Posts Tagged ‘marathon’

What does it take to finally run a strong marathon and earn a shoe in the process!

Was it a perfect race, no. But yesterday at the Hamilton marathon I finally ran the marathon I’ve been trying to run since fall 2015. You can tell from the expression on my face it didn’t come without effort, but I’m very happy with the result.


HamiltonFinishPrevious marathons

I always liked 5 km and 10 km races. I blame my sister Judy and my friend Christopher for putting marathon ideas in my head, eventually I decided to give it a try.

  • Spring 2014, I ran 3:53:05 at my first marathon in Ottawa. I was thrilled because that got me into Boston 2015. I ran it in 4:05:43. I was happy. It’s a tough course, I didn’t push it, I wanted to soak in the atmosphere and enjoy the experience.
  • Philadelphia 2015 I tried for a sub 3:50 and ran 3:51:47. I was happy to have a PB but a little frustrated trying to learn how to run this marathon thing. I tried again at Grandma’s marathon 2016. It’s a fast course but unfortunately it was miserably hot and I finished in 4:07. No fall marathon in 2016 due to hamstring issues.
  • Spring 2017 I ran Boston 2 Big Sur, which mean two marathons in 2 weeks so suffice to say I did not try for a personal best, each race was over 4 hours. But, it gave me more confidence in my strength on the longer distances. New York City 2017 was my third attempt to break 3:50, trying to follow the pace bunny was a bit of a disaster, and I gave up on the pacer at km 26, I did hold on to run a PB 3:49:19 but it wasn’t pretty.

 

  • Spring 2018 I ran the Vancouver marathon with a goal of 3:45. I still don’t know what exactly went wrong, probably heat? I’ll never know for sure. Suffice to say I felt great at the start was on pace for my 3:45 and it all fell apart at 21 km. I finished in 4:05:30 bitterly disappointed. My fall race was Chicago, a fast course, In January I had visions of 3:45 in Vancouver and 3:40 in Chicago. but after the disaster that was Vancouver, I needed a morale boost. So I decided to just try and run a strong sub 4. I had a great race, felt strong the whole way, finished in 3:52:30 smiling.
  • Spring 2019 I was back in Boston, it was warm, first run in shorts since November. This is not the day to try and PB, so I set a simple goal of running my first sub 4 in Boston. It was close but I powered through the last km to finish in 3:59:25.

Working towards the goal

Through all four years, all my times on the track, and in shorter distances indicated I could run a marathon faster. I just couldn’t make it happen. People running with me on the track were posting sub 3:40 times. Why was I struggling so much just to break 3:50? The marathon is cruel that way 🙂 it teases you. You know you can do it faster, but you only get a couple of shots at that distance a year and I think that’s part of the appeal. It’s a challenge to run a marathon *well*.

I trained hard every season, I cross-trained, I did hills, I did speed work. 2019 things seemed to be coming together.

I was running well on the track, but I generally do run well on the track. That’s where I look the fastest compared to other distance runners. But, I was hitting some sub 7 minute 1600s. that was new.

canadaDayRandyI decided to take a serious shot at breaking 45 minutes on a 10 km. My current PB was 45:03.  I always had a mental block with the idea of running sub 4:30 kms for 10 km. I picked my race, I even did a ‘run your fastest 10 km’ 6 week training plan leading up to race day. I got my friend Randy to pace me. I jogged the route three days before the race to learn the hills and turns. Race day was not perfect. It was warm. But with some help from Randy, I left it all on the course and finished in 44:36. (as an added bonus I was 5th woman overall, I sneak in the occasional age group placing, but I’m not usually in the top overall).

So could I beat my 5 km PB? That requires a PB friendly race. There’s a 5 km in New Brunswick near my parents place, called the Joe McGuire race that is flat and fast! My dad drove me out while I was visiting, there was a little bit of wind, and it was a touch warm, but I managed to finish in 21:33 beating my previsou PB of 21:47.

armyPacerSo now I had the strength from my marathon training and my legs were remembering how to run fast. Could I put it all together? My fastest half marathon was a 1:46, which I *knew* I should be able to beat. I went out with the 1:45 pace bunny and posted 1:43:20 at the Ottawa Army Run in September and felt good the whole way. You can tell I am having a good race when I have the energy to goof around with the race photographers trying to give my pace bunny bunny ears.

Can I produce the results I want at a marathon?

