!) It was awesome to share that experience with my family and it was a special moment to pose in my Boston jacket with my sister and my mom.  As a result, for me, no race could ever replace Boston.

So the answer is: It depends.

Yes I know that sounds like a cop out, but it’s true. Each of us has our own reasons for running a marathon. Each of us has different goals and motivations. I don’t know which of these two races will claim your heart but I can promise you that if you get the chance to run either one you should take it! Regardless of which you run it will be an experience you will never forget!

 

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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!

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

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

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

Step 1 – Get a Boston Bib

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

Step 2 – Get a B2B BibBigSurlogo

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

2 Marathons  in 13 days are you nuts?

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

How many marathons should you run before even attempting B2B?

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

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

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

How did you train for it?

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

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

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

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

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

How fast/hard did you run Boston?

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

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

How did you feel after Boston?

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

What training did you do between races?

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

Did you fly or drive?

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

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

 

So what about Big Sur?

Big Sur is SO DIFFERENT from Boston.

The expo

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

The spectators

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

Wind

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

Shade

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

Aid stations

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

Mile markers

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

Hills

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

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

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What was your game plan for Big Sur?

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

What are the perks of doing B2B?

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

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

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

Was it worth it?

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

 

 

The best laid plans of mice and marathoners…

Often go awry

There’s your one sentence summary of my race at Grandma’s and perhaps a reminder to all of us that not matter how much you prepare there will always be factors outside your control, and you have to learn to accept it.

SusanOnrocks

Deep eh? Well you have a lot of time to think when you are running 26.2 miles. Although some of those thoughts are not suitable to reprint here Winking smile. If you want a race report that tells you what to expect if you run Grandma’s check out my more official race report here. This post is a more personal tale of my 2016 race at Grandma’s to share with friends, family and fellow runners, and also a chance to me to look back at the race.

Today is Monday. Two days ago I ran Grandma’s marathon in Duluth Minnesota. A cool little town on the shore of Lake Superior in Minnesota.That’s a picture of me admiring the lake on Friday, the day before the race. My goal was to finish a solid sub 3:50. That would mean a personal best, and it would also give me 5 minutes under my Boston qualifying time. Since the marathon was in June I had completed a long training plan, and I was running well. I had set a PR on a 5km, and a 10 mile race. I was running well on the track. I completed three 20 mile runs during my training. Physically and mentally I was ready.

The race I didn’t run

My alternate race was Ottawa race weekend, which turned out to be a rough weekend for a marathon. There were heat advisories in effect, not a good weekend to try and PR, race officials were asking runners to slow down and take care of themselves during the race. I ran the half marathon that weekend, and was thinking to myself how frustrated you would be if the Ottawa marathon was your goal race. (If I correctly recall my high school English, in literary terms that last sentence would be called foreshadowing)

Getting to Duluth

I landed at MSP (Sorry, I travel a lot so I refer to airports by their codes, MSP is Minneapolis) on time and met Karin (who would be running the half) by the gate. Christopher (Karin’s husband who would be running the full) was late so we passed the time until he landed, meeting a few other racers along the way, then picked up our rental and made our way to Duluth about two and a half hour drive. Along the way we checked the weather forecast for race day, chance of thunderstorm at 7 AM starting temperature of 16 degrees 26 by peak of day.  Hmmm not ideal, we could get a storm waiting for the race to start, but that could easily miss us.  A little warm, hopefully that will change!

Settling in

I was fortunate that Christopher and Karin went to college in Duluth and have run Grandma’s before. I couldn’t ask for better tour guides. Christopher sorted out the rental car, booked our accomodations and even sorted out our dinner reservations Friday night.

We stayed at the university of Minnesota Duluth residence.  I wasn’t too sure how I felt about sleeping in a door room with no AC, and shared showers and bathrooms down the hall. but it was actually a pretty great set up! I had an entire room to myself, it was quiet, everyone around was runners. I never had a wait for the shower, and there were some unexpected perks.

First of all there was a hospitality suite at the residence, which had junk food, pop, water, bananas, apples, oranges, bagels, jam, peanut butter, a toaster, course maps, postcards, even drawings by local schools kids welcoming us to the race!  I loved that!WP_20160617_14_44_09_Pro

There were also lounge areas, so Christoper, Karin and I were able to settle in with a laptop, bluetooth speaker and our junk food to psych ourselves up by watching Spirit of the Marathon. It’s possible our allergies may have kicked in from time to time. That movie sums up all the emotions, all the ups and downs of running marathons, and I love watching it the week before a race. (at the Chicago marathon do they have a small orchestra playing that theme music at the start?)

The day before the race

We went to the race expo early hoping to beat the crowds. Loved the truck with the names of all the runners printed on the side!

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Picked up our bibs and wandered around the expo picking up samples of chocolate milk, and looking for any must have t-shirts with clever running jokes. I almost picked up the “I run for wine” t-shirt. But finally settled on a fridge magnet, hat, pin, and a couple of laptop stickers. My laptop sticker says 26.2 Grandma’s marathon and I picked up one for Trevor that says 0.0 Grandma’s marathon Trevor still doesn’t understand this strange urge my family has to race Smile, but luckily he is still supportive of this shared insanity and is a tireless supported and spectator!

