Sunday, December 12, 2010

Reflecting on a grand achievement

About this time of year I started spreading the word that I planned a crazy feat for 2010, to run every event in the Rock n Roll Marathon Series. Well here I sit, 12 months later having completed this crazy objective and ready to reflect on what was a wonderful experience.

In December 2009, Competitor had just announced its final events for 2010 -- Rock n Roll Los Angeles Half and Rock n Roll Denver Marathon -- bringing the series up to 14 events. Having run no more than five marathons in a single year I wasn't sure I was up to adding three more and tacking on 6 half marathons to boot, but was bound and determined to try. But I certainly wasn't going to do this alone or just for myself. I knew this would be a great way to spread the word about my love for running, encourage others to give it a try and to promote healthy living. But the higher cause was to help spread the awareness about blood cancers and the need for more research, support and funding. So I set a second goal, to raise $10,000 for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society.

I'm proud to say that I not only survived the series but set two personal bests in the marathon and the half, exceeded my fundraising goal with over $11,000 collected and made it through the year mostly injury free.

The series provided some incredible highs and very few lows. I met some great members of the running community and dodged some harrowing weather. Here's a look at the highlights from the year that will hopefully provide some inspiration for your future experiences. I highly recommend putting a few Rock n Rolls on your calendar of events.

There are plenty of reasons to run Rock n Roll marathons such as:

Reason #1: The courses. Each Rock n Roll event is a fantastic tour of the host cities. Competitor does a great job of taking you past all the highlights so you really get a feel for these cities. But of course, they leave you wanting more and there's no better way to recover from a tough run than to walk around the city - in compression tights of course.

Best Marathon - Mardi Gras Marathon (Run it Feb. 13, 2011). Its hard to top a run through the Big Easy. The new course, changed to accommodate a 3-fold increase in participants in 2010 was a fantastic tour of the city going through all the famous districts, past Tulane University and finishing in a fantastic park. The city shows itself off beautifully and how can you go wrong with so many fantastic restaurants, hotels and music halls to help you celebrate.

Runner Up - Country Music Marathon (Run it April 30, 2011). Like Mardi Gras, Competitor set up a fantastic course that really showed you all the big sites near downtown. I especially loved seeing Music Row where all the record companies were located. Downtown is beautiful and its party central after you cross the finish line. We had some exciting weather last year, which should mean smooth sailing for 2011.

Best Half Marathon - Rock n Roll Dallas (Run it March 27, 2011). This was a first-time event in 2010 and at first, having lived in Dallas when I was younger, I had to say I was skeptical about how good this could be. But Competitor really found a course that shows off Dallas better than I could have imagined. The course passes by all the best sites, the old historic neighborhoods and finishes at the Cotton Bowl. The course is fast, mostly flat and very festive. Despite a tragedy at the finish line, they couldn't have had a better inaugural year.

Runners Up - Rock n Roll Virginia Beach & Philadelphia (Run them Sept. 4 and 18, 2011, respectively). These two events stand out for different but similar reasons. For Virginia Beach, how can you argue against an event that starts and finishes along the gorgeous eastern seaboard. With waves crashing to your right, a fantastic little surf town and a tour through Camp Pendleton, how can you go wrong. Plus the music festival going on all that week makes it worth an extended stay. Phillie gets props for being, well, Phillie. Its a fantastic town with a great spirit and the course really shows it off, especially Museum Row.

Best marathon course to run a half: Rock n Roll Seattle (run it June 25, 2011). For some reason it seems there are always more people signed up for a half marathon if that same event is also a marathon. Maybe its aspirational, in that if you can complete the half there, you can shoot for the full the next year. Well some events (and some runners) are very different their second 13.1 miles. Seattle is a good place to run half way because the front 13 are a great scenic tour of the Pacific Northwest. You wind through pretty little tree-lined towns and past a vast lake before a tour of downtown Seattle and the finish near the home of the Seattle Mariners and Seahawks. It's not a PR course, necessarily but a great experience.

Reason #2: To Set a PR. A lot of people might tell you that if you want to set a PR you should avoid the big races because the crowds can slow you down. That's true if the start isn't well coordinated and if the course isn't well designed. That was never true of any Competitor event - and I ran them all. Competitor has clean starts down to a science. They break each race start down into corrals based on your expected finish time and for the most part, I rarely found myself weaving though slower runners. At the very biggest events, such as Rock n Roll Las Vegas you may take a bit more time to get to the start line but the timing chips they use are very accurate. Not every Rock n Roll marathon is good for a PR.. A few are rather hilly, like Rock n Roll Los Angeles and the Country Music Marathon. And weather can sometimes be an issue as it was in the Country Music Marathon, Rock n Roll Chicago and almost was at Rock n Roll Virginia Beach.

Best course for a PR: Marathon - PF Chang's Rock n Roll Arizona (Run it Jan 16, 2011). This is a flat, fast, low altitude course with some nice scenery and awesome bands. If you use winter to rehab, interval train and prep for the coming marathon season then you will be ready to run fast through the Phoenix downtown area. I know because I did. Great way to start the year.

Best course for a PR: Half Marathon - Rock n Roll San Jose (Run it Oct. 2, 2011). It's my hometown half marathon and I set a PR here its inaugural year. It was the first RnR event I'd run at that time and was surprised at how pretty the course was. This year was special because so many of my TNT and SMS friends were running it and the bands and cheerleaders along the course were just the best.

Reason #3: The Bands. Competitor's marathons are best known for having lots of bands along the race course which definitely make the events more festive but recently the company has become known for the headliners it bring in as well and they mostly perform right at the finish line. And we're not talking no-name headliners either. Main stage acts in 2010 featured Bret Michels (Rock n Roll Las Vegas), Rick Springfield (Rock n Roll San Antonio), Sister Hazel (Mardi Gras Marathon), Big Bad VooDoo Daddy (Rock n Roll San Diego) and Semisonic (Rock n Roll Denver).

Best band - Cowboy Mouth at Mardi Gras Marathon. If you haven't heard of these guys seek them out. They are an old school party band and just reached out and grabbed us and demanded to be loved. Their lead singer, drummer Fred LeBlanc is a total showman and no matter how bad your legs may have felt you couldn't help but dance around.

Runner up - Neon Trees at Rock n Roll Los Angeles (Run it in costume on October 30, 2011). I had only heard one song from this alt rock band prior to this event and you just can't tell from the radio how amazing this band is in concert. Their lead singer, Tyler Glenn reminded me very much of Michael Hutchence of INXS - massive kinetic energy and emotion on stage. Highly recommend seeing one of their shows.

Reason #4: The Bling. Who doesn't like to receive a big, heavy piece of brag-worthy hardware when they cross a finish line. And Competitor rocks some of the biggest, heaviest medals of them all. And they are the pioneers of progressive medals. After your first event in 2011 you become eligible for their Heavy Medal series which rewards you with medals for completing combinations of events throughout the year. If you are crazy like me you can try to collect them all. Last year the highest medal went to any person who completed 7 Rock n Roll marathon events in a single year. Expect them to up the ante in 2011 when the series goes from 14 events to between 18 and 20.

Best single event medal - Rock n Roll San Diego (run it June 5, 2011). This is the event that started it all and of course you'd expect it to have the best medal and it was. It's hard to top a big 1.5 pound depiction of surf and sand.

Best Heavy Medal - Rock Legend. It's shaped like the head stock of an electric guitar, it weights nearly 3 pounds, requires two anchor points to attach around your neck and signifies 7 Rock n Rolls in a single year.

Reason #5: The Unexpected. I guess you could say this is a possibility at just about any race but I recommend the Rock n Rolls even when this happens because of their professionalism and experience. We had three unique incidents in the 2010 season but all were handled with grace and understanding. When you put on so many races in a single year you'd think the staff would burn out and crack under the pressure but somehow Competitor always manages to perform like, well, rock show roadies, making it all come together.

