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.