Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Giving Back for Once - My Rock N Roll VR (Volunteer Report)

After a lifetime of racing (240 races and counting), I finally went to a race just to volunteer. I figured I owed them one. So I picked the LA Rock N Roll Half, which I ran last year. It's a big race, and I knew they would need lots of people.

Competitor does a great job of organizing. I received a free parking pass in the mail, so I got to cruise into a separate lot after passing the long line of cars waiting to get into the runner parking lot (not free). In downtown LA, this was a nice perk! I walked to the volunteer tent where there was coffee and snacks. I then realized that 98% of the volunteers were high school kids, who need to put in a certain number of community service hours to graduate. I found two other adults to talk with. I was immediately looked up to as an "expert" compared to these clueless kids with their smartphones glued to their hands. Which was fine.
Our first assignment was to separate the corrals. There were 20 corrals, already well marked with gates for each one. Nobody was monitoring for correct bib #s - it was strictly honor system. I was looking at bibs and there was only a few people in the wrong corral. Each of the 20 corrals had their own start horn, about two minutes apart. Worked great.

I got to be up front, holding a rope between the Elite corral and corral 1. For 30 minutes. 30 minutes before the gun, some people were already in the corrals, just killing time. No elites showed up until the last 3 minutes. I chatted with a few runners. Answered questions for people who were lost. Rocked out to the great tunes. Frank Shorter and Rod Dixon were at the start for some star power. As start time got closer, I was feeling the excitement, just like I was running.

I saw the Loop lurker I met last year at this race, and we exchanged greetings. He was lined up at the front of corral 1; wearing a batman mask and no shirt. This was a Halloween themed race, so there were many costumes. More and more costumes as the corrals went by. Only about a dozen elites came in. Deena Kastor and Mary Akor led the women. The guys were less famous. I did recognize Pete MaGill who is the fastest 50 year old in the country. He ran 15:00 at the Anaheim 5K this year. Today he would run 1:10 and get 4th overall.

Once they took my rope down, I just stood there next to the start line and watched all the runners go by. Twenty corrals came by and it was really fun seeing all the excited faces, the anticipation, the 10 second countdown and the starting horn, over and over and over. Meanwhile great tunes were blaring; the announcer was exciting. I was hyped up and raring to go! Loved it! I high fived some runners, cheered others, commented on costumes. Great fun. One plus-size girl looked terrified, like she was about to go to the electric chair or something. I gave her some encouragement. Later I saw her at halfway, and she still looked terrified, but she was getting it done.

Next we helped gather up some clothing for donation, but there wasn't too much. It was a hot day. Probably 65 at the start and would be in the high 80's by the end of some people's races. Glad I wasn't running!
Then we moseyed back to the finish area, and they didn't have much need. They tried to shoo me to the UPS bag check area, but I already knew they had tons of people - and I wanted to be a little more involved. They said a water station needed some help, so i walked about 1/2 mile to mile 7 (which is also mile 13 on the way back) and started helping out with the water.

So I handed out water cups for about 90 minutes. I was also cheering for the runners and commenting on the many costumes. None of the other (teen) volunteers deemed it worthy of their effort to cheer. But they were working hard. People were so grateful. Almost everyone said thank you; some used my name from my name tag. A lot said "Thank you for volunteering". It was very rewarding.

I got to see the leaders coming down the other side of the road (we were in the middle) as they sprinted their last 1/4 mile. A surprising amount of people were still taking water even with only 3 blocks to go. But it was hot. Luckily I got to be in the shade all day, but it must have been brutal out in the sun.

Mary Akor and Deena Kastor were 1-2 in 1:14, finishing 10th and 11th overall! There is an interview with Deena on the RW homepage if you are interested. I was trying to keep my eye out for loopsters Atombuddy and ZombieKid, but I was too late for mile 7 and was still working the other side of the road. I did catch AB's back after he went by me though on his way in.

Eventually the trail wagon showed up and they made us shut down the water station, even though most runners were still out on the course. So no mile 13 water for you guys. They actually tipped all the tables over and dumped hundreds of already poured glasses out in the street and swept them up. They were on a mission to get that street cleared on time!

So I was free to go, but I headed to the finish area, because I wanted to hand out medals! They had a dozen kids already, but I just jumped in and joined them. I then spent another hour handing out medals to the 2:15-3:00+ finishers. I must have gone through 500 medals - it was fast work! And those things are heavy! My shoulders were sore by the end. I would grab about 20 at a time and hand them out. A few people ducked their heads and I placed it over their necks - but it is not easy! Those ears always get in the way! Most people I just handed it to. Once again - very fun and rewarding to see all the happy people and share their accomplishment.

