Sunday, December 13, 2015

Running with 'Empire State of Mind' stuck in my head

Not quite the view the hotel postcard portrays
New York City is big, right?  That's why it's called the Big Apple.  Well, the Big Apple seems a whole lot bigger when you're running 26.2 miles through it.  On November 1st, I ran the New York City Marathon, one of the biggest marathons in the world with about 50,000 runners.  Runners come from all of the world to run through NYC's 5 boroughs (a fancy word for neighborhood), which include Staten Island, Brooklyn, the Bronx, Queens, and Manhattan.  In the words of Alicia Keys and Jay-Z, these streets will make you feel brand new, lights will inspire you, let's hear it for New York, New York, New York!  (I really could not get that song out my head the whole time I was there)

My first night in the city, I had the chance to catch up and have some pre-race oysters (don't worry, I had them post race too) with New York native and fellow Race Within US blogger, Miri.  We went to a place called White Oak on Friday night for their happy hour oyster deal.  Great oysters, great wine and great company!  

Unfortunately I didn't get to enjoy as much of the Big Apple as I would have liked since I had some work to do while I was there, but did have the chance to see some sights on  my way to and from the race expo.

I made my way through Times Square, and wandered over to Bryant Park and for the first time caught a glimpse of the Empire State Building.
Bryant Park ice skating...on Oct. 31st. Too soon NYC, too soon.

Naked Cowboy, where are you?

Maybe next time I'll make it to the top
So the night before a big race, most people carb load with a big pasta dinner.  I am not one of those people.  I wanted to grab something near my hotel so I could call it an early night, so went to a little tapas bar called Kilo.  If you are in the Hell's Kitchen neighborhood, I recommend this small, but quaint place for a bite and glass of wine.  I probably had one of the oddest pre-race dinners, even for me: mushroom tacos and duck hearts.  Yep, I said duck hearts.  After growing up eating chicken hearts from the chickens you helped butcher, I felt like I sort of had to try them.  They were actually pretty awesome, if you're into that sort of thing.  The mushroom tacos were equally as awesome.  The staff and bartender were also a friendly bunch.  

Now it's race day.  The marathon's website describes it as a 26.2 mile block party, and that is a pretty apt description.  Other than when you cross the Staten Island Bridge, there are cheering crowds the entire way.   It was really quite an experience and really an all day event. I left my hotel near Central Park around 6:45 a.m. and returned around 4:30 p.m. and was only running for 4 hours and 45 minutes of that span of time.  I took the subway to catch my 7:45 a.m. ferry to Staten Island where the course begins.  Everyone is assigned a wave and a corral color.  I was wave 3 orange.  Which meant that I didn't start until 10:40 a.m.  But even taking the 7:45 ferry, I felt like I made it just in time.  Once you get off the ferry, you are put on a bus to take you to the start villages.  I have no idea how long the bus ride was, but let's say it was long enough for me to doze of and take a nice little power nap.  Finally, I woke up, got off the bus, went through security and then made my way to the orange start village.  I was able to grab a cup of coffee just in time to hear announcements that they were lining up for wave 3.  It was probably around 9:45 or so at that point.  It was chilly so we all had lots of layers on that would soon be discarded when it was start time.  It's always a lot of fun to see the sweat shirts and pants (or bathrobes) that people wear pre-race. It's all the crap they otherwise would probably be tossing out.  It's really a highlight of wonderful, outdated fashion trends.  
An old hoodie to remember me by, NYC!

So 10:40 a.m. (4 hours after I left my hotel, and we were off!  Over the Staten Island bridge and on our way into Brooklyn.  Most of the time, to be honest, I had no idea what borough I was in unless someone was holding a sign that said "Welcome to XXX."  Somewhere along the way, I saw a face I recognized!  Miri was awesome enough to come out to the course on and cheer me on!  It's always so great to see a friendly familiar face in a sea of strangers.  THANK YOU MIRI!!!  And around mile 20 or so, I saw another face I recognized.  I'm running along and suddenly the cheering crowds start cheering a lot more zealously.  I soon figured out why as I ran past Alicia Keys, who was one of the celebrity runners that day.   Ok, so at that point in the race I was red-faced, sweaty and salty.  She looked like she was completely fresh and dry.  My only guess is that her small entourage running with her must have been sponging her off along the way.  Well sorry, Alicia, but I left you and your sponging entourage in my dust.  A small cloud of dust.  Well really more like a mist of sweat that was probably flinging off of my soaked ponytail.

