Danske Bank Vilnius Marathon 2017

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This was our first visit to Lithuania, one of three Baltic states that were formerly under the Soviet rule. It was not that long ago that the country became the first member of the Soviet Union to break away in 1990. In 2004, Lithuania joined the European Union and NATO.

We took the two-hour Brussels Airlines flight to Vilnius on September 8, 2017. Vilnius International Airport is small but very modern. The taxi ride to the Cathedral Square was 18 euros and took a few minutes longer due to the rush hour traffic. The sport expo was at the center of the Old Town, a UNESCO World Heritage protected area.

The sport expo which was open until 8:00 PM did not have many exhibitors but the goody bag was packed full of excellent giveaways. Online pre-registration for the marathon was 45 euros.

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The goody bag had the Danske Bank Vilnius Marathon 2017 T-Shirt from NIKE; “Saulės grūdas” corn crackers; “Būk sveikas” bread from “Vilniaus duona”; Protein WPC 80 protein shake from GYMON; Energovit C purple bar with fruit, nuts and vitamin C; Special offer from NIKE; Special offer from Sportland; GARMIN 15% discount for running watches and activity trackers; Compeed plaster; Three samples of ETNO tea, “Naturalis” crisps; Montis Magia offer for camp; Free visit to IMPULS, and;AUGA ecological marinated beets.

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The Cathedral Square was only two blocks away from our hotel Congress Avenue Hotel.

We could see the historical buildings from our hotel room. The building across our hotel was a high-end mall.

Dinner was also across the street at the trendy Carte Bar and Lounge.

Saturday was a leisure day. A languid breakfast at 8:30 AM fueled us for a walking tour of the former Soviet city.

I went for a short four-mile run by the river before we set off to see some of Vilnius’ tourist sights. The Three Muses is a sculpture atop a theater building near our hotel. We paused for a photo at the Cathedral Square which was the epicenter of the marathon.

Continuing our walking tour, we trekked up to the Hill of Three Crosses. We were rewarded for enduring the steep steps with a commanding view of the Old Town. We could see Gediminas’ Tower from our vantage point.

We walked back to the hotel to stop at St. Anne’s Church and take a photo of the Orthodox Cathedral.

The free pasta party started at 2:00 PM at the Cathedral Square.

We came back to the road in front of our hotel blocked for a commercial shoot.

We loved what we ate last night at Carte so we were back for more! Creme brulee for dessert was our choice this time. Eating out in Vilnius is definitely cheaper than where we live.

Race day was on Sunday, September 10, 2017. The start and finish line was at the Cathedral Square. The marathon and half marathon runners started at the same time at 9:00 AM. Marathoners had to do two loops within the time limit of five hours and 30 minutes.

IMG_3200The course led us to streets with interesting, possibly Soviet era buildings.

What I love about this marathon is that they scheduled several running events throughout the day. I crossed the finish line when the elite runners of the 10K race were also coming through. The finish line was jam-packed with family and friends waiting for their runners. Later that afternoon, a giant mass of runners took off for the family fun run.

I also appreciated the fact that the organizers thoughtfully provided a shower truck for all runners to use. The Hans Grohe truck was spacious and luxurious with hot and cold water. Richard was already checked out of the hotel so I showered and changed in the shower truck before going back to the hotel to wait for our airport shuttle pick-up. The cost to go back to the airport was cheaper at 15 euros.

We took the Brussels Airlines flight back home that evening at 6:15 PM, arriving in Brussels at 7:40 PM.

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2017 Íslandsbanski Reykjavik Marathon

 

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We could see the Hofdi House from our hotel window. The house became historic for hosting Reagan and Gorbachev for peace talks that eventually led to the end of the Cold War. The house is also rumored to be haunted and built on top of a Viking burial site.

Reykjavik is the northernmost capital of the world located in Iceland, a country of pristine beauty where puffin birds outnumber humans 30 to 1. This city is probably the closest one could get to the North Pole, so a marathon here is a must for marathon maniacs. The country is now also part of pop culture, thanks to its breathtaking landscape used to film HBO’s Game of Thrones.

