Archive for the ‘Running’ Category

Garmin 645 Music – Listening to music on a run without a phone

645MusicIn this post I’ll talk about Garmins that store and play music and share a review of the Garmin Forerunner 645 Music as a wrist GPS for those who want music without carrying a phone.

  • Which Garmins can store and play music
  • Which music apps are supported
  • My review of the Garmin Forerunner 645 Music including: Size and appearance; Using Spotify on the 645; Bluetooth headphones; Battery life; How do I update/add Spotify playlists on my 645; What could be better?
  • Summary

When I first got into running, I needed music to get through the long runs. I had an iPod mini loaded up with tunes. In winter, I kept the iPod in a jacket pocket. In summer, I had to pick up an arm band. As time passed, two things happened:

  • I found myself doing longer and longer runs without music
  • I bought our family a subscription to Spotify and stopped using iTunes.

Recently I found myself wishing I could listen to music on my runs again. There were several challenges to overcome:

  • My phone was so full of Candy Crush versions and running selfies that I had no storage space for Spotify playlists
  • Canada is the land of overpriced cell phone plans, so streaming music on your phone costs about the same amount as a guaranteed entry to the London marathon
  • Phones keep getting bigger! In summer, I’m lucky if I can find a pocket in my women’s running clothes that will hold a car key.
  • My flip belt can carry a phone, but I have a tendency to sweat when I run, so that only works if I put my phone in a Ziploc bag.
  • My smaller running belt can only hold my phone if I take it out of the case, no proCarryingPhoneOnRun.jpgblem unless the day it’s not in a case is the day you drop it on the garage floor (do you like my spider web screensaver?)
  • My water belt has a larger pouch, but for long runs I can either hold my phone or my supply of Tap Endurance Gels (shots of maple syrup as my nutrition, what could be more Canadian).

I was at the Chicago marathon race expo with my sister Judy. Judy is my source of information for new running gadgets because she works at Bushtukah, a locally owned sports store. She told me Garmin had a wrist GPS that could store and play music. Garmin had a booth at the expo, the perfect opportunity to check out my options.

Which Garmins can store and play music?

There are several models of Garmin which store and play music.

All the models store up to 500 songs.

Model Price US$ Diameter Thickness Weight Battery Life with music
Fenix 5S Plus $699.99 42 mm 15.8 mm 65 g Up to 4.5 hours
Fenix 5 Plus $749.99 47 mm 15.8 mm 86 g Up to 8 hours
Fenix 5X Plus $1049.99 51 mm 17.5 mm 96 g Up to 13 hours
Forerunner 645 Music $449.99 42.5 mm 13.5 mm 42.2 g Up to 5 hours
Vivoactive 3 Music $249.99 43.1 mm 13.6 mm 39 g Up to 5 hours

Which music apps are supported?

When I wrote this post the following music services were available on the 645:

  • Spotify
  • Deezer
  • IHeartRadio
  • KKBox
  • Runcasts (for Podcasts)
  • AWA
  • Line
  • MiguMusic

My review of the Garmin Forerunner 645

My previous Garmin was the Forerunner 735 which I bought with dreams of triathlons since it tracks indoor and outdoor swimming. I decided to stay with the Forerunner series and bought the black Forerunner 645 Music with Rose Gold hardware.

When I bought it, Spotify was only supported on the Fenix, but the Garmin rep told me the software update for Spotify on the 645 was coming out in the next 3 months.

Size and appearance

Garmin Forerunner 735 Garmin Forerunner 645 Music

Forerunner 735 and Forerunner 645 Music on wrist for  comparison

The 645 was smaller than my 735, and the rose gold was, well, prettier, than my 735. So I switched over to my 645 even though I didn’t have music yet. I got a number of compliments on the watch. Unlike the last two Garmins I have owned, the 645 doesn’t scream Garmin when you see it. I can usually spot undercover runners and triathletes at work at about 50 paces by their Garmins.

Let’s be clear, it’s not a dress watch. It looks out of place when I wear it with an evening dress (one day maybe I’ll replace the dead batteries in my actual dress watches but since I wear my Garmin 365 days of the year, that seems unlikely). Taking it off in the summer risks blinding everyone with the thick white tan line across my wrist. But, general opinion among my runner friends was this was the nicest looking Garmin they had seen. My sister even took a picture to send her store manager suggesting they start carrying the rose gold version.

Using Spotify on the 645

I waited patiently and sure enough in December the Spotify app was available for the 645.  The first thing I discovered was most of the instructions and videos online for downloading music to your 645 do NOT apply to Spotify. All those instructions telling you to download your playlist to your computer and then connect the Garmin to the computer with the USB port do NOT apply to Spotify. Spotify has its own storage format. After watching several videos, downloading apps and playlists to my laptop to no avail, I got desperate and tried something completely insane: I downloaded and read the manual from the Garmin website. 5 minutes later I had downloaded my first playlist to my device. Scroll down for a summary of the steps to get Spotify working.

Bluetooth headphones

All these devices only work with Bluetooth headphones, so I picked up a pair of AirShokz Trekz Air ($149.95 USD). These were recommended by Garmin and conveniently had a booth at the same race expo. I’ll write a separate review of them once I’ve tested them on some longer runs and a wider variety of weather. But I will say, I am happy with them so far and I feel safer with the bone conduction headphones because I can listen to music and still hear traffic and conversations.

Battery life

345972627-too-cold-for-a-runnerSeveral friends who rely on their phones for music asked me about battery life. Winter in Ottawa can result in temperatures that freeze your nose hairs (around -20 C), and even eyelashes (around -30 C but that’s why treadmills were invented). Those same cold temperatures drain phone batteries. I’ve never had a problem with a Garmin battery dying in the cold. I presume the fact it is strapped to my wrist instead of sitting in a pocket or pouch helps keep it warm. I decided to test it on a pleasant -15 C run. I started out with 100% charge. After running 1 hour tracking my run and listening to music I was at 83% battery life. For a marathon runner like me, that means I should not have any trouble listening to music for my longest training runs which max out just under 4 hours. An ultra runner might need the Fenix 5 Plus which promises up to 8 hours of music or the Fenix 5X Plus which promises up to 13 hours. The 645 only promises 5 hours according to the Garmin site.

On a side note, now that I have music on my Garmin, I’ve found myself listening to music more often. I wrote this blog post listening to music from my 645 while riding a train from Ottawa to Toronto with unreliable data connection and wifi. Mental note: download some non-running playlists for travel, I need to save the running playlist for when I want that extra boost (you just can’t run slow to Blitzkrieg Bop by the Ramones)

How do I update/add Spotify playlists to my 645?

  1. Install the Garmin Connect app on your phone and log in with your Garmin account (create an account if you don’t have one)
  2. Connect Garmin Connect on your phone to the watch (make sure you pick Settings – Phone – Pair Phone NOT Settings – Phone – Find Phone (doh! no wonder I was having trouble getting it to connect the first time).
  3. Connect your 645 to Wifi – FYI – I sometimes get an error that says ‘incorrect password’ when I know the password is correct, I an suspicious that you receive that error message when the wifi signal is weak as well as for incorrect passwords because when I get incorrect password, I usually just try again immediately and it successfully connects.
  4. Install the Spotify app on your 645 from your phone or your computer
  5. Using your phone
    1. In the Garmin Connect app on the phone select Connect IQ store.
    2. Locate and download the Spotify app
    3. Sync your 645 (Press and hold the Light button and choose sync from the menu)
  6. Using your computer
    1. Install Garmin express and use your USB cable to attach and add the ForeRunner 645.
    2. Select Manage Apps
    3. Select Get More Apps
    4. Locate and download the Spotify app
    5. Sync your 645 using the cable
    6. Once the app is installed, press and hold the lower button on the left side of the watch to go to music mode.
    7. Select the … to go to the music options
    8. Choose Library
    9. Go to the music settings, choose library
    10. Select Add Music/playlists to add the playlists you want downloaded to your 645. You Garmin will need a connection to wifi and the Garmin Connect app on your phone to add new music.

What could be better?

The software on the 645 definitely has a few glitches.  Once in a while it freezes, or you go to your playlist and it acts as though it only has one song on the playlist. I just turn it off and on again. On one occasion the power off button wouldn’t work when it was frozen, but after 10 minutes it worked again.

Every now and then the headphones will disconnect and you have to restart the music and reconnect the headphones to the watch. It’s happened to me twice with my headphones, and one of the Seattle Green Lake Runners said she has the same problem.

Summary

If you have Spotify already and you are looking for a way to listen to music without carrying a phone, check out the new Garmin devices with music. Despite the occasional software glitches I am very happy with my Forerunner 645 Music and I’m having fun building new playlists for running. It’s a shiny new toy that does the job, and if anyone (like say your significant other who is not a runner) asks you why you need another Garmin when you already have one, just tell them this one goes to 11! (right Christopher?)

See a list of my other running related posts including race reviews, and some just for fun

Chicago Marathon vs New York Marathon

I had the pleasure of running the New York City Marathon in 2017 and the Chicago Marathon in 2018. 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. I also have posts comparing Chicago to Boston and New York to Boston

Getting a bib

Lottery

RegisterForNYCOne does not simply register for the New York City or Chicago marathon.  Because so many runners want to complete these races, they use a lottery to award bibs.

The odds are much better for getting into Chicago through the lottery

Race # Entries received # Entries selected % selected
Chicago 2015 54,800 29,044 53%
New York 2018 105,184 15,640 15%

New York actually does three separate lotteries from all the entries received.

  • NYC-metro area applicants (residents in and within 60 miles of New York City)
  • National applications (US residents)
  • International applicants (Non-US residents)

New York selects the same % of runners from each group. i.e. if 15% of applicants were accepted, then 15% of international runners who applied were accepted, 15% of applicants from within the US were selected and 15% of runners within NYC metro area were accepted.

Time Qualifier

racetimerBoth New York & Chicago offer guaranteed entry for those who run fast enough.

Time standards are harder to meet for New York and New York limits the number of time qualifier spots for those who qualify at non-NYRR races. They are awarded first come first served. So it’s important to claim your time qualifier spot as soon as registration opens for New York. Those who apply with a non-NYRR race qualifying time after the qualifying spots available is reached are placed in the general drawing.

Age group New York Men Chicago Men New York Women Chicago Women
18-29 2:53 3:10 3:13 3:30
30-34 2:53 3:15 3:13 3:45
35-39 2:55 3:15 3:15 3:45
40-44 2:58 3:25 3:26 3:55
45-49 3:05 3:25 3:38 3:55
50-54 3:14 3:40 3:51 4:10
55-59 3:23 3:40 4:10 4:10
60-64 3:34 4:00 4:27 4:35
65-69 3:45 4:00 4:50 4:35
70-74 4:10 4:30 5:30 5:10
75-79 4:30 4:30 6:00 5:10
80+ 4:55 5:00 6:35 5:45

New York is quite unique because it also has a half marathon time qualifier

Age group Men Women
18-34 1:21 1:32
35-39 1:23 1:34
40-44 1:25 1:37
45-49 1:28 1:42
50-54 1:32 1:49
55-59 1:36 1:54
60-64 1:41 2:02
65-69 1:46 2:12
70-74 1:57 2:27
75-79 2:07 2:40
80+ 2:15 2:50

Charity Entry

charityBoth races provide the opportunity to fundraise for an official race charity. to get a guaranteed entry to the race.

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 $)

New York 2019 fundraising targets start at $2500 USD.

Local races

shamrockBoth races provide options 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.

New York has the 9+1 or the 9+ $1K program.

If you join the NYRR who either complete 9 score, qualifying races in the year and either volunteer at one NYRR event in the same year or donate $1000 USD to NYRR your and community services program within the year can also get a guaranteed race entry.

Also, if you run the time qualifier at one of the NYRR qualifying races you are guaranteed an entry.

Tour Entry

If you really want to race either New York or Chicago and you have the financial means to do so you can purchase a tour package that includes a bib from one of the marathon tour partners.

Cancelled Entry

If you get into either New York or 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.runner

Pre-Race Experience

Packet pick up

Both Chicago and New York 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 New York is sponsored by New Balance. There is an incredible assortment of official New York marathon merchandise. You can find the usual running gear, but also hoodies, backpacks, gloves, hats, mugs, and more. Chances are you will spend more money on official merchandise at the New York expo. You will find additional merchandise at other booths in the expo as well.

Pace bands

I picked up a pace band at the race expo in New York and ran into an interesting problem. My arms were not long enough :). Apparently I am now sufficiently old enough and sufficiently near sighted that it is difficult for me to read a pace band during the race. In Chicago, they had arm tattoos instead of pace bands. The font on the tattoos was nice and big so I was able to keep an eye on my target pace during the race.

Race morning

Getting to the start

New York

LadyLibertyThe New York marathon starts at Staten Island. To reach the start you can:

  • take the ferry and a shuttle bus (estimated travel time 90 minutes)
  • take a shuttle bus from New Jersey (estimated travel time 60 minutes)
  • take a shuttle bus from Manhattan (estimated travel time 90 minutes)

Of course you need to add time to get to the bus or ferry and to get on the bus or ferry. Plus the time to get through security (quite efficient did not take long), bag check, find your Dunkin Donuts hat and line up once or twice for the port-a-potty. Luckily the time change is usually the night before the race so your 5 AM alarm will feel like a 6 AM alarm!