So about 4 1/2 hours after I started this thing, I think I might have finally made it to Central Park.  It was actually really beautiful running through the park, and of course, tons of people cheering and keeping the block party going.   I was thinking, awesome, I'm close to the finish line and my hotel!  The finish line, yes. My hotel, no.  I finished, got my bling and then tried to make my way out of the park.  I wanted to go south, towards my hotel on the south end of the park.  Unfortunately, the finish corrals, took me north, very far north (or what seemed very far considering I just ran 26.2 miles).  Finally, I got out of the park, only to be forced to walk in the masses of people back south to the family meeting area.  And any attempt to divert down a less busy side street, was thwarted by barricaded streets and New York City's Finest.   Basically, it took me another full hour after crossing the finish line, to get out of the finish area and to my hotel.  Ugh!

Now considering I was meeting my friend for post race oysters at 6:00 and it was now 4:30, I was hardly left with any time to shower and nap!  Lucky for my friend, I opted to fore go the nap rather than the shower.  (you're welcome Kay Kay!)  But the oysters and company made it worth skipping the nap.

The New York City Marathon finished off my marathons for 2015.  It was also marathon/state #25!  Halfway there folks!   I'm thinking the Wicked Marathon in Kansas at the end of March 2016 if anyone wants to join me!  I need at least three more people so we can dress up as the Tin Man, the Scarecrow, the Cowardly Lion and Dorothy! My dog Dean will be playing the role of Toto!

Happy holidays and thanks for all the words of encouragement and support over the past year!  

Saturday, December 5, 2015

Motown is mo' fun

Canada to the left, U.S. to the right
My first time to Detroit definitely made me want to return again soon.  I ran the Detroit Free Press Marathon in mid-October, marking Michigan off of my list of states.  Speaking of press, Detroit seems to get some bad press, but un-derserved in my opinion.  Although I stuck mainly to the downtown area, I was surprised by how nice it was.  I stayed at the Marriott which was in the monstrous GM building.  And from my room in that monstrosity, I had an amazing view of the Detroit River and across the boarder into Windsor, Canada.  
The GM monster

Oh, did I mention that this awesome race runs into Canada? Not only can I check off running in another state, I can check off running in another country!  It is a bit odd though when you go to the race expo to pick up your packet and a U.S. Customs official is there asking for your passport before he'll hand over your bib.  (and if you forget it, you don't get to run into Canada, and will be forced to run the U.S. only half marathon).

My hotel was fairly close to the expo, so I was able to enjoy Detroit's lovely riverwalk.  They had graffiti art, sculptures and scenic views.  What more can you ask for?  Well, to be honest I could have asked for some warmer temperatures, because the wind coming over from Canada was a bit brisk to say the least.  Here are some scenes from the Riverwalk.  

 Since I figured I'd spend a lot of Sunday running and then napping, I did most of my exploring on Saturday.  It was recommended that I venture to Corktown, so I headed that way to a brewery, called Batch Brewing Company.   I don't remember the beer I had but I do remember that it was pretty darn good.  If you ever find yourself enjoying some local Detroit brews there, I would also highly recommend the smoked whitefish spread.  Their menu had a lot of other things that looked amazing, but one person can only eat so much.  

So my marathon goodie bag gave me away as a runner to other runners who were doing their own mini pub crawl.  I had the pleasure of meeting a fellow runner Andrew (who learned the hard way about forgetting your passport).  He introduced me to his friends Rachel and Carl, who were locals (and my apologies if I've remembered your names wrong, I'm horrible with them).  They were all so nice, and invited me to join them on their bar crawl. 

