Chicago marathon 2017, sights, food and more

View from the Willis Tower

The day finally came.  It felt like I have been training for ever. But to be precise I started in May way before  school ended.  Like many fall marathons the bulk of the mileage falls in the hottest months where training days blur into each other.  I decided to alter my training plan to include different types of crosstraining modalities to help with monotony of “just running” and to give my muscles a nice dynamic strength.  What really helped as well was me signing up for Flat as a Pancake Triathlon in June and NY Triathlon the first week of August.  Swimming and biking really added a nice dynamic to the training.   (A note: this was my second marathon, the first was NYC last year, so I will be comparing to NYC a lot).  

In front of the famous Bean sculpture

The training.    I decided to follow Hal Higdons marathon plan.  He has plans which target every type of runner: novice, intermediate and advanced and a really cool part is they are FREE.  I printed out all 4 novice plans.  The training ranges from 3 day a week to 5 day a week running.  I decided to combine all 4 plans and include swim, bike and weight training.  The plan had me run 3 days (never consecutive) with running Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday; Monday and Wednesday swimming and biking; and weight training Monday thru Thursday with a complete day off on Sunday and no cardio (rest leg day) on Fridays.  (A note: I slightly altered my plan from last year where I was running 4 days a week on consecutive days).   I think it worked out really well and the end result is something I’m really proud of.  

First half mile into the marathon

The injury.    I was a couple of weeks into my training when a huge mistake on my part caused me to have some really nagging  and recurring injury all thru my training leading up to the big day.  I was not paying attention to my surroundings when I accidentally with full force swung my leg into a construction pole injuring my right quad.  The resulting injury caused some quad atrophy and consequently a misfiring in the muscle fibers.  My quad wasn’t able to fire properly causing my IT band to become inflamed and tight giving me pain pretty much every run longer than 5 miles. It was extremely painful and frustrating but I didn’t let that deter me.  I started physical and massage therapy, extensive stretching and foam rolling, TENS unit applications with heat and a weight training routine (unilateral legs) to strengthen that quad muscle.  Ideally rest would’ve been the best option but I couldn’t afford that luxury.  Did it work?   I’d like to think yes.  It never got worse but it never got better.  The runs were getting longer and more intense and that IT band did not want to deal with it.   In my training I like to go over the recommended 20 mile long run leading up to 24 miles.  But this training I could only make it to 22 miles.  I had one more super long run but I decided to cut that short in leiu of my bothersome friend.  After all I need my leg to be it’s best at the actual event.  No point to push it.    

Wrigley Field
Wrigley Field

The training was finally done and the big day fast approaching.  My favorite part-the TAPER!   Oh how wonderful it was.   Ok, truth time-I get anxious and nervous about the big event and the fact that I can’t run that much anymore and now I have all this free time to do what??  Well, this year I didn’t even feel the taper.   Between the kids school activities, packing for the trip and taking care of my new baby kitty, it’s a really cool story which I will write up about in my next blog, there was not much downtime.  Truth be told I kinda enjoyed having a bit more time to plan and do all those things.  I tried to also keep my weight training and swimming up but not the biking.  By the last week I was down to calisthenics, short swim and light runs with some stretching.  

View of downtown and the river

Going to Chicago.    We left Friday morning    We had an early flight with a full itenerary complete with sightseeing and deep dish pizza.  The flight was super quick and we ended up taking a blue line (subway) to our hotel.  We stayed at the Hilton Garden Inn in the center Loop.  The train system is really easy to navigate especially for us New Yorkers.  

House of Blues

Sights.      I’m not going go into detail of all the sights we visited, just going to list them out.  Friday: arrival, money museum, marathon expo.  Saturday: Wrigley Field Tour, Navy Pier and the Carousel, House of Blues.   Sunday: marathon and Architechture River Cruise.  Monday: Willis tower, departure.  

Giordano’s deep dish pizza

Food.     First thing’s first-deep dish PIZZA!   We picked Lou Malnati a very popular chain.  The signature pie was everything you would expect from deep dish-buttery crust, delicious homemade sauce , cheese and a sausage patty that covers the whole pie.  Perfection! And 2 slices made us full for the rest of the day.  We also tried a different deep dish pizza from another very popular chain on our last day in Chicago-Giordano’s.  Their pizza was also very delicious and filling but very different.  We also got the signature pie.  The pizza had a nice crust, extremely stringy cheese, mushrooms, sausage and a very zesty tomato sauce.  Pizza while my absolute fave and filling and subs as a casserole slash meal still doesn’t beat the NY pizza.  Sorry Chicago deep dish, but I still love you.  Besides pizza, we also ate at the House of Blues (pre marathon) and Michael Jordan’s Steakhouse (post marathon).  House of Blues pays homage to the famed Blues Brothers and the music of that day-Blues.  Once u step your foot inside the decor just overwhelmes your senses.  Once seated we check out the menu and are pleasantly surprised by the variety.  The food was very tasty and filling and the music was perfect.  They have acoustic music every night starting at 5pm and then a band starting at 9pm.  Highly recommend.  Last but not least was my celebratory meal at Michael Jordan’s steakhouse.   High end steakhouse which has a fancy dining room and casual bar seating which serves the same food without getting all fancy.  The steaks we’re juicy and perfectly cooked. The kids devoured theirs.  Pete got the filet topped with crab meat and a side of mash potato sampler and I got the steak sandwich with house fries.  Everything was cooked perfect and top notch and tasted delicious.  Ok now that you are completely starving let’s get to the main event.  

Willis Tower from the Architecture Cruise

The Expo.      The expo was held at the big pavilion about 3 miles south from our hotel.  Completely and totally walkable…not with kids though.  We decided to take a complementary shuttle near our hotel.  Huge plus!   I would highly recommend that nice added perk.  The shuttle busses run every 15 min and are round trip.   The expo itself was in the huge convention hall something similar to Jacob Javits Center except it was bigger.  The number pickup was easy and quick.  Everyone was courteous and welcoming.  The official sponsor of the marathon is Nike so you know you will get some nice good quality merchandise.  Surprise, surprise…. not so.  The color scheme was extremely bland.  There were four plain colors: navy, grey, white and red (black was the finisher gear).  This was Chicago Marathon 40th Anniversay so we were all hoping for some nice colorful gear and a special release sneaker but we got gipped.  Not many styles to chose from either. Very disappointing.  The rest of the expo was just lacking something.  There weren’t that many vendors or variety.  There were the usual big sponsors like Brooks, North Face and Saucony (they actually released a Chicago sneaker).  But overall I would say they missed the mark coming definitely after NYC for this part.  