If was in Wave 2, which had a 10:15 AM start and the cut-off to drop off bags was at 9:05 AM. I woke up at 5:30 AM, and was out the hotel door by about 6 AM to catch the 6:30 AM ferry. It’s so cool to see pass the Statue of Liberty on your way to the start, it really sets the mood “You are running New York!” But, walking to the ferry, waiting for the ferry, getting off the ferry,a long line for the shuttle bus, riding the shuttle bus, is a lot to deal with pre-race.  I only had about 10 minutes to spare before my bag check cut-off at 9:05 AM.

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!

In New York the majority of the port-a-potties are in the Open Zone along New York Avenue. The line ups are shorter further away from the shuttle drop off. There are additional port-a-potties in each of orange, green, and blue zones. There are port-a-potties in each of the corrals as well.

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 New York divide up runners into waves, corrals, and colors. 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.

New York has port-a-potties in the corrals which is nice. Chicago does not and as I mentioned above there were some people peeing beside the wire fences.  But aside from that both races had well organized corrals.

Race course

Hills

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

New York

The big climbs in New York are about 20-40 meters in elevation. New York has three particularly tough climbs: the Queensboro bridge at km 25, the Willis bridge at km 33 and the climb to Central Park from km 37 to km 39. It also has rolling hills through Central Park and a steady climb in the last km to the finish. New York is considered a difficult marathon.

NYCHillProfile

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

racesignsNew York has an estimated 1,000,000+ 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. I loved the dancing rabbis in New York. I loved the dancing drag queens in Chicago. I had less than ideal spectator weather in both cities, but each only had short stretches with thin crowds except in locations where they cannot cheer such as the tunnel at the start of Chicago or on the Queensboro bridge in New York.

The years that I ran the race the crowds were louder in New York. There were a couple of “scream tunnels” in New York. A “scream tunnel” is a stretch where the crowds yell so loud you cannot hear your name if your best friend is yelling it at the top of their lungs. I did not encounter any sections that loud in Chicago. To be fair, that may be due to the width of the roads as much as to the size and volume of the crowds. Overall, I felt slightly more energy from the crowds in New York, but both races were amazing crowd support!

Running your own race

In 2017 there were 50,766 finishers in the New York City marathon. In 2018 44, 571 runners finished the Chicago marathon. At no point in either race are you going to be running alone.

In an attempt to keep runners moving smoothly, New York divides up the start into blue, orange, and green corrals. Each follows a slightly different path and is kept separate from the other colors for the first 8 miles.  But with 50,000+ runners that road is going to be crowded no matter what you do. I found the road more crowded with runners in New York vs Chicago. I tried to follow a pacer in New York and for some reason my pacer was two corrals back from where I was assigned based on my predicted (target) pace. As a result we had to zig zag and pass a LOT of slower runners which was stressful given the lack of space and took up a lot of extra energy. I didn’t really feel like I had space to run my own race until after 9 miles or so in New York.

In Chicago the roads are wider, they have a few less runners, and they also did 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). I found Chicago less stressful when trying to maintain my pace.

International spirit

World_map-3One of the things I love about Chicago and New York are the runners from around the world! Specatators from Mexico are among my favorites for their passion and cheering.

In 2018 Chicago had runners from 105 countries

In 2017 New York had runners from 139 countries

Spectator Experience

Getting around

Chicago has a fantastic spectator guide  you can pick up at the race expo

Elites at the race

20171103_153854Both New York 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.

Prize money draws big names. Both Chicago and New York offer big prize money

The prize money is the same for the men and women.

Ranking New York Chicago
1st place $100,000 $100,000
2nd place $60,000 $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…

New York elites in 2018 include:

Athlete Gender Top Finishes
Geoffrey Kamworor Male 2017 NYC Winner
Shadrak Biwott Male 2018 Boston 3rd
Shura Kitata Male 2018 London 2nd
Daniel Wanjiru Male 2017 London winner
Lelisa Desisa Male 2x Boston winner
Mark Keitany Female 3x NYC winner
Vivian Cheruiyot Female 2018 London winner
Molly Huddle Female 2016 NYC Podium finish
Shalane Flanagan Female 2017 NYC winner
Des Linder Female 2018 Boston winner

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

It seems that despite the similar amounts of prize money, New York seems to attract 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

finish-ponchosIn New York when you finish you have to sign up for the option of getting the blue poncho a month or so before the actual race. If you choose a blue poncho you get to exit the park at the close exit, but you cannot do bag check. There are a limited number of blue ponchos, so if you do not request it soon enough you will have to exit the park at the far exit regardless of whether or not you actually check a bag.

I did not have anyone meeting me at the finish line in New York, so I checked a bag. That meant I got the standard mylar blanket and had to walk to the far end of Central Park to pick up my gear and exit the park.  That was a long walk after running 26.2 miles and I felt every step, but bag pick up was quick and efficient when I got there. After bag pick up you still have a decent walk to get out of the park to meet friends and family. I was highly amused by the pedicabs offering to give tired runners a ride (for a fee of course :))

In Chicago the walk from the finish line to the exit is not short, but it is shorter than New York. 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. When I sat down on the curb en route to bag check in New York, a medic came over to encourage me to get back on my feet and also offered to open my chocolate milk for me.

Both races had food and drink at the finish.  I got a kick out of the beer in souvenir beer cans in Chicago provided by Goose Island, though as drinks go I prefer a chocolate milk post-race 🙂 My only complaint about New York is that they give you an apple instead of a banana because of course New York is “the big apple”

Post-race atmosphere

ChicagoSpectatorWhen I hobbled into a restaurant in New York with my thermal blanket still wrapped around my shoulders the entire restaurant clapped and cheered. The next day lots of runners walk around with their medals and strangers congratulate you on the race. I regret taking an early flight out the next day as it would have been fun to soak of the post-race atmosphere and get my medal engraved.

The New York Times lists the names of the runners and their times in the Monday edition.

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.

Volunteers

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

thank-you

Summary

New York is a tougher course than Chicago and the road felt more crowded, but I found the crowd and atmosphere had more energy. So if the cheering of the crowds is what keeps you going, I think you will prefer New York.

Chicago is a lower stress race. It’s easier to get to the start, you have a more room to run on the course, and I found the water stops had enough tables that I could get water and Gatorade quite easily. You are more likely to set a personal best in Chicago.

You may have a different experience from mine in New York 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 Boston, I have compared New York and Boston in another post   If you are interested, I also have other race reports and running related posts marathoncomic

Chicago Marathon Race report

ChicagoWithJudyThis past weekend I ran the 2018 Chicago marathon, one of the six Abbott Marathon Majors and a very popular marathon. In this post I’ll share my thoughts on the race experience so you know what to expect if you decide to run.

  • Getting a bib: Lottery; Qualifying Time; Charity Entry; Shamrock Shuffle; Tour entry; Cancelled Entry; Get the app
  • The Race expo: Where is it? How do I get there? Bib & Packet pick up; Photo ops and things to do; Race goodies
  • Start Area: Getting to the start; Port-a-Potties
  • The race: Room to run; water stops; Crowd support; Hills; Route; Garmin == Timex; The weather
  • Spectator experience
  • The finish: Finish line freebies; bag check and changing area; meeting area
  • The post-race atmosphere
  • Summary

Chicago has been on my marathon bucket list ever since my friend Christopher introduced me to the documentary Spirit of the Marathon. I hope you have the opportunity to run it for yourself!

Getting a bib

There are multiple ways to get a bib for the Chicago marathon.

Race bib Chicago MarathonLottery

More people want to register for the Chicago marathon than the number of bibs available. Bibs are awarded by a lottery system. You apply for the bib during the application window. At the end of the application window you receive an email informing you if your name was selected. If your name is selected you are automatically charged the registration fee. In 2019 you can register after October 30th and the drawing takes place November 29th.

In 2015 53% of those who entered the lottery were accepted.

Qualifying Time

you can run a qualifying time in the qualifying period (for 2019 you would have to run the qualifying time after January 2017). They dropped the qualifying times a little bit for the 2018 marathon allowing me to earn a bib with a qualifying time.

If you can prove you ran the qualifying time below you can get a bib for the 2019 marathon.

Age group Men Women
16 – 29 3:10:00 3:30:00
30 – 39 3:15:00 3:45:00
40 – 49 3:25:00 3:55:00
50 – 59 3:40:00 4:10:00
60 – 69 4:00:00 4:35:00
70 – 79 4:30:00 5:10:00
80 and over 5:00:00 5:45:00

Charity Entry

You can join one of the official Chicago marathon fundraising teams. You must fundraise between $1250 and $1750 USD.

Shamrock Shuffle

If you have run the Bank of America Shamrock Shuffle 8K four or more times since 2000 and have signed up for the 2019 Shamrock Shuffle you can guarantee your spot in the 2019 marathon. A great option for local runners.

Tour entry

You can purchase a tour package. This is typically a more expensive option but will usually include a hotel and or travel. This option is frequently used by international runners or groups of runners. I used a tour entry for the NYC marathon when my running buddy got in through lottery and I did not so we could run together.

Cancelled Entry

One of the really nice things about Chicago is you do have the ability to cancel your entry and defer it to the next year. You lose the cost of registration and have to pay again the following year, but when you have a lottery spot and an injury messes you up, it’s nice to know you have a guaranteed spot the next year – right Christopher, James, Julia, Brian?

Get the app

Once you have your bib, keep an eye out for the link to the official Chicago marathon phone app. It’s very helpful for spectators and runners alike.

The Race Expo

Where is it?

ChicagoStepsThe Chicago marathon has a great race expo. it’s located at McCormick place, a conference centre just outside the downtown core.

How do I get there?

Chicago has a good metro system and there are a number of buses that will get you to McCormick place. You can purchase metro passes at the race expo (they even have souvenir marathon fare cards!) If you are staying downtown, the race also has a number of shuttle stops. We took the shuttle from the Nike store, there was a long line up but they had a good number of school buses and were well organized. It did not take long to get on a bus. The bus also seemed to take some sort of public transit only road most of the way, so it was faster than a taxi, or Lyft/Uber.  Some of our friends tried to get the shuttle from the Hilton Friday morning and said the buses never showed up, which is odd (they ended sharing an Uber with 2 other runners). That was first thing Friday morning, so perhaps there was some confusion about when the first bus left. We took the Hilton bus back later Friday so we know that shuttle bus system was working.

Bib & packet pick up

You have to go through security to pick up your bib, but they have a dozen people to do security screening so it moves quickly. It was quite busy first thing Friday morning, but completely empy at 2 PM Friday afternoon. To pick up your bib you must present government issued photo id and your packet pick up ticket. If you do not have your pick up ticket with you there is a booth which can print it for you.  However if you forget your ID, you have to go back and get it (That’s how I found out the line ups at 2 PM were shorter than the lines first thing in the morning… I forgot my ID and was unable to get my bib…Whoops!) You pick up your bib packet first. Your rake kit & T shirt pick up is in the back of the expo.

They had lots of volunteers and were very efficient!  Leaving us lots of time to explore the expo

Photo Ops & things to do

The race expo was great, lots of cool photo ops from the moment you walk in. My sister and I have a tradition of taking pictures with a bear at every major race we do together, but all we found in Chicago was a Trex and a turtle. This year they also had a treadmill so you could try to run the world record pace Eliud Kipchoge ran at the Berlin marathon. No I didn’t try it, I figured that was the perfect way to pull a hamstring two days before the race 🙂

Race goodies

chicagoswagNike has a booth set up with all the official race wear. They focused completely on running apparel: running shirts, long sleeved running shirts, jacket, tank tops, visor. I think they missed an opportunity. The other US majors (New York & Boston) sell mugs, glasses, backpacks, hoodies, and all sorts of extra branded goodies you can spend money on. There was a very long line to purchase your official race wear.  All the official race wear can also be purchased at the Nike Shop on Michigan Ave.  So you might want to go there after the expo to make your purchase. The lines at the Nike store were shorter and the DJs in the store make for a fun atmosphere.

We still found lots of ways to spend our money. Goose Island IPA had cool shirts and pint glasses (which you can get engraved for free with your finish time on Monday at select locations). The Chicago Tribune had coffee mugs. All the big vendors were there. Garmin had 10% off GPS devices. You could buy souvenir marathon Oofos (great splurge, recovery sandals are amazing post-race). Brooks had some nice race shirts. I even picked up a fun pair of Chicago running socks (also available as running sleeves, compression sleeves, or compression socks).

I was particularly amused by the “Dude” products in the race bag. If you didn’t read the instructions on the back of the packages, it’s worth the read 🙂

Start Area

Getting to the start

Of all the marathon majors Chicago is the most low stress on race day! There are a lot of options to get to the start area in Grant Park. You can take the metro line, and there are lots of hotels within walking distance. Security and bag check were efficient. Your bib has a gate number on it indicating where you should enter, although one of the volunteers told us at the last minute we could have entered at any gate. We still chose to enter at our assigned gate.

ChicagoPreRaceSelfieI left my hotel at 5:45 AM, met a friend at another hotel at 6 AM, and we had time to stop at the port-a-potties, explore the start area, sit on a bench for a bit, take a picture at Buckingham fountain, check our bags, one more stop at the port-a-potty and get to our corral before our wave two start at 8 AM.

Kudos to the Chicago marathon for working hard to be green! They had green stations with volunteers to sort the garbage, and even had a recycling station for the mylar blankets at the finish which apparently they recycle into park benches!

