Race Review: The Las Vegas Rock and Roll Marathon 2015

SUMMARY:
Cold, windy, rainy and fantastic.

Key Information

Race Name The Las Vegas Rock and Roll Marathon
Location Las Vegas and North Last Vegas, Nevada
Elevation Profile About 2000 ft. above sea level. Flat with some elevation gain approaching mile 15.
Organization Top Notch!
Terrain Streets.
Water Stations Sufficient water and Gatorade stations. Several GU stations as well.
Highlights Running down the Strip and through part of Downtown (Glitter Gulch).
Other Events 5K, 10K and a half marathon.
Good for Beginners? Yes.
Key Takeaways
This is a night race starting at 4:30pm. It is best for those who can run the 26.2 miles in under 4 hours.  The time limit is 5 hours from the release of the last corral, but services begin to close up after about 4 hours after the start of the race.

THE COURSE: The course begins at the south end of Las Vegas Boulevard (The Strip) by the Mandalay Bay Hotel and Casino and proceeds about a mile south and then loops back for a long straight run north up the Strip to Downtown Las Vegas.  Once downtown, a few miles are eaten up serpentining of the streets leading up to a left turn at 8th and Fremont Street.

With a short run towards (but not in) Glitter Gulch, the course makes a left turn back onto Las Vegas Boulevard and start to head south again towards the Strip.    A short while after this turn, the half-marathoners continue their way back to the Strip and the marathoners makes a right turn for a 13 mile extended adventure.   Marathoners run past the jail and through a festive little industrial complex on to Martin Luther King Boulevard.

At the turnaround. Note the Stratosphere Casino on the right side of the picture.
Through an industrial complex toward MLK Boulevard

Martin Luther King Boulevard brings a long 5 miles stretch slightly uphill.  That leg seemed harder than it was because in the dark, I couldn’t tell how far it was until the turnaround, so there was this constant “are we there yet?” thing going in my head.

The course doubles back on itself after the turn around at mile 15 then adds a mile or so up a side street, but after that it’s a pretty straight and easy shot back to and through Downtown Las Vegas and up to the Strip.   Mile 25 seemed to take forever, but all in all the this race goes very quickly (for a marathon).

ELEVATION PROFILE: Las Vegas is about 2,000 ft above sea level.  If you play tennis in Vegas you will notice that the ball flies a lot more than it does at sea level because the air is slightly thinner.  As an asthmatic, the Vegas air has never been a problem while running. 

The race starts at about 2,200 feet and is mostly flat. The elevation profile graph makes it seem that the race is dowhill at first, but that’s an artifact of the small scale of the Y-Axis on the graph.   After the first mile, the next 9 miles are downhill at an imperceptible -0.45% grade.  The climb that follows to mile 15 has an unremarkable +0.38% grade.   The last mile up to the summit of the race is a 1.3% grade; nothing too daunting, but the cold dark and 15 miles behind me did made it seem worse than it was.

Elevation Profile Through Mile 24

After Mile 15, there is a short hill to climb off a side street, but it all feels flat after that.

THE WEATHER: The Southern Nevada desert in November at night, is cold.  The sun set about a half hour into the race, but the course was generally well-lit.  It was not necessary to carry any additional lighting.  The weather was supposed to be clear and about 65°F at the start of the race, dropping down to the mid-forties through the fifth hour of the race.

Storm clouds at the start line. Wind and rain ensued

A  storm moved in early in the race. The average wind speeds were 19 mph with maximum gusts of 40 mph at times.   There was a barely perceptible rain at first, then it became a bit heavier and then stopped.  It was enough to wet the course for about an hour and my feet for the duration of the race.

RACE ORGANIZATION: The race was well done from beginning to end.   The Expo is held at the Las Vegas Convention Center and parking was free.  Bib pickup was easy, there was lots of merchandise available for purchase.

IMG_1037There were about 40 corrals, each one was relatively small.   They were the width of one side of the street and about 20 people deep.   The corrals seemed to be released about a 90 seconds to two minutes apart.   The early miles of the race were crowded and slow.

There were plenty of water stations and a few with gels.   Those stations started to tear down about 4+ hours after the start of the race.    By the time I was making my final miles, there were all shut down and the huge water containers were being drained in the street.

There were medical personnel running among the crowd and there was a good police presence, especially in North Las Vegas.

My finish time did not post initially.   With a visit to the race website and a click of a few links, I notified the organizers and my time was posted within 6 hours.

MY EXPERIENCE: Truth be told, 8 of the worst 10 things that have happened to me in my life occurred while growing up in Las Vegas.  Other than the mountains the deserts and a few friends from High School, Las Vegas is not a place I hold in great fondness.  Still, for the early bird registration fee of $99, I was willing to take a go at this race.

IMG_1028I started training for this race the morning of my 50th birthday back in July.   I knew I was going to have to pick up my pace some to complete the race under the 5 hour limit.  After looking through the race finish times for the year prior, it became clear that there were a number of runners who finished in longer than 5 hours, so I quit stressing about it, but continued to work on speed.

