Wednesday, March 26, 2014

First Official Event of 2014: Rock 'n Roll USA Half Marathon


Regular blog-readers may have noticed the nearly 3-month absence from posting my personal adventures. After the crazy grand finale of the "2 Half Marathons, 2 Cities, Same Day" in November of 2013 I finally had 10 days at home to rest up for other work-related travel and to catch up on much needed time with family over the holidays. While I wasn't running Half Marathons during these 3 months I was still traveling: Wisconsin, Tampa, New Jersey, Nashville, Virginia, San Antonio and all over NC. With the exception of Tampa--which was quite cold while I was there--I experienced snow, ice and/or near-record cold temperatures on every trip. What a crazy winter. Despite the challenges of delays, travel cancelations and power outages throughout the Polar Vortex our team has somehow managed to craft a plan for our 2014 GetBackUPToday campaign--and we're almost ready to unveil it. I was hoping to be able to share the plan before the first official race of 2014 but alas, we've had some obstacles to overcome and our new expected announce date is April 1st. Hang on, an upcoming blog entry should cover the exciting details and goals for this year! For now, here's my recap for the Rock 'n Roll USA Half Marathon in Washington, DC:

Thursday, March 6-Saturday, March 8 (HAPPY BIRTHDAY, MARIA!):

Winter is usually long-gone by March here in NC but this year Mother Nature decided to mix things up a bit. We got hit by a big ice storm in Greensboro the week before I was to leave for DC and nearly 200,000 people in our area were without power. Luckily we lost power at the house for only one afternoon but many of our friends in town were "unplugged" for 5 or 6 days as the downed trees and power lines were numerous over 4 counties in central NC.  

Waking up to yet another winter storm this morning I'd finally had enough!

The "crack of dawn" had new meaning for those of us in town this morning: we awoke
to the cracks and booms of massive trees collapsing under the weight of the thick ice.

Hmmmm....something's wrong with this picture.

Dick Kutz, I don't think I can rent a bike today!

This is the campus of UNCG, which was closed yet again. I read somewhere that they set a record for number of days the campus was shut down this winter.

Walking was dangerous not only due to the deceptive iciness of the roads, but also due to downed power lines and trees falling all around us.

Street after street looked just the same.

Wednesday, March 12:

Fortunately we had above-freezing temps soon after the ice storm passed and the city was getting back up-and-running by the time I left for DC. I had a potential media opportunity Wednesday afternoon so I loaded up my car and began the 5-1/2 hour drive after getting Jim to the airport early the same morning.
Calm before the storm: I left ahead of a powerful frontal system coming this way
 and was able to drive about 2 hours before it caught up with me.
30mph winds and driving rain (no pun intended) accompanied me
 the rest of the ride so no more photos.

Other than the high winds and downpour, the ride was smooth and I was excited to arrive at my parents' house in Arlington, Virginia by mid-afternoon. I hadn't seen Dad and Suzanne since Thanksgiving so it was a special treat to be able to stay with them for the next few days. I wish I had remembered to get photos, but I was so tired from the drive and so happy to see my folks that once I heard my media-op was cancelled I just relaxed and enjoyed visiting with my family for the evening. I will say that my dad had made his delicious "all-day vegetarian French Onion Soup" and Suzanne broiled her famous Salmon dish so I ate extremely well at their house.

Thursday, March 13:

When I stay with Dad and Suz there's a usual routine that I run about 5-6 miles with Suz as soon as we are both awake enough to do so. I've been struggling with a hip issue for almost 6 weeks (after a fall on the ice due to a different NC Winter storm) so I suggested we run only 3 miles as a way of testing my hip for the upcoming Half Marathon on Sunday. So, that was our plan. Once again Mother Nature had other designs as we both reported sleeping fitfully due to the roar of high winds all night--gusts up to 60mph. By morning the wind was still howling and neither of us was keen to brave the conditions. Back to sleep for this lady!

