Garden Spot Village Race Recap

2 start line

Garden Spot Village Race Recap

Race: Garden Spot Village Marathon and Half Marathon
Location: New Holland, PA and surrounding boroughs
Distance: 21.1km (13.1 miles)
Date/Start Time: 11 April 2015, 8am
Distance Travelled to Compete: 98 km (61 miles)
Weather conditions: Clear, started at mid 40s and rose to mid 50s and sunny
Course conditions: Rugged roads through Amish country and with inclines and rolling hills. First hill is mile 5 and second hill for those running the half will be mile 8, a very steep incline. Unfortunately for those running the full, this same hill is mile 21. For those running the full, the course goes further west into Leola, PA, otherwise, half marathons make a turnaround on Peters Road at mile 7.
Preview: My first race back in Lancaster since 2010. The good news is that it was in much nicer weather. The bad news is that the hills and overall the course were extremely challenging.

Race Preview

I took Amtrak into Lancaster Thursday night and stayed with family for what was probably the first time in ages.

1 cover tent

On Friday, packet pickup opened at 2pm. If you are staying in Lancaster County, expect to spend at least 20 minutes on PA 23, as that road is a very slow road through Leola and New Holland. As I stayed in the west part of the county with family, it took us close to 40.

We arrived around 4pm hitting rush hour traffic. Check in was located on Weaver Road at the central part of Garden Spot Village, a retirement community that consisted of many complexes and apartment buildings and duplexes.

Check in was quite seamless. Check your name against your number, collect your bib, your kit and your bag and be on your way. Definitely though the shirt and bag were well done.

The Race

2-1 start

When we arrived Saturday, the start was right where packet pick up was, right in the middle. Off to the side was a slew of concessions, behind that was a tent where runners could get post-race massages. Next to that was a runners’ only post race meal tent, which awaited after we crossed the finish line.

3 band

Pre-game festivities included a band (above) and of all things, an invocation. Being agnostic, I had to remind myself where I was and almost shook when the crowd resounded with a huge “Amen”.

4 mile 1

But soon all the festivities were over and we were on our way. The gun went off and the crowd roared. I was frozen enough to wear an old mylar sheet pre-race. I would soon find out later that the sun would heat us up quite nicely.

5-1 somewhere in the middle

Mile 1
The first mile was on campus, then through another neighborhood before heading out on the first country road. I was feeling the ruggedness of Lancaster County already. Men in suspenders and women in bonnets suurounded me as did your average everyday local. It was mostly flat and fast.

Mile 2
We ran into the first slew of Amish families seated outside their homes and supposedly cheering on their loved ones. It was up an incline and hung a right as we headed toward a few houses covered by trees. First water stop was here as well.

Miles 3-4
More open farmland. We headed toward another development and down another rolling hill. Crossing a bridge that separated a farm and a junction that would lead us toward the finish line, we saw a second water stop. Amazingly I was losing water in my body at the rate that I had to use multiple cups to fill my bottle. I should have run in short sleeves, I was running in my Love Run kit from this year. Damn me.

Mile 5
Speaking of that shirt, another man dressed in that kit ran right by me. “Nice shirt!” he remarked. At least we had that badassery in common doing two half marathons in two weeks.

We went up our first large hill which was more long and rugged than steep. It took a bit of time and wind out of me, but I did manage to recover and take a first pass at an old classmate of mine who also lives in Philly now. A bit ironic because she is more fit and fast than I am. She probably was not having a good race.

After this part of the course the course opened up to traffic although caution signs were pretty much everywhere and any traffic was restricted to one way traffic.

Mile 6
Entirely downhill. It would be our first sighting of the lead male for the half, and first sighting of Mile 8, the hill from hell. The latter part took us such a steep decline that I needed energy to slow down and not run over people.

Mile 7
This was the turnaround point, marked by a large red flag. Those of the pack running the full marathon would continue past this flag, and the rest of us would turn around.

6 mile 7 turnaround

I was a bit winded at this point and stopped at the water station and the bathroom (having drank so much fluid) before the turnaround. Incidentally, my parents were right at the turnaround, but given the ruckus and the official at the turnaround point shaking her cowbells as she yelled at us to turn around, I’d completely missed them as I turned around and headed on the “good” or return side of the road.

7 horse and buggy

We passed a horse and buggy at Mile 7 as well, incidentally the horse lost the plot but thankfully it didn’t interfere with the runners.

8 amish girl mile 7

Mile 8
This. The most hilariously difficult part of the course. After we turned around, we faced the same hill we’d come down for Mile 6.

It was too steep to even try running upwards. I tried leaning forward but my calves instantly felt a nasty pull from behind. I was forced to walk and even then I felt that calf pull. I’d seen the 7min/mile runners also struggle earlier so I didn’t feel so bad. No runner around me bothered to run.

9 mile 9

Mile 9
This climb took us back through another development which thankfully meant another water stop. The last hill forced me to exhaust my water bottle, I was forced to refill.

The next incline was gradual and we went through another tree covered area. Several patrol bikers passed us by.

