Coming into the Thunder Road Half Marathon in Uptown Charlotte, North Carolina, I was keenly aware of the reputation of this race: a ton of inclines v. declines that test the calf muscles and will power of most runners. They don’t call it Thunder Road for no reason!
After hiking through the Red Rock Canyon trails out in Colorado, my friend ilana drove us over to the Red Rock Amphitheater. Having never heard of this place before (yes music is not one of my expertise categories in life), I was intrigued to see this venue carved out in the middle of these beautiful Red Rock Canyons. We toured the “wall of fame” and saw all the artists and bands that performed over the years: The Beatles, Jimi Hendrix, Bruce Springsteen, The Allman Brothers Band, The Grateful Dead, R.E.M., Fleetwood Mac, Dave Matthews Band, Phish, Coldplay, and of course local folk rocker John Denver (and hundreds more not listed).
The amphitheater is a rock structure where concerts are given in the open-air amphitheater. There is a large, tilted, disc-shaped rock behind the stage, a huge vertical rock angled outwards from stage right, several large outcrops angled outwards from stage left and a seating area for up to 9,450 people in between. This was some sight to see during the daytime, I can only fathom the experience at night under the stars.
Overlooking the railing at the top of the amphitheatre, we saw row after row of seating (no seatbacks, just benches). The rows were spaced apart to the point where you would have to take one very large stride to reach the next row. There were a handful of people running the stairs from bottom to top & top to bottom while other people were running up one row and then down another. And of course, you had a couple characters who were flat out insane doing all sorts of intense pushup’s and lunges from one side to the other in the seating area (it hurt to look at!). I had every intent on soaking up the surrounding scenery from the impressive architectural layout to standing on a stage where so many legendary performers have played over the years. However, watching people train at this venue quickly became too good an opportunity to pass up. I had to improvise and seize the opportunity…
I asked my friend ilana to film several clips for Run 4 Papa campaign in the amphitheater at altitude. Just like running in the south can help prepare for long distance races due to the heat, the altitude is a solid test of how fit one actually is. Not surprisingly, while running these steps and rows, the altitude attacked my lungs and forced shorter breaths as fatigue set in at a faster rate. The recovery time was far harsher than I envisioned, but another important learning experience that will be invaluable out on The Great Wall of China.
All in all, it was a memorable experience and one which I was appreciative to share with my friends and all of you who continue to support the cause to raise awareness for PPA research on behalf of all patients and families fighting everyday for a cure.
Sitting in Row 15, Seat C flying toward La Guardia airport, I was contemplating which area of NYC to run through on this visit. My little brother Jared normally would’ve mapped out a plan of attack for the entire weekend of fun adventures; however, on this particular getaway, he was off to Israel making his own plan of attack: a wedding proposal!
Fortunately, my little sister Natalie (who interned in Manhattan last summer) had plenty of advice on places to run. One of her suggestions was High Line: a 1.45 mile section of the former elevated freight railroad running along the lower west side of Manhattan which has been redesigned and planted as an aerial greenway. The recycling of the railway into an urban park has spurred real estate development in the neighborhoods which lie along the line.
On my previous trip to Manhattan, I was told to visit the Chelsea Market (highly recommend by the way) but was not aware of this new development nearby. My sister mentioned that it was a touristy hot spot and wasn’t confident that I would be able to run this stretch due to the clutter of visitors. With that in mind, I woke up around 8AM, threw on some gear and walked to the subway.
As I emerged from the subway and headed toward High Line, I sensed this was going to be a different type of experience. Thankfully, there were only a handful of people at High Line when I started my run from Gansevoort Street in the Meatpacking District through the neighborhood of Chelsea and finished near the Jarvits Convention Center.
Throughout my run, I saw people relaxing in rolling lounges positioned for river views and vendors underneath the windy overhangs selling works of art promoting city culture. I saw an area that had several clear blocks of glass where you could sit on benches that overlooked Manhattan’s west side skyline. Other features of this urban park’s attractions included naturalized plantings and unexpected views of the city and Hudson river.
After running one full length of High Line, I turned around and started heading back toward the other side. On my jog back, there were noticeably more people out and about taking in the sights and sounds of the city. As I was neared the end of my run, there was a lady who started following me snapping her camera pretty rapidly. I thought I was in her way until she asked, “Aren’t you supposed to be in Texas?”
This caught me off-guard because I originally convinced my brother weeks back that I was going to be in Dallas celebrating my birthday over this weekend. The purpose: to distract him from thinking I would actually be in NYC so that I could surprise him and his fiancée upon their return from Israel.
“All I want is a picture and an autograph. I won’t create a scene but my husband will appreciate it!” I asked her who she thought I was and she replied, “Justin Verlander.” Being from Michigan, I was flattered by the comparison (even though I don’t see it), and took a picture with her and said again, “You’re husband is going to know that I am not Verlander.” She laughed and said, “Sign this and I will let him decide…”
I signed the piece of paper and handed her my Run 4 Papa business card. Hopefully, when her husband sees the digital picture, he will affirm that I am not Justin Verlander, but rather a guy looking to promote PPA research instead. And if they are still not convinced, maybe they will choose to make a contribution and spread the word on behalf of Justin Verlander and his supporters at Run 4 Papa.
