Archive for the ‘Race Report’ Category

RACE REPORT: Rock ‘n’ Roll Philadelphia Half Marathon 2009

admin | September 18, 2010 in Endurance,Race Report,Running | Comments (7)

Well, that’s what they call it now. Last year, it was still the “Philadelphia Distance Run,” though we runners all still knew that Philly was part of the “Rock ‘n’ Roll” family, just like the Country Music Marathon held each spring in Nashville, Tennessee.

This year, it’s official; Philadelphia is now home to the “Rock ‘n’ Roll Philadelphia Half Marathon.”

Still the same race. Still the same spirit. The same outstanding organizers, the same historic course through America’s past, the same music carrying runners through both the breeze of the easy and the grit of the difficult.

Okay…I’m making this worse. See, I can’t be there. And I wanna be. I’m currently on the other side of the world in Australia, a day ahead; in fact, as I write this, I’m well into my SUNDAY. The runners that will take on the run in Philadelphia, they are still loading up on pasta, checking their gear, and spending their SATURDAY getting ready for SUNDAY’S race.

I plan to pull up the live webcast online and watch the finish of Sunday morning’s race…but I’ll miss the first part, as we’ll be onstage finishing our evening show as they finish. Yeah…it makes my head hurt a bit; it’s hard to keep it straight. Bottom line – I’m way to far away to run the race with my Team McGraw peeps…but I’ll be cheerin’ ‘em on from “Down Under.”

As Team McGraw returns to the “City of Brotherly Love,” I can’t help but reflect on last year’s half marathon. Taking Team McGraw to Philadelphia, home of the Philadelphia Phillies, with whom our namesake Tug McGraw won the World Series back in 1980…yeah, it calls up some pretty impassioned memories of Tug’s impact on the city.

Tug is still remembered…and still loved.

David Bier after his first half marathon finish. (Cue the music from "Charlie's Angels.")

But there was a lot more “special” from the 2009 race for me. Certainly at the top of the list was seeing my friend David Bier complete the course with his wife and Team McGraw repeater Diane. David is a brain tumor survivor…and a diehard Doors fan. He’s supported our runners through many races, but 2009 was his first half marathon as a runner; I relish each time I’ve gotten to witness these amazing feats of accomplishment in the face of adversity, and he did a great job.

And when I say “diehard Doors fan,” I mean it. The next time I see him, I’ll hear it. “So, have you learned the organ part to ‘Light My Fire’ yet?” Light my fire. No, I’ve not learned it. But you’ve done it, Dave…and done it again and again. Relit my fire for our cause. My fire for this program. For our runners. Thanks.

Genvieve could hardly contain herself in front of the paparazzi as Mark McGraw joined her for part of the race.

Team McGraw’s Genvieve Goldstein set aside some of her duties as a leader of our program and took the streets herself in 2009. If you’ve run with us before, or are on the way to some upcoming marathon with us, you know Genvieve. She knows how hard our folks work, how deep our athletes dig, on their way to the finish line…and she wanted to show ‘em she’d dig along with them.

Dig she did. Attagirl!

Gang signs? Uh, no. "45." Tug McGraw's baseball jersey number.

I’m remembering the gathering of our team and early morning hugs at the tent on race day. The gun and the laughter and the cheers of the start. “Rocky”-dressed runners, rock bands set up on trailers, and the full-blown orchestra set up on the corner that threatens to squash my time by making me stop and listen even longer.

Oh, yeah. The “Rocky” runners remind me. You WILL hear the theme from Rocky more than a few times along the way. Rocky is Philly’s favorite “not even a real person but if he were he’d be our favorite” son. And no matter how much it hurts after the race, you’ve GOTTA go run the steps from the movie at the art museum from the movie before leaving the city.

You guys are gonna have a great race; I know I did. I ran most of the race last year with Tim McGraw’s brother, Mark, and Tom Karpowich. Mark is a great runner and his “easy run” was still pulling Tom and I to better times. We stuck together until the last few miles; he and Tom ran away from me after Tom’s goal of hitting two hours…and I finished with my best time to that point of 2:07:55 for the half marathon.

