Saturday, November 16, 2013

23rd race of 2013: Rock 'n Roll Savannah

Rock 'n Roll Savannah Half Marathon

Thursday, November 7th:

I left home at 4:00am to catch an early flight to Savannah for my 49th official race event in 23 months. I was pleasantly surprised upon entering security to learn that I have TSA PreCheck clearance which fast-tracks you through the process. I could leave my jacket on, my shoes/brace on and I could leave all liquids and laptop in my bag...almost felt like a pre-911 flashback!

First time as TSA PreCheck!
Two short flights later and I'm in Savannah picking up my rental car. I have an interview scheduled with the Georgia NPR station and also plan to take care of my race check-in at the Expo today. If you haven't noticed, 90% of the races I run in are on Sundays but this one will be on Saturday so there's very little time to get everything done beforehand. Tomorrow the Expo will be extremely crowded (last year's Friday Expo was infamous for its long traffic lines and then another wait to get into the convention center) so I plan to get my stuff done today.

My drive to the Midtown area in Savannah was about 30 minutes. I'm staying here this year instead of in the historic district for 3 reasons: 1) the hotel rates here are at least half the cost of the ones downtown, 2) things are not so chaotic this far out of town on race weekend and 3) I have a rental car and my appointments are all around the greater Savannah area, so this location is perfectly situated for everything except the actual race.

Arriving at the La Quinta Inn so early (10:00am) I worried that I would not yet be able to check into a room. My concerns were completely unfounded as Cindy (front desk attendant) and James Odette (Guest Services Manager) were eager to accommodate me. Not only did they give me my choice of rooms but they also allowed me to enjoy this morning's free breakfast...thank you to the staff at La Quinta Inn for making my stay perfect in every way!

I had a bit of food at the Charlotte USAir Club between flights but I took advantage of my second free "meal" of the morning: Hard-boiled egg and a cup of fresh, hot coffee.

I also had a small serving of oatmeal...

...and took a yogurt and an apple to-go!

Over the river and not through the's off to the Expo I go! The Expo is on Hutchinson Island across from the historic riverfront area of downtown Savannah.

Love this! This officer was enjoying the music and the "dance party" atmosphere at the Rock 'n Roll Expo. He was an excellent dancer, by the way, robo-moves and moonwalking among his repertoire. 

A friendly face behind the flowers at the Rock 'n Roll Marathon Jewelry booth.

And yet again, our Get Back UP medal is showcased along with the beautiful race-themed jewelry. Thank you, Emily and Terryberry!
After I got my race gear and made my usual rounds to see friends at the Expo booths I still had some time to kill while I waited to hear about a possible interview here this afternoon. I took advantage of an offer to test-drive a Mazda here, just outside the Expo on the grounds of the convention center, for a free Starbucks gift card, a bottled water and a huge cookie. What can I say? I'm a sucker for freebies and a short line. :-)
I drove the Mazda CX 5. I actually loved it, especially the back-up camera, the blind-spot indicator and the push-button start feature. No, I'm not getting paid to tout this car but being one to drive a car until it reaches at least the 200K mile-mark I'm not used to all the latest bells and whistles.

My tour now over, thanks to my lovely chaperone, I get to pick up my Starbucks card and other treats. Well-worth the 15 minutes!
As I am finishing the test-drive I get a call from a local NPR reporter, Orlando Montoya, who wants me to meet him downtown in 20 minutes for an interview...perfect timing. 

Back over the bridge into historic riverfront area.

This is where I met Orlando for my NPR-Georgia radio interview. Thank you, Orlando, for sharing our story with your listeners and for giving me your recommendations for food and sight-seeing here.
Here's a link with part of the story that aired on GA NPR:

When I finished my conversation with Orlando I spent a bit of time walking around the historic area, taking advantage of my 2-hour, prime parking spot before heading back to Midtown for dinner. As I was enjoying my walk I got word that I may have an interview tomorrow morning near the Forsyth Park Cafe--great news--and then a call from my friend, Jim Campbell, that our favorite local musicians were playing an early set at The Mansion at Forsyth Park. I opted to stay in town to meet Jim and Shaun for a quick bite at the Mansion, which afforded me the perfect opportunity to scout out where I needed to be tomorrow morning.

As luck would have it, The Mansion is directly across the street from the Cafe at Forsyth Park, pictured here. At the far left of this photo is the outdoor stage where the headline band will perform at the Finish Line Festival on Saturday. 

