Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it.

1 Corinthians 9:24

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Philadelphia Rock 'N' Roll

Race Morning
 Last Saturday, in between Civil War 150th events, I headed to Philadelphia to run the Philadelphia Rock ‘n’ Roll Half Marathon. This, coming two weeks after I ran the half at Disneyland, was the first time I had run two races of those distances so close together. I was not concerned, as I had done training runs of greater distances in back to back weeks while training for my previous marathons. I elected, for a $30 fee, to pick up my packet on race day because I was not going to be able to make the expo. It was steep, but worth it; as there was no other way I would have been able to race.
Because the race was so close to my previous Half, finishing would qualify for membership in the group Half Fanatics. Some who will read this will know exactly of what I speak.  However, for those who don’t, here is a bit of background on Half Fanatics. Fanatics is a group of people who run Half Marathons, a lot, and frequently.  The beginning level is running 2 halfs within 16 days or 3 halfs within 90 days. This was the level at which I was initially trying to qualify. The frequency/difficulty goes up from there. Once qualified, a member receives a seniority number and membership information that allows them to login to the Fanatics site.  The site provides a place to see when and where other members both have raced and are racing in the future. The group will often meet up before these races to reconnect and take pictures before going out to run the race.  For further information, check out: 
Aaron and Monica and Independence Hall
Anyway, after picking up my packet, I headed over to the area near my corral searching for a few other ROTErs who I knew would be running the race. I found them in a corral two back from mine. Monica and Aaron were old hats at the whole running thing.  However, their twelve-year-old son Drake (who they call, and will henceforth be referred to in this and every other blog post as, Mancub) was running only his second half marathon.  Mancub, along with Monica and Aaron, had run the VA Beach Rock ‘N’ Roll Half the same weekend I ran in Anaheim. As a result, he was also running to qualify for Fanatics.  
Back toward the Philadelphia Museum of Art
VA Beach RnR, which I had run previous year, is the flattest course I have run, with a total elevation variance from the high to the low points of about 20 feet.  Though VA Beach does have one bridge that is makes things tough right near the end. Philadelphia, from the highest to the lowest point, 31 feet; and, unlike VA Beach, there was no high bridge, to make life difficult.  The elevation change was just a slow steady climb heading north of town, before turning around at a low bridge over the Schuylkill River. 
Along the River

I loved the course. That it was flat is a huge plus. But, the course uses the city to great advantage. The course is sort of a figure eight. The race starts and finishes at the Eakins Oval. The race starts by looping southeast through the downtown area, passing City Hall and Independence National Historical Park. It did not occur to me at the time, but we passed Independence Hall less than a day before the 225th birthday of the U.S. Constitution.  Looking back, it made the day even more special, even if I did not realize it at the time. The first loop was about 4 ½ miles. The course turns back uptown for the second, and longer, loop, past the Oval, and along the river. The course crosses the river about mile nine and turns back south where it finishes in front of the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Anyone who has seen the movie Rocky knows the significance of this Museum, and the steps leading up to the entrance.
On Course Entertainment 
 Aaron, Monica, Mancub and I began the race in the final corral. I moved back a few corrals so I would be able to run with them. We got off about a half hour after the first runners crossed the start line. It did not take long for Mancub to begin to open up a lead on the rest of us old folks, though never so far that Aaron could not see him while on a long straightaway. We ran 1:1 intervals for the first six miles. Around this time, Mancub’s early lead and over enthusiasm began to catch up with him. Little by little, he began to slow down before we caught up with him. By the time he fell all the way back to us, he had hit the wall hard. We walked along for a couple of miles.  Monica and I went on, though Aaron and Mancub began falling further and further back.
By the time we reached the bridge, I decided to push on ahead to see what I could do after the first nine miles.  It turned out it could do more than I expected.  I went back to my 1:1 intervals and adopted a strategy of picking out a person or group in front of me that I would try to catch on each running interval. Over the course of the last 4 miles on the course, I ended up shaving about 40-45 seconds off my minute per mile pace.  Realizing that I could do that after being on course for the previous nine miles gave me hope that I would be able to beat the bridge at Marine Corps, and after all, that is what these races/training runs are all about. Once I was able to look at my pace breakdown, after the race times were posted online, I found out that the last 5K of the race was done at a pace that would enable me to beat the bridge.

