Just a Matter of Time – RNR Chicago 2017

We turned right onto Michigan Avenue right about the 10K mark. My early estimate was that he’d be coming up to pass us between mile 6 and 9. Sure enough, not 100 meters past the turn, there was Greg, passing us on the right. He slowed down just enough that we could hand him our beer tickets.

Rock n Roll Chicago 2017 was another milestone for the RNR loyalists. Greg Heilers became the 7th person to finish 100 Rock n Roll Heavy Medal events (101 if you count the 10K in Brooklyn, which he didn’t). He’s the third one to reach that mark in 2017.  He’s been racing on the RNR circuit since 2008, and after ramping up to do 55 in the last three years, it was just a matter of time.

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I say that last sentence lightly, but it belies the magnitude of the work required to keep going that long. There’s the physical toll to doing 34 marathons and 66 half marathons and dozens of 5K’s and 10K’s – and that’s just in the Rock n Roll series. Then there’s the financial aspect. The races are in 30+ different locations, and now five different countries and three continents. Greg has raced in all locations except Lisbon. Reportedly, that’s on the list for 2018.

100 races seems to be frighteningly common though. Before we started racing, we didn’t know many people who did more than a couple of races a year. Now it seems we know more people who’ve done 100 races than people who have NOT.

Chicago in July can be a bit muggy, but this year was surprisingly nice with temperatures for the 5K and Half starting in the mid-60’s. There were some apps we had that were forecasting thunderstorms on Sunday morning, but they never materialized.

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This year we had the honor of celebrating another milestone – the 50th anniversary year of Katherine Switzer’s historic run of the Boston Marathon. She was the first woman to run Boston, back when race directors were worried that running 26.2 miles would make a woman’s uterus fall out. She had to register as “K. V. Switzer”, like she always signs her name. But the initials masked her gender.

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We spent a few hours at the Expo as usual. The redesigned Hall of Fame medal was finally revealed at the Rock n Roll booth. The first chance to pick one up will be in Virginia Beach.

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We also picked up a few items for Drew. He couldn’t make the trip, but he was on our minds. In addition to the special edition racks for the Chicago locals, Pete and Marcey at SportHooks had something that crossed the miles with the just the right sentiment.

 

Saturday July 15th – 5K
The new course was a double out and back with some time in the park and some on the water. Katherine kicked off the weekend with a word about 261 Fearless, her organization that promotes women’s empowerment through fitness. She’s 70 years old and can still clock in the low 2 hours for a half marathon.

 

One at the start. One at the finish. We’ve done this so many times, it’s a lot more fun taking pictures of my friends than of the course. We were just a few dozen meters behind Katherine and her 261 Fearless group as she added yet another chapter to her inspiring career.

 

On the way home, we took a quick detour. Tamara and Al still hadn’t added the tyranitaur to their Pokemon Go inventory and there just so happened to be a raid a block off the path back to the hotel. Mission accomplished! Also, Beth and Jim in classic gypsy fashion, just happened upon us on the way back to their hotel, just in time for a group selfie.

 

After lunch, we caught the opening weekend showing of Spiderman Homecoming. 2017 has been a great year to take some time off our feet for race weekend movies! We had a good light dinner at Filini’s. I’m definitely marking that place down for a return trip!

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The cool evening weather was a rare treat. Tawni, Al, Susan and I took a late night stroll out to the Navy Pier fireworks display. The place was packed. Note to tourists. Be careful if you sit on the grass. The sprinklers went on in two different patches.

 

Here’s the abbreviated version, in case you went to bed early and missed it. Tawni was live streaming it and SOME people who should have been asleep started a comment war :).

 

Sunday, July 16th – Half Marathon
The pre-race meeting at gear check was a well orchestrated surprise for Greg. Champagne shots flowed. Ainsley and Amy produced a few dozen custom shirts in Greg’s signature neon yellow color. The big reveal went over well.

 

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Quick pre-race pic for our missing gypsy. Kamika went off to his usual start line position.

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Greg usually starts in corral 3 and finishes in the 1:30 – 1:40 range for the half. Since he wanted to see people on the course, he decided to start with his brother in dead last and see people as he passed them during the race. This way a few of his friends could make it to the finish line to hold the tape and take pictures. Starting that far back must have been driving him crazy.

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Photo Credit: Kamika Smith

The course hasn’t changed much in the 8 years we’ve done it. We cross a few tricky bridges, pass the Chicago theater sign, pass 7 streets named after presidents take that right on Michigan for the three-mile straightaway, take the cheer tunnel hairpin on Martin Luther King Jr. and head back under the McCormick Center. Support was pretty good this year. The water stations were fully stocked, the sponges and cooling station between mile 10.5 and 11 probably didn’t have as many customers as they might have if it were hotter. I was working on some technique tips I picked up at the USATF outdoor championships and came within a few minutes of my Chicago PR. Susan has been running more consistently with a goal of putting up a sub-2:30 to let her move up one more corral for Disney Superheroes in November. She beat that mark with time to spare.

And Greg? He got his 100th Rock n Roll finish line. Apparently, he was going so fast that they missed him the first time around but Amy and Ann did a reenactment. After that many races and thousands of miles, what’s another dozen meters to get it right?

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Photo Credit Almi Del Villar Instagram almin8dv

It’s been 50 years since that milestone at Boston. It’s been nearly 10 years since Greg’s first Rock n Roll to his 100th. The more I keep coming back to these events, the more I know that it’s all a matter of passion.

Keep working. Keep showing up. Keep finding something that inspires and motivates you and you’ll reach your next goal.

It’s just a matter of time.

~//~

Rock n Roll Chicago is in its 8th year. There were 14,985 finishers in 2017 (9.834 in the half, 2,207 in the 10K and 2,944 in the Remix 5K), down from last year’s total of 16,531. This is the 8th year in a row we’ve done the race, most of any RNR. Missing that inaugural year is really bumming me out now.

