It’s October 23, 2013. I am beginning my 29th year on this planet today and pray that it will be a happy and healthy one. This year for my birthday Nellie and I planned out a trip to New York so that together we could race in the Men’s Health Urbanathlon.
However, before we hit the starting line we thought it would be a good idea to spend a couple of days in Maryland to visit a couple of friends and do some sight-seeing at our nation’s capital.After landing @ BMI, Nell and I grabbed a quick bite to eat at the Silver Diner in the airport. Shortly after we walked down to be picked up. Within moments we were pleasantly greeted at the airport by one of our wedding’s bridesmaids, Dani. It was nice seeing her and to be welcomed into her home for our short stay. She was a wonderful host and made us feel at ease. Later that same evening Nellie’s brother Michael, whom also lives in the Washington DC area, came over to Dani’s where we were all able catch up on life since the wedding. In totally Nellie fashion, she fell asleep way too early and left the partying to us.We played music and danced, it was a nice way to cap off turning a year older.
The next morning, being the early bird that I am, I took a walk in search of a good cup of coffee! After a brisk 35 minute walk into downtown Gaithersburg I found just what I was looking for, Java Junction. As I entered the little box style coffee bar, I was cheerfully greeted by two older Asian women who were eager to help me with a cup of Joe. For some reason, coffee on vacation feels special. Without a care in the world, I said my thanks you and goodbyes to the ladies and headed back. The hot coffee kept the cool nip of morning at bay. As I was making my way back to Dani’s I came across a ‘fuzzy-Wuzzy’ caterpillar and enjoyed his/her company for a few blocks and then parted ways. When I got back the ladies were attempting to make breakfast, kinda scary. I rolled up my sleeves and whipped up some eggs and we ate.
Later we left the house and got Michael so we could hit DC and tour the major sites by the capital. The five of us (Dani’s friend Kelly also tagged along) went and saw the U.S. Capital building, the Smithsonian, the White House, the WWII monument and finally the Lincoln Memorial. Unfortunately time was limited and we were unable to do a deeper dive into some of the buildings, but it was really amazing to visit our great nation’s capital.
Feeling a bit hungry we took our last pictures and headed out.That night we decided to go to dinner at Union Jacks a British style pub. We were over dressed for this college bar / club, but I was really in the mood for a burger and they had just the ticket. I ordered the Tower of London and honestly only got through half before giving up, lol. Afterwards we were all pretty tired and went back to hit the hay. We set our alarms and proceeded to count sheep until we were required to get up to catch our train to NYC.
Half asleep Dani was nice enough to wake up and drop us off early on Friday morning at the metro. We had no problems taking the Red Line to Union Station. Once we arrived we were able to walk around and see the station. It really is a beautiful building filled with great places to eat and shop. We sat down at Johnny Rockets and shared our breakfast. Big Momma sipped her hot chocolate as I was getting my daily caffeine fix. We comfortably had enough time to get our tickets and board. I honestly think that more people should experience the convenience of taking the train. Amtrak treated us well and we quickly dashed off to NYC. The Mrs. was happy to be able to stream an episode of Desperate Housewives (total diva) and I was able to relax and watch the train hustle down the tracks.
We arrived at Penn Station in downtown Manhattan and easily made our way to the streets. Proactively I had printed walking maps from the train station to City Sports where we wanted to pick up our race packets. When we arrived a store employee told us that it was a different City Sports, shucks! Luckily we went up ten blocks to the correct one got our race gear and was provided directions to our hotel from an extremely helpful employee. We headed out to Queens first via subway and then took a bus transfer. It was pretty easy to use and really inexpensive which was awesome. Eventually we made it and checked-in to our hotel. That night was going to be low-key for us and Nellie and I stayed in and ordered Italian food to carb up for the race.
Race morning we woke up bright and early to pack our bags and be ready for a quick checkout. It was our game plan to run the race, return and get cleaned up so we could enjoy the rest of the day seeming more of downtown NYC. After getting race ready, we darted out of the hotel and hopped a cab to Citi Field (home of the Mets). We arrived in time for a light warmup and stretch before the race was to commence. Excitement was mounting for us; we were the 7th wave (purple bibs) of runners to begin the course. In droves the sponsors began letting the waves start at 8AM sharp. Thankfully, the weather was perfect (approximately 48-50 degrees) and we dressed light enough to avoid over heating but also warm enough to perform well and avoid stiffness.
