Tuesday, December 6, 2016

A Runner Down Under: Running the Queenstown, New Zealand Marathon

Here is pretty much all you need to know about Queenstown, New Zealand.  I wanted to buy a bicycling jersey for my husband, Larry, in Queenstown, during my trip there in November to run the Queenstown Marathon.  I stopped off at the Tourist Bureau to ask where a bike shop was. 

The man behind the desk at the Tourist Bureau asked me to step outside onto the street.  "See that store across the street?" he asked, pointing to a store.  "That's a local bicycle shop."  I nodded.  "And across the street from that store?"  he continued.  "There's another bike store there."

"Great!"  I said.  "I'll have my choice of stores."

Now he nodded.  And continued talking.  "And the next street over?  There's another bike shop there," he said while pointing up the street.

"Wow," I said.  "I'll really have my choice -"

The Tourist Bureau guy interrupted me.  "And just over a block away, down the street from that bike shop, there's another one..."

I couldn't even come up with a superlative to that response.  Four bike shops within a few hundred feet?  Or meters, or whatever they call it in New Zealand.  What an outdoorsy, Cindy Bishop kind of town!

Queenstown, New Zealand is called the Adventure Capital of the World.  And for good reason.  In addition to bicycling, it seems everyone is this town is either biking, running, hiking, swimming, participating in team sports or high adventure sports such as sky diving or bungee jumping, or, as they spell it, bungy jumping.  And the New Zealanders have a right to spell bungy jumping the way they want, since they invented the sport.

Here's a jumper we watched from the bungy jumping bridge:

Queenstown is such an adventurous kind of town that I almost felt... embarrassed... that I came to town to only run a marathon.  And that feeling was validated once I went to the welcome party at the Heritage Queenstown Hotel with our tour group, Marathon Tours and Travel. 

It seemed that almost everyone I met at the welcome party was not only running a marathon but also:  bungy jumping, skydiving, or riding the world's largest swing (sort of a combo of a swing and a bungy jump). 

My group of women from Marathon Tours consisted of  Sheri, Abi, and Beata, and me.  Beata was already signed up for the world's largest swing experience.  Abi was fresh from running Florida's combo of a sky dive, and then, after which the diver hits the ground running... literally... a marathon.  Abi was also just a few months away from running a marathon at base camp on Mount Everest.  Given those two ultra adventures, she decided to take it easy this trip and only run a marathon and then the next day, hike up and down a mountain for a total of 12 miles.  That hike was a trip Abi had also signed Sheri, Beata, and me up for!

So when everyone asked me what else I was doing in Queenstown besides run 26.2 miles, I just smiled and said, "Well, we are all going hiking the day after the marathon, then Sheri signed me up for a bicycle ride two days after the marathon."

The others would just smile at my response, most definitely thinking:  how lame.

But, at the end of the weekend, it turns out that we all had the adventure of our life!

Jacqui, the Marathon Tours and Travel representative in New Zealand, told us all we needed to know about what to expect not only during the marathon but what our options were in the adventure land that is Queenstown.

 I met Jacqui back in April 2012 when I ran the London Marathon with Marathon Tours and Travel.  Look "excellent guide" up in the dictionary and you will see Jacqui's picture.  She handled not only the typical tour guide's job of telling us what to do in Queenstown, but also handled, with aplomb, the atypical problems that will pop up on these trips, such as lost luggage and acute sickness that requires immediate medical care.  From Jacqui we found out our options as well as info on the race and how to get to and from the town.  I don't think I ever saw her without her notebook, which contained information about all of us.  I tried to peek at my info but was not successful at seeing "only going on a hike and a bicycle ride after the marathon". 

We shopped til we dropped the day before the marathon.  New Zealand is known for sheep (I ate lamb 3 times during my visit!) and honey (I bought honey soap) and all things... possum (I just couldn't bring myself to buy any possum related clothing...)  We also visited the marathon expo, and loaded up on running gear from New Zealand. 

