The following was authored by Nicholas “Flock” Rachowicz, the “QDR Midwest Chapter President” as he puts it! He has graciously helped Queens Distance numerous times even though he currently resides in St. Louis! The commitment to the team goes even further as late last year he set up a spreadsheet detailing, per month, races that QDR members have signed up for. That way, one can find out someone else on the team who is going to a race, especially if it’s a destination race outside of NYC. We thank him for leading the team out in this year’s BMW Berlin Marathon!
The Berlin Marathon is one of the world’s most prestigious and largest marathons. As one of the Abbott World Majors, Berlin makes for tough competition to get in. The Queens Distance Runners Family had a sizable contingent present for the festivities with over 15 runners. The race is known for being very flat and providing for very good times which is evident when you see how the team did overall. Many emotional wins for the QDR squad as they ran from the Victory Column through the many sights of the once divided City of Berlin ending with a pass under the Brandenburg Gate and then the last 400m to the finish.
Even in the rain, team member Daniel Rivera crushed his marathon time giving himself a new personal best over 5 minutes faster than any previous marathon. Daniel described excitement about his victory despite dealing with jet lag, seeing kilometer markers instead of the mile markers and dealing with the paper bibs. “My bib at one point ripped off and I had to re-pin my bib to my singlet as I ran. All of this made it much more satisfying to cross the finish line with a five minute personal best.” In an Instagram post, Lillian Kim exclaimed that this race was an “…incredibly unforgettable way to see my very first city in Europe” as she closed the books on her second marathon. Vikram Singh celebrated Berlin as his 25th marathon and part of his triple crown of races this fall season. Martha Panora and I ran the race together and we both noted that running together helped both of us feel stronger and able to complete the race feeling strong. Martha was able to shave 12 minutes off her best time! We caught up with Keyvan at the end for some medal biting photos and high fives.
While not able to run this year, Ashley Hall captured action shots and cheered us on while on the course. She gave many of us a needed boost as the kilometers climbed. Valerie Lores noted on her Facebook that Berlin was a “…PB in fun” and that it was an amazing experience. Elsie Alonso scored big with a seven-minute personal best according to her Instagram. She was even able to give her parents a hug at mile 22! Nelsey Coste felt right at home running her third marathon with the team even though she, like me, no longer lives in Queens.
The expo was located at the Tempelhof Airport. The airport has a rich history. During World War II, the airport was a place where dive bombers were made, but it was most notably used as the place that western allies flew in supplies to the Soviet-blockaded West Berlin. The expo itself took up the majority of the facility. It could easily be compared to NYC or Chicago in size. Though massive, it was very crowded. Valerie suggests coming early and that it would be “less stressful, less crowded, and that more merch would be available.” The race merch was in short supply by the afternoon on Friday. Many sizes had sold out. I, too, suggest coming on Thursday if you can. The expo was a walk in the park that day. Daniel Rivera was a hero to most of us when he pointed out that most if not nearly all of us were in the last corral and that if you could provide a faster marathon or half marathon, you could be moved up in corrals. Several of us were able to move up two to three corrals and start as much as an hour sooner. This would prove to be a big help as it rained for much of the 26.2 miles. Many of us got a few drier kilometers to run during the race.
On Saturday before the marathon, there was the Generali Breakfast Run. This run, in friendship, was a slow shakeout that began at the Charlottenberg Palace. It was there that runners from different countries and cities showed off their flags in celebration. The run was full of energy that lasted a full 6 kilometers but only increased in intensity as we entered the Olympic Stadium or Olympiastadion. This stadium hosted the first televised 1936 summer Olympics and we were able to run a lap on a track that is shared with greatness like Jesse Owens, Usain Bolt, and Tyson Gay, as well as where World Cup soccer has been played. The team took a photo under the Olympic Rings once breakfast was had.
I asked for some thoughts from the team on different elements of the trip for the QDR family who didn’t attend with us and want torun Berlin in the future. Several family members answered the call with some advice:
Jet lag. Several teammates reported that the jet lag was real. Howie suggests that those wanting to run Berlin to “give yourself a few days to acclimate”. Valerie Lores suggested that those running will want to stay near the starting line in order to minimize their travel time after.
Watch out for cups. the Berlin Marathon uses plastic cups. Daniel Rivera noted that they get slippery at the water stations. Some of the cups were recyclable and were difficult to grip. Many teammates noted that the fluid stations were different than any other race they had run. Nelsy suggests you may wish to bring your water belt with you.
Remember your cash. Some places in Berlin did not take credit cards so cash was a necessity.
Check-in with Nike and Adidas. Elsie, Keyvan, Daniel, and others attended shakeouts through the stores. Daniel noted that the Nike store was offering free cryotherapy and recovery boots too.
Coach Medina. Nelsy, Kristin, and Martha credit our Coaches Luciano Medina and Marie-Ange Brumelot for helping them have successful races.
Post-race, the team parted ways and some, like Valerie or Johnathan Fu, went on to Oktoberfest in Munich and Bavaria. Lillian could be found climbing up mountains in the Swiss Alps. Vikram went off to Barcelona to explore the Pyrenees. Diego Britez came back to the Brandenberg Gate after the dust cleared to take one last photo with his medal. I got on a train to Paris to fly back to NYC (learning a valuable lesson about traveler’s insurance and with an unexpected stop in Madrid) to enjoy a couple of days in my old stomping grounds before heading back to St. Louis.
