Sunday, December 12, 2010

Reflecting on a grand achievement

About this time of year I started spreading the word that I planned a crazy feat for 2010, to run every event in the Competitor.com Rock n Roll Marathon Series. Well here I sit, 12 months later having completed this crazy objective and ready to reflect on what was a wonderful experience.

In December 2009, Competitor had just announced its final events for 2010 -- Rock n Roll Los Angeles Half and Rock n Roll Denver Marathon -- bringing the series up to 14 events. Having run no more than five marathons in a single year I wasn't sure I was up to adding three more and tacking on 6 half marathons to boot, but was bound and determined to try. But I certainly wasn't going to do this alone or just for myself. I knew this would be a great way to spread the word about my love for running, encourage others to give it a try and to promote healthy living. But the higher cause was to help spread the awareness about blood cancers and the need for more research, support and funding. So I set a second goal, to raise $10,000 for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society.

I'm proud to say that I not only survived the series but set two personal bests in the marathon and the half, exceeded my fundraising goal with over $11,000 collected and made it through the year mostly injury free.

The series provided some incredible highs and very few lows. I met some great members of the running community and dodged some harrowing weather. Here's a look at the highlights from the year that will hopefully provide some inspiration for your future experiences. I highly recommend putting a few Rock n Rolls on your calendar of events.

There are plenty of reasons to run Rock n Roll marathons such as:

Reason #1: The courses. Each Rock n Roll event is a fantastic tour of the host cities. Competitor does a great job of taking you past all the highlights so you really get a feel for these cities. But of course, they leave you wanting more and there's no better way to recover from a tough run than to walk around the city - in compression tights of course.

Best Marathon - Mardi Gras Marathon (Run it Feb. 13, 2011). Its hard to top a run through the Big Easy. The new course, changed to accommodate a 3-fold increase in participants in 2010 was a fantastic tour of the city going through all the famous districts, past Tulane University and finishing in a fantastic park. The city shows itself off beautifully and how can you go wrong with so many fantastic restaurants, hotels and music halls to help you celebrate.

Runner Up - Country Music Marathon (Run it April 30, 2011). Like Mardi Gras, Competitor set up a fantastic course that really showed you all the big sites near downtown. I especially loved seeing Music Row where all the record companies were located. Downtown is beautiful and its party central after you cross the finish line. We had some exciting weather last year, which should mean smooth sailing for 2011.

Best Half Marathon - Rock n Roll Dallas (Run it March 27, 2011). This was a first-time event in 2010 and at first, having lived in Dallas when I was younger, I had to say I was skeptical about how good this could be. But Competitor really found a course that shows off Dallas better than I could have imagined. The course passes by all the best sites, the old historic neighborhoods and finishes at the Cotton Bowl. The course is fast, mostly flat and very festive. Despite a tragedy at the finish line, they couldn't have had a better inaugural year.

Runners Up - Rock n Roll Virginia Beach & Philadelphia (Run them Sept. 4 and 18, 2011, respectively). These two events stand out for different but similar reasons. For Virginia Beach, how can you argue against an event that starts and finishes along the gorgeous eastern seaboard. With waves crashing to your right, a fantastic little surf town and a tour through Camp Pendleton, how can you go wrong. Plus the music festival going on all that week makes it worth an extended stay. Phillie gets props for being, well, Phillie. Its a fantastic town with a great spirit and the course really shows it off, especially Museum Row.

Best marathon course to run a half: Rock n Roll Seattle (run it June 25, 2011). For some reason it seems there are always more people signed up for a half marathon if that same event is also a marathon. Maybe its aspirational, in that if you can complete the half there, you can shoot for the full the next year. Well some events (and some runners) are very different their second 13.1 miles. Seattle is a good place to run half way because the front 13 are a great scenic tour of the Pacific Northwest. You wind through pretty little tree-lined towns and past a vast lake before a tour of downtown Seattle and the finish near the home of the Seattle Mariners and Seahawks. It's not a PR course, necessarily but a great experience.

Reason #2: To Set a PR. A lot of people might tell you that if you want to set a PR you should avoid the big races because the crowds can slow you down. That's true if the start isn't well coordinated and if the course isn't well designed. That was never true of any Competitor event - and I ran them all. Competitor has clean starts down to a science. They break each race start down into corrals based on your expected finish time and for the most part, I rarely found myself weaving though slower runners. At the very biggest events, such as Rock n Roll Las Vegas you may take a bit more time to get to the start line but the timing chips they use are very accurate. Not every Rock n Roll marathon is good for a PR.. A few are rather hilly, like Rock n Roll Los Angeles and the Country Music Marathon. And weather can sometimes be an issue as it was in the Country Music Marathon, Rock n Roll Chicago and almost was at Rock n Roll Virginia Beach.