View from the start line. Only 26.2 till the finish

The marathon.    What to pack? Chicago weather is known to be unpredictable, much like NYC.  I kept checking the weather  all week but these forecasts are never precise until a day prior.  Since there was rain in the forecast I decided to pack 3 outfits: compression for rain, tank for hot weather and additional layers of gloves and arm warmers for cold.  When we arrived in Chicago on Friday it was muggy, foggy and rainy.  Saturday was gorgeous first part of the day and then it poured in the afternoon.  This weather is crazy!   But Sunday was shaping up to be a gorgeous sunny and hot day.   Our hotel was about a  mile walk to the start line in Grant Park.  I woke up @ 5AM to give myself plenty of time to get ready, eat and walk to the start (I was in second wave with an 8AM start).  At home before a big race I like to eat 2 eggs and 2 toast: one with butter and another with raw honey and a big mug of tea.  But I’m in a hotel and I don’t have that luxury.  Kitchen wasn’t open that time but the staff had a “marathon breakfast” of bagels and apples (things I couldn’t eat before a race cause I would get stomach cramps) but they did have hot tea and coffee.  I had a nice  hot cup of tea and my Stinger waffle.  Walking to the start in the dark was not a big deal since about a gagillion people were out that morning.  I got to the start pretty early thinking I would give myself plenty of time to go thru the security check.  (NYC security is really top notch.  You do get very thoroughly screened so I expected the same here.  But to my surprise all they did was scan us with hand-held metal detectors.  It was fast and not a big deal).  I was at my wave at 7AM.  Omg, what am I gonna do for an hour?   Stupid question, you make a friend of course!   The race started on time, always a big plus when you have been standing around and you are freezing.  But that nice cool air will soon dissipate into a distant memory.  The marathon itself is a loop course which takes you thru about 70 neighborhoods.  I decided to break up this loop mentally into 3 parts: north loop, west loop and south loop.  We started off running north.  The air was nice and cool and it was pretty shady from the buildings of downtown.  Pete and the kids walked over to see me about a half a mile in.  That was really cool.  You can definitely spectate your marathoner by taking public transport or the L (train).  Its easy and fast and you cover a lot of ground that way.   I don’t know about your kids but my kids get whiny and tired fast so they decided to watch the marathon on the TV in out hotel room.   The course itself is flat especially compared to NYC.  The biggest elevations are the small bridges we run across the river and the last .2 miles before the finish. The course had plenty of hydration stops about 1 1/2 to 2 miles apart.  There was water, Gatorade, gels, bananas on the course as well (the latter toward the end).  The crowds and spectators were great very close to NYC but there were a few spots that were barren like when we ran along the highway.  Once we got to the west part of the course the tall buildings disappeared along with the shade and the temps started to climb up very quickly.  Runners starterd to take lots of walk breaks and some were cramping.  The volunteers were also spraying us with hoses with cold water which was so refreshing.  Going into south loop was a huge tease cause we actually turned toward the finish line to then abruptly turn south and away from the end. Ugh!   No more!  It is so hot!  The breeze disappeared and the air felt like July all over again.  “Hydrate, keep hydrating!”…”keep taking salt”…”eat”.   Turning back north toward the finish line.  Yes!  Almost there!   Except, not so fast.  The last strait up run was almost 3 miles long on this wide open road with no shade to be found.   As I’m running this last stretch I start noticing many more runners walking, going off the course and in medical tents.  Then a huge crowd gathers and ambulance and stretcher make their way into course and take a runner away, last mile.  Omg!  It was only a mile left.  Poor dude.  Hope he’s ok.  (Due to rapid increase in temps many runners were forced to eaither quit, dnf or walk the last mile).  We make the sharp right turn.  There’s a huge bulletin board and I know my friends wrote me amazing encouraging words but unfortunately as I’m approaching I don’t see any for me.  But it’s last .2 miles and it’s all uphill.  Noooo! Not now! Please God!  My calf r not responding at this point.  They have officially solidified.   But I push thru.  We make a left into the Park and I can see the finish line.  I slow down and shut off my music just in time to see and hear the uproar of cheering fans.  I’m done!  I finished my 2nd marathon! I tear up just a bit to thank God for carrying me thru this tough journey and the race.  I pause my Garmin and keep walking to get my medal.  As I get that sweet medal placed on my neck by these awesome volunteers I hear my phone ring.  It’s Pete.  He congratulates me and then tells me how proud he is of me.  Please stop.  You are making me cry again.  And then he says “You PRed by 24 min.  You ran 4:05!”   What?!   No way!  How could I, it was so damn hot?   But it’s true.  I shaved almost 24 min from my NYC time last year.  I feel even more amazing.  I get my goody bag and a FREE beer and meet my family.  Oh sweet victory!   A very emotional successful end to a long, painful and tedious journey.  

Enjoying a nice steak from Michael Jordan’s Steakhouse

Final thoughts.      I would like to of course thank my very supportive family.  My husband Pete who didn’t even blink an eye after I told him last November after NYC marathon “listen, there’s a marathon in Chicago.  It’s a lotto and it’s easier to get in than NYC. What do you think? Sure.  If you get in we are going on family vacation”.   He  was there throughout every aspect of this crazy ride.  My kids who always told me “have a great run mommy” which gave me that extra boost.  Our parents who helped watch the kids when unneeded to squeeze in those runs.  Your encouragement and love carried me thru.     