We ventured to a cocktail bar, (maybe called the Sugar House, maybe called Bill Murray) for some Bill Murray movie themed drinks.  We were there right as they opened the door.  As they say, the early bird gets the craft cocktail.   I ordered the Au Revoir, Gopher, which is a delicious mezcal cocktail that comes along with an awesome presentation from the bartender.  I'll just say it involved some smoking action.  One of my hosts ordered the Ectoplasm Cooler, which was the precise color of ectoplasm.  If you are a craft-cocktail seeker, I say seek out this place.  

We continued on to the Westin hotel bar, where we witnessed Michigan State beat University of Michigan.  And by witness, I mean listened to a lot of simultaneous cheering and groaning though out the bar.  This game was a big deal, I guess. I'm not much into sports.  And since 2 of my 3 hosts were British, they also didn't seem much into the game.  But everyone else in the bar was, that is for certain!  After sampling another local Michigan brew, I had to bid adieu to my wonderful, gracious hosts and try to get some rest before the race.  I can't say thanks enough to the three of them for befriending me and making my time in Detroit fun and memorable!!  Let me know if any of you are ever in Chicago as I'd love to return the favor! 

Into Canada
Out of Canada
Now it's race day.  Brrr, brrr, brrr!  The cold temperatures were verified by the snow flurries that fell as we waited to cross the start line.  Seriously, it was October.  Snow is not allowed!  Eventually I crossed the start line where we made our way to the Ambassador Bridge, which we crossed over and into Canada.  Oh, Canada!   We ran into Windsor and were greeted by lots of red maple leaf flags and cheering Canadians.  Oh, and of course, we were also greeted by lots of customs officials, looking for our bibs to confirm we were legit to cross the border.  

We ran a few miles through Windsor along the river and then we hit the Windsor tunnel to pass back into the U.S.  We ran a fair distance through the tunnel, and it wasn't nearly as hard to breathe as I thought it would be considering all the residual car fumes that are probably hanging out in there.  It was pretty cool though where they border was indicated.  In Canada, in the U.S., in Canada, in the U.S.  You could go back and forth over and over if you wanted.  We were greeted back to the U.S. by a LOT of U.S. Immigration officers.  You know how when you go through Customs in U.S. airports when returning from a trip abroad, and all the officers seem angry, like they hate you and don't believe at all that you are actually a U.S. citizen?  Well these officers were nothing like those.  They were cheering, giving us high fives as we crossed back over the border.  They were fantastic! 
I can see my hotel from Canada! 
Inside the Grand Trunk
Are they serious?
 I finished the race with one of my best times in maybe 2 years.  No PR, but I was happy with my time.  I returned to the hotel promptly after the race to thaw in a hot shower for at least 30 minutes.   Of course I was hungry, so I was forced to return outside to get some food.  I ended up at a nice little pub called the Grand Trunk Pub.  I ordered the sandwich dubbed the Corktown, and ridiculous is all I can say.  And if you're eating it, you actually can't say anything at all, because you are basically buried under the largest mound of corned beef you've ever encountered.  See what I mean?  I had to dismantle the thing to eat it. That thing was delicious though.  I'm getting hungry thinking about it right now.  Wonder if they deliver to Chicago.

The Spirit of Detroit 
Tiny oyster fest.
After lunch I did a little more wandering downtown, past the Spirit of Detroit and back along the river front.

In my usual post-race M.O. I enjoyed some post race oysters for dinner at Joe Muer seafood, which was conveniently located adjacent to my hotel.  It ain't a race without some oysters.  It's like a food medal.  I haven't officially finished until I have that medal around my neck and some oysters in my belly.

There are so many other great places that I came across but didn't have the opportunity to enjoy.  I'm looking forward to heading back to take in more of the Motor City and meet more of those friendly Michiganders. Thanks again to Rachel, Andrew and Carl for making my time in Detroit so much fun!