Best course for a PR: Marathon - PF Chang's Rock n Roll Arizona (Run it Jan 16, 2011). This is a flat, fast, low altitude course with some nice scenery and awesome bands. If you use winter to rehab, interval train and prep for the coming marathon season then you will be ready to run fast through the Phoenix downtown area. I know because I did. Great way to start the year.

Best course for a PR: Half Marathon - Rock n Roll San Jose (Run it Oct. 2, 2011). It's my hometown half marathon and I set a PR here its inaugural year. It was the first RnR event I'd run at that time and was surprised at how pretty the course was. This year was special because so many of my TNT and SMS friends were running it and the bands and cheerleaders along the course were just the best.

Reason #3: The Bands. Competitor's marathons are best known for having lots of bands along the race course which definitely make the events more festive but recently the company has become known for the headliners it bring in as well and they mostly perform right at the finish line. And we're not talking no-name headliners either. Main stage acts in 2010 featured Bret Michels (Rock n Roll Las Vegas), Rick Springfield (Rock n Roll San Antonio), Sister Hazel (Mardi Gras Marathon), Big Bad VooDoo Daddy (Rock n Roll San Diego) and Semisonic (Rock n Roll Denver).

Best band - Cowboy Mouth at Mardi Gras Marathon. If you haven't heard of these guys seek them out. They are an old school party band and just reached out and grabbed us and demanded to be loved. Their lead singer, drummer Fred LeBlanc is a total showman and no matter how bad your legs may have felt you couldn't help but dance around.

Runner up - Neon Trees at Rock n Roll Los Angeles (Run it in costume on October 30, 2011). I had only heard one song from this alt rock band prior to this event and you just can't tell from the radio how amazing this band is in concert. Their lead singer, Tyler Glenn reminded me very much of Michael Hutchence of INXS - massive kinetic energy and emotion on stage. Highly recommend seeing one of their shows.

Reason #4: The Bling. Who doesn't like to receive a big, heavy piece of brag-worthy hardware when they cross a finish line. And Competitor rocks some of the biggest, heaviest medals of them all. And they are the pioneers of progressive medals. After your first event in 2011 you become eligible for their Heavy Medal series which rewards you with medals for completing combinations of events throughout the year. If you are crazy like me you can try to collect them all. Last year the highest medal went to any person who completed 7 Rock n Roll marathon events in a single year. Expect them to up the ante in 2011 when the series goes from 14 events to between 18 and 20.

Best single event medal - Rock n Roll San Diego (run it June 5, 2011). This is the event that started it all and of course you'd expect it to have the best medal and it was. It's hard to top a big 1.5 pound depiction of surf and sand.

Best Heavy Medal - Rock Legend. It's shaped like the head stock of an electric guitar, it weights nearly 3 pounds, requires two anchor points to attach around your neck and signifies 7 Rock n Rolls in a single year.

Reason #5: The Unexpected. I guess you could say this is a possibility at just about any race but I recommend the Rock n Rolls even when this happens because of their professionalism and experience. We had three unique incidents in the 2010 season but all were handled with grace and understanding. When you put on so many races in a single year you'd think the staff would burn out and crack under the pressure but somehow Competitor always manages to perform like, well, rock show roadies, making it all come together.

Tragedy struck at the finish of Rock n Roll Dallas in the form of an unexpected death right at the finish. A 32-year old former Texas Tech baseball player, completed his first half marathon alongside his brother, then collapsed at the finish and never regained consciousness. The cause, an undiagnosed heart condition that resulted in a fatal attack. While tragedies like these tend to make the news and cause a rise of "experts" calling out the risks of endurance running, these tragedies are exceedingly rare. They are also preventable. Many european marathons and other endurance challenges require participants to have an MRI which can find these heart problems. But thanks to the US health care system, which de-emphasizes preventative care, requiring the same here would be cost prohibitive. If you have this condition, it's not the marathon that will kill you - anything high endurance might. If you are concerned you may be at risk for this problem, get tested. There's no other way to be sure.

