Monday, May 25, 2015

Time to change that bucket list - Rock n Roll Portland 2015

There's something to be said about setting goals. We started racing in 2005 because of a bucket list item. That was supposed to be a one-and-done. We had so much fun we set the next goal to 50 races by age 50 and we passed that years ahead of schedule. Now, ten years later, we're crossing the finish line at our 100th race at the half/full/ultra distance.

We've been to Rock n Roll Portland every one of the four years of the race and it's the oldest race where we have legacy status. It's a great location for us and logistics are well set up for a quick trip in and out from Oakland. The mid-May date puts it near the peak of our training season so it's also a pretty fast one for us.

That's in an ideal world. 

Stop number 7 on the tour. It's still cool to see the Hall of Fame banner!

We flew in early enough on Friday to hit the expo before most people showed up. The best part about doing that is not only to hit the vendors for any forgotten essentials, but also to catch up with friends and the CGI staff. First stop in merch, of course. I'm still bummed that we're now missing two luggage tags for 2015. Note to Brooks: I'd pay whatever you asked and wouldn't even look at the price tag!

With Kevin, Darlene, Joe and Jen
One of the bright spots of the weekend was hearing that Beth Deloria was ready to race again after surgery. She was still on the fence on if she would do the 10K or the half, but just seeing her face light up with anticipation was awesome. 

Toyota had a selfie-car set up. This is a rare picture where Jim has hair and Kevin is smiling.
We were on hand for a really nice moment with TeamUp captain Darren presented at running leg to Erica, a recent amputee who was running on Sunday. Local CBS affiliates were on hand to broadcast.

CGI listened to the past participants regarding the forced stops to let local traffic through. This year, the instituted the 'bus box' diversion method in several places.

We were staying with Wendy about 30 minutes from downtown Portland, so we weren't able to spend a lot of time with folks in the city this weekend. We did some shopping and by the time we were done shuttling Al and Sherry from the airport to their hotels, we had just enough time to grab dinner in Gersham before heading to bed. 

Beth decided to go for the half marathon. She said her recovery was sped along by all the good wishes and getting back to see all of us RNR Gypsies was a motivation. Hugs flowed freely.

Ron, Kevin, Blowfish Jim, Gary, Al, Beth, Joe and Susan. Ready to Rock another race.
Something about our little group seems to send out signals so we know where to find each other. We saw Kamika for the first time in months after two world business trips. He dragged his friend Trevor into racing with us.

Two years ago, Jim found a puppy friend. They were reunited with another friend as Darren took care of them pre-race.

In 2013, Jake Zeman passed away at the finish line at Rock n Roll Savannah. Joe was the most recent in a series of runners who wore Jake's race bib in his memory. The rest of us donned bibs to honor him and Team Trust, a charity set up to help his son pay for college.

Just like in Nashville, Michelle, Ted and Sherry found us at the starting line without a single text or call or email. Granted this was a smaller race and fewer ways to get to the start, but it's cool that we always seem to magnetize to each other.

Let's not discuss the fact that this is the start of the 10K, not the half (as a kind spectator pointed out to us about 3 minutes after we were supposed to start... quick quarter mile hoof north to the half start!).

The bus boxes working really well. As far as I heard, no one had to be stopped to let traffic through. Some of the elites were stopped because of a train crossing, but from what I hear about downtown Portland, that kind of this is a lot harder to control so people tend to just roll with it. Not the best of conditions if it's in the middle of a race, but I've learned to look at RNR Portland less as a half marathon, but as a 10K and a few 5K with breaks. At least I got a picture of one of my favorite signs this year.

Susan was able to catch a picture of the new Double Agent shirts for those who've qualified for both Half Fanatics and Marathon Maniacs. Technically, we're in that classification, but we may have let our MM dues expire. The shirts look pretty cool, so we may have to get around to renewing.

Beth ended up finishing her 'welcome back' race in the mid 2:10's. We were worried a few months ago that surgery might leave her unable to walk, much less run. She's the embodiment of her cause Get Back Up Today. Darren and the inflata-puppies greeted her with great enthusiasm.