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Me vs. the Hatfields & McCoys

A long overdue post, so hopefully I can recall the highlights of my last,
marathon, #23 in the cell-reception challenged part of the United States, Appalachia.  I headed to Pikeville, Kentucky to run the Hatfield-McCoy Marathon, which ran through the Tug Fork Valley in Kentucky and West Virginia (I'm counting this one as my WV race, by the way).   A race which occurs in mid-June, in the rolling hills of the Tug Fork.  The forecast called for upper 80s which turned out to be accurate.  I should have been warned by the fact that this race had no time limit, which translates to really freaking hard running conditions.  It was me versus the heat and the hills, and the battle was brutal.  But it sure was scenic! The drive to the start line was pretty amazing, through the mountains in the morning with the sun barely coming up, and a mist coming up from the mountain valley.  When you see things like that, the 5:00 a.m. alarm doesn't seem so bad.  It's definitely one of those things that is hard to capture with a camera, because it doesn't do the image justice.  And even harder to do it justice when you are trying to take the picture while driving a car through the mountains, but here it is anyway.

The start of the race was in the parking lot of a grocery store, and the fan fare began with the ring of a shotgun from a either a Hatfield or a McCoy, I'm not sure which fired the shot, but they were on site for photo ops before the race, of course.  A thing when you travel alone to a race, no one to take your picture with a long bearded man with a shot gun.  Oh, and a revolver.  So here are a couple of other runners with him. 

This race had a few options, you could run a half or full marathon, and you had your choice of running the first half (which was rumored to be harder) or the second, easier half.  Bah, easier half.

Up hill
Down hill 
The first half was mostly in the shade of the mountain as the sun was trying to make it way above and over them.  At one point, several miles into the course, I heard a rooster crow.  I looked at my watch since I was thinking this rooster was a bit late to the game as the sun had been up for a while.  It was 9:00 so, yes, this rooster was a bit slow.  I guess that's about when the sun finally hit his yard and he figured that morning finally came.   

There was a large hill at about mile 7 or so, which I suppose is why they call the first half the more difficult half, as it went up gradually for about a mile.  Funny how the hill looks the same in a photo whether you are going up or down.  But I assure you the down part was a lot more fun.

By the time I hit the second half, the sun was in full force.  Part two of the marathon started in Matewan, West Virginia.  Over the Tug Fork, a loop through Matewan and then back over the Tug Fork and off we went to tackle miles 13.1 to 26.2!

The second half, this so-called easier half, did not have such a large hill as the first.  Instead, it had many, many, many short and steep hills.  The kind that are so steep you can actually walk up them faster than you can run up them, so walk I did. Why expend the extra effort to only go slower? Oh, and I cannot fail to mention that also in the second half, the course takes you over this swinging wooden bridge with giant spaces between the wooden slats.  I tried to catch an image of the spaces but my phone stinks and the storage was apparently full.  But google Hatfield McCoy marathon wooden bridge and you can find some images of this swinging bridge of peril.  I suppose one perk of this bridge was it gave me a good excuse to walk since I'm pretty sure I would have tripped and fallen trying to run over it.  Especially considering my legs were fatigued from having just run some steep rolling muddy hills.  

Scenic river shot
Aid station with real baby pigs! 

There were some really scenic parts of the second half though, as we ran along the river.  And I made a new friend; we stuck together for several miles encouraging each other to run a bit when both of us really wanted to walk because the heat was becoming brutal.  I never caught his name, but thank you stranger who is also crazy enough to be tackling a marathon in every state!  I would not be doing the race justice though if I did not mention that this was a very well organized race with a water station pretty much every mile, 24 of them for a 26 mile race.  And they also had ice at several of them.  I'm not too shy to say that I was grabbing cups of ice and shoving the cubes into my sports bra.  Wow, did that feel good...for about 5 minutes until it melted because it was 5,000 degrees.

Finally, I made it to Williamson, West Virginia!  A finish line never looked so good.  An added perk was I was congratulated by a Hatfield and a McCoy who allowed me to pass under their shotguns to receive my giant finisher's medal.  Here is an shot of it next to an iPhone 5 to give you some perspective on the size.  

After the race, I spent most of the day in my hotel room, recovering from the heat and hills.  I eventually made my way out to explore the town a bit.  So Pikeville, KY has a parade of bears, similar to the parade of cows that once made it's way throughout Chicago.  Since I didn't really have much else going on, I made my way through the (fortunately small) downtown to try to find as many as I could.  I think my final number was 10, but here are a few of my favorites.  
Of course there's a Hatfield-McCoy set of bears.


