Saturday, January 25, 2014

Rock 'n' Roll Arizona Half Marathon, 2014

It's not as though I have a ton of half marathon experience, but last week's Rock 'n' Roll Arizona is definitely the best event I've participated in thus far in my racing "career."  It had everything a runner could ask for: top-notch expo, easy access to the start and finish line, a beautiful course, lots of spectator support, and a really cool medal.  Add to that the fact that my mom and dad joined Theresa and me for a weekend in the Phoenix area and, well, it just doesn't get much better than that.

Phoenix is about a five-hour drive from home, so we left early on Saturday morning and got to the expo at around noon.  We didn't spend a whole lot of time browsing this time . . . just long enough to get our bibs, shirts, a couple Rock 'n' Roll Marathon knicknacks, and for me a pair of Hoka Stinson Tarmacs that I plan to break in and use for next week's Surf City Marathon.  I've been having some foot issues lately and . . . you know, I think I'll save that for a post of its own (along with a Hoka review).  We checked in to the hotel, grabbed lunch at Joe's Crab Shack (carbo-loaded on the lobster pasta -- delicious), and pretty much relaxed for the rest of the day.  Theresa and I took some time to drive the half marathon course, which is something I like to do whenever time allows.  Always good to know what you're up against.  There were a few long straight-aways through Tempe (starting at ASU), and only one significant uphill stretch -- a quick out-and-back about half a mile in distance.  That is, half a mile up, and half a mile back down.  This was at mile nine, and from that point on it would be a mostly-downhill stretch to the finish

We woke up at around 5 AM to get ready for the 7:50 start time.  I had my usual CLIF bar and Powerade Zero for my prerace "meal" and then mom and dad dropped me and Theresa off near the starting line.  I was running the half, of course, and Theresa was running the 5.4 mile "Mini
Marathon."  I've recently discovered that I've become fairly good at anticipating how well (or poorly) I'll do at any given race based on the course profile, my level of training, and other factors.  For instance at my last race, the New Year's Race LA, I was pretty sure that sub-2:00 was unrealistic due to the hilly course and I ended up clocking in at 2:04:41.  For Arizona, I knew it was an easier course and I was feeling really good in training the previous week, so I had a time of 1:57 in my mind as what I could reasonably expect, and I would be more than satisfied with that result.

All in all, the race seemed to go by really quickly, perhaps due to the long stretches on the course along with the bands every few miles and the hundreds of spectators cheering and holding signs of encouragement (my favorite: You Paid $100 for this . . . Only $75 to Go!).  I had no issues along the way.  The runners were pretty well spread out so there wasn't a lot of jockeying for position.  I chose not to use my Amphipod belt, opting instead to carry a couple gels in my pocket and rely on course support for water.  Checking my splits, I hit the 5K mark in just over 26 minutes and the 10K in 53:51.  At about the seven-mile mark the course moved out of the "busy" part of town and turned into a nature reserve and park, which was beautiful.  This is where the hill came into play, right about mile nine.  It wasn't too steep (in fact, it seemed worse when we'd driven in the night before), so I forged ahead to the turn-around where runners were treated to a gorgeous view of the greater Phoenix area.  No time to sight-see, though, as I headed back downhill increasing my pace to make up some time.  I knew that in order to come in under two hours (which is always my primary goal for a half marathon) I'd need to hit the ten-mile mark in about 1:30.  When I got there, I took a peek at my Garmin.  1:28:12, and nothing by 3.1 miles of downhill in front of me.

"Go" time.

I cruised past the Oakland A's spring training complex, crossed a short bridge, and headed toward the final turn to the finish line.  I couldn't find my parents or Theresa in the crowd, but I knew they'd be there somewhere.  I turned on the final kick and crossed the line with at time of 1:56:41.  Not a PR,
but pretty close.  In fact, it's my second-fastest half marathon to date.  I went through the finishing chute and got my medal, a chocolate milk, some pretzels, and then I found Theresa waiting at the finish line festival, sporting her Rock 'n' Roll Mini Marathon bling.  We had one more order of business -- finding the Heavy Medals booth so we could pick up our Desert Double Down medals for completing both the Rock 'n' Roll Las Vegas and Arizona events.  Once that was taken care of, we met up with my parents, went back to the hotel to shower and change, and then of course we went to lunch for our traditional post-race burger and fries.  Red Robin, if you're interested in the details.

As I said earlier, Rock 'n' Roll Arizona is a fantastic race, one that I highly recommend to everyone.  I'm certainly considering doing it again next year, although it's the same day as the Carlsbad Marathon and Half Marathon, which I've heard is awesome as well.  We'll see what the future brings as far as that goes.

In the meantime, I'm getting ready for next week's Surf City Marathon, which will be my second full marathon.  Looking forward to seeing how the new Hokas handle the 26.2 miles of torture.

