4:30 or Bust: A Quest for Marathon Mediocrity

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New York City Half Marathon #lotteryfail

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There was much uproar this week regarding the New York City Half Marathon.

In a nutshell, the lottery system was unfair to us New Yorkers, as we had about a 12% chance to make it through the lottery, where US and international folks had about a 72% chance to get in.  Really, that is no joke or typo.  This is inherently unfair, and NYRR has already taken steps to fix it.  I hope they do more.  Their official statements are here.

But really people, it is a lottery, you should expect not to make it.  Even if they allowed fewer non NY’ers, the odds were still stacked against you. 

I did enter the lottery, I did not get accepted, and it is fine with me.  I really did want to run, but I can think of other things to do with my money.  The big, and possibly only, problem I had with the process is that it just took “too damn” long.  In looking back at my records, I registered for the lottery on July 13.  That is JULY, over 5 months ago, and the race will not occur for 3 more months.  That length of time is insane!  And I didn’t even register on the first day.

I think NYC Triathlon has the lottery thing done right.  They opened the lottery on Nov 1, kept the lottery open for 3 days, and then immediately picked the winners.  No waiting for months, hanging in limbo, to see if you made it or not.  No dragged out registration period to inflate the number of people who want to sign up.  etc, etc, etc.

Anyway, it took about 5 minutes to get over my disappointment on Wednesday.  Thankfully, on that very day, a Twitter friend was posting about the Tough Mudder event he is planning to run, and asking for people to join him.  Now that sounds like a fine substitute to me!  Signed myself up today…


Written by SCL

December 17, 2010 at 11:20 am

17 Days to the Chicago Marathon

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17 days to the Chicago Marathon!  Decided to rest this morning. 

First, my right pinkie toe is still a big fat mess.  I snipped out almost the entire old nail, drained the blister again, and am hoping for the best.  Yesterday, it was very painful to walk in shoes, and today it is thankfully much better, but the toe is tender.  Second, I have my session with my personal trainer today, so want to be fully rested for that.  Third, my back is very tight for some reason, which makes me nervous.  I’m concerned that I will do something to hurt it in the next 2 weeks.

I recently finished up the last book I was reading (classic sci-fi, The Moon is a Harsh Mistress) and perused my Goodreads ‘to read’ list for another book.  A Race Like No Other, by Liz Robbins, was on the list, and I had completely forgotten I have the book and never read it.  This is the perfect time to read it.  For one, I’m not running NYC this year, and will miss it.  I’ve run NYC 7 times, but do not expect to run it in the next 5 years.  Will be a little trip down memory lane.  Second, that book will be the perfect motivation in the 2 weeks leading up to the Chicago Marathon.  If I can cover 2 chapters a day, I’ll finish before my race.

Last thing I want to tackle today is the new race NYRR has announced, the NYRR 5, a 5 mile race in Central Park, to be held on the Friday morning before the NYC Marathon.  On Twitter, I’ve seen nothing but people bad mouthing it, and complaining about how expensive it is, at $40 for members.  Yes, it is expensive.  But no, it is not geared towards those of us that live in NYC and run/race in Central Park all the time.  It is meant for runners that are coming from out-of-town, and have friends or family that want a chance to feel some of the New York City Marathon excitement of running in Central Park.  Or, for those of us not running the marathon, but want a way to participate as well.

Please allow me to get up on my soapbox again (as if you have a choice!), and repeat what I tried to tell people when they complained about the NYC Half Marathon.  THEY DO NOT NEED YOU (or me, or any one of us).  THEY ARE NOT MARKETING THIS TO YOU.  THERE ARE PLENTY OF PEOPLE OUT THERE WILLING TO PAY THE PRICE NECESSARY TO PARTICIPATE IN A WORLD CLASS EVENT IN A WORLD CLASS CITY ON A WORLD CLASS WEEKEND.  There are plenty of other races going on around town for us to choose from, and this is precisely the reason why I rarely run NYRR races anymore.

OK, I’ll step down now.  I feel better.

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Written by SCL

September 23, 2010 at 10:51 am

New York City Marathon Course Changes Confirmed (???)

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About a month ago, when reading the NYRR Runner magazine, I noticed a brief mention of  course changes in the New York City Marathon for 2009.  There have been slight course changes through the years, and I’m always interested in logistics such as these.  The original quote from the magazine was:

“This year, a few adjustments – including a new placement of the start on the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge and an expanded loop in the Bronx – will make the route faster and more exciting than ever.”

