Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Run, FIsh, Beer - The 2017 Lake Fork Flyathlon


I waited two years to do this race and it was worth it. I first learned about the flyathlon in 2015 when I read an article in 5280magazine about this new event that combined running, fishing and drinking beer. It was hard to believe it, but some genius had combined all three of my favorite things to do in my free time into one event. Unfortunately, it was too late to sign up for any of the events that year so instead I did one of the Sandbeech Lake training run listed in the website. The timing of the events did not work out in 2016, but finally in 2017 the stars aligned and I got to participate in the Lake Fork Flyathlon.

The basics of the flyathlon are pretty straightforward: you run a trail to a mountain lake orstream and try to catch a fish. You get a few minutes deducted off your time for every inch of one of the fish you catch. Then you drink a Colorado beer.

But all the events are about raising money for the preservation of native trout habitat in Colorado and the trails that access them.


There were two folks at this year’s event who were making a documentary (not out yet but you can see their site here). At one point they asked what I did to train and I did not have a good answer other than to say it was all the things I do anyway. With some more time to think on it, there were a few things that, while I wouldn’t call them training, helped.

Even before I learned of the flyathlon I had thought it would be cool to try running to fishing spots and I did some experiments with the gear I would need. This helped me test out what gear I could get away with as well as what configuration would work well for running.

Then few times this year I have taken an hour lunch break and gone fishing on Boulder Creek. It’s about a 10-minute walk from the office. I keep my fishing gear in an REI backpack tucked under the desk. This helped me work through quickly getting the rod out and a fly on the water – because like in the flyathlon my time was limited.

One of my friends testing out the waters of Boulder Creek


The group campsite was the East Elk Creek Campground which was a surprisingly large group campsite. As promised in the emails and Google Maps, it was about 4.5 hours from Lafayette (after a quick stop to get some growlers at Odd 13). As compensation, Routes 285 and 50 are awfully pretty and about as pleasant as driving gets.

I rolled in around 6 pm and found a nice secluded spot across the creek from the main gathering area.

View from the tent
I then reheated some frozen tortilla soup that Alita made the day before. Frozen soups are one of the best car camping meals. They double as a freezer pack while your driver and make minimal dishes to clean.

Flyathlon tailgating
I then started meeting folks. There were four brothers / brother-in-laws from across the state who were gathered for a fellows family weekend. While we were chatting someone from the dirtbag diaries podcast came up and interviewed us (they incidentally did a great podcast about the new national monument up in Maine and the challenges around making that come to pass).

Eventually we all gathered around the campfire for beers and talk of fishing. I went to bed around 11 pm. There were still several folks up having a great time.

Main Event

The race started at 9 am and it was about a 45 minute drive from the East Elk Campground to the start at the Red Bridge Campground (on the other side of the Blue Mesa Reservoir). I got up around 6:30 and did my usual breakfast of oatmeal. I hitched a ride with the four brothers / brothers-in-law that I met the night before.

Race start at the Red Bridge Campground
At the start Todd, the race director, filled us in on the rules. The road paralleled the stream and you could stop and fish at any point on the way to or from the five-mile turn-around. This year the bonus was three minutes per inch of fish – up to 14 inches when you get five minutes off your time per inch (so three hours of running with a 10-inch trout would get recorded as a final time of 2 hours 30 minutes).

The race got off to its traditional start of “shot-gunning” a light American lager – i.e., the flyathlon founder’s daughters shot a can of PBR with some bb guns.

I took off at a healthy tempo pace of 6:30 miles and found myself rather alone. Based on the advice of the brothers and others I decided to fish early. The first checkpoint was around a mile. There were a few campgrounds immediately after the checkpoint. I kept going for another few hundred meters until I saw a nice set of about three drops. This looked good enough.

The night before I had rigged up a stonefly with a flashback pheasant tail dropper. I started nymphing the first drop and in about five minutes had what looked to be a 10 – 12 inch rainbow. But then it became apparent that I had placed the net on the wrong side of my pack. As I tried to reach around the fish got off. I allowed myself a few second of regret and moved onto the next pool.

After another ten minutes I hooked up with a nice 7 inch brown. I snapped my picture and gave it another five minutes to try for a bigger one. I then decided that I was on the board and it was time to use my speed. I gave my fly set-up to another lady who had also decided that this set of runs looked good and was fishing at the top where I had started.

At the turn-around I took a pull of the Law’s Whiskey (a Colorado native) and booked it on back. Other flyathletes asked if I had caught my fish (and you can just run – although you get a “crippling” penalty and what’s the point of that really?). It appeared I had a good chance of getting the fastest male but I knew that a 7 inch brown meant that I would have to finish well ahead of second place. So I kept pushing.