Mark McGraw (left) and I reconnected at the Team McGraw tent before heading back in after the rest of our team.

After crossing the finish line, we all made our way through the medal and water and bagel and banana lines to get back out on the course to cheer on the rest of our team. That’s the best part of these races: THE TEAM.

It is worth noting for future storytelling…that the 2009 Philadelphia Distance Run was my third “Rock ‘n’ Roll” event of 2009, following January’s Rock ‘n’ Roll Arizona and the April Country Music Half Marathon. I mentioned before my 2009 “quest for immortality.” At this point in the story, it was still a silent and solitary crusade. As concert touring season began for the summer, my quest would have to be set aside for a few months.

The spirit of that crusade would remain, the quiet pursuit of a prize that only I would ever fully appreciate.

At least…that was the plan…

RACE REPORT: Stalked by a Running Diva/Des Moines Red Flannel Run 2010

admin | April 12, 2010 in Endurance,Race Report,Running | Comments (12)

Katie McLenaghan is stalking me.

It is kind of flattering, really.  Rolling all over the country, eight boys living on a bus, it’s kinda cool to think of a hot little runner chick scouting my journey, tracking my moves.

Not that it’s that hard.  The schedule for the Tim McGraw “Southern Voice” tour is posted for public view at  Anybody can find it.  I just didn’t know she was paying attention.

I get the call just a few days before the race.  The 21st Annual Red Flannel Run is scheduled for February 13, 2010, the same day our tour stops through Des Moines, and Katie, currently living in Chicago, is in town visiting family.  It’s snowing, it’s cold…and I am to serve as coach, runner, and escort in her attempt to set a personal record on the five-mile course.

But of course, fair maiden; it would be my honor.

The start of the 2010 Red Flannel Run in Des Moines, Iowa.

Katie.  She first popped onto my grid two years ago, a dedicated and longtime friend of Team McGraw’s running rock star and brain tumor survivor Jen McDevitt. Katie had elected, seemingly out of nowhere, to take on the 2008 Bank of America Chicago Marathon in Jen’s honor.  It was her first time to bear the Team McGraw colors, and we were glad to have her.

Don’t get me wrong; I love Katie.  But running shoes, dirt in the face, and possibly puking at the finish line just doesn’t seem to match up with her daily diet of jewelry endeavors, fashion sense, and the pursuit of all things, well, glamorous.

I don’t really think she was even a runner back then; she was choosing to be…to support her friend.  Did she know what she was taking on?  Would she be like so many that climb this mountain…once…motivated by friendship…and then mark it off her bucket list?

(Left) Jen McDevitt and Kate McLenaghan at 2009 Bank of America Chicago Marathon.

Absolutely not.  After months of training, she completed the 2008 Chicago Marathon in honor of Jen with style and sweat, grace and grit: two parts Runners World, one part Cosmopolitan magazine, and a pinch of “Sex in the City.”

In 2009, Katie returned to shatter her personal marathon time by almost 40 minutes, shod in the most chic of running shoes – covered in glitter, no less.

Carrie Bradshaw herself could not have been more proud if our running diva had covered the 26.2 miles in her favorite pair of Jimmy Choos.

In 2010, she is running the Chicago Marathon for the third time with Team McGraw, followed exactly four weeks later by her first ING New York City Marathon.  Awesome.

So, absolutely …I’m in for the five-miler with ya.  You bet.

I crawl out of my bunk on the bus while it is still dark.  We have rolled in from the previous night’s concert in Madison, Wisconsin…and the bus is cold and quietly parked outside of our hotel.  Wiping the sleep from my eyes, I drag me and my luggage up to my room to suit up, stretch out, and get the blood moving.

Katie calls; she’s in the lobby.  It’s been snowing, and I’m less than prepared, so she’s got a great green “Loras College” cap for me to wear during the race.  Both she and Jen attended Loras College together; I’m honorary for the day.

We grab some coffee and then do a quick radio interview with a local station.  I guess this race is a pretty big deal, and the folks there are happy to share our message of support for the Tug McGraw Foundation and quality of life research for brain tumor and brain trauma.  It was quick and easy…and much appreciated.