At the time, the map posted online was unchanged from last year’s map, but in this, the final run up to the marathon, I took another look and found the updated course map here.  I’ve noticed 2 subtle changes so far.  The quote suggests that the start will be higher up the bridge, which can’t be confirmed, of course, until race day.  The other changes seem to be:

  1. McCarren Park – In some past years, the marathon went through north Williamsburg on Berry Street and thus around the west side of McCarren Park.  In the last few years, the route went up Bedford Ave, but then made an unfortunate end around the park, with a left turn on N12th and then a right on Nassau, essentially going around the park, rather than continuing straight up Bedford.  Well, this year, looks like the course will go straight up Bedford, and through McCarren Park, eliminating the 2 turns required to go around the park!  This more direct route actually is shorter, so this length needs to be made up elsewhere, namely in the Bronx.
  2. Bronx – In past years,  after Willis Ave Bridge, there would be an immediate left on 135th St, a right on Alexander Ave, and finally a left on 138th St to the Madison Ave Bridge.  Will be different this year.  Wonder if it is related to the massive construction occurring on the Bronx side of the Willis Ave Bridge, but instead of the left off the bridge, we will continue straight to 138th St, make a left, and then take an odd detour around Morris and Rider Aves, up to 140th St.  I guess what is unfortunate about this is that it adds back the 2 turns that we lose in Williamsburg!  I seem to remember 135 being a downhill and Alexander being an uphill, so I wonder if the new route eliminates a hill – that would be a bonus!

Anyway, not sure why I’m so interested in the logistics, but in case it is not highlighted in the pre-race materials, thought you should all know!

Written by SCL

October 25, 2009 at 8:18 pm

Staten Island Half Marathon Race Report

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Let me start by saying that I love the Staten Island Half Marathon.  Of the Grand Prix events, I enjoy this 2nd most, just behind Brooklyn.  The course is not particular difficult, has great water vistas and great views of the Verrazano Bridge.  It also has a wonderful staging area in the parking lot of the Richmond County Bank Ballpark, and top it off with the wonderful opportunity to take the Staten Island Ferry in the early morning.

This was my seventh running.  I ran 4 times in the 90’s, on the old course that ended in Fort Wadsworth.  This is the third year in a row I’ve run the newer course, as part of my final preparation for the New York City Marathon.  Considering the marathon is in 3 weeks, I decided I wouldn’t run this as a race, but rather as a strong tempo run.

This year the race had an 8:30 start, an hour earlier than in prior years.  I felt the 7:30 ferry was cutting it too close, so decided to go for the 6:30 ferry.  That necessitated a 5am alarm, and getting out of the house by 5:30.  The early morning ferry ride, starting in the darkness and ending with the rising sun, was so peaceful.  Sat on the Brooklyn side, views are just stunning with the sunrise on a nice morning.  Was quite cold though.

Once at the staging area, got my number, used the ‘facilities’, and then sat on the waterfront and read my book (The Mists of Avalon) for 15 minutes.  Then used the facilities again, changed my clothes, dropped off my bag, and made it to my corral with 10 mins to spare.  All in all, a perfect pre-race strategy.  No stress, no waiting on lines, etc.

My goal was to finish under 2:05, and if things went really well, perhaps push it down to 2:01 or so, which is similar to what I did last year.  So, the early strategy was to do about 9:30 per mile and then slowly push the pace faster in the second half.  My shin has been acting up lately, and it was starting to bother me in the first 2 miles.  Luckily it was not so bad and I was able to push through it to the third mile, where my shin started to loosen up.  Uphills are good for the shin, and there were enough uphill spots in the early miles to keep it under control.

  • Mile 1 – 9:26
  • Mile 2 – 9:27
  • Mile 3 – 9:23
  • Mile 4 – 9:13

The other nice thing about this course is that the streets used are very wide, and have lots of straightaways.  This is especially true when you get to mile 5 and the out and back on Father Capodanno Blvd.  It starts with a nice long downhill into the straightaways.  Was still feeling really good here so did start to push a little.  The out portion to mile 6.5 was slightly into the wind, so required a little more push to maintain the pace.  I knew that I could coast a little with the wind on the way back to prepare for the big hill as you approach mile 8.  Mile 7.5 to 8 is a pretty steep uphill coming off the Blvd and into Fort Wadsworth.  It is the toughest part of the course, and I knew that it was mostly downhill after that part, so I pushed it hard as well, and finished that mile with a very strong 9:28.