View from the Willis Tower

This was a tough race.  I never expected it to be so hot.  I don’t think anyone of us was ready for the October 75F.  But this is what worked for me.  Compression!   That’s my go to.  Hat! Yes you are adding an extra layer on your head but it blocks out the sun.  Salt pills! I took one every 30 min starting with mile 1.  That’s how I trained all summer and that’s what works.  Salt holds water and keeps you hydrated. Plain and simple.  I have a strong feeling people who were cramping were not taking adequate salt and water.   My on personal water bottle!  I brought a handheld with me.  Yes it’s extra weight and after a while your arm hurts holding that thing but water stops are1 to 1 1/2 miles apart.  You grab a cup and chug it.  How much water do you think you are getting?  I know last marathon it was not enough for me.  I am a fish.  I need water.  I would see a station coming up, open the bottle and as I ran thru I would refill the whole bottle.  I actually ended up refilling it at least 5 times.  Cheerios!  We need to replenish calories we lose and we lose them fast especially as the race goes on.   I actually trained my body to burn fat as fuel.  It’s a long process but It’s worth it.  I usually good until mile 18.   Then I need food.  I used to take gels because they r sweet, convenient and have the nutrition.  But they would bother my stomach later on in the race.   (I did that in NYC marathon and ended up with bad pain and not being able to eat for days afterwards).  So I actually trained with Cheerios.  I bought organic fruity cherios from Stop n Shop for kids and they never ate them so I decided to try them out one run.  They were perfect.  Good carb source, easily digestible and didn’t bother my stomach.   And they were perfect on race day.  

A new PR for me!

NY Triathlon 8/6/17

Hey guys.  Sorry about this being a little late.  It’s been 2 weeks now since the triathlon and I’ve been deep into high mileage Chicago marathon training and rehabbing my right IT band.   Last week I went up to 20 miles on my long run, Woo Hoo!   That was a huge milestone.  Last time I did that was last year when I was training for NYC marathon.  Overall I found it to be easier to conquer vs last year.  But I did make 2 loops and a stop over home to put on my trusty compression shorts which kept my IT band happy.  Well, anyway, more about my training next time.  Let’s get to the triathlon. 

This was my second triathlon and I again decided to stay local since I’m kinda overwhelmed with the sport.  It’s not the actual discipline, while I still stink at swimming, but the transitions.   I have to plan and bring a lot more stuff vs a running race.   The course was the same as in Flat as a Pancake with some deviations.  1-the race and transition area were set up at ballfield 8 on Fr.Capodanno Blvd next to Miller Field Park; 2-the run course was down the pacers by the promenade into boardwalk and back; 3-the swim was opposite way, we swam against the current (toward Tottenvile direction); and 4-we had actual public restroom facilities (that’s a huge plus over port a potties). Again I was blessed by perfect weather.  It was sunny and chill 66 that morning going up to 80-in August it’s a Godsend! 

As I parked and walked to my rack I noticed a much more relaxed and calmer atmosphere.  I got to the race early just to make sure I get a corner spot on the rack.  Well, I was one of the 1st ppl to get there around 6:30am. It took me all of 10 min to set up, get marked and get my chip.   The rest of the time I spent chilling out chatting with new friends and catch-up with old ones.  There were a few of my friends doing this race and it was nice to let the jitters out.  I had a spot in the 1st rack and the guys next to me were all either Ironman or Half Ironman-it was kind of intimidating being the only chick and a total newbie.  But watching their gear and them setting up was like watching pros.  Very meticulous and precise.  They were in the zone and didn’t bother with anything.  Wow!   

Race announcements started @ 7:30am. All the veterans in the race came forward to hold the flag for the opening ceremony and National Anthem.  It was very encouraging to see them up there.  Much respect to them for all their dedication and service!  Afterwards we all got our swim gear and were told to head to the beach.  

I decided to wear my wetsuit again as I am not brave enough to conquer the ocean bay, calm as it is, without one just yet.  We were lined in our corrals and with a whistle we were off.  This time was way different.  We didn’t have an in-ocean start.  We ran in and had to swim out to the buoy.  That really freaked me out cause now  off shore quite a bit (miles in my eyes) and I can’t touch the bottom. Holy cow!   Freaking out here!   Calm down, calm down.  You can’t drown, you’ll be fine.  100 yrds in I realize I didn’t put my watch on. Crap!  Now I’ll be off time.  This is not good.  Omg!  There’s no one around me!  Everyone’s passing me!  I suck!   Keep swimming!   Omg. I can’t do this.  I flip over and lay on my back trying to catch my breath.   I’m so pathetic!   I’m a grown woman afraid of water.  What’s wrong with me?   I flip over and start swimming again.  I look up and see Pete with kids on the jetty.  They are looking for me.  Hey I’m here…the slow poke in the back…. I wave but they don’t see me.  I just have to swim around the jetty and to shore and it’s done.  I close my eyes and go all out.  My hand grabs the sand.  Good, I can stand up now.  I start running out but I’m so dizzy from all the emotions that I fall back in water.  Oh brother.   As I’m running to transition I see my family and they are cheering me on.  Now off with my wetsuit, surprisingly it just slides right off.  I’m getting good at this!   Get my sneaks and helmet on and I run out onto bike course, which is 3 loops around Fr. Capodanno Blvd).  As I get on the bike and start pedaling I see my family again cheering.  Go faster!-Pete’s yelling to me.  Thinking I’m  going too slow I start speeding up while simultaneously getting my foot into the toe cage.  I lose my balance and not able to stop I flop right onto the sidewalk curb.  Ouch!  That freakin hurts a lot!   But I’ll check the damage later.   Get back on!   As I start pedaling all I can think of is how painful that fall was but I look down and don’t see much blood which is good enough for me.  Riding along I see my friends who are running back and forth cheering us on.  That just gives me some extra boost.  With 3 loops done I hop off the bike and try to run into transition.  Omg!  I can’t feel my legs again!   I rack my bike and grab my hat and I am out.  Wow, that was like under a minute, right?   Only the run left.  Ok, I got this.  Easy-peasy, nice n flat.  I just tune out and keep going.  As I make the turn for the way back to the finish line I see my friends again cheeering.  I look at my watch and notice I’m doing an 8min mile.  Whoa!   I’m fast.  That’s pretty cool!   Just keep pushing, you are almost done.  I see the finish line and my family again.  I slow down just a tad so I can give the high fives and savour this moment.  Yes!   I did it!   I look at my watch and see I did good but I did forget to turn it on.  So I go to the results board to check out my time.  What?! I finish in 1:21:53.  1st in my age group.  Sweet!   How did that happen?  I freaked in water and fell off the bike?   But I get my award and couldn’t be happier.  Yes I do have a lot to work on but overall I did better than my first race and I’m proud of that.  I shaved off time in swim, transition, bike and run.  Not bad for a newbie.  Can’t wait for my next tri adventure.  Meanwhile back to marathon training.                                                My stats: swim-11:29, T1-3:01, bike-42:05, T2-00:57, run-24:19. 