Richard and I took the WOW Air flight at 12:25 PM from Brussels Zaventem International Airport on August 18, 2017, arriving three and a half hours later at Keflavik International Airport at 1:50 PM. Airport transfer to and from the capital is easier with buses. We took the Airport Express bus to its terminal in the city. We transferred to smaller buses and dropped off in front of our hotel, Fosshotel Reykjavik. Round trip fare is 9,800 Icelandic króna (ISK) for both. Exchange rate was 106 ISK to the US dollar or 127 ISK to the euro. The trip to the city took about 40 minutes.

The area around the road from the airport was bare. There were some lava rocks that lined part of the route. There was not much to see until we actually got to the city proper.

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The city proper made up for the initial visual impression with an explosion of color and art on its buildings and houses.

Normal check-in time for hotels here is 4:00 PM. Reykjavik is also two hours behind Brussels. We had time to go to the neighborhood grocery store to stock up on essentials before we got into our room. By essentials, I mean the must-have chips, breads, and drinks, all the forbidden foods for the diet conscious. Hmmm. . . yes, I really need to be more disciplined with the food I eat!

After resting a bit, we took off for the Laugardalshöll Sports Hall to get my bib. The sports expo remained open until 7:00 PM.

The expo had several exhibitors giving away samples and providing taste tests.

We stopped to watch a group of envy-inducing super fit Icelandic beauties do an exercise demo for a fitness apparel company. Okay, no more chips for me and more exercise!

The event poster was set up for our pre-race photo.

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Advanced registration for the marathon was 9,700 ISK and included the race shirt.

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We did a little bit of sight seeing around the area. The first stop was The Sun Voyager sculpture. Built in 1990 and inspired by a Viking ship, it served as the symbol of the 200th anniversary of the city.

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We also visited the Hallgrimskirkja Church, the biggest church in the country. A concert series was in progress when we visited.

 

The other sites worth seeing are located outside the capital, and should be well worth the trip for those who has the time to do so.

Dinner was quick and easy at one of the Thai restaurants on Laugavegur, the city’s main street.

Race day on Saturday dawned bright, early, and cold.

We dressed quickly to have breakfast first. There were a lot of breakfast items to choose from.

The race started and finished in Laekjagarta, a walkable few meters away from our hotel.

We had our photo taken in front of the Prime Minister’s office.

The marathon started at 8:40 AM with a six-hour time limit. People were having champagne viewing parties watching runners. I did not stop to ask for champagne but I think they would have given me a sip if I asked!

The aid stations were fully stocked with water, sports drinks, chocolate wafers, and bananas.

I also got to see the famous Eddie Vega, also known as Barefoot Bandito who was running with his wife. He holds the Guinness World Record with the most number of barefoot marathons in a year. I first met him when we ran the Firecracker Triple in Oregon in the US in 2014 and met again during the Dublin marathon last year.

IMG_0127There were several entertainment spots along the way.

Richard was waiting for me when I ran by the hotel.

There were lots to see and keep runners occupied. We passed Ellioadalur, a famous salmon fishing river home to 60 species of birds, the behemoth Harpa Concert Hall, the Sun Voyager sculpture again, and the Reykjavik city from a distance.

Of course the best view is the finish line as I gratefully completed a great marathon.

The main street was a beehive of action. A band was playing some live music while walking in the middle of the street. Another group was giving free hugs. People were milling and walking around.

We found a museum dedicated to a man’s private parts, and exotic cuisine.

I rested for an hour or so before hunger demanded satiation. We went for a quick dinner at one of the main street restaurants.

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Up at 2:15 AM to make our 3:00 AM bus pick-up time, we flew back to Brussels on WOW Air at 6:15 AM of Sunday, August 20, 2017.

 

 

 

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Catarman Cathedral to Allen Church 50K Ultra Marathon 2017

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Running along the national highway of Northern Samar, Philippines.

