Monday, January 22, 2007

Scenes from Sedona

On Saturday, Jan. 13, the day before the P.F. Chang's Rock 'n' Roll Arizona Marathon, I drove up Interstate 17 an hour and a half north of Phoenix to visit the town of Sedona, which is known for its spectacular Red Rock formations. Here's a sampling of some scenes from Sedona.

I really loved these "twin peaks." Well, "tri peaks" if you want to count the smaller formation off to the left.

Similar to making pictures in the clouds, some of the formations are given names based on objects they resemble. This one is called the "Snoopy Rock." Can you see the resemblance to Snoopy sleeping on top of his dog house?

And this one is known as the "Bell Rock."

Here's the Chapel of the Holy Cross, which appears to rise right out of the red rocks. Completed in 1956 by a pupil of renowned architect Frank Lloyd Wright, the chapel is one of the town's main tourist stops.

The chapel is open daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., and offers a place for prayer, reflection and panoramic views of the formations.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Photos from Phoenix

Here are some photos from my weekend trip to Phoenix for the P.F. Chang's Rock 'n' Roll Arizona Marathon, starting with a desert cactus.

Chase Field, home of Major League Baseball's Arizona Diamondbacks, located directly across the street from the Phoenix Convention Center, where I had to pick up my race number and packet before the race.

A Mountain. Literally, "A" Mountain on the campus of Arizona State University in Tempe.

A familiar face in the desert. It's Herb Sendek, former North Carolina State University men's basketball coach who is in his first season coaching the Sun Devils.

Wait a minute, this is Phoenix, not Philly. But after the marathon I could yell, "Yo, Adrian! I did it!"

Didn't eat here, so I can't vouch for the restaurant's claim. The official name is Kid Chilleen's Bad Ass BBQ & Steakhouse, and it's located on exit 244 off of Interstate 17 in Arizona.

Self portrait with a cactus. I couldn't leave Arizona without getting a shot of me with a cactus. Unfortunatley, there was no one around to snap a photo, so I had to do it myself. I wanted to explore some other cacti in the area but feared there might be rattlesnakes in the brush. Couldn't risk a snake bite the day before the big race.

Check back later for another round of pictures from my day trip to Sedona, Ariz., to see some magnificent red rock formations.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

P.F. Chang's Rock 'n' Roll Arizona Marathon Race Report

For much of Sunday's P.F. Chang's Rock 'n' Roll Arizona Marathon, Phoenix's recognizable Camelback Mountain loomed in the distance on the course. For the 37,000 runners competing in the full and half marathons, the mountain stood as a symbol of reaching the summit of a remarkable athletic achievement For me, the mountain also represented a personal challenge to reach new heights by finishing the 26.2 mile race in 4 hours or less.

A sub 4-hour marathon has been a target of mine for some time, but it wasn't until I ran a personal best time at the Victory Junction Half Marathon in early December that I began to seriously consider going for the four-hour marathon mark in Phoenix. I incorporated some speedwork into my training plan and following a PR in a New Year's Resolution 5K run, I believed 4 hours in Phoenix was a realistic possibility.

To eclipse the 4-hour mark exactly, I needed to run each mile of the marathon in 9 minutes, 9 seconds. For good measure, and to build a cushion for the last few gruelling miles when pace times inevitably slow, my goal was to run at a steady 9-minute per mile pace. I logged my first mile in 9:05 and proceeded to run 14 of the next 17 miles under 9-minute goal pace.

I reached the half marathon mark in 1 hour, 55 minutes, 5 minutes ahead of the projected 4-hour pace. Over the next eight miles (miles 14-21), I increased my time cushion to nearly 6 minutes, but I knew that I would have to tap into those reserves before the race would end.

Then, over the final five miles, it hit -- the wall, and the time came to tap into those reserves. My pace slowed considerably. Mile 22 in 9:35. Mile 23 in 9:43. Mile 24 in 9:45. My legs hurt. My mind wandered and wondered, how much farther to the next mile marker? Prayers were uttered.