Grateful for the extra rest I worked a few hours after Suz left for work. Dad finally appeared at his usual 10:00am hour (my dad "doesn't do mornings", unless you count 3:00am at which time he is frequently still up and working on his many projects since retiring.) After breakfast with dad we bundled up and headed into DC to the Armory where the race Expo was being held. DC traffic can be brutal so we wanted to take care of packet-pickup during the early afternoon to avoid major delays. Due to tight parking restrictions and the cold winds, dad stayed in the car while I went inside. Amazingly, with some extra effort and a healthy dose of pleading I was able to pick up the race packets for Jim and Suzanne as well as my own. They will be so happy not to have to deal with the hassle of getting to this part of town tomorrow. (NOTE: I highly recommend spending time at the Expos if you have the time to do so. I have spent much of my own money on purchases at the race Expos across the country due to the great selection of products and services available here--and there's plenty of proof of this on my previous blog and Facebook entries. This time I was tight on time and low on patience with the wind and the cold somehow reaching the interior of the Armory. I wish I had taken a photo, but my friend Emily with Rock 'n Roll Jewelry was bundled-and-buttoned up in her full length coat as she worked her booth!)

We left the Expo by 2pm and made our way to the chic, up-and-coming 14th Street area. We found parking right in front of a restaurant dad had been wanting to check out so serendipity determined what I ate for lunch:

House-made pizza dough with oven-dried plum tomatoes, freshly made mozzarella and basil. YUM.

All the tables at this restaurant had a square cut-out in the middle featuring vintage matchbooks. Ours was Goofy.

Here's a side-by-side comparison of the Matchbox restaurant in 2011, left, and in 2012 on the right. What a difference a year makes (right, Sandy?!)

The menus at Matchbox on 14th St. NW are made out of wood veneers.
By the time we were through with our late lunch, Suz was just getting off work. She had taken the Metro in this morning--it was too windy to ride her bike into the city--and since we were so close we were able to give her a ride back to Arlington with us.

Dad and Suz had tickets to a play this evening and I still had a lot of work to do so I stayed home while they went out for the night. I had more soup and leftover salmon for dinner (does anyone but me like that band, "Leftover Salmon"?) and then went to bed.

Friday, March 14th:

More work in the morning for me, then a leisurely breakfast visit with Dad and Suz before I head in to the city. It seems like it's been forever that I've had a "working race" weekend and part of the deal is to be ready and easily available in case we get last-minute media opportunities. We have several stations on the string this weekend but the DC market is particularly hard to break into; I've opted to stay at a hotel in the heart of DC tonight just to make sure I'm in quick range just in case.

My cousin, Sandy took the day off of work to meet up with me before the race. Last year she came out to watch her first Half Marathon and to cheer us on, by her own admission she wasn't a runner and thus she hung out on the sidelines. While she was very active in high school and college, even did some short distance sprint running, it had been a while since she had taken any exercise seriously. So last year it was so fun to have her supporting me but at the end I asked her if she wouldn't rather have a medal of her own. I guess that must have resonated--that, and the excitement that is so contagious at these events--because soon after the DC race last year she began a running program. You may have read the blog from the Philly race last fall, it was her very first Half Marathon exactly 6 months after beginning the training program I sent to her. Tomorrow it will be almost exactly 6 months from the Philly race, 1 year to the day of her being a spectator here last year and her 2nd half marathon in one year. She hopes to have a PR (Personal Record) by beating her Philly time. This race is a bit more difficult than Philly but she's stronger now due to a full year of training; Jim and I plan to pace her through the race to be there when she achieves her goal. Unless of course she's well beyond our fitness level and decides to leave us in the dust. :-)

I met Sandy a little after 1pm when I finally got settled into the hotel. We walked around to see where we'd be starting the race tomorrow and also where we're supposed to meet in the morning. Thanks to a fantastic score on my Priceline bid, it turns out that my hotel is directly across the street from the Rock 'n Roll VIP hotel and 3 blocks from the starting line. Sweet!

Last year when I was here Sandy had just moved to DC. Now she's a "local" and a perfect tour guide. Not only that, she's still the same ol' crazy cousin I know and love, so we had a lot of laughs hanging out today. Usually I get so stressed navigating cities, race specifics, media appearances and coordination of friends/family on these working weekends but today I couldn't help but unwind being with Sandy.

Great to see that the young, chic, urban professional hasn't lost her charm!

We are just missing Maria, Becky, Abby and Wendy to round out the rest of our family's female cousin contingent.

Sandy found our restaurant, one requirement being a chance to 
steal a few glances at the ACC tourney on TV. 
Once again the tourney is in Greensboro while I am not. Oh well, Go Heels!

