Tuesday, December 2, 2014

The Courage To Start

The miracle is not that I finished.
The miracle is that I had the courage to start.
- John Bingham

John Bingham is the most famous marathoner never to win a race. He is a published author, columnist for Runners World and Competitor Magazine and an announcer the start and finish lines at the Rock n Roll Marathon races. He is also the national spokesman for Team in Training and speaks to first time marathoners at TNT Inspiration Dinners. He's also one of my personal inspirations and the inspiration of a generation of runners and walkers who are leading healthier, more fulfilling lives because of the trail he blazed. 

Dubbed "The Penguin", John and the Rock n Roll Series opened what once was restricted to the thin and speedy to the legions of people in the middle and back of the pack whose goals was not necessarily to win, but to finish. Some in the running world say he ruined the sport because people in this second "running boom" are satisfied with "just finishing" and not improving themselves. I think that if it weren't for him, hundreds of thousands of people wouldn't have developed the love and admiration of the sport as they have now.

I'm a self-professed middle of the packer with no shame of finishing near the back. After four knee surgeries, I'm not really interested in running, but I challenge myself by pushing my pace as a race walker and by adding races while continuing to stay healthy. I've won my age group for several races in the walk divisions, but I don't try to push every race, nor do I yearn to run to get even faster. About half the time, I just enjoy the scenery, chat up some of the other athletes and look forward to where we're going to replenish our calories later.

I've gotten a lot of joy out of the journey. My wife and I have been racing for close to 10 years, all the while supporting each other and strengthening our marriage with this common interest. We've gotten healthier, each of us dropping 50 pounds since we started racing. We've finished full marathons on 5 continents. Our vacations around the Australia and Antarctica/South America marathon trips were some of the best memories we've ever made. We now have friends in all parts of the country and all corners of the world and have met and raced with some world class runners and race walkers. 

How is all that considered "not improving ourselves?"

Every race I finish extends my personal record of 'most races completed in a lifetime'. Considering it was a big dream to finish one marathon, let alone over a dozen full and 75 halfs, makes me happy and fiercely proud to be part of a generation led by a many who says that all of the fun people are in the corrals with the 5 - 6 hour finishing times.

John will be retiring after this weekend's races at Rock n Roll San Antonio. Though I've heard he may still be speaking at the TNT dinners, we're going to miss his voice at the finish lines. He has seen over a million people cross the finish line in his years or work, many of them have him to thank for giving them the courage to start. We'll be racing this the 10K and the half marathon this weekend, and I plan to slow down, shake his hand, and waddle across the finish line in his honor.

John "The Penguin" Bingham is the most famous marathoner never to win a race. 

But maybe finishing first isn't really what winning is all about.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Trotting with the Turkeys - The Forma Gym Turkey Trot 10K

In an attempt to off-set the inevitable weight gain over the Thanksgiving holiday, Susan signed up for the Forma Turkey Trot in Walnut Creek held Thanksgiving morning Thursday, November 27. Ron, stayed home to walk the dogs before picking up Thanksgiving dinner catered by Whole Foods Market. Given the good weather this year, it seemed like a fair trade off for both parties involved.

The event started and ended at Civic Park, 1375 Civic Drive in Downtown Walnut Creek, CA. The event distances included a 5K and a 10K plus three Kids’ fun runs (½ mile, ¼ mile, and 100 yard dash). This was the 22nd Annual Turkey Trot hosted by Forma Gym which is rapidly growing in popularity with over 7,000 registered runners this year and their largest festival venue to date. Forma Turkey Trot.

There was still plenty of parking within a block or two of the start line if you arrived by 7 am. With temperatures of 45°F at race start and no bag check, it was convenient to drop off extra layers at the car just before race start at 8 am.

Given the Fall Thanksgiving holiday, orange seemed like a good "accent" color for the race. 

You have a choice of t-shirts when you register for the race. The standard t-shirt is cotton (light blue shown below) and for $6 more you can upgrade to a technical fabric shirt (royal blue show above).

You have to provide your own costumes and tutus of course.