Christopher really enjoys meeting the celebrity runners in the race expo. We were practically stalking Shalayne Flanagan in Boston, and at Grandma’s it was Dick Beardsley who would likely be issuing the restraining order. He was speaking at 4 PM, so we figured we could come back then to talk to him after his presentation. As we were walking around the expo they announced “Dick Beardsley is inthe building at the North End of the expo”. Of course expo race PA systems are terrible so that was all we caught and we spent the next 20 minutes hunting through the expo, outside the expo, asking the info desk trying to figure out where he was. Just as we gave up they made another announcement. This time we listend carefully and caught the booth name “Essentia Health”. We went to what we thought was their booth, but no sign of Dick. But when we asked they pointed us down another hallway and there he was! We had walked past him 3 or 4 times and hand’t even noticed. It was so low key that hardly anyone had seen him! That worked out great because there were only two runners in front of us waiting to talk to him. He took his time and chatted with each runner and also dashed out to hug and chat some familiar faces walking by. When we finally reached him we had a good 3-5 minute chat, he signed our bibs and Christopher got a picture. All I can say after meeting him is Wow, what a great ambassador he is for the sport! He held the course record at Grandmas for 33 years! 2:09:37!

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Christopher had a PR on this course 3 years ago and warned me that the finish was a little misleading. 25 miles of the course is straight, but the last 1.2 miles winds through side streets and just as you see and hear the finish they turn you away down some road and loop you around a building then finally back to the finish. So we walked that last mile so I would know what to expect race day. We did find the 26 mile marker which made a great photo op! It was a gorgeous day, nice breeze, high of about 24 degrees or so, not too humid. Would have been a great race day! (there’s that foreshadowing again…)

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Food was cheap and easy to find. French toast at Perkins for breakfast Friday. Sandwiches for lunch at Erbert and Gerbert (handy to have friends who know the town). An early supper at Va Bene, a wonderful little Italian place overlooking the water that was completely ready for the rush of runners looking to carbo load.

By 8 PM we were well fed, rested and back at the dorm.  I checked the weather forecast one last time: chance of thunderstorms at 5 AM and 11 AM (hey that’s better we wont’ get soaked waiting at the start), starting temperature of 16 degrees and about 24 degrees by noon. Not cool, but manageable. I laid out all my race gear, set my alarm for 4:45 AM and was soon fast asleep.

Race day

My alarm woke me up, and I stumbled out of bed, slowly started to get into race mode. Body glide, compression sleeves, take a bite of my banana, have a sip of water, turn on my GPS to get a signal and so on.

Karin left earlier to catch the shuttle for the half marathon start which is at 6:15 AM. The marathon doesn’t start until 7:45.  Yeah I know the half starts before the full, weird eh? That’s because the half marathon runners start half way down the marathon course so they want the half marathon runners  off the course before the elite marathoners come through.

Christopher and I met at 5:30 and made our way to catch the shuttle. We were on the first bus, and soon we were trundling along, trying to distract ourselves so we wouldn’t think about how every mile covered by that bus we would soon be doing on foot!

A statue of Paul Bunyan marks the turnoff for the start. They dropped us off and we trundled down the road to the start area and foudn another photo op. Yup those are my the same stylish pre-race PJs I wore in Philly! I keep thinking they work because I can throw them out, but I keep throwing them in with the bag check, so there they are again! You can also just make out my fine work writing my name on my tank top with electrical tape. Apologies to my K2J folks, that tank top is my best hot weather tank top and I chose function over K2J fashion for this race.

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It was neat being amont the first buses and seeing such an empty start area. Is this what it is like for people in the first wave at Boston?

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We laid out our garbage bags on the grass and settled in. We put on our sunscreen, and generally took it easy. It wasn’t long before there were 15-30 minute waits for all those port-a-potties as you can see in the background. (See I did bring K2J gear to the race! Had to make sure I had at least one good K2J Photo op!)

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We did the mandatory last trip to the port-a-potty line and made our way to the stop. The temperature warning flag was green (low risk). We were good to go!

20160618_062029I had a mild panic when I got to the bag check because there was only one bin left for my bib number range and it was already overflowing. No sooner did I stuff my bag in they started to roll it away and bags were falling out.

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But no time to worry about that, time to find the 3:45 start point. No corrals here, just signs to indicate suggested starting points in the corral. For some reason all the pace bunnies were way down bythe front of the main start (they have a sub 2;25 start and then the everyone else start). In the end I had to fight my way down to the 3:45 bunny. I found at later that Christopher was at the 4:00 mark confused looking for his pacer along with many other runners, they didn’t know their pacer was at the front with mine.  This was my only real complaint with the race, whether that decision was made by the CliffBar pace team or the race we may never know but if you were trying to PR and planned to follow a pacer that could have thrown off your entire race…it also caused a lot of clogging near the start.

The announcer started gave us the 5 minute warning. “It’s a gorgeous 72 degrees out there right now, great day for a run”. I don’t speak Farenheit so I took his word for it (turns out that is apparently 22 in Canadian)

The race started, we slowly moved towards the start line. My GPS of course decided to go into power save mode, so I had to to restart finding my locataion again,but it was ready before I crossed the start. Let the race begin! I had my pace wrist band, my pace bunny, my belt wth gels and two water bottles I was ready!

1 km 5:20 pace – perfect exactly on track for 3:45

2 km 5:07 pace – well not surprising very crowded tough to keep up with the pace bunny

3 km 5:11, 4 km 5:06 – glad I brought water with me, first water stop isn’t until 3 miles

5 km 5:14 and the first water stop, the flag is now yellow (moderate heat risk) . ottawa race weekend I ran a half marathon with red flags, I can handle this. I dump water on my head.

6 km 5:20, 7 km 5:12, 8 km 5:14 – the pace bunny is going a little faster than I would like, but I’m okay, starting to get to know the other runners in the 3;45 pace group, still pretty crowded.

9 km 5:22, 10 km 5:14 – the first mat! I am about 90 seconds ahead of my goal time here, anyone tracking me online is thinking ‘ okay great Susan didn’t go out too fast in the first part of the race, sticking to her plan’

11 km 5:15, 12 km 5:26, 13 km 5:16 – wow there are way more hills on this course than I expected, this is not flat. Okay they aren’t really steep hills, but there do seem to be a lot of them

14 km 5:28 15 km 5:27 – you know given this race is along the water there isn’t much breeze, these darn trees are blocking the breeze from the water! Oh wait there’s an open bit, yeah that breeze can we have more of that?

