Thursday, January 28, 2016

Full Circle - Pre Season warm up for Team in Training Spring 2016

There's something comforting about track workouts in winter. The distances are defined. At the right place, the lights come on and this night, I had the the Woodside High School track to myself. The high school soccer team was using the field. I could stay as long as the lights stayed.

Eleven years ago, I joined Team in Training. In exchange for raising $5000, they would train me to walk a marathon. We had a coach who'd been an Olympic and Pan American Games race walker. I remember showing up the first day in cheap running shoes, cotton sweatpants and sweatshirt and a hiking belt pouch that held two 20oz plastic bottles for a 45 minute walk at the Presidio. It was the end of January during a particularly excessive eating season and I was pushing my heaviest weight of my life. Two hours later, after a basic gear clinic, I left with a pair of Saucony Grid Stabil motion-control shoes, a long sleeve white quarter zip shirt and long grey Munich pants. Looking back, I probably looked like an mid-1970's weekend warrior type. 

The second week we were at a track learning good marathon walk form. Our first timed mile made my shins burn and I think I finished around 14:30. Coach Tom said that this is an indication of how fast you'll be able to sustain your marathon pace once you go through the season, get stronger and fitter.  I chose to believe every word he said. This is something I wanted to do. This was a bucket list item. It was supposed to be one and done.

Come race day in Anchorage, it was pouring rain, pretty much the entire race. I walked my first marathon in 6:23, right about the pace that Coach Tom said I would. What struck me about the journey was a lady at mile 24.  According to the veterans, her name was Faith. She stood at that same spot, cheering on the full marathoner for 9 hours, rain or shine, holding a sign saying "Thank you from a Cancer Survivor".  

It took me until that point, nearly 5 and a half months into the season, to realize why this was so important. This wasn't about me, my time or my bucket list. This was about a bigger cause. The money I raised went to support research, education and patient services for leukemia, lymphoma, Hodgkin's disease and myeloma. It went to help people like Faith. The mission meant enough to me that I came back every season for the next 5 years.

We've done a lot since that first year. We've upgraded gear, gotten faster and healthier. But even with all the races we've done in the last three years, the milestones we've crossed, the countries and continents we've visited, I started feeling like something was missing. This year I'm going to get that spark back. It's not the reason I started racing, but it was the reason we kept going back year after year.

I've joined the coaching team for the Peninsula Chapter of Team in Training for Spring 2016. We'll be training runners and walkers for the Tinkerbell Half Marathon and Rock n Roll Seattle Half and Full Marathons this season. If you're on the Peninsula or in the South Bay and are interested in joining us, please let me know. We'll be back at Woodside next Wednesday, February 3rd at 6:15 PM for kick off.

Maybe this is on your bucket list. Maybe you want to meet new people or get into a healthier lifestyle. Or maybe you've been away for a while and just want to get back in the swing of things. Whatever the reason, we'll make sure this season is one to remember.

Back at Woodside, the soccer team was just starting to go into break away drills as I was finishing my workout. I'm well below that first 14:30 mile these days and I'd like to think I have a few years left in me before I can't set PR's anymore. Treadmills are great to monitor pace, but there's something about being out on a track that's that much closer to real racing.  

Tonight, I wasn't doing laps.

I was coming full circle.

Team In Training (TNT) is the flagship fundraising program for The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society (LLS) and the only endurance sports training program for charity that raises money for blood cancer research. TNT and LLS are changing the landscape of blood cancer, not someday but today, making TNT the perfect way to fundraise.
Your time is now.
It doesn't matter if you're not an athlete or in perfect shape. Our coaches will train you to cross the finish line at a marathonhalf marathoncycling eventtriathlon or hike adventure. Saving lives isn't about being the best, it's about being the best you can be when helping save lives.

Monday, January 25, 2016

Inspired by Greatness. Humbled by Humility - National Black Marathoners Association Induction Celebration

On December 12, 2015 the National Black Marathoners Association (NBMA) inducted nine marathoners and ultramathoners as 2015 Hall of Fame Honorees – three of whom we have the privilege to know. The official annual summit and hall of fame banquet took place in Dallas, TX and several of our friends flew to Dallas for the event. A committee of eight led by two highly dedicated individuals, Rudy and Laura, coordinated a local celebration at the Lake Merritt Boat House on January 24, 2016 so that the rest of us could honor their accomplishments.

