Wednesday, June 5, 2013

The Perfect Race? - Rock n Roll San Diego

Our friend, Al Hernandez (aka, Sensei, Gonzo, and most recently "El Diablo") once told us about something he calls "The Perfect Race". It's not necessarily a personal record, but more a feeling you get when you just know everything is going to go right that day. You know you're going to finish. You feel light on your feet. You're smiling at mile 10 or 20 and it feels like you're doing everything right. Al has done hundreds, maybe thousands of races in his career and says he's had 4 Perfect Races. The chance of having another one is something that keeps him coming back.

The 16th running of the Rock n Roll San Diego Full and Half Marathon had all the potential for a Perfect Race. The temperatures at the 6:45 start time were much cooler than the forecast and the new course was billed as PR-ready. Team in Training continued their successful mission as 1500 participants raised over $4.5 million for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. Thanks to Joe Taricani's Rock n Rally Trivia contest, we also learned that RNR San Diego participants over the years have raised a staggering $260 million for ALL charities. 

Race with your hearts. It's not just a cliche.

The Half Fanatics showed up in force. Even with a few people trickling in late, this was the biggest picture I'd been a part of except for Portland. I expect the Seattle gathering to be even bigger. Given the crowd support for TNT, I chose to race in Team purple to get that extra encouragement. San Diego was the first place Susan and I walked full marathons in under 6 hours.

Half Fanatics Pre-Race Picture. Rock n Roll San Diego 2013
There was a moment of silence for the victims of the Boston Marathon bombings. There's something profound about a crowd of 30,000 united in one purpose. 

Nothing will break us. Nothing.

Kevin Gonzales and I have been in friendly competition for walking RNR Half Marathons since we met in Providence in 2011. This was the first time we actually started in the same corral so we could try to push each other during the race (it was a personal victory of sorts to get him to start further back). He's walked in 57 Rock n Roll events and is one of the only people to have done every one of the RNR locations including Europe. Since the Olympic level racewalkers don't do this distance often, I'm guessing he's also walked under 2:30 more times than anyone on the RNR circuit . Kevin's first 5K is seriously fast while my last 5K is my fastest. The plan was for me to hang with him as much as I could early and try to pull even by mile 10.  Al, meanwhile, was fighting a fever and dropped back from corral 1 to join us in 14. Susan and Stephanie were with first-timer Tiffany in corral 8.

The three of us toed the starting line together as the wave start hit our corral and announcer John Bingham congratulated Kevin for his 653rd Rock n Roll race. John's been increasing that number exponentially every race. (I won the over-under). I wish I had a picture of us waiting for the countdown to start our watches.  I also wish I had a picture of my face as Kevin walked his first quarter mile at a sub 7 minute pace!  Al would normally be able to keep up with Kevin, but  chose to drop back. By mile 1, Kevin had a 200 yard lead that stretched out to 400 by mile 6.

The course lived up to the billing. We avoided the canted section of 163 that leaned about 15 degrees to the left. There was no long downhill on the 3 lane highway. By the time we passed Mile 3, Kenyan Bernard Koech had posted the fastest half marathon time this year with a time of 58:41 and a pending US All-Comers record with a 44:47 at the 10-mile split.

I'm not sure when Al decided to take me on as a project, but some time after passing TNT Coach Phillip Dunn right about mile 6, I curiously found it hard to form complete sentences. Somehow, Al was pushing me a bit more than I usually did. He actually spotted Kevin on a few switchbacks and predicted I'd catch Kevin at the 7-11 before the mile 8 hill (I did). Coming down the last 5K, he coached me into holding form, relaxing at the right time for just the right duration and leaving it all on the course in the home stretch.  I finished with a time of 2:24:04, nearly two full minutes faster than my PR in Portland two weeks earlier.

Just past the finish line, I had to hold on to Al to keep from collapsing. Medical personnel asked me three times if I was OK (I actually only remember one, which shows you what state I was in). We were there long enough to see Kevin and Susan finish a few minutes later. Susan crushed her previous PR by more than 3 minutes. Kevin faded for his last 5K, but still came within 30 seconds of his PR. There was a sharp contrast in their moods at the finish.

Was this a Perfect Race?

Kevin knew this was a fast course. I'm sure if he had it to do all over again, he might have saved something for the last 5K and cracked his PR again. This wasn't his fastest half marathon, but he made some big steps by recognizing other reasons to race - setting up the mental challenge to push me and then trying to hang with me at the end. He may not call it a Perfect Race. Not for himself, at least.

Susan crossed the starting line 12 minutes before us and ended up talking Kevin through the last 4 miles. This was her fastest half marathon and she enjoys helping other people  more than accomplishing something for herself.  Was this a Perfect Race? She thinks so.

Two and a half years ago I struggled to walk under a 2:50 half marathon. I've taken 10 minutes off my time every year since then, even though every time I establish a new PR, I can't imagine how I'm going to do any better. I'm at the limits of what I think I can do by myself. And then Al shows up and the rules change.  

Was this a Perfect Race? For me it was. But I had a lot of help to make it happen. That "Help" is what Marathoning for Life is all about.

Congratulations to Tiffany for finishing her first half marathon, Mohan Dutt for completing his 50th, to Celine who finished her 4th half marathon while being 4 months pregnant.  Also, shout out to our Heavy Medal man, Garret Schmidt for posting a 1:37 half marathon time on his first try!

Rock n Roll San Diego started in 1998 and is the oldest race in the Rock n Roll Series. It's held the first weekend of June and attracts 25,000 - 30,000 participants. In 2013, there were 6500 finishers in the full marathoners and 18,000 finishing the half marathon. The Half Marathoners travels through city streets starting in Balboa Park. The full marathon takes a route west up to Mission Bay. Both courses finish at Petco Park.

Weather: ranges from high 50's to mid 70's to start warming about 10 - 15 degrees by finish time. Weather apps for "San Diego" actually read temps near the water, so add 10 degrees when planning your gear for the race. The humidity can sneak up on you, especially in the city where the wind dies down.

Things to do (or at least what WE did): For the car-less, the Gaslamp District and Little Italy has a lot of good food options. Harbor Drive is a great place for a quick pre-race workout.

Course setting:  Parks, City streets, Suburbs and Downtown. The Half is point to point course with the start and finish separated by about 2 miles.

Support: Very good. Water and Gatorade every few miles. Gu at mile 8 on the half and mile 17 on the full. Cheer squads, Team in Training cheer stations and residents line the course most of the way. The time limits are reasonable for most participants (7 hours for the full marathon and 4 hours for the half). SAG wagons sweep full marathoners at the 19 mile mark.

In San Diego, Susan completed full marathons #3 (2006) and #4 (2007 - still her PR) and half marathons #32 (2012) and #45 (2013 - her PR). Ron completed full marathons #3 (2006, a PR and the first time walking under 6 hours) and #7 (2008 to see Jaimi Wolf's first full) and the half marathon #31 (2012 - PR) and #44 (2013 - PR, first time walking under 2:25). 

We're already signed up for 2014.

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