16 km 5:29 17 km 5:43 – Why am I doing this. Marathons are stupid. I should just run half marathons. Yeah I am never running another marathon I mean seriously this sucks

18 km 5:34 – You know what Mr Pace bunny, you can go ahead, I’m okay back here.

19 km 5:40 – wait a second that’s a red flag (high risk) at the water station, maybe that’s why this seems so hard. Another runner comments that dunping water over her head has caused water to drip down her legs into her shoes.  Doh! Why did she have to say that, I hadn’t noticed my socks and shoes are completely soaked.

20 km 5:34, 21 km 5:46 – hey red balloons that means walk the water stops, dump ice in the sports bra, and take a sponge. These water stations are awesome! they have ice and sponges at every single stop. Oh look a timing mat, only a couple of minutes off my goal pace… bwahaha anyone tracking me online will still think I might have a personal best little do they know…

22 km 6:07, 23 km 5:46 – just get to the next yellow balloon (mile marker) then walk, just get to the next balloon then you can walk. I wonder if the 4:00 bunny will pass me and if so will Christopher be with him, if so good for Christopher.

24 km 6:11, 25 km 6:01 – okay big curve, cut the corner, why is no-one else cutting this corner it will save a good 100+ meters… oh wait they are all staying on the side of the road with shade. Didn’t think of that

26 km 5:34 – downhill yay! Oh look I can see the lift bridge at the finish line in the distance. Christopher warned me about that. Still got 16 km to go, that sucks.WP_20160617_10_09_34_Pro

27 km 5:57, 28 km 5:49, 29 km 6:43 – uhhh wait a second that was a black flag at the water station (extreme risk) are they going to close the course with me still out here?

30 km 6:35, 31 km 6:01 – then again if they close the course I could stop. Look there goes the 4:00 pace bunny, bye bye pace bunny.

32 km 6:18, 33 km 6:18 – what was that loud bang!?! Oh that is the blue balloon mile markers for the half marathon exploding in the heat. Oh look a timing mat, anyone tracking me online is going to look at this mat and say ‘whoa something went wrong on that stretch’

34 km 6:50, 35 km 6:03 – hey look, someone else from the 3:45 pace group – Hello Michelle shall we run walk this together? A volunteer hands me water and says “Go Susan you look great” I smile, pat her on the arm and say “ You lie so well”

36 km 8:23 – foot about to cramp, calf about to cramp, F**% thank you Michelle for walking with me, okay we can run again, no wait now Michelle has a cramp. Hey look orange slices and strawberries.

37 km 6:40, 38 km 7:24 – run walk run walk run walk, well slow jog walk really, hey look there is the restaurant we ate at last night. Look another pace band on the side of the road someone ripped off in disgust, tried to rip mine off but too much effort.

39 km 5:44 – wow awesome crowds on this stretch yelling “Go Susan” “Go Susan’s friend” thank you! So glad I put the tape on my shirt

40 km 6:34 – one last water station! Great crowds lots of cheering.

41 km 6:34 – Michelle says she is slowing me down (the idea that anyone could slow me down at this point is highly entertaining) and sends me on my way. I wonder if can get through the last mile without stopping… Hey look there is the one mile photo op, would it be rude to flip him the bird, cuz that’s pretty much all I want to do right now. Wouldn’t that be a great race photo?

42 km – S*(%#@ there is a hill here, that’s just cruel, use the arms, use the arms use the arms. There’s the 26 mile spot where we took our picture .2 miles to go, come on, use the arms, use the crowd, just keep moving, there’s the finish, oh f$@*& my calf is about to cramp up I am 100 meters from the finish line don’t let me collapse with a calf cramp now! Don’t let me be that runner who collapses and crawls across the finish line or has other runners helping them limp across

42.2 5:49 for that last km by the way – the finish line, once again I am sorely tempted to use my middle finger for my finish photo. The words going through my head in this photo are not suitable for younger viewers

WTF

It’s over! Thank god it’s over. That sucked. I don’t care what my time was, it’s over! Thank you I will take that medal and my finisher shirt. Wow this medal weighs a ton. All around me finishers are looking at each other and simply saying, glad that’s over! I mention I need salt and I need it now, he hands me a leftover salt tablet. Thank you sir yo uare my hero! Michelle appears behind me we hug briefly, it’s over. I stumble to the gear check, they find my bag, I stumble to the chocolate milk station I find some chips, I find some shade.

Recovery zone

Karin finds me, I ask about Christopher, he’s still out there. I lie immobile trying to stretch what I can, drink what I can, eat what I can. I text Karin, Christopher has crossed the 25 mile marker. I stumble towards the finisher shirt pick up. I see Christopher, one shared look says it all ‘who cares about the time today, we finished!’ . We hug in mutual exhaustion and I take him to Karin. The three of us take a group finisher photo with our medals. Karin takes care of Christopher getting him chocolate milk, then water as he just stands there. We both just had our worst ever marathon finishing times, and neither of us cares at all. Today was all about finishing without ending up in the med tent!

We head to the change tents (great concept! ladies and mens change tents at the finish line so you can get out of your soggy nasty race gear!). I discover I still have a sponge stuck in the back of my running bra. Christopher walks out of the tent clutching a blue piece of paper he was given at the finish, his drink ticket. Instead of the finisher shirt he has changed into a red shirt that says “I didn’t run this far to drink fizzy yellow beer”. Clearly our next destination is pre-determined.