Our group began at approximately 8:18AM and together Nellie and I went side by side out of the gates. Being as it was close to Halloween, some of the racers dressed up in their costumes. Surrounding us was a posse of Minion (Despicable Me), too funny and I couldn’t help saying, “Bee-Doh, Bee-Doh, Bee-Doh”, every time I saw one of them. The first couple of miles seemed to quickly fly by. Nellie was keeping a decent pace and was getting through the obstacles without a snag. My favorite obstacles were her least favorite, go figure, but we worked through them together. Whenever she needed a boost or a push I was there to lend that hand. I think that the course really looked beautiful with all the autumn reds, yellows and orange strewn about the trees. After my initial reservation and second guessing myself, I am glad that I had decided to bring my iPhone to capture our adventure. What better way to tell the story than through pictures and video? Fortunately for everyone placed below are a few picture collages, enjoy! 😉
Of the numerous obstacles placed strategically along the 10 mile Queens race course, a few of my favorite are worthy of mention. These included:
- Monkey Bars
- Tire / High Knees
- Citi Field Stair Climb
Some of my lesser enjoyed included:
- Balance Beam Tire Carry
- Arthur Ash Stadium Stair Climb
- Army Crawls
By around the 8th mile our pace began to slow as I could tell that Nell’s legs were feeling the abuse. It’s best not to push your body too hard but to remain positive when the race gets tough. So much about running is mental; when the pain starts to dig at you it gets challenging, but you have to fight back with your ‘I can do this!‘ attitude. I gave continuous encouragement as we entered Citi Field for the stair climb challenge. Much like it was in Chicago and San Francisco but after the climb and decent stair pattern, racers were rewarded sweetly with the opportunity to run around the stadium’s ground floor. Given that it is a race we didn’t have much time to snap pictures, but I did get a few on-the-go.
Coming out of the stadium we were seconds from the last obstacle and then the finish line. In traditional MHU style the last task included us traversing a few taxicabs and taking cargo nets over a school bus, lastly a tall wall (in which I quickly scaled and then helped to pull Nell over. She impressed me throughout the race and hung tough to the very end. In true ‘newlywed’ fashion we held hands, raised them to the sky in celebration and ran through the finish line. We did it!
The goal of this trip had been accomplished and with the love of my life by my side. We finished very close to the two-hour mark, which was in par with what I wanted for us. Needless to say I was very pleased!
With the race behind us we were happy to check out of our Marriott hotel and put Queens in the rear view mirror. To make the most of our time we quickly checked into our quaint hotel only blocks from Penn Station. By ‘quaint’ I really mean tiny and overpriced hotel with very basic amenities, but when you’re traveling on a budget and don’t plan on spending much time in your room it works, I guess. After dropping our bags off we hit the streets of Manhattan to grab some food and to do some sightseeing.
We had been eying the double-decker bus tours of the city and after seeing what sights were offered by the downtown loop, we readily agreed to purchase. We took our time before boarding the your to find some decent eats. Luckily for us my wife spotted a place called Dallas BBQ. My wife and I were both quickly sat and put in our orders. She got the Bulldog their signature drink and a honey glazed rotisserie chicken dish and I went with the chicken and ribs. We made some small chat with some local New Yorkers as we chowed down our meals. Super happy to get some real food in us we were ready to get on with our tour.
I grabbed a hot cup of Starbucks coffee right before we boarded to keep Nellie’s hands warm. It was not too cold out but the wind atop the bus was strong making us feel chilly. The guide was great as he narrated the audio portion of the tour and shared with us some cool and unique facts about the city. Some of the tour’s highlights included: > Empire State Building > Madison Square Garden > Flat Iron Building > Brooklyn Bridge > One World Trade Center > Statue of Liberty
Once the tour concluded it was already well into the evening and we were once again ready to catch a bite. We used the subway and got close to our hotel for the night and in the process found a Thai restaurant and hopped a squat. After devouring a couple of their tasty dishes we checked back into the hotel. Nell was going to call it a night but I wasn’t quite done with the day, there was one more thing I wanted to do. My wife had earlier picked me up a cigar for my birthday, so with it lit I took a long stroll and celebrated another successful race.
The next morning was an early one for us as we had to catch the Amtrak back to the Baltimore / D.C. area. We originally had planned on staying again at our friends place, however, we thought it would be fun to visit downtown Baltimore and see what the city had to offer. So with the time spent on the Amtrak ride down from NYC, I was able to figure out the details. In a flash, with the help of the Priceline Negotiator I was able to get us a night at the airport Marriott for $65 after taxes and an Avis full size rental car for the day at $24 after taxes and fees. Super cheap right, I know right!
So we got off the train a couple stops early and made our way to Avis. From there we peeled out in our fuel-efficient ford and went to the Courtyard. Twice the size of our last room, we dropped our bags and took a moment to relax. After our train-lag wore off we made our way downtown Baltimore and saw the sights. The pier downtown provided some magnificent sites and the city gave off a unique and pleasant vibe. It felt great to walk around with Nellie and take some pictures of the skyline while I sipped my coffee. This one city reminds me of Minneapolis but with a nice body of water to have a pier. We got hungry throughout the day and both of us wanted something different. So Nellie got to have her Cheesecake and I was able to tempt my palate with a Chipolte burritos, super happy!
Later we returned to our hotel to enjoy our last night away from home. We both took out our dinner that we had taken to-go and sat on our hotel room balcony and enjoyed our meals. Afterwards we go dessert from the lobby and devoured that too. Nellie was a good sport and when I told her that I wanted to go for a swim she gladly came with me while I ended the night with a few laps in the pool. We returned to the room and watched the rest of the Packers vs. Vikings football game and called it a night after smoking my last cigar for the trip.
The next day we safely returned home and were glad to be back in the comfort of our own home! Another amazing trip and the last of the MHU races were completed for us. So what’s next? I am thinking of now brushing up on my drawing as it is my hope to brand myself with the three city skylines that make up the domestic urbanathlon adventure that Nellie and I experienced together (Chicago 2011, San Fran 2012, and now New York 2013) and wear it proudly. This ends one of many of my bucket list items and life goals!
Till the next big adventure! #MHURB