Eric Britt and Craig Tanner at The Mansion. Sorry for the poor photo quality but I didn't want to use my flash during their performance.
It was great to see Eric and Craig again, I actually met them for the first time last year at this very same location. I've been following them since and really enjoy their music--they get better every time I see them. Here's a link if you want to learn more about them:
Jim Campbell and Shaun Schultz, exhausted after a long day of setting up sound systems for the race festivities this weekend. They've been working hard all day and have to be up early again tomorrow and Saturday to get everything ready for the big event. It's pretty amazing what it takes to pull off a successful race event like a Rock 'n Roll run: from starting line announcements and music to the finish line festival and all the bands along the course, there's much to be done to ensure a glitch-free performance.
While it was still quite early--by musicians' standards, anyway--Jim, Shaun and I were all feeling the fatigue of a long day. We made plans to meet again on Saturday so that Jim Austin will also have a chance to catch up with these two. I learned from Craig that he and Eric will be one of the bands on the race course Saturday morning--even with a late night gig scheduled for the night before!--so I promised to look for them at Mile 4 and took off for Midtown and the comfort of my pillow.

Friday, November 8th:

I woke up at 5:30am and went for a short jog to get my brain awake. My interview is scheduled with Ashli Lincoln, a reporter from the local Fox News station at 9:30am and then I will be with Buzz Hanie, the local Allard rep, to do an educational inservice at a Physical Therapy facility in town. I need to get my energy up!

(I left my phone in the room on my jog but you didn't miss much in the way of scenery since most of my run was along a thoroughfare of strip malls.)

One of the places that Orlando Montoya recommended to me was a coffee shop called the Sentient Bean at the south end of Forsyth Park. Buzz and I planned to meet here then walk through the park to meet Ashli at the Forsyth Park Cafe on the north end.

A beautiful day in Savannah! The only challenge here in town is finding a parking spot.

The Sentient Bean Coffee Shop on Park Avenue at the entrance to the park. 

I loved this logo and this coffee shop! Thank you, Orlando, for the recommendation. For more info, I've added the link to this Cafe below:

While at the Bean I picked up a copy of today's paper where our story was to be featured. Thank you, Nathan Dominitz, of Savannah Morning News for helping us to get the message out. I've had several emails from your readers already this morning and I'm hopeful that they can enjoy the same success as I with this great brace technology!

Wow, thanks to Nathan we got more than half a page! See the link to the entire article below

Now we're off to meet Ashli for our interview at the other end of the park...

Buzz takes an early morning work call while "onstage" at the outdoor theater here in Forsyth Park. 

All around us the Rock 'n Roll/Competitor Group teams are setting things up for the Finish Line Festival tomorrow.

Thanks to Ashli for her efforts this morning, part one of two pieces she's doing on the Get Back UP  message. Tomorrow she will meet us bright and early at the start line to get race-day coverage. Ashli, it was a real pleasure to meet you and I'm excited to see you again tomorrow!
We spent almost an hour with Ashli, a wonderful woman whom I feel privileged to have met. Now we're gonna be late for our inservice if we don't hustle! We head back to Midtown to pick up the lunch Buzz had ordered for the team at Ledesma Sports Medicine and pulled into the parking lot with 10 minutes to spare.

While Buzz was organizing the materials he would bring inside to the inservice, I got a call from a reporter in San Antonio wanting to air our story in advance of next weekend's Rock 'n Roll race there--very cool! Buzz told me to take the call and meet him inside when I was done. (Hopefully by next blog post I will have a link to this story.)

I went inside to meet the therapists and to let them know how the Allard brace truly changed my life. I really loved speaking with this team, and especially loved that we all had one thing in common: we are all running in the half marathon tomorrow! Our conversations were so much more focused here than in a usual inservice (basically, a short informative tutorial on Allard's braces done in the facility of therapists, orthotists or physicians) because they were all runners and understood completely the challenges involved in running with paralysis.

Thank you, Ledesma, for your time and for the work you do everyday helping so many people Get Back UP! Here's a link for more information about this clinic:

Buzz presents information about Allard's braces while the PTs enjoy a free lunch.

Buzz explains the differences between the types of braces Allard makes. After they ate every orthotist took time out to try on the braces and to see for themselves how effective they are. 
Buzz and I wrapped up our work by early afternoon and made our plans to get to the race start in the morning then went our separate ways. I chose to drive the route I'd be taking in the morning and made sure I knew where my parking lot access was located...always best to plan ahead! From there I made my way out of the incredibly chaotic downtown area--the riverfront was completely overtaken with runners--and back to find a grocery store near my hotel for some healthy food.