Laura and I drove into town on Saturday morning.  We hooked up with Natalie (from the Disneyland half and the Edinburgh half ) at the Las Vegas Convention Center for Bib pickup.  Laura and I then went to a celebration of the life of a high school classmate who recently passed away. I saw old friends I hadn’t seen since high school graduation, which ironically, was the last time I was at the Las Vegas Convention Center prior that day.  That service grounded me in where I came from and put me in touch with some of the struggles my fellow classmates went through. It was a little strange, a little awkward at times, but I was among good, caring people.

The Sunday (race day) was a bit of odd situation.  What does one do on a marathon day that begins at 4:30pm?  I loaded up the car with friends and family, we had breakfast at 9am. We then took a drive out to the beautiful Red Rock Canyon. We cruised through the park only stopping twice so as not to tire ourselves out before the race.

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Friends, Family and the Puppy at Red Rock Canyon

We then made our way to New York Pizza and Pasta to pick up pre-race meals.  About 3pm, Laura dropped Natalie and I off near the start line and we made our way to our respective corrals. The half marathoners and the full marathoners are intermingled.  The corrals were cozy, but I have been more densely packed corrals  in other races.   About mile 3 the crowd thinned out enough to get a full stride safely.   Then it became a matter of getting by the half-marathon walkers and the crowds of married-at-the-start-line couples and their wedding parties.

Remarkable on this run down the Strip was the Paris Hotel.  The lights on the Eiffel Tower were dark in respect for the recent terror attack in France.

As I made my way south down the Strip, I remembered my mom and I walking down this same street back in 1974 on an early November Sunday morning.   I tried to remember where the hotels of my childhood and teenage years used to be, the Sands, the Dunes, the Thunderbird, the Stardust, and the latest to go, the Sahara.  The Sahara used to have a digit clock on top you could see for miles, that world is gone now.

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8th Avenue near the Downtowner.

As the race proceeded across Sahara Avenue, near where I grew up,  I remembered learning to drive down these streets back in 1980.  Lots of memories came back.   Then as we made our way down into Downtown, I realized we were getting closer and closer to a dark place from my childhood, then all of a sudden there were on 8th Avenue near Ogden, in sight of what used to be called the Downtowner Motel, now the Downtowner Apartments. When mom and I came to Vegas in the early 70’s lived for several months in a 200 square foot room at the Downtowner.   My mom would work one shift at the Downtowner front desk after working all morning as a maid in the motel across the street.   I pretty much stayed in that hotel watching Richard Dawson, Bob Eubanks, Merv Griffin and Monty Hall all day.  I remembered at the age of 9, figuring out how to make Campbell’s Chicken Noodle Soup on a hot plate for lunch.  I stopped for a moment to look at old place and I flipped it off.   I have escaped that life.  A few selfies later, I was off and back down a world where I used to hang out at way too young an age.

IMG_1053 (1)A bit down the road was the El Cortez Hotel a place that holds nothing but good memories for me.   My mom and I used to go there for breakfast when we had money and I would eat silver dollar pancakes.   The first time I took my family there back in 2006, they had just taken the silver dollars off the menu, but they made them for us.  That was a good day.

At the point where the course split I was happy to be away from the half-marathoners, but I also knew what part of town I was in.  As I ran by the Clark County Jail, I looked at the tall dark, foreboding building that at different times had housed both my step-father and my mother. You never forget the sight of your mother being taken away to jail in handcuffs, but as I had 16 of miles ahead of me, I decided it was better to leave those  weighty memories right there in that spot.  Interestingly, I didn’t even notice the jail on the run back towards the Strip.

Obligatory Marathon Freeway Sign
Obligatory Marathon Freeway Sign

Mile 11 brought me to Martin Luther King Boulevard and a  doozy of a headwind.  Laura had made me a windscarf for my face at the last-minute before we left for Vegas.  I was very grateful that she did.

One of the things that I have started doing during recent races is taking the time to thank the police officers along the route for their service to the community.   I started getting a little more specific in my thanks. In this race, I thanked them for their weekends away from their families and every holiday they have had to miss.   I thanked them for every drunk and every nasty person and every domestic situation they have to walk into.  The officers of Metro were appreciative of this thanks.

As I got further into North Las Vegas I wanted to dig further emotionally and thanked the Metro officers for those occasions when they walked into my domestic situations when mom and I were dealing with a PCP/Jack Daniels-enhanced stepfather and they very professionally took him away… for a few days.  Never underestimate the value of a few days respite in the middle of a nightmare.

IMG_1065When I finally made that turn around at mile 15, I was taken aback by how far the Stratosphere Casino seemed from where we were, given that the finish line was on the far side of that hotel.  The truth was we were only about 6 miles directly away, but with the night sky, the large structure seemed 20 or more miles away.