The 5k and 10k racers started together without much of a wave start which made for a crowed course for the first three miles. For many of the participants, this was their first 5k which raised the level of excitement in the air. Most people were not taking this race seriously. Since most participants were local, you could hear residents shouting out to greet their neighbors, friends and family all along the course. In fact, there were people you know there but didn't know they were there until they passed you on the course. A shout out to Rudy Van Pelt who recognized me after he passed me on the bridge over Ygnacio Valley Road. Thanks to Facebook where we learn a lot after the fact what we missed out on in person!

The race started off heading south on North Broadway. The out and back loop gave us a chance to say hi to friends along the way. We turned left on Newell Ave for a couple of blocks before heading north on North Main Street. The first water stop was located just past mile 2 and was well stocked with helpful volunteers. A quick right turn onto Lincoln Avenue, brought us back to Broadway and onto Civic Drive for the turn into Civic Park for the 5k finish. Amazingly enough, the start line had already been torn down by the time we got back 30 minutes later in preparation for opening the roads.

After navigating around numerous strollers and weaving in and out of the crowds on narrow parts of the course, the turn for the 5k finish line was not only a welcome site for the 5k participants but it was also a welcome respite for the 10k participants who now had much more room to maneuver on the rest of the course. The 10Kers continued north on Civic Drive which is where I caught up to long time TNT marathon walker Barb Scramstad (who we have always admired as one of the fastest walkers on the Team). The Iron Horse Trail was familiar territory having trained there with Team in Training many times. The second water stop was at Waldon Park before we headed back South toward the finish line.

The only disappointment in the race was that there were no race medals for the participants at the finish. After the race there was a costume contest. A few adventuresome people had planned ahead and coordinated turkey themed head gear.

This creative trio even included pumpkin pie for dessert!

The majority of people participating in the event were wearing standard running or walking clothes including us!
From Left to Right:  Alexandra Mandujano, Nancy Ryder, Barbara Scramstad, Jackie McQuarrie, and Susan Carino
All in all, it was a well-run race. The warm sun at the finish was most welcome.

The event organizers are alerting people to upcoming changes planned for next year. Given the growing size of the race, they will be changing the course to accommodate even more turkeys and those who choose to trot with the turkeys on Thanksgiving Day in 2015.  

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Fly Like the Wind - Inaugural Disney Avengers Half Marathon and Rock 'n' Roll Las Vegas Half Marathon 2014

Your mission, should you choose to accept:  Two half marathons, two states, on the same day... for the second year in a row.

After capitalizing on a schedule glitch last year with the Double Live Rock 'n' Roll San Antonio/Rock n Roll Las Vegas half marathons falling on the same day, Competitor Group split the races so that they wouldn't have the same kind of madness in 2014. 

Then Disney steps in and announces the Inaugural Disney Avengers Half Marathon in Anaheim, to take place the morning on the same day of Rock 'n' Roll Las Vegas. Naturally, challenge accepted. 

And again, we blame Al.

Logistics this time were a lot easier to manage. Instead of the 2.5 hour flight across two time zones, this time the flight was less than an hour from Anaheim to Vegas. We decided to skip the Run Thru Wedding, saving us about an hour and there were at least a dozen flights leaving from the various Los Angeles area airports between 8:30 AM and 2 PM. Frankly, the hardest thing about setting up this Double was making sure we were online in time to sign up for the Avengers race. It sold out within a couple hours of opening the registration. Once we did that, it was just the matter of getting to the race. 

This year we were missing two of the seven members of our Magnificent Seven. Beth and Jim were committed to the Thunder Road Marathon in Charlotte, NC. Al and Caryn landed in Anaheim Friday. Susan and I got into John Wayne Airport just after lunch on Saturday, coincidentally, less than a half hour before Kamika come in from Las Vegas. We prepared a welcome for him.

Greeted for pick-up with "Double Live Tours".
And, for those who asked, those Iron Man ears are real. A lot of pictures look Photoshopped, even to me!
First stop, the hotel to drop off the bags and meet Al and Caryn. And just as importantly, to pick up our race gear, custom designed by Al and his design team just like last year. Then, off to the Expo. Everything was set up the same as it was at Dumbo a few months ago, so we even knew the back way through the parking lots from the hotel to downtown Disney. This time we didn't have to ask five different people where to get our bibs! Disney had a nice touch on the check in sheets if you didn't print out your own. Computer and printer stations were available in the bib pick up area for people to enter personal info and print a confirmation form right on the spot.