Fresh Kills run 

If you live in NYC you know all about Fresh Kills in Staten Island.  It’s the site of the former landfill that was opened in 1947 and finally closed after many years of residents fighting the big boys in 2001.  What was supposed to be a temporary landfill operated for only 20 years turned into one of the biggest landfills in US until it finally closed.  If it was to remain open it would become one of the highest points on the East Coast.  Since it’s closure the parks department has been working hard to convert it to a park that would be 3x larger than Central Park.  It was a painful sore for Staten Island residents that now has a bright future and a long road ahead.  You can read more about the future Park here: http://freshkillspark.org/

NYRR has organized a great exploratory run thru the Fresh Kills today, July 9h (and one on August 6 @ 9 am).  The run takes you thru 2 different mounds: 1st 5k loop thru south mound and 2nd loop the north mound.  What a great opportunity to run thru this amazing vast area.  

We started at the visitor center and along the main road, cross the main creek and unto the South mound.  I loved seeing alot of my running SIAC friends including El Presidente Mark.  My hubs decided to join me which was great since we haven’t ran together in about 2 months.  I wasn’t sure I could run much since I ran a 16 miler a day before for my Chicago Marathon training run and I was really sore.  The 3 of us Amy, Peter and I decided to pace together and go by feel.  Running thru the mound was very picturesque. It was very sunny and there was no shade which kinda made it hotter but once in a while we got a nice breeze to cool us off.   Chatting with friends always makes the run go by faster.  That kind of made me not pay attention to the pain in my legs.  The park itself is breathtaking.  If you just look around you would never think the landfill is beneath your feet.   Once we made a turn back onto the main road I knew I couldn’t keep going. My IT band and glute medius were just in too much pain for me to continue.  I really would’ve loved to run on the north mound but sorry, wasn’t gonna happen.  

We ended up walking the last mile to the visitor center which put us at 4.74 miles total.  Pretty good for an achy girl.  There will be another run/walk thru the park on August  6th @9am.  If you haven’t had a chance please check it out.  

The artwork by local artist and my amazing friend Magie Serpica (Fresh Kills Park)

Flat as a Pancake Sprint Triathlon

The day finally came-June 17, 2017-my 1st triathlon.  I picked this Tri because it’s local, it’s flat and it’s the shortest triathlon distance. Oh and of course as you guessed we get pancakes at the finish.  The distances go like this: Sprint (1/4 mile swim, 12 mile bike, 5k run), Olympic (1/2-1 miles swim, 24 mile bike, 10k run), Half Ironman (1.2 mile swim, 50 mile bike, half marathon run) and a Full Ironman (2.4 mile swim, 116 mile bike and full marathon).  As you can see each distance roughly doubles in mileage.  

It was a perfect day for a race.  It was overcast, warm and not breezy-score for the bike course.  The course starts right next to Vanderbilt restaurant (next to Sand Ln) and runs down Fr. Capodanno Blvd to Miller field.  The cool part is that it’s a closed course so there’s no traffic.  But there’s a course limit and bike course closes 10am and the street opens to traffic so you better pedal fast.  The main station or transition area is staged at the ballfield right next to Vanderbilt.  This is our hub where you set up all your stuff along with your bike and get everything ready for all the legs of the race.  After the swim this is the place where you go to change and grab your bike and subsequently where u re-rack the bike before your run.  Every time you enter and exit the transition you go over the timing mat so each leg including transition gets timed.  So it looks something like this: swim, translation 1 (T1), bike, transition 2 (T2), run and then finish.  

I get up really early that day even though it’s literally only 20 minutes from my house I’m nervous and my friend advises me to get there early to get a nice spot on the rack (corner  spots are the prime real eastate).  I get there around 6:15 and find the rack with my number but damn it there are people there already and they took the best spots.  Oh man!  But I make a friend and take the spot next to her.  It’s also her first tri so we chat for a while to ease the tension.  I lay out all my stuff and try to keep an order: bike stuff in front and running stuff right behind that.  I try to look around and count the racks so I can see where I am and can find my spot easily in a sea of bikes.  Now time to get marked.  Last chance to make a quick pit stop which takes forever due to only 3 porta potties (a note here to organizers to please have at least 10. We were on line for 20+minutes).  Now I get my wetsuit on and head to the athlete meeting where the race director Joe Patanella gives us the race rundown. 

We all walk down to the beach and along the shore, our swim distance, to the start of the swim part.  There are about 5 waves each starts about 5 min apart.  I’m in the last wave.  I line up and walk over the mat into the ocean.  The gun goes off and it’s on!   The swim is the most challenging part for me.  I haven’t swam since back in the old country when I was on Jr Olympic swim team.  I have an issue with putting my face in the water because I can’t control my breathing which stems from my anxiety which in turn turns into panic until I inhale water and choke.  That is why I chose to do a triathlon because I really hate not being in control of my body and swimming is something that is a challenge that I need to accomplish and conquer.  I started training in January and I swim 3 days a week including more ocean swims now.  I keep swimming.  I love how boyant I am.  The wetsuit plus ocean water make it nearly impossible to drown.  I get smacked and kicked but I’m not panicking because my friends warned me that will happen.  I keep sighting and I see some people stopping and walking.  Nope, not me.  I’m not gonna stop.  I’m gonna swim it all!   I see the big bouy that we all must swim around.  I go around and head to shore.  Omg!  I made it!  Never in my wildest dreams I would think I can swim in the ocean and non stop and in a race.  I’m flying high.  Up the sand dune into transition area to get ready for bike portion. It took me a while to peel the wetsuit off and rinse my feet And get my gear on.  Gotta work on that.  The bike portion is great. It’s fast, it’s flat and it’s fun.  I don’t have a nice fast or fancy bike.  I had this hybrid for over 15 years.  It’s heavy and not that comfy but it’s a bike and that’s what I have to work with.  I pedal my crazy legs like there’s no tomorrow picking up speed.  I feel like I’m flying but apparently not that fast cause I keep getting passed.  It’s ok.  I just tell myself “You go as fast as you can, keep pushing”.  I see my family cheering me on and tear up a little.  Just knowing they are watching me makes me go even faster. 3 loops on Fr. Capodanno and re-rack my bike.  This transition is super fast cause I rode in my sneakers-time save, score!   I run out and see my family again.  Thank you! You guys just gave me an extra boost.  The course was altered a bit due to construction so we re-routed unto the boardwalk.  It’s an out and back run.  I can’t feel my legs and I’m reminded that’s why we do brick workouts.  It’s a weird feeling-feels like I’m running on air except my legs are so numb I can’t feel them.  Why am I hugging and puffing? I look at my watch and see I’m doing an 8:20 min mile.  Whoa?!   That’s a bonus.  I grab some water and it’s homestretch.  I see the finish line and I slow down just a tad so I can savor the moment and then I see my family again and I’m just so excited.  Olivia gives me a high five and I’m done.  I’ve finished.  I’m officially a triathlete!   Can I go again?

