Friday, July 5, 2013

24 Hours with Citibike NYC Bikeshare Program

This past weekend, my wife and I decided to give the nascent Citibike program a day.  After a late evening stop at the 21st Trader Joe’s, we decided to bike home with some groceries and continue using the bikes for errands on Sunday.  I bought two  24-hr passes for me and Sara that totaled $21+ after taxes.  Once I received the pass codes, Sara and I selected our bikes, punched in the pass codes on the selected bike dock, and off we went.  My first selected bike and dock didn’t accept the code, but the second did.  Didn’t realize it was a sign of things to come.
Basic Costs
Before going any further, here are a few details on the Citibike bike share program.  Costs are as follows:

  • $9.95 for 24hr period
  • $25.00 for 7-day pass
  • $99.00 for an annual pass and key
  • Bikes can only be used in 30-minute chunks.  In other words, once a bike is checked out, it has to be docked within 30 minutes.  
    •  If a bike station is crowded, there is an option to request an extra 15-minutes at the electronic concierge to allow riders to find the next empty station.
  • Overage charges vary according to how long the bike has out of dock

Sunday was a gorgeous day for a bike ride.  I heeded my wife’s advice against a long ride to Piermont because my marathon was a week away, but I thought riding in the city would be fine since it’s at slower speeds. 
Initial Problems
We got to our nearest station at 44th and 9th excited to check out our bikes.  I held on to the codes from the previous evening to check out our bikes.  We punched in the 5-code digits on every available bike – no luck.  It took nearly 60 minutes, dozens of bikes, and three stations later, ending up at Broadway and 53rd for us to finally check out our bikes.  Why?

  •  First, the codes last for only 5 minutes after created.  I had to request new codes from the electronic concierge.  We discovered that after the second station.
  •  Secondly, discovered by trial and error, we couldn’t check out the bikes when I requested two passcodes.  However, if I requested one code at a time, the bikes would check out of the dock.  
    • Note that there is a 2 minute mandatory wait period in between passcode requests.

We called the Citibike help desk 3 different times and they were helpful, navigating us to the nearest station with available bikes and working docks.  They were also agreed to grant us an extra 24-hrs of rental given our troubles.
Finally, Sara and I could pedal to our first destination – Nordstrom Rack at Union Square to return an item.  Navigating through Times Square and down Broadway through Herald Square, It was a glorious ride, albeit short.  The dock at Broadway and 17th was fairly empty so we had no issues with the bike return.
Sara and I used the Citibike station on 14th and Broadway for our next pickup.  I requested the new bike codes, one at a time, checked out our bikes, and we were off to Chelsea Market for some gift shopping.  We headed west on 13th St., made a right on 8th Ave., left on 15th, and docked the bikes right in front of Chelsea Market.  This was starting to be fun and easy!
After picking up some items and lunching at Chelsea Market, we got on the bikes again, one pass code at a time, and we headed to Giggle in Soho, docking at a crowded station at Thompson and Prince.  Another fun and short ride following the bike lane from 9th Ave. to Bleecker, and heading south towards Wooster. 
While there, I decided to check if there were cronuts available at the originator’s bakery (name escapes me).  No luck unfortunately.  After our Soho stop, we decided to make one more stop uptown at FAO Schwartz.  It was a more enjoyable day to ride a bike around the city  instead of being in a muggy subway station.
We returned to the bike dock where we had parked our bike and realized why the station was crowded -   the electronic concierge was not operating properly.  I dubbed it a bike black hole station.  We saw other black holes throughout the day.  We checked the map on the concierge for the nearest station.  Only two blocks away, we were lucky there were just enough bikes available for me and Sara.  Sara took advantage of the two minute wait between codes by loading our items on our selected bikes.
Back on the saddle, we headed north on 6th Ave.  When we reached 34th St., I decided we should dock and switch out the bikes because although we could make it FAO Schwartz on time, we would still have to find a dock in the area.
After switching out our bikes, we continued to head north on 6th Ave, where we encountered traffic once we reached the 50’s.  We made a right on 53rd and found a dock that was taped off.  It wasn’t online yet.  So we continued west towards 5th.  No bike stations.  Worse, it was the Puerto Rican day parade.  We circled a couple of blocks heading all the way to Park Ave. for a station – no luck.  Finally, we decided to head back to Broadway and 53rd, where we checked out our first bike.  I was feeling very smart about exchanging the bikes at 34th because we would have already been charged for late fees.
Sara and I had to navigate through quite a bit of pedestrian and vehicular traffic due to the parade to get back to our first station  Between 5th and 6th on 53rd St., we navigated through parked cars on the right and cars in traffic on our left.  Although the bike lane was on the left side of traffic, we rode on the right because delivery vehicles were blocking.  Suddenly, an SUV’s door flung open, timing perfectly to knock me off my bike and to ricochet me off a parked black Mercedez.  I wasn’t going that fast, but the accident was a blur.  I remember the car door opening, thinking “crap, this could cost me my marathon,” bouncing off the Mercedez, trying to protect my camera slung around my back, and then landing back on my feet over the bike.  I did a systems check and noticed various pains on my left side.  I sustained a cut on my left ear, sprained left middle finger, slightly sprained shoulder, and lightly banged up knee.  Things could’ve been worse, and I’m thankful I’ll still be able to run the SF marathon on Sunday.  Sara called over police officers.  We stayed at the scene expecting for the Mercedez owner to file a report against the people in the vehicle, but he decided against it. 
Checking In
Sara called Citibikes for the 4th time, and they were understanding of the situation.  Interestingly, we also found out that the bikes we returned at 34th station were not checked into the system.  One last tip for future users:  make sure that the bike is properly checked in by watching the led lights go to green on check in.
We finally finished our shopping at FAO Schwartz, walked back to 53rd and Broadway, checked out our bikes one at a time.  We explained this trick to a couple of other frustrated users at the same station and it worked for them as well.  We dropped off our bags at home and made one last stop…back to Trader Joe’s where it all started hrs earlier.   