I finished up in an hour and thirty minutes. With my 7 inch fish that meant an adjusted time of 69 minutes. To celebrate finishing (and I guess truly make it a flyathlon) I grabbed an Uplsope IPA.

I watched the second finisher come in and then I went upstream (away from the race course) to do a bit more fishing. By that time though the sun was pretty high and bright in the sky and the wind was starting to pick up. I came back to the finish area after an hour and talked with the other finishers.

Grand Finale

Back at camp the organizers paired me with the fastest female finisher against the flyathletes with the biggest and smallest fish in a cornhole competition. Sadly my cornhole skills were not on par with my running skills and the big and small fish team prevailed.

Then the big and small fishermen had a bb gun shoot-off for a custom built Sage fly rod. The guy who caught the smallest fish won handily. This fellow had brought his family all the way from Missouri for this event and so it was fun to see him take the “grand prize”.

The rest of the evening was the fine camaraderie that comes with all great fishing and camping trips. I was glad to have come and look forward to defending my title and maybe convincing a few friends that you don’t even have to run to have great time doing a flyathlon.

Run. Fish. Beer. Friends.

Monday, April 24, 2017

Carmel Marathon: Same race but with better beer

My first Carmel race
Photo credit: Sam Kan

Shadow Race

The Carmel Marathon really began two years ago for me. As I mentioned in a previous blog, the group that I ran with and helped to run in Kuwait was founded by a National Guard unit from Indianapolis (adjoining Carmel). During my time there the KRM put on a shadow race of the Carmel Marathon at our little base. About 40 of us ran a half-marathon and an 8k around the base. The race organizers sent us the shirts and medals from the run.

KRM friends running the dusty base roads in Kuwait
Photo credit: Sam Kan
Sometime in 2016 one of my fellow “dons” of the KRM reached out to the rest of the alumni and suggested that we run the real deal. I have always liked the idea of running races that I did shadow runs of while deployed and I had not yet done Indiana in my lifetime goal of running a marathon in each state. But really, it was a fun opportunity to hang out with some folks who added much levity and sanity to my last deployment.

Finishing the Kuwait edition of the 2015 Carmel Half-Marathon
Photo credit: Sam Kan
I should also mention that the organizers of the race, in particular, the one we worked with were excited about a group of shadow runners coming to do the real race. They gave us VIP bibs and had great chats with us before and after the race.


Training for the real Carmel Marathon was a much different animal than the shadow run – or any of my previous marathons. Since returning from the deployment my wife and I had another child. They are a joy, but. . . they make taking off for two to three-hour long runs a bit more challenging.

Eventually the chaos seems normal
Photo credit: My ever awesome wife
Our first son took fairly reliable epic (2 -3 hours naps) in the afternoon and so getting out on a Sunday afternoon for a long run had been a manageable event. In spite of our efforts to reason with our second child, he did not see our logic of why he should reliably nap at the same time as his brother. So while I managed one or two long runs on Sundays I had to find a more sustainable way.

My wife hit upon the solution of running into work. On Mondays and Tuesdays she worked about a five-minute walk from my office (which happened to have a pretty decent shower). So one Monday I bit the bullet and gave her my computer bag, lunch and a change of clothes to take in. Being the front range and the satellite communities of Boulder, I was able to find a route in that consisted entirely of paved and gravel paths and trails. There was a two-mile stretch of the Denver-Boulder bike path that at times had comically high winds, but it was otherwise a pretty pleasant route.

One long-run route from home to the office

Speedworks also required some tweaking. Previously I had done much of my harder running with the Boulder Track Club. But with my oldest needing to leave for pre-school at around 7:30 the club's 7 am start time became less attractive. Fortunately, our friend group in Lafayette is coming to consist more and more of other folks with young kids so when I asked a nearby friend if he wanted to do a speedwork at 6:30 he came back and said 6 would be even better. I could do that.

Returning to a new location

I arrived at Indianapolis on Friday evening. Since there was a group of us we got two rooms at an Airbnb house. It was a short 15-minute drive to downtown. The really nice thing about doing an Airbnb set-up was that we were able to use the kitchen to make our own awesome pre-race pasta meal. It was a much more relaxing way to do a pre-race dinner than going out to a restaurant.