The Avengers theme was in full swing. We did notice that images of Iron Man were noticeably absent. It turns out that although Disney owns the Marvel comics brand (Iron Man's universe), the IRONMAN brand name has the lock on athletic events. As big as Disney is, they know not to mess with trademarks.

This time, we found the red carpet to the expo without much trouble.
And we get to ham it up a little with our new gear!
Lunch at Tortilla Joe's was relaxing. Dinner at Shakey's was a convenience. I found it really strange to be so unconcerned about doing the equivalent a full marathon the next day. Last year we did morning/evening training and ramped up to 18 and 20 mile weekends. This year, not so much. Having had a really good year with a range of training methods, we felt pretty good about going into another Double.

For the Dumbo, we were in bed trying to sleep at 9:30 when the fireworks over Disneyland started. They went on for about a half hour. This time around, we were outside enjoying a pretty good view.

This is where I should mention that I told Al that I want to some day walk a sub-5 hour marathon. That would be 19 minutes faster than my current PR. Even though it wouldn't be representative of a real race since we were planning to take pictures with the characters in the morning and had that long rest break between half marathons, I decided to push the pace whenever I was moving. Pushing the second half in Vegas on tired legs would be a good benchmark.

Race 1:
4:00 AM  Alarms go off. We'd already been awake for 10 minutes like usual. The race starts in 90 minutes. 
5:00 AM  We meet in the lobby of the Sheraton and take a group picture. The early start guarantees blurry phone pics for the first few hours of the day.

Close ups of the sleeves. Agents of Shield on the left sleeve, the Rock 'n' Roll Logo on the right sleeve.
Al put a little surprise on the RNR logo sleeve for our friend John Bingham.

5:10 AM  We head over to the starting line. It's a 12 minute easy walk.

See? Blurry.
5:28 AM  We all filter into Corral E. Al was assigned the earlier corral, but he needed someone to take pictures.

The back of the shirts turned out great. I wish I had a smaller pack that let the Vegas skyline show more. Temps started in the mid 50's and the forecast dry with wind gusts. More on that later.

5:48 AM
Announcer Rudy Novotny had the best view of what was probably the 'most costumed' race of the year. I bet the Disney Store sold out of all of the Avenger gear and accessories the day before. I'm glad I bought my Ears back on Labor Day.

5:52 AM
Support means a lot. Jeff and Connor were waiting for Jen outside the Disney Paradise. He said he had a LOT of people stop to take pictures of their sign. Later I gave him major kudos for excellent spectator placement - highly visible, yet not crowded so you can see each other during the race easily.

6:01 AM
The mile markers were awesome. At least the ones inside the park were.

6:04 AM
The Christmas decorations went up inside the park just a few days before the race. I didn't stop during Dumbo, but this just looked too good to pass up.

6:22 AM
There were four Avengers in the park. Thor was first. The line for pictures with him was about 25 minutes. They picked good actors for the parts. 

6:33 AM
Hawkeye was next. I remember that they aren't allowed to hold their props. I'm sure I'd get in some serious trouble if I got my hands on the bow.

6:42 AM
Here's where things got dicey. Black Widow had a line, but they weren't letting people line up by the time Al arrived. Why? They were worried we wouldn't stay ahead of the Balloon Ladies who make the course sweepers at a 16 minute mile. They didn't listen to the fact that we could easily make up the time. This was the best pic I could get. Next year, we skip ahead.

Captain America was the last Avenger in the park. Even at full speed, Al didn't get there in time to catch him in a background selfie. We're working on a strategy next year to leap frog to the next lines so we catch everyone. If not, we'll at least prioritize Black Widow for sure. 

Here's what he looked like. At least Susan caught him. I did notice that I was walking sub-10:30 miles in between the last two photo stops.

In fact, she had a lot of good pictures in the park.

Once we cleared the park, I settled into a decent pace. Susan didn't stop to take pictures and was playing it conservatively for the Double, so she was about 30 minutes ahead of us. Things were pretty uneventful until we closed in on Angels Stadium where the crosswinds picked up to gust up to 50 mph. Susan said later that she had dirt and pebbles blown through the mesh in her shoes, turning her socks and toes black. And remember those cool mile marker signs? They didn't fare so well in the wind. 