Tragedy struck at the finish of Rock n Roll Dallas in the form of an unexpected death right at the finish. A 32-year old former Texas Tech baseball player, completed his first half marathon alongside his brother, then collapsed at the finish and never regained consciousness. The cause, an undiagnosed heart condition that resulted in a fatal attack. While tragedies like these tend to make the news and cause a rise of "experts" calling out the risks of endurance running, these tragedies are exceedingly rare. They are also preventable. Many european marathons and other endurance challenges require participants to have an MRI which can find these heart problems. But thanks to the US health care system, which de-emphasizes preventative care, requiring the same here would be cost prohibitive. If you have this condition, it's not the marathon that will kill you - anything high endurance might. If you are concerned you may be at risk for this problem, get tested. There's no other way to be sure.

Weather is always unpredictable and we got a full reminder of this at the Country Music Marathon where a Tornado curtailed the race. A tornado watch had been in effect for that whole weekend and there was talk on Saturday of potentially canceling the race. Hourly updates were pushed out to racers via e-mail and the web site and while there was no all clear, the forecasts suggested the race could go on. It was clear at the start but got progressively worse as the race went on and finally too bad to continue about 3 hours after the start. When a tornado touched down about a mile from the race course, Competitor and the city of Nashville called the race and started turning participants around. Those that didn't finish certainly were disappointed but the rain came down so hard at 3:30 minutes in that you could barely see five feet in front of you. Competitor made the right decision.

Weather caused a sense of deja vu in the days approaching Rock n Roll Virginia Beach as a hurricane made landfall at the start line. That was Friday, the race was Sunday and thankfully the storm had moved up to Boston by then leaving a gorgeous day and very little damage in its wake. The race went off without a hitch but after Nashville I was running through every contingency plan I could think of.

Transportation can also sometimes ruin your day. One incident happened to us, the other was self-inflicted. At Rock n Roll San Antonio, Competitor touched base with every city service, state agency, and transportation service to make sure the course would be clear, the right roads would be blocked off and that nothing would impede the runners. But sometimes you just can't prevent a train running late that refuses to be even later. About a mile into the race, said freight train pushed over the tracks that crossed the course, causing a 15 minute delay. Competitor, that evening, sent a note to all participants apologizing for the incident and within two days credited every runner affected for the lost time and offering them a discount on another Rock n Roll event, including next year's RnRSA.

There's a reasons race organizers are always harping on you to get to the race start early. Sometime the unexpected happens. That was the case for me at Rock n Roll Denver. I was driving down from Boulder to the start of the race and thought I had given myself enough time, but found this not to be true when I sat in line to park my car at the University for 45 minutes. As the race start grew closer and closer, I made a call to jump the line, head downtown and try my luck with either street parking or a local lot. Neither was successful and with just 5 minutes until the gun went off, I had to ditch my car in a private lot. I then spent 3 1/2 hours running with the added stress of losing my rental car and $350 to a towing service. Not the way to enjoy a marathon at altitude.

Reason #6: The Truly Unique. Another big reason to run Rock n Roll is to have an experience you will never forget. For me, each of these events has one special memory that makes it unique but some are more unique than others.

Best Stand Out: Rock n Roll Las Vegas. What happens here, everyone should hear about. Las Vegas pulls out all the stops. First, they close the strip, which only happens for one other event all year. This means you get to run all the way to old Vegas and the Fremont Street Experience with no cars, no cabs and no vans advertising Girls Direct to You. Second, there's two great fun runs the days before the marathon - the Santa run and the running of the Elvises in which every participant dresses up. Third, is the on-course wedding ceremonies that happen in front of the Venetian Hotel. You'll see some great costumes at this event which is another reasons to run it - heck the best costume might just be yours!

Reason #7: To Be First! While yes, there is a chance you can win a Rock n Roll event - if you happen to be Kenyan, five feet tall, and expert at chasing down wildlife - being first means taking home chotckes from an inaugural event. And you will have at least three chances to do that in 2011. Last year was the first for Rock n Roll Dallas, Chicago, Philadelphia, Denver and Los Angeles. Next year you can be among the first to run Rock n Roll Providence (run it August 7), St. Louis (run it Oct. 23) and Savannah (Nov. 5).

Reason #8: Run for Others. Finally and perhaps the best reason to run a Rock n Roll event is to honor and help others. Each Rock n Roll marathon supports a number of charity groups and nearly always has an official charity for each event. I ran for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society who has a fantastic endurance training program - Team in Training. If you know someone who has suffered from Chrones disease, heart disease, breast cancer or a number of other causes, you will find a program and a Rock n Roll where you can honor them. Raising money and running for others is just as rewarding as the race itself.

Just finishing any half marathon or marathon is an accomplishment to be proud of. So get out there, start training and set your goals for 2011. There's no better way to get in shape, stay that way and stick to a program than to have a data circled on your calendar and a race entry bought and paid for. Having a schedule of events keeps me going and motivated. Let me know if I can help you decide what's next on your schedule.