This crowd fears no glueten
Photo credit: Shane
The Carmel Marathon is Indiana’s second biggest marathon (according to their website) but it is still fairly small compared to bigger city marathons. There were about 600 folks run marathon. When we arrived about an hour before the race parking could still be found within easy walking distance of the start and there were plenty of porta-potties.

All ready to go
Photo credit: Shane
Somehow I had ended up with an “elite” bid given my estimated time of 2:50:00 and so I toed up to the edge of the starting line. The weather was overcast with a 10 – 15 mph wind out of the northeast and the temperature in the mid to high 40’s – overall pretty reasonable weather.

In all our KRM glory
The course started off running through some beautiful neighborhoods. Carmel reminded me of Boulder in that it was wealthy and active as evidenced by the beautiful houses and miles of nice paths. The marathon ran several of its miles off-road along these nice paved paths.

Minor Issues

The course was well marked although I did have some minor complaints. Twice the marathon course departed from the half-marathon course only to rejoin it later. In most small marathons that I have run this would not be an issue because during the second half of the race the person ahead of me was usually out-of-sight and the next person was often minutes behind me. However, around mile 15 I still found myself passing folks who had gone ahead of me a few miles back and being passed by folks who I thought I had put away. Rejoining with the half-marathoners sometimes made it harder to keep track of the competition.

How pleasant to see you again
The other minor compliant I had was that a few short road sections were not completely closed to traffic. There were the usual cases where only one lane was marked off with cones for runners and the other lanes were open – this I was used to. But there were a couple of times when I was running my tangent across what I assumed was a lane entirely for runners when a car came up behind me. The drivers that I saw went slowly and were polite – but were surprising none-the-less.

However the things done well more than made up for these minor issues. The course was well marked, the water stops sufficient and the volunteers friendly.

The plan and the course

Based on my long runs and speedworks I thought I could run close to a 2:50. Choosing a goal pace feels like placing a wager. Too conservative and you finish feeling like you didn’t leave it all on the course. Too fast and the last third of the race can be absolutely miserable. I still think I have a low 2:40 marathon in me; but, my track workouts had indicated that it was probably buried below some kids, sleep and beer.

My plan was to take 3 gels – one at each quarter (roughly 10k) of the 42.2 km distance. Unfortunately, at the 10th kilometer I learned that the two gels I had placed in my back pocket had slipped out (and hopefully went to good use by some other deserving runners). I had one gel in the front pouch of my shorts and decided to save it for the half-marathon marker. Someone told me there was gel along the course by my marathon-brain did not notice it. I instead took a few more Powe-ades at the water stops.

A 2:50 marathon works out to 4:02 kilometers. I prefer kilometers because they go by faster and give you faster feedback if you’re going too fast or slow. About two-thirds of my kilometers were within four seconds (roughly one percent) of my goal pace.

Splits by kilometer
The running coach Mike Faneli told runners “to divide a race into thirds. Run the first part with your head, the middle part with your personality, and the last part with your heart.” My interpretation of this advice was for the first 30k to kept a close eye of my GPS watch. I set it up to take automatic splits at the kilometer marks. I keep in on a screen that shows the time of the current lap, the lap distance and the lap pace. Constant monitoring let me keep a close watch on my pace and quickly corrected going too fast or getting into a lull. There is something that feels a little artificial and less “natural” about this approach – but I like the results.

But at 30k I stopped looking as closely at my watch and did a status check. My legs felt a little tired but still with some pluck in them. So I opened up my pace and started picking folks off. I may have gone all in a little early as some of these folks or other behind me passed me back but overall on the pass vs. passed count (one of my high school coach’s metrics) I only ended up down by two. I came into the final turn and crossed the finish in 2:50:30. My half-marathon split had been 1:25:11 putting my two halves within 10 seconds of each other.

Bringing it home
Photo credit: Sam Kan
My two other friends had done the half and by the time I came back with my gear were waiting in the VIP areas sipping beers and watching the finishers. I joined them as we waited for the last of party. She crossed in the early afternoon and we celebrated a job well done. The race organizer, who had been some great to us, even allowed one of us to put on her finisher’s medal.

Bringing home the team
Photo credit: Dave V
Afterwards we went out and celebrated a good job and tell near-war stories of running in Kuwait. We checked out Upland Brewing in Carmel. They had a good selection of hearty pub food and a surprising number of vegetarian options. I also enjoyed that a lot of their beers were around the five percent range – after Colorado where few self-respecting IPAs are below seven it was nice to be able to try a sampler and let the legs recover.

Fruits of our labor
Photo credit; Shane
And we let ourselves have a good desert a few doors down at the Quirky Feather Confections.

