Category Archives: Race

TOKYO MARATHON 2016 RACE RECAP

 

WHY/HOW I ENTERED THE TOKYO MARATHON

After finishing the Boston marathon in 2015, I became extremely fond of running BIG marathons.  The crowd and the atmosphere helped me to push from the start to the finish line.  Looking at the World Majors, the Tokyo Marathon would make good sense for travelling afterwards, especially for my little man of almost 3 year old who should appreciate the Tokyo Disney Land and other amusement parks.  I started browsing the Tokyo Marathon website. It seems bizarre that the organization actually makes a new website for the event each year.  So, when I looked early in the year only the 2015 website was available for viewing.  Based on what I had gathered, the event is highly competitive to enter.  The odds are about 1/10 chance.  In the past, about 300,000 + applicants would swamp the site on the first day of registration fighting over 30,000+ spots.  For me that sounds like a very slim chance.    However, when the 2016 official website was launched, I learned two new information that excited me.

The first was that this would be the 10th anniversary.  I didn’t realize the Tokyo Marathon is so new that it only began in 2007.  The other was that Tokyo will be the 2020 Olympic host city. In light of all these, the marathon organizers hope to promote their event and its country on a global scale.

TokyoMarathonSemiEliteHence, a new program called “Run as One” was introduced.  It’s a program for international semi-elites who recently completed any Gold Labelled races (e.g. Boston, New York, & etc) under the time of 2:55:00 for males and 3:40 for females to apply.  The exact number of available spots was not disclosed at the time.  Later, I found out that there were about 192 international semi-elites of about equal mixtures of sexes from 36 different countries and about 1000 Japan semi-elites.   To make the long story short, I applied and was notified my acceptance after about a month.  The organizer claimed that they went through a rigorous selection to choose their candidates.   Other than the marathon time/certificate submitted, I really have no idea what other criteria they determined.  One of the perks of being a Semi-Elite was that I got to know my acceptance about a month earlier than the general applicants.  I absolutely loved this.  I booked my tickets and accommodations immediately.  ANA airline was offering some great deals so I secured my round- trip air ticket of direct flight from Vancouver, BC to Tokyo  for the price only $650 (tax included).

 

EXPO DAY

Tokyo Marathon Expo was held at the Tokyo Big Sight. It’s similar to a convention centre in any major city.  This place was accessible by the Tokyo metro or bus. If you were taking the bus, just make sure you double check with the driver that it actually arrives at the Tokyo Big Sight.  Buses of the same # do not necessary end at the same place. So, don’t make the same mistake I made.  If you are pressed for time, do take the subway rather than the bus because the road can be very congested.  If you wish to see the neighbourhoods along the marathon route, the bus is a good option. 

The location of the expo is remote so it does take sometime to get there depending on where you begin.  A side note, there are multiple stations including the Tokyo Big Sight that run in a loop by a specific metro line.  Within this loop, there are multiple places that are worthwhile for sightseeing.  To name a few,  there are two shopping centres including an outlet that resembles the Caesar Palace of Las Vegas, the Tokyo TV station; and, of particular interest is the Toyota centre that contains many exhibits that are suitable for all ages.  The best thing is that all these places are free ! 

I don’t recommend doing all these in a day because the expo alone can already consume most of your time and energy.  I recommend doing them after the marathon to save your legs.

The expo is mostly open to the public.  They do have many interesting things to see.  The packet pick-up area however is only restricted to runners.

I highly commend the marathon organizer for training a huge number of volunteers to be able to speak variety of languages.  Because of my Asian look, I was greeted in many languages (e.g. Japanese, Mandarin, and English).

 

I also met two volunteers who spoke fluent French and Spanish!

Now for those who are wondering if you’d receive any special treatments as a Semi-Elite, the answer is NO!  Other than being accepted earlier, the other perks include receiving a semi elite bib and a semi-elite wrist band to start at the first corral.  And no, you don’t get to warm up with the Elites. Also, you don’t get your own bottle at the fluid stations.  So, you are pretty much treated the same as the other 30,000+ runners!  Actually, to be fair, you do get recognized a little.  Your name and country of origin are listed on a wall in the Run as One section. So, don’t miss it!

 With regards to the packet pick-up process, it was extremely efficient.  You won’t be lost because the whole process was guided by one volunteer and followed by another. It took less than 10 minutes.

The expo is not as big as I had expected.  It’s certainly nothing like the Boston Expo.  I’d say it’s probably half the size of it?  There are two levels.  The upper  is all about the race and the other World Major marathons.  It’s sort of like an exhibition. Of particular note, similar to the Boston Marathon, it does display a video in Japanese with a live commentator and one in English of the marathon course.

The lower level is similar to any race expo where there are many vendors.  This one is interesting because you get to see a lot of Asian running brands.  Also, for those who love to collect the official apparels, please make sure you grab them first thing you are there.  I was at the expo on the second day .  By then, all the jackets (size S and M) were all gone!  I don’t really like spending money on these expensive jackets (approx $100 US) which I’d probably never wear for any occasion.  The only thing I contemplated buying was the hat with the Tokyo Marathon 2016 logo on it.  In the end, I didn’t but spent most of my money on their souvenir store buying the one of a kind Tokyo Marathon 2016 cookie. It had the logo of the marathon and the course map printed on it.  I figured I could probably find pretty much anything from Japan in Vancouver, so this is probably the only thing that would be meaningful and unique to bring home.  These items went on sale immediately after the marathon!

