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.

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