Thank You New York!

This year was my third consecutive New York City Marathon.  It wasn’t my best race; actually, it was my worst time (4:11.36) in three races.  I bonked very badly after the 21st mile.  Around mile 23, when I realized I was not going to come in under 4 hours unless I really pushed through the screaming pain in my legs, I tried to ignore the pain and keep running.  I made it about a third of a mile before the pain literally brought tears to my eyes.  I stumbled, stopped, bent over, and wiped my eyes.

Just then, a spectator – a complete stranger – reached out over the barrier, pounded me on the back, and screamed, “C’mon Hellgate! (I had my team singlet on) You got this!  You’re almost there!  Don’t quit now, man!”

The crowds throughout the course of the New York City Marathon are simply electric. They are really what make the New York City Marathon amazing, and something every runner must experience at least once in their life.  This being my third consecutive race, I already knew this.  Fans line the streets, cheer you on, yelling at the top of their lungs, and even offer runners everything from paper towels and bottles of water to bananas and oranges.  But yesterday, as it got progressively harder to even walk the last few miles, numerous spectators, seeing the obvious pain on my face, called out to me and shouted encouraging words.  Their cheers lifted my spirits, warmed my heart, and made my painful last three miles just a little less painful.  And it made me fully realize really how special the New York crowds are.

So I wanted to take a moment to express my gratitude to New York, the greatest city in the world, for making the New York City Marathon the greatest race in the world.

Thank you New York City!

A sign I see at least a few times every year.

Now in honor of the best race spectators in the world, I want to share some of the signs I saw over my 26.2 miles on Sunday.

Some signs were fittingly based on another recent New York City-inspired event:

  • “Occupy 26.2”
  • “I am part of the 99% of people that can’t finish a marathon.  You are the 1%!”

Others were borough-specific:

  • “Welcome to Brooklyn!  Now get out!”
  • “The 7 train isn’t running today, but you are!”

The signs with a little R-rated humor are always some of my favorites:

  • “Chafed nipples turn me on!”
  • (A sign with a photo of a well endowed woman): “Here are two big reasons to keep running!”
  • “You have great stamina.  Call me!”

Some other funny and inspirational standouts:

  • “Pain is temporary.  Glory is forever.”
  • “Black toenails are sexy!”
  • “Chuck Norris never ran a marathon”

And finally, a couple of signs down the home stretch:

  • “I didn’t wake up this early to see you walk.  RUN!”  (This was along Central Park West, around mile 24, when quite a few runners – including myself – were walking.  Maybe that’s why this woman was holding this sign by her side, instead of up in the air. But despite my pain, I still thought it was fairly amusing.)
  • (A sign with a picture of the Grim Reaper): “The End is Near!”
  • “There’s beer at the finish line.  Hurry up before they run out!”
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My Marathon Prayer

Dear God,

Watch over me today

So that my feet are swift and each step is true.

And if it be Your Will, give me the strength

To run my very best 26.2.

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A New York State of Mind

I’m hardly a marathon veteran; but this Sunday, when I line up at Fort Wadsworth, it will be my third New York City marathon, so I am something of a New York City Marathon veteran.  If you’re one of the approximately 60,000 runners registered for the race, chances are you’ve been reading a lot about tips to help you this Sunday, including those daily tips from New York Road Runners.  If you haven’t seen it yet, check out this Course Strategy guide on the NYRR website.  But here are some of my own tips you might’ve not seen anywhere else, which can help you make the best out of your marathon experience, especially if this is your first time running the 26.2 miles through the five boroughs of New York City:

Before the Race

  • Don’t get to Fort Wadsworth any earlier than you have to.  The large majority of runners take the Staten Island ferry from Whitehall in Manhattan. You probably don’t have to get as early as your assigned ferry indicates. For example, if you’re in the first wave start at 9:40am, chances are you will be assigned to a 5:45 or 6am ferry.  But if you get there that early, you will be waiting for over two and a half hours in the starting village. Boats on marathon day leave frequently – as fast as they fill up – and no one is checking to make sure you’re actually on your official assigned ferry.   I recommend getting to the ferry terminal about two and a half hours before your wave start.  Keep in mind that the very last ferry you can take before you will miss the third wave start is at 8:30.
  • Be Prepared For a Long Wait at the Village.  This means bring warm clothing (top and bottom) to keep you warm, including a layer of clothing you won’t mind shedding and leaving behind in your starting corral.  If you don’t have anything you don’t mind throwing away, visit your local thrift store.  Also bring something for you to sit and/or lay down on.  A large garbage bag works well.  Although the weather looks like it will be dry on Sunday, if it’s raining, also pack accordingly.
  • Tell Your Fans/Spectators to Avoid Downtown First Avenue.  My first race, in 2009, I saw five friends along the race course, including a couple I didn’t even know would be watching.  But I missed my wife on First Avenue – even with her big sign and balloon – because she couldn’t get to the front of the crowd on First Avenue and 81st Street.  Either have your friends wait further uptown on First Avenue, near Spanish Harlem, or have them watch in Queens or Brooklyn.