The night before the marathon, Jacqui arranged a pasta dinner for all of us, about 30 runners from all over the U.S.

I met runners at the pasta party from every state I've lived in, a runner who went to Miami University, and at least 3 runners who admitted to also being lawyers.

 It's also fun at Marathon Tours and Travel parties to meet people with whom I have a lot of things in common, including the crazy habit of enjoying running 26.2 miles through city streets.

But... city streets... that's one way the Queenstown Marathon was different from all the other marathons that I've run.  70 percent of this marathon was run on trails in the woods.  And up and down hills.  To this Florida girl, those hills, some of which were on mountains, felt like I was running up and down Mount Everest.  I'll have to check with Abi on that one after she runs Everest next year.

But even this very hilly trail marathon was so spectacularly beautiful that all was forgiven, even those steep up and down hills. 

And the beauty of the marathon was matched by the friendliness of everyone associated with the marathon, from the announcer at the start, who had us all laughing with his pre marathon jokes, to the spectators who cheered for us, to the over 400 volunteers on the course.  This was only the third running of the Queenstown Marathon, but it was as flawless as any marathon I have run. 

From start to finish, there were no problems, just beauty and a clean, well marked course.

After we all finished, it was time for Sheri, Abi, Beata and me to celebrate.  First we rode a gondola up to a restaurant that looked over the entire city. 

The food was as great as the view!

 Then, we went to Minus 5 Degrees Ice Bar, where everything was made of ice, except the drinks.  It was VERY cold in there, but we kept warm with the coats and gloves we were given and the drinks in the glasses made of ice.

The day after the marathon we hiked the Routeburn Track, known as one of the top 50 hikes in the world.  This trip lived up to the hype.  With a local Queenstown woman named Kana as our guide, we hiked up the Track (essentially up a mountain) 6 miles, then 6 miles down. 

Along the way we met hikers from the US and New Zealand, and learned all about the flora and fauna of the Track.  We were lucky to get Kana as our guide. Kana knew every part of the Track like the back of her hand.
Check out Kana, behind us, photo bombing

    Not only did we learn about the Track but Kana answered every question I had about New Zealand - especially the emphasis on the outdoors and sports that the local schools give to all students.  By the end of the hike, Kana became not only an excellent guide, but a trusted friend.  She made this mountain day long hike seem like just a walk in the park.

Kana led us up to the apex of our tour, the Routeburn Falls.

 Thanks, Kana for a walk of a lifetime!

The next day we said goodbye to Abi and Beata, who headed back to the US, and Sheri and I went on our bicycle ride.

Sheri and I got on a bus in downtown Queensland and headed off for our ride on a trail to a winery.  There were about a dozen other people on the ride, all of whom I expected to befriend on the ride, including whoever was our guide.  I missed Kana, but today I was ready to replace her with our bicycling guide, who I was sure would be my new best friend forever.

Here's how the bike ride differed from our hike:

1.  Kana was not there.
2.  There was no new Kana.  We had no guide.
3.  None of the other people on the bus were going to be on our trip.  They were all on a wine trip, visiting numerous wineries, where they would eventually end up at our winery.
4.  If I didn't figure out #3 initially, I could have looked at the back of the bus on the outside bike rack and realized that there were. only. two. bikes.
5. On the hike,  Kana gave us all laminated, multi colored and multi paged illustrated maps.  We were not given a map on this ride.
6.  Sheri and I were the only ones on the bike ride.

After breakfast at a local pastry shop, where we were left off the bus with our bikes, and after quizzing the locals about how to get to our destination, Gibson Winery, (just follow the trail, we were told.  And ride down river!) we bravely set off on our own.

At first, it was a dream ride.  We found the trail (of course we did, we quizzed about a dozen locals) and followed it down river.  We felt like Huckleberry Finn and Tom Sawyer, but without the raft.  We immediately found the place where gold was first discovered in New Zealand (X marks the spot!) in 1862.

 We cycled past amazing scenery.


 We rode over swaying bridges.

