Friday, October 31, 2014

New York City Marathon Tips and Tricks

This weekend is the New York City Marathon. To be completely honest, I'm having serious FOMO. While I'm in no way ready to tackle another 26.2 I do wish I was in the city to experience the magic that is the New York City Marathon. In honor of my favorite race I thought I would share some of my favorite moments from the weekend as well as some tips and tricks I learned along the way.

Race Weekend

Opening Ceremony. I wasn't sure if this was going to be awesome or a waste of time last year but I had SO much fun. Each country is announced and walked-in Olympics-style. While waiting for the USA to enter I had a blast chatting with other runners from all over the country. The real fun started once all the countries had come through and it was time to bring in the professional runners. The highlight for me was getting a high five from Meb because let's be honest, who doesn't love Meb? This event is held on Friday afternoon and is free for both runners and spectators. If you can't participate I recommend at least checking it out from the stands. The energy there was unreal and if possible made me even more excited for the race.

Expo. GO EARLY. I can't emphasize this enough. If you're only option is to go on Saturday try to go early in the morning. I got there around 9:30 and walked right through but by the time we were leaving the line was down the street. I know a lot of runners don't like to spend much time at the expo because it means more time on your feet but I actually enjoyed walking around a bit and soaking everything in. I knew this was an opportunity I wouldn't have again for awhile so I didn't want to rush through it. There were also some cool seminars that you could sit down and watch. My second tip for the expo is that if you want official merchandise get it now. Don't wait until Monday morning because a lot will be sold out.

Pre-race dinner. This might depend on where you are staying but I had no trouble getting a table despite not having a reservation. My dad and I stayed at my uncle's on the Upper West Side and were able to find a restaurant without a wait within walking distance in less than 10 minutes. For me part of the fun of going to new places is discovering new restaurants. I'm not a big fan of planning ahead for meals unless you have diet restrictions. Before getting to NYC I had read I wouldn't be able to find anywhere to eat without a reservation. At least on the Upper West Side that wasn't true.

Race Morning

Getting to the Staten Island Ferry. First, wake up earlier than necessary if you are planning on taking the subway downtown. When I got on the subway it wasn't that crowded and both my dad and I were able to get seats. The farther downtown we got the more crowded the subway got. Some people had to wait for the next subway to come because it was just so crowded. Another note about taking the subway. The Staten Island Ferry Terminal is a smaller station and only part of the subway can fit inside the station. At the stop before the Ferry Terminal we had to stop and half the train had to relocate to another car.

The ferry & bus rides. I got to the Staten Island Ferry around 7:20, planning on taking the 7:30 ferry. My assigned ferry time was 6:15 but the thing about the ferry ride is that everyone goes at the wrong time. There was no one checking when your assigned time was so you could really go whenever you wanted. The caveat is that the later ferries are more crowded. I got there at 7:20 planning on taking the 7:30 but ended up taking the 7:45. When the gate opened it was like a black Friday shopping mad-dash.

On the ferry you can choose to go on the deck with the amazing views or down below where it's warm. I chose warmth and never regretted it. There were windows allowing you to still see Lady Liberty and there was never a line for the bathroom. Plus, if you are going to be spending a good chunk of time waiting around once you get to Staten Island you might want any possible chance to be warm. Once you get off the ferry the next order or business is getting in line for the bus to take you to Fort Wadsworth. This was pretty uneventful but it did take some time. And I remember someone sitting on almost everyone's lap. I guess a lot of people were running late?

Fort Wadsworth. I don't remember how long either the ferry or bus rides took but I do know that I got on the ferry at 7:45 and was in the starting village by 9:15. With a 10:05 start time my corral closed at 9:35. While everything worked out pretty perfectly for me, I don't recommend getting there so late. If possible take the 7:30 ferry, 7:45 at the latest. Once I got off the bus I didn't have a chance to sit down at all. This was good in that I was never too cold because I wasn't sitting around the whole morning. At the same time, I barely had enough time to go to the bathroom before the corral closed. My biggest tip for this part of the day is to have plenty of throw away gear. It can be cold out there, even if you are only there for 45 minutes. I wore sweatpants, a sweatshirt, a bathrobe and gloves. The bathrobe turned out to be a lifesaver because of the pockets.

The Race
I'm sure there are enough mile by mile analyses of this course so I thought I would brake down the race by borough and include a few tips about the course as well as what my favorite parts were.

Staten Island/Verrazano. Miles 1-2. The start is one of only two places during the entire race where there are no spectators. I know it sounds cheesy but the start of this race is truly magical. The cannon goes off and you slowly start making your way across the bridge to the sound of New York, New York. Take in the sights and sounds. The view from the bridge is spectacular and one you don't want to miss. My two main thoughts while on the bridge were that it felt like we had been on the bridge for SO LONG, and whether or not the crowds would live up to all the hype. Exiting the bridge was like Christmas morning. You can hear the crowds, you know they're coming, but you still don't really know what to expect.

