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Marathon #3: 2008 Philadelphia Marathon (2008/11/23)

For those who are interested in running Philly in the future:

The course had a few out and backs (which makes it seem shorter).
The half marathon is also combined with the event, which makes the course more crowded than it should be. As with Yonkers, it is mentally draining to see the half marathoners picking up their pace at Mile 12 and running past you.

The course had been advertised as being flat in the past, but there were slight inclines at a few places, and there was definitely a hill in Fairmount Park around Mile 10.

However, I would recommend the course (it is quite scenic), and I feel it is faster than NYC. Plus, heat will not be an issue. Most of the latter half of the course is run along the Schuykill River, which is pretty, but it can get cold with nothing to block the wind. An early part of the race was run along the Delaware River, also pretty, but can get cold. I'm not sure what the start temperature was, maybe in the 20's?

The start / midpoint / finish were all at the famous Roman architecture-style Philadelphia Museum of Art (PMA), very picturesque and a joy to run towards.

First Half of the Course
The race began in waves. I was in the 3rd and last wave, which started around 15 minutes after the 1st wave. The race started along the Benjamin Franklin Parkway towards the iconic Philadelphia City Hall. At the circle, we ran along it clockwise and turned onto Arch St (so we didn't run directly next to City Hall, but close enough) [Mile 1], through Old City, past Christ Church around Arch & 4th St, turning left onto 4th St then right onto Race St [Mile 2] towards the Ben Franklin Bridge, then made a right turn onto Columbus Blvd [Mile 3].

Columbus Blvd (a Manhattan Westside Highway feel to it) took us along the Delware River. After that stretch, we re-entered the city area (slight incline until Chestnut St), turning up on Washington Ave [Mile 4], then quickly turning right onto Front St, then left onto South St (cobblestones, see criticism below), then right onto 6th St, and then finally turning left onto Chestnut St [Mile 5]. (Note, the maps they provided us, both hard copy and on the web, are not very good.)

We then had a nice stretch up Chestnut St and over a bridge past the Amtrak 30th Street Station [Mile 7], and turning right onto 34th St through the Drexel University campus [Mile 8], past the Philadelphia Zoo, and into Fairmount Park [Mile 9~11], this is where we encountered a hill (larger than anything in Central Park, but easily surmountable).

We headed back towards the PMA, along the Schuykill River on MLK Drive [Mile 12~13.1], so that the Half runners could finish there.

Second Half of the Course
We ran along the Schuykill [Mile 14~20] on Kelly Dr (slight upgrade) to the suburb of Manayunk, and on its Main St. At Mile 14.5, I was contemplating slowing down my pace and was losing morale because all of the Half runners finishing (5,235 of 12,605 runners). It was at this low point that InnLing spotted me and called out my name and offered me a whole banana. That lifted my spirits and I was able to pick up the pace and continue on. I wasn't expecting to see her, so I was really happy to see her! At Mile 16, I saw Ralph zoom by (he was at Mile 24), then I ran past Betty at Mile 17 (she was at Mile 23). Out & Backs don't bother me, but they do throw me off my concentration as I tend to watch the approaching runners and not focus as much on my portion of the race.

There was limited crowd support along the river, but the town of Manayunk provided enough cheer. There was an Out & Back at exactly Mile 20, then we returned back to the PMA to finish the race. Since I already ran the same exact stretch on the way to Manayunk, I knew how to time the end part of my race, by picking up the pace towards the end.

I knew if I busted butt, I could make a sub-4:40 time. I had been averaging 10~11 min miles, and was able to run sub-9 after the 40K mark, which was to me a sprinting speed. Near the finish, supporters were all bunched up and the course had narrowed. Pretty much at Mile 26.1, I saw and hear Yasu cheer me on. I turned around in joy and told him that I would make a sub-4:40 time. I think he heard me, hahaha.

I heard that the pretzels at the post-race food tent were good. I didn't end up going.

The weather was tricky. Some parts of the race were sunny. Other parts were in the shade, and other parts were windy. I found myself constantly taking off my race cap and putting it back on. Betty said she did the same with her hood.

The aid stations all had both water and Gatorade. They weren't at every mile, but were spaced apart at roughly each 1.5 miles, or at least it felt that way. There were enough aid stations, so hydration was not an issue.