Monday, December 6, 2010

8 minutes to history: Rock n Roll Las Vegas ends a fantastic season

It's mile 26 of the Rock n Roll Las Vegas marathon. For the last 12 miles I have been teased, taunted, twisted and denied. But not deterred. My mantra since mile 15 has driven me onwards, "11 more miles to history." For those who haven't been following my running saga this year, history means being the first person to complete every mile of every 2010 Rock n Roll Marathon series event. This collection of marathons and half marathons, put on by Competitor Group has taken me back and forth across the US and the 14th and final event is here in Sin City.
While others have run every event in the series in prior years, and some had run in every event this year, there has never been 14 Rock n Roll events in a single year and none of my Heavy Medal compatriots would run every mile - completing all 8 marathons and 6 halfs.
With every remaining mile I ticked down the distance to the final finish line. But it was feeling more like a cruel death march than a victory lap.
Rock n Roll Las Vegas started with a lot of anticipation and planning. Since much of our running club, SMS, and our local Team in Training group knew about my plans, many had registered for the event and would be running it with me and helping me to celebrate when it was all over. Close to 30 people were expected to come be part of the festivities.
Reesa and I arrived in Vegas the Saturday before the race, dropped our bags at THEhotel, a special tower in the back of Mandalay Bay that is reminiscent of a W Hotel. We then met some friends for breakfast and headed over to the race expo. While the event was being hosted at Mandalay which would serve as the start and finish line, the expo was up the strip at the Sands Convention Center behind the Palazzo Hotel. While inconvenient, I don't think Competitor had much choice as Mandalay's own convention center was over taken by cowboy central. The National Rodeo was in town and a western wear supercenter had moved into Mandalay. This created an interesting juxtiposition of country and western fans and Rock n Roll athletes for the weekend.
At the expo we picked up our race gear as usual then I got a nice surprise at the Competitor Group booth where Kyle, who runs the Heavy Medal program, presented me with a framed gold record commemorating my completion of the 2010 series. That plus a nice jacket and running bag from Brooks completed the prize. Thanks, Kyle, this is going in my office.
That afternoon we chilled in the room then hit the official pasta party which featured appearances by Sarah Rinertson, one of my personal heroes, and the voice of all things excess, Robin Leach.
That evening we walked off the pasta with a tour of City Center before returning to our rooms to dress our chairs, set the alarms and prep for the next day's race.
It doesn't matter how many times I run a marathon, I always have nerves the night before. With all the anticipation of finally being done with this incredible feat, I was feeling it extra strong this night. I woke up pretty much every hour and my dreams in between were filled with projections for the following day. The usual scenes took place: waking up late and running to catch everyone who had already started, working my way up to my corral just as I realized I didn't have my timing strip, not finishing because of injury, and a cavacade of other disasters. When I remembered the dreams upon waking I'd look over at my dressed chair, double-check the alarm on my iPhone and my Timex Ironman watch, then fall back to sleep confident I was prepared.
I finally awoke for the last time at 5:40am, five minutes before my alarm, and got ready.
The corrals at the start were arranged in a U shape. The start line, heading up the strip was followed by corrals 1 through 11. Twelve and 13 were on a curve crossing the strip and just ahead of 14 through 33 which headed down the strip the opposite direction. This made it easy for everyone to walk right up to their corral, that is until they closed the passage through the U. This, of course, happened just as I was making my way to the corrals so I had to run around the complete U to get to corral 2. It served as a nice warm up and killed time before the start. When I got into the corral I met up with Tim, a fellow Heavy Medaler from Canada who was wearing a commemorative bib denoting his status having, with Vegas, compeleted 7 RnRs in a single year.
We didn't have to wait long for the start for just 10 minutes later a Cher impersonator appeared on the deck above the start, in full feathered gown, to do a Vegas rendition of our national anthem. It definitely sounds different in Vegas, especially with the storytelling interlude in the middle of the song. At least she (it was a she, right?) didn't cut to a runner and ask, "Hey, where ya from?"
After we all took our hands from our hearts and replaced our caps the wheel chair start commenced and our corral started moving up. Within minutes we were off.
The first half of RnR Las Vegas is a scenic trip up the famous strip, then up to old Vegas where some of the original hotels dating back to the 1960s are located. We turn around in front of the Fremont Street Experience a covered road that turns into a free light show every night.
What makes this trip up the strip so special is that Vegas closes the road to runners, something they only do twice a year and don't even do on New Year's Eve. As we passed by several of the enormous hotels they had switched their large promotional boards that face the strip to live coverage of the race provided by the KLAS TV 8, the local CBS affiliate. It was quite a treat to see the sea of runners streaming down the road on a 5-story electric billboard.
Two quintessential Vegas traditions were on full display during the race. The first was the constant stream of Elvis Presley impersonators peppered throughout the course. There were several very fast Elvi - I have no idea how they kept from overheating in their spandex suits - and a few back of the packers. All, to a fault, were portraying old, Vegas Elvis, none went for the teen heartthrob version. My favorite was SpongeBob Elvis. Loved the jiggly nose, stapled-on sideburns and cape.
The other Vegas tradition was the running wedding chapel. On the steps of the Venetian Hotel was a run-in altar complete with preacher and corrals for runner and non-runner guests on both the groom and bride sides of the aisle. None from my corral were taking part as I went by but I heard there were between 70 and 90 people who got hitched that day. Classic.
As we left the strip Vegas reminded us why its called Sin City as a proliferance of advertisements for strippers, tatoos, and escorts lined the streets.
After returning down the strip and approaching Mandalay Bay the course split with half marathoners carrying forward to the finish while we broke right and headed away from Mandalay for another 13 miles. Suffice it to say that the first half of this race is the scenic part. Now began the challenge. The second half started with the first "hill" of the day, an overpass crossing Luxor Drive. Off in the distance was the fabulous Red Rock Canyon state park, which would have made a great destination, but no, we would be denied this vista - and the view of the finish line many, many times today. After the first overpass it was time for another, this one crossing the freeway. After a few miles down Hacienda Avenue we turned right for what would feel like a thousand times. At first the miles went by fairly quickly thanks to all the bands on the course as well as the cheerleader squads who were there to pump us up. If you start dragging in one of these events just veer over to a cheer squad to get some high fives. It's instant energy.
I was also kept company by another Heavy Medaler, Nicole, a student at UCLA who was also completing her 7th Rock n Roll of the year. In all, I would see or run with three other heavy medalers including Guitar Girl who also completed 7 events, all while wearing a guitar headdress. Nicole and I traded paces from mile 12 through 18 where her youthful energy separated us.
I got another boost of energy starting around mile 15 where I came across Andre, a colleague from work who was there to cheer me on, Android phone at the ready. The second half of this marathon could be best described as a corkscrew since you basically do a series of out and backs and loops along Hacienda Avenue before eventually returning to the strip for the finish. This turned out to be good planning for spectators like Andre for the corner he chose I ran past four times. I needed his enthusiasm and friendly face at each one.
If you haven't toured Hacienda Avenue, you aren't missing much. Behind Mandalay and on the opposite side of the freeway it doesn't provide much to write home about. The area is filled mostly with industrial complexes, body shops and warehouses. The low-light was Dean Martin Drive which borders the freeway but without a sound wall.
What drove me crazy all these final miles was the torturous teasing. Countless times we turned onto Hacienda Avenue heading towards Mandalay Bay and the finish just to be denied that goal with another right turn down yet another industrial road. Thus the importance of the mantra. Seeing the finish before you is a tease but a false one when the mile marker ahead reads mile 19. Eventually, you know you'll be turning away from the finish so mentally it made more sense to count down the miles than look forward.
At mile 25 we made the final turn back onto Hacienda and faced what you hate to face this close to the finish - a hill. To get back to Mandalay we'd have to cross the last two overpasses to get back to the strip. With the 25 sign behind me, I picked up the pace. With just over a mile left, at my new pace, I was 8 minutes from the finish line - the last version of my mantra.
I was passing people on both sides as I ran up the first overpass' incline and was telling my talkative right hamstring to be quiet, this was almost over. I passed more people on the second and final hill, then picked it up a bit more as I rounded the corner onto the strip. What?! Where's the finish! It was nowhere in site. Was this yet another tease? I did read that last mile marker correctly, right? We were now passing in front of Mandalay Bay and I was beginning to think I had picked it up a little too early. But then the course turnede right, into the Mandalay parking lot and there it was - the finish line. I stepped up the pace once again and started seeing familiar faces and hearing my name. I waved to the crowd, my wife Reesa, her best friend Brooke, SMSers Stephanie, Randy, Kari and Regina as I started to sprint. I then thrust my fist in the air as I crossed under the banner. Three hours and 34 minutes later and it was over.
Twelve months earlier this crazy quest had started on a desert road in Arizona. Now, 288.2 miles later complete. What a relief. What a feeling.
I shook hands with Tim, Nicole and several other runners in the finisher's corral, then made my way over to the Give Your Sole booth. This great charity collects lightly-used running shoes for children in Africa and poor countries. I had already given them 3 pairs and with two marathons and two halfs and two 10Ks on these, they were ready to serve another.
With flip flops soothing my sore feet it was time to dance.
I met up with family and friends in front of the stage where the day's winners were crowned and onto the stage came Bret Michaels. And he put on a hell of a show. The former Poison front man pulled out the classics including Talk Dirty to Me, Look What the Cat Dragged In, Every Rose Has Its Thorn, Unskinny Bop which had us swinging and singing. What pain?
That evening we celebrated.
An incredible year - complete.
My great, great thanks to everyone who supported me throughout this endeavor. I really could not have done it without you. Together we raised nearly $12,000 for the fight against blood cancers and raised the awareness of this worth cause.
This season's accomplishments were run in honor of those dealing with this crippling disease.
Father Mason of Haverhill, MA, Kristen, Jim, Doug, Betsy, and all the rest of my honorees, this was for you.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Hi my name is James and I’m a run-a-holic

How do I know this? I proved it early this morning. I had gone to bed at the normal hour after a productive but not too stressful day. But around 3:30 in the morning I awoke to the playful growling of my cairn terrier, Scout. He needed out and must have subtly been trying to wake me for quite a while because by the time I got him downstairs he went immediately. Twenty minutes later I was back in bed staring at the ceiling unable to get back to sleep. And off my mind went, racing through my to-do list for the following day. It also took time to wonder, “hey, why am I wasting time in bed right now, knowing I’ll never get back to sleep?”