The Hamilton marathon is advertised as a fast course. It has a downhill from 22 – 28 km. I struggle the most mentally from 21-32 km so this worked in my favour. The biggest issue with Hamilton is actually the long downhill. A lot of runners find it beats up their quads. One of the things I worked on after my first Boston marathon was my downhill running. I now take pride in begin a strong downhill runner. In fact I ran a leg at the Peak 2 Brew relay race which was 10 km continuous downhill with an average 6% decline this summer. I figured it would be good preparation for Hamilton. I trained for it and even  with the training, it took me 4 weeks to fully recover from that 10 km downhil run, but the training did 100% pay off! I pass a lot of runners on downhills now and it’s very satisfying.

ElevationProfileHamilton

I also knew that my best times always came at fall races. Training in winter and racing in spring does not lend itself to personal bests. It’s hard to run fast in winter on icy and snowy roads, and if you get a hot day for your spring race, you aren’t acclimatized and it can really mess you up. Whereas if you train through the heat in the summer, then you feel really fast when it cools off in the fall.  You do also learn from every marathon you run, even those where you are disappointed with your results. Even if a marathon does not go well the training you put it does build and make you stronger for the next one.

Okay so back to Hamilton… It’s a fall race, I’ve set PBs on 5km, 10km, 8 km, 15km, and 21 km already this year. It’s a fast course. It’s time to run that sub 3:45! I decide to follow a pace bunny since I know my Garmin runs a little fast (i.e. it will read 1.0 km when we are at .98 or .99 kms). I figure if I feel good maybe I’ll even try to pick it up at 37 km and get under 3:44.

zebrawarmupgearMy sister and I hit the thrift shop for our traditional keep warm at the start throwaway clothes (matching zebra outfits this year!)

But wait there is no 3:45 bunny in Hamilton. It’s a small race, there’s a 3:50 and a 3:40. Uh oh. Runnign with a 3:50 and then taking off to get under 3:45 sounds risky. Well, I guess it’s time to see what these legs can do. Let’s run with the 3:40 and see how long I can hold on!

The forecast is decent, not too hot, a little windy, but that’s okay, when you run with a pacer you can usually find someone to draft behind 🙂 I’m in the gynasium at the start line and I see someone holding the 3:40 sign. I walk over to ask his plan, will he walk water stops, will he run an even pace or negative split? He tells me he’s not the pace bunny, he was looking for the 3:40 pace bunny and they gave him the sign since the bunny forgot it. But he introduces himself to me, nice to meet you Julio and says “stay with him since I’ll get you there in 3:40”. We go to the start line. We can’t spot any 3:40 ears. He gets the announcer to ask the 3:40 bunny to come get their sign. At this point a half dozen other runners have come over to join us since he’s holding the 3:40 sign. Julio shrugs and says oh well, I guess I’ll be the 3:40 pacer.

Off we go, it turns out Julio has paced other races, including a recent 1:50 half marathon. He’s also run the Hamilton race before. He starts calling out to runners what to expect on the next stretch of the race and the planned pace. “we are 30 seconds ahead, we’ll lose time when we turn into the wind, but don’t worry we’ll get it back on the downhill at 22 km”.  He calls out the water stops. Since we had already chatted in the gym, I find myself running beside him chatting amiably.

An added bonus, one of my long run buddies Terry joins the pack! Terry has a goal of running 100 marathons before he turns 50! He will run 3 marathons in a month during peak race season. This is the first time we’ve been in the same race. Unfortuantely it’s end of race season, and 3:40 is too agressive given the strong race he ran at Petit Train du Nord and he drops off, but not before we get an official race picture together !

SusanTerryHighREs

At km 13 another runner says to me ‘ you can run faster than 3:40 if you are able to chat that much’. Julio and I laugh, One thing I have learned is that staying relaxed as long as you can really helps. If I can’t talk 15 km into a marathon I’m probably not going to hold that pace! I had the pleasure of doing track work with a guy named Jim who would hum and sing to himself doing speed work while my friend Henry and I panted along trying to keep up.  When I finally ran a race with Jim I discovered he does the same thing during the race, humming as he passes you. Whenever I find myself tightening up in a race, I try to channel my inner Jim, I won’t say I can sing and run a marathon at the same time, but I do try to smile, and relax.

Julio was wearing gloves and holding the sign, so I open his gel packs for him and we continue to chat, other runners occasionalyl come up to joiKanakoHappyRunnern us and chat as well.

I am feeling good and suddenly I see a spectator in a K2J shirt (there were very few spectators on this race) and it looks like… it is, it’s Kanako and her husband Face!!!  Kanako is another of my long run buddies. Neither she nor Face is racing this weekend, what are they doing here? I run over give her a hug and my spirits are buoyed. Kanako is another fast runner who is always smiling during races. She is constantly getting her race photos picked for race advertisements!

