Friday, April 25, 2014

Life in the (not so) Fast Lane - Mustang 50th Anniversary Half Marathon

There are events that people describe as "Once in a lifetime." We've started a race at the end of a total solar eclipse, finished two full marathons on Antarctica and South America four days apart, and did two half marathons in the same day that were two time zones apart. In theory, we could actually do all of that again. This wasn't the case for the Mustang 50th Anniversary Half Marathon at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

Ford was celebrating the 50th birthday of the Mustang in three locations (Norman, Oklahoma; Concord, North Carolina; and Vegas). The race was one of several events in Vegas. On display were cars from just about every model year with proud owners from all over the country showing off their babies. Not only did we get the rare chance to set foot on the Speedway itself, we also had a chance to win a custom 2014 Mustang Shelby. (No one we know won it, but that's beside the point).

Susan and I flew in Thursday night ahead of the Good Friday holiday. The irony of missing Easter Brunch with the family because we were spending the weekend in Sin City was not lost on us. We landed in time to drop off our stuff at the Polo Towers and take a quick walk to catch the Bellagio Fountains for four shows on the quarter hour. The 10 PM song was Viva Las Vegas. It was a perfect time to get back to the hotel to get some sleep.

The Friday expo at the Luxor was non-existent. No vendors, just bib pick up. I still think the overhead view of the course looks like a guy in a Barcalounger. 

We met Al and Caryn at bib pick up and had a quick lunch at Border Grill before splitting up to let them check into their rooms. Pre-race pasta dinner was at the D.O.C.G. Entoca at the Cosmopolitan. Let's just say, it paid to ignore that voice in my head saying 'don't overdo dessert the night before a race.' Major Gelatogasm.

Race morning was a quick warm up walk to the Excalibur at 4:45 AM. It was nice to have the sidewalks clear of the usual foot traffic that usually shows up. After a 40 minute ride to the Las Vegas Motor Speedway, we had another mile or so to get the starting area to drop off gear and see a bunch of our marathon family.

Big shout outs to our friend Lance Null who ran his 100th Half Marathon at Mustang. We ran into Lance a few times at Brazen New Years Eve and Brazen New Years Day. He rocked the checkered flag skirt in Vegas.

Racing on the track was a unique experience. Just to give you an idea of the effect of the banked turns, here are a few examples.

Susan and Caryn at the bottom of the bank. Al and I were two of the very few that raced along the wall.

Downward facing Dog. Uphill.
Downward facing dog. Downhill. At mile 12. I thought my head might explode.
One for Dave Mari

This was the coolest sign on the wall. I imagine our friend Ann thinking about a new paint job for her house.

Pausing for dramatic effect near mile 6.

I'm pretty sure we have a picture of the four of us facing the camera, but Al was really soaking this in.

About mile 7, we heard the horns going off inside the Speedway indicating that it had gotten warm enough to go to a Yellow Flag condition. Participants were advised to back off and a few folks didn't make it on to the Proving Grounds and had 3.5 miles cut off their distance.

Communication was really good for this race. Shade? Not so much. They did have decent support in the Proving Grounds.
And then there were the cars. So many cars. This was clearly not going to be our fastest race.

Look closely. It's not a car. It's a Decepticon.
On the way back into the Speedway, we saw the drag strip and had to take advantage of it. I have to check my Garmin for the Zero-to-6 time.

Coming back into the Speedway for the final lap Caryn and Susan decided to make the climb to the top of the bank. It was either do it at the start and risk having some ankle issues later, or do it at the end when we were tired and just take it easy on the way up.

Really... really easy...

Like most things though, it was worth the climb.

We took a quick break to soak it all in. 

Our times were much slower than the last few races at RNR San Francisco and RNR Raleigh. With American River coming up the next weekend, this was one we wanted to play with. If there was ever a 'soak it all in' kind of race, this was it.

A once in a lifetime.


The Mustang 50th Anniversary Half Marathon had 1703 participants in the half marathon (Median finish time of 2:31), 553 in the 5K (Median finish of 39:05) and one wheelchair 5K finishing in 14:17. The course was put under a yellow flag warning when we reached mile 8 (about 1:50 gun time).  Andrea Kessel won the drawing for the 2014 Mustang Shelby GTS sponsored by the Mustang Club of America.

