Thursday, October 23, 2014

Time for an Altitude Adjustment - Rock n Roll Denver 2014

There isn't much of a thread holding this weekend together, so Susan suggested going with the alphabet (or as far as "D").

A is for Altitude.
For the second time in 2014 we were racing a mile above sea level. With Susan hitting an altitude sickness wall at mile 8 in Casper and four more weeks of travel for four races, so including the wave start, this was likely going to be another three hour tour (a threeeee hour tooooooour....).  Perhaps the altitude and light-headedness explains why I registered for the full marathon instead of the half. I only realized this when I went to pick up my bib at the expo and found myself in Corral 1. A 2:25 finish time (for the full) apparently gets you a pretty cushy corral assignment.

I wasn't the only one who made the mistake. Our friend Tamie did the same thing AND she also registered for the 5K, thinking it was another Remix event with the 5K on Saturday and the Half on Sunday. We blame the thin air (even though I'm sure we were at sea level when we signed up).

B is for Blue Bears, Boom Boxes and Bikes.
The Expo was held in the Colorado Convention center across the street from our hotel with the iconic Blue Bear. It was put in place as part of the Denver's Public Art Program in 1988, an Executive Order that 1% of any capital improvement project over $1 million would be set aside for some sort of art and design for the site.

If you're at a Rock n Roll race, it's hard to miss our crazy friends from the SA2LV group. Rounding the park near mile 5, we heard disco music. Only it was actually catching up to us. Kelvin (Boom Box in hand), Chris and Jessica had run the 5K, swapped shoe tags and hustled their way to the half marathon start. Kelvin actually ran the full. Quick selfie and they moved ahead to the strains of "I Will Survive".

Denver is one of the many cities we've visited for races that has a bike share program. Here it's called B-Cycle. For $8 you can buy a one-day access pass and rent the bike free for 30 minutes. Charges start adding up after that, but it's great to have if you want to skip the cab ride or have sore feet before or after your race. The rental period is not quite enough time to make a quick trip to a nearby restaurant (You know, for carboloading), but it does make for a good pictoblog.

Tawni, Tamie, Michelle, Susan and Al biked from the REI mega-store back to the hotels. We had to get creative with Al's check out time rapidly approaching.
In general, you can even get along without the bikes. RNR Denver is a really cozy race. Staying downtown at the Embassy Suites put us right across the street from the Expo, 4 blocks from the Start and Finish and within walking distance of the heart of downtown. 

C is for Crisp, Chilly (but not quite Cold).
Starting in the low 40's, Rock n Roll Denver was the coldest race we've done since Antarctica (there's a phrase I never thought I'd use!). Now that we're getting into the fall race season, our suitcases are getting heavier with the addition of gloves, long compression pants, and more disposable sweatshirts in case the space blankets aren't enough. It turns out we didn't really need the gear since the wind was light, but we'd rather have it just in case.

Come to think of it, this wasn't even as cold as Fremont last December. Why do we worry about these things?

C is also for Cheyenne (Wyoming)
My friend Michelle drove a couple hours to meet us in Denver. She and I go back to the old MySpace days. It dates me, I know. The last time we met was in San Francisco about 6 years ago when she was touring with her husband and boys. Years later, we subjected her to the second segment of our duathlon.  

Fortunately, she was rewarded for her adventurous nature with...

D is for Donuts
Those of you from the Portland, Oregon area may be fans of the VooDoo Donuts experience. The Denver location had a short line compared to the 45 minute wait we had in 2013 in Portland. That may have had something to do with some football game going on in town where records were broken (yay, Peyton!).  Again, the bikes came in handy. The baskets were just big enough to fit a box of donuts each.

E is for eating.  After lunch at Katie Mullens, our dinner consisted of the free happy hour food at the Embassy Suites and splitting a dozen Voodoo dounts.
Our race schedule is full for the next five weekends and Denver was one of the most relaxed and fun-filled trips we've had in a while. Going into a chilly fall race season, it was good to get that warm fuzzy feeling of laughing and connecting with good friends on this bizarre path we've put ourselves on.

Oh yeah. F is for Friends.  What would this journey be without them?


Rock n Roll Denver was first held under the Rock n Roll brand in 2010. It was previously the Denver Marathon (established in 2006) and has grown from just under 3000 participants in the 2006 to nearly 12,000 in 2014.  This year there were 8,129 finishers in the Half Marathon (median finish time 2:14), 1,711 finishers in the Full (Median finish 4:27), 1439 finishers in the 10K (median finish 1:07) and 599 finishers in the 5K (median finish time 37:30).