Downtown Pikeville is actually quite nice to walk around and had an interesting mix of modern and quaint.  There is also a college there, the University of Pikeville, but I didn't catch much of the college town vibe, probably because it was summer time and all the students were back home where they hopefully had better cell service.  I'm not sure what cell provider works best there, but I will say that it is definitely not Sprint, and AT&T was also not that impressive.   Oh, and I can't forget to mention that Pikeville also is home to the historic Pikeville County Courthouse and Jail, which is where the scene of the Hatfield clan trials for the murder of five McCoy clan members. 

I had dinner that night at the Blue Raven.  The food was surprisingly metropolitan for a place that felt like you were in the middle of the nowhere.  If for some strange, odd reason you find yourself in Pikeville, I would recommend this place for dinner.   And while I did not have one, I have to give some level of credibility to a place that uses cucumber vodka and Zing Zang mix in its Bloody Mary. Best. mix. ever. 

Martha Hatfield
Randolph and Sarah McCoy
It was an early night in and the next day I had to make the 3 hour drive through the scenic mountain range to catch my flight out of Lexington.  But before I headed out of town, I had to check out the Dils Cemetery, which had Hatfields AND McCoys buried there together.  And if you've read my blog before, you know how I love a good cemetery.  This one was named after Col. John Dils, who commanded a Union infantry unit during the Civil War.  His family's cemetery is said to be the first integrated cemetery in Eastern Kentucky, as he allowed his freed slaves and their decedents to be buried there. 

This trip seemed to be battled themed:  The battle of the Hatfield's and McCoy's, the battle of me against the heat and hills, and then the battle of the Confederacy and the Union.  I made a pit stop on my drive back to Lexington to quickly check out the site of the Battle of Middle Creek, during which Col. Garfield's Union troops defeated General Marshall's Confederate troops.

The Union came from this way...
The Confederates came from this way.
 I didn't stand out in the battlefield too long, because as you can see, it was still hot and there were lots of bugs.  I was pretty much over the heat by then.  But I enjoyed my scenic, air conditioned ride back through the mountains to Lexington, KY.   23 states down, 27 to go.  Coming this fall, definitely New York City and possibly Detroit, MI.  Almost halfway there!

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Vermont: Green mountains, great brews, and ghosts?

I traveled to Vermont to take on marathon/state number 22 over Memorial Day weekend.  The race took place in Burlington, which was about 3 hours drive from Albany, where I flew into.  I think the drive was 3 hours, even though it wasn't that far mileage wise, because the majority of it was on winding two-lane highways through the tiny quaint towns of western Vermont.  Which might actually also be central Vermont...who knows, it's not a very big state.  But it was obvious to me immediately why it's called the green mountain state.  Truly a beautiful and scenic drive.

And when I arrived in Burlington, right on Lake Champlain surrounded by those green mountains; well, let's just say it made for one heck of a view from my hotel room.  Compared to the tiny towns I had just drove through, Burlington was a bustling metropolis.  I stopped first thing at the race expo to get my bib and t-shirt, and if you've read any of my prior blog posts, you know how I dread those things.  This one was pretty much painless, but there was a really annoying guy chattering over the PA system.  But once he stopped, it felt much less chaotic.   Although, you were still left with the army of folks in variations of Santa and sexy Santa outfits really trying to push registration for Burlington's Santa Run.

I followed Trip Advisor's recommendation on where to eat and went to a great wood fired pizza joint to carb load the night before the race, Pizzaria Verita.  Good call and apparently lots of other people had read Trip Advisor because the joint was hopping.  It was near the main area of town where most of the restaurants are, the Church Street market.  This is a pedestrian mall area which happens to be fantastic for people watching.  I had some post-race veg time on a park bench in the sun and did some serious people watching.  As I sat there, I tried to get a sense of what type of folks live in Burlington, Vermont, but I really couldn't.  All I can tell you about Burlington is that a lot of people came out of their homes to cheer us runners on, and for a small race, it had a lot of crowd support.  There was a small stretch that was light on the crowds, but it was early on in the race.  Finally, a race that doesn't save the lone, desolate stretch of highway with no spectators or shade until miles 20-25! Thank you Burlington!!

