My next great running adventure, or: “When the mind is willing, it gets downright perilous….”

blgshazambarrelWell no rest for the wickedly awesome, they say…

November has been an incredibly busy month for the staff here at Hokeyblog. We’ve just come off two weeks of back-to-back half marathons at Disney parks on TWO COASTS, and if my carefully-curated budget spreadsheet is any indication, I should pretty much be wearing a barrel and selling pencils on a street-corner. In 1934. Probably animated while being goofed on by some anthropomorphic quadruped with a snarky catchphrase and extremely dated theme-song. I need to stop the Merrie Melody allusions right around now.

I get sidetracked entirely too easily.

Anyway there’s still more to go this month; the Space Coast Marathon is a week from Sunday (11/30/2014) and that’s THE Main Event of my season. The very one I’ve been training for since last May. And now all my training is done, we’re in full tapering mode right now and looking for the next big challenge.

blgalaskabearAnd that next big challenge is taking me as far away as I can get while still remaining on North American terra firma… that’s right, I’m now registered for Mayor’s Midnight Sun Marathon, taking place in scenic Anchorage, Alaska on June 20, 2015.

Alaska!

Midnight sun! Bears! Salmon! Glaciers! Eskimos! And also other things!

I really can’t wait for this race. I’ll be going there with our buttkickin’ local running club, Friends In Training. We always have a travel race every year. In 2013 I joined them in Washington, DC for the Rock N Roll USA event, while I missed this year’s trip to Big Sur for a host of reasons. So this year I’m definitely embarking on this newest adventure.

And it’ll be a challenge. We’re talking lots of hills and over 7 miles of trail running! I can’t wait to tackle this particular beast. So if you’re thinking of (or planning on) tackling it as well, let me know and we’ll become marathon buddies and you might end up in a race review! Which is about as exclusive as joining the National Geographic Society, but at least there will be considerably less subscription card clutter in your life. Or something. Here’s the video:

Race Review: 2014 Avengers Super Heroes Half Marathon (11/16/2014), or: “But now I’m safe in the eye of the tornado…”

blgsmashthehalfYou can’t PR at a Run Disney race!

That’s what they keep drilling into your head, right? As you dish out your hard-earned shekels to pay the premium registration fees, make travel arrangements, buy all kinds of overpriced merchandise and extra race add-ons like “Chear Squads” and “Race Retreats” and RIDICULOUSLY overpriced photographs, deep down you know that as much fun as you will have at a Run Disney event — and make no mistake, you WILL have fun — you’ll never, ever set a personal record right?

You can’t PR at a Run Disney race!

Unless it’s your first time racing a 5K, 10K, half or full marathon, or if you’re an elite or super-fast runner in the first few corrals, it’s simply impossible to achieve a PR. Heck, even I’ve repeated that mantra over and over. Among all the narrow portions of the course, the higher concentration of race walkers, the photo opportunities, character stops, on-course entertainment, and more, it’s simply not possible to set new land speed records for yourself while at a Run Disney event. Besides, why would you want to anyhow? As mentioned above, you paid a much higher price than normal to race at the House of Mouse; you might as well get your money’s worth and take the time to enjoy everything it has to offer, race pace be damned.

You REALLY can’t PR at a Run Disney race!

Or can you?

Let’s find out…

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The inaugural Avengers Super Heroes Half Marathon took place in the early morn of November 16, 2014, and this sucker sold out in less than two hours when registrations went on sale way back during the previous March. And why wouldn’t it? First of all, it was an inaugural event, which attracts even the most listless and jaded of Disney runners, and allows them to “get in on the ground floor” and earn the potential of becoming  a “legacy runner” by “running it at least five years in a row” and thereby handing over “most of your disposable income” to “beaming Run Disney accountants” for “most of the foreseeable future”. No more excessive quotes, I promise.

Secondly, this was a Marvel/Avengers-themed race. We’re talking the most popular cinematic series on the planet right now, raking in gazillions of dollars at the box office and in licensed merchandising. Having Disney enhance their series of races with their Marvel brand (and Star Wars brand coming in January) was simply a no-brainer. A marketing dream come true, for sure. Your veritable chocolate with my peanut butter, etc.

Finally, this was not only a race at Disneyland, it was a race in Southern California, and it was a race at Disneyland in Southern California, in November. This meant cooler temperatures and holiday festivities well underway throughout the entire Disneyland resort. So all in all we have an inaugural Run Disney race, with a Marvel/Avengers theme, during the holidays featuring weather conducive to optimal running conditions.

Bring it.

Pre-Race Festivities

No_Iron_Man

Nope.

The day before the race, Boots and I had walked the Avengers Super Heroes 5K, which, while being pretty much the exact same course as the Disneyland 5K, featured plenty of runners in superhero costumes, pre-race festivities, and Avengers theming throughout the event. We’re talking live-action Thor, Captain America, Hawkeye, and Black Widow characters and all sorts of SHIELD, Avengers, and Hydra projections in the park. However, noticeably missing from all the marketing, displays, bibs, and entertainment was the character of Iron Man. Arguably Marvel Studios’s most popular character, there was absolutely NO MENTION OR DISPLAYS of Iron Man anywhere. Run Disney affiliated personnel could not even say the words “Iron Man”, but only vaguely talk about him as a Stark Industries representative or Iron Dude or perhaps even The Man Whose First Name Kinda Rhymes with Fryin’. The sensible explanation for this was that Run Disney did not want to face any kind of legal issues with IRONMAN race/triathlon organization. A little bit of a bummer that we didn’t get to see Iron Man anywhere… at least, not from Run Disney. The runners themselves represented Tony Stark in full regalia just fine.

blgStart

Anyway, we were still running on Eastern time so the pre-race dinner occurred sometime around 3:00 in the afternoon. We hit out favorite Downtown Disney hangout Uva Bar, and shared some amazing appetizers, including a chorizo flatbread, arepas with pork and avocado, and an amazing Mediterranean dip platter featuring hummus with chick peas, Baba Ganoush, and red pepper hummus made with molasses and walnuts, and all of it was magnificent. Afterward we putzed around Downtown Disney for awhile before making a beeline back to our room at the Anabella Hotel. I basically wanted to stay off my feet; my left foot had been giving me some slight issues since the previous day. It wasn’t pain, necessarily, but a pressure on the top of the foot and the ankle. I was concerned but not entirely worried, but to be safe I elevated the foot and iced it while watching Family Guy reruns in bed. I wasn’t taking any chances.

blgrobinsupesBy 8 PM we were fast asleep, which made waking up at 3:15 AM the next morning a snap. I quickly scarfed down a bagel and cream cheese, showered, and changed into my running gear. I also wrapped my left foot and ankle in KT tape, a new experience for me but one for which I was exceedingly grateful throughout the race.