Then we head to the race course.  It’s really more of a fun run than a race; lots of folks have prepared well for the race with wigs, costumes, and various versions of flannel pajamas.  Katie takes special interest in one runner wearing long johns…with his seat flap…uh…flapping.

She says she has his back; well, I guess so!

We then run up on a few of our military that are using this race as training for an upcoming exercise that will require them to run distance heavily laden with gear.  As I recall, all three of these men are headed toward Officer Candidate School in the U.S. Army; jubilant but focused, they  are suited up in fatigues and 50-pound packs for a short practice run.  If Team McGraw doesn’t offer us enough inspiration…now we’ve got THESE guys!

Thanks for your service, fellas.  Really.  Thanks.

Katie is hoping to set a PR for five miles – anything under fifty minutes is good with her.  She tells me that she plans to do her first mile in 9:30 to get her started.  Uh…no.

Change of strategy.  Kicking off with 9:30 is a plan to hit 47:30…and we are just trying to get under 50:00.  I explain the benefits of running negative, leaving enough in the tank such that we might actually run the back half of the race faster than the first half.  We’ll run the first mile in ten minutes, see how it feels, get things rolling, negotiate the crowd swelling the streets…and then carefully crank it up.

Stick with me, Katie…and we’ll get your PR.

We had not run together before, so despite my frequent “How are ya doin’?” checkups, I’m not sure how she’s feeling throughout the race…but I know at the end she is still strong and sassy.  We stick to our strategy, sneak up our pace after the first mile…and ultimately snag her a 48:46…1:14 seconds under her goal!

A quick breakfast stop and back to the hotel.  I’ve got a show to play tonight, and Katie is anxious to wash off the run and don her best diva for the concert.

But for a few minutes yet…she’ll be relishing her runner.

And a darn fine runner you are; good job, girl.

RACE REPORT: Country Music Marathon and Half Marathon 2009

admin | March 31, 2010 in Endurance,Race Report,Running | Comments (13)

Yesterday, in our band dressing room, one of the guys was giving me props for being a pretty good “Googler.” Finding stuff quickly, tracking things down. I’m sure there are those that know much more than I do, but I am pretty good.

Still, sometimes you find things you never expect. For example, months after Team McGraw’s participation in the 2009 Country Music Marathon and Half Marathon, I stumbled onto an article on the Great American Country (GAC) website entitled “Team Rio, Team McGraw Have Run of Nashville.”

(Left) Marty Roe, lead singer for Diamond Rio, and I caught up at the Country Thunder USA festival this past summer in Twin Lakes, Wisconsin.

It is a great article, noting the charity elements of both of our programs.  The Team McGraw program was noted for its work supporting the Tug McGraw Foundation and brain tumor research; the award-winning Diamond Rio, both a great band and longtime friend of mine, was acknowledged for support of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Middle Tennessee.

Then…it happened.  The GAC story posted our times.  Guitarist Jimmy Olander of Diamond Rio ran 2:10; lead singer Marty Roe ran 2:20.  Mark McGraw, Tim McGraw’s brother, did 2 hours.  Suzanne Alexander, another friend of mine and an outstanding host for GAC, ran 2:24.

And there it was, in black and white: “Keyboard player Jeff McMahon, of Tim’s band the Dancehall Doctors, finished in 3 hours, 36 minutes.”

Jeff McMahon, feelin’ good and lookin’ strong at the Country Music Half Marathon 2009.

It’s not that I’m competitive  – not so much against others, anyway – just myself. When I’m running for a time, I’ll try to pick folks off one by one in an effort to better my performance.  But that’s in those races where I’m running as a runner.  This wasn’t one of those times.

This time I was running…as a coach. It’s often the cooler gig: locked and loaded with a camera, cell phone, and extra sport beans, getting our folks to the finish line…and sending ‘em home with some runner bling!

Honestly, I don’t remember much about MY race.  I can tell you about our runners, the obstacles they overcame, and the inspiration they exemplified.  Team McGraw was in full force, and there was much to celebrate and share among our “Ya Gotta Believe-ers!”

