Saturday, March 20, 2010
1st R&R Half is a 1st for all
I'm posting this a bit late due to a heavy work schedule and by no means as a reflection of what I thought of the latest Rock & Roll Endurance event - Dallas. This was a true highlight of the series and my year so far.
There was a particular reason I was looking forward to this event, because I got my undergraduate degree just 35 miles north of here in Denton, Texas. It had been about ten years since I was last up to the campus of The University of North Texas and I was happy to find so much of what I remember was still there and looked pretty much the same. At the time I graduated from there with a bachelor's in psychology in 1989, the total enrollment was about 16,000 students. Now enrollment has more than doubled. There's certainly a collection of new buildings such as the very nice new facilities for the athletic programs but also a leading edge environmental studies building, which is a LEEDs certified facility. There are some new dormitories and other classroom buildings too. I'm looking forward to returning soon and seeing the new football stadium and business school. It was spring break at UNT so not a lot of students were around the day I visited but it was nice to tour the student union where I had spent so much of my time. The Lyceum, where we showed just-out-of-the-theater movies was exactly as I remembered it from my Cinema Committee days. There was a display of promotional buttons from union events in a display case where they happened to have one from my graduation year.
Both the dormitories where I was an RA were also still there and look exactly as I remembered them.
After this trip down memory lane I popped down the freeway to the Dallas Convention Center, site of the Rock & Roll Dallas Half Marathon expo to pick up my race bib and visit the sponsor booths. After dressing my chair that evening I had a light dinner and got a good night's sleep to help me prepare for the race. Race day fell on the same day we in the US spring our clocks forward an hour, so I set mine early so I'd not miss the start.
Race day required a short drive down to Expo Park, the finish line area. You may know this park as it's the site of the Cotton Bowl and the annual Texas State Fair, which was featured on Oprah last year. I say short drive as the mileage is short but with over 9,000 runners all arriving at the same hours, the traffic backup made it not so short. After nearly an hour I was finally able to park my car and from here buses took us over to the start, which was just south of downtown in front of Dallas City Hall and the convention center.
Some of you might recognize City Hall, at least part of it as it was CGI enhanced into the headquarters of OCP in the movie Robocop. Between City Hall and the convention center is a fantastic bronze sculpture of a cattle drive. Each longhorn steer and both cowboys astride their mustangs were beautifully crafted and a few of the cows were even portrayed crossing a stream. Very impressive.
It was a cold morning of what would become an absolutely gorgeous day in Dallas. temperatures were in the high 40s as we waited for the starting gun. I was in corral 1 which allowed me to start out with a strong pace and not worry about having to weave through slower runners -- everyone was either running at my pace or faster.
The Dallas Cowboy cheerleaders made an appearance at the start and after a nice rendition of the national anthem by a local country singer we were off on what turned out to be a completely gorgeous course.
We started strong running through south downtown past the old Dallas courthouse, a beautiful red brick building and through John Daley Plaza, the site where President John F Kennedy was shot. We turned right in front of the Old Book Depository building which houses a museum to the JFK shooting on its 6th floor, and past the infamous grassy knoll.
As we passed the first mile marker I looked down at my watch which said 6:24. A strong pace; but perhaps a bit too strong. But I felt good and attempted to just pull it back a bit. We rounded a turn and there was American Airlines Arena, home of the Dallas Mavericks NBA team. We passed a collection of very nice condo buildings in this area, then up a short hill and into the Lakeside neighborhood. This is the neighborhood in which Mavericks owner Mark Cuban and Cowboys owner Jerry Jones lives and, wow! These mansions are incredible. Enormous, stately manors lined both sides of Lakeside Drive which has, as you'd expect, a small lake running down the middle.
Gawking at these symbols of excess brought my pace down a bit to 6:45 per mile but I still felt very strong and if I could hold this pace all morning I might just break the 1:30 mark. My fastest half marathon was 4 years ago in Santa Cruz, a time of 1:31.
After Lakeside we hit a second hill and headed into the also posh neighborhood of Highland Park. More gorgeous homes but more realistic in side and splendor. After this it was over to Mockingbird Lane through yet another neighborhood filled with pretty homes.
I crossed the halfway mark at 42 minutes which put me on pace to break 1:30, but could I hold it.
After the Mockingbird neighborhood a volunteer said "it's all downhill from here," and down we went headed into east Dallas through more historic neighborhoods and started the swing down toward Expo Park. I was still holding a very strong pace and using the other runners around me as motivation to hold that pace and keep pushing.
At mile 10 I was under 1:10. If I held a 7 minute pace I'd beat my best time to date. But could I hold it. I was getting tired, but was chanting "hold the pace, hold the pace."
We entered the park at mile 12 and my watch showed 1:22. I could break my PR. I just needed to hold on. Thankfully there was a young woman running just in front of me who must have been shooting for a similar goal as she stepped it up a touch and I laser focused on her and did the same. We passed in front of the Cotton Bowl and were cheered on by the The University of Texas Longhorn Marching Band. Go, baby, go!
The final course band was around the next turn and were playing The Rolling Stones' Can't Always Get What You Want. The woman running in front of me shot them a mean look as if to say, "Why would you play that song today? And at this moment?" She and I both knew we could and would today. If we could just hold the pace.
We could now hear the announcer and the 13 mile marker just ahead. We both picked up the pace knowing we had little left to run and wanted to leave it all on the course.
Final clock time: 1:28:45. A new PR!
And on an inaugural course, no less. Sweet!
Making things even sweeter, my family and that of my best friend from college were there at the finish line. After a bit of stretching and recovery we embraced, high fived and headed off to brunch to celebrate.
The event finished with a fantastic celebration concert by Better Than Ezra held in the fairgrounds. They sounded fantastic. Their concert didn't start until noon, which was about 60-90 minutes after most people had finished the race so they unfortunately performed before a smaller than ideal crowd but they showed no sign of disappointment. They put on a fantastic show keeping up the string of fantastic Rock & Roll Endurance Series concerts. Thanks for these awesome bands, Competitor.com!
We didn't learn until the following day that a 32-year-old man from Dallas, who was a former Texas Tech baseball player had crossed the line just 15 minutes after I had, then collapsed and died right there at the finish line. Appears to have been yet another undiagnosed heart condition. The news of his passing cast a dark cloud over an otherwise fantastic day.
3 Rock & Roll events down. 2 PRs, 3 concerts and so far, health and happiness are in place.
Up next: The Country Music Marathon in Nashville, TN on April 24.