My mind does this every once in a while; usually around 4 in the morning. Don’t ask me why. As usual, the urge to get out of bed was winning. It’s very persuasive. While the rational part of my brain was trying to get to sleep while organizing the action items for the next day, the irrational part was scheming. It likes to play “what if” with the rational part of me. I’m not supposed to be running hills right now as I still have a twinge in my quad, a recovering IT band and weak hamstrings. And it’s less than two weeks until the final Rock n Roll Marathon of the year in Las Vegas. My rational priorities are recovery and preparation for that event – and the prep is mostly easy, flat runs.

But the irrational part of my brain knows my weaknesses are hills and the unknown. And it prays on these weaknesses. Living in the San Carlos hills I’m surrounded by awesome hill running. My all time favorite is Water Dog Park and it’s up the road to the North. South is Edgewood Park with its glorious views and awesome roundabout trails. South and west are Pulgas Ridge, Canada Road and at the end of Edgewood Road a fire road I’m dying to try, that heads up the hills to Skyline Road.

It didn’t use any of these to tempt me this morning. Instead it said, “Look, I know you don’t want to do any hills so what if we just run along the Crestview ridge. We’ll take it down to Hallmark, turn onto Ralston and then we can go to Sawyer Camp and watch the sun rise. Awesome, huh?!”

The rational side was intrigued. We have run Sawyer Camp many times and it’s a fantastic destination but we had never run to Sawyer from home. It’s mostly flat and I love running in the early morning before the sun is up. The quiet neighborhoods, the occasional deer wandering the streets and the beautiful city lights make for a tremendous setting. Plus Scout and Annie were sleeping hard and wouldn’t be bugging me to go out until 6:30 or so. Ok, I’m in.

So I quietly stepped into our closet, pulled out some fall-appropriate running gear: Adidas running pants, Nike running shorts and technical shirt and socks and tip toed out of the bedroom. When I got downstairs, I listened to hear if I had disturbed anyone’s sleep and all was quiet. I hit the hall closet for a running jacket, Under Armor knit running beanie, disposable running gloves and my trusty Mizuno Wave Musha 2 running shoes. I strapped on my iPod and was about to head out the door when my wife’s voice entered my head. The much more rational half of our family had only one recommendation for me after my last 4am run -- perhaps I should wear a reflective vest if I’m going to run in the dark? So I took my hand off the doorknob and went to the garage to dig out a reflective vest from the box containing all our gear for The Relay (next one is April 30th. Who’s in?).

All gear on, I tapped the iPod wheel and guided it to the Ultramarathon Man audiobook and we were off. I had been listening to Dean Karnazes’ book, off and on, for a few months now and didn’t have too much left. As I left our cul de sac, Dean was approaching the South Pole to complete his marathon in Antartica. His mask had frozen solid, his cheeks and nose were beginning to show signs of frostbite and his shoes were sinking in the snow. But off in the distance was a red and white striped barber pole marking the bottom of the Earth. He spent a month waiting for the right conditions to do this to his body. I know what you are thinking. No, I’m not that crazy. Addicted but still sane.

Anyways, Dean had recovered from his frostbite and was preparing for his next great challenge, to run The Relay by himself when I hit the end of Hallmark Road in Belmont. I turned onto Ralston and was amazed at its lack of traffic, the calm stillness around me, and the fact that it was still very dark. Streetlights were plentiful though, so I could see where I was going. I headed north toward San Mateo and Sawyer Camp. As I crossed over Highway 92 I looked up to my left and saw the county buildings that lie just up the hill from here and realized I had never been up there, and was curious. So I ran up the road to where they were and found a nice piece of architecture. I now know why I hadn’t ever been up there because I hadn’t the need (and I hope I never do) to visit the county court and lock up. There’s a youth camp and a separate camp for girls up there too, along with the elections office and a motor pool but I don’t need those services either.

Still it was fun to see something new and the main county building is beautifully designed. I was surprised, though, to see cars parked in the visitor spots at this hour. There were a lot of cars here overall, but visitors? I started thinking that maybe people drove to court and it didn’t go so well. Let’s get out of here.

I returned to Polhemus Road and started toward the Crystal Springs Shopping Center and two things occurred to me. First, it was still very early. Sunrise wasn’t for another two hours and if I ran to Sawyer Camp I’d have to hang around a long time to see the sunrise. And they really don’t want you in there before sunrise and Crystal Springs Road doesn’t have the widest shoulders, nor any streetlights. Maybe that wasn’t such a good idea. Second, I had passed a road on the right as I went down Polhemus that I hadn’t been down before and wondered where it went. Come to think of it, I had driven up De Anza road, which goes from the shopping center to Highway 92 but never continued up the road past the freeway. I wonder if these two roads are connected? Let’s find out.

So up De Anza I ran. As I passed the shopping center, Dean was in Marin about 40 miles into The Relay and feeling good. He was being chased by his family in a rented RV. This is how I remember him from The Relay the first year I ran it. In the audiobook I was listening to, he was running it for the first time. The year I ran into him, he had tacked on a few more miles. That year he ran from his house in Marin to Calistoga then ran the whole 199 miles. I passed him that year as we were both struggling up highway 9. For me it was the last of my three legs and I was trucking up the hill. He was, understandably, struggling as it was about mile 214 for him. Dean: crazy. Me: I know what crazy looks like and that’s not me.

I crossed under highway 92 and kept on De Anza charting new territory. I always get this excited feeling when I hit a trail or road I’ve never been on because it’s a new experience and kind of a thrill not knowing where you are. Granted I’ve lived on the San Francisco peninsula for over 15 years so it’s not like I was going to get lost but I really didn’t know if this road would lead me back to Polhemus, then to Ralston. But I was eager to find out.

In the darkness lit only by the occasional streetlight and the city lights bouncing off the cloud cover, the hill was climbing in the correct direction. I started to pick up the pace a bit when it began to rain. It was a light misting and felt good as I was beginning to regret the running jacket, and the beanie was starting to get warm. I’d be glad I brought them about 10 minutes later though when the skies opened up on me.

This happened at an appropriately biblical moment, I thought, as when the rain came pouring down, De Anza had turned into Glendora and come to stop at the Laurelwood Shopping Center. This was definitely not taking me back to Ralston. I was now deep in the heart of San Mateo. Glendora crossed Hillsdale Road. One way would take me to the College of San Mateo where our Team in Training group sometimes works out. The other way wound down towards the mall, and that way I knew how to get home. But it would be a much longer and hillier run than I had planned for. And down came the rain.

I was feeling good this morning and had no choice but to run on. Dean was in San Francisco now, running past a guy dressed to the nines who was walking along the relay path at around 2am. Both were surprised to see each other. The dandy was covered in lipstick and was ending his night. The other was covered in sweat, carrying a bottle of Pedialyte and was more than 24 hours into his run. I looked at my watch – 5:50am. How long was this run going to be?

Running along Hillsdale during the day is a treat, as it’s a long climb with pretty homes lining it on both sides. I was thankfully going down it and in the pale, rainy dawn it looked very peaceful and welcoming. I ran past Laurelwood Park and across a few streets heading West wondering if any of them would take me back to the west end of Ralston which would be an easier way home than what lay before me. I decided to try my luck at Laurel Creek Road but it dead-ended. Rather than run back to Hillsdale I turned and took Fernwood. It was heading roughly the same direction as Hillsdale and I hadn’t run along it before. New. Exciting. Lost.

My instinct was a good one as Fernwood ran into Alameda de las Pulgas taking a few feet off where Hillsdale would have put me. I started up the Alameda when a sinking feeling came over me.

