Thursday, March 8, 2012

We Didn't Come Out Smelling Like Roses, But It Was FUN!

Of all the races I’ll run in 2012, the one that I will remember best will be the Rock’n’Roll Pasadena Half Marathon, held on February 19th. That race was where my youngest son, Jason, made his half-marathon debut in a most spectacular way.
The story started back in December, 2011, when Jason watched an episode of “The Biggest Loser” in which the contestants ran a full marathon.  Jason was impressed enough by their feat that he decided to train for a long distance effort himself.  Up until then, he had run occasional 5k events around town, and his longest run was about 4 miles.  I thought that a large event would be more enjoyable for him, so we decided to sign up for the Rock’n’Roll Pasadena Half Marathon.  My wife, Pam, also signed up for the race.  We are fortunate to have relatives in Southern California who we can stay with, and the drive is reasonable from Tucson, so it was a fairly low-cost trip.
We set up a training log and Jason did a good job working on it for the next couple of months.  He logged over 150 miles training, and gradually increased his long runs with the longest being 11 miles.  His strategy going in to the race was to take walk breaks where necessary, but I thought that if the day went well he might be able to run the whole thing.
We drove out on Thursday night after a busy day of work and school.  My oldest son, Ryan, also came along (to spectate, as he does not run).  On Friday, we went to the Expo to get our race packets.  It was a small expo compared to others that I’ve been to, but we still had fun.

I even found the car of my dreams there – my favorite color!

On Saturday we visited Laguna Beach with our relatives, and had a nice time.

Sunday morning was the typical early race-day start, and I was pleased to discover that we actually got to park right next to the starting line!  It was still dark when we arrived, so I snapped a quick shot of the Rose Bowl sign:

Although the race started and finished at the Rose Bowl, we never actually got to go in the Rose Bowl.  The start line had the normal corral system that Rock’n’Roll events use, and we were all towards the front – Jason in corral 4, Pam in corral 2, and corral 1 for me.  Before we started, I told Jason that he should not worry about time, the main goal was to finish – but I also told him that I thought he was capable of a 2-hour race.
Once we started, it did not take very long for me to think that was not so likely.  I was expecting some slight hills, but this course was really hilly!  There were some steep hills, and four 180-degree turnarounds.  It did not seem like a fast course to me, and I knew that my pace was slower than what I had hoped.  At the 7-mile point, the course doubles back on itself and I was thrilled to see Jason running strong – he even waved and called out “Go Dad”!
Ryan brought his bike and was out taking pictures.  Here is one of Jason running at about 9.5 miles in, still looking strong:

There was some really nice scenery along the course.  One thing I have noticed about California road races is that they often use concrete for paving there, as opposed to the asphalt that I am used to in Tucson.  Unfortunately concrete is harder and on long races I can feel the difference.  The Pasadena course was no exception and I was pushing my pace, so my feet were feeling it.  Here’s a photo that Ryan captured of me on the “Colorado Bridge”, about 9 miles in - you can see the concrete surface:

I finished my race in 1:24:21, which was a new half-marathon PR for me.  I was happy with that although I had hoped for a slightly faster time.  Pam came in next, at 1:45:35, a great time for her considering she has not been training for long distance.  I was so anxious waiting for Jason to come in, and it was so exciting when I finally saw his red shirt approaching!  He was really pushing hard for the last half-mile or so – this picture was about a tenth of a mile from the finish:

He kicked across that line in 1:58:11 !!!!!!!
Needless to say I was one proud papa at that point.  I ran around to greet him at the finisher area and he was smiling big!

So we were all very happy finishers.  Jason smashed out a sub-2 on his first half-marathon attempt, and ran the whole way; Pam was right on her goal time; and I was 44th overall, 4th in my age group, with a new PR.

After the race we hung around for a while soaking up the post-race festivities and celebrating.  Sugar Ray put on a concert and all was well with the world for a little while.

All good things must come to an end (to make room for more good things), so by noon we were packing it up for the drive back to Tucson.  I actually spent some time working during the drive back (when I wasn’t driving of course).  But we all took home this nice bling to help us relive the memories:

Monday, March 5, 2012

Love is in the Air; Feet are on the Ground

I’m a bit behind in posting blogs – this one is about a race that occurred about 3 weeks ago.  The race was short, and my blog will also be short.
Valentine’s Day for a running couple often involves a run together.  Let’s face it, people in love don’t mind getting a bit sweaty around each other, and a good workout increases endorphins, which enhances…but I digress.
The Fine Valentine Couple’s Relay was a low-budget, high-fun event held on the University of Arizona campus.  This year it was a morning event, two days before Valentine’s Day.  The first member of each relay team started, along with some runners who were racing the entire route.  I ran the relay with my wife, Pam, while my son, Jason, ran the full course.  The start was just inside the main gate on University Blvd:
The course consisted of two loops around campus, including some ramp climbs.  At the halfway point, relay runners had to show “signs of affection” and hand over a candy bracelet, which made for some really fun mid-race activity!  Here is a picture of my friends Jeff and Dianne in the relay transition area:
And here’s one of Pam and I in the transition, notice I wore red for Valentine’s!
Jason ran a nice fast pace, here he is after completing the first lap:
The final stretch was a slight downhill which felt pretty good.  It turned out that the course was considerably shorter than the advertised 4 miles, but I don’t think anyone really got too upset about that.
Pam and I finished first place in the “Married > 10 Years” category.  Other relay categories included Combined Age groups and Parent/Child teams.  This made for some challenging results-figuring by the timing team but the runners all enjoyed hanging out for a while after the race while the results were being compiled.  We won this nice picture frame:
This race has been around for a while, but has undergone significant changes from year to year.  It’s small and very fun, so I hope to see it continue!

Sunday, March 4, 2012

A Real Endless Summer Includes a Marathon! Surf City USA

(Originally Published on Runners World Loop 2/7/12)
I think we all wish we could live an “Endless Summer” on the beach.  There’s something so naturally beautiful about the waves crashing on the shore, the abundant sealife, and of course the frolicking bikini-clad sunbathers.  (Google Endless Summer if you don't know what I'm talking about).  So when I decided to enter the Surf City Marathon, I knew I’d be enjoying more than just another run.
Held in Huntington Beach, California, the Surf City Marathon advertises itself as "California’s Classic Oceanfront Marathon".  The course never strays far from the beach, and the last 9 miles or so are actually run along the paved beach path.  The event website promises that runners can “Observe native surfers in their natural habitat”, and I did indeed see many boards on race morning!
Southern California is a reasonable drive from Tucson.  My oldest son, Ryan, and I arrived late Friday afternoon and we went straight to the Expo.  I must say that although the Expo was not the largest I’ve seen, it was definitely the most creatively decorated!  Here’s me hanging out near the entrance:
I realized on Friday that I made a huge blunder and forgot to pack my running shoes!  Normally I am very careful with packing but for this trip I messed up.  They didn’t have my favorite shoes at the Expo, so on Saturday I spent a while searching for a new pair.  I was rescued by ‘A Snail’s Pace Running Shop’, who not only found me a pair of my brand and model (Mizuno Wave Elixir 6), but sold them to me at a significant discount since they were last year’s model!  On Saturday afternoon, we returned to the Expo where I met up with my buddy Alfredo.  He ran his 93rd marathon this weekend and it was great to catch up with him again.  This picture shows Ryan, Alfredo, and I:
The shoe fiasco got me stressed, but my biggest fear was a flu-like sickness that had been keeping me congested and coughing for several days.  Without going into a lengthy story, I’ll just say that I’m convinced that the antiobiotics that I had to take for my jaw infection weakened my system enough to cause me to get sick (if you read my blog on the Houston Marathon a couple of weeks ago, you may recall that I had a tooth extracted right after that race).  On the plus side, I planned to take it easy on this race anyway, given that it had only been 3 weeks since Houston.  In fact my plan was to treat this as a “B” race, sort of a long, supported, training run, with no real time pressure – I figured I’d be happy with a 3:20 to 3:30 finishing time.  As it turned out, I did do a lot of hack coughing during the race, which actually got painful at times, but I survived.
Sunday morning arrived with cool temperatures but no cloud cover.  It was in the low-50’s at the start, and the first few miles were mostly shaded.  Ryan rode his bike around and took a few pictures.  I was feeling good so decided to push the pace early on, knowing that I would eventually slow down.  Here’s a picture from around mile 1, as we ran along Pacific Coast Highway (I’m in the orange).  You can see Catalina Island in the background:
The course did go into neighborhoods at about mile 3, and even took some interesting turns on paths in Huntington Central Park, including a very small amount of dirt trails.  It was relatively flat, but there were a few hills and some gradual inclines.  We came back near the beach around mile 9, and did an out-and-back for a few miles on the PCH, followed by an out-and-back on the beach path.  By this point it was getting warm, and the sun shining in my face on the return portions was a bit rough.  Here is a picture of me at about mile 17, right after I got onto the beach path:
There were about 2,400 finishers in the marathon, so at this point in the race I was running mostly alone.  It might have been nice to be with a pack but I was just sort of running whatever pace worked for me at the time.  However there were tons of runners around, including some 18,000 half-marathoners who were on the course, and there were also many spectators.  The beach path was open to beachgoers, so it was common for me to be dodging surfers as they carried their boards across the path, or walkers and joggers out for their daily exercise. For example, in this picture, which was taken around mile 24, the guy next to me was not even in the race:
Some of you will be able to tell from that picture that my form was getting pretty bad by then.  One of the real challenges of a marathon is to maintain proper running form throughout the race, and I certainly have not yet learned to do that.  My legs grow weary after about 20 miles and I begin to exhibit all sorts of bad form – slouching shoulders, heel striking, rotating hips, etc.
In fact I really ran out of steam in the final mile.  It’s mentally disappointing when you can see the finish line, but have nothing left even when thousands of people are cheering everyone on.  A few guys kicked past me but I trudged my way in.  However, I was pleased to clock a final time of 3:10:53, which was considerably faster than what I expected.  Actually that is my 3rd fastest marathon ever.  I got 71st place overall, and 8th in my age group, but more importantly I really enjoyed this marathon.  The course was great, the organization was superb, and there were so many spectators along the way providing encouragement.  It was a class act and I hope to run this one again.
After the race, I enjoyed soaking my feet in the ocean for a few minutes.  Look closely in this shot and you may see the surfer crashing in the background:
The Surf City medal has to be one of the coolest I’ve ever seen.   It’s attached to a wooden surfboard!  I set it up in the sand for this picture and I think the seagull in the background was thinking about sneaking up and stealing it!
We hung out on the beach for a while, but since I had to drive back to Arizona I skipped the big post-race party and beer garden.  During the drive I listened to the Super Bowl on the satellite radio.  Overall it was a great couple of days and a nice short break in the midst of my busy season.  And of course there is always the post-race reward to be enjoyed:

Here in the Old West, Folks Sometimes Run With Guns

(Originally Published on Runners World Loop 1/30/12)
Race Directors often search for unique locations to hold events.  In Southern Arizona, one of those unique locations is Old Tucson Studios.  This theme park has been home to many movie sets over the past 70 years, including some very famous flicks.
When they are not shooting a Western movie or TV show at Old Tucson, the public is allowed to tour the park.  Race Director Randy Accetta saw the potential for a fun running event, and the result was the “Sunrise at Old Tucson Cross Country Trail Run”.  The race actually begins right in the middle of Old Tucson, on Main Street in front of the Hotel & Saloon; the start happens when the Sheriff fires off his shotgun.  After a quick loop through the dirt roads in town, the race heads out to a few miles of cactus-forested desert trails in the foothills of the Tucson Mountains.
And yes, the race is run by our very own local “Mexican Lone Ranger”!  I was too busy trying to escape his heroic chase, so wasn't able to capture a picture myself, but here's one taken by my friend Gilbert:
Before the race, the MLR was reportedly heard to say:  I'm going to knock off those two hornary varments when I head them off at the pass, then I'm going to hog-tie those two scally-wags up and then make off with the loot!"  The FaceBook smack-talk was going strong!
Because the trails are narrow, Randy wisely splits the event into two separate races.  Last year it was Open and Master’s divisions, and this year we had a Men’s race first, followed by a Women’s race.
The Men’s race began just as the sun was cresting the mountaintop, at about 8:15 a.m.  It’s a fast start as many people want to avoid getting blocked behind other runners; the narrow trails beginning after about 1 mile make passing difficult.  I haven’t done any trail running for a long time, and my trail running shoes weigh about twice as much as my normal shoes, so by about mile 2 I was feeling pretty bad. Cross country racing requires some different strategies from road racing, where you can generally keep an even pace.  In cross country, it’s better to use hills, twists, and varying terrain to your advantage, but all my knowledge of that seemed to be somewhere else this morning.
I finished the race in 25:48, and my GPS showed about 3.8 miles.  That was good enough for 16th overall, 1st in my age group.  My son Jason also ran the event and got a nice time.  Unfortunately I don’t have any photos of us running.  After Jason finished, he and I immediately ran another 3.2 miles.  (We also had run 2 miles for a warmup, so his total for the day was 9 miles).
We got back in time to see the women finishers.  Here are a couple of fast female friends, Stephanie and Michelle, racing to the finish line:
My wife Pam was also in the race, and she got into the spirit of things with a few cowgirl accessories.  She finished strong and came in with guns-a-blazing, challenging a few Caballero who were trying to pick gunfights with the finishers.
Pam’s the Coach for Saguaro High School’s Cross Country Team, and they came out this morning to volunteer at the race.  Actually, as with all Southern Arizona Roadrunners events, there were lots of volunteers – from packet pickup and registration, to finish line workers (some of whom were Pima Community College runners), to course markers, etc.  I honestly cannot imagine how the SAR races could survive without the many volunteers.
The finish line area was between the rodeo arena and some movie prop building facades.  There was a free southwest-style breakfast, free Body Armor drinks,  and plenty of great opportunity to socialize with friends.
The awards ceremony was sponsored by The Running Shop, and winners took home some nice prizes.  I got this nice tech shirt for my age-group win, and Pam won a gift certificate for placing in her age group.
After the race, runners are granted free access to Old Tucson Studios for the remainder of the day.  There is a lot to do there (including my favorite, a walk through the gold mine!), but I had to work this afternoon – it is tax season – and also had to help Jason with a science fair project, so unfortunately had to skip the tour.  I’ve been there numerous times before, and I highly recommend a visit!  Runners also get a coupon for a free visit to the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, an absolute must-visit attraction near Tucson.