The run back after the turnaround was relatively easy as marathons go.  It was slightly downhill and the wind was at my back.  The water stations, however were being taken down. I wasn’t too worried about this as I was carrying a hydration pack.   Because of the high winds, the race organizers took down all but one of the mile markers. That made it slightly more difficult, especially  at mile 24 my brand new Garmin died.  I knew there were only a few miles left, so it was all good.  I made my way across up Las Vegas Boulevard, across Sahara Avenue, down past Circus Circus (another infamous place in my childhood psyche) and on towards Caeser’s.  About Mile 25, I heard Laura calling my name.    She was there with Natalie and they had purchased a margarita for me to consume during my last mile.   I did.

In the last quarter-mile of the race, right on cue, the song Home Means Nevada came on my iPod.   Being a child of Nevada (among other places) The State song was one of those things we learned as children, like the Pledge of Allegiance, or the Our Father (if you attended St. Christopher’s Middle School). I added this song to my playlist for this race just as a reminder of those good memories about this place.

Way out in the land of the setting sun,
Where the wind blows wild and free,
There’s a lovely spot, just the only one
That means home sweet home to me.
If you follow the old Kit Carson trail,
Until desert meets the hills,
Oh you certainly will agree with me,
It’s the place of a thousand thrills.

Home means Nevada
Home means the hills,
Home means the sage and the pine.
Out by the Truckee, silvery rills,
Out where the sun always shines,
Here is the land which I love the best,
Fairer than all I can see.
Deep in the heart of the golden west
Home means Nevada to me.

With perfect timing, the song finished as I danced over the finish line.   After I received my medal, I had one last thank you for a Metro officer at the finish line.  I thanked him for being there and I thanked Metro for being there at some dangerous times in my life.

#6 in the Books
#6 in the Books.  I won.

For the first time, after a race, I got down on my knees and thanked God for the blessing he has given me in this life.   I thanked him for the day and for the people who were in it.  I thanked him for giving me the opportunity to run this race and overcome the past.   I finished my margarita and made my way from the lights of the strip, towards my family and friends.

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Race Review: The Las Vegas Rock and Roll Marathon 2015

Big Sur Marathon 2014

To Quote Meredith:

“I think there are two types of people in this world:

People who run marathons, and people who do not.

I do not think you actually have to run or have run a marathon to be the type of person to run a marathon.  You simply have to be the type who believes in the possibility of going the distance.  You must have stamina; endurance; a belief in things greater than yourself.  You must have faith.”

 

Me of Little Faith
Prior to the Big Sur Marathon, a series of injuries left me with little faith in my abilities to run 26.2 miles.  I tested my body a few weeks before the race and my body unambiguously demonstrated its lack of readiness.   The smart thing to do would have been to skip the race. The problem with giving up before you start, “in the name of being smart” is that it creates a slippery slope wherein one can become so smart as to never do anything ever again. Better to fail than be too smart to start; far better to fail than live afraid of failing.

“Because in the end, you won’t remember the time you spent working in the office or mowing your lawn. Climb that goddamn mountain.”
Jack Kerouac

I can’t write words to describe the beauty and majesty of the Big Sur Marathon.  Very simply, there are 5 miles of running through redwood forests and then about 19 miles of this:

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As beautiful as God made this race course, he also made it brutally difficult with a series of small hills that go on and on and on.   There were a total of 2200 feet of climb throughout the 26.2 mile course.  That’s about 1 foot of climb for every word in this blog post.  About 500 feet of that climb came in a single unrelenting 2 mile stretch.

Elevation Profile for the Big Sur Marathon
Elevation Profile for the Big Sur Marathon

Getting There
The man sitting next to me on the flight up the California coast was going to Monterey to golf.  As we chatted, I explained that most of the flight was filled with svelte athletes who had run the Boston Marathon just days before as part of a coast to coast challenge.  When the guy realized I was running the race as well, he looked me the eye and said, “You’re a runner?  You don’t look like a runner. THEY look like runners“.  I smiled and kept my response to myself.

IMG_4498Within 30 minutes of touching down,  I claimed my bib and was walking the streets of Monterey shopping for food and fluid stocks to get me through the next 24 hours. I sat in an empty English pub for a while watching the owner cut what seemed to be a hundred limes for serve with days drinks.  I ate, and nursed a Smithwicks while reading Kerouac and taking a physical and emotional self inventory.  I flashed back to the Santa Barbara marathon 5 months prior when I injured my knee.  Self-doubt not only took up residence in my mind, but it refurnished the place and spray painted the walls with the words:

You don’t look like a runner.  THEY look like runners

I hailed a cab to my hotel and held up there until it was time for bed. At the appointed hour of 2:45 in the blessed am, my sister called me from England to find me already up and hydrating.   I sat in a hot bath for about 30 minutes as I had all week in hopes of getting my calves loose.   By 3:45am I was on a shuttle bus to Big Sur.

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The race staging area was dark, chilly and crowded. It was all rustic without basic creature comforts like cell service. I socialized with the other runners but after a while, I pulled out my copy of Kerouac and started to read, if only for the bohemian novelty of reading Big Sur in Big Sur. I looked up at the early morning sky and tried to filter out all the noise of the generators and the runners in hopes of just feeling the native energy of these dark woods. I got nothing.  Either they weren’t transmitting or the noise inside me was too loud.  Eventually, I packed everything away, checked my bag and made my way out onto the starting line on California’s Highway 1.