All in all, everyone seemed to have a great time in Berlin. Your chance to be a #BerlinLegend is now! Registration continues through Oct 31. https://www.bmw-berlin-marathon.com/en/
Nicholas “Flock” Rachowicz, QDR Midwest Chapter President dchiflock on Instagram
The following was authored by Cathy Huang who recently completed her first full Ironman at Lake Placid! It is hard enough to run a marathon but running one after swimming 2.4 miles and a 112-mile bike ride is a step many of us have yet to complete! This is how Cathy trained and performed at Lake Placid and her original post can be found on her Strava.
The journey to an Ironman takes a village, and I am so thankful for my village that got me to the finish line for Lake Placid! From the encouragement (read: coercing) to sign up for the race, to the training buddies who made sure I logged miles, and family and friends who provided mental and emotional support leading up to, during, and after the race – thank you!
It’s been weeks since I completed Ironman Lake Placid (IMLP) and it still feels surreal that it’s done. It took me a long time to write this recap because there were so many different aspects of my journey that I wanted to convey without making this recap even longer. I decided to focus on the why, the how (training), and the race so that if I ever decide to do this again, I’ll remember what some of the main drivers were. I’m also hoping it provides perspectives for others who are considering tackling the 140.6 miles. There’s a lot more details than what’s written, so happy to discuss further over a run/ride/drink/meal anytime!
Results: – Finish time of 12:55:00 – 20th in AG; 104th in Gender; 619th overall – Swim 1:32:56 – T1 8:56 – Bike 7:06:21 – T2 9:25 – Run 3:57:24
Where It All Started
If you told me when I first started doing triathlons 5 years ago that I would one day compete in an Ironman, I would’ve told you you’re crazy. In fact, after I did the half-ironman distance in Lake Placid in 2017, I said I would never do a full in Lake Placid… But when you’re surrounded by the same “crazy” friends who like to push the limits, you inevitably end up signing up for one. My reason for Ironman Lake Placid is redemption. I Did Not Finish (DNF) the Age Group Nationals Champion Triathlon last year, which was the first time I DNF. I won’t go into all the details, but I signed up for IMLP as a goal to work towards. I wanted a course that would have an easier swim and Mirror Lake is exactly that. IMLP is a hilly course, but also an iconic race and one of the longest running Ironman events, or so the friends who were already registered told me when they were encouraging/coercing me to sign up.
I signed up for the race almost a year out with the intention to work on my swim technique (my weakest sport) and keep up a running base during the winter, before ramping up the miles on bike in the Spring. But between the combination of being the busiest time at work, buying an apartment, and moving to Queens, I didn’t start triathlon training until late March. Most people take 6-7 months to train for an Ironman but given I was short on time, I tried to maximize my training by incorporating brick workouts (doing two different sports with minimal rest time in between) to help my body adapt, focusing on swim drills to improve my technique, and doing one long bike ride during the weekend. I started with 50 miles as a long bike ride before getting two 100+ miles before the race.
While I almost never met this schedule, my training plan was to swim 2-3x, run 2-3x (two early weekday runs, and one run on the weekend after a bike ride), and bike 2-3x a week. In reality, I had a great training week if I swam 1x, bike 2x (usually only over the weekend), and ran 2-3x a week. Training hours per week varied between four hours to peak of 15 hours (more in June when I ramped up the long bike rides). I missed more training than I liked, especially when work hours got crazy, and it led to many moments where I really considered deferring my race because the training and miles seemed impossible. I felt stressed about being behind in my training, which added to me not feeling ready and questioning why I signed up for this race. Thankfully I had family and friends who lent an ear, talked me off the ledge, and offered to ride/train with me to keep me accountable. Shoutout to Maria and Kieran for the routine and company during our early #morningmiles; Jason, Samson, and Jackie for the company on long bike rides; CC and Alex for their advice throughout my training; and to Jessica and Jian for calling me impromptu at always the perfect moment to ease my concerns, and sound advice to focus on one week at a time. Lastly to David for always being my #1 supporter and taking care of everything else (often doing all the cooking, cleaning, and laundry) so I could focus on training.
It wasn’t until two weeks before the race that I finally felt ready for the Ironman. Yin, Jackie, Nima and I went to Lake Placid for a training weekend. We swam two loops of Mirror Lake on Friday and Sunday, and rode almost the full bike course (minus the newly added out and back by the Olympics Center) on Saturday, followed by a brick run. It was a hot day and we didn’t have enough water on the bike course but we got to fine-tune our race strategies. I learned I needed to eat every 45 mins and that I needed to drink way more liquids. I also finally felt comfortable (enough) going down Keene Valley descent (about 5 miles of downhill ~2,000ft elevation change) to not brake the whole way down. Of all three sports, I trained the least in running. My longest run was 13 miles 8 weeks before the race, but I was trusting my running base that I’ll be ok for the marathon.