This was our 7th Rock n Roll of the year, earning us the Stairway to Seven Heavy medal  Having done RNR Arizona, Kevin (with bacon) is still a race ahead of us on the RNR Heavy Medal count. The 8-track medal will be our next in San Diego. I'm already working out my neck muscles to carry that monster.

We saw a number of our friends picking up the 7 and 8 race medals. Four people picked up the 9 in Portland. With San Diego and Seattle left in the front half of the year, we should see quite a few of the Gold Record 10 race medals soon. Thanks to Ryan Davis (below) who sustained an injury while handling the hardware. Way to take one for the team!

Susan had gotten in an extra women's half marathon race, so our 100th race milestones weren't lined up until I did the Brazen Half over Valentine's Day this year. But every race we've done has been special. And 95 of them, we've been together.

Race #1: Mayor's Midnight Sun Marathon, Anchorage June 2005

10: Maui Half Marathon: 2007 / Bar Harbor Full Marathon 2007

25:  Pacing the Nike Women's Full Marathon 2010 / Scottsdale Women's Half Marathon 2010

50: RNR Arizona Half 2013 / RNR St. Petersburg Half 2013

75: RNR Raleigh Half 2014 / RNR Dallas Half 2014

100: RNR Portland Half 2015. Thanks to Joe for the celebratory 100th race card!

When I crossed the line in Anchorage 10 years ago, I told myself I wasn't just finishing a race, I was finishing my FIRST race. Susan followed me on the marathoning path on a lark. Ten years, 100 races later, we're still at it and we have no plans to slow down.

Time to update that bucket list item. 200 anyone?


Rock n Roll Portland is in its 4th year. Participation is down by about 1000 overall from 2014 (7,878 total with 2,016 in the new 10K, 5,862 in the Half).  Median finish times were about average for RNR races (1:07 for the 10K and 2:17 for the half). Race day weather was in the mid 50's with a thick overcast. Rain held off for the most part, but we did get sprinkled on a bit.  Overall elevation gain for the race was 411 feet which makes it actually less hilly than 2014 (682 feet, if you believe my Garmin data). The start/finish area in Waterfront Park is really well organized and close to a lot of downtown parking and light rail. If you can't find a place to stay in downtown, public transportation is really good. Since we've been there 4 times, we didn't hit a lot of the local curiosities like VooDoo Donuts. We got our fill in Denver last year!

Next week in San Diego, most of the die hard Rock n Roll Gypsies should be in attendance. We've started looking at lifetime race totals for RNR weekends since we haven't figured out if we should be counting 5k and 10k Remix races as separate events and we're still on the fence about the Brooklyn 10K since that was the only distance offered that year. We're pretty sure we've identified 9 people with more than 60 Rock n Roll races under their belts.  All of them will be in San Diego. Maybe we can get an update when we run into each other at the starting line again.

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Wednesday, May 13, 2015

The Race With 2000 Stories - The Biggest Loser RunWalk Crown Point Half Marathon 2015

It seems like forever since our first race. Ten years ago this June, we finished our first race at the Mayors Midnight Sun Marathon in Anchorage, Alaska. Finishing a marathon was on Ron's bucket list along with having a meal in all 50 states. Susan came along because she didn't want to get left behind. That's our story. That's how we got started.

The Biggest Loser RunWalk came to Crown Point, Indiana for the first time this year. This is one of the 14 Premier Destination races that offer a 5K and Half Marathon distance. Add this to the 17 Off-Road Challenges and The Biggest Loser RunWalk has more events than just about any other national series in just three short years since Dan and Jackie started in 2012.

Race weekend started Saturday morning at the Franciscan Home Care Services building at the Crown Point Fairgrounds. Like every TBL race we've attended, parking was plentiful and access to the expo was easy. This was probably the biggest expo we've seen in the series. The fact that Season 11 contestant, Marci Crozier, is the Regional Director of Franciscan Omni Health and Fitness had a lot to do with securing such a great location for the expo, start and finish lines.