I was originally planning to wear my Robin costume from the Miami Beach Halloween Half, but a wardrobe malfunction put the kibosh on that plan. The “R” pin I wore as an insignia was missing; I had brought it with me, and had taken it out the day before and laid it on top of the rest of my outfit, but it was pretty much gone by race day. Perhaps housekeeping had accidentally thrown it out? Phooey. It didn’t matter anyhow, because I had mistakenly left my green compression undershirt at home, so my costume was incomplete. Thankfully, I had packed a black Superman tech shirt as a backup, and it surprisingly matched the rest of my outfit just fine. I had a black and green theme going on. Nifty!

We left the hotel around 4:15 in order to make it to the Mickey Milers pre-race photo at 4:45 AM in the Start Area. I had previously retained a humiliating history of always arriving too late for the photo, a problem a rectified during the 5K the day before, and I looked to continue my winning streak that morning. We made it to the Staging Area with plenty of time to spare, and I quickly found the usual collection of bright yellow/purple shirts standing around excitedly in anticipation of the big event. My buddies Jennifer, Bill, and Jennifer (Bill’s wife) were about to rock their first Half Marathon, which meant instant PR for them. Yes it may sound a bit maudlin gang, but I’d give anything to relive that feeling of running my first race. Especially my first Disney one. Those were some way happy vibes.

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After the way happy vibe-fest I bid my Mickey Miler buddies adieu and made my way over to the portos for the ceremonial PRP, and then I was off on my way to my corral. I was situated in Corral C, this time on my own as opposed to the fun- and friend-filled corral experience the previous day during the 5K. But that was OK. I basically hung out and watched the pre-race entertainment on the video screens, featuring our intrepid race announcers Rudy and Carissa, as well as a whole bunch of animated shorts featuring the various Marvel and Avengers characters. Still no Iron Man. Phooey.

Meanwhile, I was loving the weather. We’re talking 54 degrees at race start, low humidity, and a cool breeze blowing through. A nice, sweet, gentle breeze. Nothing more than that, right? Nope! Just a light, refreshing, mild breeze and this is what four out of five dentists call FORESHADOWING, folks.

After the National Anthem, the wheelchair racers took off, followed by the combined A/B corrals. I plugged in my reasonably new Jaybird Bluebuds X wireless headphones and punched up my next Zombies, Run! mission (Season 3, Episode 6: “Career Day”), with planned sprints/”zombie chases” scheduled for the entire run. Corrals C and D were scheduled to start together, and at 5:38 I crossed the Start Line (after sending Rudy and Carissa INTENSE TELEPATHIC MESSAGES to remember to call my name at the Finish Line) and I was off on my way in the inaugural 2014 Avengers Super Heroes Half Marathon! I was on like Donkey Kong! In it to win it! Neither a borrower nor lender be! Always bet on black! And other such cliches! I was off!

The Race Begins!

As always, let’s start with an overview of the course, courtesy of Google Maps and my ever-trustworthy Garmin 220:

blgavengerscourse

Click to embiggen!

This was a new Run Disney course, especially in contrast to the usual Disneyland Half route. It took us almost immediately into the parks, heading south down West Street, turning east into the backstage Disney area right around the Paradise Pier resort. The next two miles took us straight through Disney’s California Adventure, through the Esplanade, into Disneyland itself (including a run through the castle), then down Main Street USA and turning east until we reached Harbor Blvd. From Harbor we headed south for over a mile, and then turning east on Chapman for another mile until we reached the Crystal Cathedral. Running past the cathedral and through its parking lot, the course turns south on Lewis Street and east down Garden Grove Boulevard, upon which we pass the 10K mark. The second half of the course winds northbound on the Santa Ana trail for two miles until we reached Angels Stadium. Running through the Stadium, the course then winds west on Gene Autry Way, curving northbound until it turns west on Disney Way. In a departure from the Disneyland Half, we turned north on Clementine, northwest and then west on Manchester until we returned to Harbor Boulevard. Turning south, we re-entered the backstage Disney area just behind Tomorrowland and made the final trek to the Finish Line by the Disneyland Hotel.

Phew!

Running in Corral C made the streets reasonably less crowded during the opening miles. I recalled my memories of the previous Disneyland runs and, while nobody is sprinting right out of the gate except for those pesky elites, I was thankful that I didn’t have to weave and bob all that much. Sticking to my 5:1 intervals throughout most of the race (more on that later), I kept a steady, easy-going pace for Mile 1, finishing the first mile in 9:51. Two things of note happened here: (1) we entered DCA right at the northern edge of Cars Land, and (2) I passed Joey Fatone. I greeted him with a friendly, “What’s up Joe?” and responded in kind, and that was it, because I left his butt in the dust! HAH! Take that! I may not have made zillions as a teen idol, captured the hearts of thousands if not millions of women around the world, been adored by the masses all over MTV and fawned upon by pop culture and started appearing on popular shows all over the Food Network and elsewhere and yeah Imma gonna shut up now.

Boots was stationed at the Esplanade between DCA and Disneyland, and captured this amazing action snapshot of yours truly:

Hey! I'm OK!!

Hey! I’m OK!!

Most of the stops inside the Disney parks were similar to those at the 5K. There were character photo ops with the four featured Marvel characters: Thor, Black Widow, Hawkeye, and Captain America, as well a handful of other Disney characters and scenic backdrops. Even that early, the lines looked entirely too daunting, and I really wasn’t all that interested anyhow. The parks looked as beautiful as ever all lit up just before the break of dawn, but I kept my head down and my legs pumping. Something must have really clicked, because I ran Mile 2 in 9:35 and Mile 3 in 9:12! I was weary about going out too quickly and wearing out fast, but to be honest it really felt like I was running a steady, moderate pace without pushing too hard.

Don’t you just love races when you’re feeling like that?