Friday – I finished packing around 1AM Friday morning (so much for getting extra rest before the race!). I had learned from other Ironman friends that Ironman is not like your traditional triathlon where you get to lay out all your race gear for each segment. Instead, you’re given gear bags to pack what you need for each transition, in addition to special needs for halfway through the bike and run. Worried I would forget something, I re-packed multiple times and used ziplock bags to simulate packing for the gear bags.
David was really great at trying to help me relax on the drive up to Lake Placid, and didn’t let me split the five-hour drive so that I could focus on positive race visualization. We arrived at the athlete check-in around 1PM and met up with Vikram, Yin, Jackie, and Nima for athlete briefing. We went for an easy 30 min swim before heading for our Airbnb to make a pasta dinner and pack our gear bags. Even though I had prepared my bags already, I still repacked a few more times until I felt ready. I ended up not using the special needs bag for the run since I planned to carry my gels. Knowing I likely won’t get much sleep on Saturday, I was in bed by 10:30PM.
Saturday – After a light breakfast, we headed out for one more short brick (13-15 mile ride and 2 mile run) before bringing our bikes and gear bags to transition. On the way to the Oval I realized I had left my goggles and cap at the lake after the practice swim yesterday. Rookie mistake since you’re not supposed to use anything new on race day! Not the worst thing to lose since you can test the goggles before the swim start and make adjustments. I bought new ROKA goggles at the Oval. After hanging in our gear bags, I counted the number of rows I would need to pass as a mental note for when I get out of swim and back from bike tomorrow. Trying to stay off our feet, we checked into our new Airbnb before joining TriLife’s pasta dinner (thank you CC for making that delicious meal for all of us!). Besides great food, we got to talk to the TriLife coaches and other athletes on race strategies. I was most worried about the potential rain forecast, especially if it happened while I was on the Keene Valley descent. Based on when I expected to start the ride and when the rain was going to happen, I might be going down the descent right when it started raining. Knowing it was something outside of my control, I just hoped for the best. We left by 8PM and I was in bed by 9:30PM.
RACEDAY – I managed to fall asleep almost right after going to bed but woke up a few times throughout the night until my alarm finally went off at 3AM. Vik and I wanted to get to transition right when they opened (4:30AM) in case there was limited parking (we were staying in Keene), so we headed out earlier than Nima, Yin, and Jackie. My breakfast was oatmeal with Justin’s version of Nutella and half a bagel. We arrived at the parking lot around 4:45AM and took a short 15 min nap before getting on the shuttle bus to transition. After getting to transition, I lost Vik and didn’t see him again until I was on the run. Saw Alix at the entrance to transition and she marked my arms with my bib number, and age on my left calf. For triathlons, your age is for the end of the year, not your actual age. I dropped off my special needs bag for the bike (second half of my food, which was Honey Stinger waffles and SIS bars, and a cold bottle of water with SIS tablets), pumped my bike, went to the bathroom one more time before I walked over to the swim start. I was carrying a banana with me to eat 30 mins before my swim start. Once I was in the swim area, you can feel all the nervous energy and buzz as athletes went in for a practice swim and spectators watched. I ate my banana and went in for a short swim to test the new goggles – works great!
Lake Placid swim is two loops of Mirror Lake, and a self-seeded swim start so you put yourself in the corral based on when you think you will finish the swim. My best practice swim time was 1:50 but I seeded myself in the 1:20 – 1:30 corral based on Ildar’s advice that everyone else is seeding themselves faster than actual pace, so I would get stuck behind other swimmers if I didn’t do the same. I saw Yin and Nima at the same corral, which was great since I didn’t see them since the night before. I lost Yin when she went for her practice swim but Nima and I got to talk to other first-timers before it was our turn to enter the water. The cannon went off (for the pros to start) and before we even started our swim, we saw the top three men finish their first lap (talk about fast!).
In my first lap, I was in a vortex of much faster swimmers and they helped pull me along. The best part of swimming in Mirror Lake besides the calm water is a cable line that holds the buoys and marks the swim course. Most swimmers try to stay close to this line to help with sighting and minimize extra yards, but you often get scratched, kicked, and bobbed in the head by the other swimmers. I tried not to swim right on the line but was pushed toward the line by the other swimmers so just tried to draft off of them. I finished the first lap in 43 minutes – my fastest yet! Grabbed a cup of water and ran back into the lake. In the second lap, most of the faster swimmers were already done but I was still getting bobbed and kicked to the point where I got really annoyed. I just wanted to get out of the water! When I got to the final turn before the exit, I was met with more arms and legs contact before I finally got out of the water. I realized later I got a cut on my right ankle, likely from another swimmer’s Ironman wristband, which is now a new battle scar on my ankle. I finished the second lap in 49 mins for a total swim time of 1:32 – 20 mins faster than I expected!!!
I happily ran out of the water and made eye contact with one of the wetsuit peelers, Mary, who got me out of my wetsuit. Got to say hi to CC and Alix during the run to transition before Mary caught up to me – my timing chip had came off when she peeled off my suit! Good thing she saw that or my time wouldn’t have recorded! I grabbed my bag from transition and ran into the changing room. This was an interesting experience as everyone was quickly stripping and volunteers were trying to help us get dressed and sunscreened up before the run. I tried to dry myself off with the towel I packed before changing into dry clothes. A volunteer came over to help me with my socks and I ate half a banana (the other half fell), drank 3/4 bottle of water before I ran out of the tent and to my bike. If you’re lucky, a volunteer would’ve already grabbed your bike while you were changing but given I was middle of the pack and there was so many of us, I grabbed my own bike.
