April 28, 2013

Nashville Rock N Roll Weekend Recap and Race Report

Did you know if you rearrange the letters in the word NASHVILLE you can spell HILLS A NEV - I'm pretty sure that's Greek for Hills that never end!  But we'll get to that!  First a little background...

The Country Music Marathon is the first Rock N Roll race that I've done since Vegas last December, and only my second RnR ever!  Better yet, this was the first sponsored race that I entered as a member of TeamREFUEL after earning my spot from the video I made at the Vegas Race.  This icing on the cake of course was winning the #RnRSlimDown contest from the competitor group.  (click any of the links if you're new to my blog)

Because of the obligation to be at the expo by 11:00 a.m. on Friday, I picked Pete up at 5:30 a.m. and we were rolling making decent time, but we were able to dial back the pace when we realized that Nashville was actually on Central Time!  Oops, but it all worked out as we were able to take our time and relax on the way down.

Once we arrived in Nashville we got parked and made our way to the expo at the convention center.  Got my bib, shirt, swag bag, and made my way to the REFUEL booth.  There I met the team rep who hooked me up with my VIP pass for the weekend.  I didn't have long to chat as it was 10:45, so I made my way to the stage area to find my contact but found no one.  Finally found the moderator, John Bingham, for the featured session, and he had NO IDEA who I was or what I was supposed to be doing!  Oh great!  Thankfully, my contact did show up and hooked me up with the 2 VIP passes (yes Pete got one and one went to waste), and said that the UP band was not there they would have to mail it to me.  She said Danni was on her way and explained the contest to the moderator.

Within minutes, Danni arrived, and I was introduced.  Immediately got this first picture with her which was posted to Facebook by the race saying "True inspiration- #RnRslimdown winner Chris Day and Danni Allen - Biggest Loser 14 at the health & fitness expo! Proof that you can achieve anything you put your mind to!"  AWESOME!  Then they quickly rushed her off to get ready for the session telling me there would be time for me to speak with her later.  Once she was on stage with John, the crowd grew ten times over!  The interview was fascinating.  She answered questions and spoke very openly about the experience.  Everything from the second she found out she was on the show and on the bus with the other contestants on the way to the ranch to the finale and beyond.  While the behind the scene details of the show were very insightful, I was really more interested in her current goals, thoughts, plans, fears, struggles, challenges, successes, and life in general, as this is where I am today.  Here are the key takeaways I got out of it.  1) Have a plan.  This is her first half marathon, all part of a bigger goal to run her first full marathon in her hometown of Chicago this October!  2) Log your food.  She says this is still the key as she is somewhat OCD about journaling, but insists that it is critical to know what you ate, when you ate it, and what you did the day before you gained a pound or two on the scales.  Study it, and learn from it.  3) Surround yourself with the right people.  Your support network has to be strong, and you have to walk away from every hint of negativity in your life.  Believe in yourself and know that you are the only you in this world, so be the best you you can be!  (I hung on every word).

Finally the moment came when John announced the SlimDown contest winner - ME!  I got a nice round of applause as he brought me on stage, and the first question from John "So tell us how much you slimmed down", to which I smiled, paused, and then spoke confidently - 107 pounds!  Wow, I got an even bigger round of applause!  I looked at Danni and said, "Not as good as Danni's 121, but I'm not done yet"  

With that John was pretty well done with me, but he did allow me to sit down on stage next to Danni as he went into the crowd to take questions from the masses.  The first question was from a Yoga instructor who wanted to ask her about Yoga and her thoughts.  Ultimately it turned into a conversation on cross training.  When Danni finished answering the question, she turned to me and was nice enough to ask if I had anything to add.  I took the chance to mention swimming, and in the same breath turned the question back to her.  Something that had been on my mind, so I asked her.  "You were such a strong swimmer in the challenges on the show, have you ever thought about getting into triathlons?  Afterall, Tara raced an Ironman in Kona after her season."  She smiled and said that she actually did her first Sprint Tri while she was at the Biggest Loser resort and really enjoys the spin bike, so it was not out of the question.  She said she had already talked to Tara about it!  I believe that was the end of my involvement.  I didn't expect anyone in the audience to ask me a question, and I didn't think it was my place to say anything else unless I was asked, so I just sat there and smiled for the duration.