10 mile 10

Mile 10
Finally, another downhill. The same slow hill we acsended when approaching Mile 5 but in reverse. I passed my classmate yet again (who I’d presumed had passed me whilst at the bathroom). A great scenic view of the farmland, but the ruggedness of the roads made me want to get this run over with. We passed our second to last water stop then set off in the final part of the course.

Mile 11-12
Two flat roads on our way back to Kinzer Avenue. We went through more farmland and through some rail tracks. At Mile 12 I passed my classmate one more time and this time I left her behind.

More Mennonite families cheered us on the way back. And with that I could taste the finish line. THAT post race meal.

11 mile 13

Mile 13
Kinzer Avenue to Weaver Road to the finish line. I wanted to jump for joy when I saw that street sign. Unfortunately, I did not know how long that final mile would be – compounding that feeling was a massive headwind. We ran the final mile entirely against the headwind.

We passed an ambulance past the final development, knowing that was a key safety distance from the finish, I knew we were quite close to the end. One more bend…

….and then Weaver Road. The bright orange shirts of the volunteers. Finally. The end was near.

We made one final turn to the right and off to my left it was my parents and not far behind them, the finish line.

Boom. Complete. Not my worst time ever, managed to survive.

The Finish Line and Post Race

The first thing I saw were volunteers handing out medals. Half finishers received a silver medal with a purple ribbon and full finishers received a gold medal with a green ribbon.

12 medal

The next thing we received was a water bottle and mylar sheets. I then saw my parents direct me to the runners’ food tent, where only those with a bib were permitted inside.

The first thing we were given was chocolate milk from a local dairy. Next, we could serve tea, coffee, hot cocoa or further electrolytes if we needed. After this, we had our pick of oatmeal with toppings, turkey, chicken or veggie hummus wraps, trail mix in cups, banana or orange slices. And yes, the best part were the omelets (our pick of egg or cheese) and strata (eggs or ham).

14 meal

It was an insane amount of food and furthermore, I didn’t know of any other race that had such a post race meal. The hot food was much prepared by the kitchen staff but much of the other food plus any concessions outside were given or sold by local businesses.

15 post-food

I also caught up with my classmate.

16 post race

After leaving the tent, I queued up for the massage tent. It was a good 20 or so minutes but with 12 local therapists under the tent the queue moved quickly. I was given a chiropractor who helped stretch my quads and hamstrings and calves. It wasn’t going to fully accomplish the job but her stretches really helped.

Once I was through the tent, it was time to call it a day and head home.

Overall this race was extremely well run and supported by the community. At $75 for early registration it might seem pretty steep for a small race but the organisers really take care of the runners and the post race meal was so good. Race shirt was of good quality and design and really liked the swag bag itself.

The course was brutal but scenic and for such a well organized race with Clif gels at every water stop to boot, this race is well worth it.

The Love Run, Race Recap, Part 2

1 title - stadium

The Love Run 2015, Race Recap, Part 2

Race: The Philadelphia Love Run
Location: Center City, Fairmount Park and Strawberry Mansion, Philadelphia
Distance: 21.1 km (13.1 miles)
Date/Start Time: 29 March 2015, 8am
Distance Travelled to Compete: Negligible
Weather conditions: Very chilly, start temp of 27F, windy. Rose to mid-30s by 10am
Course conditions: Course was changed from last year partially because of the regatta. Flat downtown and mile 5 Fairmount hill remains the same. Mile 9 climb to the Strawberry Mansion bridge was new and circle through Dell Music Center was new.
Preview: CGI Racing, a NJ-based race company, runs their second iteration of the Love Run in Philadelphia, with a course change and way more awesome perks this year.

Race Preview

The forecast was clear unlike last year’s rainy quagmire but the downside was the silly low temperatures. Below freezing to be exact. Also because of a regatta, the organisers were forced to change the route of the course – it was certainly different and the second hill into Strawberry Mansion would prove to be quite unkind, though a good preview of a training run for an even more difficult course in Lancaster in two’ weeks time.

The first half of the course took us through Center City and back on the Parkway and through Fairmount Park and the Please Touch Museum. The second half went hairpin on Martin Luther King Drive but took a detour into Strawberry Mansion before getting back on MLK Drive and down to the finish on Eakins Oval.

The Race

Walking up the parkway en route to the start line, my fingers were freezing and freezing fast, despite wearing gloves. I searched in vain for City Fit Girls, but despite searching the group tent area, they were nowhere to be seen. Bag drop off was straightforward, and the corrals were set up the same they were last year, on the East end of the Eakins Oval.

1 start line

Announcements, the anthem, and a loud roar started as the race got underway.

Mile 1: Chinatown

Within the first mile, I passed several Chessie Photo photographers and tried to feature prominently such as to get captured in the moment. We passed throngs of spectators on the parkway and through Chinatown. Right on 6th Street, and another right on Market Street. Potholes on this first mile were quite annoying. Actually they were very annoying.

