Saturday, January 23, 2016

The Road to Rio - Rock n Roll Arizona 2016

Traveling for races means we're usually going to see friends. I can't even remember what it's like when we used to get to races by ourselves, not knowing anyone when we get there.

Usually our race weekend starts when I take a picture of my suitcase and the hoards of luggage tags from previous races, but as the first travel race of the year, it wasn't so impressive. Sometimes, the race feels real when we get on the plane. This time, the race started at the airport waiting to board.

Rock n Roll Arizona is the last race in the series where people can earn points toward the half marathon Grand Prix. This year it's also one of the tune up races for Olympic qualifiers for the Rio games this August. As we were boarding the plane, a lady asked if we were doing the half or full. ("Half"). Then she asked if we were age-grade leaders. The look of utter amusement on my face must have been very obvious.

The lady I was speaking to was Diane Batchelor, the Women's 50 - 54 age grade Grand Prix leader going into the final event. She saw our Hall of Fame Tour jackets and assumed we earned them through competition. I guess she wasn't aware there were incentives for QUANTITY as well as Quality of races! We saw our first Rock n Roll Gypsy, Don on the plane. A-list boarding for Susan let us save him a seat in #SouthwestFirstClass. 

First stop, the expo at the Phoenix Convention Center.With half of our friends scattered across the country in various races, it was great to see the brand new Heavy Medal Hall of Fame banner as we walked into the expo. There were 84 people in 2015 to finish 15 qualifying races, up from 27 in 2014.

It looks like our friend Jennifer did some extra family volunteering. Not only was her fiance Blair working the course, she had her future daughter Heather working T-Shirt pick up.

Two races into 2016 and our weather luck is holding. High 40's for the start for both the Saturday 5K and the half on Sunday. Not a drop of rain! The redesigned bling keeps on impressing us.

The second year of the Arizona super-medal for the half. The 2015 medal fits into the left side of the start. The 2017 and 2018 medals will complete the outline of the state.

We skipped RNR Arizona in 2015 for the inaugural runDisney Star Wars half so this was our chance to catch up with Susan's cousin, Lyn and her husband Brian. We'd be staying with them for the weekend. Their backyard porch gave us some good interaction with nature. Lyn said that when she stays on the porch reading, the hummingbirds would land on her.

I grabbed a quick dinner at Pizzeria Bianco I went to meet Jody and Jerry for dinner. I highly recommend the Rosa! I'd known Jody met while we were  blogging on MySpace, which gives you some indication of how long we've known each other. Susan grabbed dinner with Lyn and Brian at the Ahi Mahi Fish Grill

Saturday January 16th. 5K
The 9 AM start was awfully civilized. Honestly, why races don't start that late more often, I don't know. We found some good parking across from the Corner Bakery on South Mill and bought a cup of coffee to stay inside and stay warm. Quick tip: Pay for 4 hours of parking and you can stay long enough for the Kids Rock wave starts. On the way to the starting line we ran into a lot the usual characters including Amy and her mother, Ainsley, Hyalker, Mitch, Sherry, Monique, Chuck, Holly and George. It sounded like Dan was going to run the year in the penguin suit. The group here did probably 200 races last year.

The 5K started last year when when we were in Disney. The course went along the new river path. The weather was pretty much perfect. 

Bigelow had a very popular truck at the end of the race giving out hot tea to ward off the chill. 

TeamUp Captain Virginia and her friend Maria joined us. Virginia is working her way up to double races, doing the 5K and 10K in Arizona.
I'm going to make a point of staying for a few of the Kids Rock races this year. Ann describes it as watching Saturday morning cartoons for an hour. The first wave of 12 year olds started at 10 and the waves went all the way down to the 2 year old Diaper Dash.

Jennifer on bike duty. Ann rallies the volunteers to the start line.
Race 1 in the books. We took our traditional picture in front of the white wall at Lyn and Brian's.

We spent the day driving around Scottsdale for good pictures. We found quite a few. Pre-race dinner was at Michelina's, one of our old haunts and Susan and I arrived early to decorate the table with wedding favors (Michelle and Ted got married over Christmas break). The salmon special hit the spot. Michelina was celebrating her 30th year in business. We also got some complimentary after dinner shots to toast the newlyweds.

Left to right: Brad, Julie, Ted, Michelle, Sherry, Don, Amy, Susan, Kamika, Gary, Ron
Sunday, January 17th. Half Marathon
With the 7:50 start time, we got to VIP parking at the US Airways lot a little before 7. VIP feels a lot better when there's a full marathon to maximize the time at the end. The seats for the headliner concerts are always good.  I did finally get a picture with Diana and her teammates, most of whom were going after age grade leader awards as well.

I had this as a push race, just to see if my fitness level dropped too much to try to PR in New Orleans at the end of February. We only took a few pictures at the start line.

I finished just under 2:30, a personal best on the course, beating the 60% age grade. In the past, this hasn't been my best race, going through calf strains, odd chest pains and too much broccoli the night before.  Leah Reid reported some stomach flu issues and still PRed at the half. This looks to be a good start for the year.

Amusement at Gear Check pick up. The UPS guys got the joke immediately, and apparently a lot of people did too.

We had a front row seat for the awards presentation. Best of luck to our Olympic hopefuls!

This was our sixth time at RNR AZ. Two years ago, we celebrated Al's 250th half marathon. We've done them with Team in Training, but mostly on our own. 

I'm just glad 'on your own' isn't as common as it has been in years past.


Rock n Roll Arizona was run for the 13th year in 2016. There were 18,855 finishers (2,349 in the full, 11,224 in the half, 3,076 in the 10K and 2,206 in the Saturday 5K). Diana ended up finishing second in her age group. Shiela Natho edged her out in the tiebreaker of age grade ranking. Final results for the Half Marathon Grand Prix are posted.

News from the Road
The past weekend was eventful for friends. Al and Tawni were at the second runDisney Star Wars. With the recent release of Episode 7: The Force Awakens, costumes and characters make the Rebel Challenge one to remember. This April, the Inaugural runDisney Star Wars - Dark Side races in April offer a dual coast Kessel Run bonus medal.

Jim Diego kicked off the Key West Half Marathon by singing the national anthem. Joining him fresh off the Kenda Cruise were Carl and Ilona Marino. The race was punctuated with gale force winds and Portuguese Man-o-Wars being blown onto the course. Ilona ran her first half marathon without her scooter.

This weekend, Melinda is off to Chile for the White Continent/Punta Arenas Marathon with Marathon Adventures. I look forward to reliving that trip through her pictures.

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