I don’t drink beer, but I can get a Coke with my ticket, but the coke is luke warn just put it into the cooler. I’ll take a Sprite. We collapse a bit. I sit, Christopher is afraid if he sits on the ground he will never get up again. Lunch is proposed, after considerable struggle I managed to get to my feet. As we walk along, we spot the race car with the names, hey cool the half marathon names are on the other side of the car we just never realized it! Photo op for Karin!

20160618_134240We find a nearby restaurant. We order food. We have a booth, look I can lie down on the bench, that feels good.

We finish lunch, we walk towards the shuttle buses, we cross the race course and OMG there are runners coming in! Have they been out there this whole time!!! Cheer, clap, cheer some more! You are amazing! Wow!! Seriously! they look pretty good for people who have been on the course for about 6 hours in this heat!

Apparently it peaked at 78 F which is *only* 26 C, but it was also 80 % humidity and there was not a cloud in the sky. So trust me when I say it was hot. There was a running group from Tampa Florida in our dormitories. They were complaining about the heat as much as we were.

So no personal best, no Boston Qualifying time, all that training and preparation, but Zeus (or whichever god controls the weather) was not feeling kindly towards the runners today. 9500 runners registered in the marathon. 7500 finished. We don’t know how many started.

It may be my worst marathon finishing time to date (4:07:42 if you are curious) but I will wear my Grandma’s marathon jacket with pride! Done and done Smile I never want to run another marathon again!

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But… my time from the Philly marathon in November is a theoretical BQ . With the Ottawa and Grandma’s races being so hot maybe less people will have qualified and my time may get me in to Boston 2017, a chance to earn another Boston jacket, and my running group, K2J, was discussing trying Boston Big Sur next year, so just maybe… Damn it! here we go again… so when does the next K2J clinic start?

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Last but certainly not least a huge thank you and big hugs to Christopher and Karin, who suggested this race in the first place! Hey Christopher it took what 5 years? but we finally ran a marathon together! Let’s not wait 5 years for the next one.

Grandma’s marathon–Is it worth the trip?

Grandma’s marathon is a big race in a small town. 9,500 people registered for the marathon and about the same for the half marathon (which sells out fast). If you haven’t heard of it, you may want to add it to your bucket list.

WP_20160617_14_43_40_ProWhen is it? Late spring

On a Saturday in early June – So the weather could be a perfect cold and misty, a hypothermic cold and raining, or an exhausting hot and humid.

Where is it? Duluth!

It’s in Duluth, Minnesota. Where is that? It turns out Duluth is on the shore of Lake Superior about a two and a half hour drive from Minneapolis. Minneapolis is a major airport, so if you live too far away to drive, there are lots of flight options. From Minneapolis airport, you can take a shuttle bus or rent a car to get to Duluth. If you stay in recomended race accomodations  with shuttles, you can manage in Duluth without a car. The biggest advantage to renting a car is the ability to stop at Tobies. Tobies is a bakery in Hinckley (about half way between Duluth and Minneapolis.) Tobies is known for it’s cinnamon rolls and pies. home made donuts, baked breads, rolls, cookies, and more! After all one of the perks of running a marathon, you probably aren’t counting calories, so this is a great place to load up on indulgences.

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One of the first things you will see in the distance when you arrive in Duluth is the lift bridge. The lift bridge is a remarkable feat of engineering. Duluth is a shiping port and you get some big ships. Instead of the typical draw bridge, they have a lfit bridge that literally lifts the entire span of the bridge to make room for ships coming into port.  This is the same bridge you’ve seen on Grandma’s marathon website, race medals, and race gear. You have arrived at your race destination! You will learn to love and hate this bridge. It’s a great landmark for the finish line, in fact it’s such a great landmark you can see if miles and miles and miles away. It taunts you on the race course looming in the distance.

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Where to stay? Reliving your college years in a dorm perhaps?

Like all big races, there are recommended race hotels. If you want to stay at a hotel that is close to the finish, you want to stay in Canal Park. Any hotel in the Canal Park area is close to the lift bridge, the finish and race expo. The race expo is in the DECC (Duluth Entertainment and Convention Centre). Canal park also has bars and restaurants so you don’t have to go far to find food. Like all big races, hotels will book fast and expect hotels to jack up their rates on race weekend, so you will pay for the convenience. There is no point in trying to get a hotel near the start line. There is no parking at the start, and there is no drop off at the start. Everyone must go to the start using shuttle services (more on that later).

Grandma’s offers an interesting alternative to expensive hotel rooms. You can book a room at the college dorm! There are two bedroom appartments with their own kitchenette, and the standard small dorm rooms with two single beds. We stayed at the University of Minnesota Duluth residencces. We were slow making our reservation so we weren’t able to book one of the two bedroom residence rooms with its own kitchen. Instead we got the more traditional university dorm room with two beds, two desks, and a dresser. Bathrroms and showers down the hall. There is no air conditioning, tu you can open the windows to cool down if needed. It was hot the weekend we were there (more on that later) but I was still able to get a good night sleep. I never had to wait for a shower, and there were a few great advantages to staying at the dorm. The price was reasonable ($100 USD a night), you could get a shuttle bus to and from the expo area (which was also near a number of restaurants), there is also a shuttle directly from the dorms to the race start. 20160616_22050720160616_220513

The nicest surprise was the hospitality suite! There was a big room with race course maps, postcards, brochures, and more important bagels, fruit, water, soda, even junk food. I particularly liked the drawings on the tables by some local kids welcoming the runners! We could have completely skipped our grocery store run for pre-race food! The smaller dorm rooms are a little small (though bigger than some of the hotel rooms I have spent $300+ a night during Boston marathon weekend). A couple can stay in one comfortably, but if you are bunking with a friend, you are definitely going to be stepping over each others smelly sneakers.  There are also a number of lounge areas where you can hang out if you want a little more space to hang with fellow runners. In theory no alcohol is allowed in the common areas. We found the lounges a great place to chill and watch Spirit of the Marathon to get psyched for race day.