And here’s a slideshow of some other in-park highlights:

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Running through the castle and then down Main Street (instead of the usual opposite direction) was pretty neat, but as we exited Main Street and made our way through the bus parking area and onto Harbor, you came to the sad realization that your time in the parks was over. The rest of the race (save for a return to the backstage area and finishing at the Disneyland Hotel) was to take place out and about in the streets of Anaheim. Actually, it’s not all that sad a realization. Once onto the streets, there was plenty of running room — less crowding meant getting your A-Game on was gonna be a whole lot easier. Plus, once I hit mile 3 on Harbor (outside the parks), we were in the midst of a stunning sunrise on a cool, breezy, beautiful morning. My 5K split was 30:42, which (for me) was a strong opener to a Half Marathon. I just wanted to make sure I was able to maintain that pace throughout.

Right about now starts the portion of the race that I’d just love to call…

Here’s Where The Fun Begins

Daybreak was dawning but it was still pretty dark out as I passed Katella, heading southbound on Harbor. I ran Mile 4 in 9:33, still feeling solid and exceedingly energetic. My left foot had no issues whatsoever; whatever was bothering me for the previous two days had dissipated. The KT tape was definitely doing its job.

So things are going well.

Then I notice that the breeze had started to pick up. A lot. I mean, a LOT, a lot.

The palm trees lining Harbor were swaying heavily in the wind… so much so, that it looked like clouds of pollen were being tossed about in front of me. And as I ran into these swirling clouds, I realized something pretty darn quickly.

It wasn’t pollen. It was dust. Sand, even. Scratchy, swirling sand.

A brand-new concept was introduced to the Hokeyblog Staff (meaning me): The Santa Ana Winds. Rather suddenly, huge gusts of wind battered anyone and everyone out there, covering them with dirt, dust, and sand. According to the L.A. Times, gusts reached up to velocities of 60 mph. Insanity.

Back to Harbor Boulevard: as I ran into this whirlwind, I immediately reached up above my Halo Band and preemptively slid on my running sunglasses. It was a bit darker than normal to put them on, but this was strictly a preventative measure to keep all that minuscule swirling swill out of my eyes. Thankfully, my eyes were kept mostly safe, but I saw plenty of runners out there without any protective eye-ware whatsoever. They either had to stop running, slow to a walk, or try to run with one arm over their eyes, anything to keep the dust out. Several crafty Captain Americas used their prop shields as a defensive buffer mechanism. Now that’s good ol’ American ingenuity at its finest!

While these winds were blowing pretty strong, they were still originating from the east so they didn’t affect my running pace all that much. I did seem to notice, though, that while my Garmin chirped off that I had reached four miles, there was no mile marker sign to be found anywhere. Later on I found out why: it had been blown down. Yeesh. Anyway, as the course turned to the est onto Chapman, it really hit me like the proverbial ton of bricks: the Santa Ana Winds were really blowing strong… and now I was running headfirst right into them.

Right then it was a definite challenge, but not too difficult a challenge. I viewed running into strong winds like running up a bridge or a hill; you shorten your stride, lean into it, and keep moving. I give all the credit in the world to the marching bands, cheerleaders, hydration station staff, and other volunteers. It was a cold, extremely windy morning but they stayed the course. Kudos, ladies and gents.

At mile 5 we turned into the Crystal Cathedral property, taking us through their parking lot, past more bands and hydration stations. It made for a really nice respite from the winds, and a course photographer managed to capture this particularly buttkickin’ photo which I’ll share with you now:

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On a mission from God!

"Remember kids: there's always money in the banana stand!"

“Remember kids: there’s always money in the banana stand!”

Leaving the cathedral, we turned southbound onto Lewis St. for under a mile. The wind was still ever-present, but less so as we were, at least for right then, not running into it. My pace was still maintaining: Miles 5 and 6 were completed in 9:37 and 9:31. Maintaining pace meant expending more energy, and while I wasn’t feeling it much, I knew that I had to consider dropping it down a spell or risk burning out by the last 5K. I turned east on Garden Grove and hit the 10K mark at 59:30, meaning I had managed to increase pace somehow. Zowie. I started entertaining notions of potentially PR’ing, which I immediately poo-pooed. That’s the last thing you want to start thinking about during a race. Run your best, deal with the results later. That’s one to grow on, folks.

Unfortunately, this was right about when the Santa Ana Winds were kicking it into high gear, as we were now running headfirst into them again. I almost felt my earbuds being yanked from my ears and my bib ripped from my shirt. At one point the gusts were so strong I could feel myself being buffeted to my right side, almost colliding with another runner. Yikes. Probably the scariest thing I saw was at a hydration station, where an entire table of water was upended, sending cups and water all over the course! A little freaky, to be sure. But the show went on, winds or no winds.

Mile 7 brought us to the Santa Ana Trail, or what was commonly referred to as…

The Most Challenging Portion of the Race

While the trail started around Mile 7 and took us on a 1.5-mile, somewhat north-north-eastern path down towards Angels Stadium, the winds continued to pound us. I found myself dodging an actual tumbleweed that was bouncing down the trail. A tumbleweed! I thought those things only existed in Coyote and Road Runner cartoons. Madness. The trail, while entirely paved, was not particularly wide, which resulted in a few bottlenecks and some rather testy runners. Wind and dust and sand was everywhere, making visibility problematic to many.

Making up for these minor frustrations was a long stretch of Cosplayers, selected by Run Disney to cheer on the runners about halfway down the trail. And MAN were they something else. I saw plenty of Deadpools, Spider-Mans, X-Men, Avengers, She-Hulks, Guardians of the Galaxy, and tons of other Marvel characters in some really great costumes. Kudos to whomever stationed Black Widow, Dark Phoenix, and Scarlet Witch together. Who doesn’t love a trio of curvaceous readheads cheering you on? I almost had to stop for a photo op. ALMOST. But I kept going, albeit at a slower pace. Mile 7 took 9:49, with Mile 8 at 9:45.

Mile 9 was probably the toughest mile of the race, which was reflected in my pace of 10:11. The trail went under four different roads, meaning steep drops and sharp inclines back up, along with strong winds and a narrow course. By the time the trail ended and we found ourselves in Angels Stadium parking lot, the wind was blowing extremely strong. You could almost see the whirlwinds of dust and dirt approaching you, and had to protect yourself accordingly. Still, I kept moving, but this picture from that area pretty much says it all:

Check out that dude's hair... and that haze is pure sand and dust!