The catchy tourism slogan “It’s more fun in the Philippines” is indeed true for locals, balikbayans, and visitors. This is the place for you if you want value for your dollar (50.50 Philippine pesos to 1 US dollar in July, 2017), where everyone is friendly, helpful, and speaks English. US$8 for a one hour massage in Makati City, anyone? I won’t even begin talking about the must-visit places in the country.

Running a race in the Philippines gives me the feeling of being home. Unlike in my European races, there is always an old friend or two in the crowd toeing the line, and new friends made when we cross the finish line. I made new Facebook friends doing this race, including Vicente de Lima a.k.a. The Bicolano Penguin. He is a prolific blogger, runner, and the brother of a Philippine senator. Check out his blog here where he generously wrote about me and my running obsession.

I was in Tacloban City to visit my parents this summer and what do you know? There was a 50K nearby and conveniently scheduled that weekend! My mother scheduled the blessing of a completed school building of our private college on Friday, July 21, 2017. It was a busy day for everyone but by 8:00 PM that Friday, Richard and I were in the van for the five-hour drive to Catarman, Northern Samar.

We arrived at the starting line in front of the Catarman Cathedral in plenty of time. The bib distribution was at 2:00 AM so after I picked mine up, we all went back to the van to catch a few minutes of sleep. I needed my support crew – my husband Richard and the family driver Jason – to get some rest for the long hours ahead.

There were 73 runners from all over the country registered for the race.

The official race support vehicle was a colorful jeepney, unofficially considered as a symbol of Philippine culture, history, and the art. There were no aid stations along the race route but the jeepney provided water and other emergency items for runners.

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Everyone signed in early. After the race briefing and a short prayer, we were off at 3:50 AM, 10 minutes early than the published start time.

An early start time for an ultra marathon in the Philippines is a must. The tropical sun shines early in this part of the world. Running a few kilometers in the cool and quiet streets helps participants bank time and mileage for the slow down due to the merciless heat and crowded roads during the day. The drawback to an early start was not being able to see much of the scenery in the dark. The fun began when the sun was up and we distracted ourselves with what was going on around us.

The national highway from Catarman to Allan was paved and generally flat. The roads alternated between stretches of isolated areas followed by a few kilometers of hectic activity in the town centers.

I ran by a village church where Richard took my photo with the parish priest.

I was running and walking, pausing for a drink or a bite, and moving on. Runners had to check in with the organizers at the 25K mark.

It was only a 50K but the distance seemed infinitely longer than a marathon. I passed the time thinking about the food and drinks I can eat when I reach the van. Richard found two sari-sari stores that sold avocado ice candy and extra ice to replace the melted ones in the cooler. I also found that drinking ice-cold milk helped settle my stomach and I did not need to eat as much. Drinking the Zest-O Dalandan Fruit Soda was also a good idea. I was lucky to have a support crew who not only monitored what I ate and drank, but also patiently dealt with my changing moods. While Richard and the other support crews also tried to help other runners with water and food, self-supported participants bought theirs from the various sari-sari stores along the way.

My mood perked up when we crossed the arch welcoming visitors to the Allen Town Fiesta on Monday. That meant the end was very near! Richard scouted the area ahead and told me there were just a few hundred meters more to go.

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I turned right into the plaza where the local school band was practicing for the fiesta.

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It felt good to finally reach the finish line!

Registration fee was P2,000.00 pesos (approximately US$40) and each finisher received a race shirt, a medal, and a customized trophy. Loved the great value for money!

The added bonus to finishing the race was finding out I placed third or second runner-up in the female division. I received the second runner-up trophy from the organizer, Griv Brown.

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We left the finish area immediately to check into our hotel for the evening, Birmingham Allen Resort a few feet away from the plaza.

The hotel only had four rooms and ours was modern, clean, and cool. Our balcony overlooked the San Bernardino Strait.

Everyone immediately fell asleep as soon we reached our rooms. We woke up hungry around 5:00 PM. We walked around the plaza to check out restaurants but we ended up going back to the hotel for dinner and made it an early night.

