Puccini in the Irish Rain

Story of my life: I am in the back of a beautiful new Mercedes approaching Dublin airport when a beautiful Puccini piece for two voices comes on the radio. I ask the driver to turn it up.  He does and the music and sound system together are amazing.  I anticipate the first crescendo of the piece and when it hits it washes through my brain, if you understand that kind of a high.

We pull up to the terminal long before the song is through.   The driver realizes I am enjoying the moment and tells me I with a genuine Irish charm that I am welcome to wait in the car until the song is through. I desperately want taking him up on this kind indulgence, but my travel colleague is out the door and behind the trunk awaiting their bags in the rain.

I tighten my scarf, button up my overcoat and step into the storm, leaving that perfect moment behind, bound to cover just a little more ground.
img_20170202_130453_746
Bound to Cover Just a Little More Ground
Advertisements
Puccini in the Irish Rain

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.

IMG_1024
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.

IMG_1048
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.

IMG_1182

Race Review: The Las Vegas Rock and Roll Marathon 2015

2014 In Summary: 12 Months, 12 Pictures

The premise is simple:  Present 12 pictures to describe the highlights of your year.   No using pictures from previous blog posts.   It doesn’t have to be one picture per month, but try….   Go!

January - Tinkerbell Half Marathon with Natalie.  First race after being on crutches 8 weeks earlier.
January – Tinkerbell Half Marathon with Natalie. First race after being on crutches 8 weeks earlier.
February #1 - A Day with My Dad
February #1 – A Day with My Dad
February Shoe Selfie in France.  Early morning run before work.
February #2 – Shoe-selfie.  Early morning run in the light rain before work.
March - Along the  route of a run near Nyon Switzerland
March – Along the route of a run near Nyon Switzerland. Note the hidden Mickey
IMG_4127
March #2: Earthquake! Motorcycle saved the car from being hit by the bookshelves

 

Big Sur Marathon
April – Big Sur Marathon
May Billy Joel with my Uptown Girl
May Billy Joel with my Uptown Girl
June in Century Park, Shanghai
June 5- Run in in Century Park, Shanghai
July - Chicago:  Notice how adjacent flags blow opposite directions
July – Chicago: Notice how adjacent flags blow opposite directions
August - Ironic Mom was in town to try our California Tea
August – Ironic Mom was in town to try our California Tea with lime
September - The Child on Long Beach, New York.  Visiting Grandpa
September – The Child on Long Beach, New York. Visiting Grandpa
December: Resting up for Xmas Excitement
December: Resting up for Xmas Excitement
2014 In Summary: 12 Months, 12 Pictures

December 7, 1941

The names of the men who went to their death aboard the USS Arizona
The names of the men who went to their death aboard the USS Arizona

Of the 2,402 Americans killed during the 3 hour attack at Pearl Harbor, half were aboard the USS Arizona.

USS Arizona Memorial at Pearl Harbor
USS Arizona Memorial at Pearl Harbor

I really cannot write anything more poignant that what is presented in image below of the crew of the Carl Vinson arriving in Pearl Harbor back in 1999 as they were about to salute the crew of the Arizona.

Crew of the USS Carl Vinson 1999
Crew of the Carl Vinson coming Into port in 1999

God Bless the soldiers of our military.  Whether you agree with their politics or not, pray for the men who direct them.

December 7, 1941

Comments From the Dead

A few days ago, I recycled an old Facebook profile picture.   It was a no big deal, something I did on a whim.   When I looked at the picture on my phone today, I realized that there was a comment there from last May from my half-sister, Liz.

My New FB Profile

Liz has since passed away.   Then this morning, there she was again.  Out of the blue, her avi showing Jesus knocking on the door.

I’ve come across a few of Liz’s comments in other posts in the six weeks since she died.   I’ve also come across a few cards and letters.

Sometimes they pop up out of  no where like little reminders from her that she was here.
Sometimes they pop up like little emotional ice-buckets challenges, shocking me to the reality that she is gone

…..and yet her words of encouragement live on.  What a blessing.

Comments From the Dead

Double Plus Tweetup

Enrich your life with family and friends who will be there for you in good times and bad.   Meb Keflezigh et al., Run to Overcome

I had to fly to Minnesota in October for a 6-hour meeting.  Loathsome was the idea of the travel days, yet the silver lining was the opportunity to catch up with Tweep Kat and her husband, Marcus.

