RUN REVIEW | Roots 'n Blues Half Marathon

RECOMMENDATION: Beautiful course at a great time of year, as part of an awesome music festival, but the logistics are a little rough around the edges.

My sister wearing a used "granny" sweatshirt she could ditch during the race.

My sister wearing a used "granny" sweatshirt she could ditch during the race.

My sister suggested meeting in Columbia, Missouri (halfway between her home in St. Louis and my home in Kansas City) to run the Root 'n Blues Half Marathon. She ended up bringing two other friends, and my buddy Jerry and his wife came to participate as well. We ended up with seven people in our combined group which added to the experience. The course was beautiful, and the weather was ideal, but there were a couple of logistical details prevent me from eagerly agreeing to do this race again:

  • The course map online did not have the elevation grade - the course ended up being relatively flat, but that's nice information to have prior to the race.
  • There was no on-site event parking, so you had to park at a garage and ride the shuttle in, but they only had one school bus running. I'm assuming that's a snafu they will fix going forward.
  • The 10k and half marathon races shared the same finish line. The timing was such that the several 10k walkers were finishing when I came through, and the chute was a little narrow for the overlap.
  • Post race food was BBQ and beer which are some of my favorites, but the line was extremely long, and BBQ was cold and dry and the beer was Michelob Ultra which seemed way out of place for a super hipster event like Roots 'n Blues.
  • An unsecured bag drop. For a race this size that requires being shuttled in, get two volunteers to run a more secure storage.
  • Aid stations were bare. Only water or Gatorade, and the second to last station only had Gatorade.

On the plus side:

  • Nice medal.
  • Packet pick up was organized, friendly and helpful.
  • Pictures of the event were free.
  • Did I mention the course?
  • What about the weather?
  • Oh, and there were the awesome people I hung out with.

I had a blast of time with my friends, and I finished with a respectable 8:32 pace at 1:51 placing 127 out of 587. My travel involved another positive AirBnB experience, this time staying with Billy and Carrie. They were delightful hosts, and provided a tremendous value for the price.

Crossing the finish line!

Crossing the finish line!

Crazy sister dancing across the finish line!

Crazy sister dancing across the finish line!

Check out my journey to run 50 marathons in 50 states.

Ex Machina

Nathan, played by Oscar Isaac, is the tech titan gazillionaire genius who created Blue Book (the most used search engine on the planet) when he was thirteen. His mountains of money and detailed planning have helped him build a secluded, state-of-the-art home/research facility which is revealed in long, slow, silent shots. It's cold, dark and filled with hard, sharp surfaces. It's also the perfect place for Nathan to work on his pet project - artificial intelligence.

He's ready to test his latest version, Ava (Alicia Vikander), to determine if her mind is indistinguishable from a human. So Nathan personally selects an earnest programer from the ranks of Blue Book to come engage in a series of sessions with Ava. Caleb (Domhnall Gleeson) interviews Ava in her glass cell while Nathan watches from his video surveillance control room.

It's a more complicated, mental version of Deep Blue playing Garry Kasparov for the grandmaster title. Only in this game of chess, there are three players instead of two. Nathan's doesn't think he's playing the game. He created the rules and set the game in motion, but sees himself more as the referee and spectator. When asked why Nathan did this, he simply responds with, "Wouldn't you, if you could?"

But the stakes are survival for the brilliant, seductive sentient robot and the young, smart examiner. They quickly drag Nathan into the game. The story is filled with tension and suspense, as we try to figure out who knows what, who trusts who, who is working with who, and most importantly, what's the next move.

12 Years a Slave

The persistent, broody tension starts before the lights even dim for the first preview. The title 12 Years a Slave foretells the inciting incident that upsets the balance of Solomon Northup's (Chiwetel Ejiofor) normal life. We also expect with the slavery topic that there will be scenes of atrocities illustrating the inhumanity necessary for one human to domineer another.

The opening stirs our curiosity with a team of slaves being told how to harvest cane. How did Northup get there? Director Steve McQueen gradually reveals the small steps that led down this horrific path in a graceful time-skipping sequence. Like a horror movie where you want to shout at the screen to not open that door, we know where this is headed before Northup does.

The old adage "The situation defines the person" is powerfully at play in this plot, but what makes the movie so personally emotion, is the intimate way it connects us to each character. I felt compelled to constantly ask, "What would I do in that situation?"

In connecting with Northup, I was questioning would I have trusted the traveling magicians and their extremely generous offer; once kidnapped, would I have fought and died or acquiesced and went to the second location; in bondage, would I have revealed who I really was or kept quiet and did as I was told?

Northup's decisions get regularly reinforced by watching the consequences others' actions bring them. After disposing of the body of one slave who choose to fight back, Clemens, a fellow kidnapee, counsels Northup with "Survival is not about certain death. It's about keeping your head down."

That's a option Northup later repeats to Eliza (Adepero Oduye), a mother who loses her two children and falls into a perpetual state of wailing. "I survive. I will not fall into despair. I will offer up my talents to Master Ford. I will keep myself hardy till freedom is opportune."

McQueen filmed the movie in 35 days with one camera, and the single-shot scenes are fluid, beautiful and real. One of my favorites is when Edwin Epps (Michael Fassbender) pulls Northup out of his bunk house in the middle of the night to confront him about an alleged escape plan. Oh, the tenseness as the two stand nose-to-nose.

Another dramatic single-shot moment happens when a group of slaves are burying a fellow laborer who died in the cotton field. An elderly woman starts sining "Roll, Jordan Roll," and gradually others join in. Northup resists at first, and as the camera focuses on him, he finally starts singing. We see him struggle with the reality that he might die here too, but his voice gets stronger, and he clings to his first response to Clemen's advice, "Well, I don't want to survive. I want to live."

Northup's fortitude and determination are inspiring. Shortly after seeing the movie, I saw this quote from a friend on Instagram.

With 12 Years a Slave, I found the opposite to be true. I smiled because it was over, and cried because it happened.