Thursday, December 31, 2015

What Goes Through Your Mind During a 50K. Looking Back. Letting Go. Forging Ahead.

I walked 50K last Saturday.

Most of the people who read that unconsciously read it as "I walked a 50K". That would imply there was an event, a medal, a course and pictures. There was none of that, except for a couple pictures. The rest? I did it on my own.

Why?  Good question. I was asking myself that several times during the day.

I turned 49 this December. Like several times before I blurted out a goal based on that milestone. I finished my first marathon at age 38 and decided I wanted to finish 50 races by age 50 (we passed that three years ago) and then 100 races by 50 (we did that mid 2015). Some time last year I decided to do a 50K before I turned 50. That's what led to Saturday. 

Let's ignore the fact that I hadn't put in any mileage in three weeks and hadn't done long distance since our double half in mid-November. Add that the day before was Christmas. I had a decent breakfast but then loaded up on cookies, fudge and junk food - not an ideal fueling routine. But this was the first weekend day after my birthday that wasn't pouring rain. I figure if I'm going to be out there for 7 hours depending on speed, I'd rather do it when it's nice. We learned to race with Team in Training, meaning we don't wear headphones. That's a really long time to be alone with your thoughts and the scenery, but it was a great time to reflect on 2015.

I started at 8:15 AM when the outside temps read 29 degrees and a forecast for light winds. Say what you will about wimpy Californians, but it was reportedly warmer in DC, Connecticut and Vancouver that morning.    

The first leg went west on the Alameda Creek trail toward the Bay. The trail is paved and with a few exceptions in Coyote Hills, pretty flat and very exposed to winds. I packed a few Bonk Breakers, a tube of Gu Brew and my RNR Raleigh rain jacket to keep the wind off. 10.4K (6.5 miles) later, I was at the furthest point west on the trail looking out at a beautiful sunrise over the bay.

No one else out here except for bikers and a few vultures. I should have taken that as a hint.
It was a little over 20% of the way through and I was thinking about the first few months of the race year. We skipped RNR Arizona for the inaugural runDisney Star Wars half, finally getting the Darth Vader pictures I missed at Dumbo. We went back to RNR New Orleans for the first time since 2010 and I added a Brazen race on Valentine's Day to pull even with Susan on half marathons so we could finish the year at 100 apiece.

I was keeping a comfortable pace as I turned into Coyote Hills to refill my water bottle before 17K (10.5 miles). A third of the way through the year would be the end of April and by then we had seen Joe become the first to reach 100 Rock n Roll races in DC. Our thoughts turned to Beth after we raced at RNR Dallas, her last race before undergoing abdominal surgery. After hearing a positive report during RNR San Francisco, we wore bibs in her honor at RNR Raleigh.

What mile 13 looks like after getting a decent amount of rain.
Between the 17K and 27K (Miles 10.5 to 17.2) it was rough going. I hit gusting headwinds of 15-20 mph and it wasn't getting much warmer. It took a lot to stay focused. I thought about the stretch between late April and mid July when I was working on Al's speed program. I had good races at RNR Nashville, TBL Crown Point and RNR Portland before setting a 5K and Half PR at RNR San Diego. I felt pretty good about my race walk form at Tim Seaman's clinic in Chicago and we cheered Beth finishing her first full marathon after surgery at RNR Seattle. We celebrated our 20th anniversary by going back to the site of our first race in Alaska and raced a toasty remix at RNR Chicago. We finished July at the San Francisco 1st half.

I broke off the trail to head back to the house at 27K (17.2 mi) to get more food. Honestly, I was hurting from lack of fuel and was seriously considering stopping. Susan came home as I was heating up leftover eggs and pretzel bread and reminded me that I knew the trail like the back of my hand. And she reminded me that 14 more miles "is just a half."

Sorry guys. I know I'm not supposed to make light of the distance, but for us, that's motivation.  

I spent 20 minutes refueling, unfueling, packing extra Bonk Breakers and refocusing. 60% through the year is about where we usually a long break between RNR Chicago and our next race in early September and I spent that break working harder to get faster before RNR San Jose.  I got back to the creek trail for the second leg. Getting started after the break was a big deal, physically and mentally.