I can totally do this!  Maybe
I can totally do this! Maybe

I stood near the back of the crowd of 4,000 runners, filled with both anticipation and dread. Six weeks prior, I couldn’t complete 4 miles and now there were 26.2 in front of me.  This race could end very quickly for me. Before I knew it we were underway running through Redwoods.

The Big Sur Marathon reminded of a trail race, not only because of the hills, but because of the immersion in nature.  Through most of the race there was dirt strip off each side of the road.  My wife describes the benefit of running on trail is that the earth absorbs the impact.  Although it’s more work, running on dirt is much easier for me mentally than is running on asphalt.   Marathon running is in fact, as mental much as it is physical, even more so when one is injured.

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Near the end of the Redwood Forest

The other way this race reminded me of a trail run was that there were no spectators for most of the course.   Highway 1 was shut down while this race was underway making this the antithesis of the famed First Avenue of the New York Marathon.   There were no spectators, no signs, no cowbells, no cheering, only runners, horses, cows, the ocean, the occasional bridge, breathtaking views and God.  Lots and lots of God.

The Transition
Beware of Flying Cows

At mile 4, I pulled over to slow down and walk a bit.   My right calf quivered, spasmed momentarily and started barking at me like a crazed neighbor in a tenement, “HEY!  I will seized up!  Don’t slow down! MOVE! “;  on the plus side, I had a really fast (for me) first 9 miles.

The Mile 5 marker signified the end of the protection of the redwoods. Beyond the sign, the world changes from  redwood forest to exposed Pacific coastline. On a bad day that could mean a miserable headwind.   This was a good day with overcast skies, cool temperatures and no cows blowing by.

On the Ragged Edge of the Western World
On the Ragged Edge of the Western World

The Big Sur Marathon is accurately marketed as a race “on the Ragged Edge of the Western World”.  When the redwoods gave way to the sea, things shifted for me.   I was grateful to have made it that far.  I started to feel like my old running self again.   The worry passed and I started to enjoy myself.   I started to believe there was a chance I could do this.   My knee hurt a bit, my calf hurt a bit, but I was bee bopping along pretty well (bee bopping, that’s a highly technical runner term).

Running the Trail
Off Roading

I was moving in a crowded cohort of runners.   There was an older Irish lady with a sign indicating she was running her 99th marathon.   We kept passing each other as I was generally faster, but she was more consistent (think rabbit and the hare).   There was also that young couple in the maroon Minnesota Golden Gopher shirts.  Evey time I would come up behind them, I had to say “Go Gophers” in my best Minnesota accent.   The very last time I saw them he was standing guard as she was taking a bathroom break behind a big bush.   I couldn’t resist yelling out, “Going Gophers!”.  He laughed.

Look Back
A GPS can tell you the distance you’ve traveled but looking back shows you the beauty of where you’ve been in a whole new way.     This race is beautiful both forward and backward looking.  You miss half the views if you don’t look back.

“Nothing behind me, everything ahead of me, as is ever so on the road.” ― Jack Kerouac, On the Road

Remembering to Look Back
Remembering to Look Back

Miles 5 to 10 went joyfully for me. Then came the 2 mile climb to Hurricane point at 15% grade (that’s serious).  The memorable thing about that transition to the long hill was that the song Sweet Caroline came on my running music right at the start.  I had asked one of my Scotland tweeps, Barbara to recommend a song to add to the playlist.  Her contribution interrupted the usual order of my marathon music and I found myself singing Neil Diamond as I started my climb.  I sounded like an idiot, at the Sweet Caroline crescendo, but I just didn’t care. I was taking the hill….until I wasn’t.

“The only truth is music.” ― Jack Kerouac

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The view when Sweet Caroline Came On.

I ran as much as I could up that 2 mile hill and then I walked and then my calf tightened and then my knee tightened.   Things turned ugly really quick.  The next 3 miles took me 45 minutes to complete. I used this time to eat the nuts and chocolate I carried with me.  I normally wait until later in the race, but I was moving so slowly that this seemed the perfect time. When I finally got over the hill, my leg was too tight to run and I had to walk down the hill.   I was angry, but I had the Bixby bridge, half-way point in my sites and to me, that was like water in the desert.

IMG_4596The Bixby Bridge
Most marathons have a sign that show you when you have reached the halfway point.  This race offers the unusual highlight of a serenade by Monterey’s own composer/pianist, Michael Martinez.  Michael’s music marathon greets all the runners from first to last as they cross the bridge.   He was playing Paul Simon as I approached the line for a picture with him.  After I got my photo, I wanted to wait and listen and take the scene in.  I struggled, because I was in the middle of a timed race and taking videos of the ocean with Michael playing in the background was not conducive to a personal best race time or in my case, finishing before the course closed.    I  make peace with the delay, but I wasn’t sure if I was going to finish this race, so I might as well enjoy this moment of my life.   I wondered if the people in first and second place stopped to enjoy the music and take a picture.   I wondered if they got any good selifies as they pushed each other along.   Did they just zoom by the piano and did Michael play the William Tell Overture?  Who knows?   I am just glad that wasn’t my experience.  I was just out for a long run, with a time limit.  Next time though, I will ask him if he knows any Grateful Dead.

