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Marathon #21: 2009 NYRR Knickerbocker 60K Ultramarathon (2009/11/21)

[As of 2012, the Knickerbocker 60K has been renamed as the "NYC 60K".]

I have attempted 7 different ultras and finished 5 of them (in the ultra world the DNF rate is ridiculously high) in 5 states over very varied terrain and surfaces (and I am currently writing entry en-route to my 8th ultra attempt in my 6th state, the Javelina Jundred 100 in Arizona).  I can easily say that Knickerbocker 60K (37.2 miles) is the easiest ultra I have attempted, by far.  It is even easier than trail 50Ks, which are 10K shorter in distance.  Why is it, do you ask?  The K60K is run along entirely on pavement, which is very rare.  The only other "all pavement / mostly pavement" ultras I can only think of, are the Comrades Marathon (actually an 89K / 56mi ultra) in South Africa, the Mother Road 100 in Oklahoma, the TATUR Midnight Madness 50 also in Oklahoma, the Back on My Feet 20in24 Lone Ranger Ultramarathon in Philadelphia, and the insane Self-Transcendence 3100 Mile Race in Jamaica, Queens, New York.  Additionally, the K60K is run over familiar territory (all those from NYC have run Central Park countless times).  The Park is so close with no need to wake up extra early to drive, just take the subway there.  Your friends & family don't have to go out of their way to come cheer.  Finally, the short 4mi loops mean you have easy access to your drop bag.  In fact, you have access to it once per every 40-something minutes!  However, one disadvantage of a multi-looped course is that mentally it is very easy to wussy out and call it quits.  You are back where you started and don't need to hitch a ride to the finish line, or walk to the next aid station to DNF.  One time I had to spend an extra hour climbing a mountain just to freaking DNF myself!

I remember leading up to my K60K, I was really nervous about it.  If you think about it, it's practically a marathon (26.2mi) + another half (well, 11mi instead of 13.1mi).  But really, it's not all that bad.  Just remember what I mentioned: The Knickerbocker is an all-road race (no portion is on trails) over the very familiar Central Park lower 4mi loop (no Harlem Hill, which is the most difficult part of the park).  I ended up completing the race in a time of 6:49:13 (11:00mm).  The race featured a nice intimate gathering of ultra running purists.  There's no big prize money to be had in this race.  There are no bragging rights to running a fast 60K because it is such an unconventional distance.  The course is not glamorous and the race doesn't even provide a finisher's medal (instead you receive a plastic paper weight).  The race entry fee is a mere $25 for New York Road Runners members.  Basically, the race attracts those who want to run an ultra on a November Saturday morning, just for the sake of running.

I arrived a bit early and was able to chat with my Marathon Maniacs trio of Front Runners NY friends whom I met at SteamtownTim Guscott (#1539)Richard Ervais (#243), & Zander Ross (#627), along with a Maniac I met while running the Hamptons MarathonGuy Klarfeld (#942) whose wife is a Half Fanatic.  I met Karl Leitz (#714) for the first time during this pre-race chit chat downtime.  He's one tall Maniac, but not George Tchakanakis (#1333) tall.  I also got to see my PoweredByDimSum (PBDS) teammates, namely a couple of my friends from back in the day who I have never had the chance to run with: Marco Cheung and Jackie Choi!  I have known Marco since high school through our friend Ryo, and I grew up with Jackie since our middle school years in NJ.  This race also reunited me with ultra madman, Johnny Rodriguez Jr. of NJ, the fearless leader of the Crash and Burn Ultrarunners!  Rick ThiounnLucimar AraujoThomas GojiYerba, and I first met him at the finish of the Turkey Swamp 50K in Freehold, NJ, back in August.  I remembered him because he told us a crazy story where he tricked his son into running his first ultra, by convincing him to join good old pops on a jog, which turned out to be a 50K along the treacherous Appalachian Trail ("the AT")!  Along the K60K course, Johnny introduced me to his buddy Frank Harczuk who, like me, was also setting a distance PR with this 60K.

At Aid Station #2, I met Maniac David Lin (#1520), who was volunteering for the race.  I recognized him from the Asbury Park Relay Marathon, which was held for the first time only a month prior to K60K.  He was kind enough to mention me and my 14 marathons in 13 weeks fundraiser for the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network (PanCAN) in his Running to Dinner blog entry on K60K!

