04 May 2015


While I would love to run a marathon in every U.S. state, I don't have the money for the plane tickets and hotel stays.  Luckily I live in New York City and there are a few marathons in the city and nearby.  Yesterday I was able to take the Long Island Marathon off my wish-list.

Back on the last day of the year 2014, before registration price go up, I signed up for the race, for $65.35.  It's relatively inexpensive compared to other big-name marathons.  The one hassle is that packet pickup had to be done on the Friday or Saturday before race day, out in Nassau County.  I have a car so it was not too bad, even though I did have trouble finding the place, Mitchel Athletic Field.  It was not listed in iOS Google Maps as such, I happened to find it by taking some guesses.  The place can be reached by LIRR but it probably would take some extra time.  I encountered two small issues at packet pickup.  Once you are past security check, on the right there were two separate lanes, one for Walk-In Registration, and the other, by process of elimination, Packet Pickup.  If you are not careful, you may miss the two lanes altogether and end up in the expo area.  I think it would be nice if there was a staff right at the entrance directing traffic.  Packets are sorted by bib numbers, which was sent out late in the week of the marathon, if you don't have it there are computers for you to use to look things up.  Again, I think it would be nicer if there was a staff by the machine to tell people what to do.  I was going to use the machine, just because I didn't know what they were for, but then I realized they were for looking up bib numbers, so I skipped the line and went to get my bib.

The expo was conveniently located right outside packet pickup.  I was tempted to sign up with the inaugural Suffolk Marathon to take advantage of the current price but I held back.  Let's finish the Long Island Marathon first.  I was good at not buying or even asking for free stuff as I strolled through the expo.  After a while there are just so many running accessories I can use.  I could have picked up some Gu gel or equivalent but a few days earlier I already got a box from the local Jack Rabbit Sports.  Almost by the exit of the expo area that runners get their bling bag.  While the bag content was nice, again no one was on the floor directing traffic.  I could have easily walked out of the expo without picking up my bag, which includes a medium towel, race shirt (black, not a good choice for the sun), lanyard, and some promotional literature.  I think bling bag's table should be immediately near the bib table.

On race day, I got to the parking lot near the Ice Rink of Eisenhower Park early.  The walk to the start area was a little over a mile.  I got there just in time to meet a few members from Prospect Park Track Club.  After a short wait, we went to our separate pace groups.  I had to step aside from the start line to have my Garmin GPS pick up satellite signal.  At least I remembered to charge it the night before and brought it with me.  At a previous race, I was so out of organized racing that I totally forgot about my Garmin.  For all its old technologies, my Garmin is still the best I have for recording time for a marathon.  No way the iPhone battery would last long enough.

For once, I didn't think to myself, "Why am I running this?" or something along that line.  Even though I knew I didn't train enough for it, I just ran at my best, one mile at a time.  I started slow, there were many half-marathoners, in the thousands, running along with the 600+ full-marathoners, so I was ready to wait for the split where the Half runners leave me.  I skipped the first few water stations but had my first Gu gel with water etc one hour in.  I had a long-sleeve tech shirt on the inside, with my track club singlet on the outside, but soon enough it got pretty hot.  To avoid losing time to wardrobe change, I waited until the HM split before removing the inner layer and ran with just the singlet.  By the half-way point, 13.1 mile, I was exactly 2:30 on the race clock.  Considering I crossed the start mat 2 minutes after gun time, I couldn't help wishfully thinking that I would have the race done under 5 hours.

Some time ago someone told me that the worst stretch of the Long Island Marathon is the highway portion.  They meant the Wantagh Parkway.  Once the half-marathoners went their separate way, there were just a handful of marathoners on the long stretch down the Parkway.  I studied the course map briefly before the race and knew that at some point there would be a U-turn on the Wantagh for the marathoners to head back to Eisenhower Park.  It shouldn't matter which mile mark that is but I asked an official-looking guy anyway.  He said Mile 14 or 15, but it turned out to more like Mile 16.5.  Whatever, it was still x miles to go no matter where the turnaround is.  It just felt better that a milestone is reached.

