Category Archives: Running

New York Marathon (Update)

A blog that I read has been ranting that this week’s New York Marathon should be canceled in light of this week’s hurricane and the continuing recovery efforts.  For what they’re worth, these are my thoughts on the issue, from a response on that site.  I am not running, so I have no personal stake in it other than a (often unfounded) belief in the ability of our nation at its best to meet any challenge.

One point that should be corrected is that the race isn’t something “a trivial number of people care about.” Last year just short of 47,000 runners started the race. Multiply by a few spectators per runner, and you’re talking about a good number of people immediately invested in the race.

It’s also not something that can be just rescheduled for any time. At the most basic, the marathon is indeed a huge event with a big footprint. New York’s a busy place with lots of things going on, you can’t just throw these kinds of events around anywhere on the calendar. Similarly, many of those 47,000 people times however many spectators will be travelling from far and wide. Beyond losing out on reservations, etc., if this weekend is scrubbed, they’re not going to be able to just pick up and do it some other random weekend next year.

Beyond all that, almost all of those 47,000 people will have been training and dreaming about this race all year. Setting aside the pros and hopefuls with career riding on it, think about all the people doing their first marathon. All the countless people who would have never previously thought they would be able to run a marathon. All the people who’ve shaped up their lives and found some discipline just to make this one goal happen. All the people super excited about their big—maybe their first—trip to New York. Though intangible, that’s an awful lot to just throw away if holding the race is at all feasible.

If America and New York are as awesome as our idealistic collective vision of them, the race should be able to happen unless the situation is much more dire and immediate than what’s been projected. Whining about a couple generators is small & shrill. If it’s as simple as throwing around a couple extra generators to fix the problem, there wouldn’t be a problem.


Monday: As expected and pretty clearly bound to happen, the generators and all the supplies (water bottles, food, emergency blankets) simply sat in the park through the weekend despite the cancellation of the race.  Some were still there late today.  This was reported with varying levels of outrage by “news” outlets, with most people continuing to fail to really account for some obvious points in their complaints and cancellation rationales.

As pointed out by the mayor’s office and more cogent commentators, the generators in question physically aren’t applicable to most of the city’s needs due to their output characteristics.  Even if they matched, there were no resources to transport them.  Afterward they also had been or were immediately contracted to move to other sites.  Most importantly, power generation does nothing when it’s the power distribution grid that is destroyed and immersed.

Food and other supplies presumably were not distributed for similar reasons.  The region’s not exactly a site of mass starvation, and what problems do exist seem to be largely about transportation (road blockages, gasoline shortages) and lack of electricity (no ATMs, functioning stores, etc.).  If the problem was mere acquisition of crates of PowerBars and bananas, the situation would have been rectified long before now.

Most shockingly, despite the cancellation of the race, the many off duty police and other course marshals thereby released did not magically transform into the engineers and construction crews required to drain subways, inspect power lines, rebuild houses, and conduct the countless technical tasks actually required of disaster recovery once the initial crisis is over…

Finally, it is worth noting a point to all of the uproar about the propriety of conducting the race.  I mean, obviously spectator sports like the football games conducted Sunday in New York “Gave NY-NJ region much-needed respite from Sandy’s aftermath,” but participant sports are clearly just utterly inappropriate at this juncture.

Regardless, Sandy’s wake is without doubt terrible.  So far ~110 people have died in the US and ~70 in the Caribbean, as well as a few others.  Reported numbers vary widely, but tens of thousands of people in the New York/New Jersey area have had their homes destroyed or rendered inhabitable (ten, twenty, and forty thousand seem to be typical estimates).

However, every day of the year in New York City, over 50,000 people spend the night homeless.  Over 110,000 people rely on the homeless shelter system at some point throughout the year.  More than 500 people are murdered every year in New York City.  Similar or (many) more die needlessly simply because they don’t have access to medical care.

But, somehow, there’s hardly ever any outrage or questions of propriety and spectacle about any of that.

City Overlook

Early in the morning from a church front on the large bluffs overlooking Old Town.

There’s actually a lot of good running in the park up here, with a pretty big network of flat paths up top and a bunch of long, steep ramps and stairs to and from the river and Old Town.