Check out that dude’s hair… and that haze is pure sand and dust!

But things were picking up! Soon we were right back in the warm, welcoming arms of Angels Stadium. While the seats were mostly empty, there was still a ton of excitement with a wild, madcap announcer cheering us on, marching bands, cheerleaders, a video feed of us runners on the Jumbotron, and of course the thrill of running through a Major League baseball stadium. This was my fourth time running through the stadium, and I still loved every single second of it. Plus, when we finally exited the stadium onto Gene Autry Way, the worst of the winds were gone. Even better, whatever winds that remained were at our back. You don’t have to be Vasco de Gama to figure out what that means — TAILWINDS! Now you’re getting a running boost! How much of a boost are we talking here? I did Mile 10 in 9:33 and Mile 11 at 9:17! I was picking up steam, and while the tailwinds helped during Mile 10, my Mile 11 boost came from a good combination of energy management, hydration, fueling, killer weather, and being smiled on by whatever deities of whichever pantheon decide to smile on runners.

Angels Stadium

Angels Stadium

Probably the most heartfelt moment of the race was on Gene Autry Way, as we passed the armed service veterans cheering us on at around the 9.5 mile mark. They were of all ages, most of whom were dressed in vintage military uniforms from all branches. It almost seems a little silly for, as an example, a senior citizen who served this country in Korea to be standing out there, in the wind and cold, at the buttcrack of dawn, clapping and cheering for runners at a Disney race. I should be there cheering all of THEM on. I thanked as many as I could for their service to this country. And yes, my eye was definitely captured by the group of comely women in vintage WAC attire. I think I was born in the wrong era…

. . .

. . . gosh!

*ahem* BACK TO THE RACE!

Miles 10 and 11 took us down Gene Autry, then looping around until we were northbound, adjacent to I-5, and then west onto Disney Way. I hit the 15K split at 1:30:49, and once again my mind started whirling with obsessive calculations. 15K meant 9.3 miles, which also meant a mere 3.8 to go. I had no delusions about hitting some massive second wind — pardon the phrase — in the last 5K+ of the race that would lead to a PR. I wasn’t exactly known for having racing afterburners. But I knew I could remain steady and strong and, with some grit and determination, come in at a time less than 2:10, which would be my 3rd fastest time ever, and only a few minutes off my PR.

So I dug in and kept running. I stuck to my intervals like glue. And you know what? The strangest thing happened.

I hit some massive second wind and activated my racing afterburners.

I can’t explain what happened; it wasn’t like I was trying to run faster. But Mile 11 took me 9:17 which, up to that point, was my 2nd fastest mile of the race. Mile 12 was a bit slower at 9:47, but by the time I was back at the Backstage Area behind DCA, I realized that not only was I finally at…

The Last Mile!

… but I was now just eleven minutes away from my PR, with only 1.1 miles to go. There was absolute no turning back now. I had to go for a PR! It would have been unforgivable to not even try. I did away with intervals and resolved to run the rest of the race straight through, giving it as much as I could without killing myself. I tore into the race with gusto, as Judas Priest’s Diamonds and Rust burst onto my earbuds and I forced my body to move in a strong, steady cadence.

As I made the loop around the Paradise Pier hotel and hit the Mile 13 sign I instinctively checked my watch. It was sitting pretty at around 2:05. My PR was 2:07:03. To quote Phil Rizzuto: “Holy cow, I think he’s gonna make it!”

And as this happened I spotted the great Lou Mongello of WDW Radio in the crowd! I gave him a quick point and shout out, which Boots managed to capture with this pic:

"Hey Lou! Call me!"

“Hey Lou! Call me!”

Whatever that pose I was doing, I haven’t the slightest. Enter Boots who managed to make this “amazingly hilarious” collage out of it:

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Hrmph….

Anyway, with that I tore down that last 0.1 mile stretch with everything I had, but I already knew that I had it in the bag. IN THE BAG! I WAS ABOUT TO PR! Listen, there’s nothing like making your way down that last stretch of raceway knowing that you not only are about to Finish, but you are about to finish with your best time ever. That’s a feeling of elation and victory that I can scarcely put into words. It feels like… you know what it feels like? It’s that sensation you got as a kid when you work up on the first morning of winter vacation from school and it was a Saturday and all the most awesome cartoons in the world were beckoning you… GOOD ones, too. Sigh.

I was so elated that I forgot to listen and see if Rudy and Carissa bothered to call out my name. THAT’S how high I was then.

VICTORY!!

VICTORY!!

I crossed the Finish Line and achieved a brand new PR. My official time was 2:06:04, fifty-nine seconds faster than my previous record.

AND on top of everything else, this dyed-in-the-wool DC Comics fan not only managed to PR at a Marvel race, but as Superman he finished with both Batman AND The Flash!

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Bill Finger, Julius Schwartz, and Mort Weisenger would be proud, dudes.

To claim that I was unbelievably excited and elated and proud and happy would be an exercise in restraint. This isn’t false modesty or generalized Aw-Shucks’ism of a most disingenuous sort. When I started this race I had no expectations or notions of setting any kinds of personal records. I just wanted to run and enjoy the race. When the Winds came smashing into us, I disregarded any PR thoughts and just wanted to have fun and make a decent time. It wasn’t until Mile 12 when I realized a PR was very much possible, and then it was just pure will and excitement that pushed me through to the Finish Line. I ran that last mile at a pace of 8:45. Listen, I’m not a fast runner by any means, so for me to sub-9 on the last mile is not from raw ability. That’s excitement, adrenaline, and determination. And maybe just some kind of superhero magic? Or would that be Power Cosmic? Whatever. I was just over the moon.

