Saturday, June 25, 2011

Rock & Roll Seattle Marathon

I’m so conflicted about the Rock and Roll Seattle Marathon. I love Rock and Roll. Joan Jett said that. I like running with music. I don’t like spending a bunch on a marathon, or running on pavement, generally. I don’t like shuttles or mandatory expos. I don’t really like crowds, but the Rock and Roll Marathon crowd is always a kick.

Despite any reservations I may have, at the end of the day, I always have a good time at the Rock & Roll events. I’ve now done a couple R&R marathons in Seattle, and a couple in San Diego, including the first one. The organization has come a long way since that first one, where they ran out of water at every aid station.

The music:  I heard two different bands play “Do you come from a land down under…” One had a violin. They were blasting Boston’s Don’t Look Back at the I-90 bridge turnaround, which I will forever now associate with George Clooney and Men Who Stare At Goats. Everclear was at the finish, I heard, but I sort of missed that. There was this one band in sailor suits with a female lead covering Led Zeppelin’s Rock and Roll. A lot of other great bands, set up about every two miles. The most music is in the first half of the race.

I ran with my friend Keri--running her third R&R Seattle, and I think she got a PR for the marathon, running a great race. I ran sort of easy, but the pounding on pavement beat up my feet by the end of the day. I had a good time taking pictures, high-fiving people, and just chattering. The people watching is terrific.

We had a debate as to which course is better, the Rock and Roll Seattle course, or the Seattle Marathon course. Last time I did the R&R Seattle, I thought it was better, as the mountain was out, and it was a beautiful day. Not so much today, and so now I'm leaning in the direction Keri took, favoring the Seattle Marathon course. I think I go that way because Seattle doesn't require a shuttle bus, which adds a lot of time to the event on both the front and back end. I had to get up at 3:45 to make the race. Too early.

Before the race, I was also unhappy about the "No Exceptions" requirement that persons attend the Expo in person to obtain their number on Thursday or Friday.  No family or friends pickups allowed. The Expo closes at 7 PM, which is really tough to get to for someone working on Thursday or Friday (imagine that) in a distant town like Bellingham, especially when they also have to fight game day traffic for baseball in the evening. They made a race day accommodation for me, so props to them for that. I had very real conflicts this particular week for both evenings. But still--a little frustrating.

Weather was overcast for most of the day, with one break in the sun on the bridge. I saw a number of people I know, either running or cheering—congrats and thanks to all. The course itself is not a quick one--there are particularly long uphill stretches on Aurora Avenue around Mile 16 through 20.

R&R was a fine way to get in miles as I train for longer distances for later this year. The event has a really great vibe once out on the course—bands, cheerleaders, Teams in Training, people in their yards with their boom boxes, doing their best Lloyd Doblers for the runners. I’ve always enjoyed the race part of the event. Everything else is a bit of a hassle, but obviously I seem to keep doing it, so I guess these points are tolerable. R&R is also a different animal amongst Northwest races, with so many more participants than other races (20,000+?), and so much on course support. "Cytomax, cytomax." The aid stations are over a 100 yards long sometimes.

Next up is Knee Knacker in North Vancouver. Excited--it is supposed to be a classic, and it has been on my list for a while. I guess it is back to the trails, Canada style.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Counting The Costs

Ironman New York charged $900 per entry this year, and sold out in 15 minutes.  The New York Marathon is now over $200, and maybe one in five get in via lottery.  I’m running Rock and Roll Seattle this weekend—they charge $140 or so, unless you register early, in which case you get the “deal” of $90 or so.  Sold out months ago. Western States is this weekend too---GOOD LUCK Rich, Monica and other friends—I think that one cost nearly $400. If you're reading this, you probably know about the odds of getting into that one.

On the other end of the spectrum, I ran Lake Youngs Ultra a week or two ago, signing up two days before:  $40, which got me aid along the way, a great barbq at the end, and significant goodies to boot.  I know the Green River Marathon earlier this month was free, as always, and is rightfully proud of the fact.  Lost Lake 50k at $40 is one of the greatest deals on the Planet Known As Earth, considering the trails, the amenities, the RD.  Skagit Flats is also a great deal.  Waving the flag for the Skagit peeps on the last two a bit, but if you know them, you also know they’re too legit to quit. 

OK, so prices of races differ, as does availability.  Some races are a total ripoff, others are great deals.  What more to say about the inequities in pricing?  There is a Latin phrase, "Res Ipso Facto," which means, "the thing speaks for itself," or maybe in rapper terms, it is what it is. And so it is, but I'm going to lay down a few comments about costs just the same.

Now, I try not to run races that I think are a total jip, but this is easier said than done.  It seems the bigger the event, both in reputation and racer counts, the higher the cost.  Big city events charge more too.  Truth be told, I end up paying the higher prices sometimes, rationalizing the purchase with old truisms like “this is my life, we only live once," "it's only money" and "I can afford it.” So, this year I put in for New York, I put in for Western States.  I guess despite the price inequity, I’m still buying. I can rationalize with the best of them. 

It would be nice if there was more talk was out there about the cost of races.  Invoke market forces, Grand Economy. It would be nice if some races dropped their prices--when do you hear about that happening? Maybe make a big deal about it too. "We slash prices."  Put some price pressure on these Nordstrom type races. It might be fun to have races use Groupon or auction the entry fees. Sell in bulk, like Costco. The Rainshadow already gives you miles and views in bulk.