The course remains one of my favorite urban half marathons, even with the Midwest summer weather. It winds through a mix of classic old downtown, and is well supported. Short of 2016’s thunderstorms, we haven’t had any issues with weather for this location.

Greg Heilers has at least 250 lifetime races at all distances. Including the Remix distances, 137 of those are under the Rock n Roll brand, putting him third in that category. He also sits at 1888 total Rock n Roll miles (3rd) and has the most miles run in a single year (550.5 in 2016). 

He is also raising money for the Chicago Marathon as part of the team representing the Ronald McDonald House Charities of Chicago. In some races, Transamerica sponsors a “Tomorrow Chaser” that starts last and the company donates a dollar for every person the chaser passes during the race. Transamerica doesn’t sponser this location and while Greg didn’t actually ask for donations, I decided to pledge a penny per pass based on his finish position. If you’re interested in helping him reach his $1000 goal, be sure to visit his website here.

Year 10 for RNR Chicago is next year. Once the 2018 Tour Pass goes on sale, we’ll be signed up for sure.

 

It’s All About … Us – RNR Seattle 2017

Finishing a marathon, ultimately, is an individual accomplishment. When you cross the finish line, you’re the one who gets the medal. You’re the one who gets the time posted on the internet. As you make your way to the post race bananas or chocolate milk, you should take satisfaction at the job you’ve done.

This is not to say that other people can help you along the way. Someone may have inspired you to start training. There’s the woman at the shoe store who did a gait analysis to recommend the right shoe. There are the coaches and teammates for your fundraising charity who kept you motivated as you got into higher mileage. There’s the chiropractor and orthopedic specialists who put you back on track as your body started to complain. And all the way through, there are the people who just show their support, cheering you on and giving you the freedom to pursue this activity.

That’s usually the story I hear at the end of a first race. Now think about what it takes to keep that motivation going to finish 100 races! I was thinking about this as we headed to Seattle to watch our friend Kamika run in his 100th Rock n Roll race. He would be the sixth person to reach this milestone in the 20th year of the series.

Kamika picked this race because he went to school in Seattle. It was also the site of his 100th marathon in 2010, and being as there are no

Rock n Roll events in Hawaii, this was as close to a home town as he could get. Because of the travel time, he usually doesn’t come in early to run the remix race. This time he made an exception. The free trip to the Seattle Museum of Flight (with your bib as the ticket) was a nice perk for those getting there early for the 5K.

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We landed mid morning on Saturday and headed to the expo, finding our gypsy friends to give them some gear we picked up to honor Kamika. At first we weren’t sure if the pineapple thing might be going a little too far, but everyone was curious about them. Some even asked if we were selling them for the race.

I’ll remember that night at dinner for a long time. Seated at the table was a combination of over 2000 Rock n Roll finish lines crossed including three of the other 100 Rock n Roll Century club members (Jeff couldn’t make it in time) and nine of the top 14 lifetime totals. Outside of the series there were multiple Boston qualifiers, Seven Continent Marathoners, 50 State Marathon and Half Marathon finishers, 100 Half Marathon finisher and some who’ve crossed of several of these challenges in their lifetimes. But one thing I noticed? There wasn’t an ego in the room. No one really talked about accomplishments. People talked more about longevity and the future. There was just an outpouring of appreciation of just knowing each other, making this trip and taking time out to enjoy each other’s company.

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Left clockwise: Susan, Tawni, Lynda, Zach, Sherry, Bree, Tamara, Drew, David, Tim, Jim, Beth, Tricia, Kamika, Joe, Al, Ron.

Beth said some wonderful, touching things about each of us in turn. I’m really excited that her work now wants her to run more Rock n Rolls because that means we’ll see her and Jim more often.

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She also wowed us with her decorative talent with hand-made cookies for the occasion. They looked too good to eat, but we somehow managed. I mean, after all, we needed to carbo-load, right?

On the way out, we caught Leny, who arrived on a later flight, with Juan. The timing was great since we could give Leny a pair of pineapples and take a Juan-fie.

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Sunday, June 18th. The 100th Race
The point-to-point format in 2017 made getting to the start line a bit more challenging. The Link light rail had trains so full you’d have to wait for the next ones and many runners were forced to get a ride share or were late to the start. Even the Lyft drivers were having trouble getting close and a few even refused to go near the stadium, even with nearly double surge pricing. Note for future races: reserve the night before, come early, drop off and walk the rest of the way.

We had a good amount of time to snap some group pictures in VIP. There may have been some goofing off with the pineapple gear.

Quick group fotofotos at the corrals before we scatter. Kamika hugged every single person before they left.

The other runners were starting to call us the pineapple crew.  Sherry later noted that pineapples are a symbol of hospitality and friendship. In hindsight, I think we nailed the theme. It was really easy to see us on at Kamika’s customary position on the other side of the starting line.

After watching a dozen corrals go out, we made our way into corral 10. Kamika got a nice 100th Rock n Roll shout out from Ann at the start. We made sure that she got into the Aloha spirit as well. Jeff’s Uber driver dropped him off just in time for him to join us for the first half mile.

There was a lot more of Lake Washington shore on this new course and it was a beautiful day to enjoy the weather. We got into a good run/walk pace with enough time for pictures. I smiled every time someone cheered for the pineapples.

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Drew and I traded carrying the Pineapple balloon guy until I gave him to a little girl at the end of the Blue Mile. The Mile has given us a lot of inspiration to keep going at some of the toughest points of our races. It seemed right.

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Kamika likes to run under the radar. He kept trying, unsuccessfully, to get us to go ahead and not wait for him, so I’m hoping he didn’t mind the company for the first 12 miles. We were in communication with Dorcas at the finish line and Drew, Susan and I went on a head. Joe was standing at a break between the full and half marathon chute so he could direct Kamika onto the full marathon side for a less crowded finish line. Tawni grabbed a perfect angle for the video at the finish.