Some minor criticisms about the race
- On Arch St [Mile 1], there were a few parked cars flanking the street. These need to be towed before the race.
- The first water station [Mile 2.5] had very few volunteers, was disorganized, and I practically had to wait for a cup and water at a standstill. This probably also had to do with me having a really bad bib number (8009 for a race with 7280 finishers).
- One portion of Washington Ave [Mile 4] had cobblestone! Most runners (including myself) chose to run on the sidewalk to prevent injury.
- Many of the aid station areas had black ice, which made it very dangerous to run near. A runner in front of me fell hard. I had to slow my jog in order to not slip and injure myself. The organizers should prepare salt to throw on the ground for next time.
- There was no timing mat at the Half Marathon distance (Mile 13.1). It's always good to know your half split, but for this race we'll never know what it was.
- At the Mile 20 turnaround, there was no mat. Ralph mentioned he saw people cheating and turning around earlier. The organizers need to enforce people from not cheating.
- The finish area was very crowded, as supporters were on the course and created a narrow channel that left a running lane of almost 2~3 people wide. I was sprinting at this point and had to weave around people. I think the organizers need to keep a wider path.
- Most of the Mile markers were inaccurate according to my Garmin GPS watch, but I'm sure this is the case with most marathons.
- The medals were handed to up wrapped in plastic. It would've been nice to have them unwrapped and draped on us.

Philly has been my favorite marathon out of the three I've run (2008 Yonkers, 2008 Chicago, & 2008 Philadelphia). I highly recommend it for those looking to run something after next year's NYC marathon, or even for a BQ race. By the time Philly rolls around, you would have had 3 weeks to recover. It's cold, but as I mentioned, once you start pounding the pavement, you'll be fine.

[2008.11.22] Bart Yasso and his wife, Laura, were such nice people and both are avid runners whose passion for running is quite contagious! I enjoyed talked to both of them and hearing about their running experiences.
Bart Yasso & his wife are truly quality individuals and inspirational runners! I highly recommend Bart's "My Life on the Run".
[2008.11.23] Our post-marathon "Rocky" victory impersonation.
[2008.11.23] Betty & I both PR'ed the Philly Marathon.


Marathon #2: 2008 Chicago Marathon (2008/10/12)

[2008.10.11] Bank of America Chicago Marathon 2008!  My second marathon, 2nd in 2 months.  The Health & Fitness Marathon Expo for Chicago (held at McCormick Place Convention Center) was really good.  It was a lot better than the Yonkers Marathon, which doesn't even have an expo (only 100+ participants)!
The 2008 Chicago Marathon was a great marathon!  It was my second marathon and was completely different from the Yonkers Marathon.  The atmosphere was amazing and was a complete change of scenery when compared to Yonkers.  Yonkers felt more like a NYRR Central Park race because there was minimal support and barely had any spectators.  This was understandably so because only 107 runners ran and finished Yonkers, whereas nearly 300 times that number of runners completed the Chicago Marathon, 31,344 runners to be exact.  The crowd support in Chicago was great, and the big city feel is something that needs to be experienced.  The marathon had plenty of cheering and had a New York City Marathon feel to it.  Although I have yet to run NYC, I did witness it as a spectator last year, in 2007.

[2008.10.11] Debbie & Me in Chicago for Marathon Weekend.

The city of Chicago and its race officials learned from last year's debacle.  The route was very well-supported.  There was plenty of Gatorade and water this year.  The sights of running through a big city and crossing 6 bridges across the Chicago River was nice.  The Sears Tower was within sight for much of the 2nd half of the race, and Mile 21 took us through Chinatown.

The race started at 7:30am in Grant Park. It was really hard to get into my Corral “B” because of all the runners.  Luckily, the start was close to Michigan Ave and the hotel that Debbie and I were staying at in the Magnificent Mile area.  I was lucky to be in Corral “B”, which was only behind the Elites and Corral “A” (Boston Qualifiers). My gun time / net time differential was a mere 1 min 5 secs.  For many of the runners in the open corral, the difference was up to an hour!  That hour is valuable because I would rather be begin running at 7:30am than start an hour later and have to still be running that extra hour close to high noon in hot weather.

Once the race exited the park, we found ourselves running into a tunnel on Columbus Dr. heading due north and then right away across our first bridge.  There was such a rush of adrenaline because this was a BIG CITY marathon with all of its spectators and camera flashes going off that I ended up over-pacing myself and running a 7-something 1st mile.  It also did not help that I was running at the front of the pack with the 3:30 pace marathoners.