The race starts off with a mini out & back, to tack on 1.2 miles before embarking on the 9x 4mi loops.  It's a weird distance of 1.2mi + 36mi = 37.2mi = 60K.  Why did NYRR choose a race distance of 60K over a typical 50K ultra distance beats me.  NYRR has never explained this.

So you'll run a dizzying 9 loops.  You'll be on your feet for a long time and will start losing count of these loops.  Make sure to keep count and verify with the volunteers that they have the same lap count as you do.  Each time you go through the chute, confirm with them, "That was lap 1/2/3/4/5/6/7/8 (for the last one, you'll be sprinting) for me, right?"  You definitely don't want them to mess up and have to end up running an extra loop!

Everybody gets to have a drop bag a little past the start, just south of Engineer's Gate (Central Park East Drive & E 90th St).  Don't worry, your stuff is pretty safe.  I had my wallet & cell phone in there and nobody took it.  If you officially check-in your belongings with NYRR, they will keep it under a tent, but will NOT allow you access to your gear at all during the race, so don't do it.  If you do check-in anything, choose to check-in your valuables.

In the drop bag, pack emergency worst case scenario stuff like extra socks & sneakers, additional shirts (I changed into 3 shirts, but not because I was super sweaty or disgusting; I was just trying to be a Brian Hsia and represent 3 different causes, which were the Maniacs/PBDS/PanCAN), a poncho, an anti-blister kit, Kinesio tapeBodyGlide/Vaseline/NipGuards, packets of your fav electrolyte drink mixes, your fav ultra foods like Granola bars/bananas (I think NYRR gives bananas)/etc, etc.

Be prepared to change gear in case of rain/hail/sleet/snow.  Also, the race usually starts off VERY cold.  We were blessed with very unusually moderate temperatures, so runners busted out speedy times.  It's the same weekend as the Philadelphia Marathon, and you all know that Philly is a cold weather race that is afflicted with black ice at water stations and frozen water in the water cups.

There are two aid stations.  One is at the start (which is also the finish).  That one has food and flat Coke (yum).  Not sure why, but to me flat soda tastes awesome during ultras.  Take advantage of the food!  This is not a marathon.  You need to eat and constantly fuel yourself.  Think outside the bounds of a traditional 26.2mi race.  Eating stuff like pretzels and potato chips are okay and actually encouraged!  Your body needs the extra salt to re-salinate after all the sodium lost due to sweat (just feel your face after a race and notice the caked on layer of salt).  If you don't salt up, you WILL cramp, and cramp badly.  You also run the risk of developing hyponatremia!  I like to take a packet of salt/a couple SaltStick capsules/pinches of rock salt prior to the race and after every 10 to 13.1 miles.  Some ultras even have super salty chicken broth, which rocks, but as I recall K60K does not.

Along these lines, you need to replenish certain minerals such as magnesium and potassium.  Hammer Nutrition's Endurolytes capsules (I take 2 to 3 per hour, 4 if I'm really desperado) or even a banana does the trick.  In my "Ultra Tips" posting I mention these various salt + mineral products.

As with a 26.2 miler, you still will need to carboload prior to the race. I particularly like to carb up the 2 days prior to a race and not just the night before.

So the other aid station on the west side of the park, at about 2 miles apart, is just a regular fluids aid station with water & Gatorade and cheering fans + volunteers.  There is no food here.  At the main start line food aid station, feel free to stop and eat and take a short break to munch on stuff.  You don't need to feel pressured to shove food in your face and keep moving.  But do NOT sit down.  You stiffen up if you do and it makes starting up again hellish.

As for pace, don't be a fool and go out too fast.  Do not run your marathon PR pace at any point. You will pay for such foolishness.  For example, my marathon PR is an exact 9min/mile pace, and for the K60K I ended up averaging an 11min/mile, but that included a lot of walking up hills.  I don't have a general rule of thumb, but dropping down a minute from your PR pace would be a wise choice.  I cannot stress enough about starting off slowly.  Going out too fast is an appetite for crash & burning and that's no fun.  Run, cramp, shuffle, walk, run, cramp, shuffle, walk, ... is no way to enjoy a race.  I've been there too many times.