When it was all done, she stood up and hugged me, and I kid you not was swept away quickly by her handler to get to the St. Jude booth for a meet and greet.  I didn't feel like I had gotten any one on one time with her like I had anticipated, so I followed the crowd.  Upon arriving, a line quickly formed of people wanting to meet her and get their pic taken with her.  I positioned myself right beside her, dropped my bags and with my body language basically was saying, I'm not going anywhere!  I helped speed the line up by offering to take pictures for fans as they took their turns with her.  She could not have been any more pleasant.  Always smiling, and taking the time to ask every single person their name and where they were from.  Always hugging instead of shaking hands, and showing a genuine concern and love for every person she spoke with.  At one point even commenting that her cheeks always hurt from smiling so much, but she figures she has strong cheek muscles and is burning calories with every smile! 
As I sensed the line coming to an end, and her next obligation coming, I called Molly via Facetime, and gave her the chance to do something very few will ever do - Facetime with Danni Allen!  Molly was smiling the whole time, and I'm not sure they could really understand each other, but in true Danni fashion, she smiled the whole time telling her how sorry she was that she couldn't be there.  Molly actually thought quick enough to screen shot the moment.  Once that was done, I grabbed her and said I need one more favor!  My oldest daughter was equally disappointed that she couldn't come and made this card for me to bring to you and ask for an autograph.  Without hesitating, she asked what her name was and wrote the following, "Hey Morgan, thanks for all the support.  Hope to see you soon. XO Danni Allen BL14" How sweet is that?  

She granted me one last picture (my favorite by far) And as quickly as it began, it was over!

With that highlight done, it was time to thank my sponsor!  Made my way over to the REFUEL booth, and finally got to meet my teammate Jesus from California.  Jesus is running all but 3 RnR races in the country this year.  This is already like number 7, and he's not just half crazy - he does fulls...and he's pretty fast too!  Was great to finally meet him after chatting online for many months.  Also got a chance to get some "official" photos around the booth with the rep for their use.  Didn't hang out too long, but couldn't say thank you enough to the group!

 Pete and I took our time trolling the expo, and enjoying some free samples, but it was well past noon, and we were in need of some food!  We hit "The District" and found bar after bar after bar, every one of them with live music!  A very cool area where we ultimately ended up in an upstairs open air covered patio overlooking the busy street below!  Had an awesome lunch and then it was time to find the hotel.

 We headed toward the Hotel Preston which is near the airport, got checked in and decided it was okay to just REST!  Kicked back and got caught up with facebook and twitter news, and I smiled to see that both Rock n Roll marathons and Danni Allen are now following me on twitter.  Called around to check on reservations for a few places, but ultimately decided that we could grab some pizza and pasta at nearby Vanderbilt University and save money from the downtown Nashville experience.  Turns out, good choice!  Enjoyed some great carbs, and then drove aimlessly around Vanderbilt and up and down Nashville's Music Row!  What a cool city!  With that it was back to the hotel where we both fell asleep watching the NFL Draft!
Alarm set for 4:50 a.m., and guess who is awake at 4:40 to hop in the shower first!  Check the weather and forecast to confirm what we should wear, and sure enough, as predicted.  100% chance of heavy rain all morning with a chance for a rumble of thunder.  Temps were about 52 degrees so I went long sleeve tech under my new refuel shirt.  Shorts with my new orange calf sleeves and possibly the most important thing - a cap!  A cap to keep the rain out of your face and eyes is critical.

We loaded the shuttle at 5:30 sharp, and struck up some casual conversation with those around us.  Many were asking who was running their first.  Half or full?  Where else have you ran?  Where are you from?  Can you believe this rain?  etc.  Pete actually saw someone wearing a race shirt from a small race he had done in Michigan last year.  The girl looked at him like "Yeah, right", but he talked the talk, and turns out they are both running the same marathon next month too!  One of the girls saw our bracelets and asked how we got VIP bracelets.  Pete deferred to me as the provider and I paused for a second about how to answer.  I could say I won a contest through the race or I am a member of team REFUEL.  Instead, I said confidently "I'm a sponsored athlete"  (That was fun to say).  Of course it brought on the same confused look that Pete and I got when we told them we both ran a full marathon last week.  I'm guessing they got off the bus calling us a couple of fat liars!