The brightest spot on my radar was Jennifer Brusstar, president and CEO of the Tug McGraw Foundation.  Jen had been ramping up her first half marathon adventure for over a year; I could not wait to see her step up to the challenge…and she sure did.

Dean Brown, longtime fiddler for Tim McGraw's band, the Dancehall Doctors.

My bandmate, fiddler for the Dancehall Doctors Dean Brown, was also out on the course.  He and I train together a lot, and I knew that he was good to go.

In total we had 39 runners, most of them half marathoners, with only a few taking on the full marathon.  I kept up with my folks as best I could, picking up information from volunteers along the course.

(Have you seen Fred?  How did he look?  Good?  Excellent!  What about Wilma?  Really?  How far up?  All right…I’ll go find her.)

Some sent me updates via cell phone.  I tracked down folks having trouble, talked them through their cramps or pains or anxieties, and then ran on.  Stopped to walk with an overly ambitious PR seeker that got hit in the face with “too much, too soon.”

One particular runner had almost decided that, despite the notable heat that day, she wasn’t drinking any more water; her stomach was distended, she thought, and she had drunk too much over the first five miles. No water for the next nine?  In THIS heat?  That doesn’t sound right.

The Country Music Marathon 2009 was a hot one!

After talking through this with her, I discovered she had hammered too hard on the provided sports drinks…not had any water at all…and the acid in the drinks was doing a number on her.  She didn’t need to avoid water…but aim for it.

Whew.  Glad we caught that one early.  A glass or two of water and she was on her way to a strong finish!

Jennifer Brusstar, president and CEO of the Tug McGraw Foundation.

One particular part of the course doubles back on itself – a hairpin that finds you greeting fellow runners on their way into the course on your way out.  As it happened, there was my colleague and TMF president Jennifer Brusstar, looking strong and headed into the fray.

So, of course, I turned tail and headed back in order to run that part of the course again…with her.

There were others working support during the race, most notably our own Coach Kevin Leathers.  Keeping folks out of the ditches, cheering them on, passing out Vaseline or nutrition gels or Band-Aids or other “this is what you” needs of the moment.

(From left) Edi Rose, Mark McGraw, Shilpa Anturkar, and Pablo Nyarady enjoy the spoils of a race well run; YA GOTTA BELIEVE!

Team McGraw rocked…and I was much more thrilled to see so many inspired performances.  Accomplishments that seemed out of reach back at Mile 10…were affirmed with a medal at the finish line.

My favorite part of the day?  Back slaps and photographs, smiles of achievement, and a little warm and fuzzy knowing that I might have helped a little.

After checking my Garmin Forerunner 205 GPS watch, my half marathon (13.1 miles) was 16.21 miles long.  My time was 1 hour and 26 minutes slower than my personal best, set two months earlier at the 2009 Sarasota Grouper Half Marathon.  Perhaps I had let my training slip a bit since February…but come on…give a brother a break.

For the record…I recently ran a 2:03 half marathon at the first Rock ‘n’ Roll Dallas Half Marathon.  That’s an improvement of 1 hour and 33 minutes for the half marathon since the Country Music Half Marathon 2009.  If I can shave off that much again by Dallas of next year…HOLY SMOKES…

I should run next year’s Rock ‘n’ Roll Dallas Half Marathon in 30 MINUTES… shattering the world record set by Zersenay Tadese just last week in Lisbon!


Runners Freeze Their Shamrocks Off

admin | March 17, 2010 in Endurance,Race Report,Running | Comments (5)

Tug McGraw was always, always, ready for St. Patrick’s Day.  The famed pitcher for both the New York Mets and the Philadelphia Phillies loved to play.  He loved to laugh.  He loved his Irish heritage, and any reason to celebrate is, well…a good reason to celebrate!

That’s when Team McGraw first got underway.  St. Patrick’s Day.

Specifically, it was March 12, 2005.  The First Annual Shamrock Spring 5K was to be held in Milwaukee, Wisconsin in conjunction with their annual parade, and the event organizers had decided to dedicate the money raised from their run to the Tug McGraw Foundation in support of quality of life brain tumor research.

