Friday, October 2, 2009

I've Moved!

Hi everyone, I've moved this blog over to, where I've consolidated my 2 running blogs. The new site provides your with more info at one place, and all my past postings can be found there as well. The tags and categories of the blogposts are very extensive over there and you search using the tags. I wanna say thank you for following this humble blog and the new site does allow us to take our relationship to the next level. Don't forget to bookmark!

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Jamie Pang Photography
by Jamie Pang is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 Unported License.


Friday, April 10, 2009

I’ve been meaning to share with you portions of the NYC Marathon ’08 Results Magazine for some time, having received it sometime January. It’s interesting what went into a marathon of this scale. While one can appreciate the grandeur of a major city marathon of NYC’s vintage, this doesn’t mean that small town marathons can’t be crowd pleasers. By focusing on the runners, some neighbourhood races do have their own charm, case in point the Bidor Half Marathon where bib collection is from a quaint tailoring shop. Then there’s Bidor being a foodie paradise of its own. Well, you get my drift.

Where I’m getting at is events need not be large to be successful. It’s relatively easier to organize a fantastic small event than it is for a mega-hyped one.
When you’re as large as the NYCM, it becomes exponentially more difficult to maintain that touch of personalization in your dealings with the participants. You’ll need to invest not only in people but also technology to carry it through. It’ll become harder to a point where you can no longer please everyone. Do it wrong, folks will say you’re only in it for monetary or political reasons. Do it right, there are still bound to be voices of dissatisfaction. Then it will be pragmatic to apply the 80:20 rule – as long as 80% of the participants are happy, you’ve done a good job. I’m not advocating that with such challenges, organizers of small races should discard their dreams of turning theirs into a huge outing (that is, if they have intentions to grow it big).

Please do continue to work towards that but know what you’re getting yourselves into. Observe, talk and seek out information. Get in touch with the runners’ psyche and know what they look for. Deliver as hyped and promised and proven track records will speak for themselves. Good or bad, you can be sure the blogs and forums will be too.

Anyway, on to some interesting trivia from the magazine.

Consumption at the start: 1,800 gallons of Gatorade Endurance formula 40,000 cups of Dunkin’ Donuts Coffee

32,040 gallons of Gatorade Endurance formula 2,250,000 paper cups (collected for recycling) 42,000 Powergel packets

Finish: 38,096 finishers (66% men) 98.1% finisher rate

USD18.6 Million raised by 5,000 runners.

For more of these, click on each thumbnail to view the full page.


Wednesday, February 25, 2009

The Economic Crises Hits Even The Biggest Event

There you have it. Proof that no one goes unaffected by the present economic turmoil - though I wonder if the perpetrators of the sub-prime problems are exempted - the participants for this year's race is going to be paying more for the entry fees. No change to the USD11 lottery processing fee but instead of the RM700 that I paid for the 2008 race, this year's fees nudged close to the RM800 mark.

Like I informed my running buddies, if there's a time to try your luck at the lottery, this is the year. Many will be putting off travels and large expenses, thus the lottery pool should be smaller. So if you've a budget for it, go for it!

To read the NY Times' report on the rise in race fees, click here.


Friday, February 20, 2009

It's All Engineered, Baby

I’ve mentioned before that through the years’ of experience and continuous improvement attitude of the NYRR, the entire NYCM experience you go through as a participant is engineered. Things don't happen by chance, especially key areas relating to runner welfare and experience. It's just too risky for a race like this to hedge its success on luck.

Take for example my experience. The race was last November – 2nd to be specific – but over the last 2 months, I’ve been receiving materials over the post. It started with the Brightroom pamphlet, then the congratulatory letter and certificate in January, and now the official results book. Twice the thickness of your typical Runners World magazine, with better paper quality and chockful of photos and reports and congratulatory messages by the sponsors, plus all the participants’ results, the timing in which this was sent out makes me wonder if this is yet another engineered experience item. Don’t believe me? Why wait till February to send us this book? ¾ of the results were already published in the New York Times’ special edition (granted, not all would have got a copy, nor everyone listed) on the Monday after the marathon, so it’s not for lack of timely data. All FA and reports would’ve been written and photos collated and DTP activities done. So why February? They could’ve sent this out in January itself. Here’s why: Applications are OPEN NOW.

The feeding over the past few months were to ensure that you’re reminded of the race and memories – sorta like keeping the interest and excitement alive. Then wham, February comes, with all the subtle messages you’ve been fed, you'll hopefully make that mouseclick to the official website and submit your lottery entry. If there's any year that may make the chances of your lottery more successful than usually does, this is the year. With the financial crises, less will be making that expensive trip to NYC. Like what the Millennium Group fellas say, "The Time Is Now". If you've the budget for it, go for it!

Here are some of the scanned pages of the book. To view the enlarged version, visit the same entry here.

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Friday, February 6, 2009

Look What The Postman Delivered!