The course starts and finishes in downtown Denver with a few miles on the edge of Sloan's Lake Park where there are some really nice views of the mountains on a clear day. The course is not very hilly with a total elevation change of 381 ft according to my Garmin. About the most annoying thing is that the Half/Full split is at mile 12.5 and the first thing the full marathoners see at the turn is a good sized hill.  Weather this year started in the mid 40's and warmed to a pleasant low 60's with sun. It was pretty much perfect race weather.

Rock n Roll Denver was our 11th RNR event for 2014, leaving us 4 away from CGI's newly created Hall of Fame for 15 North American races.  This was Susan's 20th and Ron's 19th race at the Half Marathon or longer distances this year and Susan's 74th lifetime half. We've done well with the 5K and 10K's, but for some reason, I still don't think enough of them to count them in our race totals.

We haven't signed up for Denver 2015, but it's high on our list as we go after our fifth Rock Idol medals. 

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Bling-tober! - Rock n Roll San Jose 5K and Half Marathon

Ten months into the year and staying healthy starts paying off in metal. After finishing the last North American Rock n Roll city two weeks ago in Philadelphia and taking a break with the Great Bacon Race 10K last week, we were ready to claim our fourth Rock Idol medals for finishing 10 races on the RNR circuit for the year.

How cool is it that we can do it in our home town?

Rock n Roll San Jose has always been a great race for us. Early October is usually cool, the course is flat and they haven't changed the course much since we first raced in 2008, so it's a great place to try for a PR. This year Competitor Group added a 5K on Saturday to round out the weekend. I remember the days when we would be paranoid about doing anything the day before a race, and try to stay off our feet and not exert ourselves. Things have really changed.

I had my work phone with me but finished most of my weekly clean up early, so I got to the expo when it opened on Friday. Susan actually had a full day of work so was unable to take advantage of CGI letting Tour Pass holders enter a half hour early to pick up bibs and get to the vendors without the lines. I saw fellow RNR Gypsies Beth and Jim early, which was great because we never know when we'll see them with Beth's media schedule (and thanks for the coffee, Beth!). I picked up my bibs for the 5K, the half and the special back bib for the Rock Idol.

In the first year of the Rock Idol, our friend Garrett said he was pretty sure we were the only married couple to both get the Medal in 2011. This makes four years in a row!
I actually had every intention to get in and out before rush hour traffic started, but every time I tried to leave, more friends came in. Joe Harris first, then Michelle, Ted and Sherry, then Al and Caryn. I also took some time to walk a quick mile and a half on the PreCor for a $10 donation to LLS. 

Photo op for the second Running Festival weekend in 3 weeks.

Great to see our Peninsula manager Vanessa for the first time in years. She ran the Half on Sunday in a solid 1:51. Welcome back to the circuit!

Five (!) expo hours later, a trip to Pizza my Heart was just what the pre-5K needed.

The 7:30 AM start for the 5K was warmer than usual for San Jose. We ran into Tawni and Tamie before the 5K. Tamie was celebrating her 50th birthday with perks galore.  

Having badly tweaked my calf at the Bacon 10K, I wanted to test it out before thinking PR for the Half. Alex and the folks at T.E.A.M. Clinic did a great job on getting me prepped with the usual excruciatingly painful ART and the KT tape touch up. Al said to try to hit the PR pace for the short 5K. If it felt easy, give it a shot the next day. But first, let me take a (group) selfie.

Gypsies at the 5K start. Caryn, Susan, Ron, Al, Beth and Jim.

The 5K plan was to take the first mile easy and push the last 2.1. Susan decided not to let me slack at all and pushed us to a 33:34. That's a 10:48 walking pace and a PR by about a minute and a half.  Things looked good. Even the finish line picture of the two of us looked good with our last 0.12 miles coming at a 8:20 pace. I'm waiting on a good deal from MarathonFoto to download a few packages, but we had a few group shots that made it instantly to FaceBook. After a quick trip to the expo to find better fitting hydration belts, we went home, showered, changed and met our friends for dinner at Piati's, the usual yummy Italian fare.

5K Finish. Front (L to R): Marissa, Ron, Michelle, Mae. Back: Joe, Susan, Sherry, Junior, Al, Caryn. 
I know I was told the other folks names, but I can't seem to find them :(.
Half marathon morning was about 15 to 20 degrees warmer than the usual RNR San Jose weather. Starting at 8:00 AM means we would finish in the high 70's. Again, this would have freaked us out a few years ago, but we were taking it all in stride. We can't control the weather. At least it wasn't freezing and raining.

