Archive for the ‘Running’ Category

Cross Country racing – what a road runner needs to know

In this post, I will share what it is like to compete in the Canadian cross country championships from the perspective of a road runner.

Last week I competed in my second Canadian Cross country championships. For the past 4 years the meet was in Kingston, Ontario. The race moves to Abbotsford, BC for 2019-2020.

Is Cross country the same as trail running?

No.  There’s a good description on the Athletics Canada website:

XCountryMidRaceSusaTrevorCross country is a race run on outdoor courses over varied terrain. Distances vary but can range from four to twelve kilometers. It is both an individual and a team sport; runners are judged on individual times and teams by a points-scoring method.

Races, for both teams and individuals, are run on either grass or woodland courses and might also include stretches of gravel paths, road and hills. Races usually take place in the winter months, outside the usual track and field season.

The IAAF recommend for international competitions that there is a main course loop of between 1750m and 2000m with natural obstacles used where possible, and the likes of deep ditches, dangerous ascents and descents as well as thick undergrowth should be avoided.

Can anyone enter the nationals?

There is a community race anyone can enter, but if you wish to enter the U18, U20, Seniors, or Masters you need a competitive Athletics Canada membership.  You don’t have to do any sort of qualification to enter.

In all honesty, the only reason I have a competitive membership was because some of my fellow K2J runners entered this race in 2016 and a bunch of us decided, sounds like fun next year I want to try it.

What’s different from a road race?

The start line and timing

The first thing you will notice is that the start line is a big long line of runners. There is no timing mat at the start line, it’s a mass start and only your gun time is recorded.  Of course with the wide start area the difference between your gun and chip time would only be 1-3 seconds even for runners like me who are hanging out in the back.

The really serious teams will group together to protect their top runner and ensure they have a nice clear lane to get out in front.

The terrain

The biggest difference in cross country is the terrain. You will be running across a field.  The first year I ran this race it was very muddy and wet. The second year, it was colder and there were icy patches on the course. You can expect at least one good up hill and down hill on the course as well.

Personally, I love running on grass instead of pavement. It’s easier on the shins and knees, you can really let go on the downhill and let gravity carry you.  Of course that does mean the ground will not be perfectly even, but this isn’t trail running, you aren’t leaping over logs and boulders. When I trail run I am constantly looking ahead thinking about where to place my foot next to avoid tripping or twisting an ankle. Cross country terrain isn’t like that, I could run the way I do on pavement, it was just softer underfoot and more slippery.

The conditions change between throughout the race and throughout the day. Because you have a pack of runners in spikes running on the course tearing up the ground, expect the course to get muddier and muddier. We were lucky because the masters course was at 9:30 AM. It was windy and cold, but mostly dry, the conditions were very different for the senior men’s race at 3:30 PM. It was raining and the course was mostly mud!

The shoes

XCountrySpikesDid I mention it was slippery? My sister Judy ran this race in 2016 in regular running shoes. She said she had to slow down a lot on the course because she was slipping in the mud.

The first year I ran, there was a guy running it barefoot (much to the surprise and amusement of the announcers), he wiped out completely more than once. (Side note: no barefoot runners in 2018)

Myself and the rest of the K2J runners who competed in 2017 benefited from my sisters experience. We bought cross country shoes and spikes for the race.

I’d like to mention here that although I did run cross country in high school (over 20 years ago), I had NEVER run with cross country shoes and spikes before. The same was true for most of my friends. My teammate Randy discovered that if you don’t tighten the spikes enough when you screw them in they can actually fall out during your run. Luckily he found that out on a practice run, not on race day.  I went out with my sister Judy, and my friend Jim for exactly one 5 km run in my spikes before the race. I just wanted to see what they felt like when running.

spikesThere are multiple lengths of spikes you can purchase. Real cross country runners apparently change their spikes depending on the conditions, sort of like a skier trying to select the perfect wax

Cross country shoes are light, with a very flexible sole. The moment you step in a puddle your feet will be wet. If you step on a rock you will feel it, but those spikes are AWESOME for traction. In 2017, since none of us had any experience racing in spikes, we decided to go with very short spikes (1/4 inch), technically they would be considered track spikes. The course was very muddy and I only slipped a bit on a couple of the corners (there are some tight U turns on the course). In 2018, we bought slightly longer spikes (3/8 inch, apparently a common cross-country spike length). In 2018, the course was more icy than muddy. The spikes did their job beautifully and I was able to race without worrying about traction.

The route

Unlike road races, most cross country races involve multiple loops. This course had a 2 km loop and a 2.5 km loop. You repeat your loop as often as needed for your distance. I was in the Masters 8 km race. We ran the 2 km loop 4 times. Running a multiple loop race has an interesting effect on the brain. On the first loop you feel out the course, on the second loop all I can think is wow do I really have to do this two more times including that long uphill with the headwind! On the third loop I got lapped by the top male runners. On the final lap I had an exact plan on where to make my move to catch up with and pass the two runner in front of me. (Side Note: I passed them 100 meters before the finish line as planned, but then one of them kicked and passed me as if I was standing still… great finishing kick Rita!)

Check out some of Canada’s best runners

Nationals is a qualifying race for the Canadian national cross country team, so it’s a great opportunity to see some of Canada’s top running talent. The *big* race to watch is the senior men/women, but it’s amazing to see the up and coming talent in the U18 and U20 as well.

In 2017 the senior men’s race was won by Lucas Bruchet in 30:20, with Eric Gillis in 2nd place at 30:42 (Eric represented Canada at the 2008, 2012, & 2016 Olympics. The 10 km senior women’s race was won by Claire Sumner in 34:49.

In 2018 Lucas Bruchet repeated as senior men’s champion finishing in 29:55. The 10 km senior women’s race was won by Genevieve Lalonde in 33:47. Genevieve represented Canada at the 2016 Olympics.

How is the cheering/spectating?

Cross country is usually more spectator friendly than road races.

If you usually cheer on road runners you know that typically you pick a street corner and stand with your sign trying to spot your runner. After they go by, depending on the route and distance you might be able to hop on your bike, car, or subway to go find another spot. The race course in Kingston had a number of switchbacks which makes it fantastic for spectators.

Card_Download

Many cross country routes are designed so you can see someone multiple times in a single loop. On the first couple of loops the runners are so close together you can even dash across the course after the pack goes by to see them on the second half of the loop. You don’t have to choose between watching the lead runners and watching your runner. As they complete the loops you can watch the race progress, see the lead change positions or see the lead runner pulling away. This also means if you are a runner with friends cheering you on, you will see them multiple times and they will have lots of opportunities to see you and snap pictures.

For nationals, you should just plan on spending the day. Run your race, then check out some of Canada’s top runners in the Senior Men & Women’s races, watch the U18 and U20 races and check out the next generation, one of those runners may well be in the Olympics down the road. You can’t ask for a better view!

I’m an average runner, if I enter a competitive race, will I be last?

The first year I ran, I had a simple goal, not to finish last. We have some strong runners in our club. Some of them regularly win their age group and have been known to finish 1st, 2nd, or 3rd overall in local road races.  in 2017, 3 of them earned a top 3 finish in their age group at nationals. In 2018 none of them placed in their age group.

I met my goal of not finishing last both years, but both years, I was lapped by the faster runners. I finished the masters 8 km in 37:09 in 2017 and in 38:29 in 2018. For comparison, the last 10 km road race I entered, I finished in 47:51. (Huh, I hadn’t realized until now how much faster I was in 2017… I wonder if it was the footing, the headwind or the fact I had done less hill training for my fall marathon, looking back I did set a personal best on my 2017 fall marathon despite the fact it was NYC which is a tough course). I was 178th out of 220 runners. The last runner finished in 59:03. That’s about a 7:20/km or 11:45/mile pace. Masters for this race is 30 +. Nationals is more competitive than your average road race, but it’s still fun!