Port-a-potties

ChicagoPortapotty The corrals cut the start area in two. This is relevant because there are more port-a-potties on the city side of the park when you first enter than on the lake side. Bag check and Buckingham fountain (great for that last pre-race selfie) are on the lake side. When the race starts at 7:30 AM the crosswalk across the corrals is closed. It might be possible to enter and exit a corral to cross, but if you can it will be a bit of a hassle.  We took advantage of the port-a-potties on the city side when we first entered and were only in line for a couple of minutes. When we did our final pre-start port-a-potty run after bag check on the lake side the line ups took more like 10-15 minutes.

The race

I was in corral F, the first corral of wave two. The 3:55 and 4:00 pacers were in my corral. No-one checked my bib when I went into the corral, but I did not have any trouble getting into the corral (i.e. it wasn’t overly crowded) and I was able to move up in front of the 4:00 pacer without difficulty.  I was planning to run sub 4, and expected the 4 hour pacer would have a big pack of runners around them.

It took a couple of minutes to get across the start line and we were off.

Room to run

The first thing I appreciated in this race was how wide the roads were. There were 44,571 finishers in this years marathon. That is a lot of runners!  In many big races it can be difficult to run your own pace because you get stuck behind other runners and it is difficult to pass.  I rarely had that problem in Chicago.  There were a few spots where the road narrowed, but 90% of the race I was able to run my own pace without the need to constantly zig zag trying to find a space between runners.  The organizers even managed spectators to keep them from encroaching on the running space asking them to step back when they started to move onto the road. I tried following a pacer in New York and it was extremely difficult because the pacer had to zig zag into small gaps between runners to maintain the target pace. Whereas in Chicago, I ended up behind the 3:55 pacers for several miles quite by chance and could easily have followed them through to the finish line.

Water stops

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAll the water stations had medical aid, Gatorade Endurance. Each stop was Gatorade first, water second (except for one stop where the volunteers clearly got a bit confused and had water in the Gatorade cups at the first couple of tables…but to their credit the volunteers were doing such a great job of yelling out whether they had water or Gatorade it wasn’t really a problem). Each stop had plenty of tables on both sides of the road and the tables were well spread out. I was able to get water and Gatorade at each stop without stopping or walking. Of course the occasional runner would stop in front of me at a water stop, but that is beyond the control of the race organizers. The volunteers were also trying very had to keep the discarded cups out of the way as much as possible without disrupting the runners.

There were lots of toilets along the route as well, but they are often on side streets, so you have to look for the signs around the water stations with the arrows indicating where to find the toilets.

The water stops at 19, 22 and 24 miles had bananas

There were either Gatorade Chews at mile 13 and Gatorade Gels at mile 18

Biofreeze was at mile 21 . If you are not familiar with Biofreeze. It’s a topical analgesic. In English that means you put it on your sore joint or muscle and it will reduce some of the pain. I have not tried it, but there are other marathons where I might have tried that at mile 21.

I had no trouble finding medical aid when my body glide was insufficient for race conditions and I wanted a little Vaseline to get me through the last 8 miles.

Crowd support

ChicagoSignThe press release says there are an estimated 1,7 million spectators at the Chicago marathon. We had clouds and drizzle on race day. That is a bit cold and wet for spectators so I doubt we had quite that many. But, there were solid crowds for probably 70% of the course. The remaining 30% of the course there were always spectators just not as many. There was a wonderful variety of signs “If it was easy, I would do it”, “Hurry up I want to go watch football”, “This seems like a lot of work for a free banana”, etc… I saw costumes, I heard bands, I think the loudest crowds were in Chinatown a great boost late in the race.

I had bonus cheers from friends and family who posted pictures of themselves holding signs they shared with me on Facebook as well which was awesome 🙂

The Chicago race bibs do not have your name on them (unless you are an elite like Sir Mo)  so if you want the crowds to cheer you on personally you will need to find a way to label yourself. The crowds enjoy having a name or a country to cheer.  You could

  • Spell your name with tape on the front of your shirt  (though my friend Christopher had to rip his off part way through the race because the tape was chafing)
  • Write your name in Sharpie on your arm (though then they can only see your name as you run by, it works better if your name is on your front, and if you go straight to your hotel to nap afterwards you may discover your sweaty arm has transferred your name onto the hotel bedsheet)
  • Attach a sticker to the bottom of your bib with your name on it (when I tried that mine fell off part way through the race in the rain)

Hills

ChicagoElevationChicago does not have any big hills. It is flat, but it is not Las Vegas flat. I had it described to me as “waffle flat”. I think that is the perfect description. It’s flat with a number of short little bumps when you have an overpass to cross. It’s considered a great race for trying to run a personal best. Four world records were set at this race. In 2018, when I ran, Mo Farah set a new European record.

You can see my Strava profile from the marathon on the right. There are a lot of little spikes and drops where my GPS was confused but you can see over the entire race the elevation range only varies from 175 meters to under 185 meters, and the total elevation gain was 80 meters.

The biggest hill is at the finish and honestly it’s not a very big hill, but if you are struggling, having your biggest climb in the last 800 meters will suck.  So now you know when you see that 800m sign that you are about to hit “the” hill. I appreciate the sign at the top of that last hill to let you know you only have 300m to go from the top of the hill to the finish line. Once you climb that hill and turn left you can see the finish chute. Make sure you smile for the camera for that finish line photo. But don’t throw yourarms out too wide (I got smacked in the face by a happy runner throwing their arms out in celebration in the final 100 meters, it’s okay no bruises, no harm done :))

The route

The route is basically made up of three big out and backs, which makes it easier for a spectator to cheer you on at multiple points on the route. There are also a number of little turns as you switch from one road to another. This does break up what might otherwise be really long straight stretches, but it also means you can easily add mileage if you are on the outside of all the turns. Follow the blue line if you want to stick as close to 26.2 miles as possible.

I know very little about the city of Chicago, so I can’t tell you if we passed any specific famous buildings or neighborhoods. But I did enjoy the variety of the neighborhoods and scenery along the way.

Garmin == Timex

ChicagoStravaMapThe big buildings downtown combined with a couple of tunnels mean you cannot rely on your Garmin to tell you your pace or your distance. According to Garmin I ran 43.8 km!  When you look at the map on my Strava account on the right you can see odd little zig zags where my Garmin got confused. I was VERY glad I grabbed a pace band tattoo at the race expo. The only way I could tell if I was on track was to compare the elapsed time at each mile marker to the target time on my pace band to keep myself on track. If you usually rely on your Garmin to monitor your speed, you may want to follow a pacer to hit your goal time.

The weather

What sort of weather should expect for the race? It depends. Here are the conditions from the past ten years

  • 2018 57-64F Drizzle Winds ENE 5 MPH
  • 2017 56-73F Partly Cloudy Winds SW 8 MPH
  • 2016 50-63F Partly Cloudy Winds ESE 8 MPH
  • 2015 54-78F Clear Winds SSW 11 MPH
  • 2014 45-64F Partly Cloudy Winds SE 8 MPH
  • 2013 46-65F Clear Winds NW 4MPH
  • 2012 38-51F Mostly Cloudy Winds WNW 6 MPH
  • 2011 57-80F Clear Winds ESE 3 MPH
  • 2010 59-84F Scattered Clouds No Wind
  • 2009 28-45F Mostly Cloudy Winds NW 7 MPH

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Spectator Experience

ChicagoSpectatorMy friend Christopher was injured and had to defer his entry to next year, but he did come out to cheer us on. It is always a treat to have someone on the course cheering you on. I started anticipating his posters two to three miles out. Thank you Christopher!

He was really impressed by the spectator guide which you definitely want to pick up at the race expo. Inside you will find a metro map, fare explanations, map of the finish area and a schedule.

It also lists the metro stops for different spots along the course complete with instructions on how to get from the metro station to the course.

18th Pink Line Station  – Mile 19. Board a Pink Line train and exit at 18th st. Walk four blocks east to Loomis St.

They also provide estimated arrival times for each section of the race

Mile 8 to Mile 10 
Wheelchair participants: 7:40 AM; Runners 8:08 AM to 11:30 AM

His only complaint was an interesting one, everything in the spectator guide provides distances and locations in miles. But, the timing mats on the course are located at 5, 10, 15, 20, 25, 30, 35, and 40 km. So if you are sitting at Mile 14 waiting for a runner, you track them online and determine they crossed the 15 km marker at 9:05 AM, running an average 9:03 /mile pace they should reach you at um…..  oh wait.. this requires math!  So when you sit down the day before and plan where to watch on the course, break out the calculator and calculate how many miles it is from your planned spectator spot from the last timing mat in MILES! Or make yourself a little conversion chart listing the timing mats 5km = 3.1 miles, 10 km = 6.2 miles, etc…

There are a lot of people on the course, so plan ahead! Christopher told me what coloru sign he would have, where he would be and what side of the road he would be on. I did see a few brave spectators crossing the road between runners, but not something you want to try with a bike or stroller!

The Finish

That wonderful moment where you cross the finish line. You did it! Don’t forget to smile for the photographers as you approach that final timing mat.

Finish line freebies

ChicagoBeerCanVolunteers are waiting to give you your medal, a bottle of water (I asked the volunteer to open my bottle of water as well because sometimes I am so tired even that is a challenge).

Next up of course it the official Chicago Marathon mylar blanket. Volunteers also had tape for the blankets so you don’t have to hold the blanket closed with your hands.

There were cups of Gatorade and bananas. This year (2018) They also had cans of Goose Island IPA 312 in a Chicago Marathon souvenir can. That’s the first time I got a beer post-race (I don’t drink beer).  The beer cans were open so I had to pour my beer out. I did try to find a spot where it would not make too much mess since you cannot exit the runner area with the open beer.  There were a lot of runners doing the ame, I guess I was not the only one who wanted the souvenir can but was not up for drinking the beer.  Though of course many runners thoroughly enjoyed the beer as well! There is even a spot to write in your finish time on the can (no that was NOT my finish time shown on the can in the above photo, I am not that fast)

After all that you are handed a plastic bag with potato chips and various other food stuffs. (My sister was wondering why we get the bag at the end of all this, apparently its to stop runners stuffing their loot bags with multiple bananas, water bottles, etc.. thank you Christopher for that little tidbit of information).

Once your hands are completely full you reach the official finish photo area. They have a dozen backgrounds and photographers to capture you and your medal!

Bag check and changing area

It’s a bit of a walk from the finish line to bag check. Your walk won’t be much shorter if you skip bag check because you have to walk past the bag check area to reach the runners exit. They had enough volunteers and bag check stalls. A volunteer was reading my bib number and fetching my bag within 30 seconds of my arriving at the booth.

They had port-a-potty like stalls set up as changing rooms. But there were not many of them and they had pretty long line-ups (10-15 runners in line at each). I wish they just set up a big Women’ change tent and Men’s change tent like they do at Grandma’s Marathon in Duluth instead.

Standing and waiting is pretty painful for me post race. So I just sat down on the ground. Off with the running shoes. Then with no small difficulty and many threatening calf cramps removed my compression socks. On with the sweatpants, swap sweaty shirt for dry shirt (leaving running bra in place, but there were female runners who decided taking off a wet running bra could be done in runner company (if it was colder, I would probably have wrapped my thermal blanket around me and done the same). With some difficulty I managed to get myself from the seated position on the ground back to standing and hobbled towards the exit. Pausing briefly at Buckingham Fountain for a “I did it!” selfie

ChicagoFinished

Meeting Area

Volunteers directed me to the runner reunion area, a short walk from the bag check under normal circumstances, but post-marathon a little slow, and HEY you have to walk down stairs to get out? That’s just mean.  Okay there were only about 8 stairs… but still 🙂

The runner reunion area has giant inflatable tubes with letters on them.  The advantage to having a last name that starts with I is my reunion area is usually pretty quiet.  I found Christopher quickly and we made our way out of the park and back towards the hotel. With me leaning on him for a little help whenever I had to step off the curb.

There is a post-race party area you can visit with your friends and family. Runners get a free beer from Goose Island as well. I cannot provide any more information than that, because I am one of those runners who is pretty wrecked after a marathon and as I mentioned previously I don’t drink beer anyway.

The post race atmosphere

You can get your medal engraved with your finish time at the Nike store after the race Sunday or on Monday. Sunday they had staff lined up at the entrance and at the top of each escalator (engraving is on the 4th floor) clapping and cheering!  I kind of wish I had checked it out just for the cheers!

If you bought the Goose Island Chicago marathon pint glass, there were official places you could get your glass engraved with your finisher time Monday. Sadly I did not have time to do so before my flight.

ChicagoTribuneThe Chicago Tribune prints a special section in Sunday’s paper, and prints the names and finishing times for all runners who finish in under 6 hours 30 minutes in the Monday edition. I had trouble finding a copy of the Tribune at the airport, so maybe I should have paid the small fee at the race expo and signed up to have them mail it to me.

Monday, the streets and breakfast spots have lots of runners wearing their race shirts. Many runners wear their finisher medals as well.  We smile and nod to each other. Of course waiters and airport staff quickly figure out these are the marathoners and congratulate you on your race.

I stopped at the Elephant and Castle on my way back to the hotel after the race because I really needed salt, sugar & caffeine.  We sat down in the pub and I asked the hostess for a Coke.  The waitress appeared moments later with a coke and thrilled that she could help me recover from the race with such a simple act. She then asked if I needed anything else. So I asked for some wet naps to wash off my face (walking to the bathroom to wash up seemed like a huge effort at this point). She brought me not only wet naps but a clean cloth soaked in warm water. Heaven! Add some pretzel bites and I was almost feeling human again.

