Thursday, November 5, 2015

Race Report: Pinedale Half Marathon and Rock 'n' Roll San Jose Half Marathon

One of the views on the drive
from Salt Lake City to Pinedale
Less than a week after returning from Hawaii, I was on a flight out west yet again.  For the third time this year, I made my way over to Salt Lake City, the "gateway" airport for the immediate area (meaning, cheapest option for flights.). I took the day off and got on a plane that left New York early in the morning, and took off to Dallas, connecting to Salt Lake City, and landing in the early afternoon.

My 50th Half sign!
However, this trip wasn't staying in the area.  Upon landing, I got myself to the car rental counter and got my vehicle to drive off to my ultimate destination, roughly 4 - 4 1/2 hours away, in Pinedale, Wyoming. After a quick side trip to a FedEx Office to laminate a special "50th marathon" bib from the 100 Half Marathons Club, I embarked on my long journey through the ever changing terrain of eastern Utah into the flat, flat country with expansive and beautiful vistas of southwestern Wyoming.

World's first JC Penney in Kemmerer
The drive, while long, proved to be quite fun for me, being able to take in the amazing scenery.  En route, I stopped in the small town of Kemmerer, Wyoming, home of the world's first JC Penney store!  The drive took me through town, so I hopped out real quickly to grab a photo and then continued on my way to Pinedale, driving by the Green River and passing through the small towns of La Barge, Big Piney, Marbleton, and Daniel. I reached Pinedale just as the sun was beginning to set, and stopped into the Rendezvous Pointe to pick up my bib, where I met up with race director Nora Farrand, who welcomed me with open arms, and outfitted me with a ton of great swag to bring back home.

Preface dinner - STEAK!
I headed of to my accommodations for the night to drop off my bag and familiarize myself with the navigation as my GPS signal was completely inoperable due to the location's lack of cell service. I booked an awesome little cabin on the land of a local resident, with the backdrop of the beautiful Wind River Range. Apparently, MJ's place was the only Airbnb listing in the immediate area, and due to her success with them, several other homeowners in the area may sign on to the service in the near future!  I headed out back into town and met up with Peggy and Derrick, my friends from Utah, who had signed up for the race as well. We had dinner at the Wind River Brewing Company, and I had a massive 14 oz. hickory smoked prime rib, accompanied with fresh horseradish and au jus, broccoli, and sweet potato fries. Definitely well fed for the next morning's race!

A Wyoming sunset...
The sun creeping over the Winds...
The following morning came rather quickly (after an awesome night of sleep in a huge, comfortable bed!) and I left for the race just as the sun was rising over the mountains. I headed back over to the Rendezvous Pointe and stayed warm inside the building before we made our way outside to gather just before starting the race.  Nora had emailed me earlier in the month after seeing my YouTube video of me singing the national anthem at the Queens 10K over the summer, and had informed me that the race committee wanted to invite me to open up the race by singing the anthem for them.  I gladly obliged, and the morning came for me to provide my talents... The song went off swimmingly, and soon, the 104 of us signed up for the half were off and running!


Singing the National Anthem prior to the race
(photo courtesy of Pinedale Half Marathon) 
Nice long stretch of road...
As a genuine out-and-back course, the race took us down Magnolia Street, then turned right into Tyler Avenue. After a little U-ey through some residential areas near Pinedale's high school, we went on an uphill climb on Lake Street, then turning onto Fremont Lake Street, where we passed some beautiful farmland and had some four-legged spectators "cheering" us on along the course. We turned onto a side street and made our way to our first real water stop, manned by ladies dressed in Grease Pink Ladies outfits!





Our four-legged spectators...

UPHILL?!
We continued on and found ourselves at a crazy uphill climb at mile 3, taking us onto the bike paths (and rolling hills) that would bring us in and around Fremont Lake.  I took in the great views while running through this area, and then made my way to the road that formed the southern border of the lake.  At around mile 5, the runners in the 10k began their trek (having been bused to their startline) and they proceeded on the same route but going in the other direction.  We got some great shout outs as we continued on toward the halfway point, along a long road that seemed to go on forever, but still provided us with some incredibly majestic views.



The halfway mark!
Pink Ladies' water station on
the way back to the finish!
The halfway mark came soon enough, manned with an aid station, so I took a swig of water, before continuing on.  I went back the way I came, offering some high fives along the way from people en route to the halfway mark themselves, and retraced my steps all the way back to the Rendezvous Pointe for 6.55 miles of paved trails skirting the beautiful lake and roads headed back into town.  It seemed much easier to do the run back to the start, as there were more downhills (meaning there definitely were more uphills in the first 6.55 miles!)