On the Bixby Bridge
On the Bixby Bridge

Big Sur Marathon Part II
After the intermission on the Bixby bridge, I was moving slowly, but moving.   It struck me that I had no idea what waited in store the rest of the race.  I am a planner, I usually have my long races well scouted and researched.   Not this time.   I had been so focused on getting to the half-way point, that I didn’t have a plan for the rest of the race and the rest of the race was all hill after hill after hill after hill after hill. I withdrew deep into myself and  kept going.  For the rest of the race, I only interacted with runners I saw needing of encouragement.    As I ran I thought.  I realized that all four of the marathons I had participated all touched the Pacific Ocean, none so much as this one.

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Pacific fury flashing on rocks that rise like gloomy sea shroud towers out of the cove – Kerouac

Walking Blues
I had set my GPS to display only distance and total pace.   I didn’t want to be distracted by the time, but I needed to be aware of my pacing  in order to stay ahead of the course closures.    About Mile 17, my head started doing the math and I realized that had enough time banked that I could walk at a 18 minute/mile pace for the next 9 miles and still finish before the race closed.    I didn’t like entertaining this idea, because it gave me an excuse not to try my very best.   That being said, I was having trouble maintaining any kind of sustained run either up or down the small hills.  By mile 19, I redid the math and gave in and started power walking/limping the rest of the race.  Walking went against what I believed I should be doing, but I was just going to frustrate myself trying to continue running, as had no kick left.   Eventually, I settled on the idea that as long as I finished, walking the rest of the marathon was just an alternative way to succeed.  Acceptance was the answer to all my problems at that moment.

I have been fooling myself all my life thinking there was a next thing to do to keep the show going and actually I’m just a sick clown and so is everybody else…” Jack Kerouac, Big Sur

The Race Marshals
The Race Marshals and the CHP

Death on the Race
About mile 21, I came across a scene.  Paramedics were working on the side of the road on someone.   The runners were diverted to a narrow single lane and our view of what was going on was blocked.  A blocked view is never a good thing; I’ve been around enough races to know that this was out of the ordinary and I’ve been in enough Emergency Rooms to recognize that blessing and a prayer was in order.  As it turns out, though a nurse and doctor were immediately on scene one of the volunteer race marshals collapsed and died at that spot.

O why is God torturing me, that’s it, be a loner, travel, talk to waiters, walk around, no more self-imposed agony…it’s time to think and watch and keep concentrated on the fact that after all this whole surface of the world as we know it now will be covered with the silt of a billion years in time…― Jack Kerouac, Big Sur

Best Strawberries EVA'!
Best Strawberries EVA’!

Strawberries
I had heard about the strawberries on the Big Sur Marathon.  I had heard that they were fresh and delicious.  Given that I have strawberry fields around my home, I didn’t take much note of it. I had passed on the orange stations during the LA Marathon in observance of the rule that one should never eat on a marathon what one hasn’t eaten during training.   As I was at mile 23 and they were there, I indulged and I am so very happy I did.   These were great strawberries. The flavor exploded in mouth.   I wanted to only have two and I ended up finishing a good half-dozen before leaving the station.   It was a highlight.

“In Strawberries, take note of best producing runners—cut down the others.”- Jack Kerouac in a 1953 letter to Carolyn Cassady  (Note: by Strawberries, he means marijuana)

Post Race Selfie in the Race Shirt
Post Race Selfie in the Race Shirt

Results
I crossed the finish line in a marathon personal worst 6 hours and 3 minutes.  To be fair, this was the hardest of the four marathons that I have run, San Francisco included.  I also started in the worst shape of any marathon with no training runs exceeding 15 miles and virtually no running in the final weeks. I was happy to have found a way to finish.   I was tired, limping and I had strained my abdominal muscles and a quad muscle power walking, but I finished.  In truth I was disappointed, not so much in the performance, but in the shape my body started the race in.

The course officially closed about 15 minutes after I finished.  I sat, stretched, ate and called as the volunteers began to take down the tents.  The show was definitely over.   I made my way out to the shuttle bus area and waited in a small group.  A lady recognized me from the race and jokingly commented to the small group how at the start of the race I was chatty and happy and at the end of the race I was laser focused and dead serious.  I smiled and in my mind, thanked her for the feedback.

There were only two of us on the full length bus back to my hotel.  The bus driver was released for the day now that we the stragglers were done.  I showered, soaked my legs in the cold pool, and went for lunch.  I hung out in the hotel the rest of the day because I had another early wakeup call the next day.  The travel home was another full adventure.

