Posted in Race Reports, Running

Race Report – 2013 San Jose Rock ‘n’ Roll Half-Marathon

The 2013 San Jose Rock ‘n’ Roll (SJRnR) Half-Marathon took place on Sunday, 6 October 2013. This was my fifth time running this race. Once again, I signed up for the 2014 event when I was at the expo on Friday.

Last year I was concerned about the lack of communication from the race organizers because the Nike Women’s Marathon (NWM) race organizers were sending out a lot of emails. This year, it’s exactly the reverse. The communication from the race organizers has been excellent, and the SJRnR Facebook site has been a good resource, too. Meanwhile, the dearth of communication from the NWM organizers is quite worrisome to me and to other runners.

2013 RnRSJ Finisher's Medal and T-shirt
2013 RnRSJ Finisher’s Medal and T-shirt

Expo and Race Swag

Packet pick-up was smooth and the volunteers were friendly and helpful. I know that they require an ID when you pick up your packet. However, it was still nice to have the volunteer tell me that she needed to see my ID because she didn’t believe the age that was printed on my bib.

They didn’t have unisex t-shirts this year so I ended up with a women’s t-shirt. I like the men’s t-shirts because they’re baggy. When I signed up for the 2014 event, I selected a men’s t-shirt. The women’s t-shirts were grey so it will be easy to match next year. I always try to wear the last year’s t-shirt to the current year’s race and, although I love navy blue (the color of last year’s shirt), it was hard to find something to go with it.

Other than the t-shirt, there was no race swag besides the little drawstring backpack. I like the drawstring backpacks because I use them when I travel.

The expo was about the same size as last year. The RnR staff working the RnR “booth” seemed distracted and disinterested. I signed up for the 2014 event and then had to find a volunteer to request my t-shirt. I ended up buying more headbands and some aloe cream, which was expensive so I hope it will be worth it.

Gear Check

The gear check area was organized and neat. As in previous years, I didn’t use the gear check because my hotel was very close to both the start and the finish line. I really like loop courses!

Race Start

The race organizers implemented a wave start this year. I saw some comments on the Facebook page about people hating the wave start. I’m generally ambivalent about wave starts because I’m slow. Although I got very antsy when my corral didn’t move for a long time, I appreciated it in the end because I was able to make a last-minute port-o-let stop, which meant that I didn’t need to make any stops on the course.

Whoever they got to sing the national anthem this year was atrocious. She was so focused on trying to sound nice that she screwed up the words, sang off-key, and was just generally horrible. Again, people have no manners when it comes to the national anthem – people didn’t remove their hats and people continued talking during the entire national anthem. No matter how horribly it is sung, people still ought to have respect for it.

Race Course, Entertainment, and Volunteers

The course hasn’t changed in the past few years. It’s mostly flat with three or four small hills to keep things interesting. I know that the race organizers added the “mini-marathon” last year to increase participation and registration but they really add to the congestion in the early miles.

I had my headphones this year so the bands weren’t as important as they were last year. This year, the music was upbeat, which was good. The cheer teams were enthusiastic and loud. It was great watching them high-five runners and wave their signs, trying to cool the runners off as they passed by.

The volunteers at the water stations and along the way were great. I wish someone could tell them how helpful it is to have someone clapping and cheering for you along the course, especially in the middle miles. Because they really are. When you hear a random stranger tell you that you’re doing great, just when you’re wondering what you’re doing out there, it’s very helpful.

In addition to the volunteers, the residents who came out to watch the race, who pulled out their boomboxes or their instruments, who turned on their water hoses and sprinklers also helped to keep the runners going. I saw a lot of funny signs – not that I can remember any of them now – along the way, too. I hope all the volunteers, cheer teams, bands, and spectators realize how much we appreciate them.

Post Race: Goodies and Medals

The 2013 medal is blah. It matches the shirt. It’s almost as if the race organizers ran out of inspiration when it came to San Jose. After all, what is San Jose known for that you could turn into a finisher’s medal? I hope they get a surge of creativity next year.

The energetic blonde lady wasn’t at the finish line again. The finish line seems anti-climatic without her.

After taking my finisher’s photo, I wandered around the loop collecting water, Gatorade, two containers of chocolate milk, a Power Bar, a Jamba Juice smoothie, a banana, and snap pea crisps. Not a lot of munchies this year but I suppose it was okay because I don’t know how I could have carried anymore. Maybe next year I’ll remember to tuck a little bag in my pocket.

Thumbs Up and Thumbs Down

Thumbs UP:  The organization of this event is truly flawless.

Thumbs DOWN: I absolutely hate having an event called the “mini marathon” as part of this race day, especially when the distance of that event is 5 miles. What’s wrong with calling it a 5-miler?

Thumbs UP: Getting the high school and middle school children to volunteer is great.

Thumbs DOWN: The water on the course tasted bad. Not at all of the aid stations, just at the first and second aid stations.

Thumbs UP: This event continues to grow and still maintain its high energy and great coordination.

I’m looking forward to running this race again next year. In the meantime…

Happy running!

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Posted in Race Reports, Running

Race Report: Together with Love 10k 2012

Bahía de Monterey, California
Monterey Bay ~ Image via Wikipedia

The 27th annual Together with Love run took place on Sunday, 12 February 2012. The race benefits the Monterey County Rape Crisis Center.

This race is a beautiful out-and-back course along the Monterey Bay coastline from Lover’s Point up to Spanish Bay (for the 10k). The weather on race day was perfect running weather – overcast and on the chilly side. It looked like rain so I wore a light rain jacket but the rain didn’t show up for the race.

