Steamtown Marathon, I Love You!

Just over six months ago I decided I needed to start base training for the Honolulu Marathon that I registered for in January. I told myself I wanted to Boston Qualify this year as well, 3:35:00 or better for my age group. As a reference point, there are lots of people that spend years trying to run a time that qualifies them for Boston. I, on the other hand, hoped to do so on my first try and with one official race completed since my high school track days, a half marathon on mostly treadmill running. This is going to go well, right? Well somewhere over the last six months I found out about this amazingly beautiful race in Scranton, PA. I registered and found myself trying to stick to a schedule I drew up on my own. It wasn’t perfect, but I enjoyed it.

Fast forward to October 13th! Two friends and I parked in a garage around the corner from the bus loading area and got ready to run the Steamtown Marathon. Since this is a point to point race we all get dropped off in Forest City, PA and then run back to Scranton, PA. Sounds like fun? It is! The ride up was pretty calm, the sun had just started to rise and I was able to get a few minutes of sleep in. The men/women bathroom designations at the start worked well, we did have a guy in the women’s line – we let him use the women’s portos even though he somehow didn’t notice he was the only male in the line. It was nice to have an indoor place to wait and the messages from the students were a nice to see. Two bathroom trips later I made it to my corral/area that had a 8min/mi pace sign held up while taking my first gel.

There was a misfire of the traditional cannon start so runners started out with the gun blast. Three seconds later the cannon went off followed by cheers as runners crossed the starting mats. Miles 1-6… From what I recall they were great. The first half mile was pretty flat and the pace moved nicely, the downhill when you turn on Dundaff St. is very steep! I shuffled down it and turned right onto Main St. There are some early birds out there to cheer and it’s nice to know that the residents support 2,000+ runners making their way through the area at 8am. I don’t wear a fancy watch and I tend to forget to hit lap at mile markers, so I just did the math in my head at each mile marker. Thank you to all the runners around me with fancy watches that beeped and rang out as we approached each mile marker. I did use Map My Run on my phone so that I could see my stats later. 7:21 – 8:00 – 7:56 – 7:16 – 7:18 – 7:22

Miles 7-15 were equally as nice. I followed the advice of a friend, almost, and just enjoyed the run. I looked around, read signs, smiled and said ‘Good Morning’ to spectators. I believe I gave out about 12 high-5’s by this point. I made an effort to high-5 anyone the had a hand out or an ‘ Official High-5 Station’ sign, even when it meant darting to the other side of the street. Thank you to everyone lining the streets here: Carondale, Archbald and Jermyn. The scenery was gorgeous!! The support was fantastic and I breezed past the 13.1 mile clock at 1:41:11. At this point I had a few minutes banked, but I was feeling great and the best felt perfect with little effort. I took a gel at mile 8 and just after 13.1. The trails began just before mile 15 and they were lovely. The major elevation drop ends around this point as well. 7:54 – 7:17 – 7:46 – 7:33 – 7:38 – 7:39 7:53 – 7:43 – 7:51

Miles 16-23 included more trains and a loop in the park. I was on cruise control at this point and simply read signs and did pace/goal time math. I began to think that not only would I run a Boston qualifying time, but I may be able to run a sub-3:30. I told myself not to get ahead of myself and reassess my goal. Just as you exit the park there is a little wooden bridge that takes you over to the last of the trail section. Enjoy it!! I personally found it very enjoyable and not hard to manage. I took my final gel around mile 20. I think there was a little hill at mile 23, I’d compare it to one of the lower loop rollers in Central Park. I did the math at mile 23. I had 6.5 minutes banked if I wanted to hit 3:33 . I could run 10 minute mile pace at this point and reach my goal and rather than risk blowing out on the major hill that was yet to come I decided to start pulling back. I was around 2:58 with 5k to go. 7:47 – 7:47 – 7:47 – 7:56 – 7:53 – 7:52 – 8:01 – 8:12