Why I Love Arizona - A Sun Run in January! Plus: A Magic PR Formula?

(Originally Published on Runners World Loop 1/22/2012)
Arizona’s “racing season” differs from most of the rest of the country.  Since our weather is generally mild, we start each year off with plenty of races.  Other areas of the country may have the occasional Freezeroo, or Run Through the Snow, but in Tucson we kick off our new year of racing with the annual Sun Run.  I remember when the Sun Run was the State’s 15k Championship event, but in recent years it has become a classic 10k and 5k race.
The race beneficiaries are the Pima College Cross Country and Track & Field Teams, and the course at Reid Park is known to be a fast one.  As a result, we often see some very fast times.  Today’s 5k race, for example, was won by a young man who is in training for the Olympic Trials race that will be held in Oregon soon, and he won with a time just over the 14-minute mark.
Speaking of the Olympic Trials, Pima’s running program has produced several Olympic hopefuls over the years, including Abdi Abdirahman and Craig Curley who raced in the marathon trials in Houston last week (Abdi won 3rd and will be going to London).
Fast times come to those who train, but many of us today were racing just one week after running a marathon.  My legs were still tight from the Houston Marathon last Sunday, and there were quite a few others who ran marathons in Houston or Phoenix.  I think most of us did not know exactly what to expect so soon after the marathon – in my case, I hoped for a reasonably fast time but my expectations were not high.
It was cool with a slight breeze when we started at 9:00 a.m.  I was running along with my buddy Chris.  One of my friends, Joel, had just run a fast marathon in Phoenix last week and I decided to try to stick close to him.  Joel normally beats me but I figured if he also had marathon legs, I was safe to go close to his speed.  As it turned out, my legs felt good and I clicked through the first few miles at about a 6:09 pace.  By 5k, though, I was feeling the weariness and it was getting tough.  There were a few friends along the way who saw me and cheered, which encouraged me some.  I managed to hang in with a little bit of slowing, and finished in 38:38.  That was pretty exciting for me because it’s a new PR.  I only count PR’s when they are run on a USATF-certified course (today’s course is certified, and my GPS watch read 6.208 miles).
After I finished and caught my breath, I grabbed my camera and took some photos.  Here’s one of my friend Melody kicking towards the finish:
The finish line was in the parking lot behind the baseball stadium.  Lots of people, including many who had just finished the 5k, were lined up along the homestretch to cheer the runners in.  Here's my friend Craig in his final sprint:
One of those people was Sharon Bart, proprietor of The Running Shop.  Sharon’s store generously sponsors many Tucson-area events, including the Sun Run.  She’s always got a smile and it’s hard to imagine where the Tucson running community would be if we had not been graced with Sharon’s support for over 30 years.
The Running Shop provided the awards, which were distributed after everyone had a chance to fill up with a pancake breakfast provided by the Pima teams.  Race Director and Pima Coach, Greg Wenneborg, announced the winners.  Here’s a picture of my friend Ed (who just PR'd in the RNRAZ Half Marathon last week), receiving his age group prize:
My finish time put me in 23rd place overall , but that was good enough to win 1st place in my age group, so I won this nice Mizuno tech shirt:
The Sun Run 10k race was the first “SAR Grand Prix” event for 2012.  The Grand Prix for 2011 finished at the Thanksgiving 5k, but it was not until last night’s annual banquet that Grand Prix awards were handed out.  I managed to earn 3rd place in the Master’s division (Joel got 2nd, and 1st was won by outstanding runner and Rob Bell Award winner Benito), and won a couple of nice gifts from the Running Shop.  Since my racing plans for 2012 will likely cause me to miss several of the Grand Prix races, I doubt I’ll repeat it this year, but it was fun to watch the point standings develop last year.
Racing a week after a marathon probably isn’t for everyone, and I’m sure it carries a lot of risk of injury.  But…Last year, the Sun Run was 2 weeks after the Rock’n’Roll Arizona Marathon, and I ran both events and PR’d in both.  So perhaps I’ve stumbled onto a magic PR formula?
Now I need to get these achy legs up and horizontal!