“Okay this next stretch will be windy, we will go a little slower here to conserve energy and we will make it up on the downhill” says Julio. I drop behind the shoulder of Julio or other runners for a good chunk of the 8 km stretch with the headwine. I move out front whenever we approach a water stop. They are short water stops. I am not carrying any water, and with the stops 3 km apart I want to make sure I take something at each stop.

We finally turn off the windy bit and to our shock the police directing traffic stop the runners to let the cars drive through. Frustrated we jog in place afraid of seizing up until he lets us through. I make the comment ‘hope no-one misses their target by 30 seconds because that would suck’ but I shake it off and try to relax, getting angry won’t help my race, and we have just arrived at the top of our 7 km downhill! I am in my happy place, we cruise down the hill and by the time we reach the bottom we have 20 seconds in the bank. I’m at km 28 and still on pace for a 3:40!

Of course the downhill is over now, but it’s flat. Lots of people told me the flat would feel really tough after that long downhill, but honestly I was okay, I think that downhill training paid off. I start thinking maybe I’ll actually pick it up at 37 km and run sub 3:40!

We started with about 20 runners in our 3:40 pack. Once we left the downhill it thinned out fast. By 31 km there were only four of us left. One guy said “I’m going to pick it up the last 10 km, anyone want to join?’ I said no thanks, I might go at 37, but not until then, a lot can happen in the last 10 km. (Foreshadowing?  or experience ?)

Km 32-36 were into the wind. I had dropped behind Julio’s shoulder, and the conversation had definitely dropped off. I was running out of steam. I used my strategy of dedicating each of the last 10 km to a different person who *cannot* run a marathon do to illness or injury and would love to trade places with me right now. Rita, James, Krissie, Jesse, Mel, Chris, Rosanna, Guy. At km 36 I gave Julio his last gel and he said okay that’s my last gel, take off, make your move. I replied weakly ‘I’m just trying to hold on’ . There were two of us still running with Julio and both of us were hurting. km 37-38 I thought of Randy helping me get through the last few km of that 10 km PB and how much that hurt  but I had held on. km 38-39 I thought of the friends I had who were diagnosed with cancer in the past month, what did I have to complain about.  (Side note: Cancer SUCKS!) The last water stop was at km 39, Julio was 100-200 meters ahead of me, The other guy had dropped off. I decided to walk about 20 steps at the water stop. First time I walked the entire race. I was struggling, but I was still passing people. Hey a few spectators – please cheer me on please!!!! What I would give for a familiar face to show up and run me through this last km right now! I’m counting off every 100 m in the last mile. We make the final turn toward the finish – 100 meters to go? and *F*K* it’s uphill into the wind, ” Seriously uphill and headwind” I said out loud completely miserable. “Yes but you can see the finish line” yelled the volunteer. I mustered what I could and I won’t say I sprinted to he finish but at least I didn’t slow down. 3:40:29! FYI Julio finished in 3:39:58 all alone, but I did find him in the finish tent to say thank you, he really helped me pass the miles, and I appreciated not only his pacing but his company!

JulioandSusanFinish

I feel like I finally ran a ‘good’ marathon. Could I have run faster? Not much! I certainly didn’t have anything left at the finish. I had run through the suck and held on to the end without completely falling apart. I didn’t just achieve my goal of 3:45 I had come within 30 seconds of my stretch goal (I wonder what would have happened if we hadn’t been stopped at those traffic lights :))

A few years ago, I was congratulating Corey,  another K2J runner, on winning a race (yes 1st overall) with a PB and he said “well the pixies and fairy dust showed up’. I have always loved that phrase. You can train, you can prepare, you can do yoga or physio, you can eat right, but you also need the pixies and fairy dust to show up to get the performance you want on race day.

