Monday, September 20, 2010

Philadelphia RnR: A perfect day in a lovely city

I entered Rock & Roll number nine with a bit of trepidation. It wasn’t due to the course as that would turn out to be flat and fast. It wasn’t due to the weather which could not have been more perfect. In fact, we have yet to have a more perfect weather day for any of the Rock & Roll events this year. It was mid 60s at the start, warmed up into the low 70s but thanks to a fantastic tree-lined course the wound past Boathouse Row we were covered in shade nearly the entire back ten. It wasn’t due to the distance. While no half marathon should be taken lightly, I was well prepared and in the end would have a good run and a strong finish. It wasn’t lack of sleep either, although that might have been suspected had we shared the same Friday before.

The week leading up to the Rock & Roll Philadelphia Half Marathon was a tough travel week. After working from home Monday morning I was at the airport that afternoon for a flight to Dallas. The following morning was a customer event and speech on cloud computing, followed by a flight to Boston. Day three started with a short but enjoyable run along the banks of the Charles River then a full day of collaboration with my colleagues in Cambridge, then another evening flight, this time to Chicago. Thursday was another customer event and speech followed by client meetings just outside Milwaukee. Not expecting my day would end in Wisconsin I had booked a flight from O’Hare to Philadelphia and found my meetings ended too late to catch the last flight from Milwaukee, so I rushed to O’Hare just in time to face delays that stranded me there for nearly 4 hours. It was close to 2 in the morning when I finally got to sleep in Philadelphia. Six hours later I was back in front of clients. I made it through most of the day in good spirits and few signs of fatigue but was on empty when my 3pm conference call started. A sleep deficit that had started to build up Monday night had finally caught me.

Thankfully no appointments or deadlines loomed on Saturday, so that night I got mostly caught up.

You might also guess my trepidation was for the pace of Rock & Roll events. Since Virginia Beach, the next several Rock & Roll events have been coming steadily every two weeks - Phillie just 14 days from Virginia, San Jose two weeks later, Denver (a full) two weeks after that, then Los Angeles the following weekend. No, it wasn’t for this reason I was a bit on edge – and had it been, I’d be in real trouble come October.

No, my trepidation was caused by a nagging pain in my back and hip. On top of the ever-escalating Rock & Roll event schedule, I was engaging in longer and longer runs during the off weekends preparing for Rock & Roll Denver, the next full marathon since Seattle. Last weekend included an 18 mile run through San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park and 6 the following day through Edgewood Park and Emerald Hills in Redwood City. Prior to these runs I had gone to visit a sports medicine clinic recommended to us Team in Training coaches and in response to my back issues they had given me an adjustment which, they said would be acknowledgeably sore. I hadn’t anticipated when it would become sore, however.

You would think this would rear up after the appointment or after the 18 mile run. No, while my back did say hello prior and a bit after the weekend runs it didn’t decide to grab my attention until my Friday in Philadelphia. And it kept saying hello all through Saturday. The pain was worse than when I had visited the clinic and despite doing exercises throughout the week to strengthen my back and core, it was protesting mightily. Sitting still seemed to hurt, as did sleeping. Walking and running felt better so I spent my Saturday touring the historic district of Philadelphia.

I took in two great highlights all should see on your next visit. The first was the relatively new National Constitution Center. This building at the far end of Independence Mall from the first capital of our nation is an education and discovery center about the founding of our nation and it sheds light on the backstory of the document that guides our government to this day some 223 years later. I learned some very interesting things about its creation, struggles for ratification and evolution.

The second is the City Tavern. This pub, opened in the 1760’s still stands today serving some of the same fare shared by (and created by) our forefathers. I stopped in for a pint of porter that was crafted from a recipe borne by George Washington. Tasted like America’s Guiness.

Friday evening was the worst of the pain. Walking around all day on Saturday helped but as I headed for bed, I was rather nervous about the race as I hadn’t attempted a run of this length with such back pain before. And now the pain had radiated down to my right knee as well. In fact if I slept on my side with my left knee resting on my right, the pain from this weight would wake me to move positions. Not good.

At the half marathon expo, I received a free packet of Mission Pain Relief lotion and slathered it on my sore hip down to the knee prior to walking around all day Saturday. This definitely seemed to ease the pain but I was worried.

Saturday night’s dinner took my mind off the pain, though. Johanna from our North Peninsula TNT team invited me to join her for dinner in Wilmington, Delaware with one of her personal honorees, Karen. A former colleague when Johanna worked at DuPont, the then largest employer and land owner in Wilmington, Karen had gone in for a routine mammogram through which the doctors discovered stage 1 lymphoma. Having caught it so early, Karen had been treated early and is now looking in the rear view mirror at her chemotherapy cycle. Don’t skip those mammograms, ladies.