The bike ride is two 56 mile loops of the Adirondacks, with about 8,000 feet of elevation gain per the athlete guide. You have small hills in the beginning, then a huge descent, then hills, more hills, and more hills. Then you repeat that again. I did the practice ride in 6 hours and 50 minutes and I felt good, but I wanted to save my legs for the run so I was aiming for 7 hours on the bike. I can’t say I remember all the details of the bike, especially the first loop. I remember going a little easier in the beginning, enjoying the beautiful views, going down Keene, some hills, eating every 45 mins, drinking every 10-15 minutes, taking two salt tablets per loop, and successfully grabbing water and bananas from the volunteers in the aid stations without unclipping or falling off my bike.
Around 30 miles, I saw a porta-potty and started thinking about needing to pee. Before the race, I read about people peeing on the bike to shave time but I couldn’t do it. I didn’t stop at that aid station but a few miles later, the urge to pee was bad. I tried not to think about it but the next aid station wasn’t for another 10 miles! I barely held it together before I finally got to the aid station. Of course, everyone else seemed to have skipped the earlier station and there was a queue for the porta-potties. I felt like I was going to explode. I finally got to do my business and continued the ride.
Around 50 miles, I started to feel very full. I was eating and drinking on schedule but perhaps too much since I didn’t practice this before, or I didn’t factor in the half bananas I grabbed from volunteers. I finished the first loop (around 3:23) and saw Alix during special needs and told her how I was feeling. She told me to only drink water until that feeling went away. I reapplied some chamois butter, grabbed the rest of my nutrition and cold bottle, and started my second loop. This is where I saw CC, Jenny, and David on the course and that gave me a small boost. Short lived because around 60 miles I was SO sleepy. All I wanted to do was pull over and take a nap. Since the bike portion is so long, the ride can get very monotonous. In hindsight, I should’ve packed gels with caffeine to wake myself up but since I never got sleepy on training rides, I didn’t think I’d need them. Between going down Keene descent (very happy to report no rain at this point because I had shaved off time during the swim!), which had some strong headwind, and another bathroom break that included reapplying sunscreen, I felt more awake. The full feeling I had finally went away and I was able to eat again. At this point my butt was starting to get sore. I didn’t realize I would have the opportunity to change for each leg until a week before the race and had done all my long rides with tri shorts, so per the “nothing new on race day” rule, I was racing in tri shorts. Tri shorts don’t have as much padding so I was feeling the pain.
When I got to Wilmington (another hilly portion of the ride), we got a few minutes of heavy rain, but not on the descent. I was relieved for the rain but right after, we were hit with 100% humidity and I could feel the steam coming off the ground. It was hot and with 16 miles left (which were mostly uphills) and a sore butt, I was losing steam. I stuck to the same nutrition plan of eating every 45 mins and drinking water and Gatorade (when my SIS water ran out) so I wouldn’t bonk on the run but I couldn’t keep to the same pace as before. During the practice ride, I was able to climb the second round of mama bear, baby bear, and papa bear hills with ease but I struggled on race day. There was a great support crew on top of papa bear cheering everyone on, and I leveraged their energy and pretended all the “Go Grace” written on the floor was actually “Go Cathy.” Finally, I got back to the village and saw the runners and knew I was close to transition. There was one more small out and back and this is where I saw Ildar who told me I was crushing it. Fueled by his positivity, I picked up the pace a little right into transition. I couldn’t be more happy to get off my bike and handed Eleanor to a volunteer to rack her. My Garmin watch showed about 7 hours for the ride so I was still on track with where I thought I’d finish.
Grabbed my bag in T2 (the second transition) and ran into the changing tent again. I had decided before the race that I would change my entire outfit again so that I would be comfortable on the run. I even took the time to wipe my face and reapplied sunscreen so total time spent was longer than my first transition. Some may say this was wasted time but comfort was important to me.
For the run, I had a secret goal of 4 hours, and it was actually my only goal for the Ironman. It was a secret goal because I didn’t think I can do it since I ran only 15-25 miles a week and had done no speed work. It was a goal because before this year, in all my triathlons, I felt terrible on the run. It was more of a mental block on my end that I wanted to train so I had this 4:00 mark on my mind when I started the marathon.
