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 Competitor.com 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!