  • Mile 5 – 9:36
  • Mile 6 – 9:16
  • Mile 7 – 9:24
  • Mile 8 – 9:28

With the hardest part behind, and only 5 miles to go, now was the time to start pushing, especially on the downhills.  Significant downhills in mile 9 and 10.  Was still feeling super strong here and was able to maintain a nice hard 9:00-9:15 pace, and then really pushed it all out on the last mile, and finished with a very hard sprint into the finish.

  • Mile 9 – 9:12
  • Mile 10 – 9:02
  • Mile 11 – 9:23
  • Mile 12 – 9:07
  • Mile 13 – 8:23
  • Mile 13.1 – :45

My official time was 2:01:14, which I was very happy with.  Overall, was very similar to the race I ran last year.  Virtually the same pacing, with a similar hard finish.  My time last year was about a minute faster, at 2:00:19.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m still really happy with my time, and my race strategy, but since the strategy and conditions were almost identical to last year, and last year was 1 minute faster, it unfortunately tells me that I have not gotten any faster in the last year, with all the running and biking I’ve done.

Feeling great going into the last weeks of New York City Marathon training.  Planning for a 20-21 miler next weekend, and then a 2 week taper into the race!

NYRR Switching to Chronotrack DTag?

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I recieved my Marathon Handbook in the mail this past week, and noticed that one of the ‘changes for 2009’ is the switch from ChampionChip to the Chronotrack DTag timing system.  Then, this weekend, I was trying to do some planning for upcoming races, and noticed that many (all?) of the upcoming 2009 races are also using DTag.  The DTag system is a disposible RFID device that also attaches to your shoe and provides timing for races.  In fact, this was the system used when I ran the Austin Marathon earlier this year.

Hadn’t seen any official announcements on this, but wonder if this is a permanent switch.  Apparently, it was already used earlier this year in the Mother’s Day Race.  Personally, I have owned my ChampionChip since the 2000 NYC Marathon, and really like being able to stick it on my shoe and not worry about it during races.  It is also great that I could use it at other non-NYRR events also using the ChampionChip system.  But, on the flip side, I’m sure most people don’t own their chips and have to then deal with the hassle of leaving the chip behind after the race and getting charged if it gets lost.

Will reserve further judgement until I try the new system myself and see how it goes.  As long as the timing is accurate, and the system is not difficult to use, then perhaps this change is for the best?

Written by SCL

August 9, 2009 at 9:11 pm

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Brooklyn Half Marathon Race Report

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Wow I had a lot to say, sorry about the length 🙂

First, right off the bat, I think this was a wonderful event, and very well organized by NYRR.  With the exception of the NYC Marathon, this is probably the biggest NYRR race, in terms of participants, I’ve ever run in.  There were almost 9,500 finishers!  I was very nervous about the start, because the first part of the course was directly into the main walkway back from the bag check to the start line, and with port-o-potty lines between.  However, they did manage to clear the roadway and get the race started very cleanly, although 10 minutes late.  Better to start 10 minutes late and have a good clean start, than to start on time with confusion and congestion in the race course.

Also, the finish was fantastic.  Again, with the exception of the NYC Marathon, I’ve never, ever, seen so many people lining the finish of a race.  It was really incredible, especially with the surroundings of the boardwalk, Coney Island classic sights (parachute jump, Wonder Wheel, Cyclone, etc), and the beach and ocean and the Atlantic Highlands, NJ off in the distance.  (My weekend house, in Little Silver NJ, is sort of in the area of the Highlands, and so I’m even more fond of that view).  The festivities at the finish were also great, and it was real nice to have the opportunity to walk the boardwalk, use the baseball stadium, and visit Nathans.

My only complaint, logistically, is that the water stop at mile 3 / mile 6 was very, very poorly done.  This was the only water stop that was covered twice on the course.  For people on the inside, it was mile 3, and the first water stop of the race.  For people on the outside, it was mile 6, and this was the 3rd water stop.  Even though there were essentially 2 threads of runners coming through that spot, water was only on the left side of the road.  When I was at mile 3, the leaders were just started to pass us by at mile 6, and I was thinking to myself that those people will never be able to get over to the left side to get a drink.  When I came around the 2nd time, at mile 6, there was nothing left on the table.  The volunteers were working hard to refill, but there was a mass of people trying to get water and Gatorade.  I simply skipped it, and luckily, didn’t seem to cause me too much issue.  There should have been water tables on both sides of the road, or, there should have been twice as much water and Gatorade.  It simply didn’t seem like it was being treated as 2 water stops, but rather the same as the other water stops, which only served the course once.