Sunday, June 23, 2013

2013 San Francisco Marathon - Race Recap

San Francisco Marathon Course
This was it.  My race for the year.  After taking a year off from marathons, I decided to try and push
for a BQ at, of all places, the 2013 San Francisco Marathon on June 16, 2013.  Tall task indeed, but I've always been an optimist.  My "A" goal would be 3:10, "A-" at 3:15.  Either would qualify me for Boston because I hit the next age bracket in July.  And given the bombings in Boston, I wanted to try as best I could to requalify. 

Training started in the last weekend of January.  However, Not trusting myself after 4 weeks to be fully motivated and honest with my workouts, I decided to work with a coach (@SpeedySasquatch -> Twitter) to help get me through the training.  This turned out to be my best training decision to date.  In fact, I could summarize the training period in two words:  quality miles.  I ran a lower volume, I was used to doing mostly volume and mixing up speed workouts, but Josh had me doing three quality workouts per week and less volume than I would have done on my own.  Furthermore, I made sure to run as many hills as I could in Central Park, especially its biggest, Harlem Hill, and also up the west side of Morningside Park.

My wife Sara and I arrived in SF on Wednesday night, and after working on Thursday, we attended the expo on Friday.  Frankly, it was disappointingly small, but that's relative to NYC.  My main high/low light was a pullup contest for $125.  High count for the day was 31.  My best was 32 during the winter strength building.  I didn't even come close.  I managed only 18.

The day before the race was spent with the family, barbecuing and playing with the my niece and nephews .  It was one of my favorite pre-race days yet.  Perhaps I could have rested and ate a little better, but no regrets here.

Race Day

My brother kindly got me to the race start before 5am on race day.  With a 5:30am start, I expected more traffic, but this was a relatively smaller race with an announced 20000 runners.  I think it was less than that.  I chatted with two other NYC runners Leslie, and later Patricio, before the race.

The general strategy was to start off slowly and keep a conservative effort through the first half of the race.  I headed to the corral about 5 minutes before my start, making sure to stay in the back so I'm forced to start in the crowd. 

Miles 1-5 (7:55, 7:39, 7:45, 7:23, 7:24)
This section was flat as it was alongside the water.  Kept it as easy as I could in the early going knowing that the going would get much tougher later.  I chatted with some other runners along the way towards Golden Gate.  There was a shortish climb here towards Fort Mason, with an elevation of 89 ft at the top.  It was short but steep, and in retrospect, just a slightly shorter climb than Central Park's Harlem Hill.  Yes, the elevation in that blue circle below is Harlem Hill, my main training incline since January.