View from the top of the Rocky Steps
As soon as I crossed the finish line, I received my medal and sent Half Fanatics my membership application email, which was ready and waiting for me to finish the race. By the end of the day, I received official acceptance into the ranks of the Half Fanatics (#2910). I grabbed my post race water and snacks and went back to try to see Monica, Aaron, and Mancub finish. In the time it took to dash off my email and grab my goodies, Monica had already finished.  However, I was able to see Aaron and Mancub finish. They were the last ones to cross the finish line, but Mancub’s effort is to be highly commended. He got off to too strong of a pace and could have quit when the going got hard. However, he stuck with it and finished. I certainly could not have done it at his age, or double his age, for that matter. After I watched them cross the finish line, I turned and did what others had done, or were in the process of doing. I ran up the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, otherwise known as the Rocky Steps.  Shortly thereafter, I walked back to my car and headed home.  I continue to be amazed at how good I feel after these races now that I have switched to an interval running method.  I think I will continue to use this method for some time to come.
Next up is the OCNJ half next weekend.  This will be the only race before MCM where I will not know anyone with whom I am running in the race.  This should allow me to push my pace and really see what I can do at this point.  My goal for this race is to finally break 3 hours or at least to PR.  More as it develops.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

From Sea to Shining Sea

This is going to be a rather long post, so please bear with me. Last weekend, I flew to California to run a 5K and a Half Marathon. California is a beautiful state, though one in which I would not want to live.  To my mind, it is overpriced, overtaxed, and overregulated. Just to take one example, all over Disneyland, Disney had to post warning signs about possible carcinogens in the parks. If Walt Disney were starting out today, he would locate the company, and Disneyland, in Texas rather than California; which would no doubt have made my Texas friends very happy.  Had Disney done this, we would have had Disney’s Texas Adventure rather than Disney’s California Adventure as the second park in the Disneyland complex.  Come to think of it, that would have been a lot of fun. If anyone from the Walt Disney Company is reading this blog, consider this my application to be an Imagineer.

With all of that said, I love visiting California. It is a beautiful state. No state in the country has a wider range of climatic or ecological diversity.  Just within Southern California, traveling east to west across the state, you go from the Mojave Desert, over the San Gabriel Mountains, and into the Los Angeles area.  Passing through the suburbs and city, you come, finally, to the Pacific Ocean.  All of this can be driven in about 4 ½ hours, assuming traffic is not bad (more on that later).  Further, if you are in Southern California at the right time of year, you can go from skiing to surfing in about 2 hours and 100 miles. I was not interested in either skiing or surfing, but rather sightseeing and running.

I started my trip with a visit to the Reagan Presidential Foundation and Library. I probably would have gone there anyway as it is a must do for me any time I am in Southern California.  However, I was especially keen on going this year, as there is a major exhibit of items from the Walt Disney Archives. To anyone from California, or traveling to California who might be reading this, you owe it to yourself to visit this exhibition before it closes next April. The exhibition included artwork from some of Walt Disney’s early work, a reproduction of his office, and props and costumes from films both old and recent, among other items. Once I went through the Disney exhibit, I went through the main part of the museum. The museum traces Reagan’s rise from his boyhood in Illinois through his Presidency and beyond. Among the highlights of the collection was the suit President Reagan was wearing the day he was shot by John Hinckley and his Air Force 1, refurbished to the look the way it did during the Reagan Administration. It is an amazing collection, and well worth the time to see.

Thursday and Friday evenings were Baseball nights.  On Thursday, I went to catch an Angel’s game. On Friday, I was at Chavez Ravine for a Dodgers Game.  I enjoyed both stadium experiences. Parking was easier than any stadium I have visited on the east coast.  I was in and out of the parking lots within ten minutes. Angels Stadium sits opposite the I-5 and the Santa Ana River, about three miles from Disneyland.
Dodgers Stadium sits on a bluff overlooking the city of Los Angeles.  The view is breathtaking.
  Since I’m not a fan of either home team, I was not particularly invested in the games.  However, it was a lot of fun to see games in places I had not seen them before. 
Picture this guy behind the wheel
of a Mini, and that's what I saw.
Image taken from wikipedia.

I spent the day on Friday driving from San Bernardino to Santa Monica indulging my love of Route 66. During my drive, I was in traffic on Santa Monica Boulevard several cars behind a red light.  I looked to my left at a Mini Cooper that was passing on the other side of the road to turn into a shopping center and someone who looked a lot like was Wil Wheaton behind the wheel.  Traffic was stopped on both sides of the road for about a minute.

