Sunday, November 23, 2014

Las Vegas Rock ‘N Roll Half Marathon

I ran my third half-marathon overall and my second in 2014 – the Las Vegas Rock ‘N Roll Half – on November 16.  What an experience!  The racers – right around 40,000 (that’s right, forty thousand) combined, run down the Las Vegas strip at night.  This race is one of two events where the city of Las Vegas closes its famous strip.  The other is New Year’s Eve.

My friend Sue and I flew out of snowy SLC at 0700 on Saturday morning.  Race weekend started with packet pick-up at the Las Vegas Convention Center.  The logistics of organizing a race this big are mind-boggling, but they had obviously done it before.  From packet pick-up, to shirt pick-up, to the vendor area where the latest Rock ‘N Roll gear was being sold, to other vendors selling everything any runner could possibly need or want, the runners moved smoothly.  The volunteers were friendly and helpful, and there had to be over 100 in the convention center alone.

Sue and I took on the Remix Challenge – run the 1st Annual Las Vegas Rock ‘N Roll 5K on Saturday night the 15th in addition to the half-marathon on the 16th.  After all, what else is there to do in Las Vegas on a Saturday night?  It turned out to be a fun warm-up, followed by a great concert by Chromeo and of course, a free beer.

It was a good thing the race shirt from the 5K had long sleeves.  A cold front came through the next morning and I was unprepared.  Come on – it’s supposed to be warm in Las Vegas!  While we saw the occasional runners in tank tops and shorts – and even a man wearing a white tie and black Speedo – most of us were dressed for a warmer race.

I have never been in a race with this many people.  Obviously 28,439 people (marathon and half-marathon racers) can’t start at the same time, so they organized us into corrals based on our projected finish times.  I was in Corral 13.  The corrals started about 80 seconds apart.  The vivacious woman announcing the start of each corral worked hard to get the racers and spectators excited about each corral’s countdown to start.  I wonder if she was still as energetic when she finally counted down the start for Corral 47.

The course was amazing.  We ran down the strip, through some back streets, past a number of wedding chapels, and up Fremont Street before we came back down the strip.  Fremont Street had the brightest lights and reminded me of the Las Vegas of the 60s – when my parents used to drive us down the strip at night.  And all along the course there were people cheering us on.

At the finish, we received our medals, a much needed bottle of water, and a Mylar blanket.  That
turned out to be a life-saver.  It seemed I cooled down at the same time the wind came up, and the blanket kept me out of the wind.  Brrrhh!  Much too cold for beer at this finish line.  We picked up our Remix Challenge medal and headed indoors for Mexican food and margaritas.

I have to admit I was disappointed in my finish time.  I finished in 2:05:22, exactly 2 minutes and 23 seconds slower than I finished the Salt Lake Half and only 17 seconds faster than I finished the Mesa Falls Half.  I was hoping to set a new personal record, and was counting on the lower altitude to work in my favor.  But what I wasn't counting on was slowing down so frequently to plot my next move around slower runners.  While it didn't seem like I was slowing down very much, I guess 10-15 seconds per mile of slowdown adds up.

Always one to find the positive, I have to consider the following:  There were more people in my division (Women 55 – 59) than ran the entire Mesa Falls Half-Marathon.  More people crossed the finish line ahead of me (5043) than ran the entire Salt Lake Half Marathon.  And even though I didn't beat my own time, I did much better in the standings in this race than I have previously.  I finished in the top 5% of my division, the top 13% of all women, and the top 20% overall.  Maybe that’s because more slow runners were in this race.  Or maybe that’s because everybody’s time was impacted by the sheer number of racers.    

In the spirit of continuous improvement – it’s time to do some serious speed work.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Annuities 101

Several of our friends are considering using their 401K / IRA savings to purchase one or more annuities in retirement.  OK – I know.  News flash – lots of people buy annuities.  Just not us.  Somewhere along the line we’ve managed to become convinced that annuities are a bad investment and that we should run away – run far away – from anyone who tries to convince us otherwise.

But our friends are smart people.  Maybe it’s time to take another look.  Here’s what I learned while researching annuities. 

1.  An annuity is an insurance product.  You purchase the annuity for a specific amount, either through regular premiums or through a lump sum, and then it pays you a specific annual income for the rest of your life.  Like most insurance products, the insurance company helps you manage risk.  An annuity helps you manage the risk of outliving your money.

2.  The basic annuity pays only for your lifetime.  Once you die, the payments stop.  Annuity contracts can be written to provide ongoing income for a beneficiary or for a guaranteed number of years that the annuity will pay out – but this will cost more. 

3.  The insurance companies use your projected life span, based on actuarial tables, to calculate your annual payout.  The annuity holders who die early cover those who live longer.

4.  One of the main advantages of annuities is that there is no limit to the amount you can invest in them.  Many investors will fund annuities once they have maxed out their IRA / 401K contributions.   Earnings on the funds are tax deferred.  Since investment is made with after-tax dollars, the money you contributed is not taxed at withdrawal (if you are over 59 ½); earnings are taxed at your regular tax rate.

5.  One of the main disadvantages of annuities is that once you’ve invested in one, your money is locked in.  Many annuities offer a way out – with a hefty surrender charge.

The architect in me loves the model at the top of the post – it is from the Utah Division of Securities, and you can get the step by step information on their web site.  The accountant in my husband is convinced that we can do just as good a job as an insurance company in managing our assets – and managing our risks.  I’m convinced as well.  While annuities may be the right solution for some, they are still not for us. 

Disclaimer:  A few days of research does not make me an expert.  I used the following web sites in researching this post:
The Utah Division of Securities

Saturday, November 8, 2014

AARP at the Aquarium

OK, I admit it.  The only reason I signed up for the AARP Real Possibilities University event was because it was held at the Living Planet Aquarium.  Apparently I wasn't the only one.  When the director of Utah’s AARP chapter asked “how many of you came here tonight just for the classes,” only about ¼ of the audience raised their hands.  The rest of us chuckled a bit, and then settled in for the presentations.

The first speaker, a Director at the Utah Division of Securities, spoke about fraud prevention.  “Why are seniors so often the target for fraudsters,” he asked.  “We’re the ones with the money.”  He told us he could make us experts in recognizing scams with one sentence:  Risk and reward go together and can never be separated.  If someone tries to convince you otherwise, run away.  Run far away. 

The second speaker was a professor and researcher at the University of Utah Brain Institute.  First he gave us the bad news:  brain function does decrease with age.  He gave us several tips on keeping our brains healthy as we age.  There were about fifteen of them.  I’ll see how many I remember when I post on this later.  My favorite – people who dance are less likely to develop dementia than people who don’t dance. 

The event offered four breakout sessions.  We attended the one on estate planning and the one on Social Security.  The other two were on healthy eating and staying active.  Two of the speakers addressed annuities, which is a topic I have been researching and was glad to find some well-written information on.  I'll post more about annuities as well.

All in all, the AARP Real Possibilities University was well worth the 2 ½ hours we spent - not including the time spent touring the aquarium - free courtesy of AARP. The aquarium was awesome.  It is beautifully laid out and the exhibits are fabulous.  My only recommendation would be to go in the daytime.  Some of the exhibits were too dark to see well. The best part - the window to the shark tank at the front of the main conference room. There’s nothing like seeing sharks swim back and forth in a tank behind the keynote speaker to keep your eyes up front.