Closing thoughts

While the race went rather well and according to plan, I did learn a good lesson about testing my gear. My long runs had missed the devious escapism of my gel packets because I usually kept these in my water bottle belt. I have long lamented the lack of “hand-warmer” pockets in running shorts but will try to find another pair that at least has a zipper for the rear pocket.

On the other hand, doing my long runs into work and my speedworks early prepared me rather well without cutting too much into family time. My friend’s choice of an Airbnb and cooking dinner in a kitchen the night before also is something I’ll try to repeat.

17 States down, 33 (and DC) to go

Saturday, July 2, 2016

Bighorn Mountain Wild and Scenic Trail Run 50k

The ridge behind us was the first six miles of a beautiful course
Photo credit Rob Finley
Wyoming is one of the last states bordering Colorado that I needed to run on my way to running a marathon in all 50 states. Perhaps it was being around enough of Boulder’s ultra trail-running crowd or my wife’s encouragement, but I decided that my Wyoming “marathon” would be a trail ultra. While Alita actually found the Bighorn races, my decision to go for this one was solidified by some glowing reviews of the race by fellow Boulder runners.


Since I felt I knew marathon training reasonably well and a 50k was only five miles longer, I decided to follow my usual marathon training approach of 50 – 70 miles a week with long runs starting around 1h 45m and progressing to 2h 30m – 3hrs. I started the long runs in February and was able to get in one 20-miler. I would have preferred to do one or two more (20 milers) but the Bolder Boulder and Army drills precluded that. I also got in 3 – 4 decent speedworks with the Boulder Track Club most months. Once the trails were clear and somewhat dry I added two to three hour-long runs per weeks featuring about a 1,000 feet of elevation gain. My favorite loop for this is the SkunkCanyon – Mesa Trail – Bear Canyon Loop. This was actually a pretty reasonable approximation of course conditions to boot.

Lodging & Packet Pick-up

The packet pick-up was efficient and the staff there was very helpful. Aside from the usual fliers for other races I was pleased to see a nice cotton t-shirt and some electrolyte tablets. My friend and I went into town to pick up our free water bottle and then went to get dinner.

Sheridan is the nearest town of appreciable size and has plenty of good lodging options if you are not up for camping. When I was planning the race we were still thinking of taking the family and so we opted to stay at the Holiday  Lodge Motel. A nice bonus of this place was that it was within walking distance of the pre-race official pasta dinner – a decent $12 all-you-could eat pasta and pizza buffet at Ole Pizza.

From our hotel there was a nice bikepath along the river. My friend and I used this for a short shakedown run to loosen our legs after the six-hour drive from Boulder. There was a massive mayfly hatch happening which kinda made we wish I had brought a rod.

Race-day logistics

I would recommend getting a bus ticket from the Dayton Community Center. Since I was either going solo or not going to make my family share my wee-hours-of-the-morning fun this was a good deal for me. We drove to the community center in Dayton (about 30 min from Sheridan) and got on the buses with about 5 – 10 minutes to spare. The drive to the start at Dry Fork was a beautiful winding uphill road that forecasted the quad-pounding downhills that we would be enduring.


It was around 60 °F at the start but the forecast was calling for things to crack 90 °F. My train-up constraints (and personal preferences) had put most of my training in the morning and I was worried about the heat. I decided to go against conventional wisdom and try some electrolyte tablets that came in the race packet for the first time on race-day (which turned out to be a good call). From having run in Colorado I knew the high desert summer could make it hard to appreciate how much you had sweated and lost in salts.

The 50k course started with a 500-ft / mile climb which I planned to take easy. I would push on the ridgeline and then try to survive the descent back into the valley. From there I hoped to use my strength in hill climbing after the dry fork aid station. Then I would once again try to survive the even longer downhill. The last 5 miles were on a comparably level dirt road which I planned to reserve enough energy to make a hard push on. I had trained with Gu gels which happened to be what they stocked at aid stations. I planned to have a gel at each and then maybe some salty foods in the second half. It was never more than six miles between aid stations so I decided to go with one 12-oz hand-held water bottle.

Elevation Profile from Strava
Race Description

I managed to stick fairly closely to my race strategy. The climb up to the ridgeline was non-trivial but it was early in the race and we all took things fairly easy. I was in fourth place by the time we made the top and held site of 2nd and 3rd as we went along the ridgeline. There were nice alternating patches of open meadows with beautiful views and welcomed patches of shady trees.

