Sunday, August 18, 2013

Race Report: BUS Pajama Romp 6-Hour

The Pajama Romp 6-Hour race has quickly become a favorite in the New York ultrarunning scene. It's a 6-hour race on a loop of just over 1.25 mile in beautiful Astoria Park, Queens, right on the water with views of Wards Island, and underneath the Triboro Bridge and Hell gate Bridge. It took place in the evening, from 5:00-11:00 pm, away from the worst of the summer heat. The 2013 edition was on Saturday, July 27 with excellent weather conditions, unlike the stifling heat of 2011 and the rain of 2012.

I had come into the race undertrained but was hoping for a good showing nonetheless. As with all race reports that don't have a happy ending, this one begins with, "I started out way too fast." Tommy Pyon and Aaron Heath took off like a shot, and although I didn't try to keep up with them, they motivated me to run faster than I should have! But that wasn't where my main problem was. After a couple of hours, solidly in third place and on point for a good mileage, my back pain reared its ugly head and forced me to slow down, even walking large chunks of some laps. Striding out just aggravated my back, so the running I did wasn't at a good speed. The pain came and went, but my legs had stiffened up so much that it was hard to get anything going. But I kept on, enjoying the company of the other runners, enjoying the beautiful evening.

In the end, I finished in eighth place for the men with 38.34 miles. Aaron beat out Tommy for the win, and Sky Canaves won the women's race convincingly. It was a great occasion to get together with runner friends, and to make new friends. One nice thing that stood out here is the number of talented young ultrarunners in the NYC area. There were a lot of new faces here, and they showed a promising future to continue the great tradition of ultrarunning in New York!

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Race Report: Queens 10K

The Queens 10K is part of NYRR's 5-borough race series, which used to be a 5-borough half marathon series. The Queens Half Marathon was held for many years on the streets of College Point, which is a very nice neighborhood, but I think the residents there were tired of having streets closed off for a few hours one day a year, and I know a lot of runners weren't crazy about the trip out there. I myself once had to jog the three miles from the Flushing subway station to the start because there wasn't enough time to wait for a shuttle bus or a public bus. Eventually they moved the course chiefly onto park roads in Flushing Meadows Corona Park along with a long out-and-back on College Point Blvd. So the current 10K course largely follows that course, minus the section on College Point Blvd.

The race was held on July 21, and the weather was warm and very nice. It was my first NYRR race since the team championships in August 2012. It felt good to get out and do a fast race again. It was over in no time, there's not a lot to report on the race itself. I didn't run quite as fast as I hoped I would, but I'm happy with my 38:13, which was good enough for 2nd in my new age group, men 45-49. And I passed a lot of runners in the second half of the race, so that's a good sign for my pacing.

So I left the park exhausted but content. And it was just the first of three race weekends in a row, so more to follow!

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Race Report: The Great New York 100 Mile/100 KM Running Exposition

This post is better late than never! The second, some people are saying "annual," Great New York 100 Mile Running Exposition, managed to come off on June 29, on a hot, sticky day. The race had the same small, low-key, under-the-radar atmosphere of the first, but it was just a little bit larger, higher-key and on-the-radar. And what was a scrappy first effort became a better organized second running.

The course was the same, except for some small deviations, most notably the loss of the Rockaway Beach boardwalk from hurricane Sandy last fall. It still started in Times Square at 5 a.m. on a Saturday, and featured most of the city's best running routes, including greenways, park pathways, forest trails, beaches and bridges, as well as city streets - residential, commercial and industrial, before finishing back in Times Square. It roughly skirts the outer boundaries of Manhattan, the Bronx, Queens and Brooklyn. (Staten Island is not on the route only because there is no way to get there on foot without going through New Jersey.) The idea of the race is to showcase the great places in the city to run that the city's runners might not otherwise know about, and I hope that it has accomplished that goal.

The main differences between last year and this is that I increased the field size from about 30 to what became 60 registered runners, I gave an option for a 100 km finish, added aid stations so that they would be spaced about every five miles. Another huge difference was the help of Trishul Cherns, who did an amazing job recruiting and organizing the volunteers, who all performed like rock stars! It was largely this help that kept the race running as smoothly as it did, and brought the New York ultrarunning community together.

I also tried a different course marking system this year, using yellow flagging tape, similar to trail ultras, but tied to parking sign poles, street light poles, etc., with little yellow cards with arrows taped to poles at turns, all of which I thought would be more visible. Last year I spray-painted yellow arrows on the ground, but I don't like the idea of spray-painting the city, it feels like graffiti or vandalism to me. But many of the arrows were still visible to give the runners some extra help in finding the course. Both last year and this I heard numerous reports of runners going off course. To some degree that might be inevitable, but nevertheless there is still some work to do devising a better marking system.