So, I heartily recommend volunteering when you get the chance. I left feeling full of endorphins and happy feelings.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Twin Cities Terrific! Embracing the Suck

Time for another Loopfest. Being a Loopfest veteran, I wasn't so anxious this time about what would happen. I knew how it would go. The agenda was identical to Philly. The race was one I have done twice already. The city is one I grew up in, and the weather - well, I have faint memories of cold weather.
So I was comfortable. There were 32 Loopsters and I had already met about half of them. It was wonderful to see the old friends, and it was great to meet some new ones. It was fun to see the loopfest virgins go through the same responses to how amazing it was that we all get along so well. Yes, loopfests are special and not like anything else!

Friday I arrived at the airport, and through the miracle of smart phones and facebook, hooked up with DReyna and her  brother at Chili's in the airport. We downed a beer before we even got to baggage claim where TO was waiting to bring us to the hotel. Then it was right to the lobby bar where 3 or 4 loopsters awaited. Gradually more and more filtered in. Good times ensued.

The helpful bartender told us of some bars we could walk to later, only mentioning at the end that they were topless. We managed to find a PG rated bar and about 20 of us headed there for dinner and more drinking.
Saturday started with a fun little 2.6 mile run. Our whole group stayed together at about 9:45 pace. It was fun to actually do the thing that we all love together.

Later we all went to the expo, which was mostly like every other expo, with a few exceptions. There was a booth for a beef council frying up hamburgers and offering free samples of the meat on toothpicks.

The Green Bay Marathon was cooking bratwursts and also offering samples. It smelled like a tailgater in there.

There were free bags of chips, and free mac n cheese. Healthy fare, this was not!

Later was the Carbo-loading dinner with the whole group, and then we took a beautiful group picture at his location that should surface at some point.

Sleep. I didn't sleep a whole lot this weekend. First night I had to deal with a roommate that snored like a chainsaw! Managed about 5 hours. The night before the race I had the usual nerves, and woke up at 2:15 after about 3 hours sleep. And then couldn't get back to sleep. Tossing, turning...Finally got up at 4:30 and just started getting ready. And the night after the race...well, not a lot of sleep then for another reason.

Race day! My goals were simple - I didn't really care. After getting into Boston, this one was for fun. I haven't had the miles to really go after a PR, and was worried about bonking hard in the last 6 miles. But I thought I could maintain about an 8 minute pace, and see how it went, and then not worry if I died at the end. Still, I needed to go under 4 and I figured I had a decent shot at under 3:40, and I thought just maybe I could surprise myself and beat 3:30 and BQ for 2014. Given the fast course and the cool weather, I was optimistic.

Kara Goucher cruised by us in the lobby as we waited to go. Then we walked the 6 blocks to the Metrodome in the cold. We got separated in the madness, but eventually I made it to the corral with ASchmid3 and I saw BSquared nearby. Sadly I couldn't find TOSuperstar as we were going to run together, but at least I avoided having to listen to three more hours of his "jokes". HA! Those three were all shooting for roughly the same time as me, so my competitive side wanted to beat them, and that helped keep me going later.

It was cold, but I went with shorts, a long sleeve tech shirt, calf sleeves and a thin headband that they gave away. My throw away sweatshirt got tossed right before the start as it didn't seem too bad without any wind. And I had gloves for about 4 miles before I tossed them. I was comfortable the whole time, hardly sweated, and didn't need to take many fluids.

Miles 1-5: Nice smooth start, running with the pack through downtown. I ran with Abby and B2 and the pace got a little too fast as I was hyped up. Tried to relax and bring it down, and a nice little hill helped with that. I was already tired and feeling like I was on half marathon pace. Backed it off a little and B2 caught back up with me. We started running together and found a good rhythm and ended up staying together for 18 miles. By mile 4 I was running comfortably hard. It wasn't just a long run - it was racing, and even though I thought it was too fast, I liked it and I was going to see how far I could ride it.