Been there, done that got the hoodie! If the Canadian X-Country Championships come to a town near you and you enjoy new race experiences, check it out!

Beat Beethoven Race Report

Race bib and medalThe Beat Beethoven Race is a theme race in Kingston, Ontario. Runners are challenged to complete 8 km before the Kingston Symphony orchestra finishes playing 50 minutes of Beethoven’s best. I love a well organized community race, and this one was a lot of fun.

If you don’t keep an eye on the time, you could find yourself sprinting to beat the finish unnecessarily. I remember my mum telling me Beethoven pieces always sound like they are about to finish but then keep going.

Here’s the scoop on what to expect if you decide to take on the challenge.

The races

They had a kids 1 km race, a 4 km fun run, and the 8 km ‘main event’. Only the 8 km race has timing chips. The distance was a bit short this year for the 4 km, but since it’s not timed and the prizes are given out ot top 3 male and female based on gun time, it wasn’t that big a deal. The race organizer offered to add extra distance to the race next year so it averages out to 4 km both years 🙂  There are no finisher medals, only age group winners receive medals, so if you bring the kids you might have to go for ice cream post race as reward (or stick around for the draw prizes)

Logistics

With a race start time of 10:30 AM, and the option of race day registration and race day pick-up, this race is quite do-able from nearby towns like Ottawa, Cornwall, Brockville, and Belleville. Street parking is free in Kingston on Sundays, and it was not difficult to find parking an easy walk from the start line. This proved especially helpful as I could not find any sort of bag check. My car trunk made a convenient bag check.

Port-a-potties

There are no port-a-potties, but there are washrooms in the back of the tourist information building. I did the standard 20 minutes pre-race stop and was only in line behind 3 women waiting. The gentlemen did not have a line at all.

The shirts

I registered late so did not get a t-shirt. They had some wonderfully bright orange shirts, which the race organized blatantly admitted make for great advertising when you wear them around town. I have plenty of t-shirts, and I have no issues with races not printing a bunch of extra shirts for late registrations just in case. Like I said, most runners have plenty of t-shirts anyway.

The competition

I initially thought this might be a good race to place in my age group or maybe sneak in a podium finish. At smaller races I have placed in my age group, and at *really*small races I have managed a top 3 women overall (by really small I mean < 50 runners in the whole race). The website had a link to the 2018 results.

The top male runners in 2018 finished in 24, 25 and 26 minutes. The top women finished in 30, 31, and 32 minutes. Okay zero chance of a podium finish, how about the 40–49 age group? 32, 32, and 34 minutes! It appears this race brings out some very fast runners. I did not expect times that fast in a race with under 400 people unless they had prize money like Emilie’s Run (https://hockeygeekgirl.com/2019/05/01/emiles-run-race-report/).

The Kingston Symphony Orchestra

Unfortunately it was raining and the orchestra was hidden away inside a tent. We could hear but not see the orchestra as the tent walls had to be kept up to protect the musicians and their instruments.

The 8 km race

The town crier with a fine rainbow umbrella welcomed us all to the race, the gun went off, and off we went. The light rain was actually perfect for running. The route has a few odd little turns, no doubt to ensure you do the correct mileage, and it had a few decent uphill climbs. Since the race is a loop, all the uphill is rewarded with downhill later in the race. There were two water stops along the route, I think the first was around 4 km and the second was around 6.5 km.

The volunteers as always were much appreciated and cheered us on. Thank you volunteers!

I finished well under 50 minutes, but like many other runners I stayed around, intrigued to see how close to 50 minutes the orchestra would finish playing. There is only one pace bunny on this course: the 50 minute pace bunny! We saw him coming toward the finish line and we could hear the closing bars of Beethove emanating from the tent. The pace bunny’s foot hit the timing mat, the last note came from the tent and the clock turned to 50:00 at exactly the same time. I’m impressed!

Race results

Sportstats had results up almost instantly after you crossed the finish line. I was pleasantly surprised to see myself listed in 3rd place in my age group. The website did not mention whether there were age group awards but as I strolled over to the food table to grab a clementine and a roll (no bagels just rolls), I saw them laying out medals and envelopes. There were no finisher medals for the race, but the medals for the age group winners were really nice!

So, I waited around for the award ceremony. It was cold, and it was a bit of a wait. I think they started just after noon. Not unreasonable, I just wish I had known I had time to go put on warmer clothes, all I had done was grab a warm jacket.

Draw prizes and age group awards

Awards were given out for the 4 km first, and then a few draw prizes, then they worked their way through the 8 km awards, interspersing draw prizes in between age groups. draw prizes were awarded by bib number. It took me a couple of rounds to realize they were looking out into the crowd and calling out bibs they could see. He did tell everyone after giving out some draw prizes that everyone with jackets zipped up might want to unzip them 😉 Hey, I think that’s a great way to do it, I don’t want to sit there while they call out bib numbers for people who have left, and that way if there is a kid who ran a race lookign really excited about the draw prizes, or a runner wants to blatantly walk up and stand in front of the stage with their bib prominently displayed to try and win a draw prize, go for it! The prizes were a mix of shirts, water bottles, and race entries. Most of the medal winners had the opportunity to grab one of the prizes as well.

Summary

This is a fun but quite competitive community race. Race registration can be done right up to the day of the race so it’s great for those of us looking for a couple of fun runs to do after our big spring races. There are plenty of little shops and restaurants around the finish area if you want to make it into a day trip. If you stick around until awards I’d say there’s a good chance you can win a ‘draw’ prize just by standing in front of the stage with your bib clearly visible 😉

If you are interested check out my other running related posts and race reports.

Bay 2 Breakers race report – in San Francisco anything goes

I just ran the infamous Bay to Breakers. A 12 km spring race in San Francisco whose notoriety comes from it’s reputation as a clothing optional race.

There’s practical information at the bottom of this blog post in case you plan to run it yourself.

If you run, you probably have the same reaction I did: Male or female wouldn’t that be uncomfortable? Do you really want things bouncing around as you run? We runners happily splurge to purchase supportive undergarments to avoid that sort of thing.

And what do they do with their race bib? Are there race bib temporary tattoos you can apply? Or do they wear nothing but a smile and a race belt?

It does explain the market for the Body glide with built in sunscreen I saw at the Big Sur marathon expo. I was baffled when I saw it there, generally speaking Body Glide is applied where the sun does not shine.

So with these important thoughts occupying my brain, I met my friend Christopher in San Francisco to experience Bay to Breakers first hand.

Sparkly light up tutus anyone?

Since most of us have no intention of running naked, costumes are a popular alternative at Bay to Breakers. I expected the race expo to sell everything from sparkly tutus and tiaras to neon body paint. No neon body paint or tiaras, but we did find Christopher a fabulous rainbow light up LED tutu and I found a sparkly gold headband that would make Axl Rose proud.

Christopher was highly amused when someone working a booth approached me to ask if I would like more information on their anti-aging products. Hey! I’m walking through the expo in my Boston marathon jacket, getting older was the only way I can qualify for Boston!

Watch out for the flying tortillas!

tortillas in corral at bay to breakersWhen we got to the start corrals, there were cows, chickens, superheros, spacejam basketball players, lifeguards, Hawaiian shirts, grass skirts, and more.

Suddenly a tortilla flew past Christopher’s head. That was when we noticed an impressive collection of tortillas on the ground. So in addition to keeping your eyes open for beach balls bouncing you need to dodge a steady stream of tortilla frisbees. Pro Tip: When you actually start running, try to avoid stepping on the tortillas they are a bit slippery.

Who are these people in the middle of the road?

After a fine Corral sing along to Don’t Stop Believing we crossed the start line. There were two lines of people in cow costumes in the middle of the road creating a high five tunnel for the runners. On Hayes Hill we met a group of runners dressed as salmon (running the wrong way of course) running down the middle of the road high fiving runners. Later in the course we got another high five from Jesus, I mean how do you turn down a high five from Jesus!High Five from Jesus

Are there really naked people?