My advice is to go to the expo two days before the race so that you can see everything inside.  I stayed at the expo for a good 4 hours.

 

RACE DAY LOGISTICS

Tokyo BIB

For most races, I always arrive at least 1.5-2 hours prior to the gun time. For this race, it starts at 9:10am I arrived at 7:15 am and felt very rushed!!!     If you are like me who doesn’t like to be rushed, my advice is to arrive even earlier than I did.  Because of the Boston bombing and the recent Paris attack, the Tokyo marathon’s security is very tight entering the venue.

Based on the info on your race bib, you will be informed the GATE entrance closest to your corral.  The Runners’ Handbook does suggest which subway station to get off for each gate; however, I did not find the information to be the most accurate.  I found most people including myself got off at the Tochomae Station rather than the suggested Shinjuku Station.

It was a short walk of less than 10mins.  Getting to the race site on Subway was pretty Security Checkefficient and easy.  The train wasn’t packed at all.  However, please check the arrival of your train at the platform. Also, plan for an alternate route to get there.

For example, I initially planned for a route that would take about 40mins of travel time. However, it turned out that the express train would arrive 30mins later than what I had checked on Google.  I immediately switched to Plan B. I ran to another platform and boarded another train of a different route.

RACE SITE

The race site is surrounded by the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building. This is probably by far the biggest race site I have ever attended.  Everything (e.g. bag check, corral, port-o-let) is far apart.  Once arrived to the designated gate, I was subjected to a series of security checks.  Once the search was done, a sticker was issued to all the bags I brought along. Note: Everything was put into the official clear plastic bag.  Tokyo Marathon Securtiy Check

Tokyo Marathon Pre-Race 2Tokyo Marathon Pre Race

 

Tokyo Marathon Potty Line up

 

After few hundred meters walk, I found myself at the potty line up.  It was 730am and I counted there was about 40-50 people in each line. It took about 2-3mins per person so I estimated it’d be at least over an hour for my turn.   At this moment I really regretted not going at the Subway where there was only about a 10 people cue.  I knew I had to go anyway so it was probably better to stay in line.  By the time I was done; it was already 8:40am.

The bag check trucks were at least another half a kilometer away.  The scary thing was that they stop bag-checking at 845am.  So I was frantically running from one place to another.  I consider that was pretty much my warm-up.  I did however manage to do a few sprints and some drills for about 10 minutes but the 3KM warm up run I initially planned was just impossible.  The next thing to do was to find my corral.  To my surprise, the race actually starts on the 2nd level.  They do check your bib before allowing to enter.  If you want a spot right at the front, I do advise getting there as early as possible.  However, as soon as the corral closes, there is still a good 20-25 mins wait before the gun goes off. So you’d really need to decide if you want that extra few minutes for warming up or that front spot up there!

 

RACE

As soon as the gun went off, things had gotten very chaotic.  Runners were pushing and elbowing to surge out of the pack.  It’d been understandable if it was a 5K race.  To make matter worse, few runners fell face flat beside me and were trampled by others.  No one helped them to get up and I was continually pushed forward by the flood of people behind.  The first few minutes of the first K was a rough game.  It was more like a rugby match than a marathon.  I felt that there were numerous turns in this marathon. The worst of all would be the two U-turns as can be seen on the course map below.  And of course, the two hills positioned at about 37th and 40th KM of the race.  Otherwise the race is pretty much a moderate long incline one way and coming back a moderate long decline on the opposite side of the street.  Tokyo is also a very windy city, so be prepared for hitting the wind both ways.

Looking at the course map and the elevation chart below, please be aware the initial drop from start isn’t as drastic as it appears.  It is certainly nothing like the first 10K at the Boston Marathon.

In terms of weather, the climate for race day was perfect for most runners.  The race started out at 13C and at around noon it was about 18C. The wind was about 20-30km/h.  I normally appreciate a much cooler weather of about 5-7C but I won’t complain.

The aid station is plentiful.  The set up is as follows:  1) multiple tables for elites 2) few hundreds meters apart 3) multiple tables of Japanese brand energy drink 4) multiple tables of water 5) few hundreds meters 6) The same set up happens again on the other side of the road.

FINISH

 

The finish of the Tokyo marathon is in stark contrast to its start. It is situated in a remote industrial area where no friends or family members have access to.  Your last 100 meters sprint or crawl will only be cheered by the race officials or volunteers standing at the end.  Once you crossed the finish line, you will be handed your finisher medal.  After that it’s about a 1K walk to the after-run venue,  once inside you will first claim your bag and followed a variety of options – foot spa, acupuncture,  massage, change area, food (e.g. tomato), Asashi beer, photo booth and Seiko customized official time poster.

I experienced pretty much everything.  The foot spa uses hot spring water and claims to have an therapeutic effect for recovery. For us with a more western mindset, an ice-bath would probably be the best post-race for inflammations.  The massage is not really a massage.  It is more like moving your legs in all sorts of directions to elicit stretching effect.  It did however aggravate my quads and hamstrings into a full cramp! Yikes!  Most races in the North America would hand out bananas as their post-race food; here, they handed out tomato and Asashi beer!  I think it was because these companies were part of the sponsors and really had nothing to do with their culture or tradition.

After all these, I walked for about 15-20mins before arriving the family meeting area.