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Celebrating a friend whose humility and generosity truly embodies the spirit of his island state was something I’ll have in my top memories for years and not for the reasons you think. It wasn’t the milestone 100 race, the destination city, or even the dinner with our group.

When my older brother, Gary, gave a toast at our wedding, he talked about when the three of us (including our younger brother, Eric) played volleyball together after college. He said he realized how special that time was because he knew it may never happen again.  Seattle was a joyous weekend and it gave me a very similar feeling. I realized at some point that being with this group of people and the extended family of Rock n Roll enthusiasts is the thing that keeps us coming back year after year. The race itself is only a small sliver of the time we spend over the weekend and who knows when these opportunities are going to happen again?

Finishing a marathon is ultimately an individual achievement. There are times I’ll admit as I crossed the finish line after a good race that it was all about me. But once I get that medal around my neck, I remember to be grateful for my wife who races with me everywhere we go, the friends who make me laugh and remind me that there are other people just as crazy.

In the end, it’s not all about me.

It’s all about… Us.

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~//~

Rock n Roll Seattle was run for the 9th year in 2017. There were 14,799 finishers over the weekend (2457 in the marathon, 10776 in the half, and 1566 in the inaugural 5K). The course this year was a point to point format starting at University of Washington’s Husky Stadium and ending at Century Link field. Other than the logistics of getting to the start, I liked the route better. There were a decent amount of hills for a challenge and a long stretch of waterfront path.

According to my records, Kamika is only the 6th person to reach 100 Rock n Roll Heavy Medal qualifying events (half and full marathons with the option to include 10K Brooklyn 2011-2013 since that was the only distance offered). He is one of 13 people to have finished 100 overall events (including Remix 5K and 10K) and is easily the record holder for most miles traveled to Rock n Roll events. A study by William Flynn showed that, at minimum, Kamika traveled 100,00 air miles per year just to get to 15 events (that doesn’t include stops and his legendary luck with United Airlines delays through SFO). 

This is the first of four blogs in our backlog. I just wanted to get it down in electrons because it was the most important. Thanks to everyone who continues to feed our passion, either as spectators, participants or coaches. We hope to be doing this for many more years to come.

 

Outside the Lines – RNR Raleigh 2017

Most of us know that the race is the reason we travel. 95% of the trips we take have a medal in the souvenir collection. But except for the occasional PR or photo-op, most of our memories are collected outside of the time between the start and finish lines. Raleigh was one of these trips.

We planned to stay an extra week on the east coast, starting with race weekend, and spending the week visiting Susan’s parents in Chapel Hill. In between we had a side trip to Boston to see Rock n Roll superstar, Will Flynn present a paper at the American Association of Geographers.

Friday March 31st
Pre-5K dining isn’t as restrictive as for the half. We don’t bother with carboloading, so Al took us out to Ole Time Barbecue, one of the hole in the wall roadside diners that he’s visited. I have to tell you, this is one you HAVE to visit if you’re in the area.  The fried chicken, brisket and the veggie sides were delicious. They had three different homemade desserts to choose from (we chose… well, all three). We highly recommend all of the cobblers.

We stayed at the Sheraton like we usually do. Although they changed the course slightly, we were still right on top of the start line and only a few blocks from the finish. The Sheraton had the balloon runner like they have since the Inaugural 2014 race. Peanut got a ride before we turned in.

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Saturday, April 1st
We missed the inaugural 5K in 2016. From what we heard it was a so cold that people didn’t wait around at the finish line festival and huddled indoors with beers and some March Madness games. UNC was playing the semi-final game on Saturday night, so 2017 was just about as perfect as it could be.  We lined up for the free shuttle provided by CGI for the mile-ish ride to Dorthea Dix Park arriving just before sunrise.

The highlight of the first weekend for me was meeting Ann’s mother, Vonnie. This was the first time she’d be watching Ann at a race. “Take Your Mother to Work Weekend” was an eye-opener for her and a joy for us. Let’s just say we know where Ann gets a lot of her energy!

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The 5K course wound through the park with a few decent hills. I realize with our shorter weekends, we skipped the 5K in Arizona and Dallas so there isn’t a good progress check on the way to San Diego like usual. I was pretty happy to walk an 11:30 pace. We hit the expo before lunch. John, Al and I walked up to the Capitol building to occupy some gyms and take advantage of the PoGo grass event.

Tawni made a last-minute call to swing through for the half, bringing her son Graem along for the ride. We had dinner at Jimmy V’s at the Sheraton. Did I mention how close this was to the starting line?

Sunday, April 2nd. Half Marathon
First things first. I had to check the result of the UNC/Oregon semifinal. Turns out it was a nail biter, but UNC grabbed a last second rebound to secure a 77-76 win to advance to the finals. That gave Susan license to change wardrobe for the day. Oh yeah. John was pretty happy about the result too. They were having a great race hearing “Go Heels” for the next few hours.

Two more for the Peanut Gallery. I’m hoping to add a picture with the third generation Franken girl before the year is over.

This was a decent race for me. I was hoping to walk in the mid 2:30’s on the ramp up to San Diego. Other than New Orleans, it was the fastest half since Seattle. Except for a small out and back at mile 10.5, 2017 was the same course as we had in 2015. The full and half split and converged a couple of times. Lisa and Dorcas were directing traffic at the first full/half split. Beth crushed a downhill to catch me before we split again on Western Boulevard.

I didn’t have any finish line pictures but we had the usual crew at the finish festival. We collected our Six-String heavy medal from Mindy and Ryan and took a Black Sheep group pic in front of the tent.  That’s Amy trying to drown out all of the planning talk for RNR Madrid (she wasn’t able to go).

We were able to get cleaned up and were just in time to see Beth finish the full before grabbing lunch. I’m inspired every time I see her run.

Sunday afternoon was relaxed. We weren’t catching a flight home this time, so we had time for a leisurely lunch with Al and Joe at The Pit and caught up with Beth and Jim later at Woody’s. I know this is why we keep coming back to race.