Once we arrived to the village area and unloaded into the rain, it was not raining that hard.  Pete and I made the long walk to the VIP area which was actually a Chili's.  It was packed with race officials, race staff, official pacers, sponsored athletes, elite athletes, etc.  It was a clean dry place just for us with a spread of bananas, bagels, water, juice, and tea and many other goodies, not to mention a clean bathroom.  I spotted Jesus there early and introduced myself to a few others.  By 6:30 Danni arrived, and I greeted her with a hug and wished her good luck.  I leaned in and asked if she had a goal time and she said she'd like to be under 2 hours.  I laughed and told her I saw her 8k time from the Shamrock (sub 40) so she should crush this.  She said yeah, but that was only 5 miles.  I knew she had it.  Her coach Christopher Lane was there (who I found out later via a twitter conversation was from Muncie and graduated from Yorktown - boy did I miss an opportunity there) and the same handler was moving her quickly from obligation to obligation.  She had a couple quick photos and then was gone.

Shortly thereafter my REFUEL rep Lindsey showed up and introduced me to Fireman Rob.  I had read about Rob and his charity efforts before, but didn't make the connection that he was an honorary REFUEL member.  Rob was made famous for completing multiple Ironman races by doing the run in full turnout gear!  He even got to race in the world championships in Kona last year, and finished with 20 minutes to spare!  He asked about my journey and I told him I was doing Ironman Louisville this August, and he said "See you there!"  Outstanding.  His beautiful wife Nicole joined him today to race alongside him for the first time.  Spoiler alert - he finished in 2:42:51!  That's a 12:26 pace in full gear!  I was honored to get my picture taken with the two of them alongside team member Chris Self who is a challenged athlete and runs for CAF with a blade leg - ready for this - he ran a 1:57:33 today - on a blade leg!  Talk about being surrounded by inspiration!

Pete and I headed to our starting corral.  I was supposed to be in 10 and he in 13, so instead we jumped in 9 with the 2 hour pace group.  (Start sooner,
finish sooner).  We packed in tight and got our self pic with our 20000 closest friends in the background before the ceremonies began. At this point Danni just happens to jump into our corral with her coach Christopher and they line up with the 2 hour pace group, so of course I had to yell to her again "Good luck Danni", and as she smiles waves back and says you too, I'm pretty sure in her mind she was thinking "Stalker!".  In my defense I was here first, but yeah, I had my eye on her.  There was a moment of silence for Boston and they had everyone raise the peace sign with the hand that they had their Boston bracelet on.  The only sound was the blades of the helicopter above.  Very cool!  There was a prayer, and the national anthem with EVERYONE joining in by the end!  Chills!

The race was on and Pete and I both seemed to feel good.  I watched Danni stride away with ease, and thought about trying to bust it out today, but I had no intentions of PR today.  The course begins on a slight uphill, but quickly turns down, and down, and down again thus mile 1 at 9:29 was no surprise, but mile 2 at 9:01 had me loving gravity and long legs!  But as we turned the corner block and started heading back in the opposite direction it was up, and up, and up.  Tough pill to swallow going from a 9:01 to a mile 3 pace of 10:18.  My 5k split was officially 30:22, so right around 9:50 was fine for me today.

The pain behind my left knee is on the top part of my calf, and is the very spot that gave me problems at the end of Carmel.  During my massage this week, she worked on this spot, and I have had no pain there all week.  But the combination of the downhill pounding on the knees coupled with my struggled ability to climb hills really put the hurt on me early.  Mile 4 was 10:34 and Mile 5 was 10:25, but caught a little downhill on Mile 6 for 10:03.  My 10k split was officially 1:02:25 and that had me just over a 10:00 pace now.