Lines for the 5K bib pickup were about 100 deep. They did a great job getting the word out.
This year, the series rolled out their new technical race gear by Green Layer. The line of shirts, tank tops, hats, visors, half-zips and really nice fleece jackets sold well. We came away with three or four items apiece!

One piece of feedback I had for Green Layer was that motivational sayings are great on gear. With all the mottos from the trainers and the experiences of the contestants, there should be a LOT of great material for TBL fans!
I was able to catch most of the expo presentations, starting with Doctor Cheryl Forsberg, Chef and Nutritionist on the Ranch for The Biggest Loser TV show. Her presentation was spot on for the audience, giving enough basic information, really good stories about the show and also some more tips that even some of us veterans didn't know. One of the interesting facts about The Biggest Loser was that there has never been a vegetarian on the show. Susan claimed a moral victory for this, of course. I had already bought Doctor Cheryl's two books when she came to Clorox a few weeks ago and I'm looking forward to trying some of the recipes.

Susan, Doctor Cheryl and Paul. I saw quite a few of her books leaving the expo.
I caught the end of Megan Glaros talk. She's the meteorologist for CBS 2 Chicago Morning News. Part of her message was how to keep a healthy lifestyle while balancing a job and family. 

Two other former contestants from Season 16 were on the schedule as well. I missed Andrea Wilamowski (she lost 70 pounds on the show), but was able to meet her on race morning. I was there in time to listen to JJ O'Malley, also from Season 16. The theme of the season was "Glory Days" where former athletes tried to get back to the shape they were at their peak. JJ played college football at Arizona State until knee injuries cut his career short. To date, JJ has lost 167 pounds and continues to work hard at staying healthy. 

JJ had a bit of an identity crisis after losing the ability to play football. Before the show, he weighed in at 392 pounds. 

Marci talked about how she felt a little hypocritical being out of shape and an manager of a Health and Fitness center. One of the defining moments for her on the show was during a particularly strenuous workout. It was early on in the show and she was on the edge of exhaustion, saying her body couldn't take it.  Her daughter Courtney said "It'll take a while to change your body, but it'll take a split second to change your mind."

Marci shared one of her favorite poems called "Courage Doesn't Always Roar" by Paula Fox. It speaks volumes about people struggling with health, physical, mental or emotional.

You are not defined by this moment in time. You are not what has happened to you
It’s the way you choose to respond that matters and what you decide to do

Dan and Jackie closed the session. We've heard their story a dozen times and I have a ton of respect about Jackie's look back at being a mother who failed her son. She's made amends and then some by going on Season 5 with Dan and with the work she's done on the race series. We got to meet Dan's girlfriend Stacy for the first time too. She would be running her second half marathon.

Even though The Biggest Loser RunWalk is a national series, the prices are comparable to a lot of local races. They have a VIP program that includes a dinner, pre- and post-race food and preferred parking. Prices for those perks, especially for those of us traveling a long distance are well worth it and we'd recommend upgrading if you attend. All of the former contestants spoke at the dinner, but some of the stories at the tables were just as memorable.

We met Amy, a fellow Half Fanatic, who drove up from Alabama to cross off another state. She'd be trying to get another 7 this year to finish 2015 at 21 states. As it turns out, the more compelling stories involved even bigger numbers.

Around the room, we heard weight loss totals. One lady lost 55 pounds. Another lost 138 pounds.  The woman seated next to me at the table lost 40 pounds so she could be eligible to donate a kidney.  

THAT story left me speechless.

Several other groups of friends pointed to this race as the milestone after months of training with support groups. This was the first race for a lot of them after making the decision to turn around formerly sedentary lives. We left dinner with a new perspective. A lot of these folks were where we were 10 years ago, excited for a first race, taking their first step to taking their lives back and celebrating the decision they made to be fit and healthy together. I was humbled by the experience.

Race day brought us great weather with temperatures in the low 50's and some good stiff breezes. We caught up with Amy before the start. This MAY have been most of the Half Fanatics at the race. Heh. Susan and I were off to see if we could place in the Walk Division, another thing that makes The Biggest Loser RunWalk attractive for us. Participants are on an honor system on which division they enter and the course is not judged or monitored.