Miles 24-26.2  is where the FUN begins in this race. Yes, they are kind enough to put a couple nice hills at the end of the race. I was very nervous about these hills going into the race and asked a few people at the expo about them. I tend to run Harlem Hill in Central Park and thought they would be a lot worse, thankfully they weren’t for the most part. The major hill is the one around mile 24.3. It’s a bit steep and a has a little curve at the end where it hides a little extra. I simply leaned forward a bit, shortened by stride and powered up the sucker. Sorry for the lack of smiles there, minus a smile and wave at the hospital patients I saw just before the right turn. It reminded me of Cat Hill in Central Park. More running, the support dies out a bit around here, everyone is on the last hill and at the finish minus the beer guy at mile 25, you are awesome, my friend. I told you I was coming back for that beer, I ended up asking a friend to grab one for me! Two ‘hills down’ and one to go is what I thought. I was greeted by my friend shouting at me. I love that kinda stuff!! ‘One little hill after the light, Espinoza, you’re almost done!!’ Trudging up to the top of the hill wasn’t effortless, it was a bit long, but once I reached the stoplight at the top I could see the finish line. YES!!!! I definitely had a sub-3:30 in the bag. I picked up the  pace a little, not a powerful finish by any means, but I was happy. Stopped my watch, 3:28:11! (It matched my chip time perfectly) ::Happy dance commences:: 8:17 – 8:13 – 8:13 – I forgot to stop my phone so it’s a little off, around 8:00

If you are going to run this race, get some hill training in, get some downhill training in and get some off-road running in if you can (nothing too crazy required). There’s no need for gloves, thermals, etc. at the start, IMHO. You’re body should warm up pretty quickly and by the halfway point the temperature should be ideal.

Overall I loved the race. The organization was great. They should definitely host a conference on ‘How to Plan and Execute A Great Marathon.’ The food at the finish was top notch. I love perogies! I love my medal! I was happy with my massage by Grace in the court house lobby. The shirts were a nice touch. The volunteers were very helpful and remembered faces, a great thing! If you are a looking for  a race that makes you feel like an elite and support from perfect strangers then definitely register for the 2014 Steamtown Marathon. I can’t gush about it enough, meaning I’ve probably forgotten about 300 great things I have been thinking about the race over the past 48 hours. I love you, Steamtown Marathon!

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Ultramarathon & Marathon Training During Ramadan

It’s not hard. (إن شاء الله) Well I should say it’s not impossible, but it’s certainly not easy. When presented with the most recent heatwave in NYC I was left with to options, run in the heat or not train at all. (I’m not a fan of treadmill running now that I’ve started a serious relationship with outdoor running, so that was not an option.) Over the past couple weeks I have made it a priority to run at least four times a week, even logging over 16 miles on a Sunday run.

Going into this training season I hadn’t planned to run an ultramarathon at the end of August. It just happened. Really. I did know that I would need to log miles during Ramadan in order to hit my marathon training goals. So then this ultra moseys onto my schedule and there’s no turning back. I haven’t even run a marathon yet. I keep telling myself if I can run 30-40 miles a week in the heat and without hydration I can deal with a flat ultramarathon course with a cool start and a couple hours of running in the heat with hydration.

My ultimate goal is to finish the 50k, but I have an ambitious 4:59:59 or better goal time tucked away in the back of my mind. I was under the impression that I could hit my goal time on some of my longer runs, but I’ve found it hard to hold a slow pac, even on long runs. Last weekend I completed my run at a sub-9 min ave pace of 16.55 miles (if you don’t count the 5 minutes of water breaks, traffic lights and figuring out where we were). I believe the cooler, evening conditions aided in keeping a slightly faster, conversational pace with my fellow running buddies. My goal finishing pace is 9:39 or so for the 50k. I’m hoping that I can complete my 20 mile run this weekend at that pace, but if I stay in the low nine minute range I may be in for a surprise on race day.

I feel like I’m in a grove at this point. My weeknight runs have been at 7:50-8:40 mile averages. I don’t feel drained as much, which I can likely attribute to sitting in the air conditioning for a few minutes after runs to lower my core temperature.

