Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Latin Music RockNRoll Half Marathon - Miami, Nov 18, 2012

I don't like Miami. I really never have, and the few times I've been there are spent anxious to leave. Admittedly, not much of that time is spent in South Beach, an area that I only really enjoyed during the trip for this race. But... still.

South Beach is beautiful. It's just too bad that it's surrounded by Miami.

I arrived for the race on Saturday and hurried to pick up my packet so that I could meet up with the GORUCK Ft Lauderdale class that would be finishing around 1300hrs. It meant a short stay in Miami Proper.... and I was good with that. The afternoon was spent in Lauderdale with good people, football, and drinks. Definitely a step up from Miami, but I had to get there eventually.

My hotel was downtown, and there is very little (ok... nothing) to do down there. I ate some pasta that wasn't very good but was very expensive, and then I retired to my room. The race was set for 630 AM, and parking in South Beach is a noteworthy nightmare. So, I was out by 0400 to find a spot. As it turned out, that was way too early. I ended up laying on a rock wall with a few dozen other early risers and waiting for something to happen. But, regardless, I was there and enjoying the rest.

I met a couple from Denver that had come down specifically for a bike race that day. It was moved up a week (probably to avoid the Rock N Roll race) and they decided to do the half instead. Good people. I'd run in to the husband a couple times on the course as we had similar paces.

One good aspect of an early arrival was being able to watch every one else show up. If you're looking for eye-candy, Miami races are your thing. I don't know the volumetric amount of silicone that crossed that finish line, but it was considerable. They may be plastic... but hot women is what I'm saying...

I was in the fourth corral (surprisingly given what I thought was a fast time I put down on the registration) and was off about 10 minutes after the elites. I was hesitant to go hard since it was my third half marathon in 14 days, but I felt great. Plus, I knew we were headed for a cloudless day and that it was going to warm up considerably. The bands were few and far between (something I notice regularly at these 'rock and roll' races.. it's a good thing I don't do them for the on-course bands), and as I crossed over the first causeway bridge around mile 6, I noticed that I felt great. My legs were solid and I was making good time. I decided to push it, dropping my pace by about 0:30/mile and pressed through the halfway point.

It was around this point that I ran past the exchange point for the relay. Seeing all these fresh runners standing and waiting on a baton annoyed me, because I was certain they'd be soon behind me on rested legs. The realization pushed me harder. I crossed back over the Maria Tuttle Causeway toward the beach and stared into the rising sun, bright and irritating. There isn't a lot of shade in the area, and each minute was warmer than the next. These factors as much as my fatigue and long miles in recent weeks made my energy flag.

The final, small bridge near the Coast Guard Station was merely a blip on the course map but really drained me. As we turned onto the barrier island, I was pushing with everything I had for the last mile. Thankfully, we were back among the spectators, and their energy gave me what little fuel I used to spring forward. I had hoped to get in under 1:54, but I cruised in at 1:54:06, a new PR for the half.

The post-race party was relaxing - drinks and all the food freebies on the beach - and I was content to sit and watch the runners funnel through. (Again... people-watching is a must at this event.) With my parents in town in Orlando, though, I eventually made my way back to the hotel and a shower before jumping on the road.

The race was well-organized (as opposed to the thin band support on the course, the ease with which it is run is why I enjoy the RnR races) and a nice atmosphere. Sadly, I still hate Miami and doubt I'll be returning anytime soon. But, there are a couple Rock n Roll races in 2013 that I am looking at running.

Just not down there. Cuz Miami sucks

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Disney Wine and Dine Half Marathon - Nov 10, 2012

I am not a big fan of Disney. I have nothing against the place, but it's crowded, loud, and full of tourists. I rarely make my way to that side of town because it's a) too far and b) full of tourists. I know they bring money into the community.... but jebus.

Anyway, so I made my way to packet pickup (which was surprisingly disorganized) and back that night for the race. Starting at 10PM, the race ended at Epcot, and runners were allowed to enjoy the Food and Wine Festival touting treats from around the world. I had heard good things about this event but never been. Yes, like I said, I avoid Disney like the plague. Because of the tourists, you see...