In the week after Raleigh, we stayed with Susan’s parents at Carol Woods, their retirement community in Chapel Hill…

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Had dinner with Bethany and Charles at Crossties BBQ to watch UNC beat Gonzaga in the national title game…

Took a day trip to Boston…

…to watch Will Flynn present “Geography of Distance Running Participation: A Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon Series Case Study” at the AAG conference. We learned about the best strategy to minimize travel distance to make the Hall of Fame and how crazy some people are to get that goal (seriously, who travels 110,000 miles just for a medal?). We finished the night with pizza at Uno’s and a picture of Will’s future goal – the Boston Marathon finish line.

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On Thursday, we caught up with one of our original Team in Training season buddies, Meg and her two kids as we watched the Greensboro Grasshoppers win a chilly season opener.

And as it that weren’t enough, we flew to Nashville Friday. The reason we extended the east coast swing was that I had a Tradesmart University meeting on the 8th. Maybe in the next few years, options trading will pay for this crazy lifestyle on its own.

Two hundred forty hours away from home. Three and a half hours inside the confines of the races. Another few hundred pictures and a basket of memories to bring home and post on Facebook. When you pack for that big destination race, don’t forget to pay attention to what’s going on outside the lines.

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~//~

Rock n Roll Raleigh was held for the 4th year in 2017. Attendance is down sharply since 2016 with full marathon participation under 1000 and total in the half and 5K below 4,000. While there was a lot of speculation that this may be the last year of the race, CGI posted registration for April 7-8, 2018 already, so it will continue for at least another year. Unfortunately for us, that’s the same weekend as RNR San Francisco and due to time, distance and cost, it’s a no-brainer for us which one to choose.

Raleigh was our 95th Rock n Roll half or full and 115th including all distances. I need to update the all time list as we have two more big milestones coming up in Seattle and Chicago. If all goes as planned, we hope that San Jose will be a hometown race to remember.

 

Red Skies at Night – RNR San Francisco 2017

There’s something to be said about home town races. It’s even better if you have two of them.

I finished work early on Friday for Rock n Roll San Francisco weekend. I swiped my Clipper card at the Pleasanton Bart station and set off to the city. This was our first 5-year Legacy for any race. I always stand on the train out of habit, even though there were tons of open seats. Coming up from the stairs at the north end of the Embarcadero Station I felt the cool drizzle of a San Francisco spring. The Rock n Roll rain jacket was just what I needed.

On the way to the expo, I ran into one of my marathon heroes, Tony “Endorphin Dude” Nguyen. He was in his last few weeks of training before American River 50. I also saw Audrey, a former coworker. She was doing an half Ironman two weeks later. California life means you run into people you know in the middle of a big city doing healthy stuff like that.

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This year the expo was at Pier 35 instead of Moscone and the longshore feel was a nice change of pace. I picked up my bib and the Legacy Runner swag – a vanity bib and a disposable shopping bag. I guess that goes with the environmental mindset of the area, but seeing the same bags hanging up for purchase for $2 at the expo was a little disappointing. We’ve been TourPass holders since 2011, and we haven’t spent that much on race entries, so we’ll look forward to a 10-year Legacy in 2022, assuming we last that long.

We had a few more additions to the Rock n Roll Peanut Gallery. We were especially happy to give Ann two pairs of matching socks (one for the new addition to their family). The expo closed up at 7 and we caught the train home.

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Saturday, March 25th
8 AM ish: I kissed my wife goodbye as she dropped me off at the train station, scratching the dogs on the head as I lifted my backpack out of the back seat. Even though check-in at the Inn at the Opera was at 3PM, I wanted to spend the morning with my older brother. San Francisco is a Pokemon Go paradise so we spent few hours of hunting during the Niantic water event before lunch at Gott’s. Besides, I wanted him to see the Hall of Fame Banner at the Expo, hoping he’d be impressed enough to want to come down to San Jose in October. By 2:30 he’d caught enough Magikarp for another Gyarados. Players get it.

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Al called from the Bay Bridge just as Gary left, right in the middle of Friday afternoon traffic. After dropping stuff off at the hotel, we headed back to the expo for his bib. A few hundred yards from Pier 35, I jumped out of his car and ran a block to catch a Lapras (again, players get this). A few of the Gypsies and Black Sheep were trickling in as we got later in the day.

We had dinner with Gary and Susan at Il Borgo. It’s one of those family owned Italian restaurants with seating for maybe 30 total where the bake the bread fresh every half hour. It’s worth the walk.

On the way back to the hotel, city hall was lit up with Rock n Roll red. Ann said something about “Red skies at night, runners delight.” This was definitely a good sign for Sunday.

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Sunday, March 26th, Half Marathon
Thanks to the tip from Amy and Greg in Dallas, we got into the United VIP lounge. They moved the starting line off the Great Highway about 3/4th of a mile into Golden Gate

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Wesley and Martin shared our breakfast table. Mae, Sherry and Zach took off earlier.

Park, but United chose to have their lounge at the Beach Chalet. I think it was a good choice. We had no trouble getting Uber to drop us off and it has plenty of space and decent bathrooms (supplemented by the heated trailer rooms). Flight attendants were doing their best to make us feel comfortable with a good breakfast spread, the handy United buffs and charcoal hand warmers. United even provided a shuttle to the starting line. We were among the last to board.

The start line in 2017 was located near the Bison paddock on John F Kennedy. It was eerily quiet because of the noise ordinances in the park – no music and barely any light other than the start line. Ann even had to keep her voice down for the corral send offs (which must be excruciating for her). She was sporting some cool new socks though.

They changed the course slightly in 2017. The first mile was different than last year’s course. There wasn’t the steep hill up Balboa in the first quarter mile, but it was quite a bit more crowded, forcing us to a slower pace initially. Other than that and the Haight Street Selfie Station, the main objective for us mid-packers was to get to the Golden Gate Bridge in time to come back on the road bed (about 1:10 for the first 5.7 miles give or take).