 What an adventure, we thought.

Then the trail ended.  The highway appeared.  Lots of trucks, campers, scary cars.  Sheri and I looked at each other, both of us silently hating the other for being on this trip.

"Uh, which way do we go now?"  I asked Sheri.

"Well, I could check the map" she answered, "but..."

We both laughed.  What else could we do?  We were at a three way intersection, with no idea which way to go. 

Here's how things disintegrated from there:

1.  We were lost in New Zealand and there was no one to help us.
2.  Kana was not there, and neither was her replacement bicycle guide.
3.  The scary vehicles were riding past us very quickly, on the WRONG SIDE OF THE ROAD.

4.  There were tons of dead animals - even some rabbits! - all along the road.  I was riding in front of Sheri and would call out each animal to her.  Sheri did not think that was funny.  "We are next to die,"  I think I heard her call out behind me, but I wasn't sure, the trucks speeding towards me were so loud.  I tried to look for dead kangaroos, but aren't they only in Australia?
5.  I tried to check my phone for Google Maps on how to get to the Gibson Winery but all I got was a message that "You can't get there from here."  When I tried to open up the map, I discovered that Gibson Winery was... in Australia.  With the kangaroos.  It was a place we couldn't get to on a bicycle since there was a body of water (an ocean?) in the way.
6.  My brakes failed about 2/3 into the ride.  Every single time we came to a downhill, my favorite part of any ride, I had to walk my bike down the hill, instead of going fast so we could get to the winery.  Or to Australia.

But then - the ride got better, due only to the AMAZING people of New Zealand.  Every time we came upon another hiker or cyclist, we asked them which turn to take.  To a person, they were all super friendly - and helpful.  Who needed maps when we had the world's greatest people to get us, mile by mile, or kilometer by kilometer, even on the wrong side of the street, to Gibson Winery.

Umm... about Gibson Winery.  When we finally came to yet another intersection on the scary road ,and there were no amazing and nice New Zealanders to ask directions from,  I explained to Sheri about what my Google maps said.  "So, Gibson Winery is in Australia," I said,  laughing, as if this kind of thing happened to me all the time.  Which it kind of does.

"Cindy!"  Sheri replied.  "It's Gibbston Winery! You spelled it wrong!"

Well, that was news to me!  I quickly typed in "Gibbston Winery" onto my Google Maps on my phone, and low and behold, we were 2 miles - or kilometers, at that point it didn't really matter - away from our destination. 

We rode quickly to our winery, Gibbston, stopping only when we came to a downhill when I had to walk my brakeless bicycle.  Once we got there, I had to struggle to open a steel fence that enclosed the winery, due to, as it said on the sign, the fact that rabbits would chew on the vines so they had to fence them out.  Good thing it wasn't the Gibson Winery in Australia where they would also have to fence out the kangaroos!

At the winery, the first thing we see is our tour bus, with all the passengers waiting in front of the bus.  For us. 

Our driver pointed to his watch and said "It's 1:59 P.M.  We leave to go back to Queenstown in 1 minute."

Using my mediator skills, I quickly pointed out that not only were we not given a time that we were supposed to be back at the winery, but the map less ride and the failed brakes on my bicycle caused us to be late for the wine tasting, which we had paid for.

The driver said he would give us 5 minutes.

Sheri and I went over to the wine tasting room, where the man behind the counter poured both of us 3 glasses of wine, the winery's finest wine.  We both looked at each, each thinking, "we went to college, we can do this quickly" and quickly downed each glass, not taking time to swirl the glass, inhale the vapors, and slowly sip the wine, like you see people doing at wineries or in the movies.

We ran back to the bus, which the driver had waiting for us, for the ride back to Queenstown.  Buzzed from our adventure on the road and 3 quickly "sipped" glasses of wine, Sheri and I realized that we had just had one of the great adventures of our lives, in the adventure capital of the world.

In Queenstown, we happened upon a street musician, playing Louis Armstrong's song, "What a Wonderful World".