Mile 2: Market East

Just like last year, a DJ spun tunes as we passed the Mile 2 marker at 7th and Market Streets. It was a routine sprint back to City Hall and back to the Parkway. I recalled nearly missing this water stop last year, so I positioned myself on the left to collect my first bit of water. Steady and straightforward I proceeded, around City Hall, to JFK Boulevard, and then back on the parkway.

Mile 3: The Parkway

An increase in spectators occurred as we hung a right back on the Parkway, through Logan Circle and back towards the Art Museum. I tried to take note of some of the more funny signs, including the Grumpy Cat memes. On the way back up, I caught a few more photographers and I veered as far to the right as I could to again catch the cameras. I always enjoy looking through the race pictures 🙂

As noted in last year’s review, the key difference between this course and the Rock n Roll course was that instead of veering right to Kelly Drive, you made an immediate left to Martin Luther King Drive and then onwards to the hill that laid into Fairmount Park. This is a race that for once, does not touch Kelly Drive and it is a good way to mix things slightly up from both of Philadelphia’s fall races.

Mile 4-5: Martin Luther King Drive

Also like last year, Martin Luther King Drive took on a long stretch, crossing underneath several bridges before heading through the hill leading into Fairmount Park’s west end. As we came onto the slow and gradual painful hill leading up to the Please Touch Museum, I managed to push through and only stopped once when I felt my heart rate whirl out of control. I continued steadily up the path without too much trouble after that.

Mile 6: Please Touch Museum

We hung a right on 41st Street, which to my chagrin, like last year, was pothole central. Honestly, this race reminded me exactly how terrible, no how beyond terrible, the roads were in Philly. We passed two groups of cheerleaders as we snagged more fluid before heading the long downhill back to MLK Drive.

Mile 7-8: Montgomery Drive to Strawberry Mansion

Once we veered left from Montgomery and back through MLK, we eventually hit the second hill that led upwards to Strawberry Mansion. One part that irked me about this was that I was completely unaware of the course change – totally my fault – but also that the gels were right behind the water and Gatorade and I had hit them without warning. I actually had to TURN AROUND and nearly hit two runners as I backtracked. I was honestly pretty annoyed at the lack of warning – there honestly need to be signs on course indicating what amenities are on course.

And if that weren’t bad enough, I was staring another slow steep climb up the way to the bridge. My legs were just not feeling this climb but I forced myself up.

We crossed the bridge across to Strawberry Mansion, and wound up circling near an outdoor music hall before getting back to the bridge we’d come from. Then another right down the ramp off the bridge where we came from. Back onto MLK Drive.

Miles 9-10: Hairpin Run

We kept going up MLK Drive until the infamous hairpin turn. Normally I touch the cone at the very end of the turn for good luck but unfortunately for me, a lady was standing right above it. Darn.

2 mile 9

The way back, my lungs started getting congested. Just awesome. Not really.

Then I had to remind myself yet again that this was a training run. And that time really didn’t matter as much. Not today.

Miles 11-12: The Stretch Home

Last few water stops. I started playing a slew of music in my head. Skillet, Radiohead, Alanis, everything that could move me. It did get harder by the foot and at points I felt like I was overheating. I had taken my gloves off at least by the halfway point, but my chest felt that overheating sensation and I was out of fluid entirely.

Mile 13 and Finish: Eakins Oval

As I crossed the bridge, the spectator crowd grew. Up the last climb. One last push.

3 finish line

And like that, it was over.

Aftermath

Like last year, the first thing I saw were the medals. Quite a nifty design, though I’ve preferred some of my other medals a bit more.

6 medal

I promptly picked up my medal and then a mylar sheet to conserve heat. We made our way down to the main tent, where water bottles were set off to aside and there could have been more volunteers handing out water bottles. Our bags were small plastic lunch bags with tastykakes, a Smuckers circular peanut butter jelly sandwich, a banana, an orange and another bottle of water. Quite similar to last year.

Philadelphia Half Marathon Recap, Part 2

Philadelphia Half Marathon Recap and Race Report, Part 2

5 corrals 1

Race: Philadelphia Half Marathon
Location: Philadelphia, PA
Distance: 21.1 km (13.1 miles)
Date/Start Time: 23 November 2014, 7am
Distance Travelled to Compete: Negligible – 1.8 km (1.1 miles)
Weather conditions: Clear to partly cloudy; temperatures started high-30s, warmed to low 50s. Became sunny.
Course conditions: Flat through most of Center City and South Philadelphia. Turned into Powelton Village and Mantua, where a hill picked up at Mile 8 and another at Mile 10 leading into the concourse at Fairmount Park. Wrapped around MLK Drive and finished back at Eakins Oval, in front of the Art Museum.
Preview: My third time running the Philly Half, and in a bittersweet twist, most likely my last. I didn’t have a great training season, and I was content to get to the starting line in one piece.

Part 1 of this recap can be found here.

Warming Up at the VIP Tent

1 VIP at dawn

The VIP tent was an area on 20th and Race Streets that included separate bag check-in, private restroom, early morning tent/hospitality, select seating near the band post-game, separate massage area.

Runners could get on the VIP tent listing for any number of reasons, either by buying a certain amount of merchandise, being a GORE-TEX Associate, key sponsor, or affiliated with City Sports.