It wasn’t an emotional response to fear or doubt. No, it was a feeling that my running pants were sinking past my waist. I hadn’t chosen the best gear for pouring down rain and now the Adidas pants were weighed down with water. I stopped and redid the drawstring to keep them at my waist and ran on. As I adjusted, I realized that the running jacket I chose wasn’t a rain jacket either and the cold droplets was seeping into me from every direction. The beanie was double-lined and was keeping me dry and warm which was great. I pulled off my soaked gloves, stuffed them in my pockets just as I crested a street corner and dove my running shoes into a large puddle that had newly formed. Great. It was too dark to see it coming and dodge around it. Now my feet, too, were soaked.

Alameda at this point starts a slow climb into Belmont. I’d run this stretch before and biked it during the annual Tour de Peninsula so I knew the way. I tried to stay on the sidewalks but they came and went as I ran. Sometimes they were there along the right side, then ended, then started again on the left. I didn’t feel like playing rabbit and crossing the road unnecessarily so I stuck to what Coach Terry had taught me – run at traffic. This way if they don’t seem to see you, you certainly see them and can take action to get out of the way. Run with traffic and you risk a blow to the back that ends your day quick.

Alameda emerged at Ralston and as I waited for the walk signal I checked my watch. It was 6:30am. The sky was beginning to turn light grey as the day began. Scout and Annie would be up and wandering around the bedroom about now. I better get a move on.

I crossed Ralston and had two choices: climb it back up to Hallmark Drive and go home the way I came, or go straight and face the trek up Club Drive to home. Club is notorious as it’s a long steady, steep climb to Crestview. I’ve come to view it as a fitness test: make it all the way to the top without stopping and I’m ready for my next marathon. I hate running the same way twice, so I opted for Club. Bring on the fitness test.

As I started up Club I was feeling good. The heart was pounding a bit more and my lungs were filling. Dean, by this time was about 40 miles from the finish and was ascending highway 9. My brain immediately jumped to that fateful day in 2003 when he and I were ascending the same stretch. As Dean climbed 9, I climbed Club. Two runners; side by side.

He was downing Pedialyte and peanut butter and honey sandwiches like there was a run on the adolescent ward kitchen and his legs were only mustering a slow shuffle, he revealed. I was feeling strong, just as I had in 2003 but neither of us felt like looking up the hill any further than a few feet in front of us.

As Club crossed Witheridge Road, Dean and I were neck and neck. I was tiring from the endless hill and he, since he was writing in the past tense and thus skipping the boring stuff, was nearing the top of his. Poppy Lane went by and took with it most of my remaining strength. I slowed to a walk. I needed about 30 seconds of recovery time, then ran on to the top of the hill. When I reached Crestview I felt elated as it was nearly 7am and I was less than a mile from home. Dean crossed the finish line in Santa Cruz as I did the same. I stretched a bit reflecting on a great, but unexpectedly long run. The rain had stopped as I was climbing Club and it was shaping up to be a beautiful morning.

The run turned out be to just shy of a half marathon – 12.7 miles. If you care to repeat my adventure, you can find the route here. Who needs sleep when you can have an experience like this to start your day?

See y’all at the Turkey Trot.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Train! No really…train! Runnus Interruptus in San Antonio

Another milestone is down – Rock n Roll San Antonio Marathon, event number 13 for the year, is in the books leaving just a single marathon left between me and history. My quest to run every mile of every 2010 Rock n Roll event in a single year will close December 5th in Las Vegas. Can’t wait. But don’t think I haven’t savored every moment along the way. And San Antonio was certainly no exception.

Reesa and I arrived in San Antonio on Friday afternoon, hit the expo, dropped our bags at the fabulous Omni la Mansion del Rio hotel and headed down to the second-most famous spot in San Antonio – the Riverwalk. The Alamo is certainly destination number one but we had both toured it during our last trip to town. If you go, be sure and look through the rolls of names of those who served in the Alamo and fought the famous battle that led to Texas independence. Yes, Texas was a country before a state and there isn’t a Texan alive who isn’t quick to tell this story. If you find yourself looking through the names, look for my namesake, James Burleson Staten. You’ll find him there and yes, we’re related. I can’t say I’m a descendant of his, though, as he died at the Alamo and left no children.

Reesa and I rushed down to the Riverwalk for only one purpose. The greatest Mexican dessert in the world and we knew at least two places on the river had ‘em – Sopapillas. If you haven’t had these, think Beignets like they serve in New Orleans but larger. And if you get them authentic they aren’t covered in powdered sugar, cinnamon or whipped cream. Nor do they come with ice cream. Real sopapillas are plain puffed dough served with a side of honey. You tear a corner off and pour in the honey, then roll it around so it coats all the sides. Heaven.
After this was the first pre-race concert of the series featuring Rick Springfield. Being 40-something this was a real treat as the now 61 year old Springfield (shocker!) put on a great, high energy show. With the exception of a few wrinkles he still looks like the 30-something heartthrob Reesa and I remembered from our youth in the 80s. The best part was when he came out into the crowd and basically worked is way over the chairs and around the whole orchestra section. Several women in our age group descended into teen-hood following around the rock star breathlessly.

Day two was a reunion of sorts as Michael Mathis, a founding member of SMS, had moved a few years ago to Austin, Texas and works just 40 minutes from San Antonio in San Marcos. We met him for breakfast and truly enjoyed catching up. We miss you Michael and are very happy for your success.

After that we stayed in San Marcos to hit the fantastic Premium Outlets there. This one has stores you can’t find at the usual outlet mall such as Michael Kors, Ferla, Ed Hardy, Kate Spade and a ton of other designers. Retail therapy for Reesa and myself.

That evening we hit another fabulous TexMex place along the river where I had fantastic veggie tacos, a perfect meal to prepare me for the following morning’s run.

Staying at the Omni was a great decision for this event as I got up about 30 minutes before the race start and walked five minutes to the start. I had packed running gear for a variety of situations as the forecast mid week called for thundershowers on Sunday. Turned out the luck of Competitor Group carried forward yet again as the rain slipped off to Sunday night giving us a fantastic running morning. It was overcast, cool and low humidity at the start and stayed that way throughout the race.

We took off at 7:15 am and looped through town past all the historic streets, past the Alamo and over several Riverwalk entrances. Riverwalk snakes throughout downtown but is too narrow for a marathon. Be sure to visit this great attraction if you come to town. It has a little something for everyone: quiet romantic walks with waterfalls, high class restaurants, trendy nightclubs and raucous margarita bars.

At about mile 1 we crossed over a railroad crossing just as its safety bars began to flash and lower across the road. We weren’t sure if this was really happening during a marathon until I got to the middle of the tracks, looked left and stared right into the oncoming lights of a freight train – and it wasn’t inclined to stop for us. And it didn’t. Those running just behind me had to stop and wait for it to pass. And this took about 5 minutes as it was a long train.

The first half of this run was well constructed as it wove through downtown, then out to a neighborhood, then back through downtown giving spectators several chances to see their loved ones. And there was a perfect picture spot where you could shoot runners as they past right in front of the Alamo. One neighborhood in particular was along King William Street. Every other home was an historic Texas estate. Sadly every other home was either in disrepair or for sale (or both). Shows that while Texas is faring well in the recession not all of Texas is handling it the same.

At the split where full marathoners headed out we were sent toward the Mission District, where San Antonio has a string of famous catholic missions. I had been told that this was not very scenic and a bit boring but I have to disagree. The course ran along parks most of the way and crossed the Guadalupe River a few times. At one point, though we ran along the San Jose Burial Park. While beautiful it was a bit morbid. And thankfully I was feeling good at the time and didn’t feel its lure.

The second half was essential a lions tail – out and back with a loop at the end which gave several chances to cheer on your compatriots and to see the elite runners heading toward the finish.
If there was anything lacking along the way, it was a dearth of good bands. Although the rockers at mile 15 took the cake; their lead singer sounded just like Nickelback.