So thank you to all the running buddies who helped me learn to embrace the suck, to enjoy the good runs, to make sure you do a few races just for fun (Bay 2 Breakers anyone?)  to get through the crappy runs, to pick up the pace a little, to take a risk on race day, to appreciate every day you are not injured or sick because at least you *can* run, to run that optional 6th 1600m on the track, to drag yourself out there when you would rather stay in bed.  Thank you to all of you who kept telling me I could run a 3:40 and who will probably tell me I should now try for 3:35.  I’m good with the 3:40 for now thanks! Marathons are exhausting 🙂

Oh and with regards to the shoe… our running group K2J fitness has a K2J award, run a PB in a 5km, 10km, half and full in a 16 month period and you get to give them a shoe to have nailed to a piece of wood. It’s the highest award in our little running group. I love it because it’s all about achieving your *personal* best. It resets when you turn 50, 60, or 70 because at some point you have to accept you will slow down and you aren’t going to beat the PB you set at 25.  Setting lifetime PBs at the age of 49 feels pretty damn good, now if you will excuse me, it’s time go decide which expired running shoe to give the coach!pile of running shoes

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chicago vs Boston marathon

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

Chicago Marathon finisher medal

Getting a bib

Lottery

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

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

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

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

Time Qualifier

racetimerAlmost all the Boston marathon runners qualify through a time system

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

Here are the 2020 qualifying standards for Chicago and Boston

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

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

2014 cutoff 1:38

2015 cutoff 1:02

2016 cutoff 2:28

2017 cutoff 2:09

2018 cutoff 3:23

2019 cutoff 4:52

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

Charity Entry

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

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

Boston 2019 fundraising targets started at $5000 USD.

Local races

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

Chicago has the Shamrock Shuffle

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

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

Tour Entry

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

Cancelled Entry

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

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

In Summary

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

Weather

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

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

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

Pre-Race Experience

Packet pick up

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

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

Race swag

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

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

Pace bands

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

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

Race morning

Getting to the start

Boston

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

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

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

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

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

Shuttle bus times depend on your start wave

in 2019

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

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

Chicago

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

Port-a-potties

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

Boston

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

Chicago

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

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

Corrals

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

Race course

Hills

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

BostonBoston Hill Profile

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

Chicago

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

ChicagoElevation

Crowds and Energy

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

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

Running your own race

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

Boston

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

Chicago

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

You can run your own race in Boston or Chicago.

International spirit

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

In 2018 Chicago had runners from 105 countries

In 2019 Boston had runners from 99 countries

Spectator Experience

Getting around

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

Elites at the race

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

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

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

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

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

Boston elites in 2019 included:

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

Chicago Elite in 2018 included:

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

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

Four world records were set in Chicago

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

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

Finish Area

Boston

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

Chicago

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

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

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

Post-race atmosphere

ChicagoSpectatorBoston

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

Chicago

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

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

Volunteers

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

thank-you

Summary

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

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

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

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

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

20170428_162620

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.

 

 

 

 

Vancouver marathon race report

Thinking of doing the Vancouver marathon? Here’s my take on the race!

Perhaps it is not fair to write a race report when your feet still hurt from the race But I have 4+ hours to kill on the train to Seattle so here goes!

When my friend Christopher suggested the Vancouver marathon as a spring race, I was all in. I like Vancouver and the route looked amazing.

Why do it?

The views!

VancouverSeawall

In terms of beauty the route did not disappoint! There were several spots along the route where I took a moment to simply appreciate the view. Whether it was a glimpse of the mountains in the distance across Burrard inlet, the stunning array of colors at the entrance to the UBC rose garden, or the driftwood along the beaches. From km 31 to km 41 you run along the Seawall, one of my favorite places in the world. No matter how tired you are or how focused you are trying to keep a particular pace do pause and take in the surroundings from time to time!

The city

I love Vancouver. You will find, great food, amazing sushi, art galleries with stunning Haida art, plenty of Tim Hortons and Starbucks, tons of vegetarian options if that’s your thing, lots of waterfront paths for biking or walking, and the gorgeous mountains in the background. There are a good number of hotels, so you should be able to find accommodations, although downtown hotels are pretty pricey.  Vancouver has got a bit of a rough underbelly. Within Canada, Vancouver is the city with the worst drug problems and largest number of homeless, probably due to the fact it has the mildest winters of any city in Canada (it would suck to be homeless in Montreal in February) so you do need to be a little careful about where you go wandering around.

One challenge with Vancouver is they don’t have Uber or Lyft type services. Your only option is a good old fashioned taxi. It’s not too hard to find a cab downtown, but if you are outside downtown expect a wait, especially if it is raining! Download the eCab phone app ahead of time. Ecab is your best bet for requesting a taxi if you can’t hail one down on the street.

So how was the race?

The race expo – 3/5 stars

The race expo was quite efficient for bib pick up, but, they made sure the sponsors got value for their money. T-shirt pick up was on the far side of the expo and you had to wind up and down every single aisle, past every single vendor to get there. They even had people to stop you cutting across aisles between booths! Fortunately there were only 5 aisles of vendors, but is was a little annoying to say the least!