I immediately went to the tent area where I met others from the City Sports run club plus a few people I recalled from university. Everyone seemed nervous trying to warm up. It felt reassuring seeing many of the faces I’ve gotten acquainted with over the last several months if not longer. I grabbed a very small amount of hot chocolate and chatted with another lady I’d met at City Sports, a cancer survivor who was making her comeback race. She was a much slower runner than I was, but that didn’t matter. She had recovered from chemo and the like more recently and seeing her every Sunday pushing herself was an inspiration.

I checked in my bag at another set of black tents, for which the staff gave me a special number to identify it. Signed in my name and then I headed off back on the Parkway towards the starting corrals.

4 start

I tried in vain to find several of my other friends from City Sports; most of us were in the fourth, or grey corral, but to no avail. I saw how long the queues were for the toilets and thankfully I didn’t have to deal with that. (They weren’t much better than the race either.)

I ditched my gloves, wore one layer with a heatsheet for pre-race and then threw it aside, long black race leggings, Balegas, and my usual Asics GT-2100s. Race belt around me with a Clif vanilla shot or two in case things got rough before the 9 mile mark. I decided to not think about time, so in an unprecedented move, I ditched my watch; at the same time I carried a water bottle in case I had dehydration issues.

The Race:
6 corrals 2

Before the gun: The anthem played and one by one, corral by corral moved up. I took one last snap of the starting area and then started up the Nike Running App on my Android. Except I misjudged what our corral was going to do, I thought it would come up to the starting line but no, the gun had already gone off and we were on our way. I should have stepped aside and put my phone in my Amphipod, but I wasn’t able to and within the first mile I had to step aside on Logan Circle for about 15 seconds to do so. That was annoying.

Mile 1: Parkway to Chinatown. Like last year, we started going southeast on Ben Franklin Parkway and veered left on Arch Street into Chinatown. The crowds were their usual on Logan Circle and the Parkway and I wasn’t feeling too cold. I caught sight of an engaged couple who were wearing kits identifying themselves as getting married in six days. I can only dream of finding someone nice, let alone a runner, but I tried purging those thoughts as I turned left onto Arch Street.

Mile 2: Chinatown to Columbus Boulevard. Normally is where potholes can get annoying on the Old City end if you are not careful, but public works had since cleaned this up. This was around when a friend of mine from City Sports, who was dealing with massive knee issues, passed me. I asked how he was doing and at Mile 2, his knee was questionable at best. And he was signed up for the full.

Mile 2 was straightforward even with plenty of crowds in Chinatown. Flat road, left on (I believe) 4th Street and down to Columbus Boulevard where the first water stop was right on the corner. Holy cow, talk about absolute chaos.

Mile 3: Columbus Boulevard. South on Columbus Boulevard into South Philly and Pennsport. The first water step being on a corner created absolute chaos – I actually skipped this station because of the massive pileup of (I presume) newbie runners. Plenty of people also cheered us on from the bridges above us and the open road allowed runners to spread out a bit. Flat, and no complaints. Until we got all the way to Washington Avenue. There was our second water stop and again, it was at the corner turn. Good grief, this was ugly.

Miles 4-5: Pennsport. Very run of the mill, very relatively flat and fast through South Philly. Unlike previous years, the crowd support was significantly better. The roads were cleaned up, unlike two years ago. I looked for anyone I knew cheering in the crowd but I didn’t know anyone. I tried to keep my spirits up, it was race day after all.

Then we hung a left on South Street. So many memories. I wanted to take them in just in case I wouldn’t be back next year.

Mile 6: Washington West and Rittenhouse Square. We turned right on 6th Street, and then left on Chestnut Street. Home hood rally as I called it, Rittenhouse was the area with the greatest (by far) amount of crowd support. Random spectators here called and cheered your name (it was on the bibs) as you passed. This was quite the uplift I needed. The 10k split was roughly at 16th and Chestnut. And that’s when I knew that I was already halfway home.

Just two weeks before I’d done a 12 miler covering this same route but it felt so much better to be doing the real thing.

Mile 7: University City and Powelton Village. The queues for the toilets here were insane – I did not need to go, but 2 years ago I remember losing about 7 minutes to waiting here. Also skipped the water stations here with plenty of fluid in my bottle. Slight uphill as we progressed past Drexel and on the NE corner of Penn’s campus at 34th and Chestnut before making a right on 34th and headed to Powelton and Mantua. Deep in Drexel’s campus, one of the frat houses was blasting 80s music, and what did you know – at the time I passed it, Come On Eileen was on as the boys sang.

Miles 8-9: Mantua. This is one of the poorer communities in Philadelphia and even this area had many supporters lined up cheering runners on as they headed towards the Philadelphia Zoo. Steady incline took some wind out of me but I steadily pushed along. Continued up 34th Street and up the Girard Bridge.