During the Race

  • Interact with the Crowd.  The New York City crowds really make the marathon experience.  Consider running close to the curb, especially if this is your first New York City Marathon.  Kids will come out and run alongside you, people will high-five you, and some will even hand out bottles of water, bananas and other snacks.  Even though I haven’t tried it myself, other runners have suggested pinning your name to your shirt, so spectators can call out your name as they cheer you on.
  • Pace Yourself.  This is a piece of advice I’m sure you’ve already heard ad nauseum, but I will say it again.  Pace yourself.  The atmosphere, the crowds, and the whole experience will really get you amped up, but really make a conscious effort to hold yourself back.  In 2009, I was so caught up in the experience that I didn’t realize until the halfway point that I had run the first 13.1 miles at almost half-marathon pace.  Needless to say, the last six miles that year were quite painful. The turning point in the race is around miles 16 to 17, when the crowds along First Avenue thin out and you’re starting to get close to hitting the Wall.  Try to keep something in reserve until then.
  • Go Easy Over the Bridges.  The New York City Marathon course is a very challenging course with some tough elevation changes.  Many of the biggest elevation changes are as you run over bridges – there are five in total, including the Verrazano.  The last two – the Willis Avenue and Madison Avenue bridges – aren’t too bad, but the first 3 are challenging.  Take it easy not only going up, but also coming down the bridges; it may feel easy running downhill, but steep declines are actually pretty tough on your muscles.

During the Race

    • Rendezvous Away from Central Park.  The whole west side of Central Park is a zoo on marathon day.  If you plan on meeting up with friends or family after the race, designate a spot at least a few blocks west of Central Park.
    • Forget About Catching a Cab.  Especially if you’re B&T (bridge and tunnel), you’re probably hoping to catch a cab after the race.  F’get about it.  You will probably have to walk at least 5-10 blocks away from the park that day to catch a cab.  Plus, with all the road closures, getting to where you need to go by car is tricky.  Plan on either taking the subway (which we ended up doing, after trying in vain for almost 30 minutes to catch a cab), walking a bit away from the park, or if you’re lucky enough, get someone to pick you up.

Well that’s all I’ve got.  Hope the weather stays dry and everyone stays healthy.  Just remember: pace yourself, enjoy the experience, and do your best – and you’ll be great on Sunday!  See you at the finish line!

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Back to the Motherland: Dak Galbi

Look at all the goodness in that big pan!

Dak galbi, or stir-fried spicy marinated chicken, is one of my absolute favorite Korean dishes.  And that’s saying a lot, considering how much I love just about all different kinds of Korean food. Unfortunately for me, dak kalbi is a dish that is both hard to make properly at home (for reasons I’ll discuss later), and also unavailable anywhere in the New York City metro area.  There used to be two dak kalbi places, one in Fort Lee, New Jersey, and another in Flushing, Queens, but both of them closed several years ago. So whenever I go to Korea, dak kalbi always tops my list of things I must eat while I’m back in the motherland.

Fried rice with toasted seaweed slices, and sesame leaves with hot pepper paste marinade, all drizzled with sesame seed oil.

A meal of dak kalbi consists of two parts.  For the first part, the various ingredients – chicken, cabbage, sesame leaves, carrots, sweet potatoes, and onions, along with the marinade/sauce – are thrown on a large, round, flat grill pan (maybe about two feet in diameter) and stir-fried. The main ingredient in the marinade is red pepper paste.  This gives the sauce a nice level of heat (you can ask for varying levels of spiciness to suit your taste), which is well balanced by some sweet and tangy undertones produced by the brown sugar, corn starch, fresh ginger slices and curry powder that also go into the sauce.  When the chicken is cooked, you eat the various piping hot ingredients straight off the grill.  The chicken – which for dak kalbi is usually thigh (dark) meat – is tender and thoroughly marinated.  The cabbage is both soft and slightly crunchy at the same time.  The carrot and sweet potato slices are soft yet firm.  Everything is well cooked after sizzling in the marinade on the large pan.  Oh, and a bottle of soju – traditional Korean liquor distilled from rice or potatoes – goes great with the spiciness of a dak kalbi meal.  It’s a wonderful, hearty meal.  But we’re not done yet.