Even the envelope is nice

Congratulatory letter from Mary Wittenberg, President & CEO of the NYRR, Race Director of the NYCM (click to read)

Cert signed by Wittenberg and NYC Mayor Bloomberg


Thursday, December 25, 2008

Brings Back Memories


Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Race Day

We set the buzzer for 3:30am but we had no problems waking up earlier! Our bags and race paraphernalia was laid out the evening before, so we geared up quite quickly. As courtesy, I'd informed our Dutch roomies a day before to expect some noise from the 3 of us on Sunday morning. We'd set our watches backwards by an hour due to daylight savings, and thus we had a extra hour of buffer. I made sure my feet was double protected from blistering by applying Bodyglide on top of shaking anti-chafing powder into my socks.



Since we were on time and only meeting Mohan and Hazel at the South Ferry Terminal at 7am, we could still relax in the comfort of the hostel lounge. While munching on an unconsumed cereal bar provided by the airline, I updated my Facebook status and checked some emails on SP's notebook while the 2 ladies went out to get coffee. It wasn't from the corner Starbucks since they "only" open at 5am, but diluted black coffee would have to do. Other than the three of us, there were several other marathoners who also stayed at the hostel, among them a wheelchair participant and 3 very fast runners (we identified them from their low bib numbers). They were catching the earlier bus ride to Fort Wadsworth, and so had to leave earlier. Given the 4 celcius biting temperature on race morning, plus the longer waiting period, that couldn't have been good!

The roads were wet when we left the hostel and it was still dark. As we stayed very close to the 103rd St station, we could still find seats on the train. A few more stops and the whole train was filled. 90% of the riders in our car were runners and it was an exciting experience. It felt like we were going into battle together and the energy were palpable as conversations centered around the race. I got round to chatting with a sweet woman next to me who was going to run her 3rd NYCM. 30 minutes later, the train reached its destination (the South Ferry terminal was the end of the line). 4 escalators moved us to the Level 1 waiting lounge where a line had already formed leading to the only coffee and sandwich stall. I sat on the floor as with many others while munching on a Powerbar and sipping Gatorade, to wait for the arrival of Mohan and Hazel. I tried to catch some shut eye but failed miserably.





I had to get in more food as the race would not be starting for another 2.5 hours. I remembered hitting the wall prematurely at the 27K mark of the 2007 Penang Marathon due to poor eating. Just as I took the last bite of the bar, Mohan and Hazel arrived, and there were more photo ops. I discovered to my annoyance then that the Olympus had ran out of juice suddenly without warning. Maybe it was a blessing in disguise so that I could concentrate on the race. The volunteers informed us that we didn't have to wait for our scheduled ferry timing, and so we joined the hordes of runners to board the vessel.

The ferry ride was nice and we got reasonably near to Liberty Island to get some shots of Lady Liberty - we were afterall tourists! Other runners were contented to sit quietly keeping to themselves or chatting quietly. We reached Staten Island's St. George Ferry Terminal in 30 minutes and the experienced ones among us - namely Mohan and Hazel - adviced that we needn't hurry to the shuttle buses and should stay in the comfort of the terminal.


Sagely advice. The place resembled a refugee camp as nearly every square foot was occupied by runners. Some slept or pretended to while most just sat there reading or listening to their iPods. Others, like me, stretched. I had enough time to empty my bladder before we left the shelter of the terminal close to 8am. It was very cold out and I pulled the wool hat down to cover my ears which was an exercise in futility. The thin running gloves offered no more protection than the hat. Luckily there was no waiting for the buses and we were whisked away very quickly. The ride to Fort Wadsworth took about 20 minutes and when we disembarked and walked to the Village security checkpoint, the wind was blowing even more. It was miserable and took away quite a bit of my excitement. Perhaps the senses had been numbed by the cold. I had to dump my non-transparent bag at the checkpoint and retained only the official clear UPS bag.

There were already many runners in the Village and directional signboards to the various areas were plentiful. I mentally noted the directions to the 3 starts (Orange, Green and Blue) and decided to deposit my bag with the UPS truck before the crowd got bigger. It took me less than 3 minutes to accomplish that. Of course with my ACG jacket off, it became much colder for me.

On my body were already 4 layers of clothing, arm warmers, woollen hat, 2 garbage bags on top of my disposable light jacket. And it was still cold! Any more layers and I'd be looking like the Michelin Man. I saw people hiding in between trucks and leaning on the hoods of vehicles to stay warm and out of the wind. I even contemplated standing behind a tree but realized how ridiculous that idea was. Where possible we turned our backs to the sun in a vain attempt to get some warmth. Desperately needing some comfort, we got into the line for Dunkin' Donuts coffee. I also topped up my bottle with Gatorade, which the volunteer gladly and politely did for me. Then I picked up a plain bagel and dipped it into the coffee to make it easier to eat - otherwise the bun was a little dry. That done, the 5 of us had a group huddle for good luck before splitting up into the various start locations. Seow Ping and I were in the Blue Start but her's was the 2nd Wave. Mine was Wave 3 and so had to wait just a little longer.