The runners this year were again mostly from the New York metro area, but there were several from far away, including our first two international runners, Juergen Englerth from Germany and Thomas Alm from Sweden. Juergen was among the 100 mile finishers, and Thomas finished the 100 km.

Our intrepid journeyers gathered in the relatively quiet (except for the jackhammers of adjacent construction) Times Square at the TKTS booth at 47th and Broadway starting at about 4 a.m. Tshirts and wristbands were distributed, drop bags dropped off, and last-minute instructions given. At 5 am after a beautiful National Anthem sung by Anna Uzzell Harreveld, the runners were off.

Eliot Lee once again provided invaluable help as supply chief, driving me to each aid station to drop off water and Gatorade (we again had Gatorade donated by Dennis Ball). Nick Palazzo was again our sweep vehicle, picking up leftover water and Gatorade after the last runners passed through the aid stations. So Eliot and I kept ahead of the runners for most of the race, which was necessary, but unfortunate that we wouldn't get to see them during their struggles. I only received the notifications, as the afternoon grew increasingly hot and humid, of the runners who chose to stop early after 30, 40 or 50 miles. But I did get to meet the incredible volunteers who had shown up, in many cases bringing food, ice or supplies of their own for the runners, and creating nice little oases on a hot day.

One indication that the race was a little higher-key and on-the-radar was that we had attracted the attention of a journalist from the Wall Street Journal, who emailed me a few days before the race. I was nervous about drawing attention, and I had no time really to speak with her anyway, but from the web site, the facebook page, one email from me and conversations with previous runners Keila Merino and Chris Solarz, she put together an article for the weekend edition on Saturday that Eliot showed me on his phone as we drove from aid station to aid station. I have to say, I really liked how it came out, and figured that by coming out on Saturday it would be too late for any nosy city or parks official to cause any trouble.

As the day wore on I did, however, come to realize one really stupid mistake on my part that made the run tougher for some runners. In the printed directions that I handed out at the start, which was four pages long, I realized while supplying the World's Fair Marina aid station that pages two and four were missing! Trishul's wife Kaaren had alerted me to the missing p.4 and said that she would make copies to give out at the 100K aid station, but p.2 covered miles 28-58, and most of the runners were in that zone at that moment. Some runners had the full set of directions, but many did not, and the route was hard enough to follow just from the markings. I decided the best plan would be to find someplace to make copies of the missing page and distribute them at the aid stations between miles 28 and 58. So Eliot and I found a Staples near the Astoria aid station, made the copies and drove back to the Bronx at Sound View Park, gave some to Nick to drive to World's Fair Marina, and we then made our way to Little Bay Park to continue supplying. This put us a little behind the lead runner, Tommy Pyon, but we eventually made up time, and fortunately Ravi Misra at Little Bay Park had some water already to give him before we got there.

But on we went. Trishul and Kaaren had a nice area set up at the exit from Forest Park for the 100 km aid station, and finish line for 100 km runners. 100 mile entrants were also allowed to stop there for a 100 km finish, and a number of them took advantage. A few continued on for a few more miles but decided that a 100 km finish was good enough. 100 mile runners were given 16 hours to reach 100 km if they wanted to continue on, but all were allowed 18 hours to receive a 100 km finish place and certificate.

So eventually Eliot and I arrive at the finish line to await Tommy, who is still in the lead. A number of his supporters were there, as well as many Times Square tourists, this being just after midnight on a hot Saturday night. But to my surprise there was also a group of tourists from Ontario who read about the race in the Wall Street Journal and came to Times Square specifically to see the winner come through, which he did soon after, in 19:36:55. One of them even took a picture with Tommy holding his baby!

We had 21 finishers for the 100-mile run and another 22 in the 100 km. I'm very proud of all of them, including those who didn't get to 100K. The one thing that suprised me the most about being a race director is how personally I take their successes and their struggles.

So I don't have room here to name all the great volunteers who made the race a success, but I have to give special thanks to Trishul and Kaaren, Eliot and Nick, as well as Rich Innamorato for loaning me his storage unit in Long Island City, Dennis Ball for more Gatorade donations, Joe Del Conte, who took on I think three or four volunteer duties, and Annette Vega who with Joe helped the later runners through the night.

What happens next year is hard to say, but I certainly hope to put something great together!!