My absolute most favorite picture I've ever taken during a race...
Victory Headstand!!
I crossed the finish line in 2:26:36, a fine time considering this being the absolute highest continuous elevation race I have ever run!  We received some very snazzy finisher medals and I proceeded to go into the Rendezvous Pointe building to get a much needed massage and some delicious barbecue, all provided by the race.  I stuck around and got to see Peggy as she finished, and then headed back to my Airbnb for a much needed shower and then rush out so I could drive the 1 1/2 hours up to Jackson for a quick trip to say "I've been there," and then another 4 1/2 hour drive back down to Salt Lake City with enough time for me to head back for my evening flight... to get me to my second destination for the weekend, San Jose!

With Nora Farrand, race director
for the Pinedale Half
But before I talk about San Jose, I wanted to mention how much I really enjoyed my quick trip to Wyoming.  It's races like this one that I really enjoy, because despite the small field of participants, the entire town comes out to support the race, and the organizers pull out all the stops to make sure the experience is a great one for all that attend.  Of course, the area is blessed with some of the most scenic landscapes I've ever run in, rivaling even the beauty of my Utah race at Mt. Nebo, but it truly has placed itself as one of my most favorite races.  What also makes it a great race is how much the race organizers value feedback from runners - not only is the race director increasing their social media presence, but they are also taking into account a name change, renaming the race from the Pinedale Half Marathon to the Wind River Half Marathon.  A consultant suggested this change, as the Wind River Range is more renowned and means something to people around the world; Pinedale not being as enticing.  For those looking for a great Wyoming race, look for the Wind River Half in 2016!

The RnR San Jose startline
After a long drive to Salt Lake City, I got to the airport and got on my flight to San Jose, landing in California at about 9:30pm.  I stayed at the home of my good friend (and renowned Grammy-award winning a cappella producer) Bill, who lives in nearby Milpitas.  After a great carb-loading dinner of In-N-Out, I drifted off to sleep, only to wake the following morning for Bill to take me to the race start in downtown San Jose.

San Jose does Rock!
I met up with my Black Sheep Run friends, quite tired still from my crazy Saturday of running, driving, and flying, but got myself to the start and we were off.  For this race, I ran with my portable Ultimate Ears speaker, providing some great music for everyone along the course, rather than at just the mile markers. I'll be honest, the course was not very memorable - in fact, I thought it was a bit boring.  A couple streets were, though, in particular on The Alameda, where we had an out-and-back and saw the elite racers headed toward the finish line while we were still at the 5 mile mark.  The course took us down Santa Clara Street, looping us northward on N. 11th St.  We ran for 4.5 miles around the Northside and Japantown areas, before looping back to the startline area, where we could see the CGI crew tearing down the start as we ran past.

14 mph?  Don't think so...

We ran in the other direction on Santa Clara Street (westward), then making a slight right onto The Alameda, and then ran about five miles through a very residential area of San Jose, called the Rose Garden.  I was so exhausted by this point, so I was walking periodically and not really paying attention to a strict interval. At one point we ran past the nicely manicured Municipal Rose Garden and then later, the Rosicrucian Egyptian Museum, one of the country's most iconic museums devoted to all things Ancient Egypt.  We returned back to The Alameda and Santa Clara Street, for the last two miles headed to the finish line.  One amusing part was running past a vehicle speed checker that was definitely not tracking our speed correctly, as it was clocking times that were far faster than what we were running.

Meb!!!!
By the time we were at mile 12.5, my speaker had run out of battery, so I just chugged it out in silence till reaching the finish line on Park Avenue in front of the Plaza de Cesar Chavez.  I crossed in 2:31:45, which was fine by me, considering how tired I was (and how much I wasn't a fan of the course), and then proceeded to meet up with my friends, some of who were the newest "Hall of Fame" recipients, receiving the humongous gold microphone medal that I will be getting in November in Las Vegas.  We took lots of photos (of course) and grabbed some beers... and I managed to meet Meb Keflezighi, top American marathoner, once again -- he had placed 2nd at this race, at the age of 40! I then spent the remainder of the day with Bill, surprising our mutual friends Julia and George (who actually lived around the corner from the race course!), and then having an awesome pizza dinner with Bill's parents, also good friends of mine, near the retirement community they live in in nearby Pleasanton.  Bill then took me back to San Jose, to the airport, where I got on my redeye flight back to NYC!

2nd victory headstand for the weekend!

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