I stopped and listened to the musician's beautiful rendition of this song.  I thought of the past few days in Queenstown, everyone I had met, and Sheri,'s Abi's, Beata's and my adventures running the marathon, hiking, and biking.  The musician was right.  It all had been such a wonderful world.

Friday, June 10, 2016

The Girls (and a few Guys) from Ipanema: Running the Rio Maratona

I did something in Brazil that our mothers warned us never to do.

I walked up to a man on the street.  He didn't speak English, and I didn't speak Portuguese.  But he motioned for me to follow him - and I did - from the street, into a building, and up three flights of stairs.  And it was one of the coolest experiences of my life!

And that afternoon pretty much summarizes my experience in Brazil from May 26 - May 30, 2016.

I was warned by many people not to visit Brazil this May.  Here's what I heard:  "It's not safe!"  "It's the center of the Zika virus!"  "It's their worst economy in forever!"  "They are impeaching their president and the people are rioting in the street!"

But I went anyway, and so did 63 others in the Marathon Tours and Travel group:  marathoners from all over North America.   About a year ago we chose to run the Rio de Janeiro Marathon as our South American marathon, in our quest to run a marathon on all 7 Continents.

Yes, this is a thing.  We are a very numbers driven group of people.  There were people in our group who had run a marathon in all 50 states.  One man ran all those marathons in 2014 (you do the math; just about every weekend).  Another man ran a marathon in all 50 states - 3 times.  Several of us  already run all 6 World Marathon Majors.  Many of us qualified for the Boston Marathon - several times.  So now this was our opportunity to check running a marathon in South America off our list.  We took a week off from work, paid our money, and since the US State Department did not have an advisory against flying to Rio, there we were, at the Caesar Park Ipanema Hotel, right across from the world famous Ipanema Beach. 

The day we arrived, some of us showed up for the group fun run, and we got an early feet on the street view of our home city for the next 5 days.

Marathon Tours and Travel, through their employees Ann Haebler and Jane Serues, took care of every detail during our stay.  In addition to planning our welcome party and dinner, our pre marathon breakfast and our post marathon dinner and party, Ann and Jane took us on a tour of Rio by bus.  We got to visit the famous Cristo Redentor (Christ the Redeemer) monument

which is visible from all over Rio.  The view from the base of the statue was spectacular.

We also got to ride by some of the preparations for the August Olympics

and we drove by a favela - basically, a slum that the government has begun to rehabilitate. 

After our tour, we went to the Expo, to pick up our marathon gear and pose for pictures.

By the end of the day, our group of women from Marathon Tours and Travel had bonded.  Preparing for a marathon does that for people   It was as if we were all instant members of the same college sorority.  Sheri, Sheila, Barbara, Kristy, Megan - I miss all of you already, and I can't wait to run many more miles with you all over the world.

On our own, we went to Sugarloaf Mountain.

 Raymond joined us, the first of the guys from Ipanema to infiltrate our sorority.  We rode a cable car to the top of the mountain...

and marveled at the view of Rio from the top of the mountain.

And then - well, that's when everything fell apart.  There was no Ann or Jane up there on Sugarloaf to check everyone's names off on a clipboard before we went down the mountain.  Our group got separated into 2 smaller groups on the top of the mountain. Each group was first nervous, then scared, that something awful happened to the other group when we couldn't find each other. Were the others kidnapped?  Bitten by a Zika infected  mosquito?  Impeached? 

Raymond was not going to leave the mountain until he found every last one of us.  But finally, Kristy and I realized that we could text each other, using our international phone plans, (which I had almost run through due to my sister in law Devon's posting movies of baby goats on Facebook - how could I not click on those videos?) (the goats were wearing pajamas) (and they were jumping) (and they have little horns on their heads, who knew?) and discovered one group of us was still on top of the mountain, and the other group had made their way to the bottom of Sugarloaf, figuring the first group was down there.  Once together, we vowed to never leave each other's sight, except during the marathon, when we were planned to run our own race.