The race was rolling hills as I expected, but felt there was a little more downhill action than uphill.  We ran through a lot of residential neighborhoods, and a lot through the downtown area, which was not too bad since there were tons of people cheering us on.  But some great scenic views along the way, running past the lake, through a forest, and past some awesome lake front properties.  I finished with, not my best time, but one of my fastest times for a race since 2013.  I think I made it back to my old habit of the negative split.  I was feeling good the second half, so I just went with it and picked up the pace!  Though sadly, I think there may be some casualties of this race. My two toenails.  But so far, out of 22 marathons, I've only lost 2 toenails.  So if that number bumps up to 4, still not as bad as it could be.

After the race, I enjoyed some local brews to Vermont.  I was unaware of all the beer brewing going on in this state.  Magic Hat brewery is there, and some others that I hadn't heard of.  But they were all pretty tasty.  I think there is even a brewery tour you can take in Burlington, which I didn't have the chance to enjoy.  Next time.  I did partake of my ritual post-race oysters at a great farm-to-table restaurant, Hen of the Wood (which also happened to be steps away from my hotel..very important after you just ran 26.2 miles).  They also had what might be the best cauliflower dish I've ever had.  I know, it sounds lame, but if you're ever in Burlington, and at Hen of the Wood, you should try this.  It was pretty darn amazing.

So... after I left Burlington, I headed south to Manchester, Vermont.  I scheduled myself a massage at the hotel spa, and then sent some time in the hot tub, which was outside surrounded by a great view of the mountains.  I felt utterly relaxed.  Sadly this didn't last long.  

Manchester, don't get me wrong, it a quaint, beautiful town....  With lots of haunted hotels, so my online research discovered.  One of them being the 1811 House at the Inns at the Equinox. Where. I. was. staying.  The former home of Abe Lincoln's granddaughter, Mary.  My online research revealed that guests had heard voices of children, or seen images of Mary.  One Trip Advisor review mentioned that they were in their room and the tv suddenly turned on, and then went to white noise and then turned off. Twice.  So, clearly, I was going to leave the t.v. on so it couldn't turn on by itself!  Tuned in to the Simpsons on FX...I mean, ghosts can't come if something funny is on t.v. right? And of course, there had to be a tree right next to the window, with the street light positioned in such a way that it created a silhouette of the tree against the curtain, which then created shadows throughout the room.  Let's not forget about the tap, tap tap of the tree branches agains the window.  Oh, and did I mention there were no other guests in the house that night?  (See creepy empty hallway photo)  It goes without saying that I got very little sleep that night.  All that post-massage relaxation out the window.  You know, that window with the creepy tree shadows and tapping limbs.

Despite me freaking myself out with every tiny noise and shadow, I did not experience any paranormal activities.  And the hotel itself was very quaint historical home that was very nice and clean.  I would recommend staying there, but would try to go with a group of people, because it was just too quiet otherwise if you've got ghosts on the brain.  And the Equinox resort itself is quite nice. What I would not recommend is the Raven's Blood Margarita from Ravens.  I let my curiosity get the best of me. A margarita, with a splash of pinot noir.  Don't let it happen to you.  That swirly frozen drink from Uncle Julio's is much better. 

My last day in Vermont was spent touring Hildene, the former estate of Lincoln's son Robert.  I didn't have a chance to tour the whole place, I think it is 400 acres, or something crazy huge like that.  The woman at the Information Center piqued my curiosity with telling me there were baby goats at the farm, but I had a hard time finding the path to the farm, and ended up instead being bitten by lots of baby mosquitos trying to get there.  I gave up after losing my s$#t with all the bugs that would not stop swarming around my head and ears.  But I did visit the house which had some interesting historical items and also had a pretty great garden.  And that first picture, that's the view looking out from the edge of the garden. Not too shabby Lincolns.  

I can't say I got a strong sense of what Vermont is. Maybe because it isn't strongly one thing or another. Or maybe because what it is, is subtle.  It certainly isn't action packed.  It leans more to the serene, peaceful, scenic kind of thing.  Which I certainly am not opposed to. Not at all.