I share this story to help you understand that after the race, staff and strangers will absolutely congratulate you on your race, but you don’t get loud cheering the moment you walk into a building  (which happened at the restaurant I went to in New York, and at the hotel I was staying at in Boston).

Summary

Personally, I had a great race in Chicago 2018. The temperature was about perfect. The drizzle caused some chafing but kept me from overheating. The wide roads and flat course allowed me to maintain a steady pace throughout the race. Of course it probably also helps that I didn’t try to set a personal best, I was a little conservative with my pace since I had missed a fair number of training runs.

The Chicago marathon is a very well organized race. It’s a fantastic place to try and set a personal best. They have an amazing team of volunteers and the city will come out to cheer you along the course. There is a reason this race became so popular they had to switch to a lottery system!

Thank you Chicago for a fantastic race weekend!

Thinking of running Boston or New York? Check out my other race reports and running related posts.

5 reasons to race the Canada Army Run

army run race bib and dog tagsThe Canada Army run is a popular fall half marathon in Ottawa. In this post I’ll share what to expect if you decide to run. The race weekend includes a the half marathon a 10 km, a 5 km, and some combination races.

FYI – I should warn you that the Army run is my favorite half marathon 🙂 so this race report will be a tad biased.

1. The spirit

100154_logoThe tag line sums it up nicely: “No Ordinary race”

As you might guess from the name, the Army Run celebrates those who serve or who have served. There is an ill, injured soldiers and athletes with disabilities category who start their races 5 minutes before the rest of the corrals. You may pass soldiers completing the race in full gear with backpacks. You might pass someone wearing a shirt that says “I am running in memory of Corporal Martin LeClair”. One year, I passed a soldier who was dragging a tire behind him the entire race. Another year, I caught up to Chris Koch, an ambassador for the war amps program just before the finish. Chris has no arms or legs (he uses a longboard to race). This year, at mile 11 there was a half mile of signs in remembrance of individuals who died in service to their country on either side of the route.

DisabledstartSo when you reach that point in the race where you would usually think to yourself, “wow, I am tired! my legs hurt! I don’t know if I can keep this up” you have reminders of how fortunate you are to be running a half marathon with nothing more than a cramp or a tight IT Band! This is a time to be thankful that you have the health and strength to run a half marathon and take strength from those who have sacrificed so much for all of us.  There are many personal stories and victories at the Army run.

ArmyRunDogTagsWhen you finish the race you are reminded once again this is no ordinary race as you are handed not medals, but dog tags by the volunteers, cadets, and soldiers. The Army run has raised 2.6 million dollars for Soldier on and Support Our Troops since 2008.

2. The half marathon is THE big race

Before I started running marathons, if I ran at a big event weekend such as Ottawa race weekend. When asked which race I was running I answered “just the half”.  Now let’s be clear. There is no reason to use the word “just” when describing a half marathon! It is no small achievement to run for 13.1 miles. But regardless I still felt like I needed to add it because others were running the full marathon distance.

On Army Run weekend they have a 5km, 10 km race and a half marathon. The half marathon is the longest race! so, when someone asks what distance you are running and you answer “the half” it feels like you get a small nod of respect because you are doing the ‘toughest’ distance.

Because the half is also the longest distance the crowd support is also strongest for the half. You won’t have crowds along the entire route, there are some quiet stretches, but there are enough people along the route with signs, costumes, cheer stations and bands to make it feel like a big race.

Quick sidenote: I don’t want to take anything away from those who are running the 5 km or the 10 km distances, I applaud everyone who gets off their couch to race, volunteer, or cheer at any race!

3. The sights along the route

Let’s be clear not every moment of the Army Run is stunning scenery, but it is a remarkably good tour of the region. (Thank you for the photo James Peltzer!)

OttawaCanal

  •  Parliament Hill –wave to the Prime minister unless he is racing again.
  • Along the Ottawa River out and back and past the Canadian war museum (the windows spell a message in morse code)
  • Cross the Ottawa river on a rather ugly (but flat!) bridge. Then a few stretches along side streets until you pass the Canadian history museum . The museum is designed by Native-american architect Douglas Cardinal and the architecture around the public entrance looks like a face.
  • Cross the Alexandra bridge which has an annoying hill at the start the start but a beautiful view of the Ottawa river and the back of parliament hill (also a beautiful view of the back of the Canadian History Museum if you look back, but I never think to look behind me to check out a view when I am in a race).
  • Right after the bridge is another short but nasty hill, but you will be re-energized by a good cheering section right after that hill. Then a stretch along the streets and then you run across the grounds of the Governor General’s residence, Rideau Hall complete with the guards at the gate cheering you as you go by.
  • Back into downtown and finish with a run along the (nice and flat) Unesco World Heritage Site Rideau canal to the finish line.

4. The race has two official languages

potatoYes, you get to hear people cheering you in English and French since when you cross the bridge at the War Museum you will find yourself in Gatineau, Quebec until you cross back over to Ontario on the Alexandra bridge.

So listen carefully as the cries chagne from “Great job” “You can do it” to  “Lâche pas!”

If you are curious “Lâche pas!” means “Don’t give up!”

This year I heard “Lâche pas la patate!” which confused me, because the direct translation of that phrase is “Don’t let go of the potato!” Curious, I looked it up when  got home, and apparently that expression is just a more emphatic way to say “Hang on, you’ve got this, don’t give up!” and originates from roasting potatoes over a hot fire, when you grabbed the hot potato you had to ‘hold on to the potato’ even though it was hot and burning your hand and not drop it on the ground.

5. The race gear & photos

20180924_074950Let’s be clear, sometimes it’s all about the shirt and historically this race has done a nice job designing the shirts. My biggest complaint for years was the fact the half marathon shirts were always green and the 5 km race alwasy got red shirts. I wanted a red shirt, but I was too stubborn to run the 5 km instead of the half. When they added the commanders challenge (run the 5 km and the half marathon), I registered and ran it jsut so I could get both shirts :). This year I was pleasantly surprised because the half marathon shirt was red! This year was also the first year we got short sleeved shirts. Since I have run the race on multiple occasions, I was quite happy to get a t-shirt for a change since I have a drawerful of long sleeved Green half marathon shirts from past years. This year they also included a headband and a drawstring bag with similar designs to the t-shirt.

In 2018 Zoom Photo took the race pictures. Digital downloads of your photos are included free with registration! it’s so nice to be able to download pictures and even my finish video from the race without paying $70! It’s quite brilliant actually. The free download includes a watermark from the race at the bottom of the photo. So you are  basically advertising for the race when you share it online.  If you want a digital download without the watermark it’s $2.50 🙂 but personally I kind of like having the watermark so I can remember which photo goes with which race.SusanRacingArmy

 

A few additional facts and stats

A few facts about the race

Race Size

  • 4,500 runners in the half marathon
  • 5,000 runners in the 10 km
  • 10,000 runners in the 5 km

Weather

The Army run is in early fall. The average high this time of year is around 19 C. But of course on a given day it can vary quite a bit. In 2018 we had almost perfect running conditions, about 5 C at the start and sunny. In 2017 it reached 28 degrees, and felt more like 34 C with humidity. Another year it poured rain. You just can’t predict the weather in this area.

How the race started

The idea for Canada Army Run was sparked at the 2006 U.S. Army Ten-Miler in Washington D.C. when Lieutenant-General Beare (now retired, but then in the third highest ranked position in the Canadian Army) crossed the finish line. He turned to his Director of Army Training, Colonel Dean Milner (now a Major-General) and asked “Why aren’t we doing this in Canada?” The Colonel replied, “Sir, you’re the general. You tell me!”

Race options (as of 2018)

  • 5 km
  • 10 km
  • Half marathon
  • Ortona Challenge 5 km + 10 km
  • Commanders challenge 5km + 21 km

Course Map

ArmyRouteMap

Hills

I can’t find a good elevation profile of the race, and my Strava elevation profile of the race has a lot of odd spikes and drops so is misleading. Army run includes a number of rolling hills. It is not flat. The first out and back stretch has one pretty good hill, and you get to go up and down that hill in both directions. The stretch in Quebec includes a couple of steep but short hills. The out and back to the governor generals residence is light rolling hills. The final out and back along the canal is flat.  According to my Strava, the total elevation gain is 232 meters.  So it’s not a flat course, but if the weather co-operates it is quite possible to set a Personal Best on the course.

If you enjoyed this post, you can find more of my running related posts.

 

 

Running in the Poconos (for road runners)

Looking for a road runner friendly trail in North Eastern Pennsylvania? Look no further!

I recently attended a conference in East Stroudsburg Pennsylvania.  I had never heard of it, and looked it up on the map. IStroudsburgt’s about an hour and a half drive East of New York City, or about a two hour drive North from Philadelphia.  The closest international airport was Newark.

I needed a 29 km (18 mile) run.  I did a little research and discovered this region is known as the Poconos, and the Appalachian trail runs through the area.  The Appalachian trail is well known among ultra trail runners. Many have set their sights on various speed records along the trail.

I am quite familiar with the start of the Appalachian trail: Mt Katahdin in Baxter State Park.  It was a frequent destination for family hiking and camping trips, my mum has climbed it over 25 times either solo, with friends, with ch13147598_10208901647920619_6866656506126084117_oildren, or with grandchildren.

I mention this because as you can see from this picture of my mum with my sister and her family on the peak, the Appalachian trail includes a number of mountains and hills.  Not quite what a road runner wants for their long run.

I set my sights on the section of the map that seemed to indicate a trail along a creek. Perhaps a creek trail would be a little less hilly.EastStroudsburg

I stopped at the welcome centre and talked to the staff about my need for a fairly long running trail. I don’t mind running on gravel, but would prefer not to be clambering over boulders or running up the side of a mountain.  I enjoy running on a trail, but I am not a trail runner 🙂

They suggested the McDade Recreational Trail which does in fact run along the creek I saw on the map above. Its used by day hikers and mountain bikers and most of it is crushed gravel. RunningrouteShe provided me with a trail map that showed me the different trailheads each of which had a parking lot. The guide included a grid showing the distance between trailheads. I found a guide to the difficulty level for each trail section online. As an added bonus, the map also indicates where to find water fountains and restrooms! What a treat for a distance runner.

I settled on a run from Hialeah to a spot just past Bushkill village, a 9 mile stretch of trail. At which point I would turn around and run back. If I had more time, I could have run 18 miles and caught one of the hiker shuttles back to my parking lot!  On Saturday and Sundays in the summer, there is a shuttle bus that drives from trailhead to trailhead so hikers can go out one way and just catch the bus back. The welcome centre has the details on when and where you can catch the shuttle.

As a female running solo, I also appreciated a trail that gets a reasonable amount of bike or hiker traffic with trailheads every 2-4 miles in case.

I started out at 7:30 AM. The gravel was just big enough to be a bit annoying underfoot. I was running in road shoes, trail shoes would h20180825_092423ave cut down on that annoying rock poking the bottom of your foot feeling. The first stretch had a couple of short but steep hills. After that it was pretty flat except for the trail sections to and from the visitor center. I developed a love/hate relationship with these signs 🙂 and yes some of them were quite steep.

Apparently the hiker traffic starts later in the day, for 90 minutes I did not see another person. I did see a hawk sitting in a tree by the trail, and at one point a deer bounded onto the trail in front of me and then back into the woods.

A short while later I heard another deer crashing through the woods, so I stopped to take out my phone to catch a picture of the deer if it came onto the trail.  Just as I started reaching for my phone, an adult black bear bounded across the trail in front of me! I could tell by the rustling of the corn stalks on the other side of the trail it had stopped only about 15 – 20 feet off the trail. So I clapped my hands and let out a couple of yells. Sure enough the cornstalks rustled as the bear ran off further into the distance.  A black bear isn’t usually a threat to a runner unless you get between momma and her cubs, OR you startle the bear. Better to yell and warn the bear you are coming than run up beside it on the trail.

You might be surprised to find out I was more nervous when I met a second deer later in my run. It was standing on20180825_091139 the trail, when I stopped, it looked right at me and  stood its ground. Most deer bound off into the woods when they meet a person.  This was not far from the visitor center so maybe it’s used to being fed by people? Maybe it was curious? Regardless, I stood and waited for the deer to head into the woods rather than walking straight towards it.  I know deer rutting season (when they can get territorial) is in the fall, and it was late August, always better to respect the wildlife and give them their space.  It did allow me to get a nice picture (this was taken with full zoom on my phone).

Once I turned around and headed back, I met a dozen or so hikers and another dozen cyclists enjoying the trail.

All in all a pleasant trail run for a non trail runner. The trail is well marked with lots of access points. Most of the trail is along the woods but you pass corn fields, old buildings, at times you can see the creek but most of the time it’s just a pleasant run through the forest. If you have trail shoes I would wear them to protect the bottom of your feet from the patches with bigger gravel, but I managed just fine with regular running shoes.

If you find yourself looking for a long run in North Eastern Pennsylvania I can’t imagine a nicer spot!20180825_081729

Looking for more suggestions on where to run when travelling check out my other running related posts.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Peak to Brew Race Report

20180811_094029Peak to Brew is a 220+ Mile point to point relay race in New York state from the top of Whiteface mountain to Utica New York (home of the extremely popular Boilermaker 15 km).  The race is similar to Ragnar but not part of the series. If you are looking for a relay race to try here’s the scoop!