Dawn over the Vltava


All from Charles Bridge.

Race Report: Philly Marathon

This past Sunday, Caitlin did the half marathon and I did the full marathon. Caitlin ran with some of the Students Run Philly Style kids from her school in about 2.5 hrs. I finished in 3:25:02, 931st/5921 male finishers, 192/927 in my age bracket, 1098/10076 overall. That’s 25 minutes slower than my original goal early this year, and somewhere between 25 to maybe 45 minutes slower than I was running by Labor Day. Given how the preceding week and the fall in general has worked out though, we were both pretty happy.

We’ve both been sick with some sort of sinus thing the past 10 days or so. Up until about 12 hours before the race weren’t even real set on getting up in the morning to go, particularly after a brief jog to go pick up bibs on Saturday didn’t go so awesome. Both of us have also really fallen off the trolley on training. After her Ironman at the end of the summer, Caitlin decided she was ready to start hibernating early. The excessive number of hours I was working out by the end of the summer directly converted first into driving overnight each Friday and Sunday to ECCC MTB races, and then to some new work projects. From a high of 40–60mi running + 12–16hrs riding + weights & core each week, Sunday’s marathon alone was literally more running than I did in the 6 week span from late September to early November, and I haven’t been riding either. We were fully prepared for a disaster.

We were both super glad we went though, obviously especially since it actually went pretty well. It was a gorgeous day to run, perfect temperatures and clear skies. The marathon also makes Philly look super awesome, I really enjoy it. It’s filled with great stuff, like the opening stretch down the Parkway into the morning sun coming up over city hall and the skyscrapers, the people lined up shoulder to shoulder cheering all down Chestnut St, and the way the the sun lines up perfectly in your face again when you make the last turn for homestretch return down Kelly Drive. I think it really is one of the best ways to see Philly, it comes across in a great light, so I highly recommend it for that reason alone.

More technical notes:

In terms of general fitness it was actually not difficult. I pretty easily cleared the first half in ~90 minutes, but starting around mile 15 had real serious knee problems and was very close to dropping out. Unfortunately, that stretch from mile ~14 (Girard Ave) to ~18.5 (Grape St) I consider definitively the hardest part of the course. Physically the sequence from 23rd & Chestnut to 34th St to Memorial Hall is the hardest because it’s uphill throughout, but that stretch on the river has no real crowds. It gets real quiet from miles 15 to 17 especially, and if you’re running in the top third of the field, there aren’t even that many other runners around. There’s nothing exciting going on course-wise either, it’s just flat and no turns, so it’s a real long time to spend by yourself in pain.

I told myself though to just keep going to mile 18, where there’d be a timing mat and I could quit with an official time at the 30k. Somehow that meant something in my head. At 18mi my knee was still getting worse but I told myself I just had to get into Manayunk where there’d be no way I could quit with people cheering again, and then I’d be on the return and home free. I did though have to adopt some serious survival strategies, which in the end carried the day. I cut my average pace by about a minute and a half (not that I had much choice), and started walking ~3 minutes every 2 miles or so. I could not possibly have run any faster or for any longer periods, but combined those gave just enough relief to my knee to finish, walk home, and just generally not permanently destroy the joint.

Food wise I have definitely settled on a really really scientific regimen of water, Shot Bloks, Snickers bars, and Dr Pepper… It blows my mind how little food and liquid most people must be taking in during one of these events, given that only the more serious end of the field carries anything at all, and even then hardly anyone and generally just a couple gels. Four hours and more for the bulk of the people is a long time to be out there doing a serious workout and living off just the occasional water cup and gel.

I run longer stuff with a Nathan HPL #008 water vest which I strongly endorse, it’s amazingly stable for running and hardly noticeable even when well overstuffed. I use it even in supported events like this because I hate dealing with or slowing down for water cups, and much prefer to take in sips throughout rather than gulp down at water stations. Besides generally making sense to me, I also think having a higher caloric intake mostly eliminates concerns many other people have, like stressing out about a great breakfast or oversize carb dinner the night before. I pretty much just eat what I always eat, in part because by eating steadily in the event itself I figure I avoid an unsustainable deficit. That said, I do try to be conscious of not eating ridiculously more calories or sugar per hour than I can probably process (the soda adds up real fast on the latter).