We were up early the next morning to eat breakfast and check out of the hotel for the long drive home. It was a productive trip!

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7th PAU’s Tanay 50K Ultramarathon 2017

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Richard took this photo of the dawn view from one of the hilltops of Rizal, Philippines.

Running is a very popular sport in the Philippines, and it is easy to see why. Many start off by crossing the finish line of a 5K fun run or a 10K. The runner’s high encourages people to look for the next race to conquer and before they know it, they’re addicted to running. When there is a demand, you can be sure there will be more than enough supply of races to choose from.

July 16, 2017 was a typical running weekend. There were at least three other races in locations close to the greater Manila area alone. I decided to sign up for the 7th PAU’s Tanay 50K Ultramarathon 2017. I knew the organizer, retired Philippine Army Major General Jovenal Narcise of the Philippine Army, who is popularly known as the Bald Runner. I finished three of his famous Bataan Death March 102K Ultra Marathons, as well as his other Philippine Association of Ultrarunners (PAU) races. His races are always challenging but fulfilling.

I asked the driver to pick us up at 1:15 AM from Makati City to the assembly area at the Shell Gas Station at the crossing of Manila East Road & Sampaloc-Tanay Road in Rizal. We were there in plenty of time to pick up my bib and get ready. The general and his wife still remembered us from previous races, and I appreciated his special mention about us visiting from Belgium during his race briefing with the runners.

There were 32 runners in the race, all seasoned uphill runners. All, except me. I do not like uphill running and I do not train for it. Oh well, I was prepared to just walk the course up and enjoy the view. Reflective vests and head lamps or flashlights were required for the 4:00 AM start.

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The race start was so early that the dogs were still asleep.

There were no aid stations along the way. Richard and the driver served as my support crew and mobile aid station. There were also many sari-sari stores (convenience stores) along the route for self-supporting runners.

The route was straight forward and easy to follow, albeit not flat.

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We ran on the opposite side of the national highway. Sundays must be a popular riding day. There were probably hundreds of motorcycle riders buzzing all over the place, competing for road space with tricycles for hire, bicycles, buses, and other cars.

There was nothing around this area but no, you were not allowed to urinate here.

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A group of young boys decided to run with me for a while. They were all probably under 10. They seemed to be impressed when I told them I was running 50 kilometers. One of the boys asked: Yan ba ang pagpapa-sexy mo, ‘te? (Is that how you keep yourself sexy?). Without missing a beat, the younger boy quipped: Oo nga, kailangan mo iyan. Medyo tumataba ka na. (Yes, you need it. You seem to be getting fat). There you go, straight from the mouths of babes. That comment cracked me up! For a moment, I could not decide whether to be upset or just laugh. In the end, I just smiled and kept on running. Pretty soon, they fell by the wayside and waved me goodbye.

Richard had his own adventures on the road as well. They encountered a cow relaxing on the middle of the road without a care in the world. The group of motorcycle riders behind them overtook our car to gently coax the cow off the road.

Medics from the Philippine Army patiently monitored the runners.

We passed by a feed zone in front of one of the housing development areas.

It was thankfully an overcast day. After passing by the Sierra Madre Hotel to make the u-turn several kilometers ahead, I was so glad to see it again! The finish line, the race director, and my husband were waiting for me.

Finishers received t-shirts and medals.

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2nd Beer Lovers’ Marathon 2017

“Anyone can drink beer, but it takes a runner to enjoy beer.” I modified beer cicerone and author Stephen Beaumont’s quote to reflect my impression of the success of the second Beer Lovers’ Marathon in Liège, Belgium on June 4, 2017.

We participated in the premiere edition of the race last year. I don’t drink, but the race made such a good impression on me that we were back for more this year. I couldn’t wait to see what outrageous costumes runners will be wearing this time. Almost a thousand other runners did not disappoint and really got into the spirit of the theme. It seemed like beings from down below, up above, and everybody in between were represented!

Richard and I proceeded to Place Saint Lambert in Liège to pick up my race bib after attending a noon meeting in Maastricht, The Netherlands on Saturday, June 3rd.