Post Race Thoughts

The race went by quickly!  I had a lot of expectations getting into this race, which was highly praised by many runners.  To be honest, it was an excellent race but didn’t live up to all the hypes.  May be I am comparing this to the Boston Marathon I had in 2015.  The day I ran Boston it was at its poorest condition (e.g. 50K+ wind, freezing rain, 4c chilly weather) but despite all these the crowd support was still way stronger than the Tokyo.  For both races which are on an international scale the sportsmanship among the runners differed drastically.  This is probably only true based on my first hand experience which could be entirely subjective.  I was in the first wave in both races, meaning people around me were very competitive.  In the Boston race, I was never elbowed nor touched by anyone.  We ran our own race but also supported one another all the way to the finish.  On the contrary, the Tokyo race was like a battle royale.  As described above, the first K was a gong show. It was a showcase of complete lack of sportsmanship in the first wave, especially for the local elite runners.  The local volunteers were the best though!  I was pushed and punched intentionally by another local elite runner towards the finish of the race.  I had a good control of my muscle of not seizing up up until that point where I had lost my balance because of the sudden surge.

Checking into the latest website, the organizer made a huge change!  The course is changed!  It’s great because it ends in a very central area! It’s bad because they’ve added more turns and u-turns.

 

TOKYO MARATHON FAMILY

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

FEW THINGS I LEARNED:

1) Do not line up for the port-o-let at the marathon.  Use the ones at the subway even if there is a long line-up

2) If your friends or family members will meet you after the race, please expect a very long line up for security check.  Also, the subway is chaotic on the day.  Please advise your friend/family to budget at least an extra 1.5-2h for travelling.

3) The placement of the hills come at about 37th and 40th KM. If I were to do this race again, I’d consider about running a faster first half.

4) There is no WIFI in the family meeting area.  My suggestion is to stay at the baggage pick up area as long as possible if you need FREE internet connection!

5)  Everything in the marathon souvenir store goes on sale immediately after the marathon.

 

 

2015 Long Beach Marathon Race Recap

Image result for long beach marathon

It’s been more than three weeks since my last race, a marathon, of 2015! So why it took me this long for this write up, I guess I finally feel settled and mostly recovered from this major suffer fest! I had a great race in the Boston Marathon this year and that really motivated me for another marathon in the Fall.

 

There were actually some other great races out there including the Victoria, Chicago, and Toronto later in the month of October. The problem was I needed to do this as a family trip with my wife and my little boy. None of these places would match what Disney in California could offer! Hence, I chose the Long Beach Marathon in the beautiful Long Beach of California. The race happened on the same day as Victoria and Chicago. This was my 5th marathon build up and it was by far the most satisfying one for few good reasons.

 

This time I trained with two other Mile2Marathon runners on most of my long and tempo runs each weekend. Kat trained for the Chicago and Sean for the Victoria. We were virtually of the same pace. I did aim for a faster finishing time (sub 2:50:00) but ended up running the slowest among the three . The second thing was I had never fallen ill during this buildup and never missed a day of workout. I think the only day my workout didn’t go well was when I had to do a workout on a Friday after work at a temp of 30oC with very strong head wind. I felt tired and drained going into that workout. I needed to hit 4min/k for 3K for 4 times. That was the only workout that I got side stitches because I couldn’t breath with the sand blowing right into my mouth . Otherwise, my past four months had gone really well. I was en route to achieving another PB for sure!

My wife, son, and I had already flown numerous times in the past year. This current  less-than-3-hour flight should be really a smooth journey. By now, my little guy was behaving much better than our flight to Boston. Nonetheless, the moment we landed and stepped foot at the Los Angeles Airport, I knew the race would not go well. It was like an oven and it was at 38C even in the late morning! Oh well, there was really nothing I could do now but just hope for the best!

 

Race Day Morning

I’ve always woken up at least three hours prior to the start time of my races. This time, it was brutal. The race started at 6am and I woke up at 245am to get my usual routine going. I was most grateful that we stayed at an apartment that was less than 15mins jog to the start. The apartment however was old (over 100 yr old) and by far one of the most filthiest places we had stayed. The floor was so dirty that I felt reluctant to use my foam roller on it and I never did!

I got out the door at 315am for an easy 10min shake-out run to get some blood flowing and calm the nerves. There was a slight breeze in the air and it felt good even though it was already at 21C. Honestly, I was still feeling optimistic about the weather staying cool that way and I’d hit a PB that morning.

Realistically, however, my last run in Vancouver was at 16C and I remembered complaining to myself that it was warm! I sneaked back to the apartment without making a sound to startle my wife or the little man for breakfast, stretching and etc.

I sneaked out the door again at 5am. It was funny the moment I stepped foot on the street I had a guy immediately asking for direction of where the start would be. It turned out that he didn’t want to stay a night at Long beach and took Uber in the morning from LA and the driver was lost. He also just arrived the US from Africa. We chatted a little as we walked towards the start. I had actually planned to run there as a warm up but I figured I’d have plenty of time to do it there anyway.

The atmosphere at the start was great and loud! Many runners, cyclists, volunteers and spectators had already showed up at this early hour. The amount of port-o-lets were satisfying. The wait for one was less than few minutes. As I was in the line-up, I noticed something I don’t normally see in other races. There was a Christian group called the Run Chapel in the middle of the crowd and the pastor was preaching and praying for the runners out there! I joined in to receive some blessing!