About half a mile into the race, I said to Christopher “since this is Bay to Breakers, I’ll be disappointed if there isn’t at least one naked runner”.  I was not disappointed.  Oh and it’s not just runners! Spectators  get into the spirit as well. Our favorite was the guy on the side of the street with a happy face shaved into his chest hair wearing nothing but a carefully placed Crown Royal Bag.

We started playing a little game: Would we see more people trying to save us from our sins, or naked runners. Final score was about 8-5 for the naked runners.

Oh and they wear their bibs on hats or visors, so now you know.

Brought to you by cannabis

The early start of 8 AM did not stop spectators from coming out to cheer. There weren’t as many spectators as I expected, but their enthusiasm, and costumes more than made up for it. The mylar blankets at the finish line were sponsored by a local cannabis store. I suspect both they and the liquor store had a good day.

Thanks for a great time San Francsico, and thank you Christopher for joining me on the adventure. I would run this again. If you are interested in running it yourself, read on for some practical information

Practical information for those planning to run the race

Can you race it?

Bay to Breakers used to be the largest footrace in the world. City 2 Surf in Australia has since taken over that title. But, at it’s peak, Bay to Breakers had 100,000 runners! In 2009 the city officially banned floats, alcohol, drunkenness and nudity because some residents complained the race was getting out of hand. They still get 30,000+ registrations every year, but they can have double that number out on the course any given year as many people run without registering.

That said, we were in corral B, we were never alone, but if I had wanted to run my own race, there was room to run. If you run a sub 7 minute mile and can provide proof of that pace you can enter the seeded corrals which are likely even more spread out.

Corrals are seeded based on your predicted pace, but corrals are not enforced, so if you want to go out fast, move to the front of your corral.

This race is meant to be fun, and if you race it and go home, I think you miss out on a lot. I would recommend you move back a couple of corrals from your usual pace, carry your phone and have fun. If you do race it, then do what I saw several other runners doing. Race to the finish then do a jog/walk back to the start line along the course so you can see all the runners behind you. I think you will enjoy that more than running the optional extra 3 km at the finish for the extra medal. Just remember if you turn around to run back the first 3 miles on the way back is going to be uphill.

How hilly is it?

There are rolling hills for a lot of the course, and one decent climb at Hayes Hill, but honestly if you run half marathons or marathons and have done hill training, it’s not that bad. If you normally run flat 5 to 10 km runs and don’t do hill training, then yes it’s going to seem hilly. It’s a great course to run a negative split, since a lot of the last 3 miles is downhill.

They have timing mats at the bottom and top of Hayes Hill so they can award the fastest Hayes Hill run of the race.

Water stops

There were water stops on the course, all the water stops are on the right hand side and they had enough tables you could run past the first two tables and grab water further down.

Port-a-potties

I was surprised by how few port-a-potties there were in the start area, but each corral had a different section so I only saw the port-a-potties on my street. There were a LOT of port-a-potties along the route.

Bag check (or lack thereof)

Because of the large number of runners they don’t have bag check unless you pay for VIP registration. Backpacks are not allowed either. You can purchase an approved clear drawstring bag at the expo to carry a change of clothes (or your clothes depending on how you plan to run the race). That does mean you run the race carrying a drawstring bag on your back which is irritating. Next time, I would probably splurge on VIP registration to get bag check.

Race Expo

The race expo is next to Pier 39, a popular destination for tourists seeking food, souvenir socks, and sea lions.

Bib and t-shirt pick up is well organized.

The only clothing on sale at the race expo was official race gear, but they did have a nice selection. The lack of bag check may account for the Flip Belt and Roo Pouch boots at the expo. We expected to find booths selling stuff for costumes, but there was only one booth selling headbands and tutus.

Transportation to start and from Finish

Because the race is point to point you will likely need transportation. “Muni” passes, in the form of yellow stickers to put in the corner of your bib, are available for purchase when you register online, at the expo, or beside the bus stop at the finish line. Muni passes provide transportation to and from the start by city transit. We had no trouble getting on a city train to the start race morning. They had a continuous line of buses at the finish, as soon as a bus filled up it left and the next one started to load. The bus ride back was slow, but that’s just because it is a city bus so it stops to pick up and drop off passengers at all the city bus stops.

Race Photos

Most of the race photographers I saw were on the left side of the road. Photos are free, this year sponsored by Strava. It’s a busy race so if you want race photos seek out the photographers and make sure they see you.

Should I wear a costume?

Absolutely. Even if it’s just a grass skirt, and hawaiian shirt, or a Forrest Gump costume. If you want to race, you can come up with something that is comfortable to run in. I recommend asking yourself a few key questions when choosing your outfit

  • Is it breathable?
  • Will it survive if it rains?
  • Will it survive when I sweat?
  • Will it chafe?

Should I run naked?

Hey that’s up to you, but if you do, you won’t be the only one.

If you enjoyed this post, check out other running related posts

The runners practical guide to Boston marathon weekend

You have a bib for Boston? Congratulations you made it! In this post I’ll share some practical information on how to prepare for and enjoy marathon weekend.

ImInBoston

I was fortunate enough to have experienced Boston marathon runners as travel companions to help me navigate my first Boston. Their simple tips and tricks helped reduce my stress and allowed me to get the most of my Boston marathon weekend. Hopefully I can help you do the same!

What to pack

Rule #1 of Boston has become, NEVER believe the long term forecast. Pack for everything from freezing cold wet conditions to hot and humid. This will save you rushing around on Sunday trying to find suitable race gear at the last minute that you probably have sitting at home. You won’t know what you really need to wear until you see the hourly forecast the day before the race. In 2015, the forecast called for sun, race day was rainy and windy. No-one expected the frigid, pouring rain and strong winds of 2018 (2-10C/35-50F with a 14 MPH headwind). In 2019, they sent out emails Friday warning us to prepare for conditions similar to 2018. By the time we entered the start corrals it was sunny and humid  with peak temperatures of 20C/68F hitting right around the Newton hills.PackingForMarathon

Pack for running in any possible weather and pack for hanging out at the start line in any possible weather. Consider picking up a throwaway pair of rubber boots for the athlete’s village. There are tents , but you have to walk through a field to get to the tents, and to get to the all important port-a-potties. If it rains the night before the race, or the day of the race the field can get very muddy.  Your running shoes don’t fit in the official “bag for the start village” but as long as you carry them in a clear plastic bag, they will let you bring them with you on the bus and into the village. So add clear plastic garbage bags to your packing list as well!  Have a plan to keep your feet and running shoes dry in the event the field is wet and/or muddy.

When to arrive

Boston marathon hotels are crazy expensive. But, if it’s an option, its really great to arrive as early as you can. This allows you to explore the city, soak up the race atmosphere, and visit the race expo before it gets crazy busy!  One option is to change hotels. Stay further out of town when you first arrive, and move to a hotel more convenient for the race on Sunday.

Why arrive early?

Quieter expo hall

If you visit the expo on Saturday you will line up just to get inside, whereas Friday you can just walk in.

5 km race

Saturday morning is the Boston 5 km race, a great opportunity for friends and family who are coming to cheer you on to feel a part of marathon weekend. They get a Boston t-shirt and the 5 km course takes them across the finish line of the marathon. They get to run down Boyleston! (if you stop to take a selfie at the marathon finish line (about the 4km mark, during the 5 km please move to the side first so other runners do not crash into you).  Join friends and family for the 5 km or just cheer them on.  The 5 km race will sell out, so register early.

Cannolis, Clam chowdah & Boston Cream pie

CannoliAll famous local foods you should try, but not food you generally want to eat the day before you run a marathon.