Even with that time in mind, I still had to take time at the Blue Mile, this time on the climb up Lincoln. This is the most challenging part of RNR SF, a half mile 3% grade followed by a half mile 7% grade. The motivation is the pictures and flags on the left. The reward is the view from the top.

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I’m a huge fan of out and back stretches, especially in the Rock n Roll races. This one was 2 miles long. I saw a lot of faster friends heading back. Those who come back on the sidewalk actually get a better view of the city, but it’s quite a bit narrower.

Susan was coming into the Vista Point turn as I was heading out, so I camped out and waited for her so we could head back on the bridge together. We’d done that for the last 4 years, why stop now?

Anyway, if I didn’t wait for her, we wouldn’t have taken this picture. It may have been a lot more awkward with someone else. Heh.

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The last five miles we just chatted away, passing all the places we trained when we started racing in 2005. The turn up the last long hill on Polk Street put me right on the edge of my heart rate zone. I guess leaving that in San Francisco seemed pretty appropriate. The finish line pictures always seem better when we finish together.

Post race VIP at United was just as good as pre-race. We got our medals engraved free (my time says “finished”) and there were a good selection of sandwiches, brunch food including meat and veggie frittatas, nuts, popcorn and as much beer and soda as you wanted. If United sponsored another VIP, I’d be quick to sign up.

We didn’t have a flight to catch. Our timeshare was reserved for two nights so we didn’t even have to rush out of town. We shared dinner with a bunch of Black Sheep on a surfboard at the Wipeout Bar and Grill, talking about where we were going to see each other next. No surprise – next week at Raleigh. After driving through the night and arriving just a few hours before the start, Hollie caught the 1 in 8000 shiny Magikarp. I guess some things go right.

The Bart ride home was a little more crowded. We still found seats together with our roll on suitcases. Out of pocket expenses for the weekend was basically food, $12 each for train fares and maybe $20 for Uber rides. In one of the most expensive places to live and work in the US, this was one of our cheapest.

We don’t really do many home town races, but we like this one enough to want to come back every year. As long as the skies stay red, it’ll be a delight for us.

~//~

Rock n Roll San Francisco is in its 5th year under the CGI brand name. It was formerly the San Francisco Half Marathon. In year 2, the course changed from an out and back from the Marina Green to a point to point starting on the Great Highway. Short of a few bus box upgrades and the starting line change in 2017, the course is more or less the same. Participation still looks strong as the race sold out for the fifth year in a row.

San Francisco was our 5th Rock n Roll of 2017, earning us the new Roadie Medal with the opening trunk. This is my favorite so far of the redesigned Heavy Medal series. We’re among the 51 sitting with 5 races. Another 15 people did the Tex2Mex double and earned their Six String medal. I’ll have to check, but I believe we have more people than last year who have run the table (so to speak) through 6 weekends.

It goes without saying we’ll be back for RNR SF 2018. Next up, Raleigh!

It’s Us Against the Course – RNR Dallas 2017

And sometimes, the course wins.

One of the challenges of serial racing is dealing with the different weather conditions as you go between time zones in back to back weekends. The sub-freezing temperatures in DC gave way to a warm muggy weekend in Dallas. What a difference a week makes.

We skipped the 5K this year, again saving a little more on hotel and vacation time to build up for our 2018 schedule. We had some serious FOMO watching our friends post pics from the morning run around the park. Drew-Lyft give a quick recap on the ride in.


The expo was at the Convention Center as it has been for the last few years. Peanut was having a field day posing with the bulls outside. I think we’ll be bringing her along for the rest of the year. All we need is a way to take her on the course with us.

We met Joe on the way into bib pick-up (always great to see VIP Joe!). Tricia had another strong 5K showing, placing 4th in her age group. That BQ time is looking better every time we see her.

Marcey and Pete were joined by daughter Katie at the Sport Hooks booth. Katie and her sister Ashley manage the Kaktos Rose company, creating custom signage using the same technology as our medal hangers. I asked her to pick her favorite one for a Peanut Gallery picture just before she left for a wedding dress fitting. This is going to be an eventful year for the family.


We also connected with a new friend, Amy. She’s relatively new to the RNR circuit but is shooting for Hall of Fame this year. I asked her if she was doing Mexico City also, and she didn’t even know it was possible. After about 5 minutes of searching flights and thinking about hotel stays, she realized she didn’t have her passport. Otherwise, I’m sure she’d be on that plane after the half!


Meanwhile, veteran Black Sheep Runners Amy, Ainsley, Greg, Jamie and Mitchell came in later sporting their custom Tex2Mex shirts. Most of them did this double in 2016. It sounded like the flight times were a little better this year. The 2:30 departure out of Dallas would get them there a couple of hours before the Mexico City start time. Thanks to Amy, Greg and Mitchell for giving us the heads up on the United VIP for RNR SF. We signed up right away.


More pictures for the Peanut Gallery.

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Andreas is quickly getting back to peak race walking form and was scheduled to race at the USATF Pan Am qualifiers in Philadelphia the first weekend in April, then fly to Prague for another qualifying race. His estimated time based on his 5×2 mile training was a 1:24 20K. We’re trying to get to know enough about his product so we can cover the booth for him for lunch and bio breaks at future expos.

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One of the nice things about being back at a location for multiple years is that you become an annual regular. We had dinner at Ravenna. Apparently we’re memorable because the owner recognized us. Hyalker brought Mae Bear along to take more travel pictures for his college friend’s daughter’s school project. Mae Bear is like a flat Stanley, only with button for eyes.

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Sunday, March 19th. Half Marathon
Given how it was in DC, I wasn’t about to complain about the temps in Dallas. We’ve had a few hot races in the last year, and at least this wasn’t a full. The corral 5 meet up had a few newcomers to the race circuit – Jen and Nalani’s brother Brandon. Note: Don’t let your sister customize your bib or she’ll take advantage of it. “First Half” indeed.

