Tuesday, June 7, 2011


I'm not much of an Elvis fan. Perhaps partly because the guy died when I was still breastfeeding. Or maybe I just don't really care for his music. Whatever the case, when it comes to rock and roll from the 70's, I think of Zepplin, the Stones, Rush, Sabbath, the Who, etc.

When it comes to running, however, I make an exception. I don my Elvis costume with pride. Even when I suffered through the TJ half marathon in said Elvis costume the day after PCT50 and got smoked by last minute invitee, Lana, at the line, I still enjoyed the race much more than if I had run as Dave Easa. The crowd truly does enjoy any costume and at the rock and roll marathon events, Elvis is the King. Well, actually, at any event Elvis is the king, but at the rock and roll series, where bands line the course every mile, running as Elvis takes it to an entirely new level.

Since the 2011 goal is focused on this silly 100 mile trail race at the end of June, I had to "train through" the San Diego rock and roll marathon this year. The festivities started with what I've decided to call the "packet pickup challenge." Let me set the stage. I work approximately 1/2 a mile from the Sorrento Valley coaster station. There is a 5:36 southbound coaster which arrives at the Santa Fe depot at 6:03. The next northbound train leaves at 6:21. Since it was a Friday and there was a padres game, there were many later trains I could have taken, so there wasn't any risk of being stranded downtown and having to drink myself into the arms (aka bed) of a cougar. I did the math in my head all day, 18 minutes seemed like such a small window of time, but the challenge was there, staring me in the face. At about 5:20 I decided to go for it, so I rushed to my car, put some racing flats on with my dress socks and jeans, locked up, and departed the parking lot on foot about 5:27. I arrived at the train station at about 5:31 (there are a few stoplights to negotiate) and purchased my ticket by 5:33. I hopped on the train at 5:36, right on time.

After some pleasant conversation with a few padres fans, I assembled at the door as the train approached it's southern terminus. Without trying to be too rude, I squeezed through the doors in front of the women and children and quickly found my stride. I had to run right through any intersections to have a chance, but fortunately the route to the convention center is relatively free from auto traffic. I had mapped it out as .7 miles each way, but without a gamin I'm not sure how accurate that was. I ran into the doors of hall B and found the booth where my packet should be waiting for me. My phone said 6:10 and I figured that the 4 people in line in front of me were going to burn at least 2 minutes each so my hopes were dashed.

Somehow, as if the seas were parting in front of me, those 4 people wandered off to get helped by others and there was one last person left to fetch my packet for me. While she was shuffling through a large stack, I gave a status update to Jeff who I thought would have to join me in this event next year. She eventually found my packet and handed it to me. It was 6:12 now. I decided to push my luck and went to pick up my race t-shirt which probably burned another minute. I didn't bother to think about the race bag since I thought that would slow me down.

At about 6:14 I had navigated through the rest of the expo and back out the doors to the lobby. I kicked it into gear, with my body warm from the first run. I probably scared a few people, while foaming at the mouth, with shirt in one hand and race packet in the other, as I started sweating through my jeans and shirt. I tried to take a more direct route back to the depot on the return trip. A cab actually pulled over expecting me to jump in for a ride to the airport or something, but by the time he came to a complete stop I was already past the door, that's how intense I was about making that train. I saw it parked and pushed myself as hard as I could, leapt through the door, and smiled. Perhaps 30 seconds later the doors closed and the train started it's northbound journey. Mission accomplished! Next year I will wear running shorts and try to get the goodie bag too.

Saturday was busy enough, but Jeff and I managed to fit in a morning trail run and an evening road run to attempt to keep my training for western states up to snuff. Since I was late for the morning run, we decided to do a slightly shorter course on trails than originally planned, but to also run as hard as we could. Jeff said that the first section (1.25 miles with switchbacks on the "way up" trail) put the hurt on him, but I suppose I was a bit more accepting of how painful climbing is for me and maybe by letting him lead and get ahead of me I managed to save something for later. The afternoon run somehow cruised right by, though I think we felt the cumulative fatigue a bit towards the end.

Sunday morning started with me oversleeping my alarm but still somehow, perhaps miraculously, waking up at 4:30. Roommate Paul had already left, he was racing the half and taking it seriously, and I had hoped to carpool with him but by oversleeping I blew my chance to do so. I got my stuff together, fed the dog, and was filling up my morning bottle of pre-race fuel when I heard Hunter barking outside. I was confused by that since he doesn't usually bark at that hour. By the time he came back inside I realized why, he had taken yet another direct skunk to the face. I sent roommate Trevor a text apologizing and left Hunter to lie in skunkville as I dashed out the door, already way late. At 5:30 the freeway is a parking lot, and I had prior experience with how foolish it is to try to park in the airport lot if you arrive too late, so instead I went downtown, somehow managed to evade the road closure barriers by 30 seconds or less, and snuck into a parking spot 1 mile from the start. I put on my Elvis costume, finished my bottle, and headed out to the start. I bumped into Morgan, asked about how the racing went the night before, watered the bushes, and found the start corral.

Up to that point, I had been too busy to think about what I was doing, but when I got into the corral I saw Joey and I reminded myself that today was bout getting her the B standard for the olympic trials. I had attempted to help her with that in January at the Carlsbad marathon, but my lack of training set me up for a meltdown and by mile 17 I was off the back. She went on to finish 2 minutes slower than the time she needed, and she was more fit now than before, so everything was lined up nicely this time. I was so confident that it would go smoothly that I was wearing a freaking elvis costume. Alisa was also joining us in a similar attempt, and while I hoped the 3 of us could all finish in one pack, I also suspected that things would break up and Joey would be the one I'd be focused on.