Time to explore the city

Downtown Boston is very pedestrian friendly. You can just follow the Freedom trail and check out the Granary burying ground famous graveyards, the Faneuil Hall marketplace, Paul Revere’s house, and so much more. It’s easy to accidentally spend too much time on your feet. If you arrive early you can explore on Saturday and put your feet up Sunday. The New England Aquarium is also a fun stop and runner’s of a certain age may want to visit Cheers for a photo op on the edge of Boston Common ( you will get to know Boston Common well on race weekend!)

How to get around

You do NOT want to be driving around downtown Boston. If you are driving, find a parking lot, park the car, and don’t drive it again until it’s time to leave town. I strongly recommend you research prices and locations ahead of time, because you can pay crazy amounts for parking in downtown Boston!  Monday is a holiday, but our parking garage still charged us the weekday rate on Monday which was 3X the weekend rate. If you are flying into Logan airport, you can take public transit into downtown from the airport, or take a taxi, Lyft or Uber. I do not recommend renting a car. You will pay more for parking than the rental and downtown Boston is a maze!

Public transit

The easiest way to get around is to use the MBTA (Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority).  I recommend picking up a 1 day or 7 day pass. You can buy these at the fare stations ticket machines. having a pass is a good way to cut down on your walking. Save your energy for race day. If you have a pass, it’s easier to just hop on the train, even if it’s just 1 or 2 stops.

  • The stop closest to the race expo is the Hynes Convention Centre on the Green line.
  • Copley station on the Green line is closest to the finish line but is closed on race day. It’s also a bit confusing because on race weekend with various events going on sometimes you can’t easily cross Boyleston and once you exit Copley station you are committed to one side of the street or the other (i.e. you can’t just go underground to cross the street).
  • Arlington station is the closest station to the finish line on race day.

Walking

As I mentioned above, downtown Boston is very pedestrian friendly.  You can just follow the Freedom trail and see all sorts of cool sights!

Blue Bikes

They have rental bikes in Boston as well. I would NOT want to drive these around downtown, but, wonderful for a cycle along the Charlestown river if you want to head towards MIT and Harvard to watch the rowers and sailboats.

What can I do Sunday when I want to explore without walking too much?

Boat tours

Harbour tours are a great way to explore while staying off your feet.

Free ferry ride

USSConstitutionThe Charlestown Ferry is part of the public transit system. That means if you have a transit pass, you can ride the ferry for free. It will take you from the dock next to the aquarium over the long wharf where you can visit the Charlestown navy yard. Free admission, but, remember to bring government issued ID, and you have to go through airport-style security, so don’t bring a backpack with anything like a pocket knife.  Liquids are okay, but otherwise just assume anything they would not allow as carry-on for a flight is not allowed, and there are no lockers to store your bags while you tour. You can check out the USS Constitution, (first set sail in 1797!) and the World War II destroyer the USS Cassin Young. Then you can walk back to the ferry and ride back to downtown. Just keep an eye on the ferry schedule, the last ferry leaves around 5:30 PM or so.

Bus tours

I know a lot of runners do Hop On/Hop Off bus tours the day before a race to explore. We have never bothered to do this in Boston because walking and Public transit can so easily get you to so many sites.

Segway tours

I haven’t done any Segway tours, but might be a fun way to explore downtown.

Where should I stay?

Near the finish

It is pretty awesome to stay walking distance from the finish line, or should I say staggering distance from the finish line. But you will pay for the privilege! You also need to book early. The finish area hotels start booking rooms for race weekend in May, and may be sold out by June!  Many of them have reasonable cancellation policies so you may just want to book one of the pricy hotels and cancel later if you change your mind (but make sure you read the cancellation policies!). The other advantage to staying in this area is walking distance from the finish equals walking distance from the shuttle buses to Hopkinton Monday morning. But since Boston starts relatively late as marathons go, it’s not that much hassle to take transit to Boston Commons race day to catch the shuttle. Just make sure to give yourself extra time if you are checking a bag. Bag check is in the finish area, the shuttle buses are in the middle of Boston Common.

If you are sharing a room with another runner, read all the small print, and consider calling the hotel if you are hoping to have two beds.  My sister and I have had to share a Queen bed two years in a row. Manageable for two sisters, but maybe a little awkward if you are just sharing a room with someone else from your running club. This year we tried changing hotels to get two beds, but, when we arrived we were told that was “based on availability” and ended up once again in a room with only one Queen sized bed.  We managed to jam a cot into the room, but next year we will continue our hunt for a finish area hotel where we can guarantee a room with two beds.

Further away but on the public transit route

Public transit is free after the race. My hotel was at the far end of Boston Common. It was cold and raining. I was exhausted. So, I just stumbled into Arlington station (tough yes that does mean walking down stairs :)) wrapped in my mylar blanket (I did not check a bag) and got off at Park St station, 50 meters from my hotel. Even though there was a steady stream of runners and their families boarding, it did not take too long to get on a train.  So if you can handle the ride you could stay further away from the finish line. This will save you money, and get you a bigger room. The year my family came to cheer me on, we stayed near the 22 mile mark close to the Chestnut Hill reservoir, a short walk from the Green line. We were able to book it for a reasonable price only a month before the race.

AirBnB

As of 2019, Airbnb is still allowed in Boston, the city has not had any sort of crackdown.  I am always a little nervous about Airbnb for marathons, ever since I booked one for the Chicago marathon and it was cancelled on me 2 months before the race leaving me to scramble and find a new place to stay. But, I have had many excellent stays at Airbnb.

The Race Expo

There are a lot of good booths and vendors at the Boston race expo. But! It is crazy crowded on the weekend, especially on Saturday.  You will see a line around the block just to get into the building. Here’s a tip, there is a second entrance to the expo area inside the mall. It will also have a line-up but the wait is usually closer to 5 minutes instead of up to an hour at the outside entrance. I am always nervous that some year they will close the mall entrance, but so far, so good.

Bring your credit card, there are a lot of opportunities to spend money at the expo and I always seem to spend more than I had planned.

The poster

After you have your bib and make your way into the expo area, keep an eye out for people handing out rolled up posters. They print posters with the names of all the marathon runners and give them out free at the expo. A great souvenir of your first Boston to mount on the wall.

Shoe shopping

I usually do some serious shoe shopping at the race expo because there is no state tax on running shoes in Massachusetts and vendors you usually have 10-15% off shoes at the expo.  Many shoe vendors produce a special Boston marathon edition shoe, but sadly those are never right for my feet. But it’s a great chance to try on different brands of shoes with product representatives on hand who know the product. This is much easier to do on Friday when it is less busy and they still have all the sizes in stock.

Buying the “Boston Jacket”

Boston marathon jackets

Boston marathon jackets

The longest line up at the race expo is the line for the store where you purchase official race gear including the famous celebration jacket. If you hate line ups, you might want to bypass it here and go buy the celebration jacket and some of the other official race merchandise at Marathon Sports stores as well. There is a Marathon sports in the mall, and another on Boyleston.  My biggest problem is that I often like the other jackets they have for sale and end up buying two jackets! Because of course you have to buy the celebration jacket. FYI, everyone wears their jacket after they finish the race and the next day. If you have the pleasure of running another Boston marathon in the future, make sure you bring your old jacket to wear around on race weekend. I love playing spot the oldest Boston jacket.

Where do I find pasta Sunday night?

The North End of Boston is the Italian district. Make reservations if you want to eat there Sunday. You won’t be the only marathon runner looking for pasta. You may want to find an Italian restaurant outside the North End instead.

Another option is the race pasta dinner. Free with your race registration, but you have to RSVP when you get the email for the pasta dinner and post-race party. It used to have some pretty bad line ups, but a friend who went in 2019 said it has improved a lot since they started assigning time slots to the tickets.

