Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Pampering ourselves with a bubble bath - Half-It-All-Challenge. SF 2nd Half Marathon 2014

This race was dedicated to Laura Warren, fellow marathoner and Team in Training Honoree, who passed away after a decades long battle with multiple cancers. Laura's nickname was "Ten Penny Nail" because she would bend but never break. She was a warrior and a gentle soul. She will be missed.

On June 16, 2013 we completed the San Francisco 1st Half Marathon. On July 27, 2014 we completed the San Francisco 2nd half marathon to complete the Half-It-All-Challenge. As the race proceeded, the theme for this blog emerged. Fortunately, we weren't attempting a PR on this hilly course on a warm day so we had the opportunity to take more photos than usual to share with you all.

The 2nd half marathon starts at 8:15 am in Golden Gate Park by Spreckels Lake. You can either park near Golden Gate Park and find your own way back to your car. Alternatively, we used GottaPark to park near the finish line along the Embarcadero and took the free buses to the start line. Ron remarked, "Boy this race start is quite civilized." We got to sleep in our own beds at home, get up at a reasonable hour (4:30 am) and make our way to the race start.

The weather this year for the 2nd half was warmer this year than last year for the 1st half. Partly due to the differences in months (July vs. June in 2013 - the race was moved due to the America's Cup) and partly due to the later start time (8:15 am vs. 5:30 am). That being said, the organizers of the event have even the smallest details down pat. Knowing that San Francisco, especially Golden Gate Park can be cool and even cold by California standards), the circumference of Spreckels lake was dotted with heat lamps where participants crowded around to stay warm.

The 2nd half marathon included five corrals which started several minutes apart and quickly blended in with the full marathons who were going strong down hill on JFK drive. At one point, all three races converged on the same point.

Attention to detail by the race organizers who thought it wise to let participants know that there was a water station ahead. In one case, it also meant there was a beautiful waterfall ahead as well!

Surrounding Stow Lake, one particular runner caught my eye. Let's just say his race attire was a bit unusual. I came up beside him and asked, "So have you raced in this outfit before?" He responded, "No." I couldn't help but then ask, "So why are you running [the full marathon] in a bathroom and slippers?" His response made me laugh, "I decided to pamper myself today!" Ah ha! The theme for the blog is formulating in my head but it wasn't until we came up to the bubble machine on Haight Street that I knew we had a winner here. Unfortunately, the beautiful video I made of the bubbles didn't come out (let's just say I need to learn how to start/stop recording better while on the move).

Haight street presented itself with several long down hill stretches which was prime for negative splitting in the MIDDLE of the race.

The view back up the hills on Haight Street
As we emerged from Golden Gate park, we hit mile 19 on the full marathon course. Unlike most races that clearly post mile marker signs on the side of the road, in this race you have to look down on the ground for the neon tape. Given the Ron and Susan are celebrating their 19 year anniversary this year and that 19 happens to be Ron's favorite number, it only seemed appropriate to capture this particular milepost.

A few mile markers did have free standing flags. The only problem was the wind had turned most of them around backwards so you couldn't even read them!

The race just kept getting better from there. Also along Haight Street and later along the Embarcadero, a dear man and woman biked back and forth along the course with a boom box blasting Kool and the Gang among other motivating rock songs. Given there were fewer bands and DJ's on the course than at a Rock 'n' Roll race, his moving studio was particularly welcome.

The drummers at mile 12 were also setting a strong pace to bring us all home strong.

I couldn't wait to round the bend to see AT&T Ballpark which was the beginning of the home stretch for all of us. By now the sun had come out in full force and most of us had slowed down because of the heat.

Someone beside me said, the finish line is right under the Bay Bridge up ahead. "You've got this - Finish strong."

Normally coming down the shoot to the finish line I would never have stopped to take a picture. But this race was different. I was there with a purpose - to share this race experience with all of you. So I took a moment to snap a quick shot before completing what was a really fun race. It's not often you can say that your half marathon was a lot of fun but today this race was FUN!