Definition Tweetup: When two or more people from Twitter meet up, usually for socializing usually involving the consumption of food or in some rare special occasions, beverages.

In the odd confusing world that is social media, Kat is a tweep most dear.   She has a down to earth, joie de vire that just makes her a delight to be around.  She also is the author of  Tenaciously Yours, a blog which among many other things every Friday features Kat’s latest culinary creations.  As much as I detest the practice of defining a person in terms of another person (e.g.  Julie is Karen’s mother), Marcus, despite being cool in his own indefinable way, can best be described as the perfect life-mate for Kat.

Air travel these days being like an old, mishandled box of chocolates,  you never know what you are going to get, but the downside risk exceed the upside.  I contemplated all the options to get from Southern California to Minneapolis.  The smartest choice was to drive to LAX and fly to Minneapolis directly.   There was also an option to fly out of Orange Country airport through Denver.  The day would be longer, but there wouldn’t be that annoying drive to LAX, the worst major airport in the civilized world.

Side Note: All travel is about risk mitigation.  Carry bags  mitigate the risk of a lost luggage.  Direct flights mitigate the risk of missed connections.   One never wants to have unnecessary legs without a good reason, especially in winter months.

Every major petty decision in life requires a tweet.  As I was deciding how to get to Minnesota,  another valued Tweep/blogger, Piper Bayard offered to drive out to the  airport for a quick tweetup should I decide to fly through Denver.  I would also describe Piper as unique. She and I are different on many levels, yet we seem to resonate on the same frequency, if you understand what I mean.  I think that’s more a function of her nature than it is of mine. She is a recovering lawyer and now author of two items on my Kindle, the book Firelands and a very imaginative piece in the Risky Brides collection of novels and novellas.  Both books are available on Amazon.

I had to think about Piper’s offer for a few days, weighing the unnecessary risks of flight delays and the potential delays related to clearing security in Denver.  Having made the commitment with Kat and Marcus upon my arrival in Minneapolis, I wasn’t sure I wanted to risk being late.  After I finished over thinking it , I simplified it down to , “someone was willing to come out and see me at the airport, I should be grateful”.   And with that, I scheduled two tweetups within 5 hours of each other in two separate states. “Crazy Making” is what my wife refers to this desire to fit as much into as little time as possible.

With Author Piper Bayard in Denver Airport
With Author Piper Bayard in Denver Airport

The flight from Santa Ana to Denver went off without a hitch.  I caught up with Piper for tea.   We had about an hour to catch up on her recent travels, having teenagers, being children of the 60’s in the modern world.   We also talked about an upcoming book that she and her partner Jay Holmes  are writing involving a special protagonist. Before we knew it, we were taking the requisite selfies and saying goodbye… for now.

The flight to Minneapolis was also unremarkable and I quickly found the location of our tweetup.   I was an hour early so at Kat’s advice I took a walk down to the Mississippi River.

One of a Dozen Pictures of Trees I took in Minneapolis
One of a Dozen Pictures of Trees I took in Minneapolis

It was a short 10 minute walk toward the river and I marveled at the turning leaves in the neighborhood. It was important to me to see the Mississippi again.  In my life have seen or crossed the Mississippi river at ground level in 6 of the 10 states it flows through, Minnesota, Missouri, Tennessee , Iowa, Illinois and Louisiana.  I don’t think I will ever forget looking up at the Mississippi river when I was in New Orleans.

The Mighty Mississipi in the North
The Mighty Mississippi River in the North, “when it is still clean” as Marcus pointed out.

I met up with Kat and Marcus at the designated eatery.   The place was a clear winner from a food perspective as it had good beer, fried veggies, and cheeseburgers with the cheese contained within the burger (and they think Everything’s up to date in Kansas City!).

The Cheese was inside the burger
The Cheese was inside the burger

I think social media confuses my brain.  I hadn’t seen Kat and Marcus in over a year, yet through tweets, Facebook and Instagram, it felt like just a couple of weeks, although that could just be the whole life moving faster thing.   We caught up on the things one doesn’t necessarily tweet or post about and shared a meal and a beverage.   It was just good to be around them again.