Jennifer Brusstar, president of the Tug McGraw Foundation, knew I was a runner and suggested I head to Milwaukee and run in Tug’s memory.  I figured we could dig a little deeper than just me, so I scampered onto our tour bus and hit up my bandmates for runnin’ buddies to share the fun.

My friend and bandmate Dean Brown (left) and I stretch it out a bit halfway through the race.

Denny Hemingson and Dean Brown, our steel player and fiddler respectively, were running regularly and instantly good to go.  Billy Mason, our drummer, wasn’t running so much, but he wasn’t about to let a chance to honor Tug slip away; he was in as well.

Our plans were almost derailed before we ever got started.  We were supposed to be off that weekend, but at the last minute, we were called to perform in Washington, DC with Tim McGraw the night before the run in Wisconsin.

One of the magical wizards from the parade; for the record, I'm on the left, wizard on the right.

The event was a charity fundraiser for the Larry King Cardiac Foundation.  This made things trickier.  We did not finish our show in Washington, DC until late.  After the show, we were part of the “mix and mingle” with all the supporters and contributors.  It was a great cause…but a long night.

It was a tough schedule, but my buds stepped up, and after only two hours of sleep and a crack-o’-dawn flight on race morning, we were laced up in Milwaukee and decked out in our custom-made green Tug McGraw “45” baseball jerseys.

(From left) DANCEHALL DOCTORS: Drummer Billy Mason, steel guitarist Denny Hemingson, me and fiddler Dean Brown.

For the first time, ”Team McGraw” was headed to the starting line.

Together our foursome shivered through sixteen-degree weather as friends and fans, elfin and otherwise, lined the sidewalks to cheer on all the runners over the 3.1-mile course.  Donations to sponsor Team McGraw raised over $45,000 for the Tug McGraw Foundation.

“45” was Tug’s number.  We raised over $45,000.  Cool.

After the race, the cold penetrated deeper as my pals and I boarded a float and rode through downtown as part of the parade celebration.  Wizards wandered the alleyways and the music of buoyant bagpipers filled the air.  Despite the chilly weather, it was a fun way to ring in the holiday.

Tug would have dug it…though I doubt he would have chosen to join us on the run.  He’d be back at the pub, ready to welcome our return from the cold with a warm drink and a slap on the back.  He’d be reveling in the joy of his Irish-ness, probably singing at the top of his lungs, and I have no doubt he would have had something funny and inappropriate to say about how we all had surely frozen our shamrocks off during the run that morning.

No sweat, Tugger.  Anything for you, pal.

RACE REPORT: Gasparilla Distance Classic 2009

admin | March 8, 2010 in Endurance,Race Report,Running | Comments (9)

Last weekend was the Gasparilla Distance Classic, the celebrated half marathon held in Tampa, Florida.  I wanted to be there – I ran it last year with Tom Karpowich, one of our dedicated Team McGraw crew – but we had a concert the night before in another state, and I just couldn’t get there.  Dang it.

Tom had stumbled onto Team McGraw at the 2008 Country Music Marathon in Nashville, Tennessee.  We hadn’t met, but he had seen our shirts.  Our signs.  Our supporters.  He knew we were out there, and he knew our mission – to support quality of life brain tumor research through the Tug McGraw Foundation.

[NOTE: As with many of our Team McGraw runners, Tom’s appreciation for our mission stemmed from his own journey; his wife, Mary, was in her own battle with a brain tumor, and his running was to be a part of his fighting on her behalf.   She lost her battle this past January 2010…but her memory lives on as Tom continues to honor her through his support of the Tug McGraw Foundation as a dedicated member of Team McGraw.]

(Left) Tom Karpowich and me at the starting line of the Gasparilla Distance Classic Half Marathon on February 28, 2009.

He tracked us down after that race and signed up to join our team for the ING New York City Marathon 2008.  As it happened, I was rolling through Tampa, where he lives, only days after he contacted us about the New York race…so he stopped by our hotel and grabbed a quick run with my bandmate Deano and I the morning of our show.