For the non-profit races, it  would also be nice if race budgets get a little more exposure. Maybe websites could publish budgets, so runners know how much goes for what. There is opportunity to highlight volunteer activity with such things too. Scandals do happen with races--witness the Seattle Marathon's donation PR fiasco of a couple years ago.

One reason I do ultras more these days is that it costs less than marathoning, generally.  It’s not the only reason, or the main reason, but it is a consideration.   I’ve done many road marathons, but they’re now mostly above $70, with many creeping towards $150.  

Meanwhile, many ultras are under $50, and some are free.  Ultras often give you a choice and prices break related to shirts.  And even when an ultra is more expensive—for example, $195 for Cascade Crest 100, its still usually a great deal, considering the all night aid stations, the big breakfast (in CC's case), search and rescue needs, RD extraordinary efforts, and all the other typical amenities. 

So that’s race fees.  Travel costs are another thing.  This year already I’ve raced in Virginia.  Canada too, but that doesn’t really count for budget purposes, since their money is different.  But travel can get expensive.  I spent a bunch on trips to Colorado, California, Utah, Hawaii, Virginia and New Mexico the past couple years. Money well spent, but I try not to go overboard.

Shoes.  I go through lots of them.  Socks.  Gels.  Stinger waffles.  Skittles.  Jackets, sleeves, hats, water carrying devices.  Shorts.  I never buy shirts—I have too many of them already. Running clubs. Subscriptions. Yak Trax. Gloves. More socks.

Anyway, the costs all add up.  I spend a whole lot more on running than I used to.  That’s fine—events, running and friends have a bigger part of my life.  I could wrap this post up in some tidy conclusion, saying it’s worth it, etc., and we’ll all live healthily ever after.  And maybe that's true.

But I don't wish to obfuscate my real point, which is that I do indeed pay attention to costs when making my recreational decisions. And some races are a ripoff.  I’m running one this weekend. 

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Lake Youngs Ultra

I ran the Lake Youngs Ultra today, an annual event put on by Arthur and Jenn Martineau down by Lake Youngs in Renton.  They do a terrific job, offering a great event at a great price, with a wonderful barbq afterwards. There are always good friends and familiar faces there.

I think this was my third time running the event, and I was content with my time, which was about what I ran the last time I did it, a few years ago. Take that, Age! As if I really set the bar high....Anyway, we had good running weather today, with overcast skies, temps in about the 50s.

I didn't sign up until the last minute, but I realized I needed some good miles, and I wasn't likely to get an adequate amount without the push an event can give. So, I got up early, and left the MV around 5:10, stopping for coffee on the way out, and managed to show up with about 10 minutes before the event. BTW--really liking the new Death Cab for Cutie album, which got me a long way down the road. That, and coffee. My cousin told me today he thought I lived for early morning coffee and long drives to races.

The Lake Youngs course is on a wide trail, circling a lake which is sort of mythical, inasmuch as I don't think it is ever viewable. Three loops of the 9+ mile loop make for the ultra, which I believe comes in at 28.8 miles. Some do more, some do less. There are gentle hills, which get a bit bigger towards the end, and for me a big part of this event is seeing how well I can push through these hills during the last two laps.

Today, the first lap I started slow, in fact starting a minute behind everyone, because I was still getting situated. I didn't feel all that good at first, which seems a little too usual anymore, but seemed to blow through it. I had the shuffle on all day. I ran half the second lap with Mike, who was completing his 12th marathon in as many weeks. The third lap I just kind of plowed through.

A course record was set. Not by me--another guy. As if I really needed to clarify that, but I will say--he was running really smooth, when he lapped me towards the end of my second lap. The burgers at the end were great. Also, the Martineaus had a number of post-race giveaways which were very generous. Smiles all around. Took a bit of a soak in the brrrr baby pool at the finish.

After the race, I stopped in Kirkland in hopes of seeing my cousin's new son, but didn't luck out, but got good catch-up time just the same. Finished the day watching the NCAA Track and Field Championships on taped delay. Pretty cool watching those college teams and athletes go for it.

A lot of events this weekend have my running friends spread out all over. Best wishes to all at Beacon Rock, San Diego, and whereever else the running winds blow.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

National Trails Day

Great weather this weekend--the first days over 70 degrees in roughly 6 months. I probably should've went east early in the morning, but didn't find the motivation for the drive. Instead, I figured I'd work my way around Blanchard a couple times. Turns out I felt sort of sick, or maybe it was adjusting to the weather, but I did not make good time. Perhaps I need events on the schedule a bit more just to keep my miles up. Just going with the flow.

I didn't realize it, but Saturday was National Trails Day, and the Washington State Department of Natural Resources decided to focus its attention on Blanchard Mountain trails. There were more cars at Blanchard then I'd ever seen, and several horse trailers. It was awesome to see the trails filled with trail workers, helping out from several groups, including WIMPS, PNWT Association, Whatcom Backcountry Horsemen, and a hangglider group. Horses were packing gravel in, barbq at the lower parking lot, teams of trailworkers pretty far up in the trail system. I passed between 50 and 75 trail workers, and no fewer than 15 horses.

Thank you to all who volunteered their time, energy and resources to one of my favorite places to run! It means a lot. It also reminds me that I need to put in some time soon for CC.