Founded in 2004, the NBMA is a not-for-profit organization that encourages Black Americans to pursue a healthy lifestyle through running and walking. The National Black Distance Runner Hall of Fame honors athletes in three categories. The Trail Blazer and Distance Runner awards recognize lifetime runners who have demonstrated not only athletic performance but have also made an overall contribution of the sport of long distance running.  The third Hall of Fame category is the Running Community Service Award. This award recognizes lifetime volunteer service over a period of at least fifteen years to the running community. Community involvement includes financial donations, scholarship programs, youth programs, volunteer support, and developing relationships that benefit the mission of the club.

Mebrahtom "Meb" Keflezighi

Meb received the silver medal in the 2008 Olympic Marathon and won the 2009 New York City Marathon and the 2014 Boston Marathon. A tribute to his character, Meb carried the names of the victims of the 2013 Boston marathon bombings with him during the 2014 race. Meb became the first American citizen to win the race in over 30 years and at 38 years old, the oldest individual to win the race since 1931. Read more at  Rock n Roll's site here.

We have crossed paths with Meb on the Rock ‘n’ Roll circuit in his role as the VP of Running for Competitor Group, Inc. Not only is he an inspirational motivational speaker he has made himself quite accessible to those around him. We were on the same Southwest plane with Meb in 2014 headed to San Antonio, TX. I built up enough courage to ask him for a photo in the airport which he graciously posed for with us.

This year in San Antonio, during the 10k RNR race on Saturday, December 5, Meb doubled back to personally encourage the runners behind him. He was also waiting near the finish line at the half and full marathon the next day cheering on the finishers.  What a great ambassador for not only the RNR series but for running in general.

Lisa Felder

This NBMA trailblazer has completed over 300 marathons and 111 ultramarathons. Mama Lisa coached the East Bay Team in Training (TNT) run team for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society (LLS) from 1998 through 2009. She launched the first ever TNT Ultra Team in 2009.

Coach Lisa earned the nickname Mama Lisa from a TNT participant who after assessing the spread of clothes, shoes, gear, food, etc. that she laid out for the team, he explained, “You’re more than our coach! You’re our mama!” The name stuck and that’s what we all affectionately call her.

Her story begins as a 238 lb mother who started walking around the soccer field to keep warm while watching her son play soccer. The first race she ever participated in was the Bay to Breakers. She completed her first marathon in just over three hours at the San Francisco marathon. Her personal passion for running, especially ultrarunning, is highly infectious. She has single handedly inspired almost all of the ultrarunners on the East Bay and became the most knowledgeable coach we’ve ever known to diagnose aggravations and address running injuries. She gives herself tirelessly to the cause. The story highlighting her dedication was begging people to break her out of the hospital while she was receiving treatments for stage 4 breast cancer because she desperately wanted to be out on the course with her participants at the Oakland marathon. Mama Lisa was always the last Coach out on the course, ringing her cow bell, and making sure every last runner and walker made it back from a long training. Our affection for Mama Lisa runs deep. She is living proof that you can do anything you want to do if you dedicate yourself to it.

As fate would have it, NBMA did the great honor of also inducting Mama Lisa’s husband, Alphonzo Jackson, into the Hall of Fame the very same year. Coach Al and Mama Lisa are a power couple and a force to be reckoned with. They have set an amazing example for others and are our inspiration for all that we do together on the marathoning circuit.

Alphonzo Jackson

Al was ranked third in the world in the 5k (16:28) and half marathon (1:15:28) in his age division in 1996 at 50 years old. He has completed 38 marathons, 7 duathlons, several triathlons, hundreds of 5Ks and 10Ks. His marathon personal record (PR) at the Los Angeles Marathon was 2:38:40.