The weather is supposed to be windy and cold at the start of the race tomorrow
morning so Sandy and I found perfect outerwear on deep discount. 
The clothing that's discarded at the start will be donated to 
area charities so we were willing to let our new-found sweaters 
go to a good cause. Before doing so, we had some fun clowning around. 
I can't seem to pull of "gangsta" as well as she can...maybe it's the
 bright pink running shirt I'm sporting underneath the hoodie.
We finished lunch and ran a few more pre-race errands before heading back to the hotel. Sandy agreed to help me make my sign for tomorrow--the first sign I've had to make since last November. My dad plans to meet my uncle (Sandy's dad) at the VIP hotel tomorrow and hold the sign while Sandy, Jim, Suz and I run. With it being so windy we weren't sure how long they'd keep to task, so we didn't spend too much time worrying about how perfect it looked and just got it done and off the list.

We soon heard from Jim that his train was finally at the station here in DC. He was working in Philly this week and was able to finish early, just in time to meet us for dinner. We walked a few blocks to a trendy restaurant area in the Chinatown/Penn Quarter neighborhood and quickly learned that the Washington Capitals were in town and playing tonight at the Verizon Center. Every restaurant in the hub of this 'hood was packed and quoting a 1-hour wait for tables. Luckily Sandy knew of a good local place off the main drag just a few blocks away--we all have an early wake-up call tomorrow so we didn't want to wait long to eat.

We popped into Teaism, an Asian-inspired teahouse and restaurant.
I had a salad and veggie eggrolls...

...and almost half of Sandy's broccoli and beets.

Sandy ordered a chicken kabob (maybe because she knew I wouldn't try to eat half?)

And Jim ordered Korean BBQ with kimchee and rice.

Time to say "goodnight" to Sandy. She's catching the bus back to her apartment but we'll see her bright and early tomorrow.
Saturday, March 15th: RACE DAY!!

As I mentioned above, the location for the Rock N Roll VIP was across the street inside the Willard hotel. We decided to splurge and buy the VIP passes since we are celebrating our first official race of 2014 but also the 1-year anniversary of Sandy becoming a runner. :-)
First person we see is Joe Harris, ready to run his 99th half marathon today!

Kevin Gonzalez arrives next, in his familiar race-day attire.
Sandy loosens up before her second half marathon. She's hoping to beat her Philly time,
even though this course has tough hills that Philly doesn't.
Uncle Dan is more focused on coffee and breakfast.

Dad made it! For the second year in a row he was up very, very early to be here in support. Thanks, Dad--I love you!

And Suz is oddly color-coordinated today...what gives?
Here we are, about to depart the warm and cozy luxury of the VIP suite into the cold and windy start-line area.

Start line we come, DC!

And we're off, just as the sun is rising over the city.
The plan today is to help Sandy record a PR, but also to ensure that she feels great at the finish. In Philly she started out a bit fast (easy to do, even for seasoned runners) and lost steam over the final few miles. She still had a great run but by pushing herself too hard, too early she ended up feeling sickly for a few hours after the race--not exactly the best way to celebrate your first half marathon. So, this year I'm going to try to keep her on a steady pace based on her last few 10K and long-run times:

1st Mile - run off the nervous energy and find "good space" in the crowd of runners, Miles 2-4 - consider this a warm-up with easy, slow pace of 10:30min/mile, Mile 5-8 - Step it up slightly, the hills come into play here; check in and see how the pace is feeling, Mile 9-12 - try to average 10:00-10:15 miles if the pace still feels good, Mile 13 - pick up the pace if you feel good, otherwise hold it steady and celebrate the last mile-point-one.

By the time we reached Uncle Dan and Dad at mile 12 (right where they said they'd be, holding our sign high so we could see if for a half-mile), Sandy's plan was proving to be perfect...

Dan gets an upper-body workout holding this sign on a windy day.
Thank you, Dad and Dan for giving us such a boost on the course today--see you at the finish line!
We posed for a photo briefly at mile 12 and then took off to finish the last mile. Sandy was appropriately tired but still looked strong and was laughing and talkative. We were right on pace and Sandy decided to step it up a bit. By the time we got to the final 2 blocks she was smiling & sprinting to the finish. She crushed her Philadelphia time by almost 18 minutes--congrats, Sandy!!!!
I guess Woodrow Wilson wasn't as happy with his race time as Sandy was.