Brooklyn. Miles 3-13. You will quickly find that the crowds 100% live up to the hype. Aside from Fifth Avenue to the finish, Brooklyn was my favorite part of the race. There were so many little kids out cheering and high-fiving it was hard not to have a blast. I remember during these miles being in awe of how genuinely supportive and excited the spectators were. You could feel how proud of their neighborhoods they were and it made you proud to be running.

Queens. Miles 13-14. Queens doesn't normally get a lot of love and it often credited as not being a very exciting part of the race. As someone who didn't know the city and the different boroughs that well, I couldn't tell much difference between Queens and Brooklyn. This is a good time to check in with yourself and mentally prepare yourself for the most famous miles of the course coming up.

Queensboro Bridge. Mile 15. Ah, the Queensboro Bridge. This is the one mile during the race where the only people around you are the other runners. Even though this is a challenging part of the race it was still one of my favorites. Use the quietness to your advantage and get ready for the wall of noise that is First Avenue.

Manhattan. Miles 16-19. I personally thought these mile didn't live up to the hype but I was also in a ton of pain at this point and anything involving running was pretty miserable to me. The spectators on First are unlike anywhere else though. I would advise against having friends and family spectate during these miles though. There are so many people that it can be hard to find exactly who you are looking for. Have them cheer you on somewhere quieter where you really need the support.

Bronx. 20-21. Like Queens, this is an often underrated part of the course. While the crowds are significantly smaller than First Avenue and even in Brooklyn, the Bronx really got out there last year and showed that they love the marathon just as much as the other boroughs.

Fifth Avenue. 22-24. These last two sections were my absolute favorite of the entire race. You are so close to the finish that you can almost taste it. These miles actually reminded me of the feeling I got just before entering Brooklyn. You know something really special is just ahead but you aren't quite there yet.

Central Park/Finish. 25-26.2. Running in and around Central Park was like a dream come true for me. Despite this being one of the most challenging parts of the course with the hills, it is certainly one of the most rewarding. It was during this part of the race that I truly felt like I was a part of something bigger than myself. Cheesy, yes. True? Also yes.


Leaving Central Park. Once you finish the race you get to spend an extra hour in Central Park waiting in line to leave. Unless you absolutely have to, opt-out of bag-check. It will get you out of the park considerably faster. Plus, if you chose not to check a bag last year you got a super warm fleece poncho to keep you warm.

Meeting up with family/friends. Near Central Park is an absolute mob house. It is swarming with runners, spectators, family members, personnel, cops, you name it. My dad and I discussed our meeting spot the night before the race and planned on meeting at a Chipotle two streets over. Yes, walking over there was a pain in my ass but I had no trouble whatsoever finding him. I did run with my cell phone, which is really handy for meeting up with people post race, but if you don't have your phone on you picking out a meeting spot is a must. Keep in mind that you will be walking almost a mile within the park so don't pick a spot across from the finish line. Minimize any extra walking you may have to do.

Monday morning. If you are able to stick around in New York an extra night, I recommend heading back over to Central Park on Monday morning to check out the finishers gear. Any extra gear from the expo is also for sale, plus you can get your medal engraved. The only downside is that there was a pretty long line last year so get there early.

Have a great Halloween and New York City Marathon weekend everyone!

Friday, October 24, 2014

Best + Worst of Racing

What better way to celebrate the end of triathlon season and the middle of marathon season with a look at some of your best and worst racing experiences. Some of my answers really surprised me!

Best (or Worst) of My Racing History

Best crowd support
I don't think there is any race with better crowd support than the New York City Marathon. The only part of the course with no spectators was the Queensboro Bridge and once you enter Manhattan you are greeted with a wall of screaming spectators. I seek out races with lots of crowd support so obviously I loved this race. I mean, its the New York City Marathon!

Hottest race
Hands down General Smallwood International Triathlon 2012. The real temperature was over 100 with a heat index of 107. Forty athletes were pulled from the course and the sprint triathlon the following day was cancelled because of the extreme heat. And this was my first triathlon. Oof.

Coldest race
The York YMCA Turkey Trot 5K 2013. It was somewhere around 25 degrees. Enough said.

Most beautiful course
Rev3 Pocono Mountains 70.3 2014. Despite how hard this course was, it was absolutely gorgeous. I remember spending the majority of the bike looking around in awe of how gorgeous the course was. Definitely recommend checking out the Poconos.

Best finishers shirt
I'm not normally that into race shirts but all I wanted from the NYC Marathon expo was a finishers jacket. After getting up at 7:30 and waiting in line for almost an hour the jacket I wanted was sold out in my size. My dad knew how much I wanted that jacket and called every running store in New York to find one. Opening it up on Christmas morning without him there was beyond heartbreaking.