If you like beer, of course you have to have a pint of the 26.2 Sam Adams with your dinner Sunday or Monday. (If it comes in a 26.2 glass, ask the staff if you can keep the glass :))

Shakeout run

ChartestonRiverRunIf you flew or drove to Boston, you may want to go for a run to loosen up.  There are two popular routes downtown:  Boston Commons, and the Charlestown river paths.  This year I am 90% sure we passed Shalane Flanagan running the other way along the Charlestown, and in 2016 we met Meb walking down Boyleston after our morning run.  If you run along the Charlestown river, do keep an eye out for wheelchair racers, they move a LOT faster than the runners and can come up quickly behind you.

Photo ops

FinishlineIf you are running your first Boston you probably want some pictures to commemorate the occasion. There are lots of backdrops in the expo. I also recommend taking a picture at the finish line. Boyleston is closed around the finish line Sunday afternoon so you can go get a picture.  You will not be alone, but all the runners are very courteous and take turns posing next to the big Boston logo painted on the ground or with the finish line sign in the background.

 

#BostonStrong

BostonStrongThere will be many tributes to the 2013 Boston bombing. They used to have crocheted blue and yellow flowers on the lamp posts where the two bombs exploded. They are now building permanent memorials. You will see pots of daffodils and signs with the phrase #BostonStrong. These are all in tribute to 2013 Boston.

Enjoy yourself!

Take a step back and soak it all in. Boston is a special race. It’s hard to have *fun* running a marathon, but hopefully this post will help you relax and have fun marathon weekend.

If you are super stoked about Boston and want more Boston marathon related posts, check out

This is your Brain, This is your brain on Boston

Boston marathon treadmill settings

Other running related posts including comparisons of Boston vs the Chicago and New York marathons.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Diefenbooker race report

Today was 23rd annual Diefenbooker race day. It’s hard to believe it took me this long to get out and do it!

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It takes a village of volunteers!

This is a community race. I was immediately impressed by their team of volunteers. As we arrived, volunteers directed us to a parking spot. When we walked into the building, a volunteer asked if we needed race day registration. We said yes, so she  provided us with forms to fill out, asked what races we were doing along with our shirt sizes then proceeded to fetch our t-shirts and bibs. Once we had completed our forms she directed us to another volunteer who took down our information and payment (cash only by the way). Additional volunteers were ready to hand out bibs and t-shirts to those who had pre-registered. There were also plenty of volunteers along the route managing traffic, making sure we did not miss turns, and cheering us on.

IMG_20190504_165733Race day registration runs from 7:30 AM to 8:30 AM. We arrived just before 8 AM. The line for race day registration was a bit of a bottleneck by 8:15, but they kept it open late so everyone could be processed. But, if you decide to race, it would be a kindness to the volunteers and organizers to pre-register or arrive early on race day to register. Pre-registration also helps you get your preferred t-shirt size. The smallest women’s shirt they had by the time I arrived was a women’s large. The shirts are cotton by the way, not technical shirts. Fairly common for community races.

 

A race for the whole family

This is a great family event, with races for everyone! There was a 5 km, 18km, and 33 km cycle. There was a 5km, and 10 km run for those who want to race. There was also a 5 km walk for those who prefer a more gentle pace. There are also shorter races for the youngest family members. A 1 km race for 12 and under, and the loonie loop for 2 to 6 year olds. The 2 yr olds do not race against the 6 year olds. They do one race for each age 🙂 Such fun to watch a line of 2 year olds race about 30 m across a field as fast as their legs will carry them. Parents, siblings, grandparents and total strangers stand on the sidelines cheering them on. Of course there are always one or two confused toddlers who stop and look around bewildered not entirely sure what is going on, but family are only a few feet away to rescue them if needed.

Running through the Diefenbunker

blasttunnelOne of the really cool things about the 5 km and 10 km races is that you get to run through the Diefenbunker blast tunnel.  The blast tunnel was designed and constructed to allow the pressure wave from a nuclear blast to enter and then be diverted away from the actual bunker itself where key members of the Canadian government would be relocated in the event of nuclear attack.

I did the bike ride instead of the run so I did not get to run through the tunnel. Clearly, I need to return next year to do the run so I can run through the tunnel!

The bike ride

The 33 km bike route took us along country roads. There was very little traffic and only a few hills. All the turns were clearly marked. You did need to keep an eye out for cracks and potholes. Not surprising for a spring race in Ottawa. I did the ride on a good road bike and would use the same bike if I return. I guess I should specify, what I mean by a “good” bike, since that definition can vary widely! My bike is is a Trek Lexa SLX :aluminum frame, carbon forks, Bontrager components and Bontrager alloy wheels, Shimano 105 drivetrain. Another cyclist who rode with us for a good part of the race did comment that he was glad he brought his “B” bike and not his racing bike given the road conditions.  Save that bike for riding in the Gatineau hills.

The 33 km cyclists started just ahead of the 18 km cyclists, and the 5 km cyclists started last. This worked out well since the faster cyclists tended to be doing the longer distances. By breaking up the starts, you don’t have an 8 year old on their mountain bike jockeying for position with my cycling commuter husband clipped into his pedals riding his Marinoni.

A community race with community sponsors

The cycling races are cycle tours which means, unlike the running races, they are not timed. As a result, I was surprised when they asked me to pull over at the finish line. Apparently I was the 2nd female overall in the 33km bike. I was presented with gift certificates for Kin Vineyards and The Cheshire Cat Pub (make sure you read their road sign when you are in the area). local businesses can be such great supporters of community races!)

Even if you don’t get a top three finish, the 2019 bibs included $20 off any purchase of $100 at Bushtukah. It is far too easy for me to spend  over $100 at Bushtukah, and it just so happens I need to buy a pair of trail running shoes. You also got a coupon for a free Kichesippi beer at the Cheshire Cat Pub (valid on race weekend). I also heard a rumour kids who did the Loonie Loop got a coupon for a free ice cream (but I have no way of fact checking that, so don’t make any promises of free ice cream to your kids, just in case I am wrong)

img_20190504_165718.jpgThank you to all the sponsors who contributed to this community event! Giving away gift certificates is smart, because now my husband and I are planning a return trip to Carp for dinner at the pub and a stop at the vineyard. Maybe we can combine it with an attempt on the Diefenbunker Escape room.

Washrooms and bag check

Yes there is a bag check inside the building

There are washrooms inside the building and they also had 5 port-a-potties in the parking lot.  I appreciated the indoor washrooms when I realized I had absent mindedly put my bib bike shorts on backwards when I got up in the morning and needed to remedy the situation before the race start. Glad I didn’t have to do that in a port-a-potty!

The Diefenchunk

img_20190504_165353.jpgAnother unique aspect of this race is the medals. In addition to receiving gift certificates for my top 3 finish, they also presented me with a very original medal. The middle of the medal has a small piece of concrete glued to it. Apparently I received a “Diefenchunk” 🙂  Presumably meant to be taken from the Diefenbunker, though my husband and I wondered if perhaps they were taken from some of the more impressive potholes on the course!

Diefenchunk medals are awarded to top three men and women overall in each cycling race, in the 5km and 10 km running races, the 5 km walk and to the first place age group winners in the 5 km and 10 km running races.

Summary

The Diefenbooker is a well organized, fun spring race for runners and cyclists of any age and ability. The funds raised support organizations in West Carleton that promote literacy, encourage physical activity or personal wellness. Little touches like the Diefenchunk and running through the tunnel make it one of the more original races in the Ottawa area. I’ll be back. Maybe I’ll see you there!

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If you are interested, I have other running related posts and race reports

Emile’s Run Race Report

EMiliesRunFriendsThere are more and more all female races out there, last week I ran my first: Emilie’s run. The race was established in 2007, in memory of Émilie Mondor. Emilie competed for Canada in the 2004 Olympics and died at the age of 25 in a car accident. She was the first Canadian woman to complete a 5,000 m in under 15 minutes. (14:59.68 at the world championships in Paris 2003).