Marathon Morning was warm and steamy and humid.  The forecast was to remain steamy and humid, but go from warm to hot.  We got on a bus (Ann and Jane checked our names off on a clipboard, oh how we could have used their help at Sugarloaf!) and the driver drove us all the way to the start.  The cool part was that we got to see most of the marathon course, which would also be much of the same course the athletes will run at the Olympics.  The scary part was that bus ride seemed S O  L O N G - and the way back was not by bus but on foot!  We all hung out together before the start, basically talking while we stood in line for the port a potties, then getting back in line again for the port a potties.  This is the part of the marathon you don't see on television for the Olympics.

Once we started running, we all felt at home again.  This is what we do.  A fun part of the marathon was how the runners would talk to each other.  Several woman I ran besides tried to talk to me, but my Portuguese was a bit rusty, so I just smiled and nodded my head.  This was a very friendly marathon. 

It was also a spectacularly beautiful marathon.  Most of the course hugged the Rio coastline.  We ran by the ocean and mountains for most of the run. 

By the end of the course, the temperatures were well into the 80 degree area.  This is dangerously hot weather for a marathon.  My friends and I all finished, but we (wisely) went slower then we could have run.

At the end of the marathon, it is hard to focus on what to do next, and figure out how to get back to the hotel, especially in a foreign country where one does not speak the language. But there at the finish, right after we got our medals,

were the flags for Marathon Tours and Travel.  Ann and Jane were at the finish, organizing us once again, crossing off our names on the clipboard, and shepherding us onto waiting air conditioned buses.

I decided right then and there, not only will I run as many marathons as I can with Marathon Tours and Travel, but I want them there in my everyday life.  Ann and Jane, with clipboards and buses, organizing my day, my meals, my job appointments, my social life.  I'll never get lost again!

At the post marathon party, we all regaled each other with our marathon stories.  Favorite parts of the marathon included watching the elites run right by us at an out and back turn, and seeing that runner with one leg who was running the marathon on crutches.  When we first saw the elites, we non elites clapped politely for them.  But later, as we ran by the runner on crutches, the applause from us was so loud it was deafening.  What an inspiration he was to all of us, and not only as a runner.  How humbling.

We all had night flights home the following day, which gave us more time to savor Rio.  Raymond had us jumping for joy (like the baby goats!) on Ipanema Beach.

After Raymond left us (he was off to go volunteer at a favela teaching computer skills to the students there, what an wonderful experience that turned out to be for the kids - and for him!) we walked down the beach and met two new friends, Ipanema lifeguards Paulo and Paulo, who graciously agreed to pose for pictures with us. 

And then somehow we talked Morgan into joining us for some shopping!  He definitely wins the good sport of the year award for joining the Girls from Ipanema on our quest to get Olympic shirts and coins.

Morgan's reward was the experience described above at the beginning of the post.  Morgan joined me and Sheila and Barbara for lunch.  We all decided to look for an authentic Brazilian restaurant for our last meal in Rio.  We weren't coming up with anything that looked enticing as we peeked into restaurants along Ipanema Beach. 

And then we saw him - a man standing by a building with a large sign covering most of his body.  Most of the words were in Portuguese, but the few English words we could read advertised a typical Brazilian homemade lunch. 

My three friends, all Certified Public Accountants, decided the credits outweighed the debits, and followed the sign man, who was signaling with his hands as to where we should go.  I followed.  As we climbed up three sets of elevators in an upscale urban mall, with no signs of restaurants, one of my American CPA friends, I think it was Barbara, said, "we are either going to a great restaurant - or we are going to a slaying."  The other two accountants and I, the lawyer, already projecting ahead to the criminal trial of the sign man for our deaths, shook our heads in agreement.

Suddenly the sign man stopped in front of a small family restaurant, smiled at us and pointed to the door of Puro Salor de Ipanema.  There we enjoyed a wonderful, delicious, family style meal of traditional Brazilian food. 