Aftermath
Although I deeply enjoyed the experience, I spent about six months being disappointed in my performance at this race hearing those words again, “You don’t look like a runner.  THEY look like runners“.   This past week I finally decided to check out my certificate of completion.  I finished 222nd out of 433 people in my age division. That’s a whole lot better than I would have guessed (I suspect they count those that did not finish).  Overall, I finished in the bottom 26% of the race participants, that was better than the bottom 3% I would have thought.  I guess to be a marathon runner, stubbornness will suffice in lieu of faith.   It also helps if one sanity checks with the actual statistics.

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“Live, travel, adventure, bless, and don’t be sorry.”
Jack Kerouac

Bound to Cover Just a Little More Ground

Big Sur Marathon 2014

13

I ran 13+miles today.   Because of calf and knee problems, I haven’t run 13 in the last six months and very few times in the months prior.

I am a Marathoner and I will not be stopped
I am a Marathoner and I will not be stopped

Not lost on me is the fact that this Veteran’s day weekend  marks a year since all these problems started,  during mile 4 of the Santa Barbara Marathon.    After the race, I couldn’t walk and spent the next week on crutches.   I couldn’t run on my right knee for about 45 days after that.

By late January, I was back on the road, able to slowly run a half marathon, but not able to run consistently.

Totally Faking It
Faking it (kind of) last January, during a Disney Half.

In April I ran the Black Mountain trail run and my calf cramped up about 1/3 the way into the difficult 9 mile trail.   Then later that month I willed myself through the beautiful Big Sur Marathon.

Since then, I’ve been impatiently healing.    I’ve tried running with little success and my tennis game has been limited by what movements my knee will and will not make.  Some nights, I haven’t been able to bend down to pick up the tennis balls, let alone stay low to hit groundstrokes.

But I started running again last month.  It hasn’t gone too well.  I’ve had shin and knee problems with all my musculature being out of whack.

I’ve tried to limit my runs to 3 to 5 miles max with time to recover in between.  I used to hate 3 miles runs, because they weren’t long enough for the requisite shower afterwards.   Now I am grateful to be able to run at all.

So much is made in running about always getting better and only competing with yourself.  My truth is that I am not as good as I was a year ago, but I am damn sure better than I was nine months ago.

My tennis legs were really strong and fast last Friday.  I didn’t really recognize myself.   Today I went out for my 3 to 5 mile run and again, my legs were strong and my cardio was better than it had been in quite a while, so I kept going.   At the end of mile 6, I stopped for an ice tea and a bagel, mostly because I didn’t bring water or gels for what should have been a short run.   After I came out from my break, I had a choice between running into the hills of Yorba Linda or taking the easier, flat 3 mile run home.   I chose the former and was so very glad I did. I hadn’t taken hills that easily in years.

Chris Rock was on Saturday Night Live a weekend ago and he commented that the marathon distance of 26.2 miles is a long way to drive, let alone run.  Truth be told, the first prerequisite to running a marathon is the belief that one can run a marathon.  That first prerequisite being met, one must have the proper equipment to handle demands that 26.2 miles puts on the body.

I only ran 13+ miles today, but I believe that had I brought gels, water and eaten breakfast, these legs could have taken me 20 miles easily.  If the good Lord never gives me another day like today, I will be disappointed, but I will always be grateful for today.

13

I Ran Tonight

It was just a little 5.0 kilometer run, that’s all that it was, but oh what it meant to me.

It was the first time that I have run twice in three days since last March.

I’ve run intermittently since the Big Sur Marathon, but for the most part I have been trying to let this messed up knee and calf heal themselves.

Conditioning has been lost (passive voice).   I finished the run this evening a good six minutes slower than my PR last October.  That was humbling.  On the plus side, it’s the fastest that I have finished a non-race situation since March.   Is the glass half empty or half full?

I have a race I want to try to run on Labor day.  It’s short (5.3 miles), but difficult bridge run.   I know my legs can do it, I’m just not sure my lungs can.

More will be revealed I guess.

Take care and be great.

I Ran Tonight

Travel Day 19: Osaka – Nothing teaches gratitude like not being able to do what one enjoys.

Happy Friday People!

Travel day 19 of 2014 had me waking up at 4:30am in Osaka, Japan after a typical Japanese business dinner.   Japanese sake has no preservatives, so one doesn’t wake up with a headache.  It took about 6 hour and a lot of baby aspirin to relieve the headache I didn’t have.

The meeting for the day took up about four very intense hours and then we went out for lunch (more sushi).  After that, I was free to go back to my hotel.  I packed my bags for tomorrows train trip and decided to take a walk to the nearby Nike Store.

Because it is so humid, I put my running clothes and strapped on my Garmin to take it on a test run.  My Garmin has miraculously recovered from whatever problems it had on Monday when I was in China.  Were I a conspiracy theorist, I would think that maybe the PRC doesn’t want people using unauthorized tracking tools, but that would just be nonsense (This is why they don’t give me access to WordPress in China).

Seems Clear Enough
Streets are a No Smoking Zone

Very quickly, my walk became a run. This was the second run this week and the second since the Big Sur Marathon. I didn’t think the calf would be ready to run again, but it was.    I was able to take some big long strides down the streets of Osaka for as long as my diminished fitness would allow.  It felt wonderful to open up and be able to take a full stride.  City running is fun, except for all the stopping at red lights.