At the beginning of the run, the sun was out and it was HOT. You start off with a huge downhill that seemed great until you realize you’ll later need to run back up for the second loop. My legs didn’t have that heavy feeling after getting off the bike and I was able to keep up a pace around 8:30 ish per mile. I had set my watch on ultratrac mode to save battery but because it wasn’t picking up signal as frequently, I couldn’t always tell if the pace I was seeing on my watch was accurate. I saw Ildar again at the beginning of my run and we chatted for a bit before I was on my own. I stopped at every aid station to either get water or shove ice down my sports bra to stay cool. I could tell everyone around me was feeling the heat and humidity and most were walking by this point. I had watched a Ted Talk on “How endurance athletes are using the power of the now” before the race and it talked about focusing on the present to get through the run/difficult part of the course. I focused on putting one foot in front of the other and was able to break up the marathon into smaller miles, like thinking about the early morning runs I did with Maria and Kieran on Mondays and Fridays. Because the run was set up to be 6 miles out then back into the village, and repeat, I was able to see the other athletes multiple times on the course. I saw Fabian around 3 miles and Jackie was going back into the village as I was about to hit the 10K mark. I slowed down my pace around mile 8 and this is when I started to walk through the aid station instead of running through them, taking two cups of water – one to dump over my head and one to drink. It was still sunny and hot. Going back into the village around mile 12 was when we hit that big hill we started with, and I decided to walk it. I didn’t want to waste effort going up the steep hill and risk cramping, which worked well for me. My Strava showed my pace for that hill was still around 9:33 so the walk was definitely worth it. I saw TriLife members, David, Jenny, and Vik around the halfway point, which gave me another boost.
My nutrition plan was one SIS gel every 40-45 mins and I stuck to it. I ate some chips and pretzels on some of the aid stations, took a few licks of salt from salt base to prevent cramping, and continued taking water and shoving ice down my sports bra. My shirt was completely drenched in a mixture of sweat and melted ice. I was passing everyone on the run and still feeling relatively good. My legs were getting tired but again I thought of the Ted Talk and kept thinking, one foot in front of the other. Around mile 20, I saw Ross from TriLife on River Road and he told me to imagine everyone in front of me as a “kill” and to keep up the pace. It made me laugh and think of Ragnar days. When I got back into the village, I saw TriLife, David, Jenny, and Vik again (yay!). I walked the big hill again and knew I only had about 3-4 miles left even though my watch was showing me something different. I was trying to do math to see if I could hit my marathon goal but I was estimating maybe 4:03 or 4:04, which was ok too. I started to think about needing to pee again and saw a porta-potty around mile 23. This part of the course has a small out and back so I was thinking maybe I’ll pee on the way back. At the turnaround point, I saw Ildar again and he tells me I’m about to finish under 13 hours if I kept up this pace. I really wanted to pee but I was about to go through the finisher chute and blocked out the thought. I saw Jackie again and I ran in front of him for a little bit before he started running towards the finish. Going through the finisher chute I started to get emotional when I realize I was about to finish the race. I saw CC and she’s telling me to chase Jackie, but I just started crying. I wanted to hold on to this moment. I came around the finisher chute, saw the red ironman mat, saw Jenny, and David on the left, right before the finish line and heard Matt Riley say, “Jiayan Huang, you are an Ironman.” I had crossed the finish line.
Ildar was by the finish line and I told him my marathon goal. He checked the app – 3:57. I had beat my goal and that made the finish even sweeter.
Would I do another Ironman again? I initially said no but I think a part of me will want to. I had such a great race experience and want to hold on to that high a little longer. For now, I’m basking in this sweet victory.
The following was authored by Queens Distance’s very own co-founder, Maria Wong! We’re very proud of her achievements and how inspiring she is.
– Queens Distance
Pre-Tokyo & Training
Four months ago, I completed the Tokyo Marathon – my fastest marathon to date. I PR’ed with a time of 3:06:42 under the tutelage of Coach Medina (CM) and in the first class of the CM Sub-3 program. It was an incredibly hard but worthwhile training cycle with people I trust, respect, and admire.
Since fall marathon training is in full swing and the Tokyo Marathon lottery has opened, I feel like this is a perfect opportunity to reflect on my experience in Tokyo this past March.
I’ve always dreamed of going to Tokyo since I’ve learned of it and its culture and food. Running the marathon just seemed like a good reason to go. Kevin and I made the choice last summer when I submitted myself to their Run As One program, where I had to have run a marathon between 2:45-3:30 within the past year.
Let me preface this by saying that my previous attempts at a Spring marathon were abysmal. My training went well with a few hiccups but race day temps always hindered my performance, and thus, my goals were out of reach. I admit that I was (and am still) disappointed that I could not achieve my time goal for both of my Bostons, but I did not want it to happen for a third time. This is why Tokyo was a good choice. During this time, I was also training for Chicago with Coach Medina for the first time, so I was getting used to the hard workouts and summer heat and humidity.
Fast forward to October, my Chicago marathon performance was hindered by stomach problems that I developed early into the race. Kevin and Edwin were kind enough to pace me, and Edwin stayed with me all the way to the end. I didn’t achieve my time goal again and managed to finish with a side stitch. Was I disappointed? A little. I wasn’t sure I could really even run another marathon and had already made up my mind to skip Boston next year. So again, Tokyo was a good fit.
Two weeks later, I started training for Tokyo with the CM Sub-3 group. There were good days and bad days, easy and hard days. Most times, I could barely hold a pace that I knew I could run. It was grueling but I had great company all the time. Everyone was just as motivated as I was to get to the starting line, fit and prepared.