7:24 AM
About a half mile before going into the stadium was the best costume line up of the race. Since they were just cheering and not running, they didn't have to worry about overdressing or waving the big props. It's too big for blogger to upload, so here's the link to Susan's video Disney Avengers Mile 8

8:07 AM Coming into Angel's Stadium was a good break from the wind. On the way out, we saw a lot of people in WWII army outfits from the first Captain America movie. Some, it turns out, were real army vets in their authentic dress khakis. Makes me wonder if the guns were real. Disney has a lot of security that way.

8:22 AM
Best sign on the course. You had to stay until the end of the Avengers movie to appreciate this fully.

8:54 AM
Al and I caught up to Susan waiting near mile 12.5 and we finished together. 

8:59 AM
We got a great shout out from Rudy who wished us luck on our trip to Vegas that night. I bet he was saying that a lot this race.

And yes, we did finally get a picture with the Widow and Cap. Note to self: the characters leave for the finish line. Hustle your butts through the first few miles if you want pictures.

The winds kicked up even more at the finish line. Usually the stage area (below) is crowded with people, but the race officials worried about some of the tents being blown over and rolling over people. We got one of the last pictures in front of the stage before they moved people along into the parking lot.

Kamika finished about 15 minutes behind us and went back to the hotel for a nap. Caryn had been having back problems for a few months and gutted out a slow race. With our flight at 1:50 PM and the airport less than half an hour away, we still had plenty of time to shower, change, eat a quick lunch at the airport and get on the plane to Vegas!

1:42 PM
Beth and Jim were not with us, but not forgotten by any means. Al scheduled a call with them to let them know the progress on our mission. That's them on the other end of a FaceTime call from the exit rows. There were maybe a dozen people on the plane going to Vegas for the double. We're guessing there may have been a few hundred total that day doing both races.

2:50 PM
We land at LAS, 20 minutes early and pile into one large cab with a very entertaining driver. Traffic getting to the Westin was slow going with all the road closures, but we make it in time to check in and drop off bags.

3:49 PM 
We hop the tram to the MGM Grand for a quicker walk to the Solutions tent for same day bib pick up. By the time we get to the huge starting area off the Strip, it was nearly deserted as everyone was in the starting corrals. We just heard Corral 10 get released just as we were ready to go. You'll notice the significant increase in layers for this race. Temps started in the low 50's, and were going to drop into the low 40's with gusts to 40 mph. 

4:51 PM
We made our way to the start line so Al could give John one of the custom shirts. Given everything he's done for the sport it was only fitting to send him off. Al wouldn't be at San Antonio for John's last race with Competitor Group.

4:55 PM
We were losing the light at this point and I put away the phone after the starting line because I wanted to push my pace to see if I could walk under 2:30 for a second half. We had to take at least one pic. See what I mean about the hat looking photoshopped?

I didn't take a single picture during my race. I somehow forgot to pack my tactical glasses to keep the wind out of my face, but Al was kind enough to loan me his. He was planning on staying with Caryn until she found her friend who was looking to do about a 3 - 3:15 half marathon pace. At the turn just before mile 1, Nick, a runner from Chicago started pacing with me. He was trying to decide on doing the half or full since he'd done the Chicago Marathon a month ago. My first 8 miles were right on schedule, averaging 11:20/mile.

That's when the long day, the 2200 feet of (slight) elevation and the deceptive incline for the last 5 miles started taking effect. I never got under a 12 minute mile after that, no matter what I was trying with cadence or form. About mile 11, I thought about just packing in up and cruising in, but I remember what Al said after breaking his ribs in the middle of Ironman Florida. He was asking us to push ourselves and he didn't want to quit. I was able to walk my last three miles down from a 12:23 to a respectable 12:03.

The results on the RNR Las Vegas site won't reflect it, but I finished the half in 2:34:25 give or take a few seconds. When I got to the finish line, I stopped my watch and went back a mile to wait for Susan. We finished together, just like I wanted to, in just under a relaxed 3 hours. Delaying the finish also gave us a chance for some bonus pictures with Ann Wessling since she was on a break when I got there earlier. We missed John Bingham, but will hope to see more of him next week in San Antonio.