We kept up our spoiled streak where we're now used to getting more than one medal per event.

At the start of every race, one can never be quite sure what kind of race you're going to have. A lot depends on how much training you've done, how much sleep you've gotten that week, what the weather is like that day, what the course is like, etc. However, you can always be sure to make the most of the race experience, treasure those images along the race course (either by memory or by camera), and use your surroundings as fuel to propel you to the race finish. In this case, we lathered up and came out smelling squeaky clean.

Hmmm, at least we were after we took a shower back at home!


The San Francisco Marathon, 1st Half and 2nd Half Marathons have been around for 37 years. In 2013, there were 6,580 finishers in the Full Marathon (800 more than 2013) with a median time of 4:38, 8 minutes slower than last year. 7,250 5,952 in the 1st Half (2:24 median time) and 4,492 3,096 in the 2nd Half (2:16 Median time). Both half marathon attendance were up by 1,400 each from last year, but median finish time was 5 minutes slower.

The Marathon starts on the Ferry Building at Market Street and runs along the water on the Embarcadero past Fisherman's Wharf, Ghiradelli Square, Fort Mason, crosses the Golden Gate Bridge to Vista Point and back before turning down Baker Beach and into Golden Gate Park where the 1st Half Marathon finishes. The 2nd Half starts by winding through Golden Gate Park, and runs east through the city streets to AT&T Park, turning north to finish back at the Ferry Building.  The 1st half has a 3 hour chip-time cut off. The 2nd half has a 3:30 cut off. (Course Map for 2014). While we've heard that the second half was much more challenging than the first, I thought it was more due to the scenic views on the first half than the hills or terrain. The mental part of racing is still a big deal.

Weather: 2014 was a bit warmer than 2013. Temps started at 60 degrees F, even for the 5:30 AM start of the Full and 1st Half. The 2nd Half started just over 60 F and warmed to the high 60's by 11 AM. The sun came out pretty early which is kind of annoying for a San Francisco race.

Support: Very Good. I was really impressed with the logistics for the 2nd Half. If you use the shuttle system from the Full/1st Half start, you get there after they are gone, meaning restroom facilities have no waiting and there are no crowds to speak of by 6:30. The buses were typical school buses and ran on a regular schedule from 6:30 to 7:30. TIming was such that they dropped off the 2nd Half Marathoners, drove 100 yards forward and picked up the 1st Half Finishers. Starting later, we didn't have the quiet course like the 1st half as bands dotted the course every few miles. The guy on the bike blaring 80's music was a real treat. 

It was also really nice for the full marathoners that the 2nd Half Marathoners were on the course to keep them company (assuming they weren't clogging up the tangents and narrow roads). Personally, I would welcome the extra sound of shuffling feet by mile 20.

The SF 2nd Half Marathon in 2014 let us complete the "Half it All Challenge," having finished the 1st Half in 2013. While there's an additional option for doing the Full Marathon in 2015 for the 52 Club medal and sweatshirt, we're going to stick with our mantra of "No full marathons unless we leave the continent."  Shout outs to our friends Junior Silva Jesus and Pavement Runner who rocked the "Worth the Hurt 52.4" Ultra that started at midnight before the race. He and a few dozen others travel the course in reverse and must make the 5:30 AM start time in order to be eligible for the regular marathon and complete the double. Junior did admit to getting lost a few times on the first reverse trip. Given some of the neighborhoods the second half went through, it could be quite disconcerting. Also running in SF were Clorox Sole Mates Running Group members Jon Weisman, Patrick Elias (both crushing their first full marathons) and Lydia Chow (2nd Half).

The SF Marathon now partners with Huntington Beach/Surf City marathons for a bonus "California Dreaming" medal. Since we're looking to add to our 50 States list of Half Marathons, we will likely take a pass on adding more California races that aren't going toward another goal (like Rock Idol) in 2015. 