The PA announcements in English, Spanish and Japanese were very regular and clear as there were many speakers positioned in the Village. The announcer repeated that the baggage check for a certain start was closing and called for the runners in certain waves to start making their way to the holding area. I tried to stay calm and warm (failed miserably on this) by laying down on the grass and totally covered myself up like a human cocoon in a garbage bag. And munched on another Powerbar Triple Threat.

Not long after, my wave was called. I slowly drained my drink, headed to the porta-potties for the last time before taking my time to shed my cotton track pants. I kept my tops on until the holding area. My corral was the first one, so I had a distance to walk. Once Wave 2 cleared the holding area, we were allowed in. Our bibs were checked as we entered to ensure we were in the correct corral. There weren't many runners in my corral and each corral was separated by volunteers holding a line of rope. My head was aching either from the cold or lack of sleep and strangely felt a little woozy but I tried to stay as calm as I could. I didn't have any race expectations, other than to enjoy the occassion. But at that time I was finding it hard to even enjoy it. I took in deeper breaths to get oxygen into my lungs and brain and was glad to spot a diversion in a guy dressed up like Superman but instead of the "S" on his chest, it was "Marathon Man". I thought I saw a group of English women in bras featuring the Union Jack, flowers and other adornments. They were apparently there to spread awareness on breast cancer. At the head of my corral, a volunteer held up a round sign which showed "Stop". it reminded me of the sign flashed to the F1 driver in the pitstop. A boom sounded in the distant to indicate the start of Wave 2 and some runners clapped and cheered.

Our turn would come next as we then followed the volunteer (he flipped sign over to show "Walk") on a short walk to the base of the bridge. Everything was planned so smoothly. Volunteers even told us to watch out for tree roots as we walked out. We were getting more and more excited and some let out shouts and hoots. The walk was surreal to me. No words could describe it - I was walking to the same starting point that the world record holders had stood earlier, and was about to run the very marathon that I'd read, researched and dreamt about since the early '90s. I was finally about to run my 10th in perhaps the greatest marathon in the world that a Joe Ordinary could possibly run in. Unbelievable. The veil of discomfort lifted momentarily when the public services personnel (NYPD, DOT, and other workers and volunteers) applauded and wished us good luck as we neared the start. We were made to feel really good. If there was ever to be another NYCM for me, it's to experience this level of support again. It's really about the people making the event fantastic.

A short speech was given and a dedication was held to Victor J. Navarra, the retired NYFD lieutenant who served as the start coordinator for the marathon for 25 years. Navarra died last December at the age of 55, having suffered for more than two years with sinus cancer said to be brought about by his work at Ground Zero during 9/11. I found myself in the 6th row from the start and with the open road ahead, felt immediately like an elite. The wave start concept seemed to be working in easing congestion so far. Hazel however, reported that there were some confusion and congestion in the corrals further behind. Finally the song America was sung by someone and with the media helicopters whirring above, the cannon was fired. Almost immediately Sinatra sang "New York, New York" and we cheered as we raced off! Gosh, I have goose pimple just thinking back to that moment.

The Verrazano-Narrows Bridge (VNB) is 1 mile up and 1 mile down but with the training that I've put in, it wasn't a problem. The REAL problem was the headwind and crosswind bringing down the temperature even lower. Don't take my word for it - check this report out too. If an Englishman complained about the cold, what more an Asian who trains in 32C?! I found that I had to breathe harder and I was pumping my arms more in an automatic response to generate more heat. The woollen hat was no help as it had little thermal properties. My nose was just a little snotty, which was a relief. In fact save for this little discharge, my breathing and nose irritability that periodically bothered me (blockage and sinus) had been non-events ever since leaving KL. I ran a distance with a girl with a sign "I'm running the marathon on my birthday" sign pinned on her back - she received plenty of wishes from fellow runners. I also spotted a bib which said "I'm proposing to my fiance after this race".I passed a few participants with disabilities from the Archilles Track Club in their trademark top, and there was a particular one who stood out – he was tackling the course backwards! I also spotted a blind runner tethered to a buddy running at a brisk pace.


The issue with the wind went away as soon as I got off the bridge and into Brooklyn. The runners on the upper deck veered to the right into Brooklyn, while the those on the lower deck veered left. I don't remember much of the route specifics except that this borough was probably, the best in terms of crowd support. Some stretches bordered on maniacal - in a good way! Afterall, nothing less is befitting the largest marathon in the world (since 2003). By the 5th K I observed that I'd been hitting steady splits and running comfortably, so I ditched monitoring my splits on my watch so frequently and went with effort-based approach. Other than the headache, I was really running well. The flats of the early miles allowed runners to settle into a consistent pacing. While the fans were doing the best in cheering for us, I tried to limit my interaction with them to periodic waves so that I could focus on my running. Not only did they lend their voices to move us, but ordinary Brooklyn folks came out to provide us with anything they can think of - be it orange slices, bananas or tissue paper to wipe our sweaty faces! We were being pampered! There were bands every half a mile and from what I read, there were about 100 of them out there on race day. Support for the Italian and Mexican runners were plentiful and vociferous. Larry the Lighthouse got his fair share of cheers too. The world's only running lighthouse were there for Camp Sunshine, a retreat for children with life-threatening illnesses and their families. I stayed in the middle of the road for the most part as I skipped the first 3 stops and relied on my own Gatorade supply. I knew of the false sense of being hydrated when running in cool weather so I ensured that I drink regularly, even if in hindsight, it wasn't enough. I didn't want to be waylaid by a loo stop.