I’m flying in clouds and I couldn’t be happier with my finish and the fact that my family was there to share this with me.  We all make our way to the finish festivities where we get to eat now.  Pancakes!!! And all the other goodies.  Kids are in heaven, they share a pancake with me.  There’s music and friends and festivities.  This was just way too much fun and I think I’m hooked.  I trained so hard and that made the finish even sweeter.  I finished in 1:27, 9th out of 34. I didn’t win any awards but I feel like I won a gold medal!   (Here’s the breakdown of times: start-8:12am; swim-11min; T1-5:30; bike-43 min; run-25:25; total 1:27; finish-9:40am). 

Blue-restaurant review. 

As many of you know once you start talking to me the conversation always somehow diverts to food.  I can’t help it.  I love to eat.  And not just eat gluttonously everything in sight, but I luv to eat real good food.  

We went to Blue restaurant for our anniversary dinner/lunch.  Omg! 5 stars without question! The service was very attentive and polite. Our waiter always made sure we had what we needed. We ordered mussels for appetizer and sangria for drinks. Sangria was delicious. Mussels were made in white wine feta cheese and sausage. Never would’ve thought this combo would work but they were perfect. I ended up drinking the broth like a soup. Yumm! For entree we ordered Love Letters-mussels, clams, calamari and lobster tail in a delicious red sauce over papardelle. Omg. It’s just heavenly! Devoured it all without a blink. And for desert we had the chocolate cake with ice cream and cappuccino. If u r thinking “neh, chocolate cake. So what”. Trust me u have another thing coming. It was moist and had a crunch on top and with ice cream it was a perfect ending to the meal. When the waiter came over and asked how was our meal my hubs said it was a perfect anniversary dinner. To which we were given a complimentary desert wine each. That just shows their attention to detail. We had a great time. The view is of Bayonne and it’s industrial but I luv outdoors so I see things differently. There was non stop action of boats coming in and jet skiers having water fun even a family of ducks showed up. I really enjoyed that entertainment. We will definitely be back there. The ride was worth it!

The Palisades Clifhanger Half Marathon 2017

It was hot!   The weather yesterday, June 10 2017 was gorgeous.  Not a cloud in the sky and brought nice and hot temps in the upper 80’s.  Perfect for the beach but not conducive for racing.  Thank God it was a trail race and we had the covering of the trees to keep us cooler.

A bunch of us decided to explore trails in Palisades by signing up for an adventure race-Palisades Clifhanger Half Marathon.  The course seemed relatively easy (on paper) with the only challenge being the giant stairs.  The location for this race was at the State  Line Lookout where New Jersey and New York states meet about an hour away.

The race started about a half a mile down closed highway 9W off the State Line Lookout parking lot.  It was very basic, very locally inclined, without any “official” start line.  We were instructed on the course to follow aqua, red, white and back to aqua trails.  Trails were supposed to be marked with pink ribbons and a water station about mile 7.  We were told the race is pretty flat and the only concern was the giant stairs.   So just like that we were off.   Up the closed highway, past the parking lot and onto the trails.  Simple enough, right?   Once we entered the woods the runners dissipated according to their speed and spread out.   I ended up pacing the guy in front of me who informed me he’s run this course 2 weeks before.  Mental note: stay with this guy cause he knows where to go.  I guess if you ran this course you’d know where to go and which turns to make, which were supposed to be marked.  Well, that’s where things kinda went sour.   I saw a cool arch and decided to stop to take a pic with the intention of following the trail to the left but as I took the picture I noticed a faint pink ribbon on the other side.  Duh, I’m supposed to follow thru that.  Shouldn’t there have been a ribbon outside the arch to let me know to go there?   Ok.  Here I go.  Oh great, I caught up to my pacer.   I’m on the right track.  Following the aqua trail we came out of the woods past the biking check point.  I guess that’s where all the bikers meet and rack up their mileage training for  an ironman.  Made an inconspicuous left back into the trail (btw I would’ve never saw that if I had been running by myself, hence some of my friends missing that turn and getting lost).  Pass the lookout point with more spectacular views of Hudson River making a short left onto red trail.  We are on the descent now.  Hopping on rocks left to right.  Oh man, I’m gonna twist an ankle and fall on my face.   As we came onto a road, volunteers were there to direct us back onto the trail leading along the river.  White trail was nice and flat along the shore line.  It was so peaceful and that water looked so inviting at this point.  So hot I need to dip myself to cool off.  And now I lost my pacer.  Yes!   Water station!  Finally!  It felt like I have been running for hours.  So thirtsty.   Refill my water bottle and back on track.  The nice and flat white trail soon yielded these gigantic rugged boulders about mile 10.  Now all that was left was strategical climbing for about 2 miles.   “Please just don’t fall and wedge your foot in between”.  Half way thru climbing boulders I was done.  At this point I was tired, hungry, hot and dehydrated.  Thank God I took salt tabs with me those really helped.  Nearing a huge boulder we were greeted by some volunteers and a photographer taking our “exhausted” pictures.  They informed us this is the final boulder and the terrain changes and we have about 2 miles left including the infamous stairs.   At this point I took a nose dive but managed somehow to fall softly without any damage.  I decided to hike run to catch my breath and refocus my dizzy head.   Approaching the stairs was this amazing waterfall.  The water was flowing down the rocks and it looked so magical.  There were so many hikers there. Up the aqua trail the steps were very challenging especially after running and climbing for 12 miles.   Each step was about 2 feet high.  The only good thing about it was that we were going up and not down.  They were tricky to step on and narrow but I didn’t think they were as bad as the boulders.  Climbing up we reach a fork of trails.  I’m delirious.  Again there was no marking or ribbon to tell us where to go but there was a sign with words “State Line Lookout”.  Well, I know that leads to parking lot so I’m going this way.  Coming out of the trail I’m back on the closed highway where we started.  Ok the finish line is coming up unfortunately for me it’s a bout a mile of straight uphill.  Ugh!   I want this to be over so I decide to run walk to make this end.   Omg!  I see ppl.   One of the organizers runs with me and tells me the plate crack on the ground is the finish line.  Yes!  I did it!  I finished one of the toughest races I’ve done with time of 3:07 and over 1,000 feet of vertical elevation.