With less than 15 mins to the start, I noticed the crowd was getting thicker in the corrals. I knew getting to the front would take me some time and effort so I slowly found my way up there. I was standing at the 2nd row and saw another Vancouver runners there (Jeremy and Sarah Cuff).

I had seen comments on social media that this race in the past had started late and as late as 20mins long. It appeared that this time not all wheelchair athletes were ready for their start. Some of them failed to make it on time to the start-line, causing a delay of  8 minutes. Thousands of runners had to make room for these late athletes. Once that was cleared up, we were all set to go. At this time, the sky was still dark, very little to no wind, and the weather wasn’t too bad (probably about 22-24C).

Now, this race was originally organized to have a 1.5 h staggered start between the half and full marathoners. Three days prior to the race a heat advisory email was issued and the organizer gave an option of early start (same time as the full) to the half runners. It turned out about 7000 people took that option. The half and full shared about the first 15k or so before splitting into two different courses and eventually merged again in the last two miles or so crossing the same finish line. For me, the start was great but the end was horrible. I will explain more later.

The great part about running with the half was that it felt great and motivated to have so many people around you. It  was also good to have few fast ladies to pace me for that distance. Of course, I had no idea who would be running in the half or full until I could see the colour of their bibs (red for half and yellow for full). I realized later that none of the people who “paced” me, however, were in the full. That also meant that after we separated, I was pretty much on my own.
Image result for long beach marathon
The first 15K or so was pretty much looping back and forth in the streets around the start. So, I got to run pass the start line again, only on the opposite street. During this first stretch, I got to run on the road, the bike path, the highway,an overpass and the promenade along the beach. I didn’t like running on the bike path nor the road along the beach at all. I was facing the rising sun the whole time. The path was blocks of solid concrete that were really hard on the legs. It seemed very long and dull. I think this path would be really great for an easy long run, however!

Towards the end of the bike/beach path, I made an U-turn and ran back on the road. I felt relieved. There, in less than 400m, I saw Jeremy working on his own. I caught up to him, gave him a thumbs up, and moved on. This is the part where the two races separated. It became a lonely game from there onwards. I was right on pace. I did try to run a bit more conservatively to conserve energy for the second half. My Garmin had been consistently showing a slower pace than actual and that was the case during the race. I later found out for at least two Ks I was running about 10s faster than race pace. May be it’s time to look for a new watch or even a new brand name? I ran the first half at about 1:24:40. I felt good until I hit 25k. The weather by now was really warm and I felt very drained. I pretty much stopped by each water station and had a small sip since the start. To prepare for this race and its predicted very warm weather, I chugged in three 1L bottles of Gatorade/day since day one I started carbo-loading.

Image result for long beach marathon course map
The course was described as a very flat course. I didn’t find that so. The biggest hill came at 18mile in a college campus. After seeing few cheerleaders at the entrance, the place seemed very deserted and no support was found anywhere therein, whatsoever. The temperature at this time was probably reaching close to 30C.  I was sweating excessively and began to feel my calves to seize up at times.  It was definitely a terrifying moment. I ran at an easier consistent effort up the gruesome lonely hills before finally reaching the top and cruised down a long stretch of steep decline.

After leaving the campus, the course was pretty much around the residential streets (which I liked very much) and later moved onto the unforgiving unshaded main roads.  At this point of time, I had no idea how I was ranking.  I remembered passing about 3 marathoners with one that was already walking and calling it a day.  I could only imagine everyone was taking a big toll from this brutal weather physically.  And, I am no exception.  From here, my calves began to seize up every K onwards.  The word “quit ” came across my minds a million time!

My ultimate goal for this race was to run sub2:50 and I knew this was not possible even before this race had started.  My secondary goal was to run a PB (any time less than 2:53:45) and with my calves seizing like that, I knew I’d need to fall into my next goal.  The 3rd one was to run sub2:55 and my 4th would be to run a sub3. The last one is DON’T QUIT and finish the damn race!  I had a strong feeling that I’d have to resort to my final goal today and it was a sad feeling.  With all these goals in mind, however, they kept me going.

As I reached the last 5 ks of the race, my fear for a full cramp was growing immensely.  I was on survival mode at this point of the game.  I could maintain a certain stride and rhythm that would prevent me from seizing up.  As mentioned earlier the two races merged again, and here it was the worst part of the marathon.  As I reached the last stretch of the race, there were thousands of walkers/slower joggers from the half marathon on the course.  I had to both dodge and yell out to find my way through.  Few times my strides was interrupted and a cramp on the calves followed.  For that reason, I had no desire to stop by any water station even when I knew I was dehydrated.Runners head west on Shoreline Drive at the start of a Long Beach half marathon in Long beach, Calif., Sunday, Oct. 13, 2013.

I ran my slowest splits in this last stretch (e.g. 4:37’/K) and just really wanted to get home.  The next confusing part was that there were two paths of the finish for the races.  The full was on the left and the right for the half.  I ran only on the opposite street while spectators kept telling me I was on the wrong side. Boy! was I frustrated!

 

 

With less than 500m to the finish line, I squeezed out the last bit of juice in me to finish off the race strong and with a brave face on.  It was 2:56:32! The finish for the full was just adjacent to the half. The atmosphere between the two however was drastically different.  People were loud and cheering at the half side and volunteers were handing out finish medals and towels to the runners.  The full side, on the other hand, had not support whatsoever.  I just picked up my own medal laying on the table.