The start was really smooth and as we wandered downtown I was pleasantly surprised that everything seemed to be going perfectly to plan. We chatted a bit, and settled into a rhythm over that first 5k. On the second 5k, with some downhill to downtown, Joey was looking and running extra strong and I let her push the pace, into sub 6 territory for a bit. I didn't want to micromanage her too much too soon, and all my good days on this course have come after some fast running on those descents, so I figured it'd be ok. We hit downtown in a nice pack, with some fine looking women and a few friendly dudes, nobody seemed terribly perplexed about the Elvis costume, at least not yet.

The next section, up 163, is one I think is some of the harder running on the course. I did my best to encourage Joey, fetched her water, and gave her as good of a line as I could suggest, but the off camber running does have an impact on the ankles. The climb didn't seem nearly as bad as previous years to me, even though I was worried about cumulative fatigue from a fairly solid week of training. We got to the top and cranked down the other side, a bit behind a long legged, lean, ripped female in red NYAC singlet. As we approach Friar's road I heard her ask the police officer with a bit of panic in her voice, "which way". The cop just looked at her blankly, a response I assumed to be "not my job, lady". So, when she asked again, this time to the vast nothingness in front of her, I yelled forward to take the 2nd left onto the ramp. The RD did a really nice job of keeping the full marathon traffic separated from the half, and it was only in this one section, from the 163 to Friar's road, where it was a little confusing to us, without anyone close by to follow.

I always love the Friar's road section because it's chock full of cheerleaders (and cheerleaders love Elvis) and spectators. I started feeling really good here, especially as we cross the halfway point and started the second half of the race. Joey had been running so very strong the whole time, but at 13 some of the spring in her step started to disappear. I figured it was time for me to go to work, so I took the lead with Joey and the NYAC chick behind, and I dialed up 6:19 on the gamin. After the turn onto Morena, I looked behind me and said "oh - s" when I realized it had become a table for 2 instead of 3. I keep looking back and saw Joey make the turn then walk off the course and wave me on. I had no idea what to do. First I let the NYAC chick gap me as I shuffled forward trying to make a decision. Then I realized that I wasn't going to talk Joey back into it b/c by the time I got back to her, we'd be behind pace and if she pulled off, even for a 2 minute break, there wasn't any real hope of a qualifier time that day. I decided that I could at least get experience running the 2nd half as planned, to prepare for Chicago where I'll attempt to take David Lipke's sister to her 2:45 qualifier time.

I caught back up to the NYAC chick and for some reason I passed her. I am still debating the brilliance of that move, it seems silly in retrospect, but at the time I was just running, attempting to hold the pace I thought I should be holding. I saw Todd, one of my running friends who lives close to Morena and his daughter. I saw the lead female and started counting. After what seemed like an eternity, I hit the turnaround on Morena and realized I was in the ballpark of 10th place among the women. I had been trying to catch one of them who was ahead of me, but she was running strong so I wasn't making much progress and I didn't want to go too far under pace to make up the time, so I kept her in sight as two dudes ran past me. I saw Todd for the 2nd time and we had a nice chat up the hill, his daughter was apparently seeking approval for her shoe selection and Todd was just cracking up at how awesome my elvis suit is.

At the top of the hill, not a big hill, just a short little bugger, I knew we were done climbing for the day and I was actually kind of sad about that. Don't get me wrong, I love flat, fast, and paved, but doing all of the ultra training lately has given me the beginnings of an appreciation for climbing. At 180 lbs, I still completely suffer on just about anything over 1% grade, but somehow the grind is starting to have an appeal and I hunger for those moments. So, in the midst of that melancholy, a woman I had seen at the turn, and who had run with us on the first 5k, came past. I asked her if she wanted to pick up the pace, which was actually intended to come out as "wow, you made up a lot of ground since the turnaround, you must be running fast". She said something like "if you join me" and I really didn't need a 2nd invitation. I settled into her rhythm on the descent to mission bay, got in front of her, and pulled her to the north turnaround loop. I got to see Tim and Kris twice at that turnaround which was really cool b/c I hadn't seen Tim in a while. From there we were on the bike path until Fiesta island, the same bike path used by many other races, and one on which I have suffered greatly, countless times. So, I knew this was my element and I got the feeling that the girl I was now pacing, who wound up being named Lindsey, must already have her qualifier time and was there to race and go for it. So, we cranked through towards Fiesta, with a few shouts of encouragement from me, and we approached and then passed that one female ahead of us.

At Fiesta, Kloz got a few photos of us, and I think we did some halfway decent work along what is definitely the most lonely finish to a marathon I've ever done. The cheerleaders towards the end made it all seem better. I had to dodge a cart taking one of the lead women back to the finish as I tried to pass it on the left while it was making a u-turn, but somehow I managed to get to the chute, cheer for Lindsey, and sneak in just under 2:43. The finish line was logistically really well organized (as expected) and the band was great, but the overall experience just kinda sucks as it's just a big parking lot. I talked with Morgan again, found out that roommate Paul and Sergio had pretty solid finishes in the top 5 of the half marathon, and that everyone was pretty content with the effort. I also bumped into Marirose and Tom who were stoked on their efforts, found the bus, made it to the trolly, walked the mile to my car, and drove straight to Claire's on Cedros. One hour later (ok, maybe not quite) was seated and stuffing my face with clairecakes, omelette, and fruit. Paul threw a pizza party at the house, a bunch of friends came by, and I enjoyed a few too many beers as I basked in the glow of a wonderfully silly and self indulgent day and weekend.

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