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The race expo – free chocolate milk, I’ll take that thank you!

WP_20160617_09_58_53_ProWe drove down to the DECC in Canal Park where they host the race expo. We got there early so no problem parking. The parking lots were getting pretty full by lunchtime, so if you are going later you may want to take the shuttle instead. The first thing you see in the expo hall is the setup for the spaghetti lunch & dinner. What a great setup! You can have your pasta dinner anytime during the day. So if you prefer to carbo load at lunch instead of supper, or you want a 3 PM dinner you can just wander in with your ticket, and tuck in! This also makes it easier to dine with a large group, so great for running groups travelling together to the race.

I did find it odd that you have to walk through the entire race expo to get to bib pick up. This made the narrow pathways through the race expo a little crowded. But once we fought our way to race packet pick up they were quick and efficient. Men’s kit pick up and women’s kit pick up are split up. If you happen to register for the 5km & half marathon challenge, look for the challenge kit pick up separate from the 5 km and half marathon pick up desks.

The race expo itself, was decent. If you forgot nipple guards, gels, or body glide, you can pick up what you need. If you want free samples (chocolate milk, Old Dutch cheese curds, hot sauce, granola) you will find those too. The usual “I run for wine” or “In my dreams I run like a Kenyan” shirts, stickers, and glasses. There is an impressive selection of official race gear as well, and not as expensive as I expected. There are Grandmas marathon sweatshirts, hoodies, pint glasses, magnets, pins, stickers, posters, jackets, hats, etc… I picked up a magnet, a 26.2 laptop sticker, a 0.0 laptop sticker for my husband the spectator, and a hat. My race partner picked up a nice hoodie with the course map emblazoned on the sleeve.

Mandatory photo ops – where is Dick Beardsley?

Make sure you take your picture at the car with the name of every single runner (marathon on one side, half marathon on the other) printed on the side.

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When we were walking the last mile of the course, we found the 26 mile marker on the road, which made for a great shot since the finish line wasn’t set up yet when we walked by.

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There will be runners speaking at the race expo. *The* runner to meet at Grandma’s marathon in particular is Dick Beardsley. Beardsley is known for his 1982 Duel in the Sun battle at Boston against Salazar. Beardsley was born just up the road from Duluth in Minneapolis, his course record 2:09:37 at Grandma’s stood for 33 years! This is his race! He is a fantastic ambassador for the sport and if you do get to meet him, he will always find time to chat. This means the line up moves slowly, but when you do finally meet him you will be glad you made the effort. He is usually one of the speakers, but listen carefully to announcements at the race expo. We managed to catch up with Beardsley at a booth in the expo, but because the announcements were hard to hear, and the booth stop wasn’t posted anywhere, there were very few runners waiting to meet him, chatting with him was a treat!

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All runners need to pose at the lift bridge either before or after the race!

The start area – great shuttles, no shade

There is no parking at the start, and there is no drop-off at the start. All runners and spectators must use shuttles! Sounds scary, but the fact is the shuttles are very organized. So just look up the shuttle schedule, head down at the appointed time and hop on your bus. It won’t be long until you see a statue of Paul Bunyan watching over the start.

 

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One of the really cool options is a train to the start! We were very tempted to take the train. You have bathrooms on the train, you can stay on the train a little longer if it’s raining to stay dry. But the train only holds 1000 people and it only leaves once, so we were concerned we might not get a seat. We also read that one year the train arrived a little late to the start making it a rush for runners to drop off their gear at the bag check and get to the start. So we chose to play it safe and use the shuttle buses instead, which worked perfectly. We hopped on the first shuttle and had lots of time to settle in at the start. I have never seen so many port-a-potties with so few runners. This must be what it is like for runners in Wave 1 at Boston. 20160618_062236The start area filled up quickly and it wasn’t long until you had the usualy port-a-potty lines.  For the record the train arrived in plenty of time for the runners on the train to disembark, drop off gear and get to the start this year. WP_20160618_06_50_01_Pro

They had lots of water available in the start area as well, but there really wasn’t any shelter or shade so pack appropriately! We had a sunny day so we didn’t need our garage bags to stay dry, but they were handy to sit on the grass still wet from dew. In 2015 they got hit with a downpour and there were a lot of wet runners (one hid in a port-a-potty to stay dry and was very unpopular when he was discovered).

The start – Where is my pacer?

We made our last port-a-potty run and headed to gear check and the start. The gear check is a clever set up, self service. A bunch of labeled bins on wheels. Just toss your bag into one of the bins labelled with your range of bib numbers. We screwed up and waited too long to drop off our bags. By the time I reached it, there was only one bin left labeled for my bib number range and it was already overflowing! I jammed my bag in as best as I could, and it was waiting for me at the finish line. My bad for waiting too long to drop off my bag. Waiting too long also makes getting to gear check a challenge since it is in the start chute, so lesson learned don’t wait until the last minute.

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They don’t have corrals which is a shame given the size of the race, but they do post signs suggesting where to line up for different finish times and most runners were respectful of those signs. I walked up to the 3:45 and looked around for my pace bunny. The Cliff Bar pace team was at Grandma’s and I had seen the pace bunnies arrive, including my 3;45 bunny but there was no sign of the pacer.  Then I realized almost ALL the pacers were standing much closer to the start, somewhere around the 3:15 mark perhaps? I though perhaps they would move back down the corral to where we were gathered, but they didn’t. I had to fight my way up through the crowd to my 4:15 bunny. I was lucky, I was close enough to see the pacers. Runners at the 4:00 and 4:15 mark never realized their pacers were so far ahead. This is my only real complaint about Grandma’s marathon weekend. They organization really was fantastic, but that was a terrible place to put the pacers and it caused a lot of frustration and bunching near the start.  I don’t know if that decision was made by the Cliff Bar pace team or by the race organizers, but I will certainly share that feedback in the race survey. We even chatted to the pacers at the expo and they never mentioned they were going to meet runners there. So if you plan to follow a pacer, ask where they will be at the start!