Finally, another important piece of gear I’ve adopted alongside my beloved compression calf sleeves and water pack are double layer running socks. Historically when doing a lot of running I’ve fairly regularly gotten minor blisters that I could ignore while running but would be a small nuisance otherwise. This year I’ve used WrightSock double layers for longer runs, and that minor problem has been completely eliminated. Worth checking out.

Old Race Reports: Summer 2008 Pickle in the ‘Villa

This is an old race report, from my first Pickle Run, in August of 2008.  It’s reposted for the archives here for the sheer awesomeness of this debacle of a race attempt.

The Pickle Run. Increasingly notorious, yet still a mystery to many. For those just tuning in, one of the projects of Drexel Cycling founder Frank Durso is the Pickle Run, actually a series of runs he’s been promoting. They work like this: He sets up a course at some location not many people know. Everybody comes and runs, making a prediction beforehand about their time. Afterward, prizes are awarded for fastest runs by age and for closest prediction. It turns out they also give prizes for really bad predictions. Even better, they also hide giant pickles around the course which will also get you a prize if you find one and run it back to the finish. But, really, the key point is that Frank runs around in a giant pickle costume being a goof. Today was the inaugural Pickle in the Villa, a trail run race.

None of this did I know. All I knew was that I was somehow talked into signing up for this “Pickle Run” and that I had to make a prediction about my time when I pre-registered. Caitlin and I debated long and hard about this. Here are the two basic problem we faced: One, I haven’t run systematically in a couple years at this point. I don’t even watch the clock anymore when I do make it out for one in a steady trickle of oddly scheduled runs. All I knew was that I wasn’t as fast as I used to be, and that my times are wildly inconsistent based on sleep, food, etc. Second, I had no idea what the course was going to be like. It said “trail run” but sounded more like a basic bike path around a park or something. I had no idea, only that it was supposed to be 4 miles long. Notably (this is important later), at one point I settled on 35 minutes, figuring that when I was in shape I could do four miles in about 24 minutes, so that would cover being out of shape and any possibly challenging terrain. Caitlin scoffed. “Thirty five minutes?! Slow! Why am I dating you???” but abruptly terminated any discussion of how fast she could do it. Generally shamed, I hesitantly revised downward to 28.5 minutes.

Speed forward twelve hours, and we get to the questionable decision making that is the hallmark of any Drexel Cycling story. Cycling widow that I am, I was all alone Friday evening while Caitlin was off racing for the weekend. Around 10:30 I looked at the clock, thought to myself “Sure, I’ll get to bed at 11, get up and leave by 7:15, get there at 8, race at 8:30. Great!” and started playing around with fixing some problems with my computer instead of going to bed right then. This is a critical yet common error that many Joes are known to make. Seven hours later I look at the clock and say “Holy god, it’s 5:30! I need to leave in two hours!” and dive into bed.

Later, in the middle of a vaguely pleasant but forgotten dream I wake up. All sorts of things are flashing and beeping. It’s 7:49! Shazbot—I have successfully slept through the collective wailing of four alarm clocks! Gathering my cool, I grab my sleeveless Drexel jersey, slip on the shortest short shorts I have, and run out the door with my shoes half on. Bursting into the Kia, I slam the gas before the door’s even shut and peel out of the parking space like Elwood Blues on speed. Seconds later I’m doing 85 and making my way around the Lombard curve and onto the highway, at which point my trusty Korean sidekick and I really punch it, rollover warnings be damned.

Adroitly aided by our other buddy TomTom after some sketchy sections trying to type in the address while racing trucks down the narrow parts of 76, we cruise without incident to the race and come skidding to a flying stop in a great parking space for which the “Handicapped” sign had fortunately, arguably, fallen over. Car door slam still ringing in my ears, I grab my bib number out of the registration lady’s hand as she’s packing up and quick foot it to the start line with a whopping forty seconds to spare. Former Drexel Cycling superstar Dan Heinaman is there laughing, noting that “Yeah, they said only one person hadn’t shown up yet and I just figured it had to be you!” Catching my breath, I went to make a snarky rebuttal but the starting gun went off and I immediately lost my breath again.