The half started first at 8 AM, followed by the 5K at 8:30. Dan sang the national anthem as usual and he, Jackie and Andrea counted down the 5 or so corrals for the wave start. 

The course looped around the fairgrounds twice in the first 10K and we had a mile of slight congestion as the half marathoners shared one lane of traffic with the 5K. It was a nice tour of the neighborhoods with lots of shade and the locals came out to cheer us on. A few of the country roads had enough hills to give us even the veterans some challenges. I forget how the upper midwest has so many rolling hills. Fortunately, we had driven the course the day before, so we kind of knew what to expect, but after the first half, I pretty much abandoned my time target time as my calves stared cramping up. We have way too many races on our schedule to risk an injury.

We came back into the Fair Grounds from the south. We passed within 50 yards of the finish line at mile 12 before going out a half mile around the lake and back to the finish line. Both Susan and I measured the course at 13.25 miles. I count it as a bonus since we got extra steps in.

Did we mention that the race entry also includes free downloadable pictures?

After watching an absolutely precious Kids 1 Mile Fun Run at noon, we caught up with our new friend, Amy. We plan to see her again in Chicago in few months and she's hoping to get a little faster so she can keep up with Susan and try to set a personal best. Meanwhile, we were happy with our race results.

New this race: plaques for the top 2 finishers in the walk division for men and women. 
Susan won her age group and fourth overall. Her walk time was better than her fastest run/walk time in 2015. 
Every time I race with The Biggest Loser, I like to wear my Team Future shirt. This is the charity that Jackie supports back home in Chicago that we raised money for back in 2011 before the series started. The message on the back got a lot of comments like "me too! 72 pounds!" or "That's my goal too!" and even "That's inspiring, congratulations!" After over 10 years later, it's good to remember why we started and a reason why we keep racing.

Each of the 1,522 finishers were there for their own reasons. Along with their supporters, I'd guess the attendance at the expo, clinics and cheerleaders on the course numbered well over 2,000. 

Each and every one of them had their own story to tell.  


The Biggest Loser RunWalk Crown Point was an awesome event, even more impressive that it was an inaugural year. The city of Crown Point and the Franciscan Alliance Hospitals were huge supporters of bringing the race series to Indiana. The proximity to Chicago Midway made it a really good race for those of us looking to check off additional states.

There were a total of 1,522 finishers for the 5K and half marathon distances. As always there was a separate division for walkers. Numbers and median finish times for each event were: 595 for the 5K run (median finish time of 40:22), 538 for the 5K walk (56:50), 329 for the Half run (2:30), 62 for the Half walk (3:36). 

The course was a nice tour of the town, starting and finishing in the  Lake County Fair Grounds. While the elevation changes didn't reflect it on the GPS data, we thought it was a pretty hilly course. Apparently we weren't alone in that sentiment!

We are working on logistics and budget to get to another of Dan and Jackie's events in Killington, Vermont, but with the newly announced event in Las Vegas on September 20th, we may opt to stay local. Crown Point was our 99th race at the half/full/ultra marathon distance. That, my friends, will be the next part of our story.

Saturday, May 2, 2015

A Music City (Weather) Miracle - Nashville Country Music Half Marathon 2015

We keep talking about how the sun seems to follow us on our races. Except for a few (Anchorage, Providence, Montreal, DC), we've gone to 94 of our 98 races without even a hint of rain. For Mardi Gras 2011 Nashville 2011 and Cleveland 2013, when the weather before and after the day of the race was brutal enough to cancel flights, the hours on the course were dry. The weather cleared up in Antarctica the day after we arrived. We're beginning to think California weather follows us around.

Then we see the forecast for Nashville this year. Al calls this a 'kitchen sink' race since the weather can be anywhere from near freezing to 90 degrees with rain, sleet and an occasional tornado watch. Basically pack everything, including the kitchen sink. As late as the night before, there were weather advisories for thunder showers and damaging hail. Maybe it was time that our luck ran out. Just for perspective, here's the screen shot from the Weather Channel app when we landed Thursday night. The race was scheduled to start at 7 AM.