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Drew missed RNR DC to take care of his mom while she went into surgery. This was a good break for him and relatively close to home (it’s been a few weeks since then and he’s happy to report that she’s recovering well). For a few hours on Sunday, things were back to normal and he could just soak in the moment. This is something racing just does for people. Susan and I decided before the race to hang out with him (or more accurately, he was OK waiting for us).  Pictures are better with friends anyway.

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The course changed a bit from the previous years. Mile 9 had a slight change giving us a bit more elevation – last year‘s 216 ft elevation gain total, compared to this year‘s 292 ft. Add the humidity and the temps were a stark contrast (39 F in 2016, 66 in 2017).

Coming over the South Houston bridge, you can see the finish line area and hear the music, and for some reason this makes the long straightaway is deceptively long. Right about mile 12.75, Drew and I saw a woman lying on the sidewalk, feet up on the guard rails with her hand shielding her eyes telling another lady “I’m fine. I’m fine.”

Drew knew ‘this is code for I’m really NOT’ fine, but won’t admit it.’ We stop and go into Coach Mode. We have to.

It turns out Sarah is a registered nurse, doing her second half marathon (the first one was late last year). She pulled over after getting really dizzy, so we kept her talking, gave her some salt and helped her get to her feet slowly. The three of us start walking ahead. Her phone rings. It’s a friend of hers who was wondering where she was. I took the call to let her know that Sarah was on her way, but needed to concentrate. It took a good quarter-mile before she was able to start a slow jog, but by the time we hit the downhill for the last 100 yards, she was feeling much better. Drew and I ran her past the Dallas Cowboy cheerleaders, past an Ann high-five and past the finish line, right to the med tent to the friend who called her a few minutes earlier.

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Sarah thanked us profusely, but honestly, this is something we (and a lot of runners) do without even thinking about it. We know how much work it takes to even get to the starting line so we get a lot of satisfaction and joy to make sure they cross the finish.

We came away from Dallas with the Lone Star Challenge Medal. A bunch of our friends (60+ in all) were off to the airport to Mexico City for the second installment of the Tex2Mex double-day. This year, CGI was helping with the logistics by getting the runners from the Mexico City airport to the starting line. Maybe we’ll get to that level of crazy again someday, but for now, we’re content to hit brunch in matching shirts.

I connected with Sarah after we got home and asked if I could write up our encounter. She was happy to serve as the ‘cautionary tale’ for others, but in reality, given the wrong conditions, what happened to her could happen to any of us. And if (and when) it does, we’d be out there hoping that someone would check to make sure we were OK to finish or at least had the proper care to get home safely. It’s us against the course, and sometimes, the course wins.

But not today.

~//~

Rock n Roll Dallas was run for the 8th time in 2017. There were 8,320 finishers in the half and 1,971 in the Remix 5K (compared to 9,559 and 2,009 in 2016). We’ve done Dallas four years in a row and are 99% sure we’ll be back in 2018. It looks like a safe location for RNR, especially after hearing that Vancouver and Queretaro were discontinued for 2017.

Downtown Dallas was a Gen2 Pokemon Go starter heaven. Nests dotted the parks between Commerce and Elm for Chikorita, Totodile and we caught an occasional Cyndaquil and Mareep. Gym battling is mid level with the entry-level around 2500 CP. GPS lock can be a bit sketchy, so patience or a hotspot can really pay off.

Dallas was our 94th Rock n Roll event and 122nd half marathon. At some point, we may celebrate another 25 race milestone, but I need to catch up on three more blogs before then :).

 

Weather or Not – RNR DC 2017

For a four-year stretch between August 2010 and October 2014, we had an amazing run of weather luck. We had no rain during our races except for a sprinkle or two, even when the forecasts the night before called for downpours and lightning. It always seemed to clear up.

Then we met Lisa Marie.

For some reason, every time she was in a race with us, the weather conditions just got weird. At IM Florida, the current was so strong that they cancelled the swim. She raced the 10K at Joe’s 100th RNR downpour in DC 2015, was in Vegas 2015 with the 40 mph winds and came to DC again in 2016 where we got a good shot of rain and mid 30’s temps.

She wasn’t actually planning on running RNR DC 2017, but signed up on a Groupon deal at the last-minute. We checked the forecast and saw this:

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We admit that we’ve met our match when it comes to controlling the weather. Fortunately for us, we have a pretty good set of cold temperature gear. We brought nearly the exact same clothes that we used for the White Continent Marathon in Antarctica. That race started at 30 with wind chill into the high teens then dropped by 20 degrees.

This was a Saturday race and a Thursday flight through Columbus. Uber-Al picked us up for a short drive to the Westin Crystal City, just a stone’s throw away from Reagan
International. The rental car turned out to be a IMG_2385good idea to stay warm with the point-to-point course. Joining us this trip (and likely for the year) was our penguin Peanut. Al reminded us that we still have 14 more races, so even Peanut could make the Hall of Fame. Crystal City had a few good dining choices including Jaleo. Tapas style dining hit the spot after the long cross-country trip.

Saturday, March 11. Expo Day
The expo was in the DC Armory again. We took a short walk to Dunkin for breakfast just as the rain turned to sleet and snow. Given the security screening at the Armory and the weather, we waited to go until about an hour after the open so we didn’t have to stand outside in case there was a long line. Those who came later that afternoon had to wait 10 – 15 minutes as the line stretched around to the metro stop.

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This was the coldest race we’ve participated in, even Antarctica.

Right up front was the 2017 Hall of Fame banner and the welcome sign for Jeff Calene – the fifth person to reach the 100 Rock n Roll race milestone.

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We started building an album I’ll refer to as the “Peanut Gallery.” It seems everyone we knew had no problems humoring us for a candid. Peanut did her best to blend in.

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With 4 hours to dinner, we caught the 2:50 showing of Logan, the new X-Men release. I didn’t actually notice that we were in the NC-17 version which explains why there weren’t many kids in the theater.  In case you’re wondering, YES, it’s decidedly more gory than the PG-13 content. I felt like I had to wipe screen blood off my shoes as we walked out. We had dinner at Portofino’s. Jeff joined us, proudly displaying his custom bib for the race. He’d also wear bib number 100.