As with last year, the race was chip-timed. I received my bib and D-chip in the mail but this year, there was nothing else in the envelope – just the bib with the attached D-chip. I’m not sure why the race organizers chose not to include race instructions this year. Perhaps it was a sustainability-related decision. I would have preferred to have something mailed with the bib. At the very least, a strip of paper with the date and time of the race!

I was signed up for the 10k but after I picked up my t-shirt and goodies bag, I briefly toyed with the idea of just running the 5k because of my hip and lower back aches. Just briefly, though, because I really wanted to run 6 miles to stay sort-of-on-track with my half-marathon training.

The race t-shirt was a long-sleeve technical t-shirt with another great minimalist design. My dad, who is the beneficiary of all my long-sleeve cotton race t-shirts, probably wishes that the race would go back to giving cotton shirts. I, however, like the technical t-shirts a lot. As with most races nowadays, people wore their race t-shirts before they earned them.

The race started close to on time and we were off. For the first couple of miles, I just ran. I didn’t pay attention to my Garmin, I didn’t worry about my time or my pace, I just ran. The 5k turnaround came and went and I ran on. I think the race organizers have a wicked streak because the 10k turnaround is on a hill. Granted, it’s not a big hill but after nearly 3 miles, any hill counts!

The race flow felt more disorganized this year – probably because race instructions weren’t included with our race bibs. By disorganized, I mean that people were running on both sides of the road and at no point were we ever moved over to one side to make room for the returning runners. So the 5k winners were having to run against the slower runners, most of whom were so oblivious that they didn’t bother to move aside, much less cheer for the faster runners.

There were some volunteers on the course who were amazingly enthusiastic, encouraging, and uplifting. And they were placed at the perfect spots – close to hills. These ladies cheered and clapped and made runners smile. I really appreciate race volunteers, especially the ones who cheer and smile.

I finished the race and felt good. My time was just a twitch faster than last year’s time. I need to work on being able to hold a faster pace at the end for a longer distance.

There was a line for the munchies and I didn’t have the patience to wait in line for a muffin half or a bagels half or a banana half. I think as the race becomes more popular, as it does year over year, the race organizers need to consider a different setup for the post-race food. The nice thing, though, is that they always seem to have a lot of food, which is a good thing for slow runners like myself!

All in all, it was a good race. I would recommend it for anyone who wants a beautiful course with small rolling hills.

Happy running!

Posted in Opinions and Thoughts, Work

Volunteer or “Voluntold”

Volunteering is an interesting concept. It’s doing a task or a job for a company or an organization willingly and without getting paid.

Volunteering – both time and money – seems to be a uniquely American concept. When disaster strikes around the world, Americans are first in line to go to the disaster site to provide whatever help is needed and generally first to start donation drives for money and items to send. That’s not to say that other nations don’t volunteer but it seems that Americans are front and center in any discussion on volunteerism.

In recent years, volunteering has become more woven into the fabric of our lives as Americans. Is it because we are becoming a more altruistic society? Is it because we feel an obligation as one of the more developed nations in the world? Is it because we want to polish what may be a tarnished image in the world?

The simple answer is that in the last decade or so, high schools and colleges began to require that students perform a certain number of community service hours in order to graduate. And now there are companies that are strongly encouraging their employees to perform community service. In some companies, the encouragement is simply a message from senior management. In other companies, the encouragement comes in the form of an evaluation category on performance evaluations.

This raises the question – if it’s required, is it still volunteering?

The company I work for is one of those that has an evaluation category on our annual performance evaluation forms. It doesn’t ask about general volunteerism, it asks about volunteering for the university specifically. When I fill out this evaluation for my employees, my answer is rather passive aggressive because I don’t believe that it’s an appropriate category for an employee evaluation. It’s self-serving and frankly, irrelevant. It calls into question the employee’s loyalty to the company. That would be fine if we rewarded employees for their loyalty. But we don’t. There have been no raises for four years – no cost-of-living adjustments and certainly no merit raises. I feel uncomfortable evaluating an employee’s loyalty when I know that the company isn’t rewarding that loyalty.

If it’s required, is it still volunteering?

This weekend was commencement. When I first started working at the university, there was never a problem getting enough volunteers to staff the event. This could be because our commencement ceremonies were simpler in those early years. But I think it’s also because people felt more valued in those early years, they felt like they had more of an impact in the daily workings of the university, and they wanted to see the results of their work – commencement.

About four years ago they began to have problems getting volunteers to staff the event. They made do that year but the next year, they resorted to strongly encouraging management employees to volunteer for the event. The following year, all management employees were contacted by their managers to volunteer for the event. This year, the pressure intensified with HR providing lists of management employees to the event organizers who in turn provided senior management with lists of management employees who had volunteered and who had not yet signed up to volunteer for the event.

If you’re coerced, is it still volunteering?

In the current employment environment, that kind of pressure can be likened to coercion. People are afraid to lose their jobs and so they will do what they need to do in order to keep their jobs. Knowing that they will be evaluated on their spirit of volunteerism, they sign up to volunteer for commencement. It was so bad this year that we coined the term “voluntold” in that we were told to volunteer.

Volunteering is doing work willingly and without the expectation or anticipation of getting paid. I do quite a bit of volunteer work in my hours away from work. I enjoy volunteering. But I want to choose who I give my time to away from work. The organizations that I volunteer with appreciate my time and my skills and I know that I’m helping them further their mission.

When we require high school students to work a certain number of community service hours as a prerequisite to graduate from high school, when we require college students to work a certain number of community service hours as a prerequisite to graduate from college, when we evaluate employees on the basis of volunteering either for the company or outside of the company, it takes away the spirit of volunteering.

The thought processor churns on . . .