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Let’s take a look at what I’ve always loved to call

The Quantitative Analysis

The numbers

The numbers

I know looking at the numbers is a pointless exercise. Everyone runs their own race, PERIOD. Especially at a Run Disney race, where most runners are slowing down to enjoy the experience, stopping for pictures, taking it easy, and having fun. But I just PR’ed so allow me the indulgence of strutting my stuff for a little! Overall, I placed 1020 out of 10449 (top 9.7% of runners). For Men, I ranked 711 out of 4042 (top 17.6%). And for my brothers in the Men 40-44 division, I ranked 136 out of 640 (top 21.3%). Again, these statistics are pretty meaningless, but I’ll trumpet them anyhow :)

After grabbing my awesome new spinning Avengers medal, a Powerade, and the omnipresent Run Disney snack box, I fielded a host of congratulatory text and Facebook messages as I made my way over to where Boots was snapping pictures. She was situated near the “Big Freakin Hat” next to the Disneyland Hotel, and we hung out for awhile watching runners coming in, appreciating the various costumes, cheering for our buddies, and trying to avoid what felt like hypothermia now that my body temperature was cooling off and the sweat on my body was giving me a bit of a chill. We walked over to the coffee shop at the Disneyland hotel and grabbed some hot coffee and muffins, sat down on some outside couches (but out of the wind), and enjoyed our repast before making the trek back to the hotel for a stretch, shower, and some light relaxation before heading out to grab some much needed lunch at Tortilla Jo’s.

So In Conclusion…

So I think I might have enjoyed this experience just a wee bit…

I mean, yes, hitting a PR is epic awesomesauce and all that great stuff, but even if I hadn’t, I still absolutely loved the 2014 Avengers Super Heroes Half Marathon. Was it a perfect race? No, but no race is. Almost everything about this Half was great. The superhero theming was awesome and colorful, the crowd levels were extremely manageable (provided you were in a reasonably competitive corral), the photo ops and in-park experiences were great fun, although EXTREMELY short in comparison with other Disney races. They may want to consider altering the course to have a bit more time in and around Disney property. That said, it was a new course that was much more scenic than the standard Disneyland Half course, while including the standard run down the Santa Ana Trail (albeit from the other direction) and through Angels Stadium. But then you had the row of Cosplayers as well as the Veterans to keep you going strong. What’s not to love about this race?

Oh yes, and one parting admonition to the Santa Ana Winds: you blew as hard as you could, and you STILL couldn’t slow this kid down. Suck on THAT. Here’s the video:

Greetings from 30,000 ft. over the Salton Sea, or: “It’s time I was king now, not just one more pawn…”

Well, it’s not like you didn’t know this was coming. Unless you’re new here, in which case: welcome!

Anyway we’re on our way back from yet another visit to Disneyland, this time for the Avengers Super Heroes Half Marathon Weekend. A great time was had by all, even if it was just a super brief trip to the west coast. Boots and I walked the 5K together on Saturday, and the big event, the inaugural Avengers Half Marathon, launched on Sunday, November 16th. Look for a write-up on both this week.

And here they come. First, the airplane pic of me traveling from Ft. Lauderdale to Los Angeles:

SMILEYBOY!

SMILEYBOY!

…aaaand here I am, as I type this, right now:

SMIRKYBOY!

SMIRKYBOY!

Well I’m certainly a chipper lad, ain’t I? Especially on the way home. I wonder why that might be? It couldn’t possibly be because of a successful run during the Half, right? Dare I say, maybe even a totally buttkickin’ run? Possibly, maybe even a P– whoa let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Here’s the video:

Race Review: Mickey’s Jingle Jungle 5k (11/8/2014) or: “Get on your bikes and ride…”

Say, gang! Hokeydude here. In our awesome first of hopefully many cross-blogging promotions, today’s race review is courtesy of our good friend Sarah from Sparkly Runner. Sarah is not only great people, she’s an avid blogger and Disney Runner, as well as a good friend of all of us over here at Hokeyblog — if she hadn’t stalked me at the 2013 Disneyland Half, this post never would have happened over here! Check out her take on the Jingle Jungle 5K and please be sure to visit her over at Sparkly Runner.

 

If you’ve ever wondered where you can run a Christmas-themed race complete with fake falling snow in Central Florida in November, look no further than Mickey’s Jingle Jungle 5k. This race takes place during Disney’s Wine & Dine Half Marathon Weekend and features a fun course through Disney’s Animal Kingdom theme park.

Photo Credit: Run Disney

Photo Credit: Run Disney

I’ve done this race for the last three years in a row but this year it was extra special- it was my first post-injury 5k. In September I was diagnosed with a stress fracture that crushed my fall running season dreams- including the Wine & Dine Half Marathon. With the blessing from my doctor, I was cleared to walk the 5k last weekend and I jumped at the chance to be back in a race.

We (my boyfriend Matthew, my dad Mark, and his girlfriend Margie) arrived in Disney last week and caught an early bus from our resort over to Wide World of Sports for the Health and Fitness Expo on Friday. Despite some crazy lines, we eventually picked up our bibs and shirts. This year the 5k shirt was gray. A gray shirt for a Christmas-themed race. Gross. Anyway, we shopped around and the only thing I walked away with was an official runDisney 5k race pin and a pair of lightning bolt Shwings for my shoes.

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After the expo we hung out at the parks all afternoon. We headed back to the resort semi-early, around 9, because we had a pretty early wake-up call the next morning. The race started at seven and buses started leaving the resort at five. Gotta love that “hurry up and wait” Disney mentality

Saturday morning, Matthew and I crawled sprung out of bed at 4:30 am, got dressed, and headed for the bus around 5:15. One awesome thing about runDisney races is the hassle-free transportation when you stay on property. A bus will take you to and from the races easily, even at o’dark thirty.

Once we arrived at Animal Kingdom (the race starts in the parking lot), we dropped off a bag and met up with some friends- Nathan, Jessie, Heather, and Jenn. Most of these are people we’ve met through social media or other runDisney races. I have to say, this northerner was COLD Saturday morning! It was probably around 55 degrees and windy but it felt much cooler.

Pre-race festivities included an hour-long line for a picture with Mickey and Minnie. Matthew and I decided to pass on that and instead tried to keep warm by dancing to the many line dance songs the DJ was playing. Matthew can do a mean Electric Slide.

Disney also provided a really nice wintery background that many runners were using to get pictures. After posing for a few, the DJ started announcing that it was time for us to head to our corrals. By some miracle, Matthew and I were placed in Corral A so we made our way there and grabbed a few more pictures. I’m a big fan of the selfie.

Heather and me with icebergs? Mountains? Skinny snowmen?

Heather and me with icebergs? Mountains? Skinny snowmen?

 

Corral A Selfie

Corral A Selfie

Just as the sun was rising, the race started- complete with fake snow! Matthew and I were the last people to cross the start line from corral A. Since we were walking the entire race, we wanted to stay out of the way of the runners. The first mile of this course is in the parking lot. Literally, you make a big loop of the Animal Kingdom parking lot and then enter the park at mile 1. While uneventful, it is well-supported with a water stop at .75 miles.