Jesus caught up to me at this point, running with his GoPro camera, I'm hoping he got some good video, and he pulled me for a bit, but not enough to catch up to Pete who was now starting to pull away from me as we pounded out repeat hills through miles 7 and 8.  Jesus left me, and I lost Pete in the crowd.  Mile 7 fell off to 10:41 but Mile 8 was an embarrassing 11:33.  People were moving by me like I was sitting still, but I maintained my jogging motion as I shortened up my stride to pound through these hills.  Pete and I had studied the elevation and I remember we had decided that getting to mile 8 was the goal, and then the downhills would be more than the ups, so I just tried to stay in motion.

The course left Vanderbilt University and headed down Music Row back toward the downtown.  The trees in Nashville are full of leaves and provided some cover from rain if you could stay to the side, and when I hit a downhill I tried to stride out a little more.  Mile 9 was 10:57 and Mile 10 was 11:09.  This was all I could muster as the pain was starting to creep up the hamstring and into the lower back.  Mile 11 clicked off at 11:23, and despite having decided that jogging every step today would be a victory in and of itself, I finally took my first walking step at the water aid station at mile 11.3 as the full marathoners split off from us to their long course.

The rain is absolutely pounding at this point.  The water is rushing through the streets like fast moving streams.  There is some uphill work to be done in the last couple miles as you enter the elevated downtown, and there is no such thing as a puddle because the water is rushing under your feet coming down the hill at you the whole time.  I walk/jog as I have to but mile 12 is a predictable disappointment at 12:44, and as much as I wanted to run more in the last mile, I could not for a mile 13 of  12:35.

Thankfully as you reach the peak of the hill, the bridge down to LP field (home of the Titans) and the finish line is a beautiful downhill and I'm able to stride out during the last 0.22 (always measures long) and Garmin has my pace at a 8:57 for that last kick for a final official time of 2:21:59.  Not one for the record books, but a battle of wills in these conditions that I hope I never have to race in again coupled with these hills that we just don't have in Yorktown!  Overall: 9344 out of 17829  Division: 704 out of 981  Gender:  4322 out of 6506 - And in case you were still wondering, yes, Danni crushed that 2 hour goal with a 1:53:37 - yeah, that's almost 5 minutes better than my PR - not bad for her first half!  #losersrock

Pete was nice enough to wait for me at the finish line.  He ran a great race at 2:08:35.  The rain and hills got to him, but he seemed to have no pain, and is well on his way to his 4th marathon next month.  I limped through the recovery area for my water, gatorade, banana, and of course my chocolate milk!  Lindsey was there to greet me, and we snapped a few photos.  Got Chocolate Milk actually tweeted out this photo saying  A rainy didn't stop 's & others from a post-race LF choco milk.

Once that was done, there was no question - let's get out of here.  This is how much pain we were in!  We had VIP passes which include a full spread of catered hot food, drinks, and bathrooms in an enclosed covered tent.  Didn't matter - we headed straight for the shuttles and back to the hotel.  The additional factor was that it was now 10:00 and checkout at the hotel was to be 11.

As we sat on the bus, I could feel my back starting to lock up, and continued to squirm to find a comfortable position.  And as we got off the shuttle I hobbled to stand upright.  But once we got to the room and I could peel off the wet layers, and get a hot shower, I was able to stretch it out more efficiently and relieve the pain.  The pain behind my knee, well it is still there 24 hours later!  We loaded the car and drove in the rain most of the way home.  Cracker Barrel was our lunch recovery choice, and when we reached Indy it was Five Guys time for dinner.  I was home before 7 and in bed before 10!

A memorable weekend for sure.  No regrets.  I said all along it was to be a fun weekend that would be a victory lap of sorts to cap off the Spring running season.  I should take a week off from racing, and refocus on the bike and swim as the first triathlon of the year is in less than two weeks and I have yet to ride the bike outside!  I have renewed focus for taking care of myself.  Not only getting my legs back to 100% but also focusing in on my diet and what's going into my mouth.  I've still got a few winter pounds to shed to get myself back to peak performance.

Thanks to my sponsor Got Chocolate Milk and Team REFUEL.  Thanks to the competitor group, Rock n Roll Marathon Series and Danni Allen.  Thanks to my supportive wife and family who allow me to take off for a couple days to experience these opportunities.

Here is a link to additional photos and videos of the race from the local newspaper

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