Blue circle:  equivalent of Harlem Hill
Red circle:  Climb to and Golden Gate Bridge out and back
Green circle:  Golden Gate Park

Spectatorship was scant during the race, especially along the beach.  Somewhere along mile 5 though, there was a really loud, isolated cheer groupA couple of minutes later, I realized why.  The hill in the distance was upon us - a 200ft sharp climb to the Golden Gate Bridge.  No amount of hill training in Central Park prepared me for these grades.  I tried to conserve energy, doing my best to roll up the hill. 

Miles 6-10
(8:13, 7:26,  7:05, 7:25, 7:18)
After two sharp climbs, running on the Golden Gate Bridge at sunrise was the highlight of the race.  I wanted to stop and just take it in.  The bridge grade itself wasn't too bad.  I pressed on, and decided to start picking up the pace on the bridge declines, as evidenced by the 7:05 mile 8. 

Miles 11-15
(6:44, 7:41, 7:37, 7:06, 7:40)
For whatever reason, I thought it was mostly downhill after the bridge.  WRONG.  Before the downhill, there was another massive steep climb.  Again I rolled up the hill trying to conserve energy and get a better rate of return on the down hills.  In retrospect, this third climb started to weaken my mental fortitude and hills started to become disheartening.  Little did I know that starting at around mile 14, I'd be climbing about 6 miles of hill, singular.

Miles 16-20
(7:50, 7:54, 7:25, 7:46, 8:07)
Golden Gate Park is a beautiful and enjoyable...when you're not at miles 13-20 of a marathon.  This stretch of a race represents some of the most mentally and physically challenging miles I've run in a marathon.  Kept trying to pick up speed, but the loooooooong incline was working against me.  I wanted to give up a few times, but thankfully I had a friend to meet at mile 20.  Somewhere around mile 15, I kept thinking, just get to mile 20.

Even the exit out of the park was not a kind one.   Short and sharp incline on any other day, but after miles of climbing, I did not welcome the transition to the Haight.  As I topped the incline, I looked up, and sure enough, more climbing. 

 Miles 21-26.45
(7:31, 8:19, 9:11, 8:42, 8:10, 8:12, 3:25)
By the time I got to Armando at mile 20, all I was thinking was, "just get home."  I had hoped to be running in the mid-to-low 7's for the last 10k, but the mental and physical beatdown from the park was thorough.  I had also hoped to make up some of the time on the downhill, but the course gives up all the elevation climbed in less than a mile.  I gave up a lot of energy just trying to stay upright on mile 21 downhill.  If it wasn't for Armando, I may have walked the rest of the way from this point, but he pulled me all the way to the finish.  Hammies started to cramp at around mile 23, but I was still able to move.  I walked a couple of times and through the remaining water stations, and gave what I had.  Finish time:  3:25:04.

There's not one race where I don't feel like I could have given more, but after talking with some others and seeing the 2:25 winners time, I felt very satisfied my race effort.  I'm okay not having achieved my goal time.  There's always a next race.  And that next race will never again be San Francisco Marathon.

After the race, Armando took me around the Google headquarters right across the street from the finish line.  Here are some shots of the relatively sparse crowd for a marathon.


Sunday, January 27, 2013

Hello 2013!

Been out of commission recovering, and still not fully recovered) from the last race.  Can't believe it's taken months, but I guess it comes with age...damn the hamstring tendinitis.  Still, I think the knees are healthy enough now for me to start logging a few miles.  And since I was marathon free last year, I'm eager to start training again.

Goal Race
In early August last year, my younger brother and his wife had their first child, and I was excited to visit the new addition for my siblings just before the Toughman Tri.  I'm excited to make another trip, not only to visit family, but also San Francisco Marathon on Jun 16, my goal race for the year.  There's a little bit of apprehension in training for a marathon again since I've been out of practice for more than a year.  My big audacious goal?  3:10:00.  I want to requalify for Boston.

Goal stated, I'm not quite sure if I'll be able to accomplish.  But the time off has generated enough appetite for me to train harder.  And if 3:10 is my new BQ, I'll have to train harder than I'll ever have.  I'm slightly out of shape (+ 5lbs), but that should bring more fun to the climb.  Game on.

On a side note, I've restarted my photo a day project for the year to get acquainted with my new gear, a Nikon D600  :-D    Will be posting new photos along the way.