Subtracting time that I stopped for pictures in Disney and the finish line delay I finished the 26.2 in about 5:13 - that would have been a PR by 6 minutes for me. The second half wasn't sub 2:30, but I felt pretty good about keeping it together mentally.

Kamika finished about a half hour behind us. Caryn's back took a turn for the worse after the flight but she made it. Except for one stretch when she needed something to eat, Al didn't leave her side for the race. 

I usually do a recap of the races at the end of the blogs, but this one is long enough as it is. Given how well things went last year with Double Live I, Avengers 2 Las Vegas was a good sequel.

We plan to do it all over again in 2015.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Trust Your Training - Rock n Roll Savannah Half Marathon 2014

This is a race that almost didn't happen. With Rock n Roll Heavy Medal Series announcing a new Hall of Fame for anyone doing 15 races in North America in 2014, we just needed to add one more. The only weekends we had left were Cleveland (the second weekend on October) and Savannah (the second Saturday in November). We already had The Biggest Loser Six Flags Discovery Kingdom scheduled for the day after Savannah, so we opted for Cleveland.

Then Clevelend got cancelled due to low turnout.

This may send ordinary traveling marathoners into full panic mode, but Susan took it in stride. She found a flight that would get us back from Savannah in time to get to our hotel in Vallejo Saturday night. It looked tight, but doable.

Then TBL got cancelled, again due to low turnout.

Since changing the flight to Sunday would have cost us an extra night in the hotel and another $200 in higher airfare, we decided to keep the Saturday flight back.  We loved racing the Inaugural Savannah Full in 2011 so we were bummed that we were only there for a little while. After Denver, Vancouver and Panama City Beach and with Disney/Vegas the week after I have to admit I was getting eerily used to the traveling.

Oh, and did we mention the flight was in and out of Jacksonville, a two hour drive south? Thanks to Kevin for suggesting the route so we could take use the Southwest credit from Cleveland. Flying east, with the drive at the end, made for a really long Thursday. We landed after sunset, hopped in the rental car to head up highway 95.

Then the blue flashing lights showed up behind us.

One thing I need to do when I get behind the wheel of a rental car is to make sure I know the controls. Mirrors, seats, and ESPECIALLY the lights. The Ford Focus was equipped with running lights so I could see ahead of us on the highway, but the tail lights were out. Fortunately, the patrolman let us off with a warning.

Halfway to Savannah and 10 hours into the travel day, we stopped at Taco Bell in Oakdale for drive through. Apparently I wasn't speaking clearly enough to get my order for a crunch wrap, but she DID hear me ask for extra mild sauce.

The Friday visit to the expo at the Trade and Convention Center went a lot better than it did in 2011. Parking monitors kept traffic flowing really well, even when the cars stacked up close to closing time. Joe Harris reminded us that even though this was 3 races past our Rock Idol 10th for 2014, its still an achievement we should be proud of. Back in 2011, the first year they offered the Rock Idol Heavy Medal, Susan and I made matching shirts to wear for RNR Miami Beach.  The sappiness factor was pretty high.

At the Expo, Thao introduced us to Erin Zeman. Her husband Jake passed away at the finish line at Savannah in 2013 and Erin started a fund for their son's college tuition under the name Team Trust. Jake was fond of ending emails and texts with a single word -  "Trust". We've been blessed to support a number of charities that we encounter on the circuit. It just seemed right to honor the memory of a many who loved to run. Erin has raised almost $29,000 so far. If you'd like to make a donation, follow this link.

This was going to be a pretty low key race for us so instead of doing lunch and dinner in the city, we grabbed some snacks and picked up fresh pasta, veggies and bread from The Fresh Market near the hotel to make dinner in our room and watch The Amazing Race. I did manage to get in a quick heart rate training and take a really nice sunset picture from the Convention Center parking lot.

And no, the tub of Parmesan did not survive the evening. Susan saw to that.

About this time we were hearing from folks at other races. Kevin was heading to Wine and Dine at Disneyworld and forecasts were for non-stop rain. Santa Barbara had highs reaching into the high 70's and New York was looking like low 40s and brutal winds.