Post Race

Actually, the moment I stopped running I could also feel that my body was about to collapse. So, thank God for that table because my body was shutting down and I was about to black out.  I stood there for couple minutes before I could carry on.  Thank God, there were buckets of ice cubes and towels.  I took some and placed them on my head.  That was awesome and I felt an instant relief.  As I walked down the finish chute, I found a beer tent offering free beers!  This is something I don’t do normally and had never done so.  I chugged a full cup of beer and that was awesome!

My ‘family’ vacation began literally immediately after the race.  We were all over LA venturing all the theme parks.  My tired marathon legs endured few more days of strenuous activities including waiting hours and hours under the unforgiving Sun at Disney and chasing after my little man who would often run away from us!

In retrospect, I am very happy that I completed the race and never quitted.  This race humbles me and also motivates me to know I am strong enough to endure in this extraordinary tough conditions.  The moment I left the race site I asked few spectators to check for me of the current temperature and it was 90F (about 32C).  That’s insane!  When I got back to my apartment, I realized I actually came in 15th place overall and 2nd place in my age group…not too shabby at all!

Thanks for reading my race recap and onwards to my next marathon in Tokyo 2016

 

 

2015 Inaugural VanRace 30KM Race

VanRace Logo
 The inaugural 2015 VanRace 15/30KM was an absolute blast, a great race that was meticulously planned and created by a group of dedicated runners of Vancouver.  It’s hard for me to fathom the amount of work and hours these great people had contributed to making this great event alive! Special shout-out to all the volunteers and event organizers in the VanRace! Great job!
The race course is where I normally train daily, so I know very well of each twist and turn and even where GPS signal might fluctuate. In short, the race begins at the Jelly Bean at Charleston Park, the 30K runners first go west on the Seawall towards Granville Island, turnaround, and continues around the Stanley Park.  The course continues to part of Coal Harbour before looping back onto the path beside Lost Lagoon and eventually leading back to the start.
So, with about a month to go before our (Mile2Marathon training group) big marathon and probably the last race of the year, Coach Dylan suggested us to do this 30K race as a marathon simulator/tune up tempo run.  Kat will be doing the Chicago, Sean the Victoria, and I the Long Beach, Ca marathon.  The plan for us was to go progressively faster but nothing too brutal.  We aimed to run the first 10K at 4:15‘/K, second 10K at about 405-10’/K and the last one at 4:05‘/k or faster.  None of these paces prescribed were at race pace, however.
I knew this was going to be a training run and should take it lightly.  Nonetheless, I still got up at 4am for a shake-out run as if this were the actual marathon.  My race at the Long Beach, unfortunately, starts at 6am so my shakeout run will likely be 3ish…yikes!  I still got the nerves as I normally do in other races.  So it was a good 5,6,7 times of washroom visits before the actual race commenced.
 VanRace FinishLineEmpty
 From my race shoes and race singlet to my 6 Power-gels, I actually put on virtually everything I plan to run with at the Long Beach Marathon. The only thing I was reluctant to wear was my compression sleeves as the weather might become too warm.
 VanRace Start Saucony
Race morning was beautiful.  It was slightly overcast with very minor drizzle at 630am (1 hour prior to gun time), and almost no wind. I must say that was the most ideal race condition.  The temperature was at about 12-15 degree Celsius.
My body always acts weird within race week.  I thought this time would be an exception since I knew this was a practice run but the same fate continued.  The night before race day my left calf became so tender that it was sore even to touch for no apparent reason.  I was worried that it would cramp up during the race.  When I saw my training partners at about 7am, our conversations took these worries off my mind and allowed me to focus on getting the workout/race done.
VanRacetheGang
The race began promptly at 730am.  My conversations with others took me off guard and when I heard the countdown it was only less than 5 seconds to go.  I was like…okay…let’s do it!
The first 5K was fun and felt easy.  I had conversed too much which led to some minor stitches.  I met the running juggler, another runner who will be running the Berlin Marathon in less than a month, and few other people. By 15K in, I started to remember my tender left calf as it was feeling a little tighter than usual.  I wanted to let Kat and Sean know to go ahead if I do cramp up.  Thank God, that conversation never happened.  It was great to have my training partners with me as my Garmin was constantly showing a slower pace than others.  Without them, I’d be running faster than I should.  I stuck with them and stayed relaxed for a good 20K.   Our pace was going well as prescribed.
VanRace1
As we headed into Stanley Park, we caught up to the 2nd runner Allison Tai! I’ve seen her name many times on MeetUp but never had the opportunity to get acquainted.  It was an interesting experience meeting up with someone in midst of a race.
VanRace HalfWay
I grew slightly impatient after the 20th K and began running slightly faster leaving my training partners behind. I was pretty much running solo from this point onwards.  David Palermo ran past me at about 24th K and gave me a shoutout! I was motivated and started to pick up my pace in the last 5k.  I probably ran a little too hard as I went in few KMs 15-20s faster than the prescribed pace. Oh well! I didn’t realize I was working that hard until later when I had a chance to look at my splits on Garmin Connect.
VanRace 2nd place
I past the Jelly Bean and saw the finish line near in sight.  I raised my hands up and tried to put on a big smile crossing the finish line.  Euan, the race director, came up and gave me a firm handshake!  To my surprise, I came in overall 2nd place with a time of 2:02:37.
The finish area was situated on a park where tents of various sponsor were set up.  Great drinks and refreshments were offered and in abundant supplies!
The only suggestion I wish to make here is that when I was running along the path beside the Lost Lagoon, I was slightly confused as to where to go because before me was three different paths that would all lead back to the seawall with various distance.  It’d be great if the right path was indicated so I didn’t have to guess.  Thank God, I picked the right one.  There were of course few minor ones like that along the course but at least I was able to ask a volunteer stationed at those points.
VanRace Me Finish
It’s been five days now since the race. My overall impression for this race is a very positive one.  I’ll definitely add this race onto my 2017 race schedule!