The plaza outside the race tent had two markets in progress. We browsed through the products at the LiegItalia market first.

Richard could not resist taking a sample of the salami e cioccolato al Viagra.

We proceeded to the Summer Beer Lovers’ Festival across the street.

Our hotel for the weekend was just down the street, conveniently close to the start and finish line. Pentahotel Liège is an ultrahip hotel that did not have a conventional check-in counter. The bartender doubled up as the front desk officer. Hotel parking was available for a fee.

Place Saint Lambert is a shopping and restaurant district. We walked about some more before having a quick dinner at one of the restaurants.

Breakfast was the first order of the day the next morning before heading out to the start line.

The race also had breads at the 2K point for others who skipped breakfast.

While other races had entertainment spots along the race route, this race had the runners as the entertainment. People were just excited and ran in packs, stopping to socialize and have a drink (or two, or three) of the 16 different Belgian beers along the way.

Chips, sausages, and apples were available to go along with the beers.

The course was generally flat, except for the Montagne de Bueren, a 374-step staircase in the middle of the city. We climbed some more steps to get to the viewing deck on top of the mountain.

What is really funny is that even if they had lots of different beers already, these runners still ran faster than me! About a quarter of the runners ignored the 6 hours 30 minutes time limit and just enjoyed the beer and the race.

My finisher’s medal and beer glass were waiting for me at the finish line. I cleaned up at the hotel and we were on the way home soon after.

 

 

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Harmony Geneva Marathon for Unicef 2017

Switzerland is a country dear to our hearts. It was the first European country I ever visited in the 90’s and is currently the home base of my sister Minerva and her family. Richard visited Geneva several times as a young boy, staying for a few days with his family, before proceeding to other European destinations. Richard and I visited Switzerland in 2015 for the Zurich marathon. We were in the country again for the Harmony Geneva Marathon for Unicef on May 7, 2017.

We flew with EasyJet to Geneva from Brussels at 11:15 AM on Saturday, May 6, 2017. The flight was an easy 70 minutes. It felt like we were already touching down before we even warmed our seats!

We took the SBB train bound for Lausanne and got off at the first stop, Genève-Cornavin. We walked for 10 minutes to our hotel, Grand Hotel Kempinski Geneva on Quai du Mont-Blanc. We just dropped off our carry-on luggage and we were out again to pick up my bib at Jardin Anglais.

We took the tram back to the hotel to get into our room and drop off the goodie bag. We were upgraded and our room faced the majestic Jet d’Eau. The hotel also provided train cards for unlimited travel for the duration of our stay.

We walked the surrounding area a little bit, posing for photos with the Jet d’Eau in the background.

Thai food takeout at one of the side streets was dinner before we called it an early night.

Up early for the race, we made our way to the restaurant to enjoy a leisurely champagne buffet breakfast and the dramatic water view in the background.

Starting point was in Chêne-Bourg in Place Favre. The tram ride took about 20 minutes. There were about 17,400 runners across all race formats so this race was huge!

The race with a six-hour time limit took us to different areas of Geneva, weaving around housing areas, vineyards, and the city center before winding up at Pont du Mont Blanc by the Jardin Anglais. The air was fresh and the weather pleasantly cool and perfect for running.

Richard took a photo of this black Lambo while he was waiting for me at the finish line.

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The finish line scene was unique. They had an extra mile for people who signed up as part of their campaign. I was just glad to cross the first finish line!

We were already checked out of the hotel by the time I finished. I used their fitness center facilities to take a shower before we made our way to the airport for our 5:35 PM flight back home.

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Firecracker Quadzilla 2017

Busy as the new lazy is never more real than during the summer. Summer is supposed to be relaxing but people also take this time to visit family and friends, see new places or familiar haunts, or immerse in exciting or serene experiences. We got to do all of these and summer was not even halfway yet!