The last two miles were the hardest, toughest and longest. Mile 25 in 10:27. Mile 26 in 10:26. My time cushion that was once nearly 6 minutes was down to less than 2 minutes. But only two-tenths of a mile separated me from the sub 4-hour marathon finish. As I rounded the final turn at Arizona State's Sun Devil Stadium, I summoned what little energy and strength I had remaining to cross the finish line in an official time of 3 hours, 58 minutes, 11 seconds.

Following the race, I was too exhausted physically and mentally to appreciate the fact that I had scaled the 4-hour summit. The feelings of accomplishment didn't begin to sink in until the plane ride back to Raleigh yesterday. The P.F. Chang's Rock 'n' Roll Arizona Marathon was by far my most complete race to date, from the training (adding speedwork), to my race-day strategy (maintaining a steady pace rather than going out too fast) to post-race recovery (walking and icing).

The flat course no doubt helped me reach my goal, as did the unseasonably cool (OK, downright cold) temperatures. The temperature at the start was only 32 degrees -- which I learned later was the coldest temperature on record in Phoenix in 17 years. Despite the cold, the skies were clear and sunny for the race, and temperatures reached a high in the low 50s. It was warmer back home in North Carolina (70s) over the weekend than it was in Phoenix (50s), which made me wonder, isn't this supposed to be the Valley of the Sun?

I guess I should stop trying to plan warm weather destinations for winter marathons, because the same thing happened to me at the Disney World Marathon last January. I was greeted by similar conditions there -- unseasonably cold weather for Orlando in January and a temperatures in the low 30s at the start. Hopefully, I'll get some good springtime weather for the inaugural Georgia Marathon at the end of March, which is my next step on the 50-50-50 Challenge.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Sub 4:00

Logging in from my hotel in Tempe, Ariz. I'll have a complete race report and recap of my weekend in Phoenix when I return, but I wanted to let everyone know that I met my goal of finishing the P.F. Chang's Rock 'n' Roll Arizona Marathon in less than 4 hours. My unofficial time was 3 hours, 58 minutes, 14 seconds.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Ready to Rock

The training is complete, the taper is over and the bags are packed...well, almost packed. I'm boarding a plane for Phoenix, Ariz., in the morning to run in Sunday's P.F. Chang's Rock 'n' Roll Arizona Marathon. This will make marathon four in my 50-50-50 Challenge, and my goal for the race is to finish in four hours or less, which would be a new personal best. With some speedwork under my belt, I feel ready physically and am trying to focus mentally on the goal. Projected race-day temperatures in the mid-50s should make for perfect running weather. Whether or not I break four hours, I'll have a race report when I return.

Monday, January 08, 2007

Tag! I'm it!

I've been "tagged" by my good friend, Chris. Now I've got to come up with five random factoids about myself, but I don't think I can come up with a list to top Chris'. Anyway, here goes...
  • When I was 12 years old, I slept-walked one night and locked myself out of my parents' house.
  • I once appeared on a weekly televised episode of World Championship Wrestling holding a Four Horsemen sign at ringside.
  • My favorite television show of all-time is Sanford and Son.
  • I once held the Heisman Trophy that Navy quarterback Roger Staubach won in 1963.
  • I've attended a World Series game and an NCAA men's basketball Final Four.
I guess I have to tag some other people. I'll tag Adam and Eric.

Sunday, January 07, 2007

You Never Forget Your First Time

A year ago this weekend, I went the distance at the Walt Disney World Marathon for my first marathon finish. Memories of that day remain vivid. Like the unseasonably cold weather in Orlando, entering EPCOT Center on the run in the pre-dawn morning, running underneath EPCOT's iconic sphere, seeing Scott and Jennifer on Main Street U.S.A. in the Magic Kingdom, running through Cinderella's Castle, running behind the scenes on Disney property, running through the two other Disney theme parks, MGM Studios and Animal Kingdom, as well as the emotions of crossing the finish line and receiving the distinctive Mickey Mouse ear-shaped finisher's medal. All that and more certainly made the 26.2 mile effort magical.