Expo, Takoyaki, and Rabbits
At the end of February, Kevin and I finally embarked on our first trip to Asia together. To say that we were excited is an understatement. We tried to fit in as much as we could: visiting sites, playing with rabbits, exploring the city, riding the subways, etc. My mind has expanded since I’ve visited Tokyo, in a good way.
Back to the marathon, the number/bib pick-up was unlike any other I’ve experienced. It was outdoors, set in interconnected tents, starting with bib/number pick-up. When you enter, you are directed to one of the many friendly faces that scan your confirmation forms. Immediately after that, they scan your face and give you a bracelet (similar to entering a club or multi-day event) that you HAVE to wear until you complete the marathon. Then you walk towards the back to get your shirt and other goodies. The next few tents are Tokyo Marathon-themed paraphernalia, sponsor tents with samples and coupons, and some interactive tents. Honestly, it was all a blur and all I remember is sounds, colors, and a lot of people in an enclosed tunnel. Once I exited, there were picnic tables set up with food trucks all along the way to the exit. Of course, I opted for some takoyaki, which are fried dough with little pieces of octopus in the middle finished with a light drizzle of teriyaki and sweet mayo sauce. It was the perfect snack to end the crazy marathon pickup tunnel through which I just experienced.
The next day, we went to a Rabbit Cafe. It was a wonderful surprise that Kevin arranged that was both exhilarating and relaxing. Since this post is about the marathon, I won’t go into the details of our hour playdate with the rabbits. In short, it was bliss. And it was a well-needed distraction that made me happy and re-affirmed why I chose to go to Tokyo.
On race day, it was drizzling and would be raining for the remainder of the day. (Did I mention that it was also humid and raining during Chicago?) Kevin and I met up with Julie and David to take a photo before we all left to our respective corrals. I felt like I was going to kindergarten all over again. I went to check my baggage and then went on a search for the nearest port-a-potty. I encountered a port-a-potty line that winded around like a snake. In my mind, it didn’t make sense nor did it seem efficient. After waiting for almost 45 minutes, a couple of guys started directing people to unoccupied port-a-potties. It moved quickly for those 5 minutes but I needed to be in my corral in 5 minutes. I literally jumped in, did my business, and ran up a set of stairs to my corral, only to find that there was a separate section of port-a-potties for the Sub-elite. I didn’t even have time to think about that because I just rushed into my corral. I was surprised that there wasn’t more security/volunteers monitoring the corral closing, but I also showed my bib, which ensured that I was in the right place.
As I was standing in the corral, I noticed a lot of other English-speaking runners around me. There were a set of bleachers to our left and one to our right. Once the announcer started speaking in Japanese, I just listened (even if I didn’t understand) and observed what other people were doing. Then all of a sudden, the people in the bleachers to our right stood up and started singing, what I assume to be the national anthem. Immediately after that was done, a huge group of Japanese men (who were dry) showed up to our left and lined up at the start line. The announcer also stated all the runners at the front of our corrals – the elites (because I recognized some of the African names). And then before I knew it, the start gun went off and confetti showered down on us. All I remember was starting my watch and saying to myself, “easy down the decline.”
The first thing I saw and was impressed with was the amount of Japanese women and men around me. They were all very fit, small, and purposeful in their movements. The crowds were loud, but not as raucous as the NYC crowds. My effort felt good and I enjoyed the sights and sounds. I knew that if I looked around too much, I would lose focus. And so, I focused on the road ahead and the backs of runners. There weren’t too many costumes, which disappointed me: Doraemon, Pikachu and a guy in a gold onesie. And then I saw some NYC club singlets: NBR, PPTC, and GCR. It felt like I was home for those few seconds.
From the start to about 30K, all I heard were the continuous cheers from along the streets: “Ganbatte! (Good luck!)” Since the marathon is in Japan, all the marathon markers were in kilometers and miles were marked every 5 miles. I found that kilometers went by really quickly and I quite enjoyed looking out for the mile markers. It gave me something to focus on besides my breaths and steps. The water stations were also spaced out a little differently than I’m used to: the first at 5K, and then alternating every 2K/3K. It was a lot to think about, but it’s hard to miss the stacks of cups on tables as you near them. They also had an electrolyte drink called “Pocari Sweat” that was more agreeable to my sensitive stomach. It tasted like a lighter version of the Gatorade Ice series. For my fuel, I brought 5 Hammer gels with me, which I took every 45 minutes, or 8K. Dispersed along the course were nutrition choices that were odd to American taste-buds; they had pickled plums, chocolate, and other interesting choices that I didn’t even see. Suffice it to say, I didn’t touch any of those tables.
During the first 30K, I did a quick whole-body check every time I took a gel to see how I was doing. At around 30-32K, I did another check and mentally prepared myself for the last 10-12K. As soon as I crossed the 33K mark, my legs started to feel heavy and tight. I forced myself to focus on my arms and to stay with the people around me. I continued taking water when I needed it and just focusing on matching my arm swing with my foot strike. I remember that last turn at 36K before the long straight-away to the finish. I don’t remember many good thoughts or feelings – just a lot of struggle. The wind was strong, the rain was pelting harder, and I could barely feel my thighs from the cold wind and rain. As we were coming up on the finish line, a narrow section of brick-laid streets felt never ending. Every side street that opened up, I expected to turn to the finish. I just wanted it to end already! Then I finally saw runners turning and my heart did a flip. The turn and finish felt like 5 seconds, compared to the last 1K. And then, it was over. I saw my time of 3:06 on my watch and was happy. I had PR-ed by 4 minutes since NYC in 2017. As I was walking, I saw a blue shadow from my left peripheral vision calling my name. It was Michael Capiraso, eager to take my picture and congratulate me on my accomplishment. I was elated from my effort and time and even more so to see a familiar face. Little did I know, what was looming.