You’ll find the usual assortment of shoes, clothing, gels, nutrition bars & races as you walk through. I didn’t see any great deals or discounts so I escaped with my wallet unharmed. I was interested in trying out some Stance socks so I stopped by their booth. I had a good chat with the knowledgeable staff but they were regular price so no real reason to buy them at the expo.

When we finally got to the end of the expo we picked up our shirts and a transit pass and transit map for race day to get you to the start line. For those a little further out, you could also sign up for a shuttle pick up. The volunteers can help you figure out your best option for getting to the start.

My favorite touches were

  • free blue gloves for all runners (perfect disposable gloves for race day)vancouvergloves
  • a couple of good backgrounds for the mandatory “hey look here I am with my bib photo”
  • A bear mascot (my sister and I have a tradition of always trying to get our picture with a bear at races!)Vancouvermarathon
  • a video booth where you can record a message for a runner that is played on a jumbotron when they run by. Christopher and I recorded one for Karin, when she wasn’t around, I wonder if she saw it!

Getting to the start line – 5/5 stars

The marathon starts at a very reasonable time: 8:30 AM. Bag check doesn’t close until 8:15 AM. So as marathons go, you can sleep in quite late! I set my alarm for 6 AM (as all runners know, you have to leave time for the digestive system to settle down), but I did not leave my hotel room until just after 7 AM.

If you stay downtown, getting to the start is really easy on the Skytrain. Just make your way to the Canada Line (don’t forget your transit card from the race expo!) and go north to Oakridge and 41st St station. It’s a 10-15 minute ride from downtown. From the station, it’s a 10-15 minute walk to the start area. This year (2018), it was a nice day and the walk was pleasant. You didn’t need to worry about getting lost, since pretty much everyone on the train was going to the same spot! I didn’t talk to anyone who took a shuttle, so I don’t know how well that service operated.

The start area – 4/5 stars

vancouverPitStopI got to the start area with time to spare. I had more than enough time to hit the port-a-potty lines. I think these may have been the shortest port-a-potty lines I have seen in a marathon start area. This might be due to the “Pit Stop”. A fenced off area of urinals, allowing the gentlemen at the race a quick and easy option for last minute bladder relief. The ladies also benefited from the reduced number of gentlemen waiting in the port-a-potty lines.

There were grassy areas where you could sit or lie down. Some large trees even provided some shady spots which I appreciated given it was a sunny and a touch warm. There was a road where you could do a bit of a warm up run. The gear check trucks were easy to spot. The start map shows a hospitality tent, but I never saw it, so I’d play it safe and BYO water & nibbles. I couldn’t find any official drop off place for my disposable pre-race gear, so I left it on a fence next to other discarded sweatshirts and PJs so hopefully someone collected it all for donation. I appreciated the effort to recycle and compost as much litter as possible. They even had a volunteer to help you figure out what garbage goes in each bin.

It was also at the start area that I appreciated the ability for runners to specify the name to appear on their bibs during online registration many months ago. I bet the fans enjoyed cheering on the tall lanky guy named “Sparkles”  and I got a laugh out of “John 3:16” Such a simple idea, and fun to spot the occasional runner who got creative while waiting around at the start.

Corrals 4/5 stars

There was signage indicating which way to go for the different color corrals. No-one checked my bib when I entered, but looking around, most of the runners in my corral did have the correct bib colors, and I didn’t have any issues with runners who were clearly in the wrong corral after race start. After the usual warm up and national anthem the first corral was off! Then the next corral walks up to the start line and waits for their designated start time. It was simple and efficient

Water stops 2/5 stars

There are water stops at kms 3, 5, 7.5, 9, 11, 12.5, 13.5, 16, 18, 19.5, 21, 22.5, 24, 26, 28.5, 31, 33, 34, 37, 39, 40. Basically they are anywhere from 1 to 3 km apart. There were a decent number of stops but it was a little confusing because the distance varied. I did appreciate the water stops at the bottom of the two toughest climbs.

The volunteers at the stops were amazing, frequently cheering you by name, and always making it very clear whether they had Nuun  or water (FYI – I am NEVER going to complain about volunteers! Anyone who gets up early to work at a water stop and cheers on the runners for hours always has my gratitude! THANK YOU!)