Best Marathon Weekend Ever!

(Originally Published on Runners World Loop 1/17/2012)
Running in 2012 got off to a huge start last weekend.  I got to watch a major race, run a marathon, and many of my friends also ran marathons.  It was a weekend I’ll never forget!
My adventure began last year in May, when registration opened for the Houston Marathon.  My sister-in-law, Amy, had encouraged me to come run the race, which she also planned to run.  Amy and my brother, Darryl, live in Houston so it was an easy trip.  To add to the excitement, Houston was host to both the Men’s and Women’s Olympic Marathon Trials.
A week before the race, I was feeling great, just a bit tired from working a lot but I thought I’d get to rest up.  Unfortunately, on Tuesday evening I came down with the worst toothache I could imagine!  The pain was so bad that I couldn’t sleep at all on Tuesday night.  I had a very busy work schedule on Wednesday so couldn’t get to the dentist, and Thursday was my flight out.  No way was I going to miss out on the weekend’s events because of a toothache!
On Friday, we picked up a friend, Becky, and cruised the Expo.  Here’s Amy, Pam, and Becky with their bibs:
Pam and Amy were registered for the Half Marathon (Amy is running the Tokyo Marathon next month so decided not to do the full), and Becky and I were in the full.  The expo was a lot of fun – in addition to the usual goodies we got to hear some good marathon advice from running legends Bill Rodgers and Joan Benoit-Samuelson.
I also got a chance to meet up with fellow San Francisco Marathon Ambassador, Albert Pham – and realized he was one of the pacers who helped me at the 2011 SFM!  Albert was also running the full marathon on Sunday.
On Saturday, we got up early and went downtown to watch the Trials.  We found a great spot to watch, at the 2 / 10 / 18 / 26 mile mark (the course was a multi-loop course).  It was so incredible to watch the elites racing!  I cheered for as many of them as I could, including several of my Tucson running friends who had qualified for the Trials, especially Craig Curley and Alexandra Blake.  We took lots of pictures:
Watching the Trials certainly pumped me up for my own race.  My tooth was still hurting a lot but I was on a mission.  Unfortunately, the pain woke me up on Sunday morning at 2:00 a.m., so I went in to the start feeling tired.  My plan was to try to stick with the 3:00 pace group, but I got ahead of them shortly after the start and didn’t see them again until about mile 21.
The Houston Marathon is a large race, with some 13,000 marathon registrants.  They only have two corrals and I got stuck a little way back, so the first few miles were fairly thick.  I managed to establish a decent pace of 6:49/mile early on, though, and actually did keep it for the majority of the race.   The weather was fairly good - overcast and cool, although the sun did peek out for a while.
Another of my brothers, Jeff, flew in from North Carolina to cheer us on.  Jeff, Darryl, and my niece Andrea all drove around to various points to encourage me, and that really did help.  Here’s a picture that Jeff took of me at about mile 12:
I could feel the weariness setting in around mile 21, and the last 5k was definitely slower for me.  I lost enough time to miss out on my sub-3 goal, but I did manage to finish in 3:02:59, which was a new PR by 7:27.  I’m pleased with that but still hungry for the sub-3!  Here’s the nice finisher medal:
Pam, Amy, and Becky all did well in their respective races as well, and we hung around enjoying the post-race festivities for a while.  Amy’s friends made her a nice cheering card:
And Pam got to meet new Olympian, Ryan Hall:
Later that day, I was really excited to hear about some of my Tucson friends’ results from the Rock’n’Roll Arizona race in Phoenix.  There are too many to list here but they all did great!  The internet has been buzzing with post-race stories and accolades.
So it turned out to be a great running weekend, but as soon as I got back I knew I had to call the dentist.  They got me in immediately, and sure enough, it turned out that I had a bad infection.  I spent this afternoon in the dental chair as they extracted my tooth and prepared it for an implant.  So now I’m missing a tooth, and the pain this evening is more extreme than what I’ve dealt with for the last week, but at least I am now on the path to fixing the problem.  They screwed a titanium thing into my jaw so I guess now I am on my way to becoming the Bionic Man.  They offered me a vicodin prescription, but I said no – maybe I can go running and get some endorphins pumping instead?
Now that I think about it, you really don’t need teeth to run anyway!
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