Monday, November 23, 2015

Take 3 - Disney Avengers and Rock n Roll Las Vegas Half Marathons 2015

This is a long blog. I didn't have the focus to split it into two parts so I did what I could to hit the highlights. In retrospect, the length is actually pretty reflective of how it feels to go through the day we did.

When people at work find out how much we travel for races, they eventually stop asking IF we have a race coming up, but instead ask where we're going next. Even the folks who are used to it pause when we tell them 'we're doing the Disney Avengers Half on Sunday morning, then flying to Vegas that night to the the Rock n Roll Half.' At this point, they usually don't know what to say, so I spare them and say, 'There are people who are crazier than us'. Crazy, it seems, is relative. 

It's amusing that I have to put a year in the title, implying that this isn't the first (or the last) time we'll do this combo.

Friday November 13th: Travel Day 1.

This year was a little different. Unlike SA2LV and last year's Avengers/Vegas, we actually flew to Vegas on Friday. Susan's company has a quarterly meeting in Chicago that week and it's quicker and cheaper than flying all the way home and back to Vegas. We ended up booking our timeshare at the Desert Rose from Friday to Monday which turned out to work pretty well. I checked in to the Vegas to Anaheim Saturday flight from the plane out of Oakland. Thank you Southwest for the wifi!

First stop after dropping our stuff off was bib pick up. I caught the monorail with VIP Joe Harris and Lisa Short, the RNR San Antonio Ambassador of Rock. With a crazy weekend ahead, it was good to start things off seeing friendly faces.

We got the pink sheets in the bib pick up bins, indicating we needed to head to Solutions. This time it was to pick up our Hall of Fame backpacks and merchandise vouchers before heading back to the bibs to get our 15-race vanity bibs. It's been a long year and it was neat to finally hold them for the first time.

That's not my medal. At least not yet. And I still love this shirt.
I spent some time in Merch doing some shopping at the expo. I realized because we started the last two Vegas weekends in another state, we never get a chance to pick up things ourselves. I have to admit that I like the new colors and material for the half-zips RNR is selling this year. I think I have a half dozen of them from this year alone. Along with the Hall of Fame backpack comes a gift card for expo merchandise good until the end of the year. It didn't last long!

We also found that one of our good friends on the CGI staff would be retiring after RNR San Antonio. Darlene, we'll miss you. Thanks for everything and hopefully we'll see you on weekends of your choosing in the next year!

I had no commitments other than lunch/dinner so with the year winding down, it was nice to get some time to chat with Amy, Ryan and Mindy who helped make this another amazing year of races, shirts, laughs and Heavy Medals.

An unusual lull at the Rock n Roll registration area with Amy, Kevin, Joe, Ryan, Andrew and Mindy.
Several of our gypsy friends were already in Vegas including Sherry, Andrew, Kamika, Jim and Beth. I was able to catch lunch with Joe and Kevin at Gordon Ramsey's BurGR in the Planet Hollywood and talk about some ideas we had about the long term for Rock n Roll. The burgers were good.

Given the potential for excess on the Vegas strip, I headed back to the hotel to make sure I had all of my gear for the Disney race AND the plane ride back in a single backpack before heading out to the tables. This year we booked the Desert Rose from Friday to Monday and left the room empty Saturday night. Turns out it worked well. Joe did decently at the nickel slots. The blackjack tables were kind to me as well. Susan and I grabbed a quick dinner and triple checked the gear.

I left the bibs in Vegas. We were pretty sure we'd have enough time to get back to the room to change.

Saturday, November 14th: Travel Day 2.
We met up with Beth and Jim at the airport to catch a mid-morning flight to Orange County. It turns out Vegas is good for Beth too. She loves the video poker slots.

The 45 minute flight was barely enough time to catch up on things. The tray tables had to up before we finished our drinks and we had to check in for our Sunday flight just after we landed. Jim got us to Downtown Disney with a few hours to spare before the expo closed to pick up bibs and we grabbed lunch at Tortilla Joe's. Two years after the original double at SA2LV, we were ready to do it again! Kamika, Caryn and Al had all done the 10K before we arrived to complete the first leg of the Infinity Gauntlet. 

Sunday, November 15th. Race Day, Travel Day 3.

Early mornings at Disneyland can be a little chilly. Most of us had old space blankets handy and the low light was good enough for some group selfies. Al had the experience to know that the corral split was a good place to meet. Texting and FB messages just weren't going through very quickly.