The flatness of the course lent itself to a very fast few miles out of the gate through the downtown Loop area.  Right before Mile 5, we entered Lincoln Park passing the Lincoln Park Conservatory (the Botanic Garden I had visited the day before) and the Lincoln Park Zoo.  The park provided some shade, but then as we ran along Lake Michigan we were exposed to the sun with no tall buildings to help block out the sun.

Wrigleyville, between Miles 7 & 8, provided us with our first lively neighborhood atmosphere accompanied by blaring music and actual locals cheering us on, rather than fellow tourists.

I did not run with a camera, so the only pics I have of the race are whatever the photographers posted up plus one picture of me that Debbie took at Mile 11 when I was still on a good pace.  Debbie & I had planned for her to cheer me on and hand me a vital banana right at the Mile 11 marker.  There she was, just as planned, waiting along Wells St.  After running for over 100 minutes, she was a pleasant sight.

I crossed the half mark at 2:01:51, a tad better than my Yonkers 1st half split of 2:03:07.  I expected a faster mark since there was no uphill portions that I encountered.

The 2nd half was not as exciting as the first.  The run to the United Center (where the Chicago Bulls and Chicago Blackhawks play) was void of worthwhile sights.  Every time there was a turnaround, and we headed East, the Sears Tower was in plain view.  It gave runners something to focus on.

Mile 19 provided a change of scenery as the Pilsen neighborhood had lots of flavor to it.  It is Chicago’s largest Mexican neighborhood and was well-supported.

[2008.10.12] 2008 Chicago Marathon.  (Picture courtesy of MarathonFoto.)

Mile 21 took runners to Chinatown, which was quite lively with the sound of banging symbols and a lion dance!  After leaving Chinatown, it was back to emptiness until Mile 23 and Comiskey Park (where the Chicago White Sox play).  I saw beer being handed out to runners (a Hash House Harriers tradition), which proved to be amusing.  I saw some runners taking down the beer too!

In terms of the “marathon shuffle” and “hitting the wall”, I fared better in Chicago than I did in Yonkers.  I wasn’t forced to do the marathon shuffle until Mile 18 (Mile 13 in Yonkers), and didn’t slam into “the wall” until Mile 23 (Mile 20 in Yonkers).  From Mile 23, I had to run/walk until the finish.

[2008.10.12] 2008 Chicago Marathon. Finish!  (Picture courtesy of MarathonFoto.)

The final stretch up Michigan Ave past the McCormick Place Convention Center (site of the Chicago Marathon Expo and the largest convention center in America) was painful at best, but eventually I made it back up to Grant Park to finish the race in 4:52:16 (11:09 min/mile).

[2008.10.12] 2008 Chicago Marathon. Time to smile. No more marathons until Philly in Novemeber.  (Picture courtesy of MarathonFoto.)

I was only able to shave off 8 mins from my Yonkers time even though I felt like I ran the best I could.  I didn't feel like I ran as slow as Yonkers, but my time indicates I only ran 19 secs/mile faster.  Unknowingly, the heat had played a factor.  The race was another hot one (though without any fatalities)!  At 8am, it was 65 degrees, and rose to 78 at 9:30am, and reached 84 by 11:30am.  Almost all of the Nike pacers were off (behind) their target pace.  The pace tattoos that Nike handed out at the Expo were useful and a great idea since the pacers themselves couldn't keep pace.

As advertised, this was one FLAT marathon.  The only hill that I encountered was at Mile 26 (right before the finish), and it wasn't that bad.  By that point, you have so much adrenaline that the hill won’t demoralize you.  There were six bridge / overpass crossings though. Those provided slight inclines.

Although 45,000 registered, there were only 31,344 finishers, so it didn't break the all-time record set at last year’s 2007 New York City Marathon with its 38,557 finishers.  That was a historic race, chronicled in Liz Robbins’ book, “A Race Like No Other: 26.2 Miles Through the Streets of New York”.

As for my training, I didn't train enough, but I did put in a couple of half marathons, two 200-mile relays (for the Green Mountain Relay in June, I ran 22 miles over 4 legs, and for the Reach The Beach Relay in September, I ran 20.6 miles over 3 legs), and ran a full marathon (Yonkers in September) as part of training.