The drive along a more scenic stretch of Abercorn Rd on the way back from downtown.
Two blocks from my hotel I spot a Greensboro-based grocery store--one of my favorites, The Fresh Market!
I bought fruit, yogurt, nuts, canned tuna and water for my meals tonight and tomorrow before the race--I'm all set!

When I arrived back at the La Quinta Inn I received a call from Jim that he was about 2 hours away from town and would head straight to the Expo. He's been working in the Atlanta area this week and opted for a one-way car rental and will fly back with me on Sunday afternoon. Sadly, Jim told me that his mom's health had taken a sudden turn for the worse and that she may not make it through the night. Jim, understandably, was considering turning around and driving right back to NC to be with her.

I was so worried about Jim driving in his current state-of-mind and asked him to get here before making any final decisions. By the time he got to the hotel he said that his sisters and dad were with his mom and that she was doing better than earlier in the day. After talking it over at length with his family, Jim made the decision to stay in town, get a good night's sleep and decide in the morning if we should run the race or make the trip back home. His family promised to keep him updated.

Saturday, November 9th--RACE DAY:

We awoke to the news that Georgia, Jim's mom, had a really good night and was rested and alert this morning--yay!!! Jim's sister, Sandy, said that Jim should run this morning and if anything changed she would text my phone throughout the day. One of the reasons Jim wanted to run today is because our daughter-in-law, Kassie Austin, is here to run her very first half marathon--he didn't want to miss this and neither did I. We continued on with our original race plans, albeit with heavy hearts.

Buzz, Susan Fortener (friend and former Allard rep) and Jim were all right on time!

We meet up with Kassie at the Riverfront Hyatt and Jim gives her the surprise he had planned for her first race: A sign with Kassie's 3 favorite people--husband Jason and daughters Summer and Rowen--cheering her on in absentia.

Ashli meets us at the VIP room and asks Kassie if she can interview her as part of the story she's doing. Kassie is already nervous for her first half marathon and says, "What the heck, sure!" What a trooper.

Everyone laughs as Jim makes the comment that this photo is "A regular-sized hot dog in a foot-long bun"!

Go, Kassie, Go!!

Ashli and Brandon from WJCL news--the A Team!!!

Runners keeping warm in the lobby of the Hyatt Riverfront.

Kevin has a great cheering squad here for him this weekend--his dad. :-)

Street gang.

Jim, Buzz, Susan and I are ready to go after the media crew gets a few last shots of our team.

The view from Corral 3 at the start.

The view of the other 15,000 runners behind us.

And we're off!
This is my second time running in Savannah and the first half of this race is my favorite stretch. I was actually told to not expect much during the first 5 miles last year--the run winds through one of the lower-income neighborhoods within the city parameters. As I discovered last year, while the scenery is certainly not on par with some of the mansion neighborhoods in town, the people along these 5 miles are truly beautiful. Here we are heading west of the riverfront district towards my favorite neighborhoods...

Throughout these 5 miles everyone is out and cheering the runners. Mansions do not make a city beautiful, people do. Thank you, West Savannah, for supporting us today!

First Gatorade stop at mile 2 in West Savannah

Another fabulous water stop heading into Carver Heights. Thank you, volunteers!

Eric Britt and Craig Tanner perform an early morning set after playing last night in town. We found them in West Savannah along Gwinnet Street as we were heading east back towards I-16 and downtown Savannah.

I asked them on Thursday night if I could jump onstage with them, they loved the idea. Thanks, guys--you sound great!!! 
Please visit Eric's facebook page and check out some of Craig's fantastic photos (along with news about the band):

Approaching the heart of historic area downtown I spotted a spectator with a sense of humor. Gotta love crazy friends.

7 more miles to the beer from here, Bridget.

This man is running the full marathon carrying the United States flag with him the entire way. Impressive.

Cecil, this is for you!

Running in the storied neighborhoods of Savannah now. It is beautiful along these roads but not many folks out to cheer us along.

We did it! Here's the finish line festival just now kicking into high gear. That stage in the back is where I first met with the reporter, Ashli, on Friday.

Thanks to Jim's sister, Sandy, for keeping us updated on Georgia throughout today's run. Jim talks to her as soon as we finish and learns that she is still stable and alert today, great news. Now Jim races to gear check to get the sign we made for Kassie and then runs to the finish line to cheer her across while I wait with our gear for the rest of our crew.

Susan and Buzz both have great runs today. Buzz had a personal best today and Susan had an easy stroll of it compared to her race in the Marine Corps Marathon just 2 weeks ago. Congrats to you both!!

Sorry for the grainy image but I pilfered this from the Ledesma Sports Med site...they all had successful Half Marathons today.