Miles 10-11: Concourse, Fairmount Park. The so-called hill from hell. This somehow did but didn’t take the wind out of me. I remembered what I was told at Nike’s Women’s last year: lean in and breathe slowly. It’s a very slow yet steep hill and despite having trained on it thanks to City Sports, it still was utterly annoying. Came up the hill and hung a right, that was it. Several spectators held up signs urging us on.

Many people were on the concourse cheering us on. They were out of vanilla Clif Bar energy gel, and I had used mine up already, so I had to settle for raspberry. Mocha and Citrus are a no-go for me, as they have caffeine, and my body is hypersensitive to it.

Black Road was soon up and I was surging past a lot of runners. I felt strong, I felt good, which was odd, my training had not been the best this fall.

Miles 12-13: Back on MLK Drive. The loop was straightforward and then the hairpin turn. It was at this moment I realised that this race was coming to an end for me. I tried not to get too emotional, but as I’ve said many times on Twitter, I wasn’t so sure I’d be back next year if I move out. At the same time I wanted to do the full, and illness in 2012 prevented me from running the full that year.

I kept pushing forward as we saw the traffic soar our opposite direction on 76 West. And then I saw a Clif Bar Pace group pass me.

That’s when I noticed how fast I was actually going. I kept powering forward as a PR was in sight but I didn’t notice how well I had been doing until I saw the sign pass. Closing in on Eakins Oval, the throngs of supporters grew until you couldn’t hear much of anything. Instructions in English and Spanish were being blared for the full marathoners to stay left and the half marathoners to stay right. Once I veered right, I kept my eyes peeled for any supporter I could ferret out. No one I knew.

And like that, I crossed the finish line. 20 second PR. Holy smokes.

Post-Race Thoughts:
7 finish

After crossing the finish line, we queued up for Mylar heatsheets, our medals, water, soup, a load of other goodies we received in a Macy’s bag, granola bars, and the like. To my left, I noticed the massage tent was backed up for a ridiculous amount of time, even more grateful I had access to the VIP tent.

8 massage queue

After I filtered through the queue and got past 21st Street, I had to fight loads of spectators waiting for their loved ones. I trudged back to the VIP tent where I grabbed hot chocolate and recovered, listening to the bands play at the finish line festival.

9 ff

I spent about an hour recovering there, trying to mentally pull myself together. I went into the VIP tent’s massage area, where staff from Phoenixville Massage and Bodyworks worked on runners (Phila Massages, whom I have gotten treatment from, worked the main massage tent on the parkway). Much shorter queue, and I told the guy working on me to focus on my shins, as they felt fragile after the run. Shins and knees.

That felt so good.

10 ff 2

I went back to the tent area, and started texting and congratulating my friends, most of whom also either PRed, or did very well. It was a day of stories, a day of triumph for a lot of people and a day of bonding for me, or rather a weekend of bonding. It is difficult thinking I will be missing this come next year….or maybe I might return to enjoy this one last time. Just maybe.

11 medal

Embracing the Running Community

I’ve always wanted to join a few more running groups because run clubs have been a way for me to keep myself interacted with other runners and other people, critical for someone like myself who has been isolated through grad school and work, to a lesser extent. For the past year or so, I’ve made some great friends through City Sports, but the only downside is their runs are mainly on Thursdays. Recently Be Well Philly released a VERY comprehensive list of all the running clubs that they are aware of in the Philly metro area, including the Philly suburbs and even Southern New Jersey. Surely there are others like the Meetin groups (two groups that come to mind are LezRun, a lesbian runners’ group and RLPG, or Run Like a Philly Girl) that have not been advertised here as well, but the published list clearly shows that running is truly alive and well.

http://www.phillymag.com/be-well-philly/2014/06/19/run-fun-__-running-clubs-philadelphia-area/

The best part? With few exceptions most are free. TPRT is one I’d like to join but the fees are a bit steep on the budget, though they provide a structure that could benefit me. The other downside though is that because I am in a career that requires travel, I may not benefit from it as much as I’d like because I may miss several workout sessions.

However when it comes to groups my main issue is that I worry about speed/pace particularly in the heat. One big positive from prior years is that I just didn’t bother training outdoors period, but now I am. I still struggle at 10 mins, much slower than I am at optimal 50 deg temps, but the fact that my speed does keep improving in hot weather, however slowly, is a very encouraging sign. I’m walking a lot less and even yesterday’s Run Club, I actually hung with the group (who average about 8 mins or faster) for the first few miles. Usually that never happens. Still I have the self-consciousness that I had when I was invited to my very first run club four years ago.

“Am I too slow?” still dances in my mind. But in all these months, I’ve never had this issue with the City Sports crew. I know my route, and that’s that. Slow progress is still progress, and I have to be honest, I have to move with goals that are sustainable.

One thing that has contributed to this improvement is the sheer amount of weighttraining I’ve taken up, so I know this is something I need to keep at it. More recently though I have started training with SWCC, or Southwest Center City Running Club, based in Graduate Hospital. The members there are also very nice and I hope to keep running with them every Wednesday that I can!

Other ways I plan on keeping engaged is volunteer events. I volunteered at the in24 race series the weekend of 21 July. I still remember the incredible time I had running that relay and bonding with people up to the relay.