Our first race back after the break was the Run for CHUM, checking off a half in Michigan. Next was TBL Las Vegas in 80 degree heat where I walked a solid sub-2:25 on a shortened course. RNR San Jose was supposed to be the PR race, but the wheels came off at mile 9. The next week at RNR Brooklyn, I came within 30 seconds of the San Diego PR on a more challenging course. Two weeks later were were back at RNR St. Louis to meet Hyalker's honoree, Katy and Amy's family who were running for her uncle Bill.  Back on the trail, I made the turn at Niles at the 32K mark. It's starting to look like I'll make the full distance if I just stay focused. It's time to go into the fun cool down for the rest of the year.

It's hard to complain when you can train pretty much all year round in good conditions.
The end of October was the group Pac Man costume race at RNR Los Angeles. Three weeks later we had a beautiful morning race at the runDisney Avengers half and a cold, windy night race at RNR Las Vegas. Susan and I and Beth and Jim renewed our vows on the flight between Anaheim and Vegas. On the trail, I'm passing the 42K (26.1 mile) mark. Just 8K (5.1 miles) more. Less than a 10K. I did some mental calculations and concluded I need to pass my start point by 3K to get the distance right. I'm surprised my brain is still able to process that.

Our last race of the year was RNR San Antonio. I set a PR at on the 10K by 3 minutes and raced with Susan step for step the next day in the half. It was our 100th. It seemed right. At the finish line, I drop to one knee and ask her if she'd spend the next 100 half marathons with me. For some reason, she agrees.

I'm less than 2K from the 50K mark. I text Susan to let her know I'm nearly done. She offers to meet me at the end and drive me to In n Out for a burger and fries. Clearly she was serious about spending the next 100 halfs with me. I came down the short hill from the creek trail to find her waiting for me, with the dogs in the back seat. My total time was about 7.5 hours including 40 minutes of stop time to refuel and stretch. Fifteen minutes later I had a double double and extra crispy fries. The food didn't survive the drive home.

It's four days later as I write this. The knots in my quads and hamstrings are close to normal, I still have a tightness in my right arch that needs attention and I have a pair of matching blood blisters on my heels that show up when I'm using good race walk form. Garmin Connect tells me that the blue Brooks Pure Cadence shoes are officially past their mileage limit so it's time to retire them. I used those shoes for PR's at the 5K, 10K, half marathon and now 50K distance, but it feels good to let things go when they've outlived their usefulness. I have better pairs on the shelf.

Looking ahead to 2016, we're gearing up to check of our 6th continent at the Victoria Falls marathon in Zimbabwe in July. We're signed up for 14 Rock n Roll races and have to add a couple more to get to Hall of Fame for a third straight year. If the schedule works out, we want to get back to American River Parkway and see if our race walk form is any closer to legal.

It doesn't feel like I'm turning 50 next year. It feels like I'm just starting and the road ahead is open to all kinds of possibilities.

Postscript: Although I planned to do this 50K just to say I did it, two days later, I got an email from Rock n Roll for the Bonus Track Medal. This is a virtual race with no set distance, so I guess I get a medal for it after all!


All told we finished 24 half marathons, two 10Ks and three 5Ks for 338.5 race miles. We crossed off 4 new states for half marathons bringing our total to 25, won two age grade awards each, had two overall first place finishes a 2nd and 3rd place and got the highest medal awarded at Rock n Roll for the fifth year in a row. We got closer with a lot of our gypsy friends and I think we have found a group of friends that we'll want to race with for years to come.

If you're looking for a way to start off an active New Year tomorrow, a few of my friends run social media supported programs that I'd love to plug.

John Bingham kicks off his 100 Days Challenge tomorrow. Be intentionally active for a total of 30 minutes a day and check off your progress. He says this is not a Training program, but more a Lifestyle program. It's a great way to come off the couch.

David DeNeire has transformed the FREE! 365 days of Cardio Challenge to pair up buddies and hold each other accountable for 25 minutes of cardio every day. No cost to join. The group posts some pretty diverse pictures, so it's like doing your workouts all over the world. You can sign up on a monthly basis and keep going for all of 2016 and beyond.