Saturday night, after a truly tasty Malaysian dinner and great conversation, I returned to my hotel and busied myself dressing my chair, prepping my PowerBar Endurance drink and setting my alarm. Thankfully Sunday’s race didn’t start until 8 am and I would be able to sleep in a bit; a good thing, because I clearly was still running a sleep deficit from the week of travel.
When I awoke Sunday morning my back protested the movement and my knee resisted all fast movements. Uh oh. I proceeded to wash up, lather Body Glide on the sensitive areas and prep for the run. Each activity loosened up my knee and back. I walked to the start, passing the historic City Hall with William Penn looking off into the distance from his multistoried perch. We then passed through Logan Circle and past the fountains where many runners stopped for a picture under the Love sculpture. The start would take me back in front of my hotel on Market Street then back the way we came down Arch. Curiously, the street one-over from Arch is Race, not sure why we didn’t take that one.

At the start of the race I took it easy going out at a 7:15 pace and have to confess was listening intently for protests from my back and knee. They were there but faint. After the loop back to Logan Circle the course passed through Museum Row, the Free Library and headed out to Boathouse Row. This is a wide boulevard with boathouses on the left facing the river and trees overhanging the path for the full length. It created a fantastic setting for a run.
There weren’t as many bands along the course as on most Rock & Roll events (nothing like Virginia Beach) so there were long stretches of quiet. I might have enjoyed having my iPod with me but there was plenty of scenery and competitors to keep my mind going. What didn’t fill my mind any longer were calls of protest from my back or knee. In fact, they both seemed pretty happy right now and I was still holding roughly a 7 minute pace. Around mile 8 we crossed a bridge to the other side of the river affording great views of the water and the front sides of the boat houses. Trees lined this wide boulevard too so heat never became an issue.

At mile 10 I felt a surge of energy as did many around me and the pace seemed to pick up collectively. We passed the gentle waterfall in the river then saw behind it the Museum of Art where Rocky had ascended the staircase in the classic original film. Seen now from behind, the museum sits on a perch of rocky cliffs that have been lashed by the river waters for years creating a majestic pedestal for the building. After passing by here the mile 12 marker went by and again I surged the pace. I passed this market with 1:21 showing on my watch. I held the pace until the finish line was in view, then sprinted the final tenths. 1:34. Just barely.

Congratulations all around then the 1.5 mile walk back to my hotel. I was filled with accomplishment and was taking in the remains of a completely gorgeous Sunday morning. Small whispy clouds were in the bright blue sky.

I got back to my hotel room which was as dark as night and as I saw the inviting bed, fatigue overcame me and I was out. Hip and knee pain? Gone.

While I won't attest to running being the cure that I needed, it certainly seemed to help. Sunday night I tossed a turned a bit due to back pain but nothing like the prior Friday. I think I'm on the mend. No more visits to that sports clinic, though.


I plan on getting plenty of sleep the next two weeks before Rock & Roll San Jose. And will spend some extra time with the foam roller to get my hip and knee (and the muscles that link them) back to a happy place. Nagging injuries are common in runners especially when you combine lots of running with lots of work stress. I don’t recommend it, but if this sounds like you, take care to stretch and get lots of sleep.

Nine Rock & Roll Endurance events down, five to go.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Virginia Beach knows how to Rock

Rock and Roll Marathon Series event number 8 is in the books and Virginia Beach was a great host. It was kind of the trip from hell for me but once I got to the beach all was good.

As with most of my RnR trips this year, I combined work – client consulting and visits – with the trip but had lots of snafus at the beginning. First off, my work laptop died the day before this trip and I had to send it back to my company to be reimaged. Which normally wouldn’t be a big deal as I back up my work files at home and could grab my trusty MacBook Pro. However, despite it being able to reliably connect to the corporate network over the past several months, it and the VPN decided to part ways when I got to SFO for my flight. The Mac isn’t fully supported by our IT department (neither is Windows 7 which was also on my Mac via Bootcamp) so I was hosed. And to make matters worse, when I got to DFW for my layover and found an outlet to recharge the Mac I found no power supply. I had left it plugged into the outlet in my home office. Not a good start to the week as I had deadlines looming and needed to be productive on the flight to Washington, DC. Oh well.

Got a replacement power supply the next day and had some great meetings with clients but luck struck back at me again when I left one of the afternoon meetings and couldn’t find my Oakley Half Jacket sunglasses. We called back to the client, they couldn’t find them either. Ugh. And I had just bought replacement lenses for them.