I didn't carbo-load the night before (but did so the few nights prior to that) because Debbie and I tried this amazing restaurant called Alinea.  We celebrated our 6 month anniversary there.  Zagat rated Alinea #1 for food (29/30), service, and wine in Chicago.  If you go to Chicago and have a reason to celebrate, you must dine at Alinea (you definitely need to fight to make reservations though, and the experience will cost you a pretty penny).

I would like to thank Powered By Dim Sum teammate Betty Eng, who supported me and kept me up-to-date with Chicago Marathon registration deadline emails (she ran it in 2005).  If she hadn't sent me those email updates, I would have missed the registration cut-off since the race filled to capacity by late April, a whole half a year before the start of the race!

Debbie and I flew back the day of the marathon.  I pretty much went from the post-race party back to the hotel to shower, pack, check-out, then off to the airport to fly back to New York.


Marathon #1: 2008 Yonkers Marathon (2008/09/21)

[2008.09.21] PBDSers gathered at the Yonkers Library, the start of the Yonkers Marathon / Half Marathon. (Picture courtesy of Sportography.)

The 2008 Yonkers Marathon was my very first marathon.  Little did I know how much of an impact this race would have on me.  It completely changed my lifestyle for the healthier!  In a little over two months, I would have completed 3 marathons, qualifying me as a Marathon "Maniac", a very aptly named description of what I had become.

[2008.09.21] START Line. (Picture courtesy of Jerry Loo.)

Proper marathon training calls for a "tapering" period where in the final week(s) of training, the runner is supposed to take it easy and cut back on the mileage. I had done the opposite due to prior lack of training and scheduling. The weekend before Yonkers, I ran with Debbie in the Reach The Beach 200-Mile Relay from the northern end of New Hampshire to its southern coastal tip.  I logged in 20.6 miles by running 3 legs over a day and a half.  This is not the ideal thing to do for marathon training.  I jumped right into marathon running.  The date for Yonkers crept up all so suddenly.

[2008.09.21] Yonkers Marathon Start Line.  (Picture courtesy of Jerry Loo.)

Yasu and I decided to use this race as a 'training run' for our upcoming larger races, the 2008 NYC (11/2/2008) for his, and the 2008 Chicago (on 10/12/2008) for mine.  We ran the first half together at a good pace (nearly a 4 hour marathon pace), as he kindly paced me.  As soon as I crossed the half marathon line, I had to resort to the dreaded "marathon shuffle".  At Mile 20, I slammed hard into "The Wall" and had to proceed with the run/walk method to grind it out to the finish.

Yonkers is known to be quite challenging and is a hilly marathon.  According to Wikipedia, Yonkers is “Known for its many hills, it is considered by many runners to be one of the toughest marathons in the country.  For that reason, most elite runners avoid this race.”  Great to know this is the very marathon I chose to be my first!

[2008.09.21] Yonkers is a double loop course.  (Picture courtesy of Jerry Loo.)

The marathon course is a half marathon x 2 (double loop course). This marathon is also the second oldest marathon in the world, with the oldest being Boston of course. 2008 was the 83rd running of the race, one that began in 1907 (it wasn’t run for 17 years so that explains the differential).

[2008.09.21] 2008 Yonkers Marathon. My very first marathon.  (Picture courtesy of Sportography.)

Without much pomp or circumstance, the race began! The course started off instantly with a 6-mile hill (technically 5.8 miles) up that was seriously no joke!  The course landscape consisted of a park setting up the hill on Warburton Ave (where with a glance over your left shoulder you can view the picturesque scene of the Hudson River and the adjacent cliffs of the Palisades in New Jersey), then a residential setting through the town of Hastings-on-Hudson and back into Yonkers down Nepperhan Ave.

The first time around was fine, but the second time around was hell.  The hill is so bad that I have given it the moniker of “Mount Yonkers”.  The 6-mile hill consists of 4.5 miles up Warburton Ave.  When this first hill is crested, you are greeted by a series of cut out signs with Coca Cola logos and old newspapers clippings, preceding an unofficial aid station that is manned by a single interesting fellow, named Don Dixon.  Don is a cheerful fellow who gives out flat Coca Cola (I thought this was interesting) and ice cubes.  I enjoyed some of his Coke and it tasted so good, giving me a mental boost.  The hill then continues after a right turn up another mile and change up Main St and Broadway into Draper Park, and is quickly proceeded by a short steep downhill overlooking a graveyard (aptly dubbed by Ralph as "The Graveyard Roller Coaster"), which serves to be a kind reminder of the hell that was just experienced.