Jenny Hadfield kicks of Challenge 2016. Each month there's a different focus on different aspects of running/walking (strength, speed, endurance) and also tips on creating healthy habits. Coming with the $45 membership is private sessions with Coach Jenny. For $55, you can also get the Challenge 2016 medal!

If you know that you're going to race a lot anyway, don't forget to pick up the Rock n Roll TourPass that allows you to race in 3 events for $219 or an unlimited number for $479. It pays for itself pretty fast. Also remember to enroll as a Heavy Medalist so you get the enormous bonus medals for completing multiple races.

Serial racers can also find some great discounts and race tips at The 100 Half Marathons Club. Today is the LAST day for $25 lifetime membership ($75 after the deadline). You need at least 10 lifetime half marathons to join.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

The Last of the First 100 - Rock n Roll San Antonio Weekend 2015

I wonder how important milestones are. I remember the first marathon and how much I looked forward to finishing it and joining the half of one percent who've finished an endurance event. I have a feeling that percentage has changed in the last 10 years, but we've also raised our bar. Fourteen full marathons (or 13 and an ultra) a dozen 5K, 10K and 15K races and 99 half marathons later, we came into San Antonio ready to close out the year with a bang.

The end of the calendar year is significant for the Rock n Roll Marathon series. With the TourPass program, this is the last chance to add races for the Hall of Fame and Heavy Medal program. This year 84 people finished 15 or more races. My Facebook feed already has a lot of people trying to figure out if they will keep that schedule for 2016 or take a break for when the Heavy Medals are redesigned.

We've already signed up for 12 races. I think people know our intentions.

As much as we appreciate the races and the opportunity to travel and see friends across the country, this journey would not be the same without the people who make the races happen. We'd like to thank two of them for their friendship and years of service.

Darlene retired after San Antonio. She is always one of the first staff members we see in the Brooks merchandise area. I've purchased many a luggage tag or half-zip pullover over the years after chatting with her. She's a SoCal resident, so we hope to see her at RNR San Diego or Los Angeles (assuming LA comes back on the schedule). 

Amy V. recently moved to New York and is leaving CGI for other opportunities. She worked the Rock n Roll booth getting people to sign up for more races (like we need encouragement?). We usually saw her after the races to pick up Heavy Medals. I like to think that's one of the better assignments, other than explaining how medals 2 - 4 are sent by mail dozens of times every race.

Amy and Mindy (center) at the RNR Booth.

This was the first of a lot of pictures of friends making the Hall of Fame this year. The other blog has more details. The 11 people in this picture have finished about 170 races in 2015 alone. That doesn't count the Remix races.

With the 10K on Saturday, we headed out for a late lunch at The County Line on the Riverwalk. Once again something about the RNR Gypsy group makes it easier for us to find each other. Drew was just in time to share our brownie dessert.

Drew also had a dilemma. With the Stairway to Seven Heavy Medal on the line and a badly sprained ankle, he rented a knee scooter from a local medical supply store to see if he could finish out the year. Drew wanted to do a test race for the 10K and knew he needed a lot of tweaks. Fortunately, we were able to connect him with Ilona who finished her last 10 races of 2015 on HER scooter, many of them with sub-2 hour times. I'm amazed at how determined our friends can be to overcome adversity.

I followed Al and Drew to Hotel Havana for pre-dinner cigars and drinks. I didn't partake of either, but it was great to catch up with Jim, Beth and David. We've been on this journey together for five years. And no matter how long it's been since the last time we met, we pick up the conversation like we just left each other. 

Grainy night shot. Maybe with a better phone, I'd get the better selfie?
Drew and I left to meet Susan, Sherry, Ethan, Michelle, Ted and Garrett at Rosario's for a late dinner with Kamika joining us later. I didn't realize how many places we've been that we now want to revisit, all because of the races. We've eaten here 5 times in the last three years.

Saturday, December 5th.

We had a civilized 9 AM start for the 10K on Saturday. The short walk to the starting line at the Alamodome was chilly, but sunny. Drew was ready to get some miles in to test the scooter. 

