A Tale of Two Cities

Hello, everybody!  I’m back from Las Vegas where I accomplished my 3 primary goals: 1) I didn’t get arrested.  2) I didn’t get fired (yet?) and 3) I didn’t lose everything.  I lost a good bit, but not everything.  Mission accomplished!

A week ago, I was in Hickory.  The day before yesterday, I was in Vegas.  It’s been an interesting week.  Here’s a little recap.

Hickory – The Charity Chase Half Marathon

I ran this race 2 years ago and had a great time.  While the race itself was brutally hilly, it was one of those small races, like China Grove and a few others, that’s organized like a big one – great SWAG, great post-race, etc. etc.  I missed it last year and hoped I’d get a chance to run it this year – I did.

Luckily, the race fell on an open week that fit nicely into my marathon training schedule.  Thursday night,  I navigated over to the website and registered.

Friday afternoon, with nothing much else going on (other than a mad dash to get organized for Vegas), I decided to drive up to the expo.  With a 6:30 a.m. race day start time, I thought it wise to find my way around the day before, figure out where to park and where the starting line would be, etc., as there would be a very tight window on Saturday morning – I’d have to leave my place by 5:00.

I got to the expo, admittedly sparse, and picked up my packet, along with my free pair of Balega socks – one of the many perks of this race.  I chatted with the Balega rep, Carlene I believe was her name, about our mutual friend Jordan, also a Balega slinger.  I spent maybe 10 minutes total at the expo.  On the way out, I made note of a nearby parking lot and I hit the road back to Cornelius.

Saturday morning, I was up around 4:00 to ensure myself plenty of time and I still cut it pretty close, leaving my place just past 5:00 and arriving in Hickory a little after 6:00.  I had just enough time to park, chat with Chas, Dean, and Todd briefly, and then hit the port-a-john, before the race started.  Before I was fully awake, the race had begun.

The plan was to use this as a little experiment – I am all about one more shot at qualifying for Boston and I was hoping to use this race to gain valuable insight.  I wanted to run by heart rate and start getting a better feel for it.  Never, ever, again do I want to feel like I did running the Boston marathon and I think the best way to avoid that is by following the heart – the heart rate doesn’t lie.

So I settled in with the intent of keeping the heart rate around the low 150’s.  I ran with Dean for the first 5 miles or so until I lost him when he walked through a water stop.  We were extremely fortunate to have perfect running conditions – the temperature was sub-60 at the start – and I cruised comfortably, keeping an eye on the heart rate throughout.  Low 140’s?  Speed up a little.  High 150’s?  Slow down.

The 2012 Charity Chase Half went much more smoothly for me than had the 2010 version.  I was 2-years wiser, the course had been changed to include more downhills and fewer uphills, the start was earlier and the temperature about 30 degrees cooler.  I throttled back, relaxed and comfortable, and cruised.

Letting my heart rate guide me, my splits were directionally proportional  to the elevation – slower uphill and quicker downhill, obviously.  I figured by sticking to a heart rate of around 150 or so, I could keep every split under 7:50 (goal marathon pace for a Boston-qualifying 3:25), which I did easily with the only exception being a 7:55 on a hilly mile 10.

Exiting the hilly park around mile 11, I spotted ubiquitous road-racer Richard Hefner up ahead and I decided to pick things up a bit to see if I could reel him in.  It would be nice for once to be the passer instead of the passee.  There was a water stop at about mile 12, where Richard walked through.  I, coughing and choking after my attempt to drink went badly, caught up to Richard.  He chatted with me briefly while I tried to catch my breath after nearly drowning in a 4-ounce cup of water.  But once I quit gagging, I still felt great and I picked up the pace with only one tough hill left.

One person had passed me after the early stages of the race – some young guy in the park.  I saw him climbing the hill and I made a concerted effort to catch him.  While I came close, I couldn’t quite get there.  According to my Garmin, I finished in 1:38:14.  I’ll take it.

Afterward, I talked with Chas, Dean, Todd, Kathy (Todd’s fiance), and Carol (Dean’s wife).  The post-race was great,  as expected – free beer and pizza, among other things – albeit without Biscuitville biscuits which made me a tad sad and nostalgic.  Thanks to Chris Neaville from St. Louis, I fell one place shy of receiving a cool bobblehead age-group trophy (see below).  What’s a guy from St. Louis doing running in Hickory?!

Chas’ age-group trophy. Chris Neaville from St. Louis cost me one of these. I need to get fit, find a race in St. Louis that he’s running, and return the favor (photo courtesy Chas Willimon).

But I left this race with much optimism, something that has been in short supply around Casa Strickland since Boston.  Sub-7:30 pace on a hilly course felt really easy.  If I stick to a solid training plan, and if I can stave off injury (the Achilles flared up a bit post-race), 7:50 pace on a fast course should be imminently doable.  Cross fingers here.