Sunday, March 12, Half Marathon
Usually, DC is 100% metro accessible when it comes to hotels, start and finish line. That is, unless you’re a wimpy Californian and want to keep your fingers and toes. Last year, the wait to get INTO the metro after the finish was about a half hour and with temps in the 30’s, the rental car option was worth it. We had a bit of a cluster getting into Lot 5 parking lot at RFK. The police manning the roadblocks didn’t get the right instructions early so we had to park at lot 7 and make a beeline for the 5:30 shuttle. Thanks to Lisa Marie for keeping us posted and telling the bus driver to wait a few more minutes.

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My eyelids froze shut.

We hopped off the bus south of the mall and trekked a few blocks to the Willard. At some point, I’ll figure out how I want to set up my phone so i don’t have to take off my gloves for selfies.

 

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Since there was only one shuttle from the VIP lot, we were at the hotel around 6 AM. The full marathon started at 7 but that half started at 8:30, giving us a good 2.5 hours until the start. It actually worked out well so we could catch up with everyone. Living in DC this year seems to have a different vibe. I’m sure it’s just that climate change hoax that people in DC talk about.

 

I had to make sure we took a group picture for Drew who missed the race to be with his mother. Family comes first, but you’re in our thoughts. There will be other races.

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It’s a Drew pose. If you know him, you’d understand.

More shots for the RNR Peanut Gallery.

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Just a few pictures before the first half of the race. The gloves stayed on after the starting line.

Jeff and Jacquline at mile 0.2.

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The course hasn’t changed much in the last few years except for a few minor tweaks around construction zones. The cold air made it a little harder to breathe and our heart rates were 10 – 15 bpm higher than they usually are at that pace. Fortunately, the volunteer crews at the aid stations gutted it out. There were a few cups of Gatorade with a thin layer of ice on top and I was pleasantly surprised that we didnt have any black ice hazards after the stations.

Just after mile 6 we hit the hill at Shoreham Drive. I was lucky to have caught up to Joe and he asked me to take pictures at the Blue Mile. It’s one thing to pass the pictures of fallen servicemen and women, but it’s entirely another to be with someone who knew them.

This sign should have been at mile 2. I would have definitely used the shortcut.

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This wasn’t a fast race. No excuses for the cold, though, I’m way behind on fitness compared to last year. With Dallas, San Francisco and Raleigh coming up and stuff at work loading up, I’ll need to force some time to get my aerobic capacity back. In the meantime, don’t forget to take those finish line selfies. Smiles can really warm you up.

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One of the first things we learned back when we started was that we should be ready for anything on race day. On days when you wake up and see rain, heat, wind or bitter cold, it’s tempting to hop on an indoor treadmill or just skip the workout altogether. If you don’t try it once, you won’t know if your gear is right for the conditions. The best thing to do is just stick to the plan.

Weather or not.

~//~

Rock n Roll D.C. Ran under the RNR banner first in 2006 as RNR USA. This year there were 16,960  finishers (2,423 in the full, 13,050 in the half, 1,487 in the 5K). Participation is down about 2,000 since 2016, mainly in the half marathon. This is the third RNR race of the year that offered a full marathon, so I expect to see a lot of friends posting the special marathon medal.

Weather in DC has been in the 40’s or colder for the last few years, so come prepared with layers and a water/wind resistant outer shell. Pack an extra space blanket or throw-away layers if you plan to take the metro to and from the race since you may be outside waiting to get into the station. Side note for the gear: DC has a no-masks policy (thanks to Lisa Marie for bringing this up!) so if you wear a buff or bandana to keep your face warm, be aware that it might draw attention.

Big congrats to Sandy (“Sandstorm”) who ran a PR of 1:42. She started running only a few years ago and her improvement has been amazing. She may be joining her cousin Beth with a BQ sooner than you think!

Pokemon hunting is relatively good in Crystal City and on the national mall. The Gen2 assortment was limited to the Marills and Slugma with a few of the starters. Gym strength was respectable with the Level 10 gyms bottoming out at 2600 CP. The area is predominantly Mystic.

As of D.C., the number of people who have done all three RNR races stands at 130 (compared to 152 in 2016). 588 people have done two of the first three races. Pannell Reports should be posting shortly in the Black Sheep Run group and with Dallas and Mexico City this weekend, the data crunching should ramp up quickly.

1310.94 Miles and a Chewbacca Onesie

Once again we continue to be in awe of how many seemingly normal people we know who have accomplished things we thought were impossible when we started racing.

Ok, maybe ‘seemingly normal’ isn’t quite accurate here.

When we were planning the weekend, we cut back one night to save a vacation day because of a lot of things happening in the back half of 2017 and hopefully early 2018. Then Susan found out she was double counting her days off and we have more days than we thought. We might have even been able to do the 5K on Saturday if we went straight there from the airport, but oh well.

Rock n Roll Arizona is usually our kick off race for the year. While it’s historically cool and a flat, fast course, being scheduled midway through the Eating Season and the horribly brutal California winter training season, we rarely looked at this race for PR’s. It’s also the first race of the Rock n Roll season and in the last 3 years, we looked forward to seeing all of our friends on the Hall of Fame banner. With 162 people in the 2016 class, the pictures were small. And also a little blurry. It looked like the printing bled a bit so the pics weren’t sharp. Hopefully this was a rush job and there is a second banner in the works?

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This is the 20th year of the Rock n Roll Marathon series since the first race in San Diego in 1998. There were some really nice retrospective signs leading us past the bib and shirt pick up areas. There are a lot of stars of the running world who’ve made a mark during the Rock n Roll Series – even some we know.