The course – Not as flat as it looks

Don’t let the course map fool you, this race isn’t flat! It’s not hilly, but it’s not flat. It’s a continuous set of light rolling hills. It’s quite a good course to try and PB, because the rolling hills are probably easier on your legs overall. The only *big* hill is lemon drop hill, at mile 22, which is not as tough as most of the *big* hills I have encountered at other races. The course basically follows the road along the lake into town. It’s a shame that the trees block the view of the lake most of the course, but on the other hand those same trees provided much needed shade on my race day. Views of the lake are a mixed blessing, because as gorgeous as they are, they also tease you, it isn’t long before you can see the lift bridge in the distance even though you still have a solid two hours of running to get there! 

Grandmas

I loved the mile markers, great big yellow balloons floating in the air for the marathon, blue balloons for the half marathon. Since all water stations are at mile markers this also made it easy to see the water stations well in advance so you could take your gels just before a water stop.

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The nastiest part of the course is actually the last mile and a half. I am so glad my training partner and I walked this the day before race day. The last mile is one of those twisting turning finishes, where you turn a corner and think hey I can see the finish and then you turn away from the finish to add a few hundred more meters. If you aren’t expecting it, you might kick a little early and regret it. After a race with almost no sharp turns along a sweeping highway for 25 miles, suddenly making 90 degree turns left and right and being sent through parking lots is a strange way to finish, but it’s the last mile, you are almost done, you’ll get through it and the last .2 miles is straight to the finish through throngs to help you forget your pain!

The water stops – All other races can learn from Grandmas!

I LOVED the water stops at Grandmas. They did a fantastic job! I was a little surprised the first water stop wasn’t until 3 miles out, after that they had stops every 2 miles. When you reach mile 19 you have a water stop every mile.

Here’s what I thought they did better than any other race I have run. Every water stop was on both sides of the road. They had lots of volunteers. Every water stop followed the same pattern: Water, Powerade, ice, sponge, water. Even when I was still running (it was hot for my race day so by mile 13 I was walking water stops) I was able to get everything I needed without really slowing down. Having ice and sponges at every stop was particularly important on our race day. The original forecast had called for a warm day, but it turned into a really hot day and the fact they had ice and sponges at every water stop probably kept a lot of us out of the med tent!  There were a couple of Cliff Gel stops on the way as well, but I carry my own gels so I don’t remember exactly where they were.  There were also two stops with orange slices and strawberries.A huge kudos to the race organizers for having such great water stations along the way. 

If you needed it, there were several aid stations en route as well, I saw more than one runner pop over to get some vaseline or help mid-race.

The spectators – What a finish!

If you have family and friends cheering you on, ask at the race expo about the spectator train. This was so cool! They have a train at the start line which spectators can ride back to the start! It will stop along the way so they can cheer the runners along the course! Such a cool concept!

The crowds will vary depending on the weather. If it’s pouring rain, don’t expect many crowds for the first 18 miles. Pockets of spectators will appear to cheer you on but mostly it’s just you and the other runners. I ran on a gorgeous sunny day (i.e. hot!) which was not great for my time, but resulted in a great turnout for spectators! There were certainly stretches where we just had the occasionaly family at the end of their driveway clapping as we went by, but there were other spots seemingly in the middle of nowhere with big crowds making lots of noise cheering us through.

It’s the last 6 miles that really rocks! Personally that’s where I need it most! Once you get into Duluth you will find more and more crowds cheering you on, once you hit the cobblestone streets it gets even louder. My best pace in the last 10 miles was on the cobblestones as the cheering carried me through.  Of course I had no qualms about using electrical tape to write my name on my shirt so people could cheer me by name. Even when I am tired, or walking, I still enjoy hearing that cry of ‘you can do it Susan’ or ‘Go Susan’ . They don’t put the names on your bibs, so if you need that extra oomph, find a way to help the crowd cheer you on(though electrical tape it appears can cause chafing according to my male running parner who had to remove his name from the front of his shirt at mile 24 and paid the price for all tha cheering in the shower post-race)

Race swag

It’s all about the t-shirt! and medal right? I happened to run this race on the 40th anniversary, so I got a great jacket, and the medal is some serious hardware! I am not sure the airline would allow it as carry on! There were also official Grandma’s marathon race socks in my race kit. One of the things I like about this race is you don’t get your t-shirt until you cross the finish line. They don’t give you a race shirt, they give you a finishers shirt. Since I am one of those superstitious runners who refuses to wear my race shirt until after the race anyway, this worked out great for me! However the one drawback is that they do sometimes run out of sizes by the time later finishers cross the line. In particular ladies XS seems to be a popular size. So if you see a shirt you realy like in the race expo, splurge.

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The finish area

Youv’e crossed the finish line, you can barely walk, you’ve got your medal, your shirt, and your thermal blanket, and most important your drink ticket (don’t lose that, and if you are one of those rare runners who like me doesn’t drink beer you can get a soda instead). You can pick up your bag from gear check (volunteers will read your bib number and go off to find it for you, so you don’t have to think). There are bagels, chocolate milk, water, potato chips (hooray for salt!), and all the usual goodies in the finish area. If you are waiting for someone else to finish, it is possible to leave the secure area and come back to meet them in the finish area as long as you still have your bib.

Another great aspect of the finish areas is the change tents. That’s right you don’t have to try and change your shorts inside the port-a-potty! Go ahead and pack a full change of clothes in your bag check and then head to the beer tent feeling a little less sweaty and smelly.