Sharing laughs with Susan after yet another run together. For those of you who don't know our history, I coached Susan through her very first Half Marathon years ago--the Victory Junction Run to Victory in NC--and she's been unstoppable ever since. She ran her first full marathon here last year and is still going strong.

Enjoying the music and a beautiful day in Forsyth Park.

Emily works her finish line booth in perfect weather for a change. She sells a lot of the Marathon Jewelry here at the finish line festival, when runner's experience the high of crossing the line after many months of hard training. 

And still, she gives a shout-out to our campaign--yay!

Kassie had a great run today and teared up at the end when she spotted Jim holding up her personal cheering squad.

Kassie and friends! Ashley, middle right, was a friend Jim and I met through our friends Amy and Meg back in Greensboro. In the "small world" category, it turns out that Ashley lived right across the street from Kassie! Fast forward a few years and a few babies later, and Ashley talked Kassie into running a half-marathon. Congratulations, ladies, well done!!

Austin Crew.

Kassie sports her first race bling: the Savannah Medal and her RnR Jewelry bracelet with Savannah 1/2 Charm.

I think this is one of my all-time favorite medal designs. I love the "Art Nouveau" styling of the gates and trees. On a somber note, Jim later hung this medal from his rearview mirror because he said it reminded him of the Gates of Heaven. He ran this race, in Savannah Georgia, with his mom, Georgia, on his mind throughout.

We made the very best of a hard time here in Savannah, while family kept us updated on Georgia's condition. Now that we've finished the run we made the decision to catch earlier flights back home in hopes of getting to spend time with her. The only option we had was the first flight out in the morning so for now we're still in town. Jim wanted to focus on happier things, so we made plans to meet with Jim Campbell and Shaun Schultz---Jim still hasn't seen them this weekend.

It was easy to forget your worries amidst the happy sounds and smiles in historic riverfront area.

"The band is back together!" We realized this is the first time since St. Louis race LAST YEAR that we all four have been in the same city at the same time. The boys take time to blow off steam after a long, hard weekend for everyone. You deserve it, guys!

Jim Campbell found a great little Italian restaurant near Savannah College of Art & Design, where we could spend more quiet time catching up. Incredibly, seated right next to us was my former boss' son, Marshall Stewart! Wow, I hadn't seen Marshall since I was still taller than him...I can't believe that just a few short years ago I was babysitting this young man. Very nice to see you, Marshall!


As I am finishing this blog post a week later I am very sad to report that Georgia Austin passed away on Tuesday evening, November 12. Jim and I were able to get home early on Sunday and Jim spent some great quality time with his mom that day. In addition, he had breakfast with her on Tuesday morning, spending a few hours with her before he went to work. We found out later that day that she had passed peacefully that afternoon. As you can imagine, this has been a very difficult week for the Austin family...please keep us all in your hearts and prayers.

I'm typing this on Saturday, November 16th from San Antonio, TX, while Jim is preparing for the funeral service in a few hours back home in Greensboro. We made a family decision to keep our plans for our final race event of the year, knowing that Georgia was very proud of us for what we've been doing the last 23 months. Georgia herself had a debilitating neurological, genetic disease--ALD--and she loved hearing about Jim's involvement with the Get Back UP campaign, especially his work with the CMTA.

In order to be able to run the race here tomorrow, one of us had to be here to pick up gear and check in to the race ahead of time. Obviously, it made sense for me to keep my work & media appointments here and head down alone. Jim cancelled his work here and will join me here late tonight after the service.

For those who don't know how crazy this weekend will be, here is our schedule:

5:00am tomorrow morning--check out of hotel, bring all our luggage to the starting line at the Alamodome
7:30 am: Run the San Antonio Half Marathon
10:15am: After finishing the race as fast as we can (without totally exhausting ourselves) we jump on the airport shuttle with all our luggage and head straight to Southwest Airline terminal
12:15pm: Depart San Antonio on Southwest flight to Las Vegas
1:10pm: Hopefully land on-time in Vegas, get luggage, and catch ride to Westin Hotel to check bags and change clothes
2:45: Head to Run-Through Wedding check-in to get our gear
3:15: Renew our wedding vows at the Run through wedding at the Start Line of the Las Vegas Half Marathon
4:00: Run the Las Vegas Half Marathon.

We will miss being with our family back home at such an important time but we will be among our friends in our "Rock 'n' Roll family".  This will be an incredible challenge for Jim especially: A funeral, a wedding, 2 Half Marathons, 3 time zones, 3 cities all in a 36-hour period.

We dedicate our efforts in memory of Georgia.

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