After the Mile 10 marker, there is an overpass that runners need to climb up to in order to cross over the widened thruway portion of Nepperhan Ave.  It's fun the first time around, but painful on the second visit (the same could be said for most of the course).  A slight downslope ensues into the Latino neighborhood of Yonkers (dominated by Mexican, Ecuadorian, and Cuban restaurants), at Miles 10-14 (and again at Miles 23-24), where the residents are completely oblivious as to what is going on and why there are occasional runners running down the shoulder of South Broadway through their barrio.

[2008.09.21] After the first loop, half marathoners go to the left, full marathoners continue on the right.  (Picture courtesy of Jerry Loo.)

I ran the course non-stop without walking until Mile 20, then my legs hit a wall.  I couldn't push myself harder because my legs would instantly cramp.  So I did the run/walk the rest of the way.  I tried really hard to break 5 hours, and ran at the end and finished strong.  Now I know how crazy a marathon is.  I am surprised that I was able to endure it with my minimal / lack of training.  My long run consisted of running 20.6 miles (over three legs) the weekend before in the Reach The Beach (RTB) relay in New Hampshire.

Race organizers made it abundantly clear that after 5 hours the roads would be opened to traffic and no more police support would be provided.  After 6 hours, runners do not receive an official finish time.  I survived my first marathon in the allotted time limit!  I finished it in 5:00:15 (11:27 min/mile pace).  My splits were horrible.  The first time around the loop was bearable, but my second encounter kicked my butt!  After the first half, I was on a great pace (4:06 marathon pace), but just as I began my second loop, I instantly died and had to rely on the "marathon shuffle" as my legs did not have the stamina of keeping a jogging pace up Mount Yonkers a second time.  I ran the first ½ in 2:03 (9:23 min/mile pace), and the second ½ in 2:57 (13:30 min/mile pace)!

The great aspects of the Yonkers Marathon are that there are only a little over 100 marathoners (your net time = the gun time, so line up towards the front) and there are aid stations (water at all and Gatorade at some) at EACH mile!  Yonkers is the only marathon where I have seen aid stations at every mile.  They do a good job at recruiting various organizations (Boy Scouts, church groups, etc.) to man all 13 of their stations.

The one major drawback for the race was that there weren't many people watching or cheering. I would say 95%+ of the course was void of onlookers.  The solitary aspect of mostly running alone along with the thin crowd support do lend itself in making Yonkers an even more difficult race.

The weather conditions were good.  Being scheduled in late September, it was not too hot, but the sun was out the entire time and I got tanned.  Marathon veterans say ideal temperatures are in the 50's F to 70's F (I would later discover that my ideal race time temperatures are in the 30's F to 50's F), with an overcast sky (no direct sunlight).  The race temperature probably maxed out at 80 degrees F.

Mount Yonkers will give you the confidence to know that if you have conquered it, you will know you are now capable of finishing those other marathons you have been training for (unless you're running something even more crazy like Pike's Peak Marathon.  I swore this race off, but interestingly I'm now looking forward to the challenge of being clobbered by it again.  It's not a race for novices since there's a 5 hour time limit, which I barely just made (with an additional 15 seconds).

What a crazy pick I made for a training run. All I can say is that it feels good having conquered Mount Yonkers.  Now that I've conquered Yonkers (probably the hardest road race around New York City), I am not scared of running Chicago next month.  I now know the nature of the beast, known as the "Marathon.  Next up for me is the Chicago Marathon in October.  Thank goodness that one's flat.  I'm still down for the Philadelphia Marathon because I'm simply hooked!

[2008.09.21] Debbie came to cheer for me at the finish of my very first marathon.  (Picture courtesy of Jerry Loo.)

A HUGE thanks for my Powered By Dim Sum (PBDS) Running Club teammates: Jerry, Tommy, Warren, Yasu, and Debbie, along with Mika who cheered for me at the finish.  It was an uplifting feeling after experiencing most of the second half running alone.  Jerry helped push me to finish the marathon by running along side of me at the very end.  I was probably the only first time marathoner in the field of 107 runners.  I finished in 104th place and upheld the PBDS motto of “We’re not last!”