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Chasing a Dream - Rock 'n' Roll Chicago 2014

"Way before we were scratching pictures on caves or beating rhythms on hollow trees, we were perfecting the art of combining our breath and mind and muscles into fluid self-propulsion over wild terrain. And when our ancestors finally did make their first cave paintings, what were the first designs? A downward slash, lightning bolts through the bottom and middle--behold, the Running Man." Christopher McDougallBorn to Run

George Melichar has a lot of dreams. What sets him apart from the crowd is that he works hard enough to see a lot of them come true. We were there to see this happen at Rock n Roll Chicago 2014.

George had been working with Project Onward (Project Onward on Facebook), a nonprofit organization dedicated to supporting the career development of visual artists with mental and developmental disabilities. Located at the Bridgeport Art Center in Chicago, Project Onward provides professional opportunities to artists who have exceptional abilities but face challenges ranging from autism to mental illness. Society makes allowances for juveniles with special needs, but once they turn 18, the resources are scarce. Project Onward fills a need for these individuals.

It was a quick trip for us, taking off from Oakland early Saturday morning, landing at Chicago Midway at noon, heading to the Expo for a few quick things then straight to the Project Onward Gallery. There were 10 of us in all. Each had a shirt painted by a different artist. 

At the Project Onward Gallery. 10 runners and walkers and six of the 10 artists.

George picked a great group. Brian (aka. Pavement Runner), Michael (pointonemiles) and John all met Geo at the big SA2LV event last November along with Beth, Jim, Susan and me. Amelia Sawyer, a gallery employee, joined us for the event. It was shaping up to be a long day and with the 6:30 AM start, we headed back to the hotel for an early night.

Susan's shirt was painted by Bill Douglas. Susan spent a long time talking to Bill at the studio and about the significance of the symmetry and the bees on the back. "By being in touch with nature through his art, Bill is getting more in touch with himself."
Michael Bryant painted my shirt. His favorite subject is "People and what life does to them"

Getting to the starting line was a lot less of an adventure than last year. We took a group pic just ahead of the starting line a half hour before the gun.

Dang. We look good.
We did our best to stay together as a group, even with most of the group being sub-2 hour half marathoners, Susan and I in the mid-2's at best and Michelle nursing a recent leg aggravation. We made it easier by taking breaks at the mile markers for some photo ops...

...and calisthenics. 

Michael and Mindy with a donut cameo.
If the shirts didn't attract attention by themselves, we sure did.

A lot of things went through my mind that day. Probably the thing that's going to stick with me was late in the race when I was next to George. He was talking about two years ago when he first met the folks at Project Onward and came up with the idea. The last few months had been a flurry of activity in the design and painting of the race shirts. He said that then 10 of us willing to race with him was a blessing. It's us, and the rest of the world, that was blessed this day.

Swiped from Pavement Runner's race report. It's a great read.
Some of the artists met us at the finish line. The shirts and our bibs were returned to Project Onward to be some day put into an exhibit. With any luck, the shirts will travel the country as much as we have, raising awareness for such a great cause.

George kicked off his next two projects this week. He'll be striving to raise $100,000 for the Hard Rock Foundations IMAGINE there's no hunger campaign in collaboration with Yoko Ono Lennon and WhyHunger. He's also close to finalizing a world record attempt. Details on the latter should be coming soon.

I, for one, can't wait to see them.

Talk about chasing a dream. I didn't think I'd ever do that literally.


Rock 'n' Roll Chicago has been under the CGI banner for 6 years. There were 13754 finishers for the Half (median finish time of 2:17), and 1901 for the 5K. This year's event added a 5K on Saturday (1162 finishers) that offered a bonus medal for completing the Saturday 5K with the Half on Sunday. There were also a handful of crazy SA2LV alum who did the 5K on Saturday, the 5K on Sunday which started at the same time as the Half and made it back to the corrals in time to do the Half. Kelvin, Justin and Shannon also earned one of the Heavy Medals for the Half, so they collected a total of 5 medals each for the weekend. Not bad considering all three races were included under the TourPass!