Long story short, he joined Team McGraw for the New York City Marathon in 2008…we remained friends afterward…and when the Gasparilla Distance Classic Half Marathon came around on February 28, 2009, he thought I needed to fly into Florida to run shotgun with him at the race.

Well, I didn’t have a concert that weekend.  I was anxious to run another race, especially after a surprisingly strong finish at the Sarasota Grouper Half Marathon two weeks earlier.  Okay…surprisingly strong for me…and for me, that works. Besides, Tom figured, of the folks he knew, I’d be the one to say, “Jump on a plane and shoot over to Florida this weekend to grab a run?  SURE!”

I guess he was right; sure, I’ll run shotgun.  I’m that kinda runner.

I blew in the day before.  He met me at the airport, we shot through the expo, and I embraced my inner pirate as the Gasparilla festivities heralded the legendary buccaneer Jose Gaspar, famous for terrorizing the coast during the late 18th and early 19th century.  Gathered my number, snagged some photos, and picked up a bright red headband complete with skull and crossbones; I WAS READY!

We got to the race early the next morning.  I always get there early.  Keeps the jitters down to know we are parked, I’ve found the start, and if anyone is stuck in the wrong place waiting on a shuttle, it ain’t me.

We line up in the dark, both of us ready to rock the course in our red Team McGraw jerseys.  Someone wandering through all the runners insisted they take our picture.  They were shooting for the race.  Lesson learned: even two people, when they are both wearing their team jerseys, are a team worth noting.

I locked that little nugget away for future flag-waving.

The race got off with little event.  My watch was charged and prepared for scrutiny.  My plan was simple; I was going to try to duplicate the 2:10 I ran in Sarasota to determine if it was an accurate measuring stick for my fitness level or a fluke.  Tom was in…and we were off.

The first half was smooth – not much really worth remembering.  The main effort was to keep my pace consistent.  The start was very much in the dark; I was sorry to find that when I finally found my way to the fire juggler along the sidelines, the sun had come out and sapped some of the “cool” out of his act…but I still appreciated the show.

The weather was calm enough, kinda cloudy, cool, but not cold.  But again…that was the FIRST half.

Clouds started moving in and the wind started picking up around the halfway mark.  Then it started to rain.  Ugh.  The “much more of a gale than a breeze” stood me straight up.  I wanted to relish the run along the water – but I had my head ducked and just wasn’t paying much attention.

I was still trying to hang onto my plan…but it was slipping away.

Near the end, the wind had let up, and I was able to stretch back out and finish strong.  I had lost some time in the back half of the run, but it didn’t seem like too much, all things considered.  I still felt okay, and the 2:10 from two weeks earlier was still the only measuring stick I had.

I finished the race with a 2:15: 39.  Not bad.  I thought I had warmed up as the rain stopped…but when I was offered up a reflective space blanket after receiving my medal at the finish, I wrapped myself up in it tightly to fight back the wind that remained.  The cold wasn’t ready to abate quite yet.

And then the rain…resumed.  P-p-p-perfect.

RACE REPORT: Sarasota Grouper Half Marathon 2009

admin | February 16, 2010 in Endurance,Race Report,Running | Comments (9)

It was still some hours before sunrise when the alarm on my cell phone went off. I had already laid out my running duds, as I knew I’d likely forget something in the foggy stupor of “just woke up.”

I considered takin’ “Jack” with me, who I’d met just the day before on my first deep-sea fishing adventure, but he elected to just “chill” in the hotel room while I headed out to run the Sarasota Grouper Half Marathon. I sensed he might be offended that the race was named after grouper and not amberjack, so I assured him I’d take him out for dinner sometime soon.  He never said anything, so I assumed he was good with that.

Besides, on that day…I was running alone.

Okay…not alone alone. Some thousands of other folks were saddling up for the 2009 Sarasota Grouper Half Marathon just like me; a smaller number were takin’ on the full marathon distance. Just nobody I knew; I was on my own.

And that was the plan all along. I’d come to Florida because I was not going to sit in Nashville alone on Valentine’s Day weekend…and a long hard run was exactly what I wanted. What I needed.  Fishing for Valentines” the day before was, well, what it was – an uncommon opportunity making for a uniquely appropriate Valentine’s Day.