Richard and I last visited the US in 2014 when we were still based in Guam. We flew back to Oregon this summer for a few days. Of course, I could not resist running a marathon or two while we were here. I pre-registered to do the Firecracker Quadzilla over the Fourth of July weekend. I finished the Firecracker Triple, three marathons in three days, in 2014, so this longer running fest promised to be more exciting and taxing.

Day 1, July 1, 2017 – Summerlake Loopy Marathon

The race course for the Summerlake Loopy Marathon loops around the Summer Lake in Tigard, Oregon. Marathoners complete 28 loops which did make me loopy after a while. Good thing I did not have to count the loops!

Runners can also opt for an early start at 6:00 AM with the race course closing at 2:00 PM. I showed up for the early start so I wouldn’t be pressured to run fast. I also was not familiar with this race because this was not part of the Firecracker Triple the last time.

These quadzillas attracts the Marathon Maniacs, the 50 States Club members, the 100 Marathon Club runners, and all sorts of running fanatics. True enough, I saw Larry Macon who has completed 1,900 marathons and counting. He is also the Guinness world record holder for most marathons ran in a year at 239. I ran with him also in 2014.

I also saw another runner I ran with the last time. Cyndie was on her 421st marathon and also registered for the quadzilla. The Oregon running community is a close knit group. They seemed to know everybody and were very friendly to visiting runners like me.

The sole aid station was fully stocked with Gatorade, water, watermelon, and Gu. They had all sorts of salty and sweet treats. The volunteers were family members who patiently waited for their runners to cross the finish line.

The weather was 14 degrees Celsius that day. I was cold but happy when I finished the race. One down, three to go.

Day 2, July 2, 2017: Stars and Stripes Marathon

The second marathon started in Beaverton, Oregon a few minutes away from Summer Lake. The same runners plus some showed up for the early start at the Fanno Famhouse.

After feeling like a hamster on a wheel yesterday, I was glad I only had to do eight loops to complete the race. All the race courses are not closed to pedestrian traffic, but the walkers were very considerate of the runners coming by. The course was marked by blue arrows.

The weather was not like the previous day. It was very warm by the time I finished the race past noon time.

Day 3, July 3, 2017 – Cook Park Marathon

The third race in the series had a longer loop. We finished six loops at Cook Park in Tigard to complete the marathon. The early start quadzilla runners were back in fighting form at 6:00 AM.

Each race route had its own particular charm. This one had a butterfly garden and quaint bridges.

There were two other unmanned water stations aside from the main aid station.

The day was hot again and I finished even slower this time.

Day 4, July 4, 2017: The Foot Traffic Flat Marathon

The Foot Traffic race was the last in the series and the biggest one. We picked up my race bib on June 30th at the Foot Traffic store in downtown Portland.

Sauvie Island was closed off to all traffic for the race start at 6:30 AM.

This was my third time to run this race, having ran it in 2009 and 2014. True enough, the course was still flat with a couple of gentle hills to spice things up. I loved the sights along the course.

I was surprised to find out I ran this race slightly faster after doing the other marathons. It was the hottest day of the four races, and boy was I glad to see the finish line! I was even more pleased to see not only Richard but also the Firecracker Quadzilla race director Steve Walters waiting for me at the finish line to give me my hard earned Quadzilla medal.

Finishers were given a choice of hot dogs or veggie dogs; their famous strawberry shortcakes were delicious!

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We went back to the hotel with my medals weary but happy. The Foot Traffic finisher’s medal is also a belt buckle.

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We stayed at the Embassy Suites in Washington Square for the race series. The hotel is right next to the Washington Square mall where I spent time window shopping and restraining myself from buying all the stuff that caught my fancy.

Our one-room suite was spacious. We enjoyed the daily complimentary manager’s evening reception where guests eat as much finger foods and beer, wine, and cocktail drinks as they want from 5:30 PM to 7:30 PM. Drink moderately though.

Steve stated that next year’s series is shaping up to be a five-day event. This promises to be even more exciting! What I like about these races is they are located close to each other. The race websites open up in February or March, and each race is between US$45 – US$55 depending on the day you sign-up.

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