7:32, 7:57, 7:58, 7:43, 7:45

Miles 6-10: The course was great. Residential with lots of trees with colored leaves, many lakes to go by, people everywhere cheering. I was having so much fun I got choked up a few times at just how great it was. Maybe it was nostalgia or loopfest or the fans or everything, but I was really enjoying myself. B2 and I were mostly side by side and it was nice to share the sights and sounds with a friend. Went by Lake of the Isles, site of my very first cross country time trial in 1977 where I found out I could hang with the varsity. Later we would pass Lake Nokomis, site of many high school cross country races. Lots of memories.
Saw JB at mile 6!
B2 and I found a pace and stuck on it, effortlessly.

7:45, 7:44, 7:48, 7:53, 7:39

Miles 11-15: Maybe effortlessly is too strong a word. It felt good, but the whole time I was thinking "What am I doing? I am going to crash bad at some point." It felt fast. But my gut said go with it. I told B2 I would get him to halfway at least. We went through half at 1:42:52. Over two minutes under 3:30 pace, or "in the bank". I was almost running my LA splits. Yet I was still OK so we just kept running together. Somewhere here I saw a sign that said "Embrace the Suck". Loved it. I vowed I would do that when the time came.

7:43, 7:42, 7:43, 7:46, 7:40

Miles 16-20: Made it to the river. The effort was starting to hit now. I told B2 I may slip back soon, so "Good Luck". In mile 17 he did slip ahead on an uphill but I stayed close. I got maybe 20 yards back. But then a little later I felt better and he was still close so I went ahead and caught back up to him. I was going to hang on as long as I could. I'm sure I could not have kept up the same effort from 13-18 without him, so thanks B! We stayed together for about another mile but then my fatigue really started to get to me. My legs had been sore for miles and I was feeling beat. B2 slipped away just before the bridge at 19. But I was still feeling OK and maintaining a decent pace, considering. I was embracing the suck. Soon I could see the giant inflatable wall at mile 20 and I was through it under 2:37 with over 3 minutes still in the bank. Maybe I could hold on?

7:48, 7:41, 7:48, 8:05, 8:02

Miles 21-26: Or maybe not. It was getting to be quite the effort to maintain the pace, and the hills were ahead. There is a short steep hill in 21 that really knocked me down to a slow pace and another one in 22 that convinced me to walk for about 20 seconds. My legs were REALLY sore, and walking didn't really feel any better than jogging, so I soon got back to it. I had passed TO in mile 21 and knew he was hurting with cramps. But I thought Abby might be coming up behind me at any time, so I didn't want to let her catch me. That helped keep me going. As did the inspiration of so many Loopsters. I thought about Ms Ritz's Berlin race, and the ultra runners and so many others that ran through new levels of exhaustion and pain to do amazing things. i was going to embrace the suck and keep going. It gave me enough positive momentum to push the pain back in my mind and just go one block at a time.

The fans were fantastic too. Screaming fans virtually the whole way really helped keep the energy up. I wordlessly hooked up with one runner for at least a mile here and we ran side by side and some back and forth, helping each other keep going. My pace stabilized in the high 8's and I was able to keep it going all the way in. Every block was tough, resisting the urge to stop, but soon it was only 2 miles to go, and then 1 mile to go, and then one last hill and I would see the finish. There was the cathedral. Momentum returned. And there was the Capitol and the finish line with a big downhill ahead. The pain stepped aside as we all hurried down to the noise and the cameras and the finish. My hams and calves cramped a little in the last 1/4 mile as I was trying to push it in, so I had to waddle it in a little, but I was victorious! Ecstatic!

8:30, 9:06, 8:48, 8:41, 8:57, 9:02 and 7:54 pace for the last 0.48 miles.

Finish time: 3:32:31
We'll call it a 50-54 AGPR. I beat the time I ran here in 2001 at age 39 by a minute.

The pain was great, and it was tough to walk. And cold all of a sudden with some wind, so I needed to find my sweatshirt. I finally got to crash on the capitol lawn and wait for the rest of the loopsters. We shared stories of success and failure, pain and cold and suffering and joy.

Later we watched football in the lobby bar, and then made our way to the Post-race party. Much fun was had by all until they turned the lights up at 12. So about 15 of us made our way to a dumpy little karaoke bar and closed the night with singing, drinking and revelry. Only the lack of a 24-hour diner made us shut the night down at 3AM and finally hit the sack.

So it was another fabulous weekend. A race I was very happy with. A chance to get to know many more new loopsters and hang with some of the best people around.
Now I am taking some time off to rest my knee (which was no problem at all in the race). And then it will be time to do it all again in Marshall. Life is good.