I’ve written earlier about my ongoing injury issues so I thought I’d let you know how the race went along this aspect because I was sincerely worried a week prior. Coming off Rock n Roll Denver, I was still dealing with a sore quad and IT band. I rehabbed through the week but Rock n Roll LA with its net downhill course and occasional ups took its toll. After the race, stretching was agony; especially the quadriceps. With three weeks to prepare for Rock n Roll San Antonio I decided to forgo running entirely concentrate on getting well. But the pain below the knee caused by the quad and IT band kept recurring. I took my foam roller with me on a couple business trips and became religious in its worship. I was walking my dogs, using Reesa’s elliptical machine and stretching every day. But each time I would workout hard it would come back.

In Rock n Roll San Antonio my quad spoke up whenever there was a hill. And when I say hill, I don’t mean San Francisco-style hills. I mean little gradual ups as there really weren’t any worse than that in San Antonio. But they were enough to tax my sore body. Around mile 4 was the worst. My quad, knee and IT band didn’t want to shut up. But eventually they did and I settled into a comfortable 8 min/mi pace, which I held nearly the entire race. After the run, I wrapped my legs in Skins compression tights and used my arms on every stair. Lots of stretching got me back to normal – injured normal that is.

So for the next three weeks I’ll try a similar rehab program: little running, lots of cross-training and lots of foam roller and stretching. The only runs on the schedule are the Applied Materials Turkey Trot in San Jose and the Run Wild in San Francisco. These are on the schedule so I can rack up miles on the New Balance Movement Challenge. I’m in the top ten on their board now and am pushing to win it all as it adds another $25,000 to the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, bringing our grand total for funds raised in 2010 to over $35,000. Thanks so much for your support, encouragement and friendship throughout this crazy quest.

See you in Vegas!!

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

What better place to be a VIP than LA

The gauntlet of half marathons is over and I’m just two events away from my goal of being the first person to complete the entire 2010 Rock n Roll Marathon Series. The final half marathon was a special one for me thanks to San Francisco 49er great Roger Craig and fantastic Southern California fall weather.

After finishing the Rock n Roll Denver marathon I had just six days to prepare for Rock n Roll Los Angeles and my legs weren’t too thrilled with this news. I’ve been nursing sore quadriceps and an IT band for several weeks and they could have used a bit more rest. I took it easy on them that week choosing short hikes with my dog Scout and brief recovery runs over the usual push before an event. And it paid off.

At a Forrester Research conference, the week prior, I had run into a client who works at the same company as Roger Craig who said that the hall of fame running back had access to VIP passes for this upcoming race and could hook me up. He came through midweek when I got an e-mail from Roger confirming this news.

I had seen the VIP tents and roped off areas at prior Rock n Roll events but had not partaken myself. Guess I wasn’t worthy. I was certainly curious about what special treatment Competitor Group provided to the elite runners, celebrities and other important people it invited into these areas and would find out for myself in four days.

The weekend started early Saturday morning when Reesa and I flew down, picked up our rental car and immediately got nostalgic. We both had earned our Master’s degrees from USC and met in a class our first year. And had lived for a short while in Manhattan Beach so made that our first destination. It was only around 9am when we arrived so we stopped into an MB institution, The Kettle, for pancakes and omelets. We then walked down to the pier and along the strand as surfing and beach volleyball got underway as they do nearly every day in this fantastic community.

That afternoon we hit a few other LA hot spots, the marathon expo and then took a long nap. It felt good to get off my feet and rest up for the next day’s race. That evening we headed down to West Hollywood for a fantastic vegetarian meal at Hugo’s on Santa Monica Boulevard. Even if you aren’t a veggie, this place is worth visiting. Creative dishes mixing genres and flavors are their specialty. After the dinner we walked down to Barney’s Beanery, another local institution to watch the final game between the San Francisco Giants and Philadelphia Phillies. In a dramatic 9th inning duel, SF’s Brian Wilson put the tying an go-ahead runs on base before striking out the final batter and sending the Giants to their first World Series since 2002. In typical LA fashion the bar grew silent as the umpire signaled the final out. Dodger fans can’t stand the Giants.

We returned to the hotel on a major high, which made turning in early before the race, a bit of a challenge. Plus all that great food from Hugo’s was making us both feel like stuffed ticks (great image, huh?). I don’t know why it is but no matter the race, I can never sleep the night before. I awoke at 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5:24am that morning – six minutes before my alarm. While the race didn’t start until 7:30am, we had to board a bus from downtown to Griffith Park where the race would start an you never know how difficult it will be to get to the start with over 12,000 people going to the same place.

This was the second Rock n Roll event that bused us to the start and as before, Competitor was very much up to the challenge. I got to the corner of Chick Hearn Court and Cherry Street and there were buses lined up four across and ten deep awaiting runners. I got on immediately, the bus quickly filled and we were off. Thirty minutes later we were at the starting corrals. Great organization.

Since I had 90 minutes to burn before the start of the race, I slowly made my way towards the VIP area in hopes of relaxing a bit and maybe getting some coffee. When I arrived and showed my pass I found a nice spread of fruit, bagels, coffee an other drinks awaiting us. And to the right of the food sat Roger. I had seen him at Rock n Roll San Jose Half Marathon and being a rabid football fan, certainly knew what he looked like. So I walked up confidently, introduced myself and thanked him for the hookup. He couldn’t have been a nicer person. He introduced me to two of his children who were also running in the event – their first half marathons – and took me around to meet others including the president of Competitor Group, as if I were an honored dignitary. Thanks, Roger. I will never forget your incredible hospitality.

The other benefit of being a VIP, in LA especially, is being in the same area as the celebrity runners. Having worked in LA and been around actors and other celebrities before I’m not typically one to get start struck but it was nice seeing Jennifer Love Hewitt, James Mardsen and Jerry O’Connell among the star runners. I’m a big fan of O’Connell’s new drama series on CBS, The Defenders, and told him so. I ran along side Jerry for a short while during mile two; it was his first half marathon and I think he went out a bit fast as I didn’t see him again after that. In the running world there are few celebrities more exciting to see than Deena Kastor and she was here, too.

I started the race along side fellow Heavy Medaler Adam Ricklefs. He too was coming off Rock n Roll Denver and so we both viewed this as a recovery run.

About mile 5 I started feeling really strong and left Adam as I picked up the pace. I had done an 8:15 min/mi pace for the first mile or so – part of the recovery run mentality – but felt up to a bit more after loosening the leg muscles.

The course was a net downhill run from Griffith Park, where the Hollywood Sign and Griffith Observatory make their home, down through a few nice LA neighborhoods, along the Sunset strip and into downtown where the race finished in front of the Staple Center, the home of the LA Lakers.

Much of the course was new territory for me, which made it engaging to visit. The Silver Lake district and Echo Park had some nice parks and interestingly architectured homes. There were a few uphill sections along the way which suit me well and helped me to pass several runners who were unaccustomed. With each mile I felt stronger and upped the pace a bit as I progressed. When we hit mile 10 I was doing under 8 min/mi. This turned out to be the first reverse split half marathon of my career, something I wasn’t sure I’d ever achieve. It was an incredible feeling.

I crossed the line at 1:35, stretched my aching muscles, hugged Reesa (who was a little reluctant due to how sweaty I was – can’t blame her), showered then went down to the VIP tent to greet the other finishers. It was at the finish that VIP status took on its meaning. Competitor laid out a fantastic spread. There were organic breakfast burritos for the early finishers, followed by a fantastic lunch with salad, sliders, pasta and fresh fruit plus beer and wine. Nice.

We closed the day by heading over to the outdoor stage where Neon Trees put on an incredible, high energy show. I knew the band only from their biggest hit, Animal but was blown away by some of their other songs. Lead singer, Tyler Glenn was an adrenaline-filled force on stage – at 10:30am, no less!

Thanks Competitor Group for yet another fantastic experience.