Things got really lonely on the highway so I struck conversation with other runners as I tried to pass them.  Or crack jokes with the volunteers at water stations, as well as thanking them.  After the U-turn, the sun really beat down on the runners and there was no shade to run in.  There was a breeze here and there but it was mostly sun.  I continued to follow my one-Gu-every-hour schedule, walked briefly through water stations, at which I usually took a cup of water and one of Gatorade.  Luckily, other than a brief time when I felt some pain in the knees, there was no major ache anywhere.  I just had to keep pressing on and I did.  When I ran, I really ran, for at least a mile or more.  Shortly after exiting the Wantagh, around Mile 23, I passed all runners within my myopic sight and made the wrong turn at Carman Avenue.  I didn't know that I was supposed to turn left and instead turned right.  The road on the right was half closed off with traffic cones so I figured that was where I should run, i.e. the other side was where normal traffic would be, road not closed.  The policewoman in the cruiser at the junction came out to holler at me and the few runners who followed me and we had to make a U-turn to get back on track.  It was nice to see that I was cruising at a good speed and was able to pass the same Asian couple I just passed earlier after getting off the highway.

At one intersection on Carman Avenue, cross traffic resumed but thanks to the policemen there, I was able to cross the intersection without slowing at all.  A little further on, before Mile 24, club member Nick spotted me and graciously ran with me.  He gave all kinds of compliments that helped boost my morale a lot.  I fear making another wrong turn during the last 2 miles but Nick knew the way and kept me on track.  Mile 25 was where runners turn off Carman Avenue to meander through the golf course.  Normally by this time I would half-run and half-walk, only to sprint when the finish line was in sight.  With Nick and his words of encouragement by my side, I was able to run all the way after Mile 24.  The golf course, pass a few slower runners, around some building, then the finish chute, then the finish line, it was incredible!  I remembered to take off my cap for the photographers as I ran over the finish mat.  5:09:37 was my time, which is better than last year's 5:13:xx and Yonker's 5:10:xx in 2012.  I have 5:08:xx for the inaugural Brooklyn Marathon, but since I ran it without a GPS watch and the course consisted of a few loops of Prospect Park I cannot help wondering if maybe I missed a loop.  I guess I just have to beat 5:08:xx some day then it won't matter any more.

30 April 2015


Time sure flies when you have fun!  A few weeks ago Newton Running started accepting entries for its route art / GPS art contest, http://www.newtonrunning.com/feel-newton/run-feel-spell-challenge.  I did not win anything until the third week, then again the fourth week, and one more during the fifth week.  Unfortunately, it was "Always the bridesmaid, not the bride".  The semi-final weekly prize package, consisting of visor, water bottle, and socks is nice but of course the combo of a Timex GPS watch and a pair of running shoes is way better.  Infinitely better would be the Grand Prize of Newton Shoes For Life!

The weekly contest ended at end-of-day on Tuesdays and I got notified on Thursdays via Twitter.  (In the beginning, I posted to Instagram but I started to hate its square requirement.  My route art usually spreads out horizontally, in order for the whole thing to be seen in Instagram I would have to shrink it to fit into the square frame, very annoying.)  The three winning entries are "relaxed", "reflective" (or rather the mirror image of that), and "tough", shown below.

I made "complete" this past Monday, plenty of time to make the Tuesday EOD deadline.  Supposedly between Wednesday the 29th of April and Friday the first of May the public gets to vote on the Grand Prize winner.  However, I haven't seen any announcement in Twitter yet.  (Don't ask me about searching for info on Instagram from a desk computer!  I can't stand Instagram!)  No winners announced this week, no link for the public to vote on the three Finalists.  I suppose the contest judges have day jobs to attend to.  It cannot hurt to have a little hope that maybe judging is not done yet, for Week #6, and that my "complete" art will finally be selected as a Weekly Finalist.  Maybe the public voting phase is already extended and that I will be selected among the three Finalists.  There's nothing to do but wait and see.

I opened the floodgate on creativity for this word, virtually trespassing private properties with my nifty pause-unpause technique to make letters like X.  I could have made "a" differently but I chose to flex my creative muscle.

Despite the narrow "f", I still like this route the most.  Mirror image, how about that?!  The first time I tried to write this I only had time to spell "lective".  I also cut corners and made some letters shorter so the whole word didn't look nice.  I tried again the next day and the result is much better.

I made good use of the locale's physical features, the "h" sticking above the other letters into what was once the mainland, from Coney Island's perspective.  My tweet said that "running makes me feel tough".  Coincidentally, the neighborhood I ran in was tough-looking, with metal bars on windows in most of the houses.