As we got up to pay at the desk at the front of the restaurant, I noticed a large framed shadow box behind the cash register filled with medals - running medals, from races ranging from 5K races to marathons.  I asked the man taking our money whose medals those were, and he, "the owner, he is a runner."  "We are too!" I said.  "We all just ran the Rio Marathon!"

The man taking our money broke into a large smile, left his post, and went into the kitchen and grabbed the Puro Sabor's owner, who spoke to us in broken English, translated by his employee.  Turns out the owner is a runner of many races, including a PR in a marathon in about the 2:30 range.  We all spoke to each other, and through the employee, about the Rio Marathon and how great just being in Brazil was for all of us.

So, not a slaying, but one of the coolest experience of my life!

The people who warned me not to go to Rio were right - this is a challenging time for this beautiful city and country.  But - in life we take calculated risks, and flying to Rio to run the marathon was a risk well worth taking.  I met friends who are all amazing women and men who I hope to run with again and again.  I was moved by the spirit of the Brazilian people in a difficult time for their country.

 And then there was that runner at the finish line.  I don't know his backstory.  It could be one of overcoming a terrible illness, or perhaps he was running in memory of someone who had died.  Or maybe, for one moment, he let go all the sad parts of life,  and just celebrated being alive and happy to have run 26.2 miles.  In that instant, when I watched him kiss the ground after finishing the marathon, all I thought of was happiness at everything that had happened to me in Rio.  It was a perfect moment.

Monday, June 6, 2016

We were born to run: The New Jersey Marathon

If the town of Asbury Park, New Jersey were a person, it would be Cher.  Or Madonna.  For over a century, this New Jersey beach town has stayed relevant by changing with the times. 

At the turn of the 20th century, Asbury Park was a genteel seaside resort where wealthy families from New York City and Philadelphia would go in the summertime to take to the waters.  Imagine all those old fashioned swimsuits - you know, the shirts and bloomers and caps, as fashionable swimwear for the early 1900's American east coast families.  For these families, swimming in the bright blue ocean along the mile and half long beach was a welcome respite from the hot buildings in the cities, prior to air conditioning.

By the mid 1900's, Asbury Park was a family beach resort again - but this time with an amusement park.  Some of my happiest childhood summer memories were spent every summer in Asbury Park.  From the Tilt a Whirl to the merry go round carousel, (where I tried every summer, then after several years, I finally leaned off my horse far enough to get the gold ring!) to riding bicycles on the wooden boardwalk with my parents and brother and sister.  Sometimes my grandparents would join us - as seen in this photo - and three generations would bask in the sun by the ocean, eat salt water taffy, and stroll down the boardwalk.

By the early 1970's, Asbury Park hit hard times.  Riots in the streets, economic downturn, summer visitors going elsewhere - my beach town was hit hard.  But music helped Asbury Park both stay relevant, and get back on track.  Musicians flocked to the Stone Pony, a newly built bar and music showplace.  Bruce Springsteen - with his 1973 album, "Greetings from Asbury Park, N.J." - and other musicians made Asbury Park the place to go.  Asbury Park became synonymous with coolness! 

Slowly, the near empty streets began to become filled again with stores, restaurants, bars, and homes, first for single people, then for families.  Hotels were refurbished, or built anew.  Real estate became expensive and enticing again.  By the second decade of the 21st century, Asbury Park was back - an upscale beach resort with fine dining, luxury hotels, a vibrant music scene - and a marathon that ran through not only Asbury Park but about a half dozen other Jersey shore towns, and the still sparkling blue Atlantic Ocean.

For a Jersey Girl raised along the beach towns of Monmouth County, there was no other marathon to run in NJ but the New Jersey Marathon.  Luckily, I persuaded my running buddies - St. Louis Sue, who I met in Argentina and have run 7 marathons with; Colorado Charlotte, my former Brevard County, FL running buddy from Set Goals, Not Limits running camp - we got each other to Boston, and have run Marine Corps and Chicago together; Carol, a local past president of our Space Coast Runners Club, super fast and super nice; Lea Anne, another local Set Goals Not Limits Runner who is also fast and has a mega watt smile on any running course; and Jersey Girl Mikaela, my friend Debbie's (we are Jersey Girls who go back, waaaaay back,  to pre school together)

 22 year old daughter, who would make her marathon debut at the NJ Marathon - to join me in this quest. 