The 10K course is pretty flat and so far this year I PRed at the 5K and half marathon distances. Why not make it a clean sweep? When I decide to push a race, there aren't many pictures, if any. It was a good 10K and I took nearly 3 minutes off my previous PR. 

Race 1 done. Photo op with Joe who volunteered to hand out water for the finishers. Truly a class act.

Al helped Drew navigate the brick roads near the Alamo in the early miles. Susan and Kamika stayed with Drew for the last 4. I'm really glad I went back out to catch this picture. It'll be 6 weeks until I see most of these friends again.

One down. One more to finish the year.

Post race lunch was at Charlie Wants a Burger. With pretty much everyone on the TourPass circuit doing the Remix, it wasn't surprising that we'd run into a lot of them. This group? 240+ Heavy Medal races in the RNR series this year alone. Pretty incredible.

Dinner was back at The County Line because of the long waits everywhere on the Riverwalk. The menu is a carnivore's dream, but surprisingly Susan-friendly. Baked potatoes, grilled veggies and another Kahlua brownie with apple cobbler and we were set. We called it early to make the 6 AM parking lot closure the next morning.  We went with our throwback Half Fanatics jerseys for the occasion. With over 13,000 members, being #1731 and #1732 makes us old-timers. The bibs are courtesy of a club we recently joined. If you have more than 10 half marathons complete, check out the 100 Half Marathons club. They have some great member only discounts and are in the process of redesigning the club's shirts and singlets.

Thanks, Joe, for the thoughtful card and gift card!

Sunday, December 6th. Our 100th Half Marathon

We splurged for VIP this weekend to take advantage of gear check and a great seat for the headliner concert afterwards. Temps started in the high 40's. Susan actually shocked herself with how cold her hands were when she crossed her arms for this picture.

One of my favorite race memories was sharing a space blanket on the bridge at Rock n Roll Montreal in 2013. It seems we were walking down memory lane a lot in San Antonio.

Michelle added one more race so she could make San Antonio her 100th half. That weekend was raining and cold, so I feel kinda guilty about applying peer pressure.

OK, not really. 

The back bibs drew a lot of attention. We counted about as many 'congratulations' on the race as the halfs we've completed.

Parts of racing that we love. Where else can you take a selfie with the elites of the craft? Olympian and Boston Marathon winner Meb was also cheering people on after the 10K the day before. I gave him a high five at mile 5.

This was not a push race. I wanted to finish with Susan, so I was taking time out for pictures. We caught Kamika in his usual place - just over the starting line so he could see all his friends off.  Cue crazy faces.

Two years ago in the early miles of SA2LV we passed this building.  Susan swears she doesn't remember it. Heh.

Two years ago, Al took a picture with a guy in a pink pig costume with an air conditioning unit in his rear end. This year, no pig, so we settled for the restaurant sign. We may try their food next year when we come back. Susan may pass.

We weren't the only ones celebrating a milestone. Lida was finishing her 100th FULL marathon in San Antonio. Her Superwoman costume came complete with a cape with a huge 100 on the back.

I'm not usually one for planning moments like these, but with such a big achievement looming, I made sure I let Susan know it was coming. Thanks to Al for capturing the moment and for Ann for the wonderful shout out (and the goofy dance off).

Al was juggling two phones at the time. Here's the picture centered.

Our 100th half was in the books. All that was left was collecting the hardware. Mindy and Amy had a busy day handing out Gold Records and Hall of Fame microphones.

We thanked Tracy and Josh for all the work they did to keep Rock n Roll going and making it a great experience. The thank-you scroll to the CGI staff that was signed by the Heavy Medalists at the expo is on the way to headquarters as we speak.

Drew finished his half in a little over three hours. Word has it he even got a phone number from a young lady who helped him get his scooter up the hill at mile 9. The Stairway to Seven was well earned. He skipped the Dallas half the following week to heal.

As the headliner (Third Eye Blind) started playing, it was easier to dance without the pound and a half of metal around our necks. Our table looked like a high stakes poker game. If you think about it, each of those medals probably conservatively cost us upwards of $7500 in races, air fare, hotel, meals and swag.