Congestion was at an acceptable level at the drink stations and tables were available on both sides of the road. The first stations were always the plain water (water temperature was always naturally chilled!) followed by Gatorade. The last table was marked with a balloon. At each table, paper cups were stacked 3 high and runners were kept away from them (there were security) to prevent the cups from being knocked over.

You can imagine the efficiency of the volunteers in managing the incoming runners, which was constant. Besides handing out the drinks, they cheered and nearly always put in a good word of encouragement for us.

The next bridge we had to pass was the Pulaski Bridge at about the halfway mark in the Polish part of Brooklyn. This bridge offered a fantastic view of Manhattan to the left, with the Empire State Building clearly visible. But there was still some distance to go before we would reach the island. Pulaski was a short bridge with medium steepness but there wasn't any problems on this one too, and my timing at the halfway point was 1:58. I remained spot on for a 4-hour finish. The temperature rose to a level where I could throw away the woollen hat but I kept the gloves on as it was still chilly. Cheering was consistent throughout Brooklyn and only subsided just a little when we passed the Jewish section. I enjoyed the short but fun section of the fans who sang "Y-M-C-A"! Almost instantly we runners raised our arms to mimic the lyrics. There were several climbs that I passed that needed more focus and I switched my target to getting to the Queensboro Bridge (QB) at the 25K mark. Before that, I had to ask for Tylenol at one of the aid stations before the QB to relieve the headache. The woozy feeling had gone away but the pounding in the head was made worse by the many rock bands along the way.

The QB was where many runners struggled. Some complained loudly, some walked. Once again all the running on the Solaris route allowed me to stay on pace. I gained confidence passing the runners, while looking forward to the notoriously loud 5-deep spectators of First Avenue after exiting the bridge. The atmosphere was exactly like that up the crowded road. I remembered wondering how I could possibly navigate past the thousands of runners who were in front. The First Avenue stretch is no less than 6K in length and it took a bit out of me with the long gradual climb (see photo). The roads were wet from all the spillages of fluids from the runners in front of me and it was sticky as a result of the sugary mix. Volunteers were raking the excess crushed cups from the street so that we have an easier passage.


My condition at this stage was still reasonably comfortable. I was breathing normally - no huffing or puffing. I'd been taking gels consistently - 12K, 22K, and at 30K when Powerbar handed me a pack. I'd not yet hit the wall and save for some twitching on the quads, all systems were good. In terms of timing, I'd slipped by 4 minutes (I guess I just slowed down bit by bit over the last few miles) but I wasn't too beat up about that. Things turned a little more difficult when I reached the yellow carpeted over the steel-grated 4th bridge, the Willis Avenue Bridge leading to Da Bronx. It was a little surreal that a group of bagpipers were playing on the opposite side of the bridge as we crossed it.

An enthusiastic DJ welcomed us into their domain. I was too embroiled in my personal battle that I didn't hear nor see the Bronx's famed Gospel Choir. Neither did I see the kids from the pediatric ward of the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center earlier although I spotted many of their cheer teams along the way. Sighting the kids would've been ultra inspiring. I picked up pace a bit and fought back to reclaim 2 minutes off my deficit and held on to that until just before entering Central Park on the Upper East Side next to the Guggenheim Museum (which wasn't that large as compared to the photos I've seen). I'd thankfully passed the now-famous Borat guy (to see how he looked like, read Marci's report) who were being butt slapped by cheeky runners. A participant in the RW forums reported that when asked how he was doing, "Borat" replied that he was chafing (duh!) and at that point of being asked, he still had 10 miles to go!