Emilie Mondor

Emilie Mondor

The race appealed because in addition to being a welcoming race for female runners of all levels, it’s a race that celebrates competitive female runners.  The event aims to give competitive women a chance to lead a race, set the pace, and be the overall winners. (The prize money helps attract some strong runners)

Emilie’s run is a 5 km spring race in Ottawa. The route is a simple loop on the experimental farm.

A couple of useful things to know if you are thinking of running (as of 2019):

You can pick up your race kit on race day at the start or Thursday at Bushtukah

  • Parking – There was free parking,  but the posted race lot was full when we arrived. There were some other lots around but the signs seemed to indicate 90 minute parking. We decided to keep it simple and just paid for parking at the agriculture museum which was a nice short walk to the start, and I have no objection to supporting the agriculture museum with a few $.
  • There are two hills, not very steep, but fairly long
  • You get a necklace instead of a medal at the finish line
  • They have bag check and there are bagels and bananas at the finish
  • There is a 1 km Fun run as well
  • Wheelchair friendly route
  • Port-a-potties are located at the start area, and a short walk away are the heated indoor toilets.

For the casual runner looking for a fun run:

  • There is a water stop around half way
  • When I ran (2019), the last pair crossed the finish line at 1:25, the previous 9 runners all came in between 45 minutes and 55 minutes

If you are a tad competitive (like me)

  • There is prize money (unusual for a 5 km) so this race attracts some fast women! $750 for first place, $500 for 2nd, $350 for 3rd, $200 for 4th, $100 for 5th.
  • It’s interesting to compete in a race that is all women and has some serious competition for the top spots.
  • The overall winner in 2019 finished in 16:52.9, fifth place 18:35.5 (that’s how fast you had to be in 2019 to take home $)
  • First place in the masters finished in 18:59.2 and won $250
  • There were 14 women who finished in under 20 minutes
  • They have timing mats and clocks at every km, so you can keep an eye on your splits.
  • It’s a fairly fast course, but it does have a long hill at km 2-3 and km 4-5 and if it’s windy you are guaranteed to have a stretch with a headwind because it’s a loop and there is not much shelter from the wind.
  • The road isn’t closed before the race starts, but you can do a nice warm up running out to the 1 km flag and back.

EMiliesRunSusanHow was my race? I am a runner who occasionally sneaks in a top 3 in her age group. I finished in 22:10 which is within a minute of my 5 km Personal Best. I finished 23rd overall, 2nd in my age group.  I enjoyed racing with such a strong pack of women runners.  I think I would have been at least 10 seconds slower if not for Kailey (that’s her in front of me in edge of the photo) for being just close enough and tall enough for me to draft behind on the windy sections. Thank you Kailey!

Chicago vs Boston marathon

I had the pleasure of running the Chicago Marathon in the fall 2018 and the Boston Marathon in the spring of 2019. In this post I’ll compare the two races. I hope one day you get to run them both but if you have to choose, maybe this will help you decide.

Chicago Marathon finisher medal

Getting a bib

Lottery

One of the reasons a Boston marathon bib is such a big deal is because you cannot get a bib through a lottery.

Chicago, like New York does provide the opportunity to get a bib through a lottery, though unlike New York, you have a decent chance of getting a bib through the Chicago lottery.

in 2015, 53% of those who entered the lottery received a bib. I have a number of friends who have successfully received a bib through the lottery in the past few years. Unfortunately, you cannot submit two runners together and request that you either both get bibs or both do not get bibs (i.e.if you want to be sure the two of you run the same year the lottery doesn’t provide that option). But! Chicago does provide the option of deferring your bib for one year. So if you get a bib and your friend does not, then you could defer your bib for one year (for a fee) and see if your friend gets in the lottery the next year.

Race # Entries received # Entries selected % selected
Chicago 2015 54,800 29,044 53%

Time Qualifier

racetimerAlmost all the Boston marathon runners qualify through a time system

Chicago also has a guaranteed entry for those who meet qualifying time standards

Here are the 2020 qualifying standards for Chicago and Boston

Age group Boston Men* Chicago Men Boston Women* Chicago Women
18-29 3:00 3:10 3:30 3:30
30-34 3:00 3:15 3:30 3:45
35-39 3:05 3:15 3:35 3:45
40-44 3:10 3:25 3:40 3:55
45-49 3:20 3:25 3:50 3:55
50-54 3:25 3:40 3:55 4:10
55-59 3:35 3:40 4:05 4:10
60-64 3:50 4:00 4:20 4:35
65-69 4:05 4:00 4:35 4:35
70-74 4:20 4:30 4:50 5:10
75-79 4:35 4:30 5:05 5:10
80+ 4:50 5:00 5:20 5:45

*Unfortunately running your BQ (Boston Qualifier time) may not in fact guarantee you entry into Boston. Boston caps the number of bibs provided to time qualifiers. If too many runners register with a qualifying time, they reduce the qualifying times until they have the correct number of runners. For example in 2014, runners had to qualify with a time 1 minute and 2 seconds faster than their BQ times to get a bib in Boston and the cut off times are getting progressively harder.

2014 cutoff 1:38

2015 cutoff 1:02

2016 cutoff 2:28

2017 cutoff 2:09

2018 cutoff 3:23

2019 cutoff 4:52

Because the cutoff time was almost 5 minutes in 2019  they dropped all the qualifying times by 5 minutes for 2020.

Charity Entry

charityBoth races provide the opportunity to fundraise for an official race charity. to get a guaranteed entry to the race, but Boston sets the bar high for charity entries.

Chicago 2019 fundraising targets start at $1250 if you claim a charity entry during the application window and $1750 USD if you claim a charity entry after the application window (i.e. if you decide to enter the lottery, and don’t make it then decide to do a charity entry because you didn’t get in through the lottery, you have to fundraise more $)

Boston 2019 fundraising targets started at $5000 USD.

Local races

shamrockChicago provide the option to help local runners get a guaranteed entry by participating in local races.

Chicago has the Shamrock Shuffle

If you have run the Shamrock Shuffle 8k four or more times in the past 10 years and have signed up for the next Shamrock Shuffle you can guarantee a spot in the Chicago marathon.

Boston does not provide any sort of run x races get a guaranteed bib for Boston.

Tour Entry

If you really want to race Chicago or Boston and you have the financial means to do so you can purchase a tour package that includes a bib from one of the official marathon tour partners. Check the race website for a current list of official tour partners. There are a small number of entries available through tour groups for Boston outside the US and Canada but they sell out fast.

Cancelled Entry

If you get into Chicago and are not going to run the race, you can cancel/defer your entry once. You lose the registration fee but it gives you a guaranteed entry the following year.

Boston does not provide the option of deferring. Which might account for the people you see on the start line walking or wearing crutches 🙂

In Summary

Are you noticing a pattern here? Suffice to say it is MUCH easier to get a bib for Chicago than a bib for Boston.

Weather

Fall races are typically more predictable weather than spring races, but, Chicago is generally hotter weather than Boston and had a few years where heat was a major factor for runners (80F+) including the very infamous 2007 Chicago marathon when they had to shut down the course.

Here’s a breakdown comparing the weather at the two races the past 10 years. Since Chicago is not a point to point race whatever the wind direction you will spend about half of it as a tailwind and half of it as a tailwind.

YEAR Boston weather Boston Wind Chicago weather Chicago Wind
2010 49-55F Partly Cloudy ENE 2-5 MPH (headwind) 59-84F Scattered Clouds No wind
2011 46-55F Cloudy WSW 16-20 MPH (tailwind) 57-80F Clear ESE 3 MPH
2012 65-87F Clear WSW 10-12 MPH (tailwind) 38-51F Mostly Cloudy WNW 6 MPH
2013 54-56F Clear E 3MPH (headwind) 46-65F Clear NW 4 MPH
2014 61-62F Clear WSW 2-3 MPH (tailwind) 45-65F Partly Cloudy SE 8 MPH
46-46F Overcast and rain Calm 54-78F Clear SSW 11 MPH
2016 61-71F Clear WSW 2-3 MPH (tailwind) 50-63F Partly Cloudy ESE 8 MPH
2017 70-73F Clear WSW 1-3 MPH (tailwind) 56-73 Partly Cloudy SW 8 MPH
2018 35-50F Rain NE 14 MPH (headwind) 57-64F Drizzle ENE 5 MPH

Pre-Race Experience

Packet pick up

Both Boston and Chicago are well organized for packet pick up and both provide a shirt exchange if you discover the shirt size you ordered does not fit.