We parked at the finish line and Disney bussed us back to the start at the Wild World of Sports Complex. This was very well-organized... even with the hundreds of buses needed (there were 12,000 runners, but I could have sworn there were 12 million). The starting line festival was great and the crowd lounged around the grass awaiting the late-night start. We were split into corrals, and I found myself in the first one. I could only assume that was because Disney races are great for the less-serious runners, so they showed up in force. My expected finish time put me closer to the front. So, I entered my corral and patiently waited for the gun.

People who know me are aware that I'm not a particularly friendly guy. I'm funny and personable, yes... but I don't talk to people. If I end up in a conversation with someone, it's because they talk to me. Well... when a cute little runner from San Diego chats me up at the start line, who am I to argue? It's just too bad Kelly was flying back across the country at 8 AM the next morning. But... I suppose that's reason for me to find a destination race to run with her.

Anywho, I digress. The cannon/gun/bottle rocket fuse was lit (by some cartoon character, I'm sure), and we were off. An interesting thing about Disney races is how phenomenally boring they are for vast stretches before overloading you with brightly-lit goodness. We ran down dark side streets before turning into Animal Kingdom (sadly, a park I've never actually been in. You know.. cuz I hate tourists) and running around the park. Playing the guessing game of 'is that animal or racer feces that I smell' is a good time. It was a nice mile or so in the park, and it's here that Disney shines. You see what makes it a special place, and they even run you through some of the back lots to make you feel special.

Then, it's back onto a dimly lit road... usually the same one (as was in this case) that you ran down to get to the park. We turned into MGM Hollywood Studios next, and this is really where Disney kicked ass. The lights on the main streets were illuminated and were fantastic. I actually gasped as I came around one corner. It was really impressive. Well done, Mouse. That mile went by far too fast.

And, again back into the dark woods. Here, I started to run low thanks to an upset stomach. Thankfully, those 'newbie' runners that I mentioned before bring a lot of course support for them. So, we were still a significant distance from the finish line when herds of people appeared lining the course. Friends and family cheered, and I assumed it was for me as I always did. Only once have I actually had someone waiting for me at a finish line, and her encouragement was more along the lines of 'hurry up, bum' than 'you can do it!'

I wasn't at the optimal point in my training, so I chose not to push too hard. Still, I came around the corner to the fog and laser light to cross the line in 1:58:06, a respectable time and one of my top 5s.

Though I had planned to head straight home (it's midnight, by the way), I ventured into the park and partook of some good eats. I couldn't meet up with any of the three people I knew to be wandering the park, and I didn't stay long. Still, it was nearly 330 AM when I eventually reached home, tired and disgusting. Thankfully, I had taken an extra shirt and my TAC pants with me (love those things... so useful).

A great race with good scenery and organization. Given how much I ended up enjoying the Food and Wine Festival afterward, I can say that I will likely run it next year if my schedule permits. I admit this because - after a race - almost all of us are tourists.

I still have every intention of avoiding the area during normal business hours.

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Xterra Wildhorse Trail Half Marathon - Tampa, Nov 4, 2012

This was less a race and more an experience.

Let me start at the beginning. I am a runner. It's taken me a while to admit that, mostly because it makes me sound more bad-ass than I am. Let me be clear. I am in no way bad-ass.

But, I have come to the realization that I am a runner. I sign up for races at the drop of a hat and only do laundry because I'm out of workout gear. Oh, yea, I guess I might as well throw those few work clothes in at the same time.

So, when some of my GORUCK buddies threw out the Xterra Wildhorse Trail Half Marathon to me, I couldn't rightly refuse. It was over in Tampa and not far from friends. I signed up, and we ended up with five of us poor souls ready to head out and conquer the woods.

Little did I realize it was going to take so long that I should have had my mail forwarded.

The drive to the location was pleasant if frightening as we wondered if the desolate surroundings were the site of some sort of backwoods shenanigans. Ever seen that movie The Lottery where the small town selects a townsperson to sacrifice to the Gods to stay prosperous? What about Children of the Corn? Take your pick... these fields were spooooooky at 6 AM.