Having run up the never-ending Harlem to Fifth Avenue stretch to find that we still needed to negotiate the winding and undulating Central Park was a bit demoralizing. There were signs that a nasty cramp was imminent on the quads. I knew hiting 4-hours would be near impossible since I needed to cover the last 2K in 10 minutes flat. However I wanted to give the race and clock a good fight and steeled myself not to walk which would otherwise had marked the end of my race. I even thought if I landed myself in the hospital with my effort, so be it. I'd simply come too far to end this race like a wimp. In fact I picked up pace whenever the cramping receded momentarily a few times. The cramps were like toying with me. The fans were getting thick here and they could easily have reached out and touched me - I had images of Lance Armstrong climbing up the Alps. Yeah, like real! Where I blocked them out earlier, I was finally embracing their cheers. Next to Brooklyn, this section had to be the next best. They never let up and thoughts of both my kids cheering me from home carried me to mile 25 and into the short Central Park South stretch and then round Columbus Circle. A little bit up was the beautiful "26 mile" sign and all the crowd support got me a bit emotional as I pushed the final climb toward the finish gantry. I lifted my Oakleys to my forehead and savored crossing the finish line. I thought to myself, "I'd done it, I'd done it!". A check on the watch showed 4:03.49 which meant this was my 2nd PR (an improvement of 13 minutes or so) in the marathon this year and my 6th PR this year for distances from 10K, 15K, 21K, 30K and the marathon. If I take my 30K timing from the marathon into consideration, I'd broken my 30K PR by 6 minutes, for a 7th PR. Given my other aspects of life which take away much of my running, I couldn't have asked for more. And I believe I can go faster as I age. This 4:03 somehow felt like a barrier had been broken. I'd previously thought that it's very very difficult to dip below 4:10 but with this, a sub-4 race is certainly in the near future. And other than the quads and headache, I felt really good!


In the heat of the battle, I'd totally pushed aside my headache but now it returned with a vengeance. And nausea was beginning to hit home. We weren't allowed to stop, but I was like the leaning tower tilted to the right. The first group of volunteers greeted us with congratulatory words - "You guys were awesome!", "Fantastic jobs everyone!", "You're all heroes". Let me tell you that after running 26.2 miles, those were nicest things you could possibly hear. We all needed affirmation for our effort, and justification that what we did was something to be proud of. Next was the Grete Waitz medal and an opportunity to be photographed on the event board. We were moved along and the photographers worked really fast in snapping runners - everything seemed like a conveyor belt.

Then I was handed my HeatSheet, the volunteer said, "Hope to see you again next year". Then another taped my sheet together so I needn't bother to hold it. It was details like these that runners felt appreciated. But I was still nauseous and burdened with a throbbing head, so I stopped a medic captain to report my state. After a few probing questions, he asked that I wet the back of my hand so that he could empty a salt packet. He said, "Like when drinking tequila except that you need to get that tequila much later". I licked the salt off and drank from the Gatorade bottle provided in the food bag given out, thanked him and went my way. The symptoms didn't go away but I needed firstly to get my bag from the UPS truck. I guessed I must've walked about 400m to reach my truck after which I quickly changed out of my wet top, put on my thicker jacket and made my way back to the medical area I spotted. I was again asked some questions about my condition and was given 2 more salt packs and 2 Tylenols.


The second administration of the painkillers did its job and the headache subsided and the salt steadied the nerves as I looked for the exit from the Central Park. I stopped by to have my timing chip cut - yes we needn't bend down. Just rest your shoe on a bench and a volunteer will snip it off. I made sure I thanked the cherubic lady enough and she was very happy to be appreciated. Outside the park were signages of bib ranges where family members can wait for the runners. A long stretch of Central Park West was blocked off for this Reunion Area and the atmosphere there was quite amazing as runners met up with their family and friends after their accomplishments. I walked a few streets westward to the 79th St station to catch the subway back to the hostel. My legs felt quite alright and the quads had pretty much eased up. I liked the fact that I finished the race in gear that were just moist and not soaked and dripping sweat. I reckoned it was due to dehydration that led to the cramps and nausea - a lesson learned. The next time I run in cold weather, I'd be sure to drink more and carry salt. The folks in the subway looked at my HeatSheet and medal which I wore proudly. I found it hard to believe that the marathon was over - it felt too short. The crowd made the journey that much quicker and I went through the miles not realizing how far I'd covered. Unlike the sparse and unforgiving local marathons in Malaysia where no one cheered the runner on in the late miles making proceedings tough and seemed much longer. Good for building mental toughness but culture shock for those accustomed to well supported events.

When I reached the dorm, SP was already there, showered! I quickly did likewise and appreciated the warm shower - even though cold water would've been better to minimise soreness. Changed into fresh clothes and while sipping on a large bottle of Powerbar Recovery and munching on yet another Triple Threat bar, I was wondering where G was when she walked right in. We would be meeting with my friend Mitch for dinner at Tony's at 8pm, but there was plenty of time. In fact we chose to get off the subway at Columbus Circle and walked to down to the Hudson, Mohan's hotel and then down to Times Square. My legs were surprisingly fine probably because I'd refuelled with 2 bars and 2 recovery drinks. It was very nice to have finally met Mitch after staying in touch over emails the past 2 years, or more. Mitch played the perfect host and food was great. The dinner came to a close 2 hours later and we said our goodbyes. Everyone had a great time and many new friendships were established.



In fact so many marathoners wore their medals out that evening and the next day.

Congratulations to all of the finishers of the ING New York City Marathon. And thank you from the bottom of my heart, to all the race organizers, the NYRR, volunteers who welcomed and treated me like a hero from first interaction to post-race. To New Yorkers who came out in droves to support all of us - you have every reason to feel proud of your city and the marathon. The NYRR blog mentioned that the runners inspire them to improve upon the event every year. In actual fact the club and its volunteers inspire us runners. And so we need each other!