You run around the lower 4mi loops CW (clockwise).  This means Cat Hill is no longer a hill. But you do you have the rollers on the westside (what were those hills called?).  So strategize wisely.  It is totally okay to walk the hills on ultras, even if you're not tired.  Sometimes it's just not worth tiring yourself out by climbing them.  And funny or not, sometimes walking is almost as fast as shuffling up a hill, with much less energy exhausted.

You are running around a lot in a loop and constantly turning in a single direction, which would be the right hand direction.  As such, this puts uneven stress on one side of your body.  It doesn't help that the inner course at Central Park is cambered/camphered/sloped/angled/cantilevered/whatever the correct term is for this (I still don't know what the proper term is), so don't run a tight circle or worry too much about running tangents.  I tried to do this and my right ankle hurt a lot after the race!

To whoever reads this Knickerbocker 60K race report, you probably did so in preparation for your race.  Many runners use the K60K as their foray into ultra running.  If this includes you, best of luck!  Don't let the K60K race be your last ultra.  Try a trail ultra out.  It will be a lot more fun and scenic, and at the same time more rewarding yet challenging.  You'll then understand why us ultra runners simply love this sport!


Marathon #12: 2009 Hamptons Marathon (2009/09/26)

Below is my Hamptons Marathon race recap. It provides my thoughts/advice to future runners for the Hamptons Marathon (sorry Halfers, I have only run the full).

Course Map:
The course map is very confusing to look at. Click on the image to view it close-up.

Course Elevation Chart:
There are no major hills on the course, and thus it is a speedy race.

Official Course Video:

My Pictures:

My Garmin GPS Results:

Full Marathon Results:

Half Marathon Results:

MarathonGuide: The 2009 Hamptons Marathon average time was 4:17:15 (vs. 4:24:42 for the 2009 NYC Marathon)

The 2009 Hamptons Marathon was my 12th lifetime marathon and 3rd in 3 weeks as part of my $10,000 "14 Marathons in 13 Weeks" fundraiser for the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network ( I had decided to run it sort of last minute, so was not able to secure affordable lodging nearby. I decided to drive out the morning of the race. I woke up at 2:30am and left New York City, arriving at Springs School in the pre-dawn darkness of 5:30am. My friend and I parked our car on the street within a few blocks of the school. If you arrive any later, it will be difficult to park nearby. There is an option to park further away in the marathon designated parking lot then catch the shuttle bus to the start. This is probably recommended unless you can arrive early to snag a spot on the street.

We waited 30 minutes for race day packet pick-up to open at 6am inside the Springs School gymnasium. The sun wasn't fully up yet and it was quite chilly with the temperatures still in the 50's. After picking up our race materials and schwag bag (the goodies had a summer theme featuring an eco bag, a Hamptons Marathon logo embedded beach towel and neon orange race shirt with the main sponsor logo on it, which was JetBlue), we still had a full 2 hours to spare before the race start, so we returned to my car to wait it out.

It was still the wee hours of the morning, so we were wearing long sleeve t-shirts, but still felt cold while walking outside and waiting in my car. As the race start time neared, we returned to the gym; however they would not let us use the restrooms inside, so we had to use the port-o-potties outside where long waiting lines had developed.

There were no corrals at the start. They used the old school "honor system" for lining up at the start. There were signs that designated marathon paces (e.g. 6 mins, 7 mins, 8 mins, etc.), but these were largely ignored, so walkers and fast runners were all mixed together. There is no need to push and shove your way up to the front because all runners use the D-Tag chip timing system where your "chip time" only begins when you cross the starting mat and finishes when you cross the finish line mat. The race featured a lot of slower runners and walkers, so you don't want to be caught all the way in the rear though.

The marathon started promptly at 8:00am after the signing of the national anthem. Though I was no where near the front during the line up, I soon crossed the starting line at 8:01am and my race began. This race features a large presence of charity runners, especially those from Team In Training (TNT). TNT had tremendous support with coaches, family, and friends blanketing the sidelines of the first few miles. Many of these TNT runners were slow and seemed like first time runners, unknowingly forming a solid wall and preventing other runners from trying to pass by them. To avoid collisions into the slower runners and walkers, I often found myself running on the grass along the sides of the road for the first mile plus.