Wendy came down from Vancouver to do the 10K. She wanted a picture of the Rock Idol butt-bibs. 
Tip for future RNR SJ races. If you stand at the corner of Post and San Pedro, not only will you find the shortest porta potty lines, but you'll also run into almost everyone you know. Yvonne was running her longest distance in months and her son Taj was running his first 10K. Susan ran into Tim Yagle in the corrals and finished with Tim and Yvonne. 

I had a pretty good shot at my PR of 2:24:04. Al told me to get to mile 10 and see what I had left and by that point, I was still just over an 11 minute/mile pace. For the last 3 miles, the Garmin was clicking off 10:53, 10:38, and when I got to Almaden I pretty much left it all out on the course. I found out later that my last split was way better than I thought I was capable of walking at the end of a half marathon: 0.14 miles, 10:07 pace. And oh yeah, average 192 heart rate spiking to 197.  I didn't look at my time for a few minutes while I stabilized.

Kevin actually beat me to posting the results. Dang, he's fast.
I missed my PR by 10 seconds. I was a little bummed that my distance was 13.2 miles (leaving some room for improvement on tangents), but considering the temperatures and the fact that my PR was set on a San Diego course with a large net elevation drop, I'm really happy with the results. I first walked sub-2:30 on this course in 2012 and this was the 10th time I'd broken that mark.  I was a bit light headed for a while and I wandered off to get my Heavy Medals. Susan had a momentary panic attack because I always wait for her at the finish and given how I planned to push the race, she was checking every med tent. Fortunately, we hooked up later.

And by the way, Susan finished with her 5th fastest half marathon time ever. This was a woman who up until last year said she didn't need to get faster. She's now walked under 2:40 five times (including RNR San Diego under 2:30) and added 5 run/walks under 2:40 "when she wants to take the race easy." #mywifeisawesome.

So about the title? "Bling-tober"? Let's see the hardware.

Al, Caryn, Tawni and Kamika. In just this group: 3 5K medals, 4 Half marathon medals, 3 Remix, 3 Cali Combo's (for doing San Francisco, San Diego and San Jose), 2 Rock Legend (7 RNRs) and two Rock Stars *5 RNR's).
Gypsy Nation representing well. I think I counted 32 medals in this group, just from the weekend.
Crystal finished her second half in 7 days, qualifying her for Half Fanatics. She is going to do her third Half in three different states/provinces when she joins us in Vancouver BC at the end of October.
I should remember to bring the 5K medal back the next day so I could take my "Mindy Evans" pic :). It would make the picture more convincing, but probably would have put a lot of strain on my neck!
We have five more Rock n Roll races left for the year. Add Avengers runDisney and The Biggest Loser Panama City Beach Half, the already completed 5K's, 10K's and two fulls and a full/ultra on two new continents and 2014 will be out busiest year so far.  I wondered after our Double Live trip if we'd ever be able to top it.

Apparently, I hadn't seen everything yet.


2014 marked the 9th Rock n Roll San Jose. In 2014, there were 8362 finishers in the Half Marathon (median finish time of 2:20), 3172 finishers in the Inaugural 10K (median finish time 1:15:37) and 1866 finishers in the 5K (median 35:17). Three wheelchair participants finished the Half.

The 2014 course starts on Santa Clara Street and South Almaden, heads northwest to 11th before turning back on a loop course along the Alameda where mid-packers can see the elites coming back for the finish.  The back half of the course goes through residential and business district before coming back on the Alameda by about mile 8. Total elevation gain was less than 100 feet. Temperature at race start was 66 degrees and climbed into the high 70's by the end of the race. While there wasn't a lot of shade for the last 5 miles, the low humidity made it more bearable.

This was Susan's 72nd Half and Ron's 69th. We should hit our 100th event at the half/full distances some time mid 2015, about a year and a half ahead of Ron's bucket list schedule of 100 by age 50. We're both now on target to hit 100 half by Ron's 50th birthday. It may be time to raise the bar again.

We have the 2015 Tour Pass. So yeah, signing up for RNR San Jose next year is a no brainer.

Friday, October 3, 2014

What is a Vegetarian doing here? - The Great Bacon Race

One of the many perks of being a frequent flyer on Southwest is earning Companion Pass status so that a companion can fly free with you on your flights. The more we fly, the more perks we earn, and the more we want to fly. One perk that Susan hasn’t earned yet is Southwest Preferred Status. Given all the trips we’re taking this year, it turned out that she was just three round trips short of earning this status so we set out to find a few more travel destinations. Our criteria was that 1) We had to be free that weekend (there aren't many of those between now and the end of the year), 2) It had to be somewhere Southwest flies relatively cheaply, 3) Bonus if it was a destination where we could visit with friends.