Milestones are big deals. I get that now. Sometimes a big goal looks so intimidating you have to break it down into smaller steps. Ten years ago, we had no idea we'd be looking up and seeing our 100th anything when it came to races.

Now we're looking forward... to the next 100.


Rock n Roll San Antonio was held for the 9th time under the Rock n Roll name in 2015. This was the second year CGI offered the 10K Remix. There were 18,845 total finishers (2,506 in the full marathon, 12,053 in the half, 2,282 in the 10K and 2,004 in the 5K). In addition to Meb (CGI VP or Running), elites Kara Goucher, Shalane Flanagan and Amy Hastings were on hand for tune ups leading up to Olympic trials.

Not much has changed in the course in the last few years for the half marathon. The first 10K go through downtown and the last 10K go up the hills through Trinity College. Starting temps for the last three years have ranged from the high 40's to the mid 50's ending in the low to high 60's. It hasn't rained on us since we've raced there.

Big congrats go to our friends who had memorable races in San Antonio.  After setting the goal to run 20 RNR events this year, Amy H. capped off the year with her first full marathon.  Victory Headstand Runner, Jim D. dedicated his marathon to his uncle who passed away last year. Jim set a PR by over 8 minutes. Kudos this weekend also go to Mitch G. for completing a marathon in the last of the 50 states (plus DC). Mitch completed the circuit at Honolulu on December 13th.

We've already signed up for 14 Rock n Roll Races in 2016. San Antonio is on the schedule. We'll be waiting for the schedule to firm up in October - either SoCal or Vancouver - to figure out the 15th. 

Thursday, December 10, 2015

All Good Things - 2015 Rock n Roll Marathon Hall of Fame Presentation

At the end of the expo at Rock n Roll San Antonio, we finally found out the results of the race for the Rock n Roll Marathon Hall of Fame. While the Pannell report tracked the weekly totals pretty accurately, it was pretty amazing all those people converge into one spot for a half hour of some of the most-tagged pictures I've ever seen.

278 people finished 10 or more races in 2015. Depending on whose numbers you use, somewhere between 83 and 87 finished 15 races to earn as spot in the 2015 Hall of Fame. The numbers from the Pannell Report, to close out 2015, are listed below.

10 121
11 31 12 19 13 7 14 13 15 30 16 21 17 13 18 7 19 1 20 6 21 5 22 3 23 1

Disclaimer, John runs these manually. There may be some miscounts as some of the international races have a more difficult time being imported due to formatting. We also have first hand reports of people having fewer races than the Pannell report shows. I can't thank him enough for the work he does.

The top story was the award for the most Heavy Medal qualifying races - the Rock Superstar - going to Leah Reid. The 23 races above doesn't include the side trip she made to St. Louis to do the 5K on Saturday and then to Denver the next day to the the half. A story run by Competitor Magazine started with Leah selling her car to fund the race schedule. She said she was going to sell it anyway, but I kinda like the legend. One thing everyone I talked to agrees on, the award couldn't have gone to a nicer person.

Tracy Sundlun presents the Rock Superstar plaque. Leah deserves a crown with the gold record.
I can't seem to find an appropriate crown to photoshop into this picture.

Though Leah visited the most cities this year, the most miles in RNR races was completed by Sherry. With 20 races (4 fulls, 16 halfs, a 10k, seven 5ks and two 1-milers), her total of 344.3 miles should be worth some kind of side award. Let's call it the "Roadie of the Year" title. Early during the Saturday 10K, Leah started feeling dizzy early in the race. Sherry decided to walk with Leah for the last 5 miles. Somehow what these two women accomplished this year just made this moment seem right. By the next day, Leah had recovered enough to have her best half marathon time of 2015, missing PR by less than a minute. Sherry helped a first timer finish the full marathon.

Correction: Bradley Carpenter actually finished over 400 Rock n Roll Race miles in 2015. Of the 21 cities, he finished 10 fulls, 11 halfs, 7 5K's a 10K and a 1 miler for a whopping 435 miles. I'm still looking to see if any of the Hall of Famers got higher mileage totals, but this one is worth mentioning. The highest total ever was likely the year David Deniere finished all 27 events including at least a half dozen fulls. Remix 5K and 10K's were not available that year.