Vancouver Scotiabank Half Marathon 2015 Race Recap

Race Morning
image

The moment the alarm went off I dragged myself out of the bed for a quick easy shake-out run. My mind was willing but the body was still in limbo mode.  It was 415am and the first thing I said to myself as I headed outside was “Uh-Oh”.  It was very very warm and muggy even at this early hour.  The weather forecast was right as it predicted the first heatwave would hit Vancouver on the weekend.  I just didn’t expect it to be so warm.  I normally find myself racing optimally at a temperature between 2-8oC.  My mood was definitely dampen slightly by what might lie ahead later.  I was also feeling extremely lethargic few days leading into the race.  The same feeling remained on race morning.  I waited for the first bus to UBC (race site) at 6am and I couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw it approaching with a bus full of people (mostly runners).  I am extremely grateful to be able aboard as the driver decided to skip the next few stops without picking up anyone.

Pre-Race
Even at 630 am (an hour prior to gun time), the race site was already quite crowded.  There were already huge lineups entering the parkade. I quickly bag checked, changed into my race gear and slowly jogged my way to the UBC track for a good warm up.  I did a good 10-15min easy jog and felt terrible as there were no strength in my legs.  I was running at least 90s-2mins slower than my race pace and I was already feeling tired.  The heat really put an extra toll on the body.  I followed my coach’s advice to go through the regular drills we do at practice.  Man, I was so exhausted that I barely went through them and had to skip some. While I was at the track, I was happy to see Felipe Edora, a runner that I met last year and had since then saw each other at almost every major race.  We are virtually identical in our race times but the only difference was that he used to beat me each time!  He is sure one tough consistent runner! It was great knowing that he would be running with me that day! With about 20mins to gun time, I slowly ran back to the start and found myself a nice spot just behind the elites.
Race

The Guide to Boston Marathon (6): Race Day

RACE DAY MORNING

Unlike most races where you’d get to go through your regular morning pre-race routine, the pre-race arrangement for the Boston Marathon might throw you off slightly.  If you plan to take the official bus (free for runners but unavailable for friends/family) to the start, the chart below shows the time you’d need to arrive at Boston Common (very close to the finish line) to board the bus.  Also, at the Boston Common, you can gear check (Using the official gear check bag received from your race packet only) any items you wish to pick up after the race.   NOTE: The walk from the finish line back to the gear check is a good 1mile after 26.2miles of grinding.  It was a horrible day for me to walk back as the weather was at its worst of the day.

WAVE BIB COLOR BIB NUMBER BUS LOADING TIME ARRIVAL TIME
1 101 – 7,700 6:00 – 6:48 a.m. 7:07 – 7:55 a.m.
2 8,000 – 15,600 7:00 – 7:48 a.m. 8:07 – 8:55 a.m.
3 16,000 – 23,600 7:55 – 8:43 a.m. 9:02 – 9:50 a.m.
4 24,000 – 32,500 8:45 – 9:33 a.m. 9:52 – 10:40 a.m.

 

 The logistics is as follows:

1.  Bag Check

Gear Check

 

 

 

 

 

 

2. Board the bus at the stated time (see above chart) at the Boston Common (1mile from the finish line)

Boarding Bus

 

 

 

 

 

3.  Arrive at Athlete Village at Hopkinton  (~60mins ride)

Entrance of Athlete Village

 

 

 

 

 

4.  Stay at the tents for about 2 hours if it was raining like mine in 2015 or in other years people get to do some forms of warm up on the beautiful dry field.

athletes_village_2015

athletesvillage 2014

 

A question I had before getting there was would I be able to warm up at all before the race?

The answer is:  if the day was raining cats and dogs like 2015, then the answer is NO.  I wasn’t able to do any form of warm up because all runners (see top left photo) were packed in this little tent and other ones. There was virtually no space for any sort of drastic movement.  Could you go out for a easy warm up run? Not really, the field was muddy and once you left the tent your spot would immediately be taken by others. If the day was sunny, I’d think it’s quite possible to do some easy stretches on the field and perhaps some short light jogs around the field.

So on a rainy day, my advice is to do a shake-out run of 10-15mins the minute you woke up.

Another advice I give is to use the pot-o-let as early as possible.  My first stop was when I first arrived there and there was no line up.  My last stop was at 830am (about 30mins before being escorted to the start), the wait was about 30mins!