Course map courtesy of runDisney

Course map courtesy of runDisney

 

Told you I loved selfies

Told you I loved selfies

After entering Animal Kingdom, we ran past the big tree and into Africa. The paths in AK are really narrow and there were many times that the race became super congested. And because we were walking, we kept getting further and further towards the back of the pack. Also because we were slower, the lines for characters were ridiculously long. The line for Santa Goofy was probably over 100 people. Insane.

From Africa, we made our way to Asia and Expedition Everest- my absolute favorite ride in all of WDW. By this time, our friend Jenn had caught up to us and walked the rest of the race with us. After pausing for a quick picture, we headed back to Discovery Island and out of the park for the next out-and-back section of the course where we learned that Everest is not a real mountain. Sadness ensued.

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The magic is lost

The magic is lost

Finally we found a line that wasn’t crazy long- Pluto! We’d passed Donald, Chip and Dale, and Rafiki- we HAD to stop for at least one character picture.

What could be cuter than Christmas Pluto?

What could be cuter than Christmas Pluto?

Finally we made our way to the finish. At a little over one hour, we crossed the finish line and I was once again a 5k finisher.

Sweet, sweet victory. And fake snow.

Sweet, sweet victory. And fake snow.

After we received our finisher medallion and a box-o-goodies from runDisney, we headed to Boma to celebrate with Matt of Hokeyblog fame. His wife Kim and my dad and Margie also came out to eat our faces off sample the amazing buffet. Lots of good eats and good conversation- not a bad way to end my first post-injury race.

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This is my favorite Disney 5k- it’s in one of my favorite parks, it’s decorated for the holidays, and there is fake snow. It doesn’t get much better than that, friends.

As for Queen, well, I can’t imagine a better comeback song than “Fat Bottomed Girls” simply for the reason that it makes me pumped up when I hear it. Enjoy!

About Sarah:

When she’s not running or spending way too much time on social media, you can find her blogging at Sparkly Runner. She also enjoys stalking meeting up with her favorite bloggers at races; especially that time she got to meet Hokeyboy live in person at the Disneyland Half Marathon expo! What a treat! Sarah lives with her boyfriend Matthew and their adorable pug Koda (named after Brother Bear) in a tiny, tiny town in south central Pennsylvania. Obsessed with all things Disney, they are always planning their next trip to WDW and dream of one day working for the Mouse.

And we’re outta here to Wine and Dine, or: “I’m-a chewin’ on a honeysuckle vine…”

blgdiswineanddineFreakin’ November? ALREADY? Wasn’t I just bitching about the South Florida summer blues, like, roughly four seconds ago?

Man…

Well enough of that claptrap. It’s that magical time once again, where we’re heading into the holiday season and the weather has been cooling off nicely. No kidding, either. The last two weeks in South Florida have been pretty damn nice, especially for late October/early November. We did a 23-miler last Sunday in 53 degree weather — in Fort Lauderdale… in early NOVEMBER! — and it was pretty freakin’ nice. We’re talking “Erin Gray” nice! Did I ever mention I met her about 9 years ago at a con and she looked as stunning as ever? I mean, breathtakingly hot. I was a babbling fanboy mess, but she was entirely gracious and sweet. Gil Gerard, now he looked like The Skipper. Fried chicken can be your worst nightmare and– I’m getting sidetracked, aren’t I?

"Le sigh..."

Le sigh…

FOCUS, Hokeydude.

OK… anyway, the reason for today’s post is to get excited for this weekend’s Disney Wine And Dine Half Marathon up at Walt Disney World. Yes, longtime Hokeyfolk are entirely too aware of our constant obsession with running, Disney, and running AT Disney. But I’ve never attended this particular race at Disney before, so I’m insanely excited for it. I mean, (1) it’s a Disney race, which are (almost) always great fun, (2) it’s at night, which means cooler temps and colorful lighting, (3) it takes you through THREE theme parks — Animal Kingdom, Hollywood Studios, and Epcot, (4) holiday decorations are all over the course, and (5) the after-party at Epcot with food, drinks, booze, rides, spectacle, entertainment, and all kinds of fun that will run until around 4 in the morning or so. The race starts around 10:30 and I plan to be sufficiently beer’ed up by 1 AM… even if I’m still running.

And gang, I hate to disappoint but… there won’t be any custom Disney running shirts for this race. The reasons for this are simple: I’ve already done three this year, and while they are fun they are also an added expense to an already “not cheap” excursion. Plus, in all the hustle and bustle of the last few weeks, I sort of forgot. Some Run Disney nerd I am. Feh.

I don't NEED these...

I don’t NEED these…

Still, we have a pretty solid (if brief) trip planned. Boots and I are taking off Friday night after work. We’re already checked-in online to the All Star Sports resort, which means we can mosey on up and get our room keys without too much muss or fuss. Saturday morning we’re meeting my awesome buddy Sarah from the most exquisite Sparkly Runner blog, along with her boyfriend Matthew with the kickass rockstar hair, and the rest of her entourage for a ginormous breakfast carb-load over at Boma, where we will discuss many things of extraordinary magnitude that will affect readers of BOTH blogs (insert mysterious cackle here). Afterward it’s Expo time, where I’ll be grabbing my bib and spending too much dinero on merchandise I entirely don’t need but will end up purchasing anyhow, because I’m sheeple like that.

Then it’s showtime that night, and I can’t wait. I’m looking forward to meeting up with and grabbing pics with my FIT buds, Mickey Miler running team pals (I’ll be rocking the team jersey), and the Hokeyblog faithful (what’s up Trishah!) I’ll most likely be Facebooking and Twitterizing up a storm after the race if you want to track me down at Epcot. I missed the after-party at the 2012 Twilight Zone Tower of Terror 10-Miler due to food poisoning, so I plan to make up for it bigtime this time around. Sunday will involve a LOT of sleeping in and catching Big Hero 6 at the AMC Downtown Disney. There’s something sort of awesome about seeing brand new Disney animated flicks while on Disney property. We did the same last year with Frozen, so we’re going two-for-two.