On the Strip Eateries:
Border Grill. Chefs Mary Sue Milliken and Susan Feniger (Food Network's "Too Hot Tamales") make a wonderful selection of traditional Mexican dishes and offer lots gluten free options. Ron inhaled the Chile Relleno Burger despite it being the day before race day. He didn't regret it one bit. (Price $$)

D.O.C.G. Entoca at the Cosmopolitan. Quality pre-race pasta including Cavatelli with Sausage and Porcini Mushrooms. Highlights were the gelato and Salted Caramel Budino. (Price $$$)

Otto Pizzeria at the Venetian. The Lasagne on Saturday menu is freshly made pasta with some amazing filling for the non-vegetarians of the group. The Margherita 'D.O.C.' pizza is absolutely authentic Italian ingredients and is highly recommended. (Price $$)

This week also marked the anniversary of the Boston Marathon bombings. Three were killed and scores injured in 2013. The marathon had many tributes leading up to the race including One Run For Boston, a relay from Los Angeles that finished at the Marathon finish line. Meb Keflezighi becase the first American Men's winner in 31 years. Dean Karnazes ran 26.2 to the start in 3:42 and finished the race in 3:25. A big shout out to friends who ran Boston: Kim, Claire, Kelly, Chris, Anne Marie, Todd, Yolanda, Tom, Nancy. 

And for those who missed this, a really touching tribute to what the community is all about. Boston Marathon: Runners carry a competitor to the finish.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Homecoming - Rock 'n' Roll Raleigh 2014

“The bond that links your true family is not one of blood, but of respect and joy in each other's life. 
Rarely do members of one family grow up under the same roof.” 

Susan grew up less than 30 miles from where we toed the starting line at Rock 'n' Roll Raleigh for the inaugural race this weekend. It was a bit warmer than we were used to for April, but much better than the ice storms Raleigh was experiencing just two weeks earlier. The dogwoods were starting to bloom. Everything was pointing to a pleasant trip home.

We got in Friday and were lucky to get to the expo before it closed, avoiding the usual day-before crowds. The race was capped at 12,500 for the full and half marathons and it sold out a month in advance. With registration for next year already available, word has it Raleigh is a sure bet for Rock 'n' Roll races for another few years.

Nice new touches by the local Tourism Authority. Raleigh really went all out to welcome the race this year.
We took the opportunity to sign up for a few more races. Our friend George is working on something absolutely amazing for Rock 'n' Roll Chicago. He shared details, but you're going to have to be there to see it. Ron also finally made the decision to skip his 30 year high school reunion and finish the North American circuit by signing up for Rock 'n' Roll Philadelphia this year.

Raleigh gave us a TON of time with our Rock 'n' Roll Gypsy friends. Beth and Jim live in the area and Beth was a gracious hostess, presenting us with some absolutely gorgeous hand made cards and a box of local goodies, most of which didn't make it to the plane ride home! I can't say enough about how much we've enjoyed spending time with Beth and Jim since meeting them in Chicago a few years ago. I mentioned to Jim that Susan was going to be on a hunt one of her favorite treats growing up. We had been in Raleigh less than 2 hours before Jim secured a large order of hush puppies for us to share.

OK, maybe Susan really didn't want to share, but there were a lot of them!
We hit the expo again in the morning and saw a few of the usual suspects. The CGI Staff had things humming along smoothly. Since we just did RNR San Francisco the week before we didn't actually need much in the way of supplies. We DID run into one of our White Continent / Punta Arenas Marathon Maniac friends, Roscoe Douglas who drove up from the Atlanta area. The world seems to keep getting smaller.

We have to thank Mary Kramer and the folks at the 518 West for putting up with all the last minute adds to the reservation for pre-race pasta. Jim gave a toast and talked about our little "race family". It was really touching. I realize we see this group about once a month which is more than I see my brothers who live less than 30 miles from us in California.

I'm estimating that the folks in the picture below represent more than 350 Rock 'n' Roll races combined. We didn't even have all time record holder Joe Harris for his 86 Rock 'n' Rolls.

(Left to Right) Front: Mega, Jack, Michelle, Middle: Susan, Sylvia, Mary, Beth, Kevin. Back: Ron, Kamika Andrew, George, Ted, Jim.
And though they didn't race, Meg and Mikey made it out for dinner. Meg was with us for our first marathon in Anchorage with Team in Training in 2005. We put a reminder that our 10 year marathon anniversary (and our 20 year wedding anniversary) planning should start immediately. We may be heading back to the 2015 Mayors Marathon in Alaska where it all began.

Race day was probably the easiest we've ever had logistically. The start and finish lines were a block apart and our hotel was right in between. Susan's parents, Art and Helen, were coming in from Chapel Hill so we splurged for VIP passes so they could be comfortable while they waited for us. This was their first time at a race after all. Why not give them the first class experience?

Seriously, I really like taking "making of" pictures as much as the pictures themselves.  Kevin taking a picture of George and Joe in the standard pre-race hug.