For a Saturday morning race we caught an early Thursday flight to arrive mid afternoon. Along with the 30K+ coming into town for the race, the Nashville Predators were playing an early round of the NHL playoffs. Nashville hotel prices were 2 - 3 times the usual rate, so we opted to stay closer to the airport at the Sheraton Music City. Caryn has been missing from our RNR Gypsy group as she was neck deep in work and planning a friends wedding. She happened to be in the area for a work trip, so naturally, she had to squeeze a half marathon into the weekend.

Thursday night was a bit of a splurge meal. Dinner at the Watermark Nashville ended up being a three hour affair. If you get a chance to stop by, the gelato (especially the green apple), the lemon chiffon cake with meringue and the chicken and waffles (really!), are absolute MUSTS!

Our waiter was hilarious. We challenged him to match the appetizer to the person who ordered it and he was spot on. We asked him to take a picture of dinner at the table. We were right behind this big pole, but he improvised well.

Friday had a series of work calls, so between Caryn, Susan and Ron, one of us was always back at the hotel room keeping the world from falling apart. Caryn stayed at the hotel on the first trip where we ran into some of our RNR Gypsy friends as always. Nashville is Competitor's third biggest race behind Las Vegas and San Diego. It's also one of the oldest in the series which makes it all the more impressive for these 39 people who have run every race.

Geo Melichar joined us for the first time since RNR New Orleans. He's in training for the Eurogames this year so he's been focusing on local training. 

Al is a fan of ZipFizz, especially the Iced Tea flavor. For those in the know, expos usually have the best prices around for gear and fuel. Al is not one to pass up a deal and a few bonus bottles for the purchase.

We went back to the hotel for Caryn and had a quick bite at McNamara's Irish Pub for lunch. This place is known for live music and good authentic Irish food. It's come to my attention that I'm falling down quite a bit on food pictures these days, but if you go, the Corned Beef Bites, Black and Tan Onion Rings and the Potato Soup were big hits. While Caryn and Al finished up at the expo, I caught up with Kevin Gonzalez really briefly on the way out for dinner. Kevin had PR'ed in Boston the week before Nashville after PR'ing at the half the week before that in Raleigh. At some point, he may learn about taking it easy so he doesn't eventually implode, but I don't see that happening any time soon.

We had dinner with Al's friends at The Yellow Porch. Al's friend Sue and Eric picked out this little place and proceeded to impress the heck out of us with stories about their kids. I have a feeling that family is going to be a force to be reckoned with in the tech world some day.

At this point, the forecast was looking better for Saturday morning. There was still a lot of concern about the folks who would be up early setting up the course, especially the large metal frames for the start and finish lines. The threat of thunderstorms was moving later in the afternoon, but they added large hail and damaging winds to the forecast. Competitor was keeping us up to date and had a text alert system set up to give us the latest at 5AM. As late as Friday night, it still looked pretty scary.

The text came in the next morning that the race was to start on schedule. I checked the weather and heard Al Michaels in the background saying "Do you believe in miracles?!" I'm beginning to think we should ask for rain in California.

We parked at LP Field and walked over the bridge to the starting line a mile away. I remember in Montreal when we somehow ran into Beth and Jim out of the 15,000 people in the race. This time, we found Andrew, Michelle and Ted (and Hyalker, who we saw shortly after this shot) on the way to the starting line. It was like Montreal a few years ago. In a sea of tens of thousands of people, we gypsies always seem to find each other.

Nashville is a huge race for St. Jude's Children's hospital. St. Jude Heroes raised $1.8 million for the charity. Our friend Thao is the charity liaison for Competitor Group. She says her job is the most rewarding on the planet.

As for the race itself? No rain. not a drop. I think the only water I felt splashed on me at an aid station or from a hose that was misting down runners at mile 10. The music was great. I heard a few people saying they were pretty sure they were using DJ's, until they turned the corner and saw a live band. 