Oh yeaaa... deglaze the sh*t outta that pan!

After you and your party has picked through about 80% of what’s on the pan, rice with sesame leaves and toasted seaweed slices – all drizzled with sesame seed oil and more marinade – is dumped on the pan and stir-fried to make a very special fried rice.  What makes it so special?  The fried rice is made on the same pan on which the chicken, veggies and marinade were just cooking for over 20 minutes.  Thus, when the rice is stir-fried on the same pan, the effect is that the bits of caramelized chicken fat, marinade, and other juices from the first part of your meal are effectively deglazed directly from the grill pan into your fried rice!  And the result is the Best. Fried. Rice. Ever.

This is the reason why, by the way, the large round grill pan is key and why dak kalbi is hard to do properly at home.  I don’t know about you, but I don’t have a 2-foot wide grill pan, or a stove that could handle a 2-foot wide grill pan in my house.  Ah well, maybe someday I’ll have a dining table devoted just to eating dak kalbi

Dak kalbi has everything you could ask for in a meal; tender chicken, various veggies, a lot of heat and a little tangy and sweet.  The communal effect of everyone eating from a big round grill pan makes it a very fun, social event.  Add a bottle of soju, and you have the perfect meal.  If you’re ever in Korea, or Los Angeles, I highly suggest you grab a few friends and try it!

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Back to the Motherland: Adventures in Suncheon

The last two weeks in September, my wife and I went to Korea for ten days.  We spent much of the time saying hello to family and friends, especially those that couldn’t make it to our wedding last year.  But of course we made also made time to eat all kinds of delicious Korea food.  In fact, when I finally stepped on a scale when I got back home, I found that my fatass had managed to put on close to six pounds in just ten days.  Quite an accomplishment, even for me.  The next few posts, I’ll share the stories of how the great food that made up those six pounds.

This is where the magic happens!

For most of our Korea stay, we were with my wife’s parents in Giheung, an area about an hour drive (give or take depending on the often-brutal traffic) out of Seoul.  But for two days early on on our vacation, we took a trip down to southwest Korea to Suncheon, my mother’s hometown and where my uncle still runs the company my grandmother founded, Maeil Foods Co., Ltd.

“Maeil” means “everyday” in Korean.  Maeil Foods make ganjang (soy sauce), gochujang (fermented hot pepper paste), doenjang (fermented soybean paste), jajang (black bean paste) and other Korean food products – pretty much everyday ingredients in just about all Korean dishes.  Maeil Foods sells most of what it makes as an OEM producer to other food companies.  My uncle was nice enough to give us a tour of his company’s facilities.

My uncle educating us on the soy sauce-making process.

Soy sauce, a key ingredient and condiment in Asian foods, is made primarily from soybeans, water and salt. A modern process, made with acid-hydrolyzed soy protein instead of naturally brewed with a traditional mold cultures, takes about half the time and has a much longer shelf life, but Maeil Food makes it the old fashioned way.  A mold culture is added to the soybeans and pumped into large temperature and humidity controlled incubation chambers, where the natural fermentation process takes place over several days.  The mixture forms into solid and liquid parts – the liquid part is kept, heated and filtered.  Water and salt are added for flavor and voilà!  You have Maeil Foods soy sauce!

Will you look at that spread?!?

My uncle was also kind enough to treat me, my wife, and my in-laws to a wonderful dinner at a local Suncheon favorite, Dae Won Restaurant.  Dae Won is a family-style restaurant that has been in business since back in the day when my mom was a kid, way back in the day!

Along with me and my wife and my in-laws, two of my uncles, an aunt, one of my cousins, his wife, and my cousin’s two daughters all piled into a private room at this family-style restaurant.  A Korean family-style means everyone takes off their shoes and sits Indian-style at a table.  Other than the individual bowl of rice given to everyone, everything on the table is shared by all.