The march to the recovery food was brutal. I was cold and wet. We must’ve walked for at least 800-1000m before receiving a bag with a bottle of water, a bottle of Pocari Sweat and some form of carbs. (I can’t remember what it was.) We walked another 400m before receiving a Tokyo-Marathon-themed towel and heat sheet. Then we collected our baggage and went to our respective gendered changing tents, which was a god-send after being cold and wet for several hours.
When I finally exited the area and went on a search for Kevin, I felt like a zombie. My limbs felt odd, like they were taken off my body and reinserted into its sockets. Since cell service was bonkers with so many people around, Kevin and I used Facebook messenger and finally met up in the underground station and headed back to our hotel. We later met up with Julie, her brother, and friend to take back to our hotel so she could shower and fly back to the states. We both rested for a while before managing to move around and eat a lot of delicious food before sleeping that night. Before the night ended, I contacted Coach Medina to let him know how I felt about my performance. I felt it was critical for me to let him know right away so that it was still fresh on my mind. Then, I probably had the best sleep in a while.
Our trip home was bittersweet. I loved our stay in Tokyo and wished we could’ve stayed for a couple more days. But my main purpose in going to Tokyo was to better my marathon time and I accomplished it. Along the way, I played with some rabbits, ate a lot of good food, and experienced a culture that I have dreamed about since I was young. What more could I ask for?
If you are considering running the Tokyo Marathon, take a look at the below Pros and Cons list, based on my experience. And as always, if you have any specific questions or topics I didn’t write about, message me and I will try to respond. Thanks for reading!
Pros & Cons
Very well organized, from the expo to the family gathering area
Very clean (several volunteers were stationed right after each water/fuel station to collect trash)
Easy to read signs pre- and post-race
Very safe (only runners were on the race course; no pedestrians were on the course at any time. Police on motorbikes and police towers were visible on the course.)
The 24-hour one-day metro pass (given in your race bag) is very handy for traveling during race day. If you don’t end up using it on race day, you can save it to use on another day.
Even though volunteers were super friendly and helpful, they don’t always know the answer to your question and will go around in circles to try to be helpful.
The walk from the finish line to the recovery bags, towel/heatsheet, and changing area felt quite long. As it was raining and windy, I was cold and my body was shaking after a few minutes into the walk.
The port-a-potty lines could be better arranged, instead of the snaking line that they use now. Be prepared to wait at least 30 minutes even if you show up about 1 hour before the race begins.
Please bring your nutrition with you as you will not find any Western-branded nutrition (GU, Hammer Nutrition, Spring Energy, etc.) in Japan.
A month has passed and we are still feeling the outcome of the Queens 10K.
Butterflies and positive energy had come to Flushing Meadows Corona Park. Whether it was a good race or a not-so-good race, we can all agree that it was a gathering that we will not forget: a high standard was set for the Superhero Scream Station thanks to Jonela Molla and Albert Tan, this NYRR race had the most QDR finishers, and our team spirit resonated throughout the park all morning, and resulted in a serious spike in membership. While the Queens 10K is the only Five Borough Series event not to feature the streets of our unique Borough of Queens, we vowed to stage a climactic moment to the benefit of the event as we set-up our entire roster between the finish line and our iconic Queens Unisphere.
Our enthusiasm was held to the standard of the “Home Team”, as we cheered until the final finisher of the entire event. From our point scorers, to the volunteers, to the Superhero Scream Station, the commitment we have to each other including the last runner was phenomenal. We are very grateful to have such and inclusive and loving team!
The Queens 10K was the fourth NYRR Club Points race of the year. Many teammates help score points consistently and many have goals to be in the top five and help QDR in the Men’s and Women’s A Division. For this race, we were excited for Rabin Shrestha who scored for the Men’s team for the first time and is also the first Nepalese runner to score points for QDR!
Another exciting fact is that this race was the first time that QDR had a 60+ Men’s Masters team! Many of our Master runners are parents, grandparents, runners getting back to the road after a long break, those who want to have healthier lives, and even those who are running for the first time. Whatever the reason, we are glad we can be inclusive to all ages and hope we can continue to grow the QDR Masters team.
Until the end of the race, the Superhero Scream Station stayed on the course to cheer. Soon after the race, we had our annual post-Queens 10K picnic near the Unisphere. This year we were grateful to share race stories, pizza, bubble tea, and Corona Lemon Ice King with Michael Capiraso! As a busy President and CEO of NYRR, it was wonderful to have spent time with someone who is trying to PR at races just like us, and in our own backyard! Thanks, Mr. Capiraso!