 5. Marshalled out to the Start line 

There is also another washroom stop just 400m before the start.  Actually, the distance of which  would really depend on where your corral is.  One advice I learned from fellow runners (only applicable to guys) is to bring along the warm sheet you get at the Athlete village and an empty Gatorade bottle for any last minute flush out of the system you might require.     start line 2015

 

 

 

 

 

Based on my experience this year running on a day that was extremely cold, wet and windy, my suggestion of items to bring to race site is divided in two categories as follows:

A.  Items You Will Race With 

Race shoes in plastic bag; race socks; arm warmers; GPS watch; Compression sleeves; Race cap (water-resistant); gloves (water-resistant); gels or any race specific nutrition

B.  Items You Will Donate  

2-4 layers of warm clothing (weather dependant); old socks; old shoes; old jacket; old beanie; towel (for stretching or wiping dry yourself if raining); vaseline (travel size); Body-glide (travel size); Bottled water/Gatorade; something to munch on (e.g. Cliff bars);and; 1-2 large garbage bags to sit on.

That’s all I could think of…my apologies in advance if I have missed out any details or if the event itself has made any changes that did not reflect my experience written here.  Please feel free to ask me a question or two in the comment section below.  All the best!  Lastly, if you are interested in my race, please kindly see my post on Boston Marathon 2015 Race

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The Guide to Boston Marathon (5): Before the Race Day

AT THE BOSTON MARATHON EXPO

 

This is by far one of the biggest marathon expo I had ever been to.  It’s probably four times the size than the biggest one I had attended and the crowd was probably twenty times larger!   It’s also the first one for me to go through security checks at the entrance of the building before entering a race expo.  Few runners warned me beforehand to just go in and out immediately after retrieving my bib and race packet.  The expo is so enticing that one would stay there for hours and hours without realizing the next day their legs would end up so exhausted from all the standing and walking.

I am grateful that I arrived at the Expo on Saturday and so I had at least a day to rest up on Sunday before the race.  I mean this is a life-time experience and it’d be pity for me to miss-out completely.  I decided just to walk the parameter of the expo and would only venture into the core if I saw something that interests me.  At the end, even with this strategy, my family and I stayed there for at least 2 hours.

BUYING BOSTON MARATHON APPARELS/SOUVENIRS? 

Yes, I realize everyone, including myself, has this strong urge to buy the Boston Marathon jacket (~$110).  You could save all the line ups and weaving in & out of the crowd by buying them online.  The disadvantage of which is of course you don’t get to try and feel it and also the lack of seeing other products.

Most people buy their Boston Marathon Apparels at either the EXPO or at the Marathon store just located across the expo.  Both are situated on the Boylston Street. In my opinion, the line up at the expo was long and the store had virtually no line up.  What most people don’t realize is that these apparels can also be found in most athletic stores in Boston Downtown at the same price and with virtually no one inside.  Even better, I saw great deals at the running warehouse on-line store!

At the end of the day, it’s your personal choice what you plan to do and buy.  I didn’t get the jacket because the trip itself cost me already an arm and a leg but I did purchase a 2015 Boston Marathon Cap ($20) as a souvenir to bring home.

There were definitely some great deals at the expo.  However, just remember the adage that never try something new on race day!  One of the booths that drew my attention was the Timex where they displayed their newest GPS watch with email/texting functions without connecting to any smartphone. They were offering a very nice discounted price of less than $100 than what I would pay here in Vancouver.  Owing to the lack of prior research on this product,  I decided to walk away and forget about it.

Also at the expo, if the timing is right you might see some of your favourite running book authors doing book signing and elite runners talking to their fans.  Please see schedule ahead of time if you do plan to find someone to meet for autographs.

Picking up your race packet/bib

If you decide not to do any shopping, you could take the escalator to the 3rd floor.  Once in there, you’ll see numerous volunteers distributing your race packet according to your bib#.  The process was smooth and took less than 3 minutes. Unlike some marathons I attended, the chip/sensor on the Boston Marathon bib did not require any activation.

Once you’ve received your race packet, you should head into the big conference room to pick up your shirt.

This is also where you will purchase additional tickets if you plan to bring a friend or family member to the pre-race pasta dinner ($20/person) and/or the post-race party.

PRERACE PASTA DINNER

Every runner will receive a free coupon in their runner’s passport for the pre-race dinner on the night before the marathon.  See above for additional tickets.

There were two lines to get into the building at the City Hall Plaza.  One was short and the other was tremendously long. If you wish to save time, REMEMBER DO NOT bring any bags/luggage/backpack/small purse/stroller/diaper bag  into the pre-race dinner; otherwise, you’ll need to go through the super long line up and subject to a security search.  So how bad was it?  My family and I lined up at about 5pm on an evening that was extremely windy and chilly.  To make matter worse, my little guy of 2yo lacks the patience to stand still and would run away from the line in several occasions. You can actually find me in the above picture  (hint: stroller).  We finally got seated at 630pm and left at 730pm.

 

I’d say the event was a great experience but I’d likely never do it again.   The best part was the chance to meet up with different runners at the table.  However, I’d prefer to stay home/hotel next time for a more quiet rest time and probably enjoy a dinner more of my preference. Special thanks and kudos to all the volunteers putting up a great show!

Please continue reading Part 6

The Guide to Boston Marathon (2): Training Strategy

MARATHON TRAINING 

I respect that everyone has their own unique way to tackle the beast.  Therefore, I will not fully discuss about my training herein.  However, I wish to discuss few things I did and did not do for training that might be good reminders for most.