I have been looking forward to my latest race for quite some time. Having never run a trail race before, I was told by many friends to purchase trail shoes as opposed to my normal running pair. Trail shoes are made to better absorb the rough terrain and provide extra support around your feet.
I walked into my favorite running store, Run For Your Life, and went to get my bib for the race. To my surprise, the employees behind the counter said that 11 bibs had been “pre-stamped.” I asked “What does that mean?” It meant there were giveaways like shoes, runnnig shirts, and other gear being raffled to a handful of runners post-race. I took this as a good omen, purchased a pair of trail shoes and headed to meet my good friend Adam for a pasta dinner at Maggiano’s: gnocchi with vodka sauce and sausage…delicious!
The night before the race, I layed out my gear (superstitious -yea I’ll own it). My alarm went off at 6:57 AM (yes another superstition) and I headed out to the race located at the White Water Center in Charlotte, NC. The temperature was in the high 70’s by the start of the race and I felt really comfortable and ready to run.
The race had about 400 runners and I learned real quickly that passing people on a trail run was not something that was going to happen very often due to the narrowness, slope and tight angles of the path. It was more single file leading into the woods which was an easy way to keep the pace.
Once inside the woods, I remembered what my good friend Christy said, “Make sure to watch your feet at all times!” Excellent advice. There were tons of roots sticking out, big dips & sloped inclines as well as miscellaneous natural debris scattered throughout the trail.
This race was so different than all the others because for the most part, it was utter silence. The only supporters along the way were a handful of Run For Your Life Employees at 2 water stations and directing the flow of the route. It was so calm and peaceful to be jogging in the woods. Normally, I feed off the crowd cheering me on, but this serene quietness was a completely different type of atmosphere, which I was starting to love mile by mile.
The challenging part was balancing the quick dips versus the steeper inclines. While running downhill, I had to carefully slow down my body and use a lot more energy due to the sharp declines. Contrastingly, on the steep uphills, I would quickly run up the path. I knew that if I went at my normal pace, I would expend too much energy and be too fatigued moving forward. This tactic proved wise as I could recover at the top when the path leveled out.
Overall, the race was a winding and weaving trail with obstacles all along the way: avoiding numerous roots, running alongside the water and doing my best not to turn an ankle with the awkward slopes. This was a fantastic experience and without a doubt, will not be my last trail race.
22 Time Marathon WINNER Bill Rodgers Endorses Run4Papa!
I I was told there was a man named Bill who had run the Boston Marathon 4 times and would be the keynote speaker. Whether it was because I was up at the crack of dawn, or just flat out didn’t hear the information clearly, I was thrilled to be part of any event partnering running with a local charity. I filmed the registration of the event, some warm-up exercises and did an introduction for our staff. I saw Bill speaking to some people, taking pictures, and signing autographs. It was sinking in that I had not heard the whole story about this man but I had to prep for the race.
We counted down from 10 and the race began. I got out of the gate quickly as I had to film the start, portions of the race, and an interview with Bill afterwards. I ran about halfway and stopped in order to film some of the runners. As I saw Bill approaching (he had gotten a late start due to being swarmed by fans), I felt comfortable with my footage and continued running the second half of the 5K. He had was been running alone at a steady pace…
We struck up a conversation about running immediately and briefly discussed how international the sport has become over the past couple of decades. “There are races anywhere and everywhere. No matter what the language or location, you can challenge yourself on any part of the globe,” said Bill. My immediate curiosity got the best of me and I asked him, “Is it true you have run the Boston Marathon 4 times?” Without being pretentious or condescending he replied,
“Actually I ran it 17 times. I won it 4.”
To tell you I wanted to crawl in a cave and hibernate for a season or two is being awfully generous.
I am positive he sensed my embarrassment; however, we continued running and talked as if we had been friends for years. He was so grounded and friendly. I asked him how many marathons he had won. “22. Boston 4 times, New York City 4 times, Rio de Janeiro, Stockholm, Japan…” I asked him about the pressure of 3-peating the Boston Marathon from ’78-80 (he informed me of the exact dates ) and he just had a confidence about him that was contagious.
He just loves to run.
He asked me “Have you ever considered running a marathon?” It was this question that lead me to explain the Run 4 Papa campaign. He mentioned he once ran the Beijing Marathon and came up 1 mile short. My face must’ve shifted color and expression as Bill chuckled and said,
“Well, I was trying to win it and not just finish!”
As we were nearing the finish line, he offered his full support for the cause and asked me if he could endorse the website on camera. Here was a living legend offering his endorsement to raise awareness about PPA. I was floored and honored.
After our interview, Bill was kind enough to give me his contact information and said, “Make sure you call me when you get back to Charlotte.”
I guarantee this time I will be well prepared for our conversation…