Sunday, October 30, 2011

Why the New York Marathon is the Best Marathon in the World

Long blog title, but I'm making a point here.  I'm no marathon expert, but I feel pretty confident when I say that the ING New York Marathon is the best marathon out there.  I've run three now, two of which are marathons that most people only dream of running: Boston and New York.  And I'm finally going to tell you the truth.  I've hinted at it before... but here it is, in my opinion- The New York Marathon is way better than Boston.  From how NYRR organizes the race, to the crowd support, to the AMAZING city- the New York marathon is everything you could ever want from a marathon and in this post I'm going to tell you why.
I will never forget before I ran New York last year, my friend Kimmy told me "You will love it.  It's the best race."  I couldn't associate love and marathon in the same sentence.  And even after I finished, I still couldn't understand how Kimmy could say that. But after awhile, I started to understand exactly what she meant.  Because {in my opinion} there isn't another marathon out there like the ING New York Marathon.

To start, I've heard people say that you can't PR at this race because it's too crowded.  To which I highly disagree.  I think the NYRR does such a nice job with putting you in waves and corrals with people who ARE the SAME pace as you.  There are three waves with seven corrals in each. Wave 1 begins at 9:40am, Wave 2 at 10:10, and Wave 3 at 10:40. In each wave, you are grouped in corrals based on your projected finish time and because of this you can feel pretty confident that you will be with other runners who are similar pace to you. Also, once you are lined up in your wave and corral, it only takes about six minutes to cross the starting line.  And every wave has it's own starting ceremony so no matter what time you start and what pace you are, you feel like you are PART of this EPIC marathon.  The other thing to note is that there are three ways to start in each wave- on top of the bridge, on the bridge and under the bridge and you don't combine into one group until mile 8.  This makes it less crowded as well.

But before I talk about the race, let me tell you about getting to the race.  The big downside to HUGE marathons is how early you have to get to the race site BEFORE it starts.  I stayed on the Upper East Side last year and had to make it down to the Staten Island Ferry in Lower Manhattan. My friend Tara and I left around 6am and got to the terminal around 6:40am. Then we hung out in the terminal, using real bathrooms until we felt like getting on the ferry.  Although you are assigned a specific time for the ferry, it's first come first serve.  So if you get to the terminal early, you can get on the ferry early.  If you get there later than your time, you can get on later.  It's no big deal. Use the REAL bathrooms at the terminal because this will be your second to last chance! Once you are on the ferry, it's an incredible experience.  What other race takes you on a boat ride where you can see the entire city? It was gorgeous and very calming which is something I so needed before a big race. Check out these views!
Once you get to the Staten Island station, you board buses to get you to Athlete's Village.  This is another opportunity to use REAL bathrooms.  After you get on the bus, you only have Port-a-Potties to use.  The bus ride takes about 20 minutes.  I was quiet and nervous on the bus, trying to enjoy the ride but sort of freaking out about the race. Once you get to Athlete's Village the first thing you will notice is how incredibly organized it is.  

You are grouped by Wave and Color.  My friend Tara and I planned to start in my wave together since I had the higher number and we had no problem doing so even though we had different colors.  We hung out in the main area for over an hour. We put a blanket down, stretched and took turns going to the bathroom.  The great thing about NY is how many bathrooms they have.  It's really incredible. I don't think I ever waited in line longer than 5 minutes. Tara and I got to our corral and wave about ten minutes before we had to. We waited in a line of about 60 people until they opened up the gates and we entered the bridge.  It was surreal.  I felt like I was in a movie. And before we knew it, we were off!
The entire first mile is straight uphill.  If I can give any piece of advice, it's to start slow.  I truly believe this should be your slowest mile of the race.  The second mile is all down hill.  Be careful here.  Hold yourself back.  It would be very easy to run this mile too fast.  Once you get to mile 3, you enter Brooklyn. I suggest running on one side of the road so the crowds can really scream for you.  Wearing a shirt with your name on it is imperative in a race like this.  You will never get fan support like this in any other marathon, including Boston. 