  • Unbelievable fans, volunteers and organizers
  • Wave starts
  • Plenty of porta-potties, food at the start, and drinks all the way
  • Best way to see NYC in half a day, or lesser
  • Energetic just like the city
  • Nice sized expo - not too mega, not too small
  • Technically first class, attention to details
  • The weekend when the entire city came together
  • It's THE marathon to experience


  • Point to point course meant long commute to the start and wait time.
  • Weather
  • Expensive entry
  • Difficult lottery system (though a necessity, given the popularity of the race)
  • NYC is located on the other side of the world, which meant a killer flight time for those from Asia

More race reports to check out!

Awesome race day and IFR photos from Frank's blog and also at the official website.

Next | Back to blog postings


Saturday, November 15, 2008

D Minus 1

With 1 day to the big day, we had to slow things down and tried to relax and kept our feet up at any opportunity. Since Seow Ping, Mohan and Hazel were still separated from us - Geraldine and I returned to the hostel to drop off our bags back at the hostel while the trio were still out for the IFR - we took the chance to rest a bit on our bunks. All of us will only rendevous for pre-race dinner. Our roomies were out, so we had the whole place to ourselves. That presented the perfect opportunity to get ourselves organized with the shopping goodies and prepping the race gear. This involved getting the racing shoes out - G's choice was the ST Racers while mine was the Lunaracer. While we laced up the timing chip for races in MY and SG, the method in the US is to secure the chip to the shoe laces using the provided plastic ties (the thin version of what the security of hypermarts use here). After the race, a volunteer will snip it off for you, so you don't have to bend your stiff body and struggle with the laces. I'd to adjust it a few times to ensure that the yellow chip didn't flop around.

I'd more or less decided on my race apparels or what the US Army call the Army Combat Uniform (ACU). A race is, afterall, a form of battle in which we put ourselves through. Don't we constantly fight our own doubts and physical limits during a race? My dressing for the commute to the Fort Wadsworth staging area, on top of my Nike ACG jacket, will be:


  • Bin bag
  • Light thermal jacket courtesy of Dan, our friend from Connecticut
  • Light wool top
  • Knitted head warmer
  • Cotton gym pants


  • Nike Pro base layer
  • Nike FIT-Dri short top
  • Nike thin running gloves
  • Oakleys
  • Arm warmers fashioned from cutoff football tube socks
  • Injinji toe socks
  • Forerunner 205
  • Paris Marathon 4-Hour silicone pace band
  • Nike small running pouch (to carry 2 gels, $10 and the Metrocard)
  • Brooks long tights, since Nike long weren't available in MY and I didn't want to try new and untested apparels purchased at the expo

I also pinned 2 Powergels to my long tights on top of the 2 in my running pouch, stuck the name bib on my running tee and pinned the bib on. The name bib will ensure that my name will be shouted out at least a hundred times along the course. OK, that was an exaggeration. It turned out to be much less than that!

That done, we rested a bit and at about noon, headed out for lunch. Since we were meeting Mohan's entourage between the 66th to 79th St area, we hopped off the subway at the Lincoln Center and walked eastwards, hoping to find an eatery. Unfortunately there weren't much choices and I decided to just be a little adventurous and headed into Le Pain Quotidien, a French boulangerie. I ordered a split pea quiche to share, and tartines (open-faced sandwich, a supposedly trendy lunch staple in Parisian cafes) - G's was made with organic wheat bread with roasted turkey, diced tomatoes, scallions and herb dressing that looked too beautiful to eat but too dry to chew and finish. It tasted a little odd, if I may say so, having not been exposed to such food. The pea quiche nevertheless provided plenty of protein and carbs and the serving was so big that we couldn't finish. I washed everything down with iced water. Americans seem to have thing for iced water even in cold weather. It was warm in the bistro so it was OK for me but I found it a strange preference.




We landed at Central Park after another short walk to check out the last 400 meters of the race route and to soak in the atmosphere at the park. As with the IFR in the morning, the place was alive with activity. It was hard not to be caught up in the energy of the people there. Crews, suppliers, media and broadcast teams and volunteers were really busy putting up the final touches to the finish area. Barricades had been erected all the way, scaffolding and stages were in place and the expensive reserved spectator seating were up on the left and right of the road. Team leaders were briefing and walking through their crews on what to do and what-if scenarios. Nations' flags lined up both sides of the road up to the finish line. Cartons of bottled water were being unloaded from the Poland Spring trucks. Despite all the congestion and action, there were many who were out running and biking or simply walking their dogs.









There was a fun run for the kids further south of the park and the macho NYFD men were there giving hi-fives and encouragement to the kids. Looking at the size of some of the kids, they really need to run more! So the McD sponsored ("run, so you can eat more of our burgers or you better run more since you eat our burgers?!") fun run was definitely a good move.