Summary

  • 220+ miles
  • Point to point from the peak of Whiteface Mountain to Utica New York
  • Teams of 6 or 12 runners
  • Next runner leaves when the previous runner arrives
  • Through the Adirondacks (i.e. hilly and scenic)
  • Mostly along roads with a few trail sections
  • Total distance per runner: 11.4; 14.0; 16.7; 17.8; 18.1; 19.5; 19.8; 20.4; 21.0; 21.6; 21.9; and 24.5 miles
  • Finishes at a brewery – free beer and a great band from 3 to 8 PM
  • Mid-August
  • Prepare for the possibility of heat and rain
  • Approximately 50 teams
  • Start times range from 5 AM to 10 AM based on your predicted pace

Our running group has sent a team the past 3 years and is planning to return in 2019, so obviously we enjoyed it!

If you want more information, read on as I go into more detail on Teams; Relay Style; Is it scenic/interesting? How is the race divided up? How hard/easy is it? Honey Badger; Leg #1 The downhill monster; Terrain; Cheer and Water stations; Food; Sleeping arrangements; Post race celebrations and swag

Teams

Peak 2 Brew has two categories and provides a prize to first place in each category. First place is a growler for each runner which you can fill with the beer of your choice. Appropriate given the race finishes at a Saranac brewery.

Standard Team: Two vans with 6 runners in each van.

Ultra team: One van with 6 runners.

There are usually around 50 teams in the race.

Relay style

Because the race is point to point you must drive from exchange to exchange. Van #1 goes first. Your first runner runs to the first exchange where the next runner should be waiting. The last runner in the van will finish their leg at a major exchange where you hand off to the other van (unless you are an ultra team in which case you just keep going :))  This does require the van who is on break to keep track of how the other van is doing so they can ensure they are at the major exchange ready to go before the runner arrives. Peak 2 Brew asks teams to use the RaceJoy app to track runners progress. Be warned, some areas do not have strong cell coverage, so you need to use a combination of the app and text messages to communicate across vans.

Timing

Start times range from 5:00 AM to 10:00 AM based on the predicted pace of the team. There are no timing chips, you just hand off a snap bracelet from runner to runner.20180810_115328

These were the guidelines in 2018, actual start times are provided 2 to 3 weeks before the race and may vary slightly from the times below.

  • 5 AM start  9:30 – 10 minute/mile pace
  • 6 AM start 9:15 – 9:30 minute/mile pace
  • 7 AM start 8:45 – 9:15 minute/mile pace
  • 8:30 AM start 8:15 – 8:45 minute/mile pace
  • 10:00 AM start 7:30 – 8:15 minute/mile pace

The goal is to have all teams finish around 3 to 4 PM Saturday. If you run too fast you may be held back at an exchange to ensure you don’t arrive before the finish line is open. In the years we have completed the race, there was no time penalty for being held back, i.e. if you are held back for an hour they will not add that hour to your total race time, so think of it as a sleeping bonus. If you are much slower than predicted pace your second van might be asked to start their leg before the previous runner arrives. If you only have one van, you might be asked to have a runner start before the previous runner arrives or you might be asked to skip a leg.

Is it scenic/interesting?

IMG_3700Absolutely.  The view from the top of Whiteface is stunning. The first major exchange is at a ski jump (Tip for Van #2, why not get to there early, pick up tickets at the bottom of the hill and try the ‘”Extreme tubing” while you wait, it won’t take long). Several legs run past lakes. Leg #32 includes a trail run along the Whetstone gorge. Of course there are also long boring stretches along the road and you won’t see much except the road directly in front of you when you run at 1 in the morning.  Another exchange is at the Adirondack Experience lodge. The second major exchange is at Tupper Lake, on a hot day you can pop into the lake to cool off. The third major exchange is at the Adirondack Experience Museum. The rest of the exchanges aren’t as interesting, but let’s be honest, by then you are only interested in food and sleep. The finish is at Saranac Brewing company which is well set up for post-race celebrations.

There is always a slight chance of wildlife on the evening runs. All I have ever seen is a deer and some turkey vultures. In the past two years there have been two coyote sightings (what should you do if you meet a coyote?) and one black bear (what should you do if you meet a black bear?). Generally speaking both coyotes and black bears are probably going to be more scared of you than vice-versa. No-one was hurt and they sent out an alert using the RaceJoy app to all the teams to let everyone know where they were seen and when. The organizers do their best to ensure everyone’s safety.  We have done the race 3 years and the only times we got nervous were the occasional farm dogs (what should you do if you meet an aggressive dog?). It’s hard to design a course 220 miles long past houses and farms without passing at least one farm dog.

How is the race divided up?

There are 7 sections of the course and 6 legs in each section. Van #1 runs 4 sections. Van #2 runs 3 sections. Not all runners complete the same distance. In 2018 the total distances from shortest to longest for each runner was 11.4; 14.0; 16.7; 17.8; 18.1; 19.5; 19.8; 20.4; 21.0; 21.6; 21.9; and 24.5 miles.   Van #1 ran 125.1 miles and van #2 ran 101.6 miles.

Is it hard or easy?

Since this race runs through the Adirondacks there are a lot of hills, so the difficulty of each leg varies based on both the mileage and the hills.  Each leg is given a rating that reflects the distance and the elevation change: Easy; Moderate; Hard; Very Hard; Insane.

Easy: There are 14 easy legs. Distances range from 2.2 to 5.0 miles. Terrain will either be mostly downhill or mostly flat.  Most of the Easy legs are spread out across runners. 10 of the 12 runners get one easy leg. As an example, here’s the hill profile for Leg #29, one of the easy legs.

P2BEasyLeg

Moderate: There are 18 moderate legs. Distances range from 2.1 to 8.5 miles. This will likely be rolling hills so expect up and downhill. As an example, here’s the hill profile for Leg #24, one of the moderate legs.

P2BModerate

Hard: There are 4 hard legs. Distances range from 3.9 to 12.3 miles. like the moderate legs these are likely to be rolling hills with the addition of one really tough hill. As an example here’s the hill profile for the hard leg I completed this year. (I took a lesson from the trail runners a couple of times on this hill, and I did not lose any ground on the runner in front of me)P2BHard

Very Hard: There are 3 Very Hard legs. Distances range from 6.4 to 10.7 miles. These are tough, usually because you have some fairly serious climbs (there is one exception I will explain shortly). Here’s an example of the hill profile for a Very Hard leg.

P2BVeryHard

Insane: There is one leg rated insane, that leg deserves it’s own special section in the race report…

Honey Badger

There is only one leg officially rated insane. It’s assigned to Van #1, Runner #2, Leg #4.  It’s 10 miles and the hill profile gives you a hint of what to expect. You have a total elevation gain of 1202 feet and a total loss of 1118 feet. That means a lot of uphill and downhill. This leg is so difficult it has been nicknamed “Honey Badger” (probably due to this viral not suitable for work video about the Honey Badger)P2BHoneyBadgerElevationCompleting this leg earns you a badge of honour. Literally! You actually get a special prize at the end of the leg. You might think it’s so tough no-one would want to do it, but chances are you have that one runner in your group who says ‘ooooh that leg is rated insane, I have to try it’. In our running group we usually have 3 or 4 runners asking to do it. I’d actually like to do it next year. Yes, it would be really hard, but I would do hills to prepare. To be able to say “I did Honey Badger” and then collapse in a heap and ask someone to carry me to a massage therapists to restore my quads, hamstrings, and calves.

Leg #1 “The Downhill Monster”

I mentioned the Very Hard legs have serious climbs with one exception. That exception is Leg #1, nicknamed “The Downhill Monster” . Leg #1 takes you from the top of Whiteface mountain to the bottom. The top is an amazing place to start the race. The views are spectacular! There is a very good chance you will set a 10 km personal best on this leg as well. But be warned this leg is tough! You have to run downhill non stop for over 10 km.

P2BLeg1

If you do a little math here, that’s a descent of 2992 feet over 6.4 miles (33 792 feet) that works out to a 8.85 % grade!

If you try to slow down too much you tire out your quads, if you go too fast you will be pounding on your shins and calves. We had one runner who did not tie one of his shoes tightly enough. as a result, his left foot was sliding in his shoe as he ran.   When he finished, the bottom of his foot was hot to the touch and he had two blisters on the bottom of his foot. He did manage to pop the blisters and completed the rest of the race.  I think this leg should be rated insane as well.

But before you completely freak out, remember every year runners of all ability levels successfully complete this leg and the entire race! You can absolutely do it, just be prepared for some tight calves or quads when you finish. I recommend you plan on a little maintenance once you finish this leg.  There is a reason the next two legs for this runner are 2.2 and 3.2 Easy legs. You can do it!

Terrain

Most of the running is on roads. You might be running on the shoulder of a major road, on the sidewalk through a small town, or along a quiet country road. 6 legs include a trail run and one leg is mostly dirt road. There are a couple of legs where you run on uneven sidewalks.

Cheer and Water stations

20180810_144139On all the longer routes we asked our runners where they wanted water stops. We were almost always able to find a suitable place to pull over within a quarter mile of the requested distance. There are a couple of stretches where it’s harder to find a place to pull over safely.

On the trail runs you need some serious navigation skills if you want to meet them as they exit the trail or find a point where you can meet them mid-trail. Keep an eye out for green water coolers which contain bottled water left on the course for the runners. There was one at the end of the trail section on Leg #12.

Food

Pre race

If you are staying in Lake Placid the night before the race you can find lots of restaurants on Main St for supper. There is a Starbucks as well as local coffee spots to help van #1 get their morning caffeine fix (check opening times the night before if you have one of the really early starts!). There are a few spots on Main St where you can grab a hot breakfast if you are van #2. There is a Price Chopper on highway 86 just outside of town where you can load up on bananas, Gatorade and beer.

During the race

When you hit a major exchange you usually have two things on your mind food and sleep in that order! In 2018 at Major Exchange #1 the Skin Jumping Complex they had free bananas and granola bars. At Major Exchance 2 Tupper lake, there was a BBQ where you could buy burgers from 12 – 4. At Major exchange 3, Adirondack experience, there was food for sale from 2- 9 PM or you can drive to a nearby town such as Blue Mountain to find a restaurant. At Major Exchange 4, Old Forge, there is a campfire and marshmallow roast and check your team bag for your voucher for a free large cheese pizza at Tony Harpers Pizza. If you get to Tony Harpers before the kitchen closes at 1 AM you can order additional pizzas and drinks. If you get there after 1 AM you can pick up your pizza at the back but I don’t think you can order additional pizzas. At Major Exchange 5 South Lewis High school there was breakfast for sale. At Major Exchange 6 there was lunch for sale.

Sp2bFoodorry, I can’t tell you our usual food stops because most of the restaurants in the area are not that big and I don’t want us to be turned away from our favorite little spot because I shared it in the blog post, so you’ll just have to break out your favorite <find a restaurant near me> app.  If you see a team eating at a table with a large inflatable bear at the table come over and say hi, our bear doesn’t bite 🙂

Post race

There is plenty of beer, some tasty cider, but limited food available at the post race party. There are lots of little pubs within a 5 minute walk of the finish line. So before you start sampling all the fine Saranac brews wander down the street to get a burger or sandwich because the party goes until 8 PM and the band is great! Taking an hour to find some real food will help you find the energy to enjoy the party!

Sleeping arrangements

Pre-race

Wondering where to stay the night before the race starts? Lake Placid has lots of great little motels and hotels, there’s a good chance your entire team can stay in the same hotel.  Many hotels are walking distance from Main Street where you can find all the important pre-race destinations including restaurants, coffee shops, ice cream, and beer. Lake Placid is about a 45 minute drive from the top of Whiteface, the start for van #1. Lake Placid is about a 15 minute drive to the ski jumping complex, which is the first major exchange where van #2 starts.

During the race

One of the great challenges of these relay races is getting sleep between legs.

Tp2bnaphe first four major exchanges all have open areas outside where you can lie down. By the time you reach major exchange number four (Old Forge) it may have cooled off, so an actual sleeping bag or blanket will be useful if you want to get sleep there. We did notice a little motel very nearby as well, and thought to ourselves, if it was raining that might be worth a little splurge.

Major exchanges five (South Lewis High School) and six (Adirondack Central High school) are the best spots to get some shuteye. Both of them have shower facilities with towel rentals available, coffee, breakfast available for purchase, and a gymnasium with the lights out so you can catch some real zzzzzzzs. Of course there will be a steady flow of runners walking into and out of the gym setting up or packing up their sleeping gear, so a pair of cheap foam ear plugs might be helpful.

The best place on the entire race course to sleep is the Adirondack Central High school. The overhead fan in the gym provides some white noise that helps mask the rustle of other runners and you don’t need any Thermarests or air mattresses because you can just lie on top of the gym mats.

Post race

There are several hotels in and around Utica but not as many as Lake Placid.  Most hotels are a 15-20 minute walk from the finish area.  If you are in Van #2 you might finish before check in is available (3 PM at most hotels), I recommend grabbing a shower at the last major exchange, Adirondack Central High school before you drive to Utica. If you don’t shower at the school, you arrive in Utica tired and grubby with nothing to do except hang around the finish area or in restaurants until the finish party area opens at 3 PM or until you can get into your hotel room.  Obviously you want to be at the finish to run with your last runner across the finish line, but you will have some time to spare while van #1 finishes their last 6 legs.