Friday, January 05, 2007

Movie Review: "Facing the Giants"

We all face giants in our lives at some time or another. Giants of fear or giants of failure. Giants of doubt or giants of depression. "Facing the Giants" is an inspirational movie about, as its title states, facing the giants in your life, whatever they may be.

The protagonist is Grant Taylor, a high school football coach suffering mounting losses on the field and off. In the midst of his struggles, Taylor turns to prayer and his faith in God to see him through his hardships, and along the way, he instills a new game plan for himself and his team that centers on glorifying God in everything -- win or lose.

"Facing the Giants" is reminsicent of other feel good sports films like "Hoosiers" and "Remember the Titans," but with a clear Christian message. The message is not surprising, however, since "Giants" was produced entirely by the staff of Sherwood Baptist Church in Albany, Ga., on a budget of just $100,000. Yet the independent film has grossed $10 million since its limited national theatrical release in the fall.

When compared with big-budget Hollywood productions, "Giants" suffers some from its budgetary limitations. The acting is sometimes off in parts, but these actors weren't professionals. All of them (with the exception of a cameo of University of Georgia head football coach Mark Richt who plays himself), were, in some way, associated with Sherwood Baptist Church and the surrounding community. Some of the game sequences, however, compare favorably with Hollywood's football flicks, and in many instances, the "Giants" action scenes are more realistic.

Despite its shortcomings, "Facing the Giants" stands on its own as a movie about practically living out your faith in your everyday life. It's about honoring and trusting God in all things, and leaving the results to Him.

There's still time to catch "Giants" in theaters in select locations (The movie's Web site has searchable database for theaters still showing the film. I caught it last night at the Blue Ridge Cinema here in Raleigh.) Or if you can't find it playing in your area, "Giants" is due out on DVD on Jan. 30.

Monday, January 01, 2007

Running In The New Year

I hit the ground running in 2007. Literally. At the stroke of midnight, I was competing in a 5K at the Camp Lejuene Marine Corps' base in Jacksonville, N.C. A few hours later, I did another 5K in Greensboro, N.C. Two races, one day, 10 hours apart. That's how I rang in the New Year.

Ultramarathon man Dean Karnazes' 50 marathons in 50 states in 50 days quest last fall inspired me to do something out of the ordinary with my running in 2007. My idea was born when I learned of the Marine Corps' annual Resolution Run at Onslow Beach at Camp Lejeune at midnight on New Year's Eve. When I learned of the midnight run at Camp Lejeune, I had already registered for the 5K Resolution Run in Greensboro. My quirky stunt for 2007 was set. And what better day to do it than New Year's Eve and Day.

It was a beautiful night for a New Year's Eve Run. The Camp Lejeune Resolution Run took place on the shore of Onslow Beach, located on the grounds of the base. Amidst 60-degree temperatures, an ocean breeze and the sounds of waves hitting the shore, nearly 100 fellow runners ran in the New Year as 2006 gave way to 2007. A bright moon shined its light through the clouds, but the runners generated their own light with flourescent glow sticks we carried on the run. The scene looked like a swarm of oversized fireflys going up and down the beach.

I finished the run in 25 minutes flat, placing 14th out of 90 overall and second in my age group. After some refershments and the awards ceremony, I hopped in my car to make the drive back to Raleigh. I arrived home about 4 a.m., slept for about three hours then awoke to make the trek to Greensboro for my second run of the day, which started at 10 a.m at Bur-Mil Park.

Intermittent rain fell prior to the start of the run, but the skies cleared when we toed the line. Despite running 10 hours before, driving two-and-a-half hours home, sleeping three hours, and driving another hour and a half to Greensboro, I finished the second race of the day by eclipsing my previous personal best 5K time by nearly a minute, clocking a time of 23 minutes, 9 seconds. I placed 57th out of 249 overall and ninth out of 36 in my age group.

In my last post of 2006, I wrote that I didn't know how my running efforts in 2007 could top 2006, but things are certainly off to a roaring start. Happy New Year!