Tavern On The Green was being prepped to receive thousands of runners for the night's pasta party with the first batch of runners expected to arrive at 5pm. Fred Lebow's bronze statue had been traditionally moved from its original spot to just before the finish line. Fred Lebow, the star of a newly released documentary Run For Your Life, was of course the late founder, promoter and race director of the modern NYCM taking it from a run around Central Park to a 5-borough spectacle. In a poignant way, it appeared that Fred was still watching over the marathon from his strategic spot.

The whole affair was impressive and I closed my eyes picturing how it would feel running up that stretch the very next day. We still had time to kill so we strolled over to the Sheep's Meadow to take in the view. Weather was mild and just nice to laze around. While kids were playing ball, I ended up napping on the lawn! More leisurely strolling until we ended up in front of the Museum Of Natural History, made even more famous by the Ben Stiller movie "Night At The Museum".

Dinner with Mohan, Hazel and Seow Ping was at Niko's Mediterranean-Greek Grill and Bistro along Broadway at W76th Street. I was still full so food was on a shared basis, at least for me. I ordered Pasta Fagiole (soup with carrots, celery, parsley, beans, and pasta) and a plate of tomato and basil pasta. Again, both orders came extra large. I was amazed that Seow Ping could finish her monster plate of rice. The waiter even served us complimentary sweet Greek white wine (more like an aperitif) which had no kick. I was counting on it providing some warmth and knock-out power to get me to sleep. The party split an hour later while the fireworks were exploding in Central Park as part of the pre-marathon celebrations.





Before retiring I made one last check on my race packing, set the alarms, put on my eyeshades and tried hard to sleep in anticipation of the race of my life.


Friday, November 14, 2008

The Arrival, Expo and IFR

JFK is one heckuva busy airport. Taxiing took 20 minutes while immigration clearing took another 40 minutes. By the time we were directed to the respective processing officers by a supervisor who looked like Robert De Niro. I was processed by a Erik Estrada lookalike while Geraldine a Cuba Gooding body double. Erik commented in a resigned manner that it was going to be another long night and when I asked on the sparse manpower, he replied that it's always been the case. Erik was very friendly and posed just a couple of obligatory questions to be before taking my fingerprint and mug shot. All International visitors to the U.S have to go through this procedure.

Once off the checkpoints we had to pass another gruff Asian-looking officer who growled "Go" after giving us a once over. Like Erik nearly every officer there carried a sidearm. The arrival area was spartan, with only a Subway stand. We didn't hang around and promptly got into line for a mad cab ride to the hostel. Ride cost $55 including tips, expensive if converted to Ringgit but I've since ditched the conversion mindset. If there's any chance of enjoying the travel experience, you need to do away with the depressing thought of the currency conversion. The cab was equipped with a small LCD TV with a GPS showing our travel route in realtime. We could either pay by credit card or cash.

The air was chilly but not uncomfortably cold. The most obvious feeling was the lower humidity and you instantly feel lighter. 40 minutes later, after a nausea inducing ride we arrived at the hostel in one piece. I paid the elderly Indian or Pakistani driver and got ourselves checked in. Seow Ping was already under the sheets when we entered the dorm and we sorted out our things quickly before calling it a day. Finding myself in an unfamiliar room with unfamiliar sleeping partners (we shared the room with 2 other Dutch men and another guy of unknown origin - a snorer) didn't help and I tossed and turned the many days I was there. Snorer didn't stay long, thank goodness and he checked out the very next day. The other 2 Dutch guys were cool dudes, friendly and didn't mind our early rise and rustling about. They're the night owls while we're the early birds.

As it turned out, the Hostelling International (HI) was a neat place to stay (see photos). Residents range from young teens on their school trip to old folks but we only see them in the lobby or outside the building. It wasn't noisy and our room was just 2 doors from the toilets, bathrooms and water cooler. The place was clean enough even though we found a few of our food packs were chewed through by small mice and there was a dank smell either on the carpet or the room mates' clothing, but it wasn't as bad as it sounded. We always left the window slightly ajar to air out the room. Each of us had a locker large enough to stow our bags and we came prepared with padlocks.

The first order of the next day was to head out for breakfast and then to the expo to collect our goodie bags, shop and meet Mohan and Hazel. I had coffee with a toasted cinnamon bagel with cream cheese and committed the mistake of taking photos with the proprietor in them. You see, many New Yorkers don't like to be photographed. This was only one of two incidences I encountered, but I had my wits about and there were no further problems. I supposed they knew I was a tourist and cut me some slack but I thought they should really chill out.

After buying the $25 7-day unlimited ride Metrocard, we took the A Train from the 103rd St to 34th St Penn Station and took a short walk to the Javits Center (JC). It was quite easy to get around the subway system despite looking quite imposing on the map. All you need to be sure is to orientate yourself correctly once you exit the station to get your bearings right. Manhattan was clearly geared for the marathon. Marathon buntings were everywhere - on the street posts, buildings, buses, even subway cars. Asics, being the main sponsor, were very visible with pictures of Ryan Hall and Deena Kastor. Nike wasn't to be left out and Paula Radcliffe images were plentiful too and their taglines "Keep Up Or Shut Up" and "Limits Lie" were quite catchy. Everywhere we walked, we came across marathoners. You'll know they're runners by the knowing nod you exchange with them. It was like gunslingers exchanging glances before a high noon confrontation minus the animosity and suspicion.