Bag check closed 20 minutes before the start, so with Beth checking her jacket, we did some improvising.

Marathoners who've never done a Disney race should know that they're extremely well run, certainly worthy of a company that specializes in entertainment. The customer service at bag check, the decor and the characters are first rate. Even the starting line is a production.

Last year, Al and I were able to make the photo lines for Hawkeye and Thor, but missed Black Widow and Captain America. This year, Al got them both at the 10K. I was lucky enough get catch the short lines for both in the half.

"You want to do two half marathons in two states on the same day?"
"Yeah. It'll be fun."

"On your left"

Classic. Only at a Disney race!
Beth and Jim didn't submit proof of finish times before getting to the race, so they ended up in corral D. Disney enforces the corrals and sends waves every 10 minutes, so we knew they'd be coming up behind us. They passed Caryn at mile 7, me at mile 7.5 and passed Susan just before she got to Angels stadium at mile 9. This is the third time we've done a Disney race that went through the stadium and since I usually wait for character pics, I never get to see Susan. This time we somehow timed it just perfectly so we met in the 150 yard stretch inside the stadium. She said she heard the announcer call my name.

Of course, Susan couldn't go the whole race without a picture with the Avengers. Waiting for us at the finish were Hawkeye and Thor. I actually got all 4 this time!

We even got a really nice shout out from Rudy Novotny, the voice of runDisney. He was calling out a lot of people who were ready to hop a flight to Vegas for one of three races that night.

Race 1 done. Since we were all finishing at different times, we agreed to meet at 10:45 after a shower, quick change and check out. Refuel and hydrate, but not too much.

The flight to Vegas was scheduled to take off at 12:35 and land by 1:30. Caryn was doing the 10K starting at 4:00 so it looked like we had a lot of time. SA2LV and Disney2LV alum Martin and Wes were on the same flight. We met a few more Half Fanatics doing the double too. It reminded me a lot of 2013 when making it to the airport was the stressful part.

Think we were the only ones excited about the weekend? Not hardly. Even Southwest was getting in on the action.

This is where the universe tested us a bit. We had forecasts of strong winds in Vegas and when the pilot announced a delay at the gate. It ended up being a lot of traffic coming into Vegas and since we were still on the ground, they pushed us down in priority. We had a 90 minute delay, putting our arrival time at about 3:00. We'd be cutting it close for Caryn.

In 2010, Susan and I renewed our vows at the Run Through Wedding at Rock n Roll Vegas in a daytime ceremony at mile 3.8. In 2013, we did it again at the starting line, that time with Beth and Jim. This year, we had something else in mind.  Al has a minister's license and he renewed our vows some 30,000 feet over the California-Nevada border. The video was too large to upload to blogspot, but its on my Facebook wall for all to see. I should have asked Wes and Martin if they wanted to join in, but their real first wedding is scheduled for some time next October.

We landed at just before 3:00 PM. We scattered to our respective hotels to get ready for the second race. Caryn did make it to the SLS to the starting line of the 10K just as the first corrals were getting released. The rest of us at the half got there around 4:00 - pretty leisurely as these things go.

Race 2: Rock n Roll Las Vegas Half Marathon

The 4:30 start time had low enough light so that it got harder to take pictures. We found Lisa Marie and Ken in corral 10 and waited for the the Run Through Wedding parties in corral 11. A few pictures turned out OK. Ish.

Lisa Marie had been at two races where the weather was so bad they canceled all or part of the race. We were ready to blame her if we didn't make Vegas. Fortunately, we did make it, so we'll just blame her for the 30 mph winds.

Ann Wessling, as usual, lighting up the start line. 

A seriously blurry picture of Carl and Ilona with their entourage on the way to the Run Through Wedding at mile 3. The scooter now has sound effects. I was thinking maybe in San Antonio, she'll add a cooler with beverages.

The Welcome to Vegas sign. You can already see the winds through Susan's hair.

Sherry caught up to us at mile 2. It was tough to focus the camera knowing the road had some potholes and a few million people in front of me.

I pretty much shut down the pictures between mile with the rain starting at mile 7 and the winds coming at our face at the turn. It went from challenging to miserable for a while. Al and I had talked about stopping at the Stratosphere and doing the free fall during the race, but it was closed due to the conditions. Probably a good thing. The GPS trace would show you going down, out, back, up, and splatting against the building as your heart rate flat lined.