It was about 3km to the Nike Store where I found a few things for the family.  I spent like a billion yen, I’m not sure how much that is in dollars, but I am sure I will hear [it] from my wife the transaction post tomorrow.

One the way home, I saw a Starbucks with a sign for a Marble Carmel frappuccino with JELLY.  Yes, chunks of jelly IN the drink.   Although I am usually a person who goes for the skinny drinks, this had to be tested and it was oh so fun to suck up the jelly.

A Jelly Cappuchino
A Jelly frappuccino and Tiramisu

I think it might have been better as a peanut and jelly frappuccino, but what do I know?  I also had a piece of tiramisu.  Don’t judge, I’ve eaten according to everyone elses rules this week.  In China, one does not eat all the food on the plate at is potentially awkward for the host.  In Japan, one eats whatever is put in front of one whether it is still moving or not.   This was a chance to have just a little moment of self-determination in a week of being a perpetual guest.

As I walked out of Starbucks the skies opened and the rain poured down in buckets.   I ran into a nearby Apple Store to check out the inventory.  It was interesting to see a Japanese Genius Bar and all the users all nicely queued up.

As the storm passed, I made my run back to the hotel.  Surprising the knee and calf did not tighten up as they have during the past six months.  Perhaps this time off from running is helping them recover.   Nothing teaches gratitude like not being able to do what one enjoys.

Siesta in Osaka
Siesta in Osaka

It’s about 7:30pm now. I am packed and ready to hit the road in the morning. I have back to back phone calls with California and Europe starting at 10pm tonight.  But first, I need some dinner.  There is a sushi bar across the street that makes a nice presentation of some good sushi.  As presentation is very important here in Japan, I thought I would share how my dinner was presented.

Presentation of my take-out
Presentation of my take-out

If nothing else, the first work week is over. Tomorrow is a travel day and if the cooperates, Sunday will be a really awesome day.

Peace People!

Travel Day 19: Osaka – Nothing teaches gratitude like not being able to do what one enjoys.

Race Review: XTERRA Black Mountain 16K Trail Run 2014

Summary: Good event.  Difficult climbs and descents.  Single Track running, so be able to keep up.

Key Information

Race Name XTERRA Black Mountain Trail
Location Black Mountain Regional Park in the northern San Diego
Elevation Profile Lots of Hills both big and small
Organization Excellent
Terrain Trail.   Some of it single track early in the race
Water Stations Enough, but carrying water and gels
Highlights The scenery
Other Events 5K
Good for Beginners? Neither the 5K  nor the 16K are good for beginners because of the steep hills.

Introduction

I have wanted to run this race for about 4 years now.  Unfortunately, my favorite trail race, the Mission Gorge Trail Run is always about 3-4 weeks prior to this event and I have never really wanted to make the drive down to San Diego on consecutive months (how un-California of me).

This training cycle in preparation for the Big Sur Marathon did not according to plan.  Most of the preparation races I planned on running were either cancelled due to weather or I skipped because of injury or family commitments.   Just three weeks before this race knee/calf problems forced me to limp home 3 miles into a long run. The most I had run was a quarter-mile down the block, just days before this race.  I had concerns, but I knew this 9+ mile race would be a good test for me.  If I couldn’t finish, I shouldn’t even try the more difficult Big Sur Marathon two weeks later.

Elevation Profile
My mistaken perception of this race was that it was flat with a pretty intense downhill the first few miles and a bear of a hill at the end.   I was right about the beginning and the end.   Even looking at the graphic below, I didn’t fully appreciate how many rolling hills there were during the 16 kilometers.

The 16K Elevation Profile
The 16K Elevation Profile

The Trail

San Diego trails are beautiful, let’s get that clear right off the bat.  If you have the opportunity, you should try to run them. As we took off out of the gate I was remembered how much I love running on God’s unpaved roads.

The First Quarter Mile
The First Quarter Mile

The first mile of the race was a bit crowded, but in a good way.  Trail runners are fun and delightful.  They tend to be a little more tuned in to their surroundings, mostly because we are all conscious of the trail and where our next footfall should land.

Single Track, Keep Up or Step to the Side
Single Track, Downhill.  Keep Up or Step to the Side

The race turned quickly to single track.  This meant falling into line with the other runners and running about 2 minutes/mile faster than I had intended for the first two miles or so.   Luckily, the knee and the calf felt great!  This stretch of pack running was probably the highlight of the race for me.    I thought of my friend SugarMagnolia during this part of the race, as she had trepidation during the downhills of Mission Gorge.   I smiled as I recalled showing her how to run down the hills Gagnam Style.  I missed my running buddy that day.

IMG_4313
Hills with Awesome Trails

At Mile 3, we had to make a transition from trail through a community and back onto the trail.  It was there, that my right calf, for lack of a better term charlie-horsed and locked up tighter than a Miser’s wallet.  Unfortunately, I was running down a steep hill at this point.  If you have ever seen a baseball player stain a quad or a calf as they ran down the first baseline, that was what I looked like running down this hill. I hobbled off the tail and ended up rolling my calf with a huge rock.  Most of the race passed me while I tried to work this out.