Until next time, Happy Running!

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Holiday 5K Pomona and New Year's Race L.A. Recaps

Yes, it's been a while since I've written anything here.  It's not that I've stopped running (far from it), it's just that I haven't gotten around to putting pen to paper, metaphorically speaking of course.  Since we've last shared company, I've run two races.  Which I will sum up shortly.

Like, now.

Crossing the line with a new PR.
On December 14, Theresa and I ran the Holiday 5K in Pomona, California.  For those of you not from Southern California, Pomona is famous for . . . well, not much of anything, unless you count the L.A. County Fairgrounds or the Whatever-It's-Called-This-Week Speedway (think "drag strip," not "NASCAR").  Anyway, the 5K took place at the fairgrounds on a quite chilly Saturday morning.  My goal for this race was simple: Set a personal record.  My previous PR for a 5K was 24:35, but that was at the "unofficial" Hesperia Days 5K a few months back.  I was eager to top that (or is it "under that") in an officially timed race, which the Holiday certainly is.  The course was pretty flat, except for one short hill early in the race.  The first half-mile or so was all downhill, so I took off at a really fast (for me) pace of about 7:10 per mile.  Then came the hill, which I traversed without any trouble.  I completed the first mile in 7:23, so I was easily on pace for a PR.  The second mile was a bit slower, and we ran right down the Whatever-It's-Called-This-Week drag strip which was pretty cool.  No need for a parachute, though, as I was a bit slower for mile two, completing it in 8:09.  I picked up the pace for the last 1.1 miles, and crossed the line in 23:44, beating my previous best by 51 seconds.  Mission accomplished.  I waited for Theresa to finish, we collected our snowflake medals, and headed to Slater's 50/50 for the traditional celebratory burgers and fries.  For those of you who have never been to a Slater's (I'm not sure where they're available geographically), you MUST find one.  Their burgers are half ground beef, half ground bacon.  Condiments include baconnaise, bacon catsup, and all sorts of other deliciousness.  Definitely worth the trip.

The second of our two "Holiday Break" events was the New Year's Race Los Angeles (subtitle: L.A. at Night).  This was on January 4, and to date it is the most difficult course I've run.  It was also a heck of a lot of fun, as it passed through all kinds of L.A. landmarks incluing Chinatown, Olvera Street, and the highlight of the race, Dodger Stadium.  Of course, the downside of running through Dodger Stadium is that it's located in Chavez Ravine, which is Spanish for "The top of a really big friggin' hill that will beat the crap out of your legs if you try to run there."  But we'll get to that in a minute.

Doing the "Gibby" during the Dodger Stadium lap.
I didn't really have a set goal in mind for this race, which is unusual for me.  I'd seen the elevation profile for the course (more on that later), and I knew going in that there was a nasty hill at about mile four.  I've been to Dodger games before, so I knew pretty much what I was in for hill-wise.  But according to the profile, the one big hill was the only thing to worry about.  From mile five on, so it would appear, it was all flat or downhill.  Still, I knew that a PR wasn't going to be in the cards, and even a sub-2 hour finish would be a bit of a reach.

The race started in downtown, and the first three miles or so were pretty comfortable.  I'd settled into about a 9-minute per mile pace which is my norm for the half marathon.  And then came the hill.  Or, more accurately, series of hills that somehow didn't make it into the course elevation profile.  Some
were steep, some were long, some were steep and long . . . the next four or five miles basically sucked.  The only fun part of this stretch was the run through Dodger Stadium (literally . . . we ran around the warning track) which is definitely a career highlight for me.  And as suggested by my
swell pal Jim "Suldog" Sullivan, as I passed the Dodger dugout and the official race photographer, I did the patented "Kirk Gibson Celebratory Fist Pump."  As I write this, I have yet to receive my official photos, but as soon as I do, that one will go up here for you, Sully.

Side note: Neither Sully nor I are Dodger fans, but we appreciate baseball history.  Though we have much different perspectives on the Yankee-Red Sox rivalry.  I'm right, he's wrong, we'll leave it at that.

But back to the race.

Once the hillaciousness (copyright pending) subsided, I was able to get back to my normal pace but by then a sub-2:00 was out of the question.  Pressure off, I enjoyed the rest of the race, finished in a respectable 2:04:41, and got a really blingy medal for my efforts.  Theresa met me at the finish line (right in front of Staples Center), having completed the 5K in a fantastic time.  We had a late dinner at Yard House (the burger-and-fries tradition again), and we happened to catch the end of the Kings-Canucks game on the television and witness the postgame hoopla first hand.  Kings 3, Canucks 1.  Great night all around.

Tune in again soon, for the recap of my next race . . . Rock 'n' Roll Arizona on January 19th.  See ya then!