I suppose at some point, I should stop referring to people as "MySpace friends", though that's where I actually first met Megan. She's been a part of Team in Training for years and was one of the few of our group who did the full marathon. She had some hip and knee issues at mile 24. Having only done a half, I felt it absolutely necessary to make sure she had company for the last few miles (and get more miles in myself).

Ron, Meg, Susan in corral 15. Ignore the creepy naked guy behind us.
Art and Helen were able to get into the city early for the VIP breakfast. While it was a bit overwhelming for them at first, they said they enjoyed the atmosphere. It was their first experience at a race and like I tell people, Rock 'n' Rolls are the place to be for first timers.

Raleigh was about as scenic as you can get for a city race with lots of shaded park and residential mileage. Team Blue was out in force honoring fallen servicemen and women. While the total ascent/descent was less than 1000 feet, the hills had a lot of people swearing under their breath.  There were several well placed bands at the tops of some hills to get us through.

University Marching Bands totally rock.

We estimated our time for Art and Helen so they could try to come out and see us cross the finish line. We must have done a lot better than we told them since they had just come out as we were working our way through the finisher area. Susan and I walked the entire race in preparation for American River at the end of April. On a hilly course, I managed to break 2:35 and Susan barely missed her walking PR at just under 2:38. I think we're ready.

Also meeting us after the finish area was Beth's mother Anne and our friends from TeamUp. Beth had a great piece on WRAL the night before the race and several media events to highlight the carbon fiber technology in her brace that allows her to run with Foot Drop. TeamUp has partnered with the Charcot-Marie-Tooth Association for the past few races to build awareness for CMT, the most common form of inherited disorders affecting the peripheral nerves. If you know anyone with CMT or Foot Drop, pass on the information. The technology is a life-changer.

We had some work to catch up on after the race since we'd flown most of Friday and were flying back Monday. We did happen to get back to Dickey's for a full meal. Local BBQ pork with several sauces and another mound of hush puppies. I think Susan is set for the rest of the year.

My order was actually pulled pork with hush puppies and a side of hush puppies. The corn was for balance and just took up unnecessary room.
We left Raleigh on Monday afternoon after having a lunch with Art and Helen at Sweet Tomatoes. This was the first time we'd been back to the area in over seven years. We appreciate the time that we had with them and may get back eventually for another race. 

Coming home can be a great experience. 

But sometimes, home is not defined by where you are, 

              ...but by who you're with.


The Inaugural Rock 'n' Roll Raleigh started and finished in downtown Raleigh next to the Sheraton and Convention Center. The course was actually probably the second most challenging Rock 'n' Roll we've done behind RNR San Francisco. There were 1626 finishers in the full marathon (median time finish time 4:49) and 8614 finishers for the half (median finish time 2:23), making this the biggest road race ever in the capitol of North Carolina. The median time was even slower than RNR SF, again, due to hills and partially because of the slightly warmer weather. The course was a mostly shaded loop course for the half marathon with the full marathon extending further west before merging back with the half course at mile 22.

The V Foundation for Cancer Research was the race's charity beneficiary. Team V showed up in force with over 100 runners raising money for the cause.

On a sad note, two local runners passed away during the race. Several friends saw them fall or being attended to by paramedics. While the incidence of fatalities is race is lower than the majority of daily activities, it reminds us to be sure to get ourselves checked out for heart abnormalities and be cleared by our doctors.

We'll likely be back for another RNR Raleigh, but currently have not registered for 2015.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

The Hills are Alive With the Sound of Rock 'n' Roll - Rock 'n' Roll San Francisco 2014

Anyone who lives or trains in San Francisco encounters some pretty significant hills. Races in the city are no exception. With plenty of hill training opportunities, you would think that we would be pretty strong at maneuvering hills, but after climbing 44 hills during the Bar Harbor marathon in Maine, we know that “HILL” can quickly become a four letter word.

The Rock 'n' Roll San Francisco Half Marathon gave us the opportunity to climb some challenging hills and also cross the roadbed of the Golden Gate bridge on foot. What was unique about this year’s course was that we crossed San Francisco “backwards” compared to other races. Both the Wipro San Francisco Marathon and the Nike Women’s Marathon courses approach the Golden Gate Bridge from the East. For those races, we happen to think the best views of the Golden Gate Bridge come on Lincoln Boulevard by stopping to turn around at the top of the hill to look back. Most people are focused on the road ahead and miss the view.

Oh, did we mention that there are a few significant hills (or inclines) along the way before and after the bridge? San Francisco East Bay Team in Training Coach Alphonzo Jackson posted a great resource for hill running and hill training. Coach Al always told us not to go up a hill but to rather, “Run/Walk THROUGH the hill.” This visual image of moving forward while moving upward does help. As Coach Al would say, “Mind over matter. If you don't mind, it don't matter.”