P.S. Got the results today (Monday 6/12). Finished 3rd overall female, 1st in my age group and 1st from SIAC ( my running club).  

Now, my feelings about the race.

What I liked:

The breathtaking views of Hudson River

The loop course.

The trails were very easy to run on. It was challenging but nothing crazy (minus the boulders).

Running with my SIAC buddies.

What I didn’t like:

The race wasn’t officially timed.  (I was told the results will be entered manually into an app and will be available at a later time). (A note: I was informed that the race was timed but because the app was malfunctioning the results were entered manually-but personally it would be nice to have the results right away so the runners could see their rankings)

No awards.  Because the results weren’t readily available there’s no way to tell the ranking.  I.e. I don’t know what place I came in at overall or gender.

Only 1 water stop about half way thru was just not enough especially on a hot day.

And the biggest complaint of all is extremely poor marking of the trail.   I’ve ran plenty of trail races before with different organizers and without knowing the course you can easily tell where you were going due to abundance of markers.  A lot of runners got lost either cutting the course short or extending their mileage and some DNFing. (A side note: one of the race directors did inform me that they spent 4 hrs the day before on the trails placing markers especially on trail forks but someone has been ripping the markers off)

The race organizers didn’t  follow thru with their race disclaimer.  In the course description they did say that there will be a post race BBQ and there will be prizes.  Post finish we were informed that BBQ was switched to pasta and there were no prizes either even for their top 3 gender finishers-disappointing.

In no way I’m trying to sully their reputation by writing this honest review.  I hope race organizers take theses comments into consideration and improve their organization to attract more runners to this unusual, fun and exciting race.

As of Monday June 12 I did speak with race directors and they insured me that they will make necessary adjustments for next years race for a better race experience for all.

Go out, enjoy outdoors and keep running!

Brooklyn Half Marathon 2017

Brooklyn Half is the largest half marathon in the country and this year the number of participants topped over 25,000.  Whoa!  That’s a lot of runners who want to run Bklyn.  So why is this race so popular and sells out within an hour of open registration?  Everyone has their own answer to that and I’d say if you want to find out then you need to run this race.  

The 1st time I heard of Brooklyn Half was way before I even started running.   While I was gearing up for a Figure competition back in 2004 I started chatting with a friend who as it turned out was training for this race.   I was intrigued.  Fast forward to 2013 when I became a serious and dedicated runner I wanted to test my limits and remembered all about Brooklyn Half.  Unfortunately I underestimated how popular this race had become and missed out on registration.  (I ended up running Staten Island Half that year which was dedicated as a Staten Island Day in lieu of Hurricane Sandy-which ended up being a very emotional race).  So I decided to volunteer at the finish line which would earn me a guaranteed entry to next years race.   

My 1st Brooklyn Half marathon was in 2014.  I was very excited to run thru the different neighborhoods of Bklyn.  The race went well and I broke 2 hrs finishing at 1:55.  I was back for more action the following year but as many of you know not every race, even the same course, goes as planned each time.  While I actually ended up shaving  a minute off my time finishing at 1:54 in 2015 I wasn’t a happy girl.   Once I came out of Prospect Park things just sort of didn’t feel right.   First, I took a gel too fast and it started giving me digestive issues, then I started counting the alphabetical streets on Ocean Pkwy which stated playing with my head.  Ugh!  Ave A, B, C…..omg I got all the way to Z????  This is sooo long!   Then it started raining which was making me blind.  At this point everything was just piling up and my brain was shutting down.  I crossed the finish line not happy.  I decided I’m never running this race again because Ocean Pkwy was dreadful, it was just too many people, and it was hot (I think the temps that day were in 70).  Ok I ran this twice-I’m good.  But I still luv the excitement of Bklyn Half so I volunteered as a leader in 2016.  And as a thank u I got a guaranteed entry for 2017.  

I really wasn’t planning to run this year.  What changed?  To be honest,  it’s the energy of this race.   That’s why it’s so popular and you keep coming back.  With a click of a button I was in and there was no turning back.   Training went well but we were hit with a heat wave right before the race.  Like many of us neurotic runners I checked the weather all week hoping for a relief.  I told myself if it’s gonna be hot I will just concentrate on not passing out.  But, oh happy day, the temps that day were down to 60.  Could it be?  Do I have an actual chance of doing good at this race?   I’ll just have to find out.  

Raining!   What?  Why is it raining? There was no mention of this on my weather app. But as we lined up in our corrals the rain stopped.  The temps were perfect-58F.  Off we went!   One of my fave parts about “opposite” running is we got to see all the elites flying by us.  It was great to see that athleticism.  As usual, running in Prospect Park is one of the highlights of the race.  Yes you get hills but you also get nature and a beautiful lake.  Ok we are out of the park and here comes my Achilles heel-Ocean Pkwy.  But this time I’m ready for you.  I decided no matter what never look up at the signs.  Concentrate on stuff around me.  Look at the runners, their form, what they are wearing, mantra, few ppl who are cheering-thank u!, oh Hokas, crap I just looked up, wait I gotta check my form, shoulders back, chin in, relax, u got this.   Home stretch.  I see 800 meters sign. Pass the cyclone.  Up on to the boardwalk.   People are cheering.   Yes!  I did it!   I feel great!   Seeing my honey at the finish line telling me I might have PRed.  