Photo courtesy of Rob Finley
A little before six miles we came to the first aid station. One of the volunteers asked if I had done this course before. When he learned I hadn’t he warned me of the upcoming descent. As I expected I was passed by four other runners as I navigated the descent. It was not technical (like going to down a rock-strewn boulder field) but at times the trail was spotty and sometimes across open meadow marked only by flagging. I most often got lost when a runner would pass me and I would mental relax a bit and follow them. Fortunately, none of the of “trail” adventures were too far and we eventually rejoined a service road or well-worn trails for the rest of the way.

Some typical service roads
Photo courtesy of Rob Finley
At the bottom of the first ridge we joined the course with the 50 and 100-milers. These weary souls were easy to recognize and inspiring in their determination. It put my minor aches rather in perspective. While it made it easy to loose site of my 50k competitors, the company was more than adequate compensation.

After a slow but steady uphill I made it back to the 50k (and 30k) start at Dry Fork. By this point I had caught up to three of the runners that passed me on the downhill. After some Gu, water, Gu-water and two of the four electrolyte tablets, I started on the slow ascent up the second ridge.

On the way here I got to know Dan and Monty – two of the runners who passed me on the downhill. We walked one of the steeper inclines and then Dan and Monty starting pulling away. I kept plodding along and eventually saw Dan off to the side working on a cramp. I gave him my last two electrolyte tablets and some encouragement before going on my way.

At this point I started running into some of the 30k runners. We were in the high meadows and, as promised in the course description, there were wildflowers everywhere. Somewhere around mile 18 I got the feeling that I was going to make this and maybe even finish in good form.

The much promised meadows of wildflowers
After the meadows we began our descent into the canyon. The day was bringing its full heat to bear. Perhaps all the good downhill runners who were going to pass me had already done so or maybe the previous 20 miles had taken their toll on everyone, but no one passed me the rest of the race as I made my way down the canyon. Occasionally I was able to mentally step back from the pain in my quads and appreciate what a beautiful site the canyon was.

Starting the descent
Photo credit: Rob Finley
As we got to the bottom I saw the rock arch that adorned every race shirt and many a memorabilia of the Bighorn Wilderness. This presaged the final aid station and the last five miles of dirt road. While parts of this last stretch of road were tough I found my training left me up to the task and I was able (at least mentally if not noticeably) to push the pace. At some point along the way I passed my friend Monty to move into fifth place.

The iconic rock arch
Photo credit: Rob Finley
Scott Bicentenial Park was a beautiful site. When I was waiting for my friend to finish I saw a lady scanning folks’ bibs as they came in. I never noticed her, but at that point the finish line sign was the only thing I noticed. She could have been doing jumping jacks and back flips while scanning my number and I wouldn’t have noticed.

My feet and lips were buzzing after I finished and I sat for about a half-hour recovering. The volunteers brought me various fluids and wet towels. The home stretch parallels a beautiful river and I joined several other runners in sitting down in it. It was the perfect depth and temperature.

Aid stations

Aid Station Distances and Elevation Gain from my watch & Garmin Connect
The aid station volunteers and aid stations themselves were great. All of the volunteers were encouraging and imparted great energy to all the runners as they went through. The aid stations that were near the river had pitchers of river water that they would dump on you (fortunately they were held by volunteers or I probably would have accidentally filled my water bottle with one of them). While I went for the Gu, Gu-drink and salty chips there was a nice assortment of fruit (grapes, water mellon and oranges) as well as sweets.

For the course rules I had been worried about missing a check-in, but the volunteers were great about catching your number as you went through.


There was a nice standard fare of picnic food with hamburgers, hot dogs, potato salad, cole slaw, water mellon, oranges and chips. I took my food and found a good spot in the shade to watch for my friend and the other runners. It was inspiring to see the range of 100 milers and 30k runners who competed on this hot and beautiful course.

When my friend finished we took the race shuttle back to our vehicles at the community center. It was still open and we were able to use the showers before getting on the road. Definitely bring some shower gear.

Parting Thoughts

It was a challenging and beautiful course and one that I would recommend to anyone looking to do their first ultra. A marathon training program prepared me well although a bit more training on technical descents would have served me well.

16 states down, 34 to go.

Map courtesy of EPG soft

Saturday, January 23, 2016

The Resolve 10k

One of the things that I decided to give up in 2016 was racing alone. For me running has always been a mix of community and solo and for a while races were like that too. Many times in the last few years I had decided that I wanted to do a 5k or a 10k and just gone down to Denver or somewhere, run the race and then come home. But running with the KRM reminded me of the fun of running with friends both before, during and after the run. I decided that going down to a race by myself just was not that fun anymore. So when two friends from the Boulder Track Club said they were running a 10k on an open Saturday I decided to jump onboard.