You must pick up your own race kit at both races. Don’t forget your government issued photo id!

Race swag

Official race gear at Chicago is sponsored by Nike. Nike focuses on running clothes for the official Chicago marathon gear. In 2018 they sold find t-shirts, long sleeved shirts, tank tops, visor, and jackets. If you want coffee mugs, laptop stickers, and cotton t-shirts you will have to explore other booths in the expo. You may also want to visit the Nike store on Michigan to purchase your official race merchandise, the lines were shorter, and they have a DJ and a fun atmosphere Friday and Saturday before the race. The Under Armour store just down the road from the Nike store on Michigan Ave also had some marathon branded running gear.

Official race gear at Boston is sponsored by Adidas. There is the traditional celebration jacket which is the most brilliant marketing scheme ever, since you feel like you have to buy one every year (and it isn’t even a good running jacket). There are often other jackets which are nicer than the celebration jacket (which might account why I have never run Boston without coming home with two jackets). There are also a good assortment of other official Boston marathon merchandise – a wide assortment of running gear but also baseball hats, visors, pint glasses, shot glasses, pins, stuffed unicorns, etc…Chances are you will spend more money on official merchandise at the Boston expo. You will find even more merchandise at other booths in the expo as well.

Pace bands

Boston had pace bands available at the booth just outside the race expo. They had the pace bands tailored to the Boston course. Boston has some tough hills in teh second half so it’s nice that they have the race specific pace bands.

In Chicago, they had arm tattoos instead of pace bands. I prefer the tattoos because the font on the tattoos was nice and big (I need reading glasses and some pace bands use print too small for me to read :))

Race morning

Getting to the start

Boston

The Boston marathon is a point to point race, with a finish in downtown Boston. The race starts in Hopkington. To reach the start you can:

  • take a shuttle bus from Boston commons (estimated travel time 60 minutes)
  • drive to Hopkington parking lot and catch shuttle to athlete’s village

The race starts in waves. As of 2019, the male elites start separately from the rest of the runners, so the elites don’t have to worry about that one runner who really wants to be on TV trying to lead the elite pack for the first mile.

  • 9:32 AM Elite Women start
  • Elite Men 10:00 AM
  • Wave one start 10:02 AM
  • Wave two start 10:25 AM
  • Wave three start 10;50 AM
  • Wave four start 11:15 AM *

*in 2019 due to the weather forecast they chose to start Wave four immediately after Wave three so they would have less time exposed to the elements in the athletes village)

Shuttle bus times depend on your start wave

in 2019

  • Wave one runners shuttles ran from 6:00 – 6:45 AM
  • Wave two runner shuttles ran from 7:00 – 7:45 AM
  • Wave three runner shuttles ran from 8:00 – 8:45 AM
  • Wave four runner shuttles ran from 8:55 – 9:30 AM

I was in Wave 3, I set my alarm for 6:30. I met friends in the hotel lobby at 8 AM and we walked over to catch the buses, one of the friends was staying further out of town and had taken the train into downtown to catch the shuttle bus. i.e. you don’t have to pay the $350+ USD a night hotel and stay within walking distance of the start.

Chicago

The start is much earlier. Wave 1 starts at 7:30 AM. I was in wave 2, 8 AM start. I still set my alarm for 5 AM. My hotel, like many downtown Chicago hotels, was walking distance from the start line (I was at Ontario St and Michigan Ave).  All I had to do was walk. If you want to find a cheaper hotel, you can stay further from the start and take the Metro line to the start. Yes, the Metro will be packed with runners, the first train might even be too packed to get in, but once on that train, in 15-40 minutes you are at the start. Security is efficient and quick (just like New York).  You don’t have to worry about a bag check cut off time because the bag drop off and bag pick up are the same place. Since they don’t have to transport your gear anywhere, you can just drop it off 5 or 15 minutes before you walk over to your corral.  Getting to the start in Chicago is much less hassle and much less stress.

Port-a-potties

ChicagoPortapottyYou can’t compare marathons without mentioning access to port-a-potties at the start!

Boston

In Boston you will find a good selection of port-a-potties in the athlete’s village, expect a line of 20 or so runners. Depending on how you enter the village you may pass a smaller field before you reach the main athletes village, that smaller field appeared to have shorter lines.  There are additional port-a-potties on the way to the corrals as well (with much shorter lines), but you can’t use them until your wave is called to the corrals. Guys – if you get to the corral and realize you need a pee PLEASE don’t pee on the clothes by the fences, that is really disgusting. If you really have to go, since you start in the suburbs, not the city, you do go past a wooded area in the first km and many a gentlemen runner takes advantage of that first set of woods to find a convenient tree.

Chicago

In Chicago The start area is split in two by the corrals. I found the lines for the port-a-potties shorter on the city side of Grant Park than the lake side of Grant Park. The lines at their worst were maybe 10-15 minutes long. Which is why there is NO EXCUSE for the dudes who were peeing beside the fence in the start corrals!  Witnessed by at least two of my running friends. Seriously! I have no problems with guys running out to find a tree on races past wooded areas, but peeing on the discarded clothing in the corral is really gross. Not what I want to see when I am walking over to the fence to toss a shirt or stretch. Boston and New York both threaten disqualification if you are caught doing something like that (FYI I have yet to meet a runner who has witnessed the famous ‘yellow rain’ on the Verrazzano-Narrows bridge in New York).

SIDE NOTE: Best solution I saw for this was the Vancouver marathon that had a fenced off set of troughs for guys who needed a quick pee before the start. This saved them a long wait at the port-a-potty and shortened the line for us ladies.

Corrals

Both Chicago and Boston divide up runners into waves, and corrals This helps spread out the runners and keep the start areas less crowded. Both Chicago and New York will check your bibs to make sure you are in the correct corral. Both races allow you to move to a slower corral but will not allow you to move to a faster corral. All runners have a common waiting area, so you can hang out with friends in Wave one before you start (as long as you get to the athletes village before they are called to the corrals).  FYI, it’s not encouraged, but I do know runners who boarded the buses for an earlier wave with friends.

Race course

Hills

Below are the hill profiles for Boston and Chicago. Note the difference between minimum and maximum elevation in each image.

BostonBoston Hill Profile

Boston is a net downhill, but that does not make it an easy course! There are two notoriously tough sections late in the race. The Newton hills around km 25 and Heartbreak Hill around km 32. You won’t find many flat stretches in Boston. This is considered a difficult marathon.  I have my marathon PR and I have my Boston PR. They are 10 minutes apart and I am proud of both of them. It is possible to set a marathon PR in Boston, but let’s just say you had better do your hill work or you are going to have a VERY rough day.

Chicago

The big climbs in Chicago are less than 10 meters. My friend Christopher said Chicago is “waffle flat”. I think that’s a perfect description. It is flat, with little bumps here and there. There is one “big’ hill in the last half mile of the course, but that hill is about as hard as one of the rolling hills in Central Park, it just messes with your head because it is so close to the finish line.  Chicago is a much easier course in terms of hills. Chicago is a good course to try for a personal best.

ChicagoElevation

Crowds and Energy

racesignsBoston has an estimated 500,000+ spectators. The Chicago marathon press release estimates they have 1,700,000 spectators.  That number will of course vary depending on the year and on the weather. Both races have great crowd support. In Boston, you have a couple of “scream tunnels”: the famous Wellesley college girls offering up kisses to runners, and dare I say it, Boston college may not be handing out kisses but matches or might even exceed the decibel level of Wellesley. I loved the dancing drag queens in Chicago. Each race only had short stretches with thin crowds except in locations where they cannot cheer such as the tunnel at the start of Chicago.