Unfortunately, almost all water stops were only on one side of the road and there were multiple stops where the number of tables was a little low and you ended up with a crush of runners all trying to move into a small space to grab a drink. Given the weather was on the warm side this made it almost impossible to run through a water stop and just grab a drink without a near crash. A couple of water stops looked like they were having a tough time keeping up with demand, I was in the four hour marathon range so there were plenty of runners looking for water after I went by.  They had Nu’un at about 80% of the water stops. There was one stop with CLIF gels ( I brought my own gels) and there were two stops with CLIF bars. There were apparently bananas at one stop as well. Sadly no sponges or ice at any of the stops which would have been really nice! I guess Vancouver doesn’t get as much heat as our races out East!

The hills

This is first race I have ever run where the hills are in the first half of the course and it flattens out in the second half.

There are steady rolling hills the first few kms but nothing too nasty.

There is one really *good* hill at 8.5 km : fairly steep and quite long. They even have timing mats at the top and bottom so everyone will know how much you slowed down. There were good crowds along the hill cheering us on, and because it was so close to the start of the race I found it tough but manageable. I didn’t see many people stopping to walk which is always an indication of a crushing hill. I would say it is similar to the toughest of the Newton hills in Boston. I am also told it is similar to Stone Mountain in Seattle, a well known hill to Seattle runners in the Green Lake area.

Then you have some more rolling hills, but as you come to the far side of UBC you hit a big downhill! It felt like about 2 km of downhill, some of it quite steep. Looking back I wonder if the reason my feet were so sore from the half way mark onwards was due to that long downhill stretch. Then you have a nice flat stretch along the beaches and THEN just when you are getting used to nice flat stretches, you hit the bridge. I would compare it to the Queensboro bridge in the NYC marathon. A long steady uphill climb. Not as steep as that first hill, but because it appears at around the 30 km mark it takes a lot out of you. I saw a LOT of runners walking on that bridge.

Once you get to the far side of the bridge, you have a nice little downhill and then the awesome flat of the Seawall. Once you hit the seawall you don’t really see another serious hill until the very last km where there is a gentle uphill to the finish. But the crowds, the Air France team cheering you, and the sight of that Finish Line banner will get you through it without too much difficulty (beyond the difficulty we all have in the last km of a marathon).

The crowds 3.5/5 stars

A huge shout out to the threesome who wore the big inflatable TT-Rex-Inflatable-Costume-rex costumes and appeared at least 3 times along the route cheering us on. That brought a smile to my face every single time. Some of the volunteers had good race signs including “Chuck Norris never ran a marathon”, and I laughed at the radio station sign “Find a cute butt and follow it to the finish”. I think my favorite was the woman holding a sign that said “run like there’s a cute guy in front of you and a creepy guy behind you “.

I have to give kudos to family and friends who were not there in person, and posted pictures on Facebook with signs to cheer me onracesigns
The spectators who came out to cheer us were great! Thank you to each and every one of you it really helps. Extra thanks to the lady who handed me a freezie around km 28!

The reason I only give the crowds 3 stars was just a question of volume. It was gorgeous weather for spectators, but the crowds seemed thin. I wonder if the part of the reason is due to the half marathon starting 90 minutes before the full and on a completely different route. Anyone cheering on a runner in the half is unlikely to spend 2 hours there then traverse downtown to start all over again cheering on the marathon. There were a few spots with good cheering, and the finish line was wonderful, but for a race this size I expected more. Ottawa Race weekend has similar numbers in the marathon but better fan turnout. On the positive side, it was easy to spot any friends you have cheering and If you run the half marathon, you can get back to your hotel, shower and change and have plenty of time to go watch your friends cross the finish line, right Karin? If you are really dedicated you can catch them at the 32 km mark and again at the finish right Christopher? And yes it was appreciated!

One other word of warning, there are almost no crowds at all along the seawall. So as a volunteer told me at the race expo, you may want to save your best mental motivation tricks for the seawall, whether that’s dedicating different miles to different people you care about, or finding that upbeat song on your playlist, for the seawall.

The finish area 4.5/5

I love races where I can see the finish line from a distance. This race was great from that perspective. I also found the flow across the finish line to get your medal, water and food moved along nicely. There were lots of photographers and background for you to stop and get a picture with your medal if you so choose. I had my medal, a bottle of water, a banana and a bag of Old Dutch Chips (a personal favorite) in short order. The walk from finish line to the meeting area was blissfully short compared to other races I have run (Notably New York who torture you with long walks uphill to the exit)

The weather

It was sunny on race day with the occasional clouds. The temperature was 12 C (54 F) by 6 AM and the high was 19 C (66 F). There was a light wind that I appreciated on the seawall. Average race day weather is a low of 7 C (46 F) and a high of 16 C (61 F) so it was a touch warmer than usual but not outrageously hot.