Some of the things that have worked for me during Ramadan race training include:

  • Listening to my body instead of trying to hit specific paces
  • Not wasting energy by making unnecessary movements
  • Wearing breathable clothing
  • Not running more than than 6-7 miles (approx. 10-11k)
  • Starting runs within two hours of sunset
  • Having at least a .5 litre bottle of cold water nearby when the sun does set
  • Starting long runs close to sunset

Every mile during my runs I try to do a tune-up check on my body. I think about my form, my breathing, any tension in my body and how my body feels overall. I feel like this has definitely helped keep me on track and keep my mind off of the fact that I cannot rehydrate like many of my fellow runners post-run. Two more weeks to appreciate the simple things like a sip of cold water after putting a hard workout.

3 Running PRs!! (And the Brooklyn Half Recap)

Well I guess the title is a little deceiving since two of my personal records are in races that I’ve run for the first time ever, but you’ve gotta start somewhere! Right? [This will likely be a long post]

After completing my first half marathon in April 2012 I told myself I’d stick to shorter distances and casual running. In the end I didn’t put much effort into running and crossed it off my calendar by December, then I registered for the Honolulu Marathon. With an ambitious goal of 3:35:00 I told myself I’d start running again to build a base in March and planned my first 5k for early April 2013. This is where the PRs started.

PR #1 – JFK Runway 5K Run (April 2013)

My goal time for this race was 25:00, factoring in the fact that I had only been back in my running shoes for three weeks, I thought it was a reasonable goal time. The course was flat and the weather was cool. The only con was the headwind that decided to pick. The entire start/finish set-up, including the clock, toppled a few minutes before the start.

Look at that kid go!

The run was nice and there weren’t too many people. I ended up finishing in 24:36, just ahead of the 9 year old that I spotted picking up speed beside me. In addition to surpassing my goal and getting to run on an active runway legally, I finished in the top 100 which was an added perk.

 

 

PR #2 – Newport 10000 (May 2013)

I read up a bit on this course and two factors in choosing to register for this race were the location and the elevation. The course was practically flat, with one small hill just before mile two. I didn’t think the turns would be much of an issue and was looking forward to the run along the boardwalk, with views on Manhattan.

Race Day arrived and the weather did not want to work with the runners. I believe the forecast mentioned a 90% chance of rain in the morning. The rain was cooling, but the Newport10k Finishpuddles that it created made a world of difference when trying to avoid potholes on this road race.The turns ended up being a slight problem only due to the fact that some were very sharp and people needed to flush themselves together along them, lest you opt for wide turns during the race.With a sub-50 goal in mind I pounded along each mile, hoping that the rain and turns weren’t hurting my times too much.

I was a little nervous when I made it to the boardwalk since it was wet and potentially slippery, at least in my head. Once I passed the mile 6 marker I knew I was basically home free. As I made the final turn a friend who had finished the race already shouted my name and ran along the side as I crossed the finish. Once chip times were posted I was a little happier, 48:49. Another friend crossed shortly after, 52:XX, on his first 10K as well. That deserves celebration!!

PR #3 – Brooklyn Half (May 2013)

The race that I didn’t plan on running had me in mind. After some very mild coaxing I decided to run the Brooklyn Half. My goal time for a half is 1:40:00, but my only goal for Brooklyn was to finish (and hopefully PR). Although I hadn’t completed any runs longer than 8-9 miles I was assured by friends that my weekly mileage would easily carry me over the finish line.

Brooklyn Half Moments

                 Brooklyn Half Moments

Thankfully a friend let me stay at her place on Grand Army Plaza, so I slept in and wandered out just after 7am with no bags to check. The corrals were filling up quite nicely by that point and the first wave had already started. I got to watch a couple speedy friends zip by the library as I walked to my corral. By the time I crossed the start line 33 minutes had elapsed. I started picking off runners early since I started in a slower corral (no offense peeps). I had also never run Prospect Park and received mixed reviews on the ‘hill’ in the park. I tried to take it a little easier until I hit the hill, just in case it turned out to feel like Harlem Hill. The hill around mile 5 wasn’t bad at all. It was a little like Cat Hill in Central Park, maybe a slightly higher grade. The downhill for the next mile was great, it was my best split (7:24).