Parking for the Resolve 10k
The best place I have found for parking at the City Park races is right of E 23rd street almost immediately after you turn off of Colorado. From here it is a 10 minute walk (half mile) to the registration. It was about 17 °F when I picked up my bib. Good thing the bathroom was heated.

Registration area
For a warm-up I found it helpful to run the first mile of the course. Even having done it once before it is a somewhat confusing set of turns in the first mile and it’s nice to be able to know how to run the tangents in the first mile.

This race was cold. Earlier in the week it had been in the high 20’s and I was hoping that it would be warm enough to race in shorts. This was not to be. Fortunately I had brought a pair of gloves with mitten pull-overs. These have been a great cold-weather pair of gloves which have saved my hands on many sub-25 °F runs. The bathrooms, while having only curtains for doors were well heated and not too crowded even 15 minutes before the start.

It did indeed feel like 5 F
The course itself consisted a 5k loop which you did once or twice depending on the race. I was happy to see that this race posted itscourse online for study before which was very useful. The one discrepancy was in how you ran the traffic circle in the middle – but this was well marked and worked much better as it was executed with runners who were going in opposite directions on opposite sides of the traffic circle (instead of on the same side).

Course on the website
Actual course
There were about 150 runners at the start and the announcements were a little long. Someone from Work Options for Women talked about the worthy cause that our registration money was going towards. The 5k and 10k runners all start together but things thinned out pretty quickly. A somewhat crazy dude in shorts and a singlet took off to lead the 5k. He took along one of the 10k runners (who I learned after dropped down to the 5k).

You go dude in singlet in 20 degree weather
The roads were also pretty clear of snow and ice – save one or two less-traveled spots. The first / third mile loops around several roundabouts and you do have to pay attention to run your tangents. Then you run on the south side of the zoo up a very slight incline to the 2 / 5 mile turn-around. The loop finishes out with a fairly straight run past the eastern side of the lake and then a fairly straight shot to the finish.

And we're off!
After a somewhat ambitious start of a 3:19 and a 3:30 kilometer I was passed by the fellow who eventually won the race. He maintained a 15-second lead as we both settled into a 3:36 km (5:49 mile) pace. I finished with a 35:58 which my watch claimed was 9.95 km – well within the margin of error for a pretty darn accurate course in my books.

The race provided free photos which is a nice feature I have seen in a few races now. They aren’t as fancy as other races but they also aren’t a comical price. Your bib also gets you a free drink after a nearby bar where they do awards.

A bit faded yes, but not $7.99

I cooled down with the Boulder Track Club folks that I ran with and went on home. This is a pretty fast course and a good winter primer for the summer racing season. I’d do this one again.

Saturday, November 7, 2015

New York City Marathon

While I was still stewing in the sands of Kuwait, Alita and I passed some of our phone conversation dreaming up a fun fall trip. We settled on trying for a week in New York, anchored on the New York City Marathon. While neither of us desire to live in a large city, we both love travel and doing touristy things that a city like New York has to offer.

Such as posing in front of the Brooklyn Bridge and Manhattan skyline
At over 50,000 finishers, the New York City Marathon is the largest marathon in the world. In spite of having more spots available than your average race, there are still more willing runners than spots. New York does a hybrid approach of a lottery and a qualifying standard. Sadly, my training for the Boise Marathon was so-so and my time was about 30 seconds above the qualifying time*; so, into the lottery it was. Fortune smiled on my hot and dusty circumstances and in a few weeks I got the email letting me know that I would get to be a part of it.


One of the first things that you are asked to choose fairly early in the process is a checked bag versus a space blanket. Most marathons that handle a mere thousand or so runners offer both, but in New York you get one or the other. In the numerous races and marathons that I have done I have had pretty good luck with getting my bag. I felt it would be nice to have my cell phone for linking up with fellow runners before the race and my wife after the race. I opted for the checked bag.

The other choice was what ferry you would take to Staten Island. There was a definite benefit to signing up for your transportation option early as the later ferries filled up first leaving the procrastinators to get a 5am or earlier ferry and have a little more time with their 50,000 closest friends at the starting area.

For our lodging, we went with Air Bnb. Hotels closed in on $200 a night pretty quickly so these were out for us. While there were some Air BnB places I saw in the $50 – 60 range they did not have the queen bed we were looking for or they did not respond**. We decided to stay in Brooklyn near prospect heights (partially because it was near a friend). It was a 30 minute train ride to the start and many good rooms were available for $100/night. Had we been able to snag a Manhattan room for around $100 that would have been better for post-race site-seeing though.