Whether you judge that as good race weather depends on where you train of course! I had just trained through what seemed like an endless winter in Ottawa, so anything over 6 degrees would have seemed warm to me! There were over 300 runners from Mexico who probably thought it was perfect running weather 🙂 Spring in Vancouver could be 5 degrees and rainy or 25 degrees and sunny. This year, we got the latter. Fortunately there was some shade on parts of the course and there was a cool breeze along parts of the seawall that made it bearable, but it was pretty clear in the last 10 km or so that the sun and heat took it’s toll on a lot of the runners.

My race

So how did I do? Well, despite being a little nervous about heat I decided to try and PR/PB. I started out feeling strong, easily running my desired pace for the first 8.5 km. I slowed down on the big hill, but quickly found my pace again. I was feeling great! I kept to the shady parts of the road as much as possible. I dumped water on my head at every aid station. But, sadly the heat and the hills was clearly taking a toll. I slowed down a touch but then made it up on the long downhill at km 15. It was around km 19 that I realized I was likely in trouble. My feet hurt and my pace had started to drop even though we had a nice flat stretch. At 21 km I removed my large print pace band for the first half of the race, still on track for a Personal Best. Then about 3 km later I knew I was done for and decided to throw out the other pace band and just accept it was not a good day to PB. A few km later I turned off my Garmin, there were plenty of km markers to help me track the distance and I really didn’t need to know how much I was slowing down. I kept it slow and steady all the way up and over Burrard bridge and was very happy to see my friend Christopher at km 32 (although he would not give me a hug claiming I was too sweaty. I was happy to hear the other girls he was cheering on ignored his protests and hugged him anyway, sweat and all!)

SusanVanRaceAs I mentioned at the start of this post, the Vancouver Seawall is one of my favorite runs ever! So I decided I would walk each water stop along the seawall and make sure I took a moment here and there to look out over the water to try and spot ducks (sadly only mallards and Canada geese today) or herons (one Great Blue Heron around km 40). It is all too easy in a marathon to completely miss the views because you are so absorbed in trying to run an exact pace or simply trying to run through your misery. I was determined not to let that happen on the seawall. My form was falling apart, my feet hurt, but I did still appreciate the smell of the ocean, the breeze off the water, the driftwood on the beaches. I was more than a little jealous of a couple of people taking a nap on the beach, stopping to lie down would have felt soooo good. But of course likely I would need medics to get me upright again. Fortunately I know pretty much every twist and turn of the seawall and as slow as I was, there were others even slower. Seems I was not the only person who took a beating on the course.

Once we left Stanley Park and back into downtown the steady build up of the crowds made up for the slight hill. I spotted Christopher once again exchanged a fist bump and continued on towards the finish. Apparently his wife Karin (the photographer in the photo above) was a little further up but at that point the finish line was within my reach and I was on a mission to cross that line!

medalvancouverOnce at the finish I decided if I can’t have a great time, maybe I can have a great finish photo and did a little jump into the air (based on the effort I put into that jump I’d like to think I got huge vertical, but chances are I only got a couple of inches off the ground). I landed on both feet and almost tripped landing face first on the pavement, but fortunately I managed to recover my balance and no medics were required I fought my way past the photographers and headed to the volunteers with the medals. A 7 or 8 year old boy was at the end of the row with one medal to give out, so I walked over to him and he carefully placed the medal around my neck. Maybe not quite mission accomplished, but another marathon in the books! Around km 28 I really never wanted to do another marathon ever, but I do have a bib for Chicago this fall so…..

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

Ack! What did I forget to pack for my marathon!

You decide to run a marathon out of town. It’s cool it’s exciting. But then you realize how much you have to pack!  Every time, I find myself making a checklist and worrying about what I forgot, so I am making this online checklist for myself, and if it helps you that’s great! If I forgot something on the list please tell me 🙂 This list works for Marathons and such but if you are running a Ragnar/Relay race that’s a different story, I’ll have to write a post on that later!PackingForMarathon

Just checked into your race hotel?

Time to take care of a few logisticsraceexpo

  • GPS Charger
  • ID or Runners passport for bib pickup
  • Location and hours of race expo for bib pickup
  • Details on how and when to get to the start line
  • Do you want to check out the finish line area? Maybe walk the last half mile of the course?
  • Suitable spot for supper pre-race?

Don’t forget to buy your pre-race breakfast supplies

  • Banana (Thank you Randy)
  • Bagel
  • Peanut butter (and a plastic knife to spread it)
  • Oatmeal (amazing what you can do with a hotel room coffee maker – you might want to pack a spoon to eat it with (Thank you Jesse), a bowl is nice but sometimes you can manage with the cups in the hotel room)
  • A place to get coffee in the morning?