The after party

2018-08-14_17-33-42The post race celebrations run from 3 PM to 8 PM at the Saranac Brewery.  Make sure to stop at the banner for a team photo. In addition to your medal, finishers also get to pick up a pint glass which entitles them to free refills during the party.  Make sure you eat some food too! You are probably sleep deprived, thirsty and hungry, that beer may go down a little too easily 🙂  The band is great and the atmosphere is fun. Take time to celebrate the fact you just ran over 220 miles! You would think everyone would leave the party by 6 PM because we are so tired, but they usually have to kick us out because there are lots of people still celebrating. You earned it!

Find more of my race reports and running related posts

 

 

 

Running on the Road – Seattle

Seattle/Redmond is a regular stop during my travel, and fortunately my running buddy Christopher moved there a few years back and has become my running Sherpa guide for Seattle.

Christopher

I am comfortable running any of these routes alone in daylight, but I would not run any of them alone in the dark. I would only run them early morning or late evening with another runner keeping me company.

Seattle has an amazing trail network and lots of great options in different parts of the city, here is a summary of the trails I explore when in Seattle.

Elliott Bay Trail

Staying in downtown Seattle? Your simplest option is to make your way to the waterfront, turn right and follow the pathway North. You get a nice view of the water for about 4 km (3 miles), although you do have to dodge tourists checking out boat tours and the aquarium for the first km. It can be quite cold in the winter with the wind coming off the water. You can take some nice pictures of the piers to commemorate the run.

  • Location: Downtown Seattle on the waterfront
  • Type: Out and back
  • Hills: None except for running from your hotel down to the waterfront and back.
  • Distance: you can go further in either direction, but my favorite stretch is the 4 km from Ivars Clams to Smith Cove
  • Terrain: Paved pathway
  • Pedestrian/Jogging/Bike traffic: Tourists walking around until you get North of the aquarium, after that mostly joggers and cyclists. There are stretches of the park where they separate the cycling and running paths.

Please note on the map below the markers are km markers NOT mile makers!

Map: elliottBayTrail

Green Lake

This is the busiest running loop I have found in Seattle. It’s a wonderful flat loop around a lake, complete with real washrooms.  You can jog all the way around the lake and look for ducks or rowers. One drawback to this location, Green Lake is notorious for car break ins. Leave absolutely nothing visible in your car when you go out to run. Put everything out of sight in the trunk. Even a pair of sunglasses or a jacket on the front seat can result in returning to a smashed car window. if you are a triathlete you can also do open swims out here as well. Read more about the park facilities at the City of Seattle Green Lake guide.

  • Location: North of downtown near the zoo
  • Type: Loop
  • Hills: None
  • Distance: One loop is about 5 km
  • Terrain: Paved and gravel pathway options
  • Pedestrian/Jogging/Bike traffic: Lots of joggers and walkers a few cyclists.

GreenLake

Alki

  • Location: West Seattle
  • Type: Out and back
  • Hills: None
  • Distance: End to End about 12 km
  • Terrain: Paved pathway + one stretch on city streets connecting Alki beach to Lincoln park.
  • Pedestrian/Jogging/Bike traffic: If you go on a sunny weekend there will be a LOT of pedestrians, rollerbladers, and cyclists near the beach.

alkiviewThis is probably my favorite running trail because you jog along the water, my favorite stretch is down around Lincoln Park as you run past the beaches and driftwood, though the views of the Seattle Skyline as your round the northern point are a treat as well.  If you are looking for a decadent treat, consider stopping at Top Pot donuts at the South end of Alki beach or grab breakfast at Luna Park café right by the West Seattle bridge. The only parking around here is street parking. As a general guideline, the further away from Alki beach you are, the easier it is to find parking.

Please note on the map below the markers are km markers NOT mile makers!

Alki

Burke Gilman Trail

I know I have run on various stretches of the Burke Gilman trail, but it’s always been with other runners leading the way. This is the trail that seems to go on forever! It takes you from the Lake Union loop all the way out to the Sammamish trail.  The stretch I remember is near the university of Washington, a pleasant shaded stretch. You can find more information on the city site about the Burke Gilman trail

  • Location: From Shilshole Bay to Bothell!
  • Type: Out and back or connect to the lake union loop
  • Hills: I have not done the entire trail so I don’t know
  • Distance: End to End about 18 miles
  • Terrain: Paved pathway
  • Pedestrian/Jogging/Bike traffic: lots of cyclists because this is a popular commuting trail, so if you are jogging with friends stay to one side of the path and be careful when passing

Please note on the map below the markers are km markers NOT mile makers!

BurkeGillman

Sammamish River Trail

This is another of those incredibly long trails, it goes from Bothell through Woodinville to Redmond. It connects the Burke Gilman trail to Marymoor. The stretches I have run were all flat along the river.  Keep your eyes open for herons and ducks along the river and you can get in as much mileage as you need. I have started from Redmond to do an out and back, and I have started from Woodinville to do an out and back. My favorite stretch is to go North on this trail starting at the Commons (145th St). You pass bathrooms and a water fountain about 3 km up the trail which is convenient. You can find out more information on the city site for the Sammamish River Trail.

  • Location: Bothell, Woodinville, Redmond
  • Type: Out and back
  • Hills: None that I have encountered, but I have not done the entire trail
  • Distance: as far as you want to go if you connect to the Burke Gilman or Marymoor
  • Terrain: Paved pathway
  • Pedestrian/Jogging/Bike traffic: You will meet a few cyclists, a few pedestrians and a few joggers, possibly a horse or two on some stretches.

SammamishRiverTrail

Marymoor park

MarymoorviewMarymoor park is a popular park for many activities with a trail running through it. On a clear day you can see Mt Rainier in the distance. Depending when you go you might run past people flying remote control planes.  I take personal pleasure crossing a small bridge at the end of the park which has a speed limit of 6 mph. It’s not often I can speed when jogging 😊.  If you drive out here for a morning run, the family pancake house makes a good spot for breakfast post run.  

The other great thing about Marymoor park is it connects to several other much longer trails so you can easily add  mileage as needed. You can connect to the East Lake Sammamish trail or the Sammamish river trail. Find out more about the park at the Marymoor park site. To find out more information about the trail, the city has a site on the Marymoor Connector trail

  • Location: Redmond
  • Type: Out and back
  • Hills: None
  • Distance: as far as you want to go if you connect to the East lake Sammamish or Sammamish River Trails
  • Terrain: Paved pathway
  • Pedestrian/Jogging/Bike traffic: You will meet a few cyclists, a few pedestrians and a few joggers, some of the cyclists are commuters and may be moving fast.

Please note on the map below the markers are km markers NOT mile makers!

marymoor

520 Trail

The 520 trail is mostly used by commuters, but it does work as a running trail if you are staying near or working at the Microsoft campus in Redmond.  It’s a noisy trail because it runs parallel to the 520. If you are running at dusk make sure you are reflective and visible to cyclists who are often going pretty fast! If it’s summer and you are lucky you might be able to take advantage of all the blackberries growing on the side of the path. The trail follows the 520 from just East of the 405 to Redmond.  I have only done the 4 km stretch from Microsoft to Redmond which includes a wicked hill!  If you need hill training, this will do the trick.  There are of course lots of other hills in Seattle you can run, but this one happens to be convenient to wear I usually work and is on a path.

  • Location: Redmond
  • Type: Out and back
  • Hills: hilly with one really solid climb about a mile long
  • Distance: About 8 km if you start at one end of Microsoft campus and go to Redmond and back. You can go as far as you want to go if you connect to the Sammamish River Trail
  • Terrain: Paved pathway
  • Pedestrian/Jogging/Bike traffic: Mostly cyclists commuting to and from work

520Trail

East Lake Sammamish Trail

If you are near Redmond, and just want a nice trail with views of the water, I recommend the East Lake Sammamish trail.  We made the mistake of driving further down and planning to run back and discovered just about every road there does not allow street parking. So if you don’t want to start your run at Marymoor, make sure you check out the map below or visit the city website  with more details on the East Lake Sammamish Trail so you know where you can park.

  • Location: Redmond
  • Type: Out and back
  • Hills: Flat
  • Distance: About 8 km if you start at one end of Microsoft campus and go to Redmond and back. You can go as far as you want to go if you connect to the Sammamish River Trail
  • Terrain: Paved pathway/gravel pathway
  • Pedestrian/Jogging/Bike traffic: fairly quiet, the occasional cyclist or jogger

eastlakeSammamish

Seattle Green Lake Running Group

I would be remiss if I did not call out this running group. There are more running trails and loops I have never explored. Seattle has a fantastic trail network.  If you are new to Seattle, or visiting Seattle and are looking for someone to run with so you can learn some good routes, I have found the Seattle Green Lake Running Group to be very welcoming. Whenever I am in town for a weekend and need a long run, I run with the group. They have a Facebook page, but they use a Meetup to plan the long runs many of which include great photo ops like this one from Kerry Park, famous for it’s views of Seattle.

greenLakerunners

If you have a specific distance and pace in mind it’s a good idea to post it to the meetup, chances are someone will help you out. They usually run at 7 AM Saturday mornings for the long runs. It’s also quite common for runners with longer distances to do 6 @6 a couple of loops around Green lake before the other runners arrive and then finish your last 6,8,10, 12, 14 miles with the larger group.  You can also post to the meetup that you would like to do a 6@6 and are looking for company.  There will be distances written in chalk on the parking lot so you can find the other runners doing your distance. You will have to ask around and introduce yourself to find out who else is running around your pace and who knows the route 🙂 Since I am not a local, I rely on someone else to make sure I don’t get lost.

They do other runs as well, track workouts, evening runs, mid-week runs.  The only runs I have done with them are the Saturday morning long runs and the Monday track workouts.  But they have definitely been a huge help for keeping me on track with my long runs when on the road in Seattle!  Whether you want to run 3 miles or 18 miles, whether you are running 10 minute miles or 7 minute miles you will find a kindred spirit.

Thank you SGRLG! You rock!

For more running related blog posts check out my page for runners.

Racing in a kilt? Bring it!

warrior-logo-300x217This post gives you a runners perspective on the Perth Kilt Run in Ontario, Canada. This is one of my favorite community races, here’s what to expect if you go. It has a number of unique aspects that make it worth the trip.

Here’s what you need to know about running in a kilt, the Warrior class (running with shield and sword anyone?), and the race in general.

The kilts

Do you actually race in a kilt?

1200px-Guinness_World_Records_logo.svgYes. All runners are required to wear a kilt. This includes the 200 meter Wee Lads and Lassies race for 2-4 year olds. They are so cute!

It started out as a Guinness world record attempt: the most runners in kilts. The race in Perth, Canada would compete with the race in Perth, Scotland to try and set a record for the most runners in kilts. It’s a hassle bringing in Guinness to judge world record attempts, so now they just have everyone race in Kilts because, well because why not!

Where do I get the kilt?

picture of four different color kiltsEven if you have an actual kilt, I recommend ordering one when you register. The race kilts are much lighter than real kilts. I think this year it was $35 to purchase a kilt with registration.  If you do the race again, or you have a friend of similar girth who has run the race in the past, you can just re-use a kilt from a previous year. I keep convincing different friends to try the race, and they often give me their kilts afterwards. I now have about 7 different kilts from friends which I loan out to various runners every year. The kilts change color every year, which adds to the pageantry. You see a fine assortment of kilts at the start line.

Do people wear the kilts in the um… traditional fashion?

Not recommended…. chafing is real…I recommend wearing running shorts under the kilt.

NOTE: If you do the warrior challenge you will have to wade through the water. Most warriors lift their kilts to keep them dry. Speaking as someone who enters the warrior challenge and may meet you crossing the water in the other direction, I ask you to please NOT wear your kilt in the traditional fashion. Once seen, things cannot be unseen.

Does the kilt bother you when you run?SusanKiltRun.jpg

No, you won’t even notice it, but it does make for fun race photos

What are the distances?

it varies from year to year but this is definitely a race designed so that the whole family can participate. And yes ALL races must be done in a kilt.

  • 5 mile/8 km race – The main event
  • 5 mile/8 km Warrior Challenge(more on this later!)
  • Wee Lads and Lassies (in 2018 this included 200m for 2-4 year olds, 200 m for 5-6 year olds, and 1 km for 7-8 year olds)
  • Wee Warriors (a 1 km warrior class division for 9-12 year olds)
  • The royal km (formerly royal mile), a 1 km race for those who aren’t up for 8 km

There was a half and full marathon in 2017, but it is unlikely they will do that again.

Warrior challenge

What is it?

100356-8fb1a5-1002856260The Warrior races include obstacles. The kids warrior class must be completed while carrying a sword. The adult warrior race must be completed carrying a sword and shield.  I haven’t done the wee warrior, but I have completed the 5 mile warrior challenge. It’s a little confusing the first time you do it “Meet by the horse statue at 5:30 PM to get your sword and shield”… uhhhh where is this horse statue? So if you try it, look around for others wearing Warrior challenge bibs and they can help you figure out where to be and when.

The warrior challenge has a limited number of spots and usually sells out. Warriors are usually one of two types of people. People who are competitive and think… awesome I get to race AND carry a sword how awesome is that! and people who are not competitive at all but think oh cool you get to run with a sword and do silly things on the way, sounds fun.  I’d say it’s about 50/50 split between the two.

How hard is it to run with a sword and shield?

Not as hard as you might expect. You can still set quite a good pace if you want to. Each weighs about 3 lbs. You don’t really notice the weight until about 5 km (3 miles) into the race then you start to feel the weight, but even then it’s manageable.

The sword and shield are both made of wood. You pick them up half an hour before the race starts and you return them at the finish line.

You can put your sword and shield into the same hand so you can still get water at the water stops.