Training for this race started about when I got back from Kuwait. I was able to get in almost all of my long runs. My biggest deficiency was that my family took two separate week-long trips that cut into my overall mileage and speedworks. I ran one trial 10-k about three weeks out in 36:11. I was fairly happy with this race and my pace although my splits faded a little towards the end. I would have preferred to do a 10k and a half marathon as warm-up races but it was a busy summer and fall.

Expo and Packet Pick-up

By total luck, I ran into one of my good running friends from Maine on W 46th street on the way to the Expo. He mentioned that he was going to a Broadway play in the afternoon. If I do New York again I think a 2 p.m. matinee would be a great way to relax before the race. You can get half-priced tickets at the TKTS booth in Times Square on the way to the expo if you hit up the expo in the morning.

The packet pick-up was well organized and pretty easy. I went around 1 p.m. on Saturday and had my number and shirt in less than 10 minutes. The expo itself was unremarkable. There was 50 percent off Asics gear but the line was rather long and I did not need anything in particular at the moment. There were the usual plethora of energy gel, gummy and bar samples.

Entering the Expo

The one thing interesting for a first-timer like myself was the course strategy talk that they gave every hour on the hour near the entrance.

The worth-attending strategy session

One really neat discovery that I made just before the Expo was the TCS New York Marathon app. Among its coolest features, this app allowed you to track up to 10 runners. It would not only give you about 10 splits on the course but it would use this information to predict their finishing time and location on the course – both of which proved pretty accurate. It also had a neat course map that let you jump to various locations by touching the point on the elevation map.

Tracking friends in the marathon

Nice way to preview the course

Race Morning

The one drawback to using Air BnB (as opposed to a hotel) was that this year Halloween fell on the Saturday right before the marathon. There was a mild party (and I do actually mean mild – think normal music and talking, not keg stands) above the apartment that we stayed in. Fortunately, the hosts were nice and turned down the music when I talked to them in my running shorts and shirt at 1 a.m.

In spite of the festivities, I managed to get enough sleep (and had enough adrenaline anyway) that I felt pretty fine as I walked to catch the R train from Brooklyn to the Staten Island Ferry. While it would have been bad form to go at a time other than the one I signed up for, it was good to see that no one really checked us as we got on the ferry so were an unfortunate runner to miss the time he or she signed up for, they would still get to the start.

Pre dawn Manhattan skyline

The Statue of Liberty lit up with the morning sun
New York has three starting areas organized by color (corresponding to three slightly different but equidistant courses over the first three miles). I drew the blue village. This was especially fortunate as one of my friends who served with me in Kuwait also drew this corral and we were able to pass the time before the race together.

KRM reunion
He also showed me a rather underused set of latrines in the blue village that I was very grateful for. The ones right before entered the starting area were mobbed within an hour of the check-in time, but these ones (just a 5 minute walk away) had virtually no line.

Less used latrines shown on the right of the Blue Village
I stuck to my usual pre-race strategy of oatmeal when I got up at 4 a.m. and I stopped drinking water about two hours before the start (to ensure that I would not get caught in the long pre-race lines). I was well hydrated from the days leading up to the race and it was not overly hot for this November race so I figured this was reasonably safe. While I was far enough up to not worry, another good piece of advice from my friend Bret for this race (and Boston) was to carry your own water bottle for the first few miles so that you do not have to fight your way through the earliest water / Gatorade stations.

Just before the 9 a.m cut-off I dutifully went into the Blue A1 corral. There I truly randomly met up with a fellow Tuesday Tempo Runner, Brian MacPhearson, from the Boulder Trail Runners. Around 9:30 or so, we started moving towards the start.

The one thing that I would do differently if I do this race again is to take advantage of the one open area on the way to the start to jog as far to the front as possible. Instead I simply stayed ahead of the 3 hr pace sign, figuring that most of the runners around me would be running in the 2:45 range (or a close enough pace at the start). Instead I found the pace off the gun to be oddly slow for the A1 coral and I am pretty sure I lost about 90 seconds off my finishing time. While not a big deal in the grand scheme of my race, I would have been rather sad if I had been within 90 seconds of my PR.