Waiting around pre-race

It’s all about keeping warm and dry before the race!IMG_20171105_084203

Staying warm

  • Throw away hat
  • Throw away gloves
  • Warm jacket or hoodie
  • Bathrobe or onesie
  • PJ pants
  • Throw away arm warmers (socks with ends cut off work nicely)

Staying dry

  • multiple garbage bags or old post-race thermal blankets (something to sit on, something to wear)
  • Disposable rain poncho (like the ones you buy at amusement parks before you go on a water ride)
  • plastic bags and elastics to put over your shoes if ground is wet

Interesting suggestions from runners who ran Boston 2018, a very cold and wet race year with a start waiting area that was a field of mud! 2000+ runners treated by medical personnel, many of them for hypothermia.

  • Throwaway pair of shoes and socks to wear until you need to change into your race shoes and socks
  • rubber boots
  • shower cap to trap heat
  • rubber gloves or surgical gloves
  • Hot shots (those little packages you put in your mittens to keep your hands warm)

Prepping for the race

  • Body glide
  • Sunscreen
  • Sharpie for writing name on bib or arms & legs
  • Pre-race gel

During the raceStartofMarathon

The basics

  • Running shoes
  • GPS watch
  • Race belt for holding bib,  or bib clips for your shirt
  • Running socks
  • Sports Bra or Nip protectors depending on your gender
  • Earbuds/headphones – if allowed
  • Phone and a holder for your phone
  • K tape

Fueling

  • Gels
  • Belt that can hold gels
  • Water bottles
  • Nuun or Gatorade powder
  • Belt that can hold water bottles
  • Salt tablets

Warm weather

(ah yes Grandma’s 2016)

  • Singlet
  • Short sleeved shirt
  • Shorts
  • Visor or hat

Cold or wet weather?

(memories of Boston 2015… not as bad as 2018 which I did not run)

  • Long sleeved shirt
  • Tights
  • Compression sleeves for arms
  • Hat or headband
  • Gloves

Do you want?

  • SunglassesreadingGlasses
  • Compression sleeves for lower legs
  • Compression socks
  • Hair elastic
  • Tampons (hopefully no, but it happens)
  • Moleskin or tape to avoid chafing
  • Pace band (I need to print my own, because the ones they give out at the expo are too small a print for me to read, either that or my arms are too short)
  • Nail clippers
  • scissors

Gear check for post-race

  • Recovery sandals (Oofos or equivalent, if you haven’t splurged on these yet… they are awesome!)
  • Warm shirt
  • Dry socks
  • Loose fitting pants
  • Jacket
  • If there is a change area, underwear and bra

Back in the hotel post race

  • SusanMimosaIbuprofen
  • foam roller, massage stick or yoga tune-up balls
  • post race snack
  • wine or beer to celebrate

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

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

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

IMG_20171105_084203SusanChristopherBoston

Who has the best crowd support?

By the numbers

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

By decibel level

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

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

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

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

By spirit

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

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

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

Taking over the city

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

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

Boston rocks the pre-race

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

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

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

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

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

New York rocks the post-race

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

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

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

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

What moments impact you as a runner

Boston is about getting to the start line!

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

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

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

2018 Cutoff 3:23

2017 Cutoff 2:09

2016 cutoff 2:28

2015 cutoff 1:02

2014 cutoff 1:38

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

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

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

New York is about getting to the finish line

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

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

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

Run! Cours! Correre! 実行

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

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

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

Getting to the start

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

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

The start village

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

The important stuff: Port-a-Potties!

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

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

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

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

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

Bag Check & ponchos

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

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

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

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

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

Apples vs Bananas

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

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

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

The NYC marathon has pacers. Boston does not.

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

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

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

For perspective here are my personal stats for the two races

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

 

By the numbers

A few stats comparing the two races

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

 

The volunteers

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

Thankyou

So which is more awesome?

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

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

So the answer is: It depends.

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

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

 

New York Marathon Race Report

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

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

Getting a bib
RegisterForNYC

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

The Race Expo

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Scoping out the finish20171103_150140

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

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

Pre-race dinner

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

Getting to the race village

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

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

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

The hunt for the Dunkin Donut hats!

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

Start corrals

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

The pacers

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

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

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

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

The race course

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

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

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

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

SusanFinish

Exiting Central Park

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

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

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

Post-Race celebrations

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

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

SusanMimosa

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