Running does make me feel complete.  I would feel even more complete if I win shoes for life.  BTW, I find that when it comes to legible GPS art, serifs are your friends.

20 April 2015


It all started with a birdhouse my brother-in-law made for my son.  I believe it was made from broken boards saved from tae-kwon-do practice.  It was so many years ago.

At one time, my home-office had a window A/C unit.  It was a pain to install so to be safe a cage was added.  When the window A/C was replaced by a wall unit, the cage became disused so one day I put the birdhouse there in hope some small birds would move in.  Instead, a pair of turtle doves started building a nest next to it.  The next few weeks I learned a lot more about turtle doves.

Both male and female turtle doves share hatching duty so it was not easy to tell which one is which.

Most of the time a bird would be atop the nest but one time I happened to be near the window and witnessed the changing of the hatching guard.

Close-up of a parent dove hatching the eggs.

One of the rare moments I witnessed a parent bird arriving to relieve the other.

About fifteen days after the first egg was laid, a chick came out.  I saw a parent bird open its beak for the new bird to poke inside to eat the regurgitated food.

A final happy moment of my bird-watching adventure.  This winter does not want to go away and one cold windy evening none of the parent birds were around.  Although my son told me he saw two chicks a day or two earlier, I saw only one and it was not sitting upright like when I first saw it.  Next day, the weather was even worse and the parent birds were absent again, a baby bird laid dead to the right of the birdhouse.  Such is life.  I took nothing but photos and did not try to interfere.  From what I was told, the birds will try to raise a family a few more times during the upcoming warm months.

13 April 2015


I recently came across the list of 30 Common Money Wasters at http://www.dealsplus.com/topic/2991/30-common-money-wasters-and-how-to-avoid-them .  Being frugal, I already practice most of them and agree with the article.  One item that I don't totally agree is the lottery one.  It's a waste of money, the article says, you are better off putting your money elsewhere.  But if you are not in it, you have zero chance of winning.  Such is the case with my participation in the ongoing Newton Running Spell Challenge.  It was near the end of Week 3 and not having won anything the first two weeks I was a bit discouraged.  But if you don't enter the contest you have zero chance of winning the Timex GPS watch and pair of Newton shoes.  So I ran the relaxed route below and pulled out all the plugs for creativity, such as the two e's, the a, and the x.  It was good enough to win me some semi-final weekly prize, not the shoes or the watch, but it's a start.  Three more weeks to keep trying!

31 March 2015


Today marks the end of Week 2 of the Run It Feel It Spell It Challenge sponsored by Newton Running.  I didn't make the cut for the first week and we'll have to wait a few days to see if my entry below is any good.

My accompanying text is

HOT, b/c I sweat easily, but, ladies, feel free to think "hot-looking"

Nowhere does the contest rule says there will be points for humor but I couldn't help it. The rule does say

1) creativity and composition of word(s) and caption (33%), 2) originality of word(s) (33%), and 3) ability of word(s) and caption to portray how running makes you feel (34%) (the “Judging Criteria”).

Criteria #1 is easy to understand, #2 is kinda tricky, as there are only so many adjectives you can describe the feeling associated with running.  Truly feeling it, and the word should not be crazy long that one would have to run marathon distance to make it.  Criteria #3 is even harder to interpret, I guess it's all in the way you write your caption, with Twitter's 140-character limit and all.  Instagram can be used also but I hate its square limitation.  My GPS arts are usually rectangular-shaped, i.e. two distinct dimensions and not all four sizes are equal, so to satisfy Instagram I would have to do some extra work.

One day, instead of worrying about these restrictions of the Spell Challenge, I went out for a run with something else in mind to spell.  Johnson & Johnson is a great sponsor of Charity Miles, which I in turn am a great supporter.  While I can technically run whatever distance needed to spell out Johnson & Johnson, I decided to take advantage of the repeated name and only ran Johnson.

I took care to include the plus sign under Johnson.  I know, it is not much of a plus sign but my restrain with GPS art is everything has to be connected.  At the moment I did not consider running up and down East 3rd Street instead of making the loop.