And that’s it! Look for a big write-up to come next week… somewhere. Until then, the video, ya está:

Album Review: “Music From ‘The Elder'” — Kiss (1981)

blgelderIn a lot of ways, you have to admire the sheer chutzpah that Kiss exhibited by dubbing their 1981 concept album Music From “The Elder” with that moniker. Almost immediately that title elevates the material to something of a new plateau; I mean, it’s not just another dopey album or anything like that. It’s the actual music featured in something else! Something GRAND perhaps… a movie? No no, then it would be a soundtrack album, right? Orchestrations, maybe? Or perhaps a cantata based on literary material? It has to be epic! Ho baby, this is big! “Rupert Holmes” big!! Slap the vinyl on the turntable, dim the lights, and let Music From “The Elder” wash over you in all of its Ceasarian glory!

Yeah… no.

Kiss was floundering in really strange waters by 1981. Their last hit album was 1979’s Dynasty, and while it went Triple Platinum it was also the line of demarcation in which their longtime hard rock faithful fans stepped off the Kiss train, to be replaced by kids with lunchboxes and soccer moms who loved playing I Was Made For Loving You on the station wagon 8-track player, while helpless Dads had to schlep the entire mespucha to see these costumed clowns in concert (on a tour that lost millions for the band). They followed it up with 1980’s power-pop influenced Unmasked, which, while a fairly decent record on its own, was their biggest commercial disappointment since 1975’s Dressed To Kill, “only” going Gold for a band that was used to multi-Platinum success. None of the singles charted (except for in Australia), and they didn’t even tour North America to support the album.

By this time, founding drummer Peter Criss was out of the band, but for reals this time, replaced with new drummer Eric Carr (who took the stage persona of “The Fox”). The band’s dynamic had changed as a result, with founding guitarist Ace Frehley finding himself outvoted by Gene and Paul on band matters (he had usually allied himself with Criss), and he would in turn leave Kiss after this album.

Still, you have to give Kiss credit. They decided to go BIG with this LP, and re-hired producer Bob Ezrin, who had shaped their landmark 1976 album Destroyer into incredible success, to help them create Music From “The Elder”. Ezrin was also super-hot, having recently produced Pink Floyd’s massively ginormously popular landmark album The Wall. Their strategy was to create a concept album, a soundtrack album of sorts to a tale that would eventually be told in other media — music, TV, comic books, a stage show, all of the above, maybe none, who knows. It would be a fantasy story using tried-and-true mythological tropes about a Chosen One (a young boy on the cusp of manhood) setting off on his heroic journey to do battle with The Forces of Evil in some such nebulous nonsense.

It’s all a whole lot of hooey that doesn’t make for much of a story, really, unless you had never seen a movie, read a book, watched TV, or played in the backyard with your childhood friends before.

Anyway they also freed themselves of the slick, easy-listening poppiness of the Vini Poncia era and were looking to get back into their hard rock/pseudo metal roots. No more dance tunes. No more disco. Oh sure there’d be ballads and different types of music and sounds incorporated into the album, but all of it to serve the basic narrative of the concept album. Whatever that was. I’m sure not even they knew.

The resulting LP has become one of Kiss’s biggest punchlines, something allegedly so horrible that even the band disowned it. Music From “The Elder” wasn’t just a disappointment; it was an out-and-out disaster. It was viewed by the music scene at large (with more than a smidge of schadenfreude) as a unbelievably laughable embarrassment from a washed-up, once-was relic of a band. The album didn’t even crack the US Top 50 (peaking at #75) and neither of the album singles got any traction whatsoever.

Yikes.

To be entirely honest with you, it’s not even that bad an album, really. Nor is it altogether that good. I don’t love Music From “The Elder”, but I don’t hate it either. It’s more of that extreme situation: the songs I like, I love, while the songs I dislike, I loathe. So it’s easily Kiss’s most bipolar album. There’s something that could have been consistently great here, if Ezrin wasn’t too busy snorting blow off of a hunting knife or whittling Ace’s solos down to nothingness.

Anyway… here’s my rundown of the album, track by track:

The Oath
GREAT song. Period. Even Paul’s puzzling falsettos during the chorus sound cool, and that’s not easy to accomplish. This puppy’s got crunch and tempo and could easily be a track on, say, Destroyer or Creatures of the Night. My fictional ultimate KISS setlist opens up with this number.

Fanfare
Total and absolute orchestral filler. Nary worth a second mention.

Just A Boy
This song is entirely strange, but I love it. It’s strange in the sense that it makes no sense out of the context of the album, and features a bizarre segue from this prototypical Ren-faire minor-key indulgence to anthemic arena rock and back again. Yet it works — albeit only for a brief time, I think this song is what, two minutes long? With maybe six or seven lines of lyrics.

Dark Light
This was Ace’s last song with Kiss until 1998’s Into The Void. It also features some FANTASTIC fretwork from Ace. Too bad the song is forgettable.

Only You
This is a terrible song. Gene at his droning, self-indulgent worst…

Under the Rose
… and it gets even worse here. That booming multi-tracked-vocal chorus is just embarrassing, and the song is 37 shades of awful. Two turds in a row? The next song better knock it out of the park…

A World Without Heroes
… and it does. A World Without Heroes is Gene’s best ballad with KISS, ever. Period. With a little help from Lou Reed in the songwriting department, Gene wrote and sang one of his best performances on vinyl with this one. Paul’s solo (!) is one of the best he ever did with Kiss. A World Without Heroes has an effectively chilling vibe of despair and near-hopelessness that just really helps make the song so memorable.

Mr. Blackwell
Let me assure you, I used to hate this freakin’ song. I thought the lyrics were juvenile and the song so utterly misguided, it actively made me want to (say it with me now) kick a pigeon. However, a few years back I gave the song another chance and to be honest? It’s not bad. The riffing on the chorus is pretty sweet. I like it.

Escape From the Island
More instrumental filler, with more blistering fretwork from Ace. Even still, there’s no reason to ever listen to this again.

Odyssey
OK. Sit down for a second. Close your eyes. Clear your mind.  I want you to think of every crappy song Kiss has ever recorded up to this point. I’m talking about the absolute bottom-of-the-barrel, disastrously awful, what-were-they-thinking,” OMG are you for real someone actually RECORDED this?” cuts from their albums. Think Kissin’ Time, Great Expectations, Then He Kissed Me, Any Way You Want It, the Peter Criss solo album… you get them. Now imagine all those cuts mashed together into a single track, all of it playing at the same time, while Gilbert Gottfried is dancing naked on top of a cake.