Things calmed down a bit from there. Until that evening’s weather report showed that Hurricane Earl was headed our way – right at Virginia Beach. Thankfully it didn’t plan to stay long. It brushed the coast line about 2 am Friday morning and was on its way to Boston by that evening. Virginia Beach reported some crazy early morning waves and showers but was gorgeous by the that evening and reported clear skies for the weekend.

Of course, the drive to Virginia Beach would be another story as it was Labor Day weekend and everyone was heading out of the Washington area for a last summer fling. My last meeting ended at 2:30 pm and I promptly plugged Virginia Beach into the Garmin and was off, hoping I’d beat the rush. For the most part this plan worked out. The first hour was all 20 mph and bumper to bumper but cleared shortly after that to freeway speeds. I lost about 10 minutes along the way when my GPS tried to get me to take an HOV lane from highway to highway. When I skipped this option (and the $395 ticket I surely would have received given how the rest of the week went) she persisted to try and turn me around and take that damn HOV onramp. I finally found the signs for the rest of us to switch freeways and I was off.

Arriving at Virginia Beach was a very welcome relief. It was around 8 pm when I got there and was still light outside. The beaches looked gorgeous and tons of people were out strolling the boardwalk. I dropped my bags at The Cavalier, a circa 1920 classic hotel (where the elites were staying as well, BTW) and headed down to join all the beachcombers.

Coinciding with the Rock and Roll Virginia Beach Half Marathon was a music festival featuring live bands on 4 stages up and down the beach. Headlining that night was Camper von Beethoven, a throwback to my youth. I caught a couple of their songs before hunger got the best of me.

For those that aren’t following me on Twitter or Facebook I’ve decided to try being a vegetarian for at least the month of September so I passed on all the burger and seafood joints (very hard to do in a beach town) and found a great little restaurant called Eat and had their vegetarian lasagna. It was a great surprise as it wasn’t your typical heavy meal with tomato sauce and cheese but a baked stack of pasta, then fresh tomato, then fresh zucchini, then cheese and another layer of pasta. This continued two more rounds and it was delicious. Highly recommend Eat if you get to this town.

Saturday started with a swim in the indoor Olympic-sized pool at The Cavalier. This was a total treat as it was a classic pool surrounded by verandas so you could watch the swimmers. I rarely get treated to a hotel with full Olympic distance and well marked lanes, so I took it.

After that I walked down to the best breakfast place in town (or so a few locals told me) Pocahantas Pancakes. At 8:30am it was packed and I spent the morning sharing a table with a couple who have lived in Virginia Beach for 48 years. Wow. They had great stories about what it was like before the Chesapeake tunnel was built (“it was a two-day trip from Norfolk to the beach”) and the days when The Cavalier was the toast of the town.

Next up was the Half Marathon expo and some relaxing time at the beach. Heaven. That evening it cooled down nicely to about 70 degrees and I was itching to run so I decided to see more of Virginia Beach than just the boardwalk and the course which I would see Sunday. It was a perfect night for running and the city has bike trails everywhere. I certainly understand why this is a such a hot destination for regional tourists.

Virginia Beach was celebrating its 10th running on its half marathon this Sunday and thanks to its partnership with Competitor Group it celebrated with nearly 19,000 participants. Several elites came to run the course as well, including Constantina Dita the reigning Olympic gold medalist in the marathon.

The sun broke over the hotels just as the starting gun went off and we ran straight into it the first half mile, then turned south through town. The course was mostly flat and beautiful. It ran down into a gorgeous tree-lined nature preserve, past some stunning waterfront homes and on two loops through famous Camp Pendelton. After this, it worked its way back to town. There were lots of places where the course ran back onto itself allowing you to cheer on other runners and check out their form and style. Especially noteworthy was a guy running in a Yogi Bear costume and a couple TNT volunteers dressed as a parrot and a cowboy riding a dodo bird. That was especially original.

I say Virginia Beach really knows how to rock because of the bands. Where most of these events have a band per mile, Virginia Beach had about 16 bands on the course and a string of bands playing at the finish, then an evening celebration concert (free to all runners) featuring Pat Benatar and REO Speedwagon. I have REO Speedwagon-aversion so I got out of there Sunday afternoon.

Weather wise, Virginia Beach shined as well. It was in the low 70s at the start of the race and shady roads and a coo ocean breeze kept the temperature perfect. I didn’t have a perfect running day but I’ll take a 1:39 finish.

Another great Rock and Roll adventure is behind me. Six more events to go and the next few are every two weeks starting with Philadelphia. Wish me luck.