He originally viewed himself as an elite athlete and the day finally came when he had to choose between continuing to pursue his own personal records or focusing his time and energy on helping others.  As a I remember the story, he discussed this fork in the road in his career with Mama Lisa who wisely said, “Where do you derive the greatest inspiration from? Your own personal achievements or the achievements of others?” The rest is history since Coach Al has served as the Head Coach for Team in Training's East Bay Run Team for 20 years. It wasn’t an easy transition from being an elite runner to figuring out how to coach people off the coach to complete a half or full marathon. Humbly, Coach Al openly shares his story how he underestimated how difficult it is to run a full marathon. So difficult in fact that he failed to complete his first two attempts. He made it to mile 24 the first time around before dropping out and then only made it to mile 22 the second time around. He had to learn that marathoning wasn’t about running fast enough to qualify for Boston, it was about mental toughness.

Knowing how hard it can be to complete a marathon, Coach Al did everything in his power to help his participants complete the event. My favorite Coach Al story was during the full marathon in Rome, Italy. I was with a fellow TNTer who as struggling toward the end of the race. I tried everything I could think of to help her continue to put one foot in front of the other. Coach Al ran up and took a completely different approach. He asked her, “What flavor?” She and I looked at each other quizzically. He repeated, “What flavor gelato do you want?” Not being able to think clearly she said, “Vanilla.” Coach Al was gone in a flash. Later I heard about how he ran to the closest gelato shop, cut in line, ordered a vanilla gelato cone, and ran back out on the course to find us. My fellow TNTer inhaled that gelato and took off running toward the finish line. Now that’s a coach who is truly willing to do anything to help his participants and someone who knows exactly the right thing to say and do at the right time.

From 2000 to 2010 (until funding ran out), Coach Al was also the Athletic Director/Coach for Students Run Oakland. This was his way of giving back something to his neighborhood and training leaders for the future. He believed that training these kids to be disciplined enough to complete a marathon, would help prepare them for the rest of their lives.

Being present with Coach Al is seeing charisma in action. He believes in you before you believe in yourself. His training mantras are well rehearsed and proclaimed loudly by all of his current and past participants. “If you don’t mind, it don’t matter” and “Just do the damn thing.”

One of his TNT participants was so inspired by Coach Al, that they wrote a letter to the Olympic committee and nominated him to carry the Olympic Torch for the United States in 2002. He describes this as one of the most memorable highlights of his life.

If the day finally comes that we hang up our racing shoes and retire, we'll look back on a lot of races and medals. But the things that we'll remember most are the people we met, especially the ones who inspired us to take the path that we travelled and continue to inspire generations by their example. 

Thank you, Meb, Coach Al and Mama Lisa. Because of you, we're marathoners for Life.

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.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

In The Moment - Hot Chocolate San Francisco 15K, 2016

I know that some people will give me grief for calling a 15K race a 'down week'. It was our first event since early December and really my only speed training we've done other than the ill-advised unsupported 50K. When you look forward to seeing friends more than the actual event, then your focus shifts. Our Team Numb contingent from the White Continent/Punta Arenas trip two years ago was finally getting together for another race!

We met Esmail and Parisa at a park and ride off 280 so we could avoid the parking nightmare that race officials were warning about in Golden Gate Park. The civilized 8:20 AM start gave us plenty of time for a drop off and for Esmail to grab a good parking spot close to the finish line. The California Academy of Sciences building was ringed with porta potties with almost no lines. Turns out not having toilet paper is a major turn off.  Gear check was well organized. Though the lines were quite a bit longer than the porta potties, they went quickly. 

Note to self: Bring a roll if you want to do this race (and you'll likely make a lot of friends!)

Directions to the start line were well marked and the corrals were big enough so that there wasn't a typical crush of people waiting at the fences wait to get in. The event drew over 12,000 finishers - about 60% of them in the 15K and the rest in the 5K. Results, including finish line video, are on the Ram Racing site here.

Corrals A through G were for the 5K that started at 7:30 AM. I wasn't quite sure what to do with the signs when we passed N. At least we didn't have the sign in corral L.

We found TNT Alum Karen and her friends in the starting corral. We chatted a little about RNR Portland and the likely cancellation since it's not on the schedule and would normally be less than 4 months away. We've all done it every year since the inaugural. It'd be a shame to lose a legacy race.

Wave starts were staggered a couple minutes apart. Susan was still ramping up from a long rest to get her heel back to training pain-free so we were on our own pace for this race. The first quarter mile was pretty crowded and uphill so things bogged down for a bit. After that though, we were on a good decline for the first 5K. 