After running for a few minutes, you'll want to throw away your extra layer since you'll start to warm up. Starting from around 3/4 miles until Mile 2, there is a small 150 foot hill. From about Mile 5, runners leave East Hampton and enter the town of Amagansett. At Mile 6, the half marathoners split off from the full marathoners. The half runners turn left while the full marathoners turn right. Up until this point the course is residential and is shaded by trees. From this point, the half runners run their final 7.1 miles along the Miles 19.1 to 26.2 of the marathon course.

As with all marathons combined with half marathons, the course becomes lonely after the half runners split off. A good majority of the runners take up the half and not the entire full. For this 2009 race, the disparity was pretty bad: 1,159 half marathon finishers (80% of all finishers) vs. a mere 295 marathon finishers (20% of all finishers), meaning the halfer runners outnumbered the full runners 4-to-1. At around Mile 8, you leave Amagansett and enter Napeague. It is now close to 9:30am and this section of the course will start to feel hot for the lack of trees to provide shade, however you pass by scenic Hamptons mansions.

There is an out-and-back at Mile 11 where you will get to pass by your faster marathon friends (they will be returning from the turnaround while you will still be headed there) and likewise you will also get to see and cheer on your slower friends (when you've turned around and are making your way to Mile 12 while they will still be making their way to the turnaround point).

You will reach the furthest point on Long Island during this race within a stone's throw of Napeague Harbor at Mile 13.1 (precisely after having run a half marathon). There is a timing mat to record your first half split. During many races, this half point is where I begin to slow down and lose my previously established pace, and this race was no different. I would run my 1st half in 2:00:24 (9:11 min/mile pace) and slow down to run my 2nd half in 2:07:32 (9:44 min/mile pace).

Mile 12.5 to 14 would consist of a loop, then the rest of the way to Mile 17 was just back tracking the roads you covered. During this portion, you encounter the same aid stations and same volunteers. I don't exactly remember what was offered at the aid stations, but all had water, and most probably had electrolyte fluids with some probably distributing GU gels.

From Mile 17 to 19, you cover entirely new ground. Mile 18.5 featured a 100 foot climb up to Mile 19.5. From Mile 19.1, you begin to cover the ground that the half marathoners traversed. Mile 20 to 21 takes you down a 130 foot drop in elevation.

There is a final loop from Mile 22 to Mile 25.5. From Mile 22 to the finish, you face a number of small rolling hills. At this point in the race, climbing them will be difficult despite the hills not being all that tall. But you are rewarded with the pleasure of speedily running down them. Strong runners will be able to avoid cramping up during this stretch. I ran my worst miles during Mile 23 & 24, and my dreams of running a sub-4 hour marathon fell apart at Mile 23.5 when I realized I was jogging too slowly to maintain the necessary 9:09 min/mile pace to break 4 hours.

The most scenic portion of the race comes up soon after Mile 24 when the Louse Point Town Beach is within view. Despite this being the Hamptons Marathon, this is the only point of the race where you actually see the water and the shoreline. There is an aid station here and this is where the PanCAN volunteers were stationed. They were quite the sight for sore legs! This aid station acts as another out-and-back turn around point. At this point, there are only 2 miles remaining.

The finish line is the same area at Spring Schools as the starting line where you departed roughly 4 or 5 hours before. On your return approach to the finish, you will recognize the shaded streets you are running on. The finish line feels a lot further than you would hope it to be. But as you hear the voices of more onlookers and see the spectators, the adrenaline will kick in. You then make a left turn towards the finish line for the final dash. I gave the race my all and almost cramped up badly. I set a PR (personal record) at 4:07:56 (9:27 min/mile pace), beating my previous PR by almost 4 minutes. The finisher's medal featured an emblem of a windmill, which was puzzling because none could be seen along the course. When later checking out the Main Street area of East Hampton, we did pass by this windmill landmark and took pictures with it.

The finisher's area is the school parking lot. On the grass areas, there are volunteer masseuses to give free massages to those in need. Bottled water, bananas cut in halves, and space blankets were given out. One drawback was that there wasn't much food. There were people selling food at tables, but who carries money with them when they run a marathon? I had to ask a friend buy me some more food and a drink.