This was our 5th time at RNR Chicago. Most of them were last minute decisions or because we were in the area that weekend anyway. Since it's usually close to RNR San Diego and Seattle, we rarely make it an A race. The typical Midwest heat and humidity make it more challenging anyway. This year's race started in the mid 60's and ended in the mid 70's.

The course had a few changes with an early diversion east to Lakeshore before weaving through the city like previous years. We merged onto Michigan Avenue closer to the center of Grant Park and had a short loop south in Lake Meadows park before heading back up the narrow Lakefront Trail. While it's a flat course, some of the sections of the race can be described as a 'good character building experience'.

More pictures of RNR Chicago and the Moving Art Museum are on the blogs by Brian (Pavement Runner). I'll be linking to Michael's (PointOneMiles) when I see it.

This was Susan's 12th half marathon in 2014 and her 67th lifetime. With everything going on, we also missed that it was her 50th Rock 'n' Roll event. Ron is at 11 half marathons for the year, 65 lifetime and will hit his 50th Rock 'n' Roll in Philadelphia in September.

We haven't signed up for RNR Chicago 2015 yet, but with TourPass 2015 already paid for and Southwest Companion Pass coming as soon as next week, it could be a foregone conclusion.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Four Seasons - Rock 'n' Roll Seattle 2014

"Friendship isn't about whom you've known the longest, it's about those who showed up and never left your side." - Unknown, but I'll credit it to Beth Austin-Deloria

After an A-Race, we enjoy a bit of down time. Even if we have a lot of races on our schedule, we make sure we're not pushing ourselves so hard that we either burn ourselves out or run into an aggravation that prevents us from racing at all.  With Susan's personal best at Rock 'n' Roll San Diego just a few weeks before, Rock 'n' Roll Seattle looked to be more of a social event than a race. We also note that this is the first time Ron got to Seattle not having any major medical issues.

Seattle was the first time we would see the entire group from the Rock 'n' Roll San Antonio/Las Vegas "Double Live" tour (also known as SA2LV) last November. Caryn and Al haven't been able to get out to the east coast races and Beth and Jim haven't come west. Knowing that we'd have everyone together again made the weekend special. Kamika, well, you never know for sure where he is, but he seems to always make an appearance.

Top to bottom, left to right: Ron, Susan, Al, Beth, Kamika, Caryn, Jim.
I'm fairly certain one of us knows the guy in the yellow shirt. 
The week leading up to the race, Jim had been having problems with a nagging calf injury and Beth decided to walk with him. She thought it would be just the two of them and everyone else going at their own pace.

That just wasn't going to happen because us Rock 'n' Roll Gypsies stick together, especially in the time of need!

Al was recovering from a high fever, Susan and I were planning on taking it easy anyway, so we ended up deciding to walk the whole race together. Caryn and Kamika may have had other plans, but they weren't pressing. Kamika DID have to pick up his pace a bit because his flight left an hour earlier than he thought.  He's been traveling a lot, so time zone brain may have been setting in. We were able to spend the first hour of the race together catching up.

The Half Fanatic/Marathon Maniac picture is always huge in the Northwest, birth of the Asylum.

Al and the elusive Kamika at Mile 1 or so.
The Party starts at Mile 3.
Susan and I ran (well, WALKED) into Mariano about mile 4. He caught our attention because he clearly had some training as a race walker, going at a mid 11 minute mile pace. He was self taught and extremely friendly, despite the fact that his team just lost in the World Cup. Susan and I paced with him for a couple minutes and this time I remembered to get a picture of him so I could find him later. He finished in a very speedy 2:30:47.