From mile 3 to mile 8, you are running a straight-away down Fourth Avenue.  You go through Bay Ridge, and Greenwood Heights. At mile 8, you converge with the other runners in your wave who started on different parts of the bridge and enter the Fort Greene neighborhood which is where Walt Whitman, John Steinbeck, Spike Lee and Chris Rock grew up. This is a good spot for your family to see you.  My family met me at Mile 8 and they were easy to see. It was crowded, but if you know what side your family will be on, it's easy to see them.  They were on the corner of Ashland and Lafayette.
9 miles in, I remember loving the course... crowds were still screaming for you and it was amazing to see all the different cultures that were out there supporting you.
You enter an area called Bedford-Stuyvesant where there are tons of very nice brownstone rowhouses.  At mile 10, you enter Williamsburg which connects Manhattan's Lower East Side. The population here exploded when immigrants escaped overcrowding Manhattan and following World War II, the neighborhood became a place for Hasidic Jews from Europe.  This neighborhood is also home to large communities of Puerto Ricans, Dominicans, Italians, Germans and younger Americans. This area is also knowns as the Artist's Community.  And you can see all this in the crowds.  This is why I love New York so much.  It really is a microcosm of our world.
At mile 12, you enter Greenpoint which is home to the second largest Polish population. This area is home to multi-generational families, it is not uncommon to find 2-4 generations of a family living in the same area.  Don't you just love that?!  Also in this area, movies like "The Departed," "Sleepers," and the TV show "Rescue Me" were filmed here. 

At mile 13, you enter the Pulaski bridge and say goodbye to Brooklyn and enter Queens. This is your first real hill (besides the first mile).  I struggled here a bit and ended up saying goodbye to my friend Tara to slow down my pace.  Right after this is another great place to spectate. 
*If you are spectating: In 2009, I came to this point first, taking the train from the Upper East Side.  There are tons of cute coffee shops over here that you can hang out in to keep warm in between seeing the elites and waiting for your friends. *

Mile 14, you are running in Long Island City in Queens.  It's not particularly pretty in this area and the crowds start to thin out just a bit.  Make sure to grab extra water, gatorade and fuel because you are about to enter the Queensboro Bridge, the most secluded and in my opinion, hardest part of the course.

Mile 15, you enter the Queensboro Bridge.  I don't remember exactly, but it feels like a mile and a half of straight uphill.  It also falls at a difficult part of the course- Mile 15-16 where your legs are already fatigued.  Fight the urge to walk.  Repeat mantras to yourself and stay strong.  Whats waiting for you on the other side is absolutely incredible.  One thing to note, the Queensboro bridge is completely closed off.  You are running in the middle of the road with no crowd support.  Stay strong.  You will also see lots of people from other countries pulling off on the side to take pictures... there are beautiful views on the bridge.
Entering Manhattan is remarkable. There really is no way to describe it.  As you're descending from the bridge, you start to hear a blaring, overpowering noise that cannot be fully described until you hear it yourself.  The fan support on First Avenue is loud and astonishing.  You will not be able to believe how many people are out there.  Think 10 rows deep of fans on both sides screaming your name.  If your family and friends are meeting you here, make sure you know what side of the road they are on.  It's nearly impossible to weave because First Avenue is VERY large.  I saw my support system at Mile 16.5 and was so happy to see them. 
*If you are spectating, after you see your runner on first Avenue, head down on whatever cross street you are on (60th, 80th, whatever) toward the park. My family met me at 59th and First and then again at 84th and the park.*

I'm going to be honest now.  Mile 16.5- Mile 20 is my least favorite part of the course.  You are running on one street for what seems like forever.  You enter First Avenue at 59th Street and don't leave until 127th-ish. And although the crowds are amazing, you don't see the diversity of fans that you saw earlier in the race.  Most of the fans out here are younger. I honestly started to lose steam in these miles, hoping for a change of pace in more ways than one!

But then you get that change of pace. Mile 20-22 is pretty awesome.  You go over another bridge into the Bronx, home of the Yankees.  I yelled "Go Red Sox," as I entered.  Probably not the smartest.  Then you loop and go over another bridge into Harlem.  I loved this area.  The crowds were insane, there was music playing- I remember specifically hearing "Neeewww York" by Alicha Keys and Jay-Z.  There were kids dancing, there was a woman on a loud speaker who read my shirt and said "Welcome to Harlem Liz!"  I loved this area!