When we learned that our friend Wendy’s niece was planning to earn Marathon Half Fanatic status, we decided to fly up to support Crystal for the first of her two back-to-back weekend half marathons. Another friend Al also flew up to pace Crystal since it was her first ever half marathon. Wendy and her nephew Derek joined us for his first 10k. Everything was coming together nicely. 

There was just one small detail that made this whole plan even more surreal. The race Crystal chose to do near her home was, “The Great Bacon Race.” Ron was excited – everything tastes better with bacon. However, Susan was less than enthusiastic having been a vegetarian for nearly 30 years. The opportunity to customize our race bibs pretty much says it all. Upon check in, Susan learned she had earned favorite custom bib status by one of the race organizers. Her bib was even posted on the race website. The other favorite bib they pointed out was, “The Baconator” which was proudly worn by none other than Derek. We must be an imaginative group!

Which brings us to the night before the race. Since we were only racing the 10k the next day, we diverged from our traditional pasta dish and branched out to try a few appetizers and pizzas at Twilight Pizza Bistro. Susan sampled the fried zucchini and then took a bite out of the fried fully loaded baked potato balls. Her first reaction was, “Hey, there’s bacon in these!” Feeling proud that she still recognized the taste of bacon but horrified that the weekend was shaping up pretty much as one would expect – lots of bacon! Ron and Al proceeded to counterbalance their inner carnivore by proceeding to order not one but two vegetarian pizzas for dinner. At least there was something there that Susan would enjoy eating.

Susan usually asks if there's meat, garlic, raw onions or dressing in all side dishes. We didn't even have a chance to taste test it for her.
Marathon Maniac (on a 10K) with Da Baconator
Sunday morning was a glorious sunny day. We got to the race start with plenty of time to spare despite the check engine light on the rental car coming on and being given wrong directions for parking nowhere near the race start. No, these were not Susan’s attempts to accidentally “miss” the actual race and avoid the bacon altogether!

This was the second year of The Great Bacon Race in Vancouver, WA and the first year they offered a half marathon. Small town races can give you some great self-esteem since the age groups are usually pretty small. Crystal won her age group for the half marathon. Ron and Wendy both won their age groups for the 10k. Derek completed his first 10k. Al was pacing Crystal so his placement didn’t count (though he did finish 2nd). The only one left out was Susan who placed 5th in her age group. Clearly she should have done better if she had been eating more bacon! Full results here.

When organizing a race for approximately 200 hundred people (fewer people than in a single corral at a Rock ‘n’ Roll race), you can afford to be somewhat flexible. There were 32 finishers in the half marathon, 56 finishers in the 10k, and 122 finishers in the 5k. When selecting a smaller race, you have to be more flexible in setting your expectations.
  • The location for Saturday packet pickup was emailed out the same day. The mid-week locations at Krispy Kreme in Oregon didn't help those of us traveling from out of town and those who live in Washington. Turns out there was a location for a Saturday pick-up buried in the comment stream of the event's Facebook page (if you knew where to look).
  • The race start times varied depending on where you looked and who you asked. In the end, the half marathon started at 9:15 am, the 10k started at 9:25 am, and the 5k started soon thereafter (exact time unknown since no one in our party did the 5k).  
  • I guess you could say the mile markers were also somewhat flexible even though the course was supposed to be certified. Starting with mile 2 in both races on different courses, our GPS watches indicated that the course was marked short.
  • The directional arrows were also somewhat flexible and it wasn't always clear where to go, especially for those who were not familiar with the area. The volunteers in general were really good, except for the one volunteer who wasn't standing at his post and about a half a dozen people got lost in a parking lot until realizing they were off-track.
The finish line was sparsely populated by the time Crystal and Al came in, but those who were there were enthusiastically cheering on the finishers. 

The finish area was in an airplane hanger. There waiting for us was our reward – 2 slices of bacon per person and pork tacos. Derek found out that they start getting uptight when you go back for the second (or third) round of bacon. At least the watermelon salsa was yummy.


The Great Bacon Race includes a half marathon, 10 k, 5 k, kids 0.5 mi fun run, and “Holdyns Race” – a race for special needs children. At the start of the race, the organizers presented a special running stroller for Jayce, a ceremony that really warmed the heart.

This was the heart of racing country and there was a half dozen fairly serious race walkers in the field (figure sub 12-12:30/mile). Both Ron and Susan finished in the top 3 of the walker contingent as far as we could tell. While this was Ron's 10K PR, Dumbo probably shouldn't count since there were a lot fewer photo ops on this race.

This race had something for everyone, including bacon from several nationalities on the medal.