HILL!
Lonely at the back of the pack

With six miles ahead of me, I kept going.  I sure as hell wasn’t going to wait for Search & Rescue to give me a ride back to the start line.

Pretty much the rest of the race looked like the image above.  There were two runners ahead of me and I hobbled after them the best I could.   I passed the guy in front of me at the top of a hill after about a mile.    The runner you see going up the hill, well I chased her all the way to the end.  I was able to get within 15 feet of her at mile 6, but I never caught her.

What I thought was the River Crossing (above) and What Actually was the crossing (Below)
What I thought was the River Crossing (above) and What The River Crossing Actually was  (Below)

My wife and I have a running joke that it’s not a real XTERRA race if your feet don’t get wet.  I knew there was a river crossing, and when I came across it, I was a little bit disappointed.  I put my foot in the mud as a symbolic gesture.   About a mile up the road, I came to the real river crossing, which was about 17 inches deep and took about 4 strides to get through.   My feet were soaked, but I was happy to partake of the ceremonial bathing of the feet.

The Hill at the End
The Hill at the End and the Runner I had been Chasing

The hill at the end of the run was an absolute bear.  I felt my age and my lack of training. The race crew had announced that due to some new development near the park they had to reroute the race at the end so rather than the steep quad-killing hill at the end, there was an even more steep, quad-killing hill.   I just kept telling myself that it was good warm up for Big Sur, which would have similar hills.

My calf hurt and my quads were exhausted; I swear I checked my Garmin every 50 to 75 feet.  Normally on a steep hill like that, I will sometimes walk backwards to get some relief, but my calf wouldn’t support me walking uphill backwards. I tried to sprint near the end, but truth is I hobbled across the finish line.

Finished!
Finished!

I consider myself neither a fast runner nor a particularly good one.  What I am is stubborn with boarderline pig-headed tendencies.   My conditioning is the poorest it’s been in a few years.  This race was humbling.   The fact that I hadn’t run much in the weeks leading up to it was a small consolation.

After the race I caught up with the woman who I had been chasing for 6 miles.   Turns out she saw me rolling my calf at mile 3 and I was motivating her to keep going,  Apparently she didn’t want to be passed by the guy hobbling the race.   I guess that was good to know.

One could also look at this race and say, that for the second time in a month, I couldn’t complete a 3 mile run without calf problems.  I would ignore such a person.   It’s important to state goals and tasks clearly.   I told myself that if I finished this race, I was going to run Big Sur.   I finished the race with some minor problems, but I finished.   Life is always going to bring us problems.  There will always be limitations, some external, some internal.  What are you going to do?  Wait for Search & Rescue to bring you home?

XTerra Black Mountain Trail Run
Press On
Race Review: XTERRA Black Mountain 16K Trail Run 2014

Stopping by the Beach on a Fall/Spring Evening

Seacliff Road in Ventura 9 November 2013
Off of Seacliff Road in Ventura 9 November 2013

The picture above was taken on 9-November, 2013.  It was the low point of that year, I was driving myself home after barely completing the Santa Barbara Marathon. I injured my knee during that race and was making the 2 1/2 hour drive.  Pain radiated from my knee every time I pressed the accelerator, I was positive that I needed surgery and trying to accept the fact that my running days might be over.

As the exits zoomed by I felt the need to pull off the freeway at Seacliff road in Ventura. The view along the freeway was breathtaking and I wanted to take a break before running into the Saturday night LA traffic.

Seacliff Road was completely unremarkable, but after a few turns I pulled right up to the beach. My knee could not support my weight so I took the picture from the car as I sat listening to the ocean. I had a moment there, a quiet, simple and peaceful and yet tormented moment.

Yesterday, on the way home from vacation, with my wife and daughter in the car, I traveled that same freeway and I pulled off along that same road. This time I parked the car and climbed down the rocks with micro-twinges of that November injury reminding me to take it easy.

When I hit the beach, I had the overwhelming desire to run.  I broke out into a full sprint down the sand.  It felt good physically, emotionally and spiritually.

The foot prints in the sand 18-April 2014
The foot prints in the sand 18-April 2014

A mentor of mine once pointed out that people either tend to move toward pleasure or away from pain.   I am about a week out from my next marathon.  I am not in the best physical condition.  I am having calf problems and it would be easy to just take a pass on this next race and walk away from the sunk costs of the race registration and the airfare.  Here’s the problem: I would rather  fail because of the injury than not show up because of the fear of the pain or the desire to avoid the expense of the hotel room.

I go back to that moment at the start of the Edinburgh Half Marathon when I decided to run in my leather dress shoes, because I knew the blisters would heal, but the regrets would last forever.  Whether that is stupid, pig-headed or God-willing, something perhaps more noble, I have come to the conclusion that’s what I do and that is who I am.

Sanding on the Edge of the Shore.
Sanding on the Edge of the Shore.
Stopping by the Beach on a Fall/Spring Evening