June 27, 2016

Race Report: Corporate Challenge 2016

I should talk about my half-marathon sometime! But last week I ran a shorter race, so that's an easier report.

The JP Morgan Chance Corporate Challenge is a strange sort of race. It's 3.5 miles long, which is strange because it's just a wee bit more than the extremely popular 5k distance (which is 3.1 miles). It's a team event, sort of, in that the team you are running for is generally your employer. Due to cultural conditioning, I think it perfectly normal to race for the glory of my nation or my military unit, but racing for a company makes me think about cyberpunk novels. It's a charity event, but my company paid the substantial entry fee for any employee that wanted to join; I just had to cough up $10 for the post-race food and drink that would be served in our team (i.e. company) tent.

The race was scheduled at a super convenient time for me, on a weekday evening. The day before, I collected my team t-shirt while at work. Banks are boring, so our shirts were just a solid color with the company logo. Other companies are much more creative, and in past years there has even been a contest for best design. (Funny shirts this year included an avionics company with a Star Wars scrawl, a pathology lab with the slogan "We can dish it out!" and a picture of a petri dish, a computer company with the slogan "Fast servers, slow runners!", and the boilermakers union local with the slogan "Huffing and puffing is our specialty!")

Parking was several miles away from the event, in a university's parking lot. We all queued up for shuttle buses to get to the actual event site. It's strange to be an adult on a school bus– everything seems out of scale, like the bus has somehow shrunk. Anyway, the bus delivered me to the city park where the race would be, and then I had to find my company's tent so I could sign in and drop off my bag of stuff. (I use an old USMC helmet bag, it's a perfect small gym bag.) I had printed out a little map with our tent's location circled, but the legend was cut off so I couldn't tell what the other tents were. That is, I could see that I was standing next to the GM tent, but the map only labeled tents as "A1" "D23" and so forth, and my map didn't have a way of connecting the label to the name. But a little bit or orienteering led me to believe that our tent was on the west end of the encampment, and I can tell the direction by the setting sun, so I set off confidently. It was 40 minutes until the starting gun airhorn, there was no rush.

When I got to an edge of the encampment, I discovered that I had made an error. Because the map didn't have a compass arrow, I assumed that it had the default orientation for maps in Western cultures, with north to the top. Not so! The top of the map was south. I'd spent ten minutes walking the wrong direction, and now had to spend twenty minutes walking to get to the right place. I got there, signed in, and the PA system was already calling people to the starting chute.

I ended up jogging to the chute, which I suppose was good in that it warmed me up. It was bad, though, in that even though it was evening, the temperature was still in the low 80s. I had planned on drinking water in the tent before heading to the start, but I hadn't had the time to tank up. I was dehydrated before we had even started. The starting queue was packed to overflowing, with in excess of 14,000 people. The announcers were trying to get runners to the front and walkers to the back, but most people were just kind of milling about. (There was a separate group of elite runners in the very front, but I'm not fast enough to qualify with them.) I was forced to join the pack at the very rear.

The race director gave a short speech, the mayor made a not-as-short speech, someone sang the national anthem quite credibly, and we were off! Well, the front of the queue was off. There were about 12,000 people in front of me. I stood in place for, no joke, 15 minutes. Then we started forward at a slow walk. I was already very thirsty. Someone had discarded a plastic water bottle just on the outside of the chute's fences. It had a few ounces of water left in it. Sweet, transparent, life-giving water… I pushed to the edge of the pack and stretched out over the fence to grab it. Ahh, it was so good. Thank you, found water! I chugged the couple of ounces that were left and tossed the now-empty bottle. I was ready to do this. After five more minutes of walking, I finally made it to the start line. Like all modern road races, everyone was wearing a race number with a RFID chip, so official results are "chip times" and thus it doesn't matter how long it takes to get to the actual starting line. I stepped over the starting mat and beat feet.

Annoyingly, I was trapped among thousands of walkers. I spent the first mile and a half trying to get past people just strolling along. (Sure, I was faster than them, but some of them had crossed the start line twenty minutes before me). I wasn't the only runner stuck in the back of the pack, and eventually the runners migrated to the sidewalk and let the walkers control the street. That was far from ideal, though, in that the sidewalk was too narrow so we were passing each other by running on the grass. Plus, sidewalks are uneven, especially in Buffalo. The road surface was lovely and smooth, but it was taken by the lumbering hordes that didn't realize this was supposed to be a race.

The race itself was through the city's finest park, then along our gorgeous old main cemetery, and then there was a segment on the city's Millionaire's Row. The half-way turnaround was a loop around a gorgeous public fountain, and by then I was largely free of walkers. Except for some people that had run as far as they could and had slowed to a walk. Those folks I didn't mind, though. We had two water stops, which is generous for a race this short, but then it was a really hot day. I chugged a cup of water at each one. I wish I could say I didn't break stride, but walkers had crowded around each stop, so I had to stop running to wedge my way up to grab a cup.

The final stretch was a real bear, because in the Marines I trained for the 3 mile PFT run, and subsequently I've worked on the 5k run, so when I hit the 3.1 mile mark my body expected to be finishing. But there was still .4 miles to go! I dug deep, dodged slowpokes, and suddenly I was in the finishing chute, the fenced-in section leading to the actual finishing line with the finishing mat that would record my time. I had enough gas for a sprint, so I kicked hard and doubled my pace. The line was coming up… forty yards… thirty yards… twenty yards… and then a middle-aged woman directly in front of me suddenly stopped running, pulled out a cell phone, and was apparently trying to take a selfie. Before she crossed the line.

I didn't have time for that nonsense. It was a race, and because the finish mat isn't that wide, we were all bunched together. There was now room to the right or left, and that dummy had stopped right in front of me. So I ran her down. I angled my shoulder into her back, plowed her aside, and drove to the line. I wish there had been a finishing line camera, because I would have loved to see her face. I hope she learned something. Something like "Don't stop for a selfie while still in traffic."

Victorious, I grabbed a fresh bottle of water, a banana, and meandered to my tent. Awkwardly, I didn't know anyone there. Only one other person from my department had signed up, and for some reason she didn't make it to the race. My office is way off in the edge of the building, and we eat at our desks, so I don't really know anyone else. I ate a chicken sandwich, grabbed a cookie, and walked back to the shuttle bus that would take me to my car, and left.

What can I say? I had a great time. I fully intend to do it again next year. I'll just make sure I get started further towards the front of the queue.

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June 17, 2016

Acting Masterclass

Sadly, the video title kind of gives the joke away...

'To be or not to be_' featuring Benedict Cumberbatch & Prince Charles - Shakespeare Live! - BBC from Mai Martin on Vimeo.

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June 02, 2016

Say Uncle!

My niece counter has incremented. Little Diana was born yesterday via c-section, after a very long labor. Baby and parents are healthy.

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