We weren’t sure when this was going to happen, but the redesigned Heavy Medal series was unveiled at the expo. Anyone signing up for multiple races AND registering as a Heavy Medalist could earn some of the new extra bling. Note that the new 15-race Hall of Fame Medal was not yet ready for prime time.

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Competitor added two more challenge medals for Coast to Coast racing incentives. People completing either San Francisco/Brooklyn or San Diego/Virginia Beach could earn the Bucket List or Beach to Beach medals.

Another half-zip and random pins later, we leave the expo for food. Drew had planned dinner at Alice Cooperstown and since it also had a decent amount of TV’s we could get there early to watch a few playoff games. We stayed and chatted until dinner. One perk of travel is that friends from former lives seem to be everywhere. We met up with Kate, one of our participants from Team in Training in 2009. She did her first (and only) half marathon at Nike San Francisco that year on bad knee. Since she was raising money for her brother Jared, there wasn’t a force on earth that would stop her from finishing. 7.5 years later, she felt strong enough to try another half marathon. She ended up shaving nearly an hour off her time.

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This was another 100 Half Marathon celebration for one of our friends. At last count, this was 10 in the last two years. We presented Drew with a small bib and a lifetime membership to the 100 Half Marathons club. Beth sent us a TeamUp medal which got Drew a little choked up.

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The food was memorable. The company, even more so.

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Drew had a group of friends in from Dallas. Some, like Stephanie,  were joining him for their first half marathon and all of them did the 5K Saturday morning. Drew had a local friend, Rachel, bake a cake for the occasion. The decoration was perfect for Drew. And the cake. I don’t think I’ve had a chocolate cake that good in YEARS.

Sunday January 15th. Half Marathon
Getting to the starting line from the airport hotels via light rail was really convenient. Usually we end up driving since we use our timeshare, but with San Francisco, San Diego and Las Vegas having good spots in the Shell Vacations network, we thought we’d try something different. The all day pass for $4 is a must as there are train stops at both starting lines and the finish line. Arizona is the only Rock n Roll where the full marathon starts in a different location than the half. We met for 7:30 pictures before the 7:50 start.

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We can tell we’re going to get along fine 🙂

We had a good group and were able to pair off to match paces. Tamara was a bit under the weather and ran with first-timer Stephanie. Drew bounced back and forth between them, us and for the first mile until he settled into a good slow run with us.

You can learn a lot about someone over the course of a race. This wasn’t a time where we were going to push and ‘see what he was made of’, but to go easy, and find out what makes him tick. We asked the standard questions. What was your first half? At the end, he told a friend “we should take a picture. I mean, how many of these do you think we’ll do?” We heard stories about college and the senior prank week and being dropped off in the middle of nowhere to walk home. We found out that if you state a dress code as “dress comfortably”, you better be more specific or one of your guests might come in a Chewbacca onesie (the host was much more specific the following year).

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Host: “Son of a bitch! This is not what I meant!!! 😛

The Garmin data showed the race to be 13.25 miles. We attribute the extra distance to Drew’s penchant for on-course puppy therapy. These four were all sitting in a line in sweaters just past the first mile.

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We had the same out and back at mile 8.5 up the hill crossing East McDowell. This time the Taiko drummers were at the top. Excellent motivation and they kept up a good beat. We even caught Tamara and Stephanie for a shout out as they came down the hill about 10 minutes ahead of us. I’m getting to be a big fan of these high-five tunnels.

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One pic with Rock n Roll jesus at mile 11. That nickname is growing on me.

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Then we head for home. The finish line used to be at the stadium, but the park is quite a bit more relaxed than the asphalt in the parking lot and a nicer view coming over the North Mill Avenue bridge. I’d asked Drew if he wanted us to go ahead of him to take video from the front as he crossed the finish line for the big milestone. He said he’d wanted to cross with the three of us holding hands. Damn. I didn’t think I’d get that kind of honor two races in a row. Nearly brought me to tears again.

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We caught Tamara and Stephanie in the finisher area. Stephanie ran a solid first half marathon and was happy to have Tamara to pace her and give her tips on the way. I think we may see Stephanie at a race sooner than she thinks *coughDallascough*. Everyone got their medals this day. First timers, and 100th timers.

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There were no Double Down medals for finishing Las Vegas this time around. And since we skipped the 5K, we just had the one medal for the half. Drew was pretty surprised to be the one with the most medals this time around. Definitely well-earned.

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Susan, Gary and I had to grab a quick lunch before getting back to the hotel to check out. Loco Patron was right off the light rail stop just a few blocks from the finish area. We didn’t have enough time to grab an ice cream sandwich at Slickables. It was a bit cold for that this trip anyway.

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For the first time, I was able to take a page out of Ann Wessling’s book and survive the whole trip with just a backpack. This was a short one though.  It feels weird that we don’t think much about hopping on a plane for a race in another time zone and just going back to normal life less than 30 hours later. I guess that’s the kind of mindset you get when you race 100+ half marathons or so.

Just don’t ask me to wear a onesie.

~//~

Rock n Roll Arizona  finisher numbers are down about 1,000 from 2016, mainly in the half marathon (2,345 for the full, 10,377 for the half and 2,206 for the 5K). The course for the half is relatively flat except for the hill at mile 8.5 (100′ climb). We haven’t done the full for this event, but a lot of folks say it’s flat and primed for a PR. The short hop from Oakland to Phoenix makes this stop a regular on our race calendar unless we have another high priority like Star Wars in 2015 or a new continent. We’ll be waiting for TourPass 2018 to become available so we can save money on the non-refundable processing fees.

With the light rail running very early and every 15-20 minutes, its very easy to get where you’re going during race weekend. Look for hotels near the airport and skip the car if you’re looking to stretch your marathon dollars. Speaking of which, Marathonfoto actually dropped the prices for their full packages to $20 (and I heard even lower to $10 later). I was considering buying the package anyway, so with the lower price, it was a slam dunk. If this continues, I may be a more regular customer. 

We’ll be headed to Rock n Roll New Orleans next for the 5K and the half. Hope to see everyone there!