I kept thinking you enter the park at 22, but you really don't enter it until closer to Mile 23.5.  I kept waiting to enter the park and when you finally did, the crowds were again so crazy and supportive.  There are little hills and little downhills that I've heard for some people were really difficult but I didn't think they were that bad. Central Park is such a beautiful place that I really enjoyed this part of the course.  (See doesn't it look like I'm enjoying it?  Okay, maybe not...)
And of course, NOTHING feels better than seeing Mile 25 and knowing you only have a little over a mile left. After Mile 25, you loop around and at Mile 26, you are on the West Side of the park for a quarter mile.  You finish right around West 65th Street and you grab your medal and your blanket.  You are done!  You finished the best marathon in the world!
Now the worst part about this took me an hour to get out of the park and find my family on the east side.  I'm lucky I had a phone.  Without it, I would have been totally screwed.  But once reunited, nothing can compare to the sense of pride I felt.
So, in my opinion, there isn't a race out there like New York.  Some could argue Boston has amazing crowd support and pride, but the truth is that you run in the suburbs for 90% of the course.  In New York, you go through five boroughs, you see so many types of fans and you experience all that New York City has to offer.  For slower runners, you still feel PART of the marathon.  I know runners who qualify for Boston have all sorts of opinions on runners who don't.  But as a fundraising runner at Boston, I will tell you it's like running a completely different race than qualified runners.  You start almost an hour later, you pay so much more and you fundraise.  It's not easy.  (FYI, qualified runners paid $130 for Boston, I paid $375). In New York, I didn't feel like an outsider running the race- I felt like an equal to the runners who finished hours ahead of me.  

But this post is not meant to take anything away from the Boston Marathon, it's simply my opinion.  And my opinion is the New York Marathon is the best marathon in the world.  And if you are lucky enough to cross the starting line next Sunday, realize how lucky you are.  This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and I really hope that everyone who wants to will be able to enjoy this marathon someday. 

Good luck to all those New York Marathoners out there!  I'll be cheering for you in spirit! 
And I hope this post inspires all of you not running this year, to run this race in future years : )

Have you run New York?  Have you run Boston?  What is your opinion on each?

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Butternut Squash Lasagna

The end of my CSA with Stillman's Farm happened weeks ago.  It was sad to go to City Hall one last time for my pick-up.  I'll miss my CSA!
But our last pickup was crazy!  We got an insane amount of produce! Check this out!
In the last pickup: 
1 Sugar Pumpkin, 2 Butternut Squashes, 1 Lettuce, 1 Enormous bag of potatoes, Radishes, Arugula, Kale, Pears, Green Peppers, Corn, Tomatoes and a Giant bag of Apples.

With all the squash, I knew I had to make one of my favorite GO-TO recipes.  Ironically, Meghan made it around the same time as me (but has blogged about it much sooner!) I made Giada's Butternut Squash Lasagna.  I changed some of this recipe by making my b├ęchamel sauce a bit healthier- using fat free milk.  But I probably used more cheese then her so don't think it's too healthy! The other big change I made was roasting the squash instead of boiling it.  I love the taste of roasted vegetables. However, it's a delicious vegetarian pasta dish that we absolutely love.  So if you are looking to do something fun with butternut squash, make this recipe.  It has a bunch of steps and takes a bit of time, but it is easy to make and delicious to eat!