Beth was wearing her walking brace this race and carrying her running brace in her pack in case she needed it. Fortunately, she kept the running to a decent amount and was able to enjoy the race. We think she may have hit her word quota just as she finished.

Al and Beth doing the West Side Story thing mile 4.
Since Susan didn't actually see me last year when the hernia acted up, we decided to recreate it at the very same spot. I'm pretty sure Al was laughing last year too.

The Team Blue mile. Even last year when I was distracted, I got chills as we passed by over a half mile of flags, memorials and supporters of the fallen.
It's worth noting that while Jim was able to pick up pretty good race walking form (averaging just under a 14 minute mile), there's definitely a difference from running. Not only do you use different muscle groups (a reason we advocate using run/walk for longer distances), but it also tends to cause ... discomfort... in different areas. 

Waiting for Jim to apply some Body Glide. We shall forever refer to this as "Jim powdering his nose". Why Ron defaults to the Kevin G starting pose, he can't explain.
It wasn't lost on me how special this time is in our lives. It was the same feeling I had when I was playing volleyball with my older brother out of college and again playing hockey with both of my brothers after grad school. It reminded me of the line in the movie "Stand By Me" at the very end as the writer was finishing his book.

"I never had any friends later on like the ones I had when I was twelve"......"Jesus, does anyone"?

Optimism. We has it.

I'll continue to cherish the time I'm able to spend with these special people. All of them are amazing in their own way. With any luck, our paths will continue to cross for years to come.

Six of the Magnificent Seven at the finish line. I'm guessing if you look closely, Kamika is lurking off camera to the right.
The race was held on the last day of Spring. On Sunday, Susan and I headed up to Mount Rainier for a day trip. We had seen the mountain from the course from so many different angles, but got a much better appreciation for it as we got up close. NOTE: If you're a Goldstar member, the day trip package was half off.

Shameless plug for the Rock 'n' Roll Series
 On the first day of Summer, we still thought it was Winter. How about that?

As for the fourth season? Well, no trip is going to be complete without shopping at Market Spice in the Public Market where spice is the variety of life!  The bag of crystallized ginger almost didn't make it through the plane ride home.

I thought about going into the race trying to at least better my course record. Being healthy for once was a novel concept. But I'm finding that being flexible keeps you open to making some memories that'll probably last a long longer than a course PR.

There's always next year, after all :)


Rock 'n' Roll Seattle has been in existence for six years under Competitor Group. The races offers both a half marathon (12392 finishers, 2:23 median finish time) and a full marathon (2220 finishers, 4:33 median finish time). Total participation was about the same as 2013. There were also several diversion points for the full giving distances 20.6, 23.9 and 25.2 miles for those not meeting cut off times. 

The course was a loop that started and finished at the base of the Space Needle, travelling south on 5th Avenue, Dearborn and Raininer before turning back north along Lake Washington, I-90, 2nd Avenue, the Viaduct and finishing on Mercer. Visibility was good and you could see Mount Rainier for a good portion of the first half of the course. Many people reported GPS reading well in excess of 13.5 miles. There was an explanation. Just move on. Get over it. Weather was a little warmer than normal the northwest this year, but for a June race, we were happy with tanks, short sleeves and extra hydration.

This was our third time in Seattle, having raced in 2010 and 2013. This was Susan's 65th half and Ron's 63rd. We each received our 4th Rock Legend medal, having done seven Rock 'n' Roll races in 2014. Susan will be doing her 50th Rock 'n' Roll event in Chicago in the third week of July.

A big shout out to our friend Shayne at CGI who ran her first half marathon after recovering from plantar issues. Shayne writes the #CGIEats blogs for the Rock 'n' Roll series, so check them out if you're looking for places pre- or post-race. She finished in the mid 1:50's on a course that can leave a lot of people swearing at the last few miles.

With the Rock 'n' Roll TourPass 2015 in hand, we've already signed up for Seattle next year.