Worst finishers shirt
York YWCA Y-Tri Ladies Sprint Triathlon 2013. It was actually a tank top but it was so ill fitting that I gave it away.

Hilliest course
Sneaks Come out at Night 15k 2012. I ran this race as a tune up for the NYC Marathon that never happened in 2012 and despite the hills I actually really liked this race. It was three loops of Druid Hill Park in Baltimore. By the third loop I was ready to roll down the hills instead.

Flattest course
Diamondman Sprint Triathlon 2013. This race was so flat I actually wanted a hill and it was only 19 miles of biking. I never realized how much I use downhills for recovering until this race. Either way it made for some speedy splits.

Best start line
You had to know I was going to pick the NYC Marathon. I just don't think any race out there can beat running over the Verrazano to New York, New York with 50,000+ other people. It's one you really need to experience for yourself.

Best finish line
I spent a lot of time deciding which race had the best finish line but I'm going to have to go with the NYC Marathon again. Partly because I had such a hard race but felt strong during those last few miles and partly because of the magnitude of this race. Plus Central Park in early November is stunning.

Most emotional finish
I find it ironic looking back that this race was the most emotional finish given some of the other races I have done. At this year'sYork YWCA Y-Tri Ladies Sprint Triathlon I crossed the finish line and promptly collapsed onto the track in a ball of tears. While I crossed first, I knew I hadn't won based on other start times. Even though winning was my goal, I finished this race with nothing in the tank and performed significantly better than I thought I could considering I felt like the tank was empty from the start.

Best finish line food
Although the selection isn't large, at the Keystone State Sprint Triathlon the finish line food is Panera breakfast sandwiches. Something about the carbs and saltiness is absolutely perfect post race.

Best overall swag/gear
I may be biased for this because I was a college ambassador but at the Nike Women's Half Marathon 2013 we were treated to a free Ellie Goulding concert the night before the race. About ten of us got to chat with her after the concert as well. On race morning I got to hang out in the VIP tent with the likes of Shalane Flanagan and Joan Benoit Samuelson. It's going to take a lot to beat that.

Coolest medal
At the Nike Women's Half Marathon 2013 they gave out Tiffany's necklaces instead of finishers medals. While I don't wear it that often, I like the idea of getting something I can use instead of another medal.

Most disappointing finish
I trained so hard to break two hours at the Rock N' Roll Philadelphia Half Marathon 2012 but didn't come close with a 2:08. A few weeks after the race I discovered my garmin needed to be recalibrated and had been clocking distances incorrectly. This was one of those races where you just know you could have done better and it eats away at you.

Race that took the most mental strength
My first marathon (Harrisburg Marathon 2012) was hands down the hardest race for me to make it through. Not even half way through the race I felt like complete shit and wanted to quit. 16 miles is a long way to go when you don't want to be running anymore.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Off-Season Updates

It is officially off-season around here. My days have consisted of very little swim, bike, run and lots of catching up on what I put off while training. I am in my last semester of undergrad so this means the majority of my time has been spent on schoolwork. I am really excited about my senior research project and even though it is a ton of work, it is also really rewarding. And somehow between wrapping up my triathlon season and diving back into school, it is already October. So here's what I've been up to and how I plan on spending the rest of my off-season.

Grad school. I went on my first grad school visit this past weekend and am even more sure now that grad school is the right decision for me. I loved the campus, the city and mostly the program. The other programs I am looking at are farther away so I probably won't be visiting them until I am accepted. Ever since I got back I have been geeking out about the school and finding everything I possibly can about what life is like. Fingers crossed!

Biking. Graduation came a little early around here. Kind of. I still don't graduate until December 18th but I went ahead and pulled the plug on a graduation gift: a new bike! I was looking for a tri bike and stumbled upon a Felt B12 in my size about an hour from campus. I checked it out a few times and loved it more and more every time I test rode it. I have been trying to take advantage of this last bit of warmer weather by getting outside whenever possible. I'm still getting used to being in aero but so far so good.

Running. I have not run or gotten in the pool yet since my half. That will be changing this week though. I am planning on swimming 1-2 times a week depending on my schoolwork. Running is going to be a priority for me. I am going to be taking this off-season to work on improving my run speed by training for the local Turkey Trot 5K. Hopefully this year I'll be able to throw down a time I'm actually proud of.

Nutrition. While I'm not an advocate of diets like Paleo or Whole30, I am taking these couple light months to cut out processed foods and focus on eating healthy and whole produce and fats. I have eliminated almost all grains from my diet mostly because I don't really need to be eating them so frequently. If I'm out with friends I try to eat healthy but don't worry about eating grains or dairy. Life is about balance and enjoying the process.