My uncle, playing the gracious host, ordered more than enough food for all of us.  On the table you see on the right, we had braised beef ribs, broiled mackerel, boiled squid, grilled pork belly, soybean stew, and pan-fried vermicelli noodles.  And that’s just the entrees we ordered, and doesn’t include the countless number of ban chan that came with the meal, which included four different kinds of kimchi, four different kinds of jun (pancakes made by adding ingredients, such as scallions, fish, and/or meats to a flour and egg mixture), sesame and lettuce leaves (to which you add rice, soybean paste, and meat to make a bite sized burrito), braised eggplant, sauteed broccoli, and a number of other veggies that I must admit I do not know the English translation for.  All the food was incredibly fresh and tasty while still retaining that vague comfortable familiarity that only comes from a home-cooked meal. Suncheon, recently undergoing a population and industrial boom, is still predominantly an agricultural area, and all the foods on the table had the vivid tastes that fresh, in-season, locally grown products announce when you’re eating them.  In addition, I learned that Dae Won used Maeil Food products when preparing all of their foods.  So I really did get to see my meal that night from source to table that night in Suncheon!

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Race Review: The Blue Line Run

The Blue Line Run  is a training run consisting of the the last 20 miles of the New York City Marathon, hosted by the Front Runners New York running club, who are gracious enough to volunteer their efforts to any runners who want to run this training run with them, free of charge.  The run takes place annually three weeks before the marathon, scheduled to coincide with the time when runners should be hitting their peak mileage in their New York City Marathon training schedule.

As I’ve mentioned in my previous post, my training has been rather spotty lately.  Bad timing for that though, as the New York City Marathon looms less than a month away.  So even though I was doubtful how ready I was for a 20+ mile run, when a fellow Hellgater shared details of the Blue Line Run, I signed up for it.  I figured doing what amount to a group training run would force me to finish the mileage, whereas if I ran by myself, I might call it a day and head home once I hit the wall around mile 17 or 18.  Plus, hydration is always an issue on longer runs, and there would be aid stations set up along the course.

I woke up at 5:30am to get to Prospect Park by 8am.  Unfortunately, I didn’t have time to eat anything for breakfast.  Not a great idea when you’re about to run for three hours.  I also left my apartment dressed in only my running gear – also not a great idea when you have over two hours in between when you leave the house and when you’re going to start running.  This is something I learned in 2009 for my first New York City Marathon; I sat around in nothing more than a long-sleeved shirt to cover my UnderArmour tank and running shorts as I froze my butt off waiting for over three hours in Fort Wadsworth.

Runners met across from the bandshell at Prospect Park.  My only complaint with the entire day is that the run didn’t start until past 8:30am (and that I was there freezing my ass off since 7:30 – partially my own fault for being ill-prepared).  But other than that, the event was great and the Front Runners did a great job!  Volunteers split us up into pace groups – runners slower than 11-minute miles went first, then runners between 10 and 11-minute miles, runners between 9 and 10 minute miles, etc., etc.  After we dropped off our baggage in assigned cars, the groups were sent out in waves so that we didn’t flood the streets with over 100 runners at a time, and were sent out in reverse order, slowest going out first, with the last group – runners faster than 8-minute mile pace – going out last.  I went out with a group of runners in the 9-to-10 minutes-per-mile pace group, intending on sticking to a 9-minute pace for as long I could.

The pace groups were informal, and pretty much ended up being a steady trickle of people running through the streets.  Members of the Front Runners were on bicycles with blue and orange balloons tied to them, riding up and down the line of runners making sure no one got lost.  Other Front Runners and volunteers were stationed at water/aid stations every three miles or so with water, gatorade, gels, and words of encouragement.  We had to be careful for traffic (no, they didn’t close the roads for our training run), but running in a large group definitely made it safer, as it was hard for drivers to miss the long line of people running down the streets.

My run was pretty good all around.  As I recognized the parts of the course along 4th Avenue, Layfayette Avenue, and Bedford Avenue in Brooklyn, I could almost hear the cheering crowds along the streets.  Having already run the race twice, it was exciting recognizing the course and visualizing the race less than three weeks away.