I hadn’t run my own race in over two years. I’d run numerous half marathons and two New York City Marathons since November 2007 as one of the leaders of the Team McGraw endurance program; in each race, I’d run with various members of our team, done damage control for injured or troubled runners, (some Team McGraw folks, some not), gone back after stragglers or just chatted my way along the course at someone else’s pace.

I had no idea what I might deliver if I took all of my own stress and strain, joy and anger, and left it all out on the course on my own terms.

Today I would find out.

My buddy Mick showed up early at my hotel to head to the start with me. Dude, you did not have to get up this early, I told him. “I ain’t runnin’, but you’re my boy, so I’m gonna be here to support ya!” he said.

He’s a good ‘un.

February or not, it was hot and humid in Florida, so the runners took to the line in the dark to escape as much of the heat as possible. The course was simple: start at the Ringling Brothers museum, finish at the Ringling Brothers museum. An out-an-back. Less chance of getting lost. I was good with that.

Something felt kinda strange – after running two New York City marathons — but I couldn’t put my finger on it. I remember thinking, everyone seems so distant, unfriendly, almost evasive. Wait…that’s not it…they’re just…spread out? Yeah, that’s it! It was a smaller race, so we weren’t stacked on top of each other as we shuffled into position, shoulder-to-shoulder for forty blocks between inflexible hard plastic corral fencing.

I was likin’ this.

My pal disappeared as I headed towards the start. There’s the gun. I’ll be walking for a good while. Oh, I’m already running. Right…smaller race. I forgot.

Not a lot to see, as it was still dark. We kept the water to our right as we wove through some pretty nice neighborhoods; I was told they were nice…but I really couldn’t see much. I took their word for it.

“McMAHON!!!” There’s Mick , all climbed up on a lightpole with his camera. How’d he get up there? No matter. He’s all about the cheerleading, without the jumps. Like I said…a good ‘un. Yo, Mick.

I settled on ten-minute miles. The math was simple, and I just wanted to lock in. The miles clicked by. As the sun came up, the view of the water was pacifying, and the course was essentially flat.

The race was well-staffed and water-stocked, and I had two Espresso flavored Hammer Gels in my pockets.

It’s hot. So what. Run. Don’t think. Just run.

Well, I say don’t think. When I run, I still listen. Listen to my legs. Listen to my body. If I get a tweak, I’m not gonna miss it for the the current hit by the Blackeyed Peas hammering out from my iPod.  I prefer the hammering of my feet on the street; I prefer listening to me.

I wish this story was more dynamic, but it’s just not. I turned back at the halfway mark, and started it all over again. There was a slight incline on the causeway at the turn around, but since we spun there, it really negated itself. Tens were working, I was thinkin’ I could hold ‘em, and thought I might even have something left at the end for the last mile.

I did. Coach Kevin calls it “packing all that emotion and anger and inspiration and hope and bitterness and frustration into a bottle and holding onto it until that last mile…and then opening the bottle.”

I opened it. The last mile was my fastest of the race, resulting in a finishing time of 2:10:38…and a personal best.  Done.

Now…time to get back to the team.

RACE REPORT: Rock ‘n’ Roll Arizona 2009

admin | February 12, 2010 in Endurance,Race Report,Running | Comments (7)

I know; it’s kind of a reach back. But 2009 was my first Rock ‘n’ Roll Arizona Half Marathon, my first run with runnin’ buddies Matt Beck and Steve Cibulka…and my first step in what would prove to be a year-long quest towards immortality.

Okay, not IMMORTALITY. But…just stayed tuned. We’ll get there.

The week before the race, well, I’ve already walked, skied, and skated you through all that in “Ice Skates and Runnin’ Shoes.” So…I launch from Minneapolis – St. Paul International Airport late Saturday night after playing in the ice and snow all day; the race is Sunday morning. My pal Steve picks me up at the Phoenix airport around midnight. We toss my two bags, backpack, and acoustic guitar in the back of his truck and set off for his apartment.