The big race was actually getting onto the bridge before the course cut off. Participants were instructed to be at mile 4 by 7:50 am or they would be diverted to mile 7.9 and miss the chance to cross the bridge. An average page of 17 - 20 min/mile was recommended, but CGI also offered a 6:15 am early start for participants expected to finish between 3:30 and 4:00. Race officials stationed a monitor at mile three who counted down the time and distance to the cutoff. Keep in mind that there are several steep hills along the way for the first four miles and some amazing photo opportunities once the Golden Gate Bridge is within sight so maintaining this pace was a challenge for some. If you're in that speed group, plan ahead! It turns out fewer than 20 were listed in the 9.2 mile Diverted Course results out of 8550 total finishers.

The race took up three lanes of the bridge - one lane going north, one going south and an empty buffer lane to protect the runners from traffic. This was crowded until the last participant passed going north and race monitors opened the second lane to the returning, southbound runners. Hopefully, next year the bridge course can be widened or participants can be staggered even further if the race grows. Even opening the pedi-path might be a good idea since the views are actually a bit better than from the road.  Remembering course etiquette is key in these types of situations. Never walk or run more than two people side-by-side. Walkers and slower runners should always move the right. Faster participants should call out that they're passing on the left especially if things get tight. And for pete's sake, pull over to the side if you're going to take a picture!

This race was more training for American River Parkway at the end of April. We worked on heart rate training so we can be at our best for the Walk division race and take a shot at winning our age groups again. Given the pacing and the scenery, Ron decided to wear the Garmin Virb for more hat-cam moments.

We have a bet going for how many races John Bingham calls out for Kevin Gonzalez. Apparently, John was busy interviewing former 49er great, Roger Craig when Kevin crossed the starting line and missed him.

We ran into The Marathon Show host, Joe Taricani near the end of the race. With Joe branching out into the new TV Pilot, we expect his audience to grow.

And just for grins, a bunch of the old #SA2LV gang got together near the toll plaza to do the hustle. YouTube video here.

Though the title says otherwise, CGI made the choice to use circus performers at the early miles instead of bands. At 6:30 AM, I'm sure the locals appreciated the chance to sleep in.

Faces in the Crowd:

This year, the "Chaser" Melody Jones raised $7569 for St. Jude Children's Research Hospital. That's one dollar for every person she passed after starting at the back of the pack. The way I see it, having a bigger event can only be better for the charity.
Congrats to our friend Tawni who reached a milestone with her 50th Half Marathon! (Left to right: Ron, Susan, Al, Tawni, Caryn, Bridge, some random guy)
Thanks for another fantastic half marathon Competitor Group! Next up, Rock 'n' Roll Raleigh!


This year's Rock 'n' Roll San Francisco was held for the second year under the Rock 'n' Roll brand name. The new course is definitely a departure from the former loop course that started and finished in Aquatic Park. There were 8550 finishers in 2014 with 18 people completing the 9.2 mile diverted course. Median finish time was 2:21, slower than the typical RNR course which is probably because of the big honking hills.  

The course started at Ocean Beach, went north and east up Lincoln Boulevard, crossed the Golden Gate Bridge, down through Crissy Field, the Marina Green and over the hill to the finish at Civic Center. There were a few significant climbs between miles 0.5 and 1.5, 2.5 and 3.5, and 10 and 11.5 with a few smaller but still steep hill climbs in between. The longest and steepest climb on the course was 300 feet over approximately one mile. Since the courses seem to be changing year to year, I'm downloading the latest maps as GIFs and storing them for comparison at our Marathoning For Life page. Weather was clear and sunny with temps starting in the low 50's and warming to 65 at the finish. 

The Golden Gate Bridge is one of the Wonders of the Modern World by the American Society of Civil Engineers. It spans the Golden Gate strait, the mile-wide, three-mile-long channel between San Francisco Bay and the Pacific Ocean. While the clear day made for postcard-perfect pictures, having a half foggy day can be just as nice a backdrop. Heck, the whole city has a lot of good photo ops!

Susan and Sylvia at the top of Lombard Street
We had a few in-room meals this weekend but wanted to highlight one: Hot Spud
If you're looking to fill up and still eat light, check out this hidden gem just off Fisherman's Wharf on Beach Street. Hot Spud uses Jacket Potatoes the size of your head and has all local ingredients and a great range of gluten free offerings for less than $8.

If you're headed to Rock n Roll Raleigh with us next week, be sure to check out Shayne's CGIEats - Raleigh Edition for dining suggestions!

We haven't signed up for RNR San Francisco 2015, but with the Tour Pass program, we plan to do so as soon as we can.