My only other complaint is that they twice advertised the race as ‘almost’ full, even though they signed people up till the last day.  Maybe they changed their minds on the size of the field, but it is false advertising in a sense.  With caps on races, people are now incentivized to sign up early before races sell out, even if they are on the fence about running.  I wonder how many people signed up, because the race was ‘filling up’, and then did not end up running.  That also needs to be handled better in the future.

But, those aside, the race was pulled off wonderfully, and I really enjoyed myself.

For me, the day started out poorly.  I made the decision to drive, since parking was easy, they had a shuttle from the finish to the start, and it would allow me to get home faster and in more comfort than a long subway ride.  Also, I am an early bird when it comes to races.  I love to get to races real early, so I’m not rushed in my preparations, and so I simply don’t get caught in the masses checking my bag and using the bathrooms, etc.  I planned to get to Keyspan Park by 5:45 to catch one of the first buses to the start.  Was up just after 4am, and out the door and in my car at 5am.  Heading down the FDR Drive to the Brooklyn Bridge, when all of a sudden the traffic came to a stop, and not a third of a mile down the road, at the entrance to the Brooklyn Bridge, I could see more flashing lights than I’ve ever seen in my life.  Apparently, there was a 3 car crash, closing both sides of the FDR.  I was S.T.U.C.K!  Not much else to do except hang out with drunk party goers trying to head home – “Party of the FDR”.

Eventually, after at least 45 minutes, they were able to back us out to the South Street exit, where I took the streets down to the Battery Tunnel and was on my way.  Luckily, I gave myself so much extra time that I was still a bit on the early side.  Parked my car by 6:15 and was at Prospect Park by 6:45, still plenty early.  Plenty of people already there, and I walked into the park, to the start area, to use the bathroom, find a bench to change my clothes, put on suntan lotion, and go through my other preparations.  Then headed back to the baggage area, dropped my bag off around 7:30 and walked back to the start.  Got on the bathroom line one last time (which took 20 minutes to get through) and then got into the 5000 range corral just before 8am.  Race kicked off about 10 minutes late.

I expected, in a race of 10,000 people, that the course would be very crowded and it would be hard to work around people in the early stages of the race, but that was not the case at all.  First of all, the corral area was fairly narrow.  For that reason, the corral area was very long, and it also took a long time to get to the start line (6:12, for me), but once we got across the start line, the course was not crowded at all.  There was plenty of room to maneuver, and for the most part, crowding was not a problem at all (except for the water stops!).  To me, this means the wave starts are still working.  Actually, the most shocking site of the day, was that there was somebody going through the corrals, kicking people back that did not belong.  Way to go NYRR!

Finally, on to the race proper.  For several reasons, I was really worried about the race.   The key to doing this race well is to sufficiently hold back in the early hilly miles to save energy for the end.  I tried really, really hard to do this.  The trick is to keep a fast enough pace so that you don’t kill your overall time, but hold back enough to stay fresh.  I managed to do this.  Even though I could have gone faster, I kept the early miles in Prospect Park in the 9:15 to 9:30 range.  Mile 5 was the one I really concentrated on this, as it was the 2nd time up the big hill.  Took that one as slow as I reasonably could.  By mile 7 we were heading out of the park.


  • 1 – 9:27
  • 2 – 9:22
  • 3 – 9:26
  • 4 – 9:12
  • 5 – 9:41
  • 6 – 9:38


Out of the park, down the ramp to the Prospect Expressway, and then up the hill to Ocean Parkway proper.  Then, it was the long, straight road to Coney Island.  Thankfully, the sun was off the left side, and not direcly in front.  Believe it or not, for me, it makes a big mental difference, not be running directly into the sun.  There was some shade, but not enough to be a big help.  Early on Ocean Parkway, there was little breeze, but as we got closer and closer to the Ocean, the breeze was more noticeable, and was a nice, cooling, breeze.  Slight downhill most of the way.

First couple of miles on OP were good.  Since I missed the mile 6 water stop, I took an extra long stop at mile 8, and ate my Gu there.  The next 2 miles, 9 and 10, were both on the slower side.  I ‘did the math’, at mile 10, and figured that I was right on pace for 2:05.  I knew 2:00 was not happening, too much time to make up, but I could, with a push, get down to 2:02-2:03.  My strategy for that was swinging my arms from time to time.  That is a good way to increase the pace without working much harder.  It worked for me.  I was able to pick up the pace for miles 11 and 12.  By mile 12, The end of Ocean Parkway was in view, and it was time to put the pedal to the metal, and push as hard as possible into the finish.  There was a pretty strong headwind on the boardwalk, but the big crowds were enough to keep me pushing.  In the end, miles 11, 12 and 13 were the fastest of the race!  There is nothing better than a negative split at the half marathon distance, and that was the case this time.  First 6 miles in 56:49 and the last 6 miles in 55:50.