The five of us at it on a full body massage. 9 June 2012.

The five of us at it on a full body massage. 9 June 2012.

Race kit. 13 July 2012.

Race kit. 13 July 2012.

Campsite at Fairmount Park. 14 July 2012.

Campsite at Fairmount Park. 14 July 2012.

This year, I manned the water and refreshment station near the beginning and end of the course. I had tweeted our setup prior to the race start for the runners.

The start line at this year’s in24 race.

More recently I started training with SWCC, and City Sports have just expanded their training sessions on Sundays now. So that gives me three full days of training with people provided my work schedule allows. Pace-wise I’m okay. Personal, I think I click with most people in the groups, although I couldn’t help but notice that the Graduate Hospital folks were 1) mostly older than me 2) mainly settled down, I was the only one NOT in a committed relationship and 3) the vast majority of people in the group were homeowners. As in I could have felt like the odd person out, but I wasn’t. People in this group were very inclusive and I enjoyed everyone’s company. Interesting in that I finally got a sense of mingling with different people…and maybe seeing my own future if I were to really put roots down in Philly.

plank

At City Sports we’ve bonded over plank challenges (above) and many sponsored events but I’m really looking forward to their new Philly Marathon training program, sponsored and free of charge, meaning that I don’t lose anything on days I have to travel for work.

I’ve added several more friends on Twitter and now being able to keep up with fitness activities in a group has helped me with structure and accountability. But the friendships I continue to build are priceless, another reason why I love running the way I do.

Additional information:
SWCC meets every Wednesday at 6:30pm and Saturday at 8am. Their Facebook page is here: https://www.facebook.com/SWCCRunClub
City Sports Walnut Street meets every Thursday at 6pm and training runs for the Philadelphia Marathon every Sunday at 8am until race day (17 Nov).
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/CitySportsWalnutStreet

PhillyVegFest Recap

Since school has ended, I’ve focused on a few things (aside from work itself):

1) Rebuilding my social/personal life
2) Enjoying the city that I actually live in
3) Offseason training and working on my speed/keeping fit

Speaking a little more in detail on #2, one of the things that I sorely missed were the summer outdoor festivals that would occur in the city. There are a lot of them that occur in Philly, and school commitments in the past would keep me away. Recently when I was at the Broad Street Run Expo, I had seen a few adverts for an upcoming vegetarian fest, the first of its kind in Philly. It was surprising to me because Philly – as the home of the cheesesteak – to me was a very unfriendly city to health food, let alone vegetarian food. Philly cuisine tends towards gastropub grub, except a little less exciting (Philly pretzels, water ice, cheesesteaks). And I’m not big at all on Italian food, admittedly I find it quite bland, though I’m sure the top Italian restaurants will find a way to satisfy even the most discerning palettes out there.

Lately though, this has been changing and when I had initially heard about PhillyVegFest I got very excited. An outdoor festival for people like me. I was not going to miss this as it was very shocking to me that this could actually happen in Philly. I set the time aside, and took the bus over to Headhouse Square, the area where it was all going down.

Entrance-edit

Headhouse Square was packed. This had drawn quite a crowd.

crowd

My first stop was the Mom’s Organic Market stand, a business based in DC and the Baltimore area. I hope someday they come to Philly. Adjacent to that was the Whole Foods stand, which was serving its Jamacian Jerk Beyond Meat dish. I’d never heard of the Beyond Meat brand but I sank my teeth into it and I have to say it was pretty solid. I got several coupons too, pricewise checking it out later, it actually isn’t too horribly expensive at all. Even at Whole Foods. Shocking.

BeyondMeat-edit

There were other stands where I could also take in free samples and dishes; there were several mom-and-pops hawking their goods, edible or not. Vegan scrapple was being sold for $2 a serving though for some strange reason I passed up on this. It still looked legit as people who were eating it were raving about it.

scrapple

I decided to take an Italian veggie cheesesteak from Miss Rachel’s Pantry, located on Passyunk Ave. On the side was a pineapple marinara dip. Solid. I wish I could make stuff like this.

Raystable

Rayskitchen

The mayo stand was awesome too, though I preferred the chipotle kind as a dip. Although cage free eggs are a bit expensive, so naturally this is one of those products I wouldn’t be able to afford on a regular basis.

JustMayo-edit

Harvest Grill is an upscale restaurant off UPenn’s campus. I sampled some of their hummus and it was quite good.

Harvest grill hummus-edit

As an endurance runner, I was thrilled to see VegaBars up for grabs. They actually do taste good too!

Vegabar

The SoomFoods sesame tahini was amazing, especially the chocolate tahini. I don’t like Nutella because it is too sugary, but this is a fantastic substitute.

soomtahini-edit

Finally guayusa tea. I’d never heard of this tea, unusual for a heavy tea drinker. But my family hails from South Asia and so I’m accustomed to Ceylon tea. According to Runa (runa.org), guayusa is a South American tea as defined on its webpage:

“Guayusa (Gwhy-you-sa)
An Amazonian super-leaf that balances caffeine with an abundance of polyphenol antioxidants, providing you a clean and steady energy to make you feel “Runa” – fully alive.”