I got a good look at him.  Unfortunately, I did not have the presence of mind to take his picture, though he probably wouldn’t have appreciated it anyway. Pulling away from the intersection, I grabbed my phone and pulled up a picture of Wheaton to confirm what I had seen and, sure enough, he was exactly whom I had seen at the intersection. I continued on to Santa Monica.  
Once there, I hung out on the pier for a while, then left
to head for the Disneyland Resort. It was a gorgeous day at the beach.  Much prettier than the traffic I endured leaving Santa Monica for Anaheim (2 hrs worth).

The next morning, I got up early and headed for the Rose Bowl, where the Awesome 80s Run would be held.  I was not originally planning to run the race, but when I saw a mockup of the race medal, I could not resist.  When I got the actual medal in my hand, it was even better than I expected.

I had planned to run the event as quickly as possible, not so much for time as for being able to get back to Disneyland as soon as possible.  This went out the window when I met a new ROTEr, Stephanie, on course. We proceeded to primarily walk the 5K, with the occasional run inserted.  All in all, I was impressed with the event. The race theme was a lot of fun.  People really got into the theme; neon was ubiquitous.  

I got my medal and left Pasadena, heading back for Anaheim and the Disneyland Resort.  This was to be my second ever visit to Disneyland and my first visit to Disney’s California Adventure.  DCA had just completed a massive 5-year expansion, the centerpiece of which was Cars Land.   Having already decided, when I passed through four years prior that I preferred Disneyland to the Magic Kingdom in Orlando, I had high expectations for DCA. Nonetheless, I was blown away by what Disney accomplished.   
Buena Vista Street
DCA includes some of the best parts of Hollywood Studios, EPCOT, and Animal Kingdom in Orlando and combines it with a wide range of other attractions that encapsulates an idealized California; taking cues from places like Route 66, the Santa Monica Pier, Yosemite amongst others.  Cars Land is the most complete realization of a fictional world that I have ever seen.  In addition, at dusk, when the neon turns on, it is nothing short of magical.

Paradise Pier

The trip confirmed my previous views on Disneyland.  Between Disney World and Disneyland, my preference is for Disneyland. It is the original. Main Street U.S.A., which in terms of ambiance is my favorite part of the parks, is better in Anaheim. The design seems much more unified.  Whereas in Orlando, the buildings are something of a pastiche of different architectural styles from the turn of the last century, the Main Street U.S.A. in Anaheim was designed to look like an actual Midwestern small town from that time. Walt designed it to emulate his hometown of Marceline, MO. More than this is the fact that the shops on the inside, match what is on the outside.  In Disneyland, if the outside says Silhouette Shop or Main Street Cinema,  there is an actually a silhouette shop or cinema inside.

Cars Land

Unfortunately, much of this has been lot in Orlando as storefronts there are largely just facades for the same basic store spread all along the street.  Concerning rides, with the exception of Peter Pan’s Flight, all of the rides that are located in both Parks (Space Mountain, Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, It’s a Small World, Pirates of the Caribbean) are superior in Anaheim.  Also, a number of rides are present in Anaheim that are not in Orlando.  These include Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride, Matterhorn Bobsleds, Indiana Jones and the Temple of the Forbidden Eye, and, now Snow White’s Scary Adventures. While there are a few things in Orlando not present in Anaheim, none of these is a particularly glaring omission.  Even the most notable difference, the Hall of Presidents, is partly present with the reopening of Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln.

L-R: Brandi, Me, Janice

All of this fun was the lead up to the real reason for my trip, the Disneyland Half Marathon and the second leg of the Coast-to-Coast Challenge. Per ROTE standard operating procedure, I went to the H Tent (bag check tent that included the last initial of H) to find the other ROTErs who were meeting up before the race. I met up with Janice, with whom I had run the Shamrock Marathon in Virginia Beach.  We were joined by a new (to me) ROTEr from Sacramento, Brandi.  Brandi had completed a number of races before, and had made several attempts at Disney races, but so far had not finished a Disney race.  We crossed the start line a little after 6:00 am, determined that that would change.   

