Saturday, September 15, 2007

Nike Run Hit Remix

For many, today's event is more fun than run. Stages featuring live music are located at every mile and draw participants (my wife and friends included) who would rather dance or hang out than worry about their time. It is hard to argue with Nike's marketing strategy...promote a healthy lifestyle, help a charity, offer freebies and hands-on (or, should I say, feet-on) experience with their products hoping to gain customers. That said, their effort backfired (my wife could not get Nike+ to register her movement, I got blisters and a black toe from their shoes...hence the last minute switch to Asics).

Having little interest in the roster of bands dotting the course, I decide to run the race, but my wife wants me to take pictures. Once I start running, I do not plan to stop, but, since I have to carry the camera, I will try. Hopefully my shots will not be too blurry.

The starting area is divided into sections based on pace much like the training sessions. Those wanting to seriously race should have no worries about navigating through the crowd...assuming everyone is a good gauge of their abilities. I line up between the 8 minute and 9 minute milers...hoping that I will be able to hold the pace for the entire 5 mile race.

An estimated 11,000 participants line up at the start, creating a sea of red in front of the famous archways of the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. The race starts, but it takes a minute before I actually cross the starting gate and begin running. I have never run with this many is hard to find my own rhythm as I stay with the flow. I am surprised that I need to weave through slower runners and walkers early on...especially because my Garmin tells me I am sticking pretty close to an 8 minute per mile pace.

I can't help but notice all the new buildings along Figueroa. The neighborhood has changed a lot since my wife and I attended USC. The course is flat, but the morning sun is already hitting hard and there is little shade. The live music and classic cars parked in the middle of the street are a nice distraction, but I do not seem to getting any closer to Staples Center (the turning point). The stretch between Adams and the L.A. Convention Center is straight and boring...I start seriously thinking about trail runs.

At the Staples Center, we turn back on Fig, but have barely run more than two miles. I remind myself to stick to my pace, but I am starting to feel the distance early...probably more due to the heat than how fast I started. The L.A. Convention Center is familiar territory to me, but I have never thought about running around here.

I look through the oncoming runners, hoping to see (and photograph) my wife and friends as they run by, but I cannot pick out anyone in this river of red. The search makes this straightaway a bit more interesting than the first time I traversed it, but not by much. As I pass the three mile clock, I am pleased to see that I am in the low 26's (25 if I subtract the minute it took to cross the start gate). I have had worse times when I was running cross country, not that I should be proud of those instances. Two miles to go.

When I get back to USC, I start to wonder...did I ever run around campus during the five years I lived here? I seem to recall trying, but not liking the smell of exhaust fumes. I realize that today has not been too bad...perhaps because the streets are closed to traffic. Running along Exposition is not as nice as I had hoped due to on-going construction of the Metro Expo Line.

There is only a half mile left when we turn towards the Coliseum, so I decide to push a little harder. My burst does not last very long. I am even tempted to stop at a Jamba Juice truck parked outside of the stadium, but, knowing there are free smoothies inside, I stay with the runners, sprint through the Coliseum tunnel, and on to the field. This is an exciting way to finish a race...on the same turf I witnessed an Olympics and many USC football games.

Every participant completing the race gets a medal and then proceeds into a line for freebies including water, a banana, Clif bars, and, of course, Jamba Juice's Nike Protein Berry Workout smoothie.

I have completed my first post-high school race in a respectable 42:44 (based on my watch...apparently electrostatic interference prevented our official timing chips from registering our start time). I am happy that I finished the race in less than 45 minutes, but I really hoped I could do it in flat 8's.

I try to photograph my wife and friends finishing the race, but race officials prevent me from returning anywhere near the finish line (probably to prevent me from getting more freebies...or to give pro photographers an advantage over us amateurs). For the next ten minutes, I wait for someone I know to cross the finish, but it is really too hard to pick anyone out. I decide to queue up for another smoothie instead.

When I finally meet up with my wife and friends again, I learn that they did indeed stop to listen to the bands. Some waited for slower friends, only to miss when they actually passed by. MC Hammer closed out the festivities as we relaxed on the field.

For those in my group who had never run 5 miles before today's run, they now understand that such distances are within their grasp. We even discuss participating together in future (and longer) events as we head into Chinatown for dim sum.


Nike has finally posted official times. Due to the aforementioned loss of timing data at the start of the race, this data only reflects split and finish times relative to the overall event clock...and my personal time differs from my watch by roughly a minute (the amount of time it took me to cross through the starting gate). Of the 8,486 participants who finished the race, I was within the top 12%. Considering that most were doing this just for fun, it is not a very relevant statistic...but it is encouraging.

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