Of course, I somehow managed to get lost at one point.  As I’ve mentioned, I’ve run the New York City Marathon the last two years.  I know the course goes north to the Bronx on First Avenue.  But when I came off the pedestrian path at First Avenue and 60th Street and the group of runners in front of me turned west on 60th Avenue, I mindlessly followed them.  I followed them past Second, Third, and Lexington Avenue.  As I approached Park Avenue, my brain started working again and I thought, “Wait a minute!  This isn’t right!”  I stopped, turned around, and started running back to First Avenue.  On my way, I stopped a group of people running west on 60th Avenue and asked them if they were with the Blue Line Run.  Of course, they weren’t.  Turns out, just my dumb luck, as I was coming off the Queensboro Bridge, I ended up in the middle of a group of Team in Training runners.   I got back to First Avenue after what ended up being a half-mile detour, and turned north.

Click here to see the Blue Line Run course map, elevation chart, and my run splits.

The rest of the race was fairly uneventful.  I successfully held myself close to a 9-minute pace for most of the run, and I felt pretty good until the last couple of miles. Just visualizing the energizing crowds through Brooklyn brought back exciting memories, the uphill miles along Fifth Avenue brought back painful memories of half-limping and half-running through miles 23 to 25.  Although I wasn’t hurting nearly as badly during this run as I was my last two marathons, the familiar soreness was unmistakable.  And this was for a run where I was about 45 seconds slower per mile than my goal pace, and the distance was about six miles shorter.  Hopefully the energy and adrenaline on Marathon Day will carry me through.

I finally made it to the finishing area, battered, hurting but not beaten.  The training run taught me how important it will be to stay focused and remain on pace.  And even though it was shorter and at a slower pace, it was a great confidence booster and a wonderful way to psych yourself up for the Big Day.  If you’re running New York City Marathon in the future, look out for the Blue Line Run.  It’s a great way to get a preview of the course and get your last long training run in before the Big Dance.

Thanks again to Front Runners New York for graciously hosting a wonderful training run!

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Race Review: 2011 Staten Island Half-Marathon

So it’s been awhile since my last blog post – almost a month!  Needless to say, I’ve been quite busy the past month, which included a 10-day trip to Korea.  A series of blog posts about that trip (including all the delicious details of how I managed to put on 5 lbs.) are forthcoming, but first, a race review.

This past weekend was the 2011 Staten Island Half-Marathon, the last race in the NYRR Half Marathon series.  The course starts right near the ferry, right outside Richmond County stadium, and then runs south mostly along the coast.  The biggest hill on the course, a steady, almost half-mile descent, is right before mile 6.  After the turnaround, right before the 8-mile mark, you climb back up that hill, as the race runs up to and right through Fort Wadsworth, the staging area for the New York City Marathon.

My training leading up to the race was spotty.  As I mentioned, I’ve had a busy month.  As a result, my running schedule had been sporadic at best.  I did 35 miles one week, and then only 15 the next.  Right before leaving for Korea, I had one week where I ran only six miles the entire week – the fewest weekly miles I logged since I started keeping track of my mileage back in 2008, with my old Nike+ sneaker insert and iPod.  So even though a few months ago I had Staten Island circled on my calendar as the race I was hoping to finally (again) run a sub-1:40 half-marathon and start peaking just in time for the New York City Marathon, by race day I wasn’t sure what to expect.  And even worse, I’ve been fearing that my New York City Marathon would get very ugly – and painful – this year.

Deuces! See ya at the finish line Jared!

I told myself I would be conservative and run just under 8-minute miles for the first 2-3 miles, and then gauge how I felt and adjust accordingly.  As you can see by my splits, that didn’t happen.  This is a problem I have every race I run – I tell myself I will force myself to start slow and run a negative split (running the second half of a race faster than you run the first half).  But when that gun sounds, I invariably shoot out of the gate and run anywhere between 15 to 30 seconds per mile faster than I had planned. And more often than not, I pay for it in the last third of the race.

Click here for the 2011 Staten Island Half-Marathon race map, elevation chart, and my race splits.

Fortunately, on Sunday, I didn’t bonk too badly.  I still felt relatively strong after coming back up the big hill before mile 8, and although I struggled a little on miles 11 and 12, I still had enough to finish strong.  My net time was 1:41.33, a 7:46/mile pace and my half-marathon PR for the year; It’s as good a time as I could’ve reasonably expected, and more importantly, a heartening indicator that I’m not as poorly prepared for the marathon in less than a month as I had thought.

According to the training calculator on Runner’s World, my Staten Island time indicates I should be able to run a 3:32 marathon; I’d be ecstatic with anything faster than 3:45. Hopefully I can finish up the training season strong; I’m signed up for the Blue Line Run this weekend (thanks Front Runners New York!) and with that, plan on putting in a 50-mile week.  Stay tuned!

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