After leaving the park I cruised, sipping a few ounces of water at each station. I made sure my legs felt fine and I didn’t feel tired after each mile marker. I did munch on jelly beans intermittently throughout the race and they kept me energized. Near mile 9 a dog ran by. He ended up crossing the finish line as well. At mile 10 I realized how good I still felt, and time was still on my side. Somewhere after mile 11 you run out of lettered streets which only means one thing: you are getting close to the finish.

The only gripe I had was the extreme narrowness of the boardwalk entrance. It would be nice if they could somehow widen it for runners. Once on the boardwalk you only have a few hundred feet to go so you have to go all out. In all it was a great run, I did PR by about 7.5 minutes (1:46:32)!!! I know I have a 1:40:00 waiting to be chipped away, but ultra/marathon training has commenced.

This year has definitely kicked off on the right foot and I’m excited for the races I have scheduled for the second half of the year.

What I’m Thankful For: Three Weekends Of Aiding Hurricane Sandy Survivors

November proved to be one of the months I was most grateful for. I can’t think of a more worthwhile and gratifying way to spend a little bit of my own time than helping those that were affected by Hurricane Sandy. 20121104_085245Like thousands of others, I originally planned on volunteering at the ING NYC Marathon. Instead I headed out to Staten Island on Sunday, November 4th with a ferry full of runners and other folks looking to lend a helping hand. That day turned out to be more rewarding than I could have imagined. I was in awe of the number of people that were willing to go into a disaster zone without a second thought.

20121111_111836We didn’t come with a real plan. We didn’t want anything in return. We were simply strangers coming together to help strangers in need. I guess you could say the feeling was euphoric. I definitely wanted to share that feeling with others so for the two next weeks I went out to Far Rockaway in the same manner. Myself and the folks who joined me worked at the homes of complete strangers for as long as we could. At sunset we headed to the bus stop and waited with volunteers and locals to get off of the inlet. The commute back to the train was the low point. Even then we made the best of the 1.5 hour long bus ride, which should have only been twenty minutes.

The smiles and hugs were the only compensation that we accepted. As we lifted floor boards, ripped out drywall and pulled out waterlogged insulation we tried to make light of a 20121111_150050really tough situation. One owner joked with his wife that he didn’t want to get the floor dirty as we trudged though muck while clearing his basement. What many people fail to realize is that these were working class people who were simply living the ‘American Dream.’ For many they spent a pretty penny to move to their communities and in a matter of hours everything was turned upside down. Suddenly you are tapping into reserve funds to pay for water removal and electrical rewiring. This was the last thing on anyone’s mind since everyone was comparing this storm to Hurricane Irene, which did minimal damage to New York City.

Beyond the tears and feelings of doubt you could see the light coming back to those that lost almost everything. The people in the homes I went to were much stronger than they realized. I immediately thought of the lines:

20121111_152448Through this place of wrath and tears looms but the horror of the shade
And yet the menace of the years finds and shall find me unafraid
William Ernest Henley
You think about what you would do in a situation like this, but you never really know how you will react until you are living through this nightmare. I am grateful that I was fortunate enough to sustain no damage to my home, but I am even more grateful that I was able to provide an ounce of assistance to a few people in Staten Island and Far Rockaway during some of their darkest hours.

20121111_162332

Merry Christmas.

#45 – Run A Half Marathon

I’m not sure why I chose the Rutgers Unite race, but I figured it was as good as any race to run. After a little over four months of training I finally stood at the start line of my first half marathon, but not as prepared as I had expected. The morning started out like an episode of The Twilight Zone. I didn’t have a ride to the start, I hadn’t eaten an actual breakfast and finally, I realized I still had my pants on after I left my stuff with bag check.