Everything about this race just felt right.  Crossing the finish line with this being my 9th half marathon I ended up setting a new personal record.  1:48.  I shaved 6 min off my time for this course and a minute from my NYC Half PR. Catching up with friends afterwards atthe after  party in  the baseball field was a topping on the cake.  So if you ever wondered why people love this race you need to run it!

On 5 Boro Bike Tour (NYC) 2017

On the ferryOn the ferry 

Every year on the first Sunday in May NYC closes its streets and some of the major highways and bridges to let bicyclists take charge of the road.  On May 7th, 2017 hubs and I took on that challenge again.   The 1st time we participated in this event was in 2006, way before kids.  Back then the fee was way cheaper and we never actually “finished” the race.   We lived in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn so it just made sense for us to finish there and not go over the Verrazano bridge.  Oh we were so young back then…   We had so much fun the 1st time that a week later we biked from our apartment in Bay Ridge all thru B’kly and Brooklyn Bridge across to West side of Manhattan all the way up the bike path just pass the GW bridge and back.   We stopped to have lunch at our fave place Holy Chow (a vegan joint in SOHO).  It was roughly 60 mile journey that was an all day affair.  Wish we had that luxury of time now, but we’ll take what we can get.  

My watch died on the bridge 

It turned out to be a beautiful day, 2 days before was a ridiculous rain storm that flooded half of Staten Island and the rest of NYC.   We woke up with sunshine and eager to go.   The race (it’s not really a race unless you want to make it one.  Hubs and I don’t race but we don’t dilly dally either.  We enjoy the city but we try to make a workout out of it as well) started in lower Manhattan just above Battery Park.  There were 4 waves; the earliest wave started 1st, then 2nd, then 3rd and lastly 4th.  The waves also lined up accordingly with the earliest wave closest to start line.  We took the ferry to Manhattan, hopped on our bikes and rode about 2 miles to start line.  We were in the 3rd wave and our start was 8:45 (crossing the start line @ 9am).  

Astoria Park rest stop with RFK bridge behind us 

There were several rest stops where you can get some food, water and stretch your legs.  We decided to get some food at the rest stop in Astoria Park, Queens.  It is such a beautiful park which is right under the RFK Bridge.  The views are spectacular.  You can clearly see Manhattan and Wards Island.  We didn’t want to hang around too long cause we had a time limit.  At this point the wind started to really pick up but we didn’t feel it that much until we got to B’klyn and onto the BQE.  When else are you going to get an opportunity like this, to ride down the infamous, pot-hole ridden BQE?  Oh man, we had to climb that hill right pass the Hamilton Ave exit.  You know which one I’m talking about-the one that’s over Red Hook.  That was pure hell.  By this time our legs were tired but going up that hill just killed us.  Phew, oh goody what goes up must come down. Down a huge hill.  Weeeee! We are going so fast, but alas that didn’t last long.   As soon as we leveled off it became obvious how strong the wind had actually gotten.  It felt like an eternity pedaling on that flat but heinous part of BQE.  

Stopping on the Verrazano bridge to take a pic.  What a view!

Last rest stop was in Bay Ridge by 86st exit right before Verrazano bridge.  At his point I was done but we had 2 more miles of bridge and 1of those miles is uphill and into the wind.  Ugh!   I’m achy, hungry and tired.  I want to go home!   The climb up the Bridge was pathetic.  We just had to laugh at our speed (it was about 2mph) but we had to keep going.  The downhill part of the bridge wasn’t any faster cause of the wind but we could hear the music and the festivities.  Finally, finish line!  We did it!   Ouch!   Ok I’m hungry now, give me food!

Nice medal 

The bike tour was fun and very well organized but there were things that I didn’t like and they were annoying to say the least.  

Much needs replenishment 

Things I liked:                                                          -Being able to ride on closed off streets, bridges and highways.                                       -To tour the NYC more easily and to see so many neighborhoods that I usually don’t go to.                                                                               -To ride next to my hubby.                                 -To be surrounded with people who have same passion for biking.                                          -Getting a medal at the end (even though it’s not really a race which would not necessitate a medal but I think it was more for the 40th anniversary).                                 -The after party which included great food variety, merchandise, bike repair and a photo op.                                                               -Going back to the ferry some parts of Bay and Front streets were closed specifically for bikers-that was nice since we didn’t have to compete with traffic

Things I disliked:                                                 -Having to stop due to congestion especially on the bridges (we had two really bad bottlenecks: on FDR and on the 59th st bridge approach where we spent 30 min standing).  So I think I figured out a solution to that issue: going out in the 1st wave before the crowds-this was major a major issue for me.                                                    

-Not enough food variety at the rest stops (in 2006 we had a diverse selection of snacks).                                                             

-The course was shortened from 2006 which I think was over 42 miles (we rode on BQE until the Belt Pkwy split and we took Belt Pkwy until Bay Ridge where we got off and had refreshments in the Cannonball Park). That picturesque part was unfortunately cut from the course.                                   

It was a great fun time especially when you have someone to share it with.  I would love to ride the 5 Boroughs again.  One more pic-the view if the start line. 

High Rock Challenge 2017

Ready! Us at the start

High Rock challenge has become one of the most popular races on Staten Island.  I do not have the actual statistics but it seems like whomever I talk to has either done this race, knows someone who has done it or heard about it.  I’m so glad to have finally been able to actually participate in this race.  Everything just worked out: I didn’t have any races that weekend and my hubby actually wanted to run with me.  How cool, I get to run an obstacle race in our gorgeous greenbelt with my hubby!

And we are off!
High Rock Challenge is a two-member team run and takes place along Greenbelt trails.  You compete in mystery events and physical obstacles, which are located throughout the 10K course. Events are designed to encourage teamwork as well as physical and mental stamina. Events and the map are not revealed until race day when you’re on the course (www.sigreenbelt.org). The High Rock Challenge course is scenic and rustic.  It’s an oasis in the middle of urban an environment.  The race is held in memory of NYPD Officer John Kelly. Proceeds from the High Rock Challenge help support the Greenbelt Conservancy, a non-profit organization that provides trail maintenance and environmental education programs in the Greenbelt.  