Then I realized we really owe the weather gods big time. The Savannah forecast would be high 40's to start ending in the mid 60's. It was pretty much perfect race weather.

Those are absolutely NOT brand new shoes that have never been worn for training. Nope. Nope. Nope.
Very little has changed on the course. The full and half marathons stay together until about mile 12. I remember in 2011 thinking how easy it would have been to just turn off for the last half mile, but that was back when we wanted to have at least one full marathon a year. We also knew how fast the course was. Savannah ended up being Ron's PR that stood for over 3 years until Punta Arenas.

The sun rises behind us up one of the only hills on the course.
About mile 2, I passed multiple world record holder, Larry Macon. Savannah was his 1380th full marathon life time. He's on track for 1400 by the end of this year.

The parts of the course through residential sections had a lot of classic southern feel to it with Spanish Moss just about everywhere you look.

We committed this year to educating ourselves about training and getting smarter about racing. After checking some data using the Firstbeat Training Effect metric, I found that I'd been pegging most runs at the top end of 5.0 "Overreaching". I tried to keep my heart rate down in the 140's for at least the first 10 miles. I kept a walking pace of about 12:30 minute miles.

That's when mind numbing boredom set in. Good thing Rocker Dude showed up. I know he's usually around mile 10 so it wouldn't be long.

I stopped the watch, reset the workout and tried to see how much I had left in the tank for the last 5K. I was able to push down to about 11 min/mile, finishing just under 2:40, a relaxed race by all standards for me. Sadly, neither the long slow 16K segment or the fast 5K segment were relaxed enough to get below the 5.0 TE.

Susan had no such restrictions and was enjoying the course. She finished at 2:35 which is her 8th fastest time. Eight of her 10 fastest races are this year and her Training Effect values are between 2.6 and 3.4, meaning that she's got a lot of speed left in her, should she choose to use it.

I nearly got ran over several times trying to cross the finish chute to say hi to John Bingham.  He has two more Rock n Roll races left before his retirement in San Antonio.

Thanks to Cassidy at CGI, we were able to get a parking pass as a thank you for loyalty after the RNR Cleveland cancellation. We had a great location between the start and finish lines that gave us an extra half hour to say some quick goodbyes and catch up with more of our RNR Gypsy friends.

Joe was a few days out of the ER with a kidney infection. He still got down to Savannah to finish RNR number 16 for the year.

Juan finished his 17th RNR in Savannah. Jessica flew a red-eye, drove four hours and set a PR for the half. 

If we had more time, we would have found the bigger fountain in Forsyth Park, but you know how hotel check out deadlines can be.
Many, MANY thanks to Juan for navigating through Luggage Gate.
With three more race weekends planned this year, we didn't have as much time to enjoy the trip as we would have liked. We didn't even have time to stop for hush puppies. 

When we get back to Savannah - and that's a WHEN, not an IF - we'll be sure to make that right.


Rock n Roll Savannah is in its fourth year. Other than St. Patick's Day, its one of the bigger tourist events in the city. Locals turn out early and with great enthusiasm, making this race one of our favorites. In 2014, the half had 10,631 finishers (median finish time 2:20), 2,796 finishers in the full (median time 4:34). There were also 5K and 1 Mile options available for the Remix Medals. About 1500 participants finished those distances.

Race temps were pretty much ideal, starting in the mid 40's and warming to the low to mid 60's by the end of the half marathon. The course started on East Bay street next to the Savannah River, heads east about a mile and a half before doing a counter clockwise loop ending in Forstyh Park. The full splits from the half at mile 11.5 to loop south towards Daffin Park. There is minimal elevation change to the course, making this an ideal PR race.

US Air and several other airlines do fly straight to Savannah from the west coast, but if you're cautious and don't want to risk the change fees like us, Southwest goes into Jacksonville (2 hour drive) or Charleston (3 hours).

RNR Savannah crossed off our 20th state for Half Marathons and our 4th new state this year. We've also checked off British Colombia to add to Quebec (2013) for two Canadian provinces. We're up to 148 halfs, 26 fulls and an Ultra lifetime with 4 more events each left this year.

We haven't signed up for RNR Savannah 2015, but may have it on our 2016 or 2017 calendar.