We got to the glass and steel structure of the JC within 20 minutes and the place was already bursting with people. The amount of energy and excitement was palpable. I paused for awhile to take the whole set up in but almost immediately, we were greeted by volunteers who ushered us to our correct lines. "International runners proceed this way" and "This way in" were frequently heard. They were all very polite, warm and I observed, never curt even though I can't imagine the number of people they had to handle the 3 days of the expo. The flow of the collection were very very structured. International runners will firstly approach the International Friendship Run (IFR) booth (manned by 3 volunteers) to collect the free bibs and goodie bags - time spent 20 seconds. If you didn't receive the registration card, you can stop by the Service Desk to get a pickup slip - time spent 20 seconds, but if you've the card or email printout, you can skip this step. Next would be a short walk to your respective bib range to pick up your Marathon Goodie Bag - 20 seconds (my booth was manned by 2 volunteers). I immediately tried on the long sleeved Asics technical tee for size but found that M was just too large, so I made my way to the Exchange counter (3 volunteers) to swap for an S size - another 20 seconds. They were so fast with the exchange process because there were always people exchanging shirts and they just basically swap the sizes on the spot. I was lucky in that I received an untried shirt. At every touchpoint, we were greeted with smiles and wishes of "Have a great race". It was apparent that regardless of where they're stationed, the volunteers take pride in their job.

That out of the way, it was time to check my chip. Just pass your chip (a 1 second job) over the sensor and verify that your name is flashed on the screen. This table was manned by a single volunteer. Up until this point, the total time spent was about 7 minutes (a PR for bib collection!), as I did spend some time gawking at the whole setup. Geraldine and I then settled in a corner inspecting our goodie bags while waiting for Seow Ping. In the clear coloured UPS goodie bag, which doubled up as a deposit bag, were the race bib, yellow timing chip, pasta dinner ticket, post-marathon party ticket, event book, a long sleeved Asics event tee and some coupons and snacks.

Next on the agenda was, well, spend some money. Asics being a main sponsor had the largest floor space. The shelves were full of merchandise and most were not available in this part of the world. Asics even had anti-chafing powder which I admit worked quite well for me on race day. Everyone had to pass through the Asics section and pay before getting to the other exhibitors. The major exhibitors were all the major sporting brands and stores covering apparels, shoes, accessories and timepieces (Timex, Garmin, Polar, Suunto). Of course charity organizations and nutrition companies were also there. Gatorade, Powerbar, Gu, Clif, Snickers all provided product sampling from their full product range as well as value buys.

One could've easily got carried away, which was what happened to me when I totally lost track of time and missed the Fdipper meeting at the Team Boomer charity booth. Paragon Sports were giving away tokens for free pasta lunch at their outlet. Having picked up some socks and event t-shirts, I hit the Runners World booth to pick up Bart Yasso's book (Bart, RW's Chief Running Officer, autographed the following words in my copy: "A marathon is like life - it's not how long it is, but how good it is, is what matters") and got Peter Reid to sign a postcard for me. Next was the Asics promo booth where I got my photo taken and uploaded to a hosting server. The novelty was that I could have my photo displayed on the giant electronic wallboard at Times Square when I send an SMS to a preset number at a certain time. I also picked up several pace bands at the ING booth but I was disappointed that there wasn't a 4-hour pace group in my wave. The fastest was the 4:30 group. Besides ING, Nike also gave away customizable velcroed pace bands. Here are some videos of the expo.

The 3 of us finally linked up with Mohan and Hazel when they arrived close to noon but we couldn't hang out that long as we had to make our way up to Danbury, Connecticut for an evening of Halloween with a friend. The experience made the 1-hour trip worthwhile. It was unfortunate we couldn't stay longer. A good night's sleep awaited me and I managed a full 5-hour sleep, which was an improvement over the previous night's 4. After a hearty breakfast, it was back to Manhattan and just in time too since we caught the IFR runners running down 42nd St. The IFR is a free fun run the day before the race organized so that overseas runners can mingle. The run is also open for Americans but they need to pay. In line with the global theme, the run starts from the UN Building after the presentation of the Abebe Bikila Award to Lornah Kiplagat of the Netherlands (check my previous posting here). There was such an air of festivity when the runners ran by that all my tiredness from lugging the expo bags was instantly lifted. Runners were from all over the world, many of whom ran in costumes or carried their countries' flags. Fine weather and mild temperature brought out the crowds and traffic stopped in busy Manhattan for the runners. There were no impatient honks from the stranded motorists and New Yorkers came out to applaud the runners and they ran by singing songs.

So far NYC has lived up to its billing. It was apparent that Marathon week is when the city unites and puts on the best show for visitors. And being tourists we were on the receiving end of all these good vibes.