Dean, me, and Chas, all happy to be finished. Todd ran off somewhere and missed getting in the pic (photo courtesy Chas Willimon).

Las Vegas

Sunday, still a little tight from the race the day before, I departed for Vegas for a work conference.  I felt a little dorky wearing compression socks under my jeans, but hey, a sore/tight runner’s gotta do what a sore/tight runner’s gotta do.  As is my habit, I arrived at Charlotte Douglas a couple of hours before my flight was set to depart – I like to give myself plenty of time for any unforeseen contingencies, like say, for example, a packed parking lot which is exactly what I encountered.  I was starting to get panicky as I drove up and down each lane until I discovered a tiny spot between 2 huge SUV’s parallel parked against the fence.  I wedged my little Camry in with a few inches to spare on either end.  I had to gamble on other cars leaving before I got back so these 2 behemoths would have room to maneuver – otherwise, somebody would be beating up my car to force their way out.

My 4+ hour flight went surprisingly smoothly, USAir’s food charges notwithstanding (no free food anymore – really USAir?  A $700+ flight and you can’t throw us a bag of pretzels?  Sad.)  When we landed, the guy next to me said, “That was one of the worst flights I’ve ever been on” and I tried to figure out why – no turbulence, smooth landings, etc. etc.  Must of been the food charges.

Once in Vegas, Dave (a co-worker) and I got registered and hit our rooms at the Wynn.  I was a little taken aback at how nice the room was – I mean I expected nice, but not this nice.  When you entered the room and hit the light switch, the shades automatically withdrew from an expansive picture window to reveal this stunning view:

Nice view from the 38th floor of the Wynn.

But I didn’t hang in the room and admire the view for long.  I was in Vegas – let the games begin!  I wandered around the cavernous monstrosity of a casino that is the Wynn until I stumbled upon the Race/Sports Book (where one places sports and horse racing bets).  I discovered the spread was 5 points on the Boston/Miami NBA playoff game – that is, they were giving Boston 5, at home.  Sold – I placed my bet on the Celtics.

A few minutes later, I won the following with a video poker hand that included 4 Aces:

Picture complete with redaction because maybe I’ve seen Casino too many times and I imagine some mafia guys being upset if the barcode and other information gets splashed all over the internet.

I won my NBA bet and a few more hands of video poker and just like that, within a couple of hours of arriving into town, I was up $500 and ready to become a professional gambler.  I stuck my money in the hotel safe and went to sleep with a smile on my face.

I set the alarm for 5:00 since that was 8:00 back home and I was still on east coast time.  When it went off, I jumped up, put my running clothes on, and hit the strip for a little run through Vegas.  Here’s some of what I learned.  A mile outside of the strip, things get less and less glitzy and more and more dirty – there are fewer and fewer casinos and more and more pawn shops and adult book stores.  There is a large population of homeless people in Las Vegas – I wonder if many of them started out as tourists.  There are a ton of pigeons down from the strip – how do the big casinos keep them down from the strip and not on the strip?

Anyway, I ran early every morning, and every morning I encountered the same homeless people.  By Wednesday morning, they were waving and saying ‘Good Morning’.  But other than befriending the homeless, nothing particularly eventful happened while running.

By Wednesday night, I had blown through my $500 surplus and was now operating on a deficit.  I will leave you with one last story that should help explain Vegas.  At one point, I was up as I had a $130 balance on my video poker machine and I was ready to cash out when a waitress walked up and asked me if I’d like a drink – I ordered a beer.  I waited for a minute and then thought, “Well, I might as well play a couple of hands while I wait”.  When the waitress finally returned, my balance was $20.  I took my $110 Corona ($112 Corona with tip), cashed out,  and sulked all the way back to my room.  Ever wonder how they’re able to serve ‘free’ drinks in Vegas?  Wonder no more.

It was a pretty surreal week, bookended by Hickory and Las Vegas.  With apologies to Charles Dickens, it was the best of times, it was the worst of times.  I’m ready to get back to my life, back to some proper marathon training, sans $110 Coronas, video poker machines, and ubiquitous pigeons, well ubiquitous everywhere except near the big casinos.  Let’s exit the strip and get back on Allen’s Road to Boston.

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3 Responses to “A Tale of Two Cities”

  1. Richard Hefner Says:

    Congrats on the big winnings in Las Vegas! You looked strong in the last mile at the Charity Chase. I prefer to think of myself as semi-ubiquitous. Bobby Aswell… Now HE’S ubiquitous!

  2. Chris Neaville from St. Louis Says:

    Are you running Charity Chase this year?

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