Onward to event number 13 – Rock n Roll San Antonio Marathon.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Rock n Roll Denver Marathon – Please don’t tow my rental car!

The 11th Rock n Roll event of the year is in the bag but it didn’t come without a little added stress – all my fault and all rather dumb moves. But I learned something positive through all this so I guess it was worth it.

As the weekend approached I had some trepidation. After (ok, a bit before) the Rock n Roll San Jose Half Marathon, I had developed an overuse injury. It wasn’t a bad one, it was soreness in my right quad and IT band. I was foam rolling both more than usual, stretching religiously and hoping this effort would let me keep up my normal running routine. It had to. I was nearing the end of the late summer Rock n Roll gauntlet – an event every two weeks that started with Rock n Roll Chicago. Most were halfs with Denver being the sole exception and the gauntlet would end with Rock n Roll Los Angeles Half Marathon a mere week after Denver. So I couldn’t afford to get injured. But with that brutal training schedule it wouldn’t come as a big surprise.

As noted in my race report from San Jose, the injury didn’t affect me in that event, in fact, I felt great the whole way through, including the extra 10 or so miles of coaching that immediately followed. But by the Tuesday after this race, soreness in both muscles had returned. I kept at the recovery routine and, since I was now officially in taper for Denver, I pulled back on the running. But by the weekend run between San Jose and Denver, the pain was back. I quickly called in the big guns – Sports Medicine Institute in Palo Alto for a sports massage and an assessment of the injury. Of course, I was only looking for one answer: “yes, you can run Denver with this injury. It’s minor.” And no, I didn’t bias the therapist (not too much) by prefacing my massage with the need to run Denver.

Thankfully, Victor, was able to determine that the soreness wasn’t major and his healing hands were able to get it back into shape. That and a short session in the SMI ice tank – something to be feared and embraced.

After Victor’s work, I took most of the next week off from running. I had already done the miles and a last push wouldn’t buy me much anyways. Friday I flew into Denver and after a day of client meetings went for an altitude-adjustment run. The first mile or two were brutal. I couldn’t get enough air to my lungs or muscles, it seemed. But as the miles came, so did the oxygen and by 45 minutes in I was feeling great. Well, at least in terms of breathing. My IT band and quad were another story. They kept talking to me through most of the run. Not much more than a twinge to say hello, though; no warning bells, tearing or lightning bolts of pain. And I was really enjoying a gorgeous day in Denver and some great tunes, so I ran on.

That night, however, my quad was more than saying hello. I had flown to Denver without my foam roller and Victor certainly wasn’t available. I was staying with my great friends Steve and Michelle who had a fabulous converted basement that was a Shangri-la of an apartment. I searched the space looking for something that could substitute for my foam roller. Nothing seemed close. I popped open the fridge and found little there either except for a can of Sprite Zero. Hmm. I wonder?

I found an open section of carpet, laid the can on its side and tested it to see if it would hold my weight first, then began rolling. Bingo. While it was harder than my foam roller it gave me a very nice self-massage and the coldness of the can felt great. Instant relief.

The following day I repeated this routine in the morning and to ensure I was fully used to the altitude we went on a short 4-6 mile hike through the mountains behind Boulder. It wasn’t a poles-and-hiking boots jaunt, just an easy hike – I did it in flip flops. Afterward my IT band and quad were back to their chattiness so I reached for the Sprite once again.

During dinner that night, though, both muscles were unhappy and more than happy to tell me so. I Sprite-rolled extra that night and went to bed hoping they would cooperate for the marathon. What choice did I have?

That night, I dressed my chair as usual and planned out the morning, working backward from the 6:55am start. I gave myself 30 minutes for the drive from Lafayette to Denver, 20 minutes to park and 30 minutes to get to my corral, do a few dynamic stretches and be ready for the gun.

I had made a few changes to my plan for this marathon. The first was that I planned to do the event in a different pair of shorts than usual. I normally run my marathons in New Balance or Asics shorts that have two large pockets on the front where I can store my 4-5 PowerGels, some money and my ID. But sometimes the gels bounce around a bit too much and get uncomfortable against my legs. Plus sometimes when I reach into the pocket while running to pull out a gel I get paranoid my ID will fall out. So this time I decided to try a pair of Nike shorts that had a zippered pocket in the back and a small Velcro-sealing pocket on the side that was roomy enough for 3-4 gels. I had also bought a running case for my iPhone 4 and decided to try running with it for the first time. The last couple marathons, I had felt I could have used a bit more constant music during the last 8 miles or so, which can be a slog.

The morning of the race, I was up at 5:20am, washed, applied sunscreen and BodyGlide, hit the Sprite-roller one more time and was out the door at the planned time. The drive to Denver was also exactly as planned leaving ample time to get parked at Metro State and head over to my corral. That was when the backup hit. I got off the highway at Colfax Street and slowly inched over the freeway, a distance of no more than 0.3 miles in 15 minutes. And I had another mile or so to go. This wasn’t good. I saw a few cars cutting over to the right lane to bypass the traffic going into Metro State and chose to join them and try my luck on the Denver streets outside the race closure zone. Street after street had no parallel spots left. I passed two pay lots that were full and began to get a little more stressed. It was 20 minutes to the start of the race and I was still looking for parking. I tried another street, again no parallel spots but two large lots and very few cars. I pulled in after a couple other cars feeling I had found a hidden gem. I got out, went to the pay station and saw, “Reserved Parking. No Public Parking.”

10 minutes to the start and I was running out of options. The folks in the cars in front of me shrugged their shoulders, locked their cars and started for the race corrals. I looked around, next to our lot was a pay lot and it appeared to have a few spots left but then I saw a line 20 deep of runners waiting to pay for their spot. I was in corral 3 and would never make it. I decided to do as those before me had – I shrugged my shoulders and started towards the race corrals. I did lock the car, right?

I got into the corral as the national anthem was being sung and felt my stress level start to rise. Oh no. What if they towed my rental car while I was running the marathon. I had left my wallet in the car (hidden; as was Reesa’s iPad) with my credit cards and ATM card in it. If they towed my car I knew Reesa could get the money necessary to get it out of the pokey but would we have time? We both had flights home that left around 4pm meaning we had to get to the airport by 2pm. I immediately felt my stress level jump another level. I contemplated rushing out of the corral, moving my car and hoping I could jump back into the race with the last corrals and weave my way back up to my pace group. But by then the national anthem was over and the announcer was counting down the start for corral 1. I’d be on the course in less than 3 minutes. Oh well. I reset the chronograph on my watch, moved forward with my corral and crossed over the start line with just one thought, “Man, I hope they don’t tow my car.”

The first mile added to my stress even more because the side pocket of my shorts, weighed down with four gels was bouncing around uncomfortably and the iPhone on my arm was bouncing up and down my bicep in an alternate rhythm. Oh great.

But I quickly forgot about both as the course unfolded. It was a gorgeous morning in Denver. Not a cloud in the sky and the pre-dawn temperature, mid-50s, was perfect. We started out in Civic Center Park and quickly weaved our way through downtown Denver which has some great neighborhoods, eclectic eateries and a mix of modern and rustic buildings and condos. By the time we passed Coors Field where the Colorado Rockies baseball team plays I was immersed in my music and feeling good. So far no word from my quad or IT band and the bouncing on my left and right had settled into something I could get used to.

I held a consistent 8 min/mile pace through the first half and felt good the whole way. I usually eat a gel every 40 minutes which helped lighten the load in my side pocket a bit, but they were a pain to get out as I couldn’t open the Velcro pocket with one hand. I hate to stop when I’m running. Competitor Group served Gu Energy Gels on the course and just as my second gel time came up, there were volunteers holding out a gel. Sweet. This happened nearly right on my 40 minute interval at mile 20 as well.