But, we found the other racers and took our places in line to start. We were quite the group, looking out of place to say the least. It was myself, a tiny hot-chick, a yeti-looking Sasquatch, what appeared to be a homeless man, and a stout version of a short Mr. Clean. To further separate us from the 'normals,' we agreed to do 25 push-ups at each mile point. It would make for 325 total. I was being mocked because - though I was the strongest runner of the group - I wasn't the clear push-up champion. Yea... whatever.

We ran a mile and did 25 pushups. At mile 2, we were falling behind most of the field of 330 runners, but we did another 25. By mile three, two of our group were huffing and puffing like chain smokers, and all but three of the five had completely given up on the full '25 pushups per mile' plan.

We had fallen behind most of the field and began a steady routine of rests at the mile points, a few minutes of jogging, and walking to the next mile point. It made for a long day, and fewer and fewer pushups were done at each stop.

Other than by me. Who am I? I'm the 325-count push-up champion, that's who! I was actually well-rested even at the race's finish line, and I felt bad watching my teammates struggle across. We finished in a rather-unimpressive 3 hours and 30 minutes, but we weren't last. Looking back, it was a good experience if not a race.

It was a nice race, I suppose, but a bit hot (when you're on the course 2 hours longer than you're used to, that happens). But, I really enjoyed spending time with my GORUCK buddies and relaxing for the race and weekend. It was nice to take it easy and enjoy the trail, and anytime we get together... entertainment follows.

The best thing I can say is that I ran into someone wearing a shirt for the Canadian Death Race. What is this extreme event, you ask? Well, so did I. SO, I looked it up, and as soon as registration opens for the 2013 race in Grande Cache, Alberta, I'm in.

But, it's also nice to say that I kicked their asses at the push-ups.

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Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Marine Corps Half Marathon - Jacksonville, Oct 6, 2012

My fall plans made for an example in excess. I filled my weekends with races and football games to the point that I had none free. I hadn't factored in the cost to my sleep, though.

The week prior to the Marine Corps Half Marathon in Jacksonville, I had spent my time wandering the small towns of central Pennsylvania and running a trail marathon in Lock Haven. I was wrecked from giardia and burned by the 6,000 feet of elevation gain. My body was barely ready to get back to training in a week much less commit to a race. Yet, I was already registered for the race in Jacksonville and heard good things about the environment surrounding the race and course itself.

I convinced myself to drive up the morning the race and shoot back down I-95 afterward. Then, a pretty girl asked me if I wanted to make a weekend of it and throw in the Bears-Jaguars game on Sunday. Well, momma didn't raise no idiot (all previous actions I have been accused of notwithstanding).

So, I made the drive up Friday night and made it to the race start early the next morning. The crowd was thinner than I expected for a half marathon with such high-profile, military support. As a military nut, the fact that the opening gun was a howitzer was enough alone to warrant my participation. There are few difficult courses in Florida, and any you find that way are mainly due to overpasses or bridges. Jacksonville's race started with an out-and-back across the Main Street and Acosta Bridges, and it hit people hard.

Following that, though, was a race along the water that was quite peaceful. The law enforcement folks were polite and it was a quiet run. My sore legs from the previous week hit me hard at mile 11 as we climbed the ramp to descend back toward the starting line, and it slowed me considerably. Still, my goal at this point was to finish strong (and get back to the girl... what? Priorities...). I came back within view of Everbank Field (home of the hapless Jaguars) and turned toward the finish, a high archway formed by the guns of two howitzers. Marines lined the finishing chute and one handed me my medal as I crossed in 2:13:24, a somewhat depressing time and actually my slowest half marathon. Given my health and recent racing, though, I was happy. Having finished in a time 20 minutes slower than my PR, it meant that I wasn't even tired.

The Jacksonville Marine Corps Half is a well-organized race and has much the same fanfare as the MCM in Washington, DC, albeit to a smaller extent. So, I was surprised to see such a small field running it. Still, it was a nice race, and I'd certainly return if my schedule allowed it.

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