We all met up at a pre marathon pasta dinner and regaled Mikaela (or frightened her?) with our stories of previous marathons and what to expect on Sunday morning.  Mikaela was a good sport and took it all in stride.  The weather looked awful for the next morning - 50 degrees at the start and dropping throughout the morning, windy, and rainy. 

We awoke the next morning to weather exactly as predicted the night before.

 Armed with Dunkin Doughnuts coffee and... well, doughnuts, we put our big girl running shorts on, braved the elements, and ran 26.2 miles in driving rain, wind gusts and cold (to us Florida residents; Mikaela and Charlotte and Sue took the weather conditions as is with no complaints) along the Jersey shore.

In spite, or maybe because of, the weather, I just couldn't stop smiling.  In all my marathons, I never felt as strong.  I never felt pain or discomfort.  I just kept running, past mansions that would make Jay Gatsby jealous, past the gray and stormy Atlantic ocean, on the boardwalk of my childhood dreams.  I couldn't stop smiling.  I was back.  Back in New Jersey, back with old friends and new friends. 

I was home.

I approached the finish line, mindful of my in house team physician/sponsor, who strongly advised me to finish the marathon no earlier than 4 hours 30 minutes.  I was OK with that, since I had the Rio de Janeiro Marathon 28 days later.  That being said, I didn't want to finish any slower.  So I perfectly timed my race so that I would approach the finish line at 4:29, then wait out the extra minute.

Most finish line pictures show a runner exuberantly crossing the finish line, with his or her arms over his head, a Rocky-like pose of victory.  Some runners are even kissing the ground as they finish.

Me?  I was caught by MarathonFoto staring at my watch for about 45 seconds, patiently waiting for 4:30 and change (to be on the safe side) for my finish line cross.  As I stood there, in the driving rain, I heard the spectators yelling to me, "Don't stop now!  You are almost there.  You can do it!  GO!!!"

Definitely my most unusual marathon finish ever!

Right after I crossed the finish line, there was my cousin Donna and her husband Andrew, waiting for me.  They drove over an hour to see me.  The last time I saw Donna was almost 30 years ago, at her wedding, when I watched her walk down the aisle at the Breakers Hotel in Palm Beach, FL, as pretty as a queen.  It was wonderful to catch up with Donna and Andrew.  I wish I could have spent more time with them, but after a few minutes I began to get hypothermic and needed to get back to the hotel to change.

That night, after our post marathon dinner, Sue and I got to check out the Stone Pony.  We either:  A: danced the night away with dozens of our new best friends at one of the coolest bars and music venues in the world or B:  Stayed long enough to buy T shirts and check the place out, then went back to the hotel to recover from the race.  It was marathon night:  you be the judge.

When I told my elementary through HS friend Amy about my marathon runs in May, NJ and Rio, she couldn't believe it.  "You were the last kid picked for every team sport in school!"  she said.  "Do your gym teachers know how you turned out?  I can't believe it!"

Amy, I can't believe any of this either.  I didn't start running until I was 45 years old, and I ran my first marathon a month before I turned 50.  I have qualified for the Boston Marathon 3 times.    NJ was my 14 marathon, Rio, 4 weeks later, would be my 15 marathon on my 4th continent.  If the good Lord is willing and creeks don't rise, as we say here in the south, I hope to run a marathon on all 7 continents and in all 50 states.  I've already run the 6 World Marathon Majors with my running twin Sheri.  And when all that is done I will just have to pick another running goal.  I don't ever want any of this to end.

So I guess if the town of Asbury Park, NJ were a person, it would be Cher, or Madonna. 

Or me.