Here the crowds open up on the way to the start and you have a brief chance to get further forward

A Course is a Course, of course, of course

NYC Marathon Course (courtesy of their site)
After the first half-kilometer things started to open up. My ambitious goal was to get close to a 2:40 which translated to a 3:47 kilometer. As I mentioned in a previous post, I have switched to using kilometer splits on my watch for races as I like the faster feedback and the feeling of seeing milestones (or kilometer-stones) go by faster. To keep on-pace I set up a watch screen with my split time, split pace and split distance. By glancing at the average split pace from time to time I was able to nail my kilometer splits right up until about kilometer 25 when the wind and the two missed weeks of training started to catch up with me.

The course through Brooklyn and Queens was fantastic. We had a light southwesterly tailwind and great crowds. My good friend who lives just west of Prospect Park got my attention and gave me a good boost at mile 7.

Unfortunately, I missed my wife at mile 8. She had a good course watching strategy though. She saw me at mile 8 and would have made the subway stop to see me at mile 16 but got caught up by some weekend subway route changes. Instead she went to mile 25 in Central Park (which I think she could have made even if she caught me at mile 16). She able to get up to the front (and thus get a kiss on the way by) and provide some much-needed support.

For me things started getting tough around kilometer 25 (mile 16). My splits started to inch up into the low 3:50’s. Then we crossed over the Queensboro Bridge and the nice tailwind became a headwind. Suddenly the overcast conditions which had been a blessing combined with the wind to make me feel a bit cold. My splits broke 4:00 where they stayed for most of the remaining 15 kilometers. While I had fallen off my goal pace, I was heartened to feel that I was not falling apart (I did fortunately get in all but one of my long runs). My legs were tired but my mind was still in the game.

At this point I must also confess that I goofed with my shoe management. The two pairs that I had trained up in were too old and I ordered my new pair too late. While I managed just fine in my Gel-Lyte 33’s with only 25 pre-marathon miles on them, I did suffer through some minor hot-spots. It was an embarrassingly rookie move.

The Gel-Lyte 33's have served me well, but they do need some seasoning. . .
The legendary crowds on First Avenue kept my splits near 4:00. Even the light hill at mile 21 did not throw things off more than 10 seconds a kilometer. When I saw Alita at mile 25 I made a beeline for her (the throngs of runners were not too bad) and gave her a quick kiss. Armed with the energy of seeing my favorite person in the world I pushed though the last two kilometers and apparently made the TV coverage. I was happy with my time of 2:47:42. Even though it was 6 minutes off my PR, I was happy that I kept mentally together and I still felt I ran a reasonably smart race.

Photo courtesy of Cathy Sibly

Post race

Stop twisting my arm, we'll go, we'll go!
The one disadvantage of using the bag-check is that I had about a mile walk ahead of me once I finished. On the other hand, I like to walk a lot on the afternoon following a marathon and so even this detail was actually a bit of a blessing.

Alita and I stuck to the advice from the expo and picked a link-up spot a couple of blocks west of Central Park. As a bag check runner I left the park around 85th Street. We linked up at Zabar’s at 4th and 72nd. After a spinach knish and cheese blintz we met up with Bret and his nephew.

From there Alita and I walked the Highline Park. This converted above-ground train track is a great example of urban renewal at its best.  We were treated to great sunset views as we lounged on some wooden lawn-style chairs near the southern end.

Our favorite post-race sites

If you can spare flying back on Tuesday, New York has more than you can do in a couple years’ worth of weekends. We took a week to explore, but if we only had Monday I would have done one or two of the following:

1.       Statue of Liberty / Ellis Island: Tickets to the crown disappear months out and even the pedestal tickets go a few weeks out. However, I think a pretty good tour can be done without either of these perks (after all, you can’t see the statue from her crown). I would go early as the statue and Ellis island can take you well into the afternoon. We skipped the audio-guide for one of the ranger tours and it was a good call.

2.       Broadway show: if you don’t do it on Saturday afternoon, an evening show would be fun. The TKTS gives out some pretty amazing seats. When they said we were in the orchestra section I did not realize we would be able to pat the conductor on the back.

3.       Tenement Museum: This museum is by guided tour only and most tours run around $25, but it’s worth it. We did both a walking tour and a building  tours (Hard Times).  We both  liked the building tour  better.

There were, of course, other places that I would recommend with more time and there were many more restaurants with yummy food than I feel like covering. While I remain convinced that the city is not for me, New York was definitely an amazing race and some of the best post-race fun that I have had.

15 states down, 35 to go.

* Someone told me later that the qualifying time does not necessarily guarantee you entry – it just greatly increases the odds.

** Had we been staying for just the weekend I think we could have nabbed a couch surfing room, but as we wanted to get a week of New York in we were not able to find any takers.

 [KAH1]Look into what my algorithms predicted for this race