Runa tea

I took a few samples from the Mom’s Organic Market stand. I have since sampled them all, and I have to say, I love it. I liked the cinnamon lemongrass and the ginger citrus kinds.

Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed this event. And even though I went alone, I had great conversation with other people who were also discovering new brands and new products. I also hung around and listened in on some of the cooking lessons they were trying to teach to a sitting audience. Overall I had a great time and most importantly I learnt a lot; the Humane League of Philadelphia did a bang-up job of getting these vendors together for a great event. I’m sure hoping that they have this next year and if I’m still in Philly, I’ll definitely keep an eye out.

    More info:

Twitter: @PhillyVegFest
Web: http://www.thehumaneleague.com/phillyvegfest/
Org: The Humane League Philadelphia (FB)

Broad Street and the Homestretch

As I type this I cannot help but think, less than a day left. It’s been about two weeks or so since my last blog post, but with my biggest time-sinker – graduate school – nearly out of the way for good, these blog posts will be happening more frequently.

My life will be quite busy, but in ways that I have wanted.

Maybe a few side projects in addition to greater responsibility at my day job, further involvement in the running community, volunteer work, and if fate allows, a special someone in my life.

The last two weeks have allowed me to take a few steps forward, hitting up a few networking events and more regular training with the City Sports Run Club.

Mizuno2

This month, Mizuno brings us a bunch of shoes to try and being the flat footed person I am, the rep decided I’d be best off in the Wave Inspire 10.

shoes

Incredible to say the least. This shoe was not only comfortable but the first shoe that I have not felt the need to have Superfeet in them. Fantastic.

The weekend before was the Broad Street Run. Needing a break after the Love Run, and with school getting to insane levels of craziness in the latter stages of my capstone project, I was forced to take my five weeks off running, with two straight weeks after the Love Run had ended. I did not train again with City Sports until mid-to late April and my goodness was I sluggish. Recently I had weighed myself and I was shocked I hardly gained any weight despite the lack of exercise, yet at the same time even more surprised when I lifted again. If I had lost any muscle it must have been negligible.

I hit up the Broad Street Expo to check out how things changed since it had been at Lincoln Financial Field a few years ago. One thing had not changed for sure was the queue:

queueBSR

Just as long with volunteers trying their best to corral the crowd. Inside, we had many stands holding the usual running wares, although for the first time, I had actually bought something I’d needed badly: Superfeet for dress shoes. No stores carry it in the area, but the North Wales Running store sure did at the expo and for a small discount to boot.

charity

The expo also highlighted my epic failure with Star Wars trivia knowledge. Apparently there were exclusive “May the Fourth Be With You” shirts that the Independence Blue Cross table was holding.

Photo from geekadelphia.com, Broad Street collectible shirt

Photo from geekadelphia.com, Broad Street collectible shirt

To get one of these shirts you had to answer a trivia question. Unfortunately parsing through the wikipedia page did not help me with this question:

“What color is a wampa?”

Well, that did it. I had no idea. I guessed grey (the answer was white) and the attendant shook her head. Oh well I tried. Not to mention there were a mere 30 shirts available each day and many complaints abound on social media that not more were available. I also ran into Malinda of Twins Run and we were able to catch up – awesome times! She had scored her Star Wars shirt alright, although she had made two stabs at the questions (if I recall right).

fanatic

Overall the race expo was much bigger than I recalled in 2012 with more made available to the runners and visitors. But I was most happy with the availability of the Superfeet dress soles. Now my feet will be fully comfortable at work.

On race day itself, I was planning to catch up with friends at the huge afterparty thrown together by Philadelphia Runner and Shake Shack in honor of the 10th anniversary of the store. I hit the subway first, but not before I saw this:

BSR14

After I came out of the subway, I had a tough time, if not impossible time, crossing Broad Street to get to the section of FDR Park where the afterparty was being hosted. But it was worth the wait to make sure there was a gap at some point, at which I dashed through and made it to the other side.

I walked deep into the park where the boathouse was and saw the festivities go down. I met up with many friends who had run Broad Street, noshed on the vegetarian fare that was present and caught up with friends over some pretty solid beer.

BSRafterparty

Recently I’ve had no regrets slowly getting back into the swing of things as school winds down and I look forward to further getting involved with the running community. For starters though, I’ve been kicking my workouts back up to get fit again and get into a semi-training rhythm; I still have not decided on my early fall race yet as my trips abroad have not come to a final date.

And when they do, you’ll hear about my full race plans here. For now though, just to enjoy the moment, the upcoming graduation festivities and just soak it all in after years of misery, deprivation and sleeplessness, coupled with a greater sense of my strengths, greater resilience, many friends made in the classroom, the pavement and elsewhere, and many lessons learnt.

Giving Back: Runners Supporting Runners

Last year, I ran 20in24 with several of my running friends, all whilst raising money for Back on My Feet, a charitable group that uses running as a vehicle to help the homeless restructure their lives and retrain themselves for work.