Hills training

One of the most popular topics I came across while training for the Boston Marathon was whether or not to do hills training.  If you go on any runner’s forums (e.g. Boston FB page, Runners’ World, and etc), you will see the majority of runners would suggest doing hills training, especially downhill running.  I live in a city where hills are everywhere!  My coach had only prescribed 1 workout that was elevation specific/downhill for me to do; otherwise, all my training were pretty much running around town in rolling hills.  I never had the time to train on the track and had done all my speed workouts using a GPS watch on the roads.  So for me, I didn’t really do any downhill/hills training for the Boston marathon.   Honestly, I did not find the hills/downhill that bad in Boston comparing to the hills I have run here in Vancouver.  It is most likely the placement of the four hills starting at 25th K and ending at 33K that makes it a beast to run!  In retrospect, I think I have prepared myself very well for the race by running many race pace specific training, especially on my long runs.  If you live in an area that is pancake flat, then it might be worthwhile to look into some form of hills training.

Nutrition

If my memory serves me correctly, there was only one gel station at the entire course of the Boston Marathon.  It was also situated later in the race at around 20 mile? I highly suggest to practice taking gels during your long runs and familiarize with a particular brand that sits well in your stomach.  I carried 8 gels on the day, aiming to take 1 every 5km.  I lost one right at the start so I figured I’d take one of the gels at the course.  That station happened to be somewhere along a hill before Heartbreak and the gel tasted extremely awful in flavour and the texture was at least 10X thicker than my normal PowerGel.  The moral of the story is to bring your own gel and perhaps bring extra ones as backups! I’ll talk more below about what to bring on race day!

Course Map

I used this course map as my desktop wallpaper at work and whenever I had a chance I’d just stare at it.  I find it to be important to really understand the placement of the big drops as well as the hills.

Boston Course Video 

For those who wish to better visualize the course, here is a video link of approximately 20mins of the entire race course: www.youtube.com/watch?v=EjJw3fRS5xM

Boston Marathon Mile-By-Mile Description

Here’s a great link (http://boston.cbslocal.com/guide/mile-by-mile-guide-to-the-boston-marathon/)for those who might want to know more what happens at each mile on the course.  The condition on the day I ran the marathon was quite horrible so much of my memory of the course was pretty much a blur.

Please continue reading PART 3 

The Guide to Boston Marathon (1): Registration and Getting Qualified

Before you begin, a major caveat is warranted here: obviously, I do not know EVERYTHING about the Boston Marathon; however, I do wish to write this blog based on my first hand experience at the 2015 Boston Marathon.  I hope this article will help those who have attained the elusive standard to better prepare themselves for their upcoming event.  I will talk about everything I know from registration, booking tickets, travelling, packing,  expo,  race morning, race day, and many more.

THE BOSTON MARATHON QUALIFYING STANDARDS & REGISTRATIONS

AGE GROUP MEN WOMEN
18-34 3hrs 05min 00sec 3hrs 35min 00sec
35-39 3hrs 10min 00sec 3hrs 40min 00sec
40-44 3hrs 15min 00sec 3hrs 45min 00sec
45-49 3hrs 25min 00sec 3hrs 55min 00sec
50-54 3hrs 30min 00sec 4hrs 00min 00sec
55-59 3hrs 40min 00sec 4hrs 10min 00sec
60-64 3hrs 55min 00sec 4hrs 25min 00sec
65-69 4hrs 10min 00sec 4hrs 40min 00sec
70-74 4hrs 25min 00sec 4hrs 55min 00sec
75-79 4hrs 40min 00sec 5hrs 10min 00sec
80 and over 4hrs 55min 00sec 5hrs 25min 00sec

 

BIG congrats to those who have achieved the elusive standards!  But are you CERTAIN that you are absolutely in for the Boston Marathon? For 2015, the cut-off was 1:02 minute.  So if you just made the standard on the dot, you will unfortunately not be accepted into the marathon.  I’ve seen the cut-off to be as rigour as more than 90s, so my sincere advice is aim for a faster time than what is posted of at least about 2-3 mins faster .   The registration works in a rolling acceptance manner. In other words, the fastest runners get to register on the first day while the slowest runners on the last day.

The total number of runners accepted for the 2015 race was 30,000 and the qualifier breakdown was:

  • 4,093 qualifiers who were 20:00 or more under their standard.
  • 6,490 qualifiers who were 10:00 or more under their standard.
  • 6,160 qualifiers who were 5:00 or more under their standard.
  • 6,447 qualifiers who were 1:02-4:59 under their standard.
  • 356 qualifiers with an active streak of at least 10 years.

In retrospect, interestingly, one thing I should mention post-race is that out of the 30,000 runners, only 26,600 made it to the finish line.  I witnessed many who dropped out during different stretches of the course.  It was a rough day to be out there.  I’ll talk more about my race in another post!

Another important thing I learned for registration was that your Boston qualifying time is based on your age on race day and NOTon your age on the race you qualified.  For example, I ran my BQ on May 03, 2014 at the Vancouver BMO International Marathon in a time of 2:58:06.  My age on that day was 34 and I’d turned 35 on the day running the Boston Marathon.  Initially, I thought my qualifying time would be 3:05:00; however, it was actually the next age category of 3:10:00.  What difference does this make? The former gives me 7 mins, allowing me to register on the 3rd day on registration week sometime in September.  The latter enables me to register earlier on the 2nd day for those who ran more than 12 mins faster than the stated time. This also gave me extra confidence to know I’d be accepted and to proceed with my air/accommodation booking.

Please continue reading Part 2