Moses mountain

Running the trails weekly I sort of have a home advantage of knowing where I am going. But as I said before the course remains a mystery until the race day which kind of keeps you on your toes. You have to pay attention to the markings to make sure you don’t end up making a wrong turn (and it’s very possible).  

Kayak challenge

It was a gorgeous Saturday morning.  The sun finally came out after days of rain and especially a crazy heavy downpour the night before. The temperatures were also climbing up which were going to make it an unseasonally hot day.  Hundreds of people showed up to enjoy themselves, reconnect with friends, run in the muddy trails and challenge themselves on the obstacles.  My hubby and I decided to name our team “High School Sweethearts”.  We had the shirts made and our team outfit was complete with crocheted hearts I made for the Valentine’s Day 5k.  We lined up for 9:30 competitive wave.  After a brief instruction  and a warning: if we are not able to complete an obstacle a penalty of 30 jumping jacks will be enforced; off we went up the hill and onto the 1st obstacle- Walk the Plank.  You and your partner had to hold on and face each other and walk along a balance beam. Next up was Picnic bench Hurdles and Ladder walk.  Then we came across Snake Pit: a covered low crawl-it got kinda hot under that tarp. Some swift turns brought us to the blue trail and the wonderful views of Richmond County Country Club and past it you can see Great Kills Harbor.  I always loved that view especially on a clear sunny day like that.  After a couple of miles of straight up running we came to High Rock headquarters and a fun challenge of tying a tie on your partner.  Down the hill of the yellow trail some quick turns and the next challenge partnered tire walk (hold your partner back to back) and a tube crawl.  A quick run brought us to the sand bag carry.  Some people were ambitious and ran with that bag on their shoulders but we decided to just enjoy a breather.  The walk took us around the pond (purple trail).  Now onto the famed Moses Mountain which we had to climb with the help of a rope.  Next up kayaking on the Ohrback Lake.  This was our absolute favorite challenge and the most painful (my hip flexor and TFL were not happy to be pinched in a sitting position) but getting wet felt so refreshing.  Of course in completing this challenge with your life partner a quick quarrel is a requirement-if you are not arguing you don’t love each other that much.  More running-YES!  At this point we ended up walking the uphills.  A hoop challenge was next where 1 partner holds the hula hoop and the other throws a bean bag backwards.  And to much of my delight the Stairway to Heaven was included in this race.  I did love all the “warning signs” leading up to them but those stairs are murder.  Next up was the tube crossing, block carry, inverted wall and an A-frame wall right at the finish line.  Coming thru the finish line, what a sense of accomplishment and a feeling of euphoria.  We did it! And we did it together!  

Stairway to heaven
The finish line festivities were pretty sweet.  After we got our medal there were plenty of things to refuel us.  Trader Joe’s brought some bars, there were bagels and water and some more snacks.  Food was all around.  Let’s not forget free beer!!! YESS!!! And a BBQ place (the Smoke Exchange) which could not be passed.  We got a pulled pork sandwich, espresso maple smoked bacon and raspberry ice tea.  Oh man that was so delicious!   

Woo hoo! We did it!
Greenbelt Conservancy knows how to throw a race: from an amazing fun and challenging course to a pretty rocking after party!  We are already looking forward to next years race. 

Yummy delicious bacon

I’d like to thank everyone who has worked so hard on this race: Greenbelt Conservancy staff, volunteers, CERT team, and all the sponsors. You have made this not just a race but a memorable event that people come back to each year!

Wolf’s Run 10k

Wolf pond park sits right on the waterfront
I’m a tad late in writing this so please forgive me.  Last Saturday April 15, a day before Easter, I ran a Wolf’s Run 10k.  The race was organized by Complete Race Solutions as the last leg of the Triple Crown Series-the trail trifecta.  The race was held in one of my favorite parks-Wolf Pond Park on South Shore of Staten Island.  I love that park.  It’s exactly 2.5 miles from my house and sits right by the beach. So you actually get the best of both worlds: beautiful woods and trails and beach.  Can’t go wrong.  On a low tide day (you can always download Great Kills tide charts) you can go from Lemon Creek Park by Seguine Ave all the way to Poillon Ave and even to Arden Ave.  That area is just a beautiful, rustic seaside where you can just keep exploring or collecting seashells and rocks.  

Map of the course. 2 loops
The race was held promptly at 10 am.  As I said before one of the perks of running locally is the commute.  It was a quick 10 min ride.  Just can’t beat that!  My hubby decided to run the race with me but we would not be running together.  He hurt his knee working so he was going to take it easy sort of like a shakeout “get ready for High Rock” run.  The course consisted of 2 5k loops which included some park paths, very swirvy trails and some beach running.  No problem we got this but to my surprise it was a tough course.  I don’t know what made it tougher the fact the kids were off from school and I didn’t get some runs in or the weather was warm or the terrain was actually tougher than expected.  The trail was well marked with arrows on the ground, arrow tags, pink ribbons and as always the wonderful volunteers.  Let me just say this: this was a trail race, and as always you have to follow the markings and not a person in front of you.  There were a lot of turns and you really had to pay attention.   I think the part of the course that was the toughest was the beach run.  It wasn’t that long but it was soft sand and high tide so we couldn’t even make it to more compact sand.  That part slowed most of us down.  

Coming thru the finish line was very satisfying.  My legs felt like lead from the terrain.  My finish time was 1:02:02 not my best 10k time but I came in 4th overall female and 1st in my age group 40-49.  Sweet!  My hubby did an amazing job.  He kept a good pace and his knee held up great.  On the course as I made one of the turns I saw him next to my friend Amy and I knew he was in good hands.  All in all it was a good day with awesome friends in a beautiful park and a fun course.   Next up High Rock! 
Last week I got an email from the race organizers on the overall Triple Crown standing which put me as a third overall female right behind my 2 amazing gazelle friends Melissa and Jeanine.  I feel so honored to hang next to these ladies.