 It is tough to post a great time in a Disney race as Disney throws so many distractions onto the course that I have found it impossible not to stop, and look, and take pictures.  This race was no exception.  Disneyland frontloads the half marathon course by running through both of its parks in the first four miles.  After a mile, the course enters DCA behind Paradise Pier, running past Tower of Terror, down Buena Vista Street and out to the plaza between DCA and Disneyland. The course enters Disneyland running down Main Street U.S.A. hanging a left into Frontierland, continuing through Fantasyland and back through the castle before heading through Tomorrowland and exiting beyond Toontown.  From here, the course turns east (into the rising sun) and begins zigzagging until we reach the Santa Ana River.  The course goes past the Honda Center (Anaheim Ducks) and through Angels Stadium (on the Warning Track) before returning to Disneyland, finishing in front of the Disneyland Hotel. For those unfamiliar with the layout of Disneyland:,

The thing about it though is that this makes race time is not a huge deal, for the most part, as the course scenery causes you to stop, look around and take pictures.  However, this was even more the case for Brandi, as she had not yet seen the DCA expansion (It had only opened two and a half months earlier and she had not bought park tickets).  It was early enough in the morning that the Cars Land neon was still alight. We ran past the Tower of Terror, and back out through Hollywood Land and down Buena Vista Street to the park entrance. We ran across the plaza and into Disneyland Park on Main Street U.S.A. I never get tired of running Main Street. After navigating the park, we exited the park in the back. 

From here, the course turned east and (unfortunately) directly into the rising sun. Without sunglasses, I was reduced to watching the feet of the people in front of me as I continued forward.  Eventually the course zigzagged away from the sun and I could see again. A stretch a little further on where, in previous years, there was nothing there, this year was lined with classic cars.  We came to the conclusion that this was done in conjunction with the theme for the 5K race the day before.  In keeping with the opening of Cars Land, the theme of the 5K was a Cars road rally. The cars were a welcome distraction from an area of town that did not have much about which to write home.

This was just one example of what Disney puts on their courses that make them so special to run. Whether it is seeing Lightning McQueen and Mater in Cars Land, Captain Hook and Mr. Smee in front of Peter Pan's Flight, Darth Vader in Tomorrowland, various Disney princes and princesses in locations all around the parks, or several lines of classic cars in an otherwise bleak part of downtown Anaheim, Disney makes a great effort to make their races fun and memorable. 
From here, we turned right and made our way our way alongside the Santa Ana River toward the Honda Center and Angels Stadium. The “River” looked more like a glorified drainage ditch.  I shudder to think about the chemical content of the river’s water.  We lost some time here. The stretch along the river is a fairly narrow path.  By the time we got there, it was clogged with walkers.  As a result, we had to walk along with them and could not resume out intervals until we were on final approach to Angels Stadium.

The run through Angels Stadium was a blast. We entered Angels Stadium on the first base side and ran the warning track from foul pole to foul pole. Having been there to watch a game three nights prior I already had a sense of the stadium.  Looking up at my seat from three nights prior, the stadium looked a lot different from ground level. Securing the chance to run through Angels Stadium is a nice touch on Disney’s part.  It makes running through industrialized Anaheim totally worth it to get the chance to run the stadium.

Leaving Angels stadium, we passed the point Brandi was swept the last time she attempted the course. From the here, the course takes a more or less direct line back to Disneyland. We reentered the park behind DCA at the same point we entered earlier in the day.  However, this time, instead of reentering the onstage part of DCA, we stayed backstage this time and left the park, crossing Disneyland Drive, finishing across the street in front of the Disneyland Hotel. In finishing we accomplished several goals; Brandi got her Disney medal; I got my Coast-to-Coast Medal; Janice and I had a successful dry run for Marine Corps(though we will have to get faster in order to beat the bridge and finish); and, maybe most importantly, we started and finished together. Over the last few races I have run, it has become clear to me just how much more fun is running in a group, compared with running solo.  Moreover, keeping up with pacing is easier when you have someone (or several someones) along with you to push the pace along. Over the rest of the fall, all of my races, save for the OCNJ half marathon, has other friends running them.

One half marathon down, three halfs and a ten miler to go before Marine Corps at the end of October.  I feel good about where I’m at.  I just finished a 15 mile run on Sunday night.  This was the longest run I had finished since Shamrock in March when, afterward, a nagging hip injury forced me into PT for three months.  I was concerned because in the last few weeks, it had begun to flare up again.  This forced me into the weight room to work my glutes, hips, abs and obliques.  It seems to be paying off as I haven’t had much trouble finishing the last few long runs without significant discomfort.
Medals L-R: Disneyland Half, Coast-to-Coast, Awesome 80s Run

Next up is the Philadelphia Rock N Roll Half on Sunday.  Running this race along with the Disneyland Half will qualify me for Half Fanatics(; a group of runners that, as the name suggests, run half marathons, a lot. I will only initially qualify at the lowest level. Over the next few months, I hope to increase my levels several times.

Onward to Philly.