Weather is always unpredictable and we got a full reminder of this at the Country Music Marathon where a Tornado curtailed the race. A tornado watch had been in effect for that whole weekend and there was talk on Saturday of potentially canceling the race. Hourly updates were pushed out to racers via e-mail and the web site and while there was no all clear, the forecasts suggested the race could go on. It was clear at the start but got progressively worse as the race went on and finally too bad to continue about 3 hours after the start. When a tornado touched down about a mile from the race course, Competitor and the city of Nashville called the race and started turning participants around. Those that didn't finish certainly were disappointed but the rain came down so hard at 3:30 minutes in that you could barely see five feet in front of you. Competitor made the right decision.

Weather caused a sense of deja vu in the days approaching Rock n Roll Virginia Beach as a hurricane made landfall at the start line. That was Friday, the race was Sunday and thankfully the storm had moved up to Boston by then leaving a gorgeous day and very little damage in its wake. The race went off without a hitch but after Nashville I was running through every contingency plan I could think of.

Transportation can also sometimes ruin your day. One incident happened to us, the other was self-inflicted. At Rock n Roll San Antonio, Competitor touched base with every city service, state agency, and transportation service to make sure the course would be clear, the right roads would be blocked off and that nothing would impede the runners. But sometimes you just can't prevent a train running late that refuses to be even later. About a mile into the race, said freight train pushed over the tracks that crossed the course, causing a 15 minute delay. Competitor, that evening, sent a note to all participants apologizing for the incident and within two days credited every runner affected for the lost time and offering them a discount on another Rock n Roll event, including next year's RnRSA.

There's a reasons race organizers are always harping on you to get to the race start early. Sometime the unexpected happens. That was the case for me at Rock n Roll Denver. I was driving down from Boulder to the start of the race and thought I had given myself enough time, but found this not to be true when I sat in line to park my car at the University for 45 minutes. As the race start grew closer and closer, I made a call to jump the line, head downtown and try my luck with either street parking or a local lot. Neither was successful and with just 5 minutes until the gun went off, I had to ditch my car in a private lot. I then spent 3 1/2 hours running with the added stress of losing my rental car and $350 to a towing service. Not the way to enjoy a marathon at altitude.

Reason #6: The Truly Unique. Another big reason to run Rock n Roll is to have an experience you will never forget. For me, each of these events has one special memory that makes it unique but some are more unique than others.

Best Stand Out: Rock n Roll Las Vegas. What happens here, everyone should hear about. Las Vegas pulls out all the stops. First, they close the strip, which only happens for one other event all year. This means you get to run all the way to old Vegas and the Fremont Street Experience with no cars, no cabs and no vans advertising Girls Direct to You. Second, there's two great fun runs the days before the marathon - the Santa run and the running of the Elvises in which every participant dresses up. Third, is the on-course wedding ceremonies that happen in front of the Venetian Hotel. You'll see some great costumes at this event which is another reasons to run it - heck the best costume might just be yours!

Reason #7: To Be First! While yes, there is a chance you can win a Rock n Roll event - if you happen to be Kenyan, five feet tall, and expert at chasing down wildlife - being first means taking home chotckes from an inaugural event. And you will have at least three chances to do that in 2011. Last year was the first for Rock n Roll Dallas, Chicago, Philadelphia, Denver and Los Angeles. Next year you can be among the first to run Rock n Roll Providence (run it August 7), St. Louis (run it Oct. 23) and Savannah (Nov. 5).

Reason #8: Run for Others. Finally and perhaps the best reason to run a Rock n Roll event is to honor and help others. Each Rock n Roll marathon supports a number of charity groups and nearly always has an official charity for each event. I ran for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society who has a fantastic endurance training program - Team in Training. If you know someone who has suffered from Chrones disease, heart disease, breast cancer or a number of other causes, you will find a program and a Rock n Roll where you can honor them. Raising money and running for others is just as rewarding as the race itself.

Just finishing any half marathon or marathon is an accomplishment to be proud of. So get out there, start training and set your goals for 2011. There's no better way to get in shape, stay that way and stick to a program than to have a data circled on your calendar and a race entry bought and paid for. Having a schedule of events keeps me going and motivated. Let me know if I can help you decide what's next on your schedule.

3 comments:

Randy said...

congrats on a great year! love the recap and all the reasons. hope to participate in some rock-n-rolls outside of SJC next year but we'll see. what's next for you?

Rachel said...

James, you are crazy! Congrats on an amazing accomplishment.

Josh Bernoff said...

Congratulations. I am amazed you did it!