  • Butternut Squash Lasagna
  • Inspired by Giada
  • Ingredients:
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 (1 1/2 to 2-pound) butternut squash, peeled, seeded, and cut into 1-inch cubes
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/4 cup butter
  • 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 3 1/2 cups skim milk
  • 3/4 cup (lightly packed) fresh basil leaves
  • 12 no-boil lasagna noodles
  • 2 1/2 cups shredded whole-milk mozzarella cheese
  • 1/3 cup grated Parmesan
  • Instructions:
Put squash on a baking sheet.  Pour the oil on top, sprinkle with salt and pepper and mix with your hands until well combined.  Cook at 400 degrees for 30-40 minutes or until squash is roasted. 
Cool slightly and then transfer the squash to a food processor and blend until smooth. Season the squash puree, to taste, with more salt and pepper. Melt the butter in a heavy medium-size saucepan over medium heat. Add the flour and whisk for 1 minute. Gradually whisk in the milk. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce the heat to medium and simmer until the sauce thickens slightly, whisking often, about 5 minutes. 
Cool slightly. Transfer half of the sauce to a blender. Add the basil and blend until smooth. 
Return the basil sauce to the sauce in the pan and stir to blend. Season the sauce with salt and pepper, to taste.
Position the rack in the center of the oven and lower oven to 375 degrees F. Spread 3/4 cup of the sauce over the prepared baking dish. Arrange 3 lasagna noodles on the bottom of the pan. Spread 1/3 of the squash puree over the noodles. 
Sprinkle with 1/2 cup of mozzarella cheese. 
Drizzle 1/2 cup of sauce over the noodles. Repeat layering 3 more times.
Tightly cover the baking dish with foil and bake the lasagna for 40 minutes. Sprinkle the remaining mozzarella and Parmesan cheeses over the lasagna. Continue baking uncovered until the sauce bubbles and the top is golden, 15 minutes longer. Let the lasagna stand for 15 minutes before serving.
Then slice up and ENJOY!
What's your favorite thing to make with butternut squash?

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

A tribute to Papa Jack

I've been out of the loop for awhile.  It's been two weeks since I've posted last and I do have a lot of posts swirling in my head, but I'm just not the type of girl who can schedule posts.  I do my best writing on the fly, when I'm inspired.  So I hope I haven't lost all my readers!

I've been taking some time off the blog because my Papa passed away a week ago.  We rushed to Omaha to be with family and I just got back.

I wasn't sure if I should write about how I'm feeling on the blog since I have been really trying to stream line my posts to subjects of food or running.  But writing has always been therapeutic to me and I feel like I need to get some thoughts off my chest.
My papa Jack was the quintessential man; he was kind, compassionate, loving, generous, trustworthy and honest.  His characteristics were the epitome of what I always looked for in a life partner. When I thought about what I wanted in a husband, I thought of my papa. And I'm lucky because I've found in my husband someone who represents all that my papa was to me.
My papa died at age 93.  At age 92, he was still working at the liquor distributor where he started his career.  He was still driving and the picture of perfect healthy.  We thought we had years left with him.  His father lived to be over 100. But, in a year, his health deteriorated so very quickly.  I always say that you are never, ever prepared for death.  And when my mom called me Wednesday night at midnight with the news, I burst into tears, even though we all knew it was coming.

My papa Jack was incredibly loved.  Over 150 people showed up to his funeral.  Several people that we had never met came up to us with stories we had never heard.  The one that stood out to me was a man who told us he worked with Jack and twenty years ago his daughter was very ill and in the hospital.  My papa showed up to give his support and brought her flowers.  Even my Nana never knew of this story.

But that was the kind of man my papa was.  He would give away his last dollar, his coat off his back, his shoes from his feet.  He would do whatever you needed, whenever you needed it.  He was the most loving man I had ever met.

There was an article in the Omaha World Herald newspaper about my grandfather and my favorite quote was "He was the kindest, sweetest man who ever lived."  Because it is so very true.

Everyone who met my Papa loved him. There aren't enough adjectives in the English language to describe what an amazing man he was.

I leave you with this quote which I found online that deeply touched me.

"You can shed tears that he is gone
Or you can smile because he has lived.
You can close your eyes and pray that he will come back,
Or you can open your eyes and see all that he has left.
Your heart can be empty because you can't see him
Or you can be full of the love that you have shared.
You can turn your back on tomorrow and live yesterday,
Or you can be happy for tomorrow because of yesterday.
You can remember him and only that he is gone,
Or you can cherish his memory and let it live on.
You can cry and close your mind, be empty and turn your back,
Or you can do what he would want: smile, open your eyes, love and go on."
~David Harkins

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Running is Boring.