Once you start running it’s easier to carry the sword by grabbing it mid blade (it’s not a metal blade) than by the hilt so its evenly balanced. but make sure you hold the sword by the hilt when you pass the race photographers for the best photos.

I have run the warrior challenge 3 times and never got blisters from the sword and shield, but my friend Randy did get a bit of a red spot on his arm from the shield this year (disclaimer: Randy is a little competitive, and was running hard)

What are the obstacles?

These are not your typical mud hero/Spartan race obstacles. Remember it’s a kilt run, so they are inspired from highland games type activities. The obstacles could change in the future, but the past 3 years they included20180623_201254

  • log carry
  • spear throw
  • rock throw
  • hammer throw
  • caber toss (NOT a full size caber!)
  • wading across a stream to a small island to do a shot of scotch

There are prizes for the fastest overall warrior, the best hammer throw, spear throw and rock throw. They used to have a prize for best costume, but I think they dropped that category this year.
The prizes are not your typical race prizes. Prizes include a buckler shield, an axe, a mace and a hammer!

What’s great about the race?

The finisher ‘medals’

20180630_095850One of the things I love about this race is usually they don’t give out finisher medals. One year they did give out medals and I think all of us complained. Over the years I have received a finisher kilt pin, socks, a quaich, flask of maple syrup, a spurtle, and a celtic cross.

I was disappointed this year not to get free shortbread at the finish line. I always looked forward to the shortbread.

The water stops

This race is only 5 miles/8 kilometers but they have multiple water stops. I believe when they started the race local groups could earn a donation by running a water stop and the best water stop got an extra donation. I don’t know if they still do that, but for a small community race the water stops do frequently surpass expectations with a dance team or Minion costumes and great cheering.  I think there were at least 3 water stops this year, which is pretty impressive for such a short race.

BagPipers

Okay, I know some of you are thinking nooooo not bagpipes. Come on it’s a kilt race, of course there will be bagpipes! They have bag pipers along the route (they used to have one at each km marker, not sure if they still do that) and there is a march to the start where all the 5 mile/8 km runners march to the start following the bag pipers and the warriors banging on their shields with their swords

The age categories

Most race provide awards for 1st, 2nd or 3rd in 5 year or 10 year age groups 40-44, 45-49, etc… The Perth Kilt Run only recognizes 1st place in each age group, BUT, your age group is your age. For example if you are a 72 year old guy you are competing against other 72 year old guys, If you are a 17 year old girl, your age category is 17 year old girls. So you might have a better than usual chance of placing in your age group!

Free race photos from Zoom Photo

100356-b30e0d-1002856190In 2017 they did not have free race photos, but in 2016 and in 2018 Zoom photo did the photography and electronic downloads of your race photos are free! I think this is brilliant! I am so sick of being asked if I want to pay $25 for one electronic download. Unless I’m running the Berlin on New York marathon for the first time, it’s highly unlikely I’ll pay that much for a picture. I assume the race pays a fee so we get the ‘free’ photos and builds it into the race registration cost, but I really like this model.

In particular, this is a race where the race pictures can be a lot of fun, run in a kilt, get your face painted, wear a costume or enter the warrior challenge and brandish your sword yelling Freeeeedoooom as you approach the finish line.   My most recent Kilt Run photo is my current Facebook profile picture.  It’s a brilliant bit of marketing really, because the race logo is a watermark in the bottom corner and most of us end up sharing the pictures on social media.

The pre-post race atmosphere

I think one of the things I like about this race is all the little things

  • 2018-07-05_9-00-39Live band
  • Free face painting so you can put on your best Scottish warrior face or tattoo, they always have lots of blue face paint (PRO TIP: Don’t forget you will be sweating, so if you don’t want face paint getting in your eyes mid race, you might want to keep the face paint below the eyes)
  • Beer at the finish for those over 19
  • Haggis Toss competition (this is earlier in the day)
  • Watching the kids races (in kilts of course)
  • They used to have a medieval demonstration in the park, but sadly that was not there this year
  • A decent number of port-a-potties
  • The town crier welcoming you to the race just before the start (sometimes with a little prayer, I’m not religious, and was a little surprised by this, but figure hey roll with it, it’s probably in character for a Scottish town crier)
  • Live fiddle music at the start line to keep your energy up just before the gun fires

Running through the campground

Okay for some reason, I always get a kick out of the stretch of the route that takes us through the campground. Campers sit in lawn chairs beside their RVs and cheer us on. You can smell the burgers on the grill as you go by. Not sure why, but for some reason I always look forward to the campground.

Spectator friendly route

If you have friends or family cheering you on, it’s easy to see you multiple times on the route.  The residents always come out to cheer as well, this means a better than average number of spectators for a community race.

The town of Perth

Bib pick up ends at 5 PM and the race is at 6 PM. This means you are going to have a little time to wander around. Main street has some nice little shops and is very pretty. There is also a nice park with a stream running through it.

After the race you are likely going to be hungry, so take advantage of that walk down the street to scope out a spot for post-race food, and make a reservation if you can. You won’t be the only one looking for food after the race. They are also a great place to sit and relax with nibbles and a drink pre-race as well.

What could be better?

This is a community race, so it’s not perfect, and the experience varies a little bit from year to year. Not sure if that’s because they have different organizers, different sponsors, or different relationships with the village of Perth.

The weather

Because this is a night race (the 5 miler starts at 6 PM) and it’s at the end of June it is frequently hot. Very hot!  The race organizers know it and so do the local residents. Every year I have done it there is a fire truck spraying water and a misting station to help you cool down along the route, and on hotter years you might find a friendly resident with a  hose or sprinkler as well. Given the race is only 8 km, that’s pretty good support.

Organization of awards and results

Trying to find out if you won your age group or if they are giving out awards is always a little confusing. You can look up your race results at Running Goat Timing after you finish but you have to scroll through all the previous finishers results and check their ages and genders to figure out if you actually won your age group.  They usually have the results with age groups posted online in the next day or so. In the past they used to give prizes to first place in each age group but you had to hang around a long time to figure out if you had won and claim them. I have a very nice embroidered towel I won my first year. I don’t actually know if they had prizes for the age groups this year. I had 3 friends who won their age groups but only found out two days later.

If you enter the Warrior challenge you have to wait until the Warrior class organizer (the guy in the brown leather warrior costume who gave you the instructions when you got your sword and shield) has a chance to figure out the results and gets on stage to announce the winners. It’s usually pretty obvious who the fastest male and female runners are, but the only way to find out who won best hammer or spear throw is to wait for the announcements.

Parking

Perth is a small town, so plan on finding parking on the street and walking about 500 meters or so to the start area.

The route and the hills

The hills aren’t really that bad. I have certainly run hillier courses. But I just want to make it clear this route is not flat. It changes a bit year to year, but you can count on a decent number of rolling hills through the neighborhoods.

The 5 mile route does some odd little loops and out and back stretches. Great for the spectators, because it allows them to see their runners multiple times, but a little odd for the runners.  It’s tough trying to set up a community race without disrupting traffic in a small town completely.

If you are a true “road” runner be forewarned there will be a stretch on gravel path or dirt road, and this year for the first time there was a short stretch on grass. Personally that doesn’t bother me, in fact I rather enjoy the change in terrain, but I know some runners prefer 100% pavement.

Another note, the course claims to be certified… but (thank you Randy Chafy for the leg work on this one!) it was the 2012 and 2013 routes that were certified as an 8 km. In 2015 it was certified as a 5 mile race.  The two distances are very close but not exactly the same (8 km is 4.97 miles, 5 miles is 8.04 km). They changed the route in 2018. It looks as though the course was a touch short this year, maybe closer to 4.9 miles than 5 miles. For most runners not a big deal, you are just out there to have fun, but if you are trying to set a personal record or are really measuring your splits, it’s something you might want to know.

Overall

If you are looking for something fun and different I recommend the kilt run. It’s a good race for competitive runners, casual joggers or walkers. This year’s top male runner finished the 5 mile in 26:30 but the last finisher came in at 1 hour and 47 minutes. I have done this race with friends who are very competitive and with a friend who had never walked 8 km before. Bring the kids to do the lads and lassies races, bring granny and grandpa to walk, race or spectate (depends on the grandparent!) or just come out on your own for a little fun.

Here the rest of my running related posts and race reports.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Surf ‘n Turf Relay (Trenton)

Surf n Turf Trenton Race Report

DSC_7592Relay races are a great way to break up the routine! The Surf n Turf in Trenton gives you a chance to really mix things up with a run/canoe/bike/run/bike/run/swim/run.

One of the great things about being part of a running group is you can usually find allies for relay races. Our coach, JR ran this race years ago. When he told Randy about it, entering became a foregone conclusion (for Randy the tougher and more interesting the race, the better). You can enter teams of 8 people, but since the legs are relatively short, we decided to enter a team of 4 so each of us could complete 2 sections.

Leg1 – 7.5 km trail run (Randy)

DSC_7611Randy was looking forward to the trail run, he is quite happy leaping over logs and splashing through mud. After seeing the route he decided to swap his trail shoes for his road runners. It turns out the trail is basically a packed dirt path. The timing chip is attached to a Velcro strap you put around your ankle so it can easily be transferred to the next team member at the transition zone.

Leg 2 – 4 km  Canoe/Kayak (Judy & Susan)

DSC_7640The second leg is a canoe or kayak. You can only use a kayak if you enter the tin man/tin woman (where you do the race solo) or the tin mate (teams of two).

You drop off your canoe or kayak between 6 and 7:30 AM at the transition area. You have to mark the front right hand side of the canoe with a bib or tape since the bib you wear will be covered by your life jacket. The canoe must contain a buoyant rope, a bailer, a whistle, and a lifejacket for each person. You leave the canoe on the grass (separate section for the kayaks) until it is time to hit the water.

Judy and I used to do a little canoeing growing up, we know how to steer a canoe, so we volunteered to do the canoe leg. Randy crossed the timing mat and Judy ran forward to get the timing chip. We ran to our canoe, carried it about 20 feet into the water and we were off.

We quickly discovered two things: #1 – four km is quite a long way in a canoe; #2 we are slow! Judy and I both have decent upper body strength (she is a swimmer and I do strength training) and we were both putting a fair effort into the paddling but we were passed steadily the entire way (we have decided to blame our paddles, we had wooden beavertail paddles and we saw several paddles with wider blades,  they allowed non wooden paddles this year.) Our time was 56th out of 66 teams on that leg… Well, I guess we have our work cut out for us the rest of the race.

When you exit the water, you have to carry your canoe up the path and then bring your timing chip to the cyclist who must wait in the transition zone. This caused a lot of concern for the tin man/woman/mate entrants who would therefore have to carry their kayaks alone up the path unless they had a support team. Apparently last year you could leave your boat in the water. James was waiting on his bike, but Randy was allowed to come down and help us carry the canoe. Judy ran up to James handed him the chip and off he went on his bike.

We saw a few people carrying their canoes back to the cars right away, but James only had 25 km to go on the bike so we focused on getting to the next transition zone to ensure we’d be ready to go when he got there. The parking lot for the canoe/bike transition zone is about 1 km from the t-zone.  When they arrived, Randy and James rode their bikes from the van to the t-zone.  After James left on the bike, Randy rode his bike back to the van and then drove back to pick up Judy and I as we were still walking towards the parking lot. It’s a bit of a hike and we were wearing water shoes and sandals that were not designed for running or jogging to the car.

In the captains meeting they said you could leave your canoe in the t-zone and come back for it anytime up until 3 PM and their would be volunteers keeping an eye on it….more on that later…

Leg 3 – 25 km bike (James)

DSC_7655There is a map of the bike route on the mobile website, but you can’t zoom in on that map, so the road names were too small too read. They showed us all the maps in the PowerPoint presentation at the captain’s meeting. We thought we would have printed versions of those maps in our race guide, but that was not the case. The only printed map provided was a map showing the recommended driving route for support vehicles to get from one transition zone to the next.  We were slightly worried James might miss one of the turns.

You are not allowed to drive alongside your cyclist since the roads are open to traffic. But we drove the route ahead of James just to make sure the turns would be obvious. If there was a confusing turn we figured we would park and stand there to make sure he did not miss it. (this is a tactic we have used successfully at the Park 2 Brew running relay). As it turned out there were either police or volunteers at all the turns. But we did get a chance to observe a lot of cyclists working hard on the hills!  That’s a pretty hilly 25 km ride, and some of the roads have very little shoulder so you need to be comfortable riding alongside traffic.

James arrived in the transition zone about 10 minutes after we arrived. He was parched, there were a few stretches in the heat where it was hard to take a drink of water because of the climbs. Judy took the ankle strap with timing chip and off for the cross country run.

Leg 4 – 5 km Cross country run (Judy)

DSC_7670Judy brought her cross country shoes complete with spikes. But after seeing the terrain for Randy’s “trail” run, she was concerned she would have stretches on concrete for the cross country run. She removed the spikes. It turns out that was an excellent decision. The last 500 m was along a road and the rest of the race was actually a trail run. Cross country running is usually across fields, maybe up and down a few ditches. This leg turned out to be a proper trail run. Judy arrived at the finish with splashes of mud on her legs from running through puddles and convinced that she would have poison ivy (she saw lots of it on her run) Randy & James who enjoy trail running were quite jealous.