Words can’t express how amazing the Superhero Scream Station; you had to be there running or cheering to feel the power of it. But, Albert Tan shared some personal experiences that are background to the Superhero Scream Station’s creation (with help from Jonela Molla) and its compelling power to get the best out of everyone. Albert Tan said it best, “… I am doing this Superhero Scream Station to inspire the change. Be the change. We get so much from this community, I want to encourage people to give back. Support those that support you. Not only is it good for the community, but it can be so much damn fun. I cannot tell you how many people told us about how they lost their voice and how much fun they had. Not only do I want non-members to say this, but I also want teammates to say, “I want to be a part of that.” Give people reasons to come instead of excuses to stay home. I want enthusiasm to be a part of this because it really is so much damn fun… Runners are tired at the end of a race, but you turn the corner and see the Superhero Scream Station. Seeing your community, friends, and teammates go nuts to see you while you are struggling for that final stretch. The reaction is almost immediate and it’s an expression that brings me to tears each time I see it. It’s such a raw and beautiful emotion.”
The Superhero Scream Station is here to stay and we are grateful for it
Volunteers & Water Station
Besides the Superhero Scream Station, some QDR members and friends were located at the water station providing water on a humid morning! Remember to thank everyone who made the race a success!
Club Points Results
The Men’s team came in 9th overall and the Women’s team came in 7th overall! Congrats to the Men’s team and the Women’s team top five finishers:
Women’s Team – 7th place overall: Nina Manso, Deki Yangzom, Caroline Nester, Teresa Escobar, Kaitlyn Richert
We did it once again! 122 athletes represented Queens Distance at the popular NYRR Brooklyn Half this past Saturday, May 18! We had a blast both running 13.1 miles from Prospect Park to Coney Island, and cheering at Mile 10.
Special thanks to Ginia Guzman and other volunteers who were at the mile 10 water station right before Scream Station. And big thanks to our amazing friends who were at the mile 10 cheer station! There was Kevin, Claudia, Chinedu, Kevin O., Jenn who made signs, Christine, Jay, Jona, and more. Without them, the last 5k of the Brooklyn Half would not have been as high spirited and motivating.
We are experiencing so many emotions after the Brooklyn Half. There are just so many uplifting and heart-warming stories we heard from many teammates after the race. We have fast runners on the competitive team but first and foremost we strive to create an environment where everyone can feel welcomed and supported. That is one of the many reasons why we stay until the last runner for races. Alejandro, who just ran his first half marathon, shared with us how he was impressed by those who stayed at Mile 10, and also felt such “enthusiasm and positive energy” from everyone he met.
The cheer station was stationed early and left as the last runners passed by. We are grateful for this because the cheer station was 3 miles away from the finish line and it was difficult for runners to return back there.
One of our star cheerleaders Christine Nasol told us after the race that she will be leaving for California. This is not the first time a teammate leaves to another state but we are sad nonetheless. We do not, however, lose touch! Christine warmed our hearts by saying, “I didn’t think that running would bring me such joy, but it truly has. Through running, I have had the pleasure to meet some of the best people on this planet. Thank you for being my running club, my community, and my friends. QDR and Queens will forever have a special place in my heart, and I will forever represent the QDR Gold.”
Unfortunately, we heard more sad news over the weekend. We’d like to send our deepest condolences to anyone who has lost a loved one recently. We admire the spirit one has to dedicate their run to their loved one.
As team captain Kevin puts it, we are a family and are there for each other on and off the road.
Speaking of helping out, Anthony Chow told us how the Queens Community College track sessions helped him earn a new PR of 1:56:46. Mike Bocchinfuso dropped his PR by 18 minutes since last October to 2:20:47 and associates it with his decision to join QDR! “You really do get what you put in with this fam!”
It just goes to show that when you come out to train with us, you get a lot back!
As runners crossed the finished line, they were greeted by other teammates at the MCU stadium. Many stayed there for hours chatting about the race, their experience on the course, and recovering with fries and beer! Quite the good post-race treat!
The energy felt on race day helped us all perform well. The Men’s team came in 9th overall and the Women’s team came in 10th overall! Congrats to the Men’s team top five finishers, four of whom ran a personal best, and to the Women’s team top five finishers, two of whom ran a personal best.
Men’s Team – 9th place overall: Esteban Rosales, Luciano Medina, Alessio Asaro, Edwin Guzman, Daniel Rivera Women’s Team – 10th place overall: Marie-Ange Brumelot, Teresa Escobar, Caroline Nester, Maria Wong, Nina Manso
That’s not all! Huge round of applause to our teammates who placed in the Masters age groups. In these age groups, the top three runners from each team are considered as scorers.
Masters 40+ Women’s Team – 14th place: Irena Ocasio, Katrine Stroyberg, Linda Brennan Masters 40+ Men’s Team – 13th place: Victor Fajardo, Winston Mei, Rafael Guzman Masters 50+ Women’s Team – 36th place: Jennifer Lawrence, Yolanda Zuluaga, Wendy Phaff Masters 50+ Men’s Team – 15th place: Rafael Guzman, Dave McCutcheon, Olegario Burgos Dominguez
Once again, thank you! Thank you! Thank you! The success that Queens Distance had at the Popular Brooklyn Half was an exceptional team effort in so many ways!