It's been awhile since I've posted anything even remotely related to running on this blog.  As Lauren recently wrote on her "Taking the Good with the Bad" Post,  "Anyone who has been in a relationship with running for a period of time knows that you don’t stay in the honeymoon phase forever. Being in a lifelong relationship with the sport means that you are committed to a life of ups and downs." Smart words LB.  Very Smart.
So even though I am currently in a running rut and taking time off, it doesn't mean I have any less love for the sport.  In fact, I've watched more track on TV then I have in years. I'm still following tons of running blogs and paying attention to running times, races and results in my local area.  I still enjoy getting my local running group emails with speed workouts and meetups even if I haven't showed up in awhile.  Running is who I am and it will always be part of my life, even if it's not 365 days a year. 

So without further ado, I'd like to discuss my least favorite running quote.  No not the quotes that motivate you to get out that door and run for hours and hours.  No, I'm talking the types of crazy things you hear from those people who don't understand runners.  Your co-workers, family and friends who probably know you very well, but don't understand the first thing when it comes to distance running.
Over the last few years since I've picked up long distance running, I've heard the phrase "I don't know how you run marathons.  Running is SO BORING," numerous times.  And although it frustrates the hell out of me, I just chuckle to myself.

Because the truth is, I doubt PEOPLE don't run marathons because IT'S BORING.  I bet they don't run marathons because it's HARD.

I cannot tell you the amount of times of heard someone say to me "I would run over 3 miles, but I get so bored."  The expression makes absolutely zero sense to me.  In all my years running, I've never once been out on a run and thought "Wow, I'm so bored right now, I should just stop."  I have thought, "This is really hard, I should give in and stop."  But then determination kicks in and I motivate myself to try to finish strongly.

Running isn't easy.  If it was everyone would do it.  Running isn't boring.  If it was we wouldn't have millions of Americans signing up for marathons everyday.  Running is a special sport- one in which you have to trick your mind into working against or with your body, depending on the day.  It's a beautiful sport, one I love.  Because it's so competitive and mostly competitive with yourself. The challenge is what keeps this sport from being boring. (thanks lb!)

Racetober has kicked into gear and I have tons of friends chasing their goals in the marathon in the next couple months.  I can't wait to live vicariously through them because being a runner is permanent, whether I'm training or not.

So here's to our amazing sport that is challenging and not boring!
What's the most annoying running related phrase non-runners say to you?

Monday, October 3, 2011

A Busy Month

Well hello blog world!  I haven't been doing a very good job at blogging lately.  I've done a ton of fun stuff so I wanted to share it with you! The month of September was crazy busy and first weekend of October was more of the same : )

First we had our friends Steve and Kendalle's wedding on the Cape.  They had a full-on clam-bake! I've never been to a wedding like this, it was pretty awesome  And they gave out aprons so we wouldn't dirty our pretty outfits : )
 The delicious menu was your choice of a 1 and 1/2 pound lobster or rib eye steak with steamers and mussels, corn on the cob, sausage and red bliss potatoes.  Does it get any better than this?
 I mean look at this- how good does this look??!  I think all weddings should have clam bakes!!
 Later on in the month, I headed over to Elina's for a Blogger Get-Together mid-week.  Now if you know me, I barely ever go out during the week so a party in the city on a Tuesday was a little tough.  But I will always jump at a chance to hang out with these girls- Cara and Elina!
 There was a great group of girls there including Elizabeth, Meghan, Megan, Melissa and Bridget,  Shannon, Ranjani, Kerstin and Tiffany.  I didn't take many photos of the food, but there was lots of deliciousness. If you want to see more food, check out Meghan's post- she has tons of photos there : )
 The best part was definitely Elina's Monkey Bread Pepperoni Bread.  It's pretty amazing and I can't wait to make it myself.  I've made something similar, but using a bunt pan is the perfect idea since you can stick the sauce in the center.
Another highlight over the last month was celebrating my friend Michelle's 30th birthday!  Michelle is my first friend in my grade to turn the big 3-0!  Miche and I go wayyyy back- we were track superstars in high school : ) (There is an old school picture of us on my About Me page)
 Do you see our gift?  My friend Stephanie and I stole this idea of pinterest.  We think it's a good one.  30 lolipops in a bowl= 30 SUCKS!! heheh
 And the last special event I went to recently was our friends Laura and Pete's baby girls first birthday!!!! Little Lillian is the cutest : )
I've been busy over here and I apologize for the lack of blog posts and comments!  Hopefully I will get back in a rhythm soon!

Have you been to any special events lately?