20180614_190228FYI – They mentioned the risk of poison ivy at the captains meeting and said they make an effort to clear it where they can. You have to sign a remarkable waiver for this race with an exhaustive list of risks that includes risk of choking, drowning, hypothermia, heat stroke, allergic reaction to insects, and being struck by a kayak or other participant. We were amused to discover that they missed poison ivy 🙂

The transition zone from cross country run to mountain bike was a bit chaotic. By now it was mid-day and hot. The only shady place to stand was on the road. Every minute or so a car would come through and we all had to move over (it wasn’t clear if these were racers who hadn’t parked and walked up the road like we did or others just using the road). So now you have the team members on their mountain bikes waiting to go and a hundred or so teammates hanging around the finish area moving further out onto the road trying to see if their runner is coming, the end result is a frustrated group of race organizers and volunteers desperately trying to keep the road clear.  If you run the race, make sure you park before you reach the pylons that mark the last few hundred meters of the cross country run so you don’t have to drive through all of that.

Leg 5 – 8 km Mountain bike (Randy)

Randy had his bike helmet and safety glasses as required by the race (we found out at the captain’s meeting that they permit sunglasses as safety glasses). Judy ran over to give him the timing chip and off he went! We knew there was at least one good climb on the route.  None of us do much mountain biking so we really did not know how it would go.

Off to the next transition zone where we all clustered under one big tree, the only shade around. You could see the bikers coming down the last trail, legs covered in mud (clearly a few good puddles on this leg). Randy arrived muddy but happy and James took off for the road run.

We sacrificed a blanket to keep the mud on the bike from getting all over the inside of Randy’s van and took off to the next transition zone.

Leg 6 – 7.5 km Road run (James)

At the captains meeting they referred to this leg as the death run. James listed to the description along the roads through the town. It did not sound particularly nasty, so he asked why she called it the death run. “You do this run at the peak of the day’s heat, all on pavement,  and there is absolutely no shade”  She exaggerated, James said there was a tree that provided at least 15 feet of shade along the route. Yes they did have water stops.

Leg 7 – 500 m swim (Judy)

The swim is 20 laps in a pool. No diving, feet first entry only. The swimmers either need to shower or get hosed down before entering the pool area. We weren’t sure if Judy would have time to change into a swimsuit at the transition zone, so she wore her swimsuit under her running gear for the canoe and the cross country run. A volunteer with a hose washed the mud off her legs. When James came around the corner, Judy grabbed the ankle strap, put it on, and went inside to the pool. They have volunteers to help you keep track of your laps which is great.

You are welcome to go to the viewing area to watch your swimmer as long as you are clean (i.e. if you did the cross country or mountain bike you’ll need to get hosed down).

Your last runner waits at the far pool door. It’s nice not having to rush off to another transition zone. It also means a teammate can hold the swimmers clothes, sunglasses, towel, or whatever.   They call out the bib numbers to the waiting runners when the swimmer comes out of the pool so you have about 15-30 seconds warning before they arrive at the door.

Leg 8 – 3.5 km Run (Susan)

DSC_7679The last leg is a pretty straightforward road run. No shade. Flat except for one the hill that takes you to the finish line.

The last run is only 3.5 km, which means if you want to see your runner cross the finish line you’ve got to get moving. The parking lot for the finish area is about 500 m from the finish line.  I caught up to James, Randy & Judy at the bottom of the hill about 300 m from the finish. Being the awesome teammates they are, they immediately ran with me up the hill clutching their cameras and phones and we crossed the finish line together.

The finish area

The finish area is a good set up, they posted results quickly, they have music, they have ice cream, and instead of the usual post race BBQ burgers and dogs there were some very tasty beef sandwiches and watermelon. My only complaint would be the shortage of water. They had juice boxes and a server yourself cups of water from a drink cooler which ran out.

James calf was giving him trouble so he signed up for a massage. We realized 20 minutes later that each massage table had their own waiting list or line up. When we figured this out, James was still #6 on the list for the table where we had signed up and another masseuse had only 1 person waiting. So if you want a massage make sure you check out the lines for each table, you may save yourself a long wait.

Results were posted quite quickly. We had finished 10th team overall, 4th masters.  So no need to stick around for the award ceremonies. Randy and Judy had gone to pick up our canoe while James waited for his massage. Unfortunately when they got there they found out all the canoes and kayaks left behind had been moved to a tennis court near the finish line. When they got to the tennis court, the gate was locked and we couldn’t find anyone to unlock it.

While they tried to sort out the canoe, I had gone back to the other car to get our draw tickets (strips of paper in the little bag with the safety pins). I wrote down our names on the slips of paper and asked a volunteer where they go. They sent me to the main building in the finish area. Once inside I realized the system. You drop your slip into the bag for the door prize you hope to win. We entered the draw for the local micro brewery and the bike.  We didn’t win, but I will say they had an impressive number of draw prizes this year.

Just after they completed the draw prizes, they announced a volunteer was at the tennis courts so we could retrieve our canoe. All the paddles, bailing ropes, and bailers were in piles to the side. I *hope* I grabbed the correct paddles from the pile (remember we borrowed the canoe and paddles and I had left them in the canoe, I didn’t think I’d be digging through a pile of canoe paddles trying to find them again). Our bailing rope was not in the pile :(, someone else must have mistakenly taken it. Our most excellent tide laundry detergent container/bailer was not there either, I am assuming someone took care of putting it in  a recycle bin for me 🙂

In Summary

Surf N Turf is a fun race. Trenton is a nice town. Try to find a place with a patio by the river for dinner! The race would be easier if you were a local, a lot of directions at the captain’s meeting assumed you knew the neighborhood. I think it would be easier the second time you compete and know what to expect. We managed a respectable finish in our first attempt. Next time I would recommend you print the maps from the website at home before you travel to the race, since it’s hard to read the maps on your phone and the race kit only provides a printed map of the driving route from transition zone to zone.

This race is organized by the military, so they take safety and safety guidelines seriously. That also means the majority of the teams are made up of military teams fighting for bragging rights.  This race is reasonably competitive, not a lot of ‘my first 5 km’ runners. But you don’t need to run a sub 5 minute km to have fun at Surf n Turf… we may be back 🙂

20180615_174120_001

Here the rest of my running related posts and race reports.

 

 

Big Sur Marathon Race Report “Beauty and the Beast”

(just found this post in my drafts…apparently I forgot to publish it last year :))

Apparently the Big Sur marathon is nicknamed Beauty and the Beast. I can’t think of a better nickname! If you run marathons, I highly recommend adding it to your bucket list.

I recently ran Big Sur with 5 members of my running club: Faye, John, Mike, James and my sister Judy. James suggested we all do Boston 2 Big Sur this year and at the time it seemed like a good idea 🙂

Tip #1 Give yourself a little time to explore the area

We arrived Friday in Monterey.  The race was Sunday. California lived up to its reputation for great weather. We had lots of sunshine. Yet it was cool enough in the morning and evening for a light jacket and warm enough in the afternoon for shorts and a t-shirt.

We took advantage of the views and the weather to rent bikes and ride along the coast, stopping to take pictures along the way. A sneak preview of the views to come on race day perhaps?
20170429_113910

You won’t regret having a little time to explore the area. You can visit the Monterey Aquarium, check out the shops and restaurants along Cannery Row and  fisherman’s wharf.  The municipal wharf is a good spot to look for sea life and to see fishermen at work (we spotted sea lions and sea otters).  Rent a sea kayak and explore the shoreline. Walk, drive, or cycle to the coves where the seals have their pups. It would be a shame to arrive, race, and leave.

20170501_082834.jpgTip #2 Wear your race gear around town

Big Sur race weekend has everything from a 3km race to a marathon. As a result it seems like everyone in or around Monterey has either run Big Sur or has a friend or family member who ran Big Sur.  Because we were wearing race shirts we ended up meeting a fisherman who tried out for the US Olympic marathon team and got free dessert at a restaurant in Carmel from a waiter who ran the race last year. It’s a great way to meet other runners and to connect with the locals!

Tip #3 Don’t worry about long lines at the expo

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The Big Sur race expo is very small. Don’t worry, it has the essentials for everyone who forgot to pack something for race day: gels, body glide, water belts. It has some nice Big Sur souvenirs including coasters, shirts, and socks. You can buy posters with the names of all the marathon runners. You can meet the pianist who plays the piano at the half way mark of the marathon and buy his CD. They had runners doing seminars. They had Big Sur jewellery. My personal favorite had to be the booth with the Big Sur International Marathon wine! Bottle of red, bottle of white, it all depends upon your appetite! (for the record I picked up a bottle of the Pinot Noir)

Tip #4 Make reservations for dinner Saturday night

With an early start Sunday morning, Italian restaurants are popular places around 5 PM Saturday all across Pacific Grove and Monterey!  We found a fabulous little Italian place in Pacific Grove (my sister said it was the best Pasta Primavera she ever had!). Our restaurant was packed with runners.  Fortunately we made a reservation well ahead of time. Many runners enquiring by phone or in person left disappointed or informed that they could get a seating at 8 PM or later.

Tip #5 Stay on Eastern time

Or if you aren’t travelling from the East to race Big Sur, just go to bed early. The only way to the start line of the marathon is by bus. The buses leave at 3:30 or 4:00 AM. Allow time for your pre-race wake up and prep routine and time to make your way to the location where you board the bus and you should only have to set your alarm for somewhere between 2:30 and 3 AM!

Tip #6 Research where to stay

You can stay in Carmel, Monterey, Big Sur, Pacific Grove. You can stay in a Hotel, a motel, or rent a house.  There are options for different budgets, different comfort levels and different wake up times (If you stay in Big Sur or at the Marriott you can catch a later bus to the start).  If you stay in Carmel you have an easier ride home after the race. We rented a house in Pacific Grove and some of our friends had rooms at the Red Roof Inn.

Tip #7 Bring your phone

No20170430_075603t for phone calls or Facebook updates because you won’t have cell reception at the start area, but this is a race where you can set a new PR (photo record).  Yup, if ever there was a race where you want to take pictures this is it! Whether it’s the awesome caricature signs along the route or the amazing views there is a good chance you will want to take  a picture at some point. They even share photo etiquette in the race program (if you wish to take a picture during the race move onto the should of the road on the left side to take your photo, but don’t move too far to the left!) Apparently a number of runners spotted a whale just off shore in 2017! I am told whale sightings are not a common occurrence.

There are a variety of musical acts all along the course, and unlike most races you can hear the musical acts from quite a distance since the only other sound on the road is the pounding of 20170430_090210runners feet, birds chirping, and the waves.

There are points along the route where you can see the road winding for miles ahead of you (which can be a bit depressing knowing you have to run all that way, but try to enjoy them :)). But wow, talk about gorgeous views. Driving the Pacific Coast highway is a bucket list item for many. We have it all to ourselves for this race with nothing but the occasional race vehicle sharing the road.

Tip #8 Bring clothes to wear in the start area

Many people live under the illusion that it’s always hot in California. Well if it’s 5:30 AM and you are sitting in a park in the dark, you may find that a singlet and running shorts are not enough to keep you warm.

Tip #9 Do your hill training

Did I mention the Big Sur has hills? Lots and lots of hills. Big hills. I knew about hurricane point, the big climb in the first half, but I did not realize that the second half of the marathon is basically continuous hills. The good news is after each uphill climb is a good downhill. So practice running uphill and practice recovering as you run downhill.

Tip #10 Forget the PR/PB and just soak up the atmosphere

You can run a good race at Big Sur, but running a personal best or personal record would be quite a feat given the hills and some years, given the winds. They joked at the start line that the PR you set at Big Sur is a Photo Record for the most pictures taken along the race course. The atmosphere is different from any race I have ever run. Because spectators can’t get onto the closed highway it’s just you, the other runners, the race volunteers, the musical acts, and a few locals who live walking distance from the course.  I saw a runner get startled by a mooing cow. The loudest cheer I got from a spectator in the first 20 miles was a lady with a wooden stick running it around the edge of a bowl of burning incense chanting “gooooooo  goooooo gooooo slowwwwww”

You can hear the Japanese drummers at the bottom of hurricane point from about a quarter mile away.  Someone told me you know you are approaching the top of hurricane point when you can hear the piano at Bixby bridge. I remember hearing the song “walking on Sunshine” well before coming across the lone guitarist singing in the field.

The water stops are small, but it’s a small race and I had no trouble getting water. They even had a bit of a local/small town touch because there are volunteers with water pitchers who will refill your water bottle if you wish.  One of the later water stops is famous for its fresh strawberries.

It’s a small race but even a slow marathon runner will pass others because there are lots of people who walk the shorter distances you pass along the way.

Don’t get me wrong, all those distractions and views are great but those endless hills in the last half are brutal.

If I have one complaint it’s that the start are was way too small for the number of runners. trying to figure out where the line for coffee begins is a challenge. Fighting my way through the crowd to the bag check was a challenge. On the other hand the start area had an impressive number of port-a-potties and each port-a-potty had a silly sign taped onto them such as “shoelace repair” or “luxury bathroom facilities”.

I would run Big Sur again. That’s not something I say often. Marathons require so much training, and I only get to do one or two a year why would I do the same races over and over again.  Been there, done that got the t-shirt, got the finisher medal, move on. But, if a friend asked me to do this one with them, there is a good chance I would go back.

I was in the finishers tent, exhausted, clutching a chocolate milk and a cookie, clay finisher medal around my neck, looking for a place to sit down, when someone (who I later discovered was the race director) asked how was my race. I said “that was gorgeous but evil!” He laughed and said and that’s why it’s nickname is Beauty and the Beast.

Here the rest of my running related posts and race reports.