I remember a lot of people complaining how hilly this course was. Depending on if you look at total elevation change or gauge it by the steepness of individual hills, you could argue this was about the same as RNR Raleigh. Having started out training in San Francisco, I think our expectations are pretty high.

Two of the most inspiring runners on the course wore bright green shirts, surrounded by support staff. I didn't get names or bib numbers, but this lady and a fellow before her both finished in the 2:10 - 2:15 range for the half. 

Both are legally blind. Your arguments are invalid.

There was a bit of confusion at the finish line which was supposed to be about 50 yards past the final turn off Woodland to South 1st Street. Since there was still a threat of thundershowers, CGI elected not to put up the finish banner. While we heard Ann Wessling on the PA, most of us didn't even know she was on the stage. I stopped before the finish line to go back for a long-distance high five. 

While we were waiting for Caryn, we made our way to medal pick up - that was the plan in case we got into any weather issues. We caught up with our friends Amy and Ainsley (whom we met in DC) and Fred (met in Raleigh). For five of us, this was our 6th RNR, giving us the Six-String Heavy Medal and the Southern Charm medal for completing RNR New Orleans and RNR Raleigh. If you missed Nashville, but completed the other two, you can still earn this challenge medal by completing RNR Savannah in November.

Yes, I got stopped going through airport security. I'm learning to pack the medals on top in one layer.

Fred is one of the five people who picked up the Eight Track Heavy Medal. The thing is a monster.

According to Amy at the Heavy Medal booth, there are about 30 people who picked up the Six-String and about the same picking up the "Stairway to Seven." It looks like the Hall of Fame medal was a huge incentive this year and if there is a banner like 2014, it's going to be very VERY crowded!

There was a post-race concert this weekend, something that used to be standard for RNR races, but not for the past few years since we started racing more. Martina McBride performed at the Bridgestone Arena and to get in, all you needed to do was show your race bib. 

Ron, Susan, Caryn, Sherry pre-show. Joe had great side view seats and took some awesome pics and video.
I know a few people who weren't able to stay for the show. It was a great reward after a pretty tense weekend and a challenging course.

On the way back to the car (the long way), we swung by Savannah Candy Kitchen on Broadway. This is where social media and my incurable sweet tooth tend to enable each other since I saw a ton of pictures from my friends who stopped by here. Even if you don't buy anything, it's a treat just to watch the pralines and rice krispie treats being made.

I know the sun doesn't REALLY follow us around the world, but I continue to be grateful for the opportunities we've had to continue racing. Never in my wildest dreams did I think we'd be where we are, coming up on turning 50, traveling the country and the world, in great shape and spending time with wonderful people. 

Maybe it's the attitude we all share that brings the sun with us.


The Country Music Marathon and Half Marathon was held for the 16th year in 2015. There were 23,130 total finishers including 2,635 in the full, 18,351 in the half and 2,260 in the 5K. Median finish times were 4:41, 2:25 and 00:39, respectively. This is the largest race around with the entertainment dedicated to country music. This year was a little muggy, but considering what the forecast was like up until Friday night, no one is complaining. In the past 5 years, weather has been really random. Check forecasts often and be adaptable. Also be ready to shell out some bucks for hotel rooms, noting that there's reasonable parking at the finish line for this year's course, so staying outside of downtown is very convenient.

This was our first time back in Nashville since 2011, the first year we ramped up our race schedule to get the first Rock Idol medal for 10 races. I remember it being muggy, but not a drop of rain on the course. The sky opened up the afternoon after the race when we headed out to Memphis on the way to Graceland. We haven't signed up for Nashville 2016, but may put it on our list to rotate every other year with eastern and central races depending on our RNR race goal for the year.

Nashville was our 98th lifetime race at the half, full or ultra distance. When Ron was 38, he set a goal to complete A marathon. After that, the next goal was 50 events by age 50. When we both reached 50 when Ron was 46, we raised the bar to 100 events by age 50. We're on track to do that with a year and a half to spare. Next us is The Biggest Loser RunWalk in Crown Point, Indiana.

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