Monday, March 17, 2014

When I Grow Up... - Rock 'n' Roll Arizona, 2014

"If I lived to be 200 and have Alzheimer's, I'll still remember that weekend" ~ Al Hernandez.

There's something to be said about longevity. People who live to be a hundred, who are married for 50 years or who continue to race year after year have earned our respect simply for doing what they're doing.  Such is the case for our friend Al, who completed his 250th half marathon at Rock 'n' Roll Arizona this January.

It was probably a good thing Al didn't see the decorations we had for our 50th half marathons in Cleveland and St. Louis last fall. It may have spoiled the surprise.
With Caryn, Susan and Ron doing the planning, the entire weekend was one long recognition of the accomplishment. Al is not the type to relinquish control of anything so we took it pretty seriously. Just a few looks at the weekend from our perspective.

Ron, Al, Susan, and Caryn at the Rock 'n' Roll Arizona Expo

Just to keep things lively, we gave Al a scavenger hunt game in the form of a bingo card. He had to find and take pictures with (among other things) a Marathon Maniac, an original Half Fanatics shirt, a Rock 'n' Roll Marathon Tour Stop shirt, an SA2LV participant, the drum core cheer station, and a Boston Marathon jacket. He successfully found them all.

After hitting the expo, we did lunch at True Food Kitchen. This is an excellent place for people with food sensitivities, featuring vegan, vegetarian, gluten free selections and items designed to fit an anti-inflammatory diet popularized by Dr. Andrew Weil. The presentation is about as good as the food too!

Al is a big fan of Despicable Me. Good thing too, since we three "accidentally" wore our minion shirts that day.
Not embarrassing at all!
At our pre-race pasta at La Bocca Urban we presented Al with a collection of pictures and well wishes from his friends. Susan spent over a month putting it together. Al said he nearly cried at a few of them. Thanks so much to the countless Half Fanatics, Marathon Maniacs, IronMan and Rock 'n' Roll folks who contributed pictures and quotes. 

Dinner was followed by a special dessert, ice cream sandwiches at Slickables. Slickables will be an absolute MUST the next time we visit Phoenix. They serve fresh premium ice cream inside cookies fresh baked with natural ingredients for $2 apiece. So good, you'll want to experiment with different combinations and can still do it on a budget. The selection depends on the day you get there, but they had my favorite snickerdoodle cookies to put around a good scoop of chocolate chip. 

Race day was more of the same. Custom Bib designed by Caryn, ordered from Races 2 Remember (R2R FB page).

Starting line interview with John "The Penguin" Bingham, arranged by our awesome friend Ann Wessling.

Caryn was having a good day so she pulled ahead. Al stayed with Susan and me for most of the race as this was our cool down race before doing two marathons the following weekend. We heard a lot of comments on the bib. About 75% of them were "Congratulations" and 25% were "You're CRAZY!"  After SA2LV, we now take the latter as a compliment. My favorite response was "yeah, we'll it's actually not that impressive. It took him 130 years to do it."

Even with the focus on him, Al still found time to help us. He remembered the low-tech video camera I used in San Antonio and Las Vegas and I mentioned I wanted to do the same for our Antarctica trip coming up. Al set me up with a new hat mounted Garmin Virb camera that can be controlled by a Garmin Fenix watch. I've been having a blast playing with the new features. RNR AZ was a great road test. I was able to capture some good footage on Antarctica before the battery gave out after three hours in near zero temperatures.

Shot from the hat-cam Garmin Virb. One of many that turned out well and many more that didn't.
This wasn't going to be a fast race for any of us. Al took pictures at each of the mile markers and the 5, 10 and 15 k signs. He had to take a few more to fill out the bingo card (which he finally finished just after the race).

Al and his Double-Down medal, enjoying a post-race refreshment with Ann Wessling - BINGO!
Given the immensity of the achievement, I was wondering why Al wasn't more excited about the day. He was, of course, in his own low key way, but he also said that it was nothing special. After all, he'd been in good health for over 30 years and it's just a matter of time and not getting bored of the sport. At that moment, he looked across the finish area and pointed out a man and woman. He had an prosthetic on his left leg below the knee. She was Misty Diaz, a woman with Spina Bifida who started on the half marathon circuit just last year. Al asked in a humble way, "What have I had to overcome?"

It's certainly a different perspective for me. We love coming back and we have the health and the means to do it. Some people aren't as driven or as lucky. It's good to keep in mind that we may not always be able to do the things we enjoy. 

But in the mean time, keep enjoying it.

250 half marathons. Maybe some day, when I grow up, I'll be like Al.


2014 was the 11th year for Rock 'n' Roll Arizona. The course changed slightly this year to finish in Tempe Beach Park instead of the parking lot of Sun Devil Stadium. Competitor once again did a great job recruiting volunteers for the full and half marathon courses. Weather was pretty ideal, but like it always is in Phoenix, it was pretty dry. Hydrate well when you're in town for this race.

This was our fifth RNR Arizona after racing in 2008, 2011, 2012 and 2013 (all at the half distance). For whatever reason, RNR Arizona's have not been our best races. Ron had to deal with mysterious chest pains in 2013 and an over-indulgence of fiber the night before in 2012. With a pair of full marathons coming in the next few weeks, we took it easy and enjoyed the moment for 2014. Someday, we may actually push this race since it's very PR-worthy. The course is relatively flat with the exception of a new hill at mile 8. Otherwise, with the long stretches of straight road and typical cool temps. Counting half and full marathons, this was our 68th event and kicks off 2014's quest for a fourth Rock Idol medal. 

Special thanks also to Kamika Smith for taking this picture. He made a side trip down after finishing a half marathon in Utah the day before, JUST to see Al finish his 250th.
We've already registered for RNR Arizona 2015. Like this should come as a surprise to anyone :)

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