1 distance

The experience impacted me so much, particularly from the volunteers that I’ve decided to go back and volunteer for this race. Additionally I’ve wanted to volunteer my time for a race and support my fellow runners after my long race haul. After 3 years and 2 5Ks, 3 5-milers, a 10-miler, 11 half marathons and a full, I was way overdue for this. My work for grad school is also a bit light this semester, so I wanted to see what it was like. I would like to volunteer for a group such as Students Run Philly Style, inspiring others to run and set goals for themselves on and off the pavement.

Even last night, I began to see what effects I could have on others, even though I’m not fast myself, there’s always someone new joining up. I trained with City Sports’ run club as I do weekly and we had a new runner Nancy who was even slower than myself, but to her credit, she had just taken up running. She was clearly nervous about her speed…which reminded me of myself 3 years ago. “Everyone has to start somewhere,” I told her. It was the same mantra I told myself when I was doing the rounds at Washington Square West. Continuous loops around the square. It wasn’t going to come overnight and I was candid on that point with her, but I told her to keep coming out, the coaches and leaders would never leave anyone behind.

Volunteering though has been hard for me balancing a full-time job with part-time graduate school. Most people have told me that I’m insane for pursuing this schedule, and it has taken a severe toll on my personal life, but now I’m starting to think that I just might be all the better for it. I’m more focused on the things I can have and have earned and aside from professional ambitions, outside of work, running is right up there. It has given me a lot of what I had lost over the years. And it truly moves me that it’s helped me find a way to help others through something I’m very passionate about.

The race had been originally scheduled for mid-July, but due to excessive heat, the city issued an ordinance to the race organisers to have it moved to September, not just this year, but later as I would understand, from this year forward.

I opted to serve an evening shift mainly because it was what they needed most and second, it was the best time available for me. I had been busy all day, enough said.

Start and finish line

When I arrived, it was getting dark, but easily spotted the main area and the start and finish line. I made my way to the volunteer line and gave my name and station. I was handed a tech shirt that designated me as a volunteer with the Back on my Feet logo (wow another shirt to run in!), slipped it on and was corralled with other volunteers coming in for the evening. We gathered a load of food for one of the outposts on the course and all got together in a large van used to transport food, supplies, and volunteers.

I was placed at Station 2 on the course, or approximately at Mile 3 on the 8-mile loop that all runners ran. We were stocked with loads of food: bananas, chips, Gatorade chews, water, Gatorade, gummi bears, pound cake, pizza, pretzels and soup, which of course, by the time I arrived, the station had unwittingly run out of hot water. The two volunteers – Sue and Helen – who were already there, had been volunteering at the station all day long (from 7am) as Helen’s husband was one of the ultramarathoners. Many of them stopped at our station to gather any number of the goodies we had.

2 food

Around 8pm though, it got a LOT darker and unfortunately that’s when the rain kept pouring down. The downpour definitely stopped a lot of people in their tracks and many of the ultras ultimately packed up their tents and went home. Rainwater causes more severe chafing issues and if blisters pop, infections can set in. But some others did come prepared with extra tape or special bandages and kept on running. Others also walked. Gold relay runners (each person approx 24 miles) also kept going and walked if they had to.

3 stand

Our station as we were told by the roving crew, was the driest of them all with two tarp panels up to protect us. Even then it wasn’t enough as the rainwater seeped through the ground and the three of us huddled in a single corner on slightly higher ground

4 rain

Around 10 or 11pm our relief showed up though the three of us were on until midnight. I saw all the volunteers on bike that had escorted me last year, including the biker who mentioned he had seen a random guy perched on a bridge above our course at 4am. He had escorted me on my second loop for our silver relay team (16.4 miles a piece) at around 4am. (We started later in the day, this year, all teams were required to start in the morning.)

We managed to survive into the end of our shifts, although I needed a ride home (and thankfully got it) as the rain continued to persist. Next year I definitely plan on volunteering for this effort assuming that I won’t be travelling around although this go, I will attempt to make myself available for the day shifts so I can interact with more people. It was definitely a worthwhile effort with many runners and bikers using their efforts to give back. And similarly grateful that I was able to carve out the time to come out here – I rarely go out on Saturday nights anymore.

Aside from learning because of severe weather in the Philadelphia summer, that this race would permanently be held now in September as opposed to July, I also learnt that Back on my Feet had opened such a race like this in Austin, TX, called IN24, holding essentially identical races. I also learnt that because 24-hour races are so rare, many people who normally participated in such an event were actually from out of town which explained the smaller than usual field amongst the ultras this year as many who planned for vacation time simply could not return in September.

We were lucky last year that the rain held off, and I am hoping for the events sake as well as all participants and volunteers that it holds off in the years to come!

If you are a runner in the Philadelphia area, I strongly encourage you to put a shift in (anywhere from 4-8 hours depending on the duty and you can do as many as you wish). It is truly worthwhile giving back and the relaxed atmosphere amongst the volunteers allows for more meaningful interaction with the ultramarathoners who often stop by and chat as opposed to most road races where it’s grab and go.