Odyssey makes that look like Black Diamond.

It’s the single worst thing Kiss has ever done. And I’m including the Kiss casket and the “Attack of the Phantoms” TV movie in that judgment call.

I
This song is all sorts of cheesy (Yes I believe in me!!! – ugh), all sorts of goofy, but it rocks enough to overcome its lame lyrics. I dig the chorus, the shared vocals, the riffing… cheeseball, but good stuff. Not great, but good.

So overall… Music From “The Elder” is a freaking mess. Not a total disaster, to be sure, with some good material mixed in with the bad. However the album lacks consistency of quality, which makes for a strangely jarring and mostly disjunctive listening experience. Yes, the whole “concept” of the “concept album” is an absolute dopey bust, but most concept albums are absolute dopey busts anyhow. As long as the music is good, who really cares, right? Alas, we’re left with three great tunes (“The Oath”, “World Without Heroes”, “Just A Boy”), two good tunes (“I”, “Mr. Blackwell”), and six forgettable-to-complete and total pieces of crap (“Dark Light”, “Fanfare”, “Escape From The Island”, “Only You”, “Under the Rose”, “Odyssey”). When it comes to Music From “The Elder”, you’ll find yourself continuously cherry-picking to discover worthwhile tracks to enjoy. Of which there are several. But the garbage mixed in between them is probably more responsible for the album’s deplorable reputation than the overall package deserves.

Buttkickin’ Halloween Songs: “The Hell Of It” — Paul Williams (1974)

blgbeefAnother year, another round of Buttkickin’ Halloween Songs. But alas, Halloween 2014 draws to a close, so I hope you’ve had half as much fun with this year’s collection of tunes as I had putting it together. Until next year, my friends. Have an awesomely spooky and utterly buttkickin’ Halloween.

One more from the inimitable Paul Williams and the Phantom of the Paradise soundtrack.

-El Hokeydude

Roll on thunder shine on lightnin’
The days are long and the nights are frightnin’
Nothing matters anyway and that’s the hell of it
Winter comes and the winds blow colder
Well some grew wiser you just grew older
And you never listened anyway and that’s the hell of it

Good for nothin’, bad in bed
Nobody likes you and you’re better off dead goodbye
We’ve all come to say goodbye goodbye
Born defeated, died in vain
Super destruction you were hooked on pain
And tho’ your music lingers on
All of us are glad you’re gone

If I could live my life half as worthlessly as you
I’m convinced that I’d wind up burning too

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Love yourself as you love no other
Be no man’s fool be no man’s brother
We’re all born to die alone y’know that’s the hell of it
Life’s a game where they’re bound to beat you
And time’s a trick they can turn to cheat you
And we only waste it anyway and that’s the hell of it

Good for nothin’, bad in bed
Nobody likes you and you’re better off dead goodbye
We’ve all come to say goodbye goodbye
Born defeated, died in vain
Super destruction you were hooked on pain
And tho’ your music lingers on
All of us are glad you’re gone

Buttkickin’ Halloween Songs: “Megalomania” — Black Sabbath (1976)

blgsabbmegaloI hide myself inside the shadows of shame
The silent symphonies were playing their game
My body echoed to the dreams of my soul
This God is something that I could not control…

Told you I’d be back with some Sabbath :)

Black Sabbath’s 1976 album Sabotage is probably their greatest album with the WORST album cover. Tony Iommi and Geezer Butler are hanging about in full 70s leisure wear and pornstaches aplenty, while Ozzy looks like a goofball in that kimono and why on EARTH is Bill Ward wearing red tights?? I haven’t the slightest. It’s too bad, because even with such a lousy cover the album is fantastic. Sabotage is my favorite Sabbath album, and I’d argue that it’s their best (at least, the best of the classic Ozzy line-up). But as I’m oft to repeat, that’s a knish for another deli…

My favorite cut on the album is the Side 1 closer Megalomania, a dark, gloomy, haunting number about one man struggling with his schizophrenic delusions of godhood and elite self-importance. It’s a slow burn of metal destruction that erupts mid-song into this explosive, driving rebellion against his split personality, determined to rescue his own soul from the fires of Hell.

The most terrifying nightmares are those locked in our minds, the ones we can’t outrun or escape. Sabbath nailed it with this one.

Obsessed with fantasy, possessed with my schemes
I mixed reality with pseudo-god dreams
The ghost of violence was something I seen
I sold my soul to be the human obscene…
How could this poison be the dream of my soul?
How did my fantasies take complete control?

Buttkickin’ Halloween Songs: “Stargazer” — Rainbow (1976)

blgstargazerWe build a tower of stone
With our flesh and bone
Just to see him fly…

I, like many of my ilk, have absolutely zero problem flourishing under the belief that Ronnie James Dio didn’t pass away from stomach cancer in 2010, but rather perished heroically while saving our planet from being devoured by a ginormous cosmic dragon and why not? RJD might have been diminutive in stature but he was a Metal Giant, with an insanely powerful voice and lyrics steeped in mythology, heroic fantasy, epic literature, demonic imagery, and all that other fun stuff that made almost everything he was involved with seem larger than life and twice as majestic. He fronted so many great bands like Elf, Rainbow, Black Sabbath, and Dio, that to even mention RJD’s name — or initials — is akin to proclaiming metal’s “Open Sesame”. Magic words, man. Powerful stuff.

Yes I buy into all of this mishegas. Life’s too short to wallow in the mundane.

Our Buttkickin’ Halloween Song for today hearkens all the way back to 1976, on Rainbow’s second LP Rising. This is the epic Stargazer, a high fantasy narrative about a powerful sorcerer who has enslaved an entire population, commanding them to build a great stone tower from which he can perform his incantations and deliver them to a new planet by a distant star. This mammoth production features Richie Blackmore’s guiding guitarwork and some powerful orchestrations by the Munich Symphony, and is perfectly emblematic of the fantastical, bombastic metal grandeur at which Ronnie James Dio absolutely excelled.

All eyes see the figure of the wizard
As he climbs to the top of the world
No sound, as he falls instead of rising
Time standing still, then there’s blood on the sand
Oh I see his face — where was your star?
Was it far, was it far
When did we leave?
We believed, we believed, we believed…