Sunday, November 25, 2012

2012 year in review

It is now November, which means another year of running is in the books, and what a year it was, because 2012 is the year I began ultrarunning.  While I didn't hit some of my speed goals, I do consider this year very successful.  I ran several races I never ran before, ran some races that I now consider classics, and even ran up front in a few races as well.  During training I found new routes, re-discovered old ones, got lost a few times,  got up at 4 AM on vacation to run, and even did some last minute 20 milers.

I like to look at each year and think of what I learned or otherwise how I progressed as a runner.  In 2012 of course I started running ultras, having run marathons for several years if seemed the next logical step.  Not that I have conquered the marathon by any means (just see my results), but I was ready for something different and with how much I enjoy running why not go our there and run for longer?  At any rate, this year I was able to see just how much my body could handle week over week.  I peaked out at 70 mile weeks (65-70 miles) with my low weeks not dropping under 50.

I didn't do near the amount of speed work that I wanted, in fact I really didn't do any at all.  But despite that I was able to still improve me speed and discover how effective adding on more mileage would be for me.  I can only look back and wonder what my times would have looked like if I actually did speed work.  But understand that I hate it, track work is pain, I would rather run half the speed for 10 times longer, as evidenced by the fact that I just didn't do the work.

What I did do was take some video of a few of my routes.  I will try and do more of this next year as I frequently get questions from friends and family about my training runs, and as you can see Alaska truly is a beautiful place!

Sunday, November 11, 2012

2012 New York City Marathon Trip

The 2012 New York Marathon, the year that the marathon didn't happen, but also the year that what needs to be remembered is why the marathon didn't happen. Hurricane Sandy, a physically massive storm (1,000 miles in diameter) made landfall in New Jersey 6 days before the start of the marathon.  This super storm, while New York avoided a direct hit, knocked out power to millions in the east including nearly half of Manhattan, left 43 dead in New York alone (mostly on Staten Island and this number will likely go up), and left the Queens community of Breezy Point devastated after they had a fire that burned approximately 80 homes since first responders could not adequately battle the fire due to flooding.  This does not include the dozens more killed in other areas of the east coast, a massive snow storm in a few other states, and a completely pulverized Jersey Shore.

LaGuardia Aiport, October 30th
Photo courtesy of
The entire race experience began to change when the storm was on the horizon about 10 days out.  I monitored the storm closely on the Sunday before rather than engage in trip planning.  With the many possible power outages, flooding, and closures in the New York area I was not sure if we were even going to make the trip much less actually have any sort of formal itinerary, we would have to play it by ear.  On Monday e-mails started going out from my friends and family that were flying out for the race.  Alaska, Montana, Oregon, Florida, and Virginia were all the states we were coming from, and most of us were flying into New York's LaGuardia airport.  So as you can imagine there was immediate concern as we saw the pictures of the tarmac under water and the news the airport was closed indefinitely, so at this point we were all questioning whether or not the trip would even happen as we may not be able to even get into New York.

On Tuesday morning New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg held a press conference and specifically stated the marathon was still on.  This news, coupled with the fact that none of our flights were cancelled, and everyone except the runner from Florida decided to attempt the trip.  The first indication we got of the storm damage was when my phone rang Wednesday night while I was boarding my flight that our hotel had no power, most of lower Manhattan was still in the dark.  A quick text to my dad and we moved to plan B which was to stay at our friends house in Queens.

Most of our flights departed our home airports before LaGuardia was even officially open, but the only evidence we saw of the storm flying into New York was a few boat harbors with boats strewn about.  In the airport there was no indication anything even happened in the days prior, nor did we see evidence of any damage during the bus ride on the way to Astoria other than a few broken tree branches.

The first hurdle was actually making it to New York, which we all did on schedule and uneventfully, the second hurdle was transportation in New York.  MTA purposefully parked subway cars on high ground and shut down lines to prevent as much damage as possible, so on Thursday when we landed much of the subwaay system was still not up and running.  We were excited to see that 1 of the 2 lines that run from Queens to Manhattan was up and running, which meant we had a good way to travel between Queens and Manhattan.

A DJ spinning the tunes at the very high energy expo.
About the only part of our plan that was still in place was to hit the marathon expo on Friday morning, which was apparently when everyone else did it as well since the expo was packed.  We got our packets, t-shirts, and then wandered around the expo for a bit before heading over to Times Square to get show tickets.  We had some time between the show (Nice Work If You Can Get It) so we stopped for some food just a few blocks from Times Square.

The 2012 New York City Marathon crew, less Ruth
It all started when the waitress walked up and said "did you hear the news?  The marathon is cancelled!".  What???  I quickly checked my Twitter feed and was fast to dismiss what she said as a simple rumor.  Then my dad got a text from our friend in Queens, marathon cancelled.  We all quickly started checking our phones, then right before our eyes the rumor was confirmed as fact as more and more news agencies were reporting the cancellation of the marathon.  Then we saw the press conference on the TV, the sound was off but we didn't need it, we could see the emotion on Mary Wittenberg's face (CEO of NYRR).