Post Tweetup Pic with Kat and Marcus
Post Tweetup Pic with Marcus and Kat

 Accomplish something every day and give thanks for the ability to do it. ~ Run to Overcome

After leaving the two coolest people in Minnesota (and possibly all the mid-West), I headed for my Holiday Inn Express in Chanhassen.   I checked in a very  comfy, clean (sterile) and spacious room.  After calling home to check in and putting all the devices to charge, the available options were to check email or watch TV.

There is an emptiness about being in a chilly hotel room when there is nothing left to do in the day, not even eat.   It’s what I call a “now what do I do?” moment.  The feeling of being alone is magnified ten-fold when there is nothing to get done and there are no travel companions to hang out with.  I suspect there is a madness that comes from being in that place for too long.

I sat in the comfy hotel chair with just a single light on in the room and put The Dream Academy’s Life in a Northern Town on repeat (see video below).  I thought about the people I was lucky enough to catch up with today, both at home and on the road.  I thought about the role some of these dear and other people on Twitter hold in my life.  There’s that lady in Scotland, and that guy who just ran his first NY marathon following his multiple hip surgeries.  He has a new girlfriend and she’s a Yankee fan! There is that one lady who recovered from cancer and the one training for the marathon in a few days.  There’s that doctor in Canada, trying to match up for a residency and that other Canadian lady who after finishing her P.h.D. married and just had a baby.  Then there is that certain one in Bahrain and the newlywed who married that special lawyer, FINALLY!  These are all real people and their stories and struggles are better than anything television can dream up.  In social media as in life, there are opportunities that one lets pass by and those one creates time to share a beverage with.

Double Plus Tweetup

A Morning of Mourning

Wearing nothing but a pair of shorts and a hockey jersey, I sat out in the morning air waiting for the sunrise.  I gave myself that hour before I would wake up my family and give them the news.

One of my earliest memories was my dad driving us down the Long Island Expressway on a cold, dark, night in the late 1960s.   My half-sister, Liz was sitting on the middle (hump) of the back seat of the black Cadillac and I had my feet up against the side of the car and my head rested in her lap  (that tells you how little I was).  I laid there as Liz stroked my hair, comforting me.  It had been a long day and I was “little kid” tired.  I remember dark sky discolored by the reflections of the lights bouncing off the snow laden clouds and then I fell asleep.
As I sat reflecting this morning, I checked my iTunes and couldn’t find the Doors, so I had to go to Spotify to put “Waiting for the Sun” on repeat.  I thought about the lady I sat next to last Friday on a flight from Minneapolis to Denver.  She told me of the medical problems that her son had since birth.   I told her about little man with the beautiful smile we lost to cancer back in 2010. Then  I told her about Liz and her bout with cancer.  I told her of the aggressive tumor and how my father, now in his late 80’s was taking her for chemo.  It was the first time I really spoke about Liz’s condition.  This lady’s compassion for my father was striking.
Probably 15 years ago, after not seeing Liz for quite a number of years, I stayed over at my Dad’s house.  Liz was always an early riser and I found her sitting on the side of my bed waking me up to ask me if I was a Christian.  Dazed, I remember telling her, “I’m a good little Catholic boy”.  Christ was very important to Liz.

I woke up early this morning about 4:45am like someone had simultaneously turned on all the lights in the house.  I got up and made my way to the living room.  I had called my dad a few times yesterday to check on Liz but wasn’t able to reach him.  She was hospitalized after an infection set in following her last chemo.  I knew my half-brother had headed to see Liz, so I sent him a message on WhatsApp before I went to bed.   This morning there was a message from him at 2:56am saying that “Liz passed away just now“.

I went outside to feel the cool air on my skin.  I negotiated with myself for a while, but once it was irrefutable that  the sun was up, I went in and told my wife.   Then we told my daughter.  That was when I lost it.   We just saw Liz less than a month ago on a visit to New York. We arrived just after she completed a chemo session, so we didn’t want to stay to long, but we got to say hello, or goodbye as it turns out. I had to go into work today, not out of any obligation, but I needed something to focus on and focus I did though I found myself struggling with my role as a half-sibling.  I struggled with the memories that came back.   Siblings, you know them your (or their) entire life.  

My wife checked in on me later in the day.   Last week I saw a really neat card about Angels being all around us.   I picked it up and made a point to mail it to my daughter before leaving for the airport.   Was it coincidence that the angel card arrived on the day Liz died?   It just reminded me that everything happens according to God’s plan, and even when we don’t know, we know.

Rest in Peace Elizabeth Marie Herrera.

A Morning of Mourning