Sandy and her pace team. Suzanne was still on the course when this photo was taken but we were sending her good vibes for a strong finish. 

Time to eat after a change into warmer clothing.

Dad and Dan have earned their post-race meals today, too. Too bad they don't give out medals to the "support warriors"!

My post-race meal: Salad, fruit, pita and red quinoa.

Some of the RnR Gypsies in town today: Kevin, Joe, Michelle, Ted, Jim and myself. See you guys again next weekend in Dallas!

We had to rush out of the finish line festival in order to make our hotel check-out deadline. Traffic has bogged down the VIP shuttles and the Metro reports aren't any better. We decided to walk the 3.5 miles back to the hotel instead--and we had to hurry. Sorry, Suzanne, that I didn't get a picture with you wearing our medals. :-(  I'm such a bad daughter sometimes, but congratulations on another great run. Thanks for being such a fantastic role model, I hope we're still running together over the next 25 years!

Whew, after a 4:30am wake-up call this morning, running the half marathon and walking nearly 4 miles I was ready for a nap, not another outing. Instead, we got cleaned up and packed up then headed back to Arlington. Suzanne made reservations for an early dinner tonight so we could all celebrate a successful day.

You'd never know it by viewing this serene dining room at Eventide
that there's mayhem on the street below;
thousands of St. Patrick's Day revelers have taken to the streets and nearby bars. 

Dad finally got his nap today and looks none the worse for wear after a long morning. Sandy cleans up well, too. :-)

Is it true? Did I just see the amazing Energizer Bunny (aka Suz) yawn? 

My beet salad with quinoa, goat cheese, pistachios and greens. Delish.

This was Jim's dish...I think it was pork tenderloin by I'm not positive.

Seared Tuna with 3 sauces. I think the froth scared Sandy away.

Dad had a seafood bouillabaisse.
Once again, I got so caught up visiting with family that I neglected to get more photos after the first dishes were served. My Aunt Yon and Uncle Dan joined Sandy, Jim, Dad and me for a fantastic dinner--and dad treated us all to the meal! Thank you, Dad, what a great day this has been for me with much-needed family time.

And speaking of family, my older sister was at Dad's house when we got back from the restaurant. She lives in Baltimore but I see her, on average, once or twice a year because she travels even more than I do. When I'm traveling to Montreal or Dallas or Seattle, she's traveling to Geneva, London, Kuala Lumpur, Bangladesh, Outer Mongolia, Africa or Asia. Today she is just back from a week in India, jet-lagged and fighting a cold :-( yet she still made the drive down to see us before we left. I love you, Maria.

Sunday, March 16th:

Everyone must have felt jet-lagged this morning because the house was unusually quiet when I woke up. I went into the dining room to find Maria on a cot in the sunshine--my poor sis! As it turns out, she has a slight fever and absolutely zero energy. She was supposed to head back to Baltimore by now for tennis and other commitments but it doesn't look like she's going anywhere soon. I wish I could stay here longer but we just learned that another massive winter storm is heading this way and so I'm going to have to leave by early afternoon. At least she'll have Dad and Suz to look after her.

My original plans had me leaving tomorrow so I could spend as much time with my family as possible but the storm has changed all that. If I don't leave today I may be stranded and I can't afford to miss my flights from home to Dallas this week. Jim was planning to fly out tonight but has offered to ride with me if I leave today. So, a leisurely breakfast was had by all, followed by a nice walk in the calm-before-the-storm (Maria went back to sleep after a few bites of food) and then we hit the road.

Just an hour outside of DC we see the first sleet beginning to fall.

The drive wasn't too bad although it did rain, sleet or snow the rest of the way. By the time we got into NC it was all ice but we made it home safely before the roads were covered. Upon our arrival we were welcomed with a package post-marked from Hawaii--what a fantastic surprise. Our friend and fellow RnR Gypsy, Kamika Smith, had sent us a care package from his home in Kauai! The warmth that radiated out of the box was (almost) enough to melt the ice on our patio table. :-)

Perhaps I should remove this sticker from my car--I think the weather fairies are lost and are bringing Winter to the wrong half of the US.

Ice, Ice, Baby!

Now it's off to Dallas for race number 2. Hopefully we'll still be on target with our date for sharing our new project April 1st, but before then you should be able to read my Dallas blog. Be well, my friends!

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