  • 7 – 9:19
  • 8 – 9:11
  • 9 – 9:44
  • 10 – 9:45
  • 11 – 9:11
  • 12 – 9:08
  • 13 – 8:48
  • 13.1 – :48
  • Official time – 2:02:46
  • 5242 out of 9415 total finishers
  • 3510 out of 5074 male finishers
  • 684 out of 975 male 35-39

In the end, I was happy with the consistency, and also that the muscle pains in my legs were not a big problem.  Hopefully the naggy pain in my upper thigh/groin did not get any worse.  I was also happy that the warm weather was not a bigger problem.  It was definitely on the warm side, and very sunny, which makes it worse, but it was not humid, and so was manageable.  It was offset by some time in the shade, and some breezes, which both negated the sun a bit.     

I finally figured out the reason why I was so unhappy about the change of the timing of the race and the race course.  That is because the Brooklyn Half Marathon used to be my PR race.  Prior to this year, I’ve run it 6 times, the last 5 times setting new half marathon PRs.  I always run strongest in winter and early spring, and so was always in best shape for this race when it was held earlier in the year.  Anyway, this run of PR’s at the Brooklyn Half is over, and I’ll have to work harder on my PR’s in the future!

Next up, sprint triathlon in 2 weeks!

Written by SCL

May 31, 2009 at 7:38 pm

NYRR dipping its feet?

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Happy to see NYRR announcing a triathlon (their first???) , to be held in Flushing Meadows Park, on August 23rd.  This is big news, and maybe a sign to come of more triathlon events in the New York City area.  Right now, besides the New York City Triathlon, we are limited to the New York Triathlon Club events, many of which are outside NYC, and some of which are only biathlons 

I will not participate, as I’m already in in the Harriman State Park Triathlon in June and the New York City Triathlon in July, and I think that is enough for me for the year.  But, hopefully this is a success, and they can figure out how to add some triathlons to the schedule going forward.

On a related topic, I also notice that New York Triathlon Club has added a new Staten Island Triathlon to their schedule, on August 30.

Written by SCL

May 27, 2009 at 8:12 am

Posted in NYRR, triathlon

Brooklyn Half Marathon Nearing Capacity

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NYRR announced that the Brooklyn Half Marathon, on May 30, is nearing capacity, and registration will soon close.  So, if you want to run and are not signed up, go quickly! 

My original impression was that it was just the Central Park races that were capped, not all races.  Perhaps I mis-understood?  Good to know…

UPDATE 5/22/09: Well, NYRR is announcing again that the Brooklyn Half Marathon is nearing capacity.  I’ve also read recently that they expect upwards of 10,000 for the race.  Guess the original announcement on May 8 was a mistake, and it is nice to see that they did expand the field for this non Central Park race.  So, if you still have an interest, but have not signed up, do so quickly!

Written by SCL

May 8, 2009 at 9:47 am

Posted in NYRR

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Brooklyn Half Marathon – hallelujah

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May 30, Brooklyn, Be There…

From the “its about time” department.  @NYRR_Daily confirms Brooklyn Half Marathon on May 30!

Just wondering if we’ll be running on the boardwalk this year – I recently saw pictures of the boardwalk under serious construction.  Although NYC got stimulus money to fix the boardwalk, I’m sure that’s not happening by May 30.

Written by SCL

April 6, 2009 at 4:28 pm

Posted in NYRR

Feeling Better

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Been under the weather since Saturday and so have not done any running since my run in Miami last Tuesday.  Feeling a lot better today so will get out for a run tonight.  Looking forward to it!  Currently 48 degrees so maybe it can creep up towards 50 by late afternoon.

Last weekend, the washing machine in my weekend house in New Jersey starting making a really loud noise.  Spent the morning today waiting for Sears to come look at it.  My window was 8-12, and of course, they came after 11am.  While waiting I was able to get a lot of cutting and trimming work done on some of the shrubs and bushes on my property.  Despite the cuts and scrapes on my legs (only long pants I had in the house were my work pants!), the physical labor felt good.

The bad news for me is that the estimate to fix the washing machine is $700, more than I paid for it 7 years ago.  Guess I’ll be shopping for a new machine this weekend.

In NYRR news, we are still waiting for a final confirmation on May 30 as the day for the Brooklyn Half Marathon.  Came across this picture on Curbed.  Perhaps this is the reason for the delay?

Written by SCL

March 25, 2009 at 1:54 pm

Posted in NYRR, running