Right about this point, things slowed down. Literally.  Al was on his last few treatments of an allergy shot regimen and just receive the highest dose on Thursday. His doctor told him that if his heart rate shot up too high, he could go into anaphylactic shock. He didn't feel at all bad, but that's not something you ignore. He took it easy in Disney, but his corral started a full 10 minutes before us so we never saw the effects. We took it easy. I mean 15 minute/mile easy.

One highlight was being able to meet Jennifer's fiancee, Blair. They were stationed at the full/half split at mile 11.5. The rain had stopped, but she mentioned the wind got even stronger after we left. Major props to the staff and volunteers staying out there past 3.5 hours and the folks doing the full.

The wind didn't let up at all for the last mile and a half and with the slow pace, the moisture activated thermal reflective gear didn't quite do the job is should have. We gave Ann a hug and Chris a high five at the finish line and made our way to see Ryan and Mindy at the Heavy Medal tent. The Hall of Fame microphone medals went right into a box with our post race snacks and we headed to the Westin to warm up a bit. Kamika drove Susan back to the hotel to rest and I went over to Johnny Rocket's with Al and Caryn for some massive burgers.  I would have taken pictures, but the food was inhaled before I remembers to pull out my phone.

Our total elapsed time for both races was somewhere in the 6 - 6.5 hour range. Back when we started racing, that would have easily been a full marathon PR walking and I consider that good perspective. Days like this go on our calendar to push ourselves a little and to further cement some friendships that we hope last another few decades.

Oh. And the calorie deficit isn't bad either. We hit the Spice Market Buffet at Planet Hollywood the next morning with fellow race walker, Gary. We chose that because Susan has this thing for cotton candy.

I swear, I only sampled each. Honest.

Part of the 11 AM lunch buffet menu, made fresh before your eyes!

It didn't occur to us that we hadn't even put the medals around our necks until we got home. I guess we were waiting for the right background. I still have about 10 medals to put on the 2015 rack from SportHooks and a special bib holder for our latest one.

Dozens of pictures and hundreds of memories. Four days, two states, two halfs for the third year in a row. 

And we're signed up for Vegas 2016 and are just waiting for Avengers 2016 registration to open.


The runDisney Avengers Half Marathon is in its second year. Given that the Infinity Gauntlet (10K and Half) sold out in a few hours, it's likely the race will continue for some time to come. The bonus medal for doing both races has six slots for Infinity Stones, so it makes even more sense to continue (though I'd heard reports of some of the stones falling out of the medals and littering the park that afternoon). This year, the weather was just about perfect with none of the high winds from 2014. There were 10,765 finishers in the half, 6,778 finishers in the Captain America 10K. Over 6,000 finished both races for the Infinity Gauntlet challenge. Military results are totaled separately adding about 500 more finishes.  The 2015 course was slightly different than last year, but like most Disneyland races, had the first 3 - 4 miles and the last mile inside the park grounds. We got a shout out at Angels Stadium which is always a hoot and a half. Support on the course was top notch as always with ChEAR Squads and costumed characters all along the course.

Rock n Roll Las Vegas also had a slight course change to increase the amount of lighting on the north end of the course between miles 7 and 9. Unlike last year when the temperature was just chilly, we had a good soaking of rain at mile 7 and sustained 20 mph winds out of the southwest with gusts that blew over many of the course barriers. Many thanks to the hundreds of volunteers who braved the conditions and thanks to the amazing staff at CGI. There were 23,093 finishers in the half, 3,107 in the full, 5,124 in the 10K (formerly the "Half of the Half") and 6,785 in the 5K race on Saturday. 

The races are on the same weekend again in 2016 (November 12/13th). If you're looking for a challenge and one half marathon isn't enough for you, this is a great one to take on!

Susan and I took advantage of the down time for the weekend before Thanksgiving to plan the 2016 Rock n Roll schedule and signed up for 12 more halfs and 4 5K's with Philadelphia and Denver not currently open for registration. We're waiting on any word for Portland, Los Angeles and a rumored new race in Texas before committing to the last few races.  Thanks to CGI for the Global TourPass for saving us the trouble of registering at the expo for the next year's race. Not like we weren't going to anyway, but it's nice to have that flexibility. 

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