What now?  We all went through many emotions on Friday night wondering what was next.  Do we fly home early?  Do we stay in New York and use the extra time to site-see?  Do we volunteer?  We headed back to the place we were staying at in Queens and after getting some sleep from an emotional evening we starting planning our Sunday that was now wide open during Saturday over breakfast and coffee.  My dad got in touch with a pastor he knew in the Bronx who then got us in touch with a pastor on the hard hit borough of Staten Island.  We got word late Saturday night that they could use our help and we would be welcome on Sunday at Staten Island.

Ferry Terminal on Sunday morning full of volunteers.
There were a few groups that got organized enough in a few days to gather a large number of runners to head out to Staten Island to volunteer, distribute supplies, and even get in a bit of running (most racers opted to not volunteer and either left NY early or ran in Central Park on Sunday morning).  While we were not part of these groups we did happen to be at the ferry terminal (running on generators a week after the storm) at the same time this group was heading off as well, and it was awesome to see so many runners with supplies heading out to contribute.

Heading out to Staten Island sporting our orange marathon shirts.
Dirty legs from mucking out homes. 
We connected with pastor Dave Beidel of New Hope Community Church on Staten Island.  New Hope partnered with other churches on the island and adopted sections of the hard hit neighborhoods along the coastline to assist with cleanup and any other needs the local victims may have.  The area we were in had about 4-6 feet of sustained water in the homes with several larger waves including one that was high enough to reach the second story window.

What was needed was the fully gutting of the homes on the first floor, down to the studs so they can dry out and be inspected.              We spent the afternoon gutting a couple of hopes fully and helping out with a few others. Everything was moved out, flooring, sheet rock, insulation, appliances  kitchen cabinets, everything.  In fact the pictures you see of the large piles of trash in the streets on Staten Island is from all the debris removed from the flooded homes.  Cars were pushed into houses, trees were down, fences blown over, ovens filled with seawater, it was definitely a moving experience being in the homes less than a week after they were flooded.  We could tell by the low numbers of orange shirts that many of the other runners did not make it to this particular area of the island, which was about 5 miles from the terminal, although a few runners did make it and were helping out.

Around 4:30 we started to clean up and get ready to head out.  There is martial law in that particular area due to looting, plus the area has no power so you can't work without light anyway, so all the volunteers and even many of the residents leave once it gets dark.

Sunday night we had some great discussion about the race, volunteering, and our thoughts for the day over some food at Bubba Gump Shrimp Company in Times Square.  Then on Monday we headed out for a run in Central Park so we could run under the marathon banners while they were still up, although they were taking it down later in the morning.

What are my thoughts on the cancellation?  It was the right choice based on the events that transpired earlier in the week.  What I mean by this is that many victims (and non-victims) felt like the city of New York and the marathon were forgetting about the storm victims and that holding the race would divert resources and distract from the recovery, much of this is true.  On Thursday the NYRR set up a fund to help Sandy victims and before the press conference was even over there was $1.5 million dollars ($1 million from NYRR and $500k from Asics) the next day the fund was over $2 million (mostly from other sponsors).  Nearly all of the events leading up to the marathon were cancelled on Thursday as well.  I can't help but wonder that if these choices were made and subsequently announced on Tuesday would people have had different thoughts about the race?  Some argued it was about resources, it wasn't, but it was about perception and perception is important.  The people of Staten Island were still pulling deceased victims from the rubble and the water was still in homes on Tuesday when Mayor Bloomberg said the race was on (remember the race starts on Staten Island), so I can certainly see their point of view.  What I still have issue with is them saying earlier in the week the race would go ahead and then cancelling it 38 hours before the start.  Of course in the running world this will be debated about for a long time, and hopefully other race organizers (and of course the NYRR) will learn from this experience.

I do want to add that NYRR donated the finish line food bags, bottled water, and finish line ponchos and shirts.  The hotly debated finish line generators were rentals so they couldn't be donated, and they wouldn't do much good anyway since power quantity wasn't the problem, most homes didn't have power due to structural damage that will first need to be repaired.  In fact as I write this there are thousands still without power but that is almost entirely due to structural damage.  There did seem to be plenty of food and water on Staten Island as well, at least in the area we were in, about everywhere we turned there was someone offering food and bottled water, and kudos to all those restaurants that donated hot meals.

Overall I still have mixed feelings about the situation.  Of course we need to remember those lost in the storm, and I am glad we had the opportunity volunteer and contribute to recovery efforts.  But I am still disappointed the race didn't happen, this is the New York City Marathon after all!  There is still little word from NYRR other than the e-mail about the cancellation (a word that is routinely spelled wrong on their website and in e-mails) and a follow up e-mail that they are working on details for the cancellation.  We have heard that all 2012 runners will have guaranteed entry into the 2013 race, but even this has not come directing from the NYRR.  With that said, depending on the fallout from this years race I am penciling in the race to next years calendar.

Here are some other pictures I captured during the trip.

Residents in line for gas in Queens.

An eerie site looking down 57th street as several blocks were evacuated due to a broken crane hanging  60 stories up above the street. 

Saturday morning.

A guard stands by pallets of finish line shirts and ponchos along Central Park West. 

Box for clothing donations at the finish line. 

Pallets of finish line finish line food bags still in Central Park Monday morning. 

Quite the official marathon vehicle!  In Central Park Monday morning.