There is a beer tent with a band (tip: the line for drinks is shorter inside the tent than outside) and when you have recovered enough to need real food you can stumble aroound Canal Park until you find a restaurant with available seating. We only had to walk about 3-4 blocks to find a restaurant which could seat us immediately. After a late lunch we hobbled back to the DECC and found the shuttle bus which took us back to the dorms for a nap and a shower (in that order!) We came back to Canal park for supper to eat at Grandma’s restaurant and to take a picture by the lift bridge, a fitting ending for Grandma’s marathon.

To sum up! Because that was a long race report

Grandma’s is an extremely well organized race, a nice course, and nice atmosphere. If the weather co-operates you could definitely PR on this course, in fact it’s one of the top ten races for Boston qualifying times. Getting there was a little more expensive for me because I had to fly in, but the meals, souvenirs, and accomodations were cheaper than other big races I have done, so it worked out. It has the feel of a big marathon but it’s held in a small town which makes for a really nice atmosphere. Register early and book your accomodations early. Grandma’s is waiting for you!

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Philadelphia Marathon–To see a city at it’s best run a marathon there!

I just ran the Philadelphia marathon. Every race is unique, here’s my take on Philly.

  • The city as a race destination
  • The people
  • The start
  • The course
  • The finish chute
  • What could have been better
  • The best part of the Philadelphia Marathon
  • Thank yous

The city as a race destination

Philadelphia is a fantastic destination city for a race. The Terminal Reading Market with it’s decadent Beiler donuts (freshly made maple bacon donuts, no wonder this place always has a line up!), Flying Monkey whoopee pies and pumpple cake (apple pie in vanilla cake on top of pumpkin pie in a chocolate cake! I think I would have to run a marathon to burn of the calories from that! Philly cheese steaks, lots of tasty ways to get your calories.

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Philadelphia is also home of the Liberty Bell, lots of street art and beautiful buildings. Perhaps the busiest tourist attraction for a group of racers who have been training for 4 months is the front steps of the Art Gallery made famous by Rocky! (they were easier to run up than I expected, even if you take them two at a time, but I still can’t do one armed pushups like he does in the movie). The statue of Rocky Balboa at the bottom of the steps was even wearing a Philadelphia marathon shirt. There was a line up of runners waiting to pose with the statue.  The rocky theme music runs through the head of many a runner at some point in a race or training, so he holds a special place in our hearts. And best of all, lots of hop on/off bus tours to get you between all the attractions without spending too much time on your feet and lots of hotels an easy walk from the start line. Both important details for anyone running a marathon.

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The people

I don’t know if hosting a big race brings out the best in people, but we met some wonderful people during our visit. Whether it was random locals like the trio we met at dinner Saturday night at Gran Caffe L’Aquila (amazing food and service there btw!) who generously offered to buy us drinks, and when we informed them we had a marathon to run the next day so we were only having one glass of wine, they apparently asked the waiter to put those drinks on his bill.  To the fantastic fan support through downtown on race day. Lots of people holding up signs, cheering us on, ringing cow bells, reading the names off our bibs and cheering us on by name (which I LOVE by the way, every time a complete stranger yells out ‘Go Susan’ I get a little burst of energy.  Several fans were obviously cheering on family or friends in the race as I saw them two or three times on the course (the guy with the Dr Who sign and the couple with the giant cat and dog signs). So it’s also good to know that from a spectator perspective you can see someone more than once on the race course. There was one stretch through downtown about a mile long where the crowds were incredible!

The start

The start on race day had its ups and downs. anyone entering the start area had to clear security. I completely understand the need for security. This race was only one week after the attacks in Paris, and ever since the bombings in Boston, we all recognize that a big race is a potential target. Unfortunately the security was not organized as efficiently as possible to get runners into the start. Some runners waited in line 30 minutes and then discovered they could have walked 2 minutes to another entrance with a 5 minute line. Some runners did end up starting late. So hopefully this is something that will improve in future years.  Perhaps better signage, more volunteers letting people know about alternate entrances, better separation in the line ups of runners with bags/without bags/ spectators. Again, I appreciate the need for security and thank the volunteer who turned back the spectator who tried to enter the start area with pepper spray in his bag. But arriving at 6 AM for the 7 AM start was a mistake on our part and several other thousand runners, so room for improvement there.

WP_20151121_14_53_00_ProOnce inside the race start area, things improved, there were lines for the port-a- potties but there always are. The line ups were typical. The bag check was well organized. Participants bib numbers were based on expected finish times (faster runners lower bib numbers, slower runners higher bib numbers), so they had the bag check doen by last name which means shorter lines for pick up at the finish. They also provided nice big clear bags for the race check as part of our race kits, I had lots of room for warm clothes to wear post race.

There were entrances to corrals where bibs were checked, I appreciate the effort to keep racers in their assigned corrals. Those of us out for a PB can be frustrated by casual runners who think it’s cool to be closer to the front and don’t realize that it’s a trial for faster runners to be zigging and zagging around those who run a slower pace. Don’t get me wrong, I love having racers of all abilities at a race, but if you and a friend are planning to chit chat walk/jog the entire race and have never run a race before, please go to a corral with other people going a similar speed. It’s a great system when everyone follows the rules.

Unfortunately or fortunately the start was delayed because a car needed to be towed. Worked out for me because it meant I got to get through the port-a-pottie line, but frustrated others who had gone to their corrals and had to wait longer. But, not really something within control of the race, they were ready to start on time.

The course

The first 2 miles

The gun went off, and about 7 minutes later I crossed the start, perfectly reasonable given my corral. But the Rocky music was playing, and the deputy mayor and Bill Rogers were high fiving runners as they crossed the start (I high fived the deputy mayor). So I was in good spirits.  It is fairly narrow at the start of the course, so it was very difficult to set your own pace. Honestly until you turned down Columbus Boulevard along the Delaware river you frequently got stuck behind other runners, also the buildings threw off my GPS which would tell me I was running a 1:45/km pace one moment and 6:15/km pace the next.

