Saturday, April 24, 2010

Country Music Marathon - a humbling experience

Just finished Rock & Roll race #4 and have to say, it was a doozy of an experience. I was humbled by nature, the course and being a bit lax with my training.
The weekend started with an ominous weather forecast that projected severe thunderstorms for Saturday.

By Friday these predictions were proving to be rather accurate and Competitor Group had to devise a contingency plan as the storms were showing lots of lightning activity and possibly tornadoes. Definitely not something you want the nearly 32,000 runners signed up for the event to be stuck in.
The plan leveraged the design of the course. There were two places where race organizers could re-route marathoners in case the weather turned nasty and that's exactly what it did.
After picking up my bib at the expo Friday after work ended, I took some time to tour downtown Nashville. It's the state capitol and has some great, historic buildings. I knew I'd be seeing these sites during the race but they would go by fast. That night, Jen, Jocelyn and Debbie, all alumni from our Bay Area Team in Training group, and I got together for BBQ on Broadway street, which is the main drag in Nashville. This is a great place to go at night as it is filled with nightclubs and there's live rock and country music pouring out of each club. We ate at Jack's BBQ and had traditional Tennessee, Texas and Kansas City tastes, all for under $20 each. Excellent stuff.

As usual, I couldn't sleep the night before the race, but this night in particular we had the extra worry over the weather. It looked like the first storm would hit at midnight and be swept out of the area by around 5am. Turned out to be correct and so we opted to walk to the start line from our hotels.

The start was in Centennial Park, south of downtown where Vanderbilt University is located. The park has a life-size replica of the Greek Parthenon that made for a very appropriate backdrop for this event, as 2010 is also the 2500th anniversary of the marathon - or at least the fabled run by Phiddipedes from Marathon to Athens to announce victory by the Greek army.

When the race started it was a gorgeous morning. Blue sky was everywhere with just a small scattering of clouds. It was muggy which was about the only foreshadowing of what was to come.
We began by running past Vanderbilt and into downtown, then headed south to music row. This is where many of the Nashville recording companies have their offices including Sony Records who has the current hottest country star - Carrie Underwood -- and Chrysalis Records who I remember as the label for many of the bands I listened to as a kid growing up in Texas.
On the way out of music city row a spectator cracked me up when he said, "You're less than a mile from the nekid people, so keep goin'." By this, he meant a bronze sculpture at the end of the street called "Musica" that symbolizes the power of music to free our souls.
Nekid people - gotta love the south.

We then worked our way down Rosa Parks Blvd. and out to a nice park and paved trail that ran along the Cumberland River. Very scenic and serene. But by mile 17 I was starting to tire.
One thing you should know about the Country Music Marathon that the course profile doesn't really give you a good sense for - it is very hilly. None of the hills are very steep but the hills keep a-comin'. Here is where my training failed me.

Since the Dallas Marathon I concentrated mostly on distance training and keep up my mileage - I failed to incorporate hill training in my regime. It's a stupid mistake because I love hills and normally make them a big part of my program but I think I got a little complacent, feeling that the constant cadence of races in the Rock & Roll series would serve as my long runs and basically keep me trained up. Dumb. There was a big gap between Dallas in early March and Nashville in last April. I did do the miles but I think too early. I did my 20 miler - the gorgeous SF to Tiburon run - 4 weeks before Nashville and I think that was too long a taper.
After mile 17 I just couldn't hold my pace and with each hill I grew more and more weary. I knew there were hills but thought they would be mostly over by mile 11. Nope. They came about every 2-3 miles. The one at mile 20 really sapped me and the remaining miles would be a slog. They were also tough because there were very few people out cheering along this portion of the course and we had to pass the finish area knowing we had 6 mile left. While difficult, this portion of the course was very pretty. It went into Shelby Park and around some ball fields. There was a very pretty lake here with a stone bridge in the far distance.
All through mile 20 the skies moved from clear to grey and were now turned darker and darker. As I turned around in Shelby and started to head back toward the finish the rain began but was very light at first. However by mile 24 it was coming down more steadily and it was clear it was heading in a bad direction. At this point, the race organizers and Nashville police chose to step in and started to re-route marathoners from the mile 20 point directly back towards the finish. There were a few very disappointed runners, obviously but this was clearly the right call. And I applaud the cops for their stern approach. One got in front of an obstinate runner and said, "It's either back toward the finish or jail. You're choice." The runner turned around.
From mile 25 on the rain just escalated from here. With 0.3 of a mile to go I looked over the river towards downtown just as a lightning bolt struck the AT&T building.
That's less than a mile from the finish.

As soon as I saw LP Field I found a bit more speed knowing I was almost there and wanting to get in before the rain got much worse. As I entered the corral I heard a spectator call out my name, turned and there was Alex, also an alum from our Bay Area Team in Training team. He had finished the half and stuck around to cheer us on, despite the rain. Good to see him.
Between the finish and now (Saturday afternoon) the weather just went from bad to worse, then much worse.
I got back to my hotel before the rain started making it difficult to even see across the street, but that happened right outside my window. Lightning strikes in the Nashville area escalated from here recording over 850 strikes between 1:10 and 1:15pm - yep, that's a 5 minute timeframe. Doppler radar showed a string of clouds over the Nashville area that were showing rotation but none so far had turned into Tornadoes. Mississippi wasn't so luck as 5 tornadoes had already touched down there - and the storm that created those was coming our way.
After showering and slipping into a pair of Skins recovery tights - what a feeling! - and downing a PowerBar Recovery Bar, I got a call from my wife back in California who was super excited as she was able to watch me finish the race - live from the web site.
I had no idea they had added this capability - so cool! Hope they have this for all the rest of the Rock & Roll series.

Oh yeah, many of you know I'm not a big fan of country music so I wasn't sure about the band-per-mile on this run. Well out of all the bands playing on the course only 4 of them were playing country music. Everyone else was playing rock or folk. Sweet!

Next weekend is The Relay - a 199 mile team race from Calistoga, CA to Santa Cruz. This will serve as my recovery runs from Nashville. Wish us luck. We're team #4 "Are You There Yet?/SMS" and we're sponsored by PowerBar.
After The Relay you can bet I'll be revising my training program in preparation for Rock & Roll San Diego in June. While it's not as hilly as Nashville, to quote The Who, I won't be fooled again.

Thanks to all of you who have supported me thus far through my quest to complete the entire 2010 Rock & Roll Endurance Series. We've raised over $6,000 thus far but I have at least $4,000 to go. If you haven't made a donation yet, please follow the Team in Training Donate Today link at the top of my blog today!

Special thanks also to my sponsor PowerBar for all the nutrition and empowerment they provide.