The Hamptons Marathon was great, with nice weather (sunny, but not humid), and supported by PanCAN volunteers and other fellow charity runners too! Although I required a complimentary leg massage, I ended up feeling good enough to run the 18-mile NYC Marathon Tune-Up race in the rain the next day in Central Park, which was an NYRR race that ran three large loops around the park.


Marathon #8: 2009 Missoula Marathon (2009/07/12)

The Missoula Marathon in Montana was a complete change of scenery from my previous 7 marathons. It was my first "back country" race of any type.

Missoula, Montana is a college town straddling the Clark Fork river with a population of 57,000 (according to the 2000 U.S. Census). Its name is derived from the Native American Salish tribe name for the river. The town is most known as being the home to the University of Montana Grizzlies.

This year was the third running of the race. The previous two years experienced unseasonably high temperatures, reaching a high of 102 degrees in its inaugural year. Lucikly, Missoula has a 6am start time. When Wei, Rick, and I boarded the marathon shuttle in Downtown Missoula, the Montana night sky was pitch black, though it was a pretty sight. Our shuttle bus ride to Frenchtown took only about 20 minutes to cover the 26.2 miles we were about to embark on.

Missoula was my first point-to-point (non-loop) marathon. It was Wei's second in a row since he had run Grandma's in Duluth, MN only a few weeks prior.

Due to our proximity to the state of Washington, and Missoula being the most highly rated Montana marathon on Marathon Guide, there was an abundance of yellow jerseyed Marathon Maniacs including Rick and myself.

Rick and I hiked up Mount Sentinel, adjacent to the UM campus, the day before to witness the Big Sky view of the campus and the ancient glacial lake basin that Missoula was comprised of. The hike took half an hour each way, but the view was majestic. We could see the brownish green mountains which enveloped Missoula and see as far out as Missoula airport, 20 miles away! Needless to say, this trek up the mountain tired our legs enough to prevent Rick from PR'ing by a mere 2 minutes and contributed to me slamming into "the wall" sooner than I had in any previous marathon, making its appearance at Mile 17. We both agreed though, that the hike was worth it and would do it again. It's not everyday that we have a chance to hike Sentinel!

As with the Delaware Marathon, Missoula's set off with the 'boom' of a canon. We started off from a parking lot in Frenchtown along Route 263. The mountainous skyline with the Montana Big Sky backdrop led to this marathon to being my most scenic by far. The course had a slight upgrade over its entirety and maintained the same scenery, full of natural beauty, for the first 16 miles of the course. One exception was a processing plant which reeked of industrious odor.

I was intent on PR'ing this low-humidity high-elevation (3200' above sea-level) mid-summer marathon and had maintained pace with the 9 min pacer for the entire first half. After we crossed the half marathon timing mats, we soon encountered the only big hill of the race, along "Big Flat" Road, quite a misnomer. My pace then dropped to 10 min until Mile 17 when the wall had dropped its full weight upon my Sentinel-weary legs. At this point forward I had to negotiate between walking and running, wavering between a 11 to 14 min pace. The wall also coincided with our race entering the city limits of Missoula and slightly zigzagging through it. Finally, we headed north across the Clark Fork River over the Higgins Ave Bridge, providing a great end to a marathon with such a picturesque first half.

Missoula's Marathon Expo was held under the tent at Caras Park Pavilion and was a decent venue along the river, it was lacking in vendors however. The post-race festivities also took place underneath the permanently erected tent where marathoners were given complimentary post-race photos and surprisingly decent pad thai (yes, in Montana).

This marathon was combined with a marathon relay, and the half runners ran the same back half with us, but intereference from these two running segments was minimal. The view atop our lone hill after the half point overlooking the undulating river and surrounding hills sans man-made structures in sight was my single biggest highlight of this race.

Along Mile 6 a tall Greek Maniac named George Tchakanakis befriended me and we shared our maniacal enthusiasm over marathon running. At Mile 10, we passed a 50 States Marathon Club member with "Larry" written on the back of his running shirt. As soon as I ran passed him, I instantly recognized his face as none other than Mr. 105 Marathons in A Year himself, Larry Macon! I was honored to greet him. We happened to bump into each other again later that day at the Missoula Airport on our way back to our respective homes.