Johnson & Johnson, after a few minutes in Photoshop.  Since Ocean Parkway is already highlighted on the map, I artificially lined it up when I stitched the original picture and its clone.  I carefully cropped out the plus sign in the lower picture.  Could be better, but good enough for illustration purpose.

25 March 2015


Yesterday was the last day of Week 1 of the Newton Running Run It Feel It Spell It Challenge.  I already got my entry done and was itching to run.  I recall that Charity Miles, the org behind the app of the same name, is on a quest to get the big cola company, Coca-Cola, to sign on as a sponsor.  For those who don't know, Charity Miles app allows runners etc to raise funds for charities as they go about doing what they love, be it running, cycling, walking etc.  In the beginning I had issues with the app but it has improved much since then.  I met the app's founder, Gene Gurkoff, a few times and he's one cool guy.  I use the app regularly and more than once help promote it in person or through my GPS art.  Fresh off my latest work project (read: unemployed) this week, I had a little time in the evening to help Gene with his push for Coca-Cola to become a sponsor.

The first screen below is the usual GPS art made with my Garmin Forerunner 210.  Note that I live near the letter "L" and since I wanted to start "writing" and running ASAP, I "wrote" the phrase backward, starting with the second "a" going from east to west.  It took about 1.5 hours to traverse the 8.37-km course.  I made a booboo with the leftmost "C", the curve should come down into Bay 28th Street but I was at the end of the run and was not thinking straight.  I always do these runs from memory, with occasional checking of the map on my smartphone, never with a piece of paper in hand or the course already marked.  Maybe I should, to avoid these little mistakes.

CocaCola as made by GPS watch Garmin Forerunner 210.

While checking out other entries in the Newton Running Spell Challenge, I noticed the ghostly writings in some of them.  I am not too fond of them but curious what app was used.  I already experimented with MapMyRun and yesterday I checked out Runtastic.  That was it, and the result is shown below.

Runtastic map with speed info and mile markers.

Runtastic maps do not have to be shown that way.  It's just the default view.  I played around with the map via a web browser on a real computer, i.e. not on a smartphone or the like, and was able to show just the path itself.  No elevation, no speed, no markers.  The route even shows in red, like Coca-Cola's color!

I hope Gene and Charity Miles will get the Coca-Cola sponsorship!

Runtastic map without extraneous info.

23 March 2015


Many of my Facebook friends tell me they love my GPS art, i.e. words etc spelled out when I run with my GPS watch.  Naturally, when Newton Running announced its Run It, Feel It, Spell It Challenge, I have a keen interest in it.  I perused the official announcement and read all the Newton Ambassadors' blogs.  They all mention that there will be daily prizes, then weekly, for six weeks, resulting in a few semi-finalists, then finally some finalists will be selected, and one of them will win the ultimate prize of Newton shoes for life, plus a Timex GPS watch!

I kept re-reading the Rules for details on the daily prizes but found nothing.  I wrote to a few bloggers and got no response.  I also wrote directly to Newton Running but it was the weekend and no answer came about.  In the mean time, I wanted to get a run in and was in the mood of celebrating my return to Brooklyn after four weeks of work in Denver.  So I spelled out "Brooklyn" and thought I would have an extra shot at the daily prize.

I often wondered how others "write" their words and letters.  Many people have very blocky art or thick lines, which I think are not attractive.  I suspect they use smartphone apps instead of GPS watches so I gave MapMyRun a shot while also using my trusty, ahem, Garmin GPS watch.  (I promise to use the Timex watch if I win it...)  The two "Brooklyn" words are shown below, the top being from connect.garmin.com and the other from MapMyRun.  I'd go with the GPS watch any day.  On the smartphone, the MapMyRun picture looked even worse.

"Brooklyn" as generated by Garmin GPS watch.

"Brooklyn" as made by MapMyRun smartphone app.  Thick lines, blocky text, not pretty.

Today I heard back from Newton Running that there is indeed no daily prizes.  I re-read the Rules one more time and concluded that, hopefully, my "Brooklyn" piece will be voided and not considered for judging.  I think I did a better job with "Boulder" anyway.  I probably will re-run "Brooklyn" for Week 2, which spans Wednesday 25 March through the 31st.  I'll make sure the k looks better this time, i.e. with a longer upward diagonal stroke so that it does not look like an h.

My first entry to the Newton Spell Challenge.