As I made it to bag check I heard the one minute warning. Three seconds before the actual start I was trying to push myself up towards my corral all while pinning my bib to my pants and then realizing they would eventually annoy me. Just as the race started I got my pants off, tossed them (they are now at some donation site in New Jersey), and began in the 10:00min pace corral while re-pinning my bib and Gu Chomps. To add to this I forgot to apply Bodyglide to my thighs, which I regretted after Mile 4, and I had to run with cellphone to access my music. Could anything else go wrong?  Maybe. Around Mile 8 I scored a Banana Hammer Gel, but held out for almost a mile before I downed. At Mile 9 it began to drizzle. Thankfully the case on my phone kept it from getting wet, but my new headphones were going in and out. The race ended well, minus the fact that there is a decent incline before you make it across the finish line.

There were definitely more hills and inclines than I was told. When I asked at the expo they  reiterated that the course was indeed flat. A few friends agreed with my assessment so I knew I wasn’t crazy. My overall goal was anywhere between 1:45-1:59 and I’m glad I stayed within that range. My official time was 1:54:06.5 and while it may not get me into the Boston Marathon, I’m proud of that being my time on my first half marathon. Would I run another half or try a full, I can’t say one way or another, but I respect anyone that does! I think I’ll do a few 10k events before I consider another half.

10 Things You Need On The Playa

For years I thought about going to Burning Man so that I could experience this ‘self reliance’ and radical expression’ that I heard so much about. In 2008 I finally subscribed to Jack Rabbit Speaks and lived vicariously through the newsletter and photos. Finally making it to the playa was surreal, for lack of any word in existence that could possibly describe it.

Like many virgins, I thought I was prepared. I mean, c’mon; I read the newsletter for years, I knew the principles, I had signed up to volunteer, I scoured the internet for tips and I checked my packing list twice. I knew I needed a tent (I doubt I would ever RV it, personal preference), food, water and a bicycle. You definitely need those things to survive on the playa. There were still things that I forgot, things I was glad that I packed and things I learned along the way. Here’s my shortlist, in no particular order:

10. Participation. Participate. Participate? Participate! This cannot be repeated enough. Just because you don’t want to join a camp or can’t commit to four hours of work a day as a ranger doesn’t mean that you can’t give back to Black Rock City (BRC). You can spend a few hours at Playa Info, get on stage in Center Camp, support an event or create your own event to share with the other citizens of BRC.

9. Lights At Night. There is nothing worse than literally running into some unlit being on the open playa after dancing it up at Disorient on Tuesday night. Be a dear and put some blinkies or glow sticks on your bike as well as yourself when you head out at night. Mutant vehicles and art cars may not see you stumbling across the playa and we would all hate for you to be that inevitable fatality that we have grown to expect annually.

8. A Vinegar/Water Concoction. Be sure to label the spray bottle that you put this mixture in. After spending hours exploring the playa your sweaty feet will thank you for keeping them from learning what playa foot is all about. Simply spray a little of this on your hands and feet and pat dry. Be sure to finish this ritual off with some lotion or sunscreen.

7. A Backpack. This sounds obvious, but it’s not. Couples tend to bring one bag and share the space. It’s not fun being the designated bag carrier with 2 water bottles, sweaters and other essentials strapped to your back. What would you do if that bag carrier of yours just so happens to wander off? Now it’s getting dark and your thirsty, what are you going to do? Don’t even let this become a potential situation, each person should have a backpack! It also makes it a little easier to get to the things you want when you want them instead of pestering the person holding all of your super cool stuff.

6. Earplugs. I even do this when I go to parties in the default world. Earplugs will help filter out the noise that will cause eardrum damage and it makes it easier to understand what the cute person in the elephant costume is screaming in your ear at Nexus. Want to get a few restful hours of sleep in your freshly pitched tent after a six hour entry queue? Pop in those earplugs and let the playa dreams roll.