Miles 2-8

Definitely the most fun part of the course, even it was a little narrow and the road was somewhat uneven. But I loved it because the crowds were awesome!  I had my fastest mile along this stretch.

Miles 9-13

After you leave the crowds you hit the hills. Now let’s be clear for those who train in Vermont, you probably would call this course flat, for those who run in New Orleans, you would call miles 9-26 hilly Smile. There were some hills along the way, but that’s true of most marathons. There was also quite a headwind on the toughest hill, but that was just our luck on race day. A few stretches of road had quite the camber which was a little tough on the legs, but the view as we ran along Schuykill river back towards the Art Museum was nice (and we had a tail wind for that Smile)

Mile 13-20

This was the toughest stretch of the course in my opinion. Those running the half marathon peel off to the finish line and you turn around and head back into the wind along the river. There are very few crowds cheering you, and because it’s an out and back you see the faster runners headed back to the finish line. It was great to have a chance to wave to the other runners I knew in the race, but knowing that they had 3 miles to go and I still had 10 was tough mentally. There is also a very odd little out and back at Mile 17, I was rather miserable here since I had just spent 4 miles running into the wind and my IT band was not happy.

Mile 20-25

Just past mile 20 you turn around and head back towards the start. This felt good on so many levels. 1 – there is a good crowd along that half mile stretch before the turnaround point. 2 – you switch from head wind to tail wind. 3 – You are now the runner with 3 miles to go watching runners going the other way who still had 10 miles left. As tired as I was, I knew I was going to make it. 4 – I didn’t have to run that little out and back on the way back, so the distance back to the finish line from the turaround point was shorter! I’ve decided I liked that little out and back Smile, also my IT band settled down around mile 19, so aside from some very sore quads I was doing okay.

Mile 25 – 26.2

There is a slight uphill around 25 miles, but that’s also where the crowds start to build again cheering you to the finish. When you pass the 26 mile marker it’s downhill to the finish line. You can’t see it until you are quite close, but the crowds were great and I really enjoyed the high five from the mayor because a high five capture my emotions perfectly as I cross the finish line of a marathon. I did it, it’s done, I did it, yes! I can’t imagine how long he was standing there high fiving runners, but I will tell you I deliberately went over to get my high five and loved it.

The finish chute

Blankets and medals appeared very quickly and it took me a few minutes before I started to notice the sound of jingle bells ringing. It must have been another minute or so before I realized I was jingling as well. The race medal had a liberty bell that rang. So whenever you took a step there was a gentle jingling noise. The end result was this wonderful symphony of jingling all around you at the finish line. Best race medal ever!

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What could have been better?

Not all races are perfect, there are a couple of things I would love to see improved at the race aside from the security screening process I mentioned earlier.

Water stations

Not all water stations were on both sides of the road and some of the water stations were very short, since they were not at consistent distances this sometimes made it difficult to get water withough breaking pace. Having some big flags at each water station would help so we can see them coming. Having water stations on both sides of the roads would help, having water stations at consistent distances would help so we know when to expect them. They did show us on th emap where water stations would be, but I didn’t memorize every water station location.  I was very glad I brought my own water so I could skip some of the stations and take my gels without worrying about where I would find the next stop.  I did appreciate having gatorade and water at each station and the volunteers who were shouting out where to get water vs gatorade (their voices must have been completely hoarse by the end of the day)

Snacks at the finish

When I cross a finish line, I am spent, anything I have in the tank I use up in the last mile. I need to keep walking. If I stop walking, I get very light headed and sometimes nauseous. So when I saw the line up for the post race food (bananas and bagels usually) I had to walk past. I could not physically stand in that line up. I had no trouble getting water and the snacks themselves were fine, the pretzel I managed to snag as I walked past was like mana from heaven (salt!!!!) and I appreciated Macy’s donating bags to carry the post race nibbles. But perhaps I am spoiled by the National Capital Marathon and Army Run in Ottawa where they set up a tent and have about 15 different lines you can go to to get your post race nibbles so you never stop moving even when you are grabbing your food.

The best part of the Philadelphia Marathon

The spirit!

mayorhighfiveThe Philadelphia marathon is run by the city, not one of the big race companies. Hey I run Rock N Roll races too. But the fact it’s run by the city changes the spirit of the event. Toronto, Canada had a mayor who sees big races as a nuisance instead of an opportunity. 30,000 runners raced this weekend. We came, we ran, we also spent a fair bit of money at restaurants, hotels, stores, tourist attractions. We got to know your beautiful city, and may return as tourists with our families because we just didn’t have enough time to appreciate all the city has to offer. Not only that it’s nice to think that any profits from the race can go to help the city itself. Mr. Mayor (and Mr Deputy Mayor I know he was there at the start giving high fives) we weren’t just accepting a high five for finishing the marathon, we were also giving you a high five for being such a wonderful host!

Thank yous

I may be running the marathon alone, but you have a lot of time to think over 4 hours of running and endless hours training before hand. In no particular order, because you can’t rank a list like this…

Thank you K2J for all your help with the training. That’s a PB for me and a BQ!

Thank you to all my fellow runners, you know who you are, for helping me stay sane, motivated, and healthy throughout the training and on race weekend. Every call, every cheer, every word of support makes a difference.

Thank you Run Ottawa for organizing the bus trip from Ottawa. That was a fantastic way to get to and from the race and meet runners from other Ottawa race groups. Thanks Jon for the donuts on the bus too Smile.

Thank you to my family for putting up with my constant disappearances for runs and my frequent naps after the long runs and the chores I didn’t do because I was running.