Unofficially, 15 people finished at 20 or more races in 2015. I may need to tap some of our RNR history buffs, but I would venture to guess this is the most ever in a year.

23: Leah
22: Carl, Ilona, Timothy
21: Amy, Bradley, Diana, Fred, Maria, and Sylvia
20: Ainsley, Andrea, Greg, Mitchell and Sherry

A special shout out to Diana who had absolutely no intention of having a bum knee keep her from getting through her last race of the year. It was easy to spot the 21 bib as she was rolling down the first underpass. Her dad finished the year with 18 RNR's.

Since this was the second year for the Hall of Fame, the next thing I was looking for was repeats from 2014. In order of location where they finished the 15th race. 

Carl and Ilona (San Jose)

Mitchell (Denver)
Joe (Philadelphia)
Martin (Savannah)
Susan and Ron, Jessica, Rodney, Wesley, Juan (Las Vegas)
Ronald (San Antonio)

We plan to give the Hall of Fame another run in 2016 and hope to see these folks a lot next year. I'd also like to somehow track down Rodney and Ronald at some point to see if they've been racing long enough to pick up a few Rock Idols from 2011- 2013. 

Run for your life?

Prior to San Antonio, we did some informal polling from the Rock n Roll Gypsies and the Black Sheep Run group since it looked like that included a good percentage of the folks we see at most of the races in the last two years (many thanks to Amy for collecting most of the data). Tracy Sundlun asked me for the statistics just before the presentation, but unfortunately, I wasn't able to pull up the larger spreadsheet. I DID have a post bookmarked where I collected most of the numbers for people who have 70 or more lifetime races as of RNR San Antonio. 

I think this list is the all-time top 10, but I'd be happy to edit if someone can send me their information! Note that this includes Heavy Medal qualifying races (no Remixes), but also gives people the option to add the RNR Brooklyn 10Ks when it was the only distance available. European races - not counted toward the annual Heavy Medal count prior to 2014 are also included.

Joe          116
Kevin        93
Al             88
Sherry      72
Kamika     74
Jim          77
Beth         76
Susan       73 
Ron          72
Juan         70

Anyone with over 40 races life time appears to be in the Top 25. These are also self-reported and most certainly not a complete list. Please let me know where you stand and I can add you to a growing spreadsheet!

David          67 

Mitchell      63
Michelle      57
Shirley        57
Tim            51
Hyalker      48
Kelvin         48
Sylvia         48
Jessica       46
Justin         46
Ilona           42
Carl            41
Leny           41
Martin        40
Tricia         40

The reason I wanted to track this is because I've asked Josh and Cassidy if there's any chance we could formalize a lifetime achievement milestone awards as Joe received for his 100th RNR race in DC this year. We'll see what materializes. 

While San Antonio was a huge milestone for Susan and me, I thought the Hall of Fame presentation deserved a separate blog entry. There was something special about the year that made so many people cram a ton of races into their calendars. If you have a Global Tour Pass, you'll want to fit in 5 or so races to break even. 7 races is usually possible without leaving your timezone. At 10 races, you have to start crossing the country a few times and at 15, it becomes a significant commitment of time and money. 

A lot of us made that commitment. And people who were complete strangers at the start of the year are looking back realizing that the gold microphone at the 15th race was the reason they started, but the reason they kept coming back was because of the friends they made in cities across the country.  

We are no longer just individual runners and walkers.

We are Party Rockers.

Photo Credit Bill (Chinoloco) Kwok
We are Black Sheep who belong.

Photo Credit Adrian Mauricio
We are Rock n Roll Gypsies who have found a home.

But above all this year, we are one big Heavy Medal Family.

To the staff at Competitor Group, the countless volunteers and contractors who made this year a truly memorable journey, we thank you. We continue to make lifelong friends, hit personal milestones and see places and things we probably wouldn't have dreamed about if not for the Rock n Roll Marathon Series.

And while all good things must come to an end, I know that a lot of us have the 2016 TourPass. And we can't wait to start this craziness all over again.

Thanks to Jim for the video 
(and to the designer of the medal for making it a decent shot glass)