I don’t normally carry a guitar, but just in case I get stuck in the airport and have to sing for my supper…I am prepared.

It’s warm in Phoenix, but I’m still wrapped in a residual Minnesota chill. A reflection and a shiver still wander up my spine, and I like it. Still, I know I’ll blow all that snow out on the course the next morning.

That’s the idea, anyway.

His big ol’ scaredy-cat of a dog meets us at the door after hearing the ruckus of a newcomer dragging things up the outside stairs. Greets his “daddy” and then skirts the perimeter of the apartment in order to stay as far from “the stranger” as possible. Bags tossed in a corner, ice water in hand, we camp on the sofa to form a game plan for the next morning, and before long, I am not quite as “strange” when scratching the head of a furry new friend.

Personally, I’ve no real strategy for the race. My last race was the ING New York City Marathon in 2008; my time was 5:24:40, but it really doesn’t tell me much. I ran with many members of our Team McGraw posse, sometimes walking, sometimes running. Totally ran their race…or races. So what my time should be, I’ve no clue.

Together, our collective game plan for the half is pretty simple: get up early, meet Matt, stay together, run our guts out, finish. At the end, maybe I will have learned something.

As in most cases, the simple answer works. We showed up at the course early and track down the third musketeer. We are all decked out in our red Team McGraw jerseys, which not only help us raise awareness of our support for the Tug McGraw Foundation and quality of life brain tumor research, but also make it easier for us to find one another among thousands of runners.

Matt has gone the extra mile and strategically placed an official “P.F. Chang’s Rock ‘n’ Roll Arizona Marathon and Half Marathon” tattoo on the back of his head. This is to be his first race in many years, and I believe his first half- marathon ever. He is committed, and really, dude…the tat’s kickin’!

The gun fires and we dig in. We settle quickly, feelin’ good, enjoying the company of one another, and while we are hittin’ a good clip, neither of us feels pulled along so fast that we need to bail on the others. At our 5K marker, we’re lookin’ at an 11:08 pace.

It’s pretty hot, so we are attentive to the water stops, and there are plenty. I walk through most of them, as I’ve never learned to drink on the run without drowning. (I will figure that out somewhat through the year, but never very well.) Dehydration is not part of our plan, and we keep each other honest.

We dial back our pace a bit, hitting our 10K mark with 11:23’s. We aren’t sure who is leaning back, but it’s okay. We’re stickin’ together regardless…and the long straight-aways are getting’ fun to stretch out on.

Rumor has it that there is to be a small band of Team McGraw supporters somewhere out on the course. I have carried my camera throughout the run, just in case we see them. I expect them to be around this next corner; I’m getting ready, turning the corner, here they come! “SNAP!”

Oh…no…that wasn’t for us. “Go Joy.” Well, I’m glad to know that she’s got some backers out here. I’ll keep her in mind as well, wherever she is. OH…here they are! “Ya Gotta Believe!” Woo-hoo!!!

Our pace is slightly derailed as we stop for a quick photo op; it’s a small sacrifice for the encouragement these folks have provided us, and whatever time we lose in stopping for the shots, we will make back up with a revitalized spring from their support. Thanks, guys!

By the tenth mile, we’ve made up some time and aren’t even feeling it. It’s a good day to run, and our race time now reflects an 11:12 pace. We dig in for the final three and aim for the finish.

We cross the line at 2:24:17. Average pace of 11:01…and a viable measuring stick for where I sit currently on my training. We have been consistent and steady and have properly executed a pretty good “negative” race. (“Negative” = the last half of the race being faster than the first half. As it should be.) A well-staffed event, few corners, bright and warm weather at the finish.

A terrific first race for 2009 shared with my pals.

The guys did share this little tidbit with me during the race. They had both had second thoughts some weeks prior to the race, and the possibility of not running had been considered. But they told me that, because they knew I was flying in to join their merry band, they knew they couldn’t back out. However, according to them, if hadn’t flown in for the race…they probably wouldn’t have run it.

Funny. It dawns on me…if I hadn’t flown it…I wouldn’t have run it, either.