I finished the first half at 1:45 and had good energy which helped me hold the 8 min/mile pace the rest of the way. The course wound through some great older neighborhoods of Denver, in and out of each city park and out and back a few times so you could see the runners ahead and behind you. The occasional cheerleader group helps supply some needed energy as well as the spectators who saw my name on my shirt and gave me a special cheer. Thanks!

By mile 20 neither my quad nor my IT had said a word, the sun had broken fully above the course and the heat began to rise into the 60s. I welcomed this change because my right hand wasn’t responding well to the morning chill. It was numb most of the way and a bit unresponsive. I had never had trouble squeezing gel from a gel pack before but found it rather difficult with my cold hand. Hope that isn’t a circulatory problem, but being in my 40s, it wouldn’t surprise me.

By mile 22 the bouncing iPhone had become a bit too loose on my arm and I had to stop and adjust the strap. I normally hate to stop because getting started again is tough but no problem in this race. I jumped quickly back up to my pace and rejoined the runners I had been shadowing. The 3:30 pace runner went by but I didn’t let that stress me out – I wasn’t shooting for a PR today. I just wanted to survive this toughest challenge of the Rock n Roll gauntlet.

As mile 23 came along my stress about the rental car returned. Oh no, it was past 10 am and I’m sure the tow truck was up and making its rounds. I swear the stress of this was pushing me during these normally very tough miles. By mile 25 I was plotting how fast I could get from the finisher’s chute to the parking lot to see if my fears had indeed been fulfilled.

Reesa, Steve and Michelle were at the turn at mile 26. I gave them a high five, entered the chute and was all about saving the car. I picked up a bottle of water and some apple slices but immediately left the chute, told my friends what I had done and led them quickly to the lot. Please be there. Please, please please be there.

It took a while to work our way around the finisher’s area and walk the mile or so to the lot and as we turned the corner there it was. Whew. I dropped my Amphipod running bottle, pulled off my Mizuno Wave Mushas, slipped into some flip flops and immediately moved the car to a legal space.

Now I could finally relax. We headed back to the finisher area to see the headliner band, Semisonic. They put on a good show as I stretched and regained my breath. My stress level returned to normal in time to hit a local British brew pub, Pints Pub, for my traditional victory dance. They didn’t have Guinness but did have a nice Irish stout that was a very close second.

Back to Steve and Michelle’s a shower a bit more Sprite-rolling, pizza and relaxation. Now that’s the way to celebrate the completion of number 11.

Thanks to everyone who gave a donation to the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society in September and October. Thanks to you we crossed the $10,000 mark this week! This was a big milestone for me but I’m not stopping there. There’s still time to give, so please make a donation today if you can.

Next weekend is Rock n Roll number 12 and the last of the half marathons – Rock n Roll Los Angeles. I’m looking forward to this as a recovery run as just three weeks later is Rock n Roll San Antonio, the seventh full marathon of the series. Look for more race reports as I move closer to the final goal.

Monday, October 4, 2010

And San Jose makes 10

There's something special about running in front of your hometown crowd and the Rock n Roll San Jose Half Marathon was a special day for all. Personally it was a great run and put me into double-digits for the Rock n Roll Marathon Series. But it was also an official Team in Training (TNT) event for our summer season which meant I had the opportunity, after completing the event myself, to help our many participants cross the line - many for the very first time.

I have been a coach for TNT since 2007 and I keep coming back because there is no greater feeling than helping someone who has never completed an endurance event - some not even a single mile - grow into marathoners and half marathoners. It is always a special day for them and for us on the coaching staff. And we had nearly 30 people cross the line for the first time that day.It's also extra special knowing that collectively our participants helped raise over $150,000 for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society.

The week prior to the event the San Francisco Bay Area was experiencing its Indian summer and San Jose was hitting temperatures in the 90s each day. The Sunday before the race, was 98 degrees and we were starting to worry about how the heat would affect our participants. Our final TNT training run along the Los Gatos Creek Trail gave us a taste of what the event might be like as it sapped the energy of nearly every runner - myself included. Thankfully everyone made it through the day without incident.

However, as the week wore on, the mild sumer that we've had all year slowly crept back in and by midweek a cooling trend was sending forecasts for race day Sunday down into the 80s. Sunday morning turned out to be mid 60s at the start and highs in the mid 70s. And since nearly everyone was off the course by 11:30am, no one felt much heat the entire way.

There were approximately 12,000 runners at the start line. I was granted a spot in corral 1 with the elites running the event, including Olympic Silver medalist Meb Keflezighi who won by a huge margin that day. There's good and bad when you are in the first corral. The good is not having to weave through a horde of runners to get to a comfortable pace and being out in front which is a good feeling. The bad is that you can easily get caught up in the excitement of the first corral and take off too fast, burn through your energy and be left with nothing for the final miles. Thankfully I had already done that in my running career and so knew to avoid that temptation.

The San Jose course was flat, fast and for the most part ran through some very beautiful neighborhoods. We had clear skies the whole way and a light breeze in some neighborhoods. The bands, spread out approximately every mile, were playing inspired, upbeat classics and cheerleader groups from the local schools were well spaced along the course to give you that extra boost when you needed it. They had a new inspiration tactic I hadn't seen on the earlier Rock n Roll events - the cheerleader tunnel. The first group to do this was Los Gatos High School's cheerleaders who at around mile 5 lined up on opposite sides of a narrow section of the course, wide enough for 1-2 runners abreast to go through. With cheerleaders on both sides of this narrow passage a runner could get high fives on both hands as they ran. I couldn't pass this up and for good reason - as it totally pumped me up and I flew through that section of the course.

This technique was a real boost to Kristi, one of our first time half marathoners who at mile 11 ran another cheerleader gauntlet and nearly doubled her pace through them as a result.

While many people might not have a strong impression of San Jose - thinking it's a sleepy San Francisco suburb or, being the heart of Silicon Valley, has very little but high tech companies and office parks - would be pleasantly surprised by this run. It snakes through downtown past The Tech and Children's Museums, through San Pedro Square, home of some great local restaurants, and out through the University neighborhoods where you find wide boulevards, classic big-lawned homes and gorgeous old-growth trees. On the way to the finish you also run past HP Pavilion, home of the San Jose Sharks hockey team. Where was Sharkie!?

The past couple Rock n Roll Half Marathons, I had struggled through miles 11 and 12 as I started to run low on energy but not in San Jose. The weather, all the TNT participants and supporters who lined the course and knowing my beautiful wife was waiting for me that end all served to drive me forward at a steady pace. In fact I was even able to pick up the pace after mile 11 and sprint to the finish line.

Former TNT mentor, Riya, was in corral 1 with me and took off like a rocket at the starting gun. I didn't see her again until the finish. She crossed just ahead of me and we high-fived over a great day where we both registered 1:33.

After navigating the finisher's area, I met up with my wife Reesa switched out of my sweaty race shirt and into a TNT Coach shirt and ran off towards miles 10 and 11 where I could cheer on and run with our TNT participants who were quickly approaching the finish line. I'm normally pretty spent after a half marathon but felt fully energized when I saw our team members approaching. And they all looked great!

Hats off to all the finishers of RnRSJ for a great day and a superb effort.

Rock n Roll San Jose also served as my final long training run before the Dodge Rock n Roll Denver Marathon in just two weeks. There are only 4 events remaining in the 2010 Rock n Roll Endurance Series and it will be a challenging finish. Denver is the first of three full marathons in the remaining four events. The lone half marathon is a short seven days after Denver so even that one won't be easy.

But I can see the finish in site now both in running and fundraising. We topped $8,000 raised to fight blood cancers this week so a huge thank you to all my supporters thus far. But we have just under $2,000 to go so keep the donations coming. If you donated in late 2009 to my cause, it's time to reup now for the 2010 tax season. Please give by clicking the Donate Now link above!