I learned a lot on the 50K walk I did a few weeks earlier. One thing I did to pass the time was clear my mind and focus on my surroundings. In the last few weeks, I'd changed jobs, reviewed finances, did a lot of house de-hoarding and generally tried to clean up my physical life as much as I could. I found that doing the same for your mental life is just as valuable.  

I noticed a lot more than I usually do on a race. I could hear the sound of my feet (mental note: my hips need some strength exercises). I heard conversations around me ("yeah, he's walking. Did you know that's an Olympic event?") and noticed how many shirts from other races there were. I wasn't breathing hard, but after a while I could actually start feeling my heartbeat. It was too fast, up in the mid 170's. I wasn't ready to push this race. After walking a 34:30 first 5K I hit the Great Highway and pulled back into the low 150 bpm. I started noticing how absolutely beautiful it was to be outside. The windmill on JFK rose above the trees.

There was only a light wind when we took the turn south on the Great Highway and we were surrounded the sounds of pounding feet and high surf.

The course turned back north at Vicente. Susan spotted me over the ice plant after she caught up to Team Numb veteran, Anne and her friend Tricia. The middle 5K turned into a series of photo ops.

Tricia mentioned that the Mavericks surf competition was taking place this weekend in Half Moon Bay. The El Nino storms were kicking up 50 foot waves. It was a bit calmer up north, but still made for a good California winter picture.

Oh yeah. Most races we've done have Gu or gel stations. Hot Chocolate had TWO marshmallow stations (Strawberry and Chocolate) and an M&M's station. Replacing calories wasn't going to be a problem.

After the M&M stop we crossed the 10K mark. My heart rate was back in the 130's so I decided to see how it would react to a last 5K push going back uphill into the park. I spaced and missed this picture somehow. It might have been the strawberry marshmallow.

The buffalo paddock at mile 8 was right behind the Chocolate Marshmallow stop. I always felt cheated if they weren't roaming when we went by. They were enjoying the sunny dry weather for the first time this week. I guess I don't blame them. My last 5K came in at 38:30 with my heart rate well into the mid-170's. It's back to building aerobic capacity for the next month.

There were no official pictures for the race, but the had a finish line video and a pretty enthusiastic finish line announcer. Those of you with a sweet tooth would like the big plastic finisher mug. Other than the hot chocolate, you get a small dipping bowl of chocolate with a banana, pirouettes, pretzels, a rice krispie treat and a wet nap. Quick tip: dip the banana into the chocolate and do it while it's fresh.

We did have a bit of a snafu with the parking afterwards. Julie wasn't able to get back to her car for nearly an hour and we were already seated at Squat and Gobble before she got back to the lot. Anne and Tricia had to get home. Hopefully our next get together on Super Bowl Sunday will be easier, but with the game taking place in Santa Clara, we'll be sure to leave a lot of time.

Fiona and Soren flew back from Ireland the night before the race. Barb and Esmail gave us a recap of the Z-Marathon Western Caribbean Cruise (5 marathons, 5 countries in a week). We talked over our future plans. Esmail's 150th marathon will be in early April at Napa assuming he can find one more race in the next 7 weeks (6 of them are already scheduled). His first marathon was at Napa and his 100th was LAST year at Napa. Why break with tradition?

The funny thing was when they asked us what we were up to, we mentioned Victoria Falls, what we hope will be our sixth continent for full marathons. They all know we'll be on the Rock n Roll circuit for 12 races before then. For some reason those feel like they're under the radar for a group that's been around the world several times over.

My phone died halfway through brunch, but for some reason it didn't freak me out like it usually does. I remember it was warm upstairs at the restaurant. I remember seeing footage on TV about this year's Spartan race circuit and seeing Misty Diaz on her amazing running canes. I remember the breakfast burrito made it even warmer with the spicy chorizo and that I was really full coming away from the table. I remember Soren saying it's been two years since we met in on an airport bus in Santiago. Most of us thought it must be longer than that.

I just spent the time being in the moment.  I'm looking forward to our next meeting, our next race. Our next big adventure.

Next up is Rock n Roll Phoenix Remix. It'll be another 4 medal weekend with the Double Down medal after doing Vegas. In the meantime, I'll enjoy taking another bite out of the HC15.