Here we begin the long dark tea time of the soul that is the heart of a good race. Warming up on the move, I begin a debate about optimal strategy here. I’ve had two hours sleep, no breakfast, and had pretty much skipped dinner. The smart move is to go into survival mode and trudge along. The genius move is to book it, go wide to flank the 150 people between you and the front of the herd, and pray to all the trail gods that you don’t fall apart completely in your highly distinctive and recognizable Drexel jersey such that you’ll be choking on their knowing smirks as the entire crowd re-passes you. Clearly, that was the only viable choice, so that’s what I did.

Just a few seconds later, coming down a nice grassy field I was thinking to myself “Hmmm, this is kind of like a cyclocross race of running—not really off road, not really on road. Easy!” when I saw the Lord of the Pickle himself, Frank Durso, course marshaling and cackling maniacally. Seeing that he was not, indeed, in Pickle costume, I briefly dreamed of many forms of vengeance upon him for getting me all the way out here way early on a Saturday morning—when he wasn’t even wearing the Pickle costume, the point of the whole thing! Those thoughts were quickly obliterated though as I realized the source of his maniacal glee, a sharp left turn and descent into the woods as the race turned into a legitimate trail run! “Shazbot!” I thought to myself as the course plunged into the woods, across several creeks, and up a number of hills.

Later, having developed a style I’m labeling Drunken Running, the key tenet being that it doesn’t matter if you can’t run straight if the course doesn’t go straight, I was sitting pretty in the top seven or so as we rounded the top of what I thought to be the main loop on a lollipop course. “Halfway! Man, easy!” I exclaimed, and pushed on.

Coming down toward the stem of the lollipop, a little voice somewhere deep in my subconscious noted “Hey Joe-Man! Those arrows ahead aren’t going straight back… Aw, shazbot…” and watched in quiet horror as my feet followed the course sharply away from our direction home. At that point I think I blacked out.

Waking up much later, subconscious noting that we were now on what my head was convinced was mile nine of a four mile course, people starting trickling past. Belatedly coming around to reason, feet and head finally switched to our patented survival strategy: Find some cute girl and follow her around for some motivation to keep moving. What with the stream of runners now going by, that proved not hard and much thanks goes out to the sweet girl from Ursinus College for unknowingly ensuring I got back with some semblance of dignity intact. I apologize for sprinting by you in the last hundred meters, but after all, you have to finish strong to look good for the crowd…

Hanging out at the awards ceremony, Frank now in costume, I was shocked to learn all sorts of Pickle Run proceedings that I had not been aware of before. For example, that you got prizes for either winning, predicting, or finding a pickle. Not shockingly, the straight winners were largely high school runners who mostly looked too young to shave, but had times in the mid 27s and 28s. Amusingly though, all of them got schooled on the predictions, having seriously underestimated what would definitely be a legitimate mountain bike race course. The winner came in with a decidedly more average time, but was only off by seven seconds. Dan Heinaman also built on earlier foundations and took home a pickle for solid predicting, having won an earlier race in the series by being off by only a second, and being reasonably close today on a generally unpredictable course.

To be honest, I was a little disconsolate at not winning a pickle and wasn’t really paying attention when all of a sudden I heard my name being announced! Shocked, I quickly enquired what was going on and discovered that they were giving out pickles for worst predictions and I’d come in a strong second with a 34:30 time, off by 6 minutes! Sweet, sweet inconsistency paying off once more! Drexel Cycling, rockin’ it in (some sort of) style yet again! Most importantly though, that was only thirty seconds off my original prediction. Third place was a minute and a half off their prediction. If only I had stuck to pattern and not listened to Caitlin, I would have an admittedly same-sized yet vastly less questionably prestigious pickle!

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is how you Pickle Race. Further, let me tell you, this is one of the most awesome trophies I’ve ever won, and I’ve got some kickass Sarah Uhl handmade specials that set the bar pretty high:

The bandito Pickle Villa strikes again!