5. Baby wipes. Some people feel icky after going seven days without a proper shower, but consider it a right of passage when you live in BRC. You can always head over to Nectar Village for a steam bath if you do not want to undertake creating your owner shower structure and in between make use of baby wipes to get your clean, quick fix. Remember that you’re only going to re-dust yourself two seconds after stepping outside. Save your water for drinking and your energy for playing, baby wipe the dust away.

4. Reusable Cups. It’s easy to just buy a pack of paper or plastic cups, but they’re wasteful and will become MOOP a lot quicker than you expect. Instead opt for a sturdier cup. Pimp out your favorite plastic reuseable cup or invest in a shatterproof thermos that you can attach to your bag for easy access.

3. Chapstick. I like to lovingly call the effects of chapped lips on the playa Playa Herpes. Just like the default world version, this is something that you just don’t want and your friends will probably stop sharing their cups with you. Do yourself a favor and buy a six pack in case you lose a tube. You can always gift an unused tube to someone that appears to be in need!

2. MOOP Bags. There will come the time when you are peddling down 4:00 between Engagement & Divorce (2011 street names) and you come across a half dozen used glow stick bracelets waiting to be picked up. Help keep the playa clean and carry a little bag to collect matter out of place. When you make it back to your camp empty out your travel size MOOP bag into your camp MOOP bag.

1. Your Own Personality. Just because some people choose to dress themselves up with EL wire before hitting the town each night doesn’t mean that you’ve got to do the same. Some folks prefer a simple floral shirt and cargo shorts when they head over to Center Camp for a coffee while you’ve got others that feel incomplete without their hula hoop, yarn extensions and green fur coat. Do what feels comfortable to you and just be yourself. You know the saying, Be yourself, everyone else is already taken.’ Keep in mind that this is also the time to step outside your comfort zone and try something new without the fear of being judged.

Keep in mind that there’s one thing you don’t need on the playa; a bad attitude. We all get tired, dusty and possibly dehydrated at some point during our short time on the playa, but that does not mean that Oscar the Grouch needs to make an appearance (unless that is planned ensemble for burn night).

Whether it’s your first burn or your 27th you’ve got to remember that you make the city and the city also makes you. Don’t forget the bacon. The gate opens in 193 days and the Man burns in 198 days. )'(

Will Burning Man Overcome Scalping?

Approximately 53,000 Burning Man tickets were sold by July 24th, 2011, making it the first year that the event sold out in its 25 years of existence. In efforts to combat the growing  scalping attempts the Burning Man Organization (BMOrg) has instituted a lottery system, which began yesterday.

There are already a few resale sites that are offering tickets ranging for $700-1610 a piece.  Keep in mind that the highest price tickets are selling for through the legal portal is $390. Resellers are also showing that tickets will ship between February 1st and August 24th although BMOrg has stated that tickets will not ship until some time after June 1st, without giving a specific date. In Coachella’s attempt to thwart scalper’s buying up all tickets they decided to host identical festivals over two weekends, with the same lineup. Of course burning two men, two temples and cleaning out the city and ushering in 50,000 people for a second week of Burning Man is highly improbable.

There are a couple things that BMOrg can do to try and combat scalpers before they become a cancer to the event.

  • Associate names with ticket numbers so you can track the movement of a ticket, even if the names are only virtually paired
  • Force purchases to resell their tickets through a BMOrg portal
  • Include verbiage to combat scalping in the Terms & Conditions

We first heard of the lottery/random selection system a few months ago and are now seeing if this system will be viable. There are tens of thousands of ‘burners’ queuing for a chance to be randomly selected for one of the 40,000 tickets being offered at the end of this month, potentially including those that did not receive a ticket purchase confirmation during December’s 3,000 ticket pre-sale.

For the next 13 days, at least, it’s a waiting game. Shortly after January 22nd the lucky 40,000 tickets will be randomly distributed to their very lucky recipients. Let’s hope that the far majority actually go to people genuinely interested in attending Burning Man and not looking to make a quick buck off of someone that has been saving up for this amazing place they call ‘home.’