Boston has the added element of “Boston Strong” ever since the bombing at the Boston marathon in 2013 there is a spirit of taking back the race shared by both the spectators and the runners. This adds to the overall intensity in Boston.  Personally I got more more energy from the crowds in Boston, but both races were amazing crowd support!

Running your own race

In 2010 there were 26,632 finishers in the Boston marathon. In 2018 44, 571 runners finished the Chicago marathon. At no point in either race are you going to be running alone.

Boston

There may be a few patches at the start in Boston where you feel a bit trapped and have to move around to find your pace. It’s better than most races that size because just about every runner in Boston required a qualifying time. That means everyone else in your corral qualified with a similar marathon time to yours. You will all go out at a very similar pace. The only people you see going very slow or walking in the first few km will be runners who are injured but are determined to cross that start line because they worked hard for that Boston bib and they are going to do whatever they can! It’s not unusual to see at least one pair of crutches on the start line.

Chicago

In Chicago the wide roads reduce the congestion, and they do crowd management asking the spectators to move back off the road and leave room for the runners. As a result I found I was able to settle into my own pace within the first mile and only got stuck behind other runners very occasionally. I caught up to the 3:55 pace group and ended up following them for about 5 miles without any difficulty and I managed to pass them without a lot of dodging around runners as well (often pacers have a clump of runners around them making it hard to pass).

You can run your own race in Boston or Chicago.

International spirit

World_map-3One of the things I love about Chicago and Boston are the runners from around the world!

In 2018 Chicago had runners from 105 countries

In 2019 Boston had runners from 99 countries

Spectator Experience

Getting around

Chicago has a fantastic spectator guide  you can pick up at the race expo, the best I have seen.

Elites at the race

20171103_153854Both Boston and Chicago are likely to have presentations by well known runners on the main stage. Sponsors may have an autograph session with familiar names as well.  In Chicago 2018, Maui Jim sunglasses had Meb Keflezighi signing autographs at the expo and you could catch Meb, Joan Benoit Samuelsson and Paula Radcliffe on the main stage. Boston 2019 had Deena Kastor, Sarah Crouch, and Meb was around as well (he was the grand marshall)

Prize money draws big names. Both Chicago and Boston offer big prize money

The prize money is the same for the men and women – Hey rest of the sporting world did you hear that! Same prize money for both genders 🙂 okay I’ll get off my soap box now.

Ranking Boston Chicago
1st place $150,000 $100,000
2nd place $75,000 $75,000
3rd place $40,000 $50,000

There are also a variety of bonuses as well for running under a particular time, being fastest American, etc…

Boston elites in 2019 included:

Athlete Gender Top Finishes
Yuki Kawauchi Male 2018 Boston Winner
Geoffrey Kirui Male 2017 Boston Winner
Lelisa Desisa Male 2018 NYC winner & 2x Boston winner
Lemi Berhanu Male 2016 Boston winner
Wesley Korir Male 2012 Boston winner
Desiree Linden Female 2018 Boston winner
Edna Kiplagat Female 2017 Boston winner
Caroline Rotich Female 2015 Boston winner
Aselefech Mergia Female London winner
Mare Dibaba Female 2016 Olympic Bronze

Chicago Elite in 2018 included:

Athlete Gender Top Finishes
Galen Rupp Male 2017 Chicago winner
Mo Farah Male 4X Olympic Gold
Abel Kirui Male 2016 Chicago winner
Yuki Kawauchi Male 2018 Boston winner
Dickson Chumba Male 2015 Chicago winner
Brigid Kosgei Female 2017 Chicago 2nd
Birhane Dibaba Female 2018 Tokyo winner

Boston attracts a few more of the top elite. BUT! you are more likely to see a record setting run in Chicago

Four world records were set in Chicago

  • 2:08:05 Steve Jones 1984
  • 2:05:42 Khalid Khannouchi 1999
  • 2:18:47 Catherine Ndereba 2001
  • 2:17:18 Paula Radcliffe 2002

in 2018 Mo Farah set a new European record 2:05:11

Finish Area

Boston

When you finish in Boston you move into a finish chute to collect the usual medals, blanket, water, banana, etc… I have never checked a bag, but pick up is just past the turn off to the family meeting area.  Copley station is closed on race day since it is inside the secure finish area, but Arlington station is a short (though it feels long) stumble from the finish area if your hotel is too far waay to walk. I admit my hotel was only on the other side of the commons but I decided to take the transit rather than walk across the Commons even if that meant navigating a set of stairs to do it.

Chicago

In Chicago the walk from the finish line to the exit is similar to Boston. Bag pick up was quick and efficient and it was only a short walk to meet friends and family (although there was a short set of stairs, I think I felt all 6 of them 🙂

Both races insist you keep moving after your cross the finish line. If you sit down, a medic will be by quickly to either take you to the med tent or get you moving again. There are volunteers in the finish chute in Boston with wheelchairs ready to grab runners who need help.

Both races had the usual food and drink at the finish. I think Chicago had a slightly better selection than Boston, and the finish area and family meeting area definitely felt more celebratory in Chicago.  I got a kick out of the beer in souvenir beer cans in Chicago provided by Goose Island. Runners could also get a free beer at the tent in the next to the family meeting area. I don’t drink beer, so sadly wasted on me. As drinks go I prefer a chocolate milk post-race 🙂 Sadly neither Boston or Chicago offered chocolate milk, there was a chocolate protein shake in the kit I got at the race expo but that was all the way back at my hotel, so I had to settle for water and Gatorade.

Post-race atmosphere

ChicagoSpectatorBoston

After the race in Boston, everyone wears their celebration jacket for that race year. It’s kind of cool seeing the same jackets all over the place when you go out for dinner and being able to offer a smile and congratulations to each jacket you pass. Some hotels and restaurants will cheer you when you walk in wearing your jacket after the race.

Chicago

When I hobbled into a pub in Chicago with my thermal blanket, there was no cheering, but the staff took amazing care of me. In no time I had sugar, caffeine and salt in the form of a coke and some pretzel bites. When I asked for a couple of wet naps to wipe my face they even brought me a clean rag soaked in warm water. If you want cheering head to the Nike store post-race for the cheering staff on every floor as you proceed to the 4th floor for free medal engraving.  The next morning there was no shortage of runners walking around with their medals and/or race shirts. The local pancake house had quite the waiting list for breakfast but was worth the wait.

The Chicago Tribune lists the names of the runners and their times in the Monday edition.  I don’t think the Boston paper publishes the results of all the runners, but they will have race coverage.

Volunteers

Volunteers rock at both races. THANK YOU to all the volunteers at both races!

thank-you

Summary

It is harder to get a bib for Boston and the course is tougher, but that’s what makes it memorable. There was a lady with me at the start line who was running her first Boston and I remember her saying with determination “Whatever it takes, I am going to enjoy this race, if I have to walk, if my leg hurts, I don’t care, I am going to enjoy this, I am running the Boston marathon!” There’s a lot of that in Boston. If you don’t want to be there, there are many, many, others who would happily take your place.  But it’s unlikely you will set a personal best on this tough course.

Chicago is a lower stress race. It’s easier to get to the start,its MUCH flatter. its in fall so weather is less likely to be a factor, and I found the water stops had enough tables that I could get water and Gatorade more easily than Boston. You are much more likely to set a personal best in Chicago.

You may have a different experience from mine in Boston or Chicago depending on your start wave and the weather.  But there is a reason these races are so popular. If you get a chance to run either race, do it!

If you are curious how these races compare to New York, I have compared New York and Chicago in another post  and I have also compared New York vs Boston.  If you are interested, I also have other race reports and running related posts